Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Phenology: Eastern Tent Caterpillars

Malacosoma americanum become visible around the Cat Sanctuary around this time of year. Here's what they currently look like:

Unmistakable. Nevertheless, I'm aware of these little animals having been confused with half a dozen other species: Forest Tent Caterpillars, Gypsy Moth caterpillars, Bagworms, Webworms, Stingingworms, Walnut Caterpillars, and even Cutworms.

I would say that confusing them with Cutworms is just plain silly, except that it was done by a foreigner who hadn't been here long enough to recognize American insects. He'd read that cutworms are likely to attack young tomato plants, so he asked me whether the caterpillars crawling on his tomato plants were cutworms. They were tent caterpillars. After reaching their full size, before they pupate and turn into moths, tent caterpillars spend a few days exploring the world and crawling on all sorts of things they can't eat and don't try to eat, including humans.

Tent caterpillars hatch out of egg masses that look like globs of dried foam extruded around twigs of Prunus--usually cherry trees, but sometimes other fruit trees or rosebushes. It's possible to see and remove the egg masses in winter, but it's seldom necessary. Although the caterpillars will eat a lot of leaves, fruit trees usually have reserve buds from which they can re-cover themselves in leaves without even seriously affecting the fruit crop. Only if the trees have been badly frostbitten are the caterpillars an economic problem. It's after they stop eating that they become a nuisance.

Not all the caterpillars hatch at once. As shown in the picture above, some of the siblings in this family are much bigger than others. The bigger ones are older by about a week. They hatch around the time leaves form on the trees, and immediately begin crawling up and down the tree, leaving trails of silk behind them. Afterward they can tell by tasting the silk where the best food supply was. When caterpillar and tree populations are well balanced these trails don't become noticeable beyond the nest, but in "plague years" the tree may be completely defoliated and covered in webs of silk. (Horrible though it looks, the tree will probably look normal in a month and bear fruit later in summer.)

Tent caterpillars are among the very few species of Lepidopterae that seem to know their families. (They seem to notice more about the world in general than many caterpillars do; they're quite sensitive to touch and temperature, and probably even see about three feet ahead of their faces.) Younger siblings follow older siblings up and down the tree in search of good food.

In the evening they all come back to the nest, where they groom the dust out of one another's thick fur. Vincent Dethier reported that when tent caterpillars are isolated and prevented from grooming each other, they die; "of depression and ennui," he suggested, though probably also of suffocation, since they breathe through pores in their skins, underneath the fur.

Tent caterpillar hatchlings look like very small scraps of black yarn. In a few days they molt and have black skins with white fur and solid white stripes down their backs, like the smaller caterpillars in the picture. They keep this coloring for most of the caterpillar phase of their lives, but the last caterpillar skins they have are beautifully patterned in black, white, and blue with ginger fur, like the bigger caterpillars in the picture.

The distinctive blue color comes from cyanide. The leaves these caterpillars eat contain significant traces of cyanide, which seems to do the caterpillars no harm but discourages most birds from eating them. They would be poisonous to humans if swallowed. Wikipedia reports that they are sometimes inadvertently swallowed by horses, and can have poisonous effects on pregnant mares:


Though not especially warm (being cold-blooded animals) these caterpillars are certainly fuzzy. Because they seem to see and feel more than most caterpillars do, while still unable to see how large and dangerous humans are, they can briefly seem to be "pets." Most of their "cuddly" habits are probably illusory--their tendency to climb up your finger if you touch them is an instinct based in their way of defending themselves against small parasitic wasps--but they may enjoy being stroked, if you have a light and steady touch. (Unfortunately they're also fragile and easily crushed.)

There are no venomous "stings" in their soft fur; the caterpillars seldom even try to bite, and they're not strong enough to do any harm if they do want to bite. There is no valid reason to confuse tent caterpillars with stingingworms, which hatch later in the year. However, about one out of four humans may be mildly allergic to tent caterpillars' fur. I tend to suspect that part of the allergy reaction has to be psychosomatic, because watching tent caterpillars makes most humans feel "crawly" in any case. It is not to be compared with the reaction even non-allergic people have to contact with stingingworms. When reactions are reported, as here...


...contributing factors seem to include heat, length of contact, and contact between hairs and skin more sensitive than the skin on humans' hands and feet.

I've heard people say, "If it's not trying to bite or sting me, why is it running after me and trying to crawl up my leg?" Tent caterpillars do follow people, and occasionally jump out of trees to land on people, in an unmistakably purposeful way. Their sensitivity to temperatures, humidity, and scent probably has a lot to do with this. They're definitely most likely to run after humans when crawling across hot pavement. Curiosity could be a factor; in order to see things clearly caterpillars probably do need to get close enough to touch them. The wandering stage of their lives also has something to do with separating from their siblings--they often pupate close to their eventual mates--so there might even be some motivation to impress their friends.

Under normal circumstances, tent caterpillars' defensive behaviors consist of (1) climbing or crawling on top of things that touch them unexpectedly from behind, (2) squirming (they can bend almost double in any direction, and do this rapidly to scare off some attackers), and (3) being unpalatable to most birds--hairy, full of cyanide, and sometimes able to spit up drops of leaf juices. Biting is a last-resort behavior that seems to emerge only when the caterpillar is in pain.

Controlling tent caterpillar populations is easy. Nature does it for you. In approximately ten-year cycles, tent caterpillars give us object lessons of what happens to creatures that reproduce too efficiently. Local populations become overcrowded and vulnerable to infections. These are "plague years" for humans who don't appreciate having large numbers of tent caterpillars in their gardens, and for the caterpillars, who suffer and die from a variety of strange insect diseases. After one or two plague years, the population thins out and the caterpillars are no longer much of a nuisance...until population congestion recurs.

If there is some special reason to persecute these mostly harmless insects, there's no need to buy any expensive, dangerous chemicals. If you're due for a plague or near-plague year and don't want to be plagued by the caterpillars, pick off the twigs containing egg masses before your trees bud, when the eggs are easy to see. If a late frost has killed the early buds, so the tree is already using its reserves, and the late frost has somehow failed to kill the caterpillars, use a stick (a long stick--don't be like that visitor to Dave's Garden who got them down his neck!) to remove the nest from the tree. (Many caterpillars will escape and regroup, or die, somewhere else, but you can burn the nest; it will be full of cast-off skins and caterpillar droppings, which are called frass, and will have a distinct odor and burn with a blue flame.)

A heavy stick is also an effective way to get rid of random, wandering caterpillars if, for example, you have had a long thaw and a severe late freeze, such that, instead of having a chance to destroy the trees' reserve leaves, the caterpillars starve to death and congregate on your porch. I did that in 2011; after a few childhood years when it seemed necessary to kill the caterpillars to protect our baby fruit trees, followed by many years of living in peace with them, I started euthanizing them because they kept trying to crawl up me--I think in a last desperate hope that I might be some sort of tree. Probably what the cats objected to was the mess and odor in the yard, but I consciously resisted a tendency to think that the cats were trying to say that these pitiful little things had come to the Cat Sanctuary in search of, well, sanctuary, and I was being mean. I felt mean. I have certain instinctive reactions to physical contact with insects dead or alive, but that should, ethically, be my problem. But I kept sweeping the caterpillars off the porch and bashing them, anyway. So I can't judge readers whose approach to Malacosoma americanum involves a stick.

Poisoning these harmless animals, and who knows what-all else along with them, seems ethically beyond the pale. I would even beware of spraying BT to control other caterpillars, e.g. Gypsy Moth caterpillars, that hatch when the tent caterpillars are theoretically old enough to be immune (according to corporate spokesmen). We tried that in Takoma Park, back when I lived there. The tent caterpillars were not immune. It takes a caterpillar about a week to die from BT; during that time the caterpillar is obviously suffering, and the tent caterpillars crawled out onto hot pavement and convulsed and bit things and generally seemed to be trying to hasten the end. Not a pleasant sight--especially in view of the fact that most of the gyps hatched a little later than expected and suffered no noticeable effects from BT, and during the next winter Takoma Park lost several of its century-old oak trees.

Tent caterpillars wander for less than a week, although they don't all reach this stage at once, so you see them wandering about for two or three weeks. Then they find a sheltered place to spin light cocoons and turn into moths, which doesn't take long. When the caterpillars wander in early May, as they usually do in Virginia, the moths fly in June.

Adult Malacosoma americanum aren't conspicuous, although the Cat Sanctuary, being in an orchard, sees a few each year. The medium-sized, light brown moths are only occasionally attracted to light, and don't eat; they have just time to pair off, mate, and lay eggs before they die. Then the cycle begins again next year.

People who actually look at the animals can't confuse Eastern tent caterpillars with any of the other species mentioned above. Confusion with webworms and bagworms is due to the literal meaning of the names--these are completely different species. Confusion with gyps is, I suspect, due mainly to having pored over Herbert Zim's Golden Book field guides, in which the drawings aren't very lifelike and can be confusing. Confusion with Forest Tent Caterpillars and Walnut Caterpillars is a little more reasonable--they do look a bit alike, but not enough to be confused when you look closely.

Mainly because the computer reports that readers are fascinated by caterpillar stories, but also because I always learn something new when reworking this material, I'll try to post something about each of the other species in time for readers in my part of the world to look for them in your gardens.

Meanwhile, although I'm not exactly familiar with the Western Tent Caterpillars (some classify them as several different species), I will acknowledge their existence...

Malacosoma californicum is not found at the Cat Sanctuary. As shown, he's obviously in the Tent Caterpillar family, but not an Eastern Tent Caterpillar. Here is his Wikipedia page:


There's also a European tent caterpillar, nicknamed the Lackey...is that short for Malacosoma, or a play on the idea of their grooming one another, or both?


If this article has not completely exceeded your interest in tent caterpillars, you may want to read Vincent Dethier's book, The World of the Tent-Makers...and you may also want to consider a major in entomology!

Carrico Supports Day of Prayer

From the office of State Senator Bill Carrico:

Washington – Virginia Senator Bill Carrico (R-Grayson) today urged President Barack Obama to publicly recognize the 150th anniversary of a proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln establishing a National Day of Prayer and Fasting. Carrico also asked the President to celebrate the National Day of Prayer, which will be held this Thursday, May 2nd.
Carrico made the requests known in an email to the White House today. The text of the email is below:
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC
April 30, 2013
Mr. President,
On this day 150 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed a resolution declaring April 30th as a National Day of Prayer and Fasting. In his proclamation, President Lincoln rightly stated that “it is the duty of nations, as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God.” In the years since that day, the National Day of Prayer has been recognized and celebrated by numerous presidents throughout our history. Lincoln’s legacy lives on in many ways, including his example that we should use this day as one to pray for our nation.
America needs prayer as much today as it did when President Lincoln signed his name to the proclamation in 1863. I am writing to urge you to publicly recognize the 150th anniversary of this important act by a man who you rightly refer to as a role model for success as President of the United States. I also urge you to publicly acknowledge the National Day of Prayer this Thursday, May 2nd, which was codified into law in 1988.
President Lincoln and many leaders since have recognized the importance of prayer for the strength and security of our great nation. I hope you will continue this important tradition. Thank you for your time concerning this matter.
God Bless,
Sen. Bill Carrico
Member, Senate of Virginia

Penalty for Companies that Don't Spy on You?

Liz Klimas reports on a proposal not only to allow, but to force Internet companies to spy on users:


Will this legislation eventually push young people back into the real world, reminding everyone that we should never "tell" a computer anything we don't want everybody to know?

Why Pay Before Pumping?

Jonathon M. Seidl has photos and video of what really ought to happen to all people who are allowed to pump before paying, and thus enabled to drive away without paying...


If you enjoy "Least Competent Criminals" stories, here is your chortle for the day.

Rick Buchanan on Conservation Easements, Part III

The introduction to Rick Buchanan and the Fauquier Free Citizen, here, contains links to Parts I and II:


And here's the link to Part III:


Virginia Tea Party Picks Stewart and Obenshain

For those who doubt that the Tea Party is, or the Tea Parties are, a grassroots development not controlled by any sinister robber-baron types, here's evidence that the different Tea Parties don't necessarily back the same candidates in the same elections. From the Virginia Tea Party Federation:

"Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation and Middle Resolution Select Corey Stewart for Lieutenant Governor and Mark Obenshain for Attorney General

For Immediate Release April 29, 2013

(Richmond, VA) – “Corey Stewart placed first in the joint Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation/Middle Resolution comprehensive Lieutenant Governor candidate vetting process, held on April 26-27,” said Mark Daugherty, Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation Chairman. 

“Senator Mark Obenshain earned first place in the Attorney General candidate vetting competition,” Daugherty added.

Angie Parker, Executive Director of Middle Resolution PAC, noted, “The Lieutenant Governor race has been very competitive with a field of excellent candidates. We are pleased that Corey Stewart demonstrated a strong grasp of the constitutional principles of limited government and individual liberty during his questioning. Furthermore, Mr. Stewart has a well-organized and well-financed campaign.” Parker added, “Senator Mark Obenshain delivered an outstanding performance during his interview. This proven strength, combined with a vigorous statewide campaign, places Mark in a good position for both the May 18th nominating convention and November 5th general election.”

Over 200 Virginia Tea Party and Middle Resolution members from 31 groups across the state took part in the vetting session, each completing scorecards based on the candidates’ responses during live interviews. Identical questions on constitutional principles principles, policy, and political philosophy were asked of each candidate; candidates were not given questions beforehand. Campaign viability was also factored into the evaluation.

Participating Tea Party groups and Middle Resolution members will share the knowledge gained from the two-day vetting process with over 1,000 convention delegates from their respective groups. These delegates will then support Corey Stewart and Mark Obenshain for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, respectively, at the May 17-18th Republican Nominating Convention in Richmond where a multiple ballot process will lead to the selection of a Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor and a single ballot process will determine the Republican nominee for Attorney General.

The Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation is a coalition of 46 independent Tea Party and patriot groups that stand for fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free market principles.

Founded in Richmond, Virginia, Middle Resolution PAC helps elect leaders who are committed to restoring individual rights and limited government as described in the U.S. Constitution. Middle Resolution also holds legislators accountable once in office, following all necessary voting records.

Please visit www.virginiateapartypatriots.com and www.middleresolution.org. for more information.
Virginia Tea Party Patriots Federation Contact: Mark Daugherty (540) 885-5627
Email: trail100liberty@gmail.com

Middle Resolution PAC Contact: Angie Parker (804) 746-1508
Email: angie@middleresolution.org

Please note: "The candidates that scored the highest in the intensive vetting process were the ones that the committee selected to support. This process included a wide array of questions, the answers for which were scored by over 200 representatives of more than 30 member tea parties. The totals were checked and then double checked, and the winners selected were the candidates who scored the highest."

Learn more about the top-ranked candidates Corey Stewart here: http://www.coreystewart.com/ and Mark Obenshain here: http://www.markobenshain.com/
"Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." - Thomas Jefferson Virginia Tea Party Patriots www.virginiateapartypatriots.com Danville Patriots http://danvillepatriots.com/ "

Here's a list of Senator Obenshain's accomplishments last winter:


Morgan Griffith on Benghazi Hearings

From Congressman Morgan Griffith's e-newsletter:

"Interim Progress Report on the Attacks in Benghazi
Many people have written my office asking Congress to continue looking into the September 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that took the lives of four Americans.

House Committees have been conducting an investigation, and recently released an interim progress report on what they have learned. Among other findings, the report cites an April 2012 cable from the Secretary of State, denying requests from people on the ground in Egypt for an extension of security. The report also finds that "the Administration willfully perpetuated a deliberately misleading and incomplete narrative that the attacks evolved from a political demonstration caused by a YouTube video."

The report has many other findings as well, so please don’t hesitate to contact my offices if you wish to review the report."

Yet Another Armed Storekeeper Foils Robbery

Jason Howerton shares yet another story of how an armed private citizen prevented a violent crime:


Constitution Quest (the Board Game)

Becket Adams describes a new board game I'd like to play:


Parchesi plus fun facts...sounds hard to beat!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Patrick Buchanan on the Boston Bomber Brothers

When we're terrorized, the terrorists win...


Basking Shark Pictures

Erica Ritz shares photos of the basking shark, a harmless herbivore that looks a bit like the great white shark, only, sometimes, even bigger...


How to Support Michael Sullivan

This web site has ridiculed certain Democrats from Massachusetts many times. I mean to say...Teddy Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren made it too easy, and if we've gone easy on Barney Frank, that's only because the obvious jokes about him aren't family-friendly.

We do not, however, have anything against Massachusetts. We think it might be a pleasant change for beleaguered Bostonians to have someone this web site would have to respect representing them in the U.S. Senate. E-friend Lloyd Marcus says Michael Sullivan would be such a person.

So here's more about Candidate Sullivan...

About Michael Sullivan: A self-described "proud Republican," Michael Sullivan is an American success story. Sullivan started as a stock clerk for the Gillette Corporation and after 16 years with the company he worked his way up to become Assistant to the President.
A graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School, Sullivan has served as a Republican State Representative, a District Attorney and U.S. Attorney. While U.S. Attorney, Sullivan helped prosecute a number of terrorism cases including the infamous "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid.
Above: Michael Sullivan helped bring the "Shoe Bomber" to Justice
You can make a contribution to our independent expenditure campaign supporting conservative Republican Michael Sullivan for U.S. Senate by making a contribution of as little as $5 up to the maximum allowed contribution of $5,000 online - HERE.
Note that the link above is for individual U.S. citizens only. Residents of states other than Massachusetts may legally donate to Mr. Sullivan's campaign fund, but foreign readers may not. Contributions from corporations are also banned...and this web site frowns on the practice of making large contributions to politicians in the names of children, at least until the children are old enough to take some interest in an election. Campaign contributions are supposed to come from voters.

Watch Karen Bracken Live in Chattanooga

Karen Bracken salutes the people who video-recorded her presentation to the Chattanooga Tea Party...if I had video/audio access here, I'm sure I'd enjoy watching it...

Attached is a presentation I gave for the Chattanooga Tea Party on April 18th. Tin Ship Productions recorded the presentation. You can view their work and/or make a donation on: http://tinshipproductions.com/index.html
This couple travels all over the country recording patriot events and they are making a documentary. Donations are always welcome to help them with their endeavor. They have donated their time free of charge to help document many patriot events and we so appreciate their efforts and support. If you need a professional recording I hope you will consider them.
I had no idea the presentation was going to be recorded but once I got started never gave them another thought. I am not a professional speaker just a passionate, concerned grandmother………soon to be a GREAT GRANDMOTHER!!!
I suspect she already is a great grandmother.

Unrestricted Warfare: Financial War on America

Are countries that wouldn't dare to declare traditional war on the United States engaged in a financial war against us? Patricia Evans e-mailed not only the link, but the full text, of Kevin Freeman's argument that such a war may be going on:


Her comment:

In 1999, two Chinese military strategists authored an important work published by the PLA Press and now considered military doctrine. The book, roughly translated into English by the CIA, is Unrestricted Warfare. A copy of the English translation can be found here: http://www.c4i.org/unrestricted.pdf
The message of the book is simple: America has been the world’s sole superpower and cannot be defeated by traditional kinetic means. Instead, the book argues, China and other global players have to adopt alternative strategies and new forms of weapons to alter their relative positions vis-à-vis the United States. There is strong evidence that this book has been read by Osama bin Laden as well as other terrorist organizations. Chief among the new form of weapons identified in Unrestricted Warfare is the notion of Financial Warfare “in which a country is subjugated without a drop of blood being spilled.” It is described as “entering and subverting banking and stock markets and manipulating the value of a targeted currency.” The book also describes other new form weapons including Cyber warfare, smuggling, resources warfare, and drug warfare. No reasonable observer would doubt that the Chinese have been developing alternative weapons, especially Cyber capabilities. In addition, we are just now beginning to realize how the acquired monopoly of rare earth minerals has been a weapon of resources warfare. Therefore, it is only reasonable to acknowledge that they may be engaged in Financial Warfare as well. At the same time, the concept has been adopted by some terrorist groups and is termed “Financial Jihad.”

Rand Paul on Common Core

A correspondent of his shared this part of a letter from Senator Rand Paul on the "Common Core" curriculum boondoggle:

President Obama has been focused on nationalizing what is taught in each of our nation's schools since he was sworn into office. The President's flagship "Race to the Top" competitive grant program was used to entice states to adopt the K-12 standards developed by a joint project of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Also, in the President's 2009 Blueprint for Education Reform, it is suggested that the adoption of these common standards could one day be a qualification for states wanting future Title I dollars for low-income schools.
I have many concerns about the constitutionality and transparency of the Common Core State Standards Initiative as well as the loss of local control of curriculum and instruction.
I want to bring power back to the states and local communities. There is too much of the federal government trying to tell the local governments and local school districts what to do. I believe each area and its needs are different-Tompkinsville is different than Bowling Green, which is different than Louisville. Therefore, we need to have more local decisions. I have more confidence in parents, teachers, and local school districts to make decisions than I do in Washington.
As I continue work on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, remain confident that I will take every possible opportunity to return the power of education back to the states, where local communities and parents can make decisions in students learning.
Again, thank you for reaching out to me with your concerns. It is an absolute honor to represent the people of Kentucky as their United States Senator. I took the oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States with great pride and it was a very important moment for me. I understand the gravity of the responsibility I have been entrusted with; I acknowledge the tremendous amount of work there is to undertake. I am quite optimistic about what can be accomplished and look forward to empowering the American people through legislative action. "

How to Get the Three Jaguars on a Mug

For those who enjoy the Three Jaguars cartoon page...


or appreciated the business columns in which they first appeared...


...I'm sure you've been wondering, "How can I get these critters on a mug, T-shirt, magnet, coaster, jewelry, or whatever?" (Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes cartoons are so last year.) And the answer is, "Here":


A Good Day to Weed Out Bidens

No, not Joe Biden and his ilk, although their political destruction might also be a good thing. What I have in mind is Bidens, a wildflower genus that, in my part of the world, looks its best at this time of year. And this year they're really flourishing.

Local names for Bidens are sticktights, Spanish Needles, and beggar-ticks, or beggar-lice, depending on the shape of the seeds. (There are different species with differently shaped seeds.) Although they will eventually become coarse, ugly-looking weeds, at this time of year they're modest little things with dainty, rather pretty yellow flowers.

If you don't want to be covered in prickly little burs every time you walk through the garden, you can take one good look at Bidens in bloom. Enjoy it. Then harden your heart and root the plants up (carefully--the stems tend to break off just above ground level). It's most efficient to do this on a damp day when the soil is soft. In dry weather, the stems are more likely to break, which means you'll have to get a trowel and dig out the roots, or come back and pull up the plants later.

The position of this web page is that there's no excuse for poisoning Bidens. There's no valid excuse for keeping them in a garden, either, because they are such a nuisance later in the year and so easy to remove from the garden after they've paid their debt to society by producing their cute little flowers.

They will come back. Animals will pick up the seeds in the woods. Humans can only dream of a world in which the North American species of Bidens would ever be endangered...although, oddly enough, there are some rare species of Bidens that grow only in Hawaii and are threatened there.

Here's a general overview of Bidens:


These aren't the species I've been weeding recently:




These appear to be two of the Bidens I've been weeding:



...but Wikipedia doesn't even have a picture of the one that's really trying to take over the garden this spring. It's an interesting plant all right...round leaves, almost like violet leaves, near the ground and long narrow leaves up around the level of the flowers.

"Sticktights" is also the local name for tick-trefoil, which belongs to a different wildflower family. Tick-trefoil seeds don't feel prickly but they stick to clothes, and stick clothes together, like tiny bits of Velcro. Strangely, some people actually seem to want these plants:


Phenology for 4/29/13

First, a glimpse of similar flowers, a little slower to bloom. Thanks to Elizabeth Barrette for sharing these flower pictures from New England:


At the Cat Sanctuary we have violets. (In the weird spring of 2011 there were hardly any blue violets and only a few white ones, so it's good to see all species back, full force.) We also have hepaticas, redbuds (still), dogwoods, the quirky spring asters called "daisy fleabane" or "fleabane daisies," buttercups, dandelions, celandine, shepherds-purse, and vincas. The Prunus--fruit trees--have already bloomed; nice that some people still have those to look forward to.

This has not been a year for azaleas in Gate City, although in Kingsport some carefully tended azaleas have displayed the mass of color they're supposed to have at this time of year. Grandma Bonnie Peters came home to find her candytuft and white irises in bloom, her dogwoods and forsythias already past their peak.

In Gate City, some people already have tulip and iris blooming in their yards, pansies, other cultivated flowers, and one garden on Jackson Street has a single stray California Poppy blooming on a sunny bank. Not a native wild flower, but it looks as if it's naturalized.

The last few days have been mild and damp, lows in the upper forties, highs in the fifties and sixties (Fahrenheit of course). Lots of bird activity. This morning it rained, so I procrastinated and didn't come out to the computer center until a phoebe perched in the hedge and started yelling "PHOE-be!", apparently trying to pick a quarrel with the cardinals, who are more aggressive but less loud. Birds don't quarrel about nesting space while it's raining so I came out. I saw bluejays, robins, wrens, and sparrows on the way. It's good to see them, because even on Jackson Street gnats are already quite a nuisance this year.

More about one particular flower in the next post...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Beware of "Charrettes"

What's a "charrette"? Not a cute little wagon, as you might imagine based on high school French, nor a junior charwoman, but a sneaky way of claiming that public plans have been presented to a town meeting without exposing these plans (which are often unpopular) to any actual discussion by the meeting. Karen Bracken elucidates:

"A Charrette is the new tactic the consultants are using in order to totally shut down group questions and opposition. The tactic is the most affective at shutting down true dialogue. With all the push back consultants are getting all across America you will see this tactic used more often than not. Here in TN my 16 County/3 State plan just conducted a series of 4 visioning sessions and (because they know there is huge opposition here to what they are doing) they too used the Charrette tactic. Total Delphi manuever. A Charrette is when they have a large room with stations and tons of shills manning each station so the only dialogue is as you walk around looking at the nonsense they have displayed. It is also impossible to record the proceedings unless you walk around like they did at this session and actually record people as they talk to you. You will find a lot of them won't agree to you recording them."

Suggestion for those who want to preserve democracy in local government: Amend your rules of procedure so that no actual decisions can be made during a "charrette." Require that, before people who've attended a "charrette" sign or vote on anything, they attend a town meeting that leaves room for discussion. "Charrettes" can actually be informative...if they're not used as substitutes for the democratic process.

Early-Term Birth or Late-Term Abortion?

Some humans may sometimes envy cats. Consider the women who, according to a video Billy Hallowell discusses, are concerned that their fetuses may self-abort during the days before the women have scheduled surgical abortions...


"If it moves..." Ask my cat Heather. Possibly in order to induce lactation and adopt her orphaned brother, Heather gave birth to some, not all, of her kittens a week ahead of the others. If she did this as anything like a human's "effort" or "experiment," it failed; only one of Heather's premature kittens moved around on its own. And neither it nor its uncle was alive by the time the normal-looking kittens came out into the world. However, there was no doubt in Heather's mind that her Preemie was alive and deserved to be fed, cared for, and generally given as good a life as possible during the short time it was here.

Some humans should have as much common sense as some cats.

Alternative Limbs

Why should amputees limit their options to plain old wood and metal? Fashion designers are turning their attention to artificial limbs as fashion statements. A selection of gruesome and glamorous prosthetics can be clicked through at the top of this page...


Thanks to Elizabeth Barrette for this link.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Shelter In Place

The writer known as Nelson Abdullah or Oldironsides shares some insightful thoughts about the phrase "shelter in place":


He's right. I remember living in a suburb of Washington in September 2001. The phrase used was "stay inside where it's safer." But of course people who'd been herded indoors, on a day that nature clearly intended people to spend outdoors, passed the time watching television. And of course all the television networks were showing was emotional reaction--very few facts were available--endlessly regurgitated and reabsorbed emotional reactions, endless replays of the same poor soul staggering out of the same building and collapsing on the same street.

I said, "What are these people doing? What are these people, or what do they think we are, to watch someone suffering, over and over, when there's nothing we can possibly do to help, but at least a decent person wouldn't keep looking." So my husband and I turned off the television and found other things to do during the barrage of propaganda.

So we were in a position to observe a direct correlation between the amount of TV people had watched between say September 11 and September 20, 2001, and the extent to which they believed that an all-out war was appropriate and necessary. People who had been pacifists on September 10, then watched TV all week, were typically ready to bomb Iraq. I thought attacking a country known to be harboring Bin Laden might be appropriate, but had some reservations about the need for all-out war, although I always bear in mind that the President is supposed to have information I don't have or want to have. My husband remained a pacifist. On September 13 we ventured out to the train station and saw some former pacifists waving signs with messages like "Reduce Kabul to rubble" and "Palestinians danced while Americans cried."

Having the Internet at home may possibly be giving Bostonians some alternatives to watching television. This may help them keep their heads level. All of these dastardly attacks, bombings or poison letters or shootings or whatever else the evildoers may think of, are of course sources of pain, grief, rage. There are legitimate reasons and uses for these emotions. Buying into propaganda about giving up a little more liberty in the futile hope of buying a little more "safety" is not one of them.

Iris Demands Indoor Privileges

This bit of Bad Poetry came to mind back in January, when it describes the behavior of the kitten Iris. It can be sung, to the tune of the Clancy Brothers' "Little Beggar Man," if you really want to try it. So far I've spared my family.

They tell me I was brought indoors just after I was born,
When, after a long early thaw, there came a frosty morn.
And now that I’m much bigger and much cleverer and bolder,
What has the weather gone and done, but turned a great deal colder.
I’m an energetic kitten, but for all that I don’t see
What’s more precious, in the warm room, than a pretty cat like me.
The humans call the temperature down cellar fifty-five
And say that that is warm enough to keep a cat alive,
But temperatures are like the things they put up on their shelves:
The humans always try to keep the best ones for themselves.
I like the air directly in front of a hot-air fan,
And I prefer to share it with a woman or a man.
I would lead them by their fingers, softly clasped between my paws,
But if they withhold attention, then I’ll grab them with my claws.
I cannot think why my human has this foolish urge to type
When I try to hold her fingers still and give them a good wipe.
I am a classic calico cat: from that you can see,
There is nothing on this planet quite so marvellous as me.
So when I’m put outside I will begin to wheeze and cough,
And when they bring me in again I turn that cough right off,
And lie before the hot-air fan until my paws are wet
And I put out my tongue and pant with honest kitty sweat,
And whatever other pillow may be offered for my head,
I’ll still demand a human hand, a lap on which to shed,
And then another hand to shade my eyes will also seem
The best way to protect me from a less than pleasant dream.
For of all the Patchnose kittens, surely anyone can see,
There has never been a kitten more adorable than me.

Update: by now Iris is a year old, and although the hot-air fan has gone into retirement, Iris still jumps up onto my shoulder, sometimes to demand indoor privileges, sometimes just to demand attention and affection. Antibiotics and warm weather seem to have helped her shake off the strep infection she had last winter. A manufacturer's sale on Friskies with gravy, into which worm remedies can be mixed, also seems to be doing all the cats some good. Iris is now bright-eyed, healthy, and even plump (she inherited her father's cobby build), but she's still small and young for her age (at least she's not trying to have kittens of her own). She learned rather quickly that, if she wanted to sit on my lap, the sound of typing was her cue to take a nap!

Iris is the bossiest cat we've had at the Cat Sanctuary since Minnie's reign in the 1990s, but very lovable. She is, so far, the only member of the Patchnose Family who actually likes riding in cars (Bounce and Magic also liked riding in cars). She's not stupid enough to approach cars until she sees that they've stopped and that a familiar human is climbing in or out of them, but then she leaps into the car, checks for food, and waits to see whether she's being invited out to a party. And she recognizes other Cat Sanctuary cats, and seems to enjoy visiting them in their new homes.

Would I part with Iris? What a joke...all three-colored cats come into this world knowing themselves to be special and superior beings, and it takes an ego the size of Iris's to keep the egos of Irene, Ivy, Heather, and Grayzel in balance. Like Elizabeth I or Victoria in England, she may look half-grown, but she was manifestly born to be a Ruling Queen.

Is Poverty Cruelty to Animals?

Liz Klimas reports on a really vindictive attack on an impoverished animal lover:


So, the dog Harley was probably the only friend Tammy Brown had--if she'd had human friends they'd have to have been awfully poor, too, not to have helped care for the dog--and these "humane" people "rescued" him from the horrors of growing old with a disfigurement. But that's not enough; they have to inflict more misery on Ms. Brown.

Wake up, America. The Humane Society aren't about kindness to dogs or cats or humans.

(1) Dogs aren't as eye-conscious as humans and don't reject friends who have ugly benign tumors; nothing in this report tells me that the dog was aware of any abuse or neglect.

(2) While cats usually grow emotionally attached to places, dogs usually grow emotionally attached to people. When a dog has lived with you for fourteen years, wherever you are is probably all he knows of "home" or even "Heaven." He won't blame you for not being able to feed him; his instincts will tell him that it's his turn to feed you. Putting him into the custody of someone who has more money may be harder on the dog than letting him miss a few meals or vet visits would be.

(3) But the "humane" types didn't put Harley up for adoption; they just killed him. Why? Because, although the Humane Society can still attract some sponsors and volunteers who honestly like animals, they are currently led and funded by people whose goal is the extinction of domestic animals.

(4) And prosecuting Tammy Brown, after she's lost the ability to care for her only friend, and lost him, is such blatant cruelty that I can't imagine how her persecutors can live with themselves.

At this point I pause to consider why I feel so emotional about this. Because in 2011, at the time when Harley was murdered for appearing to be "neglected," I wasn't eating regularly myself, that's why. The Cat Sanctuary cats were eating--something or other--every day, but I wasn't. Because my belief is that if I can't earn my own living I have a moral obligation to stop living, but I've observed that lots of people, even total strangers, like to pitch in and help animals.

I want to share this with people who find themselves living in poverty and have bonded with animals in the years when they were more comfortable. You don't have to give up your pet, nor do you have to neglect it. Your dog(s) and/or cat(s) and/or hens and/or even horse(s) care about you, too, in their way. Through you they have learned to trust other humans. If you don't have any living human friends, your animal friends can help you meet some new ones.

Pause. How would I, personally, go about begging someone I didn't know for money for cat food or veterinary care? I wouldn't--because everyone I know knows that I live with cats, and some people always ask about the cats and are interested in volunteering any kind of help, and some are not. I don't actually buy most of the kibble that's consumed at the Cat Sanctuary. People who would like to adopt a cat, whether they can plan to adopt one or not, buy most of the kibble. They also buy most of the treats, do all of the driving, and pay for most of the veterinary care. All I've really had to provide for my cats has been a place to live and my wonderful caring-but-no-pressure personality.

But one year I made a quick decision that, instead of taking the time to try to call a driver for an emergency vet visit, the kitten was small enough and sick enough that it'd be faster and thus more humane just to run out to the vet, on foot. And before I'd walked the first mile, a trucker stopped and asked, "Are you taking that cat to the vet? Let me help--'cos I like animals." And he reached down from the truck with a handful of money that more than covered the cost of treatment. I had my own money in my pocket, so I wouldn't have asked this stranger for money even if I'd been talking to him, which I had not. People just feel good about doing things that help animals.

Some animals are more charismatic than others. Some people's willingness to help depends on the amount of help that is necessary. Tell people that you need help to determine whether a disfiguring tumor on a fourteen-year-old dog is cancer or not, and even that man who wanted to hand out thirty dollars at the sight of a sick kitten might say, "I'll help you put that dog out of its misery." Complex equations involving time and money, age of the animal, looks and personality of the animal, time people have to think about it, plus other drains on the human's resources, come into play. Another year, another cat, less fluffy and adorable-looking, needed an emergency operation; while people were still doing their "That much money for that cat? Can't you ask someone else?" thing, the cat died from loss of blood--but at least she wasn't "neglected" for more than three days.

I'll say this much. If I had a pet who I believed could be saved only by expensive treatment, and I needed help to pay for that treatment, I think I'd help the animal ask for help. I think I could sit down with the animal, in front of the veterinary clinic, and say to passers-by, "Fluffy here needs (whatever). I don't have the money to pay for it. Can you spare any money?" until Fluffy and I had raised the amount needed.

People who met me in real life as an adult might say, "Oh that's all very well for you--you've been an activist, you've knocked on people's doors for causes." Yes, but before I was an activist I was a painfully shy teenager, with acne. We all start somewhere. When you believe a cause is worth it, you can put your shyness aside long enough to do something useful.

It's not altogether clear from Liz Klimas' report whether the dog Harley was underfed, or was just an old, frail dog with a tumor who shouldn't have been reported as a neglected animal in the first place. But if she knew Harley needed help she couldn't give him, Tammy Brown should have set aside pride, shyness, or whatever else, and asked other humans--individuals, not the horrible Humane Society bosses!--to help Harley get the care he needed while staying in the place and with the person he loved.

Real success for the Cat Sanctuary would be to become one of the places where people like Tammy Brown could appeal for help for Harley. Not for handouts from me personally, but for networking. Post the story here, connect with people in Florida (where they lived), enlist volunteers to drive the dog to the vet in their own neighborhood.

Maybe, in another five or ten years, we can reclaim the term "sanctuary" from the horrible "humane" types, define a Cat or Dog Sanctuary as in many ways the opposite of a Humane Society shelter, and make it possible for people like Tammy Brown to know that they can go into a public computer center and Google "Dog Sanctuary" and, within half an hour, connect with people who can help. (Not social workers who want to make the human and the dog into ongoing "cases," but just friends who care about the dog and are willing to get to know its human in due time.)

Meanwhile...file this one under "scam" too, because Wayne Pacelle's Humane Society of the United States has become one great big horrible scam.

U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Just when you thought that at least this lame idea had died...


It's not about protecting the rights of persons with disabilities--the United States already has laws that do that. It's another assault on the rights of U.S. citizens to self-determination according to the Constitution that has worked so well for us, as distinct from the feudal customs, sharia laws, and failed experiments in socialism of the less successful countries that envy us and want us to be mired in the same quicksand they are.

Common Core Updates

First, Dawn Wildman has created an elegant summary of what Common Core is and why most of youall don't or won't like it, which has passed Karen Bracken's "just the facts" test. Fair disclosure: it's a PDF file. I've had very mixed success even opening PDF files and can't guarantee that I'll ever be able to see a PDF file e-mailed to me...although lis.virginia.gov works beautifully with every computer I've used, and it is, technically, PDF format. So, will this PDF file work for you? I don't know. It worked for me, at this computer, this morning. What Dawn Wildman typed into this PDF file is well worth reading. I wish she'd make it available as a Word document.


Highlights include a summary of the cost of inflicting Common Core "curriculum" on public schools, the shift in emphasis away from actually passing math and grammar tests and toward teachers collecting private personal information about students, the "bipartisan support" of Big Business (Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch) and Big Government (W Bush, Obama), and the emphasis on getting school funding spent on elaborate technology to teach a dumbed-down curriculum.

From Alabama, early good news about the fight against this bad educational idea...

Alabama is doing it again. They are seeing the light!! And on April 30 Tennessee will show it's legislators the people here feel the same way as the people in AL, Utah, Indiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia etc.
...Followed by bad news...
That joy didn't last long. Let this be a lesson for what we are all going to be facing. There is BIG money involved in Common Core for many rich and powerful people and they are not going to give up easily. And then there are those that must follow the directive from the UN to implement universal education and create the future citizens of the world. All in an effort to promote the NWO. This reminds me very much of what we are facing with everything associated with Agenda 21 (and this IS Agenda 21). Even though we all know global warming is a hoax and the hype about curtailing human activity for the sake of the environment is a cash cow for people like Al Gore they continue the lie in order to protect their dynasty and the agenda behind the hoax. The fight against Common Core will not be any different.
Educate everyone you can but also build a huge ground army because unless we have that huge army we won't have a chance at stopping Common Core.
Why is this filed as a scam? Because of the unmistakable evidence that Bill Gates is backing Common Core for personal gain. Just the way some shabby long-gone department store once got my school to base students' gym grades largely on wearing overpriced, poor-quality gym uniforms, until a few of the smarter and braver students protested. For a pathetic little store that was due to go out of business in five years anyway, that was tacky enough. For a man like Gates, who was, for years, the richest honest man in America and a hero to many of our generation...words fail me.

Man Fights Off Burglar, Police Take Property

Jason Howerton's story doesn't leave much to say beyond "Uh uh uh!"


Thursday, April 25, 2013

How to Watch the Texas Memorial Service

For those who can watch videos on your computers, Madeleine Morgenstern shares the video of the memorial service for the fire fighters killed in West, Texas:


The Boston Bombers' Mosque

When other news media are giving you All Boston, All The Time, the general policy of this web site would be to back away from the Boston bombing story. We weren't there; we have nothing to add; we don't want to sit around rehashing everyone else's hash. However, we promised...


...to highlight anything Muslims had to say for themselves along the lines of the last paragraph of the USA Today article.

"This kind of violence, terrorism, it's just completely contrary to the spirit of Islam," Kasmi said. "The words in the Quran say if anybody kills even a single human being without just cause, it's as if you've killed all of humanity."

Seriously, Muslim readers (if we have any): We all know that those aren't the words in the Quran, because they are in English. If any of you would like to share any Islamic studies along these lines that you've written in English, they would be welcome here. Please feel free to include either transliterations of Arabic words, or JPG graphics of the actual words as they appear.

Bicycles in Business

For any entrepreneurs seeking inspiration...cheap, fun, kid-friendly, summery...here are four cool bicycle-based ventures that have actually stayed in business for a few years.


Is The Blaze Spam?

Liz Klimas also reports that some Blaze readers have visited other sites that mechanically classified The Blaze as spam:


This web site commented on a similar problem with our e-mail. It's not politics; Senator Mark Warner is neither a spammer nor even a right-winger, yet apparently Yahoo has been classifying nearly all of his newsletters as spam (while classifying none of Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith's newsletters as spam). What the e-mails that get mislabelled "spam" have in common are fancy software, including interactive buttons, or links to flashy web sites, or (occasionally) rough language.

This web site obviously owes a great deal to The Blaze. However, some Blaze writers use rougher language than I do; some comments on Blaze articles come from trolls who'll "say" anything as long as it's obnoxious; and all Blaze pages incorporate a lot of fancy software, hovering ads, pop-up ads, moving ads, video clips, and other things that set off alarms when run through a different company's filters.

I don't think it's politics that keeps even Internet Explorer from being able to open some of the Blaze articles I want when I want them. I think it's technology. Simpler pages are less likely to activate spam filters.

Free Pass on Internet Wiretapping?

Is the federal Department of Justice quietly giving Internet service providers a free pass on wiretapping, or some other form of unwarranted espionage?


Right. We know the first couple of page views everything receives, after being posted here, are Google personnel checking for breaches of contract. No problem. We would actually like to get more page views from the federal government. No need to spy, hack or tap anything--just type "priscillaking.blogspot.com" into your browsers and scroll down.

And if somebody out there is reading my e-mail...well, 90% of it is automatically generated, either as (welcome) notifications that something's been published for the whole world to see, or as (unwelcome) advertisements that something is on the market for the whole world to buy. What's generated by me is written with the expectation that third parties are likely to see it. This web site periodically reminds people that the Internet is no place to circulate pictures of children you love, and I practice what I preach.

The Internet is no place to communicate in ways you're not proud of. I'm not saying that we should ever even try to communicate in ways someone else would be proud of. Two years ago Yahoo e-killed me for saying that I'd withheld from publication even articles that readers had requested, because Yahoo was not following through on the payments it had offered, and that I recommended that other writers do likewise. Somebody at Yahoo claimed that this was "hateful." My conscience is clear; I didn't recommend doing any physical damage to anybody, or even holding any grudges against any individuals, but just withholding our products and services until the people who'd offered to pay for them did so. I will always recommend this. If somebody out there relies on cheating other people for his or her living, such that that person feels that it's "hateful" for workers to demand their wages, that is that person's problem not mine. But if I were going to write something that I'd be ashamed for anyone in my family to see (including those lousy first drafts that may or may not ever turn into decent, printable essays or fiction), I'd keep it off the Internet. If anybody out there is trying to convince three different people that each of them is the person you're going to marry, this web site has always warned you not to do it by e-mail.

Is what the Department of Justice is doing unconstitutional? Probably. Is it new, or has it been going on, unadmittedly, for years? If you think it's new, you may be interested in buying some oceanfront property in Oklahoma! As a law-abiding citizen you shouldn't be afraid that people employed by our federal government are likely to see what you do on the Internet. But you should be aware.

What I mind is the time and money being spent on doing it in sneaky, unconstitutional ways. As this web site observed a few weeks ago...we love our foreign readers, and we love our readers in the U.S. government, and we'd like to see them introduce themselves and talk with one another. Blogs thrive on comments from readers.

Virginia HB 1616 Update: Partial Ban on Drones

Virginia House Bill #1616 called for a ban on the use of drones (unmanned aircraft) in Virginia. So did Senate Bill #1331 and House Bill #2012. After due consideration, these three very similar proposals were merged into a revised version of House Bill #2012, which has become law. Full text:


Note that this law bans use of drones by state and local governments only for two more years. And it allows drones to be used for search and rescue missions.

If you appreciate these restrictions on drones, you may want to thank Delegates Cline, Gilbert, Landes, (Robert) Marshall, Morris, and Ramadan and State Senator McEachin, who sponsored the bill.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: Flight Behavior

Book Title: Flight Behavior

Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Date: 2012

Publisher: Harper Collins

Length: 436 pages

ISBN: 978-0-06-212426-5

Quote: "The drooping branches seemed bent to the breaking point under their weight. Of butterflies."

One of several good things that can be said for Barbara Kingsolver is that she doesn't write mere romances. Each of her novels is unique. Even when she turns to science fiction, we knew we could count on Kingsolver for a science fiction story like no other.

Like Margaret Atwood or Suzette Haden Elgin, Kingsolver has enough scientific training to make her science fiction worth reading. So how does Flight Behavior compare with The Handmaid's Tale or Native Tongue? Well...Native Tongue was written as an actual science experiment, drawing on hot news stories of the day to involve talented students in using and teaching a constructed language; The Handmaid's Tale is a cautionary tale about a hypothetical future based solidly in the real world; and Flight Behavior is a deliciously complex and well-balanced fantasy about a hypothetical future that's not really even supported by its underlying theories. If you read Flight Behavior with this in mind, you can enjoy it.

In the real world, monarch butterflies winter in butterfly groves in Mexico. Kingsolver has seen the butterfly groves. In the real world, a town among butterfly groves was destroyed by flooding, but the butterflies continued to winter on the hills above the town. In Kingsolver's imagination, displaced monarch butterflies decide to spend a strangely warm winter in a fictional town in Tennessee.

Why Tennessee? If the real butterflies weren't able to cross the Gulf and winter in Mexico, wouldn't they go to Florida? Not dramatic enough, I expect. Texas, conceivably? Why Tennessee instead of Texas? I'm guessing that that would be because Kingsolver is a native of Kentucky, who married a Virginian and currently lives in Virginia; her characters have Virginia names, accents, manners, and attitudes, and the weather phenomena she reports occurred in Virginia in January through April 2011, so Tennessee was as far as an imagination as reality-based as Kingsolver's could move them. But that's the flaw in this novel. If global climate change had really happened, Tennessee weather would resemble Mexico's, Texas's, or Florida's more than Virginia's in 2011. You have to suspend disbelief to enjoy the story, and fortunately that's easy.

For blurring purposes, both Kingsolver and her characters are vaguely described as living "in southern Appalachia." I cry shame on Kingsolver for that; she's been in Virginia long enough to know that Appalachia is a smallish town, such that, if you vividly describe the details of a farm in southern Appalachia, you're giving out its street address--and neither she nor her characters can be found there.

The butterfly displacement has never happened. It probably never will happen. It's worth reading, though, because Kingsolver's vivid visual memory superimposes a remarkably clear image of butterfly groves on a remarkably clear image of the Blue Ridge Mountains with breathtaking, surreal effects.

The next question some local lurkers will ask, when any novel is about mountain people, will be: How "awful" are the hillbillies? Because, when you start blathering imprecisely about "Appalachia," you're calling up that awful old early twentieth century Socialist dystopian fiction image, based on the exaggerations the poorest and trashiest family in some town told some welfare worker in the 1930s. All the buildings are falling apart, all the people are too drunk and stupid and shiftless to care, all the children are malnourished but most of them are doomed in any case because they're the products of incest, etc. etc. ad nauseam, and when you're actually living in one of the towns that's been caricatured this way, nauseam sets in fast. The places where you and I live have very little in common with this fantasy of "Appalachia," which this web site calls AppaLAYshia; they never have had much in common with the fantasy.

Even the town called Appalachia never had much in common with the fantasy. That's because the fantasy was always fairly well detached from reality. In what was called the "Socialist Realism" genre of fiction, even relative poverty is a quagmire in which people are trapped for life unless Big Government comes to their rescue. In American reality, relative poverty is a condition through which young people pass while they're trying to stretch the low wages paid to junior workers to provide for two or more children; as they grow older, the parents typically earn better wages, the children start earning money, and the parents achieve a level of wealth that at least allows them to retire. AppaLAYsha was a "Socialist Realist" fantasy. In the real town of Appalachia, even the child coal miners (yes, at one time there were some--big boys who lied about their age) could become land owners, business owners, courteous and reasonably well educated "gentlemen," and some of them have done that.

Right. I will now step down from the soapbox and consider Flight Behavior. Yes, it starts out with an uninspiring portrait of a trashy young woman, whose response to her husband's slowness is to run out to start an adulterous affair with an even younger guy. Real mountain women would probably not be interested in knowing Dellarobia Turnbow, except as someone sneering at whom might help some insecure souls to feel better about themselves for a few minutes. However, readers who hang in there won't be disappointed by Kingsolver's detour into gritty realism. Finding the butterflies, Della pauses, reconsiders, and decides to upgrade rather than downgrade her life. By the end of the book she's taken responsibility for herself, said no to adultery even with a really attractive man, earned her spiteful mother-in-law's respect, and reclaimed the use of her brain (after three births and ten years of vegetating). She can be read as immature, rather than trashy, after all.

Kingsolver is, after all, the one who gave us the really inspiring mountain family in The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven, and the even more inspiring real mountain family in Animal Vegetable Miracle; her purpose is not to belittle hill farmers. Actually, in Flight Behavior she scores plenty of points off the people who do belittle hill farmers. Among other things there's a priceless scene when a yuppie-type Poison Green hands Della a list of things he thinks she should be doing to save the Earth, and realizes just how much Greener she is than he would have believed anyone would try to be. (If you're in doubt whether you want to read about Della or not, during or after chapter one, go ahead and skip to pages 326-329.)

In fact, if Della had only resisted the temptation to cast her husband as a burden rather than the asset he shows promise of becoming, Flight Behavior could have been called a Christian Novel. Della goes to church, takes church seriously--although now I want to hear the four-verse hymn called "What a Friend I Have in Jesus," which can't be the three-verse "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" I've always heard--and has a respectable, intelligent minister who helps her husband enlighten his father. Della's spiritual life is neither devout nor orthodox, but it's a real part of her development in the story.

However, despite the due respect paid to Christianity as part of the lives of real people like Della, Flight Behavior doesn't quite make the grade as a Christian novel. In fact, it can even be read as a propaganda novel, as here:


Where Kingsolver's careful balance breaks down (as the philosophical balance of real life often does) is that she sets up a false dichotomy between the Real Scientist who believes in global warming with religious fervor, and the Uneducated People who don't believe that global warming is what caused the winter of 2010-2011, with or without its fictional butterflies. Real Scientists who dispute global warming theory, or even real non-scientists whose wariness of global warming theory dates back to their memories of the years when Real Scientists were blathering about the impending ice age, are not represented in this novel. And I could here join the chorus of indignation, because nowhere does this novel mention the real phenological weirdness of 2010-2011, e.g. the masses of tent caterpillars who took shelter on my porch, starved to death instead of pupating, and gushed red rather than green slime when crushed because before starving they'd tried to eat flower buds instead of leaves; monarch butterflies are a much prettier image, but... Kingsolver writes beautifully about some parts of reality; unfortunately she leaves out a few other parts that would have been pertinent.

Kingsolver has, in the past, supported some things associated with Agenda 21, most overtly in Small Wonders. So it's pleasant to report that she's not drunk all the U.N. Kool-aid; Flight Behavior does defend the right to farm, rather deftly I think. What's not to love about that aspect of this book is that Harriette Simpson Arnow was from eastern Kentucky, Wendell Berry is from eastern Kentucky, Kingsolver is from eastern Kentucky, their lifespans even overlapped, and it's not faaair for so much talent to be concentrated in such a small area.

In view of what Kingsolver herself had to say about Flight Behavior...


...I won't even tell you where to find the discussion of "the redneck national anthem: Settle for what you can get." I will say that, in my opinion, this book is worth reading, even worth rereading, just as a work of fiction that holds mountain people accountable for their choices and challenges all of us to make good ones.

But it's not perfect. It's a novel. If you'd rather spend your hard-earned cash on new nonfiction, well, so would I. So I'll mention that Flight Behavior is on the shelf--or will be, when I replace the copy in which I looked up the quotes while typing this--at our local library, and at libraries across the Mountain Region. Local readers (out in the point of Virginia) can look it up here: