Thursday, August 28, 2014

What Are Others Here to Do?

(Reclaimed from Bubblews)

(Topic credit goes to Khan123 for , in which she asks the old question, "If we are here to help others, then what are the others here to do?" So this is an old traditional story that explains the answer...)

Once upon a time, a man dreamed that he was given a very brief tour of the afterlife.

First he was shown where some bad people go. He saw a lot of mean, cruel people sit down at a long table. Big pots of delicious soup were placed on the table. All the bad people reached for their soup spoons and began weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth, because every spoon was at least twice as long as their arms.

Then he was shown where some good people go. He saw a lot of nice, peaceable people sit down at a long table. Big pots of delicious soup were placed on the table. All the good people reached for their soup spoons. Every spoon was at least twice as long as their arms. With happy smiles, they all dipped their spoons into the pots and reached across the table to feed each other.

[Photo by Vilhelm at]

Wish List

(Reclaimed from Bubblews, now with a Morguefile photo by FidlerJan.)

(Topic credit goes to &Susanzeitler for . My comments on that one got long enough to be a separate Bubble.)

First of all, I'm glad that by writing this as a response to &Susanzeitler's Bubble I get five wishes instead of the usual three. Five wishes are easier!

1. I'd wish for people to acquire the ability to live in peace, (1) by committing themselves to the Highest Good for all, and (2) by having one child or none so that future generations don't grow up emotionally damaged by overcrowded living conditions.

2. Peace presupposes that people have enough to eat. But it might be necessary to mention that people also learn to live in peace with animals, killing only the ones that actually endanger humans, and letting other animal species live naturally.

A few weeks ago someone who'd been away for a while reported that she was unaccustomed to seeing "cats all over the streets" in her old neighborhood, and it made her wonder "why people don't care." People do care--about cats, and about other people--when they understand that the need in human residential areas is to control traffic to keep cats and humans safe, rather than trying to keep cats indoors and prevent the cats from doing their natural job!

Personally, if I visit other humans in a residential area and don't see any cats on the street, after a few blocks I start to wonder what's wrong with the neighborhood. I start to remember that in parts of Prince Georges County, Maryland, we accepted anti-cat policies as necessary to protect a rare bird species known as Bachman's Warbler, and the result was that rats became the dominant predator species. A catless neighborhood is a plague waiting to happen.

3. Peace also presupposes that humans don't produce more babies than there are jobs for those babies to grow up and do. More jobs being done by machines mean fewer humans being born. Peace means more peace between wives and husbands as both accept that nature intended us to share many kinds of pleasure other than making babies.

4. However, peace also presupposes peace with the the idea of an individual owning a motor vehicle or a computer seems ridiculous. Very few of these expensive devices with huge carbon footprints are built. And the idea of spraying poisons on large areas of land is recognized as an outburst of violent insanity, definitely enough to get anyone who expresses it banned from Facebook (although in a society where people practice peace I don't imagine Justin Carter would actually have been arrested).

(See . is not a commercial or "referral site," even though every time you sign a petition in aid of something reasonable people want the system tries to trick you into signing a more dubious petition, so beware.)

5. Finally: in order to live at peace, people actively cultivate peace with themselves...getting counselling if they need it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Do Romance and Mystery Mix?

Something I read over the weekend gave me the preposterous idea of writing a novel that included both a romance and a mystery.

How bad is that? Would any of you consider reading such a monstrous hybrid?

As best I can trace the rationale (yes, there was one; no, I wasn't drinking), a very dear e-friend used to say that the best way to sell an idea was to put it into either a Soap Opera or a Romance Novel, and my husband used to say that for him the best way would be to put it into a Murder Mystery.

I've never felt capable of staying interested in a fictional romance long enough to write a Romance Novel, let alone a Soap Opera.

I don't know enough about murder and police procedure to write a real Murder Mystery, either...although my husband used to joke about it, and I sometimes thought he was trying to bring out any latent talent I might have had, creating fictional-detective personas for us and suggesting plots.

It occurred to me, though, that a novel about students in Washington, D.C., who often do brush with real-world mystery and intrigue and not always even realize it while they're focussed on their studies and romances, just might include enough of a mystery to give the story more of a plot than just boy-meets-girl.

What do youall think?

(This post originally appeared at Bubblews, where one or two people expressed interest in the idea, so who knows--I may write the novel.)

Phenology: Hot Sunny August Day

People are complaining about it. I don't know. All winter the radio was blaring a song about someone wanting it to be "Sunny and Seventy-Five," as in 75 degrees Fahrenheit (about 25 degrees Celsius). Today that's what we've got and people wish it were cooler. Heat and humidity are expected to rise for the next few days. We should enjoy this relatively pleasant day while it lasts. So I'm enjoying it...inside the air-conditioned computer center.

Flowers I saw on the way to the computer center today included three that are typical of early summer: crown vetch, oxeye daisies, red clover; and four that are typical of this time of year: jewelweed, morning glories, chicory, wild mustard.

Due to chemical spraying, I've seen very few birds and butterflies on Route 23 this summer. I did see *one* bird this morning that was not a crow, possibly a kingbird. I've seen one pair of Tiger Swallowtail butterflies near Route 23 in the month of years when the land was not poisoned, sometimes there would be hundreds of them.

(Tiger Swallowtail image from Breon Warwick at Morguefile.)

Happy Post: Back to School

(Reclaimed from Bubblews.)

In some parts of the United States school traditionally starts on the first Tuesday in September. (The first Monday is Labor Day.) In Virginia, however, school traditionally starts in the last week of August. Some schools opened last week, and the college where I'm writing this opened today. Of course I'm happy about means the computer center stays open later, and also, although we've been having hot and humid weather, I've spent the whole day in the air-conditioned computer room.

John Holt, a truly great teacher, writer, and activist who befriended my brother during the last years of both of their lives, came to speculate that in a really free society schools would cease to exist. People would learn to do things by doing them and wouldn't have to designate special places for learning.

I'm not so sure about that. I think a lot of things are most effectively learned by doing them, but much can also be learned from books, and there's a considerable amount of pleasure in studying the same books at the same time other people are studying them.

Are you in a teacher, a student, or both?

Is Your Cat Trying to Kill You?

(Reclaimed from Bubblews.)

Check out the obese orange cat here... . If it's trying to kill the humans who've overfed it to this point, it can claim self-defense!

Seriously, here's what I've learned about common annoying cat behaviors:

1. Staring: Staring is hostile behavior in the animal kingdom, but between cats and their families, including their human godparents, it can be done in fun. A cat who stares at you is likely to pounce on you. If you don't want to be grabbed, throw a toy for the cat to chase.

2. Tripping: If a cat can get you down onto its level, and into something like its position, it will definitely get your attention. Unfortunately cats don't understand human-specific concepts like broken hips and sprained ankles very well. Some people use the phrase "kicking kittens" as a sort of metaphor for viciousness in a human. If you hear that phrase that way, then please think of what you need to do with your pets as nudging them away from human feet. You don't want to hurt a kitten but you do need to give the kitten a very clear sense that human feet could hurt it. (Yes, all Cat Sanctuary resident cats have been deliberately kicked, or nudged. No, none of them seemed to mind. Yes, Heather and Ivy occasionally still run under my feet, because they are divas and make these little control-the-human gestures to impress each other, regardless of the danger to themselves.)

3. Pinching: All kittens instinctively pinch, knead, and press into the soft parts of their mothers' bodies in order to extract milk. Pet cats often do this with their human godmothers too. Over time they learn how and where we appreciate being kneaded. Screaming and shoving them away may speed up the learning process. Keeping cats out of bedrooms is recommended.

4. Mind Games: Really. You wanted an alien form of intelligence to stimulate your mind, right? Deal with it.

5. Projectile Shedding: Actually human hairs float around on air currents too, but cat hairs are much smaller and lighter and float further. If you must wear dressy clothes that don't match your pet's coat, brush them often.

6. Disgustingness: Let's just say that, if you assume that any feline body excretion found outside the litter box is evidence of illness and take the cat to the vet right away, this will discourage any inclination the cat may have to use its body fluids to express its feelings about your music, your food odors, or the fact that you stroked the other cat first. It may also lead to a happier vet, since vets enjoy vacations, new cars, and remodeled homes as much as anyone else does. I don't know of any indoor cat who's never used gross-outs to punish humans.

Outdoor cats have little opportunity to use gross-out displays to punish humans. If you see any puddles or piles that came from an outdoor cat, there probably is a problem--at best your unaltered pet is desperately advertising for a date. On the other hand you might fail to see evidence of a problem while there's time for veterinary intervention to help.

7. I'm not sure why the Hubpages writer didn't mention this one, but my cats Minnie and Bisquit, lacking opportunities to use gross-outs, used the Endless Whine in efforts to shape my behavior. (Pounce and Ivy had tendencies in this direction, but outgrew it.) Endless Whiners don't just say "meow"; they "meow...meow...meow...meow...meow...meow...meow..." for half an hour at a time, or until they're fed, or strangled, whichever comes first. I suspect that many cases of outrageous cruelty to animals have involved a whiny cat. About the only way to check this behavior is to try to ignore the whining, avoid doing anything the cat seems to want when it whines, and give it what it needs when it's not whining. Bisquit's whining subsided after she was five years old, and if Minnie had lived another seven years or so, who knows, she might have quietened down too.

There are no perfect cats. There are no perfect humans. (I was blessed with a first cat who was a perfect pet for me, though.) Time, patience, and understanding will resolve most of the problems between cats and their humans. If all else fails, there's always "re-homing."

Remembering the Toyota Camry

(Reclaimed from Bubblews; photo from Morguefile.)

Today's sponsor-inspired post is about a Toyota Camry my brother-in-law used to drive. It was a 1989 car that had a lot of miles on it when he handed it down to my husband in 1997. We put a lot more miles on it, almost 160,000 miles, and when my husband died in 2005 it was still running smoothly.

The Camry's color was described as gold or tan. Apart from that it was...probably older than the car in the picture, but recognizably the same type of car.

The Camry came with one of those decorative license-tag frames advertising that it had been bought in Frederick, Maryland. We used it in Washington, D.C., and the suburbs, where a well-kept "family/economy" car was one of the more impressive things seen on the streets. My husband was justifiably proud of his driving skills, and although D.C. has been officially declared the home of the most confused and dangerous drivers in North America, the Camry looked well-kept all through those years. Nobody would have bothered to iron out dents in it. My husband didn't let it get dents.

He drove in snow. I was brought up to think that driving in snow is just plain stupid, and if someone goes into labor while it's snowing this may be a sign that her baby is meant to be born at home. My husband thought of driving in snow as a point of Canadian pride. He had some reason to be proud of his skill because the car didn't acquire dents and scratches.

As far as I was concerned, one good reason for living in the city was not having to own or drive a car at all. Nevertheless, when he became ill I had to drive him to and from the hospital in the Camry. I don't mind taking a turn driving on a long trip on the highway but I was terrified of driving into the core of the city. I remember noticing how easy to handle the Camry was, how it seemed positively to *want* to cooperate--I hardly had to touch the gas pedal to keep it moving. The car in which I'd passed my official driving test had been a 1986 Toyota Corolla; the Camry was bigger but felt similar. That was comforting. I needed all the comfort I could get.

Later I learned that that "cooperative" quality about the Toyotas had been due to a design flaw, that in some models the flaw was serious enough that the cars had been recalled. My mother, who learned to drive cars that demanded more muscle power, used to describe our Corolla as "tricky" and "darty" and didn't think it was the ideal car for my sister and me to learn to drive. (Oh, it wasn't spoiled us.) But let's face it, I'm a pampered late-baby-boomer American; I grew up with power steering and automatic transmission, expect a car to start and stop and turn more easily than a bicycle, and am probably less dangerous to other people when driving a car that's easy to handle...if I have to drive at all. (Which, in the interest of public safety, I do try to avoid.)

If you want a car that's easy to live with, easy to look at, relatively easy to afford and even to maintain, the Toyota Camry might be the car for you.

Tray of Bracelets at Tree & Tra Fashions

Readers have voted and made it official: Blogspot does the best job displaying photos. So here's another photo from the Store Security Sequence of pictures I took at the Tree & Tra Fashions store this summer.

You can still buy any of these bead bracelets online, along with other handmade and imported fashion accessories, here:

If you don't use Facebook, you can't contact the store via that page. If you would like to order something without using Facebook, you may e-mail our Message Squirrel:

As of Saturday, the bracelets were still in the store on Route 23, although the store no longer has phone or Internet access and may close its physical doors soon. Local readers may look for Tree at Duffield Daze.

If the store closes after Duffield Daze, Tree (Teresa Vernon) will still have the bags, beads, cell phone covers and other fun stuff shown on the Facebook Page until they are sold; since they are "fashion" items they are likely to be replaced rather than restocked. She will also have the physical copies of the books available to local supporters without shipping fees. These items can still be purchased locally without paying shipping fees, publishing your real identity via Facebook, or using a credit card, whether they are displayed in a store or in a private home.

Morgan Griffith's Message to Grade Twelve

Morgan Griffith would like to help more teenagers from southwestern Virginia get into U.S. Military Academy programs:

"U.S. Service Academies

Some students who are approaching the end of high school may be thinking about attending one of the U.S. Service Academies.  As your Ninth District Representative, each year I have the privilege of nominating a limited number of young men and women to four of the five service academies – the U.S. Air Force Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the U.S. Military Academy, and the U.S. Merchant Marines Academy.   The fifth academy – the Coast Guard Academy – does not require a congressional nomination.

Attendance at a service academy gives a student a world-class education with a focus on leadership qualities.  Students must receive a congressional nomination, and must also be offered admission by the individual academy.  Those selected will spend four years at one of the best schools in the nation, provided with free tuition, expenses, and room and board.  The honor of attending a service academy comes with an obligation and commitment to serve in the military for a minimum of five years upon graduation.

Our goal is to get as many interested students from our area accepted into the service academies as we can.  Currently, we have three students attending Air Force Academy, five students attending Naval Academy, and two students attending West Point (Military Academy).

Michelle Jenkins, the member of my staff who coordinates our academy nomination program, last year visited the U.S. Naval Academy, and just recently returned from visiting the U.S. Air Force Academy.  Michelle visited these facilities to learn how we can help even more interested students from our area get accepted to the academies.  While visiting, Michelle saw first-hand the tremendous educational opportunities that exist at the service academies.  She also was able to meet with cadets – including at least one from the Ninth District – to hear of their desire to serve our country and utilize the leadership training they are gaining at their academy to make our country the absolute best.

Admission requirements are similar across the five service academies, though each does operate under its own admissions guidelines.  Each of the academies are looking for candidates of character.  They are seeking students who have leadership skills, motivation, and are academically competitive.  Competitive SAT/ACT scores, emphasis on math/science courses in high school, and extracurricular activities that show leadership are strongly encouraged.  Candidates must also be medically and physically qualified.   A whole-person evaluation is used by each academy based upon these factors.

The application can be found on our website, along with a question/answer summary that may be of help to students and their families as they are making a decision about applying to a service academy.

The deadline for the application to be received in our office is October 15.  After that that time, a seven member Advisory Committee comprised of folks from throughout the Ninth District will review the applications, and will interview the applicants during October/November with the goal of putting together an excellent slate of candidates for the academies to consider.  The Advisory Committee works very hard at this, and I appreciate their efforts and input.

Southwest Virginia, Southside Virginia, and the Alleghany Highlands have a rich history of military service, and acceptance into the service academies is a distinct honor.  The first step is applying for a nomination through our office.

I encourage interested students to review the information provided on my website, and to contact my offices with any questions.  You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at "

The Samizdat Collection

As previously noted I most fully enjoy a book when my hands, as well as my eyes and ears, are engaged with it; I’m lucky to be able to read and type at about the same speed, so the way I get the most entertainment and the most efficient education out of a book is to copy it into a computer file while I read it. And here’s a short list of some books I can sell without a pang, because by now “my” copies, the ones I plan to keep, are samizdat. This is not a complete list; it's just a handful of folders from the printed samizdat file shelf.

As previously discussed, Andrei Codrescu's Bibliodeath, and also Road Scholar.

Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitting Without Tears, Knitter’s Almanac, and Knitting Around; one of these years I’ll get around to copying Knitter’s Workshop and perhaps, by that time, I’ll own a copy of The Opinionated Knitter, the posthumous collection.

Harriette Simpson Arnow’s Weedkiller’s Daughter; some day I may copy The Dollmaker and Mountain Path.

Margaret Atwood’s Robber Bride and, so far, part of Cat’s Eye. I’ve read Cat’s Eye several times, only once and only partway at a computer. (I recommend that everybody read The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, which are so superbly written that people don’t always even notice that they’re science fiction, but I didn't read either of those books at the computer.) 

Booton Herndon’s Seventh Day. I wish he’d written more books...this writer could make Seventh-Day Adventists entertaining.

Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic. Some day I may read his other travel books at a computer; they’re enjoyable enough.

Books about both of the foreign languages I actually read (French and Spanish) and the other languages I’ve not really tried to read or speak, but have studied enough to recognize the language and figure out short simple pieces of it like song lyrics: German, Gaelic (both Scotch and Irish), Welsh (although for some reason my brain refuses to absorb Welsh), Swedish, Latin, Greek, Swahili, Hausa, Russian, Urdu, Indonesian, Japanese, phonetic Hebrew, phonetic Arabic, phonetic Korean, and phonetic Amharic. Throw a chunk of any of these languages at me and I’ll stand there going, “What’s that supposed to be?”—but when the panic subsides I’ll remember which language it is, and even remember some individual words before I sit down and look up the words, one by one, at home. (And why did I choose those languages? Because they’re the ones for which I’ve owned first grammars and dictionaries. First grammars and dictionaries for other languages are always welcome.)

Books in French and Spanish. These are the ones I most need to read at the computer. If I read them with my eyes alone, as if they were English, I’ll know how the story comes out but I’ll skip over the words I don’t know and usually miss some of the meaning. If I read them at the computer, I’ll look up and learn new words. I don’t always print or save these samizdat, but I have several of them.

A majority of C.S. Lewis’s nonfiction books, including the literary studies, which are hard to find in the U.S., such that I think I copied all of them from library books. I started copying Lewis’s Christian books around age sixteen or seventeen. I also used to try to write like him, which I now try to avoid doing—a literary “voice” that sounds like someone the age of your grandfather, who lived in a different country, is just plain weird.

Almost all of the short stories of Joan Aiken, just to get them all into one file folder.

Dorothy Sayers’ Mind of the Maker. Exquisite! I also copied her script for a pageant about The Emperor Constantine, although I would have preferred to have her play script about St. Paul. If I live long enough I may read the adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey at the computer, too.

Wendell Berry’s Another Turn of the Crank; eventually I plan to add What Are People For and other nonfiction work by him.

Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, Freedom of Simplicity, Money Sex & Power, and Prayer.

Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and Grace Eventually. I want her other nonfiction books, too.

Kathleen Norris’s Dakota, Amazing Grace, Cloister Walk, and Acedia & Me. (If I’d read The Virgin of Bennington at the computer would I have enjoyed it more?)

Marilou Awiakta’s Selu.

Mary Daly’s Wickedary. (Long messy footnotes tend to prompt me to read a book at the computer so I can follow the author's original train of thought.)

Marlene Dietrich’s ABC. (Never heard of it? Can’t find it? Try the Arlington, Virginia, library...they used to have everything.)

Several of Dave Barry’s and P.J. O’Rourke’s books.

Several books by Sark (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy), including Eat Mangoes Naked.

Erica Carle’s Hate Factory...a very special samizdat “edition” of a copy my father annotated by hand for my brother’s and my benefit.

Audubon’s Birds of North America. Most people buy it for the paintings; I wanted Audubon’s notes, and I have them...I’m less wild about his paintings.

Many childhood favorites—The Bingety-Bangety School Bus, The Sneetches, Blueberries for this category I’m including only short books with lots of pictures. As a child I learned to read at an age when most children still need to be read to, but my interests were mostly age-appropriate. Some adults in my life fretted that I wasn’t getting enough of a challenge or reading enough serious educational materials, so the actual reading lists of my childhood were very irregular. I’d go to a store or library and pick out Bedtime Stories to Read Aloud, and it would turn up at home bundled together with Practical Beekeeping, The Horseman’s Bible, and Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days? Some of which did become favorites later, but as a child I liked frivolous stories with lots of pictures. Many of the books fell apart before my sisters grew up. I saved the stories to read to The Nephews. This was how I discovered the usefulness of reading at the computer.

Possibly the oddest choice in my collection: Shiva Naipaul’s Journey to Nowhere, an unhappy report by a writer who had an unhappily short life. I couldn’t say how his writing style differs from his famous older brother’s, exactly, or even say that I prefer the younger brother’s books; Sir Vidya certainly gave the world a lot of reading pleasure, and I’ll vouch for his snarky but credible study of Southern Baptists. Maybe it’s just that Shiva Naipaul seemed closer to my husband in age and experience, whereas I think my husband may have met V.S. Naipaul for the first time during the round of Nobel Prize celebrations, when the Great Curmudgeon seemed to be glaring straight at us when he read aloud about Mr Biswas as “a devout practitioner of interracial sex.” In any case, Journey to Nowhere is not the most informative book about Jonestown but it is a wonderful, insightful book about the 1970s in general.

Probably the most commercially motivated selection: Groucho Marx’s Beds, which took one rainy afternoon to copy so I could resell the original book; reselling the book then took less than one hour.

Books I didn't save or print, and now wish I had: large parts of the textbooks we used in my college classes. I read them at the computer but didn't think I could afford either to print the copies or to save the books. Note to all students: try at least to save one or the other. One day you'll want them. The information will be updated over the years but you'll still want to refer back to the hard copy of the original information you stored in your head.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bad Poetry: Love Song

Most of the songs we hear on the radio in the U.S. are about love. I've not published any original love songs. When asked why this should be, last spring, I finally came up with one. (U.S. baby boomers should get a fair idea of what the tune sounds like by reading the words.) And here, prompted by the Bubbler known as BeaShe (in ), are the first verse and the refrain:

Love is an old song that you and I have sung many times before,
Ever since the days when our world needed love, sweet love, not war.
Love is like a butterfly. Love is a rose.
Love is a many-splendor'd thing. Love is a mountain stream that flows.

Oh, love is teasin', and love is pleasin', and love is pleasant when new.
As love grows older, it may grow colder; it may grow bolder, too.
Love should flow, and love should grow, and love should be strong.
Take us right back where we started from, before we went wrong.
Love is an old, old song.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review and Link Extravaganza: Last Chance to See

(While I was composing this one last week, I didn't realize it would be my "Last Chance to Blog" at the Tree & Tra Products store. The store had made enough to stay open...if a financial crisis at home hadn't driven Tree to withdraw her assets. I've been regretting all week that I didn't have time to share all these lovely links.)

Book Title: Last Chance to See

Author: Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

Date: 1990

Publisher: William Heinemann (U.K.), Ballantine (U.S.)

Length: 222 pages plus color photo section

Illustrations: full-color photo insert

ISBN: 0-345-37198-4

Quote: "Mark...did all the preparation and organisation and research...and also taught me most of the small amount I now know about zoology, ecology, and conservation work. All I had to do was turn up with a suitcase and try to remember what happened for long enough afterward to write it down."

In 1985, when his science-fiction-comedy Hitchhiker's Trilogy was easily the best-selling trilogy on Earth, Douglas Adams was asked to write a narrative about real science that would involve travelling to remote places...reliving, he explains, the sort of mood in which he created Arthur Dent, with what he describes as "fantastic relief" as "Weeks of mind-numbing American Expressness dropped away like mud in the shower and I was able to lie back and enjoy being wonderfully, serenely, hideously uncomfortable." But not for very long at any given time, because he and Mark Carwardine and others had been sent to uncomfortable places to try to snap what just might have been the last possible photos of rare wildlife.

Right. I want to try something different today. Yesterday and the day before I wrote about the comedic content of two other very funny books. Last Chance to See is still laugh-out-loud funny; no worries there. But I think, in the spirit of this particular book, the best way to tell people who've not yet read it about Last Chance to See is to provide some images and updates on the animals Adams, Carwardine, and the rest of the crew met (including some non-threatened species), and end with the latest chapter of the story...

The aye-aye: (You could just search for each of these animals right on the National Geographic page, but I'll try to link to some other sites.)

The Komodo dragon:

The Russell's Viper and other venomous snakes:

The Sydney Funnel-Web spider:

The Lesser Frigatebird:

The White-Bellied Sea Eagle:

The crested terns:

The flying fish:

The megapode:

The mudskippers:

The Northern White Rhinoceros:

The gorillas:

The hyena:

The hippopotamus:

The kea:

The kakapo:

The Little Blue Penguin:

The Tui:

The New Zealand Pigeon:

The Bellbird:

The North Island Robin:

The New Zealand Kingfisher:

The Red-Crowned Parakeet:

The Paradise Shelduck:

The Weka:

The Baiji river dolphin: (Note that while some recent web pages cautiously discuss this species as if it currently exists, more pessimistic writers were considering it probably extinct in 2006.)

The Yangtze Finless Porpoise:

The Rodrigues Fruit Bat:

The Mauritius Kestrel:

Douglas Adams no longer needs the dollar you'd get from buying this book from me online, for which I'd have to charge $5 for the book and $5 for shipping. (The $5 for shipping covers up to ten normal-sized books shipped to the same address.) I have an apparently clean paperback copy that shows some wear and has been exposed to mold, not the one with the really nice-looking cover; a local reader could buy this copy for $1, no shipping. But if you're a serious collector of Douglas Adams' books you probably have the hardcover with the beautiful Garden-of-Eden-type painting, already. If you're mostly interested in the animals, what you need to know about Last Chance to See is that Mark Carwardine teamed with Stephen Fry to write a brand-new updated edition, published in June 2014, available here:

The new edition won't be available as a Fair Trade Book for a while. Ask for a new copy, at your local bookstore, to support Carwardine's effort.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Local Warming

(Reclaimed from Bubblews. Topic credit: SamElder posted .)

Here's an easy science experiment for adults and children: Write down where you are--whether you're in an urban, suburban, or rural area, near or above or below sea level. Write down the time and date. Write down the temperature in a shady spot outside where you are. Now check the official temperature at your local weather station and write it down. Now call friends in the inner city, various suburbs, and rural areas within about 100 miles (or up to 200 km) from where you are. Ask them to check the temperature where they are. Write those temperatures down. Repeat this when you think of it, for as long as your friends are willing to participate.

In the U.S., it's normal for the inner city to be 8 to 10 degrees warmer than the suburbs, and fairly common for some suburbs to be 8 to 10 degrees warmer than nearby farms. This is the "local warming effect" of various forms of pollution--pavement, motor vehicle exhaust, air conditioning. I've written about it at greater length, e.g., here: .

Worldwide, it's normal for air temperatures to decrease with altitude. There's a formula for predicting this, although the actual decrease depends on humidity: .

If your thermometer shows 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 Celsius when water begins to freeze, your thermometer is "right." If someone else's thermometer, ten miles away, reads three or five or ten degrees different from yours, that does not necessarily mean their thermometer is "wrong." They may be on the side of the hill that gets more sunshine, further up the mountain, or closer to the heart of town, and if so their temperature will be different from yours.

(Photo: Earl53 at shared this photo of a squirrel on a hot day.)

Justice for Jason Byrns (Who Tried to Kill Jamie Lawson)

Not exactly news any more, but since overseas readers didn't see it in the newspaper, this web site officially reacts to the last installment in the Jamie Lawson story.

On June 21, the Kingsport Times-News' front-page report of Jason Byrns' trial might have been intended to provoke reactions: "A Tennessee man...failed to have his sentence reduced Friday during a hearing in Scott County (Virginia) court. Jason T. Byrns, 33, of Kingsport, appeared in court after filing a motion to have his 60-year prison sentence reduced on the grounds the punishment was too harsh."

Well, just for the exercise, we could try it the other way round. "Hypothetical J. Doe, of Gate City (Virginia), appeared in the Kingsport court..." Or "H.J. Doe, of Gate City, appeared in the Scott County court..." Or "H.J. Doe, of Kingsport, appeared in the Kingsport court..." Or whatever jurisdictions you care to name. This web site maintains that Byrns was stupid even to bother filing the motion.

We are talking about a drug dealer who was apparently trying to evade arrest, conviction, and most likely a fine and a week or a month in jail when he crossed the Virginia line and found a police roadblock waiting for him there. Apparently guided by some sort of inner demons, Byrns stomped the gas pedal and roared into Scott County as fast as his vehicle would go, deliberately swerving to intimidate pedestrians, fellow motorists, and five other traffic officers. State Trooper Jamie Lawson had been assigned the duty of stopping Byrns, and Byrns rammed Lawson's police car seven times, at speeds estimated to be between 50 and 70 miles per hour (in a residential neighborhood), before he finally shoved the police car into another vehicle parked beside the road. Lawson spent weeks in an expensive specialized hospital unit; the partial disability resulting from damage to his spine is expected to be permanent.

Too harsh, he whined? I know a few Kingsport men who might be persuaded to teach Byrns what "harsh" means...There is no serious dispute that anyone who would rather commit murder than pay a fine should be kept off the streets for as long as there is any chance of his attempting to operate a motor vehicle. Sixty years, starting from age 33, sounds about right. The question is whether the taxpayers can reasonably be asked to feed something like Byrns for sixty years.

On the purely theoretical assumption that, although the Times-News hasn't mentioned it, Byrns may have a relative somewhere who is praying that Byrns may be capable of some sort of spiritual experience, revival, rehabilitation, the development of a human mind that understands why it's better to spend a few weeks in jail than it is to commit murder, the law does require the taxpayers of Virginia to feed Jason Byrns for up to sixty years. There might be some reasonable debate about whether that is "too harsh."

Jamie Lawson was trying to protect people from a homicidal maniac, and he may never "walk free" from pain again. If Jason Byrns never walks out from behind the razor-wire fence again, it appears to me that, to the extent that humans are capable of doing justice, justice has been done.

Book Review: Tricky Business

Book Title: Tricky Business

Author: Dave Barry

Author's web page:

Date: 2002

Publisher: Putnam

Length: 320 pages

ISBN: 0399-149244


The "Acknowledgments and Warning" is separate from the plot of this novel, so that's the section that can be isolated and quoted without losing any of its entertainment value. It also highlights the main difference between Dave Barry's novels for adults and the narrative sections in his newspaper and magazine articles. Censorship in general is a bad thing, but censorship of specific bad words only makes writers like Barry funnier. (Admit it: a key passage in Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up gained lots of comedic value from the "more tasteful" substitution of newspaper names for the proper names of body parts...)

Anyway, this is a laugh-out-loud-funny novel about Florida, featuring two wonderful old curmudgeons who sneak out of a nursing home together, a cruise-and-gambling ship, a hopeless rock band, an undercover federal agent, a feminist's daughter who wants to be Sleeping Beauty, a man whose job consists of parading around in a giant artificial shell, a chef and restaurant you don't want to read about on lunch break, a gaggle of sexy-looking casino girls who are tired of being harassed, the dumbest news crew a TV station ever hired, one bad guy who's been reformed by the love of a good woman and of their children, and a lot of unregenerate bad guys who will get what immature guy-type readers will agree they deserve in what those readers will agree is a funny way.

People who are easily offended will probably be offended by what happens to most of the bad guys, because this is not a Sunday School book. They don't repent. They will eventually make their fictional world a better place, but not in a Sunday-School-book way.

Most, though not all, of the nice characters (the ones who kill other people only in self-defense--this is not a Sunday School book) will survive their wild and crazy adventure while the gambling ship rides out a hurricane. Some of them will even bond with each other. The children will be safe throughout the story, although in this story, unlike Big Trouble, this will require the children to be offstage almost all the time.

The average reader probably won't learn anything new from Tricky Business, unless it might be something about the hazards of immoderate laughter. Grandparents are wonderful? You already knew that. Children are precious? Ditto. People who take drugs are usually not too bright while sober, and lose what intelligence they have when stoned? Ditto. Some, as it might be one out of three, hopeless musicians who have moved back in with their parents may be ready to act like adults when they get a chance? Ditto. Young women who are required to look sexy while doing legitimate jobs may be someone's mother, and don't enjoy being confused with streetcorner girls? Ditto, I hope. Gambling ships are run by crooks, and illegal drugs are distributed by really nasty crooks? If that's news to you, you're not old enough to read this web site. Whether exploring these and similar insights in Tricky Business causes you to be looked at strangely in a hospital waiting room, wake up the person trying to sleep beside you on a train, incur additional pain from a broken rib, or conversely feel much less pain from almost any other cause, remains for you to find out.

This web site's bottom price for used books sold online is $5 per book + $5 for shipping. Local lurkers can walk into the store and pay less, and people in other localities can probably find secondhand copies of Tricky Business for less than $10. But if you buy this book from me, Dave Barry or a charity of his choice gets $1, and any profits go into making this a writing site where other deserving writers get paid for their work.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Happy Caps

(Reclaimed from Bubblews. Topic credit: Sunmeilan posted . The original graphic with this post was a very popular Pixabay image. The computer I'm using today won't open Pixabay.)

Knitters, isn't it wonderful that if you search Pixabay for images described as "Happy," one of the first that comes up is an image of a cute girl wearing a cute hand-knitted cap? We don't know what she's happy about, but it certainly could be the sight of herself in a mirror.

At some point before winter, more images of unique hand-knitted caps that will make somebody squeal with delight should be showing up here:

Unfortunately, although caps are being made and delivered to the store already, most of them remain unphotographed. Meanwhile, a sample of hand-knitted and hand-crocheted items is available at my Blogspot. I wish Blogspot displayed a full list of all the post "labels" in the sidebar, the way Live Journal does; that not being the case, here's a link to the "label" that brings up images of handmade items, some of which are still available.

What to Do with Knitted Items

(Photo credit: Hans at Pixabay. Topic credit: Sunmeilan posted , to which a commenter said that the problem was finding uses for knitted products.)

There are non-knitters, in this world. There are professional knitters whose names alone are enough to sell either knitted pieces or knitting patterns. Then in between these categories are the rest of us, who enjoy knitting enough that we or our families are beginning to wonder how many chunky sweaters we can own before we start thrusting unwanted knitwear upon those around us. The question before us is how to get into the professional category without thrusting our knits upon anybody.

The answer is to value your own investment. Never give away your knitting free of charge (unless it's to a legitimate charity, like Chemo Caps). Here are some tips that may help:

1. Practice on yourself. Until you're comfortable wearing your own handiwork, don't even think about knitting anything for anyone else. When people admire things you make for yourself, they'll invite you to knit for them.

2. When people ask you to knit for them, you probably don't want to charge for your time, since (a) you enjoy knitting and (b) nobody could afford to pay for your time. You should, however, charge for the material you use.

3. If you would normally spend $20 to $200 on a present for this person and you choose to spend it on yarn to knit something for the person, that's fine, but it's a good idea to let the person know that this yarn did not just plop into your lap somehow. Tell prospective models of your work that you want to make sure it's the right material and pattern for them. Take them shopping. Have them hold the yarn against their necks to make sure they're not sensitive to it.

4. You see your Significant Other as a stunningly beautiful model. That may not be the way s/he sees himself/herself. Knitting interesting-looking sweaters for men is especially problematic since, even if a man resembles Bill Cosby and even if that's what you like about him, he may work in an office where looking like a legendary comedy star is not considered such a good thing. If you are determined to knit something for a young man, resign yourself to the fact that he probably prefers for it to look exactly like something from Wal-Mart.

5. Never tell a child when to put on a sweater or a hat. Children learn to recognize when they are chilled or tired by getting chilled and tired. If anyone else is trying to give the children you love a complex about knitwear being something bigger people force you to wear when you're already perspiring, make sure the children form that complex about nasty mass-produced machine-knitted knits, not yours.

Book Review: Elvis Is Dead and I Don't Feel So Good Myself

Author:  Lewis Grizzard

Date: 1984

Publisher: Peachtree Publishers / Warner Books

ISBN: none

Length: 269 pages

Quote: “[I]f Elvis Presley was forty-two and old enough to die, what did that say about me?”

Lewis Grizzard became a curmudgeon prematurely. He was an early baby-boomer, and in this book he complains about the trends in pop culture that defined middle and late baby-boomers—listening to the Beatles or Run-DMC instead of Elvis Presley, e.g. So he basically spends the whole book talking about my less-than-half of our generation. I suppose that gives me the right to pass judgment on how offensive it is. I think most of his criticism of people my age was hilarious, and the rest of it was much-needed advice more of us should have listened to. So there.

He left, of course, an opening, which so far nobody seems to be taking, for someone currently between ages 40 and 55 to write a book explaining, in witty detail, how the Beatles actually composed and performed some interesting music during an historical period when Elvis Presley had completely lost whatever shock value or sex appeal or youth appeal he’d ever had. The Elvis I remember looked older and sicker than my mother, who was the same age and was certified hypothyroid. Of course by this time the Beatles were evolving in an underwhelming direction too, taking drugs and acting stoned in public even to the extent of bragging, because they had apparently been composing music in their heads on the day the word “hubris” was explained at their school. But this is supposed to be a book review, so someone else can complete the analysis of what else went wrong with pop music in the twentieth century. Possibly one of my sisters, both of whom definitely belong to Generation X, and one of whom can make a pretty good case for Run-DMC.

Aside from fascinating arguments about the merits of different bands and singers, what else does this book contain? Well, there’s an assumption that readers “never forget days like...the day John Kennedy was killed. Like the day Martin Luther King was killed. Like the day Robert Kennedy was killed. Like the day Nixon resigned.” Funnily enough, although I was alive on more than one of those days, the only one I remember at all is the day Nixon resigned.

There’s a demonstration of ignorance about hippie styles. Grizzard thought that the hygiene problem with bare feet would involve sweat. Duh.

There’s a comically exaggerated reminiscence about the fad for skin-tight jeans, in which Grizzard fails to consider the possibility that women who demanded that men buy into this fad were just making a point about previous fads for girdles and miniskirts and similar badges of oppression.

There’s an oddly moving anecdote about a woman who allegedly lured Grizzard over to her side in a singles bar, inflating his mistaken ideas of what women might want, just to tell him his fly was open.

There’s an excellent comment on the real reason why today’s out-loud “gay” lobby are losing sympathy even among those of us who have no desire to persecute homosexuals. My way of putting it might be that homosexuality is one kink, promiscuity is another kink, and exhibitionism is another kink; whatever your kinks may be, if you don’t think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is an excellent and liberating policy for all of us, your primary kink is exhibitionism, to which I think nobody should even try to be friendly. Grizzard uses 163 words to make this point, but his words are funnier.

There’s a reminiscence about the movies and TV sitcoms of the 1950s. (Since we didn't pick up TV broadcasts reliably here until 1978, a lot of retired people are now subscribing to cable channels that re-broadcast the classics of war-baby and early-boomer culture. So it's possible for anyone who's interested in these articles to know what they're about.)

There’s a chapter full of excruciatingly funny reminiscences about the changing trends in parenting and educating between the 1950s and the 1980s. All I’ll say about a chapter with a title like “Who Does My [body part with a name that resembles the word "but"] Belong to Now?” is that this is Grizzard’s real revenge on women my age who do things like wafting a guy to our side just to notify him of some fixable problem with his appearance. Some of us were unsuspectingly reading this book in public, and this chapter forced us to giggle out loud, which caused people to demand that we share the joke. Sure, a modern woman can read this chapter aloud, even to a third-grade class, but some things don’t change: when you read a first-person account of the gender-specific experience of someone of the opposite sex, you become the joke.

There’s a chapter about sports and male bonding, which culminates in a story about a young man eating a phonograph record. And I’ll bet Grizzard would have thought today’s stupid-guy jokes are bad.

There’s a chapter about food trends, in which Grizzard expresses his strange, but well stated, inability to appreciate the trend toward letting people assemble their own salad their own way in a restaurant. He also expresses a perception that asparagus resembles a house plant, which I find strange, in the sense that I’ve never seen such a house plant, and a perception that asparagus is not a taste treat, which I find tragic. Home-grown asparagus, fresh out of the garden, is a once-a-year treat to which even toddlers will look forward next year. By the time it's been trucked to the store, asparagus is just another vegetable. When it's been in the store for a few days, or has been canned, asparagus is yucky. People who don't like asparagus are people who've never had the opportunity to find out what people who love asparagus are talking about, and it's sad that any American should have to be one of those people.

There’s a bit about computers, written long before anyone had even imagined the kind of computer on which you’re reading this, which of course makes the chapter a real scream.

There’s a bit about why Grizzard didn’t spend enough time in therapy to maintain hipness during the Age of Therapy, which, incidentally, exposes the real root of the problems with women that weren’t so funny in his real life: Men who make good husbands do understand cats.

There’s also documentation of the real secret of Elton John’s success. I would not have known this firsthand, but I’m sure it’s true, because there had to have been some secret to that pretentious no-talent’s success...Well, there’s probably not a way to read or discuss this book without getting into some kind of argument about pop music. Too bad. One book can’t have everything.

By now Lewis Grizzard is dead too, so this is not a Fair Trade Book, just a book that I...have already sold in real life, actually, though I can get more copies if local readers want them. To buy it here, e-mail; the minimum price for online orders is $5 per book and $5 for shipping. This book has been printed in a few different editions and you might find a better deal on one of them at Amazon or E-Bay.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Use and Abuse of Translation Software

We in these United States don't read nearly enough foreign literature in translation. We can be arrogant with our assumption that everything worth reading has been written in English. We can lose the pleasure of reading good foreign books, even when they are written in English, by not understanding the cultural background. Bubblews has the potential to help us overcome this problem, and I'm glad.

All Bubbles have to be written in English. If it's English as a Foreign Language, that's not a problem. Bubblews is a friendly community and most of us will overlook a few typical student mistakes in English grammar.

Even if Bubblers achieve "English" by writing something in their native language and running it through translation software, which some of the new batch of Asian Bubblers are obviously doing, many of us don't mind because frankly the content is interesting. And when the translation software messes it up--as when words obviously being used to refer to baby chickens are translated as "shrimps" and "creeps"--the result is, up to a point, funny.

I actually plussed a Bubble with the title "Technical Evil Chicken" because it was hilarious. It was about a Korean technique for cooking chicken, but with that title, and a photo of people walking along the rail of a bridge, it looked as if it were going to be about a game...maybe a variation on the American game of "chicken" where kids try to push each other into water. And I could figure out how the actual recipe below this title would be used to make something that would probably taste good.

The trouble is that some computer-translated posts aren't funny. When the translation software goes wrong, and the American reader does not understand the original language well enough to figure out what went wrong, the result makes no sense to the American reader. It becomes the sort of thing Bubblews is supposed to avoid publishing.

American (and British, Canadian, Australian, English-speaking Filipino, South African, etc.) readers need to help the site with this. When a Bubble is complete gibberish, we need to warn our foreign fellow Bubblers to get help translating it or pull it down.

One abuse I would flag. I've seen this only once. The person took a magazine article that was originally in English, ran a translation of that through a computer translator back into English, and submitted the resulting hash as a Bubble. And it contained a table, right? And the segment submitted as a Bubble contained the complete first row of the table, then half of the second row and none of the rest...the person hadn't even read the table. And unless somebody who speaks English connects with the person, reads the article, and flags this abuse, there's no way an automated plagiarism checker can catch it. This is not just some poor struggling student trying to make a few pennies to stay in school. This person may need money but s/he is deliberately abusing the system.

PeterNYC is not the first American e-friend who's Bubbled about what a shock it is, after we've spent years polishing our English for American editors, to come to a site that...frankly, seems to expect us to be the editors. Why did we think this site was paying us to comment on other people's Bubbles? The legitimate foreign Bubblers depend on us to let them know, and Bubblews depends on us to let them and sometimes the administrators know, which foreign Bubblers are bad, which are good, and which have done the best they could.

Pick a Picture

(Reclaimed from Bubblews. Sorry, the system destroyed the picture I posted there.)

"You should post more pictures of the beautiful fashion accessories in the store," a reader suggested, "to publicize what the store is selling."

By "the store" she meant . Tree (Teresa Vernon) has posted nice catalogue-quality images and write-ups of her merchandise on that Facebook page, and even sells merchandise through Facebook.

By "more pictures" she meant more of what I, laughing out loud, call the Store Security Series. In June, while store-sitting, I snapped a series of photos of how the display in the store looked at that time, just in case anything happened.

(Last week the Kingsport Times-News reported both the scheduled trial of the then undiagnosed psychotic patient who drove a car into a church, and a more recent incident in which an overmedicated patient drove a car into a store. Far too many people drive cars in these United States.)

Anyway I'd posted a few of those pictures as "atmosphere" with a few Bubbles, before this site started ruining pictures by printing post titles on top of them. No more pictures here, thank you. But the reader was right...why not spread awareness of this store, which is now also the physical form of my virtual bookstore, around cyberspace? So today I posted pictures from the Store Security Series at each of my four (non-"referral") web sites, and the following links should open four separate picture pages:;amp;pid=6042651380545951330&oid=114274742909017597601

Opening all four sites, plus Facebook, at one time created cookie conflicts, causing some sites to run very slowly and likely to cause this computer to crash later this evening...but anyway, if you like to look at lovely fashion jewelry, please compare these four pretty pictures in terms of clarity, glare, and how much each picture made you want to buy a bit of bling, and state your preference below.

I already know which site's easiest for me to use and which site let the picture show up best on *this* computer. I'm looking for information about which sites are easiest for *you* to use and which pictures show up best on *your* computer. So, the more answers, the better.

Another Picture from Tree & Tra

While store-sitting here at last month I snapped some lovely pictures of the merchandise...not to advertise it, just to have a record on my cell phone of how the display had looked, just in case anything went wrong. Someone requested, "Show us more!" So I'm strewing these pictures around every place I go in cyberspace just to see where they come out best.

You can actually buy this fashion necklace directly from the store's Facebook page.

Pesticide Poisoning and Gluten Poisoning...Two Different Things?

Jon Rappoport (who doesn't know me) discusses a study showing that glyphosate, the currently popular herbicide that's definitely responsible for the sinus allergies and asthma I had earlier this summer, may also be responsible for the increased incidence of gluten sensitivity...e.g. my increased sensitivity to gluten in genetically modified corn and rice?

Here's the comment I posted:

Very interesting. When I developed “celiac sprue” the A.M.A. Home Medical Encyclopedia said the incidence of this condition was something like 1 out of 10,000 people almost only in certain Irish families almost always after age 50. (I was 30.) I’m related to one of those families all right; come from a long female line of ancestors who died or became disabled in their thirties. In Ireland the explanation used to be that an ancestor had inadvertently walked on the grave of someone who either was hanged, or had died of starvation, depending on who was explaining. But why was I the one to get “sprue,” even though my getting it helped me help my surviving relatives…and why are so many young people who aren’t even Irish showing similar symptoms?