Hummingbirds

July 31, 2010

 

When I was a kid, like most kids, I favored summer as the best time of year. Not going to school and going to the beach were  favorite pastimes. Later,  I got a job at the beach and started earning money so I liked that too.

Now, I prefer the coolness of the other seasons to summer’s furnace. Things in nature seem to move faster and are more alive when the sun is not so hot.  One aspect of summer, however, which defies this rule is the little hummingbird.

I  enjoy the return of the hummingbirds. Every year around the end of July, they return to drink the nectar from the feeder outside my office window. They are just fascinating to me as they hover with their little wings beating so much faster than the eye can follow.

They are very territorial too, usually a particular one hangs out at my window each day. Once in a while, another one will try to slip in and get a drink. They then get into this little hummingbird dogfight with swooping , climbing and diving at one another to claim the nectar.

If you have a hummingbird feeder or some red flowers in your garden, you know what I am talking about. If you don’t, think about getting some to attract and feed these wonders of the biota.

Get out in the garden and have a nice weekend!

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If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,

             you must first invent the universe….Carl Sagan

( I think it works for cake too)… Woody

…………….

During a recent spate of birthdays in which cakes of various manufacture were involved,  I got into a discussion with a group of bakers about certain baking techniques.  While, in practice, many of them admitted to taking shortcuts to save time and work, they all agreed that cakes baked from “scratch” were the most highly prized.  With Carl Sagan’s words in mind, I pressed the discussion to understand what was the criterion used to determine if a certain confection was made from scratch or not.

Most agreed that if you started with flour, milk and eggs etc., that was good enough to be called baking from scratch.

So this got me thinking and working backwards. Let’s see, that  flour came from the wheat and the wheat seed had to be planted in the ground. So the ground had to come from somewhere. The sun was necessary to make the wheat grow. Then there is the water.  The earth had to be invented  for the ground and the water to exist; then the solar system and on and on.

So pretty much Carl Sagan was right; you would have to  first invent the universe before you could  really bake these birthday cakes from scratch.

Since I have been spending a bit of time lately thinking about the origins of the universe some 14 billion years ago, this whole cake making process is just as easy as pie.  I must admit however, thinking about the age and size of the universe is hard and at times makes my head ache. I also never seem to get any answers;  just more questions.

First,  the numbers are incomprehensible and then you get to the tangential questions such as what existed before the universe existed and what lies beyond the universe? I continue to have trouble with those.

Then, the whole religion/science debate is thrown into the  mix and everything really gets very fuzzy. The result creates  two types of people; religious and scientific. One prefers the story of vanilla the other chocolate, and I have discovered that  no amount of tasting of the other flavor will sway the diehards on either side.

Speaking of diehards, dying adds a whole other discussion to what came before and what comes after life; and there is just no answer to those mysteries. What I do realize is that, if the universe is 14 billions years old, then a person’s time on this earth amounts to less than a grain of sand in all the deserts of all the worlds, seen and unseen.

Wow, my head is hurting again. Time for a piece of that cake and a cup of coffee.

Grits

July 29, 2010

When I was a young boy we used to take summer “vacation” car trips from Long Island where we lived to the piedmont region of North Carolina where my grandmother lived. We would stop for a day or two in Washington DC and stay with my rich uncle Leonard. (He was the doctor with the color tv).

At the time, I accepted these trips as something we just did. It did not occur to me that it seemed strange to leave a Long Island summer where the weather is usually nice and the beaches superb, to go to a hot part of North Carolina. In addition, my grandmother’s house had no indoor plumbing, but,  the little house in the back with the half-moon door was available for our convenience.

My grandmother was old and bedridden and my father’s sister Bonnie took care of her. There was not much to do there however except swim in the town pool, which was fun. My aunt Bonnie always made grits for breakfast. I did not like them, even with the butter and salt disguise she provided. Traveling with mom, dad and me were my two younger sisters, Trudy and Suzanne. Trudy always got car sick and spent the trip laying down in the back seat staring at the roof of the car. They did not like the grits either.

During those days, there was no interstate highway system, and no fast food places or chain restaurants like there are now. You either packed a lunch and ate along the road (a la Driving Miss Daisy) or stopped at a local restaurant, or went hungry. We usually had a cooler with sandwiches and cold drinks. Once in a while, we would stop for breakfast at a diner. The ones in the south always created  interesting situations .

Like the time my mother who was from Pennsylvania, ordered some eggs and toast. The waitress told mom in her syrupy southern sweetness,

 “That comes with grits. honey”.

My mother never one to waste food, and not liking grits looked up at the girl,  

“No thank you. No grits”

” They’re the best in town!”

“No, Thank you!”

“But it comes with your breakfast,  no charge.” , came the reply.

My mother, already aggravated by some forgotten earlier incident, announced,

“Listen, I will pay you NOT to put the damn grits on my plate!”.

Thus was my introduction to grits; which developed into a sort of fear and loathing  lasting several decades.  During that time, I eschewed any form of corn that I did not actually see attached to a cob. This phobia lasted until a southern friend of mine convinced me to try a dish prepared in New Orleans called shrimp and grits.

It was a culinary epiphany for me. 

These little bits of corn meal tasted nothing like the bland coarse pasty grit that I had as a youth. These pearls of perfection were flavorful, alive and magnificent.

Since that day, I have enjoyed shrimp and grits whenever, the dish  presented itself.  It is a southern classic right alongside pulled pork and pecan pie. 

If you are ever in St. Louis, try a plate of shrimp and grits at Herbies in the Central West End. There is none better.

Call the plumber

July 28, 2010

Certain words in the English language have an unfortunate reputation for being malicious. Leak is one of those words  that nearly always has something bad associated with it.

You  hear it when there is a leaky pipe or the toilet has a leak, or  the roof leaks when it rains. However, you never hear anything good associated with a leak. For example,  you never hear someone say after getting a promotion, “I leaked my way to the top of the company”. Or after graduation, “I passed the course because I leaked on the final exam”.

There are other malevolent words too. Take rash for example. Can you name an instance where being associated with a rash is a good or happy event? No. A  rash always involves something unpleasant.

Now it gets much worse when you combine two misantropies into a phrase such as a “leaking rash”. The prospects become that much more horrifying when  a third is added and the situation becomes unbearable. such as, “The ooze from a leaking rash”.

It seems that so far 2010 has been the year of the leak. First, there was the leak in Tom’s roof. Then my front porch leaked when it rained. Then we had the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Now comes the leaking documents about the war in Afghanistan.

We have had a rash of leaks this year, and they are beginning to ooze.

Some of the leaks have been repaired.  I got Larry to re position my downspouts and that fixed my porch leak. I think a few shingles fixed Tom’s roof. Also, it seems finally, they are on their way to fixing that gulf oil leak.  I hope so, because oyster season is coming and I need some bivalves.  That leaves us with this document leak situation.

Now, until the other day, I had never heard of this outfit, Wikileaks. It is based in Sweden and was created by some people as a sort of watchdog organization to bring into the sunshine, inhumane practices of oppressive regimes. It operates like Wikipedia in that anyone can post anything anonymously.  Where and how they get their funding and information I do not know. And I clearly have no idea where they got the 91,000 documents about the US war in Afghanistan. I do know, however,  that those 1200 government security agencies need to check for some major leakage in their operations.

In thinking about this, I believe this Wikileaks, because of this Afghanistan war leak , has put in the spotlight the fact that the internet is the ultimate  free speech vehicle. It can lay bare for all the world all the secrets and skeletons that people and countries have hidden throughout history. But in viewing this information, the reader has a new responsibility. The reader must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff; the true from the false as the there is no government or media filter on information.

I have not decided how I feel about this new open kimono internet world of  secrets. On the one hand, I think countries need to protect themselves and therefore maintain an appropriate degree of security over their state secrets. Which in the case of the 91,000 documents the USA failed to do. However, I often am distrustful of government leaders and their motives and welcome more information. With this information however comes a higher level of responsiblity of citizens.

I don’t think we will be able to deal with this leak with just some plumbers tape and a little putty.

A matter of the mind

July 27, 2010

Today, I received an email from the folks at  PsychologySchools. They were inviting me to get my degree in Psychology so I could start a rewarding career in social work, counseling or human services. Now I never thought very much about psychology except for the time  I tried to take a class in college. My interest in the subject was due primarily to my interest in Mary Ann Austin, who was a “Psych” major. However, I could not  get into the class.  Mary Ann went on to become a nurse and then she married Doctor Gerry Feldman DDS. After that I was psych-out.

Anyway, this advertisement from the good folks at PsychologySchools  got me thinking about these types of solicitations that have become so ubiquitous over the internet. I remember before computers and when people smoked, these ads used to come on the backs of matchbook covers.

They were interesting, beguiling come-ons like,

Learn to draw, be a commercial artist;

Or, Become  a CPA and make thousands;

Or, You too can be a  private detective and discover hidden secrets.

I actually sent away for some information one time and eventually enrolled in a correspondence course in animal husbandry with the University of Pennsylvania. I thought the idea of being a sheep farmer was cool. I was about seventeen at the time, living in the shadows of New York City and regarded farming as very exotic. I use to spend hours looking at the United Farm real estate catalogue for farms in the midwest where I could raise sheep with my new-found knowledge of  husbandry. I remember circling dozens of listings for “abandoned” farms in Missouri and Oklahoma to show my father and ask his opinion. He said to me , ” Did you ever think that there might be a reason these farms are abandoned, son?”

“Well no,  I guess not . But what about this “potential’ Christmas tree farm in New Hampshire?”

“Well at least the trees don’t eat” came the reply.

Needless to say, no one else was  “psyched up” about my interest in farming.

I kept that United Farm real estate catalogue in my mind for another 32 years until I bought my orange grove. 

Oh, the power of advertising.

Weather or not

July 26, 2010

Remember back in the day when you turned on the six o’clock news and about 6:25, the weather expert came on and told you how the weather was that day and what it was going to be like tomorrow. Usually, they advised you of the temperature ranges and what to expect in the next few days.

Now weather forecasting is bigger, better (?) and  has a boring sameness to it; not to mention it is still often inaccurate and misleading. Like a lot of things in life,  the weather report has become an opera.

First of all, instead of a weather person, there is the weather “team”  with weather specialists, both for severe and everyday conditions. There are meteorologists and the “chief” meteorologist, who struts around the place blathering banalities like some barnyard peacock. The team drags out the weather report with a lot of chat chat, irrelevant quizzes and games most of which they get from the farmer’s almanac. 

Speaking of farmers, I am one and I would like to have timely and accurate information on temperature and moisture conditions. Which of course is not provided by the weather team, so farmers  have learned to construct their own weather forecasting network.

Another tactic weather people employ to fill up time so they can sell more advertizing is put a lot of useless information into the forecast. But that actually confuses people.

Take temperature for example. In this country, we generally use the old fashioned fahrenheit scale, introduced in 1724  by physicist,  Daniel Fahrenheit. Most other countries now use the Celsius scale. I think Celsius is a more useful measure. (You can easily convert from fahrenheit to celsius and back if you can add or subtract 32 and multiply and divide by 1.8).

Nevertheless, people do understand that 12 degrees fahrenheit is cold and 92 degrees is hot. It is  the  standard fahrenheit scale of measurement. You can relate to it and understand what that temperature means in terms of heat and cold.  But the weather people can’t leave it at that. They have to add more useless information.

It started years ago with the “wind chill factor.”  The wind chill factor is some calculated, made up number that only official weather people can determine. They say it is how cold it feels to your skin when the wind blows.

But different people feel cold and heat differently, so the wind chill is a fuzzy number at best. What feels cold to me, may not “feel” cold to you. So now, when it is 12 degrees out, and the wind is blowing, weather people  say it feels like minus 2 degrees wind chill. Well, that is just great. We know 12 degrees is cold. Why do we need two numbers to confuse us?

This summer, the new hotness is the “heat index” which, you guessed it is a made up number for how hot you feel. We all know that 95 is hot, we don’t need to have it “indexed” to 103 degrees to satisfy some weatherman’s hyperbole. Some people are naturally hotter than others. Hot people know who they are  and unhot people don’t care if they are hot or not; so again more confusion.

Summer also brings the much reported start of the boogy man hurricane season. Ever since they started to name storms, the hurricanes  have taken on this evil aura of  a Darth Vader, or Lord Voldemort. Something to be feared,… and thankful, (praise the Lord!), that the weather people are here to save us. Have you ever noticed how gleeful the meteorologists get when talking about a hurricane? They acquire this air of self-importance, as they stand out in the blowing wind and rain to show us how bad the weather is and how lucky we are to have them there to tell us about it.

I’d rather watch Gene Kelly.  [click on link] It’s a classic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmCpOKtN8ME

Women’s work

July 25, 2010

This past week, two of the world’s big three Abrahamic religions landed a couple of right jabs at their feminine faithful. First it was the Roman Catholic Church which defined the prospect of women being ordained as priests, a “grave sin”.

And then the clerics of the Hamas decreed that women could not smoke their water pipes in public.

Ok, I admit this latter mandate is not made of biblical proportions, but it does say a lot about the place of women in this ancient religion.  It’s rules and requirements like this that give me ” grave” doubts about religions and their purpose.

As an aside, I don’t smoke, but the idea of hanging out in a coffee shop with a bong takes me nostalgically back to the sixties. I think  people could do a lot worse things than drink coffee and smoke water pipes in public.

The real troubling issue for me is the continued classification of women by the Catholic Church in a secondary role. It  is  troubling, especially when in the opinion of many, the Church is in its deepest crisis in history and could use the energy and talents of  many of its women in stronger pastoral ways.

For centuries, women have done much of the heavy lifting for the Catholic Church. They have healed, educated and ministered to the faithful while keeping vows of poverty. chastity and obedience and bowing to the will of Rome. Now, many of them, too old to work anymore are being retired with minimum subsistence.; all but forgotten by the Vatican.

It does not puzzle me why the higher-ups of these religions continue to pursue a clearly misguided, nearly misogynistic,  deeply troubling  policy toward their women. It is their way of  maintaining  power, wealth and control.  But,  there is no logical reason for women to be excluded from full participation in the religion of their choosing.

What I don’t understand is  why do these women continue to put up with this discrimination. These women are educated, spiritually devout and carry significant influence among the faithful.  The Church  by continuing to exclude them from a  front line ordinational  role does so at its own further detriment.

Lone nun walking cloister -1930