We have all seen destruction and devastation before, either in person, or on film due to war or a natural disaster. Personally, I have seen nature’s destructive force from hurricanes and tornados up close maybe a half a dozen times.

However, no pictures can convey the sense of loss and utter helplessness this type of destruction delivers to its victims who somehow manage to survive.  But then, words too are so inadequate.

Birmingham, Alabama– April 28, 2011

But, it is certain, …The South will rise again.

Htrae* Tomatoes

April 28, 2011

 * Htrae (earth spelled backwards) is the bizarro planet of the DC comic cosmos, where up is down, in is out, right is wrong and black is white. You get the idea.

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The snows and cold  of winter are  just a distant memory today as we have begun to see some eye-popping blooms on the magnolias and dogwood trees.  Wisps of pale green in the trees are turning into that beautiful deep emerald  hue that only means summer is getting close. The soil is warming and I just know Donna will start her vegetable planting soon.

Last year’s limited crop is still a nagging disappointment to her as I notice each day after her trips to the nursery, bags of peat moss, compost and other soil additives begin to show up along with seedling vegetable plants.

The air is heavy with parsley, sage,  rosemary, thyme, oregano and cilantro as the patio herb pots begin to take shape.  All seems to be going according to schedule until “the box” arrives.

“What is that?”  I inquire.

“It is my new age tomato farm.” came the matter of fact reply.

I let it go at that and proceeded to watch her assemble this contraption which holds tomato plants UPSIDE DOWN 6 feet in the air.

Straining  my neck, I struggled to get a good look at the plants hanging by their roots in bags of “growing material”.

“Why are your tomato plants upside down?”

“This technique makes the plants more productive and keeps them pest and weed free”, came the answer.

“Oh, that is clever,” I said even as I thought the whole thing had a weird, bizarro, Alice in Wonderland logic to it.

Well, I am all for improved farming techniques that increase crop yield, but this roots on top approach strikes me somehow as just wrong. What happens when those big boys or  a couple of  juicy beefsteaks start sizing up? I feel the whole farm could come crashing down on the patio–with me under it. To say nothing of a convenient poaching level for thieving squirrels.

After a week or so of watching  Tomato Bizarro, I have seen at least one advantage. During a spring thunderstorm in which we received golf ball size hail, the ground on top tomato plants acted as a force shield and the young plants were spared the icy beating some other conventional vegetables in the garden received.

But, as the rains continued, the brilliant and resourceful Farmer Donna implemented a new technique which I have never seen applied before in an agro situation to insure that her crop did not get too wet.

Tomato Bizarro with the latest fashion rain gear.

oily mess

April 26, 2011

Last week, the President came on the TV to tell Americans that there was little we could do to stop rising oil/gasoline prices in the near term.

Mr. President, I beg to differ. The America I know, defeated the Nazis in World War II and won the cold war with the Soviet Union. The America I know  has led and fed the world for the last 60 years. The America I know could certainly  do a lot to help stabilize rising gasoline prices.

The people in Washington are just not thinking anymore. Or, maybe they just don’t want gasoline prices to come down.

First, oil is a commodity like pork bellies, orange juice, wheat, gold,  etc. It is traded in markets populated by speculators, producers, users and traders. These markets are driven by two forces: greed and fear.

Using its massive strategic oil reserves the US should beginning selling oil each time the speculators try to bid up the price. No market player would be bigger than the US . The traders with their bids constantly being hit and orders being filled will soon become awash with oil. They will then  have to start selling oil themselves to avoid being too long (over bought).  The  sales mood  will spread and the price of oil will drop. The US could then quietly, over time begin buying back the reserves at a lower price, and maybe making some money for the taxpayers for a change.

Second, getting the Federal debt down would certanly reverse the dollar’s slide and make imported oil cheaper. What are they waiting for?

The government should also, immediately provide a substantial tax credit for the purchase of vehicles getting more than 25 miles per gallon. They should offset this with a tax charge for  those vehicles getting less that 18 miles per gallon. Hey Washington, you are always using the tax code for behavior modification. Why have you not done this?

Also,  since we are on a war footing now, Washington should use its war powers to adjust the work week from 5 days at 8 hours a day to 4 days at 10 hours a day for government employees. And do it on a staggered basis. This would reduce the commuting miles driven by 20 percent,  as each worker would only be driving 4 days instead of 5 days.  In addition, because the shifts would be staggered, the number of cars on the road on any given day would be reduced, therefore minimizing traffic jams and saving fuel. Corporate America should be encouraged to follow suit.

These  actions alone would bring down the price of gasoline immediately. If you don’t agree, then come up with some ideas of your own. Don’t just say there is nothing we can do.

While you are at it Mr. President, bringing the troops home from the wars in the Middle East would also help reduce worldwide oil consumption and help American taxpayers. ( not to mention allowing our men and women in uniform to come home!) What is our purpose for being in these costly wars again?

Finally,  the Government should implement a workable domestic energy policy it should have implemented  thirty years ago. Instead, they just abdicate responsiblity and do nothing.

I guess “no we can’t” is the new American tagline.

The local news had been in weather reporting mode for a couple of hours when about 8 pm on Good Friday evening, the reporters started to get very excited. Indicating a band of real estate about 20 miles long from St. Charles, Missouri to Lambert Field and beyond was about to be hit by powerful winds, they shouted over the newsroom din. ” Take cover, now!” With sirens wailing, thousand of people in the tornado’s path sought shelter underground as 150 mph+ winds swirled destruction overhead.

I often criticize some weather meteorologists for being pompous and hackneyed while practicing their craft, but this time they got it right. There was pinpoint precision forecasting based on real-time advanced radar information. More importantly, the residents of Bridgeton, Missouri and other towns in the storm’s path knew to seek shelter in their basements.

The damage was extensive with over 700 homes flattened or partially destroyed. Lambert Airport was knocked out with a concourse  roof  being ripped away and hundreds of windows shattered, producing deadly missiles of splintered wood and glass shards. A fully loaded passenger jet,  parked at the gate was picked up and moved 20 feet.

Millions of dollars in damage occurred in a matter of 30 seconds  and a handful of people were injured, but  no one was killed!

Why?

Credit to:

Much improved and focused storm forecasting and reporting.

Advanced communication technology.

Good old fashioned basements. (Remember, The Wizard of Oz.)

The cleanup will take weeks and months and the rebuilding perhaps years, but for now the strong St. Louisans who caught the full force of the Good Friday tornado will be around to see it.

Happy Easter

April 24, 2011

Easter, the central feast day of religious importance to the 2 billion souls of the Christian faith, is also celebrated widely by nearly everyone as a time of renewal and rebirth. Easter is considered the universal icon of spring in the northern hemisphere.

Many of us have had a terrible and difficult road during  the past forty days. A happy and joyous Easter would indeed be a welcome respite.

From the earthquakes and the tsunami in Japan to the wars in the Middle East, to the wild and wicked weather we have been experiencing  in the USA this past month, people are very ready for a period of calm and peace.

I hope you enjoy a happy and peaceful Easter however you choose to observe the day.

Sadness

April 22, 2011

 R.I.P. Mr. Hoang Nguyen

I have felt such a sense of sadness and despair since hearing of the brutal attack and senseless murder of Mr. Hoang Nguyen.

Mr Nguyen was a 72-year-old immigrant from Vietnam who came to St. Louis with his wife, Yen three years ago to be closer to his daughter and family. It was a wonderful happy time for him.

Then it all changed  last weekend when after going grocery shopping, the couple took their usual walk home. Before they arrived home however, they were brutally and savagely attacked by four mindless teenagers. Mr. Nguyen was killed and his wife was hospitalized for her injuries.

The worthless murderers who snuffed out the life of this kind, gentle man did so because of some kill/thrill game they were “playing.”.

There is no hell horrible enough for these murderous, barbaric  savages. What an evil senseless, sickening act.

At Mr. Nguyen ‘s funeral mass, his stunned, frail wife referred to her husband’s murderers using the Biblical words of Jesus Christ and said “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

I am sorry Mrs. Nguyen. I am sorry for your deep hurt and your loss. 

And I am sorry also, because I can not forgive so easily the sick bastards who have taken your husband from you.

If this is even small part of the face of young America, God help us all.

The class trip

April 21, 2011

I was talking to Sydney the other day and she was telling me about her upcoming class trip to Kansas City.

I said, “Kansas City, what are you going to do there?”

Sydney: “We are going to the water parks and the zipline park  and …We are staying overnight in a hotel.”

Me: “Are you doing anything educational?”

Sydney: “Well, I think we are going to a couple of museums and stuff. But Papa, this is the class trip!”

The class trip? I can hardly remember when I was in the 7th grade,  much less what I did there.  I do recall never taking an overnight  class trip. It just was not done back in the day.

I do  remember one time when I was about ten years old, the entire school went across the street to the very fancy “Bayshore” theater to see the movie, The Court Jester with Danny Kaye.

I thought it was so special getting out of class  to sit in the big plush red velvet seats under the massive chandelier in the Bayshore theater. At the time it cost fifty cents to see a show there, and I had never been. This I thought was a real treat as we each got a box of Crackerjacks as we entered the theater.

We laughed so hard that day. I still smile every time I hear Danny Kaye’s,  The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle routine.

The only other time I went on a class trip was in November 1965 when my French teacher took the  class to see George Bizet’s  opera,  Carmen in New York City. 

Our seats were in a  balcony where you could not see much detail on the stage. We had one pair of binoculars ( opera glasses, ha!) for about six of us and we keep passing them around. The only close up I remember seeing with the glasses was when Carmen got stabbed by Don Jose. The knife was real, but at the last second, Don Jose twisted the knife in his hand and push the handle to her. For years afterward I felt very smug knowing the secrets of the stage. In addition, I just knew I was a member of the cognoscenti as I was familiar with the libretto and the music from the countless hours we had to listen to it in class.

However, the main rememberance I have of that day  was the ride home in total darkness. The date was November  9, 1965. It was the evening of the widespread Northeast blackout. Since we had no radios and there were  no cell phones at the time, we traveled in the bus for two hours without knowing what had happened. There were many alien invasion rumors flying around the bus.

Class trips can be such an adventure.