Prufrock Rex

Adiamo, si, andiamo. Io nerache lo saluto!
Ecco, mi saluto per lei! (si stringera una
mano con l’altra) Buona Fortuna!

Let us walk then, you and I
While the twilight is pressed up against the sky,
Like a chicken slaughtered in a laundry.
Let us crawl through dream’s half-crowded alleys,
Minding the cats in the fog,
Alleys that initiate a tedious monologue
Of digressions and regressions
To answer that overwhelming riddle …
Oh, do not ask ‘What is it?’
Let us do something illicit.

In the room the women sew and stitch
Chatting with Malcolm Muggeridge.

In a time there will be time
For a clock to change the mind,
Rubbing its knobs against the gutter.
There will be time, there will be time
When present passes into future’s past,
Scratching its belly in the violet hour,
To face the space of those beckoning bracelets.
arma virumque canunt,
Chewing pink meringues dipped in tea.

In the room the women sew and stitch
Chatting with Malcolm Muggeridge.

And indeed there will be time
When the universe is rolled into a ball.
Time in which we might presume,
Acting in eyes the Sophoclean progress,
(Acting at times also the chorus
If she should say, ‘Oh, hang it all!’)

‘And one unloosed the laces of Adonis,’
While another cut off Samson’s mighty floss.
I have known them all already, known them all,
In my hovel wriggling on the floor,
Spitting out the dregs of pneumatic days
After the smell of steak and garlic cloves,
As if a draft horse stumbled in the meadows.

Shall I part the hair below? Do I dare to spit a pip?
I have seen the mermaids crack a whip

Do I dare
Consume my Easter egg?

The shutters drawn, closed each to each,
Garlic and sapphires tumble in the bog,
Rattling the Theban bottles in the corridors
Until inhuman voices call us through the fog.

Fred Holzknecht

(from The Leviathan Machine and Other Stories)

NRA Solution: Armed Guards at Schools

The NRA’s solution to prevent tragedies like those at Sandy Hook Elementary and Columbine is to have armed guards in every school. Leaving aside the fact that there was an armed guard at Columbine, and assuming that armed guards is a viable solution, consider the costs of such a policy.
The area where I live has relatively small school districts. Even so, the costs of an adequate number of guards would probably be in excess of one and a half million dollars a year. Multiply that by the number of schools throughout the country, add in the colleges and universities, and the annual costs would run into many billions.
Both safety and freedom have their costs. Since guns are the reason for the guards, the costs should be met through taxes on guns and ammunition. They would probably end up being substantial, but, hey, that would be the cost of “freedom” of ownership.

Sarah Palin Should Run!

When Sarah Palin announced that she was not running for the Republican presidential nomination, she said she thought she would be more of an influence from outside the race. This, however, has not proven to be true. Once she dropped out, media interest shifted away from her, and without the media attention that she has been able to garner in the past, she is rapidly becoming irrelevant.

Look at the field. Romney is a virtual liberal pretending he’s conservative. Perry keeps faltering. Cain is about to head south. Palin’s main rival, Michelle Bachmann, is losing her former supporters, as they realize that she is in it for herself rather than for the greater cause. So the time ripe for Sarah Palin to come back in and revitalize the conservative movement.

Tea Party Supports Higher Taxes?

Is it possible that tea partyists actually support higher taxes? If it is true that they are now supporting Herman Cain, they are in fact supporting higher taxes.

Unless you are earning more than $120,000 a year, Cain’s 9-9-9 tax solution means higher taxes. And the last 9 is a federal sales tax. That gets added on to the sales and local taxes that are already in existence. This means that Cain will raise the sales tax you pay from whatever it is now to anywhere between 14 to 17 percent or more. If you live in a state that does not have sales tax at present, you will be paying 9 percent under Cain.

Is the tea party actually supporting this? I don’t think so. Then who is giving Cain his support? Republicans too are against increased taxes, so what is going on? Are they being suckered by the glib simplicity of 9-9-9? Are they too dumb to realize that their taxes are going to go up?

Cain’s Snake Oil 9-9-9: Come and Get It

Herman Cain’s flat 9 percent tax rate may sound initially attractive, but appearances are deceptively misleading. The removal of deductions is enough to push the income tax burden of the majority of tax payers to a rate that is higher than at present, especially for families with children. Only the wealthy would benefit, so in this respect Cain is showing his Republican colors.

Worst than increases in income tax, the 9 percent sales tax would be 9 percent only in the few states that at present have no sales tax. But take California, for example. Under Cain’s scheme, sales tax would end up being around 17 percent, once you add on state and local taxes. No only would this be a burden for consumers, but it would discourage sales and ultimately stifle the economy.

Are we back in the Wild West? The 9-9-9 tax proposal is little more than snake oil hawked by a shyster.

Do Not Track

Generally, I don’t have a problem with the practice of tracking for the purposes of targeting advertising, but there are limits because it’s often counterproductive. If I purchase online, the best values are likely to come from companies that are not near me. If I plan to shop locally (brick and mortar), I already know what is available, and I can always do a specific search online.

Where there is a problem is that the tracking software is “dumb”; it does not know my interests or inclinations. For instance, I am beset by numerous targeted ads from sites in a city some 35 miles south of where I live. It is a city that I last visited more than 10 years ago (to go to a museum), and it is a city where I have never shopped, a city where I do not ever intend to go to shop. Since I never shop there, the targeting is totally misdirected, pointless, and annoying, guaranteeing even more that I will never shop there.

Not only is the targeted advertising misdirected, it takes the place of something I might be interested in, for instance, in the very large city 40 miles to the north which is much larger than the one that is being targeted to me. There is also another city 25 miles to the west. These two are the ones that I visit and shop at when I’m not shopping locally.

My browser is Mozilla Firefox, which has the “Do Not Track” feature, but it does not work, or at least does not work with respect to the targeted ads. So I am stuck with the pointless ads. The only pleasure comes from knowing that the companies that pay for them are wasting their money.

Ignorance is Right

It is significant that ignorance plays a large role in the politics of conservatives. I wish I could define that as “of ultra conservatives”, but ignorance has spread beyond the extreme right.

Gross ignorance, for instance, is at the heart of the tea party movement. It is not always as obvious as, for example, when someone in a recent tea party protest against health reform held up a sign that said, “Govt, keep your hands off my Medicare.” (Someone should have told that moron that Medicare is a government program; without government, there would be no Medicare.)

There are many other indicators of ignorance. Tea Partyists like to see themselves as reincarnations of the original patriots who founded this country. But dressing up as them is as close as they ever get, for the founding patriots were not at all like the tea partyists. They were about unity, stability and working together; they were not about disunity and destabilization. Above all, they did not protest taxation. In Boston, after the real historic tea party, they continued to pay their taxes to the colonial government. What they were opposed to was “taxation without representation”, a different matter altogether. The present day tea partyists are actually the antithesis of the real tea party patriots.

The tea partyists do not want to accept the results of the last election. They are stridently anti-Obama, but to call him a Nazi and make him a latter-day Hitler is nothing short of absurd. Obama is the opposite of the extreme right wing that Nazism represents, and of the white race supreme leader of the Third Reich, whose minions set out to purge the land of non-white races, to destroy democracy, and to raid and smash homes and offices of opposition leaders. Uh oh! It’s beginning to sound like the behavior of some of the tea party’s very own members.

Other commentators have noted the racism that is at the heart of the tea party movement, so I’ll leave this one to them. “Take back America,” means in effect, “Take back America from a black president.”

Away from the tea party, conservatives are on the move to rewrite the history books in their own image, especially in Texas, but also on radio and TV and in written publications. This is not simply an exercise in cynicism. It is a genuine exercise of ignorance. In this Right version, Franklin D. Roosevelt caused the Great Depression. (He didn’t, but he was a Democrat, so let’s blame him.) Theodore Roosevelt, one of the great Republican presidents, turns out to be a socialist. (He wasn’t.) Jamestown in 1607 was a socialist experiment that (naturally) failed – ignoring the fact that Jamestown was the result of a capitalist venture that set out to make a profit; it did come close to failure, but eventually made it. Joe McCarthy, who led the anti-communist witch hunts of the early 1950s, was actually an American hero and should not have been censured by the Senate. (The censure, incidentally, was led by Republicans.)

More details on the conservative effort to rewrite history are to be found at

Of course, to some extent, history can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, one might debate the extent to which Ronald Reagan’s policies contributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union. The circumstances around this event are complex; some are open to interpretation, while others do not provide clear indications of significance. What are not open to interpretation are facts and first person statements. But these are exactly what the conservatives are fudging, glossing over, ignoring, or simply misrepresenting (that is, simply lying about) to make the case for their new version of history.

By politicizing history into their own image, they are doing what the very ideologies they most oppose do. These are precisely the activities that non-democratic totalitarian governments (such as Nazism and communism) indulge in to twist history into a model that supports and justifies their ideologies.

Avoiding Gardening Mail Order Rip-offs

Spring is the time for planting bare root fruit trees. One of the best ways to get uncommon or heirloom plants is by mail order or online. In this way, I have been able to get together a large variety of apple trees. For the most part, the nurseries I have dealt with have been excellent. One, for instance, had no hesitation sending me a replacement tree when the first one, after a couple of years, turned out to be mislabeled. But beware! Unscrupulous dealers lurk out there.

One of these is Southmeadow Fruit Gardens. Unfortunately, Southmeadow is often recommended as a mail order source, and perhaps at one time it deserved that recommendation. But no more! I sent my order and money in by mail, but no trees ever arrived. I sent letters, but never got a response. When I called, I was told that they don’t send to California and they would refund my money. This they never did, despite more calls. When I found an online site (on Dave’s Garden) for comments about nurseries, I discovered that I was by no means the only one ripped off.  The address for the Dave’s Garden site is given at the end of this post.

Another is Autumn Ridge Nursery. This one suckered me in with its low prices. Truth to tell, I was a little wary; I thought the plants might be a bit on the small side, but, hey, trees grow. So I ordered. Not only did I order once; I ordered twice before I realized my mistake.

Briefly, my experience was a complete shamozzle! The apricot I ordered turned out to be a peach. The peaches I ordered either failed or turned out to be rootstock only. The cherry I ordered also turned out to be rootstock, not the Rainier ordered. None of the apples I got from Autumn Ridge have produced fruit or have even grown properly, so I don’t know whether they are the right ones, and this is more than seven years later! One apple tree arrived completely dead. The dead apple was the only tree that Autumn Ridge ever replaced. They never replaced the apricot, the peaches or the cherry.

Had I used Dave’s Garden’s “Guide to Gardening by Mail, Mail Order Gardening and Catalogs”, I would have had second thoughts about both of these companies. The address is Scrolling down gets you to where you can browse by letter. This is a user created database of nurseries and not just for fruit trees. Not only can you read about other users experiences, you can also input your own. I highly recommended this service before ordering online or by catalog.

A Right Christmas?

The shortened word Xmas for Christmas used to upset my mother because she saw the “X” as negating the real reason for Christmas. But the “X” is not a negative. It is the Greek letter Chi, which stands for Christ, so the meaning of Christmas is actually preserved in Xmas.

Today as we go into the Christmas season, we are moving into a time when the holiday is being increasingly turned into something that is religion-neutral. Public displays avoid religious references, students at school concerts have to sing about Santa Claus and reindeer with red noses, and stores play neutered jingles that one might call holiday music—all to avoid the real reason for the holiday. The Post Office sells both “winter holidays” and Madonna and child stamps, the former as usual outselling the latter, and a survey shows that at least one third of us say “Happy Holidays” now, instead of “Merry Christmas.”

It is no surprise then that this is also the time when the right wing media front men rail against the movement away from Christ in Christmas. It is true that many people are concerned about the secularization of the holiday, but those shrill complaints are not really based on true religious concern. Their motives are political. They want to take possession of the holy-day part of Christmas, just as they wrapped themselves in the flag and seized on patriotism after 9/11, trying to make them theirs.

These small-minded reactions are presented as countering the perceived all-pervasive “liberalism” that is supposedly neutralizing Christmas, but even if the intent is genuine rather than calculated (as I suspect it really is), the result can only be divisiveness—us versus them; our version of Christmas is right—or Right; they are the heathens.

Letting narrow-minded bigots make Christmas theirs rather than keeping it ours will be a loss to all of us. We need to keep the religious side of Christmas intact.

Historically, it is very likely that Luke and Matthew (or their sources) made up their versions of the Christmas story, but this does not matter. Over the last two thousand years, the story of a couple traveling a long way with the woman pregnant, giving birth to the Savior of mankind in a stable, angels telling shepherds of the wonderful event, and they and wise men from the East coming to worship the new born infant—this simple story has become enshrined in our culture. It is part of who we are. And it is a very beautiful story, especially one that, together with its evocative songs, engenders the innocence and nostalgia of childhood and of a simpler time.

If we remove that part of Christmas, what are we left with? Santa Claus, elves and reindeer? Is this our substitute for the Christmas story? A story of deception until the child finds out that there is actually no Santa Claus?

I find the “worship” of Santa Claus of the North Pole highly ironic. Santa Claus is a corruption of Saint Nicholas, a religious figure, supposedly a bishop of note. But Saint Nicholas is himself a representation of something else. Missionaries commonly substitute acceptable figures or practices for pagan ones that are unacceptable. So Christmas is a substitution for pagan celebrations of the passage of the winter solstice, and Saint Nicholas is a substitution for Old Nick, the man from the north, and the one we still recognize in the name Nick, the devil himself. (Even more ironical, the word Santa is an acronym for Satan.)

A key aspect with public placement of religious symbols is whether there is proselytizing or not. On the hills of San Juan Bautista, California, there is a large cross, which overlooks the little town. This cross is clearly a Christian symbol, but its location has to do with the historical origin of the town, a Spanish mission founded in 1797. The original location of the cross on the hill not only was a substitution for an Indian meeting site, it also enabled the location of the mission to be identified from afar. The cross here is part of our heritage. Similarly, children in California schools routinely build model missions when they study early California history.

The same distinction should apply to seasonal displays. Permanently posting the Ten Commandments in an official location is different from displaying a Christmas crèche. The commandments are a religious prescription to be followed and so violate the distinction between church and state, but the crèche merely represents a story, albeit fundamental to Christianity. Similarly, the public display of a menorah, while strongly associated with Judaism, is again a representation of a story, not a general prescription for action or religious behavior.

We know what Christmas stands for, even if we pretend otherwise, and while we may still phrase our holiday greetings to accommodate others, we should not get away from what the day really represents in our culture. We should not abandon our heritage, and substitute something that’s plastic, shallow and deceptive. We are able to do precisely that with Thanksgiving. Let us also do the same with Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all!

The Log Ness Monster

It is interesting that despite the evidence of science, myths continue to be perpetuated in the face of such evidence. One such myth is the Loch Ness monster. The solution to the sightings appeared in an article by Robert Craig, published in the New Scientist in 1982, but it is most often conveniently overlooked.

Fake photos aside, such as the most famous plesiosaur-like neck sticking out of the water, there is no doubt that there have been sightings of something in the water at Loch Ness, one of the four very deep Scottish lochs (or lakes), this one almost 750 feet deep. At two other deep lakes, Loch Morar and Loch Tay, there have also been “monster” sightings. The fourth deep lake is Loch Lomond, but there have been no sightings here.

One other very deep lake should be included in this group, but this one is not in Scotland. It is Lake Seljordsvatnet in Norway. It belongs in this group because there have also been “monster” sightings there.

What do these lakes have in common, apart from the “monster” sightings? Why have there been no sightings at Loch Lomond, a lake that appears similar to the others in all respects?

The answer has to do with a kind of tree, the Scots Pine (Pinus Sylvestris). These lochs were once surrounded by large forests of Scots Pines, including the lake in Norway. The exception in our list is Loch Lomond, which had no pine forests.

The “monster” starts with a Scots Pine, a very resinous, tarry tree, falling in the water. It becomes waterlogged and sinks to the bottom where the pressure is equal to about twenty-five atmospheres. Here under this enormous pressure, the log begins to decay, forming small bubbles of gas. The gas is trapped by the sticky resin, which gradually expands out of the log. Eventually enough gas bubbles form to lift the log off the bottom, and it begins to rise.

As the log nears the surface, the outside pressure decreases; the bubbles begin to expand rapidly and start bursting. At the surface they explode, partially breaking the log into pieces, churning the water violently until all the gas is released.  Some of the pieces fly up, and occasionally a trunk is momentarily ejected as the log disintegrates. Quickly the gases are released and the log sinks back down, heavier than water, never to rise again.

Remnants of such logs have been found ashore.  The process of decay and building up gases can take as long as a century, and because it is almost that long since the surrounds were populated by those trees, the age of the “monster” sightings is practically over.

The decay of these logs only occurs in very deep lochs, since very high pressure is needed to build up buoyancy in the logs. Naturally, it will only happen where the right kind of logs lie deep in the water. The conditions were right at Loch Morar and Loch Tay, and the famous Loch Ness in Scotland. They were also right at Lake Seljordsvatnet in Norway. These are the lakes with “monsters”.

So why do we ignore the evidence of science? Has too much mystery gone out of this world? I suspect this is the reason why we want to hang on to our notions of UFOs and aliens, of Big Foot and the Yeti, and of the one that we regard most affectionately, the Loch Ness monster.