I’ve changed the template again – this time with rotating headers. Enjoy.

Take it away, guys!

You know, as an unreconstructed Unionist descended (on the maternal side) from a sternly Abolitionist Pennsylvania Quaker who (family legend has it) maintained his house as an alternate safe station on the Underground Railway and was thrown out of the local Quaker meeting for his unseemly enthusiasm for Mr. Lincoln’s war – my affection for the Confederate battle flag, AKA the Stars and Bars – is right down there between fried liver and onions and anaesthetized root canal work. Or at least it was until this morning, when the news broke upon us. It seems that our betters, in the shape of the so-called intellectual, media, political and business elite have decided that no, we ought not to fly any version of the Confederate flag, buy any version of it embossed on various souvenir tat – or even a model of the General Lee car from a dimwitted 1980s television series, The Dukes of Hazzard – a show I don’t think I ever watched, since a merciful deity in the shape of the Air Force Personnel Center saw that I was stationed overseas for most of the years that it was on the air. And no, I don’t think I ever watched an episode of it on AFRTS. My toleration for idiot plots is low.

But my toleration for those who would deface or memory-hole history is even lower. A large portion of flyover country feels a certain amount of affection for that flag, and honors the memory of honorable men who fought courageously under it. Slavery? Slavery was over in this country with the end of that war. There is no one alive today in the United States who owned a slave (bar a small number of perverts and social deviants) and statistically speaking, darned few did even before 1865. So yes, you racial social justice warriors, keep on flogging the dried bones of that very dead horse, and to what end? Yes, the Stars and Bars was taken up as a symbol by Southern racists – who, I should point out, were Democrats in good standing with their party – in fighting desegregation, which is a cause that has been a back number since I was a wee bairn and my mother darned near washed out my mouth with soap for having repeated a slang term for ‘black’ that I had picked up at my (admittedly lily-white save for all the Asian kids and a smattering of Hispanic thereof) elementary school, sometime in about the first grade. Without actually knowing what the term meant, I might hasten to add.

No, I fear that this matter is not actually to do with the offense against all things 21st century and tolerant and political correct; it is a squirrel, a test balloon, a distraction. The offense of declaring the Confederate battle flag and all of its iterations is deep and calculated; an experiment, I might venture to wonder, on behalf of the Inner Party and intended to otherize and demoralize a segment of the body politic not noted for slavish devotion to the establishment party as defined by Angelo Codevilla. Let’s see what else might be removed from the public sphere and memory – now it’s one particular flag, but tomorrow will it be another, adjudicated by the Inner Party as being racist and divisive and all that. Say, the Gadsden flag … or some other? Suddenly gone because it is bad-think … and beyond that – movies and CDs – really anything with the bad-think logo on it. Is this the internet version of a bonfire in the public square? Ordered up at the command of the Inner Party and carried out by obedient sycophants?

Now, I think I want a Confederate battle flag. I want to have it hanging out in front of my house, along with the American flag, the Texas lone star flag, the Gadsden flag, and a USMC banner for my daughter.
I think that I want to get them before they are pulled from internet sales.

Discuss – and keep it civil, of course.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net)

So everyone thought that the last of the fallout from the Sad/Rabid Puppies and the expanded field of nominees for the Hugo award and finished falling and now it was safe to come out and gambol happily in the fields of science fiction and fantasy? The much revered semi-retired founder of Tor, Tom Doherty made a handsome and diplomatic statement, stressing the fact that in no way were the opinion of MS Irene Gallo, the creative director at Tor, as posted on her personal Facebook page early in May of this year, to be mistaken for being the opinion of the publishing firm itself. But the stuff is still falling, and it’s not rain.

MS Gallo had opined on said personal Facebook page (but a page which appeared mainly to be for publicizing Tor projects) , when someone asked about what the Sad Puppies were all about: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.” When massive attention to this unequivocal statement was paid by outraged science fiction and fantasy writers and readers who were in sympathy with the Sad Puppies, many such felt themselves to be slandered and insulted. MS Gallo did post one of those mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologetic apologies farther down in the original comment thread which together with Tom Doherty’s statement appeared at first to tamp down some of the fury.

But the discussion of the matter of Tor continued rumbling, especially among writers who felt most particularly insulted on several levels by being smeared as neo-Nazis, racists, misogynists and homophobes. Some of them had intense and life-changing experiences; Peter Grant, for example, was a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Sarah Hoyt grew up in Portugal in interesting times, and R.K. Modena is the daughter of an anti-Marcos journalist who wound up serving as a diplomat in East Germany and Israel – just to name a few. A diverse lot, on the whole; just not in the manner favored by the establishment diversity warriors. On various Puppy-sympathetic blogs the matter continued to be chewed over by commenters. One of the points made was that MS Gallo’s remarks appeared to be symptomatic of a long-existing institutional bias at Tor towards authors who tended to be more inclined toward a traditional conservative or libertarian frame of mind. I commented on one writer blog, on how this may very well have long-term implications: “From an executive manager’s point of view, allowing this kind of openly-expressed hostility will be disastrous in the long run for Tor. How many excellent writers, potentially best-selling writers who are of an independent, libertarian or even conservative turn of mind will choose not to work with Tor, on hearing about such a work atmosphere there — and take their work to other publishers. It’s just bad management, and over time it may sink Tor entirely.”
How willing would anyone be work with employees of a corporation who personally despise you and have no inhibitions about saying so, either directly or by implication?

And what ought to be the response of those who feel deeply and personally insulted by employees of Tor, such as MS Gallo, and those who clearly stand in agreement with her ill-considered remarks? And what ought Tor to do, over what they already have done? Clean house seems to be the basic consensus; leaving the precise details up to Tor. And to effect that? Some of the offended recommend and are participating in an outright boycott. Some of them – like me – have tastes that run to other and non-Tor published authors, and haven’t bought anything from Tor in years. Others favor purchasing their favorite Tor authors second-hand, and hitting the authorial tip-jar with a donation. I still have the sense that for many of us – after having weathered numerous comments along the same line as MS Gallo’s without much complaint – this was just the final straw.

(Cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

The armoire as found, remnants of duct tape adhering to front

The armoire as found, remnants of duct tape adhering to front

This week is designated in our neighborhood for the once a year bulk trash pick-up by the city – that would be everything to big or too heavy to fit into the trash can. Basically, clapped-out appliances, wood-rotted fencing, disintegrating furniture … everything but broken concrete is fair game. Most usually, the piles begin appearing late in the week before; we say jokingly, to give amateur junkers and professional trash pickers a fair go before the city comes in with a number of huge trucks equipped with massive scoopers on the end of a hydraulic arm to scoop up what is left.

Door Handle and Detail of Veneer - Before Renow

Close-up of veneer and wooden handle

The professional junkers usually go for metal debris, everyone else goes for … well, everything else which can be made use of. I know for a fact there are crafters who scrounge weathered fence pickets to make birdhouses and other country craft items. My daughter and I freely admit to collecting perfectly good terra cotta pots, garden ornaments, a huge chiminea, a metal bracket to hang garden flags from, a wooden chaise lounge, plant stands and sometimes plants themselves, but this last Sunday we spotted a real prize, and inveigled a neighborhood friend with a pickup truck to help us. We beat one of the pros to it by about five minutes, and boy, did he look annoyed when he came around the corner and saw us loading it up.

The items in question is one of those tall old-fashioned armoire wardrobes, built for use in the days before houses came with built-in closets – I’d guess this one is from the 1920s, with a veneer inlay on the doors, an arched top, and rounded column-shaped corners with some ornamental carvings on them, and very nice carved wooden doors. There is a small broken part of the molding at the top of one of the doors, damage and cracks to the corners and and the base that it stands on is broken entirely away. There were some broken pieces of wood with it, which

Detail of carving on corners

Detail of carving on corners

could be part of the base, but maybe not, as they do not seem to fit. There are some small brass fittings – latches, a lock, and hinges coming loose on one door, and a narrow mirror fixed inside one door. The corners are loose, so it doesn’t stand foursquare at all, but that is something that can be fixed with wood-glue and longer screws. It’s otherwise a solid and well-made piece, not a scrap of MDF anywhere in it (although the side panels are plywood) and well within our capabilities to repair, given some advice by our neighbor who does quality wood-working. In one of my books about repairing furniture

, the authors made a point of observing that something from the Forties or even earlier was almost always a solidly built piece of furniture, and well worth the time and effort spent on repairing and restoring, whereas something bought in a furniture store today – unless it was absolutely tippy-top-of-the-line and heinously expensive – is most likely a flimsy piece of trash; thin veneer over MDF. We also recalled the guy on the Antiques Road show, who bought a heavy wooden sideboard from some kids who were going to put it on the Guy Fawkes bonfire, and it turned out to be an incredibly valuable and very rare Jacobean sideboard.

Interior with single shelf

Interior with single shelf

What will we do with it? Probably use it as an entertainment center; with a removable set of shelves for the television and all, until I can afford to build my antique-filled summer vacation house in the Hill Country.

11. June 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Fun and Games

Some time since (Oh, heck was it in 2005, ten years ago? So it was.) I mused on the concept of public space, both in the general sense – of a large city – and the smaller sense, of a neighborhood … that is, the place that we live in, have our gardens and our households, where we have neighbors who know us, where we jog, walk our dogs, take an interest – from the mild to the pain-in-the-neck over-interested and judgmental. If our homes are our castles, then the neighborhood is our demesne.
And unless we are complete hermits, home-owners will take an interest in the demesne. I state that without fear of contradiction, and it does not matter if that demesne is in a strictly-gated upper-middle or upper-class community with real-live 24-hour security, a private and luxurious clubhouse with attached pool and attractively-landscaped park or a simple ungated, strictly crisscrossed-streets and cul-de-sacs development of modestly-priced starter houses without any HOA-managed extras like golf courses, swimming pools, fitness centers, jogging paths – indeed, anything beyond a little landscaping around the sign denoting the entrance to the development. This is where our homes are, and at the lower end of the economic scale of things, likely to have consumed a major portion of disposable income on the part of the householder. A good portion of our material treasure, in other words, is committed to those foundation, walls, roof and yard.

Generally, the lower on the economic scale of things, the harder it is to liquidize and relocate elsewhere, when things go south, in a manner of speaking. People who have a paid-off mortgage and decades of residency in a neighborhood are anchored there by economics, at least as much by habit. If there is no buyer for that little house … then they are at least as stuck as the residents of a development where the average house runs to almost half a million when there are no buyers either. It’s just that the owners of the larger house are likely to have more in the way of tangible and intangible resources to start with. Generally the working-class or just barely middle-class home owners are liable to fight more fiercely for their neighborhood and regard any letting down of the standard with fear, disgust and loathing. Trashy, loud, inconsiderate neighbors, who let the landscape and home maintenance fall into arrears, who have noisy parties, invite large numbers of similarly trashy friends to them, appear to take pleasure out of flouting the written and unwritten community standards and making the lives of their nearest neighbors a misery – such residents are the bane of a convivial suburban neighborhood. Indeed, many residents of suburbia moved from stack-a-prole city apartment blocks to get away from that kind of neighbor at least as much as for the free-standing house, gardens, trees, and HOA amenities.

Which brings me around by easy stages to McKinney, Texas, and a sprawling suburb development called Craig Ranch, whose open park space and gated private HOA-owned pool have wound up being ground zero in the latest racial outrage. (Complete rundown, including analysis of the social media of the young woman who seems to be making a career out of throwing a succession of raucous parties is here. Scroll down – about the only question I haven’t seen answered yet is if she is reporting any of the income from this to the IRS…) Somehow, though – I just don’t think that the flying company of race agitators are going to get very much more mileage out of this affair. This is not a marginal to failing neighborhood like Ferguson, or an almost entirely black one like Baltimore. Craig Ranch seems to be about what you would expect from a neighborhood in Texas where the houses run $400,000; about three degrees more upscale than my own, but not anywhere near the eye-wateringly exclusive level of San Antonio’s Dominion neighborhood. It also seems to reflect the same racial balance nationally, as it is about 11% of color. So, not overwhelmingly, vibrantly diverse … but not exclusively white, either. These are home-owners who have resources of their own, and an HOA with presumably strict rules. Getting into their faces with the usual displays of racial grievance and demands that their employers fire them will, I think, be counterproductive. People who have paid $400,000 for their house and lord knows how much in HOA fees for the privilege of enjoying their castle and demesne … no, I can’t see them being bullied very much beyond what they have been already, although it does look as if the city of McKinney itself has caved.

Discuss.

(Cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

With some apologies because this is not a matter which particularly touches me, or the books that I write, I am moved to write about this imbroglio one more time, because it seems that it didn’t end with the official Hugo awards slate of nominees being finalized – with many good and well-written published works by a diverse range of authors being put forward. The Hugo nominations appear for quite a good few years to have been dominated by one particular publisher, Tor. And it seems that the higher levels of management at Tor did not take a diminishment of their power over the Hugo nominees at all gracefully. (This post at my book blog explains the ruckus with links, for those who may be in the dark.)

A Ms. Irene Gallo, who apparently billed as a creative director at Tor, replied thusly on her Facebook page, when asked about what the Sad Puppies were: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

Oh, yes – outraged science fiction fans had had fun with this resulting thread.
And who can blame them? Four sentences which manage to be packed full of misrepresentation and a couple of outright lies; the voicing of similar calumnies had to be walked back by no less than
Entertainment Weekly when the whole Sad Puppies thing first reached a frothing boil earlier this year. Now we see a manager of some note at Tor rubbishing a couple of their own authors, and a good stretch of the reading public and a number of book bloggers … which I confidently predict will not turn out well. I have not exhaustively researched the whole matter, but tracked it through According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club, where there are occasional comments about anti-Sad/Rabid Puppy vitriol flung about in various fora. I would have opined that Ms. Gallo’s pronouncement probably isn’t worst of them, but it seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, coming as it does from an employee very high up in Tor management. People of a mild-to-seriously conservative or libertarian bent, are just sick and tired of being venomously painted as – in Ms. Gallo’s words – “right-wing to neo-nazi” and as “unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic,” when they are anything but that.

Discuss.

(Cross-posted at my book blog, and at chicagoboyz.net)

So a “Draw Mohammed” event staged Friday in front of the Phoenix mosque which was attended by the two semi-literate Muslims who tried to attack the “Draw Mohammed” in Garland, Texas, a few weeks ago drew a large and rowdy crowd of armed motorcycling enthusiasts in full biker regalia and light arms. No question at all that some of the gentlemen in involved are rude, crude, provocative and pretty un-politically correct (scroll down the pictures posted on this story for proof positive) … but dammit didn’t it look like they were having fun, in making a full-throated in-your-face defense of freedom of speech as defined in the first amendment. And one without the monstrously weasel-wording “but” inserted after the statement “Well, yes, I believe in free speech…” This was incredibly refreshing after the temporizing along those lines from the usual proud defenders of the freedom to speak, write, draw, broadcast and otherwise propagate potentially offensive material in the wake of the Garland contest and shoot-out.

Our national media, both print and broadcast paid lip-service to the concept, but generally blacked out the artistic representations of ol’ Mo and chided Pamela Geller for provoking an adverse reaction, usually with the hackneyed simile of shouting fire in a crowded theater, or of classifying her event and many of her public statements as something called ‘hate speech. Our entertainment elite, for the most part has already preemptively surrendered. Academia has also surrendered and abased themselves when it comes to any voicing of an opinion not already agreed to by most everyone in their tight little academic strongholds, most of our elected officials are already cringing and running for cover once the mighty accusation of being that unclean creature – an islamophobe (oh, the horror, the horror!) is unsheathed by the oily activists of CAIR. The slightly permanently tanned golfer in chief of these United States has been distinguished of late by his solicitous and tender care of Muslim sensibilities worldwide while simultaneously blaming the rise of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Bearded-Fanatics-of-the-Islamic-Persuasion who are raping, looting and exploding their way across Syria and Iraq, and making an impression in North and Central Africa on his predecessor in office. So having someone – anyone – actually self-organizing and make an unequivocal gesture unadorned by the temporizing “but” is kind of refreshing.

Yes indeed, it is a pure relief to see public a public demonstration of this kind – an in your face, fiercely unapologetic demonstration, only somewhat fazed by death threats from sub-literate Twitter account-holders, but not the least discouraged by the distain of those who represent themselves to be their social bettors. Being polite has not made the point that freedom of thought is an inalienable one, in the eyes of those of us raised in the American tradition. Courtesy in this respect to the Muslim world generally has not been reciprocated in any meaningful way. Indeed, the threats have become ever more menacing, and the fate of the two would-be jihadis in Garland demonstrate that yes, some are willing to back words with deeds, however unsuccessfully. So, when all else has failed, what choice to us is left but to go profane, outrageous, un-nuanced and unencumbered by the fatal footnote of “but”? It seems as if the next round of cowboys and jihadis is about to become a home game, if it hasn’t already begun.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

Well, here we have another more than normally interesting Memorial Day weekend – first for a meet-up on Saturday in Austin with several of the other contributors to the Chicagoboyz blog. This would have been the first time that we would have met face- to-face; an experience that I have had several times before but with other blogging groups. The first time was when Robin Juhl organized a meet for a handful of San Antonio bloggers, back about the time that I was still working as a corporate drone. The first few minutes were a bit painful, because Robin was the only one who knew all of our blogs. Here I go with the bright social smile, and the chirpy question, “So, what do you blog about?” The meeting eventually got quite jolly – and so did the next one, a mil-blog convention some years later. I was on a panel with five other long-time mil-bloggers, and although we had never met face to face, we all knew each other’s blogs. With this meet-up it was even more relaxed, and the only awkwardness being that none of us knew what they others really looked like, so it was a matter of looking each other over in the foyer of Gordough’s on Lamar and venturing, “Are you …?”

From then on, it all went swimmingly, although when it began to drizzle, we had to move indoors, and it was so noisy inside that the group eventually decided to move on to a coffee shop down the street. Blondie and I felt that we really did have to bail at that point. We couldn’t find a parking place, it was raining again, and we’d have an hour drive home … in the rain. Blondie decided not to go back by IH-35, but rather west and south to pick up 281 at Blanco. We had always come over from Fredericksburg to Johnson City and taken that way south to home – this way we would be coming from the other direction, which had the charm of the unusual. It would take about half an hour longer … but the skies looked pretty threatening over that way, and we happen to know that it is hell driving the 35 in heavy rain.
The clouds looked pretty mottled, when we headed off, and it was continuing to rain, but in the off-and-on way that it had been raining for much of the afternoon. It seemed to get heavier when we got to where the road we were on merged with the 281, and there were some stretches as we edged around Blanco where there was water in the low places of the road – not running water, and certainly none of the places along the road marked as low-water crossings had anything significant in them. We had already gotten two weather alert warnings on Blondie’s cell phone. Still – it was a little unnerving. But we could see cars ahead of us driving through, and it all seemed to be about rim-deep. We agreed that we would rather be driving in the rain on a relatively uncrowded 281, then sharing the 35 with all those 18-wheelers, which tend to splash up blinding splashes of rain.

But the rain got heavier and heavier – the worst of it coming at about the turn-off for Kendalia, in sheets against the windshield. Blondie sensibly slowed to about thirty miles an hour and put on the flashing hazard lights, saying cheerfully that being able to see through the front windshield was very overrated. I believe that the handful of other vehicles on the road out on their hazards too, but it was almost impossible to tell for certain – but they all were going slowly as well. I think we were skirting the edge of the worst, to judge by the areas that flooded out on Saturday, and in the even more ferocious storm that hit in mid-evening. After Bulverde the rain eased up to scattered showers. Blondie kept saying that we’d get home, and find that it hadn’t rained at all and our neighborhood would be as dry as a bone.

Well, it wasn’t quite that dry – it had rained ferociously, but for only for about an hour, so the neighbors told us. And as we drove in, we could see one particularly dense black cloud drifting off on a north-east tangent. Blondie wondered if it were the kind of cloud that breeds tornadoes, as there were some oddly finger-shaped edges to it. I’ve never seen a tornado first hand, so I couldn’t really say. We got home; the sun was out, everything thoroughly wet and fresh-looking, the chickens all safe in their run and the dogs merely happy to see us.

The Blanco River - about where we think it flooded out some homes over the weekend

The Blanco River – about where we think it flooded out some homes over the weekend

About mid-evening, there was another weather alert – a possible tornado. The wind began to blow ferociously, and the rain came in sideways again. We went out to the back porch, wondering if this was the one time that lightening would strike the tall standing granite-paneled cross at St. Helena’s, across the way. We watched the lightening for a while – night-time thunderstorms are spectacular around here. The storm was moving off to the north, on the same trajectory as the afternoon storm – that is the one which sent the Blanco River overflowing, Wimberley, Blanco and Kyle, and a driver in an SUV managed to get carried away in floodwaters near Boerne. We are pretty certain that some of homes destroyed in Wimberley are along a stretch of the Blanco that I photographed a couple of years ago – beautiful stands of cypress trees all thrown down like match-sticks. There are more storms predicted for tonight, as well. Who knew that South Texas has a monsoon season, every couple of years ago?

Now, one of the most ironic parts is – we went downtown Sunday morning, the very next day – to meet up with Jonathon G. and give him a personal tour of the Alamo – and it was a beautiful and intermittently sunny day. The water in the river was pretty murky, lots of leaves and stirred-up gunk in it, which the water-taxi drivers say always happens after a heavy rain, but the downtown Riverwalk was crowded, and even the restaurants along the upper reaches looked as if they had standing room only. And that’s our Memorial Day weekend. We will do barbequed beef ribs tonight – but I think on the electric griddle. It looks like the rain will come in again tonight.

25. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: General

Detail - Facade of the Alamo Chapel

Remember comrades, friends, forebearers. Remember athers, uncles, grandfathers – all who served.

22. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun With Islam, GWOT, War

Almost four years ago I wrote about how the monuments and artifacts of ancient Egypt were possibly in peril from militant Islam – those grim and sternly bearded fanatics devoted to the principal that nothing rightfully exists before or outside of Islam. It was being suggested then that the Pyramids be covered up – certainly a considerable chore, but their fellow coreligionists energetically set about destroying the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas based on the same argument. So, one might have had good cause four years ago to worry about the relics of pre-Islamic Egypt – temples, monuments, ruined cities and tombs. How many thousands of years’ worth of relics, ornaments and paintings might be at risk? Fortunately for Egypt, it seems that soberer heads have prevailed for now: after all, someday they might want the tourists to come back again.

It is written in Psalms, “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.” We die, kingdoms and empires pass in time, but the earth endures as well as those monuments and ruins left behind. Fragments of the past, of our mutual human history usually aren’t as thick on the ground as they are in Egypt, the Middle East, Greece and Italy; if not the cradle of Western civilization, then at the very least the kindergarten playground. So the rest of us have always felt a rather proprietary interest in those relics and places. These were places written of in the Bible, in the Greek and Roman classics, in a thousand epics, poems and legends – Jerusalem, Babylon, Ur of the Chaldees, Ninevah and Tyre, Athens and Sparta … and in travel accounts like Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, and for me – Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels.

I don’t think many people over a certain age know of syndicated travel writer, adventurer and all-round eccentric Richard Halliburton, whose brilliant heyday was in the mad-and-booming 1920s and the escape-and adventure-starved 1930s. He vanished in mid-Pacific in 1939 in a calculated attempt – in the interests of another series of columns and a book – to cross that ocean in a replica Chinese junk. One of the relics of his evanescent popularity was a copy of the complete Book of Marvels, which belonged to Mom as a teenager, and which I read … or rather, ate up, omnivorously. The original copy (no dusk-jacket, worn green cloth covers, with Mom’s bookplate glued into the front endsheet) might be on my shelves somewhere; if not, it was one of those burned in the 2003 fire which pretty well cleansed this family of all but a few especially precious and portable relics. I am pretty certain that this is where I first read of legendary Palmyra, and Zenobia – the beautiful warrior queen of a desert kingdom, who led a heroic rebellion against Rome with all the usual dramatic success of rebellions against Rome when it was at its imperial height.

A beautiful city, by all accounts – adorned with all the art and architecture that a wealthy small kingdom at the trading crossroads of the known world, later added onto with whatever Imperial Rome could add and which enthusiasts of the last two centuries could excavate, restore and reconstruct – a wondrous ancient city by all accounts. Reviewing the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, to pre-Islamic relics all across the Middle East and most recently at the site of ancient Hatra and Nimrud, one simply can’t avoid knowing what is in store for Palmyra. And this hurts on such a deep level – that these marvelous buildings, frescoes, statues and all could have endured for so many years will be smashed by barbarians in a few hours or days – and furthermore, barbarians who could not, on the best day they ever had, build something as beautiful and enduring. But then, destruction is always easier than creation.

Likely it won’t end with Palmyra, either. In a recently released publication intended as a sort of Rough Guide to the brand-new caliphate, the author ended with this bit of chest-beating bravado (emphasis added by underlining) : “When we descend on the streets of London, Paris and Washington the taste will be far bitterer, because not only will we spill your blood, but we will also demolish your statues, erase your history and, most painfully, convert your children who will then go on to champion our name and curse their forefathers.”
How will Italians handle such a threat to their Coliseum in Rome, or Greeks to the Athenian Acropolis, and English to say – the Tower of London? I’d like to think they would not be entirely supine when it happens locally, especially since Greeks still bitterly despise Turks for the Muslim Turkish occupation. Interesting times, indeed; discuss.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

Granny Jessie kept chickens during the Depression – quite a lot of them, if my childhood memories of the huge and by then crumbling and disused chicken-wire enclosure, the adjoining hutch and the nesting boxes are anything to go by. Some of her neighbors went on keeping backyard livestock well into the 1960s – we occasionally sampled goose eggs at Granny Jessie’s house where we could hear a donkey braying now and again. Mom had to help care for the chickens, as child and teenager – and wound up detesting them so much that this was the one back-yard DIY farm element that we never ventured into when we were growing up. Mom hated chickens, profoundly.

But my daughter and I were considering it over the last couple of years, along with all of our other ventures into suburban self-efficiency – the garden, the cheese-making, the home-brewing and canning, the deep-freeze stocked full, the pantry likewise. I put off doing anything about chickens until two things happened: we finally encountered the woman in our neighborhood who keeps a small flock of backyard chickens, and she took us to see her flock. She told us that it was not much trouble, really, and the eggs were amazingly flavorful. In comparison, supermarket eggs – even the expensive organic and supposedly free-range kind were insipid and tasteless. (And – it seems that other people in other places have come through bad times by keeping chickens.)

The Coop with WindvaneThe second thing was spotting a ready-made coop at Sam’s Club a good few months ago. We kept going back and looking at it, whenever we made our monthly stock-up. It had a hutch, an attached roofed run with open sides secured with hardware cloth, and an appended nesting box accessed through a removable roof. But still … the price for it was what I considered excessive. Then, at the beginning of the month, the coop was marked down by half. Seeing this, we transferred some money from the household savings account, and with the aid of a husky Sam’s Club box-boy, stuffed all 150 pounds of the box which contained all the necessary flat-packed panels into my daughter’s Montero.

I put it together over Mother’s Day weekend, painting it the same colors as the house: sort of a primrose-peach color with cream trim. The coop and run was constructed of rather soft pine, with some kind of greenish wood-stain slathered over it all, which took two coats of paint to cover entirely. I wish that I had gotten out the electric drill with the screwdriver attachment a little earlier in the game; the side and roof panels were all attached together with 67 2-in and 2 ½ inch Phillips-head screws. Yes, I counted; I did about the first forty by hand … sigh. The remains of half a can of polyurethane spar varnish went on the roof to make it entirely waterproof. We topped it with a wind vane ornamented with a chicken, and it all went together on a bedding of concrete pavers set in decomposed granite, wedged underneath the major shade tree in the back yard. By municipal guidelines we are permitted up to three chickens and two of any other kind of farmyard animal: goat, cow, horse, llama, whatever – as long as their enclosure is at least a hundred feet from your neighbors house. The chicken coop may not, strictly speaking, be 100 feet from the next door neighbor’s house on the near side, but he is the one with the basset hounds, one of whom can hear a mouse fart in a high wind, and can be heard about a block away when he really puts his back into his bark.

We went out to a feed store in Bracken for feed pellets, bedding chips, a feeder and a water dispenser. The feed store also had artificial eggs made from heavy plastic, but so cunningly textured they looked very real. The feed store manager said that what they are also used for is as a means of dealing with local snakes that prey on chicken eggs … they slither into the nesting boxes, swallow an egg whole and slither away. If you suspect your nest is being raided in that fashion, you bait the nest with a plastic egg. Snake swallows it, but can’t digest, pass or vomit up the egg and so dies, in the words of one of Blackadder’s foes – “horribly-horribly.” (Ick-making to consider, but then I’ve gotten quite testy about critters predating on my vegetables, and set out traps for rats and dispose of dead rats without any qualms.) From many different places; Sam’s, our local HEB which now offers stacks of chicken feed in the pet food aisle, and now the semi-rural feed store – we are getting the notion that keeping back-yard chickens is getting to be a wide-spread thing. I wonder how much Martha Stewart is responsible for this development.

This morning we were off to the south of town, to a small enterprise in Von Ormy for three pullets. We

The Three Chicken Stooges - Laureena, Maureen and Carly - in the back of the Montero

The Three Chicken Stooges – Laureena, Maureen and Carly – in the back of the Montero

had wanted Orpingtons, but they weren’t available at any of the close-in providers, and the owner recommended Barred Rocks – those are those pretty black and white chickens with bright red combs. My daughter wants to name them Lorena, Maureen and Carly – Larry, Moe and Curly, feminized. They are supposed to start laying when they are mature, in about late summer, according to the owner of the bird-providing enterprise. Our three pullets are about ten weeks old, and somewhat timid yet – little knowing that they have won the grand prize in the chicken lottery of life. Eventually, they will have the run of the garden; we are assured they will brutally diminish bugs of every sort, gratefully fall upon green vegetable scraps, and come to be quite friendly with us. Early days, yet. And that was my week. Yours?
(Cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz and at www.celiahayes.com)

One of the things that my daughter and I have considered – now and then, and in a desultory manner – is the matter of keeping a handful of chickens. For the fresh eggs, mostly; I suppose this is a natural development to having a vegetable garden, and to experiment with home-canning, home cheese-making and home brewing. Likely it is all of a part with keeping the deep-freezer fully-stocked, and having a larder full to the brim with non-perishable food supplies; beans, rice, flour, sugar, bottled sauces, milk powder and the like. In the event of an event which keeps the local HEB/Sam’s Club/Trader Joe’s from being stocked … we will have our own food-banked resources to rely on.

But having only a sliver of suburban paradise acreage and an 1,100 square foot house taking up at least three-quarters of it, means that mini-farming can’t go much farther than chickens. No, not even a goat; which one of our neighbors did have, back when I was growing up in a very rural southern California suburb. They had chickens, too … and the people across the road kept domestic pigeons – but these suburbs also featured half-acre to acre-sized lots and the biggest of them corrals for horses.
And then, three things happened: several weeks ago, we made the acquaintance of a neighbor who does have a small flock of chickens – and a rooster, too – which is how we knew they kept chickens for months before we actually met up with them. They showed off their flock, and the morning harvest of fresh eggs … and we began to think of it as a possibility for ourselves. The fact that the local HEB is now carrying sacks of chicken feed in the pet-food section is an indication that other people are keeping chickens. If anything, I imagine that the great brains at HEB who decide what local demand is for have twigged the popularity for keeping backyard chickens, and that our neighbors with the flock are not the only ones.
This very spring, Sam’s Club added a chicken coop to the aisles with the seasonal merchandise; the tents, barbeque grills, camping gear and gardening supplies. My daughter looked upon it wistfully, whenever we went into Sam’s: it was an attractive thing, with a gabled roof, and a lower gable-roofed enclosure with hardware cloth sides, so that chickens could be somewhat sheltered. We talked about it, each time – but the price of it always put us off the notion. Until the first of May, when we noticed that the coop had been marked half-off. Yes – that was doable. We bought the coop, and a sturdy box-boy helped us stuff all 150 pounds of the box that it was in into the back of my daughter’s Montero. (We had a hand-truck at home, so it wasn’t necessary to beg for any help in getting the box around to the back of the house.)

It was in my mind to site the coop under the mulberry tree, where the soil is so intermixed with roots it is difficult to plant anything there in the first place. It’s also so shaded in the summer that anything sun-loving which can be planted has a tough time. It was also my notion to paint the coop the same color as the house: a sort of primrose-orange with cream trim. That was what took the most time – painting twelve out of the sixteen panels that made up the coop and run and letting them dry. The wood was lightly stained a dusty green, and it took two coats to really cover adequately. Well – that and setting out the concrete pavers to set the whole thing upon, and filling the interstices with decomposed granite. I really should have unleashed the screw-driver attachment for my electric drill earlier on: that would have saved some time and sweat. (The whole thing is held together by more than 70 Phillips-head screws of various lengths.) I did the touch-up paint work this morning, and re-sited some plants – and all but finished. The roof will have to be painted with waterproof varnish, but I have half a gallon left from doing the front door, and tomorrow is another day. And doesn’t it look simply palatial, as chicken coops go?

Next week – the chickens: the Daughter Unit has pretty much decided on Orpingtons, since they are good layers, friendly and fairly mellow.

01. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: History, War

(From the archives as I have been reminded of the anniversary of the fall of Saigon. I wrote a version of this early on at SSDB, around 2004.)

Never been there, never particularly wanted to: to someone of my age, it is Bad Place, a haunted place, where ugly things happened. It gave nightmares to friends, co-workers, and lovers for years after it dropped out of the headlines and the six-o-clock news. Today in light of the current war, it seems as far away in time and nearly as pointless as the Western Front. You look, and remember, and wonder, knowing that yes, it really happened, but really, what was the point of it all? Platoon seems as much of a relic as Journey’s End, the image of a helicopter hovering over jungle with “All Along the Watchtower” on the soundtrack an image as archaic as doughboys with puttees and soup-plate helmets, marching along and singing “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”.

But it was a beautiful place. My friends Xuan-An and Hai brought away pictures of where they lived in Dalat, in the highlands, where they married and lived with their three older children, snaps of cool, misty green pines and gardens of rhododendrons, and a horizon of mountains. Eventually, they had to flee Dalat for Saigon, where their youngest daughter was born, and Xuan-An’s mother came to live with them. Hai had left Hanoi as a teenager when the Communists took over there, his family being well to do, part Chinese, and immensely scholarly. He worked as a librarian for the USIS, and Xuan-An as a teacher of English and sciences, so they were on the Embassy list of Vietnamese citizens to be evacuated in the spring of 1975, with their four children, aged 12 to 2 years old. They were waiting at their home, for someone to come fetch them, on that last day. Perhaps someone from the Embassy might have come for them eventually, but Xuan-An’s brother who was the captain of a Vietnamese coastal patrol vessel came to their house after dark, instead. He had sent his crewmen all to fetch their families, they were going to make a run for safety out to sea, and he came to get his and Xuan-Ans’ mother. He was appalled to find his sister and brother-in-law and the children still there, and urged them to come with him straight away, and not wait any longer for rescue. They brought away no more luggage than what the adults could carry, in small packs the size of student’s book-bags, and the youngest daughter was a toddler and had to be carried herself. Xuan-An’s brother’s motor launch was a hundred feet long, and there were a hundred people crammed onto it, carrying them out to an American cargo ship, the Pioneer Contender, which waited with other American rescuers, just beyond the horizon.
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As I called her, during the Hillary-Obama knock-down and drag-out over the Dem nom leading up to the 08’ Presidential Race festivities. I termed that particular contest “Ebony vs Ovary.” They were well-matched for awfulness, back then, weren’t they? Chicago machine politics vs Arkansas skeevy corruption; in the words of Henry Kissinger, it was a pity that both of them couldn’t loose.
So she has lost out twice, but now we see Her Inevitableness mounting up once again and setting out to bash the windmills once again, although that particular image means that Huma Abedin is in the Sancho Panza role, which doesn’t work on so many levels that you’d have to explore other dimensions to reach them all. All props for grim determination, I have to say – and I’d also have to say that once upon a time, I might have respected her a lot more if she had only dumped that sweet-talking sleaze of a husband once they were done with the White House the first time, taken back her family name and … like actually done something efficient and effective on her own.

The one thing, over all of the things that annoy me about Hillary Clinton (and I have a long list of them, starting with how cynically Third World oligarchy-style it is to have the wife of a former president campaigning for the office after hubby has done his two terms) is the assumption on the part of too darned many – that because she is a woman, and I am a woman than NATURALLY I will be voting for her because – FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT!!!11!! Or even because it’s Her Turn! No, this is not Argentina, she is not Evita Peron. And absolutely no, now that we have finally seen the last of the Kennedy spawn wither into irrelevance and of interest only to the tabloid chroniclers of serial adultery, spousal abuse and drug/alcohol abuse, we do not have an American royal family. Trying to launch another one on the basis of Elle glamor cover stories and palatial New York apartments likely is doomed to failure, albeit hopefully not quite as drawn-out as the epic telenovela of Camelot on the Potomac. I view any situation where members of the same family – be they spouse or spawn – appear to inherit a political office with the same suspicion I regard week-old leftovers in the refrigerator. Sequential political careers becoming the family business smacks of a hereditary aristocracy, and yes, I was just as annoyed by the Bushes and the Gores and the rest of them. Even the Adamses, but at least they had competence to recommend them, whereas one really cannot say the same about Her Inevitableness. And talk about a charm deficit…

Which brings me back to about another item on my list of beefs with Her Inevitableness: Benghazi. Dead ambassador, burned-out consulate attacked by a mob, dead former SEALS, people in her organization being left to hang in the wind, waiting, hoping, praying for rescue to arrive before it was too late. But it was too late. And then – the lies and rationalizations afterwards, piled higher and deeper. Honestly, I cannot see how that woman can live with herself, except that somehow she seems to manage. Maybe it’s easy to rise above it all, while living a life of near-royal splendor, having plenty of sycophants waiting to kiss the hand, murmur adoring praise and pitch softball questions, while those beneath notice must hastily absent themselves through the nearest doorway or turn and face the wall rather than meet the quasi-royal eye.

No wonder the patrons and staff of that Chipotle in Maumee took no notice of Her Inevitableness. They must have gotten the message.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

‘Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind,’ as the philosopher Emerson observed, and as I was reminded every time that I changed assignments at the bidding of the Air Force. Having to shift all your personal household ‘things’ every three years or so meant that the acquisition of ‘things’ was kept to a dull roar. Yes, there were the usual artistic souvenirs … and in my case, books without number … but on the other hand, the 220V appliances, transformers, and potted plants usually were handed off upon scheduling of a pack-out date; extraneous clothing and other ‘stuff’ usually had a date with the base thrift store, and what couldn’t be sold or donated was dumped. I couldn’t help observing, though, that my own ‘things’ went from a couple of B-4 bags, a duffle and a suitcase, to a single van-load in the space of three years, and multiplied exponentially in the years thereafter. (Still – in spite of all the books, I was still under the weight limit on the last PCS move.)

But – in 1994, I bought a house, and moving into it constituted my very last PCS move. (Although I never have thrown away the stereo boxes. They’re still stacked in the garage.) My daughter finished her last hitch in the Marines in 2006, and came home to roost with her ‘things’ which went into the house or the garage. We added to the mutual household ‘things’ over the following years, leavened and reduced by the occasional garage sale, or natural household selection. Yes, things wore out; china and glass items hit the floor and broke, I upgraded certain household items like pots and pans, computers, major appliances … but certain things were added to the household, either by my daughter or myself; pictures and books, nice bits of china and glass. That kind of careless collecting of ‘stuff’ might soon slow to a crawl, though, owing to an experience this last weekend.

So, we have always rather enjoyed yard and estate sales. Great was our rejoicing on Friday to discover another one, not three blocks away. There was a good crowd outside, and a huge quantity of tools and boxes arranged on racks in the driveway, and cars and pickup trucks parked on both sides of the street for a block in either direction. This was a most promising development, so we hustled the dogs home and drive back in my car. There was a line to get in – as the sale manager minding the door explained with a terribly harassed expression, there was so much stuff inside the house they simply had to limit the numbers of people coming inside for reasons of safety. The owners of the house had been hoarders. I mean, they had hoarded to the point where the house had been entirely packed solid. The team managing the disposition of the sale had filled several industrial-sized dumpsters of junk, before they could even begin on the sellable items. There was a storage shed out in back, and apparently some storage units also filled with ‘stuff’ for which there was no room until what was in the house could be sold.

We waited for about half an hour, rather intrigued. We had heard about this kind of thing, but never actually seen it first-hand. The elderly couple whose home this had been were said by the neighbors to be absolutely wonderful, sweet people, and generally good neighbors, but the house had a definite air of neglect about it. And once we did get inside – oh, my god; the house was even more dilapidated on the inside; dusty, unkempt and as dim as a cave. There was no bannister on the upper part of the staircase, and in one room, a massive roof leak in the ceiling had eaten away the ceiling drywall, and spilled dirty insulation into the room – there was, however, a plastic wastebasket wedged between the top of a tall bookcase and the ceiling in an attempt to catch water leaking through. The house, and the back porch was crammed, every corner, nook and closet with stuff; for some unfathomable reason, mounds of luggage. Camera gear and accessories, stereo components and laser printers, most of them new and untouched. Lamps and knickknacks, box after box of sets of china, toy trains, Madame Alexander dolls, still in boxes, much of it covered in dust. Books, of course; one whole walk-in closet lined with shelves of DVDs and VHS tapes.

I came away with a pierced chine de blanc lamp, which had no shade and wiring so ancient that the plastic practically crumbled in my hands as I took it apart. It must have been in storage for years, for it was absolutely filthy. I’d always wanted one, as they sold them in all sizes in the BX in Japan, but all I could afford back then was a small one. As I waited to pay for it, my eye fell on a Kodak EasyShare camera, just about the same make and model as the one I currently use – which barely works any more. This one was a slightly older iteration, but unused – still with the protective film over the view-screen, and even had the instruction manual with it. The camera I got for $5 dollars. The estate sale people, I judge, had gone past trying to get fair market value and were just pricing most items to sell as fast as possible to anyone willing to take them away.

We came back on Saturday, just to see if anything interesting was left; there was – enough to carry on the sale through the following day. This time my daughter suggested that we look at the tools and stuff in the garage, which we had not done on Friday. Most of the good power tools and camping gear had sold, but my daughter spotted a carved wooden door. Solid wood, un-finished and for an extremely reduced price … we had intended to replace the front door anyway. So, I bought it, while my daughter called our chivalrous next-door neighbor with a pick-up truck. It’s out in the shed right now, awaiting application of stain and varnish.

Good purchases all, and at excellent prices, but I am resolved after this that any purchases of anything other than books will be on a replacement-only bases. Something coming into the house will necessitate something else going out of the house. Whatever the future holds for my estate and home, it should not involve multiple dumpsters.

Exactly a hundred years ago, an enterprising gentleman named James Edward Ferguson took office as the Governor of Texas. He was of a generation born long enough after the conclusion of the Civil War that hardships associated with that war had faded somewhat. The half-century long conflict with raiding Comanche and Kiowa war-bands was brought to a conclusion around the time of his birth, but he was still young enough to have racketed around the Wild West as it existed for the remainder of the century, variously employed in a mine, a factory making barbed wire, a wheat farm and a vineyard. Having gotten all that out of his system, he returned to Bell County, Texas, studied law, was admitted to the bar, and married the daughter of a neighbor, Miriam Amanda Wallace. Miriam Amanda was then almost 25, and had been to college. James Ferguson and his wife settled down to a life of quiet prosperity in Belton, Texas. There he founded a bank and dabbled in politics as a campaign manager, before running for and winning the office of governor in 1914 – as a Democrat, which was expected at the time and in that place – and as an anti-prohibitionist, which perhaps was not. Two years later, having not done anything in office which could be held against him, James Ferguson was re-elected … and almost immediately walked into a buzz-saw. A quarrel over appropriations for the University of Texas system and a political rival for the office of governor – ensconced among the facility as the newly-anointed head of a newly-established school of journalism – eventually blew up into such a huge ruckus that James Ferguson was impeached, with the result that he could not hold public office in Texas again – at least not under his own name.

With the hindsight of extreme cynicism regarding the press when dealing in personalities and matters political, one can wonder how much of the ruckus concerned his actual conduct in office, and how much was created by the state press. His erstwhile rival owned one, had connections with others, and had the backing of the intellectual elite of Texas as it was then. He was also generally anti-Prohibition, which lead to dark whispers that he was in the pockets of the brewing industry. Rather than continue being politically active as a ‘behind the scenes fixer’ James Edward Ferguson came up with a brilliant solution: put his wife out there as a gubernatorial candidate in 1924. Yes, Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson, likely rather brainy (being that she had married rather later than one might have expected of a woman of that time, and indulged in education well beyond high school) but in personality rather retiring, hit the campaign hustings with her loyal hubby ever at her side. Her campaign slogan was “Two Governors for the Price of One,” or alternately “Me for Ma, and I ain’t got a durn thing against Pa,” Her husband put on the folksy touch of calling her “Ma” and himself “Pa” – as he was ever a strong advocate of rural farmers and would have their undying support for most of the rest of their joint careers. Miriam Ferguson asked for the votes – and of women especially – as a reaffirmation and support of her husband.

And she was elected, likely to the horror and consternation of her husband’s political foes. She was the first elected female governor of Texas and the second elected female governor in the nation – although there is not much contention that “Pa” Ferguson was the real power behind the chair, as it were. She ran for office again in 1932 – winning a second term. Although she and “Pa” campaigned as folksy, down-to-earth populists, they were in no sense ‘rubes’; teetotalers both, they fiercely opposed Prohibition. “Ma” Ferguson was also generous with the pardoning authority of her office; over the course of two terms, she exercised it some 4,000 times – mostly, it should be noted – for violating various prohibition laws. Rumors did persist, then and rewards that many such pardons were in exchange for cash paid to the governor’s husband. One rather amusing but apocryphal tale had it that a man began walking through a door at the same time as Mrs. Ferguson: “Oh, pardon me,” he said, as the manners of the time required, and Mrs. Ferguson answered, “Sure, come on in – it’ll only take a minute or two to do the paper-work.” She has also (along with a great many other personalities held by their so-called betters to be ignorant and backward) credited with the remark to the effect that if English was good enough for Jesus Christ it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.

And the Ferguson team also came out against the Klu Klux Klan, then very much a powerful force in the rural South and Midwest. In Texas, the Klan’s activities were not so much racism, as it was nativist and wedded to a certain kind of moral authoritarianism, prone to punishing people suspected of adultery, gambling, sexual transgressions, bootlegging and speaking German in public. This tended to excite disapproval among thoughtful citizens who professed to uphold the rule of law. While the Klan could and did control certain elections, especially at the local level – there were organizations just as vehemently opposed to their activities; various influential urban newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, the Chambers of Commerce, the Masons, the State Bar Association, and a number of citizen’s organizations. As part of her first campaign, Ma Ferguson promised an anti-mask law, targeting the Klan, making it illegal for any so-called secret society to allow members to appear masked or disguised in public. KKK membership in Texas dropped precipitously and continued to drop; whether Team Ferguson’s activities had anything to do with it, or they were shrewd and farsighted enough to see the trend and get aboard is a matter of contention for specialist historians. Still – for a couple who were and probably are still dismissed as a pair of rubes, they chose to oppose one of the stupidest but most well-meant popular social efforts of the early 20th century, and one of stupidest and most brutal organizations as well.

(The Fergusons essentially retired from politics in the mid-1930s. Pa died in 1944, but Ma lived until 1961. They are buried side by side in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.)

… and then turn around and whine because some cis-male said something, or looked something, and I feel so … so threatened! Look, girls…ladies … possessor of a vagina or whatever you want to be addressed as this week in vernacular fashion; can you just please pick one attitude and stick to it? Frankly, this inconsistency is embarrassing the hell out of me (sixty-ish, small-f feminist in the long-ago dark days when there was genuine no-s*it gender inequality in education, job opportunities and pay-scales to complain about and campaign for redress thereof). This is also annoying to my daughter, the thirtyish Marine Corps veteran of two hitches. The Daughter Unit is actually is very close loosing patience entirely with those of the sisterhood who are doing this “Woman Powerful!-Woman Poor Downtrodden Perpetual Victim!” bait and switch game. So am I, actually, but I have thirty years experience in biting my tongue when it comes to the antics of the Establishment Professional Capital-F Feminist crowd.

See – it’s an either-or proposition. Either you are strong, capable, intelligent and have thick enough of a skin or at least a toleration and sufficient understanding of the world in general, and the male of our sex in particular to forge your way enthusiastically through the world, throwing off the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, the occasional sex-based misunderstanding, the overheard crude joke, the inability of many of the males of our species to attend to details of housekeeping or good organizational order, and their juvenile enthusiasm for sexual congress under circumstances and with co-conspirators which – the less said of that the better. That is the attitude that my daughter and I personally favor; we take no stick, and when someone – male or female tries it, we hand it back face to face with generous interest. That’s what strong, capable and intelligent women do.

It’s either that or the conventions of womanhood which held sway in popular Victorian culture. That is – one who is too fine, too delicate and too gentle to endure exposure, even by the slightest suggestion to any of the above … like tweeting a picture of two guys overheard making a crude joke and setting off an internet meltdown which resulted in firings, internet shamings, death threats and everything but the burning of Atlanta. Seriously, what Ms Richards overheard and took exception to – essentially complaining to a wide audience that “Ohhh – those awful men were making me feel threatened! Make them stop!” was relatively mild when compared to some of the conversations I overheard (or sometimes participated in) while in the military. I can only imagine the degree of absolute meltdown if Ms Richards had heard some of them … and yes, both my daughter and I have often been the only woman, or one of a handful of women in a sea of men.

So, strong, capable and equal … or frail, sensitive and desperate for that fainting couch; pick one or the other and stick to it consistently. At the very least, don’t talk like one, and act like the other. It only confuses the guys and embarrasses the heck out of women like me.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz)

I was reading a slightly ick-making article the other day about certain wasps which prey on caterpillars in a peculiar and parasitic manner – the female wasp injects her eggs into the body of the chosen prey, where they hatch into grubs and feed from the host … from the inside. In certain varieties, it appears that the inserted eggs/grubs affect the biochemistry of the luckless host, which eats and eats, but never to benefit itself. Entomologists who specialize in this kind of thing find this adaptation immensely fascinating, which is why I was reading about it, through a link form some place or other. It’s all very Alien, on a insect level, and the likeness to the movie doesn’t end there; eventually, the wasp grubs chew their way out through the body of the caterpillar … and wait – the dying caterpillar serves to the last gasp as a sort of insectoid bodyguard to the developing wasps, even sheltering them in the silk which would have made its own cocoon. And then the caterpillar dies and the fully-developed wasps fly away, to start the cycle all over again.

Then I read about how the Obamas took separate presidential flight aircraft from the east coast to the west in order that the president and his spouse could appear on two different shows, videoed at two different studios barely miles apart and within the same time frame, at great expense to the military organization which operates the aircraft in question. Really, couldn’t they have shared a flight and halved the expense … or is it that they just don’t care for each other or for much else besides their own comfort and convenience. The Obamas do appear to like the bennies and goodies that the office provides, and enjoy them with a hearty carelessness wholly befitting the court of Louis the 14th. Save that Louis and Marie Antoinette weren’t quite the feckless, arrogant aristos that they were portrayed by contemporary propagandists. Still – the reputation endures; of aristocrats enjoying themselves in a bubble of privilege and luxury, while all outside the bubble goes to rack and ruin.

The whole process of the parasitic wasp and the helpless caterpillar struck me as a metaphor for the current administration, and indeed, our current Ruling Class, in the Angelo Codevilla sense; an alien organism injecting itself into the American body politic with the sole selfish intent of surviving and enriching itself at the expense of the host … and then, of course, flying away to some gated community, fat with privilege gained from destroying the host. Of course, the ruling elite of every civilization have always rather distained the common working folk, the bourgeoisie, the working class who made up the body of those ruled – t’was ever thus, the exploiter and the exploited. At the very least, the ruling elite have condescended to them as the ‘backbone of the country’. Our current ruling class elite has also distinguished themselves by adding to the injury of exploitation the insult of holding the larger body of citizens in active contempt … contempt which verges on hatred, depending on the person voicing it.

Discuss.

10. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

That time of year again – the last week before the recorded date of ‘last frost’ in this part of Texas. I suppose that in some year or other there was a spasm of frost after March 15th – this is Texas, after all, where if you don’t care for the weather at any particular moment, just wait for five minutes. But March 15th is the traditional ‘ladies and gentlemen, start your garden engines’ moment. We actually started last weekend, moving out the tender plants which had been sheltered on the back porch, protected by sheets of plastic hung from three sides to make a sort of temporary if terribly cramped greenhouse. It has been pouring, drizzling, misting and oozing rain off and on for the past week, and … well, really, the rainwater is good for plants, and they might as well get all the good out of it.

So it begins – another year of attempting to have regular backyard supply of fresh vegetables, in a variety of raised beds, pots large and small, and hanging patented tomato planters. Last year saw us add three sapling fruit trees – apple, plum and peach, along the back fence, where they all graciously consented to leaf out, and to produce blooms in the last couple of days. This week, we added another apple tree – it seems that it is necessary for the purposes of cross-pollination. Blondie’s Montero awaiting a new engine, it was necessary to bring it home in my Accura – and not a problem at all. I opened the sun roof, and Blondie lowered it in, and we drove home with the apple tree’s upper branches waving proudly in the breeze. We planted it today, and I took down the last of the sheltering plastic sheets and swept out the back porch. This seems like the first sunny, mild day in weeks, so we did take a few minutes to sit down and relish it all. Tomorrow – top up the big raised bed with garden soil and plant potatoes. Last year we had a lovely crop of them; not as many as we had expected, but oh, were they delicious – and smooth, like vegetable velvet.

We also installed a number of small items which came from Mom and Dad’s place – things which had no particular value, particularly – so likely they would have been sold at a yard sale for a buck or two, or put into the trash by new owners cleaning up. A good few of them had survived the fire in 2003 which destroyed the house and garage, but left the garden relatively unscathed. There was a cast cement gargoyle, a hanging glazed ceramic bird-bath, a pair of cast-resin ducklings, a wind-chime, a glazed spatter-ware jug and some other oddments. One of them was the Moche-style face jug I made in the sixth grade, which always amused Mom enormously as it so looked like Grandpa Al. Blondie brought all these oddments back from California with her, and we scattered them about the garden in appropriate places.

The plants which did survive outside on their own did so in style; especially the one artichoke that I moved from a raised bed into a pot and thereafter ignored for the remainder of the year. I so love artichokes, and the ones in the store are usually as expensive as they are tasteless and tough. Here’s hoping for some likely blooms from it this year, and may the other two from Rainbow Gardens thrive just as well.

We might also have a respite from field rats, raiding the almost-ripe tomatoes and eating leaves off the pepper plants. We have detected a semi-feral ginger cat, lurking meaningfully in our yard, who might have set up occasional housekeeping underneath the shed. Blondie has nicknamed the cat Smeagol; if it turns out that he is a mighty hunter before the Lord, a dish of kibble now and again will so be coming his way.

Work continues – at a rather slow pace, admittedly – on the two books I have currently under construction, while I do research reading for them (in a small way) and work on projects to do with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. Which has just had two old corporate clients appear out of the woodwork; I don’t know how much we can do for the second, as the electronic files for their project are nonexistent, as their corporate history was produced and printed in about 1990. Thus technology marches on. I am wracking my memory, to see if I can come up with my own estimation as to when electronically-composed documents became the norm. I would guess around that time. I used to go back and generate training documents and various reports on a computer which also ran the automated music channel at EBS-Zaragoza in the late 1980s. This usually involved two large floppy disks (one for the operating system, one for my document archive) and a tiny screen of brilliant green letters on a black background. This writing process usually had me seeing white objects in shades of pink for at least an hour afterwards.
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03. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic

I read of this particular school-administered survey the other morning on one of the news websites which form my morning reading, in lieu of the local newspaper – which I gave up some years ago upon realizing two things; practically every non-local story they printed I had already read on-line through various sources some days before appearing on the (rapidly diminishing) pages of the San Antonio Express News, and when it came to opinion columnists and cartoonists, most of the local offerings were … pathetic. Seriously – when I could read the best and most incisive opinion bloggers like Wretchard at Belmont Club and Victor Davis Hanson – why would I bother to read a dead-tree version of whatever lame establishment national columnist had offered a cheap rate to the SA Express-News?
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27. February 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: General

And another client from Watercress’s distant past … well, not all that distance, only 1988, but sufficiently far enough in the past that there are no existing records at the firm who worked up printing and binding of the original publication for Alice. I know – I called and talked to the company sales rep. Alice, though, is probably doing cartwheels in heaven over joy that a big corporate client is returning to us in a small way, for a reprint of their book. Likely she is also planning to send me a rocket of a memo through a handy medium, lecturing me on failing to charge every penny possible to an entity who can bloody well afford it. This is debatable, considering the state of Teeny Press publishing these days, and I had this spirited discussion with her many times. In the days of digital and POD printing, charging everything the market would bear and then 10% was increasingly untenable. I still believe we lost certain very promising prospects over this. Clients willing to pay in five figures for a private publication, even one done to the highest quality and aesthetic standards, were becoming dismayingly thin on the ground by the time that I went into partnership. I still am certain that we lost certain high-value publishing projects because of inflexibility in this regard. But – inside baseball. As a saving grace, there are those clients who are perfectly willing to pay a little extra for the privilege of dealing with a publisher whose representatives are happy to to meet personally, answer telephone calls readily, and work on their project with an attitude of ‘can-do’. These clients are our bread and butter these days. This is how I compete with the big and impersonal national POD publishing houses.

All we are needing to do for this latest project is to take apart an existing print copy, carefully scan every page, and then reassemble into a new file, upload to the contract bulk-printer, scan and tweak the existing cover, and do the same. We are doing most of this in-house. Back in the day, this kind of thing would have had to have been farmed out to someone who had expensive high-end software, an equally expensive high-end scanner, exalted word-processing and photo-editing skills, and therefore felt justified in charging a very high price for this expertise. But such now is the availability of scanner/copiers and relatively inexpensive software that much of which had to be farmed out to experts twenty years ago can now be done in-house with relatively inexpensive and off-the shelf technology. I saw this happening in miniature yea on two decades ago in the military. Once every unit acquired a nice copier-printer unit, which could do all kinds of quality B&W or even (horror!) color print jobs, there went the base reprographics office, which was reduced to issuing plaintive memos requesting that units refer all print projects of over so many pages and so many copies to them, and not to do them on the unit printer. Which was merrily ignored; in my time, the base office with the duty of keeping the current library of military forms was also reduced to obsolescence by having every form imaginable distributed on compact disc to individual units. Doubtless the time of the clerks tasked with this was re-routed to duties more immediately useful. I’m an optimist, so I can hope.

We are doing this current project with a printer-scanner-copier bought from Sam’s Club on Wednesday. Alice’s chosen expert for formatting manuscripts – that is, putting them into proper book format – billed her almost $5 a page. I can do it myself easily for less than half that, and when it is text-only, it feels a bit like highway robbery in asking for more than a couple of hundred or three for the entire book. (Pictures are complicated, especially those requiring captions. Again – inside baseball.) This book will be knocked out by this weekend, just in time to go back to work on the epic biography, for which the client wants more photos inserted. And a section in color, too. As soon as the pictures are finalized, then I have to work on the index … But this is one of the biggest clients Watercress has had in a long time, so yes, I am attentive to this client’s wishes.

Well, that is it for the income flow – I did manage to get my income tax figures sorted and over to the accountant who has looked after my interests for lo these many years. And there has been enough income flowing in that certain household things can be repaired, refinished or reupholstered. The two chairs and the tuffet were done and delivered this week, installed behind the bifold doors to the den which will hopefully keep the cats from testing their claws on them. With this, the main part of the house now looks good enough that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed at having someone visit. And even though it is not snowing around here, it is still cold enough that cocooning inside the house is a pleasant and comfortable option.

“You should be very glad,” I told my daughter a couple of weeks ago, “That I used to help my brothers assemble airplane models.” I did, too – JP was quite fond of putting together detailed 1/48 and 1/72 scale model aircraft, which he bought with his allowance money. He paid great attention to detail, fitting the parts together so that only a hairline crack showed – and often filling in those with putty and sanding the piece so it that the join was invisible after being painted. He was just as careful in painting the models and their visible component parts, even to painting a miniscule silver zipper down the front of the pilot’s flight suit. At a later date he went to the extent of fabricating battle damage with fine wire and bits of tin-foil. So that was my introduction to following instructions and identifying the bits and pieces involved. Eventually my brother put away childish things like Airfix models, and moved on to tinkering with real automobiles, to the horror of his first wife, whose family was wealthy and in their world, one just didn’t pop up the hood in the driveway and investigate the mysteries within.

Myself, I moved on to another form of kit-building – that of miniature furniture, and then of full-sized functional furniture. Dad’s facility with, and collection of a wide assortment of hand-tools meant that I had a fair grasp of their various uses, and a tendency to have a bash at fixing whatever might need fixing. And following Dad’s many examples – once I became a home owner, there I was, replacing light fixtures, re-wiring table lamps, applying a finish to unfinished furniture, painting the house (inside and out), putting in new faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms… Piece of cake. Just follow the instructions.
What brought on the recent round of assembly was a jaunt through the Ikea store in Round Rock two weeks ago to collect some shelving units for my daughter’s work area/office. She has a corner of the living room for her computer desk, the various office items and storage for the materials for her origami art. Much of this was previously stored in plastic tubs and a couple of plastic drawer units which had been cheap to begin with and now looked even worse. So – a pair of shelf units, with some cupboard door, drawer and basket options were in order, all of which came packed with fiendish ingenuity in an assortment of flat cartons. I do have to say the assembly instructions were quite logical, and the language hurdle was gotten over by being completely pictorial. Still – all the side and shelving panels had to be sorted out, and the various connectors identified. It wasn’t a patch for thoroughness on the last bit of office furniture I had put together; a pair of wooden filing cabinets from Amazon, which had every single panel and piece identified with a little sticker, and the hardware packed in a blister pack with everything labeled. With Ikea and the usual kind of flat-packed items it’s more often a process of having to sort everything out of a bag, and identify by measuring, counting and matching descriptions.

This weekend’s assembly was a pair of bi-fold closet doors, to sequester the den from the cats. I was able to have some furniture reupholstered; two chairs and an enormous tuffet, and the last thing I wanted after having gone to the trouble and expense was to see the cats sharpening their claws on it all … as they had shredded them before. (The den used to be closed off with a pair of louvered doors, but I repurposed them in the last remodel and used them for my bathroom and closet, and used a long pair of curtains in the opening.) So – I was off to the Home Depot website, to order a pair of wooden bi-fold doors to fit – and with generous free home delivery, instead of having to pick them up in the nearest store, too. The doors were delivered Friday, we stained and finished them on Saturday, and installed them today – again, carefully following every instruction. They fit perfectly, met in the center and matched up exactly – and now I may rest assured that the chairs and tuffet will be safe, once they are delivered on Wednesday. And that’s my weekend …

Yes, I am – really. And still working through a vast amount of work that needs to be done in support of the Tiny Publishing Bidness … like the income tax return. Which I got done with after two days of number- and- account crunching last week, and dropped the whole lot off at the office of the nice gentleman who does my income taxes. He, bless him extravagantly – is very fond of me because I turn in all my stuff in February (March at the very latest!) – so he can complete it all at leisure, instead of in one frantic marathon in April … look people, this – like Christmas – happens every year. Putting it all off to the last minute will not make it go away. It won’t. Like necessary dental work, get it done and get it over with.
Most years, I have gotten my return and spent it well before the final rush begins … this year, there will be no funds returned, as I have broken even. Between the costs of buying the business from the founder of it and her heir, the various expenses associated with paying for printing and copies of books for resale, buying tables and a pop-up pavilion, display racks and a new printer … and the shed for the backyard to store much of this in … I am square with the government.
Next year will be an adventure in exploring how to strategically protect that income stream from my writing and the Tiny Publishing Bidness against the diabolical machinations of the vampire squids, but as Scarlett O’Hara so famously observed, ‘Tomorrow is another day.’ This coming year is a foreign country, to be sorted out as I venture farther into it.

I might just re-do this website again, since I have re-done the book website… the final handful of readers have been duly warned.

Well, I see by the headlines that the Lucy and Ethel of Foggy Bottom have covered themselves with infamy in recent days. Marie Harf and Jen Psaki have outdone themselves as improv comedians – the dim blond in outsized glasses, and her even dimmer sort-of-brunette and horse-faced sidekick. I can only hope that the few remaining State Department professionals are cringing and pounding down another stiff drink every time one of them opens their mouth on national news. God save us – the psychotics of ISIS/ISIL are only being driven to char-roast and behead prisoners – because they are poor and don’t have jobs. Jen and Marie, sweetie, I will say this only once, so I hope you can put down the latest hashtag campaign and pay attention – the ISISlings have jobs, and ones which they appear to enjoy very much, have volunteered enthusiastically for and which enjoy the approval and support – monetary and otherwise – of a fair portion of Muslims.

It’s tragic to think that this hapless pair of ditzes are the best and brightest that the Obama administration State Department can field. I can only hope that they were hired to make John “I served in Vietnam, you know” Kerry look like a towering intellect. And that he’s not all that bright himself, so I suppose this was the best they could do without raiding the ranks of Special Education classes.

I would never say that I am as house-proud as Granny Dodie – whose home was always immaculate, scrubbed clean, everything polished to an inch of its life, all bits and bobs put away in a proper place, and whose garden was a marvel – groomed of every stray leaf, the gravel raked and the shrubs trimmed. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, likely Granny Dodie has been brought back as a USMC drill sergeant with particularly stringent housekeeping standards. Me, I never had the time for that degree of Better Homes & Gardens/Martha Stewart perfection. Full-time work and single parenting will do that to you. You couldn’t eat off my kitchen floor, but I could almost guarantee that nothing would bite you on the ankle as you walked through.

However, things did descend perilously close to slum-hood a couple of years ago, inside and out. A very bitter winter and temporarily sheltering a pair of particularly destructive half-grown dogs did for the garden. But slowly, slowly, I began to make it work again, and some of the plants which had gone dormant either recovered or re-seeded. Planting vegetables helped as well. It’s mid-winter here, so the garden is not currently at its best, and all the delicate plants are crammed into the back porch – which is hung with plastic on two sides, so as to make a temporary greenhouse.

As for the inside of the house; the territory of cats and dogs. One of the now-deceased dogs was insensately fond of piddling on rugs and she was sneaky about it; eventually the rugs were cleaned, rolled up and banished to the garage. Two of the geriatric and now-deceased cats were also very fond of making deposits in unexpected and hard to find places, and making them faster than they could be discovered and cleaned up. Eventually, we despaired of ever banishing the smells of such accidents from Blondie’s barracks-inherited armchair and one of the household sofas – a cheap find anyway, and the last bulk trash day out they went.

Between profits from the Tiny Publishing Bidness, sales of my own books, and the sale of the California land – I could afford to do some serious and long over-due repair and replacement of household stuff. Totally renovating the HVAC system was just the start. Having the shed built out in back provided a storage space for garden and kitchen things, as well as the items needed for participating in the gypsy markets. Over last winter, the curtains in all windows but the sliding glass door were replaced as I could afford them, with wooden blinds, which gave the place a whole new look. Daringly, I replaced the every-day china with an extensive set found at a flea market, giving mealtimes another whole new look. A new dining area table (new to us – a vintage number from my daughter’s favorite thrift shop) helped reclaim that corner. The original table was a pedestal style, and one of the legs loose beyond repair, and the resulting sudden tilt pitched the cats regularly onto the floor, in their own version of the sinking Titanic. Replacing various rush chair seats last month with cowhide was another step towards reclaiming a livable and attractive space – and also one which is a little more pet-proof.

This month we advanced another big step: getting the love-seat/sleeper sofa, two chairs and a tuffet all reupholstered – in heavy and leather-look vinyl, replacing the original fabric – and making them all look as if they are in a set. This is an aesthetic improvement, and offers a higher level of pet-proofing, in that accidents can be readily sponged away. The upholstery shop will have the first piece done by next weekend, and the rest completed two weeks later. Two rugs returned from exile in the garage; so far, so good; the surviving cats don’t seem inclined to make messes anywhere but in the small area around their litter-boxes. The cat-tree has a couple of sisal-wrapped columns which they seem to prefer sharpening their claws upon, so there is hope for the furniture to escape unscathed. So far the cowhide seats have done so. The final element in renewing the house involved accommodating oddments from Mom and Dad’s house; a few pieces in silver and crystal, a framed stained glass panel, and some kitchen things which no one else wanted … so, some things had to be put away, others Goodwilled, and some of them just plain thrown away in the interests of space. But the den and the main room look quite good now – better than they have in a while, if not quite as spic-and-span as Granny Dodie would have had them.