Saturday, December 25, 2010

Etymology of "Christmas"

It's interesting that the earliest record of the use of the term Christ Mass comes more than a millenium after the putative birth of Jesus.
"The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. "Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass). In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century. Hence, Xmas is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Christmas."
According to the "On-line Etymology Dictionary" Christ Mass was first written as one word around the mid-14th century (1300's).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the company of kittens/cats

To my utter delight, tiny Alice has taken to spending her days with me in my study, cuddling up while I work on the computer.

The four kittens -- Tippecanoe, Tyler Two, Eli and Samantha -- born earlier in the spring, having grown up together are more oriented towards each other than they are to snuggling with the humans (not that they never do it).  Little Alice, separated from her siblings does play with the older kitties, but is strongly oriented towards me in a very companionable way.  She reminds me very strongly both in looks and temperament of my Cricket cat, who was my companion for twenty-one years . Hope Alice has as long and healthy a life as Cricket did.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

life lessons from computer solitaire







This morning, as I often do while waiting for all my programs to load first thing in the morning, I play some games of solitaire, rather than just sit there and stare at the screen. Suddenly I was struck by the idea that there were important life lessons to be learned from computer solitaire.
  • Some days you lose more than you win, but you can always start over and the next game may be a winner.
  • When you reach a dead end, its best to stop fruitlessly trying the same thing over and over, and start afresh.
  • Sometimes the end isn't the end -- you just have to be willing to give up some of what you've already gained, take a few steps backward and head in a different direction.  You'll lose points that way, but you will accomplish your goal. 
It occurs to me that the last one applies to the current political scene.  Principles are important, and we shouldn't give up on them. As much as it goes against principle, maybe it is the right thing to make concessions in one area (temporary extension of tax cuts for the rich) and lose some points, in order to advance a larger agenda - tax cuts for the middle and working classes.

Of course one more important lesson from solitaire is:
  • Sometimes, when you've taken some steps backward, and tried a new direction, you still end up losing. Then its time to dust oneself off and start anew.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Things I wish I'd known three months ago

We made the decision to buy a new manufactured house to put on our property in late August or early September. The existing house, also a manufactured double-wide, was installed (incorrectly) thirty-one years ago, and to make a long story somewhat shorter is simply falling apart in a way that is not reasonable to repair.  Moreover, the way it was installed (big raw hole dug in the ground and house plopped down in it), makes it impossible to put another manufactured home on the same site.

So we spent some time walking around the property and decided on a good location for to put a new house and armed with the dimensions of that space started shopping around.

Two things I wish we'd known then that we know now is: One, our electrical utility American Electric Power/Kentucky Power has a 100 foot right-of-way around their overhead high power transmission lines (50 feet on either side of the center line), and so even though the lines are more than 30 feet above the valley running from mountain top to mountain top, the power company's right away takes a huge slice out of one end of our property -- the end where we wanted to put the new house.  After a couple of weeks of uncertainty we ultimately found a new place to locate the house, but had we known about the power company's right of way before we started we might have chosen a smaller, or at least differently configured house. The second thing I wish I'd known was that the costs of financing the loan (origination fees, title searches, points, etc.) would be more than $9000 above the cost of the house itself; that knowledge definitely would have lead to choosing a smaller, less expensive house.

By the time we'd learned both these things the house we had decided on had already been ordered, and although we were not legally bound to purchase it, we felt moral and ethical obligations, plus, by this time we really liked the house we'd chosen.

Those are the two biggies, but there are many, many smaller things I wish I'd known.  I wish I'd known that everything always takes longer than everyone says they will, and that once winter weather sets in all bets are off on the timing of construction activity. Of course we thought, three months ago, that we'd be in our new house before Thanksgiving. That was before the power company right-of-way debacle.

I wish I'd been given a complete and clearly detailed list of all the various tasks that would have to be done, that indicated for each item whether this was something we had to hire workers/contractors ourselves and pay for ourselves or something for which the home seller was responsible. I learned that "oh we'll help you take care of that" means that we're really responsible, and that all the seller is providing is names and phone numbers. But most of all I wish I'd known that just because the manufactured housing company recommends workers (like electricians) doesn't mean that they actually know what they are doing -- we failed electrical inspection the first time around, so more delays. We learned that when people focus too much on trying to "save you money" they can make stupid and costly mistakes.

I wish I'd known about all the different types of inspections, and that you had to pay the inspectors; and I wish that I had known which inspectors were perfunctory and which picky about details. I wish I'd known the level of detail you are suppose to know about your septic system  -- and the artistic skill required to draw the map free hand -- before trying to get health department approval.

I wish some one had spelled out for me the exact time sequence that things have to be done in -- I'm still not clear about the necessary order for electrical hook up and septic hook-up, and just hope that the timing comes out right.
I wish I'd known how small a load 4 tons of gravel really was, and how far (not very) it would go. I would have opted for a larger load.

I've been thinking that someone, maybe me, should write down all the things to expect; but then I wonder how generalizable to others situations are the things I've learned?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New House Day -- I hope


The calendar and the beautiful bare-limbed trees say it is really November, but it did not feel like November at seven AM, when the porch thermometer read 64 degrees--warmer than when I fed the porch cats last night.

The temperature and wind foreshadowed rain, which came pouring down in sheets within moments after a morning walk with Rosie dog.

Today is the day, that our new double-wide house is suppose to be delivered--having signed away our financial life for the next twenty years yesterday. Neither of us could sleep much last night. Anxiety and anticipation mixed in equal amount. Much to be excited about, much to be grateful for, yet there are worries, too.

This is necessary. The old house is becoming unlivable (toilets that don't work properly, plumbing that springs major leaks every six months or so, floors that are rotting with more and more holes covered with temporary boards, major ceiling leaks, an oven that stopped working, an old furnace on its last legs), but experts say that renovation is not appropriate, given that the house was improperly installed more than 30 years over an open 2 to 3 foot pit where a lake of water sits most of the year.

We are excited about a new house, where everything works, and cold drafts don't sift through every room. But we've become accustomed to life without a house payment in the last couple of years, and suddenly taking on new payments, significantly higher than the old ones has us scared. It's been so many years (4 now) since the community college faculty and staff have had any raises.  It's hard to imagine that they will ever come again. Thus, anxiety tempers the elation of something new.

Life is so fragile.  Within the past months, several of my friends, students and former students have lost a spouse suddenly in devastating events (homicide, drunk driver accidents, work accidents). By comparison our anxiety over the financial burdens of a new house seem trivial--and so we will muddle on through I'm sure, and nights of good sleep will ultimately return.


Footers in the rain (10 AM)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

let there be peace on earth...

...and let it begin with me and mine.


Check out the Blogblast for Peace on blogs and Facebook.

A. J. Muste once said that there is only as much peace as there are peaceful people.

"This is your only life--live it well!
No one man can bring about a social change--
but each man's life is a whole and necessary part of his society,
a necessary step in any change,
and a powerful example of the possiblity of life
for others.
Let all of our words and our actions speak the possiblity of
peace and cooperation between men.
Too long have we used the excuse:
"I believe in peace, but that other man does not--when
he lays down his arms, then I will follow."
...
Let each man begin a one-man revolution of peace and
mutual-aid--so that there is at least that much peace...
a beginning...
Chuck Matthei, contained within a poem by Denise Levertov "Staying Alive" Part II

Sunday, October 10, 2010

constructing memory

"Memories are never just 'stored'; they are always created anew. Language does not just evoke memories; it can change them, and thereby change history--the story of the past." George Lakoff The Political Mind, page 231
Two weeks ago, I lead a discussion among our honors class students on "how do we know what we know?" We were talking about knowledge gained from personal experience (especially that which has strong emotional states attached), knowledge gained from observing others, knowledge acquired from trusted sources (and the various reasons why we trusted different sources), etc. Each type of means of obtaining knowledge prompted a students to provide examples from their own experience.

One student proffered her thoughts on knowledge we have without seeming to have a source for it -- the sixth sense so to speak. This occasioned several other students to provide examples of "knowing without knowing how" they knew. I also had an example to give for that as well; an example based on an incident when I was 18 and working in the public library -- in which I identified from across a crowded from a girl I'd never seen  or spoken to before, as the other "Sue Greer" whose phone calls I had been erroneously receiving for several months, then went up to her, spoke and verified the correctness of my identification. This is story is one that I have recounted dozens of times in the past 41 years to illustrate what I considered one concrete experience with knowing something through other than regular sensory channels.

Later in the same class discussion, another student with an extensive background in psychology spoke of the work of researchers in cognitive science (such as George Lakoff, above), who have determined that each time we "recall" something, we are actually constructing that memory, an act that of necessity changes the memory each time it is recalled. Those changes may be minuscule or sweeping in nature.

Following that class, I found myself standing in the ladies room looking at myself in the mirror, and realizing suddenly for the first time in more than four decades, that I have no idea how much of the story I told is "real." It feels real to me, and has had real influences on my beliefs and attitudes over those years. Some elements of the story seem solidly based -- I did work in the public library when I was 18, and there was another girl from elsewhere in the city with the same name as mine whose calls I did receive on occasion. I also am quite certain that I spent a fair amount of time while working in the library wondering what the other "Sue Greer" looked like, and if she might be one of the young women who came into the library. But as for the rest of it, I have no idea how much of that actually happened, and how much is a story that I have invented over the years.

The honors student who introduced us to this idea of the constructed nature of memory, was certain that while human memory and human perception are quite fallible that there was, in fact, an objective reality, an absolute truth to what had happened; a truth that might be revealed by objective instrumentation, such as video cameras. While there may an objective truth, independent of the humans viewing it with regard to the natural world (and I'm not wholly convinced of that given when I know about modern physics), I am quite certain that no such singular truth applies to human action.

Some months ago, I wrote (in "Singing the Truth Together") of the multidimensional, multiperspectival nature of human truth. When two (or more) people interact the truth of that interaction can only be arrived at by acknowledging all perspectives.

These two ideas -- the constructed nature of memory and the multidimensional nature of truth -- came together for me yesterday.  While searching for another Oberlin classmate on Facebook, I happened upon a familiar name from a class about 8 years behind mine -- that of a man that I had interviewed for the Oberlin College admissions office around 1977 or 1978. He had made such an impression on me during the interview -- that we continued to interact, by phone, letter, and in person occasionally over the next year.

My memories of our interaction, although not many, were vibrant, warm, and positive, so I sent him a Facebook message. I was pleased, but puzzled when he responded and his message began with an apology for being "a jerk" back then. I don't remember a "jerk", I remember some one who was a smart, interesting, exciting, unconventional,  "edgy" young man.

This disparity in our memories does give me hope that all the men from my past that I remember treating badly -- out of ignorance more than intention -- do not judge me as harshly in memory as I do myself.

Monday, September 27, 2010

autumn garden

 September 27 and our unusually long hot summer has extended the growing cycle of the tomatoes substantially. The presence of the large ripening tomatoes is not as unusual as the new growth -- dozens of new buds and new tiny green tomatoes forming.

This part of Kentucky is normally frost free until between October 4 at the earliest and October 30 at the latest, but usually cooling temperatures have discouraged the formation of new growth and new buds long before now. The normal average low for the month of September around here is 53 degrees F and by this time of the month, the lows normally run in the mid-forties (fahrenheit), but this year, the average low in September so far is 58 degrees F, with only one day (back on September 1) where the low was below 50 degrees. 

The normal average high for September is 76 degrees F. This year, the average high temperature so far for September is 88 degrees -- 12 degrees above average. In fact there have only been three days all month that have fallen below the normal average of 76 degrees!

While it is pleasant to have new tomatoes growing on the vine in late September, this disruption of past patterns of plant growth cycles for this region, has the potential to throw off the life cycles of the many types of animals, from insect life and birds, to mammals, whose times for mating, raising young, migrating, and hibernating developed under a different climatic regime.


Photos "September tomatoes" by sgreerpitt, taken September 27, 2010.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

grace


Like the gentle rain now falling on our dry autumn forest, the grace of friendship renewed my life this morning.

I turned on the computer to find heartfelt comments from former students and other Facebook friends to my previous post "fear."  For a while the waterworks inside rivaled those outside. This momentarily dismayed my husband, who like most men, just doesn't understand that women cry when they are happy as much or more than when they are sad.

Moreover, I was reminded once again, by the comments here on the blog and on Facebook, of the grace of others with much greater burdens to bear than I have, who take the time to support a friend.

Friday, September 24, 2010

fear

Every day at seven PM I call my mother. It is four PM her time on the California coast, but despite that time difference we are both generally at about the same place in our day -- dinner time. Most days the call lasts for ten minutes. Some days when we both have a lot of say, it can last half an hour.

Every day at seven PM I am witness to my mother's decline into dementia.  Her doctor and health care workers use the term Alzheimer's, but because I am not there I cannot ask them more detailed questions. I know from reading that not all dementia is Alzheimer's, and what is happening to her does not fit the way I have seen Alzheimer's described or depicted in the ubiquitous commercials for drugs and products. But then I know very little, and the disease progresses differently in different people I am told.

The most obvious symptom to me through our daily phone calls is the aphasia. She loses words. She knows what things are and what they do and what they are for, but she can no longer retrieve the names for them. Common everyday objects, events and actions escape her. She is acutely aware of this problem and struggles. Sometimes I will try to supply a word here and there, but mostly she seems to prefer to just provide round about descriptions (such as "that nosy box with pictures in the living room" for TV). She has also forgotten how to do things, like all but the most simple cooking, and can only write a check with substantial assistance from someone. Numbers and arithmetic are almost completely beyond her. She never learned to use a calculator and certainly will not now.

The biggest crisis in my mother's life at this particular point in time is that the company that provides municipal garbage and recycling pickup for her California suburb, has suddenly decided to entirely change the rules. They have delivered three big huge wheeled containers, one green, one blue and one black, and detailed written instructions on what can and cannot go in each one. My mother is utterly bewildered by this.

She has daily assistance, and I imagine that Jennifer has a much firmer grasp on what is required for properly filling these new containers. But my mother wants to be able to understand this herself, and she simply cannot get her mind around how they will store and dispose of the various types of recyclables, trash and garbage.

I feel for my mother, and her pain and anxiety. But am comforted by the knowledge that Jennifer and my brother Charlie are there to take care of the actual logistics of this particular crisis.

There is however, my own growing fear that I too am slipping down the long slippery slope to cognitive disorder.  My mother is 86, and I am only 59, but I believe I see the signs and symptoms in myself. 

I have had problems with word loss for more than 15 years, and it has been getting worse. Nothing like my mother. But  a couple of times a week, I will be lecturing in class or talking to my husband, and suddenly will be unable to capture the right word -- not every day nouns and verbs like my mother now has difficulty with, but everyday, routine concepts of my discipline and the social sciences in general, and with descriptive adjectives and adverbs. Some weeks, when I am tired or stressed, are worse than others.

The other thing that frightens me, is my reaction to new and novel situations or the disruption of routines. I become mentally flustered, and sometimes panicked, and have the unfortunate tendency to lash out angrily at those around me (primarily my wonderful, patient husband, who deserves far better than he's gotten of late). Within moments of my outburst, I feel remorse, but the damage is already done.

If there is time to think about some thing new, figure out what is going on, what needs to be done, and then act, I'm fine. It's the situations that require an immediate response that throw me. Yet, everything I read tells me that what I need is more novelty.  I need to get out of my ruts, challenge myself with new tasks, meet new people, try new places and activities -- especially physical activities -- to stimulate my mental "muscles."

Unfortunately my actual physical muscles -- or more specifically my joints -- are undermining efforts in that direction. The RA seems to be progressing. After two years, my medications no longer seem to prevent the end of the day exhaustion. Daily housework chores like dishes and feeding cats overwhelm me.  Weekly chores like house cleaning and laundry -- well, it's been a long time since those were actually done on a weekly basis.  It seems clear to me that it will not be long before I will need to have more help around the house than John can provide, even if he were to provide more than he already does.

How long do I have before I become like my mother? How long before I can read the words but no longer make sense of the content? How long before I can no longer remember how to work my computer, send e-mail? How long before I can no longer have a normal conversation?

What do I need to do to provide security for myself and John before that day comes? What things is it essential for me to do and say before that day comes? What legacy do I still have to leave before I can no longer communicate with the world in a meaningful fashion?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

a moon behind the forest

Last night there was that infrequent occurrence of a harvest moon on the same day as the autumnal equinox. I wanted to see it when I heard about it. But by the time the moon rose over the mountain and forest it was past my bed time.

I stood in the dark of the bathroom after midnight last night, noticing how bright the light of the moon was outside the white curtains. I contemplated lifting the curtains and realized that I would not be able to see anything through the accumulated grime and cobwebs and the window screens, even if I could figure out the right angle to stand in the bathtub to look up at the sky.

Then I thought about putting on my shoes, and finding my camera and stepping outside to see it properly. But my camera needs batteries, and by the time I found them, and got outside and took the pictures, I'd be so thoroughly awake that I'd never get back to sleep. Morning already loomed too close for comfort. So I went back to bed and watched the glow of the moon on the bathroom curtains, and slept.

I thought of it again this evening, and even though its the day after the equinox, and the full moon, the moon will still be big and bright. Bright enough that I can see its glow well above the tree line, even though the moon itself is still just tiny pin pricks of bright white peeking out from the autumnal thinning forest.

I don't think I'll be able to stay awake tonight either long enough to see it.

I have the nagging feeling that this whole situation with me and not seeing the moon is a metaphor for my life right now. That whatever this malaise is, that has crept up on me in the last two months, it is like the black forest between me and the harvest moon.

"Moon Behind the Forest" by sgreerpitt, September 23, 2010.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

not


My husband John, still attempts - futilely - to get the kittens to understand that "not" said loudly and strongly means that they should stop doing whatever it is they are doing and behave themselves.

Pictured is Samantha (Sammie) engaged in her favorite activity -- whaling the tar out of a roll of paper towels and redecorating the house with thousands of little white pieces of paper towel. She was told "not" repeatedly, but it goes in one of those great big ears and out the other one!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

lovely late summer day


It was the way it ought to be in the Kentucky mountains at the end of August--warm but not hot--as the sun shot out golden rays before dipping below the crest of the hills.

My tomatoes are also doing just as they should, plump and red. These will be ready for picking tomorrow most likely.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Katrina Remembrance

Professional photographer Virginia Hart (a high school friend from California) took photographs of conditions on the Gulf coast in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina for the Red Cross. Below is a collection of moving images to mark the fifth anniversary this August 29th.


YouTube - Katrina Remembrance

Please watch!

virgin's bower


Yesterday I did my big "shop" over the hill into Virginia. For ten miles, from the Kentucky border to Wise, VA, the steep banks on either side of the road were laden in creamy vanilla virgin's bower (Clematis virginiana) my favorite late summer wildflower. The photos above and below are from our own yard, where virgin's bower has taken over portions of both the front and back banks. It's a very opportunistic vine, and will twine itself over bushes, trees, and other vines (like blackberry).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

an ancient and venerable cat

Our elderly cats have been disgruntled by the intrusion of four lively kittens into their staid and familiar world. Oscar in particular has looked with impassive disdain upon all the kittens' wild gymnastics.

Oscar is a cat of indeterminate age. He was already an adult who had fathered at least one summer's worth of kittens, and probably more than that, when we arrived here in Kentucky in the summer of 1996. [The second orange cat in the background is one of Oscar's daughters that we adopted.] So we figure him to be at the very least 15 years old, but probably more like 16 or 17. He was the "neighborhood" cat, and was fed by several folks, including me. Though I was the only one who took him for veterinary care.

In 2001, an encounter with a vehicle of some kind broke his hip, and we took him in and made him a house cat. He never once showed any interest in trying to go back outside. Oscar has became the undisputed king of the household. Even Rosie the dog bows down to his eminence. And "his majesty" as John calls him gets to eat his meals any where he pleases -- we let him pick!

Friday, August 13, 2010

a prosaic post


What could be more mundane than a couch, and a decades old couch at that. But today I got brand new cushions for my twenty-four year old couch, to replace the ones that have had coffee, orange juice, milk, beer, and cat puke spilled on them for twenty-four years.

Of course as soon as John and I had admired the new cushions, and sat on them for a few minutes, it was time to put the red flannel sheet back over them so that the newest generation of cats won't throw up hair balls on these fine pillows. Two of said kittens (Sammie and Tippecanoe) wouldn't lay on the new pillows until we covered them back up with the red flannel sheet.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

today while the flowers still cling to the vine...

The first line of my favorite song from childhood "Today" performed by the New Christy Minstrels. Through the power of my iPod, I took a wonderful mental trip back through childhood, while enjoying the mountain scenery on my hour plus drive to and from in-service this morning.

Songs recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary, the New Christy Minstrels and Pete Seeger, that my brothers and I sang in the car on family trips, like "If I Had a Hammer," and "Little Houses made of Ticky Tacky," and "Michael Row the Boat Ashore." The version of that song on my iPod is from a live album, and features hundreds of audience voices joining the performers on repeated verses. And I was transported for a moment, to a day, when United Air Lines celebrating their first jet passenger planes from McDonnell-Douglas, had invited all San Francisco Maintenance Base employees and their families to a huge party in a cavernous hanger, with music by the New Christy Minstrels. I tell you, you have not heard anything until you hear 5,000 people, young and old, singing "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" inside the acoustic miracle of a jet hanger. It was, and continues to be the most awesome musical experience of my entire life.

the early bird catches the fog


Today was back to work day, the first day of in-service meetings for faculty and staff, which began with a breakfast at 8:30 AM. The breakfast was held at a location near our main campus, more than an hour's drive from my home. The trip takes me over Pine Mountain, a huge, ancient block thrust fault that separates the Cumberland Plateau of southeast Kentucky (visible in the photos) from the folded corrugated mountains and valleys of southwest Virginia.


Many of my friends have taken spectacular photos of morning fog from this vantage point on Pine Mountain's northern face (just below the summit), but I'd never had the favorable coincidence of time and fog and a camera on hand before.

The photos sweep from northeast to north to northwest from top to below. Tiny Whitesburg is hidden under the fluffy white folds of the center photo.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

one small proposal for gettting from here to there

Our earth is undergoing measurable global climate warming that has a significant anthropogenic component, with the primary anthropogenic contribution to warming coming from the steady increase in CO2 emissions from the use of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Moreover, warming that has already occurred over the past century and warming that is certain to occur in the next century, have had and will have recognizable negative impacts on the health of human beings and human societies. Those impacts include, but are not limited to, rises in sea level and loss of shoreline, changes in plant and animal populations (declines, increases, shifts in range) including changes in disease vectors (such as West Nile Virus and Malaria carrying mosquitoes), increasing drought with its impact on food crops and human water supplies, and increasing extreme precipitation events with concomitant flooding.

Among the scientific community there is debate and need for continuing research on how much warming and how fast future warming will occur, and the regional patterning of impacts, but there is general consensus on the basic facts of warming and its causes and its consequences. Recent polling of the general population in the United States shows that about three quarters of the American population accept the scientific consensus on the reality of global warming and the anthropogenic causes of that warming. However, there is a decided lack of consensus both within the scientific community and the general population on exactly what should be done to address the problems posed now and in the future by global warming.

Just because people agree that a problem exists and that something should be done, has never meant that they will agree on what to do about that problem. This has always been true. There are lots of good sociological and psychological reasons for this lack of agreement. From a psychological perspective immediate, present threats to one's livelihood and material well-being are more salient and real than predicted future threats no matter how real we consider those future threats to be. A parent will always be more concerned about the present day need to keep a roof over their children's heads and food on the table today, than they will be about the availability of housing and food for those children in 20 years.

From a sociological perspective we have organized our economy around the need to maintain very short term current profitability to retain investors, rather than around long term future. The structures, rules and practices of business decision-making and investor decision-making, make it difficult for either business managers or investors to forgo current profits in exchange for long term sustainability.

For a utility company currently generating most of its electricity from coal fired plants shifting to solar or wind generation has many economic drawbacks. If a utility simply purchases "green" power from another electricity producer who is already invested in wind, solar or hydro-power, the primary profit from power production goes to the actual producer not the utility company purchasing the power. To make any profit, they have to raise the cost of that power to the customer, making it more expensive than the coal generated power, and thus less attractive to consumers of electricity. Such a move also introduces greater inefficiencies -- the further electricity is transmitted the greater the loss, so purchases power from a distant provider means that you get less power for your buck as well.

On the other hand, if a utility company decides to themselves begin producing electricity from wind, solar or hydro sources, there is the huge upfront capital investment that must be made. While this may have great long term profit potential (once constructed one never has to pay for sunlight or wind unlike coal), it has tremendous short term costs that affect profitability and investor satisfaction. If a utility attempts to pay for this by raising utility rates up front, there is substantial customer dissatisfaction, and in states (like Kentucky) with strong political incentives to protect coal, little political interest for public utility commissions to support such rate increases. Additionally, the construction of a centralized solar or wind generation plant requires huge acreage, that may not be readily available to a utility company near its customer base.

Finally, another reason that utility companies become nervous about discussions, is that the idea mode of generating electricity from solar energy is a pattern of dispersed, household level or building level generation, where solar panels sufficient to the needs of a particular housing unit or office building are placed on the building itself. This eliminates two problems: first, all the extra land that would be needed for centralized solar generation, and second, the problem of electricity losses due to transmission over distance. However, since currently housing unit and office building solar electricity generation is financed and operated by individual families or businesses it represents a loss of revenue for the utility company, and certainly not something they really want to encourage.

Moreover, from the point of view of the individual, family or business, the cost of constructing small localized solar (and wind) generation is quite large (at least $20,000), and far beyond the reach of the median household. While such household level solar (and wind) electricity generation does pay for itself over twenty to twenty-five years (the vast majority of the costs are in the initial hardware and installation and after that the electricity itself is essentially free), the upfront costs are prohibitive for all but the most affluent and most environmentally committed.

Now, finally to my proposal. I acknowledge up-front, as a person who is uncomfortable with the power of utility companies now, this is not my ideal solution, but it is a means of decreasing the input of CO2 into the atmosphere, to ameliorate future extent of global warming and its impact, while dealing with many of the problems outlined above. My proposal is that electric utility companies currently heavily invested in their own coal-fired generation consider adopting the model used by Bell Telephone in the 1950's. In exchange for a modest installation fee (say a few hundred dollars that could be prorated over a period of time) well within the budgets of middle and working class families with "green values," the utility company would deliver and install solar panels on the consumers home -- but, and here's what I think is a new idea (at least as applied to electricity generation) the utility company would retain ownership of those panels in perpetuity, and charge the consumer a monthly fee for the electricity consumed from those panels.

Here's the details -- the one's that I think would make this idea appealing to both the consumer and to the utility company. The individual solar installations would 1) be large enough to provide for ordinary, peak daylight hours electricity use and 2) would be tied into the grid allowing for both inflow and outflow. The utility company would benefit, because all excess electricity generated would flow into the grid for use by other customers (and unlike the situation where a household customer owns the solar installation, the utility company would own that excess flow outright and not be paying the customer with the installation for it). With each household or business that added solar generation, the electricity generating capacity of the entire grid would be expanded. The capitalization costs would be spread out over time -- no huge up-front investment in generation capacity years before any new power can be generated. Moreover, following current phone company and cable company practices, the utility company could charge a very small (a few dollars) monthly maintenance fee to consumers, to cover costs of periodic maintenance and repair.

The consumer would benefit in two ways: they would have the assurance that in the absence of sunlight they would still have electricity, and conversely, during widespread power outages due to downed transmission lines they would also still have their locally generated power. Indeed, if several households in a neighborhood had contracted with the utility for solar panels, the entire neighborhood circuit might be protected from electricity loss during a widespread outage.

In the beginning only middle income and upper income families that are highly committed to environmental, "green" values would participate. I know I would. I would be very willing to pay a reasonable premium in installation costs just to be assured that while I was sitting at my computer typing away I was using electricity generated by solar power rather than by coal obtained by scalping the mountains around me. Overtime, as people begin to notice, that one of their neighbors still has electricity after a storm has knocked out everyone else, the appeal of solar panels might spread. If the utility made the cost of electricity generated in situ from the solar panels marginally less expensive (say 1/2 cent per KWH) compared to electricity pulled from the grid, this would increase the appeal of participation.

From the utility company's perspective, they are able to gradually expand their generating capacity, using "green" sources, with small, periodic expenditures of capital that can be partially charged to the customer (installation fees), and also recouped by feeding all excess electricity generated into the grid. Customers without the panels who depended solely on the grid would pay the standard rate for their electricity. By dispersing solar generation through out the households served by a utility, there would be a substantial increase in efficiency, as electricity would be consumed closer to where it was generated, reducing the losses to long distance transmission. Most of all this idea allows utility companies to make the transition to renewable electricity generation gradual and incremental, and thus less painful and more acceptable.

So there is my idea -- somebody tell me what's wrong with it!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

weather is not climate, but....

The Weather Channel's website has a number of nifty new features. One of which provides you with lots of information about how your current month (and previous month) stack up against historical weather patterns. I've captured the screen shots for my zip code 41825, for June 2010 and July 2010.

Notice that for both June and July the "highest temperature recorded so far" is higher than the historical record for that month -- so we broke the all time temperature records for both June and July in Eastern Kentucky. Notice also that the total rain fall amounts for both June and July are well below the average. June's precipitation total was 1.05" below the average. Of course July isn't over yet, but let's hope we don't get 3.65" of rain in one week. While the July total rain is more than three and a half inches below normal, eastern Kentucky did get one whale of a gully-washer, to the great dismay and anguish of hundreds of folks in Pike county.


While it is important to remember that weather is not the same as climate, and unusually hot days occur periodically, as do droughts and floods, overall warming of the climate as is currently occurring on planet earth, does give rise to more frequent extreme heat, more common droughts, and paradoxically more frequent intense rain events like that seen in Pike County this month.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

how shall we live? part 1

My attention has returned in recent days to a theme that has long concerned me, a theme that has popped up in several very interesting blogs.

Will of Zen Agnostic sums this theme up nicely in this quote:
"most of what the doctors are calling mental illness, clinical depression, neurotic behavior - this not illness. It is a natural reaction to an insane culture and a dying planet....Part of the problem in this insane screwed up world is that people can't be open about their grief and anger. Our emotions are natural and healthy - but society at large labels us as unhealthy if we don't put on a smile every day and joke about the weather and sports and the latest celebrity DUI arrest. Simply writing about it, naming it, not hiding from it, is an act of resistance."
Over at CommonDreams.org Robert Jenson writes:
"To be fully alive today is to live with anguish, not for one's own condition in the world but for the condition of the world, for a world that is in collapse."
And Dave Pollard at how to save the world writes of the dissonance between the messages from our bodies (physical survival, avoidance of pain, procreation of our genetic material), our culture (values, beliefs, attitudes and norms), and from our environment or biosphere which he labels gaia. Dave argues that:
"this dissonance is paralyzing; it renders us ill, physically and mentally, and ultimately we get exhausted trying to handle it so we become desensitized, shut down."
Like these three bloggers, everything I know, everything I study as a sociologist, as a observer of human society and culture, suggest to me a world in collapse, that has already "overshot" the material basis (resources, food, energy) on which its existence depends. I strongly recommend reading the work of Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows, The Limits to Growth (1972), Beyond the Limits (1992) and The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update (2004). Meadows, Randers and Meadows wrote in their first book (1972) that:
"If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrolled decline in both population and industrial capacity."
By 1992, Meadows, Randers and Meadows were convinced that those limits had already been reached in several areas (for example world wide grain production peaked in the 1980's), and by 2004 the conclude that we were approaching other limits much faster than their original hundred year time line.

Most people in modern industrial societies have lost awareness of how deeply the health of society is tied to the health of the environment. They think of our technology as lifting us above the vicissitudes of weather and changes in climate. Yet all one has to do is examine the extent to which "normal" daily activities in our society are fouled up and even stop dead, when it gets too snowy or too hot, or when a hurricane stops the pumping of oil for the Gulf, to realize that our technology has made our societies more rather than less vulnerable to changes in our environment.

We are on a path that is unsustainable in human social terms, not just in environmental terms. The two are so intimately intertwined that we cannot deal with one without dealing with the other. Our economy is not only unsustainable in terms of its use of resources and energy, but it is unstable and unsustainable in terms of the ever increasing disparity between the tiny percentage whose wealth is growing and the other 95 percent whose wealth is declining. We are impoverishing our people and our society as well as our ecosystems and biosphere.

[I realize that this is a larger topic than I can do in one post, given all the other immediate deadlines in my life, so I'm going to make this a multi-part post, with this installment just identifying the problem and linking to some great blogs. more on the actual question posed in the title another day.]

Friday, July 16, 2010

singing the truth together

I recently I discovered a very early book, After Long Silence, by my favorite science fiction writer Sheri Tepper. In the story, humans have settled on a world they view as devoid of sentience, but which is inhabited by at least two sentient races--one huge crystalline entities, and the other small, furry, mammalian creatures called "viggy" by the humans. Through the viggy, Tepper critiques certain aspects of humanity by posing a more attractive alternative. Here is an extended quote, that I think says something extraordinarily valuable about communication and truth, and the error of human ways:
"Memory is a strange thing. A viggy would experience a thing and remember it. Another viggy would experience the same happening and remember it as well. And yet the two memories would not be the same. On a night of shadow and wind, one viggy might sing that he had seen the spirit of his own giligee [nanny], beckoning from beside a Jubal tree. Another viggy might sing he had seen only the wind, moving a veil of dried fronds. What had they seen, a ghost or the fronds? Where was the truth in memory? Somewhere between the spirit and the wind...

When the troupe traveled down a tortuous slope, one would remember pain, another joy. After a mating, one would remember giving, another would remember loss. No one view would tell the truth of what occurred, for truth always lay at the center of many possibilities.

Many views yield the truth...This was the first commandment of the Prime Song. Only when a happening had been sung by the troupe, sung in all its various forms and perceptions, could the truth be arrived at. Then dichotomy could be harmonized, opposition softened, varying views brought into alignment with one another so that all aspects of truth were sung."
One of the benefits of blogging (and Facebook) for me has been not just singing my song of my life, but having others who were present sing their song back to me, and I come to see how limited my own perspective was then and continues to be. Often just the fact of writing things down, has opened my eyes to not just the possibility of other perspectives, but of the great likelihood that my perspective was seriously flawed, limited and self-absorbed. Having high school and college friends respond with their own memories has enriched my understanding in ways I never anticipated.

I don't think that this search for truth together means that all perspectives are equally valid. For example, there are always those students who insist "I don't care what the statistics say, divorce HAS to be increasing." [It's not by the way, it has been declining since 1981, and is lower today than it was in 1967]. But it is worth us trying to discover together what it is about their life experience that makes them feel as if the divorce rate were increasing.

We appear to be at a juncture in our social and political history, when the lessons of the viggy might be good ones to remember.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

my life as a ghost

When I was a teenager and a young woman, indeed until I married in my mid-thirties, I had delusions of insignificance. In those days I viewed my impact on others as like that of a ghost.

Perhaps you remember the movie Ghost (Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze), in which the dead (Swazye) require enormous effort and concentration in order to have even the smallest impact on the physical world and to attract the attention of the living.

I believed that to have friends, to have people care about me, required enormous, constant effort on my part. The idea that people would like me, just because I was me never crossed my mind. I had friends, but I believed that was only because I worked so hard at being a good friend.

Friendship was hard enough, but the idea that I might be noticed by men and loved for myself was utterly beyond my world view. I was convinced of my inherent unlovableness. I imagined that if I were to try hard enough, if I baked enough cookies and brownies, wrote enough poems, spent enough time listening to his stories and jokes, gave him enough flowers and unique presents, painted his portrait, devoted enough direct attention to him, then like Patrick Swayze in the movie, I might move the penny just enough to penetrate his awareness. Then if I could penetrate his awareness, I might, with sufficient effort, gain some small measure of affection. However, I was realistic, after all I was not “the kind of girl men fall in love with” – a mantra I repeated often to myself.


Because I thought of myself as a ghost, who could only make an impression on others with great effort, I was unable to conceive of my actions as having any impact on others. Since I believed that it took concerted concentration for me to even begin to dent the awareness of others – especially men – the thought that action or inaction by me could wound someone else never floated into the realm of possibility.

In college when I dated two men who were roommates, it never occurred to me that they would even notice, much less be hurt in any way by my actions. When I made out with one young man one weekend, and his close friend the next, it was to me as if my actions were invisible, cloaked by my ghostliness, occurring in separate, discrete, universes. Even if it had occurred to me that either young man noticed my behavior, it would not have occurred to me that there could be any hurt feelings. After all, how could some one who was a ghost impact on another’s feelings.

My deeply held conviction of unlovableness made it necessary for me to be oblivious to any signs of real affection from young men. Some men I was able to tune out altogether (and learn of their affections years later). Those were the lucky ones. The unlucky young men were the ones in I was interested in, the ones who perhaps might have been interested in return, but for whom, I set ever higher and higher obstacles or tests of their affections.

I would think “if he holds my hand” then perhaps he cares. Then he would hold my hand, and it would not be enough. So I would think “if he kisses me” then perhaps he cares. So he would kiss me and it was not enough. The tests would be come more and more unreasonable, so that it would not take long before whoever he was, he would fail, and I would be reaffirmed in my unlovableness. The saddest part is that there were one or two young men who must have cared a great deal, because they kept coming back, kept passing then failing my "tests" over years, and kept getting hurt.

My ghostly existence was finally penetrated in my mid-thirties by some one who was able to convince me of my lovableness by marrying me, and by a wonderful group of friends who were my friends even though I didn’t do any of the work I thought was necessary to create friends, and by a very wise and insightful therapist.

Twenty-five years later I’m still trying to understand what made me into a ghost girl, and to guard against falling into old habits of imagining my actions do not affect others. Delusions of insignificance can be attractive and reassuring. If we are insignificant it we do not have to be careful of the feelings of others, or of our impact on the world.

Painting, acrylic on canvas "The Oberlin Condition" by S. Greer, copyright 1973.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

just a pollyanna I guess



It never fails. Almost every single time in my life that there has been some costly problem (with house, car or health), some extra money has come into my life to cover that cost.

This summer the problems include: vet bills for a pregnant stray cat and her kittens, car air conditioning that pooped out in the hottest summer ever, and in the past 24 hours a broken pipe gushing water underneath the house. The extra money comes from a merit bonus ($1500 before taxes).

I prefer my way of looking at things to the reverse, i.e., that every time I get any extra money a problem comes along to use it all up.

It comes down to preferring to be happy about things than mad about them. It's a lesson learned from all those books, like Little Women, The Five Little Peppers and Pollyanna, that I read as a child.

Friday, July 9, 2010

rain, no wind

Odd weather today.

Yesterday was not the very hottest day this week (most places round here it was in the low 90's) but the air was very, very still and thick with pollutants. Visibility was limited, and distant hills disappeared behind a gray veil. This may be a rural area, but its a rural area with extremely heavy truck traffic (i.e., coal trucks) belching out lots of exhaust.

We were looking forward to the rain, to cool things off and freshen the air. Instead while the rain came cooled things a bit, there is no wind, not even a slight breeze. The moisture has mixed with the pollution and created an even thicker miasma to cloak the mountains. The other side of the holler, only a few hundred feet away is obscured by the veil of light rain and smog. This must be what the 19th century London fogs were like - that mixture of damp and industrial pollution.

Perhaps we will still get some thunderstorms and wind to push some of this stale air out before the warmth comes back tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

a prayer for the good people

I am blessed to know so many good people. I'm married to one of them. I have many friends, old friends, new friends, work friends, Internet friends who are good people.

The good people I know rarely know that they are good people. They think they are bad. They feel every mistake they ever make. Their mistakes can eat them up sometimes. Because they are good people, they care about doing right, about helping and not hurting. So when they screw up, which we all do (good and bad) because we are after all...[wait for it]...human, they ache for the pain that they, unintentionally, caused others.

My prayer for all the good people in my life, is not that they stop feeling sorrow for their mistakes, after all that is what makes them good people, but that they avoid allowing that sorrow to engulf and drown them.

Be well happy and peaceful my friends. Shalom and namaste.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Where are the global warming deniers?

The first thing to remember is, as any competent climate scientist will tell you, weather and climate are NOT the same thing. A snow storm or a heat wave are weather. Climate is a decades long pattern made up of millions of weather events. Climate has predictable patterns, that can be modeled by computer simulations with some accuracy over decades. Weather is far more variable, and accurately predictable only several days at a time.

There is, of course, a connection between climate and weather. Climate is the long term accretion of weather events. More rainy days, with more inches of rain create wetter climates. And wetter climates create more rainy days with more inches of rain. However, even in the rain forest (climate) it is dry sometimes (weather), and even in the desert (climate) it rains sometimes (weather).

During the midst of the heavy snow storms, the deniers of the reality of global warming, happily confusing weather and climate, were loudly crying "where are the global warming supporters?" "Where is Al Gore?" Ignoring (of course) that models of global warming actually predict an increase in extreme precipitation events including extreme snow storms. But now the worm or at least the weather has turned. See the CNN article: Blistering heat expected in Northeast - CNN.com and a heat waves of historic proportions are gripping the U.S. this summer.

Some very hot summer days are not proof of global warming any more than some very snowy winter days are disproof. But as the climate warms, the frequency of both very hot summer days and very heavy precipitation events (winter and summer) tend to increase. The likelihood of each new summer producing new records for heat increases as climate warms.

So my question is, where are you, global warming deniers? How do you account for this? Do you only recognize the difference between climate and weather when it is convenient for you to do so?

Monday, June 28, 2010

desk denizens


Kittens Tippy, Tyler, Sammie and Eli have discovered my desk and that pens make great play things.


Oops! Sammie and Tippy have lost their pen! Where'd it go?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

owning our choices

Earlier this afternoon I enjoyed a long phone conversation with one of my two best friends. She reads my blog sometimes, so my apologies dear, for appropriating a piece of your life to make a point about my own.

My friend has what I would consider (and I think she also considers) the workplace from hell. It is not her own position per se which is so dreadful, but the larger conditions of the institution for which she labors that are so problematic. It is an institution that appears to be run by the worst assemblage of leaders, managers, and administrators of which I've ever heard. Every few months my friend regales me with fascinating stories of venal, callous, petty, and sometimes even Machiavellian machinations on the part of the decision-makers at her workplace.

My friend who is now past full retirement age and already receiving social security, has been talking about retirement for sometime. So each time we connect I ask if she's notified those above her that she is retiring. And each time we talk she has a different, well thought out, reasonable explanation why it is just not yet the right time to announce her retirement.

We've had nearly the same conversation now every few months for more than a year. But this time, as I listened to her, I realized that as dreadful as this institution is, as many horror stories as she has told about it, there is a deeply embedded part of her that loves working there. In that toxic environment someone who is a compassionate, carrying, principled and decent as my friend makes an enormous difference. She is a bastion of integrity, a protector of the weak and defenseless. This gives her work and her life meaning in a way it would not have in a more benign environment.

Just because it seems to me as a caring friend that she would have a more pleasant life away from that cesspool, does not mean that she should leave. If this is where she finds purpose then perhaps it is not time yet for retirement. I'm sure that there are many other ways that she could and would contribute if she did retire, but there's no reason to retire if she's full-filled where she is.

It is easier to have insights about other people's lives than it is about our own. My friend does not seem to realize how much value this workplace has in her life, and does not understand why she is so reluctant to leave it, having spent so much time over the past few years complaining about the conditions there.

As I drove to the store reflecting upon my friends situation, I began to realize that I too spend a great deal of time complaining about the very things that give my work and life meaning. My favorite phrase is "too much work, too little time." Yet I'm always accepting new assignments, choosing to take on additional projects.

Being "too busy" is what makes me feel needed and necessary, gives my life a sense of purpose and value. It makes me feel important to complain about how busy I am. It gives me an excuse not to do things I don't want to do, because "work comes first." Although that's not really true -- I find time for the things I really value, like talking to my husband, reading mysteries, taking care of my animals.

I think from now on, I won't complain about "too much work" but rather brag about it -- that's what I've really been doing after all. I won't be "too busy" but rather "wonderfully busy," or "blissfully busy."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

father's day ruminations

For the first time in 49 years, I am not sending a father's day card, gift or making a father's day phone call, because my father died this past October. And my primary emotion is relief.

My feelings about my father have been very ambivalent for three decades, a complex push and pull of positive and negative emotions. Before that, from about age 8 to age 23 they weren't ambivalent at all: I hated my father, hated him with a passion that terrified me when I was a teenager, hated him with a passion that pushed me as far away from home for college (again for graduate school) as I could reasonably get. And before that, before the age of 8, I remember adoring my father.

What happened -- that is the huge mystery at the center of my life. How did I go from adoration to repulsion and hatred? I genuinely do not know. I have suspicions and circumstantial evidence, but no concrete memories that provide incontrovertible answers.

What I do know is that my father was a truly brilliant and talented man who suffered frustrations and obstacles in his education and work life, always having to work for other people who were less intelligent and knowledgeable, and as a consequence was bitter and extremely controlling in his family life.

Friday, June 18, 2010

ice watch


Since the summer of 2007, when Arctic ice extent hit an all time measured low, I have developed an ice watch fascination that generally sets in when the summer heat does in June.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center Sea Ice Index, provides a daily snapshot of the extent of ice in the Arctic Ocean. Both in map form and in a graph. The gray line is the average ice extent from 1979 to 2000, the green dotted line was the ice extent in 2007, the lowest ever measured. Right now, in June 2010 (blue line), the extent of Arctic ice is well below that of the recorded minimum from 2007 -- less ice, more open water, less reflected sunlight, more absorbed heat. This does not automatically mean that we will set a new record in 2010 for the smallest ice extent, because Arctic winds and storms can retard ice melting (and increase it); but a new record low ice extent does seem to be possible this year.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

a truly pessimistic view

I have begun to wonder what if the leak caused by the blow out of the Deepwater Horizon rig is never capped or contained. What if, as some fear, the pressures have caused fissures in containment below the surface? What if dozens of leaks arise that simply cannot be contained?

So I wondered, how long could this go on? How long before all the oil would be gone? What kind of world would we be living in if it kept on?

Today, the technical committee empaneled by the federal government has increased estimates of the size of the flow from this accident to closer to 40,000 barrels of oil a day (up from an estimate of 12,000 to 19,000). This new estimate was necessary, because the new containment "top hat" and new riser installed June 3, made it possible to measure fairly accurately the amount of oil flow being captured -- which is about 16,000 to 17,000 barrels of oil per day. Given that there are still huge billowing clouds of oil that are NOT being captured, that pushed the overall estimate of the flow upwards. See the live images at http://globalwarming.house.gov/spillcam for confirmation.

The amount of oil proven reserves under the Gulf of Mexico is 3.655 Billion barrels of oil. I realize that these proven reserves are not all in one continuous field, but on the other hand, pro-drilling advocates have argued for years that 3.655 Billion barrels was only the proven reserves, that that were was probably much more oil under the Gulf.

So for the sake of argument let's imagine that the oil field that the Deepwater Horizon had tapped into is some 3 billion barrels of oil, and that the rate of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is 40,000 barrels of oil a day. How long could that continue to flow at rate? About 205 years, that's how long.

So the deeply pessimistic side of me wonders, what if the Gulf of Mexico turns into a continuous, poison petroleum swamp for more than a 100 years? What happens to us then?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

circle of life and death


In the past year, we have said sad farewells now to four elderly cats. First Booger last summer, then Tigger in the autumn, James Tyler in early March, and today in June, we lay sweet B.J., or Buford Jacob as John named him, to rest in the corner of our yard that has become the pet cemetery.

The same circle of life that draws our beloved cats away at the end of their lives, sweeps new kittens into our lives. It was certainly not by our plan or design that as life ushered out four cats, a new mama cats and four kittens would plunge us into the whirl-wind.

In the last five days, as the kittens abandoned their quiet nest in the backroom to run rampant everywhere else, jumping, climbing, leaping, tussling, Buford quietly moved into the backroom where he dozed in peace and quiet, slowly letting go of life.

Today we helped him make the final passage with dignity. Sleep well, B.J.

Monday, May 24, 2010

long LOST love


Other than to say that last night's final chapter of LOST has left me with a sense of quiet, peace and satisfaction (Namaste to you too), I'm not quite ready to blog about the final episode yet. I want to dwell in that place of peace and light for a while longer.

However, I did spend a short while this morning reading the blog posts and commentary articles of folks who had similar reactions to the ending of our favorite series. Among the comments on those other blogs and articles I did find one type of posting that I found disturbing.

Several folks commenting, who were unhappy about the way the series ended, complained about being tricked into investing their energy for six years into something that was not "real." These commenters appeared to think that having any portion of what they had viewed for the past six years take place after the characters had died negated the realness of the conflicts the characters faced and the emotions the show stirred in those of us who loved it.

Leaving totally aside for the present issues of 1) when the characters died (at the very beginning or as they appeared to, through out the show and some even after the death of Jack at the very end), or 2) whether or not one believes in purgatory, the guff or even heaven, the aliveness or deadness of the characters has no relationship to how real the issues and conflicts are, and how real the ideas they got us to think about.

So I am left wondering, what makes things "real" to the people who complained about the ending invalidating the reality of the show? How odd to think that one could readily and happily invest energy in a show about time travel and disappearing islands, mythical research projects of the 1970's, smoke monsters, and pockets of electromagnetism great enough to grab airliners out of the sky, and yet the loss of corporeal status is the one thing that makes everything unreal.

Are we humans nothing more than physical beings? I say not. We are spirit, we are hopes and dreams, we are ideas; the "I" or "self" that each of us is encompasses the physical body and physical experience, but transcends it to be so much more (a key idea of one of my sociological idols,George Herbert Mead).

Some believe that such self can also transcend the death of the physical body. But you don't have to believe that to recognize that what makes us human goes far beyond mere matters of physical survival of individual corporeal beings. As humans we create families, communities, societies, nations, cultures, that last far beyond one frail human life-time.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

spay or neuter your pet and take in a stray today!!


Someone posed a question on one of my posts about Tabitha and the kittens (Tippy, Ty, Eli and Sammi). It was a very good question about why had my cat had kittens, and whether these kittens were going to keep on reproducing. Here's my response:

None of "my" cats have kittens, they are all neutered and spayed at six months or as soon as they come into my home if they are older. Tabitha was a stray that took up residence under my house during the very cold winter (through a hole that has since been blocked). I don't know who her putative owners were, but they were irresponsible, not only for not having her spayed, but also for not providing adequate shelter from winter weather.

For three months she lived under my house and was so scared that the minute the front door opened she disappeared under the house. I never got within 20 feet of her (and had no idea of her gender) from December through March; much less be able to capture her and engage in preventative medical intervention. Then one day, instead of running away she ran to me and rubbed all over me, wanting to be picked up. The reason was obvious -- she was hugely pregnant (nearly 50 days as it turned out).

The only choice (to me) was to take her in, and care for her and the kittens. There are no animal shelters of any kind in our county, and none in the region either public or Humane Society, that take cats. And only one distant one that takes dogs. I resent the fact that other people are not as responsible with their pets as my husband and I are. Eastern Kentucky has a huge cat and dog over-population problem. Not only do strays wander about, but even most cats and many dogs that have "owners" wander around lose, able (and of course willing) to reproduce at will.

There are good responsible people in my county, who not only take care of their own animals, but who also work hard to raise money and awareness. Efforts are underway to raise money to build a shelter in our county, but bad economic times make that difficult. In the meantime the only real alternative is to take care of strays oneself.

The medical care that we will provide for Tabitha and her kittens includes an appointment (made the day that the kittens were born) for Mama Tabitha to be spayed and the kittens to get their first shots. That will happen next week. The kittens will be spayed or neutered in five months time.

The kittens like Tabitha will become part of my household, bringing up to 11 the total cat population. They will have food and shelter, and good veterinary care for the rest of their lives. We had really hoped to allow our cat population to decline through natural attrition (old age). So that by the time I retired we would be catless. But fate sent Tabitha our way, and we could not turn our backs. Nor could we just keep putting out food and providing a sanctuary (under our house) for continued reproduction.

The compensation for acting responsibly is that for the first time in 13 years we get to enjoy the wonder and joy of kittens.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

white clouds of fragrance


Four weeks ago when I drove to Harlan for a faculty meeting, eastern Kentucky's roadsides were highlighted in the pale violets of redbud, lilac and wisteria. Yesterday, I made the same drive, this time to graduation, and was treated to forty miles of roadsides banked in garlands of fragrant white: blackberries and wild roses. These two climbing vines are found together everywhere, including my yard. (Blackberry vine above and wild roses below).

cafe Tabitha


At five and a half weeks, everyone is eating solid food, but still wants to have an afternoon "mom" snack. The line up is Ty, Eli, Sammi, and Tippy looking at the camera. Tippy is the best "bowl" eater so is least interested in chowing down on mom, but still likes to cuddle up for company.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"oil" spill closer to home

About three PM today, the maintenance and operations staff at Southeast noticed a slick of petroleum product floating down the North Fork of the Kentucky River through Whitesburg. An hour and a half later, I took these photos from the college's walking bridge over the river.

The spill had, by this time begun to collect in thicker pools along the edges of the river. Unfortunately, not far from where this was taken are several groups of ducklings, for the moment still on the bank, but unlikely to stay there.

This is an all too frequent occurance in Whitesburg, KY, where it seems like the water is undrinkable more than 10 times a year. This particular spill will probably be traced to a particular petroleum products wholesaler/retailer in the region. It's happened before and will happen again. Has nothing to do with drilling (whether off shore or on), but to faulty containment and storage in the post production and retail processing end of oil and fuel business.

Unfortunately the ill affects to humans and wildlife are just as bad. Petroleum products creates environmental problems not only in the original procurement, but at all stages in use of the resource.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

tiny drunken sailors


The kittens at four weeks old remind me of nothing less than a mob of tiny drunken sailors running and flopping around. They move amazingly fast despite their wobbliness.

Although we still don't know genders, I've gone ahead and given names that could apply regardless of gender.

Photo to the right is Tippecanoe (Tippy), Elie (with the tongue out), and Sammie walking away.




Photo on the left is Tyler Two (Ty) -- the shyest one of the bunch, but well fed!

Below and right are Ty, Sammie and Elie curled up for sleep.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

the lessons of the wisteria


The beautiful pale violet flowering vine above is wisteria (this one is along a neighbor's fence just before the turn off to our lane).

Wisteria is a plant that does not bloom until it reaches maturity (which can be a few years for the Kentucky Wisteria that I see all around me, or more than a decade for the Chinese variant). Even then wisteria does not always blossom until it has experienced some type of distress -- like blows, explosions, and fire damage to the main trunk, shock to the roots (like extended freeze/thaw cycles), or drought. Clearly something about the last year, especially this past winter, created exactly the right conditions for wisteria, because it is more abundant in eastern Kentucky than I have seen in 14 years I've lived here.

For the first time it is impossible to miss the wisteria on my drive to work. In addition to lanes of redbud and dogwood this spring, I pass a half dozen places where wisteria has taken over an entire hillside. In each case, in the center of the massive cascades of wisteria, are the collapsed, shattered, rotting remains of a house, often barely visible in the vegetation.

Wisteria is a very long lived plant, an invasive plant that climbs walls, covers buildings, chokes giant trees -- luckily its a relatively slow growing plant (unlike kudzu). Home owners fifty, sixty years ago or even longer, planted wisteria near their homes. The home owners are long since gone, the houses decayed into near oblivion, but the wisteria has thrived and taken over the entire former homestead, climbing 80 foot trees, cascading down hillsides creating magical, fairy bowers.

There is something inspiring about a plant that blooms its best when damaged and distressed, and which creates its most beautiful landscapes on the bones of abandoned homes.

Monet's 1925 painting Wisteria at Monetalia.



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