Saturday, November 30, 2013

The idiocy of rural life

So, I had one main project on my punch list for yesterday, which was to replace the battery in my tractor. Nothing is easy, of course. The nuts on the cable ends were rusted and one of the terminal clamps just broke in half when I tried to turn the nut. I somehow cut the back of my thumb and you would not believe how much blood came out of that tiny slice. I found  I couldn't cut off the old cable end with my lineman's pliers so I had to walk down to the barn for the bolt cutters. The new cable end had too big a clamp for the cable so I had to find a piece of copper to shim it with. The dealer didn't have the right battery in stock so we had to figure out a way to get the one he did have to fit in the hold-down bracket.

I could go on but you get the idea. It's always like that. Hofstadter's law: Everything takes longer than you expect, even after taking into account Hofstadter's law. This creates an infinite regress and proves that you can never accomplish anything, but as it turns out I did finally get the battery installed and the tractor started right up. This shows that what is logically impossible can happen anyway.

 But the background to this silly story is that on Wednesday, my mother fell in her bathroom and wound up with a compressed fracture of the L5 vertebra, along with awful looking bruises. This is the second time in about 18 months she's had a disastrous fall.  She lives about an hour away -- my sister is there now but she's going back home tomorrow morning. I'll go tomorrow and look in on her, but of course I have to go back to work on Monday. So, it's coming to some sort of a decision point. I don't know what we're going to do but whatever it is, she won't like it. I'll probably come to that point myself in 20 or 30 years. I may have to stop supplying myself with firewood and repairing my own tractor some time before that. Our reward for self-knowledge and intelligent understanding of the world is that we know the bad news about the human condition.

So be it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

About those white tails . . .

When I got home on Friday a doe was standing in the corner of my yard, by the edge of the woods. I've said before that they're getting much too tame. She just stood and looked at my car, and didn't move for a few seconds even after I got out. She finally bolted and to my astonishment six more patches of white exploded in the woods as her companions took off in various directions. I hadn't noticed any of them until they turned tail.

A couple of minutes later, they had reconvened and I saw them walking single file through the woods as they often do. So, I got to thinking. Why is a creature which is only prey and a threat to nothing but vegetation, which is otherwise well camouflaged, equipped with a conspicuous advertisement of its presence? For you city slickers, the white-tailed deer has a brown coat that fades into the background of fallen leaves and shrubbery. When there's a group of deer in the grove below my living room window, it can take several minutes before I manage to count them all, assuming I ever do.

But, the underside of their tails, which they usually carry raised so as to show it off, is a big patch of almost incandescent white. Now, this evolved before people were shooting at them with firearms, but as many a tragic story shows, hunters will fire when they see something white in the woods. I don't expect that people were shooting at them with arrows long enough to affect the evolution of their wardrobe either.

So, this signal evolved while they were being hunted by cougars and wolves. I suppose they were perfectly capable of spotting their prey even without the illuminated posterior, but still, what good does it do them? My guess is that the white tail helps them spot each other. It keeps the group together, helps the fawns and mothers keep track of each other, helps the followers stay behind the leader. The value of maintaining social cohesion outweighs a slightly greater chance of winding up as lunch.

Does anyone have a better idea?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Duh Sawx

You may be surprised to find me writing about sports but . . .

The news media around here lean toward New York, and yeah, I grew up with the Mets, but I lived in Boston for more than 20 years and was compelled to become a Sox fan. (Resistance is futile.) If there are any life lessons to be drawn from professional sports, well, this Red Sox season offers some. Last year was a disaster, with a self-adoring fool and mindless motormouth as manager, and a bunch of underachieving egomaniacal whiners conspiring to drive the team straight into the cellar.

So, management somehow hypnotized the Dodgers into taking the egomaniacal whiners and even paying their salaries; replaced them with some hardworking, underappreciated journeymen who were grateful for the chance (even as the sportswriters were skeptical of the signings); hired a grownup to be the manager; and kept all the good guys.

At least as far as anyone could tell from the public view, they all put the team first and worried only about winning. Nobody got busted for DUI, or domestic violence, or discharging a firearm in a nightclub, or performance enhancing drugs, or any of the typical sins of professional athletes. Away from the game, they just visited sick kids in the hospital and organized charity golf tournaments.

When the marathon bombing struck at the very heart of the city, they took it as their responsibility to rally the community, starting with David Ortiz's famous speech in which he used the famous expletive that the FCC allowed this time. And they played beautifully. Two gold gloves; a silver slugger for el Papi Enorme, el Papi Tremendo, el Papi de Máximo Tamaño, el Papi Largo y Anchoso, el Papi que Ocupe Mucho Espacio, el Papi Grande, Big Papi David Ortiz; Jacoby Ellsbury stole bases at will, they got key hits when they needed them up and down the lineup; they had the best starting rotation and the best bullpen in baseball. And of course they won the championship.

At the conclusion of the victory parade, they put the World Series trophy on the finish line of the marathon. It really meant a lot to the city and I think they accepted the responsibility with sincerity. So it probably does inspire kids and help produce civic unity and strengthen community and all that good stuff that sports are supposed to do but usually don't really. Oh yeah. They paid for their own stadium. 100 years ago.