Monday, December 26, 2016

The wisdom of Solomon

I can't be too specific about the tale I am about to tell, because there is pending litigation and the parties are actually following social media to harvest evidence. They won't likely find this post because of no names but still . . .

A young relative of mine broke up with his girlfriend and became engaged to another woman. Four months later girlfriend A showed up six months pregnant. There is a hypothesis popular within the family that she got pregnant accidentally on purpose in order to hold on to young relative, but that seems inconsistent with the delay. Anyway, whatever the truth of that it turns out young relative wants the baby, but not girlfriend A. Interestingly, the fiancee also wants the baby.

While they wait for the judge to rule on final arrangements, they're swapping the baby back and forth every week, with extra special complications for the holidays. And young relative and his fiancee are talking really nasty trash about how their case is the only right one. The acrimony is thick and sour.

Now, looking at this from pretty much the outside, I'm thinking that the people involved are not noticing that they are punching groins and gouging eyes over a baby. When the day comes that she starts to understand what's going on, if her parents are still hating on each other and trying to pull her apart like a wishbone that's probably not going to be best for her. But Solomon's trick of proposing to split the baby won't work here, because all involved believe unflinchingly that they are fighting for her sake, not for their own, and they don't seem to realize that they are on the path of yes, splitting the baby.

In the old days, custody would pretty much go to the mother with few questions asked. That may have been wrong 45% of the time or whatever. But at least we had an answer, over and done. In fact the biggest challenge was getting Dad to pay child support and show up for graduation. I'm glad that my young relative is committed to fatherhood and wants to accept much more than his basic responsibility in this situation. I have to call that progress. But I sure hope everybody accepts the outcome graciously in the end.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


It always takes me a couple of weeks after the cold weather sets in to get over my impulse to hibernate and get my ass out of the house. But we don't often reflect on the way life changed in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

I heat my house with wood -- and so far there's been plenty of deadfall in the neighborhood, along with trees felled for other reasons, that I haven't had to kill anything just so I could burn it. It's quite a lot of work but it's good for me -- otherwise I suppose I could join my neighbor's gym in Norwich. But I have a log splitter, two chainsaws, a tractor and a pickup truck. So yeah, there's some fossil fuel in there but there's still a big energy return on investment. However, most people just turn a knob and presto, their house is warm. Of course they send a check every month for the privilege.

Also, I turn a knob and get water. I push a lever and my excrement disappears. I turn another knob and my food cooks. I flip a tiny lever and it's bright as day at night.

None of this was true for even the wealthiest people until a little more than 100 years ago. In winter, you were cold. With immense effort using handsaws and hammering steel wedges and loading horse-drawn wagons vigorous young men could lay in the 8 or 10 cords of wood or more they needed to keep one room of a drafty house reasonably warm all winter. When the sun went down people sat in the dark with maybe a couple of candles. You had to go outside to get water, and to relieve yourself. Alternatively you could use a container and carry it outside later.

This was everybody -- including the most prosperous farmers and merchants. This was how Thomas Jefferson lived. Of course he had slaves to do the firewood, but that didn't mean his bedroom wasn't cold in January. There is a great deal more that was very different. I don't think we allow our imaginations to encompass what an astonishing change in the condition of human existence has happened, certainly in the wealthiest parts of the world.

So now, think about the people who feel deprivation, who feel their life circumstances are bleak and who are deeply disappointed and anxious -- people right here in the U.S. who have jobs, who have average incomes of about $70,000 a year, who live in warm houses with indoor plumbing and electric lights. Those are Trump voters -- yes, they have average incomes higher than Clinton voters, higher than the general population. There were plenty of Trump yard signs out here and they weren't in the trailer parks. They were in front of big houses with expensively landscaped and beautifully kept grounds. Swimming pools. Outbuildings. And they feel oppressed.

Friday, November 25, 2016


My mother is 85. There's plenty of variation in how vigorous and healthy people are at that age, but she's not at the top of the distribution. She has a problem with feeling unsteady on her feet, that doctors have been unable to diagnose for years. This limits her physical activity and that's bad both physically and psychologically. She also complains of chronic malaise, insomnia, frequent urination. Basically she doesn't do anything. She's also increasingly having difficulty finding words and otherwise showing strange cognitive lapses.

The thing is, I'm the closest child, and I live an hour away. My brother is a 2 1/2 hour drive away and my sister lives in Manhattan and doesn't own a car, meaning she has to rent one to get to deepest Connecticut. My father died about 8 years ago, BTW, but he'd been in a nursing home before then so she's been living alone for quite a while. His terminal illness depleted all of their money so she has nothing but her teacher's pension, which is basically equal to social security.

She also has a reverse mortgage, which means that if we sell the house she won't have enough money to last very many years in assisted living. So she's sitting around in an early 19th Century farmhouse with five bedrooms, just her and the cat.

In the old days, the family would still have been nearby, if not in the same house, and my mother's later years would have been much more manageable and probably far less unhappy. But nowadays a lot of people are in our situation. I only live out here in the last quiet corner because it's the only place that's reasonably accessible to both my mother's house and Providence, which means I'm spending two hours commuting to work and back every day and then doing it in the opposite direction many weekends. It's really bad for my carbon footprint. But I have to keep working or I won't be able to take care of myself, let alone my mother.

A lot of relatively affluent people end up in this sort of quandary. In fact it's a risk factor, I expect. Being really wealthy fixes it, and being low income means your family is probably not so dispersed. Public  policy doesn't work properly here. Medicaid will pay for a nursing home, but not for long-term home care, even though it's cheaper. Here in Connecticut they have a hybrid policy whereby if you first go into a nursing home, you can then be returned to the community and get home based services. But my mother doesn't need institutional care, and in any case she'd have to sell the house meaning she'd wind up in some sort of a senior housing complex, which is not where she wants to be. And it would cost the state more in the long run. It's basically insane.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I'm back

Not sure why it's been so hard for me to keep up this diary. Of course I have my other two blogs and my gainful employment consists largely of writing, so maybe I just haven't had enough energy to channel into it. But I have decided that the discipline will be good for me.

So here's how things are here. It's been a mild autumn so far. That was supposed to change today with some nasty cold rain and wet snow, but it hasn't happened. It's actually been a very fine fall day, partly sunny, maybe a bit chilly but pretty normal for the time of year. We'll see if they're still wrong later in the day. Anyway, believe it or not, my parsley is still just fine and I'm still cutting fresh parsley for my dinners. Maybe today is the last chance, so I think I'll make some stuffed shells and use up what I can. There's severe drought to the north and west of us, but actually right here we've had a rain deficit over the year but nothing you would notice. The corn crop, which is not irrigated, was excellent.

Now, there are bigger things going on in the world right now than the weather in Windham County. We're all trying to figure out what just happened and what will happen in the coming years. The feeling that we are about to lose a century of progress hangs over many of us. I don't think that will happen. It's one thing to whip up a frenzy at neo-fascist rallies with threats, insults and lies; it's quite another thing to govern. What little in the way of actual policy content there was in the Trump campaign was ridiculous. No, there will not be a twenty foot wall the length of the Mexican border. No, the coal mining jobs will not come back to Appalachia and the factories won't come back to Youngstown. He won't lock Hillary up (not that I understand why his fans wanted that) and as for repealing Obamacare, the Republicans in congress are suddenly realizing that actually being able to do it puts them in a very awkward position. Paul Ryan wants to phase out Medicare but the only constituency for that is a few extremist ideologues and rich people who don't want to pay taxes.

What the Trump presidency will be is a grift. He'll use it to steal everything he can as quickly as he can, and his justice department will step aside. Sooner or later the people will have to notice that whatever he meant by making America great again isn't happening, they're still living on hay, and he's sucking up the gravy. I look forward to that day.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Plague of Our Own Making

Yes, sorry for the carbon footprint, I sort of got stuck into this situation, but I drive into Providence most workdays on Route 6. The road passes through woods in Foster and Scituate. The last couple of days I said to myself, "Holy shit, the trees are all dead!" I thought it was a sign of the apocalypse -- I'm talking miles of leafless oaks and maples.

It turns out they aren't dead, they've been defoliated by the gypsy moth caterpillar. I didn't grok it at first because my part of Windham County has been spared. The trees can come back, although a second defoliation can do them in. So the woods aren't doomed, but this is a really disgusting situation for homeowners. Caterpillar shit literally falls like rain.

The gypsy moth was introduced to North America by a clown who thought he could start a silk industry with them. He claimed some sort of affiliation with Tufts University, actually, which is shameful to me since I have studied and taught there. Anyway, they're on a level with kudzu as noxious invasive species go. Here's a fun portfolio of houses that have been completely devoured by the weed from hell. 

Of course, Europeans are a noxious invasive -- well, not species, but culture -- here in the Americas. Just by way of analogy.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Nature red in tooth and claw

I was outside this morning cutting up brush for kindling. Not the most interesting task, but now is the time to get ready for the fall.

The woods are full of bird calls right now, but suddenly a new sound took the foreground, a repeated sort of shriek -- chee, chee, chee, chee . . . I was puzzled for a few moments, then a hawk flew across my clearing with a smaller bird in its talons. The victim was doing the squealing. The hawk flew into the woods uphill from me and after another 30 seconds or so, the sound stopped.

This shouldn't be disturbing. It's how the world works. If finches were never breakfast, there would be no hawks -- and there would be too many finches, until the population crashed. Still, we humans have an overdeveloped empathic capacity. That often distorts our thinking. The moral realm of human relations is not the moral realm of an ecosystem. On the other hand we are part of ecosystems, although most of us usually forget that.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Couldn't go to work today . . .

. . . and waste the perfect weekend for getting my springtime chores done. This morning I sunk the fenceposts for my vegetable garden, which is actually a fairly substantial bit of earthwork. I have to fence to keep the deer out, and they'll knock over T-post if it isn't set deep. I'll get the fencing up on Sunday, probably, I still need to get equipment in there easily. I'm also going to plant some flats this weekend -- peppers, tomatoes, the usual. And yeah, lay in firewood for next fall. Now is the time.

I can hear a tractor working the cornfield down the street, I assume spreading manure  at this date. The meadow is full of wildflowers -- blue, white and yellow. The birds are positively symphonic. After a mild winter, the squirrels are positively obese. It's disgusting. Some of the birches are starting to leaf out, as are my fruit trees.

The downer is, we don't know what changes are going to come. Will the birds move north? Will the forest regime change? What will happen to the rain, and the winter snow cover? (There was none this winter, just a few days with a few inches on the ground, that just melted away. Last winter, we had record snowfall. Who knows what to expect?)

We had a single, three day cold snap, with two nights in February that were cold enough to set back the woolly adelgids, or so I am hoping. So far the hemlocks look okay but we'll see. Anyway, it's getting warmer.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Growing Season Officially Begins

Actually it could have started a bit sooner but I didn't get a chance. This morning I planted onion sets, and peas go in this afternoon.

I dug in a lot of loam to get a good soil for root crops, and I have room left for carrots. (My garlic, of course, was already in last fall.) There is actually no frost in the forecast, but it would be foolish to set out any non-hardy plants for at least a couple of weeks. I will however get my tomatoes and peppers going in the greenhouse. This definitely feels good.

If I wanted to clear some land, I could potentially cultivate 8 or 9 acres here, which is enough for a high intensity organic farmer to make a living -- if you really know what you're doing and are willing to bust your ass 7 days a week. My friends who I'll call Festus and Rosita have been doing it for 15 years on less land than that. They plot out every move -- intercropping and succession and fallowing -- to keep the pests at bay and get the most out of every square foot. They have year-round yield with greens under glass and they have mushroom logs in the woods. Not to mention fruit trees, beehives. Then there's processing and marketing.

Festus told me once that he suddenly realized he hadn't left the property for a month. (His father does most of the trucking and selling.) Oh yeah -- he built the house and outbuildings with his own hands. He spends hours every week maintaining equipment. They weed by hand. It's as hard a job as there could possibly be. But that's what they want to do.

The resemblance to what they call the "farms" that put most of the food into your supermarket is pretty much non-existent.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Family Values

I don't exactly know the explanation for some of the differences in regional cultural tendencies. But even the churches are different, at least here in the northeast. When I lived in Boston, and when I was a community organizer in Philadelphia, preachers generally were on the progressive side of politics. Of course some of the Black churches were socially conservative, but the big ones were generally progressive, and I think that has generally changed anyway. A lot of church basements housed the offices of progressive organizations, and churches provided the meeting space for anti-war and social justice movement events. I realize this is a regional reality, those southern and Midwestern megachurches are a different story.

As a matter of fact my uncle was an Episcopal pastor. We attended his church, and my mother taught Sunday school. I even got a bunch of Sunday school perfect attendance pins, which were pretty nice, with gold plating and blue enamel. (Wish I still had them.) My uncle denounced the Vietnam war from the pulpit. So even though atheism hit me like a diamond bullet right between the eyes when I was 14, my impression of Christianity was that it had something to do with the Jesus of the Gospels, until the Christian right emerged on the scene in the 1980s. What woodwork did those people come out of, I wondered?

Well, the rural churches in the northeast, it turns out, are more like churches in the south and midwest. I don't know the explanation for the rural vs. urban cultural divide either, but out here it's Glenn Beckistan. Fortunately there isn't much population so their votes don't add up to much, but still.

So I read with considerable interest Josh Marshall's recollection of how Dennis Hastert became Speaker of the House. As you may be old enough to remember, in 1998 the Republicans impeached president Clinton, though the Senate failed to remove him from office, over a consensual adulterous affair with an adult. Yeah, she was a White House intern, so it was fairly skeevy, but on the other hand she initiated it.

The story Marshall tells is actually kind of incredible. I've never seen anybody put it together the way he does. Remember that Speaker Gingrich thought the threatened impeachment would be popular with voters, but in fact Democrats picked up seats in the mid-term, leading to Gingrich's resignation. But it turned out later that while Gingrich was moving to impeach the president, he was carrying on an adulterous affair with a staffer in his office, some 20 years his junior.

So the House Republican Conference nominated Bob Livingston to succeed Gingrich. But then Larry Flynt, the porno magnate, announced he was working on a story about Livingston's adulterous affairs So Livingston Livingston resigned from the House and David Vitter took his seat. In 2007, we found out that the whole time, Vitter was a regular customer of a prostitution ring.

Hastert became Speaker as a colorless, non-controversial compromise candidate. But now we learn that he had a very dark secret in his past, as a serial sexual abuser of boys in his charge as a teacher and wrestling coach. Remember Sen. Larry Craig? And so many others?

Whenever a sex scandal breaks about a politician, you can make money betting that it's a "family values" "Christian" "conservative" before you even learn the name. Yeah, there was Clinton (who we really knew about all along) and Elliot Spitzer, but you would win by far the majority of your bets.

Now that they are busy passing bills allowing discrimination against gay and transgendered people, you have to wonder about the people who are sponsoring and voting for those bills. Just sayin'.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Ravages of age?

Hopefully not. Yesterday I went through the annual wrestling match with my loader, getting it back on the tractor. I left the snowplow on until then in order to prevent it from snowing, successfully. According to the manual, attaching the loader is easy, but they are of course lying.

Anyway, the project involves a lot of heavy lifting and today, I am as stiff and sore as I used to be after the first day of wrestling practice. My problem is that I'm trying to hold down a desk job, with a long commute attached, while being a farmer and a lumberjack on the weekend. The human body is meant to be in one mode or the other, I think.

The 21st Century has achieved a milestone. The majority of humans now live in cities. I just supervised an MPH thesis by an immigrant from west Africa who did a health needs assessment of the African immigrant community in her city. It included a survey. It shouldn't surprise you that most of her respondents said that it was harder to get exercise here than it was in the old country, where exercising was just part of everyday life. Now they have to go out of your way, and probably spend money, in order to be physically active.

There is a lot about city life that I miss, but let's face it. City life ain't natural. It's astonishing how adaptable we humans are, but maybe we need to find a way to live in the post-industrial age that's more like what we're built for.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Welcome to the tropics

On Tuesday, the high temperature at Bradley International Airport was 81 degrees F. That broke the previous high temperature record for the date by 9 degrees. It was the earliest 80+ degree reading there ever, and is the normal high temperature for June 21. It is also 36 degrees above the normal high temperature for the date. The following day also set a high temperature record.

If the temperature on June 21 this year is 36 degrees above normal, it will be 117 degrees. I'm not expecting that, just sayin'. Since Wednesday, the temperatures have remained well above normal. It's been shirtsleeve weather, although it is still officially winter. I even thought about planting onion sets this weekend, then I had to get a grip. There's no reason not to wait until April, and the weather might turn normal before then. I'm also contemplating whether to take the snowplow off my tractor, because I could certainly use the loader. But I decided to leave it on in order to prevent any substantial snowfall.

What this means for the future I'm not sure, but for the present it's a real pain. If my fruit trees flower they are likely to get frosted and I'll lose my crop. That happened a few years ago. If it becomes a common occurrence there's a whole New England industry in big trouble. There's no telling when to plant cool weather crops like lettuce and peas. Until things settle down to some sort of predictability it's going to be at best highly disconcerting.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Choir practice

I don't usually sleep through the night, so I have benefited from free concerts at around 4:00 am. That's when the coyotes generally perform. They have a much greater variety of compositions than domestic dogs -- as far as I can tell so far the possibilities are infinite. They do duets as well as solos, and sometimes they do a conversation with others in the distance.

The sounds are often eerie, sometimes rhythmic and sometimes lyric. But why are they doing this? Are they talking with each other, or for some reason announcing themselves? And why in the middle of the night?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Miracles of modern technology

In case I haven't mentioned it, I live out here amongst the idiocy of rural life*, but I work in the city, in Providence specifically. They make me park about six miles from my office which gives me a couple of nice walks each day. My path takes me through a whole lot of vacant land resulting from the relocation of a stretch of interstate highway, which has been gradually undergoing transformation.

The latest project is what I believe to be a new electrical substation. For some reason it has to be on piles, a lot of them. Watching this procedure has been fabulous entertainment. First a big crane, a really humongous auger, and the pile driver, in pieces, showed up about 400 yards away from the site. They set up the pile driver over a period of a few days, attaching and raising the boom and then attaching the driving apparatus. They flew the flag of the company from the top of the boom, which is a good 40 feet high, I would say. The body of the machine is on tank tracks and obviously has to weigh mass quantities of tons in order to counterweight the boom.

After mucking around the site with backhoes and loaders for a week or so, they finally drove the big boys over there. The piles arrived on flat bed trucks, I'd guess 25 foot long  slabs of reinforced concrete. The crane was for getting them off the truck -- it turns out the pile driver does its own hoisting.

First they drill holes in the ground with the augur. The pile driver has two cables running from the top of the boom which get attached to u-bolts in the pile, one near the top and the other just above the center. Then the operator hauls the pile toward the vertical, runs the driving apparatus up the boom,  and maneuvers the top of the pile into a box in the apparatus, which is an astonishingly deft feat. Rather scarily, men on the ground then push the bottom of the pile -- it's obviously perfectly balanced on the lower u-bolt -- into a fitting that holds it in place. The machine then crawls to position the pile over the appropriate augur hole and starts pounding. In the old days they worked by repeatedly dropping a weight on the top of the pile -- you probably have an image of those big weights going up and down -- but now it uses a hydraulic ram.

This machine has got to cost half a million bucks. It's not what we think of as high tech but in fact it's the culmination of probably centuries of development, since the steam engine first came into use. I haven't researched the history but obviously there has been continual refinement of materials and machinery. The kind of construction that's happening by my daily walk would not have been possible 100 years ago and probably would not have been an economically viable choice until the postwar years. What we have now is an incremental improvement since then, as far as I know, but still, this is an astonishing capability that humans have given themselves, to pound 25 feet of reinforced concrete into the ground in about 20 minutes.

I got to observe all the stages of the operation on a day when my power at home had been knocked out by a windstorm. It happens a lot here, since the power lines run through the woods, so I get to think about our state of interdependence quite a lot. When you think about it, if you were to pull one thread from the fabric of civilization, you could get the whole thing to unravel. It's astonishing that it doesn't happen, actually.

Sunday, February 14, 2016


I was plowing my driveway the other day. As I came around a bend, I saw a big coyote running through the woods along the hillside above me. It was evidently following a scent, direct and determined, and it paid no attention to me and my tractor. The six inches of snow on the ground meant nothing to it. It turned down the hill and ran right in front of me, maybe 20 yards away, and headed off to the south.

My neighbor has a little dog who roams. She comes by my place pretty often. So I sent my neighbor an e-mail mentioning the coyote. He didn't respond, so I don't know if he was grateful for the tip or if he was resentful because he thought I was criticizing his dog parenting style.

Anyway, last night the temperature hit 11 below Fahrenheit and right now, at 10:00 am, it's still below zero. I could barely keep the house livable. So it's kind of amazing that the critters can make it through this weather but obviously they can. Sometimes it just gets this cold. They don't get the weather forecast so they can't prepare ahead of time. I imagine the coyotes have a den somewhere and can huddle together, but I do wonder about the deer.

Anyway, I have to step outside now to grab some firewood. I expect I'll survive.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

It's not as if they can "predict" the weather

Actually they usually do a pretty good job of late but not this time. A snowstorm that was supposed to blow harmlessly out to sea wound up dumping 10" of wet, sticky glue on Friday. The scene was surreal. The shit piled up on the tree branches until I just heard the sound of breaking wood all around me in the forest.

Since I didn't have warning, I hadn't put the snowplow on my tractor so I had to wrestle with it with my feet deep in slop and sleet falling soaking my jacket. Naturally the plow didn't want to seat properly on the apparatus so I spent half an hour pounding on it with a BFH* until I finally got it to lock on. Then when I did go to plow the snow was so gluey it  just stuck to the blade and wouldn't dump. I had to keep pushing plow loads to the side, the job took me an hour and a half and the driveway is still kind of a mess, though passable. The beech trees were all hanging over the middle of the road so they dumped their load on me as I passed underneath, and it went right down the back of my neck.

Oh yeah, among the innumerable limbs that came down in my driveway was one huge piece of oak that I couldn't move by hand. And neither of my chainsaws would start, for some reason. I did finally manage to push it out of the way with the tractor but I couldn't get it far enough off the road to get the brush out of the way so I had to cut the small stuff apart with loppers.

I should also mention that of course, the power went out. Actually according to the electric company's web site, 100% of the town was blacked out, which is no surprise since all the lines run under trees and the trees were raining branches.  I didn't really eat dinner and I just had to spend the evening reading by flashlight. The power came back on at about 4:30 am, so I do give them credit for working through the night.

The good news is that I had a deadline at work on Friday, and it so happens I completed it on Thursday, fully expecting to come in the next day. Which obviously I did not. But I have today to rest my back.

*That's a Big Fucking Hammer, as every carpenter and mechanic knows. The solution to many a problem.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Un-Winter

After the last couple of winters, I guess we deserve it, but it's still a bit unnerving. While folks to our south had a pretty serious snowstorm last weekend, we only got 6 inches and that's the only plowable snow we've had all winter. We haven't had any unusually cold weather -- seasonal normal is the coldest it's been -- and mostly we've been weirdly warm.

For me this means I can do activities that are usually shut down in mid-winter. With no snow on the ground, I've kept on processing firewood. I'm planning to spread some compost on the garden and the ground may even thaw enough this week for me to do some landscaping.

There is a lesson here about us blinkered creatures, however. As much as I welcome the relief from winter, I know it's bad news in the long run. The hemlock trees will die if there isn't any deep cold to kill the woolly adelgids. Other exotic pests and invasive plants will multiply as well. Change isn't necessarily bad but if it comes too fast the individual species and the ecosystem as a whole can't adapt. There's no telling what's going to happen exactly but you can't help but worry. And yet a part of me keeps rooting for mild weather. This probably helps explain the political paralysis over the crisis.

Oh well.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tried a different way of doing things . . .

I have always plowed my driveway with my compact tractor. That has meant removing the loader before the first snowfall and installing the plow. That's not too hard, but getting the loader back on in the spring is a hassle and meanwhile I don't have the use of the loader. Even worse is that the tractor-plow setup just can't handle a very deep snowfall, and we had a lot of those the past two winters.

Last winter I ended up having to hire a neighbor to clear out the driveway once the snowbanks on either side got too high for my little tractor to break. He has a tracked skid loader, and he wound up giving me a boulevard as wide as the Champs Elysee in about 90 minutes of work. So I figured, what the heck, maybe I can clear the driveway with the loader.

Here we didn't get the world historic gotterdamerung experienced by our federal capital. The six inches or so we did get seemed ideal for trying my experiment.

The answer is, you can do it, but it's tedious. You have to keep going back and forth, scooping up snow and dumping it. And the result is kind of uneven. It's hard to get the loader positioned correctly to pick up the snow close to the ground, without digging into the surface, so I ended up with patchy areas of remaining snow and skinned ground. Deeper snow would be much more tedious, of course, because I'd have to dump the bucket much more often.

So, I'm calling this a failure. A kid loader would work better because it automatically aligns the bucket to horizontal, which I have to do by hand. Maybe with practice I'd get better. My neighbor's machine has tracks, which would help a lot in deep snow, and a larger capacity. So, I think I'll invest in a plow truck.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Abnormal Psychology

Since I'm sure everyone who reads this is a football fan, you already know that the New England Patriots won their playoff game yesterday and will travel to Denver for the conference championship on Sunday. A major contribution to the victory came from future hall of fame tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is a fan favorite not only because of his freakish athleticism, but also because of his amiable, slightly goofy persona.

What no-one associated with the Patriots will ever talk about -- and if you ask, they'll pretend not to hear the question -- is that Gronk was once one of a pair of bookends. His opposite number at the position was almost equally big, strong, fast and skilled Aaron Hernandez, and when both of them were on the field no defense in the NFL could match up.

That the Pats managed to survive an $8 million a year hit to the salary cap while said Mr. Hernandez was residing in the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, a maximum security prison. He will only emerge feet first, which means that as a young man he will experience maybe 60 years of timeless existence in which the days of the week and seasons of the year are unmarked. This is because he murdered a man named Odin Lloyd, the fiancee of his girlfriend's sister. By his girlfriend I mean the mother of his baby, who lived in his house.

One would think that someone like Lloyd, virtually a member of the family, would get some consideration. But apparently he did something that Hernandez perceived as a slight, although the prosecutors never did establish a motive. It seemed to have something to do with an incident in a bar a couple of nights previously -- Lloyd was talking with the wrong people or something like that.

It wasn't what one would call the perfect crime. Hernandez rented a car -- something he apparently liked to do although he could have afforded anything he wanted -- and called up a couple of his friends from his hometown of Bristol, Connecticut. Small time hoodlums, car thief-drug dealer type guys. They picked up Lloyd, and drove him to an industrial park near Hernandez's house, their location revealed on his cell phone GPS throughout the journey. Then Hernandez shot Lloyd 6 times, the shots heard by security guards.

It's amazing how strong the code of Omerta was with this group. The accomplices obviously had every reason in the world to flip, but they didn't. They'll go on trial later this year. Hernandez had his girlfriend dispose of the murder weapon. Compelled to testify, she claimed she didn't know what was in the box and couldn't remember what she did with it. This despite that she won't see a dime of his money once it's gone to lawyers and lawsuits.

Speculation is that the motive may have concerned Lloyd speaking indiscreetly about a double murder the year before, for which Hernandez will go on trial in a couple of months. Since they prosecutors already have him on ice, they apparently just want to close the case convincingly for the sake of the survivors. The allegation is that a guy spilled a drink on Hernandez in a bar. He considered the apology insufficient, so he followed the guy out, pulled up to his car at a red light, and fired into the vehicle killing two total strangers and injuring two others. Assuming this story is true, does that seem like an overreaction?

The human brain is an extraordinarily complicated machine. A little bit of miswiring can have very strange results. If you were rich and famous, with the chance to get a whole lot richer in the coming years, would you go around murdering both strangers and friends for no particular reason? I didn't think so. Now, he may have been bumped on the head a few too many times in his professional endeavors. It is also alleged that he was a dust head, i.e. a smoker of phencylidine which for some unknown reason is abbreviated PCP. That can drive people nuts. However, research finds that PCP is not strongly associated with violence -- reports of violent acts are largely limited to people with a pre-existing tendency to violence. Since Hernandez also shot a guy in the face while he was at the University of Florida that would seem to apply. (The guy refused to press charges, probably because the incident had to do with drug dealing.)

It seems Hernandez never left behind the small time criminal milieu he grew up in, and that his self image as a strong and manly man was insufficiently served even by being a star in the National Football League. How sad is that?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mid Non-Winter Musings

Well, despite some normally cold temperatures as I alluded to last time, winter as we know it has yet to show up. Today is a rainy day, and we've had no snow to speak of at all. I'm sure it will happen eventually but it's not yet in the forecast.

So I've been working on getting my mother set up with benefits and services she will need in order to either stay in her house, or if that really isn't feasible relocate and somehow afford assisted living. She had savings at one time but they evaporated during my father's long final illness. The state takes everything, as you probably know, before they'll start paying.

My mother still does have her house and some valuable possessions, so despite the reverse mortgage she could cash out with enough to get her into some sort of an acceptable setting, I think. But what about the many people who don't even have that? Growing old in poverty must be really awful. And of course it makes me worry a bit about myself, even though I am still working and saving and do own my home. But looking at the situation now from my family's experience, I realize that you really have to be wealthy to feel secure.

It's no wonder that people are anxious nowadays. We're all expecting to live for a long time and we haven't organized society to make that work for most folks. We seem to be the denial champions here in the U.S.A.

Saturday, January 2, 2016


We're finally heading into some cold weather -- Monday and Tuesday are predicted not to get above freezing, although it will apparently be only a brief shot of frigidity. I've pretty much forgotten what it's like, having to get up in the middle of the night to stoke the stove and make sure it's going before I leave for work. Then when I get home at night the fire has burned out and the house is chilly. It takes a half hour or so for the stove to really get working.

Normal people nowadays keep their houses at 72 degrees even when nobody is there. Even the very progressive folks who turn the thermostat down when they aren't around don't turn it down very much because they can't stand to wait for the house to get warm again. If you think about it, that seems awfully wasteful. After all, we can stand to be outside with our coats on, so we can probably stand to be in a 55 degree house for 30 minutes. Before the days of central heating, the bedrooms were quite chilly and the temperature in the house would go up and down depending on when the fire got stoked. The Indians only had one room but I imagine it was pretty chilly in winter pretty much all the time. People lived that way here for thousands of years. Maybe we should be a little more tolerant of the cold.