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.