Thursday, June 30, 2005

Rove's comments

Rove certainly paints with a wide brush, doesn't he? I can name exceptions to his description off the top of my head, no problem (Lieberman being a famous counterexample). Unfortunately, I can also name people and groups for whom his description is dead on: Pelosi, McKinney, the IPS . . .

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Life at the Bottom, the Worldview that make the Underclass by Theodore Dalrymple

Dr Daylrymple served for years in "inner city" London, and wrote these essays over the years about the horrors he saw, and the reason for the horrors--a deadly sickness of the soul. Why does a girl shack up with a succession of men she knows will beat her? One such asked the doctor for advice, and he offered to--provided she let him veto potential boyfriends. She laughed--they both knew how easy it was to identify unsuitable men, with their violent messages literally tattooed on them--but she'd ignored it before, and she ignored it still.

Once the underclass had some pride, had some rules, took care of their own. This isn't rose-colored history, but a matter of record. Now in the name of charity they are pushed into idleness; in the name of social justice they are given irresponsibility; in the name of sensitive education they are left to ignorance and illiteracy; in the name of liberty encouraged in sexual license and to ignore family; and enticed by the endless glamour of the ads to feel that pleasure is their birthright.

One third of the population of Britain lives in this hell. They've no skills (amazingly few even know how to cook anymore), they're perpetually aggrieved, and they have no sense of family obligations--the government takes care of children, right? The dole provides a bigger house than their ancestors dreamed of, but the lives inside are hideous.

And so Brittish society reverses H.G. Wells' vision from The Time Machine--the idle, carefree ones become the Morlocks.

Read the book. The same forces are at work in our country too. And yes, Dr. Dalrymple is a very good writer.

Shame the Devil by Alan Jacobs

Someone recommended the author, and I requested a random book from the library. It turned out to be a collection of essays, mostly about writers: from Auden to Pullman. The Nigerian Wole Soyinka seems to have "sold his birthright for a pot of message," as was so aptly said of H.G. Wells. Auden he shows to be misunderstood: Auden changed when he became a Christian, but the romantic revolutionary sorts prefer to ignore that and focus on his early "poet as prophet" work. Jacobs (and apparently the later Auden) destests the dishonesty of this apotheosis of the artist, and "Tell truth, and shame the devil" is the theme of this book, which also looks at Solzhenitsyn, Camus, and others.

Jacobs slices and dices Pullman, whose dishonesty destroyed his craft. (I can't believe they made a play of his trilogy.)

He ends the book with a long series on his experiences trying to use Linux, and his musings on how much our technologies shape us when we don't look at them clearly. Trying new tools sometimes gives us a new perspective, even if we wind up going back to the old tools.

Interesting; good writing; probably not to everyone's taste.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

25 Years

We celebrated our 25'th wedding anniversary yesterday. "Celebrated" may seen rather a strong word for what we did, I suppose. Between budget and time constraints and doctor visits, we kept things pretty low key. A large part of the day my better half spent taking her mother for radiation treatment for the tumor in her arm. Mysterious problems (some computer-related) kept them waiting for hours--not a good thing for a wheel-chair bound woman with terrible pain in her arm. And the youngest daughter had to go to and from summer school. And, of course, there's all her mother's mail and bills to take care of while her mother is in hospice. So my wife had neither the energy nor the mood for a big party; and since we knew it was going to be that way so we didn't plan one.

Although country music isn't popular around our house, there's a line from a song by Kristofferson that's stuck with me: "Loving her was easier than anything I'll ever do again." And so it has been with me. Waking up in the morning to find her there is always a joyful surprise. And then there are the myriad things she does to care for us: to cook, smile, run forgotten lunches to school, be there, try to keep things organized, listen, and love us. . . As for me, I'm often forgetful or selfish, with a tendency to leave projects unfinished. For the honor of truth I have to say she isn't perfect; but in comparison with all that she does for us, who notices?

We started with 2 years together with me as a grad student, part of the time with me a hundred miles away working on our experiment. Then came our first child (I had pneumonia, she had a C-section--we were pretty tired for a while). Two years later our second, and then a move to Madison. We weren't fortunate in our bus service location, and it took me a while to figure out that my boss wasn't a good detail man, and assigned more projects than a human could work on; so I was at work a lot. We had to up stakes again and go back to Illinois to work on CDF. We lucked out: we were expecting, but only had 2 kids running around, so we could actually rent an apartment. Most places wouldn't accept families with 3 kids. And it proved a blessing for my mother-in-law, because my father-in-law was dying of Alzheimer's-like dementia, and she needed someone nearby to fall back on.

After a year, a new daughter, a new boss and back to Madison, where we lived in an apartment complex of about 60 units. We and the next door neighbors were the only families with all-original parents and kids; everybody else was in blenderized families. So while I did the 9 to 5 thing, my lovely bride helped organize ministry activities for the neighborhood kids. It wasn't usually a dangerous neighborhood.

The birth of our youngest daughter took a lot out of the starch out of my bride, and the youngest son took even more. She took the brunt of the work with our kids, and I sort of helped around the edges.

Thanks to a gift from my mother-in-law, we moved to a house of our own in Sun Prairie, and my better half could have a garden. Or two. Or three. And I've lived there now longer than any other place in my life. And children are now going to college, some leaving home, getting ready to get married--and some are going to still be around for at least another 7 or 8 years.

We've been through a lot together in the family: Alzheimers, depression, autism, ADD (how I wish that was the bogus illness some people claim!), cancer, and all the various other surprises and illnesses and 10-year-old cars and self-repaired washing machines that come with the territory. And we've been trhough birthdays and homeschool and camping and public school and parties and homework and exploring in the park and just being there as we all grow together.

And I wouldn't trade being a part of all our lives for anything. There's lots of things I'd do differently if I had to do them over, and I'd not wish the pains we've suffered on anyone; but if I knew then what I know now, I'd still look at her and say "I do."

I'm overjoyed and proud to be part of the family with my wife and our kids (and parents and sisters and inlaws).

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Pirates of Penzance

The Savoyards are putting on Pirates this year. Wish I could sing well enough to join in. (Wish I had time to go to rehearsals!)

So I and eldest son took a shift at the Farmer's Market to hand out fliers about the upcoming show. I noticed that most of the folks who took fliers were older, though there was a young woman with a very young son who had just learned "I am the very model of a modern major general." He was a bit shy, so I sang a bit of it for him.

We were next to a support-the-UN booth. One fellow came by and sat down and tied up the lady there with an hour-long almost-monologue. Preaching to the choir is pleasant, but it didn't attract much business to the table. The fellow was mostly sensible: waste is bad, carrots work better than sticks, etc; but he suffered from a few of the usual delusions: people can "evolve" into better natures, people want the same sorts of things from governments, and people unite against a common enemy. (Doesn't anybody read history anymore?) He cut them a check, so I suppose they were happy.

About 9:30 the "edible art" booth opened, and kids were stringing carrot pieces, cherry tomatoes, and other items on wires for bracelets and necklaces. A fiddle/banjo/guitar began enthusiastic renditions of things like "If you ain't got that dough-re-mi," and off in the distance a bagpipe player started up. It was a lot more cheerful than 8:00 when the thin fellow wandered about with a notebook solemnly intoning some kind of "peace liturgy" for one country after another--though I couldn't make out who, if anybody, he was praying to.

There must have been half a dozen people stop by who had played in Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the recent past. The mayor came by, a former state congressman, young couples, old couples--the Farmer's Market is something of an event in town.

If you're in Madison, go by the Farmer's Market. And if you're going to be in Madison in mid-July, why not go see Pirates?

Friday, June 10, 2005

Titan Arum Number 3

It bloomed last night, so I only got a minor whiff when I went by this morning. Ann Althouse is correct; the smell is rather like a dead mouse in the wall behind the bed. This time they had another pot with a Titan Arum "leaf." The leaf looks just like a tree, until you look closely and see that the stalk and stem aren't made of wood, but of curled-up leaf material.

The docent explained that the blooms in the wild got much bigger, and I'd guess that they stink more in the wild too. I wonder if we treat them too nicely, so they grow quickly and bloom soon. Maybe if they have to spend a longer time filling up their storage, they store more?

There was a third pot with a "small" (14") shoot. They'll find out in a few more weeks whether this is going to be a leaf or a flower.

I wonder how they measure (or if they measure) the size of the storage root. Xrays would be a bit tough, since they'd have to go through so much dirt. Poking and prodding would need to be done very carefully. Ultrasound would be OK if the soil were saturated with water, but I don't know if the plant likes to live in saturated soil. I'll have to mosey by again and ask.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Singing Tree

In a valley on the Russian Front, 1916, a single apple tree survived the carnage of war. Hungarian soldiers groping their way through the rubble in the dark saw the tree in the first light of dawn, still green, standing next to what used to be a cottage. As the light grew, suddenly a chorus of bird song swelled from the tree. Owls, crows, sparrows, finches, swallows, doves, all sheltered in the tree, and for a brief moment forgot their fear of each other.

This scene comes from Kate Seredy's The Singing Tree, published in 1939. It's the sequel to The Good Master, which describes her childhood on her uncle's farm in the Hungarian Plains. In The Good Master, Uncle Marton takes in the screeching, bratty Kate and teaches her to behave, ride a horse, take care of the chickens, and become a delightful, if still impish, human being. In The Singing Tree, Uncle Marton and Kate's father are drafted into military service, leaving Uncle Marton's 14 year old son Jansci in charge of the farm. By war's end, the family has taken in 6 Russian POWs assigned to work on their farm, six German children from bombed out cities, grandparents, a neighbor and her baby and another neighbor and her mother. The Russian's refrain: "Russko, Magyarsko, li'l German, all same!"

But people are not all the same. The world is full of those who "hate instruction, and cast (God's) word behind them...who give their mouths to evil, whose tongues frame deceit, who sit and speak against their brother..." Psalm 50. The end of the book expresses hope, at war's end, for peace, as the village celebrates the "words of the American president" and hopes for healing and a return to their innocence. We know from history that these hopes were dashed. The gentle, generous Jewish storekeeper's son would probably disappear at Dachau. The Russian POWs would go home to Lenin and Stalin, and would probably starve during the collectivizations. The little German boy, whose mother thanked God that her son learned, in Hungary, not to hate--would he grow up to be a Nazi? or a member of the resistance? or an exile who saw the hate coming and got out of the way? And of course Jansci, at age 43, would find his farm and his homeland swallowed up by the Red Army. The next generation of evil would unleash its demons on Europe and the rest of the world while the ink was still wet on the first editions of "The Singing Tree."

I reread these two books because I have assigned them to #3 daughter, who is working her way across Europe in geography. They were especially jarring to me because I got an email from someone about a sergeant who came home from a hard year in Iraq to find his wife had cleaned out the furniture and dumped him for another guy.

Our troops are the front line against the jihadis, a culture willing to destroy everything good in the name of their cause. A number of the "suicide bombers" are actually developmentally disabled people told to drive a truck and park it; the bombs are dentonated by remote control. The same people who scream about "defiling" the Koran blow up fellow Muslims in their mosques. They bomb places where children gather. They murder dozens at funerals. In Iraq we are fighting a culture of death and murder. The sergeant had to kill some terrorists. He had to take a stand against evil, and he did what had to be done.

"War is so terrible, who would want it?" asks Seredy in "The Singing Tree." Answer: evil people. We have to keep fighting evil, whatever form it takes. That can mean going to war. And we owe it to our troops who do this dirty job to keep telling them, yes, we appreciate you; yes, we will support you; yes, we have to fight evil, and we know you've done your best."

mrs james

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Baseball question: home runs

Is there such a thing as a "little" home run? Ron Santo speaks of two kinds: "big" and "big big." Even when there's a 5 run lead...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Wings on the Lake

The Milwaukee Art Museum is a work of art itself.

Took #3 daughter on a field trip there and discovered the museum entry, with its winged roof, white marble galleries, and sweeping view of Lake Michigan, was worth the 15 minutes the docent spent just showing us the building. A triangular infinity, like mirrors facing each other but white right triangles balanced on the right angle: row after row of the the arching supports and the window.

Gallery floors are polished marble. One long row of windows on the city side and lake side. Huge skylight, with folding wings as sun shades: if the light on the dome is too strong, the wings fold down over it. Most of the time the wings spread out.

Somebody was repainting the white walls in the city side gallery. I'd love to have the profits from the white paint contract.

#2 son, the inventor, will probably not get into the paintings but would love the retracting sun shades and the glass cylindrical elevator.

You don't have to leave the museum lobby to enjoy a spectacular glass sculpture. It stands about 15 feet tall, a huge bouquet of glass streamers, horns, and globes in a hundred different colors, made in different parts of the world and attached to the central support. Black polished base reflects viewers, making us part of the bouquet. It reminds me of the balloon sellers at Brookfield Zoo years ago, with round and zigzag balloons.

Special exhibit of Degas sculptures: I found the concept and the explanation of the lost wax process fascinating. Degas made 3 dimensional studies of figures of dancers in various poses; three different arabesques side by side, for example. He also studied horses, using Mayfield's stop-action photos of horses. One horse looks like he's rearing and wheeling away from a sudden threat, some nameless horror leaping at his feet. The finish is generally rough and faces are globby; it's the movement itself that arrests. One bronze dancer with features: "Little dancer, age 14" looks like every little girl getting tired during an afternoon of plié-relevé, when the weather outside beckons. The rest of the impressionists tried to capture fleeting glimpses of light; Degas wanted to capture a spark of kinetic energy.

Special exhibit of arts and crafts movement: Morris chair and print meets Wright stained glass meets Hungarian lace meets Scandianvian tapestry and Darmstadt School and Viennese Secessionists. Highlights: Art noveau jewelry, fluid settings of oval moonstones on silver, or silver shield with green agate. A Norwegian tiara of delicate green enameled leaves. Furniture: A dining room enesmble as designed for a Berlin furniture store, featuring rug, table, chairs, dishes, cabinet, light fixtures in an orderly array of blue and white rectangles. General idea: art in home design, created with love and a soul, but factory made to be affordable.

mrs. james

Sex

It is a myth that men think of sex all the time. In fact, as any husband knows, there's a simple test that applies: If the sky isn't falling, surely there's time to make love? If the sky is falling, then this is our last chance. (I know, nothing about sex is simple.)

Culture, Music, Humor, Misc

Updated 3-Nov-2005

Statement about privacy in this blog.

Books

I like to read. I ride the bus. A natural fit... (Who has time to read at home?) Conversations with great and not-so-great minds of the past and present . . . Updated 3-Nov-2005

Science

Things that stirred my curiosity. Updated 3-Nov-2005

Religion

Observations, mostly about Christianity: Updated 3-Nov-2005

War: Blogger won't let me edit the old index posts, so I have to republish them

War

Everybody else already put their oars in, so I guess it is my turn.
Updated 3-Nov-2005
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe--
...
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!



Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace.

A different kind of farm

We've put together a moderately large compute server farm here, and the heat load it puts on the air handler is substantial. We're watching the room temperature graphs, and when the outside air goes about 80 or so we start to lose cooling capacity and our temperature goes up. So, we'll have to watch the weather reports and if it looks like it'll get too hot, we'll have to turn off a rack. Farmers always have to keep an eye on the weather, I suppose.