Wednesday, December 03, 2008

No Answers Today

I've taken pictures published in The Purcellville Gazette and the Washington Post Loudoun Extra. And yet, I didn't take pictures of the subject of this blog entry. Go figure.

But, the topic of the blog today is not photographs or my camera work or even the Post or the Gazette. It is leaf raking.

So, now down to the business at hand - Leaf Raking

The home I share with Hiroko has lots of grass - lawn grass, of course - about an acre of it. The rest of our two acre property is almost all trees. The fifty acre property behind our house is all trees. Most of the property across the street is, you guessed it, trees. Lots and lots of trees in our neighborhood.

As most of you know, except our readers from the treeless sand dunes of Saharan Africa or Arizona, lawn grass acts as a magnet for tree leaves. It's a well established scientific fact. Thus, our lawn of one acre draws leaves from the surrounding sixty or so acres.

Changing the subject only slightly, today was a beautiful day for being outside, once the temperature rose above freezing. And now getting back to our subject, since I wanted to be outside enjoying the day I thought I'd better rake some of the million or billion leaves still on the lawn.

Out I went, carrying my leaf blower, my rake, my can of gas for the leaf blower and my can of gas for the lawn mower, which I was pushing. I had well used appendages, let me assure you.

I began all of this as the clock struck ten and the frost had almost given up its grasp on our leaves and grass. The grass, by the way, hasn't been mowed since about September and is too long to go into winter safely*. Raking and mowing seemed to be in order, in that order**.

But here's another thing that we non-Saharans know: It's much easier to rake or blow leaves across short grass than it is across long grass. Remember, now, the lawn I had to rake was long. What was I to do?

Here's the plan I came up with: rake a small patch of lawn adjacent to the place where I want the leaves to spend the winter - in other words, some of the wooded part of our community. Once that area is raked clean, mow it. The idea in my mind was that when I move the leaves from the next little area of lawn onto the mowed area it will be easier to move them the last leg of their journey into the woods. So, I spent about six and a half hours raking and mowing and raking and mowing little patches of my yard.

I did a lot of little patches this way, raking or blowing the leaves from a small patch of lawn onto a patch with shorter grass, then mowing the newly cleared patch.

And I would have been among those of you who think, that's the way to get the job done.

However, what I learned is that many many little patches of grass is only a tiny portion of our one acre of lawn. My guess is that I was able to clear and mow about a tenth of an acre in those six hours. I need to do many many many little patches of lawn.

It looks to me as if I've only got about another 54 hours to go on this project. A great reason to hope that I stay unemployed for at least another week and a half.

* I have heard that if blades of grass are too long during the winter the grass is more likely to enter spring with some kind of mold or fungus. I don't know if this is really true, but I am haunted by images of a hyperfungal lawn. This fear keeps me awake at night. Really.

** Why would raking come before mowing? Another thing that I've heard, but can't say I know for a fact, is that if leaves are left on a lawn over the winter the chemicals in the rotting leaves will make the soil too acidic for the wellbeing of the grass. I assume this holds true for tiny fragments of leaves left behind from mowing a leaf strewn lawn. This does not rob me of sleep, but I do get jittery between Thanksgiving and New Year when I drive past leaf-covered front yards.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

At Last, Almost

Last night Bob Schieffer came closer than either of the other Presidential Debate moderators to actually moderating a debate.  However, even he couldn't eliminate all of the rehearsed talking points*.

I was very glad that John McCain had a chance to bring up the issue of class warfare as he pandered to Joe the Plumber.  Seems Joe has worked his way from not being able to buy a business to having access to the amount of capital that could buy a business.  McCain has decided to champion Joe's quest to own the plumbing business for which he has worked for many years.  McCain says that by "spreading the wealth around" and perhaps increasing the taxes on some businesses, Barack Obama engages in class warfare.

McCain expects us to assume a few things here: 1) that the business Joe wants to buy has profits of over a quarter of a million dollars per year (otherwise the tax increase Obama recommends would have no effect on the business), and; 2) that Joe has labored for the money to buy the company.

How much does it cost to buy a company that has over $250,000 in profits per year?  It must be a heck of a lot more than a million dollars.  If Joe is a regular plumber, as he was portrayed in McCain's touching "Ode to Joe", how does he come up with that kind of money?

If McCain champions folk like Joe, wage earners who have somehow been able to amass a million or more dollars, and leave the rest of us potential voters to select the Obama-Biden ticket, then I'll be a happy American as November 5th dawns.

But I digress.  I had been writing of class warfare.

What McCain didn't mention during the evening at Hofstra is that the class war is over.  The rich people won.  All Barack Obama is trying to do on behalf of the mass of working people is renegotiate the terms of surrender.

*This phrase, "talking points", must be one of the dumbest things to come out of politics in recent years.  I'm not saying that a candidate is dumb for having a list of concepts to discuss or mention whenever a topic nearing one of those concepts has been mentioned.  I'm saying the phrase itself is dumb.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The New Age - Dawning Still
My sister told me today about encountering last week a woman, a self-proclaimed born-again Lexus-driving rabbi, who said she doesn't want to vote for Obama because he is "Muslim," a fact that she just has to believe.

I replied to my sister in some flippant manner, because that's the kind of person I am.

And a moment later I told her, in seriousness, this is probably a basis for optimism.  Racial bigotry, while still a serious concern, is on its last legs.  Many of the people willing to grasp at the straw of Obama's "Muslim" religion are aware that the anti-black prejudice that ultimately dictates their vote is now something shameful that must be hidden.  They are the children of a population that couldn't feel shame about disliking blacks;  the parents of people who will begrudgingly vote for Obama.  And they are grandparents of people who will not even remember who the first non-white president was.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Winning Lie
Last week the GOP gave us a number of speakers drawing attention to the fact that Sen. McCain supported the Iraq war strategy known as "the surge", and that Sen. Obama did not.  At times their criticism of Obama based on spurning the surge sank to the level of mockery.

Typically the speaker would say something about Obama declaring the war as lost and refusing to support the surge, at which point the crowd would boo loudly.  They would follow this up and receive even louder cheers by saying that McCain supported the surge and now we are winning.  There we find the lie.

The claim that we are winning in Iraq is a wonderful example of political misuse of our language.  Winning, you understand, means being better off in some way, than you were before entering the competition.

About nine months ago, I had a serious car crash.  The Ford Explorer I was driving (not too well, apparently) was totaled when I drove it into a tree.  That impact got its start about one hundred meters away, where I drove over some ice covered by a thin layer of snow at the beginning of a left turn.  At that point I lost control of where the car was going.  My attempts at correction were either futile or over compensating.  The car and I crossed the left lane of the two lane road and nearly hit a fence on that side of the road, but continuing in a nearly straight line we crossed the road and went head on into a tree on the right side.  After the jolt, I was nearly overwhelmed by the sound of the horn blaring and the gunpowdery smell of the airbag propellant.  I was alive and relatively uninjured ~ no hospital visit was required. 

Our nation's experience in Iraq since 2003 has been like my adventure in the Explorer: poorly planned; an ineffective reaction to a precipitating event; involving unexpected results; loud; smoky; and, not fatal (except to the 4100 soldiers who have died in Iraq, and whom we are trained to ignore).

There is no way to win a car wreck.  And there is no way to win a war.  When you drop the first bomb, you are merely admitting that you have lost.

Oh, the one difference between the car crash and the war in Iraq: the tree survived my assault without any apparent harm.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Seen This Movie Before

USAToday has a story in its September 3 online edition about McCain's vice-president pick. In one interesting line, it says, "Palin, 44 and the mother of five, has energy, poise, a down-to-earth manner and a compelling personal story: from the PTA to the statehouse."

Something about that brought to mind another vice-presidential pick who used the PTA as a springboard to political prominence and ultimately disgrace: Spiro Agnew who had run as a reformer in a generally corrupt county prior to being selected by Richard Nixon in 1968.

Of course, Ms. Palin was only four years old at that time and probably does not remember that. And since John McCain was out of the country for all of Agnew's time as vice-president he might not remember it either.

Good luck, Sarah. As you return to private life, I hope you don't carry the stigma of having accepted punishment stemming from bribery allegations as did Spiro.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What?! Eagleton Cost McGovern the Election?

Here I am, watching the Republican Convention in the comfort of my living room, and Jim Lehrer asked Mark Shields to weigh in on the importance of the person selected by a presidential nominee to fill the vice-president slot one the ticket.

Shields blathered on for a while about what a problem Eagleton was for George McGovern.  He mentioned that the number of days that Eagleton stayed on the ticket didn't leave the McGovern campaign enough time to recover from the selection faux pas.  He spoke as though McGovern's choice of Eagleton was the nail in the coffin of his presidential hopes.
David Brooks and Jim Lehrer just nodded along as though nothing Shields said was substantially wrong.

Have they forgotten that Richard Nixon and his staff and supporters, many of them later to serve time in prison, made sure that the fix was in before the primaries were over?  Nixon wasn't going to allow anything to get in the way of a second term.  Eagleton had nothing to do with it.  Had McGovern been able to get Abraham Lincoln to come back from the grave to run with him, John Mitchell and his criminal gang would have prevented even that from having a favorable impact.

Richard Nixon, not Thomas Eagleton, harmed McGovern's campaign.

But even more, and this is what should be mentioned every time anyone speaks of that election, Richard Nixon harmed the people of the United States of America.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ko-Ru-La Report #1
Is this report tardy?  Certainly!

Which excuse will I use?

a)  The seagull ate it.
b)  I was sick.
c)  I'm on vacation and didn't have to finish my report.
d)  Was the report due this week?

Hmmm.  I'm going to go with "b".

On the drive to the beach last Saturday I got sick, threw up on my computer and found the keyboard entirely too icky to touch.  Because it needed a good cleaning I took it to the beach for a dip in the world's wash basin.  It was there that I saw happy young people fairly skimming across the vast face of the ocean, darting before the crest of each wave.  Their glee, perhaps directed by Satan solely for this purpose, filled my being with a need to join them.  At that point I began using my aging Mac as a boogie board.*

With the conclusion of one splendid ride, my computer, by now vomit-free but soaking wet, was driven by the wave and my exceptional weight into the frothy sand at the ocean's margin.**  At that point, my fever much reduced by the cool salt water pushed southward under the effect Bertha's exhalations, I came to my senses.  I realized in a split second that not only my computer was most likely ruined in this foolish attempt to wash it in the sea, but the entire reason for washing it - a sticky, fetid keyboard - had been one imaginary product of the hallucinatory delirium accompanying my fever.

Yet all was not lost.  The silicon of the sand recognized the silicon of the computer's chips.  In something akin to a professional courtesy the sand bowed out, taking all its briny water and small organism associates with it, leaving my computer as dry and clean as it had always been.  More than could be expected, to be sure, and I am so grateful I won't even attempt to put words to my appreciation.

Naturally, I was not completely cured of the disease that set this whole chain of unlikely events in motion.  Barely had I enough sense to return to the rented villa to which my Hiroko and I had repaired from the muggy atmosphere of the Virginia summer.  Presently I will be released from the Currituck County Jail at which time I must post bond and blog, the latter with the continued explanation of its own tardiness.

I thank you in advance for the patience with which you, my dear readers, will receive the blog, once it becomes available.

*Advice to my readers: Do not wash your computer in the Atlantic when still suffering from fever.

**Physicians of note have commented that phrasing of a peculiarly archaic nature might be a lifelasting reminder of my recent illness.

Monday, June 02, 2008

24-Hour Theatre - Finished
Winchester Little Theater's experiment with 24-hour theatre ran successfully this past weekend: 5 playwrights each wrote a play, starting at about 8 pm on Friday night. Each of those plays was on stage just 24 hours later.

My sister, Ann, and I had a great time casting, writing and directing "My Job Went Where?" We are both so happy with our cast of three - Sylvia, Michael and Som (pronounced as if it were "Shome") - and all of the technical crew who helped get things set up. Playwriting was my assignment, which did take me through the night until about 6 am Saturday. Friday night was the first time I sat down with the intention of writing a play, a fact that would have been more obvious except for my sister. As the director, Ann did a wonderful job of finding and highlighting the good parts of my script and downplaying its faults. She is a darned good director, and a terrific sister.

The three actors in our group did justice to my words. Never have I heard so many of my words spoken by other people, and heard by about 100 people at the same time. Hearing the words spoken by people bringing them to life really made the sleepless night and long day of rehearsal worthwhile for me.

Pat Markland, the production coordinator of the program, couldn't have been more attentive to the needs of the performance teams. He deserves a lot of credit for the success of the evening.

I hope that the other playwrights, if they happened to see me in the audience Saturday evening, can excuse my occasional moments of sleep ~ I was, just like them, totally exhausted by that time.

And most of all, I want to express my appreciation to my dear Hiroko, whose enthusiasm for, and patience with my writing are boundless. I adore her.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Highway 51

Yesterday afternoon the clear sky and warm dry air amplified the call of the highway. Who could resist? The day was perfect for opening the windows and the throttle, enjoying gas while we can still afford it, to take a look at the West Virginia countryside.


Until you give yourself license to spend a few seconds tuning the radio, lighting a cigarette, picking up a phone call.

Driving a car is not as easy as we have convinced ourselves it is.

Just ask the medical examiner ~ yes, she was needed because of this accident. Sure, three out of the four people in these two cars made it to the hospital. But I heard the EMS tech tell a young man's mother, "He didn't make it." Moments later, after the father arrived, mother and father sobbing in each other's embrace, two women - strangers until today - stroked the backs of grieving parents. The beautiful summer had lost its sun.

Be careful, please. Let the phone ring. Listen to that ad one more time. Let the CD changer do its job. You've got your own job to do.

You are driving a car - and you could ruin a beautiful sunny day.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

WINC - 1400 AM
This morning, along with Jerry Tracy, I had the privilege of sitting in with Mike Hamon as he ran his Winchester Morning Magazine from the studios at AM 1400 WINC. Mike was kind enough to let Jerry and me talk about the upcoming Train Wreck at the Winchester Little Theatre.

Mike is a very cordial host - for both his listeners and the guests in his compact studio on North Pleasant Valley Road. He helped this first-time radio guest feel quite comfortable, and he gave Jerry and me a wonderful opportunity to plug the Train Wreck.

Train Wreck, the brainchild of Pat Markland, will be WLT's first foray into the adventurous world of 24-hour theatre. The goal is to create five plays within 24 hours. We will hold auditions, write plays, rehearse, and then perform the plays 24 hours after we started.

Jerry and I are among the five playwrights willing to write through the night of May 30th - each of us attempting to create, before rehearsal starts at 8 am on the 31st, a play that runs ten to twenty minutes . Of course, Friday night I don't expect to get any sleep, but already I've spent a few nights tossing and turning, unsettled by what I've gotten myself into.

One thing gives me confidence: On Saturday morning I'll be handing off my script to my sister Ann, who is coming to Winchester from Brooklyn to direct my play. I can be reasonably sure that the relative superiority of her theatrical training (hers: extensive; mine: zero) will save my bacon come Saturday night when the lights come up on our part of the Train Wreck.

But just in case, I hope that some EMTs will be standing by.

Monday, May 05, 2008

As brief as this clip it, it shows the entire duration of my friend Mike's career as a cowboy.

After this event Mike was able to walk around in a reasonable way for about an hour before requiring an ambulance ride to the emergency room. Fortunately, he got to play out his Cowboy dream without destroying anything too serious.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Obama, the Preacher, and the Man

Okay, enough is enough.

I've had it up to here (the top of my head – for those of you not watching me) with this tempest in a teapot about Barack Obama and his church. Basically what people are shouting is that a preacher said something stupid, perhaps more than once, and his parishioner is thereafter not to be trusted. Talk about saying stupid things!

Let's get this part straight: America is basically run by rich white men. That's just the way it has been. And disputing that is foolish. So, if this is what the preacher said then it's not really so stupid after all. Of course what the predominantly conservative people creating this fuss don't like is that the preacher wasn't a nice calm white man like myself making the observation. No, this preacher was damned angry and black when he said it.

Of course he was angry. He's been putting up with the hypocrisy of our rich white male dominated culture for all his life. A black man near the end of his life must be feed up with it, and rightly so. I can afford to be calm about my observation because I'm so close to the rich white male power structure I can barely wash off the stink of it.

Do you think that Bush's preacher has ever said something stupid? I bet he has. I'll even bet that from time to time he's been angry in the pulpit.

I do not trust Bush.

But it has nothing to do with any stupid or angry statements from his pastor.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

How Sweet It Is

A few months ago Hiroko and I were invited, along with just about anyone in Round Hill, to tap our maple trees and have the sap converted to syrup.

On the next to last day of January we tapped (with assistance from Carter, the person responsible for getting the whole maple syrup program started) two of our maple trees. To our delight, as soon as the holes were drilled sap started running from the holes and into our buckets.

By the morning of Super Bowl Sunday we had collected about two gallons of sap. We toted our sap to home of the syrupy ringleader where he was preparing for a big boil. Carter told us that he expected a total of about twenty gallons of sap from the various people participating in the syrup making. A few hours later we stopped by again to see how things were going. The patio was crowded with neighbors talking about the upcoming game of course, but mostly about maple trees, our collective thirty gallons of sap, our neighborhood and the promise of syrup to come. A very congenial gathering on a chilly February afternoon.

When we returned from work the next day we found a jar of syrup on our front porch. How wonderful it was to have in our hands some food that came from the aged maple trees in and around Round Hill.

Now we know that maple trees produce more than the leaves we rake on autumn afternoons.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Impotent Economic Stimulus"

Sometime soon an itsy-bitsy sliver of economic stimulus will appear in your mailbox. Like most economic stimulus packages this serves one main purpose, and it isn't economic stimulus.

The biggest benefit to come from any economic stimulus package from the federal government is that it gives a whiff of validity to claims by the White House and legislators that they have been doing good things for the voters. Beyond the whiff there will be no validity to such claims.

The myth behind this package (backed, apparently, by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress) is that by putting another $800 in the pockets of taxpayers the resulting spending will pull our economy from the brink of recession. Fine and dandy. But what are we going to do with those extra $800 which the government is going to borrow for each of us?

I'd say that the vast majority of it will be rushed over to Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy for the next pile of junk made in China. Won't the Chinese businessmen be glad to see that money coming? They will be so glad to get their hands on the money that they'll even lend our government the 150 billion dollars needed for us to buy more clothes, shoes, game boxes, televisions, telephones, computers, and MP3 players from them.

Ironically, it is borrowing, both as a government and as individuals, that has brought us to the brink of this recession to begin with. Somehow, the so-called leaders in Washington figure that borrowing yet another 150 billion is just what the doctor ordered.

What we need to do right now, as a government, is to collect more taxes and payoff some of the debt that our last seven years of reckless spending has made so much worse. We need to say to the rich people of this country that we who are not so rich are taking back some of the money that we have been giving them in the form of our labor. The rich have manipulated our taxes for so long that they are able to make money from the borrowing that has been costing the majority of Americans our jobs and our level of living.

Taxing the rich, for a change, would be a real economic stimulus.

The other thing we can do to stimulate the economy is bring our troops back from Iraq today. The billions of dollars we squander in Iraq produce absolutely nothing – except heartache and ill will. The time is well past for putting an end to the folly that will be President Bush's legacy. This is President Bush's failure. America's failure is that we allowed him to do this. We will be paying for this failure for several generations to come.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What Price Honesty?

Last night I tried to put a dollar value on honesty. This issue came to mind not because of New Hampshire's extravaganza of presidential politics in which it is much easier to find dollars than honesty, but because of a situation at lunch yesterday.

After a pleasant discussion that included lip service, at least, to the importance of honesty, my companion paid for his lunch with a twenty dollar bill. The cashier returned to him about twenty-three dollars, having mistakenly handing over a twenty dollar bill instead of a ten. My friend immediately saw the mistake and said, "As much as I'd like to walk out of here with this [the twenty] I think you meant to give me a ten." The cashier gratefully made the correction. As we walked to the car my friend commented that most people are honest, at least for ten dollars.

I hope that at this stage in my life and under similar circumstances I would have behaved the same way for ten dollars. But what if the amount was different?

What if in purchasing a house I realized that the washer and dryer included were an unrequested upgrade for which I was not being charged the difference, let's say $200? Should I point this out at closing or save myself the money and save the builder the embarrassment of having the mistake make public?

If an insider told you that due to a programming glitch in a large city's parking fine payment system any fine would be wiped clean for a payment of one dollar, would you take advantage of the information? I learned about this from the programmer who created the glitch, someone I trusted, oddly enough, to be telling the truth. I never shared this with anyone who could have benefited, nor did I ever put myself to the test: after learning about this glitch I made sure never to get a parking ticket in that city. I guess I didn't trust myself.

One evening while buying gas in New Jersey about twenty-five years ago a pump jockey in a hurry gave me an extra dollar with my change then dashed off to take care of another customer. Already on my motorcycle and ready to go I took the windfall and zipped out of the station in a hurry, hoping to be gone by the time the mistake was discovered. For One Dollar! I still recall both the ecstasy at the gain and the dread of being discovered. For One Dollar!

On another occasion, years before that, I found fifty dollars on the sidewalk after a date. I did nothing to find the person who had lost the money. Merrily I blew the money on movies and popcorn – a lot of movies and popcorn back in the era of $4.50 tickets.

Then there was that late late night driving along University Boulevard in College Park when I noticed a little gym bag sitting in the middle of the right lane. "This might be interesting," I thought as I pulled to the side of the road. I retrieved the bag and motored on home.

Once home I discovered that the bag contained some loose marijuana and a couple of joints in a Baggie™, along with about thirty-five dollars in cash and some form of ID card. Now here was an interesting dilemma. Should I have called the person so that I could return the controlled substance and money? Should I have dropped the whole bag on the steps of the police station a couple of blocks from my apartment? This time I don't remember what I blew the cash on, and surely the statute of limitations has by now expired on the disposition of the dope.

As I write this I realize that all of my adventures in keeping other people's money have occurred after sundown. Had these events happened at lunch time, would I have behaved more like my friend did yesterday?

After dark, what would he have done with the ten spot?