Thursday, December 25, 2008

Inside Out

The other evening I was sitting with an Ethiopian friend enjoying
a meal of injera and tibs and some quiet conversation. The tv was
tuned to some evangelistic channel.

At other times, I had told her that the world is inside out from
the way that most people see it most of the time. That most people
are wrong about most things, most of the time, although there are
some people who are wrong about everything all of the time.

An infomercial came on. They showed african children, their limbs
horribly thin, their bellies distended, flies busy around their faces,
and eyes full of sadness, fear and hunger. They showed one or two
white people, handsome, strong, healthy; giving food and administering
to the children. They asked for the viewers to send money.

I asked her what she thought. She shrugged and said "The poor
will always be with us."

I said to her, "But you know, these are the only images that
most of my people ever see of Africa. This is what we think of
when anyone mentions the continent. We are taught this way to
believe that we are strong, healthy, and happy while all of the
Africans are desperate, unhappy, dying, and in need of our help
and support. This is such an insidious message. We are exhorted
to send money but we also learn that we never, never want to go
there. We send money to make us feel good and powerful. Almost
all of the money received stays in the hands of white people, the
rich evangelists and charity organizations with their fine offices,
the rich agribusinesses, the transport organizations, and all that
infrastructure. Only a tiny amount actually becomes food and help
for these children. And even when they receive help, they still
grow up to face an environment with no jobs, no land to work,
but only more needs."

"In this way, my people receive a message of their superiority.
They receive reassurance that the way they live is the best. They
learn control and arrogance. But you and I, we have been there,
we know differently. The people of Africa, by and large, know an
astounding beauty, happiness and joy, companionship, sharing,
friendships which is utterly beyond the knowledge and experience
of my people. In reality, my people have an appalling emptiness
in their lives, they dare not reach out to talk or to share anything
with strangers or even acquaintances, but instead live in isolated
cocoons, unable to taste any but the slightest little bit of
spiritual food."

I saw a light go on in her eyes. Suddenly she saw, she
understood, how most of us see things and why we act the ways we
do, towards her and towards her country and her people. A light
went on which will never be extinguished.

It was Jesus' message as well, over and over, such as his
statements at the beginning of the sermon on the mount, about the
poor inheriting the earth while the rich are so poor in spirit.
Those statements are so familiar to so many people, but they read
and write and say and sing them without any understanding.

You have to go there.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pain Medication

Few people can have even a casual conversation with me without
catching a glimpse of gold. In fact, there are twelve gold crowns
in the back of my mouth. They may not, however, realize that all,
all, of the teeth in front are also crowns, but of the porcelain
variety. Throw in a handful of root canals and several separate
extractions, and you may admit that I could be an authority on
this subject.

Reclined in the chair, my mouth fully occupied by foreign
tenants, I could be forgiven for trying to picture the doctors
during the US Civil War using wood saws to remove injured
soldiers' limbs before (or after!) gangrene. Imagining such
scenes I could easily suspect that the most difficult aspect
of such tasks was to restrain, and listen to, the patients.

In such a situation, one observes. I observed that if I
had not received sufficient Novocaine, that my body makes a
very timely reaction to steel drills amongst certain nerve
cells. I further reserved that such reactions would tend to
upset the individual working away in there almost as much or
maybe even more than myself, to bring out another hypodermic
with alacrity. And I further observed, that after sufficient
Novocaine had been duly administered and received, that those
reactions came to an end, but, my body still concentrated on
sending messages to my brain that somehow, somewhere, I was
under severe attack, that there was something very, very wrong
going on. Having this experience over and over, I came to
understand that the novocaine really did not lessen my
discomfort at all, or very little, that its main effect was to
reduce my ability and urge to react to it and thus, the anxiety
and distractions for the person peroforming the procedures.

From there, it was a simple exercise to extrapolate. One
observes how very often and for such a variety of circumstances
that doctors and other health practitioners push pain
medications, from aspirin to serious narcotic. They insist,
almost demand, that people take them.

The worst problem with that scenario is that the medical
community has thoroughly conned the consumers into PAYING for
all these drugs when it is the doctors who benefit the most.
I'm sure that most of our community actually believes that
they need these drugs and that they help them. Of course,
of almost as much concern is the destruction and havoc that
addictions can have on peoples' lives and the phantom pains
and distractions of withdrawal.

I know, this is just one more example of the deceptions,
lies, and con games that the large corporations and the very
rich have gradually, insidiously, foisted upon the american
people, and that they have allowed them to so do.

Its almost enough to make me want to SCREAM!!!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Global Warming

Well now, we finally have a president in the United States who wants to reemphasize scientific research and in particular, the body of observations which lead to the facts of global warming and the theory that civilization’s actions may be responsible or partly responsible.

I suppose that that will make a lot of people happy for a minute. Especially those looking forward to new engineering and construction jobs trying to sequester carbon dioxide and new jobs on Wall Street creating and trading CO2 swaps.

Isn’t it just so like mankind, always to focus, too late, on the last crisis and turn a blind eye to the next one coming at us?

If you show a stock trader or other market trader a chart which looks like this:

without telling them time frame or underlying fundamental of any kind, to a man they will predict that what will happen next will look like this:

Mother Nature is unerring in this pattern. But in this example, we are not talking about dollars and prices, about oil or gold or stock or real estate … this is “global warming”. And I believe that we have just past the peak.

If you dig for it, you can find a few scientific observers who will postulate that this is going to happen and who offer a plausible theory of explanation. All the ice in the polar regions is made up of fresh water. The salt and other minerals go out of it before it freezes. The earth has a giant circulation system which functions a bit like the radiators and hot water pipes and furnace in a hot-water heated building. Water carries the heat from the furnace to the whole house and then returns, cooled, to the boiler. Some 10% of the earth’s heat circulation is carried out by the trade winds. The other 90% is carried out by ocean currents, currents like the Gulf Steam, in each ocean, in each hemisphere. The mass of moving water is far, far greater than the earth’s entire atmosphere. By this means, heat energy is collected around the tropic regions and carried to the polar regions.
This is why, for example, the climate in London, England, at latitude 52 degrees,
Is habitable (yes, wet and dreary, but habitable) while the climate in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, same latitude, pretty much isn’t.

So what happens when a warm, salty ocean current comes up against a mass of cold, less salty water? Well, the warm water sinks, because warm salty water is still heavier than fresh cold water. It sinks and stops its flow.

There’s also the situation of the lack of data to consider – man did not collect an awful lot of observations at the start of the last ice age, or else he did not archive them and document his formats and his metadata very thoroughly.

Observers of the sun have noted a famine of sun spots and solar radiation for the last six months. Observations in the last century or two have recorded a regular 11-year cycle of sunspots and a period of a week or two of no spots was predicted for last summer,. But no one proposes that we know enough about the sun’s internal metabolism to explain why this cycle occurs. The prediction calls for a regular steady increase back to hundreds. The six month famine is unprecedented in modern observations. You have to go back 400 years to find spotty observations suggesting a similar event. And that event corresponded with what was called “a little ice age”. At least, we cannot blame the sunspot famine on the coal-mining industry.

Every cloud has a silver lining. A cold spell on this planet would bring about the return of Lake Chad, of rain and fertility to the middle east and across some of the Sahara and Sahel regions of Africa. But permanent ice covering Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and parts of New York, Vermont and Maine, might, well bring about some larger life-style changes than “global warming” ever did or threatened to do.

Not much to do to prevent it. Mankind does not have power like that, no matter our egos that think we do. But it might be time to start thinking about relocating.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I have reached that age in my life where people
generally understand that it is rude to ask of me
how long I have been riding the commuter train to
work. It is that age where there are still a few lights
who can laugh about seeing my ID when I go to buy rum.

For quite long enough, thank you, I have been
living close to the tracks in an old railroad town. For
many years I observed the derelicts of the town
walk the streets, waiting patiently for their steam-
fitting or wheel-replacement jobs to return. The
other day I learned that the last of the familiars had
died. To my mixed horror and bemusement I suddenly
realized that I myself, stubbornly walking while all the
younger folk insist on their fleeting creature comforts,
have become the icon of the town.

Up in the hills even in town, and much more out in
the countryside, one can see and hear all manner of
songbird, thrush, dove, and finch. I have not caught
sight of the eagles nesting in a sycamore high above
the water in several years, but there is a new family
of blue heron who were not here before.

But over the parking lots, around the church spires,
and above the sidings, one has always had the troop
of starlings to watch. Hither and yon they fly in lockstep,
almost like the armies which come and go on this planet.
Now and then one chooses to pass in my yard and I
get a good look. From the outside, they are covered
in long jet-black finery, with bright gold tips much
like the chevrons of self-important officers. Turn
one over, however, as you go to dispose of its carcasse,
and you find a dirty beige belly covered in dark spots
like mud. If you study them, you find out that they
are garbage-collectors, living in town because humans
produce so much of that commodity.

Watching them is tireless. The flock seems to vary
in size with the weather, some days as thin as a large
family, other days as large as the gathering waiting for
the morning train. They fly together in formation,
resembling gnats, equidistant from each other. They
fly in exactly the same direction, for as far as a hundred
yards, before turning all at exactly the same instant,
as if they had all received some invisible electronic signal,
and heading on a different course. This they hold for
some agreed-upon distance til they all make another
turn. Continuing watching them for many minutes, you
will very soon come to the conclusion that the ultimate
achievement which this action achieves is, that they
get nowhere and do nothing.

I read somewhere some scientific study which showed
how each single bird watches over the seven nearest
neighbors and this is how their unity is achieved, since
there is no leader. I read that this action serves to
protect the individual since he is never alone.
But in contemplating this scientific article, I realized
how devastatingly easy "stareling hunting" could be.
One could sit or stand out in the open because they
act fearlessly. One could simply wait for the whole flock
to come close. Every time they are within range, one merely
must pick out one or two to aim at and bring down,
and tame the impulse to want all of them. Then,
when they go off distant, one just reloads and waits.

The stock market, lately, has been just so. The
media bewails the "volatility", the "uncertainty", the
failure to adopt some long-term direction or goal.
But the hunting has been very, very good for me.
I keep my portfolio loaded with different items with
different erratic behavior. When any of them get too close,
I pick out one or two and take profits. When they all
go off elsewhere, I reload. I love starlings!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

DXO chart

RJ says "Look at the volume!":

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


In my day, I have shared living arrangements with quite a
large assortment of cats, though usually only one or two at a
time. I appreciate their fierce drive for independence joined
with a sweet, ingeuous affection, seldom ever holding any grudge
about anything for longer than it takes to give themselves a
thorough bath.

One who will always live in my memory was Sadie, born and
raised a junkyard cat and to her last day preferred food that
she caught herself to anything I ever provided for her. But
Sadie lived the last 22 years of her life associated with me
and in her older years taught me a great many secrets about
life which I still cherish and use to this day.

The one who is keeping my feet warm on cold winter nights
now is named “Mittens”. She has most unremarkable black-and-white
markings and small stature leaning towards pudgy, but she knows
she is a princess and expects everyone to treat her that way.
She was far too good for my lap for the first couple of years that
we were getting to know each other, but every now and then lately
she begins to forget that foible, though she is still young enough
to chase straws or little pieces of stick. Already though, her
favourite thing to do is watch “television”, the glass in front
of the wood stove, and then to lie completely exposed and
unembarrassed on her back soaking up the heat.

Mittens does, however, expect attention when she expects
attention. And that means, among other things, that when I am
working away on my computer, it is her obligation and her right to
come between me and the monitor. Usually she gets a bit of what
she wants and moves on. Then one day the most remarkable thing
happened. She caught sight of the cursor. Now I can’t speak for
anyone else but I have never known a cat to be the least bit aware
of images or electronic displays. But every cat has some idiosyncracy
all her own, and soon Mittens was chasing the cursor like it was a
mouse, up and down and all over the monitor. We had as much fun as
her kitten days. I was just enthralled.

Like any game, she tired of this after awhile. But the other
night my wife put a large mirror down on the floor leaning against
the wall. And Mittens caught sight of herself, and she was at it
again. She looked, and looked, stared and stared. Then she tried
something different, moving her head very rapidly up and down to
see if she could catch the other cat that was so carefully copying
her movements. Finally, she ran around to the other side of the
mirror to see if she could catch this guy, and was visibly surprised
to find neither live cat nor image back there.

Maybe all this is no big deal to you. Maybe you’ve seen it
before, or maybe its just boring after the super-real war game
you’ve been playing. But little moments like these are the
punctuation and hot sauce of my life.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Within the past few days, The Washington Post ran
a story on the front page about the local acorn
situation. I was fascinated. This is something
that I was completely unaware of. I guess that
I have not taken enough walks in places where
oak trees proliferate (the canal is overhung
by sycamores, persimmons, maples,
and numbers of weed trees). It seems that this
year,many, many oak trees in the area have
produced zero acorns. Not just a reduction, but
completely none. In fact, this phenomenon has
been observed up and down the east coast.

There were numbers of comments on the article.
There was your typical liberal proposing that this is
some dire new effect of global warming, some new
plague that our nefarious industrial technology
has somehow foisted on the earth. There was
your typical neo-con insisting that the author
and his sources were just crazy and not looking
in the right places. There was your typical young
person asking why such a trivial tale graced the front
page. But one old codger, perhaps more of a
woodsman than any other commentator, offered
the observation that oak trees do this from time to time,
in cycles of about 20 years. He made the theory that
sometimes the population of squirrels becomes so
great on the annual nut harvest, that they succeed
in eating nearly all the acorns so that there are none
left togerminate, take root and grow into new oaks.
When the oaks all skip a year, the result is that
large numbers of squirrels die during the winter
of starvation, so that the cycle can begin again.
He did not offer any explanation as to how the oak
trees get together and decide on such marvelous
behavior. But somehow it sounded more believable
to me than any of the other comments.

Perhaps, why I had not observed any such event
myself, is that the squirrel who calls my backyard "home"
these days is looking so fat and waddling that I
fear one of these days he will misjudge a leap and
find himself on the ground face-to-face with one of
my cats. There are several black walnut saplings
back there, along with a couple of mulberrys and
the lilacs and other tall bushes. One in particular,
near my backyard, is growing so tall and straight
that I know it will be producing wonderful beautiful
lumber, in another 60 years or so, and I take
special care of it for that some other woodworker
who may enjoy them. The squirrel cleaned out each sapling
in turn, systematically, although I've seen evidence
that he is not completely greedy and short-sighted
but is burying a goodly number of them for future

I don't know where his family is, He probably doesn't know either.

I am not giving anyone anything for Christmas.
We are celebrating the death of materialism this year.