Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Raised Bed Chronicles - Part IV: Marauder

We have a mystery marauder. Something dug my garden out one night. And I mean dug it out.

We managed to trap a raccoon, but that's not the end of the story. Possibly, the garden was raided by a raccoon, but while raccoons will dig, they generally dig holes. This destruction indicated a bigger and a less precise animal, which threw out half the dirt, destroying most of the seedlings.

But another clue is that something bigger and tougher is preying on raccoons. Something big enough to make a thorough meal out of one -- Larry found the few scraps it left -- and to take off the lower leg of this little guy we caught in our trap (who now lives in Brookgreen Gardens).

There are stray dogs around, often abandoned in the state park across the creek. Coyotes have been spotted in the area, though a little further inland. So far. The species of the marauder is still unknown, but I'm in recovery mode with the garden.

I lost all but 2 little carrot seedlings, but they are hanging in there. And so are the peppers; doing well, in fact!

I'm restarting the carrots, this time in starter pots, and fencing the garden when I get them in. Raccoons climb fences, but we also employ cayenne pepper and Critter Ridder [TM]. This is a real learning experience!

Monday, June 29, 2009

No news is bad news

Wow. This is what I get for getting busy and leaving a blog entry in draft mode for a couple of weeks, without doing a final edit and posting it.

2 weeks ago (the draft is dated 6/16), I started a blog entry which, among other things, mocked our local newspaper for what I call the "Baptist Of The Day story." If it keeps the paper alive, I said, then OK, but I think this dumbing down and pandering is killing it, not increasing revenue.

Today the paper took it further, with a new policy to give over the Monday front page to a feature topic.
The entire front page. Guess what topic they started with. (It's not featured as heavily on their website : here's the Sun News site.)

You'll need to zoom these, I'm afraid.
OK, these articles really could be good explorations of our community and our society, in an appropriate part of the paper. But ... the front page? The whole front page??

My 2-week-old blog entry follows:


The local newspaper keeps shrinking and TV news gets stupider, and I watch the changes and the debates about how the public can get the information it needs, but I tend to stay out of them since I have no solutions. But then a related topic that I've always been vocal about pulls me in anyway.

I ran across this kind of nifty website the other day. It's called Banned Books Online, and has links to some (but only selected) famous censored books that are now available, full-text, online. Most are easy to get anyway these days, but I thought it was a great example of what's good about access in the world we live in. And not everything about it is good.

Then I spotted the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Blue Ribbon Campaign button, there at the top, and clicked it.

Library school turned a lot of us into ardent anti-censorship banner-wavers, and in 1981 it was a very cool thing to be a near-absolutist about it. Back then almost anything could be published by somebody somewhere, but access points (libraries, bookstores, mainstream media, any entity that selected what to offer) had more gatekeeper-type control over availability. People had to work a lot harder to find out on their own whether a book, a point of view, an idea, existed, much less to get it in-hand. They were more dependent on our judgment, and it was drummed into us fledgling librarians that libraries had a particularly heavy responsibility to understand and apply the difference between being selective, and censoring.

Once upon a time I would have jumped onto any "anti-censorship" bandwagon that rolled by. But as I read through the Electronic Frontier Foundation site, something stopped me in my tracks.

The first item reads:
You Have the Right to Blog Anonymously. EFF has fought for your right to speak anonymously on the Internet, establishing legal protections in several states and federal jurisdictions, and developing technologies to help you protect you[r] identity. With your support, EFF can continue to defend this right, conducting impact litigation to establish strict standards to unmask an anonymous critic in more jurisdictions.
OK, if bloggers are to act as "citizen journalists" they need to be able to expose corruption and post material that offends, without getting Molotov cocktails thrown through their living room windows. So I read this and I thought, Cool! I can get behind tha--

Wait a minute.

The ability of journalists to protect sources has always been important. But there it is. Are bloggers sources, or are bloggers journalists??

Kind of both (See Item 2), and the question that comes to my mind is: isn't this a conflict of interest? "I can publish allegations like a reporter does.... but I get to hide my identity for my own safety, like a source."

The accuracy and value of information from sources, anonymous or otherwise, depends on their coming through an identifiable, accountable source. "You have it from [Joe Reporter; The Daily Observer; Cable Spews Network] that this isn't just a claim, it's verified." Or, "This is only an allegation, it is NOT verified at this point."

I live in, o gawd, South Care-o-lina. Where, when you find Harlequin [TM] romance readers, you've found active minds.

(See? I'm not a journalist, so I can stereotype to my heart's content. There are educated people and a university and everything around here. You can buy Richard Dawkins and D. H. Lawrence in the bookstore down the road, but if I make this area sound like The Republic of Gilead, some readers really could get an impression that's way-exaggerated, though not entirely falsified.)

I had a talk with a couple of locals the other day as I paid for a sackful of books at a thrift shop. "You must love to read," smiled one very pleasant lady, leaning on the counter. "Yes, I do," was my noncommittal response, since, though I keep too many, I really do list most of them for sale.

The checkout lady contributed: "I hate to read. I quit when I got out of school."

"Me too," agreed counter-leaning lady. "I don't like to read. Except my Bible. I do read my Bible every day."

Larry quietly exited the building, to resist expressing himself.

"That's right," said checkout lady. "I read my Bible."

These are the people who probably still get the newspaper (See? If I were some kind of Citizen Journalist, I'd have thought to ask!) because it's still on the list of Everyday Things People Do. And these are the subscribers whom the Sun News tries to keep by dumbing itself down and down-er, with a Giant Color Picture of Something Unimportant, which takes up most of every front page, and with its pandering to Christianity by means of what I call the Baptist Of The Day story. You can just hear the newsroom briefings: "Got to feature a Christian doing something Christian in every issue! FIND something!"

If these were just smart tactics to keep the paper selling, I'd applaud them, because the paper also puts things that those subscribers will not seek out, but that they very much need exposure to, in front of them every day, and persists in running both points of view on issues. Even as the staff undoubtedly wince when another "You pinko liberals!" cancellation comes in.

But the tactics are not working and the paper keeps shrinking. I mock it, but I shudder to think what we'd do without it.

Because if blog journalists take over the job, my Bible Ladies won't be reading them, but they still vote.

And because there will be a verification problem. Even the smartest, most proactive local reader who seeks out independent online reporting about what our officials and business moguls are up to, will have no way of sorting the good self-appointed journalists from the bad. Some obviously incompetent writers will fall away, but those who can craft prose like a pro will be judged as responsible and trustworthy, unless someone could really call them on facts.

And what the bleep will we do then? The issues this raises go way beyond the blog Bill of Rights, but on that facet of blog journalism, I have to voice serious qualms. Doesn't the top layer -- the user-interface layer -- of news publication have to have a known name and address? If you're going to be a journalist, don't you need to be willing to allow oversight by somebody? If you're a lone self-appointed journalist, even a responsible, truth-seeking one, to whom do you answer?

Liberals and conservatives alike have crossed the line, have believed that getting the public to hold the "right" opinion on some issue was vital, and suppressed or fabricated evidence to make it happen. If other investigators expose your story as fake, how do we find out about it and "fire" you?

These issues are there even if anonymity is not granted to blog journalists, but if it is granted, accountability becomes that much harder. If you won't identify yourself, how much more abuse of reporting power does this allow?

Yet it's undeniable - blog journalists are vulnerable, and can risk every harassment, from having the local Founding Family quietly arrange for a rotation of Sheriff's Deputy nephews to follow them 24/7 and ticket every gum wrapper they drop, to mailbox bombs. But how can we guarantee them safety and freedom to investigate, and still guarantee the readership some accountability? The EFF statement seems to acknowledge that unmasking is sometimes necessary and urges only "strict standards," but that's one heckuva hard standard to set if you want truth maximized.

All I've got is the questions, no real answers.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A surfeit of dragonflies

Yes, this really is a photo of something, which you can see if you click it to enlarge -- i have uploaded the biggest version! -- but sometimes a photo just is NOT adequate.

We're experiencing this delightful and sort of baffling phenomenon. A dragonfly population explosion.

This was taken at about 2 o'clock this afternoon, prime dragonfly time. The air is so busy with them that it is very likely that the shot contains more than 20, though my beloved but basic camera turns the more distant ones into specks. Go outside and you are surrounded, but at ground level, they just don't show in a photo against the foliage, which is why I aimed at the sky.

To stand outside is to stand in a wonderland, like a very busy metropolitan hover-port in a futuristic animation. They are various colors, also not discernible in the sky picture. They land on everything. They land on you. They weave and crisscross and gorge themselves on gnats and mosquitoes, and chase each other, lacing the air with their paths, thousands of them.

It's been very rainy and possibly the mosquito population has also exploded, providing the dragonflies an exceptional buffet. I dunno. But there are ten times more dragonflies out there than I have ever seen at one time, in my life.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A song for Jenny

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pet Project

For previous posts in the WHTTWOT Pet Project, look here and here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Don't cry, it's only literature

I don't know exactly what possessed me to buy this book several years ago. I guess, after reading Books and Readers in the Early Church, I got interested in early Christian writings or something.

So I sprang for this thing. It's called Early Christian Latin Poets. I found most of the poets rather uninspired, same old rewording or imitating psalms, blah blah. But the intro to the selection from Paulinus (b.353 CE, Bishop of Nola from 406 CE) intrigued me, when the editor said that one poem "gives an amusing account of three miracles involving farm animals selected for slaughter in fulfillment of vows to St. Felix, set deep in the Campanian countryside."

This is now, officially, one of my least favorite "miracle" stories, ever.

I wish that I could just hate the poem, without getting all emo and genuinely upset by it, but that's what happened. I tried the self-talk technique :

Look, it's only a legend. Check out the iconic Christian literary elements: biological miracle, willing self-sacrifice, even a no-room-at-the-local-inn subplot.

And if something real did inspire the story, this pig has been dead for, like, 1800 years (the stories were old by the time Paulinus wrote about them). Most farm animals become dinner for somebody, including you, hello? and sacrifices fed the poor, so don't get bent out of shape about one pig who's probably fictitious anyway. Is this half as bad as the Abraham and Isaac story?

It didn't work.

Part of this book is on Google Books, including most of this poem (only the first 2 lines are missing), so here it is, if anybody wants to know firsthand what I'm talking about. Start with page 64.

But if cruelty to animals upsets you, I invite you to skip it. Here's the story it tells. Farmer fattens up this pig to a huge size, to make his sacrifice to St. Felix more spectacular than anybody else's, and then sets out to walk him to the Felix shrine, apparently a long journey away, since they have to lodge there someplace.

Only the pig is too enormous for his legs to bear him up. Great planning there, guys, positively failblog-worthy. Anyway, the pig collapses almost immediately and can't get up, and they can't lift him, so the farmers go back for a bunch of small pigs to make an equivalent sacrifice and take them off to Felix's shrine, having no choice but to leave Superpig stranded in the road.

They make the trip, they offer their pigs, they participate in FelixPalooza, they go rent lodging for the night.

Meanwhile, somehow, the huge pig miraculously, with divine intervention, struggles to his feet. And further, he manages to hike this whole long way to Felix-tropolis where this ritual will take place, without getting lost, stolen or eaten by wolf or man along the way. More miraculously yet, his master has taken a lodging out in the boonies because the big crowds made lodgings near the event hard to find, and the guy comes out of his rental hut to find that his pig has tracked him to this obscure place off the trail and is greeting him happily.

Why couldn't this poet be as dull as the others in the book? Because he vividly describes the sheer joy that this pig expresses on finding the jerk, licking and nuzzling him. You'll undoubtedly note that I work up no empathy for the substitute pigs whose emotions aren't described.

Then the poet exults about how the pig's joy ... um ... was actually because it longed for the fulfillment of its Holy destiny. It was overjoyed to be sacrificed.

And I find myself cussing out some asshole farmer who lived 1800 years ago if he was even a real person at all.

A good academician could read it dispassionately. "Symbolic literary elements, blah blah, oral folk traditions, blah blah, early-Christian era transition from pagan practices, yadda yadda." Maybe even find it amusing. Me, all I could think about was this gentle, intelligent animal, indulged to the nth degree all its life and thinking it's a beloved pet, abandoned to die in the road and struggling up to go find the master with whom it was strongly bonded. Only to get a knife to the throat. I tried to switch from calling the pig "he" to referring to him as "it." Didn't work.

Here's my idea of a miracle story : how about, as soon as this twit farmer coos, "Hey, look, my big ol' buddy made it here! You want to be sacrificed, yes you do!" God (Who exists in Eternity and can access sporting goods of later centuries) drops a bowling ball on the farmer's foot and thunders, "Betray this animal's trust and you'll get it on your head next time."

The book's on eBay now. New, it would retail for 35 bucks, so maybe someone will find it a bargain. The rest of the poems may be by other poets and be totally unlike this one, but somehow I couldn't find the desire to pick it up again.

Monday, June 15, 2009




All attempts to make this a single image, and still make it legible, have failed. You'll need to enlarge each of the three images.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Raised Bed Chronicles - Part III

On Monday morning I went outside, looked at this thing, and thought, This is absolutely hideous. A vampire would sleep in it. What was I thinking?!

And that was even before I saw the photos of Sherwood and Diane's beautiful, and productive, gardens.

Out came the pad and pen, and I started redesigning it (yet again!) into several lovely little terraces. Then I kind of came-to and remembered that what I wanted it for was growing food, not decorating the yard. Lots of lovely terraces would take up more square footage with stonework and leave less actual growing space.

Larry suggested we simply build an attractive adjunct with just a few pieces of the pricier decorative stone. Thus the new half-circle broccoli bed you see here:

It still looks like a tomb. But a nicer tomb. One with a place to leave offerings.

And with some hi-tech irrigation equipment, we're good to go.