Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Wordage time to retire a word edition

"Optics."

Now, the Real Doctor is an ophthalmologist, so optics is a real thing that is wonderful.  However, that poor word has become abused, dragged into political arguments.  Firing your FBI director while he's investigating you is "bad optics."  Having zero women on your panel trying to devise health care policy is "lousy optics."  Meeting with Russky bigwigs while you are being investigated for unseemly doings with the very same bigwigs is "questionable optics."  I think it's time to come up with a better word; these things have nothing to do with refraction or reflection or interference or angles of incidence; they are, really, about morality, and so should be framed in such language.  They are "villainous" or "immoral" or "stupid"--so please say so.

Thanks!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Monday Musical Offering Mahler Edition

We are lucky to have a transmitter for KWAX radio nearby; they have very good, 24/7 classical programming, and are commercial free/publicly supported but not NPR or OPB.  This gives their programmers a bit more latitude than most, so recently they've been going through the Mahler symphonies during the early afternoon.  

So, last week I was happily shifting fences in the goat pasture and getting a genuine frisson from the 3rd in a stirring performance led by Leonard Bernstein.  The symphony reached its triumphant conclusion.  As the last chord was still barely ringing, but before the announcer could speak, Aileen--one of our louder sheep, who had been watching me from the other side of the fence and looking longingly at the fresh new pasture I had opened up--let out a jarring BAAAAAAWWWW.  But you know, Mahler was fond of juxtapositions of the the goofy and the serious (I mean, look at all those klezmer bands sprinkled throughout the symphonies) and also loved the pastoral.  So, it kind of worked.

Today I was shifting fences, again (for the sheep, this time) and listening to the 7th with Jimmy Levine and the CSO.  I think I was a freshman at college when I realized that the opening notes of the original "Star Trek" theme are the same as the opening notes of the Mahler 1st.  Well, just then I realized that the horn call that introduces the second theme of the first movement of the 7th is the prototype of the horn theme in the original "Star Trek" theme.  Interesting, at least to me.  I have to wonder if it was a conscious choice by the TV show's composer.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wednesday Wordage, Occam's Razor Edition

It's been over 100 days that Lord Damp Nut has been my president.  Pretty much every one of those days, I have listened to some news on the radio, or read some in the paper or on this very screen.  About as often, some commentator or analyst or wise person has been interviewed about the latest outre behavior of our president, and the answers have always been pretty wild.  He did this crazy thing: well, perhaps it was a strategic move to keep his opponents off balance.  He said this bald lie: well, perhaps he misinterpreted this actual, obscure, and irrelevant fact.  He proposed this egregious policy:  well, there's no doubt that that will appeal to his base, and strengthen his position for further bargaining.

The commentariat spend a lot of time and effort finding polite and acceptable ways to explain our president's behavior.  There is generally the assumption that he is a rational actor, has some strategic vision, intelligence, and understanding.  A myriad of erratic behaviors and statements have generated an equal number of inadequate explanatory hypotheses.

As a body, the folks who try to explain Lord Damp Nut's behavior on the radio have either forgotten or chosen to ignore Occam's Razor, which urges us to avoid unnecessarily complicated explanations (I know this is not the original formulation, but it will suffice).  All the questions asked of these learned analysts, political insiders, journalists, and talking heads--all of them--can be answered by one statement:  Our president is ignorant, unintelligent, willfully uninformed, a narcissistic pathological liar, and a bigot.  Seriously, I have heard hours of radio where dozens of people have danced around these questions, and seem to be unable or unwilling to point to the elephant in the room, indeed, even adamantly deny the existence of the elephant ("There's no doubt that President Trump is a very intelligent man" is one statement I have actually heard from a pundit, despite all evidence, and which has led me to write this).  It is frustrating.

So let us remember William of Occam and his razor, and let us cut through the next four years of BS. Keep it sharp.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Monday Musical Offering out of sorts edition

It's been a busy couple of weeks here on the farm; kidding season has started, and with it milking season.  Until a couple of weeks ago, morning and evening chores meant nothing more than making sure that everybody had hay and water, and not even too much hay, since the pastures are so lush.  If I was feeling relaxed, I could do the rounds in twenty minutes.  Now, a minority of the animals only get hay and pasture; the mother sheep get a silage and grain mix, the orphan lamb needs her bottle, the senior mother does need their grain while they're on the milk stand, the milking does need to be let in for their nightly alfalfa, then need their grain/silage on the milk stand while I milk them and clean up, and the kiddies need their bottles.  A couple of the moms who had difficult deliveries need shots and vitamins, and all the animals who have kidded or lambed in the last three days need their individual servings of feed, hay, and a fresh bucket of water.  So at a baseline, chores take almost three hours.  On top of this, we can add the occasional overly-dramatic delivery--we've had to take animals to town for a C-section twice this year--or sheep who have figured out how to push their way into the goat pasture and vice versa or any of the myriad mini-crises that crop up on the farm, and the result is dinner at 11:30 PM on a fairly routine basis.

All this makes me tired.  Things can get kind of hazy and dream-like.  I can't say I've had hallucinations yet, but a couple of strange things happened.  I was milking last night and listening to the radio and the station was playing one of the Bruckner symphonies--I can't remember which one, and I'd say it makes no difference because they all sound the same: dum dum da-da-da, dum dum da-da-da, dum dum da-da-da, dum...for twenty five minutes.  Then,  dum-da-dum dum dum dum dum, dum-da-dum dum dum dum dum for fifteen minutes, then the same thing only faster with horns for twenty minutes...Ordinarily, if I'm in my right mind, I find it to be the musical bastard child of Philip Glass and Richard Wagner.  But oddly enough, I found myself liking it, and finding beauty and structure in its expansiveness.

Worse, speaking of Richard Wagner, I was obligated to drive to Eugene, and as usual I was listening to the Met Opera on the satellite radio, which I was disappointed to hear was playing Wagner's Flying Dutchman.  Ordinarily, if I'm in my right mind, I can't stand Wagner.  Tedious, tendentious, hours of meandering declamation, weird plots, and moments of glory that you have to slog through hours of mud to get to.  And the plots!  Dutchman is one of the worst.  I mean, Senta, the heroine, is a human being who exists completely and entirely for the sole purpose of redeeming one man with her pure love.  The title character is a sinner, cursed to sail his ghostly ship forever, only touching land every seven years; he lands, meets a guy for the first time, and the guy says sure, I will give you my daughter.  Senta, the daughter who seems content to have no independent existence as a human being, agrees, but somebody says something that gets misinterpreted, and the cursed guy sails off.  Senta throws herself off a cliff to demonstrate the purity of her pure love.  The guy is redeemed.  Fin.  I find the plot wholly objectionable, verging on disgusting.  And normally, I can't stand the music--but there I was, in my sleeplessly addled state, actually enjoying it.  I felt kind of unclean afterwords.

Well, we are nowhere near done kidding season.  As I type, I am baby-sitting a doe that should be giving birth any moment now, but has spent the last two hours just grumbling, a complainy wheeze on every breath.  By the time kidding season is over I will probably start liking disco or 90's country.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tuesday Tool Straight Outta Serendip Edition

The job for Tuesday of last week was a bit of reclamation.  We had a chunk of one pasture that was very difficult to use.  It was next to what had been a decrepit barn, and there was a lot of discarded stuff in the ground--the remains of a couple of feeders, hoses, wire, glass, and so on.  Also, when we did the foundation work for the new barn, the excess soil had been dumped in the area, and then driven over while wet.  The result was a barn-sized patch of pasture, situated in what should be a high-transit area, that was riddled with foot-deep ruts, rubble, and weeds.  The plan was to drag out the larger chunks of metal and then level the damp and workable soil with a box grader and then smooth it with a screen.   The screen--a heavy "horse panel," would break up clumps and put a nice finish on things, though really, a harrow would be a much better tool.

So, I started work, digging up some chunks and hauling them out.  There was about half a foot of an old rail protruding from the side of one of the ruts, and it did not come out by hand.  So, I got the tractor bucket underneath it and lifted--and nearly flipped the tractor.

I dug a bit more with the bucket, saw that there was a chain welded onto the rail, and that it kept going.  I got some heavy chain, wrapped it around the tractor's bucket, and started tugging and yanking and digging and wiggling at it, and more and more rail and more and more chain started appearing.  It was starting to wiggle a little, but it was still not coming out, despite almost flipping the tractor a few more times.  The simple first step of the morning's work was becoming considerably more complicated.

After two hours of hard exertion by both myself and the redoubtable Kubota, it became clear that I was looking at a heavy drag harrow that had been buried underneath everything, I don't know how long ago.  I don't remember seeing it when we bought the place, five or six years ago now.  A few of the cast iron connectors had broken, but the welding was still good.  And heavy!  Lifting it with the tractor bucket caused the rear wheels to lighten noticeably, and that was with the box grader riding on the back!

I set the harrow aside, and set myself to work with the box grader.  I'm not skilled with it yet, so what would take an adept earthmover a half hour took me two hours, and I was still looking at a lot of wrinkles and ridges.  (If you ever want to learn humility, try to do something that a tradesman does easily.)  I thought to myself that a horse panel really would not do the job, here.  What I wish I had was a nice, heavy drag harrow...and hey, I have one!
So, that part of the pasture is returning to usefulness; here's Eleanor inspecting it--she has since decided that she needs to dig halfway to China there, marring its smooth surface, but still, it's much better than before.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Wordage Galloping Edition

I got a call from the Gallup Organization today, asking me some very general questions, and then inviting me to be part of a Select Group that is tracked and polled every two weeks that would provide Reliable Data for businesses and the government and big, important Decision Makers.  I declined.  I have grown exceedingly tired of polls, and feel that we are at a point where they are actively harming the world.

One of the questions I was asked by the pollster was my opinion of how the economy is doing--the possible answers were excellent, good, fair, poor, or bad.  I asked for some clarification, and apparently I--who don't know very much, and certainly less than, say, a businessman--was being asked to evaluate the entire U.S. Economy in one word.  And, worse, this was supposed to be meaningful, and even more horrible, it was supposed to influence big, important Decision Makers.

Is it possible to describe the state of the entire U.S. Economy in one word, other than "complex"?

I will plead mea culpa to being an elitist, in that I really believe that folks who have studied complex problems have more insight into their solutions than folks who don't have much book-larnin' and go by their gut.  Also, probably best to refrain from describing things like the state of the world's largest economy with one word.  So, I politely declined to play in that game.

'Course, they'll probably find one of my neighbors to replace me, maybe the one who writes letters to the editor of the local paper, citing Bible verses to support Donald Trump.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Monday Musical Offering Running Flat Edition

I love me some Schubert.  Pleasant, lyrical, often sight-readable...until you stumble onto a section in A-flat minor.  I mean, come on!  Seven flats!