Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wednesday Wordage, a Royal puzzle

I don't know what made me think of this.  Anyway, how well do you know your nobility?  What's the title for each group, no fair looking it up in Debrett's:

1.  Samedi, Robber, Sacha Cohen, Red
2.  Size, Los Angeles, African, Hearts
3.  Cruises, Pea, Diaries, Bride
4.  Queens, Pirate, Swing, Kong
5.  Earl, Iron, University, Dubuque
6.  Black, White, Ridder, Rider
7.  von Count, Long, Full, Basie
8.  Persia, Black, Peace, Charming

I don't need to include the answers, do I?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Friday Fungus

We took advantage of a pause in the rain to go for a walk on the hills across the creek from us.  They graze cattle there, and the land is severely affected by this--grazed to nubbins and pretty tired looking.  But it's a good-sized plot, draped over some hilly terrain; intensely managed grazing for soil health would be very expensive and require a smaller herd and a long time before it made economic sense.  There's also tradition to contend with: the cemetery next to us has several generations of the grazier's family resting in it.  So, it's unlikely that things will change.  

There are a few copses of oaks on the hills, and some lovely fungus-food lying on the ground.  Most of what we saw was tough shelf fungus and turkey-tails.  There was one large clump of oyster fungus that would have made us a nice dinner had we been there a few days earlier.  And there are little cute gems like this, bursting out of the wood they've been digesting, adding a jolt of color to grey decay.    

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wednesday Wordage Sporting News Edition

I love skimming the sports pages of our newspaper.  I don't give a fig about the games, but I do like the headlines:  "Penguins confuse Devils," "Beavers bowl over Wolverines" and so on.  I especially like it when there are teams whose names function both as nouns and as verbs, which can lead to some especially confusing headlines.  Here are some of those teams, disguised and then unmasked:

1.  22nd president gets toasted
2.  Beatified French king engages in vehicular assault
3.  American Bison submits an invoice.
4.  Windy City offers support

5.  Beantown Bolshevik engages in battery

6.  Harley Hometown throws its rider
7.  Big Apple Borough goes fishing
8.  Pop star Whitney goes into orbit
9.  Patron saint of those who search for lost articles offers forceful encouragement
10.  Mythical bird works on her tan

College Sports (the last two are kind of obscure, not Division 1!):
11a and b. Pacific State both works assiduously and shirks (two teams)
12.  Cheeseheads annoy
13.  A spinster bucks convention
14.  Malibu school bids adieu
15. Windy City abandons

Answers (Highlight to see):  1--Cleveland Browns.  2--St. Louis Rams.  3--Buffalo Bills.  4--Chicago Bears.  5--Boston Red Socks.  6--Milwaukee Bucks.  7--Brooklyn Nets.  8.  Houston Rockets.  9--San Antonio Spurs.  10--Phoenix Suns.  11--Oregon both Beavers and Ducks.  12--Wisconsin Badgers.  13--Ole Miss Rebels.  14--Pepperdine Waves.  15--Chicago Maroons.

Got a good one to add?  Or a favorite sports headline?  Comment!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tuesday Tool: The Needle and the damage done, and the damage repaired.

Today's tool is the needle.

Every so often, we need to draw blood from our animals.  There's a couple of reasons for this.  One is biosecurity.  There are a number of infectious diseases that can be devastating to an operation that is trying to sell breeding stock, as we are.  The pathogens responsible for these diseases have in their bag of tricks ways of bamboozling the immune system; they can infect an animal for years, and yet the animal's immune system will not register their presence.  (One of the pathogens is a lentivirus, like AIDS; another is a relative of the tuberculosis bacillus--both of which are similarly hard for human immune systems to process.)  So, a critter could be infected at birth, and give rise to a couple of years' worth of offspring, and infect them, before you could be sure that they were infected.  So, it behooves us to periodically do blood tests on everybody.

Another reason for blood draws is to test for pregnancy.  We want to know whether our animals have been successfully bred, or whether they need to go and visit the boys again.  A blood test can tell you this within a month of breeding, well before the mom-to-be's start bulging.

At any rate, a blood draw is no big deal, mostly.  The tool of the day is a 20ga, 1" needle on a 12cc syringe.  My job in the process is to straddle the goat to immobilize her, and firmly but gently hold her head pointing slightly up and to the side.  The Real Doctor is getting quite good at feeling for the jugular vein, slipping the needle in, finding the lumen of the vein, and pulling out five or six cc's of blood.  The vein seals itself up nicely when she pulls out, and, just as I always got a lollipop for getting a shot, the goat goes away with a couple of peanuts.

All is mostly routine, and for a dozen of our goats all was routine.  However, there was one doe, Mizuki, who went all drama queen on us.  First she was totally squirmy, and would not agree to be held.  As soon as I could hold her somewhat still, and the Real Doctor started palpating her throat, she would scream, and scream loudly.  If we ignored the screaming and the Real Doctor could actually locate the vein, she would give a tremendous wrenching twist, or rear up on her hind legs, or somersault, or lash out with a hoof, or otherwise upset things--and we'd have to start all over again.

Three times, Mizuki reared up just as the Real Doctor was about to poke her.  Even though she's a Nigerian Dwarf doe, she's on the large end of the spectrum for her breed, and way overweight.  So, when she reared, it was with some power; it was enough to throw me over (and because of a wrist injury, I was choosing to roll onto my back rather than catch myself).  Three times she did this, interspersed with bouts of kicking and flailing.  I was getting kind of sore, the Real Doctor was getting kind of frustrated, and eventually, Mizuki was getting kind of tired.

After almost half an hour of this, Mizuki gave one mighty effort and reared up, and I was able to hold on to her as I was launched onto my backside.  There I was, on my back in the mucky straw, clamping a wheezing, upside-down seventy-pound goat to my chest.  The Real Doctor was able to slip in, find the right blood vessel, and slip out before Mizuki recovered herself enough to struggle.  I let her get up, gave her a peanut, and picked myself up.

Surveying the damage, I had a lot of scratches and stiffness.  There was evidence of one close call: a sharp hoof had punched a four-inch-long gash into my jeans, from the crotch seam to the inseam.  I had a nasty welt, but given the location of the tear, I was glad that was all that it was.

Which means that the tool of the day makes another appearance: the needle, but this time it's one used with thread.  I just got the jeans back from the seamstress, nicely patched and (I guess) more fashionable than new.  A few dollars of repairs have saved me $40 of jeans, so I'm happy.

And Mizuki?  Not reactive for any diseases, and pregnant.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Monday Musical Offering, Found in Translation

Translation is treason.  That is what we're told, at any rate, when it comes to the art of opera these days.  There's so much concern about purity, and not just in the early music camp, that performers and audiences seem obligated to experience exactly what the composer experienced.  In opera, composers and librettists worked together to make words that flowed with the pulse of the music, to make assonance and cadence work together.  Opera in translation belittles the work of both musician and scribe, and crudely misrepresents art.

To which I say, what a load of horse poop.

Set aside that "purity" and "what the composer heard" are imaginary and belief in these goals is a road to fundamentalism.  Set aside that until the middle of this century, it was common practice to hear opera performed in the vernacular, so one can hear recordings of Boris Gudonov in German or Siegfried in French.  Hell, set aside the existence of Otello and Falstaff and Romeo et Juliette and Faust.  Rigidity about original language performance puts a fence around opera, and says "you don't get to enjoy this until you fully understand Italian (or German or French or Czech or...)"

Supertitles are the most common way to try to satisfy the purity police and provide some degree of comprehensibility, but I don't feel like they are adequate.  If composer's intent is important, then I'm pretty sure that the composer did not intend for us to be reading during their works.  Reading supertitles, the voices on stage are forced to compete with the much less mellifluous voice in your head.  If supertitles are the best solution to the problem of language in opera, then the best way for me to enjoy the poem "Eugene Onegin" is to listen to somebody reciting it in Russian while I read a linear translation.

Translation is necessarily inexact; translation changes the sound of the piece; translation interpolates one more artist between the artist and the audience.  All true, and all trivial compared to experiencing an opera as it should be experienced, through sound and spectacle.  Opera isn't about words, but music (this is sometimes used as the dividing line between opera and musicals).  It's true that the sound of English is very different from Czech, but if you're not Czech, then the Czech language sounds like noise (and if you do speak Czech, then listening to an Australian singing Makropolous in the original language probably also sounds like noise).  And hopefully, just like the conductor, orchestra, and singers, our translator is an artist.  And fortunately, such artists are not rare.  I'm pretty sure that the politicians who claim the Bible as their favorite book know very little Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek.  One of my favorite books of all, The Cyberiad by Lem, I know only in translation by Kandel; one of my favorite guilty pleasures, the French Asterix comics, are well enough translated by Bell and Hockridge that some of the puns are actually improved in English.

What spurs this rant is a recent purchase: CD's of  Don Carlos and Ariadne on Naxos.  These are from Chandos' thoroughly excellent "Opera in English" series, of which I own several and I want to get them all, eventually.  The translations are extremely good (there are occasional clunkers, but they're not bad enough to disrupt the flow of things), and having the meaning of the words intelligible as they are sung increases the impact of the music to an astonishing degree.  Opera, at its best, gives me the chills or puts a major lump in my throat.  Well, I've listened to Don Carlos' Auto-da-fe scene a bunch of times, and Rodrigo and Carlos swearing their friendship, but listening to them and finally understanding the words made them hit me like a ton of bricks.  Same for Zerbinetta's big number and the meeting of Ariadne and Bacchus in Ariadne.

It may be, years hence, that I'll have studied enough Italian and German to fully understand these in their original tongues; but until that time, I will probably be listening to these recordings a lot.  I have recordings of Falstaff both in English by middle-of-the-road performers and in a powerhouse performance conducted by Toscanini, and I listen to the English version a lot more.  Pure or not, I derive a lot more enjoyment and feeling from hearing these operas in a language that speaks to me.  Which, when you get to it, is most likely the author's original intent.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Yet more on the recent awfulness, and a Wednesday Word

So, I wrote this yesterday, and then today happened.  I wrote it too soon, and may have been too optimistic.

It's been a damnably long time since I've written anything here, and it's not for a lack of things to write about.  Nor is it entirely due to a lack of time to write (though free time to ruminate and write has been scarce).  I just haven't been feeling very open lately.  Why?

I can't say why this mood exists in me at this time, though I think some of it is due to the mood around me.  I am reminded too often of the late craziness just over at UCC, and this community's (and this country's) response.  There have been a few concrete actions hereabouts, local charities and the like--but the main response has been business marquees urging us to "Pray to UCC"* and like sentiments, and bumperstickers that are almost invariably sandwiched between an aging NRA sticker and a new "I support Sheriff Hanlin"** sticker.  There is no hint of anything wrong with feeling a need for one's own second-amendment stockpile; there is an omnipresent tacit acceptance of the status quo, that things will never--must never--change; and that it will, must, happen again.

As this goes on, I am treated to the national spectacle of a presidential campaign.  A lot of the country, including far too many of my neighbors, is aroused by candidates who have openly espoused hatred, racism, and something akin to fascism.  There seems to be a need for someone other to hate and fear because they're different.  One would think that we, as a nation, might have graduated from the Middle Passage and the Exclusion Act and Manzanar and gay-bashing, but now it's the Muslim's turn. Things will never change, and folks want it to happen again.

A while ago, I was forwarded an email about the Muslim threat, from someone who ought to have known better.  I pointed out to the sender, with abundant citations and quotes, how one could replace "Muslim" with "Jew" and end up with near-perfect quotes of statements from leading Nazis.  The sender's reply was kind of equivocal, that it was something a pastor had forwarded, maybe as an example?  And now we have political leaders talking about barring refugees and setting up internment camps and getting applauded.

This gets me towards one of the things I have been wanting to write, and that is the striking abuse of a word and what it defines: courage.  I was first made aware of the degradation of this word in a video clip approvingly linked to by a neighbor.  In this clip, a pastor celebrated his own bravery, bragging that he had the courage to discriminate against homosexuals.  His congregation burst into boisterous applause and cheering.  I was immediately struck by his defining "courage" as something that involves hating somebody and getting rapturous applause for it.  Did he have to confront injury to do that?

Then, our county's sheriff and Second-Amendment misinterpreters were hailed for their courage, wanting to hang on to as much lethal force as possible to defend against--what?  their neighbors?  Global jihadi terrorists with an unaccountable interest in small towns in rural counties?   This was courage, needing a platoon's armory for defense against bogeymen?  Do you have courage if you feel a need to go everywhere strapped?  Against what threat do these folks stockpile ammo?

Courage, the word and concept, has been completely debased on a national stage in the aftermath of the insanity in Paris.  I saw the governors of several states celebrated for their "courage" in rejecting refugees from Syria.  That's "courage?"  Really, has ever the meaning of a word been so thoroughly perverted?  Courage, it seems, no longer means anything but fear, fear of "the other".  I remember it meaning something different, a long time ago.

Folks in the humanities sometimes talk about the "axial age," a period in human history when religions and philosophers around the world first developed notions related to the Golden Rule--in essence, recognizing that another human being, an "other," had humanity equal to one's own.  This is a stage in individual human development, as well as a stage in the development of humanity.  It also takes courage, to expose yourself to the "other," and not belittle it.

However, it is a lot easier to hew to the Golden Rule in a society where everyone is like you.  If one recognizes the humanity only in the other members of one's own group, as a child may only recognize the humanity of its immediate family, then there has been no challenge.  There is no courage in hailing the humanity of a face in a mirror.  And, for most of our history, a human rarely wandered far, and could live a life without seeing faces different from the one in the mirror.   (This still holds for many residents of my county, who celebrate the perverted new definition of courage.**)  But children, after growing up in a family and being warned against strangers, need to grow up and face the world, and so do we.

It would be really nice if we could get to the point of seeing a terrorism victim in Mali as having humanity fully equal to one at UCC.  It would be great if we saw the ethics of an atheist or Hindu as being just as worthy as those of a fellow parishioner at the local Seventh Day Adventists, assuming that they all adhered to some expression of the golden rule.  It would be swell if a woman on WIC, one generation removed from Guatemala, were regarded as being as fully a citizen as Donald Trump.  Nice, great, swell--and seemingly impossible, for all those pols and preachers who celebrate fear and call it courage, to grow up and reach a basic level of humanity.

Writing this, I feel a bit like I've vomited; my apologies for barfing all over your computer. But, we vomit to get rid of that which is noxious, and it typically leaves one feeling better.  I hope I will feel better, more open, and willing to write here in the future.

*Other choice signs include the context-free "Thoughts and Prayers," and too many "UCC Strong" or Biblical cites.

**This is the Douglas County Sheriff who approvingly linked to a YouTube video describing the Sandy Hook Massacre as a "False Flag Operation," and published an open letter to the Vice President (apparently because the President is not legitimate) saying that he won't enforce any gun-control laws.

***I am literally the first Jewish person that some of my neighbors have ever met.  Doubtful that they've ever seen a Muslim in person.

Monday, October 5, 2015

more on the recent awfulness

A couple of well-worn but appropriate collections of words from John Donne and W. H. Auden:
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.  If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters:  how well they understood
Its human position:  how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life, and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance:  how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to, and sailed calmly on.


So nine people from around here were murdered, and one committed suicide, just over the hill and down the river from me.  This is a smallish town, and as I predicted, I'm two degrees of separation from folks who were directly involved.  There are all sorts of media types around--when I went to town today for groceries, there was still a TV truck in the hospital parking lot, and in the 24 hours after the shooting, I got a half-dozen phone calls from all around the country asking for so-and-so, who apparently was close to the event and whose published phone number was actually mine.

People here are bent out of shape, and I am too, I suppose.  I think most of the natives are stunned because this is a small town and such things just aren't done within the family.  I guess I feel a bit of this too.  I'm also a bit wigged because I've always been weirded out by this area's gun culture, and precisely thing thing I've been scared of has happened, and will likely again.

But, given that I don't directly know anybody involved, why am I more bent out of shape by this event, more than any of the other multiple-murder shootings this year, or by any other of the over 10,000 shooting murders every year?


So while the awful event was going on, I was on my farm, not behind a Breughel's plough, but dragging bucks and does around for breeding.  The does were all in heat that day, and they could not wait.  My job, at that precise time, was to tie up a doe, then march across the field to the bucks' pasture.  I had to catch the right buck, get him through the gate without letting all the other bucks out, and hang on as he charged to the doe with all his might.  Then, after the goats had mated, I had to drag the buck, who would have preferred to stay with the does, all the way back to the buck pasture.  Doing all this for the dozen does, and allowing time for the bucks' batteries to recharge, took me over two hours.  An hour into the process, I got a text from a friend inquiring anxiously after my health.  Then another, and a call, and so on.  All the time, I was busy as could be playing pimp for our goats, and even though I would like to have just sat down to  try to absorb things, it was not going to happen.  Life on the farm ignores any drama that does not concern itself.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Still alive

Just to say that I was not directly involved in the massacre at UCC today.  I'm sure that I am no more than two degrees of separation from somebody who was; also pretty sure that we will get new neighbors at the cemetery next to us.  In a parallel universe not too far from this, I might be teaching at a parallel UCC.

We're always told that "now is not the time to bring up gun control laws," in the aftermath of such events.  They now happen with such regularity that there never will be a time.  And so we will have more.

As I've written here before, this is what we want to happen.  I've already been told that the solution is to have more guns, to have everybody carrying a piece--this despite a lot of evidence that that's not the solution.  But I'm too heart-sick and too tired and upset to argue it.  We've decided, as a country, that we actively want there to be a shooting like this every month.  And until we do something about our national psychosis about guns--something I see a lot of here in rural Oregon--we'll get more, and we want it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Happy new year to Jew and Ewe and You / Wednesday word

A shanah tovah to those who reckon time thusly.

It's appropriate that Monday was the day we scheduled for CIDRing our does and ewes; in a way, it starts the year for them too.  The CIDR (previously mentioned) is a hormone delivery device that will get the animals to come into heat at the time of our choosing, which will be in about 14 days (plus or minus one).  Then, it's time for tupping*.  Then, 145 days of gestation.  Then a sleepless week of kidding and lambing.  Then, for the does, 305 days of milking.  So Monday started the calendar for us in more than one way.

*"tupping" has to be the Wednesday word.  For someone who raises Shetlands, "tupperware" sounds an awful lot like sex toys for sheep.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Time and memory

I wrote that last post, and set it aside for a few days before I decided to publish it.  I typically let what I write sit for a few days, so I can do a better job editing.  At any rate, just before that post was scheduled to hit the web, the Real Doctor's sister, C., called to wish us a happy something-teenth anniversary of our wedding.

The coincident timing of a wedding anniversary and a post about time and love was a pure accident.  Neither the Real Doctor nor I can remember the date of our wedding anniversary, nor have we ever.  The date was set in part by the Hebrew calendar, a lunar calendar, so our anniversary changes relative to the common calendar every year.  Also, by the time of our wedding, marriage was a foregone conclusion, so the date of its consecration wasn't critical.  A more notable, memorable date for us is when McCoy Tyner played a gig in Madison, which was our first official date.

Besides, until recently, I haven't had to remember the date of our wedding anniversary.  Every year, until two years ago, my mom would send us a nice, hand-made anniversary card; it would arrive about two days before our anniversary, and so we'd be reminded of the day with sufficient lead time to make sure that we had a decent bottle of wine or some cake on hand.

Alas, those days are in the past.  My mom, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday, is fast disappearing into the fog of Alzheimer's Disease.  It's a good day when she remembers which son I am (the one with the goats and sheep, up in Oregon).  It's a very good day when she remembers that I'm married to the Real Doctor.  Of course, the nature of things is that it will only get worse.  She's still recognizably herself, but I don't know how long that will last.  She is trailing my dad by about three years; however, Alzheimer's seems to progress more rapidly in women than men.  So, alas, it goes.

My parents have been married for something like 55 years. My dad is beyond recognizing his wife, or anybody, or having any meaningful interaction with the world; his body persists in this world, but most of what was uniquely Michael Appleman left this world over a year ago.  My mom, on the other hand, is still well aware of who my dad is--or rather, was.  She knows her husband of decades past, and cannot remember that he is unable to walk, talk, recognize her, or in any way take care of himself.  The fresh discovery of this, every day, is a cause of considerable sadness for her.

Which, I guess, is a reminder.  While we're here, and alive, and aware--don't worry about anniversaries.  Honor every day.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Time and meteors

If the night sky could have looked down a few days ago, it would have seen the Real Doctor and me looking back up at it.  We were lying on our backs in the driveway, taking advantage of the dark skies of a moonless midnight in August, hoping to see the remains of a long-ago comet as they shot through the atmosphere above us.  As had been predicted, the Perseid meteor shower was pretty good.  Before my eyes had properly adjusted to the dark, a bright meteor skimmed the hills of the northern horizon; within a minute of lying down, another shot most of the way from the zenith to the western horizon, leaving a trail that quickly disappeared.

We stayed out for a few more minutes, contemplating the skies and what passed through them.  There were a handful of the less impressive "there went one" sort, and a two of the "OOOH!" variety.  Sure enough, their trails could all be tracked back to Perseus.  After a few more minutes, we bundled ourselves back indoors and to bed--it was a weeknight, and the Real Doctor had to be on the job early the next day.

The stargazing made a nice break from the routine.  Going out and looking hard at the night sky always gives me a helpful reminder of my place in the world.   Watching the fixed stars as the make their way across the sky, watching the moon and planets as they wander among the fixed stars, watching interlopers such as this last winter's Comet Lovejoy as they sprint across the field--these snap my attention to the fact of my being a dot on a spinning rock orbiting a star in a galaxy.  It can make me feel small, but, at the same time it makes me feel as though I am of this whole clockwork.  It is oddly comforting.

I don't think there's anybody other than the Real Doctor that I'd rather be with as the Earth makes its way around its orbit, as it rolls between the sun and the constellation Perseus; to be with, lying in a driveway out in the country, as Perseus reaches the zenith; to be with, as we watch bits of comet burn up so spectacularly in the high air, while our livestock guardian dog makes confused noises at our out-of-the-ordinary behavior.

The setting encouraged reminiscence.   A long time ago, I had just moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to start graduate school.  I didn't know many people there--I had a few acquaintances, mostly from bicycling.  However, being pretty new in town, I didn't have a whole lot of good friends.  I sought to fix this situation.  It's not really my wont to go to parties, or even go out to movies.  Rather, going for bike rides or hikes and camping is more my style.  It was August, and predictions were being made that that year's Perseid meteor shower would be a winner.  So, I thought I'd invite some acquaintances, such as I'd wanted to become friends, to ride our bikes up to Devil's Lake, camp out under the dark rural  skies, and watch meteors.

Well, it was a bust.  Everyone I invited declined, either right away or at the last minute; my cup of tea is not everyone else's.  Among those who declined was the Real Doctor.  Much later, she noted that she was kind of weirded out by the invite--from this guy whom she'd basically only seen riding a bike, had only known for a very short time, and who wanted to go camping in the middle of nowhere.  It didn't seem like that good of an idea.  Although my intentions were completely naive, I have to say that she showed good judgement.

Of course, things worked out eventually:  by April, the Real Doctor and I were an item.  Earth has shown her midnight side to Perseus twenty-some times since then, blundering through the mortal remains of Comet Swift-Tuttle to dazzle us, her tenants, who lie on their backs in the driveway to watch the show.  The watchers ooh and ah, and think of time and trips around the sun and anniversaries.  This year's celestial show brought up another chunk of time to note:  that stretch of time, between this week's meteor shower and my failed attempt at socializing--that chunk of time, for all of which the Real Doctor has been someone I wanted to know better--that portion of my life is now longer than that which preceded it.  She has been on my mind, one way or another, for more than half of my life.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Authenticity and chance

What's not to like about a classical music riot?  Such disturbances have a long and rich history--warring claques in the world of opera, the legendary reception of Stravinsky's Sacre du Printemps, audience members begging the performers for mercy at a performance of Reich's Four Organs, and more.  The classical music riot is an appealing conceit, the topsy turned turvy, the highbrow descending to fisticuffs, the longhair resorting to hair-pulling.  And, I had the pleasure of attending one last week as a spectator.

It wasn't a big riot, for it wasn't a big concert.  Such fame as it receives will come only through this blog, and perhaps the pages of the Miskatonic University Herald.  I had been invited to that august institution by my friend, D. Avril Poisson, who has graced this blog before both in her capacity as microbiologist and as a musician.  I had recently discussed with her how, as an amateur, chance affects even my most intentional music-making, and not in a good way: I simply don't have the control over my digits that a professional does.  I expressed my displeasure with this, but she suggested that I take a broader view, and reminded me of the stimulation that chance provides the prepared ear--and invited the Real Doctor and myself to a concert by the Miskatonic Pro Musica Nova, contrasting the hyper-defined pianola music of Conlon Nancarrow and chance-driven aleatory music of John Cage.

Nobody riots for something they don't care about, so it's not that surprising that there have been so many classical music riots.  Classical music, serious music, whatever you may call it, is deeply cared about.  The music is the fruit of much effort and intention, and is meant to be treated as such.  Audiences know this, and don't want to be insulted by shoddiness.  On the other hand, when you are dealing with aleatory music of John Cage, it is hard to define what exactly is shoddiness and what is chance.  Cage wrote music guided by the chance and the i ching, and at the same time regarded these works as completely determinate.

At any rate, the concert opened with a set of pieces by Conlon Nancarrow.  The stage was empty of performers, save for a music student who started and stopped a player piano.  Hard to get less chancy than that.

Fittingly, the second half of the concert started with the famous 4' 33"  by John Cage, allowing us a space to open our ears.  Next on the program was Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 from 1951*.  The piano for 4' 33"  was rolled off the stage, and a long table, 24 chairs, and extension cords were positioned at center stage.  Having surrendered to chance for the proceeding piece, I was preparing to enjoy what the universe served up next, as, per Cage's instructions, the student performers would adjust the volume and tuning knobs of radios according to the dictates of the conductor, the score and the i ching.  

The student members of the Miskatonic Pro Musica Nova marched on stage in pairs, holding their radios.  They were initially greeted with polite applause (and over-enthusiastic applause from one helicopter parent, embarrassing a blushing and cringing daughter), but there was also some murmuring and grumbling from one corner of the recital hall.  This built into hissing, and when the conductor strode onstage, he was greeted by a snake-pit of hissing and loud catcalls.

Someone once commented that the disputes in academe are so bitter because the stakes are so small.  So it may have been here--the Miskatonic music department is not large, and half of the music majors were on stage, nervously plugging in their radios as the front rows of the audience seethed with rage.  A group of the younger professors were yelling abuse at the conductor, accusing him of trampling over the intentions of Cage and dishonoring his spirit.  Clapping loudly and whistling and pounding on the stage, making as much noise as they could, they and their graduate students--who comprised the core of the Miskatonic Pro Musica Antiqua--were doing their best to stop the concert from going forward.  The rest of the faculty present (several of whom had heard John Cage and his students performing) were yelling at the others to sit down and shut up.

I couldn't really understand what the ruckus was about.  The words that boiled to the surface of the shouting were a jumble:  vacuum tubes, WFAN, transistors, living score, authenticity, Philco, kilohertz, Rush Limbaugh, and so on.  The Musica Antiqua crowd, led by a young visiting professor from Holland, seemed agitated by the very radios that were being used, while the Musica Nova crowd waved their scores with Cage's instructions at them.  Dr. Poisson, having had her share of brushes with the original-instruments crowd, watched the proceedings with a wry smile; the Real Doctor, who had visibly suffered during the Nancarrow and who does not care for Cage, seemed pleased that the concert had ground to a halt.  The students of the Miskatonic Pro Musica Nova squirmed uncomfortably in the chairs, radios at the ready.  The parents who had come to see their children perform screamed at all of the rioters to let things go on.  An elderly professor of viola whacked a theorbo specialist with a bundle of i ching sticks.  A young harpsichordist yelled loudly that the sound of John Cage must be protected at all costs, leapt onstage from the audience, ran into the wings and unplugged the radios.  Moments later, all the lights in the hall went out, and more screaming ensued.

The riot, such as it was, lasted five or ten minutes, and the lights were back on in short order.  The rioters agreed to let the concert continue, provided that they were permitted to read a statement from the stage.  Hastily written by agitated musicologists, committed to the ideals of musical authenticity, the statement insisted that the following piece was not by John Cage, but only derived from his ideas; that to hear the music of John Cage properly, radios using vacuum tubes playing 1950's pop music would need to be employed, and that nothing less would do.  Having finished reading this statement, the theorboist left the stage, exchanging the hairiest eyeball I've ever seen with the conductor, who gave as good as he got.  It was a satisfying riot, and also, a satisfying performance.  Was it music by John Cage?  I'll defer to Dr. Poisson, who opined, "whatever."

So I passed some time today by playing some of the most inauthentic music possible: an organ chorale prelude by Bach, transcribed for piano by Walter Rummel.  I wasn't even playing it on Rummel's preferred Hamburg Steinway, but instead on an even more inauthentic Japanese Kawai spinet.  So much for authenticity; what of chance?  As I noted to Dr. Poisson, I am an amateur, and don't have the control of my hands that I'd like.  The i ching is unnecessary to introduce random inputs from the universe into my playing; instead, a slight hesitation before the final phrase of the chorale was caused by a slight memory lapse.  The effect was esthetically pleasing, leading to a nice sense of conclusion.

*From the John Cage Website:  For this work, 2 performers are stationed at each radio, one dialing the radio-stations, the other controlling amplitude and timbre. Durations are written in conventional notation, relating to notes placed on a 5-line staff. The rhythmic structure of the work is 2-1-3, and is expressed in changing tempi. Cage uses proportional notation where 1/2” equals a quarter note. However, the notation is not entirely proportional, since accelerandos and ritardandos are still present in the score. The score provides indications for tuning (controlled by player 1), as well as for volume and tone color (controlled by the player 2). When listening to this work, one can’t predict what will be heard, which is exactly what Cage had in mind. In addition, the composition also functioned as a kind of exercise in abandoning preferences (Cage wasn't very fond of radios). As he put it in For the Birds: "I had a goal, that of erasing all will and the very idea of success." His method of composing here is basically the same as used in Music of Changes. Cage employed the I Ching to create charts, which were used to refer to superimpositions, tempi, durations, sounds, and dynamics. In these sound charts, 32 out of 64 fields are silences. In the charts for dynamics, only 16 produce changes, while the others maintain the previous situation. Similar charts were produced and employed for the other parameters. Cage gives an extensive description of his composing means for this work in his “To Describe the Process of Composition Used in Music of Changes and Imaginary Landscape No. 4” (Silence, pp. 57-60).

Friday, July 31, 2015

Use and misuse

National conventions are terrific ways to spread diseases.  People jetting in from all over, immune systems weakened by the stress of travel, confined in small rooms, mixing and mingling in shared facilities, then jetting back to wherever.  It would be hard to design a better system to distribute pathogens.

Goats have their own conventions, and the same rules obtain.  Mostly, goat shows are small affairs, a couple of hundred goats from a dozen counties, and the risks are slight.  However, the Real Doctor recently took five of our animals to the national show of the American Dairy Goat Association.  The goats spent four hours in a truck, then five days in six-by-four pens in a barn with hundreds of other goats, then another four hours to get back home.  While at the show, they were in the competition, which meant walking around in an arena used by zillions of other goats from all over the U.S.A. 

Our beasties did better than we had expected--nobody won their classes, but they all made the first cut and finished between 15th and 10th in their classes, and got some nice notices.  So nobody got ribbons, but they did (despite a lot of effort and sanitizing) get some ickies. 

By the last day, Opera had developed a fever and was looking pretty listless.  Some banamine (works in goats like acetomeniphen in us) perked her up, and a course of ceftiofur (a cephalosporin antibiotic) has left her right as rain.  Helen had a slightly elevated temperature too, which was also treated.  But, in the two weeks since the show, a cough has spread through our kids, one at a time, and it may be correlated with a couple of the young kids getting the poops.  Right now, Helen is back on ceftiofur after developing another fever, and Cavatina is finally coming off of a fever that spiked at 107.4 and has had her miserable for four days.  So, hurrah! for ceftiofur and banamine and their judicious use.

So far, ceftiofur works.  It works against Gram-positives and -negatives, and penecillin-resistant bugs.  But for how much longer?  Every dose of antibiotic, especially if I am not careful with it, is an additional bit of selection pressure that will favor the spread of antibiotic resistance genes in the environment.   (Genes, not bacteria.  First, genes are much easier to detect, since they don't need to be cultured.  Second, the bacterial predisposition to promiscuous lateral gene transfer means that once a gene is out there, it will get around.)

So I read in Science a charming article about the hog farming and spread of antibiotic resistance genes in waterways in China.  Antibiotics are a wonderful tool for rescuing sick animals, but it wasn't long after they were introduced that somebody noticed that you can just give your young animals lots of antibiotics all the time and they will grow faster.  Never mind that they will excrete most of the antibiotic in their urine, and it will go out into the environment and give that selective nudge to the genes that will make antibiotics useless, profit is to be had!

Needless to say, hog farming in China is epic in its scale.  So is the abuse of antibiotics.  About half of the antibiotics produced in China are used to fatten up the little piggies.  How much is that?  About 100,000 tons. 

Since I am human, I have a hard time visualizing numbers over 100 or 1000.  So, a ton of water is a cubic meter.  We'll assume that the density of dry antibiotic is the same as water, which is true to an order of magnitude.  So, I am picturing a mound of antibiotic, as long and as wide as a football field, and as tall as the tips of the field goal posts.  Or maybe a cube, half a football field on each side.  Now that is some selection pressure.

(Question for those interested--how big a mound of antibiotics is used in American meat production?  Answer here, if you highlight it:  Ten thousand tons.   Picture a cube about twenty meters on a side.  Still some selection pressure.) 

Sometimes, I feel like scientists giving humanity antibiotics was like giving a hormone-raddled teenager the keys to a Ferrari.  Are we really mature enough to not wreck ourselves?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Unicorn in the Garden

I woke up this morning and saw a unicorn in the garden.  It's usually not a good sign if you see unicorns, and it can be indicative of a larger problem requiring a stay in the booby-hatch.

It's the end of July, and I'm spending a bunch of time this week buying, schlepping, and storing many, many tons of hay.  I've been doing a better than ever job of managing pasture this year, seeding in spring, rotating my grazing, and so on.  Nonetheless, from now until next year, our animals will be getting most of their calories from hay.  We have more animals than ever--to be honest, we're at least 25% overcapacity on sheep--and our fields are still terribly underdeveloped, but the real culprit is weather.  

Like most of the left cost, we're in a drought.  We've also had many weeks of record high temperatures.  So, the calendar has been bumped forward by about six weeks.  Fields, normally green, were crispy yellow by June. I made blackberry jam last week, five weeks earlier than last year.  Cornflower is blooming, two months early.  Oak Creek is nearly dry--again, two months ahead of schedule.  And, a month early, I'm buying hay, $275 a ton for some very nice second cut orchard grass.  The goats may get another few weeks of pasture, as will the yearling sheep, but it's pretty much hay from here 'til February. 

Two tons of hay.  Lifting 100-lb bales up that high is a good workout; it's good that it's two short tons, otherwise I'd have had to lift them higher. 

It takes time to rehab a farm, and our long term goals include rainwater harvesting, fertilizing, seeding, and developing fallow land (i.e., a couple acres of blackberries, teasels, and hawthorn) for hay.  The goal is to make it so that our animals are supported by our patch of earth.  I know that hitting this goal is going to take most of a decade, but it still causes me some angst that the sheep and goats are walking around on our property but grazing on irrigated fields twenty or a hundred miles away. 

Usually, it's not until October that the local vegetation grows so sparse and lousy that the deer lose their fear and start grazing on our yard.  It's the young ones who lead the way.  This morning it was a yearling buck, one that had been partially dismasted in combat, so it had only a single horn, with a single point.  Both Sophie and Eleanor saw the animal and barked lustily while giving chase, driving the unicorn from our garden and back into the dense thickets along the creek. 

[Title reference]

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wednesday Wordage, a pleasing acronym

I am WEIRD, I found out in an article about gut microbiota.  You who are reading this are also, most likely, WEIRD. 

WEIRD, of course, stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, and describes the culture in which most all of us here are immersed.  And appropriately, for discussions of anything having to do with human society or ecology, WEIRD people are weird, compared with the totality of humans in the world and in history.  So, a good acronym:  catchy and meaningful.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


WOOT!!!  I finished with chores and milking and got dinner made before the sun was completely down...wait...oh, it's the longest day of the year.

Such is life on the farm.  And why there ain't much here at the moment.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday Wordage, Lost in Translation edition

The local Home Depot MegaSuperUltraStore has a cheerful bulletin board near their front entrance, with photos of some of their staff who can help you if you don't speak English.  Beneath each faux-polaroid of a smiling staffer, there's a printout of their name and some info, e.g. "Roberta--Yo hablo Espanol!"  There's about a half dozen, all speaking Spanish, until you get to the last one (who I will give an alias):  "Susan--Yo hablo Francais."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday Tool Torturous Treatment Edition

Today's tool is the Portasol disbudding iron.

It works a treat--gets up to temperature faster than electric dehorners, and stays hot.  The only downside, compared to the more common electric dehorners, is that it's a little smaller (not a problem for our Nigerian Dwarves), and you'll need to refill it every six to ten goats.

Most of the time, as the owner of a herd of goats, I'm as nice as can be.  I am generous with the treats, and try to give the goats all of what they need.  There are occasions where they think I'm a little mean, like jabbing them with the occasional needle or trimming their hooves, but really, those insults are no big deal, easily compensated for by a couple of peanuts.

Then there's disbudding.

Most goats have horns, or would, were they not disbudded.  For a goat to be shown in an American Dairy Goat Association sanctioned event, it can't have horns.  For the safety and sanity of the goat's owner, it can't have horns.  And really, for the safety of the goat's herdmates, it can't have horns, and for it's own safety so it doesn't get caught in fences, it can't have horns.

The horn starts as a growth from the skull, and if you were to dissect a mature goat horn, you'd see that it had at its core a projection from the cranial bone, covered with some tissue and then a heavy layer of keratin.  It's a living part of the animal, not like an antler, so removing an adult horn is really amputation.  Thus, it's best to take care of it before it starts growing.

When the kid is born, you can barely feel a little bump where the horn is going to be.  If you wait a week, the bump will be a little button; you want to wait until you can easily feel it, but before the bud breaks the skin.  Your object is to kill that horn bud--all the cells in the skull that will be growing into the horn--without killing the animal.  There are paste dehorners, caustic goops that eat into the skin and bone.  These are OK for cattle, but not so good for goats--they tend to rub them all over, causing random and occasionally severe damage.  Better to use a disbudding iron.

The disbudding iron is a tube-shaped element, usually a little over a cm in diameter.  Sometimes it's heated like a soldering iron, while our disbudder uses lighter fluid.  Once it's up to temperature, you get your goat kid, wrap it in a towel or other restraint, drape it over your leg, hold its head down, and press the hot disbudding iron onto the horn bud for










ten seconds.

It is agonizing.  The kid doesn't like it, and struggles and cries for all its little body is worth.  You can trim their hair away, but there's still going to be the awful burning flesh smell, not to mention the lovely sizzling sound and sight of burning flesh.  If you don't hold the iron in place for long enough, you'll have to do it again--you need to burn down into the bone a little way, to kill it completely.  If it's a buck kid, you need to do a second burn, because their horn buds are not little dots--they're elongated, like paisleys.  Then, having burned a ring around the bud, you use the side of the iron to char the surface of it off, bubbling and burning down to the bone.

Then, you have to do the kid's other horn.

It's horrible.  I hate doing it.  But, the next step after this for me was to do fourteen more kids. Then, being neighborly, I did eight kids for a neighbor.  It made for a long and horrible-feeling day; I was jittery and jangly and irritable.  It didn't help that I had to get a lamb unstuck from our fence, and just as I was pulling him out and had a hand on each hind leg, he jumped up and pressed himself into the electric wire.  He was fine but it made me dance around.

I'm always worried that I'm going to kill the kids or leave them traumatized or something.  We give them a dose of banamine, a painkiller/anti-inflammatory before, and a cooling spray afterwards, and an hour later they're bouncing around like nothing has happened.  They're all out there now, romping and playing and being goat kids, with these two horrible burn scars on their heads.

Come to think of it, I had an anaesthesia-free operation on a sensitive part of my body when I was a few days old, and I have no memory or lingering horrible feelings from it.  So, hopefully the kids will be alright.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wednesday memoriam, I suppose

I was saddened to hear of the death of Richard Sher, host/co-creator of one of my favorite radio shows, "Says You."  I hope the show will go on; it brightened my weekends (and enriched my vocabulary--too often I find myself describing a situation as a cacafuego, a word learned from the show).

Here's a collection of words describing medical conditions, mostly archaic.  What are the conditions?

1.  Quinsy
2.  Lumbago
3.  St. Vitus' Dance
4.  Dropsy
5.  Yaws
6.  Ague
7.  Membranous Croup
8.  White Death (aka phthisis, aka consumption)
9.  Tertiary Fever
10.  Fantods
11.  St. Anthony's Fire
12.  Picardy Sweats

Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday Wordage Proper Punctuation and Pluralization Pundit Edition

Spotted on a marquee outside a local armed forces recruiting office:


If they're veterans, are they still supposed to be taking orders like that?

Bonus spell-check artifact, from a normally reputable magazine (The Strad), discussing an educational program,  attended by "hoards of children."

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Cold snap

We had a bit of a cold snap this last week--cold by local standards, getting into the teens at night and not getting above freezing during the day.  The cold makes for some lovely sights. 

One of the more charming sights is seen after a night that is humid and just below freezing--the frozen snores of sleeping voles, snug in their burrows:
The best part is being there as the sun comes up.  When they melt, you can hear this barely-perceptible "zzzzzzz....zzzzzzzz"

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Trend watch

I live out in the sticks, but I try to keep informed of the latest developments in tech and trends.  For this, I rely on a former colleague, L., who is still in touch with what’s hip and hot in the Bay Area and beyond.  And I am now informed of something that leads me to believe that [crotchety old man voice] this whole steampunk thing has gone too far. 

Everyone has a cell phone, everyone texts and tweets and twerps and what-all.   How to set yourself apart from, and above, the madding crowd, be steampunk, and still be connected?

Enter the cellular telegraph.  It’s a beautifully made brass and mahogany telegraph key that fastens on to, and plugs into, an i-phone.  An app called “dah-dit” converts your tappings into a signal that gets sent to a friend, whose dah-dit-equipped phone makes the noises that correspond to your dots and dashes.  They can then reply in Morse code.

Apparently, it’s gotten to be quite a thing among steampunk-y youth, and it’s easy to see why.  Like skateboarding, communicating in Morse is a trivial skill that takes copious time to get good at.  Like a high school clique, it excludes those that haven’t learned the code (not to mention parents).  Like a jeweled cell phone skin, the telegraph key attachment is expensive and casually flauntable.  And hey, it involves a cell phone.  So now, instead of being in the same room and texting each other, L. reports students in the same room telegraphing each other.  And apparently, as in days of old, people can recognize each other by their “accents” as they dot and dash. 

L.  reported a couple of classroom experiences interrupted by loud bursts of Morse Code and embarrassment on the part of an eccentrically dressed student fumbling to mute a cellular telegraph.  I suggested that L. should wait a year or so, and expect to see students waving semaphore flags at each other across the quad.