Monday, October 31, 2016

Monday Musical Opinion

I'll just say that I'd really like to retire Bach's Toccata and Fugue in d minor as a "spooky" piece.  It has no more to do with spooky than Mozart's Piano Concerto #21 has to do with tragic Danish circus performers.

That is all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wednesday Wordage Mourning Edition

Times change.  Behavior that is commonplace now would have rocked the world of a century past; what was once normal, right, and proper is now fusty, antiquated, and weird.

So, a bit over a year ago, a guy with some mental issues completely legally obtained weapons designed for the sole purpose of efficiently killing lots of people, walked into a classroom at the local community college, and used those weapons for their intended purpose.  I do think that a century ago, the event would have been remembered differently.  After all, we still talk about Jack the Ripper, who killed maybe six people, and the Hatfields and McCoys, who were not especially efficient in their murderous ways.  I thought that it was a certainty that my town would be forever branded with this mass shooting.  It was the main subject in the national news for almost a week, an inescapable thing, and the word "Roseburg" was paired with the word "shooting," like it or not.

A year later, it seems that we are past it.  Perhaps mass shootings are too commonplace.  For a while, when I mentioned that I was from Roseburg, people from out of state would mumble some sort of recognition and note the city's loss.  Now, when I talk to people from out of state, they haven't heard of Roseburg or know anything about it.

I guess it wasn't horrible enough.  Newtown is horrible enough that it is still remembered, so we know that the deaths of twenty-some little kids can cause a lasting dent the nation's psyche.  10 people, mostly young adults?  Not enough.

But this is supposed to be about words, and changes in usage.

There are rites of mourning.  There used to be standards for these.  In the Victorian era, when death was a lot more everyday, there were things that were done--the death photograph, the lock of hair, the wearing of mourning, and so on, and written rules for how long they should be done for.  To modern sensibilities, these rules seem pretty bizarre--but they are helpful, in that they do provide some guidance for how to not look disrespectful.  Now we are winging it, and here in Roseburg, we can use some help.

Immediately after the shooting, business marquees all started reading "ROSEBURG STRONG" or "OUR THOUGHTS ARE WITH UCC" or "PRAY FOR UCC" and so on.  That is a socially acceptable form of public mourning.  It actually may be obligatory rather than demanded.  But in the absence of a code, it's not clear when you can take down that message and post "SUMMER FUN SUPPLIES" or "SPOOKY SAVINGS INSIDE."  In an earlier time, we'd know: six months for a second degree relation, a year for a first degree relation, maintaining a black border, and so on.  Now, without these codes, many of the signs are still up, and I'm sure the proprietors would take them down but for the fear of being disrespectful.  Sometimes, rigid rules help.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wednesday Words Please Stop Edition

I like words, which is why there is a Wednesday Words theme here.  I like them as things to play with, as objects that behave oddly, or that have curious histories.  Language--what happens when words get strung together--is a bit different.  I dislike the abuse of words, such as the use of "impact" as a verb or the myriad atrocities of businesspeak.  But I have become horrified lately by the abuse of language, and I am going to ask you, who may read this, to help stamp it out.

The language in question conveys a meaning, one that is corrosive to society.  We should, as individuals in society, recognize that we are all elements in a larger whole; that every other person in that larger whole is as much a person as we ourselves are.  In short, we should have compassion.  We may occasionally bump into each other the wrong way, we may intentionally or unintentionally slight one another, we may fail to live up to our ideals, miss the mark, or sin.  If we do this, we should own up to the fact that we have wronged another person who is just as important as us, and as part of that, we should string together some words into language that expresses compassion and actually helps to make things better.

So, if you find yourself in this situation (and, being human, you will), do not use the following language:

"Mistakes were made."  That's not in doubt.  Who made them?  As any editor will tell you, use the active voice.

"I regret if anybody took offense at my remarks."  A dodge to throw things into the passive voice; it makes the action come from, and the blame fall upon, the person wronged.

"As the [relative] of a [female, minority, immigrant, person of minority faith, or other too-often-picked-on-group], I am appalled by so-and-so's statements."  Compassion is recognizing the humanity of others.  If you only recognize humanity when it's your own, you don't really have compassion.

Okay, I'm probably preaching to the choir here.  But still, we are exposed to these dodges all too often, and those who commit violence to language go on their way freely.  Do what you can to call them out.  Heck, I'll even tolerate the use of "impact" as a verb if I could see these phrases disappear.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday Tool As Ye Sow Edition

Without a doubt, the Tuesday Tool is the No-till seed drill.  

I've mentioned a couple of times here that one of the long-term projects here is pasture improvement.  We bought a pretty crummy pasture when we bought this place--it hadn't been fertilized in a long time, hadn't been seeded with anything but weeds, had been overgrazed by cattle and generally neglected.  A soil test revealed that the nitrogen (and P and K) levels were low but not tragic, but that the pH was in the mid-4's, the same as a piquant feta cheese.  

Two years ago, we broadcast annual ryegrass seed over part of the pasture, and some of it caught, but it was pretty much a stop-gap measure.  

Last year, after finding out about our acidic soil, we were able to lime only part of the pasture.  We were sufficiently disorganized that I wasn't able to do the job until the co-op was almost entirely out of the stuff; at the recommended two tons per acre, we only got a quarter of the pasture limed.  Worse, we weren't able to get grass seed onto the pasture before the rains came and made things too soggy to work.   We tried broadcasting seed in the spring, but that was an expensive, futile effort.  Our pastures this last year were not very good at all; there may have been a slight effect of the lime, but it mainly meant healthier weeds.  

I am so happy, therefore, that I have been able to do better this year.  I was still late getting the lime--I was actually much earlier than last year, but the co-op had already run out of agricultural lime.  All that was left was ridiculously expensive "prilled" lime, but fortunately there was enough demand that the co-op decided to order one more delivery of ag lime.  So, I've put two tons of lime on almost every acre of our pastures.

We also got seed in the ground at just about the perfect time--and, importantly, in the ground and not just on it.  Which is where the no-till seed drill comes in.

It's not an especially high tech or complicated machine; an effective version could be made with 18th-century technology and pulled by horses, which in fact was the case (Jethro Tull did more than make the flute a rock instrument).  But we hired a guy who had a spiffy new John Deere, pulled by a very spiffy tractor.  It made a swathe ten feet wide, putting in a row of seeds every four inches.  So, every four inches, a disc cut a fine furrow, the depth set by  the amount of weight on the disc.  Following the disc, seed was delivered through a tube into the furrow; the rate of seeding per foot was constant, determined by a chain drive connected to the wheels the machine rode on.  A wedge-shaped wheel pushed the furrow closed, and a flat wheel lightly tamped it down.  

Once the adjustments were made for the depth and rate, the only hard part was dragging the machine through twelve-foot gates and negotiating the many corners of our pastures.  Seven hours work, 400 pounds of seed, ten seeded acres; these were followed by two balmy days, then a week of rain and then some days with a mix of showers and sunshine.  And here we are:

It's a promising start.  It will hopefully grow for another month before it gets too cold, and we'll keep the beasties off of it until spring.  And, if all goes to plan, our sheepies and goats will have more of their nutrition from where they actually live.  Also, if all goes according to plan, someday before too long the Tuesday Tool will be a manure spreader.