Not entirely a waste of time…

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and Contests have always been fun for me to while away an afternoon. Check them out. There’s quite a talent pool out there.

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There’s something about snow

I got the bit between my teeth this afternoon. I’ll be sore tomorrow, but for today, the pleasure of throwing snow around levered me from my keyboard and monitor.

One of my neighbors has a snowblower. He’s not exactly in the best of health, but he enjoys pointing that beast at any expanse of snow, drift or snowplow trail. And,  the John Henry side of myself thought, “I can keep pace with that.”

So, my next-door neighbor to the west and I tackled my driveway and sidewalk, then moved on to my neighbor to the east, not exactly locked in combat, as per  the old folklore, but still pitting machine versus plastic shovel.

Before we knew it, the sidewalk, front walk, driveway and compact car were cleared of snow. Had the sidewalk continued to the west, we might still be working our way down the block, one person pushing a snorting whirligig, the other flinging small amounts of snow in the general direction of the snowplow trail.

It’s a good thing, or I might have contracted an injury.

• • •

The new CIA chief is a dangerous man, according to a friend of mine with extensive experience in the Muslim world. Mike Pompeo has gained a reputation as a spokesperson for the idea that Islam is antithetical to Christianity. Now, he’s a position to seriously damage relationships between the two religious experiences.

In an atmosphere that’s tinder dry already, all we need is someone who could let preconceived notions affect judgement. And this person is head of the CIA. The tinder just gets drier. I hope the rank and file can keep him under control.

 

Been awhile! Oh, and ‘alternative facts.’

Here are scenes from my home on Wednesday evening, January 24, 2016. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this kind of snow. There was no snow at noon. It was 8 p.m. when I took the photos.

Below is the view south of our front stoop.

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Below is the view of the sidewalk heading east. Yes, I’m a slave to infernal combustion. I got a head start for early tomorrow, when I head off to work.

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Below is the view of our sidewalk, crabapple trees and rickety chair, looking west.img_1918

I am amazed at the power of the nature.

While I’m at my musings tonight, I can’t let the phrase “alternate facts” go past without comment. The new administration has issued gag orders in an attempt to prevent portions of the U.S. government from communicating their findings with the public.

Not good. Not good, at all.

The women’s marches are a good example of what needs to be done. Indignation is important. Resistance is necessary. “Alternative facts” have got to be called out for what they are: lies.

Hmph!

Not for one minute do I believe that there is sufficient backbone in our nation’s capital to present an alternative to President Donald Trump. The call of money and power is too great.

Those who see the new President as a force for good will try to hook up their wagons to his star. Washington, D.C., will become awash in sycophants.

Those who see the new President as a force for evil will waste their time with ineffectual protests while Donald Trump just grins and utters the mantra, “Any publicity is good publicity.”

Those who don’t have the foresight to see any dangers of either extreme might as well go bury their heads in the sand. History will just wash over them as those with the power and money just steamroll right over them.

Our new President is neither good nor evil. He’s finding himself in an area of governance in which he has no experience.

Ladies and gentleman, we have a President with the political skills of a toddler. Oh, he knows the art of the deal. Push, push, push and accept something less than the extremes first proposed. That’s a fine agenda for pushing one’s agenda forward or for advancing the cause of the few that have joined the merry band. But, it’s no way to lead a country.

I really have no clue as to the best strategy to combat that. But, I am busy tuning up my bullshit detector. It isn’t enough, I know. But it’s a start.

Ah, the book that I just finished…

It is with great reluctance that I’ve reached the end of Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See.”

It seems years ago, when I opened a used copy of that novel, read and rhapsodized about by my wife and companion.

I could not read this book quickly, this from a reader who, in the past, plowed through tome after tome simply for the thrill of the finish. The prose, poetry really, literally stopped my reading in its tracks. I had to read portions aloud, and wonder, “How can I read this book quickly?”

Even now, opening the book at random and looking down, I’m clobbered by good writing. The blind main character cowers in the middle of a bombardment. “The notion occurs to her that the ground beneath Saint-Malo has been knitted together all along by the root structure of an immense tree, located at the center of the city, in a square no one walked her to, and the massive tree has been uprooted by the hand of God and the granite is coming with it, heaps and clumps and clods of stones pulling away as the trunk comes up, followed by the fat tendrils of roots — the root structure like another tree turned upside down and shoved into the soil, isn’t that how Dr. Geffard might have described it? — th ramparts crumbling, streets leaking away, block-long mansions falling like toys.”

Just one instant from a book that took me weeks, months to read. Jewels crawl from every page (there is a jewel, and there are crawlies), visions are everywhere, all without magical realism, just splendidly described and imagined instances that come together in a narrative knit by Doerr.

The subject matter is common enough, the predations of war, people thrown together by apparent happenstance, individuals torn from each other by circumstance, unnerving reunions, characters both comic and terrifying, and major characters I dare you not to fall in love with.

Sight. Blindness. Deep attachment. The beginnings of love. Companionship. Radio waves. Technology. Indoctrination. Quiet rebellion. It’s all a part of this wonderful book.

I recommend it. But, please don’t be in a hurry. This is one that benefits from a slow read.

Plagiarism… hmm

I have a friend who is deeply musical, and his thought is that musicians “discover” music. Chances are the words, notes, chords, rhythms have been appropriated before. The chances of something truly original are slim. So, a good musician will approach the artistry and the craft with humility, with a desire to learn, knowing that the music is, ultimately, a gift of time and the ages.

Similarly, I’d like to think that thought and writing are much the same thing.

I’ve seen charges of plagiarism being brought recently, and rightly so. There are people who brazenly appropriate other peoples’ thoughts and writing without so much as a passing credit, let alone a formal citation.

That is not good behavior.

I know that 99.99 percent of what I put up in this blog is not my own. I’d like to think that I contribute one one-hundredth, but probably not. And, if I were truly honest, my thoughts would be peppered with footnotes, citing people who have passed their wisdom along to me.

I know that the chances of some “new” thought or writing being truly original are slim. And, what someone is offering as new thought may be new to that person. What I need to do is remind that person that it has been said and written before and supply the citation. A (hopefully) humble approach to thought and writing has to be passed along.

But, as critics, when we figure out that other people are willfully copying without crediting, we need to be forceful in pointing it out. We need to give credit to thinkers and writers who have thought it and said it before, folks who know that their thoughts and writings are not particularly original and will have acknowledged that as well.

Lord knows, we have the communicative technology to assist.

The descriptors “new” and “discovery” belong on the leading edge of science, and, even there, discoveries are built on the foundation of the work and thought of predecessors.

It’s humbling, in my way of thinking, but it’s also a high calling, to preserve music, thought, writing and all expressions of human existence. It’s hard work to acknowledge what has come before, but it’s the most solid approach upon which to build a civilization. It’s the solid center, not the outliers, that will preserve.

One of the visuals that have helped cue up these thoughts is a chart that was posted by an instructor at our local college. Click here for the link, and let me know if I didn’t cite this properly.

What a day…

Just a moment ago, the stubby branch seven feet or so from the ground on the trunk of a century-old evergreen just feet from one of our windows, was occupied by a red squirrel, nervously enjoying some sun rays but keeping a sharp eye out for just pesky Cooper’s Hawks lurking in the neighborhood. And, my mutt isn’t even at that window working herself into a state at the audacity of the critter to be visible.

Well, if I had a squirrel’s tail and two outward-facing eyes, I’d be in a similar state.

I, too, basked a bit in the sun’s rays, when the sun cleared an occasionally-cloudy sky. But, I’m on edge.

It’s a rare Thursday off for me, thanks to my first colonoscopy. (Family doc has been pestering me for years to get one done. He’s seen too many of his patients succumb to cancer of the colon in this neck of the northwest Iowa once-prairie.)

All clear, as I suspected it would be. High fiber is a fact of life in our empty-nest household. But, I’m told I’m under the influence for 24 hours and should take it easy.

Fine. I’m doing it.

But. Away from my community news routine, I spend too much time skimming the state and national scene. Hence my identification with that nervous red squirrel.

Our governor will hie off to China as an ambassador. That’s not all bad. He’s been in office too long, anyway. But, I’m reminded that our legislators are either one party or the other, and that makes my tail twitch. Local politics is non-partisan. Our school-board, city council, county supervisor, hospital board members are too close to their constituencies to surrender to the cockamamie partisanship that sprouts at the state and national level.

Iowa is not seeing revenue surpluses these days, so the party in power is hauling out all the scare tactics it can to justify cuts that align with their particular party ideology. It’s all the familiar Republican targets. (If Democrats were in power, it would be the same, though, possibly, with different targets.)

Think they will approach the electorate with ideas for balancing the state budget? Nope. They’ll just forge ahead, keeping their eyes peeled for ways to get themselves or others of the same party’s ilk reelected or elected.

Makes my tail twitch.

Then, there’s the specter of the incoming president. I made the mistake of paying attention to his latest press conference.

Between the performances of the transition team, the president-elect, the staffers and the national press present, it’s got me feeling like on a branch stub with nothing but ground and a big trunk nearby and several hawks patrolling the neighborhood.

I’d have to be on medication to attend a circus like that, or pay admission at the door to take part a three-ring circus like that.

And, it seems our Congress is working in the dead of night to avoid harsh daylight. Our president-elect is tweeting insults in the wee hours of the morning. I thought vampires were myths!

If you haven’t guessed, I’m identifying with my squirrel buddy.

And, it’s supposed to get below zero in the next day or two.

It’s enough to make me want to hibernate (which doesn’t fit the squirrel analogy, at all).

Oh dear, I’ve an ursine image forming. I’m going to go soak my head. Friday isn’t coming soon enough.