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Archive for September, 2008

Storms and sneezing

The backwash of the revived Hurricane Kyle has been drenching our area off and on for the last few days.  Every so often, the ivory-colored sunlight graces the stonework of the nearby church, and then another crop of clouds swoops along, maybe dimming the light, or maybe just giving a more dramatic backdrop to the architecture. The attendant humidity has emboldened the mosquitos, swelled the half-ripened figs into some pretty rude shapes [y’know, the starlings and fruit flies can just have those]….but on the bright side, it’s giving me a chance to evict some of the gunk from my lungs without resorting to a vaporizer. [and by the way, I may never forgive Cranky for adding “lung butter” to my vocabulary….]

The cold/sinus infection has until Tuesday to resolve itself, at which point I will call my internist and admit that we’ve reached the annual stage where the predicted side effects of Augmentin pale in comparison to the misery that is letting this thing get a second wind by being in a plane for four hours. Trust me, in this biological system, that’s just a recipe for an infection that lasts six weeks, rather than two, and I just don’t have the energy for it.

Here, look at some more of the asters!  Next year there should be more there, as well as some more chrysanthemums.  The bare space in front will, if I get my act together, include some spring bulbs, and maybe some annuals.  The last two years really have been dedicated to getting the perennials started, since they need time to get settled, and it gave me a chance to see what would be happy here.

Next year, I think it may be annuals coming in, to edge the perennial beds, including some plants meant specifically as host plants for butterflies [fennel, parsley, milkweed].

I’m hoping in the next few weeks to get the planting of a tree or two arranged.  I know I want that yellowwood, and I know where that goes — off in the northwest corner, not too close to the property line.  The shade it will create should be good for moving in the baby rhodies when they’re big enough.

We really need one or two other trees, but the placement on those is tricky.  I would like to have something that could shade the south side of the house a little, but not so much that it would interrupt the production of the fig trees.  And a tree that worked as a windbreak would be nice in the front, but I’m not sure if a tree right in front of the house would thrive.

I’ll leave you with a bit of gardening lore, culled from GardenWeb’s MidAtlantic Forum:

* Posted by: EGO45 6bCT on Mon, Dec 13, 04 at 0:52

Stupid things that I learned while gardening this year:

Unfortunately, cordless phones are not hardy in zone 6. One that I ‘planted’ last Fall never sprouted this Spring.

Music:  Shirley Vaughan, Peter Gunn theme, Verve Remix

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A nice change of venue on a grey Elsinore day:

Rincones de catalunya

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[other days I’m just a libertine….]

The following may exhibit some philosophical inconsistencies, which will be a shame, since it’s partly inconsistency that I’m irritated about. I plead having a sinus infection as my reason for being a little flakey.  Heaven only knows what the bedrock excuse the folks in Washington and Wall Street have for their choices….

One of the traditional questions rhetoricians get asked is about the status of Truth or Reality. Is it all just persuasion?  Why are bandwagon arguments considered fallacies if, in practice, that’s how a lot of things get decided?  This week gave me two really great examples of where Reality [or “Nature”] intrudes on the best-made arguments of human beings: the milk-melamine scandal in China, and the apparent meltdown in the US financial markets.

In the first case, we have a variety of social agreements:  demand for milk products in China have gone up as parents decide breastfeeding is backward or inconvenient, and the profit motive leads some people to ‘stretch’ their supply of dairy material with water, and then boost the protein content back up with a substance that — according to the currently accepted measures — scans as protein.  However, that chemical analysis is not as sensitive — or accurate — as the biological analysis done by a human baby.  All the arguments in the world about how “This milk-like substance should be accepted as a genuine form of nutrition” fail in the face of actual metabolism.

In the second case, it seems to me that what failed was the social agreement: the sub-prime mortgage market always puzzled me [and yes, I have a relative who was in that business; he’s been out of work for quite a while].  Person X is a bad credit risk. So we’ll make him pay three times what someone with good credit would pay for a loan.  While I understand the punishment aspect of that higher rate, what I don’t understand is how anyone thought this arrangement would magically make Person X into the sort of person who paid their bills in full and on time.

Oh, someone says, in that case, we’d just take the asset back, and everything would be fine.

No, that can’t be right — you were counting on principle and a whole mess of interest; just getting the worth of the house itself wouldn’t be sufficiently profitable.

You’re forgetting that by the time Person X defaults, that house is supposed to be worth, like, twice as much, so we do get our expected return on the deal.

Hmmn. How’s that double-your-money plan working for you these days?

I do not wish to talk about it.

But, of course, the banks were behaving like the folks who want to cash out their lottery annuities — rather than wait to get paid over the time period of the loan, they were selling the loans, and then bits of the loans to two friends, and they sold bits to two friends, and there’s a whole 1970’s shampoo commercial in here, isn’t there?

Eventually, people realize that they can’t tell whether they’ve got a bit of loan that has a reliable payback attached to it, or they’ve got a bit of loan that contains scrapple.  [Or haggis, for that matter.  An offal sitution, however you look at it].

So now everyone is scrambling to find where the Reality is underneath all the layers of lipstick.

Whatever happened to ‘making money the old-fashioned way’?  When someone could be called a captain of industry because they had invested in a company that had a physical product, as opposed to IOUs?

Further, why is it economically wrong to help my brother out of a series of bad financial decisions, but it is ‘okay’ to buy up lots of worthless paper so that the wizards of Wall Street get their mojo back?

Maybe they forfeited their mojo when they even started thinking that the government should take over the means of [wealth] production…..

I don’t feel especially obligated to give it back to them, just because they’ve decided that free markets really means freedom to do what they want, as opposed to a system they are willing to follow through the fire.

Burn, baby burn!

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I am supposed to be across the state tomorrow, for a much-needed weekend retreat. Whatever organism is responsible for my current upper respiratory distress had other ideas.  Many Kleenex(r) have died. Much violent sneezing.  Many bad words have been muttered.  (We will not dwell on the morning vertigo).

While I sniffle, here are some things that have been going pretty well in the garden:

Yes, the “Just Say No to Mow” campaign has claimed another section of yard from the sod.  New plants here include Stokesia, catmint, two kinds of tall [well, next year] asters, and then there are more established plants, such as the big black elderberry in the middle [here it shows up with reddish-brown foliage].

This is what one of the garden plots from last summer looks like after a year of growth.  The purple-brown spires on the left are actually the fading flower stalks from some Thai basil I planted this spring. They make a surprisingly nice ornamental; I think I’ll get some for next year.

And this fine Red Admiral butterfly stopped by to visit the fig trees a few days ago.

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“You know,” says my Beloved, as the same 7 or 8 second instrumental plays in the background of the PBS documentary for the umpteenth time, “That’s all the music that they paid for….”

You’d think with all the different nostalgia-act pledge break fodder they recycle on PBS, someone would have managed a licensing deal for something….

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…and they show no signs of groovin’ it to the borderline, probably because the neighbors might scream and kill them. What we have is a family of Northern brown snakes (Storeria dekayi dekayi), who apparently live on earthworms, crickets, and other small invertebrates, of which we now have a thriving population, thanks to lax mowing habits, new plantings, and lots of Leafgro.

I’ve seen at least one of the adults and probably five of the little ones over the last few weeks. Pretty much, I see the snake, it notices there’s something large and potentially threatening in the environment, and they move away. This works for everybody [well, probably not everybody; one of my former officemates would be terrified of setting foot in my yard if I told her there were snakes.]

I know that all of nature is not “friendly”. I wouldn’t be warm and fuzzy about a nest of copperheads (I did know someone who ran into one of those nests while mowing too close to a shrub; she survived, they did not), and I have no love for the yellowjackets that come to explore my spouse’s office. But the increased variety of bees, butterflies, mantises, and other interesting outside creatures lets me feel that my gardening in Elsinore results in good that isn’t just for myself.

Musical cue: Duran Duran, of course.

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To regale you with student gaffes, here are some from the British Isles:

http://tinyurl.com/3wks8m

Also, lovely photography:

http://tinyurl.com/3vuev4

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