Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Time's cover article a few weeks ago was The End of Cowboy Diplomacy. And more recently a reader wrote to the editor to complain:
"Using the word cowboy as a term of derision is insulting to most Americans. Cowboys have always been the good guys, no matter what the European press or some folks on the East coast of the U.S. may think."
Is this the latest in PC-ness? I don't read the word "cowboy" as derisive. It has a specific meaning - a loner with a certain lack of regard for rules. American Heritage says: "An adventurous hero. A reckless person who ignores potential risks."

On the other hand, in the August 7 issue, a Time interviewer said to Willie Nelson: "The Dixie Chicks got in trouble for their views on the President, but your politics are pretty liberal too. Nelson's reply:
"I'm surprised I didn't get in trouble a year before that when I was at a press conference overseas and they were asking me about our wild Texas cowboy President. I said 'He's not from Texas and he ain't a cowboy, so let's stop trashin' Texans and cowboys."
"Wild Texas cowboy" could go either way. If you're talking about, you know, a cowboy from Texas, it sounds vaguely admiring. If you're talking about the President of the United States it would sound inappropriate except that it is an image Bush has cultivated. East coast stuffed shirt that I am, I'm glad it's being toned down.

In the meantime, I think we could be more careful with the literal meanings of words, less quick to attribute unintended judgements.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that the hens have started laying eggs. Seven lovely, tiny little eggs - one and a half ounces each.

The bad news is that the evil
rooster really nailed me yesterday. I thought I was winning by keeping a sharp eye out for him but I had to laugh when I went out yesterday and realized I was sneaking out the side door, tiptoeing and looking over my shoulder. When I got home I was keeping an eye on him. He was twenty or thirty feet away as I got out of the car. Being cautious, I went around to the passenger side, putting the car between me and him. I looked away from him for a second to reach in and get my things out of the car and WHAM! He hit my shin with his spur. I'm really limping today. But wait. There's still good news. The evil rooster is now in rooster-jail.

And in further good news, the garden is just bursting with goodness. Yet more blueberries - three pints. About a pound a day of pole beans. Damn, I forgot to put them in the picture and they're really gorgeous. Another quart of cherry tomatoes, half a dozen paste tomatoes and a couple of slicing tomatoes. A pile of cucumbers - I guess I'll have to make some relish. Three summer squash. I don't know what's going to become of them. And these amazing carrots. In May I saw a magazine article with a beautiful photo of various colored carrots. I was inspired and ran out to buy seed. These are, Purple Haze, Danvers and Yellowstone. I wonder if they'll taste as distinctive as they look.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Crop Circles

This isn't a digital graphic design. It's a photograph. It's an aerial photo of Oregon farmland. I don't fly very often, but I remember being amazed by this geometric view from the air more than twenty years ago.

I found the photo on Earth & Sky's Human World page. It links to Robert Anex's description of the impact of agriculture on the earth. Anex says that while cities, roads, dams and such cover 1% of the earth total land area, cropland and pasture cover 40%. In Iowa, where Anex lives, 89% of the land surface is farmland. The impact of deforestation and increased nitrogen fixation and release of methane is undeniable. Anex says he is "cautiously optimistic that we CAN maintain agricultural production while improving the environment." I'm more cautions than optimistic.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


This is the really rewarding part of vegetable gardening. What you can't really see under those beans and cucumbers are three pints of blueberries. We have five bearing blueberry bushes and we've been picking blueberries for a month now. I have ten pounds in the freezer and we've had many desserts and unlimited breakfasts with blueberries. If you don't have blueberries in your garden yet, get some. If you don't have room in the vegetable garden, find a place in the landscape for them. They're very attractive shrubs - lovely in bloom and great fall color.

I put in these ten foot bean poles for kind of a Jack in the Beanstalk effect. I can barely reach the beans at the top even with the ladder. I garden in raised beds and pole beans rule for yield in a small space. The quantity of beans has surpassed my ability to eat them daily, so I've got to find room in the freezer for some.

For pounds per square foot, it's a close race between beans and tomatoes. I had the first tomato sandwich of the season last night. Tomato sandwiches always remind me of grad school. At lunch seminars everyone else had those pathetic sandwiches from the machines while I was slurping on these juicy, fragrant garden fresh tomato sandwiches. Here are the ripening Big Boys for sandwiches and San Marzanos for sauce. We are also growing heritage Brandywine and Oxhearts, Classica paste tomatoes, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes and Sweet Million red cherry tomatoes.

Maggy Has a Very Bad Day and Lives to Laugh About It

It's a sad day that goes by without at least one thought worth writing down. And it looks like I've had quite a few lately. But my quiet days are a blessing compared to Maggy's bad day. Note that #7 of the nine bad things that happened that day was getting hit by a cab. And it gets no more emphasis in the bad day story than the bad hair and new office phone system. At the time she didn't think she was hurt enough to see a doctor, but, of course, when her body had time to think it over it rebelled and her leg and hip are giving her a pretty bad time now.

So I was delighted to see her sense of humor return in her blog post this morning. In case you have a slow dial-up connection like mine and are not inclined to click on links, I'm going to cut and paste here 'cause this made me laugh out loud and it may brighten your day too:
"So, I had to get into work early this morning. Not too much of a problem (aside from the fact that the mouse family gets annoyed when I get up early, apparently). I throw together an outfit, I hop on the subway. I hobble to work. I greet our speakers, take them to the meeting and decide to reward myself with a super coffee from Starbucks. You know, the EXTRA caffeinated kind, because I need it.

So I order my grande iced vanilla latte, light ice, light vanilla and then I realize I can't remember how to ask for the extra shots of espresso that make it extra caffeinated.

And I say, "Also I need the thing, you know the stuff with the extra, the thing that makes it more, the caffeine is more inside, the thing that makes it more awake for me?"

I kid you not, the entire Starbucks stopped. [ed. I'm trying to imagine how loud and desperate she may have sounded at this point.] And I said "You know? The thing?" And they all laughed. I think they may actually rename the extra shot "The thing that makes it more awake for me."

The bright side of this is, I got a triple shot of espresso for free. But it's only 9 am, and I'm not sure how long that will last..."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Prudhoe Bay

CNN reports:
Gov. Frank Murkowski imposed a state hiring freeze Wednesday because of the millions of dollars in revenue Alaska is losing as a result of the Prudhoe Bay oil field shutdown...The expected loss of 400,000 barrels per day at today's oil prices means the state is losing about $6.4 million a day in royalties and taxes...The state receives 89 percent of its income from oil revenue; Alaska has no state sales tax and no personal income tax.

This is an interesting way to have people, not just across the country, but around the world fund Alaska's infrastructure and services. Oil companies are paying $2.8 billion in royalties and taxes to Alaska which, of course, is passed on to consumers. (Incidentally, the next largest portion of Alaska's revenue is the tax on alcohol and cigarettes, followed by the tax on salmon and seafood.)

"Murkowski questioned why BP abruptly shut down the entire Prudhoe Bay field after finding a leak of only four to five barrels." The better question is why it wasn't shut down in March following a spill of 6,400 barrels (more than 200,000 gallons). Anchorage News. Quatar

According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Protection (there's an agency with a tough job) there were an average of 409 spills per year in Prudhoe Bay between 1996 and 1999. Trustees for Alaska reports that nitrogen oxide emissions from Prudhoe Bay oilfields were more than 70,000 tons in one year (June 1994 to June 1995), twice the total emitted in Washington D.C and exceeding all other Alaska sources combined by more than 20,000 tons.

I'd like to think that this evidence of destruction in Prudhoe Bay will strengthen our resolve to preserve ANWR. But I fear the shutdown in Prudhoe Bay will increase calls to open ANWR, although exploration in ANWR will do nothing to ease the crisis caused by the shutdown of Prudhoe Bay.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Iridescent Clouds

Late this afternoon, we saw this incredible cloud. The photo on the left is unedited.

Adjusting the light levels makes it look like this:

The rainbow is in the cloud.

Belinda found a name and explanation for this and another photo at NASA.
"They're called iridescent clouds. A relatively rare phenomenon known as iridescent clouds can show unusual colors vividly or a whole spectrum of colors simultaneously. These clouds are formed of small water droplets of nearly uniform size. When the Sun is in the right position and mostly hidden by thick clouds, these thinner clouds significantly diffract sunlight in a nearly coherent manner, with different colors being deflected by different amounts. Therefore, different colors will come to the observer from slightly different directions."

I don't know how you feel about it, but I don't find this explanation really helping much. I guess it's the "nearly coherent manner" that's throwing me off. Luckily the NASA site has a link to this site at the University of Wisconsin. I was a little discouraged by the introduction:
"To understand this phenomenon let's review the four basic theories of light. Each theory was derived at a different point in time and each has its advantages and disadvantages. None of the theories are completely satisfactory in that they can easily explain all the behaviors of light."

The article goes on to describe The Corpuscular Theory of Light, The Wave Theory of Light, The Electromagnetic Theory of Light and The Quantum Theory of Light. It turns out that iridescent clouds are best explained using Wave Theory. This is good 'cause it's the only one of the four that I know anything about.

I understand constructive and destructive interference, when two wave lengths are in-phase or out-of-phase. And I remember diffraction from high school physics.
"To summarize--light bends around objects (diffraction), how much it bends depends on the wavelength, white light is composed of all colors and each color has a different wavelength and therefore is diffracted by a different amount. When the light from the sun interacts with cloud droplets diffraction occurs--the light bends around the edge of the cloud droplet. Different colors are diffracted by different amounts and are therefore in-phase (and out-of-phase) at different distances from the sun. The color bands result as different colors are removed from the sun's light due to destructive interference, while other colors are enforced due to constructive interference."

So, as I understand it, diffraction (different wavelengths bending differently) makes the colors visible and constructive interference (when are in sync) makes the colors bright. I might be able to repeat this explanation tomorrow, but I hope I don't have to actually explain it to anyone.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging

I like to think everyone has a space in the house that is less well organized than they would like. This is one (of three) such spaces in my house - the place where I fail to file the mountains of reports I get from and for the Town Board. There's Tang in the back of the drawer that's never closed.

There is no Friday chicken blogging, but here they are anyway. Looks like they're waiting for the tea party to begin.

There's also no Friday garden blogging and there really should be. Here are my exuberant Glads, better this year than ever. That yellow one is over my head, as are the tomatoes in the background on the right. In fairness, I should say they have a six inch headstart in the raised beds.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ask a Woman to Run for Office

When I ran for the Town Board last year, I was focused on becoming the only Democrat on the board. Halfway through the election when a newspaper reporter asked me what I thought about becoming the only woman on the Board, I was momentarily stumped. Here in the Ithaca area, we're a tad further along the road to enlightenment than some others places. Women's issues were not uppermost in my mind.

Recently Irene Stein, from the Tompkins County Democratic Committee, invited me to participate in Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Campaign School. I felt like I'd been invited by Eleanor Roosevelt herself and I jumped at the chance. We met tonight for introductions.

The training, designed by people at Emily's List, is designed to encourage pro-choice, Democratic women to run for office and win. Emily's list was started in the 1980s at which time no Democratic woman had ever been elected to the US Senate in her own right. EVER! In fact, of 1,889 people who have served in the US Senate since its inception in 1789, only 33 are women. Of 10,546 members of the House of Representatives, 203 are women.

Why so few? According to a Brown University study (pdf) "women are significantly less likely than men to view themselves as qualified to run for office. In addition, women are less likely than men to receive encouragement to run for office from party leaders, elected officials, and political activists."

Does it matter? Well, more than half of eligible voters in the US are women. 15% of the 109th Congress are women. Let's find out if women can make a difference. People at Emily's List and the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee are working hard to recruit qualified women and support their campaigns. If you're a woman, think about running for office. If not, donate to Emily's list and ask a woman you know to run.

Seriously, find out who your local, state and national representatives are and when their terms expire. If you need help with this, email me. Find your local Democratic Committee. Go to a town board, city council, county or state legislature meeting and see what they do. It's hard work but its not rocket science. So, run! Or help someone run. Really. We need you. Get going!

(Cross posted at Dryden Democrats )

That's the way it's supposed to work.

When Wal-Mart CEO, Lee Scott, speaks people listen. From Wal-Mart Facts:
“By working together, we can help each other save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pass the savings on to our customers. Sustainability is good for the environment, and it’s also good for business.”

I know. It may be a publicity thing. But I'm okay with that as long as it's producing results like this. Natural Resources Defense Council reports on Wal-Mart's plans to increase the efficiency of Wal-Mart's trucking fleet by 25 percent over the next three years and to double efficiency by 2015.
"...using more efficient tires, reducing drag by installing windshields and by narrowing the gap between cab and trailer, and offering incentives to drivers who follow fuel-saving acceleration techniques and drive at the most fuel-efficient speed (for large rigs, that's often just above 60 miles per hour). Improving Wal-Mart's fleet-wide efficiency by just a single mile per gallon could save the company $52 million a year."
Someone smarter than me can do the math and report how may gallons of diesel and tons of carbon that represents.

From the US Department of Energy: Wal-Mart Launches Second Energy-Saving Store in Colorado.
The new store, located in Aurora, Colorado, draws some of its power from a 50-kilowatt wind turbine, 134 kilowatts of solar power, and six 60-kilowatt gas-fired microturbines. The store also incorporates evaporative cooling with a low-flow displacement ventilation system. For heating, waste-oil boilers provide hot water for radiant floor heating, and a solar wall preheats ventilation air, reducing the store's use of natural gas for heating. The store's energy efficiency features include daylighting and a variety of energy-efficient electric lighting technologies.

And from Wal-Mart's own site:
" reducing the size of the cardboard packaging on just one line of our own-brand toys last summer, we saved more than 5,000 trees and 1,300 barrels of oil that would have gone into making the packaging."

Yes, green practices make good business sense. This is one issue where the private sector can easily get ahead of government regulation. If Wal-Mart's doing it, can others be far behind?