Nature Feed

Yes, We Have Bananas

GreenBananasMany years ago, thirty-five or so, my father somehow or other obtained a little banana tree, which he planted in a wooden tub maybe two feet in diameter. This was in north Alabama, where the winter temperatures drop below freezing quite often, so he couldn't leave it outside or plant it permanently. So every fall he would drag the tub, which was quite heavy, into the basement, and in the spring drag it out again. It never grew more than a few feet tall, but it survived. 

About twenty years ago my wife brought a shoot from that plant down to our home 350 miles further south, where freezing temperatures are much less frequent. She planted it (maybe I helped, but I hesitate to claim that.) It has survived and to some degree thrived; it's now a clump of half a dozen or so trunks which by the end of the summer are ten feet tall. Most winters have at least one hard freeze that kills them back to the ground, but they always come back. Last year we really didn't have a serious freeze. Now for the first time it's bearing real fruit. We've had a few little ones before but they never got this big. 


Early Memories

I'm reading Mary Karr's memoir The Liars' Club. It's very good, but I realized fairly quickly that some part of me wants to dislike it. At first I didn't want to admit that to myself, keeping a keen eye out for faults while not quite consciously wanting to find them. Then, when it got difficult to suppress my actual bias and desire, I started asking myself why I wanted to dislike it. And then I spent a little while trying to suppress the answer to that question. I finally faced that one, too: it's envy. 

I'm no stranger to that ignoble emotion, especially where writers are concerned. I suppose anyone who wants to be good at anything is bound to feel a little envy of those who are very, very good at it. Likely to, anyway, if not bound. But it's not usually very strong with me--just sort of a sigh, I wish I could write like that. And it definitely doesn't get in the way of my enjoyment of the work, much less cause me to try to find fault with it. My problem with Mary Karr's book is that I've written a book that's at least 50% memoir, and it's not nearly as good as hers. I'd like to think it has strengths of its own, but in the way of vividly bringing to life scenes from the past it's not in the same league as The Liars' Club. I envy the latter's richness and color, the precision and detail of its observations, the novelistic or even cinematic rendering of character, the wit--especially the wit. I even came pretty close to envying Mary Karr the presence of those crazy people in her life, the fact that they were available to her to write about. My family was not nearly as wild and colorful--which I am sensible enough to realize is a good thing even as I feel that hint of envy. (And I do not, very much do not, envy certain of her experiences.)

And I certainly don't recall nearly as much of my childhood as Karr does. Really, is it possible that anyone remembers so much of childhood so precisely? Doing my best to take into account my bias, I still have some skepticism on that score. Surely Karr embellished and combined and reconstructed in some instances, such as a scene in which she recounts a long story which her father told to a group of friends, including not only the essence of the story but its exact words, and some digressions, as well as precise details of the listeners' identities and appearances and responses. She's still a small child, not yet in school. Would a child that young even notice all that, much less be able to recall it in middle age? 

Well, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. And even if there is some embellishment, I'll assume it's justifiable in that it's in keeping with the real characters and events. And in any case it's a really engaging read.

I had been mulling that over yesterday when I saw this post at Neo-neocon's blog: What's your first memory? Many of the answers, starting with her own, are fascinating. It's a topic that has intrigued me for a long time. Some people seem to remember a great deal from quite early, meaning two years or younger, some nothing until considerably later. I think the matter first really caught my attention years ago when I began to notice how much more my wife remembers about her childhood than I do about mine. Or maybe it's not so much the amount as the precision and the detail. In particular she has a detailed memory of an event that happened when she was twenty-six months old. Her mother doubted this, but my wife was able to describe the scene so precisely that her mother had to concede that it was a genuine memory. 

For my part I can't say for certain that I remember anything at all before the age of four or five. I have one image which may come from much earlier, but I can't be sure because it's not specific enough. The indubitably genuine memories are not nearly as precise as many of my wife's--surroundings are usually pretty indistinct, for instance. That aspect of the difference between us may be due only to the fact that she is very observant and has a very good visual memory, whereas I'm not and I don't. 

Still, I've noticed often enough that I think it may be a pattern that women tend to remember more, and more precisely, from childhood than men do. I don't know if that would hold up under statistical inspection, but as I say I've noticed it. And it would fit with a more supportable generalization: that women tend to be more interested in children and childhood than men.

And there's a related pattern that I am pretty sure of: women are far more likely to remember what clothes they had on. Mary Karr remembers as part of a fairly ordinary moment in her childhood that she was wearing "white underpants, which had little red apples printed on them." There's an autobiographical book, by a woman, called Love, Loss, and What I Wore, but I don't know how many childhood memories are involved in it.

TheLiarsClub


Machine vs Bugs

I logged in to Facebook and there was a link to a YouTube video from a band I "liked" (and like), Laki Mera. So I thought I'd listen to the song. It was good. Then I noticed on the YouTube sidebar a video called "Bothering Bald-faced hornets with an Action Drone AD-1". Why did YouTube connect that to the music video? I have no idea. But it caught my attention.

That looks interesting. No it doesn't. Liar. It's 13 minutes long. So what? Okay, I admit I'm curious. Of course--who wouldn't want to see a drone bothering a hornets' nest? But I don't want to take that much time. Seeing a drone bothering a hornets' nest is worth 13 minutes of your time. Yeah, but it's getting kind of late, I should do something more useful. I repeat, seeing a drone.... Okay, okay. You just have to take out the recycling, you have plenty of time for that.  OKAY.

So the voice in italics won and I watched it. You can, too. It is exactly what the title says--well, a bit more than "bothering"--it's a drone attacking a hornet's nest. And it is kind of fascinating. But I will warn you that at several points the hornets are flying so thick that it's creepy, and I'm a little concerned that it could give me a nightmare, so I'm going to get away from the computer for a while before I go to bed.

I suggest watching/listening to the Laki Mera video to help clear that out.

 


Sunday Night Journal, September 2, 2018

I finally decided to pay a little attention to the Jordan Peterson phenomenon, which I have pretty much been ignoring. I first heard of him by way of this post by Neo-neocon, in which she discusses the video in which Peterson is interviewed by an apparently well-known British journalist named Cathy Newman. I soon realized that Peterson's work in general, and his persona, and this video in particular were becoming famous. And I thought Neo's analysis of the interview was fascinating, as she notes the ways in which Peterson uses (so she says) the techniques of a psychotherapist (which he is) to deal with Newman's hostility and her attempts to paint him as a Bad Person. Newman is fond of the low "So you're saying..." gambit, widely favored in political arguments.

"I think nations have the right to control their borders."

"So you're saying immigrants have no rights."

Both sides do it of course.

"I think we have an obligation to take care of immigrants."

"So you're saying we should let the whole world move in and go on welfare."

I thought it was a good thing that someone successfully countered the bullying of a TV journalist, especially someone asserting reason and fact in the face of ideological-emotional aggression. But I did not actually watch the video. (I don't usually watch news-related videos, or for that matter listen to podcasts. I'm not sure exactly why but it often has to do with impatience--just give me a transcript and let me read it, which will take a lot less time than listening to you say it all.)

I didn't, however, intend to investigate Peterson any further. If a writer of self-help books is writing sane advice in defiance of popular cant, good for him, but a book called 12 Rules For Life is on the face of it not my cup of tea.

Then I saw a piece by Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic  called "Why the Left Is So Afraid of Jordan Peterson." Caitlin Flanagan is usually interesting; she is one of those people who are more or less on the progressive side but don't wear ideological blinders, so I thought I would read the piece. But I had not gotten around to it when I came across a rather fevered attack on Peterson by a liberal Catholic on Facebook (friend of a friend kind of thing). He may be a theologian. At any rate he's pretty knowledgeable on the subject, and went into a vigorous attack on Peterson's ideas as being incompatible with various Catholic beliefs as articulated by various theologians. I thought this was odd: why get upset about a non-Catholic psychologist's deviations from Catholic teaching? I'm not perturbed by Oprah's heterodoxy.

That caused me to go and read Flanagan's piece. Now I understand. I'll let her say it:

The left has an obvious and pressing need to unperson [Peterson]; what he and the other members of the so-called “intellectual dark web” are offering is kryptonite to identity politics. There is an eagerness to attach reputation-destroying ideas to him, such as that he is a supporter of something called “enforced monogamy”.... 

There are plenty of reasons for individual readers to dislike Jordan Peterson. He’s a Jungian and that isn’t your cup of tea; he is, by his own admission, a very serious person and you think he should lighten up now and then; you find him boring; you’re not interested in either identity politics or in the arguments against it. There are many legitimate reasons to disagree with him on a number of subjects, and many people of good will do. But there is no coherent reason for the left’s obliterating and irrational hatred of Jordan Peterson. What, then, accounts for it?

It is because the left, while it currently seems ascendant in our houses of culture and art, has in fact entered its decadent late phase, and it is deeply vulnerable. The left is afraid not of Peterson, but of the ideas he promotes, which are completely inconsistent with identity politics of any kind. When the poetry editors of The Nation virtuously publish an amateurish but super-woke poem, only to discover that the poem stumbled across several trip wires of political correctness; when these editors (one of them a full professor in the Harvard English department) then jointly write a letter oozing bathos and career anxiety and begging forgiveness from their critics; when the poet himself publishes a statement of his own—a missive falling somewhere between an apology, a Hail Mary pass, and a suicide note; and when all of this is accepted in the houses of the holy as one of the regrettable but minor incidents that take place along the path toward greater justice, something is dying.

 *
Another LP from the closet: The Grateful Dead, Live/Dead. This is a live double LP that came out in 1969. I liked it at the time but as far as I can remember had not heard it since sometime around the middle of the '70s, so I wasn't sure whether I still would.
 
I do. In fact I love it. The first two sides are classics of the jam-rock genre, and among the first instances of it on record (maybe the first?). They include only three songs, "Dark Star," "St. Stephen," and "The Eleven." The first occupies a whole side, and seems to be regarded as the quintessential jam vehicle of the quintessential jam band. I was surprised to learn that it was initially a straightforward under-three-minute song, and was in fact issued as a single. Shockingly, it did not make a mark on the Top 40. But it's on YouTube. 

There is a joyous quality about those first two sides. The other two are good, but to my taste not as. "Turn On Your Love Light," which people of a certain age may remember hearing in Bobby "Blue" Bland's hit version on the radio ca. 1960, occupies all of side 3. Side 4 begins with "Death Don't Have No Mercy," a sort of gospel blues with typically stark lyrics:
Death don't have no mercy in this land
Come to your house, he don't stay long
You look in the bed, see your mama is gone
Jerry Garcia was not the greatest guitarist in the world, but he was very good, and often a very emotionally effective one. Same for his singing. In particular he's not a great blues/gospel sort of singer. Still, both guitar and voice work really well in this song. And in the whole album: his voice has a warm fuzzy-hippie quality about it that fits perfectly with the band's sound and general vibe. And vibe is a big part of the appeal of the album.
 
The sound quality is excellent, but the mix seems unbalanced. It often seems to be all guitar, bass, and voice. I can hardly hear one of the two drummers most of the time, though maybe that's because he isn't doing much most of the time. To tell you the truth, I've never quite gotten the point of having two drummers. I just get confused if I try to listen closely to them. But I'm not a musician, and especially not a drummer. I've only in recent years come to appreciate drummers.
 
*

Say what you will about summer in the South, it does frequently make available the experience of being soaked to the skin by heavy rain but not getting chilled. I had that experience yesterday. There's a creek that empties out into the bay near my house, and it wanders around depending on the prevailing winds and tides. I won't bore you with the details, but its course for most of this summer has been causing some extremely unwelcome beach erosion. So I've been trying to change its course by digging an alternative channel in the sand. I was doing that yesterday when this storm came up.

BayStormI just went on digging for an hour or so in the pouring rain, which was actually preferable to sun under those circumstances. Sand is heavy, and wet sand even heavier.

My channel was working when I left, but filled in again overnight, which I pretty much expected, because the tide was going to be pretty high. I had to try, though. Here is an instance from earlier in the summer where I succeeded. This is the day after the dig--the new channel is fairly well established.

HydroEngineering2

Three or four days later:
HydroEngineering
The creek is still more or less in this position, though a bit further to the north (right). Better than it was, but I want it to be another fifty feet or so south.


Sunday Night Journal, June 24, 2018

First it was "the personal is the political." Now it's "the political is the personal." The politicization of everything, as this National Review writer describes it, is bad. But it's not mysterious. Consider these items from that piece:

I fear that we shall go the way of The Nation’s Liza Featherstone, who recently warned an advice-seeker against dating a man who may be (egad!) a conservative and (perish the thought!) a fan of Jordan Peterson....

In 2012, David Graham, writing in The Atlantic, noted a study that showed that a growing number of Americans would be displeased if their children married someone of the other party. 

That sounds bad. It is bad. But if you change the "liberal" and "conservative" categories to "fervent atheist" and "fervent Christian," it makes sense. Even without actual animosity, two people with such seriously opposing views on such fundamental matters ought to think twice, at least, about getting involved in love and marriage with each other.

More disturbing than such views about romance are the instances I've seen of liberals not wanting to live in the same neighborhood as conservatives. Maybe the same thing happens in the other direction, but I haven't encountered it.

Once again I assert that the culture war is actually a religious conflict. I say this not for the purpose of inflaming the situation but of understanding what is actually happening. It's possible--only possible--that if people on both sides were more aware of this they might make more of an effort to tamp down their anger. Or then again it might make things worse, if people recognize that there are irreconcilable differences over first principles, not just policies. Well, even so, I prefer to have a clear understanding, even if that means recognizing that a situation is more dire than I had hoped.

*

In that long Facebook argument (381 comments!) I mentioned a few weeks ago in which I was taken to task for my comments about toxic femininity, I was criticized for "attempt[ing] to be reasonable" when the other person thought (apparently) that I should be emotional. I almost took this as a compliment, because I think reasonableness is in pretty short supply these days where political-cultural matters are concerned. That was certainly on display this past week in the matter of parents and children being separated when families enter the country illegally.

As I always take pains to say whenever I discuss anything having to do with Donald Trump, I did not support him, and the best I can say about his presidency is that it hasn't been as bad as I feared. But the open crusade waged by the media, the entertainment industry et.al. is so disproportionate to what he is actually doing that when some "Oh my God did you hear what Trump just did?!?" story hits the news, which it does at least once a week, I automatically assume that it's exaggerated. I wait several days before even bothering to check it out, because the chances are very good that it will turn out to be either not as bad or not as significant as reported, and sometimes that it's not entirely true. It often seems that the anti-Trump forces never heard the old fable of the boy who cried wolf. Or didn't understand its lesson, and thought that the problem was that the boy didn't scream loudly enough.

The family separations were  (are?) a harsh and unjust practice and well worth objecting to. And so, the thing in question being in fact bad, nothing apparently would do but to ratchet up the emoting even further, and to ignore the legal and practical complexities that led to it. As usual, the only place left to go when you're stretching for a way of describing your enemy as the Ultimate Evil is the Nazi comparison. This requires equating the temporary incarceration of people who have entered a country without permission with slaughtering them. Even aside from the moral blindness of the comparison, its sheer stupidity ought to have kept anyone but Trump-deranged fanatics from making it. Yet a former director of the CIA made it, very publicly, and then defended it. I think Neo-neocon's rejoinder is worth quoting:

So: no, there is nothing familiar, not even vaguely, to the Holocaust, and it is a disgrace to suggest that there is.

I’m not going to go into a long post describing the Holocaust, but it is clear to all who study history that the death camps and even work camps were not refugee detention centers, and the people in them (Jews and others) were not illegal immigrants asking for asylum or seeking to become German citizens (or Polish citizens for that matter, the country where the Germans located most of the death camps).

In Nazi work camps, many people (if relatively able-bodied to begin with) were set to “work” to be starved, tortured both psychologically and physically, and killed in droves by disease and exhaustion because of the terrible conditions. In Nazi death camps they were killed at the outset, although a very small percentage were spared briefly to help with the cleanup of the mass killing in exchange for a few more months of life, or to work at certain other tasks for a while under conditions that would ordinarily kill them rather quickly (within months as a rule). The object was to eliminate them as a group from the face of the earth, and certainly from Europe.

That was the stark reality, and it is obscene to make the comparison so many people are making.

If you want to read some exasperatingly reasonable discussion of the complex immigration situation, try Damon Linker or David Frum. I'm usually not much of a fan of Frum, but I think he's on target here. Damon Linker is often interesting. He seems to consider himself on the left--"center-left" I think is the term he uses--but is willing to take conservative and/or populist concerns seriously and to characterize them fairly, which is unusual to put it mildly.

Well, I didn't intend to write that much about politics. Now I've run out of time for the music-related post I had planned. Next week.

*

For more than ten years we had a Meyer lemon tree growing beside our front steps. In many of those years it bore more lemons than we knew what to do with. This is a how it looked in its glory days, a picture of a few branches of a tree that was eight feet or so tall. 

image from lightondarkwater.typepad.com

When life gives you this many lemons, limoncello, not lemonade, is the appropriate response. Several years ago my wife made a big batch of it, several quarts at least, stored in Mason jars. It's delicious and very potent, made with a base of Everclear. I've been using this neat little bottle to dispense it. LimonCelloIt originally contained two different and delicious liqueurs, brought from Europe (France, I think) by one of our children. I liked the bottle(s) so much that I didn't want to throw it (them) away, and have been using it for limoncello for a while now. A few days ago I poured the last of the limoncello into it and took this memorial photo.  

I call it a memorial because this not just the last of that big batch: it's the last ever from our lovely lemon tree. Several years ago we had an unusually cold winter which had the tree covered in ice for several days. It lost all its leaves and we thought it might be dead, but it recovered, partially, and gave us a few lemons the next year. Then the year after we had another cold spell, not quite as bad as the earlier one but enough to kill back all the leaves, and that was pretty much the end of the tree. This spring only a few living branches were left and we finally cut it down. I'll spare you the sad sight of the stump.


Blue Heron Feeding

Sometimes I forget that the group of people who read this blog and the group who see what I put on Facebook overlap but are not identical. I posted this on Facebook one day last week, so some of you have seen it. Here it is for those who have not.

I was sitting in my portable chair working by the bay one day a couple of weeks ago when this heron landed nearby. That's a bit unusual, so I took out my phone and started recording, mainly for the benefit of my local grandsons, who have seen these birds but not so close. I wish I had zoomed in before the bird caught the first fish. Probably someone who knows something about video could bring out more detail in the bird, which is mostly in shadow. But I decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

 


Wendell Berry and Pope Francis

Thanks to Rob G for the link to this piece at First Things connecting Laudato Si and the thought of Wendell Berry. I am one of those whom the author mentions as being disappointed by a number of Berry's recent statements on same-sex marriage, not only the content but the tone. Nevertheless, one must try not to be merely reactionary, and these views don't negate the good things he's said over the years.

As I remarked in a comment, I'm now ready to read Laudato Si, some of the fuss having died down. I 'm sorry to say that I ordered a hardback copy via Amazon. I wanted it and Roman Guardini's End of the Modern World, and thought I would order both from their publishers rather than Amazon. But before I could order from ISI, the publishers of the Guardini book, I had to go through a registration process that included giving them my phone number, and I balked. So I went back to Amazon, and then threw the encyclical into the same order. If only Amazon weren't so dadgum convenient....


No doubt you have often wondered...

...as I have, whether an object dropped through the upper surface of a bubble would also pierce the lower surface, or instead arrive at that location after the bubble had finished bursting and was no longer there.  Of course the result would vary with the size of the bubble etc., but this answers the question for a fairly typical case.

 


Another Near-Death Experience

We were talking about these a couple of months agoThis one is from a neurosurgeon, who had previously believed that consciousness is an entirely material phenomenon. "But that belief, that theory, now lies broken at our feet. What happened to me destroyed it."

I have not read the Newsweek article to which the short notice above, in the Telegraph, points. Just the fact that it's in Newsweek makes me slightly skeptical. But something is going on here.

Update: you really should read the entire Newsweek piece. It's one of the most full and interesting accounts of this sort of the thing I've ever read. If the man is not just flat-out lying, this is, at a minimum, a striking piece of evidence for the belief that the soul does not begin and end with the body.