Wednesday, June 30, 2021

And If They Like The Weather So Much, They Can Go To Hell

Dateline: Friday, June 25

I've complained about heat before. It's what I do. The only reason people think of me as even-tempered is that it's not usually that hot. That's been changing fast. Scientists are reluctant to pin any one weather event on global warming because they're trained to be careful in their conclusions, but we all know the truth. We're looking at an existential bollixing. And we are both the bollixers and the bollixees.

Today I am filling bird baths and looking out at my bird friends Studley and DooDah and Dickens and Peanut Dave the scrub jay with anticipatory dread on their behalf, and envy that they are, for the moment, oblivious. There's a forecast out for this weekend for a heat wave so unprecedented that the actual precedents are cowering under the porch and peeing themselves. This never was funny, and it's not now.

This Monday, in gentle Portland, Oregon, a modest and temperate jewel of a city on a major river within sight of actual glaciers, it is currently predicted to reach 118 degrees. And it will dip all the way down to 82 at night. Up till now you could count our nighttime temperatures above 70--for all time--on one hand. So unless the nearest glacier slides right off the mountain and into our bedroom, we're screwed.

As regular readers know, I do not have, or believe in, air conditioning, and intend to survive using my prehistoric caveman skills, refined in the sodden swamps of northern Virginia. I do not intend to fire up a box that sucks up more coal power. That's how we got here.

But I'm beside myself, which is really bad, because both of me are too warm.

It's only in the nineties today, but I peek out of my closed curtains and think about asteroids. Isn't it a blessing that no one saw that monster of extinction coming, 66 million years ago? Just chomp chomp chomp like any other day, and then suddenly a blinding light and powdered dinosaurs everywhere.

But here and now, we know it's coming, we know we caused it, we know what to do about it, and we spend our days talking about trannies in the bathroom and the freedom to infect each other. We've known for over a hundred years. We were warned urgently forty years ago. Al Gore pleaded with us twenty years ago and the Libertarian/Republican conspiracy of doom responded by instructing Americans to mock him. They were not about to let anyone interfere with the lucrative rape of the planet.

Every one of them should have to answer, really answer, one simple question: What's your plan, Skippy? They do not have a plan. For anything. Anything except keeping power and money. They are criminals in the first degree and should be treated as such. Mitch McConnell and every one of the sons-of-mitches, the whole soulless lot of them, should be removed from society before they do any more harm, and punished appropriately. I'd suggest they be roasted at the stake, if there was some way to make that take a few years.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Caws For Celebration

The ten-year crow project is off the ground and flapping!

We've been trying to befriend a crow for ages. Any crow will do, but it must be particular, a personal crow that can be distinguished from the rest. Probably by being the only one that comes up and says Howdy. Because, basically, if you've seen one crow you've seen them all.

Like ants. If you've seen one ant in your kitchen, you've seen them all, or you're about to.
Anyway for years now crows have deigned to accept our peanuts as long as we go all the way inside and shut the door after we toss them. This is hardly the relationship we were looking for. I blame Dave.

I blame Dave because for some reason birds have it out for him. They dive at his head, they bop his hat, they are unhygienic on his shirt. And he doesn't deserve it. Crows supposedly not only remember individual humans they don't like, but teach their children to hate them, too. If Dave inadvertently damaged a crow or hurt its feelings when he was seven, the word probably got out, and he remains a dark legend in the corvid annals. I say "inadvertently" because Dave can't even skoosh a bug and the only time he's ever harmed an animal was when he thought it was in distress and tried to mercy-kill it, but, lacking any skill for murder--I'm a beneficiary of that--he ended up making things a lot worse and sobbing for hours.
We have four crows associated with the neighbor's Douglas Fir. Two of them have been busy whomping up the next generation, and the other two are, presumably, teenagers who are still hanging out for the wi-fi. And those two always pal around together, and they're starting to feel warm toward us. Dickens and DooDah. They'll both come within six feet for a peanut, and you can't expect much more than that in a pandemic.

Not only that, but we can totally tell them apart. Dickens is sleek and black and shiny, and DooDah is a mess. He's browner and less shiny and disheveled and itchy. And he makes the most wonderful sounds ever. He coos, he warbles, he chuckles. He sits on top of our little clock tower and chuckles his heart out. Our clock was never designed to be outdoors and the hands have long since told Gravity rather than Time. It's perpetually six-thirty on that clock, and DooDah thinks that's hysterical.

And before you ask, no, I do not know what their preferred pronouns are. I have enough trouble with that in the non-bird world.

Dickens on the left, DooDah on the right
Both of them are still a mite cautious about peanut retrieval, and if there's a scrub jay within a quarter mile, it will bomb in and get the nut first. But when they do go for it, they hop in sideways with a wary eye, ready to peel out, and dash in at the last second for the nab, after which they retreat about two inches and commence hammering. They're all, like, Careful, careful, Oooh! Peanut, and they forget all about the dire danger that is Us.

So we think we've been making headway.

And then yesterday I saw it. A bright foil circle shining from the vegetable bed. If you turn it over, it says "SKIPPY." Nobody opened a new jar of peanut butter in our yard recently. I think Dickens found it somewhere and brought it in for us. I'm sure of it. DooDah's too busy scratching.

Bonus video: sound up!


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Jesus Meat

A wad of bishops is on the verge of deciding Joe Biden should not be allowed to partake of the Eucharist on account of his support for abortion rights. They didn't ding Trump for restoring the federal death penalty, although, of course, Trump is not a Catholic. Or anything else. At least most of the time. Depends on what church he poses in front of, I guess.

All of which led me to revisit the subject of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. And how much of a big deal it would be to be denied the partakance thereof. And, of course, the funeral rituals of the Wari' tribe of the Amazon rainforest.

It would be a pretty big deal. Like a lot of other things, but not climate change, it's important to the degree you believe in it. No Eucharist for you basically means you're out of the club, and this is a club that goes to a lot of effort to make you stay in it.

Catholics believe that the bread and wine of the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus. If that seems like a hard sell, they remind us that this happens "in a way surpassing understanding." So if you don't understand it, that proves it. The phenomenon of the transformation of actual bread and wine to actual body and blood is called "transubstantiation." One of the most miraculous parts of it is it still looks and tastes like bread and wine, so I would judge it has not been so much wholly as substantially transubstantiated.

I remember when Mom and Dad trooped up to the altar for Communion. And then they came back to the pew smelling like alcohol, which was a damn miracle, all right. The pastor held up the Host and said "This is my body, broken for thee," or something like that. Okay. I could plainly see the Host was not Jesus himself but just some other cracker. I was little, but even I could appreciate a metaphor.

Catholics evidently do not. They are not about figures of speech. If Jesus wanted to make the point that breaking bread should remind people of the sacrifice he was going to make for them, he would have said "Verily, this is, like, a little illustration of a broken body, much like mine is about to be, and I hope you all think of me next time you have some," but he did not, not even in Aramaic. He said "This is my body," and that was that.

Back to the Wari' tribe. They used to honor their dead by eating them. Not right away, either. They'd wait for the apparently standard three days, during which time the deceased did not, in their case, rise again incorruptible. It's hot in Peru and they were plenty corrupted and they ate them anyway, causing great gastric distress. The Wari' believed this honored the dead by incorporating them into their own bodies, albeit for a very short period of time. Clearly this was a ritual involving a lot more sacrifice than is required of Catholics, except perhaps the ones with celiac disease, because--this is true--the people in charge of these things insist the Body Of Christ must not be gluten-free.

In any case Joe Biden, by all accounts a faithful Catholic, might well think it was a BFD if he would no longer be allowed to eat his Lord and Savior. It depends how gullible he is. I know he doesn't believe in trickle-down economics.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Hello, Central?

Don't even tell me if there's a new social media platform. I won't know what it does or what makes it special, and I'm pretty sure it will involve some specific brain pleasure-center rewiring that will make it impossible to connect with old-fashioned happiness. Not only that, but I figure if I jump on board and give it the old college whirl, it will already be obsolete. I'd feel like a pre-spurned lover. And who needs that?

I don't enjoy Twitter. I haven't looked at Instagram, or Tik Tok, or WhatsApp, or Tumblr, although I've heard some of them can give you a disease if you swipe the wrong way, which is also true of toilet paper. 

If it's not a new way to interact with strangers, it's a new way to communicate, and if I get one more of those I won't have any idea how to get hold of anybody. Does my friend answer the phone? Which one? Answer texts? Answer emails? Answer Facebook Messenger? Everyone has a preferred communication portal, and you have to remember which one works for each individual.

So the other day I was looking at my email (which I always answer, BTW, unless I forget, which could happen, because my personal software is glitchy), and there was something in there that purported to be from a phone number, not a name. And when I opened it, it went straight to a conversation icon in my dock that I'd never seen before. It says "Messages" but I don't remember ordering up such a thing. I clicked on it. Inside were four messages, all from phone numbers. I don't know whose. (Remembering people's phone numbers is an old and currently irrelevant skill. You can't even show that off anymore. You try to impress someone by rattling off your childhood friends' phone numbers and people squint at you like they're wondering if you can pull off a Rain Man thing in Las Vegas.)

Two of the four phone numbers I was able to figure out from the context of the message. The one about estimating a fence is from the fence guy. I don't know why his message is hanging out in the dock on my laptop. He has my phone number. Seems coy to me. It's like if someone wants to get hold of you by skulking in the shrubbery going Psst. The other three messages have apparently been hanging out in limbo in my dock for a while now.

So I looked up this Messages thing. I still don't know why it exists. Says you can text someone at any time with it. Couldn't you before? And why isn't it on my phone?
I'm missing out. But at least, thanks to my considered avoidance of these things, I have no Fear Of Missing Out. You want to get hold of me for certain, see if you can get your message projected on the wall across from my toilet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Death By Peugeot

There's a lot to be said for childhood innocence, and not burdening one's children with the worries of the world before they really need to know. Let them spend a few golden years swaddled in love and imagining a boo-boo is as bad as it gets. I did. I was gloriously ignorant. For instance, I had no idea how thoroughly endangered we were whenever we got in the car with my father.

Daddy had mostly God-like qualities, like infallibility and grumpiness. My father didn't smite us in any way but he sure could have punched us an early ticket to heaven every time he got behind the wheel. I didn't realize it until I started driving myself.

For one thing, he didn't have any particular skills. And if another driver did something he didn't approve of, which happened constantly, he got all upset and started driving faster to keep up with his blood pressure. You could tell, even from the back seat, when someone did something bad, because Daddy would say "Why, you miserable so-and-so" and start swerving. Speaking of protecting children from the world, "miserable so-and-so" was about as bad as it got. True story: I saw the word SHIT scrawled on a bathroom stall in sixth grade and not too much later I heard someone say it out loud, and I remember thinking: did they read that off the bathroom stall in Taylor Elementary?
He also didn't have cars that were necessarily up to the job. I think he researched his auto purchases carefully but I'm not sure what qualities he was going for. Back in those days we didn't have that many divided highways. Your average road was two lanes at best, and if you got stuck behind a slower car you had to pass it in the oncoming lane. Even when I was little I dreaded that. There would be this awful buildup with him edging into the oncoming lane to see if anyone was coming, all tensed up for a few miles, and then all of a sudden he'd stomp on the gas, and our car would get louder but not necessarily any faster, and finally, minutes later, he'd edge back into our lane while we watched oncoming traffic spray gravel out of the shoulders.
I know other kids' fathers' cars did better than that. But we never got one of those big boats that when you stomped on the gas it rocketed away. The first car we had was American, but it was no Chevy or Oldsmobile. It was a ten-ton rhinoceros of a Studebaker with suicide doors. It probably would have withstood a heck of an impact but of course we would have long since exited through the windshield. It did have a nice commodious back seat and my sister and I slid side to side on it like ball bearings when we took a curve. You could also kneel backwards on it and play with things on the big back shelf. Butt-first is probably the safer option for going through a windshield.
The other problem my dad had with driving is sometimes he kind of forgot he was doing it. We took the country roads all the way, and maybe traffic was sparse, and the thing about George Brewster was he could spot a cool mushroom from fifty yards out. Many people must have wondered why the little gray Peugeot 304 they were following suddenly slammed on the brakes for no reason. There was always a reason. But you had to be inside the car to hear Dad point and yell Ramaria botrytis! and even then you might not get it.
I still get a chill from the time we were all in the car, and everyone noticed we had sort of drifted into the oncoming lane, and assumed Daddy was planning to do something about it, what with the oncoming trucks and all, but then we looked over at him and his whole head was cranked to the side admiring the view. We all started screaming and Dad jerked the car back into our lane. The truck was all over his horn when he passed us. I know what he was saying. He was saying Dad was a real miserable so-and-so.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Looking For A Nice Squishy Spot To Land

Author's pose

So, yeah. My blog is a creaky little old lady, and sometimes she farts a little when she gets out of a chair, but she's still got most of her marbles, and God knows she's regular. She's had a data dump twice a week since December 2008 and hasn't missed once.

But someone should maybe be keeping an eye on her. And it probably shouldn't be me. I shouldn't be in charge of anybody. I don't pay attention. I'm the one who waits until the old lady is hobbling to discover she has an ingrown toenail, and then I look online for the cure and read:
    Simply <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8?>
    <?xml-stylesheet type="text/xsl" media="screen" href="/~d/styles/atom10full.xsl"?>
    and wallah

Sorry, Grandma, you're just going to have to wait until it grows out.

Besides, I don't want just a blog. I want a real Author's Page like a real author. It is true most of my stuff started out between two ears and never made it between two covers. But I don't think this should disqualify me as a genuine Author. My God. You should see who got called President a few years back. You wouldn't believe it.

If I had an Author's Page, then if someone tripped across one of my essays somewhere and wanted to look me up, they'd have a nice squishy spot to land, all literary pudding and goodness. There would be a tab for my blog, nicely displayed against a friendly white background. There would be a tab for all my essays appearing elsewhere. There would be an About Me tab. An About Pootie tab. A Murrch tab (books, T-shirts).

People do trip over my stuff sometimes, and I know this because once someone took the trouble to figure out my email address and sent me a letter saying how much she liked my Christian Science Monitor essay. I was surprised and delighted, because I was not aware I had an essay in The Christian Science Monitor. I went to the liberry to look up the current issue and I will be goddamned if I wasn't right in there.

"Hi," I wrote to the editor, "I noticed you published my essay, and I was just wondering, were you planning to let me know?"
Or, you know, pay me?

I got an immediate and embarrassed response from the editor who swore this had never happened before. He said he loved my essay, and I should feel free to send him more. Shoot, I said. I can do this all day long. Give me a column.

He said No. They didn't want to feature any one writer too often. I sent him another. He took it. He's taken over fifty since then. He has rejected only three of my efforts, and those were because I might have trampled on Christian Science sensibilities. (That's something you can do without even knowing it.) It's been a swell ride.

Well, various outlets on the internet make it super easy to design an author page. As with everything else, you can create and launch such a thing without knowing the first thing about how it works. It's even free. I should do it. I've been saying that for years.

I've also planned to clean my house, but I don't. Grow up, Brewster, I say to myself. You can do it, but you won't. And so, slowly, I am beginning to employ a whole new-to-me method of contending with these issues. I am throwing money at them. Which means I should probably hire someone to build me an author page.

Someone who knows how to transplop my blog without losing my archives. Someone who speaks in code. Someone who won't push a button and make everything disappear. Someone who, clearly, is not me.

Ten years ago I wrote a bunch of copy for a web designer. It was supposed to be an exchange, but at the time I didn't know what I wanted in an Author's Page. And now it feels too late. I hate writing emails when I know the recipient is going to look at them and say Oh, Bother. Ten years ago, she'd think. My rates have gone up since then.
Mine haven't. I'm still free.

And so my little blog keeps hobbling along, threatening traffic with her walker and scowling at the internet. I just need someone who can get this old lady all the way across the street without a bladder leak.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Murrtle Forges On

Back when I was working downtown, I got to recognize this one old lady who always crossed the street at 6th and Clay. She'd get a jump on it, if you could call inching headlong a "jump," poking her walker out just past the parked cars before her Walk light came on, to take some of the distance out. Then it was full speed ahead, a gritty, determined, thoroughly terrifying clank-and-shuffle in front of three lanes of temporarily halted cars, and anyone could calculate that she wasn't going to make it to the sidewalk before the light went green again. Not even, really, close. We didn't know who would be barreling down that last lane hoping to turn left and catch the next light before it turned. She bore down on those last few yards with a scowl that could stall out an Oldsmobile, and that alone gave her enough edge to live to see another day's trudge. It was the stuff of nightmares.

Let's call her Murrtle, because if she's no longer with us, she probably came back as my blog.

Something must be done about my blog because there are only so many days left it's going to be able to get all the way across the street without being creamed by the march of progress. Anyone can sense there's a problem just because, well, look at it: it's written on parchment and the wallpaper is clearly from an old-lady dress. It's a cranky old template from the early days of Google blogging and I have to dust the screen with pounce and set my signet to the seal before I can post anything.

It's old.

And when stuff gets old, it quits working as well. Things give out. I mentioned recently that Feedburner, the doodad in charge of my blog subscriptions, was about to quit visiting the Home because it can tell I don't remember it anymore; and shoot, it's old enough to retire, itself. The same year Feedburner came into being, a ton of babies were born who have now graduated from high school, bought up the company, and dropped enough on their houses to send a thousand people each to a homeless camp.

It's old.

I don't need a lot out of my blog. I used to think I could keep or gain an audience by keeping the quality of my (cough) content up. I don't want it to depend on some gizmo somewhere that I use but don't understand.

But I am terrified of starting a new blog site. What if all my archives disappear? And why do I care? I don't know. I spent over fifty years of my life thinking of mysef as a writer, but not actually writing. Since I retired, I've been spraying words all over the place. I've scattered essays in legitimate publications that people have heard of. Right here at Murrmurrs, I've written over 1300 posts averaging about 600 words each. Even if you take out "flang" and "poop," that's a lot of words. I'm about to finish my sixth novel. I've got three other books written that aren't novels. I. Am. Not. Blocked.

At the same time, I have no plans for the afterlife. I don't expect any of the atoms I've been using to recognize each other after I'm done with them, and even if I merely live on in memory, it won't be for long. In fact, I don't think any of our kind will be around for too much longer. I'm finding it easy to give away my possessions. I'm not hanging onto things. So I don't know why I care that the words I've hammered together live on.

But I do.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Jason To The Rescue

I get scam emails. Such as messages that say my email account is completely full and soon they won't be able to jam any more letters in it, but if I click here they can straighten the whole thing right out. The email will appear to be from my ISP Admin but if you check on the actual address it will say something like bambi@bonerville.fishnet, and in any case I'm no random clicker. Not me. I know that much.

That's about all I know. So when I got a letter from an outfit warning me that Google would soon terminate Feedburner for email subscriptions to Murrmurrs, but that they'd be happy to take over the job for me, I didn't click on anything. Especially since it was signed by "Marina, the Happiness Manager." Happiness Manager. That just sits wrong. I always thought "fulfillment" was a little fancy for the shipping department, too.

But I did check around for the fate of Feedburner because although I don't know what it is or how it works, I do know it's involved with getting subscriptions to my blog. For email updates and the RSS feed too. I don't know what an RSS feed is but I know I have one.

I feel the same way about my spleen.

Turns out nobody even agrees on what RSS stands for. Could be either RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, or maybe Ripe Squid Suckers. It takes my typing here and squirts it into your phone. I need it if I'm going to communicate with you all. And Feedburner manages my RSS feed. Guess what? Sure enough, I found out Feedburner's going into Maintenance Mode in July. Someone will be sweeping up for a while but nobody's at their desk anymore. I have no idea what any of this means.

One of the problems with the internet is a whole lot of companies got rich by figuring out dummy-proof ways of wielding it. They made great Out Of Box Experiences so all you had to do was plug in your new toy and it played with itself. You didn't have to know any dang thing to operate it.

So when things went wrong you had to go to your rental house next door where you keep your stock of young people and have them come over and fix it. You'd lean over their shoulders and ask what they were doing and they'd say something like "Oh, I'm just pinging your server" and you'd holler at your husband and say "Hey Dave, come look! Jason's pinging!" and he'd say "I always figured him for a pinger." Later we'd watch him walking down the street and wonder if he was still pinging. How would we know?

At least Jason knew how it worked. Now Jason's kids can send a pizza to their friends in Stockholm in five minutes, all paid for, but they don't know how it works any more than you do. This stuff is so slick you do not have to use any of your brain cells at all. Your brain cells are getting farther and farther apart from each other all the time. It's downright breezy in there.

Does it matter? If everything works by itself, does it matter if we get in a car that drives itself across the country and we can motor right through the Grand Tetons with our noses buried in our phones? I think it matters. I'd like to have more of a grip on things. And see the Tetons.

So I went to the Feedburner website and discovered it has all your-all's email addresses in it right where I can see them and maybe I should look into copying them down, in case I ever publish a novel or something and want to tell you about it. Also at the Feedburner website? I have the options of Buzzboost, Pingshot, and Chicklet Chooser. I do not know what to make of that.

I'm not touching anything. I'm taking my spleen on faith too. At some point, not that long from now, my spleen will go into Maintenance Mode and then give out altogether. I'm just glad in the meantime that I can't reach any of its option buttons.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Hope, Gravity, And Beans

I planted beans. They're already beans when you plant them and I think you could just cook them up, but instead we bury them and have them go through this whole thing so we have beans. They were bashful about germinating. Finally one brave scout poinked its little nose in the air and stood like a protestor defying a tank. Well, that kind of courage comes naturally to plants. They're rooted. Anyway it must've called the all-clear because the rest of the row showed up later.

You can tell they're beans because they're all lined up where I planted them. Otherwise it can be hard to identify a plant at the poink stage. They come out with little blobby leaves that don't look like the finished product. It's a starter set, the cotyledons, and across the seed-plant kingdom they look kind of similar. You have to wait for the prima donna leaves to unfurl like ballerinas to tell the rest of the story.

The leaves in the starter set don't count as real leaves though. Cotyledons are actually part of the embryo. (Yes, plants have embryos, a little something you should think about if you like to eat seeds, which you should totally leave alone until the plant bursts into the air, at which point they're fair game and the Supreme Court doesn't care what you do with them.) The purpose of these cotyledons is to raise a flag of hope to the anxious gardener, a little arrival announcement to the world--and prior to that their job was to glom onto the nutrients stored in the original seed. Once they've gotten the show on the road, as it were, they are sort of done. They figure if the "real" leaves want to spend the rest of their lives sucking up sun and working for the whole enterprise, they're welcome to it. The cotyledons have done a heck of a job, getting the plant to kick its way out of that tough seed coat and head off in the right direction, and now they're retired.

That "right direction" part is cool. Every kid learns that you can get a working plant out of a seed even if you plant it upside down, no matter how dark it is down there. They don't just send out shoots willy-nilly and hope some of them hit the air. Plants react to gravity. They detect it because they have little starchy packages floating around the gooey bits of their embryos, and those sink to the bottom like a load in a diaper. "Ah, that way is down," the plant intuits, and the part of the plant that aspires to being a root gets the drift and goes that way. And the other part, the shoot, goes the hell in the opposite direction out of sheer tribal hostility to the root, a little botanical friction that has worked out well, evolutionarily.

If anything more massive than the earth were nearby, the root would go that direction, but we'd have problems of our own and probably wouldn't notice. That's all gravity is, a mutual attraction between things with mass or energy, and the only reason the earth's gravity is so much more impressive than ours is it's bigger and more opinionated. But our planet is attracted to us, too, and don't let anyone tell you different. Everything is attracted to everything else, even Republicans, and yet we still can't get a decent bill past the Senate.

I'm certainly attracted to this bean plant. I check on it daily, and hope someday it will be full of beans, just like Mitch McConnell.