Saturday, May 31, 2008

Please help

I feel so lame at this moment. Not for doing what I'm about to do, in the half-assed way I'm about to do it. No, I feel lame because, until I read about this in this post by Ashley, I didn't know a damned thing about this...even though Tiffany has written about this in the past, and has just written about it again.

Cancer is something folks here in Northeastern Pennsylvania are familiar with. Maybe it's our diet. Maybe it's our lifestyle. Maybe it's a consequence of living amidst Anthracite coal mines. Everybody here knows somebody who has died of cancer. Maybe several somebodies. I do.

I cannot tell Leanne Weinshenker's story. I just learned her name as I copied it to paste it here. But Tiffany and Ashley have been following it. You can read it in her husband Daniel's blog here.

Or you can just read this:

Going Around Again
As many of you may or may not know, my wife was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma a year ago. She was also five months pregnant. We lost the baby, but we won Leanne's life. And while she was going through chemo, I needed to do something other than care for her and our 3-year old.

So I biked.

I think, along with our friends who encouraged me to do the ride in Leanne's honor, we raised somewhere around $35k. It was incredible.

This year, thankfully, Leanne's in remission.

But I have a new mission: To keep riding and to keep raising money, this time in honor of someone else. And so while I look for someone else going through what we went through last year, I'll be pedaling in preparation for a 100 mile 1-day ride through Moab, UT.

Help me and help give someone the life that Leanne was given.


Daniel Weinshenker

Do more than just read that. Please. Go here and donate. Whatever you can. However much you can. As Tiffany says,

sure, there are buttons there that ask you to donate certain amounts–the majority of them are FAR out of my budget–but there’s also a little button that says ‘other,’ and it allows you to enter in your own donation amount.

please don’t NOT donate because you think it’s stupid to give one dollar.

it’s not stupid. rather, it’s beautiful.

Do what you can. And please do me a favor? Pass this on. Post it on your blog. Send it to your friends. Mention the link in a comment on other blogs you visit.

Please help.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A brief interruption

I like to blog. I try to blog every day. If I don't post something every day, you can assume I'm traveling, or dead, or busy, or in jail, or in the hospital, or am having a computer problem.

Like, say, a dead power supply.

I came home today and immediately went to turn on the computer. This isn't that unusual, but today I had a purpose. And I was thwarted.

The computer refused to power up.

After a lot of pressing of buttons and flicking of switches and unplugging of plugs and one tech support phone call to the friend who built (and rebuilt) this computer, I was pretty sure I had a dead power supply. At about 8:00 tonight I trundled the PC off to Best Buy to let the Geek Squad see if they could fix it. As it was, they were very slow tonight, and the guy I dealt with was super helpful, and he was able to replace the power supply while I waited. It was all fixed just after 9:00.

It wasn't cheap, but I'm back online just a few hours after discovering that my computer was kaput. And for the opportunity to spend time with my friends in the blogosphere, it was worth the price.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Unity Is...

I was inspired to do a little satirical copyright infringement by today's Love Is... How many people can make that claim?

I hope you'll forgive the image of the two aspiring Democratic nominees as naked midget adult children, as I hope the strip's copyright holder will forgive my trespass. Despite its being in turn silly, irrelevant, treacly, morose, and occasionally erotic, I still read Love Is... every day in the Citizens' Voice.

The battle will end soon, and I think we are seeing the true nature of the Superdelegates. As many of them are still active in politics and are (by definition) members of the Democratic Party, I believe they are seeing which way the wind is blowing and doing their best to get in the good graces of the person who will very likely be the next President.*

But Hillary slogs on, in what has amounted to the greatest voter registration drive in recent history. As both candidates are forced to campaign in every state, voters of every state are having the spotlight turned on them in turn.

Unless he screws up to a degree far worse than he has so far, Obama will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee. The question then will be, who will he choose as a running mate? If you want to see a diehard Obama supporter's mood suddenly turn dark, suggest that Hillary would make a good Vice President. One questioner suggested just that to Barack Obama at a recent event, and the air was instantly filled with raucous laughter. Hillary as VP will be a harder sell for the Obamanites, who have been feeding on Hillary Hate for months, than it will be for the Clinton supporters.

If Obama chooses Hillary Clinton as a running mate I believe they will form an unbeatable ticket, with enthusiastic support across a broad range of voters who will be happy to see their candidate in office. If Obama chooses anyone else, he will have two tough sells ahead of him: first, he will need to work that much harder to get the most ardent Hillary Clinton supporters on board, the ones who, like many ardent Obamanites, are supporting the candidate but not necessarily the party; and then, he will have to sell his VP choice to all of the voters. It would be a much more difficult, time-consuming, and risky enterprise than going with the woman he has been trying to convince for so long to give up.

*Thanks to this past weekend's opening skit on Saturday Night Live for making this clear. It was a parody of General Petraeus's latest report to whichever Congressional committee he's been reporting to. The funniest part: the chair calmly announces "And we will now be interrupted for fifteen seconds by two Code Pink demonstrators," at which point two women in pink T-shirts holding a banner rise up and begin to shout semi-incoherently. After ten seconds they stop, and one asks the chair if they still have time. He responds that yes, they still have five seconds, and they proceed to shout for five more seconds. (Turns out this was a rerun from last month.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Michelle Malkin: Completely nuts

I try not to wander over to the paranoid, delusional, and hypocritical world of the hate-mongering loonies on the far right. Bad for my blood pressure, and the intellectual equivalent of walking into a bar.* Let them play in their little echo chamber, as long as they leave the rest of us alone.

That's a very bad attitude, of course, because leaving the rest of us alone is the last thing they intend to do. Still, I avoid them whenever possible.

Then I came across this article on MSNBC about Dunkin' Donuts pulling an ad with Rachel Ray - at Michelle Malkin's insistence - because she is wearing a scarf.

Ummm, WTF?

Now, I've dipped my toe into the open sewer that is Michelle Malkin's stream-of-consciousness a couple of times before, notably during the John Edwards bloggers incident (which was primarily about Bill Donohue and his phony "Catholic League", which does not represent and never has represented Catholics in any official capacity, but was driven in large part by Michelle Malkin), and, thanks to this post on Adam Felber's site, her quest to prove the non-existence of "Jamil Hussein." (I forget the details - I think he was an Iraqi critic of the U.S. occupation of Iraq who claimed first-hand knowledge of certain things which in other contexts might be considered "war crimes" - but it turns out that he did exist after all. If you're feeling brave, wade into her archives and see what you can find out.)

The scarf thing. It's allegedly a scarf in an Arabic style that is (or resembles) something called a keffiyeh. Similar to one worn by millions of people in the Middle East, an item currently popular among the dedicated followers of fashion (or so I hear), and clearly a sign of hatred and anti-Semitism.

Oh, wait. You missed that last part? Go here for a discussion that will clear matters up immensely. (Be sure to read the comments, too.)

So, obviously, the ad had to go. I mean, really, what was Dunkin' Donuts thinking?

Take this vow with me, please: I refuse to let insane people dictate my actions.

Too bad Dunkin' Donuts does. I guess Michelle Malkin has a lot of pull with the donut-eating demographic.

Phil Plait has an entry on this ridiculousness here:

UPDATE: For the record, I think it's pretty well established that Sharon Stone is also nuts. At least her apology for her "bad karma" comment about the earthquake in China was a bit more timely (and, seemingly, more sincere) than apologies from the nutcases on the far right who made similar comments about 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina . . . when those apologies have, in fact, been offered. Which isn't that often.

*As in, "Two guys walk into a bar. The third one ducks."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cinco para la cuesta de dos

Tuesdays I take my mom grocery shopping after work. It's Senior Citizens' day, and she gets a 5% discount on her bill, which is pretty significant when the economy is in the crapper and every penny counts.

There wasn't much that we needed, or wanted, or couldn't do without this week. Milk, eggs, a few other things. But there was one thing in the flyer we figured had to be a typo.

Twelve can "refrigerator packs" of Pepsi and Pepsi products are on sale: buy two, get three free. Huh? Five for the price of two? "It must be a typo," I said, but sure enough, the in-store display confirmed: Buy two, get three free! With club card, that is.

We stocked up at an end cap. The sale is limited to two offers per customer, but our need for soda is not that great - cans are mostly for road trips or outdoor activities. So we only bought five twelve-packs. Enough to last us, say, a year or two.

We made our way down the aisle. Snack foods and beverages. Potato chips, pretzels, cheese curls, then more soda. I was grabbing some house-brand two liter bottles of diet soda off the shelves when a hispanic woman came by, pushing a cart with a little boy in the child seat. Maybe one, one and a half years old. My mom and I both gave him smiles, and he smiled back. That's one of the most amazing reflexes built into children, and a good one to practice whenever possible.

The woman stopped at the end of the aisle where the Pepsi products are normally displayed. She pulled a twelve-pack off the shelf and put it in her cart. Then another. Then she made to move on.

The Cosmic All demanded that I inform her of a great savings opportunity.

"You know, you can get five for the price of two," I said, smiling helpfully.

"Eh?" she responded.

"Five cases. For the price of two . Buy two, get three free," I said. And then I added, "With club card."

"If I have club card?" she responded. Then she smiled and moved on.

"She has no idea what you just said," my mom observed.

Aw, crap.

A few minutes later I recalled enough of my High School Spanish to cobble together something that sounded right that I should have said to her. "Five"...cinco. "Two"...dos. "For"...para. "The price", cuesta? "Cinco para la cuesta de dos!" I should have said, throwing in an inverted exclamation point at the beginning for emphasis.

Too late. The woman and her bambino had moved on, and I never got a chance to say "Five for the hill of two!" to her.

Oh well. Así es la vida.

FYI: "The cost" = el coste. La cuesta = "the hill".

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial. Day.

When my grandmother was in the nursing home I visited her every day, if I could help it. Just brief visits after work, mostly, and longer stopovers on Saturdays. But every Sunday we would get together and go to Mass at the chapel that used to be in the nursing home. Afterwards I would linger for a while, taking her to lunch at the dining hall and then maybe going outside for a while if the weather was nice.

A lot of the time it was just me and a handful of other regulars making their visits. Occasionally a new face would show up, looking confused and embarrassed as they tried to figure out what was where in the corridors of the nursing home. But most of the time most of the residents were alone, attended to only by the staff.

Most of the time.

Mother's Day, Easter, Christmas, and other major holidays, you couldn't find a parking space in the lot. The halls were crammed with visitors there to do their duty and assuage their guilty consciences for abandoning their relatives to the care of strangers the other 364 (or 363, or 362, depending on the visitor) days of the year.

Yesterday the "special intention" of the 11:30 Mass was for my uncle who died three years ago this week. I took my Mom there. Afterwards we decided we would go to the cemetery, as we have been doing after Mass every week since my aunt died. We made a few stops, before and after the cemetery, and maybe I'll tell you about those later.*

At the cemetery we could barely make it down the narrow roads that thread through the gravesites. Cars, cars, and more cars were everywhere. Graves that had been neglected all year were being tended to by people who probably had a hard time locating them. Traffic through the cemetery was suddenly a major issue.

OK. I'm not complaining about the fact that these people were there. It's a wonderful thing, going out to pay respect to your beloved dead, particularly those who gave their lives in service to their country. It's a wonderful thing to remember your Mother one day each year. Your Father. Veterans. To give thanks once a year.

But what about the rest of the year? Is it such an effort to acknowledge these things one day each year that we spend the rest of the year recovering?

Yes, I know. Busy. Things to do, places to go, people to see. What's the profit in stopping at a gravesite, visiting some senile old codger in a nursing home, acknowledging the sacrifices made by Veterans both living and deceased?

Today is Memorial Day. Today give a thought to those who gave their lives because the United States of America told them to, and they said "yes." Today remember those who made that ultimate sacrifice to keep our nation free. To keep America from collapsing from the chaos and anarchy that would rise if they were to turn their backs and say "I know I pledged to serve, but I choose not to." Remember them today.

And try not to forget them the other 364 days of the year.

*How the hell does one gas station justify charging $4.05 for gas when the place across the street is selling it for $3.95 and the two places a mile down the road are selling it for $3.89?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mars, baby! RED ROCKS!

Images from NASA Phoenix
Mission page
, May 25, 2008.

Images are from MARS!

The Phoenix lander has begun relaying images from its landing site in the North Polar region of Mars. This is exciting stuff! So many Mars missions have failed, one way or another, that there's an added sense of accomplishment on top of the fact that we are currently looking at images from ANOTHER! FREAKING! PLANET!

All this for the low, low cost of $420,000,000. What's that, you say? $420,000,000 is a lot of money? Nonsense! Conservative estimates put the cost of George Bush's Discretionary War at twenty million dollars an hour. So the cost of this mission amounts to twenty-one hours of the "War On Terror." We spend more money each day on war than we did on this entire freaking mission.

So, yes. $420,000,000? Totally, totally worth it.


Also see:
NASA's Phoenix Mission page
University of Arizona's Phoenix Mars Mission page
Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy
- First light pictures from Phoenix
- Phoenix has landed!
The Planetary Society Weblog
Title reference: Paraphrase from Dave Chappelle's "Black Bush" skit.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Some dreams; and Sunrise, sunset

Let's see: I had a dream last night that featured the Geico Cavemen, or maybe the variants from the Cavemen TV series. It was apparently part of a Perry Mason-style lawyer show, where one of the Cavemen was on trial for something, and the other two Cavemen, one of them himself a lawyer (though not Phil Hartman's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer), were among the spectators. At the climax of the story the two of them rose out of their church pew-style seats to interrupt the trial, at which point everyone else in the courtroom was shocked to discover that there had been two other Cavemen in the courtroom in addition to the defendant. They then proceeded to do a series of poses for a model shoot, and their clothing - both had been well-dressed, and the lawyer Caveman had been dressed appropriately for a lawyer in a courtroom - was transformed to gray bodysuits with black squiggly designs on them. This may or may not have been influenced by me seeing a few minutes of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes before I went to bed.

Which reminds me of a dream I had several weeks ago that has somehow managed to not get washed away just yet. This was a dream about vampires - not a frequent dream topic for me. In it, vampires were something like the Mafia: everybody knew they existed, everybody knew somebody who knew somebody who knew one, but nobody wanted to acknowledge their existence lest they attract unwanted attention. So everybody just looked the other way while the vampires preyed on the edges of society. Most of the vampires in the dream had a thuggish, ganster-ish appearance about them, and were generally pretty scuzzy - unwashed hair, stubbly whiskers, their clothing occasionally looking a little shabby. One part of the dream that stands out was a vampire larder - a room where badly-beaten, half-dead humans were kept, to be pulled out whenever the vampires felt a bit peckish. And there wasn't a sense that these vampires were simply sucking blood; they were pretty much just tearing living people apart and eating them. Fun stuff.

Okay. Enough. As a reward for getting through all that, why not enjoy some photos?

Here is the sky shortly before sunrise on Tuesday. In this first photo, the sky has that glowing-ember quality it sometimes gets when the clouds are just right.

The sky started to lighten pretty quickly, the deep red-orange lightening to an orange-yellow.

One effect I especially liked - and I'm glad my camera was able to see it, too - was the gray/pink mottling throughout the sky. The ornamental weather vane on the peak of my neighbor's roof gives you a good idea of what part of the sky I'm looking at compared to the other photos.
So that was Tuesday morning. On Sunday evening I was over at my house across town shortly before sunset, and I got this image of the steeple of St. Mary's church rising above the rooftops of the neighborhood.
There's something very poignant about this view of the old church with its forward-bent cross on top, situated at the highest point in the city.* This is my church; my family has always belonged to this Parish. But like so many other Parishes in Northeastern Pennsylvania it is in constant danger of closing. This is partly due to a shortage of new priests, partly due to a contraction in the number of parishioners in local Parishes, but mostly due to a massive reallocation of Diocesan resources to the parts of the Diocese that have seen a population explosion thanks to the post-9/11 relocation of thousands and thousands of New Yorkers to the border regions in the Poconos, some of which are technically still part of the Scranton Diocese. Capturing this as the setting sun casts shadows of houses upon other houses and lights up one face of the steeple as the others remain in relative darkness just adds to the poignancy.

Also, that cloud is pretty cool.

*I think this is the highest point. There may actually be a point a few blocks away that is technically higher.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Youtube Weekend: Lemonheads, It's A Shame About Ray

Last month I posted about a McDonald's commercial that used a theme that sounded an awful lot like The Raconteurs "Steady, As She Goes." Now Chrysler Chevrolet is running ads for a Memorial Day sale that use a whistling theme that sounds an awful lot like The Lemonheads' "It's A Shame About Ray." While I can't find the Chrysler Chevy commercial online, the video by The Lemonheads is on YouTube:

And how cool is this? It's an embeddable version of the video...posted by Rhino Entertainment! Way to go, Rhino!

UPDATE: Someone else got a video of the Chevy commercial the hard way. Listen for the music under the announcer. Here it is:

Assuming this sampling wasn't done with the blessing of the band and/or the copyright holder, this wouldn't be the first time this song has been...ummm, treated to an homage. Listen to the opening notes of Foo Fighters' "Big Me" to see if you can hear a resemblance.

Note: This post was referenced by Will Bunch's Attytood blog from the Philadelphia Daily News Online on Tuesday, May 27, 2008.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rainbow over Nanticoke, May 22 2008

It's been raining off and on the past few days. Yesterday it was off long enough that I was able to mow my entire lawn across town, but today conditions were unstable enough that I didn't even bother to start on my mom's.

As I drive home each day I get a brief panoramic view of the Southern Wyoming Valley, courtesy of the removal of several large culm banks a few years ago. This afternoon I saw knots of clouds and rain dotted throughout the valley with the sun shining through from the other side. Somebody's getting a rainbow, I thought.

An hour ago, that somebody was me.

This rainbow was huge and unbroken, and featured a nearly-unbroken and very visible secondary rainbow, with the dark Alexander's Band between them. I happened to take a closer shot of the brightest part of the right side of the rainbow. In this closeup view you can see the interior or supernumerary rainbows - additional bands of color below the "innermost" violet.
You can see the secondary rainbow more clearly in the close-up view below. Note that the order of colors is reversed with respect to the primary rainbow.

I can tell you that the raindrops that formed this rainbow were closer than the mountain in the distance, which is the Southern border of the Wyoming Valley...
...but behind the house in the background. Note that the apparent location of a rainbow is dependent on the position of the observer, and a resident of that house would not be seeing an extreme close-up of the rainbow, but rather a different rainbow with a right "end" in the forest beyond her house. (I actually ran into her as she walked her dog past my house. She also got photos of this rainbow.)
(By the way, there is no pot of gold in that house. I checked.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What not to play for customers on hold

A few years ago I had to call the IRS to get a little error straightened out. Turned out the reason my tax refund had not arrived yet, a month after I had filed, was because they had mistakenly applied my entire refund for that year as a pre-payment for the next year's taxes.

I didn't have much trouble getting that resolved, though I did get put on hold at one point. While I was on hold I heard one of the worst possible bits of hold music: "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Edvard Grieg, from Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt .

Not that this is a bad song. It's a good song. A great song. A stirring, frenetic, fist-pumping bit of music that was once anthologized on a disc called "Classical Thunder." It's just not the sort of thing to put people in a relaxed, patient, happy-to-be-on-hold state of mind. Especially when they're on hold with the IRS.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Crank x 3, and a Graffiti followup

My most recent letter to the editor was published (in its entirety!) today in the Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice. Now the good people of this area know that I am not only the sort of person who writes letters to the editor, but also that the contents of the funny pages figure high on my list of things to write letters about.

My Graffiti post prefigured an article in today's Times-Leader about some playgrounds in Wilkes-Barre being vandalized to the point that members of the local Crime Watch are recommending that they be shut down.
“And the filthy stuff written on (the equipment) is unbelievable,” Raup said. “We couldn’t get it off. We used acetone stuff, and ripped our hands apart, and it wouldn’t take it off.” Raup said the graffiti, which includes drawings of male genitals and explicit four-letter words, is written in marker.
Of course this article includes photos of the vandalism, including some of the graffiti - mostly just tags. But I'm sure that has the perpetrators bursting with pride. They're probably running around their schools going "Look at this! I did that! My work is in the paper!"

I hope the bastards boast a little too loudly and get caught. When their parents are paying to replace the playground equipment and repair the damage, maybe they'll have a chance to reflect on mistakes they made raising their children.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Stupid nice weather

It was supposed to rain today.

Well, it did rain today, mostly while I was at work. It rained a little on my way home, too. But by the time I got home it was very nice. I changed, grabbed the tree wrap and tub of sticky goo that I bought yesterday, along with some disposable gloves and one of those wooden ice cream spoons that comes with those little prepackaged cups of ice cream, and went out to set up caterpillar barriers on the trunks of my cherry trees. After some trial and error, I had two horrifying crawling insect death traps set up. I'll feel less bad about this when I'm dealing with Gypsy Moths.

I didn't spray my trees or any of my neighbors' trees with Bt because it was supposed to rain. Rain would just wash off the little Bt bacteria and their caterpillar-specific toxins, and I don't feel like wasting good bacteria.

But it didn't rain. Still hasn't. So I might have been able to get in at least a few hours of caterpillar exposure to the toxic bacteria-covered leaves.

I tend to believe short-range forecasts more than long-range ones, and plan my life accordingly. If the lawn needs mowing but it's supposed to rain, I'll plan on doing things indoors - and I'll keep on doing those things even if it doesn't rain. Pretty stupid, I suppose. Or maybe it's just a cheap excuse to give myself a day off now and then.

I mowed my lawn across town on Wednesday, and my mom's lawn Thursday and Saturday. With the recent rain/sun cycles the lawns have needed mowing at least once a week. I'll try to get to the lawn across town the day after tomorrow, and then my mom's lawn the day after that. Everything can slide forward a day or two without causing too much disruption.

Unless it rains, of course. Rain could postpone things indefinitely. The grass grows best with alternating rain and sun, so a few days of solid rain could slow the growth down long enough to get me off the hook for a few days. We'll see what the forecast says. If they're calling for rain, I might just kick back for a while and take it easy.

Even if it turns out we have nice weather.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Birds, Bt, and another milestone

This weekend has been OK. Finished mowing the lawn yesterday. Hauled out some compost, and put a bag of leaves into the composter. This was one of about six bags of the leaves I raked up last December 12. I bagged them and then discreetly used the bags to insulate the cat shelters that are dotted around our property. As Spring turns into Summer, this insulation is no longer really necessary, and there will be plenty more next Autumn.

I also refilled the bird feeders for the first time this year. I'll have to make this seed last, because I can't afford to buy sack after sack for the winged gluttons. If only the cats would eat the birds, we'd really be able to cut back on the costs of feeding the animals in our backyard ecosystem.

Today I took a drive out to the Dallas Agway to buy Bt. I think the girl working the cash register had a better idea of how Bt works than the clerk working the floor did. (Bt is a bacterium that needs to be ingested and is poisonous to caterpillars. You spray it on the leaves that they eat and after they eat enough of it, they die. It is not a contact poison, and simply soaking a paper tree wrap with it will not be effective.) I also bought a fabric tree wrap and some sticky goo. This will go around the tree trunks and catch the little bastards as they head for the leaves. It will also be effective against Gypsy Moth caterpillars in a few weeks.

I needed a new hose-end sprayer to apply this stuff to my trees, and my neighbors' trees. Agway had several models for $12 - $15. Kmart had one for over $10, and another one for $8 that came pre-filled with some Miracle-Gro product. (I don't use that stuff.) The new Ace Hardware by my house had them for under $5.

My car hit the 288,000 mile mark as I pulled into the Ace parking lot. These are "official" miles - I was driving without a functioning odometer for most of January. I wonder how much longer I can keep it going?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The gas surcharge

I got my first car back in 1992. For the first 24 years of my life I was able to get along without a car, getting rides from other people or riding a bike as necessary. But in 1992 I got a job at a place over 33 miles away, and I needed a car. Not just any car. A good, reliable, affordable, and fuel-efficient vehicle. I got a used 1990 Toyota Tercel and kept it until its engine blew in 1996. (The replacement 1996 Tercel is the car I am still driving today.)

Having a car was great. I could now get from point A to point Z very quickly. If I wanted to see a friend somewhere far away, I just hopped in the car and - bingo-bango - I was there. All stuff most people take for granted. But this was all new to me.

One Sunday morning I was up early and getting ready to meet a friend at a record show later that morning. I think the show opened at 11:00, so it must've been around 8:30 when I decided to take a quick run to the Poconos to visit some friends before the show. I jumped in the car, zipped up on 81 for a bit, then turned onto 115 and rode that down to their rented house near Split Rock Lodge. I popped in, said hi, hung out for a few minutes, and then zipped back up 115 to meet my friend at the record show. The ride was a good 45 minutes down and about 40 minutes back. About 60 miles round-trip. Just for the heck of it.

Back then, gas was just over $1 a gallon, and nobody thought much of going for a joyride on a Sunday morning. Today, with gas at $3.75 a gallon, I don't do that sort of thing quite as often. That same trip would set me back $7 in gas alone. A visit to my friends in their retreat in the southernmost reaches of the Pocono plateau costs more like $12, not counting Turnpike tolls. Visiting friends in New Jersey costs around $18. And driving to and from the Baltimore / Washington area is over $40.

Once upon a time the cost of the gas used to visit my friends would have meant nothing to me. But times have changed.

A new Ace Hardware moved into an empty location at the Hanover Mall just outside of Nanticoke two weeks ago. While it's nice to have such a place within easy reach - Nanticoke's two hardware stores went out of business shortly after Wal-Mart moved into the area - I find they don't have a lot of the stuff I need. Well, I was able to get some bird netting there, almost by accident. But they had never heard of the sophisticated technology known as a "rain barrel", nor did they have anything specifically designed to be used as a composter. And when I called today to ask if they had any Bt for use against tent caterpillars, they said no - but pointed out that they had plenty of insecticides I could use on them instead. I said thanks, but no, thanks.

The Agway in Dallas doesn't have rain barrels, either - at least the girl that I asked last year had never heard of such a thing. And any composters they have are probably overpriced. But they do have Bt. If I don't do something soon, my cherry trees may be completely defoliated. I'll just have to bite the bullet and spend the $4 in gas on the round trip there and back again.

Friday, May 16, 2008

YouTube Weekend: Smashing Pumpkins, Cherub Rock

I've never cared much for this video, or for most of the Pumpkins' other early videos, like "Today" and "Rocket". "Disarm" was a very cool and extremely beautiful video and song, though the song itself was completely different in tone from the other songs on Siamese Dream that had videos made. But regardless of what I think of the video, "Cherub Rock" is just a great freaking song.

I once made a mix tape that opened with this and Vivaldi's "Winter". Very dangerous driving music.

Bonus: I think this song was on that same tape. Whale, "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe":

Thursday, May 15, 2008


About twelve years ago a bunch of my friends lived in a house in the Poconos. They had all roomed together through college and had actually lived in a series of houses in the Poconos since graduation. But this house was a little different: it was in a housing development which had a private lake.

It wasn't much of a lake. A pond, really, a few feet deep at the deepest and maybe a quarter of a mile across. I don't think there were any fish in it. But it had a dock, and if you had a boat you could take it out and just paddle around.

One of my friends bought a boat. It was a small thing, big enough for two people, but it was big enough for his purposes. It was small enough that the folks at the state agency that sells licenses for boats laughed him out of the office when he tried to register it, but big enough that the state agent who checks for unlicensed boats slapped him with a fine when he saw that it was unregistered.

There was a public storage space at the lake where you could leave your boat. Locked up, I guess, so nobody would make off with it. I never really got so involved with the boat as to learn those particulars. My friend kept his boat there, for a while.

The Poconos were different back then. Today you can't throw a rock there without smashing the windshield of a luxury SUV being driven by a transplanted New Yorker, but back then they had more a sort of depressed feel to them, a region that had once been a playground and a honeymoon spot and a vacation retreat but was now a faded relic of its glory days. There were New Yorkers and Philadelphians and other big-city folks who would come there to ski, mostly, or who kept secluded vacation houses there. But most of the time it was just the locals, and not many of them.

So it was probably a local kid who spray-painted graffiti all over my friend's boat while it was stored by the dock.

"Face it," one of his roommates said. "You can't escape shit."


There are artists out there who create masterpieces with a few spray cans and a few hours of time, usually using a canvas that doesn't belong to them. Sometimes these works are welcomed, even commissioned. Most of the time they are seen as vandalism and are cleaned off at some significant expense - or are left to be covered in additional layers of graffiti.

Most of the time the people who are out there with spray cans are taggers, kids marking their gang's territory or trying to leave their personal mark with a sort of brand symbol. Taggers are looked down on by the graffiti artists - it's like thinking you're saying something significant as a writer when all you do is write your initials, over and over again.

Then there are the ones who just spray-paint crudely-drawn dicks and curse words on walls. Infantile crap.

So why do they do it?

I don't know. I won't pretend to know. But I will make some guesses.

As I said before, I think some of them are engaging in gang-related activity. Gangs marking their territory like dogs pissing on trees.

Maybe some are just kids trying to establish their own identities. Here I am! This is me! Look at meeee!!!

Maybe some are mentally disturbed, externalizing their insanity with pictures of penises and curse words, not seeing anything wrong with their behavior. Or maybe some of them are bad little children doing the same thing.

Perhaps it's a plea for attention. I'm pretty sure these punks feel a thrill whenever their work makes it onto the 6 o'clock news or into the morning paper. Acknowledging them validates their efforts, especially if people get all worked up about it.

Or maybe they just hate seeing anything that isn't all messed up.

Whatever. I don't know what makes people do these things. All we can do is keep cleaning up after them, and try to catch them if we can. Maybe they'll grow up and move on. Maybe they won't. And if one or two of them wind up crumpled in a heap somewhere, that's the risk they took.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More yard work, and an upcoming change

Mowed the lawn across town. The bees were out, but now that I know that they're stingerless Carpenter Bees, I just sneered at them and kept on mowing. Just wait until I a) I discover that the information about Carpenter Bees being stingerless is not true, b) I discover that they are not Carpenter Bees, but are Bumblebees - Killer Bumblebees, or c) discover that they have completely hollowed out the supports for my garage when it collapses on me as I mow around it.

I didn't get back here until after 8:00, and by then it was too late to get started mowing the lawn here. So I unplugged my weed-whacker from its charger and cut down as many dandelions as I was able to before the charge and the light gave out. I was halfway through when I noticed something moving a sapling on the side yard not far from me. Something big.

It was one of the neighborhood strays, the one we call Spookybear. He was scratching his back on the sapling while he watched me work. From his days as a kitten last Fall, Spookybear has always been the neighborhood stray least frightened by humans, and the most fascinated by them. I worry this may not be a good survival trait in the long run.

Note to regular commentors:
I may be changing the way I handle comments on this blog at some point in the future. When the time comes, you'll know what I mean. Apologies in advance - I'm not doing this to restrict or inconvenience you. Sorry.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Very Hungry Caterpillars

On Saturday I took my mom to church for 5:30 Mass. Afterwards we went to the cemetery where she placed the carnations she had just bought on the graves of her sister, her mother, and my father. Then we went home.

We were making some small talk as I pulled into the driveway around 7:30. I'm not sure what I was saying as I shifted into Park and put on the parking brake, but as soon as I had us safely in place and relaxed my eyes I immediately exclaimed "Holy crap! Look at the wall!"

The wall was covered with dozens of caterpillars.

Now, you're not gonna get the full effect of what I saw in these photos, because I've chosen not to show you the entire Northern wall of my house. If I were to do that you would only see a wall with a few tiny dark marks on it. These closeups show the caterpillars better. Plus I got some nifty shadows in the closeups.

I knew this was going to be a bumper year for tent caterpillars, but seeing your house covered in the little buggers is quite a shock.

I don't like killing. I avoid it whenever I can. I'm no Jain, to be sure, but I don't believe in killing unless absolutely necessary. I have captured hornets and bees indoors where they threatened / were threatened by my coworkers and transported them to safety outdoors. I have used fly psychology to lead houseflies out of a room, down a hall, through another room, out onto the back porch, and to the relative safety of the great outdoors. (Houseflies head toward light. Why do you think they gather on windows?)

But I've lived through major Gypsy Moth outbreaks, which do damage similar in nature to tent caterpillars, but much more severe. I've seen the mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania stripped almost bare of leaves. I've watched trees die from the damage.

Some things just need killing.

So kill I did. It was brutal, it was nasty, and it was remarkably futile. I killed dozens of tent caterpillars. Thousands more were probably within just a few square meters around me.

These things are beautiful, in their own way, especially when I am viewing them and their shadows in a series of photos. But it's entirely another thing to watch them crawling all over your house, your plants, your trees.

I wonder if Bt is effective against them. I've used it in the past, but that was long ago. Since then Bt - a bacteria toxic to many caterpillars - has not only been accepted outside of the Organic Gardening community, it has been embraced, and perhaps over-exploited, and even has had its genes incorporated into certain bioengineered crops - increasing the size of the populations of insects exposed to Bt and the likelihood of Bt-resistant mutant offspring gaining a reproductive advantage against their non-resistant relatives. From what I just read, that's already happening.
I've carried my camera in my car these last two days, hoping to catch the caterpillars in the act when I came home. Yesterday I didn't get home until well after dark, but today I was in luck as the wall had quite a few caterpillars scattered around. As a bonus, as the sun was dropping into the West it cast beautiful shadows and even some bonus reflections off of windshields and house windows.
So when I was done I was faced with an ethical dilemma: squish the little buggers then and there? After they had just modeled for me? It didn't feel right.

OK. A deal. I went into the house and shuffled around the packages I had just unloaded from my mom's car. (It's Senior Citizens' Day at the local supermarket, and she got her 5% discount, and she was able to load all the packages into her car, but didn't want to try to drag them up the steps and into the house.) I killed time for a few minutes, maybe five. Tent caterpillars are fast. Maybe they would hurry along on their journeys and get wherever they were going, somewhere out of my sight. Maybe a whole new crop would take their place on the walls.

When time was up, I went outside and killed every tent caterpillar I could find. It was brutal. It was probably futile. But at least it felt like I was doing something.

Monday, May 12, 2008

(Insert string of expletives here)

If you were betting that I would actually post the blog entry I wrote about yesterday today, you would have lost.

Not my fault. Totally not my fault. Totally someone else's fault.

The meeting went well today, though there were fewer people there than we had hoped. I left the building shortly after 6:00 and missed the end-of-shift crush. I got in my car, switched on my phone, and saw that I had a message waiting.

I had to wade through about a dozen old messages before I was allowed to hear the new one. It was someone asking me to assist in...a bit of a retrieval.

And that's about all I'm gonna say about that. Though the person we were attempting to retrieve was other-than-cooperative with all of the official types who needed to give their blessings to his retrieval. In the end we were forced to leave this person, unretrieved, in the caring hands of some of these folks. I hope he manages to get through this without further incident. Though I doubt it.

So that threw my whole schedule off. And worse: it has helped prolong a bit of bad karma.

I took my mom out to dinner for Mother's Day yesterday. Indian food. She doesn't even like Indian food. But my friends had asked us to join them there, and I had convinced her to give it a shot. That was before we wound up with my two nephews in tow, though.

Afterwards we went to a high-end junk store called The Christmas Tree Shop. They sell lots of neat stuff cheap there, including a constantly-changing selection of solar lighting devices. We got some solar-powered rock spotlights to take the place of the LED Christmas lights that have taken the place of the fluorescent lights that have taken the place of our front porch lights. And some glow-in-the-dark glass mushrooms. Among other things.

When we got home and unpacked the bags, we discovered that one of those bags was full of stuff that we hadn't bought.

How we managed that, I don't know. Maybe a bag had been left on the counter by the previous customer and the woman at the checkout mixed the bags together. Maybe she had already begun scanning and bagging the next person's order while we were still filling our cart. I dunno.

In any event, this store is on my way home. I had planned to stop there after work and hand over the bag. Somebody got cheated out of some stuff they bought. Maybe they'll come back and discover that it wound up in someone else's cart, and they actually returned it.

But not yet. No, because of this distasteful little adventure, I wasn't able to right this cosmic wrong. And so the cosmos will spin slightly off its axis on my account for a little while longer.

Well, as I said before, not my fault. Totally not my fault.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

I'm not about to waste a good blog title on this

It's nearly 10:00 and I should get to bed soon. I've got a good topic for a blog post, something all timely and relevant and consistent with a theme that I've been running lately, and an excellent title to go with it. Trouble is, I don't have the time to write about it tonight, or at least to write enough about it to do it justice. (Heck, I could convey the whole story in two sentences, but what's the fun of that?)

Also, I don't have pictures of the subjects of this post yet. I have a late-afternoon meeting at work tomorrow (showing some love to the night shift, yo), and as the subjects of this post have put in an appearance at about 7:00 each evening the past two days, I think I can count on them showing up at least one more time. At least. I'll have to remember to take my camera with me in the car tomorrow.

Rrrrrrrrrrr...on the other hand, it's supposed to rain tomorrow. That may mess things up a bit. We'll see.

(Intrigued? Annoyed? Feeling jerked around? Tune in tomorrow to see if there's a big payoff, or if I just lose interest and don't get around to writing yet another promised post!)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Note to self regarding cherry trees

Do not wait until the day before Mother's Day to drape the plastic netting over the cherry trees. Seriously. Do it as soon as the blossoms have been pollinated, maybe a week or so after they have first opened. Birds love cherries, and don't mind too much if they're not anywhere near ripe.

About two weeks ago I saw that the blossoms were falling off my cherry trees and I noticed the swellings that were the first signs of fruit forming. By last week these had become green, pea-sized fruit. I noticed that there seemed to be fewer of these than I had expected, but I just figured that I had misremembered the number of swellings the week before.

This week I got out the netting, including the one package I just bought last week. I spread it out carefully and then used an extendable pole to lift it over the top of one of my two dwarf cherry trees. Then I cinched it at the bottom with a piece of rope. In the process I managed to break off several cherry clusters, but I could see dozens more that were now safe from hungry birds. Still, it seemed like there were even fewer fruits than there had been last week.

Then I moved on to the other tree. Spread the net, lifted it, realized that this tree is just too tall, and a 14' x 14' piece of netting just isn't going to get the job done. So I decided to wrap the net around the sides of the tree and cinch it at the bottom and as close to the top as I could get, leaving the fruit in the branches above the net as a sacrificial offering to the birds.

On closer inspection, I realised that there was no fruit on the tree. Anywhere.

Well, that was almost true. I did find a single cherry left on one of the middle branches. I got an orange mesh bag from tangerines, fed the branch through the opening to the bag and the opening I had made on the other end to get at the tangerines, carefully positioned it around the lone fruit, and closed it up with twist ties. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get to eat one cherry from this tree.

So. Next April 1st I begin a budwatch on my cherry trees. And once they have blossomed, the nets go on.

A letter to the editor on a very important topic

For months I have kept my silence and tried to give this issue a fair hearing. But the time for patience is over.

"The Family Tree", one of the latest additions to the Citzens' Voice comics pages, is just not funny.

The characters are pompous, smug, obnoxious, hypocritical, and occasionally vile and offensive. And badly-drawn, too.

I'm an avid fan of the funny pages, and I know how precious this space is. Please consider replacing "The Family Tree" with a better and funnier comic strip - for example, "My Cage", "Baldo", "La Cucaracha", "Heart of the City", "Mutts", "Sherman's Lagoon", or "Slylock Fox".

Thank you!

Friday, May 09, 2008

YouTube Weekend: Dirty Vegas, Days Go By

This is a great video for a good dance song.It slips in and out of the song a few times to tell the story of a man who comes to the same spot on the same day every year and dances from sunrise to sunset, dances to bring back the girl he lost so many years ago. The pan that begins at about 1:19 always gives me goosebumps.

When this song was out in 2002/2003 it was everywhere. The video was in heavy rotation on MTV; the song was used in a car commercial. I seem to recall a parody of it used as a promo for the Video Music Awards (or was it the MTV Movie Awards) in which Chris Kattan was edited in as the Dancing Man. He danced horrendously, and the subtitled comments of the onlookers were replaced with things like "Oh, my God, is he doing the Robot?" "I think that's the Worm." "Now he's doing the Cabbage Patch!"

This song was out when many members of my department were leaving the company for a competitor. One of our graphics designers left, and we joked about how one of his friends mourned his departure.

He left one day. He said he was going for coffee. He said "wait here, I'll be right back."

And so Ed waits. Waits in that same spot every day. Waits from 8:00 in the morning until 4:30 in the afternoon. With breaks for coffee. And lunch. And to use the bathroom. And to have a smoke.

Eventually Ed left too. Most of us left the department, one way or another. There are only a few of us left in that department now. I'm not one of them.

Days go by and still I think about you...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

An electronic legacy of crap

My mom isn't as computer-savvy as most, and also doesn't want to suddenly find herself losing hours of her life siting in front of the computer. So every few weeks she asks me to check her e-mail for her, to sort out the important stuff from the phishing scams and Nigerian e-mails and whatnot. And inevitably, there are a ton of e-mails, many of them from a handful of people she knows who have e-mail. And of those, most of what they have sent is crap.

Chain letters. Forwarded jokes that weren't funny a million years ago when they were started. Forwarded hoaxes and political claptrap and good-luck prayers and angels and Jesus Over the World Trade Center and candles and children's school assignments that never existed. (DON'T ASK, JUST PLAY!) And hidden in this river of crap, occasional important bits.

I have a relative who died years ago. He had a computer, with e-mail. And every day he would forward about a dozen jokes to my mom, jokes that she never had time to read - and I doubt he did, either. When he died I archived all of his e-mail as a way of preserving his memory. And when I reviewed it, I realized there was nothing of him there. Just a big pile of forwarded crap.

Of course, it's not just my mom's generation. I'm on MySpace, and for the longest time I had a policy of friends-only as Friends. I would only Friend you if I knew you somehow, through the Internet or face-to-face. A little while back I decided to loosen up, and started approving as friends people who didn't seem to be just scammers like the dozen or so porno models who ask to be my Friend each day. Some of them have been interesting. But some of them are just compulsive bulletin-senders, sending out survey after survey after pointless survey. I've come to ignore my bulletins, mostly, which may mean that I'm missing out on some legitimate stuff that my real friends are sending. Maybe I should just block bulletins from the obsessive/compulsives. Maybe I should unfriend them altogether.

If you were hit by a speeding forklift tomorrow, what kind of marks will you have left on the world? Some people have children, and that's their legacy. Some people create art or music or poetry, or have a story to tell and make sure it gets told. Some people do nothing more than touch others by listening. Others help and heal and teach. For all these things they will be remembered, too.

The person who died left several legacies. Children, music, teaching, service to his community. But as far as I know, nothing in writing. No letters or e-mails that will allow us to hear his voice again. Nothing but a big pile of forwarded jokes. An electronic legacy of crap.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


What kind of world are we living in where a man is not free to mow his own back yard without being menaced, harassed, and threatened?

Yes. The bees are back.

I stopped at the house today after a long drive from work. I was exhausted, and wanted to simply pass out on the bed. I did that for a while, but eventually roused myself. I changed into my lawnmowing gear, pulled out my reel mower from under my digging board on my back porch, and got to work.

I started with the brick walkway between the house and the grapevine. In the years since my grandmother lived in the house this has been allowed to get overgrown. The bricks saw the light of day for the first time in over a decade when I cut down the grass two years ago. Then I moved to the north side of the house, where I have the TV antenna with the snapped-off mast, and then around to the front. Then along the south side - which, like the north, is just a strip of grass barely three feet wide between the house and the slate sidewalk which runs around it. Then back to the back yard, to make quick work of the grass around the grapevines. Then on to the money part of the lawn, the large rectangle that constitutes half of the property. A quick jog along the southern edge, turn around, jog back along the same strip, and -

DUCK! Here come the bees!

The bees are living in my garage, shed, whatever you want to call it. They have staked out a territory: the garage and everywhere within five to ten feet of it. Stay outside of this zone and they will merely observe you, staying at an altitude of about ten feet but always following your movements. Come closer and they will actively menace you, zooming overhead, or dropping to eye level and bobbing up and down, or hovering behind you and just above your head. Come closer still and they will threaten you, diving at you or - in the most impressive threat display I have seen so far - drop to eye level and slowly approach you with their stingers curled around under their bodies, pointing directly at you, saying in no uncertain terms I am coming for you, do you want some of this?

(This was when I was finishing off the lawn around the garage, trying to get as close to the garage as I could without being attacked. Inexplicably, the bee became distracted during its approach and flew around the side of the garage, allowing me to make my last few passes and get the hell out of there.)

I've decided to live with the bees, partly because I don't believe in killing unnecessarily, partly because I recognize the valuable role that bees play as pollinators, especially now that honeybees have pretty much vanished from the scene locally, but mostly because exterminators cost money, money I just don't have right now.

I don't know what sort of bees they are. I assumed they were bumblebees, because they have the right coloration and are about the size of my thumb. Mark Cour from Wilkes-Barre Online thinks they're Carpenter Bees, which would be very bad news for my garage, although they may have been living there for many years before I bought the house. As Mark is the expert in this matter, I will defer to his judgement. Just as long as they don't sting me, I'm not too particular as to species.

Maybe they'll be happier once I set out the dozens of sunflowers I've got in seed starters right now. Or maybe they'll just decide that their territory has been expanded to include my entire yard!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Moon and Mercury, May 6, 2008

If you were clouded out or forgot to check for the conjunction of Mercury with a very young Moon tonight - well, don't worry. I've got you covered!

Mercury to the lower left of the Moon, 8:35 PM on May 6, 2008. Note the clouds rolling in. The seeing did not look especially promising as a large bank of clouds rolled in shortly after sunset. This was just a few minutes after I had managed to spot Mercury - and shortly afterwards, it was lost in thick clouds.
The Moon and Mercury, May 6 2008, 9:08 PM. After playing hide-and-seek in the clouds for what felt like hours but was more like a half hour, the Moon and the innermost planet had set below the line of houses across the street. I had to abandon my traditional photo spot, a mini-tripod set up atop a car in our driveway, and retreat to higher ground - namely, a swing set on a small hill in the back yard. I set the tripod up so it straddled the crossbeam of the swing set and clicked a photo of the Moon every minute or so as a train of clouds passed below it. I was hoping I would catch Mercury in one of the photos, and sure enough I did. Though I had a hell of a time finding it: I had to switch each image to negative and then blow up the area to the lower left of the Moon, looking for a dark smudge against the white negative sky. One - and only one - photo had this feature, but it was barely visible when I switched back to positive mode. I had to crank the contrast waaaaaay up to get the image above.

So, there you go. If you missed the opportunity to see Mercury tonight, you have a few days left to see it - though good luck finding it without the Moon nearby as a convenient pointer!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Does anybody know somebody...

...who knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody whose cousin's sister-in-law's best friend's uncle's buddy's niece is on the staff of Oprah?

Whim is putting her story into book form, and frankly, publicizing Whim's story might just be Oprah Winfrey's entire reason for existence. What happened to Whim - and how Whim has soldiered through it all - is the sort of thing that Oprah could easily devote an entire show to.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, start here and work your way through using the links on the sidebar.* Just be sure to have a few hours you can spend reading. If you're like me - and a lot of other people apparently are, in this respect at least - you'll find yourself reading Whim's entire story from beginning to end.

Maybe at some point somebody on Oprah Winfrey's staff will do just that. And Oprah will make sure the whole world knows Whim's story.

*Oh, hell. Here are her posts, in order. This was swiped from her sidebar:

from The Babblings of a Whimsical-Brainpan :

The Fire

Sunday, May 04, 2008

See Mercury this week!

On May 6th the very thin crescent of the Moon, low in the Western twilight after sunset, will be your guide to seeing the elusive planet Mercury!

Mercury is the innermost planet in the Solar System and orbits the Sun in a breathtaking 88 days - it loops around more than four times in the time it takes our planet to go around once. Yet Mercury is still damned hard to see. That's because it never strays far from the Sun in our sky, so most of the time it is low in twilight just after sunset and just after sunrise. Then there is the geometry of our own planet's orbit and axial tilt to take into account; the orbit of Mercury appears to be tilted at different angles at different times of the year, meaning that much of the time when Mercury is at its greatest distance from the Sun, it's still very close to the horizon - just well off to the left or right of the Sun. Except at certain times of the year. This week is one of those times!

Sky and Telescope has a nice article on this week's skyshow. And of course, Jack Horkheimer, Star Hustler (a.k.a. Jack Horkheimer, Star Gazer since the advent of search engines) has a show all about it. (See here for the script and here for the illustrations.)

The evening of Tuesday, May 6th is the big show, with the sliver-thin Moon passing just above and to the right of Mercury. But if you miss it that night, you still have a few more days to catch the speedy innermost planet before it passes out of the range of best visibility. By May 12 it will be at a higher position in the sky, but also much dimmer as it goes from a "waning gibbous" phase to a "last quarter" phase (see the diagram at Sky and Telescope.) And after that it begins a plunge into the evening twilight, and it will be a while before we can see Mercury again!

Also see this post on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy:

Weekend wrap-up

Well, I missed a post yesterday, for the first time in a very long time. But that's OK. Besides, I had an excuse. Well, a series of excuses.

The day started off bright and early getting ready for my aunt's funeral. We were at the funeral home at 8:30. The funeral home services started at just after 9:00. I did dozens of those back in grade school when I was an altar boy. That was back when there were more practicing Catholics in town, and more old parishioners dying, and there were still local Catholic schools from which a pool of altar boys could be recruited, and who would get the occasional weekday morning off to serve a funeral, or who would get dragged out of bed for a dreaded Saturday funeral. There were no altar boys in attendance yesterday.

The funeral procession began the short trip from the funeral home to the church at about 9:45, past the funeral of former Nanticoke mayor Wasil Kobela, which was being held in another funeral home and another church. (There's no shortage of deaths in town. Monsignor Bernie Toloczko died on Friday, and another priest whose name I am obviously spelling wrong - there are no relevant results for a "Father Ferrett" - died just a few days earlier.) We processed into church behind the casket and had a Funeral Mass - which has been called a "Mass of Resurrection" for the past few decades.

(A side note: someday I may write a book called "What Not to Wear to a Funeral." This includes miniskirts, stiletto heels, and the long women's pants that are apparently all the rage now, where the ends of the legs brush the floor on all sides of the foot. Those last two items in particular are inappropriate for a graveside service, for practical reasons. Everybody should have at the very least a single wedding-and-funeral outfit on hand at all times. You should not be dressing to impress, but you also should not look like you just came in from working in the garage or on the farm - unless that it consistent with the wishes of the deceased.)

After the Mass we formed another car procession to the cemetery several miles away. There we had one last ceremony in the cemetery's chapel, after which the pall bearers were asked to stick around to transport the casket to the gravesite. Many of the family members went there too, to say one final goodbye before burial.

After that we had a traditional luncheon. Before going there, my mom asked that I drive us to our family plot, where my grandmother, grandfather, several aunts and uncles, and my stillborn baby brother are buried. My uncle - my mother's last remaining sibling - stopped there too, as did a cousin who has recently moved to the area.

The luncheon broke up around 2:30, and my aunt's family invited everyone up to their house for more food. I demurred, on the grounds that I was stuffed, exhausted, and was planning to head out to a bloggers' gathering in a few hours. Realizing that I would probably have a good time and make a late night of it, I decided that rather than getting up early on Sunday morning I would go to a Saturday evening Mass at 4:00.

After Mass I hung out with a friend in the parking lot for a while. He pointed out that it has been five years since his Mother died. In a few weeks it will be three years since one uncle died, then a few weeks later it will be two years since my other uncle died. A few months after that, at the end of August, it will be three years since my Father died.

From Mass I made my gradual way to the bloggers' gathering. I still don't have the specific location plotted or I might have gotten there a good ten or fifteen minutes faster. As it was my timing was pretty good: I was just walking the half-block from where I parked to the entrance of the bar when I saw Michelle driving up. When I went in I met Gort and Mrs. Gort and several of Gort's friends and regular commentors, and let them know that Michelle was on her way.

The gathering was just us, which was fine, and a lot of fun. I had hoped to see Mark from Wilkes-Barre Online there, but yesterday was his ride-along with the Wilkes-Barre Police. Maybe next time. I'd love to see Jen at one of these gatherings sometime, though her schedule is a bit complex. Father Tom Carten would be a lot of fun, too. Actually, it would be great to get all the locals there sometime.

Ostensibly the reason for our gathering was to watch the Kentucky Derby, though everything I knew about this year's race I had crammed in in the last few days. I knew there was a single female horse in the race. At some point we decided we would interpret the outcome of the race as an omen for the upcoming Presidential election.


As it was we couldn't hear any of the several TVs that had been tuned to the race, so we had to rely on the onscreen displays to let us know what was going on. One of the sharper-eyed of our number read the leaders' names off the screen. Shortly after the race began it was over, and favorite Big Brown was the winner by quite a bit. "That's a good sign for Obama!" I declared. "I think Michelle calls him 'Big Brown'!" Which caused a moment of confusion until Michelle the blogger realized I was referring to Michelle Obama.

There seemed to be something going on on the track afterwards, but we couldn't tell what exactly. I suggested that the shotgun crews had been sent out to deal with the losers.

Ha-ha. Very funny.

(It wasn't until this morning that I learned that Eight Belles, the lone filly, had come in second - and had broken both of her front ankles within a quarter mile of the finish line and had been euthanized on the spot. Not a good omen for Hillary Clinton.)

After the fifteen songs we had selected on the jukebox had played, we left the bar to go to the Cork restaurant to eat. It is a place aiming for a slightly upscale clientele, though they did not toss our shabby bloggers' asses out onto the street. We spent the rest of the evening there - pinned down slightly longer than we had expected by a brief but intense downpour. Over food and drinks we discussed many of the problems of the world and Northeastern Pennsylvania, but solved none of them - as far as I recall. It was after 11:45 when we finally bid each other adieu and went to our respective vehicles to find our ways home through the rain.

As I drove past the twelve-minutes-to-home point I looked at the time: 11:51 PM. I've missed today's post, I thought. But you know what? That's OK. Maybe I'll just do two tomorrow.