Wednesday, June 30, 2010

As another sees us

I used to play a game as a kid. As my mom would drive us through Nanticoke on the way to my grandmother's or the grocery store or somewhere else, I would look out the window at people on the street. More often than not, the people would suddenly look at me, even if they had originally been looking somewhere else entirely. For more than a few moments, I would be looking at them looking at me. I wondered about these people on the street: who were they, where had they come from, where were they going, what were they thinking, who had they last talked to, what had they had for lunch, how were they feeling? And eventually I developed a game where I would look at a person and project myself into their consciousness, scan their thoughts and their feelings, and see the world through their eyes. See myself through their eyes.

It was all an exercise of imagination, of course. No one can really do that. But I gave myself a few seconds to conjure up a backstory for these people on the street and try to picture how they saw the world. How they saw me.

(I still do this, sometimes, though it's a lot more dangerous when I'm driving. And most of the people I scan on the streets I immediately tag as "insane" or "criminal," neither of which is anything I can work with.)

Believe it or not, I tend to be a very private person. I only let a few people into my innermost world. And usually my reaction on seeing their reaction is the same thing that Lenny on The Simpsons said when a wall of his house collapsed, revealing him sitting at his kitchen table in his underwear eating beans out of a can: "Please don't tell anyone how I live."

In recent weeks I have been trying to reach out to a few people, to try to expand into the Big Wide World. And I think a few of these burgeoning relationships have been derailed by the ugly reality of the schedule I live by: four, or five, or more consecutive nights of work, all but one of them twelve hours long with an hour's commute tacked onto both the beginning and the end, followed by several daytime hours of incoherent exhaustion and several more hours of blissful unconsciousness, with the whole shebang followed by three or four days off, one of which is a "recovery day", all of which are lived in a semi-nocturnal state. And that's a best-case scenario: most weeks I do not know for sure if I am working on a given night until a few hours before the start of that day's shift, and I do not know if I will be required to work overtime until a few hours before the end of the rotation, and even then, scheduled overtime may be cancelled up to a few hours prior to the start of the shift.

I tell people that on days I am scheduled to work I am "non-existent," and this is almost literally true. On those days, just about everything that makes me me is tucked away in cabinets and crevices inside my mind for safe keeping and later unpackaging.

And it gets worse: I have several non-overlapping groups of friends, and they have learned over the years that they may go weeks or even months without seeing or hearing from me, because during those weeks and months I will be somewhere else. In the past this meant I would be off with some other group of friends, but lately it has come to mean that I am probably off hiding somewhere, trying not to spend money I don't have.

For some strange reason, some people have a hard time coming to grips with this fractional existence, and often decide that they'd rather take up with someone who has a more stable 9-to-5 work week with weekends off. Or, at least, that they'd rather not try to fight their way through my unpredictable and highly unstable schedule, and decide not to get involved at all.

Seeing my schedule through their eyes has made me look at it in a new way. No longer is it a just a pain and an annoyance, but now I see it as a deterrent to forming any sort of new long-term relationships. In that sense, I'm glad this is all going away no later than December. I sincerely hope that whatever I find down the road will be more conducive to success in this arena.

'Cause I'm really hating this schedule these days.

OK Go: This Too Shall Pass (marching band version)

Title reference: "As Another Sees Us", short story by Harlan Ellison about a group of astronauts being observed by a colonial life-form made up of millions of tiny insect-like aliens.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The ethics of work

During the summers after my Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior years in college, I worked in a glass factory. Owens-Illinois (later OI-NEG, later Techneglas, later gone) made TV faceplates.* Big, small, clear, green, blue, smoky gray, we made all sorts. Every day you would handle hundreds or even thousands of them, so many that most people developed carpal tunnel syndrome from the repetitive motions, and developed tinnitus from the constant squeal of grinders and polishers, and sometimes developed deep and life-altering lacerations when a faceplate broke.

One day while I was walking through the plant with another one of the summer students during a break, a "train" went by - a small vehicle tugging cart after cart of palletized faceplates. Thousands of them, just a small fraction of our daily production. We waited as the train drove past, and we realized that if everything went absolutely right, every one of these faceplates would become a part of a television set.

The thought blew our minds. Tens and hundreds of thousands of potential brand-new televisions sets being made every day. Who the hell was buying them? Were people really watching that much TV?

"Do you realize how many brain cells we're responsible for killing?" I asked.

I work, and have for the past eighteen years worked, for a CD and DVD manufacturer. (When I first started we made other things, like cassette tapes and record albums VHS tapes and Laser Disks, but all those things went away over the years.) Music. Movies. Entertainment. Stuff that could make people happy, or enlighten them, or move them, or just plain entertain them. As one music producer I worked with says, "What's the worst that happens if we completely screw up our jobs? Somebody doesn't get entertained."**

Sure, CDs can make you go deaf, if you play them too loud. DVDs can make you fat, if all you ever do is sit around and watch movies on TV. (In that case, just grab a bunch of Pilates DVDs and get to work!) But there is nothing intrinsically evil about CDs or DVDs.***

When I was out of work, a very good person to whom I will forever owe a debt of gratitude, a fellow-commentor at one of my favorite sites, heard of my plight and offered his services to me. He is someone who specializes in getting people employed, and he coached me through various strategies I had not heard of previously.

At one point a job opened up, one calling for someone with Statistical Process Control skills. Something right up my alley. I looked up the company, and was taken aback. It was - is - a military weapons manufacturer. Not guns or bullets, but something bigger. Deadlier.

But wait. They emphasize on their website that they manufacture training versions of this stuff. Well, OK then. If people are going to use this stuff, they had best train in the proper way to use it. Don't want to hear about a bunch of civilians getting killed because someone didn't have proper training. Sign me up.

When I went on an interview there I asked about this. They assured me that, yes, they do in fact make the training versions of this stuff. But they also make the real stuff, too.

OK. So here I was. I had made TV faceplates in college, solar cells after I dropped out of grad school, and had just spent fifteen years in various positions for an entertainment media manufacturer. And now I was going to take a job with a company whose product, when used as directed, would kill the largest number of people possible?

I mentioned this concern to my informal advisor, and he recommended that I set aside my misgivings if it made a difference between getting the job and not getting the job.

I didn't get the job.****

Northeastern Pennsylvania played a major role in supplying the energy needs of the United States throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Coal from our mines - the clean, hard, anthracite coal, not the dirty, soft bituminous coal that is mined in West Virginia and Poland and Columbia - fueled factories and power plants, heated homes, ran trains. It kept families fed and kept roofs over heads. It also killed people - some quickly in mine explosions and collapses, some gradually by way of black lung. And more than fifty years after the Knox Mine Disaster ended subsurface coal mining in this area, this area still bears the scars: ruined landscapes, poisoned streams, water contamination, underground fires, and the occasional subsidence that swallows people, cars, cranes, houses...

Now a new employment opportunity is coming to this area. Much of Northeastern Pennsylvania is prime drilling ground for natural gas that underlies Marcellus Shale deposits. Gas companies are handing out money in exchange for leases allowing them the right to drill exploratory wells on your property, and if they find a worthwhile deposit, to extract as much of that gas as they can through a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Money up front, royalties to be paid to you as gas is extracted - what can go wrong? Other than the environmental destruction, and the heavy truck traffic on roads designed for light rural traffic, and the permanently contaminated groundwater supplies which are the calling card of the Halliburton-developed "fracking" process.

Our local politicians are not sitting idly by as this happens. They see an opportunity for tax revenue, and for jobs creation. Because all these gas drilling outfits will be needing skilled, trained operators and engineers and managers, local colleges and universities are getting in on the act, creating courses of study that specifically apply to the gas drilling industry. And more and more people are finding jobs in the gas industry each day. The consequences for this region may be more than they can comprehend.*****

What is it that you will not do? If the thing that you make, or sell, or market, or design, or support in some way sickens people, or kills them, or pollutes the environment, or is somehow intrinsically evil or causes evil consequences, where do you draw the line? If you are a criminal defense lawyer and your client has admitted guilt to you, are you still obligated to try to prove his innocence? Where do you draw the line? What is it you will not do?

*Even today there may be already be people who have no idea what this is. Back in the olden days, televisions (and computer monitors) were great, bulky boxes that contained cathode ray tubes (also known as CRTs), which used electron beams fired from deep in the back aimed at phosphors on the front screen (the "faceplate") to generate an image. These tubes were generally deeper than they were wide, and most televisions were boxes with an extra bit sticking out of the middle of the back. We made the faceplates, while another company (Corning, I think) made the back glass assemblies, and someone else made the electronics that went inside the tubes, and somebody mated all these pieces together.

**Actually, he and I later saw the consequences of this when a young, up-and-coming singer decided to get experimental with his vocals and sang outside his normal range on his second or third release, a live outdoor performance. I heard it, and called the producer, and told him "Something is wrong with the vocals." He responded "We know", and told me the story. And the project went through with the vocals as-is, and the release came out, and his millions of screaming, hysterical fans said "What the hell is wrong with the vocals?" And blame, of course, was pinned on the DVD manufacturer for having somehow altered the vocals, until cooler-headed fans realized that no, this is the way the person was singing, and it sounded wrong. And I don't think his career ever fully recovered, though it looks like he's doing OK. Come to think of it, I don't think I ever worked on a project with that producer again, and less than three years later, I lost my job. Hmmmmm...

***Most of them. We don't do porn, which some people would see as an intrinsic evil. In some of its variations, I would too.

****I did hear back from them several months later, and was called in to interview for a slightly modified version of the position. By then I was already working at my current position. The job they were offering would have involved a cut in hourly pay, a reduction in weekly hours, and a commute which, while marginally shorter in distance, would take longer due to navigating city and suburban traffic. This time I was not so disappointed not to get the job.

*****Setting aside the enormous environmental concerns involved, there is the issue of creating an employment monoculture much like existed in this area in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when Coal was King, much like exists today in the Gulf states around the oil industry. The Knox Mine Disaster shut down the bulk of anthracite mining in this area, rendering a chronically depressed and underemployed region even worse. The BP oil spill (seventy days and still gushing, as of this writing) has had employment consequences that have rippled across the entire social network of the Gulf Coast - not just the people directly affected in the oil and fishing industries, but also all the industries that those people supported back when they were employed . The "Space Coast" faces a similar monoculture crisis with the looming end of the Space Shuttle program. Back to selling oranges and supporting the occasional satellite launch. Employment monocultures set up dependency relationships that are surprisingly fragile, and the distance between a booming industry and massive unemployment is very small.

Note that none of these examples is a complete monoculture. Northeastern Pennsylvania also had manufacturing, and textile mills, and iron furnaces - all of which dwindled away after the demise of King Coal.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Back to life

Aaagh. Four and a third days of non-existence over. Overtime cancelled today, so I get to enjoy a full three-and-a-half days off. (Or maybe just three, if I have to work overtime on the first half of our first day. )

Newsweek had a bit this week about how adults should get nine to ten hours of sleep each night. I don't know if that would be possible for most working people, and I know that it is not possible for me. On days that I work, I put in a twelve hour shift. My commute takes a minimum of forty minutes* in the car - but add in time it takes to get from the house to the car, get out of the car and to the timeclock, and back again, and you are adding nearly two additional hours each day to get to and from work. So if we add to this fourteen hour workday the minimum recommended nine hours of sleep, we are left with one hour in which I may eat breakfast, eat dinner, make lunch, use the bathroom, take a shower, and maybe sometimes get gas, stop at a grocery store, and perhaps go online.

Is it any wonder that, in practice, I sleep only four to five hours each night day?

Needless to say, this sleeplessness takes a toll. By the end of the third day of the rotation I am ready to drop from exhaustion - the often-mentioned "Thirdday Blues." Days of overtime just make things worse. On days that I am working my mental functions drop dramatically, and it is sometimes all I can do to get home safely, all the while eating grapes and drinking diet colas to keep me awake. I have never had an accident** or incident in all my years of commuting related to fatigue or drowsiness, though if a certain red light camera was functioning this morning, that streak may end.

I refer to myself as being "non-existent" on the days that I work. It's the way I feel on those days, and it's a hell of a way to be. As you might guess, it takes quite a toll on your personal life. People who are used to having other people around weekends and evenings can't easily comprehend the schedule of someone who has different days off each week, and has to roll all his weekends and evenings and everything else into those days. As a bonus, working night shift leaves me in a nocturnal state, and I find it difficult to get to bed before 3:00 in the morning or up before 9:00.

All that is scheduled to end no later than this December - earlier, if I can find something. Unfortunately, the only offer I've had so far involves trading one form of non-existence for another kind - one which will leave me with even less time to myself. I'm going to keep looking.

*My commute used to be 33.3 miles each way. Like clockwork. Every day and a half was another 100 miles. For years and years. And then I checked one day recently, and the door-to-door distance came out to 36 miles. Through all the little jogs in the road that have been added recently in highway projects, nearly three additional miles have been added to each one-way commute, an additional six miles a day.

**I was rear-ended twice at the same on-ramp on my way to work under identical circumstances: while waiting for an opening in heavy traffic I made a false start and had to stop again as the approaching traffic accelerated. The person behind me assumed I was gone and merged into the next available opening in traffic without checking to to be sure that the way in front of her (in both cases it was a her) was clear. Both of those incidents happened to my old car, that merge no longer exists, and that part of the trip has been removed from my commute.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two more to go

Found out that I got the overtime I put in for. So now Monday night is my last night, not tonight.

Must go to sleep soon. Read in Newsweek that I'm getting only half my recommended daily allowance of sleep.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

St. Francis is gone

When the demolition of the old State Theater on Main Street in Nanticoke commenced more than a few years ago, the first shot from the mighty wrecking ball bounced off. Maybe they just built buildings a little more sturdily back in those days. Or maybe some of these old landmarks of Nanticoke aren't willing to go down without a fight.

St. Francis church, vacated two years ago due to structural concerns, finally came down this week. But something went horribly wrong; whether it was due to incompetence, dumb luck, or fate's perverse sense of humor, I do not know.

When the decision was made to dispose of the church building, another decision was made to sell off the old, spacious nearby rectory, former home of the resident priest. It was purchased by a local funeral home and was subtly converted into a spacious funeral parlor. The parlor was ready to open as soon as the demolition of the old church was completed and the debris cleared away.

The church had other ideas.

During demolition on Wednesday part of the church collapsed onto part of the rectory, in the left of center of the picture above, causing structural damage that forced the funeral director out of the building. A full determination of the damage to and status of the rectory is, as far as I know, still pending.

This is sad, as much a tragedy as the loss of the church itself. Because even though the old church would be gone, some part of it would live on it the old rectory. Now it is possible that the rectory may have to be demolished as well.

See also:

Church demolition tears down rectory wall - News - Citizens Voice
Church comes down, but faith goes on The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, PA

Friday, June 25, 2010

Spay Day

We've got one feral cat safely locked up, and I've got a trap set for a second. In less than a half hour I will take one or more feral cats down to the mobile spay and neuter clinic, leave them there, come home, sleep, wake up, and pick them up. Then I'll go back to work.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Kiss the Summer goodbye

How ridiculous is it that we simultaneously have impending scheduled layoffs and mandatory overtime? The answer is: very ridiculous.

I shouldn't bitch. Overtime means an opportunity to earn a little more money to pay down growing debts. But it also means a loss of precious days off, and an addition to fatigue and exhaustion.

But this could all change on a dime. The overtime could be an ephemeral thing. Even with people taking vacation time, rolling layoffs due to lack of work could be just around the corner.

Even so, there are things I want to do this Summer. People I want to see. Porches I need to paint. Lawns I need to mow. Walls I need to repair.

Will I be able to do any of this? We'll see.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My first meeting as a member of the Luzerne County Democratic Committee

Semi-random image: Copper inlaid tables, Stookey's Famous Bar-B-Que, West Nanticoke, PA, June 22, 2010

The Luzerne County Democratic Committee held its first meeting since the elections - not at Stookey's, pictured above, but at the Ramada in Wilkes-Barre. There were well over two hundred elected representatives from throughout Luzerne County, young, old, and in-between, about a 50/50 mix of males and females (as required, oddly enough, by election rules). There were some people who were obviously politically ambitious, some people who had written themselves into office and won (as opposed to me, who was written in by a friend as a joke and won), some people who seemed to be there mainly for the social aspect, and more than a few who were there because of potential networking opportunities with an eye toward future employment. (I will admit, the thought has crossed my mind as well.)

We gathered in a spacious room with a lousy PA system, and after determining the presence of a quorum and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance got down to the business of voting for a chairman. Three names were nominated and immediately seconded. We then got down to voting by secret ballot. The distribution of ballots took roughly forever, and the counting of the ballots took twice as long, during which I took the opportunity to get to know some of the people in my immediate vicinity - which included, oddly, another person from Nanticoke and a guy very familiar with the one new business in town to actually be thriving right now - Tommyboy's Bar and Grill. He was also very interested in Marcellus Shale issues, so I hope to be having some conversations with him on that in the future.

We'll be having a regional meeting of a smaller subgroup of representatives next week at a place called Happy Pizza. Well, the name sounds promising...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My preposterous day tomorrow

Tomorrow I go back to work for a partial day - from midnight to 6:00 AM. This is actually a lot trickier than working the other version of this night, from 10:0 PM to 2:00 AM, not only because it runs two hours longer but also because it is offset to be basically a second half of the night.

Under normal circumstances I would probably stay up somewhat late tonight, maybe until 2:00 or 3:00, and then try to force myself to sleep until at least 11:00 AM, maybe until 2:00 PM, which is my "normal" wake-up time when I'm working. (On other days of the rotation I usually sleep from 9:30 or 10:00 AM to 2:00 or 2:30 PM, giving me between four and five hours of sleep, so this eight to twelve hour sleep period is a luxury.) I would then get up and fill the open hours of the afternoon with little chores I hadn't gotten around to on my days off.

Tomorrow a friend will be passing through the area and asked if we could meet for lunch around 2:00. This is perfectly reasonable, and fits neatly into my schedule. We used to meet for dinner every few weeks when he was teaching in Scranton, but now that he is out of the area we only see each other at Christmas and maybe one other time of the year.

Tomorrow night at 7:00 there is also a meeting of the Luzerne County Democratic Committee, to which I was elected by a friend's joke of a single write-in vote.

Under normal circumstances I would not be able to make a 7:00 meeting on a workday. But because of tomorrow's twisted schedule, the meeting actually fits into my day, depending on its length. As I am scheduled (at the moment, and this could change) to start work at midnight, this meeting could go on pretty long and not interfere with my start time. Even if I were starting at 10:00, I could still probably deal with a meeting that lasted until 9:00 before I had to take my leave and head for work.

Because of the start-stop nature of this day, I may interject a few naps here and there.

And hey, if all else fails, I'm allowed to appoint a proxy to take my place at the Luzerne County Democratic Committee. I wonder who that would be...

BONUS - Preposterousness today: I was off on a Tuesday again, which means one thing: I took my mom grocery shopping to get her 5% senior citizen's discount. And, continuing with the theme of targeting the music in the store (some of it, anyway) directly at me (Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, The Cure), I heard these two songs while strolling the aisles:

The Verve - "Bittersweet Symphony"
Embedding disabled by request, and there's a commercial tacked at the beginning, but thanks to EMI it's actually available. It was hard to avoid intentionally bumping into people as I strolled through the aisles looking for necessities and bargains.

Cyndi Lauper - "I Drove All Night"
Sweet Cyndi does justice to Roy Orbison's song, and gives his range a run for its money. Someday I will find a way to sing this. I think the trick is to start off very low and work your way up to something not impossibly high. Here's the video:

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Disappeared

I had a friend who disappeared from the Internet last year. She was someone I had been in touch with online for nearly seven years. Hers was one of the first blogs I ever followed, and it really inspired me to start my own. She had been gradually backing away from the stuff she had been doing online, shutting down her main blog, mothballing her other sites. But one day she was just gone. No more Facebook, no more MySpace, no more blogs of any sort. Nothing.

Eventually I got an explanation for what happened.

Early Sunday morning I went to check on a blog I've been following for a few years. It's not one listed on my sidebar, for various reasons. The blogger has led an interesting and colorful life, full of ups and downs and massive betrayals. But things have taken a more positive direction recently. Wait, that's too passive: She has driven her life in a more positive direction. Made positive choices that changed things for the better. Recently she lost her job, and she was starting the job search again, though she has other things on her plate right now that may take priority over that.

And as of Sunday morning, her blog is gone.

I went to another site, one where she used to be a regular, but of late had been showing up only sporadically. And there she was, in items dated Friday.

I Googled her blog name and found a cached copy of the most recent crawl. It was a fresh post from Thursday, crawled on Friday. So the blog was there on Friday. Nothing in the post indicated she was planning to take down her blog.

We had exchanged e-mails a few times. I found her address and sent her a quick message. The message bounced off immediately: delivery failure.

I tried posting a comment to the cached post. That shouldn't have worked, but for a moment it looked like it did. But then I was notified of another failure.

I remembered I had once stumbled onto her MySpace page - under her real name. But it contained references to her semi-unique blogging name. I Googled it and found the page. It was still there, but looked like it had been inactive for a year. (Does anyone still use MySpace?) But I sent her a message through that, anyway.

I went back to my e-mail inbox and found another address for her. I sent a message to that, detailing everything I had just done, including the MySpace thing. It didn't bounce off, but about twelve hours later I received a notice that said delivery had been "delayed." I'm not sure what that means. I'll be waiting to see if it eventually graduates to "failed."

And that's that.

So, what happened? I don't know. If I were to speculate, I'd guess she pulled down her blog because of her ongoing job search. But why leave up her MySpace, and the other thing?

I shouldn't worry too much. She's strong, tough, able to deal with adversity. I've seen her stand up to stuff that would make most folks crumble.

Still, I worry. I hope she's OK. And I hope one of my messages somehow makes it through to her.

UPDATE, 6/22: Dammit. The "delayed" messages finally failed. On to plan G...or is it H?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Holy Child to close June 27, 2010

On Sunday, June 27, 2010, phase 1 of the consolidation of Roman Catholic parishes in the City of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania will conclude with the closure of Holy Child church in Sheatown.

I don't have much history with Holy Child. I seem to recall being there once when I was young, maybe in first grade, maybe later; we were at the nearby St. Stanislaus nursing home to sing Christmas Carols for the old folks, and afterwards went to a Mass at the church. But I never went there again until, I think, sometime last year or the year before. I went there out of curiosity, and because the 9:00 Sunday service was sometimes a convenient alternative to the 8:00 service at St. Stan's on rotations when Saturday night was my last night of work, and I felt like dawdling at breakfast at Cracker Barrel or wherever.

The church is built in what I believe is a Dutch style, complementing the buildings of the old, long-vacant St. Stanislaus Orphanage that tower over it on either side. The church, I have heard, was originally a chapel for the children of the orphanage - some of them children whose parents had died, some of them children whose parents were very much alive but had decided that they were not interested in playing the roles of parents. Despite its small size and crowded location, it is a surprisingly bright and airy church - the brightness the result of the extensive use of clear glass in the stained glass windows, and the airiness brought about by ceiling fans and vent windows.

The main altar is located in a recessed area that creates a sense of separateness between the celebrants and the congregation. The altar itself, as well as the side altars, all appear to be carved from a single piece of pinkish stone with gray veining - soapstone, perhaps? The large wall-mounted depiction of the crucified Christ is surmounted by a Rose window (see below), and windows on the sides of the recess admit additional natural light.

The angels on the sides of the altar were of special interest to me. From my youth through the last major renovation in 1998, the area behind the main altar of St. Mary's church, my home parish, featured an image of Mary and Jesus (in their dark-skinned, cut-faced Czestachowa appearance) attended by two angels. I always had the impression that rather than being directly painted on the wall, these were actually appliques of some sort, like large, painted pieces of wallpaper cut into specific shapes. (This impression came from seeing various corners and edges curl up from time to time.) The angels exactly resembled the two angels seen here. I wonder if these are the appliques from St. Mary's, removed and repurposed after the renovation? Or could the two churches have received similar decorative items from the same supplier?

A close-up of the Rose window. The four central panes appear to be the symbols of the four Evangelists: clockwise from upper left, the Lion of Mark, Man of Matthew, Bull of Luke, and Eagle of John.

I don't know if I have seen pendants like this elsewhere. There are two of them, one in front of each of the two side altars. The letters are a Christogram. From Wikipedia:
In the Latin-speaking Christianity of medieval Western Europe (and so among Catholics and many Protestants today), the most common Christogram is "IHS" or "IHC", denoting the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, iota-eta-sigma, or ΙΗΣ. The Greek letter iota is represented by I, and the eta by H, while the Greek letter sigma is either in its lunate form, represented by C, or its final form, represented by S. Because the Latin-alphabet letters I and J were not systematically distinguished until the 17th century, "JHS" and "JHC" are equivalent to "IHS" and "IHC".

A votive light of a style I have never seen before.

As mentioned earlier, the stained glass windows in this church use lots of clear glass, admitting maximum light. The style of these windows is unique among the churches of Nanticoke; aside from a single similar depiction of a saint in both the St. Mary's and Holy Trinity windows, each of the churches of Nanticoke has a distinct set of windows in a style different from all the others.

The right side of the church as seen from the front. The hanging lights had ornately decorated glass, though much of the detail is washed out in this image. Note the large duct for the air conditioning system in the choir loft. Details like this give the church an almost industrial feel.

The left side of the church as seen from the front. Each of these windows bears a dedication inscription, and I'm sure the names present a history of the parish over its lifetime. I am also sure that the small, intricately carved Stations of the Cross have a story of their own, though as an outsider to this parish, I am unfamiliar with it.

The choir loft, dominated by a large stained glass window depicting the Nativity.

A close-up of the Nativity window. One of the choir members seen here commented to my mom that she hoped I got a picture of this window, which is apparently the only window in all of Nanticoke to depict the Nativity. You can judge how well I captured this in the image above. I hope that sometime before the doors are locked forever, someone with a better camera and a more in-depth knowledge of this parish photographically documents Holy Child church.

The rear entrance. The buildings of the orphanage, undergoing renovation as they are turned into apartments, seem to envelop the church - something that is not apparent from the front. But as of next week, this will no longer be a church.

I have attended Mass here three or four times over the past year or so. Most times the church, while small, was only partially full. Today as I arrived I was surprised to find no parking available near the church or even in the lot of the nursing home (no longer St. Stan's) that still operates on the other side of the lot. Inside I found a packed church, and needed an usher to locate a seat for me. If this penultimate Mass was any indication, next week's closing Mass will be very crowded - standing room only. Tragically, it seems that if this had been the case all the while, this church might not be on the list of churches being closed as part of the local parish consolidation.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I'm alive

My hands are working again, mostly.

Still, the disaster - or, more precisely, cat-astrophe - continues.

YouTube weekend: Love and Rockets, "So Alive"

Thursday, June 17, 2010



I don't want to talk about it.

Let's just say it's all my fault.

And I may have rabies.

Well, that usually goes away on its own, right?

Trap/Spay/Neuter/Release: It's more difficult than it sounds.

Once you've trapped a feral cat...then what?

My plan for a quick transfer to a cat carrier didn't work.

And now we have a major problem.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Moon and Venus, June 15, 2010

My pictures of the Moon and Venus from this past Monday, June 14 have excited all sorts of interest, even among people who knew exactly what that bright "star" near the Moon was. So now I present pictures of the Moon and Venus taken about twenty-four hours later.

Note the dramatic difference in relative position of the Moon and Venus from one night to the next. Most of this difference is due to the Moon progressing along its orbit around the Earth, though Venus is moving in a way that is not difficult to note from night to night.

The Moon has moved to a position that made it impossible to photograph from the same location where I took the June 14 photos. Here I have positioned the two heavenly bodies so they appear to straddle the evergreen across the street.

If you get a chance, try to observe the positions of the Moon and Venus tonight. Before you go out to look, take a guess as to how far apart they will be, and then see how far off your prediction was!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

You're gonna miss us when we're gone

Tonight will be a weird night. It's a six-hour night, but runs from midnight to 6:00 in the morning. Tomorrow night through Friday night will be regular 6:00 PM - to - 6:00 AM nights.

Last night, of course, was the first night when I got to bed at a semi-reasonable hour - maybe 2:00 AM. I forced myself to sleep extra-long, to 11:00 and then again to almost 2:00. The rest of this week I will get maybe four to five hours of sleep each day, from 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning to my usual wake-up time of 2:00 in the afternoon.

Well, at least I know this is ending soon. All this while I have been hoping that this industry would pull out of this downward spiral, that something else would appear at my company for me. But that appears to be a futile hope. DVDs are fated to go the way of buggy whips and the SEGA Genesis, cassette tapes and milk men. But the things that are taking the place of DVDs - not Blu-Ray, but movies-on-demand, streaming video, and the like - are of lower quality and have fewer features than DVDs, analogous to the step from CD audio to MP3s. (And most people who have been raised on MP3s played over tiny earbuds have no idea how much quality they are missing.) Blu-Ray, on the other hand, is to DVDs what Laser Disc was to VHS: a marked improvement that appeals mainly to high-end early-adopter users with deep pockets.

It's not just DVDs that you're going to miss. The movie industry currently sees most of its revenue not from ticket sales, but from DVD sales - so much so that some in the industry consider theatrical releases to essentially be extended ads for DVD sales. As DVD sales drop, the industry is scrambling to make up that lost revenue somewhere. Anywhere. Gimmicks such as 3-D and fake "IMAX" versions of movies convince movie-goers to fork over more money at the box office. But these movies are rapidly reaching a saturation point for theaters equipped to show them, and at some point consumers will do a reality check on their finances and ask themselves if it's worth the added expense to see a dimmer version of a cartoon in a 3-D format that adds little or nothing to the viewing experience.

Eventually the movie industry, facing declining revenues and ever-increasing expenses, will need to make the same sorts of changes that the DVD industry is making.

And then?

I don't know. Maybe no more blockbusters. Maybe nothing but blockbusters, movies guaranteed to bring in so many tens of millions of dollars in the first weekend. Maybe nothing but Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey and Will Ferrel, or whoever the schlockmeister guaranteed to fill seats is at the time. No risk-taking allowed, only sure things greenlighted.

And then maybe it will all cave in on itself, and you will be left with nothing. Empty seats in empty theaters. Maybe, God willing, a return to community theater and Vaudeville-style entertainment. Who knows?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Moon and Venus, June 14, 2010

Here's yet another fabulous conjunction that I totally failed to mention to anyone ahead of time, and completely forgot about myself. After I mowed my lawn and whacked my weeds across town, I settled in to watch a little TV (I'm really starting to like Rules of Engagement). Then I headed out to refill my tank with enough gas for this four-day rotation. As I rolled downhill to a local Uni-Mart, I remembered that it was a BP affiliate, and decided to get gas elsewhere. I also noticed Venus shining brilliantly over the young, thin Moon.

It took me quite a while to get to my second choice for gas, and in that time Venus and the Moon sank lower in the sky. Hurry, hurry, I thought as I filled my tank - 7.103 gallons at $2.549/gallon, with a fuel efficiency of 44.4 miles per gallon in the 315.5 miles since the last fill-up a week ago. I clicked off a quick cell phone photo at the station, recklessly risking a catastrophic gas explosion. But, hey, what is life without danger?

As I headed home I could see clouds forming in the West, occasionally blocking my view of the conjunction. Things looked worse when I pulled up at home. But I got myself to higher ground and set up my tripod at a spot where I could see the sky between two neighbors' houses. And there they were, below rooftop level but out of the zone of clouds. I took a series of nearly-identical photos.

Eventually the Moon sank from sight, and I went in to see what I had caught.

UPDATE: Here's a cropped close-up from one of the photos in this series:

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blah weekend


Friday night was a short night at work, just six hours. Got out at midnight, got home by 1:00. But I couldn't fall asleep until 4:00.

Woke up Saturday morning around 11:00. Did some yard work, used the weed whacker until the battery ran out, then mowed the lawn. It was supposed to rain on Saturday, but it just stayed hot all day. Relocated the trap for the groundhog and baited it with some apples. Vacuumed the house at 10:00 at night.

Today there was a chance I would be working overtime - a twelve hour shift, 6 PM to 6 AM. But by the 8 AM cutoff the recorded message said I would not be needed, so I was able to unpack my plans for the day. Went to church, did some major grocery shopping, transplanted some tomato plants - two into Topsy Turvy planters, one into a large pot. Made turkey soup from the bones from the turkey breast my mom cooked for supper. (Water, turkey bones, some scraps of turkey, some juice from the pan, salt, pepper, allspice, parsley flakes, carrots, leftover corn kernels. I cheated by adding about a teaspoon of chicken bouillon. Simmer for a few hours, or until you figure it's done.)

I also finished reading a book on the Battle of Wyoming that I've been working through for the past few weeks. Fascinating stuff. Makes me look at this area with whole new eyes.

Tomorrow I plan to attack the lawn across town. Maybe fill in some concrete cracks. Maybe, if I feel really ambitious, apply water seal to the three-year-old furniture.

I've been slacking off on some other stuff lately. Maybe it's just me trying to sabotage anything that may change my status quo, which isn't exactly what anyone would call an ideal situation. Well, I know no matter how badly screwed-up I think my life is, or how bleak my future looks, there are people who would gladly walk on broken glass with skewers through their biceps to change places with me. (Wait, that's not true - I know more than a few people who walk on broken glass and put skewers through their biceps for a living, and they actually seem pretty happy.)

Maybe it's just the heat, or the disruptive and unpredictable work schedule. Maybe it's something else. But at some point I have to sit down and do the things that need to be done.

Tuesday night I go back to work - a four (or a six), then three twelves, then four days off.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Strange Tales: The Antisun Pillar

Wednesday, June 9, 2010. Sunrise. Partly cloudy.

The rising sun cast sunbeams into the sky. Crepuscular rays, if you want to be technical. More technically: the light from the sun was being reflected off of dust and suspended water droplets and spiderwebs and whatnot in the air, becoming apparent only where clouds blocked the illumination, casting shadows in the sky.

I was heading West, and home. It had been a twelve-hour night, my first back after four days off, and I was glad to be done with it. I could not see the sun rising behind me, but I could see the sunbeams skipping across the sky before me, broken up by the clouds. In some places the beams converged on the antisolar point on the far horizon. It was quite a sight.

I wished I could photograph it. But taking photos while driving a car moving at highway speeds is a dangerous proposition. You had damn well better make sure the picture is worth the risk.

A little past the midway point between work and home, I decided that what I was seeing was worth the risk. I fumbled with my camera phone, held it up to the windshield, and hoped for the best.

For the life of me I don't know what I was seeing. It's hard to see in the picture above, but on the left between the nearer light pole and the distant sign there is a beam of light coming straight out of the Western horizon. It didn't look right; it was thick and non-converging, not like what I would be expecting at the point where crepuscular rays meet at the antisolar point. It looked like a distant region of non-rain bordered by two regions of rain falling straight down through still air. But the clouds didn't look like they were dumping rain.

It stayed ahead of me as I continued West. This picture was taken about a minute after the first, about a mile down the highway, and the pillar is now more obvious, dead center. It looked almost like a sun pillar (as seen here, for example), but white, and broader, and opposite the sun.

So what was it? Minnaert states in Light and Color in the Outdoors that crepuscular rays are actually easier to see near the antisolar point, though in my experience this is not the case - perhaps the nature of the atmosphere has subtly changed since he wrote this, with greater amounts of pollution or even dispersed condensation from the contrails of jet airplanes (which were rare when he wrote the original version of the book in 1954) blocking the undisturbed passage of these rays across the dome of the sky. War this a lone unblocked ray that had passed almost directly overhead and therefore appeared to be coming straight down into the horizon? Was it some antisolar analogue to a sun pillar? Was it just a dry patch between two distant downpours? Or was it something else?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Three down, half to go, then one off, then one on...

We've done three twelve-hour days this rotation, and tonight should be a half-day, six hours. Then I'm off tomorrow, when in-between the thunderstorms I will try to mow at least one lawn, shuffle around my compost piles, and get two or three tomato plants into Topsy-Turvy planters.

Sunday I've been mandated for overtime.

Now, this doesn't mean that I'll be working Sunday. But if overtime is available, I am required to take it. Yayyy.

Then off on Monday, when I will try yo get my other lawn mowed, and maybe get my exhaust system brackets re-welded to my car before it comes off entirely.

Tuesday I go back to work, and the fun begins again.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Steve Corbett and gas drilling awareness

Local talk jock Steve Corbett has a daily radio show on WILK in which he goes on about whatever issue is near and dear to his heart at any given moment. Right now, he's decided that he cares about Marcellus Shale drilling. Not only that he cares - but, from what I'm hearing, that he is the first person who has ever cared about it, the only person who has ever taken a stand on it, and the only person whose position can be trusted.

Gort42: You can't trust bloggers
Circumlocution for Dummies: Drill the Huntsville dam baby, drill!

Now, I have a lot of respect for the Old Media, I really do. I subscribe to both the Citizens' Voice and the Times Leader. I get Newsweek in the mail every week, though I have found it less useful since it went to the "essay contest" format last year, ceding the provision of "news" to online sources. I listen to NPR's All Things Considered on my way in to work, and Morning Edition on the way home. I even watch CNN once in a while to see if they have any news.

There's a lot of good stuff coming out of these formats. Elizabeth Skrapits, for example, has been writing a series of excellent articles on gas drilling for the Citizens' Voice. And the strength of message delivery for each of these old, traditional formats is multiplied by having a web presence. While it may be true that nothing is real until it appears in print, it may even be more true that nothing is forever until it makes its way onto the Internet.

Sadly, a lot of stuff said on local radio isn't archived. It's just words spoken on the aether that fade in intensity according to the inverse-square law. What was said yesterday is forgotten tomorrow.

Maybe WILK archives Steve Corbett's show somewhere. If so, it's not anyplace I can easily find. Rummaging around the WILK site under the "Corbett" tab reveals a series of blog-like posts that may or may not be related to his shows.

In the post from yesterday Corbett seems to strike a more humble tone than the arrogant and dismissive one reported by Gort and Mark:
I’ve recently enlisted in the people’s army that faces off against the warlords of the massive international gas drilling companies that are already firmly entrenched in Northeastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere in what is known as Marcellus Shale country.
Well. In that case - Welcome aboard, Steve! I'm kinda new to this army myself. Let me introduce you to some of the people who have been in the front lines since before either of us knew Marcellus Shale from Marsellus Wallace.

Over at Circumlocution for Dummies, you'll find Mark Cour. He's been writing about this stuff for years. Seriously. And before that, he's been relentlessly fighting for a better Wilkes-Barre. He's a guy who won't back down in a tussle. Plus, he does his homework, and knows his stuff. Ask any reporter who's used his site as an unattributed source for an "exclusive" story. Oh, and he's been in this "blogging" game since before there was a word for it. Impressive.

And over at the Susquehanna River Sentinel we have Don Williams. Now, you might say that Don is Mark's guru in this stuff. Don is what I like to call a "clean water enthusiast" - though Mark calls him "Kayak Dude." Don wants to see to it that Pennsylvanians get to exercise their rights as spelled out in Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution:
The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the
natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's
public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including
generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall
conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
Don's been at this a long time, too.

Truth be told, Steve, there are a lot of people in this army who have been fighting the fight for quite a while. And more than a few of them are bloggers.

So, show some respect. Tone down the anti-blogger rhetoric, dude. It hurts the cause.

But you're a newbie. We'll cut you some slack.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Put your face on board the final Space Shuttle missions!

Ever wanted to take a ride on the Space Shuttle? Time is running out - but now your face can go on the trip without you!


HOUSTON -- NASA is inviting members of the public to send electronic images of their faces into orbit aboard one of the final remaining space shuttle missions.

Visitors to the "Face in Space" website can upload their portrait to fly with the astronauts aboard shuttle Discovery's STS-133 mission and/or shuttle Endeavour's STS-134 mission. Participants will receive special certificates from the Internet site once the mission is completed.

"The Space Shuttle Program belongs to the public, and we are excited when we can provide an opportunity for people to share the adventure of our missions," said Space Shuttle Program Manager John Shannon. "This website will allow you to be a part of history and participate as we complete our final missions."

To submit your image, visit:

Those without a picture can skip the image upload section, and NASA will fly their name.

Discovery and Endeavour's missions are the final two flights remaining until the retirement of the space shuttle fleet. They are targeted to launch in September and November, respectively. For more information about the STS-133 and STS-134 missions, visit:

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

No post today

Sorry to disappoint anybody, but I've sort-of embarked on a new writing assignment of sorts, for a very exclusive readership. And today is my back-to-work day, and I've spent all my blogging energy units on writing elsewhere. So please scan down my sidebar and see what my friends have been posting!

Monday, June 07, 2010

I'm now a published author!

...sort of. You know, not counting this blog, Another Monkey, which is read by dozens (even scores) of people every day in many parts of the world, mostly people wondering "What ever happened to Cathy Baker from Hee Haw?", "What is the js3250.dll and why did it just make Firefox crash?", and "Why is there a headless rabbit in my yard?"*

Pick up a copy of the June 2010 issue of Smithsonian magazine. Turn to page 15. There, in the upper left-hand corner, is a comment from yr. hmbl. blogger, dazzlingly positioned right above the spine and skull of a dinosaur!

Yep, pretty much just like this.

I was advised of this a while back via e-mail:
I am writing in regards to a recent comment you left on the Dinosaur Tracking blog on

I've always wondered what kind of conclusion might be drawn by future (perhaps non-human) paleontologists who unearth the remains of a museum and find skeletons of many species of dinosaurs gathered there. Perhaps the dinosaurs lived in these buildings, or worked there? Finding that they apparently crewed seagoing vessels will confuse matters even more.
- April 13, 2010

We enjoyed your comment and will be publishing it in the print version of our magazine. We have a page in the print version of the magazine called Your Smithsonian that spotlights the best user-generated content on our Web site. Your comment will appear on that page in the June issue of the magazine.
Go out and get a copy of the June 2010 Smithsonian magazine and see for yourself!

*Actually, a quick check of my current entry page ranking shows that twenty of the last hundred visitors entered through the main page. Only five came because of the Firefox bug, five for information on headless rabbits, and three in search of information on Cathy Baker.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

St. Stanislaus: Closed

Today was the closing mass at St. Stanislaus Church in Nanticoke, PA. It was the oldest Catholic church in Nanticoke, and now it's gone.

It was a surprisingly emotional day for all involved. I didn't expect to be so moved by the closing. I spent some time in this church during my grade school years, but hadn't been in it more than two or three times in the last two decades until last year. But I found it to be a very comfortable and pleasant place, and I realized how heartbreaking it must be for the parishioners to have to move on to either the Primary Worship Site of the combined St. Faustina parish, the imposingly huge and surprisingly uncomfortable building formerly known as Holy Trinity Church, or to the Alternate Worship Site at the former St. Mary's Church.

(Note: In the photo above, the tilt of the building is not an optical illusion or trick of my camera lens. The building really is pitching forward. Note the slope along the ridgeline of the roof.)

I have covered some of the interior features of St. Stanislaus Church in a previous post. But as I was sitting in a different location than the one where I took my previous pictures, I was able to get a different view of the place. This picture captures some of the stained glass windows (modern ones installed about fifteen years ago), the ornate hanging lights, the large ceiling painting, the painting of St. Stanislaus behind the main altar, and a few of the many statues that are featured in this church.

The light from a stained glass window reflects off a well-worn pew. I do not know if these pews are as old as the church itself, but many parishioners have sat in this pew over the decades.

Last Light. This image was taken after the ceremony was over, as parishioners milled about taking pictures and having one last look around. Here, Western light (this was about 4:30 in the afternoon or so) is broken up by the stained glass windows and streams through the lingering smoke from incense.

The Reverend Brian Van Fossen, a son of the parish of St. Stanislaus, gave the homily at today's mass. In it, he recounted the Nanticoke of his youth - he is a few years younger than me - and the Nanticoke he heard of in old-timers' stories way back then. He recalled the coal mines that were once in town, and the stores and banks and bars that once lined Main and Market streets, and the old hangouts - the bowling alleys, the schools, the State Theater, Skatarama. All gone. Things have changed from the way they were back then.

Now St. Stanislaus is closed.

In three weeks the closing mass will be held at Holy Child in Sheatown.

And tomorrow, I have heard, the old St. Francis Church will be demolished.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Other places, other posts

You know, keeping up a post-a-day pace can get a little tiring - especially when I'm doing posts to other blogs at the same time. Here are links to the other posts I've done in the last twenty-four hours:

NEPA Blogs: June 10, 2010: Uncornered Market - LIVE in Scranton!
Uncornered Market is a fascinating blog documenting the world travels of a couple with ties to Northeastern Pennsylvania. On Thursday, June 10, they will be appearing live and in person at a bookstore in Scranton. Unfortunately, I am scheduled to work that day, but if you can make it you definitely should!

A Blog of Nanticoke: Church closings in Nanticoke
I've been documenting the church closings and consolidations in Nanticoke pretty well here on Another Monkey, but I've been neglecting to post anything on my Nanticoke-centric blog, A Blog of Nanticoke. This post covers not just the consolidation of Nanticoke's Catholic churches, but also the closure (or suspected closure) of churches from a few other denominations as well. For good measure I mention the closure and/or destruction of several other Nanticoke institutions, and the one successful business I've seen open recently.

NEPA Blogs: Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition
After updating the sidebar list on NEPA Blogs to include blogs posted by fellow blogger Gort, I discovered an e-mail from two weeks ago requesting a listing for this blog on one of the hottest local topics: natural gas drilling.

Here are some things I've posted to Facebook that you haven't seen if you're not friends with me on there:

"The Final Blow" by Eric Joyner. I have loved this painting since the first time I saw it in a book at Barnes & Noble. A full-sized version can be found as the third image from 2003 here:
Here's a blog post about the book:

A discussion of the cadmium paint used on McDonald's Shrek Forever After glasses led to one of my Facebook friends reminiscing about an old trick involving dissolving teaspoons made of cadmium - a fun and highly toxic prank! Here's an article from Popular Science on how to make non-toxic versions of these spoons yourself, at a price only several times higher than making them out of solid silver:

Harley Newman - I met him at the Sideshow Gathering last year, and he is absolutely the nicest person I have ever met. Courtesy of Paul Szauter (a.k.a. Doctor Wilson), who comes in a very close second!

Here are two articles on the environmental cost of the BP Oil Disaster in the Gulf. Not for the squeamish - but you should read them anyway. The most heartbreaking picture I have seen so far was on CNN, I think, of a pelican or other large bird in an oil slick in the surf completely covered by a blanket of oil, struggling to get out. But BP is trying to protect us from these disturbing images by using their control of the local police to keep photographers away - and to prohibit anyone with access to these areas from taking pictures.

Via David Gergen:
Charlie Riedel Photos of Dying Birds Put New Focus on Oil Spill - AOL News
(June 4) -- AP photographer Charlie Riedel\'s pictures of dying, oil-coated birds on a Louisiana beach reawakened public outrage about the BP disaster as no words could.

Via Bill Retheford:
BP Tries to Block Photos of Dead Wildlife Animals
For animal lovers, one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the Gulf spill is the oil-drenched wildlife washing up on shore. If you're too horrified to look at any photos, you're in luck — BP doesn... Read more of this post, BP Tries to Block Photos of Dead Wildlife, at

Friday, June 04, 2010

Is this the new normal for June?

I remember this time of year when I was young. School was winding down, and it was almost impossible for anyone to focus. The nuns would allow us extra recess periods, or classes outside, or walks to the park. I think they enjoyed late May and early June as much as we did: sunshine and gentle breezes, puffy clouds in a blue sky, pleasant temperatures. In a few months, late July through mid-August, temperatures would be sweltering - high 80's, maybe the 90's. But for now the weather was just right for going outside and playing.

Are those days gone forever?

I mowed the lawn today. I had to time my lawnmowing so I would not be exerting myself during the hottest times of the day. It's been in the high 80's and low 90's for much of the past two weeks.

I've decided to try out some Topsy-Turvy tomato planters this year. I have eight of them, but have only set up two so far, one Rutgers and one Marglobe.* I have about six more Rutgers seedlings and at least a dozen more Marglobes. Some of these will be planted in the ground, some in large pots, and some will be given away. But the thing that worries me is a statement made in the "Bill Felknor's 10 Tips to Success" booklet that came with the planters:

Tip #10: If you live in a tropical or desert environment, please recognize that tomato plants exposed to 90 degree Fahrenheit heat for ten or more days straight will often set much fewer or no blossoms. If you live in an area like this, call your local garden center or University horticulture department to ask what tomato varieties will grow in your geographical area.
Last time I checked Northeastern Pennsylvania was not a "tropical or desert environment."** But the possibility of ten or more consecutive days of 90 degree temperatures definitely exists. How the oppressive heat will affect my plants has never really been a major concern for me this early in the season before. Later on, yes - last year's hot and wet weather created a perfect environment for Black Rot to wipe out my grapes. I'm am hoping for a drier year this year, and a cooler one, perhaps. (And I'm spraying a lot more. Dammit.)

But maybe not. Maybe the perfect days of late May and early June are now a thing of the past. Maybe sweltering heat at this time of year is the new normal.

*I see that I have chosen two "determinate" varieties with similar maturity dates - meaning that some time in the future I should have a sudden crush of tomatoes all at once. Uh-oh... Maybe I can sttill start an indeterminate variety.
Not yet, anyway.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

St. Stanislaus church in Nanticoke closing this Sunday

Yet another Catholic church will be closing in Nanticoke this Sunday. St. Stanislaus will hold its final Mass on Sunday at 3:00. This will be a for-real closing, like the closing of St. Joseph three weeks ago, and not a merely ceremonial one, like the closure of St. Mary's two weeks ago or Holy Trinity last week. After Sunday, the doors at St. Stan's will be closed forever.

When I was in grade school, two of our parishes combined their Parochial education programs into one. Kindergarten and odd-numbered grades were held at St. Mary's, and even-numbered grades were in the St. Stan's building. So for second and fourth grades (and possibly sixth, if the schools had not already been consolidated by that time - I'm a little fuzzy there) I attended school across the street from the St. Stanislaus church. Schoolday masses were held in St. Stan's, which was a dark, musty, and sulphurous place. Aside from one or two incidental masses over the intervening decades, I only started popping in at St. Stan's again last year. There have been great improvements to the place, improvements that made the church interior feel spacious and airy while still retaining many of the features that reflect over 130 years of history.

And after this Sunday, it will all be gone.
See also:

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Kelvingrove and The Dead

A few months ago at church I heard a song I have never heard before. The song sheet had it listed as "The Summons", but there was a notation that indicated it was based on a song called "Kelvingrove."

I listened to the song for a few minutes, leaned back to a friend of mine who is a fan of The Grateful Dead, and whispered a song title to him. He thought for a few seconds, and then smiled and nodded.

"Kelvingrove" is a song about a park in Scotland. The song is a bit prettier than, say, the old Hershey Park jingle ("Hershey Park happy, Hershey Park glad, So many things to see and do, good times to be had!") You can hear the song in MP3 format from an old, scratchy recording here. Please give it a listen before going any further.


The Grateful Dead song that came to mind is "Uncle John's Band." Not the whole song, just the opening guitar notes, which seem disconnected from the rest of the song. Now, because this is a Warner Music Group property, it is almost impossible to find copies of it anywhere online. If you do a Google search you will get a link to a limited-play version from, which will allow you a single complete play-through and then limited excerpts. Live performance videos may or may not contain the relevant guitar part.

Thing is, I have searched for anything suggesting a connection between "Kelvingrove" and "Uncle John's Band" and haven't found it. So this may be a simple coincidence of notes. Or it may be a new discovery of a long-forgotten inspiration for a piece of a song.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

How the Civilian Conservation Corps fixed America

Anthropomorphic Climate Change. An environmental disaster. Economic collapse. Massive unemployment. And a President who is accused of being a "Socialist."

I caught this program on TV last night and couldn't stop watching it. See how the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression in the 1930's led to the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the New Deal - which saved America from environmental and economic devastation on an almost unimaginable scale.

WGBH American Experience . The Civilian Conservation Corps PBS

Listen for the bit (starting at 31:19) where they explain how particularly hard-hit Texas was by the irresponsible, unsustainable agriculture methods that led to the Dust Bowl. The Civilian Conservation Corps fixed Texas, turning denuded fields taken over by mesquite into permanent pasture. Then see this from Texas Governor Rick Perry's Newsweek interview:

You're opposed to the New Deal?
Yes. I think the programs created by the New Deal and the monetary jury-rigging that went on in our society exacerbated the Great Depression and pushed us farther down. The New Deal did not get America out of the Great Depression; World War II did. Generally speaking, the expansion of government at the federal level has not, by and large, been good for the American people.
Watch the video, study the issue further, and decide for yourself.