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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Groundhogs

This hillside behind the Jefferson Civic Center is home to a sizable colony of groundhogs. Now that spring is here, I’m beginning to see the little guys peeking out of their hidey-holes.

In the photo above, the brownish spots are entrances to their burrow. Sentries are posted here and there to keep an eye out for perils such as me, Jake, cats, hawks, etc.

The critters are Marmota monax, aka groundhogs, aka woodchucks, which are burrowing rodents of the marmot family. They are said to be quite intelligent and have a complex social order that includes whistling to warn the colony of threats.

The hillside is about 15 feet high, providing an excellent view of the area, and some 200 yards long, almost all of it pocked with holes. A sizable colony, it seems.

I’m certainly not a threat to them, and Jake is on a leash, but they don’t know that.

The Rio Grande Rift

You may be aware that the Rio Grande flows down the center of New Mexico, dividing the state neatly in half. But did you know that the river follows a fault that began forming about 30 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau uplifted itself from the rest of the continent?

The Rio Grande Rift runs from southern Colorado to northern Mexico. Below El Paso, the rift continues south into Mexico, but the river turns east there and flows to the Gulf of Mexico as the border between Mexico and the US.

Although classified as a “narrow” rift, the fault averages about 180 miles wide. Geologists say it is expanding at a rate of about two millimeters per year.

Out of Sight

On weekends, Jake and I usually take our morning walk at one of the local schools. No people, no traffic, and Jake can go off-leash.

He doesn’t stray far, but occasionally he disappears from view for a moment, which can be worrisome. One Saturday recently at Jefferson Academy, when he was 30-40 feet ahead of me, he turned a corner, and I lost sight of him. I walked faster to catch up.

A few seconds later, I found him — surrounded by, and being petted by, a group of kids whose basketball game he had interrupted. Jake was gloriously happy.

If reincarnation turns out to be real, I want to come back as a dog.

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A question that has long bedeviled theologians and philosophers is the “problem of evil.”

Namely, how does the concept of an omnipotent, benevolent God square with the existence of a world awash in pain and suffering. If God is good and all-powerful, why are people saddled with sickness, crime, war, suffering, and pain?

It doesn’t pay to pursue the issue very far, because it’s a philosophical rabbit hole. The question is unanswerable.

But deep thinkers throughout history have tried their best. One popular solution is to blame mankind itself. In other words, bad things happen because of our assorted misdeeds, which usually include the sin of impiety. The deity? Blameless and absolved.

Typically, myths, fables, and allegories have been used to sell the “it’s your own fault” message to the common folk. One example is the story of Pandora from Greek mythology. Pandora was the first mortal woman, created by order of Zeus, the king of the gods.

According to the mythology, humanity back then was a society of immortal males enjoying a Golden Age. Life was good. The guys worked hard and, of course, showed the gods appropriate reverence.

But things fell apart when Prometheus, one of the senior gods, gave the gift of fire to the mortals, an act that was strictly forbidden. For this transgression, Zeus had Prometheus strapped to a rock, and an eagle was dispatched to eat his liver. Every day, the liver grew back, only to be eaten again, ad infinitum.

As for the humans, Zeus punished them by creating Pandora, who, according to authority figures over the centuries, not only was hauntingly beautiful, but also was endowed with feminine wiles designed to make life miserable for the men.

The myth said she had a “shameless mind,” a “deceitful nature,” and the ability to wield “lies and crafty words.” She was “sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.” Take that, females.

In addition, Pandora possessed a mysterious jar given to her by the gods with a warning not to open it. Naturally, curiosity led her to take a peek, thus releasing into the world a host of evils and diseases from which humans previously had been spared.

(FYI, the popular term Pandora’s Box is a misnomer. It surfaced around the time of Homer when the poet Hesiod mistranslated an old manuscript. The container was not a box, but an urn or jar.)

So anyway, the Pandora myth is how the ancient Greeks explained away the “problem of evil.” They simply claimed that we deserve to suffer because we defied the gods. Vindicate the deity, blame the mortals.

That, and the mythmakers apparently couldn’t resist a chance to take cheap shots at women.

Pandora About to Open her Box” (her urn) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1881.

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Thoughts du Jour

What’s in a Name?

In 1781, using a humongous new 40-foot telescope, British astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. At the time, Mars was thought to be the outermost planet in the solar system.

In 1787, Herschell spotted two moons in orbit around Uranus and temporarily named them One and Two.

As more big telescopes were built and more moons were found, Sir William’s son John assumed the task of formally naming them. Being a proud Englishmen, Sir John broke from the tradition of using names from Greek mythology and named the moons after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

Moons One and Two became Titania and Oberon from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Today, Uranus has 27 known moons. Three are named for characters in poems by Pope, and 24 are named for Shakespearean characters.

Teklehaimanot

Putting up with spam texts and phone calls is a part of life these days, and I have a spam problem that has become especially maddening.

A few years ago, I began getting texts that read something like, “Hi, Teklehaimanot. This is Fred at Liberty Partners. Are you still interested in selling your property at 255 Lakefront Drive?”

The texts arrived regularly from Bill, John, Tina, etc., all asking Teklehaimanot if he wanted to sell various properties. In the most recent one, “Marc” asked if I want to sell 3430 Shorelake Drive in Tucker, Georgia, “in as-is condition.”

My guess is, they’re hoping for a reply to confirm that the number belongs to a live person. Anyway, I just mark the texts as spam, delete them, and block the numbers.

In all, I’ve received 40-50 Teklehaimanot messages. Which I admit is minor compared to the steady bombardment of incoming phone calls flagged as “potential spam.” A modern problem with no solution.

Teklehaimanot, by the way, is an Ethiopian word and can be either a first or a last name. It came from Saint Takla Haymanot (1215-1313), an Ethiopian priest who, legend has it, first spoke when he was three days old, healed the sick, cast out evil spirits, and raised the dead.

Blooey

The San Francisco Volcanic Field is a region of northern Arizona, covering about 1,800 square miles around Williams and Flagstaff, that contains over 600 extinct volcanoes. The volcanic remnants range in age from 6 million years old to a mere 1,000 years old.

The tallest remnant in the field is Humphreys Peak, which overlooks Flagstaff. Humphreys is part of the San Francisco Peaks, a mountain chain left behind after a massive volcano went blooey half a million years ago.

The US Geological Survey says it expects more eruptions to occur, maybe once every few thousand years. But the events are likely to be small and, with luck, will happen in remote areas.

The most recent eruption in the region occurred northeast of Flagstaff in about 1070 AD and created what is known as Sunset Crater.

At the time, the area was home to numerous native settlements, so people almost certainly witnessed the event. And maybe lived to tell about it.

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Rock Bottom

For years, a guns and ammo store here in Jefferson displayed an American flag out front. Recently, a “Let’s Go Brandon” flag replaced it.

It’s a gun store, so the sentiment isn’t surprising. But it underscores a sobering aspect of life in the Trump era: knowing how many truly awful, deplorable people are out there. They’ve been there all along, of course, but under Trump and today’s GOP, they are emboldened.

The Neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and others of that ilk are a toxic bunch that I manage to avoid in my daily life. It’s just depressing to know they exist in such numbers.

Most are insecure white men, and they try their best to come across as manly and menacing. But frankly, some of the ideas they espouse are silly. Downright laughable. It’s almost as if these knuckleheads are being trolled.

For example, the idea that horse dewormer protects you from COVID sounds like something liberals would float as a gag.

I realize the libs are not pranking them. The right-wingers are coming up with this stuff themselves. And, wow, some of it is at the extreme end of the crazy scale.

There’s a QAnon claim that Donald Trump is secretly working to bring down a worldwide cabal of child-sex-slavers.

Another conspiracy theory says Hollywood is controlled by pedophile cannibals, Tom Hanks among them.

Another is that COVID vaccines can cause female infertility. According to the science, the vaccines do no such thing, but COVID itself does.

Another, one of my favorites, is that the wildfires in California were set by a Jewish space laser.

Another is that JFK, Jr. didn’t die in a plane crash in 1999 and is still alive.

Another is that JFK himself was not assassinated and is still alive at age 105.

And the latest knee-slapper: drinking urine protects you from COVID.

If you’ve read a few of the Opinion posts on this blog, you know that I’m a liberal, and I have no patience for the conservatives, their Neanderthal beliefs, and their stupid behavior.

Half the population votes Republican because they are damaged people — frightened, selfish, mean-spirited, and easily duped — due to some combination of how their brains are wired, ordinary stupidity, and probably a messed-up childhood.

You may think my assessment is exaggerated. Are the Republicans really that bad?

Yes, they are. Their malicious, wacko beliefs are irrational and abnormal — the fever dreams of the malicious and the mentally unwell. At this moment in our history, conservatives contribute nothing positive to society. They are virtually 100 percent detrimental.

But let me go back to that urine thing.

Peeing is how the body eliminates waste substances that the kidneys have removed from the blood, plus excess water and salt. Urine contains stuff your body is anxious to get rid of. Ingesting it is a remarkably bad idea.

I’ll concede that urine probably is less dangerous than a dose of horse dewormer or bleach. But go ahead — ask your doctor if drinking urine is right for you.

Frankly, if I set out to peddle some outlandish proposal, I would at least try to make it sound plausible. Horse dewormer and urine? Too ridiculous to be believable.

But somehow, embraced by the moron community nonetheless.

Once, I asked a friend the rhetorical question, “Have we hit rock bottom?”

“Bottom?” he replied. “There is no bottom.”

Apparently not. Just look around at all the awful, deplorable people and their nutso beliefs.

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This Just In

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA — Responding to a call about a disturbance in a residential neighborhood, Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies surprised three male teenagers, who fled in different directions.

One of the teens climbed onto the roof of a house, took out a pistol, and began firing at passersby. A SWAT team cordoned off the area and kept the shooter pinned down.

After a six-hour standoff, the teen accidentally shot himself in the leg. As the SWAT team prepared to move in, a 28-year-old woman arrived on the scene in a golf cart, drunk and completely nude. She initially refused orders to leave the area, but eventually complied.

The shooter was taken into custody and charged with aggravated assault, felony possession of a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, resisting arrest, loitering, and prowling. The naked drunk woman was charged with resisting arrest.

HAVANT, ENGLAND — A runaway dog afraid to leave a wetland area with the tide coming in was lured back to safety by a drone dangling a sausage.

Millie, a Jack Russell terrier mix, slipped out of her collar and was missing for several hours. Searchers located her on a mudflat that is submerged at high tide, but she ran from the would-be rescuers and would not leave the wetland area.

Eventually, they decided to lure Millie with food. A cooked sausage was suspended from a drone and dangled next to Millie on the mudflat. Millie followed the sausage to safety and the arms of her owner.

Members of the search and rescue team said the incident taught them an important lesson about how to approach recalcitrant canines.

SALINAS, CALIFORNIA — Fraternal twins Alfredo and Aylin Trujillo came into the world 15 minutes apart, but will celebrate their birthdays on different days, in different months, and in different years.

The twins were born at the Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. Alfredo arrived on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2021, at 11:45 PM. His sister Aylin was born on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2022, at midnight.

Nationally, about 120,000 sets of twins are born in the US each year, which is three percent of births. The odds of twins born on different days, however, is about one in two million.

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My late Uncle Allan was mellow about most things, so I don’t think he would mind me sharing this bit of information about him.

Allan was an amiable, soft-spoken, non-judgmental person. He never married, and when I was a kid, the possibility that he was gay occurred to me. The evidence suggests, however, that he was quite a ladies’ man — for certain in his later years and, for all I know, his entire life.

Allan lived in Jacksonville for decades and moved back to Savannah after he retired. Rather than living in the Smith family home with Aunt Betty, he moved into a retirement home on the marsh east of Savannah.

On one of my visits to the home, a young male employee told me Allan was very popular — very popular — with the ladies.

Women residents of the home outnumbered the men five to one. Allan not only was single, but also was a fit, good-looking guy. The employee said Allan was in constant demand and was seen with a variety of ladies.

Over the years, Allan lived in three Savannah retirement homes. Apparently, he was the resident ladies’ man in all three. His mission, it appears, was to make all those lonely ladies happy. Performing a public service, you might say.

After Allan died and we were dealing with his belongings, I discovered a stash of condoms in a cigar box in the back of a dresser drawer. These were new, unexpired condoms, mind you, and plenty of them. I made the stash disappear before Aunt Betty could find them.

It pleased and amused me greatly to know that Allan was a Don Juan. But, discreet fellow that I am, I never mentioned it to anyone. Until now. The man deserves recognition.

It’s always the quiet ones.


James Allan Smith (1918-2008)

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I need to vent about an incident that’s been stuck in my craw for a while.

In 2017, I wrote about my granddaughter Maddie’s budding career in volleyball. Back then, she was about to enter 8th grade, the last year of middle school. She had been playing volleyball for several years and was so talented that she was about to be invited, as an 8th-grader, to play on the JV team at Jefferson High School.

A lot has happened since then, some of it good, some otherwise.

Maddie indeed played on the high school JV team while still in middle school. In fact, she was a starter, playing as a setter and the opening server. Maddie has a killer serve.

When she entered high school as a freshman, she advanced to the varsity team, again as a starter, a setter, and the opening server. Maddie was a genuine phenom. She was nominated for Freshman of the Year in the region, and she got an honorable mention for the All-Area Team.

In 2019, her sophomore year, she was elected team captain. Jefferson was loaded with talent that year and went on to become region champ. Maddie was named to the All-Area team, was a Player of the Week, and was nominated by her teammates as the season MVP.

In 2020, her junior year, she was team captain again, and the Jefferson Dragons were region champs for the second year in a row. Again, Maddie was named a Player of the Week, and she was nominated for Player of the Year.

Maddie was scary good, as a server, a defensive player, and a setter. Late in the season, she passed 1,000 assists in her career at JHS. She was the clear favorite to be named MVP and probably a member of the All-Area Team.

Then, at the close of the 2020 season, everything changed.

Maddie has mad skills, but not the classic physique of a volleyball player; she doesn’t have the height. Offense dominates, and volleyball players who advance to the college and pro levels almost always are tall — approaching six feet, preferably more. Maddie is a perfectly normal 5’6”.

Understanding that reality, Maddie told her coach at the end of the season that she would not seek a scholarship to play volleyball in college. Because the awards and accolades are closely tied to being recruited and getting scholarships, the coach turned her attention to girls who aspired to play volleyball in college.

That year, with Jefferson so talent-heavy, the awards took on even more importance. When the end-of-season awards were announced, all the honors and recognition, from team MVP to All-Area honors, went to the girls seeking scholarships. Maddie was shut out completely.

Although most of the winners were deserving, Maddie, the heart of the team, was far more so. But the importance of the awards to recruiting took precedence.

Now, I’m a realistic guy. I understand how the awards system is used. I understand all that.

But the JHS volleyball coach, the coaches at the other league schools, and the school administrators failed Maddie miserably. They coldly disregarded her talent, her contributions, and her feelings.

It would have been simple and painless to arrange some kind of special recognition to honor Maddie’s stellar 2020 performance, with her senior year still to come. It would have been so easy to do the decent thing. They did nothing.

Maddie has been in the gifted program since kindergarten. I like to say she has been an adult since age 4. She knows perfectly well when she has been insulted and disrespected.

So she quit volleyball. Walked away. Did not play for JHS her senior year. Nor did she play club volleyball again.

In the 2021 season, overflowing with talent, the Jefferson team won its 3rd straight region championship. Had Maddie remained on the team, she would have been a major part of it, no doubt as team captain — although aware that no achievement awards were likely to come her way. Instead, she is enjoying her new free time.

As steamed as I am at the adults who treated Maddie so callously, I don’t think they’re awful people. They just have tunnel vision and problems with empathy. Some people never fully mature.

But Maddie is a grounded and confident person, with a degree of integrity her coach and the other adults wouldn’t understand. Maddie was treated badly, and she reacted appropriately.

This winter, she served as an assistant coach for one of the club volleyball teams in Gainesville. She said teaching the younger girls was a delight.

At a tournament earlier this month, her team took second place.

That’s my girl.

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I always figured I inherited my abilities as a writer, and my enjoyment of writing, from my black sheep maternal grandfather, Bill Horne.

I say black sheep because Bill walked out on his family when my mom was a toddler, and worse, never again tried to contact her. Based on the evidence, he was a jerk.

With that information on the table, I will move on.

Bill worked as a railroad dispatcher, but he was a writer at heart. For years, he wrote, and occasionally sold, fiction and non-fiction in various markets. Mom had carbon copies of several of his unpublished works, all of which I later inherited. Some were science fiction stories, some were essays about the great outdoors.

One of his most memorable efforts was a science fiction novella entitled “The Germ-Beast of Insanity.”

In it, an Indiana Jones type hero goes to a museum where a hair from the head of Confucius is on display. The hero shrinks himself down to microscopic size, and, atop the hair, battles the germ-beast of insanity. I am not making this up.

I don’t recall much more about the story, except that the hero prevails and returns to normal size. I don’t remember how he discovered the germ-beast, how he shrunk himself, or if other germ-beasts existed.

Bill Horne with a slingshot, place and date unknown.

I haven’t read Bill’s stories in years. The carbon copies, I’m sad to say, are missing. Years ago, I searched for them without success. I assume they’re in the attic in a box my kids will find one day.

But I do remember Bill’s writing style. His prose stood out as overly elaborate. A bit on the purple side. The man wrote with passion and panache, as if it felt good, and, in his heart, he saw himself as a virtuoso.

I should point out, however, that enjoying something and being good at it are not the same. I love music, but I can’t sing or play a single instrument. And then there’s the case of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Sometimes, my own prose can adopt a fancier flourish and may lean toward the purple. But that’s on purpose, when I’m trying to be funny or dramatic. Most of the time, my output is relatively standard and straightforward. Journeyman level, I’d say.

In all honesty, I think I turned out to be a better writer than my grandfather.

No question, really.

None at all.

I need to find those carbon copies.

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