Friday, December 30, 2005

Goodbye to 2005

On the whole, it's been a so-so year. Here's hoping that 2006 is much better and brings health, happiness, and prosperity in abundance.

Drive safely this weekend and let's all hope that the Seahawks win in the playoffs. :)


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

IDiots, postscript redux

I just realized that I hadn't posted the link to the article that got me to write about this topic in the first place. It's a dazzling feature on creationism.


IDiots, postscript

Here's the entire text of the decision on the Kitzmiller-Dover School District case. It makes good reading. The judge is clearly a good reasoner (always appropriate in a judge) and is pleased to point out the mendacity of the intelligent design folks (using that actual word, although "lied" and "lied under oath" appear, too). He's a Bush appointee and also makes a very clear statement about not being an "activist" judge. It's all wonderful bedtime reading and will make you feel warm that there are still people on the bench who are able to think clearly, to reason, and to apply the law appropriately.



I think it's delightully apt to identify intelligent design proponents as "IDiots." It fits on just so many levels. Yes, there are certainly questions of "How did the universe get here?" and "Where is 'here', anyway?" and other measures of the vastness of it all, but intelligent design is just fundamentalist Christian drivel wrapped up in a wrapper of pseudo-science. I'm reminded of the last verse of "Have a Nice Day" by Mark Graham, one of the two kings of Mongrolia (the Land of Mongrel Folk).
We believe in the creation, evolution is a sham,
And for you awful humanists we do not give a damn,
‘Cause we believe in science when the word of God agrees,
And we believe in science that destroys our enemies.
There's a great article in Scientific American that addresses 15 of the popular arguments of creationists and other IDiots. I've always loved the basic concept that IDiots usually don't understand what a "theory" is in scientific terms. You can tell that they're going off-tangent at that point and headed for the horizon. The article also had the results of a survey that correlated the belief in intelligent design with lack of education: in other words, the more ignorant you are in general, the more likely you are to believe this twaddle.

Mind you, all this does give us some guidelines for society in general. Someone suggested (purportedly in a letter to a San Luis Obispo newspaper, although I've not been able to find the provenance for this) that we don't need to vaccinate absolutely everyone against the next possible flu pandemic.


Recent news about the avian flu virus has raised concerns from main street to the White House. There is the possibility, even likelihood, that the virus will mutate into a form that can more easily infect humans. As the president pointed out, a vaccine cannot be made until this evolution occurs. This raises the concern that it may be impossible to create enough vaccine fast enough to protect all our citizens.

But there is hope. Gallup polls tell us that up to 45 percent of Americans don't believe in evolution. Since random mutation is the engine of evolution, these same people must believe that the virus cannot mutate.

Therefore, there is no need to waste vaccine on folks who believe there is no possible threat to themselves--thus leaving a sufficient supply for the rest of us.

Perhaps the president, given his doubts about evolution, may wish to demonstrate his leadership by foregoing vaccination. This approach has added benefits. Polls also tell us that disbelief in evolution is more pronounced among the less educated, the poor and conservatives. If the anti-evolutionists among these groups were to opt out of vaccination then, through immediate deaths and natural selection, we would reduce poverty, raise educational attainment, and become a more progressive society.
(One secondhand online source lists a name and address for the writer, but I am omitting it intentionally.)

IDiots: can't live with 'em, can't live... uh... with 'em.


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sick :(

I've got something or other that's viral. I feel like hell but I'm having trouble sleeping, too. Bleah.

I've a bunch of posts and pix to add when I get more energy. Christmas was very nice.


Sunday, December 25, 2005

It's been a lovely Christmas day!

We started the morning with an amazing blueberry French toast dish that the Babe found the recipe for online. We opened presents under the tree: I had gotten The Babe EQ 5, a program for designing quilts and quilt blocks that also shows you wonderful things like how much fabric of each kind you'll need to achieve the design with your chosen dimensions. It's got lots of other nice things for quilters, too. (If you quilt, check it out.)

The Babe and I went off to church services at 11:00. Not surprisingly, it was rather sparsely attended. We came back, did a thing or two around the house, then went over to visit friends for a large dinner and an evening of games and conversation.

Nice day. :)


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Blessed Winter Solstice!

The old year ended on October 31st and we've been moving through the dark time.

Now, with the return of the light, the new year has begun at last and the Year Wheel starts another cycle.

Blessed Winter Solstice to all!


'Twas the Week before Christmas....

Barb & Dan hadn’t been able to make Thanksgiving and wanted to have a big family dinner with everyone, so we went up to Tacoma on the train on Friday the 16th. We both enjoy the train as an alternative to driving--just how many times can you see I-5 from Eugene to Tacoma/Seattle without screaming in boredom, after all? And there’s a pleasure to having the train do the driving, particularly in bad or icy weather.

We paused in Portland to change trains. The Portland train station is not as bad as, say, a Greyhound Bus station, but it's fairly boring. We boarded early (Amtrak's business class is a heckuva deal; for a few bucks more, you get better seats, vouchers for the snack bar, and more comfort) and settled in. Joining us in the cabin was a set of grandparents and their five-year-old grandson. The child was definitely bright--the Babe was impressed with his ability to sound out "Vancouver" from the sign at the train station- but at the same time, he was still playing "Got your nose!" He also knew the words to the "Bob the Builder" song and to "Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Really well. Oy.

His grandmother was kind of interesting, too. She spent much of the trip on the cell phone (we were at opposite ends of the car and we still got treated to her conversations) bitching at people about how the how Congress was never in session this day and that no-one was returning her calls and how there was some important immigration legislation that the White House was really in favor of and so forth and so on. She clearly wanted all of us to be impressed with her. Sorry, anyone who's pushing for something this administration is in favor of immediately puts her in the "waste of space" category.

We got in to Tacoma on time (we’ve learned to avoid the Coast Starlight and stick with the Cascades) around 4:00pm Friday afternoon. Hank (the Babe’s father) picked us up. We made a stop at Starbuck’s for coffee for a little while, then headed over to Steve & Andy’s house, where we were staying. When we got there, there was no-one but a young man named Robert who we hadn’t met before. It turned out that Robert is in the Coast Guard and that Matt, Steve’s son, had met him in basic training. Robert was billeted at the Coast Guard station in Seattle but didn’t have anyone to spend the holidays with. He’s from a very small town in North Carolina and the mechanics of getting around Seattle were a bit foreign to him (he’d never ridden a bus, for example, so getting on the bus to get off base and see parts of Seattle wasn’t something he knew how to do), so Matt took him under his wing and brought him down to Tacoma.

The Babe and I parked our stuff in the guest bedroom and then went over to Evan and Dena’s house. I love their house; it’s authentic Craftsman style and just scrumptious! I admired a painting of Evan’s, which turned out to be an unsigned Sidney Laurence, specifically, a copy of his Off to the Potlatch.

Evan explained that Laurence was a drinker, had ups and downs and was something of a perfectionist, so he may have felt that he hadn't gotten this one juuuuuuuuust right. As a result, he sold this one off cheaply and took a stab at it again. It came down to Evan through his grandmother, who bought it from Laurence in Alaska, and it's truly gorgeous. The photo on the website doesn't do it justice and it is slightly different.

Here are a couple other examples of Laurence's work: Mt. McKinley, one of Laurence's favorite subjects, Evening Glow, and Cordova. His paintings are strong, a little primitive, but have a certain pre-Raphaelite intensity to them. There are still more paintings at the Sydney Laurence web site.

We went to Mexican food for dinner, something we've not yet found in Eugene that's really been worth eating. It was pretty darned good, too, so if anyone in Eugene knows of a good Mexican restaurant, please let us know! Afterwards, we drove over to Steve & Andy's, grabbed Robert, and headed off to see the annual Zoolights festival at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. I'd never been to the Point Defiance Zoo before, actually, and this was a lovely introduction. There are vast displays of lights: a 30' panorama of Tacoma and environs, for example, with both bridges (and front and rear lights for the rows of traffic!), Commencement Bay, and Mt. Rainier in the background. There are salmon going upstream being snatched by a bald eagle, which flies off to feed it to the eaglets, a monkey that swings from beam to beam all around the ceiling perimeter of the outdoor stage, a true chameleon that eats a fly, the Rainbow Bridge (actually, I don't know if it's supposed to be Bifrost or just a horizon-to-horizon rainbow), and lots of other things. It's on until Jan 1 every night until 9:00pm; go see it. Robert had never been to a zoo before, though he had been to an aquarium. He had a good time as did we.

We dropped Robert off at Steve & Andy's, then went back to Dena & Evan's house. I was zonked from far too little sleep the night before and crashed on the couch while the Babe talked to Dena & Evan. I would've liked to stay awake, but it wasn't going to happen. We drove home and fell over for the night.

Saturday, we woke up slowly. After a breakfast in, the Babe went out with Andy and a few others to the mall to go shopping for a Girls' Afternoon Out. Steve and I went out for coffee for a while with Hank, then came back home. I bashed on the computer for a while Steve ran an errand to get a plug to make a repair over at Hank's condo. He got back and we hung out and waited for a carpenter to drop off kitchen cabinets. (They're really pretty and they match the existing cabinets nicely.)

Barb was making a 26-pound baron of beef, a piece that's so big that it was probably created by taking a side of beef and a chainsaw and doing something creative. The butcher had taken care of spicing and forming it; all she had to do was bake it. Our mouths were all watering in anticipation. We showed up around 5:30.

Robert enjoyed himself. (He said that he'd felt good that, just the other day, he'd been channel-surfing and finally found a hunting show.)

There were two big events to go along with dinner: one was Rebecca's announcement that she was engaged (hurrah!) to a young man named Kevin.

The other was that we got to see Olivia, the newest family member, who is dazzlingly cute even for a baby girl...

...and her family line.

The Babe is wonderful to see with babies; she gets very cute.

Olivia's grandfather is as proud as anyone. And rightly so, I think.

One of Olivia's many charms is that she's a very sweet-tempered baby (I'm sure this will change at some point) and smiles a lot.

Although we all were very pleased to be holding Olivia and eating amazing food (I am so glad to have married into a family of good cooks!), it was a very pleasant evening just hanging out with family as always.

Old family friends Phil & Arlene were there as well.

Dinner and desserts--of which there were many--settled in on all of us and the party started breaking up around 10-ish. (We're getting old.) We drove back to Steve and Andy's for the evening.

Sunday morning, we watched the Seahawks on TV at Steve & Andy's. They scored two touchdowns in the first eight minutes and promptly forgot how to play football. Steve got so disgusted that he turned off the TV at halftime (after the score was tied 14-14) and washed dishes for a while. The Babe came out of the bedroom a while later (she'd slept late) and turned the TV back on near the end of the 3rd quarter. The score was now 21-24 (the Seahawks were still losing) and got us interested in watching the remainder of the game. They pulled it out at last but only because someone must've reminded them in the 4th quarter that they were playing football and not baseball. Well, they're in the playoffs and that's good.

Andy dropped us off at the Amtrak station that afternoon with a big box of half a dozen kinds of cookies and fudge. (Again, it is so nice having married into a family of good cooks!) Andy makes the best Russian tea cakes and there were cookies with miniature peanut butter cups in the middle and chocolate fudge and all sorts of things that are really bad for diabetics but oh! they were good. We boarded the train and headed southwards for home.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Latté art

I'm putting together a big post with lots of pictures from our weekend up in Tacoma visiting family, but I wanted to add something very cool that I just saw this evening.

As y'all know, Seattlites and former Seattlites are very into their coffee. Starbuck's is definitely the lowest common denominator of good coffee but there's an awful lot that's better. This is a page of latté art that's done by pouring the steamed milk and occasionally teasing it with a spoon. This is ART, damnit, and it makes a hedonistic experience cool on a whole 'nother level.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Renaissance Concert

The Babe and I have been in rehearsals with the church’s Chamber Singers for the annual Renaissance Christmas Concert and lo! it came off well. The group has been practicing music in German, French, Latin, and even a couple songs in English since September. We were originally slated to do one concert on Satuday, December 10th, but the tickets sold out in two days, so we scheduled a second concert for Sunday the 11th. 300 tickets got sold – not too shabby!

We’d had rehearsals Friday evening and that morning with the musicians (Byrdsong Early Music Consort), so by Saturday evening, we were ready to go. Everyone showed up at 7:00pm, an hour before the concert, to warm up.

We did just enough work to check our blocking and volume and so on. People were trickling in so we stopped at 7:30 and milled about a bit.

The choir has had the privilege of performing with Byrdsong before. They’re all multi-talented: they play viol (aka viola da gamba), recorders, harpsichord, and several other instruments. Some of them are excellent singers, too.

Brice, the sackbut player, isn’t normally a part of Byrdsong, but we had the pleasure of his company for these concerts.

All of this has been under the guidance of Tom Sears, the best church choir director we’ve ever run into.

The ladies kicked off the first vocal number and it was smooth sailing throughout.

After the show, there was a crowd that headed for the goodie tables. A number of choir members and others had brought all sorts of baked goodies (I was able to show off my chocolate dipped biscotti to an admiring throng, too!). There were a lot of goodies; so many so that we all took some home after the second concert Sunday afternoon.

It was a lot of work but it was definitely worth it. The concert was taped by one of the other basses, so I’m hoping to create MP3s of the concert and post them online. (Watch this space for details.)


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Stupidity custom-fit for everyone!

I was at the store at the express line picking up chocolate to dip biscotti in for the concerts and there was a couple in front of me. They looked like dzhlubs--definitely not in the "world-beater" category. The guy was carefully explaining to my favorite cashier that red wine started fermentation with blood, which was why vegans couldn't drink it.

Say what?? I said "No, that's complete bullshit. I've made wine for years and taught winemaking and I've never heard of blood being used in the winemaking process." The guy replied "Maybe not, but you're an ass!" and the woman accompanying him demonstrated her capability for independent thought by adding, "Yes, you're an asshole!" and they scurried out. Oy!

The cashier said "Did they just call you an asshole?" "Yup," I said.

Geeze, you'd think we were back in Indiana or something! I can only hope these two haven't figured out how to breed.

Room-temperature IQs, unite!


Friday, December 09, 2005

Further fruitcake fun

Making the one fruitcake a few days ago just wasn't enough for me, and I did have a bunch of the candied fruit bits left to use, so wotthehell? I wanted to try a recipe on one of the containers for a fruitcake that's really a fruitcake: there's a ton of fruit and nuts with a lot of eggs and just enough flour to glue everything together. I actually didn't have enough fruit to do this (it calls for about 6 pounds of fruit and nuts), so I looked for more fruitcake bits at Safeway and found them at about half the price I'd paid for them before. Oh, well... I bought four pounds of fruitcake mix and I had almost everything I needed except for bourbon to soak the fruit and nut mixture in.

I made it to the liquor store Thursday and bought a fifth of cheap bourbon ($6.45, good for cooking or swilling) and a fifth of cheap rum (not much more expensive and with the same level of, erm, quality) so the Babe can make a rum cake. I threw all the fruit and nuts into my biggest porcelain mixing bowl, sloshed it with the bourbon, and then covered it with plastic wrap and set it aside to cure. I'll be mixing the remainder of the ingredients at some point soon to finish the process, but the biggest problem is that you bake everything at 250 degrees for 3-1/2 hours and I don't foresee a 3-1/2 hour window of time until Saturday afternoon at least.

I sloshed a little more brandy on the fruitcake in the refrigerator and wrapped it back up. It's doing very nicely. I'm looking forward to it. :)


An amazing speech!

Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize, which in itself may not be a great surprise. What was surprising was his videotaped acceptance speech, the text of which appears here. It's something people don't really hear a lot about in this country and I think we need to.

(If the link expires, I'll find another or post a copy of the speech here myself. It's important.)


Thursday, December 08, 2005

St. Drogo, redux

Back in April, I wrote a blog entry about St. Drogo. I'd not heard of St. Drogo before, but he's an interesting saint and his purview includes coffee shops, so he's of distinct interest to me.

Little did I know that there was such an interest in St. Drogo! A surprising number of the hits on this blog are from people who are searching in Google or other search engines for references to him... and they find my blog entry.

What is it about St. Drogo that people find so interesting? Is it just that he's associated with coffee shops or is it some other connection?


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Willow :(

Last night, I noticed that Willow was doing a lot worse. The tumor has gotten large and she's lost bladder control. She's also stopped grooming and is clearly looking miserable. This morning, she was having trouble breathing--nothing really big, but her breathing's looking labored--and she couldn't sleep: she'd lie there but her eyes would be open and she looked uncomfortable. I've been waiting for a sign that it was time for her to go and I think that this is it. She's not happy and she doesn't like being touched. I'd hoped that Willow would continue to feel no significant pain and just drift off, but I'm going to have to intervene.

I called the Westmoreland Animal Hospital, who will do housecalls for this sort of thing, bless 'em, and scheduled Dr. Voss to come over this afternoon. She ultimately couldn't make it because a surgery ran long, but Dr. Moring came over about 5:00. She confirmed that it was time. I held Willow while they administered the drug and she drifted off very peacefully. We made sure that BC had a chance to see her right after she died, which sometimes helps kitties adjust when there's a death in the househould (although I expect BC to be wandering around looking for Willow for a while).

The Babe and I buried Willow in the backyard near the maple tree in a hole I'd dug earlier this afternoon. I gave Willow a handful of kibble and a big sprinkle of catnip for the Summerland and we covered her up. I'll miss her.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Decembers are always kind of difficult for me. There's an awful lot of work that goes into them and this year is catching me emotionally shorthanded. But there are things that are perking me up: I'm working on the Yule letter for cards, which I truly intend to get out this year (didn't last year and only got a few out the year before). I've been baking tons of stuff and will be baking more shortly, as I bought proper fruitcake mix and a few other things for more sweets. And "A Charlie Brown Christmas" has just started, something that made me feel good the first time I saw it 40 years ago. I have three or four copies of Vince Guaraldi's album of music from this. It isn't the holiday season without this. I'm smiling.


More biscotti news

I was still up around 10:00pm, so the loaves were just about cool enough to slice. I covered the trays with cloths and put them outside in the 33-degree weather to cool the last bit. I did keep an eye out for the raccoons, who showed up again Sunday night. They stood up on their hind legs and plastered themselves against the sliding glass door to look in, clearly after food. (You know how raccoons are.) They were not in the slightest afraid of people, which isn't a good thing but it's inevitable in the in-town suburbs. While everything was cooling, I did all of those domestic things you do the night before the garbage & recycling gets picked up: emptied all the trash containers, cleaned the cat boxes, swept, mopped, and so on.

When everything was cleaned up, I washed up thoroughly; then, fresh, pink, and slighly damp, I got the cold biscotti loaves and sliced them up and baked them. I now have 80 or 90 fresh biscotti on trays and plates in the kitchen. This morning, I need to put them in an airtight container and do something about the pounds of crumbs I've gotten all over everything. After that, I'm making a cheese and onion omelette for breakfast, then probably starting the second double batch of biscotti. The first had dried cranberries (aka "Craisins"), pistachios, and a little cured citron, as well as the rather obligatory almond and vanilla extracts and the anise and fennel seed. I used all the pistachios I had on the first batch, so the second batch has lots of dried cranberries, grated orange peel, and macadamia nuts (as well as the de rigeur flavors). Hey, and you think chocolate chip cookie dough is fun to eat out of the bowl....

The house is smelling heavenly.


Monday, December 05, 2005

Biscotti and Seahawks

I've got the first double batch of biscotti loaves baked now. (If you've never made biscotti, you make a large loaf of this wonderfully eggy sweet dough full of fruit and nuts and so on, then when it's cool, you slice it diagonally into the classic biscotti pieces and you bake them on a tray on the cut sides to crisp them up.) They're so nice I'm starting a second double batch. The dough will have to rest overnight before I bake it, but it'll be a way to make the house smell nice Tuesday, too.

And I've been checking the Seattle Seahawks-Philadelphia Eagles game periodically. It's the middle of the 4th quarter and it's 42-0, Seahawks!! Who taught these guys to play football? And can they get some of this will-to-win to rub off on the Mariners??


Catching up from the last few days

Having uploaded some pictures, I wanted to take a moment to update the blog.

First, the cat news: Willow keeps hanging in there, although she's down to maybe 6 pounds and the tumor is huge. But she's still in no apparent pain or signficant discomfort and, while she may be eating only a little, she's definitely drinking enough liquid. I know this because she's still peeing on the rug and, oh, yeah, there's plenty of liquid in her system (sigh). I haven't a clue as to how long she's going to last, but I'm very pleased she's still doing okay.

BC is responding well to the Lasix and the biggest problem has been getting him to eat enough. However, he's continuing to lose weight and I am pretty sure that the underlying problem is, in fact, some kind of cancer. Bleah. We don't know: blood work for cats is not yet sophisticated enough to track protein markers for cancers. If he doesn't present any further symptoms, he may be fine. At this point, I'm pleased that he's alive and stable and still as snuggly as ever.

We picked up a tree on Saturday, a grand fir (the Babe's favorite). I got it set up in the corner and Susan and I brought the ornaments in from the potting shed. I then went out and picked up ingredients for biscotti and fruitcake and other baked things that I want to make, while the Babe decorated. This year's tree has a Santa theme to it, so there are all kinds of Santa decorations on the branches.

We sang the Bach cantata at church on Sunday with a Renaissance consort: double bass, harpsichord, oboe, and several other instruments. We were a hit.

Susan was getting ready for a date Sunday evening and she looked pretty darned good. She also had on heels of some kind that made her even taller. The Babe only came up to mid-chest on her.

Never one to resist an opportunity, Susan mugged heavily for the camera. The Babe stuck out her lip.

Sunday night, I had a hankering to make fruitcake (I like fruitcake, damnit!), so the house had a wonderful smell of cinnamon, ginger, and molasses. I left it to cool overnight, then wrapped it in a linen cloth, drenched it in brandy, and wrapped everything in foil and tucked it into a corner of the refrigerator. I'll pull it out in a week or so and add more brandy. Making fruitcake is a bit of an exercise in delayed gratification: the recipe (I used the Betty Crocker recipe for this) says that you have to let it age with the brandy for 2 to 8 weeks.

Today (Monday) I made a pan of gingerbread and then started a double batch of cranberry & pistachio biscotti. The bowl of biscotti dough is resting outside on the picnic table with a cloth over it (you're supposed to keep it cold while it rests). I'm going to post this and go grab the dough and start baking the biscotti loaves, so the house will smell like almond, anise, and vanilla.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Big Nate and me

I occasionally catch up with a comic strip called Big Nate. There's been a theme about trivia lately and, while I thought of the Babe when I read it, she pointed out that, no, this was all me. I think she's right.



Wednesday, November 30, 2005

BC is doing better

BC spent much of the night sleeping on me. He didn't sound like he was perfect, but he sounded much better and his breathing wasn't so ragged. This morning, he was still asleep on me and his breathing is almost normal. Looks like he's stable right for the moment. He's also got an appetite and is drinking. No lab results yet.

So far, so good.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Thanksgiving weekend

We drove up to Tacoma for the holiday. We got on the road Thursday morning around 10am and headed north. Dinner was at Karen & Russ's at 4:00 and we made it in plenty of time. We were joined by other family members and a couple of guests, including a chap named Leo, a reservist who was shipping out to Baghdad the following evening. His wife wasn't able to join him and us for the evening, as she was stuck in Yakima, but we made him welcome for the evening. The food was great. We had a turkey and a ham, lots of stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and Karen and Andy made a stellar gravy. Among many other things to recommend this family is the fact that they're good cooks.

The Babe and I had lunch with her stepchildren, Lori and Jace, and Jace's fiancé, Steph, at a new restaurant in Tacoma called Joeseppe's. Lori just got married a few weeks ago to a young man she's known most of her life named Phillip. Phillip's a Marine sniper and is back in Fallujah for another 8 months.

After lunch, we stopped in at Jace & Steph's house, which is a nice little starter home. Their dogs (don't know what types) are pretty well behaved and rather attractive. We did the family photos thing, so here are a few shots of us in various assemblages:

Friday evening, we had a "let's eat the leftovers!" dinner at Karen & Russ's place. There wasn't quite enough gravy left over (alas!), but there was plenty of everything else and lots of family. (Like I say, I'm very fond of the Babe's family.) After dinner, we played a fun card game called "99" for a while. It's relatively simple and it has a lot of the feel of playing Uno, for simplicity of the rules, for the speed of the game, and the sheer pleasure at screwing yer neighbor with a devious card throw. mwahahahahahahaaaaaaaa!

Saturday, we stopped in on Barb & Dan (still more family). Barb & Dan hadn't been able to make the Thanksgiving or the leftover dinner and we didn't want to take a trip up without seeing them, too. Dan showed me the wood shop he's building. I am drooling with envy! It'll have everything. One of their dogs, Baron, a 90lb German Shepherd who is thankfully pretty well-behaved, came outside with us when we tromped out towards the shop. I saw Baron bound across the yard and pick up an old tire in his mouth and then shake it. I half-expected chunks of rubber to come out of the sidewall when he did it. Baron is clearly a dog that You Do Not Mess With, at least more than once.

After a lovely visit, we drove out to the peninsula to see JA & Tames. We caught up on this and that, I walked around with JA while he fed the sheep (much larger flock of sheep than had been there the last time I was there) and the horses, who are always nice to see. JA & Tames had repainted everything since last I was there and the inside of the house is glowing. We had a very warming dinner and then drove over to Peg & Dan's place.

Peg and Dan (and the one daughter still at home) live in a 6400sqft house they built on the peninsula on the water. The house feels rich, comfortable, and scrumptious. There's woodwork everywhere, all mahogany (Peg said that there are 38,000 board feet of mahogany in the house). One of the nice things is there's not a single hollow-core door in the place. All the doors are solid, heavy, and very attractive... well, assuming you like polished mahogany, which I sure do.

Dan's a Puget Sound pilot, a fascinating job that can drag him off at all hours at times to pilot a ship in or out of port. Peg's a counselor in private practice in the city. They're very nice people.


Apart from the sheer pleasure of spending time with them, Dan loves playing the piano and singing songs and show tunes from the first part of the 20th century. Both JA and the Babe love singing songs like that. So do I, but I'm not a patch on them, so I usually sit back and admire.

Tames and Peg don't sing, so they always form the Admiring Throng.

Listening to the three of them go at it is a wonderful way to spend the evening.

I have a fondness for this kind of music, too, so listening to it is no hardship. And, as I'm fond of observing, the Babe has a great set o' pipes.

The three of them sang for several hours. Heckuva deal!

We finally had to bid goodbye, as we still needed to drive back to Tacoma that evening and get up at a reasonable hour the next day, but we could've stayed far later under other circumstances. It's always fun to really belt out the old favorites.

Sunday, the Babe and I had divergent activities. She had a friends-and-family obligation for the day, while I had a date with Brian and his pair of tickets to the Seahawks-Giants game. Brian and Fong (and Raymond the wonderchild) picked me up in Tacoma on their way home from Portland, so the Babe had the car. We drove to their place, offloaded some gear, and drove up to the International District in Seattle for lunch. We did a lot of really tasty dim sum (a pleasure I haven't had in far too long), after which Fong dropped us off at the stadium. We'd missed the kickoff and just as we were arriving, the Seahawks had intercepted a pass and gotten a touchdown. The crowd was about ready to eat a bleacher in their excitement. The rest of the game was good, but we were really worried that the Seahawks--who've had a great season--were going to dribble away a good lead. They almost did, actually: in the 4th quarter, the NY Giants scored a touchdown and then a 2-point conversion to tie the game 21-21. With 4 seconds to go in the 4th quarter and no chance of recovery, the NY Giants got up to field goal length and kicked a field goal to win the game... and it would've if it hadn't gone outside the goal post by about a yard.

Well, the crowd just exploded at that point. The Seahawks had a chance to win in a sudden-death overtime. The OT quarter started and the Seahawks just weren't pushing hard enough. The Giants got another crack at a field goal... which they missed. Boy howdy, we dodged another bullet! The Seahawks ultimately had to cede the ball to the Giants again, who were playing great offense that day, and they got it close enough for a good field goal at last! Unfortunately, the kicker was clearly having an off day, because he blew this field goal, too. The Seahawks finally realized they were going to have to stop messing around, so they pushed the ball up the field, got it to field goal length, and got it through the goalposts without problem. Amazing game, although, as Brian said, the Seahawks only won because they failed to lose.

We rode home on the Seattle Sounder. Brian got off at Tukwila and I rode it to Freighthouse Square in Tacoma. The Babe, bless her, had packed up our stuff and thrown it into the car and we drove home straight from there. It was about 6pm when we left (the game had run late, after all) so it was 11:30 or so when we got home.

And once again, there was the pleasure of sleeping in our own bed again.


BC is home for the night

Mr. Reginald Biscotti has returned home from the vet. They tapped his chest and drained about 13cc of fluid today, but they still don't know why his chest is full of fluid. The vet has cultured some of this stuff and is sending it out to find out what is going on. She did allow that there's a small chance that (a) BC's heart is not enlarged, but that the fluid in his chest cast a shadow that suggested that was the case and that (b) the sole cause of the fluid may be bacterial. If this is true, we may be able to successfully treat him with antibiotics and Lasix and keep him alive afterwards. This is a really tall hope, but I'm going to work as if this is possible.

On the other hand, BC is very likely to not make it much longer: having his chest fill with fluid puts a huge strain on everything and eventually he won't be able to get enough oxygen and will drift off, actually rather peacefully the vet said. (That was one thing I really wanted to know, if he'd be in any significant discomfort this way. Nope, probably not, she said; while it would be some work to breathe and he'd be a little uncomfortable, he'd ultimately become hypoxic and become euphoric--like any other drowning victim, she said--and drift off blissfully. Well, uh, okay.) I'm still really unhappy and angry that he's so sick, though.

Willow is getting thinner still and was talking to me today, which is a trifle unusual, so I think her time may be getting close. I've been watching her closely ever since her diagnosis for significant behavior changes or signs of distress.


A guest appearance

In one of those delightful bits of synchronicity, I just got this this morning from an old friend of mine, Gus diZerega. Gus is a man of diverse and wonderful talents. He's currently a visiting professor of Government at St. Lawrence University. He does amazing calligraphy and pen-and-ink artwork. (I still have some of the stationery he used to make and sell years and years ago.) He's fun. Gus sent me the following piece, which you are welcome to copy in its entirety and reproduce far and wide.

Intelligence and the Nature of the Designer
Copyright 2005 by Gus diZerega

Intelligent Design (ID) theory has been attacked as unscientific, offering a false alternative to evolution. I think this criticism is mistaken. ID is a theory with genuine scientific content.

Most scientists agree that to be considered a scientific hypothesis, a theory must be testable. If a theory can never be rebutted, it is not scientific. Advocates of ID claim life's extraordinary complexity, and its creatures' fine-tuning to their environment is evidence of deliberate intent. So, one way to evaluate the argument is to look for evidence of flawed design.

At first glance, the evidence looks pretty bad for ID theory. Consider the human back, the source of so much pain and suffering for so many people. Backbones apparently work well enough for four legged animals, but perform more poorly for us two-leggeds. One might imagine a competent designer would have done a better job.

Anyone noticing their cat or dog can drink and breathe at the same time might be forgiven a moment of envy, because we cannot. Cats and dogs never need the Heimlich maneuver. Sometimes we do. Again, this seems a case of flawed design.

The arcuate cruciate ligament in our knees is enables us to walk upright. Unfortunately, its positioning also makes it very susceptible to damage. Four-leggeds do not have this problem. Might better design have relieved us of it?

Every human eye has a blind spot, caused by a nerve that goes through the retina. No good audio-visual designer would design equipment with this feature. Why might an intelligent designer have done so?

The 'circle of willis' is a circle of arteries and veins surrounding the brain stem. As it regulates the blood that nourishes our brains, it is extremely important for our well-being. It is also very susceptible to failing under high blood pressure, leading to strokes. These veins are among the thinnest in the human body whereas a good designer would presumably have made them thicker and therefore less likely to burst.

Women give birth through the pelvis, a barrier that has caused the deaths of many women and infants. The design solution seems obvious: make pelvises wider. Alternatively, locate the birth canal elsewhere or enable women to lay eggs, or give them pouches like marsupials, so very tiny babies can grow larger safely.

Then, there is the male prostate gland, which is wrapped around the urethra. As men age it is prone to enlarging, making it difficult, painful, and sometimes impossible to pee. A good designer might have been expected to make it lie along side the urethra.

This list could be lengthened considerably. We have wisdom teeth when it seems wisdom would have eliminated the teeth. The appendix seems something largely unnecessary except occasionally to get inflamed, burst, and kill us.

These signs of bad design challenge ID theory, but they hardly rebut it. They only rebut the argument that the designer is omnipotent, omniscient, and good; characteristics the ID hypothesis need not posit. At least one of these traits has to be lacking, but a designer might still exist. The theory needs refining. Such a designer might instead be sadistic, incompetent, or lazy. Based on Genesis, we might choose laziness, or at least exhaustion, because that account claims we were made the sixth day and God needed to rest the seventh. Omnipotence can definitely be eliminated as a characteristic of the designer. But Genesis is not scientific, so let's stick with the physical evidence.

Like an archeologist exploring the ruins of an unknown people, using the styles and designs of their artifacts to deduce their interests and skills, we can tell a great deal from looking at what is well designed in us. One characteristic stands out prominently, giving us an important clue to the nature of a hypothetical designer: our sexuality. No other mammalian life form is so focused on sex, nor do any others have so many nerve endings so arranged that sexual activity is their source of greatest physical pleasure.

This evidence is powerful, but perhaps a bit disturbing. Our hypothetical Designer appears more interested in our sex lives than in our eating, breathing, drinking, walking, or other activities necessary for our existence.

If ID is true, we can now offer an educated hypothesis as to why we were designed: to produce pornography. Why else the unusual characteristics we have as humans, characteristics no other species needs to reproduce. A scientific theory of intelligent design offers powerful evidence that High Hefner may be closer to serving the will of his Creator than either Jesus or Buddha, who apparently practiced celibacy.

The most likely alternative to this hypothesis is evolution.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Follow-up on BC

The vet phoned about 9:30 tonight and said that the Lasix was working and that BC was breathing better. We still don't know what's caused all of this--the lab failed to pick things up, darnit!--but he's more comfortable. The problem is that, even if we get all the fluid out of his chest and there are no other problems (like his kidneys) causing this, his heart is still substantially enlarged. The vet would not be at all surprised if he doesn't just drift off peacefully tonight in his sleep. Hell. :( I don't want my little guy dying alone without me there to hold him. :( :(


Willow & BC, redux

We went off to Tacoma for Thanksgiving with the Babe's family (about which I'll write more later). We checked Willow into the vet so that they could keep an eye on her. I didn't want her suddenly taking a bad turn while we were gone and having to have Susan take care of her or worse. The rest of the cats stayed home.

We got back very late Sunday night. It was a little odd not having Willow around the house, but all the rest of the cats were happy to see me. But BC sounded like hell: he was gasping for breath and his purr was clearly labored (lots of gasping) and very ragged. He looked bad, too; I think he wasn't getting a lot of sleep because he was having so much trouble breathing.

BC has had bronchial asthma since birth and periodically has flare-ups, but this was a little odd: the normal treatment for bronchial asthma is that I take him in and get him a steroid shot, which calms things down for 6 months or so. Problem was, I'd done this on Wednesday; I shouldn't have to do this again. Something was wrong. I had them look at him today when I went to pick up Willow.

Something is wrong. X-rays show that BC's chest is full of fluid and his lungs are compressed. Worse, he's got an enlarged heart, either from the fluid and the gasping or because his kidneys are shutting down and the heart's really having to push hard. Either way, it's Not Good. The vet (who was very sympathetic) said that we should send out for blood work for more information, stat, and that I ought to leave him there overnight for treatment with Lasix and ACE inhibitors to help clear the fluid. If this works, we may be able to keep treating him with these and keep him alive indefinitely, assuming his kidneys haven't gone south already. Just out of curiosity, I said, what would be his prognosis if we didn't treat him at all, not that I had any intention of not treating him? The vet said that he might well not make it through the night.

Oh, dear. :(

I left BC overnight with the vet. She's going to see if she can't treat the symptoms and get his chest emptied out and reduce the strain on his heart, but I don't think it's going to be good news no matter what.

Damnit, damnit, damnit. :( :( :(

Willow's still perky and affectionate (and is apparently very popular with the veterinary staff because she's such a little princess), but the tumor on her rib cage is about as big as her rib cage, so we're running out of time rapidly.

I really had hoped that I'd have BC around for a while after Willow was gone, but now I don't know if either of them are going to be here in a week.



Thoughts on personal process

I've been doing a lot of participation in a
very interesting blog recently. The blog is entitled Transformation: Evangelical to the Unknown and it's by Tim Justice. Tim lives in Alabama, he's 39, married, four kids, and is an instructor in management and economics. He describes his blog as "A somewhat introspective journey into the thoughts of a wanderer, as he discards the traditional garments of the 'evangelical' church and seeks a more realistic and honest faith."

At the risk of oversimplifying, Tim is going through a crisis of faith, although "personal growth" might be a better description. Tim is having some differences with the standard evangelical Christian viewpoint and is finding his way to a place in Christian evangelicism that (my opinion/interpretation here) is more inclusive and... well, Christian in its views. He's an articulate person who is looking at things seriously. It's good reading.

How I found Tim's blog is that I happened to be casually looking for references to Reed College in this blog domain and his blog was one of the ones that popped up. I got very interested in what he was saying and added some feedback. (Those of you who know me will appreciate it when I say I have been making every effort to be very respectful. Tim is not the run-of-the-mill evangelical: he can think, he can write, and he is honestly interested in being a better person as manifested through his life and his religion.)

Apparently, I have been successful in not being an ass (again, those of you know that know me should be impressed). Tim's blog entry today had this incredibly flattering comment about me:
John is 80% of what I want to be, although I prefer the Christian route. He knows more about Christianity than most Christians, and practices more Christianity than most Christians. It ought to be interesting...

I'm honored by this.

One of the things that I've been doing as part of this is thinking about what I believe and how I think people should approach their religion. Having been a priest for lo! these many moons--almost three decades at this point--I tend to think that people should learn a lot about what they're worshipping and why it's important to them. (Conversely, if you have no idea who/what you're worshipping, why should you expect your prayers to get answered in the way in which you expect or even at all?) This applies across the board: everyone should know more about their religion's history so they don't get suckered by additions that just got tacked on. Why tolerate one mistranslation of your holy book when you might get closer to the original with another? I've enjoying the opportunity to contribute to someone's spiritual growth and in turn get a better understanding of evangelical Christians from someone who is closely connected to them.

If you're interested in the general discussion, go take a look and offer your comments. Please be respectful; Tim strikes me as the kind of evangelical the world needs more of.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Cartoon for math geeks

This one from XKCD needs no added commentary:


Monday, November 21, 2005

Backyard wildlife

It's no surprise that we have wildlife in this part of the world. Eugene has lots of deer, there are a couple flocks of wild turkeys that wander around in the suburban hills, and I've even seen a young mountain lion.

Monday evening, while we were sitting on the couch watching "Two and a Half Men," I saw Yang show up at the sliding glass door wanting to be let in. I did and he promptly snuggled up in the Babe's lap. Well and good. About five minutes later, I glanced at the sliding glass door and I saw two teenage raccoons peering in.

(Mind you, had this been a couple days ago, the deck would've been clean as a new plate after the lawn service had cleaned all the leaves off and so on. But the maple isn't done shedding leaves, so there's lots of nature strewn around. And just ignore the unseemly folding deck chair and garden torch fuel lying there--that's me being sloppy.)

We didn't have any food on the deck, because that will attract these guys and I'd rather not have them coming around.

The raccoons could see me through the glass as easily as I could see them and were clearly not afraid of me.

I'm sure that someone, somewhere is feeding them, intentionally or not. (Raccoons are famous for stealing dog food out of bowls left outside for the dog. They're equally famous for that "What??!?" look while they're doing it: they stare at you with those big eyes and all the while the little hands are moving carefully back and forth to the food without them once losing eye contact.)

The two raccoons wanted inside (not happening!) and were interested in BC, who was watching them through the glass. (I'd had a heart-stopping moment a couple years ago when BC was outside on the deck when two larger raccoons appeared. Fortunately, he just watched them and made no aggressive moves, else they'd have had him for lunch.) I tapped on the glass and they sniffed near where my hand was. They would occasionally stand up and lean against the glass, which left muddy little footprints.

I like raccoons at a safe distance. Apart from the high incidence of rabies, they're just downright dangerous. They can tear apart dogs four times their size by holding on to their muzzles and kicking at the dog's underbelly with their sharp back feet. And they're just nasty: a woman I knew years ago in Seattle had had a large pond of ornamental goldfish. It wasn't just enough that the raccoons wanted sushi, but they seemed to just kill the rest of the fish out of spite. Shoot, give 'em opposable thumbs and they'd be unpleasant enough to be people. (My ex always loved the idea of dressing raccoons up in badly fitting pinstripe suits and give 'em fedoras and have them stand on streetcorners making comments to passersby: "Yeah, yer ugly and yer mother dresses yuh funny!" This would be, she carefully explained, "The Invasion of the Snotty Badgers.")

The raccoons wandered away from the window eventually, but they hung around the planter boxes for a while. I stepped outside and got a few shots of them without the sliding glass door in between, but I didn't get too close. I don't trust 'em any more than they trusted me.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Yang and Bo

Yang and Bo have been exceptionally cute lately, or, rather, Bo has been taking an active role in Way-Cute Cat Snuggling and Yang has been doing his level best to ignore everything he doesn't consider important.

Yang's normal place on top of the monitor has been in a little question lately, in large part because the Monsieur Tunabreath comes bounding up onto the desk at a gallop and doesn't really slow down to land on the monitor, resulting in a monitor that wobbles all over the place. Even worse, if there's another cat (such as BC) already there or if I was so silly as to have coffee on my desk, there's no telling what might happen. But even just sitting here typing and so on is completely distracted by 16 or 17 pounds of furry feline shooting across one's field of existence.

Yang has been periodically discouraged from these forays as a result, but he still feels he must be on the desk, so he's found a corner to curl up in. This corner is where all the debris has gotten shoved so it's pretty messy… On the other hand, if it weren't messy (that is, if there weren't paper calling to Yang to come lie down), I rather doubt he'd choose to lie there. (I should also add that, as I write this, Yang is curled up in the same spot and is once again snoring with rich and resonant tone.)

Anyway, Bo continues to follow Yang everywhere and do most of the things Yang is doing. This weekend, Bo's taken to curling up with Yang, something he hasn't done since he was a kitten. I lucked out and had the digicam right nearby when he did it.

I got off several shots and then Bo looked around to see what was happening.

There was no giant foot trying to squash him, so Bo went back to sleep.

He stayed that way for quite a while.

Unfortunately, this happy and almost pastoral scene was not to last. Bo decided he'd slept enough and Yang should get up and play. Bo made his case for this rather directly.

The upshot of Bo's method was that Yang grabbed Bo's head and started chewing on his ears, which is Yang's favorite method of dealing with Bo when he gets too out of hand. However, not too long after, the cats were once again at peace.

(Note: Except for when he was being hassled by Bo, Yang stayed asleep through all of this, doing his famous "gob of sticky mud on a big, hot rock" imitation.)

Bo got to feeling so peaceful, he stretched out and moved around some.

Bo then relaxed and stayed asleep for some time. As you can tell by his posture, he's in REM sleep now. Or at least catatonic.