Friday, September 30, 2011



There’s been a lot of concern lately about global warming and the loss of polar ice.  Well, even if it is true – and there is some evidence that indicates it is not, or at least is exaggerated – it certainly isn’t the first time it has happened.

Here’s a story with photos that show that there was a time – millions of years ago – when Antarctica was WARM - Antarctica

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Update on Yesterday’s Post

After my post yesterday morning about  Women Drivers, it’s being reported this morning that King Abdullah is commuting the sentence of the convicted woman driver.  You can read the story HERE.

WOW!  You would think that if I wield that much power, I could get the dog to stop chewing up paper towels every time we leave her alone in the house.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Women Drivers


King Abdullah, who is regarded as a reformer by Saudi standards, recently decreed that women would be allowed for the first time to vote and run as candidates in elections for municipal councils starting in 2015.

So far, though, he has not given them permission to drive.
You have to wonder if he considers driving more dangerous than voting.
In Saudi Arabia, no woman can travel, work, marry, get divorced, gain admittance to a public hospital or live independently without permission from a "mahram," or male guardian. Men can beat women who don't obey them and fathers or brothers have the right to prevent their female relatives from getting married if they don't approve of her suitor.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women -- both Saudi and foreign -- from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

The ban is rooted in religious edicts and Saudi Arabia's conservative traditional culture, which views limitations on women's freedom of movement as a necessity to prevent sins.

In most cases, the women who try driving are stopped by police and held until a male guardian is summoned and the women sign a pledge not to drive again. Some are referred to court.

This week, a Saudi court sentenced one woman,  Shaima Jastaina, to ten lashes for driving, however, there is no actual written law banning women from driving and as a result, there is no set punishment for the offense.  Saudi activists like Samar Badawi argue this means there is no legal basis for bringing the women to trial.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


From an article in today’s Health Blog of the Wall Street Journal:

What you wear can influence how others view you — specifically what they perceive your race to be, a new study finds.

The findings show how stereotypes and prejudices play a powerful role in how we mentally categorize people, says Jon Freeman, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in psychology at Tufts University.

The researchers, a group of psychologists and sociologists from Tufts, Stanford University and University of California, Irvine, asked study participants to determine the race of computerized faces wearing high-status attire (a business suit) or low-status attire (a janitor’s jumpsuit). Faces viewed in high-status attire were more likely to be seen as white and faces viewed in low-status attire were likely to be seen as black.


Using a technique that tracked the movements of a computer mouse, the researchers recorded the trajectory of participants’ hand movements as they selected a racial category on a computer screen. When viewing racially ambiguous faces, they found participants were initially drawn to the race stereotypically associated with the style of dress even if they ultimately chose the opposite. So even if a participant decided a person wearing a business suit was black, the trajectory of the mouse revealed he or she was first drawn to the “white” option.

I appropriated (stole) the picture below from another website.


My source said that a sociologist also used this picture to analyze perception. Participants were asked to look at the picture for 30 seconds, then describe what they saw.

According to that article:

  • Young men see a remarkable butt.  Only the most observant young men notice that the butt is crossing the street, and even fewer mention that she seems to be wearing thong underwear.
  • Older men tend to see a respectable woman crossing the street.  A few will make some comment about her derriere, and even fewer will point out that she seems to crossing at a designated cross-walk.
  • Half the women say they wonder why she ever left the house dressed like that, and the other half (mostly younger women) wonder where she bought that blouse.
  • Only small children seem to notice that the taxi is being driven by a dog.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kermit Having a Monday

frog eat frog

I posted this picture from Queensland, Australia, just so I could say….

 It’s a Frog-Eat-Frog World!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bob Couch – International Expert

Irina ice

The young lady on the throne of ice is Irina Savitskaya, a psychologist and single mom from Russia. 

She joined Facebook a while back in an effort to improve her English – particularly her understanding of American Slang.  I’m not sure who she connected with first, but she is a Facebook “friend” of several people I knew in high school, and she “friended” me several months ago.

Saturday,  pretty much out of the blue, she sent me the message below:

irina question

Although I’m sure she sent similar messages to quite a few people, I found her request unbelievably flattering.

I told her that my personal favorite was #2.  If you disagree, let me know and I’ll gladly pass your opinion along.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Last Meals and Lethal Injection


Texas stopped serving so-called last meals to death row inmates this week after a state lawmaker complained about an inmate request he considered excessive.

The furor arose after Lawrence Brewer, 44, a convicted murderer and self-described white supremacist, requested a last meal that included: two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.

State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat, was outraged at the meal request, which he considered outlandish. On Thursday, he shot off a letter to Brad Livingston, executive director of the state prison agency, demanding that prison workers stop preparing special last meals.

Livingston officially responded to Whitmire's letter Thursday, agreeing to end the practice that originated with the state’s first execution by electrocution back in 1924.

Kathryn Kase, the interim executive director of Texas Defenders, a nonprofit organization that trains and assists lawyers who represent death row inmates, said the state's decision to end last meals shows a lack of "compassion for the condemned." The action "says more about us, I’m afraid, than perhaps was intended.”

“I’m very sorry that the state of Texas has chosen to send that message,” she said.

Executions have been all over the news this past week; Two men were executed Wednesday night, both by lethal injection, and in two of the most racially charged cases in recent memory.
In Georgia,
Troy Davis, a black man who was convicted of killing a white off-duty police officer in Savannah, Georgia, in 1989, was executed. In the other, Texas executed  Lawrence Brewer, a white man who in 1998 participated in the grisly murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man.

The difference between the two death penalty cases:

  • There was at least some doubt in the Davis case, and Davis maintained his innocence. No weapon or physical evidence was ever found linking Davis to the killing of officer Mark MacPhail in a Burger King parking lot. Seven of nine witnesses who initially fingered him have since recanted.

While many people feel the death penalty is justified punishment for murder, some people believe the risk of killing an innocent person is too great – opinions range from “never do it” to “quit wasting time and money; convict them, kill them and be done with it.”

One of the articles I used as a source for today’s post is running an on-line poll this morning, and right now the results are (pardon the pun) dead even.

poll result

Friday, September 23, 2011

Back to the Future

cern beam

For the last three years, the CERN lab in Switzerland has been conducting experiments that seem to show that certain subatomic particles, neutrinos, can – and occasionally do – move faster than the speed of light. 

Since Einstein published his theories, it has been accepted fact that nothing moves faster than light - but they have been able to repeat their experiments, and duplicate their results hundreds of times!

So they published their findings yesterday in the hopes that somebody somewhere could show them what they were doing wrong.

Neutrinos come in a number of types, and have recently been seen to switch spontaneously from one type to another.

In their experiments, the CERN team prepared a beam of just one type, muon neutrinos, sending them from Cern to an underground laboratory at Gran Sasso in Italy to see how many show up as a different type, tau neutrinos.

In the course of doing the experiments, the researchers noticed that the particles showed up 60 billionths of a second sooner than light would over the same distance.

I can’t help them with their experiment, but it did remind me of a limerick:

An astronaut once took a flight

In a spaceship faster than light

He came back the next day

In a relative way

And arrived on the previous night

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Prepositions Matter

Prepositions do matter. 

Four years ago, Cosmopolitan Magazine published an article – complete with instructions and diagrams -extolling the virtues of sex ON a pool float.  Kinky, maybe, but Cosmo is just mainstream enough to imply that this activity is close enough to normal to be socially acceptable.

This month, we have the story of a guy arrested for having sex WITH a pool float. 

What a difference a preposition can make - Huge difference between ON and WITH!

Hamilton, OHIO -

According to local police, a man was arrested for having sex with a pink inflatable swimming pool raft in an alley in Hamilton, Ohio, just north of Cincinatti.

The Hamilton Journal News reports that Edwin Charles Tobergta, 32, who has been arrested before for public indecency, was arrested again early Sunday morning at his home in Hamilton.

Police were reportedly informed of Tobergta's public union by the raft's owner, who witnessed the act. The owner told police Tobergta fled with the raft after he was caught and shouted at to stop.

Tobergta admitted to the act and told officers that he has a problem and needs help.

Relatives say that Tobergta has mental problems and was being helped by Butler County Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, but he was dropped because he had too many arrests.

The relatives said officials told them Tobergta could not get additional help unless he commits a felony crime.

Hamilton Municipal Court records show that Tobergta has been arrested at least five times previously for similar offenses. He was indicted in May 2010 for tampering with evidence and possessing criminal tools. Then in 2008, he was convicted for public indecency and was sentenced to community control. He was also required to seek mental health services.

Tobergta is currently being held at the Butler County Jail on a charge of public indecency and contempt of court.

FYI – I had to wade through multiple accounts of this event before I finally found one that listed the charges.  Apparently the Ohio legislature is not weird forward-thinking enough to have drafted a law specifically outlawing this activity.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cell Phone Pain

age-memory-loss Almost a year ago October 5, 2010, I posted an article saying that digital devices undermined our ability to think and/or remember.  That theory was proved once again this past weekend.

Honey’s cell phone was lost – most probably stolen by a rotten little kid – on Saturday.

We had been getting emails from AT&T for months saying we were eligible of free upgrades, so Monday morning we headed to the nearest AT&T store. 

What a fiasco! 

We got there only to be told that the free upgrades were only available on line and the only “free” phone in the store required that we buy it and send in a card for a mail-in rebate.  The clerk advised us that we would be better off replacing the phone at Wal-Mart. 

The closest Wal-Mart was closed due to an overnight power failure, but we were finally able to get a free phone at Best Buy – totally free, set up and working in the store, and out the door without paying a cent.  Why couldn't the carrier’s own store have done that?

Totally painless once we went to the right place, except that Honey had dozens of phone numbers stored in her phone, and with no SIM card, they each had to be entered manually into the new device.  That’s a big PITA, but do-able except that many of those numbers  were not available anywhere else!

She sent emails out to friends and family members and is programming numbers as they arrive, but we’re sure that some of those numbers are lost forever.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Earthquake Prediction


I told Honey a week or so ago that I expect a major earthquake in California within the next few weeks. 

I know that quakes are still basically unpredictable, but I based my forecast on the recent increase in activity along the Pacific coasts of North and South America.

I’m not sure if yesterday’s earthquakes in Guatemala add or subtract from the probability, but a bet is only valid if placed before the race begins, so I am posting my prediction now.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hauling Ass(es)

stray donkeys

Almost a month ago, (August 23rd) I wrote about a pair of donkeys roaming our neighborhood.  I didn’t have a picture to post then, but our next-door neighbor put this one on Facebook yesterday morning.  They’re pictured in her back yard and the woods in the background is mine.

The Donkeys’ Tale came to an end– or at least a new chapter began – yesterday.  Our across-the-street neighbor rounded them up and held them in his horse barn until the County came and hauled them off.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

13 Hours


No post yesterday, but it’s 7:00 a.m. on Sunday and we’ve already put in a long weekend.

Drove to Liberty Hill yesterday for the grandsons’ birthday party.  Bryce (9-13) is now 14 and Nash (9-16) just turned 11.  They had their traditional combined  party with a pool full of kids, but it got a late start because Nash had a football game in Austin that started at one o'clock. 

He is not the smallest kid on the Liberty Hills Panthers, but he plays defensive lineman, and he was always the smallest on either side of the line.  On almost every play, he was matched against two linemen from the opposition – one on each shoulder.

The field where they played was at a very busy little park/sports complex in North Austin.  There was another football game going on, along with two baseball games and a soccer match.  With three minutes and twelve seconds to go in the fourth quarter, there was some thunder and lightning in the distance and all play was stopped for a mandatory 30 minute wait to be sure it was safe to play.  We never got rained on, but in the way to Liberty Hill, we drove through a heavy downpour on 183 from Cedar Park to Leander. 

Driving up on US 290, we saw evidence of several fires, but we passed south of the Magnolia fire and just north of the Bastrop/Smithville fire.  The evidence of the drought was depressing – dry stock tanks and fields that are normally green or just turning yellow this time of year showed a lot of bare dirt with only occasional brown patches of grass.

Although we did get to see some rain, we returned last night to find there had been none here.  There is a 50% probability today – the highest in months – but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hummer Update

I mentioned yesterday that we had reduced the sugar water concentration in the Hummingbird feeders to get rid of the Honeybees.  I confirmed that changing the solution from 1:4 to 1:6 had got rid of the bees, but I wasn’t sure if the birds would like it as well.


Looks like they like it just fine.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Birds and the Bees


  On our trip this past summer, Honey found this fancy double-decker Hummingbird feeder.  It was one of the very few souvenirs we bought.  It looks great, but it is a very complicated design - difficult to fill and to reassemble without leaks.  It took a while for the birds to decide to use it, but they do -  just not as much as the others.

We have learned that Hummingbirds have a different aesthetic – their taste in architecture is a lot simpler – and they much prefer the basic (cheaper the better) feeders like this Wal-Mart Special.


This past weekend, we noticed a couple of honeybees had discovered the feeder above.  Word passed quickly, and by Tuesday we had dozens of bees swarming the feeders.

At first, the Hummers would zoom in and try to chase the bees away, but they eventually decided to co-exist, even though the bees were so thick it was hard to find an opening that wasn’t blocked by a bee’s butt.  The bees were not attacking the Hummers, but we knew that red wasps would and were actually capable of killing birds.

I went on line looking for a way to control the bees, and on one Hummingbird forum I found a suggestion – change the sugar water concentration from 1:4 (one part sugar to four parts water) to 1:6, and the bees will lose interest!

We tried it and it works. 

When I went out to retrieve the feeders, there were literally dozens of bees.  I had to shake the feeders and swing them around to get the bees off, and a swarm of them followed me to the house.  Fifteen minutes later, when I headed back out with the diluted mixture, there were still a couple dozen buzzing around the hangers and even a few bees waiting for me at the back door!

Once we hung the feeders, it only took a few minutes and the honeybees were gone. 

The Hummers are feeding on the 1:6 solution although activity may be a little lower than usual this morning – time will tell.

ps – We always add a drop or two of red food coloring to our sugar water solution.  The birds don't care whether it’s there or not, but we do it anyway. It looks nice, and it makes it a lot easier to tell at a glance whether the feeders need refilling.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bachman/Perry Overdrive

perry bachman newmax.aspx

At the Tea Party debate the other night, Michelle Bachman attacked Rick Perry over his attempt to mandate the requirement for all “tween” girls in Texas to receive the HPV vaccine, and the media has jumped in like sharks in a feeding frenzy.

Perry admitted that he probably went about it in the wrong way, but I think his move, although a political disaster, was actually a step in the right direction! That’s not just my opinion, it is also the position of the U.S. Government in the form of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as demonstrated below. 

It would be hard to argue against the effectiveness of vaccines – diseases like Smallpox and Polio have been essentially eradicated during my lifetime - and NOBODY thinks cervical cancer is a good thing. 

But Liberals who otherwise might have supported the idea are joining hard-core Libertarians who despise any political mandate, and Bible thumping Texas Conservatives who were enraged at the implication that their Sweet Innocent Babies might be engaging in Sexual Intercourse – Never mind the numerous studies that show that they ARE, and the age at which they are having sex is steadily getting younger.

It should also be emphasized– especially since I’ve never seen it reported anywhere else– that Washington D.C. and the State of Virginia already require HPV vaccinations for middle school girls.

Perry may have gone about it wrong, but he isn’t the Anti-Christ; just consider this excerpt from a CDC survey issued last month: 

In 2010, vaccination coverage among adolescents aged 13 through 17 years increased from coverage in 2009; however, the percentage-point increase in ≥1 dose of HPV among females (4.4 points) was less than half the increase observed for ≥1 dose of Tdap (13.1) and ≥1 dose of MenACWY (9.1). As in previous years, coverage with ≥1 dose of HPV was higher among older compared with younger adolescent females. Among females with adequate time to complete the series, 30.4% had not done so. HPV completion rates were lower among certain populations (i.e., blacks, Hispanics, and those living below poverty) known to have higher cervical cancer rates (3). Although HPV vaccination is only universally recommended for females aged 9 through 26 years, 2009 ACIP guidance states that HPV vaccination may be administered to males aged 9 through 26 years. Only 1.4% of males aged 13 through 17 years received the vaccine in 2010.

As in previous years, adolescent vaccination coverage varied widely among states and other reporting areas, which could reflect differing vaccination-promotion initiatives among local health agencies and communities. Common initiatives among the three states with the highest vaccination coverage (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington) included strong working relationships and communication between state immunization programs and vaccination providers, local professional organizations, and schools; school vaccination requirements; and promotion of the use of reminder/recall systems (CDC, unpublished data, 2011). Additional factors that might play an important role in vaccination coverage include vaccine financing, health-care infrastructure, local outbreaks, and communication efforts leading to increased consumer demand.

Analysis of 2009 NIS-Teen data found that middle school vaccination requirements for Tdap or MenACWY were associated with higher coverage for these vaccines; however, adolescents living in states with a middle school vaccination requirement for at least one adolescent vaccine did not have significantly higher coverage with all three recommended adolescent vaccines compared with adolescents living in states with no vaccination requirements (4). The number of states with middle school requirements increased from the 2009--10 to the 2010--11 school year (i.e., 37 required a tetanus booster, 31 specified Tdap, and 10 required MenACWY) and likely contributed to increases in Tdap and MenACWY coverage (5). The District of Columbia and Virginia are the only reporting areas with middle school HPV vaccination requirements (4), which might have contributed to the increase in HPV vaccination in those areas over the past 2 years. Missed vaccination opportunities occur when adolescents receive middle school--required vaccines but not other ACIP-recommended vaccines. Further study is needed to understand and address barriers to providing all recommended vaccines during the same visit.

Tips for Posting Comments

I welcome comments on my blog.  In fact, I wish I got more feed-back than I do.

Most of the comments I get at Boggy Thicket are posted as being sent by Anonymous, and I suspect that this is not what you wanted to do, since you often include your name in the comment.

When posting a comment, there are lots of ways to identify yourself:


The simplest way is to select Name/URL


And fill in  just your name.  Then, when you post your comment, it will appear like the preview below:


I have no control over how Google and blogspot  administer their site, but the Name/URL option really should be broken into two options, or should specify that you should only choose one or the other.


Noel’s comment was posted using the URL to his blog, and Bob L posted using just just his name.  If you try to fill in both boxes it doesn’t work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Orange Birds and Green Cats


Green Cats in the news this morning – Green  -but the Mayo Clinic isn’t the first to create green cats; Andy Warhol painted the one above back in the 50’s.

On another subject, word has gotten around.  Yesterday, we had three (3) Baltimore Orioles at the hummingbird feeders.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mystery Bird

Our hummingbird feeders are starting to get busy.  When we returned from our trip this summer, we set out one feeder and discovered that, in spite of the drought and the weeks of 100 plus temperatures, we still had one or two hummers that had decided to stay all year.

We now have three feeders up and have seen as many as six birds at a time, an indication that we might be hosting quite a few more.  In addition to the hummingbirds, we often see a small woodpecker or sapsucker sipping from the feeders.

Last week, we got a new visitor.  A big bird with a flaming orange breast has been feeding several times a day.  Not big like an owl or a heron, more the size of a cardinal or mockingbird – but in relation to the hummingbirds, he’s huge - big enough that his weight causes the feeder to tilt.

He’s smart, too.  Too large to perch and drink from the opening in front of him, he lands sideways and helps himself to sugar-water from the next hole over.

In my 69 years in southeast Texas, I had never seen a bird with a brilliant day-glow orange breast, so I went on line to try to identify our visitor.  I found a website - – dedicated to serious bird watchers. 

The website has a search engine that allows you to use various descriptors to identify a bird. That search finally narrowed down to either a Black-headed Grosbeak or a Baltimore Oriole.  I was sure a Grosbeak would be unable to sip from a hummingbird feeder, and I wasn’t at all sure about the Oriole.

After several days of trying, I finally got some pictures.  Not the shot I was hoping for - by the time I got outside with my camera, the bird had left the feeder and was up in a tree.

mystery bird 2

mystery bird 3

I posted the photos on the Whatbird forum, and almost immediately the experts there replied that it is in fact a Baltimore Oriole.  One bird maven from Canada even wrote that Baltimore Orioles often visit hummingbird feeders.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering Nine-Eleven


Like just about everyone else this morning, I’m remembering the events of ten years ago today.

I was a technical trainer for IKON in Houston, and on the way into work that morning I heard on the radio that what they first said was a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. 

We had a large TV in my classroom to show images from my laptop to the students, and we quickly jury-rigged an antenna.  Reception in the building was poor (especially with our coat-hanger rabbit ears) but one local station came in well.  We got the system up and running in time to see the second plane crash into the second tower.

My manager came in to tell me to turn it down – he said that the noise was bothering people out in the general office area - but when he saw what was happening, he quietly sat down to watch. 

I didn’t do any teaching that day, but we all learned lessons we can never forget.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Links and a Nine-bar Rest


Amazing where internet links can take you. 

Bob Lieder’s comment on yesterday’s post took me to a Wikipedia discussion on asterisks, which led to tuple, a term used in math and computer programming, and from there to tuplet, which is used in musical notation.

The discussion of tuplets reminded me of an almost-forgotten story I first heard when working at KQUE in Houston back in the 60’s.

When I first heard the tale, the hero was Doc Severinsen, but it could just as easily have been Harry James, Dizzy Gillespie or Winton Marsalis.  The story  had to do with a famous jazz trumpeter who performed as a guest soloist with the Houston Symphony. 

I don’t remember the name of the piece, but it doesn’t really matter; it could have been anything from Flight of the Bumblebee to Capriccio Italien. The virtuoso brought the house down with an amazing ten minute solo that involved triple-tonguing almost every note.

After the performance a local debutante, the daughter of an oil millionaire, offered the musician a thousand dollars to take her home and play her like he had played his trumpet.  He accepted, and an hour or so later they were in bed.

Just as the song and the lady seemed to be reaching a climax, he stopped.

Oh God,” she screamed. “Don’t stop now!”

“Got to.” he replied.  “I’ve got a nine-bar rest.”

Fake it!” she yelled.  “You’re a jazz man, IMPROVISE!”

Friday, September 9, 2011

Readers Digest


Growing up, I was a huge Reader’s Digest fan.  The magazine arrived every month at our house and as soon as  I could pry it away from my parents, I read it cover-to-cover.  They also bought the Readers Digest Condensed Books, which if not an outright sacrilege was at least an abomination.  I will have to admit though, some of those condensed versions actually improved on the originals.

I know I couldn’t do it now to save my soul, but for a while in college I was actually literate enough to read and appreciate the Spanish language version  - Selecciones from Mexico and the French Sélection from Canada.

As a kid, I loved the “First Person” articles, the “Quotable Quotes," the “Word Power” quizzes and the jokes in “Laughter – the Best Medicine” and “Humor in Uniform.”  Mostly I searched the magazine for the little two or three line fillers that were dropped in to close out the page at the end of an article.

I had no idea that the magazine was still in print, but a check on line shows that it does.  Just type in  and you’ll find that you can save 79% on a subscription. 

[Editor’s note: I clicked just to make sure the link worked and that 79% now reads 81% – I have no idea what it might read if you check their website.  In any case, I feel sorry for any poor fool that actually pays retail.]

I was only about nine or ten years old when the Digest published the couplet below.  Something about it made it stick in my memory for the last fifty years.

Mary bought a pair of skates upon the ice to frisk.

Wasn’t she a brave young thing her little *

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I’m From the Government and I’m Here to Help



With record setting drought and heat this summer, wildfires in Texas have now burned an area larger than the State of Connecticut, and it isn’t over yet.  Several large fires are still raging across the state.  Late word this morning is that the biggest of these, the Bastrop/Smithville fire, has destroyed a state park and around a thousand homes.

Over the weekend and on Monday, agencies involved in fighting several of these fires issued requests for assistance from volunteer fire fighters from unaffected areas, and in the best western tradition of neighbors helping neighbors, many firemen from across the state responded. They loaded up their equipment in their private vehicles and often drove for hours – at their own expense – to answer the call.

Then on Tuesday, the Federal Government in the form of the National Interagency Fire Center moved into Bastrop and announced that they were now in charge. 

The Feds decided that, since there had never been a formal request for assistance, volunteers from other areas could not be used!  They told trained and certified firefighters who had driven in from as far away as Texarkana and Brownsville to turn around and go back where they came from.  One federal official told Gordon Greer of Kirbyville, “If you don’t have a vehicle that squirts water, go home.”

I don’t know about you, but this story almost set me aflame.

As wildfires rage across Texas, feds take control and scuttle volunteer firefighters

Wednesday, September 07, 2011
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of (See all articles...)

(NaturalNews) As fires raged across central Texas for the past three days, local citizens sprang into action to protect their lives and property. Local churches opened their doors and began hosting refugees left homeless by the fires which have now destroyed more than 1,000 homes and 100,000 acres across the state in just the past week. Several branches of the YMCA also began hosting families with children, and a public school in Bastrop County opened its doors to serve as an emergency relief center.
See a YouTube video of a citizen's narrow escape around Highway 21 near Bastrop, Texas:

Federal agencies seize control on Tuesday

Hundreds of firefighters from all the surrounding counties worked two days and nights in a heroic effort to contain the fires, but high winds Sunday night and all day Monday thwarted their efforts. So the call went out for more volunteer firefighters to join the effort from across the state.
Before they arrived, however, the federal government showed up and claimed it was in charge of the situation. "Agents with the federal National Interagency Fire Center, a coalition of federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, assumed command of firefighting efforts Tuesday afternoon," reports The Gonzales Cannon ( is now reporting that volunteer firefighters who had in some cases driven all night to reach Bastrop county were turned away by the feds, who claimed that since local officials never made a "formal request" for volunteers, the volunteers could not be "activated."
So while Bastrop County burns from 40+ fires that are still raging, the federal government is actually telling volunteer firefighters to go home.
"We were at the station getting set up into strike teams, and this guy came up and said that the U.S. Forest Service had 'assumed control of the situation, and that If you don’t have a vehicle that squirts water, go home,' said Gordon Greer of Kirbyville, in a RealNewsReporter article ( Gordon reportedly drove all night Monday to arrive in Bastrop and take part in the firefighting effort. "You've got guys who had driven all night long from Corpus Christi and Brownsville on their own dime, and they turned them away," he said.
That same story reports that Jennifer Jones of the U.S. National Interagency Incident Center confirmed multiple federal agencies would be taking over the scene. Tuesday afternoon, the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management stated on its Facebook page that volunteer firefighters would have to be "activated by the National Forestry Service first."
In other words, if you're a local Texan and you want to help other Texans save their ranches, or their homes, or their businesses, you need permission from the federal bureaucracy first!
But some Texans aren't allowing their efforts to be thwarted. As Real News Reporter says in its story, a group of Texas Nationalist Movement members who are also certified firefighters are in the Bastrop area and aiding civilian relief efforts, with or without permission from Washington D.C.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Garden Path Sentences

flyingbanana_top_med Groucho Marx is credited with saying “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

A great line, and an example of what linguists call a “Garden Path Sentence.”  That’s a sentence that starts out appearing to say one thing and ends up meaning something else – sentences that often force the reader to go back and start over.

Garden Path Sentences are often accidental, but the quote above is an example of a clever use of language; the verb in the first phrase – flies - becomes a noun and the subject of the second, while like is transformed from an adjective to a verb.

Nobody diagrams sentences anymore, but Mrs. Simpson, my fifth grade teacher, would have loved this .

Here are a few more examples I found on line:

Sentence Initial likely partial parse Final parse
The old man the boat. The man, who is old... The boat is manned by the old.
The man whistling tunes pianos. The man who is whistling melodies... The whistling man tunes pianos.
The cotton clothing is made of grows in Mississippi. The clothing, which is made of cotton, is made of... The cotton that clothing is made of grows in Mississippi.
The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families. The houses (meaning buildings or families), which are complicated, got married to... Single and married soldiers and their families are housed in the complex.
The author wrote the novel was likely to be a best-seller. The author composed the novel... The author wrote that the novel in question was likely to be a best-seller.
The tomcat curled up on the cushion seemed friendly. The tomcat curled itself up on the cushion... The tomcat that was curled up on the cushion seemed friendly.
The man returned to his house was happy. The man came back to his house... Returned to his house, the man was happy.
The government plans to raise taxes were defeated. The government is planning to raise taxes... The government's plans to raise taxes were defeated.
The sour drink from the ocean. The drink that was sour... Those that are sour drink from the ocean.
Fish people are used to fishing may be gone. Mermaids are employed in ... The fish that people expect to catch are dying out.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Achieving Perfection


Heavy philosophical stuff today. 

I woke up this morning thinking about how God (Who in the Judeo-Christian heritage is perfect) could create a universe (which, logically, as the creation of a perfect Being, should also be perfect) from imperfect materials.

For the moment, let’s ignore floods, famine, plagues, etc. and just concentrate on people.  Some groups – Unity comes to mind – may try to say that in spite of our obvious flaws, we are actually parts of God  and therefore perfect pieces of the Universal Jig-saw Puzzle.  It’s a lovely idea, but I really can’t get my mind around it. 

I’m not complaining, it’s our little imperfections that make us interesting.

Actually, the whole concept of sin casts doubt on God’s ability as an architect – if the design was perfect, then the QC at the factory sucked, which sort of takes us back to flaws in the design since He/She created the factory, too.

Going back to my original question – and the graphic at the top of this post – it occurs to me that we can approach perfection in much the same way that mathematics approaches pi.  Start with a polygon with sides that are tangent to the circumference of a circle and keep clipping off the angles – a triangle becomes a hexagon and so forth ad infinitum.  The greater the number of sides, the closer the polygon approximates the circumference of the circle. 

The problem with that is that it is still an approximation, imperfect, flawed.   

Assuming that creation is ongoing and that while it may have been created, the world wasn’t finished in those seven days, God just may not care.  After all, a perfect Being probably possesses infinite patience, and God can keep clipping off angles until the end of time.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Just the Basics

I recently started a group on FaceBook called Addicted to Limericks .  It’s a place where folks are invited to post their favorites, and especially to try their hand a creating an original limerick of their own. 

Many – almost all – of the rhymes have been delightful, and a limerick  posted by one member often leads to several more as other members jump on the bandwagon.

There have been several posts from those who say they would like to participate but lack the skill or simply just don’t know how.  Today’s post is for them.

A limerick is a poem in five stanzas in which lines one, two and five rhyme with each other and line four rhymes with line three. 

Although some liberties may be taken with the meter – and often are – the beat goes like this: da DA, da da DA, da da DA….or:

{Using a dash (-) to indicate unaccented syllables and a caret (^) for accented syllables}

- ^ - - ^ - - ^

- ^ - - ^ - - ^

- ^ - - ^

- ^ - - ^

- ^ - - ^ - - ^

If, instead of dashes and carets, we use zeroes and ones, we get






which translates from binary to decimal as 4,802,890.  I have no idea what that means, but it’s obvious that decimal notation just isn’t as poetic.

But back to those liberties taken with the meter – the most common is dropping one of the unaccented syllables, usually in lines one, two or five; or plugging in an additional unaccented syllable, most commonly at the beginning of a line.

I’m going to stop trying to explain the mechanics of the limerick right here.  Everything I’ve said is true, but it doesn’t convey the pleasure involved – It’s about like expressing an orgasm as a function in a quadratic equation.

It is not mandatory, but the best limericks are humorous and often risqué.  They often make use of puns or contain plays on words and double entendre.

Even if you consider yourself poetically challenged, I would encourage you to try writing a limerick.  It’s easier than it looks, and (to use a New England term that is getting a lot of play these days) it’s wicked fun.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Unfolding Tragedy

Back on Monday, I wrote a piece about a new restaurant in the area  - La Mordida – and yesterday evening Honey and I decided to give them a try.

We got there early, about a quarter to five, and found the place empty except for a table full of little kids who immediately began yelling “Somebody’s here!” at the top of their lungs.  The kids were ignored until I looked over a partition to find the entire staff – apparently three generations of the same family – eating their own supper at a table in the kitchen.  At that point, one of the teenaged girls got up and seated us.

She handed us each a menu, took our orders for iced tea with lemon and (I guess) went back to finish her supper.  During the ten minutes or so that she was gone, the youngest girl got up from the kids’ table and came to stare at us.  She looked at us with big brown eyes while her mouth opened and closed like a koi at feeding time.  Her older brother, a cute and outgoing boy of about seven, explained that she was trying to talk, but didn’t know how.  He said she was only one year old although she appeared to be a lot closer to two.

The waitress finally arrived with our iced tea (with lime) and a basket of the greasiest tortilla chips I have ever seen.  The chips were cold and in spite of claims on the menu that everything was home made, the salsa was obviously out of a jar.

I ordered what seemed to be the signature dish – parilladas (a sort of Mexican mixed grill with beef and chicken fajitas and shrimp) but was told that they were out of shrimp, so I settled for enchiladas verdes.  Honey ordered a three enchilada plate with one each of beef, chicken and cheese.

Half an hour later, we were seriously wondering whether we were ever going to get any food (we were still the only customers in the place) and discussing whether to just get up and leave, when the waitress arrived with Honey’s plate.  As she placed Honey’s plate before her, she told me that the cook had mistakenly put red sauce instead of green on my order and was starting over.  I told her never mind, I would take what was already fixed and Honey asked her to take her plate back and warm it up – it was already too cold to eat.

While we were waiting, our waitress left the restaurant for a trip across the parking lot to the grocery store.  I don’t think she was getting anything for us, the only thing I could see through the bag when she returned was a can of Dr. Pepper.  In spite of her yelling “No. No. No.” and trying to hold the door shut, all of the little kids had run out and followed her across the parking lot.

Once we finally got our food, we wished we hadn’t.  It was insipid – no salt and no spices whatsoever.  The best thing we had was the guacamole, and the only thing good about that was that the avocado hadn’t turned brown!

When we went to the register to pay,  our waitress said that since they had got my order wrong she was giving me a dollar off.  Honey then explained that her order had only contained two enchiladas instead of three.  The waitress went back to the kitchen to confer, and came back to tell us that if we would return to our table, the cook would make her another one.  We refused, and she finally cut another dollar off of our bill.

I didn’t ask, but just based on our observations, I’m sure that this family has mortgaged everything they own to fulfill a dream of owning a restaurant.  Unfortunately, they were totally unprepared and singularly unfit for the task.  I would be amazed if they are not out of business by Halloween.  Over the too-loud conjunto music blaring from a local Tex-Mex radio station, you could almost hear the place circling the drain.

About the only thing they did right was name the place La Mordida.  This place BITES!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

An Attack of Limerickitis

Woke up with limericks on my mind this morning.  Specifically, one I learned as a child:

There once was a girl who begat

Three brats she named Nat, Pat and Tat.

The breeding was swell,

but feeding was Hell

When she found she had no tit for Tat!

For some reason, I thought I remembered that this was penned by someone famous – Ogden Nash comes to mind – but I can’t find an attribution anywhere.  A Google search came up with lots of variations of the rhyme, but no source that says who might have written it.  If you know the author, drop me a line or just post in comments.

While I was searching, I did come across another Limerick that gave me a chuckle – one that I don’t think I had ever seen before:

There was a young lady named Rose

Who had a large wart on her nose.

When she had it removed

Her appearance improved,

But her bifocals fell to her toes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

On Demand


Went in for lab work earlier this week in preparation for my annual physical.  I have never had a fear of needles or an aversion to blood, so filling several test tubes for various tests went without a hitch.  Then the tech handed me a cup and asked for a urine sample.

Now, I’m the kid who could never make it through class without a potty break, and I still can’t drive over 100 miles without a stop, but I have never been able to urinate on demand.  After about 5 minutes in the restroom, I told the lab guy it just wasn’t going to happen.

He said “I only need a little, just enough for a dip stick.”

I replied that volume was not the issue, but that I would bring it back later.  He said that, if he didn’t get the sample now, he would have to re-do all the paperwork.  So  45 minutes, a bottle of water and a cup of coffee later, I gave him his specimen.

That wasn’t my worst experience by a long shot. 

Back in 1966, at my pre-induction physical, the army doctors sent two dozen of us to the restroom with specimen cups.  Ten minutes after everyone else had left, I was still standing there in my skivvies with a specimen cup in one hand and my… well, you get the picture.

Finally, in desperation, I grabbed the cup off the rack with the most urine in it – it was almost overflowing – and poured half of it into my container.  Luckily – or not, depending on your point of view – my unwitting urine donor was healthy, and two weeks later I was on a bus headed to Ft. Polk for basic training.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


One of our closest neighbors – his house is southwest of what we normally try to keep looking like lawn, and directly across the street from our woods – is a Fire Fighter for the City of Houston.

Last week, he had a tree service remove several large trees from his yard.  They cut them down, ground out the stumps, and stacked the trunks and limbs in three or four large piles out in his pasture.

Yesterday evening, I glanced over at his house and saw flames dancing to a height of about ten feet in his front yard.  I called Honey over to look, and we discussed whether to call the fire department.  The flames looked awfully close to the front of their house.

We also discussed what the Hell he might be thinking – he’s a fireman and had to know we have been under a burning ban for the last six months or more!

We couldn’t see anyone in their yard, so I moved down the fence line to see if his truck was home – it was – and discovered that the “flames” were the orange rays of the setting sun shining through a water sprinkler!

Industrial Light and Magic could not have created a more realistic illusion.