Idealism Part II, er III, er LVIX or something.

I know I’ve ranted about idealism before, and it pains me to do it again, but you’ll remember that one reason I do this blog is so I can keep my good humor elsewhere. Heck, vent the spleen where venting is appropriate, right? Anyway, here again we see, in Lebanon, the fine results of fine ideals.

Israel, of course, insists that, as a nation among nations, they have a right to defend themselves.

Hezbollah, and their supporters, feel that Israel has no right to exist in the first place, and that therefore Israel’s arguments have no force.

I could pop up arguments for and against each of those positions, but that isn’t my point today. Look through my old posts if you like: I’m sure I’ve hit those points somewhere. What I’m saying now is that both of those positions are supported by the highest of ideals. A free Israel, or, a world free of Zionist oppression. There is no middle ground. And both have God on their side, supposedly the same God, which would be funny if so many kids weren’t being killed in his omnipotent and holy name. Hezbollah even claims to respect the teachings of Jesus, to which I can only add, from yesterday’s post, one mean mutha, was Jesus of Nazareth. Or so it would appear, given the circumstances in his old stomping grounds.

It’s an un-winnable war from either side’s perspective. As someone told me just the other day, the only person you can negotiate with is your enemy. That, or wipe your enemy out. They both intend, they say, to wipe the other out. That is virtually impossible. I’m tempted to say it would be like trying to exterminate all the roaches in the world, but I really don’t want to compare people to roaches, except in that it’s impossible to exterminate them. The idealism of Israel and the United States led them to “tremendously underestimate” (their words, not mine) the strength of Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s idealism generates the tremendous hubris necessary to think that they can actually defeat Israel in open warfare. Sure, and I could whip Muhammad Ali. Today, I mean. If I had a loaded gun. Once again, untold misery is being promulgated in the name of the highest ideals. Thanks ever so much, guys. We really didn’t have enough to worry about, you know.

I might propose a solution, but I’d be shocked beyond belief if the idealists in charge of the country would want to hear them. They’re too busy democratizing Iraq, aren’t they?



Some Statistics Which Might Be Of Interest include:

Over 95 % of viewers of this blog use 32-bit colo(u)r on their monitors. A few use 16-bit, and there are even a few 24-bit color users out there.

Over 75% of site viewers use 1024 X 768 resolution. Virtually every other standard combination is represented, except for the standard VGA of 600 X 480. There are, it seems, none of them left at all.

74% use Internet Explorer, including 8% who are Beta testing version 7.0. I’m doing that myself, although my visits aren’t logged. No. 2 is Netscape 5.x, followed by Safari and Firefox. (IE 7.0 is a nice interface, but it is more unlike its predecessors than was any previous version.)

75% use Windows XP; 2% use Windows 98 (the OS that wouldn’t die, I guess.)
15% the site couldn’t tell. Huh.
And 7% use MAC OSX. I hope you guys take precautions against viruses. The ads from Apple stretch the truth a bit. Anything Linux-based can be hacked, it’s only a matter of time, even if they are more secure than Windows. (I like Mac fine; I’m just not a fanatical fan like some folks.)

The overwhelming majority of viewers are from 2,000 miles away, which is to say somewhere in the Eastern Time Zone. So, it’s midnight as I write this. Doesn’t seem much after 9PM to me . . .
The second largest group live within 100 miles of Henderson Nevada. Some live as much as 8,000 miles from Henderson.

93% of views are from the United States, which both makes sense and explains why my focus is on that country almost all of the time.

There, chew on those facts, and have a good day!

You Know You Wrong for Stem Cells

If you think stem cells are human beings, then boy, howdy, you are so far beyond wrong as to almost defy description. The argument goes that those frozen embryos from which they get the stem cells can potentially be grown into human beings. Yeah, they can. But, you know what? So can a cloud of swamp gas, if you apply the right techniques to it. On the other hand, Jesus did say, in his famous Sermon at the Fertility Clinic, that he who disturbeth a frozen embryo to gaineth stem cells shall reapeth eternal damnation. Jesus was really big on eternal damnation, of course. Just read his words in the book of Matthew and you’ll see what I mean. One mean mutha, was Jesus of Nazareth.

Anyway, what you have in a frozen embryo is a plan for a human. Claiming that destroying one is destroying a human being is like saying that burning the blueprints to a skyscraper is destroying the skyscraper. Prattling about God’s Divine Plan, when it’s manifest to anyone with a dash of curiosity that God’s plan includes humans poking about in His Divine Playbook, is just wasting breath. Of course, prattling about anything when there’s a midterm election coming up, one that could possibly get your former golden boy actually impeached if things go the wrong way, is I suppose understandable. But not when you are prattling such obviously inane stuff as has been prattled of late. It’s right up there with the flag-burning married gay couples that have been threatening our republic the last few weeks. But, what the heck, what’s more important, saving untold misery for sufferers of a number of terrible diseases, or getting your fifteen minutes by publicly protecting a batch of undifferentiated cells that might produce a human being if treated properly?

Well, the answer is obvious to some folks, I guess. But before you rush to agree with them, consider that most naturally occurring pregnancies spontaneously abort, if, that is, the embryo manages to implant in the first place. Yep, most do not go to term, and this is not the fault of any intervention on the part of us puny humans. God, in His wisdom, has seen fit to dispose of most embryos without letting them have the least chance of gestation. What a thought: God doesn’t respect Life! Boy, good thing he’s not running for office, isn’t it?

You know, the utter lack of critical thought and paucity of reflection on the part of some people would be funny if they weren’t holding national office. Since they are, it’s not funny at all; it’s more like just plain pathetic.

You Know You Wrong Part 3

Another way you know you’re wrong (or you should) is if you think that the revelations now hitting Fox News about how we got into the war in Iraq, the insurgency and civil war going on there now, the reaction of the rest of the world, was not known before it all started. You might want to go back and take a look at some of the stories the damned “liberal elite” were publishing back in 2003 about how we really should let the inspections conclude or we’d suffer a horrible setback in world respect, how we really ought to devise some sort of strategy for what to do after we won the obviously one-sided and easy war, and how we’d be facing a massive insurgency and civil war, complete with newly hatched al-Qaeda cells, in Iraq after the invasion.

Yes, the damned liberal press did point out all of that, but since the nation was in the grip of some knee-jerk conservatism (the jerk part is the most prominent, in my mind) nobody of any importance was listening. Also, if you think that GW Bush turning out not to really be an old-line, hard-core conservative of the good-old tradition is a recently revealed truth, you’re even more wrong. Anyone with half a memory of American History could tell you that  the Republican Party may pose itself as fiscally conservative, although history rarely bears out their claim, but they have never, ever, not once since their founding in 1856, been in favor of small government, or less government interference in our lives. They were instrumental in, lets see now, the Civil War, the amendments outlawing slavery and forcing the states to recognize civil rights, and even, horror of horrors, in the Civil Rights Act, you know, the one proposed by that Southern turncoat Johnson II. After LBJ did that, a lot of Dixiecrats decided to turn to the Republicans after that party started chanting the rhetoric of States’ Rights and other such tripe. Unfortunately for you, if you’re the sort who would have been a Dixiecrat, you have no representation at all in this country beyond a few sub-humans lurking at the boundaries of society, occasionally blowing up a Federal building in a misguided attempt to restore White Power. I know that this is a horrible thing to contemplate, but if you’re one of those people, you are as obsolete as bronze shields in a pitched battle. Your ideas have, to put it mildly, been repudiated so badly that even the stink is hard to notice any more. Give it up. Join your fellow humans, or do yourself a favor and go crawl off to die in a corner. Really.

My point here, folks, is that getting into name-calling knee-jerk politics is pretty damned dangerous. There just might be a reason that people who make a living using their heads see things in the world that are a bit harder to see if all you do is watch Fox News and Survivor. Maybe those guys actually do know what they’re talking about once in a while, even if you don’t like the sound of it. Okay? Or, maybe you just ain’t prayin’ hard enough, Clem . . .



If you think you know what God, or some god anyway, wants the rest of us to do, you just have to know that you’re wrong. If you think of your god as a “loving father” who will send people who don’t believe straight to everlasting torment, then you’re wrong again. In fact, I’m worried about your own, earthly father. Should we contact the police about him? If you think that the way to show love for someone is to condemn them forever, then what you have isn’t an honest religious conviction. What you have is a psychosis that may well result in your all-too-real earthly conviction (and incarceration for a very long time.) If you think that’s what “loving fathers” do, then you are wrong, wrong wrong.

See, if an earthly father does anything abusive to his children, we lock him away, get him some therapy, make him register for life, that sort of thing. We certainly don’t invite him into our homes and offer him our everlasting souls. In fact, people like that are evil, pure and simple, and if that’s the sort of god you think you’re worshiping, you might want to consider really well what the preacher who presumes to tell you what “God wants for You” means when he says that “The Devil can quote scripture for his own purposes.” Sure His Unholiness Below can do that, especially if he has an effective mouthpiece with weird hair on TV right here on the planet.

I’m a dyed-in-the-wool agnostic, which means that I can’t say for certain that there even is a god, much less what he wants us to do with ourselves. But I take hints from the stuff that we’re good at. We’re good at figuring out how things work, so I think that it would please our creator if we kept on figuring out how things work. The broad term for figuring out how things work is called the Scientific Method. It doesn’t give you the easy answers of the church of latter day idiocy, or Scientology, or even Methodism, but it does make things more and more easy and convenient and safe and hygienic for all of us. Every big step in science has been met with religious opposition from people who think their god has told them, one way or another, what we all should be doing with our lives. This was true when Galileo got house arrest for suggesting that not everything in the sky revolves around us. Einstein, in spite of being a religious man, is lambasted regularly by fundamentalists who would know better than to do that if they only thought about it for a minute. The terrible thing for those who oppose his relativistic view of reality is that his basic view keeps getting reinforced by experiment after experiment, although the details have changed a bit over the last century. Still, things change depending on how you look at them. Today we hear that things like stem cell research and cloning are “against god’s will.” This in spite of the fact that this being is touted as being omnipotent. But of course he lets us “sin” so he can roast us in Hell, just to prove how much he loves us. Again, there are treatments for that sort of mental disorder if you’d only seek them out, but I suppose some of you never will.

To me religion is a lot of metaphor. That’s not an insult, it’s a compliment. According to Science, the Universe is theoretically capable of being understood, but we never will understand it because it’s so much bigger than any of us. So we talk about it in metaphors, including things like heaven and hell and angels and demons and sin and redemption. Insisting that your beliefs are right and that those who don’t share them are sinners doomed to Hell is a sure-fire way to isolate yourself from the world, and of course, to make sure that you stay miserable to your dying day. That’s great for the big hair TV preachers who ask for your money, but not so great for you. But most of us keep on believing the tripe that keeps us in misery because it’s better, or so we think than facing the one actual certainty about this life.

That certainty is, of course, that we all have to die to get out of here. I have known people who say there will be a “rapture” wherein they will be lifted to heaven without having to die. They are missing the entire point of the story of Jesus and how his life ended. He died not so you wouldn’t have to, according to the story, but so that you can live with him in the afterlife. The word afterlife is just a contraction of “after” and “life”, which says pretty clearly that you have to be dead before it begins. Since of course most of the world does not subscribe to the belief in the afterlife with Jesus, that belief, when insisted upon, simply causes misery rather than redemption. In fact, I’d wager that an amazingly large portion of the total misery in the world is caused by people trying to deny their own mortality.

About a century ago there was a school of philosophy called “Nihilism” that taught that since there was no God that the essence of the meaning of life was gone. It was a bleak and unforgiving philosophy, and of course many a preacher has intoned against it. But, at least it was honest in that it admitted that we are all going to die. That’s not an alarmist yell in a theater, it’s just a fact. However, if you take Nihilism a step further, or rather take a step beyond Nihilism and assume that this world is what we get, then we have a clear choice in whether we want to be miserable in our one precious life, or reasonably happy. The way to be reasonably happy is for all of us to have respect, courtesy and love for each other, to help each other when we can and to be grateful for help when we get it. Look, a reason to behave morally and ethically that doesn’t involve any supernatural reward and/or punishment! Isn’t that something? Of course, to accept that as a reason you have to accept that you are a mortal.

Anybody got a problem with that?

You know youre wrong Part One

You know you’re wrong, right? Okay, maybe you don’t. So, I’m publishing a series of essays here that will demonstrate to you just how wrong you can be. If that’s okay with you, start right in with part one, immediately below.


You know you’re wrong if you say that the “Jury is still out on evolution.” You may not only be wrong, you may be seriously mentally ill. Seriously. Here is why.

Things such as bacteria and viruses mutate and evolve all the time. When antibiotics were first being used, there wasn’t a staph (staphylococcus aureus, which means “strings of little yellow balls” if you need to know) bacterium anywhere that could survive an onslaught of penicillin. Now, of course, people are dying because the staph population in hospitals is completely immune to penicillin. How could that happen? Did God suddenly decide hey, people need something horrible to die from, I think I’ll change my staph and give ‘em a good laugh? Well if you worship a God that would do that, you’re even more wrong than if you just don’t think evolution is good science. But that’s for another day. Today’s topic is that no, God didn’t do that. People did that, more or less, without meaning to.

Some staph, as you could easily imagine, were easier to kill than others. That meant, and still means with those bacteria not resistant to antibiotics, that some can stand to be exposed to the poison for longer than others. We got into trouble with that interesting fact because a lot of people, once they’re feeling better, either forget to take the antibiotic any more, or just decide that their doctor is crazy for saying that they need to keep taking medicine after they’re not sick any more, so they stop taking the drug before they’re supposed to, which means that some very small portion of the bacteria actually survive. And guess what, it’s the very small portion that are, relatively, immune to the drug. The way DNA works, which I’ll get to in a minute or so here, that small group is the seed for a new population of staph that is, on average, more tolerant of antibiotics than the original group. People shed staph all the time, by the way. They crawl all over your skin, for one thing, and they make up quite a bit of what you like to flush away in the morning as well. They’re everywhere, and mostly they’re good for us, because they keep us from getting a fatal case of the runs (I’m not kidding about that, I swear) but when they get into our blood, or into a cut, they can make us sick or even kill us. The people who didn’t take all their penicillin recovered enough that their own immune system could keep that from happening, but still the entire population of staph in and on their bodies was now this new, more immune strain. And the new population developed variations, just like any large group of organisms does, so that a very small portion of them are now even more resistant to antibiotics than their parent population, which is already less likely to die of antibiotics than the original wild population. Now, next time this person gets sick they do the same thing, and the staph end up being still more resistant, on the average. This cycle keeps repeating itself with some people, people who are therefore more likely to end up in the hospital than people who take their drugs properly, which is why the terrible resistant strain is found, so far, in hospitals but not very much out in the general population of humans. We, as a group, have sealed our doom with these antibiotic resistant bacteria, meaning that we have to constantly come up with newer and more clever ways to kill the things, because they’ve already got plenty of ways to kill us.

The reason this works is that DNA is really pretty fragile stuff. It’s not easy to whip up a batch, and once the batch is whipped up, it is subject to change rather easily. A stray cosmic ray can alter a gene, and I’m not kidding. Sometimes various chemicals, a lot of them contained in what we eat, and therefore in what the bacteria inside of us eat, can change DNA. The real miracle of DNA is that it’s stable enough to reproduce the same basic human form time after time. (Actually, this may be due to built-in redundancy in some of our DNA, according to genetic scientists. If that’s so, it’s a good thing for us.) The easily mutated nature of DNA, which is even more true in small creatures like bacteria and viruses where the stuff is pretty much unprotected from the elements (you’ll notice that human reproductive organs tend to be specialized and located in relatively protected areas of our bodies. Women’s by the fact that it’s all inside; men’s by the fact that we’re all very protective of that area.) So what happens, and quickly amongst bacteria which tend to reproduce every few hours as opposed to only a few times in a lifetime like humans, is that any population quickly becomes varied in what a statistician calls a “normal curve”, which means that you can easily predict how much variety there will be, and that the variety will all be centered around the average bacteria which will make up 95 percent of the population. And this works, over and over again. Every time the tendency to not take all of your drugs goes around, the average in the middle gets moved up a bit, and eventually there are entire populations that can’t be killed with what used to work very well.

These bacteria evolve in response to the stresses we put on their environment, and they always will. This is unfortunate for anyone who believes that “the jury is still out” on evolution, because quite frankly, it demonstrates that, if that’s what you think, then you, my friend, are simply wrong.

Is there a 4th of July in England?

Is there a 4th of July in England? Well, yes and no. In case you don’t remember, back in the 1970s Congress decided that what we needed was holidays coming always on a Monday, so we would always have a three-day weekend. At the same time they created Presidents’ Day, Martin Luther King Day (both on Monday) and they moved the venerable Memorial Day, which was May 30th, to the Monday closest to May 30th. Independence Day, which is the official name of this very day in the USA, was moved to the Monday closest to July 4th, which is the first Monday in July, if you think about it.

The thing is, people did think about it and rejected the notion of Independence Day being on any date other than July 4th. See, Independence Day is the 4th of July, and that’s all there is to it. Tom Jefferson waited until he could die on July 4th. Honest. He kept asking if it was July 4th, and when the answer was affirmative, he died. John Adams died the same day, oddly enough. Oh, they have a date of 4 July in England, but they do not have a 4th of July. They have something celebrated in a lot the same way, but it’s in October, and it celebrates a failed rebellion, not a successful one.

And succeed we have, for 230 years today. That fact never ceases to boggle me. I know that it’s popular to decry the state of the United States of America, and I do my share of bashing of certain government officials (hey, that same John Adams started it), but the truth is we seem to me to be in pretty good shape. Here’s why I say that.

Two hundred years ago a bunch of young radicals in Philadelphia (doesn’t that sound like an unlikely place for a revolution today, though?) struck a huge blow for liberty. Then, having accomplished that magnificent feat, they fell to arguing about what it all meant. Some of those young Turks thought that taxes were absolute anathema, while some of them wanted a strong government that could develop some efficiency and keep the nation safe from its would-be overlords. They argued, a lot, and sometimes the arguments came to blows. In fact, although they did win the rebellion, from Yorktown until the signing of the Treaty of Paris several years later, the individual States pretty much refused to pay for the Continental Army, with the result that the same had to be disbanded. That, in case you’ve ever wondered, is why the Marine Corps is the oldest branch of the service. The Continental Army was there first, but it went away. Today’s Army came later, after the Constitution allowed the Federal Government the ability to raise taxes.

The arguments never eased up, even though those who believed in a stronger central government won quite the victory when the Constitution was adopted. Now we count states by when they first ratified that document, starting with Delaware and ending, so far, with Hawaii. There were some states that had to ratify twice, due to some of the arguing getting incredibly deadly from 1860 to 1865. That was terrible times, by anyone’s accounting, and resulted in a more certain victory by the strong central government crowd. But it did not stop the bickering. From the Whiskey Rebellion to that idiot in Las Vegas who was recently jailed for not paying his income tax (he claimed that there was no law saying one had to) we continue to witness the back and forth of argument about the proper place for our government, the actual meaning of the word Liberty, the meaning of terms such as “Liberal” and “Conservative” and where the line should be drawn between the majority of citizens and the loner who wants to do things his own way. The arguments, made again and again over centuries, do not change in any material sense, nor does their underlying meaning seem to vary any, although I’d wager that some of our methods would seem pretty strange to anyone from 1776. I’d love to see what Jefferson would make of the Internet, for instance. One thing he most certainly was, was very curious. He’d have a lot to catch up on, I guess.

But the point of this essay is to say that the country seems to be right where it was 230 years ago, except that the forces of individual liberty seem to have advanced rather more than the forces of the majority, which must be the first time that has ever happened in a democratic society without somebody getting assassinated for it. Oh, wait, several people have reportedly been assassinated for it, haven’t they? Yet, the trend continues. To me, the very fact that our government consists of the house of Jackasses, the Executimative, and those people in the robes there next to the Capitol who pretty much do whatever they please, the very fact of the inherent inability of this majestic and huge government to ever actually accomplish much on a day-to-day basis, is our greatest strength. A dictatorship can be ruthlessly efficient, but a government like ours, a government that was founded, that grew, and that thrives, on heated arguments lasting centuries, can never be efficient unless there is such a clear reason for action, such as World War Two for example, that a truly overwhelming majority agrees about the action to be taken. That is not a situation that comes up all that terribly often, no matter how much ideologues of various stripes might wish it. And that just might be the best thing of all about the US of A.

Happy 4th of July!


This just in! I finally noticed something about the way my Australian web hosting service lists dates. You may already know that in the USA we call July Second, two-thousand six like this: 07-02-2006. In Europe, I knew already, they usually list it as 02-07-2006, which can be confusing if you don’t know their system. (They also call 1,000,000,000 a “thousand million” and 1,000,000,000,000 a “billion” so there are some real problems if you don’t use the numerals. But I digress as is my wont.) Just today I noticed, although they’ve been doing it all along (I checked) that my Aussie correspondents use the format for the date of 2006-07-02, which is just the opposite of the Eurpoeans, but does put the month and day in the same order in which we list them, which, to me, makes it easier to understand, which is probably why I never noticed the year being first before.

I’m sure that I sensed some significant point in that paragraph when I wrote the first sentence, but frankly, other than to be careful when you communicate to be sure that you and the other parties are using the same idioms, I can’t think of one. And that’s not all that odd, nor is it the least bit ranting, so I’m not sure why I posted it, except that it seemed odd and significant when I noticed it.


This is not to say that I can’t use it to segue into something of a rant about Congressional Communications. As reported on the #1 Fake News Program on Basic Cable, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and I quote, “Seriously, the House of Representatives is filled with Insane Jackasses.” Seriously, you can see the video yourself here. I am especially impressed with the words from Congressman Pitts. It’s a little than a minute from the end of the video. It’s enough to make your jaw hit your shoes. He says, and this is a close paraphrase. You have the link, check it for yourself. He says that while a rich white suburban kid may be able to play violent video games without harm, a poor kid from the ghetto who’s brother is already out on the street corner dealing drugs would probably suffer irreparable harm. That, if you will, is a sentence that can only come from what Mr. Stewart calls an “insane jackass.” I have other words that might do, but I won’t use them here due to the vulgarity rules of the blogging host.

It reminds me of the drug wars of the twentieth century. Cocaine, for example, was made illegal when some poor black dude from Georgia, who was a cocaine addict, also took to axe murder. There were actual newspaper stories about “protecting our colored citizens,” presumably from themselves, but overtly from the “threat posed by cocaine.” The astute observer might see echoes today when cocaine users from Hollywood are given probation while black crack users go to the slammer. Or maybe you won’t, but I do. Marijuana was William Randolph Hearst’s bugaboo, because he needed a way to keep his Mexican labor force in line. So, the threat of the pot smoking Mexican was made known to all the land, to the point where today, even if a doctor says you desperately need the stuff, you can’t legally get any marijuana, at least so far as the DEA is concerned. Oddly, this is not true of cocaine, but then it is of the form of cocaine favored by poor folks, crack. Opium was a threat presented by the Chinese who were then as now living in our cities, and as perceived at the time, doing our laundry, ogling our women, and corrupting our youth with the siren call of the demon opium den.

The government backs up its continuing enforcement of these racist statutes with what are, frankly, plain lies. For example, using marijuana leads one to become lethargic and possibly of less use to yourself and others. So does watching 40 hours of TV per week, but so far there’s not a law against that. As to Opiates, the actual pharmacological effect of overuse is that you become dependant, and must get a fix every day in order to carry on your normal activities. Cocaine isn’t good for a person, but it does not make one tend to be an axe murder, unless one already had those tendencies. The rest of what the government tells you about drugs is mostly lies. The reason drugs are associated with all that violence is that they are illegal, and we send heavily-armed agents after those trafficking in drugs. This of course keeps the price high enough to ensure that there will be an endless supply of those wanting to traffic in drugs. The drug users get their product, albeit not always so pure, the top drug sellers make millions or more, and the agents make a career out of playing drug war soldiers. A real winning combination.

But of course the government lies about lots of things. They lie about the effectiveness of condoms; they lie about the effectiveness of abstinence only programs; they lie about weapons of mass destruction, apparently. But that’s okay, because they’re just a bunch of racist drunks. Oh, no I didn’t mean that. I meant to say that they’re just a bunch of insane jackasses. Thank God Almighty that they don’t do drugs!

We Don’t Bogart Our Roaches

This column is about a topic dear to the heart of may of us. Maybe it’s because the name was given out during World War II, but I doubt it, but the items in question are called “German.” They’re brown, they have six legs, the dominate the planet, and they’re about the most disgusting forms of life ever invented, save for maybe eels and Neo Nazis. I am referring, of course, to the common brown cockroach. (You thought this was going to be about drugs, didn’t you?)

I know more about these insects than anyone ought to because we were invaded by an army last Spring. At first they were just baby ones, cute little buggers with shiny red bodies to fool us into a sense that they were just some sort of desert beetle or something. But they grew and before you knew it there was one of them in my cereal one morning, and they were crawling around all over the house whenever you least wanted to meet one. We called an exterminator, who came over with more poison than the Kaiser’s army used in World War One, in fact me and the animals had to leave for a few hours while the stuff did it’s magic. But it did work, and it only took a couple of dump trucks to haul away all the dead roaches. Yum yum huh? But we kept getting a few. Only now they were just staggering into the house until they flipped over onto their little German backs and twitched a few times, then laid there and took all day to die. At least they were out of my Cheerios™ brand whole grain oats cereal that helps lower you cholesterol. (Let’s see ‘em complain about that use of their trademark.) But then it was finally time to tackle the landscaping around here, which could only be described as something that used to be a yard with trees now reduced to being a dusty pile of dog stuff interspersed with dead figs. The figs were from the big old fig tree in the back yard. It was obviously starting to fall down and we don’t have any idea what to do with figs in the first place. So, I called a guy to come and cut it down.

He went out with his Swedish chain saw and had at the big old thing, then came running up to the house screaming. Upon close inspection I discovered that he was screaming because the tree was hollow and packed to the gills (and I didn’t even know that trees had gills) with cockroaches. Big ones, little ones, pale white ones (talk about emetics) and they were all looking like they’d like nothing better than to jump into a sandwich. The obvious thing to do was to move to someplace that didn’t have cockroaches, but the moon hasn’t been properly surveyed for sale yet, so instead I got a big old bottle of insecticide with a pump handle and soaked that sucker real good. If you’ve ever seen an anthill overturned you’ll remember the sight of all those ants swarming out, running willy nilly around and looking itchy, right? Well imagine that as the same number of cockroaches and you’ll get a picture of what happens when you spray a large roach colony with insecticide.

You know, I was a boy kid. I like snakes. I don’t mind spiders or ants or scorpions. I can eat snails, octopi, almost anything, but the sight of those roaches boiling out of that tree trunk was as close as I’ve ever come to having a nervous breakdown. You talk about ugly, you don’t know what you’re saying. Horrible doesn’t cover it.

But anyway, after the roaches had a few days to all be nice enough to die the man came back and took out the tree and the stump. But the funny thing is, after that it was time for the monthly visit from the bug people to spray around the house to keep the roaches out. That was two days ago. Since then we’ve had dozens of dead roaches in the house. Hmmm. But, on the bright side, they’re completely outnumbered by a type of locust called a “Mormon cricket.” I knew there was something about that Brigham Young guy I didn’t like . . .

Visiting Saints Joe and Frank

We landed in Saint Joe on Friday, and drove to Saint Frank on Saturday. Okay, San Jose and San Francisco if you insist. On Sunday after the movie (see below) we took off for home.

First, we found a place called Vesuvio’s in Saint Clara, er I mean Santa Clara, right next to San Jose, which is an odd local Italian place with good food and an odd way of serving. We paid for our drinks at the counter but the bartender and the counter lady had to have a yelling match in two languages to sort out that, yes, we were supposed to get beverages that were already paid for. Odd, that, but it’s a good restaurant over all, on El Camino Real. That was on Friday evening, and besides soaking in the spa by the pool (it was way too cold to swim, at least for a Mojave Desert rat) that was all we did that day. Saturday we were up early and off to San Francisco in time to be on the streets of Chinatown by 9:40. There’s a parking garage on Clay Street that costs only three bucks a weekend day with validation, so we used it and had a really good time wandering around what looks like it may be the only really authentic China Town left in the USA. Some of the families living there probably have done so since Statehood if not before. We had Dim Sum for lunch at the Asia Café (yummy stuff) and also visited an art festival next door in North Beach.

An interesting thing about San Francisco is that there is no level ground in the city away from the waterfront. Honest. The reason Lombard street has that incredibly crooked block is that it’s a hundred feet along and two hundred feet down. From a few blocks away it looks like a rock garden. The good thing about San Francisco is that the weather is quite mild. It was a stinking hot 76 degrees while we were there, making even that humidity bearable.

After lunch we took a cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf on the Embarcadero. A cable car is an interesting contraption, saved by National Monument status. There is no way anyone could introduce such a thing today. I got to ride on the outside, holding on to a pole, dangling over the street. It’s fun and the thing only goes seven miles per hour, but imagine OSHA if you wanted your factory workers to cross the plant like that. Anyway, on Fisherman’s Wharf we went to the Aquarium of the Bay, which has a bunch of tanks you walk under. The things a starfish does to a smelt are not pretty, I have to tell you, and a few less little kids might have been nice, too. Then we took a streetcar to Ghirardelli Square and bought chocolate at the original chocolate shop. It’s all gone, so I can’t offer to share any with you. Tough for you, huh?

After Ghirardelli Square we retrieved our car and I got to drive down that Lombard Street hill, which isn’t all that difficult but really looks like it would be. People live on that block, and have driveways and everything. It probably costs extra to live there, although that street would be a great nuisance after a while, or so I imagine. And there are always tourists winding down past your door at all hours. And even snow once, or so it appears in that ad I’ve seen lately. But from the bottom we took off toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Across the bridge we headed for Muir Woods, one of the few remaining stands of native Coast Redwoods. The trees are impressive. There’s the cross-section of a trunk that fell in 1939, one thousand rings from center to bark. Let’s see, at a ring per year that makes it, uh, really really old, huh? There’s the bicentennial tree, which first drank in the sunlight about the time Paul Revere was making his famous ride. It’s a fine strapping young thing. It’ll grow up some day, I’m sure, into a big tree like its many neighbors in the grove. The redwoods are not as big around as the giant sequoias found inland, but they are quite a bit taller. They are taller, in fact, than most of any city in the world, and that’s a fact. If you’d like to be impressed simply by age and sheer survival, Muir Woods is the place for you. They live, in fact, ten times or more longer than humans. And there’s a gift shop.

After Muir Woods (it was a heck of a day) we found a local chain called Izzy’s, which served me the best steak I’ve ever eaten. No kidding. If it were closer I’d go back next weekend. Yum and a half.

Then we drove back to San Jose, five bucks for the inbound toll and through San Francisco on US 101. The famous US 101; it’s not route 66, but it’s the original West Coast Highway.

Sunday we stayed in San Jose, touring the Winchester Mystery House. Mrs. Winchester was the widow of the second president of the Winchester Rifle company, and she apparently took it into her head that she needed to appease the spirits of those killed with Winchester products. So she moved to the west coast, bought a farm house, hired a crew of carpenters, and kept them busy for 36 years building room after room of addition onto the house. It now has 160 rooms, 13 bathrooms (she had a thing for thirteen) strange staircases, and as you might imagine, a number of construction oddities. She believed she would not die so long as she kept building. She died in 1926. Not even the spirits could prevent that, although she was very old, which is something, I suppose.

Then after lunch at an Irish restaurant in a mall (it was fine but I don’t remember the name anyway) we went to the movies. Which is the story of the weekend that confirmed for me that San Francisco is indeed one of my favorite cities, and that I really wish I’d have gotten to see Muir woods the first time I visited, when there was no parking to be found. That was in 1973. Luckily, the intervening 33 years did nothing to diminish the pleasure of the visit to the Woods, or to the City by the Bay. If only it were less humid, it would be perfect.