Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Girls of Atomic City

I've written before about Oak Ridge and the Manhattan Project, the race with the Germans to build an atomic bomb during World War II. Much has been written about the Manhattan Project and the three sites (Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington) that were created to carry out this important work. The latest focuses on the young women, many fresh out of high school, who were enlisted to fill critical jobs in Oak Ridge, jobs that could not be filled by men because they were off fighting a war.
The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan tells the oral histories of women who came to Oak Ridge in their teens to perform jobs that were held in tight secrecy. Interviewed when they were in their 80s and 90s, these women had had no inkling of what their jobs entailed until the news of the Hiroshima bomb dropping appeared in local newspapers. They knew only that the jobs were contributing to the war effort. Many came from distant places, not knowing what their destination was until their trains pulled into the station in Knoxville, Tennessee. And then they could not tell anxious parents back home anything about their new lives, only that they were well and contributing to winning the war. They came from farms and coal mining camps, small towns and big cities. They endured mud, shortages, and primitive living conditions. And they were surrounded by people their own age, with whom they socialized, eventually married, and created a town that exists today.
Because of the need for secrecy, cameras were contraband during the war, and workers were rigidly compartmentalized. Everyone twelve years old and older was required to wear a picture badge when on the reservation, including in the residential and business districts. Codes on badges told which buses people could board, which plant area they could enter, and to which floor or wing within a building they had access. Recognizing the need to document the whole project for history, the Manhattan Project employed a young photographer by the name of Ed Westcott, and gave him access to all areas. His photographs (some reproduced here) are the images we all now know of that time.
Most people working in Oak Ridge learned the nature of their jobs from news reports following the bombing of Hiroshima. Ms. Kiernan tells of excited housewives calling their husbands at work to tell them the news, only to be hung up on by husbands who feared their wives had just broken the ultimate rules of secrecy and had jeopardized their livelyhoods.
Terrible as these weapons were, most agree that their use hastened the end of the war and saved many lives. With the end of the war, the work in Oak Ridge was scaled back and the workforce shrank accordingly. As the GIs returned from the war, they were given jobs and replaced many of the women. Some moved away, but some stayed to eventually buy their homes from the government and create a stable community. Oak Ridge shrank from a wartime population of around 75,000 to fewer than 30, 000 people, a number that has remained fairly constant over the years.

Having lived in Oak Ridge for more than 30 years, I was well familiar with the overall outline of the story. It was easy to tell if Ms. Kiernan had done her homework. The answer is a resounding yes. Not only are the stories well researched, the writing is excellent, and these familiar stories have held my attention as if encountering the information for the first time. I recommend it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Black Powder, White Smoke

This past weekend the Sgt. Alvin C. York Historic Park held its 21st. annual black powder shoot. Fans of the 1941 film starring Gary Cooper will remember Sgt. York entering a shooting match to win "a beef critter," which he could then parlay into the money he needs to buy a piece of land. This annual shoot memorializes that contest.

The weather was what we've been having of late; damp, overcast, and threatening rain. The thermometer told us it was 50 degrees F, but it obviously was lying. The contestants were shooting "over the log," in a prone position on the ground and using wooden blocks to raise and steady their rifles. Although they each had a ground cloth, enough cold had to seep through to be a distraction.

One interesting aspect of the shoot was the apparent absence of spectators. Everyone seemed to be either a participant or a worker. There were no signs to lead us there, we had to stop at the park's museum store to ask directions. Once there we found a crowd milling around, again with no signage and no loud speakers to announce rounds or give results. The participants and workers seemed to all be going about their own business.

The black-powder rifles are muzzle loaders, so participants were busy adding powder and balls into the muzzles of their rifles and tamping them down.

This fellow may have been a novice, since he seemed to be getting lots of attention from the workers. His first shot misfired, and one of the range officers handed him another cap for his rifle. This time it fired.

Then without apparent announcement or directions, shooters came forward and filled all of the positions. No one seemed to be in a hurry, each shooter taking all the time needed to feel comfortable with their shot. When each had finished, a range officer declared the range closed and safe, and the participants all walked across the range to claim their targets.

After watching for half an hour and getting a few photos it was apparent why there were few spectators. The excitement certainly belongs to the participants. Unlike some other esoteric competitive events, there was no way of knowing how contestants were doing or who was ahead in points. Golf has its leader board and sheepdog trials usually have a similar board. One of the participants I spoke with had two of his grandchildren with him, and they ran out to check targets each time the range opened. Otherwise, spectators are pretty much limited to enjoying the noise and puffs of white smoke.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ohio prosecutor indicts groundhog

Butler County, Ohio, prosecutor Mike Gmoser has indicted Punxsutawney Phil, the "official" weather predictor of Gobbler's Knob, Pennsylvania. Legend has it that on February 2 each year, groundhogs emerge from their hibernation and look around. If they see their shadow, they return to their burrows and there will be six more weeks of winter. If they don't, there will be an early spring.

Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, has built events around Groundhog Day since at least 1887and has become the official prediction site in the public mind. Their anointed groundhog is Phil, who predicted an early spring this year. The first day of spring has come and gone, and winter keeps its hold on the whole eastern United States. The folks in southwest Ohio have simply had enough winter and have laid the blame squarely at Phil's feet. Officials of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club have vowed to fight extradition.

Groundhog Day has its roots in Candlemas Day, on which day the weather was thought to predict weather yet to come. The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's web site contains several songs and sayings from Europe that link Candlemas to weather, such as this song from England:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.

 German immigrants are credited with bringing the tradition to North America and with selecting the groundhog as the prognosticator.

The folks in Ohio and Pennsylvania both seem to be enjoying this diversion from winter weather that has stayed beyond its shelf life. And isn't it wonderful that a prosecutor has nothing better to do than indict a groundhog for blowing a forecast? Watch your backs, all you meteorologists on television!

UPDATE: Prosecutor Mike Gmoser is now calling for the death penalty for Punxsutawney Phil. And he almost kept a straight face when he made the announcement on television.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

You talkin' to me?

This beggar hangs out at the Newfound Gap parking area in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He's much bolder than the other crows there, so he gets more handouts. He's savoring an almond that I had just given him.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Digital passport - EXPIRED

A big part of what I enjoy about blogging is making friends and sharing the lives and life stories of those new friends around the world. I enjoy the sharing of interests through postings and commenting.  It's like getting to travel and visit without leaving home. Blogger has been like a sovereign tour company, providing both access and passport. But no more. I first noticed it while trying to comment on blogs from the UK. I could still read postings from the UK, but I no longer could comment on them. My comments disappeared as soon as I clicked on the send button. Now it seems to have spread to most, but not all, within the U.S., as well. It appears to be related to how Blogger handles comments on each of the sites. It fails when the comment box is at the bottom of the text and works when the comment box appears on a separate page. I can't even reply to comments on my own blog. Has anyone else had this problem? Are we talking "operator error" here?

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Just what would a calico cat say to a Christmas cactus? What do they have in common, other than the accident of fate that put them in the same place? They sit, mute, wondering who will initiate the conversation. Do they speak the same language? Do they have a common understanding of the words each uses? Are there any shared values?

The only difference between these two and the U.S. Congress is that cat and cactus sit quietly opposite each other. In Congress, insults and accusations are thrown from one side of the aisle to the other, from House to Senate and back. The results are the same; nothing gets done.

It certainly would be more peaceful with plants and stuffed animals filling the seats in Washington. But then, what would the 24/7 news sources, the radio screamers, and the TV talking heads do with all of their time? Come to think of it, that sounds pretty good, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


My friend Bill and I recently took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the simple reason neither of us had been there in several years. My wife and I stopped going when the Big South Fork was being developed because traffic around the Smokies was so heavy. We could come to BSF and avoid the crowds. But it was winter and traffic was down so we gave it a shot. We did go on a Tuesday to avoid the weekenders.

We came through Townsend on our way home and I saw a church off the road that looked interesting. The church turned out to be pretty commonplace, but its setting was anything but common. It sits on the bank of the Little River, which was in pool, still and clear enough to see the bottom. Bright sunlight cast reflections of the far side of the river.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Getting restless

As we head into the downside of winter, I'm feeling a need to hit the road. The days are getting longer and we're having more sun, yet the air remains chilled and the wind has sharp teeth. It's what they call "second winter" in the mountains of New Mexico. My thoughts, however, are jumping ahead to summer.

Not just summer, but to  the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Since it originally was a religious community, let's start in the church or meeting house.

It's a large space with no interior supports to interfere with the movement of worshipers during their dances or marches. And the acoustics are unbelievable.

The Centre, or Church, Family dwelling is just across the road in front of the meeting house and serves as the major museum building on the site.

Step inside and you will be greeted by a tour guide who will give you an overview of the village and the museum. You are then free to wander about the three floors and basement at your own pace. There are always guides around to answer your questions.

The dwelling is essentially a large dormitory with its own kitchen, dining, and common areas. The photo above shows a typical "retiring room," or bedroom. At the height of the village, a room might sleep 3 to 5 Shakers. As membership declined, Believers eventually got their own rooms.

Unlike some Shaker museums, the items on display here are all authentic, Shaker-made antiques. You'll find no reproductions displayed here, although the lodging available to overnight guests has only reproductions, for obvious reasons.

Stairways flank the central hall on each floor. Women would have been restricted to using the one on the left; men would have been restricted to the one on the right. Although floors were coed, just like in college, the women's and men's retiring rooms are on opposite sides of the central hall.

The top floor was reserved for storage, here being cases for out-of-season clothing. Natural light illuminates the storage area.

I think it's time to get the calendar out and start planning a trip. Gotta find a cure for cabin fever.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The First Amendment

Much has been written recently about the federal government's possible response to the epidemic of gun violence in this country. The loudest negative voices, including those of the gun lobby, come from the political right and point to an erosion of second amendment rights. This comes while many of those same voices are actively engaged in restricting the nations' first amendment rights. Have you read the first amendment?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 What bubbled this issue up to the top of my worry list was an article from The Associated Press about the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency confiscating three rattlesnakes and two copperheads from a pentecostal preacher who was transporting them through the state. Pastor James Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name Church in Middlesboro, Kentucky, bought the five reptiles in Alabama to be used in church services. He was stopped by the Tennessee Highway Patrol because of a vehicle violation and the snakes were discovered in his car. It is illegal to possess poisonous snakes in Tennessee without a permit, and permits usually are granted only to zoos and educational organizations.

I don't know if the law under which the snakes were confiscated has been tested in the courts. But it does concern me that such churches located in Tennessee apparently are being denied the right to practice their religious beliefs by this law.

I am NOT a snake-handling pentecostal. I do not agree with the practice, either practically or theologically. I do think they should be allowed their practices, right or wrong, because of what the first amendment says.

The "freedom of religion" clause of the first amendment was a response to the Church of England having been "established" during the colonial period. Several of the states still had established churches following independence and even after the Constitution was ratified. What this meant in colonial America and the various states was that one particular church was officially recognized and all citizens were considered to be members of that church or denomination. Typically churches were supported by taxes paid by those citizens, whether they subscribed to that religion or not. The first amendment allowed citizens to choose their own religion and, with ratification of the fourteenth amendment, be protected from any and all religions. In other words, the nation's government is officially neutral with respect to religion.

There has been a continuing tension between the first amendment and evangelical Christians. The Scopes Monkey Trial was a famous example. It resulted from one attempt to impose conservative religious values on all citizens, irrespective of those citizens' beliefs. Religious groups have fought teaching of evolution in public schools because it conflicts with the creation story of Genesis. There have been continuing conflicts over prayer in public schools and government meetings, and over the posting of religious texts and symbols on public property.

Just this past week, some 50 churches in Anderson County, Tennessee, petitioned county government to be allowed to inscribe "In God We Trust" on the county courthouse. This motto is printed or stamped into our national currency, so the request would seem to be reasonable. But is it really? Is it not just another case of one group's religious belief being imposed on the whole? Is it really different from denying the "signs following" crowd their poisonous snakes? Does it matter if an issue involves a majority or a minority of citizens?

Repeatedly the courts have ruled against the imposition of religious values on an unwilling public. These setbacks have strengthened the resolve of evangelicals, who have become increasingly organized for political action. And their organization is paying dividends, especially at the state and local levels. In Tennessee, the very same state legislators who are promoting conservative Christian practices are also expanding the availability of guns to the public, promoting carrying of weapons in public places, including schools.

In 2012, former senator Rick Santorum made a credible campaign for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Santorum's message was firmly grounded in conservative, Christian values. Since the President nominates federal judges and judges of the U.S. Supreme Court, a Santorum presidency could have had far-reaching effects on future court rulings on separation of church and state. But even the evangelicals should be careful; a pendulum swings both ways. Success gained now can be reversed in the future, and to their detriment. Do even they really want to open the door to theocracy? Do they want the United States to become a Christian version of Iran or Saudi Arabia?

Defend the liberties of those with whom you disagree, for if they can lose their choice, so can you.

Update February 16, 2014: Pastor Jamie Coots, mentioned in the first paragraph, died from a snake bite at his home in Middlesboro, KY, on Saturday, February 15, after refusing medical care. He had been bitten during a church service.

Friday, February 15, 2013


A news report out of Russia tells of nearly one thousand people being injured this morning when a meteor exploded overhead. The meteor was said to weigh some 10 tons and was traveling at 30,000 to 40,000 mph when it entered the atmosphere and broke up. Fragments left holes measuring 15 to 20 feet across in the ice over a lake.

The injuries and property damage from this meteor are sad, indeed, and the victims warrant our concern. The event, however, should not cause the rest of us to live in fear of death from the sky. Understanding the actual hazard from such events is the business of the field of risk assessment. Adler's book, above, was the first thing I had read on the subject. The earliest copyright date I've found is 1973, but my sense is I read it even earlier. Maybe not. Its subtitle, Death from Falling Watermelons, succinctly summarizes the essence of risk. The diagram below explains:

Risk is the product of the likelihood of an event's happening and the consequences of the event if it does happen. If an event is certain and it can be expected to lead to death, then the risk is clearly very high. Think "if you walk into that room you will be shot multiple times." A non-suicidal person would likely not walk into the room. Conversely, if an event is highly unlikely but the consequences if it does happen are minor, then we have no reason to be concerned. You get the point.

We  never walk down a street scanning nearby rooftops for watermelons because it simply doesn't happen. Yes, if one did fall on our head it would really ruin our day, but the risk is so low that it doesn't occur to us to be concerned. But there is a difference between perceived risk and actual risk. Sometimes we grow so accustomed to an action that carries significant risk that our perception of that risk is numbed. Consider riding in an automobile and not using the seat belts. Consider continuing to burn fossil fuels despite the evidence of global warming and it's impacts. Sometimes our perceptions of risk are heightened by the newness of a technology. Consider choosing coal over nuclear for electricity generation, when the cumulative impacts of coal are much greater than the nuclear fuel cycle. I once saw a cartoon of a bumper sticker on a coal truck that proclaimed, "There's no fuel like an old fuel."

Every action we take has risks, even breathing, and we all unconsciously do risk assessments on a continuing basis. But are we dealing with actual risk or simply perceived risk?

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Last Sunday Christine, at Mamabug's Nature Photos, posted a couple of shots of derelict fishing boats abandoned in a Florida marsh. That posting was just what I thought of when I passed this canoe earlier this week. I just had to wait for it to stop raining before I got the shot. Looks like it's been there for a while.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Boy Scouts and Gays

The Boy Scouts of America have delayed a decision on admitting gay boys and leaders into the organization. There have been strong opinions on either side of the question. Here are mine:

First, I was both a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. I have been a Cub Scout den leader, Cub Master, and den leader trainer. I have been an Assistant Scout Master and Charter Organization representative for two sponsoring organizations. Both of my sons are Eagle Scouts. So I write with some experience and perspective.

Boy Scout troops, and Cub Packs to a lesser extent, reflect their Charter Organization, the church, school, or service club that sponsors the troop, plus the attitudes of their adult leaders. The national Boy Scout organization has its rules; the local units pretty much ignore them in their day-to-day operations. My nephew grew up in a Boy Scout troop on an Army base. His unit was like some paramilitary organization; nothing I'd want my sons in. We had troops in town that clung to the fundamentalist precepts of their sponsoring churches. My sons grew up in troops that were more relaxed and focused on boys having fun and growing into responsible men.

Were there ever gay boys in our units? Certainly. Did that create problems? Never. Did any of our gay boys ever earn and receive the Eagle Scout rank? Of course. There never was an issue, and as far as I know no Eagle Board of Review ever asked a boy about his sexual identity.

I'm not aware of ever having a gay leader in one of our units. Almost all of our leaders were parents, but that is no guarantee, of course. The units never worried about that issue. What we did worry about was having a pedophile associated with the troop, and did refuse the application of one young man on well-founded suspicion.

So my two cents worth is: let the sponsoring organizations decide for themselves. The boys will find a troop that meets their and their families' values. They already do that, anyway. It can be a great experience for boys.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thoughts on a Rainy Afternoon

If I ever start taking myself very seriously, I know how to get a quick recalibration. I mean in addition to asking my wife. A quick look at the figure above immediately shows me just how important I am, which is not at all, of course. But that doesn't depress me, despite the near endless rain and grey skies we've had this month. It's actually liberating to know that ultimately we're each pretty insignificant. Now we don't have to go out and win a Nobel Prize in Medicine, we can focus on more realistic goals like taking out the garbage or petting the cat.

This knowledge also allows us to put issues of great contention into perspective:

Politics is all about power, who gets to decide who gets to live well and who has to support them. Just as turkeys ought not to be strong advocates for Thanksgiving dinners, we might well consider how an election result will actually affect our lives. It's not about some abstract ideology; it's personal.

In Religion, we might want to consider the enormity of the universe before declaring allegiance to a God that fits neatly into our pocket, that is easily understood and interpreted. We might decide to leave a little room for mystery and uncertainty. At least we'd have fewer Holy Wars.

In Environment, we might come to recognize this earth is the only place we have. Unlike farmers who once practiced slash and burn agriculture, we can't foul this nest and simply move to another. There may be hospitable planets out there, but they are generations away, too far to consider. Should pilgrims depart for greener planets with the skills necessary to start over, it's unlikely their descendents will still have those skills once they arrive. And besides, we might get there and find the planet already taken.

Here's a little primer on the universe provided by Eric Idle, NASA, and a fellow who signs himself "finlarg."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gabby Giffords addresses Gun Control

On January 8, 2011, U.S. Representative Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords, was shot in the head and critically wounded by a mentally ill young man. In total, 6 people died and 13 were injured in the attack. Representative Giffords received brain damage and subsequently resigned from Congress. Earlier today she addressed the U.S. Senate, which is taking up the issue of gun control. She is accompanied by her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly. This is a poignant and powerful statement. And it's brief.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Occasional Curmudgeon

I've long been a fan of curmudgeons. My favorite for many years, and the favorite of just about everyone in America, was the late Andy Rooney of CBS's 60 Minutes program on Sunday evenings. Rooney died in 2011 just weeks after retiring from the show. He was 92.

To be a proper curmudgeon, one has to be old. Young people simply can't get away with it. Having earned the right through surviving youth and middle age, tolerating past employers, and the dubious honor of raising children, I now claim what is mine by nature. I am a grumpy old man. And today's sermon is about one of my pet peeves, euphemisms.

Oops! I used the word "old." We no longer have old people, we have "senior citizens." I laughed when a relative in his mid-80s recently told me that he goes down to a center each month to fix breakfast for the senior citizens. I wonder how old they are? Some of our senior citizens move into "assisted living" facilities. A prized curmudgeon, author Wilma Dykeman, described her last residence as an "assisted dying" facility. That seems to be a better fit with what I've seen.

I don't think we even have a word for the room where the toilet is located. We have "lavatories" (to wash), "bathrooms" (to bathe),  "restrooms" (to rest), none of which actually refers to the main reason for the visit. The Brits have "loo," which hasn't caught on here. I found that it originally referred to a card game in which "forfeits are paid into a pool." That's getting there. The Brits have proven once more that they are more creative than the Yanks. I guess that's why we speak English. Thankfully we are becoming bilingual, and businesses are starting to post signs declaring "baƱo." Maybe it will catch on. Oops! Even that word means "bath" in Spanish.

The military has given us "collateral damage," which means killing people and breaking things that were not the intended targets of an attack. No one wants to advertise the killing of children, after all. And then there's "ethnic cleansing," which is what we did to the indigenous peoples when we burned villages and crops, killed, and finally relocated the Native Americans to Indian Territory. That was a bad thing when it happened in the former Yugoslavia.

Finally, those seeking immortality would be well-advised to move to Morgan County, Tennessee. If the obituary section of The Morgan County News is any indicator, no one has died in this county in living memory. A full page of obits every week never says that any loved one has died. Instead we are given a variety of euphemisms, both religious and secular. My instructions to my sons are clear. When it's time to put a notice in the paper, the first sentence must read "He died." In fact, that should suffice for the entire obit! Anything more would be just putting lipstick on a pig.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Little Blue Car

Tommy and I played together after school, mostly with small, metal cars. Tommy let me play with all of his cars except one, a pretty little blue car. That car was Tommy's favorite; no one else got to play with it. It was special, the most prized, and what I wanted more than anything else in the world. Life would be perfect if I could just play with the little blue car. But it was Tommy's, and I'd never have it or one like it.

Tommy and I are now grown up and grown old, and I've long since lost contact with him. But I've since known a lot of Tommys.  A generation ago it was "you can't eat in my restaurant, join my club, live in my neighborhood because of your skin color." Now it's "you homosexuals can't marry because that would cheapen my heterosexual marriage," or "you can't have affordable medical care because that would give you something I have earned with my successes."

The truth is, "I'm not special if you have what I have." Greed is nothing more than The Little Blue Car.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Whose Government is it?

The 113th Congress of the United States has convened and the president will be sworn in for his second term on January 21. The stage is set for what is expected to be epic battles of political ideology over spending, taxes, debt, gun control, and a myriad of other issues. Two lobbying organizations, that deal with very different issues, illustrate the dynamic of the battles to come.

The ladies above are representative of the AARP, an organization comprising more than 37 million members that lobbies on behalf of America's older citizens. Protecting Social Security and Medicare are big issues on their agenda. They have enjoyed some success, but both of their flagship issues are on the table for coming budget discussions and both undoubtedly will see cuts. While they have a substantial membership, their funding comes primarily from that membership and leaves little room for actively supporting candidates. Further, two Republicans have introduced legislation to strip the AARP of their tax-exempt status, which would further restrict their activities.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) on the other hand has fewer than 4 million members, but the majority of their funding comes from the arms industry. They have large amounts of money to support candidates and have been very successful in protecting the interests of their sponsors.

Just whose government is it?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Health and Hedonism

According to the Franklin Institute, Benjamin Franklin wrote "Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy." At long last the medical community has caught up with Franklin. We're now told that wine is good for us. In fact, the AARP (formerly American Association of Retired Persons), our Geezer Guild, in the latest issue of their Bulletin published "10 Tips for Better Health." Pay attention! This is an invitation to hedonism.

1. Throw a Party. Research suggests that an active social life not only makes life more enjoyable but also may extend it. One study suggests that poor social ties may be more damaging even than smoking, lack of exercise or obesity. Party down! (See item 5).

2. Adopt a pet. Companion animals are said to have much the same effect as social interactions with other humans. Plus, a dog makes a perfect walking companion. And a cat sitting in your lap is a good excuse for not walking, or doing chores, for that matter.

3. Chocolate is Health Food. I'll repeat that statement: Chocolate is Health Food! YeeHa! Make mine dark chocolate. (See item 5).

4. Coffee also is good for you. After all these years we're now told drinking coffee helps lower risk of dying from heart disease, diabetes, or pneumonia. Coffee with caffeine may also offer some protection from skin cancer, liver damage (see item 5), and Parkinson's. It just keeps getting better!

5. Ben Franklin was right. Wine is good for you, and so is beer. Both can be considered part of a heart-healthy diet. I love dieting! And did you know, red wine and dark chocolate are a perfect combination?

6. Have more sex. Are we preaching to the choir here? The benefits, aside from the obvious, include the increase in release of endorphins in the brain (think mood enhancement and a sense of well-being), benefits to the immune system, and lessening of depression.

7. Enjoy music. (See numbers 5 & 6). Among the other benefits cited, increased blood flow, mood enhancement, better sleep, less anxiety, and less pain.

 8. Nap. Benefits include mood enhancement, improved memory, enhanced alertness, and better learning.

 9. Enjoy nature. We who have enjoyed hiking and backpacking have known this for years. During the high-stress work years, a weekend spent in the mountains, walking along Rhododendron-lined stream banks and through forests reset all the systems. The mood enhancement and improvement in sense of well-being were easily recognized. Science also tells us it promotes healing after surgery, improves immunity, and helps diabetics control their blood sugar.

10. Do what you want. OK, that may be a little strong. What the article said was "At least once a week, buy yourself the present of spending time doing exactly what you want."

 So, the next time someone accuses you of being a hedonist, just smile smugly and think "I'm going to outlive you." And thank you AARP for pointing all of this out. You may visit the AARP website and read the article yourself by clicking here. If I'm lying I'm dying!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Owner's Manual and other fantasies

Have you ever actually tried to use an owner's manual? When my wife wrecked our car a little over a year ago, we needed a replacement. Since she had walked away from a totally destroyed vehicle, we bought the latest version of the same car, figuring that if either of us has a similar experience in the future we stood a good chance of surviving it again. But much had changed in the 11 years since we had bought the old car. Things had gone high-tech, feet-first into the digital age. Much of it is very good, at least in theory. For example, one may carry on a telephone conversation without taking one's hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. That comes in handy when driving through states where talking on a cell phone while driving is illegal; just let them try to show probable cause. But first, you have to set up the phone, and that is where the owner's manual comes in.

We initially got my wife's phone set up at the dealership (my phone at the time was too old to talk to the car). It took the owner, two salesmen, and a mechanic an hour to complete. I'm not sure, but there may have been a side trip to a Japanese shrine en route to the solution. When I got my new phone I consulted the owner's manual. First, the index is a meager collection of terms having only broad, general relation to real-world needs. Choosing the one entry that seemed to be vaguely related to cars and cell phones, I turned to page 363 for the first step in what proved to be a scavenger hunt, where each answer was a clue leading you to the next clue. The clues were scattered at random throughout the book, of course, so the next hour was spent leafing back and forth like a Baptist Sunday School class engaged in Sword Drills. When at last the answer appeared, it was written in a simple, cook-book-like series of steps. From this point, things were going to be easy. There was one minor problem, however. The directions didn't work. Now I know why the dealership was so slow setting up my wife's phone. I wonder how long it will take them to set up mine?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Who are you?

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
Robert Burns's wish might turn out to be a prayer the devil answers for many, if not most, of us. But it does raise the question, "Who are you?" When asked, we usually give our name, possibly where we live, or even where we work. If we're in Appalachia, we also are obligated to say who our people are, to fit ourselves into the historical and social context of place. But how do we answer when it is ourselves who ask the question?

Richard Blaustein (The Thistle and The Brier) quotes Jim Wayne Miller's famous poem The Brier Sermon: You must be born again, to illustrate the effect the Appalachian experience has had on our sense of self. He describes our collective coming to self realization as identity reformulation, a process of separation, marginality, and return. Like Native American children sent off to Indian Schools to learn how to be white, we have been taught that our world is inferior to the rest of America. We must give up our accents, our syntax, and values to be homogenized with the larger world. We are told this so often and with such authority that we begin to believe it.

I ran across an example recently while sampling You Tube videos. A group of young people has set out to illustrate regional differences in speech by creating a list of words that are then pronounced on camera by young people from different regions. Perhaps not surprisingly, there was almost no variation in pronunciations. One young woman from Appalachia began a word with a traditional Appalachian pronunciation, but quickly corrected herself to say it the "proper" way. No one sounded like my parents' generation, much less my grandparents' generation. We're now True Americans.

I have lived the separation, marginality, and return of which Blaustein and Miller speak. I was just entering high school when my family joined The Great Appalachian Migration, taking factory jobs in the midwest. When registering for classes the first time, I wasn't permitted to take college preparatory classes. I was a "Brierhopper," deemed incapable of such rigorous education and destined to join my parents in the factories. That decision wasn't based on test scores or transcripts, but strictly on the fact that the last school attended was in Appalachian eastern Kentucky, not to mention my then-authentic eastern Kentucky accent. So I conformed, worked to remove traces of Appalachia from my speech, and tried to blend into my peers. I think the only person fooled was myself.

While getting an education and trying to be a True American, I discovered that I really did like bluegrass and traditional mountain music. I found that the writings of Jesse Stuart spoke to me in ways that William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald didn't. I found that I could out shoot all of my peers with a rifle or a pistol. And that hiking through wooded hills and mountains produced a sense of well-being that was hard to explain. I discovered that there actually was value in my culture and my heritage. I discovered that I was actually proud that I was descended from the West Virginia Hatfields, and my other Appalachian ancestors, as well. I discovered myself.

I now know I am Appalachian, and I'm proud of that fact. Who are you?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Mike Auldridge 1938-2012

Cancer claimed Mike Auldridge on Saturday, December 29, 2012, one day before his 74th birthday. Auldridge was a founding member of The Seldom Scene, a bluegrass band that gained national attention not only for their musicianship, but also for being a highly successful group that kept their day jobs and only played once or twice a week, and then only in and around Washington, D.C. The band was formed in 1971 and, although they didn't tour, produced a series of albums that led to national and international fan bases. Auldridge's dobro playing and baritone harmonies were an integral part of the Scene's unique sound.

Below is a video clip of a song featuring Auldridge that has remained one of my favorites. It conjures up emotions shared by my wife and me during those years when I spent half my life on the road.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Of Bullets and Babies

The following is among the best-said I've seen. Please take a look at it.

All I can say is "Amen!"