Saturday, September 30, 2023

Hey Grandpa, What's for supper?

Bean soup (small red and lima) with smoked sausage, sage, oregano and garlic. Plus some shredded carrots and diced potatoes.

We don't eat fancy but we eat good.

Bonus pictures

I pulled a row of Stocky Red Roaster so the row of Aji hot peppers can get some more sun. If you can believe the weather we have about one more week of good weather for warm-weather crops. These are the peppers I removed from the SRR.

This is the Aji pepper I am going to save seeds from. The other ones are weepy while this one stands upright with no help from me. It is supposed to be Aji Mango.

This is one of my Aji Pineapple. I had to prop the branch up for the photo-op. Very productive but late ripening. I think I will have the opportunity to see how well they ripen with the plants pulled up and hanging from the rafters.

Another row of potatoes. Not a very impressive yield but we had 8 weeks with no meaningful rain, I did not add fertilizer and (as usual) my weed control was lacking.

Suppose you were cold and hungry. Your wife was hungry. Your children and/or grandchildren were hungry. It is the middle of the winter. The ground is frozen. The stores are closed.

How far would you walk to bring back enough food to provide all of your family with one, hot, nutritious meal?

Would you be willing to walk four hours? How about two hours? Surely you would walk one hour if you had children crying because their bellies hurt and they could not keep warm for lack of calories.

That is one of the mental games I play when I am harvesting food an it is slow going. Maybe it takes ten minutes of digging to fill a five gallon bucket with potatoes. Twenty poof potatoes is several meals for an extended family. Ten minutes to fill a bucket is a much better deal than walking two hours to get that much food.

Keep digging, Joe. Keep digging.

Asking for a friend

So if the Federal Government shuts down due to failure to agree on a budget, does that mean that Biden's Border Patrol will stop cutting Texas Governor Abbot's fences?

Storage bags for produce, drying rooms

The potato harvest continues.

I am looking at purchasing 7-gallon, fabric "pots" for storage. 

Mrs ERJ likes five-to-seven gallon size containers rather than the larger apple or banana boxes. Five gallons is roughly 1200 cubic inches, seven gallons is about 1600 cubic inches while an apple box is nominally a bushel which is 2160 cubic inches. So if the apple-box is 100%, then the seven-gallon and five-gallon containers are 75% and 53% respectively. Or, if an apple-box holds 40 pounds, then the seven-gallon container will hold 30 pounds and the five-gallon container will hold about 20 pounds.

In other chores for today, I plan to cut some of the Black Locust that are infiltrating a row of chestnut trees. This will be a good time for me to assess the harvest.

Ceiling fans

One of the challenges of having a small operation is that a squirrel or other pest does not need to travel very far to find something to eat. Cecil Farris who lived just east of Lansing's Groesbeck Golf Course. was a breeder of hazelnuts and he fought a constant war against them. One growing season he kept a log of every squirrel he shot. Cecil knew that he shot a lot of squirrels but even he was surprised when he added them up and it was 177 squirrels. No wonder the compost he made was so rich (which is how he disposed of the bodies).

Cecil used an airgun. He was also on the Township Board (a position nobody else wanted) and knew every Township policeman by their first-and-last names. He never turned down an invitation for a ride-along. A little bit of human connection goes a long way when you are "poaching" squirrels in town.

So I decided that I need a "drying room" for my staples.

Many foods have a "growing period" and then a "dry-down" period. During that dry-down period they are vulnerable to predation and to rot by molds and mildews. One solution is to find a space that will keep the rain off of the harvested crop, a space that can be enclosed with netting and with good air flow.

I have an overhang on the south side of my garage that comes close to that description. It is a little too shady and in needs a fan to help with the air-flow.

My plan for the air-flow is to install an indoor/outdoor ceiling fan.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Sure enough, I have another "cold"

And this too will pass.

Mrs ERJ said that I cannot blame Quicksilver. Nobody else has one, yet.

Just another demonstration of my leadership abilities.

Under-appreciated plant species (Vaccinium pallidum)

As a certifiable plant-geek and as a person who is intensely interested in eating on a regular basis, I am always on the look-out for plant species that can produce food under less-than-ideal circumstances. The Blue Ridge Blueberry is one such plant.

If you are blessed with well drained, fertile soil and rains hat arrive with clock-like will not understand. Under those conditions potatoes can produce one pound (wet weight) per square foot and corn can produce a quarter-pound (dry weight) per square foot. You are blessed.

There are many places that do not have that potential. The soils are too barren. The slopes are too steep. The bedrock is too close to the surface.

From Maine to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the Ozarks, central Alabama to Myrtle Beach SC, V. pallidum sinks its roots into sandy banks and exposed, ridges thinly covered with soil. Vaccinium species readily hybridize so there is potential to up-grade the fruit quality.

One plant that thrives in dry, acidic soils and can rebound from fire and will grow (but not produce much) in the shade is the Blue Ridge Blueberry, Vaccinium pallidum.

In most cases, low-bush blueberries (a swarm of species) are not cultivated so much as the environment is tweaked to favor them over other species. It is assumed that if your soil is so wreaked that low-bush blueberries will survive that the birds already planted them and you just need to tilt the pinball machine to make them dominant.

That means beating back the trees that are shading them. That means suppressing grass. Regular burning is the ticket. And if you absolutely HAVE to fertilize (like it is a religious thing for you) do it with a very, very light hand since fertilizer favors grass.

A low-bush blueberry barren. The images are not V. pallidum but convergent evolution suggests it COULD be.

Low-bush blueberries are harvested with "rakes".

One Week "Vacation" is an Antidote to toxic on-line content

John Wilder recently wrote a post titled The Kids aren't Alright: Mental Health

Solutions that seem perfectly obvious to those of us with a few miles on the odometer never occur to the kids muddling through their universe.

 If you have a relationship with a kid who is immobilized by depression or anxiety, don't be afraid to suggest a one-week "vacation" from social media or from whichever websites leave them feeling worse.

One week seems doable for most folks. Calling it a "vacation" is accurate. Vacations are when we leave behind the grind and demands of everyday life and recharge our batteries.

Simple, cheap, under the control of the patient.

Suggest they write a short paragraph on how the feel before starting the vacation and another short paragraph after it. Then read the two paragraphs one after the other.

If they found that it helped, they can prescribe a social-media vacation any time they feel it would be helpful for their mental health.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Garden pictures


Mrs ERJ's kitchen garden that was prepped September 10. Turnip and kale seeds are up.

Garlic. All of the plants that look like grass are garlic.

This plot is tentatively designated as the 2024 Onion garden.

A close-up of the turnip and kale seedlings. Still a lot of sunlight falling on dirt.

The 2024 corn patch. Most of the green is clover that tilling did not discourage. Kale seeds are just starting to germinate.

A picture from the 2023 potato patch

A misty Wednesday

I am usually not very productive on rainy days so I count it as a victory if I do ANYTHING.

Quicksilver and I made a trip to the lumber-yard and I bought four U-bolts and a 1"-by-3" furring strip. A little bit of careful measuring and I was able to replace one of the broken rungs on the bottom of a dining-room chair. It looks "rustic" but I hid it on the far end of the table. At least now it is not a booby-trap.

I broke a fitting on a hose today. And I had the parts in-stock to fix it.

I finally bit-the-bullet and purchased a set of brackets to turn 2"-by-10" planks into ramps for equipment. I had a set and somebody borrowed ONE of them and never returned it. I assume it was one of Kubota's dirt-bike riding buddies. I hurt to spend $40 for two brackets when I only needed one but the single ramp was almost useless.

I remember this toy as being much larger and much louder.

A couple of toys showed up for Quicksilver. One of them is a "popcorn" push-toy. It required assembly.

Finally, I trouble-shot an intermittent squeal in our furnace. The housing of the squirrel-cage fan was shaking and it is rubbing against the wall of the plenum. Rust-on-rust plus movement equals squawking. I will probably resort to expanding polyurethane foam to immobilize the two parts.

Many noises can be fixed by separating parts so they never contact each other or securing them together so they never have relative motion.

Regarding the most recent fiction

Blaise, the character, felt compelled to do something that is stupid unless circumstances are extremely dire.

He leaves all of his support structure. He leaves the area-of-operation he knows most intimately. He goes to a place where he is an outsider and throws himself on the mercy of strangers.

But they are not just any strangers. They are at least as paranoid as he is. That suggests that either they are mentally ill or that they have a dark history and might have ghosts stalking them.

And from the standpoint of the strangers; if they are paranoid then they know they created a huge risk by welcoming this stranger who blew in out of nowhere. What motives could they have? What would they be willing to do if Blaise turns out to be a spy or a blabber-mouth?

Hitting the silk should be an option that you consider when all other options look like dead-ends. The chances of getting lucky are extremely remote, especially if things go sideways and there are many refugees competing for very few spots in life-boats. You will be competing against others who can make claims of kinship, former associations or special skills. 

The fact that Blaise did not run into these in the story is only because he was hyper-sensitive and one of the very first to bolt.

Swamp-rat Stew


First, sear your rat in a hot skillet. Then proceed as you would for any other kind of stew
Follow me for more recipes!!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Alzheimer's and Social Stimulation

---Full disclosure: I am not what most people consider a "social person" and that is likely to color the contents of this post.---

Lack of social contact is considered one of the greatest risk-factors for developing Alzheimer's Disease. Like many things that "everybody knows", close examination reveals that the connection is not crystal clear.

The major reason for the lack of clarity is that cause-and-effect are very muddled.

In many, perhaps most mental-health issues, pathology is not suspected and a clinical diagnosis is not warranted as long as the patient's lifestyle is not significantly impacted. "Sadness" is not sufficient reason to trigger a diagnosis of "Depression" but being unable to leave your bed and getting fired from your job is.

But it isn't just the patient. Other people who experience extreme inconvenience is enough to be the catalyst that starts the cascade of events that results in a "diagnosis". Those people can be the patient's caregivers, family or other responsible "parties".

Inability or extreme aversion to interaction with humans in the public sphere are one of the symptoms that can cause other people extreme inconvenience.

If withdrawal from social interactions is one of the prime symptoms that funnel patients into a diagnosis of Alzheimers then it is improper to consider social withdrawal to be a cause. "Oh, look. The tomatoes are ripe because they are red. Everybody knows that red makes tomatoes ripe."

No matter how thinly you slice it...

There are limits to what science can "see".

Suppose that you believed that excessive consumption of trans-fats increased the risk of developing heart-disease.

Most forms of shelf-stable coffee whitener are mostly trans-fat by non-water weight.

Ergo, people who put creme in their coffee should have higher rates of heart-disease. Alas, no study has ever found that eliminating shelf-stable coffee whitener has had any effect on heart-disease even though everybody knows it should.

The problem is too much noise and too little signal. One mouse turd in one-hundred pounds of black pepper.

That is the first fist that punches science in the nose when attempting to back-out the degree to which social interactions provides a protective effect against Alzheimer's.

Another punch-in-the-nose is from the difficulty in quantifying "social interaction'. It isn't like green tea where you can run an experiment where one cohort consumes five-grams of green tea a day and another cohort consumes none.

The efforts to quantify or characterize social interaction further splinters the signal but does little to reduce the noise.

Is the determinant form of "social interaction" language or analytical? Is it physical touch or motion or visual? Is it deep interactions with one or two people or is it superficial interactions with many more? Is it interactions in our youth or middle-age or while we are dancing on the brink of dementia? Too many questions. Not enough signal.

(Ageing without dementia: can stimulating psychosocial and lifestyle experiences make a difference?)

Where do we go from here?

Progression of our mental-models of information as we age. Youngest models on the left, more mature models on the right.

What if we start from the beginning?

The illustration shown above is a conceptual drawing of how we accumulate information.

The circle on top is the "bobber" like the kind used for fishing. Or, if you ever programmed in Pascal it is the "handle" and the circles that dangle downward are the rest of the record.

For normal people who never programmed in Pascal, the circles shown below the "bobber" are "the answer" or a chain of related pieces of information.

In our youth, we are fed information in straight, unbranching drill-downs.

At some point, we realize that information is not linear and our brains have matured to the point where we can conceptualize and store information in  branching structures similar to tree roots.

With adulthood, we start cross-linking the root-like structures. We realize that geometry and algebra can be useful when building a fence. We can look at a small thumbnails and we can make surprisingly accurate guesses about what the rest of the panorama looks like.

As we age, we run into problems maintaining the linkages. They are not indelible and they fade if they are not refreshed on a frequent basis. In dementia, the linkages are vaporized by cell-death. If it helps, it is as if sectors of the directory on the hard-drive are irreparably corrupted.

If, however, the important information is sufficiently cross-linked then redundant paths to that information exist. They can be found (what do you think is happening when we dream?), refreshed and the brain can continue to function with minimum impairment.

The money line

A wide range of social interactions increase the odds of our refreshing a broad portfolio of cross-links and thereby partially armoring our brains against the inevitable ravages of time, orgies, drugs and rock-and-roll.

Or if you are like me...the inevitable ravages of time.

You can take it as a matter of faith and expose yourself to social interactions or you can wait until science sorts it out. What is the worst that can happen? You fall in love with cannoli and baklava?

Bonus advice: The link between hearing loss and Alzheimer's might be that we withdraw from social events if we cannot make sense of conversations. So whether we attend in body but cannot benefit from the stimulation because we cannot hear or if we stop attending because we are embarrassed, the end result is the same; we lose the benefit of having our cross-links refreshed.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Alzheimer's in Women

Dipping into the CDC mortality data I find many anomalies in the data.

For one thing, elderly women have about a 30% higher death-rate from Alzheimer's than elderly men do. That is unusual especially since men are more likely to be smokers, drinkers or overweight.

It isn't just death-rate. A study in the Netherlands suggests that the Alzheimer's case-rate is five-times higher for women over 90 than it is for men of the same age.

OK, maybe that is due to the husband typically dying seven years before the wife (two years due to men typically being older and five-and-a-half years due to differing life expectancy). So maybe it is the lack of social stimulation effect during that seven years of widowhood.

But then white women have a 10% higher rates from Alzheimer's than black women and a 50% higher death rate than white-Hispanic women. That is both odd and it seems to contradict the protective effects of having a spouse as being the reason for the higher, female death-rate.

Sorting death-rate of white women for Alzheimer's by state seems to generate an "Ah-ha!".

By comparison, New England has crude death rates below 150 for women between 75-and-84 due to Alzheimers.

A graphic representation of the "Cotton Belt". The only state in the top-ten not in the Cotton Belt is Utah.
But if we test the pesticides-used-on-cotton we have to ask "Why does it impact women more severely than men?" and "Do we see the same patterns in black women?"
Looking at the same age group of black women, only five of the top-ten states for Alzheimer's for white women show up.

Asking the question that none dare ask

Is it possible that products used in beauty salons can cause Alzheimer's?

Can anybody speak to the possibility that elderly women in the South might be more likely to dye their hair and/or have a perm than women in New England?

I mention this because recent research has been investigating the possibility of the chemicals used in hair-straightening products (used by black women) being linked to cervical cancer.

Maybe the cliche of the forgetful, blue-haired old-lady driving fifteen under the limit in the left lane with her blinker on is not a cliche but actually an important observation. Maybe the old-lady is daffy because of her blue hair.

If true, it does not bode well for all of those social justice warriors with the rainbow-hair, does it.

Quicksilver update

Quicksilver will be turning 16 months-old in a few days.

She just noticed that Zeus has some junk hanging down between his rear wheels.

She squatted down for a better look and Zeus moved.

She stood up, chased after him, squatted down to look...and Zeus moved. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We took Zeus outside and put him in his kennel. Poor guy.

The plan for today is to dig a row of potatoes and have Quicksilver help put them in buckets. She likes to be busy and she likes to do "real" work rather than mess around with toys.

She is cutting some molars so she is not always cheerful but this too will pass.

Disappearing (Fiction)

Jana was worried about her nephew Blaise.

Without fail, Jana got an email from him at least once a day. Sometimes it was early in the morning. Or it could be at random times during the work-day. Often it was late at night. The emails were always short, just a line or two or a meme that had resonated with him.

Jana had been the one family member who had remained nonjudgmental with regard to Blaise. Part of it was that Jana worked at a small, Christian college so she was exposed to the wide range of the questioning that younger people go through. One of Jana’s favorite quotes was from J.R.R. Tolkien, “All that glitters is not gold and all who wander are not lost.”

The other part was that although the two were emotionally close, Blaise was physically distant enough from Jana that she was not yanked around by his day-to-day activities. If he did not come home from a political protest it was his parents or current girlfriend who was yanked through the knot-hole, not Jana.

Jana knew from the memes Blaise shared that he was “radicallized” but frankly, who wasn’t?

Jana found the middle-ground to be a lonely place. Jana considered herself to be both compassionate and to have a brain and believed that both ends of the political spectrum had valid points.

Gowain had pointed out that instead of a bell-shaped curve, the population’s politics were now “dumbbell-shaped”. They both chuckled at that. “Dumbbells” indeed.

After the second day passed without an email from Blaise, she sent him a text “Are you all right?”.

Blaise did not respond to the text.

After the third day, Jana sent out texts to the extended family asking if Blaise was all right.

Nobody had any information. Surely if he had been hit by a car or arrested, somebody would have known.

That is when Jana started to pray.


“Trust your gut” Blaise’s mentors had always told him. “Intuition is intelligence at a deeper level than words” was another gem he remembered.

So when the switch flipped for him, he knew it was time to don the Rowling cloak-of-invisibility and disappear.

There was a time when a person could disappear with very little effort. He could move to a different city and pick up work at his old trade. He would not even need to change his name. 

That all changed with Social Security.  A man could still disappear by pretending to be a musician and move in with a groupie or he could be a live-in health-aid for an elderly, disabled person and essentially fall off the grid. But even that was no longer possible as The Kraken now had its tentacles wrapped around everything.

 Woe to any who fall out of favor with The Kraken.

Blaise considered each alternative in turn. The reach of the state was enormous. If they highly motivated to find him, they could. That said, there was no reason Blaise had to make it easy for them. In his mind, it was a cost-benefit problem. If it cost more to find him than it was worth then they would not look for him. His main concern would be getting swept up in a random sweeps and making stupid mistakes.

The primary risk was that it costs almost nothing for spiders and servers and search engines to look for him. They were tireless and nearly eternal. A single sentence or photo of him got posted on the internet and he would have company if the current regime was still in power, even if it was twenty years later. That would make a good “article” for the local Pravda “Dangerous radical caught blah, blah, blah…”

Blaise did not fully trust the mail. He knew that there were imaging technologies that could read a folded up sheet of paper inside of a sleeve of aluminum foil, inside of an envelop and it had been available for decades. But the imaging technology was slow and required manual intervention so it was reserved for special cases. However, it was easy enough to scan the outsides of envelopes and back-track to where one had entered the system.

Blaise’s plan was simple. Late October is when the snowbirds headed south. The Winnebagos trundle south down the Interstates in long convoys reminiscent of the Mastodons migrating ahead of the glaciers in the movie Ice Age. In the week before his flight, he left a large footprint on the internet with searches using key-words like “sanctuary” and “Austin”, “San Antonio”, “Santa Fe”, "Denver" and “Phoenix”.

He also drained his bank account and used it to buy sun-screen and flip-flops at the local convenience store that were packed with security cameras. In fact, he made sure that he visited those kinds of stores several times a day.

He had a couple of neighbors who he did odd-jobs for. He turned off his smart-phone to conserve the battery and slipped it into the bags of one of his neighbors as they loaded up to go to Corpus Christi. He believed that his phone could be turned on remotely and its location accessed. If he became a person-of-interest that would be one of the first things authorities would do to locate him for collection.

After bidding the Texas bound couple bon voyage, he helped another neighbor winterize their summer cottage in exchange for sleeping on their couch. He told them that he and his roommate had a falling out. 

Blaise very carefully stayed out of convenience stores and took pains to stay more than 150 feet away from the searching eyes of the video-doorbells that seemed to be everywhere. His thinking was that beyond 150 feet the fish-eye lens would not have sufficient resolution to make a tentative ID possible.

A couple of days later, he bummed a ride with those neighbors by offering to help drive the motor-home. The husband was thrilled. They were heading to Panama City. His wife did not drive and it was a very long haul.

They made good time. The fridge was stocked and they took potty-breaks on-the-fly. They refueled after three-hundred miles. Blaise did not leave the motor-home when they refueled.

Blaise  picked Athens, Tennessee to leave them because it was as close to a blank-spot on the map as he could find along I-75. 

He had the old man drop him off on the edge of the parking lot of the Walmart. Blaise had a day-pack and was wearing a knit cap that covered his ears and a pair of sunglasses with large lenses.

The old man gave him a cunning grin and slipped him a hundred. “Good luck, Bud.” The old man was pleased that Blaise would not hit him up for the price of a plane ticket after they got to Florida. The old man understood that there was a lot that Blaise was not sharing with him...and the old man could afford $100.

From there, Blaise hitchhiked twenty-five miles west to the town of Dayton. Of course, he told the old man that he was hitchhiking east to visit his girlfriend in Asheville which was east of Athens.

The old couple were as deaf as fence-posts and he wasn’t too worried about them ratting. He was pretty sure that neither of them knew his name since they always called him “Bud”. Nevertheless, there is no point in giving away information that might point toward him.

Once in Dayton, Blaise quietly ingratiated himself into its fabric. He rarely spoke except to perfect his generic, Southern accent. He was always as clean and as presentably groomed as his circumstances allowed. He was quick to lend a hand.

His best move was to offer to help clean up the local campground after most of the campers had left due to the cooling weather. The campground manager was more than happy to let Blaise pick through the left-behinds for household goods and clothing and let him stay in one of the smaller cabins.

It looked like food was going to be a problem until he figured out that if he cleaned the bathrooms at one of the local fast-food joints that the manager would ask him to “...carry these out and pitch them into the dumpster…”, “these” being a paper bag full of food that had passed the time it was allowed to sit unsold.

Blaise never offered to clean the mist of grease off of the plastic bubbles that protected the security cameras, though. In fact, he MIGHT have added a bit to some of them with a spray can of cooking cooking-oil. Breaking the cameras would have attracted attention. Grease in a restaurant that fries everything...not so much.

Blaise dealt with curious locals by saying “My folks moved around a lot so I come from a lot of different places. Where do you think I come from?”

Then he would agree with whatever they guessed. “Yep, that is one of the places I lived as a kid…” and then he would claim to not remember a thing about the place.

He bought a used mountain bike with tip money from delivering food. He used the bike to explore the local area, pushing 30 miles up and down the valley. Anytime he saw seasonal work, he stopped and worked it, cash-at-end-of-day.

If he saw a place that looked interesting, he was not above knocking on the door and offering to cut the grass or help with slaughtering the chickens. No job was too onerous or unpleasant. Many of the small-holders were delighted to have an extra pair of hands. Fall is a very busy time of year.

Blaise evacuated Dayton when he saw strangers starting to show up. Some were like him. If you knew what to look for you could see that they were busy keeping a low profile. Others acted like they wanted people to look at them and took a lot of video and still pictures.

Ten miles south of town and almost as far west was a small enclave of back-to-the-landers. Blaise met them when he was hired to dig potatoes. He spent two days with them in cold, wet, back-breaking work. They had put-him-up over night in a Conex container that a previous member had turned into the roughest form of housing. But it was out-of-the-weather and had a wood-stove.

Blaise remembered the food as homemade, simple and extremely plentiful. Firewood was abundant and based on the mountains he assumed cell-service was non-existent. In fact, the man who picked him up where the driveway met the public road told him “Put your phone in that box” while pointing at an old, metal ammo box in a shed beside the drive.

Blaise responded “I don’t have a phone”. That made Sig, the man, smile which Blaise was to learn was a rare event. The ride up the two-track from the public road to the cluster of shacks was almost a half-mile.

At any rate, Blaise's dogged determination to help in every way he could and his taciturn nature had earned him the invitation to come back any time.

As far as Blaise could determine, they were some kind of Amish splinter group. They had a very, very strong aversion to “graven images”, which is what they called photographs. That suited Blaise just fine.

They knew him as "Blain" which was plenty close enough that it got "Blaise's" attention when they called him. 

Next Installment

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Sunday Thoughts

Today's Gospel reading at church was of the land owner who went to the center of town to hire day-laborers for his vineyard. He went back several times over the course of the day and kept hiring whoever was available. At the end of the day, he paid each laborer a full-days wages regardless of whether they had worked one hour or ten.

My belief is that most of Jesus's parables referenced some recent, local event. They were not academic exercises but were very immediate and concrete to the people who first heard them.

It is not just possible but perhaps likely that the event very similar to the one the outlines in the parable had just happened locally. If that were so, then let me sketch out how the locals heard Jesus's message.

The only time in the annual cycle of caring for a vineyard where large numbers of day-laborers would be hired would be for the harvest. 2000 years ago people making wine did not have access to cane sugar or chemicals to control acid levels. Nor did they have fungicides.

Grapes, when they are ripe, have between 20% and 26% sugar. Due to osmosis, the will suck in rain and split (explode) if wetted. If they split, they will immediately start rotting. In the case of an imminent storm, it makes all kinds of economic sense to throw huge amounts of labor at getting the grapes picked and under a roof if a rainstorm threatens.

The traditional homily for this reading is that we can be saved in the 11th hour and if we die in a state-of-grace then we will still go to heaven.

Ironically, I think that is the exact opposite of how the people standing around Jesus heard the parable.

They would have heard this as a call to exercise every means possible to become "righteous" as the thunder-heads loom. It is likely that the owner of the vineyard did not get all of his crop under cover in time. The economics of humans is not the same as the economics of salvation.

I never attended a seminary or studied theology, but I have watched neighbors running wheat and baling hay into the wee-hours when lightning was flashing on the horizon.

Pack your own parachute. Make your own decisions.

Cluster C Personality Disorders

It is considered jolly good fun in some circles to suggest that public figures have various personality disorders or mental illnesses based on their public persona. 

This is not as stupid as it sounds. Some people are so needy that their symptoms bleed through no matter how many coats of fresh paint are applied and how much editing is done to their work.

It is harmless entertainment, like going to a flea-market and trying on clothing for Halloween costumes.

Like Halloween, though, there can be some scary parts. Like what happens if that person has access to the Nuclear Football?

Kamala Harris

Avoidant personality disorder is characterized by feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy, and sensitivity to negative criticism and rejection. Avoidant personality disorder causes significant problems that affect the ability to interact with others and maintain relationships in day-to-day life. About 1% of the general population has avoidant personality disorder. (from WebMD)


  • Not being able to handle criticism or rejection
  • Avoiding work or social activities with a lot of interaction
  • Avoiding new activities or meeting new people
  • Fear of disappointing others
  • Feeling timid or shy and preferring to be alone
  • Avoiding intimate relationships to avoid mockery or shame


Dependent personality disorder

  • Feeling dependent on others to an extreme
  • Clinging or being submissive toward others
  • Not being able to make your own plans
  • Being unwilling to do everyday activities alone
  • Seeking support and encouragement at any cost
  • Avoiding disagreeing with people
  • Remaining in abusive or unhealthy relationships
  • Feeling the need to start new relationships if one ends

 In either case, the person with the disorder makes a fine sock-puppet.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Tips to reduce risk of developing dementia

Although Alzheimer's Disease and vascular dementia have traditionally been viewed as distinct disorders, it is now generally agreed that the two rarely occur in isolation. Both types of dementia share many risk factors and pathologic features with atherosclerosis. In addition, the presence and severity of cerebrovascular pathologic findings appear to increase the risk and stage of AD for any given level of AD neuropathologic findings Thus, the modification of vascular risk might reduce the risk of dementia regardless of type.

Traditional cardiovascular risk factors such as hyper-tension, dyslipidemia, and diabetes appear to increase the risk of developing dementia in old age, with several possible mechanisms...   Promising Strategies for the Prevention of Dementia

At the risk of oversimplifying, if most heart attacks and strokes are due to crud building up in veins or arteries which causes clots which break loose and float downstream to lodge in the heart or brain then most dementia is crud building up the arteries' walls choking off blood-flow in the brain and/or a series of micro-strokes.

A full-court press controlling the factors that (over the long-term) increase the risk of ischemic heart attacks and strokes will also reduce the risk of developing dementia.

A key point that is often missed in the popular press is that a person can lived with "plaque" closing a large percentage of their heart's arteries for a very, very long time. It becomes an acute problem when a clot starts to form. The current thinking seems to be that inflammation is a major trigger for clot formation which then becomes a self-perpetuating phenomena that snowballs. Look out when the clot detaches from the blood vessel's wall and goes downstream.

If this is an accurate model, then a robust approach is to take steps to ensure minimum plaque build-up and steps to minimize inflammation.


These items are listed roughly in the order of how quickly they will be effective in reducing risk from dementia.

Talk to your doctor before doing anything crazy, but that daily 81mg of aspirin is both an anticoagulant and an anti-inflammatory. 

Inflammation, exercise: Inflammation is linked to excessive blood-sugar levels. Exercise builds muscle and nothing can strip excess glucose out of the blood stream faster than muscle. Most people are aware that glycogen (who the body stores glucose or blood-sugar) is stored in the liver but for most people, five-times as much glycogen is stored in the muscles. Even modest increases in muscle mass greatly increase your body's ability to buffer blood-sugar spikes regardless of your status as diabetic or non-diabetic.

The majority of current research supports the belief that exercise has a beneficial effect on inflammation (even though specific muscles and joints will hurt in the short-term).

Inflammation, diet: The majority of the research suggests that increased sugar increases inflammation. Ditto for trans-fats and fried foods,  and large quantities of  starchy foods and/or alcohol. The research is divided with Keto-good while "red meats, cured meats and over-cooked meats and Omega-6 fats" bad.

The advice Paul gave to Timothy is worth following: All things in moderation.

Inflammation, infections: Oral hygiene is your friend. If you have an ear-ache, attend to it. Don't bite your fingernails. If you lack sensation in your feet, get a mirror and do daily checks. Always wear substantial footwear when outside. Any additional advice in the comments from the medical profession will be much appreciated.

Inflammation, diabetes:  Many of the pathological manifestations of diabetes (poor circulation, blindness, infections) are due to damage to capillaries from high blood sugar. You can add increased risk of dementia to the list of manifestations. One more reason to watch your diet and blood-sugar like a hawk.

Inflammation, obesity: Obesity is a tough nut to crack because body-weight does not change overnight. Realistically, body-weight will take care of itself if you burn an additional 200 Calories a day via increased exercise and eliminate almost all of the empty calories in your diet, your body weight will take care of itself.

Other factors 

Graphic from Daily Mail. While the contents of this post mostly repeats this information it is presented in the context of a structure that shows how they are connected

Social contact: Regular social contacts is generally recognized as slowing the onset of dementia or reducing the likelihood of getting dementia. Some of the causal mechanisms that have been proposed seem to be a bit of a stretch. Personally, I recognize that guys are stubborn and sometimes we need a kick in the backside to seek professional, medical help; whether it is to see a dentist or an audiologist or to visit a sleep clinic.

Smoking: If you smoke, then be deliberate about it. Some people smoke on auto-pilot. Just saying that if you are going to smoke then be sure that you enjoy it and it isn't automatic. I will not be a nag because there is nothing I can say that you have not already heard 100 times before.

Presented without comment


Friday, September 22, 2023

Lee Load-All 2

Many of us cut our teeth reloading ammo with a Lee Load-All.

The Lee Load-All is a dirt-simple, very inexpensive tool for reloading shotgun ammo.

It comes with a number of bushings to measure the volume of powder and other bushings to dump shot.

The shot-bushings are pretty straightforward. They are denominated in the number of ounces of lead shot they will dump.

The powder bushings are not straightforward. They are labeled with numbers like 95, 100, 116, 128 and so on. The "code" is that the number is approximately the number of cubic inches, in thousandths, that they will dump. So a 116 bushing will drop 0.116 cubic inches of powder.

Since the density of powder varies greatly.

For example, this chart suggests that the 116 bushing will drop 18.5 grains of Universal, 23.3 grains of Longshot or 15.9 grains of 800-X.

Comparing loads using Winchester hulls, wads and Reminton primers the maximum Universal load specifies 15.3 grains, the maximum Longshot specifies 18.4 grains of powder, and the 800-X calls for 16.5 grains.

It is possible that you could be very safely using the 116 bushing with 800-X and if you mindlessly switched powders you would be 19% over max for Universal and 25% over max for Longshot.

Another consideration is that there is lot-to-lot variation and variation in reloader technique. While I make no claims to be an expert, I do have opinions. Charts are a great place to start but data rules.

Fill the hopper so it is about 2/3 full. Throw at least six loads into a container (an empty 12 gauge hull will work) and pour the six throws back into the top of the hopper. It individual grains of powder tend to be plate-shaped and will be randomly oriented when first put into the hopper but orient as they flow. Throwing at least six "warm-up" powder drops will minimize that variable.

Then, drop a charge and weigh it. My strong preference is that you administer two gentle slaps to the unit when you first move the slider bar to drop the powder into the bushing and than another two after you move the slider bar to the position where the powder will drop. It is my belief that this increases the density of the powder that loads into the bushing and guarantees that any grains that would adhere due to static will drop. Slapping also reduces the likelihood of the coarser powders "bridging".

Individually weigh ten, separate powder drops. Write each data point down immediately after measuring it. If the heaviest of the ten powder drops exceeds the maximum powder charge listed in a reputable reloading manual for the hull, primer, powder, wad and shot-weight that you selected, then drop a bushing size and repeat the exercise.


The Lee Load All is one squeaky son-of-a-gun.

The mark made by the ejector pin is highlighted in yellow

If that bothers you, then you can make it significantly quieter if you remove the spring guide-rod and polish out the depression made by the ejector pins.

The squeaking results from the individual coils on the spring temporarily hanging up on the "step" created by the ejector pin sink-mark...and then springing free. Polish out the step and the squeaking goes away.

You don't have to do a Bureau of Mint and Engraving quality job. A simple file or a bit of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel or shotgun hull will do the job. Just shave it up and down the edge until you cannot feel the ejector mark.

So, what is NYC's fair-share of our new immigrants?

Mayor Adams tells us that 95,000 is "too many".

If we assume that immigrants would be shipped to the core-cities of metropolitan areas, and if we assume that seven-million immigrants slipped across the border since Slow-Joe took office then 7M * 23.6M/340M would be the NYC Metropolitan Area's "fair share".

That would be 486,000 immigrants or 5X more than brought Mayor Adams to his knees. And here is a news-flash, the number coming across the border is increasing, so that is 486K just for NYC to catch up to number-to-date.

Now, you could quibble about the 7 million number. Official numbers are closer to 5 million, but they report the ones that were stopped...and then let in. I think it is reasonable to assume that a goodly number of immigrants avoid being detained and are not counted by the official numbers.

I suppose Abbot and De Santis could be a little more directed in where the immigrants get dropped off. I think Chappaqua and the Hamptons and New Haven, Connecticut would glory in a mega-dose of vibrant diversity. That might piss off Mayor Adam's political donors...but they can afford it.

Little bits and pieces

The vegetable drawer in the refrigerator is filled with apples. The refrigerator smells grand when I open the door.

The bottom of a Tashkent Quince

Do you know what you call the small depressions on the surface of a quince? Quince-dents!  I harvested some Tashkent quince this year and ate one. I cut it in half and cooked it in the microwave. It would have been better with sugar but it was edible without it. Tashkent is many times larger than Skorospelka. 

Olivet Trap Team

I met Jaben Chapman who is the coach of the Olivet High School trap team. He has 15 young men and 6 young ladies who signed up this year. Five of them also want to shoot skeet.

I made a small contribution to the team in exchange for some 20 gauge hulls that he had collected.

I asked him how Biden's recent ruling about defunding shooting sports impacted him.

He replied that it didn't impact them at all. The trap "team" is a club that is allowed to use "Olivet High School" in their name. The Olivet School District does supply any monetary support, not a single penny.

I asked him what kind of support would help him. His reply took me off guard. "If anybody in the area has some ammo they would be willing to sell us, it would be much appreciated." Apparently availability of 12 gauge target ammo is still a touch-and-go kind of thing. I was surprised is that he was very willing to PAY for the ammo and was not asking for donations.

I asked about firearms. He said that most kids have their own shotgun but the club has a couple of loaner shotguns for kids without the means or who just want to try the sport out.

If you want to help out the club, you can catch up with Coach Chapman at the clubhouse of the Centerline Shooting Range between 3:00 and 4:00 PM on Thursday before practice.


The sugar maple on the edge of the woods is coloring up. It must be fall.


No images of an actual dragon manifesting this particular affliction could be found on the internet, so you are stuck with a Golden Yellow Lab
I have not had a lot of energy this past week. No particular cause. I don't see anything pollinating so it is unlikely to be allergies. Just a case of dragon-azz.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

New York City budget woes

The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs is the largest cultural funding agency in the nation, with an average annual expense budget of approximately $200 million and a capital budget of more than $1 billion over the next four years.    Source

Mayor Adams claims that the illegal immigrants "flooding" NYC are causing a $12 Billion hole in his budget.

NYC has secular problems with their budget.  High income workers have a great deal of incentive to leave the city. Crime continues to increase. Commercial real estate values are not rising the way budget planners hoped. More people are working from home since Covid so folks working from home in New Jersey cannot be dinged for the +3% city income tax.

Once Adams acknowledged that Biden's immigrants were a problem it became convenient to shift all responsibility for budget woes to the immigrants.

But, since I am a problem solver, I found $1.8B over the next four years for him. It seems unlikely that he will thank me.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Me Too

"Show me the person and I will show you the crime"

The "Me Too" movement shows no signs of abating. In fact, it has grown to the level of an industry.

Locally, the football coach at MSU was accused by a woman of having an improper phone-call with her. She claimed that he was a pest and asked impertinent questions and self-gratified (without her permission) while she was conversing with him.

Mrs ERJ's take on the matter is that the woman should have hung up the phone and blocked his number.

The plot thickens. The football coach is in a unique economic situation. The university gave the coach a very long-term contract that pencils out to about nine-million dollars a year. That might have made sense if the coach was as successful on the field as the last coach (Dantonio) but the performance of the MSU football team has been mediocre and has been getting worse every year.

"Long-term contract" implies that there are very few conditions that will trigger an early termination. For example, there was no talk of terminating the coach when a group of his undisciplined players assaulted a football player from another team after a game (which MSU had lost). I guess that if you cannot beat the other team on the field during the game it is OK to beat them in a tunnel under the stadium afterward.

One plausible scenario is that the woman and the coach had a conversation. The woman then put the squeeze on the coach demanding money or she would go public. The coach refused (he might get many of these demands, who knows). She went public. The coach's lawyers (he can afford them) issued statements challenging the evidence (the conversations were private) which implied that she may have recorded the conversations without the coach's permission making them shaky evidence in a court-of-law.

Continuing scenario: The university saw a gold-plated opportunity to unload a financial embarrassment. "Don't let the door-knob hit you in the azz on the way out, coach."

The tin-foil crowd wonder if the entire skit was contrived and orchestrated by unhappy alumni who want a more successful coach.

A few take-aways

  • Nothing succeeds like success. 
  • Nothing fails like failures. 
  • Contracts are paper.
  • Regardless of how much/little you get paid, you still need to deliver more "value" to the enterprise than the cost of your employment.
  • If you get paid a metric shitton of money then you better deliver at least one-point-four metric shittons of value.
  • Pain can be avoided by keeping your mouth and your trousers zipped
  • Unlike most Me-Too claims, this one played out in near-real-time
  • Most Me-Too claims pop up long after the fact after the ravages of time make the discernment of facts difficult. That is, they violate the right to a speed trial.
  • Me-Too has the unfortunate outcome of reducing all women to powerless victims with no agency. The actresses who slept with directors did so with the hope of trading something-for-something. They were trading favors for lottery-tickets. They wanted exposure. They got it.
  • Another kind of Me-Too that is lurking out there are the children who were pawns in the hands of their parents who sought fame by pushing their kids into gymnastics, figure skating, cheer-teams, women's sports and summer camps. When the parent's primary role should have been protecting their children they looked at the top of Maslow's Hierarchy and said "My seven-year-old daughter needs to be in boot-camp".

I don't have a dog in this fight but it would be nice if the local university was not known for thuggish behavior after losing a game.

Note: I am not condoning rape or sexual assault. There are venues for addressing those issues. The Me Too movement is not that venue.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023


I made Shepherd's pie today in a 4 quart Dutch Oven. I used one of these pretty, little Aji peppers for seasoning. I think this is "Aji Pineapple" but the fruity aroma is 99.6% imagination.

Half of a pepper would have been enough to leave a warm feeling on one's tongue. I will pull one of the Aji plants and hang it the night before we expect a killing frost to let the peppers ripen sans-soil.

I am curious to count the number of peppers. If one of these peppers is enough to season four meals (times two plates) of food, then fifty of these peppers is enough to last us a year.

We have been enjoying the shortbread recipe at the King Arthur's flour site.

I used masa (corn flour) for this batch because we have some family and neighbors who don't tolerate gluten. The texture was very different than wheat flour, much more crumbly. The corn flavor was unnoticable at first but it showed up as an after-taste. Not bad. Just not identical to the shortbread made with wheat flour.

I like to add chopped up black walnut meats to the shortbread but I did not for this batch. I wonder if a dusting of cinnamon would help mask the corn aftertaste.

Fine Art Tuesday


Peder Mørk Mønsted born 1859 in Denmark. Died in 1941.

In my opinion, Mønsted is the rarest of artists; his artwork is uniformly awesome and every painting has nearly universal appeal. An eight-year-old, a twenty-eight-year old, and an eighty-eight-year-old can be standing in front of nearly any of his paintings and they will agree that it is a masterpiece.

Mønsted is a throw-a-dart artist. Pick anything he painted and it will be good...and he produced a boat-load of paintings!

 Link to Duckduckgo where you can speed-scan through much of his work.

Listen to the Blue Jays (Fiction)

Gowain was walking about his neighborhood. Unexpected events had changed his plans for the day and here he was, beyond agitated. He had been shaken to the core and walking to clear his head and deal with the stress…

“Everything OK, Professor Cornwall?” Jim, his neighbor with the two greyhounds asked.

Although long-since retired, the honorific of “Professor” still clung to both him and Jana, much like once-a-Colonel, always-a-Colonel in Kentucky and rural Virginia.

“Yes. Everything is peachy” Gowain said.

“No, really?” Jim persisted. His dogs stood like statues while he was conversing with Gowain. Gowain had never used sarcasm in Jim’s long memory.

Gowain searched Jim’s face and saw genuine concern. And frankly, Gowain could use a shoulder to cry on. So many of his peers had passed on.

“Jana and I had a heated discussion this morning and I was walking to process it” Gowain said.

“What started the ‘discussion’?” Jim asked with a very neutral tone. Jim liked both Jana and Gowain. To tell the truth, he like Jana better but that was because Jana was more of a people person while Gowain rarely engaged at a personal level. Jim was not about to take sides.

“It was the dumbest thing in the world” Gowain said, frustrated. “She got mad because I fiddled with the knob on the toaster. I don't mean to sound overly dramatic, but she went bananas and totally over-reacted. I just don't get it!”

“That doesn’t sound like her” Jim observed. “But why did you mess with the toaster?”

A look of embarrassment crept over Gowain’s face. “I have been having difficulty with my bowel-movements and my doctor said I need to eat more fiber. So I bought a loaf of whole-wheat bread. And, you know, it is heavier and takes longer to toast.” 

"I made my toast and forgot to change the dial back to the usual setting and Jana burnt her toast" Gowain said. "I don't get it. She totally lost control."

“Ah!” Jim said with satisfaction. “Same thing happened to me.

“I found that I got more even toasting if I left the settings the same as for the white-bread and flipped the toast over and sent it through again” Jim said.

“I’ll have to give that a try” Gowain said. That beat the heck out of making two marks on the dial with a Sharpie and always having to look to make sure it was on ‘His’ setting. Jana would like it better too. Good Lord! He didn't want to risk Jana going nuts again.

They had been conversing in front of a house that had recently been sold.

That by itself was an oddity. Their's was the most stable of neighborhoods with the “new families” only having lived there for twenty years.

Gowain’s neighborhood was a double-row of 1920’s vintage cottages that looked like they had been lifted from Robert Kincaide calendars. The street was two blocks from the campus and ran along the top of a gravel ridge that was a glacial feature. It boasted mature shade-trees. And praise God, the convenience stores, fast-food joints and the two bars were on the OTHER side of the campus.

While Gowain and Jim were conversing, a hotted-up Subaru had pulled into the driveway and a young man had burst out of the driver’s seat. Without turning off the car or closing the door, the young man had dashed to the door of the house and let himself in. A scant minute later he came out, re-entered his car and peeled out as soon as he was pointed down the street.

“That is odd” Jim mused.

“Delivering food? I hear that is now a thing” Gowain suggested.

“I don’t think so” Jim replied. “He was empty handed when he went into the house but had a small bag when he came out.”

After exchanging a few more pleasantries, the two men parted ways. Gowain’s mind was much at-ease while Jim’s was not.


Later that day, Gowain was at the barber and getting his hair trimmed. Just because he was retired, there was no reason to let himself go and become sloven.

The local barber-shop was a place where men of a certain age met and solved the world’s problems. Unfortunately, nobody took notes and the same problems would have to be solved again week-after-week. That was seen as a feature rather than a deficiency by the clientele.

The biggest topic of conversation this week was the rise in petty crime.

Gowain was not naive enough to believe that his post-card pretty town was immune to crime. As a traditional Christian he believed that every man was born with Original Sin and that temptation is eternal and that we all have moments of weakness.

In fact, in his callow youth he had once cobbed a spool of fishing line, some sinkers and a few fish-hooks from the general store in the small, New England town where he had been born.

But according to Tony, the barber, the up-tick was not just notable but striking. “Billy Pierson had his truck broken into” Tony intoned. “Busted his side window and took everything out of the pockets on the doors and out of the console in the middle.”

Billy was a local building contractor.

“Everything?” Gowain asked, inviting Tony to elaborate.

“Yep. They cleaned it out. Contracts, lists, tools, coupla-packs-a-cigarettes, loose change...everything” Tony said.

“Why would they do that?” Gowain asked.

Bert, one of the guys killing time in the shop volunteered “Faster to grab everything and sort it out later. Lotta these kids don’t know what things are worth so they take it all and try to sell everything to their fence.”

“Billy is pissed” Tony advised Gowain. “He doesn’t keep information on his computer so he is going to lose a bunch of time back-tracking. That, and his insurance company is not wanting to pay for replacing the window they broke. Said they only replace windshields.”

“Billy said it is probably gonna cost him over a thousand dollars to sort it out...all for about $30 worth of stuff.”

Frank, another old guy, hurrumphed. “The scumbag will be lucky if he gets $10 for the stuff. Fences don’t pay top dollar. Everbody knows that.”

Tony added, “Not just Billy, either. Seems like all of a sudden lots of folks around town been having those kinds of problems.”

Gowain left the barber-shop in a more apprehensive frame-of-mind. He vowed to park the car inside their garage and would caution Jana to make sure the doors of the house were locked at night.


Two days later the window opening to Gowain’s front porch was smashed, the perp stepped over the sill, swept his collection of more than thirty African carvings off the display shelf into a bag...and was gone.

Jana and Gowain’s peace-of-mind was shattered.

The police took an hour to show up and were not optimistic about the items being recovered.

The insurance company classified the historically significant artifacts as “knick-knacks” and offered to replace the window and $30 for the stolen items.


Some of Gowain’s fondest memories were of the time he spent with his uncles in rural Maine. They had seen him as a deprived, city-person and had taken him under their wing and tried to teach Gowain the ways of the woods and stream.

They had never succeeded in fully converting him but their influence may be why he had been able to resist the siren-songs of Ann Arbor and East Lansing and had settled in the tiny, college hamlet of Aesphodel.

One of the lessons Gowain had learned in the deer blind was that Blue Jays were the rat-finks of the woods. No hunter could slip through the woods without eliciting the running commentary of the raucous, neighborhood watch otherwise known as Blue Jays and Red Squirrels. Unlike the Red Squirrels, though, the Jays would follow the miscreant through forest and field and give the unlucky gent the benefit of their sharp-edged tongue.

“That is why we listen for the Blue Jays” Gowain’s uncle told the curious 12-year-old. “They also rat out the bucks.”

The old farmer then went on to explain “The bucks know that, so they move at dawn and dusk when all of the other birds are singing. Nobody notices the Blue Jays when the pretty-birds sing. Nobody but serious deer hunters like us, that is.”

In fact, Gowain had learned, nobody paid much attention to the Blue Jays when the the pretty-birds weren’t singing, either.

Gowain’s innate sense of human dignity had him establish relationships with the Blue Jays in his professional life: The acid-tongued assistant to the college dean, a custodian, the groundsman, a curmudgeonly doctor and many others. At critical junctures in his life, it was them and not the sweet-talking pretty-birds who had been instrumental in helping him avoid poor decisions and dangerous situations.

Gowain knew he was far out of his swim-lane and so he approached one of his Blue Jays, Danny the trash-collector. Gowain caught up with Danny at his salvage yard.

“What can I do for you, Perfessor?” Danny asked.

Danny knew everybody in Aesphodel. He also remembered that Gowain and Jana were excellent tippers. Not only did they tape a card with a $20 bill in it to the trashcan at Christmas, but they had somehow learned when his birthday was and they were the only ones who gave him a card for his birthday.

“Lots of things are going on that are leaving me baffled” Gowain started out. “I was wondering if you could educate me a little bit?”

“Well, this is a switch, isn’t it?” Danny teased a little bit. “The College Perfessor asking the trashman for an education.”

“Pity” Gowain replied. “Everybody is an expert at something and I believe in consulting the best experts I can find.”

Danny did not disagree.

“I can see something is on your mind. What can I do for you?” Danny asked, cutting to the chase.

“What is going on in Aesphodel?” Gowain asked. “The town changed just-like-that!”

Then Gowain shared that his front window had been broken and his beloved collection of ebony, ivory and terra cotta artifacts given to him by returning missionaries had been stolen in broad daylight.

Danny pondered how to answer Gowain’s question. He decided the direct approach was the best approach.

“You know that house that was sold, the one that is three doors down from your’s?” Danny asked.

“Of course I know the house you are talking about” Gowain said.

“A buncha crack-heads live there” Danny said.

“I beg your pardon!” Gowain said, shocked.

“It is a crack-house. They sell drugs” Danny said.

“How can you know that?” Gowain asked.

“All the signs are there” Danny asserted.

“Is it junky? Do you see trash all over the yard?” Danny asked. “That is what I see when I go by in the trash truck.”

“Well, yes, their yard is untidy” Gowain admitted. In fact, the rapidly collecting trash had caused Gowain large amounts of aggravation. It was such a NICE neighborhood and the new neighbors were making it look like a trailer park.

“But that doesn’t make it a crack-house” Gowain said.

Danny had to think a few seconds about why that house was different.

“Think about the KINDS of trash” Danny suggested. “Do you see basketballs, lawn-chairs, push lawnmowers and that kind of thing?”

“Or do you see mail, auto-parts like exhaust pipes and about a million screwdrivers and wrench sockets and broken glass?” Danny asked. “People comin’ an goin’ at every hour of the day an night with nobody stayin’ long?”

Gowain replayed his last walk past the problematic house in his mind. He did remember seeing glitter like glass.

“I don’t see why those things are important” Gowain admitted.

“Smash-and-grab. Stealing catalytic converters. Crack pipes...oh, by the way, never touch a crack-pipe, no telling what kind of toxic chemicals are on it or what the crack-heads are smoking” Danny advised. “The crack-heads steal shit and take it to the crack-house hoping to trade it for drugs. They dump what the dealer won’t buy...and they dump it in the yard because they are focused on getting high, not in being tidy.”

"And you know all of those little statues?" Danny said. "I bet they are tossed in the side-yard because no way in hell will they be able to resell them."

Gowain blinked. It all fit.

“Why don’t the cops do something about it?” Gowain asked.

“Their hands are tied. Being messy isn’t a crime. Nobody wants to testify against drug dealers because they can get violent” Danny said sympathetically.

“What can I do?” Gowain asked, plaintively.

“Move!” Danny said. “Move while you can still get a good price for your house.”

“Unless you are willing to commit arson, that is your only real choice.”

“Your neighborhood is dead-man walking. Leave while you can.”

"But what about my artifacts?" Gowain wanted to know. "Isn't there any way I can get them back?"

Danny pondered the dilemma for a second or two. "Well, I suppose that if you know any 12 year-olds you could have them play catch and every once in a while they could bobble a catch. Then, when the kid went to collect the ball they could bring back one of your statues...."

It turned out that many of Gowain's former students had children in exactly that age range.

---Comment from the author: Communication is hard, even after being married many, many years. In this case the result will be better than if it had not been a miscommunication. And communication is hard....

I got a lot of help on this one from a reader who does not want to be named. He gave me the specific details of why a "drug house" is easy for street-wide person to identify. They don't need a sign. He also gave me the info on crack-pipes. Please, never touch anything that looks like a crack-pipe and don't let your wife, kids, grandkids or pup touch them.---