Sunday, November 29, 2015

I've decided birdfeeding is like raising chickens, only

... only minus the trouble of health care (for the chickens), coop-building, and so forth. Unhappily, I have yet to attract anything more exotic than a cardinal and a black-capped chickadee to my patio. "Frequent visitor to winter feeders," the birdbooks say. In other words, big whoop. Besides, that is neither of those, above. That's another sparrow. One of many. 

Below is my Michigan chicken, whom I met on a walk around Lake Osterhaut and whom I have decided to virtually adopt. His name is going to be either the Kaiser, after my late grandfather's legendary backyard-Chicago rooster (we're talking circa 1930 -- chickens must run in the blood), or Champers. "Champers" is wine-professional slang for champagne. The word simply cries out to be a pet name. Since two cats are enough for the moment, and dogs are out of the question and indoor birds are a smelly mess, and small rodents have never appealed to me, Champers the virtual chicken it is. Isn't he handsome?

A great many chickens are very handsome. They are called "exotic," and are said to be, as a group -- Gallus gallus, even the Latin of their name is dignified -- the closest living relative to Tyrannosaurus rex. Sometimes I think scientists get excited and make things up, in fact we know for a fact they get excited and make things up, but anyway this idea is amusing and harmless.

If I want to give you a gallery of more virtual chickens, bearing all the great pet-names-from-the-wine-industry that I have not had a chance to use for real animals yet, Bourboulenc and Clairette and such, then I will have to hunt up Google Images or Pinterest and procure them like everyone else. I'm happy to credit any blog or site for photos, but does the procuring still create a "stolen bandwidth" problem? Or has technology solved all that? The only site I have ever known to trace me into the weeds and actually dismantle an image that I copied and credited was Project Gutenberg -- the very site that started out all about free access to out-of-copyright books. Ironic, no?

Below, -- oh, let's call them Bourboulenc and Clairette. From the blog Chicken Street.

Next: gorgeous, French; photo by Claudie Niery. We want to use the name "Picpoule," but that seems effeminate for this surely masculine creature. He is, I believe, le coq of France, so we will call him something proud and manly, Crusaderish even. Richard.

This next one seems to be pausing, on a beautiful spring day, on her walk from the coop to the library. We'll call her Scholastica. From the blog The Chicken Chick.

Back to reality. Winter, and the courtyard cardinal. Probably named Larry.

By the way, speaking of Crusades, I want you to read an excellent summary of them here, at a site callled ARMA, the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts. In "The Real History of the Crusades" Professor Thomas F. Madden argues that mature scholarship is beginning to acknowledge these wars were a near-desperate, centuries-long European Christian response to cascading Muslim jihad -- something we are beginning to be reacquainted with -- and that they were of course, on the battlefield, eventual failures. But he says: with the Renaissance and after,    
"The Muslim threat was neutralized economically. As Europe grew in wealth and power, the once awesome and sophisticated Turks [Islam's most important representatives then] began to seem backward and pathetic—no longer worth a Crusade. The 'Sick Man of Europe' limped along until the 20th century."
After which, I suppose, the Sick Man's co-religionists found oil under their sands, and then learned it gave them the money they needed to buy weapons and really resume jihad. And, broadly speaking, here we are. 

At any rate, I find it a piece of great hope to reflect that it may just be wealth, the peaceful arts, leisure, consumption, even frivolity -- exotic chicken raising, for heaven's sake -- that have served to turn back another, endlessly predatory civilization whose main attributes turn out to be impoverishment and suffering. (No wonder the left loves Islam. Nothing else impoverishes and equalizes like it, except their own Marx perhaps.) This is not to say battles and victory don't matter, of course they do. But how remarkable it will be if the very things our pundits bewail, in best end-of-civilization, Chicken Little style, things like yoots absorbed in video games or the activity that is Miley Cyrus, turn out to be powerful weapons themselves. Of course we want our yoots to know Shakespeare and Beethoven, too, which is a struggle and ideally should not be. I'd like Miley Cyrus to know Beethoven -- now there would be a clash of worlds. 

But the sheikhs and "extremists" have long feared our embarrassing, frivolous weapons. I'm glad. 


Friday, November 27, 2015

Three stories, three questions footnote

I don't know why Blogger changed the font on today's post, "Three stories, three questions," making it so large and clumsy, but I can assure you I don't like it any more than you do. 

Three stories; three questions

After reading a lot of scholarly reactions to the November 13, 2015 jihad attacks in Paris, one man's remarks struck me.

Daniel Pipes thinks that only casualties in the hundreds of thousands, or more, will ever prompt Western elites in government, in bureaucracies, in media, in universities, to acknowledge that jihad is Islam, and then to address that. It would cost them their modern, educated souls to climb down from 21st century multicultural understanding to a medieval sort of will-to-live, freely. Until then, he thinks, leadership moves leftward after every attack, mouthing gentle things about extremists perverting the religion of peace, so as not to upset the "secular order" which they control. They stay cool and objective, they interview CAIR and maybe Pamela Geller, they administer airport security screening/theater, and so on. The public move rightward, common-sensically accepting that the Koran's sura 9:5 "kill them wherever you find them" means kill them wherever you find them. "Three million would surely" bring the two sides back together, he thinks. Only then might elites agree to change the secular order -- such that objectivity goes by the board and American grandmothers might no longer be told to remove their shoes before getting on a plane, for example, while dark swarthy men pass by with a nod. 

Apart from marveling at future generations' perhaps looking back and noting that circumstances prompted an intelligent man to think this, I wonder: If Pipes is right, what else might change? What would our civilizational response look like if our masters really did join us belatedly in the anonymous muck of our value judgments about sura 9:5? What if they and we all said, This ends. Now, -- ?

(Or would our lords and masters have been swept away, unchanging, like any ancien regime, first? I worry about them sometimes. I fear they don't know the Princesse de Lamballe, say, or Marie Antoinette, and ought to.)

I can foresee empty mosques being dynamited. Where they are permitted to stand, I can foresee prayers being supervised by soldiers in fatigues, who allow worship but not sermons, and who escort the faithful out in half an hour regardless of whether they think they've prayed enough. I can imagine male-female segregation being forbidden even inside. "Western women are free," the soldiers say, in French or Swedish or English, motioning people in one by one after frisking them. "Sit anywhere. Take off your veils so we can see who you are." I can foresee the muezzin's call to prayer being forbidden in Western lands, because the five-times-a-day ritual blared out on loudspeakers is not just the vocal equivalent of churchbells, but is an aggressive and calculated imposition of faith practice on all within earshot and, as such, constitutes, at least in the United States, exactly the establishment of a religion that our poor old Constitution forbids. I can imagine Western nations' armies summarily discharging Muslim soldiers, on the simple grounds that they can't be trusted.  I can imagine supermarket managers not giving a damn whether or not they offer "halal" meat .... 

On the other hand, even after elite catching up, and trembling agreement that this ends now, I can also foresee things going quite badly for a time. I can imagine troops -- again -- crouched in the rubble and the flickering flame-light of burning museums, shouting "Move! Move!" while their fellows throw hastily wrapped Leonardo panels and things into waiting helicopters pocked with holes. "Islam forbids art" is one of those wild, laughable generalizations which nevertheless may as well be true; while there seems to have been plenty of rule-bending among Muslims when it comes to making art, the rule exists. Considering the future in which this story takes place -- considering the past and present -- I can imagine jihadis happily carrying war backwards into the Renaissance and everywhere else. Why not? In Syria they carried it backward into ancient Palmyra. In Afghanistan they carried it backward to the Buddhism of circa 500 A.D. (For them the pertinent word is jahiliyyaignorance, meaning [the worthlessness of] all human activity before or outside Islam.) All of this means I can foresee, anyone can, Western troops on similar search-and-rescue duty outside concert halls or conservatories. Islam forbids music too, except for the lone male voice, chanting something pertaining to Islam. And don't forget the books. Even so sympathetic a historian as Bernard Lewis wrote about jahiliyya. "You don't study [the infidel's] meaningless history or read his absurd literature," he explained of the attitude which has resulted in almost no translations from Western languages into Arabic, Turkish, or Persian for a thousand years. The libraries may need soldiers, too. Not to mention the cathedrals. 

And suppose some elites don't join us? Islam must be very attractive to pal along with or even to convert to, especially for men, and for privileged men who can see which way the tide seems to be turning above all. Let's imagine a novel in which, say, the prime minister of the UK converts amid the burning museums, because what the hell. Power is good, he was never "Christian," he's now fully above any "law," and he can stay on at Chequers with more women. Islam's utter, righteous supremacy and the license it gives brutal types (women included) to deal death anywhere by Allah's revelation must create, for those types, a joyously godlike life. I was going to say "inner life" but it's not inner. You can act on it. Destruction is so much easier, less plodding, than creation. Add introductory posturings about desert simplicity, poverty, obedience, etc., etc., and you only ensparkle the cosmic glee.

There are my stories. Now the questions. You can't make value judgments without them. 

Regarding sura 9:5, would a good God command perpetual murder, giving to one group of human beings the power of life and death over all others for all time? Of course not. But why do Muslims not ask this question? One very prominent one did, recently. The president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in January 2015 around the time of the Paris Charlie Hebdo attacks, actually used the word "revolution" about Islam. He seems to have been largely ignored, at least in the cool and educated West. 

Another question. If the Arabic war cry "Allahu Akbar" literally means "our God is greater," doesn't that grammar imply two gods at least, and make Muslims polytheists? Isn't that a problem for them? (Note the suffix -u also means "our" in Hebrew, as in Aveinu malkeinu, "our Father, our King." With the difference that the Aveinu malkeinu prayer does not go on to compare gods, but rather to plead, "be gracious and answer us ...." ) 

And what is prophecy, after all? Among other things the Biblical prophets, at God's command, acted out weird shows in public, building dung fuel fires, breaking jars, lying so many days on the left side of the body and so many days on the right, to correspond to the number of years that the nations of Israel and Judah would live in exile for their sins. No kidding, read Ezekiel 4:4-6. The prophets gave themselves up to a seemingly bewildered obedience to actions meant to arouse curiosity in, to warn -- to enlighten, comfort, save -- other people. Heeding God made them oddly helpless. They didn't, as far as I know, reveal enthusiastic heavenly legislations on rape. Or if they did, they have been questioned and ignored on that subject by now, by the faithful using reason. Also God's gift.   

Meanwhile we wait. Daniel Pipes' outside estimate was three million. We wait for our elites to catch up to us, perhaps imagining stories and asking questions of their own. Barring some sort of reform or revolution of our own, there seems nothing to do but wait. The number again was three million. 

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris; 13th century. Image from Un jour de plus a Paris 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Celebrating International Tempranillo Day with Campo Viejo

In honor of International Tempranillo Day, we sip first Campo Viejo's 100 percent tempranillo, pictured here -- if no one minds -- among the orchids at the patio window, because that is where the light is best. Likewise for the reserva below, in its bright, autumnal orange "Art Series" packaging. (I can't help but point out my pumpkin in the background, and my overturned patio chair. Last night's autumn winds were blustery, and they have not stopped yet.) The reserva is a blend of tempranillo, graciano, and mazuelo (carignan), aged 18 months in oak and another 18 months in the bottle.

Both have that certain wholeness that I like, but find hard to describe, about Riojas. We can try to discern a bit of berry or cherry, a bit of spice, a bit of vanilla, but while we with our noses in the glass are puzzling out the fruit basket metaphors and then gulping away, we find the wine does slide down easy -- "dangerously gulpable," I've heard Riojas called --  as its own product, a separate whole: wine. You might almost say: wine as it should be.

Perhaps what we're tasting is the fact that Rioja's red wines have traditionally been well aged before release, with the expectation that they will therefore be ready to drink -- whole -- upon purchase. You might say, the Spanish winemaker, with 2,500 years of viticulture since Roman times behind him, generally does your waiting for you. The three categories you will see identified on Rioja labels are crianza (aged at least two years, one of which must be in oak barrels), reserva (aged at least three years, one in oak required) and gran reserva (aged at least five years, at least two in oak). Our reserva in its decorative orange tube meets its requirements of course, but you will note that the light and delicious tempranillo in the yellow label is ... a tempranillo. Only the grape is identified. This is because, at four months' aging, it has not met the legal strictures needed to call itself crianza.

I would imagine this means the world market is thirsty for the light, fresh Spanish reds that tempranillo can make at a very affordable price point, and so Campo Viejo meets the demand by cutting barrel time and foregoing the crianza stamp of approval. A perfectly wise and user-friendly trade-off. Both wines retail at about $10 to $12, and make good introductions, if you haven't already begun your own explorations, of the further sophistications of Rioja. They pair well with ... almost anything, except maybe ice cream.   

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fastballs and chardonnay, and another English word: dream

"I had the weirdest dream last night."

Well of course you did. Dreams are weird.

I used to sigh when my children would pipe brightly in the morning about a dream, and then go on to describe it in detail. When they got older, I told them so, nicely, and we laughed.

But of all things, truly, -- keep recitations of dreams short. Fairy tales wisely do, and the Bible: the fisherman's wife dreamed she must eat rampion or die, the three wise men were warned in a dream to go home another way. That's all. Because you see, if you insist on long-winded descriptions, know that there is absolutely no common frame of reference for your listener to understand you. It's difficult enough to make yourself understood when you are talking about reality. When it comes to the "phantasms of the mind in sleep," your interlocutor can make no more sincere answer than a sort of universal, helpless, motherly "...wo-ow." If a child has had a nightmare, then it's possible to soothe him by pointing out how some detail of it came from real life. Otherwise, have mercy. Keep it short.

I will do so, only it's so odd when a dream is an entire story, told to you by a person in your dream who seems an actual human being -- male, sixty-ish, slim, clean-shaven, bald, glasses -- but whom you do not know in life. Last night's dream-story had to do with baseball team managers being overheard planning something nefarious -- I could see them in the dugout -- overheard because they had some sort of new-style microphones implanted in their mouths. "They used to make an incision," the dream-man told me. He gestured at his own chin. Because of the scandal, fastballs were not allowed to be pitched anymore, and fans were angry, and this explained declining chardonnay sales. People had to reach over a bunch of other bottles that were in the way, and the chardonnay was crammed in. Of course. In my dream I went on to retell the story to other listeners, and they understood perfectly. "O-oh! Of course."   

Years ago my cousin Sally told me the joke that "White Sox fans like baseball, Cubs fans are chardonnay drinkers," by way of explaining the fact that the Chicago Cubs even exist as a franchise, after generations spent placidly not winning playoffs or World Series. I work retail liquor and I couldn't help but listen to the last game of this year's World Series in its entirety (Kansas City over the New York Mets, 7-2) while working inventory that Sunday in November. Someone had put it on the store radio.

Perhaps all this clarifies what was in my head, like the sources of a child's nightmare. But how do we make sense of the English word dream? Webster's traces it from Middle English dreme, such a pretty spelling, to the Old English dream, meaning joy or music -- ! Thence straight back to an Indo-European base, -dher, "echoic of humming." This seems quite an etymological leap, not in terms of reasonableness but in sheer time. Then Webster's suggests a sort of lateral derivation, from Old Norse draumr to German and Dutch draum and droom, with which Doctor Johnson agrees, and back again to a possible IE -dhreugh, "to deceive." Also reasonable. Though I like humming better. "See DORBEETLE," the beetle that hums in flight.   

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Orchid growing: first lesson

The first lesson is that, once you buy your orchid for its gorgeous and bizarre flowers, and bring it home and then after several weeks watch the flowers wilt and tumble off in the natural way, you will spend a lot of time looking at the remaining green foliage. It might be as well, then, to hunt out some orchid types that have interesting foliage. Or, to decide that the leaves even of supermarket phalaenopsis, above, are handsome enough to pass as a houseplant. So tropical. We're not the only ones who think so. Take a look at Matisse's Goldfish, below. Are there not two bereft-of-blooms orchids, phalaenopsis just like mine, on the table beside the queer cylindrical French fish tank?

Since we hope to get more flowers from the plant, I would imagine the appearance of a new leaf is a good sign. If you are like me, you are especially proud of this leaf because you have also already thrown neophyte caution to the winds, and have repotted all your orchids in pure bark and in clay pots, the aesthetics of which are so much nicer than sphagnum moss in murky white plastic. Never mind that the orchids you bought that way were in flower, and came from professional growers. And that the very kind proprietress of the dark, quaint, rough and tumble shop could prove success enough to show you one of those freakish species whose blossoms dangle from the roots at the bottom of the hanging basket. Your new leaf came on anyway, after repotting. Besides, all her prize ribbons were no better than second place, years ago in Batavia or somewhere ....

It is now only a matter of waiting. And admiring green foliage. I have five orchids, three supermarket phalaenopsis, one Maxillaria sanguinea and one Mtssa. 'Charles M. Fitch,' the last two of which I bought, from the quaint dark shop, deliberately not in flower so that I would not start out with the natural disappointment of soon-wilted blooms, but rather progress (one hopes) to the satisfaction of a first "spike." I can see why orchid neophytes become enthusiasts and then addicts. If the goal is flowering, then that is only a matter of proper light, water, and temperature to accomplish, surely. Researching the cost of "grow lights," or hunting out some receptacle to collect rainwater, is the work of a moment. Buying just one or two more plants should increase the chances of having a good, staggered display, right? -- as the several specimens recover their strength and put up new blooms through a flowery indoor year. If we don't reach Nero Wolfe territory ourselves, we at least understand him, with his upstairs "plant rooms" divided into cool, intermediate, and warm, plus a potting room. Incidentally I must say the murder in Champagne For One is the best I have ever read, possibly only excepting the murder in Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd. (Curious that both involve women, and a poisoned drink at a party.) Completely simple and cunningly-almost-spontaneous, grounded in female loathing and therefore utterly logical. Rex Stout was born to write mystery novels the way I was born to write -- well, blog posts, I guess.

Meanwhile no, not Nero Wolfe territory yet. Big city botanic gardens will have to do. 



Their faces move

It pleases me to imagine that, in a very small way, I understand the experience of St. Paul in the agora -- that is, in the public square, b...