Friday, November 27, 2009

Kick Me

The turkeys have been bullying Sophia.

She's the largest dog here. She's the only one who has ever seriously injured another animal. (Forgot about all those murdered groundhogs for a minute there ...) Her people routinely take down bad guys, both for fun and for real. Yet the birds see a giant "Kick Me" sign on her ass.

Last week they got her cornered on the front porch; we looked out to see her cowering against the door, hackled from occiput to tail-tip, growling and snapping. The birds were not impressed. We had to let Rosie out to serve them, as she does in this clip.

Yet tiny Rosie, and even tinier Cole, easily drive or gather the turkeys, put them up in their coop, and generally keep order in the flock. The turkeys don't even think about giving any crap to any of the English shepherds. Notice the space they give Pip and Rosie in the clip.

At the moment they are cooped most of the time -- not for stalking the German shepherd, but for their serial acts of vandalism and hooliganism up in the village.

The neighbors didn't tell me about the "visits" -- or the turkey crap on their Weber grills, broken porch tchotchkes, stolen pet food -- until they'd been at it a week and developed a habit. When my neighbor came to tell me about the attempted theft of his Christmas lights, Rosie, Cole and I had to drive them home from over half a kilometer away.

This a long way to chase a dozen turkeys.

Now I only let them out for about an hour before bedtime, when I can keep an eye on them.

Photo Phriday: Whew -- that was close

The turkeys are all still with us. Proof:

Dale thrives. She is so fat she cannot cluck (she grunts) and I periodically have to extract her when she gets stuck in a regular-sized nest box. As the slowest hen, she became a "favorite" of the adolescent former cross-dressing, gang-raping roosters. Roosters don't mind fat chicks.

What, you say something is wrong here?

"You know, there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office -- and then, there are moments like this, where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland."
-- Barack Obama

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blog Remix: Gaiting Away from Omelas

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows' crossing flights over the music and the singing.

The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits hunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes--the child has no understanding of time or interval--sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked, the eyes disappear.

These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Photo Phriday: Quaaaaak!

No ducks were harmed in the gang-creaming of this German shepherd.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Notorious Murderer Wolfgang Werle's Feelings Are Hurt

Where's Waldo? Find the slander in this Wikipedia article.

Come on folks, keep looking.


Turns out, in the New, Improved, Sensitive New Age We Would Never Incinerate So Many Jews It Would Compromise The Air Quality Germany, the delicate sensibilities of convicted murderers are a precious, precious orchid that we must protect.

Read it first in The Register

Attorneys took the action on behalf of Wolfgang Werlé, one of two men to receive a life sentence for the 1990 murder of Walter Sedlmayr. In a letter sent late last month to Wikipedia officials, they didn't dispute their client was found guilty, but they nonetheless demanded Wikipedia's English language biography of the Bavarian star suppress the convicted murder's name because he is considered a private individual under German law.

Werlé's "rehabilitation and his future life outside the prison system is severely impacted by your unwillingness to anonymize any articles dealing with the murder of Mr. Walter Sedlmayr with regard to our client's involvement," they wrote. "As your article deals with a local German public figure (such as the actor Walter Sedlmayr), we expect you are aware that you have to comply with applicable German law."

Apparently the German-language Wikipedia has pussied out and engaged in a little small-scale denial, which if it had been about six million Jews instead of one gay actor, would itself be a crime in the Heimat.

Will Murderer Werle's solicitous solicitors bring suit against the German newspapers next, requiring them to hire an army of Winston Smiths to revise the microfiche archives?

As a blogger who has been drawn into reporting about a notorious criminal case in which insidious revisionism has been a noxious force from the beginning, this hits rather close to home.

If everyone cannot report the name of a convicted felon -- much less the facts of the crime as determined by a court of law -- then no one is shielded from lies and atrocity. From being stabbed in the neck and kidneys and then beaten to death with a hammer, say.

I don't suppose anything can be done for German citizens if the German government decides to shut down the internet in order to help a hammer-murderer get all self-actualized 'n stuff. It would be up to them, whether to, you know, follow orders.

But I certainly hope, as Professor Chaos just noted, that the US Government supports its Constitution -- as protecting ourselves from foreign oppressors is kind of the whole point. The appropriate response to a foreign court attempting to extract money or silence from an American citizen engaged in lawful speech is "Why don't you try to come and get it?"

As for Herr Werle the hammer-murderer and his deep need to buy carpentry tools in privacy -- shame about that Streisand Effect.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Still Life

Saturday Pip and I deployed to Virginia on an ASRC callout for the kind of search I least want to do.

The kind where, as you are doing your best to be diligent and thorough and up to the highest standards in the technical execution of your work, you fervently hope for no results, because if the ground search effort is successful, it is the worst news possible. This girl is not a missing hiker. If she's in the woods three weeks after disappearing from a stadium parking lot, it is not an episode of Survivorman.

As long as the ground search remains fruitless, there is hope: Hope that a feckless young metalhead is rockin' out in Cancun with some hairy dude named Tusk, hope that somewhere a blond is waking up with a new tattoo and a mouth that tastes like a tire fire, even hope that she plots her escape from an abductor's cellar, from a living hell that is, after all, living.

Still life.

We've had some searches over the decades in which we knew the inevitable outcome. Crime victims whose murderers had confessed. Partial remains. Evidence of blood loss incompatible with life. Witnessed drowning.

That somber chore -- to restore the earthly remains of a departed soul to his survivors -- offers no ambivalence. A successful search does not help much -- but it does help.

But these "most likely scenario" searches offer the successful searcher an opportunity to kill hope. This does not make one's day.

Then there's the plenty of time out on task to cogitate on the fairness thing.

Another massive search effort for a rich, pretty white girl.

Not that missing rich, pretty white girls do not deserve to be sought tirelessly.

But so did this lady. Exactly as much. Exactly.

And well -- you know, I could go on ...

I won't even get into the Byzantine interstate SAR politics that yesterday equated my multiply-certified, battle-tested, impeccably professional partner, myself, my two teammates, and my sixty-some highly-trained SAR colleagues with "anyone over 18 with a state-issued ID." Including the associates of a notorious felon.

Because I don't train for those people, and neither do my teammates.

Anyway, it was an unseasonably lovely day in Charlottesville when Pip and Eric and I set out to comb some woodland for clues. Pip's main job was to find any scent clues and tell me about them. We humans needed to navigate accurately, choose search tactics that kept Pip downwind of the unsearched portion of the area, avoid hazards, and use our eyes like any other searcher.

When your eyes are peeled bare for six hours, looking for drag marks, disturbed earth, a black t-shirt, crystal bling -- anything that might be relevant, anything that does not belong -- the other thing that you see is everything. Even stuff that does belong, but is worth noticing.

Like this:

I saw it as we were about to head back to our car for a snack before tackling the other half of our search area. Actually I saw Pip see it -- she noticed the contrasting whiteness, briefly checked it out, and declared it background noise. It certainly did not smell relevant to her.

Lots of deer skulls in the woods, but I never find one with two undamaged antlers. This needed to come home. Antlers don't fit into backpacks well, so I was carrying it under my arm as we walked down the road that formed one of our task boundaries.

As luck would have it, a local television reporter driving by gave herself whiplash when she saw the cute doggy in the orange vest. Never fails.

She asked if she could get video of us. We told her that we didn't have time to stop, and that she needed to check in at the command post.

This gave me just enough time to wrap the skull in my jacket before she started rolling. The press will be press.

I just really did not want to be the searcher shown on-camera dragging a skull out of the woods, no matter the species of its former owner. Some people would not, you know, grok this.

But inside my small pack was something that I do not grok.

That does not belong.

Yes, those are lemons.

They were on and under a large, vigorous, weird-looking spiky lemon tree.

Out in the middle of the dense and untraveled woods. Uncultivated.

In Charlottesville Virginia.

38 degrees latitude.

I smelled them before I saw the tree.

Pip's job description does not include acknowledging errant citrus; she continued to work while I looked around for the source of the incongruity. Since we had detected a few party spots in the course of our task, I suppose I was imagining some odd variant on these. But there was the tree, surrounded by drops and loaded with fruit.

I'd have been less surprised to encounter a family of penguins.

I've asked about it on the citrus forum of Garden Web. No response.

Everything the Googles has uncovered indicates that lemons don't grow north of Florida.

I have no friggin' explanation. None. The tree is an impossibility.

So, driving north to home last night with my teammate Chris and a bag of the fragrantly impossible, we mulled over the not-so-strange case of the missing Metallica fan.

I recounted a disagreement I had with my ONB training partner, Douglas, when I had worried that a certain individual was not above harming or killing a dog in order to seek revenge on people involved in ONB.

Douglas told me I was being ridiculous, that what I was postulating was "TV levels of evil."

Meaning: People don't act that awful in real life -- it has to be badly scripted. Douglas was referring to, let's say, Dynasty scripting.

Yet SAR responders' stock-in-trade is slogging through the consequences of TV levels of evil that are so shopworn, we sometimes wonder if we are living repeats.

We perform our duties in a world where the first, and usually last, suspect in a child's violent death is one or both of her parents.

We sit on our hands while public servants decide that an all-out search is unnecessary for someone -- someone who is not rich, is not white, is not pretty, but is just as missing as Chandra Levy.

We watch as public servants and our self-declared colleagues in volunteerism obstruct professional search efforts as they play out their territorial pissing matches and ego fantasies -- while the lost person's survivability curve plummets by the hour.

We smell the piss and neglect in the dank nursing home, and wonder how long that 98 year-old has really been missing.

We look into the glassy eyes of the mother of a runaway boy who is trying to convert us to her religion while we are trying to find her son, and know that there was a reason he hopped a freight.

We wonder how the swindlers with a magic search dog and a "100% success rate" stay out of prison for years and keep garnering breathless laudatory press coverage and the fatuous loyalty of law enforcement.

We see TV levels of evil all the damned time. More than we do on TV.

Okay, sure -- there's plenty of selection bias. We all imagined our SAR duties in terms of misplaced hikers, wandering children, stranded climbers, and trackless wilderness. Our reality is wandering dementia patients, once-a-year Nimrods with cardiac histories, the victims of violent atrocities, and the trash-strewn strip-mined gully behind the assisted-living center.

TV levels of evil are the bleached deer skull in the thicket of a SAR career. Interesting to find, but no surprise. Something that belongs.

So Chris and I parsed out the obvious selection bias, and just went with people we knew in our personal lives. The neighbor who stabs his parents to death in their bed. The one who shoots her child and then herself. The one who invites her illicit lover in to rape her teenage daughter while her husband is out of town. The brother's best friend who murders his 13 year-old girlfriend, molests the body, and then disposes of the evidence with the help of his aunt. The former lover serving federal time for treason. And those are just the things we know about.

TV has got nothing on real life for the ubiquity of human evil. It's not the skull in the woods, it is the woods themselves.

So perhaps what we work for is the impossible. That part of the woods that we do not expect, but must be open to seeing.

Ron Remich, the unwitting Patron Saint of my SAR career. The dead man who insisted on being alive four days after he went missing without his insulin or his anti-rejection meds, and taught me that I have no right to kill a lost person in my head. No right to search for a body when I might be searching for a man.

If not for Ron Remich, I would have given up hope for young Jacob Allen. I'd have been looking for a dead boy, not the live boy we found. Maybe I'd have dismissed his parents' account and turned a jaundiced eye upon them, wondering what they'd done with their handicapped son. Given in to the omnipresence of evil. Instead, I rolled out of my sleeping bag every morning and went to work on a rescue, not a recovery.

Ron and Jacob remind me to believe in the reality of the improbable.

The inconceivable existence of a wild lemon tree in central Virginia. The remote prospect that a rich, pretty white girl has not succumbed to the most likely scenario, the most banal story of evil.

A bowl of impossible lemons makes a decent still life.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Flows downhill

This Spring, when Professor Chaos had the bionic implant done on his chubby, flat, right foot, I had the privilege of playing Step-n-Fetchit for him, then a few weeks of four-hour-a-day rush-hour unpaid chauffeur duty, and a couple of months of managing every farm and household chore single-handed.

Which metaphor I never appreciated properly until we got the farm, and had a hundred-times daily lessons on how a given chore or repair that would take two people two minutes takes one person a half hour and a small storm-cloud of profanity.

A dog may be far better than a hired man for helping with livestock, but they suck at holding the window frame while I screw in a new hinge. Also, cannot lug a five-gallon poultry waterer.

The by-catch of all this, aside from a persistent vile temper in excess of the baseline, was the near-destruction of my upper back and neck.

A new physician, presented with the primary complaint of neck and back pain and severe paresthesia in both hands, questioned whether my insomnia might not indicate a need for antidepressants, and ordered up a a few fuck-you radiographs and a butt-cam for good measure. Neither revealed anything of interest. So, ipso facto, nothing wrong with me, thankyoucomeagain..

(Anyone know a decent internist/GP in the North Hills of Pittsburgh? Someone who, you know, actually practices medicine? Still looking ...)

The chiropractor strung me along for about six weeks, and I still couldn't feel my hand.

Finally, in July, my witch-doctor friend flew in as close as Dayton to teach a clinic. I drove out the night before, and a half-hour after deplaning, she got into my back, made me do things that made me cry, and essentially fixed me. Within four days the parasthesia was gone, and it has not come back.

Today Professor Chaos is having his left paw sliced, and I no wanna repeat.

So last month, I spent a couple days devising a labor-saving gadget that is, after a four-week trial, safe to say, the cat's ass.

The most tedious chore on the farm has been keeping the poultry supplied with plentiful, clean water.

First of all, there isn't a single commercial poultry-fount design that I would kick a duck in the ass with. We have at least six different designs, and each one of them sucks in some different way -- fragile, tips, leaks, won't open, won't close, hard to clean, clogs, breaks. And none of them are cheap, at least, for what you get.

So I bought some parts and made a poultry waterer that is easy to keep clean, does not leak, does not clog, does not tip, and never leaves my birds without plenty of water -- and I've only refilled it once since I installed it. It takes less than a minute a day to clean, and there is no heavy lifting involved. The heaviest work is pulling the garden hose up about 12' with a string.

First, I bought a self-filling dog water bowl. About $12 on sale somewhere.

I already had a 55 gallon plastic barrel that had served as a rain barrel for many years at our former home. It had cost me $5 -- I see them on Craig's List for $10 all the time nowadays.

I installed a new plastic spigot near the bottom. Spigot cost about $3 at Trader Horne.

I had some good-quality hose that I'd salvaged from the curb quite a while ago. Someone ran over a long, expensive hose with his lawnmower, and rather than cut out the damaged part and repair, he pitched it. My gain.

A shut-off valve for the downhill (in-coop) end -- about $3.

Male and female ends for the hose, about a buck and a half per.

My poultry are cooped in the lower level of our bank barn. Upstairs is hay storage and gear/equipment storage.

So I moved the empty rain barrel into the upper part of the barn, directly above the chicken coop. Positioned it over a strong beam near the foundation, and set it up on some cribbing so that the spigot isn't so close to the floor that the hose kinks.

Ignore the wood detritus around the barrel -- it rained down during roof repair last week.

Drilled a hole in the floor. This was harder than it sounds. The floor is oak, and 1 1/2" thick. Fortunately that is two courses of boards, so I was just able to pull this off with a hole saw and a chisel.

Fed the hose through the floor, and down into the coop.

Secured the bowl to the wall so that the chickens have to reach a little in order to drink. Shorter chickens can stand on the ramp to the pop-door. This way, less junk gets into the bowl.

The bowl is mounted on four screws with its keyhole mounts. It is secure on the wall, but easy to lift out to clean.

I just bring a bucket into the coop in the morning, lift the bowl off the mount, slosh the dusty water into the bucket, wipe the bowl off with a damp rag, and make sure that the new water glugging in is clean.

The drip you see at the shut-off valve in the photo is because I had just cleaned the bowl and inadvertently loosened the connection a little. I've since cranked it very tight.

I could have just as easily placed the barrel outside and uphill of the coop. This would have made filling it even easier. I bring the garden hose from the house up into the barn with a string that dangles down through a siding board that isn't nailed down at the bottom, and gives the barn swallows an entrance when the door is closed. But since the barrel is white, I wanted to keep it out of the sunlight so I wouldn't have to contend with algae. I also have some terra-cotta colored and blue barrels, and those would be better for an outdoor installation.

If I lived someplace level, I'd have built a frame/platform for the barrel that raised it to about chest level, and placed it very close to the coop.

Someone asked why I don't just run a hose straight to the coop from the house.

Last year, a hose that I left on burst while I was out for the day. Came home to a well cistern that had actually been sucked dry. Fortunately our well-pump has a safety shutoff and didn't fry, but we were without water for a day.

This single innovation has cut poultry chore time by about 75%.

Come winter, we'll probably have to go back to hauling water on the coldest days. I could heat the reservoir, but keeping the hose flowing overnight, when the birds don't drink, would be a bitch. Still, unless we have another apocalyptic winter, this should be about a month of water-hauling total.