This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Inference to the best explanation

To this day, less than 50% of Americans believe we cause global warming. This is quite a strong indicator of the efficacy of judiciously spent corporate lobby money.

I remember a spoof on "Dr. Kildare" in Mad Magazine, decades ago, that taught me more about persuasion than all my years of schooling. Roughly, the older, mentoring doctor says to the young one: "Have a cigarette." "No, thanks, I don't smoke," replies the intern. "Never say that!" thunders his elder. "Our show is paid for by cigarette companies. One scene with an actor in a white lab coat, smoking, nullifies a hundred studies showing that smoking will kill you."

Use of bogus argument -- "Buy this kind of car and you will get girls because there is a girl standing by this car and she is smiling" is common in mercantile/political discourse. It relies upon an appearance of reason by substituting a proximity -- a thing seen with another thing -- for a leg of a three legged deductive argument.

We ought to be able to recognize such arguments and reject them out of hand, but it's difficult to do; they appeal to our lizard brains and it takes a lot of coffee, and some will power, to fend them off with our prefrontal lobes.

Anyone can accidentally introduce fallacy into argumentation -- I do it quite frequently. But when you follow the money, you find more and more instances of it being done deliberately, by corporate spokespeople, think tank seminarians, Administration mouthpieces, and assorted "mainstream" journalists.

[Ironic understatement warning]. In other words, where there is oil to be sold there are lies to be told.

Free speech? Certainly. But it is an abuse of the commons, which is the thing most liberals are talking about when they complain about "conservative" strategy. I submit that the strategies in question are not conservative at all, nor represent the views or intent of true conservatives, who respect reason, freedom, and equality in ways that would put a good many liberals to shame.

Wouldn't it be lovely if everyone on the left abandoned whining and everyone on the right abandoned bullying and we all came together to preserve the commons through civil discourse?

Beginning with a respect for replicable science done well?


Here is a comprehensive "How We Know Global Warming is Anthropogenic" slideshow (opens in Acrobat Reader) which can be used as the basis of an unusually intelligent discussion of the issue:

Explains, with great clarity, the meaning of scientific consensus and gives us a hint of what's at stake when the noise of bogus argumentation is used to "refute" good, clean, ordinary science.

Consensus-building in science, says Oreskes, is done by noting a convergence among findings arrived at through:

1. Methodological standards, or the use of procedures known to have produced reliable conclusions.
2. Evidential standards, or the consideration of kinds of evidence known to work well with established methods.
3. Performance standards, or the consideration of the meaning of "reliable."
4. Inference to the best explanation, or the awareness that the proposal of frivolous explanations is not to be regarded as equivalent to the proposal of testable hypotheses. Occam's razor, really: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. In other words, if you pull an ice core out of Greenland's (disappearing) ice cap with 150,000 annual strata in it, you may find conversation with people who regard the Earth as 7,000 years old -- well -- frustrating, especially when they want to write your laws.
5. Community standards, or the appeal to consensus as to best practice in 1. through 4. above.

Found at: Only In It for the Gold.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The young wife

Old people, as we are now getting to be, are prone to various kinds of equipment failure. I made a lunch date with a new friend, then fell a bit ill and took to my bed on the day of the date, and when I next checked my email, there in all its glory was a note from her, rather graciously asking if I was all right -- she had sat in the restaurant, alone, people-watching and wondering why I hadn't turned up.

There's nothing that frightens me quite so much as simply forgetting to show up like that. I've done it only three times, and each of these inauspicious occasions have taken place in the last decade -- since I turned about forty-eight, in other words.

Beloved noted as much. "Oh, you stood someone up? Well, you are over fifty, you know."

But -- still. And if the person who does remember the date is older than I? But I suppose all things are relative. Somewhere ahead of each of us there is an unremitting darkness. Some pass into more of the shadows sooner, some at the last moment. I'm experiencing dappled shade.


We have discovered deer damage in the garden -- bean plants nipped off, and an eggplant and a couple of tomatoes. Beloved, who likes to sleep outside in the summer, has moved her bed nearer the veggies, in the area I like to call the orch-yard, and I have been pounding in fence posts all around the outer margins of the garlic border. There are now 11 of these, in a more-or-less concentric circle, and I can tell you that setting iron t-posts at midsummer is work. I drove a stout piece of rebar first into each spot, working the iron bar round in each hole to provide a starter hole for the t-post, then stood on an upended plastic bucket and hammered the post with the flat face of a sawed-off splitting maul. Tomorrow we'll go shop for some appropriate fence material.

Beloved has found the ducks, chickens and geese to be a lot to do. Not that they aren't cooperative, but she has so many and each kind has its own requirements. She's been moving a pen round the place with the geese in it, for example, to give them a fresh spot of grass to work on every day, and to keep them from chasing down the other fowl and nipping at them.

It's fun to lie down next to the fence and stick a finger through the mesh at grass level, wiggling it like a worm, and have the chickens run up one by one and inspect the possibility of a quick, fat meal. The Barred Rocks spraddle their feet out and lean forward, craning their necks to one side and then the other, trying to make out whether the finger is a danger or a goodie. They've never seen a snake before, yet they seem to have some notion of snakiness, just as they all run pell-mell for the barn when the shadow of a crow passes over them -- yow, could be a hawk! How do they know that? Amazing.

The Araucanas, who look, from up close, like a cross between a hawk and an owl, all quite handsome in burnished bronze plumage, stand diffidently at right angles to the finger, judging it from a right or left eye held steadily on target.


I came out to an old friend a few days ago (surely the last one! Who is there left that doesn't know?), and have been in steady email communication with him and his fabulous wife of thirty years, getting caught up, ever since. It's been an intense week for us all.

Beloved came and sat with me while I was reading and responding to this vivid correspondence, in bed, doing my "medical bit" at the same time, as I often do -- being post-op requires that one lie in bed for twenty minutes immobile from time to time -- and she noticed I was in tears.

"What's up?"

"He's depressed. It seems to have come as a bit of a shock."

"He's in mourning. I went through that. We all do."

"I'm hard on all of you."

"Well, but it's necessary. You have bottled yourself up for a long, long time."


"So, what in particular has got you so -- so wrought up?"

"I'm not sure. Neither is he -- I mean, about him. He says it's kind of weird to be hit so hard by this because we haven't seen much of each other in thirty-five years."

"Well, you must have meant a lot to each other."

"Mm-hmm. He says so right here. That we were both different from most of the others around us, and that getting through school would have been even more of a hell for him if I hadn't been there."

I looked at her.

"You know, I always thought it was kind of the other way around. He always mentored me on the manly stuff. He gave me more than one rifle, and a revolver, and made a custom holster for it, and leather belts for the holster -- I still have that brown one with the brass buckle -- and a watch pocket for my pocket watch that my mom gave me -- Daughter has those now -- and that wonderful backpacker's fly rod, and the handmade pipes from Chicago, and even picked out my pipe tobacco for me.

"In fact, just the other day, on campus, a guy went by smoking a pipe, and I ran back and stopped him and said, "Latakia!" And he was startled and said, "yes, ma'am -- I see you know your tobaccos" and so we had a lovely conversation, and I remembered my friend, for this man was so like him -- I'm realizing that I measure all men by him, and the more like him they are, the more I like them.

"And, best of all, he built my unadilla-wood clarinet -- 'Martin Freres action on a Buffet body, best of both worlds' -- or something like that. I'm not worthy of such a clarinet; cheeze, you couldn't get one like it now."

"I know," she observed, "that's what they said when I took it in to be reconditioned for you. Their jaws dropped when they saw it."

"And he tried so hard to help me become, you know, a man to be reckoned with among men, just like my mom and dad did. I was a lost cause to them all."

"Not entirely. You had a good life in the woods, you haven't been entirely unhappy. You got my full attention when I was looking for someone to give me children. And -- I do have my standards!"

"Mmh!" The tears ran down again. "This was so right for me, though, in the end. And I'm just grateful for everyone coming through for me the way you all do."

"You're welcome, dear."


The next morning, I packed Little Eva, the Micro Poke Boat, with a fly rod and the reel my friend had given me over thirty years ago with the old Herters rod, and headed for the mountains. It was a risk -- the Saturn wagon is dying, and has been pronounced dead, in fact, by the mechanics. But when you must go, you go, trusting to the gods of the streams and the Naiads of the trees.

Having learned my lesson last year, I open-carried my equalizer on my right hip, in case of -- well, predators. A girl can't be too careful in beer-gut country.

I hiked in to the Wilderness, to a twelve acre lake of my acquaintance, carrying the boat on its pack frame, not a soul in sight the whole time -- still achievable up in there, if you go on a weekday.

The place might be void of people, but it was chock-full of life. A tremendous mayfly hatch was in progress. They twittered on my nose and fingers and eyelashes, and crawled in conga lines along the fly rod, paddle, and gunnels, ultimately falling to die on the water by the hundreds of thousands.

There was little likelihood I would catch anything, for the fish were all sated. Only a half-hearted rise or two every half hour. But I tried anyway. All afternoon I trolled a variety wet flies on a sinking line along the edge of the drop-off, where the green shallows slide into blue.

As expected, none of the giant rainbow trout for which the place is known paid the slightest attention.

But one hefty sixteen-inch brookie took, and fought well, and was landed, cleaned, and wrapped in wet canvas to provide a dinner for two. I packed out, reasonably satisfied with the day, but still in a brown study, musing on my friend of long ago, and what we must have meant to each other.

Granny-gearing back down the mountain, I had a spell of oncoming sleepiness, as I often do after a day of keeping up the skills and interests I had cultivated in the "lost" years -- and so pulled over onto a one-lane concrete bridge, high above the leaping river, and parked in the shade of the mountain hemlocks on the opposite shore. I walked back and stood in the middle of the bridge, in the one patch of sunshine left so late in the day between the steep basalt walls of the canyon.

What anyone would see, passing by: a statuesque, young-elderly lesbian grandma out running around solo in the South Cascades, in her green corduroy jeans, grey tank top, and kayak shoes. Don't Tread On Me. I Have Business Here. Etc.

Watching the rapids below, and marveling at the variety of colors of the boulders in the impossibly clear pools, I suddenly realized why I was here -- I was doing some mourning of my own.

Not for the person I had been, that I have left behind in so many ways -- my former self, so carefully cultivated by my family and friends, has, after all bequeathed to me intact the hiking, the mountains, and this one especially nice fish.

Nor for my friend, of whom I had seen perhaps not nearly enough, over the years, considering the depth of feeling that had been between us. After all, many things have turned out well for him. As they have for me. But ...

It's like this: back when I was seventeen or so, and my dad had despaired of teaching me to drive --we always became really frustrated at such times, because there was something -- sissy would be the word, then, about me -- I was freaking him out, and neither of us could come to grips with why.

So, my friend offered to take me away for a while and return me to the family a skilled, test-ready driver. We packed a tent and a lot of bacon and eggs in his Volkswagen and headed for the Georgia hills, somewhere north of Kennesaw Mountain and south of Resaca, at the cold-snap height of an Appalachian winter.

A really nice old biddy in a park keeper's house ungated a closed state campground for us, and we had the entire place to ourselves for a week. During the days I sat in the driver's seat, shifting gears and clutching and braking, signaling right-and-left-hand turns on the frozen, empty intersections, and practiced parallel parking between steel-post-mounted barbecue grills.

No one saw my mistakes but the frosted long-leaf pines.

I began to gain confidence.

Ever at my right side, my friend, my didactic, freckled, sandy-haired, crusty, tobacco-stained and testosterone-laced friend, gently and quietly and patiently coached me, as all good teachers everywhere always do. At considerable sacrifice to his gearbox, I might add.

At night, we sacked out, tired and cold, and told stories. In the mornings I would rise, make fire in a grill, melt coffee ice, and make breakfast. When it was all ready, I'd go over and shake the tent, and the hibernating beast within would emit a lovely assortment of indignant grunts and howls, and eventually appear, squinting, snorting, and scratching, to reach for his cuppa, which had to be done just so.

I was flat-out deliriously happy.

Nowadays one might be tempted to make something of all this, bad or good, depending on your point of view. Neither of us thought anything of it at the time. What didn't happen, couldn't happen and would not have occurred to either of us, and we were both married to good women within the year.

But now, standing on the bridge in the last dollop of canyon daylight, I could see from the perspective of the dappled shade of age. A pattern emerged. A missed appointment of sorts, one might say. I'd been stood up by the universe, you see.

I'd known since I was six that I was supposed to be a girl. And had buried that knowledge, in fear and self-loathing.

So that when this so deep a friendship came and, in a way, went, I did not see then what I saw now, looking down at the passing water.

I was the young wife.

And this was the husband I would never have.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Counting chickens

Pie cherries, photo taken seconds
before the appearance of the fox

I have been picking the tart pie cherries, which the birds have not yet scarfed away in a day as in previous years, and these have proved more popular with our Bing cherry-lovers than they expected. Having filled my bucket, I climbed down from the ladder and ambled over to chat with Beloved in the garden, and while we were standing there, a red fox, a very large adult male, ran right by us not ten feet away, then across the road, headed in the direction of the neighborhood pheasant's mating calls. We were nonplussed, to say the least (I've before only seen one in all my fifty-eight years, from a passing car); and then, belatedly, we both ran up to the barnyard to count chickens.

Everyone there (all the Barred Rocks, Khaki Campbells, and White Chinese geese) had clearly seen the fox and were standing frozen into various attitudes like so much feathered statuary. The Araucanas were "within doors" and had blithely missed the show. All were present and accounted for. Beloved rounded them up and put them away for safekeeping.


Daughter has applied to a pre-dental program at a college in the Big City to the North. Recently she received a letter from their financial aid office, with words to this effect: "you are denied financial aid because your parents filed jointly on their federal income tax form."

Excuse me? We've done that for twenty-nine years.

Oh! I get it.

"What do I do, mamacita?" she asked.

"Do you want to be the one to call this guy?" I pointed to the name on the letter.

"You betcha!"

"Okay, tell him that we're both your natural parents, that I've had a legal name and sex change, that in Oregon the legality of a marriage is determined by the sex listed on the birth certificates at the time of marriage, that I haven't even changed my birth certificate yet, and am willing to furnish all necessary documentation."

"Yes, ma'am!" (Well, she doesn't use that kind of antiquated [to her] language, but that was the substance of her reply.)

She found the guy willing to back down, but in such a curmudgeonly way that she called the office again and talked to someone else.

"Who did you talk to?" asked the lady at the other end.

She told her.

"Oh! Some people have no imagination... wait here."

Silence on the phone for a bit, then:

"Everything will be fine, dear; thank you for calling."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

How to Go Green: Back To Basics

Haven't done this before, but I'm interested in learning how to share what I regard as important news and information through this blog, and I'm experimenting with a feature in Digg that does this. I highly recommend the Treehugger Green Guides, so here ya go!

risa b

The future is green, and you just found it. These days you probably feel flooded by dire-sounding environmental news ("the Earth is set to deflate by 2011") and endless suggestions for greener living ("algae cold-fusion reactors for your shoes"). But fret not. We're here to help sort things out and get your eco show on the road. Here, we bring it back to basics and break it down into bite sized chunks of simple, everyday ways to live a greener, healthier, more ethical (and ultimately more fun) life. So read on. And remember, if you have a friend, relative, or colleague who needs a little help on the green front, send the...

read more | digg story

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Family values

Daughter and Beloved setting out a picnic
prepared by Daughter and her Young Man

I had dreaded coming out to our neighbors, as they are serious country church-goers, and so they were probably the last people to see the former me alive. Boy-mode becomes increasingly difficult to maintain for most transwomen and eventually impossible -- the hiding requires more effort, and feels like self-betrayal. Yet one is never sure where on the slippery slope to let go and slide.

The other side of this church-going thing, though, is that we knew that they put themselves where the Gospel lives. Retired for many years now, they're often not at home because they're off somewhere visiting the sick and helping the hungry, which is what Christians are supposed to do. So, a) I felt that maybe I had a chance of being tolerated by them and b) I felt that my mowing was a way of participating in their activities. Support for the right kind of missionaries, so to speak.

A couple of years ago, I took to mowing on Sunday mornings when they were gone; The Invisible Grass-Slayer Strikes Again. Hopelessly cowardly, and amazingly enough, sustainedly cowardly. A day came when they were home when I did not expect them, and I was mowing their back yard in my one-piece swimsuit in very hot weather, with my wide-brimmed straw hat, sweating like a piglet.

Mister came out with a glass of cold cranapple juice.

"She says thank you and would you like some juice."

"Yes sir, I would. Thank you."

Well! Cat's out of the bag. I could see the outline of Missis just inside the screen door; felt scrutiny, but saw no sign of what either of them thought.

He took the empty glass and went inside. I fired up the mower.

The next day he delivered a loaf of fresh bread to Beloved while I was at work. "This is some more thanks for the mowing she's done. It's been a big boost for us -- we've been feeling our mortality."


The next day we took over a basket of veggies.

While I was in Florida for my surgery, Mister mowed both places and kept an eye on things.


By dint of hard labor, Beloved has this year's garden pretty much in. Tomatoes, corn, beans, eggplant, celery, squash, pumpkins, sunflowers, zinnias. The pie cherries are red, and there will be one kind of plums (the other tree is having a rest) and three kinds of apples (the other three are also having a rest); the pear tree, which has never really tried, is making a valiant effort.

I haven't participated much in all this very directly this year; my strength is not what it was and after a project or a meeting I seem to want to sleep for hours. I'm feeling my mortality, like Mister and Missis.

Daughter and her Young Man decided they would treat us to a picnic. They came over on a Saturday and brought cheese, veggies, strawberries and ale.

I get awfully antsy when I see people doing kitchen work that aren't me.

"Anything I can do?"

"Go sit down. You're the Mower Lady. You do plenty."

We sat along the edge of the shade from the fir trees and watched the swallows curvetting in the sunlight, picking off bugs for their babies, or cottonwood fluff from mid-air to line their nests.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A reading ...

We pose for our 15 seconds of fame.
Photo by Sabena

... took place at Mother Kali's under the auspices of Gertrude Press and Equity Foundation. The audience was about thirty people, including Beloved and Daughter. I followed a poet and a novelist and there were a poet and a novelist after me; I was the autobiographer and read from the opening pages of Homecomings. The readings were well received and a good time was had by all. If you haven't been to Mother K's, go have a look-see and do support them; it's the oldest continuously operated feminist bookstore in the United States, and a real treasure.


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