Football and Flies

Here in Lexington, the minds of the locals are turning to football.  Not only is the NFL season about to begin, but the University of Kentucky will have its first game of the season tomorrow.  They will be playing Western Kentucky University, so it’s a local rivalry, though not as big as the rivalry between UK and the University of Louisville.  Even more important, this will be the first game since Mark Stoops became UK’s football coach (see my message from November 28, 2012), so this will be our first chance to see what he can do.

WKU vs. UK game logo

Meanwhile at home, Leive and I are dealing with something more mundane – flies in the kitchen!  We were used to them in Florida, but not in Kentucky; normally the only bugs that bother us are the black ants that invade the house each spring.  We don’t know where the flies are coming from, and with the weather this hot, I seriously doubt we have an open door or window somewhere.  We can’t spray or bug bomb the kitchen, because Brin-Brin’s cage is there.  Nor is Brin-Brin much help, because parrots don’t eat bugs; all he can do is growl at the flies.  And I definitely won’t be able to try the method used by the last pharaoh of Egypt’s Old Kingdom, Pepi II:


(This video was posted here before, in my message from April 29, 2012.)

In the end we resorted to an old-fashioned tool – the good old fly swatter.  Leive claims to have killed fifteen flies with it yesterday, and at least half a dozen today.  Currently my best hope is that the flies won’t buzz around so much after this current heat wave ends.

Think Again, Jehoash Obama

The main headlines this week have to do with the possibility that the United States will shoot cruise missiles at Syria, now that President Obama has decided he can’t let the use of poison gas go unpunished.  Those aware of my preoccupation with the Middle East must be expecting me to say something about it, so here goes:

Just what does the president mean by “therapeutic bombing?”  What is the difference between that and regular bombing?  Moreover, it doesn’t look like we’re going to commit any ground troops, or even fighters and bombers.  Warfare is an all-or-nothing deal; if you want to win, you throw in everything you’ve got.  What I’ve seen so far looks too much like observance of the Liberal Rules of War.  It also sounds like the campaign in Kosovo; although we won that with just air strikes, we found out later that we had done the Serbs dirty.

Speaking of making mistakes, so far the current administration has picked the wrong side in Iran, Egypt, Libya and Israel.  Does anybody think Obama and company have improved their batting average?  From what I can see, there are no good guys in Syria.  The younger Assad isn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, if you know what I mean, and if there is a head of state who needs killing, it’s him.  On the other hand, any side Al Qaeda supports automatically becomes the greater of two evils.  I say we sit this one out and let them kill each other.  Then if we have to go in there later, we will only have one set of bad guys to deal with, and if they fight to the last man, so much the better.  Anybody got some popcorn?


Finally, I am reminded of this story from the Old Testament, in 2 Kings 13:14-20:

14 Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die. Then Jehoash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over his face, and said, “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!”

15 And Elisha said to him, “Take a bow and some arrows.” So he took himself a bow and some arrows.

16 Then he said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow.” So he put his hand on it, and Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands.

17 And he said, “Open the east window”; and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot”; and he shot. And he said, “The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance and the arrow of deliverance from Syria; for you must strike the Syrians at Aphek till you have destroyed them.”

18 Then he said, “Take the arrows”; so he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground”; so he struck three times, and stopped.

19 And the man of God was angry with him, and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck Syria till you had destroyed it! But now you will strike Syria only three times.”

20 Then Elisha died, and they buried him.

Is Obama about to repeat the story, by striking Syria only halfheartedly?

Now It Feels Like Summer

Now that it is the last week of August, the temperature has been creeping upward, so that we’re finally getting the hot summertime weather we missed the rest of the month.  The rain stopped two weeks ago, too, so maybe the rainy season we’ve been having is now over.  For three days in a row, the high temperature was 88 degrees, and then yesterday it was 90.  The forecast calls for more of the same until September begins:  90-91 degrees each day, with little chance of rain.

Just for fun, last Monday I checked the weather for Black Rock City, NV.  This is the only time of the year when anyone would want to know what the weather is like there – because of the Burning Man festival.  Well, for the whole week they are expecting highs in the 80s, and lows in the 40s; on one night it could get down to 39!  Normally for Burning Man, the temperature on the Playa is above 100, encouraging everyone to go around semi-naked, but now those poor folks will have to bundle up!  What a change from when I went to Las Vegas at this time in 2009, and I burned my right foot walking outside, even with dress shoes on.

Of course the heat won’t last, with fall less than four weeks away.  On Monday I heard the Farmer’s Almanac prediction for the upcoming winter on the radio.  The authors of the Almanac claim an 80 percent accuracy rate, by using traditional methods of predicting the seasons, like woolly bear caterpillars; no satellites or any other high-tech tools.  This time they’re predicting a killer freeze, or as they put it, “piercing cold,” “bitterly cold,” and “biting cold.”

The most interesting part of the Farmer’s Almanac forecast is a blizzard for the east coast on February 1-3, right during the Superbowl.  I checked the list of Superbowl locations on Wikipedia, and in forty-eight years, all but two of those championship games were held in the Sunbelt states, precisely to avoid winter storms like this.  The first Rustbelt game was held in Indianapolis in 2012, and because Indy has a domed stadium (the Hoosierdome), winter did not get in the way.  This time, however, the NFL’s luck may run out; the next Superbowl is scheduled for an open stadium, the NY Giants home field in Meadowlands, NJ.  I’m going to go out on a limb and predict this will be the first Superbowl postponed or cancelled on account of bad weather.  You heard it here first!

Stinkers at the Basement Door

Officially I live within the boundaries of Kentucky’s second largest city, but with the nearest farm less than a mile away, we get our share of wildlife in the neighborhood.  I regularly see birds, rabbits and chipmunks in the yard; once I saw an opossum on the doorstep; and we don’t have to go far to encounter raccoons, foxes, even deer and coyotes.  Leive and I have always preferred unexpected critters outside over concrete and the hustle & bustle of city life; we liked it that way even in Florida, where our house got invaded by bugs, and sometimes by reptiles.

On Saturday night/Sunday morning I was burning the midnight oil, here at my laptop, when I heard a strange noise from outside.  It sounded a little like some birds fighting at the bird feeder in the backyard.  Nothing strange about that, if it happens in the day, but this was the first time I heard anyone out there in the middle of the night.  When I looked out the basement door, I saw two skunks under the feeder.  Unfortunately (or should I say fortunately?) I don’t have visual proof; they ran away when I tried to take a picture of them.

The skunks didn’t hurt anything, so I’ll let them come back if they want to, and keep my distance.  In Florida I learned that most animals don’t bother you, if you don’t bother them.  Still this episode reminds me of a picture I got in my e-mail years ago.  Here it is below; when I got it, it came with a caption to let you know what the kids said:  “Oh look, kittens!”


Europe Reorganized

Well, I added yesterday’s World War I story to Chapter 14 of the European history series, as a footnote.  That required the renumbering of 34 footnotes that came afterwards, so I decided that putting both World Wars in the same chapter made the chapter too big to modify easily.  Therefore I split Chapter 14 into three chapters, to cover World War I, the interwar period, and World War II.  Heck, if you go into a bookstore like Barnes & Noble, you will find whole books devoted to one battle from those conflicts.  The former chapters 15 & 16 have been renumbered accordingly, too, so now the European history has a total of eighteen chapters, just like the Middle Eastern history.

Here’s an outline of the affected chapters, in case you haven’t read anything from them already:

Chapter 14: The Great War

1914 to 1919

It Started as the Third Balkan War

The Lights Go Out

The Schlieffen Plan

The Decisive Campaign

Other Events of 1914




The Last German Offensive

The Central Powers Give Up

Chapter 15: The Great Intermission

1919 to 1939

Disillusionment at Versailles

The Irish Free State

From Idealism to Upheaval

The Rise of Mussolini

The Scourge of the Depression

War Games in Ethiopia and Spain

Suddenly, It Became Hitler’s Austria

The Munich Agreement and the Maginot Line

Chapter 16: World War II

1939 to 1945

The Blitzkrieg Unleashed

The Fall of the West

The Battle of Britain and the Campaigns of 1941

Under the Swastika

The "Final Solution"

Underground Resistance

The Battle of the Atlantic

The Air War

The Underbelly of the Axis

The Liberation of France

The Final 150 Days

Chapter 17: A Continent Divided

1945 to 1990

Postwar Territorial Changes

The Nuremberg Trials

The Iron Curtain Descends

The Marshall Plan

Occupied Germany and the Berlin Airlift

Yugoslavia Breaks With Moscow

The Postwar Leaders of Western Europe

Unrest in the Soviet Empire

Fascism’s Last Stand

The Nations That Tried to Buy Happiness

Northern Ireland’s Troubles

The Common Market

The End of the Cold War

Chapter 18: Europe Today

1990 to 2000

The Late-Blooming Mediterranean Republics

The Northern Ireland Crisis — Solved

A United States of Europe?

Eastern Europe in the 1990s

The Yugoslav Wars: The Slovenian and Croatian Phases

The Yugoslav Wars: The Bosnian Phase

The Yugoslav Wars: The Albanian Phase

Demographics, 1914-2000

Europe Today

Now the next time I work on European history, I can see my main task will be bringing Chapter 18 up to date.

The Big Bang (In Flanders)

I just read about an amazing World War I battle.  This has to be added to Chapter 14 of my European history, but I’m still debating with myself how to fit it into the text.  Here is how it will read:

Before Passchendaele, the British won a minor victory in the battle of Messines.  Messines was a ridge the Germans controlled near Ypres.  The British commander in charge of taking the ridge back, General Herbert Plumer, was a real pyromaniac, who was determined to start the battle with a bang (literally).  So determined, that he spent eighteen months preparing the explosives.  Miners dug secret tunnels from the British trenches to Messines, and planted twenty-two colossal landmines in the ridge, under the Germans.  Each mine got at least 25 tons of TNT; 600 tons of explosives were used altogether.  One mine was discovered and exploded by German counter-miners in August 1916.  They did not find the rest, though, and when Plumer was ready to go, he said, "Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography."

At 3:10 AM on June 7, 1917, Plumer gave the order and nineteen mines were detonated.  These were the greatest controlled explosions anyone had attempted, up to this point.  Prime Minister David Lloyd George claimed he could hear the explosions from London, and an insomniac student in Dublin claimed he heard them, too.  Each mine blasted a crater more than a hundred feet wide on the surface, and the British infantry marched forward to take what was left of the ridge.  We’re not sure how many Germans were killed, but they lost at least 10,000 troops; this was one of the few battles during the war where the defender suffered heavier casualties than the attacker.

Did you notice that I said twenty-two mines were planted, the Germans blew up one, and the British set off nineteen?  The last two mines were not used, because there weren’t any Germans within range of them when the battle began.  After the battle the British promised themselves they would remove the unexploded mines, but never got around to doing it, because of other battles.  Soon they lost track of where they had put the mines, so everyone forgot about them, until a lightning bolt from a thunderstorm set off one of the mines on June 17, 1955; fortunately the only one killed in that explosion was a cow.  No one knows for sure where the remaining mine is, or if the TNT can go off after this much time in the ground.  Remember that if you’re planning to go to western Flanders, and have a nice trip.