“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”

This message is largely a follow-up to what I posted last October 27.  First, temperatures are more normal, especially since a warm front came in early this week.  Second, I am finally seeing the kind of fall color I missed last time; better late than never.

Since Tuesday we have gotten just over half an inch of rain, thanks to the warm front.  Now a cold front is approaching from the west, and the weatherman is predicting severe storms will arrive tonight at 8 PM.  We’re also getting high winds, in the 20-30 MPH range.  Some central Kentucky communities have called for Halloween to be postponed, so kids can go trick-or-treating when the weather is more favorable.  So far I haven’t heard of any postponement in Lexington, though; storms are appropriate in horror movies, anyway.

On the job hunt, I have gotten an astonishing number of e-mails and phone calls about a temporary job in Austin, TX, which I assume are all about the same job.  They peaked yesterday, and I was also contacted about another job in Columbus, OH.  The part I found odd was that every one of those recruiters was a pushy guy of Indian ancestry; why are they the folks contacting me?  Then this morning I got an e-mail announcing the exact same job that I had interviewed for, four weeks ago.  Needless to say, I applied for the job again, but I don’t know which of the following happened:

1. It’s the same old job, the e-mail was sent in error.

2. The company decided to hire for more positions.

3. The first person hired didn’t work out; he might not have shown up on the first day.

Any guesses as to which case it was?

Iraq Wants the Deed to the Tower of Babel

In the past I have posted links to odd news stories from the Middle East, but I can’t figure out this one.  Iraq kicked out its Jewish community in the 1940s, and most of them went to Israel.  The Iraqi government confiscated the books the Jews could not take with them, and the United States removed those books after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003.  Now Iraq wants the Jewish Iraqi Archive back, so the Jews won’t try to take the Tower of Babel by claiming they built it originally.

Can anybody make sense of this?  There weren’t any Jews in existence when the tower was built.  If Abraham lived at the time, which I doubt, he wouldn’t have claimed the structure.  Moreover, the tower crumbled away thousands of years ago, and nobody knows for sure where it was (David Rohl thinks it was the temple of Enki, at Eridu).  What’s the point in claiming a building that no longer exists?

Finally, if we give the manuscripts back, what assurances do we have that the Iraqis will treat them as well as the Jews have?  Let an Islamist government take over in Iraq, and the manuscripts will probably get the same treatment as the Bamian Buddhas in Afghanistan.

Anyway, check it out and tell me if you understand what the Iraqis are thinking:

Iraq Wants Jewish Archive to Prove Ownership of the Tower of Babel

Shortchanged On Two Seasons

This year is looks like both summer and fall were shorter than expected.  It only felt like summer (90+ degrees) in the first half of July, and for about three weeks in late August-early September.  Now we are five weeks into fall, and the last few days felt more like December.  On both Thursday night and Friday night, it got below freezing.  It is theoretically possible to have frost in central Kentucky as early as October 10, but in the seven years since my arrival, this is the first time it happened before November.

On Thursday, just before sundown, I looked out the back door. It was 37 degrees then.  A brown female cardinal was at the bird feeder, and a few snowflakes fell behind her.  It could be a scene from a Christmas card, only I never expected to see it in October!  That was the only time I saw any flakes, they stopped after that.  The next morning, I looked at the bird feeder again, and a red (male) cardinal was there.  Presumably that was the other one’s mate, because unlike other birds, they don’t migrate, but are stay-at-homes.

You wouldn’t know it was this late in the season if you just looked at the trees.  Normally fall color peaks around now, but most of the leaves on the trees in my neighborhood are still green.  Only a fraction of the leaves are red, and I have not seen any yellow or orange yet.  My guess is they were thrown off schedule by the unseasonal temperatures were are having, and the dry spell we had earlier in the month.

Late yesterday afternoon, I saw a woolly bear caterpillar crawling across the driveway.  It was the size of my finger; I don’t remember ever seeing one before (we don’t have them in Florida), but I have seen enough pictures of them in books to know what it was.  The brown band in the middle covered two-thirds of its body.  I looked in Wikipedia to refresh my memory on woolly bear folklore, and that wide brown band supposedly means we will have a mild winter; like the one in 2011-2012, perhaps?  I was also amused to find out that about 50 miles from here, the town of Beattyville had a festival this weekend, the Woolly Worm Festival, dedicated to the caterpillar.  What’s more, they have been doing it every year since 1987.

By the way, I saw the woolly bear again today, on the wall of the house, above the garage door.  This time Leive saw it too, so now she knows what kind of animal I’m talking about.  Last August 28, I posted the Farmer’s Almanac prediction about a “piercing cold winter” for the east coast, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be different, on this side of the Appalachians.

Filling the El Salvador Gap

Whoops!  When I was working on Chapter 4 of my Latin American history series, covering the years from 1830 to 1889 A.D., I only talked about El Salvador in the first two decades.  I forgot to say anything about the country when I got past 1850.  Today I was composing the part of Chapter 5 that will cover El Salvador, and realized my omission, so here is what I added to Chapter 4:

Before 1900, El Salvador went through three economic cycles that were each dominated by one product.  First came a cacao cycle in the seventeenth century, only a few decades after Europeans discovered chocolate.  Then came an indigo cycle in the early nineteenth century.  The indigo market busted because of the development of synthetic dyes, meaning the real thing was no longer needed.  Salvadorans looked for a new cash crop, and settled on the same choice as Costa Rica:  coffee.  Some coffee had been grown since independence, but it was in the 1860s that large-scale planting of coffee trees began.  The coffee cycle never ended; that is still El Salvador’s primary export today.

The switch from indigo to coffee put poor farmers, especially Indians, at a disadvantage.  Whereas indigo was planted and harvested every year, coffee trees had to grow for three years before they produced their first harvest, so farmers could only afford to plant coffee if they did not need the money right away.  The government saw former indigo-growing lands as potential coffee plantations, and in 1856 it decreed that if a pueblo did not plant two thirds of its communal lands with coffee, the state would confiscate the lands.  Then in 1881-82, President Rafael Zaldívar passed two laws that worked to abolish communal land ownership altogether.  With each tract of land owned by a single farmer, it became easier for the state to take it, one way or another.

At the time those laws were passed, 40 percent of the farmland was communal, and 60 percent of the population made a living off it.  After that, within a single generation most of the land was concentrated in the hands of an elite that Salvadorans called “the Fourteen Families.”  While that number is probably not correct, it shows how land, wealth and political power was concentrated on a feudal scale, in the hands of a tiny oligarchy.  By the beginning of the twentieth century, 95% of El Salvador’s income would come from coffee exports, but only 2% of Salvadorans controlled that wealth.

Congress vs. Other Hated Things: Florida Edition

What do you hate more than Congress?  Traffic jams?  Shark attacks?  Sand in your crotch?  Sinkholes?  As an ex-Floridian, I can relate to everything on this list.  The rest of you will be amazed at what we’d rather put up with.  Only one of the items on the list has a more unfavorable rating than Congress.  Can you guess which one?

Congress vs. Other Hated Things: Florida Edition.

I like how they ended the list, too.

Dear Politicians, we have a deal for you:
Put up better candidates and we promise to get better at counting the votes.
Love, Florida.

Happy Mole Day!

No, I’m not posting another animal-related message today.  Previously I announced two nerd holidays here:  Pi Day (March 14) and First Contact Day (April 5).  Now I have learned that today is a third one.  It commemorates the discovery made in chemistry of how many atoms are required to make up a gram of a substance, times that element or compound’s atomic weight.

Actually, Mole Day does not encompass all of 10/23, but runs from 6:02 AM to 6:02 PM.  Readers who remember Avogadro’s number will get it.  Whether or not you do, here is a song about the Italian who figured out the number:

The 411 On Number One


Here’s the fun fact you will learn off the Internet today.  According to the article behind the above link, every mammal the size of a cat or larger, no matter what the species, takes the same amount of time to urinate, about 21 seconds.  The bit I found amusing is that the researchers who discovered this fact didn’t follow a bunch of animals around with a stopwatch.  They just watched critters taking leaks on YouTube; there’s modern research for you!  I trust there’s no chance the videos were edited?