Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Back in the Saddle
Well! I'm tanned, rested, and ready! Or I would be tanned if the weather in Florida had cooperated on more than the last day of my holiday, which I split between Mississippi and Florida.
As usual after my annual hiatus, I return with lots of catching up to do, and in more than just the blogging department. I got around to my comments this morning, where, among a handful of holiday greetings, I found a tart missive from an anonymous commenter who claimed to be Jana Shockley.
The Jana Shockley.
The Jana Shockley who made headlines back in September for goading her elementary school class into making a stand for mob rule and bad science when Pluto got demoted. Was the following too cheeky? "The appropriate time to teach about government -- and thank God, so to speak, we do not live in a 'democracy' -- is civics class." Perhaps. Perhaps not.
If this really was Ms. Shockley, she has provided the perfect example of why the prospect of raising children scares the bejesus out of me. I don't want someone like this "educating" my children.
Three and a Half Good Reads
I had far less time than normal to read over the holidays, but I did manage to read all of Joe Queenan's hilarious affectionate spoofing of Great Britain, Queenan Country: A Reluctant Anglophile's Pilgrimage to the Mother Country. The following tale is but a taste:
While strolling through Hyde Park one morning, I happened upon a fussy old woman who was giving a thirtyish man some badly needed lessons in dog training.This little gem arrived in the mail as a Christmas present (along with Queenan's Balsamic Dreams, which I have already started and may end up enjoying even more) as a Christmas gift from my good friend, Adrian Hester.
"You have to show them who's in charge; otherwise you're just lost," she explained. "For example, when it's time to go home, you don't want to tug at their collars and force them to obey; you have to make your wishes clear through the tone of your voice. You have to say, 'BYE-EE BYE-EE' in a loud voice. And then they know it's time to come. Now you try it."
The young man tethered at the far end of a Jack Russell was wearing a prim blue suit and a snappy tie, and did not seem dressed for the occasion. He hesitated o follow her instructions.
"Go on," she insisted. "Say BYE-EE BYE-EE."
"Bye-ee bye-ee," he croaked half-heartedly.
"No, say BYE-EE BYE-EE," she hectored him.
"Bye-ee bye-ee," he repeated without enthusiasm or authority, seemingly quite embarrassed by the whole situation. Just then, a mammoth black hound who looked like he might have been with Heeward the Wake when he made his last stand at Ely in the eleventh century thundered across the lawn and leaped at the terrier, taking a nice bite out of his diminutive hide. The beleaguered pooch leaped into his owner's arms, smearing fresh mud all over his jacket, and the woman promptly disappeared. The owner of the hound, a middle-aged man decked out in tweed, corduroy, and a Greek fisherman's cap -- the traditional Ragged-Trousered Philosopher getup -- rushed over, patted the frightened little victim, and assured the owner that no permanent harm had been done. But could he quit while he was behind? He could not.
"He doesn't care much for Jack Russells," he apprised the victim's owner. Then, turning to me, he confided in a conspiratorial tone, "They abused him as a pup."
The hound was the size of a Ford Escort, making it hard to imagine all but the most ferocious Jack Russell taking him on, even as a callow youth. As man and beast scurried off, I asked the owner of the still petrified doggy why the obedience trainer had vanished so abruptly just when things got a bit dicey.
"I never saw her before in my life," he said, not for a second betraying any sense that these recent events were even slightly out of the ordinary. "Actually, it's not even my dog. My boss asked me to take him for a walk."
Also quite promising is a present from my wife, Put Your Science to Work, by Peter Fiske, who, I am happy to see, is actively blogging about career development for scientists. I got through to the first set of reader exercises of that one during my flight home from Birmingham, Alabama. It may take a while to get through this one, but I am sure it will be worthwhile.
Three down and one half to go. I also read most of a badly-written book whose title and author I leave un-named out of kindness: I found the book stylistically near-unbearable and its treatment of the subject at hand too superficial at times. Nevertheless, I found the book, about opportunities for writers to be a useful starting point for my own explorations in that realm anyway.
I am still sorting out whether to take the fact that this book got published at all as inspiration or reproach!
Having served as a submariner in a past life, I did not fail to notice the sad news from off the coast of England last Friday.
Two crew members of an American submarine have died after falling overboard in Plymouth Sound.My friends at Ultraquiet No More have, as they always do, done a good job of covering this story as the reports came in.
They were among four crewmen who were working in poor weather on the outside casing of the USS Minneapolis-St Paul off the Devon coast.
A rescue helicopter from RNAS Culdrose, a tug boat and a lifeboat were sent to the men's aid while they were tied on to the side of the 110m (362ft) vessel.
My thoughts are with the families of the two submariners as well as with the crew of the Minneapolis-St. Paul.
1-3-07: Corrected some typos.