Monthly Archives: July 2011

Yet Another Jihad

This satiric piece was written a few years ago by Jon Carroll, a columnist who writes (or wrote) for the San Francisco Chronicle. I was amused; perhaps you will be as well.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism — 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!

People of the United States, why is everyone yelling at you??? Whatever happened to … you know, everything? Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea? Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace notes for the record that we mean no disrespect to Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Referred back to the committee of the whole for further discussion.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for “balance” by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: “Sincerity is not enough.” We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it’s true doesn’t make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn’t mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

Brother Gatling Gun of Patience notes that he’s pretty sure the world is out to get him because everyone laughs when he says he is a Unitarian. There were murmurs of assent around the room, and someone suggested that we buy some Congress members and really stick it to the Baptists. But this was deemed against Revolutionary Principles, and Brother Gatling Gun of Patience was remanded to the Sunday Flowers and Banners committee.

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.

Startling new underground group spreads lack of panic! Citizens declare themselves “relatively unafraid” of threats of undeclared rationality. People can still go to France, terrorist leader says.




Filed under Humor

Collaborative Garden: 2011

My friend Jeff lives just a couple of blocks from my place. Jeff had obtained permission from another friend to till up part of the back yard of a house he owns for a vegetable and flower garden. Jeff and I decided to share the labor and we’ve had the good fortune to have had a nearly ideal growing season so far. The rains have been plentiful but not torrential. Here are some photos I shot; the first of them taken in May and the second series in late July, about a week ago.

Radishes were the first seedlings to appear. They are ridiculously easy to grow and most of them were eaten while working in the garden — a pleasantly pungent snack for a mild day in May. The seed-leaves have a peculiar shape:

Many plants were getting started by the middle of May but the garden looked a bit sparse. The nights were still cool:

Here’s Jeff watering a young yellow crook-neck squash plant with a tin can which has holes punched in its bottom:

The following photos were shot about a week ago, during late July. We’ve had several 100 degree days lately so much of the garden maintenance has been at dusk. Jeff planted two “topsy turvey” cherry tomatoes. The plants are planted at the bottom of bags of soil with a hole in the bottom. The tomato emerges from the hole very confused but eventually figures out the peculiar arrangement. As a plant, you can’t go wrong if you grow towards the sunlight! The bag planters are hanging from a structure originally intended to support a bench swing.

Here’s a view of the garden these days, hundreds of plants busily photosynthesizing while hoping to avoid the numerous rabbits which infest the area like bedbugs on a couch:

I enjoy growing and eating cow-peas and crowder peas. The long slender pods grow up above the creeping leguminous foliage, looking like vegetative helicopter blades:

I like the taste of dill but don’t really use it in cooking all that much. I like having it growing in a garden, though; the yellow flower umbels are like starburst fireworks and a pinch of the lacy aromatic foliage is pleasant to munch on now and then.

I didn’t grow up eating eggplant very often, but when I was in my thirties I fell in love with the plant. The fuzzy gray-green leaves are pleasing to the eye and the fruits are just beautiful, glossy black with a large toothed calyx enclosing the stem end of the fruit. This year I’m growing a slender black variety, much smaller than the typical eggplants sold in the supermarkets.

Eggplants are in the Solanaceae (the Nightshade family). The eggplant (Solanum melongena) is related to tomatoes, peppers, and tobacco. The odd name comes from the resemblance of early European varieties to a chicken’s egg; little white round eggplants. I’d like to see one someday!

I use many of the eggplants I’ve been picking for a Levantine dip or spread called Baba Ganouch.

Here’s a cluster of eggplants hanging from a plant rejoicing at the absence of flea-beetles this year — oh, hell, none of my eggplant photos are good enough! I’ll take some more tomorrow — come back tomorrow afternoon and I’ll have some good ones!

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and I just bicycled over to the garden. This time I used an upended five-gallon bucket as an improvised tripod. The eggplants were nicely illuminated by the slanting rays of morning sunlight:

Aren’t the clasping calyxes extravagant?

In this next shot notice how the sunlight highlights the stems near the top of the frame:

I’ve had the hardest time getting good photos of eggplant flowers. A cruel world, isn’t it? The problem is that the blossoms face downward and it’s difficult to position the camera. I decided to pick one and lay it upon a fuzzy gray-green eggplant leaf:

The lighting was so nice that I cropped a closer view. Look at the arrangement of stamens and pistil — and the delicate pink of the petals just charmed my socks off:

It was a fruitful morning bike-ride!



Filed under Food, Photos, Plants, Quincy

Baby Kale

I enjoy seeing the emerging seed-leaves of any plant, when the chlorophyll is on the verge of appearing in response to light, displacing the pale yellow initial color. A seed’s sprouting is triggered by what it considers to be appropriate levels of temperature and moisture.

I planted some kale seeds about a week ago and yesterday some of them made their first tentative forays into the sunlit atmosphere. At first the sprouts are bent over as if exhausted by the effort, but their instinctive craving for light will soon straighten them up. Seedlings are so vulnerable; it doesn’t take much to discourage them to the point of wilting and death. Lack of moisture, a passing insect or rabbit, or too much moisture will sound their death knells.

Cultivated plants are tender when young and need to be babied along, unlike wild plants which are accustomed to going it alone.

Here are those kale sprouts. It’s hard to believe that within a couple of months they will be masses of dark-green curly leaves, ready to brave the first frosts. Kale tastes so much better after a frost or two. I use the leaves in stir-fries and soups. The excess ends up in the freezer.

Of course this presupposes that I remember to water them and fence them off from the verminous rabbits!

A day later. The babies will be spending this Saturday out on my back porch railing. They’re happy, as there is sun but no wind. Notice how the chlorophyll green evidently manifested itself as the sun rose while I was inside sleeping.



Filed under Photos, Plants

The High Road

Tim O’Brien is an exceptional singer, song-writer, and multi-instrumentalist. He crosses from genre to genre with great ease and virtuosity.

I primarily favor instrumental music, in particular Baroque period European music, old-time pre-bluegrass fiddle music, Irish dance music, jazz, and blues.

Every now and then, though, I encounter a vocal song which moves me and stays with me. Tim O’Brien’s song “The High Road” is one of those songs. Listen, and let me know what you think of it:

Here are the lyrics:

Up on the high road lookin’ down
Thinkin’ how you let me down
And deep in my heart I hear the sound
Of the song that carried me away.

We would come here years ago
And the stars would shine and the wind would blow
You’d look in my eyes and I would know
That you would carry me away.

Late last week in the marketplace
I heard your voice and I saw your face
You were gone without a trace
It sure did carry me away.

I’ll play a tune and watch the stars
Hope the wind will carry it far
And if you hear me wherever you are
Just let it carry you away.

Play old fiddle and carry me away
To another life and another day
Well, here’s a little tune I always play
It sure does carry me away…



Filed under Music

A Phi Video

┬┤Phi, commonly known as the Golden Ratio, is an irrational number with many fascinating properties. It can be derived with this equation:

(Image from Wikipedia)

I won’t delve into the various examples of phi which can be found in nature and art. There are many articles on the web concerning phi; a good starting point is the Wikipedia entry.

I will mention a visual and geometrical way to grasp this irrational number. Imagine a square, then imagine that the right-hand side of the square comes loose at the top-right corner and falls flat, continuing the bottom side of the square towards the right. Imagine a new side extending vertically and a connecting line extending from this new line’s top leftwards towards the terminus of the top of the square; what results is a rectangle. The ratio between the lengths of the long and short sides of this new rectangle is phi, the Golden Ratio.

A film-maker named Cristobal Vila has produced a very well-done video illustrating the Golden Ratio. Watch it, I’m certain you will enjoy it:

My friend Jeff called this video to my attention. Thanks, Jeff!


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Filed under Math, Natural History, Visual Arts

A Tale Of Garlic Endurance

Readers of this blog might remember the plight I was in early last December, when I was illegally living hand-to-mouth in an unheated building, cozied up to a wood fire in a bucket. My father rescued me and I lived with my folks for several months.

I needed some things from that building early last spring, so I borrowed my mother’s car and drove to Hannibal to fetch them. I was looking around the apartment and I noticed several bulbs of garlic sitting on the kitchen windowsill. They had been there all winter — surely they had died during the sub-zero periods. It was a cold winter.

I examined the bulbs and I was amazed to see that they were sprouting! Tiny green spears were emerging. They were still alive after being cruelly abandoned; I couldn’t believe it.

I slipped the bulbs into my coat pocket, gathered up what I needed, and headed back to my folks’ place in Quincy.

A week or too later my friend Jeff and I decided to collaborate on a garden. One April day I teased the garlic bulbs apart and planted the cloves in a square patch. It was the least I could do after what they had been through. I didn’t know how they would do, as garlic is best planted in the fall.

Last week I dug them up; the bulbs were small but they have a back-story which I will think of as I eat them this fall. Yesterday I washed them and set them out on the porch to dry and cure. Here’s a photo of these alliums:


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Filed under Food

A Native American Pesto?

I first became aware of pesto back in the early nineties. I don’t remember how I heard about it — probably a magazine or web article. It’s a simple food which originated in Italy; a lot of sweet basil leaves (I prefer the Genovese variety) chopped or even pureed with a smaller quantity of parsley, parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, and optionally garlic. It’s a greenish spreadable food which doesn’t look particularly appetizing when first encountered. There are many variations. Either a food processor or a blender is the pulverizing agent.

I could eat pesto every day; I just love the stuff.

Betsy and I planted a big patch of basil one spring and made pesto all that summer and many summers to follow. Pine nuts were too expensive so we substituted unsalted sunflower seeds or walnuts. Betsy discovered that basil and parsley leaves could be frozen spread out on cookie sheets, bagged up, and put back in the freezer. Winter pesto!

This summer has been rainy and my basil and parsley are thriving. I just finished making a batch of pesto; it takes about ten minutes. I used cashews rather than pine nuts.

Pesto is versatile; traditionally it is served with pasta, but it also makes a fine sandwich spread. Freshly-made tortilla fragments can be dipped in pesto. I enjoy mixing up food cultures.

As I sampled the new batch I got to thinking. Could a pesto analog be made with plants native to this continent?

Basil is in the mint family but its strong odor is pungent and not minty at all. My favorite native mint-family plant is the Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum pilosum. The species is an upland tallgrass prairie plant and it has a heavenly odor. Let’s see… walnut oil could be substituted for olive oil, and hickory nuts could take the place of those expensive pine nuts. Let’s toss in some ramps or other wild onions rather than garlic. There are several umbelliferous plants which could take the place of parsley, and the salt could come from salt licks.

I’ll bet nobody has ever tried this!

My friend Jeff and I are collaborating on a garden this year. Here are the thriving basil plants:

And here’s my old friend, the Hairy Mountain Mint:

Sometimes I’m envious of old cultures such as those in Europe and Asia. They’ve had thousands of years to develop techniques for using native vegetation and fauna as food, while we’ve just had a couple of hundred years. Most of our cuisine and many of the foods we eat are imports from the Old World. Of course Americans were and are compensated by vast areas of virgin fertile soil, so I guess it’s a wash.



Filed under Food