The Rain it Falls Upon the Just

And on the unjust fella./ But mostly on the just, because/ The unjust steals the just’s umbrella!

It’s raining. At last. All at once.

The climate pattern for this region has two moisture peaks. One in the spring with thunderstorms and the usual loud spring weather. Then summer dries out, more or less, then in September and October get wet again. Snow tends to be light and relatively dry compared to parts east and west. We sometimes get spill-over from New Mexico’s summer monsoon, but that depends on how close to the mountains you are. And how much moisture we have.

It takes rain to get rain. If the ground is moist, evaporation happens, and fuels instability, which fuels rain storms. Dry soil bakes and gets drier, removing humidity from the air. In that case, sometimes it requires a major water dump, like a hurricane that makes it this far north, or a low pressure system that sucks weeks of water out of the Gulf of Mexico and wrings it out up here. This time, we got the low pressure option. With a side-order of severe thunderstorms.

The ranchers are delighted, those who have not had roads, fences, and other things wash away. The farmers are a bit more mixed. The wheat people are crossing their fingers, because we’re getting close to harvest. Really close. They want gentle rain, no hail, and then drying out for a few weeks. The cotton farmers, those with seed in the ground, want rain and higher temperatures. The folks who have not planted yet want warmer temps and a dry spell so they can plant, then warm, gentle rains. Those of us dealing with leaking foundations, flooded basements (all two of them in town), washed-out streets, and other excitement want rain, but not all at once.

I’m reminded of an interview I heard a decade and more ago with a wheat farmer after his area got ten inches of rain (or more) in an hour. “How’s your wheat, sir?” the gal inquired.

“It looks pretty good. I do have to go to [next state south] to visit it, though.”

Yep, pretty much.

The Selfie and Video Problem (For certain values of problem)

I once saw a young lady come within about one inch of committing selfie-cide. It was in the Matthias Church on Buda Hill in Budapest. The church was repainted to look a bit more . . . . colorful, if the Medieval color schemes met modern paint brightness. It’s impressive, and well worth wading through tourists to see. We were up on one of the balconies around part of the nave, and this young lady had her phone on a selfie-stick, leaning waaaaaaayyyy back over the edge of the railing to get the best shot of herself against the church. Just to prove that there is a reason for stereotypes, she was East Asian. (This was before selfie-sticks became common.) I wasn’t sure what to do if she started to fall: grab her, or look away so I didn’t have to fill out a witness statement?

She ended up not falling, although it wasn’t for lack of trying. I’d already seen “tourists with cell phones behaving very badly” in other places, most noticeably the Louvre Museum. One woman in particular would shove people out of the way, take a closeup of the art, and move to the next painting. She never looked at the results, or at the art. Everything was seen through the screen on the camera. If she ended up floating face down in the Seine River, I think at least a hundred people would have provided alibis. This was when “if you don’t post a photo, you weren’t really there” was “A Thing” on social media. It did cure me of taking photos in most museums, even when photos are allowed.

Joking aside, people have died from trying to get the perfect selfie, often falling off of cliffs. In some cases, other people tried to stop them, or children saw their parents die. The lack of spatial awareness and failed sense of danger . . . Terrible combination.

Video taking has also become a first-world problem. People are so intent on recording a scene, either for upload to social media for hits, or in order to accuse someone of something, that they get in the way of people trying to help. Or they deliberately get in the way of first-responders, for reasons I won’t go into. I laugh a little at the TV news people who dutifully report protests evaporating and people taking cover as sirens wail . . . and they are standing in the street, speculating if there is a rocket attack in progress. It’s not so funny when people intent on videoing a wreck cause a second one, or block paramedics and fire fighters. Or refuse to help, because the view through the screen is so captivating. Reality retreats behind the screen.

Had I been able to see clearly (had not yet found glasses knocked off by airbag) after the gal totaled my pickup back a few years ago, I’d probably have suggested that she hang up the phone or eat it. As it was, all she was doing was talking, just as she had been when she hit me. If she’d come trotting up to me, filming, or if a third party had come racing up to get pictures, I’m not sure what my response would have been. Impolite, that much I can pretty much guarantee.

The screen isn’t reality. Certain people do not seem to understand that the screen isn’t the real world. At least with traditional film and digital cameras, most people separated themselves from the device, and could put the thing down when needed. (Not that people didn’t do dumb things for and with traditional cameras, but still . . . ) The phone screen mediates between people and the real world, sometimes with fatal results. I chuckle at the Darwin Awards, but it’s not funny for the kids who watched their parents plunge off a cliff, or for the other people around. Or the people who had to recover the bodies and track down next-of-kin. It’s not funny for people involved in a wreck to have their pain and suffering uploaded for video hits. Educational, perhaps.

Instead of leopards and crocodiles thinning the herd, we now have motor vehicles and smart phones.

What Purpose Art?

Theodore Dalrymple wrote an essay recently, based on two paintings of a mother and child. One is by a modern artist from 1975, the other a Northern Renaissance painting by Dieric Bouts the Elder.

Original in the Met Museum: “Virgin and Child” Dieric Bouts c. 1455-60. Fair use under Creative Commons: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/435762

The other painting Dalrymple talks about is “Ginny and Elizabeth” by Alice Neel. I found it rather disturbing, as does Dalrymple.

I’m not going to argue that art has to have a purpose, or to demand that nothing but what I like be shown in public. Different things make people happy, and sometimes artists (and writers) release a lot of frustration, anxiety, and other things through the work. Then on occasion display or sell the results. Sometimes people just noodle around for themselves and enjoy the process. That’s great!

A lot of art does end up serving a purpose, however. It brings pleasure, praises the patron, praises or encourages contemplation of a deity, it fills space. It can be useful as well as decorative (applied arts), or just nice to look at. Yes, it can also be used for money laundering, which seems to be the purpose of some Modern Art. I’m thinking more about popular art, works that are not confined to the rarefied world of the critic and the connoisseur: works that people buy copies of for their homes, designs that please the eye.

Long-time readers know that I have a special spot for Renaissance art, mostly Northern Renaissance. I also prefer images that I can recognize, or that look realistic. So Western Art, especially Charlie Russel, and Tim Cox, among others fits the bill. Basically, with a few exceptions, my fondness for fine art tapers off after the Impressionists. I know what I like, I like it, and if other folks prefer something else, that’s great. However, one thing about all the find art that appeals to me: it uplifts the spirit somehow. It is beautiful, or poignant, or stirring. It may tell a story, or just show a private moment between a mother and a child. Or it may be chilling.

BAL4106 Madonna of the Burgermeister Meyer by Holbein the Younger, Hans (1497/8-1543); 146×101.6 cm; Schlossmuseum, Darmstadt, Germany; (add. info.: pictured with wives (living and dead), sons who had just died and surviving daughter); German, out of copyright
“The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb” Hans Holbein the Younger 1521 (Kunstmuseum Basel)

The painting above is striking. It was meant to form the bottom of an altarpiece, and is life sized. It is disturbing. It is supposed to be. It is to inspire meditation on mortality, and the awe-full idea of G-d dying. But the family portrait is also about death, sort of. Except it has hope as well. I would not hang a reproduction of the lower painting in my house, but having seen the other Holbein? Yes, even knowing the story behind the painting. Perhaps especially because I know the story.

Art should inspire, or make you smile, or intrigue you. It should improve your mental or physical world. It doesn’t have to be an Old Master. Tim Cox paints landscapes with cowboys and horses. He’s not Rembrandt, or Jan Van Eyck. But I like his paintings. They make me happy, because he catches the western sky so well. I needed that, still need that some days. I also need Van Eyck, “St. Luke Painting the Virgin,” and Monet landscapes, and other lovely things. Or exciting and inspiring things, like the little portrait of Prinz Eugen von Savoy on my desk. It is a detail of a much larger battle painting, and shows him smiling a little and pulling back a curtain to reveal one of his victories over the Turks. The dude managed to hold off Louis XIV and the Turks, while operating on a Habsburg budget! If he could do that, I can get my chores done and papers graded on time.

Art should also uplift. Yes, many of the old works are idealized, glossing over things like Phillip II of Spain’s terrible congenital jaw malformation (ditto his father, although Charles didn’t have it quite as badly). There’s a reason Oliver Cromwell was very insistent that his portrait literally show him with warts and all. The battles in the enormous battle paintings were never that neat and tidy, the horses not so sleek and well groomed. That’s part of the point. It’s like saints in Christianity – they are to inspire, to serve as models, in some cases to combine horrible warnings (“don’t do that. No, seriously, just don’t”) with encouragement (“These people fell short, they lost their temper, they got in trouble as teenagers, and yet G-d used them and they improved, or held firm when everything else came crashing down.”) Ditto art.

The painting of Ginny and Elizabeth . . . does not inspire. It does not make my world better. It worries me, for both mother and child. That may have been the painter’s goal, in which case she succeeded admirably. But I’m not sure the world is a better place for having the work in it.

No, my Polish tea-cup doesn’t inspire me to great thoughts. It does fit my hand and pleases my eye with the shape and colors. It does its job, and is attractive. A Titian, or Caravaggio, or Breughel, or Mary Cassat painting, or a lovely statue, please the eye, and ease the spirit, or inspire it. Tim Cox’s work makes me smile, and lets me get away for a few minutes. Which is all I ask of art. Make my world a little better. Please?

What are You?

No, not “a fish,” or “irritated.” I will assume that most of my readers are mammals, or can pass for mammals. How do you define yourself culturally or in terms of Nation? In the US, this is a question that causes much puzzlement, perhaps amusement, or if you ask the wrong person, a long lecture about identity and why one dare not assume such a thing about a different person. Elsewhere, you will get a clear answer, perhaps. Then, if you go farther and ask “Why are you a/an X?” the reply might take hours of history to understand.

Yes, my mind has drifted into Central Europe again. Part of it is writing related, part is not writing related, and part is because I need a vacation and Medieval Europe seems pretty mellow compared to here and now. (Heck, in some ways the Volkerwanderung seems mellow compared to here and now.) The Middle Ages, AD 800 CE to 1500 or so, is the period when us vs. them expanded past tribe to fellow-religionists, and then to the idea of the Nation, the Volk, the People, a larger-scale “us.” States such as Poland-Lithuania, Hungary, and Bohemia became recognized political and economic units, and the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations provided a common government*, economic stability (sort of), and a mediating power in much of Central Europe.

How do you define “Central Europe?” How do you define “Polish,” or “Hungarian,” or for a real challenge, “German?” YOu can use geography, as somewhere between the Urals and Atlantic Ocean, except then a lot of Russia is included, and everyone agrees that Russia is not Central Europe. So between the Atlantic and the Pripet Marshes? What about the Dnieper? Most people would agree on Germany, Poland, Hungary, Austria, the Czech and Slovak lands, and possible/probably Croatia. So the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, Hungary,** and Poland.

All these countries are Western Christian – Roman Catholic, Calvinist, Lutheran, Uniate, Hussite, or Anabaptist – or Jewish (not as common as in the past). All look west for culture and political ideas, more toward Rome-as-Imagined than to Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. The historian Lonnie R. Johnson adds multi-national empires (multi-ethnic), opposition to the Ottomans, and lagging behind western Europe after the Renaissance. (Johnson, Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends). You can quibble the details, but there’s a core there that works very well with what I’ve read and observed over the years. Poles and Hungarians most certainly look west, not east, for their history and culture, even if they look west warily. Germany post 1700 is suspect, to put it mildly, and the Poles traditionally tried to avoid getting entangled in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Hungary likewise. Bohemia got in, then tried to get out (or at least to gain more independence within the Empire once the Habsburgs took over. 1620 took care of that for, oh 300 years give or take.)

Language works to define Pole, Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian, but Austrians and Germans all speak German, and there are differences in the culture and attitudes of the various parts of Austria and Germany. Someone from Hamburg is rather different from a Styrian. And the Swiss speak German, some of them, even if the Germans and Austrians aver that they can’t read written Swiss, or understand parts of spoken Swiss. But Switzerland is not Central Europe. Hamburg, the Rhineland, and Ruhr are not really Central Europe entirely, if you require Ottoman opposition and lagging behind Western Europe.

I think it comes down to “here’s the general guideline, and we’ll sort out the specifics later.” Sort of like “Hungarian.” Speaks Hungarian, is western Christian (but probably not Lutheran, because Lutheran is German,) or Jewish. Probably lives in or near modern Hungary. Is aware, possibly too aware, of Hungarian history, or a certain understanding of it. Prrrrooooobably no longer swears he or she is a descendant from one of the five founding princes who were the sons of a princess and an eagle, but . . . Poles are Catholic or Jewish or Uniate, not Lutheran, but other flavors of Protestant? Eh, well . . .

There’s a LOT of history in all those definitions and identities. Some of it is documented history, some of it is felt history, some is just understood but not really discussed. For Americans, it seems odd, perhaps anachronistic, downright off-putting perhaps to have the legislature vote to affirm that the Virgin Mary is the Queen of Poland. The US Constitution forbids that. Poland? No problem. Some controversy, but no problem. Ditto Hungary affirming that Mary is the true ruler of Hungary, and that other governments are care-takers. There are deep cultural as well as religious reasons for these choices, and links that go very, very far back, a thousand years back, in the past.

America is an idea and a choice. Central Europe is . . . a wonderful part of the world with too much history to be comfortable, at times. A Romanian writer-associate opined that “You don’t want to live in a place where a lot of history happens.” There’s something to that.

*In the sense that lots of people recognized that it existed, and claimed membership, and at least nominally followed its rules and decrees.

** Hungary claimed Croatia, or vice versa, before 1526, then again after the mid 1700s. Hungary also claimed what is now a chunk of Romania, just to confuse things.

New Release: Wolf of the World

Wolf of the World is now live.

Dark magic, darker geology (or at least uncooperative rocks), a old wolf, and a Texan.

Empires came and went, but little seemed to change until an oil-field survey crew from Houston arrives on the Polish-Ukranian-Slovak border. The Galician oil fields had played out . . . or had they? And what brooded from the top of the mountain that wasn’t there (per GPS)?

Linda wants oil. Gregor and the Elect want freedom and revenge.

A dark fantasy with strong romance elements. 28K words.

Running to Trouble

Not in the sense of “Oh great, here comes So-and-So, we’re doomed.” You’ve probably met those people, the ones that somehow can make any situation worse just by walking up and saying, “Hi! What’s up?”

No, I’m thinking of people like the men in the video from Israel, the ones who, as soon as they confirmed that no more pieces of debris or rockets were landing on the block, ran toward the remains of the bus that got hit by a rocket. They were not firemen, didn’t have emergency medical supplies in their hands, but they ran toward trouble. (I suspect that they had some form of First Aid and trauma care skills, because of their military service, but they were not official first responders.)

For whatever reason, I seem more inclined to move toward trouble than to freeze or to flee. That is, once I’ve determined that the best response is not “get the heck away from [developing problem here] and try to encourage others to leave as well.” The few times I’ve been needed, at least temporarily, it’s been to direct traffic (literally), point people to safety and then keep them calm, act as a voice-activated pair-of-hands (“here, hold this until I ask for it. Good.”) or provide information. “This way to the closest exit, that way to the exit with the ramp, the medical people are over there, there’s no traffic over that way.” Sometimes just standing quietly and assessing the situation is enough to get other people to slow down and reduce anxiety. Not always, but sometimes.

It seems to be a combination of personality and training. Not just emergency situation training, like the guys in Israel probably had, but “duty to help.” If you can help, then help. If the best thing to do is to stay out of the way and keep others out of the way, then do that. If departing rapidly is called for, then do so and encourage others to depart with you (push, pull, kick-in-rump, cajole, whatever works.) All of which requires being able to assess a situation and determine if help, shoo people, or just leave is the best way to contribute. For whatever reason, my personality is such that I tend to stay calm during the interesting event, deal with the immediate aftermath, then shake. Probably in part because I game so many things out in advance. Normal people don’t sit in their classroom thinking “OK, if [horrible thing] happens, what’s my first response? Second response? What if I’m here when interesting thing happens?” That sort of thing, thanks be, is rarely needed, but it’s there. I’ve gamed out possibilities and considered options, so that when Something Did Happen, I was cool, calm, and more annoyed than anything. (That was two nights in a row I didn’t get much sleep. Then my apartment complex got a flash flood the next day. Some weekend THAT was.)

I wonder, though, if we are going to see fewer and fewer people who run towards trouble. Legal liability, lingering fear of disease (even when really unwarranted), preoccupation with documenting instead of doing, more and more social emphasis on “wait for authority/experts to tell you what to do” . . . I hope not, because society needs people who are willing to run to trouble, people who can calm a situation, clear a path for the firetruck or ambulance, or do other things.

May ’21 Progress (?) Report

The next print volume of the Familiars Tales, including Clearly and Distinctly, is being formatted right now, so it should be available within two weeks or so. The next print volume will have Familiar Roads , then Eerily, in order to keep in-series continuity.

I’m working through edits on “Wolf of the World.” If all goes well, it should be available early next week.

I’ve gotten more written on White Gold, the next Merchant book. My goal is to finish the draft by the end of the month, if not sooner.

I’m also working on some Familiars stories for the next book, or at least making notes of ideas so that when I get things settled down, I can write them.

My other summer goal is to write the book based on the Indo-European arrival in the Indus Valley, the one I sketched out over at MadGeniusClub last year.

Day Job will have expanded duties next year, at least in the first semester, so I’m going to try to get a lot of writing done over the summer. Yes, I do have a vacation planned. No, I’m not leaving the US this year. Maybe, maybe, perhaps, in 2022, but I’m not holding my breath. Too much depends on bureaucrats in three other countries, none of whom seem to be afflicted by sanity at the moment.

Shopping in My Closet (and Under the Bed)

Yes, it is time to move the black-shoe dresses to the dark side of the closet and pull the white-shoe, won’t die-of-heat-stress dresses to the front. And the summer work shirts and slacks, and to put the sweaters away, and the turtlenecks. And to see what’s been attacked by the button moths, and what mysteriously shrank over winter.

One of my former colleagues (since retired) called it “shopping in your closet.” You know, when you really start digging waaaaaayyy in the back, sometimes with a flashlight, and discover things that you didn’t remember you had. Or thought had disappeared, or been given away by a family member (or hidden, then buried by a family member.) “Oh, yeah, that dress.” “These pants? No, they are comfortable, and the stains don’t matter when I’m doing yard work or make a quick run to the hardware store.”

I discovered a black mock-turtleneck that had gotten in with long-john bottoms, which explains why I never could find it this winter, a vest that took refuge under some skirts so that I never found it this winter, and a few other things. Why do I have three white Oxford* shirts? Because for a while you couldn’t find them. Now you can’t find cream-colored ones (at least not for ladies). I also have a light teal Oxford shirt, still folded with collar stays, for the same reason.

So now the white dresses are at the front of the closet and the black ones are in the back. The wools are packed away and will get mothballed, then tucked under the end of the bed until next fall. I’ve sorted out some things to give away, and two that will become cleaning rags.

I do wonder, however, what happens between November and May, or May and November, that causes seams to get taken in, especially around the waist. And how the button moths managed to get in and loosen about half a dozen buttons. I used mothballs, I sealed the boxes as best I could, and yet something worked on the button threads and made the waistbands smaller.

‘Tis a mystery.

*My term for button-down collar business shirts. These are made of the heavier Oxford-weave cloth, and were pretty much all I wore between grades 6-12, and into college. For a while that was all I could find in long-sleeve, high collar shirts that could be machine washed and were school acceptable.

Iris!

Spring is running two weeks late. Or at least the flowers are running two weeks late.

A storm was coming in, which made the light odd for a while.
Moving to the back yard . . .
Ye Olde Iris-colored Iris. With columbine, which are about to take over everything. The front of the house and four roses have vanished in the yellow columbine. I’m about to take pruning shears and start chopping.
Iris and foxglove. Please do not chew on the foxglove, even though it is sweet. (Digitalis sp.)
Fluffy rose.
Mini rose. Note paw for scale.
Another miniature, this one to replace a yellow one that failed to survive the -11 F temps.
Because columbine are cute.
Mom and Dad Red went for two bags of potting mix. That’s it, two bags of potting mix. This, and a peach-colored rose, and two bags of potting mix later . . .
A Yellow Rose in Texas. Not THE yellow rose, that’s Harrison’s Yellow, and they sprawl. This one is a super-hardy landscape rose that, for the first time ever, is actually doing as well as the red and pink ones are. Yellows seem to be a little more fragile than reds and pinks.