Saturday, July 13, 2024

Diary

I've officially entered my summer doldrums and don't feel like reading much now. At this moment, I don't have many tasks to complete. The Carson McCullers Memorial Tomato Garden was attacked by deer but survived. This was quite unusual, because deer don't generally like tomato plants. I think that the culprit was an inexperienced fawn. The largest plant, which had germinated on time, was hardly damaged, and is still doing very well. Two of the remaining three were damaged but are growing back quickly. The fourth was badly damaged but is also recovering quickly. I should still end up with a high yield of tomatoes, since they will continue growing until October. As a precaution, I installed chicken wire around each plant.

The remnants of Hurricane Beryl struck Vermont, but the damage wasn't as bad as the storms of last July. There was a lot of rain and some flooding. This is expected to be a severe hurricane season, and theoretically there could be more that reach here this year. The worst damage usually occurs on the other side of the mountains in high terrain. So far, the state has been effective in strengthening the physical infrastructure, so, over time, each successive storm may produce less damage. But some locations are difficult to protect. My house is safe from flooding, because it is elevated well above the nearby rivers. The worst that could happen would be that the road or driveway could wash out, since they're gravel. So far, they've held up well. The road could also be blocked by trees if there were very high winds. Fortunately, by the time hurricanes reach here, they're not windy, just rainy.

I'm still not experiencing much heat here and haven't turned on any air conditioners. I think that the location of the house and the construction materials help. As I mentioned earlier, the woods don't build up heat and cool down quickly in the evening. The house looks like a log cabin, but, more accurately, it is a frame house with log siding. I think that the thermal properties of the logs are somewhat better than those of other sidings. It also helps that the roof has a low profile, hence less sun exposure than most houses. On a typical day, it's in the 60's outside in the morning and gradually heats up to the 80's during the day. By aerating the house by placing a floor fan in a window and opening doors and windows in the morning and evening, the house can generally be kept in the 70's all day by closing up when it gets hot. It gets a little hotter upstairs during the day, but can be cooled down quickly in the evening. I think that if it were 90º+ often, I might have to resort to air conditioning then. The basement is never warmer than 70º.

One of my last projects is keeping mice out of the shed. It is dilapidated and rotten in places, and is surrounded by mouse nests. Last winter they chewed off small pieces of paper towels in the shed, presumably to use in their nests. I think I've got them blocked out at the moment. The shed was very smelly until recently. I just removed the large stash of coyote urine that the former owner kept there, presumably to protect her garden. There are still lingering odors, but that seems to have taken care of most of it.

I've also been making extra trips to Middlebury to find William. The back porch at the house was badly damaged by the storm last winter, and some of the wooden framing for the screens was destroyed. The storm door at the back of the house was also badly damaged. Since there have been no repairs made yet, a cat had been going onto the back porch to sleep in a chair. I went to see it myself, and it wasn't William. However, William looks exactly like the photo that I posted, and I believe that he may be in the vicinity. To expedite matters, I put up "Missing Cat" posters in the neighborhood. I don't know whether anything will come of it, but if it was William and he is still alive, he will probably return to the house again. The current owner will contact me if she sees him.

The wildlife here is quieting down for the season, and the songbirds seem to have finished their mating for the year. Yesterday, at dusk, I saw a large black bear ambling up the road past my house.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Politics

Though politics is not one of my favorite topics, because most political discussion is frivolous and this is a serious blog, I do feel obliged to write about it occasionally. To some extent, I have used political thinking as an example of human cognitive limitations, with evidence practically slapping us in the face on a daily basis. In my view, you have to allow that it might be possible for well-informed, rational voters to make viable political decisions, but you hardly have to observe the actual political process to see that rationality plays almost no role in the decisions of most voters. There have been two recent trends in news coverage that make politics especially frustrating. On the one hand, there are news outlets that are purely commercial and take no journalistic responsibility for their news content, and, on the other hand, there are unbiased news outlets that take their neutrality to such extremes that they never report on the strengths and weaknesses of individual political candidates; they prefer to limit their political discussions to poll results. I might add that the "neutral" news outlets usually have corporate and other sponsors, and can therefore hardly be considered completely neutral. With the backdrop of uncontrolled misinformation and intentional disinformation campaigns on the internet, false information has been given a significant advantage and now has a disproportional effect on election outcomes. 

I'll comment on Donald Trump first, because this is probably the best example in American political history of the news media dropping the ball. There was some basis for Trump's presidential victory in 2016. He appeared to be a successful businessman and had the showmanship of a television personality, though, if you had dug a little deeper, even then there was plenty of evidence of his various deficiencies.  He benefited from the weaknesses of Hillary Clinton as a candidate: she was uncharismatic, and her political background connected her to decades of ineffective Democrats who had essentially ignored the growing economic pressures on the middle class. Furthermore, she had lived in such a rarefied, wealthy liberal environment that she did not anticipate the effect of her "basket of deplorables" phrase, which permanently alienated many voters. By 2016, class consciousness was firming up, and she was tone-deaf. Also, this is still a sexist country, and that worked against her. Even so, I think that Clinton could easily have won if the news media had provided appropriate reportage on Trump. In 2016, it was already well known that Trump was politically ignorant, probably didn't even care about politics, was generally a business failure, habitually abused women, and had conspicuous psychiatric disorders related to narcissism. There were many signs of his habitual dishonesty by 2016.

While the 2016 presidential election result may have been a fluke, there is no excuse for those in the news media today who shy away from critiquing Trump or discussing what might be expected if he is reelected. Since Trump isn't really very smart, has little interest in political ideology, and is probably already very tired of politics, he might not do much damage. On the other hand, he has a strong incentive to pardon himself of any potential criminal charges, though the Supreme Court has just relieved him of some of that responsibility. At the moment, the greatest threat of a second Trump presidency could be the empowerment of his wealthy backers, who, through the Heritage Foundation, are supporting the conversion of the U.S. government to a conservative autocracy. This one is really crazy, because a vote for Trump could be a vote for a Russian-style voting system, not to mention the end of free speech. Was this part of our American heritage?

The other major presidential candidate now, Joe Biden, is also problematic, but his weaknesses are fairly obvious, even though the liberal news media, which is now openly anti-Trump, has been somewhat protective of Biden. My view is that Biden was already showing signs of senility during the 2020 presidential primary. I voted for Elizabeth Warren in the primary, but was forced to vote for Biden in the election, with Trump as the alternative. Biden does have a lot going for him, and I think that his extensive political experience has been a benefit to the country. I think that future historians may rank him fairly highly compared to most recent presidents. But he has also been a bit lucky, following the worst president in American history. Furthermore, just from watching him speak, it is obvious that he lacks the mental flexibility to properly address the varied and complex issues currently facing the country. He should be thinking at least twice as fast as he now does in public. My impression is that he tries to speak quickly in public in order to seem sharp, but that this backfires because his brain can't keep up with his mouth. In my view, the Democratic Party has been mismanaged for years, and it should have been developing a replacement four years ago. We are now looking at another Ruth Bader Ginsburg age-denial event that could result in an unnecessary step backwards for the country. Biden may still win if he remains a candidate, but the risks are so great that I don't think that the decision should be left to a senile old man.

There are still several months left until the presidential election, and more positive events could occur by then. I was pleased by the sudden ouster of the Conservatives in the U.K., following the ouster of Boris Johnson. With the design of the American political system, the same could not occur here, but there are ways in which the Democratic Party could increase its appeal.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Diary

When I moved to Brandon on June 10, 2023, I brought William, my cat, with me. He was so agitated that he kept running around the house for hours and jumped on my bed periodically, waking me up. I was extremely fatigued at that point and eventually let him out. He immediately ran into the woods and had not been seen since. No one saw him locally. Apparently, he returned to his former home in Middlebury, about fifteen miles away. However, although the new owner of the house had been alerted and saw him several months ago, she wasn't sure that it was William and did not contact me until June 28, 2024. It sounds as if he had returned there by last winter. From the photograph, which was taken from the back of the Middlebury house, he appears to be functional, but has lost several pounds and may be frail at this point. There is now an active watch for him in that Middlebury neighborhood, and I am hoping that he can be found soon. Since my new house is now in an orderly state, it would be much easier to help William adjust to a new environment.