Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Note For The Granddaughters -- Nothing To Do With the Bakken

I'm not terribly worried about how going over the fiscal cliff would affect my taxes. 
I won't be here to pay them. -- Joe Queenan


There are some days better than others to be alive. This is one of them.

I have no television. I have no car. I have no bicycle.

I do have access to the internet, thanks to Starbucks.

I do have a monitor and a DVD player. And I have a small library that rivals ... well, it must rival something. I am quite happy with it. My library is such that I will never have to buy another book. But I will.

But there are some days better than others to be alive and this is one of them.

I am getting back to Section C of the Wall Street Journal that I did not have time for yesterday. Wow, a lot of dots to connect.

Last night I was watching Robert Altman's Mash. In one of the special features on the DVD, Richard Zanuck was interviewed. Mr Zanuck died just a few months ago, July 13, 2012, of a heart attack at age 77. Again, I feel fortunate to have been a contemporary of Zanuck: wow, he had some great films. Including Patton, a subject of review in Section C.

Two full pages of Section C, including the front page, are devoted to an article on maps. In the big scheme of things, the article is not all that interesting, perhaps because I am so familiar with all the trivia in an article that seems to have no reason for being, except to remind us that the Apple map app was a bust. But there is a connecting dot for me. I am back in my JRR Tolkien phase, re-reading Tom Shippey's biography of the greatest author of the century and watching hour-after-hour of the special editions of The Lord of the Rings. It can be argued that Tolkien's trilogy was a success because of ... the map. It would have been "huge" had the WSJ replaced the "Mountains of Kong" map with a map of Middle-Earth. By the way, the extended edition of The Lord of the Rings could have been subtitled, The Never-Ending Story. In addition to the movie itself (three separate collections), one can listen to five different commentaries of each movie. If one wants more, there are at least another five to ten hours on the appendices.

One of the commentaries is provided by one of the two head writers, and the producer/director himself. I am absolutely amazed how they stuck to the story, though JRR Tolkien's son was appalled how they filmed the story. They really, really knew the epic.

Just before departing the city of universities, I was getting into my Charles Dickens phase. It would be the first time in my life that I recall reading anything by or about Charles Dickens. I have read bits and pieces of Dickens in books and articles about other subjects but I don't recall reading Dickens for Dickens' sake. I suppose I have; I just don't remember. And there on page C7 of yesterday's WSJ, almost a full page and three books reviewed of "The Mystery of Charles Dickens." I left my copy of Charles Dickens and the Great Theater of the World, Simon Callow, back in Belmont/Boston. The WJS provides a reminder of what I left behind.

Covering almost the bottom half of page C8 is Meghan Cox Gurdon's review of several children's book. I normally would not have paid any attention to the article, but the phtograph of "Angel of Death Colonel Paul W. Tibbett and the Enola Gay" caught my eye.

Enola Gay, The Hillbilly Moon Explosion

This is how Ms Gurdon begins her review:
Among the more unpleasant euphemisms deployed by the Nazis in their attempted mass extermination of Europe's Jews during World War II were "special work" and "resettlement." These bland expressions were a type of promise designed to fool victims into going quietly to their deaths, and they were frighteningly successful.
In the stories contained in "Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust" (Candlewick, 228 pages, $22.99), we're repeatedly reminded of how difficult it was even for many Jews to grasp the scope of the horror on which the Nazis were embarked. Many people found it all too monstrous to believe.
Not all were deceived, though, and Doreen Rappaport has unearthed remarkable stories of Jews (and Gentiles) who saw what was happening and engaged in harrowing attempts to thwart the Nazi project. Jewish partisans played cat-and-mouse with German troops, bombing military transports, shooting informers and collaborators, and dynamiting German army warehouses.
Ms. Rappaport introduces readers ages 14 and older to valiant Jewish children like the 12-year-old violinist and spy, nicknamed Motele, who blew up a building full of SS officers in occupied Ukraine. Young readers also meet 11-year-old Sara Menkes, who survived the mass murder of Lithuanian Jews in the forest of Ponar in 1941. 
Appallingly, when she made it back to Vilnius, her elders didn't believe her story. "Resettlement could not possibly be a lie," the head of the Jewish Council told the girl, Ms. Rappaport writes, and "warned Sara that if she wanted her father to keep his work permit and stay alive, she'd best keep her silence." With numerous archival photographs, including portraits of the brave individuals it describes, "Beyond Courage" is beautifully designed and a sobering, bittersweet read.
It's hard not to read this, and the mind goes to --> Enola Gay --> Catch-22 --> and there and back again --> Mash

Ms Gurdon reviews several children's books at the link, including a book on the Galapagos, a "place" where the USAF sent me for a few days.

Wow, I'm only halfway through the section. 


Cheers for Chuck, a must-read for anyone who enjoys the annual Charlie Brown special. I don't (enjoy it).

Melanie McGraths' five favorite books on the Arctic.

Joe Queenan's "Don't Worry, the World Is Still Doomed."

Durham, England, the silver swan, brings me back to my halcyon days in northern England, again at the pleasure of the United States Air Force: the "magic wrought by a Merlin."

And one last link to the section (though there is still more): our fading footprint for farming food. Folks worry about the pad drilling in the Bakken. Give me a break. The MDW has addressed that issue before. It's nice to see Matt Ridley provide some support.
It's a brave scientist who dares to announce the turning point of a trend, the top of a graph. A paper published this week does just that, persuasively arguing that a centurieslong trend is about to reverse: the use of land for farming. The authors write: "We are confident that we stand on the peak of cropland use, gazing at a wide expanse of land that will be spared for Nature."
esse Ausubel and Iddo Wernick of Rockefeller University, and Paul Waggoner of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, have reached this conclusion by documenting the gradual "dematerialization" of agriculture. Globally, the production of a given quantity of crop requires 65% less land than it did in 1961, thanks to fertilizers, tractors, pesticides, better varieties and other factors. Even corrected for different kinds of crops, the acreage required is falling at 2% a year.
In the U.S., the total corn yield and the total corn acreage tracked each other in lock step between 1870 and 1940—there was no change in average yield per acre. But between 1940 and 2010, corn production almost quintupled, while the acreage devoted to growing corn fell slightly. Similar divergences appeared later in other countries. Indian wheat production increased fivefold after 1970, while wheat acreage crept up by less than 1.5 times. Chinese corn production rose sevenfold over the same period while corn acreage merely doubled.
This page is dedicated to Chester.

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