Why a campfire? (reprise)

October 26, 2012

It was more than five years ago I originally posted this?  Heck, I won’t even add links or a “More” section at the bottom.  I deserves to be repeated though, I think, especially in an election year when we wish we could gather more people around a campfire.  Here goes:

Training adult Scout leaders always produces a few puzzled looks, and occasional passionate, fearful rebukes, when I note that a campfire gives a boy or a girl an opportunity to play with fire.

No, I don’t mean, exactly, that we should let kids play with fire.  There are rules — what’s burning must be in the fire pit, is the chief rule.

There is some primal need to watch a fire, to study it, to experiment with it, and finally just to watch it go. If you camped as a kid, you probably know what I mean.

Camp fires are universal.  This one was outside Bangalore.

Camp fires are universal. This one was outside Bangalore.

Every kid needs to do that.  It’s a part of growing up.  It’s a necessary memory for healthy and sane adults.

Start a fire, and a kid will get a stick and poke the burning logs and, especially, the red-, yellow- and white-hot coals after the fire burns a while.  They’ll start the stick on fire, put it out, and light it again.  They’ll pull the stick out of the fire and watch the flame consume the stick.  Kids will experiment with different things on the fire, to see whether, how fast, and how they burn.

Just keep it in the fire pit.

A Scoutmaster can tell which kids have been camping. A Scoutmaster knows which kids have been able to sit around a campfire and play with fire in that way.  Kids who know fire are more mature, generally, more relaxed about the excitement of the stuff, and much more careful with it.  Scouts who have dabbled in the campfire respect fire for what it is and for what it can do, good and bad.

What you’ll remember 20 years later, or 30 years, or (God bless me!) 40 years, and I hope 50 and 60 years, is the watching of the fire as the flames die down to a red and pulsing bed of coals.

You’ll remember some of the stories — Freddy Jonas’s often-told story of racing down the Champs Elysee in horse-drawn carriages, bribing the driver of the other carriage to go slower to win the race; the story of Rulon Skinner, the best non-swimming canoe instructor on Earth, and the big canoe race in which his opponent finally tipped Skinner’s canoe, and then yelled “snake!” to appeal to Skinner’s other great fear; the night the bear invaded the camp at Ben de la Tour, a bear later found to have antlers and four hooves.  You’ll remember the s’mores, and you’ll forget how messy they are.  You’ll remember the time you waited for the cobbler to cook after someone forgot to start the charcoal, or the the time the story got so good you forgot to take the cobbler off the fire, and how the Dutch oven had to be thrown away because it never would come clean.

You may remember that little fox at Camp Carter, sneaking just beyond the light of the fire and carefully circling every chair, looking for something good to eat, to steal.  Or that stupid porcupine that, now that you think of it must have been rabid, heading straight for the fire there in the only stand of Ponderosa pine in Utah County, up Payson Canyon.  And that will trigger the story of the night the fire wouldn’t start in the Catskills, and what seemed like hundreds of giant porcupines convened in bacchanalian festivities while campers dared not sleep, in their tents.

Someone will mention retiring U.S. flags, and you’ll remember the retirement ceremony for the flag from the widow of the veteran, how she insisted that you promise the flag would be burned completely and honorably, and warned “he’ll be watching!”  You’ll remember the mass flag retirement after the lifting of the burn ban at Wisdom, and how you suddenly realized lots of flags put out lots of toxic fumes — but somebody ad libbed a part to the ceremony to add time to let the fumes clear, and no Scout noticed (you hope!).

We haven’t even gotten to the singing.

I was put in mind of the power of the campfire with a remembrance from Real Live Preacher writing at High Calling:

I remember how worried we were the first time we tried to set one of those brush piles on fire. We nervously stood before a ten-foot high, fifteen-foot wide mound with a can of lighter fluid and a couple of matches. I squirted a modest amount around the bottom of the pile and stood back while Michael threw the match. That’s when we discovered that it’s surprisingly difficult to set things on fire. Now I marvel at stories of people casually throwing cigarettes out of their cars and setting whole forests ablaze. Michael and I had a hard time starting fires even when we used diesel fuel and a blowtorch.

It takes about five hours to burn a giant pile of brush and cedar, so Michael and I would start a fire, then sit on the tailgate of the brown pickup truck and talk while we kept an eye on it. Apart from the searing heat and looking like chimney sweeps, it was fun. I’m always looking for guilt-free reasons to sit around and talk with friends. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have as good an excuse as I did back then.

A guilt-free reason to sit around and talk with friends?  A campfire is an automatic reason — guilt only obtains if there’s a ban on burning where you’re making the fire.

Carl Buell painted another one that took my breath away the first time I saw it.  Go see it. (I’m asking permission on this one; it may take a little while. Posted below with permission.)

That’s not a photograph, you can tell because it so well preserves what you remember — better than any photograph ever could —  it preserves what you remember from that campout up in the San Franciscos the night the sky was so blue so late and you could see the whole moon from the earthglow — or was it in New Mexico?  Probably not Colorado because there aren’t any mountains — oh, but if he’s looking east, it could have been south of Pueblo . . . no, maybe near Albion in the Sawtooths . . . Buell works in the east; it’s probably up in Maine . . . but he lived and painted in Marin County.

Didn’t he perfectly capture that night?

Campfire, by Carl Buell.  Copyright Carl Buell, all rights reserved; used with permission


Gotta know some history — and myth — to get the joke: Greece’s financial crisis

June 19, 2011

From the highly-respected Borowitz Report:

Greece Offers to Repay Loans with Giant Horse

Steed Wheeled Into Brussels at Night

Trojan Horse, image via Borowitz Report

BRUSSELS (The Borowitz Report) – In what many are hailing as a breakthrough solution to Greece’s crippling debt crisis, Greece today offered to repay loans from the European Union nations by giving them a gigantic horse.

Finance ministers from sixteen EU nations awoke in Brussels this morning to find that a huge wooden horse had been wheeled into the city center overnight.

Sometimes I think we could do better than some of the state standards if we just used a New Yorker  cartoon standard:  Kids will be considered educated when they can explain all the cartoons in four consecutive issues of The New Yorker, and tell why they are funny.

In the same piece, Borowitz digs at Palin’s supporters and al-Qaeda’s new CEO.  It’s worth the click.


Big balls in Cowtown . . .

February 7, 2011

”]Farm trucks at the Worthington, Ft Worth Stock Show 2011 - Import 01-22-2011 029Photographer error makes these less than perfect — but I still like them.  Panorama shots in very bad light of four enormous farm pickups, parked in the valet parking area usually reserved for the Jaguars, Mercedes and occasional Bentley, at the Worthington Hotel in Fort Worth.  Stockmen come to Fort Worth every January and February for the Fort Worth Fat Stock Show — these are the Caddillacs and Lincolns and Mercedes of the big-money farm set.

 

”]Trucks at the Worthington, during the Ft. Worth Stock Show 2011 - Import 01-22-2011 030None of these trucks was as small as a Ford F-250.  These are duellies, crew-cab monsters.

 

When I saw them I immediately heard Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys singing:

Big balls’ in Cowtown!  We’ll all go down.
Big balls’ in Cowtown!  We’ll dance around.

I wish the sound on this clip were better, featuring several of the original Texas Playboys performing in 1999 (Bob died in 1974):

Listen to Asleep at the Wheel’s true-to-Bob’s-spirit version, featuring Johnny Gimbel, one of the Texas Playboys:

If you can afford to gas one of those rigs, you can afford to dance a bit.


Happy birthday, Peter Schickele

July 17, 2010

Peter Schickele is 75 today.

Peter Schickele, a.k.a. P. D. Q. Bach

Peter Schickele, born July 17, 1935

May he live to be a happy, robust, still-composing, still performing 135, at least.

Some people know him as a great disk jockey.  Some people know him as the singer of cabaret tunes.  Some people know and love him as a composer of music for symphony orchestra, or to accompany Where the Wild Things Are.

Peter Shickele, left, and P. D. Q. Bach, together, in happier times.

Peter Shickele, left, and P. D. Q. Bach, together, in earlier and, some say, happier times.

Then there are those happy masses who know him for his historical work, recovering the works of Johann Sebastian Bach’s final and most wayward child, P. D. Q. Bach.

Tip of the old bathtub-hardened conductor’s baton to Eric Koenig.


Why a campfire?

August 7, 2009

Training adult Scout leaders always produces a few puzzled looks, and occasional passionate, fearful rebukes, when I note that a campfire gives a boy or a girl an opportunity to play with fire.

No, I don’t mean, exactly, that we should let kids play with fire.  There are rules — what’s burning must be in the fire pit, is the chief rule.

There is some primal need to watch a fire, to study it, to experiment with it, and finally just to watch it go. If you camped as a kid, you probably know what I mean.

Camp fires are universal.  This one was outside Bangalore.

Camp fires are universal. This one was outside Bangalore.

Every kid needs to do that.  It’s a part of growing up.  It’s a necessary memory for healthy and sane adults.

Start a fire, and a kid will get a stick and poke the burning logs and, especially, the red-, yellow- and white-hot coals after the fire burns a while.  They’ll start the stick on fire, put it out, and light it again.  They’ll pull the stick out of the fire and watch the flame consume the stick.  Kids will experiment with different things on the fire, to see whether, how fast, and how they burn.

Just keep it in the fire pit.

A Scoutmaster can tell which kids have been camping. A Scoutmaster knows which kids have been able to sit around a campfire and play with fire in that way.  Kids who know fire are more mature, generally, more relaxed about the excitement of the stuff, and much more careful with it.  Scouts who have dabbled in the campfire respect fire for what it is and for what it can do, good and bad.

What you’ll remember 20 years later, or 30 years, or (God bless me!) 40 years, and I hope 50 and 60 years, is the watching of the fire as the flames die down to a red and pulsing bed of coals.

You’ll remember some of the stories — Freddy Jonas’s often-told story of racing down the Champs Elysee in horse-drawn carriages, bribing the driver of the other carriage to go slower to win the race; the story of Rulon Skinner, the best non-swimming canoe instructor on Earth, and the big canoe race in which his opponent finally tipped Skinner’s canoe, and then yelled “snake!” to appeal to Skinner’s other great fear; the night the bear invaded the camp at Ben de la Tour, a bear later found to have antlers and four hooves.  You’ll remember the s’mores, and you’ll forget how messy they are.  You’ll remember the time you waited for the cobbler to cook after someone forgot to start the charcoal, or the the time the story got so good you forgot to take the cobbler off the fire, and how the Dutch oven had to be thrown away because it never would come clean.

You may remember that little fox at Camp Carter, sneaking just beyond the light of the fire and carefully circling every chair, looking for something good to eat, to steal.  Or that stupid porcupine that, now that you think of it must have been rabid, heading straight for the fire there in the only stand of Ponderosa pine in Utah County, up Payson Canyon.  And that will trigger the story of the night the fire wouldn’t start in the Catskills, and what seemed like hundreds of giant porcupines convened in bacchanalian festivities while campers dared not sleep in their tents.

Someone will mention retiring U.S. flags, and you’ll remember the retirement ceremony for the flag from the widow of the veteran, how she insisted that you promise the flag would be burned completely and honorably, and warned “he’ll be watching!”  You’ll remember the mass flag retirement after the lifting of the burn ban at Wisdom, and how you suddenly realized lots of flags put out lots of toxic fumes — but somebody ad libbed a part to the ceremony to add time to let the fumes clear, and no Scout noticed (you hope!).

We haven’t even gotten to the singing.

I was put in mind of the power of the campfire with a remembrance from Real Live Preacher writing at High Calling:

I remember how worried we were the first time we tried to set one of those brush piles on fire. We nervously stood before a ten-foot high, fifteen-foot wide mound with a can of lighter fluid and a couple of matches. I squirted a modest amount around the bottom of the pile and stood back while Michael threw the match. That’s when we discovered that it’s surprisingly difficult to set things on fire. Now I marvel at stories of people casually throwing cigarettes out of their cars and setting whole forests ablaze. Michael and I had a hard time starting fires even when we used diesel fuel and a blowtorch.

It takes about five hours to burn a giant pile of brush and cedar, so Michael and I would start a fire, then sit on the tailgate of the brown pickup truck and talk while we kept an eye on it. Apart from the searing heat and looking like chimney sweeps, it was fun. I’m always looking for guilt-free reasons to sit around and talk with friends. I don’t suppose I’ll ever have as good an excuse as I did back then.

A guilt-free reason to sit around and talk with friends?  A campfire is an automatic reason — guilt only obtains if there’s a ban on burning where you’re making the fire.

Carl Buell painted another one that took my breath away the first time I saw it.  Go see it. (I’m asking permission on this one; it may take a little while. Posted below with permission.)

That’s not a photograph, you can tell because it so well preserves what you remember — better than any photograph ever could —  it preserves what you remember from that campout up in the San Franciscos the night the sky was so blue so late and you could see the whole moon from the earthglow — or was it in New Mexico?  Probably not Colorado because there aren’t any mountains — oh, but if he’s looking east, it could have been south of Pueblo . . . no, maybe near Albion in the Sawtooths . . . Buell works in the east; it’s probably up in Maine . . . but he lived and painted in Marin County.

Didn’t he perfectly capture that night?

Campfire, by Carl Buell. Copyright Carl Buell, all rights reserved; used with permission

Campfire, by Carl Buell. Copyright Carl Buell, all rights reserved; used with permission


Getting the story straight: Galileo and the church

January 31, 2008

Galileo observes the stars

One of the great joys of history, to me, is the diving into a story and finding that the details of the true story do not correspond well with the popular myths. For example, most sailors of the late 15th century were aware the Earth is a globe, when Columbus sailed — his crew did not fear falling off the edge of the Earth. This fact raises questions about why the great European powers were not more enthusiastic about exploring to the west, and that question is probably more difficult to answer. That means more work for the historian.

Here’s an essay from Peter Klein at the economics blog Organizations and Markets, on details of the story of Galileo, setting the record straight, but raising a lot more issues about what actually happened in this story from the history of science.

The problem is that the leaders of Galileo’s day didn’t think the sun revolves around the earth. My former colleague Thomas Lessl is an expert on Galileo, and from him I learned that virtually every aspect of the Galileo legend is false.

Consider these facts:

1. Neither Galileo, nor any other scientist, was put to death by the medieval Church. Giordano Bruno, a 17th-century Dominican, was indeed condemned by the Inquisition, not for his scientific views, but for preaching a quirky, New Age-ish view called hermeticism, which was only incidentally connected to heliocentrism.

2. The Catholic authorities of Galileo’s day had little trouble with heliocentrism per se. Many of the leading Catholic scientists were actually Copernicans. Copernicus’s treatise on heliocentrism had been in print for seventy years prior to Galileo’s conflict with the Church.

3. Galileo remained a devout and loyal Catholic until the end of his life. He held no animosity toward the Church over his conflict with Church authorities.

4. Most important, the conflict between Galileo and the Church took place in the context of the Protestant Reformation, a context that is almost always omitted from popular accounts of Galileo’s trial. The key issue in this conflict was not heliocentrism per se, but the authority of the individual Believer to interpret Scripture. Galileo’s argument that scientists should interpret the Bible to conform to their scientific views was close to Luther’s view that the Believer should be his own interpreter of Scripture. It was Lutheranism, not heliocentrism, that alarmed the Church leaders.

Galileo, in other words, was caught up in a larger, theological and ecclesiastical controversy. He was not simply a truth-seeking scientists going up against a bigoted Establishment.

Klein urges that we should be distrustful of scientists who invoke the old myths about the Galileo story. He fails to assert the more powerful point, to me: Christianity traditionally supported good science, and therefore creationism is the odd duck — the Bible, and Christianity, are not opposed to good science.

Preachers should be preaching for the truth, not for creationism. Of course, one should ponder when, if ever, preachers have paid attention to economists.


Vox Day, the goad goes on forever*

November 5, 2007

You couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried. The Right Wing is working hard to make sure that every parody of them comes true. Vox Day said this today, in a comment about serial plagiarizer and general garden-party skunk Ann Coulter:

What Ann understands and so many nominal conservatives do not is that women’s suffrage is completely incompatible with human liberty or a republic as described in the U.S. Constitution. The two cannot co-exist. One cannot defend freedom on the basis of emotion, as fear always runs to promises of security, however nebulous.

It’s interesting to note that since women received the right to vote, no bald politician has been elected in either the United States or the UK with the exception of Eisenhower and Churchill. (Atlee was bald too, but he was running against Churchill so there was no hair option in 1945.) And being bona fide war heroes, both Churchill and Eisenhower represented security even more than the archtypical tall politician with executive hair; neither one of them were capable of winning in less extraordinary times.

So, Vox thinks we should take the vote away from women to elect bald men again? That will make one heck of a campaign button, and I can’t wait to see how it’s phrased in the Texas Republican Party platform.

Isn’t that roughly the same sort of thinking that got us into Iraq — same quality of reasoning, same clear connections, and of course, same sorts of historical error in blind ignorance of the facts and amazingly tin ear on what people think.

Is Vox balding that much? He’s that sensitive about it?

Historical error? Well, yeah — who among the presidents prior to Eisenhower was bald? (You can check pictures of the presidents here.) John Quincy Adams certainly had a lot of shiny pate visible. Martin Van Buren was bald, if we don’t count the copious hair he had around his receding hairline. But if we count receding hairline as bald, then we’d have to count Coolidge, Hoover, Truman and Nixon (whose bald spot was rarely photographed).  The bald and balding presidents:  John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren (with qualifications), Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford.

In fact, if we just look at the follicularly challenged, and not wholly bald, we find that the men with the least hair were all elected AFTER women’s suffrage. Vox Day rarely lets fact or reason get in the way of his thinking. Only Quincy Adams and Van Buren before women’s suffrage, and six baldies starting with Coolidge after.

But the question is, who is focusing on baldness here? Vox Day makes an implicit assumption that women do. It’s a wholly unevidenced, and in the light of history that shows the contrary, unreasonable assumption. He’s making hysterical error, with all the irony that drags along with it.

That anyone would argue for depriving women of the vote, hanging it on such flimsy evidence and bizarre reasoning, shows why women are justified in voting for Democrats. No one in the Democratic party is advancing arguments against women’s suffrage, on any basis.

You know what else? The mainstream media will “hide” Vox’s bizarre comments, not covering them at all, thereby protecting him and Republicans from the howls of justifiable outrage. Why do the media always protect conservatives who have taken leave of their senses?

* Apologies are probably due to Robert Earl Keen, composer of “The Road Goes On Forever.

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