THE RUSSIANS IN LIBERTY – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry and I have been watching “Reilly – Ace of Spies” starring Sam Neill. It’s a really good, long mini-series. Very detailed, complex, and absorbing. Since it’s more or less historical, I know how it’s going to end … which is one of the few things I don’t like about watching history. You know it’s going to end badly. You have to decide if you want to watch that final episode or maybe take a shower.

On this evening’s episode, Sidney Reilly quit the British Secret Service and committed himself to ending the Bolshevik reign in Russia at any cost. Which was when I realized I’d met a whole bunch of these people a long time ago in a world I’d nearly forgotten.

This is a strange story, so bear with me.

Russian Communism was not one or two easily understood “things.” It was an idea that became a revolution that fractured into multiple parts. Americans have typically seen it all as one thing: Communism. Khrushchev. Stalin. Soviet Union. For most Americans, that’s how we’ve been taught to think about it.

It was a lot more complicated than that.

A lot of people fought the Czar to end their reign and bring Communism to Russians. Many of those fighters were very unhappy (and many of them also wound up dead) because the Communist government they got was nothing like what they fought for. They fought for justice and equality, but what they got was tyranny and fascism. The ironic part of the story is that the fight to get rid the world of the German fascists basically cost them the country.

Getting rid of the Germans was pretty much the one thing on which everyone in Russia agreed. Get rid of the Germans. We’ll sort out the rest later.

It turned out Lenin wasn’t such a nice guy and by the end of the war, he was in power … and then, he was dead and chaos reigned. The British didn’t provide the anti-Bolsheviks the weapons or troops they had promised. The planned coup to take over the Russian government failed as did the attempted assassination of Lenin. By the time the Germans surrendered, Lenin and his wing-man, Stalin, owned Russia.

Sidney Reilly, the star of the series we’re watching, left the British Secret Service and dedicated the remaining years of his life to trying to destroy the Russian Bolshevik government. Many of his people — including Sidney — moved to New York where the FBI  stuck to them like super glue. The FBI was not then or now a group who understood the complexities of Russian history.

Eventually, many of these Russians moved to small towns in upstate New York. Monroe. Liberty. Woodstock. Monticello. Roxbury. Places that once were home to huge Jewish resorts like Grossinger’s and where so many stand-up comics got their start. Today these towns are doing pretty well, but there were dark days during which they were nearly ghost towns.

Except for the Russians.

Liberty, New York – the old days

I was 17 in the summer of 1964. My goal in life was to leave home and never come back. My mother still thought she might somehow lure me into staying a while longer … like until I was 18. Or got married. Or had a job. Thus when summer rolled around, she decided we needed a family vacation in the Catskills. Liberty, in Sullivan County, was our destination.

To say that this was not what I wanted doesn’t come close to it. I hated my father and disliked my sister. My brother had married and left home, so my only ally was gone. Family vacation? Seriously? I could look forward to a couple of weeks of being harangued by my father and probably threatened with near death beatings.

I never entirely understood my mother’s reasoning. Why would I want to go to the mountains with the family?

Regardless, that’s what we did. I don’t remember the name of the “resort.” It was old and rundown. The reason mom picked it was because they had a concert pianist. I was a music major with piano as my instrument. Mom apparently thought the music might grab my interest. In response, I brought enough dope with me to stay high the full two weeks.

But the mural was in full, blazing color

That first evening, we went to dinner. Big dining room  intended for a much larger crowd. Two walls were painted. Murals. On the wall facing me (I’m not making this up) was the head of Trotsky. From chin to forehead he was maybe 12 feet high? No body, just a head. I was really stoned and that huge head just hung there on the wall.

But wait. There was more.

On the right wall was something that looked like a chariot but was probably a troika which is usually pulled by three horses. In this case, it was being pulled by three workers. You knew they were workers because the hammer and sickle was prominently displayed across their laboring bodies. In the chariot — or whatever it was — there was a Corporate Rich Guy (dollar signs painted all over him) beating the workers. With a giant whip.

Holy shit.

That was some dinner. I don’t know what they served, but I ate it all.

That night, I could hear my parents whispering. “Albert, you better get cash. We can’t sign anything. The FBI is probably here. Watching.” Come to think of it, the FBI probably was there. Did they also eat the gefilte fish?

It turned out everyone in the resort except me, my sister, and parents, were in their 70s or older. All of them had been in the White army trying to take down the Bolsheviks — or something like that. Here’s a good jumping off point for the history. It’s Wikipedia, so it shouldn’t be your primary source.

The road to Liberty

These were Sidney’s people. They carried around books of pictures of pictures of them young, in the army. Guns. Boots. Snow. Tanks. If I had been more astute, a bit more into Russian history — and less stoned — I could have asked so many questions. I’m sure they would have told me everything.

As it was, they tried to tell me everything, but I was 17. We all know that 17-year-old girls don’t listen to old people, even when they have books full of pictures of themselves when they were kids, fighting Bolsheviks and tanks. In Russia. In the snow.

Until we started watching this series, I had no idea who these folks were. I knew they were Russian because they said so. They had pictures and they giggled when they talked about it. I remember Greenwich Village. They remembered fighting with the army in Russia.

Ah, memories.

At 17, I didn’t know the difference between one Bolshevik and another and probably, at that stage in life, didn’t care.

Tonight, watching that show, it came together. Those people were the last of the crowd of anti-Bolsheviks who’d come up from New York city to live in those quaint towns in the Catskills — to get away from the FBI and HUAC.

Pity I didn’t get the story. What a story it would have been!

Dad paid cash. He never signed anything. I think he used a fake name, too. I stayed stoned and ate gefilte fish, which I usually hate. How could I say no to fish with Trotsky staring at me while the guy with the whip beat the workers?

LIVING EXPONENTIALLY – Tom Curley

Did you see DJT on Fox and Friends this morning? Or maybe you saw it on Colbert this evening. It was also on the evening news, so if you watched TV at all, you saw it. It was also all over social media.

Whoa! Talk about out of control. It would have been funny if life on earth were a comedy. But this was our actual, elected President Of The United States. POTUS. The Man. Sounding like an out-of-control elderly family member who has lost it.

2018 is 2017 on steroids. It’s almost May and it is crazier and much weirder than last year. We expected crazy — but weird?

In 2017, we experienced “Trump Time.” A crazy story which would have normally lasted a week or two — maybe even a month — lasted for two days, tops. We were reeling from the insane shit the Shithead-in-Chief did on a Monday, only to completely forget about it because he did something even crazier on Tuesday.

That’s how it went all year.

But something happened, or seemed to happen on January 1, 2018. The crazy went into overdrive. I say ‘seemed’ to happen because his turning the crazy up to eleven was inevitable. Now those same stores last a couple of hours before the next bizarre event.

Why? Well, it’s because of the word exponential. Most of us know what it means, but I think most of us don’t really understand it.


ex·po·nen·tialˌekspəˈnen(t)SH(ə)l/

adjective

1. (Of an increase) becoming more and more rapid. “The social security budget was rising at an exponential rate.”

2. MATHEMATICS – Of, or expressed by, a mathematical exponent, for example, “an exponential curve.”


More specifically, we need to understand exponential growth, something that gets bigger and bigger, or grows faster and faster over time.

It’s hard for humans to think like that because we are hard-wired to think linearly. It’s easy for us to understand it takes a guy two hours to paint a room, so he can paint two rooms in four hours. Commonsense, right? That kind of commonsense  is part of our DNA. It helped us survive in the old caveman days. Back then, we had to be able to figure out in a hurry how fast we had to run to get to that tree before the really large saber tooth tiger caught up to us and ate us for lunch.

The best example of exponential growth today is in technology. Like, say, computers. There’s a thing called “Moore’s Law.” It says the processing power of computers doubles and the cost is cut in half every 12 to 18 months.

That was true, but, it is a perfect example of linear thinking.  In reality, the time that computers double in power and drop in cost is taking less and less time. Science and allknowledge, is growing at an accelerated rate.

It has always been that way. The increase in human knowledge has always been on an exponential curve, but the way the curve works didn’t make it seem that way until recently. On an exponential curve, things grow at a steady rate for a long time. Then suddenly, it hits a tipping point and everything begins to race along much faster.

Think about it. Humans have been on this planet as Homo sapiens for a few million years. Most of that time, we spent surviving. And throwing rocks at each other. Then, about 12,000 years ago, we stopped roaming and settled down. Although we still threw rocks at each other.

We created agriculture and civilization. Why did we do that? Because we discovered beer. I know this sounds like a joke, but it’s true. There’s a great documentary called “How Beer Saved The World.’  It’s fascinating, but that’s another blog for another day.

Basically, we had a choice. We could continue to wander around and throw rocks at each other. Or,  we could stay home and make more beer. And throw rocks at each other. It wasn’t a hard decision.Think of all the science — all the knowledge — mankind figured out starting 12,000 years ago up until 1900. By the 1900’s the industrial revolution was well underway. Cities were lit by gas and some places, by electricity. People and industry moved on steam-powered trains. The internal combustion engine was in production.

All this knowledge doubled between 1900 and the 1960’s. From  horse-drawn carriages to putting a man on the moon.

Well, that was fast.

The knowledge of mankind doubled again between 1960 and 1980, then doubled againby 1990.

Can we remember when smartphones didn’t exist? When iPads didn’t exist? They’ve been around for a while, right? Actually, the iPhone came out June 29, 2007. That was just ten years ago. The iPad was released on April 3, 2010. Just seven and a half years ago!

When my step son was diagnosed with kidney disease, he was told he would need a transplant. I asked his doctor if an artificial kidney would soon be available. He said, yes, but not for at least 50 years.

A few years later, he received the transplant and Ellin was the donor. After the surgery was over I asked the same doctor the same question. His answer? “Oh yeah, they will probably make a kidney from his own stem cells. Maybe five, ten years from now. ”

That was five years ago. Today, they’re talking about making kidneys with a 3D printer.

What happened?

Mankind reached the tipping point of that exponential curve. We’re at the point where the curve ends and the line goes straight up. This is when our knowledge quite literally explodes.

We’re way over to the right.

This is not something I thought of myself. There is a fascinating book by futurist Robert Kurzweil, called “The Singularity Is Near.” I highly recommend it.


What does any of this have to do with our Toddler-In-Chief? A lot. In particular, with his mental illness. Literally hundreds of psychiatrists and psychologists are screaming at the top of their lungs that this nut job is, well, nuts.

And getting worse.

They have collectively pointed out that the stress of the job is accelerating his illness. He’s not merely getting crazier at warp speed. He has gone all the way to plaid!

You can see it yourself and you don’t need a Ph.D either.

Every interview he gives is a trip further down the rabbit hole. His last few interviews have gone from, “Bizarre” to “Unhinged” to “Insane” to “Insanely insane.” Read the transcript of his last interview with The Wall Street Journal. It was a literal word salad. Not a single sentence was complete or made any sense.

Remember the news conference where the doctor that supposedly just examined Trump said he passed a cognitive mental test and he got all 30 questions right!

Really? The questions were things like “name four animals” and “point out what 3:15 looks like on a clock.” Wow, so the President is sane because he recognizes a cow, a pig, a dog,a rhinoceros and a pussy. He also knows when it’s quarter after three.

Short red hand was. at 3 and is now. moving toward 4. Long blue hand. has moved. to 15.

Meanwhile, the doctor in charge, apparently known locally as “Candyman,” excused himself from his upcoming promotion to run the V.A. Maybe the doctor should be taking the test.

I think Grandpa is not just losing it. He’s losing it faster and faster each day. It’s time to take away the keys to his car. Remove the big nuclear button from his desk. Get him into the memory care unit at a good nursing home. Hell, you can designate Mar-A-Lago as his official nursing home and lock him in his room. It’s the end of April as I write this and I’m hoping we make it to May. Last year, at this time we were hoping to make it to 2020.

I apologize for not finding more humor in all of this. I try, but sometimes it just ain’t there. So, to make up for it. Here are two dogs playing “I Got Your Nose!”

ASTONISHED? MORE LIKE DISAPPOINTED – Marilyn Armstrong

ASTONISH

We had one beautiful day on Saturday. It rained on Sunday and through last night and this morning, it’s cold, dark, and grey again. Not only that, but neither of us feels well.

It was actually snowing a bit north of here yesterday. It wasn’t sticking, but there was quite a lot of it and while not sticking to the road, it managed to do some accumulating on grass and gardens.

I’ve noticed that the meteorologists are getting careful and sometimes, downright apologetic about the weather. The usual glee they show when bad weather is coming has been muffled by explaining that “Really, it’s going to be lovely — soon — we promise,” and some of them act as if it must be a personal thing, the continued lousy weather.

Obviously, it’s no single individual’s fault, though collectively we may have a lot to answer for. I have posts from last year dealing with April snow. But tomorrow, it’s May and I don’t have anything about snow in May. Not that it has never happened … but it is rare and I think we’ve all pretty much had it with the cold and hale and sleet and general bad weather.

C’est la vie, eh?

By the end of the week, they are talking about temperatures in the 80s. That’s a hard thing to imagine at the moment. I shall try and keep the faith, which is an even harder thing.

MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

A lot has been written about dieting and body image. What interests me is how we develop our body image in childhood and how this image haunts us through life.

Here’s an innocuous example. I’m short. Very short. I’m less than 5’1” tall. So it would be reasonable to assume that “short” would be part of my innate body image. But it’s not. I’m constantly surprised when I stand next to normal sized people and realize how much bigger they are than I am. I believe this is because I grew early and stopped growing early.

I’m third from the left, in first grade

Therefore, in my formative years, I was one of the taller kids in the class. When we lined up by size in first grade, I was near the back of the line next to a girl named Liz. Liz grew to be about 5’8” tall. I barely noticed as the years went by and everyone else continued to grow and I didn’t. It didn’t hit me until one day, in sixth grade, I realized that I was at the front of the line next to my peanut sized friend, Cathy. How did that happen? As a result, I’ve never thought of myself as small. I’m still bemused when people comment on how tiny I am.

Me with Tom, Marilyn and Garry in 2016 (Marilyn is short too)

My mother illustrates the more pernicious affects of childhood perceptions. She was adorable as a child but had a thick, black uni-brow. Insensitive parents and family members referred to her as “the ugly one”, in Yiddish. At the age of 13, she blossomed into a true beauty. This is not just an adoring daughter talking.

My mother was scheduled to go to Hollywood in the 1940’s for a screen test. She didn’t go because she got a severe case of Rheumatic fever that permanently damaged her heart. But throughout her adult life, no matter how many people told her how beautiful she was, her image of herself was always as the ugly duckling. She always felt totally inadequate physically.

My mom at about two years old

When I was growing up, my insecure mom overemphasized the importance of looks to me. This made me very self-conscious about my appearance. She often told me that she didn’t understand how women who were not thin and beautiful ever got husbands.

Ellin – NOT looking short!

It’s no wonder that it was only in my 50’s that I felt confident to go out of the house without makeup on – ever! Even to the supermarket. I always wore makeup at home as well, even when I was alone with my husband, until recently with husband number two.

It’s liberating to be able to finally feel acceptable without cosmetic enhancement.

One of Mom’s theater head shots. She was in her early twenties.

I believe that the self-image that is imprinted on us early in life stays with us forever. Extended therapy can improve the situation and strengthen the ego.

I think that it’s crucial for parents to make sure that their kids leave home with a positive body image. Too much emphasis is placed on physical appearance early on. So too many children, including me, grow up thinking that being beautiful is synonymous with being accepted, valued and loved.

Mom in her early fifties – still beautiful

We all need to feel comfortable in our own skin, whether we’re good looking in a conventional way or not; whether we’re skinny or “big-boned”, or whether we’re male or female. Neither of my children have serious body issues. I’m not sure if that is because of me or in spite of me.

Personally, I wish I could “do-over” my childhood and de-emphasize the physical. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much of my life as obsessed with looking “good” all the time.

Mom and me in 2002 – I’m 52 and Mom is 85

Thank You, Donald Trump – Jan Wilberg

I couldn’t have said it nearly as well — but this is a very good description for many of us these days. Brilliant, actually.

Red's Wrap

When Donald Trump was elected, I decided it was time to be the political commentator I’d wanted to be when I was sixteen. I’ll get a spot on Medium, I thought, and just tear the bastard up with my laser analysis and searing prose.

But within weeks, the guy became too disgusting for words. Every day, there was some horrible, gross, ignorant assault on our customs, values, law, civility, what we used to agree constituted basic decency, a man basically relieving himself on the country’s fine china.

So I turned my attention to people and things that knew how to act in polite company like me, for instance, and my dogs. But walking today, it came to me that Donald Trump, the sloppy, rude jerk that he is, had actually made me a better person and a better American. Here’s how.

First, I pay attention like I never have before.

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LAST CACTUS FLOWER OF THE SEASON – Marilyn Armstrong

Flower of the Day

I got two blooms on my Christmas cactus. The first flower closed up this morning and the second opened this afternoon.

By the time I remembered to grab my camera to take some pictures of what is probably the last flower for this year, it was late. Close to dark, really. A very dim light in an east facing doorway and I wondered if anything would come out. I could have turned on the lights, but that would have distorted the colors and I don’t like flash.

Not only do I need new glasses, but I was shooting in very low light and a bit too close for that light level. 

I’ll try to take some sharper pictures in the morning when the sun is still in the sky.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIEND

The Golden Age of Rock Turns 50, 1968 by Rich Paschall

Everyone will look back on their youth with the belief that the hit music of their time comprised the Golden Age of whatever genre was on top.  We will, of course, make the same claim. In fact every genre of our time hit the pop charts.  Many of those songs have not lost their golden shine 50 years later.  I know you are eagerly awaiting my top ten list of songs having a golden anniversary. You will be pleased to know I initially wrote down so many (46), that I will have to give you a top 20.

The Beatles

Some iconic rock and roll acts had come to prominence and charted singles and albums.  Rock legends Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Tommy James and the Shondells, The Doors, The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Janis Joplin and many more were thrilling their fans as they pushed rock across new vistas.

Pop stars of the day Tom Jones, The Monkees, Beach Boys, Three Dog Night, Dion, The Fifth Dimension, Bee Gees, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Bobby Goldsboro, The Lettermen, The Turtles, and The Vogues were only a few of the acts to sing their way up the charts.

Irish actor Richard Harris scored with an unlikely hit (MacArthur Park).  The Rascals wanted you to see People Got To Be Free.  Archie Bell and the Drells told you to Tighten Up and the Delfonics explained La-la Means I Love You.

Acts like Cream, Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, Status Quo, Deep Purple and even Donovan gave us a commodity called Psychedelic Rock.  On the other side of the pop spectrum we had something we dubbed “Bubble Gum Music” from artists like The Ohio Express, Tommy Roe and a group that helped bring on the title, The 1910 Fruitgum Company.

As always a couple of instrumentals were to be found: “Classical Gas” (Mason Williams) and “L’amour est bleu” or Love is Blue (Paul Muriat).  These also fall into the category of one hit wonders.

The sounds of jazz came through the air with Herb Alpert, and Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66.  The Mills Brothers found their first big hit in a dozen years.

Some movie songs hit the charts in 1968: “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” “Mrs. Robinson” (The Graduate), “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde,” and “Theme from The Valley of the Dolls.”  You can add a couple of TV shows whose themes are well remembered, “Mission Impossible” and “Hawaii 5-0.”

It was a great year for hits from R&B and Soul music icons Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Sam and Dave, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Otis Redding, The Box Tops, The Temptations, Jerry Butler and a list that stretches all the way back to 1968.

Country Western singers had cross over hits that climbed the pop charts including Glen Campbell and Tammy Wynette.  A song by Jeannie C. Riley, “Harper Valley PTA,” spawned a movie of the same name.

If you are quite ready, call the “Cab Driver” and come down to “Indian Lake” where we will be having our “Stoned Soul Picnic.”  “Simon Says” it’s “A Beautiful Morning” and we will be joined by “Lady Madonna,” “Lady Willpower,” “Delilah,” “The Mighty Quinn,” and even “Suzie Q.”  If you see “The Unicorn,” perhaps it is because of that “Bottle of Wine.”  Feel free to play your “Green Tambourine” and “Dance To The Music.”

20. (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding
19. Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell
18. I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Marvin Gaye
17. Elenore, The Turtles
16. Goin’ Out Of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You, The Lettermen
15. Turn Around, Look At Me, The Vogues
14. Stormy, Classics IV
13. Crimson and Clover, Tommy James and the Shondells
12. White Room, Cream
11. Sealed With A Kiss, Gary Lewis and the Playboys.

10. Born To Be Wild, Steppenwolf.  Released in 1968, this song became part of the soundtrack of “Easy Rider” the following year.  I love this song so much I did it a number of times for karaoke.  Fortunately, none of those performances exist today.

9.  For Once In My Life, Stevie Wonder.  A number of artists recorded the song prior to 1968 and Tony Bennett had some success with it, but it was Wonder’s upbeat version that scored big.

8.  Hooked On A Feeling, B. J. Thomas.  Released late in the year, you will find this song as a top hit of both ’68 and 1969.  An electric sitar gave it a unique sound.

7.  Everybody’s Talkin’, Harry Nilsson.  This artist had minor success with the song in 1968.  The following year it was featured as the theme song to the movie “Midnight Cowboy,” was re-released and became a bestseller.

6.  One, Harry Nilsson.  This song was written and recorded by Nilsson.  Three Dog Night also recorded the song in 1968 and had a much bigger hit with it the following year.

5.  Mony, Mony, Tommy James and the Shondells.  Yes, Tommy James got the title from looking out his New York City apartment window and seeing the initials on top of the Mutual Of New York building.

4.  Hello, I Love You, The Doors.  Written by Jim Morrison, the song was recorded from February to May of 1968.  Due to his excessive drinking, Morrison became difficult to work with and recording took time.  The song hit number 1 in the US and Canada.

3.  Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones.  The chart topping hit is reported to be the Stones most often played concert song.  It was such a hit that it is always on their set list.

2.  Hey Jude, The Beatles.  Paul McCartney originally conceived it has Hey Jules, for John Lennon’s son Julian, but he claims he never actually gave it to him.  Later he decided Jude would sound better and changed the lyric.

1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps, The Beatles. This hit was written by George Harrison, reportedly about the discord in the group. The Beatles VEVO music video contains the acoustic recording by the band. On the original single released in 1968, the distinctive guitar was provided by Eric Clapton.  That’s the version below.

Click on any song title in the top 10 to go to the video or go to the entire playlist here. 

Check out the top songs of 1968 at Billboard, wikipedia or others and let us know if we missed a good one.
Sources include: “Top 100 Hits of 1968,” www.musicoutfitters.com

ROSES ARE RED AND SO IS MY BLOOD – Marilyn Armstrong

The weather finally broke and today was an exquisite spring day. Our maple tree is in bud. The buds are fat and red and this morning, the little red finch was sitting on a limb and the only way to tell he and the buds were different was that he was moving more than the twigs.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

There was no point in trying to get a picture. It’s a really bad angle and there’s a big smudgy window in the way, full of dog-nose prints and the little gray lines of lint that rain drops leave behind.

You’d think the rain would clean the windows, wouldn’t you? It makes them even dirtier. And yesterday, it poured buckets for the entire day. Our sump and pump were in overdrive, but at least we didn’t flood.

When I got up this morning and opened the shades, the sky was robin’s egg blue with a few high cumulus clouds just to give a nice balance to the sky.

Today was it. Clean out the garden or die trying.

Last year, we did it in one day, but the terrible winter weather seems to have escalated growth.

The hard part of this experience is cutting back the hedge roses. When I bought these supposedly “miniature roses,” I was thinking “ah, lovely scented roses in my garden.”

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I was not thinking lethal, killer thorn bushes that were originally grown to keep burglars out of the yard. They could keep anyone out of the yard. They spread like crazy and for every rose, there are a thousand thorns. A barbed wire fence is friendlier than these roses, so pruning them is a job nobody wants, which is why I do it.

My son hates those roses. My husband thinks all the flowers are pretty, but he is no gardener. His father was a good gardener, but Garry didn’t inherit the gene — if there’s a gardening gene.

I like plants, but I really prefer looking at them to grappling with them … and then, there are the roses. Last year I trimmed them lightly and the result was barbed wire rose shoots everywhere. They also crawl along the ground and send up new shoots, by the way. We’ve got them in red and pink and they look very pretty in bloom. Not much scent, though. These are the barbed wire roses of old British country houses.

After I convinced Garry that no, he should NOT shower first, we went outside. I was armed with the expensive clippers I bought a couple of years ago.

Owen said I didn’t need them.”What’s wrong with the cheap ones?” Every year, I’m delighted to have them. They really cut cleanly and you don’t need to be a giant with brute strength to get them to lop off a branch.

I had to figure out how to get up to the bushes. Our garden is raised, but you have to remember which rocks you can stand on … and which ones are dodgy and might make the wall come down. I’m not exactly a good climber.

Basically, I cut every piece of rose-bush I could reach, being only 5’1″ tall. I got stabbed and torn. Like a true gardener, I wiped the blood off on my arms onto my jeans and lopped off another branch. If you think for a minute that they will not all regrow faster than I can say “what did I do with my shears?”, you’re wrong. These hedge roses are sturdier than the weeds. I should know because we have weeds. Serious ones.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Garry got into the raking and dumping into the trash can. HE was wearing the leather work gloves, so I did the bleeding, but he did the bending. I guess that makes us even.

We didn’t finish. I also have a gigantic holly bush which I had to clip back. If I didn’t cut it back, we wouldn’t be able to get in and out of the yard. I couldn’t clip the top branches. Owen’s going to have to get to them. I’m too short.

Then I had to dig out the well-head. It’s not a good idea to have your well buried in garden soil. No matter how hard you try, the dirt will sink into the well and your water will turn muddy. We have filters to keep out the dirt, but there’s more dirt than filters.

There were more earthworms than I’ve ever seen in one place. They kept popping up and I kept pushing them back into the dirt. I also tried the best I could to get the strangle weed cut back, but it’ll return. You can’t pull the roots out without the rocks falling down, so all I can do is cut them as close to the earth as possible and hope I can keep lopping them off as they come back. Which they will do. Soon.

Mayflowers

When we were done for the day and too tired to do anything more, we agreed to finish up tomorrow. It too is supposed to be lovely. I managed to shear most of the sprouting killer roses and made it possible to walk past the holly without it grabbing you and hauling you into fairyland. You didn’t know there was a fairy kingdom in the middle of the giant holly bush?

Tomorrow will be easier. Mostly raking. I think an hour or two will do it for now.

The flowers are on the way. While we worked, four dandelions bloomed and I swear the daffodils finally set some buds. We have lots of columbine coming up, too and tons of day lily flags. I think the awful weather actually improved the hardiness of the plants. If it made it through last winter, nothing will kill it.

ORANGE! – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Orange

From Nancy Merrill:

Orange is a really fun color to photograph. There are many things in nature that are orange: pumpkins, oranges, flowers. This little fellow really, really wanted to join his big brothers playing at the Christmas piano recital. Even though he was a little young to take lessons, he came all ready in his dapper orange sweater. He was also thrilled to get a chance at the 9′ concert Steinway grand piano after the formal recital was over.

First, catch your fish… #writephoto

The perils of fishy friends!

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

I can’t remember when I last felt so tired. The past couple of weeks have been hectic… in the best possible way… what with the workshop, reconnecting with old friends while they are in the country and all the usual stuff that makes up a busy day. I have a lot to write about, but tonight my brain is as seized up as the rest of me. An early night is in order… so, instead of delving deep into symbolism and spirituality, or even sharing some of the places I have been lately… I thought I would write about fish.

This is not as random as it might sound. A few weeks ago I wrote about a hitch-hiking loach and a wish for a better aquarium to replace the much-loved but antique set-up occupying the corner of my living room.  The tank was a good size, but dark, falling apart…

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MEDIA ISN’T FAUX BUT POLITICIANS ARE – Marilyn Armstrong

WHAT IS TRUTH? DOES IT MATTER?

I don’t have a lot of friends in the Republican camp, but there remain a few. It didn’t used to be such a gigantic divide, but it has loomed hugely since the last election.

The other night I heard from an old friend who lives down in the middle of Georgia. Not Atlanta. The less expensive part where the non-city folk live. She is a warm, sweet, kindly woman, but times they are a’changing.

I don’t know what I said — probably nothing I really thought about — and she said “But we don’t know what the truth is. The media just lies all the time.”

Pause. Longer pause.

“Garry spent his whole life in news and many of our best friends were or are in the news business. Sally, they DO NOT MAKE UP THEIR NEWS STORIES. They never did and they don’t do it now. They spend their lives searching for the facts. For proof. For truth. They do not lie.”

An even longer pause. “But what difference does it make anyway?”

If she cannot understand that there is an uncrossable gap between truth and lies, then what is there to discuss? Perhaps that is the bottom line of our current issues with truth, that so many people on both sides of the political lines don’t care about truth and don’t think truth matters.


If the truth doesn’t matter, then I am not sure what does matter.

For me, the truth always matters. I can’t imagine not caring about the difference between truth and lies. 


 

CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA AND ME – Marilyn Armstrong

I got a letter — a note more accurately  — from Facebook telling me that I was one of the people whose material was released to Cambridge Analytica. I do very little on Facebook except post my blogs from WordPress, so I figured they didn’t know anything about me that everyone else in the world didn’t already know.

What I failed to consider was that my posts include a lot more information and a lot of people who, in theory, they could track. I have absolutely no way to know what was or has been done with the information.

Check out this New York Times Article and draw your own conclusions. I don’t know what to think.


Who collected all that data?

Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm hired by President Trump’s 2016 election campaign, gained access to private information on more than 50 million Facebook users. The firm offered tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior.

Cambridge has been largely funded by Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and Stephen K. Bannon, a former adviser to the president who became an early board member and gave the firm its name. It has pitched its services to potential clients ranging from MasterCard and the New York Yankees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


But for the past few days, I’ve had more suggestions that this “thing” going on with WordPress is some kind of takeover of our posts, trying to push to the surface material someone somewhere wants to see and push away stuff they don’t like, we being “that something” they don’t like.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I have never believed in conspiracies if there was any simpler explanation possible — and there always has been a simpler explanation. I do not believe the Russians have taken over WordPress. Or, at least I don’t think I believe it. I’m pretty sure I don’t believe it.

Maybe it’s the Republican Party or a pathological group of right-wing southern Christians. Possibly, it’s the DNC because we never sent them the $3 they needed to keep Trump from being elected. I mean … seriously … how many times did they tell me that ALL they needed was $3. I didn’t send them the $3 any of the thousands of times they asked me. Is this some kind of progressive punishment for failing The Party?

We are watching “Reilly, Ace of Spies” on Acorn. This epic miniseries tells the true story of Sidney Reilly, the legendary super-spy, played by Sam Neill makes James Bond look like a wimp. What makes this so … bizarre … is that it’s the real thing.

There was this guy, Sidney Reilly — original name Sigmund Rosenblum, (born March 24, 1874, Odessa, Ukraine) — died Nov. 25, 1925, probably by direct order of Stalin.  He played with the rise and fall of governments the way I used to play Scrabble. He made a lot of 7-letter words and across the triple word score, too.

Maybe it’s his fault.

Nah. It has got to be the Russians. Cambridge Analytica has all my information and is out to get us. It won’t give up until we’re buried.

Garry says if I keep saying this, he is going to believe it. The truth is, if I keep saying it, there’s a chance I might believe it too.

That is the scariest thing of all.

CEE’S WHICH WAY PHOTO CHALLENGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge o4/17/2018


As I think – hope! – we are finally moving out of the end of winter slump into warmer days, perhaps this is a good time to show the roads of April. Good, not so great, and holy moly!

The invisible highway

Under the bridge on the Pike

And also, heavy traffic

Sweet sunset and home again

THEN I UNDERSTOOD WORDPRESS AND WHAT’S HAPPENING – Marilyn Armstrong

I reread the letter from this engineer and I realized suddenly, with a certain horror, what it means to me, to you, to all of us who have been here for a while and built sites.

WordPress decided to change their algorithm so that “new, fresh material” will get pushed up to the top of the search engine and everything else — like me and you, for example — will go to the bottom. Instead of promoting blogs with solid statistics and followers, they are pushing the latest thing, whoever has just opened a new blog and … well … as someone already said: “Who made this decision? What do they mean by ‘relevant’?”

Some engineer. Maybe a developer. Someone — 25-years old?

Here’s the core of the letter I got. You might want to read it twice because he is talking about all of us. Please note that the reason nothing is missing from my site (except about 6000 posts) is because I went and changed the title. They didn’t fix anything at all. They just buried me with their exciting new algorithm.


Nagesh Pai (Automattic)

Apr 27, 07:53 UTC

Hello Marilyn,

Thanks for your reply. Once again, I truly appreciate your time and effort in writing to us.

I would certainly and sincerely like to apologize for anything that has caused an unpleasant experience to you – whether it is any technology glitch, or my conduct.

Like I mentioned earlier, any technology platform will have its glitches. I hope we have resolved issues whenever you faced them in the past. We are always on the lookout for any faults that may crop up. Unfortunately there are a few that do sneak past.

I would like to focus on anything that is pending to resolve from our side right now.

There is nothing deleted from your site at all! (NOTE: THIS IS BECAUSE I CHANGED MY SITE ADDRESS – BEFORE THAT, THERE WAS NOTHING AT ALL, NOT THE SITE NAME, MY NAME OR ANYONE FROM THE SITE.) The appearance of your articles on WordPress Reader search by relevance is determined by what i explained earlier as “competition”. It would not be fair to use harsh terms like – Fault, here. If there are other articles that rank higher on relevance, it is likely the search algorithm finds it to be more relevant. Rankings keep changing with competition between newly published articles and older ones. The search engine will always try to deliver what the reader would find fresh and relevant, not what the content publishers would like to push. This is a little difficult to grab, since as content creators, we would always like to believe that our posts are the best ( just like we think about people and things we love with all our heart).


In other words: whatever buzz words the algorithm thinks might means “fresh and new” to someone (who?) gets to the top of the pile. “Old blogs” — mine, yours, our friends — are obviously boring and don’t need to even be IN the pile, much less on top of it.

Who decided what’s relevant? It’s not based on our statistics or our standing in “the community.” Not based on the number of our followers or readers. Someone said “that’s relevant” and “that’s NOT relevant.” Because they said so and we just have to live with it.

I don’t know if I want to live with it.

Effectively, what we suspected all along is true. If you have been with them for years, you aren’t fresh and new and why bother with you? So this isn’t an accident. They haven’t made a  mistake. They literally decided we aren’t important enough to bother with.

This is probably why if you take a periodic break from blogging, you get more readers because now you are fresher and newer than you were two weeks ago.

The final astonishing thing about this is what they are aiming for — a fresh, young audience — doesn’t exist. Kids don’t read blogs. They are on Instagram and other social media. Blog readers tend to be older and they are readers. Book readers. Newspaper readers. Writers. Photographers. They aren’t kids looking for fresh, young material … and they are not going to be paying their way on WordPress, either.

As a business model, WordPress is setting itself up to appeal to a non-existent market. All those young, fresh bloggers … you know … the ones who write three posts, realize it’s too much like work and abandon their sites? Those kids aren’t readers. That’s why they love Instagram and other short focus sites.

So, if someone specifically is looking for us, they can find us. But if they are looking to discover things to follow? We’ve not relevant and won’t show up. Ponder that. It’s a big lump to swallow.

I’m going to read a book. Something with magic.