I did not intend to turn this into a food blog. There are a myriad of those on the web. They all follow a typical form, a dissertation at the beginning and then the nitty-gritty for producing the delectable proffered. But did you know that this format is driven by the way recipe pages are treated by Google? If that beginning dialogue is not present, the mindless AI of the search engines dismisses the page far down the list. You can then only find it if you have the patience to plod through several thousand links.

Again, I do not blog about food or recipes but this one time a recipe tells a story both about times past and present. It began not long ago when indulging in a bit of nostalgia; I recalled a recipe my mother used occasionally. It is simple thing as you will see and I had tried it years ago in my college days and had even committed it to paper. Alas, that paper was long gone and my memory of the dish was not quite complete.

My mother was an excellent cook and, at least in my memory, nothing bad ever came out of her kitchen. She was not an innovator, though. Instead, she and my father often clipped recipes to try, from magazines and the newspaper. The result was an endless parade of interesting dishes of considerable variety. Some of these would make it into her regular collection and the one she called “ragout” was one of these.

When I began to think about this recipe, I had the intention of recreating it. Google searches for ragout, however, turned up dishes that resembled this not at all. I began to lose all hope that I might find even a slightly similar recipe so I turned my problem over to my daughter. You must know that she has inherited her grandmother’s talent (and you will discover just how much if you view her blog,  It turned out that she had inherited much of my mother’s recipe collection as well. As soon as I had inquired, she came back to me with a copy of the actual recipe, something called “Student’s Ragout”. My father* had recorded it noting that it was from The Mystery Chef’s Own Cook Book as published by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (Some light is shed on this here

It seemed unlikely that PG & E would publish a cookbook and web searches quickly established two things. First, the recipe is easily found of you search for Students Ragout. There are plenty of versions to be had, all closely resembling this one. The second is that The Mystery Chef was popular radio chef in the 1930’s and 40’s. His story is worth revisiting.

John MacPherson was a Scotsman who came to America in 1906. He had owned an advertising agency in London and came here looking for American clients. He decided to stay to learn American business methods. His father decided that he needed a lesson in thrift and would only send him two pounds (probably about $10) a week. He was thus forced to take a room in a boarding house but soon decided that the food was terrible and moved out with another fellow and started cooking their meals.

Once on that path, he began to develop a talent and soon meals at his table were in demand. Ultimately, it lead to him pitching the idea of a radio show to a potential sponsor in 1931. The result was a widely popular show that ran until 1945. The Mystery Chef title came about, he said, because he wanted to save his mother from embarrassment at the thought of her son in the kitchen.

Now my mother never had a problem with her son in the kitchen. Though I did not cook regularly, she was of the persuasion that her children should be able to fend for themselves and at least be able to boil water and maybe fry an egg now and then. Though I am no special talent in the kitchen, I have held that interest ever since.

There is no knowing how much nostalgia MacPherson may have had for the old country. The range of recipes in his cook books gives no clue either. He never returned to England in any case, or at least not permanently, instead staying in the US until his death in 1962. (Here is the best link I have found about him

Though I can’t say that MacPherson ever became nostalgic for home, I find myself in that state of mind more often of late. The Student’s Ragout was just one of the things that came to mind. In the spirit of the Mystery Chef, perhaps, baked beans were a frequent treat. MacPherson made a specialty of budget recipes because his show aired during the Great Depression. As he noted in an interview, he once provided a week’s worth of recipes costing just $1.48. This was possible because

“chopped meat cost 19 cents a pound, butter was 27 cents a pound, eggs were 17 cents a dozen, flour was 6 cents a pound, sugar was 23 cents for 5 pounds, pork chops could be had for 5 cents each, breast of lamb was 25 cents for three pounds, and ground coffee sold for 19 cents a pound.”

His thrifty ideas would have had great appeal to my parents, having lived through those difficult depression years.

While our meals were often thrifty, what was not missing was the sense of family, especially at breakfast on Saturday mornings. The food was plentiful no matter what with eggs, bacon or sausage, waffles, pancakes and more. But it was that family togetherness that I most remember and that I miss the most. That is what we have lost in this last year of isolation and quarantine. Now that there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel perhaps some of that will be recovered and we can be families once again.

The Recipe

As I have noted, you can find numerous versions of Student’s Ragout on the web. Here is a shortened version of the Mystery Chef’s Own…

4 medium sized potatoes

2 medium sized carrots

3 medium sized onions

1 lb. round steak

½ lb. sliced bacon (Canadian style)

Salt and pepper

1 cup cold water

The potatoes and carrots should be peeled and thinly sliced. Peel and slice the onions. Cut the steak in 2 inch x ½ inch strips across the grain. The bacon can be cut to fit the pan.

Use a pot with a tight fitting lid. Place the bacon to cover the bottom. Arrange the steak in a layer on top of the bacon. Sprinkle with pepper. (Be generous as this will make all the difference.) Place the onions in a layer on that and then the carrots. Add salt and more pepper. Finally, place the potatoes on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper again.

Put the pot on the stove and turn the burner to medium high. Cook for about three minutes until the bacon begins to sizzle. Add the water (or wine if you prefer) and cover the pot. Turn the heat to low and cook for about 45 minutes. Serves four.

It should be noted that this recipe does not scale well. It is also not a budget item anymore, especially as the price of meat, even round steak, is not cheap. But this can produce a delicious one-pot meal that is easy to prepare. Done once, you will never quite forget how to do it again. I hope you enjoy, and when you do, raise a glass to John MacPherson, the Mystery Chef! *

The recipe was written in my father’s handwriting, easily recognized as he wrote in an easily recognized hasty scrawl, which is ironic considering that he was sign painter and was quite expert at letering with brush and paint.

Hoarding Hordes

It looks like we may be in for another session of curious shortages. A recent trip to the ubiquitous Costco revealed certain domestic goods either missing or in limited supply. A stern lecture from the featured columnist of the local birdcage liner scolded the miscreants for being so horrible as to stock up on such goods. I think he is barking at the wrong villian.

Is it so unreasonable to try to stock up on goods you think may soon be unavailable? Try a simple thought experiment. If, say, your water main were expected to be shut off for a month or two but you could store a large quantity (consider drafting your swimming pool), why should you not fill it now? True, there are many things that we can do with out on a short term basis, but even if the need is not as drastic as your water, why should you not put in a reasonable supply? That is just what those hoarders -most of them anyway- are doing. If you ignore the foreseeable shortage, isn’t it a bit foolish?

So stop belittling those who are looking ahead and acting on there expectations. Turn instead to real culprits, the government officials who, in this perpetual pandemic, seem to have learned nothing and are repeating the mistake. Here we are facing another severe lock-down sprung on us with no warning, mandating that we cower in our homes, masked and isolated and this mandate is made with not a thought to the consequences. Sure enough, the possibility that there might be a repeat of the supply disruptions we experienced in the spring provokes more panic and with it, more panic buying.

It is not enough for the lords of Sacramento to scold their subjects. They should be anticipating the effect these mandates will have and seeing to it that either supplies are available or effective restrictions are in place. We can argue the merit of the mandate to cease all social interaction, spending our days with one zoom meeting after another, binge watching anything that will hold our attention. What we should not have to tolerate is the inept management of this crisis and the real lack of concern for the population that has been so damaged by it.

For too long, California has been a one-party state. Elections should, among other things, be the means for punishing politicians who do not live up to expectations. It is time that all those all too reliable Democrat voters should think long and hard about returning to office those responsible for this debacle.

Oh, Columbus

It is hard to defend Christopher Columbus, yet he must be considered, as he looms large over us and will to the indefinite future. Try as you might, detest him as you will, he cannot be removed from our past. Where we are today is a consequence of what he did then. What we should not do is use him as a scapegoat for all our problems today.

Columbus was a sailor, which should probably stand as a warning as to character from the get go. He had traveled widely in his years at sea, including Constantinople, and possibly to the North Atlantic. It is commonly held that he had to fight the belief that the earth was flat, but it was widely understood that the earth is a sphere and there were reliable estimates as to size. Columbus tried for a number of years to get funding for a proposed expedition westward to Japan, including from Spain and Portugal. The real opposition to his plan was the expectation that it would not be possible to carry enough provisions for the expected distance. So Columbus fudged. He sold his plan on the basis of a much shorter voyage and ultimately the Spanish monarchy bought it. Obviously, neither he nor they expected that there would be an entire continent in the way. The argument is made that he may have deliberately underestimated the distance, but to the end of his life he insisted that he found Japan.

Whether through error or deliberate miscalculation, on October 12, 1492, the old world found the new and the age of exploration began in earnest. It also marked the end of the native civilizations of the new world and it is impossible to conjecture what might have been. For all that might have been, it must not be forgotten that even the most sophisticated civilizations on either continent lacked the wheel, the horse or other domestic animals, a significant factor in the development of the old world.

That lack of domestic animals played a large part in what would follow. Detractors point to the decimation (not really the right word but that is something for another blog) of native populations. it is not something that can be laid at Columbus feet alone. It is generally understood that Europeans developed immunity to many diseases because of their association with domestic animals. Think swine flu for example. The natives of the Americas had none. In short, even if Columbus showed up in full Haz-Mat, they were doomed. Estimates suggest that as many as 90% of natives succumbed to “European” diseases. It is also possible that a pandemic had occurred shortly before Columbus arrived. Ironically, the same thing happened prior to the arrival of the Mayflower.  Those settlers found a largely empty region and many abandoned villages.

Slavery is another issue, but it is wrong to blame it wholly on Columbus. It is a rather more complicated matter. The treatment of the natives is a sordid story, but in truth and to their credit, they did not make good slaves. Bartolome Del Las Casas was a great defender of the native population, but he suggested that Africans would be better suited and thus inadvertently started what we, and he, would come to regret. In Columbus’ defense, it must be remembered that slavery was a commonplace at the time. In order to fund his expedition, he had promised the riches of the East, particularly Japan, to Ferdinand and Isabella and had to produce something. In short, he was in hock to the mob. If you ever watched The Sopranos, you would understand how that might work out. We can lament it all we want from our lofty vantage point, but it was a fact of life and very much an inevitability. And if you are going to put De Las Casas above Columbus, keep in mind that it was he who shifted the rationalization of slavery to a matter of race rather than as spoils of war.

Finally, yes, Columbus discovered the New World. Yes, there were people already there. Yes, there was previous contact with Europeans, mainly the Norseman, Leif Ericsson several centuires earlier. There were also other possible contacts, but October 12, 1492 stands out as the date that a general understanding of the existence of entire continents previously unknown to Europeans did exist. All that followed hinged on the event on that date. No matter how you wish to name it, it is a date that should be marked and never forgotten.

*The rather large photo at the head of this post is of the monument to Columbus in Barcelona. The size perhaps suggests the enormous consequence of Columbus voyage and what followed from it.


First, let me assure you that I am not writing this post in the back of an ambulance or in the midst of the ashes of my home. All is well in the homestead and we are not directly affected by the Creek Fire. I say that while at the same time breathing heavily smoky air and in the wan light of a sun just barely breaking through that smoke. The Air Quality Index in Clovis is 132, which is deemed unhealthy (well, duh!)  and fine ash is visible in the air and falling on anything outside, like parked cars. But still, all is “well”. The smoke overcast has reduced temperatures by 10–15 degrees, a curious benefit.

Our morning weather.
The look of the sky at home. Pale yellow-brown light is all we get.

The aforementioned Creek Fire is just one of a dozen or more ongoing wild fires in California. To say that fire crews are stretched to the limit is a gross understatement. At last report, there were some 2,300 people working this fire in various capacities. Not all of those are directly on the fire line as supporting an effort of this magnitude is no small logistical matter. Our oldest grandson has some experience with this, having done support work with the CCC (California Conservation Corp) and last year on a Forest Service crew in the Sierras. Ironically, he had to sit this year out as he had enrolled in an EMT certification class and thus did not apply for a fire crew. Naturally, as with all else, his course was cut short by the corona virus shutdown and he will have to repeat much of the work. An EMT certificate is an important option for firefighters of any type.

Along with the “normal” California fire season, we have been affected in the past by fires here and abroad. You will recall that in 2018 there was disastrous fire in Greece. We were in Thessaloniki at the time and witnessed much of it on the Greek news reports. It was heart rending to watch people making a futile effort to combat the flames with tree branches. It was even more so as refugees from the fire fled to the shore to escape the flames. Many did not make it.

The text reads “Information for two dead and three injured” Similar scenes played most of that night and into the next day.

At the same time, the Carr Fire was raging through the northern counties, destroying a large part of Redding CA. As it happened, our middle grandson was at a camp (fishing camp, of course) north of Redding and his family had gone up to collect him and do some camping. We were watching this and the fire in Greece at the same time. Trying to connect to them became a serious problem as they were out of cell phone range. Ultimately we connected and were able to assure each other that we were all safe.

Again, the year before, we had gone north to witness the solar eclipse. At the time yet another large fire was raging through the north country. We spent a couple of days in Medford with the same smoke and gloom.

The Creek Fire extent as of September 11. Our house is at the small red arrow, fifteen miles from the closest fire line. Close enough!

The Creek Fire has to be regarded as the mother of all California wild fires. It started in the evening of Friday, September 4. According the current report, it now covers 201,908 acres, or over 315 square miles. That would easily cover the entire Fresno-Clovis-Madera area. How much more it will grow will depend on weather and terrain. Of the more than 100 miles of fire line, there is so far 8% containment. It is expected that the fire will not be completely controlled and out until mid-October.

How has this affected us? To begin with, the air pollution from the smoke has added to the already onerous quarantine. Even if we could go somewhere, we hardly want to. Thus we are confined more than ever. At one point, when mountain communities were one by one being overtaken and evacuations were ongoing, there was a real question as to possibility of it reaching down into the valley. Unlike the mountains, the valley is mostly grassland or agricultural, with numerous orchards. A strong wind from the East could have pushed it this way, but the nearest fire line has stabilized just the other side of Tollhouse, about fifteen miles line of sight from us. Even so, serious discussions ensued about what to take in the event. That quickly becomes overwhelming and, as one friend who had the experience noted, it is best to decide before the need arises.

The devastation is heart breaking. I have been up  in that area many times over the years. Seeing the complete destruction of much that is familiar is hard to bear. One landmark, a small store at the top of the long grade up to Shaver Lake, known as Cressman’s had been there for over a hundred years is now a smoking ruin. It may be restored and, in time, the forest will grow again, but this fire need not have happened or been so severe. There will be much argument to come about forest management. We can only hope they get it right this time and no one has to live through it again.

Facebook Fails

No, this is not a list of hilarious faux pas drawn from the virtual pages of our favorite (?) social media* site. It is rather an unordered set of small complaints about the use and users of that service. I am disappointed by Facebook and I will explain why. But I cannot simply assign my discontent to Mark Zuckerberg’s enterprise. While he has benefited enormously, it is almost certain that it is put to uses that he may never have envisioned.

Let us start with the commercial aspect of Facebook. Advertising was in the plan from the beginning, as it had to be. It is not the straight forward advertising that is a concern. Rather, it is the nature of some advertisers that is questionable. Facebook makes it possible for what you would have to call “fly by night” operations to use the system. Pay attention and you will see numerous ads for products from multiple vendors with odd names selling similar or even identical items. Most of these things originate in China and probably come from the same factory. If there is a problem, it is unlikely that it can be readily resolved.

Everyone is aware of click-bait posts, yet many still fall for them. Most common are the 10 best/worst list types that make you click through page after page of text to get to the main point. The only purpose for these is to accumulate your clicks to sell advertising.  Then there are the “intelligence” tests that only a genius can pass. Everyone must be a genius to judge by the responses I have seen.

The click-bait posts and the shady advertising go with the territory, I suppose. All things considered, they should be expected. What it tells us is not that people may have less than honorable motives, whatever the legality, but that Facebook is not too squeamish about what is accepted for posting. This is odd, given the inclination to declare posts of a political nature as “not factual”. Maybe Mr. Zuckerberg’s minions should expend more effort in assuring the integrity of posts and less to attempting to control the political debate to their particular liking.

All this is the least of what frustrates me about Facebook. I will state flatly that understand the purpose of the site and that is to make money, to fill Mark’s bank account, and those of his investors, munificently. I begrudge them that much. I pay nothing for using and I sympathize with their desire to avoid being a charity. So my real beef is not with Mark Zuckerberg, et al. Instead, I am disappointed with the regular users more than anything else.

I say that the purpose of Facebook is to make money, but the basic use to which it may be put is building and enforcing a sense of community. Those adorable baby pictures? Those usually hilarious cat videos? Give me more! Facebook deems anyone you designate to view your postings as a “friend”. It may strain the name, but a study showed a while back that FB friends tend to be just that, people you know and like. If this be so, then why all the shouting and screaming, the posturing and campaigning?

How many times have you seen a post that is intended to go viral? Typically, it will be along the lines of “Put Prayer Back in School! I dare you share this?” Or “This dog did ___ and the Internet went wild. Like and share.” Always there is the challenge that implies or outright states that to be a good Christian/Muslim/Democrat/Republican/Liberal/Conservative you must share the post. All of this is simple trolling, but it is accompanied by vehement admonitions about climate change, politics, current events, etc. the meaning of which either implied or stated is “How stupid you must be if you don’t agree with me!” All of this has only intensified with the virus and lock-down, comments on which have taken on an almost vicious tone.

So when I say bring on the baby photos, what I really want is for my fellow FB users to recognize that while I, like Voltaire, appreciate your right to an opinion, your expression of it may not be appreciated. What I value in Facebook is the opportunity to keep in contact with friends and relatives near and far. This is especially important for us having relatives spread around the world on three continents.

Instead, what I get is a steady diet of admonition, vituperation, preaching and scolding. This bothers me but more important, it keeps many people away that I would like to keep up with. Where I want to know how my friends and relatives are. Especially now, their posts are lost in a bilious babble. One by one, I have stopped following those who persist in posting political noise. In a few cases I have felt moved to unfriend people I know that I would otherwise appreciate. The recent political cycles have become so vitriolic that I am tempted to depart the site altogether. I know though, that I won’t do that because my curiosity will get the better of me. I can only hope that those reading this will consider moderating their campaigns and perhaps post a baby picture or two.

So this is a long winded way of explaining my recent flower pictures. I have determined to desist from any political commentary (and everything degenerates into politics ultimately) and instead post a flower photo from my collection (I have over a thousand to choose from) each day until the election in November is over. Then, I am sure, we will return to a more prosaic and friendly state. Won’t we?

*FB is the target of this dissertation, but I dabble in Instagram as well. The only reason it has not descended as far as Facebook is that I follow very few there. It is no less likely to become as bad as there is nothing to prevent it, not even the different posting style and policies. I have not attempted Twitter which is regularly described as a cesspool. That is laughable in that it comes from people who regularly indulge in it. I never saw the sensibility of breathlessly following someone who makes a hobby of posting noxious comments in any case. I am not interested in any of the other services for that matter.

The Oddest C

Sing, Muse, of that deep man, who wander’d much,
when he had raz’d the walls of sacred Troy,…         
Oddyssey by Homer

This odd title is tied to the concept in two seemingly unrelated ideas. Homer’s Oddyssey tells of the wanderings of the Greek hero, Odysseus, following the end of the Trojan War. There is no end of learned literature on this story, on its meaning and place in western literature and I am not about to add what little I know to the pile. I will say that I use it to symbolize our personal journeys. Odysseus encountered many perils in the course of a decade before he finally reached Ithaca, his home and family.

If your journey is on the Christian path, sooner or later you will encounter your own perils and will have to deal with a problem so significant that it is known as theodicy. Put simply, this is the question as to why bad things happen to good people. How can we justify  faith in the face of overwhelming tragedy? There is no simple answer, no sure path through this thicket. It is an unavoidable problem, because we all have encountered it.

The issue arose most recently due to the Corona virus. The death of the daughter of a family in our community was a shock. She was a mother, teacher, and good friend, and pray as we might, and we did mightily, still she succumbed to the virus. Her faith and ours was of no avail.

What then is the use of faith? In what do we have faith? I have written on this blog on that question at It will help this discussion if you take the time to review it. The gist of my argument is that belief in God is a choice and this implies that we were created to make that choice. Beyond that, I cannot take you since I do not know the mind of God.

It is common to turn to our creator in times of duress. It is the same for every religion. Yet it must be observed that for every miracle in our experience, there are as many or more times when it seems as if God is not listening. It is also possible to argue oneself into a corner on the presumption that, since God is perfect, he could not have created an imperfect world. Yet here we are.

The beginning of Christian faith is accepting that God became the man Jesus and walked this earth. As told in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) He became widely known throughout the Holy Land for his miracles. It began with the wedding at Cana culminating with raising Lazarus from the dead and His own resurrection. Clearly, He could have done more. He literally could have fixed everything. But He did not. One can only conclude then that it was not His purpose, that He was not God made man in order to make this world perfect.

Given that, we must then conclude that the reward for our faith is in the next life, not on this earth. God’s purpose in all things is beyond our understanding. It is not much comfort when confronted by the vicissitudes of an uncaring universe. And yet, sometimes, there is a hopeful sign. Jack Fowler, writing in a weekly newsletter from National Review, tells us,

“Of the young cancer-bereft father for whom I sought prayers, his elated mother writes that his “markers” have fallen dramatically. All around, family and doctors find this result shocking and amazing and yes, believe it is rooted somewhat in the power of prayer. Never underestimate it, and exercise it — while you may.”

Keep the faith, no matter the outcome.

And what of Odysseus? If you haven’t read Oddysey (in the original Greek, of course) then you wouldn’t know that, after a decade of wandering and adversity including the loss of all his crew and his ship, he returned to Ithaca and his long suffering wife and settled a  few scores.

Vase image: By Siren Painter (eponymous vase) – Jastrow (2006), Public Domain,

The Two Easter Syndrome


This year, as with most years in the past, we have two Easters. The western church, those known as Catholic and Protestant, celebrated last Sunday, April 13. We of the Eastern Orthodox world will celebrate this coming Sunday, April 19. While you of the west are enjoying your lamb and ham and chocolate bunnies, we are still making do with a Lenten diet of greens and beans. But Pascha is coming (virus or no virus) and we will rejoice and celebrate, even if only virtually.

Why is it that we have this difference? I will tell you one thing certain, it not because of  the calendars. The starting point has to be that though there are two celebrations and two (three if you consider the Jewish lunar calendar as well) calendars, we all celebrate the same day in the west and the same, though often different day in the east.

Keep in mind two basic facts while we try to untangle this weed patch. First, we are all in agreement as to what to call each day. The days of the week are not in dispute and it has been so since the time of Moses. You can be dead certain that 14,000 days ago (which is 2,000 weeks or about 38 years) was the same day as when you read this. The second concerns the cornerstone of our time and date keeping. We can calculate the day and time of the Vernal Equinox to a fare-the-well. This is so because that celestial event occurs without reference to anything human. It is outside our capability to modify our world. But is is readily calculated.

Why the Vernal Equinox? Firstly, because the execution of Jesus of Nazareth took place at the end of Passover. The date of Passover is determined first from the Jewish calendar which is in turn a lunar calendar with its own peculiarities. It has served the Jews for millennia and the date of Passover is always 15 Nisan. The Wikipedia entry  for “Jewish Calendar” makes for interesting reading. Of primary interest is the fact that months can be either 29 or 30 days in length to compensate for the fact that one lunar revolution is about 28.5 days.

Of course, the crucifixion is not a concern to Jews, but it has long been held in the Orthodox Church that the observance of that event and of His resurrection, Pascha, should always follow Passover. After the Great Schism in 1054 AD, the western Church went its separate way. At some point, the west modified the means of determining the appropriate date and the difference has existed ever since. Try the Wikipedia entry for Computus for a brief explanation. While not fully correct, the rubric is that the west determines the date as the first Sunday after the first full moon and after the Vernal Equinox. The Orthodox version adds “after Passover” to the formula.

Statue of Julius Caesar, Via dei Fori Imperiali (Rome) – Wikipedia

Note that in all this, the solar calendars still in use, the Gregorian and Julian, have no bearing on this determination. And here is where an interesting difference occurs within the Orthodox Church. In the Roman world, the calendar was somewhat arbitrarily decided and could often be a political plaything. There was a method but by the time of the reign of Julius Caesar, it was a mess and he determined to reform it. Enlisting the aid of Greek mathematicians and astronomers, a formula was developed that took the adjustments made to compensate for the sun’s rotation time (approximately 365.25 days) and it took effect by edict on January 1 of the 709th year since the founding of Rome, the year we now know as 45 BC.


Pope Gregory XIII – Wikipedia




That calendar held until 1582, by which time it had slipped* about 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII decided that a correction must be made but rather than simply adjusting the date, he had further adjustments made to the calendar scheme to reduce the rate of slippage. Thus, October 4, 1582 was followed by October 15th and in 1584 for the first time , many children were born on a day that would not occur again for four years. They should consider themselves lucky. Under the old, pre-Julian calendar, there were frequent periods when the date could not be known.

How the two calendars come to bear requires another dip into history. The short story is this. Once the Gregorian calendar was adopted by Catholic countries, then most western countries followed suit. This lead to a real division in the Orthodox Churches, as many Orthodox churchmen refused to adopt anything related to the Catholic Church, and surely, the Gregorian calendar was foremost among them. The last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar was Greece and then only in 1923.

As things now stand, many Orthodox jurisdictions, the Serbian and Russian most prominent among them, still use the Julian calendar which now is 13 days different from the Gregorian. Thus, we of the Greek Orthodox Church celebrate Pascha on April 19. Our Serbian friends down the street will celebrate on that same day but their date will be April 6. It is important to note that we celebrate on the same day, regardless of how we name that date. This is why our western friends mostly observe a different day, because they use a different method to set the day.

One more thing to add to the confusion: While the Serbian Church will mark Pascha on the  same day as we do, their calendar will have them celebrate Christmas in January. It will still be December 25, Julian calendar, even though we call that day January 3.

  • calendar slippage.  Neither the earth’s rotation around the sun or that of the moon around earth, are exact multiples of the earth’s spin period. All calendars try to take this into account and schemes such as leap years are a means of compensating. Ultimately the date for events such as the Vernal Equinox will change, as from March 21 to 22 or 20, for example.
The image at the top of this entry is from an episode of The Simpsons and is copyright by Disney and Twentieth Century Fox TV.

Near Misses

Here’s a recent Google Science News headline:

NASA Alert: Airburst-Causing Asteroid Currently Headed For Earth

Now here are the basics of the story:

According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid that’s currently approaching Earth is known as 2020 BW13. As indicated in the agency’s database, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of about 66 feet. CNEOS noted that it is currently flying towards Earth at a speed of around 5,400 miles per hour.

And the followup:

Fortunately, CNEOS noted that 2020 BW13 is not in danger of hitting Earth during its upcoming visit. According to the agency, this asteroid will fly past Earth on Feb. 24 at 11:10 a.m. EST from a distance of 0.02333 astronomical units or roughly 2.2 million miles away.

All this accompanied by a lurid artists conception thus:

Image: Artist illustration of an asteroid heading for the Earth Photo: Pixabay

Notice anything wrong about this illustration? A flaming asteroid is headed right for earth. Only it is still probably (my rough guess) about 100,000 miles away and thus has not struck the atmosphere, which is what would cause it to appear in flames, though only for a very brief time.

The obviously stupid illustration is still not the real problem with this report. As noted above, this particular asteroid will pass by at a distance of 2.2 million miles. An earlier report of another such object was expected to pass at 3.6 million miles! Yet Google insisted that such a close encounter was knuckle-biting nerve shattering event.

Let’s put this in perspective. To get it down to something comprehensible, scale it down so that 1 inch = 1,000 miles. At that scale, the earth would be the size of a large grapefruit -very large. That is about 8 inches in diameter. The moon would be a golf ball about 2 feet away. The asteroid in question would pass by 183 feet away. The earlier object would have passed at 300 feet away! Now imagine the earth at the center of an archery target (the preferred method to avoid traumatizing the fire arms phobics). At any respectable distance, you would be hard pressed to miss the entire target by 180-300 feet!

This isn’t science! This isn’t even junk science! It is just junk and this from the Google News service that, along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like, endlessly bloviate about fake news and accuracy. Really? We deserve better. (For more check the Google story.)

Now, approaching asteroids are a matter of concern, just not these instances. Their orbits and positions are well enough known that it is possible to point a telescope at a position and take a photo at a predetermined time and stand a good chance of capturing an image. What is so nerve shattering about that?

However, these are known as earth crossing objects, meaning that they periodically intersect the earth’s path. They are a potential threat but not right now. There are, however, two of real concern, Apophis and Bennu. Check out this headline and story from

Huge Asteroid Apophis Flies By Earth on Friday the 13th in 2029.

Apophis is much bigger than those recent objects, big enough to be called a planet killer. The greatest concern is that it might pass by at just the right point to set it up for a collision on the next pass, sometime in 2036. Mark your calendar. That might just be a real knuckle biter.

Asteroid Bennu, about half the size of Apophis, will make a close approach in 2060. It is currently under close examination from Osiris-Rex probe. A landing it planned in the near future.

Finally, the Wikipedia entry laconically notes,

On average, an asteroid with a diameter of 500 m (1,600 ft; 0.31 mi) can be expected to impact Earth about every 130,000 years or so.

Stand by…

The Tale of My Traveling Hat

This post is by way of taking a poke at a few things in general, and Turkish Airlines, Turkish security in Istanbul, UPS, and corporate isolationism in general.

IMG_20150913_110517235To begin, I have for years worn a Tilley hat, especially when traveling. I like wearing a hat. It protects me from both sun and rain and makes me easily identifiable in a crowd (a story for another day.) I acquired my first one more than twenty years ago in Vancouver BC, IIRC. That one succumbed to absent mindedness on on Amtrak trip. Yet another story. Its replacement is now lost, again due to absent mindedness on a Turkish Airlines flight.

Last year, we made our almost annual trek to Greece, leaving in mid-July, and chose to travel on Turkish Airlines. The price was hard to beat and we had heard good things from other travelers about them. Our route was Fresno CA, known as FAT – LAX – IST – SKG, that last being Thessaloniki. We have the good fortune to have a residence in Peraia, a suburb of Thessaloniki.

I forgot the hat when leaving the LAX-IST flight and did not realize it until we had boarded the final flight. On arriving at SKG, we checked with the local TA representative who told us to contact the lost and found in Istanbul. They in turn told us that they would not forward the hat to Thessaloniki, that I had to go to the lost and found in Istanbul in person to get the hat. I could also have an international shipping company send it. Even though there are two daily flights SKG-IST they would not send it as requested.

IMG_20150913_102845189Well that was unhelpful and now the “international shipping company” recommended was UPS and an agent was cited. This agent insisted that I had to send a shipping label from the US. UPS in Greece would not handle this. This is where it became impossible … and questionable. I donkeyed around with this all summer, getting nowhere.

We returned at the end of September and I promptly attempted to create a shipping label. Local agents for UPS professed no knowledge of what was required. Attempts to use the UPS system revealed that a shippers address was required. The system simply would simply not create a label without it. I repeatedly requested an address from the Turkish UPS agent but none was ever forthcoming.

This UPS agent included phone numbers in his email but when I searched the UPS site for Istanbul, his was nowhere to be found. The UPS International Help Line was useless as well. Could they help generate the label? Sorry, no. Could they supply the address for this agent? No, we can’t give out that information. This, in spite of the fact that all those addresses were listed on their website.

The Turkish Airline Lost and Found person had stated that the hat would be held for 90 days. That time has long since come and gone so I presume some Turk is happily wearing a nice Tilley hat acquired from the TA Lost and Found.

IMG_20150911_153407954There is a bit more and I apologize for going on so long. Our return was through Istanbul but we had only two hours to begin with and our SKG flight was delayed forty minutes. That on top of the fact that the new Istanbul airport is enormous made it near impossible to get to the Lost and Found. Security complicated that. We were not treated as in transit as in other airports. Instead, we had to pass through security again and finding your way in that place is not easy. But the final insult came aat our boarding gate.

Among other things, my wife brings back numerous bags of Greek coffee. Loumidis is the preferred brand. This time she had six bags in her carry-on to allow us to meet the weight requirements for the checked baggage. At our boarding gate, we were again subjected to a baggage search. Aha! We had contraband! Too much coffee in too large of bags. It must be confiscated. No need to go into the details as to why. We were able to retain two of them, even though the bags were too big (by what standard?) It was last straw.

IMG_20150913_105315871Now, my final point. Do you have a problem with UPS? With an airline? With any large multi-national corporation? Have you tried to file a complaint? Can you even find out how? I searched in vain for a way to penetrate both UPS and Turkish Airlines past that poor sap who has to answer the phone. If you know of a way, please inform me. Corporate America -and the rest of the world, for that matter- have sealed themselves off from the customers they serve -completely. That is not a good thing. The business world prides itself repeating cliches like “The customer is always right”. It seems it ought to be replaced with the customer is never heard.

[This was initially posted on I strongly suggest you visit them if you are interested in good discussions.]

The pictures enclosed were taken at various locations in Spain in 2015.

Am I Dying?

The call came at an unfortunate time. It was about a week before Christmas with the usual preparations well underway. The call was from my doctor’s office. “Your Cologuard test came back positive. Your doctor wants you to have a followup colonoscopy.”

A colonoscopy is something such that no one I have ever known looked forward to, and this occasion was no exception. I had thought I could avoid the unpleasant procedure this time around. My doctor agreed and a Cologuard kit had been delivered a few weeks before.

cologuardThe kit needs a little explanation. Until recently, the only way to see what might be growing in your colon is the dreaded colonoscopy procedure. The procedure itself is not difficult. You submit yourself to a specialist who has an unusual camera. An anesthetic is given and an hour later you wake up. It is the preparation that is so objectionable.

The Cologuard test bypasses all that. While it is a little icky to consider, the bottom line -no pun intended- is that you use the kit to submit a stool sample to the Cologuard lab.* Per the Cologuard literature,

Cologuard is intended for the qualitative detection of colorectal neoplasia associated DNA markers and for the presence of occult hemoglobin in human stool. A positive result may indicate the presence of colorectal cancer (CRC) or advanced adenoma (AA) and should be followed by diagnostic colonoscopy.

In due time, the results are returned to your physician and with any luck that is the end of it. This time it was positive and thus the dreaded procedure was necessary.

The news was unsettling to say the least. I was told only of the positive indication. No assessment of degree was provided. In that moment it seemed as if my life stopped. It was not unlike a digital TV when a transmission failure leaves a frozen picture just as the villain fires at the hero. The outcome is unknown and nothing else matters until transmission resumes.

I had been contemplating the year ahead, mulling plans for anticipated travel and other activities. Now I had come to that proverbial fork in the road, and it would be taken, only I could not know which direction I would go. It was not a panic, but certainly that any plan I made might be for nought.

All of this was complicated by the timing. The nurse who had called said that a referral had been made to a specialist I had seen before but it might not be until after the holidays before they would contact me. So I waited.

In the interim, I thought often about the possible outcome. Colon cancer is no picnic. The five-year survival rate is about 65%. Treatment consists of the usual gamut of  chemo, radiation and possibly surgery. All of this had a considerable impact on my thinking. I found myself asking if this was the time I would check out. It was easy to be maudlin about it. I try to be stoical about such things but it was almost impossible to avoid thinking that this or that might be the last dance, so to speak.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus from National Review.

There is, for more than the morbid, much literature on the subject. At one time, I was a devoted reader of the magazine, First Things, and especially of its noted editor, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. A Lutheran minister who had converted to Catholicism and had been very active in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War, Fr. Richard was an eloquent spokesman for pro-life and other conservative issues. Of particular interest was his book, As I Lay Dying, which he wrote while recovering from surgeries for a near fatal burst tumor.  As described in one review “As I Lay Dying is not so much Neuhaus’s near-death-experience tale as it is a Christian discussion of death from the vantage point of a Catholic priest who heard death knocking at his door.”**

As I said, the timing was unfortunate. It was bad enough that I had been presented with this unpleasant possibility. Waiting only amplified my anxieties. All this was made worse by the difficulty of arranging an appointment for “the procedure.”  I seemed to be the only one who thought that sooner might be better than later. Complications arose from missed and misdirected communications. For all that, however, an appointment was finally made and the procedure performed. When I woke from the anesthesia, I learned that three polyps had been seen and removed. Further tests will be performed on them and perhaps more treatment may be required.

Now it seems, a great weight has been removed. The fork in the road has been taken but at least, it does not lead down that dark path. We cannot see the future, though we can guess what it might hold. For the moment, spring seems near and plans can be made with confidence. Many things I put off in the interim, I can now take up again. In answer to the question in the title of this piece, yes, I am dying, but we are all dying. Life is a process of dying. Just not now, thanks be to God and the people he has endowed with the talent and knowledge to treat matters like this. I will certainly die one day, but not just now.

*I must sympathize with the plight of the lab workers at the Cologuard facility. Day after day, they must rummage through endless numbers of stool samples. I wonder what they do for recreation?

**As I Lay Dying is also the title of a William Faulkner novel originally published in 1930. I am certain that Fr. Neuhaus very consciously used that same title for his book.