Too Big

Clover is a Border Collie, which means that chasing and herding are as instinctual to her as barking and tail wagging. That dog will herd anything as long as it’s only slightly bigger than she. She chases the Boy around the yard, nipping at his ankles, then crouching down in front of him as soon as he stops.

Apparently, it’s the same with basketballs and soccer balls.

Passing Along Info

This is a short piece about a recent experience I had online. I am thinking about using it as part of my curriculum for assessing internet information information. I knew from the start, before clicking on the link, that it was bogus, but since my audience will be thirteen-year-olds, I took a step-by-step approach as if each little discovery slowly confirmed my suspicions.


I recently saw a link in social media to an article that made me raise my eyebrows considerably.

NASA Admits Spraying Lithium into the Atmosphere

I’ve heard about conn trails and the suggestion that it’s some government agency spraying chemicals on a hapless population, but I wondered: In what context did NASA admit this? Was it a news conference? Will there be a video in the article with an official NASA spokesperson admitting this? Will there be a document from NASA?

I read the article and found it lacking from the opening paragraph.

New evidence emerged this week regarding NASA spraying unusual substances into the atmosphere. Officials state these chemicals are “harmless to the environment”. But the real question we need to be asking is, are these substances safe for humans?

Notice: the article cites “new evidence” but never supplies that evidence. Instead it simply summarizes the purported evidence. There’s a quote that lacks any attribution whatsoever: these chemicals are “harmless to the environment.” The quotation marks indicate that it is a direct quote from some source, but that source is never named or even explained. A search of the exact phrase “harmless to the environment” provides “about 2,230,000 results” from Google (source) and 306,000,000 results from Bing (source). So even if this is a direct quote, there’s no telling where it came from.

Next, the paragraph lists as their authority unnamed “officials.” Who are these officials? Are they insiders acting as whistle blowers? How many officials exactly are there?

The rest of the article continues in a similar vein, without listing a single source or providing anything beyond commentary.

But truth be told, I had my doubts from the beginning. The moment the page loaded, I was suspicious.

Three ads in the top fourth of the page? I immediately began thinking that this was a web site set up by one individual simply to earn money from ads. The fact that this is a WordPress.com site (See the WP logo in the clipped fragment at the top? WordPress, which also runs this site, automatically adds that if it is a site it hosts.) also makes me wonder that this might just be an ad-farm site set up by one individual. Whois confirmed this:

The domain is registered by one Bill McIntosh. he’s also the admin contact and the tech contact. I know from personal experience that when one registers a domain name, there is an option to include as admin contact and tech contact the same data supplied for the registrant contact. Most news organizations have very different data for this.

Here’s CNN’s registration information.

And here’s Fox News’s registration information:

Very different indeed.

Who is this “Bill McIntosh” behind Truth and Action? It’s not immediately obvious, and it’s not very easy to find out. What are his credentials? Who has he hired to work for him?

This too is questionable because there is a link suggesting that readers themselves can “report for” the web site. This suggests that just about anyone can write something for this site.

Finally, there’s the other content on the site itself. Articles include

  • “The Nazi Origins of Renewable Energy and Global Warming”
  • “The Most Secretive Treasury in History…Meet the Rothschilds”
  • “Who Really Owns, Controls the Military Industrial Complex?”

Applying a little background knowledge, it becomes clear that this is a site that peddles conspiracy theories as its main fare.

I commented to the original poster,

And the source? A document? A press conference? What about the web site itself? Who’s saying this? Do they have any credentials at all or is it Joe Blow in his basement making money off the ads for this site?

The poster replied that she was “just passing info” and pointed out that she “did not voice an opinion.” Pointing out that “person is free to do their own research” she encouraged me to “research for yourself please.” And so I did. What I found was confirmation of my initial suspicions: nothing but nonsense.

The question, though, is whether or not this is “info.” If its on the internet, is it automatically “info”?

Clover

It took them a while, but eventually they wore me down. I knew they would. When everyone in your family wants a dog but you, you realize that you can only resist for so long. I had one criterion: it must be a smart dog. A really smart dog. That, for me, ruled out mutts: there’s no telling what kind of genes they’ve got. So if you’re going to get a dog with the criterion of it being smart, why not just move to the top of the hierarchy and get a Border Collie?

K began the process while the kids and I were still in Poland. She looked about on Craig’s List for something, and while she was able to find Pit bulls by the dozen, BCs were almost non-existent. A colleague at work has BCs and put K in contact with the woman from whom she’d gotten her dogs.

“Do you happen to have a litter now?”

As a matter of fact, five puppies were available. Then four. Then three. So yesterday we drove three hours to meet the BC lady and her husband and picked out a lovely little girl with an asymmetrical strip down her face and the sweetest eyes ever seen on a dog.

Bringing her home was like bringing home E or L as a newborn: there was not a lot of sleeping in the house. Clover — and it’s a minor miracle we all agreed on a name — was traumatized, having lost her mother and all her siblings as well as her known, comfortable environment and owners in one instant. There was a lot of whimpering and cowering. But the sun eventually rose and we were soon all outside with the dog, laughing at her silliness.

The changes in the last twenty-four hours have been more significant than I would have ever expected. I, for one, have gone from being a lukewarm participant in the process to an enthusiastic dog owner willing to show off our little darling to whomever we can. The Girl got up at six on a Sunday morning in order to take Clover out.

And our house is developing the unmistakable scent of dog.

Readjusting

I forget about it before every visit, but it’s the one thing I have the most trouble adjusting to when going to Poland in the summer: the sun rises ridiculously early. Part of this is because of how far north Poland is, and part of it is how far east it lies in its time zone.

When we arrived, the sky was turning bright well before four and the sun was shining brightly by a little after four. For someone like me who has great difficulty falling asleep when there’s significant light at all, this sleep blinders or some creative alternative.

This morning, I woke up, saw that there was no light coming through the window, remembered I was back in America, and realized I had no idea what time it was. I was fairly well-rested and didn’t feel as if I’d awakened after a short doze. If I woke up like that in Poland, I would know it was probably two or three in the morning.

I glanced at my watch and seeing that it was six thirty, realized I probably wouldn’t be going back to sleep. For my body, it was noon. Sure, I’d going to bed at something like five in the morning body time, but I guess noon was the latest I could sleep. And the same went for L. And for E. Which meant that it soon enough meant the same for K.

Last Night 2017

We always leave with such mixed feelings. On the one hand, everyone is looking forward to a return to normal rituals in normal places — to a return home, in short. And yet, who really wants to leave Babcia? Who wants to leave a place filled with incredible paths for bike riding and adventures around every corner? Who wants to leave a place that is at the same time comfortably known and yet always new?

The final evening is filled with those bitter-sweet moments. We say goodbye to so many people, and we stand in the cool evening, kids playing, and chat as if it were just a normal evening in a normal summer — nothing out of the ordinary. Just friends and family catching up on old and new times.

We all pretend it’s just another departure, but it never is. A lot can change in two years. The little girl that L began treating like a little sister — playing with her, protecting her, hugging her — will no longer be the little girl she is. She’ll be closer to E’s current age. The neighbor girl L played with will be well into her mid-teens and perhaps not so thrilled about hanging out with a twelve-year-old.

All of this weighs heavy on Babcia, but she doesn’t really say that much. Occasionally she comments on how sad it all is, running off back to the States after such a “short” visit. It’s tough on her, I’m sure, returning to a virtually empty house, with just the regular noclegi guests, but she keeps it mostly to herself.

We go to bed a little worried about connections tomorrow. We arrive in Munich with only and hour and fifteen minutes to make our connection. In the past we had hours. Now, we’re cutting it terribly close. There are certain advantages to that: we don’t have to get up before we go to sleep in order to make the hour-and-a-half drive to Krakow. Yet that buffer — I’m a little worried having kids in tow. Still, if we land on time, we should make it.

A Last Long Ride and Walk

The first fall was nothing to worry about — a simple matter of losing momentum in an area where it’s challenging to regain it. Tall grass, a bit of an incline. I’m not surprised he fell. He cried just a little bit, but he managed to calm himself and ride on anyway.

The second fall was more serious. We were riding in one of the two wide tracks a tractor leaves in the fields of grass when he suddenly hit a small clump of grass that didn’t give way but instead insisted on twisting his front wheel violently to the right. His bike stopped without warning, and his little belly slammed into the stem. This time, there was quite a bit of crying. Still, I managed to calm him with our deep-breath methods.

“Take a deep breath,” I say, and he breathes in through his mouth with a quivering breath, then lets it out. Two or three times and he’s usually calm, usually past the crying.

My question was simple: will he continue riding. We’d already made it to the river and were heading, against his initial wishes, to the small concrete bridge just a bit further up the trail. Here he was, hurt, scared, crying. Would he continue?

He did. He accepted my advice to slow down just a bit and continued on.

“I’m proud of you,” I said, and trying to reorient it to his own point of view, rephrased it, “And you should be proud of yourself.”

The third fall was a bit more serious. We’d made it to a part of the path that was particularly challenging: low-hanging branches, deep ruts filled with mud. I walked my bike across and suggested he do the same. I was both worried and proud when he decided that he would try to ride through the pass.

He made it through the mud, but just barely. He came to a sudden and unexpected halt beside my bike, them promptly fell toward my bike. His upper arm landed perfectly on the largest cog of my crankset. It could have been a lot worse: in the end, he had a little scratch where his arm slid off the crankset with a long streak of grease on his arm — I haven’t exactly cleaned my chain adequately since arriving — and a long crying session.

What impressed me most was that in each and every situation, he got back on the bike and continued riding. Nevermind that the bike is a piece of junk we bought for him used at the jarmark. Nevermind that he was in real pain a couple of times. Nevermind that he’s only five years old. He kept on going, knowing the challenges ahead of him (for this was the second time we rode this path) and fully aware of the pain he was experiencing.

In the evening, I took a walk back up to the high fields to the north of Jablonka. I’ve ridden my bike there a couple of times — and there is a passage that I had to walk due to the steep slope and the size of the gravel (or should I say boulders) that made up the path — but that was always without a real camera. The clouds were just right, and I thought I’d give it a try.

The sun was still too high for soft, embracing light, but I took what I could get.

I reached the summit and noticed in the direction of Lipnica an enormous amount of smoke. Perhaps someone burning the fields? It’s illegal, but people still do it. But in late July? Unlikely.

As I walked toward the smoke, hoping with my super-zoom to figure something out, the siren at the Jablonka fire department began wailing. Shortly after that, the rescue truck seemed to crawl toward Lipnica, and for a moment, I considered jumping in our borrowed car to see what it could be. It wasn’t fields, but the smoke was so white that I wondered what it could be.

On my way back home — which led by a house I’d noticed a couple of weeks ago, with a fountain in the front yard that reminded me of the conclusion of Analyze This — I saw several over the firefighters standing in front of the station. I thought about stopping to ask what had been the emergency, but in the end, I just walked on. After all, the Boy as waiting for a promised game of soccer.

Shopping in Slovakia

It usually happens in the opposite direction: Slovaks come to Poland for the relatively cheap goods here. Twenty years ago, Poles went to Slovkia, but now that has reversed since Slovakia adopted the Euro. However, Babcia likes bucking trends, I think, so today we went, as we always do during our stay her, on a shopping trip to Trstena, the nearest town in Slovakia.

Every time we go into Trstena, Babcia waxes romantic. She goes on and on about how she loves the town, about how there’s so little traffic compared to Jablonka, how there are so few plastic, awful sign attached to every available surface.

It is a unique little town: you can stand in the middle of the town square and just behind a few buildings see the farming fields.

It’s a sliver of town in the middle of vast fields of grains and grasses.

It’s a small town, but there are a couple of churches and several restaurants.

It’s easy to see how a small town could support two churches — at least in the past. But so many restaurants? There can’t possibly really be any industries around here, one thinks. And then one remembers the fields surrounding the town. And who knows — perhaps they are like their neighbors just across the border and go abroad to work.

We started with the shopping. Babcia is convinced that Slovakian flour is better than Polish flour, so we bought an almost unbelievable amount of flower. The next item we bought in large amounts was Slovakian rum. Slovakia is not exactly the first country that comes to mind when thinking of rum, but Babcia swears by it. Finally, we almost emptied the store of the grill rub that makes chicken wings magical for the Girl.

The Past

Every time we come to Poland, I find myself searching for little corners that are just like I remembered them in the mid-90s when I first arrived in Poland. Truth be told, they’re harder and harder to find. Poland has changed so much in the last twenty years that even familiar streets seem somehow new.

This weekend, I went to Nowy Targ to visit with an old friend, probably my oldest friend in Poland. We wandered around NT reminiscing, looking, at my request, for little spots that still look just like they did in 1996. For the most part, what remains are elements. whispers and shapes of the past buried here and there.

The “Dom Handlowy” (“House of Trade” you might translate it literally, but in reality a department store) has received a complete remodel. But it still has traces of its past.

“The sign is the same one, I think,” said my friend. If it’s not, I think they at least recreated it with an almost-identical design.

Some street corners look just like I remember them, or if I don’t remember them, just like I would imagine them to look in 1996.

But other things have disappeared. The nearly-ubiquitous Maluch has all but disappeared from the roads, and only every now and then makes an appearance as a novelty item at a wedding.

Every now and then you stumble — literally — on an old sidewalk, made of concrete squares that over the years have settled unevenly to create something that only in one’s most generous moments could one call a sidewalk.

Tractors are not as common on the town streets of NT as they once were, but every now and then, you see one. I doubt there are any more horse-drawn wagons delivering coal in the winter, but perhaps if you looked diligently enough, you just might find one.

One thing has not changed, though. Not at all. Not in the slightest: the movie theater in NT.

Top to bottom, left to right, it is absolutely the same. The dated architecture, the tired signs with failing neon, the crumbling corners — it’s just like I remember it from 1996.

My friend’s wife explains that it hasn’t been renovated because it used to be a synagogue, and various groups are preventing renovation. But it doesn’t look like a synagogue in any way. At all.

Yet a little searching on the internet reveals this:

Podczas II wojny światowej Niemcy zdewastowali synagogę. Po wojnie zniszczony budynek powrócił w ręce reaktywowanej gminy żydowskiej, jednak wkrótce przejęły go władze i otworzono w nim kino „Tatry”, które działa do dziś. (Source)

And this, from the theater’s own web site: “Nowotarskie Kino Tatry istnieje w zabytkowym, przedwojennym budynku, w którym kiedyś była… żydowska synagoga” (Source).

Certainly if Jews of the early twentieth century came wandering around present day Nowy Targ, they would see even less that they find familiar.

Chapter 29, In Which the Girls Arrive

For a couple of days and the night between, we have a house full of girls. Four girls, five if we count Babcia, who’s always going to be a girl at heart, I think.

At first, it starts out as something of a perfect storm of a day. It’s freezing cold — 12 celsius, 53 Fahrenheit — and raining. The girls, it appears, will have to find entertainment indoors. First entertainment: dish washing. Eight hands, one sink, though — it won’t work for everyone. Division of labor: the older girls wash, the younger girls, well, play.

“That’s not fair.” My own kids can almost immediately predict my response: life seldom is. As for the others — they reply similarly. Must be a parenting thing.

Finally it warms up a bit and, more importantly, the sun comes out.

We all head out for some fun.

L gets busy trying to make the arrows K bought for her at odpust useable. They mysteriously have a dangerously sharp arrowhead but completely lack any nock. The girls get the sharp arrowheads taken care of but have a bit of difficulty adding the nocks. In the end, they test fire one, decide it’s not worth it, and go off to look for other things to entertain them.

They find it soon enough.

An enormous dragon fly. We immediately get into a discussion as to whether dragon flies can bite or sting or not.

One thing that can sting, of late, is E’s socker kick. He’s really grown to love the sport while here in Pland — he sees all the boys playing it everywhere and he’s decided to give soccer another chance in the autumn. Babcia’s kick is nothing to joke about either. At oen point she kicks it powerfully into the bottom of the balcony and sends bits of plaster flying.

After dinner, a walk into areas of Jablonka I’d never been to until recently. They’re certainly not new areas: some of the houses have the evidence of the village’s growth: old house numbers when it was enough to write “Jablonka” and a number on an envelope to get mail to a resident.

And like every village, I would imagine, mysteries, like a gate without a fence. Did it fall? was it simply the wire fence just behind it?

And there are other mysteries, but more in the sense that the Catholic Church uses the word: things that seem impossible and are in fact reality even though the exact mechanisms might not be known. For example, an abandoned barn in the middle of a field.

One corner of the foundation was surrendering, letting the whole structure sag toward that weakened point. Yet it’s likely not as old as one might think. The shingles are the same asbestos-based shingles that Babcia and Dziadek had on their house, built in the eighties, until just a few years ago.

Finally, a modern rural Polish mystery — again, in the Catholic sense. Here’s a building that’s erected just in front of the old barn. In the front half, there’s a clothing store called Ela, which is a “fashion and style” shop. In the back half, a shop selling “windows, doors, gates, and blinds.” The owner of the barn opened two shops? Opened one shop? Built the building and rented the space?

It’s probably only a mystery to me, an outsider.