Harakka in Autumn: Chapter 5

It’s time to take a walk again with Ice Swimmer who’s here with the next chapter in his series.

Chapter 5 – Sunday in the West of Harakka

Railing and Autumn Colours ©Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved

A look back north to the path that goes to the western cliffs. The Artists’ Building is in the right behind the earthworks. [Read more…]

The End Is Nigh

The end of winter at least seems to be nigh, but since one can never know what March will bring, it’s best not to cheer too loudly yet. (Actually, I wouldn’t mind real winter for another couple of weeks, it’s the yoyo I hate. Pick one, Winter. You can’t have it both ways.) The one noticeable difference now is the light – it is no longer dark outside when I leave work (had a bit of a shock Friday). Yay!

But today we will take a short look back at the Winter That Was, because it is, after all, Ronja’s favourite season.

Drive-by photo because she will not sit still if there’s snow to be et.
©rq, all rights reserved.

Well, usually…

[Read more…]

Behind the Iron Curtain part 28 – Guns

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Guns were not something one would see every day and in every household. They were indeed very, very rare. But they were not non-existent, there was some limited access to guns for the general populace and I got to see and even handle guns as a child. In fact, shooting was a skill that was positively encouraged, although gun ownership was not.

The most obvious case are hunting rifles and shotguns. I live in a small rural town, and there were plenty of gamekeepers around who were sometimes seen walking through the town with their guns slung on the shoulder whilst on the way to/from the forest. The safety requirement was for them to carry the guns unloaded and I do not remember anyone not observing this.

One gamekeeper was a leader of very small (5 people at most) local pionýr club which I attended, centered around nature and care for it. I learned a lot in that club, including how to shoot a varmint rifle. The gamekeeper took us one day far into the forest, to an inaccessible spot near a place where WW2 american aeroplane fell into bog, and he allowed us to take turns in shooting varmint rifle at a paper box hung from a tree. I still remember how my childhood bully (who was unfortunately also a member of the club) got dismayed that my shooting was better than his. But the best shot in the group was of course boy who had a gun at home.

A gun at home, you say? Impossible! Well, air guns were not illegal, although they were not cheap and easy to come by. Everybody got a chance to shoot them at some point. Shooting competitions were very common on fairs when the merry-go-rounds came into town, and they were also ubiquitous in summer camps for kids. Boys and girls were equally encouraged to learn shooting from the regime, although the general culture saw this more as a “boy’s” thing.

The regime wanted everyone to know at least the basic of how to shoot a gun, and since military service was compulsory for men, every man eventually learned how to handle firearms, including automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Not everybody got a chance to handle those weapons outside of military or People’s Militia, but in my town everybody got to see them. Because it is a border town near the iron curtain, and the border patrol was everywhere. Seeing an AK-47 was not something completely unusual, especially outside the town limits.

But getting your hands on one was more difficult. And getting your hands on ammunition even more so. The access to guns was very tightly regulated, and this had one positive outcome – no mass shootings whatsoever. When Olga Hepnarová, an infamous mass-murderer, has planned her deed, she initially wanted to either set off explosives or shoot a crowd from an automatic weapon. She learned how to shoot – which was easy – but was later forced to change her plan due to the difficulty of getting a gun and ammo So she decided to use a truck instead and managed to kill 8 and injure 12 people. American gun-nuts would no doubt use this as a proof of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, but to me it is a proof that gun regulations work, because there is no doubt that had she had easy access to guns, the damage she would do would be even greater.

Slavic Saturday

Last time we were talking about grammatical cases, and whilst Slavic languages are not lacking in those, they fall far behind the Finno-Ugric ones in this gregard. But what Slavic languages lack in cases, they more than make up in genders.

Lets talk a bit about gender then.

Czech language does not have a distinction between the words “sex” and “gender” the way English does. Our ID’s have a category “pohlaví” which means “sex” in the biological sense and is therefore sex assigned at birth. For trans people it is their chosen sex assigned after transition, but sex assigned at birth before transition (the legislative process has a lot to be desired, but since I am not trans, I leave the discussion about how to improve it to trans people).

This  property of my native language has caused me some trouble in understanding articles written in English, because I have seen words “sex” and “gender” as synonyms and it took me awhile to understand that this is not the case.

However what helped me finally in understanding is the fact that the only way Czech language has gender in it, it is very, very obviously a social construct, specifically a linguistic one. It translates as “rod” and means grammatical gender (in one context).

Czech has four genders, or three with one of them being split into two distinct categories, depending on the specific linguist’s opinion. I was taught in school that there are four:

masculine animate – refers to humans and some animals

masculine inanimate – refers to some inanimate objects and some plants

feminine – refers to humans, some animals, some inanimate objects and some plants

neuter – refers to some animals, some inanimate objects and some plants

The gender of a noun defines not only how the noun itself inflects depending on the case, it also defines conjugaton and declension of verbs and adjectives. For example a sentence “black bear climbed a tree”,  can be “černý medvěd vylezl na strom” for a male bear or “černá medvědice vylezla na strom” for a female one (word order in the CZ is identical to the EN version, only difference is “a” which does not translate – “na” means “on”). Each of the four genders has multiple groups defining said declensions and conjugations and learning it all is a nightmare for Czechs and literally impossible for any but the most dedicated foreigner.

Czech is also very strongly gendered with regard to people and there is no universal gender neutral way to refer to a person. The language is built around gender binary, even simplest sentences like “I woke up.” are mostly gendered – “Probudil jsem se” for masculine and “Probudila jsem se” for feminine. There are some simple phrases (mostly present tense) that can be expressed in gender neutral way, but to be honest I cannot imagine a whole story being written in a gender neutral way in Czech language. It might be possible, but likely not in a way that will seem natural and not forced, and definitively not easy to do.

This feature of our language has one unfortunate consequence – Czech transphobes, sexists and gender-essentialists (which includes unfortunately both most prominent czech sexologists) have much easier job defending status quo. Language very strongly influences how we think and because everyone is since childhood forced to choose from the binary for every single statement they make about what they have done or plan to do, everyone thinks that this linguistic binary reflects accurately the reality. And people who think that because we have only x words categorizing something that there are only x neatly distinct categories of said something are unfortunately everywhere.

On the other hand understanding that gender is a social construct and not something set in stone was made easy for me when I learned German, where the genders of different words do not allign with Czech at all and a thing that is masculine in Czech can easily be feminine or neuter in German. There is no logic or sense to it – why is “hrnec” (pot) masculine, but “konev” (kettle) feminine? Why is “klacek” (stick, staff) masculine, but “hůl” (cane, staff) feminine? Etc.  And there are languages that lack grammatical genders altogether.

To me this illustrates that languages are but very poor and imperfect tools for communicating about the infinitely rich reality surrounding us. They are not perfect or complete descriptions of said reality and  argumentum ad dictionarium is a very silly logical fallacy.

Jack’s Walk

Even Buddha is confused by the weather ©voyager, all rights reserved

We had some very strange weather overnight. Let’s see…at 9 pm the temp was -2º C with light freezing rain and everything was covered in a heavy layer of ice. By midnight the temp had climbed to +11º C with heavy pouring rain and over the next few hours the heavy accumulation of ice just melted away. By 6 am almost all of the ice was gone, the rain had stopped and the temp had plummeted back down to -6º C with high winds and intermittent bouts of fine snow. If I hadn’t checked the forecast I would have woken this morning to temps colder than when I went to bed and I would have been completely baffled about the disappearance of so much ice.

 

Love Is Metaphysical Gravity

That, apparently, is a quote by R Buckminster Fuller. It is also the title of a series of photographs by Reuben Wu, taken in Spitzbergen, with a particular focus on the Svalbard Satellite Station. About the series:

Taken on Spitzbergen, in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, Reuben Wu’s images detail the breathtaking appearance of our planet’s extremities. His photograph series Love Is Metaphysical Gravity is a visual feast of soft pink and blue colour tones, artic landscapes, dreamy auroras and the incomprehensible beauty of the unpolluted night’s sky.

[…]

While Love Is Metaphysical Gravity in part serves as a documentary of the remote islands and the radomes of the Svalbard Satellite Station, what it is perhaps most sensitive to is this: It may be one of the most uninhabited places on Earth, but Spitsbergen is no stranger to communication.

Picking out favourites out of that icy landscape is a challenge, but here’s a couple from Reuben’s website:

Love Is Metaphysical Gravity by Reuben Wu

Love Is Metaphysical Gravity by Reuben Wu. This one is by far my absolute favourite. Turns out it is possible to choose after all!

Love Is Metaphysical Gravity by Reuben Wu

For full effect and full-size pictures, visit his site, and there’s plenty more to explore, too. I sense a timesink of the best kind.

 

Fossil Find

An interesting find from Avalus.

I found this little piece of (oil) shale next to roadway currently under maintenance/construction. It is the imprint of a fern and something else. The stone might have come from the near Saar-region, where coal was dug up from the ground. The ‘waste-rocks’ are used as road-gravel.

‘We are walking on history’ gets a deeper meaning here, I guess.

(I need to take a picture of the fossil fern next to a living fern in spring :) )

schieferfossil, ©Avalus, all rights reserved

Jack’s Walk

Japanese Maple, ©voyager, all rights reserved

It’s been raining here most of the day and with the temp hovering between -1º C and +1º C all that rain has been freezing and accumulating. Just stepping out of the house is dangerous. I slipped several times going down my front stairs and once I was at the bottom there was no-where I could go beyond a small patch of grass. Every surface is coated with about 1.5 cm of ice. Even poor low to the ground and 4-footed Jack fell twice going out to pee. The schools are closed, city buses have been canceled and I haven’t seen a single car drive past my house all day. The big, heavy trees are groaning and cracking under the weight and my birch tree has already lost a sizable limb. The forecast says it should all melt soon though, with temps expected to warm up overnight and reach a high of +12º C tomorrow. I hope they’re right.

Another Look from Mt. Lofty

Lofty has sent us a few follow-up photos to his post  of January 21/19, Mt. Lofty.

Here are some pictures taken from Mt Lofty on the morning of the day after the super Bloody Full Moon Eclipse Thingy. The first shot is of moonset over the city, the second and third are of the sun about to rise over Mt Barker, the next little mountain to the ESE. They only vary in zoom and where the auto exposure is pointed. The building on the right of the picture is Mt Lofty House, nowadays an upmarket hotel. Notice how they are taking fire safety seriously, with a row of large water tanks set below the main entrance.

©Lofty, all rights reserved

©Lofty, all rights reserved

©Lofty, all rights reserved

Beautiful shots, Lofty. Thanks for sharing.

How I did not lose a finger (twice)

You probably noticed that I did not write much anything this last week, and you might not notice the why in TNET. Here it is.

Content warning – description of injuries and first help.

Since I was 10 years old, I was working with sharp instruments in the house and around the garden on nearly daily basis – knives, chisels, axes, shears, sickles and scythes. My father gave me a small pocket knife for birthday and he taught me how to take proper care of it and how to work safely.

I started wood carving that year and I never hurt myself with a knife in a manner worth to mention until a few years later. That one time I was slicing a piece of paper out of sheer boredom, I got overconfident, I misjudged the distance and sliced into the tip of my index finger by accident. I nearly cut the tip off on one side. My father went into full panic mode, but he nevertheless managed to compress the wound, stick a patch on it and haul me off into the town to my mother’s workplace (this was still behind the iron curtain, we had no car and no phone either). There we got a ride to the hospital where the wound was deemed not worth stitching up, just a tight enough patch will do. It turned out later that I actually have damaged a nerve, and the piece of flesh that was nearly cut off, although it grew back together nicely, was completely numb afterwards. But about three years later I got back the sensitivity, so it was only a temporary hindrance.

I have learned my lesson and for next 25 years I again did not hurt myself in a manner worth to mention. I did get a small nick with a knife or a chisel now and then, but nothing that won’t heal with a simple patch in a few days. And almost never when working, mostly during sharpening. I was always careful. The history repeated itself nevertheless.

The weekend before last I was splitting wood for starting fire. I have done this a thousand times before, and an axe is actually one of the instruments that never got to taste my blood so far at all, or at least I do not remember it (I definitively got a splinter under my skin more often). But a piece of wood had a knot in it, i did not notice it, and the axe instead of going through and slicing of a nice splinter went to the side and into my left middle finger. In nearly the same manner the knife did all those years ago.

One advantage of having really, really sharp tools was immediately apparent – I did not feel a thing. I immediately put a pressure on the wound with my thumb so no blood came out. I went up from the cellar, asked my dad to go and start the fire and my mom to prepare disinfectant, a bandage and a patch. Only after I disinfected the surrounding area, i have let go of the pressure and allowed some blood to flush out any debris the axe might have dragged into the wound. I also got a good look at the damage. Then I again applied pressure with my thumb, cleaned of the blood, applied pressure with a gauze and wrapped it tightly with an adhesive patch.

I have thought it to be prudent to not play a hero and get stitches, so I wanted a surgeon to get a look at it. Nowadays we have a phone and a car. For a wound like this I did not think to be necessary to call an ambulance. But since neither of my parents can drive, I had to drive myself to the emergency surgery at the hospital 40 km away, with my dad in the passenger seat in case it all went wahoonie shaped and it turned out I need an ambulance after all.

The nurse was a bit bad-tempered, but I am used to that. It is a difficult profession having to deal constantly with idiots like me, so I do not care for sour faces from medical staff that much. But I attached the band-aid very tightly and she got irate that she cannot find the end and unwrap it, so she said “Well, when you wrapped it so tightly, remove it yourself!”. What could I do but laugh “Taking it off was the least of my worries at the time”? I could not find the end either, so I asked whether they have scissors. “Not ones that would get in there!” which is a statement I very much know to be false but fuck it, I was not in a mood to argue. I took out my multitool, opened the blade and removed the bandage. It turns out there is an advantage to having a very sharp knife that can be opened with one hand only after all.

I got three stitches and a tight bandage on top of that. The surgeon was nicer than the nurse and when I said my goodbyes “Thank you and I wish you an uneventful and boring rest of the weekend” she laughed a bit (the nurse did not move a muscle).

For last ten days I was unable to write properly due to the thick bandage. I learned ten finger typing in high school and I am so used to it that writing without the use of my middle finger was very difficult – I could do it, but I kept tangling my left hand into a pretzel all the time. But that particular torture is hopefully over for now. I got no complications, the wound is healing nicely and I got the stitches out. I only have a small band-aid now and I have full use of my fingers – with care, of course. I will have second crescent-shaped scar and maybe partial numbness in the tip for a few years. That remains to be seen, so far it seems I might not have even that.

The lesson I learned from this is that I never ever should get too confident in my skill and lose vigilance. Shit can happen anytime. Second lesson, or perhaps experience, is that I still can keep a cool head in such situation, whether the injury happens to me or to someone else (at least that was luckily the case so far). That is somewhat comforting. Third lesson I knew already – a really, really sharp tool is better and safer. A blunt axe might cause shallower wound, but the edges would not be clean and easy to stitch, there would be some blunt trauma on top of it and a much bigger area for dirt and an infection to get a hold on. And it would probably hurt a lot more – I banged my thigh on a table edge the same day and it hurt a lot more than this cut ever did.

I hope this weekend to be able to do my share of writing again.