Friday, September 30, 2011

Taffey Lewis

At the top of my list of favorite movies is the science-fiction film BLADE RUNNER which was adapted from the equally brilliant novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP by Philip K. Dick, probably the most talented writer ever to turn his pen to science-fiction.

Among the things that set that film apart from other genre movies is the excellent cast made unforgettable by the direction of Ridley Scott. Most of us are quite familiar with the major players in BLADE RUNNER, but even the incidental characters stand apart. One character in the movie who remains foremost in my mind was Taffey Lewis. He runs a nightclub in an apparently rougher part of town--so seedy that the replicant Rachael, portrayed by the then-stunningly gorgeous Sean Young initially refuses an invitation to meet Deckard (Harrison Ford) there because she doesn't visit such sleazy places.

"The man's dry. Give 'im a drink."

Taffey Lewis was played by a character actor named Hy Pyke who died in 2006 and left not much of a record in major films. This is a shame, because his brief few seconds on the screen in my favorite movie was an amazing bit of acting work.

So, the next time you have a beer or a glass of wine, raise a toast to Hy Pyke, who never reached a larger audience, but probably should have.

"Buzz off."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Work-in-progress

Here's a bit of a teaser from my current work-in-progress:


THE REZ

By

James Robert Smith

Copyright 2011.

“You know what they’re saying, don’t you?” The reporter would have jammed a microphone into Professor Maxwell’s face if they still had that kind of thing. As it was, the so-called journalist merely leaned into the scientist’s personal space, causing him to cringe a bit.

“Yes, I’m quite aware of what they’re saying,” the Professor replied. He stood tall and rather imposing over the news man, not at all the type of person one generally thought of when it came to String Theory and thermodynamics and the utilization of anti-matter.

Since the scientist had not taken the bait, the reporter pressed on. “There are those who say that when you flip your switches tomorrow afternoon, the world is going to come to end. They claim that you’re trying to harness energies that are untested and which cannot be contained no matter what safeguards you may have in place.” He paused, a look of false concern on his pale face. “What do you say to those people?”

Maxwell smiled his perfect smile, showing the great dimples and cleft chin that could have landed him roles in Hollywood (or so he’d been told). His eyes crinkled in amusement and his brow lifted his perfectly combed blonde hair a few millimeters. “I’d tell them what we’ve been telling them all along. There’s nothing even remotely dangerous about what we’re doing here at Concentrated Dynamics. We’re hoping to solve a lot of problems and begin to answer a lot of questions by a lot of the most talented minds on this planet.”

“And that’s all? You expect those words to salve the concerns of hundreds of scientists the world over?” Once again the reporter leaned in too close to the Professor.

Maxwell frowned, and he wanted to push the little weasel away from him, but he bit down and kept his impatience at bay. “Those concerns are unfounded,” he said, his voice deep and heroic and nothing like the bookworm nebbish most often conjured in the minds of those who thought at all about physicists and theoreticians and their type. “And it’s hardly the hundreds you mention, and I might add that these are the same kinds of people who were worried about the super-collider in Lucerne before it started operation. Nothing happened then and there, and I assure you that nothing unfortunate will happen here in Missouri when we start our operations in just a few hours.”

At that, the reporter turned to the camera man and made a slashing motion with his hand. He looked up at the towering figure of the scientist and smiled wanly. “Thanks, Prof,” he said. “We’ll have a bit on the news this evening if you want to check it out. News at Six and probably again later in the evening.”

“I’ll probably be much too busy to watch,” Maxwell admitted. It was true. But he could imagine that this fellow and his editors would add something inappropriate and ominous to the report, to suggest that the fate of the world was hanging in the balance of what they were trying to achieve, and over what they were going to do when next the planet turned on its axis.

“Well, thanks for your time,” he said. And quickly the reporter and his camera man were hustling into a plain white car of recent make—a hybrid, Maxwell noticed. Soon they were gone, the auto easing soundlessly away on its electric engine.

David Maxwell sighed in relief. That was the last of them, he knew, until the next day, of course. But he and his investors had refused any more press requests until after the dynamo was operational. It wasn’t as if the rubes could do more than glean the basics of what he and his associates were trying to achieve, so he had grown weary of the almost constant questioning and cajoling among the press.

As it was, he and the rest of the crew had fended off the endless requests for reporters to be present the next day when the system went automated. So far, they’d only run various computer simulations of what kinds of results they were going to get when they finally did flip that final switch and use the gigawats of energy they’d managed to procure from Danforth Power and Light. One of their chief investors sat on the board of that company and they’d managed to get what they needed:

For a little more than an hour, between 8:00 am and 9:12 am the following day, the entire output of the Lake Simmon Nuclear Plant would be at their disposal. Coal-fired steam plants would take up the slack during that time, so the average customer would never notice that one of the most advanced power facilities in the Midwest was going to be effectively offline for a short time.

But in that time Maxwell and his colleagues hoped to make history.

They were going to show that it was possible to harness unlimited energy production through the creation and utilization of anti-matter. And all done within the confines of a space not much larger than a child’s bedroom. He and the other researchers and theoreticians hoped to form a magnetic sphere within that space, and to fill it with a speck of energy that would create enough electricity to power the entire grid for a few moments, before the experiment was ended and the process was halted.

And there lay the fears, of course. A few of their rivals claimed that the process, once begun, could not be stopped. They feared that a constant and growing stream of anti-matter would be siphoned into the magnetic sphere and eventually overwhelm that area and spill out of it. Dylan Maxwell grunted and his Hollywood face was marred with a frown. He was tired of dealing with the doomsayers.

And, too, he had to admit to himself that one of the computer models that he and his fellows had run indicated something very much like that could happen. The chance was very small—less than one in ten billion. But it was there, and that’s why some men feared the coming experiment. Those men had figured it was the last such effort Mankind would ever make.

Shrugging to no one and to the World, he walked up to the door of the building that housed the whole of Concentrated Dynamics and keyed in his personal six-figure code. The lock disengaged for him, and the first thing he saw when he opened that door was Millie’s smiling face. He smiled back. She was, in addition to being one of the finest physicists he knew, also his lover, his wife, and the mother of their two children.

“Did you have much trouble with him?” she asked, her right arm reaching out to take him by the waist. She was wearing a white coat and slacks, and her hands were in latex gloves. She’d obviously just come from one of the clean rooms.

“No. He tried a few leading questions, but I avoided them.” His own arm was around her slim shoulders and he leaned over to kiss the top of her head and get a whiff of her hair. He loved the smell of her.

“I hate that little bastard,” she admitted. “He’s really a creep.”

“You’re talking about the reporter.”

“Yes. Stossel. What a shithook.”

Maxwell nodded his head and grinned with some guilt. He never had been able to quite get over his wife’s potty mouth. She could curse with the best of them, he was forced to admit, and there had been plenty of occasions when she’d embarrassed him completely. And now he feared the kids were going to take up her form of speech. They were both boys—seven and nine—and he didn’t quite know who they most took after: himself or his wife. So far, though, the cursing had not manifested itself in public.

“Well, I suspect that we’re done with that bunch until tomorrow around 9:15 in the morning.”

“As long as we don’t answer the goddamned phone,” she added.

Maxwell winced, and Millie saw the reaction. “Dear,” he said.

“Sorry,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “I’m just sick to death of those bas...those guys. If I don’t have to talk to another reporter for the next ten years it’ll still be a sore spot with me.” By then they had moved down the hallway and were preparing to go into the control room, the spot where, soon, David Maxwell and his crew would make history. If they were successful, the world would never hear the end of it. If they failed, their little group would never live it down.

A lot of money was tied up in this venture. Not as much as in something like the CERN reactor. But still plenty. That was the beauty of this project. It utilized a series of supercomputers to synthesize what others were trying to achieve with pure mechanics and raw energy. “If everything works, we’ll all wake up to a new world in twenty-four hours.”

Once again Maxwell found himself keying in a six-figure code and exposing himself to a face recognition camera. The door hissed open pneumatically and the Maxwells were greeted with a puff of sterile air as the high pressure in the room blew out into the low pressure of the hallway, admitting them, and leaving out the dust.

The rest of them were all there, working madly in the absence of their glorious leader.

Lewis Steiner was at his desk checking his software. Arnold Drake was going through a stack of schematics, his pen racing across the paperwork while he talked at a staccato pace into his cell phone, his head tilted at an odd angle to keep the phone in place. Carole Crain looked up from her own workstation and smiled at the married couple, waving from her spot in the clean room where the magnetic field would be created. And Larry Scofield was leaning against the wall, having taken up one of the few spots in the room that consisted of a bare space. He was, as usual, brooding silently, his genius mind working through the possibilities and the millions of conclusions that they might all face come tomorrow.

Going to his own desk Maxwell looked down at the red button that they’d all installed there. It was something grand and old-fashioned. It was true that the actual circuit would be computer activated, but they had hooked up the garish button as a kind of joke, and a nod to the physicists of old who had actually pressed such things to initiate a reaction. In a few hours, when he pressed that button, he would start a chain reaction that was going, he knew, to change the world for the better.

When the rest of the crew were secreted away in a lower bunker buried in the earth beneath the facility, he would be braving the experiment above ground, where he’d have to face the music up close and in person.

Later, he would wonder if it was his proximity to the workings of the experiment that saved him from the worst of it. At that point, though, he was only looking forward to the things that would soon take place, and he was filled with optimism and the promises their research offered. And he would always tell himself that all of the others, even the perennially gloomy Scofield, were likewise happy and expecting nothing but success. Success and flowers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Working...

Had another fairly not-awful time at my regular-paycheck job today. Some back pain, but the knee feels better with each passing hour, it seems.

Working hard on my novel, THE REZ. Hoping to get it finished in the next few weeks.

Teaser image for THE REZ done by my Internet guru, Garrett Marks.

Monday, September 26, 2011

No Pain

Today was the first time back to work when I haven't been horribly limping or sick from the tetanus shot.

Carole and I have solidified our October vacation plans. Definitely the area around Helvetia, WV. It'll be good to get back there. I hope to hike up a few mountains while we're there.

Too busy writing to post much here. But I will include this stitched photo taken of me in 2006 by Jack Thyen at a waterfall in the Citico Creek Wilderness in western Tennessee. I was even able to get Carole to hike down to see this one. It was a fairly steep hike, too.

I was about 25 pounds lighter in 2006 than I am now. Hope to get back down to that weight again, which is one of the reasons I've been on such a strict vegetarian diet for the past couple of months.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Panthertown Panoramas

I was supposed to go hiking with Andy Kunkle and Jack Thyen today. However, because of the side effects of the tetanus shot I received from a dog bite I got on the job I was just too sick to do that. I'm not even sure I could have made the drive, let alone hike in Linville Gorge.

It's been so long since I've been on a long, epic day hike that I'm beginning to forget what that's like. The constant battles with poor health are really getting to me. In memory of one of my favorite multi-day backpacks, I here post some photos from a trip into the Panthertown Valley here in North Carolina. This was in the days before it became totally surrounded by development and still had a kind of wilderness aspect about it. Sadly, that's no longer the case.

Click to embiggen each of these stitched panoramas for a good look at the innards of Panthertown Valley.

When I went into Panthertown Valley for this three-day backpack, a hurricane had just dropped untold amounts of water on the NC mountains. Thus, Panthertown Valley had been closed by the Forest Service. Signs were up denying entrance into the protected forest. However, I had stopped at the ranger station on the way up, and the ranger there told me that the ban had been lifted and that I could proceed. But if the signs were still up, and if you hadn't visited the ranger station you would have to conclude that the ban was still in effect. Thus, I had the valley and peaks all to myself for three days. I found true solitude in there, and encountered not one other human at all. This is rare in Panthertown, as it's a very popular hiking and backpacking destination.

This is where I camped for the duration. I didn't use the old A-frame shelter here, but set up my tent nearby instead. Every night I was there, a pack of coyotes would come down to the edge of the campsite and sing for precisely 30 minutes. From 7:30 pm until 8:00 pm. If you haven't heard a pack of coyotes sing, you're missing a great experience. It's nothing like the howl of a wolf, and the only way I could describe it would be as a dozen or so out-of-sync ambulance sirens going off. Each night I hung my food bag from a tall pine tree so that I wouldn't have to worry about coyotes, skunks, mice, and bears.

Panthertown Valley is a rare U-shaped, high elevation valley. The valley itself averages over 3,000 feet and the highest peaks surrounding it anywhere from 4,000 to 4,800 feet. Many of the peaks are classic plutons and there is a huge amount of exposed rock and cliff faces in Panthertown. Many rock climbers venture here to test their skills on the vertical faces of granite.

Views like this one are to be found on the heights throughout the valley.


On the day I took this panorama, my hiking goal was the large, dome-shaped mountain behind me (on the left side of the photo). I got to the mountain's slopes, but the trail vanished in the brush and I encountered rattlesnakes there and turned back. So I never did reach the very summit of Cold Mountain. (No, this is not the Cold Mountain made famous by the novel of that name. Here in the South, many mountains share the same name.)

I did so much off-trail bushwhacking that I've forgotten exactly where I was when I made some of these panoramas.

This is Granny Burrel Falls (behind me). I achieved this panorama by setting the camera on a solid tripod and taking about ten shots which were pieced together showing the falls, the main part of the creek, the bend in the creek, and the pool at the base of the slope and the stream beyond.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Maddening Comic Books

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'll be taking a short break from collecting comics to concentrate on my writing. I've found that the hobby has been getting in the way just a bit with my fiction work. This particular book will be the last back issue that I'll purchase until probably some time in November when I should be done with a couple of writing projects.

I do like to purchase a Golden Age comic book now and again. They're sometimes far too expensive for me to afford, so I buy them rarely, and only when I can get them at a bargain price. Years ago I had an impressive collection of early issues of MAD, the comic book precursor for what we now know as MAD MAGAZINE. The first 23 issues of the book were in comic format. It was part of the EC Comics stable, and by far the most popular and profitable book that William Gaines published. In fact, when Gaines was basically run out of the comic book business by the right wing insanity infecting the USA during the 1950s, he chose to circumvent the destructive Comics Code Authority by turning Mad into a magazine, thus exempting it from that restrictive body. He experimented briefly with the magazine format for a couple of other genres, but it was MAD that continued to sell in huge numbers and make him, eventually, the highest paid independent publisher in the country. In his way, he had the last laugh on his enemies in comics and in government, if by revenge one defines it as achieving the good life in spite of your enemies' best efforts.

When I was a dealer in old comics, I owned quite literally every single issue of the MAD comic book, including the iconic Mad #1. But currently this is the only issue of the original book that I have in my collection.

The tragedy of MAD is that it was created by Harvey Kurtzman. To my way of thinking, Kurtzman was perhaps the most talented comics artist ever to put pen to paper. He was the very rarest of talents in the world of comics, and I've struggled for years to note anyone who was his better. I've yet to find that artist.

MAD arose out of a pay dispute with Gaines. Kurtzman apparently chafed at the fact that his colleague at EC, Al Feldstein, made more than he did. When he voiced this to Gaines, his employer told him that if Kurtzman could produce a good humor comic then he'd raise Kurtzman's pay to match Feldstein's. (At the time, Feldstein was editing the horror and science-fiction titles while Kurtzman ran the war and adventure books.)

Well, then, that was a project for which Harvey Kurtzman was uniquely placed to create. Thus, MAD came into being. Packed with dangerous humor, the comic was an instant success. It sang. The comic hit at just the right time and impressed just the right audience to ensure that its sales were off the charts and its influence would be felt for decades. It was, from the beginning, a child of Harvey Kurtzman who did the heavy work for each of the comic's early issues.

From the very beginning, MAD was not only a success, but also cutting edge culture. It insinuated itself into the undercurrents of society that would soon make themselves felt in the looming counterculture that was about to raise its head in America.

And, of course, MAD eventually led to yet another in a very sad line of thefts of intellectual property. When Kurtzman demanded a 51% controlling interest in the comic, Gaines of course refused. And Kurtzman either left or was forced out, with the last remaining title of the once formidable EC Comics company being handed off from Kurtzman to Feldstein, the man whose salary had initially instigated the creation and production of the publication.

Kurtzman went on to attempt to duplicate the success of MAD with a number of other, similar concoction. But as so many have sadly learned, lightning generally strikes but once. In what had to be a truly painful turn of events, the comic genius who had created the happy monster of MAD MAGAZINE found himself, hat in hand, at the editorial door of his own creation, selling work to that publication as a freelancer in the twilight of his creative years.

This is the kind of classic parody that later got Kurtzman and Gaines into so much trouble. I mean, who would screw around with the Disney corporation? Why, a canny Jewish humorist named Harvey Kurtzman, that's who! And of course this one didn't get them into nearly as much trouble as "Starchie", the Kurtzman/Elder parody of Archie that apparently sent Archie's publisher, John L. Goldwater, into a frenzy that apparently began a warfare against EC.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Heading North?

Well, we're leaning toward West Virginia for our vacation. Carole, too, wants to revisit the area around Helvetia. There are some spots we didn't get a chance to see, and I want to hike some trails I missed the last time.

The talus field at the summit of Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia.

Posted here is the last place we tent-camped before we bought our Casita travel trailer and the place that is, in fact, the reason we bought the trailer. This was our campsite at Standing Indian Campground, part of the Nantahala National Forest. Located not far from Murphy, NC, the area is home to one of the densest black bear populations in the country. There are a LOT of black bears living there. Unfortunately, some of them are habituated to humans and their food. Although we were careful about storing food in the back of our truck, a very large black bear still invaded our site and proceeded to tear through anything that even looked as if it might contain food. It was a harrowing experience, especially since the bear ended up being rather aggressive and returned after I initially chased it off. After that, we had to climb into the cab of our truck after which--by gunning the engine--I succeeded in chasing it off. The next day, the resident ranger told me that the bear had terrorized the campground from one end to the other during the night, stealing food and destroying camping equipment. So we weren't alone.

The last campsite we used our tent setup. The bear raided us that night, knocking everything from the table and ripping open all of the containers.
At any rate, a few weeks later we purchased our beloved Casita travel trailer. Carole misses tent camping, but I don't. I still sleep in my one-man tent when I go backpacking, but I far more prefer camping in our secure hard-sided Casita than in a flimsy tent. It's not only more secure, it's also drier and more comfortable.

The day I brought the Casita home from Georgia. Since then, we've used it on most of our vacations. (The old Nissan Frontier--it was a really good truck.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

King's Pinnacle View

Kings Pinnacle inside Crowders Mountain State Park is the closest mountain to my house. I go there as a retreat of last resort when I can't run off to the real high country farther west. The park is one of North Carolina's largest state parks, and the highest point on the mountain was outside the borders of the park for many years. Finally, though, the state worked a deal with the family who owned a vast tract of land that included the long ridge that runs from Crowders Mountain all the way to the South Carolina border. Rangers in the park have told me for years that there is a trail planned to lead from the top of Crowders Mountain all the way to Kings Mountain State Park in South Carolina. But I've never heard that the trail has been completed or officially dedicated.

Click to embiggen.

The mountain is a classic monadnock. Composed of quartzite capstone, it has resisted erosion while the soil around it has been carried off to the Piedmont and coast farther east. Sadly, you can't really enjoy anything like a wilderness experience in the park due to the fact that there is so much development around it. You can pretty much always hear motor vehicles roaring along on I-85 to the west. And you can see all sorts of construction from the summit ridges. But, as I said, it'll do if you're desperate to just be in the forest and to take a walk up a steep slope to an impressive overlook.

And, of course, every time I go to the rocky viewing site near the very top of the mountain, I always take the time to make a goofy photograph that I stitch together to scare my friends and family.


Three of me! Yow!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Vacation Debate

I'm lobbying for West Virginia. Carole wants to try out the mountains of north Georgia. Since I lived in the mountains of north Georgia and cut my teeth hiking there as a teenager, I'd rather go back to West Virginia. Specifically, to a part of the state where we haven't been since 2004.


To bolster my argument, here are some photos I took on that specific trip. I took these with my first digital camera which remains one of the best cameras I've ever had. It eventually went on the fritz, but while it lasted it was a great machine, even though it was only 4 megapixels. I still admire the photos I took with it. Like almost all of my digital cameras, it was a Canon.


On that trip we targeted a place called Holly River State Park. In those days we were still tent camping since we hadn't yet been raided by that huge black bear when we camped at Standing Indian Campground near Murphy NC. That's the experience that convinced us to go with a hard-sided trailer and forgo the tent camping when in state parks and National Forest campgrounds where there are likely to be lots of bears habituated to humans and their food.


Among the things that I recall about this early June 2004 trip was that it rained incessantly and intensely, and that the scenery was gorgeous. The waterfalls were especially pretty because of the overcast skies and the extremely heavy water flow in the creeks. Since it has been so long since we've been, I would really like to go back there.


This spot is called Mill Creek Falls. Every state in the south has at least fifty Mill Creeks and probably that many Mill Creek Falls. This particular one is in a state forest in West Virginia. The pool below the falls is begging for swimmers. I would have used it for a swimming hole on that trip but even though it was June, the weather was unseasonably cold and the temperatures never broke 70 the whole time we were there. This day it was around 65 or so--much too cool for a swim. If you look, you can see a cabin through the trees. You can rent it--and the three others nearby. You can't beat that place for atmosphere.

This place is called "The Hutte". It's a German restaurant in a German-centric village of Helvetia there in West Virginia. This was a great place to pause and spend a few hours. There are several maple syrup farms in the vicinity, also. Keep in mind that while West Virginia is technically part of the South, it's far enough north, and the mountains high enough, so that sugar maples thrive there. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the town.

One of the dining rooms in The Hutte where we had our most excellent lunch.

This is the actual public library of Helvetia, West Virginia. A great place to take photos, but it was closed the day we were there.

The Falls of the North Branch of the Holly River. This waterfall was exceptionally beautiful, and flowing like nobody's business the day I took this photo.

Just down from the falls above is this one. Called Shupe's Chute, the entire river is funneled through this tiny crevice in the rock. The noise that day was deafening. At the base of the chute is an absolutely spectacular swimming hole. Once again, it was far too cold to try out on that June day in 2004.

On a drive on a lonely gravel mountain road, we stumbled upon this wonderfully creepy abandoned farmhouse. If you embiggen the photo and look, you will see an equally creepy denizen sitting on the peak of the roof on the far right. (And is that an ephemeral spirit standing in the doorway??!!)

A cropped enlargement of the host of the haunted house.


Yep. I'd really like to go back to this part of West Virginia. Let the debate begin...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

TUROK back issues!

I've got a couple of writing projects coming up that will require a lot of attention, so I'm going to have to lay off the comic collecting for a while. I really have enjoyed collecting comics, so I want to keep it up. But the last few purchases I've made will probably be the only ones for the next month or so while I buckle down and pay exclusive attention to my writing.

I'd never thought much about it, but even a hobby as simple as collecting comics requires a certain amount of specific attention to detail. I just don't have the time to devote to it for the next few weeks.

So, the last few old comics I've purchased are some very early issues of TUROK, SON OF STONE, the very cool comic book originated by Dell Comics. I've covered the title before, so if you're curious, just look up those installments of the blog. I also landed a Golden Age book that I'll cover in a couple of days. I'll leave that one for later.

These two issues of TUROK were good ones for me. Adding them to the collection give me the first six issues of the title, which is a bit of a landmark and good place for me to pause for a bit. So, here they are:

TUROK #3. This is the first issue that the book was numbered on its own. The first two Turok books were tryouts in Dell's FOUR COLOR title.

The back cover. Sometimes with Dell comic books, the story would actually continue onto the back cover. Or they'd save it for a feature of some type. This back cover also shows the Dell "Pledge to Parents" that they set up so that they wouldn't have to be a part of the Comics Code Authority.


TUROK #6 had a story featuring a giant Kong-like gorilla. As DC Comics editors Mort Weissinger and Julius Schwartz had learned, if you put a gorilla on the cover, sales would be good. This issue shows up often at comic conventions, which leads me to believe that it sold relatively well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vacation Time Again...

We're planning our October vacation. Carole wants to take the Casita somewhere here in the South. But we're also considering a vacation farther afield. We'll see...

Hanging Rock, North Carolina.

Mount LeConte, Tennessee.

McAfee Knob, Virginia.

Cathedral State Park, West Virginia.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Stone Mountain Hike (Part IV)

I have never been to Stone Mountain State Park without stopping to see Widow Creek Falls. that's because it's such an easy waterfall to view. All you have to do is drive down the main park road, leave your vehicle at the parking lot or along the road, and walk a few steps through the woods to this very pretty waterfall.


As waterfalls go, it's not the tallest, and it doesn't have the highest water volume. However, it's a respectable falls and is very pleasing to watch. I've rarely been there when there weren't at least five or six other humans looking at it, but sometimes you get lucky and have it all to yourself. Especially if you go in winter.

The pool at the bottom of the falls is a popular hangout for families with children. The water there is deep enough for kids to splash around in without having to worry much about them drowning. I've been in the water right at the very base of the falls and the water there has carved out a very deep and classic kettle. The depth of the pothole is about seven or eight feet in high water and it forms a circle roughly six feet across. It's a nice spot to take a dip in on a hot day, and of interest if you're into geology and the effects of water on granite.


There were several families with lots of kids (whom you can hear).



It was hard for me to get a photo of the falls without people in it. When I got there, about twenty humans were in and around the creek. Lots of little kids having fun splashing in the water. Carole and I took Andy there when he was little.

This little cascade is just above the top of the falls.

Another little falls in the creek above the main falls.

By the time I got down from the top, the crowds had pretty much left and I was able to take this shot from the opposite side of the waterfall.


Most of the people had fled by the time I walked back down.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Information, Please!

One great thing about the Internet is its wealth of information. I do appreciate the depth of research I'm able to do with a great amount of ease. In the old days I would have to dig through a number of libraries and often wait for books to be transferred from one branch to another, sometimes from one system to another. In that respect, I really do enjoy the Internet and electronic text.

One thing that I have learned over the past couple of decades is that the American news media is a platform for corporate propaganda, and so I long ago discounted our native news sources as anything more than packs of right wing lies. It got to the point where even so-called "liberal" sources such as NPR became nothing more than echo chambers for the rich and powerful.

Thus, I found that I had to turn to international news for my sources of trying to decode what's going on in the world. As far as I can tell, there is not a single American news source that's anything more than a hand's breadth from plutocratic lies.

Here, then, are the major places where I look for news and, quite often, analysis of the politics of Mankind. (I admit to an Anglo bias, but that's because English is my first language and the only other language I even
barely know (German) is too sketchy to depend on my grasp of it.

The CIA WORLD FACTBOOK. OK. This one really isn't "news". It's kept up-to-date, and I find it to be a most valuable research tool. This is a great source for just basic information about all of the world's nations. Yes, it's American, but as it's published by a Federal agency that takes its job seriously (the CIA), it's actually a good place to go to get just the facts, ma'am.

Al Jazeerah. Strikingly objective. Yeah, there are some lines they won't cross, but by and large I can depend on getting the straight story from this source.

BBC. These guys used to produce a more even-handed presentation, but lately they've begun to lean quite heavily to the right. A few years ago they were the best, but now they're missing the mark and descending into American-style right wing propaganda.

El Pais. The thing about European right wing sources is that they're thousands of times more honest than American right wing sources of news. I often find unbiased reporting from this technically right wing rag.

SPIEGEL. A reasonable and moderate voice.

New Statesman. This is a good source of news, although they tend toward hero-worship and the fawning over the rich and famous that colors so much of the secondary British press.

Haaretz. Another surprisingly objective source of news. It's often home to some extremist gobbledygook, but generally I can go here to find some really good news.

RIA Novisti. As far as I've been able to discern, this is the best Russian news source on the Internet. So much of the Russian press is borderline crazy that it's refreshing to see a truly professional outlook and some actual fact-checking.

The Telegraph. Official newspaper of the Conservative Party of the UK. As I said, even right wing papers in Europe are often refreshingly objective, even when it comes to their own. I can depend on these assholes to often present the truth.

The Guardian. Official newspaper of the Labour Party of the UK. As with so many British news sources, these folk spend far too much time drooling over the rich and famous. But more often than not I can look here to read something other than crappy propaganda.

The Independent. Their schtick is that they're "independent" of either the Left or the Right. That's not entirely true, and they seem to tilt slightly to the right. But they do have Robert Fisk, one of the best voices in the European press. So I keep going to them for fresh outlooks.

Venezuelanalysis. The most obviously left-wing of all of my news sources. However, they're the best place for me to see what's going on in Central and South America without being unduly influenced by pro-corporate stooges.

If you're getting your news from such USA news sources as ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, etc., then you're getting nothing but news spoon-fed to you by the corporations who run our energy, banking, and insurance industries. If so, you're being filled with lies. Go abroad for anything approaching a true and objective source of information regarding current events and science.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stone Mountain Hike (Part III)


After I spent a long and relaxing time on the summit area of Stone Mountain I headed off toward Stone Mountain Falls which is on the far side of the mountain's ridge line. Strolling along I was impressed once again with the changes in the trail since I last hiked here. It occurred to me that all of this work must have been accomplished with at least some aid from vehicles--at least pickup trucks. So the wider trails obviously serve as roadbeds for trucks from time to time. Fortunately, I've never encountered park vehicles on these trails, and I hope I never do.

Because my legs are still so weak from my weeks of inactivity due to the surgery, the hike to the falls seemed much longer than it did. My memories of the hike kept telling me that I should be at the falls when in fact I still had a fair distance to travel. When I finally did arrive at the top of Stone Mountain Falls, I found the biggest crowds of the day. Which is appropriate, since the falls are easy to access via a picnic area trailhead.

If you've never been, Stone Mountain Falls are a neat sight. It's not so much a waterfall as an enormous sliding cascade. Still, it's a dangerous place and more than a few idiots have died here mucking about on the slick surface of the falls. There is no shortage of stupid people, so I'm sure there will be more such stories in the years to come.

After I looked at the falls and took a few photos I headed on down. I dislike crowds, especially when I'm on a hike. This is my time (supposedly) for solitude, so the sounds of screeching people gets on my nerves pretty quickly. So in short order I was ready to complete the loop, pausing along the way to take photographs of whatever piqued my interest.


One more great photo of the soaring Turkey vultures.


The top of the Falls.

Here was Stone Mountain Falls--a stitched panorama.


The Falls from the bottom, with many humans.

This cool little shelf is about 1/4 mile from the base of the falls.

The well maintained trail leading toward the homestead display.

I like this little scene in the streambed.

Reminders of the power of Mr. Gravity and Frau Wasser.

Where I always have to stop to create a panorama of the face of Stone Mountain.

This is called "The Great Arch" and is one of the more popular rock climbing routes on the cliff face. If I ever learn to rock climb, this is where I'll go to take lessons.


The cliff face of Stone Mountain, North Carolina.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stone Mountain Hike (Part II)

After I got to the summit and took some photos, I picked out a nice shady spot under some pines and sat down to eat some lunch and relax. By then it was about one in the afternoon. The weather was pleasant and there was a nice breeze blowing across the mountaintop. The sky was bright blue and scoured with huge clouds. There were no bugs, and only some ravens and a huge flock of Turkey buzzards were plying the thermals.

I've been on a vegetarian diet now for most of the past month. So I got out my lunch of almonds, Indian flatbread, and fresh water. As I sat and enjoyed my meal I scanned the top of the peak and picked out some good places to take photographs and decided whether I'd continue on the entire loop or turn around and backtrack to my truck. My plan had been to turn back if my knee acted up, but except from some soreness it was doing okay. So I decided that after I took some photos I would head on over the mountain to Stone Mountain Falls and do the entire loop hike.

One thing that I was aware of was that the weeks of recuperation have left my leg muscles in a sad state. For the first time in memory my legs felt weak. It has been many, many years since my thighs and calves didn't feel up to the task of taking me over a trail, up and down the mountainsides. Hopefully I can start hiking again and get my muscles back into shape.

This was my view from my lunch spot.

A self portrait standing in one of the erosion gullies that head down toward the event horizon of the cliff face.

The view looking back up the peak from a shallow gully.

Some of these temporary pools were full of tiny critters. Not sure what they were, but they didn't seem to be insect larvae. Perhaps one of those types of brine shrimp that come and go with the water?

Water in its task of wearing the mountain down and sending it off toward the sea.

I love the patterns water makes on the granite.

An old husk of a tree.

Another panorama from farther down the mountain.

I took this self-portrait to illustrate the steepness of the mountaintop.

Rambling around on the exposed rock. A great way to spend the day!

The classic view of Stone Mountain from one of the sub-peaks.

These grass and scrub oak forests grow on the very, very thin soil along the ridge of Stone Mountain.

I encounter old chimneys all through the park. I wonder how many homesteads were on the lands that make up Stone Mountain State Park. So far, I've found about a half dozen of these on and off trail. I'm sure there are more that I haven't seen yet.

(Later, Part III of the hike....)