Musings on Losing Money

      THATCHER
                I happened to see your consolidated 
                statement yesterday, Charles.  
                Could I not suggest to you that it 
                is unwise for you to continue this 
                philanthropic enterprise -
                       (sneeringly)
                this Enquirer - that is costing 
                you one million dollars a year?

                            KANE
                You're right.  We did lose a million 
                dollars last year.

  Thatcher thinks maybe the point has registered.

                            KANE
                We expect to lost a million next
                year, too.  You know, Mr. Thatcher -
                       (starts tapping 
                       quietly)
                at the rate of a million a year -
                we'll have to close this place in 
                sixty years.

Citizen Kane, discussing the financial losses in his media empire.

In 537, under the Emperor Justinian I, the Hagia Sophia was completed after 5 years of work. Notre Dame du Paris was completed in 1260, after 97 years under construction. Two gigantic churches, each pushing the envelope of the construction techniques of their times. One took 5 years to build, the other almost a century. While I’m sure other factors were at play, the most obvious reason for this difference in construction time is that Hagia Sophia was built with the resources of an Empire under the direction of one man, while Notre Dame was not. Further, if Justinian had wanted another Hagia Sophia or 10, he had merely to say so, and within a few years, he would have had them. The 6th century Byzantine empire had the resources to do it. Unfortunately, we get to see what happens when Notre Dame gets destroyed, but had it been destroyed in 1261, at best it would have taken a couple of decades to rebuild, based on the construction timelines typical of Gothic cathedrals. And funding would have been a real issue.

There are costs, and then there are costs. For a subsistence farmer, having wasted effort over a day or two is likely to have real costs, measured in terms of reduced food supply for him and his family. For middle class 21st century Americans, having to replace a $40K car carelessly destroyed is generally an annoyance – chagrin, insurance, shopping, such a pain! To a billionaire, its a shame if one of his pet companies loses millions. To Justinian, a billion-dollar construction project is just one among several, and all in a day’s work.

John D. Rockefeller is said to have become the modern world’s first billionaire in 1916. Excluding heads of state, Forbes says that there are about 2,700 billionaires in the world. Forbes’ list is generated from public sources and reasonable guesses. Maybe there are 3,000 billionaire-level fortunes, once you add in the heads of state/royal family types? Your guess is as good as mine.

Now add in the wiley old coots with ‘only’ 500 million or so – are they materially less rich and influential than some punk tech billionaire? Now you’re up to – WAG, of course – 10,000 super-rich people? 100,000? Who knows? Why not use $100M as the floor? It’s all guesswork at this point.

These thoughts were generated by viewing Jon Del Arroz’s latest little video. Netflix has been hemorrhaging cash for a while now, and just recently announced that it laid off a bunch of people. While I agree with Del Arroz that these are good things, I doubt it means even as much as the million dollars a year loss did to William Randolph Hearst Charles Foster Kane. What Kane fails to mention: if he’s making as little as 2% a year on the remainder of his money, he can keep on losing a million a year forever. (Really, if he’s making anything at all, say 1%, his loses will be sustainable for centuries.)

One other consideration: while the man on the back of a horse has only a small fraction of the strength of the horse, as long as he keeps reins in hand, he’s effectively as strong as the horse and himself combined. There are some limitations that need skill to work around, but a skilled horseman and his horse act as one – and that one is the horseman. In the same way, a billionaire who has large interests in companies may control them without having their assets show up on his Forbes wealth calculations. A skillful billionaire can even manipulate things such that others agree to lose money – as long as the cost of the losses doesn’t exceed the financial and personal costs of crossing the billionaire.

In this context, keep in mind that the hands at the reins of almost all giant corporations are not playing with their own money. The CEO or Chairman is likely a millionaire or even a billionaire, but his fortune is likely worth a tiny fraction of the corporate money he manages, and only partially tied to the fortunes of the company. Let’s say a billionaire with 10% ownership of the company wants something to happen – say, he’s in favor of the diversity programming over at Netflix. Now you, as a member of the board or CEO, have got to ask yourself: how long will I have a job if I defy the billionaire? It’s not my money, after all. Sure, theoretically, I’m beholden to the shareholders – but that billionaire is the largest shareholder! Far better to do what he wants (and quietly divest myself of my shares in the company, as much as possible).

Then, if worst comes to worst and the company folds or is bought by somebody who wants to make money, the billionaire and I will share a nice Just So story about how evil white supremacists in their evilness ruined our efforts to enlighten the masses and Move Forward on the Right Side of History ™.

And he’ll give me another job.

And that’s just one layer of the onion. Wealthy people either play by the rules of the Athenians in Melos, or they stop being wealthy people. There’s a lot of jockeying going on, pecking orders and loyalties to establish, and backs to stab. I don’t imagine the tech billionaire’s fortunes will long outlive them – these callow youths from hippy boomer households are not winning long-term against modern Medicis and Rothchilds.

Henry Ford is estimated to have been worth about $35B in his heyday. Less than a century later, and the entire Ford family is said to worth about a $1B. Give it another couple generations, and a Ford is as likely to be washing your car as selling you one. Very few fortunes in America last more than a generation or two; very few children of billionaires have whatever gifts it took to make that first billion. Money to them is like water to a fish – it is just the medium they live in, hardly ever noticed. Most children of the rich start right off burning through the family fortune and leave dregs to the grandkids.

There are exceptions, of course. The Medici fortune reached its peak within the first century of the Medici bank in the 13th century, but persisted for about 500 years before finally vanishing. (Another wildcard that some real historian should enlighten us all on: when the fortunes of others depend on or at least benefit from your fortune, you may be propped up indefinitely. The Medici married into many prominent and noble families – how much did this contribute to their riding out some incompetent and occasionally literally insane heirs? Were the family to fail, however, political turmoil would result. How often over those 5 centuries did other players decide they would rather that didn’t happen? But in the end, it did, but only through lack of male heirs.)

But in the meantime, they ape Kane. They all can throw around a billion here, a billion there, without feeling any pain; they can have the companies they control burn billions on idiot programs and policies and propaganda, and hardly notice except to blame others.

So rejoice when the mighty are brough low. But right now, these superficial loses are not hurting the real money. They can afford to keep up the idiocy indefinitely, if the want.

The End of the Middle Ages

Prepping for the last lecture class before we start reviews and head into finals. Looking at the stuff I prepared last year, I can barely remember doing it. Probably something to do with the physical and emotional exhaustion from moving, and the continued attention demanded by the endless steps needed to get our house finally on the market. (target date: 5/26.)

Here’s a brief snippet.

Edward Peters, Britannica online

This, from Britannica, a source I use cautiously if at all. Here, the writer, describes the triumphal revisionism of the Renaissance writers, who so badly wanted to tout themselves as the best and the brightest that they ignored reality when needed. I’ve long wondered how scholars writing sometimes literally in the shadows of the great medieval churches, could not see how preposterous their claims of *obvious* superiority were. Example:

A nice church. I’d take it, Buuuut….
Clearly better than this? I think not. And I’m not even going with the High Gothic stuff here, which is the greatest architecture the world has ever seen.

Reports of the death of the Middle Ages have been somewhat exaggerated. What’s really been overblown are the achievements of the Renaissance:

The next (and, as it proved, final), steps taken in this direction (physics of motion – ed)  were the accomplishments of the last and greatest of the medieval scientists, Nicole Oresme (1325 – 1382). …devoted much of his effort to science and mathematics. He invented graphs, one of the few mathematical discoveries since antiquity which are familiar to every reader of the newspapers. He was the first to perform calculations involving probability. He had a good grasp of the relativity of motion, and argued correctly that there was no way to distinguish by observation between the theory then held that the heavens revolve around the earth once a day, and the theory that the heavens are at rest and the earth spins once a day. 

Then everything came to a stop. Given the scientific and mathematical works of Descartes and Galileo, but no chronological information, one might suppose the authors were students of Oresme. Galileo’s work on moving bodies is the next step after Oresme’s physics; Cartesian geometry follows immediately on Oresme’s work on graphs. But we know that the actual chronological gap was 250 years, during which nothing whatever happened in these fields. Nor did any thing of importance occur in any other branches of science in the two centuries between Oresme and Copernicus. 

James Franklin, Honorary Professor, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of New South Wales

Then, yea, there’s that.

There’s a bunch more, but now I’ve gotta go do class. Yes, I inflict this stuff on 15 year olds. Toughens them up.

A Scene…

Here’s a bit from that pile of writings I was looking over yesterday. This is a scene from the second half of the novel from 30 years ago of which I’ve found an outline and about 50 pages. There are scenes I remember writing that are not in this folder; and some scenes I don’t remember at all. So maybe there’s another stash; perhaps, all told, there might even be 100 pages somewhere in the papers.

One scene in particular that I don’t remember writing follows. Background: Dr. Smarrita, evil genius, is the original bad guy, a unscrupulous fellow who was a teacher of both Warner, the space jockey, and Sue Fallon, his most brilliant student from whom he stole most of his best ideas. Fallon is 4’6″ tall and somewhat crippled. Warner and she once had a fling when they were both Smarrita’s students; even though Fallon was nothing to look at, she’s the quickest wit, strongest character, and most brilliant mind Warner had ever met. Warner, in contrast, is the classic jock/leading man type.

Now all three are captives on a ship run by two symbiotic and vaguely insect-like species. The Firsts seem to be in charge; the Ranks seem to do their bidding. Chief characteristic: the only sense of aesthetics or morals these aliens have is based on bioengineering: an individual is just an expression of a certain bio-mechanical concept, and judged by how well they fulfill the design. Thus, they judge the very few individual humans they’ve seen as both models and ideals. Fallon and a dead crewmate were their first examples; Smarrita and Warner were the next two. When it becomes apparent to them that Fallon and to a lesser extent Smarrita, are in fact far from the fit, athletic ideal they see in Warner, the aliens decide to fix them – standard operating procedure for them. They have just lead Smarrita away – they will work on him first, then, if successful, come for Fallon, whom they have found valuable, and whom they had ‘repaired’ a little when she first was captured. There is no saying ‘no’ to this, it might kill them or be utter agony even if it works.

Fallon and Warner are left alone.

CH 8, II

Warner looked at Fallon, who was peering after the three creatures as they lead Smarrita away.

“I don’t know if I should hope they succeed or fail.” Fallon turned back inside. “I should pray they succeed, for the good Doctor’s sake, but, if they do, I’m next.”

Warner walked up next to her. “Look, I know you don’t take any guff about your body. I’ve known you for some time now, and you’ve never asked for any slack or played for any sympathy. But, now, out of the blue, you have a chance to be made whole. If this works on Doc, I don’t get it – why would you object?”

Sue continued to look away, out the opening. “I don’t hate you, and I don’t wish you any harm. But, Bud, I don’t have to tell you anything.”

“I’m not asking for some great confession.”

“Oh? You want to know why I would object to having those disgusting creatures so much as lay a hand on me, no matter how much I may get out of it? Or do you think I don’t want to be ‘whole’, as you put it?”

“I haven’t known what to think about you for some time now.”

“OK, Bud, I’m gonna tell you something, a little for your own good, a little just because we are unlikely to get out of this alive, and little to just to have said it. Yea, I have wanted to be whole since the first time I understood that I wasn’t. I wanted to be the pretty little girl. Run and play, blow kisses and blush, the whole mundane deal.”

“But, no. The envelope of current medical practice has been pushed – what you see is what you get. On the upside, God, in His infinite perversity, gave me a very fine mind. I, in turn, used this mind to get to the highest levels of intellectual achievement, where, I naively
hoped, being a little crippled and a little ugly wouldn’t matter so much.”

“But, whom should I meet at the University? The good Doctor, for one. His genius is only surpassed by his ability to recognize genius in others. I felt I had found a mentor, friend and father, all in one. He pushed me, led me to discover how far I could really go. True, he
then promptly and without a lick of remorse stole my ideas. Imagine my pride in seeing him get that Nobel for my work! And all my school work records purged – how very thoughtful of him!

“But my real discovery at the University was – ready now? – you, Bud. You actually seemed to like me. What a couple! You, the dashing athlete, with me, the brainy cripple!”

Warner looked at the floor. “You think I didn’t care for you? You have some theory for why I spent my time with you?”

She continued to look out the door. “No, no, Bud, I found out how well you care for me-very well, by your standards. What we had was, rather, a breakdown in communication standards. Protocol incompatibility, you know.”

Warner looked over, “Can’t you stop being so goddamn smart for a minute?”

Fallon straightened her crooked frame just a little more, turned her face just a little more away from his. “Maybe not, Bud. Let me be smart for just a little while more – it is my strong suit. You recall the Incompleteness Theory from math?”

“My strong suit, you may recall.” Warner was getting hurt and angry, though he was hardly aware of it.

“It has interesting implications for communication – if there are propositions that cannot be proven or disproven from within any given mathematical system, then, perhaps, in any given system of communication – say, for example, two lovers – it may just be that there are thoughts or feelings that cannot be communicated.”

“That’s hardly profound, Sue. Why don’t you just say we didn’t see eye to eye, or some other cliché?”

“Now you’re loosing the thread.” Fallon voice was gaining an edge of urgency. “It’s not that we lacked a basis for communication, or that we had a basis, but reached an impasse. It’s that the proposition that we were setting out to prove was unprovable from the given
assumptions “

“I didn’t think I was trying to prove anything.” Warner was struggling to keep the hurt down, aware only of the growing anger that covered it up. “The only assumption that may have been a leap was that you are a woman like all others.”

“No need to get vindictive, Bud.” Fallon paused to regroup. “The proposition is hard to put into words – I’ve tried on occasion for the past 4 years. At the heart, we assumed that each of us was our own self to give, that we could give our selves to each other in measured, controllable increments. We set out to prove that we could pull back from the giving whenever we wanted, and take our whole selves back with us – no harm, no hard feelings. Well, maybe we can’t. Maybe nobody can.”

“You’ve lost me. I’m just a math guy turned swash-buckler – you’re the genius philosopher.”

“You underrate yourself, Bud. You held your own in Smaritta’s class – graduate level Universal CommSys Theory is not exactly P.E.” Her back was still to Warner. “You did use the ‘help me with my homework’ line quite successfully.”

“You still can’t believe that I cared for you?”

“On the contrary, I think you still care for me. I still care for you. It’s just that, within the system you’re in, the price of that – let’s go all the way and call it ‘love’- is too high.”

Sue turned to face him. Her voice cracked around the edges. “You know, when they rebuilt my face, the tear ducts sort of got lost in the shuffle – I don’t cry too well.”

Warner began to reach for her. She stopped him. “No, don’t touch me, and for God’s sake don’t say you’re sorry.”

“I still don’t get it, Sue. Why do you do this? All I ever did was treat you like a human being.”

“Did you treat me like a woman? You don’t make love to some generic ‘human being. Yes, you did- I felt like a woman in you arms. But then. you could not go further, and I did not know how.”

“So, what is this – you’re telling me now that you did not want me to make love to you?” Warner was exasperated.

“OK, William, here’s the real deal.” She touched his face with her hand. “There have been two occasions in my little life where my body has been given over to someone else’s mercy. The first time, no one asked me, and I couldn’t have said anything but yes had they.
I ended up in a trash can, a new born baby battered to the edge of death. My body is the work of God, modern medicine and a crowbar, according to theology, my doctors and the police reports. So much for a mother’s tender mercies, “

Warner began to open his mouth. Fallon spoke rapidly: “SHUT UP, William – don’t say anything!” She spoke softly now, “Then, there was you. This time, I was asked and I did say yes.”

She looked him in the eye. “I can’t say what it meant to me. Can you? That you would want me – ME! – and touch me so tenderly.”

She turned away. “But Paradise comes complete with a snake.”

First pass rough draft from 30 years ago.

More Archeology, Writing Division

(Update: I tried WordPress’s ‘verse’ format option, then mucked with the excerpts below until it looked right, only to discover it looks right only some fraction of the time, and runs off the page and is otherwise unreadable the rest of the time. Sigh.)

The neurons are finally coming back on line, as much as they ever were, after the physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting clean-out of the old house. Almost ready to start worrying about the next phase: finding a new place, and all that that entails.

In the meantime: found some more stuff I’d packed away and all but forgotten. Part of which is:

Files.

These files contain writings going back to about 1990. Among other things:

  • Pages of limericks. There was a time in my wasted youth when I practically though in limerick format – ta Da te ta Da te ta da and so on, such that spitting out a limerick was almost like breathing. They are mostly terrible. (Aside: people who don’t or can’t seem to follow limerick rules just – I don’t know what to say. Write something else if this is too hard. Sheesh.)
  • About 50 pages and an outline for a novel, a retro-space adventure. Swashbuckling space pilot, evil scientist, deal gone bad, frantic escape, insect-like aliens. The only deviation from standard is that the love interest is a crippled dwarf, a woman who is a genius and wit, but not a looker, with whom our dashing space pilot had a fling. Now, only she can save his life! It’s – not terrible. The main problem: my outline is far too spare for me to figure where in the heck I was going with this, 30 years later. On the plus side, the parts I did write I kinda liked…
  • Some Trek fan fic from the mid-90s. At the time, I worked for a company that had a proprietary sort of chat software running on its internal systems. Basically, you had a group on a message, and each new message was appended onto the last, such that you ended up with a massive run-on discussion. Social Media, circa 1993. So the geeks talked about Trek, and I used to mock it (in a sympathetic, friendly way – I like Trek!) by throwing out ridiculous plot outlines that were not quite unbelievable. In honor of Rodenberry, I’d find ways to get people naked as much as possible. It was a hoot, so much so that when I left that job, I killed a tree to print selections out.
  • A pile of short stories. Some are OK. When I start my new author-centric, politically silent blog to promote the fiction I want to sell, I may throw some of them up there.
  • Tons of song lyrics. Mostly, attempts to be hilarious, but some more weepy/emo ones as well. Hey, I was young at the time! And stupid!
  • Some poems. Yikes!
  • Some more music.

But I should share a little. Why should I suffer alone? Here are snippets of lyrics and poetry from way back, starting with something really old:

Stone Age

(Circa Reagan. To the beat of marching soldiers. Call and response)

I don't like no Gorbachev! (I don't like no Gorbachev! - and so on)
Give me Ruskies like Molotov! 
This Cold War thaw thing do us in  
I'd rather wear those leopard skins

(In a Jack Nicholson type voice over some distant apocalyptic explosions and Fred Flintstone sound affects – yabadabado, etc.)

Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age
Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age.
Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age. 
Just bomb 'em back to the Stone Age.

And so on. Dated, yes, but maybe funny if you’re old enough to remember…

Shootout at the Whirly Wash

Face down in some laundry stenchy
Bullets flew past the change machine
The bastards just put a bullet in Frenchy
bleeding like crimson red cotton sateen!

Shootout at the Whirly Wash
God, somebody just winged Michael
Cover me, Shorty, I'm going in
Like a red sock in a hot cycle

She dropped her basket, looked over me
Her trigger finger was twitching
So what if I got some Shout on her  T?
I don't need to listen to her bitching

Shootout at the Whirly Wash
Doc's covering the detergent dispenser
Lay down some fire! I'll head for a dryer!
Ol' Bessie's lead will convince her!

Fabric was flying and tempers ran hot
We had 'em pinned down by the phone
When the manager lady fired a round of buckshot
I guess we'll just fold 'em at home

Shootout at the Whirly Wash
Long may its infamy reign!
A tip if you ever get into that spot:
Use COLD water on a blood stain. 

Finally:

That Bug Might Be Your Mom

I used to be a Western boy with microscope and gun
But since I've gotten older, it's just not as much fun
Instead I want to take a tour of the Nothing that's my mind
For peace and love and happiness - what cool stuff I might find!

Careful! Careful! Easy now! All my desires die
Which is good, because I don't want to come back as a fly
Which brings us to a tricky point, a poser through and through:
what if that cockroach I just crushed was someone that I knew? 

I can sit with my legs crossed until both legs fall asleep
I can become Nothingness, and nothing want or keep
I can bank good karma by the pound with effortless aplomb
But I just can't stop worrying: that bug might be your mom. 

Yep. That was me what wrote that stuff, some thirty+ years ago. And I’m not sorry! Careful, or I’ll publish some more.

Is This Thing On?

My brain, I mean. On Thursday evening last, at around 9:15 p.m., our youngest son and I pulled away from our home of 27 years for the last time. Three solid weeks of packing up and moving out, as in 8-10 hours a day, me, my wife, and our son, with occasional and much appreciated help from friends. We will need to swing by to pick up the inevitable forgotten items (the router! Oops!) but as we locked up the storage unit after emptying the house, it was no longer our home. This is the only home our 5 kids likely remember from growing up, as the oldest was 5 when we moved there.

Today, Son-in-law the Younger borrowed his dad’s truck so that we could fetch the half-wine-barrel with the California chestnut tree in it. Took that opportunity to take pictures, documenting the end of the Eternal Brick Project of Dooooom! I’m posting a lot of pictures so that this blog may document the entire insane project. I think it took 7 years to complete.

The Garden Gate. The final piece from the original idea of enclosing the front yard orchard.
Another view, as one approaches the front door. The ramp in the foreground may be the single biggest part of the project, completed almost 5 years ago.
Thin bricks installed on the old slab concrete front step, in order to make the look better.
quarter circle planter with the fig tree (and a dying spider plant)
Same features seen from the driveway
From the gate, looking into the garden. The gate is repurposed window bars I picked up at Urban Ore in Oakland about 5 years ago. More woodchips need to be spread.
The (empty) basil box and (not empty) oregano box, flanking the little garden hose area. The flowering plant in the middle is a California native, and is covered in beautiful flowers, to which this picture does not do justice.
The unplanted vegetable beds, with the northern planter/wrought iron style fence. The idea was to get something viny to grow on the fences, thus making this a sort of secret garden, at least from a little kid’s perspective., But the honeysuckle grows slowly, and the one in this bed died.
The latest planter/fence combo on the south side comes into view as you walk into the garden. Peaches, heavy with fruit, are on the top right.
Better shot of the flowering native plant, and the ancient Japanese maple.
The back gate on the south side. My son and I just patched up the fence and replaced the hardware.
The view of the south side planter and redwood lattice fence from the inside. Peaches and apricots on the right.
Same, from the outside.
The corner by the power pole. Apricots on top.
Another view.
From the street, looking north. Irises, which were in beautiful bloom about a month ago, and the surviving honeysuckle.
The water meter niche in the middle of the roadside planters. This year, a nasturtium volunteered. Pomegranate in the middle, flanked by blueberries.
Looking north along the wall from the water meter niche. Any tower with sufficient room is topped by a Mexican tile. Rosemary flowing through.
The other quarter-circle planter, with the Mineola tree our late son started from a seed. This marks the north end of the street side work.
Looking south along the street side.
The ‘bench’ that connects the two quarter circle planters. Irises in the bed behind.
Standing by the bench looking toward the front door.
And we complete the circle: the front door from the driveway.

For some reason, I also built a brick pizza oven in the middle of doing all this stuff:

Pizza oven, front, with its oak door

Thus ends an era. As soon as we find our new hobby farm/homestead, I’ll start planning the Insane Brick Project of Doooom II: Backyard Boogaloo. I need a bigger pizza oven.

End of Eras

Home stretch, as it were, of emptying our home. 27 years of stuff. Confusing thoughts and feelings about all this. But let’s not wallow in nostalgia! Or, at least, not just wallow in nostalgia…

First, the weather. As all 20 long-time readers may be aware, I’ve used this data set to track local rainfall for the last several years.

top of the page.

Our local flood control district has 32 automated rain gages set up across the county, and put up this web page with near real time automatic updates as shown. Over the past 4 or 5 years, I decided to use these numbers to get a more general idea of local rainfall, rather than just using the one local gage for Concord, CA, that seems to provide the go-to numbers for the press.

As discussed in previous posts, these numbers are both beautiful and flawed. Beautiful, in that they provide a real-world snapshot of rainfall over a couple of hundred square miles updated every 15 minutes. But, as a note on the page says:

The District does not warranty, guarantee, or certify the accuracy of the rainfall data. The data accuracy and availability can be compromised due to equipment failure, power loss, equipment defects, loss of calibration, or internet/radio communication equipment failure of equipment provided by others.

This disclaimer is on top of the inaccuracy built into the round numbers used as average annual rainfall totals per gage. Since accurate annual averages are of little use to the Flood Control District, it’s obvious they just took a guess and stuck with it. So, for example, the Ygnacio Valley Fire, Concord, station has an annual average of 17.00 inches. Exactly. They have been tracking rainfall at this station for 43 years; the annual average has not changed over the 5 or so years I have been watching it. And so on, for most of the gages.

Since the annual per gage averages are numbers I use in my fancy-pants spreadsheet to estimate total rainfall as a percentage of average, all my numbers have at least this built-in error. I also watch (this is all for my own weird obsessive amusement) how many stations hit or exceed their annual averages, and by how much. Thus, this year so far, as of this morning – and it happens to be raining at the moment, so this will change – 21 out of 32 stations have gotten at least 80% of their annual averages, while 16 have hit 90%, 7 reached 100% and 1 has even exceeded 125%.

This is where it gets stupid. Or stupider. The Mount Diablo Peak station has, in every year I’ve tracked it, had both the highest rainfall and the greatest amount and percentage over average. This year, it shows over 130% of annual average. There are several other stations that have, in terms of percentage of annual average, consistently run way ahead of the other stations. On the other hand, the Kregor Peak, Clayton, station shows under 50% of its annual average this year – and it is maybe a couple miles, and visible from, the Mount Diablo Peak station. And a number of other stations similarly have fallen ‘behind’ the overall averages each year I’ve watched them.

Such consistent inconsistencies call my whole project into doubt. I don’t blame the Flood Control District in the slightest – all they want to know is how much rain is falling how fast and where, so that they can warn people that the creek’s gonna rise. My whole project makes little sense in that context; the ‘errors’ I’m spotting, that throw my numbers into chaos, simply don’t matter much if at all to the Flood Control District.

Nail in the coffin: this year, 5 or 6 of the stations have failed more often than not to report any usable numbers. Either blank cells, or data that fails the sniff test. That Ygnacio Valley Fire, Concord, station mentioned above happens to be the one physically closest to our home. Today, it shows no rainfall at all for the last several days, while 4″ deep puddles have been forming on our patio. So, not believable.

In order to use the data in my fancy-pants spreadsheet, I have to clean it up by removing stations with bad data. Since not all stations are created equal – annual average rainfall varies from 11″ to 33.50″, in addition to the inconsistencies mentioned above – it matters which stations one removes. Removing any stations because you don’t like the data is bad science. I think we’ve reached a point where even I can’t convince myself my analysis proves anything.

That said, we’ve reached 92% of annual average rainfall! Woohoo!

Next, we had to tell our 94 year old neighbor of 27 years that we’re moving out. This old gentleman has watched our kids grow up, and has put up with our dumb former dog, and just been a great all-around neighbor. He’s the kind of guy who will keep an eye on the whole neighborhood in a friendly way, and even go have a talk with any neighbor who is maybe not being quite neighborly enough. Best neighbor we’ve ever had.

He was pretty emotional, as were we. In the last few years, his dearly beloved wife died, he had a fall and broke bones, and finally, after decades where he seemed to have hit about 60 and just stayed there, he is finally showing his age. He’s almost house-ridden these days, with trips to the doctor and daily walks with caregivers his only outside activates. This, for a man who was forever puttering in the garden and driving himself to church and so on. Please remember him in your prayers.

Next, had my pianos moved yesterday. The upright from the 1890s is sitting in storage; I bit the bullet and had my 1927 Steinway sent in for restringing. Too expensive! But now seemed the time. So, for the rest of my life, at least, there will be a truly fine piano to play in my home.

Finally, this same neighbor has 4 sons but no daughters. He fell hard for our younger daughter, who was born while we lived here. He got to see her grow up from infancy. She became, I think, the daughter he never had. Plus, she’s a cutie and the sweetest kid, and was always kind to him. Well, this daughter of ours, married just short of 4 months, is now expecting her first child. Due in November. Very hard to get my head around.

The gravitational shift of having one granddaughter living 60 miles away was huge; adding a second grandchild makes it totally irresistible. When we move, we plan to be much nearer to both.

House is almost empty; the Insane Brick Project is about 50 bricks from completion; the house will look and be in better shape than it ever was while we lived here; POD in the front drive being loaded up; a storage unit packed to the roof. While a Friday departure date seems to have been a little optimistic, we should be gone gone by Monday. 30+ years in the area, 27 in the same parish. All over.

Moving: More Archeology

I suppose it goes without saying that if you pack up from a place you lived in for 27 years, you are going find things you’ve forgotten or didn’t even know you had. We’ve had a number of those moments so far, but this one, well, here you go:

When our son died, we received condolences from many people, so much so that I only got back to maybe half of them before I just couldn’t do it any more. Further, people who didn’t know us, but heard about his death from his school – Thomas Aquinas College – sent their condolences to the school, who then forwarded them on to us. So we have a sheaf of lovely and kind letters via the school.

Pretty sure I read them when they first arrived, but they had since fled my memory. My wife found them. Bishops, abbots, priests, members of religious orders sent their condolences and prayers. The Papal Nuncio to the United States sent us condolences, and said he would pray for the repose of our son’s soul.

Back in 2012, that Papal Nuncio was Archbishop Vigano.

Holy Saturday: My Ass is in a Ditch (Luke 14:5-6)

Being a little flippant on this, the day of the Great Silence, but that’s the truth. I’ve got 6 days to finish packing up and moving out of this house, and so hope to keep a prayer on my lips as I work like a dog to get it done. My beloved and our beloved son, as well as our daughters and son in law and one very dear friend have also put in some serious work, but we’ve run hard into the 80-20 (or is it 90-10?) Rule: packing up the last 20% is 80% of the work. This post will be brief, rushed, or both.

First up, Dante: in Canto IV of the Inferno, as they leave the Limbo of souls who earned no punishment but gained not Heaven, he asks Virgil one of the enduring questions of Christianity. Is there no hope for souls separated from Christ through no fault of their own? Unbaptized infants, virtuous pagans (like Virgil himself) and those to whom the Word has never been preached? Specifically, has no one from Limbo ever been saved?

Here there was no sound to be heard, except the sighing, that made the eternal air tremble, and it came from the sorrow of the vast and varied crowds of children, of women, and of men, free of torment. The good Master said to me: ‘You do not demand to know who these spirits are that you see. I want you to learn, before you go further, that they had no sin, yet, though they have worth, it is not sufficient, because they were not baptised, and baptism is the gateway to the faith that you believe in. Since they lived before Christianity, they did not worship God correctly, and I myself am one of them. For this defect, and for no other fault, we are lost, and we are only tormented, in that without hope we live in desire.’

When I heard this, great sadness gripped my heart, because I knew of people of great value, who must be suspended in that Limbo. Wishing to be certain in that faith that overcomes every error, I began: ‘Tell me my Master, tell me, sir, did anyone ever go from here, through his own merit or because of others’ merit, who afterwards was blessed?’

Dante, Inferno, Canto IV, From Poetry in Translation, translated by A. S. Kline

Virgil answers straight out of medieval mystery plays:

And he, understanding my veiled question, replied: ‘I was new to this state, when I saw a great one come here crowned with the sign of victory. He took from us the shade of Adam, our first parent, of his son Abel, and that of Noah, of Moses the lawgiver, and Abraham, the obedient Patriarch, King DavidJacob with his father Isaac, and his children, and Rachel, for whom he laboured so long, and many others, and made them blessed, and I wish you to know that no human souls were saved before these.

Ditto

Elsewhere in the Inferno, features of Hell are described as ruins: bridges over ditches, walls, the Gates of Hell itself has been blown off its hinges. This seems odd, given the inscription over the Gates:

THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE INFERNAL CITY:

THROUGH ME THE WAY TO ETERNAL SADNESS:

THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE LOST PEOPLE.

JUSTICE MOVED MY SUPREME MAKER:

I WAS SHAPED BY DIVINE POWER,

BY HIGHEST WISDOM, AND BY PRIMAL LOVE.

BEFORE ME, NOTHING WAS CREATED,

THAT IS NOT ETERNAL: AND ETERNAL I ENDURE.

FORSAKE ALL HOPE, ALL YOU THAT ENTER HERE.

Ditto

“…and eternal I endure.” One might expect, after Plato, that eternal things are unchanging and unchangeable, pretty much by definition. But no – in an Incarnational universe, even the Eternal is shown to change – out of love. Virgil explains that a great earthquake shook Hell on the day One came to save some souls out of Limbo, and damaged even Hell. Even in the wreckage of Hell, or perhaps especially in the wreckage of Hell, the God Who so Loved the world is revealed. He has entered time for our sake.

The Gates of Hell not prevailing.

Today is often referred to as the Great Silence, for here on earth we recall the lull in Incarnational activity: The world slept in darkness until Christ came, then was riled, enraged, and murderous until Christ had been entombed, then fell silent while Christ descended into Hell. Now, all the noise and insanity of the world is caused by the Prince of this world again fighting vainly against the New Heaven and the New Earth. The battle rages even though the outcome is known. We are the lowliest foot soldiers in this battle of Principalities and Powers, but we all have our parts to play. About as weak and small a person imaginable, a peasant Jewish teenage mother, in her holy humility has crushed the serpent’s head, after all. We also must do our parts.

Now, back to packing up.

A Moving Experience

Move out day is now set: April 22. Therefore, we have exactly 2 weeks to finish getting a 2900 sq’ house, 6 bedroom house we’ve lived in for for 27 years packed up and moved out.

“OK. This is it.”

Resources include me, an overweight 64 year old man who used to be a moving commando, of the ‘just grab the couch, pick it up, take it down the stairs, and put it in the microbus’ type. Not so, anymore, but I’m still somewhat useful. My poor, longsuffering wife and our 18 year old son complete the core; our daughters and their husbands, and some friends and volunteers drop by when they can.

We’re doing well. The occasional time capsule, especially where it concerns our late son, can slow things down. Wednesday, we took his old chest of drawers and put it into storage. It was still full of his clothes. Neither my wife nor I was up to going through it when he died, and so there it is. Probably be there when we die.

Put 4 guitars, two amps, a drum kit, and some mic stands into storage. The reality is that I’ll pick up an old nylon string sitting on a stand in the living room put there for just such occasions and pick out some chords once in a while, and that’s it – the semi-hollow body, the old Strat knock-off, and a cheap steel string just haven’t got much use over the last decade or so.

This one. Bought used for $135 in 1986. Not much of a guitar, but I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

Now for the pianos: my 1920s Steinway M, my baby, is going into storage soon; I also have a nice old huge heavy upright from around 1900 I had fixed up 25 years ago. It’s a good piano, my daughter wants to put it in her apartment. Then there’s the old Rhodes Suitcase I bough new in 1977. Still got it. Sounds good, looks terrible, and is just a freaking boat anchor. 1977 me, a strapping 19 year old, could just pick it up one section at a time, and just move it. Those days are long gone. I’ll throw it up on Craigslist, hope somebody wants it. My vintage 2000 Alesis synth was trying to die over a decade ago – cutting out, navigation lights dead – so it’s going into recycling.

I have a lot more musical toys to deal with. About 50 year’s worth. Anybody want a cassette 4-track recorder? Still works, last I checked, about 20 years ago…

Further update as events warrant.

Wait! Finished the largest remaining part of the Soon-to-be-ended Endless Brick Project:

Still need to put the dirt back in; came out OK.
From the street. Not my best work, but OK.

And the fruit trees are setting fruit, the irises are blooming:

More Mask ‘Humor’

As mentioned here previously, I occasionally attend the same morning weekday mass as the kids from the local Catholic school. I get to see first hand how this whole masking thing is working out. If it weren’t for the panic and terror used on kids to make them comply, it would be hilarious.

Today, the kiddos were again at mass. The total masking percentage seems to have fallen somewhere just under 50% Remember, the kids are no longer *required* to mask up, so what we’re seeing here is kids who either on their own initiative or at mommy’s or maybe daddy’s insistence keep masking up.

Saw a new one today – the Neck Mask. That’s a mask worn under the chin. Two kids were doing this for a while; one eventually pulled his mask back up to full upright and locked position, Later, he took it off completely. Somebody is getting mixed messages. While many still wore their masks right and proper – predominantly, the older girls, but not exclusively – others were doing all sorts of mask improve. Under the nose, chin masking, constant fiddling with it.

That last bit is the killer: not that logic or reason matter, but if in fact those masks worked at all, they’d be covered with Deadly Virus Particles, such that Rule #2, right after ‘mask up’ would be: keep you hands off them! The classic today: some little kid pulls down her mask, then does an elaborate sleeve wipe of her nose – then puts the mask back up. She’s just a kid, so OF COURSE she does the sleeve wipe.

I mean, you’re a kid. You’ve got a runny nose (It’s allergy season big time here.) It’s making the inside of your mask icky! Feels gross. So, without a moment’s thought, you take that stuff and wipe it on your sleeve (and spread it around on your face). THEN, you put the mask back up. Because… Kids gonna kid.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is SCIENCE! As I mentioned, if it weren’t for the panic, anxiety, bullying, fear mongering, and, frankly, child abuse, this would all be hilarious.