Calla Lilies

On the north side of our house is a little concreted in area where we keep our trashcans (or, more accurately, this being California and all, our recycling bin, our yard waste bin and our landfill bin). There are a couple small areas up against the house, no more than a couple square feet each, where the soil is exposed. Why those little areas were not paved I have no idea.

We’ve lived here for over 20 years. In an exhibition of hope triumphing over reason, one of previous owners planted calla lilies in those areas. Somehow, they are still there. To recap: no sun, no care, poor clay soil. The only way they ever get watered is by rain or maybe when I wash off the patio in the back and the water accidentally makes into the beds. Note that I don’t wash off the the patio often, pretty much never when we’re having a ‘drought’, so called. So, for the past 5 years, those flowers have gotten by on only a tiny amount of water at highly irregular intervals. Yet, they will not die.

As you may have heard, it has rained a freaking lot (technical term, that) this year out here in California. It’s raining now. We’ve received well over a foot more rain than is typical, almost 200% of average.

The calla lilies liked it:

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Mrs Yardsale of the Mind cut a bunch for Easter and put them on the table, where I snapped these pictures. Over the spring so far, there have been maybe a couple dozen beautiful flowers, totally unearned and unexpected.

Sometimes, life is like that.

Happy Easter! All week!

Time to Leave California!

Mike Flynn links here to a nice write-up in SciAm about the epic California Winter of ’61 – 1861, that is. I’d noticed that, for the few places with records that go back that far, rainfall and snowpack records in California were set in the 1861-1862 rainy season. I didn’t know, until I read the article linked above, that that storm was an epic of even greater than Biblical proportions: it rained for *43* straight days and nights.

(above: typical California weather. Don’t let them tell you otherwise!)

To sum up: every 100 to 200 years or so, over the course of a few weeks, epic ‘atmospheric rivers’ flow into the West Coast, hit all those lovely mountains, and dump feet upon feet of rain, turning all those lovely rivers into raging torrents and the Central Valley into a lake, washing people, animals, farms, etc. into the Bay, flooding Sacramento (there’s alway a bright side) under 10′ of water – and so on, all up and down the coast.

OK, I give! Uncle! Public service announcement:

Do Not Move to California! We Are So, So Doomed! 

On the bright side: Sacramento gets flooded out! Uninhabitable for months! Well, OK, there are the 1.4 million people who are not politicians and courtesans who live there, so maybe not so bright. Man’s gotta dream. On a similar let-God-sort-them-out despicable fantasy don’t-really-wish-this-on-anyone vein: only part of Hollywood is in the hills – the rest is getting washed out into the Pacific! My hometown of Whittier is nicely nestled in the hills above the San Gabriel River, so it’s probably safe. But then again, so is Beverly Hills – well, you can’t have everything.

So sorry, that was mean of me. Really, I don’t wish harm on anyone – that’s why I’m warning you all to Stay Away! Don’t Do It! California is a Death Trap!!! I will be softly weeping at our fate as I try to console myself sipping fresh lemonade out in the hammock on the back lawn under the shady walnut trees in perfect 75F weather  all the rest of the spring. I promise!! It’s the least I can do. No, really.

A curious thing: all this doom and gloom only came together in the last couple decades – since 1998. Before then, the existence and nature of ‘atmospheric rivers’ and the periodic nature of the intense rain and flooding had not been known, nor had it been recognized as a basic feature of the planet’s climate – the same thing happens along the west coasts of Europe, Africa and South America, and even in the Southeast – the flooding in Tennessee a few years back was caused by atmospheric rivers arising in the Gulf of Mexico.

But wait – that means that no climate models had these mechanisms incorporated in them. Seems a rather serious omission, like omitting ocean temperatures and cycles. Hard to see how meaningful and useful predictions can be made, lacking as the models did such a dramatic and important mechanism.

At about the same time, satellites carrying the new Special Sensor Microwave Imager were for the first time providing clear and complete observations of water-vapor distributions globally. The imagery showed that water vapor tended to concentrate in long, narrow, moving corridors that extend most often from the warm, moist air of the tropics into the drier, cooler regions outside the tropics. The tentacles appeared and then fell apart on timescales from days to a couple of weeks.

The above quote tells us that the technology needed to start to understand atmospheric rivers wasn’t in place until 1998 or so. But the article elsewhere also says (as required by law, it seems) that the epic storms they sometimes cause will become worse because of global warming. Um, didn’t we just say we’d not noted their existence until less than 20 years ago, and have not even had one cycle through to study them, and that we’re not exactly sure what makes them go? An inquiring mind might want to know how, in such a sparsely populated factual environment, we could even have a hint which way changes in global temperatures would affect atmospheric river formation and intensity. Ya know?

I’m expecting 2018 or 2019, tops, as The Year California Washes Out To Sea. Why, one might ask? Well, intense weather tends to travel in packs – having one really wet year increases, it seems, the likelihood of another. And we’re due. And if we’ve learned anything from this last election cycle, one should start panicking as soon as possible and not let the lack of any real evidence slow you down.

I’m getting more lemonade.

 

We Are Not Amused

Yesterday, for his 13 birthday, the spousal unit and I took the Caboose and 6 of his friends to an amusement park styling itself Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. The day was blustery and chilly (1), with a never-pulled-the-trigger threat of rain (2):

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Sunlight on some ride or other against that blustery sky.

This park is known, as are all of its kind these days, for bone-jarring, stomach-emptying and, perhaps, soul-searching level roller coasters which, by cosmic law, cannot be called roller coasters but must have epic, or at least pop-character tie-in, names: Medusa. Dare Devil. The Joker. Superman.

I did not ride any of those. Back in the day – you know, then – I grew up about as far from Disneyland as we now live from 6 Flags – about a 30 minute drive – back when E-ticket rides were E-ticket rides. (3) Back then, we’d climb off our domesticated mammoths, cinch up our saber-toothed tiger pelt togas and ride the Matterhorn with our 10 year old buddies till our eyeballs frozen in a fully open position. We’d take breaks to ride the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion once or twice – but that was about it. All other rides and attractions were stupid, in the cultivated consensus of informed 10 year old males. (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was incomprehensibly weird, LSD having not yet made it to the mean playgrounds of St. Mary’s of the Assumption in Whittier at that time. We never even talked about it.)

So, by age 13, I had already gotten in my minimum lifetime requirement of roller coaster rides. I feel no need to pad my total. (4)

img_3721The boys had a good time. Nobody threw up, but at least one kid owned up to having nearly had. Since he then turned down pizza for lunch, which risks violating the Geneva Convention for 13 year old boys, I believe him.

6 Flags is my beloved’s home park – she grew up about 30 minutes from it in the opposite direction, in Petaluma. Evidently, she did not get her lifetime recommended dosage at that time, so she rode a bunch. Out of a spirit of humoring the boys, and keeping a maternal eye on them, no doubt.

This particular park has a round about history. Per Wikipedia, it has been known as “Six Flags Marine World, Marine World, The New Marine World Theme Park, and Marine World Africa USA.” It was a zoo, of sorts, but one where you could ride the elephants and watch killer whales and tigers perform (not together – it wasn’t *that* good). They had a butterfly house (still do), a trick water-skiing show (long gone) and no rides. It was still in that state when we first took our kids there maybe 25 years ago. It has since evolved, I suppose.

I had mixed feeling about it. There were parts I really liked – the butterflies, the shark exhibit, the stingray tank where you could touch the stingrays – and parts I hated – the many animals that looked at best bored out of their minds if not terminally sad. Also, as I have speculated elsewhere, how do prey animals react to being kept for years mere feet away from their predators? Every little antelope is getting a snootful of lion scent every moment of every day for years on end. That can’t be good for peace of little animal minds.

Now the park is just a bunch of rides and arcades with a few animals attached – the boys watched the tiger show, I think because they needed a break after several hours of roller coasters. They took a minute to look at the dolphins as they walked past to get from one roller coaster to the next. I walked through the shark exhibit – a glass tunnel through a huge fish tank of sharks. Also watched a man in a kayak catch a bass the size of his forearm – in the little pond that used to be used for the trick water skiing show (who he was and how he got in there is a mystery – but that was one nice bass!). But otherwise animals got precious little attention.

We had fun. Crowds were very low on a blustery March day that looked like it was going to rain at any moment, making for short or no lines to even the best rides. We ‘only’ lost one ballcap and one car key (5) on the roller coasters – not too bad. And got out of there before the rain hit – 5 minutes before closing.

  1. For values of ‘chilly’ that include 58F. Hey, the wind was blowing and it California, where we pay extra in both money and soul-units (get a load of the tolerance thugs in  action yesterday in the People’s Republic of Berkeley?) to not have to put up with this chilly/rainy stuff. A sternly worded letter to somebody is called for! If I could figure out who.
  2. In an epic plot reversal, it drizzled a little till we got to the park, stopped cold, held off for 6 hours of ‘amusement’ – then let loose on the drive home. Got to be set-up, made-for-TV style: now comes the epic earthquake/fire/tsunami combo. Right?
  3. The trick, back c. 1968, was to have a buddy with a cop or fireman in the family, because then, in the off-season, Disneyland would run the occasional ‘Fireman’s Night’ or something promotion, and you’d get in at, say, 7:00 p.m. and have the park to yourself – no husbanding E tickets, just ride – until super late at night, like 10:00 or 11:00 even. Riding the Matterhorn 5-6 times in a row was completely doable, unlike in the summer, when you’d be looking at min. 20-30 minutes in line between rides.
  4. There was one timid boy in the bunch, who, as a courtesy, I did accompany on the Cobra, a coaster advertised as ‘Family Friendly’ – it was OK. It had none of that modern whippersnapper stuff like spiral loops that today’s desensitized youth demand. The Matterhorn – tall, dark and twisty – was all we, a sterner breed of boys, needed back in those more innocent times. The right hand side, of course.
  5. Of course, it had to be my son’s irreplaceable championship hat, which he got when his football team won the championship last year. And the ‘key’ was a Dodge keyless remote fob, which will only cost $250 (if we’re lucky) to replace, due to certain dealer monopoly practices that will strongly influence our future car buying decisions.

Don Falco Surveys His Realm

Middle Son got a picture of the hawk mentioned in the last post:

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In a larger context:

hawk

Note the bird boxes on poles. Also note the understandable lack of little birds, or, as the hawk might say, ‘fast food’.

While we were there, something stirred in the grass, and the hawk, possibly to show us that he don’t need no stinkin’ hit men, swooped. Like Whitey Bulger or Stalin, he may be in charge, but he’s perfectly willing to do his own killing when something needs killing.

It was majestic and brutal. Whatever the little creature might have been, it seemed to have gotten away – this time.  But the point was made.

Sensitive Habitat

1. Spent a few hours at Shollenberger Park in Petaluma yesterday, and stood for a moment contemplating:

sensitive-habitat
Within this sensitive habitat would occasionally land a large, not at all sensitive looking hawk, who would eye us with raptor-style disdain. He looked as if he were contemplating ripping my throat out. Hawks: Nature’s little mafia dons.

Was sore pressed by the urge to stand outside the Sensitive Habitat and issue subtle digs and insults at it, in a doomed but possibly amusing attempt to toughen it up a bit.

2. My thoughts were already inclined toward the contemplation of almost certainly pointless yet perhaps amusing activities by a curious first here at Yard Sale of the Mind: Some user at something called reddit linked to my last post as an example of Rage Culture. [correction: it’s evidently called Outrage Culture. It’s probably a thing. Not sure what the difference would be.]   The thoughts expressed in section 3, in case it’s not clear, are, in the opinion of the linker, the ravings of somebody in the grip of (presumably irrational) rage of a cultural nature. That I was in fact culturally enraged was averred by a number of marginally coherent and profanity laced comments, the writers of which were no doubt demonstrating how someone not at all enraged drops f-bombs and calls people names to model calm, open-minded and rational discussion.

Such gentle, brotherly rebukes were evidently called for to pour oil on the rage-enroiled waters of my soul, in order to save me from the egregious errors into which my obvious fury had flung me. For, in my cultural rage, I’d stated:

Another Orwellian euphemism in the service of modern education is ‘exposure’. The assumption is that if you don’t hand over your kids to the schools, they will somehow fail to be exposed to all the right stuff, and grow up with a narrow view of reality and thus be unable to realize their full potential. That if you let your young children pursue whatever interests them instead of micromanaging their every minute, they will grow up stunted. That if you don’t send them to school and act in loco schoolmasters and enforce all homework without question, you are a Bad Parent who has Ruined their own child.

But War is Peace. The actually effect of all the ‘exposure’ is that our kids are unlikely to ever hear a clear explication and vigorous defense of any position not held by their school masters. They are then trained to reject any other opinions out of hand – this is called ‘critical thinking’. The stunning willingness of people to embrace the most outrageous caricatures of those we disagree with increases with the level of education, so that a PhD pretty much immunizes the victim against ever entertaining an idea that they have not already accepted.

I must admit that I’d totally missed the rage evidently dripping from these observations. Within the context of this blog, I innocently thought them fairly pedestrian.  In fact, in my unenlightened state, I’d have thought the initial classification of my observations as the products of ‘rage culture’ and the subsequent 2-minute hate heaped upon them, kind of proved my point.

I suppose it’s flattering to think anyone would reference anything written on this humble blog as an example of anything, good or bad, except maybe as a cautionary tale of blogging itself. So, here’s a question for all 6 of my regular readers:  Do I go back to this reddit thing, find out how one joins or is allowed to comment, and then offer to my obvious moral and emotional, not to mention intellectual, superiors the opportunity to correct and inform me by directing me to the no doubt blindingly lucid and meticulously reasoned sources by which they, and millions like them, independently reached absolutely the same conclusions about just about everything that matters? I’m just certain they would welcome the opportunity to gently correct my errors! Or do I rather pour myself another cup of delicious Peet’s coffee (Holiday Blend), tuck into another piece of delicious leftover Christmas pie, and get back to working on the Novel That Shall Not Be Named? If that’s not too ragey…

3. 1st rough draft is up to 10 pages/3,100+ words. I’m like 2-3% done! All down hill from here! I’ve got the rough outlines of the main characters for Part 1 laid out, keeping in mind John C Wright’s advice to go ahead and use stereotypes, but use more than one per character, and don’t let them be boring. I’ve got the total hot-shot EV jock who is also a loving mom and wife; a genius engineer who is also a glory hound and elitist snob; a power hungry 2nd son whose manipulative mom is sending him off to the stars and so on.

I do have dozens of pages of references, links, snippets of stuff from the web that might bear on the science/tech.  But actual text, like the story itself? 3100 words, baby! At this rate, 1st draft in about 100 days. Wish me luck.

4. Finally, leaving the Shollenberger Park, saw another mildly baffling sign:

valuables

Oooo-kay. I’m imagining piles of valuables on the pavement next to the vehicle, but invisible! Or heaped up on a picnic table in such a way that no one can see them. Or – what? Do they mean ‘make sure nobody can see any valuables you leave in the car’? Because, that’s not what it says. In fact, that possibility is ruled out by the first imperative. I think the only thing we can be confident in is that, whatever we do with our valuables, we should not upset the sensitive habitat. Or the hawk may well rip our lungs out.

Earth Day: A History of Violins

Musing on this most holy of days:

1. People like a tidy planet. People like critters and trees, free-flowing rivers and streams, dolphin-filled seas and clear, starlit skies. Right after we’ve taken care of feeding, clothing and housing ourselves and fending off barbarian murderers, we humans tend – all evidence points to this, just look around – to tidy up, set areas aside and otherwise keep the planet in a pleasing state. This is not speculation – Earth Day itself is a result of this basic desire for a nice place to live.

Even strip miners, lumberjacks and petroleum engineers generally want their little corner of the planet to be nice, and so can understand other’s desire for a nice place to live, too. Often – you’ll be flabbergasted to hear this – they can be reasoned with. We do ask them to balance the desires of urban-dwelling iPhone-using Prius-driving sophisticates for the raw materials and cheap energy that make their low-fat latte, light foam lifestyles possible with their desire for nothing bad to ever happen to anything in Nature.

Unless of course the Bad Thing is the Circle of Life manifesting itself as baby caribou paralyzed by terror being disemboweled alive by wolves – something like that, it’s not often clear. And policies that will condemn Africans, say, to death by malaria or permanent energy-starved poverty are OK to our current betters in the name of saving the planet.  So clarity isn’t a strong suit of Earth Day participants in general.

So let us remember the earth, this day, a tiny jewel in the firmament, as meaningless as the life of a single amoeba, as pointless as the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, as doomed as the red giant which will eventually consume it – except for the souls of the billions of people who have lived, do live, and will live upon it. Long may its beauty and utility reign!

2. The chief form celebrating Earth Day takes is having members of a hemp-vested priesthood lead the faithful in Lamentations, and to entreat their collective omphalos for progressively  more dire prophecies of the Apocalypse.  Here are the predictions made at the 1st Earth Day back in 1970, via the Oracle Wikipedia:

  • Denis Hayes, the chief organizer for the first Earth Day, wrote, “It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
  • Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day, stated, “Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”
  • Peter Gunter, a professor at North Texas State University, stated, “… by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions…. By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
  • Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, predicted that between 1980 and 1989, 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would starve to death.
  • Life Magazine wrote, “… by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.”
  • Ecologist Kenneth Watt stated, “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
  • Watt also stated, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil.”

In accordance with this now-hoary tradition, we should expect sincere and possibly sweaty (1) panic mongers, knuckles white, to make any number of equally wrong and stupid predictions this year as well. Ice sheets melting, deserts spreading, sea levels rising, dogs and cats living together – that sort of thing.

The anti-Cassandra effect is in full force: these people will be believed no matter how wrong they have shown themselves to be in the past. No evidence to the contrary will ever sway those for whom the destruction of earth at human hands is their deepest religious belief, nor will any prediction of doom be judged too preposterous to promote as gospel.

3. Our youngest son is learning to play the violin. He recently got large enough to use a full-size violin. He is borrowing a violin I gave to his older sister back when she played. This violin I got from my father, who in turn got it from his father – the instrument is about 125 years old, a run of the mill fiddle made in France back when you could sell violins to lots of people.

When I had it worked on by John Jordan years ago, he told my daughter to never take it out of the country, because US Customs might not let her bring it back in. The tailpiece is made of tortoise shell – common enough a century ago, but trafficking in (possibly) protected species parts today. John had horror stories.

So now our diligent federal employees are protecting us and our French tortoise friends from the terror of little girls playing their great grandfather’s old violins. In the name of protecting the planet. Reminds me of the Gibson Guitars wood scandal of a few years back. Not that anything done to save Gaia from evil, evil humans could ever be motivated by anything other than unalloyed virtue…

4.  Just imagine how much more beautiful this scene was before a bunch of French villagers mucked it up with their quaint little farms and village:

french village

Or not. Maritain pointed out the beauty inherent in proper human activity – that, as beautiful as nature is in itself, adding beautiful works of man improves it. He used the example of a French farm – that French farmers took some care that their farms be beautiful. A natural scene was improved by adding an attractive French farm or village to it. (2)

To call nature “Unspoiled”, when that term is applied to part of the natural world merely lacking any evidence of the presence of humanity, is blasphemy.

We’re not “destroying the planet” when we turn it to our uses. Farms and cities and indeed all works that man makes in the course of being human are, in themselves, improvements and fulfillments of nature. Of course, we can do it badly, making ugly or ill-conceived things. But our very human drive as makers is part of our Nature, and part of our being the image of God, and thus exercising it glorifies and completes the natural world. This is what the natural world is for: to be the home to Man and our works. That is its purpose and glory .

 

  1. Or is that sweaty and possibly sincere?
  2. He was contrasting French farms with American farms, where the farmers often left huge piles of junk and trash right out in the open. He said he’d never seen such a thing growing up in France. (Wish I could remember where I read this – must be close to 30 years ago.)