A Psychological Aside

Once upon a time, I read way too much psychology (general conclusion: 98% claptrap), but one writer who impressed me (1) was fallen away Freudian Alice Miller. Her basic argument was that the instinct to belong and to learn the ropes are so strong – it’s a life or death issue for children – that abused kids 1) believe whatever they need to believe in order to have a place in the ‘family’ and 2) will incorporate the behaviors they observe and suffer under into their view of themselves and the world. Result: excuses get perpetuated, and abuse gets passed on from generation to generation.

Related image
Alice Miller

What I like about this argument is that it’s fundamentally Darwinian: we’re not asked to believe based on ‘insights’ available only to the enlightened, we are asked to consider a child’s environment from an evolutionary/survival perspective. What have human children had to do to survive to reproduce? They need to stay joined to the family/tribe that assures their survival. They’re dead if they don’t. They need to find mates and raise children themselves or they’re out of the gene pool. The tribe (broadly considered) is where they’ll do those things, if they do them.

Now we reach the modern age, where simple survival is so easy that almost any amount of crazy behavior doesn’t get one killed. Parents used to need to take great care that their children would not only survive to adulthood, but had a place in the tribe once they did – otherwise, they lose the survival game one step removed, when their offspring fail to produce offspring.  We all come from a long line of successful reproducers.

Raised, as one woman I know was, by a single mom with 4 siblings each by different fathers? She has a baby, who is very likely to survive. Raised by the crazy grandmother who raised your even crazier mom? Still on the market. Cast aside like garbage when mom decides she’s tired of dad, and then given an ultimatum: actively approve of mom’s actions if you want to have any relationship with her? Done! And these are comparatively minor issues, almost beneath the notice of the properly conditioned modern mind. The bar keeps getting lower. The more serious abusers – Marion Zimmer Bradley, for example – are having their behavior normalized. Miller would have predicted this.

The scary part, according to Miller: these kids are very likely to repeat exactly what was done to them, because that’s what they absorbed as children! To do otherwise is to break the treaty, to reopen the wounds. Besides, what else would they do? What other behavior do they know? Thus, children left with relatives who molested them are very likely to leave their own children with relatives who will molest them; children molested by parents are likely to molest their children. Sadly, I have personally seen this type of behavior.

This is not rational – not something people understand and decide to do – but is rather the result of seeing no other option – if, in fact, the behavior even rises to a conscious level. Miller says that, in her experience, the presence of some sympathetic witness is key. If somebody at some point is able to let the kid know that this is not normal nor acceptable, that the kid is not crazy or evil, then the likelihood of resistance and recovery is greatly increased.(2) Other than that, we hope and pray for a miracle of healing.

All of these horror stories have introduced a line of reasoning which,  when applied in general and to less traumatic situations, leads to and converges with a lot of what’s going on in the world. Here’s a brief list of topics where I think Miller’s logic is enlightening:

  • The tribalism of American politics. The level of vehemence is pre-rational. Rare is the person, it seems, whose political positions are based on anything other than tribal allegiance, which is instilled in the cradle.
  • Stockholm Syndrome. You believe what you need to believe to survive and belong.
  • Public Schooling. Defended on purely theoretical grounds, even when real-world criticism is acknowledged. It’s one thing to admit mommy and daddy have flaws, another entirely to suggest we get rid of them. Thus, public schooling is routinely admitted to be a disaster AND something we must enthusiastically support. To admit it is merely an abusive system of control would be to question our own place in the tribe.
  • Attacks on marriage. What could be more hurtful (and a greater cause of painful cognitive dissonance) than to insist that marriage is between a man and a woman for the sake of children and culture, when we all know it’s just an arrangement of convenience for any number of more or less serial mommies and daddies?

When I write about school, politics, and culture, Alice Miller’s analysis is always there, more or less in the background.

  1. My main problem with Miller is that she had not fallen away enough from Freud. She realized that his theorizing was wild overreach, but often failed to stop herself from doing the same sort of stuff. She did an entire book where she applied her modified form of psychoanalysis on a bunch of dead people – you know, based on their writings or art and other people’s biographies. Iffy, to put it mildly.
  2. I wonder if a particularly resilient and intelligent child couldn’t find his sympathetic witness through reading? Seems possible.

Cats and Gender

Once again, slipped up and clicked some bait, and watched a little video about some wild cats found in a Russian barn. (1) Turns out they were not the little feral kittens the barn’s owner first thought they were, but were rather Pallas’s cats, a fairly rare and people-avoiding wild species. Flatter faces, shorter, rounder ears, stockier build – and a very anti-social attitude, as far as hanging out with people go.

The kittens were really small when discovered. Soft-hearted animal shelter people took them in and found some lactating housecats to nurse them. They grew, after the manner of their kind.

After only a month, the little hellcats were looking to kill things – they wanted meat, not milk. So they were fed meat. The only person who could safely approach them was the staff member who had cared for them since they’d been brought in. Anyone else who got close enough got scratched and bitten.

Image result for russian wild cat
Picture credit. Note the ‘I would kill and eat you if I could’ expression on its face, an expression only found on domesticated cats maybe 50% of their waking hours.

Two of them caught some feline disease and died young.  The other two grew to near full size. This is where the story gets weird, at least to me: by now, some biologists are involved. They throw radio collars on the two young cats and let them loose in the wild.

OK – so here’s the nature/nurture thing: clearly, it is the nature of cats such as these to live far from people and hunt food in the wild. So far, so good. But as sophisticated, intelligent mammals, their raw instincts – hunt and kill food – are shaped into a useful form by their mothers. They have the claws and teeth; they have the instincts to use them – but on what, in this particular environment? How do you find prey? How do you stalk and kill it? Not prey in general, but what’s available in your neck of the woods? They won’t know this unless their mother shows them – a behavior found in many different species of cat.

Lions, tigers, jaguars on down to tiny little cats each get taught not how to hunt in general, but how to hunt what’s available to be hunted. Lions learn to cooperate; tigers how to go it alone. Some jaguars hunt mostly capybaras; others mostly caiman. Some hunt turtles. Some mix it all up – depends on what’s available in your neighborhood. It’s a much different approach, hunting caiman – stalk, swim, ambush or spring, avoid getting killed yourself – than turtles (the shells of which jaguar teeth can pierce – yikes!).  Some prides of lions hunt warthogs and zebras, some hunt baby elephants; some ambush hunt near watering holes, some out on the plains; some mix it up, some stick to a specialty. All learn the basics from mom.

For sophisticated animals like cats, many key instincts are general, and need a lot of formation in the particular context the animals find themselves in to be useful. Mom takes care of that while raising them. She is infinitely qualified, as she has obviously survived to breeding age in exactly that environment.

After a few weeks, the starving wildcats were so thin that their radio collars fell off.  The biologists were nonetheless able to find them (see a problem here?) and bring them in and nurse them back to health. The little clickbait video ended by saying the new plan was to wait until a more opportune time, when prey was most plentiful, and to try the release again.

I’m going: why don’t you just shoot them, then? The possibility that they’ll successfully compete with the other cats and predators in their environment so that they survive the 18 -24 months or so that wild cats tend to live is pretty slim; that they will in turn know enough to avoid their own predators is likewise slim. Better to put them in a zoo or at least keep them caged and fed. They’re almost certainly not going to make it in the wild.

This got me to thinking about human beings, who, on the merely material level, are the most sophisticated and intelligent animals on the planet, current politics notwithstanding. We have a much more complicated set of skills to learn than cats, so complicated that we need around 15 years of childhood to learn them. Like cats, we learn largely from our mothers, at least in infancy, then, as the environments in which we hope to live in long enough to reproduce contain many people in many complex and varied relationships, we need years of Dad and uncles and aunts and siblings and friends and neighbors and cousins and so on to get the hang of surviving in the particular environment we find ourselves in.  Continue reading “Cats and Gender”

The Disaster of Success

(WordPress has decided I published this when I began writing it, which put it out of sequence, so I’m pinning it for a while.  Ah, the mystery of free blogging services!)

There’s much to be loathed and feared and fought against in the modern world, for sure, but the fact remains: in general and on a material level, things have never been better and keep getting better.  That this is treated as a disaster by some we’ll get to in a minute.

This overall material improvement, where there are now more people living better lives in safer places – and taking less of a toll per capita, and often even on a gross basis, on their environments – than ever before is the single biggest fact of modern life. It’s far from perfect, and it isn’t ‘fair’ by all definitions of fair (and wouldn’t it be nice if someone, *anyone* would propose a working definition of fair that is anything other than a stick to beat enemies with?).  But is it better? Oh, yea:

  • Infant mortality is down from up to 40% 200 years ago to low single digits now almost everywhere.

    infant mortality
    European Infant Mortality, selected countries, from THE DECLINE OF INFANT MORTALITY IN EUROPE, 1800-1950: FOUR NATIONAL CASE STUDIES p. 60. The y-axis scaling makes the drop look less dramatic than it is – from around 45% to around 6%
  • Where there is not war nor political unrest, there is not famine – this has changed radically over the last century. 100 years ago, in most of the world, famine could strike any year even where peace prevailed. Now? The world is so awash in food that any mere local problem can be and is readily addressed – if the political situation is stable enough to allow it.
famine
From Drought doesn’t cause famine. People do. 
  • There are fewer wars going on now than at almost any time in history. A lower percentage of people die in war now than ever before.
A History of Violence: Edge Master Class 2011, Steven Pinker. There are lots of charts and graphs out there showing this overall decline.  “Violence has been in decline over long stretches of time,” says Harvard professor Steven Pinker, “and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”
  • The Amazon rainforest, to pick a poster-child for ecological destruction, is now growing back at about the same rate it is being cut down – no net loss of forest. If current trends continue, we’ll soon have increasing rainforests, not decreasing.

At least 20 percent land deforested in the Brazilian Amazon is regrowing forest, reports Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

its target of reducing emissions from deforestation 70 percent from a 1996-2005 baseline by 2018.

While the findings are a hopeful sign that the Amazon can recover from deforestation, it will take decades for regrowing forest to store as much carbon and house as much biodiversity as the original forest prior to clearing.

(from: 20% of land deforested in the Brazilian Amazon is regrowing forest  Since over 80% of the forest that was there in 1970 is still there, this would be about 4% growing back – the average losses are in range of 0.1 – 0.2%. There was no indication that these loss numbers were net. BTW: I’m trying to pick as completely non-controversial (to environmental activists) sources as possible here. No endorsement of implicit policies is to be inferred.)

  • In peaceful, prosperous countries (like ours) there’s more reforestation going on than deforestation. Vast tracts of marginal farmland – New England, for example – have returned to forest.
US forestation
From Google’s Forest Map. Note the heavy forestation from Maine to Delaware – areas that were heavily farmed 200 years ago. Also note the violet area across the southeast – there’s a ton tree farming done there, so we see “loss and gain”. Up in Canada, forests are being cut down – and there’s a lot of blue, where they’re growing back.
  • The number of blue whales is increasing, and has been for 30+ years;  there are probably twice as many polar bears now than there were 50 years ago.
Image result for blue whales population graph
Totally down with taking care of the wildlife, but we need to recognize what we do right as well as what we do wrong.  Whales & polar bears – we’re doing it right.

Off the top of my head. And so on and so forth. As we work out the implications of well-understood basic tech, like sewage treatment and water purification, power generation, and modern farming, things tend strongly to get better for more and more people. I’ve often suspected that if the money spent on iffy green projects had instead been spent on providing basic sanitation, power and food to poorer countries, we’d be far safer and better off as a species. People who have food to eat, clean water to drink and a place to charge their mobile phones are much, much less likely to want to go kill other people. Not a perfect correlation, but still.

Can it all come crashing down in a human-caused apocalypse of one kind or another? Sure, that’s always on the table, although, as touched lightly upon here and as is evident across popular culture, it seems people are fixated on only a small number of frankly unlikely disaster scenarios while ignoring the very real examples history has given us.

It’s never, it seems, an end times scenario based on the French Revolution, where a Reign of Terror is instituted by a group of maniacs calling themselves The Committee for Public Safety. Maniacs who, in the name of Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood and Atheism slaughtered at least several hundred thousand of their unarmed fellow citizens (before they started in killing each other – take note, you who would have violence!). The peace-loving French revolutionaries also started or fanned the flames of numerous wars.

Nor is it based on the real horrors of  the Soviet Union, China, Cuba or, now, Venezuela. Nope,  it’s usually a totalitarian theocracy we must worry about – and not the ones History has shown. There’s basically no chance of a Christian theocratic dictatorship, if such a thing were to arise, getting anywhere near the levels of terror the French, Russian or Chinese revolutions – at least, not based on reality, on what actually has happened. What has actually happened is that evangelical atheists, such as the French revolutionaries, the Commies,  and the Nazis, have seen it as their sacred duty to improve humanity by slaughtering millions of its members.

If you want religiously-motivated slaughter, Islam is the prime example. When government and religion are one – Sharia law, folks – and the religion promotes conversion-by-conquest – you’re going to get government-sponsored religiously motivated slaughter. This is true even where the leaders are not religious fanatics themselves – they, like all historical leaders,  will use whatever stick is handy that they think they can get away with using.  (Islamic conquest of the West began in 634 A.D., and has only taken occasional breaks since. It was not caused by Western Imperialism.)

One might think, if one had perhaps grown up in a world lit by the dolorous rays of a distant red sun, that all this good news would cheer people up. Ha, and again I say, ha! Instead, we can’t see anything good that isn’t dwarfed by the EEEEVIL lurking everywhere, like we’re randy teenagers in the second half of a horror movie. (1)

This inability to see good is a carefully-cultivated sign of refinement. We are carefully trained to accept certain content-free Newspeak phrases, phrases that can be used as both points of dogma and convenient shibboleths. Proper application of such phrases ensures that no improvement can be seen, let alone acknowledged and embraced. Expressing any doubts or reservations about, say, gay rights, microagressions, global warming, the virtues of green energy or that women are underpaid relative to men places one beyond the pale. These and many similar ideas are free of any intelligible content, or so nearly so that whatever the original ideas they were trying to capture have long since receded into the distance, and thus the slogans or catch phrases are empty containers to be filled with emotions and outrage.

The mere idea that anyone would challenge any of these ideas on the basis that they make no sense is an act of intolerable aggression, a rejection of the feelings that make people who they are. The overthrow of thought by feelings – we no longer say we think such and such, but rather that we feel the answer to the math question is 42 – being, of course, one of these ideas. It no longer matters what anyone thinks I am (even who I think I am!) but rather who I feel I am is conclusive. The nonsense that results from this irrationality is yet another thing filtered out from consideration.

Having reality defined by what we feel it is is a very useful state for a certain ambitious type of person. If fear, dread and outrage can be poured into the empty verbal shells, and people lead to feel those emotions are right –  emotions are always right. or at any rate sacred and unchallengable – then large  numbers of people can be lead about, either because they feel the truth of the emotional content, or merely fear being cast out of the cool kids’ club. Those, like the utterly loathsome Rahm Emanuel, who won’t ever let a crisis go to waste even if they have to make crises up for the purpose of not wasting them, will do their best to make sure we stay properly terrified and desperate.

Gramsci noticed way back that Italian workers and peasants really weren’t all that keen on revolting as long as they found comfort in families, church and village. Your typical Italian – your typical human being, frankly – is pretty much OK if he’s got family and friends, a roof over his head and enough good food to eat. He will tend to love the Church, which reinforces and supports these things, or at least not want to burn it down.

But a Marxist is sure such a one should be miserable, and is, in fact, miserable but just doesn’t know it. The pain and outrage a peasant might experience when, say, Spanish Marxists launch a campaign of assassination against his bishops and priests is like the pain of bright light to those who dwelt in darkness. That peasant would be pleased, heck, he’d join right in, if only he was looking at the world the right way!

Thus, Marxists believe dogmatically that people are miserable, or should be. They will support any position that increases fear and unhappiness. They may themselves believe these positions – that we’re destroying the planet, that misery is always the result of oppression, that all institutions that are not actively trying to overthrow the system are tools of control, and so on – but it hardly matters. They, and the many useful idiots and their victims will act as if it’s all true because the feelings such panic generates are the right feelings: one should be miserable! You are either an evil oppressor, the victim of oppression, or both – any way you slice it, misery is your just lot! What kind of a jerk could ever be happy is such a world! It’s infuriating!

All the good news must either be a lie, or irrelevant, or a tool of oppression. If things are getting better, if more and more people have every material thing they need to be happy, that would destroy everything such people have made themselves believe. The mere possibility of such a disaster must not be allowed to enter one’s mind.

There is plenty wrong with the world. By focusing on imaginary threats and ignoring real improvements, we reduce our opportunities to do anything anything about real, concrete problems.

  1. Or so I’ve heard. Never watched horror movies much – history and the news fulfill my daily required dose of horror.
  2. From Wikipedia: “Gramsci is best known for his theory of cultural hegemony, which describes how the state and ruling capitalist class – the bourgeoisie – use cultural institutions to maintain power in capitalist societies. The bourgeoisie in Gramsci’s view develops a hegemonic culture using ideology rather than violence, economic force, or coercion. Hegemonic culture propagates its own values and norms so that they become the “common sense” values of all and thus maintain the status quo. Hegemonic power is therefore used to maintain consent to the capitalist order, rather than coercive power using force to maintain order. This cultural hegemony is produced and reproduced by the dominant class through the institutions that form the superstructure.” Translation: Capitalists aren’t actually oppressing people, at least not to such a degree that people would much notice. Instead, they inflict evil institutions on them, such as family and church, participation in which often makes the peasants and workers fairly happy and thus less likely to want to throw off their chains. The poor fools think being happy is desirable, and find extended families and the church (which tend strongly to blend into and support each other) conducive. A good forward thinking Marxist (and how good a Marxist can you be if you’re not thinking way, way into the misty and fantastic yet somehow certain future?) will thus concern himself with the destruction of family and church and any other social institutions that tend to make people happy, in order to make people miserable enough that even Communism starts to look attractive. You destroy the village in order to save it.

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:

IMG_3826

IMG_3824

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):

img_3724
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.