Iceland Volcano News – as Covered by Mondrian:

A volcano is erupting in Iceland, and has been erupting since my birthday back in March. At least two 24/7 live camera setups have been deployed to help us watch from the safety of our laptops. This one seems to be run by Mondrian:

From his little known Gray Period. It does get cloudy and foggy in Iceland, even if, this time of year, it is rarely dark. I didn’t manage to capture an active eruption in the fog, which is very cool: same Mondrian style image, except exploring a bit of an orange color scheme.

When it’s clear and the volcano is active, looks more like this:

This is from a local who just hikes up and shoots video. From here.
Same guy

Anyway, as I quipped: The Great Icelandic Traps: the Early Years. 5 months in, and the volcano seems to be pacing itself: crazy-dramatic eruptions, with rivers of lava flowing into the valleys, punctuate long periods of not much.

This sort of eruption may go on for years. This particular volcano hasn’t seen any eruptions for about 6,000 years. Iceland in general is hardly ever without at least one eruption somewhere.

UPDATE: Fog lifted, volcano got busy:

Another set of cameras

What’s Shakin’ Update: the World is Not Ending Quite Yet.

Yesterday, we had a non-trivial 6.0 earthquake over near the Nevada border, in a thankfully very thinly populated area, as discussed here. Nobody was hurt, and I’ve heard of no significant property damage. My question: it seemed to me that the number and intensity of the aftershocks was higher than usual. Was I simply succumbing to recently bias, forgetting how previous aftershock maps looked? The USGS does aftershock forecasts for most 5.0 or larger earthquakes. Here’s their forecast for yesterday’s quake.

Not exactly:

According to our forecast, over the next 1 Week there is a 3 % chance of one or more aftershocks that are larger than magnitude 6.0. It is likely that there will be smaller earthquakes over the next 1 Week, with 10 to 53 magnitude 3 or higher aftershocks. Magnitude 3 and above are large enough to be felt near the epicenter. The number of aftershocks will drop off over time, but a large aftershock can increase the numbers again, temporarily.

from the forecast linked to above

Just counted them up: there have been 41 magnitude 3 or higher aftershocks within 20 hours of the quake, way over the lower threshold and nearing the upper threshold for the week’s worth of forecasted activity. Unless this thing calms down a lot pretty quickly, it’s going to push significantly past those numbers. There have been 136 2.5 or higher aftershocks so far, including 13 in the last 4 hours. So, slowing, but still pretty active. (SEE UPDATE BELOW- I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND THIS CORRECTLY)

Is this anything to worry about? Nope, at least, no more than usual. Predicting earthquakes is still very much a very broad and inaccurate proposition. Predict a major quake in California sometimes over the next century? Pretty safe bet, especially since you won’t live long enough to face the consequences of getting it wrong. Anything much shorter than that? Seems likely, based on prior experiences, but, like the brokers say: past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Very confusing. The quake is referred to as the Antelope Valley Quake, but 99% of Californians who have heard of Antelope Valley will think, first, of the city of Antelope Valley on the outskirts of L.A., not the thinly-populated area up on the Nevada border. And then this map puts the marker in Nevada, when I’m pretty sure most of the valley is in California…

Maybe, inch by inch over the next 100 million years, much of California will fall into the ocean, in the sense of becoming something like an island. This is assuming the whole eastern slope of the Sierra thing is where the real action is. The San Andreas Fault is where costal California from just south of San Francisco all the way down to the Sea of Cortez is moving north relative to the rest of the state. If this continues (no guarantees, remember) L.A. will end up a suburb of S.F. well within 100 million years. Doesn’t seem to be any falling onto the ocean action there.

On the other hand, the relatively new Sierra Nevada range, only about 10 million years old, was pushed up (they say) by a process of rising magma along its current eastern edge, thinning and lightening a huge block of granite crust, which then ascended to its present great height. The western edge is like the base of a pivot, as if a gigantic 40,000 foot thick granite table had been lifted along the eastern edge – which is pretty much what happened. Along the western edge, the slope if fairly gentle, except where glaciers carved it up, most famously in Yosemite:

Tunnel View, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite NP - Diliff.jpg
It’s even more beautiful and impressive in person.

On the eastern edge, it’s crazy-steep. It’s even more extreme that it appears, because the terrain at the base is something like 5,000′ high, so you only see an 8,000 foot change in elevation, while you get the full 14,000 ascending from the west.

Mt. Whitney, at 14,505 feet, viewed from the east. The eastern slopes tend toward dramatic, often jagged, drop offs. Driving to lake Tahoe, for example, one gets about an hour to enjoy the gradual climb, with rivers and forests. Descending from Tahoe into Nevada, it’s like dropping off a cliff into a desert.

Back to earthquakes: the Sierra is still rising. Hot magma is still there under the surface along the eastern slope. The crust has been shattered from east of Bakersfield up to north of Tahoe, with historically huge quakes – an estimated 7.9 back in 1872, in Owen’s Valley, where the valley floor dropped 20′ and a new 86 acre lake was formed – occurring with geologic regularity along dozens of faults.

And then there’s the Long Valley Caldera, formed during what would now be a civilization-ending volcanic explosion 760,000 years ago. Geologist don’t think that is likely to happen again, but my confidence in that prediction is tempered by geologist not having much of an idea for how the volcanism in the area happened in the first place.

Anyway: doesn’t seem this earthquake portends the End Times. I have mixed feeling about this, as, on the one hand, I haven’t gotten this year’s apricot crop in yet. Among other unfinished business. On the other hand, I’m ready to see this clown show end.

P.S.: another 7 2.5 or better aftershocks hit while I was typing this up, including another 3.0. So there is that…

UPDATE: The USGS forecast is – odd. The ‘over the next 1 week’ part is not over the week following the earthquake, but rather over the week following the forecast publication date and time. The forecast is updated regularly. This means that the total I was counting up, from the earthquake to now, does not tie in any way to the forecast numbers. The forecast is forward looking as of roughly now, and is useless for any historical comparisons. I guess that makes sense for a public-facing document, where people might go (layers deep into a government website – yeah, that’s where everybody’s granny is going for her info…) just to see if they should expect to feel anymore earthquakes (3.0 being the smallest earthquake anyone can feel under anything less than ideal circumstances.)

So, to whine a bit: here we are, at the nadir of public understanding of science in the West since maybe 900 AD (not kidding), and a page very narrowly useful, and to only a very small subset of people, is located somewhere where only very curious and somewhat search-savvy people can find it. How’s that supposed to work to anyone’s benefit? Now, while my proposed use of the data is, if anything, even more obscure, at least it’s conceptually simple. That any significant number of people would be interested in the data as presented beyond the blanket reassurance provided by the super-high-level summary – there will probably be some small quakes over the next week or so, gradually tapering off. The chances of another bigger quake are small- requires a faith in the curiosity of the American public that is not seen in reality.

What’s Shakin? Earthquakes, That’s What

Check this out:

USGS Map This is a very sparsely populated area between Mono Lake and Lake Tahoe right along the Nevada border.

25 earthquakes between 2.5 and 5.9 on the Richter Scale, all in about 90 minutes starting at 3:49 PDT today. And they keep coming – there were 2 more as I typed this,

We’re maybe 200 miles away, but I felt the first one – 5.9 – and so checked the USGS Map linked to above, as I habitually do in such cases.

This area, the backside of the Sierra Nevada range, is geologically interesting. 700,000 years ago, a giant volcanic eruption left a 20 x 10 mile caldera. The San Andreas fault system get the press, for the very good reason that much of its course lies under or near heavily populated areas. But there is also a lot of geologic activity along the eastern Sierra Nevada, a very sparsely populated area.

don’t know what, if anything, is up, but I’ll keep y’all posted. We’re up to *30* earthquakes of 2.5 or greater in the time it took me to write this post. Very unusual.

Growing Things

Keeping it positive for Easter Week.

Last year, my wife came into a good supply of iris rhizomes. She planted them in several locations around the house. Some are right behind the brick ‘bench’ in the front yard.

The flowers have bloomed here and along the brick planter along the street in their dozens just the last day or two. We are having people over for pizza this Saturday, so at least the front yard should be glorious with flowers.

The other planted things – tomatoes, potatoes, basil, beans, okra, blueberries – are also growing/breaking through the soil. Fruit trees look very promising, especially the apricots and figs.

In a similar way, the family is growing. Married off Elder Daughter last May, marrying off Middle Son this May. Younger Daughter, who is a pro-level baker, decided to test out one of *three* different cake flavors her older brother requested for her to make for his wedding cake.

Note: it not only did not seem excessive to ask the little sister, who is maid of honor, to also bake the wedding cake, it seemed OK to specify 3 different exotic flavors, one for each of the 3 layers. Younger Daughter then decides she needs to test out the recipes – which she is making up as she goes – and so for Easter bakes up a lavender/Earl Grey/lemon? (something like that) cake:

Sprigs of lavender from our front yard, candied some lemon slices – no biggie! It was killer delicious.

She wants to do this. She’s flying out early to bake back east.

Kids these days. At least, she’s not making the wedding dresses – she could do that, too. Both daughters could, if they wanted.

Added a son-in-law last year; adding a daughter-in-law in two months. Grandchildren are the next logical step. Praise be to God! We are truly blessed.

In Further Praise of Gilgamesh

Read this ancient epic with a bunch of 8th graders, in a slightly scrubbed version as discussed here. We read the first half 2 weeks ago, and the second half last week.

Gilgamesh, Enkidu, lions, and some cuneiform text.. Or so I’m told by Wikipedia.

I had to share with these very bright kids the wisdom of one Robert Bart, a tutor (professor) at St. John’s College: Great books are not children’s books. He was saying this to a bunch of 18 year olds (I being one at the time. Printing had been invented, just barely). I have been fortunate enough to have had the chance to reread much of the Great Books in the intervening years, and can confirm: while you have to start somewhere, there’s a reason Aristotle recommended (but, of course, did not follow) that one delays the study of philosophy until age 50. Same goes for epics and classics of all sorts. Get a lifetime under your belt, and the Odyssey, Oedipus Rex, the Book of Job, Dante, and all the others are a LOT different experience.

The kids were universally disappointed with the way Gilgamesh ended. I tried to tell them that, at +/- 13 years old, grasping how life looks to an old man is going to be – difficult. I, on the other hand, was almost brought to tears.

Both the solemnity and wackiness of the adventures are taken up several notches after Enkidu dies on Tablet 5. The mythic pair of wild man (Enkidu) and over-civilized man (Gilgamesh) took on classic forces of nature and heaven, defeating the monster guarding the forest with the help of the gods, then killing the Bull of Heaven sent as vengeance. The pair shook, as it were, a manly and even kingly fist at the eternal forces – and so had to pay the price. The wild man loves civilization, but must die for city living to continue. The civilized man has lost what he most loved, that aspect of manhood that provided the test and vigor to his life. After inordinate morning – the body of Enkidu is allowed to corrupt well past its bury-by date so that Gilgamesh can mourn over it -he is willing to abandon the city so as not to suffer the same fate as his friend. He seeks the secret of immortality from the one man – Babylonian Noah, Utnapishtim – to whom the gods have granted it. He lives now forever on the other side of the Waters of Death.

On his journey, he confronts nature at its wildest and most beautiful – a pride of lions – and slays them all, and wears a skin as a cloak. The skin of the king of beasts merely hides a civilized man trying to escape, without passing on to him any of Nature’s native power or glory.

He must pass through darkness, after getting past the scorpion men, a bizarre human/creature blend who bar his way at first, then let him pass. Twelve leagues of the deepest darkness later, he passes through the Garden of the Gods.

When he reaches the coast, the theme of women/bread/wine as the gateway to civilization first encountered with the literal seduction of Enkidu by Shamhat followed by the wild man’s introduction to the signature victuals of civilization – fruit of the earth and vine, the work of human hands. Gilgamesh, however, does not encounter the beautiful and brave temple prostitute, but rather a giant barmaid – Siduri, who flees from the wasted wreck that mourning and hardship have made of Gilgamesh. She eventually warms to him, serves him some very civilized food – and tells him to give up on seeking immortality, and instead seize the day. He should return home, get married, and raise some kids.

Unlike Enkidu, Gilgamesh doesn’t need the comfort of women to civilize him, but rather their wisdom. Which he promptly rejects. He wants to know how to get across the Waters of Death. He’s passing out through the gateway of civilization – wine, women, and song, as it were – and into the afterlife, or at least trying to.

Siduri directs him to the Sumerian Charon, Urshanabi the Ferryman. Gilgamesh finds him painting his boat on the shore, and attacks the ferry, as if it needed to be defeated.

The boat is death, it is what happens to souls at the end of life. By attacking and damaging the boat, he makes his quest to cross over the Waters of Death much more difficult. Gilgamesh has destroyed the magic that guides and propels the soul from this life to eternity.

After crossing the Waters of Death to Paradise Shore, Gilgamesh meets Utnapishtim and his wife, who are languid: what’s the hurry when one gets to live forever? He tells our hero he gained immortality after saving creation from the great flood. The creator god Enlil found people too noisy, and decided to drown them and all creatures right out. Through the machinations of a lesser god, Utnapishtim is instructed to turn his house into a huge square ark and thus saves creation. Eternal life is his (and his wife’s) reward. He repeats the advise Gilgamesh has repeatedly received on his journey: accept your mortal lot, go get married and father some children.

There’s an adventure where Gilgamesh retrieves and then loses a seaweed that grants youth to 100 o0ld men, but that’s a lost consolation prize. The message to him from beings natural, unnatural, and supernatural remains: it is your lot to die. Do great and memorable things, marry and father children – that’s the best you can do.

Gilgamesh returns to Uruk a different man. He finds the people have done just fine without him, and realizes their dread of his wars and building projects. He softens some. He does marry, and his first child completes his transformation into a truly civilized man.

A great story. A perfect example of what I was trying to get across to the kids: myths are how a people explain the world and themselves to themselves. The Sumerians had carved out a handful of towns and cities in a land that could be both generous and harsh. Nature could and routinely did wipe out what they had so painstakingly built, flooding and washing away their farms and villages. Further, they were surrounded by wilder peoples who wanted what they had. Finally, death was always there, ready to take you without warning.

Gilgamesh must deal with all these issues, and answer what it is that makes a man civilized.

(Aside: as long as I can remember, I’ve pronounced – in my head, because who says such words aloud? – ‘cuneiform’ “CUE-neh-form.” Now I hear, on some of the videos I’ve watched prepping for this class, ‘coo-NAY-eh-form’. To MAY to, to MAH to. I think I like my way better, but, while I sometimes argue (tongue in cheek, mostly) for multiple orthodox orthographies, using Chaucer as my hero, not sure I want to do the same for pronunciation. Communication being the goal and all.)

In Praise of Gilgamesh

Sure I read this epic way back, but only vaguely remembered it. Today, with my 8th graders, we read the first half of it in conjunction with our studying of Sumer and the succeeding cultures. At the suggestion of the two moms who make up the curriculum committee, we used a version slightly cleaned up for younger readers – Gilgamesh the Hero – where Shamhat merely kisses and caresses Enkidu, and untangles the knots in his (body covering) hair – not the 6 days and 7 nights of lovemaking described in the original(s). Also skates around the whole issue of Gilgamesh’s use of the young women of Uruk, which figures in the sources as a complaint of the people against him.

But not too far off the sources. Since we’re reading translations from languages and cultures distant from us in more than just time, anything is going to be somewhat of an interpretation. It was sufficient.

What struck me this time, after we had just begun studying Sumer, is how perfectly the epic illustrates what I’ve been telling the kids about the fundamental role of mythology: myths are the stories we tell to explain the world and ourselves to ourselves. Consider:

Gilgamesh the historical figure traces back to the original 7 cities of Sumer, around 3200 BC. They were surrounded by Nature in its less cuddly forms.

Enkidu might as well have been an Akkadian: one of the wild men who lived on the borders of Sumer, who built cities of their own in imitation, and conquered it – and were in turn conquered by its culture. It was one of those very common cases in history where less civilized peoples conquer a higher civilization, but then, in turn, absorb and are conquers by it. When the Akkadian empire reverted to the control of Sumerians, did anybody much notice?

Shamhat is the bravest character in the story, sitting naked and beckoning to Enkidu, then ‘civilizing’ him through lots of sex and sympathy (our version emphasized the sympathy, of course -and the two things – sex and sympathy – might not have been all that different in the minds of Sumerians).

Then Nature and barbarism – the two things Sumer knew from experience to fear – embodied by Enkidu, fight the cruelty of of Gilgamesh, who is the corrupted civilized man. Gilgamesh is without any sympathy -he takes the young men of Uruk and spends them like arrows from his quiver, and uses the young women without remorse. But the newly civilized and sympathetic Enkidu – raised to that state by the concubine/temple prostitute Shamhat – fights him to a standoff, and becomes his first and best friend. Their epic tussle destroys much of Uruk, which seems to get reconstructed off screen – at least, it is there to be largely destroyed again by the Bull of Heaven a few tablets later.

So the civilized man by birth, becoming friends with the recently civilized wild man, tempers his excesses, even if unconsciously. The people rejoice because, enraptured by his new friendship, Gilgamesh lays off the wars and rape that have so drained his subjects.

Sumer was built of three materials: mud bricks – very common; fired bricks – less common; and stone – imported at great expense. The locally available timber was meagre, and hardly suited to major projects. So the epic takes our hero and his new friend over to what later becomes known as Lebanon, where suitably epic cedars grow.

With the help of the sun god, they defeat the monstrous spirit who guards the forest. They then chop down the largest tree in the forest, to be used to make city gates for Uruk, and a temple for the sun god. Again, what is more important to or symbolic of an ancient Sumerian city than its walls and gates? Nature is not conquered so much as civilized in an almost comically literal sense.

And so on. We only covered the first half of the story this week, saving the second half for next. All this is very much in keeping with the actual history of Sumer and its surrounding peoples. I imagine it as a Sumerian bedtime story, the sort of tale every kid would learn from infancy. The fatalistic, if not tragic, ending is the only one possible to a people like the Sumerians.

But we’ll get to that next week.

Weekend Update: New Classes, Rain, Deacons, etc

A. Agreed to teach some 8th and 9th graders history this upcoming school year. It will be weird: some outdoor, socially distanced in person classes, some zoom, all mixed: since nobody will be required to be there in the flesh, we’ll almost certainly need to set every class up as a zoom meeting. Sigh.

A couple of very energetic Catholic homeschooling moms are behind setting up a new ‘hybrid’ school, where homeschoolers, once they reach the point where the topics to be studied do, in fact, require more expertise and time than they have to give, they have more formal classes the kids can take.

This point has been determined to be about 8th grade, which seems about right, for many kids, at least. Around that age, a lot of kids get a switch thrown, where their minds now function as adults minds, minus adult level experience. So I will be introducing them to what would have been a typical college-level approach to learning 100 years ago. and, indeed, what a college prep high school age kid would have experienced in the not so distant past: formal – we will call each other Mr. or Miss Lastname; an hour or more a week will be ‘seminar’ style; more time spent preparing for class than in class; very little slack for tardiness or inattention; regular short essays; selected reading from the classics.

The other part of this, consistent with my unschooling attitude: I’m not forcing anybody to do anything. I will do zero threats or cajoling. You want to be there and learn? Then here’s what is required. You show up prepared and on time, and hand in the assignments on time. Or you do something else. No hard feelings.

8th grade runs from prehistory through the Roman Republic; 9th grade from the Empire to the Black Death. With forays into the rest of world history – China, India, Africa, etc. As I have long said, understanding other cultures requires you understand your own, we’ll start with and emphasize our own.

We start in September. As it stands: Four 8th graders, 7 9th graders. Two 90 minute classes a week for each group, meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays, about 90 minutes each. One is more lecture/talk with the students. I’ll assign very short essays every few weeks, and teach them by example how to write figure out what they mean to say, and say it (yea, like I know how to do that).

I have a ton of work to do. Prayers would be appreciated.

B. Highs have been over 100F here for the last 4 days, and is predicted to remain above 100F for 4 more. This morning, was awakened around 6:00 a.m. by long, rumbling thunder, went outside to take a look. Beautiful orange skies, thunder in the distance, rainbow, light rain – very beautiful. For the last 3 hours, thunderstorms have rolled through the Bay Area. Tiny amount of rain – .03″ near hear, a quarter inch at higher elevations. But any rain at all is a surprise.

Hot, sweaty weather with thunderstorms? We seemed to have moved to Texas without leaving California. Average rainfall in August here is some tiny fraction of an inch. In a typical year it doesn’t rain at all from June through August.

Very unusual weather. In a week, we went from an unusually cool and windy summer with the threat of an early fall, to an unusually hot and nasty stretch. My peaches had just begun to ripen in mid-August – very late, should have been over in July. With this weather, will be picking everything over the next few days. We only have 2 small peach trees, and one is evidently taking this season off. But still.

C. Speaking of the front yard orchard:

Figs amidst rain-soaked leaves.

Citrus and morning glories.
Wider shot of the damp front yard orchard & vegetable garden.
Peaches.

D. An old friend, our late son Andrew’s godfather, was ordained a permanent deacon yesterday. Archbishop Cordeleone celebrated the ordination mass down the peninsula at St. Pius X parish in Redwood City, because of the on-going persecution of the Church in San Francisco. In San Mateo County, where St. Pius X is located, you can do an outdoor mass of up to something like 100 people, if masks and social distancing are enforced, and names and addresses are collected for possible contract tracing. So we had a much smaller crowd than would otherwise have been there. Each candidate for the deaconate could only have 9 ‘guests’ including his family.

The Cathedral in San Francisco, where this should have happened, seats thousands – you could put a few hundred people in there with everybody spaced 20′ apart, let alone 6′. Instead, we had to submit to humiliation rituals, and have a mass in 90F+ temperatures, with the sun beating down on the soon-to-be-ordained men – the way the various canopies and umbrellas were arranged, those poor men had to sit in the sun for about an hour. (Once ordained, they got to join the clergy in the shade.)

It was beautiful. I love and am so grateful for Archbishop Cordeleone. Good man, suffering mightily for his flock.

This COVID nonsense needs to stop.

D. I’m going to be very busy. Posts will probably be sporadic. More than usual, I mean.

E. A moment ago, huge very near thunder bolt shook the ground and set off car alarms. Rumbled for what seemed like forever. Got a couple minutes of decent rain.

How About Some BRICKS?

Long time, no bricks. When we last left our Eternal Insane Home Improvement Project, back at the end of last August, things looked about like this:

Once Daylight Saving Time kicks in and the weather get a little warmer, I am able (and motivated) to get back to work. Here’s where we stand today, after a couple weeks of getting in a few hours on most days:

As you can see, everything is at least in progress. Redesigned the brickwork around the water meter – the curve idea was looking weird when I tried to work out how to actually do it on the ground. The square shape is both easier and more aesthetically consistent. We’ll know in another week or two. Also have dug out around 8-10 wheelbarrows of dirt and screened out the the larger rocks as I attempt to prepare to pour the footings for the south planters/wall – the last walls to build!

Pictures! Cars parked on the curb prevented a good angle on this part:

Footer. In the background are wood chips from a neighbor who took out a tree. 8 wheelbarrow’s worth, moved one at a time from about a block away. Will use to cover all paths/bare dirt in the mini-orchard.
Notice how the water meter box isn’t square to the path/street? I’m fighting off the urge to spend hours digging it up and straightening it out….

Over on the south property line, we got some digging to do:

Looking east. Forms are so far just the outside edges of the footers; there will be 2×4 rectangles marking the inside edges. The end of the forms marks about where a Marian shrine will go; then more planters where I’m standing to take this picture. Got several wheelbarrow loads more removed since this was taken.
From the street looking in.
Catty corner, so you can see how this all ties together.

Rained Saturday through Monday, so had to mostly lay off. Did get a little more digging in before it got too wet. So, if it dries out enough, will work on this some more this evening.

My Beloved planted irises in one of the front planters:

They are very beautiful, a lovely deep blue with yellow highlights. They brought to mind Don at zoopraxiscope, who grows and takes beautiful pictures of flowers. So, if you want to see good pictures of beautiful flowers by a guy who knows his way around a camera and can tell one kind of flower from another (I’m always getting my jasmine and honeysuckle mixed up. Among others.) check his site out. Me, I’m more a tomato and fruit guy.

Future bulletins as events warrant, or when I fell like it and remember to take some pictures. Maybe at the end of the summer, if all progresses well, I’ll do a video walkthrough?

Links & Weather & SciFi (oh my!)

Yep, no school or economics today. instead:

Item 1: William Briggs, Statistician to the Stars, has built an interesting model of viral outbreaks over time, and mapped the coronavirus outbreak against it. Here’s his Update III. Bottom line: recognizing that all statistical analysis is conditional on the quality of the data (among other things) and that some parties (China) might not be telling the exact truth, it looks like this is pretty much a typical viral outbreak, worse than some, not as bad as others.

This analysis is worth the read merely to see how a philosopher/statistician evaluates data. I’m am grateful to another statistician, Mike Flynn, for having made the point that ‘fact’ comes from ‘factorum’ (or whatever the correct Latin form is) and means: a thing made. Facts most definitely do not speak for themselves; rather, they speak for the assumptions and mechanisms used to create them. Trivial example: it is a fact that water boils at 100C – +/- the accuracy of the thermometer and skill of the observer, measured in a traditionally sanctioned manner (at sea level, under normal atmospheric pressure, etc.) PROVIDED the water is sufficiently pure (as determined by conventional measurements of purity) and so on a so forth.

Dr. Briggs brings out some of the less obvious factors forming the facts, here. I’ll belabor one: diagnoses do not equal incidents. Incidents proceed according to their own logic; diagnoses depend on how and how much testing is being done, and on whom, and on the quality (false positive and negatives abound in many tests). Turns out that, until the first diagnosis, the ratio of infections to diagnoses is infinite; then, the ratio, which can never be known (there will always be undiagnosed cases, usually lots of them!) will be thought to be falling – more and more cases are diagnosed, while the number of infections is – who knows? Eventually, unless we’re all going to die of this, the rate new cases are diagnosed will fall, eventually hitting near zero. Of necessity trailing diagnosis, the number of dead will rise and fall as well. Eventually, everyone with the disease will either die or get better. We can then make a guess as to the mortality rate – but will never know it, because the number of people infected will never be known.

Slightly less obvious: a similar pattern will happen every time the infection spreads to a new area: initially, as tests are administered, the number of diagnoses will rocket upward, only to level off and fall over time. This kind of spreading can mask what’s really going on, as falling numbers of cases and deaths in one area are offset by growing numbers of cases in newer outbreak areas.

IF – and no one, least of all me, will know this until this is all over – the coronavirus acts like any other typical flu-type virus, once the weather gets nice, this outbreak will quickly disappear. Sunlight will kill it, people will get out more and thus provide less opportunity for infection in crowded places, and, in general ‘flu season’ will be over.

IF – again, always conditional on assumptions and information – this coronavirus is nothing unique, the whole outbreak should be over in a few months. Caution is always prudent; panic is always an invitation to the unscrupulous to seize more power.

Item 2: The Great Storm of 1605. Turns out climatologists have coined a name for the once every 100-200 year storms that drown California and the West: ARkStorms. (The ‘AR’ stands for Atmospheric River). Cute, huh? I’ve mentioned this here. Thanks again to Mike Flynn, who first mentioned the Great Storm of ’62 and got me interested.

The last ARkstorm was over the winter of 1861-1862, where it rained for 43 straight days, turned the entire Central Valley into a lake, put Sacramento under 10′ of water for months, turned the entire L.A. basin into a big swampy lake, and otherwise wreaked havoc all across the West and down on into Mexico.

Climatologists and geologists have taken ocean bed cores off the California coast, and found these 100-200 year events that laid down far, far more sediment that is typical. The scary part: back in 1605, it seems there was an ARkStorm that put the 1861-62 one to shame – at least 50% larger.

Wow. That would be bad. And we’re due. This year, however, we’re back to drought gloom and doom after 3 years of near-normal to excellent rain and snow, as we’ve only gotten about 30% of season average so far, when we average about 75% by now. Still need around another 10″ of rain to get to average – unlikely. That this kind of weather – a near completely dry February – happens maybe 30% of the time doesn’t seem to register with some people.

Item 3: There was this excellent sci fi story I read once years ago, where a colony on an earth-like planet named Cygnus (I think) experienced an unprecedented storm, which caused havoc in all sorts of interesting and tragic ways. Of course I can’t find it now, I thought the title was something like After the Storm, but that’s a Hemingway story… Anyway, wonder if the author was thinking of the Great Storm of 1862?

Item 4: If I ever get around to writing more fiction, I’ve got to name a character Hacksilver Smith.

NOT Breaking My Pledge…

…to never write about cats or sports. I’m writing about animal behavior. It just happens to be my cat’s behavior. Totally different! No, really!

I like pets. In addition to dogs and cats, I’ve had fish, reptiles, frogs and toads. My family briefly had a canary. Kids have had mice and hermit crabs, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. So, pets, yes.

I like dogs and cats, but like cats more because a) I find their ‘personalities,’ such as they are, more interesting, and b) cats are a lot easier to care for than dogs. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

One thing is clear: virtually all discussion of animal intelligence is projection. Dogs and cats are intelligent, in some sense, but not usually in the senses people seem to think. Both are predators but of very different kinds, and have ‘intelligence’ that reflects how their ancestors stayed alive in their environments of evolutionary adaptation. At least, that’s the party line among evolutionary biologists, and seems to me to account for the vast bulk of Fluffy’s and Fido’s behaviors. There’s behaviors around the edges, such as cats attacking dogs who are attacking their humans, or dogs standing watch over the graves of their former owners, which are harder to explain, or rather, the explanations come off as egregious ‘just so’ stories.

Yet on the whole, our furry pets’ behaviors seem to make sense, once you think of a dog as a pack animal, and a cat as a largely solitary hunter. Dogs, like people, ‘know’ instinctively that their survival depends on belonging to a pack/tribe/herd. Belonging is survival Job 1, and so dogs are forever seeking affirmation, showing submission (or dominance, if poorly trained), and trying to engage you in play of some sort. They also really have a hard time with the ‘my food/your food’ distinction unless you are there to enforce it. In the dog’s world, the alpha should simply never walk away from food he still wants.

A cat, on the other hand, will leave you a present. That dead rat, mouse or bird on the welcome mat is a gesture of affection perhaps even more profound than a dog’s leaping up to lick his master’s face. This is food we’re talking about – life and death. You ‘share’ cat food with the cat, which in some ways must blow his tiny mind. They must really like you to share back.

We are currently down to one pet, a cat. Our cat is a Siberian. Unlike other breeds whimsically named for exotic places, Siberians are called that because they come from Siberia. They look the part, with the thickest, softest fur, suited for a place where it gets really, really cold. They are also large – helps with heat retention.

Siberians are most well known for low levels of allergens in their saliva, meaning that people with cat allergies can tolerate Siberians better than most other breeds. (1) Everyone in the family except me and the Caboose are allergic; we all went to the breeder’s house together and spent an hour there, and nobody reacted very strongly – and so I paid actual money for a cat, something I’d never done before.

They are also known for their strong ‘personalities’ – they tend to be smart, playful, athletic and fond of their humans. They can also have a mean streak: our son very presciently named his cat ‘Razor’. He’s a nice cat, usually, just don’t cross him. Sharp claws and teeth, and he does not hesitate to use them.

So, anyway, here’s the interesting situation that occasioned this post. The Caboose is the cat’s human; I am the number one back-up. In general, this means that when the boy is sitting around playing video games or watching something, the cat can most often be found draped on him. When his boy is not available, he wants my attention.

This cat’s idea of getting attention is to act like a toddler: he will follow me around, and any time I stand still, he will put his front paws on my thigh to get me to pick him up. Usually, I obligue. When I don’t, like when I’m up early and trying to make some coffee and breakfast, the cat generally gives up after a few tries, and then maybe tries again when I’m done eating.

Well, his boy has been on three one-week Boy Scout adventures this summer so far, and the cat is not taking it well. When I get up early – almost every day – and the boy is not around (2), the cat freaking panics. He doesn’t just follow me around, meowing, and putting his paws on my leg, he freaking chases me down if I try to walk away. No amount of ignoring him will get him to stop. I finally had to put him in another room and close the door just so I could have a cup of coffee.

By now – 2:00 p.m. – I’ve picked him up and held him and petted him for a bit at least half a dozen times today. He finally went off to nap somewhere, meaning I can type this. His boy got up mid-morning (hey, he’s 15, it’s summer) and that helped. But it didn’t fully end it.

This behavior seems much more dog-like than cat-like. I certainly have never seen it before. I’m trying to map it to ‘solitary predator’ behavior, and it ain’t working. What is up with this crazy cat? I’m sympathetic and all, but it’s also driving me nuts. What will happen when our son goes away to college in a few years?

The Caboose is scheduled to be home for the next few weeks, then is heading off for another one-week Boy Scout gig. Sure hope the cat figures this out on some level, or he’s going to be spending alone time in closed rooms.

For reference only: the animal in question, with his boy, as of a couple years ago.
  1. All this means is that for people with allergies that are not too severe, jut having Siberians around will likely be tolerable. If you hold them and play with them for extended periods, are bets are off. Works for us, anyway.
  2. We all keep our bedroom doors closed at night, as the cat will otherwise decide he needs to work on his prowling and pouncing skills at some point during the night, or needs some petting at 2:00 a.m. or other such nonsense. So he really doesn’t seem to know who is home and who isn’t until we get up.