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.

Don Falco Surveys His Realm

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

hawk-zoom

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.)

Circle of Life – in the Kitchen

1. On the bright side: turns out our 10 month old cat is a tremendous mouser. I would not like to be a small animal anywhere near him.

The late mouse looked a lot like this, only deader. And not perched on a nice piece of wood in the Great Outdoors, where he would have a meet and just life expectancy measured in weeks, but IN MY KITCHEN!!!

On the dark side: he’s a house cat. Meaning, we have (or had, one fervently hopes against all experience and wisdom) mice. In our kitchen. In the pantry.

Back on the bright side, I was able to give a still slightly twitching mouse to the cornsnake last night – win win! Back on the dark side, that meant that I couldn’t give the snake this morning’s even more alive mouse that Razor (that’s the cat’s name – prescient, it seems) was playing with when I got up.

And on the darkest side: I’ve now got to employ the full anti-mouse protocol, which will involve a lot of crawling around, dragging out and inspecting stuff, throwing stuff away, cleaning up droppings, etc.

Which is no fun.

This is a happy occasion!

2. Our house was built 70 or so years ago in what was then walnut groves. After the fashion of home builders, the walnut trees that were not in the way were left as is. When we looked at the house 20 years ago, there were 4 trees – one in the front, 3 in the back. One of the back trees was worrisomely close to the house and had damage at the base, so we took it out before we moved in.

Two days ago, we had the tree in the front removed. It had begun to look less and less healthy in recent years. It had a huge cavity in its base – used to have a beehive in there,  until a skunk ate it a few years ago – and leaned toward the house. Toward the room where my wife and I sleep. Soooo, we had it taken out.

I was able to find a local urban wood guy, who collects wood from trees taken down in cities and towns and mills them into something useful. I’m to get back a few boards. I’m thinking maybe I’ll make a predieu, unless he gives me enough to make something larger.

The circle of life for a big tree – and this sucker would have crushed the house had it fallen on it – is also a circle of life moment for the critters that live in it. This includes what might have been some voles living among the gaps and roots – good riddance, they were tearing up the yard. The squirrels, I trust, just moved to the other trees. But, sadly, this morning I noticed a piece of a branch, neatly sawn, sitting on a pile of bricks near the house. It was largely hollow. In it I saw a nest with a number of tiny dead birds in it, just reaching the point where their real feathers were coming in.

Did the workers notice the nest, carefully cut the limb and place it there hoping the parent birds would return? I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s comforting, on some level, to think that men who cut trees could be soft-hearted enough to do that.

But mom and dad bird did not return. I will be thinking of the little birds as I plant stuff in the yard. Circle of life.

 

A Diversion Through Muir Wood

On the Beaten Path 2
On a path on a hillside in Muir Woods. Moss and ferns add much to the beauty of a redwood forest. 

The news just isn’t very happy today. Our long, slow descent into chaos and barbarity shows no signs of slowing, but rather seems to be speeding up, egged on by eager partisans who think they are finally living out their long-cultivated adolescent revenge fantasies. They are unable or unwilling to imagine the part where the Committee of Public Safety guillotines their own (starting with those most purely and fanatically devoted to the Cause), where a Ukrainian farmer with some chickens, a cow and 2 acres of beets is declared, along with 20 million of his neighbors, to be the evil enemy of the state whose heads (and whose wives’ and children’s heads) History demands, or the Cambodian who must die for the crime of having learned to read.

Those most smugly pleased with the way things are going cannot imagine that they, themselves, will eventually cease to be useful. They believe they ARE the Cause! It is strictly unimaginable to them that they are being used, and being valued solely by their usefulness. History is a buzz-kill easily ignored.

Our President gets his picture taken in front of a 5-story high image of Che, unable to appreciate how that might look to the thousands who still live who lost mother and father, sister and brother, to Che’s homicidal psychopathology. But, damn, doesn’t hs make for a good t-shirt, with those craggy good looks and that 1,000 mile stare?

We headed out, in the rain, to visit Muir Woods. Seemed like the sane thing to do at the time. It’s only an hour’s drive away.

We’d never been to the woods in the rain – native Californian training is that, in the remote event that it rains, do something indoors. Like, for example, watching it rain. We have a guest from Germany with us, and such delicateness struck him as – odd.

So we went. It was beautiful. On the Beaten Path