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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Our Desert Trip; Part 2

Part 2 in which we stay at 29 Palms, see a lot of desert stuff, and Owls.

We stayed at Roughley Manor, a great place in 29 Palms. Good rooms, interesting and nice owners, and a nest of baby owls we observed in a nearby tree. I strongly recommend this place to anyone staying in 29 Palms. The breakfasts alone are worth the extra cost here.



When we booked our hotels, we looked at tripadvisor.com . The reviews were very helpful. I was amazed at how many places had incredibly horrible reports from dozens of travelers. That site probably saved us from several crummy nights, and helped us find two really good places to stay.

Now, time for vacation photos.

Joshua Tree (where the streets have no name) was great! We had good weather, with breezy highs below 70 degrees. The desert was full of flowers.

After visiting the park office, we started with a short interpretive walk to Skull Rock
This short trail near a campground and the office’s garden had lots of plant identification markers. Although interpretive trails are generally candy assed, they help me learn to recognize some flora. We saw flowers everywhere.

Skull rock itself was pretty awesome. Shiver me timbers.



In the same way this Joshua Tree Park has very little to do with Bono and his ‘wheeze and roll’ U2 buddies, I expect this skull rock is not closely related to the notorious Burning Blade Clan’s hideout in World of Warcraft. It’s amazing what you can learn from Google.

We took a less wimpy walk to 49 Palms Oasis. As advertised, there really was an oasis with palm trees, flowering shrubs ,and even hummingbirds. The oasis hasn’t had water at the surface fro several years, due to a dropping water table. This was a cool place, in every meaning of the word.



The walk to and from the oasis was filled with desert wildflowers. I didn’t even try to identify them. Here’s some of them.





This is the beaver tail cactus, although without the pink flowers, they look a lot like a prickly pear.




A park ranger was very excited to see this flower near the trailhead parking lot.She took this picture with my camera,since the flower was on a slippery gravel slope marked as off limits to visitors. I think this is called a flaming star.


All the barrel cactus were red. The ranger said they are always red. Go figure.



This was a beautiful hike, but we noticed the conspicuous absence of Joshua trees along this trail. That was funny, since we drove through miles of valley full of the things on the way to the trailhead.

We addressed that issue the next morning, when we hiked to Pine City. This hike started out through a plain dotted with Joshua trees, and moved on to several rocky ridges and canyons. The hike went past several pine canyons,which we did not recognize as pine canyons. But it was beautiful.

Finally, pictures of joshua trees.





This might have been a pine canyon, I think the scrubby fir shrub in the left foreground may have qualified as a pine.


Mysterious pine canyons or not, I don't think there's anything as desolate yet oddly attractive looking as a field of joshua trees.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Our Desert Trip; Part 1

Part 1 in which we drive from Sacramento to 29 Palms, and see where suburban sprawl and rural poverty meet in California’s Central Valley.

We visited some desert parks and missions last week. It was a good vacation for both of us, as well as a source of grist for the blog. I expect to do several entries over the week about our experience with Southern CA.

This is the first time I had ever driven down the dreaded highway 5. Although we left the highway well before Los Angeles, most of it was a very dull drive, with one exception. A stretch of a little over 50 miles south of Tracy runs though the edge of the foothills, with views of the California aqueduct below. The rest of the route is a constant fight against falling asleep.

We stopped at Wonderful Wasco, CA for lunch. I have never seen a town with so many boarded up businesses. That’s not surprizing, given that the official unemployment rate in the Central Valley is about 20% (remember, cub economists, the federal unemployment rates exclude most long term unemployed workers). We drove down the main street looking for local restaurants, and the first three we saw were boarded up. We ended up eating at Perko’s, a California chain. The waitresses were all fluent in Spanish and English, and an old guy in the next booth was a packers fan. The place felt a little like Kenosha in the 1980’s but dryer and sunnier. Mothballed business became an underlying theme of this trip.

As the chamber of commerce tells us, Wasco is ‘just’ 130miles north of Los Angeles. In California’s wacky relativistic universe, that made Wasco a potential gold mine for developers. We could see this partially completed development from Perko’s. I don’t know what will happen to these unfinished and abandoned developments.



We saw a lot of parched fields and orchards full of dead trees. Apparently, as water has become more scarce, agribusiness has figured out they can make more money by selling water rights to Southern California urban areas than they can make growing stuff. Great deal, except for those of us who like to eat. Expect more on this at your grocery store this fall.

Next (really first) stop is 29 Palms and Joshua Tree.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Another From xkcd

Another good cartoon from xkcd.



"AL Gore Doomed Us All, Run!" I haven't heard an Al Gore line that good since Manbearpig ran loose in Surburban Colorado.

I'll do a real blog entry one of these days, maybe a travelogue of our trip next week to Anza Borrego, Joshua tree and San Diego. Expect no blog entries next week. I plan to be doing things more fun than making blog entries.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Yellow Shafted Afternoon

I went for a walk in by the river this afternoon, to enjoy the sunny seventy degree weather. I saw this critter along the way.


Using this picture and the Peterson Field Guide, think this is a Yellow - Shafted Flicker. I was excited to see this bird, since usually the only woodpecker - type birds I see are Nutall's Woodpeckers. Although the Nutall's woodpecker is unique to coastal and central California, it 's nice to see a different bird for a change. Geeze-o-pete,I sound like a British dirty old man.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Credit Default Swaps Explained (In Under Two Minutes)

This is the clearest explanation of AIG's credit default swap mess That I have ever seen. In less than two minutes, you can learn how AIG produced a multi-trillion dollar housing bubble and killed the goose that laid the golden egg.



That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Class Warfare Has Started - It's Official!

Daniel Gross Broke the News in Newsweek. Newsweek, dammit, not some lefty blog full of 9/11 conspiracy theories. We're talking Newsweek, My 85 year old DMIL's favorite weekly magazine!

Rather than the usual class warfare of the rich versus everyone else, Gross reports we are in the midst of a class-based civil war pitting the rich against the not quite so rich. The time respected tactic of bilking seems to be the most common weapon in the conflict. I am sorry to say that the lumpensheeple have failed to wake up. At this point in time, the proletariat have not stepped into the fight.

I am becoming a big Daniel Gross fan, admittedly I have jumped on the bandwagon a little late. When I realize that I'm depending on an octogenarian to point out the latest trends,maybe it's time for me to get out a little more.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Too Sweet Not To Share

This chart from the geekish websight XKCD was just too darned cute not to share.



Ahhh, Geeks in Love.

That's my stroy and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

My Big Fat Gay Quaker Wedding

My early music recorder group had the pleasure of playing music for a Society of Friends (i.e. Quaker) wedding ceremony for two guys who had a civil ceremony last summer. We provided about ½ hour of music prior to the beginning of the service, which was similar to a regular Quaker meeting, with a short break for vows and signing of the Sacramento Friends Meeting House's marriage document.

The wedding was a real experience. We played pretty well, with the strengths and weaknesses in our playing that we always experience. Recorders like to wander in and out of close tuning. The crowd seemed to enjoy the music, even the poor souls who came in last and had to sit about three feet in front of us. I think we added something to the affair. Several people complemented us, so either we played well or they are a very polite Meeting of Friends, or both.

The ceremony was totally a non-ceremony, like, what vows? what ceremony? That’s pretty much how Quakers, being the masters of British antiestablishmentarianism inspired understatement, like to do ceremonies. (antiestablishmentarianism, WOOT! I have waited my entire life to use this word in its proper context!)

The grooms processed at the end of our last number, a Marin Marias rondeau, not the Masterpiece Theater rondeau but equally appropriate for a Louis XIV era procession. To be completely honest it really wasn’t much of a procession. As we were winding the down, the grooms walked in the Meeting room and sat down in two chairs in the center, in front of a card table holding the very large Marriage document.

The Meeting’s Clerk read the rules, one hour of silent meditation, where we each are free to speak if so moved. Do these guys know how to party or what?

The ceremony was the same as a regular Sunday Quaker meeting, except for the couple of minutes when the grooms stood, made very short vows (about 5 words) and signed the certificate. That moment felt more like applying for life insurance than a typical protestant wedding. On this festive day, many were 'moved to speak', including a member of the California Assembly (Mariko Yamada from Davis, who officiated their civil ceremony). There is great concern right now, as a court is drafting its decision on the validity of Proposition 8 ,which may prohibit the State’s recognition of same-sex marriage. No one knows how this decision might impact existing marriages, whether the marriages will continue to exist. One of the guys had some community activism in his background, so given the timing of this wedding, some who were moved to speak might be accused of political grandstanding. However most who spoke said nice things about the guys, as it should be IMHO. They seem like decent guys. I cannot begrudge the politically motivated speakers, since much of my motivation for playing is that this is the most constructive way I can thumb my nose at the 51% of California voters who are far less enlightened than I. I hadn’t even met the grooms before the wedding.

Seriously, check out Proposition 8,the Musical for something very strange and only about three minutes.

BTW the guys were rather large-bodied fellows in their mid 50's. They both seemed rather quiet types, and were dressed in slacks and loose fitting short sleeved shirts. One of the grooms looked a little bit like a darker Rush Limbaugh, the Herman Goering of the New and Improved Republican Party,but only from behind. They looked like your typical fifty something civil service office workers. They seemed like a good couple, given that the guy who is a Quaker early on had agreed to unload a lot of his book collection (someone said something about 20 cartons of books) so both guys could fit their stuff into one house, and the other guy, who is not a Quaker, agreed to put up with this ceremony.

The silences were pretty long. I found that each time I began really working at meditating someone would be moved to speak. At that moment, I needed to stop my meditation, and focus on the speaker. I found it difficult to meditate when anticipating an interruption at any moment. I must admit that it seems those whom you wish wouldn’t be moved to speak are so moved.

We stayed for the short and informal reception, where we signed the Society’s marriage certificate. All who attend the meeting are considered witnesses. I spoke with one of the grooms and several of the friends. It was a friendly crowd of Friends. One of the friends thought I would be an excellent addition to the meeting, after hearing about my slackerly existence. I amnot sure whether to take that as a complement or a slam. There were sandwiches and some homemade chocolate-dipped strawberries. They didn’t have any oatmeal anywhere, nor did anyone resemble the Quaker oats guy in any way, except perhaps in girth.

Assemblyperson Yamada and I spoke for about two minutes as we were holding our plastic champagne glasses filled with apple juice and waiting for the toast (did I mention that these Friends really know how to party?) Of course, we became immediate best friends for that moment. You've got to love that about politicians. She seemed very nice.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Bloody Vikings and Their Financial Collapse; Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

This month’s Vanity Fair features a quirky and fascinating article about Iceland and its evolution from a sleepy fishing culture to a deluded international banking culture to a failed culture. This longish article is worth reading.

Michael Lewis looks at this absurd situation by visiting Iceland and just talking to people and his giving off-hand observations about this small country full of overeducated Norsemen who seem to personally know everyone else in the country,and have taken to burning their Land Rovers for the insurance money.

I am not sure what point Lewis is trying to make, he seems to be trying to comfort us by making the claim that Iceland’s situation is different from the rest of the world, and their collapse is somehow related to uniquely Icelandic foibles. In other words, don’t worry, be happy.

For a little lighter entertainment,

Another, much briefer article in this month’s Vanity Fair documents the accuracy of Thomas Freidman’s previous predictions.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Time to Shoot the Recession

If you’re like me, you are sick of hearing that sucking sound coming from south of Canada’s border. Time to rise up and do something about it! (Or at least take some pictures of it.) Slate.com has started a Flickr group where people “shoot the recession”. Some of the pictures are pretty good. Maybe we’ll even see a Walker Evans for our times.

Anyway here'sone of my favorite early submissions.

I wonder if the proprietors of this fun pottery party business had their heads in the kiln when they came up with his one:



That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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