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30 November, 2011


In case you did not know, there is an International Commission on Stratigraphy. They decide the chronostratigraphic units that reckon our geological time. I'm not saying they deserve the entire credit, but without them, we'd be stuck in the Pleistocene, baby.

But here we are all smart and modern, in the Holocene Epoch, ever since 11,787 years ago this coming December 22. We know this because a shift in deuterium excess values was observed in the GRIP ice core in central Greenland, spelling the bitter end of the Younger Dryas cold period. Adios, Pleistocene, giant sloths, and dire wolves.

Many stratigraphic units are decided by extinctions, but more often of much smaller creatures than the megafauna that capture our imagination. This makes sense, because stratigraphers intent on finding minute changes tend to look in fine layers of sediment, and it's hard to squeeze a mastodon into one of those, not to mention the fact that for every giant mammal there are untold multitudes of rotifers. And when temperatures change, or atmospheric chemistry shifts, certain teeny species die, while others emerge from obscurity to fill new muds with their skeletons. The individual deaths and the mass extinctions were not for naught, though, because their ancient sacrifices have borne unto us just the sort of evidence we need that the earth changes, and is nearly a million times older than the stratigraphy-deprived biblical scholars used to tell us.

Not that the establishment of global stratigraphic units is completely automatic, uniformly legible to all geologists. I don't know enough of the ICS workings to state it as a fact, but I do have enough familiarity with academia to hypothesize that there exist disputes, heated disagreements, perhaps even feuds over just what comprises a certain boundary, or precisely how old it is. One area of disagreement I do know about has to do with the most recent epoch, on the candidacy of the Anthropocene.

"Cene" is the favored ending for stratigraphic series that define epochs, at least since the dinosaurs left the scene. "Anthropo" of course refers to the most hairless and arrogant of the great apes. So Anthropocene refers to a new chronostratigraphic unit corresponding to our presence on a scale that influences geology.

Not so quick, some of the ICS brethren say. Perhaps we are again over-estimating our importance, and geology will wipe us and our sediments away. But it looks to me like we've deposited enough concrete to make our mark.

Among the pro-Anthropocene contingent, there are various ways of reckoning its onset. Some argue for the beginning of agriculture as the threshold, since this is when humans really began altering soils and sedimentation, both with intentional acts like tillage and terracing, as well as mistakes and disasters ranging from burst irrigation reservoirs to the Dust Bowl. Personally, I think agriculture will prove to be too fluid a concept to nail down a global start date, besides which it may end up subsuming the entire Holocene and perhaps more, depending on how it is defined, and then what is the ICS to do? Backtrack? I think they'd rather not.

Other criteria abound. Such as the beginnings of cities, which create deposits of structures and artifacts that last long after they people move on or bury them under more stuff, as we are wont to do. Or, the wave of extinctions in our wake. Or, carry on with the atmospheric chemistry or global climate approaches that have defined other chronostrata--we've warmed the earth and perforated the ozone, isn't that enough to merit (to our own demerit, maybe) a human epoch? It took us a while to get to that point, but what about the creation of highly radioactive isotopes? It is no coincidence that the "present" in radiocarbon time is AD 1950, the years when enough atmospheric tests of nuclear bombs occurred to screw up any subsequent carbon dates.

Eventually, it won't matter what we say. Alien paleontologists will land on earth and reckon by their own system. They'll find a strata rich with large bipeds, and if they are lucky, they may find one of them clutching a laminated copy of the International Stratigraphic Chart.

16 November, 2011

Skagit Air

Two pleasures make the thousand-plus miles of driving I do each month bearable, and occasionally sublime. Both come through the air to me, or any other driver with eyes and ears: photons bouncing off scenery and radio waves broadcasting from towery.
To round a bend and see snowy tors, trees towering as forests blanket, water racing to the Salish Sea, spring and fall foliage, and, and, and. To see any of those, especially on some blue highway where you can pull over or slow to landscape pace, is to experience anew wonder, which I guess is why I pity people who think epiphany is a rare thing.

The radio, it's more something to wile away the miles. Satellite radio remains in my future (and even then, only maybe), the tape deck in the truck beckons my past and finds that all the cassettes were dumped before last move (a collection ranging from Richmond hardcore punk bands to some Dead and Allmond Brothers foisted on me in college to, uh, memory grows dim now). I drive a government rig, so there ain't no fancy stuff like a CD player. 

So, it's radio, which suits me fine. I tend to go with community stations (KAOS near home, KBOO nearer Portland, KSER in Everett,...), or cherrypick from the wide array of public radio. Now and then, a college station comes in (like coming down toward CWU from Blewett Pass). In some places, classic rock is the only thing better than country or religious stations. The latter of which I sometimes listen to, believe it or not, because  it's good to understand what people hear, especially because Christians operate the most powerful transmitters in marginal areas and are the only thing to listen to.

But usually by that point, traffic has let up, scenery holds its own, and the radio is off. 

Last week, I found myself running north and downstream (mapheads may already have guessed that this is along the Sauk toward its marriage with the Skagit), already in shadow as the sun settled its way down past the islands. But the sky was clearer than smart people expect at this time of year, and as I hit the final stretch, the moonrise came into view. The photo above is from the Skagit River bridge, and cannot come close to capturing the beauty. Moonwash on fresh snow, the river sluicing the old snow seaward beneath me. River trees hugging leaves close, claiming a few more nights of their warmth before skeletonizing for the winter. I hung a U and drove back over to see it, stopped, rolled down the window, took some photos, breathed river air, rolled on and did another and idled leisurely back across before heading down-valley. 

The moon smiled in my mirror between the trees when they'd let her as I sped into the fading sunset. Then she rose above them, and the ridges and even the big peaks with names like Little Devil and Big Devil, Mount Torment and Forbidden Peak. Shining unshrouded, moonbeams free to play on rapids and pools, boughs and bergs,...and in my rearview mirror. 

Even though I was enjoying the scenery, it was getting dark, draining color and making it harder not just to look, but to drive safely on a road more traveled. Eyes on the road, ears took over, and I tuned to Skagit Valley Radio, KSVR 91.7. I'd heard them before, and besides my bias for community radio, had found that they possess a miraculous thing: a broadcast range that reaches way up-valley, farther than you'd expect for anything other than religious stations (and maybe some brute force commercial transmitters, but I don't get to that end of the dial much). It's always a joy to be way outside of town and hear something other than Christian radio or its more commercial colleague, Country.

Eventually, I got back to what passes for civilization these days and had to face I-5. As I climbed the on-ramp, a Seattle station played the cruel joke of starting a Fresh Air episode promising to blow the lid off everything we think we know about canine domestication, and then a minute replacing it with some lame-ass big-C culture thing. I know that they'd played the dog one the night before, but the radio spell was broken.

But the moon was still there, shining in my window, lighting a few wispy clouds. I stole some glances while trying not to crash or be crashed all the way home.

15 November, 2011

Meanwhile, Over at Procrastacritic

In October, I posted another review from the archives, this time about Rocky. Then I delved into TV, with an episode from the original Hawai`i Five-O. Somewhere along the line, my unhealthy fascination with Joe Dirt came to the surface. Now, I've completed another TV-land review, about the human denizens (and one robot) of Lost In Space. 

All these and of course delvings into Hestopia appear at the Procrastacritic blog, and I am too lazy to copy them here. 

08 November, 2011

Occupy Walmart

One of the litmi of the Left is Walmart. "I Don't Shop at Walmart" stickers appear on bumpers of old Volvos, Prius's, and other awkward-to-pluralize brands preferred by progressives. Labor protests the poor wages (poorer still if you are a woman) and the anti-union stance of the company. Liberals smirk and giggle at that People of Walmart website.

And strangely enough, it works in the other direction as well. The Right--or at least the rank and file, the commoners with the votes, the LumpenRight--shops at Walmart. Scoop up them Asian goods, even though it meant your brother got laid off. Buy that beflaggled patriot wear and the disney princess crap. Squint and grunt at them commies who would let unions into Walmart. Swipe the card while Walmart swipes your paychecks. And for God's sake, vote Republican.

So, with this powerful symbol of piratical capitalism run amok, amidst every community with a 15 acre pad site and the critical mass of consumer households to offer, we are occupying parks? Parks?! Land that already belongs to the public?

Granted, marching into a Wall Street Bank or a Walmart Street retail establishment and setting up a tent invariably results in arrests, whereas most cops are just letting the protesters stay in the parks, entertaining themselves at the seeming cluelessness of some college kids, and the un-bra'd chests of others. Occupying private property is frowned upon in the US, and it's really hard to imagine Occupy Walmart lasting more than a few days, ending in the ozone and burnt hair aromatic aftermath of taser fests of the rent-a-cops and eventually the real ones.

But, we can protest outside. We can hold up signs about jobs outsourced and landfills bursting, about grandpa serving his country and working all his life only to be humiliated as Greeter because he cannot afford retirement. OK, that's a long sign, but you know what I mean.

And, stealthily, we can protest inside. Pick up something and replace it on the wrong shelf. Try on the maximum number of clothes every time, ask for assistance, do whatever it takes to make the workers work more, because that's the only way they'll get more hours and more cash, the only way Walmart will create more jobs (crappy though they may be). Get yourself hired there, and then invite in a union. Go in and apply stickers with "This Used to be Made in America" or some other clever shit I cannot think of right now.

Or not. You don't need to sneak and snivel. Get in their face. Rouse the rabble, yell crazy stuff or go all yippie-theater on them 'til they escort you off the premises, making everyone there a little freaked out, a little less inclined to hang around and spend more. You don't even have to go there physically, just write letters to the editor, blog, expend your own breath ranting and exhorting (or, if you are not a blowhard like myself, riffing reasoning). Talk to your Walmart-shopping friends about how the place sucks money out of localities (not just what you spend there, but jobs lost, taxes unpaid, resources expended on their behalf, not to mention that act that someone who works at Walmart is eligible for welfare because the pay is so shitty).

Occupy Walmart however you see fit. Squelching the flow of customers, shaming the company in the public eye (all you gotta do is tell the truth for that to work), or advocating for their workers. Whatever you want to do. Just don't buy anything there.

06 November, 2011

Where's the Food, Dude?

It Went That-a-Way

Don' let the picture fool you, it's over at my food blog, Mocavore. Remember how I said I was gonna start spinning off topics? Well, I got on my ass and did it.

Mocavore is where I'll put up the canning, where there will be foraging reports and recipes. Oh, and the Garden series that used to be here? It's gonna root itself over there now. Food from the stone age to what's still on the stove may be featured. I'll ramble about my eating habits and bramble about agribusiness. Also, there will be pie. Or maybe just a crisp. I am not enough of a foodie to care about crust.

As for now, there's the initial post, which aims to make sense of what the blog will be, but will lok like a wider and wider miss as time goes by. "Mocavore" means nothing. I went with it out of lassitude (roll over the first letter of Locavore) and egomania. 

Anyway, that's where the food is. There are a few more posts up as well, about gardening and what's in the pantry, as well as the most recent, which is about this.


04 November, 2011

Cannes You Effing Believe it?

Massive unemployment, enforced austerity, pittances eroded to nothing, poverty growing deeper.

Meanwhile, the G20, self-proclaimed leaders of the global economy, live it up in the Riviera.

This is gall unmitigated, for the politicians, property of the corporate titans, to be in Cannes, concocting plans to force the swarthier of the Europeans, and for that matter, commoners everywhere, to do their bidding. A global elite of technocrats (fronting for the parasitic plutocrats) teaming up to tell the workers what sacrifices they need to make, foisting on local leaders a set of monitoring regimes and conversions of state resources into private property. "Give up your drachma and democracy," say the 20, "and we'll give you Euros and austerity." And should the Greeks or anyone else have the gall to insist on a voice, a vote, they'll be punished with a coordinated financial assault, after which the buzzards will swoop down to pick the bones clean and sell off the skeletons.

Sadly, I can believe it. Morosely, I see the alleged champion of change and freedom that I helped elect, smiling broadly, happy to be part of the pack of wolves devouring the rest of us before we get too skinny to be any good. 

Or no, that metaphor is wrong. The literal truth is more disgusting, and less insulting to wolves. The G20 dine on fine French food and wine (as the rest of us subsist on beans and rice), then retire to the veranda to take in the balmy Mediterranean air, or to the smoking room to hatch further plans for transforming government pensions and social safety nets into guarantees that the world will be safe for oligarchs to invest profitably.

If for no other reason, the leaders who engage in this sort of behavior should be punished for being so severely irony impaired. If they keep up this blind ambition, they will awake to the surprising reality that they are far outnumbered, that they are Mubarak and Marie Antoinette. And the poor will drink their champagne for a while, then get back to work.