Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Petunia Sphincters

We were just treated to a rare celestial event here. It had been predicted, and although the details of how such a thing comes about are well known to science, the casual observer could be forgiven for succumbing to awe. We'd heard about the phenomenon, of course. But until you see it for yourself, it's easy to dismiss. Nevertheless, sure enough, right on cue, the skies began to darken, and we all looked up in joy and wonder.

Yes. Water was coming right out of the sky! Just a little at first, bearing its fine mineral smell, the fragrance Life dabs behind its ears. And then a little more. By morning there was visible wetness all over everything. According to official records, this used to happen all the time. But fifty-seven consecutive days of unrelenting brightness has a way of frying the memory tank.

In fact, those same records show that sky water is a frequent visitor in these parts, to the point where people get impatient with it, and wonder if it will ever pack up all its crap and leave, but all that sounds like fake news now. Every day for the last two months, that searing ball of inevitability has barreled across the sky unchallenged, spreading mandatory cheer into the darkest crevices, more cheer than is good for us.

But Sunday it rained. Lord do love a duck. Snails are racing! Ants are excavating! Leaves are putting on weight!

Which, naturally, puts me in mind of stomata.

Stomata, or stoma pores, are my Spark Science Fact. You birders are familiar with the term "spark bird"--that would be the bird whose sheer stunninghood first sparked their interest in seeing even more birds, and consigned them to a life of nerdy clothing and gear and dangerous driving habits. My spark bird was the Western Tanager. I'd presumed that 90% of birds were indistinct and brownish, and then my brother put a Western Tanager into his binoculars for me and made me look, and that was that. WHEN, thought I, did they start making THOSE? What else might be out there?

My spark science fact also changed everything. I was in tenth grade Biology, a required class that I had been dreading since first grade, when I first heard I'd be compelled to slice up a live frog some day. I hadn't heard of menstruation yet so this was the biggest horror I thought I'd ever have to face. But there I was in Biology class and Mr. Kosek was teaching us about stoma pores. Which was one of the coolest things I'd ever heard of.

I vaguely understood that plants "breathe," but I'd never given any thought to a mechanism. This was normal for me. For instance, not knowing anything about construction, I thought walls were impenetrable, until Amy Cook accidentally sent her butt through one while roughhousing at a slumber party, and there it all was, the whole story, gypsum dust and drywall and a peeved parent. Similarly, I knew plants respired, but I didn't even think to wonder how.

Stomata are awesome. Consider a leaf. It is made up of legions of cells. But some cells are specialized: the paired guard cells of the pores. Stomata are the plant's means of facilitating gas exchange. That's right: they are sphincters. Stoma pores close up when water is scarce, and open when there's plenty. But here's how: they consist of two fairly large cells shaped like kidney beans, lying side by side in such a fashion that the concave portions meet up and, together, form a hole. Or, if you prefer to see it that way (and many do), they are like a set of matched buttocks, at rest. The portions of the two buttocks that form the hole are thicker and less elastic than the surrounding portions, like a constriction in a balloon, so that when the cells plump up with absorbed water, they bend toward each other and the hole becomes larger. At this point, you may prefer (and many do) to abandon the "buttocks" visualization and go back to the kidney beans. The point is, when there is enough water in the plant, the water can escape through the hole, and when water is scarce, the buttock beans go slack and the hole shuts down, and the plant retains its water. Nothing could be simpler, or more ingenious.

We never sliced up a live frog. There was an earthworm and there was a pickled piglet. There was so, so much more. Science class was the hypodermic syringe of joy, and I was ready for an injection. I even ended up with a degree in Biology. It is a wonder in itself.

Because I thought I would be a writer.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

From Here To Totality

Let the record show we were on to it first. First, I say, and everyone else should get in line. By "we," of course, I mean my friend Linda, who notified me well over two years ago that there was going to be a total eclipse of the sun right handy-by, and that she was going to come out and watch it with us.

Not a lot gets by Linda, so it's good to travel in her wake. If there is a beetle in the natural world with a roof rack, pop-out cabinets and a convertible dinette, Linda has already read about it. If there is a sea creature with expandable tentacles for parachute capability that lures minnows by secreting vanilla pudding out its blow-hole, Linda will find it and send me a link. Linda can detect minor asteroids with her aura.

So this eclipse has been on our calendar a long time. "Great!" I said. "We'll do a little hiking, cook up a few nice meals, and the morning of the eclipse we'll pop down south a ways and soak it right up. Totality is only forty minutes away." Plans were later refined to get a slight jump by going to our cabin the night before, from which Eastern Oregon, with its more reliable sunshine, is but an hour's drive. We'll wander out to Madras, lean up against the fender, and have us a time. This was Linda's eclipse as far as I was concerned.

And then this eclipse got internet all over it.

Suddenly we are on the cusp of All Hell, and it's fixin' to break loose. One million people are slated to travel to Oregon just to see this sucker. Off the coast, the Cascadia Subduction Zone, leery of being upstaged, is sensing an opportunity to drown 300,000 tourists all at once. Inland forests and grasslands are expected to burst into flame from sheer anxiety. We are solemnly informed that allowing five hours to drive fifty miles is far too optimistic, and that if we really want to be in the path of totality, we should leave just before dawn four days ago. We should pack a cooler of water and sandwiches and a Bug-Out Kit with supplies to last three weeks including green-bean bake, freeze-dried protein pucks, astronaut poop bags, prescription medicine for ailments we don't have yet but which run in the family, a Glock, and a selection of luncheon meats. We should run through the list of personal friends that own helicopters and favorite them in our phones.

Meanwhile, astrologers have been working overtime to produce Content. Because this, that, and the other thing were mysteriously lined up when Donald Trump was born, we are warned that degrees were activated and are likely to be reactivated during the eclipse. A careful study of nearby celestial bodies, some of which have malevolent intent, reveals that something perfectly awful involving the president might happen soon, so watch out.

[Forewarned is still forescrewed, though.]

People who can't even get their Chevy to pass a National Guard water truck naturally ascribe great power to the moon passing in front of the sun. One fellow has advertised for a woman to conceive a baby with during totality. Such a child would be born to two parents who believe the universe is playing billiards with its matter-bits and who possibly shouldn't be trusted with a ballot; but confidence can get you a long way. For instance, this guy is pretty dang sure he can hook up with a random ovulating stranger and get the job done in a couple minutes, and I think he can, too.

Linda and I and our buddies Max and Peter are going for it. We're all in. If you don't hear from me by Wednesday, send someone out to paw through the charred-out remains of a mid-size rental car near Madras. It might smell like green-bean bake.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

That Clears Things Up


From my correspondence file:

Thank you for contacting us!

Yepzon one,works only in 2G networks that can be connected with Windows Phone 8.1 + NFC -iOS 7.0 or newer +Bluetooth Smart T 4.0) - Android 4.3 or newer + Bluetooth Smart (BT 4.0) + NFC. You can use the device with Bluetooth. Yepzon One has no LED on this device. In Yepzon One has Surface mounted M2M SIM component (MFF2 size standard), not changeable by user.

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

Best regards,
Anmol


Dear Anmol,

(1) Huh?

(2) I have an old 10G flaxon with rotating wankle-satchels. Could that be reconfigured with 14-cubit spatchcocks where the hipbuttons normally insert, or would that cause undue asparagus? I guess I'm worried that the coating might peel off.

(3) Is Anmol your real name?

(4) The W-Series 9-inch springform with stud-mounted rocker arms will not spatulate with only the four-and-a-quarter inch bore unless the quench area is preheated, at least at sea level. Is there an update?

(5) I think I'm in love with that barista with all the consonants in his name, but he doesn't even know I exist.  Everyone says I have a pleasing personality and am fun to be around. I'm 3'7" and love walks on the beach. Should I wear a hat?

(6) I'm told that inefficiencies in oxidative phosphorylation due to leakage of protons across the mitochondrial membrane and slippage of the ATP synthase/proton pump can be mitigated by continuous applied pressure to the clutch and passenger's forearm at the same time, but what if he pulls away?

(7) Re: compatibility issues with 64-bit internal and unsigned applications, I did wipe the SSD by going to Disk Utilities and selecting 512 GB SSD but I still had to change the partition size. Should I try the kind that's quilted for extra softness?

(8) riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. True or false?

(9) Why does everybody mumble these days?


This post is dedicated to David Gerritsen, whose birthday is today, and who would understand ALL this.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Going Over To The Dockside

The Dockside Restaurant is a modest pile of old timber surrounded by shine and money, and there are cheeseburgers in it, really good ones, the kind that isn't presented on a ciabatta roll with large food groups you can't wrap your teeth around--no. A nice squishy bun and a modest squishy burger, served with a side of potato chips and an RC. And lord only knows why the owners haven't sold out their precious footage in prime territory yet, but a lot of people are glad they haven't. You see an outfit like this, squatting like a turd in a field of gazelles, and you just find yourself rooting for it.

So it was fitting to discover that the Dockside's main claim to fame is its association with Oregon's own Tonya Harding. Or, more specifically, Tonya Harding's trash, not to be redundant. We loved Tonya Harding around here. She was a scrappy, hard-working figure skater with thighs that could snap a logger in two, and then pull an Applebee's off its foundation. She could leap into the air, spin three times, and part out a Trans-Am before hitting the ice again. She had rigid yellow hair and high bangs with enough engineering and product to fend off a tornado. She learned to skate in the Lloyd Center shopping mall, between the Cinnabon and Forever 21. And she was ours, all ours.

Also, she was not Nancy Kerrigan, a lanky, toothy beauty, and Tonya's chief rival on the ice. Nancy Kerrigan's dad was a welder and her circumstances growing up probably weren't much different than Tonya's, but we figured we knew a princess when we saw one, and that made us root for Tonya that much more. Tonya was more sturdy than beautiful. She was our Dockside.

So what's the Dockside connection? When Nancy Kerrigan was whacked in the knee by a large unintelligent fellow, the whole world immediately suspected Tonya was behind it. Our Tonya! But we knew her. We didn't suspect--we knew for a fact she was behind it. All the perps rounded up were related to Tonya in some way but she herself was held legally blameless, for lack of evidence. No matter: we were her fans and we knew what she was capable of, and we had faith in her too, knowing someone in this crew was going to do something massively stupid at some point, and then they did. She and her friends were heading to the transfer station with bags of trash and got within a mile of it and spied the Dumpster behind the Dockside, and they pulled over and hurled their trash in there, saving themselves the dump fee.

When the owner of the Dockside took trash out the next day, she saw the freeloaders' offending bags, and did what anyone would do: checked inside for clues to the miscreants. And there was an envelope with handwritten instructions for where to find Nancy Kerrigan and when and where she trained and an "X" where the treasure was and maybe a little "Kilroy was here" drawing. In Tonya's handwriting.

That's our girl.

We didn't like her in spite of it. We liked her because of it.

Tonya was banned from figure skating and carried on in a state of disgrace we find comfortable and familiar, and her legend lives on, as well as her place in our hearts. It might seem odd to cheer on a dim criminal with no principle beyond expediency, but resentment of the beautiful Nancy Kerrigans of the world can take you a long way. We're not looking for perfection. We're offended by it. The elites make us feel bad.

So don't say we haven't seen this kind of thing before. Donald Trump is just Tonya Harding with a nice 14-million-dollar bump from Daddy. He's always going to have his fans.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When Juices Run Clear

Maybe you heard about our heat wave here in Portland. We were in for a good three days of temperatures in the mid-hundreds, followed by a cooling-off into the merely obnoxious nineties. The forecasters had this horror in their sights over a week ago and the local news was all over it, breathlessly spewing out strategies and warnings. The first and most important bit of advice was to begin panicking early so as to save time later. After that came earnest tips such as "try to stay cool" and "stay out of the heat" and "check on the elderly," many of whom were otherwise expected to sit and rotate quietly until they were evenly browned. In spite of this, no one has yet checked up on me, but one of the benefits of being elderly is that I grew up without air conditioning and I have skills.

The first day, it got up to 106, although on account of the breeze it only felt like 102, assuming you are in a quickie mart at the time, draped over the popsicle chest. Our house has so far remained in the eighties. We have our routines of opening up the place at night and exhausting the air with window fans, and shutting everything up and pulling the drapes in the morning. Tater, as a member in good standing of this household, has her routine too. First she goes to the hottest part of the house and sits in the sun, plugging herself in like a rechargeable battery. When she has accumulated the maximum survivable amount of thermal units, she wanders methodically through every other room in the house in order to radiate heatness into it, and ultimately beaches herself on the kitchen counter, where she puddles out to platter size and slowly turns into paste.

It takes a few days of this in a row to really get this place up to pork-roast temperature, but I remain on the alert for the smell of cracklin's, at which point I will find the nearest popsicle chest and make a nuisance of myself until I'm booted out. Then I guess I'll go to the basement. The basement is always the coolest part of the house. Science has shown this is because of the cooling effect of the spiders, all of whom are massively cool.

So, not so bad. At least, not as bad as the hottest day I ever experienced. It was July 1976, and it was 115 degrees in Salt Lake City. We were passing through on a bicycle trip. Fortunately, we were going downhill at the time, so it could have been worse--and it was, the next day, when it plummeted to 110 degrees and we decided to cross the Bonneville Salt Flats with a pint of water each, because our mothers were not there to stop us. Science has shown that the Salt Flats were formed over many years as dull-witted bicyclists passed through in a state in which they were no longer capable of perspiration, and had begun to flake out into a salty powder instead. This layer plinks off and settles to the ground, eventually forming a thick, flat surface. This does take a long time but there isn't a scientist in the world who will tell you that the salt flats were built in a day, and there's no shortage of dull-witted cyclists. Because of the complete lack of lumps in the landscape, scientists further surmise that deceased bicyclists turn entirely into salt and blow away.

Anyway, good news. After suggesting we might get as high as 113 degrees, the forecasters have revised the temperatures downward somewhat because British Columbia is on fire and a fortuitous wind has blown smoke in from the north. In similarly good news, I plan to stay warm this winter by slaying a cow and climbing inside its carcass.

We remain doughty and stout of heart. Thanks to all of you for your concern; we are especially grateful for the kind words of sympathy coming out of the Phoenix area ("Grow up, bitches").

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Doing It Right

Sometimes, on good days, Portland reminds me of Dresden, without all the bombed-outness. We visited a friend in Dresden some years ago, and even though significant portions of the city were war-damaged or soiled or missing altogether, there was still a sense that people had their priorities straight. You could tell right off that they were doing something right because they were energetic and healthy while carrying a beer in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. No one seemed either particularly prosperous or destitute. Our friend didn't have much money but neither did anyone else. There's a level of contentment to be had in modest means, shared. The roads were filled with pedestrians, or people walking their bicycles, which doubled as baby strollers. The middle of any street was packed with people, and behind them would be a humbled automobile with its gearshift set on "plod." One didn't get the sense that the driver was at all impatient, either. He understood where he belonged in the processional. The celebrants were all ahead of him and he just carried the train.

This is as it should be, people.

As the masses milled about the ancient city, its stone buildings stained by a few hundred years of coal, with bright flounces of graffiti at their hems, I felt I was looking at the past and the future at the same time. This poorer nation was demonstrating our future--if we do it right.

Portland is groaning under new wealth but still taking deliberate aim at a sensible future. Meet Sunday Parkways. Periodically, on summer Sundays, the city closes off a goodly loop of streets to auto traffic and the neighborhood blooms with bicyclists, enjoying life in a civilized setting. It's not at all enjoyable for people in cars trying to get somewhere in the vicinity, of course. But shoot: car-driving makes people crabby anyway. That's a known fact.

Our local loop was eight miles, give or take, and included three major parks, with musicians and entertainers in them, along with food booths and free stuff. I've been in many mass-bicycle events but this one was different; we poked along, coasting behind little boys on scooters, and tandems with freeloading toddlers, and life in general slowed down so much it was strokeable. Portland Opera was set up at the first park and we discovered that, whatever else we'd planned to do that day, we had plenty of time to sit in the grass and listen to a dozen arias.

The entire first half of the loop was downhill with a sturdy tailwind, so I was bracing for the return trip, but in FutureLand it's downhill both ways. So many neighbors had claimed the peaceful streets that it seemed impossible we wouldn't run into someone we knew. Dave ran into someone he didn't know, but neither of them got too badly banged up. His bike is fine too. You can't really mess up a 1965 orange Schwinn Varsity. That vintage hunk of lead is now a certified classic and earned many compliments from those not called upon to operate it.

I looked around at the liberated streets and the smiles of the children and I said, fuck it: I'm leaving my helmet at home. I never wore one till I was 35 or so and I've hated it ever since. I suppose I should have been a good influence on the children, but then I realized that now is as good a time as any for our young people to recognize I'm not their best role model.

Hiphop at Alberta Park, blues at Woodlawn; gentle breezes turned with us and remained at our backs; miracles abounded; and then we rode right past a particularly fine brewpub. Ha ha! Of course we didn't. If you don't sit on a bioswale with your bike against a tree on a Sunday Parkway enjoying a pint of Breakside IPA, you're not doing it right.

You get a city like this on purpose. You combobulate neighborhoods where almost anything you need or want is a walk or a bike-ride away, and then--well, that little girl with the butterfly wings and the pink helmet and training wheels? That's all the faster you need to go.

Now to shut down some of those streets for good.






Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Does This Extinction Event Make My Asteroid Look Big?

Everything has its own perspective. What's good for one might not be so great for another. For instance, Dave doesn't like it, but he has effortlessly maintained a five-star rating for years on Mosquito Yelp, so somebody's happy. And while most of us are not thrilled about deadly disease, somewhere to the north a population of suppressed viruses has long awaited a savior that will allow them to rise again, and now that our permafrost is melting, their day of redemption is at hand. Hallelujah! (Or holy crap, depending on your viewpoint.)

So I don't know if the viruses and the bacteria and the mosquitoes are going to inherit the earth, or whether they are suitably meek--I wouldn't have thought so--but somebody is going to, and it isn't going to be us. And that's because of us. We are the architects of the Sixth Extinction event and it's certainly looking like we're going to be among the missing. We've done it a number of ways. We've resurrected a fatal bolus of carbon from its burial grounds and sent it into the sky, and done it in a blink of time. We've scraped off our natural vegetation to grow monocrops, and sent the fertilizer required into the oceans, killing them piece by piece. We've overfished. And so on, and so forth.

Lots of folks don't really believe we could make that much difference, but that's false modesty. Lift up your heads and own it, humans! Together, we're as big and strong as a killer asteroid! Boo-yah!

Well, poop. We didn't evolve to consider long-term consequences. We're wired for the tiger and, at most, the next growing season. So instead of trembling in fear over the disaster we're creating, we're all worked up about the moles in our lawn, or the waitress who totally dissed us. We'll point at something shiny in the road and not recognize it's Godzilla's big toenail. What's that shadow?

And maybe some of the fun we've been having could have gone on for a while longer, if only there were a reasonable number of us to dilute the consequences of our shenanigans. But there's nothing reasonable about our numbers. We're seven or eight billion and headed straight up. We'll have to get those numbers down. Way, way down. And honey, that involves attrition. That involves death.

There are a lot of choices here. There's your starvation--that'll wipe out a bunch--there's your disease, your plagues, your genocides, your war. All of these will come to pass, especially since so many of us are going to be on the move. Also, there's birth control. Can't realistically count on anybody keeping it zipped but we could make reliable birth control free, and encourage or even require people to hold it down to one or (why not!) none. And of course there's abortion.

I've read the script, and at this point it is mandatory to assert that even though many people support the right to choose, nobody is pro-abortion. But it's not true. I, for instance, am all for it.

Yes, I said it: I am a big fan of abortion. I believe that at over seven billion and counting, we can no longer consider ourselves so very precious. I don't even think I'm precious. It would be better if we just quit getting knocked up (except maybe the once, if we absolutely must), but we do. There might be 16 billion of us before this century's out, all wanting a standard of comfort and convenience we never could afford. As a result we're about to go extinct and take most everything down with us. I'm pro-abortion because I'm pro-life. In fact, I'll double down. When I look at those in power who are so willing to burn the whole village down just to hunker in their spider-holes and fondle their money, I think in some cases abortion should be retroactive.

I know this upsets people. I can hear some of you clicking off, never to return. I'm sorry about that, because I love my audience, and small as it is, I don't want it any smaller. You all sustain me. And mostly I want to make you laugh, and maybe every now and then to make you ponder. As I'm typing this, I am only imagining the rejection; I can still forestall it; I can write about chickadees, and not post this at all.

That's the beauty of looking realistically into the future. You can see what your choices are, with your eyes wide open. I choose to post.

Today, August 2, 2017, the forecast for Portland, Oregon is 108 degrees F.