Friday, August 19, 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Game of Thrones betting market

The markets predict that insufferable dragon lady as the winner by a substantial margin. God I hope not. In the moral universe of television, one rule that should always be observed is that the winner is a halfway decent actor. If I were a betting man, I'd go with Cersei Lannister, not only because she is my favorite character, but also because she seems invincible. On the other hand, if Bran Stark triumphs, just shoot me... no worries, I will already have been bored to death...

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Golden Compass

I recently re-read the first installment of Philip Pullman's marvelous fantasy trilogy, mostly while I was shivering next to the campfire in Yosemite. It was almost as good as I remember it. Still, it really is fiction for young folks, not old cynics like me, and I perceived a few shortcomings that I might have missed the first time, when the breathless plot carried me right along. In particular, the narrative rushes toward the end, when a reader might prefer that Pullman take his time and reveal more about some of the main characters—not their back stories, but their character. And things are sometimes a little too easy for Lyra: her clever plans work out better than one could reasonably expect. This reflects the tension in the story between destiny and agency. My taste leans toward more agency, but I acknowledge that others may differ. One thing we can probably all agree on is that together, this girl and her daemon make a hero for all time.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


That's farmers' market-speak for mushy or broken tomatoes (etc.) sold at a steep discount. Today's were 75 cents a pound, just fine to eat sliced today. Mine are suffering a different fate...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Yosemite visit

The peak of summer tourist season is not the ideal time to visit Yosemite, but if you head to the "less popular" (that's a relative term) upper part of the park, manage to find a campsite, and then hit the trail... well... it's Yosemite! I lucked into the last open site in the rustic and secluded Porcupine Flat campground. Tioga Road (Rte 120) was a traffic jam at times. But what still astonishes me is that you need only hike for an hour from the road and not see another human soul.

Bad news first. The drive between Groveland and Crane Flat (many miles) was depressing. The pines that haven't been taken out by wildfires are succumbing to pine bark beetles in large numbers. Within a decade the lower Sierras will look more like chaparral than forest. But let's just ignore all that and head up to high country.

Hike #1 was the short chug up Lembert Dome in Tuolumne Meadows... a good way to get acclimated to the thinner air. Great views. If you haven't yet... just do it!

Next day, Hike #2: Gaylor and Granite Lakes, a trail that takes off from Tioga Pass at the east end of the park. One of my favorites—I have done it many times. Most people seem to stop at the first (Middle) Gaylor Lake. It's lovely, but the best lies beyond.

Bumblebees love ranger buttons (Sphenosciadium capitellum).

A mellow stroll from Middle Gaylor brings you to Upper Gaylor Lake. And from there, it's a short trudge uphill to the "Great Sierra Mine." The miners, in search of fortunes of silver, were unsuccessful, but they built a fine stone cabin at the crest with a southward view that rivals any I know of. Then again, pretty chilly winters up there!

Thanks to Jeffrey Schaffer I know that you can bushwhack past the mine to a scenic nearby pond and then over a ridge to the Granite Lakes. The view from atop the ridge is a classic:

Hike #4: Mono and Parker Passes. (I deal with Hike #3 below.) This is one of the top day hikes in Yosemite. 12 miles round trip in high-elevation air, so be prepared!

First, up to Mono Pass. Many good views, and an interesting set of pioneer cabins at the pass. Beautiful weathered logs...

Then head south to Parker Pass. The climb is gradual, and the open-country scenery is spectacular all the way.

Parker Pass, at 11,000 feet, is essentially the top of a long, broad, windswept meadow. It is a dramatic setting.

Just south of the pass is a moraine (I think), hiding chilly, sapphire Parker Pass Lake. I scrambled down to it for lunch.

The rocks here are the typical eastern Sierra metamorphic melange. The green stuff (serpentine?) seems to attract the hardy lichens in this inhospitable environment...

From Parker Pass Lake it's an easy cross-country stroll down crazy-beautiful meadows to shallow Spillway Lake. There I met a couple of friendly Park Service limnologists taking their lunch break after collecting and analyzing some water samples... well, they weren't really limnologists, but physical chemists, but I like the word limnologist.

Oh yeah... Hike #3? Short jaunt up Panum Crater, just south of Mono Lake. This is a rhyolitic lava dome of very recent vintage... 600-700 years old. The dome is a kind of fun-house of volcanic rock, including huge blobs of obsidian. At that age, it has to be considered active, and standing there you do wonder when it might get a hankering to blow again...

This rock exhibits what is known as breadcrust texture, caused by cooling and cracking of the lava.

Yosemite has critters too. Like Belding's ground squirrel. At Gaylor Lake, they have only a few short months to eat up and go to bed before the snows come again. Cute?

Whistle while you woyk

I suppose Samsung thinks they are selling phones in these commercials. What they're really selling is America's greatest musical genius. Maybe some kid begging Mom and Dad for a new phone with which to play Pokemon Go will wonder whose crazy voice that is... then she'll google him and hear him play trumpet. If I were a believing person I'd imagine he was smiling... and whistling... at this. And wishing he were still alive for the royalty payment.

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 72

American popular music offers such an abundance of riches... I'd never claim there was a golden era or genre. For me, the jazz-inflected popular song of the 1950s—Ella, Sarah, of course Frank—ranks mighty high, as does 70s soul and funk, classic Dixieland, 60s Blue Note jazz... I could go on. But 90s hip-hop is right up there... a nearly limitless trove. I thank Aidan, a true aficionado, for helping me appreciate how to listen, especially to the beats. Spotify's I Love My 90s Hip Hop channel is a mixed bag, but that's partly what's impressive... from Black Eyed Peas to Eminem to Lauryn Hill to Pharcyde to Wu Tang Clan... stylistically, the diversity is extraordinary. And then there's the lyrics. From psychedelia to trenchant social realism.

Speaking of social realism... This one is so hard, so sad, so poetic. Profane, for sure.