Friday, April 23, 2010

Look but don't touch

A fine-looking plant, poison oak, especially when leafing out. From a distance, the festive red and green appears uniform dusty purple-brown, one of those subtle Mediterranean hues we get in California's chaparral.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dying Inside

I stumbled across Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg in the new science fiction books at our public library. I confess to having been familiar with neither the author nor the work, which is a recent reissue of a 1972 novel. There was a positive blurb by Michael Chabon on the cover, so I read it. It is a fine novel, reflecting the tenor of its time and place (New York City in the 60s and 70s for the most part), but not dated. Through a series of vignettes and flashbacks, we follow our protagonist-narrator, nearing middle age, as he comes to grips with the loss of his telepathic powers. I guess the telepathy is what qualifies the book as "speculative fiction," but it's really a meditation on identity, love, and solitude... and on our uneasy relationship with that capricious Old Testament god, whether or not he exists. I thought of Philip Roth, without the humor or the rage. Dying Inside is not as good as Roth at his best (when the Nobel prize?), but better than a minor Roth. It is worthy of (re)discovery.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Miner's Lettuce

Salad of fresh miner's lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) with pecans and organic beets, dressed in lemon juice and olive oil.

The late rains have kept the native miner's lettuce coming, but the end is near as the plants all bolt and wilt. Wikipedia claims it "is not quite as delicate as other lettuce," which is crazy. It requires gentle handling, but is delicious!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Krugman on climate

I urge one and all to read in its entirety Paul Krugman's piece on climate change policy and economics for the NY Times Magazine. It is the best non-technical article on the subject that I have read, and I say that as someone who has tried to write one myself. Suppressing his inclination to shrillness and partisanship, Krugman has produced a piece that is clear, accurate, fair (not impartial, but fair), and essential.

If I were to add anything to his article, it would be a greater emphasis on the likely disproportionate impact of climate change on the world's poorest, many of whom live in arid or low-lying areas, and who will lack the resources for adaptation to rapidly changing conditions. If I were to change anything, I would strike a less negative tone on China. Despite the dangers of China's growing dependence on coal, there are also very promising signs of Chinese leadership on clean technology development. (They may even build our high-speed rail for us here in CA.)

If I were to draw a single political lesson, it would be that we on the political left (you know who we are) should be prepared to hold our noses and pay what it takes to buy off the energy industries and the politicians they own. Cap-and-trade provides an easy mechanism for doing so. Too much is at stake to get hung up on moral purity. Besides, to paraphrase a certain LSE-educated singer: "I shouted out, who killed the climate? When after all, it was you and me..."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Look down!

I've learned a lot from my kids, and one of those things is to LOOK DOWN. I don't mean "watch your step," I mean look at the dirt under your feet close up and brush away some of the crap to see what's under there. Chances are it is something amazing. Of course I knew this at some point but I had unlearned it.

Here is something amazing, and it's called a bird's nest fungus (Cyathus sp.). These are tiny things, about a centimeter across, and the little "eggs," called peridioles, contain the spores. They came out on the front-yard mulch after all the recent rain. Each is perfect in its own way, and each could not care less about financial meltdowns or health care reform or the Pope's misdeeds. I do, but it's nice to know the fungi carry on regardless.