Madonna Fakes

What’s this? A news report that the Vatican is set to “overhaul” its process for discerning Virgin Mary fakes. You know, for the purpose of distinguishing authentic supernatural expressions of the Virgin Mary from hoaxes. The article ends with a statement from a practitioner of Marian theology (I didn’t know Marian Theology was a thing, did you?):

“What is positive in the new document is the recognition that the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother are present and active in human history,” he said. “We must appreciate these supernatural interventions but realize that they must be discerned properly.”

He cited the biblical phrase that best applies: “Test everything, retain what is good.″

You know, some days it’s hard for me to believe it’s been over two hundred years since the end of the Age of Enlightenment.

I keep saying it isn’t AI deep fakes on the Internet we should be most concerned about. It’s rather the continued good ol’ fashioned quackery foisted on us by BIs (Biological Intelligence) that should concern us most.

The Present Is Its Past

It was nine years after Alaska became a state that the means for it to sustain itself was discovered. It happened inside that shack on March 12, 1968, roughly a mile and a half from the shore of the Arctic Ocean. Seventeen years later, nearly to the day, I was recruited to go work for one of the two companies responsible for the discovery. (The other company interviewed me but didn’t offer me a job). About four years later the company relocated me to work in its Alaska office, located in Anchorage. All of this might never have happened. Prior to drilling the discovery well, more than a dozen others had been drilled – dry holes every one of them. Finally, a last ditch decision was made to drill one more. It was always so.

All of our experiences are completely shaped by events that preceded us. Even though it seems to each of us, at least in part, that we are the cause of our own outcome. As if the present and future are a mystery until we choose to reveal them. But you know what, the more I think about that, I don’t think it’s true.

Springtime

Behold: The tulips of Skagit Valley. And they’re just getting started! This was a short drive from the Homestead. We stopped to take photos on our way to catch the ferry in Anacortes, which shuttled us to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island where we celebrated HW’s birthday.

The view from our room, with another ferry arriving. The room was great, no complaints, although it featured an extra large, Jacuzzi-style tub in the shape of the mathematical symbol for infinity. Smack dab in the middle of the room. Get yer romance on? I don’t think so. Neither of us likes bathtubs. The very idea of soaking in our own lukewarm slop for an hour, bubbly in hand or not, holds no appeal for us. We dislike tubs so much we decided to remodel our primary bathroom at the Homestead. We demoed the traditional tub ‘n shower configuration and transformed it into a walk-in, spa-like shower. Similar to what we did in our Anchorage home. I gave the contractor a house key before we left and said, “Keep us posted on your progress.”

HW on her birthday, in our room ready to go to dinner. After all these years I still pinch myself to make sure this good fortune is real.

Beauty for Beauty’s Sake

Ardea herodias (aka Great Blue Heron)

We spotted this one hunting near the marina by our house. I’m guessing a boy given the longer ornamental plumage? These birds are everywhere around here, especially this time of year but we’ve spotted them in winter too. Truly a beautiful bird. I’m reading a book titled The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum, wherein he makes the argument that the aesthetic features in males (physical traits and behaviors) have co-evolved with the female’s preference for them, independent of any survival or reproductive advantage of the features. In other words, beauty for beauty’s sake. His thesis draws on over thirty years observing the reproductive behaviors of Manakins and certain species of Pheasants found in jungles around the world. It set me to wonder if the aesthetic beauty of the Great Blue Heron may have evolved in a similar way.

Remnants


Eye candy on the beach. Two by Mother Nature, one by modern man. Click or touch to embiggen!

Remember back in the 70s and 80s when government funding of the national space program was controversial? (And maybe it still is, I haven’t paid close attention lately). If I recall correctly, most arguments against funding NASA had to do with not enough money to go around, the government has more important spending priorities many people said. Yet in 1962, President Kennedy, apparently in need of a collective goal to focus the waning patriotic spirit of the American voter, announced that we (America) choose to go to the moon. I was two years old then, too young to appreciate the arguments of the naysayers, one of which was: why the hell should we spend all this money just to land on the moon? One reason was to get ahead of the Russians, who had one year prior to Kennedy’s speech successfully put a man in orbit to circle the globe. We can’t let them horrible communists win the space race! And so it happened in 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I was nine then, certainly I would have seen it reported on black ‘n white TV, but I have no memory of that spectacle if in fact I did. In the ensuing decades there were many justifications for continuing to fund NASA. One which held mass appeal centered on the prospect of technology transfer – all that R&D that NASA was engaged in getting us into space could be translated into whizzbang products to improve the lives of ordinary Americans. Turns out that claim wasn’t totally fatuous. I had no idea, for instance, that the invention of the Dustbuster was based on cordless motor technology, developed by Black & Decker for NASA, to power a drill to extract core samples on the moon. Take that naysayers! The Dustbuster certainly improved my life. I used one to clean the entire basement flat (aka The Bat Cave) where I lived while in grad school, circa 1983-84. Well, “clean” may be an exaggeration. But my point is, that Dustbuster kept me and my roommates from having to wade through ankle-deep dust bunnies. And, for that matter, our dates too. In fact, I found the chance of getting a date to accompany me back to The Bat Cave a second time was negatively correlated to dust bunny volume. You’ve heard the phrase I’m sure, “Chics Dig Dirt.” Well, they don’t, not really.

Come to find out all these years later the technology transfer argument for funding NASA still has merit. We purchased a King-sized mattress recently to replace a twenty-year old one, which anymore was about as supportive as a Twinkie left out in the hot sun. This new one uses memory foam technology, specifically the same type used to cover the chairs in rockets that astronauts travel to space in. Take that naysayers! Now, instead of waking up each morning to a constellation of aches and pains, we awake more or less pain free, as if all night long we’d been afloat among the moon and stars.

Tick Tock

A fine day at the north fork of the Nooksak River, near Glacier, WA. HW found a bunch of fossils here during our recent exploration of the area. Mount Baker looms in the distance. It’s one of the youngest volcanic peaks in the Cascade range. Unambiguous evidence dates the last eruption here at about 6,600 years ago. The entire watershed is a major source of fresh water for the state, and for the generation of hydroelectric power which accounts for about 65% of the state’s electrical output. The more famous Mt. St. Helens on the Pacific Ring of Fire is the only volcano in the Cascade Range with a more active thermal crater than Mt. Baker. When I was a student in the Geoscience program at Wisconsin (early ’80s), I traveled out West for a summer field course and was fortunate to visit Mt. St. Helens a year or more after it erupted in May, 1980. The explosion removed most of the north face of the mountain. I’d never before observed that scale of destruction by a natural force, truly jaw dropping. When we were in Portland recently with friends, the four of us drove north to spend a few hours at the St. Helens visitor center. Watching the time-lapse video of the eruption brought back a lot of memories of my first trip there. Measured in geologic time, though, it was like a blink-of-an-eye ago.

Will Mt. Baker erupt in the near future? Probably. In 1860, travelers aboard a steamboat headed to Victoria, BC reported seeing plumes of smoke rising from one of the craters on Mt. Baker, and there was a scare in 1975 and another in 2007. But none of those rumblings led to a full on eruption like was seen at Mt. St. Helens. But it’s probably just a matter of time. I’ll be thankful not to be standing this close the day it happens.

Oh, Canada

Spotted recently during a walkabout in Victoria, BC. It set me to wonder because it was over sixty years ago that Ayn Rand (aka The Russian Radical) made the non-intuitive and controversial claim in her essay that there are no conflicts of interest among men. If true, then surely there would be nothing for a Conflict of Interest Commissioner to do, a textbook example of a sinecure. Consistent with that conclusion I noted the office was closed.

Canadians, it seems to me, are inclined to being overly officious official. Although my average impression of them as a lot is that they are otherwise nice and non-threatening. In every social context during the three days we were there, never once did HW or I feel insecure or unsafe in our surroundings. Not anywhere in our daily peregrinations exploring the city, driving the roadways, aboard their ferries, or even relatively remote places beyond the city like the park we visited where we hiked to the beach. My impression isn’t based only on our recent visit there either, I’ve visited other locales in Canada before, same impression. Even the impromptu “street performer” we observed one day while out shopping – who as I passed close by him erupted in thick brogue, “Aye, you can’t have a discussion of bravery without the fuckin’ Irish!” – startled me, but he didn’t frighten me. Someone like that appearing suddenly in my personal orbit on Market Street in San Francisco might have me pulling HW tight and quickening our pace, but not in Canada. I’m not sure why.

We plan to visit Tofino on the west side of Vancouver Island sometime this summer, supposedly a kayaker’s dream, so HW especially is looking forward to this. Another place of interest for us in southern BC (mainland) is the Okanagan Valley, where some surprisingly decent wines are made. We’re also looking into road trips this summer to Montana, Idaho, and Colorado to visit good friends who live there. And possibly a touch-base trip to Wisconsin to catch up with family. It’s gonna be a busy year of travel. Overseas, we’d like to return to northern Italy, this time to experience the food and wine of the Nebbiolo region (next to Amarone, Barolos are one of my favorite red wines), and to take our time exploring Turin, the city where Frederich Nietzsche descended into madness and died. And for years we’ve talked about hiking the full extent of Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. It was constructed around 122 AD by the Romans as a defensive fortress and to mark the northern extent of the empire at the time. Some historians think one reason for building the wall was maybe to keep the “barbarians” to the north (ancestors of modern Scots) from invading the empire. Supposedly them early Scots were wicked scary.

What else is going on? Well, the hole in our home left by Chester’s passing is still here. Nothing but time can seal it, and there’s no treatment to avoid the experience of grief while we wait. We cannot “will” ourselves to get over it. Slowly, though, we’re getting out and about and feeling better about feeling good again. Endless wallowing in self-pity is not our way.

Those tunnels beneath Gaza are something aren’t they. Whoever ends up governing Gaza should turn them into a tourist attraction, use the proceeds to help rebuild the place. Some reports I’ve read estimate that upwards of 50% of the buildings in Gaza have been leveled or damaged beyond repair by Israeli bombs. Who’s gonna pay to clean up the mess and rebuild it? In Ukraine, damage to private and commercial property will shortly exceed $150 billion. And Putin, it seems, is just getting started. Syria is an utter disaster, and was the worst humanitarian crisis in recent times to strain credulity, until the starving refugee crisis in Yemen dropped our jaws. Iraq, a country we invaded and occupied for eight years on a phony casus belli – The Global Policy Forum now estimates the total cost to America for that fiasco at over $1 Trillion. That’s roughly equivalent to the cost of the Vietnam and Korean wars combined. What did it get Americans, increased security? Ha. I don’t think so. We still have Americans there getting killed by Iranian-backed insurgents. And then America retaliates, blows up some infrastructure and kills some bad guys, only to have a new group of bad guys emerge someplace else and attack us again. Ever heard of the game Whac-A-Mol? One trillion dollars wisely spent at home could have transformed every inch of this country into a Lake Woebegone experience. Plus spared a whole lot of unnecessary death and destruction. Instead, there are places in the world I’d like to visit, but now more than ever would never visit because, qua American, I’d feel like there was a target on my back (except Canada). And we (taxpayers) are stuck with the bill.

Anyway, I’m off to watch the game. Prediction: 49ers by a smidge in a late comeback rally.

Who Knew

A forecaster thought two to five inches may fall overnight. We awoke the next morning victims of this. They say it’s an inexact science, meteorology. Sure, but over 2X off? If I were feeling generous I’d acknowledge this was an outlier event; this much snow paired with below freezing temperatures supposedly is super rare here. To the contrary, my spirit was bereft of any generosity whatsoever, I was cussin’ the weatherperson with every shovelful.

That was last week. Today it’s near 50º and most of the snow has melted. It feels like a forecaster’s apology.

Friends drove up yesterday to watch the Packer game with us. I smoked pork spareribs on the Traeger. HW made a green salad to go with it. If not for that ill-fated pass by Love late in the game, they might’ve won or at least tied the score. A missed field goal and near pick six earlier in the game didn’t help. But overall, a pretty impressive showing by a surprisingly talented team of newbies who played otherwise mostly mistake-free football to damn near beat the #1 seed (on their home turf) to advance to the conference title game. Not to mention the Packer’s astounding blowout of a veteran Cowboys team a week earlier in Dallas. Nobody, including me, saw that coming. The ribs were good, too.

Later this month we’re meeting up with friends in Portland, friends from Alaska who recently moved to Boise. They scored the tickets for the sporting event and I took care of the Airbnb. Out of necessity we bought a new car recently, so we’re both looking forward to the drive. See our driveway in the photo? It’s pretty steep. Around late September last year one of our cars was “parked” at the top, but not in park when it was turned off. Eventually, the gravitational attraction between it and a 75′ cedar tree in the neighbor’s front yard across the street proved too much to resist. Down the driveway the object rolled, gaining speed all the way until it slammed into its gravitational partner. I had to saw off the bent and twisted catalytic converter just to render the vehicle drive-able again. Even so, there was an impressive amount of damage. So much that State Farm eventually ruled it a total loss and sent us an eye-popping check for the remaining value. When they say Like a Good Neighbor, you can believe ’em.

Instead Of The Nibblet

Remember the inspirational posters employers were fond of hanging in the coffee bar, or other areas around the office where employees would congregate to commiserate over dissatisfaction with their jobs? Commonly the poster would feature a photo of some steadfast force of nature paired with a caption like: Determination!, or Creativity!, or Teamwork!, Believe and Succeed!

I confess that throughout much of my professional life in the twenty years or so I worked for a big company that I was cynical around the motivations of management, specifically with regard to their cheap tricks intended to get more and better work out of the rank and file employees. Like those posters, for example.


I snapped this photo recently while out on a beach walk with HW and thought it would make a perfect counter-inspirational poster.

But what about the caption? Tenacity! or Resilience! might work. But in order to be rebellious, consistent with my cynical attitude toward group-think at the time, I thought maybe The Power of One! would capture that spirit. But that’s a little tame, innit? As a writing professor once guided me (dimly recalled), “Your satire works best when the writing is over the top. Don’t fear offending the reader, give your metaphors all the oomph they deserve, say what you really mean.” OK. So how about this for a caption: Fuck Off! Tell me you don’t see that cliff face like the back of a hand, with the lone tree stubbornly rooted like a middle finger raised to the sky. Talk about your force of nature.

HW & I drove over the border (“the line” as the Canucks call it) yesterday to walk the promenade and stroll along Canada’s longest pier. At the end of which we spotted several people fishing for crabs. We peered over the railing and saw swarms of silverfish just below the surface of the water, wary of the hungry sea lions lurking nearby. One of many statues erected along the promenade celebrating the heritage of the place

Another lone wolf deserving of a caption. Use your imagination.

For all you wondering when the 2023 Nibblet will arrive in your mailbox, I regret to inform you I didn’t pen one this year. This is the first year in fifteen consecutive years (!) this has happened. My only excuse – a sudden, stupendous, and sustained bout of agraphia after the loss of Chester. I’m sorry, my voice and sense of levity were no where to be found this year. We are again getting out of town today. South instead of north this time. We’re going to visit a nursery and then overnight at an Inn near the sea.

We wish you all an uneventful and happy 2024. Wait, it’s an election year. Scratch that. Strap in, hold on, and be your best.