“Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.”
Will Rogers (He made this comment about 90 years ago. Sometimes nothing changes)
TODAY FROM AMERICA:
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SELF-QUARANTINE:
Today is the fortieth day of our self-quarantine. It began like most of my days do now, quarantine or not, with my usual breakfast followed by sitting in the reclining chair to watch the mornings news. What differed now was the recognition that, more or less, it also would be what the rest of our day would be like. We are beginning to run out of novel ways to entertain ourselves. I suppose by now that has become common for most of us stuck waiting for this pandemic to end. I feel like what those old mountain men must have felt like while being trapped all winter in a snow-covered cabin in the wilderness.
Having read the prior paragraph and checked back through previous posts, I noticed that I often begin these issues of T&T with either over-melodramatic tales of woe or irrational joy. Why not? After all, I am 80 years old and just woke up. Who the hell knows what I may feel like on any given morning.
Easter Sunday, same old, same old. Last night, I did not sleep well. My mind tossed about reviewing lengthy examples of what I would write here when I woke up. As expected, they are all gone now. Anyway, it is Easter.
For we Catholics (fallen away, apostate or believer), despite the vast number of feasts and holy days on the liturgical calendar, Christmas (Originally Saturnalia) and Easter ( Eostre or Ostara, a Germanic pagan sex goddess) stand out as the most revered (Renewal and redemption — the renewal of the sun and the start of planting. Yes, redemption for what you did during the winter can be redeemed by a good spring plowing.) Although one would think all children would prefer Christmas and the presents they received, I liked Easter better. For me, Christmas always was filled with disappointment and family strife. Easter, on the other hand, required only dressing up in new clothes you probably did not like, suffering through an over-long mass (loved the music and the smell of incense though) and no-one cared what you did thereafter.
B. Naida, Pookie, and Boo-Boo the Barking Dog Break Quarantine.
Anyway, on Easter Sunday we broke confinement. We were pretty stir-crazed, so, instead of church, we decided to drive into the country — to the Cosumnes River near the ranch where Naida used to live — the history of which was included in her remarkable books, The California Gold Trilogy (firstname.lastname@example.org). It took only about fifteen minutes to get to the turn off onto the unpaved portion of Latrobe Road. Naida told me it was the main road from the train station at Latrobe (a town that no longer exists) to Sacramento. Along the road, several buildings and structures from the middle of the 19th Century that she mentioned in her books still existed.
Naida and Boo-Boo the Barking Dog standing in front of a typical Oak Woodland.
We expected the road to be empty but instead, there were a few motorbikes churning up dust and some cars with couples looking for someplace to park. The dirt road wound through a few enormous cattle ranches. Eventually, we also parked and got out of our car for a walk. The ranches have preserved the landscape as it more or less had been since the Native Americans roamed the area unmolested. The famous Oak Woodlands of California remain much as they did then. The grasslands, on which the woodlands stood, were cropped clean by the vast herds of Elk and other ruminants until they resembled manicured golf courses. They also do today trimmed by the grazing herds of cattle.
Almost everywhere along the road and in the meadows spring wildflowers bloomed — California poppies, dwarf and standard lupin, fiddle necks, and others.
We then drove through another large ranch that contained the remnant of the Gold Rush town of Michigan Bar. The miners in that town during the Gold Rush slaughtered the Native-Americans that lived on Naida and Bill’s old ranch located about a mile downstream on the Cosumnes River. Naida recalls the event in her novel, River of Red Gold. The novel also tells of the miners from Michigan Bar fighting a water war with the local ranches and killing Jared Sheldon a leader of the ranchers who were attempted to dam the river downstream to irrigate crops at Naida’s ranch site.
A View Across the Cosumnes River to the Remnant of the Old Gold Rush Town of Michigan Bar.
The Old Hotel at Michigan Bar.
While driving through the town two odd things happened. The first occurred when we parked to photograph a remaining tiny log cottage in which the miners lived (those that did not live in a tent or sleep in the open). When later I looked at the photo, I saw this:
I do not know what caused this but I love the result so I included it here.
The second strange event began while I was taking the above picture. Not too far from us, an old car was parked with what looked like one person sitting in the front seat enjoying the river view. The car appeared to be an old Hudson or Mercury, you know, all black with tiny windows resembling the Bat-mobile. Suddenly he jumped out of the car and walked off a few steps at stood there as we drove away.
We drove on to the edge of town and stopped to photograph some wildflowers exposing their passionate spring colors along the side of the road. Suddenly, I noticed the black car speeding down the road toward us. It passed, went up the road away, turned around, and stopped by our car. There was a young man and a young woman in the front seat. The young man rolled down his window and said, “Can you take our picture?”
Forgetting all about social distancing, I agreed. Then remembering and being embarrassed to now refuse, I grabbed some lens-wipes l had brought along to clean my glasses hoping they would somehow protect me. I got out of our car, took hold of his camera trying but failing to grasp it with the lens-wipes, and prepared to take their photograph.
The young man was skinny, with a bleached white complexion, scrawny brown beard and a few odd small blue poorly executed tattoos, The woman, who seemed annoyed about something, had a little more heft to her dark hair and brown skin. I guessed her to be a Latina or perhaps of Native American extraction. They insisted on being photographed sitting on the car bumper and showing the car behind them rather than the beautiful landscape all around.
After taking the photographs, I returned to the car convinced that I had broken all the rules of social distancing and that within the next two weeks I would surely die.
Following that bit of misadventure, we drove onto the massive 15,000 acre Van Vleck Ranch. The Van Vleck’s were friends of Naida and Bill. I was in state government when Gordon Van Vleck was Secretary of Resources. He was a pleasant man who tried to do the right thing in a Republican administration. Both Gordon and his older brother Stan had died while piloting his small plane over the ranch. Stan’s wife, Lynn, who inherited the ranch, shortly after his death had married a sheep rancher from Texas whose ranch was even larger than the Van Vleck’s. Naida wanted to visit them in order to see how her friend Lynn was doing because she had not been able to contact her for a while because she had misplaced her phone number. Lynn was at home and we, observing the proper social distancing protocols, had a delightful conversation.
Naida and Lynn observe social distancing across the fence.
The Van Vleck Ranch Center at dusk.
Following our visit, we drove back into the Enchanted Forest.
C. Back in the Enchanted Forest.
The next morning we woke up to discover that our portion of the subdivision was without water. We think that is because the HOC is installing a new water metering system. So, we spent the day just like we always do except today without water.
I think self-confinement is beginning to get to Naida. She has begun shouting at her smart-phone. It is not so much that she did not do it in the past. We all do now and then. I suspect that in the future will recognize a new health hazard — smart-phone fury syndrome. Anyway, it is now happening more often. Like my own rage at sitting here reading Facebook posts and watching endless news programs on why we are confined and our President’s whining about how it is not his fault. We could go for another ride somewhere. It will be good for both of us. Instead, we decided to spend today watching crime shows like “Forensic Files.” They did not improve our mood.
At about 5PM having grown tired of learning about the several gruesome ways of committing murder, noticing the sun was shining brightly and recognizing the meaning of the dog’s whining we decided to once again break containment and take a walk. This time we walked to the levee along the American River. The azaleas bloomed everywhere. There were a lot of people, mostly from nearby Sac State walking, running, bike riding, and generally enjoying this pleasant warm evening. We returned refreshed if a bit concerned that we may have snared a coronavirus or two along the way.
Azalea Madness in the Enchanted Forest.
D. OFF TO THE SANDHILL CRANE PRESERVE:
The following day we decided death by plague to be a superior method of meeting one’s maker than death by cable-news. So, we set off for the Sandhill Crane Reserve at some restored wetlands in the Delta near Gault. The sandhill cranes had long departed the wetlands and had returned to Canada for the summer. Nevertheless, I was eager to visit the restored wetland having a hand in promoting and developing early wetland restoration techniques over 40 years ago.
We took care this time to pack masks, food, drink, and rubber gloves. The wetland restoration was as well done as any I have seen and the wildlife surprisingly varied. We saw huge flocks of geese and other birds feeding in the wetland.
That’s all for now. Take care of yourselves. And, above all, remember to always keep on truckin…
DAILY FRACTURED FACTOID:
A Few More 5000 Year Old Zany Aphorisms From Sumer.
The fox, having urinated into the sea, said: “The depths of the sea are my urine!”
For a donkey there is no stench. For a donkey there is no washing with soap.
For his pleasure he got married. On his thinking it over he got divorced
To serve beer with unwashed hands, to spit without trampling upon it, to sneeze without covering it with dust, to kiss with the tongue at midday without providing shade, are abominations to Utu.
He came, he stayed a while; he finished, he did not stay put.
All day long, oh penis, you ejaculate as if you have blood inside you, and then you hang like a damp reed.
To appreciate the earth is for the gods; I am merely covered in dust.
Bitterness afflicted the anus; but it entered by way of the mouth.
The dog gnawing on a bone says to his anus: “This is going to hurt you!
Not only were the ancient Sumerians the creators of Civilization but they also seem to be the originators of slapstick comedy. That sounds reasonable. A civilization without humor cannot be considered civilized. Or, as Groucho said, “I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.” Or, even more appropriately, “It isn’t necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.” That is civilized. And, the abominations of Utu to you too.
A. On Top: A Few Brief and at Times Amusing Essays for Understanding Basic Science with Which to While-Away Your Time During Self-Confinement.
INFORMATION, A NUMBER — Biology and Physics.
Most people, scientists in particular, are happiest with a concept when they can put a number to it. Anything else, they feel, is too vague to be useful. ‘Information’ is a number, so that comfortable feeling of precision slips in without anyone noticing that it might be spurious.
Two sciences that have gone a long way down this slippery path are biology and physics. The discovery of the ‘linear’ molecular structure of DNA has given evolutionary biology a seductive metaphor for the complexity of organisms and how they evolve, namely: the genome of an organism represents the information that is required to construct it. The origin of this metaphor is Francis Crick and James Watson’s epic discovery that an organism’s DNA consists of ‘code words’ in the four molecular molecular ‘letters’ A C T G, which, you’ll recall, are the initials of the four possible ‘bases’. This description led to the inevitable metaphor that the genome contains information about the corresponding organism. Indeed, the genome is widely described as ‘containing the information needed to produce’ an organism.
The easy target here is the word ‘the’. There are innumerable reasons why a developing organism’s DNA does not determine the organism. These non-genomic influences on development are collectively known as ‘epigenetics’, and they range from subtle chemical tagging of DNA to the investment of parental care. The hard target is ‘information’. Certainly, the genome includes information in some sense: currently, an enormous international effort is being devoted to listing that information for the human genome, and also for other organisms such as rice, yeast, and the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. But notice how easily we slip into cavalier attitudes, for here the word ‘information’ refers to the human mind as receiver, not to the developing organism. organism. The Human Genome Project informs us, not organisms.
This flawed metaphor leads to the equally flawed conclusion that the genome explains the complexity of an organism in terms of the amount of information in its DNA code.
Humans are complicated because they have a long genome that carries a lot of information; nematodes are less complicated because their genome is shorter. However, this seductive idea can’t be true. For example, the Shannon information content of the human genome is smaller by several orders of magnitude than the quantity of information needed to describe the wiring of the neurons in the human brain. How can we be more complex than the information that describes us? And some amoebas have much longer genomes than ours, which takes us down several pegs as well as casting even more doubt on DNA as information.
Underlying the widespread belief that DNA complexity explains organism complexity (even though it clearly doesn’t) are two assumptions, two scientific stories that we tell ourselves. The first story is DNA as Blueprint, in which the genome is represented not just as an important source of control and guidance over biological development, but as the information needed to determine an organism. The second is DNA as Message, the ‘Book of Life’ metaphor.
Both stories oversimplify a beautifully complex interactive system. DNA as Blueprint says that the genome is a molecular ‘map’ of an organism. DNA as Message says that an organism can pass that map to the next generation by ‘sending’ the appropriate information.
Both of these are wrong, although they’re quite good science fiction — or, at least, interestingly bad science fiction with good special effects.
If there is a ‘receiver’ for the DNA ‘message’ it is not the next generation of the organism, which does not even exist at the time the ‘message’ is being ‘sent,’ but the ribosome, which is the molecular machine that turns DNA sequences (in a protein-coding gene) into protein. The ribosome is an essential part of the coding system; it functions as an ‘adapter,’ changing the sequence information along the DNA into an amino acid sequence in proteins. Every cell contains many ribosomes: we say ‘the’ because they are all identical. The metaphor of DNA as information has become almost universal, yet virtually nobody has suggested that the ribosome must be a vast repository of information. The structure of the ribosome is now known in high detail, and there is no sign of obvious ‘information-bearing’ structure like that in DNA. The ribosome seems to be a fixed ‘machine’. So where has the information gone? Nowhere. That’s the wrong question.
The root of these misunderstandings lies in a lack of attention to context. Science is very strong on content, but it has a habit of ignoring ‘external’ constraints on the systems being studied. Context is an important but neglected feature of information. It is so easy to focus on the combinatorial clarity of the message and to ignore the messy, complicated processes carried out by the receiver when it decodes the message. Context is crucial to the interpretation of messages: to their meaning. In his book The User Illusion Tor Nørretranders introduced the term exformation to capture the role of the context, and Douglas Hofstadter made the same general point in Gödel, Escher, Bach. Observe how, in the next chapter, the otherwise incomprehensible message ‘THEOSTRY’ becomes obvious when context is taken into account.
Instead of thinking about a DNA ‘blueprint’ encoding an organism, it’s easier to think of a CD encoding music. Biological development is like a CD that contains instructions for building a new CD-player. You can’t ‘read’ those instructions without already having one. If meaning does not depend upon context, then the code on the CD should have an invariant meaning, one that is independent of the player. Does it, though?
Compare two extremes: a ‘standard’ player that maps the digital code on the CD to music in the manner intended by the design engineers, and a jukebox. With a normal jukebox, the only message that you send is some money and a button-push; yet in the context of the jukebox these are interpreted as a specific several minutes’ worth of music. In principle, any numerical code can ‘mean’ any piece of music you wish; it just depends on how the jukebox is set up, that is, on the exformation associated with the jukebox’s design. Now consider a jukebox that reacts to a CD not by playing the tune that’s encoded on it, as a series of bits, but by interpreting that code as a number, and then playing some other CD to which that number has been assigned. For instance, suppose that a recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts, in digital form, with 11001. That’s the number 25 in binary. So the jukebox reads the CD as ‘25,’ and looks for CD number 25, which we’ll assume is a recording of Charlie Parker playing jazz.
On the other hand, elsewhere in the jukebox is CD number 973, which actually is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Then a CD of Beethoven’s Fifth can be ‘read’ in two totally different ways: as a ‘pointer’ to Charlie Parker, or as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony itself (triggered by whichever CDs start with 973 in binary). Two contexts, two interpretations, two meanings, two results. Whether something is a message depends upon context, too: sender and receiver must agree upon a protocol for turning meanings into symbols and back again. Without this protocol a semaphore is just a few bits of wood that flap about.
Tree branches are bits of wood that flap about, too, but no one ever tries to decode the message being transmitted by a tree. Tree rings — the growth rings that appear when you saw through the trunk, one ring per year — are a different matter. We have learned to ‘decode’ their ‘message,’ about climate in the year 1066 and the like. A thick ring indicates a good year with lots of growth on the tree, probably warm and wet; a thin ring indicates a poor year, probably cold and dry. But the sequence of tree rings only became a message, only conveyed information, when we figured out the rules that link climate to tree growth. The tree didn’t send its message to us.
In biological development the protocol that gives meaning to the DNA message is the laws of physics and chemistry. That is where the exformation resides. However, it is unlikely that exformation can be quantified.
An organism’s complexity is not determined by the number of bases in its DNA sequence, but by the complexity of the actions initiated by those bases within the context of biological development. That is, by the meaning of the DNA ‘message’ when it is received by a finely tuned, up-and-running biochemical machine. This is where we gain an edge over those amoebas. Starting with an embryo that develops little flaps, and making a baby with those exquisite little hands, involves a series of processes that produce skeleton, muscles, skin, and so on. Each stage depends on the current state of the others, and all of them depend on contextual physical, biological, chemical and cultural processes.
Pratchett, Terry. The Globe: The Science of Discworld II: A Novel . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
B. Trenz Pruca’s Observations:
I have come to accept that here on our earth there are no heroes only different degrees of villainy.
C. Today’s Poem:
The poem below is an excerpt from a much longer one written by Renee Verona that I discovered while wandering through the internet. The poem appears to be based, in part, on Dante’s Paradisio. Verona, a self-published poet, has an internet site (https://rarityofparadise.com/). In it, he periodically publishes his poems and requests donations to enable him to continue his work.
It is not unusual for poets to try to find novel means of publishing their work. Whitman used to wander through the bars of NY (as did Blake in London) selling handwritten copies of his poems, and Shelly often stood on busy street corners and tossed bundles of his poems into the carriages of the noble and wealthy as they drove by.
What attracted me to Verona was, admittedly, less his poems than his audacity and some of the artwork that accompanies the poetry.
From “Obsidian and Alabaster.”
Through the reflection of my obsidian blade, I saw a jester drowning in the sorrows belonging to his hopeless witticism
Scarlet to cover the tulips that laid foolish, herald a cut-throat… forsaken in this storm praying for thunderbolts to alleviate me,
Sharp lighting to scream, and there, bury me within an unholy divinity as devilish is my creed,
Yet this clown that smirks comforts thee
Thine eyes have witnessed much suffering, men art, but demons chasing eternity, misguided by prophecy… and he dares to laugh
The reckless Montague a saint unto I… to empathize…to seize, realize a moment of freedom when all is cursed by hypocrisy
(…To despise… To visualize )
God favors the trickster, giving unto him a horrible truth that he bears with a grin ( a glimpse at how the world primarily sins)
Watch as they abandon themselves all for epicurean philosophies,
Drink a bit more the red wine, corrupt your soul a little more to hold a few pieces of sol …More the greed…this obsidian grow thirsty
Unsated…hungry… the blood moon calls, onward towards the twilight where hellhounds roam free, festering, and feasting
I will be an angel unto thee, unto you that bards hysterically… a sad epigram life has become ( everlasting is the hologram)
Forever is nevermore, soon we will have our reckoning…upon the sun we horde, shadows epithetical to the moon
The forgotten, the vigilant defacing the vox populi, simple mercenaries that seek only to bloom, the evening to forbore…
D. Giants of History: The Old Sailor, Deep Sea Diver, World Traveler, ex-Pirate, and So On.
It is always a pleasure to receive communication from my old and dear friend. He used to live in Thailand but I think he may have returned to his beloved Virgin Islands. Here are his two most recent messages.
1. Am now at Walmart…”titusville” “old people struggling..to get inside…going to buy wine.”
2. Jerry _____ ..he was staying with pat. About the time when marcelle got pregnant…..dot and I were living in the slave quarters…..
Jerry would leave leave everyday “cleaned up” ..by 9 or so to work ..at the end of the day ..he would be back and we would meet upstairs .for drinks with Candeed. …he…would always COMPLAIN he could not get paid ..he would half to chase people to get paid….every day the same working hard and having trouble getting paid …this went on for months ..
…Guess what his job was
HE was selling Coke at FAT CITY
…..Dot and I moving to FRENCHTOWN>
Life in the Caribbean must very exciting.
E. Useful Simile of the Week:
“…like some mad weaving machine or a squadron of Yossarians with middle-ear trouble.”
Pratchett, Terry. The Globe: The Science of Discworld II: A Novel . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
“The most important role of the tribal Make-a-Human kit is to provide the tribe with its own collective identity, making it possible for it to act as a unit. Tradition is good for such purposes; sense is optional. All religions are strong on tradition, but many are weak on sense, at least if you take their stories literally. Nevertheless, religion is absolutely central to most cultures’ Make-a-Human kit.”
“The growth of human civilization is a story of the assembly of ever-larger units, knitted together by some version of that Make-a-Human kit. At first, children were taught what they must do to be accepted as members of the family group. Then they were taught what they must do to be accepted as members of the tribe. (Believing apparently ridiculous things was a very effective test: the naïve outsider would all too readily betray a lack of belief, or would simply have no idea what the appropriate belief was. Is it permitted to pluck a chicken before dark on Wednesday? The tribe knew, the outsider did not, and since any reasonable person would guess ‘yes’, the tribal priesthood could go a long way by making the accepted answer ‘no’.) After that, the same kind of thing happened for the local baron’s serfs, for the village, the town, the city and the nation. We spread the net of True Human Beings.”
Pratchett, Terry. The Globe: The Science of Discworld II: A Novel . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.