Unusual view of a seagull


Cattle as weapon of invasion

thought that was a well-articulated historical insight, from a writeup about the Cuyama Valley by Judith Dale in the Lompoc Record.

That picture of cows I found at the California Bureau of Livestock Identification.


amply gooey

food writing is wild. That’s from a LA Times piece suggesting places to pick up a picnic before a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. You’re bringing a smashburger to see Dudamel? I guess I must respect it!


The Price of Gas

Along old US Route 66 in West Hollywood

It’s so high! How can people do anything? Yet shouldn’t we want the price of gas to be high, so we don’t cook up the planet quite as fast? Though, won’t the high prices cause estimates and spreadsheets and algorithms across the oil and gas companies to be adjusted? When the calculations are revised, it suddenly makes sense to drill more and deeper and in crazier ways in more chaotic countries? They’ll capitalize new and more projects, dredging up our oil faster than ever.

Is this merely the boom and bust cycle we all must toil under, written many times over in the history of every boomtown and oil craze? From Nantucket to Houston to the Bakken to Bakersfield to Alaska we are told this story. Above LA looms the Getty, named for a man whose father left Minnesota for a boom in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The son took the lesson and was early in on Saudi Arabia. To get to the Getty from here you’d have to cross Doheny, he of Teapot Dome. But look, you saw the oil wells when you came in from the airport (in a car), and if you looked out the window of your plane as you landed at LAX you saw the diesel tankers and maybe even an oil tanker filling up at the offshore spigot. You get the idea.

Not so long ago I watched the documentary version of The Prize in small chunks, just before bed. Though the content can be bracing it is soothingly narrated by Donald Sutherland, and there is something relaxing about seeing how the pieces fit together. Finding the doc compelling I read Daniel Yergin’s original book, which is full of great characters and strange scenes:

In early March 1983 the oil ministers and their retinues hurriedly convened, ironically in London, the home court of their leading non-OPEC competitor, Great Britain.  They met at the Intercontinental Hotel at Hyde Park Corner, for what turned out to be twelve interminable, frustrating days – an experience that would leave some of them with an allergic reaction whenever, in future years, they set foot inside the hotel. 

and:

Later in the day, Silva Herzog was glumly eating a hamburger at the Mexican embassy, preparing to leave, when a call came from the United States Treasury saying that the $100 million fee had been rescinded.  The Americans could not risk a collapse.  Who knew what the effects would be on Monday?  And with that, the Mexican Weekend concluded, with the first part of the emergency package now in place.  

Some takeaways of value:

  • it’s not just the getting of the oil. It’s the refining. Rockefeller controlled the refining, and the shipping, and eventually everything
  • one of Rockefeller’s killer qualities: he was a visionary accountant. Can there be such a thing? Yes. Rockefeller.
  • The Great War, later World War One, was a gamechange for oil.  Railroads had been key in the US Civil War, but in World War One, the tank and the truck, oil powered vehicles, proved to be the crucial transport.  Churchill, head of the Admiralty at the time, switched the Royal Navy to oil from coal.  At the end of the war, the destruction of the Ottoman Empire left the British and French in control of oil fields in Mesopotamia.
  • both on the Eastern Front and in the Pacific in World War Two, oil was the key strategic factor. Really everywhere, but those offer clear examples. Decisions on how to invade the Soviet Union were based on gaining control of oil fields before the German forces ran out of oil. The Japanese navy’s decisions were bounded by limits on oil. The fleet had to be stationed near Singapore. The “Marianas turkey shoot” was a result of decisions made based on saving oil. There was not enough oil not only for active operations, but for pilot training.

How about this?:

When [J. Paul] Getty died in 1976, age eighty-three, the eulogy at his funeral was delivered by the Duke of Bedford.  “When I think of Paul,” said the Duke, “I think of money.” 

Many people and groups of people have attempted to control oil, but it’s unpredictable. Sometimes the board gets reshuffled: North Sea oil fields, Saudi, Alaska.  The North Sea oil fields saved the UK economy. Or did it ruin the UK economy? It saved Margaret Thatcher. You can’t send ships and helicopters to the coast of Argentina if you don’t have oil.

Look how rich Norway is. It doesn’t have to be this way, Norway used to be poor, that’s why Rose on Golden Girls is from St. Olaf.

Obama’s presidency coincided with a huge boom in US oil extraction. Is “coincided” the right word? Was it a coincidence? What’s at work here?

A character worth some study: Marcus Samuel. (Shell, the first oil tanker, Lord Mayor of London).

It was called Shell because his Iraqi Jewish family used to import and sell seashells. (That’s the story, anyway.)

Here’s a solid summary of The Prize.

Recall that Moby-Dick is about the oil business, and Ahab like Daniel Plainview is an oilman.


Wonders of Fresno

People don’t believe me when I tell them how big Fresno, California is. Fresno has a population of 542,107 in the 2020 Census, making it much bigger than either Pittsburgh or New Orleans. If you want to play metro area, Fresno is still bigger than Omaha, and clocks in at over one million.

I haven’t examined Fresno thoroughly but I’ve spent a night there and got a sense. There is one sight that you shouldn’t go to see, but if you’re there, you should check out. It’s the Forestiere Underground Gardens.

Forestiere was an Italian immigrant who knew something about growing orange trees, but found Fresno a little too hot, so he built himself an underground living space, garden, work of art and devotion.

How about:

Also recommend: buy some olive oil at the Fresno State farm store.


Ghost of a Taco Bell

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.


Laguna Beach

“This has to be as good as the south of France,” I said, although I’ve never been to the south of France. Laura, who’s been to Cannes, told me it was pretty comparable, the one thing missing was a cobblestone road up to a market that’s been there for hundreds of years. That does sound good, but on the other hand, Laguna Beach is right down the road.


Soviet memorial, West Hollywood

The only monument to soldiers of the former Soviet Union on US soil* is in West Hollywood.

The monument was and is controversial.

Out for a walk the other day we spotted this at the Russian language library:

How many of those are left?

* haven’t confirmed this myself and wouldn’t be shocked if there’s another example. I’m pretty sure there are at least like US-Soviet friendship memorials from WW2, or memorial stones/plaques given in tribute to the alliance of that time, or commemorating units that coordinated on the Siberian airlifts, at the Punchbowl in Hawaii for instance.


Supreme

James Jebbia, founder of Supreme, has said that the red box logo with “Supreme” in white Futura Heavy Oblique was taken from the work of Barbara Kruger. Kruger herself commented on this issue on the occasion of a recent lawsuit between Supreme and a women’s street clothing brand that used the Supreme logo to make a “Supreme Bitch” logo that was printed on T-shirts and hats. In response, Kruger said, “What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.

Emphasis mine. Reading up on the streetwear brand whose store is a center of gravity in the Melrose/Fairfax region of LA.


Oroville

(William Croyle, California Department of Water Resources – California Department of Water Resources, source)

In August, the state had to take the hydroelectric power plant at Lake Oroville, the second-biggest reservoir in California, off line for the first time since it was built in 1967 because the water level in the lake was too low.

California Will Curtail Water to Farms and Cities Next Year as Drought Worsens” by Michael B Marois over in Bloomberg. Imagine taking a power plant offline. Who makes that call? Did the engineers kind of enjoy the challenge?

The shutdown isn’t even what’s referred to when we talk about the Oroville Dam Crisis. Had a chance to drive through Oroville last summer, there are many beautiful old houses, and the downtown has a lost in time feel. If you want to see what Steinbeck’s California might’ve been like, Oroville might be a better main street time capsule than Salinas.

On August 7, 1881, pioneer Jack Crum was allegedly stomped to death by local bully Tom Noacks in Chico, California. The young Noacks was feared by the locals of Butte County, not only because of his size and strength, but allegedly because he was mentally unbalanced and enjoyed punching oxen in the head.

Noacks was arrested and jailed in the Chico jail. Once word got out that the old pioneer had been murdered, the authorities moved Noacks to the Butte County county jail in Oroville for his safety. Crum’s friends, knowing that Noacks was in the county jail, made their way to Oroville with rope in hand. Knocking on the jail door, the men told the jailer that they had a prisoner from the town of Biggs, California. Once inside the jail, they overpowered the jailer and dragged Noacks from his cell. They took Noacks to Crum’s former farm and hanged him from an old cottonwood tree. Nobody was ever prosecuted for the lynching.


Marines vs ravens

from the Hi-Desert Star, Nov 18, 2021:

Members of the public have been invited to comment on an environmental assessment of plans to kill thousands of ravens at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center and five other military installations in the California desert.

The assessment, examines two alternative plans, the first calling for a continued use of primarily non-lethal raven management actions, including flushing of individuals, increasing levels of stress and disrupting of nesting opportunities.

That’s the first plan, stress out the ravens. The second plan?

The second calls for the lethal removal of 11,830 to 13,293 ravens initially and 1,477 to 1,715 ravens annually.

The reasoning?

“The overpopulation of ravens in both the built and undeveloped areas of the California desert has had several detrimental impacts on the DoD installations within the region,” the report states.

“For instance, increased raven numbers result in higher incidences of predation on juvenile desert tortoises. The desert tortoise is the only federally listed species that occurs within the boundaries of all six DoD installations in the California desert, and the DoD is legally obligated by federal law to ensure the species is protected.

“Ravens are also causing property damage and pose a human health hazard in the built environment, particularly in and around areas where vehicles and aircraft are parked and where DoD personnel must work directly underneath high-use roosting sites.”

I’d be careful here, ravens are pretty smart. The crow can be a nuisance bird for sure (although also said to be quite smart) but the raven I would be hesitant to mess with. They have powers.


Out and about

Ships waiting to dock at Port of LA – Long Beach, seen from Seal Beach. The whole world is backed up! Seal Beach is an interesting town. Most of the acreage is used to store ammunition for the US Navy, and yet there’s a Whole Foods and a Peloton store. On Electric Avenue you can see what remains of the old streetcar route. It could’ve looked like New Orleans down there. Maybe the vastness of LA could never have supported the length of streetcar routes required, but you can’t help but mourn.

After viewing the vessels, we went for pho at Pho 79 in Little Saigon. Fantastic, cheap, a great richness of flavor, although was it really more than 20% better than my local pho place? Still, some people live for that 20%.

Las Vegas remains itself. Mask enforcement in casinos is diligent, to my surprise. Back in May it was a maskless wilderness, but Delta seems to have put the fear out there. We were present in the Bellagio sportsbook for one of the more wrenching communal emotions you can feel in a sportsbook, when a team (the Chicago Bears, in this case) covers the spread (against Pittsburgh) but fails to win. Thus Pittsburgh fans/bettors disappointed, Bears fans disappointed and bettors mildly satisfied? A mingling of disappointment and emotional anticlimax, felt in the air.

At least one occasion of dudes attempting to start the “Let’s Go Brandon” chant in the bathroom. Permission to be obnoxious was always an appeal of Las Vegas I suppose, but it does seem like obnoxiousness in general is on the rise.

It was a great pleasure to attend the Pro Bull Riding World Finals. I was not bored! Brave dudes: the safety team/ bullfighters who lure away the bull after the rider is thrown. I had the opportunity to ask one of these dudes what I should do in the event I had to fill in for him: “don’t run in straight lines. Four legs is gonna outrun two.” Sometimes these guys have to cut out a cowboy who’s caught under a rope. Doing knifework on a bucking bull, not an easy job. They’re brave like the banderilleros in a traditional Spanish bullfight, who also don’t get enough credit.

So far as I could tell, despite rumors of testicle electrocuting, no real harm is done to the bulls. It’s the humans who are getting damaged. Eli Vastbinder won the final round despite a dislocated shoulder and several broken ribs.

Human/bull sport has a long history, I was reminded of the bull leapers depicted in the Great Palace of Knossos, 1450 or so BCE.

source


Two Ports

I was checking on some ships and saw them traveling through the ship channel in Port Sulfur, Louisiana.

The town is 8 feet (2.4 m) above sea level and had not flooded during Hurricane Betsy nor Hurricane Camille. Before Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita about 3,000 people lived in Port Sulphur. Nevertheless, during Hurricane Katrina, the federal levees failed and around 22 feet (6.7 m) of water engulfed the town. Almost all single-family homes in the town were destroyed, many of which were moved off their foundations by as much as 100 feet. In the months following Katrina, some residents moved back to Port Sulphur in trailers and modular homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But many residents relocated to other parts of Louisiana, the Southeast, and Texas.

The New York Times has been all over the case of the precarious communities of Plaquemines Parish. I’d like to visit sometime. Would I feel weird staying at Woodland Plantation? Yes, but I’m prepared to do it in my role as a journalist.

Here’s the Subway in Port Sulphur. Get a sandwich and sit on that levee watching the ships go by?

A port closer to home, Port Hueneme, came up in some recent discussion of the huge backup at Port of Los Angeles / Long Beach.

I learn that 3.3 billion bananas come through Port Hueneme each year. One of these days I’m gonna go up there and get a banana right off the boat.


San Luis Obispo

A couple years had passed since I’d last taken the train up to SLO. The town appears to be prospering. The Thursday night farmers market and Halloween festivities were full of happy faces, the farm produce looked amazing, the grilled meats smelled good. There are multiple stores that sell like soaps and globes and mugs and scarves. And places called like

The creek runs right through town. A fantasy would be to open a Japanese style inn alongside it, in about 300 years you might have a decent ryokan. Kids were on campus at Cal Poly, they looked healthy and vital. School pride there feels abundant, and it’s my sense that the learning there is practical and focused. Is the more famous Cal Poly alum Ozzie Smith or Weird Al Yankovich?

The Central Coast cadence of chill can be overheard everywhere, over pale ale and pinball at Lincoln Market for sure. Del Monte Cafe, La Loconda, Big Sky Cafe, Mistura all make my list. Dr Burnsteins Ice Cream Lab unfortunately somewhat disappoints. The “lab” theme is simply not maniacal enough.

Several California towns I’ve visited in the last year have a hollowed out feel, the main streets shells, but San Luis Obispo feels alive. I’ve never failed to feel good after a journey there. A small house in town will run you $600k at least, and there are not many available. In previous October visits the weather’s been brisk, but this time the air was quite toasty. Three or four visits over a few years is not a fair sample size, so I wouldn’t consider this science, but I feel the climate is changing.

Bought these at Phoenix Books, where I’ve never failed to score:

The Garden Street Inn has been taken over by Hilton, but not to worry, it’s still weird and the staff are still friendly and the rooms retain their individual themes (not on Madonna Inn level, just small touches).

Any traveler on Amtrak should expect a two hour or so delay somewhere along the line, and at least one semi deranged fellow passenger, but the Coast Starlight still can’t be beat for oceanside leisure travel. For lunch I had a baked potato with vegan chili, cheese, and half a bottle of Dark Harvest cab, tell me where you can have a better lunch at 50 mph.

WNBA should return to this fit

The mission in SLO is one of the more inviting California missions in its architecture, in my opinion. The town was named for St. Louis of Toulouse. Three hundred years after, the mission of converting California to Catholicism must be declared a failed project but the lingering relics of the medieval Spanish priests are significant and still impress.

“The solidity of justice,” my dad commented on my photos of the county courthouse.


Bark beetle

In years of drought, when trees in the forests of Oregon and northern California don’t get enough moisture, they don’t create the sap they need to prevent attacks of tiny bark beetles. The bark beetles kill trees, leaving the forest littered with dead trees, ideal conditions for a huge fire.

The beetle is a tiny insect, about the size of a match head, but the sheer numbers pose a risk to the forest, officials say. They lay much of the bark beetle problem on forests that have become too overgrown with small trees and brush.

And ironically, it’s decades of aggressive fire suppression that has left forests dense and overcrowded, according to the forest service.

A hundred years ago, low intensity fires regularly burned through the forests, keeping stands of trees thinned out, and prevented them from becoming too thick.

Because smaller trees were regularly thinned out by fire, the trees that remained were larger and spaced farther apart.

A hundred years ago, a forest would have typically 20 or 30 trees per acre, Hamilton said. Nowadays, though, it is not uncommon to have 800 to 1,000 smaller trees an acre, he said.

When a drought comes along, like the current one, too many trees are competing for too little moisture and the trees’ natural defense against bark beetles breaks down, he said.

When trees are healthy and they get plenty of moisture, they exude sticky sap to ward off the bugs and protect themselves.

But when trees lack water they can’t produce enough sap, and the beetles move in and damage trees until they die, Hamilton said.

“When bark beetles’ population is at epidemic levels they can still attack and overcome even healthy trees,” according to Cal Fire.

That’s from “Drought and bark beetle kill millions of trees, increase wildfire risk in North State forests” by Damon Arthur for the Redding Record Searchlight / Siskiyou Daily News.

The number of dead trees are staggering. Millions of trees:

The 2019 forest service aerial survey of tree mortality shows the Klamath National Forest, with large swaths of land in Siskiyou County, was the forest hit hardest in the state, with an estimated 1.8 million dead trees.

Here is a breakdown by county of tree mortality in the North State, according to the survey:

  • Siskiyou: 2.8 million trees on 406,000 acres
  • Trinity: 1 million trees on 150,000 acres
  • Shasta: 305,000 trees on 115,000 acres
  • Tehama: 318,000 trees on 67,000 acres

Yesterday I drove from Redmond, Oregon down here to Siskiyou County, a four hour drive, about two hours of it through smoke from a distant fire, (the Bootleg fire?), and through burnt forest, ranging from singed to totally black smoking ashscape, and still more through trees that looked dry and gnarled and unwell and ready to burn. It was over 90 degrees most of the way, dry, staying hot until 8 or 9 pm at night. A fire crew was cutting down a big old tree by the side of Highway 97, and not far beyond that was the ruins of a motel that had been burned to the ground, except for a sign, “MOTEL.”

Burnt over forest country makes me think of the start of Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River”:

The train went on up the track out of sight, around one of the hills of burnt timber. Nick sat down on the bundle of canvas and bedding the baggage man had pitched out of the door of the baggage car. There was no town, nothing but the rails and the burned-over country. The thirteen saloons that had lined the one street of Seney had not left a trace. The foundations of the Mansion House hotel stuck up above the ground. The stone was chipped and split by the fire. It was all that was left of the town of Seney. Even the surface had been burned off the ground. 

Nick looked at the burned-over stretch of hillside, where he had expected to find the scattered houses of the town and then walked down the railroad track to the bridge over the river. The river was there. It swirled against the log spires of the bridge. Nick looked down into the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed their again by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again. Nick watched them a long time. 


funny description

After he wrote My Face for the World to See Hayes decided, counterintuitively, to move permanently to Los Angeles, the city he had described as looking ‘as hell might with a good electrician’. 

and a classic:

In a novel published in 1968, The End of Me, Hayes’s disillusionment is projected onto the main character, Asher, a failing screenwriter. Asher tells a joke about a man who goes into a butcher’s shop and sees two signs. One reads ‘writers’ brains: 19 cents a pound’; the other: ‘producers’ brains: 79 cents a pound’:

‘Now you are supposed to ask me,’ I said patiently, ‘why producers’ brains cost 79 cents a pound and writers’ brains cost 19 cents a pound?’ … “Well,” the butcher said, “do you know how many producers you have to kill to get a pound of brains?”’

Lucie Elven on Alfred Hayes in LRB.


Warrior of Capestrano

The Warrior of Capestrano is a tall limestone statue of a Picene warrior, dated to around the 6th century BC. The statue stands at around 2.09 m. It was discovered accidentally in 1934 by a labourer ploughing the field in the Italian town of Capestrano, along with a female statue in civilian attire, called Lady of Capestrano.

Imagine you’re just ploughing your field and you come across this thing. (Or was that a cover story for a band of tomb raiders?). 6th century BC, long before Rome. An inscription apparently found in the extinct South Picene language:

Makupri koram opsút aninis rakinevíi pomp[úne]í” (“Aninis had this statue made most excellently for Rakinewis, the Pomp[onian]”).

Capestrano is a town in Abruzzo:

I’ve been near there, 40km away or so.

You’ll find a description of a visit to the farm of a distant relative in my book, co-authored with Vali, The Ridiculous Race.

Among those with ancestral roots in this region are myself and Madonna, whose father’s folks are said to be from Pacentro.

The claim on Madonna’s roots was told to me in Abruzzo by a distant relative with some combination of local pride and disgust for Madonna’s life and art, a very contradictory, Italian Catholic reaction to something provocative and famed.

The fortified mountain towns of that region suggest a long stretch of history when “Italy” was a crazy war of all against all, with an Appalachian geography. (And temperament? Somewhere in my notes I have a draft proof that the Italians are the original Scotch Irish).

Capestrano was home to the saint John of Capestrano, Giovanni da Capestrano:

Famous as a preacher, theologian, and inquisitor, he earned himself the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’ when in 1456 at age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the siege of Belgrade

Though John’s ferocity can’t be questioned, his theology and record don’t seem favorable to contemporary standards.

Like Bernardine, he strongly emphasized devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus

The section of his Wikipedia page entitled “Anti-Jewish Incitement” gives much we can’t approve of. He died of plauge.

The spirit of Giovanni da Capestrano was brought to California by Spanish Franciscan missionaries, who founded the mission of San Juan Capistrano. We had a chance to visit there recently.

The mission does deliver in the charm department in part because of the semi-ruined quality of the place. One of the first efforts at a grand stone church collapsed in an earthquake, killing forty-two people attending Mass inside. You’d think this would suggest maybe the missionaries line to God was not direct, or at the very least, instead of stacking heavy rocks, they should switch to a vernacular architecture:

But no. The California missions seem like they used to be more of a draw. The popular novel Ramona, early movies, Zorro, plein air painters, early preservationist movements, all these seem to have flowed around, drawn inspiration from and contributed to the appeal of the missions in popular imagination.

This one was a hit (?) for The Ink Spots in 1949, maybe marking the peak:

Maybe Madonna should cover it?

I don’t think this is what an airline would use to advertise SoCal today?

One incident I didn’t learn about at the site, but have now found looking at Wikipedia: in 1818 the French-born Argentine sea captain Hipólito Bouchard and his guys raided the mission. I guess it makes sense the mission doesn’t want to emphasize that, it must’ve been a sad day. Plus they don’t want to scare the current tourists.

The Lady of Capestrano:


Water in California

Here are some things we learned from Introduction to Water In California by David Carle:

  • manufacturing 28 million water bottles a year for US sales required 17 million barrels of oil.

  • making one-time, plastic water bottles takes three times as much water as went inside each container (and produced a lot of carbon dioxide, 2.5 million tons)

  • an acre-foot of water, a standard measurement, is equal to 325,851 gallons, “which would cover a football field one foot deep.” A common estimate is that an acre-foot meets the domestic needs of five to eight people

  • snow that falls when it’s extra cold can contain significantly less water per cubic foot as snow that falls closer to 32 degrees

  • about seven million acre-feet make it to the state aquifers each year. About 400,000 acre feet come off the Eastern Sierra, averaging enough water per year for about 3.2 million people

  • “coastal redwoods specialize in growing massive on long, slow drinks of harvested summer fog”

  • 55% of all the country’s produce is grown in California

  • almost all of the eared grebes in North America use the Salton Sea at some point
  • There are an estimated 6.9 million dogs and 7.7 million cats in California

Great book, I’d recommend it. The topic of water in California is so complex, involving so many agencies and mandated plans and districts and projects and regulatory commissions. The most alarming fact in this book is that the twentieth century was California’s third or fourth wettest century of the past four thousand years. So all our plans, desperate as they often are, may be built on rosy assumptions that are unlikely to hold.

Since I got to California in 2004 and read Cadillac Desert, I’ve been trying to understand California’s water system. In the far north of the state, roaring rivers run through redwood forests and down to the sea, and it’s wet almost every day. In the southeast of the state, there are places where it hardly ever rains. A big feature on present day maps of the state is the Salton Sea, a “new” lake (though it’s been flooding there on and off for thousands of years). A big feature on old maps of the state is the Tulare Lake, which has now vanished. The Tulare aquifer is still used to grow cotton, one of the most water intensive crops you can plant. Across the center of the state runs a mountain system that traps huge amounts of moisture as snow, and still has at least one glacier. The central valley of the state was once an intermittent wetland, there were times when you could’ve almost paddled a boat from Bakersfield to Sacramento.

There’s not nearly enough water for southern California in southern California, that’s why our tap water has to travel three hundred miles. Despite that, through our produce and bottled water like Arrowhead, we export water. Yet turn on your tap, and out comes the water. It’s a miracle (and maybe some kind of crime, as the movie Chinatown suggests).

I see Slate Star Codex wrote a piece in 2015 about how much water goes to alfalfa, for feeding cows. California also exports water in the form of meat, which I guess is not ideal.


The jackrabbit

Word went out on the community message board that people were finding dead jackrabbits.  Healthy looking jackrabbits that appeared to have just dropped dead.  There was a plague going around.  A jackrabbit plague.  RHD2.  Rabbit hemorrhagic disease two.  The two distinguishes it from original RHD.  Bad news, a plague of any kind.  Sure enough, a few days later, I saw on the remote camera on the back porch of my cabin out in the Mojave a bird picking at what looked like the muscles and bones of what used to be a jackrabbit.  

I drove out there, and found that yes indeed, this had been a jackrabbit.  Whether it had died of plague, I don’t know, it seemed possible.  I bagged it for disposal, and poured some disinfectant on the ground, as recommended by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  

The next day, I found another dead jackrabbit.  This jackrabbit did not appear to have been hurt in any way.  Her eye was open to me.  This jackrabbit appeared to have gone into the shade and died.  There was no visible trauma and no blood.  I didn’t want to get too close, but this was the best chance to examine a jackrabbit, up close and at rest, that I’d ever had.  Usually the jackrabbits are fast and on the move.  Once they sense you seeing them, they take off.  

I won’t put a picture of it here, in case a picture of a dead jackrabbit would upset you.  In a way the lack of damage and the animal’s beauty made it much more sad and eerie.  It reminded me of Dürer’s drawing of a young hare.  I read the Wikipedia page about Dürer’s drawing, which departs from the usual impartial tone to quote praise for the drawing’s mastery:

it is acknowledged as a masterpiece of observational art alongside his Great Piece of Turf from the following year. The subject is rendered with almost photographic accuracy, and although the piece is normally given the title Young Hare, the portrait is sufficiently detailed for the hare to be identified as a mature specimen — the German title translates as “Field Hare” and the work is often referred to in English as the Hare or Wild Hare.

Dürer’s drawing of a walrus is less acclaimed:

 

The drawing is generally considered as not successful; and is viewed as curious attempted depiction that is neither aesthetically pleasing nor anatomically true to life. Art historians assume the artist drew it from memory having viewed a dead example during a 1520 visit to Zeeland to see a stranded whale which had decomposed before his arrival. Referring to the depiction departure for nature, Durer’s animal has been described as “amusing…it looks more like a hairless puppy with tusks. When Dürer drew from life his accuracy was unquestionable, but he had only briefly seen a walrus, and had only fleeting memory and an elaborate verbal description from which to reconstruct the image”.

The jackrabbit is very similar to the European hare.  The suggestion of the magical power of hares is a common theme in Celtic literature and the literature and folklore of the British Isles.  We all remember the March Hare. 

Most Americans are confused as to just what hares are, chiefly because we are accustomed to calling some of them jackrabbits. Biologically, the chief differences between hares and rabbits are that hares are born with hair and open eyes and can hop about immediately, while rabbits are naked, blind and helpless as birth.

I learned from this book:

which contains recipes for hares, including jugged hare, hasenpfeffer, and hare civit. 

Jugged hare, source

Of all the game animals you can hunt in California: elk, wild big, bear, turkey, bighorn sheep, deer, duck, chukar, dove, quail, the jackrabbit alone can be hunted all year round*.   There is no season, and there’s no limit. On one of my first trips to California, I was taken out to the desert with the Gamez boys on a jackrabbit hunt.  We only saw a few jackrabbits.  Nobody got off a good shot at one.  I doubt we really wanted to kill one, we just wanted to drive around the desert, shoot guns, and have fun, which we did very successfully.  

During the pandemic I got my California hunting license, you could do it entirely online due to Covid restrictions.  But I don’t intend to hunt jackrabbits, I don’t want to be like Elmer Fudd.  

The meat is said to be quite dry, tough, and gamey.  Most recipes call for long simmerings.  

If you ever find out in the desert where you must hunt a jackrabbit for food, here’s the Arizona Game and Fish Department telling you how to butcher one.  

* non-game animals, like weasels, you can go nuts


San Francisco (and Los Angeles)

Earlier this year, you moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco. How is the transition going?

It felt like the opening minute of Randy Newman’s song “I Love L.A.” Looking back on the twentieth century, I recall it was Los Angeles that was always the city of the future, and the city of craft and guilds. Every movie was essentially a six-month startup that brought together know-how and expertise from so many different areas: art, set design, costume, carpentry—and all the weirdly named professions like grips, gaffers, and boom operators. That ethos still lives on in the spirit of the place. With SpaceX and other aerospace companies making headway, I wouldn’t discount Southern California in the race to become the next big creative cluster. Of course, Sacramento may ruin the entire state before that happens. But that’s another story.

Michael Gibson (had never heard of) in City Journal.  Gibson wrote a piece for City Journal where he called San Francisco “America’s Havana.”  He pointed out inarguable problems with San Francisco, which is a shocking mess.

But, like Havana, San Francisco is also magical.  There’s just something about it.  Maybe it’s the drastic geography, set on hillsides over a bay that’s both perfect and hidden.  The sea air is part of it, for sure, and the lushness of the flora.  In both Havana and San Francisco, the very air is magical.

When you read the history of San Francisco, a certain tolerance of criminality always seems to have been part of the mix.  Stepping over a druggie passed out on the street wouldn’t’ve been unfamiliar to a resident of Gold Rush-era San Francisco or Barbary Coast San Francisco, or the 1940s San Francisco that inspired all the noir movies.

I’ve had in my files this bit by Lillian Symes from a 1932 Harper’s, reprinted from the archive:

The city of cheap yet superb living:

More:

When I got to LA in 2004, I found the living superb.  It was cheaper than New York City, but I’m not sure it could really be called cheap.  And it’s gotten less cheap.  Readers, where would you say, these days, the living is cheap yet superb?

San Francisco scenes: