Construction Fever

The Proposed Ivy Station Complex in Culver City

In the context of Los Angeles history, real estate is the unforgivable “sin against the Holy Ghost.” For decades, local politicians have regaled us with promises. When elected, they changed their tune and essentially gave in to the wild schemes of real estate developers. As I traveled along the Expo Line this afternoon, I passed dozens of large high-rise construction projects.

Theoretically, these projects are based on the principle of increasing the tax base. Unfortunately, the move-ins into the new buildings will leave in their wake an untenable number of vacancies. It’s not as if the new tenants will be new businesses and people who have just moved into the Los Angeles area. In the end, all that will happen will be a combination of untenably high rents and older buildings that are now vacant. And what about the effect on vehicular traffic?

One reason for the huge population of homeless in Southern California is the high price of rental real estate. If it weren’t for rent control, I would be hard put to remain in the Golden State.

 

 

Gothick

The Four Volumes of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho

I have been spending some time lately reading 18th century English literature. As an English major at Dartmouth College, my favorite course was Chauncey Chester Loomis’s survey of the 18th century English novel. Although he is known primarily for his work on Arctic exploration, I admired his teaching and only now am filling in some of the gaps of what he taught me, which gaps were mostly the result of my own laziness at the time.

Over the last month, I have read Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, which I didn’t much like, and Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which I thought was fantastic (reprising my reaction back in the 1960s). Tonight, I have completed Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, which was not on my course syllabus, but which was highly regarded as a work of the gothick sensibility of the times.

The Plot of Udolpho (Much Condensed)

The setting for the middle third of the book is the grim Castle of Udolpho in the Pennine Mountains near Venice, Italy. Emily Saint-Aubert, being a minor,must submit to the will of her cruel, unfeeling aunt, Madame Cheron, who marries a dubious Italian bandit chief known as Count Montini.

The Grim Castle of Udolpho

In many ways, the highly atmospheric castle with all its ruined galleries, secret passages, outlandish tapestries, and the cavorting banditti who make the castle their headquarters is the star of the novel. It is hard for a 21st century male such as myself to admire a frequently fainting heroine such as Mlle. Saint-Aubert. I managed to stick it out for the novel’s full 620 pages because Ann Radcliffe is really a superior writer. The things I didn’t like about it were more the result of the culture of the times than any deficit in the author’s abilities. There are some beautiful passages and not a few negligible verses.
 

Garbage to Go

Styrofoam Food Container: Can It Be Recycled?

Anyone who cares about the environment is likely to be interested in recycling. I count Martine and me in this category. Recent developments, however, have thrown a monkey-wrench into the recycling debate. We used to send huge bales of newsprint and plastic to China and other Southeast Asian countries to rework into other products. This they did—to some of the so-called “recyclables,” but only if they were profitable. The rest usually found their way into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch , a monument to the failure of recycling.

At the same time we carefully sort our garbage between the dumpster and the blue recycling bins, it seems that everything (except, possibly, aluminum cans and certain plastics codes type 1 and 2) winds up in landfills.

According to LA Sanitation, the following plastics are recyclable:

Plastics

All plastics numbers 1 through 7

Empty plastic containers, wiped out if possible, including:

    • Soda bottles
    • Juice bottles
    • Detergent containers
    • Bleach containers
    • Shampoo bottles
    • Lotion bottles
    • Mouthwash bottles
    • Dishwashing liquid bottles
    • Milk jugs
    • Tubs for margarine and yogurt
    • Plastic planters
    • Food and blister packaging
    • Rigid clamshell packaging
    • All clean plastic bags (grocery bags, dry cleaner bags, and film plastics)
    • All clean polystyrene products (plates, cups, containers, egg cartons, block packaging, and packing materials)
    • Plastic hangers
    • Non-electric plastic toys
    • Plastic swimming pools
    • Plastic laundry baskets
    • Car seats (cloth removed)

If you wonder what the plastic recycling codes mean, click here. The easiest to recycle are plastic types 1 (PETE: Polythylene Terephthalate, such as soda bottles) and 2 (HDPE: High-Density Polyethylene, used for detergents, milk, bleach, shampoos, and motor oil). As you can see, Los Angeles collects types 1 through 7, but most are handled in landfills with all the other trash.

The pity of it is that something can be done, but the economic will to do so is lacking. In the meantime, the plastic manufacturing companies continue to churn out their products and pay lobbyists to fight ordinances to regulate them.

The Ultimate Survivor

A Tardigrade (Milnesium tardigradum)

Perhaps the hardiest creature on the face of the earth, or under the sea, is barely large enough to be seen by the naked eye. There are some twelve hundred species of tardigrade, which, if they were our size, would be terrifying. In fact, they are usually about 0.5 mm in size, have eight legs, and are usually referred to as water bears. Under normal circumstances, they live for several months; but, under periods of extreme stress, roll up into a tiny barrel shape called a tun and turn themselves off for as many days, weeks, months, years, or even decades pass and circumstances improve.

What the tardigrade could survive includes:

  • A few minutes at 151° Celsius (304° Fahrenheit)
  • Thirty years at -20° Celsius (-4° Fahrenheit)
  • A few days at -200° Celsius (-328° Fahrenheit)
  • A few minutes at 272° Celsius (-458° Fahrenheit)

They can also survive at sea level, at the bottom of the deepest depth of the Pacific (the Marianas Trench) and even the weightlessness and radiation of outer space. This was tested at the Space Station: Although some of the tardigrades dies, most survived and returned to normal when they landed on earth.

If you have a few minutes, I urge you to watch this informative BBC video, which contains further amazing statistics about this creature:

We talk about colonizing the planets and distant stars. I am not sure that we could, but I have every confidence that the tardigrades could.

Strokkur

The Geyser Strokkur (“Churn”) Erupts

Everyone knows what a geyser is, but do you know that it is named after a particular geyser named Geysir in the Haukadalur Valley east of Reykjavík, Iceland? Its situation is similar to that of Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. In their hurry to precipitate an eruption hordes of tourists over the years have poured detergents and other foreign substances into the holes and succeeded only in making the eruptions more sporadic and unpredictable.

Tourists still visit the area in great numbers in the various Golden Circle or Great Circle tours offered by coach lines. (These tours usually include Þingvellir National Park and the waterfall at Gullfoss, among others.) Instead of waiting for Geysir, they have the nearby frequent eruptions of Strokkur, “The Churn,” which sends a column of steam 15-40 meters high every 6-10 minutes.

Tourists Waiting for the Next Eruption of Strokkur


Iceland has a number of these geothermal areas. Visiting them calls for a certain amount of care as a slight misstep can result in boiling your foot as the soil around your footprints starts to sink. Not all of these areas are carefully fenced; and tourists, being their usual irrepressible selves, have a tendency to risk a serious hotfoot.

Deadly Nightshade

So Many Foods I Love Are Related to Deadly Nightshade

On several occasions, I have been warned by good friends to beware of foods that are related to deadly nightshade (a.k.a. belladonna). Unfortunately, these include some of my favorites, including:

  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Chile peppers
  • Bell peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Paprika

It is not unusual to find foods that have unsavory relatives. Perhaps most common of these is common table salt, which is made up of two poisonous elements, sodium and chlorine. Despite all the bad press that salt has received from many in the medical profession, it is indisputable that the human body cannot exist without it, especially in hot climates.

Despite what some of my more health-food conscious friends may say, I have no intention in cutting back on members of the family Solanaceae. In fact, I believe that the foods in the above list are positively good for me. If anything, I will eat more of them in future. For instance, I cannot imagine living my life without chile peppers.