Sky Full of Ash: The View from My Front Door

The wildfires to the north of us have filled the sky with ashes. When I wake up in the morning, I have to blow my nose to lessen the irritation. The air smells burnt.

According to Wikipedia:

In the Hebrew Bible Tophet or Topheth (Hebrew: תוֹפֶת‎; Greek: Ταφεθ; Latin: Topheth) was a location in Jerusalem in the Gehinnom where worshipers influenced by the ancient Canaanite religion engaged in the human sacrifice of children to the gods Moloch and Baal by burning them alive. Tophet became a theological or poetic synonym for hell within Christendom.

The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13. He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it.

In any case, it doesn’t sound very appetizing. There are times when Los Angeles is beautiful and fresh, but that’s only after a rare rain. Other times, it’s like a slow oven. And it could even be cold. When there’s a major earthquake, it feels that you can slide at any moment into a deep crevice near to the fires at the center of the earth.

But, still, it’s better than Cleveland.


The Summer of Our Discontent

Earthquakes. Hurricanes. What’s Next?

The last several weeks have seen some serious damage done to North America: hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean; then earthquakes in Mexico. There was even a small quake a few days ago whose epicenter was only two miles from me. I shouldn’t be surprised if a volcanic cone started pushing up through the ground the way Paricutín did in Michoacán back in 1943.

Of course, the one really, really serious volcanic event on this continent would be for the Yellowstone Caldera to blow, the way it has three times before: 2.1 million years ago, 1.3 million years ago, and 630,000 years ago. Each explosion made major changes to the map of North America. If Yellowstone did in fact blow, the only good news is that it would take out Washington, DC, along with everything else east of it.

I’ve already written about Nibiru, though I disbelieve most Christian projections of doom. I merely think it’s wishful thinking on the part of Evangelicals, who, just perhaps, may be realizing that they’ve f*cked up really bad this time. They want to be raptured up quickly so they don’t have to take any more blame for destroying what once was a perfectly viable country.



My Los Angeles

Tree on Ocean Avenue in Venice

I guess that by now I’m officially an Angeleno. It was late in December 1966 that I took a train to arrive at L.A.’s Union Station and was met by former neighbors from Cleveland, Ohio. It was the first time I had ever been west of Chicago, so all I saw was new to me. All that pastel stucco instead of the sooty red brick of Northeastern Ohio. The plants were all different. The climate was strange. Even the people were somewhat odd. Fortunately, I was rooming on Sunset Boulevard with a friend from Dartmouth College days, with whom I am still a close friend.

Mind you, I did not take to the place at once. For years, I thought of myself as an Easterner. It was only by slow degrees that the light of Southern California, with those beautiful sunsets over the Pacific, started to work a sea change in me. There were some things that repulsed me. Numero Uno: Earthquakes. The Sylmar quake of 1971 hurled me out of my bed and scared the stuffing out of me. Last night, while I was recording a Max Ophüls film—The Earrings of Madame de … (1953)—on videotape, I felt a sharp jolt. Even after all these years, I felt a moment of terror. Should I run for the bedroom hallway, where I would be safe from falling building parts? Should I just shrug my shoulders? I opted to go to bed.

Martine is even more nonchalant about temblors than I am—probably because she never felt one of the big ones, such as the ones in 1971 and 1994. Ah, well, she’ll learn!

I still don’t think much of L.A. drivers. They tend to be lazy about following the law, such as signalling lane changes and crashing red lights and stop signs. But then, it could be that way in most other big cities, too. I seem to remember not liking to drive in Miami, Calgary or Las Vegas either.

Some things I really like about Los Angeles are:

  • The food. California looks South (Latin America) and West (Asia) for its cuisine.
  • The politics. As a determined Trumpf-hater I feel in good company in this very Blue State.
  • The mountains. There are some mountains in Los Angeles County that are 10,000 feet high, a far cry flat flat Ohio.
  • The deserts. So we don’t get much rain, but the deserts of the Southwest are beautiful, so long as you don’t make the mistake of visiting them at the wrong time.
  • The coast. Driving along the Pacific can be gorgeous, especially in the early morning before the Beemer bozos get out of bed.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the weather. I’ve never liked really hot weather: And every year we get about 20 days of horrendously torrid weather. Fortunately, Martine and I live only two miles inland from the coast, so we can usually catch a few breezes, but not always.

In the Right Place at the Right Time

This Overpass on SR 14 Collapsed in Both 1971 and 1994

Assembling California is the fourth volume of John McPhee’s geology tetralogy, the other volumes of which are Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, and Rising from the Plains. I delayed finishing the quartet because, as a California resident, I relished the enjoyment I would get from reading Assembling California. My only disappointment is that, being an Easterner, McPhee was mostly enthralled by Northern California, especially the area around I-80. Oh, well, it happens.

Assembling California is all about a fact that the geology, in its own way, replicates how the people of California came together from everywhere. So, too, did the pieces of rock that form the state migrate from all over the world and stick together—a process which will continue over millions of years to take the start apart just as it put it all together. Geologist Eldridge Moores writes:

People look upon the natural world as if all motions of the past had set the stage for us and were now frozen. They look out at a scene like this and think, It was all made for us—even if the San Andreas Fault is at their feet. To imagine that turmoil is in the past and somehow we are now in a more stable time seems to be a psychological need. Leonardo Seebler, of Lamont-Doherty, referred to it as the principle of least astonishment. As we have seen this fall, the time we’re in is just as active as the past. The time between events is long only with respect to a human lifetime.

I, for one, have been through two major quakes—the Sylmar Quake of 1971 and the North Hills Quake of 1994.

There are times when I stop and listen, waiting for the earth to rise up again and send me into paroxysms of terror. Whether I live or die will depend if “I am in the right place at the right time.” I can pretend that I will never experience another earthquake, but the chances are good that I will.

How To Explain a Disaster

Why Can’t Our News Media Do Such a Good Job?

Why Can’t Our News Media Do Such a Good Job?

At regular intervals I read the Ecuador Times website for news of my next vacation destination. Their English is execrable (“Weekly addresses will continue to be broadcast despite President Correa’s offering”), but they have access to some graphic genius who can, in a small space, explain something as complicated as the 7.8 earthquake that hit the Manabi region of that country.

Even though the above illustration is in Spanish, it is 99% clear to me. It even describes a family earthquake kit and what measures to take when the earth begins to shake.

I could only wish the Los Angeles Times would hire their graphic artist so that maybe I will be able to understand why people would vote for Donald Trump and why the culprits of the 2008 Recession are not in prison.

Not the Worst of Men

Hugo Chavez, the late President of Venezuela

Hugo Chavez, the late President of Venezuela

Not all dictators are uniformly bad. Okay, there were Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Mao—not to mention the horrendous Kim dynasty of North Korea. But think for a second: Would the world be in this ISIS/ISIL/Daesh mess if Saddam Hussein were still alive? We hanged him for being a bad dude, but worse dudes were to follow.

If there is any country in the Western Hemisphere that is an abysmal basket case, that country would be Haiti. After the 2010 earthquake that leveled half the country, all the NGOs moved in with their shiny SUVs and their air of moral superiority. One country, however, donated money to Haiti—admittedly much of which went into the wrong hands—but the recipients did not have to grovel for it. That was Venezuela, which at the time was basking in oil wealth. Through its Petrocaribe alliance with several other states, Hugo Chavez gave millions to the devastated country.

Now Venezuela is in dire straits and Hugo Chavez is dead of cancer. As much as his regime bad-mouthed the U.S., I salute Chavez for having a heart that was often in the right place.


Street Crowds in Valparaíso During Tsunami Alert

Street Crowds in Valparaíso During Tsunami Alert

In about two months from now, I will be in one of the Ring of Fire’s “Hot Zones”—coastal Chile, where a Richter 8.3 quake has just struck not more than a couple of hours ago. Most articles centered on the effects of the quake on Santiago, though the epicenter was 144 miles northwest of the capital, which suffered minimal danger because  it is built on rock, namely the foothills of the Andes.

The city of Coquimbo, nearer the epicenter, has already seen tsunami waves as high as 4.5 meters (about 14 feet), and even California and New Zealand are expected to feel some activity.

I will be in Valparaíso for several days in late November, though I will be on higher ground on Cerro Alegre. The port area is probably the most dangerous area: If there is another major earthquake, people will be running for the forty-three hills that surround the city in a semicircle.

Crowds Gather on High Ground in Valparaíso

Crowds Gather on High Ground in Valparaíso

Oh, I suppose I could visit less dangerous areas, like North Dakota or Manitoba, but I’ve always wanted to visit Chile, even if for just a few days. By then, with luck, the aftershocks will have died down some.

Today, I checked the volcanic activity at Calbuco and was delighted to find that its alert status has been lowered to green.

Live dangerously!