Monthly Archives: June 2009

Another Country

I’m reading “No Ordinary Time,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s account of how the Roosevelt administration managed the home front during World War II. It’s a good-enough read and well researched, but there’s sort of a rushed feeling to it that makes me wonder how long she had to work on the thing. In any case, I was struck by a brief passage on the nation’s economic situation in the spring of 1940, when Germany’s attack on Western Europe prompted FDR to push for a rapid mobilization of industry and resources in the United States. Goodwin’s point is one often made: how on the eve of war, the American economy was still in the throes of the Depression. What strikes me is the stark difference between the country she describes and the one I grew up in — having been born less than a decade after the end of the war.

“…The economy had not yet recovered; business was still not producing well enough on its own to silence the growing doubts about capitalism and democracy. Almost ten million Americans, 17 percent of the work force, were without jobs; about two and a half million found their only source of income in government programs. Of those who worked, one-half of the men and two-thirds of the women earned less than $1,000 a year. Only forty-eight thousand taxpayers in a population of 132 million earned more than $2,500 a year.

“In his second inaugural [in January 1937], Roosevelt had proclaimed that he saw “one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. On this spring day three years later, he could still see abundant evidence of serious deprivation. Thirty-one percent of thirty-five million dwelling units did not have running water; 32 percent had no indoor toilet; 39 percent lacked a bathtub or shower; 58 percent had no central heating. Of seventy-four million Americans twenty-five years old or older, only two of five had gone beyond eighth grade; one of four had graduated from high school; one of twenty had completed college.”

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Chrysalides

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The something new I learned this minute: that the preferred plural form of chrysalis offered in the Merriam-Webster’s unabridged dictionary is chrysalides; the main stress is on the second syllable and the last syllable is pronounced “deez.” Me, I would have guessed, and written, chrysalises–and the M-W unabridged lists that second. (The abridged dictionary entry, which is not so different from the unabridged one, is here.)

Anyway, these chrysalides are both of the anise swallowtail variety. The one on the left is probably a couple weeks old and is strapped onto a fairly conspicuous spot on a fennel plant next door. It’s about two weeks old and has started to show that yellow color along its abdomen in just the last couple of days. That little piece of material below it is its last larval skin (see “Mascot Caterpillar” for what these guys look like before they go into the chrysalis).

The chrysalis on the right is also an anise swallowtail. It’s older–but I’m not sure how much older. It attached itself to the rarely visited north side of our house (don’t believe your monitors–the stucco isn’t really pink). When I first saw it back there this afternoon while on a foliage-clearing expedition I thought it was a curled-up leaf stuck to the wall. I’m not coordinated enough to do the “hold you thumb next to it so we get the scale” trick; but like the other chrysalis it’s maybe an inch and a half long. If you click on the picture, you can see the chrysalis looks like it’s cracking. Don’t know whether that’s a sign the adult butterfly is ready to emerge or not.

Maybe we’ll be tweeting its progress.

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The Moon When Chokecherries Are Ripe

June 25, 1876:

“The time was early in the Moon When the Chokecherries Are Ripe, with days hot enough for boys to swim in the melted snow water of the Greasy Grass. Hunting parties were coming and going in the direction of the Bighorns, where they had found a few buffalo as well as antelope. The women were digging wild turnips out in the prairies. Every night one or more of the tribal circles held dances, and some nights the chiefs met in councils. ‘The chiefs of the different tribes met together as equals,’ Wooden Leg said. ‘There was only one who was considered as being above all the others. This was Sitting Bull. He was recognized as the one old man chief of all the camps combined.’

“… The news of Custer’s approach came to the Indians in various ways: ” ‘I and four women were a short distance from the camp digging wild turnips,’ said Red Horse, one of the Sioux Council chiefs. ‘Suddenly one of the women attracted my attention to a cloud of dust rising a short distance from camp. I soon saw the soldiers were charging the camp.’ …

“… Meanwhile Pte-San-Waste-Win and the other women had been anxiously watching the Long Hair’s soldiers across the river. ‘I could hear the music of the bugle and could see the column of soldiers turn to the left to march down to the river where the attack was to be made. … Soon I saw a number of Cheyennes ride into the river, then some young men of my band, then others, until there were hundreds of warriors in the river and running up into the ravine. When some hundreds had passed the river and gone into the ravine, the others who were left, still a very great number, moved back from the river and waited for the attack. And I knew that the fighting men of the Sioux, many hundreds in number, were hidden in the ravine behind the hill upon which Long Hair was marching, and he would be attacked from both sides.’

“Kill Eagle, a Blackfoot Sioux chief, later said that the movement of Indians toward Custer’s column was “like a hurricane … like bees swarming out of a hive.’ “

–Dee Brown, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”

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Chenoa, Illinois

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Chenoa’s a town about 25 miles north-northeast of Bloomington and sits at the junction of U.S. 24, which runs east-west, and Interstate 55 (and old U.S. 66). We drove through town in mid-April, headed west on 24 to pick up 55 on our way from Chicago to Berkeley. We detoured through the old downtown business district, a handful of handsome and under-used old brick buildings surrounded by low frame and pre-fab buildings. The sign was no doubt touched up or repainted altogether, since the Chicago-based Selz shoe concern apparently went out of business about 60 years ago. (Here’s a post from a blog on faded signs that talks about the company and has a few examples of old Selz signs.)

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Iron Man

I’m sitting here in Berkeley. It’s a gorgeous solstice/Father’s Day. About 1,000 miles to the north-northeast, my friend Pete is competing in his second Ironman Coeur d’Alene triathlon. I was there for the event last year, and it was extraordinary to see so many committed, focused athletes. And it was extraordinary to see Pete accomplish something he’d set out years ago to do, another in a long line of endurance feats (triathlons of various lengths, half-marathons, marathons, 50-kilometer and 50-mile running races) that I stand in awe of.

It’s 10:35 a.m. here in Berkeley. That means he’s about two hours into the second event of the day, the 112-mile bike segment that goes north out of the town of Coeur d’Alene and winds through the rolling hills near Hayden Lake. A year and a half ago or so, we went up there together to ride the course. Much of the route is characterized by short, sharp climbs and descents, with a more or less flat run into and out of the start/finish in CdA.

Anyway, I’ll be followng the race all day today. The mass start at the swim was at 7 a.m. If he’s close to the 12-hour time he expects–12 hours of really laying it out there!–he’ll finish around 7 tonight. If you want to check in on his progress, look for bib number 1615 on the race tracker page; and, hey, leave a comment on his race-training blog.

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Worst Ever

I note stories this morning calling the state’s 11.5 unemployment rate for May 2009 “a record.” It’s not really true. It can be said for sure it *is* the highest since 1976, when the state’s current record-keeping system began. But the rate was higher–much higher–during the Great Depression right up to the eve of World War II

Only guesses are available for the worst years of the Depression, in the early and mid-1930s, when 25 percent or more of the labor force is believed to have been jobless. That situation improved but only slowly during the late ’30s. State records cited in an April story from the Chronicle’s Tom Abate showed a 14.7 unemployment rate in October 1940. With the nation gearing up for war, the rate fell quickly thereafter. Last month’s figure of 11.5 percent appears to be the highest since January 1941, when the rate stood at 11.7 percent.

None of this is to minimize the enormity of the statistics reported today. The rate now is at the highest point in nearly 70 years and is a sign of an epochal economic failure.

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Today’s Best …

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… News coverage : If you wonder why all the commotion about Twitter, it’s worth checking in on users’ “coverage” of the Iranian election aftermath at http://twitter.com/timeline/search?q=%23iranelection . We need some other word than coverage to describe this; coverage suggests something organized and controlled. What we’re getting from Tehran is chaotic, rumor-filled, repetitive and largely dependent on mainstream news sources. But it’s also immediate, passionate, and encyclopedic, and it brings all of us closer to the scene. The picture above is a case in point, shot and posted today by a Twitter user in Tehran. (The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz has a column today on Twitter and how it’s shifting the way we use media.)

… News analysis: Why does the Iranian opposition denounce the election results. FiveThirtyEight.com breaks down the numbers and shows some striking anomalies in the results. (On Saturday, on the other hand, FiveThirtyEight shot down one purported piece of evidence that the result was rigged.)

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Mascot Caterpillar

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Last year, Kate started using anise swallowtail butterflies as part of the biology unit in her second-grade class. As the name might suggest, the anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) are partial to anise (fennel) plants and their relatives; in some areas, the go for citrus, too. Our neighbor has a healthy stand of fennel in one corner of his yard, and the last two springs the plants have hosted anise swallowtail eggs and larvae (caterpillars). The one pictured here is apparently in its fifth and final “instar” (larval stage) before becoming a pupa (or, as I’ve always thought of it, “going into its chrysalis”). It’s an amazing little street-side biology lab we have here. (Oh, yeah: And you get a dollar if you can tell me what that little brown spheroid at the caterpillar’s posterior end is.)

Further reading:

UC Irvine Butterflies of Orange County: Anise Swallowtail
Berkeley’s Anise Swallowtails
Butterflies and Moths of North America: Anise Swallowtail
Wikipedia: Anise Swallowtail
Wikipedia: Butterflies

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Friday Night Ferry Again

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Due to a variety of strange occurrences during our news day today,I didn’t make it out of KQED until 7:35, 50 minutes before the ferry sailed. I thought about walking to BART and relaxing. Instead, I hoofed it over Potrero Hill and across the south of Market neighborhood and made the boat by about two minutes. One of the crew watched me walk on board, where Thom and Kate awaited, and said, “He’s sweating bullets.” (He was right — I ran the last few blocks, and was well warmed up when I got to the dock.) About 10 days before the summer solstice, it was a beautiful twilight on the bay. Then again, most of them are no matter what time of year.  

[If you’re keeping score of home, that’s downtown San Francisco, with the top of the Transamerica Pyramid, to the left; and in the right distance is Mount Tamalpais. Gorgeous, gorgeous night.]

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Apparition

A week or two ago, I was talking to a couple neighbors about rats. They didn’t get the memo about how genteel Berkeley has become. Just about everyone here encounters them in compost bins or scurrying across backyard fences from one tangle of ivy to another. The guy next door said he thought it would be great if we had owls to take care of the rodents and had considered putting up a nesting box in his yard to attract one. We have seen owls here before, notably a great horned owl that showed up in a neighbors backyard cedar at dusk one day and seemed to be hunting our little cat. I wondered how easy it would be to attract owls, though (the evidence from my reading is mixed: they prefer a rural setting, naturally, but seem have adapted somewhat to the steamroller ways of Homo americanus.)

The other night, walking the dog a couple blocks from home in our un-rural neighborhood, we heard a sound nearby: a loud, pulsing creak. Two, three, four times, like a rusty gate opening and closing. It crossed my mind that it was an owl drawn to our rodent smorgasbord After a block, we heard the sound again, very close by. Then some sort of bird flew up off a telephone line just ahead of us, down the sloping street, then settled again. Close up, the sound had changed from a creak to a short, keening scream, a little unnerving in the dark. I had a bright LED headlight with me, and shone it on the bird from just across the street: a barn owl. So, maybe they’re moving into the area already. Can we encourage them to stay? Here’s one outfit (in Marin County) that seems to say yes.

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