Saturday, December 26, 2015

Xenophobic Orcas

I was reading this, and was blown away:
An equally odd aspect of killer whale culture concerns food taboos and ways that whales observe them. In this they offer an extraordinary parallel with some human cultures. One clan of killer whales eats only a single species of salmon. Another kills only one species of seal. When members of a mammal-eating clan were captured for the aquarium trade in the 1970s, they starved themselves for seventy-eight days before eating the salmon being proffered, and then they ate the fish only after they had performed a strange ceremony. The two whales held gently onto either end of a dead salmon, and swam a single lap around their pool with it in their mouths, before dividing the fish between themselves and consuming it.

Killer whales are strongly xenophobic. Clans of salmon eaters never mix with mammal eaters, for example. Genetic studies show that clans with different food taboos don’t interbreed, leading to slightly different appearances and genetic makeup. Each clan has a distinctive dialect of vocalizations (perhaps we should call them languages), which facilitates coordination of their work, division of their labor, and care of one another.

At times, killer whales have developed special relationships with people. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at Twofold Bay south of Sydney, Australia, killer whales and humans set up a mutually profitable whaling enterprise. The killer whales would notify the whalers of the presence of humpback whales by performing a ritual in the waters of the bay fronting the whaler’s cottagers. The men would harpoon the humpbacks, and the killer whales would hold on to the harpoon ropes to tire the prey.

After a humpback was lanced and killed by the men, they observed the “law of the tongue.” The whalers would leave the humpback body for twenty-four hours so that the killers could feast on the lips and tongue. Remarkable proof of this partnership persists, in the form of the skeleton of “Old Tom”—a killer whale whose teeth were worn flat on one side while holding onto harpoon ropes—which can be seen in the killer whale museum in the town of Eden, Australia.

With the exception of our species, killer whales are earth’s most capable predators. When they evolved ten million years ago, half of earth’s whales, seals, and dugong species became extinct. Because they specialize in a particular food type and are so intelligent, killer whales continue to have a huge impact on their prey. As a result of global warming, killer whales have appeared in Arctic waters. Horrified Inuit describe them as voracious and wasteful killers that have reduced populations of some Arctic mammals by a third.

Impatient Skunk

Nearing the end of walking Bella on Christmas Night, I heard a gallop in the street beside us. It was an adult skunk, who quickly passed us, crossed in front of us, and darted into a yard. Apparently our progress down the sidewalk was far too slow for the impatient skunk.

"The Speck"

Daughter Danika of my college friend, Bruce Otis (the fellow with the fire extinguisher), stars in this video. It's a cautionary tale about teen girl engineers probing space-time too closely. Filmed mostly in Rochester, MN, where the veneer of reality is much too thin. (Also filmed partly in Albuquerque, NM, where reality is all too real.)

Adventure of the Blue Backpack

Walking through the blustery sprinkle in the dark night, Bella abruptly stopped and peered into the dark. I didn't see anything, but we proceeded further and discovered what made her hesitate: a blue backpack on the sidewalk (SW corner of 24th & Castro, with an attached plastic bag of recyclables). It looked as if someone dropped it while bicycling past, or perhaps left it near the bus stop. Still, I could think of no good reason why it should just be there in the rain at 1 a.m., so I took it home.

On the way, a person passed close by in the darkness. He was talking loudly to himself, and said "I accomplished tasks no one told me." He wasn't complaining about dropping a backpack, though.

At home, I fished in the backpack and came up with several pawn tickets. The tickets listed a name and address, and also helpfully listed the annual percentage rate of the loans (one was 330% APR - I'm in the wrong line of work). It occurred to me the items might be stolen, but I had no indication of such. I didn't know the state of mind of the backpack's owner: maybe he could accuse me of stealing his backpack just by picking it up. Best to avoid the subject entirely. I decided to try and track down the owner.

I knocked on the door of a house behind Arden Fair Mall. There was a posted sign that said: "No Trespassing. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again." Nevertheless, there was playground equipment on the front lawn that belied the warning, and suggested the presence of small children. I left a note.

They called back. I returned and turned the backpack over to the family of the owner. They explained the owner is homeless in my neighborhood. Hopefully they see him soon.

(He needs to keep a better eye on his stuff. Keeping stuff is one of the biggest challenges of being homeless.)

Talk To Me

Heading to San Francisco on the 23rd, we stopped at the McDonald's in Vacaville. I slipped into the bathroom just as a worker carrying a large replacement roll of toilet paper queried the toilet stall, "Is anyone there?" Hearing no answer, he entered the stall, and apparently unaware I was outside, he began a philosophical inquiry. "Tell me, oh God, Lord of the Universe," he intoned. "Who are you? Talk to me, my Lord. Tell me everything." I hated to flush the urinal and disturb his reverie. For whatever reason, on this day and in this place, the Lord of the Universe remained silent.

"The Big Short"

Went with Jetta to see "The Big Short" (excellent movie), talked about the intricacies of money for half an hour, eventually emerged from our seats, and discovered (almost) everyone else in the building had gone home.

It's about time the financial crisis of 2008 was brought to the screen! Dramatization of the riveting true stories assembled by Michael Lewis.

Steve Carrell was great! And the exit music! Can't go wrong here!

Christmas Eve Zumba With KES & the Barreto Brothers


"Charlie Brown Christmas" - DMTC - Storybook Theater

2015 version, with many of the same cast as in 2013.

Trip to San Francisco to Celebrate Jan's Birthday, and Look at Gingerbread and Pastry Fantasies

We were celebrating Jan Isaacson's birthday, and went on a mission to visit large gingerbread and pastry displays in the City.

Cable car. I enjoyed waving at strangers and watching them wave back.

Fairmont Hotel.

Fairmont Hotel lobby.

Fairmont Hotel lobby Gingerbread display.

Fairmont Hotel lobby Gingerbread display detail.

Molinari Family Nutcrackers.

San Francisco skyline.

Powell Street near California Street.

Rooftop Gardens.

Union Square Macy's.

Pastry spectacle in the Westin-St. Francis Hotel lobby

Lobby of the Westin-St. Francis Hotel.

Union Square Williams-Sonoma Store.

Union Square.

Dungeness crabs on Pier 39.

Group photo at Pier 39.

Yours truly at Pier 39.

RIP, Christina Low

RIP Christina. We will all miss your smile and spirit.

Here is a link to a sweet video about her.

A Tale of Two Drought Footprints

This map shows percentage of normal rainfall in the American West for the last 60 days. Much of this year, there have been two broad strips or footprints of drought - the first from Southern California to North Dakota, and the second from Northern California to western Montana - but the second footprint is shrinking dramatically from the welcome heavy rains in the Pacific Northwest.

Gingerbread Man

Weird Dreams Lately

Doggone it, I was having a very confused but interesting Breaking Bad dream with many cinematic elements: a new drug rolling like taffy into a Swimming Pool perched precariously in the Hollywood Hills; Jesse Pinkman in orbit around Mars; a group of elderly Good Samaritans dressed like yodelers and doing a furtive Cha Cha down the hallway of a high school. Then there was a clatter on the roof from the storm's wind, or maybe Reindeer hooves, and I woke up. Must return....

Woke up from a dream which featured every anxiety-producing element my brain could conceive, from the disappearance of my car from the driveway, to having someone changing a tire simultaneously box my car in the driveway, to realizing I hadn't fed four pet parakeets for four months. Like I don't have enough to worry about already.

Weather Forecast, and the Travails of Folsom Lake

Lake level this winter at Folsom Lake could at first best be described as a dead cat bounce. The lowest lake level ever recorded in the reservoir's history occurred on December 4th: 135,561 Acre Feet. The increasing inflow due to rain had very little initial effect.

Weather-wise, California is now heading into a quiet period. Our dear friend, the Really Resilient Ridge, is in control. That means the NW Pacific is amazingly stormy, but things are pretty quiet in the NE Pacific. Thus, the small system coming in Monday is likely to be a dud. Precipitation, which had almost reached normal levels, will slip behind again.

The next systems of interest are forecast to arrive on Sunday January 3rd, and Wednesday January 6th.

Folsom Lake received a big influx of water on Dec. 22-23 (there was an article about it in the Sacramento Bee):
After falling to historic low depths, Folsom Lake came back with a vengeance this week, adding nearly 18 billion gallons on Tuesday and Wednesday, state figures show.

Earlier this month, Folsom Lake levels fell to roughly 135,000 acre-feet, the lowest point since officials began keeping records – lower than even the 1977 drought. Since then, the region has seen a few storms, and the lake level has crept upward.

After the latest batch of storms, flows into the lake increased dramatically. On Tuesday, the lake rose 35,000 acre-feet. On Wednesday, it rose another 20,000 acre-feet.

In practical terms, the increases this week almost certainly mean that the lake will not fall below the level at which cities have trouble drawing drinking water from it.

The surge was a bit surprising. It had been raining/snowing from Dec. 18-22, but at first there wasn't much inflow. What made the difference was that as the small storm systems kept rolling through, the temperature kept rising, so by the end, precipitation upstream was falling more as rain than snow, and was at last available to help refill the reservoir.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Letter 2015

Every year, I write a Christmas Letter and enclose it with my Christmas cards. Here is the letter for those who aren't on my Christmas Card list.

For much of the last decade, I've been writing the Christmas Letter in the form of a multiple-choice quiz, in honor of my college friend, Bruce Otis, who first started sending his Christmas Letter in this format.

Christmas Letter 2015 Marc Valdez -

Once again, it’s time for a Christmas Letter. Everyone passed last year’s multiple-choice quiz. Let’s see about this year’s quiz. Who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, and who studied?

2015 was a good year for Outer Space. In July, the New Horizons Mission reached Pluto. In September, the moon reached Minor Lunar Standstill in its 18.6-year-long precession cycle and there was an excellent Lunar Eclipse on September 27th. Evidence of recent flowing water was confirmed on Mars. These events suggest:
( ) We live in a kind and benevolent Universe;
( ) We live in a cruel and uncaring Universe;
( ) Neither of the above;
( ) 2016 will be even better than 2015.

Several people died in 2015 that we will miss: Reies Lopez Tijerina, Dr. George Fischbeck, Marie Petersen, Senaida Valdez Aragon, and Leigh Pettigrew. These sad events suggest:
( ) We live in a kind and benevolent Universe;
( ) We live in a cruel and uncaring Universe;
( ) Both of the above;
( ) 2016 will have its roll call too.

The year of 2015 was just as bad as 2014 in regards to rain in California. A meteorological phenomenon called the “Really Resilient Ridge” is repelling all of the winter rainstorms that make California habitable. The reason for the extreme drought is:
( ) Those little silica gel capsules you find in pockets of new clothes really suck out the moisture;
( ) Rain in California was never anything but a Hollywood special effect;
( ) If California is going to slide into the ocean anyway, does it matter?;
( ) All of the above.

Home repair was an anguish in 2015. In January, I picked a scab off a rusty pipe and the pipe sprayed water all over the basement. In September, I tried Front Porch Repair, argued with my homeless friend ‘Joe the Plumber’ about the way he was doing the work, fired him, hired a general contractor to fix the problems, and spent way too much money. What I learned from this was:
( ) Nothing;
( ) Can’t teach an old dog new tricks;
( ) Never fix anything ever again, ever;
( ) If California is going to slide into the ocean anyway, does it matter?;
( ) All of the above.

In March, ‘Joe the Plumber’ found he couldn’t adequately take care of his Black Labrador Retriever named ‘Bella’, so I agreed to take care of her. As I had once traveled with Sparky the Dog years ago, I once again had a canine companion to accompany me on long rambles around the neighborhood.

Bella is basically a canine barbarian, a goofball dog with few civilized refinements, but loyal and attentive. The best Bella adventure of the year was:
( ) Watching Bella lunge at cats all year long;
( ) Watching Bella lunge at a Guy Fawkes mask in the window of someone’s parked car in March;
( ) Getting hammered by a skunk in July;
( ) Finding a mysterious tree that whistled like a hot tea kettle in November;
( ) Seeing a person simply run away from us for no apparent reason in December;
( ) All of the above.

I saw 19 movies on the big screen this year, a surprising number! My favorite movie of 2015 was “Clouds of Sils Maria”, with Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz, because:
( ) It had just actresses, no dudes;
( ) French has a different word for everything, and they spoke it, sometimes;
( ) Friedrich Nietzsche is now ready for his close-up;
( ) The Alps are pretty;
( ) All of the above.

2015 was a banner year for going to the theater to see shows. I saw at least 22 shows, including:
• “The Addams Family” (RTAA & RSP);
• “Mulan, Jr.”, Steampunk version of “Snow White & 7 Dwarves”, “Pirates of Penzance, Jr.”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, and “Teen Cabaret 2015” (DMTC YPT);
• “Into the Woods” (Sierra College);
• “Hairspray” (Berkeley Playhouse);
• “Proof” (Chautauqua Playhouse);
• “In The Heights” and “Dogfight” (Green Valley);
• “Always … Patsy Cline” (Cell Theater, Albuquerque).

Hard to say which show was the best, but I did particularly like “Catch Me If You Can” at RSP, because it was a story about slick criminality that I hadn’t seen before. Stories about slick criminality appeal because:
( ) There are always pretty actresses around;
( ) French has a different word for everything, and they never spoke it;
( ) The FBI looks sexy in the show;
( ) None of the above.

I also participated in DMTC shows:
• “Sweeney Todd” (Stage Manager);
• “Evita” (Ensemble);
• “Into the Woods” (Stagehand); as well as,
• Helped out at fundraisers (e.g., 4th of July Fundraiser, Halloween Haunted Hotel).

The hardest moments of the year concerned the 4th of July Fundraiser. We ordered too many BBQ sandwiches, couldn’t sell them all at full price, unloaded many at a loss, and were forced to eat the rest. What I learned from this was:
( ) There is never an actress around when you need one;
( ) French has a different word for everything, including obscenities, and we used them all;
( ) We live in a cruel and uncaring Universe;
( ) Never sell anything ever again, ever;
( ) If California is going to slide into the ocean anyway, does it matter?;
( ) All of the above.

Our final Haunted Hotel tour was specifically for our tween volunteers. As the Mad Scientist, I ask the guests if they are hungry, and whether they might fancy some "Rongere". One of the tweens immediately recognized the French word for "Rodent", snapped her fingers, and sarcastically responded "I don't THINK so!" I was amazed. In my day, no one would have understood. What I learned from this was:
( ) Farewell any idea about faking it in a French restaurant;
( ) There is always an actress around when you least need one;
( ) French has a different word for everything, and there are actually people around who understand these words;
( ) All of the above.

In 2015, I continued taking Zumba and hip-hop oriented aerobics classes at ‘Step One’ health studio with Pepper Von, Krystle Morales, and associates. I also started attending Jamaican Dancehall classes with La Toya Bufford.

I participated in a hip hop dance show - “The Debut” (K-Styles Dance). What I learned was:
( ) It’s time to release the inner Gangsta;
( ) I have no idea what I’m doing;
( ) French has a different word for everything, except maybe hip hop slang;
( ) If California is going to slide into the ocean anyway, this is the only stuff that’s going to matter;
( ) All of the above.

And more! I attended film festivals and concerts, went to museums, and saw Modern Dance, Ballet, and Burlesque shows. And also met a ‘Breaking Bad’ celebrity - Giancarlo Esposito (Gus Fring) at Sacramento’s Wizard Con in June - and saw another - Vince Gilligan at the Mondavi Center in December.
All this theater means:
( ) Nothing;
( ) I have way too much time on my hands;
( ) I enable narcissism;
( ) What do high heel shows and military transport vehicles have in common?;
( ) What was that about Burlesque?;
( ) All of the above.

I participated in Jamaican Dancehall workshops with the well-known Blacka di Danca and the most-amazing dance instructor I’ve met in years, Laure Courtellemont.

All this dancing means:
( ) I can avoid walkers and canes forever if I can just keep it up;
( ) Just stop it with the twerking already;
( ) Is this like burlesque?;
( ) None of the above.

I traveled to my hometown of Albuquerque, NM in February. I made a presentation to the 36th Annual Southwest/American Popular Culture Conference, called “Walter White on the Turquoise Trail: Native American History as Recapitulated in ‘Breaking Bad’ Through Filming Location, Mineral Type and Predominant Color”. The audience consisted mostly of philosophy students and professors. They liked the presentation because:

( ) It featured more maps than a typical philosophy lecture;
( ) I used bright, garish colors in my Power Point presentation;
( ) I had no discernable philosophy;
( ) Philosophers like TV shows;
( ) Like our overlord Donald Trump, I never ever apologized, not even once;
( ) All of the above.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


My avatar for 2016 is Arthur, the House Pig, whose duties include keeping nervous customers happy and minding the large piles of fallen hair, at Doggie Den Grooming, on Montgomery Blvd. NE, in Albuquerque.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

SNL Hillarys and GOP Debate

A New Descanso!

At Second and Hazeldine SW in Albuquerque, where 'Combo' sold drugs and got killed in "Breaking Bad", a Descanso has been erected!


Long live "Breaking Bad"!

Styx - "I Am The Walrus"

I love listening to the El Camino High School students on KDVS radio here in Sacramento. Their method is to play music in a perfectly-random way. So, they'll play some Montavani Strings from the 1950's, then play some punk rock song from the 70's, then follow it up with some 90's rap. It's disorienting, but invigorating!

Earlier today, KDVS played The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus". That song had a nearly-incalculable impact on the Sixties!

So, went on a snark hunt, trying to find the best cover of The Beatles' "I Am The Walrus". This appears to be the best:

Sister Rosetta Tharpe - Didn't It Rain

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Manchester, England, 1964.

Pictures of Hot-Air Balloons in Gallup


"Like a Donkey in the Mist"

16 Romanian phrases that British people find hilarious.

Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico

A class act.