The Two Easter Syndrome

bun

This year, as with most years in the past, we have two Easters. The western church, those known as Catholic and Protestant, celebrated last Sunday, April 13. We of the Eastern Orthodox world will celebrate this coming Sunday, April 19. While you of the west are enjoying your lamb and ham and chocolate bunnies, we are still making do with a Lenten diet of greens and beans. But Pascha is coming (virus or no virus) and we will rejoice and celebrate, even if only virtually.

Why is it that we have this difference? I will tell you one thing certain, it not because of  the calendars. The starting point has to be that though there are two celebrations and two (three if you consider the Jewish lunar calendar as well) calendars, we all celebrate the same day in the west and the same, though often different day in the east.

Keep in mind two basic facts while we try to untangle this weed patch. First, we are all in agreement as to what to call each day. The days of the week are not in dispute and it has been so since the time of Moses. You can be dead certain that 14,000 days ago (which is 2,000 weeks or about 38 years) was the same day as when you read this. The second concerns the cornerstone of our time and date keeping. We can calculate the day and time of the Vernal Equinox to a fare-the-well. This is so because that celestial event occurs without reference to anything human. It is outside our capability to modify our world. But is is readily calculated.

Why the Vernal Equinox? Firstly, because the execution of Jesus of Nazareth took place at the end of Passover. The date of Passover is determined first from the Jewish calendar which is in turn a lunar calendar with its own peculiarities. It has served the Jews for millennia and the date of Passover is always 15 Nisan. The Wikipedia entry  for “Jewish Calendar” makes for interesting reading. Of primary interest is the fact that months can be either 29 or 30 days in length to compensate for the fact that one lunar revolution is about 28.5 days.

Of course, the crucifixion is not a concern to Jews, but it has long been held in the Orthodox Church that the observance of that event and of His resurrection, Pascha, should always follow Passover. After the Great Schism in 1054 AD, the western Church went its separate way. At some point, the west modified the means of determining the appropriate date and the difference has existed ever since. Try the Wikipedia entry for Computus for a brief explanation. While not fully correct, the rubric is that the west determines the date as the first Sunday after the first full moon and after the Vernal Equinox. The Orthodox version adds “after Passover” to the formula.

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Statue of Julius Caesar, Via dei Fori Imperiali (Rome) – Wikipedia

Note that in all this, the solar calendars still in use, the Gregorian and Julian, have no bearing on this determination. And here is where an interesting difference occurs within the Orthodox Church. In the Roman world, the calendar was somewhat arbitrarily decided and could often be a political plaything. There was a method but by the time of the reign of Julius Caesar, it was a mess and he determined to reform it. Enlisting the aid of Greek mathematicians and astronomers, a formula was developed that took the adjustments made to compensate for the sun’s rotation time (approximately 365.25 days) and it took effect by edict on January 1 of the 709th year since the founding of Rome, the year we now know as 45 BC.

 

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Pope Gregory XIII – Wikipedia

 

 

 

That calendar held until 1582, by which time it had slipped* about 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII decided that a correction must be made but rather than simply adjusting the date, he had further adjustments made to the calendar scheme to reduce the rate of slippage. Thus, October 4, 1582 was followed by October 15th and in 1584 for the first time , many children were born on a day that would not occur again for four years. They should consider themselves lucky. Under the old, pre-Julian calendar, there were frequent periods when the date could not be known.

How the two calendars come to bear requires another dip into history. The short story is this. Once the Gregorian calendar was adopted by Catholic countries, then most western countries followed suit. This lead to a real division in the Orthodox Churches, as many Orthodox churchmen refused to adopt anything related to the Catholic Church, and surely, the Gregorian calendar was foremost among them. The last European country to adopt the Gregorian calendar was Greece and then only in 1923.

As things now stand, many Orthodox jurisdictions, the Serbian and Russian most prominent among them, still use the Julian calendar which now is 13 days different from the Gregorian. Thus, we of the Greek Orthodox Church celebrate Pascha on April 19. Our Serbian friends down the street will celebrate on that same day but their date will be April 6. It is important to note that we celebrate on the same day, regardless of how we name that date. This is why our western friends mostly observe a different day, because they use a different method to set the day.

One more thing to add to the confusion: While the Serbian Church will mark Pascha on the  same day as we do, their calendar will have them celebrate Christmas in January. It will still be December 25, Julian calendar, even though we call that day January 3.

  • calendar slippage.  Neither the earth’s rotation around the sun or that of the moon around earth, are exact multiples of the earth’s spin period. All calendars try to take this into account and schemes such as leap years are a means of compensating. Ultimately the date for events such as the Vernal Equinox will change, as from March 21 to 22 or 20, for example.
The image at the top of this entry is from an episode of The Simpsons and is copyright by Disney and Twentieth Century Fox TV.

Near Misses

Here’s a recent Google Science News headline:

NASA Alert: Airburst-Causing Asteroid Currently Headed For Earth

Now here are the basics of the story:

According to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), the asteroid that’s currently approaching Earth is known as 2020 BW13. As indicated in the agency’s database, this asteroid has an estimated diameter of about 66 feet. CNEOS noted that it is currently flying towards Earth at a speed of around 5,400 miles per hour.

And the followup:

Fortunately, CNEOS noted that 2020 BW13 is not in danger of hitting Earth during its upcoming visit. According to the agency, this asteroid will fly past Earth on Feb. 24 at 11:10 a.m. EST from a distance of 0.02333 astronomical units or roughly 2.2 million miles away.

All this accompanied by a lurid artists conception thus:

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Image: Artist illustration of an asteroid heading for the Earth Photo: Pixabay

Notice anything wrong about this illustration? A flaming asteroid is headed right for earth. Only it is still probably (my rough guess) about 100,000 miles away and thus has not struck the atmosphere, which is what would cause it to appear in flames, though only for a very brief time.

The obviously stupid illustration is still not the real problem with this report. As noted above, this particular asteroid will pass by at a distance of 2.2 million miles. An earlier report of another such object was expected to pass at 3.6 million miles! Yet Google insisted that such a close encounter was knuckle-biting nerve shattering event.

Let’s put this in perspective. To get it down to something comprehensible, scale it down so that 1 inch = 1,000 miles. At that scale, the earth would be the size of a large grapefruit -very large. That is about 8 inches in diameter. The moon would be a golf ball about 2 feet away. The asteroid in question would pass by 183 feet away. The earlier object would have passed at 300 feet away! Now imagine the earth at the center of an archery target (the preferred method to avoid traumatizing the fire arms phobics). At any respectable distance, you would be hard pressed to miss the entire target by 180-300 feet!

This isn’t science! This isn’t even junk science! It is just junk and this from the Google News service that, along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like, endlessly bloviate about fake news and accuracy. Really? We deserve better. (For more check the Google story.)

Now, approaching asteroids are a matter of concern, just not these instances. Their orbits and positions are well enough known that it is possible to point a telescope at a position and take a photo at a predetermined time and stand a good chance of capturing an image. What is so nerve shattering about that?

However, these are known as earth crossing objects, meaning that they periodically intersect the earth’s path. They are a potential threat but not right now. There are, however, two of real concern, Apophis and Bennu. Check out this headline and story from space.com.

Huge Asteroid Apophis Flies By Earth on Friday the 13th in 2029.

Apophis is much bigger than those recent objects, big enough to be called a planet killer. The greatest concern is that it might pass by at just the right point to set it up for a collision on the next pass, sometime in 2036. Mark your calendar. That might just be a real knuckle biter.

Asteroid Bennu, about half the size of Apophis, will make a close approach in 2060. It is currently under close examination from Osiris-Rex probe. A landing it planned in the near future.

Finally, the Wikipedia entry laconically notes,

On average, an asteroid with a diameter of 500 m (1,600 ft; 0.31 mi) can be expected to impact Earth about every 130,000 years or so.

Stand by…

The Tale of My Traveling Hat

This post is by way of taking a poke at a few things in general, and Turkish Airlines, Turkish security in Istanbul, UPS, and corporate isolationism in general.

IMG_20150913_110517235To begin, I have for years worn a Tilley hat, especially when traveling. I like wearing a hat. It protects me from both sun and rain and makes me easily identifiable in a crowd (a story for another day.) I acquired my first one more than twenty years ago in Vancouver BC, IIRC. That one succumbed to absent mindedness on on Amtrak trip. Yet another story. Its replacement is now lost, again due to absent mindedness on a Turkish Airlines flight.

Last year, we made our almost annual trek to Greece, leaving in mid-July, and chose to travel on Turkish Airlines. The price was hard to beat and we had heard good things from other travelers about them. Our route was Fresno CA, known as FAT – LAX – IST – SKG, that last being Thessaloniki. We have the good fortune to have a residence in Peraia, a suburb of Thessaloniki.

I forgot the hat when leaving the LAX-IST flight and did not realize it until we had boarded the final flight. On arriving at SKG, we checked with the local TA representative who told us to contact the lost and found in Istanbul. They in turn told us that they would not forward the hat to Thessaloniki, that I had to go to the lost and found in Istanbul in person to get the hat. I could also have an international shipping company send it. Even though there are two daily flights SKG-IST they would not send it as requested.

IMG_20150913_102845189Well that was unhelpful and now the “international shipping company” recommended was UPS and an agent was cited. This agent insisted that I had to send a shipping label from the US. UPS in Greece would not handle this. This is where it became impossible … and questionable. I donkeyed around with this all summer, getting nowhere.

We returned at the end of September and I promptly attempted to create a shipping label. Local agents for UPS professed no knowledge of what was required. Attempts to use the UPS system revealed that a shippers address was required. The system simply would simply not create a label without it. I repeatedly requested an address from the Turkish UPS agent but none was ever forthcoming.

This UPS agent included phone numbers in his email but when I searched the UPS site for Istanbul, his was nowhere to be found. The UPS International Help Line was useless as well. Could they help generate the label? Sorry, no. Could they supply the address for this agent? No, we can’t give out that information. This, in spite of the fact that all those addresses were listed on their website.

The Turkish Airline Lost and Found person had stated that the hat would be held for 90 days. That time has long since come and gone so I presume some Turk is happily wearing a nice Tilley hat acquired from the TA Lost and Found.

IMG_20150911_153407954There is a bit more and I apologize for going on so long. Our return was through Istanbul but we had only two hours to begin with and our SKG flight was delayed forty minutes. That on top of the fact that the new Istanbul airport is enormous made it near impossible to get to the Lost and Found. Security complicated that. We were not treated as in transit as in other airports. Instead, we had to pass through security again and finding your way in that place is not easy. But the final insult came aat our boarding gate.

Among other things, my wife brings back numerous bags of Greek coffee. Loumidis is the preferred brand. This time she had six bags in her carry-on to allow us to meet the weight requirements for the checked baggage. At our boarding gate, we were again subjected to a baggage search. Aha! We had contraband! Too much coffee in too large of bags. It must be confiscated. No need to go into the details as to why. We were able to retain two of them, even though the bags were too big (by what standard?) It was last straw.

IMG_20150913_105315871Now, my final point. Do you have a problem with UPS? With an airline? With any large multi-national corporation? Have you tried to file a complaint? Can you even find out how? I searched in vain for a way to penetrate both UPS and Turkish Airlines past that poor sap who has to answer the phone. If you know of a way, please inform me. Corporate America -and the rest of the world, for that matter- have sealed themselves off from the customers they serve -completely. That is not a good thing. The business world prides itself repeating cliches like “The customer is always right”. It seems it ought to be replaced with the customer is never heard.

[This was initially posted on Ricochet.com. I strongly suggest you visit them if you are interested in good discussions.]

The pictures enclosed were taken at various locations in Spain in 2015.

Am I Dying?

The call came at an unfortunate time. It was about a week before Christmas with the usual preparations well underway. The call was from my doctor’s office. “Your Cologuard test came back positive. Your doctor wants you to have a followup colonoscopy.”

A colonoscopy is something such that no one I have ever known looked forward to, and this occasion was no exception. I had thought I could avoid the unpleasant procedure this time around. My doctor agreed and a Cologuard kit had been delivered a few weeks before.

cologuardThe kit needs a little explanation. Until recently, the only way to see what might be growing in your colon is the dreaded colonoscopy procedure. The procedure itself is not difficult. You submit yourself to a specialist who has an unusual camera. An anesthetic is given and an hour later you wake up. It is the preparation that is so objectionable.

The Cologuard test bypasses all that. While it is a little icky to consider, the bottom line -no pun intended- is that you use the kit to submit a stool sample to the Cologuard lab.* Per the Cologuard literature,

Cologuard is intended for the qualitative detection of colorectal neoplasia associated DNA markers and for the presence of occult hemoglobin in human stool. A positive result may indicate the presence of colorectal cancer (CRC) or advanced adenoma (AA) and should be followed by diagnostic colonoscopy.

In due time, the results are returned to your physician and with any luck that is the end of it. This time it was positive and thus the dreaded procedure was necessary.

The news was unsettling to say the least. I was told only of the positive indication. No assessment of degree was provided. In that moment it seemed as if my life stopped. It was not unlike a digital TV when a transmission failure leaves a frozen picture just as the villain fires at the hero. The outcome is unknown and nothing else matters until transmission resumes.

I had been contemplating the year ahead, mulling plans for anticipated travel and other activities. Now I had come to that proverbial fork in the road, and it would be taken, only I could not know which direction I would go. It was not a panic, but certainly that any plan I made might be for nought.

All of this was complicated by the timing. The nurse who had called said that a referral had been made to a specialist I had seen before but it might not be until after the holidays before they would contact me. So I waited.

In the interim, I thought often about the possible outcome. Colon cancer is no picnic. The five-year survival rate is about 65%. Treatment consists of the usual gamut of  chemo, radiation and possibly surgery. All of this had a considerable impact on my thinking. I found myself asking if this was the time I would check out. It was easy to be maudlin about it. I try to be stoical about such things but it was almost impossible to avoid thinking that this or that might be the last dance, so to speak.

father-richard-john-neuhaus
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus from National Review.

There is, for more than the morbid, much literature on the subject. At one time, I was a devoted reader of the magazine, First Things, and especially of its noted editor, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. A Lutheran minister who had converted to Catholicism and had been very active in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War, Fr. Richard was an eloquent spokesman for pro-life and other conservative issues. Of particular interest was his book, As I Lay Dying, which he wrote while recovering from surgeries for a near fatal burst tumor.  As described in one review “As I Lay Dying is not so much Neuhaus’s near-death-experience tale as it is a Christian discussion of death from the vantage point of a Catholic priest who heard death knocking at his door.”**

As I said, the timing was unfortunate. It was bad enough that I had been presented with this unpleasant possibility. Waiting only amplified my anxieties. All this was made worse by the difficulty of arranging an appointment for “the procedure.”  I seemed to be the only one who thought that sooner might be better than later. Complications arose from missed and misdirected communications. For all that, however, an appointment was finally made and the procedure performed. When I woke from the anesthesia, I learned that three polyps had been seen and removed. Further tests will be performed on them and perhaps more treatment may be required.

Now it seems, a great weight has been removed. The fork in the road has been taken but at least, it does not lead down that dark path. We cannot see the future, though we can guess what it might hold. For the moment, spring seems near and plans can be made with confidence. Many things I put off in the interim, I can now take up again. In answer to the question in the title of this piece, yes, I am dying, but we are all dying. Life is a process of dying. Just not now, thanks be to God and the people he has endowed with the talent and knowledge to treat matters like this. I will certainly die one day, but not just now.

*I must sympathize with the plight of the lab workers at the Cologuard facility. Day after day, they must rummage through endless numbers of stool samples. I wonder what they do for recreation?

**As I Lay Dying is also the title of a William Faulkner novel originally published in 1930. I am certain that Fr. Neuhaus very consciously used that same title for his book.

The Baby Always Cries

baptism2A baptism in the Orthodox Church tends to be a happily chaotic affair. Most baptisms are of infants and that involves family and friends on the joyous occasion. It is unlike other sacramental and liturgical events in the life of the church. Here, all the solemnity and pomp are set aside to welcome one more small life into the faith. The church can do pomp and ceremony, to be sure, but baptism is the one that kids truly enjoy.

It begins at the entrance to the church. The parents meet with the godparent (or godparents in some instances) and the presiding clergy. The child is given to the godparent and prayers are recited to renounce the devil and confirm the faith. Then  the priest leads them into the church and to the baptismal font.

The font has been prepared in advance, of course, and the priest blesses the waters in the font, while the child is undressed. Every Greek Orthodox home has embarrassing (to the child) naked baby pictures. This step is necessary because baptism requires a triple immersion. Sometimes the baby enjoys the bath, Sometimes it is all a bit too much and then the crying starts. And it usually continues until baby is back safe in the arms of mom and dad.

baptism3The final step after the child is anointed and tonsured, is a procession around the font while final prayers are chanted. Often the whole family joins in, an exciting privilege for older siblings. At last, the baby is given its first communion and is henceforth an Orthodox Christian. Somewhere in all this, the baby inevitably begins to cry, probably due to the inordinate amount of handling and all the people.

[You need no more description than that from me. You will find more than one baptism recorded and published on YouTube. You can also learn more from this blog post, A Holy Bath indeed! I encourage you to read it as well.]

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His great-grandfather, two uncles, his father and George .

Thus was my great-grandson baptized recently. Here I must admit, with a slight degree of embarrassment, that he was born without the benefit of marriage. That, I trust, will come…soon, I hope. In other circumstances, he could have ended up like so many of his contemporaries, as so much medical waste. The grim fact is that during the period of his gestation, perhaps a half-million unborn children died. Just on the day of his baptism, statistically as many as 1,400 abortions ended the life of children like him.

But on this day, my great-grandson George was welcomed into the Orthodox faith as he was welcomed into life. The fact that he was conceived and born before marriage is becoming a common event. Out of wedlock births are at or near a majority of live births. This marks a huge change in the social order. In times past, it was treated as a shameful thing, often leading to family division and, ironically, abortion. That fact has been used endlessly by the abortion industry as a defense of the practice. The irony seems lost on them that far and away more abortions have been administered than ever occurred before it was legalized.

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George and his mother, the baptism now complete, dressed in baptismal white.

Perhaps the change in social attitudes is necessary. The abortion rate is declining but is still the highest of all the countries in which it is legal. It may be safe. It is certainly legal, but it is by no means rare. If we must change our standards to welcome all infants into life and stop the slaughter of the innocents, than change we must.

One more happy note. His baptism took place on November 30, the feast day of the Apostle Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. Yet he is named for the legendary slayer of dragons, St. George, patron saint of England. His English and Scottish forebears might take pleasure in that. We can hope those venerable saints will guide him through life.

union-jack-flag-1365882581V0RFor all you vexillologists, it is noteworthy that the crosses of St. George (vertical and horizontal) and St. Andrew (diagonal) comprise the British union jack. A fortuitous and happy coincidence indeed.

 

Poland

As we spend a couple of months or more each year in Greece, we have made it a point to take tours to various destinations in Europe. The tour guide will normally be Greek speaking, a disadvantage for me. On the other hand, it allows me to wander a bit and see what we are visiting instead of having my foot nailed to the floor while the guide drones on about whatever. This year, our tour choice  was Poland.

Day 1: Getting there.

Our Greek home is in Peraia,  a suburb of Thessaloniki. The tours originate from Athens so we have an extra leg. Athens is not my favorite airport. It is crowded, cluttered, clumsy and chaotic. It is certainly not what one would expect of a capitol city.

The tours have been using Aegean Airlines, a company that effectively replaced Olympic. They have a fleet of 60 Airbus A320’s, a crowded model with really tight seat spacing. I endured. I did not enjoy.

Our first destination was Krakow, wherein we found a very hospitable city centered around a plaza filled with restaurants, souvenir vendors and people. This, we found, is characteristic of every Polish city and impresses with the tidiness of streets and everything.

Day 2: The salt mine and the city.

 

On display in the mine are reminders of what such work meant in the time before mechanization. Some of the wooden machinery is very impressive.

In the morning, we began a descent into the Wielezka salt mine which, though now not operational, must have produced a few cubic miles of rock salt over the course of its more than 600 years of operation. More than just a mine, it contains a variety of sculpture, all in rock salt done by miners, that commemorate saints and kings and more. In all, the mine reaches depths over 1000 ft., and includes 178 miles of shafts and passages. In the course of the tour, you descend hundreds of steps. Wobbly legs are to be expected. The ascent is by elevator,

 

In the afternoon, we took a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter and the Wawel Castle and Cathedral. The cathedral is typical of the major churches throughout Poland, immense and magnificent.

The Jewish Quarter, by contrast, is very subdued. Prior to World War II, there were an estimated 80,000 Jews in the city. At the end of the war, a mere 7,000 had survived. Since then the Jewish population has virtually vanished. There are a few synagogues and no more than 200 Jews remaining.

This is characteristic of the entire tour. The simplest way to say it is that the Nazis thoroughly trashed Poland, and the Russians were none too careful in their reconquest. At the end of the war with the country mostly in ruins, Poland began a decades long reconstruction that continues to this day. There was more to come.

P1040688Day 3: Into the Heart of Darkness

As it is told, the Nazis originally only intended to force the Jews out of Europe. They considered sending them first to Siberia, but the invasion of Russia ended that. Then Zanzibar was considered. When they realized that it would be too expensive and probably not possible, the most expedient alternative was extermination, something they set about doing with typically Teutonic efficicency.  The Jews were rounded up and shipped to a number of concentration and extermination camps. The best known of these was near the Polish town of Oswciem, called by the Germans, Auschwitz.

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These tracks lead through the building to the selection area. As the prisoners descended from their train, a German officer would select those who would live or die.

Much of this camp remains and is now maintained as a tourist destination. It was situated around a set of brick barracks built for the Polish Army. To these were added additional crude wooden barracks to house the thousands of prisoners. The brick barracks and some of the wooden barracks still stand. The Nazis destroyed most of the extermination facilities when they realized that they were about to loose the war and the Russians were approaching. The gas chambers and crematoriums are mostly gone. A sobering display is housed in several of the brick barracks.

It is impossible to comprehend the magnitude of all of this. Auschwitz alone accounted for some 1,500,000 Jews and others. The exhibits recount the treatment of prioners and the processing that sorted the capable from the less so. The latter went directly to the chambers. Those remaining were simply worked to death.

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A small assortment of artificial limbs.

The most harrowing part of the exhibits are all the possesions conficated from prisoners as they arrived. There are piles of luggage, shoes, brushes, eyglasses and more.  A large room is filled with human hair shaved from the corpses and sold to the textile industries. All this is only a fraction of what was taken, and that only at Auschwitz.

 

From the brick barracks, you are lead to the arrival tracks where the selections were made, and then into some of the wooden barracks. On display is a boxcar of the type in which prisoners were shipped to the camps. They would have little or no food or water. With as many as 80 people crammed into one boxcar, a trip that might last as long as ten days resulted in the deaths of many before they ever reached a camp.

 

These barracks were a minimal consruction that provided only shelter and no comfort at all. Imagine a half dozen people all crammed onto that shelf without mattress or blankets.

Once you have experienced this place, your perspective must change. Talking of the Holocaust without it is to deal with the abstract. Here at this place is the concrete and undeniable evidence and in overwhelming volume.

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Empty canisters of Zyklon B, the poison gas used to kill prisoners en masse.

Is there a lesson for us here? Of course there is. There are many lessons. First and foremost is that in the political discourse of the day, to liken anyone to the monsters who perpetrated the holocaust is reprehensible. To do so trivializes what was done and diminishes the memory of all those vicitms. We would do well to rethink our poisonous politics and begin to restore some to civility to it. I do not say that we would or could repeat that history but the less we appreciate the enormity of it and honor the dead whose ashes are scattered there, the more likely we are to visit our own heart of darkness.

The Beach at Peraia

Peraia, Greece, August 2019: Life on the beach of Peraia in summer is one long succession of  swimming, walking, relaxing, with leisurely lunches by the waterside. That is true for the human inhabitants. Maybe less so  for the other denizens.

IMG_20190731_234722_979The beach of Peraia is a four mile stretch of sandy beach varying in width from a few feet to a hundred or more. What sets it off from other like places is that the water is shallow well out from shore. Even as much as a hundred yards out it is possible to stand on the bottom. Though lacking in significant surf, it is still a popular recreational area and locals and foreigners alike flock here every summer.

Less recognized is the wildlife that also occupies these waters. The wide sandy bottom looks at first like an aquatic desert  but in fact there is an abundance of life to be found. It may not be a National Geographic coral reef with clouds of exotic fish but there is more to be found than meets the uncritical eye.

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Small fish abound along the beach. They seem unphased by human presence.

Stand for a moment a few yards out and watch. Very likely a number of small fish will come to investigate. Characteristically, they are elusive and well camouflaged, as are all the species here. There is little vegetation and no hiding place so species that thrive here are those that can blend in to the point of being invisible. At times those small fish seem able to bury themselves in the sand.

A note for would be fishermen: Forget your exotic tackle. No poppers, hoppers, droppers, no wooly buggers or redwing whizbangs. No spoons, spinners, none. What works for these little guys is bread. Throw a piece of bread in the water and you will start a feeding frenzy. Put a piece on your hook and expect a catch. Of course, they are barely bite size. For bigger fish, you need to get out on the water.

DSCF0465
A  conch snail still occupying his shell.

The keen eyed observer will ocasionally come across other oddities. Small conchs and snails are frequently found, usually by stepping on them. They are typically adorned with barnacles, the immobile barnacles taking advantage of the snails to bring them to food. Rocks of varying size are present sans barnacles, since they tend to get buried which would be unfortunate for any attached barnacles.

DSCF0479
This mildly perturbed Hermit crab is investigating the sudden change of scenery.

Many of the snail shells have been vacated in favor of small hermit crabs. I am not sure how the change in occupancy takes place but it is likely that the snails are the losers. Hold one of these for a minute or two and the crab will nervously investigate and sometimes try to escape.

DSCF0189
A razor clam shell left behind by a feeding crab(?)

A variety of shells litter the sea floor. Razor clams are present but only the empty shells will be found.  Michael was able to find a live razor clam a couple of years ago. Curiously, they were offered at a Madrid food court but there seems to be no market for them here.

Above, tiny crabs vie for exposed clams.

At the waters edge, tiny clams seem to be the choice of numerous small crabs. Since there is constant wave action (mostly from the wake of boats and ships in the bay) these clams are churned up and become crab bait. Numerous clam shells testify to their aundance -and fate. There are also tiny fish, typically about 1″ long,  frequently seen but which are so perfectly camouflaged that it takes considerable concentration to spot them.

DSCF0542
These little “now you see them, now you don’t fish are maybe an inch long. With an underwater camera, they are more visible. From above it is just lusck to spot them.

Of all the creatures found here, the oddest is the salp. At least, that is what I believe it is. The locals call them medusa, a generic for jellyfish, but they are not that. There are no tentacles. They are about 6″ in length and appear like a small, transparent cucumber. They pulse slowly and tend to stay near the surface. Probably filter feeders, they do not seem to have any predators.

DSCF0178
Salps can be elusive and difficult to photograph. It is bad enough that they are nearly transparent, but in bright sunlight and without my glasses, this is a lucky shot.

The most mysterious* aspect of them is that they will appear suddenly, a few one day, hundreds the next. And then they vanish just as suddenly. If you Google “salp”, a different creature wil be found. Out in the Mediteranean proper, they are found as long chains of individuals forming a tape like entity that can exceed 100′. These however, do not combine and merely float along, alarming the unwary and uninformed.

  • “Mysterious” is the favorite adjective of hack science writers everywhere.

The video above is probably the business end of a razor clam. The fronds appear as a black spot on the sand but when disturbed, they quickly hide.

One might think that the featureless seafloor along the Peraia beach would be bereft of life. It is anything but and a visit here will soon show otherwise. Maybe you should take a trip and swim here. You never know what might be under your feet.

 

They Also Serve…

Today, May 30, 2019, is a good day to contemplate service, as in service to your country. It is the original date designated as Memorial Day, and was originally called Decoration Day. You should consider a visit to one of the many cemeteries and monuments that dot the land. As with the rusting hulk of the USS Arizona, the tomb of nearly 1,000 sailors, it can be a moving and educational experience.

Military service runs through my family. We aren’t a military family on the order of, say, John McCain, but we have done our share. When I dig into my family history, the fact that many of my ancestors, both recent and as far back as I can go, served in one capacity or another is a bit surprising.

My own service was a curiosity. I joined the Navy to see the world, as they say, and spent

Bob Sexton w/ John (Spike) Marlin (rt) and friend at Treasure Island 1959
Bob Sexton w/ John (Spike) Marlin (rt) and friend at Treasure Island 1959

my hitch in San Diego and San Francisco. I never went to sea. That was in part a consequence of having a talent for things electronic and no command wanted to part with any technically capable personnel. The stint in San Francisco was while attending electronics school on Treasure Island. San Diego was for boot camp and three years tending radio transmitters at a now abolished naval radio station.

More immediately, my nephew also served in the navy, along with a brother-in-law who retired from the navy as a four-striper, that is with the rank of captain, no mean feat for naval officers. My father put in a stint in the army joining the 76th Field Artillery at

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My father, Lyle Sexton, served in the army but in civilian life wore another uniform. Service came naturally to him.

Camp Ord near Monterey during the height of the depression .

John Hepburn
Sgt. John Hepburn in full field regalia, though he probably thought bib overalls and a straw hat more appropriate to his duties.

Further back, an uncle of my mother served in World War I. He made it to France but with the veterinarian training he had received , he was assigned to tending horses and he never got close to the front. Another of my mother’s cousins was part of a special forces unit. He made the news at the end .of the war by going into Tokyo without permission. Another cousin by marriage was not so lucky, dieing in Normandy in September, 1944.

There are others, not all of them lucky enough to return home. Two of my wife’s cousins died in WWII, one in a training flight accident, the other somewhere in the Pacific near the close of the war. Her father served in the Greek Army on the Albanian front, until Greece was overrun by the Nazis who came in support of Mussolini’s hapless Italian Army.

Even further back, you will find the

Dr Marshal Perkins
Dr. (and Captain) Marshall Perkins, veteran of Gettysburg and other campaigns.

gaunt looking gentleman (below) in uniform.* He is Dr. Marshall Perkins, who served in the Union Army during the civil war and was present at Gettysburg. He would tell of an orderly who tried to catch a cannon ball and got his arms ripped off for his troubles. Even into colonial times, I have historical information concerning William Perkins and his military service. William was the first of the family to arrive in the new world and seems to have had some difficulty establishing himself. Records still exist that describe bis occasional lapses of judgment. Still, he was given the rank of Sergeant and served for many years in Roxbury.

 

All this is not to single out my family, or extended family. I suspect that many families have a similar history. I recently saw Cold Blue, the restored Wiliam Wyler footage taken at great risk to record the efforts of the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Some 127,000 men served and 28,000 died in the air war against Germany. The numbers are staggering and starkly underline the cost of service.

harold criswell
Harold Robert Criswell, a cousin by marriage, lost in Normandy in September 1944.

Kevin Williamson, who writes for the National Review (and briefly for The Atlantic) wrote recently “A friend who is a lifelong military man says that he wishes sincerely that people would stop thanking him for his service as though doing so were a kind of mandatory social convention somewhere between Welcome to Starbucks! and Have a nice day!” I am much in sympathy with Kevin’s friend. I have encountered that greeting frequently. When I compare my service to what many others endured, I feel not a little embarrassed to stand along side those who gave their all.

The practice of thanking anyone in uniform for their service began some time after the Vietnam war. During and after the war, the treatment of servicemen and women was terribly shabby. Public expressions of gratitude seems to be the product of a collective guilt complex, a means for making amends for past mistreatment. A far better expression of gratitude would be to add your service, whether it be military or in  many civilian capacities. Which would be better, remembering those lost in that rusting hulk at Pearl Harbor, or posting more signs of faux gratitude that no one will observe?

 

    • Dr. Perkins was a captain, an officer and a gentleman, as were all doctors. Just think of M*A*S*H. As such he was required to wear a sword when in dress uniform. I had a 
      physics teacher who recounted once his experience as an officer in WWII. He was even then required to wear a sword with his dress uniform and found it particularly troublesome when going to a movie theater.
IMG_20190530_083835611_HDR
These have been springing up around town lately.  Is anyone checking?

 

What to do With TrainHenge?

Stonehenge is a fascinating monument of mysterious origin. Are we building a similar monument?

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This structure is north of Fresno, on the south side of the San Joaquin River.

The saga of California’s high speed rail project took an unexpected turn when newly elected governor Gavin Newsom decided to cut the project in half. Originally planned to extend from San Diego in the far south to the SF bay area and Sacramento, Newsom’s change of direction would reduce it to the Bakersfield to Merced segment, a distance of about 165 miles. The project is ~as expected~ well over budget, underfunded, and behind schedule. Not one inch of track has been laid but hulking monuments loom over the landscape. If the project is never finished ~and that is a distinct possibility~ one wonders what will become of them.

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The Last Spike at Promontory, Utah. Building railroads was much easier then. We celebrate the 150th anniversary of this event in May.

The project is a victim of the fact that those once open spaces are no longer open. When the first trans-continental railroad was constructed, right-of-way acquisition was a simple matter of surveying a route and laying track. Native Americans might have objected, but most of the land was under federal control and thus readily available. The structures being built in Fresno for HSR reflect the difficulty of finding a usable route. Rather than building on the ground, the planners have chosen to create an aerial path through the city.

As is typical in such instances, this project was sold on questionable premises. First, of course, was the original cost estimate. It was so far below reality that  no one even mentions it anymore. Then it was the promise that it would pay for itself. That might have worked had the original cost held but at $66 billion and rising, it would be a long time happening. Amtrak currently quotes a Bakersfield to Sacramento ticket at about $45. Considering the faster service, one might expect an HSR ticket for the same route to be double. The segment to be built, if it extended to Sacramento, might cost $20 billion. If so, it would take more than 22,000,000 tickets to recover that cost.

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The overpass structure south of Fresno. What could it become?

Traffic reduction was another selling point. It is reasonable to think that some reduction would occur. If so, why is the San Francisco – San Jose corridor still a traffic nightmare? The California DOT, a.k.a. Caltrans, operates the Cal Train service over that route and claims 65,000 average daily riders. The impact on traffic for all that is vanishingly small. To have any significant impact on valley traffic, the HSR system would have to carry at least ten time that number of passengers. Are there a half million  people eager to ride the train each day?

The critics of the project are legion and most of the arguments against have merit, as I have noted. One argument, however, is as fallacious as anything that has been offered in support of it. That is that trains are obsolete. This is a useless argument from the outset, and ultimately meaningless. Yes, it is an old technology in its essence. (I have a poster commemorating 100 Hundred Years of the Railroad that was produced by the Baltimore & Ohio for a centenary pageant in 1927, to illustrate how old it is.) If age is the criterion, the automobile and the airplane, competing transportation technologies are more than a century old. Should we be searching for replacements?

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We are always “putting America to work”.

A line from Bakersfield to Sacramento may still be worth the trouble and expense, though I stand by the arguments that it will never recover its costs and have little impact on traffic. In fact, that route may be ideally suited to a high speed rail system just because the competing technologies do not serve us well. Anyone in the valley, especially south of Sacramento, knows the pain of trying to fly anywhere. If one were to book a flight from Bakersfield to Sacramento, the airlines typically will soak you about $500 and sned you to LAX or SFO in the process. And there is the enjoyable prospect of being scrutinized, x-rayed, maybe frisked or even strip searched in the bargain. Oh, and be sure to leave behind that bottle of whatever that is too large and anything vaguely resembling a weapon.

One more thing on which no price can be placed. People like trains. Given the choice between a bus or the train, most will gladly take the train. The same thing is true of streetcars or trolleys. There is something appealing about trains that cannot be quantified.

Stonehenge is a mystery to us. Its origins are lost in the mists of time. It has its own problems, mostly that it is a popular destination hampered by traffic problems. Perhaps Trainhenge will not be forgotten, all the troubles of its beginnings digitally preserved for the ages…maybe. But if the rail project is not continued, what will it become?

stonehenge
These Stonehenge tourists can tell you about the traffic problem. They did manage to survive left-hand driving…

 

 

My Yearbook

Let me tell you a story about a yearbook. No, not that yearbook. I will get to that a little further down. This is a tale of mixed identities in a mystery that I have only recently solved. Fear not, there are no villains, skulduggery or even a horse race, just a confusion that lasted for decades.

poly el 68
The Electronics Engineering (EL) class of 1968. I am third row third from right, next to Ed Devine, a veteran like me, who’s promising football career was stopped by a broken ankle. We were a diverse group before diversity became an issue.

I graduated from then California State Polytechnic College ( University) in San Luis Obispo in the awful year of 1968. It was an awful year on the national scene. At least in that school year we could reflect with pride on the fact that we almost beat San Diego State in football. If you know anything about the history of football at Poly, you will understand why that would have been so. But that is a digression.

 

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The “offending yearbook still surprises me.

I still have my senior yearbook, though you will be hard pressed to find me in it. I was active with Poly Royal, a “Country fair on a college campus” the open house that was held at about the time of spring break. I would digress even more to delve into the circumstances of its demise. An annual open house, it was a major undertaking.

 

Fast forward now a half century and my Electronics Engineering class is invited to a reunion staged by the Electrical Engineering department. (The EL degree was retired some years ago and is now offered as an option in the EE department.) My college room mate and I have stayed in contact all these years, even though we are now almost a continent apart. He contacted me to find out if I was planning to attend and we made plans.

P1020032
The reunion group, third from right again. My roommate is far left, next to Dr. Don Winger, the one faculty member to make it, and Dan Malone, now an instructor at Poly.

The reunion included a tour of the campus and the annual engineering banquet and great hospitality. I am grateful to school for making this effort. It was superbly enjoyable event, even though few of my classmates attended.

 

I am sure that I am not the only one who takes a reunion as an excuse to review old yearbooks and whatever other items we might still retain. I was even able to amuse my daughter and her cousin with the fact that I had acted in a Ray Bradbury play in my senior year.

None of this directly addresses the mystery to which I alluded at the outset. The story is this. Though I never made an effort to inform Cal Poly of my occasional changes of address, year after year alumni magazines and newsletters would still find me. Of interest was the “Where are they now?” items which I would peruse with some interest. Then, in one issue about ten years on, I was surprised to read that I was now a 1st Lieutenant in the army stationed in Germany. This was erroneous to say the least and I resolved to inform them of the fact, something I never got around to.

Over the years I puzzled over that error. I recall a classmate remarked about it to me but the mystery remained. The reunion brought me back to my yearbook and finally I realized why that error had been made. It seems that there was a Rob Sexton at Poly during my time there what was a year or two behind me and in a different department. The similarity of our names caused some harried and overworked yearbook editor to assume that we were one and the same and that error was passed on to the alumni and newsletter editors and probably persists to this day. I do not know what happened to Rob or where he might be now. Perhaps he is puzzling over an invitation to participate in an engineering reunion soon.

All this came back to me when the news about Virginia governor Ralph Northam broke. It started with his lamentable comments on the Virginia abortion law but that was shunted aside when it was revealed that he had committed the unforgiveable sin of having done something stupid in his college years. That was where the yearbook came in focus. In his medical school yearbook a picture showed someone in blackface on his page. The fact of its existence was compounded by the ham handed handling by Northam when it came to light.

Make what you will of his transgression or his possible attitude or beliefs, these facts are certain. First, the picture shows two individuals, one in blackface and the other in a KKK costume. Neither can be positively identified as Northam nor does any caption identify the two. Such evidence is circumstantial at best and thus cannot -should not- be grounds for his resignation. Nor should anyone be similarly condemned except in extreme cases.

Northam’s handling, on the other hand probably ought to at least raise a few eyebrows. However, he belongs to the Virginia Democrats and, evidently due to the current politics, he remains in office. You may think he should or should not resign. But before you rush to the attack -or defense- you should likely not rely on his yearbook for evidence. Just ask me, I know.

Addendum: This name confusion struck again. On a recent hospital visit, my turn at the X-ray machine was missed because there was another individual with the same last name. They got my turn when the name was called.  What would happen if I had a common name?