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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 .

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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

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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.

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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.
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These have been springing up around town lately.  Is anyone checking?

 

Loyal to… ?

A recent poster on Facebook lamented the possibility his son might have to join the service under that “moron-in-chief” obviously referring to the current president. What he seems not recognize is that every president in recent times has been disdained by some portion of the populace. Thus the epithet would have been used in regard to presidents every party.

This is a minor matter but there is a an underlying principle that is being forgotten. Those who join our military services swear an oath to “preserve and protect” the constitution. This oath remains in force regardless who is in the White House. In fact, many military members serve through the terms of more than one president and no repeat oath is needed.

Why is this? As I stated, the oath is to preserve the constitution not the president, or any other person for that matter. The founding fathers wanted no royalty and that oath is an expression of that desire. Thus presidents, governors and all the rest can come and go but “the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible” as Stephen Vincent Benet phrased it in The Devil and Daniel Webster.

There will always be those who find it onerous to serve a particular president and that will be true of presidents of either party. This will not be a problem unless it develops as a widespread sentiment. But that will only happen if the military lets up on its dedication to serving the country.

Das Boot, Max!

This is not about submarines or the movie Das Boot. It is about the strange journey of one Max Boot, late of the conservative world and his conversion to a fire breathing true believer of climate change.

Max Boot was a familiar figure in the conservative world and was generally recognized as well versed in Middle East matters. He was, that is, until 2016, late 2016. Evidently nonplussed by the victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, Max went deep into the “Never Trump” camp and pretty much vanished from the pages of the various conservative sites to which he was previously contributing.

He had company. Among others, writers such as George Will, columnist for the Washington Post, and Bill Kristol, editor and founder of The Weekly Standard, abandoned the Republican Party on the grounds that the GOP had become unmoored from its professed principles. They had a point, as The Donald certainly displayed no perceivable moral principles. But in the minds of many Trump supporters, the Democratic Party’s continuing support for Bill Clinton seemed to negate that as a matter of concern. Sort of an “if they can do it, so can we” stance.

That obviously did not sit well with Max who began issuing a stream of vitriolic laden commentary making it clear that he was against Trump and any who might side with The Donald even slightly. Conservative pundits have taken note of this and have, here and there, commented on him. Now it seems, he has completely rejected the conservatism he once espoused and has embraced the progressive side. The climate issue is only the latest manifestation of his “conversion”.

There are others in the Never Trump camp who have been on the receiving end of Boot’s ~and others’~ disdain. Jonah Goldberg, for example, has been subjected to endless anti-semitic assaults. he gets it from both sides, the right for being against Trump and the left for being on the right and thus supposedly pro-Trump. it is a messy scene.

So climate alarmists* ought to think twice before deifying max Boot. It is hardly likely that he is concerned about climate above all else. Characteristic of his stance since 2016 is a clearly reflexive opposition to Trump. If the Donald goes to McDonalds, max will prefer Burger King. There is not one matter nor one event about which Max will allow himself to agree with Trump, no matter the outcome or the ultimate facts. Goldberg, while clearly and emphatically not in favor of Trump, will at least give due credit when Trump gets something right. Max Boot  has simply gone off the deep end and completely changed his supposedly closely held philosophy simply because of Trump. The contrast between him and Goldberg is stark. Jonah opposes Trump because The Donald does not appear to hold true conservative values. Max opposes Trump only because he is Trump.

*So you think the term climate alarmists is a slur? Please then explain why the term climate deniers is not. Those who use it are either utterly tone deaf to the obvious comparison to Holocaust deniers, or are deliberately taking a cheap shot. The argument that “you are a Nazi because…” appears over and over again. It is unwise and undeserved. The use of alarmists, on the other hand, is not pejorative. In fact, if you truly believe there is an approaching climate catastrophe, being called an alarmist would be appropriate. On the other hand, being called a denier is to be excluded from any possible dialogue. This is a matter of science, not dogma. No scientific proposition should ever be accepted without question. It is shameful how much the “scientific community” has abandoned the principles of true scientific inquiry.

IOT: Internet of Trouble

As I dabble in electronic gadgetry, owing to my professional occupation, I frequently am made aware of the so called Internet of Things. In this universe, gadgets of every imaginable purpose are designed so as to be accessible and controllable through the Internet. Just add the appropriate interface and the code to match and Voila, you can turn on your oven from half a world away, from the moon even, should you ever get there.

Why is this so wonderful? Certainly it satisfies the curious and the tinkerers. There is a comical scene in a Big Bang Theory episode when the boys, true geeks that they are, make it possible to control their lights in this way, not to mention the RC cars similarly enabled. In their case, nothing untoward occurs, but it ought to be recognized that much mischief might result.

What provokes this line of thinking is an article on the Weekly Standard website discussing how Internet connected driver-less cars might be turned into WMDs. The thrust of the article is to insist that more must be done for cyber security but never asks the question as to why they should be connected at all. One troubling possibility is that the desire to inform the rider that there are three coffee shops nearby or the nearest McD is just 1.5 miles away overrides the obvious potential for disaster.

On a larger scale, occasional mention is made that there just might be cyber attacks on the power grid. Our entire power generating capacity is Internet connected, but why should we give access in any form to hostile actors. Really, does anyone ~anyone~ in Kazakhstan need to know what PG&E or Southern Cal Edison are doing? And worse, should it be possible for them under any circumstances to be able to control any element of that or defense systems or anything?

Perhaps we need to step back and address the wisdom of the IOT concept. There is little benefit to be had from connecting a myriad of devices that heretofore were working just fine thank you without remote control. It might just be time to start disconnecting things from the Internet. Do we really need our lawnmower ~or the neighborhood nuclear reactor~ to be at the mercy of someone in say, Tehran?

Let barking dogs lie…

There is one thing that will not be missed when we return from Greece, that is the dogs. Especially the barking dogs. Especially the loud, really loud barking dogs. I don’t know where they find them, but they can be so loud that it is not possible to hear normal conversation because of them.

Greeks are particularly fond of dogs. They are numerous and usually kept in the small, cramped apartments typical of Greek city life. Dogs are by nature gregarious pack animals. Yet they are most often left alone when their owners are gone, in a yard, on the ubiquitous balconies. One near us was kept on a rooftop.

We once had a dog, a cairn terrier, inevitably named Toto. He was a good dog but nervous. Once when we went camping, we tried to leave him outside our tent. In the pleasant summer weather, it seemed a reasonable thing to do. It quickly became obvious that our nervous little dog was afraid of the dark. He began barking continuously and the only thing we could do was bring him inside our tent. It was not unlike the plight of many dogs left by themselves by busy owners.

Neighbors can do little about this, other than to pass suggestions or complaints to the owners. This is true in Greece and anywhere else. Dogs left alone are lonely and nervous and express their anxieties by barking. As long as people keep dogs, this will be so.

 

Roe, Roe, Roe…

With the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court, Right to Life advocates see the prospect of the overturn of Roe v. Wade looming on the horizon. Perhaps it would be best not to be too eager. The politics of the matter, plus the question of precedents, does not make for an easy process. Leave both the political and legal issues aside. Roe presents a stark decision point for any society, and especially for a secular, pluralistic one such as ours.

The decision point is how to treat matters of faith. To understand the dilemma, it is necessary to consider how the unborn are considered by the Right to Life movement, and most religious communities. That must then be held in contrast to the atheistic view. I subscribe to the principle that life begins at conception. This is not technically correct, as life is in reality a continuum. To say that life begins is to suggest that inanimate materials have somehow been endowed at some moment with those characteristics we recognize as life. None the less, the phrase is useful if it is taken to mean that the life of an individual begins at conception. This is inarguable as we can infer from genetics. The DNA that identifies an individual (human or otherwise) is established at the time of conception.

In the materialist view, this is all that happens. But there is more to consider. We are, we believe, endowed with a soul, something that is not of the material world. It has been argued (and there are diverse views on this even among the religious) that abortion might be acceptable at any time before the developing embryo/fetus becomes human. The soul is essential to humanity and when ensoulment occurs is thus a critical moment. Again, I subscribe to the idea that ensoulment occurs simultaneously with conception. This is the only time that is not an arbitrary choice. Any other point further along depends on an arbitrary choice with unclear delineation. If you say that a beating heart is necessary, you cannot pin down the moment it starts. Brain development and other physical characteristics take place gradually and the clear moment is not readily discernible. Though we cannot easily detect that moment either, conception takes place almost instantly and thus it is a certainty that this new individual has both soul and body. it follows that abortion at any stage takes the life of a soul-endowed individual.

But does it matter. I certainly believe that it does and it is a matter of great importance to that God that endows us all with soul. Absent God, it does not matter at all. Then any arbitrary moment can be regarded as a dividing line, or no point at all need be established. It is entirely up to the people to decide, and it can change on a whim. There is nothing to stand in the way of any decision taken. But the words of the Declaration of Independence should matter, both because of the clear meaning and the understanding of the Founding Fathers who certainly believed in a creator, even if they could not agree on how to worship. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Jefferson wrote, “that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Truly, we cannot live up to those words if we have no respect for life, even at the earliest stages. Remove life, and liberty and happiness have no meaning.

Overturning Roe v Wade, will not be the panacea that some think it would be. It would only mean returning to status quo ante, wherein the matter is returned to the states. This will satisfy the federalists among us, allowing the matter to be resolved state by state. It will be an almost dead certainty that some states will retain legal abortion, perhaps legalizing even more extreme methods and circumstances. This will also mean that the socio-political divisions will likely become even sharper. In that future, Roe might be gone but chasm that exists between us will grow ever deeper.

Should Roe be upheld or retained? Consideration must be given to the dilemma judges face when such questions are brought before them. As has been rightly observed, the word abortion appears nowhere in the constitution. Thus there is no clear statement as to how it should be treated. In that circumstance, a judge must resort to other sources, or try to distill some reasonable conclusion from thin air. it is worth noting that there was a decided interest in considering Roe or a like case at the time. Given that there was nothing to go by, it is reasonable to think the decision was made before the case even came to court. Should Roe be overturned, there will inevitably follow a further effort to solve the matter “for once and for all”, meaning that it will not be put to rest, and attempts to litigate it will continue into the indefinite future. Without Roe, the attempt would be to effectively make the Declaration into law, something that could have profound, unforeseeable consequences.

The real solution is, as it has been all along, to convince the people of the rightness of the Right to Life cause. And too, to emphasize Lincoln’s admonition that a house divided cannot stand. Even if, as with the Founders, we cannot agree on the manner of worship, we must ultimately be of one mind on this issue. For me, I will continue to believe that all human life is precious, that it begins, both in soul and body, at conception. All this I have derived from observable facts and right reason and I am firmly committed to the words of the Nicene Creed. “I believe in One God, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and everything visible and invisible…”