Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Hike

Somehow, hiking at Sibley Regional Park seems to be a good way to spend a sunny Christmas Day, when my various physical issues allow it.  My photo site shows that I did this in 2009, too.  Last year, no, but this year the new knee is doing great, the ten year old knee is cranking right along, and the weather is clear and cold.  And smoggy, sigh - we haven't been able to have a fire in the fireplace for days.  You can see the smog obscuring Mt. Diablo in this photo from Volcano Trail:

I set out to hike around the Lafayette Reservoir, always a pretty trek; but when I got there I couldn't park.  On Christmas Day, of course, there was no human taking money for parking; and the machine was apparently taking people's money and not producing a parking voucher.  By the time the 3 of us in line realized this, the last of the coin-metered spots was gone.  Phooey, I thought, I'll go to Sibley; it's on the way home anyhow.

I've recently learned how to get into Sibley the back way, up Old Tunnel Road to the Quarry Road.  Here is the Quarry Road:

This looks flat, but I assure you, it isn't - the Quarry Road is roughly a 10% grade, and you climb it for a 390 foot elevation gain in about 3/4 mile.  This takes you to the beginning of the Volcano Trail; and it took me 50 minutes, mainly because I kept stopping to pant.  (Asthma.)  Sibley has several dead volcanoes and I've never gotten up to them before, so I was determined to do it.

The back end of Sibley is astoundingly silent.  You can hear small birds rattling around in the underbrush.  Way off in the distance you hear a dim roaring sound that represents the rest of the Bay Area; but for much of my 2 1/2 hour hike there was nobody there but me, and no sound but my steps and my breathing.

There were other people there; in the first half of the trip I ran into roughly a dozen people and 4 dogs.  This is dog walking country because for much of it you can let the dog run off-leash.  I was leaning over putting my jacket in my backpack, when suddenly I had a tan muzzle in my face - somebody's friendly mutt.  The owner apologized; no harm done.

There were more people (and dogs!) around in the second half of the trip - they came in from the main park entrance on Skyline, where you don't have to climb a continuous mile to get anywhere.  There had been horses quite recently but I could only see their traces.

I walked part of the Volcano Trail (another 75 foot elevation gain for a total of a little over 450 feet), stopped carefully at all the numbered points of interest and read the descriptions in the park map.  There's no steaming caldera, these are dead volcanoes.  There are several very dark red tuff formations (heated by the lava, says the map):

There's no great philosophical message here, just a pleasant three-mile hike on a brisk day.  I got some nice bird photos at the beginning of the Volcano Trail, here's one:

You can see the rest of my photos in my new gallery Christmas Day at Sibley 2011.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Interpreting A Christmas Carol

During a recent online discussion of whether Dickens' A Christmas Carol is really a "great activist story for the Working Class" (imagine an adaptation inspired by Occupy Wall Street), I was asked offline to post my opinion of the book, by someone who isn't familiar with it.  This seems a reasonable thing to do on Christmas Eve.

For those not familiar with the story:  Ebenezer Scrooge is a very rich and successful Victorian businessman, not noted for his philanthropy.  ("Are there no prisons?  Are there no workhouses?")  On Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of his dead business partner, Jacob Marley - who tells him that he (Marley) is damned forever, and he (Scrooge) will also be damned forever unless he changes his ways.  Marley has arranged for Scrooge to be visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, as a way to encourage him to change.  In the course of the visits he does change, and the book ends happily.  Terrible synopsis.

First of all, if you really have never read this book, read it.  It isn't long, it's available at every library, and it's a world classic.

Second, although the book is full of poor working people being treated poorly by the rich, the book isn't about them.  They're there because that was the world Scrooge lived in.  If you want a slightly different take on the same period, read the detective stories by Ann Perry, especially the ones about William Monk - they're set in the 1860s, about 20 years after Dickens' book, but it is the same world.

The center of A Christmas Carol is Ebenezer Scrooge, who has great wealth, but no happiness and no friends, at least in the sense we usually speak of friends.  He is tolerated at best and feared at worst, even by his relatives.  All his adult life he has focused on himself, his wealth, and his mastery (he's clearly proud of his skill at business).  At the peak of his career, that's all he has.  The ghostly intervention of Jacob Marley is meant to give him a second chance - a chance to reconsider whether his wealth and power are really so valuable that he should devote all his attention to them.

The three Ghostly Visitors show Scrooge events from Christmases in his past, from the Christmas being celebrated at the time by people he knows, and from a Christmas which may be celebrated in the near future.  In the course of all this, Scrooge changes his mind about charity and compassion - as Dickens means him to do.  In changing his mind, he changes his present and his future, and is happily absorbed into a society that values him for his willingness to be charitable.  I don't mean that he's willing to give away money, although he does; I mean that he comes to view other people, poor people, as human beings like himself ("fellow passengers to the grave"), worthy of his compassion and his help.  In Dickens' day, people still understood "charity" as being derived from caritas, or altruistic love of others.

The real statement of A Christmas Carol is that the worst of us can change.  No matter how evil we are, if we truly choose to do so, we can become something better.

I'm on thin ice here, because I haven't reread the book yet this year; but the really interesting thing about it is how "non-Christian" it is.  I don't recall that Scrooge changes because he's what we would now call "born again."  There's no mention of accepting Jesus as his savior.  Jesus is mentioned, if at all, in passing as a model of how a compassionate man would act.  Scrooge is "saved" because he chooses to change, and does change.  It is a story of personal redemption, after what must be the weirdest intervention in fiction.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bears, Oh My

No lions or tigers, I'm sorry to say.  Almost the first thing we did in Whistler was to go on a "bear viewing tour" led by one Mike Allen, a local self-taught bear researcher.  This involved driving around Whistler Mountain and then Blackcomb Mountain in an SUV, looking for bears, and stopping to take photographs when we found them.

I think there may have been some misunderstanding about the best time to find bears; we found I believe one bear on Whistler Mountain in over an hour of searching; then we drove over to Blackcomb Mountain and found four of them - two hanging around the luge track (Whistler hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics)!  Wilderness bears, right.  Nonetheless, it was a very interesting afternoon, Mr. Allen was extremely knowledgeable about bears, and we saw places we'd never ordinarily get to.

This is the best bear photo I got, if not the most handsome bear:

This scruffy soul was foraging around uphill from the luge track - in fact, on the luge track platform.  The photo is sharp because we were only about 20 feet from him; he never even looked at us.

It's harder than you think to photograph bears, especially on an overcast day.  You have to use telephoto, which reduces the light available for the shot, which makes it grainy; and you're pushing the limits of the image stabilization (I refuse to carry a tripod around), so it's also kind of fuzzy.  This one, of the "matriarch of Blackcomb Mountain," came out pretty well:

Mr. Allen said she's lived there over twenty years.  The other good shot I got was this guy, a yearling who was foraging around below the luge track, near the road:

The rest of my bear photos are at my gallery Bears!.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Good Deal

Today being Thanksgiving, tomorrow is Black Friday - the day the Christmas sales officially start.

Personally, I hate to shop, and shop only to replace things I need.  I rarely buy anything on impulse (and often regret it when I do); and I certainly never go near a store on Black Friday, because I dislike crowds.  Boy, am I in the minority.  This year some stores (yes, Target, I mean you) are actually opening on Thanksgiving Day itself, in hopes of squeezing a few more dollars out of the ravening hordes.  Someone wrote an appalling "be grateful you have a job, punk" editorial in the Twin Cities StarTribune (Target's home town), after a part-time Target employee put up an online petition asking Target not to open quite so early, please, so he could have a Thanksgiving with his family.

People are camping out in front of stores, hoping to be first in line for the deal.  A friend of mine posted a shot on Facebook of a bunch of people in tents, lined up outside a Best Buy - which was still open...

Why are we so fixated on getting things cheaply?  What ever happened to paying a little more to get good quality?

I concede that a lot of people have to count pennies these days.  In their cases, standing in line for sales is a reasonable choice.  But most of the people I hear quoted in the news seem to be focused, not on getting something they normally couldn't afford, but on buying anything at all - as long as it's on sale.  As long as it's cheap.  It's a game - how much can I get away with?

If you don't need it, it isn't cheap, now matter how much it's marked down.

And it's a self-reinforcing downward spiral.  The lower the price of an item, the less the workers who make it generally get paid, labor being a major cost.  When the price goes low enough, the amount the workers can get paid is less than the amount you can live on.  The factory closes and reopens in China, or Vietnam, or Mexico, paying local wages.

When you're competing on labor price with people who think $50 a week is a lot of money, you have to be able to live on $50 a week yourself.  Yes, I'm over-generalizing, but not by much.  I'm not the only one who thinks that's why so many manufacturing jobs are now in China, or Vietnam.  In fact, some of the manufacturing jobs are moving out of China - Chinese workers are starting to ask for higher wages!  Wages for Indian computer programmers started rising a decade ago.

The same principle applies to buying from small local merchants, as opposed to stores like Walmart and Target.  The merchandise from the little guy will never be as cheap as the big chain can price it, because he can't buy in that volume.  But you almost always get better service from the little guy - isn't that worth a little more?

If you refuse to buy things except at the lowest possible price, you will eventually destroy your own ability to make a living.  Henry Ford understood that his factory floor workers were also his customers; many firms these days have forgotten that. (It wasn't widely understand it then, either - a lot of people thought Ford was raving crazy to pay those wages.)  And then they cry that the American Consumer isn't spending enough.  The American Consumer has either been out of work for awhile or is wondering how long she'll have a job.

Shop the local stores.  Pay a little extra for "Made in America," if you can find it.  And Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Flick Creek Fire

In 2006 we decided that driving to Washington state to visit Lake Chelan would be interesting.  Lake Chelan is a relatively narrow, very long lake in eastern Washington, mostly surrounded by the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.  We planned to stay at Stehekin, a small resort near the head of the lake, reachable only by boat (or emergency helicopter) from the town of Chelan at the foot of the lake.

We left on July 23 - you've probably forgotten, but in late July 2006 we had a record-breaking heat wave (at least, for then) - according to my travel diary (and USA Today at the time), it was all over the U.S. and southern Canada.  Californians expect temperatures in the 100s when driving up I-5 in the summer, but we usually expect them to drop quite a bit when we cross the Oregon border; no such luck.  My diary says it was 102° when we stopped for lunch at the Lake Shasta overlook, and that's typical of the trip but not of Lake Shasta.  It took us 3 days to get to the town of Lake Chelan, and I don't think it dropped below 95° degrees the entire time; and I nearly got heatstroke touring a (very beautiful) garden we stopped to see.

So on July 26 we took the Lady of the Lake II from Chelan for the four hours it takes to get to Stehekin - the jet boat does it in one hour, but this is the local, it stops about 4 times to offload and onload passengers and mail.  I'm almost sure I remember a bunch of kids heading for a Christian retreat, located up the lake on the west shore, past the last point you can drive to.  Stehekin is on the east side, and driving isn't even a remote option.

By two in the afternoon we had moved our stuff into the cabin.  The cabin was not air-conditioned (although the cross-drafting was very good); the temperature was still knocking against 100°, somewhat mitigated by a strong and steady north wind from the head of the lake. We walked over to the visitors' center and read the notices about the Tinpan and Tripod fires, burning some distance away.  Then we walked out and looked south and saw - smoke. 

I thought it was smoke from the Tinpan fire, and went for my camera, but by the time I got back it was very clear that this was a brand spanking new forest fire, less than 3 miles away and on our side of the lake, driven by 100° temperatures and a wind I estimate at about 20 MPH.  Here's my very first photo of the infant Flick Creek Fire:

We'd been there less than 4 hours.  By evening the fire was 1,000 acres.  Here's a later photo I took that day:

We actually stayed our scheduled two nights.  The saving factor was the wind; it never once slackened or shifted, and it blew the fire away from us, and of course the first thing they did was saturate the area right near the resort, with helicopters dumping lake water.  Nonetheless, the jet boat I mentioned was taken out of daily service and berthed in Stehekin for the rest of the time we were there.  Just in case.  By the time we left the fire was over 3,000 acres, and it was still smoldering as we passed it on the way out:

The rest of my photos of the area and the fire are in my gallery The Flick Creek Fire.

I'm not sure I recommend Stehekin, although they don't have fires every year, I'm sure.  The food was mediocre and low on fresh produce - almost everything they cook has to come up the lake by boat.  The cabins are, well, spartan.  But the surrounding area is stark and beautiful - mixed forest, some pine, some broadleaf, very dry and dusty.  It has a small permanent community of people for whom the wilderness is more important than the availability of cars or dry cleaners, who don't mind sending their kids "down" to Chelan to boarding school past the 8th grade.  If you like being a long way from civilization, this may be your spot. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Baroque Opera

We had an unusual treat last Friday.  We attended a performance of Handel's Xerxes, one of the forty-some operas he composed and put on for the delight of 18th century London.  Handel's operas are unusual now because, well, the male leads tend to be sopranos.  Georg Friedrich was nothing if not fashionable, and the height of opera fashion in his day was the castrato. It's very hard to find castrati these days, so Handel operas have a lot of women singing male roles, although you do get the occasional counter tenor.

The singing - all the music - was wonderful; never having attended a live opera at the opera house, I was fascinated to discover that they do not amplify the singers.  No lapel mikes here.  This means you actually have to listen to them; and because the War Memorial Opera House has fabulous acoustics, you can hear them, at least where I was in the orchestra section.  But you will not be deafened by an amplified orchestra, as we were when we saw Wicked.  If you're interested in the details, including the names of the cast and more about the plot than you could ever need to know, it's all on the S.F. Opera's web page for XerxesIn fact, you might still be able to get seats - as I write this there are 2 performances left.

Most of Handel's operas were tragedies, opera seria, but Xerxes is a comedy.  (This may be why the premiere bombed in April 1738; the audience was Not Amused.)  Xerxes the king (sung by a soprano, originally by a castrato) and his brother Arsamenes (sung by a counter tenor, but originally sung by a woman soprano!) are both in love with Romilda, the daughter of a general.  Romilda (sung by a woman, phew!) is in love with Arsamenes.  Romilda's sister Atalanta (another soprano) is also in love with Arsamenes and is willing to lie, cheat and steal to get him, and she does.  There are a lot of sopranos in this cast.  In fact, the only  non-sopranos are Elviro, Arsamenes' servant (a bass), Ariodates, Romilda's father (a bass), and Amastris, Xerxes' official fiancee (a contralto).  Amastris has come, disguised as a soldier in Xerxes' army, because she can't bear to be separated from him, only to discover that he plans to jilt her for Romilda. Amastris as sung last Friday is the most masculine presence on the stage, and sings several fabulous arias, swearing revenge.

If this sounds like something you might have seen on Days of Our Lives, only with royal courts and good singing, you're right.  It's actually worse - I don't think anyone in Days of Our Lives ever declared their love for a tree, but when the opera opens that's what Xerxes is doing.  And he's doing it in an aria that I've known for years without ever realizing what it really was:  it's called Ombra mai fu, but if you know Handel's music at all, you know it as Handel's Largo.  I'll never hear the Largo quite the same way again.  In the next scene, Romilda entertains the court with a charming aria explaining how silly it is that Xerxes is in love with a tree, Xerxes hears her and is smitten, and off we go. It's bad luck to make fun of the king.

In the third act, Arsamenes, who thinks Romilda has betrayed him, and Romilda, who thinks he has betrayed her, have a major lover's spat which, of course, is a soprano duet.  Sorry, in a soprano argument, the female has the bigger voice - the counter tenor is all in his head voice.

I had a wonderful time.  I've always loved Handel's music, and here was a whole evening of it, brilliantly performed, with gorgeous costumes and hilarious staging.  The chorus was gray - they wore grayface makeup, gray clothing, gray caps.  They moved around in a stately way, being the crowd, and singing a couple of short pieces.  A small group of stagehands was made up as servants, in whiteface, bald, wearing black clothing with white collars, stockings, and shoes, and walking in perfect step to rearrange lawn chairs and other furniture, move giant Assyrian statues in and out, and so forth.  Nobody but the soloists ever displayed any expression of any sort, they were like statues.  I'm sorry, but Arsamenes' costumes too often looked like pajamas, maybe it's the way he wore them.  The one with the gorgeous 18th century male costumes is Amastris - I'd love to have that hat!  And that voice, and that lung power!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Oakland has had quite a string of mayors, the last few years.  We had Jerry Brown, who wanted to be in charge so bad he pushed through a change to the city charter to give us a Strong Mayor.  Then we had Ron Dellums, who almost never exercised the powers of the mayor at all (and who rarely even appeared in public).  Now we have Jean Quan, who seems - scattered.

The good news about Quan, after Dellums, is that she goes out and about, she talks to people - there's even some evidence that she can listen to people.  But she doesn't seem to understand what being the mayor entails, and I don't think I've ever seen a public figure so blind to how her actions look to other people.

So this has me thinking - what does being a mayor entail?  What should a mayor do??  If we wrote a job description for the mayor (not a bad idea, come to think of it), what would it say?  In fact, I was going to do a whole blog post on what is a mayor - and then in today's Sunday S.F. Chronicle, the inimitable Willie Brown said it all for me, and better than I could:

Jean Quan, frustrating everyone, must take charge

(Note:  this is the column from October 30, 2011, so if the link takes you to a different column on a later date, look for it in the archives.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Looking at the Occupation

My curiosity got the better of me today, and I rode the bus to downtown Oakland to take a personal look at the Occupy Oakland encampment.  It was a nice day and I wanted to see it for myself.  I just missed the parade, with shouting and signs, by (I think) the SEIU. 

The camp looks about the way the photos look.  Lots of tents all over the lawn, pitched elbow to elbow, on a base layer of straw.  People asleep in tents, and on the ground in front of them; people sitting and standing around talking.  Dogs, with and without leashes.  A plastic bucket full of cigarette butts.  A group down in the little arena, arguing.  A man with a sign, shouting.  A tent labeled Acupuncture.  Of course, it was two in the afternoon, so there wasn't a general assembly or anything in particular going on. 

Then two men walked up to me, and one said, "Can I talk to you?"  I looked at him and asked, "What about?" and he said, "You know why we're here?"  I said I had a pretty good idea.  He asked me to tell him, and I said there were probably as many reasons as people there; at which point he said, "Tell me one reason."

At no point had this guy introduced himself, explained what he was doing or said what he wanted; and he had this cocky little I-know-better-than-you-do grin.  I told him I'd changed my mind, and I didn't want to talk to him, because I didn't like being attacked.  He claimed he wasn't attacking me and I told him he was, and walked away.  I had the feeling he was trying to goad me into taking a position, or at least stating one, so he could jump at me (metaphorically) and prove how wrong I was.  I call that an attack, if not a physical one.  Nobody stopped me leaving. I went back to wait for the bus home.

My problem with protests is that they're all based on confrontation (like my confrontational acquaintance) and they all involve crowds, both of which make me very uncomfortable.  I avoid confrontation when I can; I much prefer to negotiate and try to build consensus.  And crowds just make me nervous; it's way too easy for a crowd to turn into a mob.

The crazy thing is, I agree with them:  income inequality is bad, we need more jobs, the banks and the "top 1%" are totally out of line.  But am I going to go down there and carry a sign around?  No, I'm not.  And the newspapers have quoted some of the more extreme sorts (I'm sure) saying that violence is necessary and nothing will get done unless they break things.  It's clear this is a minority viewpoint, but I haven't heard that wording from any of the other Occupy movements, which is why this whole Oakland phenomenon just feels different to me.

This post isn't meant to be any kind of definitive analysis; it's just my take on the situation.  I don't know what the answer to our situation is.  But I'm not convinced the protestors do, either.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Finally, the Truth

I've been waiting for someone to say this on air for months, and today I finally heard it, on Rose Aguilar's Your Call on KALW 91.7 FM.  Rose's Friday program is always a "media roundup," discussing the week's best recent reporting, and today they started out with this one:

Citigroup settles for $285 million; no Wall Street exec jailed yet

While discussing the question of why nobody from Wall Street has gone to jail yet, one of the panelists (maybe Jake Bernstein from ProPublica but I'm not sure) said the Unsayable Thing:

Nobody from Wall Street has gone to jail because what they did wasn't really illegal.

It was deceptive; it was a scam; it was wrong.  Read the linked McClatchy story for details of what Citi did, which had all the moral rectitude of a pea-and-shell game.  But - it wasn't illegal.  Why not?  Because we spent the previous 15 or so years removing so much regulation from the banking and financial industry.  The Citi deal centered around a "collateralized debt obligation", a form of derivative - if you aren't sure what a CDO is and would like to know, take an hour and listen to the classic This American Life broadcast from May 2008, Giant Pool of Money.  After that you'll know more about CDOs than you're comfortable with.  But CDOs were unregulated; the financial industry made sure years ago that all financial derivatives were totally unregulated.  No rules on how they could be set up and managed at all.  That's one of the reasons the Lehman crash caused the short-term credit market to freeze solid:  they didn't have to publish records on the derivatives they traded, so they didn't; and when a big player went down, nobody know what anybody else was on the hook for.

So after the crash, Congress put together the Dodd-Frank Act, to put some regulations back in place on the banking industry.  Remember that when you hear the Republicans screaming that Dodd-Frank has to go.  Some of the stuff that went on actually is illegal now, and the Republicans can't stand it.  Personally, I'd like to see Dodd-Frank gone too; but I want it replaced with the Glass-Steagall Act, which probably won't happen.

Along with the PG&E (and other) gas pipelines that regularly blow up and kill people, the financial crash was just one more side effect of the prevailing right-wing believe that All Government Regulation Is Bad.  Personally, I could use a little more of it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Discovering Powell River

We spent 3 nights in Powell River, staying in a bed and breakfast (photos in the last post on this), and spending time hiking with my friends Janet and Wes.  Because we also spent a lot of time just sitting around talking, I took fewer photos than I sometimes do.  I did take some of the tiny crabs that just covered the beach in front of the B&B, they were none of them over an inch long.  Here's the best one:

Dinner the night we got there was quite a surprise.  Our B&B hosts referred us to the Laughing Oyster, near Okeover Arm Provincial Park (and past the turn for Desolation Resort!).  I thought the body of water nearby was a lake, but a look at Google Maps says it's just another arm (Okeover Arm, I guess) of the Strait of Georgia.  The food was excellent, but we weren't expecting the live classical music concert.  There was a small group of musicians - 2 harpists, a cellist, and a singer who was also waiting tables (yes, she usually works there).  I think we got the last available table in the place, and we were three feet in front of the harpist.  At least one of them was from Brazil, we never quite learned who the group was or where the others came from.  We happily put money in the tip jar for them!

The next day we went out for a "short" hike through a Douglas fir forest near Gibson's Beach, and then had dinner and talked.

The day after that, we split up; Janet and I took a leisurely hike part way around Inland Lake, while Wes and Jim did a much more strenuous hike over by Saltery Bay where the ferry is.  I got some nice garter snake shots - we walked past a little bank just as the sun came out, and all the garter snakes scrambled out to get warm, saw us, scrambled back in.  So we stood still, and after a minute here they came again.  One of them sat still long enough for a portrait shot:

It was a very peaceful visit, ending with dinner in a local restaurant.  If you'd like to see the rest of the pictures from this stay, here's the link to the gallery:

Around Powell River

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Tools of War

Recent discussions of our current crop of wars, plus a session on drones on Talk of the Nation, got me thinking about the evolution of war in general.  Because it has evolved.  The warriors of ancient Athens and Sparta, the Roman Legions, would barely recognize what we consider "war."  As far back as we have records, up until, say, the sixteenth century, war was a hand to hand affair, with hand-held weapons and defenses - swords, knives, spears, clubs, and shields.

But also as far back as you look, humans have been trying to devise ways to kill each from a greater and greater distance - that is, from beyond arm's length. Primitive tribes, and prehistoric man, used spear throwers (atlatls) to give their spears more range, but more advanced peoples don't seem to have used them.  But it's obviously advantageous if you can kill Joe before Joe gets in stabbing range of you.

Early long-range weapons were mainly bows and slings, both of which go back about as far as we can research.  Bows are spectacular and showy, but slings were also popular - a Roman or a Greek slinger could kill his enemy with a rock as effectively as we now do with a bullet, and much more quietly.  I found a fascinating discussion of slingers on, the poster was describing a figure he had created of a Roman funditor, and the research that went into it.  The Greeks developed the catapult, a large mechanical sling, as early as 399 B.C.; and catapult design was also associated with crossbow design, both using mechanical means rather than human muscle to throw a projectile.

Bows, slings and catapults were it for killing beyond arm's length until Marco Polo's trip to China opened up the Silk Road, and brought gunpowder back.  I found a history of firearms on which suggests that the first matchlock guns were used in the 15th century.  Also in the 15th century, forts begin to be built in the shape of a 5 pointed star - they were easier to defend against cannon than the traditional square bailey.  Guns in the 15th through 18th centuries were dangerous but had limitations - they weren't very accurate, they were hard to load, and they only shot one ball at a time.  And black powder sometimes explodes when you don't want it to.  In the early periods, crossbows or longbows were much more accurate.

The 19th century saw mass-produced arms, and improvements in long-distance killing which outpaced the military tacticians who fought against them - that was why the American Civil War was so bloody, both sides were using tactics meant for smoothbore muskets, with a range of about 300 feet, but they were shooting rifled muskets which were accurate up to half a mile.  (While researching this post, I found a most interesting dissent from this standard conclusion:  Firearms and Tactics of the American Civil War: A Minority Opinion, by Dr. Howard G. Lanham, which I recommend to those interested in military history.)

Over the next century or so, the accuracy and range of the armaments continued to outpace the military tactics in use, until World War II when the Nazi tacticians really understood how to use the Panzer tanks and small fighter planes they had developed.  That's one of the reasons they were so hard to defeat.  And then there are the nuclear bombs.

Our latest development is armed drones, which may well make the romantic figure of the fighter pilot obsolete.  A man can pilot an armed drone in Afghanistan while sitting in a control room in Iowa.  This has to be the ultimate in long-range killing - you aren't even on the same continent.

What worries me about all this is the impact on the warrior using these remote weapons.  I have no personal experience of war, but my reading suggests a vast difference in the impact on the warrior between stabbing someone with a knife, sword or spear, at arm's length, and killing someone you may not even be able to see without a magnifying aiming scope - or a camera image on a screen.  It's clear why one would want to distance oneself; but if the distance makes the victim less real, less human, then it merely contributes to the endless cycle of wars that plague us.  Not to mention that the farther the warrior is from his target, the more likely he is to kill an innocent bystander, by sheer chance.

I don't mean to suggest that our soldiers currently fighting in Afghanistan aren't fighting hand to hand; they are, of course.  Both sides in that conflict continue to use weapons that kill the enemy at as great a distance as they can manage.  The ubiquitous IED is the Afghan tribesman's effort at a distance-killing machine.

I have no real claim to be a military historian; I'm a widely read layman with a strong interest in military history as a subset of history in general.  But I wanted to write, and work through, some of my thoughts on the overall evolution of the ways we like to kill each other.  We become so involved in the politics of our wars that we lose sight of their effect on the people who fight them for us; and I believe that is a mistake.

No More War

You hear this a lot lately.  We should get out of Iraq, get out of Afghanistan and Libya, spend the money at home.

Well, of course we should get out of Iraq; we never had any serious business in Iraq.  If we had really wanted to block Al Qaeda, which is what they said they wanted at the time, Saddam Hussein was our best friend, a secular dictator with no tolerance for anyone else's power.  But that train has left the station.

We should have had better sense than to get tangled up in Afghanistan, too.  The British Empire was in Afghanistan for generations and they never managed to do much more than control the roads.  The Russian army went up against Afghanistan in the '80s and bounced - helped by the U.S., who armed the people who are now aiming those arms at us.  Afghan society is tribal, largely illiterate, and rural Afghans (the majority) are deeply suspicious of anybody they haven't known from birth.  Trouble is, we have no way right now to leave Afghanistan without major loss of face; and avoiding loss of face is a big reason people go to war at all.

We aren't really in Libya, at least we've managed to avoid putting any troops in there - which is as it should be.  But we sure seem to be spending a lot of bucks on logistical support.

In spite of all the noble sentiments I hear, I don't really believe we'll ever get rid of war.  As long as we have records of humans, we have records of humans at war.  Some of the earliest Cro-Magnon tools?  Spear points.  Beautifully crafted spear points.  Of course they used them for hunting; the question is, hunting what?  Humans must like war a lot; we do it all the time, and the less educated we are, the more we think war is a good solution.  Ask the Taliban.  We're a violent bunch, when you get down to it.

We forget, between wars, how awful war is; and the people who haven't experienced war don't really get how awful it is, which is why we treat our veterans so casually.  And why we keep starting new wars.  Our taste for killing, if possible at a considerable distance, has led us to develop ever more effective arms (more on that in a separate post), until we've finally made war so dangerous it really could dispose of all of us.

Blessed are the peacemakers - but they sure are outnumbered.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No More Free Speech at Berkeley

I've been following the current flap about the Increase Diversity Bake Sale, put on today at U.C. Berkeley by the campus Republican students' group.

U.C. Berkeley students, I'm ashamed of you.  And I don't mean the Republicans, who are exercising their constitutional right to be publicly offensive in order to make a point.  To paraphrase Voltaire slightly, I don't agree with their point, but I will defend to the death their right to make it.  In fact, if their purpose in this was to stir up debate, I'd say they've succeeded brilliantly.

Michael Krasny's Forum gave the brouhaha half an hour this morning, during which the earnest Vishali Loomba, president of the ASUC (for you non-Berkeley folks, that's the student union), complained that the bake sale was "rude," it "dissed people" and made them uncomfortable.  Well, yes.  Welcome to U.S. political discourse, Ms. Loomba - that's what free speech is supposed to do.  For the record, after listening to Ms. Loomba speak, she was either born here or has lived here most of her life; for those of you who don't understand satire, that remark was intended to be satirical.

For a somewhat earlier example of satirical free speech which made some people very uncomfortable indeed, I recommend Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, published in 1729.  (For the record, I wrote my honors thesis for my B.A. on Jonathan Swift.)

I attended U.C. Berkeley during the original Free Speech Movement.  I remember people standing on top of police cars with microphones, and sitting in at Sproul Hall.  And the students all thought that was fine because they agreed with the protestors.  Your lesson for today, U.C. students:  free speech is meaningless if it is only available to the people you agree with.  I remember some time ago when an Israeli official was booed off the stage at U.C. Berkeley by Palestinian supporters.  I was more appalled then than I am now; but I hereby state that this is it:  as far as I'm concerned, U.C. Berkeley has forfeited the right to call itself "the home of free speech."   

And I have another bone to pick.  With all the emoting about the "discount pricing" for buyers of color, none of the complainers, not even Ms. Loomba (at least until I became so annoyed I turned Forum off), has even mentioned the 25 cent discount for all women!  Apparently it's OK to insult women as long as you don't insult them for their skin color.  As a feminist, now I'm really appalled!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Photos from Carmel

I just got around to processing the photos I took while I was in Carmel for the Bach Festival.  Since I spent most of my time doing non-photographic things, they boil down to two groups - some shots of the Carmel Mission, interior and exterior (taken while waiting for the organ concert), and some photos of surf on the beach, just before I came home.  I learned on this trip that beaches don't appeal to me as much now as they did when I was 11.  Somehow the prospect of getting sand in everything made me take some long lens shots from the pavement edge and leave the soft white sand to the people who were willing to live with it!

The interior shots of the mission were very interesting, they have a lovely reredos (look it up!):

Carmel Mission - reredos

and the only statue I've ever seen personally of St. Joseph with the Holy Child instead of the Madonna:

Carmel Mission - St. Joseph and the Christ Child

The pipe organ is quite beautiful and visually very baroque.

Carmel Mission - organ

When I got down to the beach, a couple of days later, it was a gorgeous day with a strong surf running, and I got some nice ocean shots.  I got a big wave just breaking:

Surf, Carmel Beach

and we mustn't forget the surfer waiting for his wave:

Surfer, Carmel Beach 

It was so gorgeous I was surprised there was only one surfer.  Feel free to check out the rest of the photos.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Driving the Sunshine Coast

Our next vacation stop after Vancouver was Powell River, about a day's drive up the B.C. coast from Vancouver.  I have an old friend who lives in Powell River.  When we entered Canada, the border guard asked us, where are you going, and we said, Vancouver, Powell River, and Whistler.  "Powell River!" he exclaimed.  "Why would you go there?

Getting to Powell River entails a drive up the Sunshine Coast, so called by the local chamber of commerce.  I don't believe we saw the sun once while in the area, and much of the time, it was raining.  And driving the Sunshine Coast isn't especially scenic, because the roads are lined with tall trees, the whole way.  If you leave the main road and drive down to the coast (about half a mile), the views of the Georgia Strait are spectacular; but as a fellow guest in our Vancouver B&B complained, "We drove the Sunshine Coast and all we saw was green!"  That's what we saw.  You start out at the huge ferry terminal in Horseshoe Bay, and take the first ferry for Langley:

In about 45 minutes, you drive off the ferry and onto the Sunshine Coast Highway.  We stopped at a local park (Cliff Gilker Park, in Roberts Creek) to eat our packed lunch (in a light drizzle) and take a short hike, where we saw a waterfall:

The park was off the road, up a semi-paved track.  The only signs of civilization were a fenced sports field, a single house, and a public rest room.  I was touched to find, when I used the rest room, that someone (presumably the lady of the house) had put a vase of fresh wildflowers in it.  The rest of the trip was uneventful, and green.  The only place the road gets near the sea is in Sechelt.  We didn't stop.

The actual drive only took us a couple of hours, including a side trip to Egmont, where we hoped to see the Skookumchuk Narrows, a tidal rapids.  Since that involved hiking down a trail of unknown length (NO CARS, the sign said), we turned around and continued on to the Earl's Cove ferry terminal, where we waited.  Most of this trip is spent waiting for ferries to arrive.  Here is Earl's Cove:

I post the photo because I was astounded.  I took this trip in 1981, alone (on a bus), and at that time the Earl's Cove ferry terminal was a wooden dock by a grassy slope.  The road came up to the dock and stopped.  There were no buildings and no other signs of civilization.  Now it's not only paved and furnished with steel frames, it has restrooms and a small restaurant.  I know why they built it up, but it was prettier in 1981.  Eventually the ferry came, and in another 45 minutes or so we docked in Saltery Bay and everybody rolled off the boat and onto the highway.   We stayed in a bed and breakfast about an hour north of Powell River, The SeaDream B&B.  Why so far?  Well, look at the view from the porch in front of our room:

The hosts were very friendly and chatty and very good cooks!  If you'd like to see the rest of the photos from this section of the trip, you'll find them at Up the Sunshine Coast on my SmugMug site.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stanley Park

We spent our last day in Vancouver wandering around Stanley Park.

Canada Place pier from Stanley Park

It was a gorgeous day, sunny and breezy.  The pointy white object behind the cruise ship is Canada Place; this was as close as we got to it.  (Can't do everything in one trip.)  Located on a peninsula between English Bay and Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park is very scenic.  Don't miss the seaplane (they went by quite often, heading out to sea, I never figured out why), the totem posts, the gull with a mouthful of something I couldn't identify.  Stanley Park has very clearly marked lanes for walkers, cyclists, and cars, and God help you if you walk into one of the wrong lanes!

It's in Stanley Park, but I was so charmed by the Vancouver Aquarium that I gave it a separate photo gallery.  In particular I was charmed by the beluga show, which I walked into - I'd never seen a beluga whale before, I didn't realize they were white!  So here's the beluga, isn't he charming?  Look at that coy glance.

Beluga show, Vancouver Aquarium

There are several more photos of him, plus some nice moon jellyfish, and a handsome fish (with anemones) that I can't identify.  I also got a couple of shots of Harris hawks.  The Aquarium put on a raptor show, the birds flew free around the viewing area.  They were going to start with a bald eagle, they did start with a bald eagle, but they untied the jesses and he flew across the viewing area and just kept going.  I heard the docent say something about it's going to be one of those days.  The Harris hawks behaved much better.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting Government Out of the Way

I keep hearing this from Eric Cantor:  to get the country moving again, we have to "get government out of the way."  By this he means (as he's happy to tell you), less government regulation.  Government regulation is Bad.

California has a classic example of a business which was essentially unimpeded by government regulation.  It's called Pacific Gas & Electric.  For at least the last 50 years, based on the investigation results released today by the National Transportation Safety Board, PG&E has ignored the government's regulations regarding gas pipeline safety and maintenance, including the regulations requiring them to keep records of what pipes they had in the ground and what their condition was.  The net result?  On September 9, 2010, a 54 year old gas pipeline failed in production and produced a fireball that killed 8 people and destroyed a neighborhood.  Because PG&E was too cheap to install automatic shutoff valves, it took 90 minutes to get someone to the site to shut off the gas.  If I recall correctly, the first person they sent didn't know how to turn it off.

The pipeline failed because of a weld which was defective even by the standards of 1956 (according to the NTSB report) - PG&E installed it anyway, and to date has not located any of the records relating to who installed the pipe and where they got it.  Having lost the records, and having been too cheap to do the kind of inspections which would have identified a faulty weld, by September 2010 PG&E believed that the pipe had no welds in it.

I could go on longer about PG&E, but my point is that PG&E appears to have been operating under essentially no regulation.  They managed, under a series of Republican governors, to pack the Public Utilities Commission with retired utility executives (I remember checking their CVs at the time of the blast); and "regulation" of PG&E seems to have gone like this:  PG&E reports some safety fault.  The PUC says, gee, that's bad, you should fix that.  PG&E says, yessir, we'll fix that right away.  End of process.  Nothing was ever fixed.  No fines were ever imposed.  And eight people, and a neighborhood, died.  The neighborhood may be rebuilt.  It's too bad about the people, isn't it?

Remember this the next time you hear the Republican leadership ranting about "getting government out of the way."  I don't want government out of the way.  I want government standing squarely between me and Big Business.  My environment, my health, my life, mean nothing to Big Business when set against their profits.  If this isn't enough of an example, look into the people who are mining coal in Appalachia using a marvellous process called "mountaintop removal", or check out the reports of what fracking is doing to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Governor Goodhair

God Bless the Sacramento Bee.  When Gov. Rick Perry of Texas threw his Stetson in the ring (I'm sure he has a Stetson somewhere) for the Republican presidential nomination, the Bee's Viewpoints column chose to publish a series of excerpts from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, written by the late great Molly Ivins (1944-2007 TDS, which means "too damn soon").

Mr. Perry has been governor of Texas since 2000 when he stepped into the shoes of the departing Gov. George W. Bush, who had negotiated a new job in Washington.  This means that, until 2007 when she died, he was a regular target of Molly's biting columns.  In case you didn't read Molly's syndicated column at the time, here's the link to the Bee for her remarks about the man she called "Governor Goodhair," starting in June 2001 (when Perry vetoed a bill that would have outlawed executing the retarded) through October 2006, when he participated in a gubernatorial debate by denying everything.

Molly Ivins: Molly can't say that about Rick Perry, can she?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Day in Kitsilano

Kitsilano, for those who've never been to Vancouver, is a neighborhood; it's across the inlet from the downtown and has several beachfront parks, plus a couple of museums.  It rained this day, so we toured museums; by the time we were museumed out, the weather had cleared and we spent some time in the park.

We began in the Maritime Museum.

It doesn't look like much from outside; but when you go in you find that it was built around the St. Roch (pronounced "saint rock"), which is in drydock.  The St. Roch is the first ship to traverse the Northwest Passage from west to east (it took 3 years) and the first to complete the Northwest Passage in one season.  You can read the web site for the several other firsts, but what charmed me is that the St. Roch was not crewed or captained by naval men.  It was owned and run by the Mounties - in effect, the police, who learned seamanship on the job, so to speak.  It was originally built for the RCMP to patrol the Arctic, and was pressed into service to sail the Northwest Passage to Halifax during World War II.  If I remember the story correctly, Captain Henry Larson took an Inuit family aboard to help him navigate the passage, which meant that something like 7 people and 17 sled dogs lived in a tent on the deck.  I have a photo of the tent in the gallery.  Given that the ship was only 104 feet long with a 25 foot beam, it must have been amazing.  They have a statue of Captain Larsen on the deck.

It was our day for interesting boats.  As we came out of the Maritime Museum, I saw what looked exactly like a Viking longship floating on English Bay!  I wasn't fast enough to get a photo with the (square red and white striped) sail up, but I got several shots of the crew maneuvering the boat into the marina near the ferry ramp, under oar power.  Here's one:

In some of the other photos, the dragon head on the prow shows.  Kitsilano is an interesting place.

We explored the Space Center and Science Museum, and the Vancouver Museum, but they were less interesting than the St. Roch.  However, in the pool around the fountain, I found a family of ducks swimming around the legs of the crab statue in the fountain (photos of the crab in the gallery):

By the time the museum closed, the weather had cleared, and we spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach in Vanier Park, taking pictures of birds, boats, and a couple that was trying to take off parasailing from ground level.  I didn't see them make it; it wasn't that windy!  If you'd like to look at the rest of the photos here's the link to the gallery:

Across English Bay from the Maritime Museum

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Debt and Ratings

I've been reading a number of really good analyses of this situation, and I'm fascinated to find that the questions in my mind are being asked by people with much more experience and subject mastery than I have.  So here are the points that annoy me:

Standard & Poor's has now downgraded U.S. Treasury Debt to AA+ (which is still pretty good).  Their argument that the deal signed this week didn't reduce the debt enough is clearly invalidated by the two trillion dollar arithmetic error in the original analysis they delivered to Treasury on Friday. 

Which brings us to the real point:  this was not an economic decision.  I have to admit I can't argue with their premise that they are downgrading U.S. debt, not because the U.S. is unable to pay, but because the U.S. appears (in the person of its Congress) to be unwilling to pay.  Felix Salmon made this point in his blog at Reuters:  
"... there’s a serious constituency of powerful people in Congress who are perfectly willing and even eager to drive the US into default. The Tea Party is fully cognizant that it has been given a bazooka, and it’s just itching to pull the trigger. There’s no good reason to believe that won’t happen at some point."
Given the brilliant analytical skills Standard & Poor's displayed over the last decade or more, I don't understand why anybody pays any attention to them.  Leaving aside their stellar performance during the subprime mess, these were the people who rated Enron AAA, right up to the day the whole pyramid collapsed.  On that basis, the U.S. should still have its rating.  We're certainly in better shape than Enron was; and we haven't defaulted yet.

So why does anyone pay attention to them?  Because the U.S. Government says they must.  The Treasury Department chooses not to be in the business of rating the securities that banks can invest in, so they've outsourced that business to the three rating agencies.  Who have just downgraded the debt they issue.  Does anyone else find this weird??  Move over, Mad Hatter, I want a clean cup.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

More on the Bach Festival

I decided I wanted to write up all of my trip to the Carmel Bach Festival.  I discovered before we left for Vancouver that the Festival began the weekend Jim set off on his first backpacking trip, so I sprang for some concert tickets and 3 nights of motel (all the time I could spare, I had to be at a meeting Thursday evening), and off I went, to spend the next three days eating, sleeping, and attending concerts and lectures.  It was great.  I dumped my stuff at the motel and walked down to my first concert, an amazing semi-staged production of the St. John Passion, which I wrote up in my last post:

The staging in street clothes (see blog) really startled me at first, I thought, can this be the dress rehearsal?  But it really worked.  That evening I went to a smaller concert on double quartets.  The Festival’s new concertmaster explained, before performing the Mendelssohn Octet, that they would do (on period instruments) the original 1825 version which Mendelssohn composed at age 16, which he (the concertmaster) had been asked by the Library of Congress to collate.  It was wonderful. 

I started the next day by almost not getting to the church on time – I miscalculated the available parking at the Carmel Mission, and just made it to the 11 AM organ concert.  I hoped to get to a vocal master class at noon but had to give it up, the Mission was too far away.  Monday night’s concert (not in street clothes) was CPE Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Purcell, and a surprisingly good Concerto Grosso by one Richard Mudge.  I also attended the pre-concert talk, at which I learned that C.P.E. Bach ran a musical salon in late 18th century London.  I didn't know that.  All the pre-concert talks were streamed live and are available on the Festival web site.

Tuesday I attended the obligatory lecture on Bach and numerology; only part of this will be streamed live because the lecturer went way over his allotted 30 minutes!  But it was great.  That afternoon I attended a “solo spotlight” centered around the Cantata BWV 55 for solo tenor, plus some flute and harpsichord works, all Johann Sebastian.

Which brings me to the Festival politics.  You may have noticed that quite a bit of what I listened to at the Bach festival wasn’t Bach at all.  This is the first year for the new Festival music director, Paul Goodwin – Bruno Weil just retired after directing it for years.  Goodwin is a long lanky Brit with a major sense of humor, and he’s shaken up some of the stalwarts.  I had two conversations with (much) older attendees who were offended/distracted by the street clothes staging of the St. John Passion, and listened to a (much) older man who complained that they had “taken all the Bach out of the festival,” just before attending a concert of Vivaldi bassoon and cello concerti which he had presumably paid for.  I thought the whole thing was fabulous, but then I like all that period’s music, not just Bach.  

When not in street clothes, Goodwin conducts in a knee-length frock coat (Victorian, not eighteenth century; it had no defined waist).  I haven’t seen one of those for years.

Tuesday evening’s concert, The English Spirit, had not only no Bach, it only had one Baroque piece – the masque from Purcell’s Dioclezian.  It was all English composers – which means the next one after the Purcell was by William Walton (Fa├žade Suite No. 1), a very odd piece set to some incomprehensible poetry by Dame Edith Sitwell.   Yes, they had a narrator read it.  It made NO sense.  This was followed by a choral piece by Sir John Taverner (who is a friend of the music director’s!), and ending with Vaughn Williams’ Serenade to Music.   

The Purcell masque was absolutely hilarious, I practically fell out of my chair laughing; the couples on either side of me never, as far as I could see, cracked a smile.  They were grim.  The Taverner piece, from a choral singer's point of view, was terrifying - four long, slow, soft a capella sections, in very close harmony, after which the orchestra came in under them.  It is appallingly easy to be flat in that situation and they were not flat; I congratulate them.

The Vivaldi bassoon concert I mentioned was my last concert – performed on a period bassoon, and a period cello with five strings (high E).  The web site called it Double Reed Virtuosity, but the printed program said Low Down Vivaldi!  I would have liked to stay and see the film about the Eroica, and the full scale concert in the Mission basilica, but I had to get home.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Here I am in Carmel, attending the first day of the Carmel Bach Festival.  The rest of the festival has an amazing standard to live up to.  My first concert was the St. John Passion by J. S. Bach.  They semi-staged it:  everyone in street clothes incuding the instrumentalists, soloists walking on and off stage at random, Jesus wearing a brown t-shirt and running shoes.  The choir was fabulous - strong, tight, together, even on those impossible sixteenth-note runs.  (The small orchestra was also excellent, but as a singer I always pay attention to the chorus.)  It took me awhile to realize there was a second choir (the youth chorus) behind me and overhead, in the choir loft!  The Sunset Center has wonderful acoustics.

The soloists were outstanding - all of them sang from memory, even Rufus Muller as the Evangelist, who sings practically the entire time (fabulous tenor voice and impeccable German diction).  The conductor wore jeans and a work shirt and conducted with his entire body, not using a baton.  The entire performance was electric - passionate and taut.  By the time the Crucifixion came along the audience was right there in it.

Rather than invent more adjectives I'll just say it was one of the few concerts I've attended where the standing ovation was unanimous, began within 15 seconds of the end of the concert, and lasted for 3 curtain calls.  They'll have trouble living up to that standard.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Van Dusen Gardens

We visit the VanDusen Gardens every time we go to Vancouver, and this trip was no exception.  My husband thinks that VanDusen is one of the finest gardens in North America.  I just think it's full of things I want to photograph because they're gorgeous; in general, Jim will tell me what they are.  I'm not a gardener; I'm the audience.  Here's the link to the photo gallery I've devoted to this visit:

Lily pond, Phyllis Bentall Garden

I learned a little history about the garden on this trip - back in the day when the Canadian Pacific Railway owned Vancouver in fee simple, this 55 acre tract of land was leased by the Shaughnessy Golf Course.  The golf course moved to a new location in 1960 and the battle began:  the railway wanted to put in a subdivision, the neighbors objected, and in 1966 the usual band of dedicated volunteers and fundraisers formed the VanDusen Botanical Garden Association and set out to save the site.  The garden opened formally in 1975, which means that when I first saw it, on our honeymoon in 1986, it had only been open for about 11 years, and some of the newer shrubs weren't very well grown.  Let me assure you:  twenty-five years later the shrubs have filled out!