Tedious, repetitive life of Pacific killer whale ends at 105

granny_orca

The longest-lived killer whale is believed to have died recently, at the age of approximately 105.

Known as Granny, the orca lived in the northeast Pacific Ocean and coastal bays of Washington state and British Columbia.

Last seen on Oct. 12, 2016, it was classified as dead by The Center for Whale Research earlier this month.

Granny was noted for having elicited this remark from Capt. Simon Pidcock of Ocean Ecoventures Whale Watching in a 2014 story that appeared in The Daily Mail:

“[…] it’s mind-blowing to think that this whale is over 100 years old. She was born before the Titanic went down. Can you imagine the things she’s seen in her lifetime?”

Actually, it’s not too hard to imagine what an orca inhabiting the northeast Pacific for more than a century would see in its lifetime: lots of murky water, rocky shoals and other killer whales, along with fish, cephalopods, seals, sea lions, sea birds and, every so often, a glimpse of the sky.

All in all, not that fascinating. Well, except for the cephalopods.

(Top: Undated photo of orca known as Granny, doing what it had done for the previous 80-100 years.)

Photographer captures fury of Pacific Coast storm

santa-cruz-lighthouse-waves

The above photograph, taken by photographer Larry Gerbrandt, shows Santa Cruz Lighthouse during a California winter storm earlier this year.

The spectacular image was named the best photo of 2016 by the National Weather Service Forecast Office for the San Francisco Bay Area/Monterey area.

Gerbrandt, of San Juan Bautista, Calif., said he checked the tide tables and learned not only when high tide would take place along the Monterey Bay, but that a so-called “king tide,” or very high tide, would occur. In addition, the tide was likely to be enhanced by a winter storm passing through the area.

Gerbrandt, an experienced photographer, was able to shoot at 1/4000th of a second, freezing the water in way most cameras can’t capture.

Despite the preparation, it still took Gerbrandt more than 1200 shots to capture the winning photo.

Santa Cruz is where your intrepid blogger attended high school, and where I still go every so often to visit Madre y Padre Cotton Boll.

I remember occasional storms of this magnitude. The tremendous roar of pounding surf, cascading whitewater rushing over cliffs and rocks, and salt spray being blown hundreds of feet off the water always left one awe-struck by the mighty fury of the ocean.

Georgia town tries to keep one foot in past, one in present

washington-georgia-12-28-2016-038

Hundreds of US towns, cites, counties, lakes, etc. bear the name Washington – most, one would think, in honor of George Washington, although it’s possible baseball vagabond Claudell Washington may have been recognized by a locale or two in recent years.

The first town to name itself for America’s Founding Father was Washington, Ga., which definitely took a leap of faith when it opted to identify itself with the then-commander in chief of patriot forces in January 1780. At that point, the colonies’ hopes for defeating the British in the American Revolution were very much touch and go, and would be for another 18 months.

One imagines that if the war had gone the other way, British and loyalist forces would not have looked kindly on those who opted to name their town for the defeated rebel leader.

Today, Washington is a bucolic community of about 4,000, with a surprising number of antebellum mansions – more than 100 – including that of Confederate Secretary of State and later General Robert Toombs; the residence of planter John Talbot – now called the Griggs Home – where Eli Whitney spent time perfecting his cotton gin; and the Slaton Home, where Sarah Porter Hillhouse, Georgia’s first female newspaper editor, lived more than 200 years ago.

At the heart of the town is the Washington’s court square, which, more accurately, is shaped like a rectangle and is surrounded by one- and two-story brick buildings.
Many date from the late 1890s, having been built after a particularly devastating fire in June 1895 that claimed five stores, an office building, a wagon-and-machine shop and a residence. In addition, the town’s Episcopal church and two other dwellings were seriously damaged.

Window on T.C. Hogue Building, built in 1895 and located in Washington Court Square.

Window on T.C. Hogue Building, built in 1895 and located in Washington Court Square.

Obviously, the conflagration wasn’t on par with the great Chicago Fire of 1871, but in a town that then claimed 2,000 residents, such a blaze could have proved debilitating to business and citizenry alike.

The town’s residents didn’t take long to rebound; several of the structures in the court square bear the date 1895.

Propelled by agriculture and its position on a key rail line, Washington continued to thrive despite the occasional setback.

A short distance from courthouse square sits the old Barrows House Hotel (above), built by Edward F. Barrows, an architect who assisted with construction of the Atlanta Penitentiary.

The Barrows Hotel opened in 1899, and was a two-story, Romanesque Revival-style, brick building that featured a square, two-and-a-half story corner tower, a parapet roof with elaborate cornice, round-arched windows and an arcaded first floor on the front facade.

The hotel sat across from the old Georgia Railroad depot and was built to accommodate “drummers,” or traveling salesmen.

But, like the town, and rural communities across the region, the hotel has fallen on hard times in recent decades.

The train depot was demolished in the 1970s and the hotel itself has been in disrepair for at least that long. Still, despite creeping foliage, scattered debris and the occasional broken window, the structure retains at least a sliver of its past grandeur.

In recent years Washington has embraced efforts to renovate many of its many older structures. Taking on a project the magnitude of the Barrows House Hotel would be no mean feat, but it would be a worthy compliment to the other stunningly restored edifices around the attractive Southern town.

(Top: Barrows House Hotel, located on Depot Street, Washington, Ga.)

Recalling the shambling, witless piety of Davey and Goliath

davey-and-goliath

This blog isn’t particularly big on recounting childhood memories. There’s no deep, dark reason behind that: My parents are good people and my early years were a particularly happy time spent in Huck Finn-like fashion, splashing among ponds, creeks and rivers when not playing sports or being involved in low-grade mischief.

However, most of my adventures were just that – my adventures – and probably not of particular interest to those who don’t know me.

In addition, I’m not big on contrasting my generation with that of my children’s, despite the many differences. Time alters perception and with the exception of the fact that social media and video games have drastically reduced spontaneous outdoor sports activity among youth today along with personal interaction, I don’t see a whole lot of changes.

One difference I do tell my kids about is that in weekend television viewing habits. I point out that not only was there no Cartoon Network 40 years ago and no limitless stream of animated entertainment on the Internet, but cartoons only appeared on Saturdays, when they were shown for a few hours in the morning. That, as I recall, was it for the entire week.

Oh, except for a low-grade “cartoon” that appeared on Sundays called “Davey and Goliath.” The claymation program, produced by the Lutheran Church of America, was anything but entertaining to a 10-year-old boy whose key interests were baseball, fishing and engaging in rock wars with neighborhood friends.

But, in the days when television consisted of the three major networks and, perhaps, PBS, the choice on a cold winter morning was Davey and Goliath, loud-mouthed evangelists or whatever obscure public affairs topic the local PBS affiliate had relegated to Sunday.

For those unfamiliar with the program, Davey was a young boy and Goliath his dog. The latter represented Davey’s conscious, and would speak to Davey, although if I recall correctly, only Davey could hear him. (I believe serial killer David Berkowitz also had a propensity for listening to dogs only he could hear, with somewhat more dire consequences.)

Davey would wrestle with such theological quandaries as whether to own up to hitting a baseball through his neighbor’s window or being disrespectful of his parents’ wishes.

For the blessedly uninitiated, you can see an episode here.

Goliath, in a sonorous, yet whiney voice, would pipe up each time Davey was about to make a bad choice (i.e., thinking bad of someone for being different, kneecapping a younger boy for failing to pay a gambling debt), with “I don’t know, Davey” and “I don’t think God would like that, Davey.”

Davey would ultimately see the error of his ways and take the path suggested by Goliath.

Part of me, I suppose, hoped against hope that the claymation program would, just once, be entertaining. Time and again I was bitterly disappointed.

With its focus on issues such as respect for authority, sharing and the evils of racism – not exactly what a preteen boy hopped up on sugared cereal considered Grade A entertainment fare – I came away dissatisfied and, at times, even vexed.

Even then, without the hindsight of today’s spectacular animation techniques, I realized that Davey and Goliath was an artistic monstrosity.

Worse than that, though, was its obdurate moralizing.

Looking back, I don’t fully understand what the Lutheran Church was attempting to accomplish. By the 1960s, there were plenty of entertaining cartoons already on television; Davey and Goliath was not only artistically inept, its storylines were duller than an elementary school spork.

Safe to say the number of converts Davey and Goliath brought into the Lutheran Church was in the low single digits.

In addition, even kids know when they’re being preached at, and most don’t like it, especially when it’s coming from shoddily crafted, priggish animated figures.

Yes, looking back I realize I should have turned off the television and read a book, but some things have to be learned the hard way. In retrospect, watching the old television test patterns that would run after programming went off the air would have been more illuminating.

Zzyzx, Calif.: Where a charlatan created an empire

zzyzx-road

Just off Interstate-15 in a lonely section of San Bernardino County, Calif., sits the implausibly named locale of Zzyzx.

To get there, you take 4.5-mile-long Zzyzx Road.

The name was the creation of a quack preacher/televangelist/medicine man named Curtis Howe Springer, who arrived in the Southern California area in 1944.

Looking to set up a health spa, Springer came up with the name Zzyzx. By naming his spa the Zzyzx Mineral Springs resort, he was able to claim that it would be known as “the last word in health,” according to the website Roadtrippers.com.

Springer, born in 1896 in Alabama, had already enjoyed a lively career traveling the nation preaching, promoting various endeavors, selling fraudulent cures and working to stay a step ahead of authorities by the time he arrived in California.

Among his many enterprises was founding health spas. During the 1930s and 1940s, he opened a spa in Fort Hill, Pa., and tried to open others in Maryland and Iowa. But because Springer wasn’t fond of paying taxes, he lost his Pennsylvania spa to government seizure.

By the mid-1940s Springer had headed west and, working in conjunction with an associate, filed a claim to 12,800 acres in California’s Mojave Desert.

Springer, ever the resourceful sort, hired homeless men from Los Angeles’ infamous Skid Row to build the Zzyzx resort.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Springer’s resort, which ultimately included a 60-room hotel, spa, mineral baths, a radio studio, and a church, was built on a fraud. He used a boiler to heat pools around the resort.

He promoted the resort through his radio program, which was carried on more than 320 stations, according to Roadtrippers.com. It also included advertisements for his special remedies.

“Listeners would send in donations for his ‘cures,’ which he claimed could relieve constipation, hemorrhoids, hair loss and, oh yeah, cancer,” according to the website. ”However, what people were getting was, well, actually a bit better than snake oil. It was mostly celery, carrot and parsley juices.”

In the late 1960s, he was “swapping” lots in Zzyzx for large sums of money. If the Feds didn’t take notice of his quack cures, they did eventually catch on to the fact that Springer was making a lot of money and not paying much in taxes.

He was accused of squatting on the land and his claim to Zzyzx was invalidated. Springer and the other inhabitants of the community were evicted, and Springer was convicted for selling junk “cures,” although he served less than two months in jail.

He died in 1985 in Las Vegas.

For the past 30 years, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed schools in the California State University system to manage the land in and around Zzyzx.

While the remains of Springer’s charlatan empire is still evident around Zzyzx, the area is now home to a highly regarded Desert Studies Center, the handiwork of a consortium of CSU campuses.

New elements added to Periodic Table; students do not rejoice

updated-periodic-table

There’s no question some subjects get more difficult with time. While history and literature likely remain more or less constant, with some material falling away as new material is added, consider science, where constant discoveries are always being made and added to existing knowledge.

An example: within the past few days, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry has approved the name and symbols for four new elements, bringing the total number of named elements to 118.

The newest additions are nihonium (symbol Nh) for the element 113; moscovium (Mc), element 115; tennessine (Ts); element 117; and oganesson (Og) element 118. All are “superheavy” elements not found in nature.

They were created in a lab by blasting beams of heavy nuclei at other nuclei located inside particle accelerators, according to CBS. They complete the seventh row of the periodic table.

What this means for my children is that there are 10 more elements to learn than when I was in high school. There were seven more elements by the time I took high school chemistry compared to when my dad finished his secondary education.

Even more staggering is the fact that my children will have to learn 42 more elements than my maternal grandfather would have had to have known. Of course, he was born in 1882 and by the time he would have been of high school age, there were only 76 named elements.

The latest elements have been named after a place or geographical region, or a scientist.

Nihonium, discovered at RIKEN Nishina Center for Accelerator-Based Science in Japan, comes from the word “Nihon,” which is one of the two ways to say “Japan” in Japanese, and literally mean “the Land of Rising Sun.”

Moscovium and tennessine were proposed by the discoverers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Moscovium recognizes the Moscow region and “honors the ancient Russian land that is the home of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, where the discovery experiments were conducted using the Dubna Gas-Filled Recoil Separator in combination with the heavy ion accelerator capabilities of the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions,” according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

Tennessine is in recognition of the contribution of the Tennessee region of the United States, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Vanderbilt University and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, to superheavy element research.

Oganesson was proposed by the collaborating teams of discoverers at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research and Lawrence Livermore to recognize Professor Yuri Oganessian for his pioneering contributions to transactinoid elements research.

“His many achievements include the discovery of superheavy elements and significant advances in the nuclear physics of superheavy nuclei including experimental evidence for the “island of stability,” according to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

The naming of an element for Oganessian marks only the second time an element has been named after a living person, the other being seaborgium, for Glenn Seaborg, who won the 1951 Nobel Prize for Chemistry and was instrumental in the discovery of 10 transuranium elements.

(Top: Periodic table of elements. New elements can be seen at far right end of seventh row.)

Fighting the good fight for those who love the ‘Muh-Crib’

mcribs

The basis of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is the right to petition; specifically, it prohibits Congress from abridging “the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In other words, if folks have issues, they have a right to take them before their elected officials, no matter how petty those issues.

A recent local government meeting in a Los Angeles suburb might have left one wondering if the Founding Fathers knew just what they were doing when they embarked upon the American experiment 240 years ago.

During a Nov. 24 city council meeting in Santa Clarita, Calif., about 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a college-age woman (seen above) stepped to the microphone during the public comment segment and proceeded to take three minutes of elected officials’ time to implore council members to do something about the dearth of McDonald’s McRib sandwiches in the area.

The video, in all its lustrous glory, can be seen here.

I’ve enjoyed it several times and have a few thoughts:

First, my BS detector was on high alert. Most people can’t whip up this kind of passion to save their own kinfolk, never mind stand up for a fast-food dish made from obscure parts of what may or may not be a living creature.

Second, if you watch the video you’ll notice that not once does the “petitioner” pronounce the sandwich’s name correctly. Rather than “McRib,” it’s “Muh-Crib.” This could be comedic genius or stage fright or ignorance. Again, I leaned toward the first; if someone has this much zeal for a sandwich, one would think they would know how to pronounce it correctly.

Third, because WordPress no longer allows bloggers to post videos without paying an annual fee, I’ve included a transcript of the young lady’s performance below. It doesn’t do her justice, but it gives you an idea about the earnestness of her appeal. It’s mostly a long run-on sentence, and I’ve replaced “McRib” with “Muh-Crib” to give readers a better appreciation of the tone.

She begins by stating that she’s with the Santa Clarita Food Committee, then launches into a history of the “Muh-Crib”:

In 1982 a boneless barbecue pork sandwich was introduced to the United States and it was available for only during a limited time during the fall, which is called the Muh-Crib, but this year McDonald’s, they decided to give regional managers the power to decide whether to sell the Muh-Crib at their locations, and apparently only 55 percent of McDonald’s franchises nationwide have chosen to sell the Muh-Crib, which means 45 percent have decided to skip it, including the Santa Clarita area. And there are 10 McDonald’s here in Santa Clarita and none of them are selling the Muh-Crib. Specifically, the McDonald’s on Chiquella Lane next to In and Out (Burger) is not selling it and it has been replaced by an all-day breakfast, which I think is a really poor substitute. And consumers have had to resort to the mcriblocator.com, which gives disappointing results if you use it because the nearest sandwich was seen in the Bay Area. And to be honest, the removal of the Muh-Crib from the menu has affected my family because every Thanksgiving my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget (sic) and, like, 10 Muh-Crib, it was, like, a tradition in our family. And now it’s, like … my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken. So basically what I’m trying to say is, like, I come to you in this matter that I hope you members of the council can help and speak to these McDonald’s managers because I tried calling the hotline and they, like, don’t take me seriously. To me, Thanksgiving for my family without this Muh-Crib is like Christmas with snow. It just doesn’t make sense. So, thank you for your time and listening, and happy Thanksgiving.

How the council didn’t break out in laughter is beyond me, and it’s just further evidence of why I’m utterly unqualified to hold elected office.

After a bit of research, it turns out the “petitioner” is an individual named Xanthe Pajarillo, a California comedian. I applaud her and wish her well in her quest for a “Muh-Crib.”