html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: October 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Risking a twenty foot meter wall of water.

Oh no, no, no.

You know, the geologist who predicted the Teton Dam failure tried to warn Reclamation. They didn't heed. Before it went, he begged Reclamation to at least put in cameras, so they could record the failure and learn from it. They didn't, but tourists caught some of it on video.

Via Ezra's open link thread.

End the hating!

OK, look. Flood and furrow irrigation is not necessarily a primitive, wasteful irrigation technique. It can get distribution uniformities up in the eighties, which is about as good as a decent irrigation foreman should expect*. Of course, getting furrow irrigation that high takes an unusual amount of management.

To do a good job on furrows, in addition to annually shaping the furrows and beds, you would torpedo every furrow. (Drag a heavy, torpedo-shaped weight the length of every furrow, to smooth the run and get rid of clods. You can attach several of these to the bar behind your tractor, so you get several rows done at once.) You would also keep track of your wheel rows. Those are the furrows that your tractor wheels went down. The soil in wheel rows is compacted; the water will run down those faster. You have to match them to smaller siphons. You would use surge flows, to push the water to the tail of the furrow faster, so that water sits on the tail of the field for about as long as it sits on the head of the field. You constantly monitor your soil moisture, so that you don't start your irrigation event before the soil is dry enough to hold the water you put on. Every irrigation event changes the furrows (compacts and slicks them down), so you manage each one differently from the last. You keep a notebook, every year, noting daily soil moisture, date of irrigation events, size of siphons in each run, duration of event, and when the water reached the quarter, half, three-quarters and full length of field. You MANAGE your furrow irrigation system.

That said, flood or furrow** can be very sloppy and has the potential to let huge amounts of water run off the field. It is what you'd do if you have more water than management capacity, or if water is cheap and your drainage is good. The image of wasteful flood and furrow irrigation is well-founded.

So where do you see flood and furrow irrigation? You see it where water is so cheap that you don't need to do careful applications. You also see it where the grower is constrained by the irrigation district. Some districts deliver water on rotation. They don't keep all their lateral canals full all the time; you take your water when your canal is full, once every three weeks. If your district is on rotation, you have to use flood irrigation. You can't put down enough water to last you for three weeks through some pansy little sprinklers***. You also see flood and furrow in modern irrigation districts, where the grower chose the method. Maybe the grower prefers labor costs to capital costs. Maybe the grower is experienced with furrow and wants to stay with his expertise.

My whole point is that flood and furrow irrigation are not themselves proof of wasting water. If you're in a real old-school atmosphere, where the growers are contemptuous of water management, yeah, furrows are a strong signal of waste. But in a district where the manager and growers are alert to the modern ways of conservation, furrow and flood irrigation can be very good.

*An irrigation fanatic gets them in the very low nineties, but that is astonishing. That indicates a lot of interest and maintenance. If you saw irrigation efficiencies in the nineties in nature, you would wonder what was motivating the grower.

**Furrow irrigation is, like, furrows. Flood irrigation is in border checks.

***Everyone is always all "ooooh, switch to drip! Drip irrigation is Teh Cool!", but for drip irrigation, you have to have a constant, clean supply, preferably with some head on it. You can re-create that on your farm, by building a small reservoir, pumping and filtering. That takes space and capital and maintenance. Drip isn't a good solution for everyone. Resist the peer pressure!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

What I saw. (Re-posted, 'cause it got messed up.)

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According to the geologist:

That is the largest gold-mining operation in the lower 49. It covers about 75 square miles. It is huge. The ridges you can see from space; they're contoured hills, about one hundred and thirty feet high, that didn't exist a hundred years ago. Those hills are cast up tailings from digging up gravels for gold. That whole claim has been mined several times at successive depths. The last pass mined gold from two hundred feet down.

You mine gold from two hundred feet down with a bucket line dredge. The bucket line dredge is essentially a floating factory, one that digs its own pond as it goes and fills the pond behind it. It scoops gravels up in buckets, processes them through successive sieves, and dumps the tailings behind and to the side. The earliest bucket line dredges only reached down fifty feet. The next passes reached a hundred feet, than one-twenty, and the last dredge used on those fields brought up gold-bearing gravel from two hundred feet. The geologist said the buckets had to be submerged to work, but I didn't think to ask whether that was for heat dissipation or whether the water helps lift the gravel.

Anyway, the dredges are BIG.

I recommend the More Pictures link.

Buckets on dredge in Idaho

I asked the geologist how they knew where to direct the dredge. He said they've surveyed the fields pretty thoroughly. There are mile-long series of two-hundred feet drill cores, on the two hundred feet. Then they move a mile further from the river and do it again.

But they won't be gold-mining those claims on the Yuba soon. Four or five years ago, after several years of union-owner disputes, the dredge mysteriously sank in the middle of the night. Thirty million dollars of capital, sunk. The geologist said they tried to bring it up three times with giant cranes, but couldn't. He said that there are a few sunken dredges in the tailings. The next round of mining on this claim will not be for gold. After all these years of dumping gravel and cobble in lines of hills, the next most valuable thing in those mines is aggregate for concrete.

Except maybe. There may be something we need even more from those poor chewed-up, worked over lands.


I'm rolling up my good big rug, the one my former step-father brought me from Iran. I don't want it in harm's way at pumpkin carving tonight. Not much point in putting it back out, so I guess I'll next unroll it in my new room in Oakland.

OH! I have renters, longtime friends of longtime friends. They will be good to my beautiful little house. I have to be out by the 18th, and it feels like an unwanted break-up. My house.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I go where the people need me.

Yesterday, the taxpayers needed me to go on a river float down the Yuba River, to see salmon spawning, to look at a dam and think about removal options, and to look at a potential flood control project. The dam was nothing special. I’ve seen better. The salmon were way cooler than I expected. They’re so damn big and strong and fast. My abstract appreciation for them hadn’t done them justice. But the mind-blowing part was the story the geologist told us. He’s the Abandoned Mine bureaucrat for the west and I wanted to listen to him for hours and hours. He was in the other boat, but I heard some of it…

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sorry, y'all.

Still busy these days, which is a shame, because there's lots of stuff I want to talk about:

  • Your requests for water posts.
  • My impressions of California's incident response procedures. I don't know fire, but if they're like the flood ones, they are very, very good. What is involved in doing good disaster response.
  • Extending the rice example to cotton, alfalfa and commercial ag.
  • A look at the pressures climate change is going to put on California, and what the end point will look like.
  • The fact that I saw a total child molester van yesterday, curtains and everything, but when I rode past, it had TWO MINIATURE HORSES IN IT! PONIES! In a VAN! With van curtains! Sometimes, if a guy leans out the window and asks if you want to see a pony, THERE REALLY IS A PONY!
  • Plans for us to hang out in LA the first weekend of November?

I want to get to all this, but it won't be tomorrow. Maybe the weekend, maybe next week. See you then!

UPDATE: I'm away for the day, and I know it has been contentious recently. I'm turning comment moderation on. I'll turn it off again when I can be around to moderate the comments in person. Thanks for understanding.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Down with rice.

An anonymous said this in the comments, and it prompted me:
California also grows *rice* which is another water hungry crop.

OK, I hear this a lot, and I understand the rough take. Rice! So tropical! Makes one think of monsoon fed flooded fields! So water intensive! In arid California! Rice in California sounds like a bad plan.

I’ll defend growing rice in Calfornia, though, especially in the Sacramento Valley. The Sacramento Valley is a great rice growing region, primarily because of its clay soils. My rough understanding is that the Sacramento Valley used to flood every winter, nearly over the entire valley floor. The floods would drain slowly for months, but during that slow recession, fine silts had time to settle and form a clay layer. I can vouch that the soils are clay-ey and sticky. Walking through a wet field gets you a five or six inch thick clump under your each boot. Because of these clays, you can hold water in a rice paddy indefinitely. You can’t grow much else on them.

But the water! So much water! Well, yes and no. It is true that rice requires a decent amount of water, about four-ish acre-feet per acre per year. It is also true that you have to manipulate the hydrologic cycle to provide that; there are no half-inch rains twice a week to keep your paddy full. But there is water enough for rice. It just falls in the winter. You have to store it, and release it later, but the climate in northern California provides more than enough water for rice. We’re in a built system now, so we can do that.

Four-ish acre-feet? Isn’t it a lot more than that? It used to be. Until a decade ago, Sac Valley growers grew flow-through rice. They constantly fed water into the top paddy; it trickled through the paddies and out drainage canals into the Sac River. That can use ten to twelve acre-feet (per acre per year) or more. They don’t do that anymore, and the reason has nothing to do with water scarcity. The State Board made them stop. The State Board forced them to hold water in their fields until their herbicides had broken down to some threshold concentration. (Rice growers tout this as environmental dedication now, but they fought it bitterly when the regulation came down.) They’ve been trying varieties of rice, long and short stemmed, to see what they can grow in different heights of water. Rice is no longer a water-guzzler.

I like some things about rice in the Sac Valley. In some ways, it mimics the cycle of flooding up large stretches of the valley floor and draining it slowly (although it pushes it back three months). Rice looks amazing. I swear, rice is the reference green. There is nothing greener than rice. It shimmers green, with greener pulses. All spring you think that the young rice sprouts are the greenest thing you ever saw and come summer, it darkens into more green. Rice fields smell good. White egrets look beautiful against a rice field. Rice uses soils that probably couldn’t grow any other agricultural crops. California grows very good rice; high yields, very high quality. Ricelands are also preserving a sink capacity that might otherwise have been lost; we will need places to spread big flood waters and rice fields are a good candidate.

So the big problem with rice these days isn’t the water use. The current environmental problem caused by rice is rice straw. Used to be, rice growers drained their paddies, harvested their rice and burned the straw. The smoke used to fill the valley, block out the sun. The Air Board put a stop to that, and ever since, growers have been trying to find a way to get rid of rice straw. The Air Boards offers permits for some limited burning. Growers have been selling rice straw to fill rolls to use on construction sites to prevent sediment run-off. There is talk of using the rice straw for biofuels or methane production. People have suggested using rice straw to replenish the peat that blows away when Delta islands are farmed. If you let the rice straw sit under water all winter, it (mostly) decomposes, but rice growers fear cross-year rice diseases. That requires a second flood-up for the year, of de-comp water. That has been messing with water district canal maintenance regimes. The problem isn’t solved yet.

Anyway, a long digression about rice. Basically, I am not opposed to growing rice in California. It no longer uses an extraordinary amount of water, and has some nice features. In keeping with my belief in eating locally, I do wish since northern California is an excellent rice-growing region, we were also a rice-eating culture. But that’s a different post.

A side note for Tom:

One of the best things about rice is that it uses so much jargon. Another plus! We love jargon! Since you asked for a glossary:

Rice is grown in checks. (I called them paddies, because you are probably used to the term rice paddy.) But here, the whole field, tens of acres surrounded by a berm and filled with water to grow rice, is a check.

Water fills the check through a check structure (something in the canal to divert water into the check) or through a rice box. A rice box is embedded into the berm at the top of the field. It is, roughly, a rectangle of known width (preferably standardized throughout the district) with flashboards in it. You pull the flashboards in the spring for the flood-up and measure (not very precisely) the flow through the rice box by knowing the height of the water over the top flashboard.

I forget all the rest of the jargon for rice. When the rice itself forms in seed tassles, it is ‘heading up’. I think you want to harvest right before the “shatter”. If I think of more, I’ll add it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

And me without a knitting project.

Conference all day today and tomorrow. I'll be surprised if I'm able to post. Enjoy yourselves!

Friday, October 19, 2007

I can do a better job on your other questions.

Short answer section:

OK, y’all. I’m going to have to give you short answers on these. This is a rough take, at best, ‘cause you’re asking me stuff I just don’t know well. These are my impressions. If you have more detailed questions, I hope you’ll be distracted by pictures of debris flows.

The book: I did a whole bunch of interviews over several months, and want to do more, ‘cause they’re the best part. Now I am trying to understand what story I want to tell. These things usually come to me as a whole, so I’m waiting for inspiration to strike. (This may be a crappy way to actually get a book done.) In the meantime, I’m following the story in the news and transcribing interviews and wondering why I don’t have the courage to approach a real agent-type person.

Sewage treatment: Not my field, dude. This is as good a place as any to warn new baby civils. If you are just going to college for civil engineering and you love the earth and want to do totally righteous coastal remediation engineering, using the powers of concrete and the forces of water for good, you will have to be very very careful. There is an excellent chance that what your civil department calls ‘Environmental Engineering’ is really wastewater treatment. That is totally fine if you like that stuff. But if you were thinking of an awesome job combining outdoors work and saving the earth, it is a distraction. You’ll be designing shitter plants for your career. Danger.

What happens to Nevada when the water runs out!!!: I seriously do not understand how Nevada is going to work if our society becomes poor. The imbalance between local resources, local lifestyles and population is too great. The question isn’t really ‘when will Las Vegas run out of water’. You can get water if you have to. If you must, you can stick a straw in some river in Canada. When water must get solved, it does. The question is, ‘when will it be too expensive to have water and everything else you need to live, and when will the cost of water crowd out so much other stuff that it isn’t worth living in a hot desert anymore?’ And that makes the next question, ‘what will make water that expensive’. The foreseeable answer to that is, ‘energy costs will make it impractical to move that kind of water’. I’m not completely up to date on energy stuff, so my guess would be -holy crap, look at the size of that boulder!

Seriously, my guess for all the desert towns is a vast depopulation as costs for everything energy dependent slowly rise. I’m thinking tumbleweeds blowing past empty subdivisions, with an eerie flute playing in the distance. This pisses me off, because I wish that we weren’t destroying useful things, like forests, to be empty houses in forty years, but I suppose the Mad Max scavengers will loot anything salvageable out of them. Las Vegas will see this last, because it is wealthy, and all water engineers know that water flows towards money.

Desal: Also not my field, although if I were an industrious blogger who loved my readers, I would walk up one whole flight of stairs and ask the desal section what the deal is. My rough take: desal is a race between costs for water and costs for energy. I think the technical problems are mostly solved, although salt disposal is a problem. For a while yet (couple decades?), in California there is still lower priced water to be had by buying it from growers. (Um, cheaper by two times? Five times? Truly a rough guess.) This could all change if water everywhere becomes more scarce, or energy suddenly cheap. Maybe the magical energy unicorns will burn salt water, or use wave pumps. That would be convenient for desal.

San Diego’s water, Toilet to Tap, the Colorado River: I would like to point out that these are all issues south of the Tehachapis. This is still California, so I could understand it if I tried, but I don’t want to, because that shit is complicated. The Colorado goes through, like, seven states! And they fight! With multiple endangered species! And water transfers from the Imperial Valley, where they are evidently nutso, because their irrigation district board has fights! and scandals! and is forever hiring or not hiring some general manager. It is too late for me to understand it all now. I don’t try.

My vague understanding is that San Diego gets some water from the Colorado, has tried to strike deals directly with growers in the Imperial or Coachella Valleys, and these dealings may or may not have been against the wishes of the Metropolitan Water District. MWD is a wholesaler, based in a lovely building in LA, that sells water from northern California to a couple dozen southern water districts, including San Diego. Your water is complicated, man.

Toilet to Tap is a completely legitimate notion, and can be a substantial source of new water. One nice thing about it is that it is a fairly constant source over the year, no big peaks or valleys in supply. People are generally too squeamish to drink it, which I think is unjustified. But we could use it for urban landscaping, which is now mostly done with potable water. Every drop of potable water that Toilet to Tap offsets is one that doesn’t have to come from somewhere far.

How does water policy differ in California from more well-watered regions back East?
Aw man. Why you got to ask me stuff like that? I have only the vaguest, foggiest ideas what they do in the east (and by east, I mean Nevada). Like, in the East, ag engineering is about drainage, not about irrigation. And, um, you use a lot of center pivot systems. And, like, you water your freeway medians, to turn them green all the time. In California, we think that is wasteful. Don’t you have water moccasins or something? We don’t have poisonous water snakes. Um, in Californa, everything is about salmon, all the time. Everything always links back to salmon. Do you have those in the east? You don't, right? You have catfish or something. Oh yeah! Margie said that Midwestern fluvial geomorphology classes are about all about bedforms, but out here in the west, they teach about sediment transport, as every right-thinking person would expect. Bedforms! Ha! Who cares? Look!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dear Chris and Anand and Teddy and Dan,

It is with boundless sorrow that I am forced to sever our friendships. This will be a great shock and a deep wound for all of us, I am sure, but the fault is primarily yours. I would never have chosen this, considering our decades of close and affectionate interactions, the way I rely on you for emotional support and unconditional love, the easy hours we spend talking and joking around. For most of the years of my life now, I thought you were strung into my life loom, that you were warp and weft of the rough cloth time weaves and I gather to me. I was wrong, wrong for so long. New information upends everything I thought I knew; my life is in upheaval. I must shut you and all your kind out of my life to live with my new truth.

‘What?’, I hear you ask, your hurt creeping into your beloved voices. “What could we have done to cause this?” It isn’t ‘what’ you should be asking, but ‘why’. Why were you born men? Why, good people who would otherwise be the bedrock of my life? Why where you born into the gender I now despise?

I understand that until this moment I had given no evidence that I despised you for your masculinity. For all those years, I was pretending, to you, but most of all to me. I thought that I loved kicking it with my guys. We go outside and play catch. We sit on porches, drink and play backgammon. We go CD shopping and get a burger on the way home. We studied together and still talk for ages. We have lived in each others’ houses. I have fed you vast amounts of food. I used to think that was great. There were times when your deep and loud laughter filled my house and reverberated off the walls and I was giddy with delight in your presence.

But that was before. Today I have been informed that I despise your gender. Like a shock of light through murky clouds, I see the inevitable truth of this! I am woman; I must hate men! All of them! Including those I have long loved very much.

I go to start on my new, man-less life. I’m sure you understand that I cannot linger over this letter; I have so much to do. I must also disown my own father, my living embodiment of the Patriarchy. Must I discard the perfect nephews? Surely not; they are babies, boys. I can love them as long as they are boys, can’t I? If that measure is allowed me, my brother will stay a baby forever, so that I can continue to love his gangly self. There is much else to do. As you well know, my former friends, I am plagued by desire for the shapes of men. Double burden now, that I must hate what I also crave. A new struggle for me, and me with half the friends who always shared my struggles.

Again, I go. I cannot wish you well, for you are men. Such a shame that you ruined everything. I can’t miss a man, of course, but I will miss what we could have had, the rest of the lifelong friendship we could have shared, had you only been a woman. Such a loss. Why did you do it?

My dear readers,

I have known since the beginning that many of you are men. Men! Until today, I hadn’t cared. I valued you for your wit and thought; as much as anything, I valued the idea of kind and steady attention from strangers for no cause or reason. Now that I despise men, however, just the thought of your presence at my blog is odious to me. Mancooties! Crawling on my words!

This poses an obvious quandary. My very thoughts are polluted by men reading them. My sleep is disturbed by the idea that a man somewhere could have benefited from something I wrote. It would be intolerable if a man found his thoughts in sympathy with mine or his soul soothed by a stray kind word of mine. I can’t have it. But! Naturally, I don’t want my hits to go down.

I must ask of you a favor, foreign though that is to your dull brutish nature. If you must comment, and I suppose you must in your ceaseless efforts to dominate all women everywhere, could you please modify your name to obscure your gender or appear female? It is a pretense, but one that lets me live in my dream of a pure and gentle world of women, holding hands together, while also maintaining my hit counts. I appreciate your support in this manner, although not enough to ever sleep with you.

Goddess bless!


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

First, do no harm.

This is fantastic. It is better to have no comments than to have comments that do damage to civil society. If you cannot (or will not) put in the time to have a comments section that is neutral or better, then no comments at all is a big improvement. I love that he recognized his responsibility to the greater community. Full props to Prof. Mankiw.

I liked this a lot, too.


It occurs to me that bloggers may be evaluating different things in their comments sections. Remember how I told you that all communication has two different contents, information and emotion? I can imagine a blogger thinking, well, my comments are neutral or better - still information dense, lots of ideas shaking out. An emphasis on civil conversation is a reminder that the emotional content of the comments section is equally important. Nastiness destroys the informational content (as people revert to pre-formed thought, cleverness and attacks on irrelevant stuff, like the person), which might motivate bloggers who lean heavy to the content=information side of things. But since the emotional part of the content is the part that chases away marginalized and targeted voices, the emotional content must also stay neutral or better if you want to hear what they have to say.

Four to five calls per week? Really? So many?

This was a kindof interesting article about designing a gas station to prevent crime. The concept was neat and also pretty obvious if you think about it – clear sight lines, brightly lit, no hiding places. Seems to have worked; police calls are down by a third (222 calls/year to 148 calls/year). Awesome.

Except, look at that gas station. Kinda… industrial-looking, don’t you think? So bare, so concrete-y. It isn’t appealing for criminals to lurk there, but it isn’t appealing to be there either. That’s probably fine. There’s no good reason to linger at gas stations. But the whole thing reminds me of what I call One Thing Engineering.

One Thing Engineering is what happens when you give engineers one purpose to maximize. (The gas station actually has two; ease of buying gas and preventing crime.) Engineers are GREAT at that. Hoooo boy, they love that. They will go home and think of small improvements and tinker with designs until they squeeze every last advantage to serve the One Thing. Then they know they did a good job. If you come to them after and say, ‘but that gas station is a heat island in the middle of the block’, they will say, ‘sure. I had to do it that way to get in the other crime preventing feature.’ And you say ‘kinda awful-looking, isn’t it? Punches a hole in that block, wouldn’t you say?’ and they say, ‘Yep. That deters criminals by 17.3%.’

That is why I don’t fault engineers for well-designed systems that cause other bad effects. (Faulting them for poorly designed systems, when that happens, is completely appropriate.) They simply did the assignment they were given. If you want a gas station that sells gas, deters crime and looks nice, then you expand the problem statement. Engineers will happily maximize for those things*.

This is why broad and forward-looking thinking has to come first. Decisions come first, what the priorities are and what the goals are. Everyone who is affected, anyone who wants to be involved, should make those decisions; those decisions will be based on their preferences and morals and intuitions. Those decisions will be based, in large part, on how they feel. Soft things like feelings are plenty good enough to decide things like ‘what should a gas station in my neighborhood do’ and ‘what should water in my state do’. After those decisions are made, hopefully in an inclusive and transparent process, you send in the engineers and economists**. Then the engineers design something that does the best it can with all the different things the public wants. Then the economist unleashes her market forces to get efficiencies out of voluntary trades. But the design and the market are there to support the decision. They are not worthwhile in their own rights. They’re just systems to accomplish something. We pick that something together, for all kinds of good and bad reasons. When participation is open and the information is readily available and the choices are clear and the trade-offs are explicit and the decision reflects what people wanted, then democracy got its due.

*One danger of this is that the new design will do no individual thing as well. The trade-offs always find us.
**You maybe want to have them there at the beginning, too, to give people bounds on what can be done for reasonable money.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Listener hour.

I'm taking requests on water, irrigation and infrastructure posts, although I always figure you guys are humoring me. Ask away.

(California, y'all. But you knew that.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

It was past our bedtime, but we were allowed to stay up for the Muppet Show.

Bert's ad libs are even better on my Sesame Street album. I also found and sang Lime and Coconut with Kermit, and worried that Cookie would never find his cookie again. I know all the words to this one, too. Perhaps you didn't know how handsome Harry Belafonte used to be, or how good-natured.

He had it easier than Rita Moreno, though. Miss Piggy shows me how to make myself clear, should there be occasion.

On a more contemporary note, this combination salvaged the movie and justified the song for me. I wouldn't have thought of it.

Such a shame.

So much talent.


My lawyer friend is working on a robbery case. According to the victim statement:
The guy in the black hoodie pointed a black gun at me. He told me to give him my money. I told him that I did not have any. He told me put my hands on the car that I was standing by. I told him no because it was dirty.

There are better reasons.

I actually don't get attacking Giuliani about the firefighters' radios. I have no love for him and don't want him to be president. But it doesn't strike me that a mayor is responsible for getting the right brand of radios for the fire department. That's what the Fire Department logistics engineer or communications chief or department chief should do. I understand that Giuliani had a report saying that some makes of radios weren't adequate for the WTC buildings and that you better get different ones. But why would a mayor know about comparative signal strengths of different brands of radios? That isn't what I want my mayor spending time on.

(If you tell me that Giuliani kept an incompetent person in charge of the Fire Department for political reasons, that is a better link. Or if he hogged that decision to himself and then made it wrong, that is another reason to blame him. Did he override the purchase of the good radios because they were expensive? Those would make him responsible for the radios. If he believed what his engineering staff told him about radios and approved their purchasing choice, that seems about right for a mayor.)

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Oh. It is fall, and the summer honeybees lie dead in my garden. Their mottled velvet bodies are still dangerous for someone who doesn't like gloves between her hands and the warm earth.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

It is so beautiful out.

What I want to do: Go to the beach, play catch with a boy and horse around.

What I will do instead: Go to the library and take my book to McKinley Park.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Call me, please.

UPDATE: Whatever. Too late. It's cool. I didn't have anything interesting to tell you. But if I had your home phone number, I would have called.

'Nother question for you.

Where does campaign money actually go? I read accounts that say things like, 'the candidates now have fourteen catrillion dollars in their war chests', and I don't understand. Where does that money GO?

I am not asking you what is produced for seventeen mondillion dollars. I sort of know the answer to that - media spots, mailers and logistics. Have I missed a big one? But where does the money GO? For a mailer, I presume the money goes to a consultant, a graphics design firm, a printer and then... the post office? For media spots, it is what? A consultant, a production house, location fees, then airtime. Airtime means what? That big chunks of money go to a media company? Even if it is spent on campaign logistics, that ends up with... a production company, a tour bus company, a hotel chain, a caterer, the venues and the camera crews?

So are there industries that get a shot of wealth every four two years from election campaigns? If they were, like, struggling family-owned printing firms staffed by blind people, then I would just think of that as a mostly harmless form of redistribution. If they're, like, Rupert Murdoch, then I am not pleased that he pockets big chunks of money out of campaign funds.

Campaign money has to be conserved, right? It goes somewhere, or it is lost as heat from friction? Where does it go?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

True or False?

"I am my behavior."

Explain your reasoning. (1 paragraph, 10 pts)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wolves and Cossacks culled the weak ones.

My max deadlift was 230 lbs.

Knowing a number makes me want to do MORE.

Update 10/17/7
Bench Press: 125

I don't particularly like the benchpress, but I love knowing that my arms still work about the same. When this happened, I was afraid they wouldn't.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In which I worry for the wrong people.

Bloggers I read are shocked and disgusted that right-wing blogland is hounding the family that was used as an example of middle-class families needing government health insurance. There has been a lot of this recently; I worry that it is a self-inflicted escalating feedback loop. I worry that the piece of our population that madden themselves so that they’ve forgotten that we don’t drive to people’s houses, accost them and encite others to do the same is getting locked into this dangerous cycle. As a whole, we can’t have them trapped there. They do too much damage in their frothing and their slander. But I don’t know how to get them out.

I will believe that everybody has a core of decency, for their loved ones and tribe, if no others. I think everyone has within them the capacity to connect to every other person and empathize. I also believe that the polarizing politics of the past couple decades, combined with deep immersion in talk radio and blogs promoting fear and hate, has whipped a chunk of people into a frenzy of demonizing the Other. People living in fear and hate and demonizing the Other are capable of doing and saying mean shit, and some of them did. But I’m afraid that doing mean shit the first time starts an addiction to more fear and hate and action. Once you’ve done something vicious, either you start to hear the shamed compassionate voice inside you or you justify what you did with more fear and hate. Or you compound that fear and hate with action, just so you don’t have to listen to your thoughts and guilt. Then you did more mean shit and you need more fear and hate and action to armor yourself against knowing what you did. I’m afraid they’re getting locked into a cycle that demands constant and escalating fear and hate and action to avoid increasing guilt and shame.

I don’t know how this ends. I think the frenzies of right-wing bloggers are relatively benign on the world scale of cultures of violence and all-encompassing, self-negating hatreds. But I think the cycle is the same. I can imagine being on that cycle and I can’t imagine getting off it. What if it were you? What if your compartmentalization failed one day and you realized, “My god. I bombed a church and killed three beautiful girls.” “I ruined a family, a soldier, a child, to keep up my hits.” “My god. What have we done?” I don’t think I could. That is what I am afraid of. I am afraid the people doing this crap cannot stop.

If we want them to stop, we have to give them a way. They will not stop by themselves, because they can’t. I think there are two potential paths, one that is just barely enough to get them to stop, and one that offers redemption and reintegration. I think that giving them a story they can tell themselves to justify how they acted, something in place of the distracting and addicting fear and hate, would be enough to stop the escalation, slow the cycle to a stop. (“You did what you needed to in a time of war, but now it is over and you can stand down, you brave defender of American values.” That might be enough for those who aren’t plagued by intellectual rigor.) The path that offers reintegration is harder. I think it requires a truthtelling and penance. The truthtelling is for the victims and bystanders. The penance is for the wrongdoer, to still the shame and end the need for addictive distractions.

It feels unfair, to have to help people crazed by hate and fear stop being crazy. But the alternative is living with them and the escalating shit they pull. For that, I think we need to look to international reconciliation efforts as models. We can't make them stop by force. There are too many counterbalances in our country to make them stop by force. We can't shame them; shame is one of the drivers in the feedback loop. Adding more shame makes the cycle turn faster. We’re going to need something better. I don’t see another way out, for them or for us. At least we aren’t a couple generations into trading violent and fatal skirmishes.

My early endorsement.

This, incidentally, is why I'm for Obama. I think he's the only electable candidate who has done peacework and I think peacework is most radical, and only workable, option to undo what Bush has done. The stuff he says that sounds conventionally crazy ('Of course I'll talk to any world leader who wants to talk to me' and 'I'm not interested in punishment') is straight from conflict resolution practices. Well settled, not even controversial, in conflict resolution circles. That and climate change are my two top concerns, and he nails them both.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Reasonable discussions, in polite tones.

via SLOG, which you should be reading anyway.

Time for the hacksaw.

I really cannot tolerate this kind of backtalk from a sprinkler system.

What a girl wants.

My sister and I were looking at a fine afternoon of, you know, yardwork. I grabbed the shovel and looked around for the other. "Oh," she said. "I returned it to Matt." I looked at her, blinking. Only one shovel? How will we perform the rituals at the heart of our family? What will bind us, if not several hours of moving dirt on a beautiful crisp afternoon, the sisters working like dogs, the nephews playing along with toy shovels? With only one shovel, the other sister might... rest.

She said the oddest thing to me, right before she drove home from cleaning my porch. "Meggie, let's not have any more work weekends for a while." I knew the term 'work weekend', but the rest of the sentence was new to me and strange. Trees, bulbs and retaining walls don't plant themselves. I fled that confused household, with fewer shovels than able-bodied adults, and came back to Sacramento. I have my trusty shovel, a recalcitrant sprinkler system and a new plot at the community garden to turn over. The universe is back to its natural order.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

An analogy...

I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I wrote this on the train today:

Look, Mark, you have young daughters. Imagine that one day, one of your daughters comes home from school diminished. Someone told her that she couldn’t play. Someone told her best friend that girls couldn’t do math and she overheard. This time, for whatever reason, it hit home. So your beautiful sparkly daughter comes home and she’s dragging. And the rest of the evening you do work. You cheer her and remind her she is perfect. You find the cause and find a way to recast it, so that she has another way to think of what she heard. You do math with her, to remind her that she is solid kick-ass at math. The whole night, you and your wife love her and worry. That is work. It is work you wouldn’t have to do if she hadn’t heard that crap; it would have been a normal evening of homework and wrestling and dessert if they ask nicely.

Now imagine that there is a teacher. The teacher was watching, saw whatever bullying happened. But she didn’t intervene. She was sitting, drinking her coffee, and she spends so much time grading papers and she didn’t want to go sort out another squabble. There will just be another one later. When you ask her, ‘why the hell did you just sit by when that kid said my daughter was too slow to play’, she says, ‘your daughter needs to get over it.’ That teacher just pushed her work onto you.

See, here’s the thing. There is work or there is hurt. Either that teacher does the work of walking over and preventing the hurt, or you and your wife do the work of restoring your daughter, or your daughter is just a little chipped*. Those are the choices.

Given that the work will be done, or the hurt will be done, the next question is, who should take care of that work? First choice is that punk kids keep their mouths shut when they want to start in on your daughter. Here on the internet, we seem to have written off that option, although I have not forgotten it. Second choice is the teacher. He has the ability and he can stop the hurt before it happens, which is a multiplier. Last choice, the only choice that is obviously unjust, is that the hurt kid should do that work. The only innocent in the story, who neither did hurt nor has a responsibility, is the one who must bear the hurt and the work? But that is the choice of anyone who thinks an unmoderated comment section is fine***. I can’t respect that choice.

*We do not grow strong** from being damaged and repaired. We get deformed and brittle from being damaged and repaired. We grow strong from being loved so completely that we can try things and succeed and fail.

**Defensive, sharp and dismissive is not strong. Stable, willing and open is strong.

***And you cannot but think that they haven’t been on the receiving end much, which is probably a result of their race and gender. It is either un-empathetic or self-serving, and I don’t understand either when the stakes are so high for the rest of us.

Perhaps the least persuasive argument in all of this is “That’s just how it is.” Bloggers have as much control over their own comments sections as they have over anything in the world. If they allow bullshit in their comments, it is by choice. They have every tool they need: the stature, the moral cause behind civility, the ability to engage and redirect, the power to delete. It may be hard to singlehandedly force civility on a public meeting of real people, but if there is anywhere in the world where a person could choose a standard and get people to comply, it is in her own comments section. All it requires is a decision to shoulder that work.


Mark asked, and I started answering, then I thought it was important enough to bring front:
Megan, I've spent some time trying to figure out why you would think that people who host unmoderated fora are creating work for others. I'm guessing you view them as a form of pollution? That the existance of unmoderated fora increases the frequency of undesirable comments on other boards?

Please elaborate some on that, because I've got some thoughts on the subject, but want to understand where you're coming from before expressing more.

Hey Mark,

I'm a little concerned about the part where unmoderated fora legitimate that type of discussion on other boards, but that isn't the work I mean.

The work I mean is the effort I have to put out when I read nasty shit about me in my or someone else's comment sections. (Mr. Clarke is even more empathetic, and extends it to people who love the target, or people who want an end to cruelty. But I'll stick with the personal example.)

I write a post, and it has an ordered logic, laid out well enough to be refuted, and it has an emotional content, and it has a point. Right? I did all that. In response, I get back stuff like "that's the kind of hysterical crap that makes me glad that women will never get anywhere", if they don't suggest that a raping would show me some truth. (Those aren't exact, but they aren't exaggerations, either.)

I read those, and my shoulders just sag. That is where the work starts. I have to dismiss them, and not remember them throughout my day. I have to let them go and not constantly make counter-arguments, because those counter-arguments are even more work. I have to reconstruct my faith in people, so that I can meet the kind and wonderful men in my life without wondering that maybe they think that just a little inside. And the next time I want to write a strong post on a touchy topic, I have to brace myself, because I know what it will bring, and I have to decide to do it anyway.

All of that, keeping myself steady and engaged, is work. That is the cost of not moderating, that hurt and effort. Each asshole comment may be a small cost, but the aggregate, of all the slights and for all the people who are injured (Dizzy, who hurts when she sees me attacked, and all the people who learn that if you put yourself out, you'll get slammed.) is a lot of damage to a civil community.

I've never spelled this out, because it is so obvious to me. It is obvious to anyone in a target group. The people who say "who cares what some asshole thinks" haven't had this happen to them a lot. They don't understand the way each saps you a little, and makes you do work to recover yourself. And they don't understand that it is a heavy weight, knowing that you're going to incur all that again and still deciding to do it because you have something to say.

This is the work I mean, and I have tried to find ways to point out how much it matters. I tried to find an equivalence in blogger's reluctance to moderate; maybe that is equal to the hurt not-moderating externalizes. I don't know if that equivalence is accurate, but I am sure that just like Mr. Clarke says, not-moderating pushes that work on the very people it hurts. It is unjust.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

As usual,

I agree with Chris Clarke:
There is an odd conceit in the blogging world that deletion of bad-faith comments is a violation of the rights of the hater. Even when the point of the comment is expressly to disrupt, to inflame and derail, the canonical response is not to simply delete the comment, but rather to warn commenters against “feeding the troll.” Thus the blogger’s responsibility for maintaining the community of the site, his or her responsibility to refrain from publishing hate speech and slander (which is in fact what allowing such comments to remain live on one’s blog amounts to) is externalized. As are so many other externalized evils in this world, the people most likely to be harmed by an act of bad faith are the ones saddled with the task of minimizing the effects of that bad faith act. Who is most likely to be harmed by a comment such as the one I deleted from the spam queue last night? Well, Muslims, for starters, and people whose loves include Muslims, and people longing for justice and a cessation of racism. And there are those who find unpleasant the pissing matches that usually arise from such posts. And those who prefer not to comment when the response might be a nasty slam made in bad faith. And those of us who may not mind the provocateurs, but who would benefit from hearing the points of view of those remaining silent.

The usual reply — one usually made by the people being banned for making bad-faith comments — is that such “censorship” results in a blog becoming little more than an echo chamber. But go stand at your local Echo Point and determine which mode of talk raises more echoes: conversation, or shouting? The best, most thorough discussions and airing of differences take place in venues where comment vandals are absent. When trolls and thugs are allowed free reign, that is when the echoes ring out, when peoples’ skin gets so thin that a mere untutored question or a legitimate piece of dissent or criticism is taken for just another sample of the background noise of trolling.

Despite the protests, it is not that hard to separate the sheep from the goats. Thoughtful disagreement, even when frustrated or angry, is wholly different from bad-faith argument. A community in which members have made a baseline commitment to respecting the humanity and intelligence of others is a different animal than an echo chamber.

Maybe it’s my background in print, where one must make an affirmative decision to print a vindictive or slanderous letter to the editor. I recognize that not everyone online feels those same rules apply. I recognize in fact that many bloggers would fight like hell to keep from being considered ultimately responsible for the comments left on their sites, and further that there are some extremely good reasons for feeling that way. Enshrine this sort of thing in the law, and what was responsibility for allowing hate speech becomes liability for infringement when a commenter posts song lyrics or an AP photo. I’m not advocating setting legal precedent here.

But there is no such thing as not making a decision. To hold to a policy that all comments remain (or that only the worst repeat offenders are banned after abundant complaint, or if a pre-defined set of magic hate words is used) is to decide against participation by those who are intimidated or annoyed into silence. It is to decide that the comment vandals are of higher value to you than are the thoughtful and hesitant, or that — at the very least — your desire to think yourself a defender of comment freedom is more important than the freedom to comment of those who prefer not to be set upon by trolls.

I am reassured by the company I keep on this.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Just like The Secret.

Every now and then I give up sugar for the month. I am embarrassed I do this, because is it such a cliche among my people. But I like the way it resets my sweet tooth much lower, and I feel calmer when I don't eat sugar, and I like the simple decision rule (um, no cane sugar). 'No sugar this month' is the only way to handle December, for example*. A few days into 'No sugar', I don't miss it, stop wanting it at all.

Unless I eat sugar by mistake. If I get a little sugar, the desire for more comes flooding back; I want cake and cookies and other kinds of cookies, with some ice cream too. My friend who has been off sugar for years says that that is the primary way he knows when he got some (in otherwise savory sauces, for example), that he all of a sudden craves dessert again. I decided that sugar calls to sugar.

I'm also deciding that anger calls to anger. This is obvious, and one mechanism for why commenters look like the blogger, and something we see all the time. It surprises me, like many obvious things do, because lots of times I encounter anger, register it as anger and don't have any strong reaction to that at all. ('Cause, like, I'm secure about whatever that issue was.) But here it is. I felt anger, and wrote it up. People who are angry found it and got triggered by that and not the rest of the stuff I write here. They returned it and more, listing old anger trigger points.

But it is ever true. What you put out is what you get back. This works in reverse, too. This is fine. It is better than fine when you are putting out love and acceptance. But the flood of angry comments is inevitable when you're working with people who aren't practiced in recognizing and stepping outside that cycle. I'll likely still do it, if I think the content aside from anger is interesting. But I need to remember how people react and decide that experiencing that response is worth it.

*Should December offer me a rare treat (like good marzipan with good dark chocolate), I take it, using Mel's rule: when you make exceptions, don't make excuses.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

What should I wear!?!

I CAN'T BELIEVE I FORGOT TO TELL YOU! Dude! I've known for weeks, been nearly frantic with anticipation and excitement! Tonight is the night! Tonight, my loneliness ends and my dream begins! That's, like, a bummer for you, because I'm going to have to end the blog and stuff, but tonight my prince and I will start on happily ever after. Tonight! Tonight I will be IN THE SAME ROOM as Darrell Steinberg.

I've told you before how Darrell and I were meant to be, how we have something between us that he hasn't felt with any other constituent. Or with me. Yet. BUT HE WILL! Tonight! I'll be at a dinner and DARRELL will be speaking! I could die of happiness, just thinking about it. DARRELL, speaking! On WATER! Ohmigod.

I haven't decided how to approach him. Maybe there won't be a decision; the force of our connection will pull us together like very strong magnets. I might have to start it though. I'm thinking I'll just mouth the words "I love you" whenever he looks my way during his speech. Is that over the top? Surely he already knows! I told him, in all those letters I've written to him! But I have to do something.

I actually talked to a couple of Darrell's staffers a few months back. I thanked them for some legislation he introduced and after we'd been chatting a bit, I admitted my love for Darrell. "Yeah," said one. "We hear that a lot." WHAT? THOSE WHORES! Who are they? They better not be there tonight, is what I'm saying. And if they are, they better not stand between me and Darrell. That would not be a safe place for them to stand. No one wants an incident, but I'm saying it could be dangerous for them, to stand between me and Darrell.

Anyway, I guess I should say goodbye to y'all. 'Cause I can't have a blog when I am the wife of a politician. Think of the scandal! Sorry this is so abrupt. I should have warned you. But I know you want me to be happy, and the inevitable is finally close. I wish you all the happiness in the world. Well, less happiness than Darrell and I will have, but that's still a lot of happiness. Good luck! Have fun! Take care!

UPDATE: I am despondent. He wasn't there. He had a family emergency or something. This is unspeakable tragedy. I was seated two feet from his podium. It would have been such a simple matter to interrupt his speech, take the microphone and propose to him. He couldn't say no in front of everyone, right? But he wasn't there. My hopes, dashed again! I suffer so.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Who do I write to?

Back when I was wondering whether I am strong, Noel linked to this set of Weightlifting Performance Standards. I look at them a lot now, trying to place myself. I figure the line for 181 pounds is closest. I swore when I quit tkd that I would never weigh myself again, but my offseason weight was 167 (inseason, I starved to get down to 154). I have to figure I'm higher than my offseason college weight.

As always, I studied the women's standards pretty hard. Especially deadlift. I seem to be a promising deadlifter, which I will brag about next week after we know how much I can lift. So I'm looking at the women's standards and trying to figure out where I fit and what they mean. It probably took me a week or so to look up at the men's standards, but when I did I got PISSED.

Are you fucking kidding me? With relatively little training, men in my weight class can lift ONE HUNDRED POUNDS MORE THAN ME? Just a few months in, y'all can lift 274 lbs to a woman's 174? 57% more? A HUNDRED POUNDS? Are you fucking kidding? That much more? I had no idea. You guys are that much stronger? Serious? I got genuinely angry. I still am. I didn't know, and it is so UNFAIR.

I tried to think for a while why I didn't know men were half again as strong as women. I just never knew the gap was that big. I decided it was because I've never done a sport where that kind of difference showed up. In tkd we did a speed drill where you try to do as many kicks per minute. I was slowest on the team, at 104 kicks per minute, but the fastest person was only at 111. That isn't half again as fast. It is just a little faster. Sure, men do push-ups easier, but then you're doing your own push-ups and you can't tell how different the push-ups feel to the doer. When I was working out with the men's baseball team, they could throw the medicine balls further, but they weren't throwing them half again as far. They were only throwing them fifteen percent further. And I was doing as many crunches with forty pound plates as they were. In Ultimate, men are faster, but they aren't fifty-seven percent faster. If we raced the speedsters, the guy would lead, but not by fifty yards.

I had no idea men were that much stronger. I am so pissed. I thought they were a little stronger. Twenty percent stronger. Not sixty percent stronger. That is so jacked. No wonder y'all can't design equipment to be picked up and used with a reasonable amount of strength. You can't calibrate. That means you don't realize that things are heavy, two full grocery bags, a box of paper. They take work to move, and you don't even know that. It is hard to turn that stuck wrench. You are so spoiled. So much stuff must be easier, all the time.

This applies less to me, 'cause I am strong. But I'm coming up hard against an unfairness I had always underestimated. It fucking sucks. I didn't sign up for that much sexual dimorphism. I only grudgingly accepted a little bit of it. I can close the gap between me and you untrained sloths. And I can still kick your asses. But ONE HUNDRED POUNDS MORE? After barely any work? Motherfuckers. I'm glaring at you, pissed.

NEW FRIENDS! Welcome. My comment policy is a little unusual. I ask that your comments be AFFIRMATIVELY KIND to me and everyone in the comment section here. That means nicer than neutral. I can see how this would surprise you, contrasted with such a righteous post, but please either find a friendly tone or leave unfriendly comments in the blog you came from. Once you do that, though, we're delighted you are here and anxious to learn your thoughts. Thanks lots. (If you stick around, you'll get used to it.)

AFFIRMATIVELY KIND. That means not cleverness and not pleased-at-my-expense. You are not obligated to comment if you do not want to be KIND.

Regular commenters, what an exciting opportunity for you to practice socializing your peers! In, literally, the nicest possible way.

UPDATE 2: I'm deleting unkind comments, or this policy doesn't mean anything. I won't host that much hostility. I am sorry to erase your other content, and I hope that you will post it again, without snark behind it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This is where you come in...

I'm trying to work on a chapter of my report for my boss on Los Osos, only, like, I keep not doing it. Which is fully lame, because I wake up thinking about what I need to write next, and I have the position I'm going to take, the structure, the quotes that support it, all of it all laid out in my brain. But then, I keep... not doing it. It seems I need encouragement. It is also lame that I need encouragement here, since I set up a whole other blog to get encouragement for exactly this. But I haven't posted there in months and now I am too embarrassed to return to there without some good shit. I even have some good shit written, but then I need a more complete version to excuse all those months of abandonment. I don't even want to relay the snippets of interesting things that are happening, because, like, I owe you more. And I don't want to give you expectations, given that I didn't live up to them last time.

So, like, I need encouragement. I don't need scolding; I scold myself all the time. It is like being back in grad school, the way I get mad at myself for every evening I don't work on it, and every morning I don't get up at six and spend two hours on it before work. Awesome. I am doomed to relive grad school in my heart forever.

So here's the deal. I am going to leave the internets and go write that chapter for a while. I'll check back in, and you will have said sweet, supportive things, OK? Thanks in advance. Y'all rock.

(Also, don't go over the top and get all gushy. And you have to pretend that it is authentic; with all the potential responses in the world, you just happened to choose encouragement today. And you can't make me feel guilty for not posting on the other blog for months, even though you were interested and disappointed I dropped it. It takes a little finesse, but someone with your skills can totally pull it off.)

Writing daily, before the likes of us.

Jon Carroll's column this morning is great. His columns are often solid, and occasionally great. Another of his great ones. He really is brilliant with the "mimic but twist" piece. Those are a favorite of mine, too. Once you've picked a form to copy and the joke that twists it, they just write themselves.

(There's another I would like to link, but can't find because he is a columnist and not a blogger so I can't search for the phrases I remember. If I find it later, I'll link it and erase this.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Yay CalTrans!

According to the email I got:
This bridge is on the Old Donner Pass Highway. It has spectacular Sierra views and views of Donner Lake and Donner Pass on Route 80.

A bear was walking across Rainbow Bridge (Old Hwy 40 at Donner Summit,Truckee) on Saturday when two cars also crossing the bridge scared the bear into jumping over the edge of the bridge.

Somehow the bear caught the ledge and was able to pull itself to safety. Authorities decided that nothing could be done to help Saturday night so they returned Sunday morning to find the bear sound asleep on the ledge.

After securing a net under the bridge the bear was tranquilized, fell into the net, lowered, then woke up and walked out of the net.


I didn’t want to leave Chris’s house all weekend. For the first time in many years, Chris isn’t living in a beatdown rigged-up shamble of a group house. As you may have guessed from the view, he’s renting a room in a gorgeous house up in the Berkeley hills. This weekend was a rare occasion, where I am reminded that money could buy you a really nice way to live. A way to live that would always be so beautiful that it is constantly worth the money.

I tend to discount a lot of the options a lot of money would bring me. For now, the combination of medium income and low demands gives me a very high quality of life. My house is little and just right; I don’t have to work long hours to support it. I don’t trust that expensive houses are worth working hard for; some are, but some are poorly-designed, wrong-scaled monstrosities. Some are beautiful, great spaces, but my sister and I have exactly the same reaction to a big house. We walk by those gorgeous old mansions and our shoulders sag at the thought of keeping one up. We haven’t internalized the notion of paying someone to do that, so just the thought of the work of a big house is a burden. (Remember that we grew up in a much bigger house than the ones we’re in now, although still no mansion. Not worth it.)

But Chris’s place reminded me that you could have a right-sized house, and for a lot of money it could have a view that always makes everything better. Money can buy access that kind of beauty. Oh man, tasteful money is so nice. I’ve seen that before, in Westport, CT. Westport is rich, rich, rich. I’ve been in super-rich neighborhoods out here, but Westport was different because nothing was ugly. Nothing was ugly, anywhere. No overbuilt yucky houses. No tacky signs, anywhere. No bad choices of font, no cheap lights glaring, no blocks with one building that you had to overlook, no sea of parking that kills a street. Nothing anywhere was ugly. I don’t know how they pulled that off. Money alone doesn’t do it. But if someone can enforce the good taste, you can pay for it with money. The result just resonates, feels natural and soothing and right. Coming out of it reminds you that it sucks to have ugliness flashed at you, that you’re constantly screening it out.

At Chris’s place nothing is ugly and you get a huge dose of beauty every time you look out. It was utterly compelling and I stayed and stayed. If I got used to it, I would start to covet and re-think trade-offs.

I ride like an eagle soaring on thermal updrafts...

I stayed at Chris’s last night, and am writing you from the train to Sac. I got the good set-up; a most excellent scone, coffee in my adorable mug, a seat at a table with an outlet, listening to music. Lots of smiley smart looking guys on the morning commuter train, which I’d never taken before. One locked his bike to mine because the regular bike racks were full. I trust that Clara is whispering suggestions to his bike right now.

I rode my bike down from Chris’s house in the hills, blowing 700 feet of potential energy in one twenty minute ride. It was great. Anand rode his bike across the country and said that he ended up liking climbing the Rockies better than gliding down them. I don’t understand how a seemingly bright guy can be so wrong, but there it is. He’ll probably post about that. I am back on Clara these days because Princess got two flats simultaneously, on the railroad tracks. Stupid skinny tires. I’ll fix those as soon as I find out from Sage what size tubes I need. It is just as well; I’m not ready to ride Princess on hills yet.

My love for Clara is verging on the bike mysticism with the swirly eyes that coalesce into heart-shaped pupils. I have manfully resisted writing about it, because there’s no point. If you ride your bike a lot, you already feel it. If you don’t ride, it will sound implausible and like bike-proselytizing. So I can’t really tell you about it, how good and comforting and uplifting it feels to ride, and how I get that feeling several times a day. Every time I go some place, in fact. I will say, though, that I don’t think I am especially prone to loving a machine or a means of transportation. So if I can get the bike-love, I think anyone who switched to a bike could get the bike-love (provided that she has safe enough streets that she isn’t always riding scared).

So anyway: bikes, RAH! Trains, RAH! Scones, RAH! Writing to you while traveling, RAH! I’m still really happy with my no-car choice.