Monday, October 15, 2018

Addressing the Pipe Dream

No. We can't terraform Mars. We can't even keep our own planet livable. Why the hell do idiots think we can make a hostile environment accepting of our limitations? It's bullcrap. Total bullcrap. Mars is utterly inimical to life. It is cold almost beyond comprehension. It is magnitudes more arid than the most inhospitable desert on Earth. The soil is toxic. That's right--the freaking soil is poisonous. Mars also has only 1% of our atmospheric pressure, and it has no magnetic field to protect life from solar and cosmic radiation. The idea of creating a comfortable and inviting environment on a cold, arid, dead, poisonous, inhospitable chunk of barren rock is fantasy. Not science-fiction, but fantasy.
Hell...we can't even get there. The nations who could try are so impoverished from feeding their wealth to the privileged elite that there are no funds to even develop and initiate a system by which we could send humans to Mars.
The whole scheme is worse than a drug-induced hallucination.


Mars. Where it's so cold that CO2 freezes into a solid. Yeah...people are going to live there.


Monday, October 08, 2018

Opportunity Missed

When I was a younger man I went out of my way three times to meet Ray Bradbury. I won't belabor the obvious again, but it was Bradbury's magic touch of poetic emotion that took me on journeys to hear him speak and to share a few words with him.

But, on one of those occasions (in 1986) I was surprised to find that another guest at the writers gathering was L. Sprague deCamp. As with Bradbury's fiction, I had grown up reading the stories of deCamp. In fact, his stories probably influenced me more than those of Bradbury. He was--to my way of thinking, these days--a finer and more accomplished author than Bradbury.

But, although I had many a chance that long weekend, I never once talked with deCamp and only went to hear him speak a single time, and that one on a panel with Bradbury in attendance. And, of course, the fans showered the lovable Ray with questions and attention, and barely paid deCamp any mind whatsoever. So he had only a slice of opportunity to speak and to impart his accumulated years of authorial wisdom.

One thing that I remember about him in that panel is that he was dressed like some kind of European out to explore Africa (this was in super-hot and humid Atlanta, after all). He was wearing khaki shorts and shirt and even had (at least this is how I remember it) a pith helmet. In my now forty-year-old memories, deCamp was a small man, and his wife accompanied him everywhere. Whenever I saw him, there she was. Catherine Crook was an amazing woman and writer herself. I later found out that he only survived her by six months in the year 2000 when they both died at the age of 92.

There are many stories by Bradbury that entranced me as a kid. But I can say the same of deCamp, even if only a few of his yarns come to the fore of my aging brain. It was mainly his greater body of work that left a stamp on the gray matter, rather than many individual tales.

But two of his short works that I read as a child are foremost in my mind and I think of them often, even when I'm not writing. They are "The Gnarly Man", and "Living Fossil". The first deals with the immortality of a Neanderthal and the deceit of modern humans; and the latter with human extinction and the rise of a species of South American monkey that rules the planet. I cannot stress to people how important these stories have been to me over the years. They are both based on themes that have always fascinated me and which influence my thinking practically, scientifically, politically, and philosophically. And neither of them seems to have any overt reason for existing on any of those points, except peripherally. And therein lies the mark of a truly talented author.

I have replayed my near-encounter with deCamp for decades. Of course I wish that I had spoken to him, if only to tell him that his stories and novels meant a great deal to me. That would have been enough. But, of course, I did not do that. I was there to meet the treacly Ray Bradbury, and that is what I did.

One thing that remains stuck in my mind is that during the panel--after the fans had ignored him for long minutes--deCamp finally got a chance to get a word in and he referred to Bradbury as his "competitor". At the time I thought that was a poor choice of term and that he probably meant "colleague". These days, I know better. He meant what he said. And these days I am sad because in just straight terms of drooling, vacuous puppy love, Bradbury won that sad competition.

Of course I also realize that deCamp wasn't a contestant in that kind of race. All he wanted to do was produce fine work. Let the gawkers have their hero-worship. I'll just stand aside and admire L. Sprague deCamp.

L. Sprague deCamp and Catherine Crook.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Idiocy Beyond Description

I joined and was visiting a National Park fan site. After a short while a large percentage of the members began advocating for the privatization of our National Parks. I left and erased the board from my computer. You can't argue with that kind of stupidity. And I am just weary of even seeing such insanity.

I descend Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. March, 2005 just after a heavy snowfall.


One morning on Pray Lake in Glacier National Park, August 2015.

Friday, September 07, 2018

OZARK

One thing that I do like about modern television is the diversity of material available via cable and satellite. There are all kinds of crazy things that one could only dream about in the days when a few networks controlled the medium and social norms limited what could be created.

A series I watched last year and am currently enjoying is OZARK. A project of Jason Bateman, it's pretty darned good. It stars Bateman as Marty Byrde, an accountant who got mixed up with a Mexican drug cartel and who was plunged into a seat-of-the-pants scheme so that he could save himself and his family from execution by that same cartel. Laura Linney co-stars as his wife. I generally have not liked her performances in the past, no matter the project. But someone realized that her often false and wooden portrayals would work perfectly as Marty Byrde's wife, Wendy. And they were right--it does work. It's the first time I've actually appreciated her acting.


Bateman and Linney as the Byrdes.

But the supporting cast is what stands out to me, even shining through a largely contrived plot that often pulls tricks out of its ass (such as a minor character having the key to dealing with the Kansas City mob). It's hard to pick out which supporting cast member is turning in the finest job, and I find that I cannot play favorites on that point, so I won't even try, and will instead just go down the list.

Julia Garner is an actress of whom I had never heard. She portrays a white trash youngster who is directionless until she falls into the web spun by Marty Byrde. Under his wing she discovers that she has scheming talents she didn't realize. Uglied up beyond belief, there was something about her that I found beautiful, and when I finally saw photos of her without the horrible makeup, clothing, and hair--I have to admit that I was not surprised to discover that she is, indeed, quite beautiful. I don't know where she learned to do her southern accent, but it is spot-on perfect. Stunning, actually. Because I figured her for a born southerner.

Julia Garner as Ruth Langhorne. What a great performance!

Lisa Emery portrays Darlene Snell, a kind of monster and the co-owner of a heroin-producing outfit that she runs with her husband. Again, she comes off as a truly hideous person, both physically and (often) personally. And once more I was a bit surprised to find that underneath that bare, horrid character is another beautiful woman. She nails the creature so artfully that it has risen to the surface to hide her true self.

Lisa Emery as Darlene Snell. Don't worry, she looks at everyone that way. Whether she's marked them for death, or not.

Jason Butler Harner plays the sadistic FBI agent Roy Petty who is completely and utterly obsessed with nailing Marty Byrde as the laundry man for the drug cartel profits. I had previously seen his work in two films--The Changeling (directed by Clint Eastwood), and Kill the Irishman. In the former he was, as here, an obsessed and irredeemable monster, and turned in an unappreciated job as that vile creature. His turn as agent Petty is as a gay but totally psychotic bastard who can, and does, break all of the rules to catch his target. As in The Changeling wherein he played a pedophile serial killer, he is completely easy to hate.

Jason Butler Harner as douchebag FBI agent Petty.
Peter Mullan is an actor I must have seen previously because I have watched some of the movies in which he appeared. But in none of these was he so prominent. In Ozark he is Jacob Snell, the head man in the heroin outfit that he operates from his land holding in the wilderness on his property. A gruff, bearded, good old boy with a soul-killing gaze and the temperament to slaughter anyone who gets in his way, he is the voice and face of the wolf running point at the head of the pack. 

Peter Mullan as Jacob Snell

Pretty much all of the acting in this series is far beyond average. The scripts are excellent ,with the exceptions of reliance on fantastic chance from time to time. Still, it's classic pulp fiction, so you have to expect that kind of thing. What I did not expect was a series to be so uniformly excellent. But I find that I'm often being surprised by such developments from cable and satellite offerings these days.

Oh, yeah. You can watch this on Netflix.




Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Rock Creek Recreation Area Campground Review.

A brief review of the Rock Creek Recreation Area campground.

This was our second trip to this campground and recreation area. Located near Erwin, Tennessee, it's one of the finest National Forest campgrounds we've ever visited. The sites are room and almost all of them are surrounded by big trees and are very shady. The sites have electric, but no water hookups. You can fill your onboard tank from water spigots throughout the campground loops, or from a potable water hose near the dump station.

On this trip we were hampered by very heavy rains for the first two days. Drenching downpours of steady precipitation that dumped about four inches of rain over two days. It kept us from doing much in the way of outdoor activities so we ended up exploring nearby historical sites which is something we try to do anyway. And this area has quite a lot see in that respect. So we were not bored.

Each campground loop has its own bathhouse. Each house has a men's and women's section, and each section has a toilet stall, a sink, and a shower stall. The showers were good with excellent water pressure and warm water.

There is a good amphitheater where entertainment or ranger talks are sometimes held, but nothing was planned there during this stay. The last time we were there we listened to excellent bluegrass music being performed.

There is a ridiculous wealth of hiking to be done from, and around, the campground. Waterfalls seem to be almost everywhere. Even though the rain kept us from doing as much as we wanted, we still had a great time, and it remains one of the best National Forest campgrounds we've ever visited.

The campsites are very roomy and private. Lots of trees and shrubs separate you from most of your neighbors.

We opted not to use our awning because it was raining so hard the first two days we were there. The rain was so severe that we didn't want to risk damaging the awning.

We love these little kiosks. It allows us to put our camp stove under cover where we can cook, and also store items safe from the rain. We prefer to cook outside even though our Casita has a stove.

This is the last time we'll use our old-style picnic shelter. We're going to buy one of the modern Clam-type shelters this month and donate this old clunker to Goodwill. It works well, but is a pain to erect.

This is the campground bathhouse. There is one of these on each of the three loops. Each bathhouse has a men and women's restroom, each with a toilet, sink, and one shower stall.

Big bathrooms, but only one of each stall. Could be problematic when the campground is crowded.

The showers use two pressure buttons to turn on the water. The water does not stay on very long (maybe 20 seconds) before you have to press the buttons again. Two nozzles, upper and lower. The water pressure was good and the water was warm, but not hot.
When the CCC built this pond it was a bit larger. It was also much deeper--eight feet. Stream fed, with a little cascade tumbling into the pond. It also used to have a diving platform. However, later administrators decided to reduce the depth to only four feet and to remove the diving platform. Lawsuits, I suppose. It's a very nice pond where you can take the kids wading and go swimming. Lots of space to lounge on the shore and to picnic if you wish.

Not as deep as it used to be, but still a fine place to pay and relax.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Another Trip to Rock Creek!

We're just back from a trip to Rock Creek Recreation Area near Erwin, TN. It remains one of our all-time favorite National Forest campgrounds. However, this trip was tempered with torrential rainfalls, and the fact that our formerly reliable truck suffered an engine-destroying event that ended with us having to be towed back home from Tennessee.

Still, we managed to have a good time and we made more good memories than bad ones.


Easy fords became tough barriers.

Upper Rock Creek Falls, the goal of my hike.

The view at "the Beauty Spot" on Unaka Mountain Road.

Our campsite.


I had to wait a day for water levels to subside to make the hike after three days of torrential rains.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cardinal Grateful

Years ago when I was a letter carrier for USPS I went into an old two-story apartment quad. On the second floor there was a female cardinal that had gotten trapped inside. She had been flying into the window so many times she'd worn a patch of feathers off of her head. (I noted that her skin under the feathers is black.) I carried a towel with me and was able to toss it over her. Then I carefully carried her in my hands, shouldered the door open, and released her. I recall a man walking past as I opened my hands and she took to the skies. He kind of just stood there and gawked.

For the next half an hour or so she followed me down the street, landing on twigs and tree limbs whenever I stopped. I paused a few times to talk to her. I have never had any doubt that she was thanking me.


Not the cardinal I rescued, but one in the backyard of the condo where we lived in Matthews.