Wading in a pool of abstraction © Robert Sommers 2023

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reckoning Day

Woman at the Well © Rick Griffin Estate
Is there anything heavier than the weight of a pen, on the thirtieth or thirty first of the month, not to mention the odd february? Today was the day that I, like most americans, dive into the big stack of bills. Bit of triage really, mortgage first, then utilities and credit cards, the medical bills a reminder of darker times and seem to get put in the when I have more money pile. Never enough money to mail everything.

I have a familiar chair I sit in and a system of organized groups and stacks and the weight of the undertaking usually seems to burn a big chunk of the day. Of course in the old days bills came once a month, now I have a few oddballs that I have to put out on the 19th or the 25th and I get to prolong the agony.


Kerry and Jasmine just spent fifteen days in Yellowstone. They are both professional photographers long active in the National Park system and my oldest hiking buddies. They called last week and said animal sightings were very sparse, a couple golden eagles, buffalo and elk. He says, in jest, that they tidied up the place real good, killing all the critters off and all.

Yesterday he and Jasmine saw a mama and baby grizzly bear fighting off five wolves in an argument over ownership of an elk carcass. He was in Hayden Valley, site of the unfortunate recent bear eats man killing. Don't believe that he was close enough for a decent shot of the altercation but I bet it was incredible.  Saw the hyenas going after thousands of wildebeest in the Serengeti and you never forget such a thing. When I was in the Masai Mara I discovered that my hut had been used a few months prior by a lion, who smashed through the window and leisurely ate a zebra on my bed, while the previous occupant ensconsed himself in the bathroom. I slept with an eye open after that. I hope to digitize my africa slides this year and share them with you.


I am judging a small painting show at Pinnell Gallery. The opening is the tenth of this month. I just went through the entrants on my first pass and there is some very promising work. I really enjoy judging and will be critiquing individual work by request at the opening.


I don't want to hex anything but I feel like a have a tailwind for the first time in ages. I had wondered if I was ever going to see the fruit of my efforts again but have been blessed with exceedingly good fortune of late. We all have to win occasionally, don't we? Take it as it comes and as Jerry G. once said, "Keep the mother rolling..."

Even planning a much needed visit to see my mother. Been several years.


A friend who shall go nameless had sort of a pain in the ass travel companion on a journey recently. Wasn't getting it, wasn't prepared, processed aloud, just grated a little bit. He loves the person but things could have been better.

We all process differently. On my trip to Africa, many moons ago, a man who had been on the identical safari the year prior kept giving us blow by blow descriptions about what we were about to see. I finally cornered him and angrily sputtered,"Pretend you have never been here before," an inch from throttling him.


My wife and I have an issue regarding time. I believe that I am a planner. (she just read this and says I am certainly not. She says that I merely think I am a planner.) I have a punctuality obsession. She is often times late and seems to have a more difficult time managing or legislating time than I do. But the reality is that this is my problem and not hers, she could frankly care less. Her family seems to all have the same time gene and she is comfortable with it. I was talking about it with a buddy today and I said something that he thought I should write down: She is living every moment - I am always waiting for the next one.


Antarctic storm bringing big waves to San Diego this weekend, possible ten footers on southwest facing beaches. Major south to north rips. Have fun but be careful!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Danger Mouse

I heard this on the radio this morning and it knocked me out.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Hijinx

So there I am at the new Whole Foods in Encinitas, minding my own business, when the new age do-gooder decides to stick her nose in. I was finishing up a little private conversation with the cheesemeister regarding the relative merits of the domestic and french (non-pasteurized) cantal when Miss Priss opens her yap.

"You don't have any smoked duck breast, do ya?" I asked the young steward of fromage. "No", he tells me, "but I'll put in on my list." I tell him that it still causes me pain that Whole Foods has stopped carrying the duck legs confit, which they once carried as a twofer and then a three pack and was a staple of our young urban professional diet. "Corporate decided they didn't like the way they were treating the ducks," he lets on.

I guess I chortled and then Miss Buttinski let me have it with her two cents worth. "It's just awful how they force feed those poor ducks." I winced and corrected her. "That's fois gras lady, these canards are merely rendered in their own fat."

She sniffed at me in her know nothing condescending way and I was starting to get steamed, like the whole tilapia fish in garlic at my favorite dim sum restaurant, Jasmine. "You think those chickens you eat are on some kind of honeymoon, sister? The cow in the feedlot ain't on its way to any picnic either."

She gave me that superior North County coastal look and let on that she doesn't eat any red meat.

"Well it's no honeymoon for the fish either, I got news for you,"I tells her.

"They're a lower life form, not a mammal,"she intoned. I thought about letting on that neither was a duck but I had invested far too much time already with this paragon of human virtue and kept my mouth shut. But I finally couldn't resist zapping her with my hole card.

"You ever read the Secret Life of Plants (1973 - Tompkins and Byrd)? Scientists attach metering devices to plants and send a control group through. One scientist kills a plant. A bunch of people subsequently parade past the plants. The plant murderer comes in the room and the poor flora have a collective heart attack. If you had a heart you'd stop eating salad. Plants have feelings too, you know?"

At this point the broad decided to ignore me. Last thing I knew I watched the self described vegetarian eating a free piece of salami, offered by the deli man. I am not too proud to admit that I might have publicly called her out on her carnivorous indiscretion.


My friend Brett came late to smoking, taking the nasty habit up on the wrong side of fifty. Brett's back is in sad shape and the new orthopod says that if he gives up the nicotine it will improve the chances for a successful surgery by forty per cent.

Brett has tried patches and gum and tapering but is having a tough go stopping.

"I know," I offered. "Every time you want a smoke, drop your pants, take matters in hand and pleasure yourself instead. Substitute a different pleasure response for that marlboro buzz. Basic Skinnerian behavior modification. Might need to exercise a little discretion, depending on your geographic locale."

He looked at me and deadpanned,"Won't work. I always have to have a cigarette after I have sex."



Maurice Braun

I haven't had a working website for my gallery for about a year. I have had three in the last 15 years but they really didn't serve my purposes very well and I have been remiss at crafting another.

I rarely use the Blast to promote my business but want to kvell about a very special painting I bought recently during my travels and will make an exception.

This is a 25 x 30" painting by the dean of all San Diego painters, Maurice Braun (1877-1941). Braun, born in Hungary, came to San Diego from New York, where he had lived since the age of four. He studied at the National Academy and then under William Merritt Chase. He had a desire to escape portraiture and paint the wide open spaces and moved to San Diego in 1909.

This painting, in impeccable shape and with its original frame, stands up in my opinion, with the best paintings the artist has ever painted. The composition and care is impeccable. The sycamore trees introduce a cool fully lit chroma into the warm afternoon landscape. I could make a reasonable case for the painting either being painted at Lake Hodges or Lake Henshaw.

If you appreciate California impressionism at its best and have an opportunity, I invite you to stop by the gallery and see this painting before it is sold.

Painting shot outdoors in the shade.

Trojan Horse

It has been nice for me to take a minor break from the blog. I had been writing at a slightly frenetic pace and have been feeling a little burned out lately. I feel like a jackdaw sometimes, it is so easy to reflexively caw at the steady stream of lunacy in our lives. Unfortunately, nothing ever really changes, the sides have long been drawn and there are no likely conversions on either side.

Of course, we are going into an election season and things are probably only going to get worse. Rick Perry says it is about jobs, jobs, jobs. Those with a memory will remember that that was the mantra in the midterms as well, then the new republican representatives and governors set their sight on the real agenda, going after abortion rights and DOMA. A real trojan horse if you ask me. Those that believe the next election is simply about the economy do so at their peril.

An interesting article in HuffPo about Perry's evangelical backers. Dr. James Leininger has led the charge to deride the historical contribution of Martin Luther King to the civil rights movement, preferring to credit any advances to the generous white majority,  and erase the contribution of Thomas Jefferson from the Texas school curriculum. Perry has signed the anti gay marriage pledge and thinks that evolution is quite the theory. Social Security is a big Ponzi scheme. Shut down the EPA. Of course if you are one of my socially liberal but votes republican buddies all of that social and environmental stuff is secondary and you will vote for Perry in any scenario if he is your party's standard bearer. And then I can say I told you so.

Anyway, there is plenty of time for me to get apoplectic. I have enjoyed the break and I hope that you have to. I will try to start digging in again as soon as I am able.


Grumpy was in New York this week to see the U.S. Open. Hope he didn't get washed away.


Deli Guy sent some neat pics from Barcelona and his introduction to Gaudi. Very jealous.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friday, August 26, 2011

Like a Hurricane, earthquake, locust or boil

Hurricane Tracker - Google Maps

Hope all of our loved ones are okay. Looks like it is petering out a bit. Maybe god isn't so mad after all!

Shmucky New York Rabbi Yehuda Levin blames last week's earthquake on gay marriage. He quotes g-d “You have shaken your shmeckel, I too shall shake the Earth.”

He says that there will be literally hell to pay for the sodomites which is a bit strange since there is no real hell in judaism, except for perhaps eating the gentile's kosher dill pickles, which come to think of it, sounds a little bit gay too.


Pat Robertson hopes that you are finally happy, now that god has decided to put a crack in the Washington Monument. Old blast readers can remember that we have been through all this before with Pat, back when Haiti made that ol' nasty deal with the devil.

“It seems to me the Washington Monument is a symbol of America’s power. It has been the symbol of our great nation. We look at the symbol and we say ‘this is one nation under God.’ Now there’s a crack in it... Is that sign from the Lord? ... You judge. It seems to me symbolic.” 
Pat Robertson

Not to be outdone in the idiot department by his lunatic religious cousins, Muslim cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi came up with this gem last year, “Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.” The message is clear, god is truly pissed and he is going to hit us where it hurts. Don't say that you haven't been warned.

A survey by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service, reported by CNN, shows that 4 in 10 Americans (38 percent) believe that earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters are a sign from God.

Glenn Beck certainly thinks so. He calls Hurricane Irene a blessing. So I guess we can surmise that the more people die, the greater god's love for us, hey Glenn. Sounds pretty old testament. You ever meet Yehuda Levin?

Rep. Eric Cantor feels that we should be able to provide disaster relief to victims of the storm's onslaught, that is as long as we can take the free milk cartons away from kids receiving school lunches on the government's dime or can kick a little senior citizen dead weight off the welfare rolls. Not a penny without reciprocal cuts. You got to love these guys. Tough love in action.

locust swarm

It Makes No Difference

"While the poor people sleeping all the stars come out at night"

Ceiling, Palazzo Hotel - Las Vegas
I have just returned from a four day holiday to Las Vegas, comped courtesy of the Venetian Hotel. Leslie had her biannual buying show for her women's clothing store, Caravan and through either a case of pure serendipity or serious demographic sleuthing, the hotel decided to give me a luxury suite gratis and enter me in a slot machine tournament. So I got to tag along and get us a free room. And it was Leslie's birthday on the 23rd so we got to be together and have a nice weekend.

I have never really played the slots in my life, looking down at them with the snobbish eye of the hardcore blackjack animal that I keep mostly restrained in a forgotten compartment of the Sommers being. I try to exercise my thinking and logic functions rather than merely irritating my ulna nerve and elbow joint, the slots being a quick avenue to carpal tunnel, bursitis a mindless, bovine activity rooted deeply in the reptilian limbic system.

Pardon my arrogance if I admit to being an exceptionally good black jack player. I was trained by my mathematician father at an early age at the Stardust. My father never lost. I occasionally do. I don't exactly play basic strategy. I have a couple basic rules of my own. I try to play with a nice, happy dealer. I always play at third base (to the far left) if I can. I try not to play at a table with too many idiots or loud, obnoxious drunks. I actually prefer to play alone. I double on more ace combinations than the book says you ought to. Rarely split nines. Mostly I play a psychic game. I was about 19 out of 20 on calling the dealer's hole card for insurance this week. The other players were amazed. I have been blessed with an exceptional memory but I don't actually count cards consciously. I feel cards.

 This was not a steller weekend for me. I had blown through two thousand in markers through a combination of sloppy play and falling victim to a surfeit of backdoor dealer 21's. I was starting to grip. My rule is that after I lose $2500, the gambling portion of the excursion is always over and I was bumping close to it. I typically play fifty dollar hands and bump my bet about every fourth hand, after a string of bad hands or when I get the "vibe". 

The place was filled with Israeli's, some of the more obnoxious world travelers one meets these days, especially when drinking. They were mostly shmatta merchants from the many fashion shows in town. Lots of South Africans as well. And the normal Vegas mix of aging cheerleaders and fat ex quarterbacks from Dubuque with the huge bellies and the barbed wire tattoos on their once large biceps.  

The Venetian is the only casino that I feel really comfortable playing in these days and I have played there exclusively since it's opening. I always play near the Grand Lux Cafe, in supervisor Frankie's section. Frankie is out for a while with foot surgery, nicest pit boss I have ever met. At 4:30 in the morning I met my match. A swarthy middle eastern man sat down next to me that smelled like he had not met our friend soap in several weeks. Black jack is hard enough to play in the best of circumstances, but doubly tough when you are holding your breath.

He was so depressed, he tried to commit suicide by inhaling next to an Armenian.
Woody Allen 

 I knew that it was time for little Robbie to admit defeat and come back to fight another day. I got to my room and my wife smiled sweetly and didn't say a word. Later she told me that she had discerned exactly what had happened and even knew the dollar amount. But she chose to be wonderful and not press.

The next day I skipped the incredible spa and hit the tables around nine in the morning and played all day, with one sweet bulgarian dealer. I grinded and grinded and finally went past even mid afternoon and said over. No point chancing again on a weekend when fate seemed to be conspiring.  


The slot tournament was kind of cool. We got grouped into several sections. Met the law dean at Texas Wesleyan, a Columbia Law graduate who was a very neat guy. You show up for three ten minute sessions and keep hitting the button like a research chimp trying to get another cigarette.

It came real easy at first. I got four series of blazing 7's in a row and posted an 11k my first trip up to bat. Ditto the second round, posted 10+. This was going to be easy, I was near top ten out of the 3 or 4 hundred entrants, just needed a decent finish and the $7500 was mine. Of course I fell on my ass. Ended up 67th and won a hundred dollars of slot credits. Better than a poke in the eye with the proverbial sharp stick, as they say.


The Canyon Ranch Spa was always incredible but has got even better since the Palazzo expansion. I got my robe and sandals and first headed for the steam bath, then the Jacuzzi. I segued over to the sauna and then into something new for me, the igloo, or ice cave. This was very cool, literally, a cold mist and you could dial in one of three aromas. Also checked out the experimental rain room with its variety of downpours. Worked out in the gym and laid out by the pool, which was hotter than hell, even at six o'clock in the evening.


We ate very well as always, the highlight being our meal at our favorite, Valentino's. Not the grill, the real restaurant in the back. Leslie had the six course chef extravaganza with blood orange lobster tail, duck prosciutto, medallions of venison amongst over culinary delights. I had lamb osso bucco and a mushroom flan. Couldn't eat another bit.

I was bummed to learn that my favorite favorite, Rosemary's, closed down last month.

For her birthday we went to Origin India, my wife's favorite. We got garlic naan, basmati and da'al. I had vegetable samosas and a kebab platter. Leslie had tandoori shrimp and her favorite martini, with muddled basil, anise, mint and fennel, apple and lemon over Absolute, garnished with purple basil. I have trouble with Indian, my body doesn't tolerate garam masala but it was her birthday and I wanted to be a good sport. The meal was good, the service was slow and terrible.

Mon cheri, raison d'etre

Leslie got done with her business at the Off-Price, WIN and Magic Shows and we headed for home. The external thermometer read 120° when we left, the news announcing a heat record for that day in history. We drove by the exit for Death Valley on the freeway and it seemed rather cool and frosty by comparison.


Now I am back, not substantially poorer and hopefully no worse for wear. I am breaking through my blog doldrums and will hopefully be back to full blather in no time. Peace.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Morning Laff

Bob DeGoff sent this one over:

Officer Frazer inspects the haul
The day after his wife disappeared in a kayaking accident, an Anchorage man answered his door to find two grim-faced Alaska State Troopers.
"We're sorry Mr. Wilkens, but we have some information about your wife," said one trooper.
"Tell me! Did you find her?" Wilkens shouted.
The troopers looked at each other. One said, "We have some bad news, some good news, and some really great news. Which do you want to hear first?"
Fearing the worst, an ashen Mr. Wilkens said, "Give me the bad news first."
The trooper said, "I'm sorry to tell you, sir, but this morning we found your wife's body in Kachemak Bay."
"Oh no!" exclaimed Wilkens. Swallowing hard, he asked, "and what's the good news?"
The trooper continued, "When we pulled her up, she had a dozen 25 pound king crabs and 6 good-size Dungeness crabs clinging to her, and we feel you are entitled to a share in the catch."
Stunned, Mr. Wilkens demanded, "If that's the good news, what's the great news?"
The trooper said, "We're going to pull her up again tomorrow."

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tony Rice - Nine Pound Hammer

Not syncopated but very nice nonetheless.

Flotsam and jetsam

I woke up slightly terrified the other morning. I had that temporary shiver when I realized that I had no idea what city I was in, what route I would have to take from my bed to the toilet, no idea which hotel I was staying at. Finally the room came into focus and I realized that I was at home in my own bed.

My cat Nigel has still not quite warmed back up to me, casting suspicious glances as if I was some itinerant boarder or perhaps a thief inclined to filch the family silver.


My sister Barbara, the responsible sibling, the rock that has kept my crazy family functioning for years beyond count, is quite ill. She has just come home from the hospital after emergency surgery for a perforated intestine. She will recuperate for months and is unfortunately forced to wear an appliance, hopefully only temporarily. She is understandably quite depressed. (Liz, if you are reading this, do not spill to our mother!)

She tells me that she thought that she had the perfect diet, living on salads and whole grains and healthy food but is now advised that the diet was all wrong and that she will have to now go low fiber and processed. My brother Buzz is on a similar diet and I wonder if I am genetically predisposed to have similar problems.

Barbara mentioned that her hospital stay was rather hellish. They kept trying to give her narcotics, and she only wanted an aspirin. They wanted to keep her "pain free" at a time when no pain existed. She thinks that the belief is that narcotized patients and pliant patients are easier for doctors and nurses to deal with and control. I know what she is talking about from my own lengthy hospital experience and tend to agree with her.


I was sitting at the blackjack table. My dealer was a pretty ethiopian girl. I mentioned my genetic roots in Somalia 22,400 years ago and she asked me if I really believed all that? When I tried to broach the source of her skepticism she told me that she did not believe in science, she only believed in religion. It is hard to counter a person like this and I cut short our conversation but I had a nagging impulse to tell her that many of my fellow American citizens and politicians apparently shared her views on the subject.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

RL Burnside - Let My Baby Ride

Straight Shooter

I have to admit being very impressed with Jon Huntsman of late. He is definitely not the typical GOP asshole. Funny that the two latter day saint candidates are by far the most sober and rational of the bunch.

Yet while Romney comes off as the standard millionaire suck up to big business, the wealthier Huntsman seems much more independant and not afraid to call a spade a spade. He is going after the druids in his party with a vengeance and honesty seldom seen these days in the political arena.

Last week he tweeted in a nice shot over the evangelist's bow, "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

Today on ABC he continued to go after his opponents, particularly Rick Perry: "I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party - the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012."

"When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Science - Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position....I can't remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become a - a party that - that was antithetical to science. I'm not sure that's good for our future and it's not a winning formula."

On the economy and the near default : "Well, I wouldn't necessarily trust any of my opponents right now, who were on a recent debate stage with me, when every single one of them would have allowed this country to default. You can imagine, even given the uncertainty of the marketplace the last several days and even the last couple of weeks, if we had defaulted the first time in the history of the greatest country that ever was, being 25 percent of the world's GDP and having the largest financial services sector in this world by a long shot, if we had defaulted, Jake, this marketplace would be in absolute turmoil. And people who are already losing enough as it is on their 401(k)s and retirement programs and home valuations, it would have been catastrophic."

I applaud Mr. Huntsman, a Republican with intelligence and rationality, a rare commodity on that side of the aisle these days. A religious man but not a crazy man. In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king. Amongst Palin, Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Donder and Blitzen, this guy looks like Albert Einstein.  Although I am a Gary Johnson supporter, he unfortunately can't seem to even find his way into the debate. I think that my convergence with Huntsman probably ends on the social side of the ledger but find him far superior to his current opponents and also think that he is an excellent candidate for President of these United States. Plus he likes Captain Beefheart. This guy is not going to get the nod, the election becoming more a referendum on salvation than policy but Huntsman has paid the admission price and will be sure to keep things interesting in the coming months. He is a breath of fresh air in a sea of stupidity.

Westward Ho

I think that I can start to write again. My suitcase is finally unpacked, the cat and I have once again established cordial relations, and all of my wares have been placed back on the shelves in my shop. I am now permitted to write and to touch my guitar again, at least as soon as I take out the trash. Saw a little mouse last month...

I should probably say something about New Mexico before my memories start to blur like the bleed on a sloppy watercolor. All in all I have to call it a good trip. I sold enough to pay the current bills and a few more and was lucky enough to buy some extraordinary merchandise, through some magical conjunction of luck and providence and maybe even a few orbiting bodies.

While the receipts pale when compared to the good old days, said good old days have packed their bags and gone and left no forwarding address. So we do the best we can. I sold some wonderful things that I probably won't ever see the likes of again, the Kalo 1917 hand hammered silver pitcher in the perfect kool-aid shape, the navajo pictorial weaving of Shiprock.

The show in Albuquerque was mostly an exercise but I did make contact with a different buyer base and managed to pay my rent and most of my cost of goods. Sometimes you just have to buy a ticket and see what happens.

Instead of wild carousing between shows, I stayed on a nice ranchita outside of town and rested and wrote and recharged. Very little drinking, or even eating for that matter, although when I did I tried to do salad and fruit. I did make it over to one of my favorite haunts, La Fonda for breakfast once, I love the trout and eggs and they make excellent coffee.

My eyes met the waiter's, a man who has been serving me and the rest of the world faithfully for going on at least 17 straight years. His hair was now pure silver. I looked at him and pointed to my temple. He shook his head and looked at my own and said,"You too, friend." We wake up one day to find out that we have really gotten older and we have no idea how it happened.

I set up one of the most beautiful booths I have ever presented in Santa Fe, having two facing booths due to a last minute cancellation I was able to segregate the classic and the modern. Got a nice Fritz Scholder to accompany my New Mexican Transcendentalist's Bisttram and Raymond Jonson. Sold the Helen Hardin and the Italian/Peruvian Vargue├▒o. Had very strong interest in the florentine chapel painting by Pedulli. A good show. Millard had a great show, a fact that he drove home to us at every opportunity.

Went out to the interesting African Carribean restaurant, Jambo one night with friends. I made jokes about chasing a UNICEF truck throwing rice bags but the truth is the food was really good. I had goat stew. French fries with cumin. That was one night I did get tanked, started off on vodka, accelerated into the pinot world and then god knows where. Ended up in a piano bar listening to long hair music and lasted about three minutes. Here are pictures of dinner companions, Sue, Sue and Steve as well as Dane and David.

The road home went well. Picked up some firecracker fountains for the next new year's blastoff In Bluewater. Stayed at the incredibly hip Springfield Suites in Flagstaff. Au courant. Tommy's double on the way home in Barstow.

Here is another shot of the area near Quemado.

In the words of Samwise Gamgee, "Well, I'm back."


Deli Guy and Deli Girl send a message from Istanbul.

Sparkling lights, party nite for Ramadan followers. Us too.

Breaking the Ramadan fast at the Blue Mosque.

We have had an amazing time in Istanbul, the people here are very kind and the are so many things to see. Yesterday we took a cruise up the Bosphorus river and then out into the sea of Maramaras across to the Asian side of Turkey. Beautiful and historically rich.

Tomorrow we head for Sevilla Spain. Excited........ Peace and love Dg's -  Adventure seekers.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons

The late Robert Breer.

Six Blade Knife

The Roxy, L.A. 3/28/79

Louis Nidorf - Words and Other Redundancies

My pal Louis Nidorf is having a new solo show next month in Escondido. It will be held at the Calumet Gallery, 830 W. Valley Parkway and runs September 1 through October 7th. If you would like to come to the opening it is set for September 4th at 3:30. Lou is the most adventurous and conceptual of all of my photographic friends and cronies. We have done several two man shows together and I always appreciate his courage and daring. Lou pushes things to the edge and has for years, leaving orthodox notions of image and propriety lifeless in the dust. He taught me a lot when I was entering the digital field, always giving me support for my zaniest attempts, trying to create distance.

This work is sort of like the painter Ruscha's, except that this has more of a real edge and power, at least for me. The juxtaposition, dynamic tension and sympathy that lies in the field between the graven image and the graven word.

Try to see the show.

El Malpais Natural Monument

A postcard from New Mexico. Every trip to the southwest, I try to get off the main road at least once. I feel spiritually replenished and sometimes magic happens. This trip I decided to try a road I had never taken from Quemado out to the ranger station and onward to the Sandstone Bluffs. Never made it to the La Ventana natural arch.

The road was the worst washboard I had ever driven on. Sign said road impassible when wet, well guess what, it was impossible dry. Felt like I was going to get thrown off. And a van full of fragile items including expensive pottery. I made it to the bluffs, crawling forward like a ticklish snail over rough gravel, scenery nice but not too spectacular. Depression family homesteaded it in the 30's, might have been named Garrett. Still felt great to find nowhere again.

I passed this pond and took a shot.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Don't you know it's the water.

Finding myself once again at an elevation slightly over 7000', I have learned the importance of staying hydrated during my stay in Santa Fe. I am a captive audience in my booth at the show and the water fountain is about a football field away. I decided I better get a bottle of water for the long day ahead and pulled off at the mini mart near El Dorado.

The first thing I realized is that all of the choices were very expensive, the cheapest liter bottle costing about a buck ninety nine. Then it was up to me to make a choice. I couldn't go for the Nestle® Pure Life™ brand, knowing that it was merely tap water primed through some industrial filtration system. Evian™ was out, the fact that it's palindromic doppelganger spells naive queered me off. Dasani™ is Coke's® contribution to the market and so they were out. Aquafina™is Pepsi's® progeny and I was just not in the mood to go corporate. I wanted the stuff that comes bubbling out of some pristine mountain artesian well, like an old Hamm's commercial or the glorious liquid that poured out after Aaron banged on that old rock with his stick.

I walked to the register and handed my AspenPure™ bottle of Rocky Mountain Water to the sales girl. "I thought about getting the Smart Water™ but it felt pretentious, and besides, I'm too damn smart already," I offered and she laughed.

Seriously, I had one of those minor epiphanies yesterday on my trip to the fountain. We are in a sad state affairs when we have to pay two bucks for a plastic bottle of glorified tap water and it is probably only going to get worse.

Water is the most plentiful resource on the planet and we now must pay a premium for a halfway decent drop of the stuff.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Narcissists make poor leaders

“I’m embarrassed by all of us, I’ve never seen a worse Congress in my whole political life.’’
Maine Senator Olympia Snowe
I read an interesting article today in Science Daily today that one should ponder when considering our current political leadership. Narcissists look like good leaders but they really aren't.
"Our research shows that the opposite seems to be true," says Barbora Nevicka, a PhD candidate in organizational psychology, describing a new study she undertook with University of Amsterdam colleagues Femke Ten Velden, Annebel De Hoogh, and Annelies Van Vianen. The study found that the narcissists' preoccupation with their own brilliance inhibits a crucial element of successful group decision-making and performance: the free and creative exchange of information and ideas. The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
...The study recruited 150 participants and divided them into groups of three. One person was randomly assigned to be the group's leader; all were told they could contribute advice, but that the leader was responsible for making the decision. Then they undertook a group task: choosing a job candidate. Of 45 items of information about the candidate, some were given to all three, and some to only one of the participants.
The experiment was designed so that using only the information all three were privy to, the group would opt for a lesser candidate. Sharing all the information, including what each possessed exclusively, would lead to the best choice. Afterwards, the participants completed questionnaires. The leaders' questions measured narcissism; the others assessed the leaders' authority and effectiveness. All checked off the items among the 45 that they knew -- indicating how much the group had shared -- and rated how well they'd exchanged information. Experimenters tallied the number of shared items, noted the objective quality of the decision, and analyzed these data in relation to the leader's narcissism.
As expected, the group members rated the most narcissistic leaders as most effective. But they were wrong. In fact, the groups led by the greatest egotists chose the worse candidate for the job. Says Nevicka, "The narcissistic leaders had a very negative effect on their performance. They inhibited the communication because of self-centeredness and authoritarianism."
Narcissism can sometimes be useful in a leader, says Nevicka. In a crisis, for instance, people feel that a strong, dominant person will take control and do the right thing, "and that may reduce uncertainty and diminish stress."
But in the everyday life of an organization, "communication -- sharing of information, perspectives, and knowledge -- is essential to making good decisions. In brainstorming groups, project teams, government committees, each person brings something new. That's the benefit of teams. That's what creates a good outcome." Good leaders facilitate communication by asking questions and summarizing the conversation -- something narcissists are too self-involved to do.
Nevicka says the research has implications beyond the workplace -- for instance, in politics. "Narcissists are very convincing. They do tend to be picked as leaders. There's the danger: that people can be so wrong based on how others project themselves. You have to ask: Are the competencies they project valid, or are they merely in the eyes of the beholder?"

It Takes A Worried Man

The Stanley Brothers.

Ventura Highway

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Everybody out of the gene pool.

Sharp eyed readers will note that I have added the Dienekes website to my links section. Dienekes Pontikos is the pseudonym for a greek man who is an authority on anthropology and genetics.

I don't believe that too many of you share my passion for these subjects but Dienekes is often cited on my genetics boards for being on the cusp of reporting on new discoveries in the field.

I was hunting around the other day for information on the man and I found the AnthroScape website.

It is an interesting website that asks people that post to declare their religion and political leanings. What shocked me was how many seemingly intelligent, far right, religious, european racists comment on its boards.

Here is a link to the main site. I read posts about stupid negroids and jews being descended from mongoloids. It is much like the Stormfront white supremacist site here in america, a group that is paying a lot of attention to genetic haplotypes and science.

It is frightening to see so many bright young people ensnared by racial bigotry and hatred. The worm has definitely turned.

London Calling

Can't wait for those summer olympics.

Paseo del norte

Saguaro, Kerry's house
I am chillin' in New Mexico. While I used the time between the shows last year to explore Magdalena, the Visual Array and other foreign destinations in southern New Mexico, this year I am cocooning at my friend's Michael and Daniel's ranch and am alone for the first time in recent memory.

I have some fear about my prospects for the next show, in the wake of both a tepid one and a historic stock market crash. I have decided to keep breathing, slowly, in and out. Perhaps scared investors will decide to consider investing in tangible property again? Or say fuck it, let's buy something we love and make ourselves happy. Blue Heron Brand ice cream.


I am reading a fantastic book, a biography on the french explorer Champlain. It is titled Champlain's Dream and was written by the Pulitzer Prize winner, David Hackett Fisher. A native of Saintonge.

Champlain may or may not have been the illegitimate son of King Henry IV,  known as Le Roi Passione´, the monarch is said to have had 56 known mistresses. The book takes us through various wars between Huegenots, other protestants and the Catholics, wars that Hackett Fischer estimates cost between 2 and 4 million lives. There was even a War of the Three Henri's and who knows how often that happens?

I have learned a lot by even my early entry with this book, about history, salt and even environmentalism. I am now reading about early pearl farming. In 1599, near Venezuela, on the Isla de Margarita, the latin word for pearl, Champlain observed the pearl fishery. Three hundred canoes put to sea every day and slaves were forced to make deep water free dives. Large numbers of pearls were harvested by the conscripted indian slaves and according to the author, largely destroyed them. During his time they were replaced by african slaves. This exploitation inspired one of the first anti slavery movements, led by the spanish monk Bartolom├ę de Las Casas. Historians consider the devastation of the pearl fishery to be the first written account of "resource declines in any of the world's marine fisheries, brought about by intensive harvesting."

I have been on a sixteenth century kick lately, first reading the book about the lost Caravaggio, Jonathan Harr's The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece. That gave way to a better and more fascinating book about another painter, Rubens and his other life as a trusted diplomatic courier, Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens by Mark Lamster.

My favorite books reference a period when men settled their differences with swords, from Dumas and Stevenson to Reverte and Yoshikawa. Firearms definitely threw a hitch into the beauty of the violent arts. In fact I read a great Heinlein quote yesterday that sort of ties in; An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life. Swordplay could give a small, fast and inventive man an equality with your standard overlarge lunk. And you could suffer or inflict a fatal ending with a dash of artistry and aplomb. Guns killed all the romance out of the violent equation.


I have been making a short list of things that either annoy me or that I frankly despise. Lets start with twizzlers. What happened to the rope licorice we would tie up in knots when we were kids? Can't find the shoestring anymore. Twizzlers are a synthetic tasting, chemical concoction not fit for lab rats. Don't know how anybody can stomach them.

My friend Gary Lang turned me on to hardcore german and dutch licorice. 9 to 15% percent stuff with no sweetener. Almost have to macho yourself up to handle it, it is so strong. Liike chewing on a piece of tar or asphalt. Not fun.

Speaking of food, we had a bad batch of Strubs' half sour pickles. Leslie called Canada to complain and mentioned my pickle wars blog. I saw them checking it out online and reread it myself, feeling kind of bad because I had rated them a most pedestrian pickle. Sorry Strubbies! They were kind enough to send us a few free coupons.


Other things that have been placed on my bother list are big trucks that insist on racing past you to the next stoplight, not gaining any advantage besides burning fuel and indulging in a macho alpha male preening display, like one of the lower species.


Saw the new Planet of the Apes yesterday. I really enjoyed it although I found some of the cinematography a bit desaturated and odd. Great graphics and of course I found myself rooting against homo sapiens and cheering their overthrow by our simian cousins. I decided to search for an online Christian perspective and found this site, which had a perspective that I thought was interesting. The letters in the front are I imagine some categories of sin, your guess is as good as mine...

(H, E, RoRo, B, Pa, Acap, LL, VV, S, N, M) Light humanist, environmentalist worldview posits animals (specifically apes) can obtain equal sentient status or souls to humans simply by biological means, mixed with some strong Romantic notions of “the noble savage” that extol emotional ties between humans and animals and Romantic ideas about zoos and other similar human institutions, some moral elements promoting compassion, mercy and freedom (including some rebukes against revenge), but also a pagan instance of revenge that seems validated, plus an anti-capitalist element where a medical company leader puts profits above ethics; 10 mostly light obscenities (mostly “h” words, a couple “s” words, one “d” word), three strong profanities and four light exclamatory profanities; strong violence of one kind or another, often with scary creatures....no sex scenes but couple shown sleeping in bed together but movie never shows whether they are married or not; upper male nudity; no alcohol use; no smoking; and, lying, revenge is rebuked in some scenes but not rebuked in another scene...RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is brilliantly directed and acted. It also promotes compassion, mercy and freedom. However, these positive elements are undercut by some Romantic, humanist ideas. The movie also has intense violent scenes, scary creatures and some foul language. Caution is advised, especially for pre-adolescents. 

Couple shown sleeping in bed together, horrors, didn't Rob and Laura Petrie cross that hurdle decades ago? Undercut by romantic, humanist ideas? Welcome to the new dark ages. What do you do for a living? Oh, I count the light obscenities in the movies... 


I am of course as freaked out by the events in Washington and the stock market crash as anyone. And I am pissed. The Republicans are acting like anarchist firebrands intent on burning the whole house down. Their hatred and wrath for the President and liberals is obviously stronger than their concerns for the welfare of our nation. With a tax rate for the upper brackets as low as it has been since Eisenhower, we should have just allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire. They have manufactured a crisis, set the store on fire and now are complaing that the President and cohorts aren't putting it out fast enough. Paul Ryan and Cantor can intone that America can and will not keep its Social Security or Medicare promises but treat taxes and subsidies as sacred cows.

I have never seen a congress so bent on obstruction, on thwarting the president's every move. And unfortunately, if they get their man elected the next go, people will remember and the acrimony will only get worse.

Standard and Poor can sit with its finger up its ass while Morgan peddles shitty worthless paper, saying nary a peep, but they feel it now their duty to impugn and take down the United States financial system. Which makes it somewhat ironic that everyone seems to be fleeing stocks and buying our treasury debt.


The international arab community is finally speaking up about the genocide campaign in Hama, Syria. Unfortunately the regime will not listen. Dictatorships are always fighting "lawless elements and foreign provocateurs." 

I think the lesson in Syria and Libya is that if you start a revolution you better have a good chance of success and have all of your ducks in a row. Both Qaddafi and Assad will slowly kill every remaining dissenter. There is an old zen warrior axiom that says that one should never draw one's sword until he is ready to cut his opponents head off. Early brandishing is an often fatal tactical mistake. May these two despots soon meet their ugly end. Syria is said to be ready to institute comprehensive reform. As soon as they lay waste to the riffraff, I am sure. Poor people.


My hosts are great cooks and have turned me on to Cook's Magazine, specifically the new article on the silver duck press. Blast reader Helen picked up on the same piece and posted a cool shot of the 60 lb. Christofle sterling press over at Guacamole Gulch.


A huge number of my music videos are getting pulled by the authorities. Even the Fugs. Sorry.


Speaking of music, another item for my hated short list. Christian music. I drive through large swaths of America where it is either country or christian. It is not about me despising any creed or theology. The question is why the music so freaking awful? The Jesus I have read about was no mamby pamby wimp. He had beitzim. Yet the music of those that venerate him is largely such a saccharine and uninteresting catalogue. Except for black gospel of course, those folks being way out ahead of the curve.


Happy to see Warren Jeffs get the life sentence for his pedophilia. Brave nephew came out this week and confessed to being sodomized by his uncle.  Jeffs called down the whirlwinds of god's wrath on the judge but thankfully the magistrate still seems to be doing okay. He promised a "whirlwind of judgment" on the world if God's "humble servant" wasn't set free. God can tell you to do all sorts of things. Can give cover to sexual deviants, racists, all sorts of strange people. Pardon me for not being tolerant of your peccadillos or intolerance. Glad they popped the big child porn ring last week as well.

Read today that the Franklin Mountains of my sometime boyhood home El Paso, were once connected to Antarctica, forming the supercontinent of Rodinia. Who knew?


Take it easy and wish me, yourselves and the rest of the freaking country and world luck. Let's just breathe a minute.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Stranger in a strange land

The trip to New Mexico has been proceeding, as they say, according to chalk. The first evening I stopped in Phoenix and spent the night, picking up paintings from some friends. It was 113° in Arizona, like living in a blast furnace. I was treated to an amazing all night lightning storm that they said was the strongest in memory. Won't bore you with all the details but have seen rainbows every day, from every vantage. My right foot was sore from pushing the accelerator all day and the muscle behind my right knee is still as tight as a bow string.

The antique show opened today for a preview and I set up all day, took longer than usual, maybe because of the heat and humidity. I sold a few things. Hesitated too long contemplating buying a beautiful art deco french nude and missed out on it. Couple more days to go.

There is a tattoo show at the Hilton and I talked my way in, telling the promoter that I was a blogger and that I wanted to take some shots. The people at the Duke City Tattoo Fiesta were all very nice but I admit to feeling quite unadorned in the midst of all the ink. These people have made a choice, and many have reached a point of no return. Lots of face tattoos, something that I think is unadvised but then again it is their choice and not mine. Anyhow I watched a tattoo competition in the ballroom and it was quite interesting. Sort of like landing on a new planet.

I have to say that some of the artistry was exceptional. Fellow on top offered to give me a camera tattoo but I had to decline, citing long standing tribal prohibitions.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Enlightened Primates

Watch me full screen for most enjoyment!

Traffic & Jerry Garcia - Dear Mr. Fantasy

I have never been that much of a fan in my lifetime. Feller, Aparicio, Big Red Machine. Laker love during Wilt and Showtime, 69 Mets, Willis Reed era Knicks, McSorley's illegal stick. As I got older and after giving up television 18 years ago, my fixation  largely limited itself to a morning after glance at the newspaper. Couple ball games a year.

I was a fan of the Grateful Dead. They were responsible for creating a forum, a playspace if you will, for some of the most ecstatic and important moments of my life. The relationships I formed during the 1970's and 80's while touring heavily with the Dead, are the fulcrums of my life to this day.

Jerry would have been 69 yesterday. Every summer in the early 90's we would make the sweltering trek to Las Vegas to catch the dead on a three day tour. This one with Traffic was maybe the last or next to last, I don't remember. Jerry was such an incredible player and so committed to his craft and I owe him a lot. He gave it his all.

Vegas is a blast furnace in August but we all cooked together in the desert heat. God those were great times and the setting was so damn beautiful. I would climb to the top seats in the back and watch the lightning and thunderstorms while Jerry noodled so quietly the strains of Terrapin. Miss you Jerry and thanks for your visit.

While you were gone
these spaces filled with darkness
The obvious was hidden
With nothing to believe in
the compass always points to Terrapin

The sullen wings of fortune beat like rain
You're back in Terrapin for good or ill again
For good or ill again


Dave Jacobs, one of those great old friends, emailed this shot he took today in Boulder on his ipad. Hope that it is a good omen for all of us.

Native Discovery

A Fallbrook native son made the national news this morning. A biologist in San Francisco, Daniel Gluesenkamp, has discovered a bay area manzanita heretofore long thought extinct. As reported in the Los Angeles Times:

The Franciscan manzanita became extinct in the wild in 1947.
At least that's what everyone thought.
But on Oct. 16, 2009, botanist Daniel Gluesenkamp was driving home to San Francisco from a climate change conference in Sonoma. Others at the event had waxed eloquent about complex engineering solutions and adaptation strategies. Gluesenkamp pushed for the most basic of fixes, he recalled, "things like saving the rare plants today. Find them where they are today and protect them."
Just after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, he said, "something caught my eye. Just a flash of a glimpse. And it looked like a manzanita, in a site where they'd kind of removed some trees from behind it." The shrub was on a traffic island in the middle of a busy highway, part of a billion-dollar-plus construction project aided by federal stimulus funds.
Gluesenkamp, who is executive director of the Calflora database of Golden State plants, drove by three times, trying to get a better glimpse. He eventually called Lew Stringer, an ecologist at the Presidio Trust, who raced across the highway and officially identified the plant.
When he thinks back to his discovery, Gluesenkamp doesn't recall instant elation but, rather, a little bit of dread. The last thing he wanted, he said, was to have environmentalists blamed for derailing an important job-creating infrastructure project.
As it turns out, that didn't happen. Caltrans, which is in charge of the so-called Doyle Drive construction project, had ample money in the budget for environmental mitigation. On a rainy January night in 2010, the manzanita and its 21,000-pound root ball were dug up — a risky proposition with a nearly $200,000 price tag — and moved to the secret site where it grows today.

The manzanita's scientific name is Arctostaphylos franciscana; aficionados of the plant, with its narrow, pointed leaves and bell-shaped flowers, call themselves arctophiles. In the first half of the 20th century, their ranks included some of the most famous botanists in California — women and men whose efforts to protect their passion were brazen, although ultimately unsuccessful.
Botanists believe manzanitas have been evolving for 15 million years. But by the 1920s, the habitat of the Arctostaphylos franciscana had shrunk to just three patches of rapidly developing San Francisco: Mount Davidson and two aging cemeteries.
Laurel Hill Cemetery, the final resting place of Gold Rush pioneers, was the last place the Franciscan manzanita grew in any abundance. In her 1939 classic "Flowering Shrubs of California," horticulturist Lester Rowntree rued the fact that the cemetery was "being regarded impatiently by the folk to whom any land is just so many building lots."
"If they can they will eradicate it as a cemetery and that will be the last of an old San Francisco record," she wrote, "and certainly the last of Arctostaphylos franciscana."

Daniel is a smart guy. I know his father, Eric, a retired doctor, very well. Seem to recall Daniel's promising writing career getting cut a bit short at Fallbrook High School. He was in my gallery a few years ago and impressed me with his intelligence. I am proud of him for his discovery. A pdf written by Dan going into his discovery in detail can be found in the recent issue of The Ardeid, on the Audubon Canyon Ranch website.

Here is a bio of Dan that I gleaned from another website:

Dan Gluesenkamp is the Habitat Protection and Restoration Specialist for Audubon Canyon Ranch and leads in the development, implementation, and evaluation of conservation and restoration projects at ACR preserves.

His work involves experimental evaluation of management techniques, oversight of stewardship activities such as control of invasive alien species, and collaboration with neighboring land owners and agencies to protect ACR lands. Gluesenkamp's research focuses on the factors structuring plant communities, particularly as related to the invasion and spread of introduced species, with work in habitats ranging from desert riparian zones to subalpine Sierran meadows.

Gluesenkamp earned his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley with research that revealed how populations of native and alien thistles are shaped by plant competition, by insect herbivory, and by effects of habitat productivity on the relative intensity of competition versus herbivory. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Prelude from Bach´s Cello Suite No. 1

Finis du vin

I like to fancy myself a team player and a good neighbor. When I got the word that the wine bar down the street was forced to go out of business by a mean spirited shrew of a landlord I knew that something had to be done.

In order to do my duty I was sitting on one of their comfortable bar stools five out of six nights last week. I drank the cabs, the zins, both malbec and shiraz, pinot's and barberas with nary a pause. I pretty much drank what they put in front of me. Friday morning I was hurting. Couldn't destroy any more internal parts and skipped the last day. I was there early the next morning to eat upstairs and the sign and every vestige of their identity had been removed from the exterior walls.

The Gnarly Vine was a really neat place. Just getting the right crowd of regulars. A rare place for my generation to hang without a lot of idiots around. Great sound. Gone. Poof. We wish John and Lura the best of luck and hope that they find another location and even surpass this fantastic effort next time.

Hot and Cold

I heard an interesting interview on NPR with Heidi Cullen last week. She has written a new book, The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet about how warming events can contribute to increased snowfall in this country and cause other assorted climactic aberrations.  I found it quite interesting. The podcast. And I reprint the transcript, courtesy of NPR. And another podcast from Dr. Martin Hoerling at the NOAA.


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

This summer of record-breaking heat followed a spring that brought some of the most extreme weather on record. My guest, climatologist Heidi Cullen writes: It's time to face the fact that the weather isn't what it used to be.

She's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." It's just been published in paperback. And she's a senior research scientist with Climate Central, a journalism and research organization.

We're going to talk about how climate change appears to be creating extreme weather in winter and summer. And we're going to consider the cities Cullen says are likely to be the most vulnerable to extreme weather.

Heidi Cullen, welcome to FRESH AIR.

What makes this month's heat wave in the U.S. unusual - different from other heat waves?

Ms. HEIDI CULLEN (Research Scientist, Climate Central): I think what's really special about this heat wave is just the sheer size and scope of it. I mean, it basically at one point it was affecting more than 140 million people here in the U.S. And so it's massive in size. It's been a long heat wave and so in many respects this is exactly the kind of thing we can expect to see a lot more of as the planet warms up.

GROSS: Before we get to why you think this is a result of climate change, which is, I think, what you're saying, what are some of the records that this month's heat wave has set so far? And I'll say, we're recording this on Friday, July 22nd. So...

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah. So we could see even more records set today. But, you know, for example, Wichita Falls, Texas had over 54 days of 100 plus temperatures, 27 consecutive days reaching at least 100. Tyler, Texas, we saw 32 days this year of 100 degree readings. So, I mean, it's just that the magnitude and the length of what we're seeing here - Mobile, Alabama, 50 consecutive 90-degree days. So it has just been excruciatingly long period of hot weather.

And I think what's really interesting is that it's one of these things where you really get the sense that everything is connected. Because the heat is remarkable, but the other thing that's really special about this heat wave is the fact that the water vapor, the moisture is so high. And that actually ties straight back to the spring and when we had, you know, epic flooding and the fact that, you know, all of this floodwater that's been, you know, seeped out into the ground, these high temperatures, kind of like a blast furnace, is evaporating that moisture and that's leading to these really high dew points and these high overnight temperatures.

And those are the kinds of things that, you know, public health officials get really, really worried about.

GROSS: OK. I think maybe I lost you. So maybe you can explain that a little more. How did the floods from the spring contribute to the heat we're experiencing now and the high temperatures at night?

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah. So, basically we've just got really wet soil in the Midwest. And so, you know, a lot of these high temperatures that we saw in places like Detroit and Chicago, the Midwest region in general, you know, we've just ground that's incredibly wet. We've also got, you know, corn fields that are evaporating moisture. And so the high heat basically sends this additional moisture into the air. And so now we've not only got high temperatures, but also really high humidity levels.

GROSS: And that contributes to the heat? The high humidity?

Ms. CULLEN: Well, that's where your heat index comes from. And so, for example, a place like Moorhead, Minneapolis, it actually recorded a temperature of - a heat index temperature of 134 degrees on July 19th, which made it the hottest place on Earth on that day.

GROSS: Wow. And does the humidity make it more difficult for the atmosphere to cool off at night?

Ms. CULLEN: You know, it means we've got these high overnight temperatures. And, you know, it's, you know, public health officials in cities especially get really worried when they see these, what we call high dew points, these high moisture levels because, you know, for older folks and for, you know, young children, just, it makes it really hard for your body to sweat and to cool off.

And so, you know, when we look back to these, you know, these really epic heat waves that we've seen in the past where hundreds of people have died, like, say, Chicago in 1995, it was, you know, this incredibly high moisture that led to these high mortality rates.

GROSS: Your sweat doesn't cool you when the humidity is high because it doesn't evaporate because the atmosphere already has so much moisture in it?

Ms. CULLEN: Yep. Exactly. Exactly.

GROSS: I was really surprised to read in - I forget whether it was one of your articles or in your book - that heat kills more people in the United States than any other weather-related event. And that astonished me, considering how dangerous blizzards and hurricanes and tornados are.

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah. I think it's one of those statistics that definitely surprises a lot of people. Because, you know, we have a tendency, you know, our visual strength, you know, we always want to see these extreme events. And so things like tornadoes and hurricanes, these incredibly visual weather events, we just associate them with being more deadly. And that's always been sort of the sinister aspect of heat, which is, you know, from a television standpoint, you know, what kind of imagery do you show to really make people understand that this is an incredibly deadly situation?

It's a really tough kind of thing to convey with visual images. So you just, you see images like water fountains spraying water and people at the beach, but those are not necessarily the things that our brain thinks of as dangerous. But it really, really is.

GROSS: So people are dying, like, in un-air conditioned homes, people who are elderly?

Ms. CULLEN: Well, and this is - you know, this is one of the things that folks talk about a lot, which was, you know, for example, during the Chicago heat wave, there was this sort of epidemic of older people dying alone. And it was sort of an indication that our social network had broken down. And it's, you know, really interesting to see that, you know, since then, cities like Chicago, cities like Philadelphia have taken enormous measures to be really responsive during epic heat events like we're seeing.

So, for example, in a city like Philadelphia, they will be sure to keep the electricity running so that folks can leave their air conditioning on even if they haven't paid their bills. They will have a buddy system where they send folks out to check on elderly neighbors. Because we've learned from, you know, circumstances in the past that tell us that we really need to have mechanisms in place to keep people safe. So, cooling shelters are open. It's a disaster that doesn't necessarily look like a disaster, but we've learned from past mistakes and cities are taking really strong measures to prevent deaths.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization. And she's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." The book just came out in paperback.

So you implied that you think this July heat wave that has overcome so much of the United States can be attributed to global warming. How can you make that analysis? Like, what information do you use as a climatologist to figure out what's just a normal, weird weather pattern? You know, when I say normal, I mean there's a certain amount of extreme weather that is normal to have over a period of time. So how do you know whether this heat wave is part of that or whether it's attributed to climate change?

Ms. CULLEN: You know, I think the easiest way to make a comparison and, actually, the way climate scientists try to attribute a specific weather event to something like climate change, it's based on techniques that we use in epidemiology. So in the same way that we'll do, you know, an autopsy on someone's who's died to try to understand, you know, the cause of death, we do the same thing with weather events. So we essentially do weather autopsies.

And, you know, one of the things that we know very well about climate change and the way it connects to our weather is that climate change makes weather more extreme and specifically we know that climate change has a tendency to produce more frequent heat waves, larger heat waves, just more intense heat waves. And I think that that's kind of the way we have to look at the fact that, you know, climate change, the fact that we are burning fossil fuels is literally working itself into our weather. And so the same way we know that cigarettes cause lung cancer, we know that climate change causes more extreme heat.

GROSS: But I know a lot of scientists say you can say that a long-term pattern is attributed to climate change, but you can't say any specific event. You can't say any specific hurricane or heat wave or blizzard is part of global warming - so, you know, is attributed to global warming. So when you do an autopsy on this summer's heat wave what are you investigating to decide whether it's, you know, attributed to climate change or not?

Ms. CULLEN: Man, that's such a great question. I think that's sort of one of the hard things about climate change to wrap your head around is the fact that, you know, we have this tendency, especially in journalism, we want to have this kind of lone gunman theory where, you know, was this climate change? Was it caused by climate change? Well, we have to keep in mind that all weather essentially is now borne into this warmer moisture environment that weve produced over the past century. And so, you know, overall the tendency is for more extreme weather then its now.

When climate scientists approach an individual weather event and sort of attempt to do this weather autopsy, what they really need to do is a very complex analysis where they take a climate model that strictly Mother Nature -just all natural - and then they have a climate model that has human activity in it. So specifically the burning of fossil fuels that release heat-trapping pollution, and then we ask the question: to what extent did human actions increase the likelihood of that event happening? And so, for example, with the European heat wave of 2003, we know that human action, that our presence on this planet, doubled or possibly quadrupled the likelihood of that event happening. And it becomes a thought experiment, essentially, where as we move into the future, basically something like, you know, the weather event that we're seeing right now with the European heat wave of 2003, it essentially becomes the new normal.

And I think with climate change, it's so hard for a lot of us to just wrap our brains around what it means. But it's one of these things that literally works its way into our weather, and as we move forward in time, our weather just gets tougher to deal with, essentially.

GROSS: But when you look at blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, cold waves, do you see extreme patterns in all of those weather phenomena?

Ms. CULLEN: We can see it clearly in some of those. So for example, wildfires, we can already see an increase in wildfire activity. That falls straight out of the physics - is as you warm up the planet, the more likelihood of wildfires is expected to increase in the Western United States. We can actually also seek it in precipitation. So if you look at data sets of rainfall and of the heaviest types of rainfalls, starting in the 1950s, we can see a clear increase in the number of extreme rainfall events.

And in a place like the Northeast, we've seen a roughly 65 percent increase in these very extreme storms. And these are the kinds of storms that, you know, that floods cities, that overflow storm drains, that, you know, make it tough for city planners to deal with. And, you know, when you - as you move forward in time again, more of these kinds of storms are going to be happening. And it's just one of these things where, you know, we can procrastinate or we can start to deal with it now.

GROSS: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just released what it calls its set of new climate normals. What are climate normals?

Ms. CULLEN: So climate normals are basically the 30-year average of weather, essentially. And I think this is where one of those areas where for a lot of people it's tough to understand, you know, just the difference between weather and climate. And I think, you know, Mark Twain said it best: climate is what you expect, weather is what you get. And so every 30 years NOAA basically recalculates the climate normals. So last year we were dealing with the period from 1971 to 2000. And now we've got the new normal, which goes from 1981 to 2010.

GROSS: So if Noah is looking at temperatures over the last 30 years, what is it giving us, average temperatures per day? Per year? What are we getting?

Ms. CULLEN: It is giving us average temperatures, average high temperatures, average low temperature, average rainfall. And this is for, you know, roughly 7,500 cities across the United States. So it's a really nice, you know, just kind of the pulse of how our climate is shifting with time.

GROSS: So what do you find most impressive about the set of new normals that was just released?

Ms. CULLEN: Basically that every state in the Lower 48 has gotten warmer, which is completely consistent with what we expect from climate change, from the fact that we are burning fossil fuels and warming up the planet. You know, it's just again, sort of just this nice evidence of the forecast that we're making for the future. So basically, you know, the 2000s, the decade of the 2000s was about one-and-a-half degrees warmer than the decade of the 1970s and it's just, you know, this kind of snapshot of a restless climate and how it's changing and, you know, the fact that we can basically expect it to continue to warm as we move forward.

GROSS: If youre just joining us, my guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization. And she's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." The book has just come out in paperback.

Heidi, let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more. Okay?

Ms. CULLEN: Okay.


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If youre just joining us, my guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization and she's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet," which has just been published in paperback.

Now I want to ask you about the wave the tornadoes that hit the Midwest earlier this year. What was unusual about that pattern of tornadoes?

Ms. CULLEN: Ah, it was interesting, because first of all, you know, there was so many. We broke records with this past tornado season and, you know, they were incredibly powerful. And interestingly enough, you know, they were all shifted to the east, which meant that they were sitting over higher population centers and so just, you know, the fatalities were enormous. I mean it was just - it was an incredibly deadly tornado season and, you know, again it just when we see these kinds of extremes it raises all kinds of questions about, you know, what does this mean for the future?

GROSS: So what causes a tornado and how does that relate to climate change?

Ms. CULLEN: So - it's a really good question. And, you know, basically two key ingredients for tornado are youve got fronts colliding together and just so a massive exchange of energy. And two ingredients that you need, that global warming affects, is wind shear, which is changing wind speed and direction with height, and the other is water vapor. Tornadoes really like lots of moisture. And we know that global warming is going to affect both of those things. We expect water vapor to increase. As I said before, we expect our planet to get, not just warmer but also moister. The thing we don't really know is we don't how climate change or global warming is going to impact wind shears. So the jury is kind of still out with respect to tornadoes.

We know that La Nina, which is a natural climate phenomena, definitely played a role in this year's tornado season, but we don't really know exactly how climate change is going to impact tornadoes as we move forward into the future with respect to, you know, the kinds of quantities we care about - things like the frequency of tornadoes, the overall geographic location of tornadoes and the intensity. And that's basically one of these areas of intensive research right now.

GROSS: So you can't say for sure that the wave of tornadoes that we saw this year can be attributed to climate change.

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah, I mean tornadoes are tough, just because the data, the records aren't so great, Doppler radar wasn't really invented until the 70s. And so, you know, it's just we don't have a long enough record to really get a sense of, you know, the changes over time in tornadoes. But like I said, these two key ingredients, wind shear and water vapor, we know that global warming is going to mess with both of those. It's just a question of, you know, whether it will mess with them in such a way that we see more frequent, more intense tornadoes. And that's, you know, it's going to be interesting to see where the science comes out on that.

GROSS: So I live in Philadelphia, which gets, you know, it gets some snow in the winter. And I don't like very cold temperatures. I don't really like snow. So when I hear, you know, that because of climate change cities like Philadelphia are getting warmer in the winter, part of me thinks well, at least there's a, you know, an upside to climate change.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You know, it'll be warmer in the winter.

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: But that doesn't necessarily mean there's going to be less snow, right?

Ms. CULLEN: That's right. In fact, you know, one of the really interesting research questions right now is to what extent does sea ice melt in the Arctic open up the potential for snowier winters in the Northeast? And that's one of these active research questions right now. And so basically what scientists are looking at is the fact that okay, as we expose more ocean in the Arctic to the atmosphere, that's another potential source of moisture and you have the potential for, you know, epic snowstorms. And so the question of how does melting Arctic sea ice contribute to snowier winters is, I think, a really fascinating research question.

GROSS: So it's possible that in Northeast cities the temperature will be a little warmer but there will be more blizzards and snowstorms.

Ms. CULLEN: That's right. I mean in terms of the temperature connection, you only need it to be still cold enough for snow to happen. But if you have more moisture to fuel these storms, then we could potentially see snowier winters.

GROSS: Now people who live in cold climates, I think it's fair to say, really look forward to spring. You say that there have been early spring in many places in the United States, and that always sounds like good news to me. You know, like oh, maybe that's the upside of climate change, early spring. What's the problem with early spring?

Ms. CULLEN: Well, you know, the problem with early spring is just the timing of water releases, essentially. So, okay, if spring comes earlier, it sort of comes on with a vengeance. For example, you know, the Midwest flooding that we've seen, you know, a lot of colleagues in the climate field right now are saying that these flooding events that we've been seeing in the Midwest, it's part of the new normal. And that's a problem. And in a place like California, for example...

GROSS: But relate that to early spring. Like what's the connection?

Ms. CULLEN: So, you know, basically if you have snow pack melting earlier and melting quickly, then that's when you see the potential for significant flooding events. And that was one of the risks that we saw play out this past spring. And even just from, you know, the larger standpoint of say water resources, the question of how we are going to manage our water resources in the U.S. Southwest, a place where, you know, the population is growing dramatically. When spring comes earlier and Sierra's snow pack melts a lot sooner, that means you've got a lot less water left in your bank account come summer, and that creates, you know, a whole set of problems that need to be managed.

GROSS: Heidi Cullen will be back in the second half of the show. Her book "The Weather of the Future" has just been published in paperback. She's a senior research scientist with Climate Central, a journalism and research organization.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with climatologists Heidi Cullen. We're talking about extreme weather and other consequences of climate change. She's the author of the book "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." She's a senior research scientist with Climate Central, a journalism and research organization, and a visiting lecturer at Princeton University.

In your book, you do an analysis of the five cities most vulnerable to extreme weather and climate change. And those places include: New York City, Miami, the Central Valley of California, which is the Sacramento, San Joaquin Delta, Fairbanks, Alaska and Las Vegas.

Let's talk about a couple of those cities and why you think they're most vulnerable to climate change. Can you start with New York City?

Ms. CULLEN: Absolutely. And, you know, I'll just say that the reason I wanted to look at specific cities is because ultimately climate change is going to be one of these problems that's going to be dealt with at the local level. And, you know, I was at the Weather Channel...

GROSS: When you say dealt with, you mean adapting to it. You don't mean changing the climate.

Ms. CULLEN: I mean adapting to. And I think a lot of the, you know, energy and just a passion that were seen to solve this problem is happening in our cities. So mayors...

GROSS: True. Mm-hmm.

Ms. CULLEN: Like Mayor Nutter in Philadelphia and Mayor Bloomberg. It's the mayors who are really, you know, they're dealing with the impact. They've got to deal with these heat extremes that we're seeing, for example, and they're dealing with the fact that their infrastructure is getting older. And so, you know, I think cities are a really great place to look.

And, you know, when I was at the Weather Channel, I was they're during Katrina and it was one of these situations where I was the expert and, you know, the meteorologists have this tremendous job of trying to communicate to the public that, you know, the Gulf Coast was extreme risk, you know, incredible vulnerability. And as the climate scientist, it was one of the situations where, you know, I could point to case studies that were done 20 years earlier say eventually a hurricane is going to hit New Orleans and this is what is going to play out if we don't do something right now. And so it was like all of these classic kind of scientific projections just playing out on live TV in the sense that, you know, we saw all of this coming and if we had just begun to work on reducing the vulnerability of that city upfront, we would have seen so much less damage.

And the same thing applies to, you know, places like the San Joaquin Delta, where, you know, right now the Delta provides water for two out of three Californians. It grows about 90 different crops. It is literally is the hub of California's water supply system and its agricultural system. And, you know, it's just one of these places, a lot like New Orleans, that's just incredibly vulnerable because it's a levy-based system. And so, you know, between the kinds of flood events, because of earlier spring that we could see more of in the future or even a catastrophic earthquake, we know that that area, which is incredibly critical to California's economy, is at tremendous risk.

And, you know, right now for example, calculations show that the probability is roughly two and three, that during the next 50 years a large flood or an earthquake will hit the Delta. So the Delta is just a perfect example of a place that is becoming increasingly vulnerable but is incredibly critical to California's water infrastructure.

GROSS: So let's get back to New York City. Why is New York City especially vulnerable to climate change?

Ms. CULLEN: Well, the island of Manhattan, you know, large population, coastal area. We know, for example, as the planet warms up, you know, heat extremes are going to be a problem. Electricity is going to become a problem. And even, you know, things like flooding events, storm surge, these are the kinds of risks that we expect to see more of and the creeping sea level rise issues. So, you know, New York City has all of these different factors in play and, you know, it's again, it's an incredibly important center, so it becomes a place that, you know, Mayor Bloomberg has already put plans in place to reduce energy usage, to become more efficient and to invest in infrastructure to just reduce the overall vulnerability of the city.

GROSS: The infrastructure in New York, like the sewer system in so many places, is so old it's not equipped for the new amount of precipitation that we're getting.

Ms. CULLEN: Exactly. Exactly. And so the significant concerns from flooding subways, from flooding tunnels, from, you know airport runways that are very close to sea level. So it, you know, it becomes incredibly important to think through - if we're seeing the hundred-year flood, for example, occur more and more frequently. A city like New York, it's going to have to be able to respond to that changing climate, that new normal, for example and rebuild its infrastructure.

So, you know, one great example is, you know, a power plant in New York City, in fact. They're building a new power plant and they've incorporated sea level rise. This is a power plant in Sunset Park and they're going to build it four feet higher just to, you know, address the fact that sea level rise is expected to be about one foot higher. Sea level is expected to be one foot higher by 2050. And, you know, again, it's just stuff that we know is going happen, so the sooner we can plan for it the better.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization. And she's the author of the book, "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet."

Let's take a break here, then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Heidi Cullen. She's a research scientist at Climate Central, which is a journalism and research organization. And she's the author of the book, "The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and other Scenes from a Climate Changed Planet." It's just been published in paperback.

Miami is one of the five cities you describe as being most vulnerable to extreme weather and climate change. Why Miami?

Ms. CULLEN: Yeah, Miami again, you know, low-lying city, low-lying city on the coast. You've got hurricane risk. You've got storm surge, flooding risk. I mentioned before that we're already seeing more extreme rainfall events. And so when you talk to city planners in Miami, for example, they're already seeing, you know, flood events that fill up the streets happen more and more frequently.

Other interesting thing about Miami is that, you know, its water is very vulnerable to creeping sea level rise - so something called saltwater intrusion. And, you know, again, when you look at cities really going out there and working on, you know, creating a more sustainable future, Miami has a plan in place called Green Print that is trying to address sea level rise, increased heat, saltwater intrusion, and they're essentially trying to use at activation strategies that work together with emergency management.

And so, you know, emergency management being, you know, those first responders that are out there after a hurricane hits. And to really bring together the emergency management community and the climate change adaptation community and say look, any kind of infrastructure upgrades that we put in place now for the future also help us right now for the kinds of extreme weather events that Miami already sees.

GROSS: You say Miami would be more vulnerable to disease if climate change continues. Why disease?

Ms. CULLEN: So for example, when it comes to things like disease and pests, we know that, you know, the risk of things like West Nile Virus for example, is going to increase.

GROSS: Because mosquitoes love that kind of moist, swampy...

Ms. CULLEN: Exactly. And I mean this is sort of where this whole notion of the new normal comes into play in the sense that climate is one of these things that, you know, it's kind of invisible. When you think about it climate is a statistical construct. It is the average of weather over long periods of time. But it makes its way into just every aspect of our lives, and so everything has to adapt. Species adapt to a changing climate, and mosquitoes, poison ivy, all of that kind of stuff is going to change as we move forward in time.

GROSS: Fairbanks, Alaska, one of the five cities that you mentioned being portable to extreme climate and climate change. So what do you predict would happen in Fairbanks if climate change continues in the same pattern?

Ms. CULLEN: You know, I think two of the big risks for Alaska - Fairbanks being part of that - is wildfires. We expect wild fires to increase substantially as the world warms up. And then the other interesting thing is that Alaska is 85 percent permafrost. Permafrost basically being frozen ground. And as the Arctic warms up, that permafrost begins to thaw and that is going to be a headache in terms of infrastructure. So those are two really big concerns that folks are dealing with right now.

GROSS: You say that Alaska's average temperature has increased 3.4 degrees and the winters have warmed 6.3 degrees - compared to when?

Ms. CULLEN: That's, that is I believe since the 1950s.

GROSS: So is that a lot?

Ms. CULLEN: Those numbers are really big and actually completely consistent with what we expect in the sense that we expect the higher latitudes, the northern regions of the world to warm up the most, and we expect to see the signal strongest in the winter. And we can really, really see that in Alaska. So, you know, when folks talk about Alaska as this canary in a coalmine, it's just the fact that the warming is hitting the northern regions the hardest right now.

GROSS: You say that we have to prepare for climate change and adapt. And we also have to do things that will slow down climate change. So in your list of things that we should be doing as individuals and as a nation, what do you see is that priorities?

Ms. CULLEN: I think that first, we just really need to say, you know what? This is really real. It's really happening and to just get started fixing it. And I think this notion of adapting our infrastructure, looking at our cities - and we're seeing this play out. Lots of cities and states are coming up with adaptation plans. So accessing the risks and their specific vulnerabilities at the local level, you know, whether it's heat-related or flooding-related, just getting plans in place. And, you know, then it's like I said, this kind of bigger scientific research question of how are we going to fuel the planet as it gets more crowded and it gets hotter? And how do we invest in technologies that just remove our dependence on fossil fuels?

You know, it's really interesting because when you look at the U.S. - you know, when I was at the Weather Channel, I always used to feel like we focused too much on the negative. We focused on tornado coverage and hurricane coverage. But there's actually, you know, really positive aspects to weather. And when you look at our country, you know, we've got this tremendous wind belt in the Midwest. We have, you know, an incredibly rich solar area in the U.S. Southwest and, you know, the calculations basically tell us that if we put a 100 square mile solar array in sort of the four corners regions of the U.S. Southwest, that would supply all of our electricity needs. And so, you know, what I'm saying is we can actually build it. You know, we can do this. We can fix this, but we need to say it's as important as getting to the moon.

GROSS: When you look at all the extreme weather patterns in the United States do you see a place that you think as being safest from extreme weather?

Ms. CULLEN: You know, interestingly enough, I think every place comes with its own set of vulnerabilities. But, you know, the coasts are incredibly vulnerable. And I think that it's really hard for us to really wrap our brains around the fact that sea level rise, for example in a city like New York, could actually mean that water levels are about a foot higher by the middle of this century. And when you look at a projection of just all of the coastline that will be lost as sea level continues to rise, we are literally going to have to deal with the fact that we're going to have to move inland.

And, you know, you talk to a city planner in Miami, you know, that is just a topic that is off-limits right now. But, you know, we know it's going to happen. We know that we're going to have to deal with it at some point.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. CULLEN: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Heidi Cullen. Heidi is the author of the book "The Weather of the Future. It's just been published in paperback. Heidi Cullen. She's a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and a senior research scientist at Climate Central.