Genuine California Asphalt

So, this here photo is of real, genuine California asphalt. And boy is it ever in bad shape. This photo is of the road next to my house. There’s no base rock under the road. No proper foundation, underpinning, whatever you want to call it.

They (the mysterious, ever-present, ubiquitous they) laid the asphalt right on top of dirt. What does that get you? A bad road.

That’s a workable metaphor for California these days. My amazing state is in such bad shape. I think, if you had to shoehorn California into the Lord of the Rings, it would be the area directly around Isengard.

Stratospheric housing prices that no one can afford. Homeless people everywhere, doing the things that should be done within homes. Rampant crime as the criminally-inclined stroll into stores and go shopping while skipping the whole check-out-and-pay part of the equation.

Public schools are in the proverbial toilet. And it’s a low-flow toilet, because our lizard overlords in Sacramento decree we must use low-flow toilets in order to conserve water (because they haven’t spent a dime on building water projects in the last crazy number of years, despite all the water bonds they keep passing, to the tune of billions).

So what do people do? They just flush that darn low-flow toilet several times to achieve proper passage. Which is what happens in public schools. They just graduate the kids on up, even though they can’t do math at a sensible level, write an essay to save their lives, or understand, let alone apply, any kind of logic to the various situations that life throws their way.

We will now interrupt our programming with a photo of a field of Brussels sprouts growing next to my house. Who is going to eat all these little cabbages of sadness?

Good-bye California. This is one of those long, slow good-byes where we all end up yawning our way through the last few years of the demise. Nero fiddling in slow-motion, that sort of thing.

How do you create in that kind of atmosphere? Well, one of the vital things is that you keep your sense of humor. I’m pretty sure I still have mine. In fact, I just got paid to use my sense of humor in a writerly sort of way, and the results will go public fairly soon. So, yeah, got my sense of humor; I think it’s in the top left-hand drawer of my desk at home.

Pro tip: hanging onto your sense of humor is vital for whatever crazy situation you find yourself in: decaying state of California, war, monitor lizard attack in the Indonesian jungle, IRS audit, colonoscopy, etc. If you lose your sense of humor, it’s time to hang up your hard hat and head home.

It’ll be interesting to see where California is in the next ten years. I’m not holding my breath, as that would cause me to expire, even though the reduction in exhaled carbon dioxide would apparently help save the planet.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep on writing and reading and playing guitar. I just wish I could find the next Mark Twain, PG Wodehouse or Richard Powell. They just don’t seem to make ’em like that anymore.


This is an image of my mailbox, waiting for a copy of a good book to read. Good books are like oxygen, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, fine Swiss chocolate and a peaceful evening indoors with a light rain on the roof, all rolled into one. But very portable.

Global Boiling

We are now officially in the era of global boiling, according to the top grumpy guy at the United Nations, Antonio Gutteres. I’m somewhat confused as to what constitutes global boiling, as most official charts avoid the years previous to 1960. What is so magical about 1960?

At any rate, I figure if you’re going to determine the baseline conditions necessary for global boiling, you should take a long, hard look at the centuries preceding the modern era. Maybe all the way back to the dinosaurs. I bet they had a thing or two to say about global boiling before the ice age caught up with them.

When I was a kid, we used to go down to the desert on the California-Mexico border. Talk about heat. Those days were something beyond global boiling. They were more like global-blast-you-with-a-blowtorch, and then blow some sand in your face for good measure.

El Centro in the summer. It was like living in an oven. Everyone came out at night, when things cooled off a bit. You ran from air conditioned car to air conditioned house to the pool and back again.

My dad was farming down there at the time. Most of the work during the summer was done at night. Even the guys stealing tractors would steal them at night. It was hot work to begin with, so I’m sure they appreciated both the cover of darkness and the cool temperatures as they drove your John Deere across the border.

If you wanted to, you could always drive across the next day and check in with the local police department. They were usually pretty quick about finding the missing tractor, which seems suspicious, now that I think about it with my jaded adult mind.

Anyway, global boiling as an official measurement unit seems a bit imprecise. Of course, once it enters public discourse, and it certainly has entered, judging from how many different talking heads on TV are now sagely nodding and parroting “Yes, we are in the era of global boiling, so kiss your heinie good-bye!” that means the metaphorical door is open for other measurement units, such as global basting, global broiling, global sauteeing, and global-shrimp-on-the-barbie.

I never realized how culinary-centric the United Nations is, but Gutteres throwing around the term global boiling does renew my faith in their kitchen abilities. But, perhaps I’m misjudging their new direction. Perhaps, instead of wanting to end up on Top Chef, the grand poombahs at the UN want to usher us into an era of sacrificing virgins in the volcano, along with various goats and coconuts and perhaps several Teslas for good measure.

I might have a tiny bit too much faith in their narrative abilities, wondering if they’re going to go down the road. But, you have to admit, it would make for great television if the UN convened their annual general assembly by solemnly declaring “This is the year of wombat, a year of global boiling, which we shall celebrate by taxing everyone 6.2 cents for every  cubic yard of carbon dioxide they exhale, so be it!”

Everyone would then clap and cheer, and then the Secretary General would announce break-out sessions to study the efficacy of Swedish virgins versus New Zealand virgins tossed into volcanoes in order to assuage the weather predictions and/or the climatologists at MIT.

I daresay the climatologists at MIT, if stereotypes have any ounce of truth in them, would be more than happy with any sort of virgin, as long as they were homo sapiens.


So now we have the AI-driven ChatGPT in our lives. Teenage students around the world are probably rejoicing, pausing in their perusal of TikTok to lift their hands in praise.

If you haven’t learned (or experienced) yet, ChatGPT is a chatbot that was officially released in November of last year. The chatbot is an artificial intelligence text-generator. Basically, you type in a question and ChatGPT responds with an answer. For example, you can ask it anything. Quite an example, yeah?

Okay, here’s a more specific example. You could type in a query such as “Explain black holes at a fourth grade level.” Which I just did. In about ten seconds, ChatGPT responded with this:

Black holes are like a big, invisible vacuum cleaner in space. They suck up anything that gets too close, even stars and planets! This happens because black holes have a super strong pull of gravity.

Light can’t escape from a black hole, which is why they look black and we can’t see what’s inside. Scientists study black holes by looking at how they affect things around them, like stars.

It’s important to remember that black holes are not a hole in space that you can fall into like a hole in the ground. They are just a place where the pull of gravity is so strong that nothing can escape.

As your brain is probably already realizing, this opens up a huge can of wriggly worms from an education perspective. What’s to stop a student from getting ChatGPT to write all of his or her essays? Nothing. Not a thing.

Sometimes, I wonder if there’s a secret cabal of little grey men meeting in some hidden location (perhaps a mountain retreat called The Meadows), conspiring and scheming to make children dumber. Stupider and more dull, with each passing year (which then begs the question: why?).

Cell phones are bad enough. Kids whip those things out to retrieve data which, in the past, might very well have been stored in their own brain. Mental math is a thing of the past. And don’t get me started on posture.

I’m sure there are plenty of beneficial reasons for the existence of ChatGPT and all the other AI equivalents. But, dulling the brains of the young and future generations yet unborn cancels out a considerable list of potential benefits.

Other possible harms exist. What’s to stop the use of the chatbot to write news articles? Frankly, its quality level is just as good, if not better, than many journalists these days. Or how about writing stories? ChatGPT doesn’t seem to successfully handle being prompted to write in specific styles–such as, write in the style of Conan Doyle, etc–but I imagine that tweak will come along soon enough. What’s important, and dangerous, is that it can write stories.

Brave new world, isn’t it? Though, I’m starting to suspect that our real-time foray into dystopia is proving more similar to CS Lewis’ That Hideous Strength rather than Huxley.

As the world progresses in technological advancement, it reduces in other areas. Reductionism? Kids’ memories stunt. Creativity shrivels in on itself like a salted snail. Mental math withers. Relationships diminish due to the poisonous interface of screens and social media.

What are we reducing ourselves toward? Perhaps the rough beast slouching toward its birth?


Make Your Bed

Pro Dad Tip of the Day: make your bed right after you get up.

If you make your bed right after you get up in the morning, you will have achieved something of worth for the day. This will be your mini success, even if the rest of the day crashes and burns.

I wonder if anyone has ever done an analysis of prison inmates and whether or not they consistently made their beds as children? That would be an illuminating study. I’d rather my tax money be spent on that than figuring out how cocaine affects beagles (see: Idiots in Congress).

Big things have small beginnings. Such as: Mary and Joseph off to Bethlehem, the future Duke of Wellington playing with his toy soldiers as a young boy, tiny Bach hearing a pianoforte for the first time.

In related news, cleverly foreshadowed by my earlier mention of the now infamous cocaine-addicted beagles line item in the 1.7 trillion dollar omnibus, I’m relatively certain that the vast majority of our electeds in Congress, of both parties, are either insane, criminals, both insane and criminal, animatronic puppets controlled by a secret criminal organization, or are of such reduced intelligence that they would make a rotten cucumber look like Albert Einstein. It’s true (because now you’ve read it on the internet).

A quick skim through the omnibus reveals a laundry list of insanity. The spending bill includes crazy amounts of money for the Department of Defense, even though recent audits of that department have revealed hundreds of millions of dollars that have simply vanished. Poof. Gone without a trace. If your teenage son couldn’t account for thousands of dollars that you had given him, would you give him more? You would if you were insane or the mental equivalent of a turnip.

The omnibus pours truckloads of money into the Department of Transportation’s TIGER (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) program. Tigers are so cute and cuddly and cool; obviously, let’s give the ferocious beast more money. The only problem is, TIGER has a well-proven track record of sluicing money here and there on behalf of well-connected applicants. Contractors who knew the right politician. Contractors who built bridges that collapsed (see: Florida International University). Contractors who built projects that came in at multiples of the original bid (see: City of Atlanta’s streetcar project).

The omnibus spouts money into the open hands of the National Science Foundation. That’s the same foundation known in the past for studies such as Teaching Monkeys to Gamble, Do Quail Become More Promiscuous After Taking Cocaine, and Observing Shrimp on Treadmills. This allocation begs the question as to who is more insane, Congress or the geniuses at the National Science Foundation?

The omnibus increases public school funding by 2.6 billion dollars. Interestingly enough, the more the USA has spent on public education over the decades, the worse the outcomes have become. We routinely graduate kids from high school that can’t even do basic math in their heads, let alone write a coherent essay or even a letter to Grandma thanking her for the $50 Amazon gift card she sent for Christmas.

I’m confident the net effect of that 2.6 billion infusion will result in high graduates unable to tie their own shoe laces. But who cares? Just buy self-aware, bluetooth enabled shoes on Amazon that slip themselves onto your feet and do the tightening for you! That leaves you more time to devote to Tiktok.

The word omnibus sounds like ominous bus. Where is the ominous bus going?

At any rate, just make your bed. And then move on to the next small thing that life has put in front of you. Look at that small thing, make sure you’re not hallucinating, and then do it well.

Skunks in the Garden

We have skunks in the garden. A mama skunk and several baby skunks. So far, they haven’t sprayed anyone or anything. Thankfully.

From what I’ve read, skunks tend to hang around if there’s a food source. We’ve inadvertently provided them two: cat food, if we forget to take it inside in the evening, and fruit that has fallen to the ground from our various fruit trees–apples, pluots and apricots.

I’m not sure how to trap a skunk. I’m not sure I want to trap a skunk. At any rate, the skunk family is officially now my first line of home defense. Skunks are nocturnal. If a home intruder comes creeping around at 2 in the morning, I trust he will enjoy his encounter with skunks as they pursue their regular activities of chasing bugs and trundling about the garden.

One of my fondest memories from high school involves a skunk.

In junior year biology class, each student was required to produce an animal skeleton. This was the big project of the year. We all had to find a dead animal, remove all the soft material (fur, skin, musculature, etc) and then mount the skeleton on a stand. You know, just like the big dinosaur skeleton installations you see in the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Except much smaller and without the vast crowds of people streaming by.

Some of the students in my class applied a very generous interpretation to the verb find. One boy found a neighborhood cat, whacked it on the head, and then stuck it in his family’s freezer chest. Another student found a goat (procured, bought?–I’m a little hazy on where the goat actually came from) and then helped it meet its Maker.

Reflecting on the class assignment, I now realize that our biology teacher, Mr. W, probably hadn’t thought through the implications of just blithely instructing us to “find” an animal. He probably should have given us some parameters. Such as: find an animal that is already dead and that you didn’t kill. I do remember that he said no fish. That would’ve been to easy. We could’ve simply gone to the fish department at the grocery store.

“One rainbow trout, please. I’ll debone it at home, thanks.”

As for myself, I didn’t want to do something as boring and mundane as a cat or a dog. I wanted something more exotic. Dinosaurs, of course, were out of the question for several reasons. Driving home with my dad one afternoon, I spied some roadkill on the side of the asphalt. It looked in very good condition. Probably assassinated by a gentle, glancing blow from a small, electric-powered vehicle driven by an animal-hating elderly lady with bad eyesight.

A skunk.

Obviously, this skunk had wandered far from his garden. Inspiration bloomed like the proverbial light bulb and I asked my dad to pull over. He agreed. His agreement points to yet another example of an adult not thinking through implications (adults, parents in particular, aren’t as infallible as you might assume).

However, he did point out that the roadkill was a skunk and skunks smell. But, he had a great solution. Being a farmer, he had a lot of random stuff in the car trunk. Including one of those opaque, plastic five gallon buckets. Complete with a gasket-lined lid that snaps securely closed. He said that would contain the smell.

After about one mile further down the road, we realized the plastic bucket, even with the efficient gasket, did very little to contain the smell. And what a smell it was.

I placed the bucket far away from our house that evening. We lived on a farm, of course, so there was plenty of space. The next morning, the bucket didn’t seem to smell at all. Dissipation had magically occurred. Reassured, I brought the bucket with me on the bus to school. Our bus was always sparsely populated, even by the end of its route, so I put the bucket in a front seat and then sat in the back.

Again, another interesting example of adults not bothering to think through implications. The bus driver neglected to wonder why this kid had a five gallon bucket and why he sat as far from the bucket as he could.

At the next stop, a seventh grader named Gary got on. He sat in a seat either behind or in front of the bucket seat. I can’t remember that detail exactly, but he was quite close. Several minutes later, he threw up. By this time, the skunk odor in the bus had gotten quite strong. Magical dissipation, contrary to my assumption, had not occurred.

The bus driver hurriedly stopped the bus and put the bucket in the outside storage compartment. One of those side flaps that tilt up between the two wheels. And then, off we went to school.

When we arrived at school, I headed straight to the biology classroom with my five gallon bucket and the prize inside. It wasn’t biology period yet, but I had to get rid of the bucket. What happened next was probably the most fascinating example in this entire sequence events of an adult not thinking through implications.

Mr. W, our biology teacher, had been taking all of the different animals we students brought in and placing them on trays on the flat roof of the school building. His idea was that then flies would lay eggs in the corpses, the eggs would hatch into maggots, which would then eat the corpses clean. Voila, clean skeletons.

His idea wasn’t bad. It was the execution, no pun intended, that faltered.

Mr. W placed my skunk on a tray and put it up on the roof. This roof, mind you, was of a fairly large building that contained many classrooms: biology, maths, chemistry, as well as the school library. Mr W, possibly moving too quickly due to the odor and not wanting to throw up, put my skunk tray right next to one of the main air intake vents for the building’s ventilation system.

After about ten minutes, doors flew open everywhere as classes hurriedly exited the building. Even from beyond the grave, the skunk was punching above its weight.

In case you’re interested, I did see the project through to completion. The skeleton was in excellent condition. I was able to reassemble it into a standing pose. Mr. W gave me an A.

I think I very much deserved that A.

Other people also deserved good grades. The bus driver for not getting mad at me. A lot of my fellow students and teachers for not getting mad at me for the smell in the building. My dad for putting up with his car smelling like skunk for months afterwards.

Anyway, I view the current skunks in our garden with nostalgia. As long as they don’t get hydrophobia. Then they’re out of here. With extreme measures.