Roses Are Red, Violets Are… Yellow?

Published at 07:51 on 29 April 2018

It doesn’t jibe with the traditional poem, but in this part of the world, violets are commonly neither blue nor violet in color. Our two most common species have yellow flowers.

Evergreen Violet, Viola sempervirens

The Evergreen Violet, Viola sempervirens, lives up to its name by having evergreen foliage; its rounded leaves persist through the winter months. It is a short plant, seldom more than 10 cm (4″) tall. All of its leaves and flowers are borne singly on stems arising from underground rhizomes; it has no above-ground stems that bear both leaves and flowers. It is commonly found on the floor of coniferous forests.

Stream Violet, Viola glabella

The Stream Violet, Viola glabella, is often found along streams and in other areas wetter than the Evergreen Violet prefers. It is usually more than 20 cm (8″) tall, bearing both flowers and leaves from above-ground stems. All above-ground parts of this violet die back in winter. This violet’s leaves are thinner and brighter green than the Evergreen Violet’s, and they come to a point at the end. The Stream Violet is most common in deciduous forests.

Like all violets, both of the above have edible flowers and young leaves. Of the two, I prefer the Evergreen Violet, because its flowers often taste delightfully of wintergreen.

The flowers being the reproductive part of a plant, one should not attempt to make a harvest of edible flowers of any sort unless a) the flowers are numerous, and b) the area they are being harvested from is lightly-used. Item (b) means that I do not snack on violets here on the Island much, because most of our wild areas simply get too many visitors to support the ethical harvesting of flowers. I concentrate my snacking on violet blossoms to the times when I take hikes in less used areas on the Olympic Peninsula.

Garden pansies and Johnny-jump-ups are also in genus Viola and are also edible.

Saudi Reforms: A House Built on Sand

Published at 20:14 on 28 April 2018

The recent reforms in Saudi Arabia are like a house built on sand; they are fated not to last.

That’s because of all reformist measures enacted by governments, the recent ones in Saudi Arabia are some of the closest to pure reformism and the furthest from revolutionary change, and ultimately only revolution is capable of effecting lasting change. Absent enough popular passion to inspire at least some faint thoughts of revolt, a reform is nothing but a dictate from above that can be easily undone by an opposing and contrary dictate from above.

Lasting reforms in open societies are indeed a real thing, but they are almost never pure reformism. They are driven by popular demand and backed by an implicit, though often unstated, threat of at least widespread disruption and at worst (in the eyes of the ruling elite) outright revolution if not granted. The reforms are granted by the elite under popular pressure not to erode elite rule, but to preserve it, and the implicit threat from below serves to keep the reforms in place.

In contrast, what’s happening in Saudi Arabia seems to be coming almost entirely as a result of the dictates of a reform-minded king. They could be easily undone the next time a more conservative king ascends to the throne, and in all likelihood will be.

Now, if when that hypothetical king undoes the reforms there is unrest, and then the reforms are reinstated, then they will cease to be a house built upon sand. But only then.

A Strange Book

Published at 07:33 on 28 April 2018

So, a week or so ago, I was passing through the campus of the University of Washington when I noticed two brand-new copies of a book sitting on a bench outside. It was a novel, not a textbook, so evidently someone had been passing them out as free samples, and two takers had decided to leave them. Being a chance to get a brand-new book for free, and the book not obviously being a political or religious sect’s recruiting text, I decided to take one.

The book was Wild Animus by Rich Shapero. It’s a somewhat strange (and not entirely realistic) tale about an LSD-using graduate student who takes his hallucinations a little too seriously, eventually to the point of perishing near the summit of Alaska’s Mt. Wrangell.

Two articles on the book may be found here and here.

It turns out that free distribution is evidently the main way the book passes into the hands of the public, and that college campuses are one of the typical venues for such distribution. Apparently it’s written by a somewhat eccentric high-tech millionaire who has decided it’s a good value for his money to pay significant sums having copies of his stories printed, and then to distribute them for free.

I can’t quite share the resentment of the reviews of some of its readers. It’s something of a trippy tale, which turned out to be just about the perfect thing for me to have read during my recent camping trip, on which I did not take any cannabis. The book provided a conveniently drug-free means of entering into a somewhat trippy state of mind.

Having read it, I will now sneak it into the nearest Little Free Library. I will almost certainly not be the first person to sneak a copy of this work into one!

Nature Posts

Published at 13:31 on 27 April 2018

I’ve been making these to a another blog that I own, because part of my reason for making them is to sort of toot my own horn as to my knowledge of things natural, in the hopes of someday making a living sharing that knowledge.

I often make political posts here, and I prefer to keep business and politics at least somewhat separate, which is why I’ve started putting my nature posts somewhere else specifically devoted to them.

However, I’m something of a cheapskate, and have been unwilling to pay for hosting that second blog, which means it contains ads. I’m not terribly happy about that latter point, and wish to provide a way for people to read my nature posts without being subjected to advertising.

This site is ad-free, because I’m paying to host it, so I’ve decided to post nature stuff on both blogs, thus giving folks a way to read those posts ad-free here.

If you only want to read the nature posts, and you wish to read them ad-free, you can bookmark this link.

That I’ve linked the two blogs here (and may even link them from the other site, as well) makes it possible for a prospective customer to learn my politics and possibly discriminate against me for being politically radical. So be it. I’m not interested in living in the closet; moreover, anyone small-minded enough to so discriminate probably is small-minded enough to not be the best person to deal with, anyhow.

Marine Push

Published at 13:16 on 27 April 2018

Here comes the marine layer.

I’ve been out of town camping the past several days, taking advantage of the warm, dry weather while it lasts. I just got back home before noon today.

Of course, the warm weather didn’t last. It never does, particularly this early in the season. I awoke in the early morning hours and could tell that the humidity had risen. When the sun rose, there was a damp chill to the air, and the morning sunshine did not quickly warm things like it had the past few days, particularly on Thursday.

In fact, I was lucky this morning, having camped in one of the few areas that stayed clear overnight. While leaving, I could see that tatters of clouds were clinging to some of the ridges. A few miles later, I was met by the sight of a wall of low marine overcast, which had not yet totally pervaded the area where I had been, but which was evidently fated to soon do so. Most of the remaining drive back home was in overcast conditions.

This is a common pattern during our warmer months. A surface low offshore interferes with the normal onshore flow: typically, heating inland will cause lower air pressure (warm air being less dense than cold) which in turn serves to draw the cool air inland, moderating our temperatures. When there’s a surface low offshore, it keeps the air pressure there lower than inland, even though it’s often really starting to warm up under clear skies. Our natural air conditioning turns off for a few days.

If the same pattern happens during the winter months, we typically don’t get so extraordinarily warm, because there’s simply not enough hours of sunlight to heat things up at low levels. Instead, the clear skies overnight help things cool down on the long winter nights (by enabling the radiation of long-wave infrared, which clouds tend to reflect, out to space). It may be getting warmer and warmer aloft, but at the surface it stays quite cool. This inverts the normal order of things, which is that temperatures get cooler as one gets higher, and so is called a temperature inversion.

If the pattern starts when the ground is wet (as it often is, in the winter), the air at the surface tends to quickly become saturated, and we get a prolonged period of fog, low clouds, and cool to cold temperatures at the surface. We also get poor air quality, since the cold, stagnant air at the surface doesn’t let pollutants dissipate easily.

But back to the warmer months. The warm, dry weather is enabled, to reiterate, by a surface low offshore. When that low moves east over land, its effect is reversed: the low pressure area is over the area of warm air, and the tendency for warmer air to be less dense is amplified. Not only that, it’s usually abnormally warm inland, further amplifying the onshore trend. Marine air assertively floods inland, sometimes vigorously enough to prompt small craft advisories in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

With the cool, moist air comes low clouds and sometimes fog and drizzle. This is the marine push. The heat wave is over.

The Answer Is No

Published at 00:22 on 24 April 2018

Marcon can’t bargain with Trump.

He thinks he can, but he can’t. Orange Julius Caesar will say whatever Marcon most wants to hear at the moment, then just change his tune and pander to his base after the visit ends. Marcon will end up looking like the fool he was for thinking otherwise.

After all, even members of Trump’s own cabinet have trouble working with him, because Trump’s line on what he wants keeps continually changing. Trump’s own well-demonstrated personal flaws make cutting any sort of lasting deal highly improbable.

It’s somewhat surprising a reasonably intelligent person like Marcon could think his effort will end up otherwise. I guess in some sense he has to make a good faith effort to try and save the doomed Iran deal; it would look really bad for him to just write Trump off from the get-go. It’s one of those pointless formalities that must be gone through.

On a different matter, so much for the idea that Rand Paul might act as something other than Trump’s dutiful lapdog. The lapdog might yap a lot and even let out the occasional growl, but it’s always the smallest and most pathetic dogs that are the most vocal.

Antifa Is Winning

Published at 06:51 on 23 April 2018

Even an Establishment paper like the Washington Post basically admits as such when they write paragraphs like:

Participation and enthusiasm appear to have slowed since. Several street rallies have been sparsely populated by white supremacists — but overwhelmingly attended by counterprotesters — and by the time Spencer ended his college speaking tour, few supporters were coming to his speeches.

You see, fascists (and that’s all “alt-right” is: rebranded fascism) aren’t interested in participating in the dialogue of an open society. They want to destroy open society and replace it with a totalitarian fascist dictatorship.

Fascists’ public appearances aren’t about debate, they’re about projecting an image of force and power, and attracting support based on that alone. Outnumbering fascists, shouting them down, shutting their events down, firing them from their jobs, disowning them from families and sometimes beating them up undercuts and subverts that message of force and power, replacing it with an image of weakness and powerlessness.

It may make nice liberals queasy and even pity the poor roughed-up fascists, but liberals aren’t the target group the fascists want to recruit from, anyhow. There really is a paradox of tolerance, and acting on this fact really does appear to work.

The Castro Era Is Ending

Published at 09:30 on 22 April 2018

Decades ago, well before blogs (or even the World Wide Web) existed, it was obvious to me that the US policy with respect to Cuba was a colossal failure: despite its stated aim being to drive Fidel Castro from power, his grip on the reins of state were as firm as ever. I predicted that he would never be overthrown and would die in office, the standard outcome for Stalinist leaders who are not overthrown.

Close, but no Cohiba; instead, he chose to retire. The Castro regime, however, survived, because he appointed his brother to replace him. (Monarchy, anyone?) And now the Castro regime itself is ending in a fashion planned by the regime itself, on that regime’s timetable.

Note how I wrote “ending” instead of “over;” this choice of wording is significant. Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez is merely being appointed president. Raúl Castro remains chairman of the Communist Party, which in a Leninist one-party state is the real position of ultimate power.

I was wrong on the particulars but the end outcome is still that the Castro regime extremely likely to fully survive the stated policy of overthrowing it. A large part of that is because the policy itself was ridiculous. It ignored certain realities of the Cuban Revolution; namely, that it was a genuinely popular expression of revolt against US-backed dictatorship.

Acknowledging the above, of course, means acknowledging the painful truth that the USA runs an oppressive imperialist order, and that’s just something that the political Establishment prefers to lie about and claim doesn’t actually exist. Trump is hardly the first politician to be blinded by his own ego; he’s merely the most egregiously obvious one.

As to what comes next, who knows? The goal of the Cuban Communist Party is to copy the example set by the Chinese and Vietnamese ones, and to continue the existence of an authoritarian regime, dominated by the Party, that survives and outlasts a transition to a more capitalistic economic order.

And just like in China and Vietnam, it’s certainly possible, because capitalism in no way implies the existence of freedom.

North Korea’s Nuclear Freeze

Published at 20:22 on 21 April 2018

It’s talk, and talk is cheap. Talk is particularly cheap coming from a nation whose government has, more than most governments, exhibited a lack of transparency and trustworthiness (and I’m putting it very mildly here). It’s a promise with no safeguards or independent verification whatsoever.

It is, in other words, basically meaningless as to its literal stated purpose. The only thing it signifies is a willingness to talk, nothing more. Given that we already knew the North Koreans were willing to talk, it’s non-news.

It’s also highly unlikely. Saddam Hussein gave up his nuclear program, and what did it ultimately get him? Overthrown by US military action, that’s what. North Korea (also on George W. Bush’s “axis of evil”) refused to give up its nukes and remains. There is a lesson in that for the North Korean state, and that lesson is not that it pays to denuclearize. This was an entirely foreseeable consequence of going to war against Iraq.

Fuck Daniel Ortega

Published at 09:50 on 21 April 2018

Since this is the United States, land of both widespread historical ignorance and ignorance of foreign countries, I will begin by pointing out that Daniel Ortega is the president of Nicaragua. Actually, he’s been president twice, once in the wake of the 1979 revolution, and again since 2007.

When he returned to power in 2007, he promptly banned abortion and sought and took kickbacks from those seeking government favors, then engaged in repressive measures against journalists who attempted to document the corruption. He followed that up by banning the two of the largest opposition parties from participating in the 2009 municipal elections.

Then Ortega packed Nicaragua’s supreme court with sympathetic justices, who by some twisted logic ruled Nicaragua’s constitution to be unconstitutional, specifically the parts about presidential term limits. The 2016 election was the first since the 1979 revolution in which foreign observers were not allowed (with the exception of one very small delegation). It’s almost as if someone wants to be President for Life.

Now it looks like there’s finally starting to be some popular pushback against the dictator.

Fuck Ortega. Fuck all dictators.