September 23rd, 2006

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Fashion show -

The fashion show is going to be quite something.   Professional models are helping us, and even they seem a bit stunned at what we will be doing.   This is more than a fashion show.  It is a production.   I am feeling pretty confident and comfortable and we have another day of rehearsal tomorrow.   I can't imagine how all 98 costume changes will be squeezed into 35 minutes, since just keeping up with the shoe changes is a big deal for me right now, but it is supposed to work.   We will have our make-up done and false eyelashes are strongly suggested.   Also, we learn how to tan ourselves with Jergens lotion.   I have two more fittings, but love my Jazzercise outfit, and I actually purchased it.  I have lounging pajamas, and a formal dress fitting coming up.  As I say, it is quite a production, and I am pausing to sit with all the aspects of it, and what they mean.    I will walk through four firemen in my formal gown and one will hand me a rose.   The music is "You're Beautiful," by James Blunt.  It seems to be a bit of a tear-jerker.  

In the past, children have been allowed to participate as "props," but it got too complicated.   One woman's son was home from Iraq and he, dressed, in his uniform, handed her, her rose.   Now, they have policeman for one scene, firemen for another, and some of the doctors who have treated us for another.    Each scene is different, though, so mine is the only one to get a rose.   It is fun, and I am sitting with all my production "notes," trying to remember what is mine to do, in this moment, since it also continues to change, as new ideas come.

This is certainly a labor of tons of love.   The logistics are astonishing, and it is all getting done.  Happy relaxing Saturday!!
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China -

Here is the synopsis by Stewart Brand of a talk last night by Orville Schell on China.

"China is the most unresolved nation of consequence in the world," Orville Schell began.  It is defined by its massive contradictions.  And by its massiveness--- China's population is estimated to be 1.25 to 1.3 billion; the margin of error in the estimate is greater than the population of France.  It has 160 cities with a population over one million (the US has 49).  It has the world's largest standing army.

No society in the world has more millennia in its history, and for most of that history China looked back.  Then in the 20th century the old dynastic cycles were replaced by one social cancellation after another until 1949, when Mao set the country toward the vast futuristic vision of Communism.  That "mad experiment" ended with Deng Xiaoping's effective counter-revolution in the 1980s, which unleashed a new totalistic belief, this time in the market.

So what you have now is a society sick of grand visions, in search of another way to be, focussed on the very near term.

These days you cannot think usefully about China and its potential futures without holding in your mind two utterly contradictory views of what is happening there.  On the one hand, a robust and awesomely growing China; on the other hand a brittle China, parts of it truly hellish.

- Peaceful borders in all directions
- Economic, non-threatening engagement with the entire world, including with societies the US refuses to deal with
- 200 million Chinese raised out of poverty
- Private savings rate of 40 percent (it's 1 percent in the US)
- 300 million people with cell phones, and the best cell phone service in the world
- A superb freeway system built almost overnight
- New building construction everywhere, and some of it is brilliant
- 150 million people online
- 350,000 engineering graduates a year
- One-third of the world's direct investment
- Huge trade surplus
- And an economic growth rate of 9 to 12 percent a year!  For decades.

but also...

- Not much arable land, so a growing dependence on imported food
- Two-thirds of energy production is from dirty coal, by dirty methods, growing at the rate of 1-2 new coal-fired plants per week
- 30 percent of China has acid rain; 75 percent of lakes are polluted and rivers are polluted or pumped dry
- Of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 16 are in China; you don't see the sun any more
- Some industrial parts of China are barren, hellish wastes
- Driven by environmental horrors and by widespread corruption, there were 87,000 instances of social unrest last year, going up every year
- The population is aging rapidly, with no pension or welfare, and a broken healthcare system
- The stock markets are grossly manipulated
- Public and official amnesia about historical legacies such as Tiananmen Square in 1989

How can such contradictions be reconciled?  The best everyone can hope for is steady piecemeal change.  For the Chinese the contradictions don't really bite so long as they have continued economic growth to focus on and to absorb some of the problems.  But what happens when there's a break in that growth?  It could come from inside China or from outside (such as a disruption in the US economy).

It's hard to look at the China boom now without thinking about the Japan boom in the 1970s and '80s, remembering how everyone knew the Japanese were going dominate the US and world economy, and we all had to study Japanese methods to learn how to compete.  Then that went away, and it hasn't come back.

The leadership of China is highly aware of the environmental problems and is enlightened and ambitious about green solutions, but that attitude does not yet extend beyond the leadership, and until it does, not much can happen.

That's China:  huge, consequential for everybody, and profoundly unresolved.

                                        --Stewart Brand

Stewart Brand --
The Long Now Foundation -
Seminars & downloads:
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Finding a cave -

We watched a recorded version of Bill Maher tonight.  It was excellent, and I ordered two books as a result of it.  One is Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold, and the other is Reza Aslan's No God but God.  I was surprised when I saw that Frank Rich's book had only three stars on Amazon, but reading on down I saw that there were those who hated it for what it said, and so downgraded it, and those who loved it, and gave it five stars.  It is important to read the reviews to really find out where the book stands. 

I see that a sparkling new cave has been discovered in Sequoia National Park.   It just shows all that goes on around us, including underground.

Magical underground world
Just-discovered cave in Sequoia National Park said to house astounding rock formations, clues to region's geologic history

Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Four amateur cave explorers in Sequoia National Park have discovered a vast cave formed 1 million years ago, a labyrinth that stretches more than 1,000 feet into a mountain and features some of the most beautiful rock formations ever seen.

Millions of crystals along its walls shimmer like diamonds. Translucent mineral "curtains" hang from the ceiling. Flowstones that resemble spilled paint dot the floor. A lake that might be 20 feet deep fills one of the cave's five known rooms, and passages leading into darkness suggest there is still much more to see.

The discovery has excited geologists and cave explorers nationwide because although caves are discovered with almost mundane regularity -- 17 of the 240 caves in Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks have been found since 2003 -- it is rare to find one so grand. The cave, named Ursa Minor, has been called one of the most significant finds in a generation.

"There are things in this cave that could really open windows into our knowledge of geologic history and the formation of caves throughout the West," said Joel Despain, the parks' cave manager. "We're just beginning to understand the scientific ramifications of this."

Park officials will not pinpoint the cave's location, saying only that it is in the Kaweah River watershed and will probably never be open to the public. Explorers from the nonprofit Cave Research Foundation discovered it on Aug. 19. Through good luck and better eyesight, they happened upon Ursa Minor while headed to lunch.

While most people envision caves as big holes in the ground, cave mouths are usually quite small -- in this case, about the size of a softball. Scott McBride, an explorer from San Andreas (Calaveras County) who has discovered 50 caves since 1994, spotted it, loosely filled with dirt and rock. Fissures around the opening, something a casual observer would miss but a seasoned caver knows might suggest a cave entrance, suggested it was worth a closer look.

"It looked interesting to me, so I broke out my flashlight," he said. "Sure enough, I could see darkness in the hole, which is a good sign."

He kept digging, and when the mouth was just big enough, he poked his head inside. The hole kept going, so he called out to his colleagues to bring shovels. Within a couple of hours, they'd opened up a hole big enough for McBride to squeeze through.

He scooted 25 feet or so down a slight incline, his headlamp lighting the way. He landed in a room so big he couldn't see the other side.

"By that point, I could see that it went back at least 35 feet, and I thought, 'OK, this is a cave,' " he said. "I knew pretty quickly that this was significant."

McBride climbed out to tell his friends. They went for lunch and returned with climbing gear. After 90 minutes of digging, they'd opened up a bigger hole. McBride went first, followed by Mike White.

They made it to the room McBride had already seen, turned a corner and discovered the passage descended 90 feet straight down. Excited, they rappelled into the void, their headlamps lighting the way. They called back to their colleagues, Allen Hager and Tom LeFrank, from the bottom.

No one heard them. They were too far down.

"They'd been yelling at us for 10 minutes, and we couldn't even hear them," said Hager, a caver from Los Angeles.

When they finally got the word, they too went into the hole. The four men spent about an hour exploring the cave in awe before climbing out to alert park officials.

"I was absolutely floored," Hager recalled. "Stunned."

Cavers have a tradition of allowing the person who discovers a cave to name it, and McBride chose "Ursa Minor" because they found a bear skeleton inside and because the cave shimmers like the stars of the Little Dipper.

"I've never seen a cave sparkle like this one," McBride said. "When you shine your light around the room, all the facets reflect your light like a million diamonds."

The four explorers have joined Despain and other geologists in mapping the cave, but they haven't found the end. The cave features five rooms -- the biggest is about 200 feet wide and 50 feet tall -- and at least five leads, or passages, leading farther underground.

"We think we've seen about 1,000 feet of cave passage, but there are areas we can see but haven't explored," Despain said. "We don't know how big this cave is or how much more there might be."

Those who have seen Ursa Minor -- only a dozen people have been allowed in -- said the most impressive thing about it isn't its size but its features. The floor is covered with stalagmites and flowstones that Despain said look "like someone poured taffy on the floor." Thin, hollow stalactites called soda straws hang from above; the longest are 6 feet.

There are long, thin blades of rock called cave curtains, which are formed by water flowing from overhangs. Some are translucent; others are red, orange or brown. Here and there are piles of cave pearls, calcified balls of sand as large as cherry tomatoes.

"You stand in one of these rooms and it's just jaw-dropping," Despain said. "It's just beautiful."

The cave is littered with animal skeletons and teems with spiders, centipedes, millipedes and other invertebrates. Experts believe Ursa Minor will feature unique species found nowhere else, adding to the 27 never-before-seen species discovered during a recent study of invertebrates in the park's 239 other caves.

Park officials are inviting experts in various fields from throughout the West to help explore the cave, and many are jumping at the chance to visit a pristine cave and see a portion of the Sierra Nevada from the inside.

"Ursa Minor is a very important discovery that likely will help us to understand how caves in the Sierra Nevada form, and perhaps even tell us something about the mountain range itself," said Greg Stock, a geologist at Yosemite National Park who is among those invited to tour the cave.

For now, the top priority is thoroughly mapping the cave and installing a gate at its mouth to keep sightseers and vandals at bay. No more than a few dozen people will ever see Ursa Minor, and those who have said they'll never forget it.

"It was exhilarating and overwhelming," McBride said. "You constantly look for these things, and cavers always joke about finding the big one. To find the one we always joked about is just amazing. This is the creme de la creme of finding caves."

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In Honor of Stupid People
In case you needed further proof that the human race is doomed to stupidity, here are some actual label instructions on consumer goods:

On a Sears hairdryer -- Do not use while sleeping.
(Shoot, and that's the only time I have to work on my hair.)

On a bag of Fritos -- You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside.
(the shoplifter special)?

On a bar of Dial soap -- "Directions: Use like regular soap,"
(and that would be how???....)

On some Swanson frozen dinners -- "Serving suggestion: Defrost."
(but, it's "just" a suggestion).

On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom) -- "Do not turn upside down."
(well...duh, a bit late, huh)!

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding -- "Product will be hot after heating."
(...and you thought????...)

On packaging for a Rowena iron -- "Do not iron clothes on body."
(but wouldn't this save me more time)?

On Boot's Children Cough Medicine -- "Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication."
(We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction accidents if we could just get those 5-year-olds with head-colds off those forklifts.)

On Nytol Sleep Aid -- "Warning: May cause drowsiness."
(and...I'm taking this because???....)

On most brands of Christmas lights -- "For indoor or outdoor use only."
(as opposed to...what)?

On Sainsbury's peanuts -- "Warning: contains nuts."
(talk about a news flash)

On an American Airlines packet of nuts -- "Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts."
(Step 3: maybe, Delta?)

On a child's Superman costume -- "Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."
(I don't blame the company. I blame the parents for this one.)

    Now, on this one about blaming parents, I need to say that when Chris was two or three, he was Superman for Halloween.   He was so excited all day as he swooped about in his little cloth muscles, underroos, tights, shirt, and red cape and boots.  We went to many parties that year, and he was thrilled, but I had not understood that he thought his costume was "real."   He thought he was Superman, and that night when I tucked him into bed, he said, "But I didn't fly."     I don't think we always know what goes on in the minds of children.   We say,  "What would you like to be for Halloween?"   Chris said, "Superman!"   Who would have thought he wouldn't fly, and yet, for me, he always will.