Thursday, August 21, 2008

George Balmer

The WSJ reports that Microsoft is hiring Jerry Seinfeld to make the brand more hip.

Makes sense....

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Lost Coast

I spent the weekend hiking and driving around California's Lost Coast (pics), so called because the King Range is so rugged that almost no roads lead through it. Even Hwy 1 and 101 veer about 30 miles inland. Full of redwoods, black beaches, dead whales, and the last of the formerly famous weed farmers until they got pushed out of business by the Sierra plantations of Mexican drug lords.
Shelter Cove, the south end of the Lost Coast Trail
Lighthouse Beach near Petrolia in the centerThe hide of a dead sparm whale, the tail fin in the foreground, some vertebrae to the left, a spinal disk sitting right in the middle, and you can see the tooth holes in the upper jaw. About 45 feet long, so either a small or a young one. The smell is not as revolting as week old sea lion, but there's more to go around. Upwind isn't bad, but I could smell it downwind for the next half hour or so.Back to civilization: Victorian in Eureka

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I am in awe of Bill's political genius

It took me a while to figure it out, but now I can predict the Democratic convention down to the tiniest detail.

Monday, August 25th
Seating of the delegates for Florida and Michigan.

Tuesday, August 26th
Rumors about a "big impending Obama scandal" start to circulate on the convention floor and will get picked up by the MSM. Hillary will go out of her way to defend BO. Bill will dismiss the rumors, but point out that "young, unproven candidates have to endure more scrutiny" .

Wednesday, August 27th
Bill Clinton gives the defining 21st century version of Marc Anthony's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech. Florida, Michigan, and one Obama state will declare for Hillary. Hillary will dismiss this as ridiculous, endorse Obama, and state that she will obviously do anything to preserve party unity and "do anything to serve the Democratic cause."

Thursday, August 28th
More scandal rumors surface on Drudge Report and FOXnews. Hillary will take the stage and declare that "She is prepared to accept the nomination and enthusiastically welcomes Barak Obama as our next Vice President." Texas declares its intention to 'respect the will of the majority of Texas voters' and switch the votes of the caucus delegates.
Super delegates vote for Hillary in order to "preserve party unity and bring about the change this country so badly needs".

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Gravity was last seen riding a stolen motorcycle on I-80

The Americans have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. -- George W. Bernard Shaw

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Machu Picchu

Someone just reminded me that I never finished my Peru posts, and--more egregiously--left out Machu Picchu so far.

For some reason, Blogger doesn't let me copy images from my gallery right now, so click here for some pictures

So, Machu Picchu...I'm still sorting out my feelings about that one, but all in all, I didn't quite get the kick out of it that everyone I've talked to before and after seems to have gotten. Part of it is that it's so overwhelming, another probably that after almost two weeks in Peru I was a bit worn out, part was a Chicha and "whatever was in that bucket" hangover, but most of it was that there was no there there. I love history and archeology, and while Machu Picchu is spectacularly situated and impeccably built, there is only very little tangible history here. Unlike Pisac, or Greek ruins, or the Anastazi sites, it was probably abandoned shortly after it was built, and maybe never fully inhabited, so it is lacking all these very little clues and imprints of the people who lived there.

One example of what I mean is this building in Mesa Verde.
Nowhere near as impressive as Incan buildings, but it tells a story, and might help to unlock a mystery. On the left side, the masonry is of better quality and the balcony is held up by double wood braces. On the right, it's held up by single braces. One possible interpretation, supported by carbon dating and placing the trees further away than ones on the left, is that the right side was build during the decline of Mesa Verde after they cut down all the easily accessible trees. It supports the theory that the rapid vanishing of the entire culture was caused by overpopulation, overuse of natural resources, and apparently a devastating drought in what was marginally arable land in the first place.

Anyway, Machu Picchu. Since there is no road leading to Machu Picchu the train ride from Ollyantaytambo, the only access is by train through an unbelievably scenic, narrow, and steep river valley. The trains are fairly new, but move slowly because the drivers have to get off every few miles to set and reset the switches by hand. Aguas Calientes (freshly renamed to Machu Picchu Pueblo) is the only town within miles and consists of the hotels, hostels, and backpacker haunts north of the river, and the houses of the guides, maids and cooks on the other side. For Peruvian standards it's very affluent, and has a reputation as the most expensive part of the country. If you've been to a mid-range Mexican or Italian resort town, you know what it looks like.

Accordingly, I dropped my stuff in the hotel, hooked one guy up with Neosporin and a first aid kit, and went back south to buy some water and snacks for the next day. They turned out to be cheaper than in Ollyantaytambo, which shows what guidebook writers know.
Fortunately, I ran into the preparations for a parade in honor of the anniversary of the World Heritage Site status. So I watched the an amazing display of Peruvian organization and efficiency during the two hours it took them to set up the marching order while getting steadily drunk on homemade corn beer (chicha) and moonshine--both served for pennies by some nice kids in front of the stadium. I didn't bring my camera, but it seemed wrong to take pictures anyway. It was a wonderful show nevertheless with everyone outfitted in local costumes, or Incan fakery. After that, it was dinner, a few more beers, Excedrin, a few hours of sleep, more Excedrin, breakfast, a 30 minute bus ride up dozens of switchbacks and a 5AM schlepp up to the highest point in Machu Picchu for an incredible sunrise over the Andean mountains.

Our local guide did a great job explaining and showing the place to tired and giddy tourists, and then we had many hours to explore and take hundreds of pictures (I clocked about 450 and wasn't even close to the crown). Architecturally, and from the 'how the heck did they get this up here', it's unbelievable. Another strong impression was the organization and the clear social differences: you can tell with one look at the masonry if workers, artisans, or members of the priest and ruling class lived in a building or area. Even after almost 600 years, the stones still fit tight, the stairs are still in place, and if you'd put up a few roofs, you could move right in. What makes the widespread lack of signs on habitation even more eerie.

Anyway, pictures tell the story better than words can.

(Side note: for all their wonderful architectural accomplishments, building consistent stairs was not one of the Inca's stronger points. They range from uneven to rockfall everywhere except in Sacsaywaman.)

I spent close to eight hours exploring in and around, interrupted only by a 45 minute nap on one of the big grass covered terraces to catch up on sleep and metabolize the rest of the moonshine.

Wrap up in a few days.