Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I won't be wearing for New Year's Eve...

... from our walk along Rodeo Drive after dinner last Thursday.

Happy New Year, everyone! Have great times in 2014.

Cholla Cactus Garden

Joshua Tree National Park offers one extraordinary landscape after another. This morning, we drove south through the park and stopped for a walk in the Cholla Cactus Garden, where thousands of cholla cactuses grow in a vivid desert setting. Their spines are sharp and menacing, as you are warned by signs at the entrance to the trails. We were amused by a quote on the entrance sign:
"If the plant bears any helpful or even innocent part in the scheme of things on this planet, I should be glad to hear of it." -- from California Desert Trails, by J. Smeaton Chase, 1919  

Monday, December 30, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunlight and Shadows at Joshua Tree N.P.

This, of course, is a Joshua Tree. Some are shaggier than others.
We thought they looked like something from Dr. Seuss,
maybe trufulla trees -- the park service website makes the same observation.
Miriam and Alice beside a hanging rock 
The park is full of incredible rock formations. As Evelyn and I drove past some of the strangest-looking ones,
the radio was playing a piece by Philip Glass. Perfect sound track! 
Scrub jay in a Joshua tree. From the park website:
"Known as the park namesake, the Joshua tree,
Yucca brevifolia, is a member of the Agave family." 
Joshua trees and our shadows again, a bit before sunset.
A yucca plant, which the park website says is easy to confuse with the Josuha tree.
We wondered about the history of the Joshua tree and its name -- it's thoroughly documented on the park website. Particularly interesting facts:
"Years ago the Joshua tree was recognized by American Indians for its useful properties: tough leaves were worked into baskets and sandals, and flower buds and raw or roasted seeds made a healthy addition to the diet. The local Cahuilla have long referred to the tree as “hunuvat chiy’a” or “humwichawa;” both names are used by a few elders fluent in the language. 
"By the mid-19th century, Mormon immigrants had made their way across the Colorado River. Legend has it that these pioneers named the tree after the biblical figure, Joshua, seeing the limbs of the tree as outstretched in supplication, guiding the travelers westward. Concurrent with Mormon settlers, ranchers and miners arrived in the high desert with high hopes of raising cattle and digging for gold. These homesteaders used the Joshua tree’s limbs and trunks for fencing and corrals. Miners found a source of fuel for the steam engines used in processing ore."
Palms at the Oasis of Mara
The Oasis of Mara, where we took our first walk in the park this afternoon, is being protected and preserved by the National Park Service, but miners and also farmers were a major threat to its integrity long ago. They took large quantities of water away from the natural pools and underground reservoirs of water that nurtured the palms. Native American residents had moved away from their village in the oasis 100 years ago. They survived the 19th century miners etc, but ultimately they were unable to sustain their life there.

Now part of the park, the oasis belongs to the palm trees, small animals, and numerous birds, which all depend on piped-in water because the natural water totally dried up by 1947. New housing developments surround the oasis now: they are part of the landscape one sees on the half-mile paved loop trail outside the visitor center. Yes, you could think of the Lorax who spoke for the trees as you walk through this vestige of the past; fortunately the rest of the park seems less endangered.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Getty Outdoors

Walking up to the museum from the parking structure
On the terrace
The desertscape garden and today's amazing clear view of LA
Is Miriam texting or taking a photo?
The rocky stream bed and its imaginative landscaping 
More of the streambed
The gardens of the Getty Center are stunning, as are the views from the many terraces and walkways on the outsides of the buildings. Of course we spent a substantial amount of time inside the buildings as well, seeing an exhibit on the stained-glass windows of Canterbury Cathedral and some related manuscripts, seeing the permanent collection of 19th century art, and a few other galleries.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

LA County Museum of Art

Two netsuke hares with amber eyes. Artist: Kaigyokusai (Masatsugu; 1813-1892)
I love the Japanese pavilion at the LACMA where we spent quite a while this morning. Their collection of netsuke is magnificent. This one made me think of the book The Hare with Amber Eyes, which I read some time ago. 

Another view.

Christmas Fun

Christmas Dinner at Gastro Pub "The Pikey"
Lunch on the beach (unfortunately it took 1 hour for food to arrive
as there was some sort of meltdown in the kitchen. But it was good.
Special dinner at The Pikey: goose pie. Under the mashed potatoes:
a ragout of goose neck.
Trout in a delicious lemon sauce with cooked radishes and chantarelles.
Pasta with pork
Fish and Chips
Dessert: Pot de chocolate and sticky toffee pudding
One more photo from earlier in the day: turns out the temperatures were nearly record highs
(thanks, Elaine for sending that info!)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas on the Beach

From Santa Monica Pier
Venice Beach sand dune
In Venice Beach
Wishing everyone a great Christmas Day.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Have a Happy Christmas!

Christmas tree reflection
Christmas decorations at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh.
Lower right: Miriam


Thursday, December 19, 2013

A few things have been making me think about hunger and poverty in America. First, I've recently evaluated many appeals for charitable contributions and decided among them and written checks. This included several organizations that help homeless and hungry people, particularly our local food bank, social work organizations, and homeless shelter.

Also recently I've read a number of articles about the working poor people and also the unemployed in our country. For example, an article in the Washington Post about the relationship of poor diet and obesity in extremely poor people, "Too much of too little A diet fueled by food stamps is making South Texans obese but leaving them hungry."

One particularly interesting article in the Atlantic was "The Past and Future of America's Social Contract" by Josh Freedman and Michael Lind. The authors describe the historic progression from an American social contract beginning in the New Deal. For many years, employers provided a number of social services (especially health care and retirement income). We have moved on, say the authors, to a more modern "low-wage" social contract, in which workers earn little but are supposedly helped by lower-priced goods: often imported, often sold at Wal-Mart.

They write:
"It is true that tax credits and cheap goods have boosted the standard of living for otherwise impoverished workers. Yet, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account wage subsidies and additional costs like taxes and medical costs, almost 10 percent of the total working population still lives in poverty. This includes roughly 5 million Americans who work full-time, year-round. 
"A key reason for this is that the low-wage social contract does not do much to help families in the areas they need most. Clothing, food, and other items found at Wal-Mart might be cheap for low-wage workers. But other necessary services—health care, daycare, eldercare, and college—have simultaneously become less affordable and more important as most mothers work outside of the home and the wage premium for college remains high. In 1960, the average family spent about $12,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars on childcare, education, and healthcare over the course of 17 years raising a child. Four decades later, the average family spends almost $63,000 per child. Medical out-of-pocket expenses now push more people below the poverty line than tax credits can lift above it."
The authors believe that "we need to shift once again to a system more suited to the current economy and needs of workers and citizens." They believe that the government should supply the services that are essential and out of the reach of the poorest Americans, and suggest starting "by raising the federal minimum wage closer to a true living wage and expanding public early education, both of which are widely popular proposals."

Sadly, I don't see that our current government is likely to embark on a program of this sort. I see too much hostility to workers and poor people on the part of legislators -- in fact, too much contempt for the poor, the unemployed, and others who are simply unfortunate. Cuts in food assistance from the federal government are one of the worst insults, as there seems to be acceptance for the idea that poor people don't even deserve to eat.

Some of our politicians seem more heartless than the "let them eat cake" caricature of Marie Antoinette. My recent reading of Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution brought to mind a variety of parallels between modern times, especially in America, and various events in that era. I'm not sophisticated enough to write about such parallels, but my reading made me think about "aristocratic" attitudes towards poor people here. I have no real hope of things getting better. I'm aware that I should be writing upbeat things about the wonderful holiday season, but this is what's on my mind.

Note: I'm also posting this on my other blog, maefood.blogspot.com

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Experiment: Can I take a photo of the moon?

Learning to use an SLR with Len's help.