Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sinking In

The one good thing about floods is that they cover up, for a time, the real damage.

Now (at least, now that I have New Hampshire news sources) I can see what happened upcountry. It spoils one's objectivity when some of the neighbourhoods were your friends'. There are images of roads, recognisable as roads only because the rubble contains some chunks of asphalt with yellow stripes. The surroundings tell you that you used to drive down that road to hunt and fish. There is a town's main street, now a river, where I lived in my college years.

Not very pleasant, even at a distance.

When they were building the flood control projects, we understood there might be a price to pay some day. Our parents had seen the entire valley filled bluff to bluff with fifteen feet of water, and they were willing to take the chance. Some of my friends lived in the flood plain before the work was done, and spent every spring packed and ready to leave at moment's notice. The risk seemed good to them too. However, even in my youth we got used to thinking that the maximum flood stage was merely academic, that 1936 would never happen again, that the roads that traversed the flood zone would always be safe, that all the dams were sound.

Seems we were wrong. It happened again. Those roads are gone, and much else. Yes, the flood control projects spared the valley cities downstream from the worst consequences of their development follies, and for that one is very grateful.

Back of the dams and dikes, things are a wretched mess and I hope people remember that. I'm pleased to see that New Hampshire's Gov. Lynch seems to have offered more action and fewer sound bites than our fearless leader in Massachusetts. This might be someone to watch, if he can keep on delivering.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ape Man

I had an unusual birthday present this year. The family ponied up to have my Y chromosomes tested at Oxford Ancestors. That's the UK genetics firm founded by Brian Sykes, author of the Seven Daughters of Eve, decoder of the Iceman's DNA, identifier of the Romanov corpses, etc.

They suggested the Y-chromosome because the anecdotal evidence suggested my male ancestry had a fairly undisturbed record, while the female side seems to contain a more normal proportion of fence-jumpers. The process is damned expensive, so one doesn't want to play this game twice in the same year. I'll try Mother's side in a year or two.

The returns are in.

On the male side, I'm largely an aboriginal Briton, with genetic threads back to the first arrival of homo sapiens in the home country, about 9,000 years ago.


More on this another time, effallai. Meanwhile, I think I'll test the office dress code by showing up in skins and carrying a stone axe.

Missing a trend

Mass Marrier taunts me out of silence.

My excuse for giving storm coverage a pass is that I spent the weekend in Ithaca, NY, watching my offspring become a doctor. The occasion included the floppy velvet hat, velvet striped gown, hood... and mostly sunny skies with temps between 65 and 75.

It also included the discovery of a potation called Racer 5, from the Bear Republic Brewery. It is a bit of good fortune that I was able to remember my name after one of those: an aggressive IPA...uh huh.

Another observation from the weekend. There can be fun for faculty in these annual ceremonies if you pop for custom-made regalia. One of the deans at this ceremony was sporting a floor-length red robe with pale green velvet trimming, enormous bell sleeves that reached the floor, matching red shoes, and a very large floppy velvet hat. The voting was evenly divided. Was she Mrs. Claus in her day job, or did she earn her degree at Hogwarts? Damn, I should have done that for a living.

About the weather. As usual, I had to find a New Hampshire news site to find out that anything had happened north of the commuter zone. The vicinity of my hometown, Concord, has been well and truly hammered by the late amusements.

Just west of Concord, if you're on Route 9, you'll pass through a zone of artificial lakes and canals collectively called the Hopkinton-Everett Flood Control Project. It was completed in my teens, and was part of a system intended to mitigate the worst effects of catastrophic floods, such as the 1936 disaster.

It worked.

I remember as a boy seeing houses in the Merrimack flood plain, all the way down the valley, whose signature decoration was an ineradicable stain at the high water mark of the 1936 flood.

The stain was at the second storey level. The worst that has happened this time was about half that height.

It is sobering to think what this might have become without the flood control projects that followed the 1936 flood. But that was the New Deal, when politicians seemed to pay some real attention to human needs. Those flood projects took nearly 30 years to finish, and the payback is right now, with probably thousands of lives saved by the legacy of pinko liberalism.

Today, all we get are photo ops for Captain Brylcreem. Now we'll see whether Republican sound bites measure up any better here than they did in the Gulf Coast.