Weird Job: Washing Dirt, Boiling Corpses

San Bernardino County Museum 1

I would like to reflect upon one of the weirder jobs I’ve had: San Bernardino County Museum … person. In around 1990. In this picture here, off to the distance, was where I mostly worked.

When the highway departments carve roads through mountains & do major excavations they’re required to have the area assessed for fossils & such (there’s a requirement, I don’t know). So, the San Bernardino County Museum sends somebody out there with a 50-gallon drum, or maybe a truck, to take samples. They bring them back to the museum & lay the soil out on tarps.

From there, a handful of guys (because of course) take shovelfuls of the soil & run it through two or three grades of screen. We’d wash them in half of a 50-gallon drum full of water, getting all of the silt* out. We’d then label the screens with a tag made from a piece of aluminum can, scribbled on with a ball-point to leave an indentation, and set them in the sun to dry.

* If it’s clay, it might be run through kerosene first. This was only done by a Mexican man who refused to wear gauntlets (there were dozens, for the purpose, we all used all the time). His arms were white to the elbow.


After this, depending on what the paleontologists find, the pebbles and fossils might be run through zinc bromide acid. Basically, the specific gravity of zinc bromide is higher than that of quartz and feldspar, so they float where the fossils sink. After a day standing over the zinc bromide bucket, ladling gravel in and out (and occasionally boiling the acid, to concentrate it a bit), there might be 1/2 a cup of fossil teeth and bones, from some small rodent or lizard.

San Bernardino County Museum 2

The museum has a comparative collection. That means they have a mass of varying species of lizards & rodents, from fossils through to present day specimens. Some of the modern ones are “collected.” This meant that the resident “Dr. Death” would take his slingshot on expeditions to collect some hapless lizard from a corner of Joshua Tree or what have you. And bring them back to be “rotted off.”

You see, the museum had at one time had dermestid beetles. They gave them food that was too wet, which gave them some sort of fungal disease, and now they no longer have dermestid beetles. So, to clean bones without damaging them and without beetles, they’re boiled and rotted. If you’re very unlucky, there might be a few cycles of boiling and rotting, as with the python.

After the animal is sufficiently rotty, you pour it through a screen, hose it off, and perhaps put it back in its bucket or jar for another go-round. (Don’t put it on the roof of the museum, in the sun to make it rot faster, with the lids on tight. Word to the wise. Was not me.)

It took me maybe 20 years to be able to consume a breakfast burrito, after the desert tortoise. I started pouring off that tortoise juice and instantaneously projectile-vomited the breakfast burrito I’d just had. I have never seen such a pure expression of vomit. No sound, no wasted motion, just efficient removal of anything that might at all be causing the horror.

I do wonder if they remember where they buried the camel, donated from the camel racing people down there somewhere. They determined that it just was a bit too much to deal with locally, so they buried it to let it rot more gently.

-D

Virtual Vacation

I wish we’d done more of these photospheres. Please click through to this one & get a feel for what they’re like viewed where you can scroll around and really look at things.

Taxco 46

When we’re traveling, I like to use the big cameras, because the results are just so much better than the phones. Making these things, though, is something I intend to do more frequently.

A church in Taxco, Mexico. Just one of the several, as I recall.

-D

Nostalgia in a time of covid

We miss travel. No, that’s not right. We miss our friends. David is one of our David’s best friends & is in Glasgow. We last got to see David when we visited The Netherlands in 2018. We got to see both David and Laura & spend a few days with each.

Netherlands 2018 354

We left Glasgow in June of 2012. We’ve been back a few times, but not since 2016. We desparately want to go back, to feel at home again in the filthy city, and see friends.

Kelvingrove Park 317 HDR

This is hardest simply because we cannot visit. It is not the travel. It’s the people.

Video conferencing just isn’t the same.

-D

Irvington Gardening

During this time of everyone staying at home, we decided to do some gardening. Well, no – we’d already decided, but now seemed an ideal time, so we ordered 7 cubic yards of compost, and some plants to arrive a few days later.

Irvington 326

Irvington 330

We knew 7 cubic yards was a lot of compost, but it actually went fairly easily. It was cool enough to need to wear warm clothes while shoveling, which made a huge difference. There are 5 cubic feet in a wheelbarrow and 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard. So, figure about 40 wheelbarrows had to make their way somewhere.

We basically wanted to bring the earth back up to being level, either with the sidewalk or with the top of the planters. The previous tenants didn’t really do much with things, so we’ve been adding fertilizer and compost and really trying to improve the soil as much as possible.

It has been 13 years since we’ve done any serious gardening, and even then, it was probably way back in 2002 or so that we were really able to garden at home (we’d been gardening at B & L’s). Here, it’s convenient to get out there first thing for 20 minutes, or to get out there over lunch to thin some fruit, rather than having to make a huge production of Visiting The Garden.

Irvington 341

The challenging part was managing to get about 15 wheelbarrows tipped into the raised beds. There’s a metal nose on them, which needs to be wiggled into place on the lip of the bed, and then the whole barrow has to be lifted through 90 degrees and dumped.

Irvington 348

We’re deciding what to put where, and how much space to leave between things. We’re trying to read the labels and give things the space they need. It is hard to resist Annie’s, though, particularly when there are such gaps in our garden. On the other hand, we seem to have planted quite a few seeds, and they are growing apace. Soon we shall be inundated, we hope.

Irvington 353

We have planted morning glories all around the fence and at the base of the tree at the sidewalk. We’ve more to plant (these were sprouted inside), and then a whole bunch of other vining things (birdhouse gourds, cantaloupe, cucumbers), etc. For a first year’s garden, we don’t expect it to be perfect, but we really are looking forward to what comes up!

-D & T

Revisiting Photography

We generally leave the TV on when we’re reading or cooking or what have you, with the TV playing … pictures from our Flickr. As a consequence, I end up examining photos and really really wishing I knew more, back then. For example, this photo. It’s a manually-done HDR, which means I mixed 3 images together to get it.

Edinburgh D 16 HDR

I looked at that going by and I thought, “I wonder what that would look like if I reworked it?” So I pulled the raw images, reset all of the settings in Canon, rendered out 3 tiffs, ran Photomatix, and here we go.

Edinburgh D 16 HDR redux

Now, is it better? In some ways, and in some ways not. I suspect that I don’t really know what I’m doing with Photomatix any more, and this is the version with all of the advanced features, so … we’ll see. On the other hand, the phone does a better job maybe. And on yet another hand, I now know how easy it is to go back and adjust, and I have all the raw materials, so … if they’re particularly egregious, maybe I’ll fix them.

Happy New Year!

-D

Concerts, Persimmons and Pomegranates

Our Christmas choral season is over for Mission Peak Chamber Singers. For us, that meant 2 hours of singing on Friday night, 3 hours on Saturday night, 1 on Sunday morning, and 2 on Sunday night. 8 hours of singing this weekend. It was a blast, despite the rain and wind, awkward microphone malfunctions, travel time, and exhaustion.

MPCS 2019-12-08 4
MPCS at Old Mission San Jose

We’ve continued to enjoy the harvest, with the pomegranates and persimmons having ripened and been harvested. One citrus has turned out to be a grafted tree with at least 4 different fruit, including a white grapefruit, maybe a lime, and a satsuma.

Unfortunately, the squirrels and crows did manage to get to a few before we could harvest them, so I had no choice in sharing with them. Everybody else can go to the grocery store, though – this is the first time in my life I have a persimmon tree and I’m pretty much going to eat them all myself. I’m sure my blood sugar will hate me, but if it helps add a few pounds I will not complain at all.

Irvington 198 Irvington 187 Irvington 203

I brought them in, polished them up (they have their own wax), and left them for nearly a month. Next time I’ll trim the sepals when I first harvest them, because they’re quite stiff and make it harder to remove the stem end without rupturing the soft fruit. I may prune back the Granny Smith, as it shades the persimmon (and because who in their right mind plants a Granny Smith?).

Irvington 185

Pomegranates also came ripe, so I took the opportunity to prune back the bush that should be a tree (it helped me get to the fruit on the inside of the shrub, as well). Quite a few split, and there were a few dozen tiny ones. We harvested them all, removed the arils from the split ones, and found that the tiny ones are just as mature and flavorful as the big ones! I might strap the individual stems together to try to make it function more as a tree and to stop obstructing the pathway. What ought to happen is for it to be pruned back to a single tree, I would guess, but that’s going a bit far for me.

Earlier in the year, when I’d encounter a hollowed out one, or one that was gnawed by the rodents (squirrels), I’d pick and discard it. So, when harvest came, I wasn’t expecting anything like this hollow one – I’d gotten rid of the ones I could identify weeks and weeks ago. This was one of the reasons I got out the pole saw: the fruit was fabulously dark red, and I expected it to be perfectly ripe.

Next will come the white grapefruit (maybe this weekend), and then the orange and tangerine. And then it’s time to do research on how these trees should be pruned and when, and to finish planning and planting the flowers for next year.

-D

Chaos and Upheaval

Peachtree 216

Hello – it’s June! We had other things to say at other points last month, but the Chaos Unleashed has robbed some of those things of their immediacy… on Memorial Day, our landlord popped by to announce that he was selling the house, so we’re moving to the town next door. We had lease papers signed within a week of him telling us, and we move in on the 10th. We really do NOT want to live through somebody showing the house with us in it. We did that once and…nope. So, T. went looking and found a pretty little place that’s within a 15 minute walk of where we rehearse for choir. Unlike many of the houses around here, it’s a real house, which means it’s old, but it has a very thorough remodel and an owner who adores it — and says he will never, ever, ever sell it. Which is good enough for us just now.

We are (nearly) all packed and ready to go, with most things staged in the garage, so the movers can do the heavy lifting. We really had settled in here, which makes it all the more difficult to move, because there were really only a couple of things which didn’t get unboxed (Christmas ornaments, a stash of sewing fabric). But, this is our 17th move in 25 years of marriage, so it’s not like we haven’t gotten the drill down by now.

The new place is all one level (yay, no more stairs!), has air conditioning (most houses around here don’t, relying on the afternoon breeze), has a bunch of mature fruit trees in the back (plum, cherry, persimmons, white peach, pomegranate, and citrus galore), and has garden space (with like 16 square feet of Chinese chives planted as well as Thai bird chilies, and, surprisingly, dragonfruit). It’s a quick across-the-block hop from the nearest branch of the public library, the weekly farmer’s market, and the aforementioned rehearsal space. Since it is older, it doesn’t have a lot of closet space, which is just the excuse we need to do a once-and-for-all winnowing of the many, many, many coats, blankets, gloves, and woolens we brought back from Scotland.

Otherwise, we’re sailing on calmer waters these days. Hope you are, too.

Fremont 271

-D & T

Thoughts On At-will Employment Ethics

What ethical responsibilities does an employee have in a state which is an at-will employment state? Does the employee owe their employer some notice? If so, does that same obligation rest with the employer? Of course not, although there is some pretense of this given. However, it seems to me that the most common scenario is one in which the employee is expected to give adequate notice, if not excessive notice, and the employer is allowed the free latitude to “do what is good for the business” rather than what is good for the employee.

Some of this is due to the imbalance of power inherent within the relationship, but some of it is socially reinforced, is explicitly stated on the part of employers, and is reinforced through an indirect pathway, in that prospective employers will evaluate a prospective employee based upon whether or not they have left their current position with hard feelings. Started differently, it appears that individuals are willing to punish their peers for not giving adequate notice, while simultaneously allowing latitude on the part of the corporation. This social reinforcement of notice serves to allow the individuals within the corporation to maintain some semblance of stability, while allowing the corporation flexibility. There is tension here, however, simply because individuals are applying a standard to others which they would not apply to themselves. If you ask anyone in a corporation whether or not they have a moral obligation to give a notice, they will probably be reluctant to honestly own that they do. I think, people intuitively understand that there is an imbalance here, and understand that it is not ethically right of them to enforce such a standard of notice upon their peers, while simultaneously preserving the option for themselves to not give notice.

This is one area in which individuals are willing to accept a double standard with regards to ethics. Employees grant privileges and latitude to corporations to perform acts which the individuals themselves would find ethically repugnant. This double standard is part of what allows corporate structures to perform unethical actions while their employees feel that they as people are being ethical.

People inherently resist holding corporations to the same ethical standards as they do individual humans. That is not to say that individuals are not in favor of holding corporations ethically accountable. That is merely to say that individuals instinctively understand the corporations are fundamentally different than human beings, and should not be afforded the same rights or privileges, and nor should they be necessarily required to uphold the same moral standards. However, absent any critical thinking on the moral standards of corporations, and any means of connecting the opinions of the individuals within the regulation in a meaningful way to the corporations actions, we will be left with this double standard in place, and largely unrecognized.

D