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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Boxing Day 2012 Revisited

What with the world and one thing and another, I thought it might be prudent and encouraging to repost a jolly assessment of disaster in the spirit of Christmas past. The following scholarly essay appeared on Boxing Day 5 years ago. I recall its aim was to tell my beloved fellow Americans how we Californians deal with government, the need for a sensible worldview, tule fog and other adversities. It involves the capitol, which is a building in the  capital --basically the same word spelled two importantly different ways to avoid confusion while verbally promoting it --capital idea, I think, or don't I? I will add one more thrillingly indecisive fact after this post.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


California Politics and Frozen Fog. Run!

On the map below there are three distinct features: the green Coastal Range, the snowy Sierras and, between them, a great fog that has come to symbolize the true Californian's view of the world. But here, we will discuss only frozen fog.


It was my brother, Frank, who first told me about frozen fog a long time ago. He moved out of state to escape it, but I remained to research the phenomenon, and have been much improved by this study. I have amassed a lot of data, but will confine this essay to one representative incident of local historical importance.

Sacramento is situated on an inland corridor, a river valley from the Sierras to the sea. Much of it is flat grassland under rain shadow. There, into the Coast Range, the river cut a cleft that gives onto San Francisco Bay, through which wind drives tule fog up the delta and into our city. On cold days, fog freezes.

Frozen fog is, in most regions, another name for rime or hoarfrost --ice crystals of supercooled fog. It resembles snow and doesn't last long under normal conditions, but conditions in this region are unusual. A freezing day here is often followed by intense and sudden sunshine. Fog has not time to disperse. It dehydrates and leaves a solid bank composed of 2% hydrocarbon lattice and 98% air, the chemical composition of Styrofoam. Here is a deposit of historical significance:


You can see that municipal workers and volunteers had already got to sawing parts of it away but, as often happens in this state, they became bored and silly. I was there and think that describes the general feeling pretty well. We went at the thing with handsaws and pocket knives mainly, but some artisans from midtown arrived with power-sanders and those really good Heinkles and Marples chisels. Within hours, we had the middle done and vibes directing us toward a single goal.


Here is our final product. We were nearly deaf from all the squeaking and crackling but had hacked a dignified and beautiful state capitol out of Styrofoam --a renewable resource provided by nature from frozen fog banks. It is a building containing a half-million square feet of floor space while weighing only 22 pounds. We were justifiably proud.


Unfortunately, naughty children became fond of carrying the building off and hiding it, leaving our appointed and elected officials no place other than nearby saloons to conduct the government. However, after each inconvenience, the capitol was found and returned to its mall. The governor himself finally solved the problem by gluing it to the lawn.
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I felt compelled to mention (here in 2017) that capitol, as a building housing the seat of government, is only capitalized (?) in reference to the federal Capitol in Washington D.C.. All state capitols are lower-case. So, although the various capitals are Capitalized --like Sacramento-- the capitols are not, and even less capitalized if they are made of Styrofoam and serve as flotation devices during floods. 

25 comments:

  1. I always thought a hoar frost was dew that froze on everything that has dew. I looked it up and turns out we are both right. How about that?

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    1. Emma, I might be wrong but I'd like to think we're both right about everything. However, my theory that Styrofoam is freeze-dried fog is still under review.

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  2. I have been confounded by the spellings for years, nay, decades. I thank you for confounding me even more.

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    1. Bruce, I'd trust your spelling over mine because of your experience in the fourth and fifth estates and running a bookstore for some years. Confounding a man with those credentials is a compliment for which I am reciprocally grateful, I think.

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  3. Oh. My. I have some of your frozen fog in my basement, in a box! What are the chances of that?

    Highly entertaining :)

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    1. O_Jenny, if you've got frozen fog hiding in a box, it's the intelligent kind. It propagates by posing as packing material in parcels, which are in turn saved by recipients --in basement boxes-- and sent on. You see how it spreads. I have heard a rumor that our president's hair is quite natural in arrangement and color for a man his age, but the rest of him is Styrofoam. I suggest caution in using your store of frozen fog.

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  4. We've experienced the frozen fog here as well...it's rather pretty....leaving all the trees sparkling with diamonds in the sun. I think maybe a styrofoam capital could come in handy this year.....as a flotation device I mean......some of your politiicians are having trouble treading water.

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    1. Dear Delores, our politicians are pretty buoyant with hot air so we don't worry too much about them. What we need is more snow, fog, rain --more water. It's hard for realtors to sell properties that are always on fire, but theyr'e working on it.

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  5. Rime and hoarfrost are such amazing winter words!
    I've been collecting styrofoam to use for insulation, but we don't store it whole, it gets shredded up. Too many artificial insubstantial hot air trapping blobs can create a monster, as you are so wisely aware.
    Hydrocarbon lattice sounds so pretty too.

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    1. Dear lisa, the chemical composition of Styrofoam is quite stable --(C8H8)n-- but I would not recommend its use anywhere near open flame or places to which humans are fond of setting on fire.

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    2. Insulation in polytunnel - apologies for missing that out - did not mean to cause alarm! My plants (thus far) have not been prone to setting fires - but I will watch them :-)

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    3. Oh Lisa, I have got so jumpy about my home state as a Californian, I sometimes misspell it as Conflagration. I do appreciate your vigilance over polytunnel plants --would hate to think of Great Britain combining with O2.

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  6. So maybe, just maybe, the US Capitol is not glued down and wouldn't that be just grand? Moving that building is a capital idea these days, before the tax vote especially.
    BTW I'd heard about tule fog, but had no idea until I got caught in it, in traffic on a drive up to Santa Nella, coming over from Paso Robles. Absolutely did not enjoy that part of my state.

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    1. Intriguing idea, Tom. It would be enlightening to float the Capitol to other countries to test its policies before inflicting them on our own. However, it might take years of in-house squabbling should the building drift into a fog bank.

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  7. I have never seen a frozen fog, but feel as if I have been in a styrofoam fog since last January. Lately , though, there has been some slight chiseling, but many hacksaws will probably be needed.

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    1. Arleen, there are many of us trapped in fog; you're not alone. However it's easier to find company in frozen fog by following the sound of chattering teeth.

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  8. A huge bag of deconstructed capitol blew into our yard yesterday. We were perplexed but now it makes sense. Kids up to mischief, I suspect. I'll have to go check our capitol to see if it's still there. If not, it's in my garage.

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    1. It's really rough when those darn kids run off with the capitol and take it all apart like that. Probably easier to wait for another fog and carve a whole new one.

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  9. Gee, if someone could figure out how to move and hide our Capitol with a capital C, maybe those old blowhards would have to meet in a saloon, as you say. Maybe a bit of alcohol would grease the wheels of communication. Or better yet, maybe they wouldn't meet at all. Then they can do no harm.

    Merry Christmas, dude! I hope you and yours have a lovely holiday, and let's hope we ALL have a more peaceful new year.

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    1. There are statespersons in all parties --like McCain, Biden-- who exemplify "Primum non nocere" along with courtesy and toughness in the face of adversity; advancing a more humane economy and foreign policy. In keeping with the saloon idea, I think we should find out what those two are drinking and make all three branches of government drink it. That's my birthday and Christmas wish, Susan, as well as loveliness and peace to you and yours.

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  10. I have long found the capital/capitol distinction confusing.

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    1. Thx dear Squid, I am havi*g key*oard glitches. Half the Keys quit worki*g. Sorry. Will try to fix today or tomorrow.

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    2. Now it's nearly 8pm and it looks like the problem has subsided. Nothing more malicious than a half-glass of good pinot noir spilled across the keyboard. Everything seems functional.

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  11. Ha...if ever too much is chiseled away by those naughty kids, just give me a call. My son will happily send you some...the stuff reaches from floor to ceiling in his room, courtesy of his obsession for internet purchases!! lol

    Merry Christmas to You All...and a Happy New Year!

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    1. Dear Ygraine, My wife sold items through eBay for several years and we're just now clearing Styrofoam out of the barn. I wouldn't dream of asking for more. Besides, in what does one pack packing material for shipping? Happy New Year to you too!

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