Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Halfway Point

It appears we're more or less at the halfway point in our attempt to be snowbirds. If I go by the expiration date I set for the temporary forwarding order for our mail, we're not quite there. If I go by when I'd actually like to be home, we passed it a while back.

This whole RV-ing thing has been an interesting experience. Along the way, the S.O. and I have figured out a few things. Some of it is stuff we probably should have realized before we ever committed ourselves to living in a tiny space for approximately six months, and some of it is stuff you learn through experience.

One is that we're not really suited, at least not yet, to a lifestyle that doesn't involve doing much. I have heard of fulltime RVers who have hobbies they pursue while living in tiny spaces, but unfortunately neither of us pursues that type of hobby. You know, like carving little tiny wooden figurines or something similar that doesn't require much space to spread out and it's easy to carry your supplies in a 31-quart Rubbermaid tote. I do have a hobby or two that can easily transported, sort of, but have discovered even something that seems like it would be portable isn't quite that simple. I quilt, for example, and do have a couple totes filled with quilting supplies along with my sewing machine stashed here in the Guppy. I've got several quilts in progress, although progress is slow. The quilting is a good example of a pastime that is theoretically portable but isn't always. I am really missing the Woman Cave and the ability to have stuff spread out and to leave it spread out until the next time I'm ready to do something with it. Here in the Guppy there is no place to just leave the sewing machine set up until I'm ready to go back to it in a day or two or three.

In any case, the S.O. doesn't have anything comparable to fill his time. Back home, he had projects like the POS ATV he bought last year. If he was feeling bored in the house, he could go wandering up to his shop and find something to do. Here, not so much. He's not a rock hound (rock hounds love Arizona), he's not a fisherman (and, yes, there is fishing to be found even in a desert state), he's a tinkerer -- and there's nothing to tinker on here other than the Guppy itself. And let's face it. Installing a few cabinet latches or trying to figure out what the odd rattling noise is coming from the engine compartment when the Guppy is running doesn't eat up a whole lot of time. He needs to have something to do even it is just cruising around in a golf cart once or twice a day to make sure everyone's paid their camping fees.

Bottom line: if we want to spend a prolonged period of time in the Guppy, we actually do need to be volunteers in a park somewhere. We may be geezers, but we haven't hit the just sit in a lawn chair and watch the world go by stage yet.

Two is that I am increasingly happy our foray into RV-ing did not involve much money. When we first started looking, we actually looked at some totally new equipment, but I was hesitant. I'd seen a few too many examples of people spending huge amounts of money on travel trailers or motorhomes that just sat in their backyards or a storage facility most of the year. We had no desire to spend a significant amount of cash on something that rarely got used. After one visit to an RV dealer's lot, we started looking for something used, something we could pay cash for without flinching. We succeeded.

I have mentioned before that the Guppy is well aged. It's 1989 Class C Rockwood. It has its issues, but we have learned from talking with other campers as well as reading online discussions that the issues the Guppy has are common to almost every other RV out there regardless of age. Leaking seams, for example. Every time you move a motorhome or a travel trailer, the seams flex. When they flex, caulking pulls loose and leaks appear. Sometimes you're lucky and go can for years without a leak; sometimes you've barely got the beast off the dealer's lot and it's leaking like a sieve. The Guppy's previous owners retained a box that has all the documentation relating to its history and equipment. It includes correspondence with the original dealer. In that correspondence the first owners do a nice rant about "if they'd wanted to camp in something that leaked every time it rained they'd have bought a tent." If we'd been those first owners, I would have been mad as hell that we'd dropped a significant chunk of change on a piece of equipment that had leaks so bad I wound up sleeping in a puddle. As it is, hey, you get what you pay for -- you don't expect perfection when something is 25 years old when you buy it. And whatever that original issue was, it got fixed years ago because we haven't had any problems with water coming through the back wall. (We did have a window leak in the bedroom, but that was a different problem than what the original owners described.)

Of course, water seeping in from the outside isn't the only water issue in an RV. In cold or damp weather, there's the humidity problem. RVs are not particularly well-insulated, but also do not breathe especially well. When you have to have everything closed up in cold or rainy weather, the interior humidity tends to climb fast and condensation builds up on the cold surfaces: window glass, metal window frames, etc. We were having major issues with condensation in the bunk over the cab area. We finally got smart and invested in a mini-humidifier to help suck the dampness out of the air.  It seems to be helping. In another week, or two, of course, humidity will no longer be an issue. What passes for Winter here will be almost over, things will start warming up to the point where we'll feel comfortable having the screen door open during the day, we'll take the insulation out of the ceiling vents, and the excess moisture will vanish. The S.O. did try one trick that had been suggested by other RVers: putting bubble wrap over the windows on the inside. Supposedly that would prevent condensation. Pshaw. All that happened was the condensation built up on the bubble wrap instead of on the glass. Live and learn.

Three. . . well, there really isn't a three. I was thinking about ranting about the poorly designed storage space, but I have a vague recollection of complaining about it before. In terms of cubic feet of available storage, there is actually an over-abundance. In terms of accessibility and convenience? Not so much. There are way too many dead areas, spaces you can't see into easily or that are reachable only if you lie on the floor and view things from a snake's perspective. The overhead cabinets have awkward, impossible to see into spaces; ditto the ones at floor level. I spent some time yesterday inventorying the canned goods I have stashed in one of those floor level compartments. I want to use up as much of the home-canned stuff in glass jars as possible before we're on the road again so needed to know just how much was left. Every time I got down on the floor I found myself thinking about those "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up" commercials. Except in my case I wouldn't have been trapped on the floor due to the vicissitudes of age but instead because space is tight enough in the Guppy that I would simply have been wedged between the arm chair and the dinette with no room to turn to push myself back up. Those people on "Tiny House Hunters" and similar shows have no clue just what it they're getting into by downsizing into a minuscule box.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sleepwalking through History: America in the Reagan Years

I spotted this book in a store in Bisbee a few weeks ago and grabbed it. Maybe I shouldn't have. Haynes Johnson is a skillful writer and a diligent journalist. I like his writing, which is what I figured I'd gotten lucky spotting a used copy of a book that came out over 20 years ago. I've read other books by him and know that he doesn't describe anything that isn't verifiable. I'm sure Sleepwalking through History: America in the Reagan Years was thoroughly researched, a fact that is actually depressing as hell. I knew Reagan did a lot of damage. I had, however, managed to block out just how bad it was and what the long term consequences might be.

It didn't help that the more I read, the more I realized that if we want to draw comparisons between the current President-Elect and past presidencies, people are seizing upon the wrong ones. I see names like Harding bandied about because of concerns about corruption. One of the things Haynes Johnson reminds us of is the fact that when it comes to corruption, cronyism, and general shady dealings, it's actually the Reagan administration that takes the prize. After all, how many other administrations have been verified as having encouraged drug smuggling while claiming to fight a war on drugs and to having sold weapons to Iran while publicly bragging about being anti-terrorist? The Iran-Contra mess has to win some sort of bizarre trifecta for hitting all the high (low?) points of double dealing and corrupt behavior any scandal monger could want.

Except, of course, it never turned into much of a scandal. For reasons totally inexplicable to the rational mind, no matter how much the Reagan administration screwed up, no matter how many examples of various Reagan appointees getting nailed for accepting kickbacks, skimming from government accounts, and indulging in various dirty deeds surfaced, the American public didn't care. To this day Reagan gets credit for stuff he didn't actually do, like causing the downfall of the Soviet Union -- it was falling apart on its own; Reagan just happened to be in office when the tipping point hit -- while almost no one ever mentions the colossal blunders and record number of indictments brought against his administration.

There's been a lot of talk about The Donald and crony capitalism. I'm not sure he's actually smart enough to do as well as Reagan and his cronies did in making themselves rich through scamming the government. Of course, Reagan and his friends had the state of California to practice on first. Reagan was helped into office by a group of California right-wing Republicans who thought they'd have to guide Reagan through various manipulations and double-dealings. To their surprise, Ronnie turned out to be totally on board with their thinking and, in fact, often proposed ideas that went beyond what they had originally thought was possible. It was in California that Reagan perfected the art of "plausible deniability," i.e., establishing enough distance between himself and various illegal and/or unethical dealings that he could claim ignorance. It was in California that Reagan's cronies figured out how to use the governorship to enrich themselves, starting with the governor's mansion.

Previous governors had resided in an Empire-style mansion located walking distance from the Capitol building. Nancy Reagan didn't want to live in it. The reason pushed publicly was that the building was in poor condition and needed extensive maintenance; the reality was Nancy had no desire to live in such a public setting. She had no use for the average person and wanted to be in a house that would guarantee more privacy. Reagan supporters pooled their money, purchased a more modern house in an upscale Sacramento neighborhood, and then rented it to the state. When Reagan left the governorship, the investors promptly sold the house at a substantial profit.

Reagan himself had inherited from the previous governor a state that was fiscally sound, was running at a surplus, and had one of the finest educational systems in the country. Thanks in large part to Reagan's anti-government rhetoric and the policies he endorsed, when Reagan left office, the state was on a downward trend in almost every area of public life, a pattern he was to repeat as President. When Reagan took office, the country had problems. When Reagan left, things were worse.

Haynes Johnson focuses a lot on Reagan's blunders in foreign policy: supporting the Contras, for example, a group that might not have existed at all if Reagan had been willing to talk to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Jimmy Carter had begun a process of establishing a stable relationship with Nicaragua after revolution there; Reagan just saw the spectre of Communism everywhere, freaked out over the fact that the Sandinistas were talking with Cuba, and promptly severed all ties. Central America is still a mess thanks to U.S. meddling 30 years ago.

Reagan also supported Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Reagan administration ignored sales of chemical weapons to the Iraqis (after all, those weapons were supposedly going to be used on the Iranians) and repeatedly reassured Saddam that the U.S. didn't much care what he did. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, one reason they did it was they'd had a full decade of hearing from the U.S. that whatever they did was fine with us. Except it wasn't.

And then there were the economic fantasies. Supply-side economics, aka trickle down. Trickle down is a good way of putting it because it means the average person gets pissed on. Reagan may or may not have understood any of the theories, but he did grasp one thing clearly: citing supply-side economics was a way to justify coming up with more ways for rich people to get richer: cut the taxes they paid, eliminate regulations, try to kill the regulatory agencies, all while talking a lot about government being the problem. Which was true enough for the wealthy plutocrats for whom there's no such thing as too much money. Reagan really is the godfather of "I've got mine, fuck everyone else." He glorified greed and selfishness without seeming to do so. He wrapped fucking over poor people in the flag and managed to convince way too many people that the goal of this country has always been for individuals to get rich, and if you can't get rich you deserve to suffer. Social Darwinism in action.

And then there was the thinly veiled racism. His fictitious welfare queen was black. Problems with drugs? Blame it all on blacks and other minorities despite the despressing truth that the typical drug user is white. Failing schools? They all seemed to be in inner city neighborhoods, never out in rural areas where the schools were frequently worse when it came to dropout rates and low test scores than in the urban districts.

Johnson does a good job of enumerating the various horrible things Reagan did, although there is one odd omission, especially considering the missile deal with Iran. There is only a passing reference to the 241 Marines who died when their barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, was bombed in 1983. Reagan's response to the bombing was to cut and run: get U.S. military personnel out as fast as possible and then pretend the event never happened.

On the other hand, Johnson provides the reader with an in-depth look at the Iran-Contra hearings and the personnel involved in the investigation. Iran-Contra is actually a really good example of how the American public is often too ignorant for its own good. To the investigators involved and to the members of Congress, it was abundantly clear that the Reagan administration had violated numerous laws. The public should have been outraged that characters like Oliver North openly admitted they had decided that the law didn't apply to them. Instead, North became a folk hero. It made no sense then. It makes no sense now.

I've said for years that the absolute worst thing that Reagan did was turn government into the enemy. And then to make sure that the voters bought that particular line of bullshit, he appointed people to his cabinet who made it their goal to destroy the agencies they were supposed to head. Sound familiar? Reagan was an early version of Trump, except he was a good enough actor that people never realized just how hard he was working at enriching himself and his cronies. He had the gift of getting people to like him for no rational reason.

If you look at Reagan's record, he did a tremendous amount of damage to the country. He glorified greed, made self-centered selfishness acccptable, and exacerbated distrust of the government. After all, if people working in the White House were lying repeatedly while circumventing the law, who could you believe? When Haynes Johnson asked that question, he was hopeful that there'd be a reversal, a return to more ethical behavior. I found myself wondering just what Johnson would have thought of Trump. It's probably a good thing he died in 2013.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the Reagan years. It's packed with facts (complete with sources) but is easy to read. It can, of course, be remarkably depressing, but sometimes it helps to know where we've been if we want to change where we're going.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Blogspot weirdness

Just deleted a post because without the embed code it made no sense. Somewhere between previwing the post (in which the video was clearly visible and working fine) and the actual publishing, the code vanished. Very strange. I've had videos turn into blank spaces labeled that the video is no longer available, but I've never had a line of html disappear from a post that had been saved.

Technology. Like the S.O. says, it's fucking magic.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Grand Canyon National Park

On December 26, the S.O., the Younger Daughter, and I headed north to spend a few days at Grand Canyon National Park. This was my third visit to GRCA. I'd been there twice while working for the National Park Service. Once in August for a List of Classified Structures/Cultural Landscapes Inventory workshop and once in December for Fundamentals II, which is part of the NPS employee orientation program. Both times there tourists around, but it wasn't insane.

This time it was insane. Visitation at the park has climbed steadily. It's now topping five million annually. That's a lot of people to cram into what in many ways is not a very big space. The park covers a lot of land, but not much of it is accessible to the typical windshield tourist, the park visitor who's only got one day in which to hit the highlights and then move on. Which is another way of saying that Grand Canyon Village, the part of the park where the historic lodges (El Tovar, Bright Angel), park headquarters, the Visitor Center, the mule barns, and so on are located, ends up bursting at the seams. For some naive reason I thought the park wouldn't be super busy in late December. I was wrong.

It did not help that we decided to go during the holiday week, the time period between Christmas and New Year's. One reason for doing so was it worked out well with the Kid's work schedule -- with one federal holiday (December 26) and her normal Friday off (she's on a 5/4 schedule) she wouldn't have to burn as much annual leave. Unfortunately, there were a whole lot of other people thinking the same way. And then when you add in the families that decide they'll do a special trip because the little barracudas don't have school and the skiers who figure they'll combine a trip to the Arizona Snow Bowl (north of Flagstaff) with a day of playing tourist at Grand Canyon. . .  holy wah. End result? Talk about an overused resource.

Part of me was thinking we should have waited until sometime in January, but from what I heard in talking with various staff people at the park (both NPS and concession employees) there is no longer a true "off" season. It is busy all the time. On the positive side, high visitation at GRCA does have a spillover effect on some of the less well-known NPS sites not far away, like Wupatki National Monument. On the negative side. . . just how much can you actually enjoy going to a place like the Grand Canyon if you can't find a place to park and there are so many crowds at the overlooks that you have a hard time actually seeing the reason you're supposedly there to begin with?

Well, despite the crowds, we managed. The bigger problem, at least from my perspective, was the treacherous footing. It snowed heavily on Christmas Day so it didn't take long for a gazillion visitors to pack that snow into ice on most of the trails. Conditions were still super slick on Tuesday despite daytime temps in the 40s and lots of sunshine. Simple snow would have melted off fairly quickly; packed ice is a little slower to go away. End result? I was too much of a wimp to try walking very much of the South Rim Trail with the Kid, and the portions of Bright Angel I could see looking down on it resembled a luge run a little too much. It would have been nice to do a short section of Bright Angel, like down to the first tunnel, but I kept having visions of slipping, falling, sliding, and becoming air-borne. One of my goals in life is to never make it into the Park Service Morning Report (the daily summary of creative ways people manage to kill themselves while visiting a National Park). I figured avoiding icy trails aligned nicely with that goal.

There were Yak-Traks (ice cleats to slip on over your boots) available for sale, but I'm one of those people who tends to trip over nothing anyway. I've always figured that for me ice cleats would be more of a tripping hazard than they would be a safety device.

Anyway, no actual hikes although we did log quite a few miles just wandering around. The Kid and I took the shuttle bus one way, got off by the railroad depot, checked out the Visitor Center in what was the Verkamp trading post (which was still a store the last time I was at GRCA), and did some of the obligatory staring over the rim into the Canyon. The display at Verkamp's highlights the history of Grand Canyon Village: the arrival of the first tourists, the various promotional efforts, what life was like (and is still like) for the many people who call Grand Canyon Village home. Most visitors to the park have no idea just how many people work and live there, although if you stop and think at all you realize it has to be a lot. When you add in spouses and kids, you're talking several thousand. But I digress. The thing that hit me at Verkamp's was how few people bothered to look at the exhibits. One half of the first floor of the structure is exhibit space; the other half is souvenir shop. Super crowded on the souvenir side; plenty of space to look at the exhibits on the museum side. Struck me as odd -- why buy souvenirs of a place where your knowledge apparently is going to consist of a few selfies taken with a giant hole in the background? But people are strange. . . .

We also did the obligatory excursion to Hermit's Rest, which has the usual souvenir shop and a snack bar. Parking was, of course, a bitch. During the "on" season there's a shuttle bus that goes out to Hermit's Rest, no private cars allowed, but in December you get to drive yourself. The Hermit's Rest structure is a Mary Colter design. Mary Colter was an architect who worked for the Fred Harvey Company; she designed many of the historic buildings at Grand Canyon as well as at many other locations where the Fred Harvey Company operated hotels and restaurants. Ms. Colter was a whiz at designing fake ruins, buildings that look ancient and crumbling but are actually built with steel framing and a lot of concrete. She was also skilled at designs that can make it hard to tell where the natural rock ends and the artificial stuff begins.

We almost didn't get to go to Hermit's Rest. There were so many assholes (no other good word to describe them) who had decided to park right on the road where it starts just past the Bright Angel trailhead they came close to blocking it. At that point, the road is a nrrow two lane road with no shoulders, but there were idiots who decided it would be just fine to park on the nonexistent shoulder (effectively the right lane) anyway. There was one lonely law enforcement ranger trying to deal with the mess. As soon he got one jerk to move his or her car, another one would try to slide into the same illegal space. I could never work at Grand Canyon -- sooner or later I'd give in to the temptation to thin the crowds a bit by starting to do some not-so-gentle nudges over the edge.

And while I'm on the subject of crowds and parking headaches, as we were heading back to the Village from Hermit's Rest, I noticed shuttle buses labeled "Sunset Tour" pulling into the parking area for Hopi Point, which is reputedly one of the best overlooks in the park to view the sunset from. The parking lot was full already with private cars and multiple buses were going to disgorge more gawkers to watch the sun set. Holy wah. That must be a real special experience, watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon while being pinned in what amounts to a mosh pit of humanity all trying to get positioned to take the absolutely perfect photograph of the experience. Just thinking about it may have contributed to my purchase of alcohol to occupy the evening meal.

Location of head frame for Orphan Mine is just barely noticeable.
We did stop at a number of the overlooks along the Hermit's Rest road, including one that gives a good view of the Orphan Mine site. The preservationist in me was hoping they'd preserved the head frame, maintenance nightmare that it would be (see this post for a photo showing what it used to look like). They didn't. There is a wayside that provides a little information about the mine, but there isn't much physical evidence of it left. Even the railroad spur leading into the mine is long gone; it's hard to tell now that it ever existed.

We also did the obligatory trip to the other end of the park, Desert View. Desert View overlooks the point where the Little Colorado River joins the Colorado. The Desert View tower is another example of Mary Colter's ability to design something new that comes out looking really old. One of the nice things about Desert View is there's almost always a Native American artist or musician demonstrating his or her craft. The day we were there a potter was demonstrating her craft and there was a Hopi musician who played the flute. The musician was the grandson of the artist who painted many of the images on the interior of the tower. He gave a really informative talk on the second level of the tower. It was fascinating. Naturally, 90% of the tourists present weren't interested at all in learning anything about either Hopi history or what the paintings represented; they were just interested in going up and down the tower to get up to the top level. It floored me -- the guy's giving a talk, he's got a decent sized group around him who are obviously listening, and the asshole tourists couldn't even shut up for a few minutes as they passed through that level. I swear people are getting ruder and dumber by the day.

Tusuyan Museum
One place where we did escape the hordes briefly was the Tusuyan Museum and Ruins. When we pulled in there about 9:30 in the morning, we were the only visitor car in the parking lot. The typical Grand Canyon tourist, it's abundantly clear, is not real interested in the heritage resources. The Museum was built in the 1930s to house some of the artifacts found in the park. It's located next to the remains of an ancient pueblo. The museum is small but quite interesting. An interpretive trail loops around the ruins; a slightly longer loop has signage explaining how various plants and trees served as food sources or were used in other ways.

Interpretive trail at Tusuyan Pueblo Museum
As usual, there were signs everywhere pleading with people to stay on the trails, don't walk on the vegetation, please don't climb on the ruins, . . . all of which, going by the footprints in the snow, had been ignored. In fact, one of the don't walk on the vegetation signs was bent in a way that suggested someone had recently tried to steal it. The museum may not get the hordes of visitors other sites in the park do, but it's pretty clear it does get the usual high percentage of idiots and asshats. I swear I don't know how the NPS personnel who get stuck working with the public manage to keep smiling. I couldn't do it.

So you say you'd been thinking about visiting (or re-visiting) GRCA but now are having second thoughts? Don't. The park is definitely worth visiting. Just do a little more pre-planning than we did. We did a couple smart things -- we stayed at Yavapai Lodge so were both right within the park and walking distance from the Market Plaza so had easy access to groceries. Yavapai has mini-fridges and coffee makers in the rooms; we couldn't cook hot food but we didn't have to rely on restaurants for ever y meal. We knew about the shuttle and used it. We also did something a lot of people appeared unwilling to do. Grand Canyon Village is laced with walking and biking paths; we didn't see many people walking anywhere other than milling around in the most congested areas. The Kid and I combined the shuttle and walking, although not as much as we probably should have. In retrospect, we should have used the shuttles more. In any case, if you can swing it, stay in the park, either camping or at a lodge. The lodges aren't cheap, but being close to everything eliminates a lot of headaches.

Pueblo ruins at Tusuyan Museum
And, speaking of the lodges, want to pick a good time to visit? Go to the lodges' reservation pages (Yavapai is operated by Delaware North; the others are all Xanterra; there are links on the nps.gov/grca web site) and look for times mid-week when there are lots and lots of rooms available. If you have trouble booking a room, if pickings are slim, that's a sign it's going to be crowded. It's advice I should have followed instead of thinking about saving the Kid one day's annual leave.

Then keep in mind that one of the problems at the park can be too many people and not enough dining out options. Yavapai has a bizarre system in place apparently designed to remove some humans from the equation -- you place your order and pay for it on a computer screen and then get to stand and wait to pick it up just like you would at any cheap fast food place, except it's not cheap. I don't know about the average diner, but if I'm going to pay inflated prices for prime rib, I'd kind of like an actual human to come to the table and take the order instead of dining in what's basically a cafeteria. We ate at Yavapai one time (had an extremely mediocre pizza that was cold by the time we got it), in the restaurant at Bright Angel Lodge once, the food court at Maswik once, and the deli in the supermarket in the Market Plaza once. Bright Angel had good service and the food wasn't bad (although they did make my Monte Cristo sandwich the wrong way)(on the positive side, they didn't dust it with powdered sugar, which is one of the stranger things I've seen done to that particular sandwich over the years), the deli was good, and the food court was better than average for a food court. Prices overall were on the high side, but that's exactly what you expect in a place that's crawling with tourists. Except for the deli, there were long lines and a lot of waiting time every place that served food. In short, pack a cooler so you're prepared if the lines are longer than you feel like dealing with or you're on a schedule where you absolutely have to eat at specific times (e.g., you're an insulin-dependent diabetic). If I had to do it over again, we'd have picked a different week and we would have had more of our own food with us.

Desert View
So would I go back? Probably, but not to the South Rim. Having been there three times now, I think I'd like to see the giant hole in the ground from the other side.

Next up in the road trip reports? Wupatki National Monument. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

An aberration or typical?

A friend had shared one of those interesting screen shots of a comment thread where the names are blocked out to protect people's privacy, not to mention saving them from public humiliation for being idiots. Some poor sap had done a comment about how happy he was that evil, evil Obamacare was going to be repealed by the U.S. Congress soon. Someone asked why he was so happy about it when he had benefited from Obamacare. His response was that he didn't have Obamacare; his health care benefits were thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

The stupid, it burns. The poor sap did not realize the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are the exact same thing. Obamacare is what the Republicans started calling the ACA because they were canny enough to recognize that it's pretty hard to successfully badmouth something called the Affordable Care Act. You know, people would kind of wonder just what was wrong with the idea of making care affordable?

Unfortunately, the Democrats and others who supported the Affordable Care Act and do not want to see it repealed have done a truly piss poor job of branding. They allowed the nickname Obamacare to go relatively unchallenged. Even worse, they haven't been exactly enthusiastic about touting all the good stuff that has happened under the Affordable Care Act, like allowing young adults to stay on their parentts' insurance plans until they're 26. I actually know someone who benefited in a huge way from that provision; she was a recent college graduate who hadn't found a fulltime, permanent job yet so in the pre-ACA days would have been uninsured. She got hit with a major medical problem, one that involved multiple trips to specialists, surgery, and follow-up treatments. Pre-ACA she'd have been shit out of luck, her parents would have had to go into debt in a huge way if she was able to get seen by specialists at all (surprising numbers of doctors flat out refuse to see you if you cannot provide proof of insurance in advance), and odds are she'd now be dead. Obamacare saved her life.

But I digress. Although there's been a lot of recent talk about all the good stuff the ACA has done, attempts at saving it are probably coming too late. Too many Republicans have spent the last six years telling their constituents how evil Obamacare is. End result? Poor ignorant saps like that fellow who's been getting mocked on the Internet for his cluelessness. Too many  voters want Obamacare gone because they don't realize that it's the same thing as the legislation they appreciate, the ACA. Like I said, the stupid, it burns.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Update on the Naked Lady story

The woman whose nakedness distracted a sheriff's deputy sufficiently to allow her to steal his patrol vehicle has now admitted she was flying high, stoned out of her mind on drugs. Presumably she fabricated a story about having been assaulted to help explain her nudity, her incoherence, and her impulsive attempt to flee in the patrol truck. She's currently sitting in jail; charges are pending.

And so it goes. Another of life's little mysteries solved.

Friday, January 6, 2017

More news of the weird out of Maricopa County

A naked woman stole a deputy sheriff's patrol truck yesterday and led police in a high speed chase for close to 70 miles across a good chunk of the state. They finally managed to get some spike strips put down on I-10 ahead of her. Initial reports were a tad confusing: one, she was naked. Two, she may have been the victim of a sexual assault (which could explain why she was naked). So how does a naked woman manage to carjack a deputy sheriff? And why was she at a gas station?

The news reports, which appear to be as baffled as the rest of us, note that the deputy responded to a report of a naked woman at a Shell gas station in Gila Bend, which is southwest of Phoenix on I-8 heading toward Yuma. According to Reuters, the woman appeared distraught and disoriented when the deputy approached her. He was apparently trying to cover her nakedness with a blanket when she took off in his truck. By the time the cops managed to stop her, she was almost in Tucson.

Overall, it's pretty much of a mystery except for one thing: I cheerfully predict the deputy is going to end up being disciplined for leaving his truck running when he got to the Shell station. All the naked woman had to do was throw it into gear to make her dash for wherever it was she thought she was going. 

And, on the positive side, maybe because she was female and naked, the cops didn't kill her when they finally got her to stop. They didn't even tase her. They used a bean bag stun gun to subdue her. Although going by the aerial shots of where they stopped her, they could have simply circled the patrol cars  and penned her in. I guess there's nothing like the report of a naked woman making a high speed getaway to inspire every cop within a 100-mile radius to decide his assistance is needed at the scene.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Delusions of Immortality?

What is it lately with all the political geezers who seem to think they're going to live forever? When did "retirement" become such an alien concept? I have ranted before about the most recent crop of Presidential candidates -- Clinton, Trump, Sanders -- insisting on running for office when in a sane world they would have admitted that they were in that age category where the smart thing to do is slow down a little. End result? We're stuck with a President-elect who's 70 years old and, given the pressures of the office and his remarkably unhealthy life style, is not likely to survive to run again. But, okay, I can halfway understand baby boomers like Tump and Clinton doing the "I'm going to live forever" fantasy. It's the favorite self-delusion of boomers everywhere.

But when does that delusion cut off and reality start to creep in? For the past month or so former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has been a regular on the evening news. The man is notorious nationally for his abuses of the judicial system -- he's played on anti-Mexican sentiments for years by focusing a lot more on chasing undocumented aliens than on having his deputies investigate serious crime. And for years it worked with Maricopa County voters. He was re-elected multiple times and became the longest serving sheriff in Maricopa County history. And then he lost.

Arpaio has obviously had a hard time letting go. Like I said, he's been on the news a lot talking about how Arizona hasn't seen the last of him, he's giving a lot of thought to running for other political offices in the future, retirement just isn't in the cards for him, and so on. Lots of blathering on about how involved he's still going to be in public life. The kicker? The man is 84 years old. Eighty-four! Okay, he's reasonably spry for his age and doesn't appear obviously unhealthy, but still. . . 84!

The Social Security Administration has a set of actuarial tables that give life expectancies for whatever age you happen to be now. The data is a couple years old, but I doubt if things have changed much. A man who was 84 in 2013 had a 50% chance of living to be 90 -- because life expectancy means that half your age cohort will die before then. If you knew that the odds were that you had less than 6 years to live, would you waste it eating bad chicken at fund-raising dinners while trying to cling some vestige of relevancy? Apparently politicians will.

Someone really needs to tell some of these geezers that the Billy Joe Shaver song refers to becoming a cherished memory and not the life they're living now.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Travel advice

Route 66 exhibit at Petrified Forest National Park
A few things we learned while playing tourist in Arizona over the holidays:

1. If there's any way to avoid going anywhere near Phoenix and the traffic emanating from it, do so. I have been reassessing which state or city has the worst drivers on the planet and have decided Boston no longer deserves that honor. Arizona drivers, particularly those residing in or near Maricopa County, are without a doubt both the most aggressive and the most incompetent. I knew they were bad before we actually drove through Phoenix on our way to Flagstaff -- stories about incompetent or drunk drivers going the wrong way on various roads and exit and/or on ramps are a regular feature on the evening news -- but have now seen enough with my own eyes to vow to never go near that city again if I can help it.
Crowd of gawkers who had stepped over or under a yellow plastic chain adorned with signs saying "Area closed" because of the buildup of ice on the stairs and overlook.

2. If your Rand McNally atlas shows three possible routes but Mapquest keeps suggesting only two, listen to Mapquest. It has a really good reason for telling you not to take US-191 south through the White Mountains. Holy wah, that road has a lot of hairpin turns. Amazing scenery, though, so all those tight turns might have been worth it if we hadn't run out of daylight. On the other hand, seeing the Morenci mine at night and getting to drive right under the conveyors moving ore was kind of cool. One of these day I've got to go see that mine in daylight.

3. Do not visit Grand Canyon National Park between December 25 and January 1. A surprising number of families take advantage of the school break to haul their kids on vacations to a place where if they slip on the ice there's not much to stop them until they hit the bottom a long, long way down. I was a tad astounded by the lax supervision being given to kids who were definitely still in the stupid age (i.e., prone to running around without paying a whole lot of attention to where they were going) but maybe they figured their kid was such a special snowflake he or she was immune to the effects of gravity. In any case, the park was super crowded. Way too many people. That park is being loved to death, although I'm not sure "loved" is the right word given the way so many people were totally oblivious to the signs asking to them to stay on the trails, not to walk on the ruins or in areas where attempts at revegetation were in progress, and not to park on the road. 
Sign begging people not to walk on the ruins. Note fresh footprints in the snow as people walked past the sign to stand on the remains of a pueblo wall.
I'm still decompressing from a week of being a tourist but eventually will do a few posts on some of the places we visited -- Grand Canyon NP, Wupatki National Monument, Petrified Forest NP, and others. The S.O. even stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and admired the vintage flatbed Ford truck parked there. All in all, an interesting week.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Coronado National Memorial

 Having mentioned Coronado National Memorial in my previous post, I suppose I should say a little something about it. It's not a real big park and it's in kind of an out of the way location, tucked on the border about mid-way between Douglas and Nogales, Arizona, but it's worth a visit.

The park was established in 1940 to commemorate the expedition led by Francisco Vasquez de Coronado 400 years earlier, from 1540-1542, exploring what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. CORO has two sister parks in Mexico that also commemorate the Coronado explorations. One of the missions of the park was to help promote a sense of unity between the two countries, a mission that struck me as being just a tad ironic after seeing the Border Patrol vans sitting on that overlook. The overlook was one of the reasons this particular site was selected for the Memorial: it provides viewscapes of the terrain Coronado and his expeditionary force (339 Spanish soldiers, 1,000 Aztecs) traversed.

 The park includes several hiking trails, including one that goes from the overlook to a marker on the U.S.-Mexico, one to the Coronado cave, and one that goes from the overlook to the Visitor Center (or vice versa). That last one is described as "moderate" if you leave from the overlook and "possibly difficult" if you start from the Visitor Center. Which makes sense -- from the overlook you're going downhill all the way; the worst you have to deal with is some wear and tear on your joints because it's always harder on your joints (knees, hips, whatever) going downhill than it is going up. Uphill, of course, you've got to work a lot harder.