Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Things are about to turn even messier in Syria

Just heard on the news that the Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian fighter that was doing bombing runs over an area of Syria adjacent to the Turkish border. The Russian plane apparently crossed the border so was in Turkish air space, at least briefly. It must have been mere micrometers over the line, though, because when the pilots ejected they landed in Syria.

This could get really messy.

Of course, it was messy to begin with. And it does highlight (again) the question of just whose side Turkey is on. One of the reasons Daesh (aka ISIS or ISIL) is able to function as well as it does is because they're selling oil and looted artifacts, most of which is apparently flowing pretty freely through Turkey. And now Turkey's gone one step further, from turning a blind eye to the smuggling to actively assisting Daesh. The icing on the cake? Turkey is part of NATO. So much for being able to count on our allies in eliminating hotbeds of terrorism in the Middle East.

The news report said that people on the ground in Syria cheered when the Russians got shot down, and they were claiming to have shot and killed at least one of the pilots as he or she was drifting to the ground after ejecting. That may be the last time they get to cheer for awhile. I have a hunch the Russians are about to carpet bomb that area into gravel. On the other hand, the local residents are ethnic Turkmen; they shouldn't have any trouble getting into Turkey as refugees. After all, if Turkey is willing to protect them by shooting down Russian planes, Turkey should be more than happy to take them in when their villages are totally destroyed.

NATO reportedly is holding an emergency session to try to figure out what to do. What can they do? Figuratively throw Turkey up against a wall and demand to know just how fucking stupid they are? It's blunders like this one that lead to real wars. The big question is probably whether or not Turkish leaders are willing to grovel enough to placate Putin. Based on what I've read about President Erdogan I don't think that's likely to happen, but you never know.

Monday, November 23, 2015

News from the Woman Cave

Once again I'm flipping through pattern books and trying to decide on what to do for the next quilt. A few days I finished piecing the most recent project. I still have to put the quilt top together with a batting and a backing before spending evenings for the next several months hand quilting, but that doesn't count. I always have multiple quilts in progress. Or at least I used to: one being cut, one being pieced, one being quilted, and usually one being made from upcycled denim. Right now all I have is the one that I'll start quilting soon. Nothing being cut, nothing being pieced. Back in the 1970s I bought a quilting magazine (McCall's All American Quilts, IIRC) and rather recklessly said that eventually I was going to make each of the quilts shown. The quilt shown came from that magazine; I think I've done 3 or 4 others over the past 40 years. Maybe it's time to consult the magazine again.

The quilt pictured to the right will be a slightly bigger than queen-size when it's done. At this point, it's a little over 100-inches square. Whenever I work on a big quilt, I can't help but wonder how people did back in the days when houses were smaller and held a lot more people. In order to spread it out so I could square it up properly, I had to bring it down to the museum and use the empty space where our Politics and Elections exhibit is going to go. That's where I'll lay it out to do the sandwich (top, batting, back), too. Our current living quarters simply don't have any spaces big enough for me to spread things out to the point where I can see the entire quilt easily. If there didn't happen to be that open space at the museum, I'm not sure what I would have done -- wait for a calm day and spread a tarp on the ground? Tried to clear enough clutter out of the way in the hay loft to use that space and hope I managed to avoid getting bird crap on it? I've seen some amazing quilts in museums that were pieced and quilted by women living in sod houses on the prairie in Nebraska -- how on earth did they do it, especially when most of them did the quilting using a frame. I use a hoop, which solves the space issue, although it does raise questions of how to keep it clean when most of it is wrapped around me and at risk of trailing on the cat-hair covered floor.

I need to keep track of just how many hours I put into the hand quilting. I get asked occasionally how long it takes and I always guess at it -- an hour or two a night four or five nights a week for X number of months. . . I've finished some quilts pretty quickly and others have taken over a year. It would be nice to finish this one before the 2016 county fair, though, as I haven't entered a quilt in the fair in many, many years.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

So what's new at the museum, you ask?

We're getting our pavilion. The Baraga High School industrial arts class has been working on it for several weeks now. It's going to take them most of the school year despite it being a rather simple structure (basically a pole barn with no sheathing on the walls) because the amount of time they've got to work on it in each day is limited and there are going to be weather interruptions.

I kind of wish I'd been around in October when they did the posts. The frost line locally is pretty deep and the kids got to dig the holes the old-fashioned way -- post hole diggers and shovels. Then again, maybe not being around was a good thing. I'm not sure I'd want to go near a group of 16 and 17-year-olds who were starting off their day by spending an hour or so with a shovel in their collective hand. Amusing though it may have been to witness a herd of surly adolescents doing actual work first thing in the morning, they probably wouldn't have appreciated having an old lady snickering in the background.

In any case, the pavilion is going up. The poles are in place, the beams to anchor the trusses are now topping the poles, and sometime after Thanksgiving, work will resume. I don't know how much of it I will actually witness, though, because the class is there from 8:30 to 10, and I am no longer a morning person. I still wake up early, but I definitely take my time when it comes to pulling myself together to go anywhere.

Once the pavilion is done, the museum can focus on getting its logging high wheels rebuilt. Being able to store them under a roof should help ensure that they won't fall apart again, at least not quite so quickly. The high wheels are the reason the walls are going to be so tall so for sure we will have to get them rebuilt eventually. It would kind of suck to build a pavilion designed to hold something over 12 feet tall and then never get anything that high put into it.

Friday, November 20, 2015

But we've got to do something

Actually, no, we don't.

The notion that we absolutely must do something, preferably something that looks impressive -- a shock and awe type of exercise, no doubt -- came up a number of times during some online discussions I got sucked into recently. There was a lot of blathering about how all we needed to do to take care of Daesh (aka ISIS) was dump a few thousand American troops into Syria and that would be that. Well, we all know how well putting troops on the ground worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I fail to see why anyone would expect a more successful outcome in a third country, but some people are eternal optimists when it comes to the power of the U.S. military. Or eternally delusional, given that we haven't won a war in close to 70 years, but that's kind of side issue. I'm actually more interested in why so many people seem to think that taking action is compulsory. After all, "we can't just do nothing."

Well, yes, we can. There are always situations where the smart thing to do is nothing. Don't poke at a hornet's nest with a stick, either figuratively or literally. Don't meddle just for the sake of meddling. On a global scale, the results of U.S. meddling in recent decades tend to be almost universally bad. The CIA meddled in Iran in the 1950s. It took a few years, but the end result was the theocratic anti-American state we see today. We meddled in Vietnam in the 1950s, having been stupid enough to renege on promises made to the Vietnamese during World War II ("fight the Japanese and we'll support Vietnamese independence from the French"), and wound up in a prolonged war that we eventually lost. We meddled in Central and South America, which resulted in death squads murdering thousands of civilians for opposing the dictatorships we supported. Countries like Honduras and El Salvador are still trying to recover from the "help" we gave them. 

More recently, we meddled in Iraq on the dubious grounds that Saddam Hussein was a bad person (undoubtedly true) and created a power vacuum that led to that country basically breaking into three sections: the area around Baghdad controlled by Shi'ite Muslims, the northern part of the country controlled by the Kurds, and a kind of no man's land that allowed Al Qaeda in Irag to morph into Daesh. We meddled in Libya to eliminate Qaddafi, also basically because we didn't like him, and Libya is now a mess. And now we have politicians as well as some members of the public pushing for the U.S. to meddle more intensely in Syria because we don't like Assad. We're doing air strikes now, which are doing a pretty good job of recruiting new Daesh supporters, but there are people who don't think that's enough. We need to go all in on the meddling -- don't just poke at the hornet's nest from the sidelines, jump right in there and grab it with both hands.

Why? What do we gain from it? And why should we be expected to clean up a mess that doesn't directly affect us? Bill Maher tends to annoy me, but when he does his Islamophobic rants he gets one thing right: where are the other Middle Eastern countries when it comes to containing or wiping out terror groups like Daesh ? Turkey is right on the border with Syria and Iraq; you'd think they'd be worried about fundamentalists with delusions of grandeur, but apparently not. There have been well-documented examples of the Turkish government either openly ignoring Daesh or actively helping them. If the Turks cracked down on the smuggling that supports Daesh financially, the organization would start to fail pretty quickly, but instead the Turks have proven more adept at keeping refugees stuck at the border for weeks and months than they have at stopping oil tankers or trucks loaded with looted antiquities. And if a country that sits right next to the area Daesh is terrorizing isn't willing to really crack down on them, why should we bother?

I've never understood why some politicians lust for imposing regime change on other countries. It never works out well. The dictator we thought was so horrible that he had to go is invariably replaced by someone who is (a) equally repellent or worse; (b) turns out to be hostile to U.S. interests so we're left in worse shape than before; or (c) so weak he can't hold the country together without indefinite outside help. If, as some people have suggested, we simultaneously force regime change on Syria and put troops on the ground there, the end result will not be pretty.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Well, that was predictable

Proving once again that the U.S. has become a nation of sniveling cowards, at last count the governors of twenty-five states, Michigan among them, had announced that those states are now closed to refugees fleeing the bloodshed in Syria. The fact that their announcements are totally meaningless -- it's the federal government that gets to decide whether or not immigrants are allowed to enter this country -- is irrelevant. The governors are more than happy to play to the most paranoid, xenophobic fears of what they perceive to be the public mood.

I knew that was going to be the American response. It's the way we respond to just about every crisis: let's all huddle in a corner figuratively pissing our collective pants because there's a remote possibility something bad could happen somewhere. After all, if we can't have 100% perfect safety, we're not coming out from under the bed. As a society we like to talk a lot about how wonderful Americans are, but when it comes down to reality? Not so great. We're a bunch of sniveling selfish cowards. We're also real good at turning our backs on the rest of the world no matter what the circumstances. Don't believe me? Read some history.

One of the memes kicking around on Facebook for the past couple days is a graphic illustrating how the American populace felt about admitting Jewish refugees when Hitler began persecuting Jews in the 1930s. Polls showed that an overwhelming majority didn't even want to allow children in. The U.S. refused to allow passenger liners loaded with refugees to land -- apparently even a mere thousand refugees were too many for Americans to deal with. But we don't need to go 80 years to find Americans acting like selfish assholes.

Don't believe me? Go back and take a look at how most people felt about admitting Vietnamese and Hmong refugees after they fled the Communists in the 1970s. Or how we're treating Iraqis and Afghans who worked with the American military and are now being targeted by terrorists in what's left of their countries. The U.S. supposedly has a policy of prioritizing asylum applications from foreign civilians who worked as translators or in other positions, but if you look at the vetting process, it can take many years for the paperwork to wend its way through the system and even then we reject quite a few. If you do a little Googling, you can find numerous heart-breaking stories of Afghani or Iraqi civilians who risked their lives to help American troops, men and women who spent months or years working side-by-side with the U.S. forces, who were promised that if they wanted to come to the U.S. they'd be allowed in with no hassles, and who now are stuck waiting for years for some paper shuffler in Washington to decide their fates.

In short, despite our chauvinistic beliefs that Americans are inherently nice charitable people, the reality is we're hypocrites. We're narrow minded, selfish asshats who are remarkably adept at pretending we're not. We don't even want poor people moving into the same neighborhood as us -- look at the public reaction any time someone suggests incorporating "affordable housing" into a development -- so for sure it's no surprise we don't want any foreigners around. Even if the Paris attacks hadn't happened, we'd still be telling Syrians to stay away.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

Useless advice

We have a weather app on the laptop. Every so often a red triangle with an exclamation point appears to let us know there's an alert of some sort. Some of those advisories make sense. You know, if we're in Missouri or some other part of the country prone to tornadoes, I'd like to know that severe thunderstorms with the possibility of tornadoes are moving into the area. 

On the other hand, exactly what is the point of a "winter weather advisory?" If you live in one of the northern states, e.g., Michigan, and it gets to be the time of year where temperatures routinely drop below freezing, do you really need to be warned that winter weather is possible? Winter on the calendar may not officially begin until late December, but everyone knows winter in reality has already begun. This is, after all, the land of "nine months of winter and three months of rough snowmobiling." Do we really need to be told snow is possible? Snow's been possible for over a month. And if I want confirmation that winter weather is coming, all I have to do is look out the window. There's this white, fluffy stuff covering everything. It looks suspiciously like snow. Gee, if there's snow, I guess I should worry that winter weather is possible -- because without the weather app telling me, how else would I know what that white stuff on the ground means or that it's time to dig out the mittens and scarves?

The converse of this useless advice, of course, falls in July and August, especially down South, where the weather service feels obliged to dole out "heat advisories." Does anyone in Texas or Mississippi really need to be reminded that during the summer months it can get Hot outside?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

And the war continues

I thought the fuss over the Starbucks cup was pretty stupid, but then I heard something that topped it. Simon Malls, a company that operates multiple shopping malls around the country, decided to change its design for its "photo with Santa area." Based on what I saw on the news on Monday morning, they decided to leave the 1930's "Christmas Story" type set behind and go with something more reminiscent of "Frozen" -- very clean, lots of white, rather minimalist, and a whole lot less tacky than the usual tribute to a bygone era. People freaked. Holy wah, you'd have thought they'd butchered Rudolf in front of kindergartners and were serving up reindeer tartare.

Once again, I'm thinking way too many people are taking "just how fracking stupid are you?" as a challenge. Freaking out over the lack of snowflakes on a coffee cup? When did a snowflake become a religious symbol? The last time I checked, all a snowflake signified was called Winter. Or has Winter become a 3-month religious observance in itself? And throwing hissy fits and threatening boycotts  over a change in set design? The Simon Malls corporation wasn't getting rid of Santa or saying Christmas was cancelled. All they were doing was changing their display. That's like getting pissed that Sears put silver Christmas trees in a store window instead of green ones. The stupid, it burns.

Once again it becomes clear that the greatest danger to Christmas are its supposed defenders. They're fighting a war that exists only in their heads, and they're driving more and more of us into dreading the holiday season. As I've said before, I used to actually like the holidays. I'm not religious, but I liked the carols, the colorful decorations, the seasonal foods, the gift giving. Not anymore. Now I dread it a little more every year as we get to wonder just what type of ridiculous crap the Xmas warriors will be offended by this time around. I have a tip for Starbucks for next year: don't bother to do a holiday cup at all. You're going to get bitched at if you do, so save some corporate money by skipping the season completely. You'll still get bitched at, but it won't have cost you anything. Ditto the malls -- drop Santa. If anyone bitches, just say "He's not in the Bible," and let it go. It's not exactly waging war on Xmas if you drop the pagan/secular/materialistic add-ons, is it?  No trees, no elves, no made-up fat guy threatening kids with lumps of coal. Sounds good to me.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

I need to stop asking how stupid people are

Way too many folks are taking that question as a challenge. Apparently there's some sort of competition to demonstrate just who the most ignorant persons on the planet are, and at this point Texas is winning.

One of the more discouraging things to result from the most recent Election Day was voters in Houston shooting down an anti-discrimination ordinance because bigots and haters managed to convince them that treating transgender persons like actual human beings would result in hordes of male perverts invading women's restrooms. It was a variation on the same line of fear mongering used back in the 1970s to make people panic over the possibility of the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Just how fracking stupid are people?

I say this because it's pretty obvious that no one who succumbs to this particular line of bovine fecal matter is doing much thinking. First, has it ever occurred to anyone that no one does a genitalia check when you enter a rest room now? If someone looks even superficially female, that person is going to be able to use any ladies' room she wants. There isn't a security guard posted at the door looking up skirts or asking people to drop their pants and prove they don't have a penis. Ergo, if there are male perverts out there who want to dress like women and can do a sufficiently good job with hair and make-up that it isn't obvious they're men, no one is going to stop them. There is an exception to this, which I'll get to in a minute, but it doesn't apply to the average public restroom.

Toilets of Yesterday and Today
Public latrine 2000 years ago
And you know why no one is going to be doing double takes and strong arming would-be perverts at the door? Because ladies rooms are not one big open area where we women-folk indulge in some sort of group bladder and bowel relief. We don't sit cheek to cheek on an open bench similar to the public latrines of ancient Rome. A ladies room consists of multiple stalls, each with its own lock and plenty of privacy. Unlike men, who stand shoulder to shoulder in front of urinals with plenty of opportunity to glance at a neighbor's equipment (or, as a male friend mentioned, get splashed by some drunk with poor aim), women relieve themselves in solitary splendor. We step into the stall, lock the door behind us, proceed to hike up the skirt (or drop the jeans), pull down the unmentionables, and then take care of business. We are, in fact, so accustomed to stall doors locking that if the door doesn't want to lock, we will usually discover that we don't have to go that badly after all.

The big exception to the anonymity of public restrooms is, of course, elementary and high schools. That's the one place where people are doing genitalia checks, at least on paper, and it's also the one place were trans persons are experiencing the worst problems. School administrators have a really hard time dealing with teenagers who are listed on school records as being one gender but who have realized they are actually the other. Then again, school administrators have a hard time dealing with anything that falls outside the extremely narrow lines they've drawn for what is and is not acceptable in a lot of categories. They also have a bad habit of treating victims of harassment and bullying as though the victims were the perpetrators. Which means, naturally, that if a teen is already having a rough time coming to grips with his or her identity, with a few rare exceptions school administrators are going to do their best to make life for that kid even harder. That in turn leads to the reality that if a student is still listed on the paperwork in the school office as a girl, that student is going to be forced to use the girls' rest room even if the student is now viewed by everyone (parents, fellow students, the world at large) except the school administration as a boy, and vice versa  There will be bathroom police doing the equivalent of genitalia checks.

School bathrooms, incidentally, are also one of the two places I can think of where a person does lose the privacy of the typical bathroom stall. Quite a few schools remove the doors from stalls so teachers can easily check to make sure no one is smoking or doing drugs behind the stall doors. I remember being shocked as hell when I saw that in the Ironwood High School back in the 1980s; I imagine kids have even less privacy in the loo now.

One of the more bizarre aspects of this whole controversy has been the line taken by some of the bigots that people should be required to use the restroom that corresponds with whatever was put on their original birth certificate. The stupid, it burns. Just how do they plan to enforce that little gem? Are they going to start asking women who look like Caitlyn Jenner to whip out the paperwork to prove the word "female" was typed on their birth certificates? Or are they going to simply harass the ladies who don't match up quite as nicely as Caitlyn does with American standards of femininity? Ditto the mens' rooms -- how will these men who are so eager to make women prove they're women feel if they succeed and then they get asked to show their paperwork? Except, of course, that's never occurred to them: the whole focus has been on preventing perverts from entering a ladies' room.

Which leads me to another question: just why do so many people have such an astoundingly low opinion of men? Judging by the hysteria over some of the stuff men are imagined to be waiting with bated breath for the opportunity to do, apparently most men are low life perverted swine that can't be trusted around anyone, let alone women and small children. They're incapable of restraining themselves from indulging in all sorts of depraved acts.

Then again, "projection" is a fairly well known phenomenon in psychology. I can't help but wonder if the reason some of these people are foaming about hypothetical perverted situations is that they spend so much time fantasizing about accosting little kids in public restrooms that they assume everyone else is as sick as they are.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

Homeward bound

The Guppy leaving Loop 2
Our month at Montauk is now behind us, we're in Farmington for a few days, and then we'll be heading North. At this point, we seem to be lucking out with the weather. The latest forecasts show mild temperatures in the Upper Peninsula through next Wednesday so we may not have to plow snow in order to get the Guppy parked in its winter location near the barn. Last year we got home just as snow started falling, managed to get the Guppy positioned, and then got hit with a storm that dumped about 18 inches of snow in a little over 24 hours. Timing is everything. . .

We did decide that we like Montauk enough that we're going to apply to come back in 2016. I may whine about idiot campers knocking on the Guppy's door at odd hours, but they're actually a pretty minor nuisance. We do like being at the park in October so will ask for that month again. We are not, however, going to request March. We've figured out that the Guppy is too uncomfortable in truly cold weather. RVs are notorious for condensation problems, and the Guppy is no exception. Between the lack of insulation in the walls and the condensation building up on every glass and metallic surface, when the temperatures outside dip below freezing life in the Guppy becomes unpleasant. Then when you add in the nuisance of having to haul water in a bucket for a couple weeks because we knew the water hose and filter would freeze if we connected them, Montauk in March is not something we want to repeat. So we may shoot for April -- although I'm sure there's a lot more competition for April (spring flowers blooming, warmer temps in general) than there would ever be for March.

Campers in Loop 1
We are going to make one change in our application. We're going to ask for the Loop 3 host site. Host 3 is the relief host -- they cover the other loops when those hosts are off duty so they get to see the whole campground. The way the rotation works, if there are 3 hosts, Host 2 covers Loops 1 and 2 and only 1 and 2; Host 3 does their own Loop and Loops 1 and 2 when Host 2 is off duty or their own Loop and Loop 4 when Host 4 is off. Host 4 covers Loop 4 and when Host 3 is off they also cover Loop 3. So Host 3 probably has the best overall sense of what's happening in the campground; they get to see all 4 loops on a regular basis. If there are only 2 hosts, then each host has two loops all the time and covers the entire campground when the other host is off duty. 

Once again, I'll include some second and third choices on the application form. One of the attractions of campground hosting is seeing different places. I'll probably put Johnson's Shut Ins as a second choice again and maybe someplace we haven't seen at all, like Pomme de Terre, as a third. Maybe. I keep hearing Pomme de Terre is a nice quiet park with an under-utilized campground. Nice and quiet sounds good when you're sitting in a park that's at 100% occupancy, but that 100% occupancy also means you're rarely bored.You get to see stuff like the interesting tents, the retro campers, and general weirdness (hammocks dangling 20 feet up in the air, systems of ropes to hold up rain flies that are sufficiently complex that it looks like they're trying to install a zip line), not to mention dealing with the guys who want to build campfires big enough to serve as Hindu funeral pyres and then getting to pick semi-melted beer bottles out of fire rings when those guys leave.