Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Then the project director took me to lunch. I think I'm going to like it there.
Monday, July 28, 2008
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Everytime I'm the lucky (?) recipient of one of these epistles, I marvel again at the explicit illogic they display: illegal aliens are simultaneously stealing jobs from hard-working Americans and bleeding us dry by sucking on the welfare teat, collecting food stamps, and generally enjoying the good life. I want to know how you do that: How do you steal jobs and sit on your ass at the same time? Seriously. Tell me how. It sounds like a great gig.
The bitter truth is that yes, jobs are being taken from U.S. citizens and filled by undocumented immigrants, but it's not the immigrants doing the stealing -- it's the employers who have figured out they can get away with violating multiple labor and tax laws to increase company profits. They ignore faked IDs, pay sub-legal wages, violate OSHA standards, and generally treat their cheap labor pool as disposable. If workers think conditions are unsafe, the overtime hours are illegal, or they've been shorted on their pay, all it takes is one phone call to ICE and the loud-mouthed employee is gone. Doesn't matter if it's a meat packing plant employing thousands of people, or one suburban housewife with a cleaning lady; employers willing to exploit undocumented aliens know full well the power of three simple syllables: la migra.
If undocumented workers are injured on the job, they're not going to get appropriate medical care and disability. They're going to get a one way trip back to El Salvador or Nigeria or Bangladesh. You know those guys hanging out Home Depot hoping for a day's work? Well, if they put in 12 hours and at the end of it get told they're out of luck, they are. All they can do is curse silently and hope they're the next job they take actually pays something.
A favorite line of the anti-immigrant crowd is that undocumented workers are "stealing" our Social Security benefits. How? If they're working with fake IDs and the employer is going through the motions of doing everything legally -- FICA deductions, for example, and state and federal income taxes -- then they are paying into the system with every check. But you know something? They're never going to get any of it back. They can't file for refunds, and they can't apply for retirement benefits, because they haven't paid in under their own legal identity. As far as the IRS and the Social Security Administration are concerned, people who made contributions under a name other than their own have never contributed at all. No refunds, no benefits.
The IRS has acknowledged that there are many millions of dollars in income taxes withheld annually that are never claimed through refunds even though they are being withheld from persons whose incomes are so low they would qualify. The IRS, however, does not go looking for people who don't file returns unless those people owe the government money. Why should they? And, if you don't believe me, next spring if you know you've got a refund coming, don't bother to file a tax return. Just don't hold your breath waiting for the IRS to find you.
As for the sitting back and sucking the rest of us dry by collecting food stamps, welfare, whatever, does anyone with two brain cells left to rub together actually believe that, given the current anti-immigrant climate in this country, undocumented aliens are going to walk into government agencies to voluntarily complete a foot-high pile of paperwork ? These people are smart enough to survive horrendous desert crossings, they manage to scrape by on poverty wages and still send money back to their home countries -- why would they then be stupid enough to draw attention to themselves by trying to get on welfare?
I really wish someone would shove a cork in Lou Dobbs' mouth . . .
Saturday, July 26, 2008
I think the first one I read in the series was The Beekeeper's Apprentice. I was dubious -- I've read a number of books where authors attempted to use the Sherlock Holmes character and didn't do a particularly good job with the effort. In the end, King did well enough that I went looking for other books by her, including another series set in modern day San Francisco, but I still have some reservations about the whole Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes thing. The plot lines are interesting, the characters are fleshed out enough to feel like real people, the historical backdrop is obviously thoroughly researched . . . but there's that whole May-December romance thing.
It isn't that I don't believe a woman, particularly a young woman, could exist who could actually think circles around Holmes and be as intellectually detached as him -- a meeting of like minds, so to speak. I can understand two seemingly very dissimilar people discovering that they're actually perfectly matched. I'm just thoroughly creeped out at the moment by the age thing.
Of course, I may be noticing it more than I usually do when reading a Mary Russell mystery because I just finished The Wives of Henry VIII. Reading descriptions of Henry Tudor in hot pursuit of a nubile bride, someone who could give him sons, is enough to evoke shudders in any reader. Antonia Fraser quotes from documents (letters, diaries, and even official legal records) that make it clear that by the time Henry was married to wife #4 --Ann of Cleves -- the only way he could perform was to be with a woman so young she barely qualified as an adult. An amazing amount of documentation exists giving explicit details of the king's sex life, or lack thereof. By the time he's in his 40s he's pretty adamant about expecting a girlish virgin in the bed, and Ann didn't fit the model. She wasn't petite, her breasts weren't perky, and she was pushing 30, something that hadn't bothered him in the abstract while the negotiations for the marriage were in progress, but obviously hit home once she arrived in England.
Followed reading about Henry's messed up love life with watching the news and seeing John McCain having applesauce accidents in supermarkets, and older men are looking very creepy indeed.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Well, today those of us who take this responsibility seriously got to suffer because a fair number of reviewers decided to just blow the whole process off. They didn't bother to show up at their assigned time to spend 20 minutes to an hour discussing why any particular application should or should not be approved, didn't bother to contact the panel organizers to let them know they couldn't be there, and of course never submitted the electronic copies of their reviews so the chair could have served as proxy and read their comments. LNA requires each application to have a minimum number of reviewers actively involved in the discussion, either in person or via conference call, so when someone didn't show, that meant we all had to sit and wait while the panel organizers went and literally knocked on office doors and stuck their heads into cubicles looking for a volunteer to serve as a last minute substitute. That sub wouldn't have had a chance to read the application in depth, but (at least in theory) could still ask intelligent questions of the reviewers who had.
Thanks to the shirkers, the panel review schedule got hopelessly off track, the day went on and on, and I'm willing to bet everyone who was there for the entire day now has the names of the slackers indelibly engraved in their memory. I know I do.
I also know that the supervisors of the shirkers are going to be hearing from the panel organizers. Participating in these reviews is an agency-wide requirement, so everyone who blew it off may have also just kissed their "above average" performance rating good-bye. I can hope. . .
(I was also rather disgusted with the reviewers who did show, but didn't follow the instructions -- e.g., failed to bring a hard copy of their review to give to the recorder or made continual references to things they had been told to ignore in scoring -- but that's a different rant.)
The good news -- I got picked to serve as production editor on a fairly high profile project. The work will be interesting, and I'll get to take two books* from initial idea to final product. Thanks to various budget constraints, I'll even get to do most of the lay-out because adding a graphics artist to the team might not be possible.
The bad news -- the division putting out these publications wants the editor "embedded" within their work group so it'll be easier to bounce ideas off each other and get feedback without having to schedule formal meetings. That means I have to temporarily change work locations.
The good news -- the office space they're sticking me into looks like it's bigger than my living room, the furniture is real wood, you could land a 747 on the desk, there's a door that closes, and there are actual windows overlooking a wooded creek. Natural light and peace and quiet. After a full year in my dimly lit interior cubicle, my system may take awhile to adjust.
The bad news -- it's in a different office park. My 7-minute walk to work ends tomorrow; Monday I'll be getting on a bus.
The good news -- MARTA stops right in front of the building.
More good news -- it is not the main LNA campus.
The bad news -- the bus only runs through there once an hour during rush hour, and switches to every other hour in the middle of the day.
The good news -- it may run only once an hour, but at least I still won't have to drive myself.
Overall, the good appears to outweigh the bad: I'm getting to do something more creative than usual, the project is one where there is no pre-determined government boilerplate template the documents have to fit into so I may be able to keep the content in plain language instead of having it degenerate into bureaucratese, and even the longer commute won't be particularly onerous compared to what the average working sap in Atlanta endures. And it's all scheduled to by December 31 so a mere five months from now I'll have the short commute back.
*They may be book length but would be more accurately described as advertising brochures justifying the existence of a newly created program area.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
In any case, Large Nameless Agency promised earlier today to bring in bottled water so we hard-working government employees won't have to worry about dehydration. Given that most of the bottled water around here also comes from the Chattahoochee, I'm not sure passing out bottles of Dasani is the ideal solution. (Not that any had appeared by the time I left work this afternoon; they'll probably delegate the task to FEMA and the water will end up shipped to Iowa.)
I'm anticipating an abnormally number of people calling in "sick" on Friday. After all, an intestinal bug sneaking through from the Chat is going to take a day or two to make itself known -- but when it does, I'm sure the enteric disease experts I work with will have all the symptoms nailed.
If I wasn't so thirsty I'd do a longer rant about poor engineering and failing infrastructure, but instead I think I'll just wander across the street and see just what kind of beer the Citgo sells.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
On the other hand, the upside-down tomatoes up at the retirement bunker are reportedly doing well. We tried a low-budget suggestion Tracy had posted a couple months ago on Possum Living, and the last I heard the tomatoes in the milk cartons were doing better than the tomatoes in the garden. Most of the upside-down tomatoes I'd seen before used 5-gallon buckets, but the one-gallon milk jugs seem to work, and for sure are a lot lighter to hang.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Or, more accurately, I miss Dame Agatha and the other writers of her generation. Granted, contemporary authors lay out clues so I, the reader who is privy to stuff OH is not, can figure out pretty quickly who the Evil-doer is, but I'd appreciate a Hero/Heroine who at least went through the motions of observing those same clues.
Case in point, Steve Hamilton's walking disaster of a hero, Alex McKnight. After reading three of Hamilton's books, I'm starting to think McKnight gives Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum a good run for the money in total denseness. Stephanie has an excuse, though. She's a Jersey girl who's being played for laughs. McKnight is supposedly an ex-cop, someone who took a medical retirement after getting three slugs from an Uzi in his chest. He should know enough to stop and think, especially when he's old enough (pushing 50) that testosterone poisoning doesn't make for much of an excuse for stupidity any more. Does he ever pause to mull things over and try to connect the dots? Nope. Loses his temper or gets impatient, goes chasing off on strange tangents without thinking stuff through, and manages to survive through sheer luck.
I do enjoy Hamilton's books. They're decent mind candy. Hamilton's got the setting (the eastern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula) nailed, the social commentary is dead on, and he's obviously taken some time to get to understand the various ethnographic aspects of the area, like the hockey culture. It's kind of fun observing middle-aged male angst from the inside, like when McKnight decides to eliminate his gray hair as part of trying to impress a much younger woman. I just wish he'd figure out a way to have McKnight demonstrate some thinking before he gets hit in the head with the figurative (and frequently literal) 2x4.
As for Nevada Barr and poor, battered NPS law enforcement ranger Anna Pidgeon. . . Winter Study was probably better than her last book, but I really think Ms. Barr needs to re-think this chronological thing she's got going. Anna's getting way too old to be floundering around in cedar swamps in the winter -- she's got to be pushing the mandatory retirement age for an LE, so it's time for Barr to step into the wayback machine and fill in some of the spaces in Anna's story, go back to Anna's early years and how she got to be NPS law enforcement and stop trying to keep things contemporaneous with her own life. Much as I appreciate seeing a middle-aged heroine, I really don't want to end up reading about Ranger Pidgeon's hot flashes a book or two from now -- and that's going to happen if Barr continues on this same timeline.
Barr apparently spent 8 days on Isle Royale with the wolf study team as part of doing the background research for the book. Not long enough, though, because I don't think she got a real appreciation for just how exhausting and time consuming it is to maneuver in deep snow, bitter cold, and cedar swamps, especially in an area that also has a fair number of abandoned copper mine shafts to worry about, but that's a minor quibble. The book is sufficiently well-written that I got sucked into reading past my bedtime, and, had I spent money on it rather than checking it out from the public library, I wouldn't have felt ripped off. And she did get the name of the sausage company in Hancock right, even if she didn't mention that they make the best hot dogs and sauna makkara on the planet.
A federal judge has restored endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, derailing plans by three states to hold public wolf hunts this fall.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy granted a preliminary injunction late Friday restoring the protections for the wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Molloy will eventually decide whether the injunction should be permanent.
The region has an estimated 2,000 gray wolves. They were removed from the endangered species list in March, following a decade-long
Friday, July 18, 2008
I can no longer see where the dirt is. It struck me recently that unless it's a really bright sunny day and I'm standing in exactly the right spot, thanks to the bifocals I don't really see dust on the bookshelves, cobwebs in the corners, or crumbs on the kitchen floor. If I'm not seeing it, I'm not feeling compelled to clean it. Life is good.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Peachtree isn't the only mini-wilderness in the neighborhood, though. There's a 12-foot strip between the apartment complex where I live and the condo development next door where for some mysterious reason there's a gap between the chain link fence marking the boundary for the apartments and the chain link fence protecting the condos. Why the gap exists is a mystery -- a utilities easement? a memory of an alley or road that hasn't existed in years? Doesn't really matter. Between the half a dozen varieties of green briers, wild grape, honey suckle, wisteria, kudzu, and the healthiest poison ivy I've seen outside of Arkansas, nothing human is going walking in there. It is, however, ideal habitat for songbirds and small mammals.
That same condo development had to do a catch basin for flood control, so there's now an artificial wetland occupying about the same amount of space as a typical city lot -- it's surrounded by a fairly high concrete wall, so at this point access to it is limited to critters that can either fly in or come up the storm drain. I'm intrigued by the way in the space of less than a year it's gone from bare dirt to having cottonwoods that look to be about 12 feet tall. Last fall they were foot-high saplings. I'm curious as to whether the condo management will allow this patch of would-be wilderness continue to re-wild, or if they'll cut those trees down when/if they notice them. Maybe they'll let them grow. They haven't had much luck with the dawn redwoods they planted as part of the formal landscaping, so it might occur to them a few healthy accidental trees look better than dead purchased ones.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Sunday, July 13, 2008
It's been kind of an odd day here. I'd been feeling the urge to wander up the hill to the Goodwill store and browse the books section, and then maybe hit the health foods department in Family Dollar (Little Debbies, Moon Pies) but every time I started pulling myself together to amble that way clouds rolled in, ominous rumbling sounds were heard, and sheets of rain began to fall.
So I've spent most of the day reading and listening to music, thanks to Ranger Bob and Utah Savage both mentioning classic songs and groups in recent posts. They inspired me to dust off the record player and then stroll down memory lane.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I first heard of HAER while I was an undergraduate at Michigan Tech. Our department head at the time, Larry Lankton, was a former HAER historian, as was my advisor, Terry Reynolds. Both had worked on amazing projects with HAER -- Larry was part of a team that documented the Anniston Army Depot, the Pine Bluff Arsenal, and the Old Croton Aqueduct; Terry did several hydroelectric projects, including Sault Ste. Marie -- and both encouraged students to apply for summer jobs with the program. So I did.
When Eric DeLony called to ask if I was interested in working on a hydroelectric power plant mitigative documentation project in the state of Washington, he referred to the fact I was a "Terry Reynolds student." It occurred to me later Eric assumed this status suggested I actually knew something about hydroelectricity, electrical engineering, history of engineering, and other technical matters. Not exactly. I knew hydroelectric generation required water, and I knew that engineers were usually involved in designing power generation systems. And I knew enough about electricity to refrain from sticking bobby pins into outlets to check to see if the power was on.
By the end of the summer, I knew more. My head was stuffed with terms that I can still rattle off -- wicket gates, penstocks, taintor gates, effective head, relief valve -- and I'd be able to describe what the spiral case for a Francis turbine looks like from the inside (rather frightening, actually, and definitely not a place for the claustrophobic).
However, in the spring when Eric asked if I wanted to spend the summer living and working in Seattle the phrase "working in Seattle" was about all that mattered. Seattle! As in "the bluest skies I've ever seen were in Seattle. . ." Seattle -- home of Elliott Bay Bookstore, Pike Place Market, and Cow Chip Cookies. I decided to not volunteer just how completely and totally ignorant I actually was about dams, dam design, dam engineering, power generation, federal energy policy, the state of Washington, J. D. Ross, you name it. If I had any qualms about my ability to understand hydroelectric development and Seattle City Light well enough to write a history of a power station, I wasn't going to share those doubts with my soon-to-be boss.
End result: I got to spend 12 weeks living in a really strange apartment (one roommate was a psychotic fresh out of a halfway house who was convinced the U.N. was trying to poison her, the other was a shopaholic hoarder)(and Ranger Bob wonders why living in an NPS dorm never fazed me) in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. I split my workdays between an office in the Pioneer Square area, field work at the Skagit Hydroelectric development (owned and operated by Seattle City Light), and archival research at the University of Washington and Seattle City Light. Final product: "Skagit Power Development: Skagit River and Newhalem Creek Hydroelectric Developments."
Pictured above -- taintor gates on Diablo as seen from the upstream side. Fans of movie trivia may recognize those light posts -- the roadway on top of the dam played a bridge in the movie "The Deer Hunter."
Pictured below, the town of Diablo and the Diablo Powerhouse, a really nifty example of moderne architecture. (The interior of the powerhouse is the first photo above.) Diablo was a company town, complete with elementary school, but to the best of my knowledge no one lives there year-round anymore. The mitigative documentation project also included assisting another historian in preparing a National Register historic district nomination. The Skagit Hydroelectric development has been listed on the Register since 1996.
Driving toward Diablo on state highway 20. The "lake" is the Skagit River upstream of Gorge Dam. This view never got old.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Packing Protection or Packing Suicide Risk?
It appears that the folks who are so insistent on owning guns for self-defense are more likely to shoot themselves than they are to use their weaponry against intruders or muggers.
Irony? Poetic justice? Instant karma? Or all three?
Friday, July 4, 2008
One of the most fascinating aspects of the case is that Herndon was released on bond while his case was being appealed. It was not unusual for labor organizers in the deep South to take advantage of being out on bond to leave the region rather than returning to face the certainty of extremely long prison terms and the very real risk of mob violence and lynching. Herndon, who had been only 19 at the time of his arrest, chose to go back to Atlanta and allow the legal process to proceed. In 1937 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Georgia civil insurrection law, reversing Herdon's conviction and freeing him from prison.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Still, I don't know why seeing a heron surprised me. A few months ago the AJC ran a feature article on author David Kaufmann. Kaufmann spent ten years exploring Peachtree and its tributaries. His book, Peachtree Creek: A Natural and Unnatural History of Atlanta's Watershed, contains amazing photos. Despite being so thoroughly polluted in places as to qualify unabashedly as an open ditch sewer, Peachtree still supports an astounding variety of wildlife.
Case in point:
Builder faces murder case:
Victim mistaken for copper thief, says Coweta sheriff.
Defense attorney says suspect didn't mean to shoot.
Just how stupid does a person have to be in order to not recognize his own subcontractors? And whatever happened to the idea of calling the cops if you think you're seeing a burglary in progress?
I'm not really in the mood to argue the Second Amendment. I do, however, think the key word might be "well regulated." I'd like to see that interpreted as "You want to own a gun, first prove you're not an idiot." I.e., be willing to sit through a waiting period and submit to a background check, take gun safety classes, and generally demonstrate you're a rational adult. If the Supreme Court is willing to concede that government has the right to keep guns away from criminals and the insane, I surely don't see anything wrong with trying to keep them out of the hands of the terminally stupid, too.
Update: a link suggested by Mathman: "A Tale of Two Amendments" by Matty Boy over at Lotsa 'Splainin' 2 Do. It got me to thinking that maybe the key to gun ownership should be being required to prove you're qualified to be a member of that "well-regulated militia." Army recruiters reject would-be enlistees every day; if someone isn't qualified to serve in the regular military, why should he or she be allowed to possess a private arsenal?
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
It's a perfectly valid point, but the MSM leaped all over it as though (a) this was breaking news [big flash for you guys at CNN: Wes Clark has been saying this over and over in multiple settings since he came out for Obama earlier this spring. Way to go on the superstar investigative journalism front]; and (b) Clark was unpatriotic for suggesting military service, especially fairly low level military service, in and of itself should not be a litmus test for anything. (I was, by the way, extremely disappointed that Obama was frigging stupid enough to repudiate Clark's comments instead of stating the obvious: it's a legitimate critique, especially when it's coming from someone with Clark's extensive command experience. Note to Obama: If you shove enough people under the bus, sooner or later you're going to run out of people willing to ride it.)
You know, maybe if people spent less time worrying about whether or not someone conforms to their personal ideal of patriotism and more time doing stuff that could actually help this country, I wouldn't have to resort to watching 2-hour History Channels specials devoted to "Dung" just to preserve my sanity. But after observing political news coverage for awhile, discussions of 100-foot tall piles of bat guano covered with cockroaches just seem so clean in comparison.
(I am, by the way, trying to figure out how much longer Jack Cafferty is going to survive on CNN. He's the only on-air personality left there who seems relatively immune to group think.)