Saturday, February 28, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
A really cute little channel marker, the Cockspur Island Light. Granted, it's been relegated to day marker status since 1909, but it's still cute. It's also threatened, of course. The usual suspects: time and the environment. It's threatened by salt water, by erosion, by lack of maintenance monies. The original iron cupola is sitting in the parade ground at the fort in an effort both to preserve it and to serve as a visual reminder to park visitors to cough up some bucks. The cupola on the tower now is stainless steel so it isn't as susceptible to the salt water.
The fort overall had a distinctly anachronistic feel, even allowing for the fact it was built in the first half of the 18th century. You cross a moat twice to get into it, and then walk up through a passageway that feels like it should have murder holes in the ceiling. The fact the one volunteer re-enactor/living history person on duty looked to be old enough to have served with Stonewall Jackson just added to the ambience. The snarky part of me kept wanting to ask him, "So, Gramps, are you the living history embodiment of the CSA recruiters scraping the bottom of the barrel?"
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
What surprised me was how short it looks is for an east coast light that's not perched on the edge of humongous bluff. Maybe it's the paint job with the broad horizontal stripes because the tower is 145 feet tall. The lens is a first order Fresnel installed in 1867 with a focal plane of 144 feet above sea level.
Of course, the same is true of blogging in general. Any time a person puts anything up on the web, unless they embed something in the photo, like a nice diagonal overlay screaming COPYRIGHT in humongous letters, it's at risk of someone else doing a cut and paste and re-using it. About all one can do is hope that anyone lifting something is nice enough to tell the rest of the world where they found it. No, realistically the danger with FaceBook isn't anyone stealing my deathless prose -- it's me wasting more time than I should on an activity that's as ephemeral as an Atlanta snowfall.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Reading The Magnificent Ambersons felt a bit like stepping into a time capsule. The novel is set in the Midwest, no doubt Indiana, in the late 19th century. The Ambersons are a wealthy family in a small city. The head of the family, Major Amberson, fought in the Civil War and is one of the most influential men in town when the story begins. He builds a magnificent Romanesque mansion on a four-acre tract to house his family, and, when his only daughter marries, has a grand house built for her and her husband right across the street from his. His daughter produces a son, George Amberson Minafer, who turns out to be both an only child and the only grandchild.
This does not bode well for George, of course. As far as his mother is concerned, George can do no wrong. It's no surprise that George goes from being a remarkably self-centered and obnoxious child to being an arrogant and oblivious young man. As a child, he's a bully, and as a young man he's a jerk. He has a circle of acquaintances but no real friends. He also has no ambition -- he goes off to an Ivy league school and earns a degree, but has no plans to use it for anything. After all, as he explains, why should he? He's an Amberson. He's the only grandchild. His family is wealthy -- he doesn't have to work. As far as George is concerned, work is something only the lower classes do.
I don't think I have to say much more for the logical course of the novel to be evident: Major Amberson makes a series of bad investments, the equivalent of opening a buggy whip factory next door to Ford's first auto assembly plant, and dies basically penniless. Real estate assets of the estate apparently go to settle debts as all George is left with for an inheritance are the contents of his mother's house (which the Major had never bothered to deed to her, so it's sold along with his), and he has to sell the furniture at auction. In the course of a few short weeks George goes from assuming that he'll be a man of leisure indefinitely to having to figure out how to pay the rent for himself and a spinster aunt at a cheap boarding hotel. As reality checks go, it's pretty brutal.
The book overall paints an interesting picture of American society in a time of rapid transitions. The automobile, electricity, and other innovations are all introduced to the town of Midlands as the story progresses. At the beginning of the novel the town is fairly homogeneous: there are the white residents who are the descendants of settlers who came from New England, and there are black residents who work as servants and stablemen (the references to darkies and the exaggerated dialect Tarkington puts in the mouths of blacks can be a little jarring to a 21st century reader), and almost everyone lives in a single family home, and, as Tarkington says, every respectable family has a Newfoundland dog for the children. Everyone knows everyone. It's described as a small city, but it's more like a small town. By the end of the book the city has grown to where to foreign immigrants have established distinct neighborhoods, multiple story apartment buildings crowd the streets, and no one knows or cares who anyone's grandfather was.
After reading the book, I looked up Booth Tarkington's biography on-line. I have a hunch The Magnificent Ambersons has a strong autobiographical component. Many aspects of George Amberson Minafer's life mirror Tarkington's -- right down to the age the character would have been at about the same time in American history -- so it's possible the author was looking back at his younger self and thinking, "what an ass I was!"
The novel is quite readable, although I found myself growing increasingly impatient with George. When was the young idiot finally going to get a clue? Could any human being actually be that dense and socially tone deaf? And then I remembered my young cousin raised by a single mom who thought her darling daughter was the center of the entire universe -- and realized Tarkington had indeed captured perfectly the mental processes of a egoistic young adult who had rarely heard the word No.
Tarkington was an extremely popular writer who knew how to tell stories that resonated with a wide audience. His books were best sellers, many were made into plays and movies, and the material continues to be re-worked today. The most recent version of The Magnificent Ambersons was televised in 2002, with James Cromwell playing Major Amberson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers as George Amberson Minafer, but I think I'll check Netflix for the 1942 version directed by Orson Welles instead.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
It's hard enough to lose a job. But for a growing proportion of U.S. workers, the troubles really set in when they apply for unemployment benefits.The first time it happened I was working for a company that was in a death spiral. It was a privately owned firm, and the owner had decided he'd rather snort the company's assets than make payroll. All it took was one paycheck bouncing, and about half a dozen of us walked. Maybe the cocaine had addled his brain enough that he was still in denial his company was tanking, but he appealed and based it on the claim we'd quit for no reason.
More than a quarter of people applying for such claims have their rights to the benefit challenged as employers increasingly act to block payouts to former workers.
Fortunately, the unemployment commission quickly ruled that the one fundamental right of every employee is to be paid for the work he or she does -- when the paychecks bounced, we had cause for leaving.
The second time it happened the situation was a little murkier, the company was much, much bigger, and it took a formal hearing with a state unemployment commission referee and several attorneys (one for me, a whole herd for the large, nasty corporation), but in the end I got my checks. One of these days I'll have to do a post on how I managed to cost Harrahs half a mil in attorneys' fees . . . bottom line to management, (and this is just focusing on purely pragmatic issues and ignoring the moral and ethical): never ever screw over your workers no matter how humble the position they may have in the organization because you can never know just how stubborn they're going to be about screwing you in return. Payback is a bitch.
As the whole nasty process unfolded, I learned anecdotally that the large nasty corporation (aka Harrahs) had the reputation in Reno of never, ever letting anyone collect unemployment insurance benefits no matter what the reason was for the employee's departure. Didn't matter, for example, if you were let go because business was slow and they were overstaffed -- they'd still tell the unemployment commission the employee was fired for cause. I've worked for some truly crappy companies and/or bosses over the years, but as companies go Harrahs still tops the list as being the worst. After all, unlike the cokehead's small business, no one in management could use drug addiction as an excuse.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I saw an estimate a few months ago that there were approximately 6,000 homeless people in the Atlanta area. I find myself wondering what the actual numbers are. There are a lot of bridges in this city, as well as abandoned buildings and other odd corners. How many squats are out there that no one knows about?
If government -- federal, state, or local -- is looking for projects to stimulate the economy, maybe some low income housing would be a good place to start.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I knew you could pay for masses to have the church help pray you into heaven; I didn't realize they were still peddling plenary indulgences, too.
In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
There were two books on sticks in the parking lot, both placed by the Georgia Historical Commission, and standing more or less side by side. Odds are, though, that few people notice the markers, especially when they're located over half a mile from the actual ruins. I was moderately amused by the text. The one focusing on the papermill's history described it as being located on Sope Creek. The other one, which focused on a Civil War skirmish, called it Soap Creek.
After admiring the ruins, we did some looping around before heading back to the parking lot. One of these days we'll have to go back and try wandering into a different part of the maze and seeing how things look closer to the river.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Besides, having been through my own fair share of failed diet and exercise programs -- is there a woman in the U.S. who at some point or another hasn't fallen prey to Atkins or Nutri-System or Jenny Craig? -- and witnessed just about everyone I know also succumbing to counting Weight Watchers points or cutting back on carbs, I know what the success rate for most weight loss programs is. Abysmal. Something like 95% of people who go on diets gain every pound back with a few more tacked on for good measure within a year or two. Most people simply do not have the ability (metabolism? time? the money to hire a full-time personal trainer?) to make the permanent lifestyle changes needed to keep the weight off, especially when their bodies have been genetically programmed to be a little more zaftig than contemporary society believes they should be. Humans spent millennia evolving to survive periodic famines and have only had a few generations, and then primarily in the industrialized Western nations, to adapt to a different environment, one rife with Big Macs and chili fries and sedentary lifestyles, so it's not surprising more of us are fat.
But that's kind of a digression. What got me thinking about "The Biggest Loser" and dieting in general this morning was a New York Times article about the show and the contestants' relationship with food -- in a paradoxical way, they don't have one. Obviously, they're consuming a lot of it. No one gets to be 400 pounds without eating something. The trouble apparently is that they're treating what they consume like air -- they inhale it without thinking about it or even enjoying it very much. And almost to a person none of the contestants can cook. The article notes that contestants don't even really have a decent sense of taste.
"The food that got them to this point is salty, sweet, fatty, crunchy,” said Bob Harper, a trainer on the show since the first season in 2004, describing the fast food and snacks that are the steady diet of most contestants. “They lose their taste buds, they lose their hunger cues and they want what they want when they want it.”It's an interesting article that includes little gems like this quote from a contestant:
Second, they learn fundamental cooking skills that they — like many Americans — have lost, or never had.
“Most of them do not have the basic ability to cook a meal at home and very little understanding of how much fat and salt is in restaurant food,” said Cheryl Forberg, the show’s nutritionist, “even on the supposedly healthy part of the menu.”
“The kitchen was full of weird ingredients like quinoa and kale."Somehow I never thought of kale as weird. Just green.
Bottom line for the article is that people who do their own cooking instead of relying on convenience items (takeout Chinese, pizza, McDonald's, snack foods like Cheetos and Keebler cookies) are almost always going to be eating healthier than folks who don't. You build a relationship with food, you learn to savor flavors and textures, you pay more attention to what you're eating, and you're more likely to know when you've had enough. I don't know if I'd go as far as the article does in claiming spending more time in a kitchen will result in less time on a StairMaster (especially when I spend zero time on StairMasters now), but you never know.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
In Washington there are whores and there are whores, and then there is Tom Daschle. Tom Daschle would suck off a corpse for a cheeseburger.I was not saddened to see Daschle bite the dust; I thought he was a lousy choice to head Health & Human Services to begin with. He's been collecting huge speaking fees from the healthcare industry since he left the Senate. He'd be about as likely to reform the health care system in this country as Dick Cheney is to call for registering firearms or banning high fence hunting.
I'm not sure why. My family wasn't particularly religious, at least not on my mother's side. My paternal grandmother was active in the Methodist church and, as long as we lived near her, she did push her grandchildren into going to the Methodist Sunday school. My mother's family, on the other hand . . . they weren't open nonbelievers, but they also were unusual among nonsocialist/apolitical Finns in that they didn't go to church. My mother said that when she asked her mother, the grandmother I never knew, why they didn't go to church her mother explained it simply as "In Finland the government said we had to go to church. Here we have a choice. We choose not to go."
After we moved far enough away from my father's mother that she no longer was a day-to-day influence, my parents left it strictly up to us kids if we wanted to go to church or not. So we kind of religion shopped. For a couple years I tagged along with a friend to the Baptist church she attended -- that stopped about the time the pastor began harassing me about "finding the Lord" and getting baptized. Given my water phobias, there was no way I was about to fake being saved if the end result was going to be full immersion in a giant bathtub in front of the entire congregation.
So then I toyed with Catholicism briefly. I loved the rituals, the Latin mass, the incense. Didn't understand any of it, of course, but thought it all looked cool. And then for some reason I found myself going to the Finnish Lutheran church that my friend Trudy Luoma (she's the brunette on the end of the front row in the photo) attended. In retrospect, it was pretty strange. Granted, Trudy and I were friends, but it not exactly in the BFF category. Our major connection was through 4-H (yes, I do come from a very small town). I think we wound up working on projects (Wildflowers, Forestry) that required long bike trips out to the project leader's house. From pressing turk's cap lilies together to deciding to be Lutheran -- definitely not the typical spiritual journey, if there is such a thing. Eventually, of course, I lost my religion (or it lost me), not long after supposedly finding it.
In any case, what got me started thinking about religion this week was the book I'm currently reading: Roadside Religion: The Search for the Sacred, the Strange, and the Substance of Faith. It is an intriguing book. Back when I was still thinking of myself as a sociologist I had a strong interest in spontaneous memorialization (the cross by the side of the road marking an accident site) and social definitions of sacred space.* Beal looks at larger scale endeavors -- the 11-acre Garden of Crosses in southern Alabama, Holy Land USA near Bedford, Virginia -- that range from purely vernacular to slickly commercial (Holy Land Experience in Florida).
Beal's descriptions of a few of the sites makes it fairly clear the promoters have either never read the Bible or are willfully misunderstanding the New Testament. There's something truly sick about the Holy Land Experience's daily (fake) crucifixions -- and something even sicker about the park visitors who are ticked off when the event, which takes place outdoors, is cancelled due to rain. You know a religion has become a death cult when the believers seem to be more interested in pain and suffering than they are in redemption and hope. If there really was a God, I think he'd be more than a little pissed off that his so-called followers obsess so much about his death without bothering to celebrate his life.
On the other hand, there's the Garden of Crosses, a purely vernacular effort, the life's work of basically one person, that also obsesses about death -- it is a garden of crosses, after all, 11 acres worth, loaded with messages warning passersby they're going to BURN IN HELL HELL HELL. Nonetheless, Beal's descriptions make the Garden of Crosses feel sacred in a way that Holy Land Experience does not. Maybe it's the motivations of the people behind them. The man responsible for Garden of Crosses is a true believer who worries about humanity in general. He doesn't want anyone going to Hell; he wants everyone saved. He means well, he's just slightly nuts by conventional standards in the way he's going about spreading the message. On the other hand, the Holy Land Experience wants you to buy a day pass, souvenir tee-shirts, postcards, mouse pads, salt and pepper shakers, and whatever other piece of made-in-China crap they can sucker you into spending money on. They're not selling indulgences or relics, but you get the distinct impression that they are the direct descendants of the folks Luther had in mind back in 1517.
As for the overall effect of the book on me, I'm feeling the urge for a road trip to Cullman, Alabama. I've been hearing about the Ave Maria Grotto for years; maybe it's time to go see it in person. A miniature Vatican City that incorporates used lipstick tubes into its construction can't be any stranger than Fred Smith's Clydesdales with the beer bottle manes.
[*I don't believe in supernatural entities, but I do believe there are socially created sacred spaces, places, and objects. ]
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Naturally, the first book (Dies the Fire) was full of the typical OMG post-apocalyptic coping with disaster without modern technology scenarios: hordes of people dying from starvation, for example, and a few smart people realizing that staying in the middle of a city (Portland, Oregon) that no longer works is not a real good idea and doing the classic bugging out to the boondocks to hunker down until the worst of the chaos has ended. A few people keep their heads to the extent of liberating farm animals (draft horses, cattle) from a living history exhibit. Dies the Fire is obviously heavily influenced by classic science fiction, e.g., Lucifer's Hammer, along with an overt homage to LOTR, and contains the usual obligatory plot elements. There are scavengers who resort to cannibalism and eventually (as the series progresses) form bands referred to as "eaters," for example, and the classic clashes occurring between The Reluctant Ethical Hero and The Sadistic Power-Hungry Tyrant. Stirling ends up having the Reluctant Hero do just about everything except pull a sword from a stone before he and the Tyrant meet in battle.
But none of that is what has me wondering. I know the rules for post-apocalyptic fiction; Stirling follows them all as the series progresses, including channeling some Stephen King ala The Stand and having some unspecified preternatural Ultimate Evil hovering just off-stage and lusting for humanity's soul. He hits all his marks and does so quite deftly. The books are a good read, well-crafted and entertaining. I'm a little annoyed with Stirling for not making the last two books (The Sunrise Lands and Scourge of God) stand alone the way the first three (Dies the Fire, Meeting at Corvallis, and The Protector's War) were, but I enjoyed reading them.
No, what I want to know is why no one gets measles? Or mumps? Or polio? Or maybe even influenza? They started off with stashes of antibiotics, but vaccines never got mentioned. Why aren't women dying in childbirth or from childbed fever? The latest book is set 22 years past-Change; where are the infectious diseases, viral and bacterial? There's a lot of battling going on -- why aren't there a bunch of one-armed or one-legged veterans hobbling around because it was either amputate or lose a limb to gangrene? I want some germs in action, or I want an explanation of how they're managing to manufacture antibiotics using the equivalent of 16th century technology.
Oh well, maybe in the next book Stirling will have someone stumble across a cache of Georgia peanut butter, decide that despite over two decades of sitting in a warehouse it's still edible, and the series will get the bloody flux that's been missing so far.