Thursday, April 29, 2010

Update on the construction

They're pulling the sliding patio doors and putting in French doors.  I'm thinking next winter the heating bills are going to be a lot lower than they were this year.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Question with no good answer

Why should it be so difficult to write a 5-minute podcast script explaining xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related gammaretroviruses in terms a 6th grader could understand?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Life's little mysteries

Thermostat settings for building climate control.

Why do the people who have access to those devices think that we all need to be a toasty 80+ degrees in the winter and then drop the thermostat to just barely above meat locker levels when they switch over from heating to air conditioning?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Charisma

I woke up this morning dreaming about Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to most of us as Lenin.  Not surprising, I guess, as I've been plodding through a biography of Lenin for the past week.  The more I read, the more baffled I become.  The man must have had incredible personal charisma, because there's absolutely no logical reason why he should have wound up as powerful as he did. 

There's no mystery as to how or why he wound up a revolutionary.  He's a classic example of enemies of the state being made, not born.  Up until his late teens, Lenin showed no interest in politics and, as a member of the minor nobility, was showing every sign of having an uneventful life.  Then his older brother became involved in a remarkably inept attempt to assassinate the tsar, was arrested, tried, and executed, and the young Lenin got labeled as a potential trouble-maker, too.  Classic guilt by association.  He had shown no particular interest in either Marx or the problems of the proletariat prior to his brother's death, but the more he got labeled as a potential revolutionary, the more he immersed himself in Marxism and other political philosophies. In reading the biography, a person can't help but wonder what would have happened if the Russian police had just ignored Lenin.  Would he have turned into the mediocre small town lawyer he originally seemed destined to become? 

Unfortunately, they didn't leave him alone, and, as anyone who's read any labeling theory knows, if you tell someone enough times that he is something, that person will do his best to become it.  And, as far as I can tell, once Lenin decided he was going to be a revolutionary, he managed to talk (bully?) every one he came into contact for any length of time into becoming a revolutionary, too.  Given that his writing was not particularly good and his influence seemed to wane whenever he was out of personal contact with the various cells of would-be revolutionaries in Russia and other countries, it had to be purely personal charisma, force of personality, that propelled him to the top. He gave speeches that, when you read the transcript, make him sound both inane and illogical, but that were apparently greeted with delirious applause at the time.  His co-conspirators deferred to Lenin even when it made absolutely no tactical sense. 

Once the revolution did happen, Lenin then managed through sheer force of personality (and a complete and thoroughly cold-blooded unwillingness to compromise on anything) to make sure the Bolsheviks came out on top.  There's always been a fair amount of debate as to whether or not Lenin ever ordered any murders himself, but given that people who openly disagreed with him tended to end up dead, if he didn't order any hits, he obviously didn't try very hard to stop any. 

Over the years I've heard various people speculate about what might have happened if Lenin had lived longer.  It's a fair question -- my own sense is things would not have been much different in the end, and they might actually have been worse.  Lenin was enough of an intellectual to be impractical (in the early days of the Revolution he had to be talked out of doing a Khmer Rouge-style purge of everyone with a college education); Stalin at least recognized that if you're going to decree that every house in Russia is going to have electricity, you can't execute all the engineers, at least not before the work is done. 

As for my dream about Lenin?  No memory at all of what it was about, other than it was really, really cold in Lenin's office and the lighting was really dim.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Worried about illegal immigrants?

Go after the employers who hire them! 

Not that anyone in a position of power in government has any intention of ever doing so -- it's so much easier to blame the people doing the work for lower than legal wages under unsafe working conditions than it is to address the real problem, the guys who sign the checks or hand out the cash.  Dry up the jobs and the word will get out back to Oaxaca that it's pointless to go north.  Do enough high profile sweeps of Tyson and Smithfield and all the other packing plants and work sites where the persons being frogmarched out to the vans are the plant managers and Human Resource department heads, hold a few high-profile trials, throw those suckers in suits into prison for a few years, and you better believe the document checking for new hires would suddenly get a whole lot better.

But, like so much that goes on in American politics, the short, simple solution is not the one that most people are willing to consider.  Instead there's the usual blame the most powerless person in the equation:  the poor sap of a mojado just trying to survive.

I'm listening to C-SPAN this morning.  First topic up is the anti-immigrant law the governor of Arizona just signed, the one that is obviously targeting anyone and everyone in the state unlucky enough not to be born lily-white and that requires that people carry around proof of their citizenship.  If a cop pulls you over and asks for that proof, it's now a misdeamnor to not have it on you. 

There's been the usual deep depths of Teh Stupid coming through the phone lines, the rants about illegals simultaneously sucking off the welfare teat and stealing jobs from hard-working Americans.  That one's always baffled me:  how can any group of people be both so lazy and unwilling to work that they're all on welfare and at the same time be out there taking jobs away from legal residents? 

Lots of stupid, too, on the subject of that requirement to having proof of citizenship or legal residency on you.  You know, the U.S. has never required national IDs or an internal passport the way some other countries do.  In fact, that's been one of those things that conservatives have always opposed.  There have been objections for years to federal plans to link drivers' licenses databases, for example, and one of the arguments has always been that the federal government was trying to use drivers' licenses requirements as way to impose a national ID system on the states.  Well, right-wingers, if you insist that all persons be able to prove that they are U.S. citizens, then what you are in essence doing is arguing for a national internal passport, a standardized ID that would be recognized everywhere by everyone.

The stupid, it burns.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What's in a name?

I was watching the Daily Show last night.  The guest was John O'Hara, a young conservative who's written a book about the tea party movement.  Jon Stewart and he were having a discussion about the need to have actual discussions, not shouting matches and namecalling.  The phrase "Obamacare" came up, and Stewart politely told his guest that it struck him as being one of those terms that's being used in a derogatory or denigrating fashion -- wouldn't it be more intellectually honest to say "health care reform"?  After some back and forth, the guest agreed. 

Personally, I thought it would be even more honest to call the bill by its actual name, but then it hit me -- just what is the name of the recently passed health care reform legislation?  I don't think I've ever heard anyone actually use it, at least not enough times for it to register.  No doubt it was mentioned in speeches made by various politicians and at the signing ceremony, but the media seems to have ignored it.  The right wing keeps hammering away, calling it "Obamacare" (which could turn out to be a huge mistake politically if the public decides it's not that bad after all), but no one to the left of them ever corrects that phrase with the actual name of the legislation.  So I went looking.  It's the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Pub. L No. 111-148, which is definitely a lot less scary sounding than "Obamacare."

And, as an aside, despite the reputation Congress has for sitting on its collective butt, that number means it's the 148th bill passed by the 111th Congress and signed into law.  Now I'm wondering just what the other 147 were. . . and I'm not sure I really want to know.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Not a happy camper

I'm feeling remarkably depressed at the moment.  I'd asked Human Resources to run the numbers for how much I could expect in the way of a pension if I retire as soon as I'm eligible -- and after deducting for the spousal benefit and anticipated insurance premiums (health and life), the annuity is a negative number.  Looks like I'm going to be editing articles about giant tapeworms, obscure retroviruses, and avian influenza for at least a year longer than I wanted to. 

[And, yes, I know I shouldn't complain when I actually have a job and a lot of other people don't -- but if I retired, that would create an opening for someone who's currently not working but would like to be.]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Book review: Slavery and Public History

Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory is a collection of essays edited by historians James Oliver Horton and Lois Horton.  Published in 2006, the book anticipates many of the conflicts regarding the role of slavery in American history in general and the Civil War in particular that are sure to arise as the sesquicentennial of the latter draws closer. I bought this book a few months ago at the book store in the Natchez, Mississippi, visitors' center, but hadn't gotten around to reading it until this past week.  All the chatter about the governor of Virginia proving his knowledge of history would fit on a postage stamp inspired me to finally pick it up and read it. 

Public history is the field of history that deals with making history accessible to and understood by the general public;  museum docents, subject matter experts who plan exhibits and brochures, tour guides, interpretive rangers at state and national parks, living history actors, and so on are all working in the field of public history. One of the challenges of public history can be helping visitors to a museum or a historic site to recognize that knowing more about the past isn't always going to make you feel good, a notably difficult task when most visitors begin the experience by seeing their visit to a museum or historic site as potential entertainment or as a celebration of American progress so, unless they're visiting a site like Andersonville or Manzanar, are expecting tours to be upbeat. But, as one of the essays notes, "if you don't tell it like it was, it can never be as it ought to be."

When history involves the tough stuff -- slavery, civil rights, internment camps -- things can get especially messy.  Most people prefer a comforting myth over a nasty truth any day, so it's no surprise that for the general public the history of slavery in the United States comes wrapped in multiple myths, ranging from the erroneous belief slavery existed only in the Southern states to the ludicrous notion that there were thousands of black soldiers in the Confederate army.

The essays in this book examine a number of recent events for which the history of slavery either served as the initial reason for the event or became entangled in it as planning progressed, including changing the docents' scripts at the Brown house in Rhode Island, placement of a statue honoring Arthur Ashe in Richmond, Virginia, and the unexpected reaction to an exhibit on plantation life at the Library of Congress.  Rhode Island, in fact, although a state that in the public mind is not normally associated with the history of slavery, provides three of the case studies in the book:  Brown University and the issue of reparations, the Brown house and the history of the slave trade, and efforts to honor the first Continental Army regiment comprised of men of color, the First Rhode Island, which fought in the Revolutionary War. 

I'm reasonably well-read in U.S. history, so Slavery and Public History didn't contain any major surprises.  There were issues I hadn't heard about before -- the controversy over the "Behind the Big House" exhibit at the Library of Congress, for example -- but overall the essays served more to provide additional insights into topics I'd heard discussed in other venues.  I knew that there's been quite a bit of debate within the National Park Service over resource education at battlefield sites.  For many years, interpretation at sites such as Shiloh focused almost exclusively on what happened on the day of the battle (e.g., troop movements, casualty counts) while remaining essentially silent on the larger social and political context that led to that battle being fought. (This was true not only of Civil War sites, but also sites associated with the Indian wars, like Little Big Horn.)  When NPS began to change interpretive programs to do more than rhapodize about the heroic actions of our glorious dead, the gallant lads in blue or gray, howls of protest were heard, primarily from members of organizations like the Sons of the Confederacy.  Understandable, of course, because it's not much fun to be reminded that the Lost Cause your ancestors died for was a morally repugnant one.

Although I found all of the book to be interesting as well as thoroughly researched, the chapter debunking the myth of African-Americans being a sizable presence in the Confederate army was particularly interesting.  It's been common practice for a number of years for Confederate heritage organizations, e.g., United Daughters of the Confederacy, to claim that thousands and thousands of blacks willingly served in the Confederate army.  This is, as I stated above, ludicrous.  It's been debunked many times, and in his essay "In Search of a Usable Past" Bruce Levine does a nice job of debunking it again.  Levine shows how the supporters of the theory have resorted to tactics like deciding that slaves used as camp cooks or for doing other support work (collecting firewood, taking care of the horses, digging latrines) were actually serving in the Army.  The fact slaves had no choice in the matter is, from the viewpoint of neo-Confederates, irrelevant.  Documents from the time period, of course, tell the real story.  Confederate officials, from Jefferson Davis on down, made it clear they had no interest in allowing any blacks into the army, with Davis in 1861 bluntly calling the idea "stark madness."  By March 1865, as the CSA ran out of eligible white bodies to use as cannon fodder, the idea was revived, but the Confederates never managed to muster much more than the equivalent of one small platoon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sweet Jesus, I no longer hate Chris Matthews

Turned on the television after I got home from work, decided to put it on MSNBC (anything is better than Wolf Blitzer and CNN), and got treated to Tweety and Bill Maher trading thoughts on Palin.



"neocons scribbling all this stuff in crayon for her. . ."  For that line alone, I'm willing to forget for a few days just how much Tweety normally annoys me.

Construction continues


I was wrong about the possibility of the fenestration remaining intact.  Yesterday I came home and discovered the upper window next door had become a glass-free space. 

I took the time a few minutes ago to walk around and see what things actually looked like from poolside.  I was relieved to see that (based on the framing)  the replacement second floor window will be a decent size.  The construction is zipping along fast enough that maybe we really will be moving in May.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Don't we all?


h/t Nerf

When will we learn?

Quite a bit of the news that I caught on the MSM this weekend was taken up with discussions about Afghanistan and the various ways we're screwing up there, including a fairly nuanced reference on Bill Moyers Journal to that mess I ranted about a few days ago -- the baby shower that U.S. not-so-special forces turned into a blood bath.  Lots and lots of bloviating about how we're getting better, we're working hard on reducing civilian casualties, et cetera ad nauseum. 

So what's the first thing I see when I check out the NYT this morning?
U.S. Troops Fire on Bus in Afghanistan, Killing Civilians

American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near the southern city of Khandahar on Monday morning, killing as many as five civilians and wounding 18, Afghan authorities and survivors said.
Not surprisingly, the Afghans aren't too thrilled with this latest blunder.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturday morning

The S.O. has been in Texas for a few days -- he's dogsitting while the Younger Daughter is getting paid to play with fire at LBJ National Grasslands (which is, I think, somewhere northwest of Dallas) -- so I've been having trouble sleeping. His snoring usually does a nice job of blocking out outside noise, so when he's gone, I seem to hear every car door slamming in the parking lot. Right about the time I adjust, of course, he'll be back, and then it'll be the snoring that keeps me awake. 

As usual, I'm listening to C-SPAN. They're talking about potential Supreme Court nominees as well as looking back at Justice Stevens, both as a person and as a jurist. Interestingly enough, most of the names being bandied about as front-running candidates are women:  Elaine Kagan, Jennifer Granholm, Diane Wood. Given that there are two women on the court now, I'm not sure President Obama will lean towards nominating another.  But who knows? 

Surprisingly enough, maybe because a discussion of jurisprudence and potential justices is a fairly esoteric subject, the tinfoil hats and the haters are fairly thin on the ground this morning. One woman called to complain about C-SPAN's liberal bias and the numbers of fake Republicans they allow on the air -- apparently anyone who calls in on the Republican line but fails to regurgitate the talking points provided by Beck et al isn't an actual Republican, especially when that person says something sane -- but that's about it so far. Maybe things will get loonier when the topic changes later in the morning.

I haven't actually been paying much attention to politics lately. I did notice Bart Stupak (D-Michigan) announced he's not running again, which kind of depressed me. I used to live in his district; he was a decent Congressman on most issues. I totally disagreed with his stance on abortion, but I respected his consistency. The teabaggers are taking credit for his retirement, but the S.O. thinks he'd been planning it for awhile and that's why he was so willing to piss so many people off during the healthcare reform battles. He might be right. I think Stupak lost a lot of his passion for politics when his son died almost ten years ago, but was unwilling to step down as long as there was a Republican in the White House. But other than that, though, I've been more focused on my personal life and work than I have on national issues.

Because the S.O. is in Texas, I'm back to riding the bus to work. I've thought about being ambitious enough to walk (it is only a mile), but for now am busing it in the morning, and walking in the afternoon. Taking the bus provided yet another experience to remind me I'm now Older Than Dirt. When the bus got to my stop, the driver had the bus kneel so it would be a shorter step down! ZOMG. Being called ma'am by strangers and Miss Nancy by younger Southern co-workers was bad enough. . . but now a kneeling bus. Makes a person feel like it's time to start shroud shopping. Or maybe start walking both ways to avoid that sort of humiliation. I'll just try to remember that to anyone under the age of 30, everyone over the age of 30 might as well have one foot in the grave.

Life at Large Nameless Agency is rolling along in typical bureaucratic fashion. We acquired a new Director back in June 2009, and one of his first moves was to initiate a "reorganization" intended, we all assume, to remove the cooties left by his predecessor (a Bush appointee). At the time, the man said he intended to get it all done within 90 days. Ha. There has been a fair amount of shuffling, particularly in the upper management levels, but from the perspective of us peons, it's now been almost a year and nothing's changed. The work is the same, the people we report directly to are the same, . . . the only visible sign of anything different is the nested set of abbreviations that follow my name in emails changed. It used to show up as My Name(LNA/Center Abbreviation/Division Abbreviation/Branch Abbreviation) and now it's just MyName(LNA/Mystery Abbreviation/ Branch Abbreviation). No one's really sure what the Mystery Abbreviation stands for -- oh, we know what it spells out, we're just not sure what it does, will it actually be around very long, or is it just a space holder. 

I don't actually care much -- I've got less than a month to go before the countdown to eligibility for retirement turns into negative numbers and I slide fulltime into that lovely "I don't give a rat's patoot because I can walk anytime" territory -- but some of my colleagues waste a lot of time agonizing about it. I don't know why. The little box we're in on the org chart may change names, but our jobs won't. There are no reductions in force planned, and we're full-time federal employees in a humongous bureaucracy. Unless a FTE gets caught dancing naked while stoned on a desk in a public area, it's damn hard to get rid of us. And, even if you do get caught dancing drunk and naked, odds are you're more likely to be referred to counseling than to be escorted out the door. If an FTE is sufficiently incompetent (and I've seen a few people who have been, and were eventually terminated), it is possible to fire somebody, but there's enough paperwork involved that the usual solution is to just shuffle people into closets where they can't do much damage.  

I am still hoping that I can work out a telework arrangement that would allow me to leave Atlanta while continuing to collect fulltime wages because I've grown rather fond of my salary (especially compared to what the pension will be), but the waters in my branch have been poisoned by a couple people who abused the privilege. It figures. They managed to finagle telework arrangements and since then have been failing to produce quality work in a timely fashion and are causing various headaches for the branch chief.  It has, of course, made the chief extremely reluctant to approve any new arrangements, especially a telework arrangment that would mean the only contacts with me would be via telephone or internet.  I'm hoping it's an easier sell once I'm actually past the magic date where I can walk if I'm not happy.  I'm not the best copy editor at the journal, but I'm also far from the worst -- and, more important, I always meet deadlines, which can't be said for all my colleagues.  Besides, if and when the dust ever settles from the reorganization, it's quite possible the person who gets to make the decision won't be my current chief, but a new one with a different perspective. I can hope.

The remodeling project here in the townhouses is moving fast.  When I chatted with the contractor yesterday, he said they'd framed the floors for a couple units already, but the exteriors are looking the same as always.  Given that the bottom of the picture windows above the patio doors is well below the level of the second floor floor (almost a full foot), that strikes me as odd.  It also strikes me as odd that the management would not take the time to change out those windows that date from the 1960s and thus have all the energy efficiency of a sheet of typing paper. On the other hand, depending on how they're planning the work, it could be a lot easier to change the fenestration once there's a floor on the interior instead of having to rely on scaffolding both inside and out to deal with the window opening. We shall see. . .  The more important fact is that they're moving along fast enough that it's possible we'll be out of this townhouse and into the one next door before the end of May. The S.O. is already predicting that I'll walk into walls a lot because that unit is a mirror image of this one.  He's apparently looking forward to some good laughs as I walk into the coat closet instead of the kitchen and then bitch about not being able to find the refrigerator.   

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mining


SueJ has the lyrics to this up over at Nailing Jello to the Wall, and that reminded me I'd seen this video someplace recently (and I am, of course, totally blanking on where).

One of the things that's been lost in teaching history in the US is just how incredibly violent American labor history is.  Everything we enjoy today -- e.g., the idea of an 8 hour day, 5 day work week -- was bought with blood.  If it had been left up to the employers, we'd all still be putting in 14 hour days and working for starvation wages.

The remodel next door

A few months ago the apartment manager told the S.O. they were planning to rehab these townhouses (to the left of the pool), which are one-bedroom lofts, into either 2 bedrooms or 1 bedroom with a den, in hopes of attracting more tenants.  I think our one-bedroom loft-style apartment is fine (despite the occasional day when I'd kind of like to be able to lock the cat out of the bedroom)(hard to do when two of the walls are more like railings), but apparently I'm an exception.  Most prospective renters apparently aren't that thrilled with the current floorplan.

Given the snail's pace taken in rehabbing the building that burnt almost 2 years ago (they're still not done to the point of actually renting out any units in it), I did not expect to see any construction activity until sometime in Obama's second term.  I was wrong.


I got home from work today and discovered two roll-off dumpsters in the parking lot, the doors to all the vacant units open, and several radios blasting out norteƱo tunes.  The demo has begun. 

The S.O. was wrong, too.  He's been totally convinced there wasn't a scrap of insulation in the walls in these buildings.  Now that the drywall is gone, insulation is visible on both the exterior walls and the party wall between the townhouses. 

I  hate to see them destroy the historic integrity of the buildings -- they're circa 1968 -- by changing the fenestration on the side facing the pool when they put in a different second floor window, but it's hard enough to find decent tenants for an older garden apartments complex with minimal amenities (no weight room, no wifi, no covered parking, just the outdoor pool that's usable for maybe 4 months of the year) that I can understand why they're doing it.

Plus, if we stay here long enough (and I have no plans to move any place else as long as we have to be in Atlanta), I will eventually get to enjoy a space that can be a cat-free zone.  We've been told that once the unit next door is done, we can move into it without experiencing any increase in rent.  If we do, that will be one of the easier moves we've made.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The garden is in

All that pollen floating around put me in the mood to go out and plow the back 40.  Quick trip to Lowe's, and the garden is in:
This year I decided to kill a new (to me) variety of tomato, Black Prince, a Russian heirloom variety.

I am moderately curious as to how there could be Russian heirloom tomatoes when tomatoes originated in the New World, not Europe, but not curious to the point of actually researching it.

And, yep, the dust on the plant stand is pine pollen.

Time to get out the shovels

I do believe Atlanta is the first place I've lived where clouds of pollen were so thick in the air that they could be mistaken for smoke. I looked out the window this morning and my first thought was something was burning -- and then I realized what I was seeing was yellow and coming from the pine trees.  My once-white car is now chartreuse.  They're doing pollen counts on the local news again, although I'm not sure why they bother.  When the stuff is forming drifts on the sidewalks, you don't need a weatherman to tell you the count is high.

Monday, April 5, 2010

And we wonder why the Taliban is making a comeback

The New York Times has a report up guaranteed to make it clear why the Taliban is being welcomed back by the Afghan people.  It starts with a flinch-inducing headline -- U.S. Admits Role in Killing Women in Afghanistan -- and goes downhill from there:
After initially denying involvement or any cover-up in the deaths of three Afghan women during a badly bungled American Special Operations assault in February, the American-led military command in Kabul admitted late on Sunday that its forces had, in fact, killed the women during the nighttime raid.
 -- snip --
 NATO military officials had already admitted killing two innocent civilians -- a district prosecutor and a local police chief -- during the raid, on a home near Gardez in southeastern Afghanistan. The two men were shot to death when they came out of their home, armed with Kalashnikov rifles, to investigate.
Three women also died that night at the same home:  One was a pregnant mother of 10 and another was a pregnant mother of six. NATO military officials had suggested that the women were actually stabbed to death -- or had died by some other means -- hours before the raid, an explanation that implied that family members or others at the home might have killed them.
 -- snip --
 And in what could be a scandalous turn to the investigation, The Times of London reported Sunday night that Afghan investigators also determined that American forces not only killed the women but had also "dug bullets out of their victims' bodies in the bloody aftermath" and then "washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened."
The article concludes with an interesting contradiction:  first NATO investigators say that they, too, found signs of tampering with evidence at the home, such as bullets dug out of walls, walls being washed, etc., and then they conclude by rejecting "allegations that the killings were covered up." 

The house was apparently full of people because the families had been celebrating the birth of a grandson to the owner of the house.

The article also notes that botched raids by Special Ops forces have been causing numerous headaches for NATO.  So what makes those guys so Special and why are they still allowed to go roaming around at night with guns?  How many times do they have to fuck up before someone figures out the appropriate barracks for most of them is in Leavenworth, Kansas?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is one of those interesting partnership parks that have evolved in recent decades.  It has a core resource -- Fort Clatsop -- directly owned and managed by the National Park Service, and a number of partner sites in the area around the mouth of the Columbia River that are in some way associated with the Lewis and Clark expedition, like Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.  The wayside above, for example, is in Astoria, near the Astoria column. 
The views from that location are, to say the least, good. 

There are also a fair number of NPS-designed waysides along the waterfront in Astoria, each one providing some insight into local history, the natural environment, and Lewis and Clark.  On the Washington side of the river, Lewis and Clark turn up at sites all the way up to Long Beach. 
William Clark apparently caught a sturgeon there, as well as observing a flounder for the first time. 

Cape Disappointment State Park also features prominently in the Lewis and Clark story.  The expedition apparently spent some time in the Cape Disappointment area debating whether they should remain on that side of the river for the winter, or move to the south bank. 
Cape Disappointment State Park covers about 5,000 acres, includes 2 lighthouses (Cape Disappointment and North Head), and has the usual hiking trails and campgrounds in addition to the late 19th century military fortifications and a really nice visitor center. Fort Canby was built to protect the mouth of the Columbia River, as was Fort Stevens on the Oregon side.  From whom, I'm not sure, but apparently someone felt vulnerable.

The original plan for the fort was to place the guns right next to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, right about where that Jeep is sitting in the photo.  The visitor center had a nifty circa 1895 photo showing the mortars in place, cannonballs stacked neatly next to them, as well as a number of no-longer extant ancillary buildings for the lighthouse (a keepers' quarters to the right of that modern sidewalk, for example).  Then they test-fired the largest gun -- and multiple windows shattered.  So they moved everything, and built Fort Canby.  The lighthouse had a first-order Fresnel lens that's now on display in this building:
This is what Fort Canby looks like now as seen from the lighthouse -- it's the visitor center at the park.

That wide concrete path leading up to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse is rather deceptive, too.  It's the Coast Guard access road -- there is a Coast Guard station located on Cape Disappointment; it abuts the state park.  This is the signage in the parking lot for the park, and when they said muddy trail, they weren't kidding.  The first 3/4s of the trail was slick, mucky, and occcasionally treacherous, especially when it was raining.  Then you come around a bend, and see that concrete leading to a gate in the chain link fence for the Coast Guard station.  And it's not really a path; it's a road -- we met a full-size government pickup truck coming down it while we were walking up. After slipping on mud for almost half a mile, it felt weird to do the last couple hundred feet on smooth concrete. 

The other lighthouse in the park is North Head; it was built because ships approaching from north were unable to see the Cape Disappointment light until they were a lot closer than they wanted to be to the treacherous shoals around the mouth of the river.
As for the site most closely associated with Lewis and Clark, Fort Clatsop, it was about what one would expect. Everyone knows the fort is a reproduction, and a pretty new one at that.  The "original" Fort Clatsop visitors saw at this site was a reconstruction from the mid-1950s.  It burned down right about the time everyone was gearing up for the big Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebration a few years ago.  NPS managed to get a reproduction reproduction up in record time, and it looks great.  The nice thing about it being so new is it does a great job of conveying the feeling that the actual Fort Clatsop would have had back in 1804:  raw timbers, nothing weathered, no brush growing up around the fort.  One thing that strikes me when I look at photos taken of the original reproduction fort was the way bushes (ornamental shrubs?) were allowed to grow right up against the structure, which was bizarre.  Historical accuracy would demand cleared land for quite a distance around it simply because it would have all been as raw as any other piece of new construction.
Gotta love those wooden chimneys.  They were plastered on the inside with mud and designed to be pulled down fast if they caught fire (they were pretty common in pioneer construction), but nonetheless the mind boggles.

Fort Clatsop itself is quite nice for a small park.  It has a few trails for ambling along, including board walks through the boggy spots along the river, picnic areas, and a decent visitor center.
The visitor center has a film that tells the Lewis and Clark story from the perspective of the Native Americans who were stuck with the explorers as not especially welcome neighbors for the winter. 

There were several other state parks in the area that are partners with NPS in Lewis and Clark National Historical Park that we simply did not have time to see.  Maybe next time.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Adventures in bureaucracy

A fellow employee here at LNA could use some editorial help. (Sorry about the blurriness, but one tends to shoot fast when using a camera in the ladies' room.)