Monday, March 25, 2013

Minor annoyances

This weather app is beginning to annoy me.

That's today's weather. It was also yesterday's weather. And the day before that. Tomorrow is always looking good, partly cloudy, warmish, and with truly spring-like temperatures promised for about 72 hours away. When I looked at the forecast this past Friday, it showed the current day as rather crappy (freezing drizzle), but Saturday was going to be good. Pshaw! Saturday arrived, and suddenly it had the same icon that Friday had boasted: the branches with the ice hanging from them. But, hey, Sunday was going to be good.

Sunday got here, and there it was again: the depressing branches with the icicles. But Monday. . . Monday was going to be warm and sunny. Well, it's Monday. The icicles are back, the skies are overcast, and it's not exactly beach temperatures outside.Tuesday, on the other hand, is going to be not bad and by Thursday it'll be time to break out the sunblock.

And pigs will fly.

At least it's no longer claiming the good weather will hit tomorrow -- it's now shoving it 48 hours into the future.

Monday, March 18, 2013

But does it run?

The S.O. and I have been Leviathan shopping lately, looking for a motor home similar in size and amenities to the one his brother owned but available for much, much less money. For some reason, shopping for an RV is starting to remind me of politics. We've been hearing a lot of promises from sellers -- it runs like a charm, never had any problems with the generator, etc. -- but with no evidence to back those promises up. Yesterday we looked at a vintage Georgie Boy that had me thinking of Paul Ryan's budget plan: Ryan swears it'll solve the country's deficit problems, get the economy back on track, and be a general boon to everyone, but there's no evidence to support his claims. He's promising the equivalent of a brand-new, fresh off the assembly line vehicle while you're busy looking around and seeing the 30+ years of grease in the kitchenette, sagging cabinet doors, holes punched in the paneling, threadbare shag carpeting, and cracked windshield. Then you ask, "but how does it run?" This is the point where the prospective buyer expects the seller to whip out a key and fire the beast up. Instead, the response is, "Trust me. It runs great."

I don't think so. If it ran great, it would be running when the buyer went to look at it. Just like with Ryan's proposed budget; if he really believed it would work, it would contain specifics instead of indulging in platitudes, vagaries, and direct contradictions. Ryan's current budget plan is the same one he's been trotting out for several years now. About all he does is change the title and maybe the color of the comb binding on the printouts.

As for our motor home search, this business with the beasts sitting there inert when the prospective buyer arrives to examine them has me baffled. We've looked at two used RVs this month. One was immaculate on the inside; it was a 1989 Winnebago but the carpeting and upholstery looked new. It was spotless. It was also basically exactly what we were looking for when it came to size and interior layout. The other one was an ancient Georgie Boy; it looked like something Randy Quaid would drive -- the interior layout wasn't bad, but was thoroughly obscured by years of having been used by a family with multiple teenage boys. It was, in a word, disgusting.

In both cases, though, the interior was irrelevant. What mattered was the engine. Did the beast run? Who knows. In both cases, the seller swore that there were no mechanical issues, the thing ran like a charm, it might need a minor tune up after sitting all winter, but no big deal. It would have been a lot easier to believe the sellers if the vehicles had actually been running while we were there.

Despite the squalor, I am still a little tempted by the Georgie Boy. It would require a lot of elbow grease, but it does have several things going for it, chief of which is an incredibly low price tag. Now if we could only be sure it actually runs. . .

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Still waiting for the mining money fairy

The S.O. and I have had to do some driving around our end of the Upper Peninsula lately -- south to Stephenson, west to Ironwood, and east to Marquette -- and have noticed one constant: yard signs supporting mining. There seem to be a lot of people who are fantasizing about a magic mining fairy waving a wand and showering local communities with a sudden infusion of ca$h.

Granted, there has been more interest shown in mining in the U.P. in recent years -- Rio Tinto is developing a nickel and copper mine in northern Marquette County, and there are rumors other sites are being explored. This isn't really news; there have been rumors for years that mining is coming back to areas that boomed 100 years ago. Ever since Calumet & Hecla closed its last mine in the Copper County in 1968, there have been rumors that abandoned mines were going to be dewatered and reopened "soon." The same has been true of various played-out iron mines: talk of a possible open pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin has folks in Gogebic County fantasizing that mines will re-open in Jessieville or Ramsey or Wakefield. Lots of people don't seem to understand that copper and iron ores don't grow back; malachite and hematite aren't mushrooms that pop back up if they're left in the dark long enough. Nonetheless, the dreams continue.

And so do the nightmares. A local environmental organization, Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (aka FOLK), has been researching mineral rights in Baraga County and creating a publicly accessible database with the information, an action that was inspired by reports that Rio Tinto has been quietly buying up those rights as they continue to explore possible mining sites. FOLK quite rightly worries about the environmental consequences of mining, particularly for copper sulfides. Still, I'm not sure why FOLK is building its database (most landowners already know whether or not they own the mineral rights) but if they want to pay fees to the county for the privilege of searching land records, I'm sure the county can use the money. The folks at FOLK are rather naive most of the time so it probably hasn't occurred to them that their work could have unintended consequences. The end result of their labor -- a publicly accessible database -- might be more useful to mining companies than it is to individual property owners. It'll save the mining companies the work and expense of having to do title searches themselves for blocks in which they may be interested.

In any case, without much overt fuss, the local community is splitting into two camps: people who fear the environmental damage that inevitably accompanies mining and people who fantasize about jobs that pay more than minimum wage and don't depend on tourism. The Chamber of Commerce as a whole lusts after the flood of dollars mining might bring in or new industries it might spawn; individual Chamber members worry about mining hurting their existing tourism-oriented businesses.

Given the rather weak mining history that Baraga County has compared to surrounding counties in Upper Michigan, I have a hunch both camps are wasting their time imagining a future that's never going to happen. Through some geological fluke, Baraga County manages to fall between the copper range to the west and northwest and the iron ranges to the east and south. There have been mines in Baraga County in the past, but they weren't particularly productive. The Taylor Iron Mine only lasted a few years; the ore body simply wasn't good enough to be economically viable. The Ohio, Webster, and Spurr mines on the eastern edge of the county (and the extreme western end of the Marquette iron range) operated longer, but played out decades ago.

Every so often, though, rumors will start that the trace amounts of mineral found in Baraga County are going to lead to a mining boom. Back around World War I, the discovery of vanadium in Arvon Township had speculators briefly excited. In 1950, there was a uranium boom: a minute amount of uranium was found and suddenly geiger counters and speculators were popping out of the woodwork. Roads were renamed to reflect the coming boom, newspapers as far away as Milwaukee touted L'Anse as the next mining boom town. It never happened. No uranium mines, no sudden wealth. The story of mining in the U.P. has been one of steady decline, and Baraga County's been no exception to that pattern. Where Baraga County is an exception is it never really had a boom to begin with. Ontonagon, Houghton, and Keweenaw Counties all had copper in massive amounts; Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson, and Marquette had iron. Baraga County had fantasies.

Minor piece of trivia: where do I fit into the map? In the general vicinity of the arrrow under the M in Marquette Iron Range..

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

It's that time of the year again

h/t to Bad Tux for the reminder.

There was a time where we'd end up with cases of cookies in the freezer, but not recently. I guess if I really wanted some, I could track down a Girl Scout fairly easily, but neither the S.O. or I are so fond of Thin Mints that we're going out of our way to find some.