Wednesday, July 31, 2013

We go Green Bay

We spent a few days in Green Bay, Wisconsin, recently. The attraction for the S.O. was the annual Packers shareholders' meeting; I just kind of tagged along. I did discover, however, that Green Bay has a really nifty botanical garden.
It covers 43 acres and has a nice network of paths, walkways, and hiking trails that allow a person to amble through a variety of settings and over varied terrain. There are one or two small formal gardens, but overall the plantings were more along the lines of what I'd label as a cottage garden.
I believe this what people mean when they say "formal" or "Italian" garden: wide pathways and foliage tightly controlled.
I much prefer the informal:
Among other things, it's a lot easier to skimp on weeding when you have masses of plants jostling up against each other. I'm  not a particularly ambitious gardener, so seeing that sow thistle had managed to sneak in amidst the bee balm and lilies was oddly reassuring. I'm definitely not the only person who misses stuff when pulling weeds.  

A few more photos:

There's even a folly. 

Unbelievably gaudy (and ugly) frog in the children's garden area.

There some amazing oriental lilies. The plants were the tallest I've ever seen and the blossoms were huge.

Comfort station
The gardens also had a wonderful assortment of day lilies and hostas. Neither is my favorite type of ornamental plant, but both are nicely reassuring in that once they're planted, nothing seems to kill them. Even deer ignore day lilies. It's good to know that there really are a gazillion varieties, which means that even if nothing else will grow, you can still have some variety in the flower beds.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Was Spengler right?

Does history go in cycles? Must every empire inevitably fall? I have no clue, but it has occurred to me that the idiots pontificating about the city of Detroit being in trouble because it's had black mayors for the past several decades would do well to read some Spengler instead of trotting out racist tropes about corruption and incompetence somehow being unique to cities with a predominantly black populace. There seems to be a lot of bloviating going on about how Detroit is in deep shit because all the white folks fled to the suburbs ages ago. Yes, it's obvious Detroit's had problems with mismanagement and sticky-fingered officials, but it would be hard to find a city, town, or village that hasn't had similar problems, just on a smaller or less dramatic scale. White mayors can be every bit as corrupt as black ones; no racial or ethnic group holds a monopoly on either greed or stupidity. Even rural areas aren't immune.

Articles about city managers or county treasurers raiding the till are a regular feature in news outlets around the country. Locally, the treasurer for the Village of Baraga was arrested on embezzlement charges last year, although her situation was a little different: she was charged with embezzling from a private employer and not from the Village, and, so far as I know, she is still the Treasurer. At any rate, her name is still up on the Village website. No one's run her out on a rail or called for her to resign although I do have a hunch that her next re-election campaign won't go quite as smoothly as the last one. Similarly, every unit of government, from rural townships to major metropolitan areas, can be rife with nepotism and cronyism. The rules may say don't hire relatives or do favors for friends, but somehow the mayor's kids, nieces, nephews, cousins, siblings, and good buddies always seem to have first dibs on any job openings or lucrative contracts. So it's not corruption that's been killing Detroit, at least not as a primary cause.

No, what's killing Detroit is the same problem most urban areas have. The jobs went away. They did not go away because the workforce was black or the city administration was incompetent. They went away because industry changed. The auto companies figured out they could build cars cheaper someplace else, first in the right-to-work-for-shit-wages non-unionized Southern states and then in countries like Mexico. All the Rust Belt cities have suffered similar problems: industry vanished, the tax base shrank, and pension and other fiscal obligations created major headaches.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Cities have been founded, grown, boomed, and then shrunk and vanished innumerable times in the course of human history. Resources are exhausted, a harbor silts in, the climate changes, or roads shift. This country is full of dying small towns that are like miniature Detroits: a dead downtown with shops and office buildings located along the periphery, empty lots where houses used to be, and vacant structures that look like they're due to collapse any time. When the jobs went away, so did most of the people. The ones who stayed behind were the folks who were too poor, too old, or too stupid stubborn to leave. No matter how grim things look, there are always a few die-hards who refuse to believe that the bankrupt buggy whip factory is never re-opening. They stick it out while all the neighbors pack up and leave, all the while trying to ignore the waist-high weeds on the rest of the block. The only thing exceptional about Detroit is the scale of the decline. No one really notices when some farming town out on the Kansas plains goes from a couple thousand people to a few hundred, but when a city that had a population of over a million drops to under 750,000 in ten years, the news media perks up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


This is my 1,000th post on this blog, more or less. It's not the 1,000th published -- there are a couple drafts I've been tinkering with for ages that may someday see the light of day -- but it is the 1,000th post in the list of posts I've written since February 2008. No doubt if every draft had been completed the number would be higher, but quite a few drafts withered and died before reaching a point that justified hitting the Publish button.

I haven't been blogging much lately for multiple reasons: the hard drive on my computer developed Alzheimer's and had to be replaced, it's summer and I'd rather be outdoors most of the time even if it does require bathing in DEET to fend off the deer flies, and a lot of the stuff I'd like to whine about I can't because too many people I know personally are suddenly realizing I have a blog. The sense of freedom I felt after retiring from Large Nameless Agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- no more self-censorship! -- is gone. I now worry about saying the wrong thing about the museum or other volunteer experiences and inadvertently alienating potential allies. I've been networking like crazy this summer, trying really hard to move the historical society's membership numbers up and the mean age of its members down, and know that in a small town it's important not to tick anyone off. I've had tadpoles before. I've seen too many organizations go down in flames and good projects die hideous deaths because someone shot off his or her mouth at the wrong time.

In fact, about 25 years ago the historical society itself experienced what I tend to refer to as The Great Schism. Philosophical differences arose over the mission of the organization, harsh words were spoken, and, from what I can tell from the records, about half the membership walked out and never came back. Things might finally be to the point where it's possible to pretend it all never happened: all the key players in that particular drama are now safely dead.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Spam or not Spam?

Blogger can't seem to decide. Seems like more comments are ending up in the Spam folder than normal lately. I don't always remember to check it, so if you comment and it doesn't get posted, don't assume I decided not to let it through moderation -- it's more likely the Spam filter ate it.

I've always kind of wondered just how those filters work. When I leave a comment on my own blogs, I get an email notification just like I would if anyone else commented -- and the notification of my comment ends up in the junk mail folder right along with the Canadian pharmacies selling cheap Viagara and the Nigerian money scams. The Intertubes work in mysterious ways. . .

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Can our government get any dumber?

I'm thinking the answer is probably Yes.Every time I think the policy makers and their minions in Washington, D.C., have managed to hit rock bottom, they manage to do something even more moronic. I speak, of course, of the latest example, the handling of the Edward Snowden case. On what planet did the bright minds in D.C. think it would be a good idea to harass the President of Bolivia?

Even if Snowden had been on board the aircraft, you don't force the head of state of a sovereign nation into making an emergency landing and then, to insult the Bolivians even more, have the Spanish ambassador to Austria search the plane to make sure Snowden is not on board. This whole mess must be playing real well in the global press. Even countries that aren't real fond of Bolivia or its current president have to be wondering if they'd merit the same treatment. In short, it was practically guaranteed that right after that news came out, there'd be at least one South American country rolling out the Welcome mat for Snowden. It's actually not much of a surprise that it's Venezuela; they've got nothing to lose when it comes to the U.S. Our government has been making theirs sound like Evil Incarnate ever since the citizens of Venezuela elected an overtly socialist government.

Then when you toss in the fact that creating an international diplomatic incident that's going to have fallout for years to come also has the effect of making Snowden seem a lot more important than President Obama had been implying he was -- remember Obama's speech a few days ago in which he laughed at the idea of using any extraordinary means of getting at Snowden? He was trying to suggest Snowden isn't at all important, someone really not worth worrying about. Well, if Snowden is no big deal, why go through the trouble of pissing off a whole bunch of Latin American countries? Maybe there's more to Snowden (whom I've viewed as basically a fantasist with delusions of importance) than meets the eye.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Dodo, the passenger pigeon, and Palmer penmanship

There's been a fair amount of online chatter, some of it quite nasty, about Rachel Jeantel's recent testimony in the George Zimmerman trial in Florida. Ms. Jeantel admitted on the witness stand that she cannot read cursive writing. This has caused quite a few people to mock her as illiterate. Well, it's pretty obvious she's not alone.

The S.O. and I were down in Eagle River, Wisconsin, yesterday to help the now 12-year-old grandson celebrate his birthday. A fair number of his friends were there, too. Coincidentally, his mother has been going through  the kids' books in the house, some of which were purchased for Logan fairly recently and some for his older brother back in the '90s. One of the books I noticed was The Ledgerbook of Thomas Blue Eagle -- it's a book written from the perspective of a Lakota youth who ends up being shipped off to the Carlisle Indian School in the late 19th century. It's a gorgeous book, beautifully printed, and tells an interesting and heart-wrenching story. It received a Christopher Award in 1995. And here's the thing: it's printed in cursive.

It's absolutely perfect cursive, but it's cursive nonetheless. Seeing the cursive printing in the book led to us talking about Ms. Jeantel and her admission that she couldn't read cursive. So we started wondering just how common that was. We called Logan and his cronies over. The kids ranged in age from 12 to 14. Two of them admitted outright they couldn't read it, a couple could make out words if they worked at it, and one could read it fairly easily. She stumbled a few times, but she could read it. These kids are in middle school, heading into 7th and 8th grades, and they were stumbling over a book written for kids in grades 4-6.

This led to Logan's mother (aka our Oldest Daughter) mentioning that back when she worked in a restaurant a few years ago, they had trouble with some of the high school students who worked busing tables or as waitresses. If a label or an order ticket wasn't in block printing, they couldn't read it. One girl kept screwing up orders and finally admitted she couldn't read the labels on the salad dressing bottles because they were in cursive script. This solved another mystery for me: why the graphics on commercial products more and more look like they're being marketed to 6-year-olds. 

You know, I can understand not teaching penmanship in school anymore, but not teaching kids how to read cursive? That's bizarre. In a few years the government won't have to classify anything as Secret; all they'll have to do is print everything in Edwardian script.