Tuesday, June 30, 2015

More fun than cataloging

This is my big summer restoration project at the museum, Museum Object 2015.1.234.

I've been saying it needs to be painted for the past three summers. Well, I finally decided that it was time to step away from the computer and grab a paintbrush.
I also need to get out the putty knife and the Bondo -- there's some rot that needs to be cleaned up before I can paint.
The trickiest patching is going to involve the wheels. One is worse than the other, but both have at least one spoke where the end is rotting, and one also has two areas like the one shown above. You know how rubber tires will develop flat spots if a car is parked for too long without moving? Wooden wheels do the same thing, except worse. Rubber tires can go back to being round once they warm up as they're rotating. A flat spot on a wooden wheel is going to stay flat until someone goes after it with a saw, wood filler, and sandpaper.. The hose cart should have been periodically moved around to redistribute the weight so it wasn't in the same spot all the time, or (better plan) it should have been up on a jack stand to take the weight off the wheels. Once it's been repaired and painted, it will go on a stand for the rest of the summer.
There are a surprising number of these fire hose carts around the area. Ours supposedly came from the Ford Motor Company town of Alberta. I don't know if that's true or not, though, because I think there's one sitting by the sawmill museum out there now. Just how many hose carts would one small fire department have? In any case, so far I've seen zero formal documentation: no donation form, no paperwork of any sort, just a reference in the minutes from a meeting held a couple decades ago. It is, like 99 percent of the stuff in the museum, "provenance unknown."

When I first started cataloging and learning to use PastPerfect, I was told that the conventional numbering system would be current year.accession number.object ID number but if you didn't have a formal accession (i.e., you didn't know where something came from), you'd label it year.FIC (for Found in Collection).ID. It didn't take me long to get burnt out on typing three characters (FIC) instead of just one. In our database, Accession 1 in any given year translates to Found in Collection. . . which is another way of saying "No frelling clue where this sucker came from." Hence, the hose cart is the 234th item found in our collection that I have entered into the PastPerfect database since January.

Once we get our pavilion built and the cart is better protected from weather in the summer, we'll add a few of the things that usually go with a fire hose cart, like a fire hose and a nozzle or two. We've got some nifty fire department stuff, none of which is currently on display.

A small digression. That's Eagle Radio on the other side of the parking lot behind the hose cart. Eagle Country and the Rockin' Eagle are right next door to us -- guess which two radio stations will not come in on the radio in the museum office?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Too many people

The S.O. and I went out scrounging for firewood yesterday. Gleaning is legal in Michigan, which means you can paw through the slash left after a commercial logging job. There are always logs (or pieces of logs) that were too twisted, too small, or too short to make it on to the logging truck. I know that it's getting more and more common for nothing to be left after a logging job -- what's too small or twisted for saw logs or pulp goes into a chipper and ends up as biomass -- but it's not happening every time. Yet. In any case, we had noticed the first time we drove the Nestoria Road this spring that there'd been winter logging along it and a few good-sized piles of slash left behind. We figured we'd take a closer look once the mud dried up some.

Well, the mud has dried, sort of, so yesterday we headed out with the pickup, a chainsaw, the two-man logging tongs, and a small axe. The first pile of slash we checked out was a disappointment -- way too much softwood, almost no hardwood -- but the second one looked good. We managed to get a decent load of mixed oak, maple, and yellow birch in not much time at all. And that was despite the heavy traffic on the road. It was unreal.

How bad was it? In the approximately 45 minutes we were there, three vehicles squeezed past our parked truck. Three! On the Nestoria Road. What the heck are that many people doing driving a one-lane seasonal dirt road in the middle of nowhere? It used to be that when we drove that road we never saw another car. Now it's a case of every time we go that way, we end up meeting someone or getting stuck in someone's dust. It is getting much too crowded around here. Pretty soon we'll be dealing with traffic jams.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

More exploding heads

It was nice of the Supreme Court to come up with something so quickly to distract conservatives from their freakout over the Affordable Care Act decision. The level of crazy on the right rose to record levels in an astonishingly short time after the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges was announced. It doesn't matter that gay people have been marrying each other in various states for a number of years without the sky falling in. Apparently now that it's a nation-wide right, every horrible thing you could possibly imagine is about to happen to us. Lizards will start raining from the sky, streams will flow backwards, and, worst of all, bigots and homophobes might suffer the fate of being called out publicly for their bigotry and homophobia.

Seriously. I was listening to On Point on NPR yesterday morning and the fears the anti-gay marriage crowd were offering up came down to "People are going to call us names." Well, duh. If you insist on living in the 19th century (or earlier), don't expect people to be polite when you advocate for treating some people as less equal than others.

Oh, there were some other talking points. There's the ridiculous claim the anti-gay crowd has been trotting out for years: ministers and rabbis will be forced to officiate at gay marriages when they don't want to. It floors me that anyone ever believes that one. Just about every straight person I know can cite an example of a pastor or priest refusing to marry someone. Catholic priests routinely refuse to allow people who have been divorced multiple times to get married in the church. Fundamentalists of various stripes refuse to marry persons of different faiths -- no Catholics marrying Jews, no Methodists marrying Muslims, you name it. It may not be as common as it used to be, but when it does happen no one freaks out. Besides, let's get real: if you're gay, you already know which denominations are fine with gay marriage and which aren't. What are the odds that someone who's a member of a United Church of Christ congregation is suddenly going to decide to try to get married in a Pentecostal Holiness church? The only "churches" that might have to worry about someone gay showing up unexpectedly asking to get married are the drive-through chapels in Las Vegas and something tells me they don't ever turn anyone away.

As for some of the other talking points, like businesses being forced to serve gay persons, my reaction has always been, in essence, what the hell is wrong with you people? You open a business that serves the public and then want to be able to pick and choose who you serve? Well, then, don't be surprised when your business fails once word gets around that you're an asshole and a bigot. You know, if you announce that your bakery isn't interested in selling cakes to gay people, gays are not going to be the only ones who stop shopping there. You may call it bullying or intimidation; I call it market forces at work.

The other bizarre thing that struck me yesterday was the way all the homophobes kept nattering on an on about religious liberty and freedom. As far as I could tell, what they meant was the liberty to get away with being asshats and the freedom to be jerks, all the while talking about religion. No one is preventing anyone from attending the church of their choice, praying however they want, dressing in funny clothes as a sign of their religious faith, or doing anything else associated with their personal religious practices so where their persecution complex is coming from is beyond me. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

That weird popping sound

I was at the museum yesterday doing the volunteer docent thing and found myself wondering what that weird popping sound I could hear in the distance might be. Then I had a chance to listen to the radio: the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to preserve the Affordable Care Act.

"Well," thought I, "that explains it. Tea Party heads are exploding."

I've heard and read a few comments indicating that the commenter was surprised by the 6-3 decision. I wasn't. Chief Justice Roberts is a pragmatist more than he is an ideologue. He's also a corporatist. He wasn't going to do anything that would hurt the insurance industry or big business in general, and, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, the ACA has been good for both.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Still another reason to curse the Internet

One of the great things about the Internet is you're able to find out stuff you'd never know otherwise.

On the other hand, sometimes that stuff definitely falls into the category of "I really wish I'd never read this."

I had the latter experience this morning. I saw a link to a Hulk Hogan sex tape. Hulk Hogan! I never found even the notion of celebrity sex tapes titillating, and Hulk Hogan? Holy wah, the only thing that might be worse would be thinking about my grandmother's sex life. For sure, I did not click on that link -- just seeing those four horrible words (Hulk Hogan Sex Tape) was bad enough.

Please pass the brain bleach now.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

You lost. Get over it.

It's been more than 150 years since Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia lost the Battle of Appomattox Court House and ended the Civil War, but it appears there are still Southerners who haven't figured that out. The state of South Carolina, for example, persists in flying the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia on the state capitol grounds. Why?

The whole obsession with the battle flag has always puzzled me. Even before I learned that Bedford Forrest and the Ku Klux Klan revived it as a symbol meant to strike fear in the hearts of former slaves during Reconstruction, I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to brag about being on the losing side of history when it came to an issue like chattel slavery. What kind of mental gymnastics does it take to convince yourself that your great great grandfather died fighting for some noble cause when that noble cause was to preserve human bondage?

Actually, I know the answer to that one: states' rights. Every time the subject of the war come up, someone waving a battle flag will start blathering on about states' rights while conveniently forgetting that the right the Confederates wanted to preserve was the right to keep slaves. The states that wrote declarations of secession all were explicit in naming the right to keep slaves as their motivation. So did the individual state constitutions. As I wrote in a post back in February, there was absolutely no doubt back in the 1860s as to what motivated the secessionists to secede.

Nonetheless, every time the subject of removing the flag comes up from public places where it's still proudly displayed, people persist in ignoring its actual history. Is it really that difficult to admit that past generations, people's parents or grandparents, were racist assholes but we're now living in more enlightened times? There's always a lot of blathering about a "glorious cause" and Southern pride. What the heck is there to be proud of in committing an act of treason because you want to keep people in chains? And then to insist on wrapping yourself in a flag that was the preferred symbol of the Ku Klux Klan? You might as well be walking around wearing a tee-shirt proclaiming "I'm racist as hell."

In short, it's long past time for South Carolina to jettison some of its more unsavory baggage. Whether they will, though, is doubtful. If anything, it's probable the nation-wide pressure on the state to remove the flag will just cause enough of the legislators to dig in their heels to prevent it from coming down. The war may have ended in April 1865, but some people still don't want to admit they lost.  

Friday, June 19, 2015

This surprised me

Real wood siding is a lot cheaper than fake. The Historical Society met to discuss just how to approach the modest windfall of 2% money* we received from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. The consensus was that we don't have a choice, we have to seal the building, so we'll take what we've got and see how far we can stretch it. The treasurer was instructed to research prices and report by via email, and then we'll decide what to do. Which is another way of saying that if we have to we'll dip into our cash reserves to cover expenses that the grant won't.

I had made some jokes about using T1-11 (plywood siding, for the uninitiated. It comes in 4 x 8 sheets). T1-11 would be the cheapest option; it runs about $150 per square, a "square" being the term used to designate 100 square feet of wall area when buying siding. What came next on the price list surprised me. It turned out to be actual wood, the half-round faux logs we'd been contemplating using but that we thought we couldn't afford. They're about double the cost of T1-11 but less than half the cost of truly fake logs, i.e., steel or vinyl made to look like logs, at least from a distance. When it's a foot away from you on a display panel the fact it's fake is glaringly obvious. Really made me wonder why anyone would ever want the vinyl version when it's so glaringly artificial. (Metal I can understand -- it's fire resistant.)  For some reason I was thinking that for sure the phony stuff would have to be cheaper than the real product. Nope. You pay more for faux. That strikes me as bizarre, but I am relieved. I'd much rather go with actual wood than with something made from petroleum products.

I was also a little surprised by the variety available these days in half-round. About all you ever seem to see is the stuff that's been rounded to a very smooth silhouette. Turns out you can also get it in styles that look rough-hewn so it's not so perfect that it makes a building look like it was constructed from Lincoln Logs. We can even get it prestained so staining the building once the siding is up won't be an issue. I'm not sure why it's referred to as "half round" when it's actually more like a thin slice; it's just thick enough to be able to do a rounded profile that looks like the side of a log. Who knows. . . maybe when they first started doing this stuff the slices were thicker.

So now it's basically just a question of measuring the building so we know for sure just how much siding we're going to need. Depending on the total number of squares required, we may opt to just do the two worst walls this summer (the ones we can see daylight through) or we may manage to enclose the whole thing. I can hope. I don't ever want to step into the museum and see water running down the walls again.

*2 percent money = revenue sharing by tribes that operate casinos that were covered by the 1993 Michigan gaming compact.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

I see wildlife

Behold Chelydra serpentina, the common snapping turtle. Every year about this time I'll spot at least one female snapper trucking on down the road looking for a nesting site. I have a hunch this one was heading for the CN tracks because there's a fair amount of exposed stamp sand as part of the roadbed there. Maybe I'm giving the turtle more credit than she deserves, but I assume she had a goal in mind -- she was walking along the road and not just crossing it.

I always wonder how turtles manage to survive -- they pick some of the riskiest sites I can imagine for laying their eggs. A few years ago a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) decided the turn-around for our driveway would make a good nesting site. Granted, the spot she picked was sand so I guess it's kind of beach-like, but it was also right in the middle of where we turn the vehicles around. After she left, we marked the spot so we'd know to avoid it, but that didn't really help. The S.O.'s elderly cousin who has some vision problems (we joke about his "seeing eye 4-wheeler" because he's driving the local roads primarily by memory) couldn't see the marker and drove right over it. That suggests that particular turtle's reproductive success for that year was Zero. Still, some turtles must be nesting successfully. If they weren't, we wouldn't keep seeing other turtles picking high risk locales.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tinfoil hat time in the boonies

I had to back away from a group on Facebook recently. I'd joined it because the focus of the group is supposedly the great stuff one encounters while living up here on the tundra, but discovered there can be way too much weirdness in the comments threads on some posts. I've written before about how bizarre it can be to encounter paranoia and conspiracy theories in people or places where neither should be an issue. There must be something in the American psyche (or maybe humans in general) that causes people to go looking for problems or risks where none exist.

Anyway, the latest weirdness, the one that made me decide I really needed to distance myself from that particular group of tinfoil hat wearers, was when a commenter trotted out an image of a federal vehicle and went into a long spiel about "Why is Homeland Security stopping at a Burger King in L'Anse?!" Well, maybe they were eating lunch? Without working at it real hard, I can think of multiple reasons why the Department of Homeland Security would have vehicles in the U.P. and personnel making routine trips between various points: there are several commercial airports that no doubt have personnel from DHS duty-stationed there. They're federal employees so you know those people have to occasionally attend meetings (meetings are what the government does best), either with each other or local law enforcement, and would use agency vehicles to do so. Every so often the local news will mention cooperative programs various agencies are involved with so it doesn't strike me as particularly strange that someone from DHS would be stopped at a L'Anse Burger King.

That's assuming it was a DHS vehicle at all, of course.As a former federal employee, I can say with confidence that most people can't keep agencies straight. They see vehicles belonging to Fish & Wildlife and think it's the state DNR. They see a National Park Service vehicle and think it's the Forest Service. And they consistently call agencies by the wrong names. (That same comments thread contained a misattribution regarding a recent joint law enforcement sting operation that targeted illegal fishing on the Great Lakes. It was Fish & Wildlife and the FBI that set it up. The commenter said it was DHS, which is probably the last agency that would care about people fishing in closed areas.)

In any case, from there, the thread quickly degenerated into multiple variations on "It's all Obama's fault," "Obama is coming to take our guns," and "Remember Jade Helm!" That's when I decided it was time to step away. If people want to waste time worrying about crap that's never going to happen, that's their problem, not mine. (It's been almost 7 years, guys, if Obama really wanted your guns he'd have them by now.) I just wish they wouldn't waste bandwidth sharing their bizarre fantasies with the rest of the world. 

Although maybe I'm being a little harsh. I've worked for the federal government. I know how incompetent it can be.

I am regretting I didn't take a couple photos of the local National Guard guys training in Ishpeming not long ago. They were practicing urban warfare tactics in the parking lot when we drove by. After all, why worry about Jade Helm down in Texas when it's obvious the government is planning a takeover right here in Yooperland? Except instead of using abandoned Walmarts, up here they'll have to resort to putting the detention tunnels under old Kmarts and JC Penney stores. Or maybe they'll just repurpose some of the closed copper and iron mines. The Quincy can go from being a tourist attraction to a detention center without much work at all, and there must be some iron mines that wouldn't require much dewatering to make them usable. All they'd have to do is take the bat gates off.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Be careful what you wish for

I found out yesterday my grant-writing skills scored another success. I wrote an application back in February asking for money for the museum to do some repair work. Enough time had elapsed that I'd more or less assumed nothing was going to come of it. I was wrong. I now have the fun of trying to find a contractor to work on doing exterior work on the building.

Why do we need exterior work? The building leaks. It looks kind of neat, but it leaks like the proverbial sieve. In cold weather, we end up heating half the county when the furnace runs. If it rains or snows, water runs in. The structure is built of D-logs, i.e., logs that were squared on three sides and then stacked. At the time the museum went up, in one of those not-so-brilliant cost-saving moves, the historical society opted not to spend the extra $5,000 it would have cost to have the logs scribed. The logs were freshly cut, they were not scribed or splined, there was no provision built into the construction for ever tightening the logs. I think most people can figure out what happened. The logs dried, they shrank, they warped away from each other. And here it is 22 years later, we've got gaps in the walls you can see daylight through and the interior has water stains from where the rain's seeped in. We had a bad storm last fall, a hard driving rain out of the northeast, and there was water quite literally running down the interior walls.

The obvious answer to this problem is to side the building. Cover those funky, warped, shrunken D-logs with a siding that actually seals the building. Unfortunately, even though the building is not historic and technically we could just throw up the cheapest siding we can find -- T1-11 sounds good to me -- we do have an image to maintain. There was a lot of promoting the notion that supporters "buy a log" when the society did fund-raising 25 years ago; it wouldn't go over real big in the community if those logs vanished under HardiePlank. So we're probably stuck trying to figure out a way to afford enough half-round log siding to cover the logs. Which sounds a little bizarre -- covering real logs with faux logs -- but it will preserve the general appearance. 

Assuming, of course, we can figure out a way to stretch the grant to cover both materials and labor. One of the more annoying aspects of this project is that it's a technically easy one, a project that could easily be done by volunteers, but we're all just too damn old. The S.O. is about the only member who's still capable of climbing ladders and swinging a hammer. If we had half a dozen geezers in about the same shape as him, we wouldn't need a contractor. As it is, we're in an interesting position. Enough money to pay for materials or to pay for labor for the whole building, but probably not both.

Oh well. Now that I know what we've got to work with, the first step will be to measure the building and figure out the square footage. Once we've got that, we can figure out how to tackle the work. If nothing else, if we could get the elevations that get hit the worst by wind and rain sealed we'll be in a lot better shape than we are now. I guess as headaches go, I can't complain much about this one. We may not be able to come up with a complete solution, but at least we'll be able to improve things considerably.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I finished putting in the vegetable garden yesterday. Other than the potatoes, it's the usual craps shoot. It all depends on the weather. Our short, short summers make it a challenge. There's some stuff that I flat out cannot grow up here because by the time the snow is gone and we can actually plant, we've jumped straight from Spring to Summer. Spinach, for example, is a cool weather crop so you'd think it would be perfect for our northern climate. Nope, bolts straight to seed in record time because our spell of cool, Spring weather is usually only about a week long. Like this year. We had several inches of snow on May 19, but less than a week later were having highs in the low 80s. So I've given up on spinach. If I want greens similar to spinach, I should just learn to pick lamb's quarters. That's a weed that's related to spinach, is totally edible, and grows like. . . well, like a weed.

For some reason I've been thinking about edible weeds a lot this week. Maybe it's because pop-ups for broad-leaf plantain as some sort of miracle plant keep showing up as I go wandering around the Internet. Good to know that if we get desperate for green, leafy vegetables, we can always graze on the lawn. Ditto the dandelions. I know dandelions are edible. The plants are, after all, an invasive species. They were brought to North America by European colonists to plant for salad greens. They kind of got away, and now they're the bane of lawn fanatics everywhere. There's nothing like a plant demonstrating it doesn't need our help to get it moved on to the "we don't want it around" list. The only problem with dandelion greens is that you've got to remember to pick them when they're first starting to grow; leaves from a mature dandelion plant are pretty bitter.

Dandelion flowers are edible, too, if you dip them in a coating batter and deep-fat fry them. Then again, just about everything becomes edible once it's been dipped in batter and deep-fat fried, especially if there's a good dipping sauce on the side.

In any case, the garden is in. I set out tomato plants and tomatillos, planted a gazillion green beans, am optimistically hoping to get picking cucumbers after planting them from seed -- it's not likely to happen, but you never know  -- and am trying something new this year: kohlrabi. I finally learned what that stuff is good for so decided, what the heck, I'll try planting some and see what happens.

My other experiment is Afghan melons. A few months ago a friend told me about Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. They specialize in heritage and rare seeds. I spotted a type of honeydew melon that is grown in the mountains of Afghanistan near Kabul. I figured that if it can in the rather nasty climate Afghanistan enjoys, maybe it'll grow here. We shall see. My tomatillo seeds also came from Baker Creek. They're a variety grown in some remote area in Guatemala. I started the tomatillos in the house so they'd have a bit of a head start. The plants aren't real big yet but at least they're surviving. I grew tomatillos last summer so know they will grow here. The big question is will they grow fast enough to yield anything harvestable before Labor Day.

As I was planting the garden, I found myself remembering some of the advice I've read over the years, tips on companion planting, i.e., if you plant some plants right next to other plants they'll do better and be sure to avoid planting other things too close to each other because they don't get along. You're also not supposed to plant the same things in the same spaces each year. And, as usual, I found myself wondering just how a person is supposed to follow that advice. Unless you're practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, your garden is going to be in the same space year after year. If it's in the same space every year, no matter how you figure out a rotation pattern, eventually everything you grow is going to end up in a space where it was planted before. It's a mystery.

I did do an upside down tomato again this year, but don't know how many more summers I'll bother. The upside down tomato planter is beginning to show signs of age; once it gets to where it's not re-usable, I won't bother buying another one. I've also got a few tomato plants in more conventional containers; I figured as long as I have the big planters, I might as well use them.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Family trees with missing branches

I've been dealing with a research request at the museum that's turned into a bit of puzzler. As a result, I have a suggestion for anyone who's contemplating doing genealogy and delving into his or her family's past: pick ancestors with unusual last names. It is not exactly fun trying to track down the ancestors of someone with a surname like, for example, Johnson in a community where every other person seems to be named Johnson. It also does not help to be dealing with ethnic groups and generations where a lot of kids were given Swedish or Finnish names at birth so they were registered as Johannes or Jussi but decided they'd rather be called John when they got older. Or maybe they disliked their first name so always used their middle name instead. Then toss in the possibility that the only name you ever heard your grandfather referred to by was actually a nickname and not his actual name at all and things will get truly frustrating.

I have, in short, spent a whole lot more time worrying about this one research request than something as simple as the normal research request should take. After investing way too many hours in the project, I still have no solid information. The grandfather in question was apparently not married in Baraga County, or, if he was, his first name was different than what the grandson remembers. Similarly, he did not die in Baraga County -- there are death certificates for persons with the name the grandson remembers, but none are the man I've been looking for. He was well-known in the community so there should be an obituary. No doubt there is, but the L'Anse Sentinel isn't indexed and I'm not prepared to spend all summer reading through 50 or 60 years worth of newspapers looking for one dead guy. I'd like to have at least one solid clue before I turn on the microfilm reader at the library. Was he buried in Baraga County? He's not on any of the grave indexes we have for the cemeteries -- the one person I've found with the right name as born too recently to be the guy I'm looking for.

The requester did give me one solid clue: his mother's name and birthday. Theoretically this would yield a birth certificate with her parents' names on it. Only one problem: his mother's birth was apparently not recorded in Baraga County either. At the time she was born, pregnant women had three choices: they could give birth at home, they could utilize a small "nursing home" operated by a nurse-midwife, or they could go to a hospital in a neighboring county. Women who could afford it often chose the last option. (Small digression: we have not progressed since then. The choices have been narrowed to one: go to a neighboring county. There are no certified midwives available to attend home births, and the local hospital doesn't have a delivery suite.) If a baby was born in Houghton or Marquette County, there'd be no record locally.

There are other possibilities: he's remembering the wrong year for her birth or he's got his grandparents' names wrong. Either one is possible.

So how much more effort am I going to put into this request? I'm not sure. I know from reading through the correspondence files at the museum that people don't like it when we come up with null results. Personally, considering how incredibly low the museum's research fee is, I think they should be amazed we're willing to do the work at all, but then again most people have no clue just how time-consuming and tedious trawling through legal records and old newspapers can be. I'd love to raise our rates -- or, better yet, find out there are actually some professional genealogists locally I could refer people to -- because right now we're so under priced it's pathetic. If I were doing research work as a contract historian, I'd charge at least $80 an hour so it kind of floors me that I'm volunteering for an organization that only charges $10. Then again, maybe that low rate is one reason people get pissy when we can't find anything. After all, how hard can we be working when we're practically giving our time away?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The latest in the ongoing saga of what to put in my coffee

The giant jug of Sysco honey is now gone, which means I have an excuse to buy a normal-sized bottle from a local apiary. It also means that as part of the cupboard-clearing-out exercise I have moved to the next bottle of liquid sweetener in the cabinet: a 22-ounce jar of something called "Grand-Paw's Moonshine Syrup" from Helm Farms, the same source as the pure cane syrup I used a few months back.

Grand-Paw's Moonshine Syrup consists, or so the label tells me, of a mix of cane syrup and corn syrup. It is a much lighter color than the cane syrup and is also much smoother. There is, in essence, no discernible taste. It is sweet, in a very mellow, unobtrusive way, but other than that? It has less flavor than Karo syrup, if one can imagine such a thing. I have absolutely no idea what the calorie count might be on this stuff, although one would assume that it's similar to the calorie count for honey, i.e., higher than the calorie count for granulated sugar but not by much. Not that I care much; if I worried about calories, I wouldn't be using sweetener at all.

The one thing I have noticed that makes this syrup a tad different from the last two sweeteners I used as part of the cupboard-emptying exercise is it's really, really thick. I have no idea if that's a function of age (it has been in the cabinet for several years now) or if it's the way Helm Farms refined it. It's just obvious that compared to the honey and the cane syrup, it's got a high viscosity. It makes molasses look fast.

And what else might I have learned from using this stuff? If we're in Texas and I see it on a farm stand or in a local market, ignore it. We do need to keep some syrup around as a just-in-case for my diabetic cat (if she starts acting more lethargic than usual or has a seizure following an insulin injection it'll supposedly be a sign that her blood sugar has dropped too low and I'll have to dump some syrup down her throat), but ordinary Karo will do just fine for that -- and it too has a shelf life of "forever."

The Moonshine Syrup is, incidentally, lighter in color than the photo renders it. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

If it doesn't work, why keep it?

I've been listening with some bemusement to the recent discussions about the Patriot Act and the ability of the National Security Agency to collect and store bulk data on phone calls. One thing that's been mentioned a  number of times is that no one who supports that data collection has been able to cite an example of where that program actually accomplished something. They can't point to a single case where a suspect was arrested or an incident averted because of their trolling through a gazillion phone records. One has to assume this program has been costing many millions of dollars to operate: computer equipment isn't cheap, software had to be developed, programmers and analysts hired, and so on. One would also assume that if you're going to be spending money by the tractor-trailer load, you'd have at least one example you could point to and say, "See. It was worth spending $100,000,000!" or whatever the amount might be. But nope, no examples, no lowlifes doing perp walks, no suicide vests confiscated, no jihadist training camps shut down, nada. Nothing to brag about, which is bizarre when you consider how many years the NSA has been doing this stuff.

So why keep it? Because, according to various politicians, it is absolutely vital to our national security interests. Unbelievable. At this point, the only thing it appears vital to is the bottom line for various defense contractors.

Then again, politicians are rather prone to cling to stuff that doesn't work. The landscape is littered with failed programs that no one seems able to kill. It's classic -- having shoveled mountains of money at something, no one wants to admit it was all a huge mistake. If money is being spent, something must be happening.