Also known as The Stupid, It Burns.
A while back the good people of Arizona approved a ballot proposal to raise the state minimum wage. Proposition 206 mandated that the state minimum wage, which had been set at $8.05 per hour, would increase to $10 in 2017 and will be raised incrementally to $12 per hour by the year 2020. If Proposition 206 hadn't passed, the minimum wage would still have gone up this year but only by a dime to $8.15. Arizona law already requires, thanks to a proposition approved in 2006, that minimum wage be adjusted annually for increases in the cost of living.
Naturally, many business owners had the usual reaction to this change in the law. They freaked out. They did a lot of posturing about how it was going to drive them out of business while all sounding as if each was a special case subjected to increased costs that none of their competitors had to deal with. This is typical. I've blogged about it before. The self-centered business owner totally ignores that fact that if he's having to pay his dishwashers or his widget assemblers an additional $1.95 per hour, so are his competitors down the street. The competitive playing field is still level; no one business has suddenly gained or lost an advantage over any other. It may be true that in the short term he or she will have to eliminate a position or two while they figure out how to compensate for the added expense in payroll, but it's going to be equally true that every other business is going to be doing the same thing.
So how have various businesses responded? Well, I've noticed a couple interesting examples lately of What Not to Do. Both examples are restaurants. In the case of one, a steakhouse, they've tacked on an 18% surchange to every meal to, as they helpfully explain, help pay for the increase in the minimum wage. Holy wah, the stupid, it burns.
You're telling me that because you're now paying the dishwashers in the kitchen $10 an hour instead of $8.05, my $25 steak dinner is now going to cost me $29.50? Joe Shmoe washing dishes gets an additional $1.95; No Longer Loyal Customer gets hosed to the tune of $4.50. It doesn't take a math genius to figure out that charging every customer in the place an 18% surcharge goes way beyond compensating for a higher payroll cost. Plus, of course, no one particularly enjoys hearing a business owner whine about being so frelling stupid that they can't figure out a way to cover added expenses without standing up and screaming to the world that they're asshats who would prefer to pay their employees nothing at all if only they could figure out a way to get away with it.
Second example: ate at a local place that has a lot of vaguely Mexican food on the menu. I say vaguely Mexican because Safford has apparently suffered from the influence of having way too many snowbirds with timid tastebuds wintering around here. So far all the "Mexican" places we've tried have served salsa made with chilis that seemingly achieve the impossible: score a negative number on the Scoville scale. But I digress. Naturally, the establishment of which I speak does the bowl of corn chips and some salsa as an automatic freebie on the tables. Except the chips and salsa are no longer free. The server made a point of saying that if we wanted a second bowl, we'd have to pay for them. They've also stopped doing free refills on drinks. Why? Because minimum wage went up. Not quite as annoying or as in your face as the surcharge, but still annoying, particularly when the astute diner recognizes that chips and soft drinks are some of the items on the menu with the highest profit margins. A throw-away cup for a soft drink costs the restaurant more than the soda it contains. It costs the restauranteur literally pnnies to refill your Coke when the glass runs dry.
In any case, what the restaurant has done is taken two of the most visible and cheapest ways to curry customer good will (endless chips and free refills on soft drinks and coffee) and eliminated them, a truly dumb move when the competition hasn't done something similar. Again, the stupid, it burns.
So how would I, the ominiscient blogger, have dealt with the increased labor costs? First, of course, I'd have kept my mouth shut. Second, I'd have started preparing for it as soon as I heard the proposition passed and made various adjustments to the menu accordingly. No doubt some business owners were indulging in a fantasy that the state supreme court would rule the change illegal, but that hasn't happened, at least not yet. Besides, it was inevitable that wages would climb. Anyone thinking they'd stay static was living in a dream world.
Anyway, shifting prices up slightly across the board -- 50 cents here, maybe a dollar there -- would be a lot less noticeable than a huge honking extra charge tacked on at the end. People willing to pay $20 for a rack of ribs or a steak aren't suddenly going to turn vegan if the price shifts to $21.50. Look for stuff you can eliminate. From watching Gordon Ramsey in action I know way too many restaurants waste food. They provide side salads no one eats and serve portions that are much bigger than they need to be. (Which could be the subject of a different rant: the unrealistic ideas people end up with concerning healthy serving sizes based on what they see heaped on some restaurant plates.)
A small example of eliminating waste: we've eaten at a couple of places locally that do the usual salsa and chips but with a small twist. They bring you the basket of chips and a small bowl. The salsa is in squeeze bottles so you can use as little or as much as you wnat; definite reduction in waste there. For that matter, restaurants could eliminate the chips and salsa entirely. People munch on them when the chips are staring them in the face, but quite a few wouldn't care if they vanished. It's always struck me as a little weird that restaurants would put out a free appetizer while also having half a dozen other types of appetizers listed on the menu.
I am thinking that I'll ask The Younger Daughter to keep an eye on how those particular businesses fare over the coming year. It'll be interesting to see if they're still around a few months from now. Their floundering attempts suggest their days are numbered, but you never know. Sometimes even the most inept business owners manage to survive despite their best attempts to destroy themselves.
As for finding some Mexican food that isn't so bland it could be served in nursing homes, I'm beginning to think that we'll have to venture south of the border. The Younger Daughter tells me that co-workers have mentioned there are good restaurants in Agua Prieta, although I'm not sure it's worth the hassle to go that far.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
Thursday, March 9, 2017
What isn't normal is for a current President to do bizarre rants or go on Twitter accusing his predecessor of actively conspiring against him now. One of The Donald's favorite themes recently has been that all the protests against him or his administration are being coordinated by former President Obama. Not content to fantasize about ongoing conspiracies in the here and now, The Donald then accused President Obama of wiretapping Trump's phones during the campaign.
Holy wah, the stupid, it burns! The man is so frelling insane that he can't see how totally illogical that particular bizarre delusion is. As a number of memes kicking around on Facebook have noted, this delusion of The Donald's posits that President Obama asked to have The Donald's phones tapped in order, one supposes, to gather dirt on Trump to help the Democrats in some fashion. Having gone through the effort of tapping the phones, Obama then does what? Nothing? Just sits back and allows The Donald to win? Or is The Donald trying to claim that look, the Democrats tried to find some dirt on me and failed? Is the whole wiretap claim a weird way of trying to deflect the contact with the Russians allegations?
I don't know. From where I sit, it seems like every day Trump does something crazier, something even more "the emperor has no clothes" in its obvious craziness, but almost no one in the media is willing to say so. Every so often there are hints, one or two brave souls who come right out and say something is lunacy, but they're still being drowned out by the enablers and the butt snorklers.
And, for what it may be worth, a slight digression. One of my right-wing acquaintances sent me a meme today that basically repeated all of Trump's delusions -- the millions of fraudulent votes cast, ballot box stuffing, wiretaps, you name it -- and then ended with a triumphant "And the Democrats still lost!" Which to me proves that Trump's supporters need the tinfoil as much as he does. Because let's face it, if the Democrats had actually done even one of the multiple things Trump claims they did, Hillary Clinton would be in the White House now.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Hildegard of Bingen definitely falls into the Middle Ages. She was born in 1098 and died in 1179. There were a lot of passing pop culture references to her a decade or so back -- she apparently composed music which was suddenly influencing various New Age musicians -- and that may have piqued our curiousity at the time.
In any case, the book sat on a shelf for quite a while. Then in October, as I was packing the Guppy for an extended road trip, I went through the bookcases looking for books I either hadn't read yet or had read so long ago the details were now a blur. Hildegard of Bingen caught my eye. For a relatively slender tome, it turned out to be a remarkably hard slog. Having troubles with insomnia? I recommend this book. I don't mean to imply that it's necessarily a bad book. On the contrary, it's academic prose in full flower. Lots of speculating and theorizing and referencing other scholars' works. This is a book designed to garner a good time slot at academic conferences and to impress one's tenure committee. It is most definitely not written with the general reader in mind.
Why do I say that? Well, among other things, the age range dates provided above are about the only solid biographical details the author provides. Flanagan makes a classic mistake authors who are too close to their subject matter make: she knows so much about Hildegard of Bingen that she assumes the readers do, too. Similarly, she definitely glosses over the context. The book would definitely have benefited from a little explication of what exactly was happening with the medieval church, what the Benedictine rule was, and who some of the auxiliary players were. For example, she does a long explication on Abelard and Heloise and the perceived role of women in the 12th century. Well, if the only time you've heard those names is when they're a question on "Jeopardy" you may find the comments about women being assumed to be the weaker, dumber sex interesting but you're not going to really understand why the author chose to quote either of them.
Similarly, at one point Flanagan mentions that Hildegard was on the wrong side in the political maneuverings of the time, some dispute between the Catholic Church and Barbarossa. It probably would have been a good idea at that point for the author to have used the man's full name and title, Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor. If nothing else, it helps ground Hildegard in time and place.
So just who was Hildegard of Bingen? As far as I can tell from reading this book, she was a German woman who got shoved into a cloistered life while she was still quite young. Flanagan reports that Hildegard was described as sickly so she theorizes that Hildegard's parents dedicated her to the Church because they figured they had nothing to lose, the kid wasn't going to live long anyway. She may have been as young as 5 or as old as 8 when she got shoved into a cell occupied by an anchorite, a female hermit named Jutta, and stuck there until Jutta died over 30 years later. Anchorites never left their cells; in some cases they were literally walled in (the door bricked over after they entered) with only a small opening left for others to pass food and other necessities in and for the anchorite to pass the slop bucket out. The anchorite's job, so to speak, was similar to that of other cloistered religious: spend the bulk on one's time in contemplation and prayer. In exchange for praying for other people, the anchorite got fed on a regular basis, although some would indulge in fasting and other mortifications of the flesh in order to get closer to God. It was apparently fairly common practice to build a cell for an anchorite, either male or female, as an ell on a church. There would be a small opening in the church wall to allow the hermit to listen to services.
Hildegard became known for her "visions." My take on the whole thing tends to be, yeah, I'd experience a psychotic break and start hallucinating if I was stuck in a dungeon at the age of 5, too.
Flanagan notes that Hildegard didn't seem especially saddened when Jutta died. My thought was why should she have been? She got stuck in that cell as a child and had probably spent her whole life functioning as Jutta's servant, doing whatever grunt work needed to be done while getting to hear various petitioners at the window asking the holy woman (Jutta) to pray for them or their loved ones. Rather than mourning, Hildegard probably did the Happy Dance because she was finally free of the cell and able to get out into the world more, even if it was just within the walls of a convent. No more listening to mass being celebrated next door; she was finally able to actually go into the church.
Freed from the life of an anchorite, Hildegard went on to leave the monastery where she'd been imprisoned as a child and established a new convent where she served as abbess. In her early 40s she began to share the visions she'd apparently been experiencing since childhood. She began writing down (or dictating to someone who could write; Hildegard's own literacy has been questioned) the various visions and what she believed God was telling her about their meanings. In almost all of her writings Hildegard was careful to emphasize that what she said wasn't her personal opinion; it was what God told her to say. Flanagan notes that by doing so Hildegard made it likelier her writing would actually be published and discussed. The low status of women in medieval intellectual life meant that if she had ever said "This is what I think" instead of "This is what God told me to say" no one would bother reading her words.
So was Hildegard nuts? Was she crazy or just misinterpreting manifestations of a physical disorder? Back in the 12th century, of course, no one thought about psychotic breaks or mental illness in general. If someone had visions or started ranting about seeing angels or demons, that person either got labeled as a prophet (if she was lucky) or possessed by demons (unlucky). Hildegard was one of the lucky ones. She saw the "living light" and described her visions in terms that matched up pretty well with what the church wanted to hear at the time. She'd condemn corruption and abuses by the clergy but always did so in terms that were sufficiently general that no one ever felt personally attacked.
In the final chapter of the book, Flanagan discusses speculation that Hildegard experienced migraines and that what she interpreted as visions were actually some of the phenomena migraine sufferers see on a regular basis. I find that theory believable. One of the warning signs a migraine is about to hit is a visual shimmering, a distortion in your field of vision. I get an occasional migraine, although they've gotten rarer as I've gotten older, and when they first started hitting the visual shimmering reminded me of a dragon. I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and was an Ann McCaffrey fan; dragons made sense to me. Hildegard was totally immersed in a Christian belief system; it would be totally logical for her to believe she was seeing the face of God or the wings of angels. Does the fact her body of work -- her lengthy writings on various subjects, interpretations of her visions, the advice she gave to people who wrote to her, her songs, etc. -- are somehow diminished? Probably not. She was sincere in her beliefs, and her readers at the time knew it.
What I actually find moderately amazing, and it's something that Flanagan doesn't touch on at all, is that Hildegard's writings survived. Back in the 12th century every letter, every manuscript, every document, had to be handwritten. If you wanted multiple copies, a copyist had to sit down with a quill and an ink bottle and do that copying. Given the number of wars that swept over Europe, the demolishment of monasteries and convents following the Protestant Reformation, and just the passage of time in general it's moderately astounding that any of Hildegard's work is still around after almost 800 years.
Bottom line: If you're fascinated by 12th century Catholic theological minutiae, you might like this book. In general, though, this particular work is one I'm strongly tempted to quietly slip into a recycling bin. I read it because, as I noted above, the book wasn't actively bad and once I'd started it I felt compelled to keep reading. I kept hoping the author would provide a little more social or cultural detail. It never happened, but there are worse fates than wasting an hour or two reading the lyrics to medieval hymns. I cannot picture anyone else doing that, though, so don't think it's even worth dropping into a St. Vincent de Paul or Friends of the Library donation box.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
|Colorful rocks are petrified wood and they're a lot bigger than the photo suggests.|
|View of the Painted Desert|
I have been known to toss out the occasional disparaging comment about "windshield tourists." Well, Petrified Forest National Park is a park designed with windshield tourists in mind. The park is meant to be toured by car: its scenic drive wends it way from north to south (or south to north, depending on which end you enter the park from) stopping at a number of overlooks and points of interest along the way. You start with views of the Painted Desert and end by crusing through the Petrified Forest, complete with giant logs, or vice versa.
|Painted Desert Inn|
We entered the park at the north end, from the exit on I-40, stopped at the Visitor Center there, and then ambled southward. At both the Visitor Center and at the Painted Desert Inn volunteers gave me a pep talk about being a VIP at the park. We noticed the park's VIP RV site close to the Visitor Center; it appeared to be more than adequate in terms of creature comforts for anyone volunteering there. You know, full hookups, decent parking pads, etc., and possibly even some natural shade in the form of trees.
Both volunteers I spoke with mentioned the park has a real need for help during the summer. No surprise there -- no one in their right mind picks Arizona as a place to be a VIP in July and August, with the possible exceptions of being tucked away in the mountains somewhere, like maybe campground hosting up in the pines at about the 7,000 foot level. To be honest, though, I'm not sure I'd want to be at Petrified Forest NP other than passing through at any time of the year. The landscape is a just a little too unearthly for me.
Anyway, north of the Interstate, the viewscape tends to be the Painted Desert. Very colorful and also very alien. At some of the overlooks, you look out at a landscape that appears to be pretty much devoid of life of any sort. No vegetation, nothing.
It is possible to go hiking and back country camping at Petrified Forest. In fact, a hiking trail down into the Painted Desert Wilderness starts near the Painted Desert Inn. The big question I have is "Why?" I can understand (maybe) the desire to do a hike that would take a person away from the tour road and out of hearing range of the Interstate (although it is astounding just how far traffic noises can carry when there's not much wind and no other competing ambient sounds) but why would you want to camp out there? It is, after all, an environment in which guessing wrong on just how much water to carry can get you killed. But maybe that's part of the attraction: the easiest sort of X-game to play, one where all you have to do to risk your life is underestimate how much water you're going to need to survive the trek back to your car.
Back, to get back to the tour, when you begin at the I-40 end, you start off by getting to stare at the Painted Desert and pause at the Painted Desert Inn, a popular tourist stop operated by the Fred Harvey company back in the heyday of Route 66. At some point the Inn faded into run-down shabbiness and closed in the mid-1960s; the Park Service came close to demolishing it in the 1970s. No doubt the completion of Interstate 40 and the overall increase in the speed of travel contributed to its demise. A lot of stuff by the side of the road vanished when people no longer had to slow down for every local intersection. In the case of the Painted Desert Inn, a campaign to preserve it eventually resulted in it being listed as a National Historic Landmark. It has been thoroughly restored and now serves as a point of interest in the park.
Like a number of the western parks, Petrified Forest had a local artisan working on (and selling) traditional craft items, jewelry in this case, at the Inn. I fear I'm enough of a cynic that I find myself thinking of those people as the token Indians. Hey, we stole your country from your people, but here's a spot to set up your table to sell trinkets to the tourists and we'll maybe acknowledge that Kit Carson was a genocidal asshole and include a panel or two on a wayside that mentions the Long Walk. Maybe.
Moving on from the Painted Desert Inn, there are a couple more overlooks to enable more staring at alien landscapes before you hit the Route 66 exhibit on the north side of I-40. This being Arizona, I tend to think the addition of a dessicated skeleton and a vulture or two ("it's a dry heat") would improve the wayside, but I doubt the people who design interpretive displays would agree.
South of I-40, you hit a couple points of interest and overlooks that highlight Native American history and Puebloan culture. There's the usual pueblo ruin -- I must confess I'm getting to the point where I tend to think after you've seen one set of crumbling rock walls you've seen them all; the only big difference is in the color of the local stone -- as well as some interesting petroglyphs. One site has a spiral petroglyph that is hit directly by the sun on only one day of the year (the summer solstice), as well as a lot of petroglyphs of what archeologists assure us are images of mountain lions but to me always look suspiciously like lizards, maybe because of the exaggerated claws. Petroglyphs are drawings carved into the rock, usually on surfaces that were covered with "desert varnish" so there's a contrast between the dark surface and the underlying lighter colored stone.
One of the overlooks is at a site called Newspaper Rock. Supposedly there are a gazillion petroglyphs carved into the stone below the overlook. I don't know if it was the angle of the lighting when we were there or if a lot of them have just eroded or faded through time, but there didn't seem to be enough of them to merit having a special name and dedicated overlook. Then again, maybe the engineers who laid out the road calculated they needed overlooks or stops of some sort at certain intervals to keep traffic appropriately slow for a scenic byway and the petroglyphs happened to be the most interesting thing available at that particular point. I wasn't the only person underwhelmed by Newspaper Rock. A fellow who was traveling north stopped at the pueblo ruin and said the petroglyphs there were more numerous and easier to see than the ones a couple miles down the road.
After Newspaper Rock, the road gets into badlands and the actual petrified forest. Once again, it's a thoroughly other worldly landscape, very arid and empty but with these humongous chunks of what used to be trees, really big trees, millions of years ago. The trees were buried by mud, the mud hardened into sandstone, various minerals migrated into the trees (I have no idea how that process would work, but it obviously did). The petrified trees wound up being harder than the surrounding soft sandstone so as the sandstone erodes, the trees are exposed. In a few cases, some remarkably long intact pieces remain, but in general as the sandstone eroded and the trees dropped they fractured into pieces that look so neatly done that you'd swear they were cut on purpose. Nope, just a trick of nature and the natural fracture lines in the crystals.
|Note large petrified log perched on top of eroding hill.|
|Humongous petrified log with concrete pad inserted under it to prevent its collapse.|
A tea towel, for the uninitiated, is a high class dish towel. It's made from linen or a cotton blend that resembles linen, rather than the usual terry cloth. Souvenir tea towels with designs reflecting various regions or themes used to be pretty common. You could get tea towels, for example, that had local historic landmarks printed on them or a map of the state. You can find vintage tea towels on Etsy with maps of Italy or scenes from Tasmania. Tea towels were one of those souvenir items that used to be as ubiquitous as postcards and shot glasses.
Not anymore. Somewhere along the line, the souvenir tea towel vanished. Of course, I hadn't noticed its passing into oblvion until I started looking for some. I wanted some lightweight souvenirs to send to a couple pen pals in Europe and tea towels struck me as perfect. After all, tea towels are (and more accurately it appears, were) one of the few souvenirs that might actually serve a purpose beyond collecting dust. If you have no real interest in retaining the towel indefinitely, you can always use it for drying dishes.
The image above, the photo of a genuine Arizona souvenir tea towel, comes from the Intertubes. That particular towel is actually available brand-new, fresh from some Asian sweatshop through Amazon.com. If I really wanted it, I could order it today and have it by Tuesday morning. But that would be cheating. There isn't much of a thrill of the hunt, a sense of accomplishment in finding the desired quarry, when you get it be pointing and clicking. I want to find the souvenir tea towels of my dreams lurking on a rack next to the state magnets, shot glasses, and souvenir spoons.
Thursday, March 2, 2017
I gave the quilt to my mother, and it's spent most of the past four decades on her bed. I guess somewhere along the line I should have given her a couple more so she could rotate them so this one wouldn't have gotten so thoroughly worn out, but for some reason I never did. I did knit her several afghans, but that's not quite the same thing.
Not surprisingly, the quilt has gotten more than a tad faded. It's also worn threadbare in places. One particular fabric seems to have been particularly prone to sun bleaching and dry rot. It was bright red in a bandanna paisley pattern back in 1972; now it's threadbare and so faded it's hard to believe it was once red. It's a lot more faded in real life than it looks like in the photo. I took the quilt when my sister and I cleaned out our mother's apartment. I'll be spending the next several days patching the torn pieces and doing repairs as best I can. The batting has gotten flattened to the point of virtual nonexistence over the past 40+ years but there isn't much I can do about that with just a week or two to work in. We're going back up to Grand Junction later this month, and I'll bring the repaired quilt with me. If we're all lucky, my mother will get a few more years use out of it.
Meteor Crater is a rather impressive hole in the ground. The property is privately owned and managed, and they do a nice job of it. There's a small museum with exhibits explaining just what a meteor is, how meteors have been viewed over time, when and how scientists accepted the fact that the crater was indeed the result of a meteor strike and not formed by volcanic action, and what's happening in astronomical research now. I had been to Meteor Crater before when I went through Fundamentals, the National Park Service's employee orientation program, but thought the S.O. and The Younger Daughter might be interested. NPS Fundamentals included a visit to Meteor Crater so the students in the class could get a sense of the differences between the way a private company can manage a site and the way the Park Service has to. A private enterprise naturally has a lot more flexibility in being able to respond quickly to issues like staffing or maintenance emergencies. The up-side is you can make decisions quickly; the downside is that sometimes a decision made in response to a short-term problem leaves you with long-term headaches.
The crater is an interesting natural feature. Most meteor craters end up obscured by vegetation over time, but because this meteor struck in a region that's been desert for millennia it's still well defined. Not surprisingly, because it is so close to I-40 it gets a lot of visitors. The parking lot was more than half full when we stopped, and there were quite a few people in the museum and in the outdoor viewing areas. Admission to Meteor Crater does include a guided hike along the crater rim, which no doubt could be interesting, but the wind was sufficiently cold that we passed on that opportunity. Instead we decided to get back on the road and look for a late lunch in Winslow, the next town down the highway.
Photo opportunity over, we went looking for food. The weirdest part about that whole Standing On A Corner park was the total lack of anything else designed to catch a tourist's eye located close to it. There were a couple eateries, both closed. There was a gift shop, also closed. About a block away there was a rather shabby looking Mexican restaurant, possibly open but not looking particularly inviting. And another block or so down Historic Route 66 there was a Church's Chicken. We opted for the chicken, primarily because there didn't seem to be anything else.
There was a historic hotel across the street from the chicken place, a former Fred Harvey hotel designed by Mary Colter, the same architect who designed a lot of the buildings at Grand Canyon Village for the Fred Harvey company, but I couldn't tell if La Posada was open or closed or if it included a restaurant. If it had been a little more obvious in being open for business instead of looking like it was mothballed, we might have done more than look at it through the window at Church's. It is, after all, a National Register property, and, as I have since learned, the last hotel the Fred Harvey company built.
The whole Winslow experience in retrospect seems like a typical Arizona experience. I swear every small town we've seen has the same ambience, that feeling of being post-apocalyptic with very few humans visible anywhere and businesses that have that ambiguous feeling where it's hard to tell if they're still open or if the owner walked away a year or two ago and just forgot to flip the Open sign over when he or she closed for good. Unless the windows are boarded over and there are dead weeds three feet tall in front of a door, it's hard to tell if some places are still in business or went tits up during the Reagan administration. It's a strange state.