Monday, April 12, 2021

Explain the down side to me

Open borders. I keep trying to figure out what the problem would be and failing. What horrible thing would happen if the U.S. set up a system where seasonal workers could move freely back and forth across the border and asylum seekers could get fast hearings and experience fewer hassles? 

Every time the subject of the unwashed hordes massing at the border just waiting for an opportunity to destroy the American way of life comes up -- you know, the hordes intent on stealing jobs while at the same time living high on welfare benefits -- I once again think about how easy it would to fix the problem if  sufficient political will existed. It's like a lot of other problems with easy answers if only people would take the time to think things through and then be willing to spend the money the solutions would take. 

The kicker is, of course, "be willing to spend." Policy makers seem quite willing to spend mountains of money on "solutions" that are actually band-aids -- 30-foot high metal walls, increased numbers of Border Patrol agents -- or make for good sound bites while failing to address either root causes (decades of U.S. meddling in Central American politics, e.g., funding death squads in Honduras and El Salvador) or pursuing practices that might make problems a little less problematic.

They're also, of course, totally unwilling to admit that quite a few problems that people worry about now are the unintended (although remarkably predictable in hindsight) consequences of past policies. Two recent discussions on NPR reminded me (again) that, as usual, the people most responsible for immigration problems were policy-makers in Washington, D.C. 

Although most people tend to assume most of the unwelcome horde of undocumented aliens are Mexicans -- I get the reasoning: brown people coming across the southern border must be from the closest country to that border -- large numbers are actually from the corrupt states the U.S. created farther south: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Guatemala is a corrupt mess and has been for decades because the U.S. meddled in Guatemalan politics in the 1950s. The Guatemalans had the nerve to elect a president who was progressive. He leaned just far enough to the left that the Eisenhower administration saw a Communist threat. The Central Intelligence Agency helped the military stage a coup, and Guatemala's been a mess ever since. It's not as bad now as it was a few years ago -- no massive murders of civilians by death squads since maybe the Reagan administration -- but definitely rife with corruption. Not surprisingly, the economy is a mess. Guatemalans became economic refugees (aka temporary workers) in the U.S. in large numbers. Young adults come to the U.S., find work with no intention of staying here permanently, send money home, and when they've built up some savings head back to Guatemala. 

A similar pattern holds true for Honduras and El Salvador: the countries are economic basket cases, thanks in large part to decades of U.S. meddling and right-wing death squads backed by the C.I.A. Then when you toss in the War on Drugs (news flash: drugs won) that turned drug trafficking into a growth industry, things got even messier. Economy in the toilet, wide spread poverty, major problems with criminal gangs terrorizing poor families. End result? A strong desire to head north and find work, preferably temporary. No desire to live in cold, wretched places like Chicago indefinitely, but a few years doing construction or working in a meat packing plant to get the nest egg to build a nice house back in Juticalpa or Ahuachapan? No problem. Taking out a loan to pay the coyote seems like a good idea. 

Which brings me to another administration and another major policy blunder: Bill Clinton and tightening control at the border. This seems a bit contradictory, but making it harder to cross the border actually made illegal immigration worse, not better. There used to be a lot of ebb and flow across the border. People would come to work seasonal or temporary jobs, save up some money, and then go home, back to the wife and kids or the aging parents down south. Once immigration tightened up, instead of being temporary residents, people became permanent. Instead of going home to visit the family, people began moving their families to the U.S. After all, if they left because strawberry season was done or construction had slowed for the winter, they might not be able to get back in to this country. Better to stay here and bring the dependents up. You know what they're calling those dependents now? Dreamers. The kids the parents had planned to raise in El Salvador wound up becoming U.S. residents 10 or 20 years ago, back when those kids were in diapers and had no say in the matter. 

That policy has also had the tragic (and totally foreseeable) consequence of large numbers of people dying in the desert, an issue that really should make anyone who has a conscience wondering why the fuck we persist in pushing people into risking getting eaten by vultures just to prevent them from getting jobs picking strawberries, but I guess the right wing has done a good enough of demonizing undocumented aliens that most people don't care how many die from dehydration or exposure. 

So what's the obvious solution for the job seekers, the migrants coming here hoping for a paycheck? Open the border. Change the personnel at Customs and Border Protection from being primarily law enforcement to more like an employment office so people coming in get screened when they arrive, are issued tax identification numbers and given temporary work visas. If everyone coming in could work legally, it would prevent unscrupulous employers from exploiting anyone -- it would be rather difficult to threaten someone with deportation if they won't accept lower than legal wages or unsafe working conditions if there's no such thing as an illegal worker. In economic terms, it would be a rising tide that lifted all boats. 

It would, however, require a couple things stakeholders may be unwilling to do. A major paradigm shift is needed to change the definition of illegal aliens to desirable workforce. Until more people are capable of recognizing we have an aging population that needs more younger workers than current birth rates are capable of providing, we'll keep hearing politicians milk "they're stealing jobs."



Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Small town amusements

The S.O. and I both enjoy perusing the local buy/sell/trade pages on Facebook, the ones like Baraga County Shit Stuff for Sale, where people try to unload items that vary in asking price from not a bad deal to holy shit, are they delusional? 

Yesterday someone put up a sales ad for a vintage travel trailer. The box on wheels wasn't exactly in the really desirable category (e.g., a 1960's Shasta, complete with wings) but it was new enough that the blue book value still includes a comma, a number this trailer was listed well below. Like, really, really well below. My reaction to the extremely low price was "I wonder what's wrong with it?" The seller noted there was a minor water leak, he was still in the process of cleaning the trailer out, and he had a clean title. I may have been skeptical, but other folks saw that low price and decided to bargain hunt. 

That first ad was followed by one in which the seller noted he'd had over 30 inquiries and was pretty sure the trailer was sold PPU (pending pick up). That's when the drama began unfolding.

Another post went up, this one by someone accusing Trailer Boy of trying to sell a travel trailer that he did not own. Not only did Trailer Boy not own it, the accuser said the trailer actually belonged to the accuser's grandmother -- and if the trailer moved, his grandmother was going to report it as stolen. The clean title did not exist.

That's when the comment threads started getting interesting. Lots of back and forth about how you leave something unattended for 30 days you've given up your ownership of said item, which as it happens isn't exactly true. If you know who the legal owner is you're supposed to make a good faith effort to get that person to come get their stuff. Then, if it's a large item, like a recreational vehicle that is issued a title by the state, you're supposed to go through law enforcement to get it gone. If you don't follow the rules as laid out by the State of Michigan you risk getting accused of theft or worse. Like cheating old people or ripping off the elderly.

Several of the commenters know the people involved and were fairly blunt in their assessments of Trailer Boy and his motives. Turns out the travel trailer apparently belonged to Trailer Boy's ex-wife's grandmother. I am rather relieved that so far none of the names in the comments have belonged to anyone I'm related to, at least not that I know of.

In other developments, Trailer Boy has a new post up trying to sell a ring theoretically worth several thousand dollars, but he'll let it go cheaper. He says he needs money to help pay for an attorney.

Or, as someone in that comment thread noted, possibly bail. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

But what about my right to privacy?

The S.O. and I made a run to Hancock yesterday. He had an appointment at the V.A. Clinic for Shot Number Two so I tagged along. I had a minor errand to run that involved a stop in Houghton. The museum had new brochures run off that I needed to pick up from the Print Shop.

By coincidence, it happened that the Print Shop was offering a new service: photocopying and reducing a person's completed COVID-19 vaccination record and then laminating the copy so one can hang it on a lanyard with other ID cards -- or, if not interested in dangling it on a lanyard, at least having a laminated card that would stand up to wear and tear if one anticipated having to pull it out of a wallet or pocket on a regular basis. I have no plans to avail myself of the service but it struck me as a handy idea.

Also by coincidence, sort of, I've been noticing a fair amount of discussion over the use of vaccination cards. Should they be required for certain settings or events, like for travel? Should people be able to prove they've had the shots or is that a violation of a person's right to privacy? 

I am not real sympathetic to the "privacy" argument. Your right to privacy goes out the door when your actions affect other people. And I'm also not real sympathetic to the whiners who make it sound like requiring vaccination cards would be something new, a requirement that no one anywhere has ever had to think about before. The whiners don't know much history. 

Smallpox used to be the killer disease everyone worried about. Back in the days when smallpox epidemics were still happening, it was standard procedure to require people coming into a country to provide proof of vaccination. The card above was issued by a ship's surgeon to a person traveling on the S.S. Abyssinia back in 1883. The flip side of it specifies that the vaccination in question was for smallpox. Thanks to the wonders of Google, I was able to find that the Abyssinia's regular run was from Liverpool to New York and back again. Odds are that the government requiring anyone getting off that ship to show proof of vaccination was the United States. 

You know, just about every time someone starts yammering about freedom or privacy and asserting that some particular rule or regulation is completely unprecedented, it's a pretty good bet they're wrong. The author of Ecclesiastes nailed it thousands of years ago: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."  

Vaccination card image from the Baraga County Historical Museum, of course.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The weirdness never ends

 Also known as "Why, dear Lord, why?"

I guess I should view this as a sign of returning normalcy. I'm back to muttering about some of the weirdness I'm still stumbling across at the museum instead of sharing a gazillion sweet-jesus-I-despise-[the orange former occupant] memes with friends who figured out a long time ago that I was not one of that man's fans. Instead of stressing about weirdness in politics I'm once again being baffled by weirdness lurking within the walls of the Baraga County Historical Museum.

I spent a few hours at the museum yesterday. I had to be there to wait for UPS to deliver a package, and, using my typical reasoning, as long as I had to come down the hill I decided I might as well put in some time working on various things that need to be worked on. I buckled down and actually completed the 2020 financial report so I can get the 2020 newsletter (such as it is -- it's going to be a challenge filling it with any news when 2020 was basically The Year Where Nothing Happened) finished and mailed sometime before it's time to do a 2021 annual report. 

The good news with the financial report is that we did actually take in more money than we spent, which I think qualifies as a minor miracle considering we had zero income from admissions and almost nothing from on-site sales. Generous donations saved us. The bad news is that nice though it was to end the year in the black, our bank balance is still much too anemic to think about replacing the almost 30-years old shingles on the roof. But for now we'll pretend that the Baraga County Historical Museum is actually a Georgia mansion and we're Scarlett O'Hara optimistically believing that she'll win Rhett back tomorrow. As long as we're not setting out buckets when it rains, we're good. 

I finished wrapping the financial report and doing the happy dance because we actually got a small payment from Amazon Smiles (the charitable con Jeff Bezos has going; consumers can assuage their collective guilt for adding to his billions in wealth by designating that a tiny percentage of the cost of a sale goes to support a charity of the consumer's choice). So few people do it that usually the museum just gets a token $5 annually, the donation Amazon makes to acknowledge we actually exist. This past year we got an additional $7.70. Enough to buy one shingle? Maybe? But it is proof (finally) that I'm not the only person who has designated the Baraga County Historical Society as a recipient of Bezo's tokenism. 

Then I moved on to cataloging. I've been emptying a Sterlite tote, a fairly big one, that was full of stuff from a display the museum did years ago on medicine in Baraga County. I don't know when they did it (before my time, obviously) but the tote has an intriguing assortment of goodies in it: a vaginal speculum (very cold and heavy -- no fun memories associated with that device)(they make disposable ones from lightweight plastic now, not that any doctor I've ever known has used one), an ether mask, scalpels, forceps, a truly disgusting looking enamel ware emesis basin, a lovely clear glass male urinal that holds up to two quarts (I'd love to know just who could piss that much in one go), lots of tonic and prescription bottles. . . started photographing things, writing descriptions down, and began thinking about where to stash stuff once I had it all documented. I didn't want to just put all back in a tote where a person would have to paw through multiple layers to retrieve just one or two items. The ideal place would be a location with shelves.

Then I remembered the metal cabinet in the exhibit area (pictured above) that functions as a plinth for a bust of Phil LaTendresse, inventor of the Pettibone Cary-Lift and a local hero. The cabinet came from a dentist's office. I have no idea what Dr. Guy stashed in it, but I figured it might be an appropriate location for medicine-related items. I had a vague memory that there were a few items in it already, but I also knew whatever was in it had never been cataloged. It was all overdue for being pulled out, sorted, and the inventory process started. 


The first few items seemed quite innocuous. Lots of 45 rpm records (that's what in the books in addition to the small naked stack; the books are albums with sleeves), a small box with bits and pieces of dental tools, a bottle of mercury, . . .well, maybe the mercury isn't exactly innocuous (it is a hazardous substance), but it's not totally weird. And then I pulled out the black leather satchel. It looked like a typical doctor's bag, the kind you see doctors carrying in movies and television shows that are set when doctors still made house calls. 

I don't think it was much of a surprise to discover it did not contain medical instruments. 

On the positive side, tossing plaster teeth is easy. No inventorying involved, just a trash can. We already have a few plaster molds on hand to provide examples in the dentistry exhibit. We do not need several dozen more. 

The dental impressions always creep me out. It's an odd feeling to pick up a plaster mold, read the penciled name on the bottom, and discover an impression that bears a startling resemblance to a rat's smile actually belonged to the father of a friend. 

I am also, of course, moderately baffled as to why any of my predecessors at the museum thought all those plaster casts of people's mouths were worth keeping. The logical thing to do would have been to put a couple in the Dr. Guy exhibit when they were setting it up, stash a couple others someplace else to have as backups just in case the ones in the exhibit got dropped and broke, and toss the other multiple dozens into the trash instead of stuffing them into that doctor's bag and shoving it into a cabinet. The weirdness never ends.  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Pulitzer Project: The Shipping News

The 1994 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, has to be one of the stranger books I've read since I began this project about 12 years ago. I'd be tempted to say time flies when you're having fun except some of the books were not fun. Some of the winners were definitely a slog, the type of reading material that should make any aspiring author think, "yes, I can do this! If this piece of crap is a prize winner, I can write a best seller, too." I wouldn't say The Shipping News qualifies as bad, but I'm also not sure if it qualifies as good. It does remind me that the fact the books are getting newer as I work my way up the list does not necessarily mean they're getting better. 

This is one novel where I'm reasonably sure the film version outshone the book -- and by a lot. The movie, after all, had Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey. Spacey may have been revealed to be a total prick, but he can act.

For that matter, it's obvious Proulx can write when she wants to, but she decided to craft a decidedly odd book when she wrote this novel. This was another one of those books where the reviews for it left me wondering if the reviewers and I had read the same novel. Professional reviewers did a lot of blathering about comic elements while referring to aspects of the book that struck me as profoundly sad. The main character Quoyle is a poor schmuck of a lifetime loser, a fellow who was raised in what was obviously a totally dysfunctional family, isn't particularly good looking, has trouble finding and keeping a job, and ends up married to a sociopath. He kind of blunders through life with only one friend to speak of. And we're supposed to be amused by him? I must have missed something. 

It gets really dark and strange before anything remotely upbeat happens. His sociopath of a wife leaves him, taking their two young daughters with her and her current boyfriend. The wife and boyfriend die in a traffic accident, but not before the wife sells the two little kids to a pervert who plans to use them in kiddie porn. Not a whole lot of comic elements in that particular section of the book unless, of course, one finds the notion of two small naked children covered with dish soap sliding around on a kitchen floor while the pedophile tries to figure out how to work his new camera amusing. 

Quoyle gets his kids back, his aunt whom he'd never met before shows up because his parents died (suicide pact), and the aunt persuades him to pack up and move to Newfoundland, the land of his ancestors. The first couple chapters describing Newfoundland made it sound as though anyone who lives there is either truly desperate or too dumb to leave. It is not an inviting province. The family home (which apparently they have a legal claim to, despite no one having lived there for several decades)(I found myself wondering just who was paying the property taxes for all the years it sat there abandoned) is not fit to live in so they end up stuck in a motel that is overpriced and filthy. Then the aunt's dog dies. Can it get worse, one wonders? Short answer: yes. 

Our Hero, such as he is, is hired as a reporter by a local newspaper. His standard assignments are to cover the shipping news (report on what freighters have arrived in port, where they're from, and when they're leaving) and traffic accidents. The paper's publisher wants suitably gory accident scene photos for the front page. Descriptions of Quoyle's new work milieu are, to say the least, bizarre.  

I usually don't look at reviews much after I've read a book. This one was an exception. As noted above, the professional reviewers, the ones who get paid for their prose and often have academic training in "literature," thought it was great. They loved it, thought it was a masterpiece. 

People commenting from the perspective of book club members or just ordinary readers were less sanguine than the literati. They found Proulx's writing style confusing and choppy, an assessment I agree with. There are flashes, a sentence or a paragraph here and there that light up a page, but overall? It is not a good sign when my reaction to a novel is "this chick needs a good editor." You know, every time I read a book that seems awkwardly constructed I find myself remembering a story about James Joyce. Supposedly when Joyce was complimented on creative elements (odd spellings, strange sentence constructions) in his work he confessed that they weren't intentional. He was just a terrible typist and never had been good at spelling. I always wonder just how much of what's on a page is what the author actually intended and how much is the result of a copy editor being afraid of stepping on the author's voice by cleaning up gross errors in grammar. Editing, after all, is an art, a balancing act, and some authors handle being edited better than others. 

So, overall assessment of The Shipping News? Not an easy read, and a remarkably depressing one for most of the book. I'll give it a 5. It's not horrible, but for sure I didn't enjoy reading it.  

Next up: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shield. Another work and author I've never heard of. It is also, of course, one that requires an Interlibrary Loan request. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

It's been a slow learning curve

Had to make a milk run yesterday and decided I might as well put in an hour or two at the museum as long as I was going to drive right past it on the way to Larry's. Did some filing, and started thinking about the need to move a few things out of the vertical files and into document boxes. Once again the drawers in the filing cabinets are running out of space, but we don't have room to add another filing cabinet. 

We are also starting to run out of space for document boxes so I was looking around and trying to figure out what could get shuffled. It brilliantly occurred to me that the large flat box sitting on top of the filing cabinets could move out to the storage building, which would free up that space. I could then fill the space with document boxes. Genius. 

The large flat box, one of several purchased right about the time I started trying to get things inventoried, is full of newspapers, each carefully preserved in an individual archivally stable plastic sleeve. Seven years later, having learned a lot more through experience and workshops, that box now has me muttering "Why?!" every time I look at it. There is absolutely no good reason to preserve 90% of what's in that box. Almost none is unique or not found anyplace else. Our local newspaper, The L'Anse Sentinel, has been microfilmed and is in multiple archives and university libraries. It's also been digitized and is available online through Central Michigan University and the Library of Congress. We don't need crumbling hard copies. 

I look at the things like that box of newspapers and think about the many hours that went into cataloging the contents and suffer retroactive regret. I really wish I'd attended workshops on archives and figuring out what to keep and what to pitch before I ever got started on inventorying anything. In hindsight, I wasted a lot of time methodically documenting stuff that didn't need to be documented. I now know that a general rule for any museum is to look at anything that hasn't been accessioned is to ask how it fits into the museum's mission. If it doesn't fit, it doesn't belong.  When it comes to assessing documents like newspapers, the secondary questions are "If it does fit, is this museum the best place for it," "Do we need it," and "Are we set up for researchers to access the material?" You know, do we have a work space where a researcher can spread things out? (In my rich fantasy life, we'd get a massive grant, be able to turn the storage building into a climate-controlled, usable year round building, and move the archives and a work area into it. Never going to happen, but fun to dream about.) 

As it happens, for a small museum, no matter how strong the temptation might be to hoard things, sometimes the best place for documents is a university library or regional archive. If it's widely published material -- newspapers, magazines, whatever -- odds are the universities already have it. Bottom line: I can take that large box, remove the newspapers in their nice, neat sleeves, and stack them out in the storage building with the other newspapers I wasted time inventorying after the box was full but before I learned it was basically a waste of my time. Having inventoried them and listed everything neatly in the index to the archives, I'm not ready to throw anything away. The box itself, which is archivally stable (it was, after all purchased from Gaylord) will be repurposed to hold textiles and then stashed in the attic. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Retiring my Etsy shop


Back when we were living in Atlanta, I opened an Etsy shop. I had inherited some vintage dresses and figured Etsy would be the simplest way to sell them. I added a few other items over time, like vintage costume jewelry, some Depression glass, and postcards. I began collecting post cards in high school and kept it up for over 20 years so have hundreds from all over the world, although most of them wound up being from East Germany and Sweden. 

For the first couple of years things sold fairly steadily. Nothing dramatic, but steady. There'd be maybe a sale a month. Not exactly enough to fund a posh retirement but enough to make it worth the minor effort involved. Then things slacked off. A lot. It struck me recently that it had been at least a year since the last time I found myself counting out a stack of post cards to send to a buyer. The dust has gotten pretty thick on the Sterlite tote that holds the Etsy inventory. 

At the same time the physical inventory is gathering dust, the online one keeps getting charged listing renewal fees. It's not a dramatic amount per item, but multiply it by a dozen or so items and then multiply that by close to a full year with no sales. . . the inevitable question, the only rational question, is why the heck am I doing this? 

So, goodbye Etsy. Now the only question is what to do with the contents of the tote. Maybe I'll give Ebay another shot to try getting rid of postcards. I tried EBay back  before they started letting sellers set prices. Tried auctioning a couple things and ran into some bizarre scammers so gave up on EBay pretty quickly. Since then I've revisited EBay on behalf of the museum. The museum sells items that don't fit into the museum's mission or are duplicates of things it already has. EBay has the distinct advantage of not collecting any fees until an item sells, which means no constant (if small) bleeding away of the bank account. The worst that happens with EBay is occasionally someone will make an insulting low-ball offer, which is easily ignored. The museum sells a lot of vintage postcards.  

I do know that if I shift some stuff over to EBay I need to think long and hard about the combination of pricing and shipping fees. Postage continues to creep up, as I learned the hard way after selling a pint of buttons a year or two ago. Cheapest way to send them turned out to be in a small flat rate priority box but even then my profit margin dropped to effectively zero. The only positive thing about that transaction was the faint satisfaction of knowing the buttons went to someone who was probably much craftier than I am and so would put them to good use. 

It has occurred to me that one solution to the pricing/shipping question is to simply make the prices on everything high enough that I could say "free shipping" as an enticement. People love illusory bargains. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

It's a mystery?

One of my virtual friends, a person whose Facebook posts make it abundantly clear is a complete and total extrovert, is currently in an ICU. They've been there for over two weeks. They have admitted to coming about as close to dying as it's possible to get without actually taking a dirt nap. They have COVID. They have apparently survived the crisis stage and are now recovering to the point where they were able to get back online and update acquaintances on how they're doing. 

This brush with mortality is not a surprise. This person is so far over into the extrovert quadrant of Meyer-Briggs that it was clear early on the social isolation was not going to be easy. Neither, I'm sure, was the need for masking. This person just likes people too much to be able to self-quarantine long. As soon as it was possible to do dine-in at restaurants, they were doing dine-in. There were frequent posts from various eateries, usually accompanied by comments about how it was a shame they had to travel into Wisconsin to eat in a restaurant because Michigan eateries were still take-out only. 

The person is not a complete fool, so I'm confident they did try as best as any total extrovert could to protect themselves from COVID. It didn't work. I'm also reasonably sure, based on what I've observed of human behavior (including my own), that the longer the  need for social distancing went on the  more chances this person took. Everyone is careful when they first get warned about something, but the more time that passes without you getting snake-bit the sloppier you get about looking where you're stepping in the woods. Like I said, not a surprise.

What floored me were the number of online comments from well-wishers saying stuff like "How could this happen?!" and "It just shows how COVID can hit anyone!" 

Well, yes, COVID can hit anyone. So can lightning. But most of us know that when lightning is predicted you avoid standing on hill tops in the rain while holding a metal rod in your hand. 

Bottom line: wear the mask, people. Vaccinations may be happening, but the virus isn't done with us yet. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

 


Happy birthday, Val

 

Valerie and Grandpa Pope. Note killer crib with the drop side in background. It's a miracle she survived infancy.