Friday, July 30, 2021

Vacuous space filler

AKA cleaning out the gauno collection. So here are some random memes I saved because when a computer has a gazillion gigabytes of memory you've got to fill it with something.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Improvements at the ranch

I may be able to water the garden this summer. The S.O. succeeded in pulling the old point for our shallow well. In the photo he has succeeded in jacking the pipe up to where he's been able to remove two 5-foot sections and is close to having another section almost high enough to remove. 

The well is close to the Woman Cave and provided our drinking water back when we had a mobile home. It's also one of those wells that the Health Department freaks out over -- not particularly deep so could be prone to contamination. Never viewed it as an issue for us, though, not when we're perched close to the highest point around here and are sitting on glacial till. 

Even better, that glacial till was beachfront a few thousand years ago. What is now wetland on the lower half of our property is the remnant of a pothole lake formed when the glaciers retreated. Over millennia a whole lot of water soaked into the gravel under us. Our place has never lacked for water. The problem has been getting it out of the ground. Glacial till tends to have a lot of sand in it. Sand has a nasty habit of clogging the screens on well points as well as shredding the working parts of pumps. 

Which is what happened to the most recent well a couple years ago. The sand content in the water that made it through the pump seemed to get worse until it was more like the pump was sucking mud -- the last load of laundry done using that well water had so much sand in it for all intents it wasn't clean at all. We brilliantly figured out it was time to pull the point, clean the sand out or replace it, and hope the problem was solved for awhile.

Except the point did not want to come out of the ground. The well consisted of (as far as the S.O. could recall) four 5-foot lengths of drive pipe and the 3-foot point. One of the couplings on the pipe must have gotten wedged under a rock because it would come up maybe 6 inches and stop. He tried multiple times a couple summers ago, even had help in the attempt, and the pipe would not move. We did talk about simply buying more pipe and driving a point in a few inches away from where the old pipe was sticking out of the ground, but we'd already done that once. The sand has been an ongoing issue for decades. When we put the new point in this time it's going to be, as best I can recall, the fourth one since 1973. 

The original well on the property was a dug well, really shallow, farther down the hill and close to the sauna. It hadn't been used in years so when the S.O. and I set up housekeeping in the Shoebox in 1973 he decided to do a new well a few feet away from the old dug well. He excavated a hole so the pumphouse would be basically underground and protected from freezing in the winter, and then drove a point. I think that one went down maybe 15 feet. Only problem was that in the spring, the pumphouse tended to fill with water as the snow around it melted. So then he drove another point farther up the hill and built an above-ground pumphouse. That point worked fine for a few years, had amazing water pressure, and then things began slowing to a trickle. 

We brilliantly figured out the screen on the point was getting blocked. We tried a couple remedies, he tried pulling it with no luck, and then he drove Point Number 3. Which worked fine for a few years. . . and here we are getting ready to finish pushing Point Number 4 into the ground. At least this time it's a little easier getting the point back in -- he's just shoving it into the hole the Point Number 3 came out of. It had about two feet left to go when he quit for the day. Once it's down far enough to reconnect the pump, all  we have to do is hope the old pump still works after having humongous amounts of sand pass through it for a decade or two.    

Photo is of the point following its removal. It had a long split down one side and was packed two-thirds full of sand. Not much of a mystery any more just why it was pumping mud. 

I didn't bother with a garden last year because I figured out a long time ago I can not count on rain keeping things growing. This year, of course, when I will be able to run a sprinkler it'll turn out to be the wettest summer in 50 years. 

This well also supplies water to the guest cabin so if all goes the way it should, the next guest in the cabin will have cold water on tap again.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Book Review: Educated, A Memoir

I am not a huge fan of memoirs, especially memoirs that detail someone's sad experiences with a religious cult or particularly harrowing circumstances, but for some reason Tara Westover's Educated caught my eye. Maybe pickings were slim on the New Books shelf. 

I have a minor addiction to advice columns and to the 'Am I the Asshole' threads on Reddit. I tell the S.O. that one nice thing about reading them is our own family starts looking pretty damn sane. Well, Educated had kind of the same effect, except in mega doses. Some holy-shit-I-survived memoirs feature a person's escape from a religious cult, some highlight abusive parents, some feature mental illness, and some involve abuse by other family members. Westover's book checks all the boxes. It was like, holy wah, this woman needs to stop thinking about someday reconnecting with her incredibly toxic family. Don't fantasize about building a bridge back home; dynamite that sucker in your mind and never look back. 

I could see missing your family if you've become estranged because you no longer buy into your father's lunatic right wing conspiracy theories, but not when your parents ignored the fact you were being terribly physically abused by an older sibling and resorted to major gaslighting when you asked why they never intervened. Then when you toss in being treated like slave labor -- what type of deranged adult pressures a 12-year old into operating an industrial metal shear in the family salvage yard? -- and having real, physical life-threatening injuries treated with homeopathic remedies. . . Westover's book is a really nice illustration of how if a totally toxic environment is the only thing you've ever known no sane, safe place is ever going to feel normal.  

It probably didn't help Westover psychologically when it wasn't so much that she deliberately cut off ties with her family as it was that they disowned her. She achieved something where most parents would be doing the happy dance and bragging to the whole world about their genius daughter, but not Westover's. To her specific set of demented parents she became a sinner, possessed by a demon, and for sure a slut and a whore when she decided to go to graduate school in England after graduating from Brigham Young University. Her parents had tolerated her attending BYU as long as they believed she just wanted to study music so she could come home, get married, have kids, and give piano lessons on the side. But winning a competitive scholarship, the equivalent of a Rhodes, and then getting more education than any woman needed? Not something they could condone.

Westover's life story is definitely a strange one. She was the youngest of seven children born to a Mormon couple in Idaho. Her family apparently started off as a typical lower middle class household. Her parents met while her mother was still in high school and then got married after her father completed his two-year Mormon missionary obligation. He worked as a contractor, built up his business, and built a house on his parents' farm. They were observant but not fanatics. The oldest three kids started off attending public school. In short, nothing at all odd about the family that would make them much different than any of their neighbors. At some point, though, Westover's father slid into weirdness. 

Mormons have always promoted clean living (no stimulants like caffeine), being prepared for disasters, and emphasizing modesty in women, but most aren't fanatics about it. They may not drink Diet Coke themselves but they usually don't freak out and assume you're heading straight to Hell for sipping soft drinks. Similarly, they may have a pantry stocked with a year's supply of food, but they're not obsessed to the point of being doomsday preppers. It's just something they do, kind of like Lutherans internalizing making bland jello salads for church suppers or Catholics looking forward to Friday fish fries during Lent. Westover's parents, on the other hand. . . the family may have continued attending regular church services in town and visited a bit with various relatives, but by the time she was born her father had turned their household into a one-family cult.

Westover speculates that her father suffered from being bipolar, a condition she learned about while in college. It's possible, I suppose, but what's a bit odd is that Westover's mother totally bought into enabling the man's delusions. Maybe it made life easier for her, but end result was the parents' behavior put the kids through hell. 

Her father became convinced only he knew the true will of God and that his interpretation of the Bible and the Book of Mormon was infallible. At the same time, he started believing the U.S. government was out to get him. The younger kids were all home birthed by a midwife (a highly illegal arrangement at the time; Idaho did not license midwives or condone home births) and their births never registered. It wasn't until one of the older kids needed a birth certificate in order to get a driver's license that the family applied for delayed birth certificates. By then Westover was nine years old. Her mother couldn't remember her birthday and wasn't even sure about what month Westover was born.

No birth certificates meant, of course, no public school. The younger kids were all home schooled, more or less. No real curriculum, no actual lesson plans, and not a whole lot of reading material in the house. At some point Westover realizes her life is probably going to be like her mother's: get married, have kids, take over her mother's roles as a midwife and herbalist. She also realizes she really doesn't want to do that. One of her brother's had managed to escape the family by getting admitted to BYU -- he had learned that the university had a policy of admitting homeschooled students if they scored at least a 28 on the ACT -- and he encouraged her to do the same to study music. Her one clear talent at that time was vocal music.

When she does get to BYU, she describes herself as being totally socially inept as well as totally ignorant about anything outside her very narrow range of experiences. She says, for example, that the first time she ever saw or heard the word "holocaust" was in an art history class during her first week of college classes. Similarly, once she gets to Cambridge, she's still doing the totally socially inept doofus persona.

This is where I actually do have problems with Westover's memoir. It's loaded with contradictions. She claims to have been totally naive about the world in general, but at the same time she took dance classes as a tween (although that stopped once her father realized that the girls danced in typical ballet and/or tap dance class attire (leotards and tutus). The immodesty freaked him out. As a teenager, she got involved with local amateur theater and sang the lead role in "Annie." To escape working in the family salvage yard, she sought out odd jobs in town and worked at a local supermarket. I find it totally believable that her home life was pretty damn weird (not to mention abusive) but it's not like she was being kept locked in a basement. The family had a computer and internet access. They even had cable television -- her father had a particular love for reruns of "The Honeymooners." In short, she had first hand exposure to how average people lived and how they dressed. 

This is one of those memoirs that gets touted as being inspiring, proof of the resiliency of the human spirit, because Westover managed to shape a career as a historian despite the handicap of being raised by wolves. I think she discounts the role sheer dumb luck played. At BYU a roommate could tell Westover was struggling psychologically and persuaded her to talk with her bishop. Mormon bishops have tremendous influence over their congregants. They're also as prone to being abusive patriarchal  assholes as any other religion. Westover's, however, did not push her into accepting a good, submissive, go home and get barefoot and pregnant future. She got lucky. He encouraged her to apply for scholarships and to dream big. 

 Similarly, after she was in England at Cambridge and studying for a master's in philosophy, she had another psychological crisis. She sank into major depression and totally neglected her studies. She failed classes. In most realities, she'd have been toast, booted from the program, and generally told to go back to salvaging scrap iron. Instead, her professors told her she had potential and gave her a second chance. People fail out of graduate programs all the time and no one cares. In Westover's case, someone did care and tossed her a lifeline. 

Time to wrap this up. Was the book worth reading? It's a toss-up. It was interesting but depressing as hell. I know rural communities are good at turning a blind eye to domestic and child abuse, but I am nonetheless baffled as to why in the 1990s anyone would think it was fine for a girl in her early teens to be working odd jobs instead of being in school. It's pretty clear that everyone in town knew her family so where the hell was CPS? Just how lax are Idaho's laws when it comes to home schooling? Most states at least want to see some documentation that the parents doing the teaching aren't total dolts. 

And then there's the issue of the psychotic older brother. The dude bullied all of his siblings, almost killed his much younger sister several times, and the parents just ignored it all or blamed the behavior on the smaller, weaker kids. He had a local reputation for being a prick who picked fights for no reason. The dude pretty obviously belonged in a cell somewhere, but the parents were oblivious. 

Back to is it worth reading. . . if you want to read a life story that reads as though no one would buy this as a movie plot line, go for it. Westover can write. I zipped through it pretty quickly. On the other hand, it is one of those books where I'm happy it came from the library and not a bookstore. Spending actual money on it would have felt a bit dirty, like I was subsidizing misery porn.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

A trip down Nostalgia Lane

Saw this cartoon and had instant flashbacks to academia. Every graduate seminar, every conference, had presentations where the speakers were shuffling their transparencies on to and off the overhead projector faster than a card shark dealing out hands of poker. The one that probably set the record for number of slides used was a civil engineering grad student at a Michigan Tech Sigma Xi interdisciplinary symposium. The dude gave a 5-minute summary of his research in to how quickly fecal coli form bacteria broke down in sunlight using data collected observing sewage flow from Syracuse into Lake Onondaga. I know his slides were on and off the projector a lot faster than the shit traveled across the lake. His dexterity in handling his foot-high stack of slides made such an impression that it's been well over 30 years and I still recall the talk, which is more than I can say about my own contribution to the event.   

Friday, May 28, 2021

I'm sorry. Can't fix stupid

Feeling amused by the thin skin of Trump supporters. The S.O. left a comment on a post on Baraga County Shit for Sale that including a prominent Trump 2020 banner in a photo advertising a used truck was a good way to lose a lot of potential buyers. He didn't spell it out, but common sense in any sales tactic is keep your politics to yourself -- when you're trying to sell something you don't advertise ideologies, red, blue or whatever. The only thing that's important is the green -- the color of money.

Anyway, as one might expect, a comment thread dominated by Trump supporters materialized pretty quickly, all cheerfully proving that the typical MAGAt did indeed crawl out of the shallow end of the gene pool. Lots and lots of bashing liberals, Biden, and the S.O. After about a dozen comments from butt-hurt MAGAts the S.O. tossed some kerosene on to the fire by noting that "I knew my comment would bring out the losers. Thanks for not disappointing."

Which actually wasn't what the original comment was intended to do. He simply pointed out the Trump banner was a turn-off for some people. But if it had the effect of triggering hurt feelings in a bunch of right-wing snowflakes, I guess that's an unintended consequence he's happy to live with.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Where have all the peons gone?

I started toying with the idea of doing a post on the myth of the labor shortage a week or two ago, decided it wasn't worth the effort, and now have circled back to it. I haven't felt much like writing lately because it's Spring, things are green again, and there are flowerbeds to weed, grapevines to prune, and who wants to sit in front of a computer when the sun is shining and it's possible to be outside without wearing seventeen layers of clothing? 

The media, however, continue to obsess about the "labor shortage" and it 's starting off as a rather gray day so here I am: wasting time blogging about something that has no actual direct impact on my life. After all, it's not going to make a whole lot of difference to me if Applebee's is having trouble finding servers.

It does, however, annoy the heck out of me that the same so-called experts who tout the wonders of the free market and capitalism seem to assume that the one resource that should not be subject to market forces is human labor. It's fine when housing prices sky rocket because there's a shortage of houses for buyers, but if there's a shortage of workers? Let them eat cake, be content with starvation pay. No way should increased demand result in higher wages for anyone. It's bizarre.

Granted, depending on where a business is located nationally, there may actually be a labor shortage. Out here in BFE, we have an overabundance of geezers -- the county's population is something like 25 percent elderly -- and a shrinking population of folk young and dumb and willing to work for minimum wage. To be blunt, even if every high school student legally able to work an unrestricted schedule went looking for jobs, there still wouldn't be enough of them to go around. Warm bodies, I mean, not jobs. 

Then when you toss in that the fact that even if there are the warm bodies in sufficient numbers,  the number of people willing to work for poverty wages was dwindling before the pandemic. Here in Michigan the state minimum wage is $9.65 so it's not as ridiculously low as the federal rate, but it's still not exactly a pay rate that guarantees living high on the proverbial hog. 

I do see occasional suggestions that one solution to any labor shortage is to recruit geezers. You know, convince the old folks that they'd rather stock shelves at Walmart than relax at home or pursue the interests they put off for years. Why spend your golden years enjoying fly fishing or traveling when you could be emptying cartons of toilet paper in the middle of the night? The classic Evil Empire job for old people was "greeter," but that job's been eliminated. So have most of the cashier jobs (they've been replaced by self-checkout stations) so what's left? Stocking shelves. No thanks. The budget might be tight but even desperate geezers need more than Walmart wages to be enticed out of their rocking chairs. 

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.