Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Vicksburg National Military Park

We spent the morning of December 24 at Vicksburg National Military Park.  It was a bit of an odd choice of a place to be on the day before Christmas, especially when I'm notoriously lukewarm about the cannonball parks, but we had the time, and I was curious.  We weren't sure if the park would be open -- it was a federal holiday -- but as it turned out that, although the Visitor Center and USS Cairo Museum were both closed, the tour road was open. 
The tour road, of course, is one long string of markers of various sizes, shapes, and styles, from the truly monumental, like the Illinois state memorial shown above (for a sense of scale, if you look close you can see the jogger at the top of the stairs), to fairly low key, like the Kansas marker shown below.  It dates from 1973, so uses rather simple symbolism rather than relying on the classical allegory popular in the early 1900s, which is when most of the monuments were erected.
I've never been much of a Civil War buff -- when I think about the war at all, it's usually in terms of what a colossal waste of life it was, all the people who died just because a handful of rich white guys couldn't stand the idea of giving up a source of cheap labor.  Now that we're sliding into the 150th anniversary of the mess, the attempts at revisionist history are cranking up, billboards are popping up all over the South commemorating their glorious boys in butternut gray, and there's a lot of stupid blather about it all being about states' rights, not slavery. Of course, that blather comes from the descendants of the guys who started the war by firing the first shots against Fort Sumter and then turned around to call it the War of Northern Aggression, so it's fairly clear Southerners have always had a tenuous relationship with reality. 

Try asking one those states righters sometime just exactly what rights they were talking about, though, and they start to stammer.  Why?  Because there is no answer other than the obvious:  slavery.  Back in 1861 there was no income tax, no estate tax, no interstate commerce commission, no federal highways program, no labor department, no environmental protection agency, very close to nothing, none of the things Civil War apologists, Tea Partiers, and their ilk bitch about today, nada, no federal meddling at all.  The federal government consisted of the War Department (aka the Army), the Navy Department (self evident), the State Department (which dealt with other countries), the Post Office, the Treasury (which minted money and collected excise taxes and tariffs), and not a whole lot else.  So just exactly what states' rights were there to protect other than slavery?  Then when you toss in the fact every single one of the individual states' acts of secession explicitly name the right to practice slavery as a reason for seceding. . . 

As for Vicksburg NMP, if you're into monuments, it's a treasure trove.  It's chock full of books on sticks, stone markers, interpretive tablets, you name it, in a wide range of styles. Most date from the early 20th century, but there are more recent additions -- the newest was dedicated in 2004, and is shown at the top of this post. (It's dedicated to Union troops who fought at the battle of Milliken's Bend.) There are multiple obelisks, like Michigan's
columns, like Wisconsin's --and that is indeed a giant eagle perched on top of the thing.  The statuary at the base is all much, much larger than life size, too.  There was obviously no shortage of bronze circa 1900.
I always joke about the cannonball parks being littered with chess pieces.  Well, there actually is one at Vicksburg, for an Ohio unit:
Does it or does it not look like a rook?  Ohio also has a dildo:
Okay, I know it's supposed to represent ammunition of some sort, but it sure looks like a dildo to me.
The park does the usual color coding for the books on sticks so you can tell at a glance where the Union forces were positioned and where the CSA troops were.  At the site pictured below, the two overlapped:
Vicksburg NMP includes Vicksburg National Cemetery, which has approximately 17,000 Civil War dead buried there, almost all Union troops.  After the cemetery was established, Union dead were disinterred from temporary graves throughout the South and buried permanently at Vicksburg.  Many of the graves are marked Unknown (the low stones in the photo) because by the time the bodies were moved, nothing remained that could be used for identification. 
The USS Cairo Museum is next to the cemetery.  One of these days I may go back just to check out the artifacts and interpretive displays.  As it was, all we got to see was the Cairo from behind the fence.  The obelisk in the upper right background is a Navy memorial.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Orphan sign

Along I-20/I-59 in Meridian, Missippi.  The only thing left of whatever used to be here is a section of brick wall.  No hint of what the business might have been or how long it's been gone -- I first noticed the sign back in 2007, and nothing's changed near it since then.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday spirits

We had our holiday party at work on Thursday.  It wasn't nearly as entertaining as the one in the cartoon, just a fairly low-key lunch where the strongest beverage served was coffee.   

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Made in the USA?

Is anything still made in the USA besides F-22s and cars with foreign brand names, like Mercedes and Kia? Every year my cousin Terttu sends me goodies from Finland -- like a reindeer candle holder -- that are either made in Finland or very clearly symbolize the country.  And every year I go slightly crazy trying to find something -- anything! -- for her that (a) isn't made in some Asian sweatshop and (b) symbolizes either the US or wherever I happen to be living (like Georgia) in a reasonably tasteful way.  And every year it seems like the pickings get slimmer and slimmer. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

TMI, or, here's a quarter

Started off the day with a remarkably detailed e-mail from a co-worker containing way more information than any of her fellow peons really wanted to read or know. Is it just me, but doesn't over-explaining why you're calling in sick throw up a huge red flag with "I'm actually at the mall!!" embroidered on it? It reminded me of the lies little kids tell, the ones that are increasingly elaborate for no apparent reason other than guilt. 

Personally, I figure any explanation is TMI -- unless you're going to be out of the office for more than a day, no one wants to know if it's because your body is rejecting yesterday's Chinese takeout or if you've just got a bad case of ocular hemorrhoids. The only thing anyone needs to hear is "I won't be in." 

I'm not sure just what reaction she was hoping to elicit from her co-workers (empathy?  the offer of a ride to her doctor's office?  mints on her pillow tonight?), but the collective response seemed to be a yawn.  Apparently I'm not the only heartless bitch in the work group.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pulitzer Project: Lamb in His Bosom

This was kind of an odd book.  Lamb in His Bosom is a Southern novel.  It's set in Georgia, in the area around Jesup and Baxley on the Altamaha River, in the antebellum period following the forced removal of the Cherokee, Creeks, and other Native American groups from the southeastern United States. The book features an afterword by historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, which notes the book's unique perspective, that of the yeoman white farmers whose holdings were too small or too poor to support the use of slave labor. 

The book revolves around the life of Cean Carver, from her marriage to Lonzo Smith until the birth of her 14th child almost 30 years later.  (Cean is pronounced See-Ann.) When the book begins, Cean is apparently about 16 years old.  By the time she's in her mid-30s, she's described as having hair that is almost totally white.  (Life on the frontier was hard; Cean's mother is a hopeless invalid and totally senile by age 60.)  Of course, popping out a baby every other year, including two sets of twins, and then seeing 5 kids die (including one that's burned alive) would age anyone. Cean's family lives on what is considered the extreme frontier inland in Georgia, an area just being settled by white families.  Farms are pretty widely scattered, and the nearest town of any size is Darien, a city on the coast that takes about a week to reach by ox cart.  Once a year the men trek to Darien to trade surplus produce (lard, honey, cotton, wool) in exchange for the things they can't make themselves.  Cean's parents had moved to the wiregrass country from North Carolina around the time of the War of 1812, drawn by the promise of cheap land and a climate that made it possible to grow crops all year round.

I approached Lamb in His Bosom with a fair amount of trepidation.  I'd just had the horrible experience of reading The Store, another Southern novel, and wasn't too keen on reading more dialect.  I was also a little worried because the DeKalb County Library system owned a zillion copies of the book -- every branch seems to have two or three listed, and they were apparently all circulating.  Discovering that a book is popular isn't always a good sign -- Danielle Steel books circulate like crazy, too.  Fortunately, Lamb in His Bosom turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

The dialect, which struck me as as more than a bit twee, wasn't as distracting as dialect sometimes can be.  The book was surprisingly readable.  How authentic the dialect used was is debatable.  Fox-Genovese praises Caroline Miller for her meticulous research and seems to believe that Miller did a decent job of capturing actual speech patterns.  I'm always skeptical when people make sweeping claims for things that can't be proven.  Still, Miller was from southern Georgia and lived in Baxley.  She's described as having spent many hours going out into the countryside and talking with old folks as she worked on the book, and the book was (and is) praised for its historical realism. Miller presents a rare glimpse into the life of yeoman farmers in the time period before the Civil War, the subsistence farmers who had to rely on family members for labor, working the land with oxen because they couldn't afford to buy horses or mules. 

Lamb in His Bosom is rich with details about folkways and superstitions, like applying cobwebs to a wound to help stop the bleeding.  Cobwebs in the rafters were considered good luck, probably for that perceived first aid value.  Miller describes Cean and her mother spinning, weaving, cooking, giving birth and raising children.  The men in the book aren't as fully fleshed out, undoubtedly because it was easier for Miller to talk with women about the old days then with men.  Similarly, one of the weakest sections of the book is when one of the characters leaves Georgia after hearing about gold in California.  His fate is recounted in a few thin paragraphs while back on the farm Cean's recollections of processing sugar cane and how the young folk would flirt with each other become almost lyrical.  Miller would have known personally how cane was crushed on the farm and the cane sap boiled; California was a place she knew only from books.

Not surprisingly, given both the time period when the book was written and the era when it is set, some of the word choices and sentiments expressed in the novel can be a little jarring to the 21st century reader.  Fortunately, those passages tend to be brief. 

Fox-Genovese makes one claim for Lamb in His Bosom that had me slightly baffled.  She asserts that the success of the book led the publisher to go looking for other Southern writers, leading inevitably to Margaret Mitchell and Gone with the Wind.  She makes it sound as though Miller's novel was some breathtaking breakthrough, like no novels set in the South had achieved national acclaim before.  Given that The Store, written by a native of Alabama and set in that state during Reconstruction, won the Pulitzer in 1933 and Scarlet Sister Mary, set among the Gullah of South Carolina, won in 1929, it's an odd claim to make. 

Next up, yet another book by an author I've never heard of:  Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson.  I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that in this one everyone speaks standard English.

Food stamps

I mentioned food stamps in passing in the previous post, and by coincidence Slate has an interesting essay up on the program's history.  As the article notes:
Of all the numbers quantifying this recession, few can match the grim precision of 42,911,042. That's the number of Americans, mostly children and the elderly, who used food stamps in September—521,428 more than in August, itself a record month, and 12 million more than in September 2008. In the past year, according to the Department of Agriculture, every state has seen its rolls swell—with increases ranging from 5.1 percent in West Virginia to 28.7 percent in Nevada.
It's an interesting piece -- the food stamps program is apparently one of the few social safety network items that conservatives actually like.  There are still a few who rail about it encouraging dependency, but the program is well-run with low administrative costs, it serves a direct need, and (although the article doesn't mention it) corporate giants like Archer Daniel Midlands and Cargill love it because it's basically an agriculture subsidy.   

I was happy to see in the article that USDA and state goverrnments are working hard at removing the stigma surrounding the the use of food stamps.  Back when the program started, Food Stamps were paper -- funny money that came in coupon books.  It was like going grocery shopping using Monopoly money.  It was also before the advent of smart cash registers, so shoppers had to carefully separate eligible from noneligible items, let the cashier ring the eligible up first, pay with Food Stamps, and then pay for the noneligible (anything not edible, like toilet paper and soap) stuff with cash. The paper funny money made it obvious to the whole world you were using Food Stamps, and also  provided ample time and opportunity for onlookers to editorialize about your grocery choices ("I can't believe she's buying Trix* for her kids with food stamps." [just give the urchins another bowl of gruel]) and perceived lifestyle ("She should get a job instead of leeching off the taxpayers.").  

Today, thanks to the combination of computerized checkout systems and the introduction of electronic benefit transfer cards, the public stigma is minimized, which in turn makes it lot more likely that the people who need the help food stamps provide will actually apply to receive them.  It's a government program that works.

The numbers do give reason to pause and wonder just how miserable conditions in this country are becoming:  14% of the populace is using Food Stamps, but it's pretty much accepted as fact that many people who are eligible will never apply to get them.  They're intimidated by the process, they don't want to be seen as taking a handout, they don't realize they're eligible, they don't want the visible stigma of using an EBT card at the grocery store. . .  

[*Another thing the poor aren't allowed to buy:  brand names. If you're poor, you must be content with generics or store brands.]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Let them eat cake

Just how fucking destitute do people have to be to qualify as "the deserving poor"?  I made the mistake of reading comments in the AJC not long ago, and learned that if you've got enough money to own a cell phone, you're obviously not impoverished.  Readers were outraged, absolutely outraged by images of people standing in line to apply for heating assistance while holding cell phones to their ears. 

Two words, morons:  Trac Fone. 

The reality today is that it's cheaper to own a Trac Fone than it is to have a landline.  You're a lot more limited in the number of calls you can make when you're buying your minutes in 60-minute bundles, but the upfront investment is a lot lower.  The image below is from the Trac Fone website, but I've seen them at Family Dollar for $14.95. 

But I guess even a $14.95 phone is a little too much luxury for poor folks to deserve.  Let's hope the haters never find out about Safelink or they'll really freak out.

[Over the years I've learned that other things the poor are not allowed to possess include automobiles that are not rolling death traps, digital tvs, clothing that doesn't look like it came from Goodwill, and decent shoes. They must also never ever allow any red meat other than the cheapest form of hamburger to cross their lips, they're not allowed to waste their money on soft drinks or ice cream, and god forbid they should ever use their EBT card ("food stamps") to buy potato chips.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Some F.A.S.T. fiberglass

In front of the Pioneer Restaurant in Westfield, Wisconsin

Both the restaurant and the "pioneer" have been around for as long as I can remember.  The parking lot used to be accessible directly from US-51, which is now I-39. 

Birth certificate located in the groin area.  
 Photos taken October 2010.

Restaurant was packed when we stopped for lunch.  Service is fast, menu is loaded with high carb, high calorie, nicely greasy comfort food (meat loaf sandwiches, fried chicken, "barbecue" [which is actually sloppy joes]), and prices are low.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Saturday poetry break

From One Beer Lover to Another
Once a month,
As predictable as the ore train
That used to run by his shack
Bushy Bill walks out of the Brockways
To cash the check he gets
From a grateful government
For falling drunk
Off a dee seven in Korea
Twenty years ago.
Moody, red eyed,
Smelling of wet newspapers in June
And fuel oil in winter
He goes to the A & P
And buys a months supply of Strohs
To be dropped off at his mailbox
On the Mill Road where he’ll
Pack them, one by patient one
Up to his tarpaper shack
Plastered with Playboy foldouts.
(i’d like to tell that
he’s writing the great american novel or
that he plays cool guitar in the michigan evenings or
discusses transcendentalism with a pet racoon, but, no
he just drinks his beer and pisses out the front door.)

        -- From Michael H. Johnson, Bottles in the Basement (Houghton, MI: Denim Press, 1972)

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's not a problem until it happens to me

I've been watching the brouhaha over the 99ers with some bemusement.  There's nothing quite like a recession to make people who were oblivious to social problems suddenly sit up and notice that the generous social safety net they assumed was there for slackers to abuse has huge holes in it.  Lots of the folks freaking out over the fact they've exhausted their unemployment benefits after "only" 99 weeks don't have a clue that before this recession hit,  the maximum payout period for benefits was 26 weeks with zero extensions.

I'm really not sure how I feel about all this.  On the one hand, I think it's deplorable that the U.S., unlike almost every other industrialized nation on the planet, does not provide an indefinite unemployment allowance (aka general welfare, the dole) to able-bodied adults who are jobless through no fault of their own.  We shouldn't have beggars in the street, there shouldn't be people forced to camp out under highway bridges or live in their cars, and no one in a country as rich as this one should ever go to bed hungry.

On the other hand, as a person who spent many years in a part of the country that's been going down the economic toilet for the past 50 years, part of me is thinking "welcome to my world."  What the shocked and horrified and newly poor ex-middle class is discovering is the reality that people in places like Flint, Michigan, have been living with since the '70s:  fewer and fewer jobs, stagnating or declining wages for what employment does exist, and a shredded or nonexistent social safety net.  And, for the past 50 years, while a few economists have warned that it was a really, really bad idea to outsource jobs and allow manufacturing in this country die a lingering, painful death, most folks have assumed that what happened in Flint or Pittsburgh or Youngstown would never affect them.  After all, who cared if union jobs went away as long stock prices were going up on Wall Street?  Well, it took awhile, but it's starting to look as though people are finally figuring out you can't base an economy on consumer debt and people serving hamburgers to each other.  Based on the results of the last election, however, it appears the American populace isn't smart enough to figure out what to do to turn things around. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Can't we have the turkey first?

We've already received two Xmas cards.  Whatever happened to waiting until after Thanksgiving to mail them?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Empathy deficit

I think I've figured out what the major problem in this country is.  It's not the federal debt or a a financial deficit -- it's an empathy deficit.  As a society, we seem to have lost the ability to put ourselves in the other guy's shoes. Way too many people seem to think that because they did something, like surviving hard times by shoveling chickenshit (one of the actual examples on C-SPAN this morning), then everyone else should be perfectly capable of doing the same thing. It never occurs to them that maybe not everyone is lucky enough to live walking distance from a chicken ranch that has shit needing to be shoveled.

I've been thinking about this empathy deficit most of the week.  The New York Times ran a piece recently on a program designed to prevent bullying in Canadian schools.  As they headline put it, they're "fighting bullying with babies."  Beginning with kindergarten classes, about once a month educators bring infants into the classroom for the kids to interact with.  The kids are encouraged to see things from a baby's point of view.  Basically, the program is nurturing empathy -- the ability to see life from another person's perspective and to understand what it feels like to be that person.  The program apparently works -- schools that use it have seen a decrease in disruptive behavior, less bullying, and the kids just being generally nicer to each other.  Now if we could only come up with a similar program for adults . . .

C-SPAN began the morning with an open phones segment that focused on extending unemployment insurance benefits.  The latest extension is due to expire at the beginning of December, but the economy is still in the toilet.  People are hurting.  The jobs simply aren't out there.  But is that reality sinking in with the people who still have an income?  Of course not.  Their own lives are still peaches and cream, so obviously the folks staring homelessness and hunger in the face are a bunch of useless slackers just trying to suck off the government teat.  There seems to be an absolute inability to imagine themselves in a different situation, to be able to recognize that the fact they're secure today doesn't guarantee they're going to be equally secure tomorrow, and to consider what life might be like if someone jerked the rug out from under them. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

An odd experience at work yesterday

For about 20 seconds I forgot about being R.I.P. and came close to applying for a lateral/promotion that would have (if I had any ethics at all) kept me in Atlanta well into 2012.  Being hit with a surge of ambition at this stage of the game definitely felt odd. Fortunately, like gas, it passed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Mangroomer Sku 211-6 Professional Do-it-yourself Electric Back Hair ShaverSearching for the perfect gift for the metrosexual in your life?  Allow me to recommend this: the Mangroomer Professional Do-it-yourself Electric Back Hair Shaver, available for a mere $47.98. 

I was comparison shopping ordinary electric razors online when I stumbled across this little gem.  I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. Most of the men I know bitch about having to shave their face on a semi-regular basis; the notion there are guys out there (and presumably are not porn actors) who worry so much about their appearance  that they'd put themselves through the hassle of shaving their backs is just plain bizarre.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rats scurry for shore

Who says there's never any good news?  From the New York Times:
The lawyers have started leaving.

That is perhaps the surest sign that Joe Miller’s chances of becoming the next senator from Alaska are evaporating. With each passing day that election workers here in the state capital manually count write-in votes cast for Senator Lisa Murkowski, it appears increasingly likely that Alaskans spell too well for Mr. Miller’s math to work.

Assisted by lawyers sent by the Republican National Senatorial Committee, the Miller campaign set out to challenge every smudge, stray mark and misspelling they could find (and, often, only they could find) on write-in votes that appeared to be for Ms. Murkowski.
I can't picture Ms. Murkowski ever flipping parties, but as a nominal "independent" it would be nice if she'd tell Mitch McConnell where to shove it once in awhile.

More proof that Bible Spice's star is fading.  If a Palin endorsement can't help a candidate in her home state get elected, why on earth would anyone believe she's viable nationally?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

It feels like Saturday

Right down to the tinfoil hats on C-SPAN.  I'm not used to being home in the middle of the week, but it is a federal holiday so here I am.  And once again I'm marveling at the "facts" people can parrot without pausing at all to engage any brain cells.  Why is our economy in the toilet?  Because, and I paraphrase a caller from Alabama, there are billions of Mexicans in this country, all working illegally.  Which means, I guess, that Mexico itself is now a deserted wasteland, because its population had been only 100 million. 

Maybe the caller suffered from innumeracy -- I've noticed quite a few people who seem baffled by large numbers once they get past the number of digits they personally possess.  Million, billion, trillion. . . once a number has more than one comma in it, they can't tell the difference. 

Monday, November 8, 2010


I've been pondering a minor mystery today.  Why do some parents have such a difficult time separating themselves from their spawn?  I love my kids, but, you know, when they hit adulthood and wanted to lead their own lives, that was fine with me and the S.O.  We like visiting them, we enjoy seeing the grandkids occasionally, but we don't have any particular desire to live right next door to either daughter.  I tend to take the fact that they're managing to survive just fine without living in the same state as us as proof we succeeded in raising offspring who can fend for themselves. 

What prompted me to think about this was an e-mail from a sort of relative, my cousin's wife, telling me that she and her spouse had just purchased a new house, the one they plan to live in permanently as retirees.  It's something like 30-seconds away from one kid and spitting distance from another.  Why?  These are people who are in their 60s now, which means their kids are in their 40s or really close to it -- why on earth is this woman still clinging to them?  I don't get it.  Granted, they are the ones that are eventually going to pick her nursing home, but even so. . .  I always thought empty nest syndrome was something that hit some people briefly and then passed.  Apparently not.

Quantity vs quality

It's November. A fair number of my acquaintances are indulging in the annual madness known as National Novel Writing Month.  50,000 words in 30 days.

My thoughts after being shown examples of works in progress by several co-workers*?  A whole lot of people currently fantasizing about being the next Barbara Kingsolver or Michael Chabon would be much better off if they focused on writing haiku. If nothing else, the pain involved in reading their profferings wouldn't last as long.

[*An unfortunate mental affliction of way too many editors is that they confuse the ability to diagram sentences and correct other people's grammar with the ability to be writers themselves.]

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I was the lucky recipient yesterday of a piece of email claiming to be from the folks at Hotmail warning me that I was about to lose that account.  They desperately needed to know just a few small pieces of information about me in order to keep the account open.  Little minor things, like my date of birth, snail mail address, and, oh, just for shits and gigles, how about a credit card number? 

The message was, of course, riddled with spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.  Does anyone, anywhere, ever fall for this crap?  Someone must, because otherwise why bother, but it still astounds me that anyone would, especially when Hotmail is one of those free services that, like gmail and a bunch of others, never asks a new user to do more than make up a name and a password. 

Then again, when you have a whole generation of people who do most of their writing using odd abbreviations, maybe seeing "plez provide ur. . ." in a supposedly serious piece of correspondence wouldn't cause them to spew coffee all over the keyboard. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Buyer's remorse

Wonder how long it will take for it to sink in with voters that they've managed to screw themselves really good?  If, of course, it ever does.  Here in Georgia the sheeple behaved exactly as one would expect:  voted in the guys who promised them a free lunch, voted down the measures that would have actually helped the state, and did their best to make the business climate less competitive. 

There do appear to be a few positive things to be said about the picture nationally:  the lunatic in Nevada lost her bid for the Senate, and the millionaires in California discovered they'd wasted their money trying to buy elective office. Other than that, things seem to have happened more or less the way the talking heads had been predicting:  Democrats held on to a Senate majority, but lost the House.  If people thought Congress wasn't getting anything done before, the next two years should set some sort of record for gridlock.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How to motivate voters

Threaten them with a run-off. I was feeling ambivalent about voting today -- the only guy on the ballot I feel any enthusiasm toward doesn't need my vote -- but then I heard the morning news.  The dread phrase "run off election" was used.  Georgia is a state that requires an actual majority to win; being the candidate with the most votes out of a pack of candidates won't cut it.  Apparently there is solid reason to believe that the Libertarian candidate for governor might attract enough voters to prevent either the Republican or the Democrat from gaining a clean majority. 

I am so sick of hearing Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes indulging in name calling that I'll do whatever I can to prevent being subjected to their ads after today.  It may not be the best reason for voting, but for sure it's getting me to the polls this morning.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Farewell, Facebook?

I think my interest, fleeting as it was, in Facebook has worn off.  I seem to be checking it less and less, and then responding with a yawn to most of what I see.  It's been nice reconnecting with people I hadn't seen or spoken with in years, but it's occurred to me that there's a reason why we lost contact in the first place:  we were acquaintances, not friends. If they were telling me on the phone what I'm reading on Facebook, I'd be trying to think of a good excuse to hang up -- so why engage in a timesucking exercise that involves even less actual personal interaction?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Back in a rut

Sunday morning.  C-SPAN.  The smell of tinfoil in the air.  It feels good to be back to the old routine after several weeks of disruptions -- travel, moving, whatever.

Lots of bloviating about the mid-term elections, of course, and a couple of so-called journalists sitting there opining on the coming Republican blowout.  It's always moderately astounding to see people who claim to be reporters use the words "tea party" and "grassroots" in the same sentence and still manage to keep a straight face.  Yes, there's a lot of grassroots discontent, but it's not grassroots money or organizing skills that's keeping the teabaggers going.  It's billionaires playing the poor saps like a well-tuned . . . I was going to use the venerable cliche of a violin, but with the teabaggers maybe a different instrument would be more appropriate -- accordion perhaps? 

All the callers seem to be focusing in on "government waste" as the target of their ire.  None of them, however, ever provide a specific example.  Just where is the money being wasted?  Oh, I'm not saying government waste doesn't exist (I've seen it in action, like when Large Nameless Agency hosts meetings for its advisory boards at 4-star hotels in San Francisco or New York), but just once I'd love to hear a caller or a pundit give actual examples, not just vague insuations.  The usual response is to ramble on about "entitlements" and "welfare," followed shortly after by rants about illegal immigrants receiving benefits honest citizens are denied.  Ignorance and xenophobia -- definitely a toxic combination.  One of the sad things about the delusional American public is they all seem to believe that anti-poverty benefits (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, food stamps, MedicAid, etc) are eating up the bulk of the U.S. budget, when the reality is that those benefits are a tiny percentage, especially when compared to the mammoth amounts poured into the Pentagon each year.  They also never have an answer when asked specifically just what they'd like to cut first -- veterans' benefits? border patrols? Social Security payments? student loans?  They have no clue.  They're just sure there's a lot of waste, so let's cut taxes and eliminate bureaucracy. 

Earlier in the morning the topic of WikiLeaks, Iraq, and the U.S. military came up again.  It was bizarre.  The talking head was a "journalist" from the New York Times.  A caller castigated the main stream media for the totally shit job they did in the run up to and the conduct of the war in Iraq, noting the media's near total gullibility in parroting the Bush administration lies, their almost complete unwillingness to step outside the rules set by the U.S. military, and their failure to report on numerous atrocities, corruption, and general bumbling in Iraq.  This guy's defense?  Basically, "Hey, don't look at me. I was embedded with a combat unit and just reported what I saw."  In other words, "Hey, I'm proud to be a stenographer and part of a propaganda operation."  The stupid, it burns.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I was wrong about Precious Moments

They are not the most common collectible on the planet.  These are:
Electrical insulators, all made by Hemingray.  They used to be common on power lines, telegraph lines, and telephone lines.  They now fill page after page on Etsy.  I learned this while trying to find a source for the holder shown below:
We've got about a dozen Hemingray insulators kicking around the house purely by accident -- I never set out to collect them, but there were a bunch at the farm and I've never bothered to jettison any.  If nothing else, they're good paperweights.  A number of years ago my cousin Chris mentioned seeing metal stands for them in a gift shop in Michigamme that turned them into votive candle holders with minimal hassle, so I bought one.  It was the last one in the store.

So do you think I've ever stumbled across another source for those stands?  Of course not.  But Christmas is coming, and I do know someone who would actually appreciate a glass insulator candle holder, so I went looking on the intertubes -- and discovered that while there are about a zillion sites that sell insulators (and, wow, do they ever come in an amazing variety of colors) and different items for displaying insulators (nifty little LED pads that will light up the insulator from below, for example) something as simple as the holder shown above was nowhere to be seen.  There is a guy on Etsy who makes an insulator holder from used horseshoes, but (a) it's $65, and (b) the recipient I had in mind for this particular gift is not into Western themes.  Country chic, yes; cowboys, no.  

I'll confess I don't get the attraction of collecting insulators.  They're pretty when the sun shines through them, and there are some bizarre shapes (there are some that look winged), but when you can find Hemingrays in every flea market, junk shop, and "antique" store in the country, there doesn't seem to be much of a challenge involved. I have no idea why anyone would ever bother to order one from a website when a stroll through the nearest rural flea market would turn up dozens priced at about $2 each.      

On the other hand, if and when a person can find a decent stand, they do make nice candle holders. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The enthusiasm gap

Election Day draws ever closer, the political mudslinging grows more intense daily, and my enthusiasm for wandering over to an early voting location dwindles a little more with each passing moment.  The one and only person on the ballot I actually want to vote for is going to win regardless of anything I do -- Congressman Lewis is safely ensconced in a solidly Democratic district; his competition always comes in the primary, not the general.  I probably will drag my reluctant ass to the polls, if only for the reason that it does feel good after spending 4 years in Nebraska to be confident that the candidate I support will actually win, but for sure I understand why the average voter has so little desire to pull the figurative lever for anyone this year. 

Last night Ed Schultz's totally nonscientific survey question for his viewers was something along the lines of  "Has this been the most hate-filled campaign of all time?"  No doubt tonight's question will be something equally challenging, like "Is water wet?"  The various pundits and political operatives keep talking about the enthusiasm gap, and what can they do to get voters fired up enough to go to the polls -- well, how about putting some serious effort into getting candidates to stop engaging in a race to the bottom with ads that spend more time screaming "I hate Mexicans more than my opponent!!" than they do providing anything substantive to convince me the candidate has more on his or her mind than deporting day laborers? 

I would also love to see a Republican politician who was willing to admit that voting for him or her isn't going to do a thing to remove Nancy Pelosi from office.  Every time I see an ad for a Republican running for Congress, I find myself thinking, wow, are the teabaggers going to be pissed when they elect Joe Schmoe and then wake up the following day to discover that Ms. Pelosi is still representing California's 8th District.  Who could have known that voting for some schmuck in Georgia or Wisconsin would have absolutely no influence on what happened at the polls in San Francisco?  

Then again, when you have Republican candidates and office holders who seem to be in a competition to see who can provide the most blatant display of ignorance, I shouldn't be surprised they're assuming their supporters are even dumber than they are.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Early shopping

I know it's kind of early to be thinking about it, but I may have figured out what everyone's getting for Xmas from me this year.  Miniature Moonpies in a collectible box -- does life get any better than that?

Getting too old for this crap

Moving.  Politics.  Work.  You name it, I'm ready to walk away from it all.  It's been one of those weeks where I find myself thinking Ted Kaczynski had the right idea -- a crude, tarpaper shack in the woods with no television, no internet, no boxes to schlep, no co-workers, and only legacy technology like a manual typewriter is looking good at the moment (I'm not enough of a Luddite to go back to goose quills and ink made from lampblack).

The big move into the renovated townhouse finally happened, dragged out over the past week, and is still sort of going on.  The old apartment was empty by Sunday afternoon -- and it was moderately amazing just how much crap we had managed to stuff into that small space; maybe a starring role in an episode of "Hoarders" is in my future after all -- but of course we're still living with piles of boxes in inconvenient places.  Maybe if I didn't have a zillion books and a multiple-lifetimes supply of quilting supplies the whole process would be easier.  Or maybe if I wasn't a reader, I'd have turned into one of those crazy ladies who collects Precious Moments figurines and we would have been buried alive in bubble wrap by now. 

The good news about the move, sort of, was that we were relatively television- and internet-free for a few days.  No political ads.  It was wonderful.  Before I left on vacation, the only politician I was feeling the least bit mellow about was Johnny Isaakson.  I think the man is completely wrong politically, but the Senate race here in Georgia is so lop-sided that he apparently felt comfortable running nicely bland, polite ads.  They basically said "Hi. I'm Johnny Isaakson, and I share your Georgia values. Vote for me." Not anymore.  Despite the fact his opponent is thoroughly outgunned (I think I've seen ONE yard sign for the poor sap, whoever he might be, and no television ads at all), Isaakson apparently got marching orders from the Repugnican establishment -- and his ads are now attacking Obama, progressives, you name it.  Why bother? 

Of course, that is one of the characteristics of the reich wing -- they play dirty when they don't have to.  They fuck people over for the fun of it.  I've never been able to figure that one out, other than it does seem to be a sick psychological trait of bullies and cowards to kick people when they're down.  Conservative social policy seems to consist of figuring out ways to make other people's lives even more miserable than they might be now, to punish the victim for having the nerve to have been born poor or disabled or in the wrong country. 

The S.O. and I were talking the other day.  He was wondering out loud why another characteristic trait of the political right wing, especially the far right wackaloons, is to be running scared all the time, absolutely terrified and practically wetting their pants over stuff that's never going to happen --  Obama's going to take your guns away, Congress is going to start taxing all bank transactions, the government is going to forbid crosses in military cemeteries, and various other pieces of weirdness that get debunked regularly on Snopes.com.  He said it's almost like they want all sorts of horrible things to happen to the country so they'll be proved right.  I don't think that's it -- I think Michael Moore actually nailed it a few years ago in the movie "Bowling for Columbine."  If you fuck over enough people long enough, you're going to develop a fair amount of paranoia that one of these days they'll decide to fuck you back. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A first

A Chicken Outlet store in Westfield, Wisconsin.  I'd never seen this particular variety of outlet store before, and I'm fairly sure I have no desire to see one again.  Considering some of the strange stuff I've seen in the meat cases in supermarkets, I really don't want to think about what discounted chicken parts might consist of.  In short, I may have stopped to snap a photo, but I did not venture into the building. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The incredible shrinking junk food

Interesting marketing technique - turn the wrapper into a memo pad and hope consumers won't notice that what's inside that New wrapper has shrunk while at the same time the price being charged for the box has gone up.

Every writer needs a good editor

I got about three pages into the novel I'm currently reading (Moon Pies and Movie Stars by Amy Wallen) before I hit a major blooper:  black and white Jersey cows. 

Granted, the book is fiction, but that doesn't excuse getting your context wrong. So if you're going to name a breed, for Calliope's sake, don't screw it up by making it the wrong color!  If you don't know something, don't try to fake it.  Just leave it out.  Every time an author gets something wrong -- verbal anachronisms (using the wrong slang for a time period), general geography, clothing styles or details (putting zippers on an Old Order Amish girl's dress, for example) -- odds are some reader is going to trip over that blooper.  It's going to distract from the narrative, and the writer is at risk of losing a reader permanently.   

Of course, if Wallen had a decent editor -- and despite the fact she thanks her editor in the acknowledgements section, she obviously didn't -- that editor would have paused at the word Jersey and said "what color are those cows?"  (See photo for answer.)  Just like she would have paused at the description of the El Camino vehicle to wonder just exactly what is an El Camino (Chevy hasn't made them since 1987), and whether or not the details are right on the pin-setting equipment in the bowling alley.  There's a reason writers get told "Write what you know!"  If a piece of fiction isn't grounded in reality, if an author is trying to fake a setting without having done a ton of research first when they're trying to set a story someplace they've never been or describing jobs they've never done, it's going to show really fast. 

Because I work as an editor, every so often a friend or acquaintance will ask me to look at a draft of something they've done.  I always refuse.  My stock answer is I work in such a hard-science area that I'm not qualified to edit fiction.  That's an evasion.  I may not edit fiction now, but that doesn't mean I can't tell the difference between good and bad writing.  The real problem is that I'm a really poor liar, and way too often the draft that's being waved under my nose gives up a distinct cheesy odor.  I don't want the appalled look on my face when I hand the manuscript back to kill any friendships.  It's the job of friends to murmur encouraging words and nurture hope; it is the job of editors to kill dreams.  Your friends will tell you "This is the most romantic story I've ever read!"  Your editor will look at the manuscript, mutter foul words, ask if your goal as a writer is to crank out hack work for Harlequin, and then toss your shattered hopes back at you with a demand for yet another rewrite.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Politics and prognostication

Thanks to Christine O'Donnell winning the Maryland Republican primary, every evening this week I've been treated to various pundits blathering on and on ad nauseum about what's going to happen in November.  Despite the fact that a few Republicans very briefly had the balls to say that she's unelectable in the general election, talking heads like Chris Matthews are persisting in making O'Donnell sound like the second coming of, if not Christ, then Sarah Palin.  Apparently Matthews et al. have forgotten that the ticket Palin herself was on in 2008 lost, and that poll after poll shows the majority of Americans wouldn't vote for her now. 

First, some numbers, courtesy of the Rude Pundit:
For anyone who wonders if O'Donnell can pull out an upset, let's put her numbers in context:

Number of registered voters in Delaware: 621,746
Number of registered Republicans: 182,796 (29%)
Number of votes O'Donnell received: 30,561
By the Rude Pundit's awesome abilities with a calculator, that means she received: 16.7% of registered Republicans (or 4.9% of total registered voters).
Number of registered Democrats: 292,738 (47% of registered voters)
As far as I can tell, O'Donnell is not the complete idiot that some folks on the left would like to believe -- she's managed to support herself by telling a small group of people what they'd like to hear for quite a few years now (also known as the Alan Keyes model of being a perpetual candidate for something and then paying yourself a salary out of your campaign funds) -- but she's also not likely to attract many voters outside that small group. Yes, she may be appealing to her core followers, but that's about it.  Then when you add in the fact that all the stuff that makes her newsworthy -- masturbation is bad -- is the same stuff that makes people check her for the tinfoil hat, she looks even less likely to attract many mainstream voters.
One of the obvious failings of trying to predict anything from primary results is that primaries attract the most impassioned, the most ideologically pure, and the least sane voters.  Really tiny numbers of voters make decisions that the rest of us then get to regret -- and to vote against in the general election.  If Congressman Mike Castle had won the Republican senatorial primary, quite a few Democrats in Maryland wouldn't have cared much.  They might even have voted for him.  They'd known Castle for years, and recognized he's basically a pretty moderate and pragmatic guy.  O'Donnell, on the other hand, .  . . 
My own prediction for November?  I don't have one, but I do think all the hype about a Republican rout and a retaking of both the Senate and the House is more a product of Republican wishful thinking than being reality-based.  The right cranks up its sound machine, and the media play right along and provide an echo chamber.  In general I think any incumbent who survived his or her party's primary this summer is going to be safe in the fall.  There's always a lot of talk about throwing the bums out, but the reality is that once it comes down to the general election, people lean more toward to keeping the evil they know than with voting for someone new.  Then, when you add in the gerrymandering that has turned most Congressional districts into safely Republican or safely Democratic enclaves, the odds of the numbers changing much becomes even slimmer.  
Not that it matters much.  All it will take is for the Republicans gaining even one seat, and the punditry, the chattering classes, will be touting their own predictive abilities, and telling us all the Obama presidency is doomed.  The stupid, it burns.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Summer's over

The 2010-11 snowplowing bill for the Retirement Bunker was in the mailbox yesterday.

Enclosed with the bill was an announcement of a new state holiday:  Shake Your Mailbox Day is October 23.  Michigan residents are encouraged to go out to the side of the road and give their mailboxes a good shake to see if they're sturdy enough to survive being buried in snowbanks.  "If you can shake your mailbox, it probably needs maintenance."