Sunday, June 26, 2011

Another of life's little mysteries

Just what was it about the Firesign Theatre that gained them cult status? I've been going through my vinyl collection this weekend, came across Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, played it, and had the same reaction I always do:  Why haven't I thrown this sucker in the oven and turned it into a bowl?

Bigger mystery: why it is that not only have I not turned it into a bowl or a planter, I periodically replay the thing trying to figure out just what it is I missed all the other times I've heard it?

Biggest mystery: how did it end up with my LPs to begin with? For sure I didn't buy it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Some rare good news

New York State and the legalization of same sex marriage. Last night I happened to be watching the Rachel Maddow show as the New York state senate was voting, and have to admit I felt like cheering, too. Marriage equality just strikes me as being the sane, civilized thing to do.

I have never been able to understand the opposition to "gay" marriage. Everytime I'd hear someone fulminate about how gay marriage threatened the institution of marriage in general, I had the same question: How? How does what anyone does in his or her marriage affect anyone other than the people in that relationship? For that matter, how does what anyone does in his or her bedroom affect anyone else as long as the activities behind closed doors involve only consenting adults? If marriage is threatened, it seems to me like the threats are coming more from adulterers like Newt Gingrich than from any gay couple wanting to get hitched.

One of my acquaintances used to do a lot of ranting about the evils of gay marriage. His primary line was always that the very notion of marriage equality threatened his own marriage. He finally shut up (at least around me) when I asked him point blank, How? Is your marriage so shaky that the only thing Sharon is waiting for before dumping you is the right to marry a woman?

No doubt various religious fundamentalists are going to have a field day ranting about how this is yet another sign of an impending apocalypse. Let 'em rant. Legislation like this is a good reminder that the social conservatives are actually waning in number; there are always going to be bigots and idiots, but, at least in the area of gay rights, every day the bigots move a little bit closer to irrelevancy.

And, a slight digression: why is it that men seem so much more worried about homosexuals than women do?  One of life's little mysteries (at least for me) is why so many homophobic men seem convinced that if gays get any civil rights it's going to make the straight men the object of unwanted sexual attention. The guys who seem most homophobic, of course, are the ones that also generally seem convinced every woman on the planet is hot for their bods when reality would suggest that they couldn't manage to get laid in a whorehouse. I've never met a woman who gave a rat's patoot about whether or not other women were gay; why do some men obsess about it?  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An epiphany

I think I've finally figured out why I like blogging. It gives me a place to use the word "Pshaw."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

George Rogers Clark
"George Rogers Who?" you ask? Revolutionary war hero whose victories occurred in places like what is now Vincennes, Indiana?! Pshaw. Everyone knows all the important Revolutionary War stuff happened a lot farther east, like in Massachusetts and New York.

Back when I worked for the Park Service, this was one of the parks that I got told we didn't bother going to: it's small, its main claim to fame are a battle and a military commander no one can remember, and it got nominated for status as a National Historic Landmark based on the architecture of the monument (see below), not for its association with Clark (see above). It fell into the mystery category, also known as which politician pulled strings to get this one into the system? (There are a number of units in the system where employees regularly wonder just why they're being managed by NPS and not by a local township. You know, nice, moderately interesting, but are they really, truly of national significance? George Rogers Clark actually comes closer to that significance standard than some better known places.) I was moderately curious about the place, but not curious enough to push my boss into sending me there, especially when the park superintendent at the time wasn't particularly interested in having anyone from the inventories do a field visit. I am, however, always willing to check another park or two off on the life list, so decided to follow US-41 down through Indiana instead of sticking to Interstate highways.

George Rogers Clark monument
My first thought was, wow, this thing bears a remarkable resemblance to Warren G. Harding's tomb, although Harding's tomb has more columns and isn't domed. I guess all the massive-monument designers in the early 20th century were working from the same play book. The interior does have nifty murals (a couple are partially visible behind the Clark statue) and some interesting details:
Decorative architectural detail
What, I wonder, is the symbolic significance of having what appear to be bronze vent covers that look like dragons? And why the marble bench that goes all the way around the interior? Were visitors expected to come in, sit down, and stare worshipfully at either the statue of the Great Man or the murals depicting the key events in Clark's part in the War? Maybe I should have grabbed a park brochure. . .  I did quiz the interpretive ranger (or, more accurately, I'm thinking, the seasonal visitor use assistant; based on the levels of knowledge he could muster up, I don't think he'd quite merit the title of park guide), but he was as clueless as I was. Who was the architect? Did not know. When was it built? No clue. Why does the exterior look like a drum? Ah. . . . ah. . .  Get a lot of visitors? Er. . .um. . . I guess. In the world of resource education, the nice young man had a long way to go. There was a fair amount of decent signage explaining the content of the murals, but not much that provided information on the structure itself.
Francis Vigo, stuck with his back to the river and staring at the monument for all eternity.
The park is nicely situated in downtown Vincennes, right on the river, and does include a few other minor items, like this statue of Francis Vigo. I'm not sure what he did to merit a statue, but Indiana did name a county after him. I also thought the Lincoln bridge was lovely -- it looked positively dazzling, much whiter than it photographed:

I'm not going to question the importance of Clark's contributions to the war effort -- he defeated the British in two decisive battles on the western frontier, and as a result the colonies got the Northwest Territories (now Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) as part of the peace settlement. It's history worth remembering -- and maybe so is the fact that Clark lived out most of his life as a failure. He was a war hero in his 20s, turned into a drunk in his 30s, and spent the remainder of his life (he died in 1818, almost 40 years after his glory days in battle) surviving on the generosity of various family members. Is there a moral there? Who knows.

Definitely a cannonball park
If a person happens to be near Vincennes, George Rogers Clark NHP is worth a visit. I'm just not sure how to define "near."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Vacation's over

Things learned while traveling:

You have to be 52 inches tall to operate a go-kart solo at Kartway in Eagle River, Wisconsin. The grandson made it by a hair.

Illinois is an incredibly boring state to drive through, and apparently the construction on I-90/I-39 through Rockford is never going to end. As far as I can recall, it's been a construction zone continuously since 1990.

The cheapest gasoline between here and Upper Michigan is being sold in Indiana.

Kentucky is a remarkably clean state. So is Tennessee. Either people don't litter much, or it gets picked up really fast. Or both.

Waffle House pays its employees in cash. Really. On payday they're handed an earnings statement telling them what their gross pay was and what's been taken out for various deductions (e.g., income tax) and given their net pay in actual U.S. currency. No check, no electronic deposit, just actual money. What a radical concept. (And, for what it may be worth, the Waffle House at Exit 110 along I-24 in Tennessee is hiring.)

I finally had a waffle at a Waffle House. It wasn't bad. Considering that I've been eating at Waffle Houses since 1969, I guess it was about time.

Reenactors exist who actually portray the winning side in the Civil War. Up until I stopped at Stones River National Battlefield, every Civil War reenactor I'd ever seen was dressed in butternut gray and worshipped at the shrine of the glorious Lost Cause. Stones River had a group of Union infantry reenactors demonstrating infantry tactics, which seemed to involve standing upright and serving as human targets while firing at the other guys, who presumably were doing the same thing -- if that was standard practice, it's moderately amazing that the death rate from gunshot wounds was as low as it was considering how many rounds were fired in a typical battle.

Georgia still has the worst drivers in the country. Had a totally smooth trip home until I got south of Ringgold, and then all the crazies behind the wheel started coming out of the woodwork: the jackrabbits who want to zigzag at 90 mph because they absolutely cannot stand to be behind anyone at any speed, the morons who want to imitate rocks while crawling down the hammer lane, the idiots who can't figure out just which lane they want to be in so try to straddle two, the distracted fools with cell phones in hand . . . the usual suspects were all out in full force.

Our mailman's idea of a "hold" order for mail delivery is still to keep cramming it into our mailbox until nothing else will fit. Fortunately, it's a large box, although some of my magazines are looking a tad wrinkled.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

We are so screwed

I probably shouldn't have brought Bill McKibben's Eaarth:Making a Life on a Tough New Planet with me on vacation because it's not exactly beach reading. McKibben points out quite cogently that we've already passed the tipping point, climate change isn't something that future generations will have to figure out how to prevent -- it's already happening, and what we need to be doing now is figuring out how to live with the consequences and maybe, if we're incredibly smart and lucky, managing to reverse some of the damage.

Personally, and I hate to be such a pessimist, I'm thinking more and more that the only thing that could cause a significant reversal would be a major plague. The biggest problem for the planet and the other lifeforms we share it with is too many people and not enough resources to go around: not enough food, not enough water, not enough "green" energy. I was watching the news the other day, and Al Jazeera had an interesting report on the food crisis in Mexico:  prices are climbing, and it's putting a real squeeze on the populace. Mexico's economy isn't exactly booming -- if it was, we wouldn't have undocumented Mexican immigrants picking onions in Georgia or hanging drywall in Omaha -- so people have become economic refugees. Now multiply Mexico's problem by multiple countries: for example, what got the Egyptians so fired up about getting rid of Mubarek? Rising food prices. The news media made a big deal about huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but the on-the-ground reality was a crap economy and the high price of bread. Desperate hungry people do desperate things.

And why are food prices rising? Climate change. Droughts, floods, and other weirdness. Wheat crops get wiped out in Australia, prices on the global market climb, and people go hungry in countries half a planet away and riot in Cairo.

I've never understood the people who want to argue climate change. What is the downside of behaving as though all those scientists who say it's happening are right?  We're stuck with a cleaner, more livable world? We end up with cities that make sense and have decent public transit? We become less dependent on foreign oil?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Do hummingbirds ever have an obesity problem? Should I worry about these useless slackers hanging around the feeder and sucking off the dole we provide when they're obviously able-bodied beasts and should be out there earning their keep in the pursuit of nectar in the blossoms on the apple trees and wild cherries? Am I enabling their dependency and destroying their work ethic by encouraging the S.O. to keep the feeders filled? And what are we doing to the eco-system: are we going to be overrun by hummingbirds because they've got a guaranteed food supply? Are we making them more vulnerable to predation or disease by encouraging them to congregate in our yard instead of dispersing in a more natural pattern?

I do actually wonder about the effect of bird feeders on bird populations and ecosystems in general. We humans tend to feed the cute animals (or, in the case of hummingbirds, the dazzling ones -- after you've watched the vicious little bastards beating the crap out of each other for awhile, you realize there's no way they qualify as cute) while being oblivious to the potential effects of unnatural influences on the food supply. What happens to the hummingbirds if some summer we're not here to put out the feeder? How long would they hang around wondering where it was if it disappeared? I guess this is one of the benefits of being on vacation. . . having the time to contemplate hummingbird epistemology -- what do ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) know, how do they know it, and do they know that they know? Are hummingbirds deep thinkers or are they the avian equivalent of Fox News viewers?

[Photo taken by the S.O. a few days ago.]

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A first

Viagra spam. In my many years of wandering around cyberspace using various networks and user IDs, from my first experiences way back in the 1980s until now I'd never received any spam pushing either porn or male enhancement products. I felt so slighted. Everyone else bitched about porn infiltrating their In Box, and it never happened to me. Well, it only took 23 years for adult product spammers to find me, but as of this week, the long drought has ended.