Saturday, January 28, 2012

Will we ever sleep on flannel sheets again?

It's January. For at least the past ten years, the arrival of January has coincided with digging out the flannel sheets and adding another blanket to the bed. Not this year. We invested in a new wood-burning stove back in September. To say it works well is an understatement.

Before we left Atlanta, my co-workers seemed to delight in reminding me that "it's cold in Michigan." Well, there may be snow on the ground outside, but here in the house it's the warmest winter I've experienced in a long time.

Monday, January 23, 2012


I've heard of people using modified lawn tractors to keep their driveways clear. This is what we use.
Eat your heart out, DaveO, we've got snow.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tinfoil hat time

Maybe it's just me, but somehow the  the sight of people who are themselves barely third generation American doing anti-immigrant rants always seems to plumb new depths of The Stupid. I recently decided to get back into quilting for charity at a local church and got treated to a nice dose of xenophobia  laced with a dash of anti-Semiticism. It definitely wasn't what I was expecting when I volunteered.

The anti-Semitic comments followed a long spiel about foreigners needing to go back where they came from -- no place in this country for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, that's not what the U.S. is about. If Stupid came in liquid form, I'd have been in danger of drowning because it was running pretty deep in the basement of United Lutheran. It's beyond bizarre when someone whose grandparents emigrated from Europe barely 100 years ago starts going on and on about how you can tell who the foreigners are by their last names. WTF? The woman is surrounded by people with Finnish surnames, and she's telling us other people's surnames are "foreign"?  I could halfway understand some of the weirdness about immigrants when we lived in Georgia -- a lot of the rednecks there can actually trace their history in the local area back to the early 19th century and don't think of their ancestors as immigrants but as pioneers -- but here in the U.P., unless a person is Ojibwe, the roots generally don't go very deep.

Turned out, of course, that "foreigner" was defined as Hispanic or Jewish. It was the usual "wetbacks are stealing all the jobs while sucking off the welfare teat" combined with the international Jewish banking cabal that's funding Zionism and the state of Israel. Where do people get these bizarre ideas? Faux News? Talk radio? The little old ladies I knew when we lived here before reveled in celebrity gossip and stuff they'd read in People -- when did they start listening to Rush?

The other ladies appeared pretty startled when I called the bigot out. I have a hunch they've gotten so used to her nattering on about global conspiracies and the evils of foreigners that they don't really hear it. Unfortunately, I did, and I know that silence equals complicity. As long as you don't speak up when someone says something offensive or crazy, the offender will view your silence as agreement. Speaking up might not change anyone's mind, but at least they'll know not everyone shares their distorted view of the world. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

Are you an environmentalist, or do you work for a living?

Empire Mine, Palmer, Michigan. 
Over at The Lake is the Boss, DaveO's done several interesting posts about a proposed mining operation in northern Wisconsin. I don't have a real strong opinion about this specific project one way or the other, but I know Dave started to lose me as a potential mine opponent when his rhetoric switched from talking about contamination of a watershed and possible toxic byproducts to damage to the viewshed and degradation of aesthetic values. Loss of scenic vistas doesn't strike me as much of an argument against anything: to be blunt about it, you can't eat scenery.

I found myself thinking about a 1995 article by historian Richard White -- "Are you an environmentalist, or do you work for a living?" -- that generated a lot of discussion when it first appeared. White's point was that for many people, the environment is something "out there" somewhere, a place to visit and to recreate in but not a place where they actually make a living. They like looking at it; it's a playground. Naturally, whole herds of environmentalists were (and still are) extremely unhappy about being portrayed as elitist asshats. 

I, quite frankly, wasn't much surprised by White's paper. Back when I was still pretending to be a sociologist with an interest in voluntary associations, I studied a group known as the Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK). FOLK was organized as part of an effort to prevent construction of a pulpmill in northern Baraga County, Michigan. For various reasons, the mill never materialized -- how much the local opposition contributed to it not being built is debatable (my memory is that the overall economic climate in the pulp and paper industry had more to do with the project being abandoned than anything else) -- but its construction (or not) wasn't the point of my study. I was interested in FOLK -- how it was organized, what the demographics looked like for the membership, etc. The research also included a content analysis of letters to the editor in local papers. What did I find? 

Nothing earthshaking. I simply confirmed what numerous other sociologists have found: the environmentalists (anti-mill) tended to be people who worked, loosely speaking, at white collar occupations; the pro-mill were more hands on, i.e., blue collar. Anti-mill types were either working with nonmaterial items (e.g., an insurance salesman) or retired; the pro-mill had occupations that were more directly connected with industry (e.g., machinist). The anti-mill letter writers worried about aesthetics ("a mill is ugly," "pulpmills stink," logging trucks are noisy"); the pro-mill writers focused on the economic benefits ("increased tax base for local schools" "good paying jobs"). It was kind of a head*desk experience. I really did not want to read self-centered crap like "When I retired, I moved here to get away from industry" or "An ugly pulpmill right on US-41 will upset tourists." Holy fuck. It was like a confirmation of every negative stereotype I'd ever heard about clueless tree huggers.  There were a handful of anti-mill types who had brains enough to point out that maybe, just maybe pollution of Lake Superior should be a concern or that perhaps the timber resources of the area weren't sufficient to support an operation on the scale being discussed, but overall it was "don't mess with my playground." In short, NIMBY-ism.

Well, if not in your backyard, who should get stuck with it? None of us like thinking about the obvious  philosophical and ethical questions -- if we like living with all the benefits of a highly technological society (smart phones, central heating, automobiles, whatever), how much of a price are we personally willing to pay to enjoy those goodies? We want the electricity -- shouldn't we be willing to live next to the power plant? And if we generate the garbage, shouldn't we be willing to live next to the dump? 

Happy birthday, Nerf

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You're not a libertarian

if you want to control people's sex lives or a woman's uterus. I keep hearing various pundits wax eloquent about Ron Paul and how he's the only Republican candidate who's truly for small government and personal freedom. Pshaw. He's not for personal freedom; he's for white male privilege. As long as he's fine with government restricting access to abortion, he's not a libertarian -- he's a misogynist trying to use a particular political philosophy as cover for his attempts to keep women barefoot and pregnant.

I have never understood Dr. Paul's opposition to abortion. Prior to entering politics, he practiced obstetrics and gynecology. Surely he must have seen first hand plenty of examples of pregnancies that never should have happened, but apparently his years as a physician just convinced him that every pregnancy should go full term, regardless of the circumstances.

The term "pro life" has always struck me as a misnomer. The vast majority of the "pro life" types I've known are actually only "pro fetus." They don't want to terminate any pregnancies, but they're fine with the death penalty, torture, and fighting endless wars in which thousands of civilians die. I will give Ron Paul some points for being against the last of those -- although only because they cost money. I've no doubt that if the U.S. military decided to start hiring itself out to other nations for cold, hard cash, Dr. Paul with be fine with that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The circus continues

They're voting in New Hampshire today. NPR has had nonstop sound bites from the campaign trail. I keep trying to think of a reason to care and failing. I suppose it is vaguely good news that the sanest of the clown car occupants, John Huntsman, is finally getting some traction and has some hope of a second place finish. Huntsman, after all, has had enough of an independent streak to contradict some of the GOP's most cherished talking points.

Unfortunately, New Hampshire is one of the few states having early primaries that is also blessed with a voting populace that's willing to think. The other contest coming up soon is South Carolina -- and that's a state where the loonier the position, the more the voters love it. Huntsman may do well in New Hampshire, but he's going to sink without a trace once the campaign moves south. It's also pretty clear that the monied interests have pinned their hopes on Romney, the man who's such a nonperson that, as Paul Krugman put it, to call him an empty suit is an insult to empty suits everywhere.

I don't get why anyone would be attracted to Romney, whether it's voters or monied interests, because he's so stiff and phony. It's a major mystery to me as to how he ever managed to win an election anytime anywhere -- of course, when he ran in Massachusetts in 2002 he portrayed himself as a progressive moderate, not the reactionary conservative he's channeling now. If nothing else, Mitt is good at telling voters what they want to hear.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


They're caucusing in Iowa today, and I'm trying to figure out why any of the rest of us should care. It's never made much sense to me -- you have a state that is utterly unrepresentative of most of the country and a process that's guaranteed to bring out the fringe elements in both parties, and it's supposed to shape presidential politics? Iowa is the classic case of the media driving the message: the Iowa caucuses just happen to come first in the parade, so the media hovers all over the state trying to find meaning in what some person on the street from Harlan or Ottumwa says, treating each vacuous pronouncement as though it's newsworthy.

Usually, of course, what you hear when those persons on the street speak their minds is an astounding combination of blind ignorance and personal projection. The folks from Iowa always strike me as being astoundingly gullible: the candidates say they're conservative god-fearing upstanding citizens and, regardless of the candidates' track records, the fine folk in Iowa suck it all right up. I was listening to NPR yesterday, and it became real clear real fast that the people being interviewed had an image of Newt Gingrich based solely on the lies he's been telling about himself -- don't these people ever bother to look beyond the latest press releases from candidates? Apparently not. . .  The Iowa caucuses give a whole new meaning to "born again." Pro-choice politicians morph into pro-life, serial adulterers become family values candidates, and characters whose political careers appeared to be dead on arrival are suddenly contenders. Who could have predicted even a few weeks ago that a loser like Rick Santorum would now be considered likely to be in the final 3?