Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Finally, some good news

Back when I was still working at the Centers for Disease Control, I got to spend an evening doing a telephone survey of random persons in Alabama asking them if they (a) had diarrhea in the past six weeks and (b) if they had, what type of peanut products did they have in the house? It was all part of investigating the Killer Peanuts Salmonella Outbreak that hit a good-sized chunk of the country in 2009. Most people who suffered infection were lucky and experienced only a bad case of diarrhea, but at least 9 victims died. As the investigation progressed, it turned out that the company peddling the peanuts -- Peanut Corporation of America -- knew they had a problem with salmonella but kept selling their product anyway. Somewhat surprisingly, a criminal investigation followed.

Well, it's been six years -- the wheels of justice do move slowly -- but Stewart Parnell, the company's CEO, is staring at a possible life sentence. Two other executives with the company are looking at prison time, too, which would be nice. As a long piece at Natural News points out, the criminal case against Parnell and his co-defendants was the first of its kind. Usually when corporations engage in behavior that injures or kills people, no one in management is held personally responsible. Fines may be levied against the company, liability lawsuits may result in damages being paid to victims or their families, but the people at the top making the bad decisions emerge unscathed. They may lose their jobs, but they almost always have golden parachutes. Given the callous disregard for human life shown by Parnell and his minions, I'm hoping the judge doing the sentencing in September does follow the prosecutors' advice. It would, if nothing else, send a message to other executives that their bad decisions could result in more than just a generous severance package. A golden parachute wouldn't be much help in Leavenworth. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A basic truism

If your museum has only one visitor on any given day, that visitor will walk through the door 30 seconds before it's time to put the Closed sign up.

I'm not complaining, at least not much. A late in the afternoon visitor beats no visitors at all. Granted, having a visitor show up 3 minutes before I was planning to be at the Baraga post office means one Ebay buyer is getting his piece of Civil War memorabilia a day later than planned, but given the vagaries of the postal service these days he's not likely to either notice or complain. Plus I got to tell the story of a local family using the warming oven on their wood-burning kitchen range as an isolette for a premature infant, which is one of my personal favorite anecdotes when pretending to be a competent docent. That, and talking about how many adults have walked into the museum, seen the dental exhibit complete with the drill that looks like an instrument of torture (it was), and been prompted to reminisce about the time they bit Dr. Guy hard enough to draw blood. Apparently he didn't have much patience with unhappy children. I can relate. I was one of those kids whose parents got told "Find a different dentist." Not that I drew blood when I bit him -- I wanted to but to my ever-lasting regret did not succeed.

That dental drill illustrates nicely how things have changed. Thanks to just about everyone under the age of 50 or having been exposed to fluoride in infancy and childhood, quite a few people have to ask me what it is. Older adults recognize it and shudder; people under the age of 40 generally have never seen one in use. Although seeing one in use wasn't nearly as hideous an experience as hearing the dental drill. . . even if it didn't last long, there was something profoundly strange about hearing something happening inside your own head.

The Dr. Guy Collection consists of basically the entire contents of Dr. Louis Guy's dental office minus the chair and a few other odds and ends. Dr. Guy opened his dental practice in L'Anse in the 1930's. I'm not sure when he retired from dentistry, but he died in 1998. At some point, the contents of his office went to the historical society. Most of it has yet to be cataloged. There's so much stuff in the display case I'm not anxious to get started on it. I have begun sorting through the boxes of other stuff, things that did not make it into the display case, and jettisoning things that aren't worth keeping. I have, for example, pitched out most of the impressions (plaster casts of people's mouths) that came with the collection. It's good to have a few as examples, but we really didn't need to hang on to several hundred of them.

What I actually need to do for the Dr. Guy exhibit is create some interpretive signage. Right now we've got a case full of dental stuff but no explanation of who Dr. Guy was, not even a copy of his obituary. As long as we're not dealing with many visitors, it's easy for the docent to provide a quick explanation, but if we get busy? Not so much.

We have been slowly updating labels and doing more signage in general, but it's a slow process. Compared to some of the other issues we've dealt with lately, labels seem fairly low priority.

But, getting back to the subject of only one visitor, back when I first started volunteering, I suggested that the museum be open on Saturdays. It just seemed like commonsense. Saturday is a day when tourists are more likely to be around as well as local people with a day off. It was a day people had for leisure, for spending time with the grandkids, whatever. Well, after multiple summers I'm thinking I was wrong. Saturdays are dead. The busy day at the museum tends to be Friday. I'm not sure why that would be true, but the numbers don't lie. Lots of Saturdays over the past several summers with zero visitors, not a soul, no one, not even someone stopping in for directions or to use the restroom. Our busy day tends to be Friday. Strikes me as a bit odd, but Saturdays in general have been so slow that I'm going to suggest that we not bother with them next year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

No, we're not all thinking that

Talk about coincidences. Yesterday Gin and Tacos had a post up about people hearing someone spout something particularly vile or bigoted and responding by praising that person for being brave enough to "say what we're all thinking." The post said, in essence, no, we're not. When someone spouts some disgusting nonsense about all Mexicans being rapists or every Muslim being a terrorist, there may be a few ignorant yahoos who can't think beyond stereotypes, but please don't assume that just because something bizarre is going through your mind everyone else is on the same wavelength.

Then last night we were watching the local news -- With Luck You See TV* has been live-streaming its news programs for awhile now -- and they had done a story on The Donald on an earlier broadcast. The 7 pm news always includes viewer comments. Not surprisingly, there was the ever so predictable "I like Trump because he's got the courage to say what the rest of us are thinking." Oh really? On what planet would anyone with two brain cells to rub together agree with the suggestion that John McCain is a loser because he spent 5-1/2 years as a prisoner of war? I don't particularly like McCain much anymore (he sold whatever soul he may have had during the last few election cycles), but the idea of mocking him for getting captured by the North Vietnamese? I'm not sure you can sink much lower than that. But some deluded viewer was actually foolish enough to publicly state, right down to providing her real name, that she agreed with Trump on a lot of the garbage he's been spouting. Thank you, naive viewer, for being nice enough to self-identify so it'll be easier for the rest of us to avoid you.

Why do people do this? Where do they get the idea that we all operate with some sort of hive mind where everyone is thinking the same way they are? Look around, people. Name a topic, any topic, from politics to professional sports to preferences in fast food restaurants and you're not going to have any trouble finding someone whose opinion is the opposite of yours, so where does this "we're all thinking" nonsense come from? Is it deliberate self-deception or just thoroughly ingrained ignorance? It's a mystery.

*WLUC-TV6, "your Upper Michigan news source"

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Death to chipmunks!

The little furry bastards managed to wipe out half my cucumbers before they sprouted, dug up all the Afghan melon and lemon squash seeds, did a number on the snow pea seeds, and now that stuff is finally actually growing they're working on harvesting new potatoes.

I used to think they were cute.

Where are the weasels when we really need them? I know we have weasels around here -- I see them in the winter. So where are they now? Do they estivate? There are an incredible number of chipmunks running around -- where are the predators, the weasels, the foxes, the feral cats, and whatever else might consider Chip or Dale a tasty snack? My fat cat Cleo isn't any help. She's old enough that she's not particularly ambitious. When she goes out, she pretty much limits her excursions to walking from the back door to the front door -- she's not going to amble the 400 feet or so from the house to the vegetable garden. I suppose one solution to rodent control would be to relocate the garden to a site closer to the house -- it's where it is now because it was close to where our mobile home (aka The Shoebox) was set up -- but having spent a couple of decades adding manure and compost to the garden to convert glacial till into soil where something will actually grow, I'm not real enthusiastic about starting that process over again.

The good news, such as it is, is that the wee beasties ignored the green beans when I planted them so we have plenty of beans coming along. They're also ignoring the zucchini, although with zucchini one is never sure if that's good news or bad.

In other gardening news, I've discovered another plant that bolts straight to seed when planted here: Chinese cabbage. The seeds were a bonus from Jung's this year; I was intrigued. Planted them, and despite our relatively cool weather, I swear they went from just barely out of the ground to flowering even faster than spinach does. Supposedly the plants form heads, but it's hard to picture it when they were flowering within a month of the seeds going in the ground. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

That was fast

I couldn't help but notice just how fast law enforcement slapped a terrorism label on that shooting in Tennessee.The news had just broken, only an hour or two had passed since the first reports came out, and it was terrorism. All it apparently took was learning the shooter had an Arabic name and, bang, instant terrorism case. Now they're scrambling to find some connection, any connection, with organizations such as ISIS or Al Qaeda. After all, a young man who was born in Kuwait and who still has relatives in the Middle East couldn't possibly make trips back to Kuwait for something as mundane as visiting his grandparents, could he? His travels must have been for nefarious purposes.

Let me make one thing clear -- I'm not saying those potentially nefarious reasons do not exist. Given all the reasons American foreign policy has given for Arabs to hate the United States in general and the U.S. military in particular, it is possible a connection to a formal terrorist organization will be found. What I am bothered by is the instant rush to judgement, especially in contrast to the Dylann Roof case. Roof frequented white supremacist sites on-line, clearly supported white supremacist organizations, and shot 9 people because he wanted to start a race war. . . but is he a terrorist? Law enforcement is still hemming and hawing about that one. Apparently terrorism can only be terrorism if it's foreign, not home grown.

Of course, by running around blathering about terrorism and foreign travel, everyone is conveniently distracted from asking questions like, "Just how did a guy with an Arabic name manage to acquire multiple weapons?" Then again, if those questions do start getting asked, the NRA will be on the scene pretty fast to explain why it's way, way more important why anyone and everyone should be allowed to buy whatever gun they want without anyone ever questioning it than it is to prevent more people from getting shot.  

I am, incidentally, pretty confident that if the investigation reveals the shooting occurred for purely personal reasons, like if the shooter was pissed that one of the recruiters had rejected him for enlistment or he had mental health issues, we'll never hear about it on mainstream media.

A small digression that illustrates just how bad things have gotten in this country when it comes to random gun violence and mass shootings: I couldn't remember how to spell Dylann Root's name (one "n" or two?) so I Googled "Charlestown shooting." Obviously, I also couldn't remember how to spell Charleston. Anyway, I got a long string of hits for recent shootings in assorted Charlestowns around the country: West Virginia, Massachusetts, and a couple others. And my co-workers in Atlanta wondered why I wanted to retire to the middle of nowhere. . .

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thinking about giving Ebay a second chance

A few years ago, back when we were still living in Atlanta, I made the mistake of trying to sell some vintage dresses through Ebay. It was a bizarre experience. Who would have ever thought that a cheap cotton house dress would bring the crazies out of the woodwork? Long story short, the experience was sufficiently weird that I decided to stay far, far away from Ebay indefinitely. I set up an Etsy store (which, incidentally, I still have in case you're wondering where you can find a circa 1960s crochet pattern book) and sold the dresses that way.  I figured I'd never have a reason to go near Ebay ever again.

Well, some time ago the historical society membership decided that it was okay to sell donated items that did not fit in with the museum's mission (preserving local history). We started by listing a few things on Craigslist; we did dispose of a gas space heater that way. No luck with some other stuff, though, so about a month ago we decided to try Ebay and see what happened.

Turns out Ebay has improved considerably in the past five years. The listing process is easier and so is invoicing buyers. No more dealing with paper (i.e., checks and money orders) from buyers; it all goes through PayPal. No worrying about auctions and bids -- buyers can either Buy It Now or Make an Offer. So far we've gotten rid of three items that were useless from our perspective (no connection whatsoever with Baraga County), which means (a) money for the museum and (b) three less things I have to worry about inventorying or finding a place to stash. Granted, none of the items took up much space (a State of Kansas World War I service medal, a 1984 Olympics souvenir key chain, and a program from a 1956 Guy Lombardo performance at Jones Beach),  but when it's stuff we really didn't need or want, it's nice to see it leave the building.

One thing I have noticed about Ebay is it seems to be a popular venue for selling ephemera (e.g., vintage postcards). The museum has a gazillion vintage postcards from around the world; I'm going to try listing some of them. We also have a lot of old magazines, manufacturers' brochures, etc. Some of that stuff might be nice to have, but there's a limit. I've been learning at various workshops since I started volunteering that a small museum really needs to think about its primary mission. If something doesn't tie in to what it is we're supposed to be doing, then we shouldn't be hoarding it. Our current Ebay listings, for example, include a commemorative ribbon from an Old Soldiers reunion in Cherryvale, Kansas, and an ebony mask of a type commonly sold as a souvenir to tourists visiting West Africa. The mask is nice but for sure has no known relationship with Baraga County history. It was mixed in with a box of odds and ends in the attic; how it wound up in the attic to begin with is a complete mystery. 

I've also learned that when it comes to archival stuff like periodicals we have to think about uniqueness. It makes sense to hang on to stuff like our hard copies of the Upper Peninsula Farmer because it was a regional publication with a limited run just before World War I -- there aren't many copies of it still floating around (WorldCat gives two library locations: the Wisconsin Historical Society and the University of Michigan) but we've got close to a complete run, which I've carefully bagged in archival sleeves and stashed in the coolest, darkest spot I could find in the storage building (I view their survival in the hot, bone dry attic for the past 10 or 20 years as a minor miracle). On the other hand, a commemorative issue of Time magazine with, for example, Princess Di on the cover is neither unique nor specific to our mission. Keeping one copy around to possibly use as part of an exhibit tied to an individual year could make sense; keeping multiples would not.

In any case, with about one month's experience with Ebay behind us, I'm feeling a little better about the site. Maybe, just maybe, I'll try it again for selling personal stuff I don't need or want but that doesn't meet the rules for Etsy. If nothing else, it does seem less likely now that someone would decide to try scamming me for a $15 dress. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Life's simple pleasures

A cordless weed whacker. I'll confess that when the S.O. started talking about buying one a few months ago after seeing one advertised by Home Depot, I was skeptical. I viewed it as yet another unnecessary gadget he wanted to add to his collection of Ryobi cordless toys, which at that point included a circular saw, a drill or two, and several other items, all of which run off the same type of 18 volt battery. I tend to see the cordless tools as being the male equivalent of a Barbie Dream House: once you've purchased one cordless drill, the list of other stuff you suddenly realize you need never stops growing.

I was wrong. Unlike some of the other weirdness Ryobi markets, the cordless weed whacker is a vital weapon in any home owner's arsenal. We bought one yesterday, and now I'm wondering why it took us so long. Not only does the lack of a cord mean you're not limited in how far out you can range from the nearest outlet, it also means greater flexibility. No tripping over the cord, no having it wrap itself around your ankles like a skinny orange anaconda, no trying to maneuver in a way that lets you keep weed whacking without destroying the peonies by garroting them.

For sure the one thing I'm pysched about is the increased range. Our property isn't some tiny city lot that gets measured in square footage; we've got 37 acres of brush and swamp. I refer to our front yard as "the calf pasture" because that's what it used to be. I haven't gotten too carried away with landscaping, but we do have some areas that fall just beyond the reach of the extension cord, like the stretch paralleling the driveway where there are some day lilies and grape vines planted. We can't use a lawn mower in the area between the plants and the driveway because it's a ditch with pretty steep sides. The cordless weed whacker is going to make it much, much easier to knock the weeds down.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

So much for resolutions

Back in about January or so I made a resolution to myself that I'd try to post more. I'd noticed that I started off strong back in 2008, but the amount I had to say seemed to be steadily dwindling. I always tell other people that the more you write, the better you're likely to get at it -- not that it holds true all the time; all one has to do to see that quantity and quality aren't always a match is pick up a Danielle Steele novel. If I wanted to remain semi-competent as a wordsmith, I needed to crank out more verbiage. Purely for my own satisfaction, of course. I have no delusions (well, almost none) of ever being an A-list blogger or having a gazillion readers.

Well, it hasn't happened. It's mid-July, and I seem to be averaging (if I'm lucky) a post once a week or so. I'm not sure if it's because it's summer and I'm sort of busy, or if it's because I have nothing to say. I used to like ranting about politics, but lately I don't see the point. It's really hard to tell the politicians on the right side of the political spectrum apart -- they all seem to be competing for a lead role in a "Dumb and Dumber" sequel -- and I can't work up any enthusiasm for saying anything about the Democrats. I'm just relieved that no one seems to be focusing much on Bernie Sanders's age -- as long as the mass media are more focused on trying to figure out just what a democratic socialist is than the fact that Bernie is older than Hillary, they're at least sort of focusing on ideas more than on personalities.

As for other current affairs, like the negotiations with Iran, about the only thoughts I've had are all along the lines of "just how stupid are you people?!" "You people" being the folks freaking out over the idea of using diplomacy instead of brute force for a change. As far as I can tell, the only appreciable effect lifting sanctions on Iran is going to have is that oil prices will remain low as Iranian oil re-enters the market -- so how is this a bad thing? Granted, Israel is freaking out, but that's their problem, not ours. Israel already has nuclear weapons; it seems like they should be able to intimidate their neighbors just fine without our help.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Time marches on

The S.O.'s 50th high school reunion was this past weekend. Not content with the usual dinner and one evening of reminiscing, the Chassell High School class of '65 turned it into a multiple day event: a catered dinner, participation in the annual Strawberry Festival parade, and an informal pasty supper at a classmate's house. The parade participation required float building, of course, so by the time the whole thing was over, a few folks were no doubt relieved this was probably a one-time deal.

On the other hand, I did overhear a couple of the S.O.'s classmates talking about doing something similar again next year, although one assumes they'd skip the parade participation part.

Their float kind of made fun of the idea of getting old -- it included stuff like rocking chairs, a wheelchair, etc. -- but like a lot of us geezers these days, the class of '65 seemed to be in pretty good shape. No one actually needed a cane or anything to get around, and everyone seemed to be quite active.

The float won an award as the best entry in the Humorous category. Of course, it was also the only entry in the Humorous category, but maybe that's irrelevant. It won a prize for something else, too. The cash award is being donated to the Chassell Schools Foundation.

It's real easy to tell that Chassell High School was not real big even in the baby boom years. The mid-60s was when school enrollments in a lot of areas crested as the baby boom kids started graduating. Nonetheless, the Chassell Class of 65 was able to fit every classmate who wanted to ride the float on to it. If I recall correctly, there were 24 students in the class originally, 7 have died, and of the surviving 17, 11 were at the reunion.

This was the first time the S.O. and I had been in Chassell when the Strawberry Festival parade was going on. We've gone to the festival many times, but never seen the parade -- and, as the S.O. noted, he still hasn't seen much of it. He had a decent view of what was coming up right behind the c;ass float, but that was about it.

I'm Class of '66 so theoretically have a reunion coming up next year. I don't think my classmates from J. E. Murphy (a gem of a school) are going to be nearly as ambitious with their planning. The last I heard, they were having trouble getting many people to show up for the reunions they do every five years so can't picture them fantasizing about turning the 50-year reunion into a mini-festival.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Random thoughts at 4 a.m.

Did anyone else notice that Jim Webb announced he's running for the Democratic nomination for President? I caught a brief mention the other day, and then the news apparently sank like the proverbial stone. Does anyone other than Jim Webb care? In his book, which I commented on a few weeks ago, he came across as the would-be spokesman for the aggrieved southern white guys. I'm not sure that's much of a base these days, especially when most of those aggrieved white guys seem to be quite happy supporting GOP candidates.

Just how much of Canada is burning? Every time we have a sunny day, it turns real hazy because of the smoke drifting across the lake from Canada, and I heard on the news that Minnesota actually did an air quality alert because of the smoke from Canadian fires. When I did a news search, the information I found said the smoke is coming from northern Alberta. That is a long way away from here, so just how many hundreds of thousands of acres of Canada are smoldering? I know Alaska is burning, too, thanks to unusually hot, dry weather in a region that is normally cool and damp.

I've been wondering lately exactly what's involved in getting someone declared a saint. There's been a push (sort of) for many years now to get Bishop Frederic Baraga (aka the Snowshoe Priest) canonized. Or there was a few years ago -- I have no idea if the Cause for Bishop Baraga is still promoting him. I keep hearing the man is "one miracle away" but have no idea just exactly what that means. But I've been thinking about Father Baraga lately because I'm in the middle of cataloging miscellaneous papers that belonged to Bernard Lambert, author of a book -- Shepherd of the Wildnerness -- that is apparently a hagiography to end all hagiographies. Lambert spent a decade or two obsessing about Baraga, immersed himself in the archives (there is quite a trove of documentation; Catholic bureaucracy is good about keeping records forever), and managed to weave Frederic Baraga into just about everything he did. He pushed the Knights of Columbus into funding a statue of the good bishop that was erected at Assinins (the site of Baraga's first mission on Keweenaw Bay), and then pushed for a second, bigger and better and more spectacular shrine to be erected in a more dramatic setting. Reading through Lambert's papers as I've been sorting them has been rather interesting, although I'll confess that having skimmed various chunks of Shepherd of the Wilderness in rough draft form I now have no desire whatsoever to read the actual book. To put it kindly, Lambert could have used a good editor. 

Anyway, what has me wondering now about the canonization process was a letter from Thomas Noa, Bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, written in the late 1950s. The Bishop reminded Lambert that it was important that no cult had built up around Bishop Baraga, i.e., that Baraga wasn't being treated like a saint prematurely. That struck me as a bit odd. If there wasn't a "cult," a group of people who viewed Baraga as being able to intercede with God for them, how would Baraga ever accrue the requisite number of miracles? How would anyone ever know that something should be attributed to Baraga if no one was obsessing about him to begin with? It's a classic chicken and egg story. Which comes first? And for sure it was more than a bit bizarre to see Lambert reminded that cults were verboten when if anything Lambert was so obsessed with Baraga that it comes close to qualifying as mania. Although who knows -- ihere's still a pile of Lambert material a couple feet tall for me to wade through; maybe the answer to the sainthood process question is hiding in it.

And while I may not view Shepherd of the Wildnerness as especially readable, other people must. We discovered the museum owned multiple copies, way more than we need for any archival reason, so decided to list a few of them on Amazon. The first day the listing was up, we sold one for $44 plus shipping. Does that count as a miracle? Maybe I should drop a note to the Vatican. The museum started listing miscellaneous books through Amazon over a year ago; the one we move the most copies of is a history of Pequaming (a lumber company town). We've got about 50 books in total listed on Amazon, most of which are used books the museum received as donations, but a few are new. . . more or less. How new is a book if it's a never-been-read, been sitting in a storage box for decades, originally published in 1970 tome? We have a gazillion copies of some local history books the historical society published over 40 years ago. There was at least one year when whoever was in charge of dealing with the printer ordered 3,000 copies of a historical pageant book. We also have several hundred copies of calendars for various years in the 1980s; the calendars were another example of optimistic thinking.

Are we ever going to have summer? It's been so cool and damp for the past six weeks that the rhubarb refuses to go dormant. It just keeps cranking out new growth. Usually the rhubarb shuts down for the summer shortly after Memorial Day. This year it's still pickable and we're into July. Yet another sign of the end times. . .