Thursday, March 31, 2016

Weirdness in the news

William Shatner has been hit with a paternity suit. When I saw the headline, my first thought was that the dude was a little old to be out there getting it on with groupies -- or, for that matter, to have any groupies. Female trekkies who lusted after him back when the original "Star Trek" was on television are now post-menopausal; younger women aren't too likely to pursue a fat old man they associate with commercials.

Turned out it's not a woman suing him at all. It's a dude on the verge of geezerhood himself. Some guy is claiming Shatner is his dad. Shatner apparently did the deed with the plaintiff's mother back in 1956. Yep, you read that right. 1956!

This is so bizarre. Who waits until they're almost eligible for Social Security to go in pursuit of their deadbeat dad? Is the guy hoping to set some sort of record on the Maury Povich show for oldest person demanding a DNA test? If the plaintiff's mother did actually get it on with Shatner, why didn't she go after him herself for child support? And how on earth does a William Shatner story actually manage to make it to the top of the trending list? So many questions. . .

I will confess to a sense of relief, though, when I realized the news item was about Shatner's possible sex life 60 years ago and not a link to his obituary now. There have been enough celebrities taking dirt naps lately that my first initial reaction to seeing Shatner's name highlighted was that he'd dropped dead, too. Not that it would be much of a shock. The dude is 85 after all.

Monday, March 28, 2016

And then politicians wonder why they're hated

I noticed a brief mention online this morning of yet another Republican politician who's decided that maybe The Donald isn't the anti-Christ after all. It's becoming painfully obvious that the creature who lives under Trump's hair is going to arrive at the Republican National Convention with more than enough votes to win the nomination. So, given a choice between doing what would be right for the country and doing what they think will allow them to continue riding the gravy train, which do you think they're all opting for? You got it. "My party right or wrong and screw the country as a whole." Congress critters and other political animals who just a few days ago were predicting the Earth cracking open and all the minions of Hell emerging if Trump becomes President are suddenly deciding having Hitler Redux in the White House wouldn't be that horrible after all.

And then they wonder why they're all so universally despised by the average person.

Blogger is driving me slightly crazy this morning with spacing issues -- it keeps wanting to put in floats and margins where I don't want them, but if I try editing in HTML it just gets worse -- so I'm going to take that as a sign more caffeine and less typing is needed at the moment. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Pickle Spring Natural Area

Yesterday was a gorgeous, sunny day. The Younger Daughter persuaded us it we needed to see Pickle Spring Natural Area, a space administered by the Missouri Department of Conservation located a few miles outside Farmington. Total acreage isn't huge, but it includes a 2-mile long hiking trail. A rock with a plaque on it lets hikers know they're about to see an area that's been recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, a designation the average person has never heard of and has no clue exists.

The trail does a meandering loop around an area with some interesting rock formations.I'm not sure how I'd rate the trail on difficulty. You get to do some definite up and down stuff, there are tree roots and mud in places, and erosion and heavy use have caused some steps up or down to be a lot higher than a normal step up or down. On the other hand, most of the trail is easily negotiated by the typical 3-year-old, a fact we saw demonstrated by several families who were out for an afternoon of letting the kids burn off some energy.

This spot on the trail is, for fairly obvious reasons, a popular location for hikers to pause to take photos. We had to stop to allow a small group ahead of us to take pictures of each other standing in the arches. We managed to resist the temptation to do so ourselves.

There were a lot of people out hiking, all lured out by the warm sunny weather. Pickle Spring has a fairly small parking lot, but earlier in the day must have maxed out because there were cars parked on the roadside when we arrived. We thought we'd have to do the same but someone left the lot just as we arrived. The area is basically no amenities. There's the parking lot and one picnic table -- no comfort station, no water. I had to wonder a little bit about just how crowded it might get if the Missouri Department of Conservation provided better directions in tourist guides or had signage out on Highway 32.

As it is,  the big state guide to tourist attractions in Missouri just says Pickle Spring is in Farmington, which is sort of true. It's a few miles east of town and private property close to it probably has a Farmington address. That guide, however, does not say one word about how to find it. You have to go the Department of Conservation website to get driving directions. You have to turn off State Highway 32 on to a county road. After you've driven a half mile or so down that road, there is one sign right where you have to turn on to a gravel road to get to the Pickle Spring parking lot. In short, you either have to be local enough to know the place exists or be willing to put some effort into locating it. Lots of people must put the effort in, though, because the area is laced with social trails. Lots and lots of places where multiple people obviously decided they didn't feel the need to do a switchback or decided a shortcut would be handy.

Those shortcuts, incidentally, served as yet more proof people can be idiots. There were a couple that no doubt evolved because some fool decided he or she didn't want to do a long switchback to get to an upper portion of the trail but in doing so they unknowingly skipped right by some of the niftiest rock formations or a spectacular overlook. Their desire to avoid walking a few extra feet -- something I truly don't understand when you're on a hiking trail, by the way. You've decided to go for a hike that you know is 2 miles long. Why decide in mid-hike to make it shorter? Anyway, the desire to skip going the long way around on a switchback means they also fail to see stuff like a lovely little waterfall or some unique stone formations.

Besides seeing some interesting eroded rock, we found Spring. The service berries were blooming, there were violets and other wildflowers at ground level, and there were these flowering shrubs, which I think are a type of magnolia. We were kind of hoping the dogwoods would have started blooming, but it was still a little early for them. Saw a lot of dogwoods where the buds looked like they could burst open any second, but they hadn't done it yet as of yesterday.

Overall, it was a nice hike in an interesting area. The trail is long enough to feel like you've actually hiked, not just walked to an overlook by a parking lot, but short enough to qualify for a leisurely afternoon outing. The one thing I'd do differently if we did it again is to wear different shoes. My Converse All-Stars weren't quite right for the walking we did. The Younger Daughter says there's a similar Department of Conservation Natural Area not far from Pickle Spring so the next time we feel like walking we'll check that one out. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: John Adams

I had been meaning to read David McCullough's biography of John Adams for awhile. McCullough has been popularizing history for decades and is good at it. He's done biographies of multiple Presidents (Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman) as well as written a great book about the Panama Canal. I thought his most recent work, The Wright Brothers, was a bit light-weight, but, hey, the guy is getting old. It was still better than average.

John Adams is definitely not light weight. Thanks to the Adams family being hoarders, there is a historian's wet dream of archived materials. A gazillion letters to and from Adams, his wife Abigail, and various family members (their son John Quincy Adams, their daughter Abigail, and others) have survived. Even better, both John and Abigail had great handwriting. A person has no trouble whatsoever reading anything they wrote; they definitely had a clear hand. Adams also kept a diary, some sections of which are fairly terse (quick summary of the weather and a notation or two of what he did on any particular day) and others are definitely more of a journal in which he wrote at length about events and people. Then when you toss in the fact that many of the people Adams interacted with (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, etc.) also tended to hoard documents, it's obvious McCullough had a lot to work with. End result? A book that is heavy in more ways than one. It's packed with details and fat enough to serve as a door stop.

This is the book that served as the basis for the HBO series about John Adams. It was interesting to see both how closely the series paralleled the book and where it deviated for dramatic license. A minor example is the smallpox inoculation incident. In the series, Abigail and the children are living out in the country on the farm, and it's a fairly small household: her, the kids, a serving girl. John is off in Philadelphia serving as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress. A person infected with smallpox is being carried from farm to farm on a wagon. In reality, Abigail and the children had moved into Boston during the epidemic. They were living in a house with over a dozen other people. Instead of quiet, occasionally worrisome rural isolation, the Adams family was experiencing urban noise and squalor along with worries about what the British might do next. Two sentences in the book turned into multiple lines of dialogue in the script.

But that's a minor point and serves only to illustrate that even when dealing with nonfiction, scriptwriters like to embellish. Unlike the television series, the book sticks with (as far as I can tell) the truth, even if it isn't always particularly exciting. Adams may have been around for some of the more dramatic moments in American history -- e.g., the signing of the Declaration of Independence -- but he also got to spend a lot of time just sitting and waiting. Sent to France during the Revolutionary Way as a diplomatic envoy tasked with persuading the French to (a) provide more material support to the American rebels and (b) recognize the new country, Adams spent months killing time and feeling frustrated. He was not good with languages so began with the handicap of being unable to understand a word the French were saying. The fact he and the other two envoys, one of whom was Benjamin Franklin, seemed to have different goals and approaches didn't help. McCullough paints a picture of Franklin as an aging roue who is more interested in enjoying the sybaritic delights of the French court than he is in tangible diplomatic results. The other envoy doesn't get as much page space as Franklin, but it turns out he dislikes and distrusts the French and doesn't care much for Franklin or Adams either. He apparently spent a lot of time sulking and writing letters home complaining about how incompetent and useless Adams is. In short, not a whole lot of team spirit.

Labeling Adams as incompetent and useless is a recurring theme in the book. It's a bit odd. McCullough seemingly had a wealth of archival material to pick from so I was a little baffled as to why so much page space got spent talking about all the people whose primary hobby seemed to be bashing John Adams. If no one thought he was doing a decent job as a diplomat, why did he get tapped for multiple important diplomatic missions? And then when he's back in the United States, he ends up on the ballot for the first Presidential election. In that first election, he's apparently viewed as being enough of a political threat that a number of his colleagues conspire to undermine his candidacy. They're afraid he'll embarrass George Washington, theoretically the man of the hour and the most beloved figure in the country, by getting more votes. There was genuine fear Adams would be elected the first President of the United States. At the time, there was no separate ballot for Vice President -- whoever finished second in the electoral vote count got stuck with the VP's job. Adams comes in second and serves as Vice President for 8 years. He's then elected to the Presidency in his own right.

Why? And how? McCullough does provide a few quotes from people who describe Adams as unflinchingly honest and a man who sticks to his principles, but overall the material cited goes on and on about how horrible Adams is. He's vain, he wants a monarchy, he's spent so much time in Europe that he's been corrupted by the aristocracy there. He is, in short, not a true American. Still, people vote for him multiple times. It's a mystery.

The other mystery is how Adams could manage to be so bad at reading people. He retained Washington's cabinet officers, all men he'd known for years and thought he could trust, and figured out much too late that most of them had their own agendas and had no intention of following his directions. He also believed Thomas Jefferson was his friend when in fact Jefferson had been busily backstabbing Adams for years. It isn't until one of Jefferson's minions gets ticked off and publishes material describing how Jefferson paid him (a journalist) to slander Adams in the lead-up to the 1800 election that Adams realizes just how shabbily he'd been treated.

The political intrigue in the first decades of the country, in fact, makes contemporary politics look pretty darn clean in comparison. Newspapers were openly partisan and had no qualms about libeling political candidates. The vitriol expressed in what passed as editorials or opinion pieces go way beyond being simply nasty. As for the maneuverings. . . at one point Alexander Hamilton was pushing hard to lead a standing Army. Like his rival Aaron Burr, it seems pretty clear Hamilton was nurturing delusions of grandeur about military coups and heading an empire. He wanted an open war with France in the 1790s, but fortunately never got it.

The political intrigue is interesting, too, because any and all maneuvering by actual candidates is done by their surrogates. The people whose names were going to be on the ballot never campaigned themselves. They sat at home and pretended they didn't really care about the outcome. "If elected, I'll serve, but reluctantly." They might be scheming like crazy (Jefferson certainly was; he had a journalist on the payroll busy scribbling out libelous articles about Adams in 1800) but they did their best to look like they weren't. Was Adams? Who knows. McCullough quotes a letter or two from Adams in which he pretends to not care, but there's nothing about who was actually out there promoting him. It's all rather lop-sided. We know who opposed Adams, but are never given any sense of just who his advocates were.

So how was the book overall? Quite readable, actually, and packed with lots of interesting details. If you like history, you'd probably enjoy this book. It doesn't just focus on Adams the politician, it also gets into Adams the family man -- the trials and tribulations of trying to be a good parent while at the same time having to go for many months or years without seeing your children, worries about aging parents, the hassles of long distance travel in the days when a trip from Boston to Philadelphia took many weeks on horseback. It's obviously not a fast read -- not when it's over 600 pages of dense text -- but it's not tedious. It never put me to sleep. So would I recommend it to other readers? Yes, if as noted above you like reading history. No, if you're looking for something fast and easy.

Anyone have any recommendations for a book about James Madison? I've done Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. I might as well see what historians have to say about another of the Founding Fathers the next time I reach for some nonfiction. 

Life's little mysteries

I've always kind of wondered what the point was of tracking the number of "followers" a blog has. Unless a person is blogging for money, i.e., someone is actually paying you to share your most profound thoughts and deathless prose, why would anyone care? Does it make any difference in the overall scheme of things, the course of a person's life, if they have a handful of people who actually read their blog, hundreds, thousands, or none at all?

I am musing on this topic because I happened to notice when I first logged in to the blog this morning that once again the number for my followers had fluctuated. I am moderately intrigued by the way that number goes up or down for no apparent reason. Did I pan someone's favorite author enough to tick them off? Did a casual follower suddenly realize that, holy wah, that woman is so far left on the political spectrum she makes Bernie Sanders look like a Goldwater Republican? Or did someone stumble across a blog post I did on a visit to a National Park and erroneously assume that everything I wrote was going to be part of a travelogue? The numbers dipping up or down seem unrelated to the frequency or subjects of blog posts and also don't seem to correlate with the occasional comment from someone who suggests that if I follow him or her, that person will follow me. Reciprocity in action. Or mutual ritualistic counting coup, depending, I suppose, on one's cultural frame of reference. It's another of life's little mysteries.
Skunk egg, Pizza House, West, Texas

Maybe if I'd monetized my blog or had started it because I had fantasies of it leading to bigger and somehow better things the concept of "followers" would mean more. As it is, the blog's  primary function has always been as a place to metaphorically doodle, to jot down thoughts that don't fit in letters and that I might stick in a journal, assuming I kept one. The fact it's allowed me to connect with some interesting, funny, and nice people both online and out there in the real world was a happy accident. After all, if I hadn't started blogging, the S.O. and I would probably never have encountered skunk eggs. I'm not sure just what the secret ingredients in that thing are, but for sure that is food you don't find on the average Upper Peninsula menu.

Friday, March 25, 2016

If it's not one thing, it's another

I'm beginning to think that owning an RV is a lot like owning a sailboat, only not quite as pricey. One of my friends used to sail. His description of the typical boat was "a hole in the lake into which you pour $100 bills." The Guppy isn't quite bad, but it does seem like the mere fact of moving the beast  means something is going to happen that's going to entail time, money, or both.

Latest example: We're now in Missouri. We left home Wednesday morning, weather was normal winter (kind of chilly but nothing unusual or terribly annoying happening). There were winter storm advisories out for southern Wisconsin, but we figured we'd do our usual overnight stop in Portage and that would take care of worries about driving through a blizzard. The storm was supposed to track through that part of the state in early evening and to have moved to bother Michigan by morning.

Well, we were more or less right. As we were getting to Portage, we spent maybe half an hour driving through some blowing snow and slush. The temperatures were right around freezing so things were sloppy, but no big deal. We got checked into the motel and relaxed for the evening. Went out in the morning and discovered the snow had continued to fall as a combination of rain and snow through the night. Despite being partially sheltered by the cab-over part of the Guppy, the windshield had thick ice on it, and that cab over part had icicles about a foot long dangling from it, kind of like in the photo below taken in March 2015 at Montauk State Park but all the way across and on both sides. The hood was frozen thoroughly shut, of course, so the S.O. got to do his usual cursing while knocking ice off it so he could get various fluid levels. In short, the Guppy looked like a prop from Frozen but no big deal: it was an annoyance, but wasn't going to stop us from continuing on our way.

Photo from last year; the area in question is right above the passenger door.
We hit the road, all seemed to be going well. There was still some slush falling in Portage, but we knew from watching the Weather Channel that the messiest part of the storm was to the north, not south, and it wouldn't take many miles for the snow to transition to sleet and then to just plain rain. We had knocked most of the icicles off that were dangling in front of the cab and I was amusing myself by watching the remnants to see how fast they'd shrink from the combination of rising air temperatures and heat generated by friction as the vehicle moved. That's when I noticed off to my side that there was a little piece of ice dangling by what appeared to be a fine thread of something. . .  What the heck? Didn't take me long to realize that the pea-sized lump of ice was dangling from a thin thread of silicon caulk.

I'm not sure just how long that little piece of ice dangled there, but it managed to do some damage. All the caulk the on the lower edge of the cab-over on the passenger side got pulled out. Caulk doesn't cost much and this isn't exactly a major repair, but it still means that as soon as the weather warms up a bit the S.O. gets to borrow the Younger Daughter's step stool and do some patching. And, given that ice coming loose messed up the caulking in that one area, he probably needs to go around the entire Guppy and make sure something similar didn't happen any place else. I am beginning to understand why some people buy an RV, drive it to a campground or resort, and then never move it again until they sell it.

It was a good thing we stopped when we did, because by the time we got here to Farmington, not only had all the caulk pulled out on that side of the cab-over, wind was starting to work its way under the fiberglass. Another hundred miles or so and things could have gotten ugly. 

On the positive side, all three plastic vent covers are still in place and in one piece. And, yes, Billy Cook, we are going to buy metal ones the next time we need a vent cover. Turns out aluminum costs about the same as plastic and is a lot more durable.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Getting ready to hit the road

12 inches of fresh snow on St. Patrick's Day
We had a few days of exceptionally warm weather last week so we decided to pull the tarp off the Guppy and move it down close to the house. We hadn't bothered moving it last year when we left in February, but I decided I didn't feel like either having to carry everything several hundred feet or waiting until the last minute when it got moved so we could load the car on to the tow dolly. Turned out it was a good thing I was feeling a tad lazy.
When we pulled the tarp off, the S.O. discovered one of the ceiling vent covers was broken. Don't know if it shattered from the weight of snow on the tarp or if it broke from a combination of deterioration from cold weather and exposure to UV rays over the years, but it was definitely broken and needed to be replaced before we went anywhere. Our first thought was, "Oh, crap. We need to make a special trip to Ishpeming to Hilltop RV." Then we remembered Amazon. Amazon sells everything. I placed the order on Saturday; Tuesday afternoon we had a new vent cover. Actually, we had two. This is the second time we've had to replace one and have figured out they're made from such flimsy plastic that it would be a good idea to always have a spare on hand. (And, as long as I was busy spending money online, I also got two insulators/sun shields that can be placed on the inside of the vents. We now have a way to blackout the light from the ceiling if we ever spend a night in a Walmart parking lot again.)

Timing was on our side again, too, because the day after the S.O. replaced the shattered vent cover, a snowstorm rolled through that dumped over a foot of wet sloppy snow on us. The S.O. had covered the broken vent with plastic sheeting, but I don't think it would have done as good a job of keeping water out of the Guppy as the actual vent cover did.

The S.O. has done one significant repair and some minor tweaking to the interior in preparation for leaving. The significant repair was replacing the charger for the RV battery. The original equipment one had stopped recognizing when the battery was charged so would kept cranking out too much voltage. It wanted to boil the battery as well as fry ceiling lights. We got a new charger last month; it seems to work exactly the way it's supposed to. The minor stuff includes installing a radio/CD player in one of the cabinets in the dining/living area so we don't have to rely on the radio in the cab if we want tunes. That radio works okay, but it's awkward to get at and there's an issue with the volume. If it's loud enough for us to hear it okay while sitting in the living area, it's also loud enough for the camp sites next to us to hear it, which isn't good. The way the thing was installed there are speakers in the bedroom and there are speakers in the cab, but there was nothing in between. I suppose the S.O. could have figured out a way to wire in another set of speakers, but that wouldn't have eliminated the awkward part of getting at the controls. . . so he put in a new radio. Problem solved.

Other minor tweaks included installing latches to prevent the refrigerator doors from popping open while the Guppy is moving, which means no more worries about flying ketchup bottles, and converting the space where Cleo's litter box lived into usable storage. Now all I have to do is figure out what, if anything, to store there. The Guppy actually has more storage space than we need -- it's just not configured in a particularly handy way. Sometimes I really wonder just what the designers of RVs are thinking about when they come up with the configurations for cabinets and cubbyholes and what they laughingly call "closets." There are a lot of dead spots, places where you can shove stuff but you can't really see into very easily. I can stash a lot of stuff in the bedroom, but in order to access some of it I end up having to mimic a snake, crawling on the floor on my belly trying to reach the Rubbermaid totes that got shoved (or slid) all the way to the back.

All that storage space strikes me as a bit weird, too. After all, the Guppy is a recreational vehicle. Theoretically no one was planning to live in it permanently. Just how much stuff did the designers think the typical family was going to want to take with them on a family vacation? Keep in mind that in addition to the storage in the living area, there's also a ton of storage space underneath the thing -- multiple compartments for stashing lawn chairs and barbecue grills and sun shades and patio rugs.

In any case, now that the S.O. is done with his minor fixes and improvements, I can start loading clothes, books, my sewing and knitting stuff, and the groceries that won't be bothered by a few freezing nights before we leave. If all goes well, the only things left to load the morning we pull out will be canned goods and our toothbrushes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

So what's new at the museum?

I've been working on a new exhibit for the 2016 season -- "Politics & Voting." A couple years ago the Baraga County Tourism and Recreation Association asked if we'd like to have the voting machine that was taking up space in the building where they parked the snowmobile trail groomer. I said yes, of course. At the time I wasn't exactly sure where the machine came from. I thought it was L'Anse Township. Turned out it was actually Baraga Township, not that it makes much difference.

When the machine rolled in the door, it was covered with a remarkably thick layer of soot from the diesel exhaust from various vehicles. The machine had been sitting for a couple decades in a building used for parking the snowmobile trail groomer. It was locked so I was a little afraid that once we actually got it open the interior would be as filthy as the exterior, but it wasn't bad. We had to drill the lock out on the front because I wasn't able to track down a key, but once we got it open I was relieved to see that it apparently closed up tight enough that not much soot got in.

Opening the machine helped a bit with dating when it was last used, too. The labels for the political parties were still on the handles on one side. Those labels include the Tisch Independent Party. The Tisch Independent Party is a Michigan phenomenon. Bob Tisch founded the party in 1982; on the 1984 ballot he's the only candidate from that party running for anything. He apparently managed to recruit some acolytes because the party is still around, but is now known in Michigan as the U.S. Taxpayers Party. On a national level, they're affiliated with the Constitution Party. Which I guess is where the Tea Party types hang out who think the Republican Party today is much too liberal.

Anyway, because the Tisch Independent Party changed its name and was listed on the 1994 ballot as the U.S. Taxpayers Party but it's still Tisch on this voting machine, I now know that the absolute last time the machine might have been used is 1992.

So, besides the voting machine, what else do I have to play with for the exhibit? Instructional ballots from various elections. Poll books. Bumper stickers. Campaign buttons. Unused actual ballots from some early elections, like one from 1894. Brochures. A flyswatter some candidate handed out 30 or 40 years ago. A Bush-Quayle yard sign. A Dennis Kucinich tee-shirt. I've got plenty of material; the one thing I'm lacking is space. I'd love to put a mannequin in period costume behind a table with some poll books in front of him (we've got some from 1916) but don't think there's quite enough open square footage. Can't win them all.

I am thinking about setting out some empty milk bottles with candidates' names on them with a suggestion visitors vote for the person they think will win the Presidential election. I'm not sure I should, though. I fear that when we're only going to be open two days a week (not enough bodies able to volunteer) this coming summer there'd be so few people voting that seeing just two or three pennies in the bottom of a bottle would be too depressing -- especially if the handful of coins were all in the Trump jar. .

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Book Review: A Banquet of Consequences

A Banquet of Consequences is the latest novel in Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series. It took me awhile to warm up to Inspector Lynley; I wasn't particularly impressed with the first couple books in the series. They fell into the better than nothing but not by much category. Then either Elizabeth George got better -- a strong possibility; most authors' skills do improve over time -- or I got hooked on the characters. Now I look forward to the new ones; that wasn't true twenty years ago.

The two major characters in the Lynley series are DI Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers. Holding true to the convention that the primary characters need to be opposites, Lynley is an aristocrat from a wealthy family whose lifestyle includes a London townhouse packed with antiques and staffed by a man serveant and who possesses impeccable manners while Havers is a blue collar slob with no sense of style and a remarkably blunt persona. Lynley thinks things through and follows the rules; Havers is impulsive and tends to cut corners. When the series began, Havers was suspicious about being asked to work with Lynley; Lynley was unhappy about being stuck with Havers. Eventually, though, they figured out that they made an unlikely but effective pair.

Havers is actually the one annoying quibble I have with this series. She's always described as being more than a bit of a slob: her favorite footwear are "trainers," she's fond of tee-shirts with odd sayings printed on them, she spends a lot of time in sweatpants. She's also addicted to the least healthy foods available in Britain: super greasy fish and chips, for example, are a particular favorite. Based on her diet and the fact she loathes exercise, she should weigh about 400 pounds but is apparently blessed with a metabolism that allows her to eat like a lumberjack without gaining weight. I can live with that. I've noticed a number of authors create female fantasy characters who can inhale quite a few thousand calories per day and never pay the price. Male authors live vicariously through characters who are remarkably athletic without ever seeing a gym; women write about the joys of unlimited chocolate. The clothing, on the other hand. . . 

The clothing is an ongoing issue with Havers's superiors. Comments are made on a regular basis about how unprofessional she looks -- both her wardrobe and her hair style are always a mess. Havers herself marvels a bit at women who manage to look put together, polished, wear flattering clothing, etc.This baffles me. If Havers is a plain clothes detective sergeant now, that means at some point she was a beat cop in a uniform. If she spent a few years wearing a uniform, you'd think she'd have figured out it's not that hard to look reasonably neat while dressed like a grown-up. Maybe her treating every day like casual Friday is a reaction to being stuck in a uniform for a number of years, but it still seems odd. Just like having various supervisors complain about her methods and the overall way she does her job (e.g., bending the rules super close to the breaking point) seems off. If she's a sergeant now, she got promoted into that job. Obviously, if she got promoted she had to be doing something right.

But all that's kind of a digression from talking about A Banquet of Consequences. It's a typical Inspector Lynley novel. There are several plot lines, both major and minor, interwoven. In the first few chapters of the book we're introduced to a young couple (a tatoo artist and a landscape gardener) who have some issues, a feminist author and her editor, another young couple (an acupuncturist and a psychotherapist) also having issues, a female psychopath who has Ideal Murder Victim written all over her, and, of course, re-introduced to Havers and Lynley and what's happening with them. Lynley is worrying about his love life -- he was tragically widowed a couple of books back but is now falling in love with a new woman -- while Havers is walking around feeling super stressed because she's been warned that if she screws up one more time she'll be transferred to a duty station about as far away from London as it's possible to get and still be in Britain. In response to Havers being so stressed, the division secretary has decided that what the woman needs is a distraction, i.e., she needs to get laid. She begins coercing Havers into going on shopping expeditions and trying speed dating. Eventually all these threads begin crossing and, because this is a murder mystery, someone ends up dead.

Actually, several someones. This is, after all, a murder mystery. One of the conventions for any murder mystery is that there's never just one victim. Depending on the author, once one person ends up dead, corpses can start piling up like cordwood. George is more restrained than most -- in A Banquet of Consequences the corpse count is pretty low. George is more interested in what's going on in people's heads and the various relationship problems they're having than she is in having the usual panicked villain running around offing more people in an attempt to cover up the first murder. People are complicated; nothing is ever quite as straightforward as you'd think. Innocent victims turn out to be not so innocent; people who look guilty as hell aren't. . . or at least aren't guilty of what you think they are. 

One character in particular stood out in this book, a woman who is so openly neurotic and needy that the fact that she just might be flatout nuts never seems to register with people. It was like the cumulative effect of all the small weirdnesses totally obscured the underlying psychosis and the fact the person was a chronic pathological liar. I kept thinking about some of the crazy people I've known, none of whom were quite as bad as this particular character, although a few came close. It is astounding sometimes just how many giant red flags people can be waving and no one notices. It's like we all so desperately want people to be normal and nice that we convince ourselves they are even when they're busy (figuratively speaking) burying bodies in the backyard in full view of the neighbors. People do horrible things and instead of calling them out on it their friends and acquaintances make excuses. No one wants to admit someone they know -- a co-worker, a neighbor, a relative, a spouse -- is seriously deranged or corrupt or just plain evil. The one thing we humans seem to be remarkably skilled at is denial. 

Anyway, in the end, the various complicated pieces fall into place, a suspect confesses, and, from the perspective of Lynley and Havers, that's that. Case closed.

Except, of course, it isn't. Because this is an Elizabeth George novel, there is a twist. There is always a twist, but if you want to know what it is, you'll have to read the book yourself.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Chickens voting for the Colonel

The S.O. and I went down and voted today. There was actually a line. Not much of a line, true, but we did end up waiting for a few minutes. We had our choice of three ballots: Democratic, Republican, or just the local millage renewals. I was tempted to do the last one, but decided, nope, I'm still feeling the Bern.

So did I vote for Bernie or against Hillary? Good question. I have a hunch that when it gets to November I'm going to be wishing that Cthulhu was running as an Independent, but at this point I think it was still more a case of voting for. 

In any case, if the ambulance or fire department have financial shortfalls this year, you can't blame me.

(Is it just me, or does Cthulhu look a lot like Richard Nixon in that drawing?)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Mud Season has arrived

According to the Weather Bug's 10-day forecast, we're looking at highs in the upper 40s and even mid-50s this week. Lovely. The Mud Season has arrived, that lovely time of year when the driveway is super sloppy but the snowbanks are still too high on either side to allow me to avoid the puddles and muck when I stroll from the house up to the Woman Cave and back again. Time to dig out the rubber boots and hope I manage to avoid the worst of the sink holes. There's nothing quite like stepping on what looks like reasonably solid ground and feeling your foot sinking into knee-deep mud.

If the Weather Bug's forecast wasn't enough to let me know Spring Break-Up is here, the County Road Commission's sign down by the highway is. Seasonal load limits are now in effect: there will be no logging trucks on the Herman Road for a few weeks.

I don't think this will be a particularly sloppy Mud Season compared to some. I don't anticipate things getting so nasty we end up parking out on the county road to avoid getting stuck in our own driveway. Then again, you never know. There are a couple spots that can be deceiving. There's a little knoll between the house and the gate that has been known to eat cars. It's the last spot to thaw out because it's on the north side of a hill. The rest of the driveway will be back to looking totally normal, not even damp spots showing anymore, and that knoll will finally wake up and decide to snare a vehicle or two. It'll look perfectly solid and then the bottom drops out and whatever you're driving is sitting there with mud seeping up over the axles. That hasn't happened in a few years -- the S.O. spent a fair amount of time and money building that section of the driveway up -- but I always get the feeling that knoll is just biding its time.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

More thoughts on politics and primaries

Ol' Buzzard left a comment expressing a concern I've heard a few times recently: Democrats are voting in lower numbers during the primary season than the Republicans are. Various experts, pundits, whatever, are concerned this signals low voter turnout come November. IMHO, this is nothing to worry about. Last fall there was a handful of Democrats announcing they'd like to be the party's nominee: Jim Webb, Lincoln Chaffee, Martin O'Malley, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders.

The first two vanished pretty quickly, which was fine with me. Jim Webb had anointed himself as the voice of the angry white redneck/hillbilly, a remarkably small constituency within the Democratic Party these days, and Lincoln Chaffee was just too bland to resonate much with the potential voters. Both also carried the stigma of having once been Republicans. Granted, Webb had run for the Senate in Virginia as a Democrat and won, but then he'd walked away from that job after one term. In any case, the poll numbers for both Webb and Chaffee were abysmal. From what I saw, I doubt that either had any supporters outside their immediate families, and even then I'd bet the in-laws weren't planning on voting for them. Being an angry white guy with an over-inflated opinion of himself, Webb stalked away muttering about making a possible Independent run. Chaffee just quietly vanished. That left O'Malley, Clinton, and Sanders still competing for voters' attention.

O'Malley hung in there longer -- my own guess is that he was actually campaigning for Vice President all along -- but bowed out a couple weeks ago, leaving Clinton and Sanders. According to an article in our local paper, there is actually still another person running for the Presidential nomination, a businessman from San Diego named Rocky De La Fuente. I'd never heard of him until I saw his name in the paper. According to Wikipedia, his name is on the ballot in most states, but if he's campaigning, he's being so low key as to be nonexistent. At this point, he seems to be functioning as "None of the Above."

Anyway, before the primary season had barely started the Democrats were down to basically just two candidates. Thanks to the enthusiasm Bernie Sanders generated, Hillary Clinton's stump speech has now evolved into something that sounds like it came straight from Bernie's list of talking points. Every Democrat I know is thoroughly convinced that either one of them would do just fine as the nominee. Depending on the poll, they both can beat a potential Republican nominee, especially if that nominee is (at it appears it will be) The Donald. So what difference does it make which one wins the <insert name of state here> primary? I know both Bernie and Hillary have followers who are passionate about their particular candidate -- we're hearing the usual "If he/she is the nominee, I won't vote in November" bullshit -- but most people don't get that worked up. They look at the candidates, they hear them saying essentially the same thing, and they decide they don't care which one ends up on the ballot for the general election.

The Michigan primary is this coming Tuesday, March 8. The S.O. and I will be voting, but it won't be because we have strong feelings one way or the other about a particular candidate. It's because there are also two local millage renewals on the ballot. If it wasn't for those millages, we'd probably skip it. So would most people. I cheerfully predict, in fact, that our county will be another one that gets described as having low turnout on the part of the Democrats while unusually high numbers of Republicans vote. The Republicans have a side show going on so everyone wants to get a glimpse of the tattooed lady. The Democrats? Two people who have behaved like adults (so far) and keep giving speeches that talk about actual issues. Boring. Not worth worrying about. Whoever the nominee is, it'll be fine -- we know they're both grown-ups.

In short, I don't think we can read much into voter participation rates at this point. If anything, Democrats should be relieved the primary process for them has been fairly low key -- so far all the Republicans have managed to do is slide ever deeper into the muck while terrifying the rest of us. The convention is in July. There's going to be plenty of time between then and the first Tuesday in November to fire up the base.

As for me and the S.O., the big question for us when we vote in next week's open primary comes down to do we want to do a replay of 2000 and help toss a spanner in the works for the Republicans, or do we feel the Bern and maybe contribute a little to keeping the pressure on Hillary to walk farther away from Wall Street. Decisions, decisions. ..

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Open primaries and political gamesmanship

The S.O. and I were listening to NPR yesterday and happened to hear The Donald bloviating about his South Carolina win. He was explaining that the results showed he was uniting people, not dividing them, because apparently a fair number of people who "used to be Democrats" voted in the Republican open primaries.

For some reason, the bloviation about Democrats jumping parties reminded us of the 2000 election cycle. Michigan had a toad of a governor at the time, a man named John Engler, and Engler was angling for the V.P. slot on the ticket. He promised George aWol Bush that he'd deliver the state for him in the primary. Michigan has an open primary system. Doesn't matter what you're registered as, when you walk into the polls you can opt to vote for either Democrats or Republicans -- the only thing is, of course, because it's a primary you have to vote for either all Democrats or all Republicans on the ballot or it doesn't count.

Anyway, to make a long story even longer, by the time 2000 rolled around, Engler was finishing up his third term and was pretty universally despised. A fair number of voters did not want to see him succeed in helping Bush and quite possibly moving on to the Vice President slot on the ticket. So what could anyone do about it? Well, whole bunches of people who normally wouldn't bother voting in the primary suddenly discovered they were John McCain supporters. In many districts the Democratic candidates for Senator or Representative on both the federal and state levels were running unopposed so why bother voting for them? Everyone already knew who was going to be in the general election. For that matter, even the top of the ticket for the Democrats was basically already locked in. When a sitting vice president decides to run, the assumption tends to be that's who you're going to get stuck with in the end. On the other hand, the Republicans could probably use a good spoiler. . .

You got it. Lots of Democrats took advantage of the open primary system to throw a spanner in the works. McCain carried the state; Engler's fantasies of being a vice presidential contender went up in smoke. He did end up with a cabinet slot eventually, but it was definitely step down from his original ambitions.

Which brings me to Trump and his appeal to Democrats in the primaries. I have no doubt some of those people who jumped parties, at least briefly, did so because on some weird level Trump's rhetoric resonates with them. On the other hand, I can't help wondering just how many might have decided it would be fun to cast a vote for The Donald just to mess with Rubio's or Cruz's or the Republican establishment's dreams in general?

Every poll says that the majority of voters are terrified of the possibility of a Trump presidency. It doesn't matter if it's Bernie or Hillary running against Trump; either Democrat is likely to win. Poll results are closer, though, if the Republican nominee is someone other than Trump. So if there's an open primary and you're a Democrat and have a chance to tip the odds a bit in Trump's favor because he'll be the easiest candidate to beat in November? And then when you add in the fact everyone and their brother was predicting it was going to a lop-sided win for Hillary? Even if you felt the Bern it wasn't going to make much difference. Heck, if I lived in South Carolina, I might have shown up at the Republican primary myself.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

We have met the tofu tacos

How could anything go wrong when Po is on the package?
and they were actually edible.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that the Woman's Day February Month of Menus included a number of vegan options, including tofu tacos. I was intrigued -- both the S.O. and I have been the recipient of the "eat less red meat" talk from our primary care physicians thanks to cholesterol numbers that are less than optimal -- so I decided we'd try the recipe. It actually fell early in the month, but first Larry's had no tofu in stock and then there was the pepper problem. Larry's Market in Baraga is a nice small town supermarket, but it is small. It does have a surprisingly cosmopolitan range of merchandise, stuff you wouldn't expect to find in a store its size, but there are limits. Tofu was one of them.

That is, of course, until I happened to mention to someone working there that I had been hoping they carried tofu even though I hadn't been expecting it. Voila. The next time they got a shipment in from whoever distributes that stuff, there it was. Tofu. (Side note: Lord, please don't let Larry's be stuck with almost a full case of tofu just because one person wanted one package!) I had planned to wait until we got up to Houghton or Marquette but I no longer had to.

Of course, I still had to wait until we got to Houghton or Marquette because of the pepper problem. The recipe called for a poblano pepper. Like I said, Larry's is small. Fresh pepper selection there falls into bell peppers, jalapenos, and occasionally those bags with mini multi-colored sweet peppers. The recipe called for cooking half a red pepper and half a poblano and then garnishing with fresh jalapeno. Poblanos aren't a real hot pepper, but they do rank several slots higher than sweet bell peppers on the Scoville scale. Tofu is bland (to say the least) so I wanted a pepper with a little bit of a kick to it. Ordinary green bell peppers weren't going to make it into the frying pan. In any case, having cursed Larry's with a stash of tofu, I wasn't going to suggest they expand the pepper selection, too.

Well, as luck would have it, Marquette with its multiple supermarkets is between where we live and the town of Trenary. On our way home from the Outhouse Races on Saturday, we stopped at Econo Foods. Poblano pepper problem solved.

I made the tacos yesterday. They were a surprise. They weren't bad. I can actually see making them again, especially if an occasion arises where we have friends or relatives visiting who prefer not to eat dead animal flesh. The biggest issue (if you can call it that) was feeling a little weirded out because the crumbled and fried tofu had a texture and general appearance similar to scrambled eggs but a color and taste that was totally different.

Tofu Tacos with Romaine slaw
Finely chop 1/2 each small poblano and red pepper, 2 cloves garlic, and 1 small onion. Saute mixture in a large nonstick skillet with 1 tbsp oil for 4 minutes. Crumble 14 oz extra-firm tofu (squeezed of excess moisture) into the skillet and season with 1-1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, salt and pepper; saute until golden brown. Spoon into corn tortillas; top with sliced romaine and jalapeno. 

Gotta love the way they jazz it up by saying "with romaine slaw" when the "slaw" consists of some shredded lettuce.
Things I did different: I used a whole poblano and no red pepper and used medium firm tofu (it was the only option available) instead of extra firm. It's possible that if I'd had the extra firm, the texture would have been a little less scrambled egg-like. If I do this recipe again (or something similar) I'll use two whole peppers, not just one. It has also brilliantly occurred to me that a person could probably take ordinary taco seasoning and substitute tofu for the ground meat those seasoning packets tell you to use. I have a giant package of Sysco taco seasoning so one of these days I may experiment with it.

I am still mildly in shock. Holy wah. Tofu is edible. Who knew? 

Definitely one of those WTF? days

I really need to spend less time sitting in front of this computer. Every time I go wandering around the Intertubes reminders of just how few cylinders most people seem to operate on keep popping up.

First, for those of you who may not have noticed, coloring books for adults have become A Thing in recent months. You can get coloring books that have a specific theme (I have been tempted by the Outlander one) or you can get ones that are just vaguely psychedelic or mandala-like patterns. The idea is that coloring relaxes you. You zone out as you focus on staying inside the lines, you forget about big problems (your boss is a jerk, the roof has started leaking, you just found out one of your adult children has decided to move back home) and mellow out while fussing over the exactly right shade of red to color the rose petals. It all seems pretty harmless. A bit odd, true, but harmless.

Or so I thought. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I now know that coloring can lead to demon possession. Start filling in one of those mandalas and the next thing you know you're on the short road to Hell. After all, mandalas aren't "Christian." Christ on a crutch -- the only way coloring a picture of anything (a Buddhist mandala, the Millennium Falcon, a rose bush) is going to send you on the express route to damnation is if that's where you wanted to go to begin with. I really need to stop asking how stupid people can get. . .

I should have stepped away from the computer after the coloring leads to selling one's soul to Satan post. Instead I kept scrolling on down. And that's when I learned that the United States Postal Service has decided it's no longer selling stamps for overseas postage. The person sharing this bit of knowledge said that she'd gone to her local Post Office to pick up some Global stamps and they didn't have any. When she asked, she got told they're not selling them anymore. Ever. She was told to just slap 3 domestic postage Forever stamps on her letters.

To say this struck me as bizarre would be the usual massive understatement. For a start, the Global stamp costs $1.20; the current domestic 1 ounce or less rate is 49 cents. If I had to substitute regular stamps for the Global, I'd use two 49 and one 22 cents. The last time I checked, 49 + 49 + 22 = 120. I usually keep a stash of 22-cent stamps on hand because that's what you slap on a domestic letter for every ounce over that first ounce. But did this occur to anyone in the discussion thread that followed the dread news that the post office was going to force us all to spend $1.47 for overseas mail? Nope. These people, who supposedly write to a lot of pen pals and therefore buy a lot of stamps, apparently do not know that the USPS issues stamps in more than 2 values. Holy shit. Saying "the stupid, it burns" doesn't begin to cover it.

In any case, the Post Office has not stopped issuing Global stamps. They issued a brand new design on February 22 -- it's kind of cool; it has a picture of the moon on it -- and they're available in most post offices as well as through the USPS website.

As someone who mails a fair amount of stuff on a regular basis, I know that local post offices do occasionally run out of some types of stamps. It happens every year before Christmas: one particular holiday stamp design will be more popular than the others so it sells out fast. I've even had it happen where I needed Global stamps and they were sold out, so the postal clerk would (and here's a real news flash for all the gullible types who were freaking about OMG no Global stamps!!) meter the postage. You know, like when you mail a package and they print out the postage sticker with the exact amount required printed on it and slap it on the parcel? Believe it or not, dumbfucks gullible people, it is possible to mail stuff without even having a stamp on it. Just hand your money to the clerk and he or she will print out the sticker and affix to the envelope.

It's on afternoons like this that I understand exactly why Donald Trump can win elections.