Friday, November 25, 2016

All empires fall

I began reading Norman Cantor's The Civilization of the Middle Ages the other day. It's a tad dry so I'm not exacty sailing it through it. It is, in fact, the perfect book for reading just before going to sleep. It doesn't take many pages before I'm turning off the bedside lamp and starting to snore.

However, one thing did stand out in the section on the lead up to the Middle Ages (basically the period from the 5th century into the 15th, i.e., 400 A.D. to sometime after 1400 A.D.). Cantor discusses the fall of the Roman empire: the dwindling power of the Roman aristocracy, the shift in control over who actually held the title of emperor, and the gradual splintering of the various pieces of the empire, and finally the loss of the western portion of the empire to Germanic tribes in the 5th century. If I recall correctly, the city of Rome fell in 476.

So how did Rome go from being the most powerful country in its part of the world to a gradually shrinking has-been? Cantor mentions a number of factors other scholars have described: the rise of Christianity, for example, meant that many talented men who a few generations earlier would have gone into politics and government chose to become priests and bishops instead. In both power and material wealth, you could gain more by being a priest than by going into government. End result? A lot of mediocrities and incompetents taking up space in government bureaucracies and administration.

And then Rome started outsourcing. The wealthier and more powerful the empire became, the less interest the elites had in doing any actual work themselves. The educational system prepared the Roman equivalent of the 1% to read Greek philosophy and to argue Platonian ideals; it did not prepare them for any involvement in the real world. The idea that a real Roman would be involved in anything remotely resembling "work," which apparently meant anything to do with commerce or industry, was anathema. I'm not sure where the wealthy Romans got their money from -- rents on property managed by minions? -- but for sure they didn't work and they didn't go into the military. End result? The military wound up being comprised mostly of mercenaries who were not Roman by birth.

As I was reading this, I found myself thinking about the United States. As a nation, we've spent decades devaluing any work that involves actually getting our hands dirty. We do a lot of talking about jobs "Americans won't do," like working in meat-packing plants, doing farm work, lawn care, housekeeping in hotels. . . it's a long list. We're adamant that every American high school student should go to college, as if our economy is bursting at the seams with jobs that actually require a 4-year degree. After all, god forbid that a real American would ever have to work at a job that resulted in him or her having to shower after work instead of before. If you work at an occupation where you actually get your hands dirty, somehow your work isn't as important as that of a white collar worker.

The parallels with Rome are intriguing, except we're managing to raise a much larger generation of people who don't think they should lower themselves to engage with the real world. We just had an election in which a lot of people voted for a candidate they're convinced can perform a miracle and bring back manufacturing jobs. Only one problem with that magical scenario, folks, even if the Yam in Human Form could somehow revive the rust belt or expand coal mining, none of your kids would want to work there. They're being raised to believe they're all destined to be managers, not workers, so if and when the jobs ever come back, you know who's going to be willing to take them?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Coronado National Forest: Cochise Stronghold

Cochise Stronghold is a section of a canyon in the Dragoon Mountains that is famous for being the spot where the famous Chiricahua Apache warrior Cochise is buried. Cochise fought both the Mexicans and the U.S. military, but agreed to a peace agreement after becoming friends with the local Indian agent. During hostilities, the Dragoon Mountains had served as a base for the Chiricahua. Various vantage points in the mountains ensured Cochise and his people could see troops approaching from many miles away.
The above photo, for example, is taken from a point on the nature trail where if I had been a foot taller I could have gotten a shot that showed that from that particular spot on the hillside it's possible to see anything approaching the canyon from 20 or more miles away. A little higher up the hillside and the view would be even better.

After hostilities ceased, the Chokonen Chiricahua were moved on to a reservation. They remained there until Cochise's death, possibly from stomach cancer, in 1874. When he died, a small group of warriors and one white friend took his body into the Dragoons to bury him along with his favorite horse. According to one account, the warriors found a deep cleft in the mountains, lowered Cochise's body into it, and then killed the horse and dropped it in on top of him along with other grave goods. Another report described it as an actual burial and describes the warriors leading their horses around to obscure the gravesite. In either case, only a handful of people knew where Cochise was buried and took the secret to their graves.

Cochise Stronghold is located on the Coronado National Forest. There's a nice little campground, only 12 sites, that is designed for small equipment. There are paved parking pads, but none of them are very long. Several sites are handicap accessible. The guide we have to RV Camping in National Forests says nothing longer than 21 feet, but I think the Guppy (27 feet) would fit because there's adequate space between the curb at the back of the parking pad and the concrete picnic table (for sure no one is stealing those suckers) for the back end of the Guppy to hang over with no trouble. Not that we have any intention of ever camping at Cochise Stronghold. It alls into the same category as the campgrounds I mentioned the other day that are located on Mount Graham: it's too close to Safford to ever be an option for rustic camping.
The campground, incidentally, is a nice example of the effects of dwindling budgets on recreational facilities in the national forests. It used to have water; it doesn't anymore. There's still a water pipe in place at what appeared to be the host's site, but there's no faucet on it. The only amenity is a vault toilet -- a very nice one, to be sure, one that's fairly new and has multiple stalls, but still only a toilet. At some point the water supply got interrupted -- it was being piped in from somewhere outside the actual campground -- and it's never been restored. The Kid tells us that she was told there have been 3 attempts to drill a well for the campgound but none have succeeded.

We almost applied to be campground hosts at Cochise Stronghold. It was tempting, at least to me, despite its total lack of amenities. I'm not sure the S.O. would have been too thrilled with it -- it's a total dead zone thanks to being located at the bottom of a canyon -- but there are times when the notion of being off the grid feels remarkably attractive. No Facebook, no television, no radio. Just a stack of old Smithsonian magazines and some books for entertainment. It was looking good in the weeks leading up to the election, not quite so much now.

The Coronado did supposedly find a campground host for Cochise Stronghold, but there was no sign of one at the actual campground. The Kid said she'd heard they were actually using a house the Forest Service owns nearby because there's water and electricity there. I don't know. . . that strikes me as a bit odd. I mean, what's the point of having a campground host if there's no evidence at the host's site that one exists? Although I suppose as long as they do the important stuff (keep the toilets clean and check the campground periodically to make sure anyone who's using it has actually paid the fees) it doesn't really matter if they're continually on site or not.

Anyway, in addition to the campground, there are two short loop trails at Cochise Stronghold: a paved, accessible trail with interpretive signs providing information about the canyon and the Apache people and a longer, not accessible nature trail with interpretive signage describing local vegetation. There is also a trailhead for a 5-mile long trail that goes through the Dragoons to West Cochise. Doing the nature trail definitely gave us some appreciation for what The Kid goes through doing field work. Between the cactus, various thorned plants (there's a type of mimosa that is remarkably vicious looking), and the yuccas, trying to walk in a straight line while doing an archeological survey can't be much fun.

The original development at Cochise Stronghold was done in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which is no doubt one reason why the camp sites are on the small side. There's obviously been a lot of work done since then, like making some sites handicap accessible, and probably repaving the campground loop a time or two, but doubt any changes have been made to the original layout. One of the odder things about Cochise is that you get to drive over a few miles of some truly horrible dirt road (once again the term "washboard" doesn't come close to capturing it) and then as you roll into the actual campground the road turns to asphalt. Of course, we saw the same thing up at Riggs Lake, and it felt even weirder there.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Maybe we need to invest in face masks

Not long after we arrived here in Safford, Arizona, I noticed that a few of the little old ladies out for their morning constitutionals were wearing face masks. It baffled me a bit. After all, I've known people who regularly wear face masks during cold and flu season if they're going to be someplace where there are a lot of people, but walking around an RV park by yourself? It was a bit of a mystery.

Not anymore. It's been a bit breezy since we arrived here. Nothing dramatic, but the wind does seem to blow some every day. And then yesterday it went from a bit breezy to let's rip the tumbleweeds lose and topple any Yugos that might still be on the road. Couple that with the fact Safford is basically a farming town sitting in a river valley full of cotton fields, and the cotton has now been harvested. When you go from thousands of acres of cotton to thousands of acres of bare, dry dirt and the wind blows? I'm a tad surprised there's any paint left on local buildings and vehicles. Those face masks are now making perfect sense.
All that cotton is grown using irrigation, of course. This is, after all, the desert. My personal opinion is that there shouldn't be any farming going on at all that requires irrigation, water being a finite resource, but cotton doesn't strike me as being quite as much of an abomination as the pecan and pistachio orchards or the vineyards. When you grow a seasonal crop like cotton, you're using a lot of water for part of the year. When you plant trees, you're watering year round. Why anyone would think that planting orchards in a desert, especially orchards of trees that are not a natural desert species, is a good idea is a mystery, but way too many people are doing it.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Coronado National Forest: Mount Graham and Riggs Lake

Mount Graham is a humongous lump of rock and dirt located to the southwest of Safford. It's one of the taller peaks in Arizona with a summit of 10,720 feet, and is the location of a fairly new international observatory. The observatory is a joint venture between the University of Arizona, the Vatican, and other entities. It's supposed to be a pretty nifty place, which the public can tour but not very often. There's something like a 4-month waiting list to get into it, and, given that the road that leads up to it is now closed for the winter, I don't think it's going to make the list of places we visit while we're in Safford.

Riggs Lake. It's noted for its trout fishing. There were people fishing when we were there, including fellow who was fly fishing from a recreational kayak.

We have, however, seen Mount Graham up close and personal. We celebrated Veterans' Day by going for a picnic at the Riggs Lake campground. Riggs Lake is in the Coronado National Forest. It's also about as far as you can go on the ironically named Swift Trail Scenic Parkway, aka Arizona Highway 366. The highway gets to climb from around 3,000 feet to over 9,000 while switchbacking its way around a mountain so you know you're not going anywhere fast. I am told the views out the downhill side of the road can be spectacular. I wouldn't know. I have a thing about heights; I tend to get a bit queasy if I have to stand on a step stool to reach the top shelf in the cabinets. I spent most of the drive up and back down again resolutely looking out the car windows at the uphill side of the drive. Riggs Lake (pictured above) is at an elevation of about 8800 feet.

There are a number of campgrounds on the mountain, including one that is actually in the guidebook we have on RV Camping in the National Forests, Soldier Creek. All the campgrounds on the mountain are fairly small; Riggs Lake might be the biggest in terms of number of sites -- it has 26 -- but it's also set up strictly for tent camping. We picnicked there, and I didn't see any sites where you could use either an RV or a trailer, no matter how small. They supposedly have a campground host there during the busy season (summer) but I couldn't figure out where the host would set up. I sure didn't see anything that looked remotely like the typical host's site.

Looking toward one of the campsites at Riggs Lake. They had great picnic tables and tent pads, but, yep, strictly walk-in camping. Which, even on what was a rather chilly weekend up on the mountain, had its fans. There were several families tent camping even though the kids had to be bundled up in winter jackets.
Soldier Creek is designed so you could use a camper there: a small trailer, a conversion van, a fairly short class C. It's described as suitable for RVs and trailers 22 feet or less in length. I don't know. When I eyeballed the camp ground, it looked like we could fit the Guppy in there on most of the sites. We'd just have to make sure our water tank was full because like most of the campgrounds on the Coronado there is no water. The sole amenity is a vault toilet. Not that we have any plans to do rustic camping so close to Safford. We'll save that sort of fun stuff for the trip home.
 On the other hand, thanks to the rock formations and general lay of the land, whichever site you picked, you'd be a decent distance from other campers. The area is quite nice, definitely the great outdoors. It, like Riggs Lake, is now closed until next spring. The not paved part of the Parkway gets gated on November 14, which effectively blocks the last 12 miles of the road.
Camp sites at Soldier Creek
That last section of the drive was interesting. Calling it rough in spots would be a pretty accurate description. Washboard would be another. We were told and I also read that Riggs Lake is super popular in the summer, which truly illustrates just how hot and miserable it gets down in the low lands.

We did do a drive through of a campground, Arcadia, that's located far enough down the mountain that it's open year round. It has 18 sites, 8 of which can be used by small RVs (i.e., under 22 feet in length). It seemed nice enough, but a little tight. During the busy season, I have a hunch the sites would start feeling small and too close together, but that could be a feature of the topography. There are also a number of "undeveloped" recreation areas on the mountain, places where at some point in the past management probably thought they'd be putting in real campgrounds but then ran out of money. I'm not sure what the official policy is on the Coronado regarding those areas. On some forests and on Bureau of Land Management property, you can boondock in those primitive rec areas without paying a fee. Whether or not it's permitted tends to depend a lot on how popular an area is; fee-free dispersed camping tends to be regulated out of existence if too many people start doing it. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Another first: Alamogordo/White Sands KOA

We finally stayed at a commerical campground enroute to Arizona. Until a couple weeks ago, we'd avoided spending the Big Bucks that a KOA or similar facility costs compared with public campgrounds or a Walmart parking lot. Although I don't think it's actually cheapness that kept us away from the commercial campgrounds. I'd like to believe it was more an appreciation of the public lands, like state parks and Corps of Engineers campgrounds.

In any case, we knew that we'd have to stop somewhere around Alamogordo, New Mexico, so I consulted the Good Sam guide. It's not the most recent edition, but I figure it'll be a couple years yet before it's so out of date we need to invest in a new one. It mentioned several places that had the Good Sam stamp of approval, including a KOA
The S.O. taking a photo of my taking a photo of him taking a photo of me taking a photo of him taking a photo of me taking a photo. . . Fortunately, he was shooting into the sun. End result was a lot of glare. I, on the other hand, had the sun behind me.
We weren't aiming specifically for the KOA that's pretty much right in Alamogordo, right off the highway and, according to the Good Sam guide, walking distance to a Walmart Super Center, but that's where we wound up. When we pulled in, I was a little worried that they were full -- they were close to  it-- but they had a good pull-through (which is what most of their spaces are) available. Full hook-ups at a pretty reasonable rate. It was actually a lot cheaper than I thought it would be. We didn't bother to hook up the sewer when we were only going to be there for one night, but did enjoy the water and electricity.
The showerhouse doors had combination locks, which struck me as a real good feature when the campground is right in town. The code is included on the campground map you get when you check in. Lexington Pines does the same thing: if you want to use the toilets, showers, exercise room, or laundry room, you need to know a combination to get into the building.

As for my impressions of the place, I liked it. Each RV site had a little privacy wall to serve as both a windbreak and to provide a little bit of distance from the neighbors. There was a concrete patio with a picnic table and a typical park-type grill on a pipe. The spaces weren't real big, but the landscaping was mature (real trees) and the place was definitely well-maintained. The sites are sufficiently level that we didn't feel the need to do any adjustments. If we'd planned to be there for more than one night, we probably would have put down the step stablizers, but I don't think we'd have bothered with the jack stands. If for some reason we end up going through Alamogordo again, I could see staying there for a few nights.  

This KOA includes a number of tent camping sites as well as two camping cabins. Those sites have fire rings, although I have a real hard time picturing anyone tent camping right in town and still wanting to do a campfrie. As for the camping cabins. . . they looked a lot like the ones many state parks have, about the size of a storage shed and minimal amenities. You know, bring your own sleeping bag and if you're lucky the bunks have mattresses.

I am happy we invested in that Good Sam guide in 2014. We passed some remarkably sketchy looking RV parks in New Mexico. It was really nice to have a guide that let us know there were better ones a few miles down the road. No desperation camping.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Scenic Texas

There are definitely reasons to avoid ever driving through the Texas panhandle. I think we found one.

We'd been drivng for awhile down through the extremely skinny Oklahoma panhandle into the northwest corner of the Texas one. Our Rand McNally had a couple picnic tables/rest areas marked along US-54 from Guymon, Oklahoma, to Logan, New Mexico, so we figured we'd stop at one in Texas to stretch our legs and maybe use a restroom. Even if there wasn't one at a picnic area, there is one in the Guppy.
On the positive side, it did have a book on stick with some moderately interesting local trivia. Texas is full of these historical markers; depending on what part of the state you're in, it can feel like they're as common as mile markers. At some point in the past, this spot had actually been a pretty nice rest area. It sits next to a planned river (as the S.O. and I tend to refer to the washes that have water in them about three days out of the year; the Southwest is full of them), it's set off the highway with a nice circular drive in and out, and at one time it had had some fairly nice ramadas with picnic tables. I'm not sure which particular administration in Austin decided "screw rest areas" but it's pretty obvious maintenance for this one vanished from the budget quite awhile ago. This is what you're greeted with now.
Looking on the positive side, I'm not sure just what type of bird decided that ramada is prime nesting territory, but there were definitely lots of birds' nests built from mud around the underside of the roof. We startled them enough that I didn't get a good look before they vanished in a flurry of feathers.

We get tourism advertising from the State of Texas on a regular basis, thanks to having camped at a Texas State Park (Fort Richardson). Somehow I don't think rest areas like this are ever going to make it into the tourist brochures. 

The truly bizarre part is there were still trash barrels with plastic liners in them. Does anyone ever come around to empty them? And if they do, why bother? 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Thinking about voter suppression

Voter suppression seems to be a popular explanation for the low voter turnout among Democrats this year and thus the reason that the Yam in Human Form is now preparing to gild the furniture in the Lincoln Bedroom. I don't buy it.

You know why I don't buy it? Because various states have been working on "voter suppression" for the past decade. It's not like trying to purge the voter rolls or requiring a ton of ID to vote is something that just happened this year. I've been hearing since aWol was in office that certain states were trying to prevent people from voting.The first I encounted the "government issued photo ID" requirement was in 2008 in Georgia. That's 8 long years ago so requiring photo IDs isn't exactly a recent event. And you know what else I've heard  every two years since then? Lots and lots of whining about how horrible it is that little old ladies who had been voting since Taft was in office suddenly have trouble producing the right type of identification. Year after year of whining and talking about litigation to make the bad legislation (e.g., photo ID requirements) go away and zero talk about doing something proactive.

Let's say you're an activist in a state where the legislature has made it harder for some people to vote. Which makes more sense? Spend a lot of whining about legislation that you know isn't going to change as long as the people who enacted it in the first place are still in power or figure out a way to nullify the damage. You've got old people who have trouble getting the required photo ID -- do you sit and commiserate or do you mount an active effort to help them track down a certified copy of a birth certificate and get a state-issued ID card? The one convenient polling place in a certain neighborhood has been eliminated. Do you whine about it or do you come up with a plan for shuttle buses and car pools to get people from that neighborhood to their new polling place?

I know there are active get out the vote efforts in some parts of the country. Volunteers will drive people who don't have cars to the polls, for example, and there are also voter registration drives. But if you've been watching voter suppression in action for a decade and you're still relying on talk and litigation to lead to changes, you're living in a fantasy world. 

So did voter suppression actually have an effect on this year's election? I doubt it. If you look at the overall numbers, the problem wasn't voter suppression. It was voter apathy and voter disgust. There were whole bunches of people who couldn't bring themselves to vote for either Trump or Clinton. Voter turnout was way down (over 7 million total, IIRC) from 2012. Remember, that's based on the total number of registered voters; people who have been purged from the rolls or been unable to register at all don't exist as far as that particular set of statistics is concerned.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day, a day I remember from my youth as being one that was still celebrated, more or less, as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I. Back when I was in elementary school in the 1950s, at 11 a.m. we'd all have to stand and observe a moment of silence. It is amazing how long a minute can last when you're 6 years old, which is probably why I remember it.

Today, of course, it's an occasion for a lot of blathering about anyone who wore a uniform being a hero, regardless of why they wound up in the service, when they served, or what they did while they were in. I'm not sure if it's from a weird collective psychological guilt trip or because it's a good political ploy to make anti-war protesters look like they're unpatriotic, but ever since we got stuck in the quagmire that is Afghanistan, the glorifying the military without providing any actual support for them seems to be increasingly popular. At the same time I've been seeing a lot of memes lately about Vietnam era vets and thanking them for protecting us. From what? A nonexistent Communist domino theory? Fighting the Commies in Vietnam so we wouldn't have to fight the Viet Minh on the beach in San Diego? It's not like they were all super eager to go off to die in rice paddies in a war most of them recognized as unnecessary and unwinnable or that they all behaved in stellar fashion while they were there (for some reason the names My Lai and My Khe come to mind).

I have no idea who is creating the meme to begin with, but lately the one that annoys me the most is captioned "Not everyone in the '60s wore love beads" and has a picture of dog tags. Total garbage. When I was in, I met a lot of guys who had been to Vietnam. Most of them would have cheerfully protested the war given a chance, and quite a few of them wore love beads and peace symbols when they were in civilian clothes. And, wow, every single one who had been to 'Nam either drank like the proverbial fish or smoked enough weed to make Cheech and Chong envious. In retrospect, obviously self-medication for PTSD, which no one talked about back then. None of them wanted to go to Vietnam, and having been there once for sure no one wanted to go back. There was a reason "When I die I'm going to Heaven because I've served my time in Hell" jackets with a map of Vietnam on the back were popular.

Remember, back in the 1960s there was a thing called "the draft." If you were male, you registered with Selective Service when you turned 18 and hoped your draft physical turned up something that would disqualify you from serving. I had a friend who was quite tall; he spent weeks before his draft physical lying down hoping to relax his spine enough that when they went to measure his height in Milwaukee he'd be a half inch over the upper height limit instead of half an inch under. There were guys who enlisted, some prior to getting drafted so they'd have more of a choice (the U.S. Air Force was full of guys avoiding the Army and an infantry MOS) and some after. Another friend decided to go Regular Army so he could pick his occupation instead of taking his chances with what the Army might decide he was good for (i.e., cannon fodder). The difference between having US and RA on your dog tags was a shorter period of service; if you were US you might get out sooner but you were at greater risk (or so guys assumed) of coming home in a body bag.

I got sucked into a comment thread on Facebook when a younger (she's in her 20s) friend shared the Thanking Vietnam Vets for their service meme. Had the interesting experience of someone considerably younger than myself tell me I was wrong, wrong, about both Vietnam and the military. So how much time did you spend in uniform, dude? And what era? Unless you're old enough to have voted for McGovern, you weren't there.

That same comment thread included people repeating that much loved urban myth that returning vets were treated like shit. You know, they got spit on. Well, they did, but only metaphorically and not by the general public. The one group that really showed a lot of contempt for Vietnam veterans was the "greatest generation," the World War II veterans who belonged to the VFW and the American Legion. As far as those guys were concerned, Vietnam wasn't a real war and they didn't want the guys coming back from there in their organizations. It took a decade or two for them to realize they needed new members or their organizations were going to wither and die. Now, of course, it's Vietnam vets who keep those groups going, but there are still a lot of Vietnam era veterans who want nothing to do with either organization.

Small digression: One of the most heartbreaking as well as nauseating things I've read recently was an editorial in the VFW magazine (the S.O.'s cousin, a WWII veteran, gives us his copies). The national commander expressed support for military intervention in the Middle East and then a few lines later tossed in the fact the VFW needs new members to survive. In other words, the VFW supported sending troops off to die because if no new wars get fought, the VFW's membership rolls shrink. Holy fuck. That's even worse than trading blood for oil.

In any case, the most meaningless phrase on the planet has to be "thank you for your service." It's even more vacuous than "have a nice day." Want to thank a veteran for his or her service? Stop voting for politicians who get us into senseless wars and then do everything they can to prevent veterans receiving any benefits or help once they're home. Instead of believing the asshats who represent your Congressional districts when they bloviate about supporting the vets, take a look at their actual voting records. Maybe if more people did that -- actually research what politicians do instead of believing campaign promises -- we wouldn't have homeless vets panhandling on street corners.

Or, even better, want to thank me for my service -- I am a Vietnam era veteran, after all, and being a woman obviously made an active choice to serve -- how about if you twenty-somethings try enlisting yourself? That's right, millennials, stop parroting the crap being fed to you and actually walk the walk. And if you're a little older, how about encouraging your kids to serve? I can still recall quite vividly the look of horror on the face of a co-worker in Omaha when I suggested the military as an option for his about-graduate-high-school spawn. The kid was totally undecided about college, did not have any thoughts on a possible major, so I said, "How about the military for a couple years?" It was like, holy shit, no way in hell, military service is for the lower classes! Of course, the follow-up expression when I said "I'm an Army veteran and my sister was in the Navy" was priceless. Still, that initial reaction pretty much typified what the middle class in America actually thinks of the military and veterans. Military service is something other people's kids do, and then it's because they're poor, uneducated hillbillies or ghetto dwellers not good for anything else.

So, just what do you people think you're doing by doing a lot of public posturing about respecting veterans when you (a) won't support programs that help them, (b) have no absolutely no desire to ever be in the military or have a family member in the military yourselves, and (c) lack the political will to elect politicians who aren't tools of the military-industrial complex? Do you honestly believe slapping a magnet made in China on your car is enough? Do you even know why the VFW and the American Legion have poppy sales? Or do you just figure we have always been at war with Eastasia so you just won't think about it at all?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Life goes on

I violated one of my personal rules yesterday. I shopped at Walmart, aka The Evil Empire. We needed some cup hooks and a couple other nonfood items that Dollar General didn't have when we walked over there the other day. Dollar General is maybe two blocks walking distance from the Guppy.

Walmart is also walking distance, the equivalent of maybe 4 blocks away, but we decided to drive. I'm not sure that was a good idea. One of the drawbacks to the Guppy is it has a typical RV refrigerator. It's about the same size as the ones you find in motels that stand about waist high and have a freezer big enough to hold one ice cube tray if you put it in sideways. In the Guppy's case, the freezer is actually a decent size, but even so cold food storage space in general is rather limited. I came really close to buying more stuff that required refrigeration than the 'fridge would have held if I hadn't caught myself. Given the general lack of storage space in the Guppy, I think I may revert to behaving as though I'm walking whenever I shop. I learned years ago that the trick to not buying too much when you're on foot is to either use one of those small baskets you carry or to just put stuff in the child seat area on a shopping cart. When either one is full, you're done. Unless, of course, you have one of those little personal shopping carts. I had one in Atlanta that I used when taking the bus to Kroger; the trick then was to use my own cart in the store so I'd never exceed its capacity.

I normally do not shop at Walmart. Ever. Way too many of their corporate policies have been detrimental to the American economy. People complain about outsourcing, jobs going overseas, and then cheerfully shop at Walmart for the low prices. But you know why many of the jobs went overseas? Pressure from Walmart on vendors to provide goods cheaper. At one time they were bragging about all the stuff they sold that was "Made in the USA." They had to stop doing that a long time ago because they got nailed for false advertising.

They're also notorious for screwing over their employees, e.g., bragging about a health plan that's actually pretty good but does require a minimum of 30 hours of work per week to qualify for. Most employees end up scheduled so they never meet that 30 hour requirement. And when workers ask for more hours because they need to make more money what do Walmart managers tell them? They give them information on how to apply for Food Stamps and Medicaid. Walmart is the country's biggest welfare queen. They keep wages low and expect the rest of us to prevent their workers from ending up homeless and malnourished.

I will concede Walmart as a corporation has done some good, innovative stuff. You know why juice bottles, margerine tubs, and other food containers have lost or are losing their round shapes? Walmart pushed for it. Square or rectangular containers don't waste shelf space. Remember when deodorant and other toiletries came with a lot of cardboard packaging? Walmart pushed for getting rid of it because it ate up shelf space. Quite a few Walmarts have solar panels on their roofs and LED lighting in the stores -- they figured out a long time ago that going green could save them money. They have an amazing Just-in-Time centralized inventory system that set a standard for retail everywhere. But I digress.

We shopped at Walmart. Once again I was struck by just how huge those Super Center stores are. The one here in Safford even has benches placed in random locations around the store, maybe so the retirees that flock here in the winter have a place to collapse and catch their breath before continuing the trek from the hardware (light bulbs, cup hooks, etc.) side of the store over to the grocery section. After you've been walking for what feels like a couple miles, you start thinking that maybe next time you should arrange for a guide and a couple Sherpas to carry your gear.

Anyway, we eventually made it from the cup hooks (the extreme southern end of the store) to the food stuffs (the north end) without even having to pause at one of the rest stops. (The S.O. said he could understand the benches by the changing rooms in the clothing section; they give husbands a place to sit and nap while wives are trying on clothes, but the others baffled him.) The Kid has been complaining that food prices here in Arizona seem high compared with Missouri, but I don't know. The prices at the House of Satan struck me as much, much better than what I was used to spending at Larry's in Baraga. Then again, it was Walmart. Maybe the other nicer markets like Safeway and Basha's run higher, something I'll learn soon enough.

I did find one thing at Walmart that was for sure made in USA: gulf shrimp. I've been wanting to make shrimp and grits for ages but could not find any frozen shrimp in the UP that did not come from southeast Asia. I have absolutely no desire to ever eat shrimp that came from a fish farm in Vietnam, or, for that matter fish or shellfish of any kind that has China as a country of origin. As for why frozen instead of fresh, I think the answer is obvious when the closest ocean is over 1,000 miles away.

Shrimp and grits, incidentally, is one of the few things I can thank the state of Georgia for. Never had them before we moved to Atlanta but then discovered (a) I like them and (b) it's a really easy dish to make. Here's the recipe I use:

Smoky Shrimp & Grits

1 cup grits
2 oz. chorizo, thinly sliced, or an equivalent amount of bacon
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1-1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt and pepper
1 lb plum tomatoes, chopped
Fresh parsley for garnish (optional, obviously)

Cook the grits according to the package directions. (I prefer using the old-fashioned slow-cooked ones, but instant would work if you want to save a few minutes.)

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage or bacon and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, Add to the skillet, tossing occasionally, until opaque throughout, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and toss to combine. Spoon the shrimp and tomato mixture over the grits and sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired.

The recipe came from a Woman's Day Month of Menus, a feature the magazine discontined last year and the reason I'll probably never buy a Woman's Day magazine again. Ever. But that's a subject for a different post. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post Election Thoughts

Holy wah, Americans are dumb. We as a people are so good at metaphorically shooting ourselves in the foot it's unreal. Granted, Hillary Clinton had so much baggage that it would have overloaded a Conestoga wagon drawn by a dozen oxen, but still. . . It astounds me that so many people would willingly and cheerfully vote against their own self interests. Worried about Social Security staying viable? Then vote for Republicans who have been trying to get rid of it for the past 80 years. Worried about jobs getting outsourced? Then vote for the guy who has all his own products made in other countries. Concerned about family values? Put the guy who's been accused of raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old, cheated on his first two wives, and is now married to a high dollar hooker who did soft core porn into the White House. The stupid, it burns. . .

Then again, given that for the past 8 years the news media abetted the Republicans in convincing the public we're already living in some sort of dystopian hellhole with rising crime rates, a cratering economy, and misery in general, the results are no surprise. There was evidence all around that the economy was actually doing quite well -- businesses complaining about not being able to find applicants for job openings they had posted, new construction going up, crime rates falling -- but we're all pretty good at ignoring what's right in front of our faces. An alluring fantasy that lines up with what we'd like to believe is always so much more attractive than reality.

Of course, now that the Yam in Human Form has won the election, all the horrible things Faux News has been saying for 8 years were occuring under an Obama administration are about to happen for real in a Trump one. The global financial markets are in a tail-spin, the stock market is in free fall, there's a fair amount of panicking going on. The gullible public may have bought Trump's hype about being a successful businessman, but the actual economic experts know perfectly well that he's an idiot who got lucky by inheriting money and indulging in shameless self-promotion.

I do have mixed feelings about Hillary losing. On the one hand, I thought she should never have been a candidate to begin with. Instead of being as egoistic as any other politician, once she lost in 2008 she should have looked at the calendar and acknowledged she'd had her shot, missed, and it was time to move on, focus on building the Democratic Party as a whole and not just her own machine. She had a chance to work with the party to promote younger politicians, the next generation of policy makers, and instead it was all about Hillary and it being her turn next. Well, that worked out real well, didn't it? The voting public handed her a rather resounding FOAD.

On the other hand. . . Trump. Holy wah. We are so fucked. 

What I'm wondering at the moment is how long it's going to take for gas to hit $5 a gallon. Anyone else want to bet it gets there by New Year's?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Guppy has landed

We finally arrived in Arizona Friday afternoon, a mere 4 days later than originally planned. To say the trip out here was "interesting" would be a bit of an understatement.

Remember me closing a post by wondering what was going to fall off the Guppy next? As it turned out, nothing did. The tow dolly, however, managed to lose a wheel, and not just a wheel as in steel rim with a tire on it but the hub assembly, too. It was one of those rare occasions when both the S.O. and I were at a complete loss for words. After staring at the place where the hub used to be, I muttered, "there's no identifying information on the dolly is there?" The answer being No, we quietly unloaded the car, pivoted the dead tow dolly around to get it farther off the shoulder, and continued on our way. Somewhere in western rural Kansas there is now some good ol' boy praising the Lord for gifting him with two usable wheels (the one that didn't come off and the spare) and a possibly repairable tow dolly.

Was the tow dolly actually repairable? Maybe. It had been dragged along for at least a couple miles but other than the entire wheel assembly (bearing, hub, you name it) being gone, there didn't seem to be too much damage. Did we feel like trying to find out ourselves in the middle of nowhere? Nope. We didn't pay much for the dolly to begin with and had put probably 10,000 miles on it. We'd gotten our money's worth out of it. Time to accept that fate doesn't want me knitting in a vehicle, which is what I do when I'm a passenger. We'll convoy, reluctant though I am to do so. On the other hand, now the S.O. and I will be able to swap off on what we're driving. As long as we had that anchor tow dolly behind us, I was too nervous to drive the Guppy. Without the car in tow, though, it'll be just like driving a large U-Haul truck, and that's something I know I can do.

Will we invest in another tow dolly? Probably not. We compared mileage for the Guppy before and after losing the anchor. When we stopped dragging my car along behind us, mileage improved by almost 40%. That is a gigantic savings. It more than offsets the cost of us driving the Focus instead of towing it. It also more than offsets the cost of a good tow dolly. A brand new one would cost us more than the Guppy did, and used ones can be hard to find. So we'll convoy. We have walkie talkies; we'll survive.

As for Arizona, . . . we're in a 55+ RV/Mobile Home park. Most of the park is taken up with a couple hundred mobile homes, some of which are occuppied year round and some are winter residents. The section set aside for RVs (motorhomes and travel trailers) is actually fairly small. It's nice. Well maintained, clean, decent amount of space for each site (unless you have a Class A Leviathan with multiple slide outs or a 5th wheel on steroids, then it might seem a little tight). The sites are set up with the parking for the RV on one side of a concrete patio and space for parking a car on the other. The park has been around for enough years that the landscaping is well established; it's not nearly as sterile as some desert RV parks. The monthly rate is quite reasonable and includes city utilities and cable tv.

I had been kind of looking forward to having cable, but changed my mind pretty fast after the first few political commercials. Holy wah, they fight dirty here in the desert. And it's not even possible to avoid the horrible ads by watching "House Hunters" or "American Pickers." Oh well. One more day and it should be safe to watch the boob tube again. After all, we all know there's going to be speculation about 2020 as soon as the polls close, but actual advertising for or against various possible contenders shouldn't start up for at least another week or two.

Being in a "senior" park feels a bit odd. It's way different from being in a campground, of course, because no one (legally) does extended stays at campgrounds other than the hosts. Here there are long-time residents as well as winter regulars who come back every year. There are scheduled activities (potluck dinners, crafts one morning a week, etc.) in the clubhouse. It's kind of like being a temporary resident in a small town. How deep we'll dive into community happenings is an open question. The S.O. and I are both fairly introverted so aren't sure about the potlucks (I tend to get nervous if there are more than 6 people in a group), but I may go check out the crafts on Wednesday mornings. If it's a case of people bringing in whatever they happen to be working on and just kind of schmoozing as they knit/sew/embroider, I could see participating. Low key, unstructured socializing is fine with me. If, however, it's directed activities (e.g., "This morning we're going to make wreaths out of bread bags") I'll pass.

I've had a number of friends and acquaintances say they have no interest in being in a "senior" community. I'm not sure why, other than it's the usual anti-aging bias we all have. We all think we're going to be young forever, but if we move into 55+ or "senior citizen" housing, we've just admitted we're old. I have a hunch that just about everyone living in a seniors complex felt that way before they actually bit the bullet and conceded that, yes, I'm old enough that the idea of living someplace where I don't have to listen to college-age neighbors party until dawn is looking good. 

So will we become regulars here? Who knows? We're here this year because the Kid is duty-stationed here in Safford; next winter may find us being a bit more nomadic (a few weeks here, a few weeks there) or doing a 90-day or longer VIP stints at a National Park or Wildlife Refugre. I still fantasize about doing several months at LBJ in Texas; maybe 2017 will be the year we get lucky.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Speaking of willful ignorance

The S.O. and I started watching the "Dr. Phil" show yesterday. We had some time to kill and there wasn't much else on tv. Apparently Dr. Phil has gotten into investigating catfishing, you know, chasing down people who have fake identities on the Intertubes. Yesterday's episode was about a 79 year old lady who'd fallen for a scammer she met through Facebook.

It was unreal. This elderly woman allowed herself to be sweet-talked by a dude who said he was about 20 years younger than she was. Pretty soon they were "dating," a term I find questionable -- how do you "date" someone you've never actually met face to face and with whom your only contact is electronic? He sent her flowers, poetry, occasional cheap little gifts, all to demonstrate how smitten he was.

And then the requests for "loans" began. Over a period of several years, the lady gave the man $76,000. She wiped out her savings. She got in trouble with the IRS. She was basically bankrupt, but she was still trying to raise money by selling off her "collectibles" (which appeared to be a box of Beanie Babies -- good luck with that one, lady) to send the dude more money. He'd basically sucked her resources dry incrementally -- $1,000 here, $500 there -- but was still trying to get more out of her. She'd become estranged from her adult children. Her son and daughter kept telling her she was being scammed but she refused to believe it. She actually wrote to Dr. Phil begging him to help her prove to her children that the love of her life was real.

What struck me as the most unbelievable part was the fact the man had managed to dodge face-to-face meetings for several years. In emails and chats he'd promise they'd get together "soon" but whenever it was supposed to happen there'd be some last minute glitch. On at least one occasion she was actually in the same city where he supposedly was but bad luck conveniently intervened. And it was always something happening to him, of course, like a sudden illness or a missed flight connection. For multiple years and $76,000! 

Unfortunately, we did not see the entire show. I'm now tempted to go looking for that episode online. It had just gotten to the point where Dr. Phil was looking at physical evidence, stuff the dude had sent to the woman to prove he was being honest, and pointing out to her how documents like a cancelled check had been tampered with by having amounts or dates changed. It was pretty obvious the lady had been scammed, but Dr. Phil hadn't gotten around to revealing yet just what they had learned about the scammer or scammers -- because fairly often the catfishing that involves ripping people off will be a team effort. Several con artists will work together to string along multiple victims while they empty bank accounts before moving on. The one unusual thing about this particular case was that the scammer hadn't quietly disappeared once the victim told him she was totally broke, her resources exhausted, and close to losing her house. Once you've sucked all the blood out of the turnip, why linger?

It's a mystery. Although in a way the part of the episode we did see answered one of the questions I sort of had about Facebook. Every so often I'll get a friend request from someone I've never heard of, no mutual friends, just a total and complete stranger. I know there are some people who collect "friends" the same way some people collect Hummel figurines IRL -- we all know people who will talk about having hundreds of Facebook friends when they don't actually know more than a handful as more than a name -- but I've never been into doing that. Unless someone is either someone I know in the real world or a friend of a friend (and most of the time not even then), I ignore friend requests. In any case, I'd wonder why some dude would bother sending me a friend request when we'd never even interacted in a comments thread. After watching Dr. Phil, though, I find myself thinking that some of those random friend requests were probably from scammers fishing for a victim. All the more reason, I guess, to hit the Ignore option whenever one pops up. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Why do I have to watch fake news shows to see actual reporting?

Being stuck in a motel for a few days does have some advantages. Among other things, we've been able to watch television when it's actually happening instead of dealing with the hassles of streaming stuff many days later. Last night we watched "Full Frontal" with Samantha Bee. It was. .  . enlightening.

One of the segments focused on Russia and Internet trolling. Russia is apparently the motherlode of Internet weirdness. Being an Internet troll is a civil service job there. People get paid by the state to go hang out on the Internet and push various memes and fake news and get comment threads going that in some way further Russia's interests.

At this point in time, those interests include disrupting the U.S. political process. It's pretty clear Wikileaks has been aided and abetted by the Russian government in releasing material detrimental to the Clinton campaign. Vladimir Putin would prefer that Donald Trump win the election next week, although he'll probably settle for enough crap being stirred up that a Clinton administration ends up being distracted by a gazillion bullshit investigations and faux controversies. Because let's face it -- Putin has no fear of Trump. Trump is so thin-skinned it's unreal, which would make him remarkably easy to manipulate. He freaks out when Saturday Night Live makes fun of him; I shudder to think of how he'd react if a foreign leader told him to shut up. Clinton, on the other hand, is a bitch with balls of steel. I disagree with a number of her positions on foreign policy -- she's much, much too hawkish (not a surprise considering she's taken advice from that toad in human form, Henry Kissinger) -- but for sure she's not likely to flinch in a crisis.

In any case, Samantha Bee's staff had done serious research on the subject of Russian meddling on the Internet. They even managed to track down a couple people who work as trolls. One fellow cheerfully admitted he's got something like 28 online identities, all supposedly American, that he uses while spreading various bits of propaganda and rumors. The woman Samantha Bee talked with poses as, among other identities, a housewife from Nebraska. From what the young man said and given his proficiency with English, I'm guessing the biggest hurdle he's had to jump in creating fake identities and getting involved in comment threads is dumbing down his vocabulary and ability to spell to match up with the typical American's lack of knowledge of standard English.

The big question I have (along with a lot of other people) is why are the fake news shows doing a better job of covering current events than the supposedly real ones? Time magazine ran a piece recently on some of the late night show hosts (Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert) and noted that the satirical shows like "Full Frontal" and "The Daily Show" are doing the in-depth investigative reporting we once assumed the straight news programs did. Instead, news networks like CNN, ABC, et al just serve as stenographers, breathlessly parroting whatever the latest rumors are and doing no fact-checking whatsoever -- it's apparently so much easier to speculate and toss out melodramatic headlines than it is to do a little background research. "Full Frontal" looking at who's actually putting what out on the Internet is a perfect example.

You know, I would hope that everyone who spends any time at all wandering around the Intertubes knows about sock puppets, the fake identities created to make it look like a site is generating more traffic than it actually is or to help gin up a controversy. A comment thread will look like there's a dozen or more people arguing back and forth when the reality it's maybe one real person and a whole lot of sock puppets. And sometimes it's 100% puppets. This is one of the many reasons why the best advice anyone can follow when it comes to the Intertubes is Never read the comments! It's just too easy to let yourself get sucked into a 100% faux argument. Then the next thing you know you're telling all your friends global warming is a conspiracy to make Al Gore rich and that Hillary Clinton personally ordered a hit on Antonin Scalia. Gullible people, Russian trolls. Definitely not a good combination.

The S.O. suggested that one reason the mainstream media, the straight news shows, do such a poor job of doing investigative reporting is they're owned by corporations that have a vested interest in keeping the sheeple ignorant. Well, so are the satirical news programs like "Full Frontal" and "John Oliver Last Week Tonight." Does tossing in some dark humor make the shows less threatening? Or do the corporate overlords just assume it doesn't matter because the target demographic for those shows (people in their 20s) are notoriously uninvolved in politics. Or they were. Bernie Sanders may have changed that.