Sunday, June 25, 2017

Time to build an ark?

I don't know if it's been raining more than usual lately, but I do wish we'd get a long enough break between the deluges for things to dry out enough for the S.O. to mow. It's getting to where instead of the bagger he should be dragging a baler behind the mower. We have a lot of area to mow, and most of it needs it now.

I was thinking we'd manage to get some yardwork done this weekend. A few days ago the long range forecast was showing today as partly cloudy and tomorrow as actually clear and sunny. Now today is something like 80 percent chance of rain and tomorrow is partly cloudy and looking ominous. So is Tuesday. And Wednesday. I shouldn't complain. Rain and temperatures in the low 60s definitely beats the day after day of temps well over 100 the Southwest is experiencing, but it would be nice if it stayed sunny long enough for things to dry out enough for it to be safe to use the electric weed whacker.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Is the insurance industry working on making itself extinct?

I've been following -- sort of -- the discussions about repealing most of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The one thing that seems guaranteed no matter what version of a montrosity of a bill eventually wends its way over to the White House for The Donald's signature is that the end result will be that health insurance costs will climb even more.

Economists have been saying for quite awhile that the current system isn't sustainable. There's a simple reason why: The more costs climb for a product, the fewer people there are going to be who can afford to buy it. It doesn't matter what the product is -- unless you're giving it away, there will always be people who can't afford it. We all know there will alwys be a lot more people around who can afford to wear Faded Glory* than to wear Versace. In a rational world, if you want to make money you've got basically two choices: sell a lot of widgets at the lowest possible price that still allows you to make a reasonable profit, i.e., go for quantity and make your money based on volume of sales, or sell just a few at a super high price. Mass production versus artisanal.

For various reasons, all predicated in some way on the fact that trying to buy good health is a lot less of a discretionary purchase than picking up some new tee-shirts or even a new car, the healthcare industry -- insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, doctors and hospitals -- have been busily jacking up prices to the point where fewer and fewer people can actually afford them. Back when the Affordable Care Act passed, the insurance companies viewed it as a giant gift. So do Big Pharma,. most doctors, and almost all hospitals. It provided them with guaranteed customers. Even better, the ACA included guaranteed payments -- to ensure that people could actually buy the insurance they were being mandated to acquire, the ACA includes subsidies.

So what has the Republican Congress decided to do? Jerk out the financial props for the ACA. People are still going to be told to buy insurance, but they're not going to get much help doing so. And you know something? Despite the fantasies of some politicians on the right, telling people they're going to be fined if they don't buy insurance or punished in some other fashion isn't going to make a bit of difference. Premiums are going to climb, fewer people will be able to afford them, and the customer base for private insurance is going to shrink. You know why? Because if you don't have the money, you don't have the money. Some people will give up on the idea of health insurance reluctantly; some will struggle to find a way to buy it; and some will just run the numbers and realize they're screwed so they might as well learn to live with uncertainty.

I'm not going to get into moral issues or the healthcare is a right debate or even the obvious need for a universal government-funded and managed system ("Medicare for all"). Nope. I'm just wondering why no one in any of the walnut-panelled office suites for Big Pharma or Aetna or any of the others has sufficient brain power to realize their customer base is shrinking. Instead of pushing for ever-higher prices, they should be working hard on trying to lower costs. Their short term greed has blinded them to the reality that the system they've created is doomed to implode. It's not going to happen any time soon, unfortunately, but give it a few more years and the fecal matter will hit the fan. I just hope things don't get too unpleasantly dystopian before the paradigm shifts.

*And isn't it a sad commentary on my life that the Walmart store brand is what immediately sprang to mind when thinking about something cheap? So much for my posturing that I never shop at the Evil Empire. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tonto National Monument

Or, how my kid tried to kill me by dragging up a hill to look at a cliff dwelling.

Okay, so maybe she didn't actually try to kill me. Going to Tonto National Monument was my idea, not hers. It was March, it was Spring in Arizona, flowers were blooming, the sun was shining, and we were going to be hitting the road to Colorado soon. So spending one last Saturday collecting NPS Passport stamps seemed like a good idea.

Tonto National Monument is near Lake Roosevelt more or less north of Globe. It's about a two hour drive from Safford. The S.O. decided to pass on accompanying us on this particular expedition. He had hit the point where one crumbling pueblo or cliff dwelling looked pretty much like every other crumbling ruin we'd seen.
I, on the other hand, had spotted a flyer at the Canyon de Chelly (another NPS site I'll do a post on one of these days) the previous month noting that among the many events happening in Arizona in honor of March being Archeology Month was an Open House (translation: no admission fee) day at Tonto National Monument. I do not object to paying admission fees, in fact I will sometimes pay them even though the S.O. has a geezer pass because I believe in supporting the National Park system, but I am also half Finn -- and every so often the incredibly cheap frugal Finnish side emerges. So the kid and I decided we'd do Tonto on the free day.
At this point I thought we were getting close. I was wrong.
Tonto is an interesting little park. It has two noteworthy cliff dwellings, one fairly close to the Visitor Center and one that's a little farther away (approximately one mile). The latter site is usually accessible only as part of a ranger-guided hike that you have to make an appointment for. For the open house, however, the trail was going to be open all day. You did not have to go as part of a group at any specific time. Sounded good to me.
Teddy bear cholla
So the kid and I filled our water bottles -- I actually used my CamelBak pack, having gotten a new water bladder for it at REI a few weeks earlier -- and headed for Tonto. It was a gorgeous day, the park had attracted enough visitors that cars actually had to park along the roadside on the way in. We got lucky, though, by arriving late enough that earlier visitors were already exiting the main parking lot. We were directed to a space close to the Visitor Center. We checked that out first so we'd have some idea what we were about to do and then looked at a few outdoor displays before heading up the trail. When we got to the park, a group of Apache kids were just finishing up dancing so we didn't see much of that, but the various displays and demonstrations were interesting. The Tonto National Forest (which surrounds Tonto National Monument) had an archeologist there who does experimental archeology of some sort (and I'm now blanking on exactly what it was so it couldn't have been too exciting) and some local hiking club or birdwatching group had a booth pushing other parks and trails in the area.
And then we headed up the trail. The ranger at the trailhead checked to make sure we had water and decided we were good -- they were handing out bottles of water to anyone who didn't have water already. First part of the trail wasn't bad. It followed a little creek that runs though the bottom of the canyon so there were a couple minor water crossings. We'd been warned to watch for bees, and indeed there were a few places where lots and lots of honey bees were taking advantage of the stream. We ignored them; they ignored us.
Then the trail started to climb. We emerged from the shade along the creek, looked up the hill, and there in the distance, looking like it was a long, long way from us, were the ruins. That's the photo at the top of this post. And then the switchbacking began. We'd walk a couple hundred feet on a gradual climb up in one direction, then there'd be a tight switchback, and we'd do another couple hundred feet in the other direction. . . and so on. . . and on. . . and on. At about the midway point there was a bench occupied by a park ranger and a large water cooler, one of those 5-gallon ones. I did not envy the park employee who got to tote that sucker up the trail to that point. (Nor, when we finally reached the ruins, did I envy the rangers who carried up the cases of bottled water.) I think my kid (aka The Amazon) could have jogged up that trail with no problems, but I found it a tad more tiring than anticipated. I don't do well on hills.
Lake Roosevelt as seen from the ruins
In any case, what would have been maybe a 20-minute walk on level ground turned into about an hour creeping up hill. We paused a lot as I resorted to ploys like "I want to get a picture of this teddy bear cholla" (so cuddly looking and so vicious if you're unlucky enough to come within 3 feet of one; cholla are known as jumping cactus for a reason) or "Wow, what a great view from here!" Not to mention, of course, the classic "Wait a second. I need to get a sip of water." Which I actually did need to do, a lot. It was a gorgeous day that must have hit 90 by mid-afternoon. Heat was a real issue, so was dehydration, which was why the Park Service was pushing water at people like crazy.
Looking at the trail before starting back down.
Eventually, of course, we did get to the ruins. It was worth the climb. Being able to see them up close definitely beats having to view ruins from behind a fence (e.g., the White House at Canyon de Chelly) or from across a canyon (Mesa Verde). A VIP and a ranger were at the ruins to answer questions and to pour water on or into people who needed it. And the view of the lake from the ruins was amazing. I'd do it again despite managing to come dangerously close to actual heat exhaustion. I did stay hydrated but was still feeling borderline nauseous and having chills by the time we got back to the Visitor Center. I am definitely not a warm weather person.

On the other hand, at least I was smart enough to know it. There were a few people who arrived at the ruins while we were there who really should not have attempted the hike at all. No water worth mentioning and wearing footwear more suited for strolling around a shopping mall or a beach than for going up a moderately rough trail in rattlesnake country. We didn't see any snakes, but there were signs up warning people to be careful. (In the 5+ months we were in Arizona we never saw a snake; the one and only rattlesnake I saw in the wild was in Colorado at Hohvenweep National Monument)(and, yes, eventually How I Spent My Winter Vacation will get there, too).

As for how the Ancient Pueblo People (or whatever the preferred term for the long dead indigenous inhabitants happens to be at the moment) coped with living a long way up from where the water is, there is a walled, cistern-like area inside the ruin where it's possible water running off naturally from the top of the cliff was collected. A minor change in weather patterns that caused that water source to dry up could be the reason the cliff dwelling was eventually abandoned.

In addition to the ruins, Tonto has a nifty little Visitor Center. The exhibits are fascinating. They have actual textiles! Pieces of woven cotton material that are about 1,000 years old. Dry climate, sheltered location, and even fabric survives. Apparently quite a few artifacts were looted found back in the late 19th century. At one point the area along the Salt River had been heavily settled, lots of farming activity, so there was a rich archeological record when researchers like Adolph Bandelier* became interested in the area. It's hard to picture that area as agricultural now, especially when most of what was right next to the river is now under Lake Roosevelt, but if the inhabitants were weaving with cotton and grinding corn for flour, they were obviously growing crops somewhere.

Tonto's a little out of the way and it's not real big so visitation there is probably lower than at some of the more iconic parks. It's worth going looking for, though, if a person has a chance to.

*Yes, that Bandelier, the dude Bandelier National Monument is named after. He's better known for exploration and research in New Mexico, but he got around.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Speaking of vegetation

H/T to Ol' Buzzard for inspiring me to take a look through the files.

Some of the stuff I see blooming around here each summer, although not necessarily simultaneously.
Blooming now, one of my favorite Michigan natives: blue-eyed grass. I am inordinately fond of these tiny flowers.
Basically done for this year, an invasive, dandelions.
Just finished blooming, choke cherry blossoms.
 Blooming now, trilliums. This clump started off with just one plant a couple years ago and has at least half a dozen now. This is not the clump I plan to dig up and move -- that's in a different location on the ranch.
Starting to bloom, blackberry blossoms.
Another Michigan native, buttercups.
An invasive, Queen Ann's Lace, aka wild carrot, aka chigger weed.
Two more invasives, both of which are starting to bloom now: daisies and hawkweed (aka devil's paintbrush). I was amazed to learn that the exact date hawkweed got introduced into this country is recorded. It was brought into this country in the 18th century for someone's garden in New England. Hard to believe now that anyone ever thought that a weed that ubiquitous was an appropriate choice for a flower garden.
One we're not going to see until late summer, early fall: Joe Pye weed.
More fall flowers, asters.
Goldenrod and asters in late summer.
Black eyed susans. The guide book said they're temperamental about being transplanted, but the ones I moved to the museum's native plants garden seem to have survived the winter.
Heliopsis. It'll bloom in August. Still looking for a good clump to dig up and split. I don't want to mess with the ones I've got by the Woman Cave.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Why we have a fence around the garden

Every so often I hear guys whining about how lousy the hunting's become, there are no whitetail deer left in Baraga County, if there were no wolves the deer would be back in record numbers, and so on ad nauseum. We have a neighbor, for example, who claims to never see any deer anywhere anymore.
Fawn tracks in the driveway. I was wishing I had a dime to set next to them for scale. The tracks are tiny.
The guys doing the whining are either the most incompetent hunters on the planet or they're blind. I practically tripped over a doe yesterday while hanging out the laundry. Then when I was on my way to check on how my freshly planted raspberry canes are doing in the garden, I noticed evidence of recent browsing nearby.
Maybe we should connect the fence charger. If the deer are browsing within spitting distance of the Woman Cave, sooner or later they might decide the broccoli growing a few feet away looks good.We haven't bothered connecting a battery to the charger for a couple summers, but sooner or later there's going to be a new generation of Odocoileus virginianus that's going to question why they always detour around the fencing instead of trying to go through it.
The deer barrier, which is about five feet away from this patch of browsed on vegetation, consists of a 4-foot wide strip of poultry fencing topped with 3 strands of electric fence. Years ago we started off with just tall livestock fencing, which the deer skipped merrily over. That's when we started adding electric fencing. When it got up to three strands, they quit trying.

I can never remember the name of the stuff the deer have browsed on, but it's kind of a nifty plant for providing fill at the back of a flower garden. I'm contemplating digging some up to fill in empty spaces in the native plants garden at the museum. Maybe. My gathering focus at the moment is more on trilliums and virgin's bower than it is on plants that are so mundane I can't remember what they're called.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Holy wah, I've got my life back

I was puttering around the museum yesterday, doing some shuffling of boxes out in the storage building, and it hit me: it's over, the giant albatross that was the heritage grant headache is actually gone. Oh, there's some minor stuff left to do, like tweaking the exhibit and doing a final edit on the documents going down to Lansing, but basically it's over. I'll do final edits tomorrow, after stuff has sat long enough that I might be able to spot the typos when I look at it one last time, and then into the Drop Box it goes. . . and if I'm lucky, I'll never have to think about it again.

In any case, the simple fact I was out in the storage building shuffling boxes instead of being glued to the computer meant we were done. I had time to spare for mundane stuff, like trying to figure out exactly why there are several disintegrating 19th century Catholic Vulgate Bibles that have (a) no family names in them; (b) appear to have missing pages because the bindings are totally shot; and (c). . . I have no (c). I just know that when I looked at those Bibles I had two thoughts: How well would they burn? and Is there a market on Ebay for the prints in one of them? The Bible itself might be falling apart, but some of the pages are in great shape and the illustrations are quite good. I'll have to do some research on Etsy and Ebay to see if there is indeed a market for that sort of print.

I know there is a strong market for old maps, so maybe if nothing else we could manage to sell the nicely colored map of Palestine that's in the front of the book. This is an oversized Bibles, one of those  huge honking ones that were several inches thick and weighed enough to be hernia-inducing, so it is a reasonably large map, probably somewhere around 11 x 17.

As for why I thought immediately of burning them, that's the fate most of the paper trash that comes out of the storage building or museum. We've got limited space so if something isn't relevant to our mission (preserving Baraga County's history and heritage), is an unnecessary duplication (we really don't need 17 photocopies of the same article), or is in too bad shape to sell if it's flammable it tends to end up on a burn pile. If the tattered Bibles had family names in them, they'd get catalogued because then there would be that local connection. Anonymous, however, they're meaningless.

And, speaking of Bibles, I am now reminded that one of these years it would be nice for the museum to do an exhibit on the county's churches. That could be a neat exhibit: photos of both exteriors and interiors, photos of congregations and confirmation classes, objects like hymnals and psalters in various languages, baptismal and marriage certificates. . . . We do actually have some really great Bibles to include, like an amazing Swedish family Bible published around 1900 that has drop dead gorgeous color plates and is in close to mint condition. I'll have to toss the idea out to the membership one of these days. That could be this coming winter's project. It would also be a nifty excuse to go cruising around the county taking photographs of the various churches as they look now, including the ones that have been converted to other uses. Definitely something to think about. . .

Friday, June 16, 2017

Technological weirdness

Or maybe it's social media weirdness.

Odd stuff has been happening lately when I try posting on Facebook. When I start to type an update, a response to Facebook's "What's on your mind?" question, the text ends up scrambled or backwards. Started typing "Awake much too early" and witnessed the letters appearing on the screen as "ke Awa." It's like it was automatically translating the phrase into Hawaiian. Very strange. It's been happening for a couple days now and it doesn't matter which laptop I'm on. If it only happened on one, I'd assume it's a computer glitch, but when it's on both machines? Nope. Gibberish on both.

Oh well. Good excuse to step away from Facebook and stop wasting time. I need to focus on wrapping up the written report for the museum's heritage grant. It's supposed to be in the online drop box by close of business today. It's a moderately tricky report to write. As is really common with oral history projects, it turned out there's a rather noticeable difference between what people remember and think is true and what the written documentation from the time shows. The fact our chosen area of interest -- the history of Indian gaming locally -- proved to be considerably more complicated and controversial than I thought it would did not help. You'd think that after almost 30 years of Indian gaming being a fact of life there wouldn't be much left to debate. You'd be wrong. Indian casinos were controversial when they first started opening and they're still controversial.

Although the trickiest part of doing the report isn't actually the words. It's the numbers. We're in the rather awkward position of not having spent all the money we were given. We over-budgeted for honoraria. We didn't spend it, so now it's got to go back. No big deal except, of course, the project officer for the humanities council is acting like he just saw a unicorn. Apparently having money returned causes accounting headaches. He's done some pretty heavy hinting that it would be really nice if our unspent/unneeded funds just happened to be exactly the same as what the final payment for the grant would be, i.e., 10% of the total. That way all they'd have to do is simply not issue one last check.

Dealing with the humanities grant has had me muttering about never applying for a grant again. It's been a classic "be careful what you wish for." The simple truth is that we were much too small an organization to take on the project, especially when we're all volunteers. We were fortunate in that our contract researcher knew what he was doing, but that was more a matter of luck than skill on our part. Bottom line: apply only for grants that involve tangible issues, like getting a new roof put on the storage building. Avoid the messy stuff that's hard to operationalize and close to impossible to quantify. And think small, at least for awhile. A couple hundred to help pay for printing an activity worksheet for kids is a lot easier to deal with than $25,000 to use for an oral history project.

The worst part of that $25K, of course, is that almost none of it could be used for anything permanent for the museum, like a few nice vitrines or a slat wall for doing displays. The only money that could be spent on anything remotely physical was for printing, photography, and photocopying. We couldn't even buy a good camera -- we had to rent one. We could legitimately purchase office supplies, but let's face it -- there are only so many reams of paper we're going to use in the foreseeable future. Maybe a more creative (less ethical) Financial Director could have figured out a way to siphon off some of the unspent funds to use on other museum needs, but I wasn't up to the challenge. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Pulitzer Project: The Killer Angels

Finally. A 10. Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels took the Pulitzer for Fiction in 1975. The premise for the book wasn't particularly promising: the battle of Gettysburg as seen through the eyes of officers who fought there. I have never been a Civil War history buff and I knew next nothing about Gettysburg other than President Lincoln gave a brief speech there when the military cemetery was dedicated.

The Killer Angels turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I don't know if it lived up to the cover hype of being "The greatest Civil War novel ever" but it's good. Despite its grim setting, it's remarkably readable. The battle is viewed primarily through the eyes of Lt. General James Longstreet, a West Point trained career Army officer from Virginia who served in the Confederate military, and Lt. Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, a college professor from Maine. Chamberlain enlisted as a volunteer with the Maine militia, but his skills on the battlefield made him a brigadier general by the time the war ended.

Shaara reportedly did extensive research and relied heavily on the diaries and letters written by Longstreet, Chamberlain, and others. Not being a Civil War or military history buff, I have no idea how true that is. I've read quite a few political histories, e.g., biographies of Abraham Lincoln, but never really cared to know the details of which units of which armies lined up where, how they maneuvered, or any of the stuff that makes re-enactors hearts race. It's bad enough knowing that the preferred method of combat back then was to take your cannon fodder enlisted men, line them up in nice neat rows and have them march toward each other while firing guns. As far as I can tell, the only reason the mortality rates weren't higher for most battles was most of the weapons were wildly inaccurate. You still had lots and lots of gunshot wounds, but not as many as you'd expect considering how many gazillions rounds of ammunition were expended.

In any case, The Killer Angels focuses on four days at Gettysburg. The Confederate forces commanded by Robert E. Lee had marched north out of Virginia and were angling across eastern Pennsylvania. Union forces (the Army of the Potomac) under General George Meade were marching to intercept them and prevent the rebels from swinging around to attack Washington, D.C. Meade was that rarity in the early years of the Civil War: a Union officer who was actually competent. One of the things that's always struck me in the reading I have done regarding the War is that the South got lucky in its military commanders, at least for the first couple years. The Confederate military was blessed (or cursed, depending on one's perspective) with officers who knew how to command and weren't afraid to fight. The North got stuck with idiots and grandstanders like George B. McClellan. McClellan was good at organizing and training and everyone loved him (he was the very picture of a military man) but he wasn't real keen on actually fighting. He wasn't particularly good at tactics either.

McClellan gets blamed a lot for being an idiot at Antietam because he didn't pursue the Confederate army when they retreated from the battlefield. Lee had no reserve troops; McClellan did. If he hadn't been excessively cautious, the war might have ended in 1862 instead of dragging on for another three years. Antietam is one of the few Civil War battles I actually know something about, having actually been to the battlefield multiple times while working for the Park Service. In any case, McClellan's performance at Antietam led President Lincoln to fire him a few months later. Meade was McClellan's replacement.

Meade doesn't really make an appearance in The Killer Angels. He's mentioned a number of times, but it's more to note that he's nowhere near Gettysburg yet. Lee and his officers are sure Meade is still back in Washington, D.C., well removed from the impending battle scene, and the Union officers are more concerned with what's happening right in front of them than with how quickly Meade is coming up from the rear with more troops. Lee and his subordinates seem pretty thoroughly convinced that they don't need to worry about Meade. They apparently believed he'd be staying in Washington, D.C., politicking awhile longer before getting out in the field. In fact, just before the opening skirmishes of the battle, Lee doesn't believe there are any Union troops worth mentioning anywhere near them.

It turns out, of course, that Lee is wrong. Not only are there sufficient Union troops in Gettysburg to be a problem, Meade and the Army of the Potomac are a lot closer than the rebels believed. End result? A decisive battle that results in the CSA forces being considerably weakened and forced to retreat back to Virginia.

So would I recommend this book to other readers? Definitely yes. It's extremely readable. Even if you really are not particularly interested in military history or historical novels, it's easy to get sucked into The Killer Angels. According to the author's biography I found online, Shaara was surprised when the book won the Pulitzer. It didn't sell particularly well at the time of publication, and not even winning the Pulitzer was enough to boost sales. Why is a mystery because it is a good book.

The Killer Angels was made into the film Gettysburg, which had some rather improbable casting -- Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee? -- but I may go looking for it anyway. After all, the cast list does include Sam Elliott as General John Buford so how bad can it be?

Next up on the Pulitzer list? Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow. Naturally, the L'Anse Public Library does not have it in its collection. I'm either going to have to spend actual money or wait until September and the resumption of Interlibrary Loan services. I think I'll wait.