Saturday, October 28, 2017

Major archeological find

Back in 1992, we decided to build a deck by what is now the entrance to the Woman Cave. At the time, the structure was the back porch we'd added on to the Shoebox, the ratty mobile home we'd lived in off and on since the '70s. The kid did the excavating, the S.O. then built a decent sized deck using rough lumber from a local mill. He treated it with Thompson's Water Seal a few times, but basically the decking was cheap untreated rough lumber, mostly hemlock and spruce, that then sat there exposed to the weather for a couple decades.

Every so often one of those boards would decide it had suffered long enough, it was time to rot. We usually discovered this by stepping through it. Annoying, but not exactly life threatening when the drop was barely 6 inches. We'd slap a patch over the hole and move on. This summer we figured out the patches took up more square footage than the original material. The time for replacement had come. So the S.O. pulled up the boards.

Lo and behold! Major archeological find. I guess it counts as historic archeology because the artifact came complete with a date embossed on the bottom. That date, however, raises an interesting  question: the Big Mac Transformer is copyright 1987. The deck didn't get built until 1992. How did it get under there? Tammi did a really nice job of leveling the space; it was definitely bare dirt when the S.O. framed the deck.
I suspect, of course, that one of the cats carried it under the deck while playing with it. No chew marks on it so it wasn't the dog.

Minor digression: it just struck me that even a plastic Big Mac looks more edible than the real thing.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Talk about shooting yourself in the metaphorical foot

Listening to NPR this morning. For a change, the most interesting news is international, like the troubled election going on in Kenya. Kenyans had voted earlier this year, but that election was nullified by the courts due to overwhelming evidence of widespread election fraud. I'd say this election is the mulligan, the do-over because they screwed up the first time, but it's apparently actually the third time this year that the Kenyans have tried to hold a nation-wide election.

Well, in what has to be one of the more bizarre opposition ploys I have seen, people who oppose the current government of President Uhuru Kenyatta are boycotting the election. You read that right. In order to register their opposition and try to bring about change to the existing government, they're going to stay home, just sit it out. The only people voting will probably be Kenyatta's supporters. Assuming, that is, that anyone at all votes. The latest report on the BBC mentioned violence and physical attacks on polling places, but it wasn't clear just who was instigating the violence -- the opposition? The party currently in power? Who knows. In any case, none of should be surprised when we hear that Kenyatta won re-election by an overwhelming margin.

I'd say people talking about boycotting voting in Kenya has to be the dumbest electoral ploy I've ever seen except it's not unusual. Not long ago the same thing happened in Spain. People who opposed the separatist movement sat out the election held in Catalonia to determine whether or not Catalonia should become an independent nation. Naturally, when most of the people voting were the ones who supported separatism the election results were in favor of independence. This happened despite the fact various polls showed that the separatists were a distinct minority in the region. If all the people who opposed separatism had bothered to vote Catalonian independence would now be a nonissue.

Apparently opponents of the existing government in Venezuela also did something similar a few months back -- decided they weren't going to dignify the socialist regime of President Maduro by participating in the election -- so, wow, what a surprise, Maduro is still in power. The country is a mess, but at least the opposition has its dignity intact.

We saw something similar happen in this country a year ago. Lots of people who didn't like either candidate very much, who claimed that they didn't want to vote for the "lesser of two evils" opted to not vote at all. We saw how well that worked out.

The stupid, it burns.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Speaking of planning

One of these days I need to learn to plan better

The S.O. and I have been involved with some remodeling/renovating at the museum. I mentioned a few weeks ago we were going to pull out a window and then drywall that section of wall. Well, the window came out a couple weeks ago, and the hole got covered from the outside. At the time, we were thinking the drywall part would be easy.

Why would it be easy? Because the space was basically 12 feet wide and not quite 9 feet tall. All we had to do was get two 12 by 4 feet sheets of drywall, put them up horizontally, and that would be that. So when the S.O. and another historical society member framed in the hole where the window had been, a space that was 5 feet high and 8 feet wide, more or less, they didn't worry much about the spacing on the studs. They set them at 24 inches on center. When the dry wall seam was going to be horizontal, it didn't matter much what the spacing for the vertical studs was.

Well, then we did the shopping for drywall. That's when we got reminded that stuff is heavy. Even the lightweight stuff weighs quite a bit. I knew it was going to be me and the S.O. hanging that drywall. The more I thought about it, the less enthusiastic I became about the idea of having to lift a 12-foot long sheet of drywall on to the top half of the wall. We're old. We're not quite feeble, but we're getting there. Trying to lift a large awkward chunk of something weighing well over 100 pounds did not strike me as a fun way to spend our time. I started having visions of us being flattened by a sheet of drywall, pressed like oversize butterflies on to the museum floor. So when we were almost to Menard's I asked the S.O. for his thoughts. He didn't take much persuading. . . and once we were in the store and cursing as we got the actual sheets of drywall on to the cart, shifting to using the 8 foot lengths looked even more attractive. If we had trouble getting a 8 foot sheet on to a cart a couple inches off the floor, trying to lift a much longer sheet up almost five feet on the wall would have really sucked.

Of course, when it came time to actually hang the drywall, we discovered that we could not simply set the 3 sheets vertically. Nope. The studs in the hole didn't line up right. Coming over four feet from one side of the wall put the edge of the sheet about a foot too far from the framing. That's when the S.O. got to be creative. Three sheets of drywall wound up as six pieces, each one a different size, and multiple short seams instead of one long one. But at least it's up and we can move on to the next step.

I suppose we could have rented a drywall jack and that would have solved the handling problem for the longer sheets, but it seemed rather silly to spend more on rental fees than the material we were installing cost, especially when it would have been needed for just one sheet.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Your tax dollars at work

Given that the typical VA patient, at least based on what I've seen in the waiting rooms in Iron Mountain and Hancock, looks like he or she is older than the proverbial dirt, I find it oddly reassuring that the Veterans Administration thinks they have clients who can still use this particular product. I picked up the brochure at the clinic in Hancock where it seemed like everyone other than the S.O. was definitely mobility challenged.

Then again, just because a person's knees or hips have decided to stop working doesn't mean that everything else has closed up shop. (And if it has, the VA also prescribes Viagra.)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

It's still Amateur Hour at the White House

Ever wonder what life would be like if Cliff Clavin got elected President? I thought not. Most of us don't waste much time fantasizing about could happen if an annoying character from a 1980's situation comedy wound up in a position of power. Maybe we should have, because that's basically what the American populace allowed to happen when Donald Trump made it into the White House.

For those of you who aren't up on American television trivia, Cliff was the know-it-all postman who was a permanent fixture at one end of the bar. Cliff was a font of trivia -- you name it, he was sure he knew all about it. And even if he didn't have a clue, he refused to change his mind. Once he'd said it, whatever came out of his mouth had to be true. Sound familiar?

Back in January I told a friend that I thought a major problem with The Donald was that he had no idea how government actually worked. Coming at it from the outside, he had the same misguided view of the role of the executive that most of the public does: he thought that being President of the United States was like being the CEO of a corporation. The CEO issues a directive; minions immediately scurry around making it happen. You know, like Picard at the helm of the Enterprise.

The reality, of course, is that the Presidency comes close to being a figurehead, someone who has to work closely with Congress if he (or someday she) wants to get anything done. Can't really fault Trump for not understanding that when he entered office because most Americans are equally naïve -- we attribute all sorts of power (and blame) to the President when most of the time we should be recognizing that Congress is responsible for whatever we're complaining about.

But it turned out The Donald's ignorance didn't end with simply no working knowledge of how the government actually functions or who's responsible for what. Nope. Turned out he's amazingly, astoundingly blissfully clueless about just about everything. After witnessing him thinking the U.S. Virgin Islands are a foreign country, I'd be willing to be that if you asked him to list the fifty states, he'd draw a blank after rattling off the ones that have Trump hotels or golf courses.

And then there's been this most recent debacle. This was the week when we learned for sure that The Donald has the people skills of a rock. Tone deaf is an understatement. How hard can it be to offer condolences when someone dies? The stock phrase, the one that every adult should know, is "I am sorry for your loss." Period. No embellishments. That's all he had to do -- tell the widow he was sorry her husband was dead. You'd think that would be impossible to screw up. You'd be wrong. How can someone who starred in a scripted reality show manage to not parrot a few simple platitudes is a mystery, but The Donald did it. Whatever he meant to say, the way it came out registered as remarkably insensitive.

And then instead of having the simple courage to admit he'd tripped over his own tongue, he declared war on the widow and her friends.

Okay. I was wrong. The American populace didn't elect Cliff Clavin. They elected the annoying barfly, the aging frat boy who runs his mouth constantly about how wonderful he is and is oblivious to everyone else, the armchair warrior who hangs out at the VFW cloaking himself in stolen valor by waxing nostalgic about risking his life in rice paddies in Vietnam when he actually spent his years in the Army manning a typewriter in Louisiana. You know the type -- the dude who manages to bluster his way into the chairmanship of the local Eagles club and then drives the rest of the membership away. The mediocre but loud woman who insists on being put in charge of the Parent Teacher Organization and succeeds in persuading the other parents that maybe their kids would be better off in a different school. First they bluff, then they bluster, and finally they rant and blame everyone else on the planet for whatever went wrong.

Anyone want to make book on how much longer General Kelly is going to last as chief of staff? It must be exhausting trying to work with the world's oldest toddler.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book review: The Red Line

Anyone who's ever wondered why their immigrant ancestors came to this country needs to read this book. I know quite a few third or fourth generation Finnish-Americans who have made the pilgrimage back to the old country, been blown away by what a lovely place Finland can be (especially if you're a tourist), and wondered why on earth their grandparents or great grandparents ever left. Track down an English translation of Punainen viiva (The Red Line) and it'll be crystal clear. When your kids are going barefoot in Finnish winters and you're surviving by mixing pulverized pine bark with flour, the uncertainties of the New World had to look like a much better deal than anything Finland had to offer at the time.

The Red Line is set in rural Finland right after the Finnish national assembly passed legislation in 1906 granting universal suffrage. There was a literacy test, but other than that all adults age 24 and above could vote -- men and women, landowner and tenant farmer, rich and poor. Finland was, in fact, the first country to give women the vote. The literacy test, incidentally, was not much of a bar to any adult voting. Even Finns living in abject poverty who tended to view newspapers as something primarily used to line walls for insulation were literate. They had to be. You couldn't get married if you weren't a church member, and you couldn't be a church member if you couldn't read the Lutheran catechism. Despite Finnish being an extremely difficult language for non-Finns to learn, it's actually pretty easy to read for a native speaker. Each letter has a unique sound. Once you've mastered an aapinen* you can read anything by sounding it out. You may not understand what the words mean, which becomes clear as the protagonists in The Red Line try to figure out just what an "agitator" is (they have no clue whether it's a good thing or a bad one), but you'll know what they sound like.

The first general election was scheduled for March 1907. The months leading up to the election witnessed party advocates fanning out across the country. A socialist party worked particularly hard at turning out the rural vote, getting the dirt-poor crofters and others at the bottom of the economic scale to buy into their campaign promises. Never having gone through a truly general election before, voters tended to be a bit . . . gullible. To them, the campaign promises sounded like magic: vote for the socialist candidate and the whole system that kept poor tenant farmers in rags while the rich dressed in silk and had coffee every day would be overthrown instantly. The characters in this book truly believe that things would change overnight. If they vote socialist, their lives will see an immediate improvement. Instead, after agonizing over whether or not to believe the agitator and vote against the monied interests, they draw the red line, go home, and slowly realize nothing has changed. If anything, things get worse -- Fate (or, more accurately, the author) has some nasty surprises to throw at them before the snow is gone.

The red line, incidentally, refers to the mark, a diagonal red line on the ballot, voters made and not to the socialist party.

I found The Red Line interesting, but I did have some quibbles. I think the author kind of went overboard in his descriptions of the desperate poverty of the crofters. Yes, I believe there were poor farmers who lived so close to starvation at least part of the year that they had to resort to pine flour** to survive. Famine was a recurring problem in a country that practiced slash and burn agriculture and had an astoundingly short growing season. On the other hand, in this book the farmers are practically starving and worrying about every bite when it's still more than a month until Christmas. They're also short on hay for their animals (a cow, a calf, and some sheep). It struck me as a bit unbelievable that the farmers would be running out of hay barely a month into winter.

I was also more than a bit skeptical about the descriptions of the farm house/hovel as being filthy. I'm not sure why so many authors seem to conflate dirt-poor and dirty, but it happens all the time. Don't have any money? Than obviously you also don't know how to use a broom or to wash the communal stew bowl occasionally.

On the other hand, the cockroaches living in the filth were amusing. They were better read than the humans, although one does lament the fact he can't read Latin.

I will not claim to have read this book in the original Finn, although I wish I could have. The author includes dialect (Finland has a bunch of regional dialects) and I'd love to read Finn well enough to be able to pick up on the way a Karelian accent gets rendered compared with an ordinary crofter's and the more educated characters in the novel.

*aapinen -- children's primer used to teach the alphabet

**pine flour -- literally made by drying and grinding the inner bark of pine trees. The S.O. remembers a Lutheran minister describing it to his catechism class back in the early 1960's. Many rural families survived by mixing pine flour with wheat, rye, or barley. It didn't provide any nutritional value because humans can't digest cellulose, but it stretched the grain flour supply and helped stave off hunger pangs. There were good reasons many Finnish immigrants never felt any nostalgia for the Old Country.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Another day, another crap donation

Every so often someone will ask me if there's anything valuable in the museum. Well, it depends on how you define valuable, I guess, but if they're thinking in terms of something you could haul to a pawn shop and get Big Buck$ for, the answer is No. There are some nifty items in the museum, but in general we get the stuff that's left when the estate sale is over, the chipped Depression glass, the rusting kitchen utensils, the crap no one wanted to buy but, hey, it's old so of course the museum will love to have it. We get to dig through a lot of fertilizer in the hope of finding an occasional pony.

Anyway, yesterday the S.O. and I went to check out a possible donation of some old farm equipment. I should have known. It had been talked up lovingly in the email proposing the donation. When we got out to the now vacant farm to pick the stuff up I discovered that once again someone was attempting to stick the museum with the crap that didn't sell at the estate sale. Apparently not even scrap metal buyers were interested in a rusting hulk of mystery gears and wheels that had been described to me as a "plow." Yeah. Right. I could be wrong, but I tend to believe that for something to qualify as a "plow" there should be at least one visible mouldboard. You know, the thing that cuts into the soil and does the actual plowing? I have no idea what the pile of scrap iron was used for originally -- it had obviously been towed behind a tractor but there were no mouldboards or discs or harrows or anything else attached to it. I kept staring at it trying to figure out just what it might have been once upon a time, but despite having grown up in farm country and spent a lot of time around farm equipment, I had no clue. Neither did the S.O. In short, in terms of it being a useful museum piece, it wasn't.

Another donated item still had a price tag on it from the estate sale. When I say the museum gets the crap that doesn't sell, I'm not joking. I did recognize this particular piece of rusting metal-- it was a row cultivator, more or less. It, too, was missing pieces but at least was still recognizable. Not recognizable enough for me to want to toss it in the back of the truck, not with a bunch of parts missing and the wheel broken, but no mystery about what it had once been.

Allegedly there was a third piece of equipment lurking somewhere on the property, a riding dump hay rake, but we couldn't find it. We walked out into the field where it was supposedly parked but never spotted the thing. Which is probably just as well, considering what poor condition the first two pieces were in. No doubt if we had found the hay rake we'd have discovered the wheels were missing (those high metal wheels are real popular for incorporating into fences or to make gates with) or most of the teeth were gone from the rake.

On the positive side, it was a nice day so wandering around an old hay field looking for derelict farm equipment wasn't a bad way to spend part of the afternoon. We even stumbled across an actual wild crab apple tree. Never did see a hay rake, though.

The down side is I now get to write a note to the donor telling him in as polite a way as possible that it turns out the museum can't take his rusting pieces of scrap iron  valuable family heirlooms after all.

Moral of the story: never ever say yes to a donation, especially one that involves using a truck to move it, without inspecting it first.