Monday, April 30, 2018

Whatever happened to Jim and Margie?

My mind works in odd ways. I was wandering through the living room (all 8 square feet of it) yesterday while the S.O. was playing with the Amazon Fire Stick. We've had it for awhile now, but he keeps discovering new applications and updating old ones. He's managed to find quite a few viewing options through the Fire Stick, including many that let us watch stuff in real time instead of having to wait to stream it. If we want a news fix, for example, we can watch "The National" on CBC.

In any case, he had just installed something new and was cruising through the various offerings when he hit Penthouse HD. Being male and not dead, he had to click on the icon. Naturally, the first thing that popped up, so to speak, was porn. And not subtle porn -- we're talking porn so explicit there was no doubt whatsoever as to what we were seeing on the screen. Porn in High Def.

So what's the first thing I think? "Holy wah, isn't that some sort of workplace safety violation?" The setting was a garage floor, the naked dude was supine on a creeper (as in the device mechanics use to slide under vehicles, not as in the slimy dudes who slither up to women at inappropriate times), there was a car not far away. The dude is on a creeper! That implies the car is up on jack stands. Isn't it some sort of OSHA issue to have two naked people doing the nasty only a couple feet away from a vehicle that isn't solidly on the ground?

Second thought was, I bet that chick is serious about yoga. She was remarkably. . . limber.

And then I found myself wondering if the crab louse (Pthirus pubis) has made it on to the endangered species list yet. There were news stories circulating a year or two ago about how Western societies' obsession with removing body hair in general and pubic hair in particular was threatening the existence of the crab louse. Its preferred habitat, its specific ecological niche, was vanishing. What had begun as a few women worrying about their bikini lines had evolved into wholesale deforestation. The crab louse is an obligate sanguivore -- the only thing it can eat is blood -- that co-evolved with humans. It dines on blood and resides on body hair, preferably the hair found in the groin. Shave or wax the groin and you've just done the equivalent of clear cutting a forest and wiping out an ecosystem. Pity the ever shrinking populations of crab lice, done in not by the famous Blue Ointment (I wonder how how many people who used it knew it was basically a mixture of mercury and lard?) but by aesthetics. For sure no crab lice were going to colonize the couple on the creeper. They were both so thoroughly waxed that if there hadn't been obvious genitalia they would have looked as plastic as Ken and Barbie.

It is odd how a procedure once viewed as torture -- waxing an area that is remarkably sensitive to pain -- managed to morph into a routine trip to the salon that many people, both men and women, take for granted. Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away (Madison, Wisconsin, in the 1960s) my circle of friends included Jim and Margie. Jim was quite the young raconteur. He told remarkably amusing stories about the high jinks and mishaps of various acquaintances. This being Wisconsin at a time when 18 was the legal drinking age for beer, many of his stories involved pranks pulled on dudes who lacked the ability to stay conscious longer than their friends. A favorite prank, it developed, was The Torture of the Scarlet Scrotum.

I think the reader knows where this story is going. If some poor sap passed out at a kegger at the frat house, he wasn't likely to wake up a few hours later to discover a penis drawn on his forehead in permanent marker. No. What happened was that if he didn't wake up when his "friends" removed his pants or when they began dripping hot wax on to his junk, for sure he came to with a scream when they ripped that wax off. Hence, The Torture of the Scarlet Scrotum.

On the positive side, at least he didn't have to worry about dying from alcohol poisoning or choking in his own vomit.

As for the endangered crab lice, I also wonder if parasitologists are trying to maintain populations of them for research purposes. If they do, how do they maintain them? I have read of other researchers who deal with sanguivores who allow themselves to be dined on -- it's not an uncommon practice for scientists who work with leeches, bedbugs, and even vampire bats to offer an arm to their lab critters -- but it would take real scientific dedication to introduce crabs to one's crotch.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

Bent's Old Fort is a National Historic Site associated with the Santa Fe Trail. When the S.O. and I planned a road trip to Arizona to visit the Younger Daughter, we didn't set out to do an Auto Tour of the Santa Fe Trail but that's the way it worked out. The last time we did the drive, we got on to US 54 in eastern Kansas and followed it down into New Mexico. It was not a fun jaunt across the Sunflower State. Between dropping a drive shaft from the Guppy and losing a wheel bearing on the tow dolly, I was nervous about taking the exact same route, like maybe the highwat was jinxed. I had no desire to see what might fall off my car somewhere in the middle of nowhere -- and there is a lot of nowhere along US-54.

Of course, there was also a lot of nothing along US-50 in Kansas, but at least nothing fell off the car

The Santa Fe Trail auto route does not follow US-50 in eastern Kansas -- it's a little farther north, along US-56 -- but out by Dodge City the highway and the original trail actually follow the same route, more or less, for quite a few miles. There are numerous historic markers, although no major sites until you get into Colorado and Bent's Old Fort a few miles east of the city of La Junta. Bent's Old Fort is a National Historic Site associated with the Santa Fe Trail.

The fort is an interesting example of a time period in the National Park Service that's unlikely to ever be repeated: the era of reconstruction and replication. NPS went on a rebuilding binge in the 1960's and 70's; a combination of lack of funds and a change in philosophy since then means the preferred approach now is to stabilize whatever ruins remain and put up markers showing where stuff used to be. Fort Bowie in Arizona is a good example of the latter approach. Bent's Old Fort is a total reconstruction dating from the tail end of the rebuilding boom.
The National Park Service got lucky with its reconstruction of Bent's Old Fort. Reconstructing former military installations, like Fort Learned in Kansas or Fort Union Trading Post in North Dakota, was fairly easy. The U.S. Army was a firm believer in standardization. If you've been to one 19th century military post, you have basically been to them all. The enlisted mens' barracks, the officers' quarters, the post hospital, the overall layout of the post, you name it. Standard plans across the country. The only thing that might vary is the building material (in the Southwest, for example, the Army used adobe bricks instead of wood frame construction). Bent's Old Fort, however, was privately owned. There was no standard plan involved. So how do the Park Service manage to get it so right?
Press used to flatten bison hides into compact bundles for shipment east.
 They can thank the Army. The military may not have built Bent's, but in 1845 and 1846 a U.S. Army officer, Lieutenant James W. Abert, became ill and spent many months convalescing at the trading post. To stay busy while he recuperated, he made detailed sketches, including measured drawings, of the post. Other visitors to Bent's Old Fort included Susan Magoffin and her husband, who were traveling to Santa Fe. Mrs. Magoffin's descriptions of Bent's survived and also helped in the reconstruction and interpretation efforts. Without the records left by Abert, Magoffin, and others, reconstruction would have been a guessing game.

The current fort was built on the site of the original, but by the time the National Park Service got  the site, what was left was archeological, not structural. Constructed by brothers William and Charles Bent and their business partner Ceran St. Vrain in 1833 and abandoned less than twenty years later, the adobe ruins had quickly crumbled and vanished. The three men established a trading post on the Arkansas River near the point where the Santa Fe Trail crossed from U.S. territory into Mexico in 1829. After deciding upon a site the men sent for workers experienced in using adobe for construction to build the fort.

Bent's thrived for about twenty years. The three business partners established good relations with local Native American tribes; William Bent himself married a Cheyenne woman. The trading post became a popular stop for travelers along the Santa Fe Trail as well as serving as a rendevouz point for both fur trappers and Indians.
The partners had established the post to capitalize on the popularity of beaver fur. Within a few years, however, the supply of beaver had dwindled along and, luckily for the beaver, so had the demand for its fur (had it stayed popular, the beaver could easily have been trapped to extinction). The focus shifted to buffalo hides.

Interestingly, the interpretive film at Bent's mentions that by the 1840's the Cheyenne were reporting that the buffalo herds were getting smaller and buffalo were becoming harder to hunt. In most histories I've read, the extirpation of the American bison in the United States is described as happening after the Civil War, but the history at Bent's suggests the process became visible a couple decades before, at least on the western edge of the Great Plains. I was reminded of a talk I heard over 20 years ago at an environmental history meeting -- a historian there suggested that Native American hunters would have driven the bison into extinction regardless of whether or not white hunters or government policy were involved. It caused quite a stink at the time -- no one wants to admit that the Native Americans could be wasteful or short sighted, but they were* -- but it appears that the Cheyenne had noticed diminishing herds even if they may not have realized the role they were playing in creating the problem. .

War with Mexico disrupted trade at Bent's. The fort became a staging area for the U.S. military as well as the site of a government Indian agency. Trade with the Indians fell off, and in 1849 Bent's Old Fort burned down. There was some suspicion that William Bent torched it on purpose. Whether or not he did, when he rebuilt it was at a different site near the Arkansas River. That site, Bent's New Fort, today exists only as ruins.

*Anyone who's ever read a description of a buffalo jump should know that Native Americans could be just as wasteful as any other group of humans.