Friday, December 31, 2021

When will women achieve true equality?

A post about gender stereotyping, criminality, and sexual perversion is kind of an odd way to end the year, but news reports kept yammering on about the verdict in the Ghislaine Maxwell trial. There seems to be a general feeling that the only reason she was charged was because Jeffrey Epstein is dead -- and, despite historic examples of digging people up to draw and quarter them, you can't try a corpse. So what's the next best thing when you can't put a cadaver in the dock? Charge his girlfriend as a "better than nothing." As a feminist, this pisses me off. Is it strange that it annoys me that this disgusting evil person isn't getting the credit she's due?

Is perversion the last bastion of gender stereotyping? Is there some rule that says women can't be evil, sadistic perverts who are equally as bad as their male counterparts? Why must Maxwell still be described as being essentially powerless, a tool who Epstein used as an enabler, a person who was basically a mindless minion just doing Epstein's bidding? It is gender stereotyping at its worst to assume that in a relationship between two rich perverts that the woman was the weaker one.

It's also a weird cultural contradiction. After all, women have been portrayed as temptresses, the people who lure men into sinning, for millennia so why does the media keep framing it as Epstein using Maxwell to help with his decadent life style and not vice versa? Or even as it being a mutual recognition of shared kinkiness and a perverted interest in adolescent girls? What if instead of Maxwell enabling Epstein, Epstein was enabling Maxwell? Witness reports make it clear Maxwell sexually abused the teens she recruited long before the girls found themselves giving Epstein special massages.

In any case, regardless of which pervert was the dominant sleaze in the relationship, it would have been nice to see Maxwell treated as a free agent, someone in charge of her own destiny and doing exactly what she wanted, instead of being framed as a poor dumb woman who let a manipulative dude exploit her.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

The road to Hell

The year is almost over, and as usual things did not go as planned. Or hoped for. I started off with every intention of doing more with this blog, writing more, being generally more ambitious. I set a reasonable goal: do more posts than I did in 2020. Translation: do at least 39 posts between January 1 and December 31. 

At this point, I don't think it's going to happen. Granted, I'm a mere four posts short of achieving that goal, but if I couldn't manage to write four posts a month for the past 11 and a half months what are the odds I'll crank out four in six days? 

In my defense, I was doing good until Summer happened. Once the weather turned decent I definitely lost interest in thinking. Or writing. Not that the two always go hand in hand. 

Maybe I'll do better in 2022. And maybe pigs will fly. Stranger things have happened.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Vaguely missing the South

I have told the story before about ambling to the bus stop one morning in Atlanta and finding myself behind two good ol' boys talking about dining at an acquaintance's house. Topic of discussion was apparently the protein portion of the meal, a possum that allegedly resembled a cooked chihuahua. At the time I was intrigued, but not intrigued enough to intrude on their conversation and ask how it tasted. 

I had no idea then (and still have no idea) just how one went about acquiring a recently deceased opossum in a metropolitan area like Atlanta, although I suppose it was possible to trap one on the patios of the apartment complex. We had a possum visit our patio occasionally. I remember thinking back then that the beast looked like road kill without ever having been flattened out on Buford Highway. I felt no desire to terminate it, toss it in the crock pot, and slow cook the beast. I mean, possums eat ticks. Who in their right mind wants to eliminate a beast that vacuums up ticks?

So what has me thinking about cooked possums today? I've been working on a new exhibit at the museum, a nod to Hunting and Fishing in Baraga County. The exhibit will include a cookbook published by the US Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service in 1943. During the war, meat was rationed. Beef was hard to come by for the average cook so the Extension Service decided to promote Good Eating from Woods and Fields. 

Good Eating has recipes for various wee beasties one doesn't see front and center on the dinner table very often these days. Granted, squirrel is still popular at wild game feasts (an event many sport hunters' clubs hold occasionally as a fund raiser). It's also a traditional ingredient in Brunswick stew, although modern recipes usually don't mention it. Today's cookbooks (and Google recipe search results) usually list chicken or pork as the meat of choice. But when was the last time you heard anyone talk about roasting a woodchuck? (Not a bad choice, incidentally, if one is ever lost and starving in the wilderness. Woodchuck has a lot of fat so just like porcupine would be a high energy food.) 

According to the S.O., skunk is edible, too, if you know how to handle it. He occasionally reminisces about the time back when he was young, he and his father stopped to visit with some geezer living the carefree bachelor life in a shack that had been part of a lumber camp. The dude invited them to dine with him. The S.O. did not recognize the taste; his dad told him later it was skunk. Whether or not it was is debatable, but apparently it was a possibility. Somehow the Extension researchers missed skunk as a culinary delight; there is no skunk meat loaf or skunk goulash in Good Eating.

There is, however, raccoon meatloaf and raccoon goulash. And more. Raccoon can be used in multiple ways.  As it happens, I once knew a source for acquiring the main ingredient (one raccoon) for those recipes. Whenever we drove from Atlanta to Hemphill, Texas, to visit the Younger Daughter we'd pass through a town just west of Vidalia, Louisiana, where the proprietor of a retail establishment there advertised regularly that they had "fresh coon today." The establishment was one of those typical deep South gas stations/convenience stores/god knows what places that look like it hasn't been open for business since the Eisenhower administration but locals will tell you serves the best fried chicken in the county (or, it being Louisiana, parish). We never stopped. Another opportunity lost; somehow I doubt I'll ever see another "fresh coon today" sign board. 

Which means I've never done a test drive of the following recipe. However, if you happen to have a source for a recently deceased raccoon, the US Department of Agriculture believes (or believed, 78 years ago) that this is edible:

Fricasseed Raccoon

8 Servings 

Cooking Time 2-1/2 hours 


1 raccoon 

2 tablespoons salt  

1/2 teaspoon pepper  

1 cup flour  

1/4 cup fat 

2 cups broth  

1. Clean raccoon and remove all fat. Cut into 8 or 10 pieces.  

2. Rub with salt and pepper and roll in flour.  

3. Cook in hot fat until well browned, add the broth, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until tender.

Monday, December 6, 2021

WTF is wrong with some people?

Every so often this meme makes the rounds on Facebook. It's usually shared by people waxing nostalgic for the days when everyone's childhoods resembled Beaver Cleaver's or Opie Taylor's, at least in their minds. Not surprisingly, it usually gets labeled as the classic white racist boomer fantasy. You know, the elderly white guy's favorite "memory" -- the good old days when everyone's dad was a genial but strict clean cut dude in a suit, and women knew their place as well as doing all the cooking, cleaning, and catering to their men while dressed in neatly pressed cotton dresses,heels, and a tasteful string of pearls. It goes without saying all the neighbors were white. 

My response to the meme is usually to state I don't miss the good old days at all. I'm old enough that I remember polio, being quarantined for measles, and, when I was older, the gender stereotyping that steered girls into home economics and bookkeeping classes while boys got to take shop or advanced science and math.Why couldn't girls take shop? Because then the boys wouldn't be able to tell dirty jokes or use vulgar language. Shop was where boys could be boys; home ec was where the Future Homemakers learned how to set the table for a formal multi-course meal, right down to the fish forks.
Are fish forks still a thing? Did anyone ever actually use them outside dinners served by English aristocracy? Then again, on a less pretentious scale, exactly what is the point of having separate forks for the salad and the main dish? As far as I can discern, the main purpose of having a plethora of silverware on the table, all the various spoons and forks and knives, is to signal that you're doing well enough financially that you (or, more likely, your minions) can lay out an array of metal that will baffle any peasants present at your banquet. 

But, as I was starting to say, it hit me this week that I actually do miss the America I grew up in. I miss the days before the Internet and social media, the days back when stupid people were unable to form echo chambers where they can parrot each other's delusions. You know, the days when if someone was an asshole the only people who had to hear that person being an ass were people who actually knew him. The days when people might have been mean and petty but their meanness and pettiness didn't affect anyone other than the poor saps who were stuck with them through marriage or work. The truly dumb fucks did the bulk of their pontificating through letters to the editor of the local paper. The L'Anse Sentinel used to have a couple regulars who could be counted on to fill page space with their tinfoil hat theories. (For all I know, they still do. I rarely read the Sentinel.) Those people were generally mocked by the community as a whole. They functioned as a source of amusement and not as a symptom of an increasingly dysfunctional culture.

Now, of course, the tinfoil hat types clog up the Intertubes. They band together in cyberspace and encourage each other's lunacy. Worse, after encouraging each other online, they engage in behavior that not long ago would have been unthinkable. Crazy people living in Florida can inspire equally crazy people living in Idaho or Vermont to engage in aberrant antisocial behavior like issuing death threats against politicians or policy makers they disagree with. Harassing the families (including young children) of school board members or public health officials is a recent example. My news feed lately has had way too many stories about the hell school board members are being put through over stuff that shouldn't be issues at all: trying to prevent the spread of infectious disease, for example. There are depressingly large numbers of people deciding to not run for school board again once their terms expire because it's not worth the stress.

Or worse. One of the most disheartening stories recently was about the harassment directed at the school board chair in Hastings, Minnesota. The woman and her family experienced so much vitriol, including credible death threats, that she and her family had to move. And what inspired all the hate? She was the chair of a school board that had voted to require masks for in-school students as part of the school district's response to the COVID pandemic. (Other recent examples of nutjobs harassing school boards include freakouts over library books with adult content -- as if high school students had never heard an obscenity or knew what sexual intercourse is -- or demanding schools eliminate Critical Race Theory from the curriculum when CRT isn't there in the first place. The stupid, it burns.)
I keep thinking there are all sorts of things that in the past people might think but they'd never say out loud. Now they don't just say the crazy shit out loud, they rally others to be equally delusional or nihilistic. Social norms have become meaningless to them. You used to have to be drunk or certifiably crazy to yell obscenities at a school board or city council meeting, and for sure you had to be not in your right mind to phone death threats to a neighbor. Not anymore. Now you can do and say whatever horrible thing pops into your head and not only will you not pay a price for it, you'll have fellow amoral, cognitively challenged asshats forming a cheering section.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

You know the price of lumber is high

Just how high does the price of raw wood have to go for it to become more cost effective to make fake stumps than it is to sell real ones? Amazon is offering patio seats and accent tables made from "faux wood." How can it possibly be cheaper to cast a fake stump from resin than to simply cut up a real tree into the appropriately sized pieces?

This little gem is 16 inches tall, comes with adjustable feet, and is ideal for use as either a place to sit or as an accent table. And it could be yours for a mere $67.86 with free shipping if you're a Prime member. 

I have some odd stuff show up in the ads Facebook bombards me with, but faux wood baffles me. Why would the algorithms think I'd want a fake log? 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

I wonder why they might have trouble filling this position?

If the following is an example of the typical Help Wanted ad, I don't think there's much of a mystery as to why the applicant pool might be thin even in an area with traditionally high unemployment rates. This is a part-time job that's going to require a bitch of a commute once it gets to be winter. Granted, it's only 10 miles from downtown L'Anse out to the Forestry Center and US-41 is real highway, but even so. . . if the shift starts at 6:30 a.m., it means being on the road before the snowplows go out. The position is less than full-time, and by today's standards the pay kind of sucks for a job that is dirty and physically demanding. 

Granted, there are people working locally who do longer commutes -- I know people who drive from Republic or Houghton to work in L'Anse -- but they're not washing dishes part-time at a job where the hours and intensity of work can vary widely from week to week. 

On the other hand, if a person is willing to work in a kitchen, working for Tech would surely beat working in one of the local restaurants. Among other things, Tech won't try to stiff you on your hours by asking you to work off the clock or to ignore health code violations. There are definitely worse jobs to be found locally. 

Friday, July 30, 2021

Vacuous space filler

AKA cleaning out the gauno collection. So here are some random memes I saved because when a computer has a gazillion gigabytes of memory you've got to fill it with something.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Improvements at the ranch

I may be able to water the garden this summer. The S.O. succeeded in pulling the old point for our shallow well. In the photo he has succeeded in jacking the pipe up to where he's been able to remove two 5-foot sections and is close to having another section almost high enough to remove. 

The well is close to the Woman Cave and provided our drinking water back when we had a mobile home. It's also one of those wells that the Health Department freaks out over -- not particularly deep so could be prone to contamination. Never viewed it as an issue for us, though, not when we're perched close to the highest point around here and are sitting on glacial till. 

Even better, that glacial till was beachfront a few thousand years ago. What is now wetland on the lower half of our property is the remnant of a pothole lake formed when the glaciers retreated. Over millennia a whole lot of water soaked into the gravel under us. Our place has never lacked for water. The problem has been getting it out of the ground. Glacial till tends to have a lot of sand in it. Sand has a nasty habit of clogging the screens on well points as well as shredding the working parts of pumps. 

Which is what happened to the most recent well a couple years ago. The sand content in the water that made it through the pump seemed to get worse until it was more like the pump was sucking mud -- the last load of laundry done using that well water had so much sand in it for all intents it wasn't clean at all. We brilliantly figured out it was time to pull the point, clean the sand out or replace it, and hope the problem was solved for awhile.

Except the point did not want to come out of the ground. The well consisted of (as far as the S.O. could recall) four 5-foot lengths of drive pipe and the 3-foot point. One of the couplings on the pipe must have gotten wedged under a rock because it would come up maybe 6 inches and stop. He tried multiple times a couple summers ago, even had help in the attempt, and the pipe would not move. We did talk about simply buying more pipe and driving a point in a few inches away from where the old pipe was sticking out of the ground, but we'd already done that once. The sand has been an ongoing issue for decades. When we put the new point in this time it's going to be, as best I can recall, the fourth one since 1973. 

The original well on the property was a dug well, really shallow, farther down the hill and close to the sauna. It hadn't been used in years so when the S.O. and I set up housekeeping in the Shoebox in 1973 he decided to do a new well a few feet away from the old dug well. He excavated a hole so the pumphouse would be basically underground and protected from freezing in the winter, and then drove a point. I think that one went down maybe 15 feet. Only problem was that in the spring, the pumphouse tended to fill with water as the snow around it melted. So then he drove another point farther up the hill and built an above-ground pumphouse. That point worked fine for a few years, had amazing water pressure, and then things began slowing to a trickle. 

We brilliantly figured out the screen on the point was getting blocked. We tried a couple remedies, he tried pulling it with no luck, and then he drove Point Number 3. Which worked fine for a few years. . . and here we are getting ready to finish pushing Point Number 4 into the ground. At least this time it's a little easier getting the point back in -- he's just shoving it into the hole the Point Number 3 came out of. It had about two feet left to go when he quit for the day. Once it's down far enough to reconnect the pump, all  we have to do is hope the old pump still works after having humongous amounts of sand pass through it for a decade or two.    

Photo is of the point following its removal. It had a long split down one side and was packed two-thirds full of sand. Not much of a mystery any more just why it was pumping mud. 

I didn't bother with a garden last year because I figured out a long time ago I can not count on rain keeping things growing. This year, of course, when I will be able to run a sprinkler it'll turn out to be the wettest summer in 50 years. 

This well also supplies water to the guest cabin so if all goes the way it should, the next guest in the cabin will have cold water on tap again.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Book Review: Educated, A Memoir

I am not a huge fan of memoirs, especially memoirs that detail someone's sad experiences with a religious cult or particularly harrowing circumstances, but for some reason Tara Westover's Educated caught my eye. Maybe pickings were slim on the New Books shelf. 

I have a minor addiction to advice columns and to the 'Am I the Asshole' threads on Reddit. I tell the S.O. that one nice thing about reading them is our own family starts looking pretty damn sane. Well, Educated had kind of the same effect, except in mega doses. Some holy-shit-I-survived memoirs feature a person's escape from a religious cult, some highlight abusive parents, some feature mental illness, and some involve abuse by other family members. Westover's book checks all the boxes. It was like, holy wah, this woman needs to stop thinking about someday reconnecting with her incredibly toxic family. Don't fantasize about building a bridge back home; dynamite that sucker in your mind and never look back. 

I could see missing your family if you've become estranged because you no longer buy into your father's lunatic right wing conspiracy theories, but not when your parents ignored the fact you were being terribly physically abused by an older sibling and resorted to major gaslighting when you asked why they never intervened. Then when you toss in being treated like slave labor -- what type of deranged adult pressures a 12-year old into operating an industrial metal shear in the family salvage yard? -- and having real, physical life-threatening injuries treated with homeopathic remedies. . . Westover's book is a really nice illustration of how if a totally toxic environment is the only thing you've ever known no sane, safe place is ever going to feel normal.  

It probably didn't help Westover psychologically when it wasn't so much that she deliberately cut off ties with her family as it was that they disowned her. She achieved something where most parents would be doing the happy dance and bragging to the whole world about their genius daughter, but not Westover's. To her specific set of demented parents she became a sinner, possessed by a demon, and for sure a slut and a whore when she decided to go to graduate school in England after graduating from Brigham Young University. Her parents had tolerated her attending BYU as long as they believed she just wanted to study music so she could come home, get married, have kids, and give piano lessons on the side. But winning a competitive scholarship, the equivalent of a Rhodes, and then getting more education than any woman needed? Not something they could condone.

Westover's life story is definitely a strange one. She was the youngest of seven children born to a Mormon couple in Idaho. Her family apparently started off as a typical lower middle class household. Her parents met while her mother was still in high school and then got married after her father completed his two-year Mormon missionary obligation. He worked as a contractor, built up his business, and built a house on his parents' farm. They were observant but not fanatics. The oldest three kids started off attending public school. In short, nothing at all odd about the family that would make them much different than any of their neighbors. At some point, though, Westover's father slid into weirdness. 

Mormons have always promoted clean living (no stimulants like caffeine), being prepared for disasters, and emphasizing modesty in women, but most aren't fanatics about it. They may not drink Diet Coke themselves but they usually don't freak out and assume you're heading straight to Hell for sipping soft drinks. Similarly, they may have a pantry stocked with a year's supply of food, but they're not obsessed to the point of being doomsday preppers. It's just something they do, kind of like Lutherans internalizing making bland jello salads for church suppers or Catholics looking forward to Friday fish fries during Lent. Westover's parents, on the other hand. . . the family may have continued attending regular church services in town and visited a bit with various relatives, but by the time she was born her father had turned their household into a one-family cult.

Westover speculates that her father suffered from being bipolar, a condition she learned about while in college. It's possible, I suppose, but what's a bit odd is that Westover's mother totally bought into enabling the man's delusions. Maybe it made life easier for her, but end result was the parents' behavior put the kids through hell. 

Her father became convinced only he knew the true will of God and that his interpretation of the Bible and the Book of Mormon was infallible. At the same time, he started believing the U.S. government was out to get him. The younger kids were all home birthed by a midwife (a highly illegal arrangement at the time; Idaho did not license midwives or condone home births) and their births never registered. It wasn't until one of the older kids needed a birth certificate in order to get a driver's license that the family applied for delayed birth certificates. By then Westover was nine years old. Her mother couldn't remember her birthday and wasn't even sure about what month Westover was born.

No birth certificates meant, of course, no public school. The younger kids were all home schooled, more or less. No real curriculum, no actual lesson plans, and not a whole lot of reading material in the house. At some point Westover realizes her life is probably going to be like her mother's: get married, have kids, take over her mother's roles as a midwife and herbalist. She also realizes she really doesn't want to do that. One of her brother's had managed to escape the family by getting admitted to BYU -- he had learned that the university had a policy of admitting homeschooled students if they scored at least a 28 on the ACT -- and he encouraged her to do the same to study music. Her one clear talent at that time was vocal music.

When she does get to BYU, she describes herself as being totally socially inept as well as totally ignorant about anything outside her very narrow range of experiences. She says, for example, that the first time she ever saw or heard the word "holocaust" was in an art history class during her first week of college classes. Similarly, once she gets to Cambridge, she's still doing the totally socially inept doofus persona.

This is where I actually do have problems with Westover's memoir. It's loaded with contradictions. She claims to have been totally naive about the world in general, but at the same time she took dance classes as a tween (although that stopped once her father realized that the girls danced in typical ballet and/or tap dance class attire (leotards and tutus). The immodesty freaked him out. As a teenager, she got involved with local amateur theater and sang the lead role in "Annie." To escape working in the family salvage yard, she sought out odd jobs in town and worked at a local supermarket. I find it totally believable that her home life was pretty damn weird (not to mention abusive) but it's not like she was being kept locked in a basement. The family had a computer and internet access. They even had cable television -- her father had a particular love for reruns of "The Honeymooners." In short, she had first hand exposure to how average people lived and how they dressed. 

This is one of those memoirs that gets touted as being inspiring, proof of the resiliency of the human spirit, because Westover managed to shape a career as a historian despite the handicap of being raised by wolves. I think she discounts the role sheer dumb luck played. At BYU a roommate could tell Westover was struggling psychologically and persuaded her to talk with her bishop. Mormon bishops have tremendous influence over their congregants. They're also as prone to being abusive patriarchal  assholes as any other religion. Westover's, however, did not push her into accepting a good, submissive, go home and get barefoot and pregnant future. She got lucky. He encouraged her to apply for scholarships and to dream big. 

 Similarly, after she was in England at Cambridge and studying for a master's in philosophy, she had another psychological crisis. She sank into major depression and totally neglected her studies. She failed classes. In most realities, she'd have been toast, booted from the program, and generally told to go back to salvaging scrap iron. Instead, her professors told her she had potential and gave her a second chance. People fail out of graduate programs all the time and no one cares. In Westover's case, someone did care and tossed her a lifeline. 

Time to wrap this up. Was the book worth reading? It's a toss-up. It was interesting but depressing as hell. I know rural communities are good at turning a blind eye to domestic and child abuse, but I am nonetheless baffled as to why in the 1990s anyone would think it was fine for a girl in her early teens to be working odd jobs instead of being in school. It's pretty clear that everyone in town knew her family so where the hell was CPS? Just how lax are Idaho's laws when it comes to home schooling? Most states at least want to see some documentation that the parents doing the teaching aren't total dolts. 

And then there's the issue of the psychotic older brother. The dude bullied all of his siblings, almost killed his much younger sister several times, and the parents just ignored it all or blamed the behavior on the smaller, weaker kids. He had a local reputation for being a prick who picked fights for no reason. The dude pretty obviously belonged in a cell somewhere, but the parents were oblivious. 

Back to is it worth reading. . . if you want to read a life story that reads as though no one would buy this as a movie plot line, go for it. Westover can write. I zipped through it pretty quickly. On the other hand, it is one of those books where I'm happy it came from the library and not a bookstore. Spending actual money on it would have felt a bit dirty, like I was subsidizing misery porn.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

A trip down Nostalgia Lane

Saw this cartoon and had instant flashbacks to academia. Every graduate seminar, every conference, had presentations where the speakers were shuffling their transparencies on to and off the overhead projector faster than a card shark dealing out hands of poker. The one that probably set the record for number of slides used was a civil engineering grad student at a Michigan Tech Sigma Xi interdisciplinary symposium. The dude gave a 5-minute summary of his research in to how quickly fecal coli form bacteria broke down in sunlight using data collected observing sewage flow from Syracuse into Lake Onondaga. I know his slides were on and off the projector a lot faster than the shit traveled across the lake. His dexterity in handling his foot-high stack of slides made such an impression that it's been well over 30 years and I still recall the talk, which is more than I can say about my own contribution to the event.   

Friday, May 28, 2021

I'm sorry. Can't fix stupid

Feeling amused by the thin skin of Trump supporters. The S.O. left a comment on a post on Baraga County Shit for Sale that including a prominent Trump 2020 banner in a photo advertising a used truck was a good way to lose a lot of potential buyers. He didn't spell it out, but common sense in any sales tactic is keep your politics to yourself -- when you're trying to sell something you don't advertise ideologies, red, blue or whatever. The only thing that's important is the green -- the color of money.

Anyway, as one might expect, a comment thread dominated by Trump supporters materialized pretty quickly, all cheerfully proving that the typical MAGAt did indeed crawl out of the shallow end of the gene pool. Lots and lots of bashing liberals, Biden, and the S.O. After about a dozen comments from butt-hurt MAGAts the S.O. tossed some kerosene on to the fire by noting that "I knew my comment would bring out the losers. Thanks for not disappointing."

Which actually wasn't what the original comment was intended to do. He simply pointed out the Trump banner was a turn-off for some people. But if it had the effect of triggering hurt feelings in a bunch of right-wing snowflakes, I guess that's an unintended consequence he's happy to live with.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Where have all the peons gone?

I started toying with the idea of doing a post on the myth of the labor shortage a week or two ago, decided it wasn't worth the effort, and now have circled back to it. I haven't felt much like writing lately because it's Spring, things are green again, and there are flowerbeds to weed, grapevines to prune, and who wants to sit in front of a computer when the sun is shining and it's possible to be outside without wearing seventeen layers of clothing? 

The media, however, continue to obsess about the "labor shortage" and it 's starting off as a rather gray day so here I am: wasting time blogging about something that has no actual direct impact on my life. After all, it's not going to make a whole lot of difference to me if Applebee's is having trouble finding servers.

It does, however, annoy the heck out of me that the same so-called experts who tout the wonders of the free market and capitalism seem to assume that the one resource that should not be subject to market forces is human labor. It's fine when housing prices sky rocket because there's a shortage of houses for buyers, but if there's a shortage of workers? Let them eat cake, be content with starvation pay. No way should increased demand result in higher wages for anyone. It's bizarre.

Granted, depending on where a business is located nationally, there may actually be a labor shortage. Out here in BFE, we have an overabundance of geezers -- the county's population is something like 25 percent elderly -- and a shrinking population of folk young and dumb and willing to work for minimum wage. To be blunt, even if every high school student legally able to work an unrestricted schedule went looking for jobs, there still wouldn't be enough of them to go around. Warm bodies, I mean, not jobs. 

Then when you toss in that the fact that even if there are the warm bodies in sufficient numbers,  the number of people willing to work for poverty wages was dwindling before the pandemic. Here in Michigan the state minimum wage is $9.65 so it's not as ridiculously low as the federal rate, but it's still not exactly a pay rate that guarantees living high on the proverbial hog. 

I do see occasional suggestions that one solution to any labor shortage is to recruit geezers. You know, convince the old folks that they'd rather stock shelves at Walmart than relax at home or pursue the interests they put off for years. Why spend your golden years enjoying fly fishing or traveling when you could be emptying cartons of toilet paper in the middle of the night? The classic Evil Empire job for old people was "greeter," but that job's been eliminated. So have most of the cashier jobs (they've been replaced by self-checkout stations) so what's left? Stocking shelves. No thanks. The budget might be tight but even desperate geezers need more than Walmart wages to be enticed out of their rocking chairs. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Explain the down side to me

Open borders. I keep trying to figure out what the problem would be and failing. What horrible thing would happen if the U.S. set up a system where seasonal workers could move freely back and forth across the border and asylum seekers could get fast hearings and experience fewer hassles? 

Every time the subject of the unwashed hordes massing at the border just waiting for an opportunity to destroy the American way of life comes up -- you know, the hordes intent on stealing jobs while at the same time living high on welfare benefits -- I once again think about how easy it would to fix the problem if  sufficient political will existed. It's like a lot of other problems with easy answers if only people would take the time to think things through and then be willing to spend the money the solutions would take. 

The kicker is, of course, "be willing to spend." Policy makers seem quite willing to spend mountains of money on "solutions" that are actually band-aids -- 30-foot high metal walls, increased numbers of Border Patrol agents -- or make for good sound bites while failing to address either root causes (decades of U.S. meddling in Central American politics, e.g., funding death squads in Honduras and El Salvador) or pursuing practices that might make problems a little less problematic.

They're also, of course, totally unwilling to admit that quite a few problems that people worry about now are the unintended (although remarkably predictable in hindsight) consequences of past policies. Two recent discussions on NPR reminded me (again) that, as usual, the people most responsible for immigration problems were policy-makers in Washington, D.C. 

Although most people tend to assume most of the unwelcome horde of undocumented aliens are Mexicans -- I get the reasoning: brown people coming across the southern border must be from the closest country to that border -- large numbers are actually from the corrupt states the U.S. created farther south: Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Guatemala is a corrupt mess and has been for decades because the U.S. meddled in Guatemalan politics in the 1950s. The Guatemalans had the nerve to elect a president who was progressive. He leaned just far enough to the left that the Eisenhower administration saw a Communist threat. The Central Intelligence Agency helped the military stage a coup, and Guatemala's been a mess ever since. It's not as bad now as it was a few years ago -- no massive murders of civilians by death squads since maybe the Reagan administration -- but definitely rife with corruption. Not surprisingly, the economy is a mess. Guatemalans became economic refugees (aka temporary workers) in the U.S. in large numbers. Young adults come to the U.S., find work with no intention of staying here permanently, send money home, and when they've built up some savings head back to Guatemala. 

A similar pattern holds true for Honduras and El Salvador: the countries are economic basket cases, thanks in large part to decades of U.S. meddling and right-wing death squads backed by the C.I.A. Then when you toss in the War on Drugs (news flash: drugs won) that turned drug trafficking into a growth industry, things got even messier. Economy in the toilet, wide spread poverty, major problems with criminal gangs terrorizing poor families. End result? A strong desire to head north and find work, preferably temporary. No desire to live in cold, wretched places like Chicago indefinitely, but a few years doing construction or working in a meat packing plant to get the nest egg to build a nice house back in Juticalpa or Ahuachapan? No problem. Taking out a loan to pay the coyote seems like a good idea. 

Which brings me to another administration and another major policy blunder: Bill Clinton and tightening control at the border. This seems a bit contradictory, but making it harder to cross the border actually made illegal immigration worse, not better. There used to be a lot of ebb and flow across the border. People would come to work seasonal or temporary jobs, save up some money, and then go home, back to the wife and kids or the aging parents down south. Once immigration tightened up, instead of being temporary residents, people became permanent. Instead of going home to visit the family, people began moving their families to the U.S. After all, if they left because strawberry season was done or construction had slowed for the winter, they might not be able to get back in to this country. Better to stay here and bring the dependents up. You know what they're calling those dependents now? Dreamers. The kids the parents had planned to raise in El Salvador wound up becoming U.S. residents 10 or 20 years ago, back when those kids were in diapers and had no say in the matter. 

That policy has also had the tragic (and totally foreseeable) consequence of large numbers of people dying in the desert, an issue that really should make anyone who has a conscience wondering why the fuck we persist in pushing people into risking getting eaten by vultures just to prevent them from getting jobs picking strawberries, but I guess the right wing has done a good enough of demonizing undocumented aliens that most people don't care how many die from dehydration or exposure. 

So what's the obvious solution for the job seekers, the migrants coming here hoping for a paycheck? Open the border. Change the personnel at Customs and Border Protection from being primarily law enforcement to more like an employment office so people coming in get screened when they arrive, are issued tax identification numbers and given temporary work visas. If everyone coming in could work legally, it would prevent unscrupulous employers from exploiting anyone -- it would be rather difficult to threaten someone with deportation if they won't accept lower than legal wages or unsafe working conditions if there's no such thing as an illegal worker. In economic terms, it would be a rising tide that lifted all boats. 

It would, however, require a couple things stakeholders may be unwilling to do. A major paradigm shift is needed to change the definition of illegal aliens to desirable workforce. Until more people are capable of recognizing we have an aging population that needs more younger workers than current birth rates are capable of providing, we'll keep hearing politicians milk "they're stealing jobs."

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Small town amusements

The S.O. and I both enjoy perusing the local buy/sell/trade pages on Facebook, the ones like Baraga County Shit Stuff for Sale, where people try to unload items that vary in asking price from not a bad deal to holy shit, are they delusional? 

Yesterday someone put up a sales ad for a vintage travel trailer. The box on wheels wasn't exactly in the really desirable category (e.g., a 1960's Shasta, complete with wings) but it was new enough that the blue book value still includes a comma, a number this trailer was listed well below. Like, really, really well below. My reaction to the extremely low price was "I wonder what's wrong with it?" The seller noted there was a minor water leak, he was still in the process of cleaning the trailer out, and he had a clean title. I may have been skeptical, but other folks saw that low price and decided to bargain hunt. 

That first ad was followed by one in which the seller noted he'd had over 30 inquiries and was pretty sure the trailer was sold PPU (pending pick up). That's when the drama began unfolding.

Another post went up, this one by someone accusing Trailer Boy of trying to sell a travel trailer that he did not own. Not only did Trailer Boy not own it, the accuser said the trailer actually belonged to the accuser's grandmother -- and if the trailer moved, his grandmother was going to report it as stolen. The clean title did not exist.

That's when the comment threads started getting interesting. Lots of back and forth about how you leave something unattended for 30 days you've given up your ownership of said item, which as it happens isn't exactly true. If you know who the legal owner is you're supposed to make a good faith effort to get that person to come get their stuff. Then, if it's a large item, like a recreational vehicle that is issued a title by the state, you're supposed to go through law enforcement to get it gone. If you don't follow the rules as laid out by the State of Michigan you risk getting accused of theft or worse. Like cheating old people or ripping off the elderly.

Several of the commenters know the people involved and were fairly blunt in their assessments of Trailer Boy and his motives. Turns out the travel trailer apparently belonged to Trailer Boy's ex-wife's grandmother. I am rather relieved that so far none of the names in the comments have belonged to anyone I'm related to, at least not that I know of.

In other developments, Trailer Boy has a new post up trying to sell a ring theoretically worth several thousand dollars, but he'll let it go cheaper. He says he needs money to help pay for an attorney.

Or, as someone in that comment thread noted, possibly bail. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

But what about my right to privacy?

The S.O. and I made a run to Hancock yesterday. He had an appointment at the V.A. Clinic for Shot Number Two so I tagged along. I had a minor errand to run that involved a stop in Houghton. The museum had new brochures run off that I needed to pick up from the Print Shop.

By coincidence, it happened that the Print Shop was offering a new service: photocopying and reducing a person's completed COVID-19 vaccination record and then laminating the copy so one can hang it on a lanyard with other ID cards -- or, if not interested in dangling it on a lanyard, at least having a laminated card that would stand up to wear and tear if one anticipated having to pull it out of a wallet or pocket on a regular basis. I have no plans to avail myself of the service but it struck me as a handy idea.

Also by coincidence, sort of, I've been noticing a fair amount of discussion over the use of vaccination cards. Should they be required for certain settings or events, like for travel? Should people be able to prove they've had the shots or is that a violation of a person's right to privacy? 

I am not real sympathetic to the "privacy" argument. Your right to privacy goes out the door when your actions affect other people. And I'm also not real sympathetic to the whiners who make it sound like requiring vaccination cards would be something new, a requirement that no one anywhere has ever had to think about before. The whiners don't know much history. 

Smallpox used to be the killer disease everyone worried about. Back in the days when smallpox epidemics were still happening, it was standard procedure to require people coming into a country to provide proof of vaccination. The card above was issued by a ship's surgeon to a person traveling on the S.S. Abyssinia back in 1883. The flip side of it specifies that the vaccination in question was for smallpox. Thanks to the wonders of Google, I was able to find that the Abyssinia's regular run was from Liverpool to New York and back again. Odds are that the government requiring anyone getting off that ship to show proof of vaccination was the United States. 

You know, just about every time someone starts yammering about freedom or privacy and asserting that some particular rule or regulation is completely unprecedented, it's a pretty good bet they're wrong. The author of Ecclesiastes nailed it thousands of years ago: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."  

Vaccination card image from the Baraga County Historical Museum, of course.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The weirdness never ends

 Also known as "Why, dear Lord, why?"

I guess I should view this as a sign of returning normalcy. I'm back to muttering about some of the weirdness I'm still stumbling across at the museum instead of sharing a gazillion sweet-jesus-I-despise-[the orange former occupant] memes with friends who figured out a long time ago that I was not one of that man's fans. Instead of stressing about weirdness in politics I'm once again being baffled by weirdness lurking within the walls of the Baraga County Historical Museum.

I spent a few hours at the museum yesterday. I had to be there to wait for UPS to deliver a package, and, using my typical reasoning, as long as I had to come down the hill I decided I might as well put in some time working on various things that need to be worked on. I buckled down and actually completed the 2020 financial report so I can get the 2020 newsletter (such as it is -- it's going to be a challenge filling it with any news when 2020 was basically The Year Where Nothing Happened) finished and mailed sometime before it's time to do a 2021 annual report. 

The good news with the financial report is that we did actually take in more money than we spent, which I think qualifies as a minor miracle considering we had zero income from admissions and almost nothing from on-site sales. Generous donations saved us. The bad news is that nice though it was to end the year in the black, our bank balance is still much too anemic to think about replacing the almost 30-years old shingles on the roof. But for now we'll pretend that the Baraga County Historical Museum is actually a Georgia mansion and we're Scarlett O'Hara optimistically believing that she'll win Rhett back tomorrow. As long as we're not setting out buckets when it rains, we're good. 

I finished wrapping the financial report and doing the happy dance because we actually got a small payment from Amazon Smiles (the charitable con Jeff Bezos has going; consumers can assuage their collective guilt for adding to his billions in wealth by designating that a tiny percentage of the cost of a sale goes to support a charity of the consumer's choice). So few people do it that usually the museum just gets a token $5 annually, the donation Amazon makes to acknowledge we actually exist. This past year we got an additional $7.70. Enough to buy one shingle? Maybe? But it is proof (finally) that I'm not the only person who has designated the Baraga County Historical Society as a recipient of Bezo's tokenism. 

Then I moved on to cataloging. I've been emptying a Sterlite tote, a fairly big one, that was full of stuff from a display the museum did years ago on medicine in Baraga County. I don't know when they did it (before my time, obviously) but the tote has an intriguing assortment of goodies in it: a vaginal speculum (very cold and heavy -- no fun memories associated with that device)(they make disposable ones from lightweight plastic now, not that any doctor I've ever known has used one), an ether mask, scalpels, forceps, a truly disgusting looking enamel ware emesis basin, a lovely clear glass male urinal that holds up to two quarts (I'd love to know just who could piss that much in one go), lots of tonic and prescription bottles. . . started photographing things, writing descriptions down, and began thinking about where to stash stuff once I had it all documented. I didn't want to just put all back in a tote where a person would have to paw through multiple layers to retrieve just one or two items. The ideal place would be a location with shelves.

Then I remembered the metal cabinet in the exhibit area (pictured above) that functions as a plinth for a bust of Phil LaTendresse, inventor of the Pettibone Cary-Lift and a local hero. The cabinet came from a dentist's office. I have no idea what Dr. Guy stashed in it, but I figured it might be an appropriate location for medicine-related items. I had a vague memory that there were a few items in it already, but I also knew whatever was in it had never been cataloged. It was all overdue for being pulled out, sorted, and the inventory process started. 

The first few items seemed quite innocuous. Lots of 45 rpm records (that's what in the books in addition to the small naked stack; the books are albums with sleeves), a small box with bits and pieces of dental tools, a bottle of mercury, . . .well, maybe the mercury isn't exactly innocuous (it is a hazardous substance), but it's not totally weird. And then I pulled out the black leather satchel. It looked like a typical doctor's bag, the kind you see doctors carrying in movies and television shows that are set when doctors still made house calls. 

I don't think it was much of a surprise to discover it did not contain medical instruments. 

On the positive side, tossing plaster teeth is easy. No inventorying involved, just a trash can. We already have a few plaster molds on hand to provide examples in the dentistry exhibit. We do not need several dozen more. 

The dental impressions always creep me out. It's an odd feeling to pick up a plaster mold, read the penciled name on the bottom, and discover an impression that bears a startling resemblance to a rat's smile actually belonged to the father of a friend. 

I am also, of course, moderately baffled as to why any of my predecessors at the museum thought all those plaster casts of people's mouths were worth keeping. The logical thing to do would have been to put a couple in the Dr. Guy exhibit when they were setting it up, stash a couple others someplace else to have as backups just in case the ones in the exhibit got dropped and broke, and toss the other multiple dozens into the trash instead of stuffing them into that doctor's bag and shoving it into a cabinet. The weirdness never ends.  

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Pulitzer Project: The Shipping News

The 1994 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, has to be one of the stranger books I've read since I began this project about 12 years ago. I'd be tempted to say time flies when you're having fun except some of the books were not fun. Some of the winners were definitely a slog, the type of reading material that should make any aspiring author think, "yes, I can do this! If this piece of crap is a prize winner, I can write a best seller, too." I wouldn't say The Shipping News qualifies as bad, but I'm also not sure if it qualifies as good. It does remind me that the fact the books are getting newer as I work my way up the list does not necessarily mean they're getting better. 

This is one novel where I'm reasonably sure the film version outshone the book -- and by a lot. The movie, after all, had Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey. Spacey may have been revealed to be a total prick, but he can act.

For that matter, it's obvious Proulx can write when she wants to, but she decided to craft a decidedly odd book when she wrote this novel. This was another one of those books where the reviews for it left me wondering if the reviewers and I had read the same novel. Professional reviewers did a lot of blathering about comic elements while referring to aspects of the book that struck me as profoundly sad. The main character Quoyle is a poor schmuck of a lifetime loser, a fellow who was raised in what was obviously a totally dysfunctional family, isn't particularly good looking, has trouble finding and keeping a job, and ends up married to a sociopath. He kind of blunders through life with only one friend to speak of. And we're supposed to be amused by him? I must have missed something. 

It gets really dark and strange before anything remotely upbeat happens. His sociopath of a wife leaves him, taking their two young daughters with her and her current boyfriend. The wife and boyfriend die in a traffic accident, but not before the wife sells the two little kids to a pervert who plans to use them in kiddie porn. Not a whole lot of comic elements in that particular section of the book unless, of course, one finds the notion of two small naked children covered with dish soap sliding around on a kitchen floor while the pedophile tries to figure out how to work his new camera amusing. 

Quoyle gets his kids back, his aunt whom he'd never met before shows up because his parents died (suicide pact), and the aunt persuades him to pack up and move to Newfoundland, the land of his ancestors. The first couple chapters describing Newfoundland made it sound as though anyone who lives there is either truly desperate or too dumb to leave. It is not an inviting province. The family home (which apparently they have a legal claim to, despite no one having lived there for several decades)(I found myself wondering just who was paying the property taxes for all the years it sat there abandoned) is not fit to live in so they end up stuck in a motel that is overpriced and filthy. Then the aunt's dog dies. Can it get worse, one wonders? Short answer: yes. 

Our Hero, such as he is, is hired as a reporter by a local newspaper. His standard assignments are to cover the shipping news (report on what freighters have arrived in port, where they're from, and when they're leaving) and traffic accidents. The paper's publisher wants suitably gory accident scene photos for the front page. Descriptions of Quoyle's new work milieu are, to say the least, bizarre.  

I usually don't look at reviews much after I've read a book. This one was an exception. As noted above, the professional reviewers, the ones who get paid for their prose and often have academic training in "literature," thought it was great. They loved it, thought it was a masterpiece. 

People commenting from the perspective of book club members or just ordinary readers were less sanguine than the literati. They found Proulx's writing style confusing and choppy, an assessment I agree with. There are flashes, a sentence or a paragraph here and there that light up a page, but overall? It is not a good sign when my reaction to a novel is "this chick needs a good editor." You know, every time I read a book that seems awkwardly constructed I find myself remembering a story about James Joyce. Supposedly when Joyce was complimented on creative elements (odd spellings, strange sentence constructions) in his work he confessed that they weren't intentional. He was just a terrible typist and never had been good at spelling. I always wonder just how much of what's on a page is what the author actually intended and how much is the result of a copy editor being afraid of stepping on the author's voice by cleaning up gross errors in grammar. Editing, after all, is an art, a balancing act, and some authors handle being edited better than others. 

So, overall assessment of The Shipping News? Not an easy read, and a remarkably depressing one for most of the book. I'll give it a 5. It's not horrible, but for sure I didn't enjoy reading it.  

Next up: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shield. Another work and author I've never heard of. It is also, of course, one that requires an Interlibrary Loan request.