Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Never attribute to malice

that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, or so the old adage goes. I used to occasionally wonder what would happen if the two factors (malice and stupidity) happened to merge. I wonder no more. We've got the police force in Ferguson, Missouri, providing a prime example.

First, they wallowed in the Stupid for a few days: they had an officer-involved shooting but totally blew the response. The list of ways they managed to screw up is a long one, but a few gems from the first few hours after the incident include failing to secure the scene, bungling the communications with dispatch (the 911 dispatchers learned about the shooting from the news media, not from cops on the scene), allowing the body to remain in the street for over 4 hours while the neighborhood worked itself into a frenzy, and then responding to protests by sending in riot police that looked like they were invading Fallujah. In short, the first 24 hours or so leaned pretty heavily towards Stupidity in its purest form.

Then came the malice: smearing the victim, portraying him as a thug, emphasizing that there had been a robbery reported in the neighborhood even though the police themselves admitted that the officer involved in the shooting had no knowledge of a robbery, and similar efforts. Those efforts included releasing a video tape that purportedly showed the dead teenager pulling off a strong arm robbery a few minutes before the shooting.

And this is where stupid and malice cross: it has now come out that the police did selective editing. The complete video surveillance tape shows Michael Brown paying for the cigarillos. He apparently didn't have enough money on him for as many of the nasty little cigars* as he wanted as the tape also shows him handing some cigars back to the cashier. Even more telling, the store owner is now stating loudly that there was no robbery, they never reported a robbery, and they're really, really upset that the police are claiming that there was.

Another old adage says that when you realize you're in a hole, you should stop digging. Apparently the cops in Ferguson haven't figured out that they're down well past their ears and that it's time to put down the shovels.

It's unclear what's going to happen long term, but a good start to defusing the current situation might be to start housecleaning in the local police department. Given the apparent stunning incompetency of just about everyone in it, they'd probably be better off just firing them all and starting from scratch.

The S.O. says that if the grand jury in Ferguson is smart they'll indict the cop on homicide charges. It'll thoroughly piss off his supporters but, hey, when white people riot they buy T-shirts. Long-term I doubt if the guy would be found guilty of anything -- cops rarely are -- but by providing the illusion of accountability it could have the short-term effect of eliminating one of the reasons people are protesting.

*If the news reports are accurate, he was buying Swisher Sweets, one of the more disgusting tobacco products on the planet. Why anyone would ever want to smoke them is a total mystery; the only thing they have going for them is they're cheap.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Another mystery

Why does my underwear have a pocket in the crotch? You know, there are some areas I normally would not go near, like discussing anything remotely related to an intimate knowledge of me, but this item is just too bizarre not to share. I recently purchased a package of undies that I assumed were perfectly normal women's undergarments -- there was certainly nothing on the packaging to indicate they had any special features -- and, lo and behold, there's a pocket in the crotch.

Now I know there are some unmentionables that are manufactured with pockets in the crotch for specific reasons. The adult entertainment industry sells sexy lace panties that include a pocket in which the lucky wearer can insert a vibrator and spend the day (or however long the battery lasts) walking around smiling mysteriously. But these undies did not come from an Adam & Eve catalog; they came off the rack at Kmart. Are these crotch pockets some new and improved feature I wasn't aware of? Have I been missing out on trends in women's undergarments? Is this pocket supposed to be the ultimate place to stash your keys while jogging or serve as a handy place to tuck a credit card or some cash just in case someone snatches your purse? It's a mystery.

What isn't a mystery is what Google is going to be doing to me for a while after I spent way too much time doing an image search that included the phrase "panties crotch pocket." The next time I visit a monetized blog, I'm going to see some really strange ads.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Feeling a tad unmoored . . . adrift . . . at loose ends

I'm not sure just what the most apt phrase would be. I'm finding myself in between projects, more or less, and am wondering just what to tackle next.

I speak of indoor projects, of course. There's always a zillion things to do outside in the summer, from the boring but necessary (weeding the garden) to the mildly creative (the long-delayed water feature). If nothing else, if it's not raining, there's always firing up the lawn mower and creating more mulch for the garden.

Indoor projects, on the other hand, the kind that a person retreats to when it's raining or the bugs are really bad, are in short supply at the moment. I've finished two quilts this summer, although neither one is a quilt in the purest sense of the word. One is technically a comforter because it's tied instead of quilted; the other is more of a duvet cover. The "duvet" stuffed into the latter is an ancient comforter we inherited eons ago. I don't know if it's something the S.O. had in his stash of priceless heirlooms or if my parents handed it to us back in the '70s. I'm also not sure what it's filled with, but it's definitely not feathers. If you have small children, it's one of those comforters that eliminates the need for a babysitter. It's sufficiently heavy that if you toss it over a toddler, for sure that little barracuda isn't going anywhere for awhile. I have a vague memory of sleeping under comforters of similar weight way back when I was young. My grandmother made them. I think they were stuffed with horsehair and bricks. It's a minor miracle that my sister and I didn't end up flattened like pressed flowers in a Victorian album.

Maybe that's the story I should be telling young people instead of the hiking to school through waist-deep snow uphill both ways narrative. "You guys don't know how good you have it. You don't have to bench press your bedding the way we did back in the day. . ."

In any case, I made a duvet cover, a giant pillowcase to slip over the ancient comforter. We're going to put it into the guest cabin, the ratty trailer we bought last year that is slowly becoming less ratty. Whether or not anyone will ever be desperate enough to sleep under it is debatable, but it will make a reasonably durable surface to sprawl on top of while watching tv or reading on rainy days. The cover itself looks like this:

One thing making that duvet cover did was use up most of my stash of old jeans. About all I've got left now is a pile of pockets. Maybe I should do a comforter where that's what every block is: a functional pocket. Then I'll give it to one of my nieces who has preschoolers so she can get to play "where's that odd smell coming from?" when she steps into the kids' bedroom.

Evil smile.

I think I just found my next sewing project.

Friday, August 8, 2014

And what does this say about our national psyche?

I was noticing various headlines this morning that all had some variation on "Obama authorizes air strikes in Iraq." If a person actually linked on the headline, then you'd learn that Obama also authorized air drops of humanitarian aid (food and water) to the Yazidis (Iraqis who practice a non-Islamic religion) who had taken refuge on a mountain top.

You'd also learn, if you went past the first couple of sentences in any of the news articles, that the humanitarian air drops have already taken place. They started immediately. As for the air strikes against the Islamist militants? They're still in the theoretical stage: they're threatened but not yet happening. So why did the media emphasize the threat over the reality? I have no answer, but a good guess would be that doing something nice (humanitarian aid) is just never going to be as news worthy as threatening to kill someone. If it bleeds (or if it might bleed), it leads.

I did notice that Obama tacked a nice little caveat on to the air strikes promise -- "if Americans are threatened" -- so he's got a nice out for never following through with actual bombs.

Update: Okay, so we've dropped a couple bombs. Now the question is just how many we'll drop before someone decides it's enough.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

We have water

Yep. We've definitely got water. Siirtola (the well driller) told us it would take a few hours to clear up so we should just keep the water running until it stopped looking murky. That was early Friday afternoon. The hose is still running. Each time the S.O. checks, there are still visible "fines" swirling around. I figure, based on the pump having a return rate of 10 gallons per minute, that over the past two days we've pumped at least 20,000 gallons of water out of that hole. I don't think we're ever going to have to worry about the well going dry.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What's wrong with normal?

I was listening to On Point on NPR yesterday and was treated (if you can call it that) to the bloviations of Dinesh D'Sousa on the subject of American exceptionalism. Mr. D'Sousa is a well-known conservative personality who I decided to start ignoring a few years ago -- he was too obviously playing to the rubes by indulging in hyperbole that made for good sound bites but lacked any meaningful content. In any case, his most recent endeavor is a documentary called "America: Imagine the World Without Her."

Odds are that I'll never see the movie -- I don't see many documentaries to begin with, and, given what I know about D'Souza's intellectual laziness, his films are unlikely to make the short list of the ones I do see -- but it sounds like his premise involves a lot of flag-waving and we're so special the whole world wants to be us nonsense. In other words, typical American jingoism and tautological reasoning, i.e., we're the best and the brightest and have never done anything to be ashamed of because we are the best and the brightest and have never done anything to be ashamed of. (I guess D'Souza's reading of American history glossed right over the bundles of smallpox-infected blankets handed out by Indian agents, Jim Crow laws, the Japanese internment camps, the Tuskegee experiments, and other skeletons in our collective closet. Every country, just like every person, has something in its past that inspires a wince and retrospective regret.)

In any case, I happened to catch D'Souza's dog and pony show while I've been reading a remarkably depressing book called Backfire. Backfire, which was published in 1984, makes the case that the reason we screwed up so badly in Vietnam is because too many people in this country, from the President on down to the ordinary person in the street, have internalized the myth of American exceptionalism. We are the shining city on the hill, the ideal, the model of a country that everyone else wants to emulate. And because we are that shining city, we're obligated to try to fix other countries' problems. We are supposed to stand as a bulwark against Evil with a capital E. In the 1960's we were standing strong against Communism. Because we are that shining city, we can do no wrong. We're not allowed to be like other countries; we have apparently become (at least in the minds of way too many people) the only thing that stands between Ultimate Evil and all that is good and true in the world. It is an extremely Manichean view of the world with, of course, the United States being on the side of Light. The fact that a big chunk of the world tends to view the U.S. as having gone over to the Dark side of the force quite a few administrations ago is, of course, irrelevant to D'Souza and his ilk -- after all, who really cares what the less enlightened peoples think? We know what's best for them; they need to just shut up and let us tell them what to do.

The book is remarkably depressing because, among other things, the more I read the more I had a "Christ on a crutch we haven't learned a damn thing!" response. The examples the author provided of the numerous ways we blew it in Vietnam could have been researched and written last year about the debacle in Iraq or the never ending headache that is Afghanistan. Backfire describes the American military's love affair with technology, its over-reliance on heavy bombing, napalm, defoliants, and other technical "solutions" to a military problem while choosing to ignore the fact that when you're fighting an insurgency all those killing-at-a-distance solutions do is create more insurgents. Fast forward 50 years to Afghanistan, Yemen, and other locations in the Arab world: every drone strike is a recruiting wet dream for the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda. Does that register at all with the Pentagon or the idiots in the White House? No.

But that's a digression. Back to D'Souza. After doing a lot of talking that effectively demonstrated an appalling lack of a knowledge of American history, he came out with a line that managed to startle even me. You know what his big fear is? That the United States will turn into a "normal" country, one that doesn't feel the need to serve as the world's policeman. That we'll become diminished by allowing President Obama to lure us into to becoming like . . . brace yourself; this is a frightening prospect. . . Canada.

You got it. Canada. The fate worse than death that D'Souza fears the evil Kenyan socialist in the White House is leading us into is normalcy, becoming like Canada, a country that doesn't feel obligated to meddle in other countries' affairs. Canada, a country with a collective reputation for being "nice." Canada, home of Tim Horton's coffee shops, hockey, and decent beer.

But Canada as the epitome of what we shouldn't be? Words fail me.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

We have water!

Well, sort of. We have a hole in the ground with water in it. The pump has yet to be installed.

The hole in the ground with the water in it is under the white bucket behind the drill rig. The well driller will be back later today to pick up his equipment. I'm not sure just when they'll start the pump installation. The State of Michigan requires that the water from any new well be tested by the local health department before it can be connected to a household plumbing system. When they do install the submersible pump, they'll trench over to the old pump house (concrete block building with the blue tarp on it), install the pressure tank there, and complete various other tasks that should result fairly soon in the magical sound of a toilet being flushed.

It's a sound we haven't heard for awhile; our existing well decided to stop producing earlier this summer. The treks to the outhouse, the necessary, the little brown shack out back, haven't been particularly onerous -- it is July, the days are long, there is no snow on the ground-- although serving as a buffet for mosquitoes isn't my favorite way to start a day. July, will, however, not last indefinitely. Hence, the new well.

Our problem, unlike those poor saps in the desert southwest or California suffering from drought and dropping water tables, was not a lack of water under the sod. Our problem was too much fine sand and clay. Our old well is a driven point; the point kept getting clogged with sand, clay, biofilms (there's a lot of iron in the local water; iron attracts bacteria that form scale), whatever. The S.O. would manage to clear the point, the well would produce copious amounts of water for a while -- days, weeks, months -- and then the gusher would slow down. We'd go from having gallon after gallon pouring out of the faucet to measuring the flow in quarts and then cups before the water pressure dropped to nil. So then the S.O. would clear the point again, using techniques ranging from pulling it completely to the classic firing of a .22 into the pipe. That last one yielded good results that lasted about two days. That's also the one that made me decide it was time to call the well driller. When you're desperate enough to try to kill your well, it's time to bring in the professionals.
We live in a part of the U.P. that is notorious for well drillers having to pound through several hundred feet of granite to find water. We didn't think that was going to happen here -- despite being close to the highest point in Michigan, we're sitting on a pile of glacial till -- and we were right. We were reasonably confident they'd manage to hit legal water (more than 25 feet down) without having to go through any real rock. Our optimism was warranted: end result is a well 32 feet deep with 26 feet of casing and 6 feet of stainless steel sand screen.

I'm not sure exactly how long we'll have to wait for the pump. Because there's paperwork involved, it could be within a day or two; it could be a couple of weeks. But I can live with that. As long as there isn't frost on the outhouse seat, I can cope with the early morning hike to the privy.

A small digression: a few days ago there was a quiz bouncing around on Facebook that asked if a person could handle living in the Victorian era. A number of people commented that the one thing they couldn't deal with was the idea of using an outhouse. I had two thoughts at the time. One was "Welcome to my world." The other was if I was unlucky enough to live in the 19th century, I'd worry a heck of a lot more about the availability of clean drinking water and the lack of antibiotics than I would about not being able to piss into porcelain.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Amusing stuff seen on Facebook

Nope. Not cute memes with pithy sayings superimposed over images of cats in awkward positions. What's amusing me this morning is the latest (at least to me) offering in right-wing paranoia. The wingnuts really do waste an awful lot of energy yelling at clouds.

Today's specific example? A video of a freight train hauling "unmarked" military equipment "west." And this is proof of what exactly? In the right wing mind, it's probably more evidence of FEMA death camps being built in Nebraska cornfields or the Nevada desert. To a saner person, of course, it's just a freight train, a much cheaper method of shipping equipment than by truck, and thus evidence that someone in the Department of Defense actually does think about saving some money occasionally (and if they ever figure out who that person is, he or she will probably get fired).

In any case, once again I turned to the magic that is Google. It took me about a nanosecond to learn that the viral video was shot in California and that it was a perfectly mundane, run of the mill freight operation. The military ships equipment by rail all the time. New equipment gets shipped that way by the manufacturer; equipment currently being used will be shuffled from one Army post to another by rail; the National Guard will ship its equipment from armories to training locations via rail. No nefarious plots, no grand conspiracies, just business as usual. When I mentioned the freight train to the S.O., he got it immediately -- it's the logical way to haul a tank anywhere. A Bradley Fighting Vehicle is 12 feet wide and weighs quite a few tons. Hauling one by truck would require a specialized trailer (one with more axles than normal as well as a wider than usual trailer bed), possibly a specialized truck to pull that trailer, and two escort vehicles with the usual warning lights and signs regarding over-sized loads. Now multiply that by a more than a couple tanks and you can see why the military would prefer to travel by rail. No conspiracies; just common sense.

The really sad part is that the video my conservative friend shared this morning is over two years old. More proof, I guess, that even the lamest of conspiracy theories will never die.

It must be remarkably exhausting to exist over on the right wing end of the political spectrum. It's got to be tiring as hell to live your life in constant fear of stuff that's never going to happen or freaking out over really old news. If they'd spend even one-tenth as much time fretting about real issues -- crumbling infrastructure, for example -- the country would be a better place.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vision problem solved

We've been working on enhancing the Guppy, tweaking it to make more comfortable for when we hit the road for a prolonged period of time. Yesterday the S.O. fixed my vision problem.
I can now see into the cabinets instead of just groping blindly and hoping I can find what I want by feel.

While he was playing around with scraps of wood, he also came up with this, a holder to keep stacked plates from sliding when the Guppy is moving.
And, yes, I plan to keep right on using real dishes regardless of where we are and what we're living in. When it's just the two of us, washing actual dishes is not that big a deal. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Have you heard of this thing called Google?

Back when I was teaching, one of the predictable irritations each semester was the student who wanted the instructor to do all the work. You know, the instructor presents an essay assignment -- "Write a 1,000 word paper on a topic relating to X" -- and the student doesn't just want the instructor to hand over a precise, narrowly defined topic on a silver platter (complete with thesis statement and a detailed outline) he or she also expects the instructor to hold their hand every step of the way and basically write the paper for them. I always kind of wondered what happened to those people once they got out in the real world.

Now I know. They write to historical societies asking us to do research for them that they could just as easily do themselves with a couple of mouse clicks. Apparently there are still members of the general population that have never heard of this thing called Google. I'm one of the people who follows up on requests the county historical society gets from folks doing genealogy or other research relating to Baraga County. I've dealt with two in the past couple of weeks that had me wishing for the proverbial 2 x 4 with which to get the mule's attention.

One actually isn't too bad. The request came in the form of a hand-written letter. It's quite possible the person asking for research assistance is one of those rare individuals (and they do still exist, although they're becoming as rare as unicorns) who either doesn't own a computer or is sufficiently computer illiterate that even running a simple, preliminary search is something they don't know how to do. In any event, it turned out that although Google would have answered a couple of quick questions, it would not have yielded all the information the person wanted. For them, Google would have been a start, but they probably would have written to us anyway to track down things like photocopies of death certificates and marriage licenses.

The other request, however, really did remind me of the snot-nosed freshmen who used to annoy me back in my glory days as an academic. The person did a lengthy email laying out in excruciating detail what they hoped to find. After multiple paragraphs of verbiage, the bottom line was, in essence, a simple yes or no question: did a certain person hold a specific title at a certain point in time. WTF? Two seconds on the Internet and I had the answer. If you can find an answer using Google, why waste anyone else's time? And why on earth do multiple paragraphs of build-up to get to the question?

So how did I respond to the lengthy email with its stupid question? Did I answer it? Well, no. I was in a snarky mood. I reminded the person that the museum's website states clearly that we charge for research assistance. And, not only do we charge, we want money in advance before we do anything. Will the person send us $25 to get an answer that could be obtained for free with a 3 word search phrase and a mouse click or two? I don't know, but I'm kind of hoping they do. You can't cure stupid, but you can make it pay.