Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Favourite Photos, Part 3

The other day, I was copying some pictures onto a digital frame we're giving somebody for Christmas, and I came upon several sets of pictures that I had never loaded onto my computer. It's like a Pre-Christmas, getting to look at them all for the first time in years. And while most of them are uninteresting or only mildly interesting, or only interesting to us for the sake of the memories, some of them are actually meritorious on their own. Not great art, mind you: but good pictures.

This picture of a couple of clowns taking a break from working the crowd at Main Street Days in Grapevine, Texas, in 2005 gives me a smile.
Grand Teton N.P., October 2005
I don't know what this is supposed to mean....
Grand Teton National Park is the most beautiful place I've seen in an entire world full of beautiful places. This picture is from my first trip there, and unfortunately this is the only shot any of us got when the weather could remotely have been called cooperative.

The terraces at Mammoth Springs, in Yellowstone National Park.
We don't have magpies in Texas. I first saw them in Europe, and was surprised to see them in the American west. I was even more surprised at how close they'd let me get.
This is in Dinosaur National Monument, in Utah and Colorado, in 2005. I love the way the lines of colour run through the rocks.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Terri Hendrix at the Little Carver Center

Songwriting is a tough craft to master. A few people are born with great natural talent in that direction, honed and nurtured to an art, like Cohan and Gerswin and Paul Simon and Lennon and McCartney (together; separately, neither attained the highest level). Others strive and strain for years, for decades, and are lucky to produce one or two songs where everything comes together. Meanwhile, they create as best they can, and when their work is performed, they're subjected to critiques from people like me, who have some idea of the work involved, but have long since given up the attempt. Still, you don't have to be Paul Simon to recognize  quality in the work.

Performing is another tough craft to master. To get up on stage in front of any number of strangers and sing, or play, or both, is too terrifying for most of us to contemplate. Some people are lucky: they are at home on stage. Most of them are better on stage than off, as anyone who's watched very many interview programs can attest. 

Terri Hendrix
I took in a performance tonight by Terri Hendrix, a local singer-songwriter that my Significant Other happens to like. Myself, I was never that wild about her work, though a couple of songs made it into the mix of a thousand or so pieces that I carry in my cars to listen to on the road. She has a very good voice and a tremendous range, and shows it off to good effect in her performance. Her songwriting is good, even if it lacks a certain lyricism and uses more spoken lines than I would like. And on occasion, she is at the top of her craft and gets everything just right. 

Watching her, I'm amazed how comfortable she is while singing and playing, yet how uncomfortable she is between songs. Her voice quavers as she talks -- mostly to fill the time while instruments are tuned, but it'd be nice if she didn't give away the whole story of the upcoming song; it ruins the mystique -- and she fidgets with equipment and instruments to distraction. Still, the effect is to bring the audience closer to her, as if she's just the neighbor's kid instead of some kind of Performer With A Capital P.

I don't know if the Little Carver Center theater is a good venue for her, I think. It's clearly a step up in class from roadhouses and dance halls, but I'm not sure if that's a step she really wants to take. With its Rotary International chairs and cocktail tables, it makes even this sandal-clad audience a tad reserved. I suspect that seeing Terri Hendrix at a place like Casbeer's would be a whole lot more fun, for her and for her audience. Still, there are those of us who would never go to a place like Casbeer's, or Gruene Hall, or Floore's. And maybe it's a nice change for her to play to an audience that isn't rowdy and unrestrained. I don't know.

Lloyd Maines on guitar, John Silva hiding behind him, Terri
Hendrix, and Glenn Fukunaga hiding behind her.
One other thing: she should get a better photographer. (Not me, obviously.) When she came out on stage, I thought, having seen her photo in the program, that the woman at the mike was some hot young '09-er come to make the introduction, and to be seen.  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Another Simple Approach

Congress has a real knack for complicating relatively simple things. The current self-generating controversy is the effect of the automatic tax increase Congress itself voted into being in the orgiastic Bush years. As you may recall, they included a "sunset" provision in order to get the tax cuts through. For Democrats, it saved face by making the tax cuts they opposed temporary; for the Republicans, it saved face by making the budget numbers seem more palatable.

Now the sun is setting, and both parties -- are there any greater collections of self-serving nitwits anywhere? -- are fumbling around trying to gore other people's oxen. It resembles nothing so much as a Monty Python sketch, except that it's not, when you get right down to it, really funny. 

I hope the sun does set on the Bush tax cuts, especially the travesty of the Estate Tax reductions. Some of us recall that our ancestors -- well, not mine, specifically, but "ours" in the national-history sense -- fought hard to get the Estate Tax put in to end the era of the Robber Barons, who accumulated wealth and passed it on intact from generation to generation. Admittedly, the tax scheme it evolved into over the course of decades of Congressional tinkering at the behest of one special interest after another was incoherent, unfair, impractical and barely effective -- it didn't so much break up great estates as ossify them in "charitable" foundations that operate, as much as anything else, for the aggrandizement and comfort of the would-be heirs -- but it was, at least, better than nothing; which is what we now have (at least until January 1).

Here, Congress, is what you do:  Democrats, especially in the Senate, where you still have a majority, let the Bush tax cuts expire. Most people won't see a really significant rise in their tax liabilities, just as they didn't really see a great decrease in liability back when the tax cuts took effect. Most people didn't make enough to benefit much from the cuts back then, and they don't make enough to be hurt much by the coming tax increase. Then, after the sunset provision has done its laudable work, undoing the mess y'all made of things eight years back, you can introduce a more targeted tax cut bill. Raise the zero-bracket amount; that will benefit everybody, rich and poor, equally. Raise the tax brackets across the board, so that most people see lower rates on their last dollar earned. Tax unearned income -- dividends and interest and capital gains -- at the same rate as earned income. (I'm shooting my own horse, there, but fair is fair.) Keep the mortgage-interest deduction if it's politically necessary -- it's not, but we can pretend -- and the child-care credit and the earned income credit. All those things are expensive sops that allow us to pat ourselves on the back and say what good people we are, taking care of poor folk and all.

Then -- and this is the kicker -- do two more things. 

First, limit the amount of compensation -- not wages or salary, mind you, but all compensation -- to any one individual that a business can deduct as a necessary business expense. Businesses can still pay exorbitant salaries to important people, either because they're actually that much in demand in the labor market or because they own the company; they just won't be able to make the rest of us finance their generosity. It may be simplest to peg the allowable deduction to median income, but it'd be better, I think, to make it a multiple of the lowest compensation amount a company pays. Thus, the more they screw their janitors and security guards with low wages (and wages paid by subcontractors count), the less they'll be able to write off as compensation to the Vice-President of Overseas Graft. There really is no reason why V-POG should make thousands of times what the night janitor makes; a hundred and fifty times as much should suffice.

Second, limit still further amounts paid in compensation to persons, subcontractors, or subsidiaries outside the United States. This, combined with current foreign-investment provisions, will prevent the flight of capital to foreign countries in the form of excessive payments. Exceptions could be made where a particular necessary service or product is only available from a foreign source, but the truth is, payments for commodities and foreign production wages aren't really a problem; nor will they be under this scheme.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Carpe Shotgun

The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. Let's hope the biennial recrudescence of our representative democracy are able to give some thought to issues larger than themselves in considering extending some or all of those cuts. 

But whether they do or don't -- and they won't -- I see an opportunity. One of the vile changes made by those tax cuts was the gradual reduction of the Estate Tax, to the point where anyone dying in 2010 (that's this year, y'all) has no federal estate tax liability, no matter how much their estate is. If this enactment is not extended, on January 1, 2011, the Estate Tax top rate goes back to where it was ten years ago; if memory serves, it topped out at 55% for large estates.


Do you have a rich ancestor, from whom you expect to inherit at least eight figures when he or she kicks the bucket? Then you may want to take advantage of this offer. For a price, sufficient to cover my bail and pay my lawyers through trial, appeal, and re-trial; grease a few palms down at the capitol; and endow a bank account in St. Kitts and Nevis, I'll knock off the old buzzard before the end of the month, saving you, potentially, millions of bucks in Estate Tax payments. All you have to do is give me cash up front, send the servants out for the evening, and leave the front door unlocked and a nice car in the driveway with a full tank and the key in the ignition. I'd prefer Porsche, but any European luxury roadster will do. 

Place your orders now; there's not a lot of time before Uncle Sam gets to take his share again, and I expect a lot of action as the deadline -- tee hee --- gets nearer.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Value of a Dollar: Convenience

I was just about to order two tickets to a concert coming up next month. It was going to be my wife's birthday present. It's a performer that I know she likes, albeit one that I couldn't care less about. But the timing of the show is almost perfect, so I figured I could sit through a few hours in a crowded theater listening to so-so music, because I love her and we do things like that for people we care about.

Then I clicked on the "price details" for the tickets, and my curmudgeon kicked in.

In addition to the $20 price of the show, there is a $1 charge per ticket, a "facility charge." This, I suppose, is the added cost of holding the concert indoors. OK, a buck a ticket, I can live with that. I object to it on principle, but it is just a buck. Each.

Then there's the $5.80 "convenience charge." Don't kid yourself: this isn't the charge for your convenience, buyer. This is the charge the theater imposes for the convenience to it of not having to mess with all that ticket-selling stuff on its own. It's the commission paid to a third-party ticketing company.

I object to that on principle, too. If the theater want to charge $26.80 for the show, that's fine; I will decide based on that price whether I want to pay it ... and I probably would. These days, it's not so much for a show, even one that I don't really want to see.

But knowing that the show is really only worth $20, and the "facility" in which it's held is only worth another dollar, I object to paying $5.80 above the value of the show. Per ticket.

I also object to paying a $2.50 premium for the privilege of printing the tickets on my own printer, when standard mail is free.

So now I'm having a hard time reconciling myself to buying two tickets for $26.80 each, because I know they aren't really worth that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why We Can't Trust Government To Do Things Right

I had jury duty today.  I know a lot of people pull faces at the very thought, but I take the chore seriously. I would actually like to be a juror, but I know that no lawyer is going to want another lawyer on his jury. I'll never get on an actual jury, and that knowledge dims the glow of the experience somewhat. Still, I go, I sit and read for a day, I earn my six bucks, and I go home. 

When I got downtown to the courthouse area, I parked in the county's parking garage. I parked on Level Three and walked down the stairs.  When I left this afternoon, I got in the elevator and pushed the button for Level Three. I stepped out and saw a sign to my right that said "Stairway B, Level 2." I turned around, thinking I'd gotten off on the wrong floor, and there was a sign at the elevator that said, "Remember that you parked on Level Three." 

I was confused. Where was I?  Far off to the left I could see another sign, "Stairway C, Level 2." Then I remembered that, where I'd parked, the floor was only half-covered by the floor above. This clearly was not Level Three. I walked up the stairs and found my car on Level Three.

So: if we can't trust our county government — and by extension, all levels of government — to correctly do something as simple as counting to three, twice, why should we trust them to do anything right?

It's a question I don't have an answer to. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Message to Obama: Unemployment

So...we've got nearly ten percent unemployment. Worst hit is the construction industry.

We're spending billions of dollars on "shovel-ready" projects, which turn out to require lots of materials and not much in the way of labor.

Why don't we just re-institute the Civilian Conservation Corps? Remember that old program from the Great Depression, which took unemployed young men to the nation's parks and forests, and put them to work building roads and bridges and facilities, and planting trees, and landscaping. It got them out of the cities, started them on an adventurous life, gave them some skills, and kept them out of trouble. Most of them found other careers, outside the construction industry, but all of them learned something, and did something, and our country was better for it.

These days, of course, we'd have to let the girls play too, but that's OK. And there's lots of work to be done in our national parks, and forests, and monuments, much of which can be accomplished by young people just learning how such things are done. And surely it couldn't cost much more than we're already laying out for next to nothing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Let's Pretend We Don't Know

candidate Sharron Angle
I heard a clip this afternoon on NPR's program, Talk of the Nationof Sharron Angle, who is running for U.S. senate from Nevada, telling a group of Hispanic law students, "I don't know if all of you are Hispanic; some of you look kind of Asian."

Neal Conan, the program's host, reported that the Hispanic law-students' organization has demanded an apology; and his interlocutor, one John Ralston, columnist for a Las Vegas newspaper, characterized the remark as being incomprehensible in its meaning and intent. (I think he said, in a bewildered tone of voice, "I don't know where that was coming from.")

Here's what I wonder:

First, why are Hispanic students insulted by being told that some of them look "kind of Asian"? Is that some weird post-modern ethnic slur? What, exactly, should this woman apologise for? 

Second, is this John Ralston unaware that there are physical resemblances between some Hispanics and some Asians? Is that real-world observation now so outré that we are no longer able to acknowledge it? I've observed it myself, on occasion, in photographs on the internet of people who I took to be Asian but were then identified as either Hispanic or Native American (meaning persons of aboriginal origins, not just people born in America).  This woman is stating an obvious fact that, yes, probably originates with her being brought up in an area bereft of persons of one or the other ethnic persuasion.

I'm told that Asians can differentiate between various Asian nationalities. I don't know if this means that a Korean, for example, can tell by looking at another person if they are Korean or Chinese or Japanese or whatever; it might mean that, or it might only mean that they can distinguish between "us" and "them." It might only be true of some Asians, or it might not be true at all. Me, I can't really tell. I kind of get the sense that there is a  subtle physical distinction between the various nationalities, maybe something to do with the eyes, but not having a great deal of interaction with Asians, I don't really know. I do know that Margaret Cho, whose family is Korean, looks different from George Takei, whose family is Japanese, and from an old friend who is Filipino, and from a not-as-old friend whose family is Chinese. But I don't know that the distinctions I see between Margaret and George and my friends are representative of their ethnic groups. 

But I also know that all of them, together, are discernibly different from the European root-stock that I mostly interacted with growing up. And so are many of the Native Americans, mostly Lakota, and some -- not all, less than half -- of the many, many Hispanics that I see.

Growing up in New Orleans, and later in North Texas, the people I knew were almost exclusively either European or African in origin. I never learned to differentiate among other ethnic groups based on physical characteristics, and maybe that's why I can't always tell a Korean from a Mexican or a Lakota. (I have similar problems with accents: they all sound "English" to me, though I've found that most of them are not.)  Likewise, most of my friends in central Mexico tell me that they can't really tell one "Anglo" from another, and they're amazed when we say somebody looks "Italian" while somebody else looks "Irish." To my friends who grew up in places where there were no Irish or Italian communities, they're all just hueros (or gueros).

We all do this. We can all tell "us" from "them." We can't always further differentiate some "them" from some other "them." 

But I have to wonder about this reporter, who could not conceive of what a person could possibly mean when she said that some of the Hispanic law students she was looking at looked "kind of Asian." Either his own upbringing was so deep in the melting pot that he is instantly able to tell a person's ethnic origins simply by looking at them, or he was being disingenuous in order to belittle the candidate under discussion, while making himself out to be entirely sensitive, yet paradoxically undiscriminating, in matters ethnic.

My money is on the latter.

I guess things have gotten so bad in this country that even the well-known host of a popular NPR program can't find people who are able to simply report the political situation, without trying to advance their own views, and so he has to fall back on "columnists" instead of "reporters." A shame.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Quelle surprise: a federal court in California has enjoined the U.S. military from enforcing its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding homosexuals serving in the US Military.

Personally, I think "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would be a reasonable policy towards the issue if the military added a "Don't Hear" segment to it. Most of the cases of homosexuals being discharged for being homosexuals --- in fact, all the ones I've heard the facts about --- involve denunciations made by people outside the military, or at least people who don't have regular interactions with the individuals being discharged. The most recent case illustrates the general situation: a man's wife left him and took up with a (female) army officer. (Maybe it was Air Force; I don't remember, but I don't think it's a material point.) He wrote an angry letter to the officer's commander, who was obliged under the military's interpretation of the policy to discharge the officer in questions.

The point of the policy, when it was implemented back in the early '90s, was to allow homosexuals to serve, as long as their behaviour didn't interfere with the Service's smooth operation. And let's face it, military people, like almost all of the rest of us (excluding the Taliban-Christian types, who consider everybody else's private matters to be their concern), don't give a rat's ass what somebody does in bed, or the dungeon, or where ever they do it as long as it's private. No, the military's concern --- the military's proper concern ---  is with the kind of mincing, limp-wristed in-your-face gay man, or overly-aggressive crotch-grabbing bull-dyke woman, that gets on people's nerves. 

Even most tolerant people are put off by too much of that exaggerated behaviour. These people flaunt their sexual preferences as if it was a school prize. People should not be forced to work around people who don't understand that sex, and sexuality, is a private matter. The military, like the private sector, needs to have a way to get rid of people that others don't want to work with. 

So if some outsider bitches to the C.O. that so-and-so is queer, the C.O. ought to be able to just ignore the complaint: "Dear X, thank you for bringing the matter to my attention. I will investigate the matter and take appropriate action." Then toss the complaint in the round file where it belongs. If it's not coming from somebody who has to deal with the homosexual in question, it's not a complaint that deserves hearing.

The issue isn't really sexuality; it's behaviour, and it's only public behaviour. The policy needs to recognize that.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Message to Congress: Immigration

The real issue in immigration is the legality of entrants to this country. It is caused not only by the vast economic difference between the United States and its southern neighbours, but also by the unwillingness of the United States government to recognize our own economic need for the low-cost labour illegal immigrants currently provide.

If there are a million, or two million, or ten million illegal Latin American immigrants in this country, it is because there has been, over a course of many years, an artificial and irrational dearth of residency visas issued to persons in Latin America. Just increase the number of visas being issued; in a few years, persons here illegally will find themselves frozen out of the labour market by the arrival of legal immigrants, and they will move on to other places, or back where they came from --- possibly to apply for legal entry.

If we are seriously concerned that the presence of illegal immigrants depressed wages for legal residents, including citizens --- and this is true only at the very lowest economic levels --- raise the minimum legal wage. If that is unpalatable, accept that legal residents' wages will be depressed by the number of immigrants willing to work for the present legal minimum.

At the same time, make it easier for the United States to deport those legal immigrants who are, or become, undesirable: criminals and (I suppose there must be some, though I've never seen evidence of it) lazy people who just want to sit home and watch telenovelas as if they were citizens. Restrict access to certain (expensive) social services: immigrants are not entitled to unemployment insurance; they are not entitled to welfare benefits; they are not entitled to long-term medical care at public expense. 

They are, though, entitled to work in safe conditions just like the rest of us, and their children are entitled to be educated at public expense just like our own children. They are entitled to reasonable emergency medical care, and if they are required (like the rest of us) to have health insurance, they are entitled to whatever that health insurance provides. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Concerning the Continental Price Divide

I've always known that South Texas is a relatively inexpensive place to live. That fact is reinforced every time I visit a restaurant or grocery store in Southern California or New York, or even in the Midwest. (The prices at a Wal-Mart in Menominee, Wisconsin took me by surprise.) But I noticed something on this most recent trip that I had never noticed before: there is a dividing line --- a Continental Price Divide, if you will --- that runs down along the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. Until this trip, I'd always travelled in the southern part of the West: California, Nevada, Arizona. The rise in prices as you go west from Texas is somewhat gradual, although no less noticeable for that. But up north --- and this is what really surprised me --- the change in prices is steep and sharp. In the north, the change is like a cliff, while in the south, it's a sloping plateau.

I'd always assumed that it had to do with things like transport costs and state tax policy. I still think those must necessarily play a part --- witness the difference between the price of gas in South Lake Tahoe, California, and Carson City, Nevada, less than 50 miles away; only the comparatively rapacious tax policy of California, the state with the least efficient government, can account for the great difference. And despite all the cost-lowering progress in transport, brought about by technological advances in my lifetime, moving things still costs money, and moving it farther costs more (to a point).

But these can't be the only factors at work here. I say this because of the sharp difference in prices from one side of the Cascade Mountains to the other, within the state of Washington.

Prices for things tourists are interested in --- primarily gas, lodging, and restaurant food --- are high to the point of exorbitance in Seattle, as in all of coastal Oregon and California. This was more or less what I expected to find, and, sadly, wasn't disappointed. But get across the Cascades into the eastern counties of Washington state, and suddenly prices for gas and food drop. The burger that costs you $9 in Port Townsend, on the Olympic peninsula, is only $6.50 in Grand Coulee. The gallon of premium gas that costs $3.55 in Sea-Tac on Saturday night is only $2.99 in Spokane on Sunday afternoon. 

I suspect the trend holds good in lodging as well, but because of special arrangements made in advance in one place, and not the other, I can't really say with any specificity. All I can say is that I found a reasonably-priced room pretty much at random on the eastern side of the mountains, but couldn't locate one in a week of internet searches on the western side.

I don't know what causes this sharp bifurcation. Why is it that people in, say, Everett, Washington will pay 40% more for a hamburger, and 20% more for gasoline, than their neighbours in Spokane? 

Ideas, anyone?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Favourite Photos, Part 2

I think this place is called the Cadillac Ranch. Some guy decided that, instead of trading his wife's car in on a new one, he'd just bury it ass-end up in one of his fields, near Amarillo, Texas. A compulsion was born, apparently, and nine luxury cars came to rest in this field, where they have been painted and re-painted by generations of grafitti artists. 

When I was a kid in North Texas, horny toads (or Texas Horned Lizards, or TCU Horned Frogs) were common. Now, I hear, they're pretty rare. This one was the first I'd seen since I was probably, oh, twelve years old. Found it by the road near Alibates Quarry National Monument, north of Amarillo, where we waited for a herd of cattle to clear the road.

Branson, Missouri is a pretty artificial place; kind of like Las Vegas, but with an overpowering aura of wholesomeness instead of a Sin-City reputation. (Plenty of sinning goes on there, I'm sure, but unlike their counterparts out west, they don't brag about it.) Everything in town is glitz and mock-hick glamour, from the traffic jam on the one main road to the giant theaters showing slicked-up down-home artifice. But it is possible to find some nice scenes there, as in this shot of one of the several lakes around the town.

This is the headwaters of the Rio Grande River, near Creede, Colorado, taken when I was driving out to California to tour the Redwood Forest with my son. I really like the mellow look of this picture. It looks like a late fall or early winter scene, but was actually taken in late May 2006.

I'm sure everybody who's ever gone through this tunnel in South Dakota has stopped to take this same photograph, but I really like the way the tunnel frames Mount Rushmore. I read somewhere that the road was oriented toward the sculpture expressly for that purpose.

This was taken on the Michigan shore of Lake Superior. Put on a recording of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and study the colours in the sky and water.

I have half a dozen pictures of the Mackinaw Bridge. I'm not sure which is my favourite --- it's a beautiful bridge in a beautiful setting --- so I just picked this one to represent the whole bunch.

I think it's the pattern of the clouds that makes this picture so attractive to me. It was taken in January 2008 near Fort Pickens National Monument, on Pensacola Bay. It was my first time on the Florida Gulf coast since I was too young to remember, and I was impressed by the white sand and the isolation of the place. (The beaches in Fort Walton, where I stayed that night, were all footprint-covered; here, it was almost completely untouched.)

When I was in Italy in the mid-1980s, I sat at a table in Piazza San Marco, in Venice, and got quietly drunk on two bottles of wine. I took a picture of my feet. Ever since then, I've taken pictures of my feet for what I call my "Feet On The Ground" series. This one, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, I happen to like for the contrast of black jeans and shoes against white, white sand.

I think this may be one of my favourite sunset pictures, taken from the same spot as the previous picture. 

Boeing Tour and Tacoma Museums (September 16, 2010)

Boeing has three big facilities in the Seattle area: a factory at Renton, where they assemble 737s; Boeing Field, which doubles as King County Airport, and which includes the Museum of Flight; and another factory at Mukilteo, north of the city (called The Everett Plant, after a nearby larger town), where they assemble 747s, 767s, and 787s. This was the place we went to for their factory tour and a visit to "The Future of Flight," a sort of museum showing what might be coming down the road ... er, runway.

Bus-sized groups of visitors are carted from the visitors' center, across the freeway to the factory, which is, as our tourguide made clear again and again, huge. It's something like a third of a mile from end to end. The doors that allow parts to come in and planes to go out are, of course, huge as well, and the photograph decorating the door is the largest printed picture in the world. (Sixty-seven d.p.i., our guide pointed out, but so big it looks incredibly sharp.) The building was the largest in the world when it was built in the '60s, so much bigger than anything that came before that its designers had no idea that it would have its own weather system. Once it was occupied, it started raining inside. That problem's been solved --- I forget how; ceiling fans, maybe --- and the building's not air conditioned. If it gets too hot (and with all that machinery going in there, it does), they just open the door a crack.

They build 747s, 767s, and now 787s in this building. The tour takes you up to the catwalks several stories over the factory floor, and you can see how the assembly line is put together. The jumbo jets have a U-shaped line, but the 767s and 787s can be done in a straight line. The 787s, the so-called "dreamliner" that is Boeing's future, is assembled here from parts made all over the world. Some of the parts are so big that Boeing had to adapt several 747s with oversized fuselages, so they could fit the components inside and fly them to Washington for assembly. These five "DreamLifters" are, as a result, the largest cargo aircraft in the world. Four of the five were on the ground outside the factory. (A few weeks before this trip, Boeing announced that it was returning production jobs to the US because it found it lacked adequate quality control over its foreign producers. I reckon that means that they'll have to build a much, much bigger building at some point.)

After the tour of the factory, the bus takes the group back to the welcome center, where there's a gift shop (of course) and museum of sorts that is supposed to be about what's in store for air passengers, but is mainly about Boeing's history. It wasn't interesting enough for me to walk all the way through it, especially after that hike through the factory. One of the featured exhibits is a series of computer terminals where you get to "design your own aircraft." What this means, it turns out, is that you get to pick the wing configuration from about 8 options, and choose from three exterior paint patterns and half a dozen logos. Then you get to print it out for free, or buy a shirt or other souvenir with your design on it. Big woo. There's more than enough little boy left in me that I was excited by the build-up this exhibit got, but disappointed by the reality of it.

We made a quick stop at Mukilteo Lighthouse, not very far away, because Jeff has decided to be interested in lighthouses. I may have mentioned that earlier. Something to do with a recent trip to Long Island. Anyway, we didn't miss an opportunity to visit any lighthouse we came across, and Mukilteo is among the more quaint that we saw. Not as dramatic as Hecata Head in Oregon, but with all the fog they have in this part of the world you come away kind of surprised that there's not a lighthouse on every rock.

After the lighthouse and lunch at a New-Yawk-Style pizza place (not bad, for pizza by the slice), we headed down to Tacoma.

There's been a little paragraph of newsprint on my refrigerator door for about a year now, briefly describing the Glass Bridge that leads to the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. Someone wrote on it, "Sounds like a day trip," and ever since posting it I've been looking forward to this part of our trip. I have something of a collection of art glass myself, only about 30 or 40 pieces, but I love this particular art form, and was soooooooo looking forward to it: a whole museum, dedicated to art glass.

I should have known I'd gotten my hopes too high. Yes, it's an entire museum dedicated to art glass. The building itself is architecturally interesting, clever, and, surprise, attractive. A modern building destined to be a classic, I'm sure. Inside, the space is very limited. There are two galleries, the lobby, a café, a studio, and the gift shop.

The entire space was taken up by just three and a half exhibits when we visited. One was an exhibit of children's glass art. You can imagine how non-plussed I was by that waste of space. It was the museum equivalent of fingerpainted pictures on the refrigerator door.  Next to that was a one-man show featuring the work of a local artist, Preston Singletary. He is Native American, and this, plus the fact that some local rich person likes his work, has brought him to the point of prominence where you can get a one-man show in a leading museum. There were about sixty pieces in the exhibit, and while there is no disputing his command of the techniques of glassblowing, I found the One-With-Nature-Native-American focus more than a little heavy-handed. A few of the pieces had truly pleasing lines, and several were innovative (at least to me, who only gets to see what's going on in the world of art glass through occasional visits to shops, studios and galleries), but only one was what I would consider museum-quality: one of two pieces named Raven Stealing The Moon (after one of the artist's tribe's creation myths, duly told on a small placard next to the work). One of the two pieces named this hung on the wall like a rainspout on Notre Dame, a sandblasted black-on-red stylized bird with a big marble in its beak. It evoked a totem pole, with rounded lines and framed images inset. I didn't care for it. But the other one was stunning, and not surprisingly I found that this was the piece used on the promotional materials for the show. It stands on end, about a foot and a half tall; like its namesake, it's a black-on-red bird's head with a large marble in its beak, but this one has magnificent proportions and truly pleasing lines. One is art; the other is Art.

The studio contains the third full exhibit, the museum's "Hot Shop," where you can watch glassmaking live. They were on break when I was there, and I wasn't about to wait around for them to come back so I could see something I've seen in studios all over the country; and often enough to know that everybody does it pretty much the same way. Jaded, I am, when it comes to watching glassblowers at work.

The half exhibit is a couple of tables set up in the back of the lobby, whereon are gathered a number of birds by Finnish artist Oiva Toikka, a master craftsman at some factory in Europe who specializes in bird shapes. Some are pretty; some are ugly; some are just silly, possibly intentionally so. It seems these birds have become collectible, a 21st-Century alternative to Hummel. Anyway, the exhibit excited me about as much as the Steuben Glass room at Dillard's Department Store used to back in the '80s. The exhibit had the look and feel of an afterthought, as though somebody had said "We need to fill that space over there," and then they rushed around gathering up a flock of glass birds, put them on the table, then got busy with other things and forgot to make a show out of it. Kind of sad, really.

The stunning part of the Museum of Glass was the gift shop, for two reasons. First, there were the works of the aforementioned Preston Singletary offered for sale: tiny little glass baskets and boxes at positively astronomical prices, as though someone had accidentally added two extra zeros to all the price tags. Second, there were some genuinely magnificent pieces by other artists on sale there, at prices approaching reasonable (or, at least, museum-gift-shop-reasonable): Cohn-Stone Studios in San Francisco (whose web site, unfortunately, is all about cutesey pumpkin and leaf shapes, instead of the elegant type of stuff I saw at the museum), and a Canadian guy named Jeff Holmwood. I was sorely tempted to buy something, but I promised myself I wouldn't buy any more glass until I have a place to display it. (I plan to build a shelf above the french doors and windows in my living room, lighted from below and running the length of the room, just to put some of my glass pieces on. Been planning that for years....) Plus, there's the problem of getting it home, or the expense of having it shipped.

Outside the museum, crossing the adjacent railroad tracks and highway, and leading to other museums in the district, is the Chihuly Glass Bridge. It's a pedestrian bridge with three installations of art glass. In the middle are two poles with big chunks of blue-green dalle glass on them, like giant rock candy sticks. At one end is a wall of about a hundred cubicles, each containing a single vase by Chihuly, the local glass artist who's become the biggest name in the business, although to my mind he hit on a popular style back fifteen years ago, and has since turned into a one-trick pony, churning out the same products time and time again. I took pictures of almost every one of the vases, so I could look at them at my leisure (ah, the wonders of digital photography: it costs nothing to waste memory like that). Some of them are nice. All are technically proficient but most are unpleasant in their proportions, though that doesn't seem to matter in matters artistic these days. Some are gaudy, some are busy, some are subtle, but none rise above the level of expert craftsmanship.

At the other end of the bridge is an overhead exhibit, a space containing vaguely sea-creature-shaped glass. I suppose on a bright sunny day this would look downright pretty, but when's the last time Tacoma had a bright sunny day? (Oh, sure, they must've had one some time.) All of these pieces look like the Chihuly vase in Frasier's living room, or like the elements of the formulaic sculpture that some real salesman talked the Friends Of The San Antonio Public Library to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for. Same old, same old, and not even pretty to boot.

Edward Bruns, ca. 1910
All in all, I found more of interest in the Washington State Historical Society museum at the other end of the glass bridge. If I were to go back to Tacoma, that is the museum I'd head for. On the top floor is a model railroad (always worth seeing, and this one was particularly well done, if not as big as the one I saw in San Diego) and other exhibits relating to local history. My favourite parts were the exhibit of Arts-and-Crafts architecture and design (especially, of course, the stained glass windows on exhibit, and some prints that I photographed for my friend Rick, who's into that), and the "Washington Icons" exhibit, featuring a few things that museum visitors chose as representative of the state: notably, Galloping Gertie (the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which famously collapsed soon after opening in the 1940s), and a series of hilarious and imaginative Rainier Beer commercials playing on continuous loop.

8 miles offshore, heading out to sea
A propos of nothing: I have a DVD-based GPS navigation system in my little convertible that was probably not state of the art when it was designed in the late 1990s. It causes me a great deal of irritation because it's tedious to find things on, and won't plan out the kind of route I want, and sometimes it just plain gets lost. But after using Nancy's up-to-date GPS feature on her Blackberry (or whatever), I feel a whole lot better about my rickety old in-dash navigator. It, at least, does not ask me to exit a freeway, immediately re-enter the freeway, go to the next exit, take the turnaround, go back to the original exit, turn where there's no street, and then go three blocks past my destination.

Just thought I'd throw that in; it's the first kind word I've had to say about that device since I bought the car.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Failure of Education: An Example

We like to think that ignorance is confined, at least as to general topics, to uneducated people. That seemed to be true when I was young, but I suspect now that that was more perception than reality. Back then, there were relatively few people talking in mass media, and those who did --- reporters, anchormen, senators, admirals, generals, scientists --- generally maintained a certain gravitas, and spoke with some erudition. They didn't get on the air unless they could speak cogent, coherent, and --- politicians excepted --- concise English. As anyone will know after watching even half an hour of cable network news, this is manifestly no longer the case. Every ill-educated crackpot who can waive unexamined credentials under the nose of some desperate and time-pressed producer can now find his or her opportunity to befoul the marketplace of ideas with their peculiar brand of counterfeit reasoning, frequently clumsily expressed, and often at full volume. It's gotten so that even well-educated people no longer can be counted on to stop and consider before they put their ignorance on display for all the discerning world, wherein it will be noted, as well as for the uncaring world, wherein it will not.

My particular beef is with a presumably well-respected law firm, and with Here And Now, a nationally-available (on public radio, once an incubator and exemplar of erudition in America) news program produced by WBUR, the radio station at Boston University, which somewhat ironically pretends to excellence in education. 

On a number of occasions, the producers of Here And Now have thanked their corporate supporters on the air, including Hinckley, Allan & Snyder LLP, lauding it for providing legal expertise "throughout New England, and now in Connecticut." (Emphasis added.)

Surely somebody at Here And Now is aware that Connecticut has long been a part of New England. Surely somebody at WBUR is a former English major who recognizes redundancy. Surely somebody at Boston University has heard this frequently-delivered announcement, and surely somebody at Hinckley, Allan & Snyder LLP has listened to the announcement, either delivered to them by the program's producers for their approval, or on the actual broadcasts. Yet none of these surely well-educated radio producers or lawyers has thought to correct the appearance of ignorance that such an announcement projects.

It's bad enough when I hear Jon Stewart, of The Daily Show --- an intelligent and sophisticated guy, though he'd probably quibble with that characterization --- say, in an unscripted interview, that he and his staff "wean (sic) through" all the previous day's televised idiocy for stories on their program. I'm sure that if you asked him to write that down and say it once a day for months, he would immediately notice that the proper phrase is "weed through." But to have all these New Englanders go week after week in apparent obliviousness to the precise meaning of Here And Now's expression of gratitude is a far, far greater show of ignorance.

I bet this is what happened: somebody probably said, "You know, guys, if you say that, it means that either you think Connecticut is not part of New England, or that you're lying when you say 'throughout New England.'" But then somebody higher up, probably somebody with too much concern for economy of speech, said, "Well, people will know that what we really mean is that these lawyers now have an office in Connecticut."

Yes, we can figure that out. But while we're thinking about it, we're also thinking, with perhaps some exaggeration, "These people are idiots."  

That's probably not the image they were going for.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Olympic National Park

The National Park Service makes much of the fact that Olympic National Park contains three distinct ecosystems in one park; sort of a "buy two, get one free" special package. And that's true, the alpine environment in the north, the rain forests in the south, and the littoral of the west are all completely different from one another. All three are beautiful, mostly wilderness areas, and all three are impressive. 

Olympic is a gigantic national park, perfect for people who are really into wilderness stuff like hiking and camping. Me, not so much. I like a nice hour-long hike on flat ground, and even that can test my aching joints (currently the left ankle on even days, the right knee on odd days, the left elbow on most days). So the single day trip we took was just about right, though I will admit that I kind of wished I had more desire for the outdoorsy thing, especially on the beach. It would have been nice to take a week to hike from one end to the other, although I know that, after a few hours, it would've been like my last visit to the driving range: I'd be thinking, "Why was it that I thought this might be fun?" I haven't hit a golf ball since, and that's more than four years ago. I also recall making a resolution, some years before that, never to sleep on the ground again, the last time I went camping with my son. Oh, sure, sometimes I weaken and think it would be fun, but I always manage to get hold of myself before giving in to that particular temptation.

For our trip, we took the route suggested by the Park Service on their website for a full-day visit. We set out early --- well, sort of early --- from Port T, going first to the Visitors' Center south of Port Angeles for that all-important passport stamp. From there it was a scenic drive of 45 minutes or so up to Hurricane Ridge, where there's another visitors' center and an alpine view. A short accessible hiking trail was nearby, and we decided to take the time for that; but most of it was closed for some unspecified reason. So after taking just the time to enjoy the view, we drove on to Hoh Rain Forest.

Hoh is the largest of the three rain forests contained in the park. Three hours' drive from Hurricane Ridge, it sits near the base of Mount Olympus, which we didn't see because of fog, I suppose; I'm not sure it would have been visible from where we were anyway, but in that part of the country you're always safe in blaming fog. Back in the 1880s, when Washington was looking to become a state, the territorial legislature considered choosing "Semper Fog" as the state motto, but it was rejected in favour of something conventionally grandiose and meaningless. Anyway, the visitors' center at the rain forest is the starting point for a number of hiking trails, including one that goes up Mt Olympus. We opted instead for the more do-able "Hall of Mosses" loop tour. My first thought was, You're kidding, right? Moss? But it was short enough, and reasonably flat, and I didn't feel like sitting in the visitors' center with the guy from Newport, Oregon who, when he learned I was from South Texas, insisted on telling me Mexican jokes.

It actually turned out to be a very nice walk, about two hours if I remember right, through a forest of tall Sitka spruce and hemlock and Douglas fir, and more moss than the Louisiana bayous. Lush, verdant, all those synonyms. Beyond the cool darkness of the forest floor, the giant shaggy trees stretched up and up to a clear blue sky, bright in the afternoon sun. Below them, ferns and fungi grew amid roots that poured and slithered over each other, creating on every side an other-worldly sense of promiscuous abandon. 

From the rain forest, we drove out to the beach. This part of the park was added on as an afterthought, against, it seems, the wishes of the local indians. And in truth it seems, from the small taste of it that I've had, not to be a part of the same park at all. The alpine scenery of Hurricane Ridge and the mountainous rain-forests are enough of a piece that, while different, one from the other, they seem to belong together. This long tongue of beach, miles away from the rest of the park and stretching for miles along the shore, seems completely different.

It's almost a spooky place. The beach is narrow, maybe twenty yards wide; the loud, restless Pacific Ocean on the west takes giant trees from the still, dark forest on the east, and tosses their carcasses about on the beach. There seems to be no life here, no crabs scuttling about on the shore, no birds overhead, no seals or fish in the water. The remains of the trees, lying haphazard on the rocks, are like one of those warnings that teenaged girls are always ignoring in horror films: go back! Stay away! Don't go into the barn!

But like those teenaged girls, we couldn't help ourselves: we had to wander along the beach until it got dark and cold and we discovered that we didn't know the way back to the car. Then one of us observed a metal sign, a red cross and circle on a black background, nailed high to a tree trunk, and that turned out to be the sign showing where the path back began. By then, someone down the beach had started what looked like a bonfire. I thought that would be a good way to end our visit to the park, but instead we went back to Forks, the nearest town, for gas and dinner. By the time we were ready to head back to Port T, the fog had settled in. That made for a long, slow trip back to home base.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Onward Through The Fog

We had no internet service in our condo in Port Townsend. One consequence of this is a certain amount of disorientation: How can I know where anything is if I can't look it up on the internet? Another is a certain amount of irritation: How can I ignore what's going on around me if I can't occupy myself with email, porn, and idle browsing? I actually read half a book, a murder mystery, and not a very good one, even though it was English.

Mostly, though, it means that I haven't had much chance to post anything here about the wunnerful time we've passed in Washington (my 48th state: look out, Alaska! Stand back, Hawaii!)

Anyway, picking up from where I left off:  We crossed over the Columbia at Longview, having decided not to drive up through the Columbia River Gorge this trip. It was a matter of time: we could see the Gorge, or we could see Mt St Helens, and the wife really really really wanted to see Mt St Helens.  As it turned out, we saw neither: Mt St Helens was completely covered in thick fog. We spent half an hour or so at the Visitors' Center 20 miles away, watching the live monitor feed from the Johnston Observatory, and decided not to bother driving an hour out there and an hour back, just to see the fog live and up close.

I blame the internet, and globalization.

So we drove instead over to Mt Rainier National Park. As we did, the fog seemed to be lifting, but we never did get a glimpse of Mt St Helens ... or Mt Rainier, which was socked in as well. We made the (terrifying) drive up to the Jackson Visitors' Center, about 5400 feet up, where it was not only so foggy that we couldn't see the building from the parking lot, it was nearly freezing. We spent about an hour warming up inside before making the (equally terrifying) drive back down, stopping to see a couple of waterfalls along the way.

I blame the internet, and globalization. 

Heading into Seattle, I finally dealt with the problem of the left front tire losing air. I found a tire shop that applied a sealant around the inside of the wheel, then slapped on a used tire that actually had better tread than the one I'd been riding on -- I'd planned to get new front tires when I got new wheels all around anyway -- for about $30. I might just buy used tires all the time from now on. It's been on the car for more than a week now, and hasn't lost any pressure.

We parked the car in the space I'd reserved for the week and took the shuttle up to Sea-Tac, where Nancy and Jeff arrived from Colorado almost on time. We decided to go with an SUV instead of the "full-sized" Impala they had reserved for us, and though it caused about an hour's delay, it was a good thing we waited. We would never have gotten all our stuff in an Impala. We had a Tahoe, stuffed to bursting.

It was dark by the time we got to our condo, way up on the northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The first thing we discovered about it was that there was no internet access in the unit; we had to go either up to the office, about 150 yards away, or to the Clubhouse, two blocks away. The office was only open during the day, when we were usually away, and the Clubhouse closed at 9 and they turned off the router. That, and the faint aroma of a paper mill up the beach, were the only down-sides to our stay.

The town's big annual celebration is the Wooden Boat Festival, which happened to start the day we arrived. Other than making it difficult to park in the middle of this little town, and filling all the restaurants and sidewalks with boat people, the festival didn't much impinge on our stay. We might have been interested in whatever the festival offered -- the others all have some sailing experience; and I managed to find a day's worth of interest at the Farm Technology fair, so I reckon boats would keep my interest for a few hours -- but the $20 entrance fee was too much for any of us to think it'd be worth that for a visit. So we passed on it. We did, though, prowl through the obligatory crafts booths set up outside, finding nothing much of interest. I used to really enjoy browsing in the street markets set up near every event, however esoteric, but these days it seems like there is little novelty in them. Every vendor has the same handmade (and generally overpriced) stuff for sale, or nearly so; mostly well-done, solid, professional. But the sightings of exquisite craftsmanship are so rare these days that the time spent in the hunt is wasted. It must have been like this for the Plains Indians, when buffalo became so rare, though on a much more fundamental level, of course.

I blame the internet and globalization.

Other than the wooden boat festival, "Port T" offers few attractions of its own, and we saw them in a day. The Art Deco Lighting Museum was interesting, if monothematic, but far more interesting were the posters, signs and displays ranting about the traffic engineering recently done by the city out front of the building. Seems they put in a traffic circle, which makes the shop containing the museum difficult to get to, and which took part of the shop's land, formerly used for landscaping, leading the city to require that more land be devoted to landscaping. It's hard to disagree with the shop-owner's point of view, given that the cross-street at this intersection is half a block long on one side, and a whole block long on the other. And both are dead ends. Makes a traffic circle seem more aesthetic than functional, and this is not what we want from our cities. Municipal aesthetic sensibilities are fine where public funds must be spent, but insufficient of themselves to warrant the expenditure of public funds.

The other main attractions of the town are a staircase that ends at a fountain left over from the Mexican Pavilion at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and a handful of nothing-really-special Victorian houses. (Were it not for our present national fixation with preserving everything older than our little sister, these might be worth looking at; but since everything that survives a few decades in this country gets a brass plaque mounted on it, these houses are just like the ones you can see in every town founded before World War I. Nice, but hardly unusual. I blame the internet, and globalization.) Just outside the town is Fort Worden, one of the forts that once guarded the entrance to Puget Sound, back when Canada represented an existential threat. It is now, of course, restored and preserved like every spot where two sticks remain of a former outpost of civilization from  The Olden Days. This one, fortunately, is finding a new raison d'être, hosting various local institutions like the Madrona MindBody Institute (if the name itself, with its too-cute punctuation, weren't enough to start the eyes rolling, there's the sign in the front door warning that it is "a fragrance and scent-free facility") and a woodworking school. A few public offices fill the restored buildings, and the post theater is now in use again.  At the farthest end of the post is a disused lighthouse.

The only innately interesting thing about Fort Worden is the odd building known as Alexander's Castle, which was intended as a home for the rector of a local church. He built it (years before Fort Worden was established) to share with his bride, but when he went back to Scotland to marry, he found she had tired of waiting, or of him, and hooked up with some other dude. The Army bought the building from him and used it as a cistern, a lookout post, a residence, and a tailor shop. This was back when government spent money for non-aesthetic reasons.

Oh, and one other interesting thing about Fort Worden was this sign, which means nothing to me.

Having done Port T, we went on a Cider Quest, hitting three of the local cider houses: Wildfire, Eaglemount, and Finnriver. The first is a venture by a smokejumper and his wife, and it's new enough that there's a sort of casual cheeriness about the whole thing. They had good stuff, too, and we had a hard time narrowing our choices down to just two bottles.

The lady who runs Eaglemount was the first to get into the cider business in the area, and they have some fine products too, but she was so flustered by the comings and goings in her tasting room that the overall experience was, sadly, less than completely enjoyable.

Finnriver is a brand-new operation run by a husband whose family has been farming the area for generations, and his English-teacher wife, who is so enthralled by the whole sustainable-farming thing that she makes a charming and enchanting tour guide, even if the cider isn't really to my liking. (Actually, I wasn't really all that thrilled with any of the ciders; just as I'd prefer a glass of water to a glass of wine, I'd rather have apple juice than cider.)

Desperation Pass
On Monday we rode the ferry over to Orcas Island, in the San Juans. This involved two ferry trips: first from Port Townsend to Keystone Harbor, then, after a drive up Whidby Island and across Desperation Pass, a second, longer ferry ride from Anacortas to the town of Orcas (with one intermediate stop).

The high point (literally) of Orcas Island is Mount Constitution, which boasts broad views of the islands and Canada and Mount Rainier and everything in between. This, though, wasn't the day for that. Here, for example, is the view of Mount Rainier:
(On the trip back to Anacortas, we did actually get to see Mount Rainier in the distance. That turned out to be the only time we saw it the entire week we were there.) Well, despite the fog up on the mountain, it was clear enough at lower elevations to enable us to appreciate the beauty of the islands.

The ferry going back to Anacortas was running late, about 30 minutes, and because of that we missed the reservation we'd made for the 7:15 ferry from Keystone to Port Townsend. I blame the internet, and globalization. We also learned, to our sadness, that there were no restaurants within 20 miles of the ferry dock that we could get a meal at, and still make the 9:00 ferry, the last of the night. Fortunately, we had brought a few apples with us (it was Washington, after all), so we didn't get grouchy while we waited for an hour and a half.

The rental truck we were driving had Satellite Radio in it. I was under the impression that you could get reception for that just about anywhere a satellite is within range, i.e., anywhere. I have one friend in San Antonio who has satellite radio in his home, and it is always fading in and out in a very irritating way; I don't know how he stands it. He says the antenna needs adjusting. But the same thing happens with the car radio: you're driving along, listening to some stand-up comic or 60s music or whatever, and all of a sudden there's silence, maybe for a split second, maybe for a minute. I can't believe people actually pay for that. But then, I can't believe people actually pay for a lot of things.

Next post: Olympic National Park.

County-Count update

For those of you who are interested --- though why the hell would you be? --- after the recent trip up to Washington State, I've now been to 71.16% (2,198 of 3,089) of the counties in the USA. On this trip, I got the last county in New Mexico, and the last three in Wyoming, so I've now been to all the counties in 12 states. (The others are New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.) I'm missing one county in Maine (Aroostook, way up north), two in Massachusetts (both islands), and two in Oklahoma (both remote); and there are a number of states where I'm missing a few widely-separated counties, like West Virginia (missing 7 of 55), Pennsylvania (5 of 67), New York (7 of 62, all along the Canadian border), Mississippi (9 of 82, all in the northern part), and Florida (8 of 67). Sometimes I think I should just go to those places for no purpose other than driving through those counties. Then reality kicks in.

roller skate
On the other hand, there are still two states that I haven't been to at all: Alaska and Hawaii. It looks like I'll be going to Hawaii in 2012; I suppose I'll have to hire a plane or a helicopter to get to the counties out there, if I want to keep this ridiculous quest going. Don't know when I'll go to Alaska, and when I do it'll probably just be one of those cruises out of Seattle that go up through all the islands in the lower panhandle. Lord knows how I'll ever get to those counties way up north there; some of them don't have roads, at least none that I'd be willing to take my little roller skate over. 

Since I have no travel plans for next year that will take me through places I've never been, I guess I have time to decide whether this idiotic county-quest has any traction for me. The only purpose it serves is as an excuse to get out on the road, and since I have to go so far to get to new places, that's losing some of its appeal. I'm thinking maybe I'll go visit somebody who lives far away from Texas, and use their home as a base for short trips. I could probably think of a few people to impose on that way....

Consider that a warning; if you think you're one of those people, you might want to be ready with excuses when I call.