Friday, June 29, 2012

It's Called Art.

From the New Yorker magazine, a concise explanation of why I have no interest in modern art:

In 2004, an installation by the Japanese
artist Noritoshi Hirakawa consisted of a
pretty and prim young woman sitting in
a chair, reading a Philip Pullman novel,
and next to her, on the floor, a little heap
of her excrement, which she renewed each

page 34, May 7, 2012.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Let's Go To The Mall Redux

OK, I'm more than a little older than the teeny-bopper crowd the recent inane hit, Call Me Maybe, is aimed at, but does anyone else see the similarity between that dopey song and the farcical "hit" by Robin Sparkles created for the story line of the TV program, How I Met Your Mother?
I mean, beyond the fact that both singers are Canadian.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

One Reason for One Republican to Vote for Obama

I first heard of the Dream Act a year or two ago, when our local throwaway weekly rag of an alternative newspaper — that word should probably be in quotes, but that's beside the point — ran a story about students at one of the local universities who were engaged in a hunger strike or some such protest because Congress had done nothing. (Quelle surprise.) I was largely unimpressed with the stories of the particular students, but it did seem to me that there was a certain injustice about deporting people who were brought to this country (illegally) as children and who had grown up here. This bill, a darling of the weepy left and yet another anathema to the growling right, had been oozing its way around Capitol Hill for some time, without getting much traction; hence the protests.

There are certain fundamentals about the situation the bill addresses that I think need being addressed. What makes us Americans? It's not just being born here. The constitution provides that anyone who is born here is a citizen, but the universe of citizens is not quite coterminous with the universe of Americans. People who have been here from an early age, who have gone to our public schools and played on our playgrounds and sat in our movie theaters and walked on our sidewalks all their conscious lives are as American as me or anyone else; even if those schools were substandard, even if those playgrounds were dusty underfunded sorry imitations, even if those movies weren't in English, even if those sidewalks were dusty roadside tracks where sidewalks should have been. It is the long process of growing up in America that makes someone an American, and I think it is only right that those who have done that ought to be able to live here. Maybe not as citizens, but in some capacity.

President Obama has cut through the bull, and announced a change in policy by executive order: people who meet certain criteria will not be subject to deporation. They have to have been here before their 16th birthday; they have to have lived here continuously for at least 5 years; they have to be in school, or graduates of our high schools (or US military veterans with honourable discharges); they must not have a criminal record, and they can't be more than 29 years old.

Now, I will disagree with some of the details. For one thing, I'm not convinced that a person can really fully develop the American identity if they only start at the age of 15. I would have set the bar no later than 12 years of age. And I'm concerned that the requirement that they not have a criminal record could be too inflexibly interpreted. No one should be denied this kind of status just because they were, say, arrested for disturbing the peace at an Occupy protest, or getting in a fight or something. Our society lacks the political discernment it once had, and we now use our criminal courts to deal with everything from fights after school on up. When we no longer brand young men as child-sex offenders because they have indecent pictures of thier girlfriends on their smartphone, I'll be more comfortable with the criminal-record criteria in this executive order. (I would also want to be certain that, just because they get to stay, it doesn't mean their parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins get to stay, too.)

But I applaud Obama for having done something to rectify a fairly clear injustice. I agree with Mr Romney's lackluster, mealymouthed response ("this isn't the way to go about it"), but he knows damn well that the spineless hydra that Congress has become will never act without being forced.  If nothing else, Obama's bold and righteous act will have forced them to do their job in response.

Friday, June 15, 2012

More Pics from Chicago

From 2012 Chicago

The pictures from my last day in Chicago on this trip are up on my Picasa web albums. These are probably the last pictures from this trip, because somebody in Utah broke her leg, and I will have to let the dog out on Monday.

Trust me, it makes perfect sense.

What You Can Do In A Day

We had tickets to see a taping of Conan O'Brien's show at the Chicago Theater at 4.30 yesterday afternoon.

No, that's not exactly right: We had an email printout that would allow us to get tickets for the 4.30 taping.

No, no, no, I'm being imprecise. What we had was an email printout that would allow us to stand in a line that stretched from the Harold Washington Library, down the block, around the corner onto State Street, to pick up, starting at 9AM, ducats that would allow us to stand in line at the Chicago Theater until 3.30, when the doors opened, in the hopes of finding a seat on a first-come, first-served basis for a taping that would take place that afternoon.

Now, the Chicago Theater, with 3600 seats, is probably big enough to contain all the people in line yesterday morning. Probably, everyone in line yesterday morning got in line yesterday afternoon, and when the doors opened at 3.30, they probably all got in and got a seat. There were probably some empty seats left, way in the back.

But we're only here for a few days, and we didn't really want to devote an entire day to the Conan show. We took a Chicago Greeter tour instead, then went to a baseball game, then to the taping of a local radio show in Old Town ... a show that, coincidentally, had one of the same guests as that day's Conan show.

Conan O'Brien's giant head
link to the album of photos from Chicago

Thursday, June 14, 2012

On to the Second (Third) City

2012 Chicago

Shaking off the dust from the plains, I've headed into the fulcrum of the Midwest, Chicago.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A propos of Nothing

photo by Lasse Fuss; from Wikimedia Commons
I was reminded the other day of something that happened to me seven years ago, a small event that has always encapsulated the difference between American and European attitudes:

I booked a flight to Istanbul for a soccer match, flying American Airlines from my home in San Antonio to Chicago, then Lufthansa to Istanbul. When I got to Chicago, I asked where I went for the Lufthansa flight, and was told that "all international flights are out of Terminal 5." So I rode their little train over to Terminal 5, and walked back and forth looking for the Lufthansa desk, unsuccessfully. I asked someone there where it was, and was told that Lufthansa, unlike every other international carrier, had its desk in Terminal 1, at the other end of the airport. (I may have the terminal numbers wrong, but that's beside the point.) So I took the train to the other end of the airport, found the Lufthansa desk, stood in line a few minutes, then presented my travel papers to the Frau behind the counter. She looked at my reservation, then at the clock, and said it was too late: the plane left in 57 minutes, and I was required to be there an hour before. Arguing did no good, so I asked if she could re-book me on a later flight. She glanced at the computer, typed something, and announced "No, there is nothing. Nothing can be done." Then, when I complained, she suggested I go back to American Airlines, since they were the ones who made me late (by telling me to go to the other end of the airport).

photo by Arpingstone; from Wikimedia Commons
I did. I spoke to a clerk at the AA desk; she called her supervisor over. I told the supervisor the story, and she said, and I quote, "Well, let's just see what we can do." She played on her computer keyboard for maybe thirty seconds, then said, "I can get you a seat on the Lufthansa flight that leaves in three hours; it'll get you to Istanbul a couple of hours later than you were originally scheduled."

That, my friends, has ever since represented to me the difference between Americans (Let's see what we can do) and Europeans (Nothing can be done).

First Signs of Decay

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker survived his recall election, though his Radical-Republican party lost its majority in the legislature, I understand. He seems to have suddenly gotten some sense knocked into his head, calling a "brat summit" and inviting all the legislators over to eat and drink. Maybe something will come of it.

Meanwhile, I noticed on my brief visit to the state this week that the first effects of his strategy of giving to the rich and taking from the poor are becoming visible: a shocking number of animal carcasses along the highway, many of them obviously there long enough to decay. Maybe he should get his Girondin backers to put some of their billions into the state highway department's budget, so they can go scrape up the dead deer and dogs and raccoons that are rotting on the sides of the freeways.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Yard Art Gone Wild

Enchanted Highway
Regent-Gladstone Road, from Regent, North Dakota to Interstate 94, exit 72

What happens when somebody who knows how to weld runs out of room in his own yard? How about gigantic sculptures stretched out across 32 miles of high prairie?

Read more about it on the Roadside America web site.

My own pictures of the sculptures don't really do them justice, especially in representing the sheer scale of these things; but here they are:

Geese in Flight

The approach-road to Geese In Flight

Deer Crossing

Locusts in the Grass

Fisherman's Dream
the central fish is 70 feet tall

Pheasants on the Prairie

Teddy Rides Again

The Tin Family

Gary Greff, who has put all this up over the past 22 years, has four more sculptures planned. The next will be The Spider and the Fly, giving me a reason to come back.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Fine Desolation

Look up the word desolate and you are given a mental picture of the northwestern reach of South Dakota: barren; treeless; uninhabited; lonely. A few small towns dot the countryside — the town of Lemmon, population 1,227, brags about being the largest town for 90 miles in any direction. These communities cling to the lifelines of highway and railway, and in this late-spring season are both sadly isolated and cheerfully self-sufficient.

In between is desolation: stark, glorious, stunning desolation. Yet every inch of this rolling, hilly ground, cut with streams and lined with narrow dirt roads, is in use. Most of it is ranchland, looking prosperous this year; the rest is public land: national forest and national grassland, given over to recreation and the preservation of the way of life that has held sway in these parts since the aboriginal population was pushed out, killed off, or confined to reservations.

I took a drive through the two large northwestern counties of South Dakota. The photos I took are almost all of things in the towns: oddities, mostly, for there is little else worth taking pictures of. There are no glorious public buildings, no soaring towers or vast cathedrals, no tree-lined avenues stretching away to give a dramatic approach to some extravagant campus. But there is a low-keyed beauty in the towns, showing up in a rock wall, a classical arch, a collapsing abandoned farmhouse.

I've found that broad vistas and stark landscapes don't come out well on my cameras, so I seldom bother recording them any more. I generally have only my memories to rely on, though my new camera has a panorama capability that I find both useful and disappointing. Useful, because it can record the scene from the Hugh Glass Monument, near Shadehill Reservoir, disappointing because even this image doesn't do justice to the beauty of the place. Standing on that bluff, looking out across the land, I realize that I have heard more birdsong in two days in this place than in twenty-two years at home. The place is bursting with small, unseen life.

Along State Highway 20, just to the west of a tiny community called Reva, you cut through a narrow arm of Custer National Forest. Approaching along the arrow-straight road, you see strange-looking landscape from miles away, too far to tell what you're looking at. Only when you get close do you realize these are a low line of chalk-white hills, cut with ravines and capped with dark evergreen forest that cascades down the steep slashes in the hills. You rise up, and are in them, and then they are behind you: a single line of beauty stretched across the green, rolling hills.

Farther north, where South Dakota gives way to North Dakota, the industrial bubble of the oilpatch makes itself felt, but here is just the fringe of it. An occasional donkey well, pumping stolidly away, a few more trucks on the roads than might have been there just a few years ago. There is not, yet, enough of this activity to desecrate the land, and to the hardy people who live on these lonely ranches and in these small communities — Buffalo, Ludlow, Ralph — the coming of the oilpatch represents a chance at real wealth, not the destruction of a cherished way of life. I wish them luck, and think of South Louisiana, and East Texas, southern Wyoming and West Virginia, the places I'm most familiar with that hosted energy booms of one kind or another.

My silly objective, to visit every county in the country, is what brought me out to this corner of the Great American Desert. Having seen these two large counties, on a circuit of four hundred miles, I almost begin to think that my objective has some small worth after all.

If a Picture is Worth A Thousand Words ...

A first batch of 19 pics from my current backwater-wander are now posted on Picasa.

Click here
2012 Dakotas
to save yourself having to read 19,000 more words.
And consider how further blessed you'll be by each additional picture that goes up on the online album.