Sunday, July 10, 2011

Anniversary Trip

I may or may not have said this before, but Miss Tessmacher and I trade off surprising each other with an anniversary trip. On our first, we bought each other a bunch of (crap) presents, then kind of sat around the rest of the day and just did stuff. For the second, Tess said to me "Instead of getting each other a bunch of (crap) presents that we don't really need, let's take a trip somewhere." And so a great idea is born. I get the odd years, she the even, and what began as simple day-trips has morphed into an agreement that for the FIRST 10 years, we stay in the state; between 10 and 20, we stay in the country; after that, the sky's (and the budget's) the limit. It's fun, because we don't spring the surprise until we're actually on the way, and when it's your turn to plan, the planning is fun & sneaky; when it's your turn to be surprised, you just sit back and wait for it to unfold.

This was our 9th anniversary, the last I'll be required to plan in-state, and I wanted to try to get up into the north-eastern part of the mitten. We've been southeast and southwest, we've been way up to the tippy-top of the U.P., but never over by Mio/Alpena/Rogers City. So, I bid on and won a gift certificate from the WCMU spring auction. Said certificate good for a 2-night/3-day stay at Thunder Bay Golf & RV Resort. Which, ha, because neither of us golf, nor do we have an RV. But the real gift was this carriage ride out to see some elk, followed by a 5-course gourmet meal & wine tasting. Okay, that sounds good. Between seeing really big deer and a good meal, I figured we could snoop around Alpena & see what else there was to see in the general vicinity. Here's a quick run-down of our experience for those looking to get away…

1) Thunder Bay Resort: a wonderful place located just on the outskirts of Hillman on M-32. Hillman ain't much to blink at…in fact, don't, because you'll miss it. But the resort is really nice. I don't golf, but the course seemed like it was well-situated, and if you can stay right there at the resort and make a weekend of it, I guess that would be fun. The room we stayed in was actually a suite, consisting of bedroom, kitchenette, and living room. Taken together, you could easily sleep 4 couples between the two regular beds, the pullout and the Murphy bed. The appointments were nice, but nothing fancy; more like an extended version of a traditional Holiday Inn room. The elk viewing was cool, but about as contrived as I thought it would be: giant carriages meant to hold 20 people, sort of like the large tour carriages on Mackinac Island. Which, if you're not used to horse-drawn vehicles, I guess is kind of neat. Being Island folk ourselves, it was mostly just a slow trip through Mosquito Hell. The elk are fenced in, kind of like in a preserve, and they really are magnificent creatures. I see deer all the time, but these really are a different animal. Very cool. The meal was fabulous, prepared (as advertised) by the owner's wife, Jan, on a pair of 100-year-old wood-fire cookstoves. The food was great, but the wine…not so much. Mostly fruity stuff, meant for the person who doesn't drink much wine, and probably geared toward the (primarily) septuagenarian makeup of the rest of the group. The real bonus of Thunder Bay is the people: Jack, the owner, is friendly & helpful almost to a fault. His wife is gracious, a tremendous cook, and a knee-slappingly funny storyteller. The guides & drivers on the tour were humorous & kind, and all-in-all it really is a homey family affair. Which is too bad, because the place was almost deserted. We practically had our particular lodge building to ourselves, and even though the weather was sunny with temps in the 70s, I didn't see many people golfing. I definitely got the impression that taking the tour in the winter, on a sleigh instead of a carriage, is the preferred way to go. The hall where we ate was spiffed up like it was Christmastime anyway, and you wouldn't have to worry about the mosquitoes.

2) Cheboygan/Rogers City: we only drove through & wandered these two towns, but they're very nice, Cheboygan especially. Lots to see & do, especially as we wandered into a little farmer's market/arts-&-crafts fair. Nice places.

3) The drive down US-23. Listed in our county mapbook as "one of the most scenic lakeshore drives in Michigan." Total bullshit. Can't see the lake at all. I guess the copy for this mapbook was written in the '50s-'60s, because since then, the trees have grown up enough that it's like you're driving through a forest. A pretty forest, to be sure…but, there ain't no lakeshore to see. We did pass 2 (or 3?) State Park campgrounds between Cheboygan & Alpena, so if you're prone to camping there, you may want to check 'em out.

4) Alpena: a fucking ghost town. This surprised my F-i-L, who professed to thinking of Alpena as "the going thing" the last time he was there. Well, if it WAS the going thing, it went. And, from the looks of it, it ain't every comin' back. We found a few nice things: Art in the Loft was a pretty decent gallery; the National Marine Sanctuary was a fine museum about shipping on the Great Lakes; and the John A. Lau Saloon is THE place to eat, with great food and a pretty nice beer flight of Michigan microbrews. Otherwise? Alpena seemed like it was stuck in various points in its own past, bewildered that time had left it behind. I saw the '50s & '60s in many of the store signs…including many that looked like they had last been open in the '60s. I saw the '70s & '80s in many of the cars puttering around (and one mint-condition bright-yellow Schwinn Collegiate 3-speed that actually made me drool a little!). What struck both me and Tess was a depressing sense of abandonment in the town…namely, where were all the fucking PEOPLE?!? It was a beautiful Saturday, the first day of summer vacation for the kids…and there was no one. Out. On the streets! Maybe everyone took off because it was the first weekend of summer vacation…maybe the town gets hopping during some mid-summer festival. Or, maybe it's just exactly what it felt like: a town that time forgot, that got left behind when the manufacturing dried up. Too many closed stores, too many abandoned factories, and too much a sense of "when the last person dies, turn the lights out & lock the door."

Overall we did have a great time, met a cool couple on the carriage ride, and generally just enjoyed each other's company. Which, for us, is more or less what it's about. I just feel bad for that whole north-of-Tawas/east-of-Gaylord area of the state. There just ain't much goin' on, not even with tourism…which would be about the last thing you could count on, these days.

(Bonus section! If you're given to fun drives in 2-seater sportscars, M-32 between Gaylord & Alpena? One of the better drives you're likely to find. Lots of hills & curves, ample passing lanes, and, at least on the Sunday morning we drove it: ZERO police presence.)

Big rack!

After-dinner pose. That thing's heavy: 22 lbs!

Miss Tessmacher, chowing down at John Lau's.

Yours truly, soaking up some sun. And beer.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Atlas (And the Audience) Shrugged

Went to see Atlas Shrugged last night with the venerable Miss Tessmacher. Lots of hype about the film lately, especially since its doom-and-gloom scenarios have been adopted in the last few years by invasive-government types of all strypes, from Tea Baggers to Libertarians to self-styled quasi-Anarchists. The brief review? It didn't suck, exactly, but it was filled with lots of droning scenes involving talking heads and weaselly politicians. It just…kinda sat there.

Like most folks who actually take the time to read Ayn Rand's 1957 novel of pure, beneficent capitalism, I first encountered Atlas Shrugged as a late-teenager, full of idealism but woefully short on political savvy and an incomplete understanding of the World. Her heroes are godlike in their purity, motivated by selfless selfishness and a sense that they are always - ALWAYS - right. Likewise, her villains are not only purely evil, but of such a disgusting type of evil that they are less satanic than just icky, like a banana slug that has crawled into your armpit. And thus are the battles in Atlas Shrugged overpoweringly unequal. You cannot help but admire Dagny Taggart, Hank Reardon, and all the rest: omnipotent creatures whose sole goal in life is to make money, but who accomplish it without raping the environment, squashing workers or shipping jobs overseas. The political villains who work against Taggart et. al. are hopelessly incompetent, leeches who squander the resources that the Shining Creators give us, unencumbered by any likability.

I think it's rather telling that the book, for all its 1000-page tome-iness, seems to appeal first and foremost to the 18-to-24-year old crowd. Because only people who have a limited brain capacity and wear political blinders could possibly be moved to see anything other than comic-book-style fiction to the work. And, yes, granted: it IS a work of fiction. One that attempts, however, to portray an end-result world specifically skewed by Rand's 1) place, and 2) time of birth. A child of the Russian Revolution, she witnessed firsthand the failing ideals of Soviet-style communism. But in its place, she seems to want to revive a world of benevolent Tsarist capitalism, a society in which the Haves are allowed to keep and do and be what they are, without any harm befalling the Have-Nots. I got news for ya, kiddies: that world don't exist.

Which is partly her point. Or, rather, partly her slanted point. Which is to say, she seems to present the reasons for the non-existence of that world as a by-product of foolish men who keep down the Benevolent Creators, robbing them of both their finances and, finally, their will. Selfishness is a virtue to her heroes, and a reprehensible vice to her villains. But only in fiction could such a black-and-white world exist. It's as if Atlas Shrugged is a comic book without the costumes: infallible heroes with no known faults (like a boring, '50s-era Superman) set against a world of corrupt Brainiacs…only minus the capes and secret identities. It's not that the world she desires doesn't exist because worthless scum disable its appearance: it's that that world can't exist because there are no benevolent dictators.

That's what Reardon, and Taggart, and all the rest of them are: benevolent dictators, completely possessed of all the power and ability, who then bestow upon us little people the fruits of their labor and creative prowess. But dictators are never benevolent, and absolute power still corrupts absolutely. Businesses are NOT "in business" to create jobs; they are in business to create the maximum profit for their shareholders. In Rand's world, the CEO of BP would be the hero, drilling an ocean of oil and natural gas to power the world. In reality, the CEO of BP presided over a company that polluted the ocean with oil because he tried to do it as cheaply as possible. That's what you never get to see from these Randian super-capitalists: the net result of their very capitalism. There are no underpaid workers, there is no environmental calamity…everyone lives in parasitic peace and harmony, knowing their place in the pecking order and accepting it unquestioningly.

Thanks, but no thanks. I would never stand up and advocate Communism, because of course that idea can't work either: eventually, someone decides that in a world of "everyone is equal," I'm actually a little MORE equal than you. But Rand would return us to a world of dictatorial nobility, where the noble class are the super-rich merchants and creators, and everyone else happily works for them. Political and social reality just isn't that black-or-white. The truth, as always, is much murkier.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I Will Kill The Economy

Was reading yesterday that wholesale food prices rose 3.9% last month, the biggest jump since early 1974. 70% of that increase was in fresh vegetables (ironically, the best thing you can eat is also nearly the most expensive), but meat, eggs and dairy also took a hit…largely because of the rising prices of corn and soy that are used to (unnaturally) feed these animals. You can read the news article here, but what it comes down to is a pretty big jump in stuff we all pretty much need.

(Incidentally, why do we always talk about two levels of inflation, one that includes energy and food and one that does not? Those two - energy and food - are always referred to as "highly volatile" or something like that…as if their volatility and unpredictability somehow make them other than #1 and #2 on anyone's "This Is Where My Money Goes" list. It takes a certain amount of ballsy sleight-of-economic-hand to suggest that "Inflation is tame! Uh…except for gas and food. Ahem. Those went through the roof.")

I also heard - this, last month - that the price of clothing is going to skyrocket this year because of rising cotton prices and other associated costs. I gotta say, Chairman Bernanke suggesting that inflation isn't a problem is kind of like his claim that the recession ended 18 months ago. This may look good on paper, but to the average Joe on the ground, shit is still really fucked up, with no apparent end in sight.

And, I'm not gonna be any help, because I intend to kill the economy. Not single-handed, of course. But, as one guy, who is already probably joining a throng of other people, and who will probably be followed by others…I'm gonna do my part. I'm not going to have companies "pass on costs" to me anymore. I simply will not be a hapless consumer, blindly swiping my credit card without ever questioning that there might be another way. There is. Here's how it works:

1) Clothing prices going up? Not for me. I'm buying my garments from Goodwill, St. Vincent's, and eBay. We recently went shopping at Goodwill, and got 4 dresses for Roz (she's in her "princess dress" phase, and you may shoot me now) for a grand total of…$4. I bought 5 shirts, for $3.69 apiece. One was a go-camping denim shirt, one was a groovy go-clubbing shirt (which is hilarious, because I never ever go "clubbing," but still, it's a cool shirt), and three were dress shirts. All looking brand new, with no stains, missing buttons, etc. etc. etc. Why would I pay more for stuff - and contribute to more waste on the planet - when I can buy perfectly good used clothing? Doesn't offend me none! I got a great Territory Ahead shirt from eBay: $4.99, plus shipping. I love their stuff, but even the "on-sale" shit goes for, like, $50 a shirt. I repeat: $4.99, and all I had to do was wash out some other guy's panther-piss cologne smell. Not…a problem.

2) Food prices going up? Well, we do like to eat well here, but if veggies are going up, I'm planting my own. We already have a dedicated gardening spot, and I just lay claim to my mom's canning stuff. And, that's it. I'm gonna grow veggies, and freeze & can them. I'll go to the farmer's market when stuff is actually in-season, and I'll can it, and I'll have it fresh for the winter. No worries about corn prices going up for us, because we get our eggs locally for $2 a dozen, and that's dropped off at the front door. I asked our supplier about the bright orange hue of the yolks, and she said "Oh, yeah…that's 'cause the hens wander around the yard and eat lots of bugs & stuff." In other words: a natural hen's diet. Gee…organic, free-range eggs from hens that wander around the yard without needing their beaks snipped off. That's pretty good.

3) According to the article, "Sharper prices for basic necessities are limiting consumers' ability to spend on more discretionary goods." No shit, Sherlock. What the article distinctly does NOT mention is that for many of us, those same sharp prices are creating the dreaded New Normal. I'm going to have a hard time thinking about spending a bunch more for shirts, now that I've gotten used to $3 - $4 apiece. I can weather A LOT of inflation with that as a starting point. Once I get used to the flavor of my own fresh food, I'll probably wonder why I ever bought shitty greenhouse asparagus from Meijer in January. Sure, I'll still splurge for oranges - no scurvy for me, thanks! - but I'll get my apples from the local orchard, and make my own applesauce. And apple butter. You get the idea.

The Fed is practically shitting itself, worrying that the House of Cards that is the Gross Domestic Product - of which consumer spending is typically thrown around as being 70% of the total, although that's debatable - will once again come tumbling down if people don't get out there and SPEND, MOTHERFUCKERS! Thanks, but no thanks. I think I'll save…and have more money to spend on the discretionary items of my own choosing: like, used records from the local vinyl shop.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Those Damn Public Employee Babysitters

Okay, I'm sick and tired of hearing all this whining from so-called public "employees" who are little more than glorified babysitters. I mean, seriously: in what other business do workers have such gluttonous pensions, generous health-care plans, and inflated salaries? How much do these people WANT, anyway? They only work about half the year to begin with…maybe - MAYBE! - two thirds of the year. They get a whole season off, and they want to be treated like royalty!

I dunno. I'm just fed up with all this union blah-blah. I wanna take some of these people by the collar and shake 'em until they finally see the futility of their predicament. All they really do is provide a form of free babysitting service. No real learning goes on in their buildings, and if a day ends up being cancelled due to inclement weather, everyone at home goes into a shit-fit, trying to figure out how to alter their plans. It's ridiculous.

What these public "employee" pariahs out to do is just suck it up and get with the program. They need to take the pay cuts they have comin' to 'em, just like everyone else, and realize that the power & usefulness of their unions has been overstated for decades. Governors and other politicians need to double-down on their efforts to break the backs of these unions, and the workers themselves need to just tighten their belts and learn to make do with a little less.

Of course, I'm speaking here of professional athletes. Teachers, who are in charge of our childrens' education (and, by extension, the future of our society), ought to be paid a fucking fortune.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Right To Remain Ignorant

Call me an elitist snob. Call me a bleeding-heart fucking liberal. Call me an over-educated college professor who dwells in an ivory tower and casts aspersions on those dirt-encrusted plebes who inhabit the ground beneath me. What-fucking-ever. I just absolutely despise ignorance. ESPECIALLY self-inflicted ignorance, which in my mind borders on pure, unadulterated sociopathy.

Interesting word, sociopath. Literally, "a person…whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience." Seems to me that those qualities - having a sense of moral responsibility and social conscience, social behavior - are ones that we value, so that a person who is sociopathic is generally deemed "not good" for our society. There's another interesting word: society. "A highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, community, security, and a national identity for its members." As in, "an American society." Again: good, desirable traits. Makes me wonder why "socialism" is deemed UNdesirable. Anyway…

I genuinely, strongly, and absolutely believe that self-inflicted ignorance is bad for our society. It's okay to not know something…shit, there's plenty about this world that I don't know. Plenty I don't, and plenty I really don't need to. I don't know the top speed of a healthy gazelle, and I don't know the names of the layers of the planet…or of my own skin. I understand in a vague fashion how my car works, but I don't know the details of it; I couldn't build a car from scratch, you see. But, my not knowing these things doesn't negatively affect my society. My neighbors don't care that I don't know how to build a car, and my state isn't the poorer for my not knowing how fast a gazelle can run. I will remain ignorant of these things precisely up until I need to know them, and then I'll go looking for answers. I won't just…remain ignorant.

Because, see, that willful ignorance? That can have a real effect on the rest of society. Take…oh, I dunno, let's stick with cars: take driving, for example. If you don't understand how the letters on your steering column correspond to the various gears, you could really have a negative effect on those around you. You're sitting in a car, ready to pull forward, put the gear into "R" and smash into the car behind you. Your ignorance of the way the gear shifter worked was costly. Magnify that: if you're ignorant as to the effects of alcohol on your judgement and motor skills, and you go out driving? Well, you can see that one through.

This all is centered around a certain "right" that our new Speaker, Rep. Boehner, claimed for us in the news yesterday. Rep. Boehner was speaking on "Meet the Press," and was asked about the persistent belief among some circles that Pres. Obama is either 1) not a U.S. citizen, and/or 2) a Muslim. Boehner replied: "The American people have a right to think what they want to think." Pressed about a responsibility to "stand up to that kind of ignorance," Boehner continued: "It's not my job to tell the American people what to think."

Oh. Oh, really. Because, it seems to me that politicians of EVERY stripe spend pretty much all their time telling American people EXACTLY what to think…precisely as long as it suits their agenda. To claim otherwise is preposterously disingenuous. And that claim that we have a right to think what we want to think? Funny, I don't see that in any of the Articles of the Constitution. Willfully wrong opinions…deliberately incorrect thoughts…these things have the power to be frighteningly dangerous to our society.

Sure, now you can get all Orwellian on my ass and claim that I'm advocating thought-control. No. I agree with the general precept that people should be allowed to have their opinions, and to think what they want. BUT - and that's a heavy "but" - sometimes people believe shit that's just…wrong. Take Obama's citizenship. Rep. Boehner told "MTP" that "the state of Hawaii has said that (Obama) was born there. That's good enough for me." Right?? I mean, how else do ANY of us know where we were born? Our birth certificate says so. How do you know who your daddy is? 'Cause your momma told you so. Same thing with Obama's religion: man say's he a Christian. Okay! Great! Can we not just…accept the man's word? Observe his practices, listen to how he speaks, and come to the conclusion "Okay, he says he's a Christian, and he acts like a Christian…must be a Christian!" When people remain willfully ignorant of these things - telling themselves "He's not an American! He's a Muslim!" - they're going out and voting on those thoughts. Which, hey, take it or leave it: a big part of me thinks that our federal government is so broken and polarized, don't much matter WHO sits in the driver's seat. But…the laws that govern us as a society affect us all. As a collective, we stand or fall together, and when you get a large (and larger) bloc of people voting their combined ignorance, how long will it take before something TRULY catastrophic happens?

People already tend to think in groups; like-meets-like, if you will. The internet has only exacerbated - worsened? - that tendency, because now, instead of getting an even-handed flow of information, you can cut off all the thoughts you don't want to face, all the information you've pre-determined to be "wrong," and settle down in some cozy little corner with the thousand others who think just like you. You build a frame around your world, and anything you don't like simply bounces off the frame. That's not helpful. That ignorance is having a direct effect on my life, because you're going out there and actually ACTING on your ignorance. Please. Don't do that. I deny your claim to a right to think what you want, when the thing you think isn't backed up by any credible source of information. Fuck you, because at some point you're going to end up fucking me, and then somewhere down the road, you could end up fucking all of us.