Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Can You Have Any Common Sense if You're Named After Ayn Rand?

I came across three things in the past week that made me stop still. At the primary election polling place, I arrived within ten minutes of closing hoping to avoid the party hecklers who usually jam the stairs in front of the doors. There were, however, two: a pair of Tea Partiers, with the headgear from which dangled tea bags. If you're in your senior years, you should not do things like this in public. You may not be pretty or fast anymore, but you could at least have a little dignity. I didn't know what to say, and didn't want to hurt their feelings anyhow. All was not lost despite my disorientation; I actually voted for a winner, which hardly ever happens.
Another day at Wegman's (along with Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, the best grocery chain ever), I stopped dead when I saw they offered a "pick your own" six-pack, wherein you fill an empty carton with any of dozens of single bottles, and not a loser among them. What a concept. Why had no one thought of this before? Imagine if you could pick your own channels from your cable provider. We won't live long enough to see that...
Wegman's just keeps bursting through the proverbial thought-box -- I look forward every week to see what they're up to. Most business just inspires fear and loathing (if you're paying attention) -- how do these folks combine the ingredients of imagination, devotion to quality, and an obvious love of what they do, so well?
Rand Paul (it's said he's actually not named after that loon Ayn, but isn't it too much of a coincidence?) ran off the tracks just like another son of a seemingly immortal conservative, Franklin Graham, recently. The statements of these two are just an embarrassment of riches if you find complete lack of sense amusing. Two of the tenets of Libertarianism are personal freedom and anti-corporatism, yet Rand critized the President for not treating BP Oil with kid gloves and also had a problem with the Civil Rights Act applying to businesses. We all thought we had settled the issue of businesses getting away with barring some members of the public patronizing them or shunting them aside to segregated areas. Libertarianism and its parent Objectivism (wound-too-tight Ayn Rand's fever dream) just can't work, in practice or theory. Those nutrition labels on foods, for example: I and millions of others rely on them greatly to avoid dangerous levels of added sodium and bad fats. Government interference not to be allowed under a "business is king" Libertarian regime. What about emissions and mileage goals, safety glass and seat belts? Evil government plotting, for sure.
If you supported them for some of their principal ideas like no more foreign adventures or just exiting the endless war on drugs, their taking power would unfortunately usher in a crazy clown crew who would just sell out what little autonomy we have left to business, large and small. Yes, the same guys who poisoned Alaska, the Gulf, the Mississippi River basin, West Virginia and Love Canal. And we'd still have foreign wars and a drug-chasing justice system because those make a lot of people rich and powerful or at least very securely employed. This bunch, like the NeoCons, are like the jihadists, who "don't have any real thing to offer the Arabs of the 21st century (CNN article today)." Nothing but passionate, cornpone contradiction.
There was one other arresting moment, just a few hours ago. A recently hatched bird has been scooting around Zach's yard; it's amazingly unafraid and innocently curious. It landed on the lawn mower handle a few feet from both of us and just visited. While I was weeding the garden, it sat on the corner posts and observed. I neither weed nor mow, he seemed to be thinking, and give not a fig for theories; I'm not trapped in the past and don't fret about tomorrow. I just make my music and breathe the free air.

Monday, May 24, 2010

There's a Girl in My Soup!

It's been a busy six months of remodeling. After 18 years here, the "builder's grade" (that is, one step above junk) fixtures in the kitchen and first floor bathroom are gone. No more paper-thin vinyl flooring, plastic towel bars, particleboard cabinets, rusty light fixtures or ghostly flourescent tubes. All but one of the old kitchen cabinets were recycled here to make a pantry area in the garage and a new laundry room in the basement (which had been, inconveniently, in the space now occupied by the Big Black Tub).
The bifold doors marking off the old laundry area were quickly gone via Craigslist. The old cast-iron laundry sink previously recycled from a hotel is on the front lawn now awaiting pickup and re-use by someone else.
The ironing board can now remain set up in the basement and there's a new countertop for folding (I used the sofa back for 18 years). All this is right below where it used to be, so the new plumbing and electrical arrangements were as simple as possible. BB Bunny has places to hide behind the appliances, and seems to enjoy having something new to investigate. Gilligan, on the other hand, did not like all these changes one bit and hid under the bed whenever the various contractors were here.
I must give a shout-out to the township, for their no hassle issuance of a permit and on-time and professional inspections. At the codes office, they even found a catalog to show me exactly what metal reinforcement devices I needed in order to relocate the main vent pipe without comprimising structural integrity. I had only applied for a permit for the new window (what a difference that makes -- there was no natural light in the bathroom before), but they didn't have a problem with all the other work; just wanted to see if it was done right. I guess that would make the no-government libertarians real mad -- interfering with their right to make a mess of things and all.
The new throne is a super water-saver: 1 1/4 gallons per flush, and seems to work very well; the instructions were even clear and accurate. Wonders never cease.
I ordered the wood tub side panel in unfinished oak and then sanded down the existing vanity to bare wood in order to finish both the same, and that turned out well too. Every single thing worked right the first time, with the tiny exception of buying too much tile, but that was easily returnable to Lowe's. Still can't believe you can get real Italian porcelain tile so cheap.
I think we have one happy customer floating in her roomy tub now. And when Mama's happy...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Short, Unhappy Life of Los San Patricios

The Chieftans, who have been around since 1963, have just released San Patricio, with Ry Cooder's usual quality assistance, which tells the story in song of the Batallon de San Patricio which fought with the Mexican Army from 1846 to 1848.

Not many Americans supported the Mexican War or had any desire to explore the Chihuahua desert, so when tens of thousands of Irish fleeing the devastation of the Potato Famine stepped off the boat, recruiters were waiting (as they were later during the Civil War to nab arriving Germans). Being broke and landless, the appeal of pay and promised land probably looked like a rare opportunity to them. These promises were of course not honored later, the same treatment as was given black recruits during the Revolutionary War, and native Indians for centuries. There was a strong anti-immigrant nativist sentiment abroad in the land at the time, and the newly minted soldiers were probably given a rough time. As they headed south, they also started to feel more sympathy for the Catholic Mexicans than their new masters who seemed like their former British overlords, not comrades. They weren't the only ones with second thoughts, as 9000 deserted the U.S. Army during the war -- a pretty big number for a relatively small force.

Between 175 and 700 immigrant soldiers deserted to the Mexican side, mostly Irish but also a few escaped slaves and several other European nationalities, expatriate veterans looking for excitement and cash (Mexico offered land grants also, and a few survivors actually received them). Organized into an artillery unit in 1846, their ambition, fighting spirit and, especially, their previous military experience made them a formidable obstacle for Zachary Taylor's invasion force, especially his dangerous Horse Artillery. In their first action as the Batallon, in defense of Monterrey, the unit was very effective but the city surrendered. In the last, at the Churubusco Convent, they stood solidly and repelled several determined attacks, but ran out of ammunition. Disbanded at the end of the war in 1848, a few members stayed in Mexico, and they were the lucky ones: the captured San Patricios were treated as traitors and hanged, although this was illegal (only spies and those charged with atrocities are to be hanged; firing squad was specified for desertion). Of all the deserters recaptured, only the Patricios were hanged, and the Army denied this had happened until 1915.

This extraordinary story doesn't show up in histories, but a movie was released in 1999 (One Man's Hero), and on the anniversary of the executions a Mexican flag is flown in Clifden, Ireland, home of the Batallon's Major John Riley.

The Mexicans had the last laugh, since we ended up with Texas. Hope they enjoy the irony.