Art contest

Watercolor painting of a tea cup and saucer.
La Hora Del Té, watercolor, 5.5 inches by 3.5 inches, by María Lorena Padrón.

Our excellent city library has framed artwork that you can borrow like books. They add to the collection each year from a contest of local artists. On Thursday they announced this year’s winners. Both Lore and I were finalists, and my photo was one of the winners.

Lore gets credit for recognizing this as a nice photo and for encouraging me to submit it to the contest at the last minute.

A yellow mini-school bus parked at an ocean overlook.
A yellow mini-school bus parked at an ocean overlook.

Des Moines

We were in Des Moines on business today and with our spare time went to the Iowa State Capitol. We took a guided tour. The more I see of that building the more impressed I am with its magnificence. It is a fine palace of democracy for a small state.

I didn’t get any photos this time around, but still have some from my visit two years ago.

We’ve also taken a liking to Graziano Bros, an Italian grocery that makes delicious sausages. So when we’re in Des Moines we stock up on sausages, pasta, and basil pesto.

Earthworms

It rained all day today. I was sad to see the rain wash some of the colorful foliage off of the trees. It had an amusing side effect, though. Hundreds of earthworms were beached on the sidewalk. They were everywhere.

Earlier this week, the warm weather brought swarms of ladybugs. Now the earthworms. It’s a like a parody of the Old Testament. I wonder what’s next? A plague of copulating crane flies?

The Yankees are back

I didn’t watch much baseball this summer–I had some other things going on–but now the clock is striking October. My folks are in town for the weekend, and if you think we are out “doing lots of stuff”, think again. My family watches baseball in October.

For their part, the Yankees clobbered their way back into the postseason and immediately got to work playing white-knuckle, extra-inning, walk-off baseball. Just hook it up to my veins.

I verbally abuse FOX’s announcers the way football fans heckle NFL referees, so the best part of last night’s five-hour, 13-inning game was the on-air admission of the dipstick duo that they were wrong. They went on and on and on about the inconsistency of an umpire’s call that benefited the Yankees. After reviewing the tapes they admitted that the umpire was correct. A little moral victory of sorts.

The Changeling

No, not the Clint Eastwood-Angelina Jolie film “Changeling”. I mean “The Changeling”, my favorite “Star Trek” episode featuring a malfunctioning satellite out to sterilize the universe against “biological infestations”. As usual, Kirk outsmarts his foe by convincing the foul machine it’s not as perfect as it thinks.

“I am Nomad! I am perfect!”

Big breasts and market research

On my Facebook home page, there are these ads asking me to rate pictures of beautiful women with enormous breasts. This begs a few questions. First, do all guys get these ads? I didn’t put anything in my profile indicating my breast size preferences.

Second, if all the women in the pictures are gorgeous and stacked, aren’t they likely to receive more or less the same ratings? I can’t imagine what insights could be gleaned after thousands of ratings of “four and a half out of five stars.”

Third, for which sinister commercial purposes could this information be used? Maybe it’s an inverted form of social engineering: instead of trying to figure out and then sell me what I’m mostly likely to buy, the advertisers believe I will buy anything if it is offered by a chick whose cup size is perfectly calibrated to my tastes. I imagine myself sitting and clicking in a ta-ta induced stupor, buying whatever a luscious pair of gravity-defying melons command me to buy.

There must be a lesson here, but a babe with a sweater-stretching rack is blocking my view of it.

Nobel Peace Prize

I doubt Barack Obama is really, to use the words of the Nobel Foundation “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses,” or if anything he has done amounts to “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Then again, with people like Henry Kissinger and Yasser Arafat strutting around with Nobel Peace Prizes of their own, I wonder why we take it seriously.

Letter to the Iowa DOT

The federal government’s ineffective and uneven enforcement of immigration policy means that state and local governments try to fill the void with people who don’t know what they are doing. Half-assed attempts at thwarting illegal immigrants once they are already living (and applying for driver’s licenses) 1,500 miles inside the border are simply an inconvenience to those who immigrate legally. I sent a letter to the Iowa Department of Transportation expressing my annoyance.

My wife went to renew her driver’s license at the station in Iowa City today. Because she is awaiting her adjustment of status to a permanent U.S. resident, she had to bring some paperwork from the U.S.C.I.S. to renew her license. When my wife presented the I-797C Notice of Action form, the lady at the desk asked “What is the duration of your stay?” When my wife responded that she is married to a citizen—and therefore not going anywhere—the lady said, “That doesn’t matter. You’re not a U.S. citizen.”

That was completely incorrect and anyway it is not the place of clerks at the driver’s license station to interpret immigration law for us. The Iowa DOT should leave the enforcement of immigration law to the federal authorities. My wife and I will be living in Iowa for the foreseeable future, and I would like some assurance that she will not have to endure any more idiotic comments when she goes to renew her license again in six months.

The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging

I read The Huffington Post mostly for amusement. It’s hard to separate news from opinion on that site, as it consists mostly of commentaries on and links to actual news. I find its strengths to be in the commentaries.

“The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging” by the editors of The Huffington Post didn’t reveal much more to me about blogging. I did not start this blog to sell anything or to get millions of people to read about it. But if I was going to do those things, the book has some solid, common sense advice on “finding your voice” and “creating and building a community.”

The best parts of this book are a section featuring the “best of The Huffington Post blogs” and some of the articles by a handful of the website’s many contributors about blogging experiences. It’s also fun to read the editors’ own takes on what the HuffPost means to journalism. Aside from their analysis of Judith Miller, they cite gaffes their contributors scooped during the presidential race last year as evidence of their breakthroughs in independent online journalism.

After bemoaning the shallowness and complicity of the corporate media, exposing trivial nonsense like Cindy McCain’s recipe plagiarism or Barack Obama’s use of the word “bitter” doesn’t constitute a huge improvement in political reporting. If anything, presidential candidates (and their wives) will probably just retreat further into their public relations apparatuses, foiling the kind of candid transparency advocated by the new journalists.

Hickory Hill Park

We’re not yet at peak fall foliage but that didn’t stop it from being a chilly day for a walk at Hickory Hill Park. The goldenrod is past but some asters persist and we even found one flowering wild bergamot. We spotted a few nuthatches and a flock of unidentified migrating birds but otherwise the fields and woods were quiet.

The National Parks

I wondered how Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan would wrap up “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” last night. The first five episodes of the series only took us up to the Second World War, leaving sixty years of national parks history and experiences for the last two hours. It ended appropriately enough, after leapfrogging from decade to decade, with the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone in the 1990s.

I liked it. At work, the whole agency has been waiting for this broadcast, hoping it will reawaken interest in the parks. It had some of the best scenic video photography I’ve ever seen on television. For the first time I regret not having a high-definition television.

In terms of storytelling, the first couple of episodes were the best, emphasizing the wild and uncertain days of the earliest parks, their defenders, and their opponents. Burns and Duncan told the separate stories of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir before bringing them together and then pulling them apart again. There were some slow stretches, too, but the filmmakers kept the emphasis on the people and the places, instead of on the onerous bureaucratic history.

A park ranger stands on a granite bridge in front of a waterfall.
Ranger Adam on one of Mr. Rockefeller's bridges
The highlight for me was the retelling of a story I told as an interpreter almost ten years ago: John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s building of the recreational carriage road system at Acadia National Park where his sensitivity to the landscape and the scenery was evident in the design of the roads’ bridges. I used to lead the “Mr. Rockefeller’s Bridges” walking tour twice a week and even have a VHS videotape of one of my tours.

There was also some of that hokum I can’t stand from a few of the talking heads, like: American parks were for the people while European parks were the dominions of the aristocracy. I will scream if I hear that again. As the film amply showed, establishing this country’s national parks was at first largely an elitist, though visionary, idea and undertaking. Droppings of fuzzy-bunny commentary from environmental writers, which Lore calls guitarreo (it translates roughly if not literally into “b.s.”) made me roll my eyes a few times, too.

“The National Parks” is worth seeing if you haven’t yet. It is a good reminder that the places that help define our national identity are still out there and that they are ours.

Cognitive dissonance at work

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this news release from the Secretary of the Interior. It heralds the entrance of the Interior Department into the “YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter Age.” However, the Department of the Interior, as of this afternoon at least, is still blocking employees from accessing YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites from government computers (Twitter has been temporarily unblocked this month so we can communicate during the airing of “The National Parks” on PBS). The National Park Service’s Facebook site, mentioned in the article, is likely maintained by employees from their homes on their own time.