Posted by: bkivey | 28 November 2016

Occupy Footnote

The Occupy Wall Street movement’s fifth anniversary was this past September, and AP reporters Deepti Hajela and Michael Balsamo wrote an article looking at the impact of the global demonstrations. Considering the self-important and self-righteous nature of the protesters, the movement’s lasting impact has been nearly non-existent. While books have been written and graduate degrees obtained out of the protests, there wasn’t much there to start with, and less so today.

The Occupy movement started as a protest against perceived income inequality between the wealthiest 1% and the remainder of the population, aka ‘the 99%’, and the initial occupation of NYC’s Zuccotti Park quickly spread around the world. To most outside observers, the movement looked like a lot of unemployed trustafarians occupying public spaces, disrupting traffic with demonstrations, and generally making a nuisance of themselves. Demographic surveys of the protesters would seem to bear this out. Despite AP reports that the New York protesters displayed “diversity of age, gender and race”, enumeration showed that the protesters were over 80% White. That’s about the same percentage of pallor people you’ll find in Portland, a city often derided by the Left for its lack of racial diversity. A large number of respondents reported that they were  “unconstrained by highly demanding family or work commitments”, while over a third reported annual incomes over $100,000. The numbers bear out the perception that the movement was largely the province of White, relatively well-to-do or unemployed people with nothing better to do.

While the motives of the protest were fairly clear, what was less so was how the protesters thought camping out in public spaces would accomplish their goals. Was the feeling that wealthy people would see a bunch of loud, annoying people rendering city cores unlivable and say, ‘Hey, a lot of people are unhappy with the fact I have money. I must immediately give it away.”

Occupy takes credit for bringing ‘income-inequality’ to the national conversation and introducing the $15/ hour minimum wage. It was perhaps lost on the 76% of protesters with college degrees that setting the wage floor at a figure previously reserved for skilled labor is going to marginalize those looking to enter the job market, creating further income inequality. One protester noted that the  “. . .  movement was also inspired by the idea that a small handful of elites were using their power to accumulate wealth at the expense of the many, . . ” Entirely true, and the elites referred to are almost entirely Democrats. The Clinton’s are exhibit ‘A’. The ‘elites’ were using the protesters right to their face, and they were, and are, too stupid to realize it.

If you want change, you have to work for it. As in, actual work. You have to get whatever education is required, find a societal contribution you can do and for which someone will pay you, and go to work. If you think business should be run differently, then you or your like-minded friends can start a business and run it however you see fit. (I can’t think of a single business run according to Progressive principles that’s still in business.) If you think other people have too much money, get some of your own. Real, lasting change comes from the bottom up. Throwing a temper tantrum doesn’t accomplish anything except expose your basic inability to deal with reality.

Strike Debt

One of Occupy’s efforts is to buy defaulted student loans from banks, then forgive them. If someone wants to use their money to pay for someone else’s education, that’s fine. Occupy is using private money to fund an effort they believe in. Nothing wrong with that, and they deserve credit for taking action that has real results.

The Emptiness of Progressivism

Seen recently on a bookstore door:

beaverton-powells-door

This is pretty much Progressivism: Stating the obvious, or things that decent people take as a matter of course, then claiming that because you don’t overtly manifest your position, you’re automatically ‘against’ the things Progressives claim. It’s 100% horse-shit, and I refuse to allow these people to define the conversation.

Posted by: bkivey | 20 November 2016

Top Down Construction

In 2015 the City of Portland created the Equitable Contracting and Purchasing Commission to, according to the Mission Statement:

The Office of Equity and Human Rights provides education and technical support to City staff and elected officials, leading to recognition and removal of systemic barriers to fair and just distribution of resources, access and opportunity, starting with issues of race and disability.

The key word here is ‘distribution’, as if resources, access, and opportunity are things that are handed down from on high rather than earned.

In September The Oregonian’s Brad Schmidt published and article explaining how the Commission was unhappy with the city for failing to ensure gains by women and minorities in the construction field. It seems the percentage of non-White involvement is stagnating or slightly declining, and it’s the responsibility of city leadership to address that.

The city council set a goal of 27% participation by women and minorities on city-let contracts. The latest figures show a 30% engagement level by the target demographic. One might say the goal has been achieved. According to the US Census Bureau, non-Whites of all flavors make up about 28% of the Portland population. So proportional representation, that favorite stalking horse of the Left, has been achieved. It’s true that women make up half the population, but not every, or even most, women want construction jobs. The council has done what it was supposed to do, so everyone should pat themselves on the back and move on.

But that’s not how Progressivism works. The goal isn’t to achieve results, it’s to use a perceived problem as a way to power. And in fact that appears to be what the Commission members are doing. There’s a perception people are using the Commission as a bully pulpit to pressure city officials into allocating more money for minority outreach programs. If you look at the commission member’s biographies, most of them have spent their lives working in some sort of government programs or serving on government boards and commissions. It is quite amazing how many programs there are for people of color and women to access the building trades. And that’s just the programs these folks have been involved in. If you’re a woman or minority and want to learn a trade, there’s no lack of opportunity.

Enter Maurice Rahming. Mr. Rahming came up through the ranks as an electrician, and now owns a general contracting firm. Mr. Rahming knows as well as anyone the immediate nature of the construction industry. Deficient skills and abilities can’t be hidden. The results of incompetence range from shoddy work to death. His complaint is that too many minorities are in non-skilled rather than skilled jobs, and that the city is “denying people that pathway” if it doesn’t monitor minority participation in the building trades.

The ‘pathway’ to skilled jobs isn’t government monitoring, it’s people getting themselves to school or entering an apprenticeship to get those jobs. Sprinkled among the Commission’s member’s resumes are any number of government programs designed to get women and minorities into construction. It doesn’t appear lack of opportunity or awareness is the problem. What may be the problem is the climate of helplessness government involvement inculcates. The average person isn’t going to be motivated to improve their opportunities if they know that people will give them stuff.

Every person on the Commission knows that you don’t build a structure from the top down, but they don’t seem to realize building a society works the same way. If you want more kinds of people in a certain field, you should be motivating them from middle school on to obtain the skills they’ll need to succeed. Learning a trade is real empowerment, while expecting a bureaucratic hand gives a false sense of achievement.

Posted by: bkivey | 7 November 2016

Severance of Responsibility

To the extent possible I’ve been actively not paying attention to political ads. I don’t have TV, so that helps, but watching sports at the bar I’m going to see a few. If I’m unlucky, the sound will be on. Ugh. I remarked to one person that I’d vote for whomever promised to go home and shut up for four years. Six months of campaigning should be enough. Two years? Please.

Despite not paying attention, I do know that this Presidential election is a hot mess. The two major-party candidates are near-caricatures of their respective parties, and for the usually reliable third-party Libertarian choice the candidate appears to have lost his mind. It may be that not voting is the sanest vote of all.

The Western democracies resemble nothing so much as medievel fiefdoms. A small ruling class rotates amongst the baronys while turf-building with money appropriated from the peasantry citizenry. Government at nearly every level long ago morphed from ‘conducting the people’s business’ to ‘conducting the ruling classes business’. The only reason a populist like Donald Trump would be in a position to win the land’s highest office is if people understood they’d been essentially shut out of their own government’s management and were so frustrated they would do anything to change the status quo.

And people are frustrated. It’s a negative undercurrent in American culture. People see more and more money buying fewer and fewer results. Nothing works and nobody knows anything.  The ruling class more openly commit transgressions that would land anyone else in an ocean of hot water. The leader of one of the major political parties, while running for President, openly mocked and denigrated the majority of Americans in a comment designed to win votes. The mentally ill are defining the culture. People are angry and frustrated and not entirely sure how we ended up here. This melancholy is doubly disturbing because that’s not how we see ourselves as a culture. But outside a truck commercial, when’s the last time you heard about American can-do spirit?

In a republic the citizens have the opportunity to elect the politicians. In theory this allows the stockholders to pick the management team. When the US had a mostly rural population, this worked pretty well. In smaller communities the results of political decisions are more immediately apparent and thus the decision-makers more accountable.

And that’s really the key to effective government, or any sort of management. Accountability keeps people honest. The flip side is that the boss has the responsibility to hold their people accountable. If those in charge don’t discharge their responsibilities, the system breaks down as those once held accountable operate more freely and can in time amass more power than their putative superiors. As this process develops, rule-of-law is replaced by rule-of-few. Or one.

The Founders anticipated this; thus their call for an educated populace. They reasoned that an educated person could evaluate the political options on offer and choose based on knowledge of history and within the framework of the Constitution. Their thinking was also that people would be engaged in the political process. At the time of it’s founding, the US was almost unique in its system of government. The Founders figured that people knew how rare was the chance to run their own country: surely people would be engaged.

An opposition press was also high on the Founder’s requirements for a workable republic. Even in late 18th century America, people were busy. Then as now, people had lives to lead. The press was seen as the primary tool for keeping the populace informed and the politicians honest (or at least less dishonest). From before the country’s founding and right through the 19th Century American journalism took to the role with what might be described as glee. Over time the press, often describing itself as the voice of the common man, found itself more ideologically aligned with particular political elements. The practical result was the gradual erosion of the sense of political responsibility from the common consciousness and the same effect on politician’s morals.

Our world now is one where most people don’t make the connection between politicians and quality of life. Cities in the wealthiest country in history are crumbling to the ground and there’s no mass outrage at politicians because there’s no sense of responsibility on the part of the voters. This is most evident in cities and states where single-party rule is the de facto government. In a stunning display of mass brainwashing, people are watching their lives worsen as they vote the same people to office, and voting without intention of holding those elected accountable is a meaningless exercise.

Of course, it’s much easier to hold people accountable when you know what they’re doing. The largest part of mass media now actively colludes with the ruling class to hide their foibles and legal shenanigans. Wikileaks exposed things about the Democratic Party that would have put nearly any other organization out of business and opened numerous criminal investigations. Instead, it was a brief flare quickly smothered until Oh look! A squirrel! About the only way to find out what’s going on in the US is independent media; still largely unregulated (although Congress has tried), and the foreign press.

If we’re unhappy with our situation, the first step is to realize that it is our situation. We got ourselves here. The argument that it was ‘those others’ that did it is irresponsible. It’s still our country. People say they’re busy: are they really? A letter, a phone call, an email to an elected official. Is it really such a large price to pay to conceivably change the political landscape? While as a society we may have collectively decided not to hold those in power accountable, we still retain the ability to do so.

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 5 November 2016

Measure 97

The hot button issue in Oregon this election is Measure 97. The measure would levy a new tax on C Corporations doing business in the state greater than $25 million annually. The measure is a ballot initiative, and while ballot initiatives sound good in theory, in practice they’ve become a way for legislators to avoid responsibility for the bill’s effects. I certainly don’t want to abolish the practice, but the Oregon Legislature has become particularly adept at foisting off unpopular legislation as initiatives sponsored by tame ‘independent’ groups.

If passed the measure is projected to add $1.5 billion annually to the Treasury. That’s not chump change, even by US standards. And certainly not by Oregon standards, as the revenue increase is about 5% of the biennial budget. One could make the argument that if you’re a middle-to-large business you’re being told to pay a head tax on every Oregon citizen for the privilege of doing business in the state.

Proponents argue that the legislation is written in such a way that the money can only be spent on education, healthcare, and senior services. Stipulating that this is true, it’s only true as far as I can toss a caber. Sure as God made little green apples, that money will be used to fund PERS.

The Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) is the Oregon government pension plan. Years ago the state government made a sweetheart deal with its employees guaranteeing generous pensions for relatively little contribution on the employee’s part. The pension funding is predicated on an investment return of 10.5% annually. That hasn’t happened. The Legislature tried to adjust the fund’s financial workings, but the Oregon Supreme Court threw most of those out in 2013. Now the State faces an unfunded pension liability approaching $20 billion. Apparently a public contract is a suicide pact.

Oregonian reporter Ted Sickenger wrote an article in November 2015 giving a nice analysis of the problem. The bottom line is that Oregon government needs a lot of money, and they need it now. These things tend to happen when governments use other people’s money to buy votes. Maintaining dependent power bases is expensive.

Proponents claim that businesses can’t pass along the cost, but if you go to a pro-97 Q & A, it’s never explained exactly why this can’t happen. Of course costs will be passed along. Measure 97 is the VAT-which-cannot-be-named. The referenced website, by the way, is a master class in gobbledygook.

Aside from a naked we-don’t-care-anymore power grab by government, the way in which Measure 97 is presented is disgusting. The whole pitch is that government needs money to provide the services Oregonian’s want. One ad’s tagline is ‘Oregonian’s deserve better education and healthcare’. But they shouldn’t have to pay for it. Leave that to the big out-of-state corporations. The idea that it’s acceptable to force others to pay for things you want is offensive to the responsible person. But that’s the world we live in, and it’s not only government perpetuating this immaturity. Every time a city taxes hotel, rental car and restaurant sales to pay for a new stadium, it’s the same mind-set.

Oregon Governor’s Race

Governor of a US state is a high-profile position and the occupant is the ‘face’ of the state. Even in the smaller states a Governor with leadership ability can wield a lot of power. This year in Oregon we’re electing a Governor to serve out ousted Governor john Kitzhaber’s term. The job devolved upon Secretary of State Kate Brown when Kitzhaber resigned, and now she has to stand for election.

It is about the lowest-key race for the top job imaginable. I actually had to look up the race to find out who Brown was facing. The Democrat campaign for Brown has been soft-selling her, while her challenger has been near invisible.

Brown has been in office for about a year and a half, and her leadership style could be described as ‘withdrawn’. Legislators from both sides of the aisle complain that they can’t get her to commit on legislation, and people from her own party are frustrated with her lack of leadership. Her main claim to fame appears to be that she’s openly bisexual, which isn’t really enough to run a campaign on. Her ads all seem to be some variation of ‘Well, she’s here. May as well keep her.’

2016 World Series

Was that great, or what? Baseball is the best game, and the playoffs and the Series were everything a fan could want. Other than the fact the Giants went out early and easily. But the Cubs looked like the holders of the best record in MLB, and the Giants looked like a wild card team.

There was a lot to enjoy in the post-season. Clutch hits, spectacular defense, seemingly inhuman reaction times. Watching Toronto come into Cleveland swinging hot bats, then getting shut right down by Indian’s pitching. A pitching staff with two Cy Young winners. Pitching was the theme in the playoffs, and there were sweet pitching duels in both League Championship Series. Watching the best is always a pleasure, and as the post-season progressed each pitch, each at-bat, each defensive alignment meant more.

And then we were treated to every baseball fans dream: the two teams with the longest championship drought going to a World Series Game 7. I made damned sure I was off work in time to watch, as did apparently 40 million others. I rooted for the Cubs, because if my team doesn’t make it, I go with the National League. You know, the league that still plays baseball as handed down by Doubleday.

So congratulations to the City of Chicago and long, long-suffering Cubs fans everywhere. But mostly, congratulations to the Cubs for taking the billy goat yard.

 

Posted by: bkivey | 23 October 2016

The Last Refuge

The last several years in Western society have felt like falling off a -exp(x) cliff as Progressivism has become the dominant political force with the subsequent push to the fore of previously fringe concerns. While a fascinating social experiment, it’s a terrifying place to live. The only certainty is that freedom is losing ground fast as the more ruthless Leftists rush to secure a place among the ruins of Western civilization. It looks like a very small minority of hysterical psychopaths are driving society (they are). One might reasonably wonder just what in the hell is going on?

I wondered, too, but the past couple of months have given me an idea. I think we’re seeing Progressive thought leaders realizing their policies are unmitigated disasters. Their followers are slower to catch on, but the message is starting to get through. Now that the Left, and to our great misfortune, the rest of us, are living in the world of their making, they’re discovering they can’t cope with the Universe.

I’ve talked about why the Progressive societal vision can never work, but briefly Progressives are ignorant of how the natural world works. Their philosophy has little foundation in reality. As theory that’s fine; as practice it ranges from mildly annoying to death for millions. Progressivism has its points, but they shouldn’t be the basis for a society.

The Occupy movement of 2011 was probably the first time since the anti-nuke protests of the 80’s the Left felt like they had a cause to support in large numbers. While almost no one outside Occupy took the movement seriously, I mean, what are a bunch of privileged First-Worlders protesting, it gave common cause to many on the political fringes. Aided and abetted by local governments, Occupy provided a semi-official safe space. Occupy was likely also the first time most Americans found out how far the Left had infiltrated government. People expect changes in power at the Federal and State levels, but local government has traditionally been more stable in terms of maintaining health and safety standards. When the City of Baltimore failed to protect life and property during the 2015 riots, the surprise wasn’t as great as it might have been.

Citizens in the Western world are less secure than they’ve been since the Cold War. The difference is the threat isn’t some faceless enemy thousands of miles away, but people living right next to you. The Fifth Column has been enormously successful. All the levers of power are controlled by the Left or those allied with them. It’s a coarser, more fearful society, and there’s a direct connection between that sorry state of affairs and Progressive policies.

Foreign policy, domestic policy, health care policy, energy policy, education policy: The Left’s initiatives are tanking or failing fast. Despite much of the media acting as semi-official government propagandists, people are starting to notice. Progressives had their hopes pinned on the Millennials, and those folks aren’t really playing ball. Faced with the threat of a reduction in power, the Left has doubled down, becoming ever shriller about ever more trivial things.

Things really started moving with the Treyvon Martin incident. Even though witnesses said they fabricated the events reported, the Narrative was that America was a racist country full of trigger-happy White people itching to eliminate People of Color. Then a spate of ‘hate’ crimes. I can’t recall a widely reported ‘hate’ crime in the last decade that didn’t turn out to be a hoax. When your political comrades have to invent the reality they accuse others of inhabiting in order to have any shred of relevancy, that’s a clue.

Progressivism has always been shielded by the fact it can only thrive in rich societies. The dynamic tension is that thriving societies sow and nurture the seeds of their own destruction. Because the Left is composed primarily of the immature, they depend on the ‘adults’, those who actually build and do things, to take care of them and their misguided attempts at governance. They do expect others to clean up their messes.

However, when the immature are in charge of the institutions they’ve depended on to protect them, they ‘reform’ those institutions so they are no longer effective as embodiments of societal values. Now Progressives must face the consequences of their actions, and they don’t like it. I give you: California.

The Left is also discovering that just being is unsatisfying. Progressives aren’t leaders: they have no concrete core values. No morals. In every Utopia I’m aware of, no one really does anything. Society just is. Human society works best when people of vision move folks in a way that improves the standard of living. Aside from the fact that say, cheap, plentiful food is a good thing, humans enjoy challenges. Especially challenges that yield concrete results.

The Left doesn’t go in for that sort of thing. They all think they know better than the proles, and they all think they’ll be the ones in power. The reality is that a powerful few rule fiefdoms, and everyone else is a serf subject to the whims of their betters. Progressivism is the Law of the Jungle in a pretty outfit. Capitalism turns the wolf to the betterment of society; Progressivism is just the wolf.

So now the Left has come full circle. The last several months of a nascent neo-Civil Rights movement demonstrates the utter failure of Progressive governance. Listening to these folks, you’d think the last 60 years never happened. Even the language is identical. The world they’re protesting doesn’t exist. And if it did, that would be a devastating indictment of the Left in itself. The Left built a world, and they don’t like it. They can’t run, but they can try to hide.

Before too many of the people they’ve duped for decades wake up and start looking hard at them, the Left has gone to the last thing they were absolutely, positively, unequivocally in the Right about: civil rights. It’s their new camouflage. Activism is the last refuge of the incompetent.

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 14 October 2016

WAAAM 1930’s Rod Run

In which I talk about the last scheduled trip of the year.

Back in May I’d taken a day to run up to Hood River and see the sights. This was my first visit to the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAAM), and a life-altering experience it was. When we were at West Point the second tour we’d get to the City 4 – 5 times a year. Nearly every visit included a stop at the American Museum of Natural History. That’s how I feel at WAAAM.

Saturday 8 October was a date I’d had circled for a while because the museum was going to run some of its 1930’s aircraft and cars. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I wanted to see it.

It’s a 1 1/2 hr to 2 hr drive to Hood River depending on traffic. Pretty smooth sailing once you get to Troutdale. The drive in the Gorge never gets old.

There was a front coming in but Hood River was fairly clear. The museum opened at 0900, and the activities started at 1000.

Things perking up in the parking lot:

waam-getting-ready-october-2016

Pretty much what the museum looks like:

waam-wings-and-wires

There were some new things. A 1923 Oldsmobile:

waam-1923-olds-side

With oil can:

waam-1923-olds-engine-with-oil-can

And some cool turn signals:

waam-1923-olds

A 1923 mail plane:

waam-mailplane

The aircraft is beautifully finished. The owner flies it during the Summer and stores it in the Winter. A win for all concerned.

Activity in the hanger area:

waam-oct-2nd-tues-1

The museum offers rides in vintage autos. They form a taxi line and you can pick whichever car you want. I chose to ride in a Model A rumble seat: something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid.

There is this sign:

waam-warning-sign

My goodness! One might think there were vintage autos ravaging the countryside.

And riding:

waam-oct-2nd-sat-car-in-field-1

The rumble seat was surprisingly comfortable. There was a steam tractor running around. No rides offered, but very cool to see one operating:

waam-1910-tractor

The steam is from the whistle. Watching those guys it looked like operating it was like steering a ship. The tractor is 1910 vintage, so not entirely in keeping with the theme of the day, but that thing looks like enough fun to run it every chance they get.

At the hanger door was a gorgeous wooden sailplane:

waam-wooden-petrel-sailplane

A British product and very much flyable. Superb craftsmanship.

The museum had some aircraft operating. They don’t offer rides on the airplanes, but it’s cool to see vintage aircraft operating. The museum hauled out an ‘L-bird’, which is the military variant of the Piper Cub. I watched the haul-out, and it was cool to see a museum piece taken outside to fly. Another aircraft was prepped, but the pilot couldn’t make it. A bi-plane was doing run-ups, which may not seem interesting, but the aircraft was near the end of its restoration, and this was the first time the engine had been mated to the airframe:

 

waam-new-engine-in-plane-2

Hand-cranking a prop looks just as dangerous as it sounds, and is probably as dangerous as it looks. The engine did start. In a few weeks the airplane will be another operating addition to the collection.

I took the Restoration Hanger tour.

waam-restoration-hanger-panorama-1

This is where the magic happens. And in the machine shop:

waam-machine-shop-panorama

If it can’t be bought, it’s made. I learned that while the museum has some 300 autos and aircraft on display, and that all of them are operable, they may not be ‘ready for prime-time’ at the same time. The gentleman in the center of the photo is the Chief Aircraft Mechanic, and he noted that only about a dozen aircraft at a time are ‘current’. It may be that an airplane will wait ten years between flights as aircraft are cycled through the museum. The machines live, they just live on extended time-frames.

Afterwards wandered around a bit:

waam-electric-car-ext-2

I was surprised to see an electric auto from 1932. The early hey-day of electrics was in the 1910’s, and by the standards of the day this look is dated. A nice interior, though:

waam-1914-electric-car-side

 

waam-1914-electric-car-interior-2

That is steampunk luxury.

A visit to the restroom revealed:

waam-blower-in-bathroom

It’s a blower, likely off an aircraft. I wondered if the museum planned on turning it into a hand-dryer.

Some items from the WW II area:

waam-ww-ii-jeep-poster

Organizations (schools, civic groups, etc.) would raise money to buy parts for Jeeps. As money was raised, the part would be cut-out and pasted on the Jeep.

It was a fun day. Got to see some vintage machinery operate, and talked to some interesting people. The museum has a few examples of horse-buggys, so I suggested that they be offered as rides. One member said that hadn’t come up. Maybe it should. Something to consider.

I feel guilty about exposing WAAAM. The museum charges what they need to cover costs, but it runs on love.

Things Around Portland

Looking down a ‘street’ in the West Hills:

portland-west-hills-street

A double rainbow in Hillsboro:

hillsboro-double-rainbow

 

Posted by: bkivey | 4 October 2016

2016 Vacation: Observations and Conclusions

I had a good time. It was a successful vacation in that I got to do things I wanted to do in places I hadn’t been. There were a fair amount of moving parts that had to work smoothly, and they did. The only thing that could be considered a problem was I had to put some air in the tire of the car in Buffalo. That was it. Compared to last year, the fact there weren’t any problems was a vacation in itself.

This year was the HOMES tour and I got to all of the Great Lakes. I’ve wanted to see that part of the country for a long time, and very happy I got to do so.

A few things I noticed:

Western New York:

Lots of agriculture, mostly corn and apples.

Nice parks.

Very few Democratic candidate campaign materials. Nearly all the political signs were for the Republicans. I noticed the same thing in rural Michigan.

Lots of American flags. Also the same in Michigan.

Small towns full of very nice Victorian houses. I still wouldn’t want to have to heat them.

A surprising number of Confederate flags, which is to say, any at all. I saw a few in western New York and a couple in Michigan.

Michigan

A lot of people paint Michigan with the Detroit/Ann Arbor brush, and I was just as guilty as anyone else. Like Washington and Oregon, the state’s largest urban area isn’t representative of the state. I was half-expecting the Detroit metro area to look like Kandahar after the Marines got through with it and running gun battles at night. While there are areas that lean toward that description, everywhere I was looked pretty normal.

The most baffling traffic sign I’ve seen in a while:

michigan-left-turn-signal-signs

The signs are illuminated, so I wondered if I had to wait until the sign lit. For a few days I treated the signals like normal left turn signals because I couldn’t figure out what the ‘Left’ sign was for. I finally asked a police officer, and at first he didn’t think I knew how left turn signals worked. No, I get that, what’s the sign for? Apparently drivers in the State of Michigan require that left turn signals be signed. I asked the cop why a dedicated left turn lane and a left-facing green arrow weren’t enough. His response was ‘You’d be surprised’. Color me astounded. On reflection I can maybe see having lighted left-turn signs as an aid in low-visibility conditions.

When people found out I wasn’t a resident, they asked about my experience with the ‘Michigan Left’. Not a reference to a political view, the Michigan Left is a way to make a left turn from a divided highway. There are places to make u-turns close to intersections so to make a left turn you go to the next u-turn spot, turn left so you’re headed the opposite way, then make a right turn onto the road you originally wanted. This was easier for me to figure out than the New Jersey ‘jug handle’ which accomplishes the same thing.

Every highway worker in Michigan knows exactly what their life is worth:

michigan-highway-worker-sign

These signs are at every highway construction site, of which there were many. Some, I assume older, signs raise the legal bar slightly by requiring a motorist to ‘maim/kill’ rather than merely ‘injure’. I flashed on a highway worker trying to get a life insurance policy: ‘Sorry, we can’t write you a half-million policy. The state says you’re only worth $7500.”

I was surprised at how low the tax burden is in the state. Michigan has income and sales taxes, but the bite is fairly small. The highest marginal income tax rate is lower than Oregon’s lowest. Sales tax is 6%, and state law prevents municipalities from adding their own sales taxes. I don’t believe there’s an intangibles tax. It may be that I’d have a lower tax burden in Michigan than I do in Oregon.

You Say It’s Your Birthday

On my birthday Google’s home page wished me Happy Birthday by name. That’s creepy.

Going through security at DTW a TSA agent wished me Happy Birthday. I live in a world where an oppressive Federal bureaucracy is friendlier than an internet search engine.

2016 probably ranks second after 2014 and ahead of 2012 of my favorite vacations. Like Star Trek movies, it seems the best times occur with even numbers. Maybe I’ll stay home next year.

Posted by: bkivey | 3 October 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 7

Today was get-away day, and I’d booked a later flight so I’d have time to do something in Detroit. It turns out there are all kinds of things to do and see in the metro area, but I only had half a day. Before I took the trip several people insisted that I see the Henry Ford museum, and I’d chosen the hotel partly because it was between the museum and the airport.

The museum is located on Ford’s R & D campus in Dearborn, and appears to be Detroit’s version of Disneyland.

ford-museum-panorama

That’s the main entrance. The museum grounds have the museum, a reconstructed town, an assembly line, a railroad, and other things related to industry. Each area is an attraction unto itself, and exploring everything would probably take a really long day, or more likely several days. I most wanted to see the assembly line, but I only had time for one thing, so it was the museum. I noticed there were a lot of folks at work across the street for early Sunday morning.

Admission is $21 plus $6 for parking. I thought that was for everything, but that’s just the museum admission. Every attraction has its own admission charge. The museum offers a tour package at $75 per adult, and that’s a good deal if you add everything up. At $27 before I got in the door my expectations were high.

The museum’s theme is how the American Industrial Revolution from about 1820 on raised American living standards. The interior is one of the nicer I’ve seen in a museum, with chandeliers, high vaulted ceilings, and wide hallways.

ford-museum-entrance-panorama

The gallery entrance. There are about half-a-dozen galleries each specializing in some aspect of industry.

I started on the left and worked my way around. About the first thing you see is a disassembled Model T demonstrating the assembly line process:

ford-museum-model-t-assembly

The museum has a surprisingly large furniture collection, including a substantial section devoted to the Eames.

ford-museum-chair-comparison

Also here is a stove collection. I liked the display that shows a family kitchen from four different time periods starting in the 1790’s and ending in the 1930’s. It drives home how the availability of mass produced consumer goods raised living standards.

I’d never seen a Stradivarius. The museum has two owned by Henry Ford. He reportedly referred to them as ‘fiddles’, which probably still has ol’ Antonio spinning in his grave.

ford-museum-stradivarious-2

The aviation gallery includes the Ford Trimotor flown by Admiral Byrd over the South Pole:

ford-museum-byrd-tri-motor

And lest one be inclined to complain about seating on airplanes, there’s a display showing the comparative sizes of airliner cabins from the 1920’s to today:

ford-museum-airplane-cabiin-comparison

The overhead is the cabin template of a 747. A cross-country flight in the Trimotor era took about three times longer than it does today, in chairs that are much less comfortable. On the other hand, in-flight amenities were superior.

There’s a good selection of steam engines:

ford-museum-steam-engine-1

This is one of the smaller examples. Nothing says ‘Industrial Revolution’ like a stationary steam engine, and the museum has some truly massive ones on display, including one of nine that ran an automotive assembly line. None of them are operational, and I thought it would be pretty cool if the museum restored one to power the building.

There are other steam engines:

ford-museum-challenger-1

An ‘Allegheny’ locomotive from the 1940’s. A sign informs that this is the most photographed object in the museum. A train from the 1830’s is in the foreground, and the entire train is shorter than the later locomotive. Henry Ford wanted a Stephenson ‘Rocket’, one of the very first commercial locomotives, but none had survived. He found that the original builder was still in business, so he had them produce an exact replica. This brings up the question: because the machine was manufactured by the original builder from original plans, is it a reproduction or a new locomotive?

ford-museum-stephenson-rocket

The first diesel-electric locomotive from 1926:

ford-museum-1926-oil-electric-locomotive

There are some cars:

ford-museum-cord

A 1937 Cord. I’d never seen one prior to this year, and now I’ve seen two. I’m going to the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum this Saturday in Hood River for their Second Saturday run. This month’s theme is the 1930’s, so I expect I’ll get to see their Cord in action.

ford-museum-bugatti

A 1931 Bugatti, reportedly one of six known to exist.

There’s a fair selection of ‘foreign’ cars including Chevy’s, Dodges, and VW’s. The museum has an Edsel and a 1981 Escort, but no Pinto. I suspect there will never be a Pinto under this roof. The Edsel may have been a marketing failure, but its design didn’t kill people. I’ve owned three Pinto’s, all station wagons, including a 1977 Cruisin’ Wagon.

One section has a display of Presidential limos, including the one Reagan was riding in when he was shot:

ford-museum-reagan-limo

I was surprised to find that Presidential limos are used for years: I’d thought they were replaced annually. Teddy Roosevelt’s limo:

ford-museum-teddy-roosevelt-limo

Roosevelt apparently wasn’t a fan of cars, and rode behind a horse until 1928.

There are displays of clocks, a section devoted to the Civil Rights movement, displays of consumer goods grouped by decade, and a Buckmister Fuller designed prefabricated house. The house is an aluminum dome with an interior that looks like an RV. None them were actually sold, and aside from ease of erection, it doesn’t look to be a very livable building.

Henry Ford’s very first engine. He ran this on his kitchen sink. His wife must have been a saint:

ford-museum-original-engine

And an icon that everyone over a certain age will remember:

ford-museum-holiday-inn-sign

I cannot count the number of times we stayed at a Holiday Inn on family trips.

I stayed as late as I could and spent about five hours in the museum. That still felt a little rushed. I cannot imagine trying to see everything on the grounds in one day.

So time to bid adieu to Michigan, the Great Lakes, and my vacation. As we climbed out of Detroit Metropolitan, I realized that I still hadn’t seen downtown Detroit.

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 2 October 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 6

When I planned the trip I knew I’d have to have a base in northern Michigan. Sault Ste. Marie was in the running for a long time because there are locks, and the name is fun to say. The lock system is Great Lake shipping, and I thought it’d be fun to watch large ships walk up and down hills. Airfare to the town is a fortune even from Detroit, so I’d have to drive, but ultimately that was further than I wanted to drive from Detroit in one day, especially taking the back roads. Mackinaw City it was.

I was a little concerned about spending two nights in a town of population 800; what would there be to do? I could watch TV in the hotel room, and I don’t have TV at home so that would be OK. I like to socialize a bit when I go to new places, and I hoped there’d be one bar I liked.

No concerns there:

mackinaw-city

Mackinaw City has about 20 square blocks of tourist industry. I’d find out the town is built around people who do pretty much what I was doing: spending a few days up north. And not just in the Summer. Michigan has a robust winter tourist season. I did things in the outdoors in the Winter when we lived in the Northeast, because like the rain in the Northwest, if you don’t do it in the cold in the North, you don’t do it. Michigan culture seems to embrace the outdoor life just a little more than most places I’ve been. I haven’t been to Minnesota or Wisconsin, so I don’t know if this is how the Lakes country works, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Besides the usual ways to spend money, the city has a ferry to Mackinaw Island. I didn’t go, but my understanding is that cars are not allowed on the island. There are huge expanses of parking lot dedicated to the ferry, and they were mostly empty when I was there. The ‘tourist’ aspect of the town seems a bit subdued: probably because the town has to compete with interesting things to do and see.

One of those things is the decommissioned Coast Guard icebreaker USS Mackinaw:

uss-mackinaw-stern-1

This was cool and unexpected. I’d never seen an icebreaker, and you can tour this one. Whee!

Built during WW II and retired in ’06, when commissioned she was the most powerful icebreaker in the world. Built wider than the St. Lawrence locks at the time so she couldn’t escape, she spent her service keeping the seaways clear on the Great Lakes.

Tours are $11, and most of the ship is accessible. Although a military vessel, there aren’t any weapons emplacements, so there’s more room for people. One interesting addition are the conning towers on the bridge wings. From the pilot house the view forward is restricted by the spray shield. The conning towers were added so the crew could actually conn the ship.

The crew spaces are interesting, but I wanted to see the engine room. The ship is driven exactly like a modern locomotive with a diesel-electric drive. Six Fairbanks-Morse locomotive engines drive generators to power the electric motors driving two screws astern and one in the bow.

uss-mackinaw-engines

The engines use vertically-opposed pistons: something I hadn’t seen before. The yellow sign on each engine warns to wait 30 minutes after a crankcase explosion before opening the covers. I wondered how often that occurred to warrant a sign. Because the ship was built around the engines there’s no provision for removal. Toward the end of her service life replacement parts had to be fabricated.

There was a trim board in this engine room. The ship has ballast tanks all around where water can be transferred to shift weight to break ice. Most of the spaces have signs requiring ear protection. There were a few folks from the preservation society aboard and they said that between the engines and ice streaming down the side the ship could be a noisy place.

I was happy to spend some time aboard, but there were some other things I wanted to see. As might be expected of a strait, there are a number of lighthouses in the area.

McGulpin Light:

mcgulpin-point-lighthouse-1

There are displays about shipwrecks in the area, as well as information on the first family to live here. There’s a short trail down to the lake, and on the way there are life-size cutouts of the family. It looks like a bunch of hippies in the grass. You can access the lens, but I didn’t so I don’t know if there’s a charge.

Old Mackinac Point Light:

mackinaw-city-lighthouse-and-bridge-2

There is a charge to see the interior. The lighthouse is located in a nice park and adjacent to the Fort Michilimackinac site and museum. There’s also a fee to enter the fort. The museum/gift shop is right under the approach to the Bridge, and there are plaques with information on politicians when the bridge opened and the five workers who died during construction.

After lunch at the Key Bar it was time to pick’em up and put’em down for the 4 1/2 hour trip back to Dearborn. I didn’t want to leave. I had a nice time during my all-too-brief visit up north. It was just as well I was leaving: in a couple of days I’d have been pricing property and snowmobiles.

This drive was all about getting from A to B, so I-75S all the way. 75 on the cruise and down the road. There are some hills in central Michigan, but mostly flat. Lots of woods. Started to pick up some traffic around Bay City, then more through Flint and into the Detroit metro area. I was looking for 8-Mile Road from Eminem fame, and saw the exit for it. Also 12 Mile, 10 Mile, 9 Mile, 7 Mile and 6 Mile roads. Apparently Detroit suffered a severe street name shortage.

Back to the hotel I’d stayed at previously. Went to a bar in a part of Dearborn that appears to have been redeveloped, and wished I’d gone somewhere else. I like a lager or an ale when I’m eating, and nearly all the local brews on tap were IPA’s. I settled for a national lager and had an OK meal. Note to restaurants: no normal human can eat a sandwich and a double-handful of fries. Reduce your portions! You’ll save money and your customers will be happier.

I was pretty happy. Outside the flight home tomorrow and the Ford museum, I’d done everything I’d wanted to do, and everything had gone smoothly. That qualifies as fun.

 

 

Posted by: bkivey | 30 September 2016

2016 Vacation Pt. 5.5

Tahquemenon Falls State Park is a highly popular park in the UP located about 6 country miles from the middle of nowhere. I was told that if I wanted to see Michigan natural beauty at its best I had to visit. I’d looked at the park as a destination prior to the trip, but I wasn’t sure if I’d have time. As it was the computer put me at the park at 1700, which would still leave enough daylight to do some things. A bit under two hours of driving through the rolling hills of this part of the UP got me there.

I knew I’d have to pay the out-of-state park fee of $9, but Michigan made an extra dollar because I didn’t have exact change and the gate booth was unmanned. State government agencies usually don’t accept plastic because of the attendant fees. I’m of the opinion state’s should rethink this. There’s information on the pay envelope about refunds and it was amusing to think about asking the state for my $1 back.

The entrance has a parking lot for the upper falls, a privately-run restaurant and gift shop, and an information center. The parking lot is the trailhead for several trails, and two short ones run to the river. There’s a walkway and boardwalk along the river cliff with a number of interpretative signs. There are also trashcans and a number of ashtrays. I thought this was good thinking on the part of Michigan DNR: people are going to smoke; may as well offer even the laziest smoker a place to put their butts.

Several signs give some history of logging in Michigan, and apparently a goodly amount of it took place on land the park now encompasses. There’s still some forest product industry in the state, but maybe not as much as you might expect. Of course, you can say the same thing about the Northwest. I noticed that much of the UP and northern Michigan are public land. I can’t say if Michigan has the same restrictions on logging as the Northwest, but back in the day a lot of timber came out of the North Woods.

The upper falls:

tahq-falls-upper-falls-1

The river drains cedar swamps and the dissolved tannin turns the water brown. The foam is a result of soft water and organic material. During the spring run-off the falls can be the third-largest east of the Mississippi river by volume when some 50,000 gallons/second tumble the fifty feet to the river.

Looking down the river:

tahq-falls-upper-falls-and-river-1

The lower falls are four miles distant and there’s a trail along the river. Other options are a privately-run shuttle service or driving. I opted for ‘C’ but before that I had to get something to eat. The restaurant is done in a sort of North Woods decor with lots of mounted animal heads. Considering it’s the only place to eat for literal miles, prices aren’t as bad as they could be. I’d seen signs for something called a ‘pastie’ all over the state, so I had the large one of those. If you stuff a calzone with a chicken pot pie, you’ll have a good approximation of this dish. Served with gravy, it’s filling, and would hit the spot after a day of winter outdoor activity.

A short drive or longer hike bring you to the lower falls. Rather than one large drop the lower falls are a series of stepped falls around an island.

tahq-falls-lower-falls-1a

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Boats are available for rent to make the short trip to the island where trails give access to the falls. By the time I got here the concession was closed. The sign warns of rapids. As at the upper falls there’s a boardwalk with a number of interpretive signs.

tahq-falls-lower-falls-walkway-1

One sign describes beavers and what to look for. I figured the sign would be placed in an area of beaver activity, but I didn’t see any indications. It is relaxing walking through the woods on a nice late summer day.

The park doesn’t have any one thing that’s really spectacular, but everything taken together makes for a nice place. There’s enough stuff to do where one could easily make a day or weekend here. As with most of the UP, the park isn’t remotely close to what might be considered a population center. I suspect that unless they live in the eastern UP or the tip of northern Michigan many people spend at least one night.

It was time to leave but I had a slight problem. There is zero cell phone service in the park, and I had no clue which way to go. I was told to go out of the parking lot and turn right, then drive 12 miles to Paradise. The road is MI 123, and it runs east until the small town of Paradise hard by Lake Superior. Another right at what I believe is the only stoplight in town, then south to I-75. There were signs for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point about 12 miles north. I would have liked to have seen that, and it’s not as if I’ll randomly be in this part of the country. Maybe I’ll find a compelling reason to visit Sault Ste. Marie.

 

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