Friday, September 30, 2005

Lexington & Concord

Boston was grand fun and we're going to do it again. (Note: We had plenty of lobster while we were there. I'm sure that'll elicit cries of deep and abiding sympathy from all of you dear readers.) It was time to pack up and head west to visit dear friends, Andras and Deirdre. But first, we needed to get our car.

For those of you unfamiliar with Boston, let me explain something: you don't have to be crazy to drive in Boston, but it sure helps. Boston is post-graduate driving. I wasn't interested in trying to drive around Boston at all so we had made arrangements to pick up our Enterprise rental car at the airport (the offer of "free prick-up and delivery" notwithstanding).

We got to the Enterprise rental car location and they offered us an upgrade to the car we normally drive for an additional $5/day, which we jumped on. It wasn't the same color, but wotthehell; we knew what it felt like and how it handled. I got directions to a Bank of America. We headed to the bank. I had a lot to do ultimately, so it took a little while. I asked the teller, who was a very helpful person, where I might find a Starbuck's in the area. She wasn't sure, so she asked her boss who was in the next cage. He said, "Well, you know, this is actually an historic district of Massachusetts. It's probably the only place where there isn't a Starbuck's nearby." I laughed. He suggested we could head into Boston--only about 5 miles away as the crow flies but could've been an hour as the crow drives--where there were Starbuck's facing other Starbuck's across the street from each other (we'd seen 'em).

We got lost heading out from the bank. (It turned out later that there was a really confusing and unmarked roundabout we needed to have navigated differently.) I ended up going down one road and looking for somewhere to cut back up to the road and try again. No luck, so I turned the other way into a large parking lot to get back to the road and keep going until I found some way to get headed in the direction I was trying to go.

And then I stopped. And I got out of the car. And I took a picture. Yes, we'd stumbled onto the corporate headquarters of the NECCO Company! You can see the Necco Wafers on the side of the door. How very cool!! It had never dawned on me after years of enjoying NECCO Wafers that "NECCO" is an acronym for "New England Confectionary Company." According to the history on their web page, they recently acquired Clark Bar, so if you're a fan of Clark Bars, that's who makes 'em now.

Well, we finally escaped the Greater Boston area and headed north to Salem. The Babe had a desire to see the Salem Witch Museum and I had to admit a certain morbid curiousity myself. Salem's a very pretty little town and the museum isn't nearly as bad for misinformation as I thought it was going to be--in fact, the part on the witch trials themselves was pretty good--but the stuff on contemporary Wicca and paganism was pretty pathetic and the gift shop was truly ghastly for appealing to stereotypes. Oh, well, it could've been a heckuva lot worse than it was.

We were heading west to Worthington, but we made a couple stops on the way. Our next stop was up to the Lexington and Concord area. Some of this was for the Revolutionary War stuff, but the Babe had one very particular objective in mind: the Wayside. The Wayside was the home of Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Sidney and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Sadly, the house was closed the day we were there so we couldn't see the inside, but the outside was gorgeous. Hawthorne expanded the house considerably when he was there.

The Wayside is part of the Minuteman National Historical Park and very near to the house is the site of the first engagement of the British troops and the Minutemen. We drove up the road a little farther and then walked across a bridge to look at the Minuteman statue.

This was the battle that Paul Revere, William Dawes, and a few others rode to tell people about. The British were coming to Concord to destroy rebel caches of supplies. (They found some, but most of the caches were moved to other towns.) And it was here that the British first fired on the Minutemen and vice versa. The Brits prevailed against the first group, who were badly outnumbered, but were ultimately routed

I took photos of the fields around this. It's beautiful there and I had a hard time envisioning the battle. On the other hand, I was able to see how easy it'd be for the British troops to be harried along the road by snipers: it's very woody along the road from Boston to Concord and it'd be a piece of cake to hide in the woods and take potshots at the troops coming by, particularly when you know they're coming by and they're obligingly wearing red to make them easier to see.

I was able to sneak a good shot of the Babe while we were there (hence the look on her face). It's very difficult getting her to pose for pictures, so I takes 'em where I c'n gets 'em.

We walked back up the path to the main road. One of the things we'd walked past as we went down was Ralph Waldo Emerson's house.

The house is beautiful. It has a large, rolling lawn and several outbuildings. There's a vegetable garden that's probably about half an acre off to one side in the front. And the river is down the hill from the house to make lovely sounds in the evenings.

Before we left the area, we stopped at a delightful cheese shop in town and got provisions. Then, having driven by yet another Unitarian Church, we headed west towards Worthington for dinner and friends.


USA, USA, Űber Alles!

(Note: I'm going to be posting more about our vacation shortly, but this came in and I really wanted to spread it around further so more people know about it. It's sharply political, so skip this if you don't want to get pissed off right now.)

Okay, okay, so I know we're not Nazis in this country, but we are living in a fascist state. Worse, the differences are becoming smaller all the time. It's only a matter of time before we get the camps for political undesirables. (Guantanamo doesn't quite count but it's certainly a precursor. Notice that the suspension of habeas corpus for "terror suspects" is still the case. Didn't we fight a war against the British about things like that?)

What prompts me to mention all of this is an article by political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt, which appeared in Free Inquiry magazine (a publication of the Council for Secular Humanism). Having studied the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile), Dr. Britt found the regimes all had 14 things in common, which he calls "the identifying characteristics of fascism." The full article is entitled Fascism Anyone? and appears in Free Inquiry's Spring 2003 issue on page 20.

The 14 characteristics of fascism are:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism -- Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights -- Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to 'look the other way' or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, and the like.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause -- The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, et cetera.

4. Supremacy of the Military -- Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism -- Governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6. Controlled Mass Media -- Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or through sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in wartime, is very common. ("Fox News: Die amtliche Nachrichten-Fűhrung des Vaterlands!")

7. Obsession with National Security -- Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined -- Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power Is Protected -- The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power Is Suppressed -- Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts -- Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment -- Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses, and even forego civil liberties, in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in
fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption -- Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions, and who use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections -- Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against (or even the assassination of) opposition candidates, the use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and the manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

The high points of Dr. Britt's article above, together with a lot of illustrative current headlines, appears here. No, it isn't your imagination.

One other thing: if you haven't seen it already, spend some time looking at the posters on Micah Wright's Propaganda Remix project. Amazing how well it all fits.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Our next day in Boston

Our next day in Boston

After one long day in Boston, we repeated the experience! We got up a trifle earlier, enjoyed breakfast, and set out. One of the things we'd already decided by the second day was that, despite the reasonableness of the hotel and the perfectly decent room, the next time we're in Boston, we're going to be going for something closer in. There are lovely hotels in or next to the Prudential Center as well as some great hotels in Copley Square and nearby. While we certainly saved a bundle (hotels in Boston are really expensive) staying a about half a mile out from the Prudential Center, it was a bit of a nuisance grabbing a cab. I had the feeling that it'd be great to just walk out of the hotel and Be Right There.

Now, I know we'd said that we were going to do the swan boats, but it turned out that these are things that you pedal. After a day of walking around, pedaling a boat around a lake appealed to neither of us, so we gave that one a miss. But we were definitely going to go out on the water: we had been itching to do a Boston Duck Tour, a tour in an amphibious WWII landing craft. Duck tours leave from outside the Prudential Center.

It was a little cramped in the duck (well, they were built for functionality and not comfort). These have been remodeled some; the originals had more armor plating, which you don't need quite as often in the streets of Boston as you did on the beaches of Italy and France.

We got to see a lot of Boston that we hadn't seen before and some we had before we got into the water. The driver was a great guy who kept up a snappy patter throughout the trip. He knew a lot of history and was very entertaining.

When we got into the water, we drove under a couple of the bridges and back. The driver pointed out the Boston and Cambridge sigils on the sides of one of the bridges.

We finished the tour--it really was a great tour--and went to the Museum of Fine Arts. We'd had extensive discussion about what we were going to do, the MoFA or the Peabody, and we ultimately went with the MoFA. This involved a "T" ride out to the Musuem. It was a fairly hot day and I'm glad that the museum was cool.

The MoFA has a great collection, but I think I was after something more like the Tate Gallery in London. I was left with a bit of my desire for paintings unfulfilled. This is not to say that I didn't have a wonderful time. There was artwork dating back 6000 years ago from the Nubian empire. There was a lot of Assyrian work and a number of mummies and sarcophagi. The display of musical instruments was another specialty exhibit. Sadly, we weren't there at the right time for a full gamelan orchestra concert, but we could see the instruments set up. (I love gamelan music; if you're not familiar with it, check it out for yourself.) There were some beautiful Asian exhibits, too. I like what they've done with their displays.

We wandered around for quite a while but there was no mistaking the fact that all this walking was wearing us out. And we were hungry. We went to the museum store (an excellent store; we bought a copy of Bela Fleck's CD, Perpetual Motion), then we had lunch at the Museum café.

We finished at the Museum and rode the "T" back in to town. (Next time, we're hitting the Peabody.) There was one more thing we wanted to squeeze out of the Go Boston Cards: a harbor tour. The harbor tour left from the Long Wharf. It was a good day to be on the water: the stiff wind was fairly cooling and it was sunny and clear.

We went out on the water all the way up to Charlestown, where we saw the USS Constitution. The Constitution is still in active service after 208 years of duty. It got the nickname of "Old Ironsides" because its sides are made of 7"-thick oak heartwood and cannon balls would bounce off her sides.

A good concise history of the USS Constitution can be found here on the Wikipedia.

Near the USS Constitution, which we all know a little about from history classes in elementary school, was the USS Cassin Young, about which I knew nothing.

The Cassin Young was named for a Medal of Honor winner. It saw duty only in the latter half of WWII. Her most notable battle was surviving two separate hits by Japanese kamikazes while patrolling off Okinawa. I don't recall seeing a destroyer before and for some reason hadn't realized how big they are. I was confusing them with PT boats, which are a lot smaller.

We walked up a few blocks from the wharf to get cold liquid and a nibble, then came back and waited for our final tour: the Ghosts and Graveyard Tour. Here's a picture of our friendly and helpful staph:

The tour took us to a couple of the burying grounds in the area first. We rode up to Copp's Hill (named after a Mr. Copp, natch).

This tombstone was the basis of a story. Tombstones weren't cheap in them days… well, they aren't cheap now, neither, but I digress. Someone paid the gravediggers 30 shillings to bury him in the same plot and then add his name to this really attractive tombstone. They did--it's off to one side, but not easily visible in even the 1600x1200 version of this file. It got to be a habit for quite a while until someone caught them at it and also complained. We can only assume that they stopped the practice after that.

We also were given a night tour of Boston Commons and told about the public executions. Our guide called for a volunteer. I felt a hand pushing me forward almost instantly.

The guide asked the Babe what I was being executed for. Now, I thought she'd say "For crimes to numerous to mention," but she said "Hubris." Turns out that this needed to be explained.

We saw the Granary Burying Ground again, but this time at night and with a guide. And we heard some amazing ghost stories, including one of a highwayman who had a book bound in his own skin after his execution and had it sent to the man who's testimony convicted him. (Nothing like having a really lasting sense of humor.)

At the end of the tour, we went to the Legal Seafood restaurant at the Long Wharf. We'd been to the one in the Prudential Center two nights before and had had steak and lobster; this time, we just split a lobster. It was lovely both times.

We crawled back home and slept. On the morrow, we were going to pick up our car and drive west.


Boston vacation stuff updated :)

Okay, if you go to the "Today in Boston...." entry on the 9/11 page of my blog, you'll see I've expanded the text considerably and added a zillion pictures. I still need to add photos of the Duck Tour and get to the photos of Lexington & Concord, Andras and Deirdre, Vermont, and Philadelphia... but this is a start, hokay?

I'm taking a break, making coffee, running the dishwasher, and going out to run an errand. Go read. I'll be back later.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Progress report: updating the vacation blog entries

Just so's y'know, I'm updating the blog entries for the vacation with aaaaaaaall the pictures and a lot of new text. It's taking a while--the Boston part of the vacation entry is 22 pages long when you figure in the pictures (which admittedly take a ton of room). Watch this space; it should be done shortly. :)

BTW, I have finally gotten all of our digitized wedding photos online, 277 of 'em. As soon as I get the vacation blogged, it's my intention to gut the pages of the website and then replace them with the wedding photos at last.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

We already could've guessed this...

...but it's lovely having one's opinions confirmed by scientific research.

Yes, it's true: too much religion in a society does make you socially backward and prone to murder, rape, and moral decay.

According to the Times today:
RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.

According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

The study counters the view of believers that religion is necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society.
We all knew this--well, those of us who aren't damaged by this kind of belief, anyway--but it's wonderful to see this in print in something like the Times.


Married to a pirate as well :)

I just wanted to make a quick note to the effect that The Babe's pirate name is Mad Mary Rackham.


Monday, September 26, 2005

A grand day out

I have uploaded the pictures from the vacation to Flickr; now I just need to put them together into blog entries, which will take a bit of work. You can look at Flickr to see the pix for the time being while I get blog entries together to tell the stories, but in the meantime, I wanted to put up a small event from August.

I've told the Babe about the joys of rafting for years and we finally got out to do it. Steve & Andy came down and stayed with us for a few days (a real pleasure in itself; I'm very keen on the Babe's family). We drove out to Belknap Hot Springs, which is a lovely resort with hot springs funneled into swimming pools and rooms looking out over the river and into the forest. (The resort has been there for a long time and has a wonderful and friendly history.) It's also the jumping-off point for High Country Expeditions raft adventures.

All of us got into vans and rode to the drop point on the McKenzie River. We had all been warned to bundle up for being on the water, with a particular injunction to not wear jeans or all-cotton things because they'd get soaked and we'd freeze. The water was very cold, they assured us (48 degrees), so dressing warmly was a major consideration. We all had nylon shirts and plasticized pants and so on for the occasion. The guides gave us life vests and rubber shoes and nylon overpants as well. I felt like I had way too much on but I knew that it was going to be bloody cold when we got onto the water.

We got into raft groups. Most of the rafts are 6-person rafts, but there was one raft that is a 4-person raft with the guide sitting in the back with oars, so the four of us got into that one. Guys being guys, Steve and I got into the front and Andy and the Babe got into the middle seat. Each group carried their raft down to the water and we boarded, then waited for the rest of the rafts to assemble.

While we were waiting for the other boats, out guide stepped us through some practice paddling so we could get the feel and the rhythm. The other rafts did the same as they got into the water, too. We were finally all ready to go and we set off down the river.

The McKenzie River is a gorgeous piece of the Pacific Northwest. The weather was great for a day out on the river messing about on rafts and it's quiet and fresh and green.

As we floated along, the guide told us a lot about the river and the surrounding area and pointed out evidence of the 1964 floods, which had been a 1000-year flood. Every bridge we saw was new since the flood, he said, because the ones that had been there at the time had all been washed away. In some cases, the water would have been 15-20 feet over the road deck on some of the bridges. Oy. (There was also a flood in 1996 that our guide told us about. This one wasn't quite as bad, he said, but it was almost as big. The 1964 flood was much bigger and more damaging and most of the new bridges that had been built were stronger and a little higher in places. Or maybe there just wasn't quite as much debris to wash downstream at that point.)

Because of our dry summer, the river was low and it wasn't more than a difficulty 3. About 15 minutes in, we hit our first rapid.

We paddled hard and bounced around a bit.

As it turned out, I was on the side of the boat that got splashed a good deal more. Steve, on the left, got splashed a fair amount, but I'm of the opinion that I got more of it. Well, if I hadn't wanted to get wet, I wouldn't be on the river.

These rapids weren't very big, so it was more like having a bumper car ride with water and lots of whooping from the raft.

Having gotten down this part of the river, things were much calmer for quite a while. As we drifted along, we occasionally saw people sitting on their decks and a few groups of people fishing. The guide pointed out some truly exceptional eddies in the river for fishing including one where he said it was almost impossible not to get a fish. The guide said that he'd seen 32-inch trout pulled out of that spot. I was very interested to hear more about that.

The guide also told us about the houses and the resort cabins we were seeing along the river, some of which were truly dazzling. He also showed us where he and the other guides live, a few cabins on the river run by the rafting company. It sounded like a wonderful summer job: lots of exercise, fresh air, and the opportunity to lounge around when not on duty. We also saw several collections of resort cabins. Between these and the fishing, we started talking about a larger family vacation with the better part of a week on the river for next year or maybe the year after. It should be a lot of fun; like I say, I really like hanging out with the Babe's family.

A while later, the guide told us we were getting to the hottest rapids on this particular trip. He briefed us on what we were going to be seeing and how we'd handle it.

Most of what we needed to do was just keep paddling strongly so we could keep the raft moving forward straight and true.

We went over several large boulders in the river that we could feel passing under the raft. As we were doing all of this, I kept thinking for some reason of the Lewis & Clark expedition, who'd been doing all of this kind of thing in canoes, which are noted for their relative lack of stability compared to rafts.

We all came out at the bottom of the rapids wet and laughing. Shortly thereafter, we pulled the rafts in to the landing point and hoisted them up to the trailer. We shucked our life vests, overpants, and rubber shoes, then got out of the water clothes we'd worn and changed back into the clothes we'd brought with us and drove back in the vans to the We drove out to Belknap Hot Springs. It was definitely part of our plan to do some swimming in the hot springs swimming pool (which isn't as hot as a hot tub, but it's close in places and very balming after being out on the river), but we were all starved, so we drove up the road about 8 miles in search of burgers and hot sandwiches to a restaurant we'd noted earlier, then came back to the resort. We swam a while, then set out for driving home, but we were absolutely required to stop at the restaurant again on the way home for dishes of really good local ice cream.