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Saturday, March 29, 2008

What If They Gave A War and Everybody Came?

I keep meaning to take the honyocks to the World War I museum at the Liberty Memorial, but something else keeps coming up. Then I heard about how Mayor Lurch* is proposing to cut funding to it, and I figured we better go while we still could.

The museum is circular, and there's a bridge from the outside ring (where the gift shop and ticket sales and whatnot is located) to the museum proper.  Above you is glass, and you can see the stone phallus if you look up, but you don't notice that so much.  Because the floor is also glass, and you're maybe ten feet over a field of flowers.  It's beautiful and disturbing, and so perfectly appropriate, I suppose.  I remembered a t-shirt I saw years ago that said, 'On the other hand, what if they gave a war and everybody came?'

The museum starts out with a fifteen minute flick on how WWI got going.  It's not perfect, and even a little politically slanted, but its about as succinct an explanation as I've ever seen.  Fifteen minutes ain't much to work with, though I think I could make the explanation even shorter (and I'm not normally thought of as 'concise'):

The President of the United States and a crime boss like John Gotti differ only in window dressing and relative spheres of influence.  In other words, political leaders, whether elected or born to a monarchy, are nothing more than pretentious gangsters.  You've seen the Godfather, you've seen Casino: World War I was kind of like that.

There, that's all you needed to know.  Seriously, plug in Crips and Bloods for Germans and French, and switch the map of Europe for a map of Los Angeles and you could come up with a very similar story.  The LAPD could be America, only going in when the violence seems to matter to rich whites in Orange County.

I know, a couple paragraphs back, I criticized the film introducing the museum at the Liberty Memorial as being politically biased, and then I go and say something like that.  Welcome to Lobster Land: I don't pretend to be unbiased.

I've thought a lot lately about Švejk, and one of the themes you find in that novel is 'Why do we care about Ferdinand?' Here's a country, what's now the Czech Republic, whose citizens are drafted and sent to die in the trenches on behalf of some inbred Hungarian asshead who's been making Czech life less enjoyable by divine right.  

I'm sure more than a few Czech soldiers thought, 'Wait a minute, isn't that the guy I wanted to shoot telling me to go defend his reign over my country??'  Of course, the idea of 'country' in the sense of nationalism was relatively new, and the introductory film didn't miss that.

A nation in the sense of nationalism isn't really much more than a gang, is it?  It's 'these people are like me, so I'm with them' and anyone else can suck it.

The scale, of course, makes a difference.  It's stupid for one teenager to machine-gun another in gang warfare, but millions of teenagers drafted to murder one another in the trenches, well, stupid isn't a big enough word for that.

And speaking of scale, it's impressive to see what the weapons look like.  These are the first weapons of 'modern' warfare, howitzers with barrels you could almost hide in, mortars that throw shells the size of basketballs, machine guns, airplanes, torpedos...

Em wasn't in favor of going on this adventure, by the way.  She had places to go, people to see, people she wouldn't see if I couldn't get her to shut the attitude off.

Everything can't be the Cosmosphere.  Of course World War I isn't as inspiring as putting a man on the moon.  Could we have been on the moon in 1918 if we had put the effort in getting there we put into seeing how many young men could be murdered for no reason? 

That's why the Sphinxes at the base of the tower have their wings folded over their faces.  War is so horrible, even a creepy monster like the Sphinx can't bear to see it.

Everything was boring, according to her, until we actually went up the tower.

I've been there, but maybe 20 years ago.  I remembered the stairs but not the elevator to them. 

The mechanism is pretty open to view, just a cage to keep you from sticking your fingers into it.  I don't think I've ever seen how elevators work so clearly.  Pretty cool stuff.

Once we were up on the platform, well, we didn't think it was a windy day.  But we about got blown off the tower.  When we launch a model rocket and watch it go off into the sweet by and by under canopy and wonder, well here's your answer.  The winds might be 5-10 on the ground, but go up 217 feet and it might be a gale.  Go up a thousand feet and don't be surprised if that slowly descending rocket is going to move without leaving a change of address.

One of the museum employees told us to check out the Red Cross museum across the street at Union Station while we were there, and we did.

First off, it's not a museum, it's a display on the third floor.  For seconds, most of the employees of Union Station don't know it's there, so if you ask for directions, in my experience, two out of three will tell you there's no such thing.

I've wondered about going to Bodies Revealed while it's showing there, and to my surprise, Em even expressed interest in it.  But it's expensive.  $24 for adults, $19 for kiddos.

But the third person I asked did help us find the creepy wax-museum setup on the third floor, and we had fun walking around the station, checking out the Irish Museum we spotted on the way in and whatnot.

*Mayor Lurch is, by the way, probably the closest thing to an honest man I've ever seen win the mayorship of a full sized city. He's not much of a personality, which may be part of why I tend to think he's shooting straight. But besides that, going back a good fifteen to twenty years, Kansas City, Missouri has been obviously reckless with its TIF projects. The theory behind TIF is you take a blighted area, give a huge tax break to a big box retailer or developer to put something there. The sales taxes generated by the new store pay for the development, and the resulting economic activity has a cascading benefit in the community, creating jobs and boosting the tax base surrounding the project. The problem is the politicians and the businesspeople who work these deals out both have a vested interest in the project going forward even if the deal stinks. The politician can say, 'Look, there's a Costco there where before there was only a dirty bookstore and some slums,' and Costco, who would never have built in that neighborhood because the shrinkage they'll face ruins their business model, gets government subsidies sufficient to overcome those losses.

What's wrong with that? Well, if the city is providing $5 million in tax breaks and only ends up netting $3 million, they've got a bit of a problem. Do this over and over, and add zeroes onto those figures, and it gets pretty desperate. In the case of the Glover Plan, I recall, part of what the city provided was a substantial payment to help the aforementioned dirty book store, blight that they felt it was on one corner, move to another corner in the same city.

But back to Lurch, the present Mayor of Kansas City. He's an accountant, and it shows. When I say he seems like a straight shooter, one of the things he's known for is pointing out where the TIF projects aren't performing nearly like the blue sky they were sold under. Offering funding cuts to the Liberty Memorial and the Zoo may be unpopular, but I have a feeling he's telling the truth that the city is overdrawn and something's got to give.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thai Pie

Pizza. Not exactly the light load, right?

Well, I've been battling, psychologically only mind you, with my weight and whatnot lately. I'm getting jowly, which doesn't work with my whole vanity thing. Plus, I can feel how out of shape I am. That 'wake up call,' when I woke up in the hospital to find I'd had a heart attack at the precocious age of 32, well, I guess I started to wake up but ended up hitting the snooze button.

Five more minutes?

I stepped on a scale at the Cosmosphere to find out what I'd weigh on the moon, and in the process I found out what I weigh on earth: more than I ever have before. I could pull a Cartman and say I'm totally buff, but bullshit.

So I've been trying to figure out ways to make the foods I love without obvious detriment to my health or the crazy sort of Whole Paycheck Market shopping I did back when the heart attack was fresh and innocent.

Enter pizza. I love it, the girls love it, but it can pack a wallop calorie-wise. Then enter cable TV, something I recently reacquired after a 10 year hiatus. Food Network, it's cool. These fearless cook-off contestants got me thinking.

I could have gone to the store to get a couple items. Shrimp would have been a great, obvious topping for the Thai Pie, but I didn't want to go to the store. That has to do with the budgetary equivalent of the weight issue. I'd go to Wal-Mart with one thing on my list and before you know it, it's hard to turn the cart at the corners because it's so freakin' heavy.

So I worked with materials at hand. A whole wheat crust, 3/4 cup water, 1-1/8 cup each whole wheat and white flour, some wheat gluten, a tablespoon each of yeast and sugar. Before I added the flour stuff, I let the warm water, yeast and sugar reach an obviously active ferment (about ten minutes).

For the sauce I started with about 2/3 cup Padang sauce, adding a bit of sesame oil, some ginger (maybe a teaspoon?), and as much Royal Thai spice as I had patience to grind (mainly coriander and red pepper, I think).

I didn't have much in the way of fresh veggies, but I did have some frozen stuff, and I defrosted it and put it on a paper towel to soak up excess moisture.

Then I thought of how Padang sauce is peanut based, and where could I get peanuts without leaving the house?

The fruit and nut mix, of course. Which ended up being another set of toppings. Peanuts, almonds, dried pineapple, kiwi, mango, cherries, etc. Veggie pizza or fruit and nuts?

Why not both? I mean, I was afraid I wouldn't like the result, so I divided the pizza into thirds, initially. A third with fruit and nuts, a third with veggies (asparagus, red bell pepper, yellow squash, some sort of orange squash), a third for the aforementioned fruit/nut mix, and a third divided between jalapeños and just cheese, a sixth each I guess.

All corners of the pie turned out to be pretty good, though the fruit and nut side is the best. The sweetness of the fruit, the crunch of the nuts, the creaminess of the cheese and the hot spicy sauce, all with that grainy whole wheat crust flavor... A (meatless) sweet, spicy, savory pizzagasm. Probably be even better with cream cheese substituted for the mozz, or some soy cheese of some sort to lighten the calorie count a few more ticks.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Okay, besides the space capsule keychain, I bought a couple of miniature snap-together models at the Cosmosphere.

Now if you look at my desk at work, you might mistake me for someone with a thing for rockets and space...

I'll Give YOU Some Stimulation!

So a coworker the other day, said something to the effect of, 'He said not to stash it, that it would only do the trick if it was spent...'

She was speaking, of course, about the so-called stimulus checks.  The way she said it, it sounded like George Bush was Dad holding out some cash with the moral authority to advise you how it might and might not be spent.  With fingers that don't actually let go of the money until the advice has been offered and he decides it's more or less been received.

My response was to ask why I would take financial advice from an obvious moron with the moral fiber of a playground heroin pusher.  This pretty much ended the discussion, as the other party to this conversation apparently wouldn't vote to send Bush and his ilk (which would include, by the way, Al Gore and John Kerry, as well as the three 'frontrunners' we're supposedly choosing among as next Alpha Criminal) to a gulag.

Anyway, the whole stimulus check thing is such transparent bullshit.  I guess, if you think George Bush is a father figure in all this, I'm pretty typical of a son who knows when someone's trying to buy him off, and on the cheap at that.

The IRS even sent me a piece of propaganda about how to calculate the great windfall that is coming my way.  I didn't understand it, honestly, even after I read it a couple times to make sure I didn't have to send something in to get whatever they're going to 'give' me.

When the check comes, I'll know what I get, and I promise you this: it will be less than what I pad in federal income taxes last year.

Federal income taxes are maybe the only thing I resent more than child support payments.  Not, mind you, that I wouldn't support my children, I just resent sending a check to the state to send to my ex to do what I'd rather do directly.  Still, at least when my ex buys something like a prescription refill or a new coat for one of my daughters, I at least can see where that money does someone any good at all.  My federal income taxes?  They benefit only the social engineers among our nation's political criminals.  

There has never been a brick laid or a kidnapper arrested with income tax revenues.  The federal government spends money without regard to it's revenue base, so all the income tax is, really, is the the percentage of the GDP that is stolen from about a third of the population, and I'm in that third.  Which pisses me off.

And the aforementioned fuckheads know they can count on the two thirds who either pay nothing in taxes or who actually get more in tax credits than they pay in withholdings, to support this despicable system in perpetuity.

But back to stimulating our supposedly ailing economy.  First off, the economy is not really sick.

People make mistakes.  And money is often the marker used to keep track of these errors.  Like when banks loan money willy-nilly because the bundled mortgages (backed by distressed properties occupied by deadbeats) are worth a greasy buck here and there.  Or people who can't keep their lights on two months straight who commit to a 30 year obligation on a home they can't afford.

See also yours truly, who keeps a house he can't really afford because, well, I have to live somewhere.  And my daughters each have a room here and think of it as home at Dad's house.  I'm not in default or anything, but if I'd been out of work more than six weeks when I got canned a little over a year ago, and if I didn't have some very helpful family, I'd have been in foreclosure mere months after a refi.

Which is to say I'm not that different from the next door neighbor and the family three doors down who's houses are presently owned by the bank.  I had better timing, better luck, but that's about it.

So this money, maybe $900 for me, is supposed to rescue the whole economy from maybe a million people upside down in $200,000 homes?  I doubt it.  The last time they tried this, my 401k went down about 40% in six months.  And being that I'm an indexer, that's a pretty good indicator that the checks didn't help.

So what would help?  How about the other $3,000? 

If you really wanted to stimulate our way out of a recession (and this would probably only delay the inevitable, since mistakes were made and need correcting), just announce amnesty for the tax year.  If you owed, you don't.  What you paid in withholdings is refunded 100%.

If you just didn't collect any income taxes in 2007, the federal budget (which ought to be cut dramatically but that's a different discussion) doesn't have to change, but there'd be something close to a trillion dollars of stimulation put into the economy.

It'd work so well, in fact, the government might be tempted to extend the amnesty year after year.  Hmmmmm....

But, being the government is always 'government, ' they'd probably find a way to jack that up, too.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Day Four, Part V: World's Biggest Ball of Twine

This is going to wrap up the vacation slide show. Think of it: back in the day, I'd have had to get film developed and converted to slides, conned you into coming to my home on the pretext of sharing a meal, then stuck you on my sofa with a lukewarm martini and then bored in on the 1021 pictures I took.

Thanks to the advent of high speed internet, you can be bored to tears anytime you like, from the privacy of your own home. You don't have to pretend to like my cooking, you don't even have to know me. It's perfect!

The final leg of our tour was to head through fog so dense visibility was under a quarter mile in hopes of reaching the World's Biggest Ball of Twine.

All of the supporting business structures related to the ball were closed. We couldn't tell if for the day or for the season. The town isn't what you'd call lively: you can get gas there, but only by swiping a credit card at the pump.

The ball of twine is, well, it's big. It's not even really a ball anymore, at least not if you expect a ball to be spherical. It's rounder than a football, I guess. It's probably a real hassle trying to turn the sucker on its side to even out the winding at this point. The ball is a monument to compulsive behavior, the ultimate pointless collection. If it was the second largest ball, would we even have come?

Cawker City does have a lot of art on display in windows, reproductions of various famous paintings to make the downtown look a little less dead. And it does have, to my amazement, a real, working phone booth. I don't mean a pay phone, though those have gotten scarce, I mean a proper phone booth with a folding door and all that.

I haven't seen one of those in thirteen years, and I know it was that long because when I saw that last one in Lincoln, NE, it was enough of an oddity to register a distinct memory.

On the way home, we grabbed pizza at a buffet in Topeka, and at some point on US 24, we passed an old fort with little gun windows all around and an apparently functioning Yugo parked next to it. It's rusty, but the plates were current. Haven't seen a running Yugo in even longer than I haven't seen a phone booth.

It was a fun trip, obviously my camera got a workout. It's striking the differences you can see from town to town. Places like Lucas, that has so much going on it hardly fits in the town contrasts sharply with a place like Leonardville. Nothing against the latter, I'm sure the people there are nice enough, but instead of having a plethora of folk art, a Czech gift shop, or even a giant ball of twine and a phone booth, Leonardville appeared to have only beer joints and liquor stores, roughly one for every three or four run down houses. I'm no teetotaler, but it's depressing to see the only local flavor is 90 proof and the local cultural attraction is satellite TV.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Day Four, Part IV: Garden of Earthly Delights

My Dad gets all the credit for this. After I'd planned Hutchinson as a destination and searched (so I thought) online for folk art stops more or less on the way to and from, my Dad mentioned we'd be in line to visit the Garden of Eden.

I've seen the place, probably more than once, on Rare Visions & Roadside Revelations, one of the few TV shows I ever agreed with my ex wife on.

And my ex is related, I think, to the original Weirdo of Lucas, Kansas. Same pronunciation, but different spelling. The guy was at least as stubborn as his namesakes in my experience.

He had a well, but the spring turned out to be the city water main. He started this house when he was already 'retired,' at the age of 64, and built the mausoleum he's housed in for himself and his first wife. They wouldn't let him bury her in the mausoleum, so he dug her bones up from the cemetery and encased them in cement in the mausoleum, basically telling the Lucas City Council to go jump in a lake.

Can you imagine actually disinterring your own wife and caring her decomposing carcass home? What an image. Guy knew what he wanted, though.

A man after my own heart, he remarried, his second wife being twenty to his eighty-one. He had two honyocks with wife #2 before shuffling off this mortal coil and leaving future generations to wonder, without this freak, wither Lucas?

Thing is, Lucas is tiny. There's a cafe on the edge of town, and a few businesses in the downtown, but we're talking a town so small it doesn't have its own gas station. Which is to say, one eccentric like Sam Dinsmoor would be way over quota. I mean, not only is he in the mausoleum, he's lying in state, and while they ask you not take pictures, you do indeed get to see what's left of him (he died in 1932). It's a truly creepy thing to behold.

But there's more: At the same time he was mixing up concrete to make these bizarre sculptures (Adam and Eve, with Adam wearing a Masonic apron, for instance), there was another cat on the edge of town making sculptures you can still see from the road.

In fact, coming in to town, there's more folk art, including a gorgeous mural on a satellite dish, an apple that appears made out of a wrecking ball, and a weathervane made by the aforementioned contemporary of Dinsmoor.

There's also signs pointing you to the Grassroots Art Center, which we figured we'd check out. On the way there, we found the Fork Art and a bunch more sculpture on display in the town's main drag.

At the Grassroots Art Center, they've done a great job of collecting work from folk artists from all over the region. The common denominators of all these artists are they've done amazing things and that they've 'never had one lesson.'

A couple of artists, we were told, technically could be considered 'trained,' but 99% of what you see here is made by autodidacts using whatever material they had at hand.

The crazy sculptor out in Mullinville I'd wanted to check out (but it would have been too far West for this trip), his stuff is on display there, too. And several things I remember seeing on Rare Visions.

Then, just when I thought we'd run out of Grassroots Art Center, the lady giving the tour said to follow her, and hopped in her car.

We went a couple blocks over to the Deeble House. This was owned by a woman who sculpted 'vacation postcards' in her backyard to describe her various vacations. I'm sure by the time she was doing this, in the 1950s, the people in Lucas figured there was something in the water.

Inside the house, the walls have been covered with foil and display the works of Mri-Pilar. Her specialty is what she calls 'REBARB,' based on discarded and dismembered Barbie dolls. Em was a little concerned that someone would dismember Barbies, but we were told they are not dismembered by Mri, rather people bring junk to her, leave sacks of it on her porch. Let's see what she does with this stuff....

Some of the stuff is for sale, and Em was wishing she had $35, then wishing she had $75, then wishing...

I told her, well, you have Barbies that have been in the wars. Why not make your own sculptures? Isn't that the whole idea of folk art, anyway?

That's the great thing about it. I've never mixed a batch of concrete in my life, but crazy guys like Dinsmoor and Ed Root make me want to. Not to do the exact thing they've done, but to try and find my own concrete muse. Or, when it was mentioned that Mri-Pilar uses a hot glue gun extensively in her REBARBs, I got to thinking about all the cool things you could do with some epoxy and fiberglass cloth, stuff I've been learning to use for my rockets.

For that matter, the folk artist in me finds expression, I suppose, in the fact that I can't fly a rocket without naming it; and I'm far more interested in getting a cool looking paint job than the performance of the rocket as a general rule. Guys in the club will fly rockets they haven't even painted, and I can't imagine doing such a thing. Even on my proposed supersonic project, I'm not going to forgo a paint job to shave weight, though I guess an engineering focused rocketeer would do exactly that.

By the time we were done at the Deeble House, Mo was getting too cranky for us to try the Flying Pig, the studio up the road from the Grassroots Art Center.

I'm honestly having trouble organizing the photos in a logical way for this post. I'm aware there's too many pictures here. Trust me on this, I culled many more than I posted. Low lighting and the limitations of a pocket camera made a lot of these subjects very difficult to shoot. This is one of those situations where I truly do wish for a nice SLR.

As hard as it is to believe, this tiny town you could walk across in under an hour has so much great folk art, you really need an entire day, minimum to explore it. We'll be going back, hopefully when the weather is more congenial.