Thursday, July 28, 2005

Why do people think they can send a friend to Court for them?

So yesterday afternoon I'm in Who's your Daddy Court. Judge is late because he has to cover for another Judge so one of the other prosecutors calls the docket so we can get started settling cases. 45 cases, not too busy of an afternoon...And the first case on the docket she calls the name...Its a man's name, and a woman answers, "He couldn't be here, I'm here for him." Lawyer is momentarily stunned. She just writes it down and moves on.

A few names down the page and another person speaks up, "She's not here, but I'm here for her."

Lawyer calling the docket and I are looking at each other and laughing....

A few names down the page and yet another person answers for someone else-- except this time the person answers for both the Plaintiff and the Defendant...This was MadDog's case and he just drops his shoulders and looks at me, "Its going to be a long afternoon."

I'm giggling at this point and have to turn my back towards the room.

Ok people: when you are summoned to Court you cannot send your paramour/brother/sister or mother in your stead. But you probably wouldn't know that since almost none of you actually read the papers I send you that explains that to you. Now, if you're in the hospital or dead, I can see that, but these people didn't want to show up because they knew they were in danger of going to jail for not paying as ordered. I particularly liked the person who showed up for both sides of the case.

Then the (Post edited in case this person reads this and gets upset.) lawyer in town walks through the door. MadDog and I look at each other- oh laws who's going to have to deal with him? Bing! MadDog wins and he gets to deal with him. Yaay!

At one point I'm sitting in on the conversation and the lawyer gets mad because both MadDog and I agree that he can't do what he wants to do, but we tell him he's welcome to try. Lawyer glares at us and says, (post edited in case this person reads this and gets upset...) 2 hours later, the Judge agrees that MadDog and I do know the law. Ha. You cannot have three children by three different women in three different counties and combine them into one case in one County and divide the resulting child support between the three children.

Life lesson: Its sooo much more effective when someone says the law is X and you don't agree to go and pull the law or the case and say, "Well, huh, It appears to me that you might be mistaken here because this really seems to say Y. What do you have to suggest that the law is X?" (This technique is also known as "Walk softly and carry a big stick.") To which lawyers who can't admit they could be wrong usually reply, "Well, its clearly settled law." Any time someone tells you its clearly settled law, it almost always is not, in fact, clearly settled law, but something they pulled out of their asses.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A few good pictures I meant to post...

This first picture is of a stream where we stopped to rest on the way to Tok from Wrangell St. Elias.

This next one is of a moose we saw on the side of the road. Interesting fact: Moose kill far more people each year than Bears. On the last day,
when we were waiting for the plane, we went
hiking again and came across a young bull moose in the forrest. I was really surprised because we were hiking just outside of Anchorage and we weren't but maybe 150 feet from the hightway in the small area between the mountains and the highway- but I guess they like the slightly open spaces where there is good grazing.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Alaska Series Chapter 3

The loss of my previous draft of this post into cyberspace somewhat dimmed my desire to continue on a blow-by-blow of my trip to Alaska. How many times and in how many ways can I tell you about how amazing it was? As Susan said in her comment-- capturing the majesty/ grandeur of nature in words is almost as frustrating as capturing it in pictures. I think you probably got the general idea of how overwhelming it was in the first two entries. Suffice it to say it was amazing and you should go.

But I do want to tell you some of the funny things that happened. Towards the end of the trip we drove down to Homer and camped on the beach, which I highly recommend should you ever visit Alaska. It was wonderful and relaxing. Its a rock beach, which I actually like, although as an Alabamian I grew up spoiled with the beautiful white sand beaches we have here.

In Homer I went for a walk on the beach and sat for a while on a tree which had been cast on the beach by a storm. I watched a small sailboat running with the wind back in the harbor and thought about how different it would be to sail in Alaska than in Alabama. In Alabama, should you be so unlucky as to break down or flip your boat- eeehhh you'll probably survive as long as you keep your head. In Alaska, 15 minutes in the water even in summer and you're more likely than not a dead man. As I was sitting on the tree a sailor man came up and started talking to me. He was, as all sailors are, a yarn spinner and I let him tell me some good stories. He was also the person in the small sailboat who had just run back into the harbor.

The first story he told me was about working in the processing line after coming back in with a catch. There was a new guy on the line and he decided to mess with him (as one always does with the new guy). His job was to pull the fish and make the initial cut. New guy, who was a college boy and a biology major, had the job of pulling the guts. Sailor grabs two fish, makes the cuts quickly and puts two fish stomachs in one fish and sends it down the line. New guy gets so intrigued about the two stomached fish he gets his line all out of whack and fish are going everywhere.

Second story was about some people who rented a boat and took it out not understanding the waters well enough. They ended up capsizing and even though they were wearing float jackets everyone dies but the grandfather who managed to cling to the buoy marking the entrance to the harbor. Scary.

We then watched some strange hippie woman sitting on the beach knocking stones together and chanting. I felt like I was in California. We also felt a small earthquake and watched the waves change in response. Then I really felt like I was in California.

After Homer we drove back up the Kenai Pensula and got a hotel. Nice, clean, basic and the least expensive room we found anywhere at $100.00 bucks. It was a great day of walking around the lake and basically just relaxing. We went to the restaurant for dinner, which featured some good food, including the ubiquitous $ fish and chips...and $12.00 hamburger.... As we were sitting there a group of Hell's Angels rumbled up.

They came into the place and settled in behind us. They were in the Anchorage, Alaska chapter and were entertaining a visiting member from Norway. They were kind and polite to the waitress, ordered iced tea and soup and were having this fascinating conversation with the visiting Norwegian about Alaska and Norway and the economic and social differences between the two countries especially as related to the weather and the membership in the Angels. Apparently some of them had visited the Norwegian at some earlier point. At least one of the Americans spoke Norwegian as they had a conversation about the menu in Norwegian (or maybe German.) I really, really wanted to get up and ask them if I could sit with them and just listen because I found them so fascinating. I was with my friend, who is 6'4" and used to ride a Harley, so I figured he at least would be able to speak with them about bikes... But he said that was a very bad idea. So yeah, I decided to forgo that. I probably wouldn't have done it without him either, as playing with fire can get you burned. But I was totally not above drinking a beer and listening hard.

These guys were all business owners and were discussing the trials and tribulations of running restaurants and businesses- and what this place was doing right and wrong. Reminds you that you can't judge people by their outside- although, you do have to be wary of course- as one of the other stories was about one of the members who was not present, who many years ago had beat up the guitarist in Jefferson Airplane and how the Norwegian just had to meet him. His name was Animal. I am sure he earned it the hard way. I mean, how much of an Animal do you have to be for the Hell's Angels to call you Animal? After I got back home I saw a documentary on TV about the different patches on their vests/jackets and what they mean which I wish I had seen before hand as I couldn't remember at all which patches these guys had-- but they did have several of the extra patches of hard core members. Unfortunately, after a while some more of their friends showed up and they decided to all go sit in the bar where they could be alone.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Chapter 3 will be postponed

Ok, so I had all this great stuff written and then it disappeared into cyberspace and I have to go and do actual later for the next installment.

I'll leave you with my favorite bumper sticker from Alaska:

Guns cause violence like flies cause garbage.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

London Bombings

There have been more London Bombings. Sigh. This is awful and my heart goes out to the Brits who have been spot on by being brave and continuing to use the public transport. It does however remind me of an cultural difference I encountered when I was studying for a term at St John's.

The colleges at Oxford are generally surrounded by high walls. St. John's, being quite old, was surrounded by a high wall impregnated with shards of glass.

There was a massive front door set with a smaller door. Generally, unless one was entering the side gate with one's key, which was monitored by cameras, one entered this door within a door. This was back in 1993, when Americans didn't have much collegiate security (or at least my college at home didn't.) When I arrived at St. John's I was kind of stunned by the guards learning who I was, when I went out, when I came home. (Mom and Dad were frankly quite pleased by this.) I was more stunned by the sign right at the front entrance- one side was chalk for messages and the other was printed, permanently, with the statement, "Bomb Threat Today." It was, more often than not during my term there, turned to the Bomb Threat side.

This horrified me! I mean, sure, there had been "bomb threats" in High school-- phoned in by morons who wanted to miss a test...But I never seriously considered a bomb would actually go off. I mean, these kids were so dumb they usually phoned from home.

So I bring this up with my friend, who is now law partner in major UK law firm- we'll call him BL for Brit Lawyer, and BL is totally non-plussed by the bomb threats-- he says they are nothing compared to the gun violence in America. This gives me pause, because I also never considered I would be shot at home and lord knows most people here are armed; well armed. I pointed out the one thing that differentiated the gun violence to me-- guns were generally aimed at specific people and by avoiding certain places and behaviors one could be reasonably safe. You know-- don't wear a Rolex down a dark street drunk at 3 AM. Don't ride through east St. Louis at 3 am with a rebel flag waving from your car.... Sure, random violence could occur, but much of the danger could be managed by behaving prudently.

I could not, however, avoid my entire college. Nor could I avoid the general shops- some animal rights people blew up a leather goods shop while I was there- in the middle of the day. I could not get a grasp on how to best manage the risk- aside from giving in to the "terrorists." (I'm going to have to agree with those who say we're overusing the word-- I use it here to refer to those who desire to control the behavior of others through fear- not in the politically imbued axis of evil way.) Which I was not willing to do on principle.

I finally just pretended it didn't exist, and kept my eye out for unattended bags. But it was fascinating to me that BL was far more worried about being shot in America than about being bombed in Oxford, while I was far more worried about being bombed in Oxford than shot at home.

More on Alaska tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Alaska Series Chapter 2

After Valdez, we headed back North and turned off onto a paved road that then became a gravel road into the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Due to the perma frost and generally extreme weather in Alaska, most roads are fairly iffy. Even the highways are under construction that makes off-roading in Alabama seem tame, which is a pretty high standard of disrepair.

This road was no exception, despite the fact that it was clearly marked in the gazetteer and was an official National Park road. Nor was it marked on the map the rental company gave us as a "don't take this road or we will not be responsible for what happens road." It was pretty clear after the first 10 miles that this was not a road one should take in a minivan. But, hell, we wanted to get out and see some sights off the beaten path. Just before the good part of the gravel ended we stopped at one of the ubiquitous road side coffee stands for a mocha and a stretch. I loved these places- they reminded me of home. I think a large percentage of Alaska's population are people who left the South- and brought their trailer park compound/ junk collection lifestyle with them. This place was no exception: Dog for early warning, Check. Extra sink beside the building, just in case, Check. Extra cars for parts, Check. Three trailers in a semi-circle surrounded by a wall of junk in the rear to ward off intruders, Check and double Check. The only thing missing was a confederate flag- and that, I'm pleased to report, I never saw in Alaska.

Which lead me to wonder: What is up with all the trailers in Alaska? Tornadoes and heat in Alabama are hard enough on a trailer-- I can't imagine a trailer in a winter storm in Alaska. In Valdez there was a two story trailer hotel- for $129.00 a night and UP. (I'll have the deluxe second story room with the view, and the attached bath, How much will that be with tax?) I decided maybe Perma Frost issues? Speed of construction? Whatever the reason, it really struck me-- Living in a trailer in Alaska. Wow.

Ok, so we're traveling down this entirely iffy road. I realize after covering only a few miles in half an hour this road is going to be like a motorboat in choppy waters-- speed is key. Going slowly enough that one doesn't worry about the transmission falling out will only result in worse jouncing. Only, the road gets one in a lull and then, wham out of no where a pot hole so huge and deep you're jerking the wheel and slamming the breaks to avoid it. We crossed a wood and cable one lane bridge and stopped in the middle (traffic was, um, light.)

We continued on and somewhere, about 20 miles in, my friend spotted the first wildlife of the trip. A gray wolf. I came to a screeching halt. It was so large at first I thought it was a small black bear. Unfortunately, I didn't get it on camera, but it was a great spot none-the-less.

We forded a small stream, and then 30 miles in, began to pass businesses and homes and property for sale. I would absolutely love to own something that far out. I promise aside from the coffee place (a 10x10 shack on skids- 20 miles back) and the wool/knitting shop and the plane shop there was nothing else out there. No power polls even out that far. From the many lakes with small planes, it seemed to be a fishing hot spot to which one flew rather than drove. Talk about getting away from it all!

This lake is one where we stopped for a moment. The water was clear and no evidence of human settlement was on its shores- aside from a small firepit at the little cut in where we stopped. There were literally dozens of small lakes along the way-- with such creative names as 1 mile lake, 5 mile lake, and clear lake.

After a while we had seen enough and turned back. It was a nice detour- do it in a plane if you ever want to go. Next, to Tok.

National Public TV gets (slightly) raunchy...

I'll take a small break in my Alaska Series to bring you something funny I saw on National Public TV just before I left. I made a note in one of my notebooks to write about it and saw the note on the counter yesterday....

The show is about wooden roller coasters. Wooden roller coasters are smaller and slower than their modern counterparts, what with the structural limitations of wood and all. After an extensive discussion about how much smaller the hills were than on modern rollercoasters, the commentator decides to inverview some people who have just ridden the wooden roller coaster.

He picks an average looking 50 something man and woman. They look like nice people. The interviewer asks them if its fun to ride the smaller, slower roller coaster even after one has ridden the big, fast, modern roller coaster. The wife speaks first and says, looking meaningfully at her husband, her arm linked through his, "I've always said size doesn't matter. Bigger isn't necessarily better. Its still a wonderful ride." The cameraman then pans to the husband who, I swear to you, is BLUSHING. As the cameraman meaningfully pans in on his face and he is struggling to say something, anything to make this about the roller coaster. He doesn't succeed; he just stammers and glares at her. I swear it was the most awkard 3 seconds I've seen on public TV since that show, "The History of Sex" when the 90 year old man said, "That's the problem with you young people today, you always think you invented sex. We fucked a lot less in my day, but I'll bet we made love a lot more often." That made me snarf my diet Mt. Dew.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

How I Travel- The Alaska Series Volume 1

I love to travel. I hate to be a tourist (an Ugly American). Reconciling these two facts is difficult and to me is at the heart of a good trip. Usually it means avoiding many of the typical destinations while not allowing myself to miss something spectacular just because everyone else has to see it and trying to meet and talk with locals and seeing the bizarre and out of the way places.

Travel to Alaska was somehow like traveling to another country- the differences between Alaska and the "lower 48" are so enormous and so compelling that I felt as though I was no longer in America but in a vast frontier of endless possibilities. Perhaps it had something to do with the sheer size of the state, perhaps the vastness of the mountains, perhaps the exorbitant price I paid for food which made me feel as though I were in Europe at a time of bad exchange rates. Perhaps it was the incredibly long hours of daylight energizing me- 19 in Anchorage and 21 in Fairbanks this time of year and it never got truly dark- or maybe just being on vacation so far away from Alabama. Whatever it was, I felt as though truly, Alaska was its own country and that I was another explorer who could, without an unreasonable amount of effort, penetrate to places on which no human had set foot.

There are only a few roads in Alaska, and they transverse only the lover third of the state- with the exception of the pipeline highway on which our rental company would not allow us to travel. We drove counterclockwise from Anchorage to Valdez, up to Tok, to Fairbanks, down through Denali, back through Anchorage, down the Kenai Pennsula and down to Homer. This was 2000 miles in just over a week, and yet, I never felt rushed. With the long daylight one could drive late into the evening without loss of scenery or feeling as though one was missing something.

There was very little radio, but it didn't matter-- hour after hour the visual scenery literally flooded me. I craned my neck, I realized that the vistas I was capturing on my camera would never come close to capturing the vastness and amazingness of the constantly changing mountains. The way your could feel nature, great and terrible - and her perspective was wider then any insight a tiny human could ever hope to have. I remember turning on the radio the third day we were there and hearing NPR long enough to learn of the bombings in London before loosing the signal. Every time I picked up a book to read, I could hardly make a paragraph before beginning to regret that I was not looking-- at everything. Even driving back on the few "retraces" of our steps we made I couldn't bear to read-- as the scenery was so completely different coming from the opposite direction.

My friend and I alternated driving- and I have to admit I let him drive more than I did because I had trouble keeping my eyes on the road while watching the mountains. I tended to volunteer in the plains, in the few brief places where forest closed in on the road closing off the horizon around us, or when were recrossing a section.

After the first morning in Valdez my friend had trouble sleeping. It was our one and only night in a campground- after the drunken idiots kept him up he agreed with my sleep in the cool pull offs that dotted the road policy. I dislike the 2 legged troublemakers more than I fear the possible 4 legged ones- so he asked if I minded sleeping (it was 4:30 am and broad daylight) while he drove. I said no problem, but after 20 minutes I couldn't stay in the back any longer. The fog closed in around us as we wound our way up from Valdez and even the impenetrable fog was fascinating- especially as it slowly lifted to reveal the immediate scenery and finally the glaciers and mountains around us.

So that was the first leg... I think this story is going to take a lot of entries.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

Some days the honeyd words roll off my tongue, and some days... bleaatch. Today does not feel like one of my better days, so I'll also link to this interview....

Vacation Reading list

Mark of the Grizzly- Outstanding examination of grizzly attacks with insight as to the causes and a great deal of respect for bears. I recommend this book to anyone going where there are grizzlys. This and some pepper spray- 'cause a grown grizzly can cover 100 feet faster than you can raise and aim your gun. I really do wonder if I could play dead if attacked...

Into the Woods- More on this one later, because I can't remember the real name and since I left the book on the plane I have to buy a new copy for my friend. Story of a young man who walks into the woods and doesn't walk out- and is less than 5 miles from help. Reminds you to think outside the box, and that some people are searching and are always going to be searching.

interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri-- My Mom gave me this Pulitzer prize winner and I enjoyed it. A collection of short stories exploring that aspect of human personality whereby we often think someone can give us an insight into ourselves, or we can gain healing from someone outside ourselves. The characters are primarily Indian which gave me a cultural distance from them, and yet I could really identify with the conflicts and insights.

For us the Living - Robert Heinlein. Heinlein's first novel- never before published due to many rejections and its loss into the garage of a former student. Its outstanding. This novel was (probably) written in 1938 and is a outsider in utopia plot- somethings he got away from in his other early writing (probably because this was rejected so firmly- and a man has to eat) and did not come back to until he was well established and could afford to lecture and push his audiences. I am a huge Heinlein fan- especially of his social science fiction and this book was no disappointment. Its truly difficult to believe it was written in the 30s- its forward and advanced for today with computer touch screens, automatic homes and social relations based on doing no harm to others.

Swimming with Seamonsters- Paul Thoreaux: a collection of his essays and lit crit. Some are better than others, but they are brief and easy to read when one has short periods of time. I always love Thoreaux, but I enjoy his travel writing best. Still, I'm glad I bought it and it was perfect for traveling because I could start and stop easily- and it should help give me context for some of his longer works- which I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys travel writing.

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man- John Perkins: I saved the best for last. I am a believer in fate, and in the concept that you can learn something from everyone if your mind is open. This book was left in the van we rented- but not for this serendipitous event, it would have probably never come across my radar screen. I think its the most important book I've read in a long long time. Go, buy it now- and then, when you're done with it, give it to someone else.

Look, this book put together a lot of facts I know in a whole new very scary way. Its non-fiction and basically an autobiography of a man who was a covert member of the NSA and an overt international economist. He went to foreign countries to perform economic predictions which would allow the world bank to lend them vast sums of money for "infrastructure" which was then funneled back to Haliburton and other US companies (after paying off the appropriate people in said country) as they performed the construction necessary to the projects. Making the US and the top tier of the "helped" country vastly wealthier and the poor poorer. When the countries could not support the debt the US then gained other concessions and control... the Mafia Model of control- Oh, we'll grant you repayment concessions but we need you to vote this way on our UN decision.... Ever wondered why Saudi Arabia hasn't told us to go to hell? Did you already know Bush Sr. Owned part of United Fruit? Haliburton/Cheney? Its the Good Old Boy Network on an international scale- you realize how many political appointments go back and forth between these multinationals and power brokers.

When you're through with this you will truly understand a great deal more about why we're not viewed too enthuiastically in the Middle East, Central America or Indonesia (Or the rest of the World for that matter). You will understand that it is not a conspiracy in the sense of a true conspiracy, but laziness and a lack of a public philosophy on our part as Americans combined with corporate greed and lack of national discussion and agreement concerning business ethics- the type of business drive and culture that spawned Enron, WorldCom and HealthSouth among others. We must educate ourselves as consumers, we must see that this rampant commercial driven consumerism and want for MORE is wrong and must be curbed- and we need a National Philosophy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Return From Alaska

Well, I'm back from the wilds of the far north. Sunshine all day and night...2000 miles in a minivan and a moose.

I have lots of stories to tell, but they need processing. It will be Monday
before the next installment : )

I will give you this, my favorite one:

My friend and I stop to get dinner just South of Fairbanks in a small town named North Pole. The first chinese restaurant we try is full up so we see a small place around the corner. Its empty which is not a good sign, but actually, the food was great- fast and fresh... As we near the end of our meal we ask the waitress, a high school aged girl, about a place to stay for the night. She gives us a recommendation and we call but its full. While trying to decide what to do, we ask her what its like to live in a town dedicated to Santa and she tells us a FABULOUS STORY.

This story reminded me that everyone has something to tell you if you'll just listen.

This guy gets hired to be Santa. Grows his beard, legally changes his name to Kris Kringle- whole nine yards. He settles in to a nice winter and summer as Santa. People pay for the right to sit on his lap and have their picture taken.

Apparently, everything went fine for a while, until... He gets in trouble at the North Pole Santa House for "fingering the girls." Yep. That's the word she used. Not molesting, not inappropriate touching but Fingering. So they fire him.

Then, somebody, she wasn't sure if it was related to the fingering, goes to his home and he shoots them. Yep, Santa shot the trespasser.

So now? He's working as a cab driver in North Pole Alaska. She didn't know what had happened yet with the touching or the shooting.

Mental note: don't hire a cab in North Pole Alaska.

We drove on up to Fairbanks for the night laughing our asses off at the Santa Pervert.

We did however return the next day to mail postcards. I did not choose to have my picture made with Santa.

Friday, July 01, 2005

No posts for a while

Thanks for the responses to the poll-- loved it that we're all on the same page. I do hope none of you, gentle readers, have to deal with that particular situation!

I'm taking a break so I'll not be posing for a while.

When I return I'll definitely have something to say about Sandra Day O'Conner. She has always been an inspiration to me!

So, have a great July and check back in a few weeks.

St. Yves