Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The word of God

I was showing Natalie a painting of St Jerome in the cathedral in Montreal the other day and explaining to her how the Catholics needed to invent a myth of him being visited by the spirit, the Virgin Mary, etc., while translating the Bible into Latin, in order to say that the Latin Bible was literrally the word of God.  Then it occurred to me that fundamentalist Christians have the same issue.  So how do they handle the translation issue, one wonders?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tanger Outlet Mall in Mebane

I met a guy recently who's working on the work site for the Tanger Outlet Mall in Mebane.  It's a big deal this, an $8.5 million land sale for Mebane for a 317,000 square foot outlet mall.  Hold me back.

But even if it is for useless retail selling Americans crap they don't need, it will mean jobs, albeit shitty ones.  But not construction jobs. Apparently there are anglophone site managers on the job, but some 300 largely paperless hispanic guys doing the work.  Now, I am not anti-immigrant by a long stretch. I think what's going on in Arizona is a blight on our national conscience.  However, if you've got work on commercial construction that's supposed to be done by licensed contractors being done by illegal immigrants, that's questionable. There should be some law enforcement agency tasked with managing this and staffed adequately to do its job properly.  Incidentally, I don't think we should deport the working guys. That's just a waste of time. The general contractors, developers, etc. should be fined or otherwise dinged.

If doing the job legally made it uneconomical to do the job at all, then perhaps we don't need more outlet malls. Isn't that what all the outlets in Burlington are for?  Is the vacancy rate there really so low that we need so many more outlets?  I tend to doubt it.

Probably the only way this thing gets done is if the whole thing is basically done illegally.  So there are more $7.50 an hour low-skilled jobs for English speakers of all races and creeds to hawk Chinese-made garbage to one another.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Natalie and Clark take Quebec -- High- and low-lights

First, a warning to visitors to Montreal.  The Biodome and the Insectarium, both on the grounds of the 1976 Olympics, are supposed to be awesome.  Penguins, porcupines, and all kinds of roaches.  What's not to like?  Unfortunately, after driving out there, we discovered that they were closed, and had been since June 16, because of a "labor action", i.e. a strike.  What a bummer. Unfortunately, even in times of unprecedented economic woe and stress on public finance, Francophone public sector workers are still keen on getting what they perceive to be rightly theirs.

Our greatest highlight was, quoth Natalie, the visit to Montmorency Falls Northeast of Quebec, which are some 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls, we'll have you know.  The ride up and back in the cable car was a big winner.  On the way down, we had the car all to ourselves! There is apparently a beautiful road along the hillside from the falls out towards the Catholic cathedral at St-Anne-de-Beaupre. Unfortunately it was a impassable when we were there due to construction.  We went on a "detour" that took us on some winding residential streets out to where the road ends.  Literally, it backed up to forest and, judging by my inspection of Google maps the night before, there was nothing back there except for trees, lakes, and critters.  I was very curious to see it.

Natalie, on the other hand, was not interested in bucolic country driving. After checking out the cathedral, which wasn't entirely her cup of tea, she said she wanted to head back into town. And who can blame her, Quebec is an awesome little burg.  But, after lunch, first we stopped into the Musee des Beaux Arts de Quebec.  It was a cool looking building.  Unfortunately, they were dunning us for $15 for adults and $7 for kids.  That's more than the frickin Met in NYC suggests you contribute, if memory serves correctly.  Our guidebook told us of a fascinating part of the core collection explaining the conflict between academicians and the avant-garde in Quebec from 1860 to 1945. I can tell Natalie how that looks myself in about 5 minutes. There's no need for us to subsidize Quebecois exercises in generalized finishing school.  Natalie was as outraged (if not more so) than I was. So instead we walked around in the park outside and saw some silly
statues and some excellent historical plaques, including one from the decisive 1759 battle between the French and the English, in which one side "cleverly outflanked" the other. We were certain that Graham would love this.

One thing we can say of Quebec in the fall is that, though the leaves are purty, it's getting chilly.  Our hotel was one of the tallest in the whole town, and when you stepped outside, wind often whipped ferociously round the corner.  It actually blew my prized Camp Gwynn Valley baseball cap off my head! But a friendly cabbie retrieved it from under his car and said "Bienvenue a Quebec!" There was also a fair amount of rain. On our first night in Montreal, Natalie and I went out for an utterly non-notable walk through generally boring parts of town, getting pretty drenched in the process. In Quebec, we also got wet. Ah well, the place is lovely, and the Hotel Frontenac is pretty enchanting.  I think Natalie will remember our trip for some time, and I know I will.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The beginning of the end of the world

Driving north today on Route 40 from Montreal to Quebec City, it was rather empty.  To the west of the highway, we could see farmhouses and small villages in the distance.  I was saying to Natalie that in Canada not too far from where we are the paved roads might end, perhaps even 15-20 miles from where we were.  Looking at Google maps in the hotel later, I discovered just how right I was.

It's astonishing.  Unless I'm reading these maps wrong, things really thin out to the northwest of this road.  Man I wish we had time to just nose around the outback up here.

And then you get to Quebec City.  This little piece of pseudo-Europe at the frickin end of the earth. Wall to wall cute and tourist shops.  There's a falafel place a few blocks away from a seminary straight out of some Bergman movie with a courtyard where kids have been playing for 300 years.

This despite the fact that it's not much further north than Paris, or even Seattle.

As we drove, we played some very quick games of "I Spy", which goes "I spy with my little eye something that is (name the color)."  It went quickly because there was nothing, literally nothing, but green, yellow, and red trees, green grass, grey sky, grey road.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oh yeah

So Natalie and I got stopped at passport control coming into Canada.  I had gotten her a passport, and thought I was doing pretty well.  And I had the declaration.  But no, they wanted to see a passport photo.  And an itinerary, to prove that we intended to leave the country.

Most of all, they thought it was suspicious that I was travelling alone with Natalie.  "Where's your mom?  Why didn't she come with you?  Do you have a signed (preferably notarized) letter from her stating that it's OK for her to be traveling with you alone? etc. etc."

Apparently, lots of people abscond with their children.  The guy downstairs at customs actually called Mary on the phone and asked what Natalie was wearing.

On the one hand, I think it's nice that Canada is taking an interest in childrens' well-being.  On the other hand, it's a little obsessive. If I didn't have proper documentation and attestation that we were on vacation, what recourse would Canada as a state have?  Who supergovernmental authority confers on Canada the power to judge how I take vacations?

Natalie and Clark take Quebec: v1, Montreal

Our plane was a little late leaving Phillie for Montreal, so by the time we got to our hotel downtown it was 5 pm and we were starving.  Natalie declared that we needed, first and foremost, to sample a poutine, that delectable assemblage of french fries, cheese curds, and brown gravy that all the kids have been talking about.  The guys at the desk at our hotel were of one mind on where to go, La Banquise on Rue Rachel, which was not anywhere near the Old Town but was in a pretty cool neighborhood where people actually live, sporting a number of other homey looking boites. La Banquise proved to be a favorite of the tattooed, sideburned, and pierced crowd, but there was nothing wrong with the fabled dish itself.  Which is not to say that I feel I need another one soon.

Right now we're back at the hotel, cooling our heels for a few minutes before heading out to eyeball the old town and port and some kind of a nightcap. We are also sampling some fine television:  Dogs vs. Cats on Animal Planet.  So far it's 2 to 2, with our favored felines having taken the Petathlon and the cleanliness competition.

More updates to come.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our house got broken into

And they stole Mary's MacBook.  That's the third time we've been ripped off in the last 3 years.  Once in Princeton, once someone stole the Garmin out of our car in Carrboro, left unlocked by a garage that will not be mentioned by name because they so honorably ponied up for a replacement, and now this.

Apparently the "pre-disastered" theory espoused by Robin Williams as Garp in "The World According to Garp" does not quite work out in real life.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Highlights Magazine

Can kiss my ass.

My mom bought a subscription to Highlights for my kids.  They kinda like it, though Graham finds it a little light on the revolutionary and other old fashioned war content.  So the magazine sends subscription renewal reminders to both the subscriber (my mom) and the recipient (us), so that we both pony up or need to coordinate.  Maybe this is common practice amongst magazines, but it's a shitty one nonetheless.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joe Strummer: the Future is Unwritten

This is a very good documentary, for many reasons.  I had no idea that Strummer and Mick Jones had played together again. I actually cried when I saw that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jeremy Lin

You gotta like this kid.  He is gonna sell some sneakers.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chapel Hill Transit

Partially because the town is not as cool as once it was, there's no cooler thing about Chapel Hill these days than the free buses.  When my car was broke last week, I had to ride the F bus from downtown Carrboro to down by Whole Foods, and it was very convenient, despite stopping at the Mall for 7 minutes, despite the fact that the AC wasn't on in the morning when it should have been.

The actual buses are suspiciously similar to the ones they had when I was in junior high, back when you had to pay money, but that's beside the point.  They are not only free, they have free bike racks.

However, one gets the feeling that there is piss poor route and fleet optimization. Morning buses headed into town are full, which is awesome, and evening rush seems to have good ridership as well. But I run in the evenings around Eastwood Lake, and I see the G bus come down N. Lake Shore.  It is almost always completely empty. Once I saw one rider.  Buses use a lot o. gas per mile. I get 55 cents per mile as an expense for driving my car, when I drive on biz.  I'm sure that's a Federal rate. I don't know what the comparable figure for buses is, but it's much higher. To say nothing of the emissions issues.

There should be a way for buses to run less empty. Use vans.  Give people who use lightly traveled routes off hours vouchers to call cabs.

There are hardware limitations around vans, and possibilities for abuse of a taxi scheme, sure, but I'd like to know if these issues are being studied.  Does the system track rider volume at all?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

So much time, so little of it to blog

Had a tree guy come by the house yesterday to talk about taking down branches to open up our view of the lake. He also looked at a poplar out front, and pronounced it dangerous to the house.  His arguments seemed sound, and Mary's been wanting to get rid of some trees anyway to get more light on the house.  It's coming down.

Most impressive indeed* was the guy's get up. Long hair and beard. Civil War type leather hat.  Boots that laced up almost to his knee, with a knife sheathed in there for good measure.  Old school Chapel Hill, though he hailed originally from Western Massachussetts.

He liked to tell stories about jobs, in fact, it was difficult to stop him from doing so once he got wound up. He told us one about having to make it so water could flow through a pipe ("We had to get on that job while it was still dry, and the water level was so low cuz of the drought, you see") which turned out to have a big rock cropping up in it about  30 feet in ("there was no way anybody could climb up in there, so I figured the only way to take it out was to use a high-powered rifle.... So I put on a welding mask, just in case there was any blowback from in there, but I didn't pull down that really dark piece of glass, you know, just the inner glass piece so that I could see... with five shots we took about 12-14 inches off a that piece of rock, you know"). In any case, in due time, we got organized to have him come do some work.

 *Speaking of "indeed", Graham has taken to larding the word "indeed" into his discourse.  So we might ask him "Graham, would you like some soy milk?" And he might respond, "indeed."  Or he might say something like, "you know, when Benedict Arnold was talking to the Green Mountain boys about going up to Ticonderoga, they agreed, because, indeed, there was a lot of artillery up there to steal."  As you might have guessed, he has kept up his taste for the Revolutionary War.

He has, however, diversified slightly.  Last week, for writing homework, they had to write a sentence saying what they liked.  Examples on the piece of paper included "Jake likes bugs" and "Nina likes her puppy."  Graham wrote "Graham likes WWII."  There's nothing like a nice contraction to make writing assignments easier.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Moron koran-burning

A few more thoughts.

  • Although Obama takes the right position in decrying the burning, he shouldn't have dipped down into this discussion.  He has taken the bait. Now loonies of all stripes will want to get his goat.  There are plenty of federal employees who can comment.
  • Appropriate local responses might be to burn bibles, flags, constitutions right across the street
  • The US press might decide en masse not to film live footage of the event.  If Al Jazeera (not a bad news organization) and other Islamic press outlets are the only ones with cameras, Jones et al might think differently about what they're doing.
  • Although the First Amendment constrains the government from abridging freedom of speech, there's no reason the populace can't act as an obstacle to press access.  Why don't a bunch of citizens create a cordon of intentional traffic accidents around the burning site so that press trucks can't get through?  It would be ironic indeed if Cash for Clunkers made it difficult to find good cars to sacrifice.  Or just a good old-fashioned sit in?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Burning the Koran

Heard about this during morning drive time then quickly forgot.  What idiocy.  Burn the Koran to demonstrate hatred of Islamic radicalism.

People will die. Lots of Bibles will burn too.  I can't think of a good reason not to burn a few myself, save for the wasted BTUs.  Come winter, it may be time.

Lets go Tar Heels

The graphic below is taken from the US Federal government's flagship for open data.  The darker states have higher ratios of library books per capita.  North Carolina looks suspiciously low.  Fewer than Tennessee?  Then again, so does Massachusetts, which makes me question the data quality.  That's too much of an outlier.  Still, pretty cool stuff.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Parking lot

Went out to the REI near the South Point Mall today around mid-day.  Trying to put a kayak on the roof of the Outback (I know that sounds like a cliche, but it's true), while pushy women in white Range Rovers waited for the spot next to us.  Reminded me of what I hate most about suburbia.

On the other hand, the fact that there was no space in the lot indicates to me that the substantial portion of the populace that is employed was out spending this Labor Day.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Up the Yangtze

I usually don't want to watch documentaries on weekends, but this one was absolutely worthwhile.  The trailer overstates its hamhandedness.  Yes it thematizes the displacement caused by the Three Gorges dam product.  Yes it graphically juxtaposes silly American tourists with not-quite-yet-so-fortunate Chinese.  But it is really about characters, a young peasant girl and her family as well as another guy, less poor, who work on this boat.  And how they fit into a moment in Chinese history.  Well-done and nuanced.  Watch it.