Visiting Smallin Civil War Cave near Ozark, Missouri

The Smallin Civil War Cave is a commercial cave located just north of Branson just off of County Highway NN. It’s sort of accessible from US 60 between Springfield and Branson, but you do have to wind down a county highway and through some other streets to get there. I headed down there one Friday morning to beat the crowds, and I found the little complex easily enough–at every turn, there’s a sign indicating which way to go to the cave (but you’d better remember where you turned, since there are no signs on the way out to guide you back to NN–but it’s not that hard).

The complex has ample parking for cars, buses, and RVs. Most of them weren’t in use at a little after 10am on a Friday morning. I spoke to Mrs. Bright, the owner of the complex, and she said the caves are the most busy on Friday afternoons and Monday mornings, when visitors to and from Branson visit on the way to Branson or on the way home.

Smallin Cave Entrance

The Visitor Center is the staging point for the cave tours. Outside, it offers a free crawl box for children who’ve been cooped up in automobiles for a couple of hours and who will not have the chance to go off-roading during the guided tour of the caves:

Smallin Cave crawl box

The crawl box is relatively new construction and is very sturdy, which doesn’t diminish the excitement for the children but comforts the minds of the parents. My boys went through the box several times and could have probably spent the whole morning there.

A mining sluice also stands outside the Visitor Center; you can buy bags of sand and gems inside to recreate the experience of panning for treasures, although the Smallin Cave itself does not have panning or mining history (except for the native Americans who mined chirt in the cave).

Listen to me talking about Smallin Cave authoritatively based on one guided tour. Why, I’m almost as good as a tour guide already.

The Visitor Center offers a wide variety of geological and Civil War themed items, and as I mentioned, it’s the staging area for the guided tours. The guided tours last about an hour and cost $15.95 for adults and $8.95 for children, so the cost of visiting definitely runs to Tourist on the scale. They also offer a “wild” tour which means you go off the concrete path for two hours, climbing through the cave like a real spelunker. Additionally, they offer other events that involve sitting around a campfire, eating, and hearing Civil War stories. We went with the guided tour.

Just outside, an Indian marker tree points to the cave location:

Smallin Cave Indian Marker tree

Native Americans used to bend saplings to make them grow in this fashion to point toward trails or important land features. Like the cave entrance.

The tour actually includes three caves. The first cave, which I believe the guide called Fielding Cave, is a smaller cave on the property:

Smallin Cave Fielding Cave

This cave was the home* to a couple of large bears throughout the ages as well as serving as a camp site for prehistoric people who might have mined chirt there and cooked dinner there. They probably did not live there as the same time as the bears. The tour guide also pointed out that they are working with Missouri State University to archeologicate some artifacts from the cave.

Fielding Cave is just a quick stop to whet your appetite. An opening act, if you will.

Disappointment Cave is just a quick point-out:

Smallin Cave Disappointment Cave

They call it Disappointment Cave because it’s only twelve feet deep and it takes as long to climb to it as it does to explore it.

Smallin Cave has a varied history*. In the 1960s, the first commercial owner ran it as a tourist destination and installed some of the amenities enjoyed by visitors today, including the concrete walkway that ensures that visitors won’t get their feet wet on the tour. This proprietor apparently liked to play up the tenuous connection to the Civil War by loading the property down with memorabilia. After he passed away, his heirs did not claim the property, and it was sold for taxes. A church organization bought it and used it as a camp site for some youth ministry. Its dedication plaque remains on the wall:

Smallin Cave Camp Sonrise plaque

The church eventually stopped using the cave as a campsite, and it remained fallow until the new owners took it over a couple years back. But as we approached the cave and the entrance chamber, I could understand why this served as a gathering place in many centuries. Aside from the fact that the cave was comfortably cool on a hot summer day (startlingly so, I noticed as we emerged), the end of the canyon and cave mouth make a natural amphitheatre.

At any rate, the tour includes a quick stop on a platform designed for a good picture (available at the gift shop after your tour) that frames you against the cave entrance:

Smallin Cave entrance from inside the cave

As you can see, the concrete path has good railings on it, so you don’t have to fear falling into the nameless depths of some cave pool that’s really only a couple of feet deep.

The tour guide will point out the normal features of caves, including soda straws, stalagmites, stalactites, and other features such as curtains:

Smallin Cave curtains

If you’re into serious spelunking, of course this isn’t the tour for you. But if you’ve never been in a cave before or if you’re way amateur into visiting caves, it’s a good introduction and very interesting. And safe.

Along the way, you might see some of the animals that live in the cave, including bats:

Smallin Cave bat

If you’re lucky, you might spot any number of salamanders, crayfish, frogs, and whatnot that call the cave home. We did.

The main entrance to the cave is large (claimed to be the largest in the world, and it’s certainly the largest in this particular canyon), but there does come a point where the path narrows and curves and you cannot see the outside. This, my friends, is the Claustrophobia Point:

Smallin Cave Claustrophobia Point

I got over it, though.

The tour ends a couple hundred yards into the cave, past Claustrophobia Point, but the cave goes on beyond that:

Smallin Cave end of walkway

A wild tour takes you further. The guide says that the cave system has yet to be completely explored, as the deepest parts yet explored take about five hours to reach*.

The return trip is much quicker along the walkway, but the guide pointed out a number of fossils in the ceiling of the cave, including the newly discovered shark tooth, and a new stalagmite forming on the walkway (slowly).

When we emerged, as I mentioned, it was a bright and hot day outside.

Smallin Cave entrance from inside

Because of the drought this year, the cave was dry. Much of the time, the cave has running water and that emerges into the canyon. Water runs over the rimstone dams and from the ceiling in some places, as I judge from pictures on the cave’s Web site. I’m interested in returning when I can see these features, but I’m glad to have gone when the water was down so I could hear the guide better without the roaring of the water.

Overall, I enjoyed the visit and learned a lot. I won’t say it awakened a great love of actual spelunking in me, since I still prefer to have an emergency exit I can elbow and claw my way to in the event of an emergency, but the experience is akin to visiting a museum: it encapsulates a field of study into something I can access and determine what knowledge, if any, to pursue.

That said, I do have to reiterate this is a commercial operation. The owners were recently profiled in the Springfield Business Journal. The existence of this company and others of its ilk rather flies in the modern governmental wisdom that only government entities or nonprofits can steward these natural resources effectively or educate people to their beauty, structure, and history. It’s untrue.

Also, a note if you’re thinking of going: You can find coupons for 10% off the admission on the Web site and in various tourist brochures and information packets. Don’t forget to use one, like I did.

* Many of the facts related here were originally related by the tour guide, and they might be based on rumor or have been presented for entertainment. Ask a tour guide, and he or she will admit it. Kevin Bright has written a book about caves in the Ozarks, and in a chapter on commercial operations, he explains that this is so and that it’s an entertainment business more than an academic endeavor. So view the tour guide, any tour guide actually, more as a storyteller than as an authoritative and definitive source of anything.

Also note that this whole account is based on my memory of what a tour guide said. That’s a double whammy. It’s what a tour guide said that’s posted on the Internet. That’s a double negative of sorts.

Book Report: Painting on Glass and Ceramic by Karen Embry (2008)

Book coverThis book is the second of the two books on glass and ceramic painting that I borrowed from the library. It, too, talks about the techniques of painting on glass and includes a section on painting on clay that you’re going to fire in a kiln. Only the first part is relevant to me, if any is at all. The designs, projects, and templates within are a little too cutesy for me, with little frogs and lots of words in script that doesn’t match the kind of things I have in mind. So I guess this is worth a read if you’re into those sorts of things, but I’m not sure if the techniques alone make it worth buying. But if you want to, notice the handy links throughout the post here.

Books mentioned in this review:

Jay Nixon Vetoes Bad Legislation Missouri Republicans Passed

Last week, Jay Nixon vetoed a law introduced and passed by the Missouri legislature.

The Missouri legislature, dominated by Republicans, passed an inexorable, inexplicable bill that would have transmogrified a business relationship to favor one powerful party in the relationship:

Distributors, including St. Louis-based Major Brands, had pushed for the change in Missouri law that would once again make their relationships fall under franchise protections – limiting producers from dumping distributors for competitors.

The bill would have tied distributors to alcohol producers in much the same way that national conglomerates such as McDonald’s are tied to their local franchise restaurant owners under Missouri law.

It’s unclear to this poor little Tea Party Republican what’s so special about the distributors of liquor as opposed to the middle men who resell other retail goods from producers to consumers. What is clear is that the powerful, monied interests who own the distributorships wanted to use their influence in Jefferson City to get the Missouri Legislature to alter the rules to make it so that producers could not do business with other distributors who offered better terms to the producers.

A free market like that would lead to more efficient delivery methods and lower prices to consumers through competition, but less money in the pockets of the established distributors. Of course, they cannot abide by that.

It’s less clear why Republicans in the legislature wanted to indenture wineries, distilleries, and small brewers to those established distributorships.

The Headline From 1200 BC Reads: “Society’s Supply of Copper, Tin Limited; No Advanced Civilization Can Function Without Bronze Implements”

The BBC has an alarming report from where environmentalists gather to eat, live it up, use more resources than they would normally have access to in their native lands, and issue alarming reports, complete with scary infographic about how things are running out. The text sez:

If we fail to correct current consumption trends, then when will our most valuable natural resources run out?

As the world’s population soars, so does its consumption, and as a result we are stretching many of our natural resources to their limits.

. . . .

The hope is that talks at the Rio+20 Earth summit will help to steer the world economy on a more sustainable path.

Oh, spare me the Jeremiads. No, that’s not a meteor shower; it’s a type of sermon. Make no mistake about it, those fellows who want to create a “sustainable path” have in mind some very basic controls that The World will have to do to save the planet from the infestation of humans. As though the planet were some weak sister who needs the help of her acolytes to regulate systems whose complexities and subtleties are not yet understood to any great degree by man. But I’m getting off onto my stock climate change rant here. Let me switch back into my limited resources rant.

Any projection of resource usage based on current consumption relies on the misconceptions that what we use now is all we’ll ever use and what we have now is all we’ll ever have. Let’s take each in turn.

What we use now is all we’ll ever use.

As the headline suggests and history shows, humans and civilizations have relied on different resources at different times. In the Bronze Age, they used bronze. In the Iron Age, guess what? They advanced and discovered iron. Even in more recent history, in spans of less than 100 years much less epochs, resource needs have changed. In the 18th century, whale oil fueled lamps for interior lighting. Then they discovered coal oil, also known as kerosene, and that illuminated homes into the 20th century. Anyone rending garments about the limited supply of whale oil would have proven less-than-prophetic in predicting a dark age around 1880 because the whales were gone.

Similarly, buildings were built with brick and wood, but now we see a lot of construction from steel and other materials. Household furniture used to be wood, but a lot of it is now plastic and particle board (which is wood, but used more efficiently).

Take a look at this timeline of battery technologies and see how fast the resource combinations for energy storage have changed. And this is a survey of commercial products.

Now, tell me how someone is going to prognosticate the future resource needs based on today. Especially when one looks at the resource needs and their evolutions in the future.

What we have now is all we’ll ever have.

Take a look at the recent discoveries of petroleum resources in the Bakken formation. Revel in how the estimated amount of recoverable petroleum keeps going up. Or look at the new discoveries off of the coast of Israel. Does the alarmist image take those into account? I looked at the source document, but it doesn’t give the source for its fossil fuel claims, but other claims are made on data from 2010 or before. So we can probably assume that the alarmist icon does not include the new discoveries.

Additionally, the report probably does not take into account discoveries of rare earth metals after 2010, such as Japan’s find in sea beds which could essentially double the earth-bound amounts estimated by the US Geological Survey.

Why do I say earth-bound? Because there’s that Planetary Resources company that has a business plan of mining asteroids. A company. With a business plan to profitably mine asteroids.

So any alarmist paper or icon coming from a transnational or international concern designed to create “sustainability” really does not recognize human ingenuity or the way the human race has acted in the past when confronted with scarce resources or just more efficient ways to use resources.

Undoubtedly, the path to sustainability requires some sacrifice on our part. Because here in the United States, we have a very high standard of living, and certainly we somehow “should” give something up to make sure that natives in Cameroon get to rise to some level of sustainable living. Not the same easy lifestyle we have, mind you, where large portions of the population have the leisure time to collect on resource-intensive devices and computer networks to lament the unsustainability of the lives they enjoy. Some top-down solution must be imposed, something like a potentially hazardous, expensive form of lighting replacing energy-intensive but inexpensive, pleasing, and technologically proven forms of lighting. Something like that. And maybe an energy-efficient stove for a Ugandan family.

The BBC post I linked to above does throw a sop to human ingenuity:

Of course, the assumption is that human ingenuity and market forces will prevent supplies from running out: we could create better or cheaper extraction methods, recycle materials, find alternatives to non-renewable sources, or reduce consumption.

But that is probably just a sop. Do you think the people at the Rio+20 summit are in favor of the free market to find these solutions? Do you think the journalists covering them believe individuals and corporations should mine asteroids, or do you think they more believe that the asteroids are pristine, people-free environments that should be protected because of their intrinsic value qua rocks floating through interplanetary space much like the earth has some intrinsic metaphysical value qua rock with atmosphere floating through space? Me, too.

In lieu of embracing an environmental hair-shirt and hemp-based computer architecture required for a sustainable world, how about we just go on doing what we as humans have done for millennia and really well since the Enlightenment and innovate our way to greater shared prosperity?

Book Report: Dixie Convoy by Don Pendleton (1976)

Book coverThis book is the 27th Mack Bolan book, and you might as well call it Mack Bolan on the CB. Bolan travels to Atlanta to take down the transport hub of mob illicit goods and rescues a pair of sisters from under the thumb or protection of an aging mobster from New York.

Obviously, Pendleton was influenced by the song “Convoy” from 1975 (but not the film based on the song, which would come in 1978), and the book hits the common knights of the road and CB lingo tropes from other pop culture in that era and that vein.

Unfortunately, like some of the other Bolan books (even the early ones), Pendleton seems to hit his word count and wrap it up with a very quick climax that seems tacked on. That’s unfortunate, since Pendleton’s one of the better writers in the silver age of pulp. But a man had to eat, I guess. Worth a read if you’re a fan, but if you’re just looking for good action paperbacks, you can probably skip it.

Books mentioned in this review:

It’s Only One Item On My Wish List

McMurtry Sets Auction of 300,000 Books:

Author Larry McMurtry has been gathering books around him for more than five decades. Along the way, he has filled his four-building bookshop with 450,000 titles and turned his hometown of Archer City, Texas, into a destination “book town.” Now, at age 76, he’s finally letting some of his collection go. “I think it’s time they enter back into the great river of books,” he said.

On Aug. 10, the novelist and screenwriter will auction off more than 300,000 books at a two-day event he’s calling “The Last Book Sale.” (Mr. McMurtry’s novel “The Last Picture Show” was made into a movie of the same name.) The books will be auctioned off from the shelves of his bookstore, Booked Up, in groups of about 200, each containing several valuable books.

300,000 books can count as one item on my list for Christmas, can’t it?

Also, just to reiterate, McMurtry is has a book store, which explains how he has more books than even a professor (and, perhaps, one fewer shirt). So 40,000 books is the next level for me to achieve (Professor), with the level beyond that (100,000 – Bookseller) still in range for the rest of my life.

Depends On What “Bellwether” Means

I hate essays and articles that start with a definition from the dictionary. So, in a fit of self-hatred, here’s the definition of bellwether:

1. a wether or other male sheep that leads the flock, usually bearing a bell.
2. a person or thing that assumes the leadership or forefront, as of a profession or industry: Paris is a bellwether of the fashion industry.
3. a person or thing that shows the existence or direction of a trend; index.
4. a person who leads a mob, mutiny, conspiracy, or the like; ringleader.

Now, square that with an article entitled Missouri slips from political bellwether status this fall:

Missouri has been a bellwether state for more than 100 years, with presidential candidates lavishing attention on Show-Me State voters and spending millions on field operations, glossy campaign mailers, and TV ads. But this election? Not so much.

Roy Blunt’s 13 percentage-point victory in a U.S. Senate race led a strong Republican wave in Missouri in 2010.

This year, Missouri isn’t on the list of top swing states — those vote-rich battlegrounds that political experts and campaign strategists say will determine who wins the White House on Nov. 6. Most political handicappers instead have Missouri in the “leans Republican” column.

Somehow, to this professional commentator, “bellwether” means something like “toss-up,” “swing state,” “independent,” “contested,” “battleground,” or “undecided.” None of these are true.

Either the commentator is ignorant as to the meaning of the word and the implication that Missouri is leaning Republican–as the nation in the aggregate did in 2010, or the commentator wants Missourians to, I dunno, straighten up and fly tight to get more ad dollars (evil, I thought, unless I guess they’re spent in your market, maybe) to fill the airwaves with irritating, offputting, and often marginally mendacious approved-by-the-candidate messages.

Hipsters Can’t Wait For Huge Chain Store To Put Mom & Pop Small Businesses Out Of Business

Sure, it’s a friendly, happy story about how high-income hipsters want an Ikea store to come to St. Louis:

Perhaps no other store has been rumored more often to be coming here soon than that elusive retailer whose very name gives many residents heart palpitations: Ikea.

The absence of the Swedish retailer — whose hulking blue and yellow stores are filled with sleek bookshelves, modern bedroom sets, and eclectic knickknacks— is a sore spot among many St. Louisans. As one of my colleagues put it, it’s one of the last bastions of our retail insecurity.

We now have Trader Joe’s, Crate & Barrel, Nordstrom Rack, American Girl, H&M, Ross Dress for Less, and buybuy Baby (which recently opened a store in Ballwin).

To be sure, there are still some left on our retail wish-list: Zara, American Apparel, Bloomingdale’s, and Room & Board, to name a few.

But there is no bigger Holy Grail than Ikea.

As you can probably guess, I have never been in an Ikea. I’ve done my share of assembling particle board furniture, including a huge honking desk that cost me almost a thousand dollars, more than a dozen Sauder bookcases, many laminated storage cabinets with doors hanging awry, and a couple Sauder printer stands that even today function as major pieces of furniture in my domicile. I’ve bought none of them because of the logo on the box, though, so I can’t understand how prestige and status stem from furniture you have to put together yourself.

But I digress.

So the crowd that we would have called Yuppies thirty years ago want their Ikea in St. Louis. Even though this will put small businesses out of business:

As I wrote last year, there are a handful of businesses that have sprouted up around town that take orders and pick up items from one of the stores in Chicago and then bring them back to St. Louis. One of them is Expedite STL.

Another such company popped up earlier this year called Blue Square Delivery. It was started by brother Dave and Bill Carruthers of Des Peres as a side business. They take a big moving van to Ikea about every three to four weeks.

Sorry, I guess that’s brother-and-brother businesses. But still.

So, how does this differ from Walmart?

Mainly in that hipsters like Ikea, and hipsters do not like Walmart.

Don’t worry, yuppies. Some municipality in St. Louis County will eventually throw enough tax credits, special taxing districts, and other perks to draw Ikea to town.

(Hey, aren’t you a yuppie? No. I’m not that young anymore, and I live in the country.)

A Perfect Score!

Entertainment Weekly presents a list (come on, it’s really a quiz!) called 50 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen (warning: gallery form).

I got a perfect score. That is, I haven’t wasted my time on any of them.

I am no modern cinemataste. I prefer my best movies no one else has seen to be seventy years old and in black and white.

I have to admit, though, that as I got further and further into the gallery, I was a little afraid that it might include something like Adaptation or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but whoever compiled the list is a real aficionado (that is, he or she likes to flaunt his or her familiarity with the obscure) and really seems to favor British films and documentaries.

Now, let’s discuss my imperfections: I have not seen every Adam Sandler movie, although I have seen Click and Going Overboard, so I’ve knocked off some of the harder titles.

St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Message: DON’T HIRE CONVICTS!

The St. Louis County Prosecutor has a message: Don’t hire convicts:

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch on Thursday denounced the county Economic Council’s recent hiring of a convicted felon, and called for the employee’s dismissal.

Last week, the council hired Dean Burns, 60, to serve as its vice president of real estate and community development, with an annual salary of $127,816.

Burns was working in the very same job in 1999 when he acceded to then-County Executive George R. “Buzz” Westfall’s demand that he quit after Burns pleaded guilty of diverting federal funds.

Burns admitted illegally transferring $30,000 in Housing and Urban Development rent deposits to his private company in 1994, about two years before he joined the Economic Council.

Actually, McCulloch has it in for this particular hire, and it’s all about appearances:

McCulloch said Burns’ hiring was akin to the county Health Department hiring a former drug addict to purchase pharmaceuticals.

“Hiring a felon is one thing, but you have to have some common sense about it,” he said. “I don’t know what the people who hired him were thinking, but I have to question their judgment. This makes the county look bad, and county government ought to correct it as soon as possible.”

Leaving aside the question of exactly how much Percocet the county is buying, McCulloch fails to understand the way his argument can look against hiring any felon for any job.

When you’re hiring for a job, you’ve got a lot of legal risks and liability not only for your organization and company, but for you personally within the company. If you’ve got someone with the right skills but a little box is checked on the application with the little handwritten explanation with it, your organization will probably hold you responsible if you bring a former drug addict in to work anywhere dealing with money. Or a former burglar dealing with small electronic devices. Or someone guilty of a sexual assault who deals with the members of any gender, frankly. Not only might the organization be responsible for any recidivism, but the person behind the hire internally will be on the hook for any infraction, whether just by taking a reputational hit or by actually being let go.

The man McCulloch talks about has experience in the position and has a combination of real estate development and sucking up to government skills acquired in the private sector for the position. He was convicted of the crime almost 20 years ago. Perhaps his one night in prison convinced him to be a good boy for the rest of his life.

As some of you know, there are two tracks one takes when arguing for prison and legal justice: one, you can rehabilitate the offender, and two, you can punish the offender. McCulloch seems to indicate his belief that offenders cannot be rehabilitated, they can only be punished. Forever, if possible.

McCulloch does say one thing that’s almost Tea Partier, though, when he says:

He said, “If Burns really is the most qualified guy in the country, I’d say we probably don’t need this position.”

A St. Louis County Economic Council who dishes out hundreds of thousands or millions in salaries every year and is part of the county government? Does St. Louis County really need that? Not the St. Louis County Government, mind you; it needs as much as it gets to continue its existence as a growing organism. But the County itself. By what right is this a function of government?

People Move To City For Action, Energy; People Then Decry Action, Energy

Some residents of downtown St. Louis are growing older:

The scene picks up pace on weekends, with the streets even busier and the bars even fuller — offering regular proof of how the neighborhood has transformed in the last 15 years.

But the changes have also brought simmering tension that has now come to the forefront. Residents, business owners and police acknowledge that crime is steadily increasing along Washington, and that cruising on the strip has gotten out of hand. They’ve complained about motorcyclists revving engines, cars blaring music, fights, loitering by teenagers, even some shootings.

They’re just not sure what to do about it.

In the last month, police have experimented with closing off the street to vehicle traffic, circling the area with a helicopter and enforcing a curfew for those under 21.

The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis has helped form a task force to come up with a “code of conduct” for the area, hoping to crack down on noise, littering and congestion.

“We all wanted this growth,” said Tammika Hubbard, alderman for the 5th Ward. “We just didn’t know how we were going to handle it.”

At a residents association meeting two weeks ago, the consensus from speakers was that the area had become a victim of its own success.

The residents moved to the lofts from their quiet suburban homes because they wanted that. Now they’re getting older a couple years later and are outgrowing the party-all-night mentality and want to get some sleep, so they want governmental recourse.

It’s akin to the people who claim that The Simpsons isn’t funny any more. The cartoon hasn’t changed. They have.

Prediction: If they succeed in pushing out the bar and clubbing crowd (who preceded the residents and most of the other businesses), the businesses will follow, as they won’t survive without that crowd. Washington Avenue and other parts of downtown St. Louis will not be a shopping destination (see also Union Station and St. Louis Center), and the hundreds or small thousands of people scattered among the lofts will not support them. Eventually, Washington Avenue will become quiet again, and the loft dwellers will move on.

And the cycle will repeat in 2033 or so. Maybe.

(No, I am not a downtown booster, especially when it comes to centrally planning a Renaissance. It hasn’t worked in downtown St. Louis in the thirty or more years that government officials have been applying the paddles. The minute they lay off with the defibrillator of taxpayer cash, the city or neighborhood flatlines again. The government cannot will a self-sustaining reaction and revitalization through its action, but it sure can put the pillow over the face of one when it tries too much to help or to inspire its citizens.)

Book Report: Painting Glass by Moira Neal and Lynda Howarth (1997)

Book coverI know what you’re thinking: the same thing that I thought. “Gee, Noggle hasn’t decided to try any sort of strange new crafting hobby, one where he reads a book on something after getting a notion and then spends a pile of money on it before shelving it when he can’t make time for it in a reasonable fashion.”

Friends, this book is the one you’ve been waiting for.

It’s an old British book (did he call something from 1997 old? Yes, he did. Remember how much simpler things were then?) that has a number of projects for painting on glass. The designs within are traditional, and it’s a book that you read the basics for the techniques and tools and then flip through for design ideas. What do they call that again? Oh, yes, a craft book.

As I said, traditional designs, the silver on blue projects are a winning combination, but the more I read up and look through the design ideas, the more I sense this isn’t a thing I’ll like to do to express myself.

That said, coming soon to Craigslist, hundreds of dollars in misbeboughten supplies.

Books mentioned in this review:

DéJà Vu, Government Style

I just got a check from my insurance company for $261 rebate on my insurance premiums. Apparently, this is part of the PPACA, that I get money back if the insurance company does not pay out 80% of its premiums as benefits.

The 80-20 rule

This check, stamped COURTESY OBAMACARE by statute, no doubt, came just days after I received a letter from my insurer that my premiums are going up $1200 a year, or $300 a quarter. Also COURTESY OBAMACARE, no doubt.

So this month, I will write out that insurance check, and the government’s check to me personally will not actually fully cover the increase in the premiums. Where have I seen this before?

However, as a self-employed small business owner, I am not the target of this gambit. The real target of this largesse is someone whose health insurance costs just disappear from the weekly or bimonthly paycheck, but to whom this check might appear, courtesy the Democrats in the Federal government. Their insurance costs will go up, too, assuming their employers keep them on it, but the gravy has a .gov return address.

I hope they’re not fooled.

UPDATE: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch covers the story, along with this quote from a believer and recipient:

“I imagine there will be a bunch of people who change their minds about Obamacare when they get their checks,” Fox said. “I think it will make them feel better that their insurance companies are being held accountable for gouging.”

He is the target audience. Kudos to the St. Louis newspaper for making sure he got to laud appropriately in paragraphs 3 and 4 and to get a critic of the move, an industry spokesman, to criticize it only in the final paragraph.

The article clarifies that I was mistaken in who gets the refund. Mostly people who buy directly from insurance companies, like me and Fox.

Book Report: Agent of Byzantium by Harry Turtledove (1987)

Book coverThis book collects a number of related short stories that Turtledove published in Davis publications. Back in the olden days, all the personally named genre magazines were owned by Davis Publications, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and Isaac Asimov’s Literary Magazine. Come to think of it, I probably have some rejection slips myself from that very era in my book. So they published a collection of short stories here under the big letters ISAAC ASIMOV PRESENTS. It seems kind of funny that now, in the 20th century, Turtledove is more known than Asimov. Or maybe that’s just in the blogosphere, which went through a big Turtledove phase some years ago.

Anywho: This set of alt-history pieces is set in the late middle ages. In it, the Roman Empire never fell, as Byzantium held out. A young man in the military leads a daring mission to recover a new tool of the barbarians, which turns out to be a telescope, which is giving them an advantage. He becomes an intelligence officer and the stories feature him working on cases where he ends up recovering or applying new technologies to thwart the Persian empire.

It’s a good bit of reading. The interrelated stories make for easily chunked reading. The characters are engaging. The stories are interesting. On the whole, it reads better than a whole novel of Turtledove, which sometimes can drag on as he shows how much research and imagining he has done (such as Ruled Britannia).

Books mentioned in this review:

Finally, Some Christmas Music On Purpose

On Independence Day, I spun some records in the spirit of the holiday. Of course, my grandfather’s marches got a spin. So did An Open Letter to My Teenage Son. Which was the extent of pure patriotic music I had in hand, although I could have uncorked the whole Reader’s Digest set of Kate Smith to get to “God Bless America”.

Instead, I went to Tchiakovsky’s 1812 Overture. Yes, I know the record was not about the American troubles in 1812 and was more about the Russian troubles in 1812 (DWL!), but it has freakin’ cannons in it, okay? Well, I thought I was going to spin “1812 Overture”, but I discovered it was “1812 Overture” with “The Nutcracker Suite” with “The Nutcracker Suite” on Side 1. Which would make it more “The Nutcracker Suite” with “1812 Overture” if you ask me. So I spent a bit of Independence Day celebrating Christmas in July.

Then I cracked out the boxed set The American Spirit, which I would have expected to be about America and its spirit. Well. I didn’t look too closely as I was doing other things with patriotic and other music in the background. So I put this new set on and….

It’s a collection of Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops and a bunch of songs that are American. Including “Sleigh Ride”, which was a hit for Fiedler in 1949 or 1950 and a hit pretty much for anyone who can simulate a whip crack ever since.

So I listened to two Christmas songs on Independence Day.

Fast forward (or move the needle to) Saturday, when I’m in a thrift store on the wrong side of Branson, and I run across a real Christmas album, and I buy it.

Sons of the Pioneers Cool Water LP

Let me ‘splain:

When I was a child in the 1970s, it was a tradition for my father to play two records on Christmas morning: This one and Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs by Marty Robbins. I don’t know why he did it. It might have seemed amusing to him. Maybe he got the LPs on Christmas. I don’t know.

All I know is that this tradition had run for several years, which is all it takes for something to become “a tradition” in the eyes of the child.

And now I can share that tradition with my children.

Balloon Animals? Are You Kidding?

On Independence Day, we took the children to the local town fair to see what they had to offer. The Battlefield City Park, which now works in Trail of Tears into its name somewhere, had a band, some food stands, a number of inflatable bouncy-house kinds of things, a couple of politicians under tarps, and a guy twisting balloons.

But if you think he was making giraffes and doggies, you’re in the wrong corner of the state, brother.
Continue reading “Balloon Animals? Are You Kidding?”

The Lessons of a Blooming Public-Private Partnership

In Nixa, the city fathers are considering whether to turn part of their community center over to the YMCA:

Since the first of the year, City Council, together with the Parks Advisory & Stormwater committees, has searched for solutions to help fund the city’s parks and stormwater operations and maintenance. Discussions involved a possible stormwater/parks sales tax initiative and the privatization of the Community Center’s second floor as a fitness facility.

A request for proposal (RFP) advertising the availability of the second floor enticed the Ozarks Regional YMCA to submit a partnership proposal for Council’s consideration. The public is invited to share their opinions on the YMCA proposal that transfers responsibilities of Nixa Parks recreational programs to the YMCA at two public meetings held on July 5 and July 9.

If your city is looking for ways to get out from under the onerous burdens of the programs and facilities it created in flush times and/or in response to peer pressure from other regional governments (Ozark has a community center! We should, too!) and wants to turn them over to private, nonprofit or for-profit enterprises, your city has extended itself beyond basic services into things best accommodated by the private sector.

Lesson learned? Probably not.

Full disclosure: I am a member at the YMCA, and I have been off and on for fifteen years, and the last three have been at the Ozarks Regional YMCA.

For other local YMCA follies, see how the city of Ozark considered turning its rec center over to the YMCA (it didn’t) or how the Springfield Parks Board wanted to replicate the YMCA’s services with a new expensive rec center (Of course, they went ahead on it.)