Monday, August 30, 2010

The View from Here

My new window view.

After 16 years and four weeks, I got a window at work. My office is much brighter than it used to be, considering that "used to be" meant whatever light sort of filtered in over the bookcases and through the storage shelves. I thought I liked it that way, but since I spent today quite productively wrestling with statistics packages rather than morosely staring through my monitor into a black, black future, I am thinking that maybe light isn't a bad thing.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Public Service Announcement

If, like me, you regularly need terrain, elevation, and distance data at work and, like me, tend to have requests for map-based data answered with the question but what are the UTMs?, only for that answer to be, invariably, fuck if I know, a miracle has arrived. A gift from the mapping gods, who, previously unbeknownst to me, are named Zonum Solutions. They have a free online toolset that ties in with Google Maps and lets you get spot elevations, or set points to measure linear distance, or define a polygon to measure area and perimeter of spatial features. And--and, miracle of miracles--a window in the sidebar shows the UTMs for wherever you have the cursor positioned in the map.

Then, the FireShot add-on allows you to download the onscreen map (plus any lines or points you've drawn on it) into Photoshop to further muck around and save. I'm not sure about permissions for using the images you generate this way in publications, but at the least, you can generate nifty draft copies to hand to the AutoCAD guys down the hall, and make all the maps you want to hang on your wall.

appy archaeologist.

Just another way the MaddowBlog serves the world.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The monsoon season continued to disappoint for the better part of two months. Oh, sure, clouds built up and danced around and even sometimes flashed lightning and growled thunder somewhere just out of reach, but the promised rain materialized exactly three times. Even then it didn't have the courtesy to put on a show during daylight hours when we might be able to watch the clouds with rising anticipation, waiting for the telltale gust of suddenly cool wind to cue the rain out of the wings and dance across the desert stage.

No, no, always at night, and usually in such wee hours that we were sound asleep and couldn't be roused to at least hear the water and hail tapdancing on the roof. Three summer mornings we awoke to sodden ground, crumpled programs of downed palm leaves and moraines of mesquite pods left by the rivulets of water across the yard like so much spilled popcorn kicked aside by the audience as it left, the curtain down, the show long over.

Until today. Today, finally, gloriously, afternoon clouds flung lightning to the ground close enough to knock out the power to the office, thunder rattled the windows before skidding off to the east along the curb of the Catalinas, rain slammed down in drops the size of bullfrog tadpoles. You want rain? I got yer rain right here. Rain rain rain, going on for hours now, the initial downpour replaced by steady sprinkles. The trash cans in the park down the street are all on their sides, dazed, accompanied by slightly less surprised tree branches; closer to home, my shovels have been blown across the yard, along with my buckets. Stacks of styrofoam cups that protected plants from the frost a lifetime ago, back when it still dipped below a hundred degrees here, have found new lodgings in the flower bed, the fence, the chiminea, possibly the neighbor's roof. The yard is a lake.

This is usually the time of year that the monsoon winds down, and after months of the near-daily routine of heat --> humidity --> clouds --> thunder --> SPLOOSH, we're usually about ready by now for it to be over. I wonder if it is still almost over this year, now that feels like it's just begun.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On We Go

Write every day, says my newly emerging star writer cousin. Write every day, says the wavering whispery voice that serves as my Jiminy Cricket at work, preferably about archaeology. Heh. Write every day, says my fantasy self in between doing sets of crazy weights and fending off Rachel Maddow's advances and pursuing a career that benefits humanity.

Fuck it, my kid's leaving, says dumpy tubby slacker me, and she sits staring blankly at the laptop, feeling vaguely guilty about not being more productive today and not spending more time reading to him when he was little and not playing Monopoly more often, contemplating checking the SunTran schedule to see when the next bus that might squash her head will be tooling by. Unless they're still on strike, that is; God, it's hard to keep track of these things sometimes.

I wonder if my mom felt this way as I was gearing up to go off to school. Unfortunately, at the same time she was also gearing up to pick up and move 900 miles away from South Bend to Dallas, so she may have been a bit distracted. She and my stepfather hit the road a week after graduation, my beagle sticking his head out of the back window of the old blue Pontiac as Mom waved frantically and disappeared up the hill and I stood in the driveway watching until they were gone and tried to absorb the fact that I was alone and home wasn't home any more. I looked through the windows at the empty rooms, half-heartedly rattled the locked garage door, and finally got on my bike and pedaled over to my German teacher's house to bunk for a while. A couple of weeks later I would shift back to the old neighborhood, this time to my English teacher's house down the block, where I lay on an improvised pile of cushions and blankets in the upstairs spare room and stared at the ceiling. I was two months shy of 18.

Eventually, the day after my birthday, I made my way to my dad's house in southern Illinois, riding the same bus south to Indianapolis I'd ridden a million times before, killing time during the two-hour layover, and finally taking an ancient I-V Coach on the last leg to Vincennes. Dad was there as usual to drive me across the river into Illinois, and after a week or maybe two he drove me farther west across another river to St. Louis, and I got on a plane and got off in a foreign country called Texas and maybe a couple weeks after that Mom flew me back up to Illinois, to Chicago, and after a few days she said I've got to let you go now and hugged me goodbye in the parking lot behind the dorm across the street and that was that.

I took the train home to South Bend several times, but it wasn't home any more without my mom and my house and dogs and bedroom, staying with different friends, occasionally running into acquaintances from high school with them and having to consciously remind myself that these were my former classmates too. It was far too easy to fall back into the third wheel mode I was used to from spending summers at my dad's, in the small town I'd lived in until I was nine, hanging out with old elementary school friends and trying to fit in with their high school friends but never quite having the right common frames of reference.

That was 25 years ago. I will be telling my son goodbye almost 25 years to the day after my mom told me goodbye. No matter how different the situation, the sense of unreality is the same. Home without him will not feel so much like home any more, and I will not feel so much like me.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Birthday Blog

43 years later, I guess I've done okay for myself. Birthday breakdown:

6:00 a.m.: girlfriend delivers coffee in bed (from Coffee Times, highly recommended if you find yourself driving on Speedway in the vicinity of Country Club).

7:00 a.m.: officemates show up with orange juice and champagne, respectively, and mimosas commence.

9:00 a.m.: meet my son at home and take off for Mt. Lemmon.

9:45 a.m.: arrive at Molino Canyon to find next to no water, but a few tiny tadpoles save the day.

Birthday tadpoles.

11:30 a.m.: son serves lunch of homemade coconut shrimp with (blue) lime sauce.

12:00 p.m.: first batch of cookies come out of oven.

1:30 p.m.: son accompanies me to gym.

2:30 p.m.: frozen pea application; SportsCenter.

6:00 p.m.: Girlfriend, both kids, and I hit Barrio. Tacos and beer.

sometime after that: happy collapse.

Bring on the 44th year.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Extra Time

I much prefer sports metaphors that open a little window of understanding life over sports metaphors that, well, define life.

Time is fluid in soccer. The match is supposed to last 90 minutes, but the referee may add time and allow play to continue if numerous injuries, substitutions, or other interruptions have conspired to prevent a fair full 90 minutes of competition. This makes for an agonizing experience when, say, your team has dominated possession and outplayed the other side and finally put a shot in the back of the net in the 89th minute. The clock rolls over 90:00 and you think the game's over, but because somebody's head got split open and had to be tended for a while, and somebody else needed lecturing after a yellow card, and the guys being substituted strolled off the field instead of sprinting, the referee says no, the game's not over yet. So you play on and wait and die every time the other team puts a shot on goal that takes a weird hop or deflects off a defender and you think goddammit, we had this thing won and you try to hold on until the whistle finally blows.

So now, after watching Vaughn Walker chest the ball off his own goal line and dribble circles around Prop 8 for the length of the field and fire an unstoppable shot into the top corner for a sure winner, we have extra time. Yeah, Walker put the first extra two minutes on the clock himself--the metaphor breaks down here a bit, but still--but now the 9th Circuit has added what feels like an entire additional half.

A federal appeals court decided Monday to put same-sex marriage in California on hold at least until December, interrupting the wedding plans of scores of gay couples who were hoping to exchange vows later this week.

We are told this is actually a good thing from a strategic standpoint, since it prevents the case from being prematurely kicked up to a Supreme Court that might not rule in our favor.

Loyola Law School professor Richard Hasen said Monday's order was strategically advantageous for supporters of same-sex marriage, no matter how disappointed many couples may be. If the panel had refused to place a hold on Walker's ruling, the supporters of Proposition 8 were prepared to seek a stay from the Supreme Court. The court is believed to be divided on the question of gay marriage, with Justice Anthony Kennedy considered a swing vote. A vote on a hold might have pushed the justices into taking an early position on the question.

"I think there are strategic reasons why even the most ardent supporter of gay marriage could opt for a stay," said Hasen, an expert on federal court stays. "The concern is that rushing things to the Supreme Court could lead to an adverse result [for supporters of gay marriage.] If this case takes another year to get to the U.S. Supreme Court, there could be more states that adopt same-sex marriage and more judicial opinions that reach that conclusion."

Hasen said the hold "takes the heat" off Kennedy and takes the case "off the front burner for a while."

I'm not sure how a year's extra time makes Judge Walker's findings of fact any more or less compelling to Justice Kennedy, nor am I sure how many more states are poised to adopt marriage equality instead of strengthening its prohibition. And I'm really not sure how the scoreboard showing states approving and states opposing any civil rights legislation is relevant to the Supreme Court's evaluation of the legislation's constitutionality. As much as I would love to see, say, 45 more states adopt marriage equality in the next year, that shouldn't be a necessary or even contributing condition to Anthony Kennedy deciding that the 14th Amendment really does still count, and that equality is not negotiable.

Yet again we are being told to just wait a little longer, to be patient, to let the dust settle and not pressure people in power, to see if maybe somebody somewhere in some other state will pick up the slack and do something, because if enough states do something, maybe it won't be so hard for the people who can do something federally binding to actually do it.

Hey, you've already played 90 minutes plus two, so what's two more, and two more, and two more after that? And if the other team manages to poke one in because you're exhausted and your keeper's screened? Well, you're used to losing, so no big deal, right? Right.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Know What I Want for My Birthday

Specifically, what I want at 5 pm PDT on my birthday. To hear the California bells ringing all the way over here in the desert.

Final Stay Order

My current favorite four words in the English language, second only to here, have another beer: IT IS SO ORDERED.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You and Me Both

Another Day, Another Fail

Rachel Maddow's producer and chief blogger were in Arizona yesterday to have a look at the border fence in Nogales, talk to the Santa Cruz County sheriff, and wind down at the Tap Room at Hotel Congress in Tucson with a couple hundred Maddow fans. They brought hats to give away. I couldn't go.

The knees were too reluctant to bend in regular ways, and the wobbly legs wouldn't have managed a couple hours of standing in a crowd. *sob* I have not yet mustered the resolve to look at the blog to see the pictures.

The little building blocks making up the tower that tells me who I am are being yanked out one by one in a supremely irritating Jenga game--a knee here, an elbow there, a kid leaving home way over there, a hopeless romantic finally looking in the mirror someplace else--and pretty soon all I will have left is the irritation my father tells me I was born with, the surliness an old boss pointed out on a regular basis, a general air of death glare I am stunned to hear about every. damn. time. but which would go a long way in explaining repeated episodes of involuntary solitude over the years.

I am an object lesson in VSEPR theory. I wish I wasn't.

Friday, August 06, 2010

I'm Just Sayin'

If anybody should appreciate that basic human decency requires marriage equality, it should be a guy whose own parents could not legally marry in 26 of the states in the union when he was born. Somebody like, say, Barack Obama. I'm just sayin'.

If anybody should appreciate that separate does not mean equal, it should be a guy whose skin color would have relegated him to separate, crap accommodations and train cars and water fountains and bathrooms and hotel rooms, if he would have been allowed into one at all, a scant few years before he was born. And it should really be that guy if he grows up to be a fucking constitutional scholar. Somebody like, say, Barack Obama. I'm just sayin'.

If anybody promises to be a fierce advocate for a specific segment of society should that segment elect him to the presidency, he really ought to spend more energy fulfilling promises to the people who actually voted for him than placating people who did not and never will vote for him in the first place. He should not tepidly announce that he didn't really like Proposition 8 because it was sooooo divisive, and then trot out an aide to assure the conservative wing that he really really really doesn't think anybody afflicted by The Ghey should be allowed to get married, but should settle for a bargain-bin generic package with some of the same benefits--if individual states decide to do that; heavens, this can't be a federal matter--and be grateful for it.

If anybody pulls that kind of bullshit once, let alone over and over, he can forget about my money and my vote. I won't support someone who's happy to make me a second-class citizen.

I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Loving v. Virginia was decided two months before I was born. Marriage equality continues to evolve on a timeline that parallels my own; California's Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional today, twenty years on the dot--and almost to the hour--from my own state-sanctioned opposite wedding. It was a long time ago and I was young and clueless.

Tonight I'm sifting through the reaction online and watching Maddow while nursing my stitched-up elbow. Judge Walker's findings of fact echo every argument for equality made on this blog and countless others. It's a dream ruling, written in dream language--fuck, I could have written big chunks of it, save for the inability to use the word fuck in judicial documents--and it appears to be watertight at a level I never dared hope for. In a judicial equivalent of holding the playground bully at arm's length with a hand on the forehead while he flails away impotently with fists that won't hit the mark, Walker issued a stay on his ruling that gives the H8ers until Friday to take their best shot at filing their appeals. Given the laughable lack of coherence the defense exhibited in his courtroom during testimony, I don't think he's very worried about what will happen when the case hits the Ninth Circuit.

Walker's ruling was heavily based on the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the same 14th that Sens. McConnell, Graham, McCain, and Kyl are so anxious to overturn that they can't help hopping from foot to foot. So boom, in one fell swoop the 14th becomes a rally point for attacking fecund Latinas and domestic-minded gays. The more interesting things get, well, the more interesting they get.

Ted Olson, one half of the team that argued against Prop 8, on Maddow tonight:

We've got to stop thinking about equality in terms of conservative or liberal. We need to start thinking about the fact that gay and lesbian citizens are our brothers and our sisters; they're entitled to equal places in our society. That should be a conservative value, it is also a liberal value, it is not something that should split us.

Von dein Mund, etc. And on we go.

And the Moral Arc of the Universe Bends a Touch Closer to Justice

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same sex couples.

Details and commentary will be everywhere soon. The full decision is here.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

True Colors Revealed to be, Unsurprisingly, Blindingly White

I wish I had written this, because it's so well done, but really I wish no one would ever have to write anything even approximating this in America. Racism, xenophobia, sexism, and bullheaded deliberate ignorance of our own laws, all in one tidy package courtesy of Russell Pearce and Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and assorted nutters from the east and west.

Now it's not enough to cluck about illegal immigrants while pretending you're really talking about the Irish and Polish and Russian alongside the Mexicans, er, the Latin Americans, not enough to rage about oprimando el numero ocho para servicio en espanol and insist English is the official national language even though it isn't. Now all the pretense that it isn't really racism is being dropped, and it must come as such as a relief to be able to talk this way, about breeding seasons and dropping young like livestock, and stop pretending they ever thought these people were human in the first place.

"We need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that's the way nature made it. Men don't drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do." That statement was being pushed by the author of Arizona's immigration law. He's not alone.

The neat distillation of current anti-immigrant thinking was in an email spread around by State Senator Russell Pearce, and cited by The Nation's Robin Templeton in a report on the recently revived, anti-immigrant rhetoric on birthright citizenship — the part of the Fourteenth Amendment that stipulates that babies born on American soil are automatically granted citizenship.

"It's invasion by birth canal," the leader of a California anti-immigrant ballot initiative told the Los Angeles Times. The head of an anti-immigrant group in Virginia called for an investigation into "whether or not illegal aliens have a preferred breeding season."

Read the full piece for the full revolting story.

Monday, August 02, 2010

America's Pastime Is Ripping My Heart Out

Goddamn baseball. Goddamn Cubs.

The Cubs ended a bad road trip that saw Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot traded, the bullpen setting a major-league record by giving up 11 straight hits in a 12-run inning, Carlos Gonzalez becoming the fourth player in history to complete a cycle with a walk-off home run and Silva's heart episode Sunday.

Garblarghphawhargle. [/random unintelligible noises] This season can't end soon enough.