Saturday, May 28, 2011

Walking Lower Manhattan

Yes, I know, this is the vacation from two years ago.  But it was a fascinating vacation.  Any time you spend a week in New York City, you take in a lot.  On May 28, 2009, we took the subway down to the Broadway and Nassau station; we thought we'd look at the World Trade Center site, and then walk around the financial district and see where we ended up.  Since we had gotten up late, we were past the commute, and the train was pretty empty, except for us and a solemn young man of twenty-something who spent the entire trip tying his yellow Spongebob Squarepants tie in a full windsor, without bothering to button his collar or tuck in his shirttail (at least before he left the train).

Here is a link to the photos from this day - doesn't the New York subway have the most gorgeous tile work you ever saw?

NY Subway - Fulton-Broadway-Nassau - Marine Grill murals

There wasn't much to see at Ground Zero;  the visitors center was closed the day we were there (closed Thursday and Friday, if you think of going).  I think I got one photo of the construction site, with the usual fence, surmounted by the tops of cranes.  But the first thing you see out of the subway is the graveyard of St. Paul's Chapel.

I didn't realize until I got there that St. Paul's was the rest stop cum sleeping barracks cum medical station for all the rescue workers in the pit, around the clock for weeks.  Volunteers fed the workers, bunked them, hugged them, gave them massages (thousands of masseurs and chiropractors), played music for them.  This is right across the street from where the towers came down.  The dust and debris are gone, of course, but the memory, as they say, lingers on.  And on top of this, St. Paul's Chapel is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan, completed in 1766, and the tombstones in the graveyard look it.  This place was built before cemeteries out in the rolling countryside; if you went to this church, when you died they gave you a funeral, and then they took you out the back door and buried you in the yard.

Well, after that start the rest of the day was interesting but kind of anticlimactic, especially since it was a gloomy and overcast day.  We walked around the financial district, saw Wall Street (which I was amused to see is now a pedestrian mall) and Broad Street.  We stepped into Trinity Chapel, where a local orchestra was performing in the nave, and glanced at the tombstones in its churchyard.  Trinity Chapel's valiant little spire among all the skyscrapers reminded me of our trip to New Zealand; when we toured Dunedin on the south island, we noticed that the church spires were still the tallest buildings in town.  We walked down to the Fraunces Tavern (didn't go in), which was reputed to have been a hangout of the Sons of Liberty.  We stopped to look at the New York City Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where I got a photo of a blackbird splashing in the fountain.  We took a brief tour of the New York Police Museum, just because we ran across it.  It's a gorgeous old building, three times higher than it is wide and built of stone.  I got one really good photo of the Brooklyn Bridge but after all that walking, I wasn't up to tackling it.

We took a look at the South Street Seaport, but it was just a tourist trap without any interesting restaurants, so we took the train over to Tribeca and found a restaurant called Max.  You know it's genuine when you can hear the waiters arguing in Italian.  The food was excellent.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Demagoguing" Medicare

Paul Ryan was interviewed today on MSNBC'S Morning Joe, as reported on NBC News First Read, during which he complained that the president and his party have "decided to demagogue" the issue of his plan to phase out Medicare.  During this interview he complained that the Democrats are “scaring seniors that their current benefits are going to be affected.”  Because his plan doesn't affect anyone 55 and older (the Ryan plan details are in the NBC News article), he doesn't see why seniors should have their tights in a knot about this.

It's because we aren't stupid, Mr. Ryan.  We may be 55 or older, but we don't all have Alzheimer's.  We can see this coming. 

Suppose he succeeds in passing this.  Ten years out, in 2022, all new seniors will go on this "medical exchange" plan.  They'll choose a plan and start getting a federal subsidy from something that Mr. Ryan calls Medicare (but the Congressional Budget Office disagrees).  They will pay a whole lot more for their medical care than the grandfathered seniors using legacy Medicare.  At that point the Republicans will have a ready-made constituency for the argument that the higher cost system should apply to everybody, including those of us who were grandfathered in under the old Medicare system.  And don't think they won't use it.

I'm also fascinated by Ryan's insistence that "You can't be denied" by these new plans.  What will stop them from denying people?  The Republicans' other hot item is the proposal to repeal Obamacare, which is the only thing in history that has ever forbidden insurance companies to deny care.  Does he really think that because we're old we can't think?

Finally, Mr.Ryan, "demagogue" is not a verb.  It is a noun.  It is something you can be - and I believe that you are - but it isn't something you can do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Debt Limit

As my fellow blogger Linkmeister just pointed out (check out the site, by the way, the new format is cool), all this debt the Republicans are complaining about represents expenditures that Congress appropriated.  Yes, that Congress - the one whose Republican members are whining that we can't raise the debt ceiling without cutting huge amounts of spending at the same time.  They approved all this spending.  Now they say we can't pay the bills because it will exceed the debt limit which (they insist) we can't raise.  What?  Where were all these fiscal hawks when those expenditures were up for a vote?

In addition, I saw a Reuters article recently in which the Tea Party faithful are about to draw and quarter John Boehner because he told them we're going to have to raise the debt limit.  The good thing is that Boehner actually recognizes that.  But I want to know where all these Tea Party types were for the last 10 years or so, when George W. Bush was running two wars off the books and pouring our money into Iraq like water - and then losing track of it.  Remember, Bill Clinton left office with a budget surplus.  Dubya promptly blew it away with tax cuts, and that was before the wars.  From the Tea Party, or the people who are now the Tea Party?  Not a peep.

It seems unkind to conclude that the Tea Party activists don't care about anything - the state of the country, the welfare of their less fortunate fellow citizens, public health, the education of the next generation, the repairs needed in our infrastructure - as long as their taxes aren't raised.  But I don't see an alternative position; that's what they say, that's how they act.  Their tax burden is more important than anything else in the country.  As long as it stays the same, or goes down, they don't care what happens to anything or anyone else.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Diverting the Mississippi

Some years ago, I read John McPhee's book, The Control of Nature, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999.  Part of that book discussed the efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, over the last 80 years or so, to control the Mississippi River and keep it flowing through New Orleans and Baton Rouge.  McPhee's theory, in this book, was that the Mississippi has changed its course many times over the centuries, and that if it were not for the levees and dams built by the Corps, it would have changed its course in the early to middle twentieth century to flow down the Atchafalaya Basin, essentially stranding the existing ports.  It was a fascinating book and it's a tribute to the power of the descriptions that I wrote all that from memory even though I probably read the book 10 years ago.  He also wrote a separate piece, Atchafalaya, in 1987, which I suspect was the basis of that section of The Control of Nature.

And here we are in 2011, and the Mississippi River has reached the highest flood levels seen in a century, and the Corps has opened the Morganza Spillway (the second time in history; it was opened once in 1973), the gateway to the Atchafalaya Basin:

Morganza Spillway has nine of 125 bays open

This will flood 3,000 square miles of western Louisiana, and displace an estimated 25,000 people.  We're talking about water 25 feet deep here.

We're really talking about allowing the Mississippi to take that changed course which McPhee argued it has been trying to get to for 50 years or more.  A Google search of the terms "McPhee" and "Mississippi" shows that he's been pretty vocal on the subject recently.  I haven't read any of his comments.  I wonder, though, if he and I are wondering the same thing:

Once you let the Mississippi River make the course change that it's been trying to make for decades - how are you going to get it back?  It isn't exactly like turning off a faucet.  Is the Corps drowning the Atchafalaya Basin permanently?  Will New Orleans now be high and dry?  We'll find out.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Big Rock Country

We drove from Cortez, Colorado to the north rim of the Grand Canyon in a single day, winding around through the rocky desert country in southern Utah.  Continuing more or less south from the Million Dollar Highway, we hooked east a bit to go through Monument Valley.

To be perfectly honest, although I'm very good at finding places, especially if I have a map, I have no sense of "direction."  If you want to know where north is or what direction we're going, buy a compass or get a GPS - don't ask me.  (A compass is cheaper.)  The new Subaru we just bought has GPS, and it also has a compass display in the rear-view mirror that tells me what direction we're going; I'm not used to such precision.  The only place I can orient myself without devices is California, where there's usually a mountain range running north-south in view - and of course, there's that ocean.

We were in desert almost this whole day; I think there was a little cultivated area around Cortez.  Then the world ended, despite the fact that we were driving through and past Indian reservations.  Monument Valley is in a Navajo reservation.  Before we got to Monument Valley, we drove through an area called Valley of the Gods, which was (a) totally desolate, and (b) absolutely gorgeous.  Click on the photo to go to the full gallery for southern Utah and the Valley of the Gods.

Driving through southern Utah

Apart from the road, and an occasional fence, there is no visible animal life.  You have to stop and look to see the critters.  And Monument Valley is even more so. My diary notes that if you expect to need anything in Monument Valley, you'd better take it in with you; and if you're smart, you'll stop at the gas station in Medicine Hat before you go in.  We passed a single Navajo site selling jewelry, pottery and rings (we didn't stop); it wasn't clear whether they'd run to indoor plumbing or not.  The visitors' center was down an unpaved side road which we didn't think the VW Passat would really like.  We carried our lunch in, and eventually just pulled the car into somebody's farm road and parked it with its back to the sun.  The amazing thing was that there was a farm road.  You'll see the photos in the gallery below.

approaching Monument Valley

I defy anyone to drive through Monument Valley and not stop to take at least one photo - unless you simply don't own a camera or a cell phone!  But it gets overwhelming after a while.  I've never felt so small in my life; or so vulnerable.

In case you don't believe the colors, honest - they really looked like that.  I decided on this trip that you can't really understand southwestern pottery unless you've driven through those mesas and seen the colors of the rocks and soil.  My sister has given me several Native American pots from Arizona, and the colors make much more sense to me now.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

After Denver

I seem to have stopped posting about this trip after describing our stay in Denver, probably discouraged by the deteriorating state of my knee.  Let's catch up - I have a lot more photos to share.  For one thing, we spent a day at the Denver Zoo, so if you like zoo photos, you may enjoy this gallery (click on the photo to go to the gallery):

Denver Zoo - sculptures

I think this guy is my favorite shot from that trip, or, let's hear it for telephoto lenses:

I like this little fellow too, though:

After leaving Denver we made the long and arduous drive to - Manitou Springs, just outside Colorado Springs, where we stayed for a day or so.  We toured the Cave of the Winds  (links lead to photo galleries) and the Garden of the Gods, but the real reason for coming to Colorado Springs was the Pike's Peak Cog Railway, which we rode.  Given my asthma, the top of Pike's Peak, at 14,115 feet (4,302 m), is probably the highest ground I will ever stand on.  Click on the photo for the full gallery, it was a beautiful clear day and I got some gorgeous shots.

Pike's Peak cog railway

After the Pike's Peak expedition we set out for the Grand Canyon, by way of Monument Valley - I'll get those photos up later.  First, we went through the San Juan Mountains over U.S. 550, sometimes known as the "Million Dollar Highway."  With apologies to Ouray and Silverton, Colorado, this is the road from nowhere to nowhere - except that it goes through a mountain range that once had a whole lot of silver in it.  We weren't actually going to go that way, but in The Tattered Cover bookstore, in Denver, Jim picked up a copy of The Road That Silver Built, by David P. Smith, and decided to drive it.  Gorgeous country, though:

U.S. 550 (the Million Dollar Highway) - San Juan Mts.

Click on the photo to see the rest of the gallery.  As you can see, the road has no frivolous extras like, say, guard rails.  At the bottom of the slope to the right is the Uncompaghre River.  The speed limit on this elegant route is 25 MPH!  

Even at that speed we were going too fast to get a photo of the mine entrance that opened right on the road, at the beginning of an outside curve - an evenly chiseled hole cut in the rock, going back into the mountain, almost large enough to stand in, about 3 feet wide, with an arched roof!  The arched roof was what startled me - it was so obviously man-made.  I almost thought I saw someone standing in it.