Category Archives: Nostalgia

Fifty Years of Nauseating Kennedy Nostalgia

It’s been fifty years since Michelle, a fifth grade childhood friend, interrupted me on the playground of Naples elementary and told me that ”President Kennedy has been shot.” The news did not impress me. I naively rooted for Kennedy in the 1960 election. Yes, I was suckered, but I was in the second grade! I didn’t discover the man was a shiny lying whore-monger until years later so cut me some slack. Kennedy dazzled my second grade mind but by November of 1963 whatever passing interest I had in him had dissolved. Despite Michelle’s worried tones Kennedy’s fate did not concern me but I dearly hoped that we would get the rest of the school day off! My hopes for a premature end of school ended with the recess bell. My first presidential assassination was off to a bad start and it only got worse.

We spent the day in class with distracted teachers; they were visibly relieved when our school buses arrived. I remember our normally genial driver had his civil defense drill face on. In the early sixties we enjoyed civil defense drills. As I was living in a remote rural corner of Utah the prospect of places like New York City getting nuked was cause for celebration. Civil defense drills were grand apocalyptic holidays. We’d get out of school early, pile on our buses, and then flee into the Uintah badlands. In a real attack I would be home in my basement long before the radioactive clouds killed everyone within a hundred miles of major cities. Maybe our driver thought that without our Marilyn Monroe banger at the helm the entire world would self-destruct. People worry about the silliest things.

I don’t remember the bus ride. It took forty-five minutes of highway driving and a change of buses to drop me in the middle of the Redwash oilfield where we lived at the time. Redwash was a small oil camp built to house oil heathens. Rural Utah in the 1960’s was almost 100% Mormon and oil people, like my dad and his coworkers, were almost 100% non-Mormon. Oil hicks and Mormon hicks did not mix. When oil was discovered under the Uintah plateau oil people first stayed in nearby Vernal and Jensen but there were too many fights. Oil people like to drink, smoke and whore while Mormons like to lecture, preach and ostracize. Redwash was the solution. We we’re twenty miles from the nearest small town and hundreds of miles from the nearest city: Salt Lake City. It was a good place to sit out the end of world but there was a problem: TV reception sucked.

When I got home my parents were glued to our fuzzy black and white TV. The Kennedy news was so riveting that my dad, normally allergic to technology despite being an accomplished petroleum engineer, went outside and fiddled with our rooftop TV antenna. No matter where the antenna pointed reception was awful. We got three channels and only one was watchable. TV talking heads were going on about Kennedy’s death. By the time I got home his death was certain. My normal after school routine consisted of TV cartoons, but I could see that there would be no cartoons and I was OK with it. I knew presidents weren’t assassinated every day, a little break in routine might be good. I expected the adults would go on about this for a few days and then things would get back to normal.

Boy was I wrong. Two days later I was eating a bowl of Cheerios in our small dining area when my mother stormed out of the living room ranting, “Why don’t we all get a gun and open fire?1” Ruby had just shot Oswald on live TV. My hopes for a return of afternoon cartoons took a major hit. I don’t remember much after Oswald’s death because my patience ran out. I didn’t watch the interminable lying in state, the never-ending funeral procession, the tiresome media bloviating or little Johnny F. Kennedy junior2 saluting poor dead dad.

Later on I remember sitting with one of my older friends in an oilfield garbage dump. We had been breaking discarded Mercury filled electrical switches to recover Mercury. At one time I had almost an entire liter of Mercury in my basement chemistry lab. I mixed it with molten lead and poured the mixture into water to form brittle 3D Jackson Pollack’ey insta-sculptures. When I was kid boys were allowed to be boys, we snuck cigarettes, shot out oil field gauges with our 22’s, stole welding blasting caps, had fist fights, had rock fights, shot sheep, called girls names and thrust 30-06 rifle bullets into bonfires. It was a golden age. I feel for the poor ADHD drug saturated eunuchs that substitute for boys in today’s pussy safe schools. It’s hardly surprising so many of them harbor volcanic rage that erupts in mass shootings. As my friend smashed Mercury filled switch tubes he bitched, “Jesus Dupont Christopher Christ, it’s been almost two goddamn weeks and there’s still nothing but Kennedy on TV. When the hell do we get back to regularly scheduled programming?” I really didn’t know but I didn’t expect to wait decades.

For years after the assassination we gorged on a steady nausea inducing diet of the handsome young president, so filled with promise, but cut down before his time, propaganda that somewhere between LBJ and Watergate I stopped giving a shit about anything associated with the Kennedy’s. When the stories about JFK’s drug abuse, whoring and general political ineptitude started surfacing3 I thought maybe the masses are finally developing some perspective. Kennedy was an average president. We remember him for five things: the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, starting the Apollo program, rabid skirt chasing and getting assassinated. Only one thing on that list, the Apollo program, is good! He had a meager legislative impact and everything liberal morons credit him with was actually implemented by the hated LBJ. If Kennedy hadn’t been shot he would be rated below Clinton and way below Truman and Eisenhower. Fortunately for Kennedy’s legacy, but not for himself, Oswald was a competent sniper.

And now that I have mentioned the “O-word “ will all you Kennedy assassination conspiracy nuts just fornicate elsewhere and expire. It’s been fifty years and you still haven’t definitely made your case. I will admit that a Kennedy conspiracy is possible, just like I will admit that aliens buzzing around in UFO’s is possible, but in both cases the “evidence” does not pass skeptical muster. I only change my mind when there are good reasons to do so and in Kennedy’s case there are no compelling arguments.

My intense disdain for Kennedy conspiracy imbeciles reached homicidal levels watching Oliver Stone’s absolutely execrable film JFK. There is a scene in JFK where two lead characters discuss “the shooting.” The film’s gun expert authoritatively intones that it was simply impossible for Oswald to fire as many shoots as he did and hit a moving target at such a distance. This is a simple outright lie and I would bet big bucks that Stone, another amoral lying reprobate, knew it when he was filming. How did I know it was pure and utter bullshit? Well I have been to the Dallas Book Depository and I have looked out the window Oswald shot from. When I saw just how far away his target was, it’s not that far, I immediately thought — I could have hit Kennedy. It would have been easy for any competent sniper. Go and look yourselves. To test the shooting another fallen liberal icon, Dan Rather, ran a test where he recruited a number of snipers to duplicate Oswald’s shooting. The verdict: it was completely possible. Stone was simply lying in the middle of his alleged historical big budget film. I have never watched another Oliver Stone film; don’t bankroll your enemies.

For a few months we’ll be subjected to a torrent of unbalanced Kennedy retrospectives. The few remaining magazine stands, in the few remaining bookstores, are filling up with Camelot encrusted crud. I only hope the generations born after Kennedy’s assassination will show their usual complete lack of interest in boomer nostalgia and let’s not fool ourselves Kennedy is pure boomer nostalgia. My hideous self-centered generation has always lacked historical perspective and here we are, fifty years later, still acting like fifth graders. Nobody gives a crap where we were when Kennedy was shot! So enjoy your 50th assassination anniversary because in another fifty years, when boomers are dead and gone, a new generation of American historical illiterates will be asking, “Wasn’t Kennedy the dude that nailed Marilyn Monroe on the moon?”

  1. Not a rhetorical question in hunting crazy rural Utah.
  2. Little Johnny grew into another loathsome entitled Kennedy. He was a dim witted echo of his dad and the original shiny pony. Perhaps we should encourage Justin Trudeau to take flying lessons.
  3. Before the Internet it was a lot easier to keep the lid on political dirt. Kennedy, like Obama today, was revered by a sycophantic slobbering press.

Minnie’s Pictures

Minnie E. Raver 1881-1977

While going through my late mother’s pictures I came across a box of my great-grandmother Minnie’s old photographs. When my great-grandmother died in 1977 my grandmother Hazel took her pictures and stuffed them in her Hoarder’s level junk filled basement.1 After Hazel’s death my mother recovered Minnie’s pictures from Hazel’s hoard and promptly filed them with her pictures where they remained until I found them. Minnie’s pictures have already seen off three generations of my ancestors and I’m next in line. Are they worth it?

Many of Minnie’s pictures are over a hundred years old. The oldest probably date to the 1870’s or 1880’s. Despite their age they’re in excellent condition. Obviously Minnie took care of her pictures and thankfully Montana basements and attics are often high and dry. I spent an entire day studying Minnie’s pictures. Her old portraits are superb examples of small studio 19th and early 20th century photography, see the following wedding portrait, and her snapshots are candid shots of the people she knew and loved. All of which brings me to my current problem. I don’t know who these people are!

Callie Davis Frank Smelser wedding 1905

Callie Davis (Minnie’s sister) and Frank Smelser wedding portrait 1905.

I have never had much of an interest in family trees or the entire quasi-delusional undertaking of genealogical research for the simple reason that most of it is bullshit. The basic genealogical problem is simple: people have always screwed around and then lied about it. When you get right down to it you cannot be certain, without DNA testing, that your own parents are your biological parents. There are good reasons to suspect that at least 1% to 5% of children result from cuckolding and for some social classes it may be as high as 30%. In other words your daddy may not be who you think it is! Cuckolding varies with culture, time, socio-economic status and so forth but it’s rarely zero. A cuckolding rate of 5% implies that by the time you’ve traced your ancestors to the great-great-grandparent level there is a 19% chance that an alleged, perfectly documented, ancestor is not really an ancestor. By the time we get back to the time of Christ, roughly 100 generations, there’s a 99.99% chance that any alleged ancestor is not really any ancestor. Genealogy without DNA is a hollow dead-end.

As bad as cuckolding is it’s the least of our genealogical problems. Genealogical records are incomplete, contain serious errors and are often complete frauds. As late as the 19th century the settlement of estates was very sensitive to birth order. If you were a first-born son you got everything while your baby brother got squat. It was even worse for women; they got less than squat. In such an environment there is a powerful incentive to forge records. Old handwritten documents may look official to modern eyes but you cannot assume they’re accurate. With a well-placed bribe first-born Johnnie suddenly disappears from the record. People have always lied about the important things.

Given all these obvious problems I usually ignore people going on about the exploits of their glorious ancestors. Your roots are unreliable people! You really don’t know who your great-great-great granny was and if you insist on telling tales about her I will insist on DNA evidence. I know that many of the dead in Minnie’s pictures are probably blood relatives and some are probably direct great-great or greater grandparents. I cannot be 100% sure they’re genetic ancestors but I can follow obvious document breadcrumbs and learn enough about these people to attach stories to their pictures.

I wasn’t looking forward to the giant chore of scanning, restoring and researching Minnie’s pictures2 but following breadcrumbs was more interesting than expected. It turns out that there’s a lot of dead people on the internet. When I started looking for death and marriage records I immediately came across a cemetery record for my own recently deceased mother. It was surprising to find her so soon. There’s an active world-wide ghoulish group of people photographing cemetery monuments and posting their findings online. It’s ironic but a Facebook for the dead preceded the Facebook for the living. Starting with my mother I backtracked through my alleged ancestors looking for a “Lydia.”  “Lydia” was scrawled on the back of what looked like the oldest of Minnie’s pictures.

Lydia Jane Ayres

Lydia Jane Ayres 1839-unknown

If the records are correct I believe this “Lydia” is Lydia Jane Ayres. There is a very good chance that Lydia is one of my great-great grandmothers. Lydia married Albert F. Raver in 1863 in Brant Ontario. Albert was the mother of Minnie’s husband Bert Raver.

I didn’t find any pictures of Albert Raver in Minnie’s collection and that’s too bad because I suspect Albert had an eye for the babes. I looked for his death record and found this confusing census entry. Here was an Albert F. Raver with exactly the same age and birth origin remarried to a Lydia L. Raver. At first I thought it was a mistake but Albert’s marriage to Lydia L. Ayres was in 1906. That did not compute. Then I remembered a story my grandmother Hazel told me years ago when we were talking about her grandparents. She told me that one of her grandfathers married twice to two women with the same first and last names. She complained about how difficult this made sorting Christmas and birthday cards. I cannot remember if the name was Lydia Ayres but what are the chances? It seems Albert married  Lydia Jane Ayres in 1863. Somehow they parted ways and later, at the age of 68, Albert remarried in 1906 a younger Lydia L. Ayres. Having been divorced and remarried myself I can only marvel at Albert’s ingenuity. The last thing you want to do in your senile dotage is call a second wife by your first wife’s name. Before social security that could have been a fatal mistake. Randy old Albert neatly dodged that bullet.

The randiness was not confined to the Raver branch. Equally intriguing is this old portrait of “dad’s old sweetheart.” Here Minnie is likely referring to her own father and my great-great granddaddy Howell Cobb Davis. Screwing around, contrary to boomer mythology, wasn’t invented in the 1960’s.

Dad's old sweetheart

“Dad’s old sweetheart.” Probably an old girl friend of Howell Cobb Davis.

Minnie lived to 96. I was in my twenties when she died so I remember some of the people in her snapshots. Here’s Minnie with her first-born son Vernon standing in Marble Canyon Arizona in 1949. I knew Vernon as a boy. He always posed exactly like you see him her.

Vernon and Minnie Raver Marble Canyon Arizona 1949

Vernon and Minnie Raver Marble Canyon Arizona 1949

You can read the poor guys mind. “Do you really need another picture? Well if that’s how it’s going be I’m going to assume my petulant spoiled fat boy pose.” You cannot blame Vernon. His photographic life got off to a dreadful start. Look at this gem.

Vernon F. Raver 1904-1964

Vernon F. Raver 1904-1964

In the early 20th century women liked to dress up their baby boys as girls. Vernon got the full girly treatment. You cannot blame him for being scarred for life after such trauma. Here’s a clue ladies. Boys are not girls. Gender is not arbitrary. People that assert the contrary are idiots. Sorry if that sounds like mansplaining; the truth is not always polite.

I doubt I’ll ever get through Minnie’s pictures. There are hundreds of images to scan, restore and research. I just don’t have the time or energy but in the years ahead I will occasionally pick out and upload attractive images. Here’s the gallery to follow if you’re interested.

  1. If Hazel was alive today she would be a star on TV’s Hoarders.
  2. Despite their good condition it was still a lot of work to restore the images posted here. To judge what I had contend with browse this gallery of before and after diptychs.

Yellowstone and Me

Mali by the Yellowstone Roosevelt Gate

My wife in front of the Roosevelt Gate that marks the northern entrance to Yellowstone. The road to Mammoth Hot Springs and the Lamar valley are open during the winter. Most of the park is snowed under.

I have moved so often that I am no longer from anywhere, but if asked, one place, Livingston Montana, has the strongest claim. Every summer, from infancy to late adolescence, I spent long happy months with my grandparents in Livingston. If you look at a map you’ll see that Livingston is close to Yellowstone National Park. In the late 19th and early 20th century the town billed itself as the gateway to Yellowstone. In those days most people reached the park by train and the train went through Livingston on the way to Gardner and the northern park entrance where the famous Teddy Roosevelt arch stands to this day.

Being close to Yellowstone we made frequent family trips to the park. I don’t know how many times I’ve entered Yellowstone. We’d make at least one trip every year and some years we went two or three times. We thought of Yellowstone as our own private national park and we were intensely proud of the place. This hasn’t changed. People that live near the park today are as fiercely devoted to Yellowstone as my grandparents and parents ever were.

When I was a child the park service did things differently. In the 1950’s and 1960’s rangers didn’t chase bears into the woods so they hung out on park roads begging food from tourists. Seeing bears closeup was always a thrill. Of course, you weren’t supposed to feed bears. Signs were everywhere reminding Boobus americanus that bears were dangerous wild animals, but the largely ignorant public ignored the warnings with predictable results. Every year at least one moron was killed by a bear. In good years two or three would succumb. Since most of the dead were clueless tourists locals viewed Yellowstone bear attacks as a form of imbecile euthanasia. We were sad when rangers had to put down offending bears. You don’t see a lot of bears in the park these days. When they show up the rangers shoo them into the woods; it’s easier to train bears than tourists.

Family outing in Yellowstone

In the summer of 1967 I snapped this photo of my parents, maternal grandparents and siblings with an Instamatic camera. I was only a teenager but I was already a veteran Yellowstone visitor. We made frequent trips to the park and we all loved the place.

After bears geysers were the next biggest thrill. Yellowstone is world-famous for its geysers. Some estimate that half of the world’s active geysers are bubbling away atop Yellowstone’s massive caldera. The immense size and power of the Yellowstone super-volcano was not fully understood in those days, but you could see the park was a special, almost magical, place with your own eyes. One geyser, Old Faithful, is emblematic of Yellowstone and most of our park trips included a stop at it.

Old Faithful is not the most spectacular large geyser in the park, but it’s the most dependable. By some rare geological quirk Old Faithful has been venting at regular intervals ever since it was named in 1870.1 The interval changes a bit from time to time. The Madison earthquake tweaked the frequency and times vary more than many believe, but if you go to Old Faithful and invest a few hours the geyser will not disappoint. The most dramatic eruptions occur during the winter when super-heated geyser steam blasts into freezing mountain plateau air. Old Faithful in the winter is pure bucket list material. I’ve watched Old Faithful shoot off dozens of times. I’ve seen Old Faithful with my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, my children, my nieces, in-laws and some good friends. My experience is not unique. If you’ve seen Old Faithful I’m betting it was with someone special.

There’s more to Yellowstone than bears and geysers. It harbors the largest high altitude lake in North America. It is home to a variety of North American plants and animals. It has one of the most spectacular river canyons and waterfalls anywhere and it shelters, in scalding geyser waters, rare ancient extremophiles that are among the oldest life forms on Earth. The park doesn’t need me to sell it. It’s one of the world’s very special places.

My kids waiting for Old Faithful

My kids waiting for Old Faithful to erupt in the summer of 2000. Watching Old Faithful is like a family reunion for me. I’ve seen it shoot off with most of the special people in my life and even when I was by myself I was always thinking how others would love this particular eruption.

As I entered my teenage years we moved to Iran where I spent a year before moving to Lebanon for school. During this time I saw large chunks of the Middle East, Egypt, Turkey, most of Western Europe and England. We returned to Canada. From Canada I moved to Ghana, then Denmark, then Barbados, then western Canada, then eastern Canada, then back to the US. I’ve seen dozens of national parks in many countries and many are spectacular. With so much to compare it against I started thinking of Yellowstone as, “a been there, done that”, “nothing to see here”, “not worth the hassle,” bore! Doesn’t everyone have a boring old Yellowstone in their backyard? I was blasé about Yellowstone for years until two notable events and advances in geology made me reassess my feelings about the park.

Remember the great Yellowstone forest fires of 1988. Dramatic images of vast fires filled newscasts for weeks. The park service endured abuse from all quarters for letting the fires rage. Fire has always been important for North American evergreen forests. Years of fire suppression in the US and Canada slowly produced dense tinderbox forests that blaze when set alight. The great Yellowstone fires of 1988 punctuated this point. We now understand that fire is necessary for the long-term health of forests, but explaining this to outfitters, tour operators and other businesses that depend on moving tourists in and out of parks remains a hard sell. A few years after the great 1988 fires I visited the park with my young children. I was expecting a burned out wasteland, but I was surprised by verdant undergrowth and the largest fattest elk herds I had ever seen. Between the black timbers lush ferns and other plants burst forth by the billions. It was a good time for ungulates. I know it pisses people off when experts are right, but the experts were right about forest fires. Fortunately, the braying nitwits soon had something even more controversial to whine about.

The most famous animal in the park these days was absent during my youth. I am talking about wolves. Wolves had been exterminated in Yellowstone for the usual fallacious bullshit reasons in the early 20th century. When people started seriously entertaining the idea of reintroducing wolves to the park every brain-dead rancher in the west decided to go on TV and show the world that westerners are every bit as ignorant as Yellowstone bear-food tourists. I remember one particularly eye-rolling twit going on about how kids waiting for school buses at lonely winter ranch gates would fall prey to bloodthirsty wolves. It didn’t matter that there have been very few authenticated wolf attacks on people or that there were good ecological reasons for reintroducing wolves. Ranchers the world over subscribe to what I call rancher ecology. If it’s not a cow or a rancher shoot it! I’ve endured this sentiment in the US, Canada, Brazil and Ghana. Grow up people; you’re embarrassing us! If you’re really this stupid having bloodthirsty wolves pick off your idiot spawn would help us maintain our species IQ.

The park service ignored the loons and brought the wolves back. What happened, just the biggest and most successful species reintroduction in national park history? Watching wolves reestablish themselves has made it crystal clear how important top predators are to functional ecosystems. Before the wolves came back the elk and deer, like welfare recipients, had gotten stupid and lazy. Their biggest problem was avoiding traffic. The wolves changed all that. Now if they’re not on their hooves they’re probably going to get eaten. The presence of wolves has had many unexpected benefits. The elk no longer clear out the underbrush near streams; this has led to a profusion of wild flowers and other plants that were rarely seen before wolves. The denser plant growth has provided habit for insects that feed birds. The slower moving waters are more suitable for native fish and beavers. The park is in better shape than it has been at any time in my life and we can credit the work of Canis lupus for a lot of it.

Bison on the high plains of Yellowstone National Park.

Most of Yellowstone is a high elevation plateau. It’s great habitat for deer, elk, bears and now wolves. There are mountains in the park but they are not as impressive as the Tetons to the south or the Absaroka range to the north.

And, despite the western whining, the biggest beneficiaries of wolf reintroduction have been, you guessed it: Homo sapiens. Lots of people are making money on Yellowstone wolves. Every winter thousands of people make their way into the Lamar valley to watch and hear wolves. People come from far and wide and occasionally the wolves put on a riveting show for them. Yes they occasionally stray from the park and there have been livestock losses. Whenever a sheep of calf gets eaten the rancher press covers it like a mini 9/11 terrorist attack. In some cases the attacks occur in the park. It’s not widely known that domestic animals graze national forests and parks. Hey, if your cow is eating state subsidized grass stop whining about occasional losses to wildlife. You’re damn lucky the stupid public tolerates grazing on public lands. In pure economic terms wolf introduction has been a rare government money-maker. Perhaps if Congress assholus were reintroduced to their natural habit, prison, similar benefits would ensue.

Wolf reintroduction put Yellowstone back in the news but advances in geophysics and geology vaulted the park’s status to global icon. There aren’t very many super volcanoes in the world and there are even fewer active super-volcanoes. This is probably a good thing. Too many of these puppies blowing off would seriously depress the market and no amount of quantitative easing would excavate your baked ass from cubic kilometers of volcanic ash. Geologists have been aware of Yellowstone’s violent volcanic past for decades but it wasn’t until the age of high precision GPS monitoring and satellite radar that the alarming dynamism of the park made headlines. We’re not used to landscapes “breathing” but something like that is going on in the Yellowstone caldera. The entire plateau goes up and down in amazingly short times. It takes a lot of energy to move a few hundred square kilometers of rock in a matter of years. Yellowstone ground movements have been monitored since the 1920’s and they are so marked that even the public notices. Now that we better understand the monster that lurks under the park everyone expects it to wake one day and blow the joint sky-high. Maybe we’ll get lucky and see it blow in our lifetime. The last time the Yellowstone super-volcano erupted Homo erectus walked the Earth. They we’re on the other side of the world but super-volcanoes make themselves felt at great distances. I’m willing to bet that evidence of large Yellowstone eruptions will eventually be detected in ancient African or Asian hominid fossils. Yellowstone’s super-volcano gives the park real sex appeal. Let’s face it, chicks dig bad boys, and bad boys that can waste entire countries are volcanically hot!

View of Yellowstone Lake from West Thumb.

Yellowstone Lake from West Thumb. Yellowstone Lake is large and deep and most of it lies within the Yellowstone caldera which covers an area three times larger than the lake. Imagine this entire landscape erupting. They’re not called super-volcanoes for nothing!

Yellowstone’s enduring importance has nothing to do with landscapes, geysers, bears or volcanoes. Its major contribution is the idea of a national park. In 1872 the US Congress took time out from their usual whoring and profiteering, work they assiduously pursue to this day, and accidentally did something worthwhile; they created the world’s first national park: Yellowstone. Despite modern whitewashing this wasn’t an act of a farsighted and wise people. Yellowstone was too far away, too high for agriculture, had no known mineral deposits and wasn’t even in a state at the time. How the hell can you deliver pork to nonexistent districts? Congress couldn’t see how to pillage and profit from Yellowstone so they gave in to a small but determined movement that wanted a park. The congress of 1872 was probably less corrupt and venal than our modern degenerates but they weren’t freaking saints and it annoys the hell out of me that partisan revisionists are constantly citing Yellowstone as a wonder of big government. Yellowstone was a product of the corrupt and incompetent Grant2 administration for Christ’s sake. The same dolts that brought you Custer’s last stand.

Judging the motivations of the long dead is pure hubris but evaluating the results of their actions is how we learn from history. By any standard Yellowstone was a glorious result. The congress of 1872 set a precedent that spread worldwide. Ken Burns argues that national parks are the single best idea the US government has ever had and I agree. I shudder to think what Yellowstone would be like if it wasn’t a national park. It would probably be the biggest hive of luxury spas and posturing celebrity scum on the planet. Imagine Aspen, Cannes, Bath, Monte Carlo, Dubai and Hollywood all whored up with natural boiling mud and geyser waters. Instead of being proud of Yellowstone I would be advocating nuking the place. The nukes wouldn’t damage the super-volcano but they would cauterize the celebrity infestation. Thank the all squiggling FSM that this nightmare was aborted in 1872. National parks have aborted many such nightmares all around the globe.

In my ideal world parks would cover at least a third of Earth’s lands and oceans. We’re not there yet, but when we are, people will still look at Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, and my personal favorite, as one of the very best.

  1. Nobody knows who first discovered Old Faithful. It was known to Native Americans long before it was named “Old Faithful.”
  2. Unlike the current occupant of the White House Grant did something that mattered before he was elected president.

More Photographic Waybacking

There are three things I like about funerals: meeting old friends and relatives, unlimited quantities of food and browsing old photographs. A few weeks ago my sister and sister-in-law went through my mother’s closets and found a stash of old photographs that had eluded my frequent attempts to catalog and archive family pictures.

I have a thing about family pictures. If you want to piss me off make a big pile of your family’s pictures and set them on fire! For reasons that are utterly inexplicable to me many of you don’t seem to give a damn about your family pictures. My wife’s father was a very organized photographer that took hundreds, maybe thousands, of black and white snapshots in Iran from the 1940s to the 1970s. Apparently he took the time to meticulously label each print with where, when and who information. I would love to paw through his pictures but that’s not possible because his kids, my wife’s siblings, trashed most of his pictures. The few that survive, like this one of him sitting and reading a newspaper, hint at a never to seen again world.

My wife's father reading a newspaper 1955.

My wife’s father reading a newspaper 1955.

Such crimes against imagery are common. My maternal grandmother was also a keen unorganized photographer. She didn’t label prints or neatly file slides but she shot everything that caught her eye. Over six decades she piled up thousands of images, but when she moved into town, she accidentally sold stacks of what she thought were empty slide carousels to yard sale strangers. Some of the carousels were empty but the rest held the bulk or her slide collection. The surviving images, like this old Kodachrome of my great-grandmother and her sister, constantly remind me of all the great shots I will never see! Don’t trash your family pictures you will grow to regret it.

My great-grandmother (light blue dress) and her sister 1950s.

My great-grandmother (light blue dress) and her sister 1950s.

My mother’s recently recovered stash held a few gems I had never seen like this great little snapshot of my maternal grandmother with her two daughters: my late mother as a pouty girl and my aunt as a baby. The old car in the background would be marked down as a “distracting element” in many photography classes. This merely shows how bad the advice and guidelines dispensed in such courses can be. The car is an essential element; it turns a nice snapshot into a sweet period piece.

Hazel, Alberta (baby) and Evelyn 1940.

Hazel, Alberta (baby) and Evelyn 1940.

Here’s another snapshot of my mother and aunt with a puppy. This picture is almost seventy years old but I still see the same expression on my aunt’s face. Your smile is a lifelong affliction; I would recommend getting used to it.

Evelyn and Alberta with puppy 1944.

Evelyn and Alberta with puppy 1944.

Along with the amateur snapshots a number of professional studio portraits turned up. The following is a hand tinted print of my mother as a ten-year old. Color photography obliterated the art of hand tinting. It is rarely seen outside of photographic art classes today. Tinting is often unnatural and hokey but it sometimes lends an eerie painting quality. Here the tinting works. Tinted prints are becoming rare and valuable. Don’t throw them away!

Evelyn age ten hand tinted 1945.

Evelyn age ten hand tinted 1945.

Finally, here’s a wonderful never seen portrait of my mother as an eleven year old. This may be the best portrait of my mother at any age. The studio photographer caught her in the middle of a great smile. This picture was taken over six decades ago but I doubt that modern imaging technology could significantly improve it.

Evelyn age eleven studio portrait 1946.

Evelyn age eleven studio portrait 1946.

Finding this portrait shortly after my mother’s death took away some of the sting. I had a great mother, and because I treat family pictures with the respect they deserve, I have the photographic evidence to prove it.

The Joys of Photographic Waybacking

Remember Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine. Mr Peabody was dog, with a pet boy Sherman, that used his Wayback time travel machine to visit the past. I’m not sure if he ever visited the future; that’s a question best left to Rocky and Bullwinkle historians. Well, I have Wayback machines; they’re called film and flatbed scanners. I spend way to much time scanning and restoring old photographs. Over the years I’ve scanned thousands of images. It only takes a few minutes to get a high quality scan but it can take days of image editing to restore old damaged originals. Hence, I always have a backlog of scanned pictures to fix.

My enthusiasm for this endless task waxes and wanes with my general photographic energies. A few weeks ago I upgraded my arsenal of DLSR cameras and lenses. New lenses always give me boast. So lately I’ve been out pixel harvesting with a lovely little f2.8 macro lens.  I think she I will be an item for years to come — wide open her bokeh is beautiful. While I enjoy working with my spanking new crystal clear digital images I often find myself wandering in my vast image file directories and picking out old scans to work on. Today I whiled away a rainy afternoon restoring pictures I took over forty years ago. Here’s a shot from my ACS Beirut Lebanon boarding school days. This is from an old Instamatic camera. I believe it was my second camera. Over the years my cameras have gotten better and better but they still cannot go Wayback in time.

Me before and after ACS Beirut Lebanon 1968

Lying on my bed and trying to look tough for the camera. I don’t think the pajamas are helping. This image is from an old Kodacolor Instamatic slide taken in 1968. In the original scan fingerprints are visible. I take good care of originals but accidents happen. For more before-after diptychs click.

New Conan not as Philosophical as Old Conan

Bad news philosophers, our preeminent social critic, our font of wisdom, our modern Socrates has succumbed to the malignant Hollywood poisons of reality TV, celebrity whoring, financial ennui and hopeless incompetent governance. Given the forces arrayed against our philosopher king only Vegas bookies on crack would favor his chances. I knew all this when I sat down to view the latest Conan the Barbarian movie but I let hope trump reason — sound familiar. If I wasn’t a mainly-manly-man I would cry for no longer will we ponder religious dissertations like:

“Crom! I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that today, two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom; so grant me this one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to hell with you!

Or learn about what’s good in life:

My friends that golden Apollonic age is past! Now we must content ourselves with eat, pray, love travesties like:

“I live, I love, I slay, I am content.”

When did Conan the Barbarian decide to come out?

It’s all over for Broadcast TV

Human beings are worthless lumps of lazy protoplasm. We only change our bad habits when that bitch — reality — forces us to reconsider our wayward ways. In this respect the great recession has been a wonderful teacher.  It’s sat us down and made us stare at the books.  And arithmetic, being what it is, has brought out the savage budget slasher in all of us.

The amount of money we were handing over to the cable company for the privilege of watching crap on TV could not be justified.  We cut it off — no cable, no satellite, no HD, nada zip zilch!    When annualized that’s $500 bucks. What the hell were we thinking?  $500 dollars wasted on TV. Thank you recession.

OMG no  live TV – how do you survive?  Being old farts we starting reading more but then one day, in the midst of acute Family Guy withdrawal,  we tried streaming. It had been years since I last tried watching video on computers.  Five years ago streaming video was more like steaming pile of video.  I didn’t expect things had improved but I was wrong.  On high-speed internet connections streaming is now good enough to replace TV.   For months we’ve been enjoying free streaming sites like Hulu.  I really enjoy some old, rarely seen, classic TV programs.  Check out this episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  It’s a neat story with a probability lesson and a hard ass skeptic ending.

Soon we will all be Software Archeologists

One of my pet peeves is the ridiculously short lifetimes of digital media.  I remember 9 track mainframe tapes and 5.5 inch floppies: technologies that thrived in an ancient bygone epoch known as the Eighties. Good luck trying to read 9 track tapes or 5.5 inch floppies today! You will have better luck with older paper punch cards. Punch card readers are hard to find these days but you can see the damn card holes with your own eyes! In fact you don’t even need eyes to read punch cards. I once knew a blind mainframe programmer that banged out massive FORTRAN programs by feeling the holes on punch cards. Try that with a USB flash drive.

Of course I appreciate that you can stuff the data from an entire filing cabinet of 5.5 inch floppies onto one modern USB flash drive but I am disturbed by the fact that all those gigabytes will soon be more unreadable than cuneiform. I am not the first to worry about our distressed digital data. Kevin Kelly considers the word “storage” a dangerous misnomer and advocates the use of “movage” instead. You had better move your data from old to new formats or you will lose it!

Rosetta Ball

Rosetta Ball

Movage is one of the reasons I have not jumped on the eReader bandwagon. Replacing myriagrams of books with one lightweight tablet is appealing but iPads and Kindles are not stable! High quality books have shelf lives measured in centuries.  With digital media you’re lucky to get through a decade.  It’s a good bet you won’t be able to read what’s on your eReaders in ten short years!  You poor dumb suckers will have to repurchase your library just like you repurchased your record and movie collections. It’s not in Amazon’s or Apple’s interest to worry too much about media durability. Fortunately some people do worry about media stability.  Check out The Long Now’s Rosetta project for what I consider a stable medium.

To belabor this point, while I was unpacking boxes of old-fashioned books, (we recently moved again),  I came across a notebook I put together for a poster I presented at the 1994 APL conference in Antwerp. My notebook contained a paper version, still eminently readable, and four 3.5 inch disks.  My oldest computer has a vestigial 3.5 inch disk drive so I tried copying these sixteen year old disks. Some of the disks were unreadable, (surprise surprise), but I was able to recover a directory containing my poster’s source. Some of these files were old Microsoft Word documents. Word 2007 could not read them! Even when bits survive changes in software can render them useless. Fortunately I loathed Word in 1994, a sentiment I still maintain, and wrote my poster in \LaTeX.

\LaTeX source is dull ASCII text. Civilization will collapse before we lose the ability to read it! Of course \LaTeX, like Word, has changed since 1994 so, just for the hell of it, I decided to compile this old document with MikTeK 2.9.  It didn’t compile;  I was missing some old graphics macros and a key style file. It didn’t take me long to fix these problems. I replaced the graphics macros with standard \includegraphics{} commands and converted all the Windows *.bmp files to *.png files. Google even found the long-lost missing style file qqaaelba.sty in arxmliv. After making these trivial changes pdflatex.exe gobbled my poster source and moved Using FoxPro and DDE to Store J Words into the 21st century.