Sunday, September 30, 2007

Time to Turn the Page

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman makes a good point today: 9/11 is over.
9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.
I think he's right. We cannot forget, but we mustn't endlessly dwell on 9/11. It's starting to change who we are, and not for the good.

Banned Books Week

The week of September 29 through October 6 is Banned Books Week. This is a week when those of us who read should remember those books that folks, for a wide variety of reasons, have tried to take out of our hands.

The list is long and diverse. Would-be censors right, left and center have all challenged books. The urge to stifle thought that we don't agree with is universal; we all have a duty to combat that urge within ourselves.

It is interesting to note that more than "banned" books, we now speak of "challenged" books. These are books that someone is trying to keep us from reading, either by banning or by raising an un-holy stink about them.

The American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom points to this quote from Ray Bradbury (author of Fahrenheit 451):
You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.
Thus we see campaigns that complain loudly about certain books. They may or may not call for book-banning, but they all can lead librarians, teachers, parents and readers to shy away from certain books. And that is not good.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rainy-Day Tourism

I'm amazed to find myself at Thursday evening with no blog posts since the start of the week. The NSGIC Conference can be a brutal week, with days filled completely with meetings and information. I've had little time or energy left to post.

It is important to break away if possible and get a stretch. A small group of us took a few hours Tuesday afternoon to visit the Olbrich Botanical Gardens here in Madison.

It was raining fairly steadily, but we took the umbrellas provided by the Botanical Society and wandered around the gardens until the rain grew too heavy. The gardens boast a variety of landscaping styles. There is a sunken garden, a rose garden, and a formal garden. There are pathways and trellises.

In one corner, a close-packed collection of small plants rests on a pedestal. Two kaleidoscopes focus-in on the plants.

Toward the back, across a bridge, a traditional Thai Pavilion sits serenely among reflecting pools.

It was very pretty. But after a short visit we gamely headed back to the Conference hotel and into more discussions of geospatial data and IT coordination.

Now it is Friday evening and we have just completed our final meeting: the first gathering of a new Board of Directors. Tomorrow morning I have an early flight through Chicago and back to Baltimore. I should be able to get back to Delaware in plenty of time for Sussex Tech's football game against Cape Henlopen High. I'll get to sit with Karen in the stands and watch our daughter play bass with the Tech marching band.

Monday, September 24, 2007

In Wisconsin

I'm in Madison, Wisconsin, this week for the 2007 Annual Conference of the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC). I'll be here for a week of day-long, and evening deep, meetings. These people are crazy.

I arrived about mid-day Saturday and had time to walk around and look at things. Our conference hotel is just a block from the Wisconsin State Capitol. It is a lovely building. The State has recently refurbished it and it glows in the center of this pretty little city.

I had meant to circle the Capitol and walk out a ways. But I noticed folks walking into the building. I followed them and was astounded to find a gorgeous palatial interior, fully open to the public and apparently quite popular.

So I got stuck in there, wandering around ogling the architecture and taking loads of photos. I really love this building. There is color and grandeur. There is rich wood and polished stone. There is gilt and marble. There is plenty of light.

Large areas of the building are open to the public, and the staff are pleasant and helpful; proud of their building and eager to share information about it.

I worked my way up several sets of stairs until I came to the inside of the great dome. There's a metal spiral staircase the leads to a walkway around the outside of the dome. Up there are views all around the center of the city and over the two lakes that frame the Capitol. There are also close-up views of a number of heroic statues.

I probably spent an hour and a half wandering around. I was in pig-heaven. I hope to get back there at some point this week.

By the way, in case you were wondering: there are plenty of badgers in there as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Luckily, There are Sunsets

Life can be hard. Work doesn't always go well. School can be a challenge.

There are tooth-aches. And head-aches.

Some days are diamonds and some days bring the sort of almost geologic pressure that scientists tell us creates diamonds.

We're not always going to be happy.

On the other hand, if you keep your eyes open, there's often something very pretty to see.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Those People

Tuesday evening I spent at a meeting of the Homeowners Association of my neighborhood. We are a subdivision that is within, but literally on the edge of, the City of Lewes.

For many years, we looked out on farm fields on two sides. Some of those fields have lately been developed. On the last remaining there's a proposal for another large subdivision.

This is only to be expected, we live in a fast-growing area. And, if you look at the thing dispassionately, it makes more sense for these developments to be placed in or next to an established City, where services exist, rather than out in the rural area, where scattered subdivisions only weaken the agricultural economy and force extra expense upon the statewide tax base.

I was disappointed to learn that the Homeowners Association Board has proudly planted a "natural fence" at the end of the cul-de-sac that faces one of the new developments. There was never any suggestion that there be a vehicular connection between the neighboring subdivision and ours, but the homeowners say they want to block pedestrian and bicycle connections.

So they have started a hedgerow.

I asked why we should want to cut ourselves off from our new neighbors.

"If we let people start walking here, they will come to expect it and the next thing you know they will take over our roads."

That's a paraphrase of what one gentleman told me but it is essentially true to what he said. And he was not alone; rather a few others were horrified that I should suggest any form of connection between us and them. (Not all, of course)

I have two problems with this.

First, the roads of our subdivision are not "our roads." They are City of Lewes public roads and as such are open to all who wish to use them. Further, the right-of-way at the cul-de-sac end extends to the border between the two neighborhoods. It is designed to facilitate interconnection.

Second, creating subdivisions that are not connected to one another enforces a self-ghettoization in which we carefully screen ourselves from "others." This is not good for us; it threatens our soul. It is bad Karma. It is stupid.

Humans live in societies. Societies are, by their nature, social. We are meant to meet and interact with one another. When we fail to do that we diminish our lives and shrink our hearts.

The only justification for walling-off our neighbors is self-preservation. At some points in human history, and in some places today, we have had a need to separate from enemies. But within Delaware, within Lewes, that should not be necessary.

That we have a desire to wall-off our neighbors suggests, and creates, an enmity between us.

That is just sad.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Nineteen Years!

I received a great big vase-arrangement of red, red roses this afternoon at my office. The lovely Karen sent them in honor of our nineteenth anniversary. I am a lucky man. I am a happy man.

On this date in 1988 Karen and I exchanged our vows in Potomac, Maryland. We had a reception at a country-club-like place and made our honeymoon escape in my old VW Jetta. It was a heck of a party.

We spent a night at the Admiral Fell Inn, at Fells Point in Baltimore. The next day we flew to Switzerland for a hot-air ballooning trip. That was pretty damn cool.

I remember standing with Karen in the gondola, looking down on a stream in a green valley, crossed by a covered bridge. The shadow of the balloon briefly shaded a fly-fisherman who looked up and waved.

I remember saying that when we reached twenty years we should bring our (presumed) kids back to Switzerland for a ballooning trip. Karen laughed and laughed. It was an early example of an important part of our relationship; I have crazy ideas and Karen is amused.

But maybe we'll do it. Next year?

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A (Late) Third Anniversary

This blog started three years ago this past Thursday. I was able to make my "happy blogsday to me" postings on time on the first and second anniversaries of Mike's Musings. This past week was such a scramble that I lost track of the date!

It's been an interesting year. Here are some of what I think were the highlights:
Oh yeah.... And there were puppies!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

At The 29th Annual Bethany Beach Boardwalk Arts Festival

I spent some time on the Boardwalk in Bethany Beach this afternoon. Christina had a sleep-over Friday night at a friend's house in Selbyville. The girls, and the friend's Mom, decided to go to Bethany for lunch and to check out the Boardwalk Arts Festival and any shopping opportunities.

This is a very obliging Mom.

My job was to meet them there and pick up Christina for the return home. I had some time to fill while they had their fun. So I wandered around.

I got to meet the artist Abraxas, of Milton. I've been following his career for a while. Abraxas paints in an almost photo-realist style; but he takes reality just a step farther and does, frankly, magical things with light. Have a look at his view of the Kalmar Nyckel, for example. It was a pleasure to talk with him.

There were people wandering everywhere. There were painters, glass artists, potters, sculptors, and musicians.

There was a representative from Bluewater Wind on the Boardwalk. This is the outfit that is proposing to build a wind-farm of windmills a dozen miles or so off the coast of Delaware to provide much of our future electricity.

It turned out that I knew this fellow from occasional phone calls when he was in a previous job with the state. We had a nice chat.

He had a cute miniature windmill (solar-powered, ironically) and a set of panoramic views of the ocean from a variety of Delaware-shore vantage points. Each panorama is doubled; one showing the view without the wind-farm, the other showing just how little the wind-farm would be visible.

I asked what his reception had been among the art-show patrons. He said most people have been supportive. Those few who objected, he said, had a problem with being able to see the wind-farm at all from the shore. He said he can respect that concern.

One of the coolest things I found was this blown-glass putter. Artist Justin Cavagnaro, of Dagsboro, creates these and other glass art. His work was impressive; a few references I've found in local media after a quick Google search suggest that Mr. Cavagnaro worked for a time at the Studio at the Corning Museum of Glass. I'm not an expert on glass art, but I know enough to be impressed by that credit and by the work I saw.

This is just one of the glass putters I looked at in his booth. It is a glowing green with flecks of gold leaf within it.

These putters are apparently functional as well as beautiful. He reports that several purchasers are using these putters on courses on a regular basis with no complaints.

The heft of the thing was a bit different, but I could see myself playing with one of these.

It couldn't possibly make my putting any worse, could it?

Mr. Cavagnaro doesn't appear to have a web site, but I took his card so we will have his e-mail: J[DOT]CAVAGNARO[AT]MCHSI[DOT]COM. Just in case anyone wants to order, I don't know, some sort of product. Or something.

Looks Like I'll Have to Make Friends With a Lawyer/Author from California

Michael Gabriel is the guy's name. He has bought Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse that I was tempted by back in August.

When I spotted the government's on-line auction of the lighthouse the bidding was at $40,000. It eventually went for $200,000 after a flurry of last minute bidding-up by Mr. Gabriel and some other person.

Gabriel, who also bought and is refurbishing a lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay, plans to add a desalinization system to provide drinking water, a marine sanitation system to handle waste, and he plans to find a way to provide electricity to the site. At his other lighthouse (what a curious phrase), he's using a windmill system to provide power.

Obviously, Gabriel is a rich man. And a man of vision, who likes lighthouses. I'm sure we would get along famously. Don't you think?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Where Has This Week Gone?

I'm a little surprised to be sitting here on Thursday night, headed into Friday, with little posted despite the fact that it has been a busy week.

Tuesday was the first day of school at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts. Karen and the other teachers had been hard at work for at least a week before, getting things ready at their new digs at the old Indian River High School building between Dagsboro and Frankford. The original SDSA building, the old Selbyville Middle School building, is up for a desperately needed rehab. For at least this year, SDSA is in the old high school.

The SDSA teachers are focusing on The Gilded Age this year. They are organizing the curriculum around an exploration of the nation in the latter part of the 1800s. For the first day of school, they set up an Ellis Island experience.

The buses were greeted by Karen, dressed as the Statue of Liberty and standing on a pedestal in front of the school. Kids started at the cafeteria and were led, in class groups, though the school to the gym. Once there, they faced an inspection, not health, as at Ellis Island, but of their school uniforms. Then parent volunteers snapped a "passport photo" of each kid and released them into their grade's "holding area" from which they were dismissed to class.

I took the morning off so that I could help out. I took portraits of 58 seventh graders. It was fun; these older kids had a good sense of what was going on. They were comfortable and familiar with how things re a bit different at SDSA sometimes. So I could play the Ellis Island Immigration Guard a bit.

Then, yesterday evening was given over to a special meeting of the Lewes Planning Commission to review the draft preliminary site plan of the proposed "Showfield" development, which is asking to be annexed into Lewes.

This is a large plot of land. It could support more than a thousand units. The developer seems to be trying to be responsible. He's hired one of the more progressive local land planning and
design companies and together they've put together a plan for a bit more than 600. It's a good-looking plan, but there's a great deal of work to be done in reviewing it and fine-tuning it to the point where we can make a recommendation to the City Council.

That meant a three and a half hour meeting last night. We had the mayor and city solicitor with us and more council members in the room. We had lawyers and designers and environmentalists and concerned neighbors. We had a productive and open discussion.

But it took the whole evening.

And this evening we all met after school and work at Sussex Tech, where Colleen and the rest of the Ravens Marching Band put on a preview of their half-time show for the band-parents.

It has been a busy week.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fifty Years Ago Today

This is who we were just 50 years ago.

On September 4, 1957, a 15 year-old girl walked down the street to her first day at a new high school. Dorothy Counts was a special young woman; tall, smart, and pretty.

She was also the first African American student to enroll at Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was one of four students to integrate High Schools in that city that year.

Her walk from her father's car to the school building was short, but she was followed and hounded along the way by a crowd of angry white kids. They told her she was not welcome and should go home. Only less politely than that.

She made it to the school, but her career there was short. The stress of that first day expressed itself in a sore throat and fever. She returned to the school for three more days before the threats, rock-throwing, and spitting convinced her parents to pull her out of the school.

Here's the statement her father released to explain that move:
In enrolling Dorothy in Harding High School, we sought for her the highest in educational experience that this tax-supported school had to offer a young American. ... Needless to say that we regret the necessity which makes the withdrawal expedient. This step, taken for security and happiness, records in our history a page which no true American can read with pride.
True. And fifty years later, have we earned the right to be proud of ourselves? Technically, our society is integrated; as are our schools. But, let's be honest: we can do better.

One has only to read the "comments" section of the News Journal web site to see how far we have yet to go.

Yet, I take some hope from the story about this anniversary in last Saturday's Charlotte Observer. Dorothy Counts -- now Dot Counts-Scoggins -- is able to look back with compassion and some understanding on that time, and so are several of the young boys, now older men, who made up part of that mob.

Have a look, it's worth the read.
(Photo credit: Don Sturkey, 1957 North Carolina Collection, Univ. of N.C. Library at Chapel Hill.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

Ninth Golf Game of 2007

Andy and I played The Rookery this afternoon. We got an afternoon tee-time and arranged to meet our wives and kids afterwards at Big Fish Grill for our annual last-day-of-summer dinner.

We got to play with a fellow named Ray, the head horticulturalist at The Rookery. This is the guy who plans and plants and maintains the gardens and the grounds. We were literally "on his course."

Ray is a very nice fellow who knows the course intimately and, though he has a singular swing, hits the ball a mile.

I can't say that I played very well, though I did make at least one par. I carded a 110. My putting was terrible, but my chipping is looking good. And, though I only had a few chances to show it, I was quite proud of my play out of bunkers. Somehow, I've found a swing to get my out of the sand and onto the green.

Andy started slow, but improved steadily and finished the day at 99. He sank a ridiculously long putt for birdie on the par-5 18th.

It was a bright and sunny afternoon. The course was in fairly good shape, in spite of the dry summer we've had.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Walk At Cape Henlopen

The staff at Cape Henlopen State Park re-opened the Point at the Cape this morning. I knew I had to head out for a wander when it re-opened, so I was rolling through the fee booth just at 8:00 a.m.

Christina was with me; she's been my frequent beach-combing partner. Christina likes to gather shells and pebbles and I like to gather photographs.

The Point of Cape Henlopen juts out from Delaware into the Delaware Bay and towards distant Cape May, in New Jersey. The Park staff closes the Point each summer to allow the rare Piping Plover a peaceful place to mate and nest and fledge out a new generation. Once the birds move on, the beach is re-opened to wanderers and to "mobile surf fishermen" who drive out on the beach in their trucks and vans to fish from their tailgates.

We weren't able to make the full trip around the point. A part of the Bay side of the point remains closed for a few remaining nesting pairs and to allow a rare plant a chance to grow a bit more. That, in effect, doubled our walk.

I found myself adding pictures to my "Distant Ships" collection. There were two ships coming in towards the Bay from the south. And another headed outbound past the lighthouse. The Pilot Boat was headed out to meet them, making its way through rough seas.

There were also several headboats (group-charter fishing boats for which anglers pay "by the head") and two sailings of the Cape May/Lewes Ferry.

The beach was somewhat empty when we started out. There were just a few truck-born anglers on the beach and a handful of other beach-combers. Things got more crowded by the time we returned to the Point parking lot, after two hours walking.

We found seashells and plenty of pebbles. Some of the shells were worth collecting, including a nice partial conch. We found driftwood and beach grass and some wildlife (both alive and dead).

Christina spotted a tiny, nearly translucent Ghost Crab skittering away from us in a panic. I took his picture when he paused; you can see his little stalk-eye staring up at me.

It was a nice walk. I got a good photo collection out of it. With the rest of the Point due to reopen on October 1, I plan to head out again a few times this fall.

Eighth Golf Game in 2007

Christina and I played 18 holes of practice/instructional golf this afternoon at the Midway Par 3 course, just outside of Lewes. It was her idea; I'm glad she suggested it.

View Larger Map

Midway is a great place to learn to play. It was where my friend Andy took me some years ago to get me started, and it was the first place I took both Colleen and Christina. Christina has played with me twice before. She's starting to get the basic idea. Now all she needs is more practice.

Because we were in practice and teaching mode, I didn't keep score. It was just as well; I'm rusty, not having played since we were in Vermont.