Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Vote for president--ugh.

Or in the words of the late great Bill the Cat, "Ack." It's time to elect a president Tuesday and still, I don't feel good about either candidate.
Yes, I have read up and listened to the both of them. Yes, I know the difference between Democrat and Republican. Both have come up woefully short of really getting my attention, much less my enthusiasm. But I'll have to vote for one of them, dammit.
Obama talks a good game. And talks, and talks and talks. I have no doubts that skills as an orator are an important part of being president, but I have serious reservations about his experience, enough that the idea of loosing someone that green on the presidency scares me.
McCain, on the other hand, does have a lot of experience in Washington. A Washington that over the last several years landed us in a war that is extraordinarily difficult to fight, and impossible to win. Over the same time, flawed policies with which he is connected have us on the brink of a recession the depths and duration of which no one is sure.
Obama calls for change, and that is an easy call to make and have people flock to. McCain comes off as a pissed-off old man determined to ride it out, which could very well be what we all have to do. But there is still the problem that neither of their campaigns have appealed to me past those points.
There is my personal stance on the Second Amendment, which despite what a lot of people think, has nothing to do with hunting or protecting one's belongings. It's about the people being guaranteed the right to have guns, because at some point we may need them to deal with a tyrannical government. That point scares some people, but it reflects the way I read the amendment.
The only campaign points I have heard made about the Second Amendment has regarded the potential for reinstating the so-called assault weapons ban of 1994-2004. McCain said he would not support it; Obama said he would.
That ban really accomplished nothing its ratifiers intended, which was to reduce the availability of such weapons to criminals. It was full of loopholes, but it did succeed in making the price for those guns rise substantially, thanks to gun nuts (like me) panicking.
It's true that most people won't need an AK-47 or M-16 any time soon, but there is the law of the land to remember: the government is not allowed to prohibit anyone but crazy people and felons from having guns. For that reason, I see the assault weapons ban as a backhanded way of stepping on our rights.
Although I truly believe what I just wrote, I think there should be more to that when it comes to who gets my vote. It's just the only thing I feel one way or the other about, from the torrents or crap Obama and McCain are spewing.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A trip to the gun show

It wasn't the first trip for Griffin, but he was still excited to go to the Alabama Gun Collectors Show Saturday at the Birmingham Civic Center along with his Carlie and daddy. The fact that we came away with his first real gun will no doubt make it all the more memorable.

Regardless of one's personal beliefs about firearms, there really is nothing like a gun show, and in its own way, represents one of those only-in-America type settings. I have been going since I was 13 or 14, and other than new products and passage of old timers I have seen and met there, this gun show has changed little.

Even for people like me who call themselves being in the know about guns, there is always a dizzying variety of things that go bang that I have not seen before or since. Whether it's historic military weapons that cost as much as a good used car, an antique to show off or invest, a hunting gun to bring home game, a pistol for self-defense or pretending to be an Old West cowboy, or a "featherweight" revolver made for a woman's purse, there really is something for everybody.

But we were there to see about a first real gun for Griffin, a new holster for me and to get my knife sharpened. We made it all of about 100 feet from the door and right there it was: the Chipmunk .22 single shot rifle. Everything in size and weight is diminutive (just like its rodent namesake) and specially made for the beginning shooter. The dinky little rifles have been around for about 30 years, and I think are still being manufactured by a little company in Oregon. The example we found Saturday was in very good condition and was originally bought for the seller's grandson, who has since outgrown it. (so the story went) The price was right, and with some bargaining, got better and included the rifle's original soft case.

After the deal was done the kids surprised me when their attention spans lasted long enough--about an hour--to walk around all the hundreds of tables and get a quick look at what was being shown and sold. Once back in Pell City, we went out to our shooting spot and I began the most manly process of teaching Griffin to shoot a real gun safely. He caught on quick, and even though it will be years before he's allowed to shoot or even handle the rifle alone, I was glad to see that gleam in his eye when he hit our orange painted target spot and popping a glass bottle with the mighty Chipmunk.

It's only a matter of time before he'll make the connection between Chipmunk .22 and rodent chipmunks, or maybe Alvin and the Chipmunks! But that's another talk for another time. First learn to shoot, then learn to hunt, if he is so inclined.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My cassettes and LPs live!

All this time I have kept the portion of my music collection on LPs and cassettes with no way of listening for lack of a player that worked. But a new toy I got today will let that part of my collection transcend its obsolescence onto CD once and for all.
The new Memorex CD recorder is the first time I have owned a record player that worked in, I don't know, 10 years? 15? The LPs have been put away a very long time, I do know that. Cassettes slipped off the music radar relatively recently...I guess about it's been about five years ago since I could listen to those, not counting the half-ass player in the pizza car.
Now all those sounds have been brought back to life once more. But I didn't buy this thing to just listen for old times' sake. What sold me on it was the fact that I can transfer those recordings onto CD and listen in modern format, so to speak.
Oh, and it also has an auxiliary jack, to plug in another source of music, such as...a microphone? Hmm.....
The first transfer I did was a cassette, of me on the radio as a DJ. I got to be a guest on my friends' regular show in December 1993 on KCHU 770AM in Valdez, Alaska, and ever since then have treasured the tape as much for the memory of my time there as much as the music. I feel better with it safely stored on CD and listenable again. Next was The Rolling Stones Tattoo You, an LP I bought my senior year in high school at Turtle's in Eastwood Mall, thinking the Stones probably didn't have many albums left in them (shows all I knew!)
Now comes the tough part--going through the collection one last time and deciding what makes the transition, and what goes away.
Later, I am going to consider trying to make back the purchase price of this handy new gadget by making CDs for other people. I am thinking, $5 for those who furnish their own blank CD, $6 if I do. Does that sound like a fair price to get back one's music, a piece at a time?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

De Soto Caverns

There was not enough time for the quick weekend run to the beach we'd hoped for (April and October are the BEST times to go there, I say) so the kids and I settled for another place they have never been: De Soto Caverns. And it worked out that we had just as much, if not more fun, with WAY less road time. Race weekend seemed to have kept the crowd to a minimum.

I am sort of wont to call the place DeSoto Caverns. Sure, it's what the owners call it, and we think Spanish "explorer" Hernando De Soto and his party passed by at least sort of close to it in 1540. The original name whites called it is Kymulga Cave, which was how English-speakers pronounced the Indian word for 'mulberry', a reference to the vegetation first found near the natural entrance. Anthropologists stuck with Kymulga as the designation for the time during the Woodland Period which we believe the area was most heavily used and populated by Indians.

But you'd never pick up on any of that nowadays apart from the historical marker and words from the cave tour guide, but somehow that is appropriate given the considerable impact humans have had on the place over time.

We think Indians used it as a burial place and as a seasonal shelter. The Confederates gathered calcium nitrate from natural mineral deposits there, as well as nitrate-rich bat guano, for use making crude gunpowder since the South lacked industry for such production. Toward the end of the 20th century the property was bought for its vast deposits of onyx marble, which was fashionable in the day and fetched quite the price. But the plan was derailed following a short but destructive time during which its formations were ravaged by the would-be gem miners. An even larger and much cheaper source of the onyx was found in Mexico (if you have black onyx now, that's where it comes from), and around the same time fashions changed, making the gemstone of little interest to the public.

Later, during Prohibition, the cave was used for production and consumption of illicit booze, complete with a bar and dance floor. The 'establishment' was known as The Bloody Bucket, and people from Childersburg, Talladega County and Shelby County knew the name was due to the frequent fights and occasional homicide there. Over the years many of the stalactites and stalagmites were destroyed by recreational pistol fire. Other fragile formations that had taken millenia to form, were bashed and broken for fun.

During World War II, the nearby Alabama Ordnance Works and its 20,000 workers ran full-tilt making explosives, gunpowder and other munitions for the Allied war effort. Twenty miles away, many more thousands worked in Brecon near Talladega loading bombs and shells with explosives. It was during that time that the cave was most heavily used for the shortest time.

A Childersburg native and local history authority I interviewed about five years ago, George Limbaugh, would not admit to frequenting The Bloody Bucket, but his knowledge of the place was extensive. He said The Bloody Bucket ran non-stop around the clock to cater to shift workers at the bomb plants, and offered them everything from whiskey to amphetamines to whores. Gambling was offered aboard boats on the Coosa River, a short bus ride away to Bullock's Ferry, with stops at McGowan's Ferry and Harpersville before the return trip commenced.

Whoa, that is one hell of a digression from our trip Saturday! I hope y'all can cut a bored and lonesome history junkie some slack...

I'd not been to De Soto Caverns in more than 20 years, and was pleased to see it has been developed into a much more well-rounded, family-oriented place to spend the day. Gone were the borderline treacherous steps at the entrance, replaced with a massive concrete wall and gently sloping corrugated steel tunnel way. Also nowhere to be seen was the exposed wiring and pipes, garish displays, and laughable blinking colored light bulbs I remembered. This cave is nowhere near pristine, but despite all the ways humans have used and abused it, it remains one of a very few of its kind anywhere and is not to be missed.

De Soto Caverns also has stuff to do that really has nothing to do with caves but which add considerable appeal to the average tourist. There's rides and games for kids, mazes, a chance to pan for "gems" (well-polished and tumbled pieces of colored glass and pyrite) carpet golf, a small water splash pad, well-stocked gift shop, and camping. Here's a link to its web site.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Motor oil is motor oil

I change the oil in my cars, and every time I buy oil when it's changing time, I am aghast as I ponder the billions of dollars spent for no good reason by most people.
It's difficult to miss the onslaught of advertisements for brand name motor oil. Each brand touts itself as the way to get maximum service life from your car's engine, but if your look closely, none make the outright claim that they are better than the rest.
That is because motor oil either meets the specifications of the American Petroleum Institute (API), or it doesn't. Compliance is designated with the application of the API seal (pic included) on the container. If it has that seal, the oil inside works just the way your car's manufacturer calls for, and the brand name is completely irrelevant.
Of course, you should change the oil about every 3,000 miles, and you do have to use the correct weight and viscosity for your car (10W-30, 10W-40, etc.) which is displayed on the car's oil cap, right on top of the motor. But other than that, all you have to look for is that API seal, and for what it's worth, I don't recall ever finding any that didn't have the API seal.
As for the oil filter that is replaced at oil change time, I have tried the cheap ones, and they suck. They probably filter the oil just as well as the others, but they are harder to work with, and are nearly the same price as the brand name filters. In my experience a little extra money is worth it there.
Perhaps there was a time when the oil brand name did matter, because in the past when I have pointed out the folly of paying extra for brand names, I got responses one might expect to be given a blasphemer. But going on the word of several people who work on cars for a living, I have persisted using the Brand X motor oil. Good thing I can't be excommunicated as a motorist!
Unless you are just determined to pay up to twice as much for ValvoHavoCastroPennzoQuaker oil versus the no-name brand stuff, or like the picture on the bottle, there is no reason to buy anything other than the cheapest oil you can find.