Wednesday, August 29, 2007

You lost your rights? So?

On one of the aviation Internet lists I frequent, an acquaintance is upset this week. It seems he was out flying his small plane on Saturday when a woman on the ground, fearing he was too close to a nuclear plant, called authorities to suggest that he might be a terrorist. When he landed, he was detained for several hours.

Now keep in mind that (a) it is not illegal to fly a small plane near a nuclear power plant and (b) small planes have about as much mass as your average Coke can and if you think a Coke can is capable of penetrating a nuclear power plant, perhaps you should focus your attention on the power plants and not the Coke can.

This pilot, however,is apoplectic that in the United States, he can be detained for no good reason. He asked that the rest of us start making phone calls to protest our loss of civil rights.

My reaction? "Dude, where were you when you could've made a difference?"  I don't consider myself one of those people who is paranoid about the government and sees a conspiracy to eliminate civil rights around every corner. But one of the most irritating aspects of life, to me, is the irritation of otherwise disinterested individuals  when they finally get around to figuring out it's  their rights that are eventually  lost. 

Many of these people, I suspect, were on the sidelines chanting, "hey, if you don't do anything wrong, what are you worried about?" just as instructed by the talk show crazies back in the post-9/11 days when other people were warning that the country, in its fear-fed flurry to so something -- anything -- to create the illusion of security, was embarking down a path that would ultimately lead to the loss of  significant civil rights, like being able to fly a plane on a beautiful Michigan morning, obeying the law, and still being detained.

But that was then and this is now. Back then, the outrage might've mattered. Now, it doesn't. The rights the pilot once enjoyed are gone, and they're not likely coming back.

This morning I was reading the New York Times' "About New York" column (In Mass Arrests During '04 Convention, Divergent Version of Events Emerge" (it's on page A21 in the dead-trees edition, online it's in the subscribers-only section.

In it, we learn that a wave of lawsuits against the city has revealed certain facts, mostly that the cops arrested innocent people, and then lied to make the charges stick. The problem is in the age of "everyone's got a camera," it's not quite so easy to lie anymore. Videos collected by I-Witness Video  caught the truth... and, in a way, the cops. However, it's taken years.

Now, I'm all for keeping peace and security and I have no doubt that the New York City Police Department foiled a few plots for anarchy (or terrorism) by snaring some of those who would do evil. But it's also clear that the "hazards of mass arrests" include the ignoring of the civil rights that people still have, and the manifestation of the removal of the rights people once had.  It's also clear that many Americans, who might be moved to action if the removal of rights involved, say, a gun, or the right to abortion, don't much give a rip.

Take the case of Ben Kappel, who had just taken the bus in from the airport, and was towing his suitcase behind him as he rushed to meet a friend at the library on 42nd Street. He tried to cross 42nd and Sixth Ave., but was told by a cop he couldn't, so they tried to cross to the east. Then south. Then north. Nope.

The cops, as it turned out... were slowly closing in the entire block with orange fencing. A police commander told all of those caught in the net to "sit down." So they did. Many hours later, the arrest documents for Mr. Kappel indicated he had been guilty of disorderly conduct, for sitting on 42nd Street blocking traffic.

My guess is few people will care about this, even though they've been given the answer to the question of "if you don't do anything wrong, what are you worried about?" My pilot friend ignored these sorts of stories, right up until he lost his rights last week.

My questions are: (1) Is St. Paul (my current home, the streets of which I occasionally walk)  consulting with the New York City Police Department on how to provide security to next year's Republican National Convention? (if so, read this first)  (2) Will the preservation of civil rights be of any importance to the politicians here and the people there?  (3) Can I please borrow your video camera?

This column was originally published on and Polinaut.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Reserve now

I know the many thousands of Stirrings fans are anxious to get away to the south shore of Lake Superior. So here's the place for you. To reserve it -- or another cabin nearby -- go here -- Superior Rentals.

Madeline Island

On Saturday, Warren and Karen Starkebaum and Carolie and I headed to the ferry in Bayfield for a trip to Madeline Island, about a 20 minute trip. On the way over -- although you can't really see it here -- I noticed an ore boat was coming down the harbor, apparently heading for Ashland, Wisconsin. The Apostle Islands shelter this area, the big, open, this-is-where-storms-sink-boats part of Lake Superior is north. We found -- I found -- that the '60s are alive and well on Madelaine Island. I've always been intrigued that people are able to make a living -- sort of, I guess -- in ways other than schlepping into a building somewhere and sitting in a cubible. Carolie reminds me that it's not unlike where we lived in Sheffield, Massachusetts, but I reminded her that it was probably easier to keep the '60s alive in the '80s than in the '00s. After a nice lunch we walked up the road apiece when we stumbled on a woman standing in the driveway of her shop, ummm, hula hooping. First Karen... Then Warren, shown here explaining the principles of quantum physics at the same time... And, finally, Carolie... Warren and Karen are now proud owners of a very large hula hoop. We walked up to the marina to check to make sure the other half is still living well (it is) and then back to the ferry, stopping along the beach where a couple of small amphibian planes (one a butt-ugly Zenair were tied up. Later, we saw them take off. It seems like a fun way to travel although, as I understand it, the price of the floats is prohibitive. I hadn't seen a small plane all weekend but in a space of about 20 minutes, a ton of them took off from the airport on the island... Mooneys, Cirrus, 170s. I've got to fly up here sometime! In the evening, Karen wanted to go to the Garrison Keillor show up the street (same place we saw America on Friday night), but as it turned out we sat around outside with some drinks and hot salsa, watched a gorgeous near-full moon rise over the water until it got so cold that it chased us inside. Prior to that, I'm happy to report, we successfull determined that, yes, it is possible to slow the rotation of the earth by running in the same direction as the rotation.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sunrise on Lake Superior

Carolie and I (and the boys) have lived in the Midwest for over 15 years now and when you get down to it, it's odd how little we've ventured outside the Twin Cities. Most of our vacation time found us back East.

There was one time we stayed at some friends' summer farm in Caledonia, down in Minnesta's Bluff Country. It was a fascinating area; not flat at all and we remarked at the canyons and many streams. Those same canyons and streams turned against people last week when flash floods caused plenty of misery and killed 6 people.

And many years ago we spent a few days in March in Grand Marais, of the north shore of Lake Superior for some cross-country skiing. It turned out, though we picked a warm spell and there was almost no snow.

This weekend, my airplane-building friend, Warren Starkebaum, and his wife, Karen, have graciously invited us to stay at one of their cottages in Bayfield, on the southern shore of the western end of Lake Superior, at the gateay to the Apostle Islands.

That's the view looking out the boathouse, our home for the weekend. According to Warren, it used to be a boat. But he claims the only time it saw water was down near Stillwater, and it sank on its maiden voyage.

As usual, I'm up early. Karen says she's seen a bear at times around here -- no suprise to me and quite enough to keep me inside for a bit.

Here's a picture Warren took from his plane (here's some pictures of his plane in this slideshow) shortly before Oshkosh.

The restaurant we ate at last night is down by the marina there. Fabulous food.

I don't believe the boathouse is visible in this picture (it'd be over on the left). It's a lot more wooded than I think the picture here suggests. Very lovely, even with the bear.

This is actually a trip I've always wanted to take by air, at least since reading about it in an aviation magazine some years ago. You land on Madeline Island (airport), the article suggested, bum a ride to the ferry, and cross over to Bayfield for a day of shopping and sightseeing.

So I think that's what I'll do today, minus the airport, hitchiking and ferry.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It's 1972 again!

Photo: Warren Starkebaum

This weekend -- I think it's this weekend -- is the 35th reunion of the Fitchburg High School Class of 1972. I took a pass on this one, as I have with all of them since the 5-year reunion, which -- and you have to remember we were kind of a "slow" class -- we held 6 years after we graduated.

I had a great time in high school, or at least the junior and senior years. I wasn't flunking, I played on the hockey team (sort of), I had a girlfriend (my first true love), I had a job, and my mother let me have the car whenever I wanted it, which was always. OK, I never actually asked, I just took it... which I'm sure had something to do with the fact that I bought both of my kids cars when they got their driver's licenses; I didn't want to walk out the door and wonder where my car went.

1972 was a wonderful time. The music was still good, disco hadn't been invented yet, and if you closed your eyes real tight, you could almost make yourself believe that Richard Nixon really wasn't president and Vietnam wasn't really a war.

So it was fitting tonight that we spent the evening at Big Top Chautuaqua in Bayfield, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Superior, not far from the Michigan border, listening the group, America.

Now, I know what you're saying, "America? Are they still around?" They are, and while at first blush you think "A Horse with No Name" (really, one of the dumbest songs ever), the more you think about it -- the more you listen -- you realize how bit a part the group was of the soundtrack of 1972.

I don't go to many concerts so I'm easily impressed anyway, but not having any talent where musical instruments are concerned, I'm always amazed that the notes and sounds and songs that I listened to on the radio growing up, the songs that still take me back to the place I was when I first heard them (it was almost always on a date, I think, with Kathie Morse) actually came out of these instruments and these people.

It was another one of those "boy, I never saw that coming" moments. Growing up in Massachusetts, singing along with the songs of America, I never thought that 35 years later, I'd be sitting in the second row of a big tent at the base of a ski area in Bayfield, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Superior, listening to America sing songs.

Life can be surprisingly and consistently symmetrical.

Note: The show as recorded for broadcast on the Public Radio show Tent Show Radio. Find a station and broadcat time here.