Our quilt barn art adventure in the snow

A local artist came up with the cute idea of painting a bunch of quilt patterns on the sides of barns in our little neighbourhood in the country. I guess it’s a bit of a “performance piece.”

Seriously, where most people live, they have a thing called “suburbs.” In Montana, they don’t have suburbs. They have “rural-urban interface.” Which means, suburbs with wolves.

I absolutely adore our neighbourhood. It’s out in the country, but a couple of miles from a highway and about three or four miles from a city. What’s weird is that you don’t feel like you are a three or four miles from a city, you feel like you are really out in the wop wops. We have deer, raccoons and an amazing variety of birds.

Our lot is on an old several-hundred-acre farm that the owner, a very nice elderly man whose family has been farming in this valley since the 1800s (no exaggeration), broke up into a bunch of 10-acre lots (our farm is about 8 acres). It’s just perfect. We have horses across the street and llamas next door. We are surrounded by gentleman farmers and unfortunately a few McMansion developments. Fortunately, our county is fairly progressive and has taken measures to prevent the McMansion developments from taking over, because, frankly, they bloody well would without these regulations. There is one down at the end of our road. It was a huge pasture when we moved here. Now it is about 30 homes.

I started to put on my good Corso Comos, but my boyfriend said that was a bad idea. It was pretty yucky out. I started putting on my good Sorels, but then he said, no it’s pretty yucky out. So, I put on my cruddy Sorels, which are actually boys’ boots.

We started our tour at a very bad time — right after school got out. The roads were very busy with parents picking up kids along the three schools along our route. It was me and a bunch of little smart-alecks and a malamute. It was a fun little scavenger hunt, seeing if we could find the quilt patterns on the barns and outbuildings. We had a map with little X’s for the barns, but you still had to keep a sharp eye. Sure enough, we had a heck of time finding two or three of them. I promised the smart-alecks that if we found all the quilt paintings hidden in the neighbourhood, there would be a treat at a country dairy where we get our milk and bread. The truth is even if we didn’t find them all, there would be a treat.

It also didn’t help that it was snowing pretty hard. I soon discovered one problem with the treasure hunt. There were no shoulders on the roads. The shoulders were berms of snow four or five feet deep. This is our heaviest snowfall since 1983 and the further you got from town, the more you appreciated how deep the snow really was. I had never seen so much snow in my life!

We found the first barn no problem, right down the road from us. The second one was a tiny outbuilding hidden in the trees. These were on a very busy road and it was probably slightly dangerous to “pull over” when in fact, the shoulders barely existed. One drongo splashed nasty slush all over our car. Slow down!

Anyway, the third barn was very small and well away from the road.

The fourth one we couldn’t find. The fifth one was my favourite. It was actually on a side road, so we didn’t have to worry about the afterschool traffic. It was on a big barn and it was feeding time for the horses. The horse owner said you want to take a photo of my barn, you have to help feed the horses. I realized we had lived here for 18 months and this was the first time I had ever gone down this beautiful road. How could we live in this neighbourhood for a year and a half and not have traveled all the roads? Too busy. Too many things to take care of. Not enough time to simply wander. This road eventually winds up into the mountains and becomes a Forest Service road.

So we pitched in, crossing waist-deep snow, and helped feed the owners’ three horses. The horse owner told us she was getting pretty used to people driving by and checking out her barn, but we were the first people to help feed her horses. After we were released from our term of indentured servitude, it was off to see if we could find the other barns.

The sixth one we could not find. The damned snow was not helping us! And it seemed like no matter what road we turned down, there was a schoolbus following us!

No. 7 was across an ancient one-lane bridge over a huge river. Beyond the river, the farms get a lot bigger. Instead of gentleman farmers, you have real ranchers with cattle and sheep instead of horses and exotic goats. Crossing back over the century-old bridge, we found No. 6! It was actually in a McMansion development near the river. How strange, several miles away from the city, and someone had built a big development way out here.

We returned past the dairy and I got the girls milkshakes and the malamute an ice cream drumstick which he ate in about two seconds (do dogs not get brain freeze?). Every one of the girls wanted strawberry. It’s winter, so there are no huckleberry shakes, which is everyone’s favourite flavour in the summer. This dairy has the biggest cow statue I’ve ever seen!

Right at the intersection with the cow statue, I looked to the left, and there was No. 4 hiding about 200 yards down a side road! Our map was slightly wrong, that was why we couldn’t find it. We had found all seven.

And I came to appreciate how beautiful our neighbourhood really is. That was the first time I had really “wandered it.” Gosh, we are simply too busy for our own good, I kept thinking. And I came to appreciate those “Fascist” progressive development laws that were keeping our rural neighbourhood rural for perpetuity.

We went out to eat that night. And I wore my nice spotless Corso Comos to dinner and felt quite chuffed!

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Michael Vick — what are the boundaries of forgiveness and redemption?

How to feel about Michael Vick? Has there been anyone in sports like him? Maybe Mike Tyson. But, Tyson was a freak show to most of us. People watched him to see if he would self-destruct.

Michael Vick? A tough one.

How do you feel about him?

I’ve been blown away at some of the games he’s played this year. He was not that good of a quarterback before. He really wasn’t. He was a guy with an amazing amount of talent who was actually a fairly shitty quarterback. He’d make a half-dozen jaw dropping top-of-the-highlights kind of plays a year, surrounded by stats like 15 TDs, 15 INTs and 55 percent completion percentage.

Not anymore. Other than Tom Brady, he is the most dominant quarterback in the NFL.

I’ve been struck by the wide variety of reactions to Michael Vick. I know two hard-core Eagles fans who refuse to cheer for the Eagles as long as he plays for them. They both own dogs. We sat at a table the other night with a group of lesbian Eagles fans watching Philly lose to the Vikings, and their reactions were interesting. They didn’t like Vick, but they wanted him to play well.

As a bigtime Red Sox fan, I can relate. I despised — I mean, really despised that born-again Christian right-winger Curt Schilling. Couldn’t wait to preach about Jesus as soon as a mike was thrown in his face. Campaigned for all kinds of right-wingers like McCain and Sarah Palin. Still thinks Palin is God’s gift to America. Trust me, if she runs in 2012, Schilling will be on the campaign trail for her. I acknowledge most athletes are Republicans, but this guy just rubbed everyone’s faces in his neanderthal politics and religious bullshit.

Still, I cheered for him when he took the mound.

I came to hate Manny Ramirez. Represents everything wrong with professional sports. Steroids user, overpaid, lazy, maligner, faked injuries (couldn’t remember which knee he hurt), then pouted because he was “only” making $20 million a year.

Still, I cheered for him when he came to bat.

It’s a complicated thing. It’s easy now for me to hate that pompous prick Schilling and that idiot Ramirez (no, not THAT one). But when they played for the Sox, I found myself cheering for them — for the team — for the win. I’m glad I don’t have to face that conflict, anymore, though I kind of don’t like Papelbon.
In talking to people about Vick the reactions I’ve seen are:

* They were just dogs. It’s not like he killed a guy.

* He did his time.

* He should never be allowed to play football again.

I just about blow my top at that first reaction. I’ve heard from a few, but not many.

Yes, he didn’t kill a guy. But, he did torture and murder dogs — many, many dogs — for fun and profit. He didn’t just “make a mistake,” like get a DUI or get in a drunken brawl in a bar that got out of hand. This was something he did for two-plus years, knowingly. It was sick, cruel, even psychotic.

Should he be allowed to play football again? My take on it, is what he did was bad. Really bad. But, he was convicted, and he got sentenced to time — real time in a real prison. 18 months in Leavenworth, not a day care camp. That’s Leavenworth.

So, I guess my personal attitude is, he did his time. Maybe he should have got more than 18 months. But, 18 months is what the system decided he deserved. He lost millions of dollars in salary and endorsements.

He paid a debt. Was it big enough? That’s up for everyone to decide for themselves.

My attitude is, like any other ex-con, he has a right to move on with his life, and make a living. He is a high-profile ex-con in a high-profile job, but I don’t see him as any different than a guy who did a couple of years in the state pen for armed robbery. Maybe sitting in a prison cell for 18 months in Leavenworth woke him up. I have to believe that more than a few times in his cell, he thought to himself, “Man, did I ever fuck up…”

You don’t have to like Vick, and if you don’t, more power to you. I don’t blame people for hating him. I don’t blame people who don’t want to see him playing football. I guess I just don’t completely agree. Cheer against him. Hope he loses. But let him play. I’m conflicted myself. I’m amazed at how good of a player he has turned into. I’m amazed at some of the plays he makes. But, Jesus, did he ever do some bad things.

There was a guy at the University of Montana this past year. He really did kill a guy. He got into a spat with his aunt’s boyfriend and went over to his house with a loaded rifle and shot the guy to death because he was pissed the boyfriend was beating up his aunt. Then he and a buddy drove back to Montana and didn’t bother telling anyone what happened.

The guy spent two or three years in jail. His first trial for murder ended in a hung jury. He was acquitted by a second jury, because frankly, there were no witnesses. He claimed it was self-defence and there wasn’t much evidence to the contrary. So, he came back to Montana and played his senior year there. It was kind of weird. This guy really, actually killed a guy. A douchebag, but he committed a homicide nonetheless. Maybe losing two or three of his life for killing an abusive douchebag was punishment enough. Maybe it was self-defence, maybe not. No one knows but him … and the dead guy.

People still cheered for him.

You know what? People in Pittsburgh still cheer for Roethlisberger. He got away with rape. (I’m convinced of it, personally.) That bothers me. I really believe he got away with committing a crime.

Giants fans (and only Giants fans) cheered for Bonds. I didn’t get that, honestly. The guy was an unrepentent cheat. He probably committed perjury (though I suspect he’ll never be convicted.).

There is something to be said about the power of forgiveness; the power of redemption. Literature is chock full of stories of redemption, going all the way back to Mary Magdalene. Vick, because of the horridness of his acts, pushes those boundaries of forgiveness, and frankly has much to atone for; the bar is quite high for any kind of redemption, in my book.

Perhaps because he is so talented, and is so exciting to watch play on TV, people are quicker to forgive. Would they be so quick to forgive if he were a lowly janitor? I don’t know. I can imagine how people would shun him.

I guess when you really want your team to win, many of us will cheer for just about anyone.

At least Vick did his time.

That’s my only point.

More Montana teens smoking dope than cigarettes

All right!!!!

Well, truth be told, I have mixed feelings about this survey. I’m not wild about teens smoking dope (I know, I’m an old fogey, but it is an intoxicant and causes car wrecks and fucks kids up at school and in life. Sorry, I just don’t think pot is 100 percent benign. I liken it to alcohol. It also will damage your lungs.), but the big difference between pot and tobacco is pot ISN’T PHYSICALLY ADDICTIVE!

So, when, or if, a kid gets tired of dope, most of the time, at least 90 percent of the time, they can just simply walk away from it.

Not so with cigarettes.

According to this survey, done by the 2010 Montana Prevention Needs Assessment, 21.4 percent of 12th graders reported smoking pot, compared to 19.2 percent smoking cigarettes. Part of the reason pot use is up, according to this article, is there is more acceptance from parents toward pot smoking. I guess my attitude is after a kid turns 18, they will experiment, and there is only so much as a parent you can do to stop it. I would want my kid to smoke dope until after they turned 18, however.

Again. Good news? I dunno. The tobacco part is good news; the pot part I’m ambivalent about. What’s interesting is when I was a teenager, it seemed like most kids smoked dope … and almost no one smoked cigarettes (or drank beer). Pot was far and away the drug of choice. I think the teen smoking rate skyrocketed in the 80s and 90s because of Joe Camel. So maybe things are going back to the way they were in the early 1980s.

Smoking and Christmas

I just love vintage cigarette ads. They’re just so DECADENT!

Especially cringe-worthy are Christmas cigarette ads. I guess holiday packaging used to be a pretty big deal back in the day for cigarette cartons. I vaguely remember cartons becoming Christmasy during the holidays.

I love all the ads with Santa smoking. This is decades before Joe Camel. Get those kids interested in cigarettes early.

Here is a sample of old Christmas cigarette ads.

The smoke in Spain falls mainly outside the bars

Ay Carumba! Spain has gone completely smokefree.

Spain was one of those European countries that supposedly banned smoking (way back in 2006), but really didn’t. The rules were very lax and even those lax laws were essentially ignored. This has been the case in some other European countries that have “banned” smoking, (such as Italy and Greece), where the smoking rate is still so high and smoking so entrenched in the culture, that it was a hopeless law.

Well, Spain decided to crack down. No more ifs ands or buts. No smoking in bars or restaurants at all in Spain. No smoking on television, and no smoking in hospital parking lots (Reminds me of that Editors song, “Smoking outside the Hospital Doors.”), and playgrounds.

Of course, the ruling SOCIALIST party was behind the new law, and even then it was a close vote in the lower house, passing just 189 to 154.

Ohio can grab tobacco funds

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled this week that the State Legislature does have the power to raid $250 million of the state’s tobacco funds. This is money from the 1998 $280 billion Tobacco Settlement Agreement between the states and Big Tobacco.

Several states have used these monies simply to balance their budgets. The states won the settlement initially because of the costs of smoking on state’s Medicaid programs. But, instead of using that money for anti-smoking education or health care, most states have simply thrown the money into their general fund pots so they can avoid raising property taxes. There’s nothing in the agreement that prevents states from doing this. And no one expected it or saw it coming. It was one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the 1998 settlement. So much more could have been accomplished with that money, but politicians wanted to be able to spend more money without raising taxes and it turned into an easy little windfall for a number of states.

So, Ohio actually set up a quasi-nonprofit quasi-public agency to run its anti-tobacco program. A couple of years ago, Gov Ted Strickland decided to raid the agency’s funds, and the agency fought back. The American Legacy Fund (a national anti-smoking organization) sued, saying the $10 billion Ohio received from the 1998 settlement was a trust that the state couldn’t simply raid.

After two years of the case winding through the courts (At one point a court ruled in favour of the anti-tobacco plaintiffs and against the state), the state Supreme Court ruled that what Strickland did was legal.

Children and cigarettes

This is a Dinosaur Jr. album cover

Two articles today about smoking and cigarettes.

One comes from a jury award in Boston. I’ve read about this case before. In the 1950s, Lollilard employees used to hang out at playgrounds handing out cigarettes to kids to get them started smoking. A jury awarded the family of a woman who died from lung cancer a $152 million judgement (including $81 million in punitive damages) because she got hooked on cigarettes from Lollilard enticing her and others with free cigs. The woman said that Lollilard employees first gave her free cigarettes when she was 9 years old. She got free cigarettes for years and didn’t actually start smoking them until she was 13. Here is her son’s story, in the Boston Globe.

At the trial, Lollilard denied giving away free cigarettes to children. Of course, they wouldn’t lie. Right? I mean, cigarette company never lied about their product causing lung cancer … or nicotine being physically addictive …. right? Smiley

There is also a racial component to the case. The plaintiffs claimed Lollilard intentionally targeted black children in black neighbourhoods with a brand — Newport — that has long been marketed to blacks.

Pretty disgusting stuff.

Cigarette smoke in apartment buildings bad for kids

A recent study showed that children living in apartment buildings had 45 percent higher amount of tobacco byproducts in the their bloodstream than children living in houses … even if adults in their units weren’t smokers.

Time Magazine’s story:

In a study of tobacco exposure from secondhand smoke in more than 5,000 children, researchers led by Dr. Karen Wilson at University of Rochester found that youngsters aged 6 to 18 years who lived in multi-unit housing had a 45% increase in a chemical byproduct of tobacco in their blood compared with children who lived in detached family homes. And these were youngsters who lived in units where nobody smoked inside the apartment itself, meaning that the exposure was occurring primarily via secondhand smoke drifting in from other units.

This study surprised even the scientists involved. 99 percent of white children living in apartment complexes had cotinine, a byproduct of cigarette smoke, in their systems. It’s a pretty shocking story. You should read it.

Frankly, I can believe it. When I still lived in a condo (It was a non-smoking building), I still had neighbours downstairs who smoked. One guy moved in who literally went out on his deck every 20 minutes to smoke. That smoke blew right into my place. It was really nasty when you would get two or three people downstairs outside smoking. One day I came home. I had left my bedroom window open because it was hot, and there was literally a fog of cigarette smoke in the apartment from the guys downstairs. I had to have the carpet cleaned and the upholstery cleaned to get rid of the reek. I had tobacco grit in my throat and nose from breathing it. It reminded me of how awful my parents’ smoke had been. It really pissed me off. Fortunately, he wasn’t a bad guy at all — just utterly clueless about his cigarette smoke — and we were able to work things out amicably (they were breaking the rules. The rules said no smoking on the property, period), and they agreed to stop smoking underneath my deck.

I think it’s a case in which some smokers to this day (granted, a lot of smokers “get it.”) continue to be clueless about just how far their smoke can drift, and just how much it irritates non-smokers.

Former Premier of Alberta: “If you’re stupid, start smoking.”

Ralph Klein, who was the premier of Alberta from 1992-2006 (wow, that’s a long time), and was mayor of Calgary from 1980 to 1989, is ill from emphysema (also called COPD, though COPD can be more than just emphysema). Klein gave an incredible interview with the Calgary Sun about his battle with COPD. He began smoking when he was 14 years old.

In the article, Klein, who is 68 (most people who get emphysema/COPD start getting it in their 60s) is quoted:

“I started smoking when I was 14. We thought it was cool. Everybody did it. I smoked a pack a day for almost 50 years. I quit smoking six years ago, but it’s caught up with me.
If you’re stupid, start smoking.”

Get this, Klein was also the leader of the “Progressive conservative” Party in Alberta. What the Hell is a “Progressive conservative.”