Tuesday, November 25, 2014

One Thing

I've made note here, a couple times, that a small town doesn't get too many opportunities to define itself to the world. A large metropolis, such as St. Louis or Los Angeles, gets in front of the world regularly, and has the opportunity to present many different sides of itself. One can look at Los Angeles and see primarily a celebrity playground, or a media center, or Disneyland, or beaches and surfing, or outrageous urban sprawl, or any of the local sports teams, or its ethnic diversity, or Skid Row, or a culinary mecca, or a parched desert with a city on top of it, or a multitude of other things. The world sees Los Angeles often, and so it sees more sides of Los Angeles.

A small town doesn't have that luxury. Small towns as a whole get in front of the world regularly. But there are a lot of small towns out there. A specific small town in particular, and even some medium-sized cities, may never get its face shown in front of the populace at large in any remotely significant way. Even if it does, it will almost certainly be known for one thing, and one thing only. That's it. One Thing. The town simply isn't large enough to have enough facets to it that people are likely to see more than one of them to any appreciable degree; it may have more, but one is far too likely to outshine the others.

Sometimes, that one thing is sports. Auburn, Alabama is only ever going to be known for the Auburn Tigers. Despite being the birthplace of James Fennimore Cooper, and despite his family being the town's namesake, Cooperstown, New York still has only One Thing, and that is being the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Green Bay, Wisconsin is home to over 100,000 people and has always been a major player in the paper mill industry, but paper is not Green Bay's One Thing. It's the Packers and everybody knows it.

Other times, it's a particular attraction in the town, a landmark. In my case, Watertown, we like to put the fact that we're home to astronaut Dan Brandenstein on the signs entering town, and we name our football team the Goslings over our history fattening up geese for foie gras, but those are not our One Thing. We're the home of the country's first kindergarten. That's our One Thing, and it's really a rather boring one. Neighboring Oconomowoc's One Thing is the unorthodox name of the town itself. Despite secondary reputations as a spring break destination and a fair number of sporting events revolving around the lake, Lake Havasu City, Arizona acquired its One Thing when London Bridge was relocated there, brick by brick, in 1968. Some towns that don't even think they have a One Thing at all try to force it by building a blatant roadside attraction, often the World's Largest something or other. A typical example is Hebron, Nebraska and the World's Largest Porch Swing.

And sometimes, it's historical. Nobody will ever know Kitty Hawk, North Carolina for anything except the Wright Brothers. Nobody will ever know Plymouth, Massachusetts for anything except the landing of the Pilgrims. Nobody will ever know Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for anything except the Civil War.

And this can be rather problematic for a city if its One Thing is an incident that gives the town a bad name. Again, it is hard for a small town to get everybody's attention, and if their one moment in the spotlight is for something bad, that's that. People will go away, remembering only the facet of town that brought them there, and the town will be forced to deal with their One Thing single-handedly dragging down their reputation even if they fix the problem that caused it, because no matter how much effort they put into rebranding themselves, it will probably fail as the nation will go right back to ignoring them after gawking at the One Thing.

Compton, California has gotten far safer since the days in the early 1990's when N.W.A, the Bloods, the Crips and involvement in the Rodney King riots gave Compton their One Thing. But despite working to improve matters ever since, Compton has failed to get the attention of the public at large for any of it. They still labor under their One Thing. And when you labor under your One Thing, it can be very, very difficult getting people or business to move in afterward. It can cost the town dearly going forward, until and unless they can convince the world that their One Thing no longer defines them.

Columbine, Colorado was charged with its One Thing later in the decade, when it became the victim of what would prove to be the most famous school shooting in America, even now, 15 years and far too many school shootings later. The word 'Columbine' has become a byword for school shootings, as school districts across the country, no matter who gets shot up in the meantime, still wonder how to prevent 'another Columbine'. The town's Wikipedia page doesn't even list anything else about it save for basic geography and demographics. Neighboring Littleton, whose previous One Thing was not much better- being the burial site of Alferd Packer, America's only convicted cannibal- found itself in the same shoes as Columbine when, finding that Columbine itself was (and still is) unincorporated, the media falsely reported Littleton, which was incorporated, as the location of the shooting instead.

Whatever it is you may say regarding the events or legitimacy thereof surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson- and I've said plenty myself- what is surely beyond dispute is that Ferguson, Missouri has, by now, been saddled with its One Thing. It is the town where Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, got acquitted, and riots broke out upon his grand jury acquittal. That is Ferguson's claim to fame, and unless Ferguson finds a way to get some other, bigger claim to fame, that is how it will always be remembered, and the town, blacks and whites alike, will simply have to live with that stigma. Ferguson will, eventually, leave America's eye for good, and it will be long before any of the larger issues surrounding the crisis even begin to be resolved. If they ever are. People will, more than they already had, think twice before moving to Ferguson. Businesses will think twice before opening locations in Ferguson, and those who saw their businesses burned down last night will surely think twice before deciding to rebuild, presuming they even have the ability to do so.

Ferguson may never get a chance to find itself a new One Thing. But if they do, let us hope it isn't something even worse.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Name The Ha Ha You Thought It Was Presidents

Trying to figure out if I'm able to make a new website in order to host the files for that soccer podcast because it looks like I may not be able to do that on Blogger. Looking around the place I've got here and the mess I've made of it any time I've tried to make any alterations to the default template whatsoever. Not liking my chances.

So since it's getting into breakfast hours in Europe right now, the Sporcle quiz I'm bringing out tonight might as well be for Europe. I do enough of these for the US; might as well indulge them.

Of course if you ARE American, the old name-the-Presidents list gets turned on its head a bit when all of a sudden it's a list of British Prime Ministers. Or, heck, Australia or Canada. Or India. So good luck with that.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A 10-Step Guide To Deer Season

Deer season in Wisconsin has started; it began Saturday the 22nd, and runs until the 30th. And as is tradition, Wisconsin empties itself into the forests as a result. I am not a hunter, not a gun person in any way, but if done responsibly, and the deer is fully utilized afterward and not just mounted on a wall or something, then you go right ahead.

So to all you hunters out there, let us be clear about the protocol:

*Live deer are your targets, as your hunting license indicates.
*Do not shoot another person instead.
*Especially if it's your daughter.
*And especially especially if it's a 5-day-old infant.
*Do not shoot yourself.
*Make sure the deer has not already been shot by another hunter.
*Do not shoot that other hunter.
*Do not shoot a hunting dog. It does not matter whether or not said dog belongs to you.
*Do not drive-by shoot a deer.
*Do not shoot a house.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

What I Was Watching The Past Week

Desert Bus 8 has ended after 158 hours. They're still working out the exact amount to hang on the toteboard; they put in some stand-in donations to reflect people who'd bought something in an auction and whose money wasn't actually going to come in until sometime after the run, and now that the run is over, those stand-in donations are back out of the system, and meanwhile, some scattered postgame donations have been trickling in. But the final number is going to be somewhere north of $630,000. They figure $637,000 is where it'll end up.

What they do know, however, is that at one point in the last day, the winner of an auction for a stained-glass figure of the Desert Bus 8 logo immediately donated it back to be part of another lot, which worked basically as a raffle that you could enter by donating a target amount or exact multiple thereof (in this case $13.37). And then this happened.

And then that kept happening for like 20 minutes straight.

The night prior, there were other social functions going on at the venue in Victoria, BC's Fort Tectoria, and the group decided, hey, why not conga-line right into the other parties? As you do. It just so happened that in that other group of people was the British Columbia Minister of Technology, Andrew Wilkinson, as well as a member of the legislative assembly, Greg Kyllo (analog, state legislator in the US). They decided to crash Desert Bus right back. It probably wasn't the best decision to follow a tradition of showing newcomers the video 'Going To The Store'- a clip of a naked, genital-free inflatable doll being marionetted around town- as the chat room was insisting upon (and it didn't get a reaction), but the two were good enough sports about it that Kyllo, who runs a rental houseboat fleet, decided he would contribute a week vacation on one of said houseboats as an auction lot.

As the participants of Desert Bus will tell you themselves, that last clip stands as the all-time strangest moment in the history of the telethon. They didn't even really think Kyllo was serious until he started going into detail about the houseboat, which ended up going for $5,000 (which got Kyllo and Wilkinson to high-five each other, so you know they were happy with it). The thing is, it's not normally a thing that would seem weird. In most places, a houseboat vacation being auctioned off wouldn't raise any real eyebrows, at least, none that didn't want a houseboat vacation. It would just appear to be one more item up for bids along with the furniture and the vases and the grandfather clocks.

Desert Bus, though, deals in geek-culture items. Five hours after the houseboat auction, they put up a replica sword from the anime series Kill la Kill that was in the shape of half a pair of scissors. THAT was what the audience was expecting to fight each other over that night more than anything else (and it went to the representative from Twitch that happened to be in the room), and that came on the heels of a new record for largest-ever bid, $10,001 on rare Borderlands merchandise along with a visit to Dallas to meet creative director Mikey Neumann. Both, you'll note, went for more than the houseboat vacation.  Here's what the scissor sword auction looked like.

In the setting of Desert Bus, while it may be weird to see someone put on the costume head of a giant anglerfish, or perform Caramelldansen multiple times in a row, or espouse on the crafting potential of human entrails, it is quite expected that you will see things along those lines. And all of those things happened in Desert Bus 8. It is normal to be bizarre, and the unexpected part is simply what exact brand of insanity you will see at any given moment.

When you drop normal folks, in suits, from the government, into such a situation, now there's a fair amount of trouble trying to process it. Wait a minute. This isn't weird. This is a perfectly normal thing being done by perfectly normal people that also happen to be from the government. The closest thing to 'normal' is a guy who people feel comfortable asking to recite the periodic table, in order, with no misses allowed (but nonconsecutives allowed). And then watching him rack up 36 before bowing out. And then asking him to read 'Go The Fuck To Sleep' (but with the all-expletive-replacing word 'bus' substituted).

Weird is a relative thing. In the world of government, it is not expected to have a conga line from next door barge into your social function, and it is not expected to watch weird and slightly risque videos from the Internet. In the land of the weird, the Internet geek-culture telethon, it is similarly unexpected to see politicians acting like the elected officials they are. In the land of the weird, he who is normal stands out most of all.

But through that, despite the wide gulf in personal subcultures involved, they did all see eye-to-eye on the important thing: the kids in the children's hospitals- and domestic violence shelters, although that never came up during the meeting- that were counting on all of them to do their bit, whatever bit that happened to be. And they absolutely did.

Now if we can just get that kind of thing going a bit more often on the American side of the border.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Where Last Names Came From

Desert Bus monitoring has taken up a ton of my time, so I've been away from here for most of it. Sorry about that. But it should be wrapping tomorrow night (barring anything truly mind-poppingly insane concerning donations).

So while you wait (and hopefully donate)... I'll leave you in the capable hands of John Green, who in this video, that I won't embed because linking it leads you to other Mental Floss videos, explains the origins of 62 common last names. Because last names were not always a thing. You may hear in ancient times about people getting called, oh, say, 'Jesus of Nazareth'. That's how things got done back then a lot of the time: the first name followed by some sort of descriptor (Alexander the Great being another one). Actual last names started trickling in at different times in different regions, and they had to start coming from somewhere. As you'll see. Anglo-Saxon, for example, came about in what you'd probably call the mythical Knights Of The Round Table era, the 1300-1400's, and names from that region have a way of reflecting the culture of the time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Fishing Was This Big

You've used Google Earth, I assume. In using Google Earth, people have stumbled across some pretty odd things, things that had previously gone unnoticed. And people use it to monitor various situations around the world. You dump raw satellite photos of the whole entire planet on people, you're gonna see some things.

But you knew that. So let's lead into the story, which is Google partnering up with two environmental groups, Oceana and Skytruth, to initiate Global Fishing Watch. The one thing about Google Earth is that there's usually a lag from one update to the next in a given area. Global Fishing Watch is aiming to monitor commercial fishing spots in almost real time. The idea is to spot where illegal fishing is happening, and then be able to respond to it quickly. It's notoriously difficult to tell how much exactly the oceans are fixed out, but we know enough to be certain they're not doing so hot, and because a lot of people don't pay too much attention to the ocean beyond 'that empty space on the map between all the land parts', a lot of illegal fishing goes unchecked, thus exacerbating the problem. This is the problem they're trying to fix.

I'm unfortunately skeptical that it'll get even close to fixed, but any positive impact, you know?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How Does Car

So Desert Bus is underway, and they're off to a really nice start, and I'm concentrating on that at the moment (and yes, I have donated), so I'm going to give you something rather simple.

Or, well, not so simple. It's a car engine. HowStuffWorks has a little beginner's tutorial on what exactly is going on inside that giant block of metal and hot spinning stuffness. There's a pretty simple game here in which car parts are individually laid out and you have to label them.

And now I'm off to continue looking at a bus.