Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Warm Springs

Warm Springs, Georgia – February 25, 2007

The spring is 88 degrees Fahrenheit, year round. My own personal favorite water temperature is 86, but I could live with 88.

Roosevelt discovered this place in 1924 and died here on April 12, 1945. He was having his portrait painted. The picture is still here. It’s called the “unfinished portrait”.

FDR made 41 trips to this place. He thought the warm water was helping to rehabilitate his legs from the polio he had contracted. He spent the bulk of his personal fortune purchasing the springs and establishing a rehabilitation center for children here.

The small rustic cottage was called “the little White House”. The sentry booth for the company of marine guards is nearby. Thirteen of the marines who guarded him here died in WWII. Four of them died on Iwo Jima, securing a base for crippled B-29s.

The cottage is very small. It has four twin beds in three bedrooms, a small kitchen and a living room filled with books. There are martini glasses in the pantry. The chair he died in is in the living room.

In early 1941, Roosevelt made his “four freedoms” speech”. The freedoms from want and fear went a little beyond the ideas laid down in The Constitution.
“In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is Freedom of worship. That is, freedom of every person to worship whomever (be it God, or any other deity/deities) in his own way - everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called "new order" of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Diving for Sponges

Tarpon Springs, Florida – February 19, 2007

In 1887, the small community of Tarpon Springs was incorporated with a population of 52. It quickly attracted a large community of Greek immigrants when sponges were discovered offshore.

For a time, Tarpon Springs was considered the sponge capital of the world. An unknown disease caused the sponges to rot in the late 1940s and then artificial sponges were invented in the 1950s. Despite these setbacks, sponge fishing has made a small comeback in Tarpon Springs.

The small sponge boats go out for six weeks at a time with a crew of two to four men who work on shares. The heavily weighted sponge divers run along the bottom, breathing from long air hoses, filling their sponge baskets with sponges. They work at depths from 40 to 100 feet and know much more about the bends than their grandfathers. They take turns diving and those left on deck clean and string the sponges to dry. The sponge remnants left on the bottom grow back in about five years.

They sleep on the decks at night and usually eat fresh fish or spaghetti for six weeks at sea. You can make a living doing this.

I get up at 4:30, scrape the frost from the windshield, and go to the sponge docks looking for work. Little has changed here in the last fifty years. The ancient sponge and shrimp boats are tied up at the docks in the Anclote River. No one is around. Some of the boats have “for sale” signs. It’s the “off” season for sponge diving.

I give up the idea of using my diver certification to get a job today and get on a fishing boat with fifteen Wal-Mart executives who are taking the day to fish and bond. The boat, the Miss Milwaukee, is the same one my father took me out on fifty years ago. The fish have gotten much smaller. I give my two fish to an executive who has made small talk with me during the day.

Here are pictures of the docks and some pelicans.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Second Childhoods

Sarasota, Florida – February 8, 2007

We spend several days with Mom in Tampa. She appears to be over her depression and is eating well again. A giant hotel and gambling casino has appeared next door to her house. It is owned by the Seminole Indians. The name is the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel. By coincidence, Anna Nicole Smith died today at age 39 in a hotel of the same name. Her death was reported by Chief Charlie Tiger.

Tampa has become depressingly crowded and congested over the last 50 years. Lonely two lane asphault roads have turned into eight lane highways of stopped traffic. We are exiles now, victims of years of mindless concretization. We drive by my old high school as it lets the students out. We see dozens of high school girls in traditional Muslim dress. We are passed by Dominican students driving erratically. The back of their car has the hand-lettered notation, "Dominican Racer". Their driving is as flaky as mine was at that age.

We drive south to Sarasota to visit friends and play tennis. It is chilly in the morning, about 50 degrees F, but it warms nicely to 80 F. by about 10 AM.

Our friends have found an “RV Resort". It’s amazing. There are 1,500 units and about 3,000 people camped here. It is a small city about the same population as Point Barrow, Alaska.
There is a huge pool heated to 86 F. and two large Jacuzzis heated to 104 F. Other amenities include eight horseshoe pits, twelve lawn bowling lanes , sixteen shuffleboard courts , ten tennis courts, a lake for fishing and miniature sailboat races, two whiffle ball courts, bocceball courts, card game tounaments, a large lapidary shop, sand pit volleyball, dance classes, arts and crafts, a woodworking shop and a pool hall with billiards.

They run round robins for tennis doubles every day, tennis drills and pool exercise sessions. We see white-haired people on bicycles, golf carts and electric scooters. My impression is that these are having more fun now than they did in their childhoods.

Just down the road is a large Amish fruit stand. It also offers homemade Amish ice cream, noodles and cheese. The local area has great white sand beaches, the Ringling Art Museum, a laser light show with a Pink Floyd musical score and high end shopping and dining on St. Armand’s Key.

We decide to spend at least a month here next winter.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Three Days on the Road

Holt, Florida – February 4, 2007

It’s been a cold two months, but we’ve seen some impressive scenery.

We pulled out of Arkansas on frozen roads of hard packed snow with very long icicles hanging from the RV. By the time we hit the Mississippi River at Helena, the last of the snow pack fell off the hood.

There’s a machine called a “Brake Buddy” in the Toyota. It senses when I apply the brakes in the RV and helps out by applying the Toyota brakes. Theoretically it reduces stopping distance 30 percent. I discovered that when the temperature is very low the Brake Buddy compressor runs all the time and drains the Toyota battery in about an hour, so we arrive with a dead battery. I’ve been leaving Buddy by the bed at night to keep it warm.

The other problem with Buddy was caused by operator error. There is an attachment for an “emergency breakaway” situation. I forgot to plug it in leaving Arkansas and every time I tapped my brakes Buddy locked up the Toyota wheels. Very disconcerting if you're being tailgated by a semi on a two lane road.

Another problem is the right turn signal on the Toyota has stopped working. I’ll get out the voltmeter this morning and see if I can trace the problem. This “rig” we live in is full of electronics and as soon as I figure out one issue another seems to crop up.

We rolled though the Mobile, Alabama tunnel yesterday afternoon and past the USS Alabama museum battleship. We drove over the long I-10 bridge near Pensacola, Florida. They are still rebuilding it. A section of the bridge was destroyed two years ago by Hurricane Ivan. One can begin to appreciate why it is taking so long to rebuild Iraq.

The temperature in Florida this week is forecast to range between a high of 70 F and a low of 50 F. Nice tennis weather. We’re thinking of spending the next winter in Florida.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

An Arkansas Education

Mountain Home, Arkansas – February 1, 2007

It’s 4 AM and completely overcast with low gray clouds. There is five inches of fresh white snow on the ground. The small amount of light from neighboring houses reflects off the low clouds and onto the snow, making everything strangely bright and easy to see.

The pond is frozen over. I spent an hour yesterday, before it snowed, throwing big rocks up in the air to land on the ice. I love the sound the rocks make when they hit the ice. It’s a crisp, long Twangggg! that cuts the frozen air.

My friend here in Mountain Home is a national expert on credit and debit card transactions. He travels about the country keeping the heads of big banks and credit card companies abreast of new developments. We met in 1972 just after Vietnam, 35 years ago. I like to stop here, sample his homemade wine, and help him hang doors in the evening on the house in the woods he has been building, one piece at a time, for the last three years.

He tells me that the Republican controlled House and Senate passed a new law on credit cards last year. Now credit card companies can increase the rates they charge consumers if they are late on a single payment on any credit card or if the consumer’s credit rating drops slightly. Of course, he says, consumers in the US can no longer escape credit card debt though the bankruptcy process. The higher rates approach 40%, rather than the standard 20%.

Also interesting is the newfound ability of thieves to read the information on a debit card and calculate the card's PIN number. He tells me that a debit cards magnetic stripe contains an account number and a PIN number offset, which uses a 256 bit encryption algorithm, use to validate the PIN number. This information is read and stored each time the card is used at, say, Starbucks for coffee.

One US bank was hacked into and lost the information on 50 million accounts. The customers then began to find their accounts emptied though withdrawals at ATM in places like Latvia and Bulgaria. Paul believes that the PIN Number offset algorithm has been cracked, the only logical explanation for the Bank’s customer losses to date of $12 Billion dollars. Other banks and vendors have been hacked for account information.

The temperature is not projected to rise above zero degrees Centigrade for about ten days. We’d like to go to Florida and play tennis with friends camping in Sarasota, but driving out of here may be problematic.