Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Watching the Michael Brown Train Wreck

It was like watching a slow motion train wreck. I just happened to turn on the television as they were getting ready to announce the grand jury's findings in Ferguson, Missouri. As the cameras were panning the crowd waiting for the verdict, I could see multitudes of black youths with bandannas covering their faces and gas masks on top of their heads. I knew right then that there was going to be a riot.

The fellow reading back the grand jury verdict did a pretty good job of laying everything out. Unlike the commentators in the media, he mentioned the robbery which brought all this to the head. He laid all the forensic evidence showing that Michael Brown attached the police officer in the car and where he was shot first up until he came back towards the officer and met his ultimate face. But as he was reading all this, pan shots of the crowd who were listening only showed people shaking their heads no. Finally the announcement that there would be no indictment.

Michael Brown's family has stressed time and again that they want only peaceful protests but when the hammer came down Michael Brown's stepfather immediately jumped up on a platform and said, "Burn this bitch down" about twenty times at the top of his lungs. The slow motion train wreck started as I watched black youths go down the street breaking out windows in buildings and cars, pouring lighter fluid on them and set them afire. There were bricks, bottles and all sorts of things thrown at the police. Then the crowd started complaining that the police was being heavy handed by using tear gas. Despite that, Michael Brown's stepfather got his wish. I found it ironic that the Rev. Al Sharpton hinted that the Ferguson police allowed the rioters to burn the black part of town down while protecting the white areas.

I just have to shake my head at all this. The black community as they refer to themselves, say this was a racial murder despite all the black witnesses that testified to the grand jury otherwise. The black pundits said that the grand jury didn't have expert witnesses, cross examination, intense pressure put on them like they would get in a trial and thus the grand jury didn't find the truth. They could care less that a grand jury just looks to see if there is enough evidence to warrant a trial and that had they found enough evidence, a trial with all the expert witnesses, cross examinations and intense pressure would have been had.

Yes, there are police officers that get carried away and do criminal acts against innocent blacks. But not every incident is that way and in fact, a slim minority are that way. Yet when the black community decided to riot whenever one is found without merit, it is hard to take their cause seriously. They are doing a grave disservice to themselves. Right now, I'm not sure what the answer is but I would say that the black community is setting themselves back in their fight for racial equality. It seems as if in their eyes, everything isn't equal until it is and then their solution is to riot.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Chazen Museum of Art

Although I do occasionally do artistic things such as painting or drawing and I do consider myself decent at it, I don't consider myself an artist. My wife is much better than I at such things and loves to visit art museums. I have a hard time getting enthused about looking at paintings. The older ones all look similar to me and the modern ones have me thinking I could do something like that. So I was a little hesitant when my wife wanted to visit the Chazen Museum of Art at the end of one day after we had already done lots of miles of walking. But they had lots of sculptures and works of art that weren't two dimensional paintings and that attracts me a lot, probably because I stink at doing sculpture. I could spend days walking through an art gallery full of sculptures and admiring them.

So as my wife wandered off looking at paintings, I wandered off looking at sculptures.

I think these were actually real jellyfish preserved in a solid translucent medium. They were quite stunning.

Due to the limits of kids too young to appreciate such things, we only got about halfway through the museum on the first day but as luck would have it, we had some free time the next day so we went back and finished it. I was pleasantly surprised by an entire area dedicated to 18th century furniture. As close to sculpture as I come it making furniture and I love working with wood. It is my hope that someday when I get caught up on all the projects in life that I can set my sights on building really nice furniture like what is seen in these pictures. "They just don't make them like that anymore" is the understatement of the year.

I love to write in my journals every evening but have never had a dedicated desk where I could store my journals, pens and have a place to write. Any flat surface that I currently have in our house collects artifacts from our daily lives and is not really conducive to writing. So someday, I may build something similar to this.

There was a dresser build with book matched pieces of burl maple that was just exquisite. It has only been recently with my pen making hobby that I have discovered the world of burl and spalted woods. Since then, every tree I see with a large burl on it has me making a mental note of cutting that burl off when it dies in hopes of seeing wood grain like what can be seen above.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Olbrich Botanical Gardens

One of the places we like to visit whenever we go to a new area is the botanical center. Every major urban area seems to have one and our family enjoys them. The kids have plenty of space to run around and burn off energy without risk of damaging something (unlike a museum or art gallery) and I can relax to enjoy the sites around me enough to take some photographs.

Unlike most botanical centers we have been too, this one had quite a bit of natural water features in it and thus quite a few walk bridges over them. All were very picturesque and I found myself drawn to them through my lens.

Classic fall photo in my opinion.

Yet another bridge.

To me, this bench seems more like a work of art than a resting spot. I just loved how the lichen had attached itself all over it.

Because it was in the middle of November when I took these, there wasn't a lot in the vegetation to take pictures of but I did end up with a couple good photos. The sinister garden up above which certainly lives up to its name and the one below of a tree whose name now escapes me but whose bark was beautiful.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Generally my vacation of choice involve a road trip to somewhere scenic with some hiking, camping or outdoor activity involved. When my wife and I first got married, we did a lot of just that. However with two young kids, the youngest still in diapers, it really isn't a very attractive option until they get bigger. Instead we have found that going to urban centers is an attractive option. I have spent most of my life avoiding them so they are still new and interesting to me. They have lots of things kids find interesting and yet convenience is always near if necessary. They also are full of cultural things that attract me like museums, art galleries, botanical centers, historical places, etc. Finally, we love to try new foods that just aren't found in rural southeast Iowa but can be found elsewhere.

So with that said, I have been reading the blog of someone on here who lives in Chicago but has spent lots of time in Madison, Wisconsin over the years. We've done Chicago numerous times along St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Omaha and of course our capital city of Des Moines but in all that time, we've never been to Madison. So we decided to recitify that glaring absence in our travels and head there. So I contacted the blogger, asked for recommendations on where to eat since that is often hard to discern good from bad via the internet and we took off. Our itinerary was to visit their Children's Museum, botanical garden, zoo, farmer's market, capital building, art gallery and to eat at some of the recommended food places. Pretty easy as far as planning goes and it was a pretty relaxing trip.

It turned out to be fairly cold during the trip but nothing we couldn't easily dress for. Due to having young kids and our desire to eat at some restaurants that might not be all that kid friendly, we minimize risk by generally pumping them full of snacks and eating at odd hours to avoid having a kidtastrophe in a crowded restaurant. This generally meant eating lunch or supper, earlier than normal or later than normal to avoid the crowds. When it was earlier, we had to time our visits since we were getting there soon after they opened for the meal. That is why on a cold and overcast last afternoon, we found ourselves in this park overlooking the isthmus where downtown Madison is located between two large lakes waiting for a nearby restaurant to open up for an early supper. I snapped a few pictures to stay warm while the kids played on the playground and then we went in for an early supper that was kidtastrophe free.

Monday, November 17, 2014

House On the Rock

I've been to Wisconsin a few times in my life. A couple times to whitewater kayak and once on a trip to visit my parents who were midway on their third bicycle ride across the continent. All those times had been quite awhile ago so when our daughter's school had two days off before a weekend, we decided to make a long weekend of it and travel up there to see what we could see. Largely we were just heading to the Madison, Wisconsin area but along the way, I saw the signs for House on the Rock.

Now I had thought House on the Rock was a Frank Lloyd Wright house built over rocks and a waterfall but it wasn't. That was nearby. House on the Rock was a house built by one man over the years to specifically be a tourist attraction. Now it is nothing but a tourist trap as I call them, designed to separate money from your wallet while on vacation. But since we were there, we had the place pretty much to ourselves due to it being the middle of the week and cold, we decided to separate some money from my wallet and see it.

It was okay. I found the history of the place, the whys and hows it was built to be dull, but as an eccentric art collection, it was really neat. The man who built the house, also collected stuff and built rooms out of various things that were really quite beautiful. The man, whose name escapes me but really isn't important enough to look up, had enough money coming in from tourism that he was able to employ a large staff dedicated to building artistic things such as the statue seen above.

The only two pictures I have of the actual house that the fellow built that are showable are the one above and below and these are of a room added by more recent owners of the house. They are of a room cantilevered above the valley floor and built so that it kind of resembles that it goes to infinity and thus the name.

Once you got out to the end where it was gates off, you came to a window in the steel girders with a glass window in it so you could see just how high you were in the sky. Being steel and it was a windy day, there was quite a bit of flex in the floor which when combined with the view through the window, was kind of unnerving.

Among the many collections, two of the largest were scrimshaw and guns. This scrimshaw work just blows me away with the intricacy of it.

At one point in the tour, you came to a large room and if you looked up at the ceiling, you saw hundreds of these. It was neat and spooky and downright disturbing all at the same time. I'm not sure what called this man to turn manikins into angels and I'm not sure I want to meet him to find out.

This wasn't art intentionally nor was it displayed but along one of the paths I spied this tree which had grown around a board that had been presumably nailed to it at one point. I view trees largely as inanimate objects but when given a time frame such as this tree growing around a board, it illustrates that they are very much alive and growing.

With the price of admission, we were given some tokens for "music boxes" scattered throughout the place. The first couple of music boxes were simply animatronic type displays but eventually we came to a series of large animatronic displays that pretty much take your breath away. While few parts still functioned in the displays, enough did to give you a sense of how grand they must have been back in the day. Each one played a different song and had anywhere from a couple dozen instruments all played by machine to a few hundred instruments.

Part of the self guided tour referred to a carousel at the end of section 2 and start of section 3. I thought it would be a good place to let the kids blow off some energy before we tackled the last third of the tour. However it turned out to be a display of the largest carousel in the world and we weren't allowed to ride it. So you can see my eight year old standing there lost in amazement and disappointment. It had just shy of 300 animals to choose from and not one of them was a horse.

I took lots of pictures during the tour but few turned out. I think being a tourist trap, they intentionally kept all the rooms barely lit so that without a flash, you couldn't grab a decent picture and with a flash, most things were too far away for the flash to light up. So in order to see the place, you actually have to pay money to see the place, a well thought up plan for a tourist trap.