Vacation Time: The Western Swing (Part II)

We left Tea early in the morning, heading west on I-90. In the days before the Fourth of July, I-90 is a road dominated by campers and RVs, all heading west. The sun was bright, the sky was blue, traffic was sparse, and the exits were few and far as we rolled through the flat South Dakota farmland. Soon we reached one of the great outposts of roadside American kitsch: the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.

It’s not easy to describe the Corn Palace to people who have never been there. You park in a parking lot, walk though the maze of shops and souvenir stores that seem to guard the building, and then suddenly before you is a building decorated entirely in corn. And what a building it is, too, like a fantasy castle with Kremlinesque onion domes, turrets, pillars, and arches. Who knows why or how such a bizarre contrivance was begun — but it sure feels right when you see it. You admire the intricate designs and the countless hours that must have been spent affixing the corn to the facade of the building. There’s not much to do inside, except visit the gift shop and look at the pictures of the prior designs of the Corn Palace. To the embarrassment of the proprietors, one of the designs — I think it may have been 1919 — prominently featured a swastika, and the management therefore placed a sign underneath helpfully, and somewhat apologetically, pointing out that the swastika was a symbol also used by native Americans.

We then got back on I-90 and rolled west, driving hundreds of miles past towns like Kennebec and Murdo, until we got to the Badlands. At about that point the farmland has ended, and you suddenly realize that you are in the American West, in all its majesty and mystery, flaring colors and curious rock formations and plant life. The Badlands is a striking introduction, with its dead and eroded hillsides reaching out to the traveler like fingers. After being cooped up in the car for hours you have to get out and explore, hike through the hillsides, and stand atop a promontory point and look out to the far horizon, marveling at the endless apparently lifeless terrain. The Badlands provides one of those sweeping western vistas that makes you feel small.

After that humbling experience it was important to reestablish our priorities, so we drove immediately to the legendary Wall Drug in Wall, S.D. After seeing endless acres of desolation it was important to experience endless acres of consumer goods and knick knacks. Richard bought a cowboy hat, we took good looks at other western paraphernalia, and then got back on the road to Rapid City.

Checking out Mt. Rushmore at the end of the day

As the sun began to set, we reached Mt. Rushmore.  I visited there during the ’60s, on a family driving trip  out west, but seeing it again really packed a punch.  It is very cool to realize that we spent the money to carve the likenesses of four of our greatest presidents into the face of a mountain in the Black Hills, and that realization, and the mountain sculpture itself, stirs strong feelings of patriotism.  How many countries would tackle such an outlandish project?  In that sense, Mt. Rushmore not only recognizes Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, it also commemorates the big-thinking, roll-up-your-sleeves attitudes that have helped to make America great. After taking in the view from the plaza we walked on a path that winds underneath the face of the monument, which gives you some interesting perspectives on the figures and the challenges involved in carving them.

Our day ended in the foothills of Mount Rushmore. We stayed at a hotel that also was an RV park. After having a hearty dinner we walked the RV grounds in the gathering dusk, admiring the massiveness of the vehicles, the cookout awnings, and the general partying atmosphere.

Vacation Time: The Western Swing (Part I)

The Devil is in the Details

Most of the discussions on the Sunday morning talk shows were about the Closing of Guantanamo Bay Prison complex in Cuba and with President Obama’s initial deadline for it’s closure January 22 rapidly approaching I thought I would try to do some reading on the subject. What I found out was that the more I read about the issue the more I came to realize just how complex and sticky an issue this is.

Being just an ordinary citizen and by no means a legal expert I have had a hard time understanding what the hold up was and how being a nation based on our values could possibly justify holding prisoners indefinitely without giving them “their day in court”. This article gives some excerpts from rulings over the past few years regarding Guantanamo detainees. Sometimes the evidence used to hold the prisoner was considered multiple levels of heresay and sometimes the evidence was gathered from the prisoner while they were being tortured. I have to admit I was surprised how thin the government’s case was for many ! 

If the evidence is not sufficient enough to hold a detainee then the question that often arises is what do we do with enemies of America that have committed no crimes against us, but because of their views are just too dangerous to let go. I’ve always been of the opinion that we should just send them back home, but if the detainee’s home country is known to torture, like Yemen where 45% of the detainees come from, we can’t do that because of our support of the U. N. convention and article three prohibits torture and other cruel or degrading treatment.

So it looks like many detainees will finally get their day in court complying with a Supreme Court decision last year and I will anxiously be watching and reading about each and every one of their upcoming trials.

The Sweet Scent Of Roses

The Buckeyes pulled off a nerve-wracking overtime win over Iowa yesterday to clinch a share of the Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl.  For those of us in the stands, it was a roller coaster ride of delight and deep concern as Ohio State made big plays and then Iowa answered.  You could argue that the biggest play of the game from Ohio State’s standpoint was winning the coin flip in overtime, so the Buckeye defense could set the tone for the overtime — and they did.

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The post-game celebration

It was a perfect day for a football game; warm when the sun was higher in the sky, then cooling off after it dipped below the western side of Ohio Stadium.  The teams were evenly matched, but with different offensive styles.  Iowa decided they were going to play a more wide-open game and they did so, effectively.  Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa probably had his worst day as a Buckeye.  Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg went after him repeatedly, with great success.  The Buckeyes, on the other hand, for the most part eschewed the pass in favor of an effective ground game that saw them break two long touchdown runs, a third, shorter burst around end for a score, and rack up more than 200 yards on the ground.  And when it looked like Ohio State had put Iowa away, Iowa answered with game-changing plays like a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 70-yard drive for the tying score.

In the end, though, it was the Ohio State defense that made four big plays in overtime — forcing a hurried incompletion by Vandenberg, a tackle for loss on a running play, a huge, crushing sack of Vandenberg, and then an interception in the end zone that turned Iowa away without any points.  That performance allowed the Ohio State offense to play conservatively on its possession.  Three running plays later, the ball was positioned squarely in front of the goalposts, Ohio State’s backup kicked booted it through, the Rose Bowl bid was assured, and excited fans flooded the field.

Some other thoughts about the game:

*  Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg looks like he has a real future in the Big Ten.  He has a good arm, the Iowa coaches had a good game plan, and when the Iowa line gave him time — which was most of the time — he threw accurately and well.

*  I think Terrelle Pryor is more banged up than the coaches have let on.  The Ohio State offensive game plan clearly focused on running backs Brandon Saine and Boom Herron, and they both played well.  Pryor did not look to be nearly as maneuverable when he went back to pass.

*  Ohio State’s two-minute drill needs a lot of work.

*  If you can keep the Ohio State defensive front from getting penetration — and that is a big “if” for most teams — you can throw the ball on the Buckeyes.

*  For all of the complaints about Ohio State’s conservative style, it has produced the team’s fifth straight Big Ten championship.

Now it’s on to the traditional rivalry game with the Michigan Wolverines, at the Big House in Ann Arbor.