Monday, February 28, 2011

Pic of the Day: Pickens--the leaning wall

I've been all over that fort since 1999 and I never noticed this little detail until a few nights ago while I was picking out stuff for Pic of the Day.

If you look at the right-hand wall where it meets the back wall, you can see a sizable lean-out at the top. This is the same room as in the POTD for Feb. 21, looking at the opposite end. (click to make it larger)

I'd remembered from reading the Historic Structure Report for Pickens that engineers had trouble with the south face of Bastion B. The rooms of the three bastions on the west front--B, C and D--are built differently from nearly all the other casemates (rooms) in the fort in that those big arches are turned directly off of the outer walls instead of standing independently of them. There's a lot more stress on this wall, then, than there is on the one on the other side of that small doorway.

The fort was built on sand. All of Santa Rosa Island is a glorified sand bar 40 miles long, less than a mile wide. The only thing that holds it all together is the vegetation, especially sea oats. Sand doesn't compress--not like clay. The grains are still able to slip no matter how tightly they're packed. When the engineers started building the fort, they dug up tons of sand, leveled and tamped the area, laid down a "grillage" (3-inch thick birch planks laid up in two layers as a footing for the foundations), then started with the masonry itself. The island's only a few feet above sea level (depending on which dune you're on), so the fort's foundations are under water, which keeps the wood from rotting.

The wooden grillage helps to spread out the weight of all that masonry, but there's bound to be some settling. That one wall likely started leaning out as soon as the weight of the overhead arch came to bear on it. If you look at the small doorway, you can see several concentric arches where Engineer Major Chase tried to add support, almost plugging the opening with solid brick. Between this and adding 3 feet of brick to the outside of the south wall, the motion of the south face was arrested.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stupid Things To Avoid Doing.

Back in 1998, on the job at [undisclosed car repair shop, as a tire tech], I spent a little idle time with one of the other guys in the parking lot.

We had decided to see whether a shop rag could be used as a sling.

Neither of us had ever used a sling before.

I loaded a D-cell battery, whipped the rag around like I've seen in movies, and released one end at just the right moment in its arc...

...and the battery sailed off in a lovely curve. I'd been aiming straight down the middle of the side parking lot, hoping to land the battery in the big field out back. Damn thing pulled to the right.

Then we realized that its trajectory had it sailing beautifully toward a parked van. A customer's van. Shiny, with lots of shiny glass windows. Expensive, job-losing glass windows.

[sphincters tighten]

WHACK!! It hit the parking lot retaining wall about 18 inches from the van, rebounded, and skittered along the pavement at the foot of the wall.

Enough excitement for one day.

My Salamander is a Teabagger!

I just realized this while feeding the little critter. I've had it for nearly 6 years now and it's always amused me how I can put food right in front of its nose and it'll just sit there, completely unaware, looking up at me with its froggy little face and wondering when I'm going to feed it.

Teabaggers are the same way with facts and reality: you can put a "Spark Charts" version of the Constitution or American History in their hot little hands and they'll just look at you with utter incomprehension.

The newt is sometimes on the ball, though, snapping up a food pellet before it even hits the water--but within moments, it's forgotten there was any food at all.

Teabaggers are like this, too: they see words they like in the Constitution and bite down hard--words like "Lord" or "bear arms" or "impeach" and miss everything else.

In six years, I haven't even named my newt, just called it things like bug-eater, frog-face, or goober (especially when it's looking right at the food and missing it).

Maybe I should name it "Teabagger."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pic of the Day: Pickens--Hands Up, Varmint!

This is somewhere you didn't want to be, if you didn't belong near one of these old forts.

That's the muzzle of a 32-pounder smoothbore cannon peeking out of Casemate #2. Big guns like these were the primary defense of the fort and were trained on the Gulf, the channel, and Pensacola Bay. Especially on the channel--50 cannon in the lower tier alone, with about as many more up on the roof. Down inside the walls, the gun's better protected from direct fire, but it's got a 90 degree field of fire side to side and a few degrees up and down. You could expect a mile and a half effective range, maybe 2 miles if you weren't picky.

Given the technology of the time, these old forts could not be beaten by a wooden ship. You've got a stable gun platform, lots of guns, and hundreds of men. Once you've dialed in your range on a target you can keep throwing iron at it until it sinks or surrenders.

A ship the size of the frigate USS Constellation was rated for 38 cannon, but they weren't all on the same side of the ship. Even given a good gun crew and 19 big guns on one side, you're still dealing with a platform that's moving with the waves--up & down, rolling left to right, pitching front to back, and there's no way to keep getting direct hits on the same spot on that fort no matter what a big target it is.

Once ships got rifled guns, iron plating and screw propellers, the tables were turned. A rifled gun is more accurate, iron plating more resistant to impact, and a propeller lets you move your ship against the winds and currents, something a sailing ship can't do.

Pic of the Day: Pickens Building 8, Broken

Here's the Library/Auditorium/Museum building near Ft. Pickens. This shot's from Nov. 11, 2006, more than 2 years after Hurricane Ivan nudged the building off its original pilings and broke the south wing loose. Much of the library's contents were irreparably damaged.

The National Park Service stabilized the broken building, getting it up on temporary footings, and eventually moved everything back together on the proper side of the sidewalk.

The next time I saw it in July, 2009, the building was whole but gutted--no doors, stripped interiors. The last time I visited it, just 2 weeks ago, the building was completely refurbished.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Pic of the Day: Pickens Flooded, Hurricane Ivan

This is how the west end of Santa Rosa Island looked after Hurricane Ivan passed over in September of 2004. Several feet of seawater were retained by a concrete seawall that was built in 1906 to protect the fort and its batteries and buildings from hurricanes.

The fort and concrete batteries didn't suffer much, but Building #8, the Museum/Library/Auditorium, was floated off its pilings and had its south wing snapped loose. Three-fifths of the museum's contents were ruined.

The same storm surge tore up about 1.5 miles of road leading to the fort, flattened the big steel doors covering Battery Langdon's casemates and drove right out the back of the battery, and flattened a lot of homes along the island outside the park.

For months after the hurricane, crews were pulling home appliances, Dumpsters, boats, and such out of Pensacola Bay. Downtown Pensacola itself was flooded for a quarter-mile inland from the waterfront. The I-10 bridge across Escambia Bay was demolished by a 35- to 60-foot-high wall of water that washed over Santa Rosa Island and roared right up the bay, flinging sections of bridge deck like they were plywood.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pic of the Day: Discovery Launches!

This is the shuttle Discovery right at main-engine ignition. Just moments before the flame front from that one engine, there was a cough of soot, something I'd never noticed before. Pretty neat, though.

It sucks not having high-speed internet, having to watch the launch on CNN. There's always YouTube for catching it after the fact, but nothing comes close to seeing it live.

It also sucks that this is Discovery's final flight.

It sucks even more that after the shuttles are done this year, we don't have a spaceship to replace them.

But it's utterly cool seeing those mains light up, seeing the entire shuttle stack leaning as they build up thrust. Then the solids ignite and everyone who remembers Challenger gets a lump in the throat, watching those boosters for telltale tails of flame, or thinking of Columbia we're looking for chunks of foam or ice. It's always a relief when the boosters separate safely and when the ship's wheels-down on the pavement again.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Right-Wing Scumbag: "Use live ammunition."

The scumbag is Jeff Cox, formerly a Deputy Attorney General in Illinois. He lost his job over this remark about the labor protests in Wisconsin.

Apparently it's not the first time this rightie imbecile has shown his skunk stripes. In Cox' fantasy world, President Obama is "incompetent and treasonuous." Opponents are compared to Nazi Brownshirts, apparently with no grasp of the irony of a right-winger accusing someone else of fascist tendencies.

Plenty more skunk-spray at the link.

Pic of the Day: Pickens--Southwest Wall Top

Looking south from the top of Bastion 'C', you can see the wreckage caused by the 1916 blasting project. Engineers wanted to knock the old fort's walls down a little to open up the field of fire for Battery Pensacola (out of frame to the left, though you can see some of the earthen embankment covering the southern face of the bunker).

On the right is what's left of the southwest wall; the blasting cracked those big arches along the wall's entire length. I'm guessing that the concrete was laid down in an attempt to stabilize the damage.

Straight ahead are the gaping arches of the south cistern, where rain water was captured and stored for drinking. To its left is a pile of earth and rubble, the remains of the south wall's casemates and quarters. The arches and the facing of the cistern were destroyed in the same blasting.

Given this and the destruction of the fort's northwest corner in an 1899 explosion, vastly more damage was done to Fort Pickens by her caretakers than by any enemy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Fort Pickens sits at the west end of Santa Rosa Island, which is really just a glorified sandbar that stretches about 40 miles from the Pensacola Bay inlet to Destin, Florida.

All but 14 miles of the Island is a jumble of hotels, motels, condos, beach houses, cottages, and other ugly concrete crap.

The rest is beautiful, pristine, and a constant thumb in the eye of real estate developers who can't look at a piece of ground without wanting to put some ugly concrete crap on it. And they can't touch those 14 miles of sandy beaches, sea oats, and dunes. I hope it hurts.

The pretty parts of the island are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, a National Park, which also covers Fort Barrancas and the Advanced Redoubt up on the mainland (Pensacola Naval Air Station), another 7 miles of pristine island paradise on Perdido Key, and several smaller islands off the Gulf Coast of Mississippi--Petit Bois, Horn, East & West Ship, and part of Cat Island.

I'm gonna need a bigger boat; I don't think I can kayak out to Fort Massachusetts on West Ship Island. That's something like 13 miles offshore!

Pic of the Day: Pickens--Bastion 'B' West

This is a follow-up to yesterday's picture, showing Fort Pickens' roofless west gallery in Bastion 'B'.

This room used to have a big arch like those of the south and north galleries, but it collapsed during a blasting project in 1916.

This one room has some incredibly cool brickwork--you can see how the other two big galleries are constructed, parts of what's left of this room's arch, and the smaller arches that spread out the weight of their walls so the gun ports wouldn't weaken the structure. You can still see the original brick flooring and the granite "traverse circles"--stone cut and joined in large arcs for a gun carriage to roll on.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pic of the Day: Pickens--Bastion 'B' South

It's scenery like this that makes going to Fort Pickens worth the effort.

This is the south gallery of the southwest bastion. This part of the fort has some of its most elaborate architecture; the gallery is 18 feet wide, the arched ceiling has a 9-foot radius, and this is just one of the three big rooms here. The doorway straight ahead leads to the west gallery; the one to the right leads to the north gallery.

The open-roof view is courtesy of a 1916 blasting project. Engineers were trying to take a bit off the top of the fort's south and southwest fronts to open up the field of fire for Battery Pensacola's two big guns.

They took a little too much. The blasting ended up cracking the arches of the southwest wall, collapsed almost all of the rooms along the south wall, and destroyed the arch of Bastion B's west gallery.

It makes for good photography, but it bugs me that such a beautiful old building was treated this way, especially given this fort's history. It was one of only 4 southern forts never taken by the rebels during the Civil War. My favorite part of that--and the part that always makes me chuckle--is that because of its location on an isolated island, right at the entrance to Pensacola Bay, Fort Pickens kept those scoundrels from using the bay and navy yard as effectively as they might have. In y'all's FACE, Johnny Reb.

This corner of the fort is probably my favorite. It's the most remote point from the entrance, so when there's not a little group of tourists wandering in it's pleasantly quiet. I don't mind the tourists, though, don't get me wrong. I WANT people to visit Pickens and all the other forts. I WANT them to look at the brick work, the sheer craftsmanship. I want them to understand that much of the labor that went into building it was done by black men who had no say in the matter, then I want them to think about the black man in the White House and think about how far this country has come.

On the last trip I made to Pickens, I experienced something that I've seen at other forts. I was in my car, parked, eating breakfast. A car pulled in a few spaces away; a young couple got out and went into the fort.

Ten minutes later, they came back out, hopped in the car, and left. Ten minutes. I wish I'd followed them to see where they went. It wasn't the restrooms (those are outside, in a separate building). There's not a lot of appreciating one can do in such a place in so short a time.

They paid eight bucks to enter the park! It takes at least ten minutes to get TO the fort from the ticket booth! But they were done and ready to go in ten minutes.

They didn't see that quiet corner. They didn't see the remains of the south wall, where Geronimo (yes, THAT Geronimo) spent 2 years as a prisoner. They didn't see the cracks, the limestone leaching out of the mortar, the small plant growing in a drain, the sun heating bricks nearly 2 centuries old, the same stairways where Union troops fought a 2-day battle against the South's treason.

I don't know what they saw, but they missed EVERYTHING!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pic of the Day: Foster's Bank

From the top of Fort Pickens' west bastion, you can see a band of white sand where Fort McRee used to stand.

McRee was the second of 4 forts built to defend the entrance to Pensacola Bay; it stood on the west bank of the channel between the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay.

The Confederate-held fort took heavy damage in a Union bombardment in late 1861, both from Fort Pickens and from a pair of US Navy ships anchored in the Gulf. After the war, the fort was never repaired and was left to crumble for some 40 years. The Hurricane of 1906 saw the last remnants of McRee tumbled into the surf of Foster's Bank.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Road Trip: The "Not So Fast" Tour

When I woke up last Sunday after the previous day's photo trip to Fort Pickens, I was ready for a rematch.

I got schooled. Here I was thinking that my legs were getting better after 7 months of every short walk feeling like a sprinting marathon.

On that last trip, I spent 2 hours making my usual circuit around the fort--entrance, take the first left, then wander clockwise around the place. I made it a little more than halfway with a few strategic rest stops.
Today, I tried to pick up where I left off, getting pics along the inside of the western front--the southwest and northwest walls, the west bastion, and the top of that bastion and the northwest wall. This took two hours, as well, but easily half of that was spent sitting on benches or leaning against walls, waiting for my legs to catch up.

Behold my nemesis:

It's only 22 steps to that first landing, then another 5 to the top, and even a year ago I could go right up without falling apart. Today I had to hold onto the railings all the way up, then I had to find a place to sit once I was up there. You never really think about your knees or legs until something happens to weaken them just enough to make simple walking into an ordeal. Stairs suddenly take everything you've got--and you've still got to come back down.

The view was worth seeing, as always; from the top of this bastion you can see all the way to the west end of the island, the gun batteries that were built in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the newly-renovated library/auditorium/museum building, Foster's Bank across the channel, where Ft. McRee used to stand, and to the south the endless stretch of the Gulf of Mexico. The sun was just right, the winds just so, and it felt good to be there. I remember one day a few years ago when I ran up those stairs, camera in hand, and watched the leading edge of a rainstorm coming from the west.

So I'm sitting up there, resting, so of course this is where my body wondered where the restrooms were. Several hundred feet, starting with those damn stairs. A good 15 to 20 minutes, in my present condition. Fark's sake.

By the time I got to the restrooms, I'd decided I'd had enough for the day.

Yeah, I didn't get all the pictures I was hoping for, but the fort will still be there the next time. Fortunately, most of what I want to look at doesn't have stairs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Road Trip: Aftermath

I was expecting to be worn out and sore from yesterday's long walk around Fort Pickens.

What I've got is the pleasant post-exercise sort of ache, like I used to have after a good karate workout or long bike ride. No cramping, no outright pain. I wasn't even out of breath yesterday. I'm feeling good for the first time in months.

312 photos and two video clips--and I feel like getting back out there.

A decade ago, I was able to hoof it around the tip of Santa Rosa Island from the Pickens seawall to the marsh pools just southwest of the fort without effort. I could climb stairs, wander around, and do this all day long. Gotta get all this health stuff worked out so I can get back to that.

Unintended Honesty (or just Irony?) From Rightie Moron!

Bob Cesca quotes a rant from some conservative I've never heard of (Herman Cain?! Sounds like a religious standup comedian...oh.), who in the first part of his whine at the conservative cheerleading tryouts known as CPAC (they pretend it's a "convention"--how adorable), this goober said,

stupid people are ruining America
Why, yes, yes they are. Many of them were at your convention, Cain, and one of them was wearing your suit.

My only question was, did Cain perhaps hit the bar beforehand and get a little lubed up, causing him to commit this unintended honesty about his own party...or is he just so stupid that he committed a gaping irony (one that would be missed by him and his audience; after all, they're conservatives)?

One never knows, with such people. Either way, he's right. Stupid people are ruining this country.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Road Trip: Ft. Pickens

FINALLY, I had enough of being cooped up in the house all the time. I haven't gone anywhere but hospitals, doctors' offices, the pharmacy, drive-throughs, and convenience stores since all that fun back in July.

Every time I was ready to get out, something happened: my left knee in early December, weather and lack of money in January, my left foot, right knee, and right foot in quick succession a few weeks ago, all seemingly conspiring to keep me mewed up in my room, bored off my twig, watching "NCIS" reruns and wondering who would replace Keith Olbermann.

The X-11 took to the road with her usual purr and grumble, and my only complaint was all the too-low speed limits between home and fort (45 mph? Awwwwwww, maaaaaan!)

Unlike my last ride--The Homewrecker Tour--more than a year ago, no little plastic playhouses were killed. The only snag was a funeral procession headed east through Gulf Breeze, but once I nosed south toward Santa Rosa Island I didn't have to bother with them.

Most of the trees killed by the storm surge of Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 are still there, still dead (imagine zombie trees...rooted in place), but the National Park still looks good.

Battery Langdon is closed up again, the big steel doors that covered the two gun casemates are back in place (they went back up 2 years ago). Ivan's storm surge smashed both of them into their casemates, then drove straight through the hallways behind and out the back doors.

I didn't stop there; this trip was for Pickens alone, since I had no idea how long my legs would hold up. That fort's pretty big--something like half a mile around the perimeter if I'm remembering right. Plenty of places for a worn-out person to sit and rest.

I brought three hardcover photo albums, thinking I'd be using them as guides for pictures to take, but I never even pulled one out of my backpack. I just looked at the fort instead. Plenty of things caught my eye, so I shot them with the FujiCam and moved along: the north-end rifle gallery, the outside of Bastion E and the north wall, then into the fort, my favorite place on the planet (aside from the driver's seat of the X-11). I lugged the deadweight backpack, snapped photos, moved along, resting when I couldn't go much further.

The National Park Service folks have put up new signage all over the fort--attractive, clearly-detailed compared to the blurriness of the old signs.

The slopes on the Gulf side of Battery Pensacola and the earth fill covering the wreckage of the south wall's collapsed arches have been cleaned up significantly. There used to be an impenetrable thicket of wild plum trees with thorns like toothpicks covering both slopes, but now it all looks like the previous president took a winter vacation to clear out the brush, just like back on the ranch--maybe trying to boost his book sales.

I didn't make the full tour; somehere along the arches of the southwest wall--more than halfway!--I decided I'd had enough. I sat on a bench for a while, building up the ambition to go the few hundred feet to the parking lot. The camera's card was almost full, my legs were tired, and it had been a good two hours of walking and enjoying the hell out of being somewhere I didn't have to be, let alone enjoying the fact that I walked as far as I had.

Once I got back to the car, I rested some more, chugged a Sunkist, rested a bit more, then decided that I needed to make one more visit.

The library/auditorium/museum building had been heavily damaged by Hurricane Ivan, lifted partly off its pilings and its south wing broken loose. After the storm, the seawall that had been built around the fort and batteries at the end of the island contained several feet of seawater. Three-fifths of the library's contents were destroyed, computers in the Rangers' offices were ruined (lots of irreplaceable digital photos, gone).

The building was set back on new pilings, the broken wing re-set, and the rooms gutted. I hadn't seen it since July of '09, so I got a pleasant surprise: bright white paint, green trim, like a brand new building.

The museum was open (at least the doors were unlocked), but empty. Even that is an improvement: something needs to go in there.

Tired as hell.

But happy. That's what a road trip should always be like.

I even got to wind the car out a bit by getting up on I-110 and running north a few miles.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pic of the Day: Freedom.

I don't know who to give credit to for the picture (I grabbed it from Deus Ex Malcontent), but this is my pick for what the protests in Egypt the last 18 days have all been about. Mubarak is gone after 3 decades of being propped up by the US.

Here's hoping the Egyptian people get the style of governance they've been pushing for--and not what the US gave them.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Florida's Gov. Scumbag follows Arizona's Gov. Crypt Keeper

...into being an utter waste of oxygen. He's decided that killing people who need organ transplants isn't as important as taking care of rich assholes who might die without yet another tax cut.

Pushing Rope quotes Peter Schorsch's list of evil, short-sighted things Governor Scumbag plans to do; the most concerning one (for me) is this:
* Saving close to $1 billion by limiting the state’s Medically Needy program to pregnant women and children, barring thousands of transplant patients and those with catastrophic illnesses from participating in the program;
Nice. I just got approved for the Medically Needy program in the last couple of weeks. I wonder how soon it'll be before Gov. Scumbag's cuts affect that.

Keep in mind: Governor Scumbag is the same piece of corporate excrement whose company HCA/Columbia committed a massive Medicare fraud scheme . He, of course, evaded prosecution, though he admits to some responsibility.

After the way President Fratboy got away with torture, violating national and international law, and all that, I don't see us getting lucky enough to see Gov. Scumbag removed from office no matter how deep into the ground he runs the state.

Way to go, Florida voters, you idiots.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Pic of the Day: Fox Geography 2

Egypt has moved again, according to those geniuses at The Stoopid Channel.

Last week, it was over Iraq.

This week, it has moved to cover New York State!

If my country kept moving around like this, I'd be rioting in the streets, too. No wonder they hate Mubarak!

You'd think the Fox morons would recognize the shape of their own state, since their HEADQUARTERS are there.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pic of the Day: Million Candlepower Dew!

I remember a time when I could drink this stuff without thinking about it.

Back in my inventory-counting days, I made the mistake of finishing off a 20-ounce Dew during a road trip to Panama City. We stopped about halfway and I grabbed a 1-liter, killing it by the time we got to the Target parking lot.

Mistake!! My eyes were vibrating, my stomach ready to rebel and send that bubbly soda right back up.

These days, it only takes a few ounces of this antifreeze-looking stuff to make me start feeling ill. At least it looks cool when you add a million-candlepower floodlight!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

w00000t! Again--I'm disabled! Yay!

Maybe I'm not supposed to be happy with that, but it's a good thing: Social Security has accepted my application and has classified me as Disabled--so now I'm qualified to get on the Medicaid program. Now I can start working on getting some of the medical bills paid down, the cancered kidney removed, and (possibly) my damaged aorta stented back into place.

Maybe before much longer I can get back to living.