Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Great Fenton Flood of 2008

Last week, we visited my brother and his family in Fenton, Missouri, which lies to the southwest of St. Louis. You may have seen stories in the news about the flooding in the St. Louis area; Fenton was one of the hard hit places.

As we drove in on Thursday evening, we knew something was wrong when it took us nearly two hours to travel the last 8 miles to my brother's house because so many roads were flooded out or reduced to one lane. When we passed one normally expansive and green park that was home to several now-submerged baseball fields, water had made it about halfway up the full-size chain-link backstops. When we drove by the next day, about two inches of metal backstop was all that now peaked out over the gray water surface; the level had risen another six or eight feet in less than 24 hours...

One of the things that impressed me was the utter patience of the water as it rose. This was not a fire and brimstone type of disaster with explosions, or a dramatic crash, but rather a slow and inexorable rise that was almost peaceful and calming as you stood near it. Yes, when you made it to the heart of the river, rather than the massive spill over areas, the water could be moving pretty darn fast, but all in all, the flood took its own time and moved at its own pace, as it pleased, and there wasn't much you could do about it but sandbag a little, drink a beer with your neighbors and watch, just stand around and watch, which is what tons of people were doing...

Here are a bunch of photos I took of the craziness (click any photo to enlarge):

Uhhhh... that road used to continue on through what, in this photo, is all water. The river usually starts way out there in the distance, just beyond that thicket straight out from where the sidewalk ends...

Whole streets were completely flooded...

You can see the difference a day made in the below photos; note the water line on the buildings is higher in the third photo, which was taken the day after the first two shots:

You can see the point of the pavilion across the water there... in what is usually a PARK!

As with most disasters, the community pulled together to help out those most threatened by the rising water:

But, you can see in these photos, that by the very next day the water had risen so high it engulfed the area where the people were sandbagging in the previous photos. Yet, the reports we heard said that the sandbag wall held and the few little buildings there were spared the worst of the flood!

In the next three shots, you can really see how far the water had risen in one day. The first two are taken on Friday, the third on Saturday...

This neighborhood, which was up against a park, NOT the river, was threatened, as well...

Normally, we'd be looking out at a golf course, or an open park, or something. The river's edge doesn't usually start until way in the distance...

This poor little stretch of houses along the bank at Old Fenton really took on a lot of water...

This one is a self-portrait of me and my brother...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Alice Walker: "Lest We Forget: An open letter to my sisters who are brave."

Author Alice Walker has written a worthwhile essay over at The Root about her support for Barack Obama.

Here is the heart of the matter for Walker,
I am a supporter of Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time. He offers a rare opportunity for the country and the world to start over, and to do better. It is a deep sadness to me that many of my feminist white women friends cannot see him. Cannot see what he carries in his being. Cannot hear the fresh choices toward Movement he offers. That they can believe that millions of Americans –black, white, yellow, red and brown - choose Obama over Clinton only because he is a man, and black, feels tragic to me.

When I have supported white people, men and women, it was because I thought them the best possible people to do whatever the job required. Nothing else would have occurred to me. If Obama were in any sense mediocre, he would be forgotten by now. He is, in fact, a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves.

On Hillary Clinton,
It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as "a woman" while Barack Obama is always referred to as "a black man." One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact. How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance.

I can easily imagine Obama sitting down and talking, person to person, with any leader, woman, man, child or common person, in the world, with no baggage of past servitude or race supremacy to mar their talks. I cannot see the same scenario with Mrs. Clinton who would drag into Twenty-First Century American leadership the same image of white privilege and distance from the reality of others' lives that has so marred our country's contacts with the rest of the world.

On a woman president,
And yes, I would adore having a woman president of the United States. My choice would be Representative Barbara Lee, who alone voted in Congress five years ago not to make war on Iraq. That to me is leadership, morality, and courage; if she had been white I would have cheered just as hard.

Obama "Cultists" in Nebraska "Drank the Kool-Aid"?

Not too long ago, our state went 2-1 for Obama over Hillary in our first-ever Democratic caucus. Shortly thereafter, bitter Hillary Clinton surrogates began to claim that people like us must have "drank the Kool-Aid" because we were like "Obama cultists" in our enthusiastic support of the junior senator from Illinois. How could we dumb hayseeds possibly resist the inevitable pull of 35 years of experience and entitlement!!!???!! At first I was angry about what sounded to me like arrogance and condescension emanating from the Clinton camp, but then I got to thinking that Hillary and her crew might, in fact, be on to something, at least in Nebraska...

That's right, you may not realize this important cultural fact, but Kool-Aid was invented in Hastings, Nebraska, and is our state's official soft drink! Yes, Kool-Aid is a Nebraska creation... so it is entirely plausible that a whole slew of Obama supporters out here just might have actually drank Kool-Aid before caucusing.

Over at the Hastings Museum, they have this to say about our favorite drink (I've added some classic video spots for your viewing pleasure, as well):

Remember that TV ad? Well, Kool-Aid® got its start right here in Hastings, Nebraska. This internationally known soft-drink mix, now owned by Kraft Foods, actually started out as a liquid concentrate called Fruit Smack.

1950s Kool-Aid ad:

Edwin Perkins was always fascinated by chemistry and enjoyed inventing things. When his family moved to southwest Nebraska at the turn of the century, young Perkins experimented with home-made concoctions in his mother's kitchen. Edwin's father opened up a General Store in Hendley, Nebraska. It was in the store that Edwin became entranced with a new dessert mix introduced by a childhood friend (and future wife) Kitty Shoemaker. The powdered dessert came in six delicious flavors and was called Jell-O®. Edwin convinced his father to carry the dessert line in his store. It was at this same time Edwin sent away for a kit called "How to Become a Manufacturer." During the following years, Perkins graduated from high school, published a weekly newspaper, did job printing, served as postmaster and set up a mail order business called "Perkins Products Co" to market the numerous products he had invented.

Make Friends with Kool-Aid! (w/ Bugs Bunny - 1967)

In 1918, Perkins married his childhood sweetheart, Kitty, and developed a remedy to kick the tobacco habit called "Nix-O-Tine." By 1920, the demand for this and other products was so great, Perkins and his wife moved to Hastings, which had better rail service for shipping purposes. Another product that was proving to be popular was a concentrated drink mix called Fruit Smack. Fruit Smack, like Jell-O®, came in six delicious flavors. The four-ounce bottle made enough for a family to enjoy at an affordable price. However, shipping the bottles proved to be costly and breakage was becoming a problem as well. In 1927, Perkins developed a method of removing the liquid from Fruit Smack so the remaining powder could be re-packaged in envelopes (which Perkins designed and printed) under a new name to be called Kool-Ade. (He later changed the spelling to Kool-Aid.)

Classic Kool-Aid ad (1970s)

The product, which sold for 10¢ a packet, was first sold to wholesale grocery, candy and other suitable markets by mail order in six flavors; strawberry, cherry, lemon-lime, grape, orange and raspberry. In 1929, Kool-Aid® was distributed nation-wide to grocery stores by food brokers. It was a family project to package and ship the popular soft drink mix around the country.

By 1931, the demand for Kool-Aid® was so strong, other items were dropped so Perkins could concentrate solely on Kool-Aid®. He moved the entire production to Chicago for more efficient distribution, to be closer to supplies and to be able to expand even further if necessary.

During the Great Depression, Perkins cut the price in half to just 5¢ a packet, a "luxury" most families could afford. Young entrepreneurs sprung up across the country setting up Kool-Aid® stands. While most of the profits were consumed by the youngsters, it was something most children enjoyed. Perkins introduced off-shoots of Kool-Aid® including pie fillings and ice cream mixes. These products never really took off with the public. During World War II, fruit acid and dextrose rationing prevented any expansion. After the war, the demand for Kool-Aid® was so great that Perkins had to expand the factory and by 1950, 300 production workers produced nearly a million packets of Kool-Aid® each day.

Dane Cook on "Not So Kool-Aid"

In 1953, Perkins announced to his staff that he was selling Kool-Aid® to General Foods. Within a year, the popular Smiling Face Pitcher was introduced in print advertisements. Root Beer and Lemonade flavors were added to the original six flavors in 1955 and pre-sweetened Kool-Aid® was developed in 1964 and redeveloped in 1970. Kraft Foods acquired General Foods and became the new owners of Kool-Aid®. They refined the Kool-Aid® pitcher into Kool-Aid® Man and introduced new Kool-Pumps and Kool Bursts to the market. Kool-Aid® continues to be a popular product with roots in Hastings. It is the official soft drink of Nebraska.

Edwin and Kitty Perkins never forgot their Nebraska ties and returned home often. The Perkins Foundation has been instrumental in many projects in and around Hastings including gifts to Hastings College, Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital, Good Samaritan Retirement Village and the Hastings Museum and Lied Super Screen Theatre. Edwin passed away in 1961 and Kitty followed 16 years later. Both are buried in Hastings.

Jim Jones and the People's Temple, the Most Infamous Kool-Aid Lovers Ever:

The Hastings Museum houses an impressive Kool-Aid® collection as part of the Kool-Aid: Discover the Dream exhibit, including the original Kool-Aid® Man costume worn in the television commercials. Hastings College has another collection on display in the Perkins Library on campus.

And, if you are looking for something to do in August, you might consider a trip to Kool-Aid Days!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mike Gravel: "Power to the People/Give Peace a Chance"

Mike Gravel, the strangest person running for president in either of the major political parties, has apparently joined the Libertarian Party and might run over there. Well, Mike, good for you. Rock on, buddy! In your honor, here you are at your very best during this election...

Sing it with me: "Why won't you let me say what I want to say: Power to the people! Give peace a chance!"

The Tide Is Turning...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Graffiti Art Along the St. Louis Flood Wall

Along the Mississippi River in St. Louis, not too far from Busch Stadium and the Arch, there runs a tall concrete flood wall. On the outside of this massive grey boundary is a ceaseless flow of graffiti. As a form of public art, I really dig it.

Here are some of the photos I took (click on any image to enlarge)...

These few came off a couple of buildings around the corner from the flood wall... (click any image to enlarge)