Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 7-17-05
Jeff Gill

Minnesota is next to have a state quarter in circulation; some on-line acquaintances link me to heated debate over the look and symbolism of the design, prominently featuring a loon on a lake and (some would say redundantly) a person in a motorboat with a fishing rod.

The whole state quarter scam -- the Mint gets to print money, create some modest variations to get you not to spend it, thereby making a great profit margin -- is at least a good example for consumers in demonstrating the fine distinctions that separate good design from bad art.

Dig a bunch of quarters out of your pocket or purse and give ‘em a look. Some are immediately attractive, some require you to look close and squint, and others just look like cheap tourism promos stamped on slugs suitable for a cheesy arcade.

This is where design is both an art and a science. Everyone knew they were creating a picture for the back of a quarter. If they were unclear, they could pull one out and check the size, shape, and general context.

The state of my birth, Illinois, has an attractive collage of Lincolnesque images and a theme tying civic boosterism to their history (21st state for the 21st century), all working nicely together. But without magnification and a strong north light, you see . . . not much. Louisiana takes a jeweler’s loupe as well.

California does something very comparable to Illinois (historic person, view of well known location), but keeps it pared down so the picture makes sense to the eye and mind even laying on the counter. It doesn’t do everything that the Golden State could jam in there, because someone realized "it’s a quarter."

Others have even more of the stench of design by committee. South Carolina should have put whoever designed their long-popular license plate on the job. But instead they wedged a palm tree and an outline and words and . . . almost as messy as Florida’s soup pot of a quarter.

Rhode Island, perhaps in a tribute to native son H.P. Lovecraft’s oeuvre, gives us a simple shot with two icons, the Newport bridge and a sailboat, but arranged in an ominous pose that more resembles the cover of a murder mystery. Lovecraft would also have liked Arkansas’ hovering giant diamond over what looks to me like Cthulu’s swamp; likewise Vermont may be thinking maple sap collector, but I’m seeing"Twin Peaks" under those angular tree trunks. Maine hints of doom as well . . .

Connecticut gives us a very nicely framed Charter Oak, a tree no longer standing, and New Hampshire has"The Old Man of the Mountain" who crumbled off the cliff face he had occupied for eons. I like Kentucky’s shot at an actual scene, just south of Bardstown with a thoroughbred and Foster’s"Old Kentucky Home."

The usual look is to combine a state outline with a stereotyped image associated with the area, like Massachusetts and the Minute Man, Indiana and the Indy Car, Georgia and the Giant Peach, and Texas with the Lone Star. Michigan decided it was too much work to come up with any icon, and gave us just the outline, with sketched in lakes all around.

Yikes. Were these design teams, or committees, or campaign donors, or whoever, thinking they were creating teaching aids for third graders? (I apologize in advance for any offense to bright third graders I may have given.) I don’t want the quarter to tell me how New York is shaped; I want to see what Virginia wants me to know that I didn’t before, and their colonial ships did that for me. North Carolina is elegantly simple: the Bishop’s boys and their motor kite at Kitty Hawk. Iowa is so Iowan, with an unadorned simple schoolhouse picking up on Grant Wood’s art without using the standard pitchforked duo.

Missouri has a nice idea, but someone needs to tell their engraver about foreshortening.

How do I like Ohio’s quarter? If you’ve read this far, you know my answer already. Maybe in another hundred years they’ll give us a second chance. On the good side, they won’t be putting Bob Taft on it.

Hope, maybe.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he usually has too much change in his pocket. Send your thoughts of change to

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Notes From My Knapsack 7-10-05
Jeff Gill

You don’t have to know Joey Parrish to feel absolutely devastated for his family, friends, fellow 4-H’ers, and anyone who had been in farming with him and his family.
16 is the age of an experienced farmer in a farm family, and from hearing him do safety presentations at 4-H meetings and knowing a bit about his folks and co-workers, I believe that he was as careful as any 61 year old would have been in that situation.
What so many of us don’t realize, even in a still fairly rural county, is that agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations there are, even today with safety techniques and training having been honed over decades of hard experience.
I grew up around farmers who matter-of-factly accepted that augers, balers, and harvesters would take a toll of fingers, hands, and the stray eye; if you were alive, you were thankful, knowing that teams of horses, later on the use of power equipment, and always the scope and scale of silos, feed bins, and haymows could threaten both life and limb.
Any life lost, whether in Iraq or in the fields of Licking County, at an advanced age or as cruelly young as Joseph Parrish, is a tragedy, pure and simple. But this young man not only died doing what he loved, but he died for us. If you ate or used a manufactured product today, you needed a farmer to do their job, soybeans or corn or most any crop. We expect that there will be those who will plant the seeds and bring the harvest and take the incredible risks getting from one to the other requires, and in that sense Joey died for you.
So be thankful, and know that the lessons of caution and care are already being taken from this sad event among farmers young and old . . . but that there is no way to make farming hundreds of acres anywhere and thousands of bushels of anything a walk in the park. So be thankful.

In the more everyday surroundings of summer movies, the Midland Theater is doing an interesting thing, challenging local residents to take a look at some noted movies and the well crafted books that stand behind them.
I’m not interested in the "which is better" debate, which can be a bit of a non sequitur. Books is books, and movies are a whole ‘nother thing.
Coming into this late, I’ll note that this weekend is "The Maltese Falcon" which was a Dash Hammett novel before it was a Bogart movie. Can I note an entirely different book to pique your interest in the show: "Black Dahlia Avenger" by Steve Hodel. This is possibly the most absorbing true crime story of the last few decades, and has a creepy assortment of real world connections to the "Black Bird" of John Huston fame.
As for "Sideways" coming up later this month, may I gently note that this cinematic tale, reviewed as a bittersweet and comedic story about relationships, is a very adult movie. I mean, adult, as in adult movie. Don’t be surprised by a couple of near-pornographic scenes in an otherwise winsome story as were a few friends of mine.
Rex Pickett wrote a very well-plotted book which inspired Alexander Payne to make the movie, but the changes in getting the story to the screen are both less and more than you think. A major character in the book is absent from the screenplay (not uncommon), and a motivation for one primary character is also removed, which adds something to the flow on the page, but was probably (on further reflection) an unnecessary complication to the already complex film story.
But I’d love to hear from anyone who has read and seen "Sideways" who thinks Payne wimped out by removing the thousand reasons to look differently at one development, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; send your tales to


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