The Daily Gripe

I guess it's a sign that I'm getting old when I start my day by scoffing at the newspaper. Here are the latest things to push my buttons:

1. McCain's idea of the economy. I was happily working in the kitchen the other day, listening to an NPR interview, when it suddenly occurred to me that McCain was repeating the same thing over and over again with only the slightest variation in phrasing. His solution to our current predicament is to A) eliminate unnecessary earmarks and B) lower taxes. This is all fine and noble and good, but I desperately wanted to ask - So, we make our government run at maximum efficiency and we give the citizens more money in their pocket. Then what? The government still needs money to run, especially if McCain wants to keep this war going, and where does the money come from? Right now, we're borrowing heavily from China. Wouldn't it be a lesser evil to tax the snot out of ourselves rather than borrow from another country? And if everyone has more money in their pockets, they will most likely go out and spend it on cheap goods, ie ones coming from outside the country. So we end up borrowing more and increasing our trade deficit further. This is a solution?

Any time I hear McCain say "earmarks" I want to slap the TV/radio/newspaper. The two he frequently cites are the "Bridge to Nowhere" and the DNA study on grizzly bears, which he laughs at as being a paternity suit. The "Bridge to Nowhere," if I'm not mistaken, was a scuttled project to built a bridge between Ketchikan and its island airport. I've ridden the ferry to that island several times, and it's not so bad. A bridge is probably unnecessary, but certainly not unreasonable, especially after you've hauled luggage up and down the ramp to the ferry a few times. As for the DNA study, a bunch of scientists quickly jumped up and said, hey, the grizzly is nearly extinct in the Lower 48 and that study contributed a lot to conservation efforts. (It sounds very much like a study I might have worked on, had things gone differently.) So McCain is off base on both counts.

2. The border fence. Stupidest idea ever. The entire time I've heard people talking about it, I keep asking, "What about the wildlife?" It reminds me of a conference I went to in Belize on the Central American Wildlife Corridor (now called the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor), a cooperative effort between all the countries in Central America to preserve an unbroken strip of wild lands from north to south to allow for the traditional migration of wildlife. The meeting brought together people of all stripes, from researchers to farmers, to try to create this unbroken corridor, and the very act of trying was itself a great source of pride.

The first time I heard about a border fence, I thought about this corridor. Any fence big enough to stop people would stop...pretty much everything else. I've seen coverage about how the fence would affect ranchers (cut them off from their water supply) and towns (cut buildings off from the town), but nothing on wildlife.

Finally, finally yesterday in the paper there was an article on the wildlife. Thank you! And yes, it turns out that the fence would be so disastrous that it would endanger much of the wildlife, and in one instance probably cause the extinction of a rare sub-species of pronghorn. Many of the scientists who work in that area are promising that they will physically lay down in the path of the fence if they try to build it. President Bush, in all his great wisdom, has already granted environmental waivers to the agency building the fence (Homeland Security, or Border Patrol, or something, I forget.) But out of the goodness of their hearts, the agency has offered to pay Fish and Wildlife $800,000 to mitigate the damages.

So, will the F&W use that $800,000 to helicopter the pronghorn back and forth across the fence? Maybe they could use it to cryogenically freeze all the wildlife for a time when there aren't any more fences.

3. Ethanol, the biggest scam of our generation, and yes, I am getting momentum from the recent Time Magazine issue that pretty much said the same thing. But it's much worse than I thought. On the surface, ethanol is just barely more efficient than gasoline, but that's before you factor in the land, water, and fertilizer needed to produce it. On the fertilizer issue, the increased crops of corn in the Midwest have resulted in an increase in fertilizer being washed down the Mississippi, which in turn has caused a widening dead zone in the Gulf that is putting fishermen out of business. On the land issue, many US farmers are switching from soybeans to corn, which increases the soybean demand, which is being answered by South American (mainly Brazil), which has to clear out more rainforest to convert the land to farming. So by using ethanol, we are essentially killing the ocean and the rainforest. Green!

While we're all in a huff trying to fill our gas tanks, much of the world is struggling to fill their stomachs. One tank's worth of ethanol equals enough corn to feed one person for a year. I suppose if we were in dire straights, we could ask, "Do I want to eat for a year, or drive for 400 miles?" What yahoo thought that burning up food for fuel was a good idea to begin with?

Ah, you powerful corn lobby, scourge of dietitians and spawner of conspiracy theories everywhere! I'm referring to conversation I had once upon a time with an oil man I was sitting next to on the plane. We were in Ecuador; he was looking for new oil in the jungle. We started talking corn. He pointed out to me that you hardly ever see corn syrup on the label of foods outside the US. I already knew this. I had learned much earlier that Coke made in the US is sweetened with corn syrup, while in other countries it usually has sugar instead. (I've heard several Coke lovers exclaim, while drinking one abroad, "Hey, this is what it used to taste like!")

But then the oil man insisted that nearly every food in America uses corn syrup, and that I would be hard pressed to find one that didn't. He was right. Nine times out of ten...well, check the label. Is it cheaper? More readily available? Or is the corn lobby an evil entity spun wildly out of control with power? My oil man insisted the latter, and with confidence plainly stated that the reason so many Americans struggle with obesity is because of corn syrup, which is harder for the body to process.

I shrug off that sort of thinking. I'm not one for conspiracy theories anyway. I just don't think people are all that organized. But gradual misguidance, that is something I genuinely fear, and that seems to be where the ethanol debate is right now. Oregon, being a forward-thinking state, has put forth a renewable energy agenda which heavily includes ethanol. (They want to build refineries in the state, shipping in trucks of corn from the Midwest. Intelligent.) Oh...moan...ethanol... And now I can't go to the gas station without tapping into a blend, whether I like it or not.


Insert happy thought here.

Road Tripping - The Alaska Edition

Monster Library Student, you asked me to write about my plans to go to Alaska with TSOldtimer, so here it is. We're going to Alaska! Woo!

Is that sufficient?

No? Hmm.

In my mind, the fewer "plans" I have to write about, the better. The last time I planned out a detailed road trip was when I drove for ten days between Massachusetts and Colorado with my friend Jessica. I spent weeks in advance mapping our route, a wide horseshoe swing through the South, making reservations at the critical stops and checking every place beforehand to make sure things would be open for service at precisely the moment we wheeled up. I had each day figured out to the minute, roughly.

Things went well for day one and day two, but on day three the first little snowballs of the impending avalanche starting rolling down the hill, and by day six I found myself freaking out behind the steering wheel as darkness descended on Tuscaloosa, Alabama, looking for a campground that didn't exist, completely off schedule and approaching critical meltdown point.

Moral: Road trip + schedule works only for the very lucky, anal, or oblivious.

Since then I have taken two additional "meandering" type road trips, both with no particular agenda, and both have been fantastic. The first was a wide loop from Colorado to Oregon back to Colorado again, the one where I discovered en route that tizzy and GFGroupie were up in Seattle and thought, "Hey, it's only three hours out of my way, weeee!" and randomly drove there. The second was again going from Colorado to Oregon, but this time I took a dip through the Southwest with only two specific sites to see, leaving the rest of the trip to soak up the scenery and become One With the Road.

I come from a family of planners. My childhood family road trips were often supplemented by a map, supplied by my mom, which showed our route and highlights for each day. So I am predisposed - nay, infused- with the desire to chart and plot and plan. But I've since learned the value of being swept along on whim (or, equally good, on a plan that you didn't make yourself, as there is no sense of responsibility or obligation.) A rough skeleton idea is the best, as long as you have a bit of moxy.

I am convinced that you can just take a car and start driving anywhere in the lower 48, and with a lick of common sense you'll be fine. The furthest you can go without gas are the 100 mile stretches in Wyoming and Nevada, and even the Mojave Desert is a breeze with working AC. There's hardly a spot where you won't find a hotel or food or at least a cell phone signal, wilderness roads and winter extremes excluded.

But the drive north to Alaska is a little bit different. At least, it seems different to me, the novice, the rookie; it seems strange and adventures, slightly dangerous, like taking a ship that has sailed close to the shoreline and turning it out into the open sea. Every story I hear conflicts with another:

"Take extra gas!"
"Only amateurs take extra gas."

"This road is scenic and less-travelled, well worth it."
"People die and get robbed and murdered on this road."

"The road is well-maintained, just like normal roads in the Lower 48."
"Bring along extra tires, headlights, belts, and engines for when your car gets shaken apart into a million pieces."

There are a surprising number of people in my town who have made this trip before, which is nice to know. In the past two weeks, I have watched two families leave to do what TSO and I are about to do. Unfortunately, having real live people to glean advice from has only thrown more pieces into the murky stew of my expectations. I am under the impression that if once upon a time a traveller saw a broken down car on the side of the road, they will forever say, "That was a dangerous road!" and if they once passed through a herd of mountain sheep they will say, "This place was filled with wildlife!" as though the sheep are chained there on a regular basis and I should expect to see the same. The trip makes the tale.

The idea of driving north to Alaska was born out of a lunch I had last spring with a couple in my town. Both had lived up there, the wife in Anchorage and the husband...darn near everywhere else. She had family in Seattle, and so frequently made the trip back and forth, a hard three day drive that became as much of a boring commute as anything. (Three days on that road, mind, would be like going from Maine to Seattle in the same amount of time. No small feat.) The more she talked about the drive, the more I determined that I should one day go and do it.

Actually, it became, "I'll do it this summer!" But life happened, and I got distracted, and then there was the nagging problem of not having anyone to go with. Diving alone in the Lower 48, as I've said, is one thing, but there is something about crossing over the Canadian border that crosses the threshold of my comfort zone. (Scary Canadians.) "I'll do it someday!" I said, and maybe in the back of my mind I pictured myself with silver hair behind the wheel of a gigantic RV, following the Alaskan Tourist Bureau's motto "Come see Alaska before you die!"

But TSOldtimer came back from Spain and said, "Let's adventure!" and I immediately thought "Alaska!" And so fancy slipped into suggestion which has slowly been coagulating into actual factual plans, and I guess now us two rovers are going to end up in the Great White North, although I can still hardly believe it. I will be standing up there on the deck of a ship watching glaciers calf into the ocean while whales leap all around and say, "Are we really going to Alaska? Really?" Maybe it will sink in once I've seen a totem pole or two.

We were originally thinking about going, well, now - but thank goodness it didn't work out that way. My town, which never gets snow, got an inch of snow Sunday morning, and all of the Northwest has been hammered by an unusual cold front that has the orchard growers hauling out their frost fans. It's the weirdest weather ever, and it goes all the way up our route to Alaska, which is, at its warmest, still plunging into the 20's at night. (Spring? Hello? You out there?) So hopefully when we leave in a few weeks the weather will start behaving itself, and maybe - being optimistic here - this cold spell will have frozen out the first crop of these humongous Alaskan mosquitoes I hear so much about.

Mmmmm...Yay! Alaska! Anyone else want to come along for the ride?

Point of interest - I have been sipping a "Devil-may-care" cup of coffee the entire time I've been writing, which explains why I've been rambling on for pages and pages. But all you folks wanted me to blog, so... ha-ha! Take that, no editing!

The Big Bad "D"

Considering the big PA primary is tomorrow, this seems like an appropriate time to talk politics again. I was truly hoping that both parties would still be unresolved by the time Oregon got to vote, but I suppose it was too much to ask. The only remaining contender to McCain is Ron Paul, and though his devotees still hang from the freeway overpasses, doggedly waving signs and flags and chucking campaign stickers down at passing traffic in the hopes that something will stick, I'm afraid that he has descended down to the voting tier that includes John the Baptist, Yosemite Sam, and Bullwinkle.

I wish that Oregon had an open primary, because then I could register as an independent and be done with all this partisan hullabaloo. But regrettably, it does not. To make matters worse, now that McCain has the nomination, the Republican ballot is woefully boring, with no major contest and many unchallenged candidates. So I did what any red-blooded American hankering to make a difference would do. I went and re-registered as. . .

(dum dum dum)

I have to confess, I have always, always been a moderate. Not that I'm moderate on every issue, but I side with some of the things each party has to offer and think they're absolute doofuses on other things. Both of them. I've never really seen either one as being better or worse than the other. In fact, if it wasn't already being used by some funky AARP campaign, I would consider this to be my perfect political symbol.

But I come from a long line of Republican kin, so there was certainly a very real risk of being disowned by the family. Plus, I have to admit that I've grown comfortable with the Republican label. It's a bit hard to think that now I am officially a Democrat. But now I can also officially say that I don't hold much stock in either party, and am now proudly bipartisan. One America!

It's amazingly easy to jump parties in Oregon. You can do it again and again to your heart's delight, so long as you get your mind made up a few days before the ballots are mailed out. It is so easy, in fact, that some conservative radio hosts have been lately encouraging Republicans to switch over so that they can cast a vote for Hillary - i.e. sabotage the Democratic chance in November. This, to me, is a despicable mindset, a divisive and pointedly unpatriotic way to go about an election, and anyone who switches for this reason should be strung up by their hanging chads and forced to watch all 30-something presidential debates end to end, including pundit commentary. The very idea irks me so much that when I re-registered, I was sorely tempted to include a note that read, "I am not a saboteur! I am inspired!"

And now I have an interesting ballot in front of me. There are scores of contested races on the Democratic side, and since I've been paying attention only to the presidential race, I have to go do some homework to figure out how to vote for them. I really only switched ships for the sake of the Hillary/Obama contest, so I might just vote on that and nothing else...oh, but...grr, seems terrible to leave something blank on the ballot. I guess that's left over from college testing days when I had to fill in the little bubbles for the answers, and it was better to fill them all in on a guess than not at all. I suppose it doesn't work that way for democracy.

At least I have one figured out:

Which is not to say that I've made up my mind for November. All candidates get an equal evaluation past the primaries, says I. One election at a time.

How to Burn Time

Oh, wow people! I take a month off from blogging and suddenly everyone is up in arms! It's mighty nice that I've been missed, because to tell the truth I thought for sure I could slip out of the Blogosphere with nary a ripple. Such a relief it is, a warm and tingly feeling, to know that I have angry ranting friends to threaten... I meant, encourage me.

I think I've set my goals too high, because I was hoping that each and every thought I wrote would be well formed, complete, and meaningful, which means I've absolutely scared the crap out of myself as far as ever writing anything again. The thoughts have been forming - oh, they've been forming - but they never go past that embryonic "fishy-gill" stage. You know, like the photograph biologists put into textbooks to freak out middle school students, where they say that this little pink tadpole which might develop into a shark, or maybe an elephant, or maybe a human being, and the plain fact is that if you too, little Jimmy, had taken a wrong turn in the womb, you would have been birthed as a tunicate. But wait, I'm rambling. The point isn't so much that my potential blog posts haven't been developing, but that I've been so absolutely distracted that I seem to wander off and leave them as in a daze, the writer's ADD, never fully able to concen. . . look! A chicken!

Enough of that nonsense. Here are the things that a person can do instead of blogging:

1. Make ceviche. This is where you chemically cook raw fish by soaking it in lime juice. So far I have lasted six hours, and my ceviche hasn't killed me yet. One point of interest though - if they tell you to use papaya, use papaya. You would think a mango would fit the bill, as it is an orangey football shaped sort of mini-papaya, but alas, it does not.

2. Finally learn what all those terms you've been using at the coffee shop actually mean. No wonder I've never liked macchiato...!

3. Put gas in car. Change oil in car. Detail car. Put gas in car. Fix window on car. Fix transmission on car. Have long conversation with manufacturer about why the heck your car needs transmission fixed. Put gas in car. Change tires on car. Go back to the beginning and repeat (with variations) ad nauseum or until cash flow completely dries up. Check out library book about bike tuning.

4. Become a zomie sub-human parked in front of a television with no one for miles around who can say, "You're watching that?!" See how long it takes to no longer have a pulse.

5. Learn to fingerpick. After several days of fingerpicking, consider locating a guitar.

Okay, now I'm just being silly. Honestly, in the morrow I'll sit down and write something more coherent.

Legal terms: "Morrow" may refer to any point of time between April 21st 2008 and June 17th 2008. Offer not valid in Canada.