April 30, 2006

Powerhouse Road

There’s a new development on the road along the bluff, through Heritage Park to the powerhouse on Capital Lake. On March 13, The Olympian reported that Ben Livingston had received a $101 ticket for walking on the road. Nothing special about that day, except, perhaps, the State Patrol officer Livingston encountered – hundreds of citizens walk the road daily.

Since then, General Administration has been back-pedaling on the rule under which Livingston was ticketed. They added signs that indicated that pedestrians should yield to vehicles (duh) and should not actually go to the powerhouse. In addition, they added a crosswalk across the road to the hillside trail up to the Temple of Justice.

Yesterday, while walking along the lake trail, I noticed another enhancement in the campaign for clarity: a stripe, the length of the road, indicating a pedestrian zone on the pavement. Now, I think that the rule that reserved the road for vehicles was too much, but if that rule is still in place, then how is a pedestrian lane in the road itself consistent with it?

Since GA has now painted a pedestrian symbol on the road, I hope they let Livingston off the hook for being a pedestrian on the road.

April 28, 2006

Talk About Re-arranging the Deck Chairs!

So, investigators for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have drafted a report in which they recommend that FEMA be dismantled and replaced with another agency with a different name and the same responsibilities. That such a ridiculous and wasteful idea could be seriously proposed to a Senate committee is a measure of how low our expectations for government have fallen after years of assaults on the very idea of government and public service from conservative ideologues.

Paul Krugman has a good outline of the history of FEMA over the last decade and a half:
The Crony Fairy - New York Times: "In the early 1990's, FEMA's reputation was as bad as it is today. It was a dumping ground for political cronies, headed by a man whose only apparent qualification for the job was that he was a close friend of the first President Bush's chief of staff. FEMA's response to Hurricane Andrew in 1992 perfectly foreshadowed Katrina: the agency took three days to arrive on the scene, and when it did, it proved utterly incompetent.

Many people thought that FEMA was a lost cause. But Bill Clinton proved them wrong. He appointed qualified people to lead the agency and gave them leeway to hire other qualified people, and within a year FEMA's morale and performance had soared. For the rest of the Clinton years, FEMA was among the most highly regarded agencies in the federal government.

What happened to that reputation? The answer, of course, is that the second President Bush returned to his father's practices. Once again, FEMA became a dumping ground for cronies, and many of the good people who had come in during the Clinton years left. It took only a few years to transform one of the best agencies in the U.S. government into what Senator Susan Collins calls 'a shambles and beyond repair.'"
He's right. The current administration is interested in power, but not in the hard work of governing. Why not? Because they don't value government and don't believe that it delivers public benefit. While many people were disposed to believe the same thing before the Decider was elected, there are a lot more now who've become discouraged by the administration's consistent delivery of ineffective government. Katrina is only one obvious example.

The critical factor is support, from the administration, for effective government by appointing and supporting competent managers and staff. In the absence of that -- and we can be sure there will be an absence of that with the Decider in office -- there is no reason at all to spent the resources to dismantle one agency, only to replace it with another to do the same thing. We have had an effective FEMA in the past and could have one again, but there's no reason to believe that this administration will do it, so let's stop pretending.

April 26, 2006

Peter Matthiessen

We drove up to Seattle yesterday evening to hear Peter Matthiessen speak at Benaroya Hall. Both my wife and I have been readers of his work for years. For those not familiar with him, he writes beautiful, thoughtful stories and accounts of the natural world, as well as complex and engrossing fiction. I’ve read At Play in the Fields of the Lord, The Snow Leopard, and Tigers in the Snow. Hearing him talk about the process of writing made me want to read more.

He started with an impassioned appeal for support for continued protection of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge from oil exploitation. In it, he made an interesting point, one I’d not heard anyone make before: that this is the last place in the world with the full Pleistocene fauna (that which is still in existence) – all three North American bears, wolves, wolverines, caribou, musk ox, and birds, millions of birds from all over the world.

The core of his talk was about his career in writing. I found it interesting that a man who has written twice as many non-fiction works as fiction primarily thinks of himself as a fiction writer. He talked about some of the people he’d worked with – his first agent, his editor at the New Yorker – and some of the journeys he’d undertaken to research his stories. A good bit of the time he talked about his three volume novel about a Florida planter and murderer, Edgar Watson, and the process of researching the story over twenty years. It was interesting and entertaining evening. He came across as modest and thoughtful and funny.

He closed with a series of questions from the audience that brought the discussion around to the situation of humans on the planet, in which he described humans as a beautiful and terrible animal. That this life on this earth is a wonderful thing, but he didn’t consider himself optimistic, given our continuing destruction of each other and our shared home.

April 23, 2006

The Swallows Return

This sunny morning, as I retrieved the papers from the driveway, I noted with delight that the violet-green swallows have returned, right on schedule. I love their chattery little calls and their swooping, arcing flight (and the fact that they eat flying insects). Their return is the real start of spring for me.

When I lived on Foote St. (about a mile east of here), the first sunny day after the start of spring was usually the day they appeared in the sky above my front yard. Where I live now, a few blocks north of Grass Lake, west of Cooper Pt. Rd., it takes them another month to show. I’ve no doubt that they arrive much earlier over Grass Lake (though I haven’t investigated this hypothesis). So, here, it’s usually the first sunny day a month after the start of spring.

My wife reported that they have already been in and out of the swallow box on the south side of the house. I cleaned it out about a month ago, as suggested by Ruth Pagel on the TCTV’s Birdwise Magazine show. We’ve had nesting in that box every year for the past five or more, ever since I found that spot for it – shaded from the sun during the heat of the day and sheltered from the rain, but on the warmer, south-facing wall with a lot of flying room around it. I had nesting five years in a row at my Foote St. house, too.

April 22, 2006

Intercity Transit: The Brochure

The April edition the IT flyer (PDF here) contains a good history of the system and has some interesting information in graphs. Of the people within the service area, 11% ride the bus once a month or more and another 28% are considered “potential” riders, in that they would consider riding the bus. I suppose I would count myself among those, as I’m already among the reported 24% of commuters at “major worksites” who use an alternative “mode.” I walk the three miles to work and back about every other day and drive alone the rest. I could use the bus for some of those driving days.

When I lived in the north end of Seattle and worked on First Hill and downtown, I rode the bus every day. It worked great, as I was able to read on the way in and nap on the way home, usually waking up before my stop. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to use IT’s system to such an extent. I learned on my first day of work for the state that I could walk to work from the near west side to the campus in less time than the bus would take. The service has improved a great deal in the intervening years, but I still don’t use the bus much. I did use the old shuttle from the courthouse hill to downtown to take lunch during Lakefair or for meetings on the campus, but that’s about it.

So, I visited IT’s route page to see what it would take to use the bus. For both directions, buses run every thirty minutes. I could catch the 48 after 7:19 and be at the mall at 7:28. Route 44 leaves the mall at 7:28 (one hopes that means a reliable connection and not a just-missed-it event) and arrives at the courthouse at 7:45. That would get me to work in about 25 minutes. Walking takes 45 - 50 and driving takes 10 - 15. Not terrible. A trip home after work would start after 5:07, make a transfer at the mall at 5:28 and drop me near my home before 5:35 for a trip of less than 30 minutes during a busy traffic time. Again, not bad, and only a $1.50.

(Cross-posted at OlyBlog.)

April 20, 2006

Off the Table

Our president has made a point of boasting about keeping the nuclear option on the table in the trumped up dispute with Iran over their nuclear program. This is nothing but a signal of weakness and most of the world knows it. Unfortunately, the administration doesn't know it.

The use of nuclear weapons in this instance would be a disaster to make the other disasters created or worsened by this administration look like a picnic. Even the threat is counter-productive. Captain Future has a good explanation of this:
Daily Kos: Not Even As A Bluff: Asked by a reporter on Tuesday if he would take the nuclear option off the table in what action he might take against Iran, President Bush said he would not. Within hours, the price of oil shot up to more than $72 a barrel, as a direct result of such threats.
Bush's refusal to take nuclear attack 'off the table' is received in different ways. But absolutely none of them has a positive outcome.
This brief diary suggest why the so-called nuclear option is a very bad idea, even as a tactic. And why we must insist it be taken off the table now." [There's more...]
So, if this bothers you, too, I urge you to contact our representatives and urge them to urge our benighted leaders to come to their senses. Not that this will happen, but it's time for the responsible citizenry to speak up and demand that this reckless and pointless posturing be stopped. Take the nuclear option off the table!

April 19, 2006


When I started this, I resolved to do as little writing about blogging as possible. I could go on and on about how this might work, or should work, or could, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do here. And, yet, here I am, dissatisfied with what I’ve been able to do: only about an entry a week.

In the first place, I do this at a time of very low energy for me. I can’t say I have a very hard job, but it takes a good part of my creative energy. Most evenings, I don’t feel that I have the push to finish a useful post.

Second, it turns out to be harder to do this in what feels like an empty space. In my other writing, at work, it always feels like I’ve an audience, even when I don’t get any response. I know the people I’m sending whatever it is to. It keeps me on my toes.

Finally, this is just plain harder to do than I thought, going in. It doesn’t help when I read something smoother, funnier, more eloquent, or better informed than I can muster. Thinking it through in preparation, I always imagine the results as so much more effective and interesting than I find when I write them out.

April 15, 2006


I just finished Afterlands, a wonderful novel by Steven Heighton, a poet and novelist. It’s a beautifully-written account of a disastrous expedition to the Arctic and the aftermath of those struggles in the lives of three of the participants. It weaves an incredible and true story of survival, adrift on a chunk of ice through an Arctic winter, into a brilliant imagining of those events and what they created for the survivors. The author tells the events while pulling them through a mesh of conflicts between cultures, languages, nationalisms, class, and more personal commitments.

The first half of the book is the story of the group of nineteen, a mix of whites and Inuit, left adrift on an ice flow in Baffin Bay, while their ship leaves them, never to return. For the next six months, they survive on a slowly shrinking flow of ice, through the Arctic winter, while a slow madness overtakes the entire party. Tyson, the ranking officer of the group, struggles with his doubts and weakness while the party spins apart, rising to the challenge only at the end of the drift, when the flow becomes uninhabitable as it falls apart. Tukulito, the Inuit interpreter, finds her careful separation of her “native” and “white” identities coming apart as starvation and madness pull at the party. And Kruger, one of the several German immigrant seamen on this American expedition, is marooned once again, within the group, as it splits along national and racial lines.

The second half follows mostly the story of Kruger, as he heads south into Mexico, hoping to escape the notoriety that follows the publication of Tyson’s book, in which he is branded a spy and a thief. And, he’s also trying to escape the rationalizations that people use to allow themselves to kill and oppress others. Tukulito finishes her trajectory early, succumbing to tuberculosis a few years after returning, while her husband was away on another Arctic expedition. Tyson finds that acclaim is a poor salve for self-doubt and returns to the Arctic, as well, hoping for a less compromised result.

April 5, 2006

Bullion Basin

I went skiing in Bullion Basin, next to Crystal Mountain on Sunday. It was the most back-country that I’ve skied and I found myself at the limit of my abilities and my equipment. The weather was fine, cloudy-foggy, but not windy or snowy. There was a lot of snow and the route-finding was not too bad, considering I hadn’t been there before.

In fact, it’s been decades since I’d been to Crystal. It is a lot fancier than I remember, but not fancy enough to entice me to stick around for long. I strapped on the sticks and started climbing up the far left-hand side of the little chair at the northeast edge of the groomed area. A combination of road and trail took me to the creek in Bullion Basin and a steep climb gained the open slopes above the creek gulley. It was that climb that began the realization that I was in, not over my head, but near enough that I had to look out.

I tried to follow the tracks of some others who joined me on the trail part way up (climbing up from one of the lower parking lots), but I couldn’t climb steeply enough. My fish-scaled, back-country skis just couldn’t point high enough. (Time to shop for some skins, I’m afraid.) So, for every hundred yards of their trail, I walked a couple hundred. Still, I plugged away and, after a couple of hours, reached the basin at about 5600’.

By that time, I was in a groove, so I followed the tracks (the only tracks through the flat basin) toward the south and up the slope. This one was even steeper and the snow was deeper (about 18” of soft, with no discernable base), so the going was slower. After an hour, I came into the bottom of another open slope, at about 6100’, where the terrain gentled some, and by which time I was beat.

I stamped out a platform, pulled on another layer or three, and sat down to lunch. It was then I finally took a look at the map and realized that I’d missed the route to the ridge top (and the continuation toward Norse Peak to the north) when I’d followed the track south across the basin below. Either the others going to the ridge stayed above the basin, to the north of my route (which is likely) or everyone else just went the same way I did (just a lot more directly). Oh, well, it was a good day in the snow, all the same.

The trip down was much quicker, of course, but it still had its lessons for me. The snow was too deep for me to turn much through it, even up high where it was light. In the lower half, it started to get heavy, making controlled turning even more difficult with free heels. I side-slipped down the creek gulley, ran down the upper trails (which hadn’t seen snow machines, fell once and bent my new pole, and slowly worked my way down the lower road, with its wet snow all churned up by a snow cat.

As much as I like being out and moving about in the mountains in the winter, I’d had just about as much as I could handle that day. I’d call that almost perfect.