Vacationing on the Columbia River

Of all the beautiful natural features in Cascadia, one of the largest and most important is the Columbia River.  In this era of recession and the desire to vacation closer to home, we have one great natural wonder right here in our backyard.  It is well worth a visit.

The Columbia River is one of those places that is hard to describe, simply because the nature of it’s beauty is different depending upon where on it’s length you go.  A visit to just about any location along it’s 1,243 mile length is well worth the trip.  A trip along it’s entire length would be a great vacation by anyone’s standards, and would be an education in the history, geology, and ecology of Cascadia as a whole.

Over the years, I have seen most of it, at least up to a couple of km into BC. (And want to do the northern end sometime before I die.) The end by Astoria is it’s own marine type of environment, slowly blending from the ocean to more of what a person would consider being a river. From the mouth of the river to Astoria is an amazing area in itself, where one could spend a week exploring the unique area.

The Lower Columbia (to, say, Portland) is certainly quite impressive and different, but there are better things to come as you travel upriver.  Yet, there is an abundance of rich history here, in this relatively untouched land.  Yes, there is a lot of development, yet there is also quite a bit of natural area to be found.

The Columbia River Gorge is amazing for it’s views, with the river passing through the Cascade Mountains to either side. There are quite a few geological wonders, rock formations, waterfalls that come from seemingly nowhere. It is also an area where looking up a bit of the history of the area ahead of time (or lingering over the historical markers) will add a lot to the experience. Start by looking up Lewis & Clark and The Oregon Trail. Also, from West to East, the geology stays very similar, but the forest then the trees tend to go away.  The transition from the forested side of the Cascade Range to the sparsely-covered side of the mountains can be seen from the car windows within a few miles.  On the Eastern side of the mountains, the trees have mostly disappeared, but the land formations are better seen and enjoyed.

Around where the river bends to the North near Umatilla, the vastness of the river and the vastness of the land around it become apparent. The river irrigates the empty land around here, turning it into farmland.  It is obvious to see where we have tamed this formerly unproductive land.

Farther North, you come to the Grand Coulees, eventually to the dam by the same name, but first to the starkness of the cut through the land that the river has made through the centuries. It was originally formed through the cataclysmic Missoula Floods some 10 to 15 thousand years ago, another good thing to look up ahead of a vacation to enhance the experience.

Above Grand Coulee Dam is Lake Roosevelt. The wide and (relatively) shallow lake behind the dam is an oasis in an otherwise arid climate. My own experience there is with taking a boat out on the lake from one or another of the “resorts” along it’s length. Near the resorts, there is a bustle of activity with campers and boaters and swimmers. Taking a boat out and running a few miles up or down left me with the feeling of being truly in the middle of nowhere, with river and land to watch as far as the eye can see. The lack of human activity highlighted the sounds of water and wind and wildlife that one might not have noticed if you were just driving by.

Up in the Northern end of Washington, the trees return, but with a different experience than further down the river. The climate is different, the tree species are different, it’s a bit steeper in places. It’s also much less developed, which was a selling point for me.

The trip is well worth the effort. Knowing the history of the river really enhances the experience. And don’t try to do it all too fast. It is possible to drive the length in a day or two, but you would miss the point of going there.

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How Big is the BP Oil Spill?

Looking around the Internet, I found this interesting map that brings the Gulf of Mexico oil spill into something we can grasp. The site is updated daily from a variety of sources, but will show the outline of the affected area in the Gulf. If you go this site, you can enter the place where you live and see how big the spill is in comparison to your neighborhood.

This is certainly a major spill going on here. I wouldn’t object too much to oil exploration, if there were a way to do it safely and without considerable environmental damage. This incident has proven that, at least for now, we do not have the necessary safeguards in place to avert disaster. So, for now, I will object to any drilling of oil off of our coasts, whether they be the Pacific Coast off of Cascadia, The Arctic Coast, or anywhere else. However, I am a reasonable person. If the necessary safety measures can be put in place, then we can drill for the oil we seem to need until better sources of energy are available.

In the meantime, here’s to hoping that inkblot on the map doesn’t get any bigger.
If It Was My Home .com

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Be Honest

Currently, the US House and Senate are considering bills that include provisions that would repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay military members.  This is the misguided law that, in a military that otherwise demands absolute honesty from its troops, requires those same troops to lie about their sexual orientation if asked.  In a society that prides itself on the equality of all of it’s citizens, that states in it’s Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal”, we have a system in place that seems to make a significant percentage of our population less equal than the others.  It is time that we put a stop to this foolishness.

An estimated 10 to 15 percent of our population is homosexual.  It would be expected that a similar percentage of the members of our military is homosexual.  This is going to be the case, whether or not those individuals actually declare their sexual preference in public.  Despite the claims of some of those who wish to see discrimination continue, hiding the matter will not change it.  Besides, the homosexuality itself is really not the matter, is it?

A few of our military leaders claim that “unit cohesion” will suffer if it were known that homosexual people were among the members of the military.  The fact is, they are already there.  They have simply been ordered not to “come out of the closet.”  These people do exist.

Some leaders claim that homosexuals would sexually molest their comrades or partake in inappropriate displays of affection.  In fact, it seems quite unlikely that gay service members would do this with any greater frequency than would heterosexual service members.  While such cases are not rampant, it is certainly not unheard of for a heterosexual service member to sexually molest a colleague, or rape a local resident after an off-base drunken night on the town, or to partake in inappropriate displays of affection themselves.  I have yet to see any evidence where a gay person would do so any more frequently than a straight person.

No, this is all about hiding blatant discrimination.  There will be no problem with gay servicemen serving with their straight counterparts, since they do already.  They would simply be able to do so without being required to lie about it.  Until 1948, servicemen were segregated by race in their units.  At that time, there was pressure from a few military leaders that if the services were integrated, it would cause a loss of “unit cohesion.”  Today, the US Military is a better force with all of it’s members working together.

The issue here is not so much about discrimination.  Americans have been successfully able to serve in the US Armed Forces regardless of their race, gender, or religion.  Certainly, we can allow all to serve regardless of their sexual preference.  No, the issue here is that the military requires some of it’s members to lie about themselves.  However, if they are caught telling that lie, they will be discharged for lying.  This is no way to run a military.

We do not need to take more time to study this issue.  The time to end this policy is now.  If not now, then when?  We will have the courage to do the right thing.  We were wrong for a while, just as we were wrong to segregate people by race.  We can get over it.  We just need to have the courage to make the change.

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Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the US, a day that commemorates those who died in military service of our country.  The occasion gives us an opportunity to reflect on the bravery of those who have put their lives on the line in the solemn task of keeping the people of our nation safe from harm. I thank those who have made this sacrifice for our country throughout history.

As we look around today, there are numerous remembrances, both public and private, going on around us.  Whether the commemoration is at the local veterans’ cemetery to remember all of those who served in long-past wars, or whether it is a family gathering to honor a recently-departed loved one, all of those who have died in service deserve our thanks.

This honor should go to our military men and women, whether or not the conflict was “politically correct” at the time.  These people did their duty for our country without questioning the politics of the situation.  We called, and they came.  Then they died.

In most of the past conflicts that our country has been involved in, there has usually been a clear threat to our country.  When the threat had passed, we took steps to withdraw and let our service members get back to a normal life.  In the Revolution, they stood up for us until the threat was over, then we stood them down.  In the World Wars, they came forward to help when there was a clear threat to ourselves and our neighbors.  When the threat was over, we brought them home.

We are currently fighting in two overseas wars.  In one case, in Afghanistan, we are told that we are fighting to keep an enemy from reaching our shores, though I think most Americans would be hard pressed to tell you just how that might happen.  In another case, in Iraq, it has been pretty much shown that we were enticed there on false pretexts, and that our continued involvement there will result in little further gain or protection for the people of our country or for others.  In fact, the military of most other countries have already seen the folly of the situation and have left.

In prior wars that our country has fought, when the job was done, we brought them home to get them out of the path of danger.  If we truly want to honor the brave souls that are fighting for us and who have given our lives for us, we should bring them home and get them out of harm’s way.  Unless our government is not telling us something, our job is done in Iraq.  The highest honor we could give our soldiers would be to bring them home now, so that we don’t have to be mourning their deaths in the future.

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Dino Rossi Challenging Senator Murray in Washington

By now, it has been plastered all over the media that perennial candidate Dino Rossi (“prefers GOP”) will be running for the US Senate to put some pressure on three-term incumbent senator Patty Murray.  Yes, he will need to get past other candidates in the primary election.  However, with his name recognition in two unsuccessful runs for governor against Democrat Chris Gregoire, he should really have no problem winning.

We wonder here about Rossi’s motivation for running for the US Senate.  While it appears that he could provide a formidable challenge, it also appears that in Washington State today, it is unlikely that there is enough groundswell against Senator Murray to see that many people voting against her. Senator Murray has served the citizens of Washington admirably for 18 years, and there are no impediments to her continuing to serve well.

However, there is a perceived nationwide trend toward some people thinking the Republicans have a chance to rebound in the November elections.  Despite the fact that the Democratic Party has done a lot of good work toward improving the economy, toward providing affordable healthcare for all, and a number of other matters; some uninformed people will try to blame all of the country’s ills on the Obama Administration.  This, despite the continuing efforts of the Republicans to impede the government, whether or not it makes sense for Americans.

Rossi is clearly not the best candidate for the people of Washington.  Rossi is clearly not even the best Republican for the people of Washington.  However, Rossi the opportunist is looking to take advantage of the possibility that he could be elected simply because he is a Republican.   I suppose I can’t really hold that against the man.  Being a US Senator would be a big prize.  But I would be more tempted to elect the candidate who is willing to work for us.

One motivation that Rossi has to run is not the “Rossi wants to win” angle, but the desire to make reelection difficult for Senator Murray.  Actually, I believe that it is healthy to have an exchange of views during an election.  This, however, presumes that Dino Rossi will actually present some views during the election.

Here is what I will be looking for in this Senate race.  I will look for Patty Murray to present some ideas for what she can accomplish if reelected.  If we are going to have a real debate of the issues, I would expect Rossi to rebut Senator Murray’s ideas, and also to present some ideas of his own for how to govern.  Sadly, I don’t actually expect Rossi to do any of that.

I expect that Dino Rossi will serve up one version after another of “Bad Murray” in the same way that Republicans around the nation have been crying “Bad Obama” without really explaining adequately just what he might be doing wrong.  The Republicans have been lowered to trying to falsely repeat over and over how bad their opponents are, simply hoping that by repeating the mantra enough times, that it will somehow make that true.  This, while at the same time being the major impediment to the Democrats getting things done.

I will be watching Dino Rossi closely.  I will be watching for any sign that he has an original idea for how he will help Americans in general and Washingtonians in particular.  Sadly, my guess is that he will not do this.  He will not have any reasonable ideas.  He will try for an opportunity to slip by and win an election.  He will not bother trying to make America a better place for us to live.

I challenge Dino Rossi to prove me wrong.  I will not be holding my breath waiting.

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Oregon Election Day Alert

Tuesday, May 18 is Primary Election Day in Oregon. However, you will probably want to act ahead of time to make sure your vote counts.

In Oregon, your Vote-By-Mail ballot must be returned to your County Elections Office by 8:00 PM on Election Day. You may put it in the mail, but it must actually reach the Elections Office by Tuesday the 18th to count. If you are waiting until the weekend or later to cast your vote, you may want to make sure you drop it off in person to make sure your vote counts. Nothing is worse than wanting to vote and not having the ballot get there on time.

Most counties have drop sites where you can deposit your ballot until 8:00PM. You will want to make sure you are actually dropping your ballot at an authorized location. A list of ballot locations can be found here.

In contrast to the November 2009 election, there is no vote for president, nor is there the national hoopla that accompanied that event. Nevertheless, it is important to actually get your vote cast. There is one US Senate seat, all of the US House of Representatives seats, the Oregon Governor, and state legislative races to be decided. Sure, the big election will be in November, but this is your opportunity to choose who will represent you in government in the future. No matter your political leanings, please let your voice be heard.

There are also a couple of ballot measures and a variety of local measures on the ballot throughout the state. It is important that you make your desires heard on these issues, too. While they do not get a lot of statewide press, it is important in the community where you live.

It is very important to take that final step and to actually vote. No one will vote for you. Your vote will count, and many recent local elections have been decided by rather small margins. Do your part. Follow through and vote.

Thank you.

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Vote John Kitzhaber for Oregon Governor

The race for the Democratic nomination for Oregon governor is presenting a dilemma for me. When Bill Bradbury filed to run, I knew right away who I was going to support. Or, at least I thought I did.

I was a fan of Bradbury, stemming from the work he had done as Oregon’s Secretary of State from 1999 to 2009. He had innovative ideas about running elections in the state, having developed our current vote-by-mail system. This system included as many citizens as possible in the election process. This and other election reforms he introduced were an improvement to the Oregon elections system. Yet, the one thing that impressed me the most is that as he did his work, he did it with an eye toward fairness to all, regardless to their party. When necessary, he could set aside his own needs and create an environment that was fair to all of us. This, coupled with his commitment to education and the physical environment, made him a very attractive candidate. I knew that he would choose to run for governor someday, and that I could support him when he did.

This, however, was my preference until John Kitzhaber entered the race. Kitzhaber has, of course, served as Oregon governor from 1995 to 2003. He did a great job in office, his work in creating the Oregon Health Plan is legendary. He has also shown that he is equally committed to business, education, and the environment. He can benefit from his past experience as governor, yet he brings new ideas to the table for the present.

There are those who will question whether he was at his best as governor to the very end of his last term. In fact, there were signs toward the end that his opposition was getting the better of him. During the time since he has been governor, he has been working with many groups with the goal of bringing better health and better health care to all of us. With that experience, and a continued commitment to the needs of the citizens of Oregon, I believe that John Kitzhaber is well equipped to serve the needs of Oregonians during another term as governor. The new and refreshed John Kitzhaber

The fact is that I could support either one of these candidates to serve as the next governor of Oregon. I suppose that it is great that we have two wonderfully qualified candidates from which to choose. But when we put the two of them side-by-side, I believe the balance leans slightly toward Dr Kitzhaber. Please join me in voting for John Kitzhaber in the upcoming Democratic Primary Election.

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Vote YES on Oregon Ballot Measure 69

Oregon Ballot Measure 69 is the second of two constitutional amendments on the upcoming Oregon ballot.  The measure would amend the state Constitution to make it clear colleges and universities can use general obligation bonds to buy buildings as well as build them.  There is no organized opposition to the measure.

Measure 69 updates a small part of the Oregon Constitution to make it reflect the realities of our modern life.  Currently, if we want to build a new building on a college campus, the state sells bonds to get the cash at a low interest rate to build the necessary structures.  That is the way things should be.  That also presumed that our colleges and universities are everything about campus life.

In the modern world, our institutions of higher learning are building centers in the places that people actually live throughout the state.  It is possible to take U of O courses or OSU courses without stepping foot in Eugene or Corvallis.  The Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) is serving students in locations throughout the state, many who have never been to the main campus in Klamath Falls. Both institutions have a presence in Portland and elsewhere.  What this also means is that institutions are not necessarily building their own buildings; they are often purchasing existing structures and remodeling them to meet their needs. While this makes perfect sense, under our current financing structure, the universities cannot have the state sell the less-expensive bonds to finance the purchase.

This measure fixes that problem.  Certainly, we should be able to have the state sell low-interest bonds to buy a new building in the same way it would sell them to build the same building.  This measure will make that correction.  In the process, it will save the taxpayers of our state millions of dollars in financing costs.  Universities support this concept.  Businesses support this concept.  It makes sense to taxpayers, too.

Join me in voting YES on Oregon Ballot Measure 69.

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Vote YES on Oregon Ballot Measure 68

There are two statewide ballot measures on upcoming Oregon election ballots.  While neither measure has any organized opposition, I still feel that it is important to know what we are voting for, and to actually vote for it.

The first of these is Ballot Measure 68.  Measure 68 would add a new article to the Oregon Constitution, permitting the state to raise matching money through general obligation bonds for local school district projects, much as it does now for community college and university construction.   Currently, the state helps to pay for major projects in the local school districts, but must do so out of general funds.  This measure will allow them to issue bonds to finance these projects.  This will result in a less expensive interest rate for the state, and save us all money in the long run.  It would only be used if the voters in a local school district have also approved a bond measure for building, remodeling, maintaining, or repairing the school or its grounds.

Bonds are generally used for the financing of building construction, but all other expenses come out of the school’s operating budget.  With Measure 68, districts will be able to use bond money to buy equipment such as desks and book shelves, pave parking lots, and do other maintenance which they now finance with operating money.  This should free up more of that money for paying for teachers and books and day-to-day education costs.

The measure also creates a matching fund, where the state puts money into a fund for these expenditures until it is needed by the local schools.  This will allow the state to save money over the years for a time when a school needs to be built or repaired.  It helps to keep schools operating, even in times like today when we can’t really afford to be spending too much money.

This measure doesn’t really change a lot about how we pay for schools in Oregon.  It does not add new taxes to what we have to pay.  It simply opens up new, less expensive options for paying for these school expenses.  This measure does not cost us any money, but it will modernize the law to allow us to save money.

Join me in voting YES on Oregon Ballot Measure 68.

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Health Care Law Links

A bunch of us were looking for links to the Health Care Bill, known as the ‘‘Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010’’, that recently became law.  I have put them up here on my site for easy reference.   Below are some links related to the measure:

First is the actual text of the law that was passed:     Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010 Text

I would comment, as someone who sometimes gets to read the actual text of Federal laws as part of their job, that doing so can be really dry reading.  It can also be pretty difficult to do, given the legalese in the text and the format of the document.  Nevertheless, if you are so inclined, happy reading.  If anyone has any questions about anything in it, feel free to send me a note and I’ll try to translate.  I’ll even do it in a non-partisan way.  That way, we can both learn something.

For those just looking for the highlights of what the Health Care Act has in it, the following summary was prepared on 23 March 2010 by the House Committees on Ways & Means, Energy & Commerce, and Education & Labor.  A summary of the Act:    Summary

Finally, courtesy of the blog Health Reform Watch, is a list of useful documents that attempt to describe and summarize the provisions of the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010.  Most were written by the House committees that actually wrote and edited the bill, so they should be an accurate reflection of what is in the Act.

Summary Documents:

Provisions At A Glance:

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