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27 February, 2011

Dispatch from the War

The war in Afghanistan drags on and on. We've been told that it is a just one, the ordnance is being aimed at truly bad guys who want to terrorize us and treat women badly. Because Al Qaeda really did attack us, and really was in Afghanistan at one point, this war appears more legitimate than the one in Iraq, which was based on a series of lies.

So we've sent troops and more troops to Pashtun country, that strategic nowhere that somehow lures in global powers to remind them that they are not invincible. Some would argue that the Afghan war is not just 10 years old, that this phase began in 1980 when the Russian superpower came to the head of the line and went in for their beating. And when the US began training and arming Osama Bin Ladin, Taliban warlords, and their bloodthirsty ilk to fight the Soviets. I remember being a smartass college freshman, nabbing a free meal at my aunt's house while my CIA uncle expounded on the wisdom of this course, arguing back that arming an enemy's enemy was short-sighted and stupid.

The 1980 election of Ronald Reagan--appearing to so many Americans afflicted with 21st Century dementia as a visionary and winner of the Cold War--ushered in another war. Or at least, like Afghanistan, another phase of a conflict that has gone on for generations. Some people call it class war, and I guess they are right, but I look at it as a war on work. Reagan's first frontal assault was to fire unionized air traffic controllers. He apparently figured that collective bargaining was more of a threat to America than having inexperiences scabs directing air traffic.

Then began the re-tooling of the tax code that has continued ever since, through BushI and II, and for that matter the alleged Democrat Clinton: decrease income tax for the wealthy, make it easy for corporations to put money and jobs offshore where they don't pay tax, create loopholes for those who can afford them, cut capital gains and estate taxes. All of this having the effect that the US taxes labor, not wealth. If you have enough money to live off of investment income, you've never given a smaller portion to the government.

Bush I, running against Reagan in the primaries, had denounced this as 'voodoo economics,' possibly laboring under the blueblood fear that if you piss off the proles too badly, they will turn on you. But soon enough he was playing along with the 'trickle down' theory, in which the rich get everything they damn well please and the poor are told that the piss and dregs are rewards. Decades of data prove that cutting taxes on wealthy individuals and on corporations does not create or even protect jobs. The rich get richer. The corporations increase executive bonuses and maybe invest in machinery (mostly not American made) that increases productivity and allows more layoffs. Within our borders, they pit state against state to compete for the dwindling number of jobs, demanding tax breaks, infrastructure paid for by the locals, and workers willing to forego unions.

The corporations large enough to buy substantial influence pushed through trade deals that shipped enormous numbers of jobs overseas to places where workers have even less protection than we do. Workers the world over have been screwed by globalization.

Part of the reason why we have seen revolutions in North Africa is that there are large numbers of unemployed young people there. When the future looks dim enough, people rise up. Americo has escaped this so far with a mix of paranoia based propaganda (support Reaganomics or the commies will take over), jingoism (we are right, and could never learn from another nation), and maybe most powerful of all, aspiration (you may be rich some day, and you won't want socialists stealing your wealth then, will you?).

Of late, the cranky bigotry of a generation that did pretty well without having to try, who don't understand that the middle class is being squeezed out of existence, has been mobilized by the wealthy few to be their tea partying foot soldiers. This actually gives me some cause for hope: the oligarchs must see opposition on the horizon to be pouring money into brownshirt brigades, feeble as they are. They want some cannon fodder, some buffer as they try to strip away collective bargaining, to balance the budget with pay and benefits looted from the workers and the poor.

The Egyptian and other revolutions seem to have awakened something that was absent in our democracy. Wisconsin workers suddenly stood up in large numbers, saying "Enough!" This weekend, there were rallies in every state capitol, standing in solidarity with the Wisconsin workers. As I stood in the Olympia crowd, surrounded by thoujsands of others, there was an energy. A strange mix of anger at being victimized and peaceful determination to stop the downward slide of the workers.

A few days earlier, over a thousand people showed up to hear Congressman Dennis Kucinich, one of the few to push for universal health care, for workers' rights, and against the wars. He reminded the crowd that the right wing blames public workers and domestic government policy for the debt, but that it is really the fault of our overseas wars. The vast majority of our budget pays for weapons and war, not teachers and firefighters. It is time to stop ignoring that fact, to stop the wars against overseas boogeymen and against our own working class.

25 February, 2011

Coyote Pretty

Apparently, I do not tire of taking photos of wind turbines (see?). I finally noticed this one from my last up-Columbia drive. The contrail lines up with the wind, and tricks my eye into thinking that they're turning. You have not idea whether they were. Lots of times they aren't. Like when the wind ain't blowing. But many times I'll see some turning, others immobile, blades feathered. Sometimes, this is most of what you see. Out of service.

Like in this shot, which further tricks you into thinking the wind is blowing by angling the biggest turbine back, as if blown mightily.

Sneakier still, this shot messes with scale. The power line is big, not the country road poles you usually see. The turbines are ginormous. Look closely, and unless the internet pixillated it away you can see the lines are in front of all the turbine towers. I'm not even close to them. It looks like the power line should be heading off in the distance behind the windmills, but they're not. It's befuddling. Don't look too long, or it'll mesmerize you.


You did it didn't you? You went back and looked, lost track of time. Stared like shrinking Alice before the colossalizing towers. Thought you heard the roar of the wind, but it was only the jet. So wrapt up you didn't wonder: How were you hearing the jet? Then some chattery window popped up, crackled into your awareness, and snapped you out of it.

Never did read this bottom part of the post for a while, either. Admit it, the next time you stumbled across this entry, you scrolled back up again to look at the picture, but this time because you were stoned you fell in for 42 minutes before falling asleep. Again you had not the least suspiction that at post-bottom I awaited patiently.

How long did it take? (No, not you. I know you got it the first time. I mean those other people.)

24 February, 2011

Soylent Greenbacks

Somehow in the last post, which you should be reading first, I got off track. Watching the movie, knowing the secret ahead of time, the characters' anguish and shock seemed overdone. But then, I've forgotten what life was like before Reagan (our most Hestonian president, I'd say, with that veneer of smiling good nature and great hair over a dickish soul and addled mind), and worse yet Mr. New World Order. As Saul says, we had a world once,...schmuck.

But even in those kinder, gentler days before the Bush Dynasty ascended, people should have understood that in a movie where the premise is that the world is way overpopulated and food is hard to come by, there's gonna be some cannibalism. It's happened with boats and plains and wagon trains full of hungry people, and for that matter probably happens in New York city from time to time anyway.

Maybe I'm jaded by years of living under unbridled and bloodthirsty capitalism, but it also makes sense that a large corporation would pounce on the obvious profit potential in this movie world. A steady supply of willing flesh, a vast pool of consumers hungry for protein, yearning for a new product. As businessmen are so fond of saying, it's a no-brainer.

Soylent Green saw this future coming. Like all tales of the future, it is doomed to looking stupid on some levels: the lame-ass video game would have fallen prey to this in less than a decade, there are no Latinos, and the guns are pitiful little toys. On the other hand, we're well on the way to being a plutocracy, run by a few ruthless people who live in a level of wealth unimaginable to the unwashed masses. Officials who use their position to enrich themselves and appropriate other people's stuff? Yep. Corporations using public resources to enhance profitability (where do you think the Riot Patrol scoopers dump their haul?) and shaping public policy to their liking? Yep. High-powered politicians drawn from the ranks of the wealthy? Yep. Public sector workers not paid a decent wage? Yep. Corruption, dehumanization, women treated as furniture? Yep, yep, and yep.

I heard about a scientific study recently in which burgers from 6 corporate chains were tested, and it was found that they contained between 2 and 15% meat. Slightly more if you count guts and parasites, but basically a Soylent Gray disk. I haven't eaten that crap in years, but in large urban centers, it accounts for a large portion of the menu for those who cannot afford to have luxuries like fresh vegetables. I don't think it has yet become profitable to include human meat, but don't expect Archer Daniels Midland to tell you when that happens. They and the other food-stuff mega corporations may well have nicely bound feasibility studies already on the shelves, just like in the movie.

Which brings to mind a flaw. I can understand the guy from state security hiring a patsy to murder a conspirator who might not be reliable, but to think that they'd leave the investigation to a detective who is not also part of the operation boggles the mind. The bodyguard did not sweep out the books and any other incriminating evidence or kill the priest moments after he heard confession form the Man Who Knew Too Much. Amateurs. Bush I or Cheney would have disappeared the killer, bodyguard, priest and furniture immediately, would have put their own guy on the case; nobody, least of all some rabble rouser, would have ever known about the murder or the greater crime of mass cannibalism.

If word ever did get out, they'd put the media to work explaining that Soylent Green is as American as apple pie (or at least mock apple pie made with pancreas instead of those horrible ritz crackers). They'd have paraded out McCain, who would explain that he took up cannibalism out of necessity in Hanoi, but kept up with it for the pure gustatory pleasure. There would be a new ad campaign on the theme "Soylent Green is People," showing the smiling faces of the diverse Soylent workforce, appropriating and deflating the critique. Anti-cannibals would be branded as socialists and homos, marginalized, and if that didn't work, scooped up by the riot patrol and delivered to the Gitmo Processing Plant.

The voluntary suicide center would be different, too. None of this druidic robe stuff, a final film dwelling on nature. There'd be a big cross. You'd be strapped to the gurney so that you could not escape when you figured out they were lying about giving you the full 20 minutes of nice movie. Fawning Dick Van Patten manning the gates, allowing himself to be pushed around by a half-fed local cop? Hell no: a Blackwater crew, tossing the bullet-riddled bodies of interlocutors into the hopper.

The process, the conveyors and trucks and machines that transport and transform bodies into Soylent Green, appears a little silly now. Bodies given the dignity of a clean white sheet through the whole process? Maybe in the first week of operation, but soon enough some manager would get himself a promotion by figuring out that eliminating the sheets would increase the profit margin, another would move up after devising a streamlined process for gold tooth extraction. Likewise, once the suicider has signed on the dotted line, amenities are unnecessary and a waste. No self-respecting corporation in 2011, much less 2022, would want to justify the expense to shareholders anxious about meeting quarterly projections.

In 1963, Heston marched  with Dr. King and advocated for civil rights. In 1973, he seemed outraged by what the Soylent Corp was doing. In 1983, he'd changed his tune, and by '93 was excoriating the pinkos who would dare badmouth the poor maligned white male. As Heston went, so too did the leadership of our country. Less and less concerned with any right but the right to bear arms, more and more demented. Unwilling to let anything stand in the way of the march toward complete corporate domination of the economy and society. Growing Mosaic in his devotion to the one true god (with his three faces: father, son, and holy cash flow), and disgusted by the humanists.

Soylent Greenbacks are made of people.

23 February, 2011

Shallow Time Travel

Soylent Green is made of people!

Yeah. Planet of the Apes was not the end of my journey down the Hestonian road to the future. This time, to a closer one, a more plausible outcome to late 20th Century excess, introduced with the coy and squatty multiframe montage taking us from Manifest Destiny to Hestopia, penultidecadally before Koyaanisqatsi. Viewers are not asked to believe in evolution, just that overpopulation and pollution lead to some problems.

This time, our hero is not a space-ship commander, but a New York City dick, which you can read as 'detective' if you want, but the guy is a thief, a kicker of stairwell dwellers, who lets his friend kill himself and doesn't mind getting stains on the furniture. That last charge sounds lame, until you know that "furniture" in the far off year 2022 refers to the chick that comes (or at least pretends to) with apartments rented to bachelors. One piece took a swing at him, but didn't deserve the savage beating she got in return. Because in Soylent Green, the 'she was to be our Eve' sentimentality and desire for breeding of POTA is a thing of the unimaginable future. There are 40 million people in New York City alone, too crowded for love, even though the furniture might dream of it from time to time.

In the midst of this overpopulated mess--shot in yellow Hazescope (TM)--is some sort of college where Heston and his room-mate live in a dorm room. Books, mini fridge, squalor. Chuck's character is lucky, just like I was, to have roomed with Saul (I know, credits say 'Sol,' but it sounds like 'Saul,' and it adds another dimension), a Jewish guy (see?) whose intelligence and humor helps Heston's Detective Thorn make it through. Like the time he says something really beautiful, pauses for effect, and says "Schmuck."

Theirs is a tenderer relationship than me and my roommate, richer perhaps from having sprung from all they'd gone through back when Heston was Moses and Edward G. Robinson was that asshole Egyptian enforcer (General Suleiman, maybe?) bent on killing him. The general saw earlier than his colleagues did where the chips would fall, and besides, don't some boys have a thing about plaguing the one they love? The script does not tell us how they fell in together, just that Saul is the book-guy, with memories of the old world, and Thorn is the tough guy. Teacher, jaw-jutting antihero student. The only furniture around a random few rickety chairs and a dinette table, no complications.

Thorn investigates murders and kicks ass among hungry people who won't disperse. Everywhere he goes, he is a dick. Kills people he should have questioned, leaves every domicile with loot. But the thing is, he brings Saul treats when he can snag some, listens to the old man's stories, offers to pedal the generator bike that shines a 40-watt bulb on their dim existence. When Saul chooses a voluntary death, Thorn rushes to share the last moment, to repeatedly express their love. It is as tender and genuine as Heston gets.

Some website says Edward knew he was gonna die--and followed through (unlike Thorn with his pedal offer) just 12 days after filming the scene--and kept it secret until telling Chuck just before his death scene to amp up the emotion. Others say that's a bunch of crap, that Heston offed Robinson and concocted the cancer story to amp up the box office. Either way, there's nothing the furniture likes better than a poignant death.

On the other hand, they don't so much like the cannibalism. Neither do the characters in this flick. You'd think they'd be a little less surprised, not banished to Catatonia like the priest or executed for 'unreliability' like the victim, Simonson, in all his Joseph Cottony blandness, a scene that plays out as an over-wrought exchange between a monkey with a crowbar and a tired old thespian unaware that the audience left long ago.

Yeah, a shocking murder...1973 style. No visible carnage, just some really fake blood. To set it up, to make us understand that it is a major conspiracy, the killer meets with his handler, a state security heavy who supplies him with one of those fancy two-piece crowbars. Yeah, lock and load crowbar, man. Only the big boys have them. (Later, they make a point of Thorn deducing that the crowbar proved the killer was a pawn, a nobody being used by guys with guns. Sweet sweet guns....but back to the story.) So he has to use the bar to bash footholds in the concrete wall surrounding this rich guy's house so he can gain entry and bash holes in his head. Which cranial violations did not appear in 1973 mainstream film (I say with no data to back me up).

Somehow, all the clanging does not alert security. No matter, since this crime is just one guy and there is Soylent happening right under everyone's pollution-impaired nose. Thorn figures it out, though, not with fortuitous information and implausible plot lines, no, but with beatings and his smart roommate's help.

First, though, he must brachiate his way down stairwells full of huddled masses nearly as dumb as POTA humans. Then swagger into the building where the rich guy lived, where he must pass the super, who is an honest to god lawn jockey. Red jacket, weird hair and all. Turns out the guy is also an incredible dick, who doesn't even wait for the furniture to hit him before he beats them. Thorn lets him know who is boss, but doesn't kill him.

Another Dick in the movie is of the Van Patten variety. Dead and gone in 2022, but when this movie was made (MLMXXIII), he still had the glory years of Eight is Enough before him. Younger, but still bald and dull, his mattress-salesman future reverberating backwards, Mr. Obvious Tool played the role of usher to the chamber where the depressed and old could kill themselves in return for a 20 minute, clumsily edited sequence of nature shots that would not have passed muster in 1982, much less 2022.

I'd've blown the budget making the Styx-crossing movie mind-boggling, but back in '73 they went with a thing they called a 'cathode ray tube game,' an oversized Leggs container with a field of Asteroids featuring limited Pong action. Yes. Such a primitive video game that even I can describe it. The furniture had to stoop over to play the damn thing, desperately pretending to be thrilled, just to let us know that these are rich people without a care in the world.

Rich people. It seems like they keep coming up. This post is already getting long, and it's nearing midnight. If I forget to continue this later (I'm thinking "Soylent Greebacks" would be a good title, then remind me.

21 February, 2011

Road Warrior/Gatherer

One of the things that stops my shiftless eyes n their tracks is the sight of something useful and free. Ergo my affinity for slash piles yet unburnt, source of rounds (that being firewood length pieces, yet unsplit) and sometimes chunks of wood yearning to be carved. Or plants that would fare better in my yard than in the road cut about to happen.

This deep memory I have is of being a student in an anthro class, being told that 'primitive' as they are ascribed to be, the !Kung (or the "Bushmen," to use the politically incorrect but far more recognized term) had a high degree o fknowledge about their environment, being aware, for instance, that a twenty minute walk up a dry creek bed led to a spot with numerous water-bearing roots. Even at the time, my internal reaction was that the smart humans in any environment know their resources. At the time, that meant that I knew where the best beer sales were, and how to harvest imperishable commodities from the meal hall for later use.

Along those lines, in my alleged adult life traveling the rough rectangle of a western state, spending days in the wilds and nights in hotels near freeway exits, one of the main foraging venues is the hotel itself. I have not bought soap in a couple of years, because they give it away. Likewise, the continental breakfast that does not count as "breakfast included" for purposes of expense reports may yield some fruit for lunch. Some of you will think this is shady, but it is legal, and may help me net a few bucks toward making up the paycut and lessened benefits I must endure as an American forced to make due off of what I earn working, rather than investing.

Then there's the road cuts. Chert for tools, vesicular basalt for the imu I will one day make. On my cross country trek, I spotted the flint hills of Kansas on a map, and made sure to stop and gather some material for my flint-knapping host at the end of the trail. On other occasions, the glimmer of a shiny stone, the allure of a green pebble has been enough to stop me, to set me to gazing and gathering.

Now and then, as I search out some old homestead or make my way through some section long abandoned, I come across flora of yore. The ancient apple tree still bearing, the daffodils straining toward light in succession's closing canopy. Sometimes I get a snack (the apples mostly sate thirst, rarely provide enough to soothe hunger), and others it is a plant to bring home, cutting or mystery bulb. My yard sprouts more heritage each spring.

Other times, it is just the memory. Sometimes it spurs a story, a blog entry. Other times, it is just the feeling of discovery, occasionally epiphany. I bring home nothing more than the fading feeling of having been in the ponderosa scented upland, the mossy lowland, the mud-stanky tide-flat. Tangibless, yet blessed. Valuable beyond stuff. Stashed away in memory (or sub-conscious) to be recalled later when I have need of a tidbit, when an older me needs the spaces of the past to escape elderly immobility.

I take what I can when I can.

20 February, 2011

Road Warrior? C'mon.

When I travel, staying overnight in a hotel somewhere, there is always the chance that I am exposed to TV. Nearly every time that happens, I find that one of the tiredest tropes of commercials lives on, the ad aimed at sometone ostensibly like me, the working traveler, salaried sojourner. Although the guy in the ad is almost always indistinguishable from the yutzy dork, the white father in most sitcoms, in this milieu he is the Road Warrior.

The first recollection I have of this mythical creature is OJ Simpson, running through airports, hurdling white yutzes, heroically meeting destiny, by which it is understood: getting a rental car. The genre elevates the mundanity of corporate travel (those public sector stooges are kept off planes for the most part, and make their way round the country in elderly motor pool rides), presents it as an ordeal, a test of manhood and acumen. Whatever product is being presented appears as the choice of the genius, the reward for a job well done. Depending on how you look at it, a tiny bit of swag due the corporate cog, or maybe the screct nirvana of the zen traveler. (But please, you don't really believe that the mothership doesn't know you got that free hotel night courtesy of nights they paid for, do you? They're laughing every time you think you're putting one over on them, happy to let you collect the odd freebie while they make you do the work of two people.)

Bejowled but young, the hero gets frontsies in every line, is greeted by models approved by focus groups, finds himself with the ocean view (never mind that he only sees it in the dark, and is more likely sitting inside watching commercials about himself). He does a convertible Mustang.

The ad strokes his ego--You, Mr. Corporate Traveler Man, are a Hero--while the product slips him a little bit of something, seemingly under the table. And the Hertz hottie is smiling just at him. Yeah.

Does the Road Warrior believe this? Is his world so lame that skipping a couple minutes of waiting, or getting some points (which he will eventually redeem for a subscription to Maxim sent to the office) represents Victory? Could be. People are stupid.

I don't think I am a road warrior, except in certain instances: righting truck and trailer from a precipitous skid on the ice sheet that passes for a highway on Elk Mountain, Wyoming, steering into the wind on a blustery Columbia crossing, finding my way out of dark and rainy north Cascades logging road labyrinths.

These pasty out of shape guys in ties? Nah. Not warrior material.

Backroads: 242 Tunnel

As the 20th Century began to unfold, following a 19th that had begun with exploration and ended with subjugation, nature was in retreat in the northwest. From the ports and depots, rail snaked out into the countryside, men with metal sheared the trees and dug rocks, sending the profitable parts back down the line. Many of the sites I find are from this time, the orgy of extraction inevitably followed by hangover in a smoky land of stumps with nothing left to take, at which point profiteers fell back and the forest grew anew.

Lots of people can name milestones of civil engineering like the Panama Canal, but their awareness of grand local projects doesn't kick in until the New Deal, with Grand Coulee Dam. But a generation earlier, an odder and some would say grander project kicked off, the route that would become Washington Route 242.

Most historians credit Lucius Neanderberg with the proposal made to the young state's Supervisors of Roads, in his once famous and now forgotten words "to build a roadway of stone, capacious enough to allow two fully laden stagecoaches to meet with nary a scratch to to lacquer of either." OK, not exactly catchy, no surprise that this nugget was lost to posterity. In fact, though, the idea for this route, a more or less straigh line from Yelm to Yakima (Roy to Naches, to be precise), stemmed from tales mischievous Indians told gullible explorers about secret caves, flowered from settlers' yearnings for gold and an easier way to cross the Cascades.

Neanderberg did sign the various construction plans found in the archives, and people who understand the geography immediately grasp the audacity of the plan. Between the endpoints rises the 14,000 foot peak of Rainier, or Tahoma, or just The Mountain. With that trademark American combination of manifest destiny, can-do spirit, and confidence in modern engineering's ability to overcome any roadblock nature might offer (and maybe also commitments to employ the Supervisors' associates--the roster of the venture includes many--though no paper trail has yet been found to ink a tale of corruption), Lucius secured funding and set to work.

Having grown up at his father's side, ranging ever westward scouting railroad routes, cajoling and bamboozling homesteaders whose land was needed, he had learned to use the survey transit for its practical and talismanic powers, to talk people from wariness to boosterism. To invoke Science and Progress without losing the human touch.

The Y-Y road, as it came to be known, quickly achieved the rights of way needed, in part due to the need to solve the engineering obstacle. Neanderberg's solution was to tunnel, running under land meant not paying for it outside of the few mining districts. Disinclined to engage in an endless series of switchbacks up and down the mountain, uninterested in detouring to a sensible pass, the entire project was predicated on being unprecedented. 

Neanderberg was a talented tunneler. When the interesting railroads had all been built and he was a man ready to strike out on his own, Lucius had gone on a gold rush or two and done some hard rock mining, quickly coming to understand that the mass of prospectors ended up broke or broken, but the man who could dig adits and sink shafts could make money as long as new money appeared in service of dreams. The dream of striking it rich, of tapping into a golden vein, never quite disappeared in his own soul, though. His knowledge of how to get through rock was unparalelled, but his knowledge of minerology and geology was patchy. He clung to the belief that Rainier being volcanic, a tunnel through it would: A) encounter magma through which tunnel segments could be pushed "as through a warm pudding," with less effort than drilling, and B) tap into a stream of molten gold closer to the source. This seems silly to us today, but his personal diaries and patent applications not only prove that he believed it, but make it seem plausible.

Legislative appropriations funded trainloads of machinery, including prototypes of his inventions that were pressed into service; some never worked, and more proved expensive to maintain. Ultimately, the Y-Y road was pushed forward by muscle. Chinese labor run out of the cities and mill towns and disappeared into the tunnels during spasms of the northwest's peculiar mix of labor progressiveness and racial regressiveness. Irish crews deserted Appalachian holes full of coal dust and methane to work on the project, and are widely credited with having brough in the first Shetland ponies, who became the mainstay of the hauling.

All along 242, side shafts incline to the surface, some with rails still intact, testament to the teams that pulled ore cars full of spoil to the surface. (The photo with this entry is the mouth of one such shaft.) The wee equines, with but one path to follow, trudged up day after day until one day they would drop. A crew of the Irish workers, stocky to the point of cubicality, roved the road and were tasked with crawling in and removing the dead ponies when  the need arose. There are no figures indicating how many Shetlands, Irish, and Chinese were expended during the project, though there is a small plaque at milepost 50 commemorating their contribution.)

It would not have been a good American project had not the tribes been allowed to share in the pain. Early on, several members of the Yakama nation started breeding Shetland ponies to supply the project, but as soon as it became profitable the herd was commandeered by whites. Earlier still, when Neanderberg had felt it necessary to garner some support from the people whose reervation the road would cross, the Y-Y road was presented as a benefit to the Yakama, practically a gift. Enough of the right people agreed that none of the tribes' members bothered the two-legged and four-legged beasts of burden who would occasionally surface on the res, nobody plugged the holes that barfed forth crushed stone. The tribe never received the payments it was promised for the right to tunnel under Yakama earth, which they are wise enough to know was important a whole lot deeper than the surface plat.

By the time the road was completed, just before WWI shut off the crucial supply of manganese, stage coaches had been replaced by other means of transport. At various times the plans changed to fit the tunnel for conventional rail, for electric trolleys, and even a pneumatic tubeway, but the legislature, now bored with what had become a dull old project, always balked at the cost of retrofitting or widening the tunnel. Fortunately, the automobile came along, and the tunnel gained new life.

Few people ever drove the length of Route 242, however. Seismically induced misalignments and molten intrusions (never of gold) plagued the trans-magma tube section of the Y-Y, and the route would have been completely abandoned were it not identified as a WPA work site and not long after as a vital element of national defense (should the Olympian ruling class need to be evacuated and hidden from the Japanese). Even during this time, the road was rarely passable along its enture length, and after FDR's passage (photographed, to be sure, but due to problems with the flashes, memorialized only as a series of black frames with the occasional glaring rock wall), nobody ever drove the whole thing. I've only seen part of it, and even that is because I have keys to certain state gates and too much curiosity.

By the '30s, the road was designated as "Route 242," but people mostly still called it the "Y-Y." Few of them remembered it was shorthand for Yelm-to-Yakima, it had just become a sound. One day, I hope to find the coiner of the name it took on during this time, surely the clever work of a WPA tunnel-scraper wondering whether grinding poverty might beat beastly employment: the "Why Oh Why Road."

Exactly when after FDR's traverse the road became impassable is a matter of debate. Some say he didn't even do it, that the dearth of mid-tunnel photos is because they do not exist, a poor scared nation needed images of success, which were promptly faked. Could be, but it doesn't much matter.

Several miles of tunnel remain passable at either end, though they are locked and ar mostly used for storage. The trans-magma tube is long gone, thousands of yards of concrete were dumped in at end of WWII to plug it securely. The Yelm side was maintained and pumped dry through the 1950s and early 60s, fears of Reds having replaced the Japanese menace, but eventually it became harder and harder to justify the maintenance, the cost of running pumps day and night. The water rose, and most of Route 242 became aquatic. The only person who goes there now is a wildlife biologist who dives to see what cave creatures are colonizing and evolving in this odd new niche.

It has been years since 242 appeared on maps, and almost nobody even knows that it ever existed. So obscure that it does not even serve as a cautionary tale, a monument to hubris and government waste. It is the backest of backraods that I've droned on about. Almost a figment of my imagination.

19 February, 2011

Ratchet Reform

The Republican Party in 1974 seemed doomed, exposed as base fascist thugs. Yet just a sneeze in history later, the Reagan Makeover had them on the offensive yet again. Thirty years later every wave of political "reform" that washed over us populace amounts to a tightening of the corporate agenda. Tinkering with the machinery of state, fine tuning the law of the land has gone from a procee involving a variety of tools and mechanics with different bents to a simple-minded ratcheting. Reagan, his Hestonian hairline bestowing on him a mythic power, teflon tonic rendering him impervious to crisitcism, primed the pump for the one-way flow of wealth upward to the richest. Like a ratchet, the belt tightened for the body of the nation, causing the head to balloon.

This week, state workers in Wisconsin registered one of the few protests that have happened since this process started. State workers because the private sector unions were busted long ago by concessions offered by unions trying to keep jobs...before the corporations shipped production overseas anyway. Ratchet. A union-busting law presented as a means of avoiding financial catastrophe--protestors branded as selfish lazy public servants who refuse to be servile and demand to live like kings. Ratchet. The very concept of collective bargaining an affront to GOP, Inc., which aims to wipe unions out once and for all, eliminate that friction on the upward flow of wealth. Ratchet.

The ratcheteers actually love this kind of battle because not only does it allow them to pose as financial conservatives, brave cost cutters, but it allows them to scapegoat public workers. This kills a few birds with one stone: vilify the government that you want to render small enough to drown in the bathtub (reduced to contract administrators to keep the government revenue flowing into corporations), increase corporate profit margins by weakening regulatory oversight, and ratchet down the power of unions and workers in general.

Besides which, unions aware of the risk, aware that the Wisconsin law is one shot of a salvo that will hit many states, are forced to spend resources fighting this. The supreme court opened the floodgates of money into campaigns, and although unions, collectives of working class people, won't ever be able to match the funding available to corporations in the next election, they'd like to bleed union warchests a bit in the meantime.

The propaganda machine purrs on: look at the state worker living fat on a pension while you, Fox viewer, don't have it so good. Why should they get special rights? They are tax and spenders, big government fans, socialists. Never mind that government workers get paid less than their provate sector counterparts, never mind that they have withstood layoffs, frozen wages, cut wages, and decreased benefits already, or that many of them do difficult jobs with little thanks. Government workers are the new face of Ronald Reagan's welfare queen.

It is extremely important to our American plutocrats, to have such a scapegoat, and to have their tea partying minions lash out loudly against it. Otherwise, people might notice that, even worse than a retired fireman getting a decent pension and maybe some health care, there are true welfare kings, guys who lost a lot of money (much of it in large retirement funds that unions sadly let turn into Wall Street gaming funds, ratchet) and were bailed out at taxpayer expense. Were the general public to truly understand how blatantly they have all been ripped off so that the Executive Class can continue to reap multi-million dollar bonuses, it could be bad for Americo's image.

18 February, 2011

Backroads: 14 Gorge Power Maximum

 A couple of entries ago, I got us on the road, climbing 14 upriver past cascades, through the Cascades.

The range took its modern name from the falls of the Columbia. As a whole, not as high as it's iconic volcano peaks: Tahoma (and its many spellings, including Rainier), Baker, Adams, Hood, and pre-blast Saint Helens. But it's still thousands of feet higher than the river, a mile of basalt to cut through to get to the lowlands and taste that sea.

Ergo gorge. Gashing into one of the world's largest lava flows, the big river relentlessly seeks sea, beating through rock to reach that salty embrace.

Route 14, rails, and trails all use the river's path. It's the flattest route, the furthest inland. My mind's blown, hundreds of miles inland, the river is still only hundreds of feet above sea level. In the last century, people dammed most of it, drowning the cascades, but also allowing boat traffic. Barges haul immense loads up and down the aquatic path.

The dams also harvest electricity, scraping electrons, smiling over spilt water. It beats burning coal (though plans are afoot to start shipping our coal to Asia, which is upwind,...brilliant), but the damns were pretty bad for the salmon people.

Another thing that likes to travel the gorge is the air. Cold air sinking across the winter plateau drops into a creek, a river, and finally the river. Oceanic storms push wet air into that Cascadian gap. The winds are legendary. Chinook winds bring spring, thaw the land. Gorge winds suck in world-wide windsurfers, fill the sails of tourism entrepreneurs, and all manner of metaphoricity.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, people discovered that they could scrape electrons off the wind. Oh, and make money. Turbines have sprouted rapidly, lately, and scouts scour the land, anonemeters in hand, looking for the next place to plant a wind farm. The ones in the photo here were cranking. 130-foot blades, tips moving 200 feet per second. They do a number on unlucky birds, and it takes a lot of bulldozed roads to erect and service these things. No energy is pure green, but like hydro, this one doesn't require overseas warfare. 

Wind and water flowed through the gorge as long as it existed, flowed so it could exist. Tales of raven and the other animal people tell how long ago they deciedd that the river should only flow one way, but river road Route 14 lets you go either way. Not quite as fast as the windmill tip, but a heck of a lot faster than the first 15 millenia of human travel in this ancient path.

Happy Valentines Day, Deer

Yes, I procrastinate, and no, I don't not know how to spell dear.

I don't know who Saint Valentine was, but if he doesn't spin in his grave every February 14, as hordes of lovers seek some way to show off loves that should be plain, then I don't like the guy. The holiday I despise, and not just because I am getting old and cranky. It's the contrived, forced nature of it, the Hallmark copyright, the inverse relationship of its importance relative to the security of a relationship.

Society (and by that, I mean the sellers and consumers, which is about as far as our national society extends these days) may feel differently. Women are presented as the biggest fans, although most women I know would appreciate flowers, chocolate, and a nice evening out on the other 364 days a year as well. Some only get it on V-Day, which is sad. Men tend to fall into three groups: the mind-constrained lemmings who appear to enjoy it (or at least don't mind taking part), the begrudging participants aiming to please the one they've loved for a while (or in some cases, just trying not to piss her off, deny her her due), and the hunters who use the tried and true bait in their snares.

Not that I'm cynical.

I did come across a heart warming valentines day story this year. A wildlife biologist dropped by my cubicle to ask if he could borrow my work truck, which has the V-8, 4WD and winch favored for fieldwork on muddy back roads. "We're gonna go out and spotlight some deer, shoot them with tranq darts, and when they drop we'll put in the vaginal inserts." I didn't ask why, or why it had to be on this day when so many guys are thinking about dear vaginas but pretending to care only about pure romance.

I just hope they have the decency to lay a flower in front of the doe so when she awakes, she won't feel so used, and can enjoy a tender snack.

16 February, 2011

Backroads: 14 Fog on the Columbia

Route 14 follows the Columbia along its north bank from near the mouth on up to the first big bend. How is a road following the Columbia River, one of the major arteries of North America, a back road? A road about a century old in its current path, laid down aside major rail lines even older, paving trails used by tribes since, as they say, "time immemorial," and before then by all manner of megafauna for whom time ended.

How? The interstate across the river in Oregon. I-84 is the choice of people who want to think that they are getting upriver fast, who feel slowed down when denied a choice of lanes, who want their travel tableau to be blurred and interdicted by semi trailers. More than once, people have looked at me with concern or pity when I say I'm taking Route 14 instead, asking if I know about the real highway across the river.

Last week I headed upriver on 14 from Vancouver, not at the mouth of the river, but in the tide's grip. On that day, nearly strangled in a fog. Up through Camas and Washougal, its white blanket interwoven with tendrils of pulp mill stink. But soon enough, winding through oak, gnarling dendritic silhouettes grasping handfuls of a cleaner fog, holding it to the earth.

My feelings on this are fuzzy. The fog can be cold and dreary, obscurationist curtailer of vistas, curtain shutting out the sun. Or it can be a coccoon, silken pod in which to meditate, swallower of clatter. I wrote about this then.

So popping up out of this into the sun could go either way. Freed from the drabness, exposed to the glare. Whatever. Nature carries on, regardless of whatever metaphor little humans want to paint onto it.

Beacon Rock and its trail (1777 steps to the top, last time I checked), wrapped in fog, is beautiful. From I-84 you can look across the river and see the rock, unless it's foggy and then all you see is guardrail.

Further up the river and into the day, the fog began to burn off. I got to see the end of it, lifting off the river, pushed down from the sun on top, thinning to a tongue, lick receding back down river, not wetting the sere plateau.

Backroads: Blue Slough

Head west, Olympian, on the ever-narrowing free way up I-5, stay right and swing onto 101, veering off to 8, crossing the black firested hills. Coming down into flat fields and eventually you find yourself on a road called Route 12, advancing on the sprawl of Aberdeen. The city's welcome sign says "Come as You Are," Nirvana fans.

And then suddenly you're on 101 again. Somehow you skipped driving around the Olympic peninsula, which means you have gained a good part of a day. Thank me later.

South across the Chehalis, writhing through miles of mud. Alder and cedar swamp. But you cross a river filled and dredged, urbanized. The ancient salmon weirs and piles for piers, piles for booming, and piles for every other purpose you can think of become entombed in mud or rot and contribute to a cargo of wood from twig to buttswell that rides this river seaward.

And then when the tide shifts, the wood drifts back inland. Into the river, its branches and limbs, its sticks and twigs.

Crossing the river was a beginning toward leaving that, though before doing so you pass through a town with one of my favorite names: Cosmopolis.

Hang a left onto Blue Slough road. That rhymes, in case you're not  familiar with Middle English landscape terms. It refers to a mire, a muddy place, often a river inlet, sometimes tidal. Blue Slough and its ilk nearby meet all of these conditions. The road is a narrow two laner, alder thicketedly woven into the mudflats on one side, a coarse blanket that must ripple during earthquakes and maybe some storms.

The effect of driving through in winter is a smear of grey. (So was the urban part, come to think of it, but I like that as whole lot less.) The clouds either just dark or flirting with lighter, but often brightening no more than an overcast day's glare on the thinned of diesel-sheened mudflat. The alders, buds just starting their spring blush, closer up and whipping by in what still ends up more blur than color. In the occasional house, people warm themselves with woodfires, their smoke smudging further the already greyny picture.

Stop, though, and color has time to compose itself, to make a showing. Down in the bottomland, trees shredding the wind high above you, the ground air motionless. A red fisherman's bobber, dropped in the sedges by a high tide. Patches of shamrocks, dappled or spotlit as the canopy whim decides.

Several times I've made this drive. The road is the wrong way to experience the place. A canoe would be much better. Ride the tide up Blue Slough, or maybe Preachers Slough now that it's not blocked by a culvert. Twist through the floodplain, maybe see some swamp mystery and live to tell about it. Get watched by eagles above and who knows what below in the muddy water. Slow down, drift, lift the veil.

12 February, 2011

Die, Dynasty, Die

Mubarak finally gave up. The sheer weight of mass protest tipped the scales, the military recognized it, and although the people in the street seemed to have no definite plan, no weapon greater than their voices, a dictator had to give in. Like the time about 20 years ago when, also on February 11, the Afrikaaners gave up and released Mandela.

I'd like to see 2/11 replace 9/11 in our own consciousness. Instead of a day of impotent anger and fear, wielded by cynical sons of diseased dynasties to start war after war, a day of hope, of despots retired and heroes unleashed.

The Mubarak regime was part of a military dynasty (there may be kin connections I don't know about that make it more of the traditional type) that held on for over 50 years, that took power with the aid of more American fear, worries of a commie canal, of oil fields run by reds. Egypt ought to show, with millenia of history to punch the lesson home, that dynasties always fail. Devolved into inbred idiocy, strangled by the banyony roots of corruption, kicked aside naked by newcomers who see exactly what the emporer is wearing.

No modern dynasty can hope to last as long as some ancient Egyptians managed to, but that doesn't stop them from trying. Sadly, America is subject to this. Obama and Clinton, it is true, came from humble beginnings, but neither has proved adept at pruning the power of wealthy familiy trees that run the country. Reagan, the hagiographers argue, followed the rags to riches American Dream, but this ignored the fact that he was a puppet, that his Cheney was a blue-blood of fine pedigree, who in his noblesse oblige was happy to play second banana while arranging to sell arms to our enemies in Iran to raise funds for central American death squads.

Then later we got Bush Jr. He ran against Gore, then  Kerry, both sons of politicians. Of our representation in congress, how many are sons of political and financial leaders? Too many for a healthy democracy. It has gotten so ridiculous that we now play host to the Pauls, embodiment of the oxymoron "libertarian dynasty." 

I grew up in Virginia, where dynasties are revered. FFV, First Families of Virginia, instilled awe among the red boiled wool blazer women, the seersucker men. Most Americans have heard of and may have some similar feeling about the Mayflower people, but the FFV knew the Plymouth crowd were later, and common, not part of the Cavalier tradition and the upper crust that had ruled Britain since the Roman days (yeah, partly a guess, but one look at the patrician noses of Virginia bears me out). Now slaveless and too numerous to all be wealthy, there nonetheless exist in the Old Dominion many scions of the old grandeur. Sadly, no matter how degenerate or lazy, no matter how far they may have drifted from the days of royal governorship or founding fatherhood, many of these people still feel entitled. I knew this kid who, like his dad and grandad and several generations before was nicknamed "Speaker," because some ancestor had been speaker of the house of burgesses.

When I said "So what," it was dismissed as the benighted anger of a lowly grandson of middling farmers. Gouche sour grapes. Preppies rightly sneered, knowing that by being born, some of them would inherit wealth and power, while I would not. These people grew increasingly alarmed as new people came in. They's not been happy with Celts coming in a century before (and had successfully shunted most of them to the hills and frontiers), but by the 1990s they were faced with an influx of Asians (South and East), Latinos (or, in Virginian, "Mexicans" regardless of origin), and a hosts of New Jerseyites who could give half a shit about FFV. The luster of those dynasties shines on only at certain country clubs and cotillions, but they live on behind the scenes. They still own enough of the corn and coal to run a lot of things, pull many strings.

The Virginian dynasties tend to be pretty conservative, but the nation suffers from allegedly liberal dynasties as well. Chelsea will build on what Hillary hath wrought, Kennedys will continue to run for an win office. Often, the voter won't even realize that the person on the ballot is part of a dynasty, the veil of a married name or just plain popular ignorance of history obscuring that status.

Continuing to elect the sons and daughters of leaders of yore will not give us perpetual power, no clan of Bushes will keep Americo at the top of the New World Order. Things move too fast now. Twenty years ago the dependable enemies of the Eastern Bloc fell, and now in the Arab world we may be losing our despotic enforcers. Without steadfast enemies, without solid partners in crime, our nation lacks both the stable and predictable threat and the worldwide web of cronies that it takes to support constant ascendancy. The kind of people who think that they deserve to rule, and that their kids should too are holding us back, have mired us in one war whose enemy is too amorphous to obliterate and another based on a dynastic vendetta. The Bushes are particularly good at that kind, Iraq and Panama are both cases where strongmen set up to achieve Bush I's desire for a brutal puppet grew into problems, started resenting having George's hand up their ass.

The dynasty, the system of handing wealth and privilege down through kin, fundamentally opposes freedom, reflexively resists progress. We cannot afford to keep electing leaders from the noble families, acting like half-wit wards and powerless serfs looking to the exalted chiefs to deliver. Democracy won't be served by inviting a few more families with more melanin to join the dynasty. Americans need to recognize that we cannot reclaim our freedom by imagining that we can return to the whitebread 1950s or the even more burnished days of founding fathers who owned slaves and wouldn't even deign to let most white people vote. Americans need to realize what the Egyptians just demonstrated, that just because a dynasty has held power for decades does not mean it is impervious, that the weight of the people can tip the balance of power if we simply focus on freedom.


The posts most viewed involve Planet of the Apes and heatilators. This week, someone got to this blog by searching 'planet of the apes heatilator.' I told myself it was someone who had been fascinated by those, but could not remember the name of the blog, some cyber-Gretl tracing her way back to this font of pontification via the trail of odd crumbs it burps up now and then.

Or maybe not. It did get me to thinking that maybe there is a link. I mean, the apes are clearly into green lifestyle, and I'm betting that if I ever watchy all the films, or better yet delve into the deleted scenes like a true POTA geek would, there would be a heatilator. How could a species so invested in groovy adobe architecture (you just know that beneath the clay skin are the hay bales and bits of dreadlock that will mark back-to-the-earth construction for archaeological progeny of Cornelius) not want a passive, heat-harvesting heatilator? 

Did these apes evolve from hippies? Sure, their repression of humans seems so un-hippie-ish, but time has passed, and evolution can take some unexpected turns. The dogmatic Zeus crowd? I've met the same obstinate preachiness from hippies shocked at my apostatic rejection of the zodiac as bullshit, my dismissal of the Greatful Dead as a mediocre country band. So the hippies grew ever hairier, changed their politics a bit, and became apes. It's not so hard to believe, is it?

And you don't have to take it on faith. If the apes had evolved from right wing humans (which would be deliciously ironic, take that, creationists!), then would their primary instrument of repression be the crudely woven net, clearly a form of macrame? Of course not.

Anyway, only a few light-skinned apes seem bent on burying the truth and keeping humans under an unopposable thumb. The rest are farming, raising horses, picking nits. If you look carefully in the cornfield massacre scene, you see some weed growing at the edges of the fields.

05 February, 2011

Fact Check

So right after the state of the union address, I posted a thing about what came to be known as the salmon joke. The news media across the political spectrum seized on that as the moment of levity, light and airy, insubstantial. But at least it was substantiated, even the part where it gets more complicated once it's smoked (FDA I would think, and the IRS). Obama's speeches are a far cry from the Texas Tall Tales of yellowcake and mushroom clouds.

But the fact check is not so kind to my blog post. For one thing, I don't meet the verbatim  threshold, even if the punchline is the same. More seriously (arguably), I accused him of emphasizing a word he didn't. He did do what I was talking about a bunch of times, but not on that particular word, even though it would have been a hair better than his delivery.

So like so many others, my memory arranges things rapidly into a layout that makes sense to me, that seems true. Lazzitude and shiftlessness tag-team against my getting up and focusing on all the data details, smacking down facts here and there, bellowing misapprehensions. Then there is my own tendency to fictionalize, to express circles by their tangents, to go gonzo. Factuality suffers when a brain is so.

But maybe not truth.