DAMS TO THE LEFT, DAMS TO THE RIGHT?

We took a few days off to see the world that was the Pacific Northwest 20,000 years ago, and 200 odd years ago.

Twenty thousand years ago, the Ice Age covered the Northwest in a lake of ice bigger than all the Great Lakes today. When the final ice dam broke, the flood of all floods occurred: 2,000 feet of water went crashing down what is today the Columbia River Basin and Gorge, giving birth to today’s fertile river still rich with salmon and fields rich with grain.

Two hundred years ago, President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana territory from France for $15 million and sent Lewis and Clark out to see what he had bought. It probably was the real estate deal of all real estate deals. And Lewis and Clark had an amazing adventure, which is still bearing fruit in endless legends which flow like the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

While we were away, back east in Washington a bunch of folks who call themselves legislators — supposedly looking out for the interests of this whole country — seem to have lost track of time and history.

They do not like Medicare or Obamacare, despite the fact that both are and have been the law of the land and also carry the stamp of approval from the Supreme Court. They seem oblivious to the fact that a lot of the folks who tell pollsters they don’t like Obamacare also say they absolutely need and want what they get today in support of their health care from the federal government. When and how will those folks and their boneheaded representatives parse that pretty simple inconsistency?

A lot of those same folks do not like the federal deficit and have the crazy notion that a solution lies in capping the debt limits and defaulting on our government’s obligations, even if that creates an economic disaster. They have, they think, cleverly linked getting rid of Obamacare with raising the debt limit and they believe they have check-mated the President into choosing between the two. All signs, of course, suggest they are woefully wrong.

A long time ago in England, a courier was rushing on horseback to Northern England with a vital message. The custom then was to leave a tired horse and borrow a fresh one at a wayside Inn. A clever innkeeper named Hobson took the courier to his two closest stalls. In one was a broken down old animal. The other stall was empty. That has been a “Hobson’s Choice” ever since. What is less well known is that Hobson had a big stable a block away with a number of suitable fresh horses. History has not revealed why Hobson was as cruel or greedy as to offer up what was effectively a non-choice.

Where is Thomas Jefferson today with his far sighted vision and the ability to sell it to a skeptical Congress? Though the Louisiana Purchase turned out to be the best real estate deal ever, an awful lot of folks at the time thought it was a terrible waste of money. Jefferson knew better and sent Lewis and Clark out to prove it. They did that in spades.

One thing Lewis and Clark did not figure out was how the Columbia River Basin came to be. That took modern carbon dating and geology.

When our present modern period is examined in the distant future (possibly by probing rovers visiting our planet from some ‘other world’), they may find that the dam holding back the debt flood that came in 2013 was broken by tea drinking buzzards who were so focused on getting carcasses to chew on that they overlooked the fact that floods drown everything in their paths.

So what goes around comes around. If we do not know or remember history, we are doomed by it.

Maybe Obama should try a little history talk?

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VALUES, VOTERS AND VICTIMS

What are most American voters thinking as they enter the voting booth? Sadly, most exit polls rarely ask such questions. So, without data, we are left to speculate on voters’ minds as they step into the booth.

First time voters are often excited to become a grown up. They see themselves as affirming their constitutional status as an American. More often than not they are influenced by their family or close acquaintances. Most often, they likely blindly follow their parents or intentionally rebel against them. It is amazing to learn how frequently they cannot remember the candidates’ names, but that’s because they’re not thinking about the issues. They’re thinking about growing up.

But once they’ve grown a bit and started careers or families, people generally become party voters or issue voters. Many people, especially in elections in which they have less information, just vote along the party line.

On the other hand, many people vote for certain rights and interests—women’s rights, abortion, and immigration are in the spotlight right now—and the candidates with whom they most closely agree on those issues.

Of course, no one will perfectly agree with everything a candidate promises, so people have to decide which issues are most important, the ones on which they are unwilling to bend. Some in a certain tax bracket always vote for or against certain spending and tax issues. People who care most about the environment may vote for candidates who promise to prioritize conservation. And those without jobs probably tend to vote for someone who promises to get them one.

That sounds like democracy in action. If people are reasonably well informed on the issues (maybe a big assumption, but let’s be generous), and act on that knowledge in the voting booth, what’s the problem?

The problem is that the importance of issues and party to the average voter has created a cadre of politicians unwilling to give an inch on any issue for fear of alienating supporters. It has created a system that once again threatens to shut down the federal government. And it has created a system in which a man like Donald Trump – all objective evidence to the contrary – can become a viable Presidential candidate.

How many voters seek to sustain their joy of citizenship and go into the voting booth thinking of THE GREATER GOOD of the whole country? Probably fewer than write in “Mickey Mouse” on their ballots.

In fact, very few would agree on what exactly the greater good even means. And that’s A GOOD THING. The greater good is not an end in itself. It’s the means to an end, something bigger than the individual issues that dominate our political process. Maybe if politicians thought that voters cared more about some nebulous greater good than any one specific issue, we wouldn’t have the grid-locked, highly partisan system we have today.

That sure sounds like a naïve bit of wishful thinking – and no doubt it is – but isn’t it about time to think about something bigger, or maybe even greater?

Evolution of Modern Language

Almost everyone knows that almost everything evolves over time, mostly for the better, always pretty slowly, and occasionally in ways that defy the relationship between evolution and progress.

For us old geezers, “words” like cya, gotcha, and the like have sometimes posed a challenge.

With its famous 140 character limit (why that particular number?), Twitter has forced a new language to emerge very quickly. One does wonder, though, if our evolution of language may in fact be going backward rather than forward. Before our early ancestors talked in anything resembling the way we do today, they mainly made grunt-like noises, like the apes from which they descended, porpoises and other animals. When Twitter is replaced by, say, Grunter™ (which will allow only two sequential sounds), we will have evolved back to the beginning! Darwin couldn’t have foreseen this, and he certainly would not have approved.

But is our language actually being corrupted by technology, or is that simply a generational bias, “old folk” bemoaning the standards and tastes of those who follow? When you hear someone say “smarling”, you wonder if your hearing is going. If you are a Curious George like me, you will ask and I was told that clever word was invented to describe an expression that is simultaneously a snarl and smile. Now, that is not a bad idea, despite the fact those two things rarely go together unless you are a flight attendant.

When you get bumped into on a crowded street by someone whose nose was buried in their smartphone, and they say, “Sorry, I’m a Facebookie”, you first may wonder what races they cover, but if you are clever like me you remember Facebook.

When you have to describe your relationship with someone you really dislike, what can you say that takes the edge off being too frank? A new term covers that pretty well–friendulant, which I take to be a fraudulent friend??

Bette Midler is making a big comeback as a comedic and fiery actress and she is now being referred to as belle-istic. That sounds cool to me!

Some folks – like the keepers of the dictionary flames – may find these new words a great excuse to stay in business, but when the classic big dictionaries (if there will be any left) begin to weigh 30 pounds, how long will it be before the word-choppers start to pare back some old fashioned words like “please” and “thank you,” which will have given way to pls and tks?

Believe me; I did not invent any of this to think of this piece. I encountered a bright, talkative attendant on a recent flight and I took these notes. She evidently has hundreds more.

Free speech is one thing. Faux speech? That’s another matter, entirely.

How to Vote on the Syrian Question

The general questions about Syria and all that is involved are enormously complicated and defy any simple answers.

That said, the question on how members of the House and Senate should vote on whether to support the President’s proposal for the use of military force is straightforward. And, the reason for that is quite simple, despite the fact that a lot of people are choosing to make it complicated.

Admittedly, the so-called choice is between two very bad options:

[I]–Strike Syria for all the known reasons and we may or may not degrade the military capability and or we may or may not tilt the scales of the rebellion, yet we continue the 100 year global tradition of making it powerfully clear that the use of chemical weapons is not acceptable.

[II]–Do NOT strike Syria and we know for certain that our standing with the whole rest of the world will be seriously and adversely effected and any future necessary threats or promises of consequences from us will definitely be regarded with impunity. We cannot know for certain what other negative consequences are likely to follow, but there are many serious possibilities all over the world–including our economy at home.

That really should not be a difficult choice, if one can leave posturing and politics aside, which in a situation like this is essential with so much at stake.

In the first case we cannot be certain of any of any of the outcomes.

In the second case we can be absolutely certain that the “standing” of the United States will be severely, adversely and permanently effected with important continuing and growing challenges to our national security –economically, politically and militarily.

Therefore, the choice boils down to risking admittedly UNKNOWABLE consequences of military action or risking the absolutely KNOWABLE and predictable consequences of NOT taking military action.

Simple, though inverted in a way, logic says that should not be a choice sensible people should take.

In one case you fear the possibilities that there might be harm to our national security.

In the other case you know for certain there will be serious harm to our national security.

How and why we got ourselves into this ugly jam is not worth debating, because it only is a distraction from what we have to deal with. We are where we are and we simply have to try to clearly think our way ahead.

I strongly believe that a vote to support President Obama on dealing with the Syrian issue is both the safest, soundest and wisest course ahead.