Archive for October, 2009

Long before there was a Bachelor ski area in the Cascades near Bend, OR, Gordon Slate and I would take his dad’s ‘36 Dodge “hoopie” out each May trying to break through the snow to near where the base of the ski area is now located. About Dutchman’s Flat.

A “hoopie” was a pickup-type vehicle. Most were low-geared with four-cylinder engines, high ground clearance, big tires and fenders. Sometimes fenders. They were cast iron, two-wheel drive, but strong enough to go nearly anywhere in Deschutes County.

Two years running, Gordon and I got nearly all the way until the “hoopie” high centered and couldn’t move. That meant a long, cold, wet walk in knee-high snow until we found other teens trying to do the same thing.

No cell phones then. But if there had been, neither of us would’ve called our dads. We knew the answer: “You guys were idiots enough to get in; get yourselves out.”

Times have changed. Now we have “Yuppie 9-1-1.” That’s a term coined by someone in California Search and Rescue. It describes hikers, snowmobilers, skiers or others who either aren’t experienced enough to go into the back country or are dumb enough to go in without the right equipment. In both cases, they can wind up in trouble and expect to be bailed out. No questions. Damn the expense!

What these groups have in common is some carry personal locator beacons; “Onstar” for hikers. These work with GPS systems. If connected to the proper service, push the button, the service notifies authorities and some emergency group responds.

Now, in theory, that sounds great. But, as usual, when in the hands of the two aforementioned groups, they’re pure trouble.

In September, two gold panners in Placer County, CA, used GPS to call for help. With darkness setting in, the Mono County sheriff’s office asked the National Guard for a high-altitude chopper and hoist crew to lift these guys out at Convict Lake. Next morning, before the flight got there, the two had hiked out.

In September, according to AP, two guys and their teenage sons went into the Royal Arch Loop area near Grand Canyon. Real hikers will tell you that’s a place for the most experienced and well-equipped. These people failed both tests.

First day in, they ran out of water. No problem. Push the button. It was night so National Park Service couldn’t get a chopper in until morning. When the crew got onsite, the hikers had found a stream and declined help.

That night, a second emergency call. Arizona Public Safety sent a chopper with night vision equipment. Same hikers said the local water tasted salty and they were afraid of running out. Chopper left.

Third day, another call. This time, the park service chopper crew put them onboard, flew them out and ticketed the leader for “creating a hazardous condition.”

My question, “What took you so long?”

John Amrhein, emergency coordinator for the San Bernardino County sheriff’s office which covers Death Valley, says people used to crawl out on their hands and knees when they had problems. Then, with cell phones, calls increased. With GPS, he says, now it’s “I’m cold and wet so come get me.”

These kinds of calls are now coming from Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier and a lot of other rugged spots around our western neighborhood. They’re putting at risk million-dollar equipment, lives of flight crews and tying up emergency operations so they can’t get to other calls where the danger is more than salty water or hikers with sore feet.

We’ve got ‘em on our Oregon Coast, too. People in street clothes and tennis shoes hike up/down cliffs to get a better view and sometimes the Coast Guard has to hoist them out. Coast Guard won’t say how often or the cost but you can bet equipment and crew time is expensive. Not counting danger to both for what could be a needless mission.

Most people around here get into serious hiking clothes and equip for the challenge. With all the places in our backyard to explore, it’s a great way to spend a day or two. Or three. And the GPS locators are great to take along. But … their use as emergency beacons in our backwoods needs to be limited to those kinds of uses. Life saving, yes. Comfort tools, no.

This is one taxpayer/hiker that would like to see the National Park Service, sheriff’s offices, the National Guard and Coast Guard carry along some big, fat ticket books. For liberal use among the “Yuppie 9-1-1″ crowd.

My dad and Mr. Slate would be proud!

Two of the more irritating burrs under my saddle at any given time are political people … a whole lot of ’em … and a significant share of the national media. Especially the broadcast folk.

It’s particularly true when members of these two groups use a phrase to describe you and me that I have long found personally insulting. It’s arrogant and pompous on their parts. You hear it a lot around election season and in the halls of Congress.

It’s when they refer to us … you and me … as the “ordinary citizen” or “average American” or the one that rankles most, “ordinary people.” At times they may throw in the words “regular American.” It has the same general effect on me as running fingernails harshly over a blackboard.

It irritates because it’s as if they are trying to describe an amorphous someone who either doesn’t measure up to some perceived citizenship plateau or the speakers/writers were a step up on one exalted level and the rest of us were a step or more down.

I’ve been around a lot of national media and political types in my itinerant professional life and I’m here to tell you both groups are filled with “ordinary” people. In fact, with sizeable egos too often coupled with outsized desires to “be someone,” some I’ve experienced are the most under ordinary people I’ve ever known. Not all. Just some.

On the other hand, I’ve come across a lot of extraordinary folks among teachers and sales clerks, some excellent philosophers among truck drivers and cops, leadership of the highest order in many civil servants in both civility and service or heroes who just wanted to get a dirty job done while going about it in a very uncommon way. “Ordinary folk?” “Average Americans?”

For centuries, some civilizations showed the highest regard for the populous at large by referring to all simply as “citizen.” It signified each person regardless of rank had equal social status as well as full protection of the law.

When I hear a member of Congress, our Legislature or some media hack refer to the rest of us as “average citizens,” “ordinary Oregonians” or “regular folks,” I remind myself these people eat the same kinds of food as the rest of us, sleep in beds much like our own, go to work in the same traffic congestion and most have the same proper hygiene habits we do. Most of ’em.

It would do many of these voices well to remember their careers are owed to the numbers of us extraordinary people who vote for them, watch them mangle the English language each night in our living rooms or mess up otherwise clean national newsprint with tortured thought.

As for politicians especially, it is our extraordinary collective hand that marks the ballot, not the man or woman in office who may have to struggle to raise his or her contribution to the level of mediocrity.

It is no false modesty on our part to think of ourselves as anything but ordinary. Over a couple of hundred years, we’ve built a nation, raised our kids, lifted other countries out of chaos and into stability, gone to the moon and back, built a military second to none and lived up to some pretty high ideals for the most part. Some of that we did with extraordinary leadership; sometimes without it when we had to.

Not a bad record for us “ordinary” people!

Those who court our attention or our vote to further their own careers, solicit our business for their business or seek our support for anything would do well to remember that when referring to us.

You know who I’m talking about. The other ordinary folks.

A new and different experience is about to be felt by every member of the Oregon legislature this session and/or next: voting for tax increases. Not whether but which … and how much. It’s coming. And they’re gonna do it!

Many of the aforementioned folk will respond with the usual denial … “No Sir, not me.” To which I say, “Oh yes, Sir or Madam. You!”

City, county and state budgets in all states have been slashed and squeezed for years until many are cutting fiscal muscle. Oregon’s also been nailed with the whammy of the O&C funding roller coaster which appears about to hit “end of track.”

In traditional political slight of hand, we’ve been hit with round after round of fee increases, franchise fee hikes passed along in higher bills to users … us, park admission/use costs, higher charges to record legal documents, surcharges and even outright gas tax boosting.

Most politicians will say, “I’ve held the line and haven’t raised taxes.” Yeah. You bet. The legal difference between a tax and a new fee is largely indistinguishable … and unimportant … to the payer.

For most of us, the linguistic trick of calling a fee something besides a tax has been largely accepted for years. But business as usual … no new taxes … is coming to an end. There’s no place else to look.

We’ve seen services at all levels curtailed by reduced budgets, staff cuts, fewer operating hours and more charges for services. The Roseburg, OR, city council, for example, wants to charge one of its members personally for official research he wants done by staff. I understand why but, if it’s so tight elected officials are charged for what should be the staff time we’ve already paid for with our taxes, it makes my point. The day of reckoning … the day of raising more revenue to pay the bills … is straight ahead!

For over a decade, the board of Coos-Curry electric co-op in Coos and Curry Counties prided itself for not raising customers rates; customers who were neighbors and friends. Instead of passing along higher costs of power charged by suppliers, the board sucked them up each time and kept rates the same. So the whole operation slipped silently into a big hole of debt. It continued for years until recently when the federal government and lenders said “no more loans” until income is brought in line, debt reduced and this irresponsible practice ended.

Oregon cities, counties and the State itself are in danger of getting into the same position. Partly because of the absolute blood oath not to raise taxes; partly because costs have increased while revenue streams have been reduced; partly through increased demand for services by more people. Sooner or later, a poorer treasury and increased demand for necessities will collide.

No one … in office or out … wants higher taxes. But what’s going to happen when, one of these days, you call 9-1-1 with an emergency and get an answering machine saying they’ll get back to you?

Former legislator and new Douglas Co. Comm. Susan Morgan has written a series of newsletters since taking office. I’ve saved ‘em all. As she learned more about her new job, she passed along that knowledge in this series of easy-to-read, comprehensive newsletters that are real primers in county business.

One key item she relates in each department is the number of full time equivalent (F-T-E) positions per department: empty or occupied. In many cases, there are fewer filled. And fewer. And still fewer.

What about the crumbling infrastructure (buildings, information technology, vehicles, road equipment)? What about continuing education and updating for employees? How far can you reduce a required service before it’s unable to do its legally mandated job?

In the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary, some uninformed voices will keep hollering about “fat in government.” Well, you give Comm. Morgan a call. She can take care of that “uninformed” part.

She’s addressed only Douglas County in her missives. But the same information can be applied directly to all Oregon counties as well as municipal and state government. Factual but not pretty.

At our house, any candidate coming around with the “no new taxes” catchphrase will be judged to not have sufficient information about the job being sought or the intelligence to carry it out responsibly.

What we want to know is the need(s), what will it cost to satisfy the need(s), which sources of income will be increased and by how much. That is the only responsible litmus test there can be now.

To expect less is not responsible. To keep doing business the same old way is not even rational.

From time to time, I’m criticized by some as being opposed to things conservative and of being a “flaming liberal.” Of course, the intent is to say conservative is good, liberal is bad and, thus, I’m a bad guy.

Then comes the complaint that I’m a “left wing nut” who can’t see anything good in more “moderate” or “conservative” views.

Well, let’s take a look in the old Webster’s Ninth Collegiate for an impartial definition of these oft-used terms.

My desk copy says conservative means “traditional, careful, economical, thrifty, temperate, conventional and moderate.” Yes, Virginia, moderate. And I really do think my overall outlook could be accurately be described by just those adjectives.

The problem is we have stricken the word “moderate” from the definition of conservative. “Conservative” now is most often used with only hard-edged descriptions and in political applications we have struck nearly everything else from the meaning.

If, for example, I believe government has no business inserting itself into the private family issue of abortion, I am immediately cast as anti-conservative, not moderate. But I think of my view as pro family. Now that’s supposed to be moderate: even conservative.

If I say we should use tax dollars to assure some form of basic medical care for all, I’m that liberal nut again. But the proven fact is more people being taken care of before they get really sick means spending a lot fewer tax dollars in the long run. That seems to me to be “economical,” “thrifty,” even reasonable. Words which also define a conservative.

If I criticize a “conservative” politician for saying something wrong, divisive or even stupid, I’m called anti-conservative. But if my criticism is because I expect more careful and rational thought from someone in a position of leadership, rather than flash and an over-simplified answer, that seems to me to be “traditional,” “reasonable,” “prudent” and, yes, even “moderate.”

As a nation of mostly moderate folk, we have allowed ourselves to be shoved into a dangerous corner by loud minorities from both ends that have created the divisive political philosophy of “you’re either with us or against us.”

Nothing defines that clearer than those ideologues on the right who have made issues of personal choice and private family matters into politics and something unacceptable if someone else’s response to those issues differs from their moral standards.

That’s not conservatism. That’s political bigotry, which also is found in your dictionary. “Bigot: one obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his own prejudices.”

But, in my love of language, I find that word “bigot” also can be used to define the other end of the political scale: the strident liberal. Just tell one of them that there’s such a thing as a good conservative approach to one of their heartfelt issues and they’ll brand you as a right wing nut case.

The answer to how we look at ourselves politically should, I think, be described in the way ice skating and some other athletic events are judged at the Olympics. Take out the high and low ends of the scoring and average the middle.

Because that is, after all, where most of us are.

So. Pres. Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize. And Republicans … some Republicans… are coming unglued!

I’ve got to admit, for someone with an opinion on seemingly everything, I’m surprised and dealing with mixed feelings. Not that he shouldn’t have won it but that it has come so soon in his appearance on the national and international stages.

Nothing will stop the Republican National Committee and some of its more hate-filled sympathizers from spewing verbal garbage at the news. Nor will it stop the Democratic National Committee and some of its equally unhinged supporters from shouting back equally off-base comments.

But, for me, I think Sen. John McCain’s public reaction sums up the news pretty well. He said he couldn’t speak to the Nobel Committee’s intentions but the president must “understand he has even more to live up to.” That sounds about right.

The whiners point out the Nobel nomination deadline was coincidentally only two weeks into his presidency. So their “rush-to-judgment” complaints are that he had not been in office long enough to do the amount of work they see necessary to merit consideration.

I doubt the committee was looking at the two weeks. My guess is they looked at his entire campaign in the year before during which Obama took many stands on American foreign policy and other international issues dealing with this country’s place in the world. He also, during that time, denounced the highhanded unilateralism of George Bush and his “you’re with us or against us” attitude that made so many countries overseas angry.

Certainly Obama’s recent United Nations speech and his overseas visits in the last seven months weighed in the judge’s minds. How could they not? As president, he was saying the things he said during the campaign. While the red meat right called it “apologizing” it set a good tone for renewed cooperation on many fronts and was well-received abroad politically.

As McCain indicated, now it’s up to Obama to earn what he has already been awarded. Giving him the Nobel for peace may have been premature and, at this point, maybe not fully earned.

But it says to me … and I hope to our president … there is scholarly agreement that he has set the right tone for government cooperation around the world and now he must follow up on those good feelings with actions and leadership.

The Nobel Peace Prize may have come too soon in Obama’s international career. That’s a debatable question.

But what’s not debatable is that the ball is now in his court. He appears to have been given tremendous recognition for what he has started and for what he advocates for the future.

As they say in Obama’s beloved basketball, it’s time for a full court press.

This is another one of those multi-subject columns. So keep reading.

UofO Football: You can bet the farm, come Nov. 7, Univ. Of Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount will be back in uniform and on the playing field. You’ll remember this miscreant for sucker-punching a Boise State University player in September, throwing punches at teammates, then going after fans before cops and staff wrestled him out.

Coach Chip Kelly quickly announced at the time, while Blount’s scholarship would continue and he could play in scrimmages and he could hang out with the team, he would be benched for the season. From the standpoint of real sportsmanship, all of that other stuff should have gone away and he should have been benched. Period.

Now, the allure of post-season playoffs … and the millions of dollars on the table for participating … have proven too much for Coach Kelly and UofO administration. What should have been made a lesson for amateur athletes everywhere is going to be trashed for future income.

Now my football-playing grandson and all the other 15-year-olds in football programs can look at this situation and say to themselves, “So what does it mean when you get benched for the season? That’s not so bad. You still get paid and you’ll be back next month.”

On the third day after his “suspension,” Blount’s parents and lawyers were on the phone to Kelly to try to change his mind. The lawyer calls have kept coming.

Kelly needs to consider one very important fact before this guy puts on the pads. Blount has a lengthy background of repeated emotional and violent behavior problems. They go a lot deeper than football coaches can solve. His history says he needs extended psychiatric help. But kids out there don’t know that. So Kelly will appear to be telling them violence in athletics is acceptable.

That’s wrong.

International Olympics: The awarding of the 2016 Summer Games to Rio is great. Compared to many of its neighbors, Brazil is an excellent example of democracy and economic development in all of South America. No developing nation has had this honor bestowed in modern Olympic history and it sends a good message.

Pres. Obama had little choice whether to go make the case before the IOC. Heads of state of all competing nations were going. American presidents before him had made the same trip for the same reason. We would have been criticized by other nations if he had not gone.

But the reaction of hate radio and the far right cheering because, in their cheese-filled brains this was a loss for Obama, is maddening and disgraceful. These same cretins who wrap themselves in the flag and call each other “patriot” come off looking like idiots. In fact, when someone starts cheering for the defeat of their own country’s interests and exulting in any failed efforts of its elected leaders, the next word in my mind is “treason.”

Strong word? You bet! Put their words and actions in a competitive wartime setting and it fits. We are a nation of better people than these professional malcontents. Much better.