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Monday, August 29, 2005

Trip Report

This past weekend Clam Dan and I went on an impromptu (sort of) motorcycle trip. We decided we'd take the backroads down to St. Joseph, MO and back. So, by nine Saturday morning my bike was loaded up and I was in Sloan, IA where I met Dan, who lives thereabouts. I gassed up, trying real hard not to wince at the price, and off we went. (If you click on the map at the right it'll give you some idea as to our route. It's not the best map in the world, but it's better than nothing... I just figured out the other day that if you click on a picture it gets bigger. Wow.)

So, we rambled from Sloan over to Smithland (which is where the trip starts to get pretty). We were wanting to stay in the Loess Hills as much as we could, the curvier the road, the better. From Smithland to Mapleton was a nice little stretch. After Mapleton, Dan had me so lost in the backwoods that I have almost no clue which roads we actually took, but they were all pretty. I do know that we ended up at Prairie Rose State Park just outside of Harlan, IA, eventually. Strangely enough, Prairie Rose State Park had neither a prairie nor a rose, as far as we could tell. It was kind of a forest and lake kind of park. (Dan told me he'd lived in that area as a wee lad and that the trees weren't there then. They probably didn't do any proscribed burns, so the prairie turned into a scrubby kind of forest.)

We lunched at Walnut, IA, the Antique Capital of Iowa. We ate at Aunt B's Kitchen on the assumption that anything with "Aunt B" in the name must be good. It was VERY difficult to refrain from whistling the theme to "The Andy Griffith Show" as we sauntered into the cafe. The fries were good and skinny and the BLT tasted like a BLT, so I guess I'm not gonna complain. It was a little odd, though, that all the knick-knacks scattered about the restaurant had price tags on them...

And off we went to Atlantic and Villisca, through New Market to Bedford... At one point we went over the Nishnabotna River, which got me thinking about how names influence people. Nishnabotna. What a cool word. A little later we went over the Nodaway which had me thinking of lazy wizards and gentle dragons for some reason. What a happy, sleepy name! Nodaway. Then we went over One-Hundred-Two River. I imagined cartographers arguing over this one... "What should we call it?" asked one mapmaker, squinting academically at a map of Northwest Missouri. "I dunno," answered his co-worker, who was leaning back in his chair eating a roast beef sandwich on white bread with some nice mustard. "How many rivers have we done so far?" Thus was born One-Hundred-Two River.

Bedford, Hopkins, Pickering - eventually we found ourselves skirting Maryville, MO. To my vast surprise, they have a Kawasaki factory there! For some reason I thought their plant was in Illinois somewhere. I would have stopped and taken a picture had there been a convenient place to do so... A quick search on Google revealed the fact that Kawasaki has two plants, one in Maryville and one in Lincoln, NE. So for all you who think it's un-American to drive a Kawasaki, my bike's built closer to the heartland of America than Harley-Davidsons are. Hah!

From Maryville to St. Joe was a fairly forgettable stretch of road. We'd left the pretty scenery behind quite some time ago, and now we found ourselves on a divided highway going 70 miles per hour - something we just didn't want to do. But, there seemed no alternative, so we kept going.

We didn't see much of St. Joe, but the entrance to the city was really cool! I had no idea we were anywhere near the city when we came over the top of a hill and WHAM - the city was right below us! Very pretty... Dan spied a Holiday Inn off to our left, so we zipped over a few lanes and found ourselves parking in a no-parking zone in front of the hotel. (For some reason, every time we parked the bikes on the whole trip, we'd inevitably be in a no-parking zone. See photo above, for instance.) Once we had our accommodations in order, we hopped back on the bikes to go park them in the parking lot behind the hotel. Unfortunately, the street was a one-way, going the wrong way. So we went that way. The next street was a one-way going the wrong way. To make a long story short, we went around in circles three or four times before we figured out how to get from the front of the hotel to the back of the hotel.

We did, however, eventually manage to park legally for the first time all day and find our snoozing spots. We also found the hotel bar, which was nice. They had booze there. Nice. And buffalo wings. Nice. I noticed that other patrons of the bar were looking at me and smiling that particular smile that means "I bet he doesn't know he has a cockatoo on his head." I eventually made my way to the restroom where I took another look at myself. Burned. Oddly sunburned. You could see exactly where my helmet and sunglasses were all day. Oh well... Back to the nice bar I trotted, where I had another nice frosty beverage. Nice. At least it was nice until we realized we were paying over four bucks a bottle for domestic. Not so nice.

The next morning we were on the road at the crack of nine, traversing the maze of Interstates to find our way across the river to Kansas. Wathena to Troy to Highland, then a detour. It was the happiest detour I've ever been on! We ended up going a few miles back east before heading north on Highway 7. I'm going to have to go back to Kansas again just to drive Highway 7. It's a gentle little highway that runs along the Missouri River - it's absolutely beautiful! Through White Cloud we went, then across the border into Nebraska. For some reason it wasn't so pretty in Nebraska as it had been in Kansas... But there were a lot of flowers for some reason.

Breakfast in Rulo, Nebraska was interesting. We ate at a little place called the Bridge Cafe & Bar. It was, indeed, near a bridge. There was a sign on the door advising us that smoking is allowed throughout the entire establishment. (Oh yeah - I'm on week five of not smoking already. I still can't drink beer or coffee without going into a near panic, but things are going well, overall.) We found a table and were promptly served by a nice lady. Eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon and soda - can you tell my low-cholesterol diet went out the window for the weekend? Dan peeked over my shoulder. "What must your life be like," he asked, "if you're sitting in a bar drinking Budweiser at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning?" Nice people, though. It reminded me of Bob's in Martinsburg, NE, just a bit bigger and swept.

Off we went to Falls City, Verdon, to Auburn. I remembered the stretch between Auburn and Nebraska City from a trip I took a few years ago. The road at that time was bouncy, under construction, decidedly un-scenic and confusing. It still is. Avoid it if you can. Nebraska City to Syracuse to Weeping Water to Louisville, where we stopped for a break in a pizza joint's parking lot. For a change, we were parked legally. After perusing the map, we were off on a pretty little county road towards Ashland. The road followed the Platte River for a ways, so we paused to peek at the river for a few minutes. (Of course, we were parked awkwardly along the side of the road. "What do you want to bet," said Dan, "that there's a park right around the corner with a scenic overlook." We went around the corner and there was a park, complete with a scenic overlook.) If you've never seen the Platte, it's about half a mile wide and about half a foot deep. There were butterflies everywhere! It was a nice road.

Then on to Mead. From there we tootled northward to Fremont.

I was once in a band that played in Fremont fairly often, so I'm familiar with the town to an extent. I was looking forward to coming over the bridge in the middle of town because it always seems like a nice view. This time the view sucked. We came up over the bridge to see a VERY black sky to the north and west, complete with lightning bolts and thunder. That's something you really don't want to see when you're on a motorcycle. At the first stop light, Dan looked at me. "Well," he said. "Shall we head east?" I nodded, relieved - I had the same thought. Perchance if we ran east we could outrun the storm. So we abandoned our planned route and headed due east.

We made it to Blair with no problems. At the first stop sign, Dan looked at me. "Wanna try to go north?" he asked, "Or shall we sprint to Missouri Valley?" I pondered the situation for about half a second. "Let's go to Missouri Valley." So we continued east as fast as legally allowed. When we got to Missouri Valley we paused for a few moments to put on our leather coats and chaps and generally batten down our hatches before we ran up the Interstate north.

Sure enough, just a few miles north of Missouri Valley it got real cold, and the wind started gusting (NOT fun when you're on a motorcycle going 70+ miles per hour). Raindrops started splattering the windshield Kioti gave me earlier this summer, which was good as it was about eighty-five percent covered with butterfly remains. I hunched over and concentrated on keeping the bike going in a straight line in spite of the gusty winds. After just a few miles I was white-knuckling it, about as tense as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. About that time I was passed by a guy wearing a T-shirt and shorts, kicked back on his bike, riding with one hand... I felt like a wussy. But I don't particularly enjoy feeling dangerous - I've gotten this old by remembering to duck at the right times.

About ten miles south of Sloan (our starting point) the sky cleared up and the temperature rose to about ninety-five degrees. A beautiful day. The birds were singing... We stopped at Sloan where I bid Dan a happy good-bye and continued the last 25 miles home. Of course, in the interest of expediency, I left my leathers on. By the time I got to Sioux City sweat was running down my back. Other people on motorcycles were looking at me like I was an idiot as they rode past me, half naked, basking in the sun. By the time I got through town to my happy little garage I was soaked. But happy!

I unloaded the saddlebags and staggered to the front door. My beloved wiking vife threw the door open and kissed me on the cheek. "I'm so happy you're home!" she said. "Dinner's almost ready. Go take a shower, you smell funny. My gosh, what happened to your face? You look like a startled raccoon! Here, smear this goop on your poor burned beak..."

It was a very good trip. I am much relaxed now... Though I'm still covered in aloe goop and my lips are kinda sunburned and swollen. I'm happy.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Day of Sadness

Today Dagmar and I helped mother-in-law Kriemhild (Mama K) take their beloved family pet, Bambina, to the vet. Bambina didn't come home... The pooch was over fifteen years old, and was having difficulties. It was quite simply time to let little Bambina go. It's a sad fact that we tend to outlive our pets. The thought occasionally crosses my mind when I look at the cat that owns us, Fruitloop, that someday I'm going to have a difficult decision to make. I hope I make it with grace.

The emotions that come with the death of a pet run surprisingly deep. Bambina danced in my life for five years, fifteen years for Dagmar and Mama K. Fifteen years is a long time. It's rare that a close friendship lasts that long. (When the vet put Bambina to sleep, the twice-widowed Mama K had difficulty leaving. "I need a few minutes," she said. "After all, Bambina has been in my life longer than either of my husbands." That brought the depth of emotion into focus.)

It inevitably made me think of past pets. My grandparent's dogs, Solomon and later Bounder Bee and later still Katie. Cricket cat, who died in her sleep at the farm whilst I was far, far away. Ma & Pa's pooches, notably Taffy and Sandy. Animals have a way of seeping gently into our soul and making a place for themselves whether we're ready for that to happen or not.

I shall have to finish this little essay later - I took a sleepy-pill and it's making me, well, sleepy. Night-night.

The next day...
Do animals have souls? Do we? Prove either... Or deny either. It can't be done. I do know that a dog or cat somehow gives energy to the house. Last night Mama K said, "It's so quiet in the house now. Even when Bambina was sleeping, it wasn't this quiet." If there is such a thing as a "life force," little doggies and kitties have it. That's what Mama K was missing when she said it was quiet in the house.

It's a spooky responsibility in some ways, having a pet. They depend on you for everything. Food, water, shelter, and the choice of when to end the suffering and pain of age.

In any case, Bambina is chasing butterflies and nibbling blackberries off a bush somewhere...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Getting on with life

If you watch the news, you've probably heard about Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside President George Walker Bush's 1,600 acre ranch in Crawford, TX, where President Bush is taking a five-week vacation. When is the last time you got a five-week paid vacation? I had to work at my job for twelve years just to get three weeks off, and my bosses will only pay me for two of them. Mr. Bush has worked at his job for four and a half years, and has spent over 20 percent of his time on vacation in Texas. This does NOT count the time he's spent on vacation at Camp David or Kennebunkport. If you add that in, he's absent from his post more than a third of the time. In fact, President G. Walker Bush has now taken more vacation time than any other president in history, and he still has three and a half years in office. It's public - look it up. (By the way, did you know that Mr. G.W. Bush just bought that ranch in 1999? The way he wanders around in front of the television cameras hauling brush and cutting firewood, you might get the impression that he's been a rancher for longer than six years. It must be the official cowboy hat he wears.)

Anyway, Ms. Sheehan lost her son, Casey, in the Iraq war. She's understandably upset about it, and wants to talk with President Bush and ask him a few questions. Mr. Bush doesn't seem to have time, though, for that sort of thing.

Instead he went for a bike ride. According to President Bush, Americans want their president in shape and "in a position to make good, crisp decisions. And part of my being is to be outside exercising. So I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live and will do so." Source (Side note - on his bike ride, Mr. Bush made it a point to tell his entourage that no one is allowed to pass him.)

Said Bush, when asked about Ms. Sheehan's request to speak with him:
"But whether it be here or in Washington or anywhere else, there's somebody who has got something to say to the president, that's part of the job. And I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say. But I think it's also important for me to go on with my life..." Washington Post, August 15, 2005
That's certainly sensitive. About as sensitive as the Texan who ran over Ms. Sheehan's little white crosses the other day. But I suppose it's important for the President to go on with his life and not dwell on the 1,800 American casualties. It's important for him to enjoy his vacation. After all, he hasn't had one since April...

Well, time to go to work. I'll continue this later...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

5:14 a.m., Tuesday.

Just a few quick notes, then I'm gonna go to bed. (Or, more accurately, I'll go to couch. Dagmar's in bed and I hate to disturb her when she's sleeping. She reminds me of a cat when she sleeps - completely, 100%, utterly content and relaxed. It's a thing to behold.)

Things have been busy lately! The Smokin' Clams had two gigs this past weekend, which kept us hopping. Guitarist Monte Erickson got a phone call during the gig Saturday night - his wife went into labor. So he skeedaddled on back to Sioux City, and the rest of us finished the gig the best we could. A healthy Eric Robert Erickson was born Sunday. Both Dagmar and I are all excited... It's just plain cool.

Dagmar was away to a conference most of last week - I'm happy she's home again!

I'm on day 23 without a cigarette. It's getting easier, but it still seems like I spend the majority of each day struggling. I imagine I'll be fairly normal again by Halloween...

Too tired to think, really. (Not that I think much when I'm alert, actually...) More later!

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Rushing to Judgment

Has anyone been following the elections in Ohio? A republican (Jean Schmidt) won by a narrow margin a few days ago. The democrat, Paul Hackett, was a Major in the Marines, voluntarily served in Iraq, and is also a lawyer. That sets the stage...

Rush Limbaugh, well-known right-wing talk show host, criticized Hackett for his service in Iraq, saying he was a "staff puke" who never saw combat. In fact, Limbaugh said this repeatedly. That made me wonder what Limbaugh's military record holds. Did Limbaugh see combat? Is that why he seems so bitter that Hackett volunteered to go to Iraq and ended up serving in a non-combat role? Is Limbaugh traumatized by his service in Vietnam?

Well, it turns out that Limbaugh never did serve in the military. During his year (singular) in college, Limbaugh naturally had a college deferment (2-S). After his year in college, Limbaugh was given a 1-Y classification, meaning that he was eligible for military service only in case of emergency. (This was later changed to 4-F.) Limbaugh's classification as not eligible for military service is due to Limbaugh submitting his doctor's report to the draft board. It turns out that Limbaugh suffered from (and presumably still suffers from) a pilonidal cyst on his posterior. (Limbaugh, by the way, has told people on his radio show that he was ineligible for the draft due to a high school football injury to his knee. His coach, however, does not remember Limbaugh suffering any knee injury in the one season Limbaugh played football.) source

So, a man who got out of military service in Vietnam because of a boil on his butt very loudly called a Major in the Marines, who volunteered for service in Iraq, a "staff puke" and condemned him for not serving in a combat role.

Limbaugh, incidentally, called the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse "a good time." In fact, the exact quote is: "I'm talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?" Blowing off steam for me is having a beer with the guys, not lining up naked prisoners in sexual positions. Limbaugh followed with: "have you people noticed who the torturers are? Women! The babes! The babes are meting out the torture." source Maybe Limbaugh just needs to be spanked? Oh yeah, the boil. I forgot.

In news closer to home, I found out today that Woodbury County is the most polluted county in Iowa, and is releasing more toxins than any other county in the state. The culprit? MidAmerican Energy. source The top five polluters in Woodbury County are:

1. MidAmerican Energy, Sergeant Bluff plant.
2. MidAmerican Energy, Salix plant.
3. Terra Nitrogen, Sergeant Bluff.
4. Ag Processing Inc., Sergeant Bluff.
5. Sioux City Brick and Tile, Sergeant Bluff.

Maybe we could write some letters to MidAmerican? You can contact them here. (I'm sure MidAmerican does a good job at what they do - I have no complaints about their service - but I'm sure they can find a way to clean up their act.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Just a very few thoughts...

First off, a public "Thank You" to fellow Smokin' Clam Tim Schenzel - one of our cars developed a flat tire, and Tim was gracious enough to drag his very own personal air compressor all the way across town. Not only did he fill the tire, but he put goop in it, too. And he broke the stem of his compressor hose. And he scraped up his knuckles. And I thank him! Unfortunately, despite Tim's best ministrations, the tire won't hold air. Ma and Pa are bringing their little itty-bitty portable air tank in to town for me so I can pump the tire up in the morning and sprint the car the three blocks to Ben Fish Tire to get it fixed. Thanks, folks!

The Clams had a good gig Friday night - we played at Rhonda's here in town. It felt like we played well. We had a good crowd! I'm still working on getting the pictures on the Clam's website. I should have them on-line by tomorrow...

Watch your drug interactions. My beloved bride Dagmar started taking a dietary supplement last Tuesday. Since then, she's been very confused (she went to the store and couldn't remember her PIN number and had to come home to get cash), emotional (she's had at least one inexplicable, public crying jag), headachy ("I don't have a headache," she told me, "but my brain hurts like it's burning on top"), and gradually getting more and more ill (icky tummy and cramps and stuff). It took us quite a while to realize that all these things might be related, and even longer to track down the problem. She quit taking the dietary supplement and she's been rapidly improving. The moral? Read the labels!

Two weeks, no cigarettes. It doesn't bother me much, except when I'm awake... (Actually, it's getting easier. When I'm at home I hardly ever think about smoking any more, but when I'm at work or with the band it's MUCH harder. But manageable. I'm estimating, based on past experience, that I have another couple weeks before I start to feel truly comfortable again, and in six to eight weeks I should be at the point where I can function normally in public.)

Here's a question for you... Our government claims to be anti-tobacco. So why is it that a pack of cigarettes is so much cheaper than a pack of nicotine gum, or the patch? Did you know that Zyban costs well over a hundred dollars for one month? They recommend you take it for three months... It's hard for a smoker to rationalize something like that. "Hmmm... Do I spend over three hundred dollars for medication to help me do something I don't want to do? Or do I spend four bucks on a pack of cigarettes? Hmmm..." If the government TRULY wanted us off nicotine, they'd subsidize the various cures so the average smoker could afford to quit instead of subsidizing the tobacco farmers. Between 2000 and 2003 the government has given out more than $530,000,000 to tobacco farmers. source In 1999 alone, the government gave $328,000,000 to tobacco farmers to make up for their lost profits due to declining cigarette sales. source (Nothing against the tobacco farmers, mind you, they're just trying to make a living. But instead of the government giving them money to grow tobacco, wouldn't it be better if the government gave them money to grow something else?)

I read in a "quit smoking" forum recently that a newspaper once published a list of doctors in that area who owned tobacco stock. What a way to make money! Invest in something that will eventually bring business coughing to your door. Wow. I'd like to find out if it's still true...

Here are some of the stranger things I've heard and/or read in the past few days.

"...some people don't want [insurance] - like the Amish." - Republican Senator Rick Santorum (Harrisburg Patriot, 10 June 1997)
This is just plain spooky. Senator Santorum, a man in power, believes that millions of people don't have insurance because they don't want it? Tell that to the people in MY neighborhood...

"The notion that college education is a cost-effective way to help poor, low-skill, unmarried mothers with high school diplomas or GEDs move up the economic ladder is just wrong." - Republican Senator Rick Santorum in his book It Takes A Family.
Oh. Hmmm... So, poor, low-skill, unmarried mothers with high school diplomas or GEDs can move up the economic ladder... how? Evidently, not by learning a skill or furthering their education.

"...the question about lobbying on the questionnaire did not trigger a memory..." - Supreme Court nominee John Roberts in a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy.
Turns out that Roberts was a political lobbyist for the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Fragrances Association. But somehow, when he saw a question asking "have you ever been a lobbyist," it just didn't trigger a memory. Funny, if someone asked me, "have you ever worked as a circus clown," chances are I would remember...

"Rafael Palmeiro is a friend. He testified in public and I believe him. He's the kind of person that's going to stand up in front of the klieg lights and say he didn't use steroids, and I believe him. Still do." - U.S. President George Walker Bush
Unfortunately, President Bush said this after baseball star Palmeiro (who testified in front of a House committee last March, saying he'd never used steroids) tested positive for steroid use. I don't understand this one. The man has steroids in his system, yet the President insists the guy's innocent. How odd. Maybe the steroids got into his system by divine intervention?

In other odd news, Republican Senator Bill Frist pulled the year's defense spending bill off the floor, saying that it was wrong for the Senate to question ANY defense spending during a time of war. (Just out of curiosity, who are we at war with anyway? Didn't we win Iraq a long time ago? The War On Terror has been changed to The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, so that's not a war any more...) In other words, Senator Frist is unhappy that people would want to trim defense spending, even though last year the United States spent more on its military than the rest of the world combined spent on military. Evidently that's not good enough. Republican Senator John McCain, along with two other Senators, wanted to tack an amendment on the budget regulating the Pentagon's interrogation and prosecution of prisoners (remember Abu Ghraib?), but President Bush promised to veto any bill with any amendment that restricts the military. McCain, incidentally, was held prisoner in Vietnam for five years. And tortured.

What's wrong with the Geneva Conventions? When did we decide to quit abiding by them? The U.S. originally signed the first Geneva Convention way back in 1882. As recently as a few years ago, Donald Rumsfeld (rightly) threw a ruckus claiming the Iraqis were violating the Geneva Conventions when they videotaped five American prisoners. (This would fall under the "Prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity" clause of the 1949 Convention.) But, for some reason, Rumsfeld didn't see anything wrong with the United States' photographing Iraqi prisoners in shackles and hoods. Hmmm... Mr. Rumsfeld later claimed that the detainees don't qualify for the Geneva Conventions because they are "unlawful combatants." This seems to be a category that Rumsfeld has invented on his own - it's not found in any language in the Geneva Conventions, nor in any other international treaty. source

So, the upshot of all of this is that our government has abandoned ethical treatment of prisoners of war and "detainees," and will veto any attempt by our legislatures to rectify that situation. While I have no love for those who have committed acts of terror against the U.S., I think that this position our government has assumed sets a very dangerous precedent. I would certainly hate to be taken prisoner by our enemies now that they know we're not treating prisoners well here...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Day 11, I think...

I've not smoked for a week and a half now. I'm starting to mutter rude things under my breath (and over my breath, and occasionally into a microphone, unfortunately) and throw things at people. Lord, please give my friends patience... I kinda like 'em.

Last Monday President George Walker Bush appointed John Bolton as Ambassador to the United Nations. To me it seems like a blatant abuse of power. Consider - President G. W. Bush first mentioned Bolton as a candidate for the post five months ago. Immediately, red flags went up - not just with the Democrats, but also with the press, Washington insiders, and some Republicans. For five months, we've heard plenty about Bolton, not much of it good. The man has been abusive to subordinates, he has asked his subordinates to change the facts in their reports to match his personal view, he has pushed to find the names of confidential sources - sources who HELPED the U.S., he once said in public that the United Nations was "irrelevant" and that the U.N. consisted of one member - the U.S. This is not a good way to make friends. Republican Senator George Voinovich said Bolton is "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be." source Hmmm...

President George W. Bush needed 60 Senatorial votes to get the Bolton nomination approved (as I understand the situation). He did not have the necessary votes. So, using a little-known clause in the Constitution, Mr. G. Walker Bush simply waited until the lawmakers were gone and pushed through a recess appointment. While legal, in my opinion this action is neither ethical nor moral. A recess appointment was meant to cover emergencies - not as a way to get an unpopular nominee into power. President Bush remarked that he took this action because the U.S. should not have a vacancy in the U.N. during a time of war. True... But the post has been vacant for six months already, and the Senate will be in session again in just one month (I think). Mr. Bush also commented that the legislature was unfairly blocking and stonewalling the nomination. Well, Mr. Bush's political party is in the majority, so getting 60 votes shouldn't be a problem if the nominee were fit for the post - and from what I hear, the only reason the nomination stalled is that the Bush administration refused to release certain documents about Mr. Bolton. If President Bush would have turned over these documents, the Senate could have given Mr. Bolton an up or down vote. Simple as that.

How does this affect us? After all, I live in Iowa - far, far away from all this ruckus.

Well, this appointment does several things for the United States. First, it shows to the rest of the world that we are a nation divided, and that our President and his administration truly don't care about that division. Secondly, he's putting a man who many feel is unfit and unqualified into a position where he represents the United States to the rest of the world. Thirdly, Mr. Bush's appointment of a man who openly snubbed the United Nations TO the United Nations (sounds like a bad joke) shows to the rest of the world that the Bush administration honestly thinks that the United States is the only nation in the world - that the administration thinks of the U.N. as a powerless joke. That is unfortunate indeed.

Did you know that member nations of the United Nations pay dues? Did you know that in 2004 the U.N. was $2.4 billion in debt. Did you know that nearly half that debt is because the United States has consistently failed to pay dues? The U.S. pays somewhere around 22% of the administrative budget of the U.N. and 27% of the peacekeeping budget source. That averages to about 25% of the U.N.'s total budget (I think - this is unverified), but the U.S. is responsible for HALF the U.N.'s debts. We're slackers. The U.S. is a deadbeat dad - has been since the Reagan administration.

Now we've appointed Mr. John Bolton to the U.N. to represent us. I'm sure the rest of the world is giddy with glee... Especially as the United Nations is going through a period of rebuilding itself. The U.S. is pushing certain items on the agenda - notably blocking several nations from the proposed Security Council expansion. There are currently 15 members on the Security Council, but for the past ten years there have been negotiations and such to expand the Council to 25 seats. From what I've heard of Mr. Bolton, he's probably not going to be very polite or diplomatic in stating the administration's position that this should NOT happen. (India, one of the nations pushing the proposal, is an important trading partner of the United States. And they have nukes. We should at least be polite to them - they're our friends!) The U.N. is also involved in mucking about with Korea's nuclear armament. I'm worried that Mr. Bolton may poison those talks as well.

In short, it's a worrisome development. I apologize if I have any of my facts wrong - I'm writing this off the top of my head for the most part. If there are any errors, they're unintentional.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Thoughts at Five in the Morning

Well, I'm going on day ten without smoking. It's getting a little easier, but I think it's going to continue to be a challenge for quite some time. I'm fighting over twenty years of accumulated habits and mindsets... The reason I'm awake at five in the morning is that I keep dreaming of cigarettes. It's easier to be awake.

I seem to have picked up a case of the Screamin' Gottahaveits. For some reason, I gotta have an iPod. To be honest, I don't know what I'd do with one if I managed to get my grubby little paws on an iPod, but I gotta have one. (Actually, it'd be nice to have in the car or on the bike or when the band's setting up or when I'm mowing or shovelling snow.) Kind of a bummer they're $400... That's more than my weekly paycheck. I need to talk myself out of this, but I'm notorious for not being able to do that. If a cool gadget comes along, sooner or later I'll end up with one. I positively HATE talking on the phone, but I have a neat little flip-open cell phone that I can take pictures with. I also have a digital camera, though until six months ago I'd shown no interest in photography. I have to admit, though, that I use the phone quite a bit, and Dagmar and I take between 150 and 200 photos a week with the camera - so the gadgets DO get used.

But I really don't need an iPod. I think I may be falling prey to marketing. For the price of an iPod I could make a pretty good credit card payment. I must keep in mind that iPods will still be around in fifteen or twenty years when I get all my credit cards payed off. THEN I can get a toy.

What put me on this little iPod rant this morning was an e-mail I got about Cheerios. "Take our survey and get a year's supply of Cheerios," said the e-mail. Being the cynic I am, I went to the Internet and Googled "Cheerios Survey." I found that the company doing the survey seems to give away a lot of stuff - "seems" being the operative word. There were many complaints on the web from people who were waiting for their "prizes" or "promotional offers" from the survey company. So I declined to take the survey, though I do like Cheerios quite a bit (oh, those tasty O's). But, whilst researching a year's supply of Cheerios, I ran across an inordinate number of websites claiming to give away free iPods to people who take their survey or answer their questions. I just can't believe it's true, so I'm not gonna do it. But I have to admit I'm curious as to how the scam works. If I figure it out, I'll let you know...

On a completely different (and slightly more important) subject - our government has managed to throw an energy bill together. It seems that they're using the "Patriot Act" theory of pushing things through the government - three paragraphs of bold print, followed by hundreds of pages of fine print. How many of our esteemed Senators or Representatives do you think actually read the 1,725 page bill?

A few things I've learned whilst searching the Internet... The bill gives $3.1 billion in tax incentives to renewable energy sources. That's laudable and good. The bill also gives $2.6 billion to the oil companies. That's not so good. Compare the $2.6 billion the oil companies get to the $200 million the bill gives to research bio-based fuels and you know where our administration's heart lies. (A billion is one thousand million, mind you. The difference is considerable.) According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the bill as passed will save the U.S. one-half of one percent of 2020 oil use. That's not much.

There are good things in the bill as well, though. Daylight Savings Time will be a month longer now. And someone's getting $10 million to promote commuting by bicycle. There will be a boost to Midwest agriculture, as the bill is expected to double the use of ethanol and biodiesel. But, in my admittedly casual research, I've not run across any provision in the bill that truly promotes hydrogen as a fuel, or anything that will considerably lessen our dependence on foreign oil - both things that President Bush has promised us.

We WILL run out of oil in my lifetime. (Current estimates are 25 years.) That WILL cause our economy, as it is now, to collapse. Remember, oil isn't just used for fuel - plastics, my boy, plastics! We need to pull our heads out of the sand - soon.

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