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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Pardon Me While I Get Up On my Soapbox

Note: I did most of this from memory. If some of my facts look wrong, please feel free to go look 'em up! I'm writing this as accurately as I can, but like I said, I'm doing it from memory...

The Government MUST Lead...

Once upon a time, way back in the 1970s, the bell-bottom-wearing people here in the United States of America elected Jimmy Carter as our president. Mr. Carter soon found himself trying to manage a nation in the midst of an energy crisis. Mr. Carter repeatedly stressed the benefits of conservation and tried his best to wean the nation from its dependence on foreign oil. As a symbolic gesture, he ordered solar panels to be put on the White House. People started driving smaller cars and were starting to be more aware of our environment.

Thankfully, due to Mr. Carter's foresight, the auto companies have had thirty years to develop electric and alternate fuel cars, solar panel technology has grown by leaps and bounds due to market demand, and, like Brazil, we're now totally free of our dependence on foreign oil. Our farmers are selling American-grown crops to Americans to use as fuel. Most new houses built in the past fifteen years are "off the grid," creating their own electricity through rooftop windmills and solar panels. Global greenhouse emissions are down. Everything's peachy indeed!

Ha! Wouldn't THAT have been nice? The truth is, we're no farther now than we were in 1978. In fact, we've dug ourselves deeper. United States republican president Ronald Reagan took the solar panels off the White House roof in the early 1980s, and since then we've been driving bigger and bigger cars and generally ignoring the problem. (I guess it's more important to start unneeded wars and argue about the morality of two women living together than it is to save our children's planet. Silly me.)

Today, nearly 30 years after Mr. Carter started the conservation ball rolling, we're facing unrest in the Middle East (where we get the bulk of our foreign oil supplies), oil prices have skyrocketed, and global warming is looming. It's estimated that some parts of northern Eurasia and Alaska are now over 11 degrees warmer than they were a century ago. Some northern bears are suffering from insomnia and are skipping their winter hibernation altogether. Glaciers are retreating. Ice caps are melting. This is happening, and it's serious. As an example of how things are changing, the other day it was 65 degrees here in Iowa -- a rarity for late November -- but it was snowing in Florida the same day. Soon this is going to affect more than polar bears (did you know that the polar bear population is now below 20,000 bears worldwide?) and will start affecting our climate. Think it doesn't affect you? Think of how we've treated Mexico lately -- building walls between our nations, snubbing them politically, etc. Now think of how they're going to react in ten or fifteen years when we're wanting to buy corn and wheat from THEM. It could happen, and if it does, be sure they're gonna charge us plenty!

What can we do about it? Lots. A little scientific background first...

The most important ingredient in the global warming problem is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a normal part of the carbon cycle, but if too much of it gets into the earth's atmosphere it causes a "greenhouse effect" - it traps the sun's warmth below it. There is a fixed amount of carbon in the world - we can't make more, and we can't destroy it. The carbon is here, and we need to deal with it. The problem is that humans have been taking carbon out of a "sink" (sinks are places in the carbon cycle where carbon is sequestered over a long period of time), namely fossil fuels, and are putting that carbon into the atmosphere.

One of the prime movers of carbon is the plant kingdom. Through photosynthesis plants remove carbon dioxide from the air during the day and release oxygen back into the environment, keeping the carbon in the plant's structure. Thus, biomass (the totality of plants) is considered a carbon sink. The carbon gets released back into the environment when the plant dies and decays or is burned (and at night plants actually "exhale" a little of the CO2 they absorbed during the day, but they do keep most if it). If the plant is buried under muck for millions of years, it turns into coal or oil -- holding the carbon until the coal or oil is released. (This is where the greenhouse effect comes into play - we've been taking carbon sequestered in the fossil fuels and dumping it ALL into the environment in one big swoop.)

So... back to the question. What can we do about global warming? The way I see it, there are two main ways to go about it. The first is to follow Mr. Carter's example and cut back on our use of fossil fuels, thus reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that gets into the environment and putting more carbon dioxide into the carbon sinks, sequestering it. The second option is to keep on using fossil fuels, but utilize some big-time brute-force engineering to lower the earth's temperature. Most of the options I list below will fall into one of those two categories.


There are a lot of little things that can easily be done to help the environment. They will all be painful to someone somewhere, but most things can be done with a minimum of fuss.

LIGHTS: An example is the simple light bulb. I propose that our government ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs altogether, thus forcing us to gradually replace our existing light bulbs with fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are now being made that fit into existing light sockets, and they are four to six times more energy efficient than regular old incandescent bulbs. (From www.energystar.gov: "If every home in America replaced just one light bulb with a fluorescent bulb we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.")

I feel the government would need to ban the manufacture and sale of incandescent bulbs simply because the fluorescent bulbs cost about three bucks, a couple dollars more than regular old light bulbs, and most people don't wanna spend the extra dollar or two for a light bulb. What most people don't realize, however, is that in addition to saving a few pennies in fuel costs, the fluorescent bulbs last just about forever! I replaced the light bulbs in my house with the screw-in fluorescent bulbs a few years ago, and I haven't had a single bulb burn out since. I used to replace a few bulbs about every six months or so... So the extra cost was well worth it! If we ban the manufacture and sale of the regular incandescent bulb it would be painful for the company that makes 'em, but surely the overall benefits to society outweigh the discomfort of re-tooling to manufacture a different style bulb.

"But how does a light bulb create greenhouse gases?" you may ask. Simple. The bulb doesn't. But the energy used to light the bulb comes most often from a power plant that burns coal to make electricity. If we got our electricity from power plants that utilized solar, wind, tidal, nuclear or geothermal sources I guess it wouldn't matter much what kind of light bulb we use.

INSULATION: This one's simple, too. Newer houses are well-insulated, but often older existing homes aren't. Couldn't the government send a couple guys out to put weatherstripping around the doors and windows of older homes? It's a cheap thing to do, but has a big impact. We could fund this through a slightly increased gas tax if we need to, or perhaps by taxing, say, regular old incandescent light bulbs.

GOVERNMENT EXAMPLE: If I were king for a day, I'd make a law that all government vehicles (with the exemption of military vehicles of course) be hybrid at the least, preferably all-electric or hydrogen powered. The technology is in place. This can be done. Think of how much money this would save the taxpayers over the years in fuel costs alone. Mail trucks are a perfect example - they don't often have to go over 55 miles per hour, they're only used eight hours a day (leaving sixteen hours to recharge), they're used for stop-and-go driving which is perfect for electric vehicles... (I'm not saying that the government needs to immediately sell their fleet and replace it with hybrids all at once, but any new vehicles the government purchases should be hybrid.)

Put the solar panels back on the White House roof. Our government should lead by example. Years ago I read an article in a back issue of Analog (in an open letter to Mr. Carter, no less) wherein the author stated that it would be very symbolic if the government could light up the Washington Monument (and Lincoln Monument, etc.) using solar power. I feel it should be taken many steps further than that. It should be mandated that EVERY government building, monument, edifice, etc. be made energy self-sufficient to the highest degree possible. Put solar panels on the roof of the courthouse. Build a wind turbine next to the National Guard armory. Again, the technology is in place. We just need the government to lead the way and show us how to use it.

REDUCE CORPORATE CONTROL: I read recently that a farmer near here spent $40,000 to put up a wind turbine on the assumption that the power he didn't use would be sold back to the power company. His motivation wasn't to make money, he just wanted to be self-sufficient. But if he could sell the excess power for a couple bucks, why not? Well, in an exercise of corporate muscle, the local utilities company not only refused to buy electricity from him, but actually made him shut his new turbine off altogether! That story may very well be an urban legend, but the point is valid - if we're going to wean ourselves of foreign oil and reduce our greenhouse emissions, we NEED to limit corporate control. We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed around by utilities companies and big oil executives. If they're afraid of losing money, well, that's their problem. They can re-tool to provide different services easily enough if they have to. (Here in the Midwest the vast majority of people used to be directly or indirectly involved in agriculture a hundred years ago. Due to advancing technology, now only a fraction of those people are working in ag-related business. All the rest of the people learned a new trade and moved on with life. This can happen in the fossil-fuel industry too. It can be done. It's been done before. It's uncomfortable for a while, but it can be done.)

TRANSPORTATION: This is the biggie that everyone's been talking about. We burn fossil fuels in our cars, and the exhaust goes straight out our tailpipes and into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. (The other evil of this is that we're dependent on foreign oil to run our cars and trucks. If we solve the pollution problem, it's likely that we'll solve our oil dependency problem at the same time.) What can we do about it? Lots.

We're starting to see viable hybrid gas-electric vehicles on the market now. (These are cars and trucks that have both gas and electric motors. The vehicle uses a combination of the two to its best advantage to raise gas mileage.) The problem, in my mind, is that hybrids are too expensive, and at the moment they're not attractive to the mass market. We can get the "expensive" part by lowering taxes on hybrid cars to make them more affordable. Another possibility would be the government giving interest-free car loans to people who buy hybrid vehicles. A big part of the cost factor, however, could be alleviated by simple supply and demand -- force the government to use hybrid vehicles (as I mentioned above). This would force American auto manufacturers to build more hybrid cars, thus lowering the cost of production, and at the same time would eventually put a bunch of used hybrid cars on the market when the government fleet gets replaced years down the road.

I was in line at the drive-through at the bank the other day. There were six vehicles in line - three big SUV's, an H2 Hummer, an old Cadillac, and my little Geo Prism rustbucket. At times like that I always wonder why people need SUV's in the city. "But I need it to haul my two kids around..." Bullpucky. My dad hauled his three kids around just find in a station wagon. I think we need to put a limit on just how big a non-commercial vehicle can be on our city streets. (Personally, I think anyone who drives a Hummer or one of the big SUV's around is compensating for something, but that's a topic for another post.)

Our American society needs to take a good look at public transportation, too. Europe and Japan, from what I hear, have excellent public transportation systems. We can learn something from them... Sioux City does have a public bus line, but it's inefficient. I often see a full-size diesel bus belching black smoke on its way up the street, carrying only two or three passengers. I think our city would be better off by getting rid of its existing fleet of big buses, replacing them with half-sized hybrid buses, and doubling the number of routes. That would decrease considerably the amount of greenhouse gases emitted while simultaneously giving better service to more people - thus getting more people out of their cars.

People talk of hydrogen being the fuel of the future, and likely it is. The immediate problem is that the most cost-effective way to create hydrogen right now uses gasoline... So that's not gonna help anything in the near future.

Other alternative-fuel vehicles are starting to hit the market -- notably "E85" vehicles. These run on a mixture of gasoline and ethanol, which is created using renewable sources such as soybeans and corn. Brazil started down this path thirty years ago (remember Mr. Carter?) and is now fully self-sufficient; they don't import ANY foreign oil whatsoever, relying instead upon ethanol-fueled vehicles and their own oil supply. Again, we'll need our government to take the lead on this, and thus far they've failed us miserably. The government should further subsidize the purchase of E85 vehicles, and should reduce taxes on ethanol fuel in order to lure more consumers to the technology. This is already done to a small extent, but I guarantee you if there's a dollar a gallon difference between cheap ethanol and expensive gasoline, there would be a much greater demand for E85 vehicles!

WIND POWER: Wouldn't it be nice if we could develop small wind turbines that we could mount on the top of our house or garage to augment the power we get from the electric company? The technology is getting closer to making this a reality, but (as was mentioned earlier) legislation will have to be put into place to keep the utilities companies from lobbying against this technology. There are currently large "wind farms" in California and the Midwest with big huge wind turbines creating electricity - this is a great first step! We need more commercial wind farms, as well as eventually developing "personal" wind turbines. Any energy we get from non-fossil sources is good energy!

TIDAL POWER: Our government needs to look into "underwater windmills" - put a turbine with large, slow-moving blades underwater to take advantage of tidal energy. This has been tested, and it works very well. But, again, we need to legislate for this.

All of these things, and much more (such as using wave energy, and I never did talk about geothermal power), should be done to limit the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Conservation alone won't solve the problem, but it's a good first step.

Brute-Force Engineering

Remember when I said earlier that the other way we could pull ourselves out of this situation could be by brute-force engineering? Instead of lowering our greenhouse emissions, we can simply let global warming happen and cool the earth's atmosphere. (I got most of this information from the July/August 2003 edition of Analog magazine - "From Salt Foam to artificial Oysters," pages 43-51, written by Dr. Richard A. Lovett.)

ORBITING SHADES: Someone smart figured out that if we reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the earth by 1.8% we could alleviate global warming. One possibility is to put big black panels in orbit around the earth to act as giant shades. If we are clever, we could put solar panels on the back of 'em and have them do double-duty by having them beam energy to earth in the form of microwaves in addition to creating the needed 1.8% increase in shadows. Can we do this? Yes. We have the technology. It'd sure as heck be more expensive than changing a few light bulbs, but we can do it.

CLOUDS: Another smart person figured that if we put little floating "mist machines" in the oceans to put more water into the atmosphere we could increase global cloud cover by 15%, thus decreasing the amount of sunlight by the needed 1.8%. It would be a major feat, however, to create the millions of "mist machines" or atomizers needed, get them distributed equally throughout the earth's oceans, keep them from drifting around, and keep ships from hitting them.

CARBON SINKS: If you've been reading this whole thing, you'll remember that part of the carbon cycle includes carbon sinks. It's been proposed that we simply take some of the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and put it in a sink, sequestering the carbon there where it can't get back into the atmosphere. One way to do this would be to simply take a whole bunch of plants (biomass) and dump 'em into the deepest, darkest spot in the bottom of the ocean and keep it there. The plants, of course, have been taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and will release that carbon when they decompose. By preventing the decomposition, we "lock" the carbon in place, keeping it from doing any harm. So, some people have proposed that we do massive reforestation, harvest the trees, and dump 'em into the Mariana Trench. The problem with this is that we'd need to put a LOT of biomass out of commission, and along with the carbon, we'd be taking a lot of nutrients absorbed by the plant material out of commission.

People have also considered taking limestone slurry (limestone absorbs CO2) and using that to collect the carbon dioxide, then dumping the slurry down a mine shaft or something. To be honest, I didn't study enough chemistry to understand this concept, but it doesn't sound all that feasible to me... In order to get enough limestone to do the trick we'd have to start strip mining again, and I don't like that much.

SCIENCE FICTION: There's always the old science fiction standby of simply moving our planet a bit farther away from the sun when it gets too warm. Or, of course, moving to another planet altogether and starting over. Needless to say, I'm not gonna hold my breath... These things are simply NOT feasible at this time.

It seems to me that prevention is more feasible than any of the "brute-force" engineering solutions.

The Conclusion...

I've noticed that one common thread through every solution I listed is government. We need to let our elected officials know that we're concerned about global warming, and that we expect them to take the lead in taking steps to alleviate the problem. The United States has, under the Bush administration, refused to sign the Kyoto accords -- thus placing America squarely in the "environmental bad guy" column. This needs to change. America needs to grab the bull by the horns and deal with this problem in a responsible manner. This can happen on a local level (some cities in the Pacific Northwest have "public bicycles" available for people to use in their downtown districts), the state level (maybe now that Iowa republican Chris Rants can't block legislation we can get our state government to require state-owned vehicle fleets to be E85 or hybrid), or the national level (tax breaks for non-fossil power plants, funding for research, signing the Kyoto accords, etc. -- if our government is uncomfortable with Kyoto's emission trading plan, well, can't we suggest something else?)

Many of the solutions simply need governmental determination to make them happen. We're currently giving a TON of money to the Saudis in exchange for oil. This doesn't make sense. Why not give a TON of money to America's farmers in exchange for soybean or corn products that will burn in modified engines just fine? The only thing stopping this from happening is Big Oil's powerful lobbying of congress.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sunday Busy Sunday

All Slept Out

The Siouxland Sleep-Out is over for the year, and we've come away from the experience with all our toeses and noses intact. I haven't seen the news, but I've heard that there were twice as many participants this year as last, and some $30,000 was raised for the homeless in Sioux City. Details follow...

"Ve should go out early und set our stuff up," my little Austrian Snickerdoodle said to me over the phone. "I vant to get a good spot." I nodded agreeable, then realized she probably couldn't see me nodding over the phone. "Okay," I said. "They open the park gates at one, so we can take a long lunch and set our tent up. That'll be fun..." So, we met at home shortly before one and grabbed our stuff and headed for the ball park.

"Ve can park right there, right by the gate," Dagmar said. I shook my head - "No, those are handicapped spaces. We'll park just over here. It won't hurt us to carry our stuff a little ways..." I parked the car and opened the door, only to be whapped upside the face with a 25 mile per hour gust of 20 degree wind. "Whooooo! This'll be fun," I muttered in my beard. We got our stuff out of the trunk of our rustbucket and headed for the ball diamond.

"Vow!" exclaimed my Viennese Turtledove. "Dat vind! It's cold! Where should we set up our tent do you think?" I stared at the windswept plain that was the ball field. "Well," I said, "there aren't any trees to hide behind... How about that corner over there? Maybe that'll be out of the wind a little." With that we put our heads down and trudged to the left-fielder's back corner. We trudged and we trudged. Then we trudged a little more. You know, when you're walking into a freezing wind, a 350-foot walk can seem like two or three miles...

"This'll do fine," I said. "It's a little protected from the wind and no one else will want to walk this far, so we'll have this whole area to ourselves." That said, we dropped our bundles and stood there, wheezing into wind for a few moments.

I opened the box with our brand-new tent and started unrolling things. Thankfully these new-fangled tents are pretty easy to put up... All you gotta do is unroll the thing, grab a pole (where are those pesky poles - ah, THERE they are), slip the pole through the little fabric guide, repeat with the next pole, then stake the whole thing down with (where are those pesky stakes anyway? Ah, there they are!) conveniently provided stakes and viola! you're done. Just that easy. And it would have been just that easy, too, except that when you put two thin poles crosswise through a chunk of large square fabric, well, you've just made a kite. A rather large kite, capable of pushing your average hippie around a baseball diamond rather effectively...

But we did eventually get the tent staked down and got all our stuff happily situated inside. As I stood up to survey our results, I couldn't help but notice that there were four or five tents set up right beside ours. Somehow these people had shown up, run across the baseball diamond, set their tents up and left again -- all while Dagmar and I were blowing up our air mattress. Kinda made me feel kinda slow...

With a brisk "brrrrr" my Austrian Snowflake and I ran back to our car and headed back to work. "What time do we need to be back?" I asked. "Oh, six or seven," she replied.

By 6:30 we were again at the baseball field, this time properly attired for the cold. "Ve can park there," my wife said, "right by the gate..." I shook my head. "It's still a handicap zone," I said. "We can't park there..." By the time I had finished the sentence I'd changed my mind. We did, after all, have to unload all my heavy bass guitar amps and stuff so I could jam with the band later that night. "Well, we'll park there, but then we gotta move the car after we're unloaded."

Three minutes later the car was unloaded and my bass amp, speakers and guitar were all sitting on the sidewalk, and the car was moved to a legal parking spot.

"What do we do now?" I asked my Viennese bride. "We vait," she answered. "Until morning. Then we go home..."

So we commenced waiting, passing time talking with friends. Eventually the rest of the musicians showed up and we set up our stuff in an out-of-the-way corner. I'd jammed with the band once or twice, not enough to be confident in my playing, but I wasn't reluctant to play, either. The problem started once we started playing... There was a TV right behind me playing just loud enough that I couldn't hear what anyone was singing as we were doing the gig "acoustically" - without microphones. I could see the guitar player's fingers moving, but I couldn't hear what he was playing... Needless to say, I don't think I played terribly well. I found out later that they were singing, too. I didn't know that at the time. Oh well... The people in the crowd seemed to like it. Or they were too polite to complain, anyway...

Once we were done playing, Dagmar and I wandered around a little bit, seeing who was there and what they were doing... There was a youth group from a neighboring town in center field that built an entire little village out of cardboard boxes - complete with a little church and everything! It was fun to watch. West High had a group of students there as well; they were writing down ideas how to alleviate the homeless problem in the area. (I would have submitted my suggestion, but my crayon broke.)

One man was there with nothing but a summertime sleeping bag. He said he'd walked two and a half hours to get to the park. He looked REALLY cold the next morning!

We eventually wound down and found our way back to our brand-new store-bought tent. Within minutes I was happily snuggled under two sleeping bags and a blanket, with two more sleeping bags and another blanket underneath me and my wife comfortably wriggling under the blankets by my side. "Ahhh," I said. "This is comfy." And indeed it was! In just a few moments I was drifting off to sleep.

"I have to pee," stated my beloved. Off went the blankets, swoosh went the tent flap, and down the field ran my wife, leaving the hippie abruptly uncovered and COLD. About the time I got the myriad blankets situated again, Dagmar was back, sticking her COLD feet back into the blankets again... Evidently cold weather does something to my wife, 'cause she had to pee about five times that night...

We all survived though to morning, though. I have to admit, it's been years and years since I've camped in the winter months, and I was a little surprised at how easily it could turn into an uncomfortable ordeal. The homeless folk really do have it rough! In any case, by seven in the morning we were tearing our tent down and loading our car. (I found it interesting to note that all the handicap parking spots were taken by brand-new SUV's, while all the rustbucket cars were in legal spots. I don't know what that says about society, but it sure seems that the well-to-do people [or people who wanted to appear well-to-do] wanted to park as close as they could to the gate while everyone else was content to obey the law and walk half a block...) By nine on Saturday both Dagmar and I were happily snoozing at home, trying to thaw out a little...

I'd like to thank everyone who sent in a pledge or donation - the money is certainly going to a good cause! If you'd like to see more photos of the event, you can find them HERE.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Siouxland Sleep-Out

It's Getting Closer...

"Can I help you, Ma'am?" came the voice from behind me. I turned around reflexively. "Um, Sir," amended the lad, noticing my beard and mustache. (That happens to me fairly often when I forget to put my hair back. It makes me laugh.)

"Yeah," I said, scratching my head in befuzzlement, gazing absently at the boy's bright orange Home Depot vest, wondering if it was made by the same people that make the pretty blue Wal-Mart vests. "I'm looking for some little tent stake thingies to hold down that fabric stuff that lives under the bark in my yard."

The "sales associate" looked at me like I grew horns. "I'm sorry, sir, but this is the plumbing section... Camping supplies are over that way." Thus started my foray into Home Improvement. Not at all an auspicious start...

"No, no, no... I don't really need tent stakes. I have some of that fabric stuff in the garden in my front yard," I explain, "with bark chips on it. The fabric is supposed to keep weeds from growing, but it keeps blowing away. I need something to hold it down." I scratched my whiskers.

"Um," said the boy in the Home Depot vest, "I don't think we have that here in the plumbing section. You might want to try looking in the maybe the garden section, maybe?" He gestured vaguely westward.

I nodded wisely. "Oh. Okay then." I didn't want to explain to the lad that if I had known where the garden section was, I wouldn't be in plumbing in the first place. I wandered vaguely westward.

I did eventually find what I needed (do you believe, they actually MAKE fabric stakes?) and made my way home again, purchases in hand. Twenty minutes later I was standing ankle-deep in bark mulch, hammering away at a little green plastic stake with a hammer (handle wrapped in duct tape, of course). I was wondering if the woodchuck that lives under my front porch had finally moved out (quietest neighbor we've had in years, that woodchuck) and if I should find a way to fill in the holes he'd chewed through the latticework that skirts our porch, when I noticed some movement about half a block down the alley.

I stopped pounding at the little green plastic stake and peered. (I used to be more discreet about peering, but it doesn't bother me much any more to peer - I just gaze away at whatever or whomever catches my interest. It maybe bothers some people, probably.) Anyway, whilst involved in my favorite hobby of slack-jawed gawking, I watched a couple homeless guys crawl out from between my neighbor's garage and that abandoned shed. As I watched, they gathered their belongings, a couple bundles of rags and some empty cans, dusted themselves off, tugged their hats down around their ears and wandered off down the alley towards the Gospel Mission. I had mixed emotions, as I always do when confronted by homeless people wandering around the neighborhood - awe that they can survive Iowa winters outdoors, admiration at their ingenuity to find such a cozy place to snooze, pity that they have to do these things, and shame that I don't rush over to them and hand them money.

I know, I know... They don't want my pity.

About the time they turned the corner at the far end of the alley, I heard a thump-bumping down the street the other way. I turned to see another homeless guy going through our neighbor's garbage, looking for cans. He was dressed in layers - but I couldn't really identify what the layers were... A grocery cart half-full of empty pop cans was in the sidewalk behind him. He looked up and saw me staring at him. Before I could look away, he gave me a cheerful smile and waved, then resumed rooting through the garbage.

Not quite knowing how to react, or what to do, I resumed pounding little green plastic stakes into the ground. I paid ten bucks for those little green plastic stakes so I could whack 'em with a hammer. What would this guy do with ten bucks? "He'd probably spend it on booze," I thought to myself. "These people are hard people - they've lost their humanity." About that time the guy pushed his cart past me. He paused in front of my house, gazing into my porch. "Oh no," I thought. "He's going to try to steal something, or maybe ask me if he can have something in my porch..."

He stood there, stock still for about fifteen seconds. Then he broke into a big grin, laughed a little, and tapped on the window. He looked back at me. "What a beautiful cat!" he said, big smile on his face. He turned back to the window and tapped at my cat for a few more seconds, then made his way down the street, whistling the "Stray Cat Strut."

Yep, he's hardened all right.

It startled me that in the space of five minutes I'd see three homeless people within half a block of my house. Three human beings with no place to go. Three men with no prospects. It makes me sad.

Last November Dagmar participated in the First Annual Siouxland Sleep-Out; she took pledges and then went to sleep outside for a night. I was so proud of her! All the money went towards programs to help keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. Being an annual event, it's really no surprise that they're having it again this year... So, both Dagmar and I are going to go sleep outside this Friday (though we're gonna sleep in a tent, not a box like this hearty soul did last year). If anyone would like to make a pledge, just let us know! You can mail us a check (made out to Siouxland Sleep-Out), or you can even PayPal a donation to me if you want at chris at radloffs.net (using the "@" of course - I'm afraid if I write my e-mail out properly I'll get even more junk mail).

If you'd like more information on exactly where the money goes or how to donate, just drop us a line, or you can go to this nifty web site to learn more. It's a good thing. Every little bit helps!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Oh Happy Day!

I'm gonna buy a lottery ticket!

What a grand day! The midterm elections were yesterday, and not only did the Democrats gain control over the House of Representatives by a bigger margin than expected, but all sorts of other good things happened as well! Here in Iowa at the state level the Democrats gained significant ground, taking the Governorship and both houses -- with the joyous side-effect of nullifying Republican embarrassment Chris Rants' leadership as he's no longer Iowa's Speaker of the House.

What a beautiful day! Not only did all that wondrous stuff happen, but United States President G. Walker Bush today announced that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (I'm always dyslexic when I type Mr. Rumsfeld's name - my fingers want to type "Ronald Dumsfeld" every time) is no longer the Secretary of Defense! Wheee! Giddy joy! Maybe now we can get someone in there who will LISTEN to the generals who have been in-country.

And to top it all off, it's 85 degrees and sunny today, the eighth day of November. I had buffalo wings for lunch. Things just can't get any better today...

Republican Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania is gone (thanks to Steakbellie, I guess). Rapturous joy!

The only fly in the ointment is that my very own district here in Iowa has re-elected Republican extremist Steve King to another term. I vehemently disagree with everything Mr. King stands for... He treats veterans and soldiers with disdain (as can easily be seen though his voting record), he wants the government to give a contract to him, his son, and his neighbor to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico at the cheap, cheap cost of $3 million per mile, he wants to legalize cock-fighting... Grand talk for someone with no military service who dropped out of college. (I don't like the man. Can you tell?)

But everything else is grand and peachy!

Blasts from the Past

I was just poking about in the archives, trying to spark a couple synapses to get an idea going for something to write, and stumbled across these posts from years back that you, dear reader, may find interesting:

Dagmar's Operation

Last Years' Thanksgiving


From the Mouths...

My buddy Drew here at work told me he walked past his four-year-old boy last Sunday. "Whatcha doing?" he asked the wee lad. "Watching football," the boy answered. He continued "The Shkago Bears are playing the Man-Eating Dolphins."

Grand Intentions

I had all sorts of intentions to write something either amusing or politically relevant, but I just don't have my mojo working today. I can't think of a blessed thing to write about. Oh well... I'm hoping to go to the weekly jam session tonight, but I may very well fall asleep before it gets started. (I really wish they'd have something happening around town at 5 or 5:30 when I get off work, rather than waiting until 9:30 or 10 at night. I gotta work in the morning, you know. I'm usually in bed by nine. Oh well.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Important Things a-Brewin'

New Weekly Feature

I've decided that with the elections fast approaching it would be nice to list the phone numbers where people can call and volunteer. All political parties need volunteers, you know. I'll start with the Iowa Democrats this week. If you feel the urge to volunteer to make some phone calls or whatever for the Democrats, here are the numbers you can call here in Iowa:

Ames -- 515-232-7592
Burlington -- 319-753-0445
Cedar Rapids -- 319-221-1065
Clinton -- 563-241-1356
Council Bluffs -- 712-328-0086
Davenport -- 563-322-3948
Des Moines -- 515-974-1701
Dubuque -- 563-556-7764
Fort Dodge -- 515-955-1016
Ft. Madison -- 319-372-7596
Grinnell -- 641-236-1166
Iowa City -- 319-337-3164
Marshalltown -- 641-752-2930
Mason City -- 641-422-0156
Newton -- 641-792-2877
Ottumwa -- 641-682-9038
Sioux City -- 712-233-2056
Warren -- 515-962-1211
Waterloo -- 319-226-4428

Next Wednesday I'll continue my weekly listing with the Republican numbers.

Why I Haven't Written Lately...

A Fine Fundraiser Indeed

If you happen to be in Northwest Iowa this weekend, be sure to stop in at the American Legion Hall in LeMars Saturday. The Legion Riders (a fine group, yes indeed) are having a Rocky Mountain Oyster & Ham Dinner Saturday night from 5:30 until they kick us out. They'll have lots of food there, all for a free-will donation. All proceeds go to American Legion Rider projects (the ALR does some nifty stuff, but they do need a touch of money to get it done). Before you get teste, remember, there's a bar there too. (Sometimes booze helps a bit.)

Any support is appreciated!


Last Saturday a few of us from Northwest Iowa got up at five in the morning to ride our motorcycles in the 30-degree weather to Norfolk, NE to welcome the National Guard unit home. The 189th Transportation unit based in Norfolk and Wayne, Nebraska, had been in Iraq for over a year. It was quite the sight Saturday morning - there were somewhere between 185 and 200 motorcycles in the escort. (There are more photos HERE.) You could certainly tell the guys were happy to be back, and their families were sure happy to see them!

Missing Messages

Blogger's been doing some strange things lately - including misplacing some comments people have left. I got a voice mail from a long-lost college buddy who said he left me a comment on this very blog, but I never found said comment. It makes me sad. So, Mr. L in Nashville, please know I'm not ignoring you - I simply deleted the voice mail figgering I could track you down from the comment I didn't get...

I've been having trouble uploading photos, too.


I wrote a comment on Steakbellie's blog about our Halloween experience here in the ghettos of Sioux City. I thought it was kinda funny, so I'm a-gonna repeat myself here.

The first year we owned our house in Sioux City we bought a bunch of candy, put pumpkins out, dressed up like something scary and waited. One neighbor kid showed up about 7:30. By nine I'd eaten most of the candy... One kid all night. The second year we bought six candy bars and turned the porch light on. About 7:30 the same kid showed up (wearing the same costume from the year before). She was the only trick or treater that year, too. The third year we just put a candy bar on the porch steps and went out for dinner. When we came home the candy bar was gone. The fourth year we knew we were gonna be out of town, so we took the candy bar to the kid's house a couple days early so she wouldn't have to walk across the street. The fifth year the kid hit pooberty. We haven't seen much of her since... This year we're not even gonna try -- six years, and only one trick-or-treater...
I went and saw our nephew and nieces in LeMars this year. That was fun! Took the nephew to the funeral home. They gave him some popcorn.

Something Coming Up...

Siouxland Sleep-Out. This is a very good thing. Please take a minute to visit the web site. Dagmar and I will be participating - feel free to contact us if you'd like to make a donation. (I'll blog more on this next week and go in-depth.)

The Jam

I received a nice honor a few days ago... A friend of mine in a respected local band sent me an e-mail. "We're gonna play these three songs at the jam session Wednesday night for sure," he said. "Feel free to stop by and play them with us..." He then listed a few songs. I'm kind of touched that he's willing to go so far out of his way to make me feel welcome at the jam! I actually kinda got misty there for a moment.

I haven't been to the jam session in quite a while, and I miss it. But I can't make it tonight, unfortunately... Poor Dagmar has been down with pneumonia for five or six days and I hate to leave her alone, and, to be honest, I've been really tired myself lately. (Work has been stressful. Stressful as in "I really and truly am growing to hate my job." If I'd go to a bar to jam in the mood I'm in, I'd probably end up drinking way too much and making a fool of myself...) It's best I stay home. Apologies, guys...

The Good One

I'd like to point out something rather subtle I've noticed. There is one (1) politician I've gotten mailings from that has never mentioned his opponent and has never said anything negative. State Senator and Gulf War veteran Steve Warnstadt has been the lone bright spot in an otherwise mud-spattered campaign. Kudos to Mr. Warnstadt.

King and Blanchard, on the other hand, have done nothing but negative ads as far as I can tell -- they haven't sent much to me, but what I've seen hasn't particularly impressed me with it's positive message...

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