Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Al Gore's Got Passion, Yes He Does

You and I must see An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary by Davis Guggenheim on Al Gore's impassioned slide presentation on Global Warming. Here are three reviews by articulate people who have already seen it:
FlickFilosopher (she mistakenly writes "jetstream" when I think she meant "gulfstream", plus she misses the fact that Gore has been giving some variation of this presentation for 17 years now, but otherwise a terrific review.)

The Philadephia Weekly's Sean Burns (his review is all about his personal reactions and thoughts while watching the film rather than a discussion of the ideas and science presented, but it is still honest and interesting.)

Scientific American Magazine by Skeptic columnist Michael Shermer (while not technically a review of An Inconvenient Truth, he convinces me more than ever to see the film.)
I was hoping to provide more links to reviews, but most of them either ignore the merits of Gore's presentation and instead spend their time discussing Gore's political past and future -- or they regurgitate all the mean-spirited lies and gossip made up by Gore's opponents that were willingly re-broadcast by media hacks that, then as again, overshadow any honest discussion of Gore's message.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the documentary with my dad, a retired atmospheric scientist who has been deeply concerned for three decades about global climate change and with energy conservation, alternative energy sources, and America's vulnerability to foreign sources of energy. He once met Al Gore in the 1980's and was tremendously impressed with him.

However, now I realize that I'm just as guilty as the hacks, as this posting is also overly focussed on the messenger rather than the message.

Too bad. My blog. Re-elect Gore in 2008. In that spirit, here's an amazing profile of the man and the making and promoting of the film in New York Magazine written by John Helleman.

As for global warming, I fear we passed the tipping point in 2000. November 2000, to be exact.

9-11 is Coming to a Theater Near You

As you should know by now, I love the films. [Editor: Who doesn't? Howard's such a dolt.] Anyway, here's a link to something amazing: Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. I won't miss it in the way that I intentionally missed the film Flight 93. It looks to me like Stone doesn't explicitly show us the same views of the towers collapsing that we all know and loath. Instead, we watch Nicholas Cage and others as they see and react to what we already know and loath. Emotional insulation, in a way. Plus, it's an inspiring hero film. I'm a sucker for those. [Editor: You're a sucker all right.]

We saw the trailer last weekend in the theater when my best girl and I went to see The Da Vinci Code.

What did I think? [Editor: Who asked?] Didn't engage me emotionally until the very last scene (remember that I am an architect and it'll make sense.) However, I was intellectually engaged from start to finish. I never read the book (WTF? you may ask. I was busy. So sue me.) Thus, the plotline was unknown to me... except for all the spoilers that movie reviewers (revealers) gave up, which was just about everything except for the very last scene. I knew enough about the history of Christianity and the Catholic Church -- after all, I am architect -- to know when my suspension of disbelief was being challenged by spurious claims. But I caved each and every time to each spurious claim for the sake of the fun that is The Da Vinci Code. [Editor: Like I said --> Sucker.] The flashbacks to Roman times, the crusades, and other insundery Middle Age moments were especially beautiful in their grainy amber hues. All in all, a satisfying expenditure of hard-earned cash. [Editor: I've seen Howard's architecture. He hardly earns his pay.]

What did you think of the movie? Or if you haven't seen it yet, what did you think of the book? Or if you haven't read it yet, what do you think of my hair?

Update: All references to "The DaVinci Codes" have been revised to the singular. Thanks, Mr. Barve. No thanks to my Editor! [Editor: I like it when Howard makes a fool of himself.]

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Doing My Part

We rode 62 miles on our bikes on Memorial Day... in just under four hours of ride time. I think we're ready for Ride the Rockies (June 18-23) and the Tour de Wyoming (July 16-21). But first we have to Ride the Border -- this Saturday we are riding 65 miles from our town to a neighboring town in the next state over. There we will eat the best Mongolian beef on the planet (truly not an exaggeration) and stay the night at the Ramada Inn. Then on Sunday we come home. It's not a flat and level ride either. We will be climbing and dropping many thousands of feet in elevation, and there are three very long steep hills in particular that have us concerned.

How did the 62-mile ride go, you ask? Uneventful. We had enough Gatorade this time, partly due to temps in the low 70's. Also, we stopped for ice cream cones about halfway through. Very nice. The only glitch was when I, as navigator, took a wrong turn, taking us over six dusty miles of dirt road. Still, it was nice and picturesque... for a dirt road. No flat tires, though a few fillings were jarred loose.

On another topic, the biointensive gardens that my dad, my wife, and I planted are starting to take off. We prepared the soil about a month ago. We planted the crops two weeks ago according to John Jeavons' book How to Grow More Vegetables (and fruits, nuts, berries, grains, and other crops) than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine. Certainly the longest book title I've ever come across. We planted carrots, radishes, four kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, lettuce, bush beans, corn, squash, onions, garlic, chives, cabbage, kale, okra, and four kinds of peppers. Also from previous seasons, we have strawberries, raspberries, horseradish, grapes, asparagus, and a half-dozen fruit trees. All on about 2,500 square feet of backyard space. Then one week ago, we installed a drip irrigation system that delivers water directly to each plant or row of plants rather than flooding the entire garden. It's set on a timer so my dad can come out, click a switch, and walk away. The timer turns the water off after 15 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever he sets it to. This should cut down on water use by more than 50%. My share of the drip system equipment cost $60. When I commented that I could buy huge boatloads of veggies for that $60, my dad said cost savings is not the point. He is, of course, correct.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Universe is Symmetrical

It's time to tell you one of my favorite stories. Favorite because it is short, it is pithy, and because it is true.

My oldest son played college baseball, and during a preseason workout in his sophomore year, I was watching the team of 26 practice when a freshman player -- we'll call him Kevin -- walked up to me on his way to chasing down a foul ball. He asked me if I was the father of my oldest son, although I confess that is an awkward way of saying that he actually asked if I was "mister", followed by my surname.

I said I was.

He then smiled, introduced himself and shook my hand. Then Kevin said, "I just wanted to tell you something. Back in September when the team had its first team meeting, I was there and I didn't know anyone, so I was feeling out of place and uncomfortable. Then your son just walked right up to me and started talking to me like we had been friends all our lives, and after that I felt comfortable, like I belonged. And I just wanted to tell you that I think your son is the nicest person I've ever met."

Stunned and smiling from the generosity of the compliment, but not really surprised (because I know my son so well), I thanked him, and back to practice Kevin went.

Fast forward a couple years. My son calls me up one day and says, "Dad, I have to tell you about someone I recently met. A girl. I think she's the nicest person I've ever met." I instantly recognized the echo of that phrase from a couple years before, but I didn't say anything. Instead, we talked about my son's new girlfriend.

Fast forward another six months. Both families are getting ready for the wedding. My son's fiance tells me that Kevin has been a friend of hers since they were kids. Then she smiles and asks me if I knew that Kevin was actually the one who first introduced my son to her the year before. I said I did not... as my head went spinning pondering the syncronicities of karma.

They've been happily married for nearly two years now. And when I think about how the nicest guy was introduced to the nicest girl by an amazingly mutual friend, I can't help but think that the universe is perfectly symmetrical.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Our Daily Bread: A Sermon

My second son graduated from college about two weeks ago, so I present something in honor of him: A speech given on May 20th by Bill Moyers at the graduation ceremony at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. In the early moments, Moyers says,
Frankly, I'm not sure anyone from my generation should be saying anything to your generation except, "We're sorry. We're really sorry for the mess you're inheriting. We are sorry for the war in Iraq. For the huge debts you will have to pay for without getting a new social infrastructure in return. We're sorry for the polarized country. The corporate scandals. The corrupt politics. Our imperiled democracy. We're sorry for the sprawl and our addiction to oil and for all those toxins in the environment. Sorry about all this, class of 2006. Good luck cleaning it up." You're going to have your hands full, frankly.
You can find the entire speech somewhere else on the internets, but here are the concluding minutes. [Okay, here's the link to the entire speech.] Describing our current sociological and cultural conditions doesn't get any pointed and pithier than this:

Let me tell you one of my favorite stories. I read it a long time ago and it's stayed with me. There was a man named Shalom Aleicheim. He was one of the accursed of the Earth. Every misfortune imaginable befell him. He lost his wife, his children neglected him, his house burned down, his job disappeared -- everything he touched turned to dust. Yet through all this Shalom kept returning good for evil everywhere he could until he died. When the angels heard he was arriving at Heaven's gate, they hurried down to greet him. Even the Lord was there, so great was this man's fame for goodness. It was the custom in Heaven that every newcomer was interrogated by the prosecuting angel, to assure that all trespasses on Earth had been atoned. But when Shalom reached those gates, the prosecuting angel arose, and for the first time in the memory of Heaven, said, "There are no charges." Then the angel for the defense arose and rehearsed all the hardships this man had endured and recounted how in all the difficult circumstances of his life he had remained true to himself and returned good for evil.

When the angel was finished, the Lord said, "Not since Job himself have we heard of a life such as this one." And then, turning to Shalom, he said, "Ask, and it shall be given to you."

The old man raised his eyes and said, "Well, if I could start every day with a hot buttered roll..." And at that the Lord and all the angels wept, at the preciousness of what he was asking for, at the beauty of simple things: a buttered roll, a clean bed, a beautiful summer day, someone to love and be loved by. These supply joy and meaning on this earthly journey.

So I brought this with me. It's an ordinary breakfast roll, perhaps one like Shalom asked for. I brought it because it drives home the last thing I want to say to you.

Bread is the great re-enforcer of the reality principle. Bread is life. But if you're like me you have a thousand and more times repeated the ordinary experience of eating bread without a thought for the process that brings it to your table. The reality is physical: I need this bread to live. But the reality is also social: I need others to provide the bread. I depend for bread on hundreds of people I don't know and will never meet. If they fail me, I go hungry. If I offer them nothing of value in exchange for their loaf, I betray them. The people who grow the wheat, process and store the grain, and transport it from farm to city; who bake it, package it, and market it -- these people and I are bound together in an intricate reciprocal bargain. We exchange value.

This reciprocity sustains us. If you doubt it, look around you. Hamilton College was raised here by people before your time, people you'll never know, who were nonetheless thinking of you before you were born. You have received what they built and bequeathed, and in your time you will give something back. That's the deal. On and on it goes, from generation to generation.

Civilization sustains and supports us. The core of its value is bread. But bread is its great metaphor. All my life I've prayed the Lord's Prayer, and I've never prayed, "Give me this day my daily bread." It is always, "Give us this day our daily bread." Bread and life are shared realities. They do not happen in isolation. Civilization is an unnatural act. We have to make it happen, you and I, together with all the other strangers. And because we and strangers have to agree on the difference between a horse thief and a horse trader, the distinction is ethical. Without it, a society becomes a war against all, and a market for the wolves becomes a slaughter for the lambs. My generation hasn't done the best job at honoring this ethical bargain, and our failure explains the mess we're handing over to you. You may be our last chance to get it right. So good luck, Godspeed, enjoy these last few hours together, and don't forget to pass the bread.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I Am the Lord of Bonk -or- Misery Loves Company

[In new large font]
Why do my best girl and I enjoy bicycling so much?

On Saturday, we rode 50 miles in four hours, and that included about an hour of breaks along the way for snacks, sightseeing, map consults, mote removal from eyes and contacts, toe soakings in cold mountain streams, and just taking rests. Think about that... an average of about 17 miles an hour for three hours.

On Sunday, the same -- three hours of riding, one hour of breaks, 45 miles travelled, snacks, sights, maps, motes, soaks, and rests.

On Saturday, we breezed through an intersection of county roads north of town, ignoring a stop sign to take a big left turn from east to north without wasting precious momentum. Twenty seconds later, we were treated to the putrified face of a middle-age hag screaming obcenities from the window of her 30-year-old wreck because she witnessed from half-a-mile away that we hadn't stopped and felt it was her duty to inflict her fear-of-the-lord upon us.

It's said that every hour of bicycling adds an hour to ones life, and I don't know how true that really is. But I couldn't help thinking that her gutteral outrage at our anarchist lifestyle-on-wheels must have cost her at least two hours of precious life somewhere down the line. And that, I confess, was a comforting thought.

We don't ride for those experiences, that's for sure. But they keep happening to us nevertheless.

The temps today were in the high 80's, and off in the distance to the north -- the direction we were headed -- was a small thunderstorm, the kind that churns out all manner of wind away from its center but produces little in the way of rainy usefulness. Thus, we pedalled into the wind of the pointless and futile beast for at least 10 miles. When the thunderstorm finally moved off to the east and the winds died down, our own will to continue also died down. So we found the only cottonwood tree for a mile in all directions, and parked under its shade, drank most of our remaining Gatorade, and shared a Clif Bar -- Peanut Toffee Buzz, my favorite flavor. Examining the tree, it seemed to be the home of a couple thousand bees, as they were busy as, well, bees exiting and re-entering a small crack in the trunk about six feet up from the roots. Not a bad home for bees, considering the options, as I scanned the landscape, seeing precious little else beside farmhouses and scattered trees in the distance.

Yes, we had ridden nearly 23 miles in the heat and wind, and our Gatorade was nearly gone. We had brought nearly a gallon of Fierce Grape with us in four different containers, and three of them were now empty. My best girl drinks like a fish, but you didn't hear that from me. We were now depending on the fourth bottle, the smallest, to get us back to civilization. There we could -- aided by three emergency dollars I keep hidden deep within my storage pack -- find a convenience store and buy liquid sustenance. Problem was, civilization and its surplus of convenience was more than a dozen miles away from our bee-infested cottonwood shade. Additional problem was, for the minutes we were resting, a thunderstorm had brewed over our city to the south, and the wind would once again roar into our faces for the ride back home. At least three times today I screamed "shit" into the wind, but it didn't help. Much.

And thus a long hard slog ensued.

At one point, I churned ahead of my best girl, decided to get through the windy miles as quickly as I could, leaving her behind, and after about five miles of overexertion, I stopped and waited for her to catch up with me. I was at the same intersection of county roads that sparked a red state/blue state incident the day before.

Whenever I've gotten ahead of my wife on past rides, I've never had to wait more than three minutes for her to catch up with me. But this time three minutes turned into five. And five into ten. And worst of all -- she had the last small bottle of Gatoraide to herself and I was standing in the lone shade of a stop sign. Seriously.

When I finally decided that something awful had happened and that I would have to go rescue her -- perhaps from the continued persecution of Saturday's uberbitch -- my wife appeared at the top of a rise a half-mile away, the same location where said uberbitch and her eagle/fascist eyes no doubt witnessed our stop sign sins. Turns out she had troubles with motes and contacts and she had to stop, clean, and reload. My wife I mean.

After she caught up, she took a short break herself in the shade of the stop sign. We finished the bottle of Gatorade -- I did tell you how small it was, didn't I? -- and then we continued on. I immediately noticed that due to 15 minutes of inactivity, my muscles were now cramped up.

I was cripplingly bonked, dehydrated, cramping, energy-free on a squeeky 40-pound bike, and feeling feeble and light-headed. God, it was awesome!

Three miles of blackouts due to pain later, we found our convenience store, bought another Gatorade and a liter of Mountain Dew, and then drank while we soaked our troubles and toes in a nearby river. Cold, very cold -- drinks and river. I, of course, drank the entire liter of Dew, which effectively lifted the bonk from my clouded dusky eyes.

We made the final 10 miles home safely and without incident. I also arrived home lighter than I've ever been since my early 20's, despite the liter of Mountain Dew in my gut.

So back to my original question: Why do we enjoy bicycling so much?

Isn't it obvious?

An adventurer from my hometown once said, before his untimely death at the hands [so to speak] of a bowhead whale, "
half the joy of a journey is planning it; the other half is coming home and bragging about it." His formulation leaves no joy in the doing. That feels right.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

All Hands on Decks

The framer began framing the decks and the sheathing underlayment for the stone piers at the front and back of the house this week.

A second-floor deck off the master bedroom will be going in on the back of the house soon, and deck railings and cedar shingles at the gables -- both front and back -- should be going in even sooner.

The photo on the bottom shows the framer working on the pier frame at the back deck. He's very young and bright and likable, but he says the piers have been too time-intensive to build and he wants a raise.

"Next job," I told him.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Superheroes Like Bike

About a month or so ago -- I'm not so good with time -- I asked my readers to tell me their superpowers. I though it was a brilliant question, sure to elicit lots of comments and response. While the numbers of comments were modest and the responses were modest-er as I am certain my readers possess amazing powers of... whatever, I have to admit that it became one of my most favorite postings to Why Howard Laughed so far.

Speaking of superpowers, here's a story about the greatest superhero -- Bikeman. If you have the time, I recommend you read it, if not for the terrific writing, then at least for the excellent use of bicycle jargon.

Update: World Naked Bikeride, anyone?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Construction Update, Part XXVI

For the past year and a half, I have been working my Clooneyesque buns off for my custom home client, aka The A.H., and there have been -- as is the norm -- plenty of bad news opportunities. One of them came this morning, when I informed him that the contractor and I recently discovered that the area of the asphalt driveway was underbid by about 200 square yards.

That's a lot of yards to miss by. It happened because of a shared communications error between myself and the contractor. But fortunately, it was only going to cost the client less than a thousand bucks to correct. Since the contractor's bid clearly and accurately specified the less-than-desired quantity of asphalt that was priced, and since the client was going to receive full value for the cost of the added asphalt, the contractor was fully justified in expecting him to pay for it if he chose to put in so much added paving.

Of course, I expected his anger, but I didn't expect such rabid insults and threats of physical assault directed at me, the messenger -- despite his history of same. At first, I wanted to just walk away from the project. Instead, I (perhaps foolishly) offered tonight via email to pay for it myself if he promised never to insult or threaten me again, under agreed penalty of my taking a permanent walk from the project -- contract be damned. He hasn't responded yet as he's a morning person.

This should be fun. I'll keep you posted...

Update: My client apologized, saying he sincerely regretted inappropriately directing his anger my way. He also said he would never insult or threaten me again. We'll see. As for my offer to pay for the asphalt... let's just say his position softened, but that one's still up in the air. I love my clients and thank God for every one of them. But this one is unlike any other I've ever had to deal with.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Activity Scorecard

In the past year:
39 percent of Americans bicycled
36 percent went fishing
34 percent went hiking
30 percent went camping
18 percent went trail running
14 percent paddled
I've done the first four this past year, and hope to do the last in Oregon this August. You?

Friday, May 12, 2006

50 Smart Places to Live

Kiplinger Magazine recently announced their list of the 50 Smartest Places to Live -- USA only, of course [click here]. Needless to say, my town is on the list. Because we are smart. How'd you fare? Also needless to say, if you live in Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal or even Winnipeg, you'da made the list too if they had opened it up to the entire North American continent. However, two of my favorite cities would have been knocked off the list with the inclusion of four Canadian cities. So all's well that ends well, right?

Who else did they miss?

Update: I was in a hurry when I first posted this, so I failed to mention that the voting criteria were based on the following factors:
1) the price of housing; 2) the character of neighborhoods and the ease of living; 3) Are commutes reasonable? 4) Do the suburbs have personalities? 5) Are downtowns clean, interesting and vibrant? I suppose one or more of those factors knocked a bunch of otherwise really nice cities out of contention. The question then came down to scoring methodology and how they weighted the factors...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Man With Vision

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle,
I no longer despair for the future of the human race."
—H. G. Wells, 1904

Monday, May 08, 2006

Serious Pride of Place

The character of the place is beginning to show through... and this is just the FRONT facade. We're still awaiting stone wainscoting, stone column bases, an Arts & Crafts mahogany wood door, cedar siding shingles on the gable ends, stain on all posts, beams, fascia boards and soffits, two colors of paint on the siding and trim, and actual decking on the actual front porch. Oh yeah, and much more!

My best girl calls the front facade "imposing," but I (and I suspect the client) prefer "masculine" and "robust." If nothing else, the house is being build with some serious solidity and attitude.

I love it when a plan comes together!

Another Reason to Like Portland

On Wednesday, May 10 the Portland City Council will be voting on a resolution that acknowledges peak oil and appoints a task force to make recommendations to the Council on how to prepare for peak oil.

A committee of Portland Peak Oil drafted the initial language and had several meetings with government officials to bring the resolution to this point.

You better believe I'll be keeping my eyes peeled. Stay tuned.

Update: An article in Tuesday's Portland Oregonian can be read here. Be sure to note the paragraph that describes the 400 gallons of oil that go into the average American's diet each year. Also note the percentages of where that oil is used.

Update to Update: Portland's City Council unanimously voted to create a task force to study means and methods to mitigate the local effects of Peak Oil. Good for them. Will be interesting to see what kinds of solutions get recommended... and whether they get implimented. Read more about it here.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Futility, Thy Name is Ames

Everyone loves a good story. So do I, and I have one to tell. It has nearly all my favorite elements: Crooked contractors and Republican politicians, railroads, a great American architect, corporate presidents, bribery and federal land, Abraham Lincoln, famous towns in Iowa, the birthplace of Murphy's Law, a well-trod tale of American can-do, a ghost town, and lots of futility.

"Wow, Howard, what doesn't this story have?," you may ask? The only thing this story lacks is sex. Not for lack of trying, I'm sure. Oh well. Let's just pray that I can tell the story well. If I misstate or leave out any important details, please let me have it in comments...

Brothers Oakes and Oliver Ames were shovel manufacturers from Massachussetts in the mid-1800's. Oakes was influential in the establishment of the Republican Party and was duly elected to represent Massachussetts in the House of Representatives in 1862. There he soon found himself a member of the committee on railroads. In 1865, after the transcontinental railroad project bogged down by the Civil War, building only 12 miles of track, Lincoln personally asked Oakes Ames to take over the project. He accepted.

Oakes Ames began to worm his way into a corporation that had numerous contracts overseeing and administering much of the construction work for Union Pacific,
Credit Mobilier Company of America. After ousting the corporation's founder, who was also the Vice President of Union Pacific -- let that soak in a second... the VP of Union Pacific owned and ran a company that contracted significant work for the UP -- and after taking over control for himself, Oakes began to sell shares of Credit Mobilier to his fellow congressmen for pennies on the dollar in exchange for ever more outrageous piles of cash for Credit Mobilier.

Also along the way, Congress approved a massive cushy land deal handing over millions of acres of Federal land to the Union Pacific -- land not needed for easements or right-of-ways to build the transcontinental railroad, but huge swaths and sections of land as bonus compensation to the Union Pacific for building the railroad. Of course, these huge swaths were subdivided and sold at very profitable markups (remember, initial cost = $0) to become the cities and towns that sprouted up all along the new transportation corridor. Oh, and did I mention that in 1866, Oakes's brother Oliver became the President of the Union Pacific? Oops, sorry for the oversight. Important detail.

Congressman Oakes was eventually censured for bribery by his fellow congressmen and was nicknamed, "Hoax Ames" prior to his death soon afterwards.

A few years later, partially motivated by the desire to build something for their transcontinental passengers to look at while making a quick stop at the town of Sherman, Wyoming [warning: link has western music], the highest point of elevation along the rail line, the Union Pacific decided to build a monument to the Ames Brothers. They commissioned Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson to design a stone monument. H. H. Richardson, one of America's most prominent architects of his day and a designer of many buildings and houses for the Brothers Ames, never saw the completed monument he designed: completed in 1882, it was a four-sided pyramid built of native granite, 60 feet wide at the base and 70 feet high. To see it would have required a cross-country trip for H. H. from Massachussetts to Wyoming. So not worth it, he probably calculated.

Ironically, a few years after monument construction and dedication was complete, the Union Pacific decided to relocate the train's main line a few miles south, so Sherman quickly became a ghost town. Years later, when a state highway was constructed between Cheyenne and Laramie, which became Interstate 80 a few decades later, it too was located a distance from the Ames Monument. Thus, the Ames Monument had only a dirt road for access, few visitors, and really no reason to exist, save for a few locals forever on the lookout for unique places to drink beer.

As a matter of fact, your very own Howard, as a very young and thin teen in the early 1970's, crawled through a series of tunnels that wormed their way through the base of the pyramid. Access to the tunnels was closed off shortly afterwards, probably because some not-so-thin teen got stuck and had to diet his way to freedom.

And did I mention a tie-in to a famous town in Iowa? It's true... Ames, Iowa was named after the Brothers Ames.

What else did I forget? Oh yeah, Murphy's Law.... Guess what? The origin of the law stating that "whatever can go wrong, will go wrong" finds its start at Ames Monument. When Justice of the Peace Billy Murphy of Laramie learned that the Union Pacific didn't build the monument on its own land, building on vacant government land instead, Murphy filed a Homestead claim to the land in 1885 and received it. When the Union Pacific learned of this, they dispatched an attorney to offer Murphy a valise filled with $15,000 cash to relinquish his claim. However, the Union Pacific chose the strategy of first attempting to intimidate the Judge with legal threats followed by the lawyer offering Murphy $385 to give up the claim. Murphy fell for it and signed. Only later did he learn that his Homestead claim was indeed rock solid, and that if he had been a better lawyer, he would have realized this and received a subsequent offer of $15 large -- or even twice that amount! Read more about it here. No shit.

Update: Thanks to devoted reader Anonymous, who pointed out in comments that $15,000 in 1885 is equivalent to over $300,000 today. Of course it is. For Murphy's Law to have taken such a prominent chair at the table of American culture, it had to have at least six-figure birth pains. Heck, that's a missed opportunity equivalent to the worst episode of Deal or No Deal.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Conclusion: We're Just Damned Hippies*

Weird! Just about every family member of mine and my best girl's live in or near one of these cities: Top Bicycle Communities in the US [click here]
The only exceptions being the few Republican voters from either family...

Additionally, though we've moved around quite a bit, we (self, wife, three sons) have lived exclusively in four of the cities on the list for the last 22 years, though bikes were never a consideration until recently. Our oldest son got married over a year ago and lives in a whole other city and state from us... also on the list. Our second son is in college... in a city very very high up on the list.

Told you it was a weird list.

What could this mean? Good bicycle communities have a lot going for them beyond the cycling advantages, I suspect. What do you think?

* Though we're not quite this freaky

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day! May Day! Happy May Day

As you should know by now if you've been paying attention, I'm a big fan of Crank-in-Chief James Howard Kunstler. He outdid himself today. He tied it all up into one nice 600-word bundle of impending doom, as is his talent. Oil--Economic Growth--Real Estate & Architecture--Fat Children--Transportation--Suburbs.

I'm cutting-and-pasting his latest offering onto my blog so you can read it here -- one-stop shopping -- but I'll also give you the link to his website so you can become a regular reader. Kunstler updates every Monday at: The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle

May 1, 2006 -- I try to avoid the term "peak oil" because it has cultish overtones, and this is a serious socioeconomic issue, not a belief system. But it seems to me that what we are seeing now in financial and commodity markets, and in the greater economic system itself, is exactly what we ought to expect of peak oil conditions: peak activity.

After all, peak is the point where the world is producing the most oil it will ever produce, even while it is also the inflection point where big trouble is apt to begin. And this massive quantity of oil induces a massive amount of work, land development, industrial activity, commercial production, and motor transport. So we shouldn't be surprised that there is a lot happening, that houses and highways are still being built, that TVs are pouring out of the Chinese factories, commuters are still whizzing around the DC Beltway, that obese children still have plenty of microwavable melted cheese pockets to zap for their exhausting sessions with Grand Theft Auto.

But in the peak oil situation the world is like a banquet just before the tablecloth is pulled out from under it. There is plenty on the table, but it is about to be overturned, spilled, lost, and broken. There's more oil available then ever before, but also so many people at the banquet table clamoring for it that there is barely enough to go around, and the people may knock some things over trying to get it.

A correspondent in Texas writes: "On a four week running average basis, total US petroleum imports (crude + products) have been falling since 2/24/06, until last week, when we finally showed an increase of 1.3 percent, after bidding the price of oil up by about 20 percent. IMO, we bid the price up enough to (temporarily) increase our imports. We will see what subsequent weeks show, but I think that we are in the early stages of a bidding war for remaining net export capacity. The interesting question is what countries may not be importing because they can't afford the oil."

A substantial amount of total house sales are made up of new suburban McHouses built in places at the furthest extreme distance from employment centers -- because that's where the remaining cheap land is after sixty-odd years of suburban development. How many prospective house-buyers will close on those things with gasoline over $3 a gallon? Probably fewer than are required to sell them all. And more McHouses will be coming on the market in any case because they are products of a planning and permitting process that takes years for things to finally get built. Once the house-selling racket, and its associated mortgage racket, stop grinding along, the machinery of the US economy has to seize up. The financial sector, which used to be an appendage of the economy, but has become an end in itself, has to implode when the stream of rebundled securitized mortgage debt stops flowing into it.

When tablecloths are pulled out from under banquet tables, it is hard to say how the platters, bowls, and ewers will tumble and fall, but we can bet that few if any of them will land right-side up, unspilled. One also has to wonder how the other people at the table are going to behave when things come tumbling down.
ew·er (yew’-er) n. A pitcher, especially a decorative one with a base, an oval body, and a flaring spout.

Hmmm. Sounds to me like David Wells. Whatever. You learn something new every day at Why Howard Laughed.