"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, January 31, 2011

Is It Just Me? Or...

Seriously. Am I the only one who feels it's more than a little eerie to click on my PC and a minute later there's a whole new book on my Kindle?

Here I am in a narrow valley in Alaska, surrounded by mountains, and really, really lucky that my satellite dish can "see" over the mountain ridge to the east so I can get television.

And until recently, cell phone service depended on which carrier your contract in perpetuity was with.

And your DSL service was only slightly faster than evolution.

And there isn't even a name for where you live, so you're grouped in with everybody from Mile 18 to Mile 50 of the Seward Highway.

And not so long ago I didn't even have a street address so UPS or FedEx could find me, and then the Borough had to change my address because the street they said I lived on didn't exist in the real, dirt and gravel world.

And yet Amazon's Whispernet finds this little quarter-inch thick gadget on my desk, slightly bigger than an over-sized paperback book, and by some kind of magic a whole book appears on it in less time than it takes to make a gigantic mug of fat-free, sugar-free Good Earth cocoa chai tea.

Seriously. If Amazon can do all that, what is the gov'mint doing?

Is not that a wee bit spooky?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thoughts on a Saturday afternoon as cable TV news provides background motivation.

With Egypt now in the midst of demonstrations calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, the general population of the United States is becoming aware of the enormous amounts of foreign aid that we pay to Egypt annually, aid that goes to “peace and security,” which can be more truthfully translated to “military aid.” That aid averages between one and two billion a year.

That the aid began in 1979, consecutive to the Camp David Peace Accords, is no coincidence. Indeed, it could be said that the U.S. bought and paid for peace between Egypt and Israel for the past thirty-one years.

Fully one-third of the $58 billion dollars annually in foreign aid, money earned and paid to our government by American taxpayers, goes to Israel and Egypt. Almost every country in the world, except Western Europe, Canada, and Australia, receive U.S. aid. This year monies have been requested for Russia ($69 million), for Cuba (20 million), and for Nigeria ($647.7 million). These monies supposedly are for promulgating human rights, democracy, and the treatment and prevention of AIDS.

Also in line for foreign aid? China.

China, to whom the American workforce could be said to be modern day indentured servants in perpetuity due to the $900 billion the U.S. has borrowed from that country, could receive $12.9 million if the request is approved.

China’s economy is booming, though wages are low by Western standards. Extended families share simple housing. Digital communications are monitored. The Chinese are not a happy people. Only on the faces of very young schoolchildren did I see spontaneous smiles during my recent trip there.

Making eye contact and smiling could sometimes elicit a smile, though not always. And I was struck by the lack of smiles when elderly Chinese posed for photos.

School children in China

The Chinese with whom I spoke told me they try to buy Western goods rather than Chinese goods with their inferior quality, but U.S. goods are hard to find

These photos are of one lot of automobiles ready for export in Chongqing.

So what would $12.9 million buy in China? Human rights? Democracy? China won’t even let Liu Xiaobing accept the Nobel Peace Prize, but keeps him locked away in prison for supporting peaceful progression towards a more open government and better human rights. To be sure Xiaobing is a public figure and China would lose face if it accedes to world-wide demand that he be allowed to accept the prize.

Maybe it’s time to reassess the amounts of foreign aid the U.S. workers pay in these times of a suffocating debt that may yet bring this country to its knees. Seems to me that $58 billion a year would go a long way towards reducing that debt.

. I’m certainly not holding myself forth as an expert in these matters. I am more than willing to admit there are vast geopolitical influences and potentially disastrous results in play here, and undoubtedly I am privy to few of them. WikiLeaks has shown once again that few citizens are aware of what their governments do.

I’m not advocating isolationism, but rather a reassessment of fiscal reality and responsibility

Just saying…

The crane is said to be the national bird of China because of its numbers. The joke is that construction cranes are included in that visibility, if "visibility" is what the smoggy air of all China provides.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Come on, let's go!

Hey, jump in the truck. Let's make a quick trip to Anchorage.

Seat belt fastened? Good. Roads are a little icy after yesterday's freeze/thaw cycle. That's Summit Lake over on the right, sound asleep under a fog blanket.

Sun's not quite high enough yet. It has to peek through the valleys in between the mountains. This area is called Silvertip. It's my favorite area to clean up litter in the summer.

This is Turnagain Pass, one of two passes we travel through on the way to Anchorage. That new dusting of snow makes it look like a Currier and Ives print, doesn't it?

Okay, now we're leaving the pass and heading a thousand vertical feet down to saltwater at Turnagain Arm.

Turnagain Arm. Sun's peeking through clouds and fog, and just look at that phenomenal light on the mountains across the Arm. Those big gray chunks are ice. The tide leaves they stranded when it goes out, then floats them when it comes back in.

Can't decide which of the three pictures I like best, so you get all three.

Mile 105. Right on schedule, the Dall sheep are down by the highway again.

And this, ahhhhh! Look behind you. This is looking back at the town of Hope, across the Arm, and the sun shining through above Resurrection Pass.

(A few hours later, most of the errands completed, and heading home.)

Snowing through Bird Creek.

Hey, thanks for joining me. Nice ride, huh? Always something different to see.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Winter of My Discontent

I had to call a repairman last week to beat some sense into a Toyo oil heater, so I called Jack. He lives in a neighboring village and sells and services the heaters. He came into my entry way, bent over to untie his boot laces, and said, "And how are you doing?"

"Great," I said. Jack stood up and looked at me to see if I was being facetious. I wasn't. I meant it.

"Wow," he replied. "I never hear anyone say that."

On second thought, maybe I should take that back, at least part of the way.

Here's the list:

Kenmore dishwasher
Jenn Air dishwasher
Sony TV
Insignia TV
Dish satellite receiver
Kenmore refrigerator
Sharp Microwave/convection oven
Sharp Microwave/convection oven (yes, another one)
HP All-in-One printer
HP computer
%!*#&%!!! Facebook
Homeowner's Insurance
Auto Insurance
Toyo oil heater
GE front loading washing machine
Delta dripping faucets (3 of them)

Those are the things that are driving me batty this winter. Some are in my house; some in a small guest apartment on my property. Some quick explanations:

After a gazillion years of loyalty (on my part) and a small fortune (again on my part), State Farm refused to renew my mega-bucks (think Uncle Scrooge dog-paddling in his treasure room) homeowner's insurance because I don't have rails around my decks. Despite the fact that I don't want rails around my decks, when State Farm advised me last year that I had to have them, I hired a contractor, who ordered the material, which I paid for.

Short story: winter came too early, contractor died this summer, one doesn't have a large list of contractors from which to choose in Moose Pass, rails didn't get done. I now have insurance through another insurer, and a garage full of building materials for rails. I now also have auto insurance through another insurer, in one of those "I'll teach you" moves (ummm....on my part again).

The Sharp micro/convection quit after thirty years, which included some heavy duty use in the restaurant I used to own. A replacement arrived today after being misdirected by UPS and taking a scenic route to my house. The new one was defective. Best Buy.com won't send a replacement until they "research" the problem and e-mail a shipping label to return the defective oven, which I should then take to a UPS office. My solution to save two weeks: I reordered another oven and UPS can just pick up the bad one when they deliver the new one.

Refrigerator replaced. Toyo heater beaten into cooperation. Pump arrived for one dishwasher.

Extended warranty outfit hasn't been able to find a repairman for in-home repair of Jenn Air dishwasher for over a week now.

The two TVs and the Dish Network receiver are all related. On Sunday I had closed captioning on my TVs. Heavy snow plastered my dish and I lost reception for a time. Now I don't have closed captioning, no matter how many times I try to select "on" in the setup menu, and each company places the blame on the other. Result: I have a sore left ear from too much phone time with no satisfactory results, and no closed captioning.

I really don't want to know what's making that horrendous noise when the clothes washer is in spin mode. I'm sure one day I will have to confront that issue.

HP printer doesn't like to feed paper on the right side, thus lots of wrinkled and wasted paper.

HP computer is driving me nuts. I was surfing the web looking for clip art last week. Somehow Bing hijacked my search engine so instead of my old pal Google, I was forced to use Bing. Chat sites contained extraordinarily complicated explanations of how to send Bing packing, directing me to places on my computer that, well, it's best I not know about those places.

Finally found a site with simple instructions on how to prop up Google's self-confidence, and Google and I are now once again swingin' to the Oldies, although Google blogs has decided not to show share buttons at the bottom of my posts, thus making it more difficult to link my blog to Facebook.

I won't even get started on what Facebook is doing to annoy me.

However, before Google and I were reunited, I was poking my nose into places I seldom visit and decided to change the desktop photo. That looked so nice (actually, it takes my breath away when I walk into the loft and see it), I thought I'd change the color scheme, too. I'm big on colors coordinating--like the towels in the bathrooms.

I chose eggplant.

Perfect. I now have soft seafoam green and magenta icon titles that are perfectly color coordinated for my photo of fireweed at Jerome Lake. Soft and peaceful, it takes my mind off the above list.

Hey, ya gotta take your successes when your find 'em.

This is too blue but Picassa wouldn't allow me to change it to seafoam green, and you really can't see how the title bar at the top segues into magenta.

But, somewhere along the line I lost every single one of my bookmarks and every single one of my saved user names and passwords. Every. Single. One.

Anyway, here's the thing about petty and not so petty annoyances: they make great fodder for blog stories.

Now if only I can figure out how to get the Chinese off my netbook...

PS: I have tried--unsuccessfully--to change the font in this post from Ariel to Georgia.

PPS: Oh, I see. We now have Ariel, Georgia, and Times New Roman all in the same post. What's next?

Monday, January 24, 2011


You're all familiar with those oh-so-helpful adages like "Don't paint yourself into a corner" and "Don't saw off the branch you're sitting on." Some of us learn them the hard way.

Here's a picture of the ornery little cuss I live with. His name is Pablo. His reputation is that he's the meanest bird in the West.

I think it's a well-deserved reputation. His ilk tend to attach themselves to one person and everyone else best keep their distance.

He has an uncanny ability to intuit when I'm planning to leave, whether for a little while to, say, go to the post office, or perhaps on a long trip. Most of his detecting skills, I'm sure, are based in what clothing I'm wearing. He knows my stay-at-home clothes as opposed to my going-away clothes. He also knows what suitcases are for.

Here he is in the loft where my computer is located. He sits on a stand, with water and seeds available. I've wrapped the round perch with a towel and fastened it with plastic ties. He's able to sit on it more safely than on the wood itself.

Most of the time, he's content to sit there and chuckle. Or nap.

However, on occasion he gets bored. That's when he does this:

And yes, he's chewing on the plastic ties. If he keeps it up, he'll soon be upside down, flapping his wings and blowing feathers and seed hulls all over my desk and the rest of the room. Of course, he will somehow decide that this situation is all my fault.

When I first thought of posting these pictures, I was reminded of a cartoon that had tickled me many, many years ago. I'd saved it and found it in a box of mementos a few years ago. Now I can't find it, of course.

The cartoon was of a parrot hanging upside down from his perch and saying, "Alright, who waxed my perch?"

Dang, I wish I could find it. It would complete this post in a most satisfactory way.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Elbow Room

On this quiet Saturday afternoon, I parked the truck near the highway bridge that crosses the turquoise water of Kenai Lake. Armed with two cameras loaded with fresh batteries, I walked out onto the snowy bridge.

I had seen a familiar sight when I’d driven through here earlier, something that reminded me of an article I’d read about how big Alaska really is. I’ve had a difficult time wrapping my head around the facts in the article, but what was in the water below me seemed the perfect metaphor for those thoughts.

First though, before I tell you about that article, I need to boggle your mind with facts. Alaska consists of 571,951 square miles. It’s more than twice as big as Texas, and Alaskans like to threaten Texans with cutting our state into two states, thereby making Texas the third largest state.

Alaska is the northernmost, easternmost, and westernmost of the fifty states. I’m sure you get the northern and western parts, but Alaska’s Aleutian chain stretches so far west, it crosses the 180 degrees east longitude, thus arriving at the easternmost.. Were it not for the jog in the International Date Line, part of Alaska would be in tomorrow.

In that article I mentioned earlier, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, using satellite data, “added up all the concrete, paved roads, buildings and other manmade hard surfaces of the United States.” Guess what they found.

The area was larger than Ohio. However, wrote Ned Rozell, a science writer with the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, in an article published in the Anchorage Daily News, “That’s enough pavement, concrete and shingles to cover the combined area of Southeast Alaska and Kodiak Island.”

Think about that. Every bit of hard-surfaced ground in the contiguous forty-eight states, every outdoor basketball court, sidewalk, driveway, and mall parking lot, all of it—streets, highways, bridges, skyscrapers and eensy woodland cabins—would cover such a small part of Alaska we‘d hardly notice, especially because he covered up Southeast Alaska in his example.

Southeast is that little strip of coastal rainforest that keeps Canada from having a long western coastline. And Kodiak Island, while it grows the largest brown bears in the world, is an island not too far from me, and doesn’t even show up on most maps.

Those statistics don’t include the surfaced areas in Alaska and Hawaii. As usual, we weren’t considered. That’s why a lot of people think Alaska is a wee bitty state off the coast of Baja California because that’s where the cartographers usually put the inset box containing our state.

Despite the feelings of many of us old-timers who believe there’s getting to be just too danged many people up here, the state’s population of 698,000 means a density of 1.03 persons per square mile. Don’t overlook that point between 1 and 03. Of course, that isn’t the way it is, because more than half of the population lives in and around Anchorage, and Anchorage is way too close to where I live.

But this afternoon, as I snapped pictures from the bridge, I realized something: There’s room for all of us. Here, on a perfect Saturday afternoon in Cooper Landing with the temperature near thirty degrees, fishermen, swans, and ducks shared the wealth in perfect three part harmony.

Kenai Lake.
Note the red ice fishing shelter on the ice and the two trucks parked near the right shoreline.

This group of Trumpeter swans and their companion ducks are in the ripples at the top left in the previous photo.

On the other side of the bridge is Kenai River. The swans there are across from the fishermen in the reflection of the spruce trees.

The black Labrador retriever watches as a fisherman carefully releases a silver salmon that is way past its prime.
Opposite side of the river. Note the vehicle parked on the ice, where more fishermen are trying their luck.

Catch and release. Another salmon, spawned out and waiting for the end of its life cycle.

A few lazy bends down-river, eagle eyes watched from panoramic vantage points for dinner to float past.