Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reverend Rob

In a previous story about Reverend Rob, I wrote about being ordained as a minister in the Universal Life Church.

In late July I administered my first official wedding. The wedding of Doug and Lanette was my primary purpose for becoming ordained. It was on their request that I applied in the first place.

The ceremony was short and sweet. I think they chose me as they knew that I wouldn't speak too long. They even wrote the ceremony for me trying to ensure that it stayed short. It was a standing ceremony after all. I did take the liberty to expand it to nearly twice the length (still only a few minutes long).

Doug's daughter commented that she was glad that I chose to wear an outrageous outfit. It might not have looked quite so outrageous had the robe actually covered my bare legs and sandals! It did look as if I was graduating. I must have done all right with the ceremony as I received a number of invitations to officiate other weddings should those individuals have a need (most were already married).

I was very honored that Doug and Lanette asked me and trusted me to do this. I was more than happy to contribute.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Transit Discussions at the Western Idaho Fair

I have lived in Idaho for more than 19 years now and have never been to the fair. That changed last Friday as I volunteered for duty in a booth on public transportation. The booth was co-sponsored by Idaho Smart Growth, Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS), and Valley Regional Transit.

As we were late to commit to a booth, we were not located in a prime location. The booth was tucked behind a booth selling carnival toys and did not face a main aisle. Many people probably walked by and didn't even notice. However, the organizers were pleased with the turn out we did get.

I volunteered for a 11-3 shift as that was the only time slot that our limited bus service could cover. The next shift was 3-7 and bus service stops at 6:30pm. My session was also 7 days into the fair so traffic was probably lighter as a result.

The booth had pamphlets on the various organizations, a great piece put together by the Idaho Transportation Department on their budget shortfalls over the past 10 years, a map illustrating the 6 year public transit plan if we do indeed acquire a funding source, jars for visitors to vote for their preferred funding source, and a wheel to spin for prizes. We were also collecting names and addresses of people interested in transit so we can notify them of public hearings, new projects, etc. The prize wheel was a big hit as it brought in the kids enabling us to engage their parents.

The first hour of my shift we had no visitors. Not too surprising as the fair opened at 11. In the next 3 hours we had a number of families through, with about 5 or 6 really engaging. Of those that did engage, all but one felt the public transportation system must be expanded. In voting how to pay for it (accumulative of the week), no funding and a property tax were the least popular. Next was to make the riders pay for it themselves. Leading the votes were a sales tax or vehicle registration fee increase. I should note that this was very unscientific voting. It was a good experience and I feel good that I at least educated a few families on our options as a community.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Coffee Break Spanish

Karyn and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica this fall for some bird and wildlife watching. As such I thought it would be a good idea to learn some spanish. The little Italian that we learned prior to our Italy trip paid off very well. Not only did it help us find our hotel, bike shops, etc, it had a positive impression on all the people we interacted with.
I found an excellent free podcast for learning spanish called Coffee Break Spanish. You can find it on iTunes, PodcastAlley, or directly from their web site. The podcasts are conversational in nature, focusing on using the language quickly.
Hola. Me llamo Rob. Soy de los Estados Unidos. Vivo en Boise Idaho. Hablo un poco espaƱol. Ahora entiendo un poco espaƱol. Hasta luego.
Ok, I have to admit that Google helped me with the spelling of some of these words! Its a great resource that I would highly recommend. Check it out.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Response to Senator Craig

Last week Idaho Senator Larry Craig posted an editorial on his web site regarding road infrastructure funding. The article is titled - Don't Take a Hike. In the article Senator Craig admits that we must do something about our aging transportation infrastructure, opposes a gas tax increase, and suggests that we at least partially fund infrastructure through efficiency improvements. Here is my response to his editorial:
Senator Craig,

I read your August 16th editorial titled "Don't Take a Hike". I wanted to share my opinions on the subject. First, I agree with you that something needs to be done. We have neglected investment in many critical areas in this country and I feel that our aging bridges and roads are but one example. Additionally, I agree with you that we should continuously be looking for improvements in efficiency as one way to get more return on our investment. I do, however, have a number of issues with the remainder of your editorial.
The editorial states that something must be done, but a gas tax increase is not the answer. If not, then what is? Efficiency improvements will not sufficiently fund the improvements. I would be interested in your ideas on how to fund the gap.
Here is why I believe that a gas tax increase is the answer to infrastructure improvements:
First, I believe it is time for us to increase investment in infrastructure. The more neglect the infrastructure receives, the larger the looming repair bills will be. We are essentially borrowing from the future as we will have to pay eventually (as we now are in Minneapolis).
Next, I see four possible options to pay for infrastructure - 1) efficiency; 2) debt; 3) gas tax; or 4) some other tax (new or existing). We have both agreed that efficiency is not sufficient. Increasing the national debt would further burden our children and grandchildren while decreasing the stability of our economy as we continue to borrow overseas. It is fundamentally irresponsible to do this to our kids, just so we can avoid the short term economic impacts. A focus on other taxes is providing a subsidy for transportation at the expense of other aspects of our economy. The most fair, direct, and understandable approach is to require transportation to pay for transportation infrastructure. The easiest and most direct way to do this is through a gasoline tax.
The problem with most of this debate is that people only ever present the negative aspects of a gasoline tax. There are many positive aspects as well. An increase in the gasoline tax would encourage people to drive less. Driving less decreases our contribution to global warming, decreases our dependence on foreign oil, and thus likely decreases the growth of global terrorism. It would provide greater advantage to local businesses and producers. This in turn creates jobs, slowing or stopping the migration of quality job overseas.
These benefits more than outweigh the disadvantages and provides a real solution to the problem. I encourage you to reconsider your position. Thank you.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Leatherback Turtles of St Croix

If you have read this blog for more than a year, you may remember our trip report from working with Earthwatch to Save the Leatherback Turtle. In May of last year we joined an Earthwatch expedition to St Croix to work with the endangered Leatherback Turtles. You can read the whole report at the link above.

We recently received a message from one of the researchers that they had a large number of nesting turtles this year on the Sandy Point beach in St. Croix. Much larger than recent years. This is excellent news for the Leatherbacks and speaks to the success of the WIMARCS recovery program in St. Croix. Of course it is too early for me to take any credit as the turtles hatched last year will not reach maturity, and thus return to the beach for nesting, for another 6-9 years. Regardless, the program itself is a success. It is possible that the St Croix Leatherback population would be extinct without it. It certainly would not be on an upswing.

I still remember laying in the sand in the middle of the night, catching the turtle eggs with new each contraction of the giant animal, working to relocate them to a safer nest. It is an experience beyond belief that I will remember for the rest of my life. I wish each and every turtle on the beach and the species as a whole the best of luck. They will need it to survive. They also need our help.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Backyard Birds

We decided this year to set up some bird feeders in our backyard in the hopes of attracting more birds. We have always attracted a few birds with the sunflowers that grow in our yard. We started with a single feeder which was successful in attracting a few birds in to eat. We have seen Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Juncos, house sparrows, but mainly house finches. In the spring the Goldfinches were very active for a few weeks. Not bad for an urban neighborhood After adding a second feeder, the traffic in our yard increased again, but the diversity did not. We then put up our hummingbird feeder, which brought in a few visitors each day - Calliope and Black Chinned. In an effort to attract even more diversity, I decided to build a small platform on the fence. This made a huge difference. Mourning Doves and Black Capped Chickadees joined the party. Tons of House Finches came in as well. With 20 or more birds gathered around, a pint of food would disappear in less than a day. I counted eight finches on the small platform at one time! The Doves probably ate most of the food. They would come in and bully the others away. They were then forced to bully each other. We regularly have four doves at a time. We call them "Winged Coons" as they bully in and eat all of the food. Similar to what the raccoons do with our outdoor cat food.
When all of the food was gone, some of the finches went back to the feeder, but the rest just hung out waiting for more food. Since I couldn't keep the platform stocked, I decided to buy a food block and place in on the platform. The Mourning Doves figured it out right away, but most of the finches have not. I placed some loose food around the base of the block which attracted a lot of action. Still only a few of the finches figured out that the large block was food. Most of the small birds have gone back to the traditional feeders. I imagine that they will figure it out eventually.
We also have a good patch of sunflowers which are now producing seeds. These are clearly the favorite of the American Goldfinches. The Goldfinches rarely visit the feeders now. At nearly all times of the day there is at least one Goldfinch in the sunflowers. The House Finches occasionally visit the Sunflowers, but generally don't stay long, preferring instead the less work required at the feeders. The Goldfinches are the true organic eaters. I appreciate them even more fore preferring the natural stuff.

This article featured in the 56th edition of the I and the Bird Blog Carnival.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Elusive Huckleberry

This first weekend in August we did what we have done for most of the last ten first weekends in August, which is to travel in search of the elusive Huckleberry, the state fruit of Idaho. While Huckleberries are present throughout Idaho between about 4000 and 6000 feet above sea level, a trip to pick them is never a causual occurrance. Most people who go huckleberry picking border on the fanatical side.

Generally if you ask a person where they are going picking, they will only provide vague directions, such as "North". "North", of course means anywhere between East and West. It is difficult to nail it down any further than this.

A small group of us do travel as a group and camp together. When we enter a particular area to pick, that's when the friendship ends. We utilize FRS radios to keep in touch and make sure that no one gets lost. It is common to ask others over the radio how the picking is where they are at. The most common reply is "it sucks over here!". This could mean anything from "it sucks over here, don't come over" to "the picking is great, don't come over". The rules change when you are picking with your spouse as we pool our berries in the end. In these circumstances if your spouse thinks she is in a slightly better patch, she will tell you to come over. When you get there, more often than not, it is the same or not quite as good as where you were. This is the challenge with picking, the constant belief that a better patch is just over there.

The picking was a little thin this weekend in comparison with the last few years. The forest was extremely dry. A couple of our favorite spots had little if any berries at all. We were able to find some reasonable patches for picking. On our final morning we finally found a patch which warrants the "great" label. In a "great" patch you can sit down in one place and pick for 5 minutes before moving on. This enables you to pick with two hands. In these patches we can each pick a quart of berries in around 2 hours. The rest of the weekend we were in patches where you are constantly moving from bush to bush. We were also picking smaller berries. In these patches we only picked 3/4 of a quart in 3 hours. In the end, Karyn and I ended up with about 1.75 gallons of berries for the weekend. Last couple of years we picked 2.5 gallons. 1.75 is much better than our worst year which was less than 0.5 gallons! We also had a great time with friends making it a very successful weekend.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Chunky Air

I rode my bike in to work today instead of riding the bus. About noon I looked outside to see the hazy blue air. I couldn't even see the foothills from my place of work, just a few miles away. On the ride home I saw another bike commuter wearing a face mask. I wished that I was wearing one. Upon arriving home, my sinuses burn. I am not sure the exercise was worth it. Welcome to another orange air quality day in Boise!

Today both ozone and particulate pollution levels were higher in Boise (ozone 90, pm 110) than in Los Angeles (ozone 34, pm 74)! Forest and rangle land fires are the largest culpit, but our traffic congestion played a significant role and our continued hot weather keeps the pollution around. Boise came off the hotest July ever recorded! 8.6 degrees F per day hotter than average. It beat out the previous record which was set just last year. Ouch.

Paired with the warm weather was the worst air quality July ever recorded! 7 Orange days, 15 Yellow days, and 9 green days, although according to the DEQ those were just under the theshold.

What a great day for our governor, driving in a single occupancy vehicle, to determine that there are too many OTHER people on the road. His plan is to have most of the state workers work at home a few days a week. I do applaud his plan, but it would be great to see him lead by example personally (bus and commuterride are available from where he lives), to encourage himself and state works to pursue other options as well as telecommuting (barely mentioned in the article and not by him), and to take a broader view of the problem and address transit solutions for those who must come in to work. At least it's a start.

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Population Issues

I have written before about my opinions regarding over-population. I have commented that over population is as big an issue as green house gases in global warming.

TreeHugger.Com has a new article The Elephant in the Room: OverPopulation. In the artical they discuss the issue from some interesting perspectives. They quote the movie "The Matrix":

Agent Smith to Morpheus: "Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment. But you humans do not. "You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area."

I challenge anyone to find evidence that this isn't true.

The article goes on to quote Alan Wiesman of The World without us:

" If we don't control ourselves, nature will do it for us. Every species that eats itself out of house and home experiences a population crash."

The question is how many other species will we take with us?

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