Sunday, January 31, 2010

Garrison Keillor on health care

I am a long-time fan of Garrison Keillor. I enjoy not only his radio program, Prairie Home Companion, but also his writings, especially his columns. During the 2006 mid-term elections, I posted to this blog my favorite Keillor column, "We’re Not in Lake Wobegon Anymore", which begins, "Something has gone seriously haywire with the Republican Party." It's as true today as it was then, as is evident from Keillor's column last week:
Published on Saturday, January 23, 2010 and distributed by Tribune Media Services

Grab a cup of coffee, and let's talk politics

Anybody can play the game, but only the realists can govern.

by Garrison Keillor

The tea partiers are enjoying their day in the sun, but coffee is the beverage preferred by most Americans, and we don't have time to gang up and holler and wave our arms -- we prefer to sit quietly with coffee in hand and read a reliable newspaper and try to figure out what's going on in the world. Great heaps of dead bodies are moved by front-loaders and dumped, uncounted, unidentified, into open pits in a stricken country while people feast and walk treadmills on enormous cruise ships sailing a hundred miles off the coast en route to the Bahamas and Jamaica. That's the real world, not the paranoid hallucinations of the right.

The problem for Democrats right now is that nobody can explain health-care reform in plain English, 50 words or less. It's all too murky. The price of constructing this intricate web of compromises for the benefit of Republican senators (who then decided to quit the game and sit on their thumbs) is a bill with strange hair and ill-fitting clothes that you hesitate to bring home to Mother. Like all murky stuff, it is liable to strike people as dangerous or unreliable. And demagogues thrive in dim light.

The basic question is simple: Should health care be a basic right or is it a privilege for those who can afford it? Rush says it's a privilege -- pay or die -- and for his colonoscopy, they use a golden probe with a diamond tip, but most Americans agree that health care is basic, like education or decent roads or clean water. Holy Scripture would seem to point us in that direction. And yet the churches, so far as I can see, have chosen to stay aloof from this issue. Churches that feed the hungry and house the homeless dare not offend the conservatives in their midst by suggesting that we also tend the sick. And the opposition has beaten on garbage cans and whooped and yelled and alarmed the populace, which they're quite good at. These people look at a clear blue sky and see a conspiracy.

Arousing alarm is easy, teaching is tough. It takes patience and discipline to teach; any bozo can drop a book on the floor and make people jump. This is true even in Massachusetts. And in Nevada, where Sen. Harry Reid is facing a tough challenge in the fall.

Reid is the gentlest and most patient soul in the U.S. Senate and his presence there in a colony of bull walruses is a tribute to Nevada. He's a soft-spoken man from hardscrabble roots in the mining town of Searchlight who possesses Western honesty and openness and a degree of modesty startling for a senator, and if he goes down to defeat to some big bass drum, the Republic will be the poorer for it.

Sometimes you despair of common sense when you see an empty helmet like former Mayor Giuliani strutting up to the podium, or hear the Rev. Robertson opine on the earthquake in Haiti, or the lunatic congressman from Michigan who intimated that the president is somehow responsible for the Fort Hood massacre -- you just roll your eyes and hope these guys have friends who will take away the car keys.

Paranoia sells better in January than in November, however. And Sarah Palin was not elected vice president, and she is not in the West Wing advising President McCain on foreign policy. It didn't happen. She is investing her windfall profits from the book about how the Eastern media beat up on her, but we the people decided she was not vice presidential material. We don't choose our family doctor based on his ability to yodel, and we don't elect a woman vice president because she's perky.

And your high school civics teacher would not have given you a high mark for saying, as the Rev. Robertson did, that the earthquake in Haiti was God's judgment on voodoo. God has tolerated voodoo in Washington for years and not seen fit to shake the city yet. Priests and mojo men dance around the Capitol every day, waving skulls on sticks, scattering their magic powders, trying to stop progress with a hex, and God is content to observe them. So do we coffee drinkers. Government is in the hands of realists and in the end we shall prevail.
We can only hope.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Skiing Whispering Jesse

Nan and John skiing Whispering Jesse at SnowmassYesterday, I took the day off from work and skied at Snowmass with Nan, her brother Pat and Pat's son Aaron. Pat and Aaron were visiting from Wisconsin for a ski trip. In a few quick days, they skied with Nan at Powderhorn, Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain and Snowmass. The conditions have not been great this season, but Pat and Aaron seemed happy just to be skiing bigger terrain than what is available in the Midwest.

I don't know why I never thought of it before, but I don't have any photos of the ski run that shares its name with this blog, Whispering Jesse. Pat had his camera so I suggested that we swing by the run, which is located at the eastern edge of the Big Burn. It is one of my favorites, a rolling cruiser through glades of spruce trees. As I mentioned way back when, in "Where the name comes from", I'm sure Whispering Jesse the ski run influenced John Denver when he wrote his song of the same name. It definitely influenced me when I started this blog and chose a name for the sailboat I hope to own someday.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nan's Charmed Birthday

The Cleveland Cavaliers playing the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on January 8, 2010Nan's birthday is today, but since today is a Monday, we celebrated over the weekend instead. Last year, we stayed in Grand Junction and went ice skating. I know, it would be hard to top that! Well, when I started looking for something fun to do, I discovered that the Denver Nuggets would be playing the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, January 8, at the Pepsi Center in Denver. I gritted my teeth and clicked the "Best Available" button on the tickets website. The tickets were expensive, but I figured, when would we ever get to see LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal play again?

We had good weather and light traffic for the drive to Denver. When we pulled up in front of the Hotel Monaco, the valet informed us that because we were driving a hybrid, the parking fee would be reduced by half. Nan mentioned at the front desk that we were there to celebrate her birthday, and the clerk upgraded us to a suite. And when I plugged in the laptop, I found out we belonged to the hotel's free Internet access program.

We had dinner reservations at The Capital Grille before the game. We had never eaten there before, but we had heard only good reviews so we were eager to try it. They must have known it was Nan's birthday. The table was decorated for the occasion and there was a gift card for a free dessert. The food, wine and service were excellent. As we were finishing our dinners, one of the restaurant's partners, Charlie Sauter, came over and chatted with us like we were old friends. If he had been a dog person instead of a cat person, I would have offered to send him a copy of Raising Charlie. A little while later, while we were eating Nan's birthday dessert and sipping coffee, Charlie came back to tell us that a person who preferred to remain anonymous had picked up our dinner bill. We thought he was joking, but he took the bill from the table and walked away with it. We were so overjoyed that we slipped our server Sydney an extra tip and a hug as Charlie escorted us out of the restaurant.

Feeling flush, we decided to take a bicycle rickshaw to the Pepsi Center. Our driver Chris wove deftly in and out of traffic while Nan and I sat in the back, awed and laughing at his fearlessness. He dropped us right at the door, and we rode the escalators up to our seats. As you can see from the photo, they weren't too bad. That's LeBron at the free throw line and Shaq back at the center line. The Nuggets played extremely well, despite missing Carmelo Anthony from their line-up, and squeaked out a 99-97 victory in the closing seconds.

It certainly was a charmed day for Nan's big celebration. When I told a friend about it today, he said she should have bought a lottery ticket!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Climate change far worse than thought before"

On Sunday morning, a headline flashed by on my Google news sidebar that caught my attention: "Climate change far worse than thought before" from The Times of India. The article lists the findings of the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

  • Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were 40 percent higher than in 1990. The recent Copenhagen Accord said warming should be contained within two degrees, but every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding the two-degree warming mark. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas (GHG) warming the atmosphere.
  • To keep within the two-degree limit, global GHG emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. To stabilise climate, near-zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived GHG should be reached well within this century. More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under one tonne carbon dioxide by 2050. This is 80-95 percent below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.
  • Over the past 25 years temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.19 degree Celsius per decade. The trend has continued over the last 10 years despite a decrease in radiation from the sun.
  • The studies show extreme hot temperature events have increased, extreme cold temperature events have decreased, heavy rain or snow has become heavier, while there has been increase in drought as well. They also show that the intensity of cyclones has increased in the past three decades in line with rising tropical ocean temperatures.
  • Satellites show recent global average sea level rise (3.4 mm/year over the past 15 years) to be about 80 percent above IPCC predictions. This acceleration is consistent with a doubling in contribution from melting of glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice sheets. New estimates of ocean heat uptake are 50 percent higher than previous calculations. Global ocean surface temperature reached the warmest ever recorded in June, July and August 2009. Ocean acidification and ocean de-oxygenation due to global warming have been identified as potentially devastating for large parts of the marine ecosystem.
  • By 2100, global sea level is likely to rise at least twice as much as projected by the IPCC in 2007; if emissions are unmitigated the rise may well exceed one metre. The sea level will continue to rise for centuries after global temperatures have been stabilised, and several metres of sea level rise must be expected over the next few centuries.
  • A wide array of satellite and ice measurements demonstrate that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and ice-caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990. The contribution of glaciers and ice-caps to global sea level rise has increased from 0.8 mm per year in the 1990s to 1.2 mm per year today. The adjustment of glaciers and ice caps to present climate alone is expected to raise sea level by about 18 cm. Under warming conditions they may contribute as much as around 55 cm by 2100. The net loss of ice from the Greenland ice sheet has accelerated since the mid-1990s and is now contributing 0.7 mm per year to sea level rise due to both increased melting and accelerated ice flow. Antarctica is also losing ice mass at an increasing rate, mostly from the West Antarctic ice sheet due to increased ice flow. Antarctica is currently contributing to sea level rise at a rate nearly equal to Greenland.
  • Summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of climate models. The area of summertime sea-ice 2007-09 was about 40 percent less than the average prediction from IPCC climate models in the 2007 report.
  • The studies say avoiding tropical deforestation could prevent up to 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.
  • New ice-core records confirm the importance of GHG for temperatures on earth, and show that carbon dioxide levels are higher now than they have been during the last 800,000 years.
I hope to live until about 2050. Based on the IPCC findings, the world will be a far less hospitable place by then. The recommended steps to prevent human-caused climate change, like reducing per capita GHG emissions by 80-95 percent of 2000 levels, are not feasible. Global population will continue to increase, developing nations will continue to build new power plants, and developed nations will continue to rely on fossil fuels.

Like many science-minded people, I'm hoping for some kind of fix or breakthrough, but I'm afraid it's a false hope. I think we're facing an inevitable decline in the quality of life for all of earth's inhabitants, at least for those who survive extinction.

Here's a lyric from World Party's song, "Private Revolution", that puts our situation into some perspective:
But the world spins on regardless,
Which is lucky for you and me,
'Cause of all the places in a year's ride from here,
This is the only place to be.