Finding Your Path

If I were asked to name my favorite car that I’ve owned over the years, I’d probably first default to the Z. A 1971 Datsun 240Z bought in Hawaii while in the navy and sold some seven years later. I virtually rebuilt the car, including an engine rebuild, a transmission overhaul and a new paint job that I sprayed myself in my garage (big mistake). Numerous performance upgrades too, as well as exterior improvements (front air dam, rear spoiler, rear window louvers). It was truly ‘my’ car and I shouldn’t have sold it when I did. At the time (1985), I was living in Charlotte, NC with plans to take a new job in Southern California and I had recently bought another car – a new Audi GT Coupe. Transporting two vehicles across the country seemed unreasonable so the Z had to go. A local radio talk show guy bought it – said he wanted it for his teenage daughter. Given the car’s performance characteristics, I told him that was a bad idea but he bought it anyway. I wonder how long the car survived.

But was the Z really my favorite car? True, I had a lot of history in the short time I owned it, and as mentioned, I spent a lot of time working on it. Moreover, an early model 240Z was simply a great car. But is seven years enough time for the Z to retain its top spot? Or is there another vehicle that really is my favorite?

In all, including those jointly owned with my wife, I’ve had fifteen cars and trucks.

  • 1967 Chevy Chevelle with a 283 V-8.
  • 1972 Chevy Vega GT Kammback
  • 1971 Datsun 240Z
  • 1985 Audi Coupe GT with a 5 cylinder engine
  • 1985 Nissan Sentra wagon
  • 1989 Toyota SR5 pickup
  • 1992 Audi 90
  • 1967 Dodge Coronet R/T with a 440 magnum engine, a beast
  • 1967 Chrysler 300 convertible with a 440 engine, a battleship-sized car
  • 1972 Datsun 510 2 door, a little hot rod
  • 1996 Honda Civic
  • 1998 Nissan Pathfinder 4WD
  • 2004 Acura TSX
  • 2008 Toyota Corolla
  • 2014 Subaru BRZ

Looking at the list, a few stand out. Besides the 240Z, the TSX was a great car; the R/T was my only foray into the ’60s muscle car scene; the 510 was a blast; the Toyota pickup was solid, as is the Corolla. With maybe the exception of the Audi 90 (big disappointment), all were great cars. My first – the Chevelle – took me and my buddies to a lot of ball games in San Francisco and Oakland while in the navy. I went to see Willie Mays and Reggie Jackson in that car! The Audi Coupe was my first new car and I don’t regret buying it even if it prompted me to sell the Z. The BRZ – which we call Blue – is my current ‘fun’ car. A joint design between Toyota and Subaru, the BRZ is a joy to drive, although it does get put into hibernation during winter here in Bend. Blue don’t do snow and ice.

Have I left one out? Sure have. The vehicle I’ve had the longest and which has taken us so many places we otherwise couldn’t go:

The Pathfinder

A new 1998 Nissan Pathfinder, 4WD with manual transmission and low range transfer case. At the time, Nancy was in Atlanta starting her new career while I finished up my job at the San Onofre nuclear plant, having also recently completed a degree in geology, which stoked my desire to explore the desert. Nancy liked the desert too and we wanted a vehicle that would take us off-road into the Mojave but would also travel the highways without too much pain. After all, we’d be traveling cross-country from Atlanta to get to our preferred stomping grounds. So dedicated off-road vehicles were out and because we had a limited budget, high-end vehicles like the Range Rover were not an option. In 1998 – as now, surprisingly – there were few choices if you wanted an affordable, reliable, capable 4WD vehicle that would also behave itself on asphalt. Pretty much just the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota’s 4Runner in 1998. Maybe also the Mitsubishi Montero and Isuzu Trooper. Jeep Wrangler’s were (are) more capable but suffer(ed) from reliability problems and are too small. Other American models, such as the Dodge Durango, I also considered unreliable.

Searching for the right one took some time, mainly because a manual transmission was a must and those were fairly scarce. Being in Orange County helped as there are a lot of car dealerships, so I eventually found the maroon beauty you see in the photo. Bought new, it now has over 230,000 miles on it and has traversed the country several times, including a round-the-nation run in its first year: California-Atlanta-New York-Montana-Utah-California. 230,000 is actually not that many miles for a now twenty three year old vehicle, which reflects its long history as our ‘road trip’ car. Over the years, it has sat in the driveway many times for months on end, waiting to be called into action.

I’ll point out right now that the 1998 version of the Pathfinder bears no resemblance to the bloated pigs Nissan is foisting off on the market today. I would not consider buying a new Pathfinder today. Back in 1998, the Pathfinder was very capable: pretty good ground clearance, an excellent transmission and relatively little extra weight (still heavy though). It was built to go off-road. Moreover, because Nissan makes quality vehicles – it is very, very reliable. Really, the only problem that left us on the side of the road was a failed distributor in the first year (warranty fix). The alternator went out after ten years but gave us enough warning to drive a hundred miles to a dealer. Other than that, routine stuff only.

On the negative side, the Pathfinder does have a few faults. First and foremost is abysmal gas mileage. On a good day with a tailwind, it’ll get 17 mpg, usually less. You can buy a Corvette that does better than that. Mind you, you’d think after two decades manufacturers would be able to improve on that. Nope – the likely replacement – a new Toyota 4Runner similarly equipped does little better. The Pathfinder doesn’t have a huge, powerful engine that might excuse its gas hog nature. In fact, it’s a relatively small 3.3 liter V6 with not a lot of horsepower. That would be the second fault – it struggles to get over mountains when loaded. And when I say struggles, I mean you’re sometimes driving in the slow lane with the 18 wheelers. Fair amount of torque but not horsepower. It’s adequate though. Finally, as is the case with all similar vehicles, the Pathfinder gets squirrely at speed when there’s wind. In fact, I really don’t like driving it over 65 mph even without wind. So high speed runs across Montana or Texas are out.

Over the years, Nancy and I have teamed up well off-roading in the Pathfinder. Both of us know how to handle the vehicle and on treacherous paths, we have a good system of one person getting out and guiding while the other drives. We’ve both taken the vehicle deep off-road alone as well and Nancy has spent some time camping with it (I don’t prefer camping due to a bad back). Although Death Valley NP is where we’ve most off-roaded, the Pathfinder has found itself on rocks and dirt in many states. Canada too, on a Sierra Club outing. It’s safe to say that the Pathfinder has shown us ‘the path’, the places where we like to go. Places where lesser vehicles can’t go. Places where other people aren’t around. I can’t even begin to catalog all the trips but here’s a few (OK, quite a few) photos of the Pathfinder in the wild:

Death Valley National Park

While Death Valley is the Pathfinder’s ‘home away from home’, it’s quite happy in other locales as well.

White Mountains, California

Various Places

Georgia

The Pathfinder mainly served as our ticket to western adventures, often sitting idle in between road trips while we lived in Georgia. But it did get out a bit. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of our Southeastern adventures, which included some forays deep into ‘Deliverance’ territory. The North Georgia mountains aren’t the equal of what you find out west but there’s adventures to be had. I just didn’t take any photos which showed the Pathfinder. Nor do I have any of the most excellent trip we took to Maine and New Brunswick as part of a Sierra Club outing, although if you’re looking for puffin photos, I’ve got ’em!

Oregon

With our move to Oregon, the Pathfinder gets a lot more work, even if Death Valley is a whole lot closer now. Central Oregon in particular is an outdoor paradise with the high Cascade Range virtually in our backyard and the high desert just outside town to the east. And we’ve yet to explore but a fraction within a day’s drive. The Pathfinder is truly at home here.

Changes

Over the years, we’ve not modified the Pathfinder in terms of mechanical or performance-related things. No suspension lifts, rock shields or engine improvements. The wheels are still OEM. We have done a few things to improve the carrying capacity and fuel range. Specifically, the SURCO roof rack has been the biggest addition. While adequate, the Pathfinder’s interior space is not huge – it’s not a big SUV. So a roof rack was essential. We originally tried to get away with a big roof-top storage bag but that wasn’t great. Later on, a specially sized gas container carrier was mounted, one I made myself. That added 7.5 gallons of fuel. As it was made out of wood, it didn’t last long but I knew that when I built it. The last trip to Death Valley involved just the three containers without the carrier – we just strapped them to the roof rack securely. Along with fuel and various big items like camp tables, the roof rack holds the second spare wheel we bought several years ago. Having the ability to suffer two flat tires without becoming stranded really adds to your confidence going out on some of the more remote, challenging roads.

We also bought a side canopy that attaches to the roof rack – great for Mojave desert trips. And after moving to Oregon, we bought a couple pair of kayak carriers, which require removing the roof rack. You can see all these additions and iterations in the various photos but here’s a few showing the roof rack install and the gas carrier.

Moving On

We’re now seriously considering retiring the old girl. Sure, the Pathfinder is still in good shape – lots of body dings but no real mechanical issues – but 230,000 miles is a lot a ‘roads less traveled’ given where we like to travel. Getting stranded deep in Death Valley National Park’s back country is not optimal, especially given our more limited capability of hiking out. We’ve also been considering a trailer and that 3.3 liter engine just won’t hack the load, I think. Mind you, it’s been three years since we sort of decided to get a newer vehicle and still there’s the Pathfinder parked out back. The pandemic has something to do with that.

Puffins

I promised puffin pictures. The first one is an Icelandic puffin while the remaining two photos are from New Brunswick. Given how puffins operate, that Iceland puffin could well be from the same family as the Canadian ones.

Note: All images are mine but many have been greatly enhanced by @nancyfloydartist.

Timing

I’m interested in how things work, how humans interact with themselves and machines, how humans design stuff. How nature works intrigues me less, although that can be fascinating too. Observation of human-created environment chews up a lot of my time, although frankly, my powers of observation can fail miserably at times. That’s another conversation.

Perhaps there is no better arena for observation than our roads and highways. Here, humans mix it up with each other in a semi-ordered/ordained fashion using machines and infrastructure. It’s also an environment where, as a driver, you’re acutely aware of what other people around you are doing. Or at least you should be. So it’s no wonder that driving habits provide many insights into how humans get along with each other.

My thoughts along these lines started recently as I came to a four-way stop. Each of the other directions already had a car stopped, waiting. As I was the last one there, custom dictated that I would go through the intersection last. It’s a good rule but it’s often not efficient. With heavy traffic, having one car cross the intersection at a time is a bit daft and I see it happen a lot. Better to have the opposing cars cross together, with the left turners working their way across in the usual order. So, my thought was that as I came to the intersection, if the car opposite me moved first, I should immediately go too, even if I was going ‘out of order’. It wouldn’t hold up the cross-traffic cars – they had to wait for the one car anyway. It would be more efficient. The problem would be that the other drivers might not see it that way and would not love me for it. But it got me thinking about how we drive and how we can do it more efficiently. Later, another situation put that together with a related concept – timing. Timing promotes – or can destroy – efficiency.

Question: You’re stopped at an intersection intending to make a right turn. You have a stop sign, the cross-traffic does not. Hence you must yield and wait for an opening. A gap in traffic appears and you anticipate moving out. When do you start to move? When do you release pressure on the brake pedal and press down on the accelerator?

It’s a question of efficiency and awareness of your car’s response characteristics. It’s a question of timing. If you answered the question by saying you’d wait until that last car had completely gone by before releasing the brake pedal, you’re not doing it right.

Consider. It takes a finite amount of time to move your foot from the brake to the accelerator. It takes a finite amount of time before the car actually moves forward significantly (granted, most cars with an automatic transmission will creep forward after the brake is released but not very quickly). In that time, the car that passed by, which is moving at the speed of traffic, will have traveled a good distance down the road before your car even nudges forward, much less enters the traffic lane. You will thus need a considerable gap to safely make that right turn.

Efficiency suggests that you can do better. It’s all about the timing. Specifically, you should start the turning process well before the car passes by. Release the brake just before it gets to you and press the accelerator just as the rear end of the car is in front of you. Your car will take some time to speed up and move into the lane, so there’s little chance you’ll collide. You’ll end up with a not-very-large gap between you and the other car and the drivers waiting behind you at the intersection will love you for it. Efficient. And safe. With the other car already at speed, if for some reason that driver suddenly decided to stop right when you started your turn, there’s still little chance of a collision. Cars don’t stop instantaneously so it will be past you anyway and you will have plenty of time to back off or even abort the turn.

Two others:

When stopped in your lane to make a left turn across opposing traffic, you will also need to wait for a gap. In this case, it’s a little more serious because if you screw up badly, you’ll get broadsided. Your passenger in particular will not love you for that. But you can nevertheless use the concept of efficient timing. The first thing you will need to have done is not stop so far along the lane that you have to make a sharp left turn. Stop several meters before that point. This will do two things: it will allow you to make a gentler turn and more importantly it will allow you to start your acceleration into the turn with your wheels pointed forward, i.e., not immediately into the opposing traffic lane. (By the way, not turning your wheels while you wait is basic safe driving. You don’t want to get rear-ended into opposing traffic.) With your car already having gained a little forward momentum, you will need a smaller gap to turn and get across the lane safely. It takes very little time for a moving car to cross one lane of traffic. Hence, you will improve traffic flow. The drivers behind you will love you. And if your car is an old clunker, that initial forward movement will allow the engine a chance to stumble before you commit to the turn.

A final example, one not involving potential collision situations. In my town, we have a lot of roundabouts, traffic circles. They help with efficient traffic flow. As a matter of courtesy (and state law, I believe), to help the roundabout operate efficiently, you must put on your right turn signal before exiting. That allows the driver entering the circle at that point to anticipate a gap. So when do you actually reach for the turn signal lever? Right before your exit? No. The process of activating the turn signal involves, again, a finite amount of time. Even if you have your hand ready on the lever, the electrical relay that operates the blinker takes time to do its thing. And there isn’t a lot of time – you’re typically not in a roundabout but for a few seconds. If you wait too long, the driver in that car waiting to see if you’re exiting won’t see your blinker until too late. She’ll first see your car actually starting to exit and will not love you for it, potentially missing the gap. Instead, activate your signal as you pass by the exit before the one you intend to use. The blinker won’t blink in time to confuse anyone about that earlier exit point but will indicate your actual intention in time to be useful, and courteous. Everyone in town will love you.

Timing. Efficiency. These are concepts we can all love if handled properly, especially on the roadways.

Project: Air Filtration Unit

Years ago, I built a portable air filter to help with allergens in the house. It isn’t much to look at but it moves a lot of air. Basically a 1 ft x 1 ft x 2 ft box, it has an ultra-quiet bathroom exhaust fan inside that draws air through a standard home air filter in the front and pumps it out through a 4 inch port on the side. From there I can attach a dust collection hose to pipe the air to the other side of the room to promote circulation. Other than the on-off switch, that’s it. And the unit has worked well – it’s still quiet and based on how quickly the filter dirties up, it’s effective. Pretty ugly though – because I made it out of scrap wood, it needed to be painted instead of a nice wood finish. Not sure I chose a good color.

I decided to build another one but this time, it would be more of a piece of furniture and better looking. More of a woodworking project. After considering our needs, we decided the air filter could be a sofa end table. The current table is too small and too low. I’ll cut the suspense and show the final result now.

Same basic setup: an ultra-quiet fan drawing air through a standard filter and piping out through a 4″ port. This time though, the filter would be wholly inside the cabinet, smaller (12″ x 12″), and would draw air in through a louvered door. After playing around with fan orientation, I settled on having the filter on top with the fan mounted horizontally. That setup would allow room above the fan/filter for two narrow drawers. Additionally, because it is meant to be an end table, along with an on-off switch, I installed an electrical outlet to accommodate a tabletop lamp.

I like to use the wood I have on hand for projects if I can and I had a sufficient quantity of white oak, so that’s what I chose. For the side panels, which are 1/4″ plywood, I bought some white oak veneer. I had not used veneer before so that was new.

Mistakes were made. The biggest being a failure to properly account for the four vertical posts when I did the top piece, which was made from the best, most attractive cut of wood. The top turned out to be too small so i had to use other pieces to make a bigger one. The first top piece ended up being cut down for use as the two drawer fronts. The next biggest mistake was a goof in installing the door. The louvers ‘point’ up instead of down. That’s not so bad – it may even be beneficial in terms of drawing air from the room rather than the floor. But it wasn’t what I had intended.

Here’s the new top. I failed to take a photo of the original.

And some miscellaneous build photos.

One final note. This summer, Oregon had horrendous wildfires, as did (do) Washington and California. The air quality in my town reached and stayed at ‘extremely unhealthy’ levels for a long while. Because I use near HEPA filters in my units and the house’s FAU (forced air unit), they’re effective at capturing smoke particles. So along with the FAU and my first portable unit, I pressed this new one temporarily into service before the cabinet was complete.

Some truths*

* As I see them.

  • There is no god. Not yours, not his, not hers. People would do better coming to grips with that fact and live their one life as best they can. Mostly, religious people need to stop screwing things up for the rest of us just because we don’t believe in your particular flavor of god. Be kind to one another. That’s the only rule that counts.
  • There are too many people on this planet. Overpopulation is the root cause of virtually all the really bad things that have happened and are happening to humans. Wars, famine, plagues, pollution, religion. I do not automatically think it a ‘blessing’ when people have children. We could use more child-less couples. Or adoptions.
  • Evidence-based decisions are the only way to decide policy. And by evidence-based, I mean supported by peer-reviewed, testable science. Sure, we don’t know how everything works, but we know a hell of a lot more than that moron you follow on Facebook or Twitter does. For example:
  • Vaccines are safe and they save people from horrible diseases and death. The body of evidence for this is so fucking huge that it’s mind-boggling that people believe otherwise.
  • GMOs are safe and provide enormous value towards supplying the world with nutritional food. Yes, there are issues with seed patents and corporate greed but the actual product is very beneficial.
  • Nuclear power is safe and is the only base-load generation technology we currently have that will make a dent in climate change. Yes, I know about Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. In fact, I know a hell of a lot more about those disasters than you probably do. They were bad but not as bad as what literally every other base-load power generation technology has wrought. If you don’t know what base-load means, find out. It’s important.
  • Speaking of human-caused climate change, yeah, it’s real. It’s happening and it’s not the same thing as what happened on Earth 12,000 years ago, or whenever. Human civilization has spread across the entire world and it really isn’t going to be a good thing when the various farm belts that feed the population go too dry, or too wet, or too cold. It’s already happening and future generations will be left with a far less sustainable planet if we don’t stop doing what we’re doing now. We have options.

That’s it. There are more truths out there of course but these are some of the important, pressing truths.

Oh, yeah, we landed men on the moon. It happened.

Some Federal Reforms for President Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer to Consider

Recent BLM protests in various cities (including in my town of Bend, Oregon) have brought further into light the proliferation of federal law enforcement agencies. During the Portland protests, great concern was raised over the virtually anonymous agents tasked to respond by the federal government. We couldn’t tell who they were or which agency they worked for. After some probing by the media, several law enforcement agencies have been involved, including ICE, CBP, and, shockingly, the National Park Police. Can you imagine being a park police officer and being sent to some city to quell riots? That’s not what they signed up for, I imagine. And why is CBP operating so far away from the border?

I’d like the roles of federal law enforcement agencies clarified and limited. Park police should not operate outside the parks; CBP should stick to the borders. Some probably don’t need to exist as separate agencies. ATF and DEA, for example. How about we just empower the Federal Marshals and FBI to enforce all federal laws? In concert with state law enforcement agencies, of course.

In a similar vein, I’d like to see the role of military and quasi-military forces clarified. Specifically, I’d like to see the Posse Comitatus Act amended to exclude the exception involving the Insurrection Act (which should have been repealed a long time ago). The president should not have the power to interpret domestic unrest situations so liberally as to allow deployment of US armed forces where there is no need, as Trump has. I’d like to see an exception to provide for the governor of a state to request help from the US military but only to supplement that state’s national guard. In other words, the US troops would be under the command of the governor, not the president.

Finally, and in a different vein, I’d like to see restrictions put in place regarding deployment of National Guard and Coast Guard units overseas. The national guards of the various states should be tasked with helping out in their state only, or a neighboring state if that state’s governor requests it. There should be no sending guard units to fight in Iraq or anywhere else. Similarly, the US Coast Guard should be restricted to protecting the coastline of the US. I’m pretty sure a lot of young Americans have considered guard duty because of a desire to serve the citizens of their state but were deterred by the mass deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. If the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines need help fighting a war, implement the draft.

The Fall of the American Republic

Or the ‘American Experiment’ as it has been called. Lately I’ve become convinced the country is failing, perhaps irreversibly. Even if we throw Trump out of office in November, a continued slide into mediocrity – or worse – may be inevitable. Consider:

  • Americans are about equally divided along political lines. Progressives (the Left) continue to hold a slight majority but not enough to overcome challenges placed by the Right. This in of itself is not new. The US has been politically polarized before. I don’t know if the current situation is any worse than prior instances of polarization but it’s a huge factor right now.
  • Elections have been and continue to be compromised by the Right. Gerrymandering, voter purges, voter harassment, lies about mail-in voting fraud, and other measures to illegitimately swing the vote Republican even in Democratic majority districts are rampant, and effective. Even the US Postal Service is in play as Republicans attempt to do whatever they can to derail mail-in voting. Some of the these tactics have been employed to a lesser extent by Democrats in the past but the Republicans have made it a priority and they’re very good at it.
  • The justice system is significantly compromised. Having a US Supreme Court seat nomination unconstitutionally taken from a sitting president is the most obvious example but that’s certainly not the extent of it. US circuit courts and district courts are increasingly packed with right wing judges who rule along party lines rather than the law. We now have a majority right wing Supreme Court when it should be left leaning. Incredibly, Brett Kavanaugh has a lifetime seat on the court and Ruth Bader Ginsberg is gone.
  • Twice with the past three presidents, the majority vote winner did not win the White House. Trump lost the vote by a significant margin to Clinton and Gore narrowly edged Bush only to have the archaic Electoral College install both Republicans in office.
  • With the US Senate in the hands of Mitch McConnell – he who stole Obama’s court seat and he who publicly made it his primary purpose to “ensure Obama is a one-term president”- Americans can expect nothing good from Congress. We may well be able to right this particular situation in November with a Democratic majority but I’m not hopeful.
  • With the three branches of federal government each compromised, where do Americans turn for relief from governmental abuse of power?

The federal government is in ruins with respect to serving Americans, non-wealthy Americans and people of color in particular. Trump has made it his mission to not only dismantle federal agencies but also use them for his personal benefit.

Trump has ridiculed and alienated our allies, turning some of them into near enemies. His policies on trade, military alliances, the UN, the WHO and other things have made the rest of the world consider the US an unreliable partner. Even a favorable election result in November can’t fully repair this particular harm when other countries know that in four years, it could happen again. Consider recent history with George W Bush and how he alienated a lot of our allies. When Obama was elected, they breathed massive sighs of relief. Eight years later, Trump.

If you take the signing of the Declaration of Independence as the start (a dubious choice but not that important), the United States of America is 244 years old. In that time, we have pretty much continually marched forward in terms of making ‘a more perfect union’ as the US Constitution promises. Sure, there have been setbacks, there has been strife and injustices, but mostly, it’s been forward. Until now. Absent a major conflict that overwhelms the regular order of government (Civil War, WWII, for example), I don’t think there’s been a time in our history where the country’s democratic processes have retreated as they have during the Trump administration.

It is said prior to each presidential election that that election is the most important choice we face. Hyperbole, generally. That said, this November We The People will truly choose our fate, provided the Republican political machine allows it. A return to our march forward toward democratic ideals, or continued descent into fascism. Even if we decide the former, we will have a lot of work to do. Collapsing the divide among our citizens and restoring the courts will be challenging. Perhaps too much so.

I despair.

COVID-19

[This whole thing – which I’ve taken to calling The Current Unpleasantness – is a new phenomenon, so I’ve added some edits and remarks five weeks later.]

What a strange time we live in! It’s hard to imagine that anything could trump Trump for I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-surrealness but here we are. [Five weeks: Trump has managed to trump himself – his performance during the pandemic has been stupendously bad.]

So many unknowns; so many dire predictions based on scant data.

– It’s not that bad, some say. Most people only get mild symptoms and recover. Yeah, but mortality seems to be much worse than for the seasonal flu, something many people were comparing it to early on. And no one has immunity yet. [Five weeks: some disturbing reports that people who have recovered from CV-19 may not be immune as is generally the case with virus infections. Yikes.]

– Warm weather will knock it down as it does with the flu. Yeah, but some experts say the warm weather thing is a myth. What really knocks down the flu in late spring is herd immunity from all the people who eventually get vaccinated and those that recover from getting it in the winter. So expecting this coronavirus to die off in the summer may be wishful thinking. [Five weeks: this has not been discussed much by the experts.]

– Isolate, isolate, isolate! No doubt this is what we need to do but with some of the predictions of the longevity of the crisis, we are in for a long summer. Meanwhile, the economy tanks and people lose their livelihoods. Moreover, once the first peak of cases tapers off, lifting the mandatory isolation protocols will likely result in a new (albeit smaller) peak. Maybe more after that. [Five weeks: Yeah, about that isolation business. Most states were fairly responsible in locking down but a few, not so much. Looking at you Governor Kemp of Georgia. He was among the last to do so, incredibly claiming during a press conference well into the pandemic that he ‘only just learned’ that non-symptomatic people can spread the virus. Ya think, Governor? What an idiot. This week, Kemp has ordered the restrictions loosened for many businesses, including massage parlors and hair salons. Try six feet distancing with that. Again, what an idiot.]

– Right now, early on in the pandemic, essentials such as food, water and electricity are still available. But how long will that last? Food production is dependent on people doing food production jobs. If they start getting sick? How about transporting food? Truckers aren’t immune to COVID-19. If this thing lasts over a year or more (as some are warning it might), what of our essential services? Electric power plants and transmission grids need people to operate. Same with water systems. What if we have another devastating wildfire season? Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Will we have the resources to deal with it? [Five weeks: no major disruptions of essential services, including food production and sale. Grocery stores are still pretty well stocked. You can even find TP! The oil industry has completely tanked however. Demand for gasoline has plummeted. There are dozens – maybe hundreds – of oil tankers parked outside harbors, fully laden, with nowhere to discharge their cargo.]

– And what of the healthcare workers? Can you imagine working in one of our way too few hospitals dealing with an overflow of critically ill patients for months on end? Months and months of wearing a respirator? Months and months of watching people die because there aren’t enough ventilators? Some of the doctors and nurses will get sick too, reducing their numbers and making the situation more dire. [Five weeks: My god, those poor folks. I can’t imagine. Not only are hospitals in the more seriously hit places (NYC) totally overwhelmed, but for nurses and doctors to continue at this pace is unimaginable. Their living situations must be horrific.]

It’s early yet. Here in Oregon, the state this week mandated closing restaurants and bars to only takeout (which means really, closing the bars). Schools are all closed. All except small public events are cancelled. Elsewhere, like San Francisco and Orange County, mandatory stay-at-home isolation has been ordered. These are drastic and probably necessary measures. I expect more to come. [Five weeks: nothing really more has hit in the way of restrictions other than more states getting onboard. The take-out business is thriving, including with a lot of bars.]

It sure seems like the End Times [The Current Unpleasantness]. If this continues into the fall, I fully expect Trump to declare the election postponed. We’ll see how the country reacts to that. [Five weeks: Joe Biden has become the presumptive Democratic nominee and he’s lately been warning that Trump will try to do something to delay the election. Every reputable source and scholar has stated unequivocally that he doesn’t have that power. Congress does, though. Can’t see them delaying the election with Nancy Pelosi protecting our interests. Still, Trump is Trump. He’ll try something.]

Maybe we need to stock up on ammo instead of toilet paper. [Five weeks: yes.]

[Five weeks: Probably the biggest development is Trump’s daily CV-19 briefings. He has discovered that he has a captive audience and it’s good for ratings. Except he has set a new bar for incredibly stupid statements and incredibly stupid decisions. Many of the major news organizations have decided not to broadcast the briefings live because he spouts so many falsehoods and idiotic, dangerous things that they can’t keep up with corrections. This week, he mused that maybe injecting people with disinfectant might help. Some experts had trouble countering that absurdity because their collective jaws were dislocated after dropping to the ground. What a fucking moron.]

An Observation

It may be a curse but I have a tendency to observe my surroundings with an eye towards whether things are working well or are designed badly. Some might say it’s the engineer in me but I think it more likely derives from my training as a navy technician. On a ship or a submarine, it is imperative that things work well and if they don’t, someone needs to notice.

Or maybe I’m a touch OCD, I don’t know.

We have a Safeway grocery store here in Bend that I like to patronize. It’s big, new, not far from home and offers most of what I buy at a fair price. Like most big grocery stores, this Safeway has two entrance-exits, one at each end of the store as you walk towards it from the expansive parking lot. I use the one on the left because that’s the direction I typically enter the parking lot from. Each entrance-exit has two automatic doors for entry and two for exiting. Additionally, because Bend gets cold in the winter, they are double doors with a space in between to keep the cold air out. That is, you walk through one of the exterior doors and then though an interior door a few feet beyond with the exterior door closing behind you.

It’s a familiar and simple setup that should work well. Except it doesn’t. There is a huge flaw in the design that I have trouble grasping why the building designers didn’t recognize.

Let’s examine three key aspects of the door and building layout. First, as you walk towards the building, the entry doors are on the right, the exit doors on the left. Second, in the space between the exterior and interior doors is where the carts are kept. They are stashed to your left as you walk in. Finally, as you walk through the interior door, you’ll see the bank of checkout stations on your right.

So here’s what happens when you go in to shop. You approach the entrance doors on the right and one or both open as you get close. You walk through and turn left to grab a cart. As you’re doing that, someone exiting the store may be coming through and you’ll cross paths, either while you’re reaching for a cart or as you back one out. Also, as you go to grab a cart, because you’re stepping right past the exterior exit doors, the sensor for those doors will detect your presence and will open both doors.

Once you navigate that bit of design stupidity, you push a cart through an interior door (which is to the right of the exit doors, recall) into the store to shop. Yay! Except also recall that the checkout stations are on your right and as is typical with grocery stores, there is a alley between the stations and the back wall (where they keep various stuff like bank branches, maybe the pharmacy, a lot of vending type machines, etc.). As people complete the checkout process, they head for the door down this alley. They head for the exit doors. Which are on the other side of the door you just came in through. So more crossed paths, this time with both of you pushing carts.

Why aren’t the entrance doors on the left and the exit doors on the right? How does a building designer not think of that? I can imagine the possibility that there might be some confounding building code that demands it but I don’t think so. There’s no reason for that and I’ve seen entry-exit doors reversed in other places.

So I notice that every time I shop there. And it bugs me.

Some People

So I’m scanning the magazine rack at the local bookstore, searching for something that might be interesting in the food section. My eye catches an oddity: a car magazine, GT Porsche or some such, perched in front of – and obscuring – some of the food-related ‘zines. I scowl. What is it with some people that they are so inconsiderate. It might seem a small thing, failing to replace a magazine in its proper spot, but so is the effort to actually do that. It’s bad enough that the car magazine section becomes an unsorted mess, making it difficult to browse, but this inconsiderate Porsche-loving jerk couldn’t even be bothered to return the damn thing there. Car enthusiasts aren’t the only offenders but they’re pretty bad as a group.

So I move from Food & Wine, Cooks Illustrated and Saveur to the car section, my scowl unabated. I anticipate chaos and further scowling. Surprisingly, it’s not too messy. I pick up a front row magazine on classic motorcycles. Perhaps they will have an article on the Honda CB750, such as the one I saw at a car show this weekend. No, but they do feature an old Triumph. Nice.

While standing there, reading and slowly losing my scowl, an example of the breed comes up quickly, drops a magazine carelessly into the rack in a totally wrong spot, and scurries off. He’s done reading, so fuck everyone else.

Grrrrr  …..

My Constitutional Amendments

Or at least my ideas for amendments. Crafting any change to the constitution requires careful thought to limit unintended consequences.

1. Equal Rights Amendment. Already written but needs to be revised to include sexual orientation: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex or sexual orientation.”  In fact, why don’t we just clearly include everything: gender, race, religious affiliation, national origin.

2. Term Limits. Until recently, I’ve not been a great fan of term limits because I thought people should elect anyone they want. But recently I’ve become convinced that the power of the incumbency is too great an obstacle to proper functioning of our republic. So, 18 years in the House and Senate; 12 in the White House (yes, that adds a third term).

3. Abolish the Electoral College. The president and vice-president will be elected by popular vote. Recently, I read about a way to effectively abolish the Electoral College that doesn’t require an amendment or Congressional action. States have the right and power to apportion electoral votes as they see fit as determined by state law. So, each state could enact a law to give the entirety of the electoral college votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote.

4. Corporations Are Not People. Override Citizen’s United and any decisions in inferior courts that led to Citizen’s United.

5. Repeal the Second Amendment. I’m not proposing we ban guns. I’m proposing that owning them not be a constitutional right and thus ownership can be regulated like any other hazard.

6. Independent Redistricting. I’m not sure what system will work best – they all have pitfalls. But I propose to ban legislators picking their voters. Let’s get back to voters picking legislators.

7. Replace the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments. Replace them with something that more clearly defines free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, equal rights, due process. I don’t propose we restrict or expand these rights and freedoms, just make them less susceptible to bizarre Supreme Court interpretation. See Citizen’s United. All enumerated rights shall clearly state applicability. I.e., rights granted to citizens only, to legal residents, to anyone on US soil. In no case shall a US citizen be deprived of rights under the constitution including that of habeas corpus. I.e., no indefinite detentions without a prompt hearing before a judge.

8. Constitutionalize Marbury v Madison. The constitution doesn’t actually give the Supreme Court the final say on what is and what isn’t constitutional. Make it so.

9. Article III Judges. There shall be nine justices of the Supreme Court. No fewer, no greater. Justices of the Supreme Court and all inferior federal judges are limited to a single 18 year term on any particular level of court (including all justices and judges currently sitting when the amendment gets adopted). The president shall have the power to fill any Article III vacancy without Senate consent after a time period has passed and the Senate has not voted on a valid nomination. Confirmation of a Supreme Court justice shall require at least 60 votes in the Senate; all others require a majority vote. If a nominee gets a vote but fails to garner sufficient votes for confirmation, the time clock for nomination and confirmation resets. A nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court shall be limited to those judges currently sitting on one of the eleven Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals (with a new 18-year term limit). A nominee for a seat on one of the eleven circuit courts shall be limited to judges currently sitting on a federal district court or one of the state highest courts. All nominees for federal court shall be members in good standing of a state bar. The nine members of the Supreme Court shall choose one of their group to be Chief Justice for a term to be specified (i.e., someone gets to be Chief for say, two years, then goes back to being an associate justice).

10. Citizenship. Anyone born in any state of the union, or the District of Columbia, shall be a citizen at birth. Anyone born with at least one biological parent a US citizen shall be a citizen at birth. These will be defined as ‘natural-born citizens”. Anyone born in a US territory shall not be a citizen at birth unless a parent is a citizen of one of the states or DC. Note: At present, people born in Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands are ‘natural-born’ citizens. I propose that these territories and the other territories can decide for themselves if they want to become US states and until they do, anyone born there will not be a natural-born US citizen. Anyone who serves honorably on active duty in any of the armed forces – including the Coast Guard – for a set length of time (12 years?) shall gain citizenship, as will their spouse provided the spouse also meets the time requirement. Children born to an active-duty service-member will be granted citizenship when the parent gets it.

11. District of Columbia. DC shall gain full representation in the US House and the Senate. Citizens of the district shall have full voting rights in presidential elections.

12. Census/Representation. A census shall be conducted every ten years to count the number of citizens and permanent residents in each state. The census shall not ask nor determine any other demographic count. Someone else can determine the whole population of the US if we want that number. Representation in the US House shall be apportioned according to each state’s number of citizens at the time of census.

13. Presidential Pardons. The president shall have the power to pardon any person, with exceptions, for any criminal conviction, federal or state. The president shall not have self-pardon power, nor the power to pardon any person closely associated with the president. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia shall have original jurisdiction to determine whether a person is closely associated to the president but that group shall include all current and former members of the president’s administration.

14. Cabinet Positions. Upon resignation or removal of a Senate-confirmed member of the cabinet, the current Senate-confirmed deputy shall assume the duties and responsibilities of the office until a Senate-confirmed successor is appointed. If no Senate-confirmed deputy is currently in office, the Speaker of the House shall appoint an acting deputy who will assume the duties of the cabinet member until a Senate-confirmed successor is appointed.

15. Immigration. There shall be a statute of limitations for deportation of ten years. I.e., anyone who resides in the US illegally for ten continuous years shall be granted legal resident status regardless of their criminal status otherwise. This is not to grant immigration amnesty to ex-Nazis and other heinous criminals just because they eluded notice for ten years but to prevent people who have been here for a long time and who have done nothing wrong other than cross the border earlier in their lives from being ripped away from their families and deported to a country they don’t know. It will also encourage long-time illegals to fully become part of our society.

16. Federal Elections (President/Vice-president, US House, US Senate, US Constitutional Amendments). The US Federal Elections Commission shall conduct, regulate and monitor all federal elections. State and local elections may attach to the federal elections but in no instance will any election for federal office or amendment to the US constitution be governed by state law (note that I am also calling for getting rid of the Electoral College so state apportionment of electoral votes becomes a non-issue). A federal state-specific voter ID card will be created and administered by the US Federal Elections Commission. No one shall vote in a federal election except upon presenting a valid voter ID, except for marking a provisional ballot when there’s a dispute as to eligibility of the voter. Federal voter IDs shall be available to all citizens upon showing proof of state residency (criteria determined by the FEC) at specified federal and state offices. No undue travel or financial burden shall be imposed for obtaining an ID card or to vote. A federal voter ID card shall be valid proof of state residency and voting eligibility for state-wide offices and questions. States can still require something with proof of current address for local elections and questions. States can also set up federally approved mail-in elections, such as Oregon has.

17. Federal Elections Part II. All eligible voters are required to vote absent good excuse as determined by the FEC or Congress. Good excuses shall be very liberal. Federal election days will be state and federal holidays. All federal elections will provide for at least a two-week early voting period.

18. War Powers. The US Congress shall retain the sole power to declare war. The president shall have the power to initiate and conduct hostilities as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces pending an Act of Congress to declare war, terminate hostilities or authorize limited armed conflict. Declaration of war shall require, at a minimum, initiation of the draft. In no case shall the National Guard of any State be federalized into active duty in the US armed forces unless a declaration of war has been issued by Congress. All citizens shall register for the Selective Service upon their 18th birthday. Upon declaration of war by Congress, all permanent residents of the US between 18 and 35 years of age shall register with the Selective Service.