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On Being Bumped, Or, Let’s Have Another Roundup July 4, 2011

So I thought I was going to have another Jay Inslee story for y’all today, but it turns out that I’m going to have to do more research before we can “come to press” with that one.

But that’s OK, because the world’s been busy doing a lot of other things – and while many of them get media coverage, some don’t get a lot of notice at all.

And of course, there are also those stories that look one way at first glance…but look a lot different when you dig a bit deeper.

We’ll hit a few of those today, have a bit of fun doing it, and get ready for what promises to be another busy week of strategically not doing things in Washington.

To make things even better, some of the stories will be real, and some won’t.

We’ll see if you can tell the difference.

Wat baten kaars en bril, als den uil niet zienen wil?
(“What use are candle and glasses, if the owl does not want to see?”)

–Traditional Dutch saying quoted in Peter Tate’s book Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition

Let’s begin by closing out some business from our last story: I mentioned that I received a parking ticket from Seattle Parking Enforcement Office J. Hell, on Republican Street, while attending an event hosted by a Democratic candidate for Governor, and I suspect that some of you think I made all that up.

For proof, I was going to copy the ticket and post it for folks to see…but, instead, check this out: Officer Hell actually made the “Seattle Times” back in June, and you can see her hard at work in that story booting a car, which Seattle does after four unpaid parking tickets.

And now, on to the new business:

Have you seen the Viagra commercial where the guy is driving his horse trailer, and it gets stuck in the mud, and he uses the horses to pull himself out?

Well, think about it just a minute: he’s a guy, and he already has a great big pickup truck, a cowboy hat, and horses…which he’s actually using to pull his great big pickup truck…and you’re telling me he doesn’t already have a boner?

If he can’t achieve an erection at that point, what the hell good is Viagra gonna do?

And speaking of erecting new things…

In what I consider to be one of the best things to happen to politics (and the financing of television productions) in years, Stephen Colbert has been given permission to form his own SuperPAC.

Colbert indicates that he intends to use any money donated to the PAC to produce certain campaign commercials, among other things – but according to the FEC advisory opinion, he is not allowed to expend any of his unlimited corporate contributions to run another effort like 2008’s “Hail to the Cheese” Campaign, which was intended to merge corporate money and politics in an obvious and highly visible way.

By the way, that FEC advisory opinion is available for viewing, if you’re so inclined – and in a most fascinating footnote, it unintentionally explains the existence of Fox News as a legitimate press entity:

A news story, commentary, or editorial that lacks objectivity or is satirical can still be considered part of a press entity’s legitimate press function, even if that news story, commentary, or editorial expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for Federal office.

And speaking of unlimited corporate money…

Monaco was the location of a Royal Wedding this weekend, with Monaco’s Prince Albert, resplendent in his military uniform, taking up the role of groom.

Military uniform?
Monaco?
Really?

As it turns out, tiny little Monaco actually does have a military, and the Prince represents 1/113th of the entire force – which means if they ever try to invade the Vatican, the Swiss Guard will outnumber ‘em by about 19 guys.

(By the way: the Prince is reported to have some DNA testing in his near future to determine the paternity of what could be his third and fourth illegitimate children…which is presumably going to make for a bit of a frosty honeymoon.)

What else is going on?

Well…I was watching CNN and they suggested that people bearing retirement age should try making a budget that would reflect how they’ll be living after retirement and try living on that now.

And I though to myself: “I should try that”.

So I did…and now I’m wanted for bank robbery in four states.

Thanks, CNN.

And finally…

In a story that is exclusive to Your Erstwhile Reporter, I am now able to report that Ohio Governor John Kasich, in an effort to simultaneously reduce unemployment and “send the proper message” to his workforce, will announce on Tuesday that he intends to hire 6,000 new state employees who will have only one duty: to travel around and visit all male State employees, at random, once a month…and kick them in the balls.

In order to help female employees really “get a feel” for the new work environment, former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann has been brought back to reform and “restock” the Dannettes; he’ll then be employed as the “Charlie” overseeing Ohio State Government’s newest “Angels”.

So there we are, with this weekend’s Roundup, and we should be back shortly after Tuesday with either the Jay Inslee story that was supposed to be here today – or a substitute, depending on how our research goes.

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On The Futility Of War, Part One, Or, Snow Becomes A Lethal Weapon December 13, 2009

We have another one of those “amazing history” stories for you today—and this one’s a real doozy.

We’re going to spend the better part of four years in the Italian Alps (or, to be more accurate, what was intended to be the Italian Alps), and by the time we’re done, nearly 400,000 soldiers will have been killed—and 60,000 of those will have died as a result of avalanches that were set by one side or the other.

In the middle of the story: a mountaineer and soldier who was so highly regarded that even those who fought against him accorded him the highest honors they could muster, creating a legend that lives on to this very day.

And even though a young Captain Erwin Rommel fought in these battles…it’s not him.

Oh, by the way: did I mention that there are also some handy object lessons for anyone who might be thinking about fighting a war in Afghanistan?

Well, there are, Gentle Reader, so follow along, and let’s all learn something today.

“Coming back from a long weekend in the desert, traffic is lousy. Next to the highway, an electric billboard proclaims ONLY 24 SUNSETS UNTIL CHRISTMAS and I am stuck beside it long enough to watch it change to 23—get ‘em while they’re hot, apocalypse coming soon, reserve your sunsets now while supplies last.”

–Gabriel Wrye, Straight Time

Let’s begin the setup for this story by checking out some prime European real estate:

Italy, as you know, is that “boot” protruding into the Mediterranean—and if the top of the boot had really cool trim and a big buckle, the trim would run from Nice, France (formerly Nice, Italy), on the west, touching Innsbruck and Salzburg, Austria, and then past Bratislava, Slovakia and on into the Hungarian plain. The trim would also veer south, and that portion of our metaphorical “carnival decoration” would encompass Ljubljana, Slovenia (which is about 100 miles south of Salzburg), eventually rolling out into the suburbs of Zagreb, Croatia.

Other notable nearby cities include Marseilles, Grenoble, every city in Switzerland, Strasbourg, Munich, Venice, Bologna, Milan, Turin, and Genoa, all of which are 100 miles or less from the boot’s appliqué.

This is the Alps, and, in 1910, France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire all have borders that snake through the area. The last three were all relatively new countries, none having gone more than 50 years since their most recent versions of “unification”—and that buckle we spoke of earlier? That would be roughly where the Swiss, Austrian, and Italian borders meet today, near the Stelvio Pass…which is part of an area known as the Tyrol.

Switzerland’s Matterhorn (part of the Pennine Alps) is one of numerous mountains that are all above 10,000 feet over on the west side of the region; the highest peak of the equally spectacular Tre Cime di Lavaredo (known in German as the “Drei Zinnen”) is located about 10,000 feet up in the air, a couple of hundred miles or so to the east in the Dolomite Range.

Just like in my part of the world (Washington’s Cascade Mountains) you can get a lot of snow up there, and the combination of extreme snow and weather, high altitudes, and nearly vertical climbs created, by necessity, residents with unique mountaineering skills (the techniques that led to the use of pitons, carabiners, and rope ascents and descents were all developed here)…skills that became quite valuable to the military authorities in those five countries.

By the start of the 20th Century, troops like the Italian Alpini (who, to this day, still serve in the Italian Army), the French Chasseurs Alpines (who are also still serving and have a recruiting pitch that’s way past “Be All You Can Be”), the Austrian Landesschützen (who also have a modern presence in today’s Austrian Armed Forces as the 6th Jägerbrigade and the Österreichs Gebirgsbrigade, mountain infantry and “mountain combat engineers”, respectively), and the “Standschutzen“, who were essentially the Austrian military’s Alpine “farm team”, were all stood up to protect the various national interests that were present in the mountains.

All of the armies and militias involved had access to the best hunters and mountain guides that could be found—and since smuggling and poaching was part of mountain life, a lot of people knew a lot of paths, knew how to bag game with the fewest shots possible—and knew how to use those skills while keeping out of sight of the flatlanders and tourists—and “revenooers”—who might be venturing into the neighborhood.

Among all those mountain dwellers, perhaps the most skilled of the hunters and guides was Sepp Innerkofler. As the new century began, he had built his decade-old guide business into a hotel business—presumably learning better “customer service” that that practiced by his equally famous uncle Michael, who would apparently leave customers on ledges to wait for him to finish a climb if they couldn’t keep up. (Michael died in 1888, the victim of an ice bridge collapse.)

One measure of Sepp’s skill: he had to his credit the “first ascent” up more than 50 of the most difficult peaks in the Alps—which wasn’t that easy, considering that Michael had something like 10 times that number under his belt.

”…only a few of the hundreds of walkers who leave the Longéres pass for the Lavaredo pass every day in summer and autumn realise [sic] that they are moving in an environment which was made sacred by events in the Great War…”

–Tito and Camillo Berti, Guerra in Ampezzo e in Cadore

I could tell you an entire additional story about Italy and the relationship with Austria (and later Austro-Hungary, both ruled by the Hapsburg Dynasty), but what you need to know today is that over the centuries there had been a long-simmering conflict between the Italians and the Austrians (and the Ladins, a third ethnic group that inhabits the Tyrol).

At the time of the American Civil War Austria’s territory extended a bit south of the Alps; and part of the beginning of Italian unification history (the Risorgimento) was the effort to reduce Austrian influence in the north of today’s Italy and in the Italian Tyrol.

As Europe was stumbling its way into World War I, much of Italy’s population wanted to stay neutral (which, for the moment, was official Government policy), and some did not, seeking, instead, an alliance between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Opposing the Empire was the Rebel Alliance…no, wait, that was “Star Wars”.

The actual opponents, Russia, France, and Great Britain, were known as the “Triple Entente”, which was the side the United States later joined. Germany eventually declared war against everyone in Europe, except the “neutral” countries and the other “Central Powers” (Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire—which, like the show Cats, was just about to close after a very successful 600-year run), who they joined.

By the time it was all over, more than 50 declarations of war were issued by the various combatant nations.

It’s now 1915, and despite the fact that Italian policy tilts toward neutrality, Sepp Innerkofler has been seeing a lot of new activity in his neighborhood…and the alp-glow notwithstanding, he was pretty sure that it wasn’t the mythical King Laurin.

You cannot sustain an army in the mountains without a lot of infrastructure in place, especially a large one, and what Innerkofler was seeing was indeed the beginning of Italian military preparations—preparations that were being countered, as best as possible, by the Austrian military:

“The Italian Alpinis, as well as their Austrian counterparts…occupied every hill and mountain top and began to carve whole cities out of the rocks and even drilled tunnels and living quarters deep into the ice of glaciers like the Marmolada. Guns were dragged by hundreds of troops on Mountains up to 3 890 m (12,760 feet) high. Streets, cable cars, mountain railways and walkways through the steepest of walls were built.”

–From the article “Tyrol”, courtesy of the Embassy of Austria

And as it turns out, the Italians were going to need every bit of army they could get…because for a piece of the action, including some Alpen territories, the Italians had agreed, in the until now secret Treaty of London, to fight on the side of the Triple Entente powers—but in order to win the Tyrol…well, they were going to have to win the Tyrol; a task which will require the Italian Army to fight their way through either the Dolomites, on the one side, or the Julian Alps on the other…or both.

Hannibal had accomplished a similar task on the eastern side of the Alps—2200 years before—but to do it he left a huge portion of his Carthaginian forces dead in those mountains; victims of both the ancient angry mountain soldiers (the forebears of the same mountain folk Innerkofler lived among in 1915) and the brutal winter conditions.

The Italian commander, General Luigi Cadorna, had 875,000 troops at his disposal on May 23, 1915 (the day the Italians declared an end to their neutrality); against him the Austrians could only field about 300,000 troops—but many of those troops were natives defending their own real estate…and for the moment, they held the strategic real estate on the tops of the mountains.

Remember the description we gave in the beginning about the boot’s appliqué?

The smart thing to do, if you’re commanding 875,000 troops trying to go north, is to get around the right edge of the fringe on that boot (the mountains are somewhat lower on that side) and get your people onto the Hungarian plain…which is nice and flat and provides lots of room to maneuver.

The problem is, if you get too committed to that plan, you may end up with Austrian troops in Milan, attacking you from the rear. To prevent such an occurrence, Cadorna attacked on an offensive line that stretched from the “buckle” of our boot, way up in the Alps, to the city of Gorizia, which is all the way over to the top and right, if you were looking at a modern Italian map—and which just happens to be on the way to the nearby Adriatic port city of Trieste.

If you then follow the route of today’s A1 and A2 highways you get to Zagreb…and that’s the way to the Hungarian Plain.

If you can succeed in advancing uphill past Lake Garda (the Lago di Garda, in Italian, and the first part of the route up to the buckle), then you can cut off the railroad from Trentino north to Innsbruck; this would prevent the Austrians from moving any troops into northern Italy.

It’s time for us to stop for today: we have a lot of story to go, this is a natural point to take a break, and, to be completely honest, 4,000 words is too much even if you’re trapped in your car on the New York Thruway with nothing but a Snuggie, a laptop, and a mobile Internet service provider.

When we come back tomorrow we’ll get to the story of what happened when Italy deployed their newly enlarged Army, which is a story that, in some ways, is still being told; additionally, the idea that there is a lesson here for those who are being tasked with executing a war strategy in Afghanistan will be explored.

Harmony and balance matter in life, so go watch some Johnny Bravo or something, clear your head of all of this, and we’ll all meet back here tomorrow for Part Two.

 

On Living in Nature, Or, All The Weather Seems To Come Here December 4, 2007

Filed under: Flooding,Northwest,Oregon,Rain,Snow,Washington — fakeconsultant @ 5:36 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

It is reported that 2/3 of the world’s population have never seen snow-and there are times when I wish I belonged to that group.

There is great variety to be found in the accursed stuff, however, which is why the Yup’ik, in their wanderings around Southwestern Alaska, express the conditions of the snow that surrounds them in so many different ways.

For a writer who lives in the world of the Yup’ik (or for that matter, anywhere along the North American Pacific coast south to more or less Coos Bay, Oregon), there’s also a great similarity between the storms that mark daily existence and the writing process itself.

If you’ve never seen snow…or the flooding that can follow a storm…if you’re all too familiar…or if you just wondered what the heck a lexeme is…today’s conversation is for you.

For all of this to make sense, we better begin by setting the stage.

Today’s conversation, as we said, takes place along the Pacific Coast of North America. The coastline is paralleled by multiple mountain ranges: the Coast Ranges of Oregon, Washington’s Olympics, the Cascades (which bisect Oregon and Washington), the giant wrinkle in the Earth that is Vancouver Island, the fantastically complicated Pacific and Kitimat Ranges of British Columbia, and the equally fjord- and forest-studded Boundary Ranges that bring the reader into Alaska. It even reaches out to the Canadian Rockies and the headwaters of the Columbia, Yukon, Copper, and Frasier Rivers.

To paint a simple picture, much of the land in this region consists of either forested mountains upon which enormous amounts of water fall, or the lowlands through which the runoff from those mountains must flow. Around here, anything under 3000 feet (1000 meters for my world readers) doesn’t hardly count, and many peaks go well above 10,000 feet.

Trees can grow more than 300 feet (100 meters) tall.

The reason so much water falls here is because we are the first land encountered by nearly every storm moving east across the Pacific, thanks to the jet stream, which can either scoop up the warm and highly saturated Western Pacific air and transport it north from the tropics right at us (the “Pineapple Express”); or run the air north past the Aleutian Islands and from there south at us, creating…well, creating some miserable and awful weather.

The kind only a Norwegian could love.

How much water are we talking about? The National Park Service reports that parts of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula receive 140 to 167 inches of rain annually (that’s 350 to 425cm…). Forks, Washington (it’s located right at the most northwestern spot in the State) has averaged 118 inches (300cm) of rain the past 20 years-and reported over 160 inches twice in those two decades.

It’s not like Florida rain, either. Many days, it rains half an inch or less…but the sky is often gray, and there’s often a mist or drizzle (think Scotland or New Zealand or Peru). How many days? NOAA tells us that residents of Juneau, Alaska can expect an average of 223 rainy days a year (see p. 45), 193 days in Astoria, Oregon (the mouth of the Columbia River), or 208 days in Quillayute, Washington; as compared to a mere 120 days in Mobile, Alabama, the American city widely described as our rainiest.

As for Vancouver Island and the British Columbia coast?
Surfers there require a wetsuit-just for the rain.

(Quick joke-if Noah lived here, he’d say to God: “40 days…that’s not really much of a threat, you know…”)

The basic explanation for all of this is that these moisture-laden storms come blowing in off the Pacific, and the clouds are too wet and heavy to climb over the mountains-until they dump enough water to get past…then they hit the next mountains, and the process repeats…until the coast becomes a giant holding facility full of retained water. And then, depending on the temperature, you have either a giant snowpack-or the floods begin.

(Just so you know: the most snow ever around here in 12 months?
1140 inches (that is not a typo; it’s 2895cm) at Mt. Baker, Washington during the 1998-99 season.)

Sometimes we get both rain and snow.
Like the last few days.

As we touched upon a moment ago, there are many kinds of rain: the mist, the on-and-off drizzle, soupy fog, your basic downpour…and all of them can be complicated by the addition of wind, and changes in temperature. (Warm rain is an entirely different animal than cold rain, and it is hard to find weather much more miserable than windblown rain at just above freezing-unless you live on permafrost…and especially after you’ve had it every day for the past, oh, let’s say…55 days.)

And in this part of the world, it’s not uncommon to have all of this weather on the same day…with occasional sunbreaks during the rest of the week. (This week’s Port Alberni, BC, weather forecast illustrates the point nicely.)

Which brings us back to the Yup’ik and lexemes.
Lexemes, you say?

… Roughly, a lexeme can be thought of as an independent vocabulary item or dictionary entry. It’s different from a word since a lexeme can give rise to more than one distinctly inflected word. Thus English has a single lexeme speak which gives rise to inflected forms like speaks, spoke, and spoken.
–Anthony Woodbury, Counting Eskimo words for snow: A citizen’s guide

As there are many forms of rain, there are also many forms of snow; and the Yup’ik have 15 lexemes for snow and its various forms. Just as with writing, storms have a “story arc” that creates a progression of rains and snows (and the occasional “ice fog”, an especially nasty weather that turns roads into skating rinks)…and that’s really where this story is going.

The story always begins with the warnings: the actual National Weather Service and Department of Transportation alerts, and the local news, preparing us for (stealing from “The Daily Show”) The Storm Of The Century Of The Week.

And that’s what we got on Thursday: “Look out, this is gonna be a big one!”

I worked all night Thursday and as I checked the weather there was really nothing. I went to bed to gray skies and a “bare and wet” landscape.

As I awoke Friday afternoon I looked out the window and…

…snow was everywhere!

Not so deep yet (maybe 4 inches…10cm), but the big flakes were falling rapidly.
Suddenly it was 6 inches-and it’s time to make some decisions about shoveling.

There are two reasons why shoveling matters:

–If a lot of snow falls, the compression and accumulated moisture can turn the fluffy, powdery snow into “concrete”, making the process at least twice as difficult.

–If the compressed and uncleared snow refreezes, it will form a virtually impossible to remove crust of ice-making walking and driving way too exciting (amazing video-don’t miss this!) for my taste.

By now the snowflakes are alternating between larger and smaller-with the smaller flakes falling faster…but the fallen snow is still light and fluffy (powder!), so at that point, the shoveling began. It’s about 28 degrees F. (-2 C.).

There’s about 300 square feet to be cleared, 6 inches deep (15cm), and lots more falling, even as I shovel. Well, to be accurate, I’m pushing the snow at this point, because it’s still light and easy to move.

My current snow shovel is my favorite ever: about a foot wide (30cm), thick, plastic (aluminum shovels always seem to bend at the corners or the rivets fail-I hate that), and able to easily slide, even full of the heaviest snow. The less you lift the better in this job, so sliding the full shovel as much as possible is a good thing. Of course, at some point you still have to lift the snow to remove it, but as of now that’s not a big problem.

After half an hour or so a good third of the work is done; and it’s time for a break. The snow is still powdery, and it’s changing from big, fluffy flakes to an icier, more granular flake. Not an ice pellet…but instead more like the difference between sorbet and granite. Still 26-28 degrees F.

Only the snow is still falling, and there’s a covering over the “cleared” driveway.

For those who have never been to the snow, there’s a process of jacket removal that must be observed.

Did some work inside-and now there’s 8 inches on the ground…including almost 2 inches over the “cleared area”. But it’s still fluffy, so the reclearing goes very fast…but the rest of the driveway now has 8 inches to remove, and the snow is turning into tiny ice pellets, then back to small flakes, then back to large, for more or less the next 3 to 4 hours. At this point, about ¾ inch per hour (almost 2cm) is falling.

The next portion of the driveway’s snow is not as light as the first area; the compression having its effect and moisture accumulating in the snowmass…but it’s still not too bad, because it’s not yet raining.

After another hour it’s time for another break…and I’m just past 50%.
It’s medium heavy snow, and now it’s hard work.

I’ve been listening to an old-school country playlist as I work; and the falling snow makes a great counterpoint to Kitty Wells and Merle Travis…but the last song is the new school “Texas” from Willie Nelson, so it’s break time.

There’s 9 inches now, according to my handy ruler stuck in the snow on the barbrque. It’s no longer so granular, as the weather has begun to warm-and the snow is now heavy to lift. The last 10 feet or so are the hardest, as mixed rain and snow are falling.

By the time the snow is cleared, a foot has fallen (30cm), but the rain is picking up…and by the time I’m writing this (24 hours after the shoveling ended)-and the temperature has risen 20 degrees to the 40s F., and it was over 50 degrees F. (10 C.) during the afternoon.

The wind has become huge…with gusts above 100 mph (160 km) reported in multiple locations. It never stopped blowing all night, and it’s still blowing as the sun comes up.

And the rain never stopped-in fact, near legendary amounts (almost 14”-that’s 35 cm-in Bremerton, Washington for example) have fallen in the last 48 hours wreaking havoc over the area-all rivers in the Western Washington are threatening to flood or have already, the Governor of Oregon has declared an emergency (and road closures have virtually cut the Oregon Coast off from any access to the interior), and I have just heard Washington’s Governor has done the same.

I-5, the main north-south highway running from Vancouver, BC to Tijuana, Mexico (connecting Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego) is under an estimated 8 to 9 feet (3 meters) of water; and will not be passable for a currently unknown length of time. The water is 5 feet above any previous record.

The only available detours are so circuitous that the trip from Seattle to Portland (normally 160 miles one way) is now 275 miles longer-requiring a trip to Yakima, and making a one way trip over 400 miles (640 km).

Roads are literally falling off hillsides. (Click on the “Slideshow” link.)

Helicopters have been performing rescues since yesterday.

One of our favorite restaurants, the Ranch House BBQ, located outside Olympia, Washington has been destroyed, we have just been told (click on the “Mudslide Destroys Olympia Restaurant” link).

Our godson (the one who did not join the military) and his parents live in an exceptionally hard-hit area, Gray’s Harbor County, who are at this mooment some of the 80,000 without power-and the projections are that it will remain that way for them for at least a week. They are right at the Pacific coast, and there are so many downed trees that there’s going to be enough free firewood for at least two cold winters, for those lucky enough to grab it up.

It is an amazing story, but I’m going to stop at this point, do some actual newsgathering, and see what I can report as the day develops.

I’ll leave you with this thought: when we began we discussed the similarity between the arc of the storm and the arc of the story…and there could not be a better example of that than the story that is arcing before us even as we speak.

Stay tuned…and if I have useful updates I’ll post them here.