Friday, August 29, 2008

What Will The Neighbors Think?

Obama's defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to.

By Jacob Weisberg | NEWSWEEK
Published Aug 23, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Sep 1, 2008

What with the Bush legacy of reckless war and economic mismanagement, 2008 is a year that favors the generic Democratic candidate over the generic Republican one. Yet Barack Obama, with every natural and structural advantage, is running only neck and neck with John McCain, a subpar nominee with a list of liabilities longer than a Joe Biden monologue. Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, deficits in clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma. Yet at the moment, the two appear to be tied. What gives?

If it makes you feel better, you can rationalize Obama's missing 10-point lead on the basis of Clintonite sulkiness, his slowness in responding to attacks or the concern that he may be too handsome, brilliant and cool to be elected. But let's be honest: the reason Obama isn't ahead right now is that he trails badly among one group, older white voters. He lags with them for a simple reason: the color of his skin.

Much evidence points to racial prejudice as a factor that could be large enough to cost Obama the election. That warning is written all over last month's CBS/New York Times poll, which is worth studying if you want to understand white America's curious sense of racial grievance. In the poll, 26 percent of whites say they have been victims of discrimination. Twenty-seven percent say too much has been made of the problems facing black people. Twenty-four percent say that the country isn't ready to elect a black president. Five percent acknowledge that they, personally, would not vote for a black candidate.

Five percent surely understates the extent of the problem. In the Pennsylvania primary, one in six white voters told exit pollsters that race was a factor in his or her decision. Seventy-five percent of those people voted for Clinton. You can do the math: 12 percent of the white Pennsylvania primary electorate acknowledged that they didn't vote for Barack Obama in part because he is African-American. And that's what Democrats in a Northeastern(ish) state admit openly.

Such prejudice usually comes coded in distortions about Obama and his background. To the willfully ignorant, he's a secret Muslim married to a black-power radical. Or—thanks, Geraldine Ferraro—he got where he is only because of the special treatment accorded those lucky enough to be born with African blood. Some Jews assume Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel, the way they assume other black politicians to be. To some white voters (14 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll), Obama is someone who as president would favor blacks over whites. Or he's an "elitist," who cannot understand ordinary (read: white) people because he isn't one of them. We're just not comfortable with, you know, a Hawaiian.

Then there's the overt stuff. In May, Pat Buchanan, who frets about the European-Americans losing control of their country, ranted on MSNBC in defense of white West Virginians voting on the basis of racial solidarity. The No. 1 best seller in America, "Obama Nation," by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D., leeringly notes that Obama's white mother always preferred her "mate" be "a man of color." John McCain has yet to get around to denouncing this vile book.

Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world's judgment will be severe and inescapable: the United States had its day, but in the end couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.

Choosing McCain, in particular, would herald the construction of a bridge to the 20th century—and not necessarily the last part of it, either. McCain represents a cold-war style of nationalism that doesn't get the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics, the centrality of soft power in a multipolar world or the transformative nature of digital technology. This is a matter of attitude as much as age. A lot of 71-year-olds are still learning and evolving. But in 2008, being flummoxed by that newfangled doodad, the personal computer, seems like a deal breaker. At this hinge moment in human history, McCain's approach to our gravest problems is hawkish denial. I like and respect the man, but the maverick has become an ostrich: he wants to deal with the global energy crisis by drilling, our debt crisis by cutting taxes, and he responds to threats from Georgia to Iran with Bush-like belligerence and pique.

You may or may not agree with Obama's policy prescriptions, but they are, by and large, serious attempts to deal with the biggest issues we face: a failing health-care system, oil dependency, income stagnation and climate change. To the rest of the world, a rejection of the promise he represents wouldn't just be an odd choice by the United States. It would be taken for what it would be: sign and symptom of a nation's historical decline.

For Your Viewing Pleasure....

...TLaJ brings you a video of a bunny in a bowl. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ross Lake Canoe Trip 1.0

My husband and parents and I just got back from a canoe trip on Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park. It was incredible! The lake is beautiful, surrounded by towering hillsides, snow-capped peaks, and over half a million acres of wilderness. To get to Ross Lake, you actually have to park at a lower lake, called Diablo. You paddle up that lake, then portage over land up to Ross Lake. Ross is a long lake, stretching about 20 miles North and South, going up into Canada.

We had beautiful weather going in. The sun was out and the water was completely glassy. We paddled up Diablo (one of the most beautiful lakes I've seen), waited for portage to Ross, then paddled up Ross to our first campsite at Big Beaver Creek. There were about six other groups camped out there that night, but we had a great campsite and it didn't feel crowded at all. The next morning we set off up the lake to our next campsite, Ten Mile Island (which is, oddly, eleven miles up the lake). This time there was plenty of wind whipping up waves, but we paddled on through it all. We checked out a mysterious, deep canyon called Devil's Creek and got to our island campsite around 1:30pm. We ended up having the whole island to ourselves. After setting up camp, Gordon and I paddled across the lake to check out a waterfall. After nightfall, I took a dip in the lake to clean up. It was raining very hard at this point, but the air and water were warm.

We broke camp the next day and paddled back down the lake to our final campsite, McMillan. The weather was quite stormy and we fought wind and waves the whole way down. We stopped several times along the way to dry off, rest, and regroup. Nearing McMillan, with just one small bay to go, we ran right into a nasty squall. The waves turned to swells and we were pushed around relentlessly. Gordon and I nearly tipped the canoe. Even paddling with all our strength, we hardly moved. Finally we got both canoes around behind an island where the water was calmer. We waited out the storm there for about twenty minutes. After that, the sky cleared and the sun came out. We had an easy paddle around the point to our campsite.

Our final day of paddling went pretty smoothly. We paddled back down Ross Lake in fairly smooth water, then got portage down to Diablo Lake. We had to battle wind and choppy water on Diablo, but we made good time and stayed pretty dry this time. All in all, it was a great weekend. Just the right mix of challenge and relaxation. We will definitely be doing it again!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spy Stuff (Shhh!)

Sorry about the dearth of posts here lately, folks. TLaJ is undergoing some non-blog related changes. For starters, I just got a new job! I can't tell you what it is, but I can say it is a high-level, top-secret government job*. Possibly involves espionage, secret gadgets and suitcases of cash dropped off in shady alleys. I can't say more.

I haven't started the new job yet--I will start in September--so for now I am finishing up things at the old job, fighting daily against the inevitable onset of short-timers disease. My motivation is just not what it used to be. On the plus side, I have a vacation coming up, starting this weekend. Not sure exactly where it will take me as existing plans sort of fell through, but I am sure it will involve camping, watersports, and whiskey in some fashion or other. If anyone knows of an great vacation spot in the Pacific Northwest that I should try out, let me know.

*Low-level, no-security-clearance office job

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Roll Roll Roll Your Boat...

That's right, people. I GOT MY ROLL!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Surviving the Unthinkable

On a recommendation from Scientific American Mind, I picked up a copy of The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley at Aunties yesterday. The book was so incredible, I could not put it down. Ripley is a reporter for Time Magazine and is an excellent writer. The book poses the question, "Who survives disaster and why?" Ripley's exploration of this topic covers survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attack, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings, airplane crashes and several other disastrous events. She interviews survivors and families of victims, plus the leading scientists in human behavior and neuroscience. It is fascinating stuff.

The book opens with a long chapter focused on one woman who was in the first tower hit on 9/11. She was working up around the 70th floor, about 10 floors below where the plane hit the building. When the plane smashed into the tower, the whole building swayed back and forth like it was about to topple, but it didn't. It continued to shutter and groan. The woman and her co-workers did not panic. They stayed put in their office for about five or six minutes. They made phone calls and tried to figure out what happened. The waited for an alarm or instructions. Finally they agreed to exit the building, but not before shutting down their computers and gathering their belongings. Even as the smell of jet fuel and smoke filled the building, no one seemed to freak out. Many people in the building had never been in the stairwell and did not know how to find it, slowing the escape. Once in the stairwell, it took the woman an hour to get down the tower, more than twice as long as building architects had expected.

At one point during the descent in the stairwell, word came that there was a fire on the stairs several floors below, so everyone filed out of that stairway and into a lobby around the 40th floor. While waiting to file into a different stairwell, the second plane hit the second tower. The woman can hardly recall that moment, though she was standing right at the window and must have seen the whole thing. She doesn't remember hearing or seeing anything. She was in denial about the nature of the disaster and kept telling herself that it was all just a big mistake. As she finally got down to the lower floors, she remembers that firefighters were running up the stairs past them, shouting encouragement and trying to get people to move more quickly. The tower collapsed just moments after the woman made it safely out of the building. She heard the groan of the building about to collapse and was somehow able to run into a neighboring building ahead of the force.

Ripley explores this woman's reaction and finds several interesting clues into the behavior. First of all, in many disasters, precious seconds are spent milling around before people decide to make an escape. Of survivors polled after 9/11, the majority of the people stated that they made phone calls, turned off their computers, and gathered their belonging before heading to the stairwells. Second, though the woman's mind was very foggy throughout the whole ordeal, it is likely that this helped more than it hindered. Stuck in a slow-moving line down a narrow staircase with hundreds of other people more than fifty flights up in a burning building could lead to a deadly panic, but nearly everyone was calm, helpful, and polite. They didn't really discuss what was happening. Their brains had shut down some of their senses so that they could just focus on getting out of the building. This is also a very common response to extreme stress. Three of the most commonly reported experiences listed by survivors of disasters are tunnel vision, time dissociation (the feeling that time slowed down or sped up), and loss of hearing.

Ripley also goes into what makes some people more likely to survive than others. In the Hurricane Katrina debacle, the media widely reported that it was poor blacks without transportation out of the city that were left to die in the storm, but later research didn't bear that out. Most of the people who stayed admitted that they did have a way to get out, had they wanted to. The biggest factor wasn't race or poverty, it was age. Over half of all the people trapped in the city were over 65. They had survived several big hurricanes before and thought this one would be no different. On surveys given after the fact, the most commonly listed reason for not leaving New Orleans ahead of the storm was that people didn't expect the storm to be as bad as it was.

I was also surprised to find out that most major airline crashes are survivable. Nearly 60% of people involved in a dangerous airline crash in the past 25 years have survived to fly another day. There are ways you can increase your chances. The main thing to do is to listen to the safety instructions and study the safety card in your seat before the plane takes off. Time and time again, survivors reported that it was the few seconds they took to listen to the demonstration that saved them. Even if you have heard it a hundred times, glancing over the card before a flight can save your life. In the middle of a disaster, your brain has a tendency to shut down. If your heart rate gets very high, you may lose fine motor skills and critical thinking skills as blood stays in your core to protect your heart. If you have the safety instructions fresh in your mind, you will be able to act without thinking about it. Also in recent years, airlines have begun training the flight attendants to yell at passengers during an evacuation. Often people who have been in a trauma enter a sort of trance and yelling at them will snap them out of it. There have been several crashes where many passengers survived the actual crash, but the didn't get out of the plane before the ensuing fire, even when there seemed to be plenty of time to do so. In some cases, there are pile-ups at the exit when everyone tries to use the same exit instead of the one nearest them. In other cases, people are just too stunned to move quickly.

It does appear that some people are better equipped to deal with disaster than others. This must be partly due to genetics and partly due to experience, but scientists haven't been able to fully tease out all the details yet. It does appear that some people are born with a certain resiliency that allows them to go through disaster time and time again without losing their cool. These are the people that the military wants on their special forces teams. Men die in lightening strikes, floods, and fire far more than women, but this is mostly because they are more likely to take risks like running into a burning building or driving on a flooded street (NOT a good idea). Women are more likely to heed warnings and get to safety quickly. Other factors come into play however. During the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, men survived at twice the rate of women because women did not know how to swim and the men did.

There are about a hundred other interesting anecdotes and studies from the book that I would love to explain, but I've gone on enough. Ripley does a great job. Read the book.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The 'Web of Happiness'

It's pretty common in the kayaking world to hear boaters yammering on about their kayaking philosophy. We like to talk about Zen and Focus and lots of other such nonsense. And while it's true that kayaking is, in fact, Eudaimonia, it turns out that fact doesn't magically turn those involved in the sport into starry-eyed, silver-tongued philosophers. Well, maybe starry-eyed isn't too far off the mark.

Case and Point: Eric Jackson. Jackson is huge in the world of whitewater kayaking. He is the creator of the Jackson kayak line as well as a whole range of instructional videos. In the videos, he uses his children as actors to show viewers the proper way to complete a variety of kayaking moves. For the average adult kayaker watching these videos, nothing is more frustrating and demoralizing than watching a nine-year-old do moves and stunts with that unnatural child-like finesse and knowing you probably won't achieve that level of skill in your lifetime. Damn kids, grumble grumble.

Anyway, while surfing the kayaking interwebs today, I came across this little philosophy gem from Eric Jackson himself:

“Happiness is as fragile as a spider-web. Left alone it breaks apart one string at a time until it no longer catches the sun’s rays reflecting joy; instead leaving a dusty reminder of better times. Only when building the web of happiness daily, tending to the major strings and then adding to the web, does happiness become the first feeling felt in any thoughts, actions, or conversation.”

Wow, right? I just don't quite know what to say to that. Except that maybe kayakers should stick to what we know and leave the philosophizing to the philosophers and liberal arts students.

See you on the water.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Whitewater Weekend

Going into this weekend, my kayaking experience was limited to the EWU pool, local lakes, and the peaceful Little Spokane river float (with the exception of this ill-advised trip down the lower Spokane River this spring). But over the last two days, I think it's safe to say I came into my own as a whitewater kayaker, though not exactly on purpose. On Saturday, Gordon and I kayaked the upper Spokane River with our friend Duke. It is a pretty easy route with a few Class II rapids and a couple cool waves/holes. I did swim (flip over and exit my boat) at the tail end of Flora rapid when I hit a submerged rock, but overall I did very well and felt pretty confident.

Saturday afternoon, we got a call from our friend Drew, who we haven't seen in a couple months since he's been out in Idaho working as a rafting guide on the Lochsa River. We agreed to meet up in Missoula (about a 3-hour drive from Spokane) to check out the whitewater park there. We arrived there at about 7pm and got checked into a shady motel that seemed to be otherwise full of Hell's Angels. We spent the evening wandering around downtown Missoula (very cute) and checking out the local pub scene. The following morning, we got up, had breakfast and headed for the river (Clark Fork). The boys surfed the waves at the Whitewater park while I videoed them safely from the shore. Because it was early in the day, they had the whole place to themselves and did very well surfing the wave.

After that, we left one car down at the Whitewater park, loaded our boats and gear into the other and drove up the river a few miles. We put in near a bridge and kayaked several miles back down into town. It was a nice little run of mild Class II rapids, culminating with a run through Brennan's Wave at the whitewater park. We went out to lunch, then watched some crazy-good kayakers play in the waves at the park for awhile. We got a tip from some folks there that there was some good kayaking about an hour west of Missoula in the Alberton Gorge, so we took off to check it out.

Driving along the gorge, we stopped here and there and walked out to the edge of the gorge to check out the river. The area was very beautiful and the river looked mild and fun. We estimated it was mostly Class II water. So, we all got back into our kayaking gear (I won't go into the trials of pulling on skin-tight, cold, wet gear while hiding in the woods near the river) and set out on the water. We put in at the top of Alberton Gorge, at the Cyr Bridge put-in. We came up to a rapid right away, and it was fabulous. It was basically a straightforward wave train with very big water and a large, easy runout. Very fun; definitely gets your heart racing. The next two rapids we hit made us realize we were not in Class II water after all. I checked the listing at American Whitewater today and that whole section of the river is listed as Class III/IV.

You would not believe how big this water was. Some of the waves were easily 7 feet high and they came at you from several directions at once. I had a number of close saves in the upper rapids, somehow pulling out a brace at the last minute to keep from flipping. Drew had told me about his strategy of willing himself to stay upright, which seemed to work pretty well for me too : ). In our fourth rapid on the run, a long one called Cliffside, I went right into a hole and ended up flipping. I came right out of my boat and the boys helped gather my gear while I swam to shore (for any kayakers reading this, no, I don't have my roll yet). I got back in the boat, calmed down a bit, and we took off again, with just one rapid to go. This last rapid was also very nasty. Both Drew and I ended up swimming, then getting bashed against an underwater rock before making it to the shore. Gordon was toppled, too, but pulled off a mid-rapid roll like a champ. Drew's helmet has some nice gashes from where his head struck the rock. He also banged up one knee. I hit the rock pretty much as soon as I wet-exited, before I had the good sense to get my feet up, so I managed to smash my left ankle, right hip and right knee against the rock before I was shot out of the rapid and towards the shore. I'm pretty bruised, but amazingly not broken.

After that little mishap, we had just one minor rapid before the take-out. All in all, it was a pretty amazing run. I think we were all a little impressed with how well we did, considering our under-estimation of the rapids at the start. It was a really exhilarating ride; I am sure I'll try it again sometime, maybe in three of four years : ).