dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Lame Holiday Season Looms

September 21st, 2018 by dk
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A good friend has begun using a terrible, new conversational ice-breaker. “So,” she asks in a breezy tone, “what’s the worst news you’ve heard today?” We’re all hearing news all day long now. Our pocket devices or smart watches give us what we used to get only from our car radios. And more of that news lately has been bad.

This would be difficult to admit in mixed company, but I have come to welcome natural cataclysm stories. They give me a break from hearing about governmental incompetence or corruption.

Natural disasters carry a modicum of pathos, mixed with the pain. Political disasters offer no such relief. It’s getting harder and harder to find sympathetic actors in Washington, D.C. Election-year stories are usually different, but the fatigue becoming overwhelming.

We like underdog stories. They are often “first-ever” stories — first openly gay mayor south of the Mason-Dixon Line, first transgender Congressional candidate, first black female governor. But once the media spotlight focuses on these unknown candidates — once they become known candidates — the new characters begin to resemble the old characters.

Politics attracts politicians. Why should we be surprised?

Election-related stories do offer one bit of relief. We can count on them to be resolved by Wednesday, November 7. Once the elections have been decided, we usually get eight weeks of feel-good holiday stories, without much more than a peep from the political realm.

Whoever won won’t begin work until January and whoever lost is usually happy to be ignored. Journalists on the political beat need the break. The incoming class has nothing to say and the outgoing class can’t be quoted in a family newspaper.

But this year could be different, and so I’m sharing with you what may be the worst news you otherwise wouldn’t have heard today.

As fall turns to winter this year, the stories about elected officials doing their work (or not) may ignore the holiday break. It could be so bad that families feel compelled to keep television news blaring throughout Thanksgiving meals and holiday gift exchanges.

President Trump is spoiling for a funding fight for his border wall, but Congressional leaders have convinced him that a government shutdown before the election would be disastrous for Republicans. Instead, the Senate proposed funding essential services only until December 7.

The House of Representatives would like to pass another huge tax cut that will further the advantages of the very rich. Ballot-counting will be finished, but money-grubbing will continue. The House may pass their plan before the election, requiring the Senate to confirm it before the end of the year.

House Speaker Paul Ryan already has run his last campaign, so he will no longer be counseling caution to Trump and other legislative leaders. His successor with the speaker’s gavel may well be a Nancy Pelosi again, but any Democratic majority won’t take effect until the new Congress convenes in January.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who kept the Senate in session through August to help Republican challengers unseat Democratic incumbents, may see his majority evaporate in 2019. If McConnell sees a Democrat majority coming in January, there’s no telling what he might try to get done before they arrive.

McConnell may use the lame duck session to fill every single judicial vacancy he can. That’s how he busied his Senate majority through what has traditionally been an August recess.

We can’t even be sure McConnell won’t call a vote during the lame duck session for a Supreme Court vacancy. If Justice Kennedy’s seat — or even another, unexpected vacancy — is not filled before the November election, that task may be left to the temporary Republican majority.

Senators who lost their reelection will no longer care about what voters think and those who remain won’t have to face the voters again for at least two years.

If liberal majorities are elected in November, their constituents may find themselves mixing “Ho ho ho!” with “Oh no no!” all through December. Government shutdown, new tax breaks, Supreme Court shenanigans. It could all demand our attention — unless there’s a natural disaster to distract us.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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State Dept Promotes Punctuated Equilibrium

September 21st, 2018 by dk
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Well, thank goodness we have some new reassurance that this administration’s State Department is doing its work to make the world a safer, more understandable place for all of us. CNN is reporting this week that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is focused on Syria, North Korea, Iran, and the proper use of commas in department memos.

CNN documents two department-wide memos from Pompeo’s senior staff, giving department employees meticulous instructions on comma usage. “The Secretary has underscored the need for appropriate use of commas in his paper (both their inclusion and omission),” the memo declares.

Pompeo follows the Chicago Manual of Style and the latter memo provides many detailed examples, complete with explanations and color-coded highlighting.

“The administration is committed to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace agreement, and remains optimistic that progress can be made,” one example reads, highlighting the comma after ‘agreement’ in bright yellow. “No comma when single subject with compound predicate,” the memo instructs.

We can sleep well at night, comforted in the assurance that the world may not be safe from bloodlust and cruelty, but our nation will not allow a run-on sentence where a period and capitalization should be preferred. Nothing matters more in this world than clarity of vision and clarity of thought.

As any editor will tell you, the best clarity is reductive. Eliminating excess verbiage will bring the reader more quickly to the point a writer is making. So Pompeo should be applauded for his courage to tackle one of the smallest points of punctuation. He has made his point, period.

This administration has sometimes been faulted for not always crossing its t’s and dotting its i’s, but Pompeo and the State Department can reverse that trend by taking a bold stand against other grammarly faux pas. (Educated newspaper readers understand that faux pas is both the singular and the plural, though the latter is pronounced differently.)

We initially supported the rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but now the opposition finds itself cornered in Idlib. We’ve left the rebellion’s principals dangling, but there will be no dangling participles coming from this administration.

It may seem as though the division between Israel and the Palestinians will go on forever, but this administration is offering a different view. We may be faced with an infinite split, but there will be no split infinitives.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has gotten almost a dozen senior officials convicted or pleading guilty to various crimes, so we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this administration believes that most sentences are too long.

President Trump reportedly groused when Twitter doubled its character limit, because he believed he had mastered the required brevity like none before him. “I’m the Ernest Hemingway of 140 characters ,” he stated at a political rally in South Carolina in 2015.

Trump regularly uses capitalization to emphasize his points, calculating that nobody reads punctuation anyway. As the Chicago Manual of Style states with confident concision, “effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with the goal being ease of reading.”

According to this manual, fewer commas can be used as proof positive of good judgment. That must always be the first concern for any Secretary of State.

If we keep the Oxford comma, the Revolutionary War was for nothing, nothing at all.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Beyond NIMBY to NIYBY

September 15th, 2018 by dk
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Some local residents think nobody should be allowed to keep chickens without first getting permission from their neighbors. I was never a fan of NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”), but now we’re approaching NIYBY — Not In Your Back Yard.

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Our Political Dysfunction (Easily) Explained

September 14th, 2018 by dk
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If you’re looking for a Grand Unified Theory for our current political dysfunction, watch Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-Neb.) unexpected opening statement to last week’s confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh. The consequences of that dysfunction will be felt and seen with unusual clarity this fall in Eugene.

Sasse brings fresh eyes to his work in Congress. He was elected in 2014, after being a college professor in Texas and the president of Midland University near Omaha, Neb. Using his allotted fifteen minutes for an opening statement as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he offered what he called “Schoolhouse Rock Civics” to explain why this hearing had attracted so much attention. Sasse made four points:

1. “The legislative branch of government is supposed to be the center of our politics.” It was designed to be messy and loud and public — and sometimes even rowdy. Citizens who don’t like what they see can remove their Congresspeople at the next election.

2. Congress has not engaged in the fierce debates that represent the diversity of views across America. Congress has “self-neutered” — delegating its power to the Executive Branch. Unelected administrators work out details in broadly written laws.

3. As a result, “the people yearn for a place where the politics can actually be done.” Because the nitty-gritty debates are not being done in Congress, the courts have become a “substitute political battleground.”

4. Citizens protest daily on the steps of the Supreme Court, because their voices are not heard or reflected in the Congress. “We badly need to restore the proper duties and the balance of power from our constitutional system.”

It’s not hard to see how and why this trend has occurred. Writing laws was never easy, and our current hyper-partisan climate makes it harder. Where our legislators will find the courage and stamina to change is less clear.

Senators and Representatives who only make speeches and name post offices will not make political enemies. Washington legislators would rather keep their jobs than do their jobs.

In our checks-and-balance system, the checks maintain balance. Each branch keeps other branches from grabbing too much power. But this is a different problem. One branch has collapsed, so the other branches lean in and step up to maintain balance.

The Executive Branch writes administrative rules that function as laws. The Judicial Branch overturns those rules when they have been improperly written or interpreted. And the Legislative Branch sits on its dubiously clean hands, naming post offices and winning reelections.

Citizens feel disconnected from solutions, so they seek remedies in the courts. This strategy will soon be very evident on the streets of Eugene.

Last Tuesday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that cities in western states cannot prosecute homeless people for sleeping on public property if they have no access to shelter. The federal court wrote that such laws violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Boise, Idaho barred the homeless from staying overnight on public property, even though there were no shelters available due to capacity, curfew, or religious restrictions. “The 8th Amendment prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter,” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the court.

Local legislatures in western states will now be forced to raise taxes or shift priorities to fund shelters. That won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be popular. But that’s what Sasse meant when he referred to restoring “the proper duties.” Legislating solutions is hard work — or should be.

And then there’s what could be seen as the Mother of All Lawsuits, getting underway October 29 in Eugene. Our Children’s Trust is suing the federal government for failing to provide plaintiffs — most of whom are children — with enough clean air and water to sustain them into old age.

It’s a novel use of the courts, but it may be the best and only way to force legislators to do the messy, political work that’s necessary. Until they do, we’ll have unaccountable administrators, undeclared wars, and judges acting as super-legislators.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Water From the Sky: A Post-Summer Primer

September 14th, 2018 by dk
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If it weren’t for records being broken, most Americans would never think about history at all. Eugene just finished its longest rainless streak in a century on Monday. After nearly three months of uninterrupted sunshine, I thought we might need a primer on what we did without for 84 days.

If you felt water on your head earlier this week, it may not have been the result of a good workout. Heads can get wet without working up a sweat, under certain climate conditions. Also, windows sometimes must be closed and outdoor projects covered — because current conditions are conditional. They seldom stay the same for 84 days straight.

We sometimes refer to these changing conditions as “weather.” That’s what we got earlier this week. The clouds cried. The sky spigoted. It was like a waterfall, except the river came from nowhere. Everything turned dark and damp. It was magic.

We barely remember how to shuffle our feet against a mat before entering the house. We’ve been beating the dust off them instead. Except for metaphors, we haven’t considered mud for months.

Now we have to become reacquainted with windshield wipers and bicycle slickers. If the world looks darker than it should, you may have forgotten that you have tinted glasses balanced on your nose. Shins feel chilled? Dig out from your closet those trousers that touch your socks. We’ll all be switching now from sandals to shoes and then to boots. This year the muscle memory may not kick in quite so easily.

We’ll learn again about umbrellas, though we’ll still refuse to use them. We’d rather get wet than be caught carrying anything that looks so much like a weapon. As my friend Wes Burgess once scolded a friend who offered him an umbrella, “What? Am I sugar?” We’re not sugar, but those dry summer months sure were sweet.

It was a mixed blessing for those who care about their garden or their lawn, but we’re fortunate to live in a place where there is no shortage of water, even when it refuses to fall from the sky for a quarter of the year. As long as the winter snows continue to store a summer’s worth of moisture, our rivers and reservoirs will keep the faucets flowing.

I didn’t use sprinklers this year, so it gave me opportunity to learn about the roots of my plantings. I can almost map the underside of my vines and vegetation, based on their August colors. Those plants with deeper roots kept their green all summer. Anything shallow turned brittle. There may be a life lesson there.

Realtors and recruiters often tout a location for its liquidity. They are referring to financial resiliency. People want to move to where they can always find a better job or a bigger house. Businesses want an educated work force and room to expand. There’s always something greener on the other side of the fence.

Our liquidity is different, though green grass still applies. Our liquidity is actually liquid. It flows — out of our taps, through our cities, over our ledges. As the Baptists like to say, “We’re better because we’re wetter.”

Our dry spell is over now. Here comes another Oregon winter. Or, as they would describe it anywhere else, an endless string of dreary days where only the black of night provides any relief from relentless gray.

We’ll pull out the board games or the books we haven’t been reading. We’ll entertain ourselves indoors, if that’s what the weather requires. We’ll do something we do better here than anyplace I’ve ever lived. We’ll ponder — ponder the world and our place in it, ponder our plans for the next dry season, ponder the privilege we have to ponder.

It won’t be long before we’re hopping over puddles and dashing between sidewalk awnings. Since umbrellas are somehow beneath us, we cannot have them over us.

We enjoyed a summer with none of those complications, but our momentary naiveté will wash away soon enough. It was fun while it lasted. Being wet behind the ears felt good, after what must have been a good workout.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Minor Pleasures of Eugene Fandom

September 11th, 2018 by dk
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Eugene offers some pleasures that are not talked about enough, because those pleasures have minor complications. The Eugene Emeralds did not win as many games this year as fans may have hoped, but they finished gloriously and won their league championship. More importantly, the players continue to learn the game.

Fans will always root for their team to win, but here we hold almost parental pride in the competition itself. It’s not win-at-all-costs. There’s also, “That looked like fun out there,” and “I hope somebody learned a lesson,” and even “Just please don’t get hurt.” We’re invested in the game, but more so in the players’ futures. That pays us extra dividends.

The Emeralds compete in an Instructional League. None of the players want to stay on the Ems roster for any longer than necessary. Their goal is to reach the Big Leagues — to play someday in Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs. They came here to prove themselves and to learn new skills.

Winning is secondary to learning. A pitcher is mastering a slider against lefties. A catcher is perfecting a pickoff move to first base. Batters learn to run out their ground balls. (Or not.) Pitchers learn to keep their balance atop the pitcher’s mound. (Or not.)° It all plays out in front of us.

They are learning to be good players, good teammates, and good learners. If their career progresses, their lives will soon get complicated with celebrity and agents and business. The joy of the game could get left at the Eugene station to make room for all that new baggage. We see them while they still have both hands free.

As they improve their skills, we’re glad to see them learn their limits. Best of all, we witness pure joy. It bursts out during competition — but it’s rooted in their learning. Mastery is deeply satisfying. That satisfaction cannot be hidden.

Watch Sabrina Ionesco and Ruthy Hebard execute a perfect pick and roll for the Oregon Ducks.° Their joy of mastery is infectious. Any of the university’s non-revenue sports will give you a similar pleasure.

Rooting for the Oregon Ducks football team has gotten a bit more complicated. Are they playing for today, or protecting for tomorrow? Some see Eugene as a layover on their way to destiny. Others put down roots. We can tell the difference.

No one in Eugene was surprised that Royce Freeman earned a starting role as a rookie with the Denver Broncos.° Many of us will get weather alerts for Tennessee in the months ahead, because good weather still brings out the Hawaiian kid in Marcus Mariota. Four years in Eugene didn’t change that because, you know, it never rains at Autzen Stadium.

Dana Altman’s basketball program has begun attracting athletes who will play in Eugene only until their professional stock rises.° If they contribute to the Ducks’ success, that’s good. But if the lessons they learn while they’re here have a lasting impact on their lives, that’s better.

It’s not uncommon for athletes to return to Eugene after their professional careers, even though they were born and raised elsewhere. This may have been the last place where their sport and their self fit seamlessly together. We play a role in that.

I remember Luke Ridnour flying home from Eugene one spring, with a basketball as his carry-on luggage. Or Ashton Eaton pausing to check where the nearest exit was when instructed to do so by the flight attendant. Or Mariota handing food to a homeless man stationed at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Coburg Road.

Those unguarded moments are behind them now, but those are the moments we’re privileged to observe. I can tell you what sort of dog Hebard and her roommate have, because I saw them buying pet supplies on a Saturday afternoon in south Eugene.

The Ems won the Northwest League championship this year. It was an improbable end to an otherwise lackluster season. They’ve finished as league champs twice in the last three years. But you know what? We’re fortunate that it doesn’t really matter.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

° Links:

https://www.denverbroncos.com/news/royce-freeman-named-broncos-starting-running-back

https://www.addictedtoquack.com/2017/11/15/16648196/oregon-hoops-dana-altman-may-have-his-first-one-and-done-with-troy-brown

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Grand Unified Theory of Political Dysfunction

September 11th, 2018 by dk
Respond

If you’re looking for a Grand Unified Theory for our current political dysfunction, watch Sen. Ben Sasse’s (R-Neb.) unexpected opening statement to this week’s confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh. The consequences of that dysfunction will be felt and seen with unusual clarity this fall in Eugene.

Sasse brings fresh eyes to his work in Congress. He was elected in 2014, after being a college professor in Texas and the president of Midland University. Using his allotted fifteen minutes to give an entry-level seminar on Constitutional Law, he offered “Schoolhouse Rock Civics.” Sasse made four brief points:

1. “The legislative branch of government is supposed to be the center of our politics.” It was designed to be messy and loud and public — and sometimes even rowdy. Citizens who don’t like what they see have the power to remove their Congresspeople at the next election.

2. Congress has not engaged in the fierce debates that accurately represent the diversity of views held by American citizens. Deals are sometimes made in private, but more often Congress “self-neuters” — delegating its power to the Executive Branch. Unelected administrators define terms and work out details in broadly written laws.

3. As a result, “the people yearn for a place where the politics can actually be done.” Because the nitty gritty debates are not being done in Congress, the courts have become a “substitute political battleground.”

4. “We badly need to restore the proper duties and the balance of power from our constitutional system.” The daily protests in front of the Supreme Court should be happening in front of Congress instead, because those are the members of government the citizens can most easily persuade or replace.

It’s not hard to see how and why this trend has occurred. Where our legislators will find the courage and stamina to reverse it is much less clear.

Senators and Representatives who only make speeches and name post offices will not attract ire. Members of Congress would rather keep their jobs than do their jobs.

In our checks-and-balance system, the checks maintain balance. Each branch keeps other branches from taking too much power. But what we’re seeing now is different. When one branch collapses, the other branches lean in and step up to maintain balance.

The Executive Branch writes administrative rules that function as laws. The Judicial Branch reviews those rules and overturns them when they have been improperly written or interpreted. The Legislative Branch mostly sits on its dubiously clean hands, naming post offices and winning reelections.

Citizens feel disconnected from solutions, so they seek remedies in the courts. This will soon be unavoidable on the streets of Eugene.

On Tuesday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against cities in western states that prosecute homeless people for sleeping on public property when they have no access to shelter. The federal court ruled that violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Boise, Idaho barred the homeless from staying overnight on public property, even though there were no shelters available because of capacity, curfew, or religious restrictions. “The 8th Amendment prohibits the imposition of criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter,” Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the court.

Local legislatures in western states will now be forced to raise taxes or shift priorities to fund shelters. That won’t be easy and it certainly won’t be popular. But that’s what Sasse meant when he referred to restoring “the proper duties.” Legislating solutions is hard work — or should be.

And then there’s what could be seen as the Mother of All Lawsuits, getting underway October 29 in Eugene. Our Children’s Trust is suing the federal government for failing to provide plaintiffs — most of whom are children — with the clean air and water that will sustain them into old age.

It’s a novel use of the courts, but it may be the best and only way to force legislators to do the messy, political work that’s necessary. Until they do, we’ll have unaccountable administrators, undeclared wars, and judges acting as super-legislators.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Climate Hardships Fall Unevenly

September 11th, 2018 by dk
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Kristen didn’t come to Eugene to visit me. She came to breathe air that she can’t see. Four weeks of visibly unbreathable air has driven smoke refugees northward from Ashland and Crater Lake. Most visit us just long enough to catch their breath.

“It feels apocalyptic,” Kristen told me.“Each year has gotten worse. We can’t call it a ‘new normal’ because we aren’t seeing the trend plateau.” Whatever awaits us, it will be worse.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has canceled several outdoor performances for health concerns, and moved some productions into a nearby high school auditorium. Medford’s Brit Festival is suffering too. Oregon’s tourism dollars are drying up, or shifting to the coast. California has never seen wildfires like this summer’s.

Kristen spent one day shopping for air purifiers. She’s renovating a house that’s well into its second century and she’d rather not add air conditioning to her plans.

“I don’t want to keep my windows closed. I want to feel the breeze.” But she also doesn’t want to shorten her life, breathing second-hand smoke from Redding’s Carr Fire. “I left Portland 20 years ago, because I wanted to escape the rain. But a little cleansing water sounds really good right now.”

Yesterday’s doomsayers have been replaced by today’s meteorologists. What can be done? The answer can’t be, “Nothing.”

But Kristen can’t help feeling hopeless. “It doesn’t feel like I’m making a difference,” she confessed. “If we protest current policies — and we should — the authorities are charged with maintaining order. They protect the status quo.”

I try hard not to use this space to promote partisan positions. I respect those who fight to keep things the same with Hank Stamper-like intransigence, as well as those who are fighting like hell to prevent a future that resembles it. Whether following a survivalist morality or a planetary ethicism, all sides may well be trying to do what they believe is the right thing in response to climate change.

Like it or not, in this instance, reality seems to have a liberal bias. Liberals and conservatives alike are shopping for air purifiers. But here’s the worst part: the rain (or lack thereof) does not fall equally on the just and the unjust. The dismay Kristen feels is not distributed equally across the political spectrum.

Those who protect the status quo can easily measure the result of their resolve. Every minor change can be answered with a call to arms. As conditions worsen, actions to maintain the present order become more limited, but also more clear. “Never give an inch,” as Ken Kesey’s fictional logger Hank Stamper proclaimed. That credo is self-sustaining — or at least self-satisfying.

Liberal lifesavers feel no such comfort at all — cold or otherwise. The ethical worldview grows wider with awareness, diminishing the scale of personal accomplishment. Wide-minded liberals cannot escape feeling inconsequential. Saving the planet — or just preserving its usefulness to humans — is literally all-encompassing. And so, all-consuming.

Who can rest, believing they’ve done enough to save the planet for one day?

As sea levels rise, weather systems intensify, and panic becomes more prevalent, this disparity will widen dramatically — apocalyptically. Liberals — especially those thinking globally — become more dispirited. Conservatives — especially those saving their homestead — become more determined.

For Kristen and those like her, measuring an action’s utility will minimize momentum. The problem’s magnitude and consequence will expand more quickly than any perceivable difference any of us are likely to make.

Better that liberals follow three crumbs of crisis-driven advice that have guided others to safety before. First, as Londoners were told between bombings in World War II, “Keep calm and carry on.” Hysteria does not win hearts and minds.

Second, as Mahatma Gandhi may never have said, but certainly as he lived: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Don’t try to make a difference in any literal sense. Simply do your duty, as cheerfully as you can.

The last piece of advice is normally the simplest, but still the most direct: Breathe (as you are able.) Life must be worth living before it can be worth saving.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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How To Make Utility Bills More Fair

September 11th, 2018 by dk
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Since they’ve been much in the news lately, why don’t you run and grab your utility bills? Let’s go through them together. Go ahead — we’ll stay right here.

While we wait, we have time for a quick joke. Never open your water and electric bills simultaneously, because you could get shocked. It all depends on how you conduct yourself.

OK, welcome back. You have your bills in hand now? Good. Look for the detailed part of your bill. We want to focus on the first line. If it’s a bill from Eugene Water & Electric Board, it’s called “Cost of Basic Service” and it’s listed separately for electricity and for water. (If you missed the joke, you didn’t miss much.) Lane Electric calls this first line “Basic Charge.” Northwest Natural goes with “Monthly Service Charge.”

This top line never changes. Utility companies could better label this line, “Cost of Having Service At All.” You must pay this amount each month, even if you never use an ounce of water, a watt of electricity, or a therm of natural gas — though I confess I don’t know what a therm is. This top-line charge covers the utility’s cost of keeping its lights on, even if none of its customers did the same.

It would be as if a restaurant charged each patron a set fee at the door to cover the establishment’s fixed monthly costs, and then charged only for ingredients and prep time for each menu item.

The next line on your bill reflects how much you used, sometimes accompanied by a separate line for delivering what you used. Looking at my own bill, if my power company included a carry-out option, I could save 30 percent. But how would I get my energy home? Maybe a large thermos would do the trick.

Below all that, you may find miscellaneous other charges that the utility company has no control over. They are sometimes required to collect fees for the city or the state — because government needs money to keep its lights on, even if nobody else does.

You didn’t think your bill would be this complicated, but we’re just getting started.

In 2001, EWEB decided it needed to give its customers a direct incentive to conserve power, so they instituted a tiered pricing structure. The first batch used by each household each month came at a lower cost. Second and third batches tiered the cost upward.

Now EWEB wants to eliminate the tiers altogether for residential customers. The reason for the change, they explain, is that power is suddenly much less expensive and more plentiful. The utility has so much excess power that they can only sell their excess supply at a loss.

What any of that has to do with its customers is not completely clear. They claim that the “streamlined” billing, without rates tiered by consumption, will not increase total revenue for the utility company. So why make the change?

EWEB officials maintain that the current pricing model is unfair to customers who use more electricity, because they have to pay more than low-power customers, even though EWEB isn’t incurring extra cost. That argument holds water only if the top line “Cost of Basic Service” is eliminated.

So that’s what EWEB should do, and other utility companies should follow, as they are able. Charge a sustainable unit rate, but eliminate the fixed top-line charge. Nothing would be more fair and more transparent than charging each customer only for the power or water or gas that’s being used.

No one disputes that conservation should be encouraged. Pricing structures shape public behavior. Habits are harder to change than rates.

As things stand, the champions of conservation pay nearly double the per-unit rate as those who use their full allotment of EWEB’s first-tier power. Once the fixed top-line cost is added in, 800 kilowatts costs a little more than a dime per kilowatt. A household that uses only 200 kilowatts per month pays almost double that rate.

If power companies want to energize the public’s conservation efforts, they should change how they do things currently.

==

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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Election 2018: 501 Stories — All Different

September 11th, 2018 by dk
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Oregonians will be getting less political news about Congressional races this election season, and more of what they do receive will be unhelpful. None of Oregon’s five incumbent Representatives looks especially vulnerable this year, and neither of our Senators has a race to run this cycle.

We’ll make up for this political dearth with plenty of attention on five statewide ballot initiatives and what promises to be a spirited campaign for governor. But for those who are fixated the Oval Office and the Supreme Court, only changes on Capitol Hill will make any difference. Nationalized stories about U.S. Congressional campaigns will be entertaining and wrong — always a dangerous combination.

National media outlets are determined to find — or concoct — unifying storylines that can engage a nationwide audience. Any trend that allows them to tell a single story will do. But our republic was not designed to make it easy for any national news organization. We don’t have a parliament, where legislative majority and executive power are synonymous. Our system is built around local races for local audiences.

Broad themes emerge naturally during presidential election years, but campaign season in 2018 requires 501 different stories, describing the peculiarities of each individual race.

Leaders for both parties work hard to recruit candidates who “fit their district.” That might be a telegenic socialist in Brooklyn, and a boring white businessman in Wyoming. Following any single model that will be used across the country is a recipe for certain disaster.

Party leaders, candidates, and fundraisers all agree that each race should be responsive to its particular voters. The only people not on the same page are President Trump and the national news media. Trump desperately wants every race to be about him. He’s always loved loyalty tests, so that will unify the political right, whether they like it or not.

Monitoring the prospects among the Democrats will be more complicated. Or should be.

Are the Democrats shifting leftward and belatedly embracing Bernie Sanders? Or have Nancy Pelosi and the old guard tightened their grip? At moments when neither is true, it must be a “civil war” between factions.

With each new blip on a data screen, new trends are described as “worth watching.” In other words, “Don’t touch that dial!”

National media could have a universal storyline about the Democratic party, but they’d have to flip the script. Instead of working overtime to find what any two dots have in common, they could tell the story of a party finding new ways to attract more and different voters, a widening berth that shows momentum in its complexity.

A party that is more responsive to conditions on the ground will be more resilient to whatever surprises lie ahead. Candidates that are not beholden to a strict ideology are better equipped to do the only thing that matters to them between now and November 6 — winning.

Yes, diversity — but not the diversity you’ve heard too much about. This diversity is not about virtue. It’s about surviving and thriving in all sorts of different political environments. It has nothing to do with identity politics or group entitlements.

Johnny Appleseed became a folk hero because apple trees planted from seed are amazingly resilient. No single pest or storm can wipe out an entire orchard, because every tree planted is different from the rest.

Plant an apple seed and you have no way of knowing what sort of apple tree will grow from it. Plant five seeds from a single apple, and they will likely grow into five different sorts of apple trees. Every seed carries a limitless possibility of applehood. Scientists call it heterozygosity.

Apply the same strategy to politics and you plant a wild orchard of lush and laden lawmakers. Candidates who are different from one another will make the healthiest, heartiest voting bloc.

There will be plenty of time to explore how well they’ll work together after the election. If they don’t win with voters first, it won’t matter at all. The Big Tent was never about the canvas overhead. It was always about all the individual stories that could be told safely inside.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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