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

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Land of the Free, No Longer Home of the Brave

July 8th, 2021 by dk

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Over the past 250 years, we’ve changed our ideas but not our ideals.

We no longer limit these self-evident truths to (white) men. We don’t always ascribe their endowment to a Creator. We’re less sure that certain Rights are inalienable. We parcel out those rights to some while denying them to others, as if human rights are a limited commodity or a consumable product.

Our largest reboot of Thomas Jefferson’s majestic preamble to the Declaration of Independence concerns the triad at the end of his first sentence. Our understanding of these values changed slowly, so we haven’t really noticed.

“Life” hasn’t changed much, though anti-abortion activists would disagree. “Liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness” most definitely have changed, and dramatically. We repeat the words that our forebears uttered, but we’ve given those words new meanings.

Happiness no longer connotes connectedness with others. Happiness represents to us the absence of conflict, struggle, or pain. Sacrifice is viewed in opposition to happiness. Once sacrifice was understood as the necessary precursor to happiness. We see ourselves as entitled to happiness, not stewards of a gift. We want the effect without its cause.

The enlightenment ideal of happiness was rooted in the classical Greek concept of “eudaemonia.” Collective striving — the pursuit — aimed to achieve a common good. Sharing a cup of sugar with someone in need benefited your future sugarless self. You participated in your neighbor’s barn raising so he would join yours. 

We’ve forgotten this: Everyone’s happier when everyone’s happy.

When happiness included obligations, it was self-limiting. Eudaemonia did not require endless barn raisings or limitless sugar sharing. Those limits created circles that defined our communities. Society grew strong when those circles were chained together. Now we strive endlessly for more and more private bliss.

Likewise, liberty no longer means what it meant to Jefferson and his ilk. John Adams wrote, “I would define liberty to be a power to do as we would be done by. The definition of liberty to be the power of doing whatever the law permits does not seem satisfactory.”

Thomas Paine echoed the pact that had won the Revolutionary War: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

Jefferson agreed: “It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case others.”

Our modern ideas about freedom were captured in 1966 by the Oscar-winning lyrics to “Born Free”: “Born free, as free as the wind blows / As free as the grass grows / Born free to follow your heart / Born free, and life is worth living / But only worth living / ‘cause you’re born free.”

Do you hear sacrifice or commonality in this depiction of freedom? I don’t.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Burning Questions When it Hits 110

July 4th, 2021 by dk

Questions that don’t occur until it hits 110:

  • Am I feeling this heat from above or below?
  • Is there anything I need in the grocery store’s freezer aisle?
  • Is this what towns without snowplows feel when a blizzard strikes?
  • Do sunglasses only make the world look cooler? And why exactly does that help?
  • When a temperature sign reads 99, is that only because it lacks a third digit?
  • Regarding air conditioning, what is conditioning whom?
  • At what point does a breeze only make it feel like the heat is chasing us?
  • How fortunate is it that Hayward Field wasn’t the site of any weather-related tragedies?
  • Who do I know in Arizona or Texas who can give me some advice?
  • Is this sweat on my forehead or condensation?
  • If this is our “June gloom,” what will the dog days of August be like?
  • Could they bring back double features just for this occasion?
  • Am I sure there’s nothing more that I need in the freezer aisle?
  • Shouldn’t neighborhoods practicing disaster preparedness be using their “OK” signs?
  • Is tipping your mail carrier allowed?
  • Can we add wind turbines to the Coast Range peaks, just to move their air inland?
  • What’s a good recipe using mostly chocolate and ice?
  • You know we’re past the halfway mark to literally boiling, right?
  • Why didn’t somebody invent dedicated solar-powered air conditioners before we all got electric ones?
  • Did you notice there are no costumed sign-twirlers on the sidewalks today?
  • If we adopted a siesta strategy, would we be able to give it up in winter?
  • What’s a good wintry movie to watch tonight?
  • How lucky are we to have the Bonneville Power Administration backing up our local power providers?
  • Do people elsewhere get used to thinking of the sun as an adversary?
  • Has Eugene now qualified for a Burning Man franchise?
  • Are fragrances the least appreciated pleasures carried to us by moisture?
  • When we learn new terms for weather anomalies like “heat dome” or “polar vortex,” does that mute the alarm of climate change’s general havoc?
  • After scoring 100 points, did basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain think, “I could have gotten 110”?
  • Is it true people are backing out of their commitments, just to get cold feet?
  • Are people quitting their addictions because “cold turkey” suddenly sounds good?
  • Can we develop a summertime version of the Thomas Egan Warming Centers before we face the fatality who becomes its namesake?
  • When did we last describe any local weather condition as “punishing”?
  • Does being 110 feel this bad?
  • If summer is starting early this year, are we in danger of it also ending late?
  • Exactly how much heat can the smallest parts of our infrastructure withstand? What’s the equivalent of the Space Shuttle’s brittle o-rings, waiting to break the systems we rely on for health and safety?
  • Can I move my bed closer to the ice cube maker?
  • How do weeds keep growing when nothing else does?
  • If I set my oven on “low,” can it double as an air conditioner?
  • If I give you a cold shoulder, will you give me a cold shoulder?
  • If I cut myself, would my blood feel cool to the touch?
  • Is there just one thing in the frozen foods section that I’ve never thought to try before?
  • Can we at least arrange a Zoom session with a rainstorm?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Infrastructure Deal Hits Detour

June 30th, 2021 by dk

Democrats in Washington were caught playing “Bad Cop, Bad Cop” with Republicans on infrastructure initiatives last week. If you’ve never heard of this negotiating strategy, join the club. Here’s what happened and how you might make sense of it.

Just a few hours after a bipartisan infrastructure deal had been struck last Thursday, President Biden answered questions. He made clear — too clear, in hindsight — that he expected this bipartisan “hard infrastructure” bill to be accompanied by a “human infrastructure” bill that will be passed under budget reconciliation rules with only Democratic votes.

Biden didn’t have to say anything like that. He could have been the Good Cop, promising to work for both bills, signing whatever comes to his desk. He could have said that. He should have said that. And by Saturday afternoon, he was saying that.

The only Bad Cop in this negotiation should have been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Almost exactly three hours before Biden accidentally said the quiet part out loud, Pelosi gave the press a colorful quote that the bills would move in tandem or not at all: “There ain’t gonna be no bipartisan bill unless we are going to have the reconciliation bill.”

Pelosi controls what is brought to the House for a vote. She has the power to leave any bipartisan bill on hard infrastructure to languish unless or until the Senate delivers the partisan human infrastructure bill as well. Pelosi probably relished the opportunity to give Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans a taste of their own medicine.

The president won’t have any infrastructure bills to sign if Pelosi blocks either or both bills from reaching the House floor. So Biden didn’t need to say what he would do if one bill arrived without the other. The plan was already set and stated.

Maybe he felt the need to put conservative Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on notice that their support of both tracks would be essential. It’s not uncommon for Senators to ignore anything said or done in the House of Representatives.

Pelosi showed a shrewd communication strategy to make sure her message broke through. Using “ain’t” is strong language from the always-composed Speaker. Would Senators take notice? We’ll never know because the President was stepping on the Speaker’s lines, confusing any “Good Cop, Bad Cop” strategy.

Why didn’t Biden take the high road? It was available to him. He may have simply strayed from the script. The man is so earnest he sometimes can’t help saying what he believes should be said — even when he shouldn’t be the one saying it. Remember how Biden’s quip about gay marriage broke President Obama’s recalcitrance?

Will this faux pas doom the entire infrastructure package? Probably not. There’s plenty of reasons both parties want something passed and Pelosi will not be denied her legacy achievement. But last week’s misstep does shift the center of gravity.

The infrastructure bills that pass will be less ambitious and more arduous than liberal Democrats had hoped. We can’t be certain that’s not exactly what President Biden, an inveterate centrist, wanted in his heart of hearts.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Take Time to Celebrate Juneteenth

June 25th, 2021 by dk

It all happened so quickly. Last Tuesday, the U.S. Senate unanimously consented to create our first new national holiday since 1983. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives followed with a 415-to-14 vote. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed the bill into law. Most federal workers received Friday off with pay.

The United States Postal Service buttressed its brand for slow response times by delivering Friday’s mail as usual. Postal Service officials complained that there “there wasn’t time to shut down.” Even to do nothing, the Postal Service requires more time. (We’ll come back to this idea in a moment.)

It caught everybody off guard because it happened so fast, and from such an unlikely source. Washington passes, signs and enacts a new law in fewer than 100 hours? That’s like witnessing spontaneous combustion inside a turtle pond.

Nobody had time to consider how to celebrate this new holiday. Fortunately, we have almost a year to think about the most appropriate way to mark the moment when the news of slavery’s end finally reached Galveston, Texas in 1865.

America doesn’t often celebrate endings. Our aspirational nature favors beginnings. July 4, Independence Day, marks the day we declared our independence, not the day we won it. Tens of thousands of casualties and more than seven years later, independence was secured with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on September 3, 1783.

Juneteenth does it differently. It marks the day when waiting ended.

Texas slaves learned on June 19, 1865 what had been decreed for them on January 1, 1863. The Civil War ended when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. Freedom was fought for and won, but liberation had not yet occurred.

Some things take time. For those slaves in Texas, knowing about Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from 2 1/2 years ago didn’t matter. Hearing General Order No. 3 recited from Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger made it real. Sometimes the important decree comes after the victory.

I suggest we commemorate Juneteenth each year by doing things that take time. Marinate a meat. Incubate a culture. Open a new novel. Take a long hike.

Portland should move its marvelous Time-Based Art Festival from September to mid-June. We should create memorable moments each Juneteenth — just as we did in 1865. We all have moments in our lives when everything changes. They are usually the culmination of unseen progressions, like union armies marching southwest, notable only in retrospect.

Whether it’s Shakespeare in the Park or watching a slackrope walker traversing between forest trees, feeling our bated breath can remind us: Our lives are constantly in motion, but experienced and chronicled as key moments — when meaning takes shape, when decisions are made, when changes occur.

As they say, “How much has to happen to you before something occurs to you?”

Time itself seems to be receding from modern life. So much is done instantly. Waiting is becoming a lost skill. We would do well to celebrate waiting each June 19th, just as we celebrate anticipation every July 4.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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This Filibuster Fix will Revive the Senate Itself

June 18th, 2021 by dk

Everybody wants to fix the filibuster. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley wants to require nonstop talking again. Stacey Abrams wants to exempt voting rights bills from the 60-vote requirement. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat suggests the threshold to end debate should be lowered to 55. Former President Barack Obama wants the filibuster discarded altogether.

The truth is that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can change the filibuster rule in whatever way he wants, provided he has the unanimous support of his caucus. Unfortunately for him, 50 votes for any of the proposed remedies is not yet apparent. Conservative Democrat Joe Manchin has said he is open to modest filibuster reforms, but he hasn’t clarified what those might be.

And so the casting about continues, searching for a way to increase bipartisanship and decrease obstruction in the United States Senate. I’ll tell you my own suggestion, but not until I show why Democrats shouldn’t be let off the hook for how the Senate has devolved.

Blame Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the abuse of the filibuster all you want. It was Harry Reid and President Obama who opened Pandora’s Box.

Obama’s favorite sport was basketball — a non-contact sport. Reid was a former boxer, never backing away from the rough-and-tumble. Obama might have used Reid as a wingman, compensating for his relative inexperience on Capitol Hill. Instead, Reid became his henchman, doing the dirty work Obama disdained.

Obama vetoed only 12 bills over eight years. Congress overrode only one. It passed the Senate 97-1. (Reid dissented alone.) Obama avoided legislative battles by having Reid block them. Legendary Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer referred to Reid as “[Obama’s] living veto pen.”

There’s more. Reid retained the power to change the filibuster rule whenever he wanted. Senate rules allow such a change only on the first day of each new legislative session. What no one noticed until Reid is that the Senate’s “day” doesn’t end until leadership gavels out the day’s business. Reid refused to gavel out, so every day was technically a continuation of the first legislative day.

Republicans and McConnell don’t own the franchise of Senatorial cynicism.

So what can be done to promote Senate bipartisanship and discourage Senate obstructionism? Schumer should amplify an equally important institutional tradition. Unlike the leadership-driven House, the Senate has traditionally given individual Senators extraordinary power. (Google “blue slip” for just one example.) These powers usually slow or stop things, but not always.

Lower the threshold to end Senate debate from 60 to whatever the majority caucus has, plus one or two. This will give individual Senators in the minority the opportunity to shape and propel the majority’s legislative agenda. Instead of Schumer having to constantly worry about Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, let McConnell take a turn worrying about Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski.

This would do more than reform the filibuster. Schumer and Democrats can reform the Senate itself, giving power back to members that’s been slowly seized by leadership. Oh, and limit future rule changes to the first real day of each new legislative session.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Slow Big Tech with a Digital Advertising Tax

June 17th, 2021 by dk

Congress wants to curb the power of Big Tech. They also would like to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure (broadly defined), if only they can agree on how to pay for it. These two goals could intersect. A digital advertising tax could do both. It would also strengthen democracy itself against the widening and accelerating power of capitalism.

I don’t propose this concept lightly. I’ve run daily newspapers. I owned a couple of weeklies. I sold advertising myself. I know it’s the lifeblood of most popular media. I also know that we were always comfortingly clumsy at matching advertisers to audiences.

We could show our readership numbers from outfits like Verified Audit or Audit Bureau of Circulations. We could give business owners demographic or psychographic details about who would likely see their ads. It was always painted with a broad brush because it was the only brush we had.

It feels quaint now, looking back, because the world is very different today. Traditional media outlets still focus on the big picture, not the granular details. Direct mail can show which addresses received their envelopes, but not how many people opened them.

Contrast that with modern digital advertising — podcasts, email campaigns, websites, and social media marketing. Each can report exactly how many people they reach — to an unsettling degree. How much time we spend looking or listening can be tracked precisely. So it is.

It’s called surveillance capitalism. We get content for free (or nearly free) in return for allowing advertisers to track our movements. Surveillance anywhere risks becoming surveillance everywhere. A digital advertising tax would slow this trajectory.

Snippets of code follow our online habits. Patents are pending to track users’ eye movements on a screen, or to distinguish between multiple users of a shared device. Will your fitbit measure what images get your heart racing? That’s already possible.

Because Google and Facebook and Amazon can match you so ruthlessly with ads you might find attractive, it’s no longer a fair fight. Truth be told, we love being targeted. It feels good to be “known.” It’s only not creepy because we’ve accepted the system’s anodyne names. Who’s against clicks, cookies and clouds?

How much is spent on online advertising in the United States? Estimates range from $125 billion to nearly $1 trillion per year. All agree it’s growing at an accelerating pace.

Fortunately, most advertising is used to sell things that people don’t actually need. Nobody walks barefoot into a shoe store. Any advertising surtax would be passed on in higher prices, but it would have minimal effect on basic foodstuffs, generics, and low-cost leaders.

America remains vibrant after a quarter of a millennium by maintaining a constant tension between democracy and capitalism. Democracy posits that we are all equal. Capitalism pits us against one another to gain economic advantage.

We must rebalance that tension. It’s not healthy to think of ourselves as customers first and citizens second. Our society might not survive if we came to consider ourselves as consumers only. Think of this as a new vice tax. Nobody loves digital advertising, so tax it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Summer is Here. Everything Must Go.

June 11th, 2021 by dk

Summer is officially underway when the mower doesn’t have to be used twice a day to beat back the jungle that our lawns want to become. Our temperate rain forest brings brutal fecundity. Neighbors mow in the rain because the growth won’t slow. Soon those same neighbors will be watering their lawns to refute the late summer drought. 

For those of us who are less horticulturally inclined, something else sprouts up reliably this time of year, adding bright colors and excitement to street corners everywhere. Like that mound of grass clippings in corners of yards, neon placards point to sites of organic recycling, cultural compost, if you like — or even if you don’t.

The season of yard sales has begun. Driveways are suddenly filled with spare toaster ovens, outgrown clothing, and keepsakes that need new keepers. Neighbors often meet for the first time over spare change purchases, even if they have lived on the same street for years. Commerce continually creates community, if you like — and I don’t.

It’s not often said (or admitted in some circles) but we do yard sales better than almost any place I know. The key to a healthy resale ecosystem is a fertile mix of diversity and desperation. If yard sales are too much alike, the hunt for “something special” peters out quickly. Bargains are to yard-salers what white truffles are to mushroom hunters.

College towns always have a leg up in the yard sale world. Whether it’s college kids, grad students, or instructors denied tenure, many will leave Eugene for good this month. “Everything Must Go” precedes them going themselves. All the versions of midlife crisis add to the mix — marriages ending, Peace Corps calling, downsizing for sanity’s sake.

This year offers extra bounty, but also a reason to be wary. Like morels flourishing in the burned forests upriver, our ecosystem has been disrupted. People have been cooped up for over a year, staring incessantly at their coop. We all want to say what Oscar Wilde did on his deathbed: “This wallpaper is dreadful, one of us will have to go.”

One caution merits our attention this year. Desperation may be in fuller bloom than in other years. We have among us those who couldn’t work, or couldn’t work enough, or who didn’t navigate the pandemic relief options. People facing eviction or foreclosure may not be in the mood to haggle prices. If Barbie doll legs are priced at three-for-a-dollar, show some respect. Paying full price might keep somebody in their home.

Apart from that caveat, enjoy the season and relish the hunt. You never know what you might find. When my boys were young, we always did our Saturday yard-saling by bicycle. It slowed us down, we got good exercise, we learned new neighborhoods, and we limited our purchases to what we could carry home.

For memorable weekend adventures, you need only Bill Sullivan’s hiking guidebooks or a willingness to follow hand-drawn arrows stapled to telephone poles. In both cases you’ll see things you never knew existed. And so nearby!


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Leaving Our Lairs, Hopefully

June 10th, 2021 by dk

I’m not one who uses the word “hopefully” very often. Hope is a high order of consciousness and it shouldn’t be separated from its pronouned agent. As a sentence adverb, it slathers a situation with hope, rather than assigning hope to any individual. It’s no less passive than “God-willing” but far more tolerated.

Wordsmithing prudes like me allow the word to remain only because it retains an important purpose, however seldom employed. And so I say, without chagrin except from habit, that Oregon is hopefully exiting its pandemic quarantine. We cannot be certain the move won’t require quick or eventual reversal, but we are full of hope.

We hope that future generations will seek our stories from the past 14 months as unique and exotic. We hope what we endured does not recur. We hope the lessons learned individually can be applied to whatever awaits us. We might even hope that society is better for the disruption that is ending soon, is ending finally, is ending hopefully.

Historical recreation dramas often include a scene where the main character is leaving a place. The protagonist only intuits what the audience knows — they will never return. So they pause, looking back at what they are leaving, engraving a mental image. That’s us, now, hopefully reviewing where we’ve been because it’s not where we’re going.

Unless you have young children or other rambunctious animals, you’ve probably built a lair for yourself over the past year. Describe it in detail to somebody else so that its memory might be captured — a shrine, a tableau, a fixed point in a world that promises to begin turning again.

Over my decades of weekly ruminating, I always typed at my desk unless I was traveling. Even then I would try to replicate the same posture and pace. I sat on telephone books to keep my elbows arched as normal, my feet flat on the ground, my chest leaning forward. Those kinesthetic signals somehow informed my fingers and my brain to focus.

But a year ago I taught myself to write from my oversized chair, legs crossed at the ankles, watching the comings and goings on my quiet street. The table to my left is piled high with reading to be completed. Scribbled notes are strewn on a smaller table to my right. I sit between them like an oversized desktop gnome, perched between the in-box and the out-box.

My electric tea kettle sits in a corner of the left-hand table, simmering all day. My mug of warm comfort emits a lazy steam, barely in my visual frame to the right. Phone and iPad charge on the left, Daytimer always ready to the right. I’ve been sitting in this spot for hours every day, for months on end. You probably have something similar.

Apart from the phone ringing or the cat getting restless, there have been very few  interruptions. For a while I kept my nail clippers on the leftward table. Time traveled that slowly. But now, hopefully, the pace will accelerate. I’m ready. I hope you are too.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Biden’s weekends

June 6th, 2021 by dk

President Joe Biden has spent fewer weekends in the White House than any modern American president. I think that’s a good thing. He has gone to Camp David as many weekends as he has stayed in Washington (five). He has returned to his home in Wilmington almost twice as often, weekending in Delaware nine times.

Maybe the ice cream is better in Delaware. He may be missing his growly dog. Biden logged over 8,000 Amtrak trips during his long Senate tenure, heading home almost every night. Air Force One doesn’t make the 100-mile trip much faster, but he no longer has to worry about his phone calls being overheard.

Critics may claim that Biden is treating the presidency as a 9-to-5 job and his official residency as a high-end version of corporate housing — a Residence Inn for the world’s most powerful executive. (I’m sure the White House staff could produce a do-it-yourself waffle maker if that’s the vibe he wants.)

I disagree. Getting away from Washington allows Biden to hear what regular people are talking. (The nation’s capital has very few regular people.) Ovid told the tale about Zeus and Hermes disguising themselves to test the mettle of the people living across the countryside. Most didn’t fare very well. Every president needs a strategy to get outside his workday bubble.

The plot from Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper” couldn’t happen today. President Ulysses Grant, Twain’s contemporary, famously walked all around Washington to clear his head. Grant insisted on paving Washington’s roads, many for the first time. Next time you spend a $50 bill, thank the man for your sidewalks.

Modern presidents have had less luck. Barack Obama failed to convince the White House guards to allow him to drive off when he appeared on Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians With Cars Getting Coffee.” Seinfeld offered him this pitch-perfect comedic advice: “Ya gotta sell it!”

Getting out isn’t as easy as it once was. It’s also never been more important. List all the problems facing America and (more importantly) Americans. Are there any that wouldn’t benefit from the President of the United States becoming involved? Biden’s predecessor cared about sporting event protocols, of all things. Changes ensued.

Which issues merit Biden’s involvement? That’s the sort of decision that cannot be well made from inside the Oval Office. By definition, the most important issues are those with the widest scope and far-reaching consequences.

Workaholics don’t make good presidents. Jimmy Carter lost the forest from the trees. Bill Clinton failed to recognize his stress until an intern offered him relief. History judges the quality of presidents’ work, not the quantity of tasks performed.

Which initiatives can be accomplished best by the presidency but not by the president himself? Effective delegating requires a measure of detachment. Gathering courage to do the right thing cannot become confused with hearing arguments about which right things merit attention. Distance helps deliberation.

Go as far as you need as often as you must to clear your head, Mr. President. You deserve it and we all benefit from it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Greater Idaho: Thinking it Through

May 28th, 2021 by dk

Oregon’s most sparsely populated counties would like to secede from Oregon and join Idaho, where liberals don’t dominate state politics. I can hardly wait to find out what I think about such a plan. (My fingers don’t always give my brain advance warning on matters that don’t impact me urgently.)

In case you haven’t heard, Baker, Grant, Lake, Malheur and Sherman County residents approved ballot measures this month stating their preference to become Idahoans. If other rural counties follow and the plan succeeds, Idaho would become the third largest state in the union, still with one of the smallest populations.

It won’t happen — this much we know for sure, which  is why my brain was comfortably dormant on the issue. The Oregon legislature would have to approve it, which they won’t. Idaho would then have to consent to take the land, the cows, and the people as their own. Then the federal government would have to officially grant the request. Oddly, Rand-McNally has no role in the decision-making process.

A smaller Oregon might not be so bad. Bend would lose most of its metro area to Idaho, which might slow its reckless expansion. Ashland would be a big loss, but it would be offset by the fact that Oregon would no longer share a border with California. There could be other upsides. The Dakotas might merge to match Greater Idaho’s land grab. We never needed two Dakotas.

I doubt many Wasco residents will want to pay Idaho’s 6 percent sales tax, so they’ll still travel west to what’s left of Oregon to buy things. This points to a larger problem for the would-be secessionists. Idaho doesn’t have an economic engine to support a widened girth, unless they develop commercial-scale potato batteries like the ones we made for fifth grade science fairs.

Long story short, rural Oregon residents need us more than we need them. We’d still be able count mounted antlers in John Day or buy quilts in tiny shops, though quilters may migrate to Oregon coast shops instead, where prices could be six percent cheaper.

Sherman County residents would no longer get annual town hall visits from their senators. Town hall meetings in every county is an Oregon thing. They might miss those.

The land itself wouldn’t change in Idaho’s new western annex, except during fire season. Things might change quickly when flames blow through town and they can’t call on the resources of Portlanders to douse things. Roads will start to crumble. Maintenance costs money. But hey, they’d be able to pump their own gas.

Oregon has lost some of its remarkable balance between urban and rural interests. Things have become weighted mercilessly in Portland’s direction. We feel that even in Eugene. Our eastern neighbors have driven that point home like a wayward weaner calf. We need them to stay so they can keep doing that for us.

Here’s my conclusion. (Thanks, fingers.) Oregon will add a sixth Congressional district in 2022. If that new district focuses on non-Portland concerns, we can have a Greater Oregon.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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