Blog entries for a road trip (20220711 -- 20220719) 20220726 (7/11/22 - 7/19/22) 7/26/22
20220711 (7/11/22). Day 1. Theme music: Paul Simon's Graceland.
Left home in Azalea at dawn, and now I'm well into the opening miles of a 9-day driving loop that I expect will take me between 1100 and 1400 miles through a big part of our 69,000 square mile Second Congressional District. I'm driving a 15-year-old Subaru Forester, packed to the gills with campaign swag and a bit of camping gear. At this point, I'm driving along I-84, headed east toward The Dalles. I am passing miles and miles of barbed wire, and I have already passed two huge wind turbine blades--extra-long, extra-wide loads, headed for deployment in this windy part of the world.
Which naturally got me started thinking about technology. That barbed wire
alongside the road was an invention that changed the West. It closed off the open rangeland, made control of herds easier, and protected one person’s claimed property from intrusion by cattle and sheep. There were range wars over territory, and over water, of course. As I'm thinking these thoughts, I pass a derelict old windmill, one that probably pumped water up to a stock tank for those same enclosed cattle or sheep. Or maybe to an old farmstead, long forgotten. Now the modern equivalents of those windmills are harvesting energy for us to use in pumping water, lighting homes, and running the massive data centers that I will see in a few days.
The point is that technology changes everything—including ourselves. It changed the way we Americans looked at our frontier, and yet can change our perspective from narrow politics of scarcity to a politics of abundance and generosity. I say this as a somewhat thrifty person; other people close to me have used words like tightwad and skinflint, and it is true that my 15-year-old Subaru Forester still has a cracked windshield, but the crack isn't really bothering me much, and I'm going to delay shelling out replacement costs. Which got me thinking about technology, again: glass. Melted sand has changed the world, again, and again: containers in ancient trade routes around the Mediterranean and over deserts and oceans. Van Leeuwenhoek, and the discovery of a hidden microscopic world. Galileo, and the discovery of worlds beyond the imaginations of our ancestors. Eyeglasses, benefiting nearsighted folks. Fiberoptics, carrying all sorts of data, from financial, to cat videos. And car windshields, generally sturdy, until you get behind a logging truck that is shedding dirt and rocks. I’m going to be staring through that cracked windshield glass a lot in the next nine days.
Day 1, Part 2: I enjoy lunch at the Senior Center in The Dalles. I sit across the table from
a friendly older couple. He is wearing a baseball cap indicating he is an Air Force veteran. I ask about his service in the Air Force. He tells me he’s been stationed virtually everywhere,
including in Japan, the Philippines, Alaska, Washington State, and elsewhere. He and his wife tell me that their daughter is also an Air Force veteran, living in Texas. But she is 100% disabled, after having inhaled toxic fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apparently, she has severe pulmonary problems, and she may have early onset dementia. I tell them that some representatives in Congress voted against providing Veterans Administration care for some veterans who have had those toxic burn pit exposures. I’m not sure that the couple believe that any representative could be so callously uncaring and disloyal to American heroes.
I can barely comprehend that betrayal myself. I don’t tell anyone at the senior center that I am running. Nor do I tell them that it was their representative, Cliff Bentz, who voted against taking care of injured veterans.
Day one, Part 3: I have a most enjoyable interview with Tom Peterson from the CCC Media (Columbia community connection). Then, I attend a meet and greet put on by some great friends and my hosts for this evening. (In this blog, I’m not going to any identify any individuals, except those in the media. If people read the blog and want to identify themselves to others, that’s fine. But privacy and security are paramount.) We are overlooking the mighty Columbia River and are observing the catastrophic scouring that occurred when the Missoula Floods washed through the canyon. One of my hosts
tells me he was raised along this spectacular river; but when he was in the military, in Germany, people took him to a hilltop overlooking the fabled Rhine River: “What a sad, dirty, little ditch,” was his reaction.
We watch the sunset accentuating the colors. A fire breaks out far below, near
the railroad tracks, and it appears that an RV is on fire. The fire department’s response is quick and dispositive. It’s already really dry on the hills, and we owe the firefighters a debt of thanks! Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last.The energetic folks at this meet and greet talk policy, politics, and people. Science and technology. Education. Preserving democracy. I listen, and I learn. My camping gear stays snugly stowed in the Subaru. The accommodations are lovely.
20220712 (7/12/22). Day 2. Theme music: Woody Guthrie's Columbia Roll On.
I continue east on I84. I pass a couple more wind turbine blades on their way to deployment, and I drive by ridge tops filled with spinning turbines. I know people have mixed feelings about these. I know that wind energy is crucial to our transition away from fossil fuels. And these are an important component in that mix. Off to my left, the Columbia does roll on, just as Woody Guthrie sang. The power in these waters have provided abundance for America. And helped to win World War II: aluminum to build planes and fissile material for atomic bombs. This river destroyed fascism. Roll on, Columbia, roll on. Live on, Woody. I stop in Boardman to meet a justice activist. We tour the SAGE Center and I learn a lot about local history, agriculture, and industry. We talk more about the intersection of energy, water, and people that are making this region thrive. We also talk about challenges that progress always entails: housing, personnel shortages, long commutes. We talk about sexism, racism, homophobia, and the plague of intolerance in an illiberal society.
I tell him about a friend of mine, Fern Feather, who was murdered in Vermont in April, in an
apparent transphobic hate crime.
So: light conversation.
On to Pendleton. I need to make the most of the visit here, because I won’t have the opportunity to come back, most likely, for several weeks. First stop is the office of the Eastern Oregonian, where Antonio Arredondo interviews me. He is a Snowden intern, and clearly has a great future in journalism. My trusted guide (remember, all names are redacted, except those of the media, and deceased individuals) takes me to meet the Mayor of Pendleton. Turns out, Mr. Mayor and I have a lot in common: he is a retired Colonel in the United States Marines, and he and I served at the same time at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe; we were likely in the same rooms at the same times, during some meetings. And he served as President of Blue Mountain Community College, in the same era I was on the Board at Umpqua Community College. We already had a common understanding of military and education, and the mayor was very generous with his time in telling me about the challenges and opportunities his community faces, and what he perceives as the federal role.
Then, it’s burgers and brew at OMG Burgers and Brew. I meet more wonderful people:
educators, healthcare professionals, folks in industry and agriculture. This is a listening tour, so I listen, learn, and enjoy the great company and excellent food.
20220713-14 (7/13-14/22). Days 3 and 4. Theme music: Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5.
My guide has secured an in-depth tour of the Port of Umatilla. I am blown away by the scope of operations and the intensity of industry. Work goes on, 24/7, not nine-to-five. Huge data centers, $120 million a pop, thriving on the intersection of energy, water, and skilled people. Monster equipment to offload ships and place containers onto truck-trailers as easily as stacking Legos. And, a few weeks from now, grain will be heading out from here to feed the world. We talk about automation. A few years from now, the tractor-trailer combinations will come in here under the guidance of artificial intelligence, no humans involved. The machines will load and unload, and then drive cargo to its destinations hundreds of miles or thousands of miles from here. Perhaps 100,000 truck drivers will be displaced, my guide tells me. I replied that I am a retired pathologist. Pattern recognition is what pathologists do all day long, and it is what intelligent machines do extremely well. I figure that most pathologists and radiologists will be out of work; dermatologist are on the chopping block, too, I think. We make technology, and technology remakes us. We decide not to discuss application of artificial intelligence in war. Too depressing.
Our Port guide here tells us that just a few years ago, his politics were very far to the right;
however, he’s had an epiphany and supports universal basic income, single payer healthcare (improved Medicare for all) and so on. A short drive brings us to the home of a supporter, who is staying at home due to Covid restrictions. She is a lifelong activist, whose social conscience is based on religious principles. Next, we meet a whole bunch of great folks, mostly educators, over lunch. I listen to concerns about education, and about economy and changes in the local community. Next, we meet with a representative of the Umatilla Tribe, and I learn about a whole range of issues with regards to the reservation, especially health, education, housing, and care of the elders. I already knew that our federal government had dismally failed in its obligations to the to the various tribes, and I came away with a strong resolve to make our government live up to its obligations.
It’s hot. We stop for a milkshake. The young woman serving us indicates that she is not in
school, has no prospects, and, when we ask her about her future, she indicates that she has no confidence that she will live to grow up, on the reservation. She has seen too many of her friends disappear or die—as all too many young native American women do. We try to dissuade her from this dismal outlook, but we fear that her assessment of the future is tragically accurate. The milkshakes had a bitter, bitter aftertaste.
We go on over to the VFW. We wait around for a veteran we were supposed to meet, but he’s a no-show. I talk with, and listen to, veterans. I don’t do any politicking at all; the VFW is a nonpartisan organization; I support them. Period.
After visiting with the veterans, we go to a bar and meet with a couple of very nice, very
conservative folks, with whom we shared a few beers. We learned a lot about housing challenges from a landlord, and we learned about a few failures of the local medical system, all of which I believe would be remedied by Improved Medicare for All. Which is a nice segue into tomorrow’s events. I again keep my camping gear in the car, thanks to the generous hospitality of hosts; they are early Peace Corps veterans, having been married in Africa in 1964, and having served humanity since then. They are an inspiration! Their wedding picture featured not them eating cake, sharing a leg of goat; their wedding was attended by 200 Masai.
20220714 (7/14/22) Day 4 Theme Music: Willie Nelson’s On the Road Again.
Headed over to La Grande for a rally of HCAO: Health Care for All Oregon. I’ve been a member of HCAO since about 2011, when the Mad as Hell Doctors made me aware of it. I’ve been a member of the PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program, for a lot longer than that, advocating for single payer universal healthcare in this country. That is to say, an improved Medicare for All, covering virtually all medical care, without co-pays or deductibles. I practiced medicine in the army and in civilian life for decades, and I am certain that we can do a lot better than our current non-system of medical care.
My opponent, Cliff Bentz, says that he is opposed to all government healthcare. I’ve been part of government healthcare almost all my life. Here is a common story: a Marine, wounded by an IED, gets evacuated on an army chopper with army medics, goes to an army field hospital and gets treated by Army surgeons. The Marine then is loaded onto an Air Force plane to Germany where Army, Navy, and Air Force medical teams mend the wounds, and send our marine on to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and after that,
possibly to a Veterans Administration Hospital. This is government healthcare, every step of the way. Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA are government healthcare. So is the Indian Health Service, and multiple other federal and state programs. I’d like to hear why Cliff Bentz hates army medics.
But I digress. The HCAO rally was great. We got lots of friendly beeps from passersby, and no negative interactions that I saw. Afterwards, we all shared several beers and some great burgers. And I learned a lot more from all the participants, both about healthcare issues and local environmental issues. Shannon Golden, yet another Snowden intern, interviews me. She is from the La Grande newspaper, The Observer. She intends to pursue a career in international journalism, and already speaks multiple languages, including Czech. I tell her that I was in Yugoslavia when the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia, saw troop movements, and tanks loading onto rail cars. In Munich, the headlines blared “Blutbad im Prague!” I stayed with some German relatives, and they were convinced that the Soviet tanks were going to keep on rolling into West Germany. Shannon and I talk history, national security, and so on, and I learn a lot from her. Housing here was generously provided by supporters who had a remarkably extensive vinyl collection, a musical family, and a dulcimer from Berea College—which led us into the history of that progressive institution. Read about Berea when you want to be inspired!
20220715 (7/15/22). Day 5. Musical theme: Handle’s Water Music.
I drive on over to Enterprise. Along the way, I stop at Minam, where the Minam River flows into the Wallowa River. Crowds of rafters are putting in. I talk with a National Park Service Ranger about the challenges he faces, both in trying to protect our national property, and in keeping people alive on the river. Water flow today is about 400 ft.³ per second; it peaked at about 10 times that earlier this year, so conditions vary from sedate to lethal.
I’ve known for a long time that our National Park Service is underfunded and understaffed. I tell the Ranger that I am confident that the National Park Service Director, Charles F. (Chuck) Sams is precisely the right person for the agency, and that his boss, Secretary of the
Interior Deb Haaland, is the right person in her role, too. (Sams is an enrolled member of the
Cayuse and Walla Walla Tribes, graduated from Pendleton High School, has served in the U.S. Navy, and has served his communities for years. Haaland is an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, and has served the people of New Mexico and the United States for decades.
President Biden appointed these two patriots and Native Americans from Western states, and it was an inspired decision.) But as great as these appointments are, it will still take Congress, with its pursestrings, to assure that our National Parks and our heritage are honored, protected, and built into the 21 st Century.
Day 5, part 2. Theme music: Star Trek: Enterprise theme song
I kick a bit of river sand off my shoes, and I drive on to Enterprise. I meet my Enterprise guide and her husband, and we hold a meet and greet at the delightful local bookstore. This bookstore is thriving in a small town in a manner that would put its big city counterparts to shame. I regret having not brought copies of my own books, here, because the owner of the store indicates she'd love to have some book signings here. Next time!
Then my guide takes me to meet a county commissioner, and I learn a lot about issues the county faces regarding economic challenges, housing, and environmental challenges. Turns out, he is President of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association. We commiserate on these challenges of raising beef, and when I tell him I am getting $3.50 dollars per pound hanging weight for my grass-fed beef, he exclaims, “Joe, you're killin’ it.” But the fact is--and I tell him this--$3.50/lb doesn't even cover my production costs. Successful farming is really hard work. We agree on this and a lot more.
My guide and her husband hold a very-well attended meet and greet at their home, in the cool shade of some old trees. Then we head to dinner—another opportunity to meet my future constituents—and, after that, beer, karaoke, and recording a few videos for TikTok. Mercifully, the audio of my karaoke version of Marty Robbins’ El Paso is lost to history.
My hosts in Enterprise had a social engagement, so I barely say hi and bye; next time I have lots of questions for them about local issues. In any event, their hospitality is greatly appreciated.
20220716 (7/16/22). Day 6. Theme song: Oh My Darling, Clementine (variously attributed).
I’m attending the Miners’ Jubilee in Baker City. My guide and host is chair of the Baker County Democratic Party, and he has three days of staffing the booth, along with other volunteers. It’s a fun day, albeit hot, meeting lots of interesting folk. Most are from Baker County, but this event draws people from all over. I stop by nearly every booth, vendors, service organizations, and political organizations. The Republicans don’t have a booth at the Jubilee, apparently because of some internal squabbles, although they blame their lack of booth on threats they allegedly received. Imagine: Republicans lying and whining about imagined injuries. Reminds me of RudyGiuliani’s getting tapped lightly on the back and describing it as like a gun shot. Betsy Johnson has a booth. And I chat with her. She needs to be defeated soundly.
20220717 (7/17/22). Day 7. Theme song: Kinky Friedman’s Homo erectus. (I used to be a huge Kinky Friedman fan back when I lived in El Paso. This song references fossil bones of Homo erectus, which of course, are not found at the John Day Fossil Beds.)
I arrive in Canyon City to meet my host and guide, and George the cat, who just this morning had an incident involving quail and a rattlesnake. Turns out, none of them are worse for the wear. Canyon City used to be the largest town in the county, but most of the people moved north to John Day because of fires. And fires have ravaged this specific area only recently. The scars show. The organisms of this area evolved in a regime of fire; earlier fire suppression efforts have increased fuels, which now need to be managed, because people and their houses and enterprises have moved into fire country. My host has arranged an ice cream social in John Day. It’s well attended, in a cool pavilion. Just
ahead of us in the pavilion was a birthday party for a two-year-old girl. It’s up to all of us to
make sure that this young girl has a world that is safe, welcoming, and filled with joy.
20220718 (718/22). Day 8. Theme song: Kinky Friedman’s Homo erectus.
I meet with the John Day City Manager, and with the editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle. I am
resoundingly impressed by the energy and creativity in them and in their community. There are innovative projects involving infrastructure, jobs, and improvements to everyone’s lives. I learn about some of the needs that cities like this have that have been addressed by the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and we talk about what more needs to be done.
I drive to Prineville, and I enjoy lunch at the Senior Center. Once again, it's all listening, and no politicking by me. It's particularly important for me to understand the needs of seniors. They are reliant on Social Security and Medicare, and they require services in a very tight labor market, from caretakers to health care providers. Rick Scott's Republican plan would end all laws at five years, including Social Security and Medicare; I don't say this to any of the seniors here, but it's true. And inhumane.
My guide and host has arranged a meeting with Prineville's mayor, and I am very grateful for his time and knowledge regarding local issues, and the intersection with federal resources. Then my host has arranged an interview with the Central Oregonian ( freakin internet went down open perens X ** more about this) finally, in the evening, we have a meeting of the Crook County Democrats with superb energy and attendance. I also meet Lawrence Jones, who is campaigning running for Oregon house district 59. He's a great candidate and would be a superb representative. Everybody ought to support him.
20220719 (7/19/22). Day 9. Theme song: Simon and Garfunkel's Homeward Bound.
I get up well before dawn, and quietly leave my hosts’ home, after saying goodbye to their two kitties. The first leg of my journey takes me west, so the rising sun is at my back. Unfortunately, it's directly in the eyes of the heavy oncoming traffic. There are no accidents, but several times it's a near thing. 250 miles later, I arrive in time to pull irrigation, reunite with Lee, and try to make it up to the dog for my absence. It's been 9 days for me, but 63 for him, and he's old, and nearly terminal, so every bit of absence makes my heart ache. And his, too, I think.,