Warm Showers 2012

As the winter wet and cold settles in on the Pacific Northwest, we bring another bicycle touring season to a close.  In addition, we are currently sans shower, in the fifth week of a major bathroom remodel, so we put away the “Welcome Cyclists” mat at the beginning of October this year.

2012 was a banner year for Warm Showers guests — we hosted 18 cyclists in all, up from 13 last year.  Because of scheduling or availability, we turned down nearly as many.  Once again, the Pacific Coast Route proved to be the big draw for cyclists from all over the world.  We had guests from Seattle, Korea, Nova Scotia, Yukon, British Columbia, Australia, New Zealand, Idaho, California, and Germany.  Riders were mostly north to south, but we had two groups cycling from south to north.

We live close to the Adventure Cycling Association’s Pacific Coast Route, which starts in Vancouver, BC and passes through Whidbey Island, Port Townsend, Bremerton, Shelton, Elma, Centralia, and Cathlamet on the way to Astoria, but we also had many travelers who chose their own way, crossing to or from Victoria and Port Angeles and up or down US 101 along the Hood Canal.  Some rode the dangerous WA Highway 3 between Belfair and Shelton, and some rode the south shore drive all the way to US 101 rather than grinding up the hill to Mason Lake.  Some followed Cloquallum Road to or from Elma, and some chose to get to or from Centralia via Olympia.  A few kept westward at Elma and braved the 3.5-mile-long Megler Bridge at Astoria.  And some headed to Portland rather than Astoria.

We live halfway up a steep hill, so getting in and out of our neighborhood with a minimum of climbing is a tricky bit of navigation, so we often met travelers inbound to guide them to our house.  We also rode with guests in the morning to guide them on their way, especially the ones who were using auto maps instead of the bicycle route maps.  We also provided printed Google maps for alternate routing.

Sarah, on a quick solo trip from Seattle to Santa Barbara, CA.  This is at the Buck’s Prairie Store, halfway to Elma.
Lang, from Korea, on the second half of an Anchorage to Los Angeles tour, after wintering over in Vancouver to replace a stolen bike.
Becca and Kate, from Nova Scotia, northbound from San Francisco to Victoria. They elected to seek out a Warm Showers host in Bremerton rather than camp in the rain along the Hood Canal, so I rode with them a few miles to point them in the right direction.
Justin and Ritchie, bicycle racers from Cal Poly, on an ambitious speed run from the Canadian border to home.
Gordon and Steve, 70-something recumbent riders, intending to ride from Bellingham to Eureka, but abandoned in Tumwater due to heat and hills, after enjoying a couple days of relatively level riding through Elma to Rochester
Areef, from Vancouver, and Don, from northern California, who weren’t traveling together, but booked at the same Warm Showers stops a couple nights.  Areef was headed for the Oregon coast, Don for Portland to join an ACA tour.
Ben and Lauren, Harvard grad students from Idaho, traveling north, San Francisco to Seattle. This was their last day on the road.
Julia, from Australia, riding from Victoria to Hood River, Oregon for a wedding, on a year-long biking sabbatical to visit relatives in North America.  I led her out to Hwy 3 to Olympia.
Jayshil, from New Zealand, on tour from Vancouver to Los Angeles.
Marty and Pierrette, four months into a 3-year wander, after selling everything in the Yukon.  They, too, headed for Olympia to shave 25km off the ride to Centralia.  Follow their travels at twotravelingturtles.wordpress.com
Yvonne and Danika, from Germany, on a one-year tour from Yukon to Panama.
Yvonne and Danika, from Germany, on a one-year tour from Yukon to Panama.  They were using auto maps and major highways, so I led them to Cloquallum Road to head them toward Elma on back roads.

Why We Cannot Ever Consider Voting Republican

People who know us well or have known us for a long time know that we are fairly progressive in our attitudes, and primarily view the role of government to be what we as a people decide to do together, preserving the inalienable rights of individuals that define our republic. But, regardless of the title of this essay, you must not assume we are Democrats. Oh, yes, when in a position to vote, in the 1970s and 1980s, we voted Democratic as an anti-republican move. In the last decade of the 20th century, disenchanted with the status-quo in Washington, we tended to vote for third parties, even the conservative Perot, and later, the progressive Nader. However, after the disastrous 2000 election, which was clouded with what can be most delicately called voting irregularities, we have been determined to vote for the candidates most likely to defeat Republicanism.

Our resolve has been hardened further by the appalling decline of our country, in all areas, under the resulting Republican administration. We are incensed by the overt efforts by the current Republican Party to block any and all effort of the Democratic Obama administration to correct and reverse this decline, for the sole purpose of regaining power over all branches of our government. We fear the apparent covert goal of the misnamed Republican Party is to complete the transformation of the United States from a Republic to a Plutocracy, owned by, managed by, and operated for the benefit of the very rich. This will leave little hope of upward mobility among working class and bootstrap entrepreneurs—those who built the towns and cleared the land into farms during the great expansion in the latter half of the 19th century, and who built garage-based startups into the high-tech Internet industries in the latter half of the 20th century.. This is not the country we envisioned leaving to our children and grandchildren.

We are what is traditionally categorized as a lower-middle-class family, former wage-earners now subsisting partially on Social Security, meager pensions from companies we left before they rid themselves of the defined-benefit pension programs, and variable income from home-based businesses, the latter of which funds car payments (we replaced two 17-year-old cars and a cargo trailer last year with one 2010 model) and home repairs (infrastructure on an 85-year-old house) as we ease toward actual retirement. As a result, we essentially return one of our social security payments in self-employment and income taxes. So much for entitlements. Please do not count us in the 47%: we pay our way now, as we have for the past nearly 50 years of mostly steady employment, during which we paid our part of our contract with the government for assured income and medical care in retirement. We expect that government to uphold its part of the contract.

We have, in IRAs, a small residue left from the 401K debacle of the first decade of this century, during which our meager nest egg from the 1990s remained static despite massive infusions of payroll deductions and matching corporate funds. Should the companies whose bonds we now hold survive the next 20 years, and we avoid a prolonged and expensive demise, our children will inherit our original investment: the mandatory withdrawals will cover most of our grocery bills, and Social Security will pay the mortgage (which will be paid off in 2039, so we are now, in semi-retirement, in an underwater mortgage) and our medicare supplements. Not a legacy of the 1%, to be sure. Not even close, though we are probably better off than a lot of other middle-class families, despite having been dealt a devastating setback due to job losses during the corporate deregulation fallout during the Reagan-Bush administrations, never to regain the family income level we had in the late 1980s.

Despite having collected unemployment payments during 1990, every penny, and then some, was paid back in taxes that year due to penalties on savings withdrawals and prior year’s earnings, despite being downsized to a personal income less than the tax bill that year. During that year, we were not in Mr. Romney’s 47% either: we were worse off, being in an income tax bracket that exceeded 100% of one of our two salaries, and left with a mortgage payment more than 50% of the family gross income.

We find the regressive social policies promoted by the Republican Party to be patently offensive. Although we are both of northern European heritage, our extended multi-generational family includes members with African or Hispanic heritage, so we consider ourselves a multi-racial/multi-ethnic family, and understand the social biases that entails. We enjoy the benefits of legally recognized marriage, though we are a second marriage entered into past child-bearing age, so the purpose of our union is for mutual aid and support, rather than procreation, and our child-rearing has included offspring of previous unions. Logically, then, we support our LGBT friends in seeking the same benefits. Although we would not have personally approved of abortion as an option, choosing instead to help raise a grandchild born to difficult circumstances, we would not deny others the right to choose, according to their own circumstance and conscience. The government’s role should be to protect personal choices, not to limit them.

We believe the separation of church and state, as defined by out Constitution, to be absolute, providing not only freedom of religious practice, but freedom from imposition of specific religious practice, and, by extension, freedom from enactment of laws that enforce behaviors specific to any particular religious dogma, or deny activities of others that are proscribed for practitioners, that fall within the range of acceptable human behavior in modern society.

We believe that government is what we decide to do together for the benefit of society as a whole, and that taxation should be levied according to both ability to pay and the benefit derived. Our society is dependent on infrastructure for public safety, national defense, and transportation and regulations to ensure financial and economic stability and preserve natural resources and protect the environment for the health and welfare of all. Long-range projects and programs with no short-term gains, like scientific research should be supported by government. Thus, businesses and individuals who depend on infrastructure for commerce and communications and easy access to workforce should pay a proportionately higher percentage of the cost of those services.

The Republican Party, for the past 100 years, has increasingly sought to reduce the role of government in providing public infrastructure and economic and environmental regulation, and has, since the Party was founded in the mid-19th century, acted in the interest of private industry, aiding in expansion of infrastructure during the settling of the West for the primary purpose of ensuring the profits of companies engaged in developing transportation (to deliver workers and customers to resources and deliver exploited resources to market) and resource exploitation. Once the country was populated and progressive legislation resulted in a tax structure that curbed runaway profits at the expense of public interest, the Party has turned regressive, working to reduce social programs, taxation, and regulation, in an attempt to restore the excessive profits of the “Gilded Age” of the late 19th century.

For the past 30 to 60 years, the Republican Party has sought to ally itself with the more fundamentalist Christian organizations, who believe in a religion-run state, as opposed to the state-run religion that was the focus of the drafters of our Constitution. Consequently, the political discourse in this country has been dominated by legislation and argument over controversial moral issues such as abortion, rape, contraception, public prayer, and creationism versus science that should properly be the domain of personal conviction rather than canon of law.

The backlash from the left is considerable, to the point of questioning the inclusion of the motto “In God We Trust” on our coinage and the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, both added in 1957 during the Republican Eisenhower administration. In those times, the thrust was, during the height of the “Cold War” and the waning of the McCarthy anti-communist pograms, a statement to identify as a nation where religion could be practiced openly rather than a militantly atheistic state like the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, this helped fuel the idea that, despite the large and growing population of Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Sikhs, that the United States was, in fact, a Christian nation. And, as the campaign opposition to John F. Kennedy’s candidacy in 1960 noted, specifically a Protestant Christian nation, with the Roman Catholic Papacy viewed as a threat to the sovereignty of the United States, should we elect politicians of that creed.

Regardless of the alliance with the “moral high ground” of the most radical and morally conservative Christian fundamentalists, Republican politicians, like so many prominent evangelists in the church itself, proved to be less than fastidious in their personal adherence to the code of conduct that they were trying to put into law to attract the vote of this large block of faith-driven voters. Not only did they seek to redefine “sins against God” as “crimes against humanity,” they have taken up with the most literal interpreters of the Christian Bible to uphold the biblical creation myth as cosmological fact. The creationist view adopts Bishop Usher’s medieval genealogical reckoning of the Hebrew people to set the [theoretical] “big bang” at 10:00am October 4, 4004 BC instead of 15 billion years ago, as currently postulated by cosmologists and other scientists, and completely discrediting findings of geology, anthropology, genetics, paleontology, and a host of other scientific disciplines.

According to the creationists, the Universe and the earth were created in a few days, complete with a built-in biological diversity and fossil record, presumably for the amusement of future generations of dinosaur fans, who sometimes include the millions of years of dinosaur evolution in the imagined fauna of the short-lived and fabled Garden of Eden, which was populated for an unspecified number of days in an undisclosed location before disappearing forever into the mists of myth, as punishment for the first couple having ingested “something” that “somehow” imparted forbidden knowledge to them, the “original sin” that is inherited by every human born in the 60 centuries since. That the tale is and was always intended to be allegorical (note that when Adam and Eve, the putative first couple, were cast out of the Garden, they immediately acquired neighbors, who had apparently discovered the forbidden fruit independently and were blissfully gorging on it) is knowledge forever lost to the ultrasimplistic creationists. This political maneuver to get the votes of the untutored faithful has had the effect of plunging the United States into the Dark Ages, where the technology today’s school children’s’ grandparents developed has become indistinguishable from magic to the younger generations and the goods derived from it are manufactured outside the country.

It should be clear to everyone who has paid any attention to the current campaign or, indeed, to the antics of Congress during the past four years that the sole aim of the Republican Party is the consolidation of power, at any cost, for the purpose of ensuring the concentration of wealth, and not at all to serve the needs of the American people. The moneyed class adopts the narrow views of their working-class constituency only to get their votes, by promising to enforce their moral imperatives on all citizens. In actuality, if a voter makes less than half a million dollars a year and has less than $5 million in liquid assets, voting Republican is in direct opposition to his or her interests.

The middle class needs a collective infrastructure to survive comfortably. This is not socialism: socialism provides infrastructure to suit its own needs, i.e., to ensure the government [and, by inference, its leadership] thrives and prospers. A democracy provides for the common good: what the people decide. Our government is properly not a democracy, but a republic, from which the name of the Republican Party derives, but which they do not support. A properly managed republic protects its people from the tragedy of the commons by guarantying specific inalienable rights that cannot be revoked by popular vote, thus limiting the power of the majority, and regulating the ability of the minority to accumulate power and wealth to the detriment of the majority. The Republican Party seeks to permit and encourage the concentration of wealth, exploitation of national resources for profit, and restriction of the rights of some to appease the personal morality of its supporters in exchange for their vote.

The Republican Party arose out of the ashes of the Whig Party in the mid-19th century to pursue the opportunities presented by the industrial revolution, and promoted growth and accumulation of wealth throughout their history. For the first half-century of their existence, Republicans were a progressive force that transformed the United States into an industrial world power. However, the regressive turn taken in the Party starting with the Taft administration in the early 20th century to limit regulation and reduce taxes on those who benefit most from the common infrastructure, the imposition of social conservatism in the latter half of the 20th century, and the financial irresponsibility of the 21st century have made the Party agenda a danger to the survival of our Republic. The current social conservatism espoused by the Party to get Christian votes is belied by the hawkish stance on defense that serves to enrich the weapons industry, the growth industry in the 20th century after the expansion of the country ended in the 19th century. A foreign policy of using military might to promote investment interests in middle eastern oil serves only to enrage the Muslim world against us. It is time for the Party to be replaced by an organization the promotes the principles of a Republic that serves all of its people instead of a privileged few, and that protects the rights of the minority as well as fulfilling the desires of the majority.