Monday, June 23, 2008


Before I start on the vacation blogs, I want to rant about the election a little. Not the national election, that's a wrap for the moment; the recent state and local elections in California, and Alameda County, and the city of Oakland. These were actually quite important elections: this was the primary for every partisan office except the presidency; and both the state legislative seats and about half the Oakland City Council were all up for re-election. Both the legislative seats were open contests, too, because the seat holders were termed out.

I frequently read or hear the complaint that people don't vote because their vote "doesn't count." From the Alameda County Election Results site, I have some numbers about that:

  • Total Alameda County voter registration for the June 3 election was 725,098.
  • Total votes cast at the polling place? 78,753.
  • Total absentee ballots cast? 138,338.

That's right - out of 725,098 registered voters, only 217,091 bothered to vote: just under 1 in 3. (
The county site doesn't show the percentage of registered voters who voted in each individual contest, just for the main election.)

When you turn out and vote in a contest like that, you're a bigger frog, in a smaller pond, than you realize. A "majority of the vote" in this case could be as little as 15% of the electorate (51% of 29.94%). And those are the people who determine who will be running the joint for the next term.

So, does your vote count?? You bet it counts! And just remember - if you don't vote, and you don't like the way things go, I don't want to hear one peep out of you. You forfeit your right to complain if you don't vote.

So - next election, get your lower dorsal elevation down there and VOTE!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Basin and Range

I've never done this before, but I have my laptop with me on vacation, so I'm going to blog it "live" from time to time. We'll see how this works. I'm writing from the Crystal Inn in Brigham City, Utah, on our way to Yellowstone.

We've spent the last 2 days
on I-80, crossing Nevada and Utah - the great Basin and Range country written up by John McPhee in his book of that name. If you've never driven across this country you can't imagine how hostile it is to life; I can't conceive walking across it behind an ox cart, or even riding a horse. It wasn't especially hot, rather somewhat chilly, mostly overcast, and very windy. The roads are straight and empty; no buildings line them, no trees shade them, and they stretch out before you to a vanishing point on the horizon. Sometimes they turn, and you can see the curve laid out before you for miles in advance. Between the occasional towns there is nothing. You regularly pass named freeway exits marked "no services" - Jim thinks these are isolated ranches or mines, but they have freeway access. The wind was constant, and strong enough to jolt the car sideways on the freeway now and then. It's very hard to stay awake at the wheel because it's boring - the view changes very, very slowly, and you watch the same sights for a long time. Apart from the dust devils, almost nothing moves. You're driving at 70 or 75 miles an hour (the speed limit is 75), but so is any other traffic; there was very little, just an occasional semi hauling freight. The relative motion of the vehicles is very slow, within 5 or 10 miles per hour; this gives you the odd feeling that you and the other traffic are standing still, and the empty, silent landscape is very slowly revolving past you.

When we first passed Reno and Sparks, it was different - the road follows the Truckee River valley until Fernley, the hills are right near the road, and the river bottom is lush and green. Up the hill a few feet, though, is warning of things to come: sparse sagebrush scrub on dusty brown dirt. After Fernley, the river turns north and the road continues east through great acres of salt pan, partly obscured as we drove by blowing dust in the steady wind. There's still sagebrush, but less, and it's odd to see plants next to, or in, obvious crusts of salt on the ground; huge expanses have no plants at all, just salt and dirt. These are the Humboldt Sink and part of the Forty Mile Desert, obstacles on the Emigrant Trail, which Interstate 80 more or less follows. The regular ranges of mountains are dry and treeless, their shapes rounded by the wind. This continues for around 60 miles, until you reach Lovelock.

The farther east you go, the higher (gradually) the ground rises, and the wetter (very slowly) things get, even at the bottom of the basins. After Lovelock you see occasional cattle grazing. By Elko, there are irrigated pastures and more grazing herds. But the trees are still few and stunted.

We chased a rainstorm, and vice versa, most of the way from Lovelock to Elko. In the last stretch, we drove along the edge of the rain, with black clouds to our left and the late afternoon sun to our right; we were escorted by a full arch rainbow for several miles, sliding along the desert to our left. I've never seen such a thing before.