Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lost interest

Funny how you can be so fascinated by and enamored of something until it becomes a part of your life, and then you just lose interest. Before I moved to DC, I watched SO much West Wing that I started to think (er, wish?) it was my life. Not that I ever expected my life to be like that once I moved to DC, but the subject matter made me drool with excitement. Now, politics is everywhere, the presidential race is in full force, and I'm SO over it. Politics is not the fast-moving, complicated stuff of television shows. It's ridiculous and overly calculated and mostly just a media blitz. Once in a while, someone nasty gets his or her comeuppance and we all cheer, but then the tides turn back to ridiculousness. Everyone has something to say, or nothing to say (but they say it anyway) and it all gets overdone, like the amazing potato chips you can't get enough of until suddenly you've eaten one chip too many and you just feel salty and greasy and fat. Maybe watching The West Wing taught me too much about politics, and now I'm just suspicious of everyones' intentions. That doesn't mean I think they're up to no good, I just think it's all a show, aiming to the lowest common denominator who might take interest or hear one word and swing the other direction. I'm over it.

Maybe the Olympics will take center stage for a while and people will forget about the ridiculousness of the race, the it's-about-time-we-caught-him Ted Stevens scandal, the appalling conclusion of the attorney general's office investigation, all which perhaps signal the end of an era in which ridiculousness reigned supreme. Let's stand agog at the fantastic feats of strength and endurance of worldwide top-notch athleticism, which we hope won't be ruined by pollution or the ridiculousness of another country's attempts to control the free exchange of information and culture. Maybe August will be like a weird dream, which we eventually awaken from, relieved to find that life is somewhat more manageable than the awful circumstances our psyches feared would take over.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Quo vadis?

Something happened up there on the mountain. I'm pretty sure that's when it happened. I looked down over the valley and realized that the goal that was riding top rung for the last 10 years of my life could finally be scratched off. Which then begged the question: what now? Quo Vadis? That's when I realized that I could start filling my life with all the things I had always wanted to do, but before couldn't somehow gather the mental energy for. My new motto: do what makes the better story.

It helped that I had 18 other friends to share the experience with. I tried to recreate the feeling of the experience again this weekend. I wore all the same clothes, took a much smaller pack perfect for day trips, put on the same game face, and readied the engines. But of course it was different. The mountain was different, much smaller, with no pines or rhododendrons. The people were all strangers, at different places in life, with different goals for the climb. The climb was still challenging, much farther than I had ever gone in one day, and it was lovely to get outside, learn some new bird calls and plant IDs. But there's definitely nothing like spending three rustic days with close friends, people who were all experiencing the same things at the same time. It was bonding like no other.

That hike was almost three months ago, and I'm still in post-party let-down phase from it. Luckily, there are still a number of us in this new city, all sharing different sides of the same adventure. Perhaps each year we will come back together for a recap, to compare notes and recenter. I never valued friendship so much when I was growing up, content to mostly do my own thing and tag along with others when I could. But something on that mountain made me yearn for the constant company of others. Not just strangers on a path along a wooded ridge line, but people who feel like a part of you, whose presence fills your world and whose absence pains you dearly. It's not enough to simply be content with your own life, if you have no one else to share it with.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cynicism and the city

Today, I saw Al Gore deliver his speech about climate change and energy and really so much more. I sat very very close to the podium, so I could see Gore clearly as he spoke. He's such a seasoned presenter that he didn't even appear to be using the teleprompter, probably a skill honed during his Inconvenient Truth days. Hip hop star sat beside the podium, wearing his coat, hat, and sunglasses indoors, even though it was about 93 degrees outside. He hardly clapped or smiled or even looked awake the whole time. Gore was inspiring, and at the end of his speech, "Beautiful Day" by U2 played in the hall and everyone clapped and glowed and gushed about this exciting time.

Yeah, it was pretty cool. Except NPR mentioned three times during my morning commute that Gore would be issuing this challenge to the country, so the surprise was already spoiled for me. And aside from that, Gore didn't really say anything new to this auditorium full of people who already know the issues and already agree with him. He didn't outline his plan of action for how to accomplish this incredibly difficult feat of switching all of the U.S.-produced electricity to carbon-free, clean, renewable sources in 10 years. He didn't vow to take any specific actions, and didn't tell people what to do, except go to his website. It was all just a big publicity stunt, a chance to grab some headlines and some airtime to promote his cause, to excite people about the possibilities of a new world with new energy sources, to inspire people to donate or otherwise get involved. Four weeks in Washington, and I'm already cynical.

Which is not to say that disagree with Gore's intentions. Knowing what little I do about energy and the electrical grid in this country, I don't think it's feasible to expect such a switch in 10 years. But, I've been living my life with the motto that if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten, and so I shall think the same for the country. After reading "Earth: The Sequel" by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn, I know the technology and the scientific will are out there, and all we need are political will and lots of dollars to make these things happen. I don't think Al Gore is a fool, I think he's a dreamer with the power to make things happen. Today may have just been a press conference and pep rally, but perhaps it's the beginning, not the end, of things we hope for.

Monday, July 14, 2008

It's like he said my name

I was listening to This American Life on NPR a while ago, and Ira Glass was talking about the time he was watching The O.C. and they mentioned This American Life. Apparently, a guy was sitting in his dorm room, talking to his girlfriend on the phone (oh yeah, sorry, I don't know names because I have never watched even one minute of The O.C.), and the girlfriend overheard through the phone another female talking in the dorm room. The guy told her he was listening to This American Life. The girlfriend said, "This American Life? Isn't that the show where yuppie hipsters talk about how amazing ordinary people are?" Or something to that effect. Ira Glass played the clip, after which he exclaimed, It's like they said my name! It's like a fictional character on television said my name!

I had my own such moment the other day. In case you didn't know, I'm a bit of a Joel Achenbach fan (see the link to his blog on the right side of the page). The bus stop I use for work is one block away from the Washington Post. Now that I live and work in D.C., I dream of running into him on the street. Yes, I'm a huge nerd because I idolize a science journalist who has written columns for National Geographic and blogs about science and politics (among other things) on the WaPo website. I'm sure he has no idea who I am, but if he were to put my blog on his blog roll, I think my head would explode. He's also a rather amusing and insightful writer, so if he were closer to my age and not married with kids, I think I'd be in love. Anyway, the other day, he blogged this post: A Planet of Corn, in which he admits that his one journalistic obsession is Ag Policy. The post coincided with his article in the Post about the USDA's decision to allow farmers participating in the Conservation Reserve Program in parts of the recently flooded Midwest to start grazing their cattle on land previously set aside for conservation. My work these days is Ag Policy and land conservation and corn for carbon sequestration and ethanol, and so I had a "He said my name" kind of moment. Not that I had anything at all to do with anything in that article, it's just cool when someone you admire uses some of your personal key words.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Tour de France 2008

Today was the start of Tour de France 2008. The sport has been plagued by doping scandals for years, and people have been losing interest in the race because it seems to be business as usual. But this year, Team Garmin/Chipotle H3O is changing things. Originally called Team Slipstream/Chipotle, this team is operating on a transparent level, vowing to win the race without any performance-enhancing substances. The riders are all tested many times a week year-round, and guests like a writer from Outside magazine are invited into the hotel rooms, testing rooms, meetings, and the like. And so far, so good. Rider David Millar is in 11th place after the first stage, with nine team members in the top 100. The team as a whole is in 4th place, and Trent Lowe is fourth in the list of best riders under age 25.

So perhaps this year will be different. I'm going to follow the race this year, cheering on Team Garmin/Chipotle the whole time. Perhaps the Tour de France can regain its standing as an honorable sport, free of the performance-enhancing substances that athletes have come to accept as fair play. Sports are best when everyone starts from the same level playing field because it encourages inspirational feats of strength and endurance.

Go Team Garmin/Chipotle!!

Issues from a new home base

I'm now in the nation's capital, taking on a new role as Environmental Professional. News of the court's overturn of the DC handgun ban broke during my first week here, but achieving Internet connectedness at home was elusive. So although I itched to throw in my two cents while the story was fresh, alas, it's now old news. But here's my thought anyway: I'm torn on the "right to bear arms" because so many people not fit to own guns purchase them anyway, often with bad outcomes. But the same is true of car ownership, home ownership, and even of parenting. As many have said, make gun ownership on par with car driving privileges. Require training classes, licenses and insurance for each state, and registration, all renewable for law abiders and revocable for law breakers. True, guns are used for one purpose only, and a very negative one at that, but once people are given the right to use them, it's hard to take that away.

Instead of worrying about the guns, we should be worrying about the people using them. After all, guns don't kill people. People kill people. Put more police on the street to enforce gun laws and prevent crimes. Put more qualified teachers in schools, arm them with learning tools and technology, and give them ample support to do their jobs. Put more social workers in communities, pay them better, and give them resources to help those in need. Offer more scholarships and job training so that kids know that they have more opportunities to survive, and indeed thrive, as a productive member of society, rather than turning to the gangs they think will protect them. We talk about all these things in the rebuilding of communities around the world, and yet we still ignore our communities in this country. If we have fewer people turning to crime and more people being sent to schools and jobs, the gun law quandary becomes moot. Empower people with words and ideas, technology and tools.

Speaking of which, I'm reading "Earth: The Sequel" by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn. It's about the technologies that are going to bring about a new way of powering our world. Although it's a little too wonky at times (sorry, I just can't picture how a coal gasification system works, no matter how clearly you explain it) it's fascinating and inspiring to read about the amazing mind- and man-power that is developing ways to make solar, wind, tidal and wave energy, methane from animal waste, and biofuels made from sugar cane, perennial grasses, and even algae, economically competitive with petroleum, natural gas, and coal. All they need is the capital to make it happen. It makes me wish I was in a place financially to start a venture capital company to fund these projects.