No more congressional pages

When I was a youth, back in the olden days, I got to serve as a page in the Oklahoma state legislature.  It filled me with awe, getting to be on the floor of where laws were made, carrying messages for congressmen when they signaled to the row of us sitting in front and bringing them coffee.  It was a great civic experience.

But now the House of Representatives of the United States of America has canceled its 200-year program, in which some 70 young people come to Washington to serve and to learn as congressional pages.   Congressional leaders who made the decision cite the cost.  $5 million.  But since when does Congress care about that kind of chump change?

I suspect the real reason is the difficulty of safeguarding the pages against the sexual predators in Congress.  Think Reps. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.),   Dan Crane (R-Ill.), and Mark Foley (R-Florida), all of whom were caught in sex scandals with pages.  Better to protect Congressmen than to protect the pages.

How far I have fallen from the respect for lawmakers that I had when I was a page!

 

See End of House Page Program is bittersweet for some lawmakers – The Washington Post.

He could-a been the champion of the world

Our week that began with an earthquake ended with a hurricane.  But, as it happened, the latest graphic of Hurricane Irene’s path showed the outer edge of the system passing by just 15 or so miles away.  So it really missed us.  We had some rain and wind, but it wasn’t bad at all, and the power stayed on.  (Which, for this part of Virginia, is remarkable, since gentle breezes are often enough to put us in the dark for hours.)

The hurricane as a whole wasn’t as bad as feared, though it killed 18 people, knocked out power for millions, flooded some areas and did other damage.  Now comes the second guessing, criticizing the governors for evacuating areas and making a bigger deal of the thing than it turned out to be.  But I think the officials did what they needed to do.  No one could tell what the hurricane would do.  An excess of caution and of preparation is better than the blind optimism and lack of preparation that we saw with Hurricane Katrina.   A storm whirling like a buzzsaw (a splendid description I read in one report) running along the entire East Coast is surely something to worry about.  That it lost power and turned into a mere tropical storm by the time it hit New York City is something we should just be thankful for.

But I do need to report something:  Many of the plants in our garden were blown down.  The result was something I can only describe as a crop circle.  Which means that aliens landed in our garden!   In a hurricane!

Do any of the rest of you have hurricane stories?

I felt the earth. move. under my feet

I was writing in my office at school when, around 1:51 yesterday, the building and my desk with the built in bookshelf started shaking.  Hard.  Back and forth for thirty seconds.   My mind went just blank, and when I gathered my wits, right at the time it was over, I realized, Earthquake!

I have never experienced one of those and have always been kind of paranoid about it, mildly worried whenever I set foot in California.  I had heard from my California friends that they went through them all the time, that they were usually just mild ripples.  This was no mild ripple!  It was a hard long shake.  It turned out to have been 5.9 on the Richter scale, no less, with an epicenter of around 100 miles away from us in central Virginia.   We are close to Washington, D.C., where I’m told people downtown rushed into the street and the Pentagon and White House were evacuated.  The quake was felt for hundreds of miles, including in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, where JFK airport was shut down.  And yet there seems to be no damage to speak of and no one hurt.  (If you hear reports otherwise, please report them in a comment.)

Some of you readers must have felt it too.  If you did, please report and give your location.  Let’s see if we can calculate how far this thing reached.

Rest & restlessness

Well, we are back from our Alaskan cruise.  What a great vacation.  A cruise ship offers rest and relaxation, the beauties and sublimities of nature, the benefits of civilization, learning interesting things, fine food and drink, entertainment (shows, live music, movies), time to read for sheer pleasure, quality and quantity time with whomever you are traveling with (in my case, my wonderful wife of 40 years).   You can make a vacation of any one of those, but a leisurely cruise gives you all of them.  We had a week of utter enjoyment.  So why, after a week, was I so ready for it to end?

One might say that I need to be productive and all that.  But I really believe this is a fault.  St. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God.   Restlessness is surely a function of the Fall.  In Heaven we will rest from our labors.  We will enjoy a permanent vacation, with pleasures forevermore.  We cannot even conceive of what that kind of existence would be like. And the foretastes we might have of that on earth–such as a vacation–can be hard for us to handle for very long.

What strange beings we are!

Hard life

One of the things that has struck me, as we cruise by in luxury, is just hard life is out here for the people who live in the small towns and remote areas of Alaska.  Skagway is mainly a cruise ship town in the summer, with an influx of businesses that descend on the place for a few months to sell jewelry and cheap souvenirs to us tourists, but some 800 people live there year-round.  Our tour guide was telling us about how the winter brings 15 feet of snow accumulation, winds that routinely reach 50 mph, temperatures that average between zero and 10 below—sometimes dropping to -30 with -100 windchills, and, what is even worse than that, darkness that lasts all day.   The sun is over the horizon for about  28 minutes with only 4 hours of daylight.  In Skagway barges come in once a week with supplies for the grocery stores and such, and the pickings can get pretty bare by the end of the week.  (Forget about fresh vegetables.)   Skagway was the model for the town in Northern Exposure.  (Indeed, there is no doctor.  There is a nursing station, but if you need a doctor you have to travel six hours on the ferry or fly out to Juneau.)  But the people are still happy, right?  Well, the rate for alcoholism and suicide is many times what it is in the lower 48 states.

I could appreciate living in a place like Anchorage (pop. 300,000), which has the diversions of civilizations and economic activity.  But in the remote towns people make their living mainly by fishing (think The Most Dangerous Catch, which is about fishing in Alaska) or by doing other kinds of physical labor that is much more difficult due to the challenging conditions (think Ice Road Truckers, which is about driving a truck in Alaska).

But surely living out here must have its compensations.  The Northern lights.  The frontier spirit.   None of our tour guides, after all, have been full-time residents, just followers of the tourist trade who go back to California when it gets cold.  I’d like to hear from some real Alaskans!  Please comment, telling us how things really are where you live.  What are the joys that keep you there?

In the meantime, I salute the hardy souls who live through the Alaskan winters, the remnants of those pioneers and frontiersmen who made our country great.   Most of us Americans have grown soft, unable to endure even the most minor hardships, so no wonder we are in decline.   I honor you Alaskans, even as I myself am thinking, I don’t think I want to retire here.

At sea

On the cruise just entering Glacier Bay.  We just saw some whales.  What luxury this ship offers.  I’m sure my ancestors never got above the orlop deck with the bilge water and the ballast.   But this is a dream.    Internet connection is very slow and–as one of you commenters helpfully and correctly informed us–VERY EXPENSIVE  (75 cents a minute!).   Plus, the carefree existence here keeps us insulated from all the bad news of the outside world.  So I don’t have much to say.   (I did catch a stock feed that informed me of how the economy is collapsing.)   Anyway, my posting might be irregular but I’ll do the best I can.  We disembark in Vancouver, Canada, the middle of next week.


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