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A few weeks ago I was in the family room listening to music, when a friend turned to study a picture on the wall. It shows a smiling young man in his Navy uniform, white cap tilted back just so, the three stripes of a petty officer first class showing conspicuously, wire-rimmed glasses with brown eyes underneath. “Is that you?” he asked, sounding fairly certain he had got the identification right.
Border security is this week’s life-and-death issue, crucial to progress on reforming our hideously dysfunctional immigration system. They insist a leakproof, impassable, impenetrable border is a must for national security and economic stability, an urgent priority demanding billions more, on top of billions already spent. Historically, this is a newfound interest. In the early years of the last century my mother was born and raised not far north of the imaginary line in the Sonoran desert we call the U.S.-Mexico border. Her father, my grandfather, was a mining engineer who arrived in southeast Arizona before statehood to help extract copper from the dirt and rock on this remote fringe of the American West. As my mother spoke of her childhood in the copper towns, she described an international culture where the border had little significance in day-to-day life. Mexicans seeking work simply walked across. American companies, the mines and the railroads, openly recruited workers south of the line. Mexico willingly supported the northward migration. U.S. border patrols were new and scarce. There were disruptions, when thousands fled north during the Mexican revolution, or when mining companies feared unionization among Mexican workers, but securing the border wasn’t a major issue. There was an economic and cultural connection.
You spend a lot for salmon, or perhaps we should say, your investment is great. If you live in the Northwest and use electricity, which is most of us, the bill came to $644 million in 2012 alone, according to the Northwest Power Planning and Conservation Council. That is what the Bonneville Power Administration paid for “fish and wildlife enhancement,” almost all for salmon. That is nearly a third of what BPA charges utilities for power from federal dams. That’s just one year. The bill comes to $13.1 billion since 1978, which makes the effort to resuscitate the Columbia’s suffering salmon runs “the world’s most expensive effort in ecological management and restoration,” wrote Ray Hilborn, University of Washington fisheries biologist, in an April commentary in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I first saw it linked in a commentary by Bill Rudolph of Northwest Fishletter.
It has become an annual project, trying to get some idea of what our best students are like, what our top graduating high school seniors have done, what they hope to achieve, what they are thinking in these days of great change. Ask, and you cannot fail to be impressed, to be inspired, and find a source of hope. This year a call to Principal Mike Hill at Cascade High School, asking to interview any willing graduating senior, put me face to face with Neal Champagne, son of Susan and Joseph Champagne of Leavenworth. I met a young man who is confident, accomplished, strong, intelligent, and impressive beyond words.
Today, June 6, is the 69th anniversary of a day that decided the future of western civilization. We in our comfort and security find it easy to overlook such things. As we fight over petty issues, as our troops abroad sacrifice in obscure lands we would prefer to forget, the memory passes that on one day the fate of the world was in the hands of our fathers and grandfathers, who risked everything in a decisive battle on the shores of northern France.
Japan and Korea act irrationally in response to irrational fears, and refuse some imports of U.S. wheat because a few plants of genetically modified grain were found on the same continent, perhaps even the same state, where grows the wheat they normally purchase, which by the way is genetically modified by other means. The Japanese fear that wheat with traits refined by human intervention may contaminate wheat refined by human intervention. And this is supposed to make me desire that the state of Washington require labels listing breeding information for some plants in processed food, plants singled out for no rational purpose. The wheat market crisis has been taken as a “shot in the arm” by the backers of Initiative 522, which would require labeling of foods with genetically modified ingredients.
Class of 2013: Congratulations. That’s all I have to offer. I know it’s not much. You can’t spend my best wishes. A pat on the back won’t get you a cup of coffee, but the truth of it is, a pat on the back is all most of us have to give. There were plenty of people in the last 12 years who gave you things of genuine value — parents, teachers and friends who cherish you and helped steer you to where you are today. Their good work is just about done. The next steps are up to you, and that’s important, because what choices you make in the next few years will go a long way to set the course for the rest of your life. There are, and will be, great opportunities for you, and that’s a great thing. It’s what you earned in 12 years, a chance to go on.
It is entirely possible, even likely, that recently you have driven over a bridge officially rated as “structurally deficient.” It is also likely that this deficiency put you in no added danger whatsoever. There are many dangers on the road far greater than unsound bridges. That doesn’t keep the condition of our bridges from making news when there is a dramatic failure, and a full span of an Interstate 5 bridge falling into the Skagit River certainly qualifies as dramatic. Across the country, reporters are delving into the records to find there are bridges nearby not in tip-top shape and not of modern design, reporting this with various degrees of alarm. A bridge collapse is an excellent prop if you are inclined to push for added investment in infrastructure and higher taxes to pay for it. It hardly matters that the Skagit bridge collapse was the result of a dated design meeting a freak accident, and had nothing to do with lack of maintenance or neglect. Added investment in transportation and our highway infrastructure has been wise and beneficial, and raising the state’s gasoline tax to add to the effort may be good policy, but the Skagit bridge’s falling down is not necessarily the best motivator. The truth is, we have been investing in our bridges, and their safety, spending upwards of $21 million on the effort in the last two years alone. The effects can been seen nearby.
Search for a plan: The Affordable Care Act is starting to take shape for Washington citizens. There is a lot of work to be done, but here is what is happening now, as reported by the Office of Insurance Commissioner:
I am not a trout. I hope that comes as no surprise. I do not live my life cruising the murky depths in constant search of food. I am not a heartless, cold-blooded predator who will ingest nearly anything that wiggles, including my children. I am a predator with ethics. Despite that, I feel not the slightest bit of remorse over enticing a famished trout to bite down on a sharpened piece of wire, connected to me via a strong cord of spun nylon run through the eyelets of a graphite spring. I am strangely excited at the moment of capture. I revel as he struggles to escape. I am enthralled when he is finally trapped in my net, and I can lift him by the tail and belly and show him to my friends. I admit, fishing is kind of strange. It’s also a lot of fun, even in adverse circumstances. On certain days when everything goes right, it is a total, absolute blast. I have just returned from my spring vacation, which I humbly report was an absolute blast. I went fishing.