The End of the War To End All Wars

There are many images that represent the senseless horrors of war, but the first visual that comes to my mind is that of the trenches in the Belgian and French countryside during World War I.

It is truly beyond my comprehension that the human psyche could survive the terror of a place like that. Either you were ordered to keep your torso above the firing line in order to shoot your weapon, actually climb out and charge right into the gunfire and/or bayonets of the enemy, or you cowered in your trench, shell shocked, waiting for a grenade or mortar to land in your vicinity.

Frank Buckles never served in the trenches, but at 16-1/2 years of age he lied that he was 18 in order to enlist in the Army, and he signed up to be an ambulance driver because he’d heard that it was the quickest way to get into the action. And, while ambulance drivers might not have been on the primary battlefield, they certainly were regularly in harm’s way, and, of course, their job was to transport men who had been shot or blown apart.

Frank, the last surviving U.S. soldier to have served in WWI, died of natural causes yesterday at the age of 110, and the New York Times further reports:

John Babcock, who was Canadian born, served in Canada’s army in Britain in World War I and held dual American and Canadian citizenship, died in Spokane, Wash., in February 2010 at 109.

The last known veterans of the French and German armies in World War I, Lazare Ponticelli and Erich Kästner, respectively, died a few months apart in 2008; Harry Patch, the last British soldier, died in 2009. Claude Choules, who served in Britain’s Royal Navy and now lives in Australia, and Florence Green, a member of Britain’s Women’s Royal Air Force and who lives in England, are thought to be the only two people still living who served in any capacity in the war.

It was H.G. Wells who, referring to WWI, coined the phrase the war to end war, which morphed into the war to end all wars, which morphed from idealistic propaganda into sarcasm.

Well, WWI is now about as over as over can be, and still wars continue and new wars start all the time.

So sad, yet so predictable, if you really think about it, considering that the whole idea of a war that will end all wars is an oxymoron.

You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.

–Albert Einstein

Video Fridays: Water Car?

Hat tip to my friend Jamie, who posted this video on Facebook.

I hereby present today’s Video Fridays installment.

So, a car that runs solely on water, does not produce greenhouse emissions, made by a company actively courting a Japanese manufacturer to mass produce the vehicle. I’ve heard that this is possible, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in action.

Pretty exciting stuff.

Of course I can see a couple of potential problems.

The size of the “energy generator” looks like an issue to me, taking up the entire backseat and cargo area of an already small, 2-door car. Sure, some people buy tiny 2-seaters like the Smart Car, but it’s just not practical for most drivers.

Secondly, while it’s encouraging that this car will reportedly run on all kinds of water — fresh, salt, even water content in tea and soft drinks — similar to oil, there is by no means an infinite supply of water on our planet. And, while oil itself does not support life, water does.

Aquatic habitats and the species they support are already threatened by the amount of fresh water we use just for drinking purposes, so it’s hard to image that these threats wouldn’t be exacerbated by collecting and using water as fuel. Even rain collection, it seems to me, done on a large scale, is bound to have a negative impact in the location of the collection, where plants and animals depend on it as part of the ecosystem.

Anyway, there very well maybe solutions to these problems, so I’ll just hold on to the hope that this is a good step along the way towards a better alternative to the gas guzzler.

Adventures in Skiing with a Herniated Disc

My actual spine, with slipped L5 vertebra

The last time I even mentioned skiing – my favorite winter pastime – was back in mid-December, when I reported that I’d been diagnosed with what was later called a simple herniated disc (actual x-ray to the right).

At that time, I was told not to ski.

On the barely-bright side, Mother Nature was apparently looking out for me, because for much of the time since then, the snow conditions have not been particularly great.

In the meantime, I was able to get my pain under control with plenty of rest and a cortisone injection, and my physical therapist eventually gave me the green light to work out in the gym, focusing on strengthening my core in order to better support my lumbar.

For the past three weeks, I diligently made it to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, started feeling stronger and stronger, and in the past two weeks, conditions started to improve at the ski areas.

Finally, as I mentioned in a recent post about beleaguered vacation plans, in a desperate attempt to hobble together a measly 3-night getaway,  I succumbed to the call of the slopes, and headed up to Hemlock Valley Resort with the family this past weekend.

Hemlock, while nowhere near as well-known and popular as other ski areas in the region, is very nice, small, family-oriented, situated in a beautiful location high above Harrison Lake, the snow was nicely groomed, and the crowds were non-existent. Thanks to a few lighted runs, we skied for a few hours Saturday night and then all day Sunday.

Here’s the Mrs. at the top of the Sasquatch lift. If you look closely, you can see a little bit of Harrison Lake behind her head.

So, how did my back take it all, you might ask?

The Good News

I’m not in a lot of pain. There’s been some aching in the area, but no more than in my quads and hamstrings, which haven’t been used like that in months.

The Not So Good, But Not Necessarily Terrible News

I have had a return of some of the symptoms that I had been having prior to the cortisone shot, namely the tingling running down my left leg and into my left foot. It’s nowhere near as bad as it had been, however, and I was actually able to workout at the gym yesterday, and felt quite strong.

So, what do I do now, you might ask?

Do I take the return of the sciatica symptoms as a sign that it’s too soon to be skiing, keep with my core-strengthening regimen, and maybe squeeze in one last trip at the very end of the season?

Or, do I succumb once again to the call of the slopes?

In an effort to answer those questions, I’ll simply respond with another question:

How the HELL could anyone NOT go skiing when they read something like this?

The Cruel Joke of Austerity Measures

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a real problem with the massive and still growing economic inequality on our planet.

According to Wikipedia:

A study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research at United Nations University reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000. The three richest people possess more financial assets than the lowest 48 nations, combined. The combined wealth of the 10 million dollar millionaires grew to nearly $41 trillion in 2008. In 2001, 46.4% of people in sub-Saharan Africa were living in extreme poverty. Nearly half of all Indian children are undernourished, however even among the wealthiest fifth one third of children are malnourished.

Here in the U.S., according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI):

America’s wealthiest households in 2009 had net worth that was 225 times greater than the median family net worth.

And, as the EPI points out, it is remarkable how this disparity rose to a record high during and in spite of the Great Recession.

We have a situation where a massive, global financial crisis was caused by large, under-regulated financial services companies operating in a multi-billion dollar industry…

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman:

It was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch.

…while millions of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their healthcare, etc., and the rich have gotten richer.

So, what do the rich and rich-owned politicians suggest we do about?

Why, cut government spending, of course, spending that predominantly supports the poor, working, and middle classes.

And what do they have the nerve to euphemistically call these cuts?

Austerity Measures

It’s an outright bastardization of the whole JKF ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country thing. Cuz, you see, in times of economic hardship we all must make sacrifices.

Yeah right.

Meanwhile, the spending cuts talk is heating up in the U.S. capital, according to the New York Times, “Spending by the Department of Health and Human Services would decline in 2012 for the first time in the agency’s 30-year history under President Obama’s budget request…,” and yet Republicans are mocking the budget for not cutting enough.

Here in Washington State, where we have a $5 billion dollar budget deficit, state agencies, counties, cities, other municipalities, and average citizens are bracing for a 2011-2013 biennium state budget that massively cuts spending on things that they and their constituents rely on, such as education, health care, public safety, etc., with a draft from the governor that contains no increase in taxes in a state with the most regressive tax system in the country.

All this, while news from Germany suggests that “austerity” doesn’t even work.

How long will people stand for this?

Well, as it turns out, all across the globe, people are waking up and speaking out against austerity; Sarah van Gelder in Yes! Magazine suggests that there’s a connection between the Wisconsin demonstrations and the uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world; and Paul Krugman suggests that the Wisconsin situation (a situation that has now spread to Indiana), is not about the budget per se, but rather, it’s about power, an uprising against a clear move in the U.S. from functional democracy towards a third-world-style oligarchy.

These are momentous and turbulent times. Here’s hoping that some lasting justice will come of all this.

Celebrating Eco-Progress: BMW*

So, what’s up with the asterisk?

I’ll get to that in a minute, but in keeping with my mission to give props to big businesses that make efforts towards more sustainable practices, today’s Celebrating Eco-Progress shout-out goes to Bavarian Motor Works (BMW).

Via Wired:

The company that claims to build the ultimate driving machine wants to build the ultimate green machine and is launching a brand dedicated specifically to cars with cords.

BMW announced the “i” — yep, just like Apple — brand today, promising to deliver an electric vehicle and a plug-in hybrid by 2013 while also branching out into “mobility services.” The company promised to offer a “seamless network” of services, including intelligent navigation, vehicle connectivity and even parking solutions.

It’s pretty exciting stuff and the full article is worth reading, but the other seriously notable piece that I’d highlight is…

As the Financial Times notes, “mobility” is the hot buzzword in the auto industry as automakers scramble to develop cleaner, greener vehicles. In addition to developing electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, many automakers hope to capitalize on new technology like batteries and vehicle-charging infrastructure.

To that end, BMW also is launching the “i Venture” venture capital division and bankrolling it to the tune of $100 million. General Motors, for example, has done the same thing, investing in battery technology firms, EV startups and other companies through General Motors Ventures. To offer another example, both Daimler and Toyota have invested tens of millions of dollars in Tesla Motors.

Here’s where the asterisk comes in.

When I read the name Tesla Motors a red flag instantly goes up for me. I can’t help it. I absolutely abhor the massive and growing economic inequality on our planet (I’ll have a related post out soon), and so when I think about Tesla’s $100K+ Roadster models I can’t help thinking how symbolic they are of screwed up priorities.

I mean, if you really want to address the twin crises of global climate change and a finite supply of oil, we need super-affordable cars in order to get as many people out of their gas guzzlers as soon as possible. Instead, Tesla’s first priority was to build flashy, expensive sports cars for rich people so that they can brag about how green they are.

Yes, Tesla is working on the cheaper Model S sedan, but, according to Wikipedia:

The Model S is designed as an alternative to cars such as the BMW 5 Series, the Audi A6, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, with an anticipated base price of US$57,400.

And so we come back to BMW.

The rich will spend their money and they happen to typically drive large, oil-hungry beasts. So, I suppose we should mostly celebrate efforts to get them into more ecofriendly cars. Also, you could argue that Tesla’s and BMW’s innovations and the venture capital initiatives mentioned above could lead to the development of technologies that could make it easier for other lower-end automakers to mass-produce more affordable electric cars.

So, for now, we celebrate your efforts, BMW. Keep up the good work!

Out of Office: Weekend Getaway Edition

Apropos my pity party post of last weekend, wherein I mourned my failure to manifest a week-long vacation getaway, the family and I are off today for the balmy nearly identical climes of lower British Columbia.

So, things will be quiet here at Fish & Bicycles, until at least Sunday evening, if not Monday.

If you are a new visitor, or even someone who has been here before, might I recommend having the kind of look around that you might not normally indulge in.

Via the Recurring Series drop-down menu at the top of the page, you can check out the entries I’ve posted in a variety of, well, recurring features.

Or, in the sidebar, you can click on any of the topics in the tag cloud titled Stuff About….

That should keep you busy for a while.

Now,  have a great weekend, and I’ll see you when I get back!

Lego Personality Retardation Disorder

I’m very close to submitting a suggestion for a new mental illness diagnosis to the American Psychiatric Association, for inclusion in the next edition of their industry standard, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Lego Personality Retardation Disorder (LPRD), is a condition wherein otherwise mature, responsible, adult humans have had a portion of their personality development retarded by having been exposed to Legos at a very early age.

LPRD is very, very real, make no mistake about it. I’d even say it’s an epidemic.

I mean, if I had a (enter large denomination of currency here) for every time I came across something on the interwebs about how someone decided to build a version of an ordinary object using Legos, well, as the saying goes, I’d be a wealthy man.

Alas, those payments haven’t made their way to my mailbox or PayPal account, and so I’m forced to simply complain about it here on my blog.

Take today’s discovery, via Inhabitat.

Get it? It’s a kitchen island! But, the homeowners, instead of using wood or granite or any other reasonable building material used Legos!

See! It’s cool! It’s funny! It’s creative!

No, actually, it’s a mental disorder that needs to be treated!

Listen, I’m all for staying young at heart. I truly believe that adults don’t play enough. But, at some point, to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13:11: When you’re a child you speak, think, and reason like a child, but when you grow up, it’s time to put away childish things Legos.

Honestly, this wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t for the ubiquity of it all. Here’s just a very short list:

And now, there’s even propaganda. If you can stomach it, watch how, in this clip, LPRD is premeditatedly spread to children, creating a veritable Lego Youth, if you will.

Shocking. I know.

LPRD must be stopped. Please spread the word.

Celebrating Eco-Progress: Green Business

This installment of Celebrating Eco-Progress, rather than highlighting the sustainability efforts of one company in particular, highly recommends digging into‘s 2011 State of Green Business Report.

While reading the entire report is illuminating, I thought I’d bring focus on one excerpt titled Consumer Giants Awaken to Green, which names a number of HUGE companies that have made recent commitments to sustainability.

Large consumer packaged goods companies, the so-called CPGs, have long been reluctant entrants into the green world. The makers of the leading brands of detergents, personal care products, processed foods, and other things found up and down supermarket aisles have stayed largely on the sidelines, viewing green marketing as a risky, if not losing, proposition. Suddenly, the world’s biggest brands seem to be leading the way. Kraft, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, and Unilever were among the CPGs making green pronouncements during 2010.

Elsewhere in the report, there is acknowledgment that, as I wrote last week, progress usually has an up-and-down trajectory. And yet…

What’s encouraging about this year’s report is the momentum we see, embodied in the stories my colleagues at bring every business day. While not every story is earth-shattering, the corporate commitments and achievements continue to grow every year in both size and scope. During 2010, for example, we saw major corporate commitments from Procter & Gamble and Unilever; major commitments to buy electric vehicles by GE and other companies; a new wave of water footprint assessments by several large companies; zero-waste accomplishments by GM, Kraft, and others; a new generation of green chemistry coming from Dow, BASF, and others; plant-based plastics being used by several major consumer packaged goods companies.

These are encouraging signs of progress indeed, and absolutely reasons to celebrate.

Vacation Irony Is A Cruel, Cruel Thing

costaSo this funny thing happened yesterday.

As some of you might have noticed, I posted a long-ish, self-pitying rant yesterday about how badly I need a vacation and how plans to schedule one were foiled in a maddening variety of ways.

Well, when I checked Fish & Bicycles‘ visitor stats this morning I discovered that, for some reason, the very same day, someone read through a series of entries I posted almost exactly a year ago, entries about…

…the last vacation I did manage to pull off, a fantastic, adventure-filled journey through Costa Rica. (All entries were tagged ‘Costa Rica’ and can be found here.)


In an apparently uncontrollable spasm of masochism, sitting in my office on this gloomy and blustery day, I decided to re-read the many posts from that amazing trip, a trip filled with lush, tropical rain forest, a lovely Central American culture so radically different from our own, close encounters with hummingbirds, macaws, monkeys, coati mundi, and a tarantula, swimming in pools, rivers, waterfalls, hot springs, and a bath-water-warm Pacific Ocean, etc.


For now, however, the plan is to book airline tickets this week for a trip in April for Spring Break, and rather than a tropical/beach trip, it’s looking like we’ll be heading back to a spot where we had a lot of fun in May of 2009: Joshua Tree National Park.

Rock climbing, wild flowers if we’re lucky, soaking in a hot tub under a dense field of stars in the vast desert night sky, and a brief visit with friends in Los Angeles.

Here we are doing a rain dance in a boulder field:

Missing: 1 vacation

It seemed so simple.

The son has the whole week before President’s Day off from school, a glorious thing called Midwinter Break, which, including the bookend weekends, adds up to a total of 10 days available to us.

A few measly days off around Christmas and the new year was not enough respite from months of the daily grind, and so I was highly motivated to get the hell out of Dodge and have some fun.

Planning not exactly a strong suit, I uncharacteristically plunged myself into the nightmare that is airfare shopping weeks and weeks ago, for the news that Alaska Airlines had started offering non-stop service from Bellingham to Honolulu, with an insanely cheap introductory fare of $149 round-trip, had sent me reeling with visions of palm tress, white sand beaches, and snorkeling in crystal clear blue water amidst coral and a spectrum of tropical fish.

Of course, this is Bellingham, where the winters send many otherwise happy, healthy, emotionally stable individuals into a deep, dark depression, and so, by the time I made it to the Alaska Airlines website, the $149 fare was sold out.

Trying to identify a Plan B started with a simple enough premise: sun, warmth, outdoor play. And yet, one by one, the ideas we came up with failed, either because the airfare was too steep and/or the temperatures this time of year in nearly every place we could afford to fly to didn’t meet the first two criteria.

Finally, we settled on a trip to Southern California. We’d fly into Los Angeles, rent a car, and drive to either Bishop, CA or Joshua Tree National Park, two rock climbing meccas, then drive back to Los Angeles to visit some friends there, and then home.

I even found a great fare on Virgin America and came close to buying our tickets, when we received an email informing us that our son’s youth marimba band will be playing a gig at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle on Tuesday of our vacation week…and our son insisted that he can’t miss it.

After that, we batted around a couple of ideas for shorter getaways, but nothing seemed to stick. Seeing that I was getting disappointed because I so badly need some time off from work, my wife suggested that I just take off on my own, and for a very short time I fantasized about a road trip or a train trip, I had no idea where, but it would be some time to myself, something I never do…mainly because I prefer company.

And so I emailed my friends, all working parents, and asked if anyone wanted to take off on a spur of the moment getaway, that I had no real good ideas where to go or what I wanted to do, only that I didn’t want to go to Vegas.

Yeah, like THAT was going to work.

In the end, the son, wife, and I will be heading up to Canada for a few nights late in the week and into the weekend, to Harrison Hot Springs (pictured here) and Hemlock Valley Ski Resort. Not a week-long vacation, but possibly enough of a break from normal to get us through until Spring Break.

Now, let’s see. Sun, warmth, and outdoor play in early April…