North-South Corridor: The Road Proposal that Will Not Die

Over twenty years ago, there was a proposal to build a new highway connecting downtown La Crosse with Interstate 90 and the northern suburbs. City residents wanted nothing to do with the “North-South Corridor”, as it would degrade urban livability and encroach on a beloved and ecologically important marsh. So in a 1998 referendum, La Crosse rejected the road by a 2-1 margin.

I remember the DOT presenting traffic studies predicting horrible gridlock in twenty years unless we built a road. But here we are, twenty years later, and traffic armageddon has failed to materialize. Now the DOT has returned with a series of new proposals, insisting that we will suffer horrible gridlock twenty years from now if we don’t “increase the capacity” of our local roads.

There is no reason to believe the DOT’s ominous predictions are any more accurate today than they were twenty years ago, and for La Crosse to allow North-South Corridor 2.0 to be built would be a horrible mistake. Read on

Poison at Half-Price – A Fable about Cheap Gas

Imagine a time and place when everyone was healthy. The grass was green, the air was fresh, and attractive birds sang sweetly over clean streets.

Then one day someone started selling poison from a shop on the corner. People started using this poison because they thought it made their lives easier.

But the poison was highly addictive. Users quickly became dependent on the poison, and they sacrificed large portions of their incomes to this addiction.

Worst of all, widespread use of the poison caused the grass and the skies to turn brown, and the only birds to be seen over the dirty and trashy streets were nasty pigeons.

Then a new generation grew up watching their parents struggle with this addiction. They saw what the poison was doing to their world, so they developed ways to do without it.

As more of these young people came of age, the dealer on the corner had a harder time moving his product. So over the past few months the price kept coming down in order to boost business and clear inventory.

In effect, the poison dealer on the corner is now having a half-price sale. I don’t know how the rest of this story turns out.

The poison dealer hopes that his half-price promotion will create a new generation of addicts. Once they’re hooked, he can go back to charging full price. In fact, it won’t be too long before he charges double the normal price. The addicts might grumble, but by then they’ll have no choice but to pay up.

Meanwhile, the world would become darker, dirtier, and hotter.

On the other hand, we could recognize that these low prices are only temporary. We could remember the exorbitant prices from just a few years ago, and we could see how easily those prices can happen again.

This poison drains money from the pockets of its users. Using this poison adds stress and misery to our lives, and it degrades the quality of life for everyone – users and non-users alike.

Even if it’s half-price, it’s still poison!
Even if it’s free, it’s still poison.

If you don’t use the poison, this is no time to start. Addictions are easy to fall into, but much harder to break.

If you are a current user of the poison, this half-price sale has given you some extra money. So instead of spending it on more poison, why not invest that money into kicking the poison habit? Imagine never needing to buy any poison ever again.

The dealer on the corner is getting desperate, so we must be doing a lot of the right things. Let’s keep it up.

Double Rainbow Over purplearth


When the sun came out during a rain shower, we knew there had to be a rainbow someplace.

This image is a three-frame composite, looking east from our back yard this afternoon.

We didn’t notice the faint outer rainbow until we looked at the pictures.

After a week of rain, this was a good sign going into the weekend.

It’s Corporate Greed, Stupid

Back when Bill Clinton was running for president, his campaign office famously had a sign on the wall that read, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” It was how they reminded themselves what issue most concerned the voting public. Smart politicians would recognize that most people see corporate greed as the root of our economic problems, and adjust the sign on their wall accordingly.

For two generations, we have watched a handful of rich people hoard the wealth while the rest of us struggle more and more to get by. There’s a limit to how much the monarchs of our world can impoverish the rest of us before angry mobs with torches and pitchforks appear at the castle gates, and Occupy Wall Street is the modern equivalent of that angry mob.

Corporate funded media pundits feign mystification as to the grievances or demands of the 99-percenters. The truth is that these shills can’t say “corporate greed” (grievance) or “economic justice” (demand) out loud. After all, they’re employed by some of the largest corporations in the world, so they wouldn’t dare say anything favorable about the demonstrators. So all they have to offer are insults, ridicule and shoulder-shrugging.

Let me illustrate how greedy the banks have become during my lifetime. My first savings account had an interest rate that fluctuated between 4% and 5%. So if I had $10 in the bank for a year, I had $10.50 at the end of the year. That’s right, I made 5% interest on $10. My student loans had a 7% interest rate, and consumer loans typically were at 9%. Credit card interest rates of 12% were considered an outrage.

So if the bank charged 8% interest on a loan, their “cost” was the 5% they paid the depositors, so they made a 3% profit on the loan. (This sets aside their ability to loan out $5-10 for every dollar in deposits.) Bankers had no problem making a decent living under these conditions.

But now a savings account yields 0.5%, and that’s only if you have thousands of dollars in the bank. Meanwhile, consumer loans below 10% are rare, and credit card interest rates that low are little more than a dream. So the entire (typical) 12% interest rate the bank makes on a loan is gravy, since the depositors get next to nothing. Yet the banksters cry for more, and every time their price gouging is restrained, they find another fee to raise to make up for it.

This is one example among hundreds of how the rich are ripping off the rest of us, and of how the American dream has been crushed. As we were growing up, we were told this was a great country because if you played by the rules, worked hard, and got educated, then you would be taken care of and there was no limit to what you could achieve. But now millions of people who played along find their jobs shipped off to China, and those lucky enough to still have jobs work at poverty wages with no benefits.

So what was once the most prosperous country in the world has become a feudal society, where the money monarchs steal, swindle and hoard the wealth while leaving the rest of us with nothing. And then they wonder what the Occupy Wall Street movement is complaining about.

The great success of the Occupy movement (as of now) is that a national conversation has been started. We are aware that the system is broken, and we know why it’s broken. Now we must develop and enact a series of solutions to bring fairness, equality and opportunity back into our society.

I have a list of ideas that I intend to throw out into the ether for discussion in a series of posts over the coming days and weeks (as time permits). The money monarchs now own every square of the metaphorical Monopoly board we live on, and they’ve also seized all of the money. Now we need to change the rules so that the rest of us can find a way to survive and thrive.

Stay tuned.

Proposals (updated Nov 9, 2011):
How Much is Enough? The Case for a Maximum Wage

A Month of Storms in 100 Seconds

RoZ and I are both weather geeks, and I’m a sucker for time-lapse video. I also think the brief animation of weather photos (satellite images, radar, etc.) that we see on TV or the Internet are kind of lame.

Knowing that the satellite picture is regenerated every half hour (and that the weather was about to get interesting), I set up our computer to automatically grab the image every half hour. I let the automatic frame grabber run until the weather got boring again, and assembled the 1300+ images into the video presented below.

You’ll see the progress of hurricane/tropical storm Irene, Lee, Katia, Nate, Maria and Ophelia. In between, there’s a persistent low pressure system that whirls over the midwest.


Windstorm Closes Bike Trail

We had plans to spend the weekend bikepacking overnight from La Crosse to Sparta and back (30 miles each way, camping in Sparta). The weather forecast looked good… the muggy upper 90’s would give way to dry air in the mid 80’s, with little wind. But it’s always the transition from hot to not-so-hot that creates trouble.

Friday night (July 1) a strong wind blew through the house before we could get windows closed. Fridge magnets and the stuff under them were blown all over the kitchen. A large crystal was blown off a window sill. We later learned our area had experienced winds up to 80 mph. It started hard and suddenly, then died down after a few minutes. It started to feel like deja vu from the tornado we had in May, and it lasted about the same amount of time.

We finished packing for our ride, and early Saturday afternoon we set out for the edge of town and the state bike trail, oblivious to the situation left behind by the storm. We went about 5 miles and found this…

A downed tree blocks the city bike trail on the north side of La Crosse.

A downed tree blocks the city bike trail on the north side of La Crosse.

We spoke with some people coming from the other direction, they told us that there were lots of trees down blocking the trail, all the way to Sparta. Some were large and others were small. “Too many to count.”

Just to get across that first large tree, we would have had to take the bike trailer off the bike and then find a way to finagle everything over the tree. That’s not so hard on a regular bike, but it’s nearly impossible with a loaded 10-foot bike, plus a loaded 3-foot trailer. If there were just one tree we could probably deal with it, but knowing there were a lot more of them down, we decided to turn around and go home.

Weirdly enough, we didn’t get any rain, just lots of wind and lightning. It did cool everything off though, and that’s a good thing.

RoZ adjusts gear on The Limo after we turned it around at the down tree blocking the city trail on the north side of La Crosse.

RoZ adjusts gear on The Limo after we turned it around at the down tree blocking the city trail on the north side of La Crosse.

Obbie adds: This bike trail is a major connection to La Crosse for users of the state bike trail system. I wonder how long a local highway – or even a minor street – would be allowed to remain impassible due to a downed tree.

La Crosse Tornado

Today a tornado touched down in our neighborhood. In the Grand Scheme of Things, it was a relatively minor tornado, but it did some strange things to our neighborhood.

Our situation: We’re OK, and our house is OK. There’s a small corner of our metal roof that’ll have to be nailed back down, and some pieces of our neighbor’s maple tree that need to be picked up, but our “damage” is minor compared to others within a block or two of us.

Read our storm story after the jump, and look at our photo gallery of the aftermath.

Read on

La Crosse Tornado – photo gallery

A series of photos from our neighborhood in the aftermath of the tornado we got yesterday (Sunday, May 22, 2011).

You can read our tornado story here.

One Hail of a Storm


Goldilocks wouldn’t care for the kind of Spring we’ve been having. Our normal days should be in the low 50s (low teens C), but it’s stubbornly been ten degrees colder than that. So for a change, today it got warm… a July kind of warm.

They told us there would be storms. There are always storms when the temperature changes this radically. But the early afternoon was calm, warm and mostly sunny.

We were on the phone with a friend when, at about 4:35, we noticed it was dark and we could hear thunder. RoZ pulled up the weather page and saw the words “Tornado Warning.” That got our attention and we got off the phone.

At 4:45, it was pouring rain but it wasn’t windy at all. The weather people were saying the tornado would be here in five minutes. However, we weren’t panicking too badly, as no one had physically seen the tornado (it was “detected by doppler radar”), and we had a good view in the direction it was supposed to be coming from.

At 4:50, the hail started. We’ve each lived thru hail a handful of times, but never anything bigger than peas or marbles. This sounded like rocks hitting the house, and we saw ice balls nearly the size of golf balls bouncing in the yard.

We scrambled around to close windows and “monitor” the progress of this event as best we could. Suddenly, the rain and hail let up. At 4:55, the sun came out, and Obbie went into the yard to collect some hail stones for closer inspection. Here they are….

RoZ holds a sampling of hail stones from the La Crosse hailstorm of April 10, 2011

RoZ holds a sampling of hail stones from the La Crosse hailstorm of April 10, 2011

Not quite “golf ball” size, but definitely at least the size of quarters. At any rate, this is the largest hail either of us has experienced in our ample lifetimes.

Miraculously, all of our windows are intact, and we don’t have a car to worry about being dinged up right now. We are also thankful this didn’t happen a few weeks later, when delicate young plants will be trying to establish themselves in our garden.

This coming week, the economy will improve for insurance adjusters, body shops, and window people.

Why Are Dead Birds Falling Like Rain?

There has been a disturbing wave of mass killings of birds lately. First in Arkansas, then in Louisiana, and again in Sweden. Every time reporters consult scientists or local authorities, the pundits write it off to birds “getting stressed” (i.e. freaking out) during the New Year’s fireworks, and either running into things or each other… or dropping dead from exhaustion.

Frankly, I don’t buy it. If thousands of birds (oh, and don’t forget the fish) died from fireworks on New Years Eve, why is this the first time it happened? After all, this isn’t the first time there were fireworks on New Years Eve. If the birds died from fireworks this year, why didn’t they die from fireworks last year? Or any of the previous… oh, maybe fifty years?

Something Else is going on. Most of us can do little more than speculate on what it is. But something new and very unusual happened to these birds that didn’t happen before. Fireworks – however bad for the birds they might be – are not new or unusual