Addressing Heat

It has occurred to some of you, by now, that it is hot outside. This is the time of year in the mountain west when sentiments like “golly it’s hot” and “jee whiz it’s a scorcher” and “goddamn this fucking season I hope it burns in hell but then it would probably like that, wouldn’t it,” ease to the forefront of our minds. This is normal. Completely reasonable.

Summer in the west is good for like 10 days. When the last of the snow has retreated from all but the most stubborn mountaintops, usually some time early in July, the countdown begins. The heat is novel then. Spring is over, the wildflowers have bloomed and withered, and the rivers have eased into their banks for lazy floating and comfortable wading. High alpine trails are newly open and if you really feel like it you can probably still figure out how to go skiing.

But the honeymoon is short lived, and the summer marriage unhappy. Now, confronted with an indefinite forecast of 95 degree days and no breath of moisture it’s our plight to sit back, inhale woodsmoke, and try to nap until October. Here are a few tips for addressing heat and making it through until things look up.

Go To The Movies – The tried and true escape from any insufferably hot afternoon: head down to the multi-plex and catch a movie. The theater is usually held at a comfortable 38 deg F, so bring a blanket if you’re a cold person. Uncomfortable with paying $35 for a movie and crying in front of strangers when Happy Gilmore gets his grandmother’s house back*? Check out an independent theater. The Roxy in Missoula shows the good ones and has live theater and jokes and stuff, too. Also you can buy beer there. Go find one!

Go To The River – This is imperfect advice. You need a river, for starters, and one that doesn’t light on fire. Then you need something to do there, either a kayak, some sort of floating board/tube, or a bunch of beer. It helps to have done sit ups all winter, you lazy bum. Also melanin. You’ll enjoy the river more in direct proportion with how much melanin you have. Lacking float toys, abs, and melanin, I suppose you can always just bring more beer.

Pretend It’s Not Bad – Some people can do this. They either pretend that it’s not hot, or that they like the heat. These people are either liars or daemons. Only daemons like the heat. Do not trust these people.

Think Cold Thoughts – Book a hut trip. Fire up the TGR forums. Shop for skis. Do anything you can to distract yourself from that creeping feeling that you’ll never be comfortable again.

Literally Run Away – Some people spend this time in the alpine. I hear it’s still cold above like 24,000′. And that the skiing is good in Portillo. And the mountain biking is good in Iceland. And it never gets hot in Bellingham. Just. Run. Away.

Go to Space Like running away to Iceland, but better. It’s cold in space. Like, -273 deg C cold. God that sounds good right now. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

 

 

*or whatever.

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Cars Are Coffins

Last week we talked about cars. We talked about how they’re great. About how they make it really easy to move things like refrigerators. And about how the argument that riding bikes instead of driving is healthier, more affordable, and environmentally responsible* is unassailable.

And then we claimed that bikes are safer, too. And that raised some eyebrows.

“But cars come with a protective candy shell,” protested the denizens of the internet. “It keeps my heirs safe so my dynasty will last 1,000 years!” And then the anecdotes flowed, “I rolled my suburban one time and it saved my life.” If someone fired a gun at you and missed, would you thank them for saving your life?

See because after heart disease, cancer, and respitory disease, cars are the most lethal things in America (not Syrian refugees!). 37,000 people die in these things every year in this country, and the majority of them are in single vehicle collisions. Believe it or not, if you don’t die in a hospital some day way down the road, you’re probably going to die alone on a highway. So you have that going for you.

But you’re careful! You never drive drunk, or text, or get drowsy, or mess with the radio, or eat a cheeseburger. You follow every law, you never speed, and you signal your turns for four seconds before you change lanes. You are perfect. We know, and we applaud you. But there’s still the idiots.

Let’s have an experiment. Go grab a piece of paper and a pencil, I’ll wait right here.

Ok.

Good.

You got one.

Now, draw a box. Now, draw a box that looks just like it, right next door. It should look like this:

Now in each box draw ten dots, and imagine that they’re all just bouncing around, randomly, doing their thing. Most of the time they’ll just bounce off the sides of the box and goe on their way. But every once in a while they’ll bump into each other. This is sort of like driving, right? Right.

In the left box, let’s say each dot travels at 15mph and weighs 200lbs. In the right box, let’s say each dot travels at 45mph, and weights 3,000lbs. That means that in the right box, we have 675 times more kinetic energy cruising around, just waiting to smear you around the pavement. It also means that the dots bump into each other three times more often than in the left box. And that’s assuming modest speeds and a reasonably sized passenger car. Bring that 1-ton King Ranch up to highway speeds and it doesn’t take long for you to be at the helm of your very own murder rocket.

And that’s scary, right? Murder rockets just flying around our nation’s highways and school zones? Texting and driving. The drunks. It’s almost like you need a Yukon Denali just to survive your 3/4 mile commute to the office.

We have to look after our own, after all. If everyone else is driving a murder rocket, then your murder rocket is really more like a murder defense rocket. This point of view is totally understandable. It makes every bit as much sense as filling schools with guns to prevent shootings, and is the foundation for North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Wayne LaPierre and the Kims are smart dudes. They know what’s best for them, and they’re not afraid to pursue it. What’s wrong with that? So hop in, fire up the V10, and next time spring for the grill guard for a little extra safety.

 

 

*booooooriiiiiiiiiiing

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Cars are Great

There is, among the set who truly believe that we would all be happier, healthier, better-off people by abolishing cars and just riding bikes everywhere, an inconvenient truth.

See because it’s beyond dispute that commuter culture is killing us. Americans burn 5.9 billion gallons of fuel, every day, sitting in traffic. We spent 38 hours a year just getting to and from work, 80% of American adults get less exercise than they should, and there’s an ever inrcreasing risk that as our national roads infrustructure crumbles around us that it will literally crumble beneath us.

A rational person looks at the efficiency of the bicycle, the time saving benefits of combining exercise and commuting, the sheer horror of sitting in traffic, and concludes that yes obviously  riding a bike is better than driving for pretty much every application that we really encounter from day to day. It is more affordable, faster, healthier, and arguably safer. But that person fails to recognize what we, those advocates for bicycle travel, collectively fail to consider.

Gasoline is awesome. Cars are great.

Seriously.

Fossil fuels store an unbelievable amount of energy, and you can just carry it around with you. For a few bucks, you can cruise in absolute, climate controlled comfort for hundreds of miles without every having to stand up on your own. There are buttons so that you don’t even need to use your feet. Soon you’ll be able to sit in the back while Siri just drives for you. It really is incredible.

The central challenge in addressing the public health issue of car culture isn’t a new one. Gas is awesome. So is nicotine.

The anti-smoking movement has been reasonably successful, although it wasn’t easy. Adult American smokers have dropped from 40% of the population in the 1960s to less than 20% today. This happened in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that cigarettes cause cancer and an unprecedented effort by the tobacco industry to convince us that it’s fine (almost sounds like climate change, doesn’t it?).

But the conversation focused primarily on health and the social pressures that drive people to pick up smoking in the first place. Ad campaigns focused on peer pressure and tried to dismantle the notion that smoking makes a person cool, all while ignoring the essential fact that at the end of the day, nicotine makes you feel really, really, good.

The admission that smoking really does help with weight loss, increase energy and heighten focus adds credibility to claims that the costs outweigh the benefits. Simply saying there’s no reason to smoke is demonstrably untrue.

It’s the same deal with cars. They really are great. You can carry a ton of stuff without doing anything. You can sit comfortably and teleport to work. You can just roll up the windows when the scary guy at the red light tries to sell you a StreetWise.

Cars are great the same way that nicotine and chocolate fudge are great. They serve a real purpose and make us feel good. But that’s the thing about being an adult. At some point we’re supposed to recognize that what tastes good isn’t necessarily good for us. You wouldn’t feed your kid fudge and a pack of Newports for dinner, so why would you drive them to school every day?

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Celebrate the Fourth of July with Public Land

Ah, the Fourth of July. It’s the best holiday. The greatest. Huge. The best. It’s the best day to cram those pasty netherregions into this year’s latest swim fashion and bide our time until our thighs get all sweaty and stick together. It’s the best time to test the logical extreme of a sunburn. And the best day to burn boat gas by the barrel, to endanger the lives of friends, loved ones, and unsuspecting strangers with over the counter bombs, and to torment our pets just for the hell of it

Because this is more than “just a Tuesday day-drunk.” Today, when we slather that fourth ballpark frank with cream cheese and wash it down with a Bud Light Lime, it’s a celebration. A celebration of American ingenuity, and of forward thinking founders. A celebration of the up-by-your-bootstraps scrappiness that’s so well represented in our legislature. It’s a celebration of mankind’s greatest infrastructure project: The God Damn Constitution.

And we earned it. We deserve it. If simply being an American isn’t reason enough to throw a party, why did three million bad hombres sneak over the border just to vote? See? You can’t answer that.

Like any red blooded American, I’m going to be right there with you tomorrow. Hamming it up, brandishing a flag, dropping superlatives like the People’s Elbow. It’s going to be the best 4th of July ever. The best. But before we go down that rabbithole, I’m probably going to go for a bike ride, and I hope that you do too.

#keepitpublic. or at least #keepitoninstagram

Or you can go rock climbing or something. Or float down a river. Or walk to that park near your house and see what the weirdos are up to. Because any celebration of what makes this place (still) great would be incomplete without a nod to public land.

It’s easy to take for granted that we each own 640 million acres of public land. That’s an inconceivably large number, and most of it isn’t anywhere near your house. But it’s a representation of our strongest claim to greatness*. It’s a real manifestation of the idea that we’re in this together, and working to leave something better behind. And it’s more endangered than Grizzly Bears.

It bears repeating that the Republican platform explicitly calls for the de-federalization of our shared public land, and to charge states with the herculeian task of managing it. Our congress has made a game of eviscerating Federal land management budgets to ensure that those agencies cannot succeed – and that was before President Trump’s budget proposal futher reduces the USFS trail maintenace budget from $77 million to $12 million.

In the age of beetle kill and wild weather, only a couple years of deferred maintenance can wipe a trail from the map. These budgets are a recipe to disenfranchise the public from our land through strategic neglect.

So on the 4th of July this year I’m going for a bike ride. Who knows how long that trail will be around.

 

*it’s sure as shit not healthcare or education

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Sample Size

I guess there’s an election in Georgia today.

The candidates were interviewed on the radio this morning, sticking to talking points, defending the $50 million dollars they spent on the contest, and reiterating that old trope that we “all need to get out and vote.”

Relative to developed countries and autocratic dictatorships, US voter turnout is pretty low. In Belgium, turnout among eligible voters is 87%. In Sweden it’s 83%, and 80% in Denmark. Even Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which hover around 60%, embarrass the United States’ 55% turnout rate. And that’s not even to mention the landslide victory of Saddam Hussein’s 2002 campaign, where he won every single vote from Iraq’s 11 million eligible voters. That’s an engaged electorate!

And so it’s not surprising that we hear this a lot. “We all need to get out and vote, because every vote counts.” Somehow we’ve got this idea in our heads that in order to really know the will of the people, the sample size needs to equal the population size.

What?

We don’t count all of anything. That’s the whole point of statistics.

The fact of the matter is that a sample size of 55% is ridiculously high, and absolutely representative of the population. Plenty of us are voting. The issue isn’t whether our sample size is large enough. It’s whether the sample itself is representative of the population.

And so now this triggers the whole “gerrymandering” talk, which, if you want to have this conversation over Thanksgiving Dinner or in a wedding toast or something we suggest you use the term “congressional redistricting” so your uncle (you know the one) doesn’t get up and start yelling. But anyway gerrymandering is this idea that a political party can draw the lines of voting districts in a way that it benefits that party.

Here’s a picture that I found on the internet that does a pretty good job of showing how it works:

Now, this has been going on as long as our country has – it got started before our first Congressional Election in 1789, and both parties run with it as far as they can when they have the opportunity. But see now it’s running into trouble. Republican redistricting has had issues on the past on account of it being just totally, unapologetically racist, but less flagrant examples have a hard time being challenged in a meaningful way. But a real challenge could change as early as next year, when the Supreme Court will rule on whether a Wisconsin district map unconstitutionally limits the influence of Democratic voters.

It’s far from a sure bet which way the court will fall on this one. The only real conversations now indicate that it’s going to be a narrowly divided vote. But there’s a chance!

It’s easy, these days, to lose faith in our elective process. We’ve seen two of our last three presidents win the office while losing the popular vote. We’ve seen Citizens United pave the way for unprecedented, untraceable campaign financing and super annoying phone calls pretty much around the clock. And we’ve sat around for pretty much our entire nation’s history as the ruling party plays make-it-take-it with congressional districting maps. It looks like finally, we may see a win for those people who would like to see a government that represents its electorate.

It’s time we stop complaining about 55% voter turnout, and start taking the right sample.

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