I discover Permaculture

14 August 2017

It all started with this guy…

David Bellamy 2005

David Bellamy, 2005, by Begaoz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61342374


British botanist and educator David Bellamy created an educational TV series “Bellamy on Botany” that I watched on Canadian public television while I was in high school. The point I remembered most about it was how Spain had been overgrazed, which eventually deprived it of tree cover and totally changed its climate and local ecosystems.
Bellamy was just using Spain as an example. This same thing has happened, and is happening, throughout the world. This is sometimes called “desertification.” Though it is more than unlikely that all deserts here on Earth were caused by overgrazing, when you let cattle or sheep graze through a forest, or burn down the forest (as has been done in Brazil) to create grazing land, then you have, at minimum, lost a forest with everything that goes with it.

Thus I became interested in attempts to reforest land of all types, and hoped I could some day try my hand at it.

California

Here in California, there has been a water supply problem for a long time.

In the north, damming of local rivers has provided the more regulated flow needed by modern agriculture, southern California had to reach out of state many years ago to supply its water needs. All across the state, ground water is also used. Though there are many reasons that water supplies can vary from year to year, amount of precipitation is the most obvious. And in Sacramento in the summer, that can get very obvious, as it might not rain at all for two months or more. So every year there is a mini-drought during the summer, and in recent years there has been an overall drought of some magnitude. As a result, residents are asked to conserve water, and have been whenever I have lived here. One way to do this is to plant a drought-resistant garden. We also had a water problem in Pullman, so I have been interested in how one goes about replacing an ordinary lawn with low-water plants. And now I have had a chance to look into this more, and that led me to the subject of permaculture.

Permaculture

Permaculture is a coined word invented by Bill Mollison, an Australian from Tasmania, who in his mid-life studied “bio-geography” at the University of Tasmania. He was nearly 40 and being a university student at about the same time I was being a high school student. The ecology movement was gaining steam at that time. Ecology had been an academic subject since the early 1900s, but turned into a political movement in the mid-1900s as it became more clear that some of our human enterprises were making very poor environmental decisions.

During the 1970s Mollison worked with a graduate student to develop an engineering approach to environmental design which involved water systems, agriculture, architecture and social development which they called “permaculture” in the sense that the systems so designed were meant to be permanent; what is now known as sustainable. This goal was based (roughly) on the premise that if natural systems can survive for thousands of years, then human systems should be able to, too. He believed in taking his lessons from those natural systems and implementing them in his designs. He fostered a whole movement by offering a “Permaculture Design Course” which would result in someone certified to practice or teach permaculture. By this time nearly half a million people have been so certified.

One such certificate holder is Geoff Lawton.

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton, by Bonnie Freibergs – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47278739

Geoff is almost exactly my age. He’s a Brit who moved to Australia and took up permaculture as his mode of life and his creed. Geoff has crafted many videos – many relatively short – often produced by quite excellent videographers, which communicate his knowledge and excitement regarding this subject.

Oddly, for one of his videos he visited Davis, not too far from here, where a development (Village Homes) using permaculture practices has existed for about 30 years (construction started in 1975). Though this is an upscale subdivision in a university town, the basic fact remains that it grows an incredible amount of food that is available to residents almost year-round, and is a very shady, livable space. Other neighborhoods or communities could follow the design practices used to create Village Homes. And I was very interested in these practices because they are much more sustainable than conventional suburban design, and they create food and shade, as forests do.

Lawton has traveled all over the world spreading his permaculture philosophy and doing consulting work. He has worked in the Middle East and in India, two of the most ancient human areas on the globe, and both desperately in need of more sustainable practices. Unfortunately, current culture and big business agendas favor a restricted-access approach to this technology. Current culture does not expect life on earth to be permanent, and certain big businesses don’t plan for – or even particularly want – a sustainable Earth. Those groups seem to favor the “rape and pillage” approach to planetary life, and apparently are preparing – even as this is being written – to find some new planet to take advantage of once this one has been worn out.

Personally, though, I would very much prefer to leave behind at least a piece of ground – if not an entire planet – that keeps on giving long after I have left.

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Biking to TAP Plastics

6 August 2017

TAP Plastics Sacramento storefront

The challenge this Sunday afternoon was to bike north through the Arden-Arcade suburbs to the location of TAP Plastics on Auburn Blvd. (old U.S. 40).

The data I had from the city on bike paths in the area did not look promising. Their map showed large discontinuities.

In my travels so far, I have learned to rely heavily on residential streets in the suburbs. Even though not officially bike-friendly, people use them and drivers know to be aware. The “bike ways” are on the main streets. They are usually narrow and there is lots of traffic. This is not ideal for a bicycler. There are some areas of the city that are serviced by purpose-built bike trails in parkways. These are the best choice for most bike riders. But downtown and in the suburbs, these disappear. (Pullman was an exception, with a nice path close to downtown that followed the creek. It could have been wider, though.) In Pullman I also relied heavily on sidewalks. But I have not always been able to do that here, as in the unincorporated areas, most streets have no sidewalks.

So I looked up the area on the now-trusted Google Map web application:

Google map of north Arcade neighborhoods

My destination was the red star at the top. My origin point, the blue star at the bottom. Some parks and an interesting pathway are noted with yellow arrows.

My focus was on Pasadena Ave. And it kept coming up during my ride. It turned out to be a key element to a fairly safe and interesting ride north.

Getting out of my neighborhood and across Marconi was the first major step. I found on my way back that looping around to Eastern where there is a sidewalk to the corner is the best way, as there is no such sidewalk on Marconi. On my initial study of the map, it looked like Norris would be the best way to go north. But I passed it without seeing it, and took a street called Montclaire, which got me to Auburn Blvd at Watt Ave. Auburn is sidewalked on one side, so that was not a big problem. But it was a long way around. I also noticed Pasadena coming out on Auburn at a place I didn’t expect. Turns out Pasadena starts at Auburn, loops down (south) into the suburbs, then turns north and returns to Auburn much further east. So on my trip up Auburn, I turned over on Winding Way and ran into Pasadena again. However, it appeared to end at the Creek. From the other direction, you get this sign:

road ends sign on Pasadena Ave.

But there was as footpath – which shows up on the map. I followed it and went past a big back yard where two horses were standing under a fig tree. Then I came to a footbridge across the creek. And from there the road started up again, appearing as a narrow piece of asphalt like you’d find in the mountains. And with all the old pines in the area, it smelled like the mountains, too.

foot bridge across the creek

This is an area where people are allowed to keep horses – and they do.

horses grazing in back yards

I had made it to TAP! But I wanted to go back a different way. I didn’t have the map with me. I just knew I needed to head south. I went past the bike-laned Edison Ave, attracted by a man selling watermelons, and found a park. Parks (when they aren’t crowded) are another good bike path resource. At least you don’t have to worry about cars!

Gibbons Park playground

I found my way to Mission Ave. It is not officially bike-laned like Edison, but it was not busy, so OK to ride. The way back along Marconi was actually more favorable for bike riders than the section above my neighborhood, though no official bike lanes.

On my next trip I will try the Mission-to-Edison-to-Pasadena route. It should be more direct, though this trip was not very time-consuming, either.

Next trip: All the way downtown!

Some Sacramento Parks and Green Spaces

9 July 2017

On Friday the 7th of July I toured some Sacramento parks with the idea of a theme of green space. I had been invited to a dinner on Fair Oaks Blvd just north of UC Sacramento, so that was my ultimate destination. I figured that with a combination of walking, sitting, and possibly bus riding I could spend most of the day visiting park areas between downtown and the university.

I got off the light rail at Alkali Flats station. This is a traditional neighborhood name for the area near to and just north of downtown. In this area of town, C Street is the northern-most useful street. It extends east into the fancy New Era Park neighborhood. It has three city-block-sized parks along it: John Muir Playground, Grant Park and Stanford Park. Then to the east of that is a large area referred to as Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, which is still under development.

There is a lot of low-income housing in the Alkali Flats area. Here is an example of some green space provided in front of one such building. I call it “urban green space.” It is usually surrounded by concrete on all four sides.

uban green space

Next I encountered some urban gardens. I have not seen areas like this in the suburbs.

urban garden

John Muir Playground has a fence around it, and a sign inside stating “no adults allowed unless accompanied by a child,” or words to that effect. However, on this warm morning, no children were there.

John Muir playground

C Street then takes you to the Blue Diamond facility. There I found a nice example of “corporate green space.” This is a lot like urban green space, but more closely controlled and maintained. It can provide a lot of great color, but is ordinarily rather limited in extent and definitely requires watering. Companies here – and many residents – are still into lawns. See my Goose Poop article for related thoughts.

corporate planting

The area just north of the American river contains a system of bike paths, and a path connecting to that system exits into this neighborhood. That would have to be another trip.

bikeways gate

Grant Park has a baseball field that may also be used for soccer. The grass was mowed, but no one was there. At the east end of this park is “Blues Alley.” I went down this alley, but found no evidence for “blues.” I did, however, notice a column of smoke rising from the area I was headed towards. A grass fire.

park field

Stanford Park was another big (and vacant) field. At its far end is the entrance to the developed part of Sutter’s Landing Park.

park lawn

This park had previously served industrial or similar uses; most of it was pretty bare. The most-used developed area was the Dog Park. I walked into the small dog area and took some pictures.

solar panel trees

This park contains some manmade shade roofed with solar (photo-voltaic) panels, most probably linked into a nearby solar “farm” and to the panels covering the parking lot to the northeast.

Sutter's Landing parking lot

The most notable features of the parking lot were two killdeer madly tweeting at each other. A “covered skate park” was closed. Inside it was covered in graffiti and housed several pigeon families. However, per its website, it opens to skaters and skateboarders every afternoon.

levee trail and lower trail

Just beyond that was the levee and the river. The levee is a key reason the American River Parkway exists. The levees began to be built in the mid 1800s in response to repeated flooding of Sacramento neighborhoods during peak flood season. Since then, flood control dams have been installed, and an extensive levee system has been completed up the American River (and also the Sacramento).

fishing on river

Fishing on the river.

Sutter’s Landing Park ends at a freeway at the edge of the East Sacramento neighborhood, not far from a railroad bridge. Here I found the blackened ground which could have been caused by the fire I saw smoke from earlier.
burn area

East Sacramento neighborhoods run right up to the levee, which in this area is roughly 20 feet high. On the other side of the levee is the river and parkland which can flood if there is a lot of runoff upstream. I could find no obvious access to regular streets from the levee, so continued walking along it to the east. I found a sump pump installation at one point, but the maintenance gate leading to city streets was locked. I was now walking along an affluent neighborhood known as River Park, which is right next to the university. It was a lot of walking in the high sun. I was in long sleeves and wearing a big hat, but my nose and cheeks got burned, and my exposed hands. At Hall Park I finally found street access.

floodplain near beach access

This is near the access point from Hall Park.

Hall Park is a nice park and includes a swimming pool. But even here I found someone who looked homeless sitting on a park bench.

Hall Park sports field

Sports field in Hall Park.

I was able to walk out of River Park to a small mall, where I ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Just beyond that was the university entrance, including a nearby “mini-park” space with a garden fountain and a bench.

fountain in mini park

bench in mini-park

To the right of the university entrance was the Arboretum. It was a well-developed “forest” and provided a pleasant place to stop and rest. Almost every plant was labeled with its botanical and common name, and where it is native. Though called an Arboretum, in included numerous shrubs and smaller plants.

inside the arboretum

Inside the Arboretum.

I had made it to Fair Oaks Blvd, but still had to make it across the river. There was a footpath/bike path across the bridge. The north end was surrounded by shrubbery; very picturesque.

foot path on bridge

Fair Oaks passed through a student housing area called Campus Commons where there was no ordinary commercial development. But I found the shopping area only a block or two up the street, designed in the usual suburban style, though a little more high-end than usual. As is normal in this style of development, pedestrian crossings of the main streets are few and far between. After getting an iced herb tea (and a refill) at a shop in the Pavilions Center, and browsing the Williams-Sonoma store, I sat for a while in a comfortable patio chair put out for shoppers. The two seated figures are sculpture next to a water feature.

urban green space at shopping center

I was early; it was only about 4pm. When I finally decided to cross the street to the restaurant, I had to walk way down to a light to get across legally. But at least I had survived the trek.

Sacramento Critters

2 July 2017
squirrel Sutter's fort

Tree squirrel at Sutter’s Fort.

We are all aware that many animals share human environments with us. Besides the obvious organisms that take advantage of the fact that we leave behind a certain amount of trash, both inside and outside, there are the ones that live semi-wild in our garden and park areas.

Perhaps the most obvious animals that share the urban environment with us are the birds. However, with my resources these are some of the most difficult animals for me to photograph. Robins, sparrows, swallows, and all their various relatives are familiar regulars in urban trees and bushes. Pigeons are also well-know, and often seem like a nuisance bird. In open areas you will see hawks and other raptors, indicating a considerable but hidden population of ground mammals (mostly rodents). Tree squirrels move around where we can see them, but the rest of those types of animals hide in underground areas much of the time.

Home gardens and park areas may have water features (or regular sprinklers) that support additional animals. These include various amphibians and reptiles, insects, even fish. I should mention soil worms, though these usually only appear when we dig around or after it rains hard. Worms and other soil organisms are an important part of any ecosystem but are another group that does not lend itself to ordinary photography.

We will also see some migrant species come through our cities. Many of us are not particularly aware of which animals are in this category. And there are some birds, like the geese and ducks pictured below, that you might think migrate but might actually be full-time residents. Some of these have lost the instinct to migrate due to being held in captivity over several generations.

geese and ducks at Sutter' Fort

These geese are probably permanent Sacramento residents. I don’t know about the ducks. This is at Sutter’s Fort.

Yesterday (Saturday 1 July) I visited a little museum on Auburn Blvd near Watt that has been known as the Discovery Museum, but will be known as the Powerhouse Science Center when it moves to its new downtown building (an old electric power station). This museum specializes in exhibits for children. Its original emphasis was probably the natural sciences, but it is moving into “hard” technology in a big way, with a “space mission” experience for kids, a planetarium, and more technology-related exhibits in the offing.

The museum grounds include a park and pond. The pond is kept aerated by a fountain. Aeration is important for most urban ponds, as they are usually quite shallow and warm up a lot in summer, which deprives them of vital dissolved oxygen. This particular pond was probably seeded with many of the animals that now grow in it. It has a lot of turtles for just one pond and is teaming with developing frogs (tadpoles / polliwogs). I also saw many dragonflies and a hummingbird. I asked the flying animals to pose for photographs (a habit I’ve taken up, as it sometimes works) and a few dragonflies consented to do so, but the hummingbird would not stay put long enough for me to get a proper photo.

turtles sunning themselves

Turtles sunning themselves at the Discovery Museum pond.

tadpoles in pond

Tadpoles were teaming in this pond.

dragonfly at pond edge

The dragonfly that posed for me.

Some of the first “wild” animals I ran into in Sacramento were ground squirrels at the Marconi-Arcade light rail station. I noticed them many times running across the tracks between their burrows and the public waiting areas. They are a bit nervous and so hard to photograph, but I got a few shots of them finally.

ground squirrel near its burrows

One of the infamous track-jumping Marconi-Arcade ground squirrels.

Ends of Lines

29 June 2017

no-outlet-cropped-sac-trip-74

Here is a rather short version of my intended post about what is at the ends of the light rail lines in Sacramento. My experiences in going back and forth on these trains have ramifications that I won’t particularly get into in this post. I have tried to do something like this in every city I have lived in. I didn’t totally do it in Seattle or Los Angeles, though.

Green Line

green-line-south-20170622-cropped-67

The “green line” is a short in-city line that just loops around downtown. It starts near 13th and R (above) and ends at 7th and Richards, which is traditionally known as Township 9 (below). The Township 9 Station is actually the best-developed station in the whole system. The basic weakness of the system is that it has no large central station or stations where lots of people can wait in a protected area. Subways provide this; Sacramento has no tunnels for trains. This also means that Sacramento trains have to share streets with cars buses and people in order to get anywhere that has a lot of people. The areas where the trains have their own right-of-ways are usually shared by real trains, out on the edge of town near nothing very important. That’s the Blue Line. The Gold Line follows the freeway roughly.

green-line-north-20170629-cropped-07

Blue Line

blue-line-north-20170621-cropped-11

This is a long north-south line. I found it below par as a light rail line. It does not seem very well-planned, and I have seldom seen it very well-used, though at rush hour today it was packed to standing-room only.

blue-line-south-20170621-cropped-25

Here is the south end, the Consumnes River College, a community college dating from 1970 per one sign I saw. Oddly, though, I found no development around it of any kind. No fast food places, no technology stores or clothing stores. I really didn’t quite understand it.

consumnes-college-banner-20170621-sac-trip-30

Gold Line

gold-line-west-end-cropped

I found this the best line in the system. It is a very long east-west line that goes from the Sacramento Valley (Train) Station near downtown (above) all the way out to Folsom. Many of the stops have extra shelter and attractions like shopping centers nearby. It’s east end (below) is right at the edge of Historic Folsom, which is similar to Old Sacramento (which has no light rail line nearby).

gold-line-east-20170629-cropped-33

Wheat Penny

27 June 2017

what penny both sides

Every so often I run across a “wheat penny.” So called because of the heads of wheat depicted on the back. Though I collected all sorts of things when I was a kid, including coins and stamps, I never studied those subjects seriously.

The study or collection of currency, including coins, tokens, paper money, and related objects is called Numismatics. I am not a student of this subject. I also have older pennies called “indian head.” They were produced from 1859 to 1909. The wheat penny followed this one, up to the year 1958.

This one I think I got at the Tandy Leather store. That’s how I recall it. It is dated 1951.

Sacramento Trip Updates

14 June 2017

street sign in everett

13 June: (I had written this part up earlier, but the draft is on another computer.) I rode Northwest Trailways from Pullman to Seattle. It takes the northern route, through Leavenworth and Stevens Pass. It’s prettier than the Greyhound route, but takes longer. I arrived in the late afternoon and stayed in a place called the Panama Hotel. This place is a lightly-restored hotel built in 1910 for immigrants from Asia. Jan Johnson operates it and she puts a lot of effort into it. It’s different than a “modern” hotel, but was fine for me. She sees it as a kind of museum.

14 June: The Amtrak Coast Starlight pulled out of King Street Station around 9:30 in the morning. That meant we could see the sites all the way to the California border. After an uneventful morning, I stayed in the observation car after lunch, and some interesting people got on somewhere early in our trip through Oregon. One guy had a guitar and sat down and started playing. Later he had an intense political discussion about the absence of wisdom in modern society.

leaving train station salem oregon

15 June: The train pulled into Sacramento just a little after sunrise. I started walking. I found a breakfast place open early and had some fresh fruit and a muffin. Then I walked east until I got to Sutter’s Fort (1839-1848) and photographed an egret sitting in a pool outside, looking a bit dejected. There are lots of shops in “Midtown” but most don’t open until 10 or so. I slowly made my way back downtown, where I visited my church and made a donation.

heron in pond by sutter's fort

Then I went out to the Econolodge and signed in. My 25-day stay broke my debit card, but I called BECU’s 1-800 number and got it fixed. My realtor came by a little later and took me to the one mobile home park that agreed to look at my application. We planned to prepare the paperwork the next morning and then turn it in.

After that I went across the freeway to Fry’s and got the computer I’m typing this on, as my little Linux-based netbook would not connect properly.

16 June: Took all morning to prepare the paperwork, but my realtor was happy with it and the lady at the park liked it, too. After I got back from that, I finally managed to connect to the internet. This motel uses an unsecured Wi-Fi network with a browser “landing page” that prompts you for a password. This is supposed to happen automatically, but with some computers you might have to type in the URL of the landing page.

It has turned VERY hot in Sacramento, so I waited as long as I could to go out to shop at Foodsco. This is one of those BIG grocery stores, in this case run by Kroger. It is one of four stores in the Sacramento area. They don’t always show up when you search for “grocery stores.” Poorer people come to shop there, as the prices are pretty good. The selection, however, is heavy on the processed foods side. I found the produce decent, and located some good yogurt, too.

17 June: We are expecting above 100F during the daytime for at least a week if not longer. I am staying inside mostly, though did go out for lunch and more groceries. I downloaded and watched Courtney Brown’s latest remove viewing project which was on Area 51 (officially, the Groom Lake facility). It was pretty good and confirmed what others have reported about it: MagLev trains, multi-story underground research complexes, ET involvement and genetic experimentation. When one of Courtney’s remote viewers sees something, you have to take it seriously. So a lot of the Area 51 scuttlebutt is the real deal. I suggest David Adair’s stories for more data about what it was like there maybe 30-40 years ago.

18 June: I got up “early” and took the 86 bus downtown. The ride only took about 15 minutes. I stayed on and went back out to Discovery Park by the American River where I walked around for a while. Then I caught the next bus back to Northgate Blvd, and a short walk up to the motel. They are expecting the hottest 18 June on record today – above 105F – so I didn’t want to stay outside too long.

19-20 June: Another visit to my church, another donation. Then today I went to a “coworking” place near downtown to get a more reliable (and secure) internet connection than is available at the motel. Internet cafes are starting to drift out of fashion, what with internet connection via mobile phone becoming so common. So now some are beefing up their infrastructure a bit and offering it to “serious” computer users, usually at a price. I, however, got in on a “free day pass” plus a muffin and two iced herb teas.

Thoughts from yesterday:
Met a woman who owned a house in Reno, was planning to move to Sac, but keep the house in Reno and rent it out. This follows the modern pattern of the financially better-enabled of somehow creating an asset pool, then living off the income from it. The trick is to acquire the asset in the first place. If you get a really good-paying job and save a lot, you can do it. But to me there seems something wrong in it…

Today watched an interview with Niara Isley, an ex-airman who got used as slave labor on the moon. She came out at least 6 years ago, and has been telling the same story the whole time, and also wrote a book. Like Corey Goode, she has turned to the New Age movement for solace and support. This is apparently allowable for people who are trying to blow the whistle on the secret space program.

21-22 June: Have been travelling around a lot on the light rail. Went to both ends of the blue line; still have to do that with the two other lines. I stopped off at some different places, such as the Broadway part of the Oak Park neighborhood. Went out and visited the house where I will be staying when I move here. It is located in a part of the city where they didn’t have to put in sidewalks when they were building the houses there. Very strange.

23-27 June: Church events, a visit to Old Sacramento, and more planning for the move have filled the hours these recent days. I’ll be putting together more articles before too long.

28 June – 2 July: I have completed most of the planning for the move and visited some more Sacramento attractions. The Discover Museum, destined to become the Powerhouse Science Center, was a calm and relaxing visit that included several live animals, along with a body health exhibit and the beginnings of some “hard science” exhibits. This museum is aimed primarily at kids.

rocket engine on display

Rocket engine displayed outside at the Discovery Museum.

3 – 5 July: This was mostly move preparations. However, on July 4th I was more or less stranded because mass transit was on a holiday schedule.

On 3 July I visited Arden Fair, a very nice mall.

arden fair mall merry-go-round

Yes, this mall has a merry-go-round.

It’s an all-indoor mall, two stories (similar to the Glendale Galleria but not as big), dominated by clothing stores and cell phone shops. I got a cell phone there, as “tethering” to my PC will be the only way for me to connect to the internet at my new residence. It works rather well, but costs more than just regular phone use.

I got to the mall by walking over the railroad tracks from the Swanston light rail station. There is an old idiom: “wrong side of the tracks.” To quote the internet:

The common explanation is that in the old days of steam locomotives, the wind would tend to blow the soot to one side of the tracks. The sootier side would then become the poorer / industrialized neighborhood.

This phenomenon is in play along these railroad tracks, though it is more common these days for both sides of the tracks to look in bad shape, as commerce gravitated away from trains towards roads and freeways. The light rail (northwest) side of those tracks is run down and industrialized. On the other side there is more of a corporate presence and also some fancy neighborhoods.

Today (5 July) I visited the Natural Foods Co-op and my new neighborhood “across the tracks.” It’s in an unincorporated part of Sacramento called “Del Paso Manor.” There are about twenty or thirty suburban neighborhoods surrounding Sacramento that are still known by the original names given to the subdivisions when they were first developed. Many of these up in the Arcade area don’t have any sidewalks on the streets. Definitely designed for a drive-in / drive-out lifestyle. It will be interesting to ride around these areas on a bicycle.

Packed

8 June 2017

homemade packing crates all piled up

This is what 90% packed looks like at my place.

I had mostly homemade “erector set” style furniture, now all turned into packing crates and trunks.

Everything counted so far adds up to about 183 cubic feet. At 25 pounds per cubic foot that would be about two tons. It probably weighs a little less than that.

Another view:

manufactured trunks piled up for inventory

Road cases are my first choice for equipment storage.

How to Write a Constitution

29 May 2017

The title is a bit ostentatious, but it’s the best I could think of. Though I don’t really have the resources to give this topic justice, I was thinking about it, so decided to write a post on my Memorial Day time off.

I take for my reference the US Constitution of 1787. I hope the copy I have is accurate.

Talking about ostentatious: It starts, “We the People of the United States…” That’s nice, but probably a little broad. It should certainly mention who agreed to it, if not who actually wrote it. It is basically a piece of literature, so it could have an author.

Purpose

The preamble lists the things this government is to carry out:
Form a more perfect union;
Establish justice;
Insure domestic tranquility;
Provide for the common defense;
Promote the general welfare;
Secure the blessings of liberty…to our posterity.

This is important. These are the long-term and continuing goals and purposes of this government; they are its job. A group needs goals and purposes, and must sometimes be reminded of them. “General welfare” is a bit vague, but we’ll leave it that way for now.

Legislative Powers

I find it a little odd to bring this up first, rather than giving a more general overview of how the system was supposed to work. Too many incorrect assumptions could be made here; we need to spell this out better.

Article 0.

We propose that this nation take the form of a constitutional Republic. This gives us a layered approach to both policy-making and action. There are individuals at each level who represent, or preside over, a group of individuals at the next lower level. Every member of the system is not normally expected to interact with anyone above their level or below the level they supervise or represent in matters of official business, except under special circumstances. Every group at every level has the right to operate as it sees fit, and this right can only be overridden as described below. The assumption is that most people already know what to do or can figure it out.

Legislation:

The purpose of legislation is to set guidelines (policy, laws) that bind those at that level to act within certain limitations or restrictions. This document specifically covers the national, or federal, level, but is also meant to serve as a guide, or pattern, for lower levels.

I will not cover the details of Article 1 here, however, we cannot move on before inspecting Section 8.

Areas of legislative authority / responsibility:

  • Taxes, duties, imposts and excises (to be uniform across all states).
  • Specify outlay to pay debts.
  • Specify outlay to provide for the common defense.
  • Specify outlay to provide for the general welfare.
  • Borrow money.
  • Regulate commerce beyond state boundaries or responsibilities.
  • Regulate immigration.
  • Regulate bankruptcies.
  • Coin money, regulate its value, and establish standard weight and measures.
  • Establish Post Offices and post roads (ensure free flow of communications between citizens).
  • Offer limited patent and copyright protection to authors and inventors.
  • Establish lower-level judicial bodies (tribunals) as needed.
  • Protect the nation from piracy at sea.
  • Declare war, and similar war powers.
  • Raise temporary armies while maintaining a permanent navy.
  • Organizing and activating the Militia for certain purposes.
  • Rule over the seat of government.
  • There are more points, but these are the main ones…

Executive Power

Traditionally, the executives of history (kings, emperors, etc.) got to make their own rules. This was not just a matter of egotism. They had things to get done and they needed to be able to act. One of their favorite pastimes seems to have been making war. This had to change. The chief executive of a nation does have the “power” to make war, as the military is under his/her command. However, it was considered that war should be a matter of policy and not executive action, and this still seems the wiser route.

To further discourage executive policy-making, the Founders proposed putting the matter up for a vote every four years. This seems rather arbitrary to me; why not whenever a majority or some higher ratio of legislators found it needful, but not more often than every four (or three?) years. But we shall leave this be for the time being. The point is: You can’t get policy continuity in the Executive Branch if the senior person is changing all the time, and that’s the way we want it.

Judicial Power

“Judges” have traditionally served a wide variety of functions. At their best, they act themselves, or by guiding a jury (or similar group of peers) to determine who the real criminal is when something goes wrong. As far as I can tell, they do not have a particularly high reputation in this regard. Like anyone else faced with a real criminal, the judge can be threatened when faced with a “hard decision” and forced to back down.

If judges cannot be depended upon to uphold the ethics standards of the group, then who can be? If a group is that far gone, there is little hope for it. But for now, let’s move on to Article 4.

States

This section (Article 4) goes over certain matters of equal treatment across state lines. After all, these states are all part of a Republic, and are supposed to cooperate with each other. You can’t have the police forces of two states in battle because their laws are different.

But I feel this whole subject of states is not taken far enough in this document.

Article 4.

The full and globally-recognized territory of this nation has been – and shall continue to be – divided into geographical regions known as “states” or “territories” based on a combination of historical and geographical factors. States have the right of sovereign rule within their boundaries, assuming the restrictions imposed by this document are respected. Territories have not yet attained the full rights of states, but may petition Congress to be granted these.

All policy (legislative), executive and judicial actions originating at the federal level of this republic shall not extend any further than the states, except under most extraordinary circumstances. Certainly, no federal law, federal action through any of its agents, or federal judicial decision shall apply to or be binding on any individual citizen (that being understood to include only real persons, not “private” entities created through legal means) unless that citizen has specifically requested such a bypass.

It is further expected that state governments will, in turn, deal only with county governments, and those only with municipal governments and those only with neighborhood governments (where that may apply), as this has proven to be more acceptable to citizens and more conducive to individual initiative and thus, the general welfare.

Private Enterprise. This does not mean that a private enterprise, operating across state boundaries and employing numbers comparable to numbers of citizens in a state, or producing things of value on a similar order to that of the combined production of all smaller enterprises within a state, should expect to be favored by the rights and protections afforded smaller enterprises by a state, simply by virtue of the location of their headquarters. Indeed, if any enterprise should grow to the extent outlined above, it can expect to be required to deal directly with the federal government in all matters where it must be treated as a whole, as in the matter of taxation.

The above summarizes the points that I think are important in the game of operating a nation. Though using the context of the US Constitution has limited my comments in some ways, the points I have mentioned are some of the most important. We have erred by overlooking them.

Second Warm Period on the Palouse

21 May 2017

The plants are popping out very strongly on our warmer days.

They seem proud this year. The weather was rough, and the warmth came late. They suffered this Spring, but came through it OK.

I hope we can do the same!

flowering apple tree

“I’m the best apple tree on the Palouse.”

quail on pullman trail

Quail like sunny days, too.