hydrangea blossoming

hydrangea blossoming
Hydrangea on the Edge of Blooming

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More on Charging for Crossing the Border

The Bellingham Herald had a story the other day about Obama's suggestion in his proposed budget that The Ever-Congenial Congress consider whether it might not make sense to charge people crossing the border (Northern? Southern?) for the privilege of entering the U.S.  Which would, of course, require the Northern?Southern? country on the other side of said border to fight back with their own charges for people crossing the border.  Which would mean, for those of us in P.R., two charges for going to Tsawwassen and four charges for going all the way to Blaine.  Time for a boat?

Then yesterday, I was told by a local that a Vancouver paper also had the story but it's take was that the U.S. was going to charge only Canadians for coming into our wonderful country.  Shucks, gosh!  Why not?  And that the charge would be $5.  Which would mean that Canada would counter-charge, that border traffic would slow even more while the border agents collect their $5's, and that we could pay each $10 extra to go to the doctor in Bellingham.

The APB has two pieces about this in the May edition: one, a letter, by Arthur Reber; and the second, an unsigned article.  Their take on details is slightly different, doubtless because it's just a suggestion in the budget for a study of the feasibility of the proposal.

Well, it's only been a suggestion and I doubt that the Ever-Congenial Congress is likely to rise to the idea, although it might get the Republican vote since they could raise taxes for non-Americans.  Though maybe they don't want anybody ever to pay more for the government.  God knows.  It's certainly, as Reber points out, an idea with enormous number of downsides: perhaps Rogoff and Reinhardt might conduct the study.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Another Note from Bellingham

How is Point Roberts not like Bellingham?  Well, while there, we dropped in at a baker/coffee place and ordered up two cups of regular coffee and a cinnamon roll each and were given a bill for about $16.00 plus a suggested tip.  And then, after we finished our excellent coffee and our fine cinnamon roles and had left our $20 bill on the counter, we were asked twice in the space of half a block whether we could spare any change for folks down on their luck.

Exactly how does it work that there are people asking for us for spare change at the same time as we are spending $20 for ordinary enough treats?  Shouldn't they be asking us for more than change?  And shouldn't we be giving it to them?

I don't much think such thoughts here in P.R. because nobody here has ever asked me for spare change.  Although I imagine I could spend $20 for two cups of coffee and two cinnamon rolls, even in P.R...

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Importance of Age

Today I was down in Bellingham all day, experiencing the joys of "city" life and in particular of shopping at Trader Joe's.  As witnessed by these two conversations.

1.  A small child, a girl dressed all in pink, looks up at me out of the cart in which she is sitting and says,
"How old are you?"
 "Uh, I beg your pardon?" (I replied, not sure what she was asking me.)
"How old are you?"
"Oh, well, I'm 77."
"I'm three."
"Ah, I was three at one time, and you'll be 77 later on."
"Well, I'm three now."

2.  And then a little later, while checking out, I ask for a case of merlot wine.  The checker, a woman of about thirty and working at Trader Joe's peak speed, says:

"How old are you?"
"Well, I'm closer to 81 than to 21."
The checker focuses on me.  "Oh, right.  We have to ask everyone."  (Although nobody at TJoe's has ever asked me before.)
I pay my bill and start to move off with my cart, including the case of merlot, to the parking lot.
Another employee comes up to me and says,
"Do you need any help getting that case of wine to your car?  Can I carry it for you?"

Not old enough to buy wine and too old to carry it.  But I was once three.  Although I don't remember it all.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


"For see the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle(dove) is heard in the land."  The Song of Solomon

Well, we might hope that the 'rain is over and gone,' if by that we mean the big rains with the big, deep, grey skies.  We can happily wait till the fall for those to come again, but we do need a little rain between now and then.  The birds are indeed all about us, eating the 'Wild Bird Seed' from Neilson's (whose purchase, incidentally, benefitted the new library fundraising project).  But we don't have any turtledoves about, cooing at our open windows in the morning as we arise.  If Solomon had been writing his songs in Point Roberts instead of Palestine, he might more appropriately have concluded his verse with:

"And the sound of the power lawn mower is heard in the land."

About 3 weeks ago, Ed noted that he ought to get out and begin the lawn mowing season.  I pointed out to him that the ground water was at the surface over much of the acre and where it was not, the grass, though cuttable in theory, was soaking wet.  And so, wisely or not, he did not further address the issue of lawn mowing.  This week, however, with multiple days of blue skies and even a couple of days with blue skies, big sun, and warmish temperatures, the sound of the lawn mower was heard everywhere.  I think all motor sounds are chain saws, but time and again I asked, "Is Tom chainsawing?  Is that Justin chainsawing?"  To each question, the answer was "No, that is a lawnmower."

And inevitably, the time came on Monday when the sounds of the lawn mowers all about us caused Ed, without any warnings from me, to take the lawn mower out of its winter residence and...  Well, and nothing, because it didn't start at all.  Didn't even try to start, no little choking sounds, no final roaring into gasoline-powered life.  A little tinkering brought no advance on the lawn mowing problem.  And, so it came that the lawn mower was removed to Canada for repair, and there the lawn mower guy is currently 3 weeks behind in repairs.  If only i had not dissuaded Ed from mowing when he first proposed it, we could have been at the head of the line and not at the end of the line.  (That advice is probably in Proverbs not in the Psalms.)

The solution was to rent a lawnmower (although perhaps we could have borrowed one from a neighbor, but Ed was in Canada and not in talks with the neighbor as the decision was being made).  And so it was done and the sound of the lawnmower now emanates from our yard as well as from all our neighbors.  It is as if they are all mowing their lawns over and over in celebratory fashion.  Like the Hallelujah Chorus.  It is surely a great chorus of lawn mowing and Point Roberts is a united community in this matter of grass as the season of lawn mowing begins.

Welcome to spring!  And Amen.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shopping with the Fire Department

The Fire District has a lot of money and so I guess that means they should be spending it, else why do they have it?  Last night's meeting featured lots of spending:  first, there were warrants approved for almost $32,000 worth of monthly expenses.  Which does make a dent in their monthly income.  (They have about $550,000 in tax money plus a capital reserve account with $183,000 and a long-ago-leftover-Bingo-Money account for maybe $50,000.  Plus some other savings.  So they're not spending it all, or at least not yet.)

However, after the warrants, the expensive problems were addressed: there's the heating and air conditioners that need to be bought or replaced; there's a water problem, maybe a septic problem.  The latter could be another $40,000.  At one point, somebody laughingly noted that "Tonight everything costs $40,000."  Why not?

The major discussion point came with the proposal to buy a second thermal imaging camera (TIC), which is a camera used particularly in smoky fires to locate living beings inside a building.  You want more information, I recommend Wikipedia.   The central issue for this $10,000 piece of equipment was this:  In order to train the volunteers to use the TIC, the Department has to take the volunteers and the equipment somewhere else to practice its use.  Thus, if one had a fire in which the TIC would be life-saving, it might not be available  (nor many of the volunteers, I guess).  So the second TIC would be a back-up.

This is a reasonable question and it is why God and the Universities created Technology Assessment.  God and the Universities did not, however, create Feeling Assessment, as in "How would we feel if this happened and someone lost his life?"  But Feeling Assessment was what made the decision with respect to purchasing the second TIC.  The answer is, "We would feel very bad, and so it is worth $10,000 to not risk our feeling bad."

Technology assessment, of course, helps one make hard decisions as to when it makes sense (not when it provides good feelings) to obtain or not obtain such equipment.  And I might have thought that the role of the Commissioners would be to think about how risky it might be not to have a second TIC.  They might have asked the Fire Chief how many fires a year do we have in P.R. and in how many of them would a TIC be helpful?  Potentially life-saving?  Actually life-saving? How many days of the year would the current TIC be off the Point for training?  How long would it take to get Delta to bring theirs down?  How likely is it that such a problem would arise in which no TIC would be available?  Has it ever happened?

But no such questions arose.  There are many hard questions about spending money to decrease risks to people.  The answer is not, of course, "Well, how much is a life worth?," a question usually vaguely addressed skywards, and actually asked several times during this discussion.  Technology Assessment routinely addresses that question, but it is hard for people not trained in it to obtain and negotiate such data and make these hard decisions.  But that is why we pay them the big bucks.  Except, of course, we don't pay the Commissioners  big bucks.  So that might explain why they don't make any hard decisions: they just say "Yes, buy it."  Of course, what if the first TIC is out on a training mission and the second TIC has a problem as technological devices often do?  Maybe we ought to buy a third one in case the second one malfunctions?  And what if the second one malfunctions, and nobody remembers where the third one is kept?  Maybe a fourth one wouldn't be a bad idea?  But where should we keep it?

The doubling of the Fire District levy was passed in 2010.  It will last for 6 years  and then the Commissioners will have to go back to the voters to ask for a new levy.  Until then, I imagine that they'll continue to spend without asking what really justifies buying all this stuff.  Why am I not surprised?  UPDATE and correction: Commissioner Meursing informs me that the new levy approved in 2010 goes on forever, not just for six years.  Well, forever, until we are asked to raise it again.  And then, we say...what do we say?  (8 may 2013)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Onward! Upward! Some Direction Like Those.

Last night, the Community Advisory Committee celebrated about a thousand months or years of meetings by agreeing to recommend to the Executive of Whatcom County that the Executive or the County Council or Someone in Authority order the following things to be done (and paid for out of the Gas Tax Funds):

1.  Post six signs meeting federal guidelines that direct people/cars to the four corner parks in Point Roberts.
2.  To clear and gravel (as with the path on Benson Road that regularly obscures itself with undergrowth) about 700 feet of shoulder near Lighthouse Park apparently to improve pedestrian safety (although I know of no pedestrians found to be unsafe.  What is routinely invoked in such discussions is 'It is an accident waiting to happen."  We do not deal in data.)
3.  Do something about making clearer that street parking on the Maple Beach sidestreets is allowed, regardless of what signs say.  The 'something' might be signs saying 'Beach parking allowed.' Or they might require the corner house owners (14 of them? or at least the owners controlling 14 parking places) to remove any barriers to parking including signs, driftwood, rocks, whatever, so that people can park. Or maybe they'll send a letter to the Maple Beach Homeowners Association.  Or like those things.

And then, in a discussion which certainly felt like "GroundHog Day,"  various of the 14 attendees and 5 committee members pawed through the knotty matter of trailers and such-like that offended the eyes and (allegedly) the property values of some folks, but not of the people who had the trailers and suchlike on their land.  There is a code section that deals with all such matters in Point Roberts.  You can find it here.  You can complain to the County and see if they have an interest in doing something about it.  Happily, the Code does not yet prohibit clotheslines that expose residents' underwear to their neighbors' eyes.

And then a discussion of the Long-Ago Executed Community Character Plan.  The discussion featured concerns that the Plan is not important enough.  Perhaps because Point Roberts is not important enough.  Hard to know. It requires that there be, to be effective, a Character Plan Committee.  There is no such committee.  There you go. 

I celebrate the Community Advisory Committee members' and their ability to move anything forward given that the County insists on having agreement from all five members: (one from the Voters' Association, one from the Taxpayers' Association, one from the Chamber of Commerce, and two at large members) before anything is moved on for recommendation to the County Executive.  In Point Roberts, 5 people, 6 opinions.  But if efficiency has any value at all, it is hard to imagine how one might justify the amount of time that has gone into these results.  But maybe efficiency has no value at all in political settings which might explain why people are so turned off by politics.

Note: there is a comment below from the CAC chairman which makes two corrections in this post.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Maple Canopy, Another Update

The Point Roberts Conservation Society engaged the Whatcom County Planning Department in a phone conversation this past week trying to clarify what is the status of the proposed development that has been called "Point Roberts Beach Club," and involves land between APA and the bluffs/west-of-Claire Lane and Pauls Road.

There are two major issues that are under discussion: (1) the protection of the maple tree canopy on APA; and (2) the actual housing development size.  According to the notes of the conversation that were circulated by the Conservation Society, the Whatcom County Planning Department is satisfied with the safety of the maple canopy: APA road will not have to be widened. It would appear that strong community support for maintaining the maple canopy is an influential factor in the Planning Dept.'s analysis.

The size of the development continues to be up in the air.  The Health Dept. and the Planning Dept. have different views as to how many lots and how large a house can be built on each lot (1 bedroom vs. 2 bedrooms).  So maybe 30 2-bedroom houses is what is being discussed instead of 61 or so 1-bedroom homes.  I doubt if the density of the housing is going to be affected by community support.  But we'll write more when we hear more.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Invisible Judy Ross

Border questions loom large in life here.  But I have been impressed over the last border trips I have made.  These two trips were separated by about 12 days, which is fairly typical of my border travel: it is too much trouble to do it if I don't have several things to do north of here.

But on both of these returns, I was asked by the U.S. agent on duty, 'Where do you live?'  Given that I have a Nexus card and that they are looking at a computer screen which tells them who I am and where I live, I do not grasp the point of this question.  Nevertheless, mine not to grasp the thinking of the Border Agents.  So, I reply, "Point Roberts."  And then, each time (different border agents involved in these two crossings), the agent says something to the effect that he doesn't recognize me.  One suggested I must be a hermit; the other was just puzzled to find that he and I were not better acquainted, somehow.

I replied to the first one, "Yes, I'm a hermit," and to the second one, "Well, I'm just a little old lady: all of us look alike."  And they smile and send me on my way.  With my one Canadian-grown cucumber (duly reported).  The border, the border, as mystifying as the grey skies of winter...what's beyond it?  What kind of meaning?  Or is it just arbitrary, meaningless?

Remember:  "If not for the cat and the scarcity of cheese, I would be content."  (Jack Prelutsky, If not for the cat, with drawings by Ted Rand).

If not for the border and its vague policies, I would be calmer.