I used to write off registered voters who don’t vote as lazy, but my antipathy for their apathy is increasingly being shoved aside by sympathy for their plight.
Three recent examples from Oregon show that sometimes when you win at the ballot box the victory is fleeting.
I’m not referring to cases in which the electorate, fickle group that it is, changes its mind at a subsequent election.
That can be frustrating, to be sure, but it is at least consistent with democratic principles.
I’m much more troubled, though, when voters are in effect betrayed by the very people we elect to represent us.
During the past few years Oregon voters have had their will thwarted, to varying degrees, on three issues:
• Whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the state
• Whether condemned criminals should be executed
• Whether the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages will be defended against legal challenges
My almost-3-year-old son, Max, scampered across the slushy yard, whining that he had lost his plastic garden trowel in the pond. This plaintive claim struck me as curious because so far as I could remember we don’t have a pond.
Certainly we didn’t dig a pond or buy a pond or indeed even desire a pond.
But we got one anyway.
And it didn’t cost us anything except a few pairs of soggy boots.
(And Max’s missing trowel, which turned up not in the pond but hidden beneath a pail.)
Remember when Baker County was described as “overwhelmingly Democratic” and “predominantly a Democratic county?”
Such a notion might sound farfetched, if not outright farcical, today, when the county is a Republican mainstay.
It turns out, though, that you needn’t go back so far as the Whig era to reach a period when Democrats boasted an electoral advantage among county voters at least as solid as what GOP candidates have now.
In November 1972, the day after President Richard M. Nixon was re-elected, this newspaper wrote that although Nixon, a Republican, received 55 percent of Baker County’s votes to Democrat George McGovern’s 33 percent, this was, and indeed it remained, “predominantly a Democratic county” based on party affiliations.
They’ve been measuring snow up at Anthony Lakes for almost as long as they’ve been skiing on it.
Not constantly, of course.
But still this is a considerable span.
For perspective, when the first snow survey was undertaken beneath the imposing granitic prow of Gunsight Mountain, pretty much nobody outside the U.S. Navy had heard of Pearl Harbor.
Hitler wasn’t exactly a household name, either.
Unless your household was in, say, Berlin or Munich.
President Obama got through several hundred words of his State of the Union speech Tuesday night without reverting to his favorite subject, which is government.
This doesn’t make the president unusual, of course.
It just makes him a politician.
All politicians like to prattle on about government. Sometimes they extoll its virtues and sometimes they lampoon its failures, but as an institution it never strays far from their minds.
When I was a kid the ingredients for a perfect day were a bicycle, a Hardy Boys book and some bottle caps.
Although I could get by with just the bike and the book.
The bottle caps were sort of a bonus — akin to getting two hits in a Little League game and then heading straight to Dairy Queen for a butterscotch sundae.
(As a light-hitting infielder, such a feat was about as rare for me as a Willamette Valley blizzard.)
The era of the bottle cap, at least as an attraction for a kid with time to burn, ended so far as I can tell somewhere around the Reagan administration, but whether its demise was gradual or sudden I can’t say.
I am writing here specifically of beer bottle caps.
The list of skills I wish I had is longer than many novels, and at its top are the ability to build things and to fix stuff that gets busted or stops working.
I don’t mean complicated things, like brains or nuclear reactors or jet aircraft.
I know how modest my limits are.
But aside from the occasional triumph of swapping a car’s starter, or assembling a stone wall that’s still standing after several years, my attempts at building and fixing even relatively simple items usually end with profanity and, frequently, a minor but painful flesh wound.
(Fortunately to my own flesh, most generally.)
I’m sufficiently self-aware, though, to realize that even my successful exploits, besides being rare, mainly result either from dumb luck or from the task being so simple that most fifth-graders could pull it off.
(And I mean no disrespect to fifth-graders.)
I spent an hour or so on the phone the other day trying to explain what sort of town Baker City is.
This is not as easy as you might think.
At least not when the conversation feels more like an interrogation.
The man who called said he and his wife are considering buying a home in Baker City.
Of several towns they’ve visited, Baker City is by a large margin their favorite, he told me.
But he still has questions.
A whole lot of questions.
How many ways can you think of to combine ground beef, refried beans, various forms of cheese, and sour cream?
Not as many as Taco Bell can.
Probably it’s not even close.
The fast food giant employs people whose creativity with taco shells and tortillas is boundless.
(I don’t know what to call these people, but “chef” just doesn’t sound appropriate for a business for which, it seems to me, the ultimate culinary achievement is to offer the most calories per dollar.)
Somewhere along about the mid 80s headphones broke out of the home, and although they occasionally slink back inside they’ve never been quite the same since.
They’ve become disposable, for one thing.
Not by design, to be sure, in the manner of a diaper or a coffee filter.
If used as headphones traditionally were used — to listen to “Dark Side of the Moon” while you’re sprawled out on a waterbed, for instance — even the flimsiest set could last for years.
But modern headphones, which must be small and light because we expect them to deliver our music and our podcasts and our audiobooks while we jog and pedal and rappel off the north face of the Eiger, simply can’t withstand the rigors of the iPod, cross-training world for long.
Although you don’t even need to be especially energetic to destroy a set.