Monthly Archives: May 2004

One heck of an ego

I’ve been trying to figure Ralph Nader out. Sure, he has had an illustrious career, where he has served as a tireless crusader for the consumer. In 1966, he wrote the book Unsafe at Any Speed, which prompted Congress to pass many automobile safety laws. And he was just getting warmed up.

Throughout his career, his position on nearly every issue has been at odds with the Republican party. (And certainly today’s Republic party.) Yet, when he ran for President in 2000, he effectively tipped the Presidency over to George Bush by stealing votes from Al Gore.

That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. He disagrees. Gore would have carried states such as New Hampshire and Florida if a portion of Nader’s votes had instead gone to Gore. It’s possible that the votes Nader
received in highly competitive states might not otherwise have been cast, or might have been cast for George Bush. Sure, anything’s possible. We’ll never know. And he’s correct in pointing out that he didn’t steal votes from anyone — each candidate earned his votes. (Ignoring, for the moment, those butterfly ballots.)

In the past four years, many of the protections Nader has advocated for his entire career have been unrolled by a party essentially in control of all three branches of government. A party governing from the far right, when most Americans are more towards the center. Agencies which are intended to protect the public good — such as the Environmental Protection Agency — have become quite chummy with big business.

One has to wonder what the world would be like today if the election played out differently in 2000. It would certainly be quite different.

But Nader says today that there is little difference between the two major parties. And that’s why, once again, he is running for President, this time as an Independent. He’s having trouble getting on the ballot of every state — some states have strict requirements for Independents, and Nader is finding many of his supporters from 2000 don’t — what’s the word? Ah yes — don’t respect him so much anymore. Because they realize there is quite a huge difference between the two parties, and they realize just how much is at stake this November.

But Nader’s running again, because he feels he can make a difference. He wants to shine light on some of the problems in the world, and what better way to do this than run for President?

His detractors argue it’s all about his ego.

I have listened to what Nader has to say, and he makes some reasonable points. But I can’t help but feel he is missing the forest for the trees. He is not seeing the bigger picture.

I’ve concluded it really must be about his ego. And what led me to this conclusion is the realization that Nader has been missing in action these past four years.

If he really was an advocate for change — and concerned about the injustices in the world — what exactly has he done since 2000, when he lost the election, and arguably made the party most closely aligned with his principles lose the election?

Did he continue to deliver his message? Did he caucus with members of Congress to lobby his views and the views of those that supported him in 2000? Sure, you can get things done when you’re President. But you don’t have to be President to get things done. Nader should know this firsthand.

Although Nader is polling in the low single digits in some states, my prediction is that, come Election Day, he will receive very few votes. (In a similar way, all bets were on Howard Dean until the very first primaries — when voters apparently sobered up and opted to vote for the candidate they felt was more electable, realizing just how much was at stake.)

Photos of the Day: Spring Trip to Shenandoah

I just returned from a brief trip to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, where I tried out two new hikes. (Well, new for me.) Of course, I took plenty of photos, including several waterfall shots.

Hundreds of miles of trails are scattered about Shenandoah, including a chunk of the Appalachian Trail. Skyline Drive provides access to the Park, winding its way across the top of the mountain range from north to south, much of the length of Virginia. As you might guess, this means that most trails start at the top of the mountain and drop down into the valley, perhaps chasing a stream as it grows in size, cascading through a number of waterfalls.

Back in college, I visited Shenandoah frequently with a bunch of college friends. Some of my friends hadn’t been hiking much, and had never been to a national park. They were quite surprised by the challenge of Shenandoah’s trails. Pick a random trail, and half of it is going to be a torturous climb. “Body by Shenandoah,” remarked one tired friend on a return hike. “How many calories do you burn hiking at Shenandoah? All of them.”

One thing that can greatly affect the difficulty of the trails is the temperature. Well, temperature and humidity — and both were high on my recent trip. My favorite time of the year at Shenandoah is autumn, where cool, dry air scares away bugs and presents a canvas of hundreds of stars at night.

The bugs were out in force, and even with generous amounts of DEET, swarms of no-see-ums (heck, I could see ’em) and an occasional black fly circled around my head relentlessly, in their own annoying orbit.

On Sunday afternoon, I arrived at Shenandoah and immediately went on the Fox Hollow Trail, located just across the street from the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, in the northern section of the Park. Fox Hollow is a 1.2-mile loop trail, with an elevation loss and gain of 310 feet. Plenty of wild flowers were out in bloom.

Along the way, there is evidence of an old homestead that was established in 1856 and abandoned sometime in the early part of the 20th century. The history is captured in a small graveyard, surrounded by heavy forest and singing birds. Not a bad final resting place.

On Monday, I drove to the Fishers Gap Overlook and walked across the street to the trailhead for Rose River. This 4-mile loop trail spends a lot of time chasing a cascading river as it alternates between tumbling waterfalls and quiet pools. The first half of the trail is downhill — and with temperatures in the 80’s and humidity nearing 100%, I knew the second half of the trail was going to be much harder than the first.

The trail begins to climb and eventually comes within shouting distance of the bottom of Dark Hollow Falls, the most popular trail at Shenandoah. To complete the Rose River Falls loop, one climbs the Rose River Fire Road, which winds its way back to Skyline Drive. Along the way it, too, passes a graveyard, providing further evidence of the rich human history of Shenandoah.

Rose River was a challenging hike in the heat, with an elevation change of 900 feet.

On each hike, I always see something new, such as a mushroom growing out of a tree.

I also see a different mix of wildlife when I visit Shenandoah. I saw plenty of deer — often darting into the road in front of me. I drove home around 11 p.m. on Monday night, and shared Skyline Drive with animals, not cars. I counted several raccoons scurrying along the road, and saw a big old owl sitting in a tree, keeping an eye out for a tasty rodent. There was a large snake in the middle of Skyline Drive, an unfortunate casualty of the wheels of some car or truck. I also saw some small creature darting across Skyline Drive, although I couldn’t make out what it was. (Perhaps a lost chiahuaha?) Rounding out the wildlife, I saw some wild turkeys, and startled two very large woodpeckers while hiking. I didn’t see any black bears this trip, though.

Folklore: Anecdotes about the development of the Mac is a fascinating site that collects anecdotes from the original design team of the Apple Macintosh. There are 111 entries from such luminaries as Andy Hertzfeld, Bruce Horn, Caroline Rose, and Steve Capps. It’s really neat to hear the story behind the story on a wide variety of topics related to the design of the Mac and the personalities behind it.

Shots of the Day: Vegas, Baby

So, I recently returned from a trip to Las Vegas, where I briefly married Britney Spears. (No, not really.)

And that provides some fodder for today’s photos of the day.

Here we see an excellent example of fine engineering on display at the Aladdin Resort and Casino. Is it an exit? Or not? Who knows? Hey, nothing like a little gambling in a fire emergency. They really carry the gambling theme and run with it, don’t they?

I’m happy to say that I walked out of the Bellagio Resort a big winner. Since my last visit to Vegas, the slot machines have been reengineered so that they no longer drop coins when you cash out. No, now they print out a voucher (accompanied by a digitized coin dropping sound — much like my cheaper digital camera, which plays a digitized shutter sound when a picture is taken — both cheapen the experience, in my opinion). This voucher must be taken to a cashier and exchanged for cash.

Well, I deposited one dollar into a penny slot machine (yes, they actually do have penny slot machines at Bellagio — as well as $500 ones), hit the button (yeah, they’ve stolen the levers from slot machines, too), and instantly won six cents. Six cents! Quite satisfied, I hit the cash out button, and proudly marched up to the cashier with my voucher and a big smile on my face. I think they were somewhat annoyed.

Those are the infamous fountains doing their thing in front of Bellagio. In the background you can just make out the light beaming from the top of the Luxor and into the night sky.