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Monday, July 17, 2006 ISSUE #417
 

Middle East war battles Discovery and Snake River dams for attention

July 17, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio: While I was out West for a week, it appears the "whole civilized world has degenerated" (see Historic quote below). That fellow running Iran is pretending to be Hitler, but he's substituting Chinese scientists for Germans, and sending out Hezbollah to do the fighting instead of German soldiers.

Discovery completed a wonderful space shuttle trip this morning and it's practically shoved off the front page by Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Even Iraq is feeling neglected.

Some people claim it's oil we're fighting for in the Middle East, but I think if you drill down to the core of the issue, it's not oil, but freedom. We can live without oil, in fact we did till about 150 years ago, but liberty is different.

Last week I was in Portland with about 1500 engineers who work under the banner of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. They aren't all working on solving our energy problems, but many are. They tell me that making ethanol from corn is kind of a temporary measure, and they figure they can find a way to convert leftover crop residues, like corn stalks, wheat straw, or switch grass in it's entirety, to a fuel we can burn in cars. If you've ever collected your own firewood from the forest you can imagine the job of gathering all those stalks and stems and efficiently hauling them to a fuel processor. But these engineers say they are up to the challenge and they aim to replace a quarter of all our crude oil needs by 2025.

Then I flew to Spokane in eastern Washington, home of the Gonzaga University basketball team, and drove down to Colfax to see first hand how they farm those rolling hills in the Palouse. We kid about farming the hills of Vermont, where the ears of corn roll by themselves to the bottom. But until you walk up and down the steep slopes where they raise wheat here and ride in a combine during harvest or on a tractor during planting you ain't experienced such a white knuckle ride unless you've been on a coaster at Six Flags or Cedar Point. If you wonder why they farm this land, it's because it's great soil and they get yields with less than 20 inches of rain that would make a Kansas wheat grower turn green with envy. This summer looks like a fine crop, maybe averaging over 100 bushels an acre for the good farmers. They haul it a few miles down to the banks of the Snake River and ship it anywhere in the world.

Out in this part of Washington, Oregon and Idaho the big argument is over the dams on the Snake River. These dams were built forty to fifty years ago so people in this territory could have electricity without burning coal or oil, and to get barges upriver as far as Lewiston, Idaho. Those barges let them haul lumber, paper, grain and other assorted goods down the river instead of clogging the highways with trucks. Salmon numbers suffer because of the dams, no doubt about it, but giving up the dams after they've been built seems kinda foolish. We're already spending millions and millions to help the fish get around the dams and down to the mouth of the Columbia.

You know, maybe the salmon would appreciate it if we hired a few sailors to harpoon the sea lions that daily gorge themselves on fish where it empties into the Pacific. They take out more salmon than the dams. With oil past $75 a barrel, electricity from flowing water makes sense to me. And I don't aim to give up my daily bread either.

Historic quote from Will Rogers:

    "I've been off the air here, I believe, about seven weeks. I went off purposely to see if I couldn't give the country a chance to pick up a little... It don't take much lookin' to see that it ain't done much since I've been gone. So I decided to come back on again and see if I can't get it started up again. The whole civilized world has degenerated in the last seven weeks, not only the whole civilized world, but the Democratic party, too. That's quite an admission.
    Well, while I had my head turned and wasn't on the radio, Hitler broke out on me. Hitler broke out on me and tore up the Versailles Treaty. It wasn't a good treaty, but it was the only one they had. They was a year making it, and he tore it up in about a minute. And they had been about a year fixing it all up, all these nations. We got in on the signing of it. We got nothin' out of the treaty, outside of the pen that we signed with, that was all we got."
Radio broadcast, March 31, 1935


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