A Brief Note on Politics

A Brief Note on Politics

My parents have been Republicans since, oh sometime around the Kennedy era. Before I was born. This is sometimes a source of friction between us; for the most part it is best if we just don’t discuss politics at all.

The thing is, they aren’t at all religious. They dislike the “religious right.” They claim to be pro-gay, and pro-choice[1], and I think they are sincere in those beliefs. They have just always believed that they will be better off financially under the Republicans — their taxes will somehow be lower, and so on. “Voting by their pocketbook” is one way of putting it.

They ignore the religious right wing of their party — a wing that has gotten louder and louder over the years. On rare occasions when we do discuss politics, they seem to regard me as a “single-issue” voter because I can’t ignore the Republican party’s anti-gay stance.

In an attempt to speak their language, I have occasionally attempted to explain that voting against the anti-gay policies is, in fact, voting according to my pocketbook since these policies, aside from being unjust, do have an actual financial impact on my life. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to make them see that.

Today I came across this article that lays it out.

Gay people pay higher taxes. One candidate wants to keep it that way and one has taken steps – and is encouraging more – that will make your wallet feel the impact of government on a more equal setting. It all comes down to DOMA.

Barack Obama believes that same-sex couples should be allowed access to marriage and Mitt Romney believes that they should not. And while these beliefs have not historically had much real consequence, in 2012 they do. It’s not just opinion, it’s not just position, it’s money in your pocket.

And then he describes five ways the lack of marriage costs gay people more, mostly as a result of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Many of these issues mostly apply to people in places where same-sex marriage is legal (alas, not Montana), but I have been hit with this one:

Gay Tax – This one is the most obscene of all tax differences and, for unfathomable reasons, it is the one that no politicians of either party seem willing to address. If your brother covers his wife on his health insurance policy at work, it is a non-taxable benefit. If you, however, cover your wife (or domestic partner) on your health insurance policy at work, the IRS requires your boss to report the amount as income to you and they tax it. This can mean hundreds of dollars a year paid in taxes, just for being gay.

(As many employers in non-marriage states now honor domestic partnerships, this is not exactly a DOMA issue. Even if DOMA is overturned, many gay employees will remain subject to the Gay Tax.)

Read the whole thing for all the facts and figures and details. The final paragraph sums it up:

So while there could be a legitimate argument that our civil rights are a more important consideration than our pocketbook, I don’t think that in this election they are in competition. It is because of our civil freedoms and equalities and also because of our pocketbooks that I endorse Barack Obama for reelection on Tuesday.

I couldn’t agree more.

  1. Despite the fact that my mom really admires the Bush family (don’t ask, I don’t know why), she actually did write a letter to the first President Bush explaining that she disagreed with his pro-life stance because she was the parent of two daughters. But that was a very long time ago; as far as I know, she never sent any letters to the second President Bush.

Pippin’s Halloween



Several weeks ago, we replaced a section of fence in the back yard. There were two main reasons for this:

the old fence with Pippin perched on top

the old fence with Pippin perched on top

  1. It was a strange, old, ugly fence built out of logs, and it was starting to fall down in spots.
  2. Pippin had started escaping the back yard at night. However he was getting out, he couldn’t get back in, so he’d sit on the front porch and cry (loudly) in the middle of the night till we woke up and let him back in. We suspected he was using the concrete wall we added for the waterfall this past summer to jump the fence (he has no front claws so he couldn’t be climbing out).

Anyway, we replaced the fence with a more normal-looking fence, complete with a custom trellis to make it tall enough (hopefully) keep Pippin in. We finished it up back in mid-October.

new fence from the outside

new fence from the outside

Pippin stayed in the yard for several nights so we thought we solved the problem. We had several cold nights, so on those evenings we locked both cats up in the cat room to keep the heat in, so he didn’t have any opportunity escape for a while.

This past weekend, we finally setup the cat door in the cat room so that they could go outside when they wanted. All was fine for a few nights…

Until this morning (October 31), around 7 am when we heard Pippin crying at the front door again! At least this time he waited till morning instead of yelling in the middle of the night.

Hmm…a black cat with amazing escape artist abilities…and he waited until Halloween to demonstrate that he could still overcome the fence.

So…from now on, that cat is getting locked up at night.

Oh well, it is still a really nice fence and I’m glad that project is done – one less thing to worry about next spring.

panoramic photo from the inside

panoramic view of the fence from the inside

Rant: Rude People

So, I kind of hate to post this. I have been terrible about updating my blog lately. We’ve had a very busy, but great summer with lots of good things happening that I really should be writing about – our trip to Utah back in the spring, some cool backyard landscaping projects, a couple pool parties, a camping trip, river rafting, a brand new truck, river tubing, lots of good bike rides with the dogs, lots of days swimming in the pool, and a relatively good visit with family members. So I sort of hate to go and post something negative.

But this incident made me cranky today. So there you have it.

We were at the courthouse to get plates for our new truck. Montana has an enormous number of specialty plates to choose from to support various organizations. They had a big display on the wall, so we wandered over to look over our options while we waited for them to call our number. We considered keeping our current plate (supporting the Spay and Neuter Task Force), but sort of wanted to try something new.

Our Old Plate

Our old plate for the Spay and Neuter Task Force.

As we browsed the plates, we heard a deep voice say something like “pretty soon even the queers and lesbians will have a plate.” From his tone you could tell he didn’t much like this prospect.

Now, I am not very confrontational and had no wish to get in an argument with someone in a public place. But his comment burned me. For one, there would be nothing wrong with a gay or lesbian group sponsoring a license plate. The “Montana Right to Life Association Educational Trust” has a plate, after all, and abortion is a controversial political issue.

But the other issue was just his derisive tone. And the fact that I really don’t think it was a coincidence that he chose to make this comment right at that moment when two women were standing there discussing the plates they wanted for their vehicle.

Now, unlike me, Renee is not afraid of confrontation (she is a combat veteran after all). She turned to the man and asked, “Is that really an appropriate comment?”

I think he was surprised to be challenged. He dug in his heels “well what else am I going to call queers and lesbians? It’s politically correct.”

Somehow I don’t think his comment had anything to do with “political correctness.”

Renee replied “you’re a rude man. And you’re teaching that to your son. That was an inappropriate comment.”

This went on for a few minutes more, with him focusing on “what else am I going to call them.” He threw in the word “faggot” somewhere along the way and groused that “its pretty common around here.” So there are just too many of those queers and lesbians here in Missoula? Or something?

Somehow we continued looking at the plates and agreed on the one to get (Montana Audobon – we liked the image of the birds.)

The new plate

Our new plate supporting Montana Audobon

Renee was still steaming. But I was proud of her. She managed the entire confrontation without raising her voice, causing a scene, getting in a fight, or calling him any sort of name. She just pointed out that the was being rude. That’s all.

I guess the whole point is, people can think whatever they like and believe whatever they like. I mean, I’ve certainly seen people out in public who appear to live their lives in a way with which I might disagree. But I don’t go out of my way to insult those people when I see them. I ignore them and go about my own business. Because I don’t see a need to be purposely rude to strangers.

(On another note – technology is cool. I drafted most of this post on my phone while we waited for them to call our number. Just edited and filled in a few bits later on at home.)

First Real Hike!



Saturday was a beautiful spring day. It was also the first weekend since I got the “all clear” from my foot surgeon. My foot is still not fully back to normal, but I did get the okay to start hiking and going on longer walks.
map of our hike

So we went on a hike in Blodgett Canyon with Toony and DeAndria. We left the dogs at home for this one because we were concerned about traps and we didn’t want to deal with five leashes. We’ll probably bring them next time, but it was nice to hike without having to worry about the dogs.

The hike ended up being a little over 4.5 miles, so it was definitely the longest since my surgery.


My new backpack the day it arrived in the mail

It was also a good opportunity to test-drive my new, lightweight hiking boots and my new pack. So far the new gear is working out. The pack felt great. The boots felt pretty good too.

It felt great to be out on a hike again. The last significant outdoor thing I’ve done was when we went cross-country skiing the last weekend before my surgery, back in early January. I’ve been going on short walks for a while now (probably longer than I was supposed to) but there is a huge difference between just walking around town and hiking on a trail.

Wow, my foot actually can bend now!

Wow, my foot actually can bend now!

Blodgett Canyon is not a difficult trail. It has a little uphill at the start, then just follows right along the creek. There were a few fallen trees to climb over and a few rocky patches, but for the most part it was a great choice to get back to hiking.

recording video

Renee caught me recording a little video

tall cliffs and blue sky

I love the cliffs up against the blue sky!

blue sky and the creek

I didn’t take a lot of video or pictures during this hike…it was nice to just be out in the woods and relax. But here is a very short video with some of the highlights. I especially liked getting some shots of the rushing creek and a cool waterfall on the cliffs across the creek from the trail.


It was a great day out in the woods. My feet were sore when we made it back to the car, but it felt more like general soreness from being out of shape, not pain from the surgery.

After this hike, I am relatively optimistic that I will be able to hike during our Utah trip in a few weeks.
on the trail

Rant: Rick Santorum’s Campaign Tour Bus

OK, so I’m never going to be a fan of Rick Santorum. He is a bigot, he pushes against women’s rights, and his “google problem” that he likes to complain about was started because of vile things he said about gay people. I find it astounding that he is still in the race; not that it matters to me since I’m not going to be voting in the Republican primary. But still.

Incredibly, he’s managed to find an additional way to piss me off.

This is Rick Santorums Tour Bus with a Montana license plate
This is Rick Santorum’s Tour Bus with a Montana license plate

This is his campaign tour bus. With a Montana RV license plate, similar to the one I have on my own travel trailer parked out in the driveway. The difference is, I actually live in Montana. Unlike Mr. Santorum.

Here is a link to the story last night on KPAX: MT plates spotted on presidential candidate’s bus | KPAX.com | Missoula, Montana

Here’s the deal. Registering an RV in this state is cheap. It is a one-time fee for a permanent plate…no yearly renewals. It cost me $180 to register my trailer when we bought it in 2010 and that was that. It is, absolutely, a great deal.

But it should only be a great deal for people who live in this state and support the state in other ways.

As noted in the KPAX story, it is possible for non-residents to get these plates by establishing a Montana Limited Liability Company (LLC). This then acts as a resident under state law and can be used to register the motor home. It is perfectly legal, but the whole concept feels a little…corrupt…to me.

Why it Annoys Me

We don’t have a sales tax here, and our motorhome registration fees may be low, but we do certainly have a state income tax. Back when I first moved here, it did seem as though the MT income tax was a bit more than what I paid back in Illinois, so it seems we probably are in line with most other states in that respect. I of course pay property taxes on my home. And the vehicle registration fees for normal trucks and autos are renewed every year, and are significantly more that what I paid back in Illinois (back in 2005, I paid about $70-$80 a year in Illinois. Here, it is based on the value of the vehicle, so for a few years there I was shelling out around $300 a year for my 2004 Honda Civic).

So I am contributing considerable money to this state to keep it running. In addition, I live here. I spend my salary here, on goods and services right here in Montana, thus presumably helping to keep local businesses in business and keep Montanans employed.

In other words, yes, I get a really nice break on registering my RV for dirt cheap. But I pay for it in other ways.

These people who work around residency laws with their LLCs are not contributing to our state’s economy in the same way. Yes the registration fee tosses a little money at the state government, but they do nothing else to support the state that is giving them this great deal on their motorhome license plates.

Furthermore, they are cheating their own state out of taxes they should be paying there.

I find it annoying when normal people do this. They should be lobbying their own states to change their registration fees rather than using a different state. But normal people often don’t have much power to change their governments, so I have a small amount of sympathy.

I have zero sympathy for a politician who actually holds political power and influence.

Note to Mr. Santorum: If you don’t like the fees charged by the state of Pennsylvania, perhaps you should work with the elected officials there to change those fees. And put Pennsylvania plates on your damn tour bus.

(Minor caveat: I suppose it is entirely possible that the tour bus was rented from a Montana-based company rather than owned by Santorum. In which case, consider my rant against Santorum null and void…although I stand by my irritation with the LLC practice in general. And I’ll still never like the man.)

Making Home Movies



Last year when we went on our trip to Utah, I had a brand-new video camera. A little Panasonic thing that could record onto SD cards like a digital camera. In some ways I found it was more fun than my Nikon still camera, especially in the canyons where I could sweep up to see the towering canyon walls far more dramatically than with a single still shot.

At first, no one wanted me to videotape them, but as we got into some of the more interesting hikes, climbing up and down rocks in the slot canyons, everyone seemed to enjoy the idea that this whole great adventure was being recorded.

The problem with taking videos on vacation is that it is even more time-consuming than just reviewing pictures when you get home. The raw video itself is fun to watch but to make it something really enjoyable, you really need to spend some time editing it…picking the good parts and cutting out all the little errors and goofy parts, adding titles and transitions, and so on.

So once we got home, I started working on pulling all those clips into something worth watching. With the help of iMovie, I quickly created a cool "trailer" that my friends loved. This also created very high expectations for the rest of the movie.

The Utah Trailer

Summertime house projects and nice weather got in the way of completing very much. I finished a bit more in the fall, but then was busy over the holidays. Foot surgery forced me to be sedentary in the winter, so I started cranking away again, feeling a bit of panic that I would still be working on this when we left on this years trip in May!

Finally, about a month ago we scheduled a movie night with our friends for tonight. The idea was to help us get in the mood for planning this years trip. This had the added benefit of giving me a deadline up finish this project.

So for the last few weeks, I’ve spent most evenings with earbuds stuffed in my ears, reviewing video clips and editing my movies. By last night, it was nearly done. This morning I got up a bit early and did some last-minute fixes to the credits on the final movie before work. I kicked off the DVD burn process while working so that I could keep an eye on it (it took about 2 hours to burn the DVD…although see below for info on issues with this).

In a way, I felt almost as much deadline pressure as I do when I have a tight deadline at my real job.

Some things I learned in this project:

  • Don’t overuse the zoom button. Many times as I reviewed my video, I found the perfect shot sweeping along a beautiful landscape, but then the camera zoomed in on some feature and disrupted the mood. It would have been better to just take in the shot, then zoom and do another sweep separately.
  • When building a movie from the clips, watch all the related clips first so that you know exactly what you have to work with. This also helps you identify any good themes you might want to highlight. For example, our first hike with real climbing was in Crack Canyon. After watching all the clips (about 40 minutes or so) I decided that the theme of that hike was us learning to climb and working together. So I picked music appropriate to that theme.
  • Related to the above point, when reviewing video clips for a project, take notes as you go. I didn’t start doing this till I got to my last few videos. For the clips I liked, I would jot down the time stamp and a brief description. When building my video later, I kept these notes handy so that I could quickly find each clip I wanted to use.
  • For my project, I did a separate movie for each hike. I then did an additional movie to highlight other memorable moments during the trip, particularly those that didn’t fit into the hike videos. It seems pretty obvious but I didn’t think to note down some of these moments when reviewing the clips the first time, so I had to re-watch quite a bit when making this last movie.
  • Background music is magic. Adding music can somehow tie a whole heap of separate clips into a single unified thread. As long as you pick the right song of course.
  • Background music can even work when you’re using the original audio from the clips, although you should use instrumental pieces for this and lower the volume so it doesn’t overpower the clip audio.
  • Make sure the date and time on the camera is set correctly so that you can be confident the times shown in your movies are correct. This wasn’t a problem with my video camera, but it was a bit of an issue with our still cameras since I did use some still pictures in the movies as well.
  • Even imperfect video can be used in your movie. Sometimes you can do tricks like using cutaways to use audio from one clip while showing a different clip to hide imperfections. Also, slow-motion and freeze frames can be handy when you only have a couple good seconds of a particular segment.
  • Slow motion was especially handy for some of my shots of birds and other wildlife. For example, I got a nice shot of lizard. Later, when watching it in slow motion, I realized he stuck out his tongue! Very cool and something I completely missed while filming.
  • Some shots that seem silly, like roasting hotdogs over a crackling fire, can make for nice ambience later.
  • For a particular movie or section, come up with a consistent method for transitions. For example, in our climbing movies, I used crossfade transitions between clips about different obstacles. But when showing each person conquering the obstacle, I just cut from clip to clip with no fading between them. This made each obstacle feel like a self-contained unit.
  • When using music, there is no need to use the entire song. If you need to cut off the song before it’s done, just fade it out. Even if it’s in the middle, this often makes it sound like it is really at the end.
  • When setting up scrolling credits to show at the end of the movie, be sure to allow enough time so that it that the text scrolls by at a readable pace.
  • Know the limits of your software. I discovered a little too late that iDVD, the software used to create the DVD, had a limit of 15 minutes of animated menus. At the last second, I had to change my menus so that I could burn the DVD. I should have planned my menus a little differently to make better use of those minutes. Or researched other alternative software.
  • Test things like DVD burning ahead of time. Multiple times. The wasted media is worth the piece of mind when you come up on your deadline. I did do this to a point…I burned a couple test DVDs early in the month. But I didn’t test with the dual-layer DVDs out of concern for the expense. Well, I’ve now wasted three of those expensive discs and have been unable to get one to work in our DVD player. I finally split the movie into 2 discs, but if I had done more testing ahead of time, maybe I could have had time to troubleshoot the issue and get it working.
  • When I am recording video with audio, I should never, ever attempt to sing (this advice might not apply to everyone!)

Some of this advice is probably pretty obvious, but these were all things I learned along the way. I am hoping that with these tips next year it won’t take me quite so long to put together the video from our Utah trip.

(Please forgive any odd typos here. I wrote this post on my iPhone because my laptop is still busy burning the DVD!)

Darwin’s Interesting Day


Darwin waiting for more fetch

This is Darwin. He is our “special needs” dog. He is usually a good dog at home, but he has issues with other dogs (other than the poodles and Cricket) and with people he doesn’t know very well. In these situations, he gets very barky and anxious. Since he is a medium sized black dog, he can often look a little threatening when he does this.

We’ve done a lot of work with him on this — including working with a professional dog trainer — but most of the training is really more about how to manage him rather than necessarily curing his issues. He has shown some improvement and has been a little easier to manage, but he still has his issues.

Today, he had a few experiences that were very new to him…and he actually did quite well.

So, this morning was hectic and chaotic. Renee had an early appointment and had to rush out the door. I went into my home office and started work, completely forgetting that today was an Alpine Canine day. They come and pick up the dogs in a cute little bus and take them on a three-hour hike. This has been especially great since my foot surgery since that has made it much harder for us to hike the dogs ourselves.

Alpine Canine Bus

The orange Alpine Canine bus

Normally on Alpine Canine days I put Darwin in his kennel ahead of time so that he is out of the way when they pick up the other dogs. I also lately have been working in the living room for an hour or so in the morning, so I see the bus pull up.

But in the chaos of this morning, I completely forgot all of this. Until about 9:15 or so when all the dogs started barking wildly. I “ran” to the living room (more like a fast hobble) and was surprised to see the Alpine Canine bus parked in the driveway. The hiker picking them up, Jeremy, was already at the door.

The first thing that came to my mind was not the fact that Darwin was running around free, but rather getting collars on the poodles. I grabbed the collars and opened the door so that I could start sending out the dogs as I put on their collars.

Then Darwin started barking, alarmed to see a stranger standing at the door.

The next thing I knew, he dashed out the door and started running towards the bus. I’m not sure if it was because he wanted to go hiking too, or he heard the other dogs on the bus barking, or maybe he just wanted to know why there was a strange vehicle in the driveway.

Jeremy, the Alpine Canine hiker, rushed right after Darwin and somehow — I’m still not sure how — got him to stop running around the yard. Then he scooped up the dog and carried him back to the house. I wish I had a camera in that moment for the look on Darwin’s face as he realized that a complete stranger had not only touched him, but picked him up and carried him.

Once Darwin was safely back in the house, we finished getting collars on the poodles and they went off on their hike. Darwin seemed a little bummed to see the bus driving away. I still couldn’t believe that Jeremy had been able to wrangle him and carry him so quickly.

Later in the day, while the poodles were still on their hike, we took Darwin and Cricket on a short walk to a nearby school so that he could play fetch and get a little exercise. I still can’t go on long walks all the way to the river, but this at least gives him time to run around a bit. And he loves fetch.

Darwin and Renee in the park

Darwin and Renee in the park

When we finished with the fetch, we let him carry his tennis ball as we walked home. It sometimes seems to help; it is sort of a “binky.” Plus if he does decide to bark, at least it will be a little muffled.

We passed an elderly woman who noticed him carrying his tennis ball. She stopped and approached us to comment on this and say hello to Darwin. And for the second time in the day, he surprised me. He didn’t get upset and start barking when she walked up to us. He actually stood there wagging his tail and looking friendly.

He only got a little concerned when she held out her hand. He backed up and barked (muffled by the tennis ball), but he settled back down as soon as she backed off. We chatted for a few more minutes and then continued on our walk home.

He’s still a special needs dog, but it was encouraging to see him do well with a few new experiences.

Thinking About Summer


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So here it is still winter (complete with new snow yesterday and this morning) and I’m still hobbling around the house waiting for my foot to heal. But I find myself thinking about summer…and camping, hiking, and backpacking.

So I had to look through some of my pictures from our backpack trip to Oreamnos Lake last September. I love this one – the sky is so blue. And the dogs are all looking down the rock as if to say, “are you crazy? We’re not going down that way!”

Up on a rock looking down

Trapping Rant Part 2

I just realized I never followed up on my previous post regarding KPAX’s special report on trapping.

I think this page is the summary of part two. They did at least acknowledge concerns about pets getting trapped, but it was very brief. Overall, I wasn’t especially impressed with their “special report” on this issue.

But in related news, this Saturday the Humane Society here in Missoula is hosting a workshop on releasing your pets from traps. The workshop will be put on by Footloose Montana, a non-profit organization fighting against trapping on public land. They were (briefly) mentioned in the KPAX piece.

Renee and I are definitely planning on going to this…hopefully this will help us keep all our dogs a little safer when out in the woods.

Trap Workshop Poster

Trapping Rant

Last night, our local CBS channel (KPAX) had a “special report” about trapping on public land on the ten o’clock news. It turned out to be just “part one;” the second part should air tonight. Part one made me extremely cranky, especially right before bed.

Here’s the story. The text on this page is most of what they covered in the story:

Trapping Remains Hot Topic – Part 1

They spent most of the time talking to trappers and people who support trapping as a “traditional way of life.” They alluded to people who oppose trapping, but sort of implied that the opposition is mostly concerned with the animals that are being harvested via trapping. They didn’t mention at all that much of the opposition is about safety of the people and pets that are also out in the public lands.

For example, the trapper they talked to said he didn’t see that this was any different from hunting or from hooking a fish. And, from the perspective of cruelty to wild animals, that’s mostly true – the animal ends up dead either way. I would point out that at least the hunter or the fisherman normally kills the animal cleanly, not leaving it to perhaps suffer for hours or days. But set aside that issue for a moment. 

My big issue is that I don’t want to see one of my dogs get caught in a trap. I’ve heard too many horror stories. The trapper they interviewed sounded relatively responsible, but not all people doing this are going to do things the right way. Some will set their traps right near trailheads, for example. What a lazy way to “hunt!”

Then there was this quote from a Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks spokesman:

We certainly respect the opinions of those people that are opposed, there are differing opinions on hunting, fishing, trapping – you name it. That’s personal opinion and some of it’s the result of information they’ve heard that maybe correct, or incomplete or inaccurate information. It’s a value thing and people have different opinions which they’re entitled to,” he added.

Nothing in there even hints at the fact that people might be opposed for safety reasons, not because of “differing opinions on hunting.” And I totally don’t get the “value” thing. Yes, I value my dogs being alive and safe and unhurt. Is that what he means by “value thing?”

And again the trapper they interviewed:

It’s the perception that we’re these people that are beating animals over the head with a club – and that’s not true,” Kempthorne told us.

No, actually, I didn’t have that perception. I had the “perception” that you left dangerous traps (perhaps even baited with food) in areas where pets out for a hike in the woods might stumble over them and be hurt or killed. And nothing in the interview or overall report did anything to erase that perception of trapping.

Anyway, I suppose I will tune in to the news again tonight for part two, and see if the “special report” gives a fair hearing to the other side, and clarifies the reasons people oppose trapping. But so far, I was not very impressed.