18 December 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: K is for Kudzu

I know, it’s strange to list one of the greatest scourges of the southern landscape as a “favorite” thing, but it’s an iconic reminder of home. In October 2011, I traveled to Atlanta, GA to take a professional seminar. It was the first time I’d been back in the South since 2008. The conference center was nestled next to some woods along the campus of Emory University, and had a balcony just outside the classroom we were in. Stepping out onto the balcony during a morning break, smelling the crisp, just-starting-to-chill fall air, the still-green deciduous trees, the rich, organic earth, I was caught off guard by how forcefully I was transported home! Don’t get me wrong: I love the Pacific Northwest. I love the life I’ve made here and the native-Oregonian love of my life I found last spring, and wouldn’t trade a thing; but I’m a southern boy, and the temperate, relatively dry South will always be “home” over the Pacific North Wet.

Anyone who has traveled the highways and byways of the south has seen areas, sometimes whole fields and forests, overgrown with a thick layer of green, broad-leafed vines. Frequently, familiar shapes can be seen lurking beneath the mat of vegetation: an old tractor; an outhouse; the outline of a small, slow moving animal. It grows upwards of a foot a day. Its planting instructions are “drop it and run.” Its runners can regrow as long as any part of the “root crown” remains intact, and its hard coated seeds can remain dormant for years. It considers trimming a form of propagation, sneers at most herbicides, weathers most burnings, and will probably provide shelter for the cockroaches after the nuclear apocalypse.

So how did this aggressive, noxious, some would say useless plant ever get a foothold in the non-native US? It was introduced from Japan at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia as an erosion control measure, and boy, does it take control!

Not everyone thinks it’s useless, however. It has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years. It is said to be useful for treating migraines and cluster headaches, tinnitus, and vertigo. It was once touted as a hangover remedy, but a 2007 study largely discredited that notion. It’s a legume (bean), and contains food starch, which may make it useful as a substitute for cornstarch.

It’s considered an invasive weed and a master at competitive interference, choking the life out of native flowers, shrubs, and even large trees. But it’s not completely evil. It has a deep taproot which draws minerals into the topsoil, and increases nitrogen levels. It can be used for forage, particularly for goats, as it has a 15-18% crude protein content and 60% digestible nutrient value. It may also be useful in the production of cellulose ethanol. Its hemp-like fibers can be used to make paper, baskets, and clothing.

So here’s to you, Kudzu! May you… wait, hang on, something’s tuggin at my ankle…

13 December 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: J is for Justice Part III


I’m a firm believer in the rights of sane, law abiding individuals. Making me responsible for someone else’s foolish or criminal behavior is like putting me on a diet because you’re fat.  I have passed at least four background checks.  I have invested over 30 hours and hundreds of dollars in firearms safety and legal training.  Taking a gun out of my trained, screened, reasonable hands makes no one safer except the armed criminal trying to harm me and my family.

At the same time, rights come with corresponding responsibilities. Individual situations call for common sense. I’ve owned firearms for my entire adult life. I believe it is safe and prudent to be at least as well prepared for a confrontation with a criminal as the criminal is. He has no qualms about taking my stuff and/or doing harm to me and my family. The mere presence of an inanimate object, be it a firearm, knife, sword, poleax, hammer or a pencil, does nothing to alleviate or exacerbate a dangerous situation. Tools are in the hand of the wielder. Like a scalpel, it can take a life or save it. Common sense goes a long way. In my case, I have a situation that makes readily available firearms a risk greater than the potential reward. It would endanger more than protect, therefore, I don’t have them in my possession. I readily admit I feel more vulnerable in a confrontation, in the thankfully unlikely but not implausible possibility of a home invasion. That doesn’t mean I’m unprepared; come into my home with nefarious intent and you’ll find out how well prepared I am. But an inaccessible firearm is irrelevant, so for now, they’re not present in my home.  Might such a viewpoint have stopped Adam Lanza?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But we'll never know, will we?

I support certain common sense restrictions on firearms ownership; steps that can be taken to try to keep them out of the hands of people who cannot, or simply will not, handle them in a safe responsible manner. No firearm ever “accidentally” injured anyone without the careless or criminal intervention or lack thereof of a human intermediary. One such tragic situation close to home unfolded a year or so ago. A handgun owner discharged his weapon, firing through a wall and killing his own child. He claimed the gun fired while “practicing” with a holster. I’m no expert on the care and maintenance of firearms, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to unload a gun. There is absolutely NO excuse for carelessly handling a loaded gun. None. Whatsoever. It’s simply too easy to unload one. Even when unloaded, the most basic rule of gun safety is to treat every gun like it’s loaded. Not long after this event, I saw a post on Facebook comparing this incident to an automobile crash, insisting that gun manufacturers be held accountable the same way we hold car manufacturers liable in auto accidents. The problem with that reasoning is that we DON’T. The car company is only held liable if the car malfunctioned, and the gun in this incident didn’t. It did what it was designed to do. A release mechanism (trigger) was activated by pressure, causing a hammer to strike a pin, which struck a priming device that triggered a controlled explosion that propelled a projectile in a straight line where the barrel of the gun was pointed. Just like a car that drove where it was steered at the speed dictated by the accelerator, the fault lies with the careless operator, not the machine. No one sues Toyota if someone runs a red light.

I support two specific gun control measures that put me on the outs with many of my conservative brethren: expanded background checks and mandatory firearms safety training. NOT universal background checks, which would place an unreasonable regulatory burden on ordinary people doing ordinary things on rare occasions, but expanded use, and improvements to the current system. A background check is only as good as its database(s), and ours, frankly, aren’t very good at the moment. Information is inconsistent and not always shared among law enforcement agencies. The kind of red flags that might have kept Jared Loughner from legally purchasing a gun to use in a crime did not appear in his record, for a variety of reasons that brevity prevents me from exploring here. But the principal is simple: For a background check to be useful, it has to contain all relevant data necessary to making a sound decision.  Gun control (read: "elimination") fanatics like to use the "gun show loophole" to push draconian restrictions on firearms sales, and I agree.  The problem, again, in Oregon at least, is that there IS NO gun show loophole.  Background checks are ALREADY required for all handgun purchases at gun shows in Oregon.  I was with a friend once who bought an old, historic revolver at a gun show and he had to fill out a background check (he passed, shocker).  I do not, however, believe a private individual should be required to perform a background check on his son in order to do nothing more than hand him a gun to use at the firing range, which much recently proposed legislation would, by strict application of the language, require by defining this exchange as a “transfer.”

I have taken at least 30 hours of basic firearms training for the two state concealed weapons permits I have or have had in the past. I considered it fun and interesting, and although I possess a reasonable degree of common sense and consider myself safety conscious, I wouldn’t have a problem with making such courses mandatory in order to own a handgun. We make you take a test to drive a car because doing so without knowing what you’re doing can hurt people. Make the course useful, affordable, and relatively convenient, then make it mandatory.