Friday, July 15, 2016

Changing the US political system

It's been a while since I went on a long rant here (or, even posted here--I seem to be more and more just on facebook among my own friends), but here I go up on a soapbox again.

I keep seeing so many posts on social media decrying our current political and election system and wanting change.  And i absolutely agree---our system needs to change.  There are a lot of problems with it and some could be dealt with fairly easily, others will take more time--but all should be addressed--I could not agree more.

Here's where I disagree with most of the memes and rants about this that I have seen over and over in the last few months:


Why not, you ask?

Well, first of all it is simply wrong to change the rules midgame and as we are well into this election cycle, then changing them now is absolutely wrong.  IF you really care about this issue (as I do), if you really want to see changes happen, show that by continuing to care when there is not a canidate you love who would benefit NOW, in THIS election, by a rule change.
 Show that you are truly concerned about a flawed system and not just trying to swing things in your canidate's favour by staying interested and not losing focus after the election, but rather jumping in come January with a renewed and even stronger focus on changing the system, THEN, when no canidate is going to be seriously helped or hurt by doing so, beucase the country will not be in the thick of national elections is the time change can and should happen.  If you do not care enough to put the effort in when no particular canidate is at stake, then, honestly, quit whining beucase you are not that concerned about the sytem  and jsut want things in November to go your way and this seems like a convieneint way to try to make it happen.

Secondly--it is flat out not realistic to try some subversive way of creating change NOW.  Writing in your Green party or Independent or whatever else canidate this year will NOT suddenly mean a third party generates enough votes to make any sort of real and lasting difference.  What it might do, is squash the current momentum to make change, as then peopel will have seen an effort to change thigns fail (and, it WILL fail).  If it fails in a particularly spectacular way by resulting in syphoned off votes leaving a winner that most people do not want--well that is just going to hurt the overall movement even more.
Simply not voting, or voting for someone who doesn't stand a chance, is not a realistic way to change the system--it's like going to a buffet, reufsing to eat any of hte food nad then being surprised that most other poeple ate and the chef did not come out and make something you wanted after all.
At the end of the day, if inssiting on trying to change things right now does anything at all, it will harm the chances of creating realstic and meaningful change down the road.

So, what CAN you (and I) do?

Well, this year--do our best to work within the system to elect the best of the current crop of canidates both for president and at the congressional level.  Though I was a Sanders supporter in the primaries, for me that means throwing my support fully behind Hilary Clintonv for president--she's an amazingly well qualified canidate--running a platform which is more progressive than I have seen in a good long while, thanks largely to Sanders' influence.

Push for legislation which prevents media outlets from repoting the results of exit polls, and polls from releasing results, until ALL polling places for that election close.  I think this is the simplest thing on the list, but would have an effect----the West Coast and Hawaii should not be influenced by how people voted in Vermont and Florida anymore.  It is such a simple thing, and we will all survive waiting 24 hours to satisfy our curiousity about the outcome (maybe even push for this before November--this is the ONE change to the current system that I could imagine MIGHT be able to change so soon--though realistically I doubt it could happen before, so keep pushing for it after November too please).

Push for reforms to the lobby system.  This is probably the biggest flaw in our political system--and so many politicians benifit from it in so many ways  that this is going to take lots of time and effort (and it is so nearly impossible to be a national level politican and NOT take part in it and actually get elected that I cannot blame them)   Don't get bored and lose interest--keep caring and keep pushing until change happens.

Research and push for realistic ways to dismantel the hold a two party system has on our politics.  Personally, I would like to see double run off style elections for anyting national: the first vote includes all elegible canidates.  The top two vote getters then go into a second run off election (or top four if voting for two Senators, for example).  Under such a system no one feels they are "throwing away" a vote by voting for an Independent or Green or Libetarian, or other canidate in round one--and a particularly strong canidate from one of those parties might actaully then get through and to the final election; where I feel their chance would be as good as now as to get that far one of hte major party canidates would be knoecked out and not pulling votes away from the third party person.  In my opinion this is the best way to dismantle the stranglehold the two party system has on presidential elections--though I am very open to other ideas.  The MAIN thing is to have a realistic plan of what you want to change to, and then to work for that change outside of primary and election season.

Push to get rid of the electoral college.  The electoral college was a BRILLIANT way  to represent a large number of voters in a huge country in the predigital age.  There is no compelling reason to keep it now, and many to move forward into something more mordern and better representing the voting public.  Once again, change has to happen outside of an election season though.


And while I am at it--really, seriously, one of the best things you can do to effect life in our country is to educate yourself and get out and vote in every election you are elegible for.  School board elections, local shrrif elections, etc--very often what happens on the local level has a profound effect--make sure you are part of the change you want to see by taking part.

Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now--but I might jump back on in January to remind you all to KEEP CARING ONCE THE ELECTION IS OVER SO CHANGE CAN HAPPEN.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Port Day in Alesund, Norway

The third stop on our sailing was the furthest north---all the way up at 62 degrees North in Alesund.
Alesund is a small city of about 50 thousand known for its not so typical Norwegian  Art Nouveau architecture  (due to the town being almost entirely destroyed by fire in 1904 and then rebuilt in the style of the times, with help from German Kaiser Wilhelm who enjoyed vacationing there).  On our prior cruise to Norway we felt it was a nice little port, but paled in comparison to the other stops in the country.

We wanted to do something more interesting than just walk around town again.  Upon researching a bit I found that a mid May cruise was too early in the season for many of the main attractions (driving the Path of the Trolls road or visiting the Wildlife Sea Safari) with most things not being available or cleared of snow until around Mid June.  One in our party has a particular love of lighthouses, so I googled, found the locations of a couple of them and so began the planning for what turned out to be a lovely day in port.

We started off doing something which we have never, in all of our many past port days done: renting a car.   There is a Budget car rental counter about a 5-10 minute walk from the dock and the prices are surprisingly good.  So we reserved a car with the intent of circling around some of the small nearby islands to see lighthouses and other random views and just enjoy the scenery and small towns.  Picking up the rental car was simple and quick, and there is a gas station right next door which made refilling at the end of the day and returning it just as easy.

We drove off following signs to the airport (on one of the islands) as we made our way out of town and within just a few minutes we found ourselves going down into a very steep and very long tunnel with rough hewn rock walls which felt very much like it had been carved by those mythical Norwegian Trolls.

Out of the tunnel and in daylight again we were greeted with a sunny day and lovely views:

Our destination (still one island away): the Alnes Lighthouse

One steep and high bridge (to let bots through) and a short jaunt across another small island later, we parked at the surf beach (I read there is a very good point break here much of the year)

 and headed over to the delightful little lighthouse for a visit:

a view from the top

a view from the top.  You can see a tour bus pulling in.  We managed to be up top between tour buses which made it very nice.

The keeper's house is right next to the base and the three sisters there run a wonderful little coffee shop with good prices and excellent homemade goodies.  They are also super friendly.  We lingered for quite a while.

After about an hour enjoying the view and the coffee shop (and browsing through the small souvenir shop of all locally made items) we headed back out to look for some other lighthouses (smaller ones with no tour bus visits, not open to the public, and without cafes, but pretty to look at anyway).  The route took us all over the four islands in a nice loop which allowed us to see lots of pretty scenery:

We stopped at what guide books say is the only marble church in Norway.  Just a little white church in a lovely location:

And paused for a bit at a small white sand beach.  I figured this was as far north as I'd ever had the chance to put my toes in the ocean, so I braved the truly COLD water and darted in  for a minute:

As we looped back around and then over to the largest of the islands (the one with Alesund's airport) we happened to take a wrong turn and pass this great football pitch.  Plenty of balls were just out lying on it and we didn't think anyone would mind if we fooled around a bit so long as we were careful not to hurt anything--how often is it that we get to play football in Norway after all? 

And there was one last lighthouse to see.  We passed this  cute little house with the bird houses on the wall as we walked out to the lighthouse:

I just loved the juxtaposition of the old farm machinery, the field, the ocean and the snow capped peaks above--so I got David to pull over while I snapped a photo

Hanging out on the rocks and looking at the lighthouse

There was one last church to check out as we headed back towards Alesund:

All in all we had the car for about 5 or 6 hours and really enjoyed a relaxing, calm day exploring some beautiful countryside.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Port Day in Bergen, Norway

Our second port was in in Bergen, Norway--the storybook city that I fell in love with on our first visi.  Having fully explored the historic wharf on our last trip, and docking in a slightly different part of town with the Serenade (a bigger ship than what we had previously sailed in Norway) we decided to start the day by walking to the light rail station and heading out to Fantoft to see the Stave Church.  Here are some photos of the city as we walked to the station:

I had read that we should get off in Fantoft as the walk from the other direction was quite steep.  As we headed uphill, we thought I must have gotten it wrong, but when we went down the other way afterwards, we realized we had indeed climbed the gentler slope.  The stave church is tucked away up in the forest and no matter which way you approach from, there are uphill paths through lovely trees:

The church itself was originally built in about 1150 and moved to its current location in 1883.  It was destroyed by arson in 1992 and the rebuilt version seen here was finished in 1997:

At the time we were there, the church was not open for inside visits.  I am not sure if it is sometimes or not.

After exploring at the church, we headed back into the main part of town and down towards the historic (and oh so very picturesque) wharf.  

Our final stop as we headed back towards the ship was the fish market:

I wish I had put something in for perspective--these guys were HUGE

I am still enchanted by Bergen and hope to make it back there many times in the future.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

"The spirit of Norway, it lives, in its people" Constitution Day in Stavanger, Norway 2016

It's been a while since I have had time to devote to a good set of blog posts--but we are just back from a week cruising the amazing country of Norway and I feel compelled to make the time.

Our first port was the only one I had not been to previously:  Stavanger.  We were there on 17 May, which is Norway's national Constitution Day holiday which was a fabulous bit of luck (and I would now actively look for cruises which have me in port in Norway on May 17).

While we were eating breakfast up in the ship's buffet, we could already see more and more locals walking into town past the ship, all dressed for the occasion--so we finished eating quickly and hurried off assuming things would be starting earlier in the day than we initially anticipated.

Once off the ship we learned that the main parade would be at 4:00 pm (too late for us, as all aboard was at 4:00) and the children's parade at 10:00 (starting in about half an hour).  Stavanger has a population of about 120,000 and from the looks of things just about everybody in town came out for the children's parade---all lining the streets and all dressed in either traditional costumes or nicer dresses and suits.  Seriously, I think the only people not dressed for the occasion were us dowdy tourists (if I am ever in Norway on May 17 again I know to wear a nice dress!).  Most people also had Norwegian flags to wave (we, along with others from the ship, stopped in several open tourist shops trying to buy our own--alas all were sold out).

Thousands of kids, from kindergarten up to highschool walked the parade route with their school groups or in bands.  Again, every last one of them dressed for the occasion, many chanting or singing, some dancing the entire route, and amazingly pretty much everyone looking like they were having a genuinely good time and laughing and smiling----I can't imagine telling a few thousand American or German kids and teens to don suits and ties or dresses, and dress shoes and walk a parade and seeing them all happily participating.  I took a heck of a lot of photos because I was so enchanted, so bear with me and scroll on past quickly if you are less enthralled than I was (which, ok, I admit I am probably the only person THIS enthralled by it all--I adore local festivals and cute kids):
A mother and young daughter walk to the route to watch the parade

This family was watching the parade across the road from us


notice all the people watching in the background--when did you ever see such a well dressed bunch of parade viewers?

Students from the Stavanger British School wore sashes over their school uniforms

This groups appears to have danced the entire route (about 2 kilometers)

As the first groups finished the route, we noticed kids heading up the hillside to watch the others continue the parade down below.

Graduates in Norway all seem to wear these sort of work pants/overalls with the year and their names, etc on the legs--we saw the same thing in Aselund two years ago.

The group of highschool kids bringing up the rear were just as loud and exuberant as those at the start

After the parade, locals headed in droves to restaurants along the wharf, or home in the area or just walked around town and stopped to enjoy live music in front of the cathedral from time to time.  It was clear that the celebration was only just beginning and that everyone planned to be out and enjoying one another's company for man hours yet.  We took some time to enjoy exploring the small city:

This family were taking turns taking photos of the group and we offered to take one of all of them--they kindly allowed us take one for ourselves as well and chatted for a bit---the grandmother was telling us proudly about which of the historic white clapboard homes was hers.

Many locals were having their parties on boats and yachts docked in the harbor

View from the ship--we popped back on for a quick lunch before exploring more

These clapboard houses are part of the historic old town up on the hill 

It's rather jarring to see the big, modern ship popping up behind the homes---I wonder how residents feel about the ships docking throughout the summer?

Shortly before 1:00 everyone started to line the streets again--leaving parties and taking places on the curb--we thought perhaps we had been misinformed about the main parade being at 4:00 . . .

Nope!  The main parade was at 4:00---at 1:00 the graduates all walked in their class groupings while what seemed to be the entire town came out to cheer them on---I love that kind of support for one another

Here's one of the classes--after their walk through town they went to the courtyard of their school to sing and continue celebrating together

It's a good thing the ship docks right in town---the few restaurants open were booked solid with celebrants and we would have had no chance at getting a table

The Nobel Prize committee meets in Stavanger: along the wharf are the footprints of past winners including the Dali Lama and Al Gore

All in all this was one of my favourite port days ever--a storybook town with super friendly people who were just all having fun and celebrating together.  Perfection.