Looming French-Fry Shortage

Late-winter storms blessed the Pacific Northwest with record snowpack this past winter after years of mostly below-normal snow. Everyone from skiers to gardeners is pleased; everyone, that is, except potato farmers in Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon. The lingering winter weather has delayed the planting of this year’s crop. In normal years planting starts by the end of February; in 2019 the ground was not ready until April. Farmers are trying to get planting done in a month, a process normally taking two-and-a-half months.

Seventy percent of the nation’s French fries and hash browns and tater tots come from Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Northwest potato farmers did well last year, shipping much of a record crop to the rest of the U.S. as well as Canada and Europe where the harvests were poor.

Farmers have contracts with potato processors that give leverage to the processors. To keep up with French-fry demand, they can require the tubers be harvested before fully mature, thus reducing the yield – and the growers’ income – by thirty to forty percent.

Nothing like the Irish potato blight of the mid-nineteenth century when diseased crops – abetted by the United Kingdom’s refusal to interfere with God’s free-enterprise plan by providing aid – resulted in the deaths of more than a million Irish and the emigration of two-and-a-half-million more. So, if later this year, you’re paying more for your favorite pommes frite, remind yourself that it could be worse.

Jesus and the Easter Bunny

How did we go from the Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection to a bunny hiding eggs – chocolate or decorated – for the delight of children? You may not not recall any mention of it in the Gospels.

The two major Christian holidays coincidentally are observed on the change of seasons, times of celebration for much of humankind: Christmas at the winter solstice when the sun starts its return and Easter at the spring equinox, recognized from antiquity as a time of fertility. What follows may or may not be true.

Whence came the name “Easter?” It is thought to derive from a pagan figure known as Eostre who was celebrated as the goddess of fertility by the Saxons of Northern Europe. She was represented by that symbol of prolific breeding: a rabbit. There is, however no historical evidence for this.

Or maybe it’s because rabbits were thought to be hermaphrodites, able to reproduce without sex. Hence a connection with the Virgin Mary.

Eggs are an ancient symbol of new life and have been part of spring festivals for millennia.

Easter eggs are said to represent Jesus’s emergence from the tomb.

Eggs were considered forbidden during Lent. Christians decorated them to celebrate the end of fasting and ate them on Easter.

What is probably true is German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century brought with them stories of egg-laying(!) hares. Children made nests for the “Osterhase” to lay colored eggs. The Easter Bunny story expanded from there.

So honor the holiday that is the basis for Christianity but whose symbols have few documented origins and only the most tangential relation to Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Taxpayer First Act (Irony Alert!)

If you are near despair about the divisiveness of our body politic, take cheer in the rare bipartisanship demonstrated by the “Taxpayer First Act.” The 2019 measure, introduced by John Lewis (D-GA), co-sponsored by Mike Kelly (R-PA) and nine other Republicans and twenty-eight Democrats, passed the House unanimously by voice vote and now awaits action by the Senate. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) had already introduced similar legislation in the Senate.

"The first IRS reform legislation since 1998 ... would recast IRS as a service-first agency to better serve American taxpayers."

Legislators from both parties are boasting that this Act safeguards innocent taxpayers from abuse by the Internal Revenue Service. And, oh yeah, it also permanently prohibits the IRS from developing a free tax-filing service for taxpayers with low-to-moderate incomes, as some other developed countries do. H&R Block and Intuit (TurboTax) spent $6.6 million last year lobbying for this outcome. Coincidentally, sponsors of the ironically-named bill received campaign contributions from them.

H&R Block and TurboTax, part of the “Free File Alliance,” offer – and lightly promote – free-filing services. They mostly use it as a come-on to leverage clients into fee-for-service products.

The IRS, with taxpayers’ income information already supplied by employers and banks, could easily send out pre-filled forms for taxpayers with simple returns to make corrections or adjustments to and sign and return, and probably at less expense than the current system. But that would be socialism and we can’t have that.

When You Visit the Sundial

The Sacramento River bends to the east and then turns back south at Redding California. Turtle Bay Exploration Park attracts visitors from the local area and around the world. Spanning the river there is the famous Sundial Bridge. It really is a sundial; on the ground are markers indicating the time of day when the bridge spire’s shadow passes on June 21, the summer solstice. (You’ll need to extrapolate on other dates.)

The park also contains the obligatory gift shop and a café. As with most dining establishments, shirts and shoes must be worn. I don’t know what goes on in Redding, but it apparently necessitates displaying a rule that bottoms also are required.

Son of a gun… big fun on the bayou

Visiting a “New Orleans Bistro” in a gentrifying neighborhood gave me another reminder that I have gotten too old. I ordered Jambalaya (it was delicious) and added “But no crawfish pie or filé gumbo.” The server’s face was a big question mark, perhaps wondering if unlocking the front door that day had been such a good idea. When I rambled on with something about Hank Williams, she forced a sort-of smile, saying something about putting in the order as she backed away from the table.
It had not occurred to me that not everyone – especially in a Creole/Cajun-themed dining establishment – knows who Hank Williams was.

Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and filé gumbo