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.

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.

The Flintstones in California

You may have seen the house on your way to or from San Francisco International Airport. Its general appearance is of large boulders painted purple and orange. It overlooks I-280, about a dozen miles below SFO. Built in 1976, the home soon became popularly known as the “Flintstone House” because of its perceived resemblance to the “Modern Stone-Age Family”’s Bedrock residence.

The house recently sold for $2.8 million, well below the surrounding town of Hillsborough’s median $4.1 million. The former publisher of the former newspaper the San Francisco Examiner purchased it in 2017 and began a redesign of the outside landscape. The transformation included 15-foot dinosaurs, a giraffe, a mastodon and sign declaring “Yabba Dabba Doo.”

Neighbors were not appreciative. Complaints to the town resulted in an inspection that determined the owner had done the work without necessary permits. The owner paid a $200 fine but as yet has ignored the town’s order to remove the unapproved embellishments. The matter is now in civil court.

The controversy is reminiscent of a Seattle building affectionately known as “The Blob.” Its last tenant was a Greek restaurant before the structure was demolished in 1997.

Meanwhile, seventy-five miles north of the Flintstone House, a homeowner in my erstwhile hometown Santa Rosa built a fence around his property. Jason Windus erected the six-foot-high enclosure to contain his dogs. A neighbor’s complaint brought out a city inspector who advised Mr. Windus that the code required a fence bordering a sidewalk could be no higher than three feet. The owner complied and installed a garden-party tableau, easily viewed from the street over the now three-foot fence, of five nude mannequins. A sign resting on a vacant lawn chair read, “Reserved seat for the nosey neighbor that complained about my fence to the city.”

A thief absconded with two mannequins a couple nights later, but Windus has four more on the way to increase the number of naked partygoers to seven.

Solidarity – Oregon Style

A person who is in the position to do something about the human-caused rapidly-changing climate has assured us that it’s all a hoax. Just in case he’s wrong, though, vintners and grape growers in over-heating California have been buying up vineyard properties in Oregon, where the climate is getting more like what Napa and Sonoma used to be. Kendall-Jackson is one high-profile name investing in Oregon.

Others do it differently. Copper Cane Wine & Provisions – “provisions” include women’s swimwear and cigars – is a marketing behemoth selling a “collection of brands that are personally crafted to uphold a lifestyle of luxury and enjoyment.” Last year they faced legal action from Willamette Valley Vineyards for the labeling of their “Willametter” Pinot Noir. Another Copper Cane brand, “Elouan” Pinot Noir, is from “three diverse valleys along Oregon’s coast,” the Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue. They apparently expect their customers to be unfamiliar with Oregon geography. In the end, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission stopped them from selling the wines in the state because of mis-labeling.

Perhaps out of spite, Copper Cane refused to accept 2,000 tons of grapes from the 2018 harvest that they had contracted to buy from Rogue Valley growers.They claim the grapes were unacceptable, that they had been tainted with smoke from wild fires.
Oregon growers and winemakers disagreed. Led by Willamette Valley Vineyards and King Estate Winery a group of Oregon vintners purchased the grapes and are now marketing Oregon Solidarity Rosé of Pinot Noir. A Chardonnay will be released in May and Pinot Noir in August.

Take that Napa!

Monica Lewinsky’s Legacy

Smartphones don’t make people smarter; in fact, a smartphone in the hands of a dumb person makes it easier for a dumb person to suffer the consequences of dumbness.
Luca Mangiarano walked into a bank in Austin Texas and handed a note to a teller: “This is a robbery, please give me all your 100’s and 50’s in a envelope and everything will be ok.” The bank employee complied. Mangiarano left the bank, hopped on an electric scooter and rolled away.

(If you haven’t yet been nearly run over by scooter or had to walk around one abandoned on a sidewalk, you soon will. There are several companies scattering their for-rent scooters around various cities. You download an app to your smartphone to rent one.)

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