Sunday, December 27, 2015

My dad was a farmer

He was born on a farm in the small farming community of Hastings, Minnesota in 1909. His dad, an Irish immigrant, was also a farmer, and so was his brother.

downtown Hastings

When dad was 11 years old, his mother passed away, which forced his father to raise his 2 sons and 5 daughters by himself.

When dad was 20 years old, his dad died of a heart attack, just a few months before the start of the Great Depression. Dad and his brother Clem bravely kept the farm going, but the bombing of Pearl Harbor inspired dad to join the Army in 1942, shortly after his 33rd birthday.

Clem and his young bride Miriam kept the farm going for another 20 years of so, before shifting into semi-retirement in the small town of Forest Lake, Minnesota.

The year that dad was born was considered to be the Golden Era of farming in the United States. The vast majority of the workers in America earned their living as farmers, and most of them were considered prosperous. The number of family farms in America peaked at 6.4 million in 1910, but has dropped dramatically since that time. Today, there are only about 2,000,000 farms in America, and many of them are no longer family farms.

An article in this morning’s Chicago Tribune highlighted the problems facing a particular type of farmer, the cranberry farmer of the Midwest, primarily those in Wisconsin.

Cranberry prices, due in part to over-production, are now at their lowest level since 1959, the year of the “great cranberry scare” . It costs about $30 to produce a 100 pound barrel of cranberries, but retail prices are now hovering around $8 a barrel, a steep drop from the $40 a barrel they were selling for just 5 years ago.

The salvation of the cranberry farms lies in two unlikely sources: insurance companies and exports.

Large life insurance companies (like John Hancock of Boston) have agricultural investment groups. The returns from those agricultural groups have averaged 14 percent over the last decade, nearly twice the return on investments in the Standard and Poor 500 list.

The average American eats about 2 pounds of cranberries a year, primarily during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. That amount has remained unchanged for more than a decade. However, more than 30% of our cranberry production is now exported, and China is now the fasting growing market for our cranberries.

Roughly 4 years after his death, Paul Harvey reminded us (in a 2013 Dodge Superbowl commercial) that God made a farmer. It’s worth watching again, and it may bring a tear to your eye.

2013 Dodge Superbowl commercial

Farming is not an easy life, but the blood, sweat and tears that are needed to sustain a farm also enable the folks that “bust the sod” to lead long lives. My dad lived to be 85 years old, and his younger brother lived to be 87. My dad never had any buildings named after him, he never held political office, and he really never made a pile of money. Although he was known for a lot of years simply as “Larry the mailman”, deep down he never really changed, and I’m proud to say what he was.

My dad was a farmer.

Monday, December 21, 2015

It came upon the midnight clear

Christmas is traditionally a season of joy, which we are constantly reminded of by several dozen well known songs that we hear every year - over and over again.

One of the songs that many people call their favorite is a poem that was first published in the Christian Register in Boston on December 29, 1849. It was composed by a Unitarian minister named Edmund Sears, not long after he suffered a nervous breakdown from overwork.

The year before he wrote the song, a “people’s revolution” racked Europe, fueled by some of the same issues that caused the Arab Spring revolution in 2011. Early in the same year (1848) the United States concluded its war with Mexico, which greatly expanded the borders of the United States.

Due to his personal problems, as well as his concerns about he felt was general chaos in the world, Edmund Sears was a very melancholy man, since he felt that the world was no longer hearing the Christmas message.

Over the years, the song has been performed by hundreds of performers, and it’s been paired with two different melodies, either “Carol” in the Untied States or “Noel” in the United Kingdom. One of my favorites is the version that was performed by Bing Crosby many years ago:

let’s listen to Bing again

If you’ve ever watched “The Newsroom”, starring Jeff Daniels (as Will McAvoy) you may remember his rant where he reminds us that America only leads the world in 3 areas - number of incarcerated citizens per capita, defense spending, and number of adults who believe that angels are real.

As usual, “Will McAvoy” is right on the money, since a recent Associated Press poll found that 77 percent of the adults in our country believe that angels are real. Surprisingly, even a healthy percentage of the people who don’t consider themselves religious still believe that angels are real.

Despite his melancholy, Edmund Sears ended his poem on a note of optimism, as evidenced by the last paragraph in the original version:

For Lo! , the days are hastening on

By prophet bards foretold

When with the ever-encircling years

Comes round the age of gold

When peace shall over all the earth

Its ancient splendors fling

And the whole world give back the song

Which now the angels sing

Edmund Sears was absolutely correct in his belief that the world is no longer hearing the Christmas message. Most of us have long felt that Christmas has been too focused on the commercial side of the holiday, and we look with horror at the ever expanding “Black Friday” shopping hours. For once, let’s tune out all the holiday madness, and let’s just listen to the angels sing.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn

When “Gone With The Wind” was released on December 15, 1939, Clark Gable shocked theater audiences when he uttered the phrase above to co-star Vivian Leigh, just before he turned and walked into the mist in Atlanta.

closing scene to Gone With the Wind

The film earned 12 Academy Awards at the 12th Academy Awards, and when adjusted for monetary inflation, it is STILL the most successful film in movie history.

Since “Gone With The Wind” was released, public conversation has become significantly courser, both in real life, and in the movies. It’s difficult to watch a movie, or walk through a modern high school, without hearing the “f bomb” dropped on a regular basis. I’ve occasionally reminded some of the students that I teach that really, really stupid people use a lot of profanity, and intelligent people don’t.

My mother-in-law was always concerned about what people thought of her, a mid-1950’’s mindset that contributed greatly to the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses”, and is still very prevalent today among the more conservative members of our society (some of whom sincerely believe that gay marriage causes hurricanes).

In order to remain calm and un-stressed, it’s important to not be overly concerned about what people think about you, or to worry too much about things that are difficult to control (like trying to keep high school students off their phones during class time.)

The best way to do that is to adopt the elegant art of not giving a s**t, and the link below provides more information on that very important attitude.

how to stay calm

There IS a time for profanity in our lives, as long as it is used appropriately. Few of us would hit your thumb with a hammer and just say “darn”, since a stronger word would be more appropriate.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) was no stranger to cuss words, and he actually used the word “nigger” more than 200 times in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. However, he also was aware of the need to use profanity sparingly, and only in appropriate situations.

His wife, (born Olivia Langdon) came from a wealthy East Coast family, who raised her to be a prim and proper lady. On occasion, she would let loose with a string of profanity after her marriage to Samuel Clemens, who would usually remind her that she “might have the words, but doesn’t have the music”.

When it was virtually unheard of to use profanity on the screen, Gable’s use of the word “damn” on the screen provided a perfect ending to a movie that carefully documented the horrors of the Civil War. If the movie were remade today, and Gable used the slightly stronger, “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a s**t”, the ending would actually seem a little silly.

In many ways, “the good old days” WERE better in at least some ways. However, as we are reminded almost daily by our chief buffoon, Donald Trump, the days of polite public conversation have, quire literally, gone with the wind.

Monday, December 7, 2015

When better cars are built, part 2

If the title above sounds familiar, it’s because I published a story with that title roughly six years ago. At that point in time, Buick sales in China exceeded sales in the United States, and had been doing so for at least three years. By the time of the publication of the article shown below, sales of Buicks in China were FOUR TIMES the sales of Buicks in the United States.

when better cars are built

Some time between 2009 and today, various proposals have been made to sell cars made in China in the United States. Until recently, though, none of those plans have come to fruition.

Until now.

At some point in 2016, a car made in China will be sold in America and it will bear a very familiar name.


The vehicle will be a compact sport utility that will be called the Envision. Since Buick has seen sales fall for its “traditional “ vehicles, but sales have expanded in its SUV line, the introduction of a compact sport utility will help to increase Buick sales.

To be fair, this vehicle won’t be the first foreign made car that Buick has sold in America, since German-made Opels were introduced here in 1958, Today’s Buick Regal was assembled by Opel in Germany, starting in 2009, but production for the vehicle shifted to Oshawa, Canada in 2011.

Both Jaguar and Land Rover are owned by an Indian company, and Volvo has been owned by a Chinese company since its divesture from the Ford luxury division. SOME of those Chinese made Volvos have actually made it to our shores, but not in numbers large enough to make a dent in our domestic market.

As a group, Buick owners tend to be older and more conservative (precisely the situation that Cadillac finds itself in) which may have been one of the reasons that its sales have slipped in recent years.

Traditionally, Buicks have been large and heavy cars, and the picture below shows how “politically incorrect “ some of those older versions were:

This vehicle, incidentally, was 219 inches long, and weighed almost 5000 pounds. It’s 364 cubic inch engine got 12.2 miles per gallon.

take a test drive here

Wouldn’t you really rather have a Buick?

If you’re a young professional, looking for a compact SUV, you’ll probably say:

是的 (shi)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

‘Twas the night before Christmas

“A Visit From Saint Nicholas”, also known as ”Twas The Night Before Christmas” was published anonymously in 1823. It was later attributed to Clement Clark Moore, who finally acknowledged his authorship about 15 years later.

Since it is one of the most famous Christmas poems ever published, it has been the subject of many parodies over the years, which I wrote about a couple of years ago:

politically correct Santa

It is indeed the HOLIDAY season, since there are numerous other holidays that are celebrated in December in addition to Christmas.

other December holidays

Contrary to what people hear on FOX “news”, there is no war on Christmas. The red coffee cups that Starbucks sells this time of the year have NEVER said “Merry Christmas” on them, and you can view past examples at the link below. Starbucks, in case you have forgotten, DOES sell Christmas blend coffee and Advent calendars.

Starbucks red cups over the years

If you have any doubts at all that the folks at FOX are truly deranged, bear in mind that one of the FOX news “analysts” recently stated his opinion that the recent shootings in San Bernadino were a “literal attack on Christmas”.

However, the birth of a child to an impoverished refuge family (are you listening, Republicans?) over 2000 years ago is unquestionably one of the most important events in the history of the world. The world has always been, and will always be, a troubled place. However, for one brief shining moment (in 1914) the lure of Christmas was strong enough that warring soldiers set aside their differences to celebrate Christmas together in the trenches of the first world war.

Little noticed by the world, of course, was the birth of a baby girl (their first child) to a young and struggling family in a brutally cold land known as Minnesota 66 years ago, on December 24. They named her Sharon Ann, and she was joined a few years later by two additional sisters, who they named Donna Jean and Victoria Lee.

She never graduated from college, or made a pile of money, but Sharon took on a more important role in 1972, which she became my wife, and (later) the mother of a son and a daughter.

Due to decreased income, and increased expenses, the Christmas season always seems to be a time of stress, but that stress quickly fades away when I’m reminded (once again) of the importance of couple of birthdays, both of which happened a long time in the past.

Happy birthday, Sharon, and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The wisdom of Doonesbury

I’ve long been a fan of Doonesbury, which Garry Trudeau has been publishing, almost continuously, for more than 45 years. Trudeau has received numerous rewards for the comic strip, including a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning in 1975. The Doonesbury strip was the very first comic strip cartoon to be so honored.

On occasion, the Doonesbury strip comes up with some facts that are so unbelievable that I feel compelled to conduct my own fact check, and this morning’s strip was one of those times:

today’s strip

When I read in today’s strip that 23,000,000 Republicans believe that Barack Obams is a Muslim, I found it hard to believe that THAT many people could be that stupid. As it turns out, that figure is actually pretty accurate, and possibly even conservative.

According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, 29% of the American population, and 43% of the members of the Republican Party believe that Obama is a Muslim. I couldn’t verify the 23 million figure, but I suspect that the 43% total would be a rough approximation of that, since there are 55 million registered Republicans in our country.

In addition to their belief that Obama is a Muslim, 20% of our population STILL believes that Obama was born outside the United States, and there are still a handful of people who believe that “Denali” is a Kenyan word for “black power”.

There are also a surprising number of people (including a few well known liberals) who are convinced that all Muslims are killers. Since there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, that belief simply does not make sense. I don’t believe that for a minute, and I’m one of the few white Christians who have actually read the Koran, which I‘ve written a lengthy book report about.

Much has already been written about the recent attack in Paris by members of ISIS, and the final resolution of the crisis won’t be happening any time soon. The vast majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world have the same opinion of terrorism that the rest of us do, as demonstrated by the fact that the President of Iran, as well as the leaders of Qatar, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia has called the attacks “criminal", and have called for an end to the plague of terrorism. Indonesia, incidentally, has the highest percentage (12.7%) of the world’s Muslim population, with over 200,000.000 followers living within its borders.

Earlier this year, a University of Nevada political science major named Ivy Ziedrich confronted Jeb Bush at a town hall meeting in Reno, and accused his brother of creating ISIS.. To some folks, that may seem a little far fetched, but if you truly analyze our foreign policy decisions in Iraq, she is absolutely correct..

Like any writer, Garry Trudeau has generated NUMEROUS controversies over the years, but his comments about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo exhibit a wisdom that proves that even satire, if not handled carefully, can be a very dangerous thing.

don’t make fun of my dog, my truck, or my religion

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

This is the famous Budweiser beer

When I was in basic training in North Carolina in 1970, I was impressed by the fact that one of the guys in my platoon had memorized the entire beer slogan that is found on every bottle or can of Budweiser. If you’re not a Bud fan, it reads exactly like this:

“This is the famous Budweiser beer. We know of no brand produced by any other brewer which costs so much to brew and age. Our exclusive Beechwood Aging process produces a taste, a smoothness, and a drinkability that you will find in no other beer at any price”.

Over the years, I’ve enhanced my memory skills, partially due to the fact that I spent more than 25 years in Toastmasters memorizing speeches, but also due to the fact that I’ve taken numerous insurance courses AFTER my graduation from college. As a result, I can now recite the slogan shown above verbatim, which doesn’t mean that I’m smarter than any one else. It just means that I have done a better job at improving my memory skills than a lot of other people.

When I taught college level English in China, I was struck by the fact that a number of the native teachers still focused on rote memorization, a skill that was highly valued in this country when my parents were in elementary school a century ago. I even had a few students in my classes whose goal was to memorize an entire book. Although that is an admirable goal, it has little practical value.

The American educational system may not be the best in the world we are currently #17) but our system DOES do a good job of teaching problem solving skills, which has a lot more to do with THINKING than simply memorizing facts.

The other day, I was supervising a class at one of the local high schools, and noticed the following Albert Einstein quote on the wall:

“It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he really does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks."

One of my late relatives was opposed to college education for her children because “it put ideas in their head”, which is PRECISELY the purpose of higher education. Sadly, that attitude still exists today in the minds of the more conservative members of our society, especially those in Texas.

The following excerpt is taken directly from the Texas Republican Party Platform:

“Knowledge-based Education - We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Sills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a re-labeling of Outcome Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. (emphasis mine)

In other words, the Republicans in Texas really don’t want voters to actually THINK. They would prefer that they keep watching FOX “news” and keep pulling the “R” lever when they vote.

Compounding the error of the Republican Party is the fact that Texas is considered to be one of the most religious states in the country (47% of its residents are considered to be “very religious”). As a result of their religious philosophy, a large number of folks in Texas no longer trust public schools, who they feel are “biased against Christian values“.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, roughly 1.7 million children in our country are being educated at home, and Texas has (by far) the highest percentage of its students being home schooled. The Texas Home School coalition estimates the total is around 300,000.

The Texas Supreme Court is currently hearing the case of a family accused of not educating their children because they were waiting for the second coming of Jesus. The family says that the government is violating their constitutional rights. The mother of the children claims to have heard one of her children say they were “going to be raptured”.

Since the Texas Supreme Court is considered to be a conservative body, it’s anybody’s guess how this court case will come out. Most of us, however, are of the opinion that children who are in school should actually be EDUCATED.

Regardless of the outcome of the case is the fact that new Governor Greg Abbott recently appointed Donna Bahorich as chair of the Texas Board of Education in June. Critics objected to her lack of experience with the public school system, since she home schooled her three sons before sending them to private schools.

If I had a choice between having my children attend a public school in Texas or having a few Buds with them on the patio, I’d prefer the beers on the patio.

At least they would be a lot WISER.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Religion and politics

If you want to get into an argument, especially with someone you don’t know very well, the process is fairly simple.

All you have to do is bring up either one of the topics listed above, and you’re likely to get a lively, if short-lived, discussion. If you bring in some aspect of sex, which frequently involves one or both of the above topics, you’ve just raised the bar a little higher.

The History Channel just published an article the other day that got the wheels in my head turning again.

In 1505, Martin Luther was nearly killed by a bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm. He vowed that if he survived the storm, he would give up his study of law, and become a monk. Due to his piety and Spartan life style, he became a representative in Rome for the German Augustine monasteries in 1512, After receiving his doctorate, he became a professor of biblical studies, but gradually came to question some of the teachings of the Catholic church.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of a church in Germany. His main criticism of the Catholic church was that the church was selling indulgences, largely in order to finance the renovation of the basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

Roughly a year later, the Pope condemned Luther’s writings as conflicting with the teachings of the Catholic church. In July of 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull condemning Luther’s teachings, and gave him 120 days to recent them. When Luther refused to do so, he was excommunicated in January of 1521. The same year, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany issued the Edict of Worms, declared Luther an outlaw, and gave permission for anyone to kill him without consequence, eerily reminiscent of the fatwa that was issued against Salman Rushdie in 1989, after the publication of “The Satanic Verses”.

The Founding Fathers of our country wisely chose to separate church and state, but few people realize how far back the mingling of the two occurred.

Early in the 4th century, a man named Constantine was co-emperor of the western Roman Empire. His brother-in-law, Maxentius, was the co-emperor, and the two eventually became bitter rivals, which led to a war between their armies. Immediately prior to a battle in the year 312, Constantine had a vision of the sign of Christ in a dream, and adopted the sign of the cross before he and his army went into battle, where they prevailed.

When the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th Century, the Catholic Church became a prominent force in European politics, and religious wars raged for centuries. The Crusades themselves lasted for roughly 200 years, and sowed the seeds of animosity between Christians and Muslims that still exists today. “ The Crusades through Arab Eyes” is a book worth reading, but you can read a quick summary by clicking on the link below:

the CliffsNotes version

Some of today’s commentators are aghast that Pope Francis has issued a radical call for action on climate change, arguing that he is not a scientist (he IS, but that’s besides the point).

Centuries ago, the Catholic church got involved in discussions of science, when they disputed Galileo’s belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun. His teachings were investigated by the Roman Inquisition in 1615, which forced him to recant his views, and caused him to be placed under house arrest for the last 27 years of his life. It wasn’t until October 31, 1992, that the Catholic Church admitted its earlier errors, and Pope John Paul II expressed regret for how the Galileo affair was handled.

When colonists first came to America in the early 17th century to escape religious persecution in Europe, they brought their own prejudices with them. People were put to death simply because they disagreed with their pastors, or because they belonged to “the wrong faith”.

Although acknowledging that religion could be a positive force in people’s lives, the Founding Fathers were also well aware of the damage that could be done by incorporating religion into political life, and the separation of church and state was codified in the 1st amendment to the Constitution.

Very early in our county’s history, E pluribus Unum was adopted as the defacto motto of the United States, and it found its way onto the Great Seal of the United States and some early coins.

Over time, various references to religion crept back into public life. The phrase “in God we trust” found its way onto coins, when the Union Army determined that it could use all the help that it could get. The phrase gradually found its way onto other coins, and was first used on paper money in 1957.

The Red Scare of the 1950’s heightened a need for more religion in our society, and the phrase “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Two years later, “In God we Trust” was adopted as the official motto of the United States.

Due to a law suit filed in New York State in 1958, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in 1962 that prayer would no longer be allowed in public schools, and vast numbers of our society felt that America was certain to go straight to Hell.

Life would be a lot simpler if we could somehow truly separate religion from politics, but it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Waye LaPierre, the Executive Vice President of the NRA, has declared that owning a gun is a God given right, a “fact” that many theologians agree is more than a bit stupid.

Every election brings forth a few politicians who believe that somehow God had called them to run for office. For the 2016 Presidential race, SIX Republicans entered the race because God asked them to. Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum have since dropped out, but Ben Carson, John Kasich, and Mike Huckabee are still going strong. Carson, in fact, is now leading in a number of polls.

All this talk of religion and politics can get tiresome very quickly, so here’s my advise:

If someone brings up either topic in conversation, switch to a different topic. The Cubs, after all, nearly got into the World Series, and the Royals are only a game away from defeating the Mets.

There ARE things in life that are more important than either politics and religion. Since our time on Earth is relatively limited, enjoy them while you can, and you’ll be much, much happier.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Donald trump is a buffoon

I’m of the opinion that Donald Trump (pictured below with his real hair) is not qualified to be the President of the United States. My opinion of “the Donald” , however, has not hurt his popularity among Republican voters. According to the most recent political polls, Trump holds a commanding lead over the guy who is currently in 2nd place, Ben Carson.

Since Ted Cruz is not actually a United States citizen, I’m not sure why he is still in the race, but he is currently ranked 5th in the polls. Ultimately, of course, he’ll drop out, probably in a dramatic fashion, and he’ll be relegated to the dust bin of history.

I’m also of the opinion that all of us should be careful of how we voice our opinions, but I AM in agreement with Trump that sometimes political correctness can go too far.

In December of 2013, I published an article titled “politically correct Santa”, which took a light-hearted look at political correctness.

I also explored the more serious side of political correctness with the publication of “Niggers, Jews, and queers in February of 2014 and “Just the fact, ma’am - just the facts” in September of 2015.

Controversy has long simmered over the name of the Washington Redskins,who recently lost their federal trademark registration on the orders of a Federal judge.

Columbus Day has also generated controversy for a very long time, and further details can be found in the article posted below:

don’t shoot the messenger

In recent years, an increasing number of locations have been promoting “Indigenous People’s Day”.

4 states ( Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota) no longer celebrate Columbus Day, and neither do a number of cities in the United States. The city council of Minneapolis, Minnesota took a more creative approach in April of 2014, when they voted to recognize BOTH Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day.

One group that would NOT be in favor of eliminating Columbus Day is the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization that was started in 1882. The KC’s were named in honor or Christopher Columbus, the mariner.

Columbus Day has been celebrate in America since 1792, and it is now celebrated in other countries as well. The first state to establish a holiday for Columbus Day was Colorado, in 1906. As a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, the day became a Federal holiday in 1934. (The group was also largely responsible for having the words “under God” added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954.)

There are a variety of reasons why some folks object to Columbus Day, but one of the most troubling reasons was that some people felt that Columbus Day was being used to expand Catholic influence. That same mindset still existed in 1960, when some of our fellow Americans voted against JFK because they were convinced that the Vatican was going to take over America.

To be honest, the celebration of Columbus Day is NOT a topic that I get very excited about. Eventually, I think that you’ll see more locations adopt the “dual holiday” method used by the city of Minneapolis, but I don’t think that you’ll ever see a time that it is eliminated as a Federal holiday.

For those folks who DO get excited by this topic, my advice is simple:

Take a deep breath, count to 10, and enjoy your day off.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Me and the President

Apart from the fact that we are both Democrats, and that I agree with a lot of his ideas, Barack Obama and I also have one other thing in common - we both got married during the first week of October.

Barack and Michelle got married on October 3, 1992, which means that TODAY is their 23rd anniversary. In view of the fact that 48% of the marriages in America last less than 20 years, that’s a pretty remarkable achievement.

According to Michelle, the secret to their longevity is not to sweat the small stuff, which seems to be pretty good advice for the rest of us as well.

If you’ve read “Why Men don’t listen, and Women Can’t read Maps” (Barbara and Alan Peace) or pretty much any other relationship book, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that men and women shouldn’t be able to live with each other at all.

If you’re interested in statistics, here’s a few facts that you might find interesting:

1) The more education that you have, the more likely you are to stay married

2) You’re far more likely to divorce if you live in a “red” state. All of the states in the top 10 for divorces are “red” states, and Nevada is on the top of the list.

3) The younger a person is when they get married, the more likely they are to get divorced

4) Iowa (the locale for the affair depicted in the “Bridges of Madison Country“ ) has the lowest divorce rate in the country

5) Arkansas has the highest rate of individuals who have been married 3 or more times, but 67% of the Republicans in America believe that gay marriage will destroy the “sanctity of marriage”. If you’ve been paying attention lately, though, you’ll know that Tide detergent can SAVE the sanctity of marriage:

leave it to Tide

Sharon and I got married on October 6, 1972, which means that we’ll be celebrating our 43rd anniversary this coming Tuesday, and a few of our friends are rapidly approaching their golden anniversary.

There really isn’t any magic formula for staying married a long time, but I still maintain that having a good belly laugh together on occasion seems to work as well as anything else.

I occasionally still fall asleep in a chair after having one too many glasses of wine, and Sharon occasionally goes shopping when she shouldn’t, but I totally agree with Michelle Obama - don’t sweat the small stuff, and you’ll get along just fine.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

This old house

One of our local columnists just published an article about her late parents, and the house that she grew up in.

Even though the house no longer exists (it was flattened by a bull dozer in August of this year) she still feels a strong attachment to it. The attachment, of course, is not to the building itself, but to the memories that are tied to it.

I spent the first 3 years of my life living at 958 McLean Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, an old house that DOES still exist (and can be viewed on Google Maps) but I have virtually no memories of the place.

When my mother became pregnant with my sister in the summer of 1949, the folks realized that they were going to need a larger house, and they started searching for a replacement home. When my sister was less than six months old, they moved into an expansion bungalow at 2059 E. Third Street on the east side of St. Paul. Although dad’s mortgage on the place was only $7000, at a 4% interest rate, he was terrified of being in debt, and the house was paid for in full eight years later.

I lived in that house for a large part of the next 22 years, and moved out for good when I got married. Both of my maternal grandparents died in the house, and so did my dad. Mom lived there for a few years after dad’s passing, but her doctor recommended selling it in the spring of 1997 due to her increasingly frail condition, and her time on earth came to an end less than a year later.

Although the house is now more than 70 years old, it’s STILL an attractive house, and it would be right at home in any small town in America. If you would like to see it, just click on the link below:

2059 E. Third

I haven’t set foot in the house on Third Street for nearly 20 years, but I still have a lot of memories of the place, and could still provide a lot of details about its history to anyone who is interested.

Sharon’s ties to her childhood home were severed by a process known as “eminent domain”. Her large and spacious home on Benson Street was in the path of the city’s Shepherd Road expansion, which caused the family to move to a replacement home on the east side of St. Paul, a very convenient six blocks from my home at 2059 E. Third.

When you look at pictures today of 1708 Conway, you’ll realize that it was actually a fairly tiny home, but somehow it was large enough for a family of 5 to live in.

1708 Conway Street

There’s an old saying that nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be, and that same sense of fondness for things of the past also applies to the houses that we used to live in. There’s even a Welsh word for the phenomenon (hiraeth) that has no direct translation into English.

Tomorrow night is the next full moon of the year, and it also is the next total lunar eclipse, an event that is a very rare occurrence. The resulting “blood moon” will provide a little magic for the folks who stay up to watch, and it also provides a GREAT time for reminiscing about the past - starting with all those old houses.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Just the facts, ma’am - just the facts

Dragnet , the TV show, was on the air from 1951-1959, and again from 1967-1970. For virtually all of those shows, Jack Webb played the role of Sergeant Joe Friday, and his most famous line is the one shown above.

Jack Webb came to mind the other day, for an entirely unrelated reason, one that is strongly related to “political correctness”.

When we lived in Wisconsin, I (and both of my children) participated in the Indian Guides program that was sponsored by the YMCA. The advantage of the Indian Guides program over the Scouts is that you couldn’t simply drop off your kids and have a Scoutmaster guide them - you actually had to PARTICIPATE in their activities. The activities usually consisted of weekly craft events at the home of one of the dads. Twice a year, we also participated in an weekend camp out at a YMCA camp. In Wisconsin, the damp of choice was Phantom Lake, the oldest YMCA camp in the country, and its roots go all the way back to 1896.

To fully appreciate this place, though, you need to believe in ghosts,and it would also help to go camping at a Wisconsin YMCA camp on the night of September 2.

Eventually, I became the Federation chief, and had the honor of wearing the full Native American headdress (made of Eagle feathers). I adopted the name of “Chief “Horse feathers” because I suspected that most people wouldn’t known the urban dictionary meaning of the term. My son decided to call himself “pony feathers”.

Apart from the fact that we had a lot of fun on our camp outs, we all grew to truly appreciate the culture of the Native Americans who preceded us.

The Indian Guides program (which later expanded to include the Indian Princess program) was started in 1920’s by a St. Louis YMCA director, and Ojibwe tribe member named Joe Friday (I’m not making this up.)

His views of the Indian Guide program are as follow:

"The Indian father raises his son. He teaches his son to hunt, to track, to fish, to walk softly and silently in the forest, to know the meaning and purpose of life and all that he must know, while the white man allows the mother to raise his son."

Over time, of course, the Indian Guides program became somewhat “politically correct” , and the national YMCA advocated a name change as early as 2002, when they suggested Adventure Guides as a safe alternative. However, the national organization did not REQUIRE local affiliates to change their local names, so Indian Guile programs continued to flourish.

In recent months, an Ojibwe Indian named Andrea Barnwell moved to Lagrange, Illinois with her family.

When Barnwell learned that her local YMCA had an Indian Guides program, she fired off a letter to national YMCA officials. In part, this is what she said:

"I have looked up the information on the Indian Princesses and I find it to be extremely racist and offensive," she wrote in an email to YMCA officials. "The participants dress in Native American regalia, call themselves names based on real tribes, and drum and (chant) in a style they deem to be Native American.

In response, the national YMCA decided that local programs would have to change their names, and drop their decades-old programs, or leave the auspices of the YMCA.

I fully acknowledge that Native Americans have long been mistreated in this country, as evidenced by the fact that they weren’t even recognized as citizens until 1924, and weren’t allowed to vote (in some jurisdictions)until 1970.

However, in this instance, my opinion is that the national YMCA should have “grown a pair” and told anyone who was interested that they weren’t going to change the name.

If you don’t like my opinion, then you can stop calling me “kemosabi”,

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the REAL Lone Ranger was a black man who lived with Native American Indians, and the Spanish meaning of “Tonto” is “ stupid”

Put THAT in you pipe and smoke it!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Anchor babies

With the addition of Donald Trump to the Republican Presidential field, the subject of “anchor babies” has suddenly become more popular. Trump has threatened to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants AS WELL AS any “anchor babies” that may have been born here.

Even many Republican leaders think that he’s nuts, since it has been estimated that it would cost $285 billion to deport those 11 million people, not to mention the additional cost for 9.000.000 anchor babies. That fact hasn’t hurt his popularity with his base, largely composed of white supremacists, nor has it prevented other Republican candidates from “jumping on the band wagon”.

One of the best known “anchor babies” is Rafael Edward Cruz, who is better known as Ted Cruz.

It is commonly believed that Ted automatically became an American citizen upon his birth on December 22, 1970 because his mother was born in Delaware, but the truth is actually a lot more complicated than that.

Cruz’s mother, the former Elizabeth Darragh Wilson was apparently born in Wilmington, Delaware. So far, that means that any child that she gave birth to would automatically become an American citizen, regardless of where that child was born.

Ted’s father, Rafael Bienvenido Cruz was born in Cuba. In 1957, he left Cuba to attend college at the University of Texas in Austin by virtue of a student visa. The only money that he had at the time was $100, which he had sewn into his underwear.

He was able to obtain an exit visa from Cuba due to the fact that the family attorney bribed a Batista official to issue the visa. Due to the regime change in Cuba in 1959, he was granted political asylum in the United States following his graduation from college in 1961.

By 1970, he had remarried, and moved to Canada with his second wife, Elizabeth Darragh Wilaon. Together, they owned a seismic-data processing firm for oil dealers.

At some point before their son “Ted” was born, they both became Canadian citizens. As a result of the change in his nationality, the elder Cruz lost the student visa that had been issued by the United States. Although Canada DOES allow dual citizenship (as does the United States and 43 other countries) the privilege did not exist until February 15, 1977. As a result, Ted’s mother was a citizen ONLY of Canada when he was born - and so was her newborn son.

The family later moved back to Texas, where Ted attended high school.

The status of United States citizens is very broad, and reads as follow:

A person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years.

Due to the fact that Elizabeth Darragh Wilson had lived in the United States for at least 5 years before moving to Canada, her children technically would be America citizens. However, since Canada did not allow dual citizenship in 1970, neither she or her son would have been allowed to be citizens of both Canada and the United States.

In order to be a United States senator, an individual must have been a United States citizen for at least 9 years:

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for senators: 1) they must be at least 30 years old, 2) they must have been citizens of the United States for at least the past 9 years, and 3) they must be inhabitants of the states they seek to represent at the time of their election.

Unless Ted himself became a citizen after moving to Texas, he is ineligible for the office of United States senator, even though he was elected to that office in 2012, a mere 7 years after his father finally got around to become a citizen of the United States. . Since he renounced his Canadian citizenship is August of 2013, he technically isn't a citizen of ANY country.

The requirements to be a United States President pretty clear cut:

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.

Even before the United States became a country, the land from “sea to shining sea” has had a complicated relationship with its immigrants, including a man named Graham Nash, who wrote a song about his experience as an immigrant in 1972.

Twitter is an online social networking service that was started in 2006. As of May of 2015, the service had 500 million users, including Queen Elizabeth, who sent her first tweet on October 24, 2014.

So far, I have resisted the temptation to tweet other people, but recently became aware of a tweet that reminded us that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant.

Steve Jobs was conceived in Syria in 1954, when his Syrian father and American mother vacationed there for the entire summer. Jobs biological father was a brilliant man, but his maternal grandfather hated him because he was a Muslim (sound familiar?). Since Job’s father and mother were not allowed to marry, and unwed motherhood was still frowned upon in this country, she moved to San Francisco, and gave her baby away in adoption proceedings.

Job’s adopted father, Paul Jobs, grew up on a farm in Germantown, Wisconsin, but later moved to Mountain View, California in 1961. Mountain View, incidentally, is the location of the headquarters of Google, which happened to be started by a Russian immigrant named Sergey Brin and an American named Larry Page. The currently technology CEO for Google is an immigrant from India named Sundar Pichai.

Although the firm started by Jobs (Apple) is the most valuable company in the entire world, with a capitalization of over $700 billion, Google (at a market capitalization of 336 billion) is still a pretty respectable company.

Paul Jobs and his wife Clara never attended college, and Jobs himself (like Mark Zuckerberg) never completed his college career. Zuckerberg, incidentally, was raised Jewish, but has since become an atheist.

The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, ALSO never graduated from Harvard, but his “alma mater” eventually awarded him with an honorary degree.

Like his adopted father, Jobs’ biological father (Adulfattah Jandali) also spent some time in Wisconsin, when he pursued a PhD in political science at the University of Wisconsin. While attending school there, he was a teaching assistant to Joanne Carole Schweible, who would ultimately give birth to his son.

AS you are probably aware, Steve Jobs founded both Apple and NexTInc., and was one of the primary funders of Pixar, Inc.

The current CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, announced that he was gay in 2014.

Before Jobs married his wife Laurene in 1991, he and his high school girlfriend Chrisanne BRENNAN became parents to a girl, who they named Lisa. The Lisa computer, incidentally, eventually became one of the products offered by Apple.

Steve Jobs was raised in the Lutheran faith, but eventually converted to Zen Buddhism.

There are far too many Neanderthals in this country who feel that immigrants don’t contribute anything to our society, and there are also a lot of folks who looks askance at people who don’t practice their own particular religion.

There are ALSO a lot folks who look down on people who don’t have a college degree, or who have a different sexual orientation.

The examples listed above show how foolish those ideas are.

Donald Trump never spent ANY time in the military, but felt that his military-themed private college was as tough as Vietnam.

If he actually had had the balls to join the military, he most likely would have joined the Navy, since “anchors, away!” seems to be one of his main talking point these days.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Way back in 1977, one of the first miniseries in America was aired on ABC. Titled “Roots”, it was based on Alex Hailey’s 1976 novel by the same title. It won numerous awards, and inspired a slew of shows that mimicked the miniseries format.

As we all get older, we tend to make more interested in our family history, which is one of the reasons that my family and I retraced our parents’ 1971 trip to Ireland (the home of my ancestors) in 1999.

On this day in 1946, Laurence Joseph Brennan and Anna Mae Stenson got married, and a roughly a year later, I came into the world. The fact that the event occurred 69 years ago makes me feel just a little bit older, and was reinforced by the fact that I finally had to write “white” as my hair color when we recently updated our drivers licenses.

Whether we like it or not, we all BECOME our parents at some point in time, at least to a degree. Both my wife and I recognize the fact that we have inherited at least some characteristics of our parents, and we also have noticed that our children have ALSO inherited some of those characteristics as well.

Having been exposed to LOTS of children in our jobs working for the public school system, we have become aware of the fact that there are a LOT of dysfunctional families in America, which make my wife and I very grateful that we both came from families that had good, substantial roots. Sharon and I also tried to provide a solid background for our kids, who somehow have seemed to turn out OK. However, both of them are exposed to troubled members of society on a daily basis, so having a good background has helped them maintain their sanity - at least on most days.

I’ve already published numerous articles about both of my parents and other members of my family, which you can read at the links below:

a Hell of a bicycle ride

do you know what your wife is up to?

tiptoe through the tulips

I miss Dan Fogelberg

this story is for the birds

what in the world is a shillelagh?

get outta my way!

north to Alaska

the green, green grass of home

the little girl with the big brown eyes

October 6, 1972

do you believe in ghosts?

my humble origins

how much does a ruby cost?

As a result, you should have a pretty good idea of my roots. Although my thoughts on a variety of topics will continue to live long after my demise, at least in electronic form, the epitaph that I’d like to be remembered by is the phrase that my cousin Jean uttered at my dad’s funeral in 1994:

“ you know, he was a really good guy”.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The more things change, the more they remain the same

To me, one of the great mysteries of online publishing is that, frequently, articles that I published years ago (in one case, 20 years ago) are read by somebody someplace in the world. In a few cases, I’ve attracted an audience in countries that I’ve never even heard of.

The other day, somebody read an article that I published roughly 4 years ago. You can view it by clicking on the link below:

why can’t we all just get along?

Although the article largely discussed the Rodney King arrest, it also brought up a topic that is still very relevant today, which is the political dysfunction that exists in our country. The fact that the Republican clown car now has 17 members, and a buffoon like Donald Trump is leading all the Republican polls, is a sad commentary on our political mess. Even worse, the other 16 candidates all have finished up in various polls as below an Independent candidate named Deez Nuts, who is actually a 15 year old farm boy from Iowa.

I’m of the opinion that George H.W. Bush is a pretty good guy. Other than him, the last GOOD Republican President that we have had since I was born was Dwight Eisenhower, who was President when the car pictured below was new

If you read the 1956 Republican platform, you’ll realize how far the Republican party has strayed in the years since Ike. Significantly, the 1956 platform said absolutely nothing about guns.

In contrast, the 2012 Republican platform was a full threatened defense of 2nd amendment rights, and was designed to appeal to the most radical of today’s “gun nuts”.

To a large degree, too many members of the Republican Party can no longer be viewed as competent leaders. Instead, they resort to tactics that can only be described as infantile to try to get their way.

In 2013, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party (who John McCain recently labeled, accurately, as “the crazies”) shut down the government for 16 days due to their inability to compromise on the Federal budget. The shutdown cost tax payers $24 billion, and failed to achieve its purpose, which was to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Although Texas Senator Ted Cruz is probably the craziest of the Tea Party crow, Iowa Representative Steve King is definitely a close second. In 2014, he advocated shutting down the government (again) because of his opposition of President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

You would think by now that by now, certain members of Congress would finally come to their senses and start acting like adults. Sadly, that is now the case.

A highly doctored, and totally false, video attacking Planned Parenthood was recently released, which led the Republican members of Congress to try to defund the organization entirely.

Thanks in large part to a spirited speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren, the measure to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood was defeated, but the process didn’t stop 5 states (so far) from cutting off funding, thus deriving millions of poor women across the country from getting the health care that they need. Once again, some members of Congress are threatening to shut down the government AGAIN if Federal funding isn’t eliminated for Planned Parenthood.

The reason that we can’t all “just get along” is largely a result of 2 factors:

1) too many of our fellow citizens get too much of their “information” from unreliable sources, and FOX “news” is the worst offender

2) there is simply too much money involved in today’s politics, which allows lesser qualified candidates (like Doug Ducey, Scott Walker, and Rick Scott) to get elected.

Until sources like FOX go out of business, and Congress finally enacts comprehensive finance reform, our current mess is not likely to change. As a result , the ONLY way to fix our political system is to VOTE, and to encourage as many people as possible to cast their votes as well. If we continue so see voter turnout rates as low as was evident in the 2014 mid term elections (the worst turnout in 72 years) than the smartest thing to do is to move to Costa Rica, which even Donald Trump would admit is not “a hellhole”.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Happy birthday, Mark !

One of the best guitar players in the world today is a guy named Mark Knopfler, who co-founded a group called Dire Straits with his brother David in 1977.

By coincidence, somebody someplace in the world today read an article that I published nearly 6 years ago. It was titled, “Prairie Wedding” and it featured a song performed by Mark Knopfler titled “ Prairie Wedding”, which you can listen to by clicking on the link below:

Prairie Wedding

Mark Freuder Knopfler was born on August 12, 1949, which means that he just turned 66 years old a week ago today.

After Dire Straits disbanded, Knopfler embarked on a solo career,. In addition to the albums he has released, he has composed and produced film scores for eight films, and he also has performed with a wide variety of other artists, To date, Knopfler has been awarded 4 Grammys, and he (and Dire Straits) have sold in excess of 120 million albums.

Due to his very successful musical career, Mark Knopfler is now worth something in the neighborhood of $95 million. Since he earns his money doing something that he enjoys thoroughly, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that he earns “money for nothing” .. and that ‘s all that I have to say, other than to say CRANK UP THE VOLUME !

money for nothing

Monday, August 10, 2015

¿Por qué Inglés es difícil Lurn, parte 2

Un poco más de una década atrás, pasé un año como ESL (Inglés como segunda lengua) profesor en Guangzhou, China.

Fue una experiencia maravillosa. No sólo perdí 15 libras (bajé al peso que yo estaba en la escuela secundaria), pero probablemente me salvó la vida. Mi trabajo anterior (como una persona de ventas encargado de MetLife) llegó con las presiones que causaron mis niveles de presión de la sangre y el colesterol se disparen, y la presión financiera de tratar de pagar los gastos fijos elevados en un ingreso que era todo menos garantizada llevado a más que un algunas noches de insomnio.

Si usted nació en los Estados Unidos, es probable que no se dan cuenta que el Inglés es en realidad un lenguaje muy duro para aprender, que es un tema que escribí anteriormente hace aproximadamente 3 años:

why English is hard to LURN

Dos historias que apareció en las noticias de esta mañana me recordó, una vez más, ¿por qué Inglés es un idioma difícil de aprender.

The first story is about a teacher in Utah (técnicamente, era estratega de medios de comunicación social de la escuela) que fue despedido por publicar un blog sobre homófonos. Aunque la acción se llevó a cabo hace poco más de un año, no hay ninguna indicación de que la persona que fue despedida ha sido reintegrado. La escuela que fue despedido de (Nomen Global Language Center) es la mayor escuela de ESL en Utah.

Si usted es un poco más ilustrado que el fundador de la escuela (Clarke Woodger) es, usted reconocerá que homófonos son palabras que suenan igual, pero tienen diferentes significados. Un ejemplo se muestra a continuación:

Más ejemplos se pueden encontrar en el siguiente enlace:

is it true that saxophone players are gay?

La otra historia que apareció esta mañana involucrado algún "hombre de la calle" entrevistas que se realizaron por un hombre llamado Joseph Costello. Le preguntó a varias personas en Austin, Texas si alguna vez votar por un presidente heterosexual. Las respuestas son esclarecedor -, así como un poco de miedo.

many of these people vote and have children.

Si usted condujo su propio "hombre de la calle" encuesta para averiguar si la gente supiera lo que el idioma oficial de los Estados Unidos es, también iba a encontrar que hay un montón de gente ignorante en este país. En realidad NO Inglés, pero el enlace de abajo le dirá lo que es:

made you look, didn’t I?

The English language is actually much older lo que muchos creen. En realidad deriva de varios dialectos de la lengua germánica occidental, que se originó en la época de Cristo. Desde las tribus germánicas que hablaban el idioma vivieron entre los habitantes de habla latina del Imperio Romano, la lengua absorbido muchas palabras latinas también. Hoy en día, se estima que aproximadamente el 60% del idioma Inglés se deriva de las palabras latinas, lo que me hace sentir un poco mejor acerca de los 2 años de latín que me vi obligado a tomar en la escuela secundaria "

Aunque Inglés de hecho puede ser un idioma difícil de aprender, los que se mueven aquí de otros países les resultará ventajoso para aprender, que se ejemplifica por el signo publicado a continuación:

Why English is hard to LURN, part 2

A little more than a decade ago, I spent a year as an ESL (English as a second language) teacher in Guangzhou, China.

It was a wonderful experience. Not only did I lose 15 pounds (I got down to the weight that I was in high school), but I probably saved my life. My previous job (as a commissioned sales person for MetLife) came with pressures that caused my blood pressure and cholesterol levels to skyrocket, and the financial pressure of trying to pay high fixed expenses on an income that was anything but guaranteed led to more that a few sleepless nights.

If you were born in America, you probably don’t realize that English is actually a very hard language to learn, which is a topic that I previously wrote about roughly 3 years ago:

why English is hard to LURN

Two stories that popped up in the news this morning reminded me, once again, why English is a hard language to learn.

The first story is about a teacher in Utah (technically, he was the school’s social media strategist) who was fired for posting a blog about homophones. Although the action took place a little more than a year ago, there is no indication that the person who was fired has been reinstated. The school that he was fired from (Nomen Global Language Center) is the largest ESL school in Utah.

If you’re somewhat more enlightened than the school’s founder (Clarke Woodger) is, you’ll recognize that homophones are words that sound alike, but have different meanings. An example is shown below:

More examples can be found at the link below:

is it true that saxophone players are gay?

The other story that popped up this morning involved some “man on the street” interviews that were conducted by a man named Joseph Costello. He asked several people in Austin, Texas if they would ever vote for a heterosexual President. The responses are enlightening - as well as a little frightening.

many of these people vote and have children.

If you conducted your own “man on the street” poll to find out if people knew what the official language of the United States is, you’d also find that there are a lot of ignorant people in this country. It’s actually NOT English, but the link below will tell you what it is:

made you look, didn’t I?

The English language is actually much older than many people realize. It’s actually derived from several dialects of the West Germanic language, which originated about the time of Christ. Since the Germanic tribes that spoke the language lived among the Latin-speaking inhabitants of the Roman Empire, the language absorbed many Latin words as well. Today, it is estimated that roughly 60% of the English language is derived from Latin words, which makes me feel a little better about the 2 years of Latin that I was forced to take in high school.

Although English may indeed be a hard language to learn, those who move here from other countries will find it advantageous to learn it, which is exemplified by the sign posted below:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

For the baby boomers

The period immediately after the end of WWII marked the start of the “baby boom” generation, which included all of the children born between 1946 and 1964. Growth was the most dramatic between 1946 and 1955, when the Leading-Edge Boomers were born. Those born between 1956 and 1964 are called Late Bloomers or Trailing Edge Boomers. Those born from 1957 on are also called Generation Jones. Although the size of both the leading edge and trailing edge boomers is about the same (at about 38,000,000 people) the birth rate dropped sharply after 1956.The highest birthrate for all baby boomers was 1947, the year that I was born.

American society has changed radically since the date of my birth, and listing all of the remarkable events that have occurred in the last 67 years could fill several volumes.

To keep things simple, though, I’d like to focus only on the toys that came into being during my lifetime.

The slinky was introduced in 1945

The hula hoop was introduced in 1958

The Lego brick was introduced in 1958

Barbie was born in 1959,

G.I. Joe was introduced in 1964

All of us also played with Lincoln logs, Erector sets, and Lionel trains, but all them were actually invented much earlier. Lionel trains were made from 1900 to 1969, but you can still buy new sets today if you know where to shop. Erector sets were introduced in 1913, and Lincoln logs (which were created by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son) date back to 1916

One of THE best known toys of the Baby Boom era was the Etch A Sketch. It was invented in France in the late 1950’s, and introduced to the world at the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg, Germany in 1959. The rights to the toy were quickly purchased by The Ohio Art Company, and it was released in America in time for the 1960 Christmas season. For many years, it was produced in Bryan, Ohio, but all production was shifted to Shenzhnen, China in 2001.

Although you can still buy the original Etch A Sketch, it’s also possible to buy one that has computer memory and a speaker. The Etch A Sketch Animator was introduced in 1986, and an updated version was released in 1988. The purchase price of the Animator is $139,99, considerably cheaper than an I-Pad, but more than a Kindle or a Nook.

The bast majority of us never got much beyond producing a bunch of squiggles on the screen, but there ARE a few talented people among us who have produced remarkably life-like art, like the picture shown below.

Although the Etch A Sketch was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998, and was added to the Century of Toys list in 2003, it may not qualify as the best toy EVER, However, for the harried parents of all those kids who were born during the Baby Boom generation, it offered three clear advantages:

1) it could keep kids occupied for hours on end

2) it didn’t require batteries

3) it didn’t make any noise.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

Rhode Island recently made the news, but not for reasons that you might suspect.

Other than the fact that Rhode Island was the first of the original 13 colonies to declare its independence from England (on May 4, 1776), was the location (in Newport) of some pretty fancy summer cottages at the dawn of the 20th Century, and was third state in the country to allow the use of medical marijuana (in 2011) , Rhode Island doesn’t often come to mind for any other reason.

(The Breakers, pictured above, was the summer home of the family of Cornelius Vanderbilt II. It was constructed between 1893 and 1895. When completed, it covered slightly over 125,000 square feet on five floors, and was situated on 13 acres of land overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It currently is the most visited sites in the entire state.)

So why did the smallest state in the country become front page news in the New York Times recently?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind

Although Rhode Island currently produces a negligible amount of electricity from wind farms, a project currently in process would make Rhode Island the very first state in the nation to generate electricity from offshore wind farms.

The United States, believe it or not, is the world leader when it comes to generating electricitym wind, but it lags behind both China and Europe when it comes to offshore wind production.

The United States also lags far behind Germany in generating electricity from solar energy, even though we receive significantly more sunshine than Germany does.

Texas is the current leader of onshore wind production, and is followed by Iowa, California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

Three of those states (Kansas, North Dakota, and Iowa are among the top 5 of the windiest states), so there IS a correlation between wind speeds and electricity generated from wind, but it’s far from a perfect match.

The farms that both my paternal and maternal grandparents lived on in Minnesota in the early part of the 20th century had windmills, which were used to pump water and to generate electricity. We may not actually be living in “the good old days”, but there ARE times we seem to be living in the past , and the new wind farm just off the coast of Rhode Island is simply the latest example of that.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sleep tonight - your National Guard is awake

I graduated from college in June of 1969. Although it was nice to be free of classes and exams, it also meant that I immediately lost my student deferment (2S) and was subject to the draft. Since we had a “police action” going on in a place called Vietnam at the time, I decided that I didn’t want to take a chance on the draft, so I went to every National Guard and Army Reserve unit in the Twin Cities, even though all the lists were “full”.

I joined the first unit that called me, which happened to be a National Guard unit stationed at the downtown St. Paul airport. My first guard meeting was in February of 1970, and I was called to basic training at Fr. Bragg, North Carolina in May of 1970.

At almost exactly the same time that I reported for basic training duty, a peaceful student protest rally at Kent State College in Ohio turned deadly, and 4 students were shot dead by members of the Ohio National Guard. Ultimately, the state of Ohio paid $675,000 to the families of the students who were slain, which would be equivalent to $3,792.247 in 2010 dollars. The National Park Service ultimately listed the site of the shootings on the national register of historic places on January 15, 2010..

In the words of the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest, the shootings at Kent State were “unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable”.

At the beginning of 2015, the population of the United States was 320.09 million people. According to the most recent data, the number of guns in private hands numbered somewhere between 300 and 310 million, so it’s pretty obvious that we have more than enough guns in our country. Among all developed nations, we have the highest number of guns per capita.. For those misguided folks who think that guns save lives, it’s also worth noting that we have the highest gun homicide rate, the highest rate of suicide by firearms, and the highest rate of deaths due to assault in the entire developed world.

When 26 people were murdered at Sandy Hook elementary school were murdered on December 14, 2012, the remedy suggested by Wayne LaPierre of the NRA was predictable- and dead wrong. His solution was to station armed guards at every school in America. Fortunately, the vast majority of the school districts in America did not take his advice, although there ARE a handful of states in the country where it’s perfectly legally for teachers and other faculty members to “carry heat”

Last Thursday, a long gunman named Mohammed Abdulazees opened fire at a recruitment center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing 4 Marines. A sailor wounded at the site died the next day.

Arizona’s Republican governor Doug Ducey’s response to the shootings in Chattanooga was again predictable - and still dead wrong. On Wednesday of this week, Governor Doug Ducey authorized more that 200 members of the Arizona National Guard to be armed while on duty. Since the governor’s order also permits guardsmen to bring their own weapons onto secure military installations, the number of armed guardsmen at posts around the state could actually number in the thousands.

Ducey is not alone in his actions, since governors in 7 other states have ordered their guardsmen to be armed. Not surprisingly, all 7 states are led by Republican governors.

It should be obvious by now that the proper way to stem gun violence is NOT by adding more guns, but by preventing people who have no right to own a gun from purchasing their own personal weapons.

The Chattanooga gunmen had a hard time keeping a job due to his manic depressive/bipolar disorder, as well as heavy drug use, which caused him to seek treatment from a psychiatrist. His parents knew that he owned guns, and tried to get him to give them up, but he refused. They also tried to get him to seek treatment for substance abuse., but he also refused to do that.

Like Dylan Root, the gunmen who killed nine members of the a Baptist church in Charleston last week, the Chattanooga killer left lots of clues beforehand about his intentions, but proper action was not taken in time to prevent another senseless gun tragedy.

In response to the shootings in Charleston, some members of our society advocated arming members of the church, another predictable response that is still dead wrong, but it hasn’t prevented Louisiana from passing legislation that does exactly that. Fortunately, Louisiana is still the only state that allows guns in churches, but it’s possible that recent changes in gun laws in Georgia may permit concealed carry in houses of worship there as well.

If you’re listening, Governor, do the smart thing, and rescind your recent order to arm members of the National Guard. Until Arizona, and the rest of the country FINALLY get around to passing sensible gun legislation (like universal background checks for ALL gun purchases), it’s just a matter of time before another nut gets his 15 minutes of fame by killing more innocent people. Just today, in fact, another "lone white male" at a Louisiana movie theater killed 2 people and injured 7 more before turning his gun on himself. Obviously, the solution isn't to allow guns in theaters, which is precisely what some of our elected officials advocated after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

To paraphrase a bit from an folk song titled “Where have all the flowers gone?”, when will we ever learn?