Saturday, May 20, 2017

this old house, part 2

Almost all of us have fond memories of the houses that we grew up in, a fact that I covered in my post of 9/27/15:

I lived in the little white house on Third Street in St. Paul for more than 20 years, and my dad lived there for 44. That’s a considerable amount of time, but it pales in comparison to the time my uncle Harold lived on “the Stenson farm”

Harold and the rest of the Stenson family moved from “the little house on the prairie” in 1929 (see the link below) and he called the house on what used to be known as “rural route 3” his home for more than 80 years. The house likely dates back to the early years of the 20th century, and it’s still the property of the Stenson family – at least for now.

As a kid, I made a lot of trips to the farm, and those trips continued even after I reached adulthood. Initially, the gathering of the Stenson families was “Christmas on the farm”,   but it morphed into “Christmas in July” when the Kimmes family joined the clan.

The old apple orchard is gone, and so are the machine shed and the windmill. The barn still stands, but it has not housed cows for decades.  The house is also one of the few homes that I have ever been in that has an actual “root cellar”- but no basement.

Harold passed away at the age of 95 on May 11 of this year. Although his sister Grace had also lived to be 95, Harold turned out to be the sibling who lived the longest, since he passed away roughly 7 months into his 95th year.

Despite the fact that Harold had some emotional and physical setbacks in his life, he was always a pretty cheerful guy, and he was always in his prime after he had had a couple of beers, a pleasure that he enjoyed until very recently.


According to one of his daughters, he lost his “chipper” a few times during the last year of his life, so his passing was not a surprise to those who were close to him. 

Since I live in Arizona, there is virtually no chance that I would be able to get to his funeral, and it’s also not likely that I will ever see the Stenson farm again, but I’ll always have the memories of a great old guy, and a great old farm.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

send in the clowns

The group pictured below got together at the White House last week.

Collectively, they are worth a lot of money. Sara Palin is the poorest of the bunch, and she is worth $12 million. Donald Trump isn’t sure exactly how much he is actually worth, but it’s fairly certain that he knows the ruble/exchange rate.

Collectively, though, what the groups does NOT have is dignity and class, which are things that money simply can’t buy.

Send in the clowns?

Don’t bother.

They’re already here.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

well, I'll be a monkey's uncle

The phrase shown above first surfaced in 1925, shortly after the ending of the trial officially known as the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, but more commonly known as “the monkey trial”. 

In 1925, Tennessee’s Butler Act made it illegal to teach human evolution in any state-funded school. Scopes deliberately incriminated himself so that the case could have a defendant, and eventually was found guilty and fined $100, a verdict that was overturned on a technicality. 

Eventually, the case went to trial, and it attracted some big name lawyers. William Jennings Bryan, a three time Presidential candidate, argued for the prosecution, and Clarence Darrow spoke for Scopes. Although the trial technically was a defeat for the fundamentalists and creation theory, anti-evolution legislation was not challenged again until 1965. Even today, 14 states, including Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee, use tax dollars to teach creationism in at least some of their schools. 

The monkey trial came to mind this week as I monitored a biology class at a local high school. The instructor had 3 different biology text books to choose from, and all of them covered evolution extensively, in articles that ran from 50 pages up to almost 100. 

Even today, there is not universal agreement on evolution. According to the latest Gallup poll, roughly 40% of our population simply does not believe in evolution. That may seem surprising, until you consider the fact that 20% of the population believes that the moon landing was faked, 30% of the population believes that the Bible is literally true, and more than 40% of the population believes that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Additionally, more than half the population believes that global warming is a hoax, and was not caused by human activity. 

If you are in that group that believes that the Bible is literally true, I would invite you to take a short Bible quiz. Don’t panic. It is an open book quiz.

For centuries, there was a conflict between religion and science. In the 1400’s, Copernicus developed a philosophy called heliocentric, which states that the Earth revolved around the sun. In the mid-1550’s, Galileo also publicly proclaimed this philosophy, but was roundly criticized by the Catholic Church, who maintained that the sun revolved around the Earth. When Galileo refused to accept the Church’s teaching, he was condemned as a heretic, and was placed under house arrest for the rest of his life. It was not until 1922 that the Catholic Church admitted that they were wrong.  

Today, there apparently are few points of disagreement between science and the Church, as evidenced by the fact that Pope Francis stated last fall that global warming is a sin, and protecting creation is a work of mercy. In October, he also stated that science and faith are not at odds:

(Although the position held by the Catholic Church is similar to the position of other churches, there is not universal acceptance of the theory of evolution, and the most conservative sects are the least likely to believe in evolution):

Sadly, our politics have gone in the opposite direction. 

During the Nixon administration, legislators on both sides of the aisle approved the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and they also created the Environment Protection Agency. There is currently a bill pending in Congress to eliminate the EPA altogether, which makes no sense at all. 

Some of today’s politicians believe that global warming is a hoax, and some of them even believe that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, possibly due to the fact that the Chinese are now the world’s largest producer of solar panels (but still the world’s largest consumer of coal). 




In February of 2015, Senator Jim Inhofe (who was then the chair of the Environment and Public Works committee) brought a snowball to the Senate floor to support his theory that the Earth is actually getting colder, not warmer. 

On March 29 of this year, the Chair of the House Science Committee (Lamar Smith) declared that the journal “Science” was not objective. 

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to watch the BBC special titled “the incredible journey of man. If you click on the links in the article shown below, it is clear that the human race is a lot older than 10,000 years, and it clearly evolved from a lower life form. 

If you view the first video, you will notice that early man bore a striking resemblance to today’s chimpanzee, so it shouldn’t surprise to know that we share 96% or our DNA with chimpanzees. For what it’s worth, we also share 60% of our DNA with bananas, which I find extremely confusing.



For those who simply do not believe that evolution is a credible theory, it’s worthwhile to read the comment of Neil Degrasse Tyson, who said, “the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it”. 

The debate over creationism versus evolution is likely to continue long after I’m gone from the Earth, but regardless of what your opinion is, it is important to remember the words of Mark Twain, who said, “ it ain’t what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so”.

 What do I believe in? Well, I certainly support the theory of evolution, but I am also troubled by the fact that all of Earth’s incredibly complex organisms didn’t simply just happen, so there is probably a bit of Intelligent Design at work here as well.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Voting Rights Act

On March 15, 1965 (8 days after the first attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery was marred by violence committed by law enforcement officials). President Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing voting rights for all. The act was finally signed into law on August 6, 1965.

A strong part of the reason that Johnson felt compelled to address the issue was the fact that the events in Selma were captured on film by news agencies, causing outrage throughout the country. The movie “Selma” (which not enough people have seen) graphically illustrates the racial injustice that still persisted in his country 97 years after the passage of the 14th Amendment. If you have not seen the movie, you can see it in its entirety by clicking on the link below:

As a result of legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, states started to pass more restrictive voting laws in 2010, and the Supreme Court ruling of June 25, 2013 further weakened the Voting Rights Act. As a result, the 2016 Presidential election was the first one that was held after the Supreme Court ruling – with disastrous results. 98 of the 100 largest newspapers printed editorials in the fall that Donald Trump was not fit to be President. In the end, Hillary Clinton received endorsements from 57 newspapers, and Trump only received endorsements from 2. Thirty five of the 98 newspapers either did not endorse any one at all, or they endorsed either Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.

Although Trump was helped to his “victory” due to the assistance of FBI director James Comey and the Russian government (which has been acknowledged by 17 separate intelligence agencies) the most significant factor that allowed Trump to win a narrow victory in the electoral college, in spite of the fact that he lost the popular vote by 3,000,000 votes, was voter suppression. Trump’s margin of victory in Michigan was a tiny 10,704 votes. In Wisconsin, it was 22,177, and in Pennsylvania, it was 67,416 votes. Although it is impossible to know exactly how many people were prevented from voting, but the article below will provide some clues:

Fortunately, the laws currently on the books have prevented further erosion of voting rights, at least for now. Federal courts declared against the redistricting on November 39, 2016, and Federal courts also ruled against redistricting in Texas earlier this week. Now that Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General (despite the fact that he committed perjury during his testimony to Congress) it is not clear that the protection will continue to exist.

When he testified on January 10, he stated that he felt that the Voting Rights Act was intrusive, and he had no problem with voter ID laws.

Like virtually all of Trump’s cabinet picks, he is completely unqualified for the position that he was nominated for, a point that Elizabeth Warren brought home when she attempted to read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter.

There is strong suspicion that Preet Bharara was fired to prevent him from investigating Trump’s finances, which would constitute obstruction of justice, and would certainly be an impeachable offense. Coupled with Trump’s declining mental state, as well as growing evidence of interference by the Russia government, it is quite likely that Trump will be impeached before he is in office for a year.

However, that is not what would be best for the country.

What we actually need is a thorough and independent investigation into the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. If it is as comprehensive as all of the intelligence agencies suspect, than the only possible remedy is to void the results of the election, and appoint Hillary Clinton as the next President of the United States. Since Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20, she would technically be the 46th President of the United States. As a result, our country would be significantly safer, and we could all sleep better at night.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

the power of pig poop



The last time that our family participated in the RAGBRAI was in July of 2011, just before our move to Arizona. If you would like to read more about that trip, just click on the link below: 

I thought about that trip just the other day when I came across a key chain that had a little pink pig attached to it, which led to the title shown at the top of this page.

As I passed some riders on a steep decline on the 2nd day of the ride, I passed by an adjacent large hog farm, which literally took my breath away. By coincidence, I had met a couple from St. Louis who had created a way to change hog slurry into a replacement for foreign oil. One of the end products they had developed was asphalt, and numerous other companies around the country have also developed similar procedures. The liquid residue from 10,000 hogs can produce 1000 gallons of oil a day, and there are an estimated 15,000.000 hogs living in the state. Those same 10,000 hogs, by the way, produce as much waste as a town of 25,000 people. The slurry ponds used to hold pig waste can be enormous, and can be as large as 4 football fields. To get an idea how really big they are, come join me on a flight over a Smithfield Farms hog facility: 

 To put that in a more meaningful perspective, the hogs in Iowa produce as much sewage as all of the people in the state of California, which had 38.8 million people in 2014.

In addition to oil and asphalt, the hog slurry (when treated) can be turned into natural gas and other fuels, and can also be used as fertilizer. In addition, the converted substance can also be used to generate electricity.

By using the hog slurry for other uses, the overpowering odor of methane gas from the enormous slurry ponds can be greatly reduced, and the reduction in waste can also help to maintain the quality of drinking water in underground aquifers. 

There is an old saying, of course, is that if you have lemons, you make lemonade. If you have poop, you have to be a lot more creative. 


Saturday, January 28, 2017

It’s a matter of life or death

Ever since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010, the more conservative members of the Republican Party have been determined to repeal it, despite the fact that President Obama has been willing to work with them to modify it more to their satisfaction. On February 2, 2016, the House of Representatives voted for the 60th time to repeal the law, which brings to mind the definition of insanity. Insanity is defined as continuing to do the same action over and over again, and somehow expect different results.

The sheer stupidity of those conservative Republicans reached its peak (or its nadir) in October of 2013, when they shut down the government for 12 days in their effort to cut off funding for the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare due to the fact that it was championed by our 44th President. The 12 day shutdown cost the economy $24 billion in lost productivity, but failed to achieve its stated purpose. In addition, it caused the approval rating of Congress to drop to 9%, the lowest approval rate on record.

Its critics maintain that it is burdensome and a job killer, which is absolute nonsense. 20,000,000 people now have insurance coverage that they did not have before, and our uninsured rate is now at 11.4%, the lowest rate in our history.

As of November, 2016, our country had experienced a record 73 straight months of job growth, and the private sector has added 15.6 million jobs since Obama was sworn in. Our current unemployment rate is 4.9%, the lowest rate the economy has enjoyed since the 1950’s. The average unemployment rate for the period 1948 to 2015 is 5.81%. The peak was 10.80 in 1982, when Saint Ronnie was President, and the lowest was 2.5% in 1953, when Eisenhower was President.

The marginal tax rate in 1953, incidentally, was 92%, which means that high taxes don’t kill jobs. The top marginal tax rate in 1980 was 70%. The next year, it was cut to 69.13%, and in 1982, it was cut to 50%, which proves that cutting taxes does not lead to job growth.

After 7 years, the Republican Party still does not have a replacement plan in place for Obamacare, but with the election of our dictator in chief, they have taken the first steps to repealing the act.

According to the Washington Post, repealing the Affordable Care Act will lead to an additional 43,000 deaths a year.

In addition, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that a repeal will add $350 billion to our national debt over the next decade.

Since it appears the repealing the Affordable Care Act makes no sense at all, why do the conservatives keep pushing it? As usual, taking care of the rich guys is a priority. According to Forbes, repealing the Affordable Care Act will provide an average financial benefit to those in the top 1% of $33,000 a year. For the folks in the lower tax brackets, their tax burdens will INCREASE. A repeal could also cause 29,000,000 people to lose their health insurance.

There ARE ways to prevent this utter disaster from occurring, and the best possible way is for the citizens to get mad as hell and CONSTANTLY bombard our elected officials. Donald Trump is unlikely to last 4 years, for a variety of reasons, but the more sane members of the Republican Party will be, and they definitely need to hear from us.