Group Pictures…

July 20, 2013

Bedford Picture Merge3

For some unknown reason I have always been fascinated by group pictures such as shown in my revised header above and a larger copy here. I love looking at each individual face and trying to imagine their life story.  In studying local history such as from the picture above I have come to understand just how hard previous generations have it compared to ours. It makes me appreciate all that I have today.

We must remember that our grandparents, or maybe great grandparent, often time worked a twelve-hour day six days a week to just put bread on the table for their family. I suspect that many in the picture above due to working around limestone came down with emphysema and other such lung related problems.  Many, like their coal miner brethren, likely died of lung cancer.  There is still a very strong limestone industry just south of where I live. But I am sure that their employer now takes the necessary precautions to prevent such dangerous environments that those in this picture faced.

I am not much of a collector as such.  I do have a few “Simplify” signs strewn around my study that I have been collecting for a decade or so.  I am now on the lookout for pictures like the above.  I take digital copies where I can but I would really like to gather some of the old originals. I have had that opportunity in the past but sadly didn’t take advantage of it.

For some reason I look at group pictures and have a sense of empathy for all those who posed in front of a camera many years ago. I think that is one of the reasons I have such a passion for local histories.  During the past twelve years my wife and I have made at least one annual trek to various cities within a day or two driving distance. We spend much of our time there studying its history. I have collected many books and such and I will soon be presenting in a new blog. For those who might be interested I will be  giving you more info about this new project soon.

In order to appreciate what we have today we must understand how those who have lived before us helped shape our present world.

Monarchy……

July 19, 2013

Banner -Off The Top

MonarchDutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima appear on the balcony of the Royal Palace with their children, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, April 30, 2013. Willem-Alexander is not only the monarch of the Netherlands but also the Dutch Caribbean territories of Curacao, Aruba and Saint Maarten. He holds several military titles but requested an honorable discharge.

Source: Dutch Abdication: Willem-Alexander Becomes Europe’s Youngest Monarch | The Netherlands New King | TIME.com.

I just can’t understand the allure of a monarchy but I know that many are infatuated with them.  My wife stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to see british royalty weddings. Maybe I am just too American to understand why people would voluntarily pay taxes to keep particular families living in utter opulence. I’m sure King Willem and the wife and kids appreciate all they are given  by the people of the Netherlands but I just think they need to go out and get a real job. :)

One of the things that has made the USA successful democracy is “Equality of Condition” at least that is what Alexis De Tocqueville concluded in his book entitled “Democracy in America” in 1831. (BTW, this is a great book to read if you are interested in some of the core reasons we became what we are as a country.) He believed that the lack of a history of privileged classes is what allowed us to prosper as a democracy where many other failed. I will be talking much more about this and other historical things related to our condition in a new blog coming soon.

We may not have an official aristocracy but we seem to be getting close to one via our tax codes. When we allow millions and in some cases billions of dollars to pass tax-free from one generation to the next we are building our own version of aristocracy.  Previous generations understood what Mr. De Tocqueville found and had a pretty stiff inheritance tax in place to prevent the passing of unearned income from one generation to the next.  But then came the spin of “the death tax” that too many of us swallowed hook, line and sinker.  Even if many of us don’t have the big bucks we irrationally dream that someday we just might and would also want to keep it all for our clan instead of going back tot he public domain from where it came.

So, here is to you King Willem. May you continue to live on all the welfare as long as you can….

Energy CreditsMake your home more energy efficient. It could help reduce not only your utility bills, but also what you owe the IRS.

You can make relatively easy and inexpensive upgrades, such as adding insulation or replacing leaky windows, and possibly receive a $500 tax credit on your 2013 tax return.

More extensive — and expensive — alternative energy improvements will get you bigger tax breaks. These include installing solar energy, wind power, fuel cell or geothermal systems. Eligible home energy improvements in these areas could qualify for a tax credit equal to 30 percent of the cost, including installation, without any cap on the credit amount.

Source: 10 midyear tax moves to make now.

I am not usually one to give you any financial advice but when I came across this one I thought I would mention it. I like to think that I am green so this is a double whammy for me. Since I own an almost 100-year-old house I know part of it could use some more insulation. I plan on getting that done soon and then taking my five hundred buck credit on taxes this year.  Since our medical bills (read this as dental implants) will be pretty high this year this credit will certainly come in handy.

I guess I am just one of those lazy ones who let things slide from year to year. I am usually not a procrastinater but seem to be so in this case.  I have known that the insulation in the older front part of the house needs replenishing but just never got around to getting it done. Maybe I am green in words only. ;)  It would be nice to also do some solar energy stuff but the up front costs are just a little too high for me yet. I am waiting for more technology advances to bring those costs down before I take the plunge.

So, I hope this post is a heads up for you to take a look around your homestead  for energy improvements. Your pocket-book will eventually thank you and so will your grandkids, both present and future, for reducing your carbon footprint.

A Little Rebellion….

July 17, 2013

I hold it that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. . . . It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government. –

Thomas Jefferson  –Letter, 30 Jan. 1787, to statesman James Madison, speaking of Shays’ Rebellion

They say that Shay’s Rebellion was one of the primary drivers for moving away from the weak Articles of Confederation to the U.S. Constitution a couple of years later.  Obviously Jefferson had some sympathies toward that rebellion. I don’t know much about that but I do agree with Jefferson that a little rebellion now and then is still a good thing even 200+ years later.

I think it is time for a third-party to come on the scene to shake up the current establishment inside the beltway of Washington. Our current two parties are just too entrenched in their separate ways to ever get along with each other anymore. It is time for a change. As Jefferson says a little medicine is necessary for sound health.

Centrist PartyI am pinning my hopes on the Centrist Movement to eventually break the deadlocks that constantly occur between the current two groups of old men in our capital. Where I naively supported Mr. Obama with my time and money in 2008 hoping he would be that medicine but it seems we need a stronger dose that he has been able to provide. Let’s get rid of all the wing-nuts at the extremes of our political system so that eventually saner minds might be able to come on the scene.

leaderWhen some nation wants us to help ‘em out they use the same old “gag”, that we should exert our “Moral Leadership” and, like a yap, we believe it, when as a matter of truth, no nation wants any other nation exerting a “Moral leadership” over ‘em even if they had one.  — Will Rogers

Will it amazes me how eighty plus years ago you can tell us so much that we think is somehow new today. Moral leadership, yeah that is a good one.  I remember President Bush using those words over and over again to get us into some pretty deep troubles.  He would always say it is necessary for us to force democracy on every country in the Middle East.  Ok, so he didn’t use those exact words but that is what he meant.

As ignorant sheep all those yahoos in congress got in line behind his bravado. A trillion bucks in debt later they started to wonder just how valuable our moral leadership really was. Then came the Arab Spring where so-called democracies sprang up on their own. Anyone who is even a casual observer of U.S. history knows that a democracy must spring from within. Forcing a democracy on someone just doesn’t work. I hope we have at least learned that lesson for our money?

All of my conservative friends were so excited to see a democratically elected president in Egypt last year. So was I.  They were convinced that Egypt was just the first of many democracies that their president would be responsible for.  When I say democratically elected I certainly don’t mean a Democrat elected; they would never celebrate that.

But it seems the Middle East versions of democracy just don’t have the staying power of ours.  After just fourteen months they threw out their president and their new constitution.  It will be interesting to see what they eventually replace them with.

Getting back to Will’s quote above it is obvious that Mr. Bush did not invent the idea of moral leadership. In fact he is only the latest of a long line of conservative presidents who have touted those words. As Will points out moral leadership when you break it down is nothing more than sticking your nose in someone else’s business and that is seldom actually welcomed.  We are having some serious problems right now with that crew in DC but I can’t imagine we would embrace any “Moral leadership” from another countries leader showing us how to resolve our current situation.

A Century Ago…

July 15, 2013

FailA century ago, people were dreaming of flying, trying and failing, falling on the ground. But why do people fall? Why do they continue to fight when all hope seems to be lost? I believe it is because it is in our nature to fight, to try to find something in the darkness of the things we do not understand, in the chaos that surrounds us……

Don’t over think it, don’t tell yourself what you are doing is more than what it is, don’t try to impress anyone. Don’t play it safe either.

Simply write like yourself, and write exactly what you want people to read.

Source: Don’t think, just write! « Cristian Mihai.

As I have mentioned before I like to try to understand what the youngest generation says and thinks about the world today. In that vain I am a regular reader of a young Romanian called Christian Mihai. His blog is on my blog roll to the right.  Sometimes his youth and inexperience shows dominantly through but sometimes he also has streaks of wisdom beyond his years flash through his posts. I like the insight this young man gives me about the world today and about each of us who occupy space in it. Obviously I am not the only one who feels this way as he does have over 42,000 followers. I am envious in that regard.

The first quoted paragraph above got me to thinking about the difference between a century ago and now. Are we more cautious about things now than a century ago? I don’t know, I will have to think on that a while. He somehow puts a light spin using dark words. Failing is something none of us want to do. Some of us don’t attempt many things simply because there is a possibility of failure involved. I am definitely not one of those people. I fail frequently but the occasional successes are worth it.

I have started a dozen different blogs over the years and let most of the fail due to lack of personal interest or readership. I am currently in the process of starting yet another blog. This one about local history from across the U.S. One of the focal points will be to try to learn what has made us as a country a success and how we might get that fervor back.

Christian says “don’t over think it” but by the same token we must not under think it either. Fearlessly charging ahead is a symptom of youth. Fearlessly holding back is a characteristic of old age.  We must all try to live and experience life in between these two states. His last words in the quote above is a reminder to me to not try to write like someone else. Sometimes I self censor when I should just be saying what  I want people to read.  Some say I am bold in this area but personally I sometimes think the opposite….

MowerI was just out in the yard mowing my two and a half acres and started thinking about how I am more relaxed now that I have greatly reduced my diet of politics.  There is little that goes on in that world now that would spur anything other than frustrations. I have admitted that in 2008 I actively supported the candidacy of Barak Obama. His rhetoric was very inspiring to me. He gave me hope that he could affect the changes necessary to restore this country to some form of sanity.

In the five years since that time I have been disheartened by President Obama’s actions.  Except for a meager attempt at universal healthcare, of which he is even backing away from now, he has basically turned his back on all of his campaign promises. Like so many other instead of affecting any change in Washington that place has totally changed him. I guess I should not be surprised by that. Campaign promises very quickly pile on the ash heap of time after almost every election cycle. But I guess I am still, after all these years a somewhat naive person who holds out hope for promises made.

Getting back to my lawn mower philosophizing I have come to realize that neither political party deserves my vote anymore. I take my voting rights very seriously. It is the way I can affect how our government works.  It is the foundation of our democracy. My vote is a serious thing and I don’t want to waste it on candidates who are not worthy of it.  For that reason I am looking seriously at third-party candidates, especially those who might dawn the Centrist Movement label. Something at a very basic level must change in our nation’s capital in order to go forward. I don’t think that change will happen within the present two-party system.

I seem to do some of my best thinking will running around in circles in my 2+ acres. I think that is the main reason I actually look forward to doing that weekly chore. :)

Less than a week after the Supreme Court watered down the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a handful of states seemed poised to roll back the protections afforded to minorities by the 48-year-old law.

Two hours after the decision, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that a 2011 voter-ID law that federal courts found disproportionately burdened poor and minority voters would go into effect “immediately.” New redistricting maps, Abbott says, could swiftly follow.

Source:  States Eye Voting Obstacles in Wake of High-Court Ruling | TIME.com.

I am not really much of a Supreme Court watcher anymore but from what I know this court probably ranks in the bottom three for me. The five who almost always side with each other seem intent on molding their own version of America.  Clarence Thomas who should never have been even nominated for that  life-time position is reported to be the least informed judge in the history of the high court. My conservative friends are constantly screaming about “activist” judges who instead of enforcing the laws want to make their own. Clarence Thomas and those five fit that mold perfectly.

The Civil Rights Act that is now about fifty years old needs some modification. In my mind there needs to be some sort of sitting council that is always looking at possible voting suppression. Perhaps the most critical foundation of this country is our right to vote and have that vote effect change when it is needed.

I was a regular visitor to the deep south during my working years between 1970 and 2000. During those early years I as totally embarrassed by the blatant racism I encountered there.  Mel who was one of the “good old boys” sat in the company cafeteria spouting off jokes about their problems with the negroes. I substituted a much more polite word than he actually used. Everyone wanted to sit at Mel’s table to get their daily dose.  Over the years this sort of thing has disappeared under the surface but I still believe that it is very prominent with many in that area of the country.

So when I see all the gerrymandering to put all the minorities in “their own” districts so as to lessen their effect it still troubles me. When I saw predominately African-American voting districts have to stand in eight-hour long lines to cast their votes it greatly troubles me. The fact that the Texas Attorney General didn’t even wait a day to pronounce how he would immediately put stumbling blocks in the way of certain people voting.  Racism may not be as visible as it was when I started out visiting the deep south as a young engineer but it is still there lingering just below the surface and that troubles me deeply.

Broke Republicans???

July 10, 2013

Broke“You keep a Republican broke and out of office and pretty near anybody can get along with them.” – Will Rogers, 11 November 1923

I don’t know Will, maybe some things were different during your days. But I just don’t see too many broke Republicans around now days.  They all seem to have a fair amount of money and will do almost anything to keep it for themselves. But you are right that if you can get them off the topics of their money and below the belt issues  they are pretty likable folks.

skilledST. PAUL, Minn. – We previously reported that one thing holding back the economic recovery is there just aren’t enough skilled workers. But some companies have decided if they can’t find qualified employees, they’ll just create them — as we found out in St. Paul, Minnesota….

Tuition is $4,000, but the coalition provides scholarships. Later this month, the first class will graduate 18 students.  How does that compare to building a successful business? “It’s bigger,” said Guarino. “It’s bigger. It’s more important.”  For companies needing highly-skilled workers, it is a way to do good while ensuring they do well.

Source:  Minn. companies are “building” new workers from scratch – CBS News.

In my day it was common practice to bring in fresh recruits and train them for the job you needed filled. I don’t know when that fell out of favor but it is nice to see it coming back at least in a small degree. Sometimes all we need to be successful is a little help. I have proudly proclaimed more than once on this blog that I worked my way through college. I worked up to forty or more hours per week along with taking almost a full course load. It was tiring but I was young and didn’t quite realize that. I probably averaged four hours sleep or less most nights. But, given the cost of most college educations today I’m not sure what I did is even possible anymore.

Getting back to the point of this post, sometimes all we need is a little help along the way. A little boost here, some encouraging words there, or maybe a few bucks to bring it all together. I am a firm believer that the best moral values in this country belong to us Midwesterners. We seem to have more empathy and less narcissism than most other regions of the country. We don’t, for the most part, strut around telling everyone how great we are. Instead we just put our nose to the wheel to make things happen. It is nice to see that this program of helping develop skilled workers is from a Minnesota company.

Sometimes it is necessary to look back in order to figure out how to go forward. This maybe is one of those times. If you can’t go out in the market to get the necessary skilled workers you just create them yourself.  I know there will be those who are afraid that once they put all the effort to make a skilled worker that they might end up going somewhere else, even a competitor.  But my Midwestern values say that many will be loyal to those who helped them get where they are.  Loyalty is another of those “old-fashioned” values that disappeared during the Reagan years but who says it can’t be resurrected again if some company or group takes the first step of valuing its workforce.