Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanks, Once Again

Thanks are always worth repeating, so today's post is a rerun of 2011's Thanksgiving message. For reasons unknown, this little item has attracted a very large number of viewers from  outside the United States. Thus, it seems appropriate to again send it out into the electronic world.

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A Great Day, Indeed 

Today is America’s best celebration.  Thanksgiving truly is for everyone.  It is not part of any specific religious tradition; it is for all to enjoy.  For this one day, we can cast aside worries about the future and focus only on the good things that have happened in our past.

I am thankful that I was born in a prosperous nation and have lived a long and generally pleasant life with the freedom to chart my own course. Through good and bad times, many people have supported and guided me. I appreciate all of them, especially Sandy, my beautiful wife.

I am thankful that my family does not want for food, shelter, or love.  Today we will be together. That is the best thing of all.

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Santa Takes Back Seat to Vets

Santa Claus arrived in Kalamazoo on Saturday (much too early to suit me and many others) as thousands attended the annual Holiday Parade. The jolly one got lots of appreciative oohs and aahs as he was escorted by 11 marching bands and a variety of floats, but he was not the star of the show in southwestern Michigan last week.

Santa clearly lost the appreciation contest to the U.S. military. Active G.I.s and veterans were showered with gifts starting the weekend before Veterans Day (Tuesday).  Free meals and discounts on all sorts of goods and services continued in some cases right up until Santa grabbed the next weekend spotlight.

November 11 observances have undergone a transformation during my lifetime. Originally,  "Armistice Day'" marked the end of World War I. It was day of reflection and a time to honor those who gave their lives or were crippled in the conflict.

When I was a youngster, people observed a moment of silence at 11 a.m., when the treaty ending the war was signed. Everyone was encouraged to make a donation to the American Legion Auxiliary in return for a red "remembrance poppy," a paper creation we wore all day in honor of the dead soldiers buried in France. The Legion ladies used poppy donations to benefit disabled veterans or other vets or their families known to be in need. I remember my Dad encouraging me to drop a nickel or dime in the collection can as he explained the significance of the poppies.

Armistice day was important in my family. Dad, his two brothers, and my Mom's brother all served in WWI. One of my uncles came home from France permanently disabled from effects of a gas attack. Another returned with a Croix de Guerre medal awarded by the French government for bravery.

As fewer World War II vets remain alive, they get lots of love. (Associated Press photo)
All died years ago. There are no veterans of World War I  alive today in the U.S. The old Armistice Day customs, however, continue to some extent. Church bells still ring at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11 in a small town near us. Veteran firing squads still launch volleys marking the time. Although I've not seen a remembrance poppy worn for several years, there may be places where they are available.

Wikipedia tells us that remembrance poppies remain common in other nations, especially the UK, and there the day to honor those who gave their lives in battle is titled Remembrance Day. That seems appropriate because the U.S. played a relatively small role in World War I, where trench warfare produced wholesale slaughter.

The U.S. didn't enter the five-year conflict until almost the final year. Casualties totaled 320,000. That seems like a lot, but consider that British Empire dead and wounded totaled more than 3 million and French casualties topped 6 million. Some 37 million people from all participating countries were killed or wounded in the horrific struggle. The U.S. military casualty total was much higher in World War II--more than a million.

During World War II, Armistice Day began to morph into Veterans Day. Informal observances using the new name started in 1947. In 1954, Congress officially recognized Veterans Day, declaring it a national holiday and a time to honor all veterans.

I was discharged from the Army in 1960, and don't recall any wholesale changes in observances until fairly recently. The old Armistice Day traditions simply continued under a new name. Veterans usually were respected, but not always. Many Vietnam War vets complained about shabby treatment when they came home from the killing fields in Indochina.

If anything, recognition and tangible rewards for veterans declined. My brother-in-law and other Korean War vets pointed out that monuments in city squares omitted them. Supposedly, that was because Korea officially was a "police action," not a war. The nation's biggest veterans' organization, the American Legion, refused membership to thousands of veterans of my era, a practice continuing today. An ungrateful government reduced or eliminated some veterans' benefits for us as well. On Veterans Day, a vet might be thanked for service with a fee doughnut or cup of coffee in a few places, but those were about the only tangible gifts from private people that I remember.

Everything seemed to start changing after the 9/11 attacks. Suddenly, those cups of coffee became free meals.  A huge variety of business began to offer 10 percent or more price reductions to veterans. Because some hotels and motels gave room discounts, the proverbial "three hots and a cot" provided to active duty G.I.s could once again be enjoyed by veterans. Offering gifts to vets seemed to take on a snowball effect, and it hasn't stopped yet.

I think this Denny's ad deserves an award for salute creativity.

This year lists of free or cut-rate offerings on Nov. 11, and sometimes throughout the week, were easy to find. It was a "take your pick" situation.

I was right there picking. With our continuing home remodeling project far from completion, it was a great time to get needed items available at leading big box stores for 10 percent off. While on the track of some special items, my son and I were near a Denny's restaurant, so I claimed one of my favorite things--a free "build your own breakfast." In the evening after more discount shopping, beautiful wife Sandy and I visited Applebee's where I enjoyed a free steak dinner.

Just for fun, I added up the total value of my Nov. 11 discounts and freebies. The gifts were worth $111.30. And I didn't even have time to get the free haircut or car wash offered by businesses near my home.

By coincidence, my biggest paycheck in the U.S. Army was $111.00 a month. It usually lasted about two weeks. Maybe payback time finally has arrived? Thanks to all the "thankers" who back up their words of gratitude with material gifts. You, too, deserve a salute.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Picture of Contentment

Who is she? A satisfied Republican following last week's route of the electoral opposition? A smug Packers fan after last night's gridiron trashing of their arch rivals, da Chicago Bears?

Neither of the above. It's beautiful wife Sandy taking a break during a retreat titled "Your Life Unplugged" at Yarrow Golf and Conference Center. Yarrow is one of Michigan's most scenic and elegant spots, a great place to spend a few days gaining inspiration and developing a feeling of satisfaction.

Son Lee's fiancée, Karen Vogelmann, made most of the arrangements for the retreat. It was a major task, but it paid off . Some 25 ladies loved it, judging from post-meeting comments. The event was so successful that plans immediately went into effect for a repeat next year.

This photo by one of her new-found friends suggests Sandy will return to Yarrow in 2015.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Democrat Voted with Democrats. Duh.

I intended to comment on the proliferation of lies and misrepresentations in television ads leading up to Tuesday's election. However, so many unsupportable statements were advanced  that I simply couldn't muster the energy to do the topic justice.

Although selecting the biggest lie, or biggest liars, would have been a daunting task, picking the dumbest statement is no problem at all.

Early in Michigan's seemingly endless campaign for governor, an ad blared over and over, "Schauer voted with Obama and Democrats 95 percent of the time."

Mark Schauer is a Democrat. Which party might we expect him to vote with? The Libertarians?

Perhaps recognizing that at least a few Michigan voters have an iota of intelligence, someone in the Republican campaign finally realized how stupid this message is. The ad disappeared from the airways. That was perhaps the most positive thing that has happened during the campaign.

But just to prove stupidity dies hard, the same message just arrived in my mailbox. Only the pamphlet says the Democrat voted with Democrats 96 percent of the time. Wonder who came up with that added 1 percent? I was thinking about voting for the Republican. Now I wonder.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Real Great Satan

The fundamental reason for nonstop violence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world is not United States meddling, the existence of Israel, or clerics fanning the fires of ancient tribal rivalries. It is simply an over-supply of young men in over-populated countries.

Many admirable practices are included in the principles followed by most of the 1.6 billion Muslims, including sharing wealth with the poor, striving to reduce economic inequality, and refraining from violence. A minority of fanatics and those who exploit their zeal continue to give the religion a bad name in other cultures. Islam, generally, is not "the mother lode of bad ideas" as neuroscientist Sam Harris recently labeled it on national television.

But Islam includes one very bad idea. With a few exceptions, all forms of contraception and birth control are forbidden. That is the real "Great Satan."

It's a short step for dissatisfied young men from peaceful protest to violence.

Far too many people compete for scarce resources in lands where Muslims predominate. The great source of wealth in several of them, oil, is not labor intensive in its extraction or processing. In what once were rich farming lands, constant warfare has so disrupted the landscape that jobs in agriculture have declined. Some areas that once exported food now are forced to import it.

Arid lands do not support vast populations anywhere in the world, but in Muslim desert and semi-desert areas excess human reproduction continues despite the lack of suitable environments to sustain more people.

The result of all this in the Middle East, plus a shortage of advanced educational facilities in a world where technical jobs are becoming more important, is an entire region with the highest unemployment rates in the world. A dramatic component of that is in the youngest segment of the population up to the age of 25, where unemployment is estimated to be 40 percent.

What happens when idle young men see no hope for their futures through peaceful endeavors? They become eager to sign up to fight for any leaders who provide a pay check and promise fame and glory.

Until rank and file Muslims in great numbers ignore medieval bans on birth control, as many Roman Catholics now do in Christian cultures, we can expect warfare and devastation in Islamic lands. Peace may be a very long time coming.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lions Without Mountains

The news was terrible for wildlife when a recent report on the world situation showed numbers down about 40 percent in just the past several decades. Expanding human populations and activities are causing the declines, the study compilers said. But, as in all broad trends, there are exceptions. Mountain lions, missing from the landscape for a century, are returning to the American Midwest.

Mountain lions (cougars) are secretive animals seldom seen by humans even in western areas where numbers can be high. Eastern cougars once were native to Wisconsin and Michigan, but they  were eliminated by uncontrolled hunting and trapping and forest devastation by the early 1900s.

A camera set up to photograph trail users filmed this cougar near Merrill, Wisconsin. Other cougar sightings have been confirmed in the state in recent years. (photo: Wisconsin DNR)

Since 1910, numerous farmers, hikers, and hunters have reported sighting cougars in both states. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources so far has been unable to find physical evidence to confirm a sighting. Not so in Wisconsin. There, on July 30, a trail camera photographed a cougar on private property about 20 miles from my hometown. It was the third confirmed sighting this year, and there were several in previous years.

According to the Wisconsin DNR, the animals known to be roaming the state's north woods probably are western cougars, somewhat different from the type that originally inhabited the area. Wildlife biologists think the newcomers journeyed from the large populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They probably were lured by excess numbers of deer, a favorite cougar prey, in northern Wisconsin. Only the presence of males has been confirmed so far, so it is unknown if permanent populations are being established.

If you live in Wisconsin or Michigan, don't start panicking about the possibility of being confronted by a cougar. In the unlikely event you encounter one,  DNR advice is to face it squarely, open your coat or jacket to make yourself appear bigger, make noise, and throw sticks or stones at it. Chances are high the cougar will run. It probably won't run all the way back to South Dakota, though.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Please, Let Us Stand Prosperity

Yesterday, I filled up the family car for $2.95 per gallon, the first time gasoline has dropped below $3.00 around here since November 2010. Today, I noticed the futures price of petroleum in the New York Stock Exchange had fallen to $85.00 per gallon; it has not been that low for a long, long time.

The futures price is of interest because it tends to confirm the opinion of some experts that prices at the pump in the U.S. will stay relatively low or continue to fall in the near future. Why have we arrived in this happy position?

1. Federal rules requiring auto producers to build machines that get more miles per gallon are paying off. The builders complied by designing vehicles in all categories that are more fuel efficient. And the American public is buying more small cars and more electric and hybrid vehicles in all sizes.

2. Fracking and improvements in more conventional extraction methods have combined to glut the American market with gas and crude oil. No matter what economic theories you subscribe to, that tends to keep prices down. But fracking needs firm controls to prevent environmental disasters, and we would be wise not to change policies to encourage more use of the technique.

3. For a variety of reasons, Americans generally have been driving fewer miles in recent years, which contributes to the favorable supply situation.

Low oil and gas prices reverberate positively through our economy. Consumers have more cash to buy goods of all kinds. That demand then can be met through lower manufacturing and transportation costs. That kind of demand also creates jobs in many sectors. It is the sort of prosperity we should embrace.

But some people are just too greedy to allow us to stand prosperity. Those are the guys who control the big oil companies.

We have been protected to some extent from their avarice for 40 years. In 1973, several Arab nations put an embargo on oil exports, sending prices soaring world-wide and creating shortages in the U.S. Our government responded in several ways, one of which was a ban (with some exceptions) on exporting crude oil produced here.

The idea was to break our dependence on foreign crude oil and stabilize the domestic market for refined products. It has been a long haul, but success seems imminent. It should be pointed out that the ban does not include export of gas, which can be liquefied and shipped overseas, or products from oil refineries.

Surprise: the American Petroleum Institute is leading a lobbying campaign asking the Administration to circumvent the ban by introducing more exceptions and the Congress to revoke it entirely with legislation. Some refineries that profit from the ban are mounting  a counter campaign.

Genius is not necessary to know that no matter how technology advances oil and gas are nonrenewable resources. We eventually will run out of them. We are working to replace oil and gas with solar and wind power, but the conversion will take a long time. It makes no sense not to conserve our nonrenewable resources as much as possible.

Please, Mr. President and Members of Congress, let us stand prosperity. Resist the petroleum lobby, and act in the national interest. Keep the ban on crude oil exports in place, and delete some exceptions from it as well. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Shhh! I'm with the Secret Service

The Secret Service, after 150 years of exemplary work, is much in the news of late for several poor performances. Reading about the gaffes and the resulting resignation of the service's director, reminded me of an encounter with one of the agents.

The Director of the Intermountain Research Station, where I was working for the U.S. Forest Service, decided to check out the latest management fad being promoted throughout the federal establishment. He sent me, our biometrician, and an administrative services specialist to Washington, DC for a one-week training session with orders to report back with recommendations.

It turned out to be a pretty high-level gathering. Among our group of about 40 trainees was the Postmaster General and a two-star Marine Corps general. We met daily just down the street from the Russian Embassy.

Forest Service lodging reimbursements didn't cover the cost of  rooms in fancy places, so our trio stayed in a modest hotel and we had to walk a fair distance every morning to the meeting place. We made the trek early, because free coffee and donuts were available for about a half-hour before the training sessions started.

Keach would have been believable as a Secret Service agent.
One fellow trainee was present every day when we arrived. Often he was the only one there, so we chatted with him and became acquainted. The man bore a startling resemblance to actor Stacey Keach. We learned that he had been a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy before his present employment. There was no doubt about his current work. Where our workshop name tags said U.S.Forest Service, his said Secret Service!

Obviously, our new friend was there guarding somebody, but in numerous conversations he never told us who it was. The cold war hadn't thawed at that time, and we mentioned our proximity to the Russians and wondered if he wasn't concerned about identifying himself so openly.

The agent said, "Oh, they know who all of us are. And we know who all the KGB guys are."

 Apparently, some things aren't so secret in secret service work. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

NFL Off-Field Violence

News reports and comments by many who fancy themselves qualified to advance an opinion have painted the National Football League as a haven for thugs and criminals. I started crunching some numbers seeking to learn whether that image is deserved.

The first thing I learned is that a whole lot of people, from  media pundits to social scholars, have been busy recording and  playing with NFL crime statistics for a long time. There was no need for me to do much original work.  A simple computer search for "NFL arrest records" produced all sorts of numbers and analyses. Following are what I believe to be the more significant items:

*Precisely 687 NFL players have been arrested (not convicted, mind you) since January 1, 2000, most for assaults. The annual number has been declining since 2006, an indication that the league has made some progress in efforts to improve its image, primarily through educational programs for players.

*Including all players under contract, about 1,800 are available each year to be arrested. Considering the typical pro football career lasts a bit less than three years and doing the math with the 13-year arrest total, I get an arrest rate slightly higher than 1 percent.

*Some number crunchers, probably more skilled than the geezer, say the arrest rate for assaults in the NFL is two percent. Assuming that to be close to the actual rate, it is less than half the national rate (based on FBI statistics). It also is far less than the National Basketball Association rate (5.1 percent). Basketball supposedly is a "non-contact sport." That's a laugher. However, the NFL rate is slightly below the 2.1 percent rate for major league baseball; baseball actually is basically a non-contact sport, and thus we might mistakenly think players are less violent types than the gridiron heroes.

*Considering the analyses that appear most legitimate and trying to mix in some common sense, it seems fair to conclude that criminal activity by NFL players is well below that for comparable groups in the general population--young males, including a large number of blacks.
Far more good guys than bad.
Obviously, media attention magnifies the NFL situation. We are not treated to national television reports whenever a factory worker or shoe salesman hits his wife or "whoops" his kids. Nevertheless,  it is true that professional athletes in America long have been held up as role models for our youth. Therefore it seems proper that they should be held to a higher standard of conduct. They are employees of their team owners, and in many U.S. states employers concerned with the firm's image are legally able to fire employees for any conduct they consider detrimental, except in situations where a union agreement exists.

The NFL players have a strong union, and agreements are in place covering all the teams. Therefore, it is not possible for owners acting individually or through the league office to summarily fire a player for misbehaving. I believe the NFL owners in concert with the union should move quickly to establish clear policy pertaining to domestic violence. Much of the problem in pro football is the helter-skelter nature of the discipline. Badly needed is a well-defined action plan that is easily understood and applied without a whole lot of exceptions.

After some poor moves, what the Minnesota Vikings finally did in the case of star player Adrian Peterson, who admitted to doing violence to his four-year-old son after being arrested, should serve as a model. Suspend the player with pay from all team participation until the criminal justice system has run its course. If the player is found not guilty, reinstate him. If he is found guilty, suspend him for a year without pay added to any jail time he serves, which should be a sufficient penalty, but one that gives the player some opportunity to resurrect his career.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Outsmarted by a Phone

About eight years ago as a daylight savings time change approached,  a fellow Forest Service retiree told me of his tactic to remove any doubts about which way to reset his clocks. He bought two cheapo watches--one set on standard time, the other on daylight savings time. He merely switched them on change days and used his wristwatch as a guide to reset all other timing devices in his household.

I already owned a cheap wristwatch. I found a duplicate at Walmart on sale for $5.00 (sometimes that place is worth visiting). Ever since, I have kept one on standby in a dresser drawer until it was
So they're two minutes off. Who cares now that they're obsolete?
restored to service when we gained or lost an hour moving from standard to daylight time, or vice versa.

The switcheroo worked equally well moving between eastern time at our Michigan home and central time in often-visited Wisconsin. My son and I took that trip this summer. I decided to brag a little and made a show of trading watches as we were about half way across Lake Michigan on a ferry.  Lee said, "Oh, but time changes aren't any problem."

"How so?" I asked.

"My smart phone automatically makes the adjustment. I just tap the time ap."

Time and technology once again have marched on. One of my favorite schemes has been rendered obsolete.  Anybody want to buy two watches used only about half a year each throughout their lifetimes?