Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Confederacy's Place in History

      (I've been trying  to craft a post that would cut through, with a rational statement, the controversy related to display of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state capitol and elsewhere.  So many conflicting opinions, interpretations of Civil War history, and downright nonsensical statements have appeared that sorting things out proved to be a daunting task.  Yesterday, a fellow blogger did the job for me. "Morning Fog," a site whose proprietor had a career with the U.S. State Department, displayed just what I was feeling, but struggling to put into words. His post follows.)

In recent days, and for many years before, governments, politicians, and others in the U.S. South have sought to justify the continued widespread public display, sale, and reverence for the flag of the Confederacy as a matter of history.  "It's our history," they may say, or perhaps they say they are honoring the valor of those who fought for what they believed in.

I'm very much against any efforts to deny, or to whitewash, U.S. history.  The Civil War (or if you prefer, the War Between the States), is part of what we are as Americans, imbued in our psyches, even for our most recent immigrants, because its effects and its many remaining manifestations are still a part of our everyday lives.  So historians will continue to attempt to analyze and explain it, and museums will continue to offer glimpses of it.

But symbols aren't history, when raised to the top of flagpoles around the country, or splashed across automobile bumpers.  Despite claims to the contrary, they are rallying points that serve only to keep sick
Not something to honor.
ideas alive.  In this country, we teach school children to honor and even "pledge allegiance" to the flag - a kind of a dumb idea in my opinion (a FLAG? Really?), but if we blow away the smokescreen, we have to understand that the "Stars and Bars" is also a claim of allegiance.

Allegiance to what, though?  Is it history, even if Americans generally have very little regard for history?  Is it pride in relatives who served loyally for a cause, although there are lots of people in this country today who are descended from the Tories of the Revolutionary War period, who weren't evil and believed in their cause, yet I'm not aware of any state in the union today that flies the Union Jack  Causes are embraced only when someone wishes they weren't lost.

And what is that cause?  Some would have us believe that it has to do with legal issues (the right to secede), or even economic ones (concerns about destroying the economic base of the South).  And it did, in part, at that time.  That's history.  But it also had to do with a principle, or as Vice President of the Confederate States of America Alexander Stephens put it shortly after several states officially seceded, the new CSA government's cornerstone:

...rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. 

A devil's advocate might suggest that allowing the symbols of Confederate principles to be widely on display would give relatively harmless vent to regressive thinking that might otherwise go underground and turn to violence.    That has not proved to be the case.  It's time to recognize claims on "history" for what they are:  a sham.

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's Time to Toss the Symbols of Hatred

While we mourn our brothers and sisters who were murdered in Charleston, we also need to stand up and declare it is time for bigots who continue to inspire racial violence with outdated symbols to discard their battle flags.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Buying a Bargain Burger

Can you get a first-class burger (with fries) in a nicely maintained restaurant with good service for a third off the menu price? Yes you can. But you need the right qualifications and a proper alignment of incentives to pull it off.

A nearby Applebee's is our dining spot of choice when we want to enjoy a reasonably priced meal in a pleasant place. Our food selection normally is something a little more elegant than one of the seven
How America gets fat (but yuummm)
varieties of hamburgers on the menu. But recently everything aligned so amazingly well, I just had to go for one.

I chose the "American Standard," otherwise less grandly known as a cheeseburger, priced on the menu at $9.99. However, our dine out date happened to be a Monday, and while we were planning it along came an Applebee's ad proclaiming every Monday evening "$5.99 Burger Night."

I asked the waitress if that included the burger I wanted. "Oh yes," she said. "It's all of them."

Every Monday at Applebee's has been "Veteran's Day" for some time. All vets, and I am one, get a 30 percent discount on all food items all day long. I assumed two simultaneous big discounts weren't going to apply, but asked anyway just for fun. "Yes," she said, "you get the Vet discount too." So my $9.99 burger magically became a $4.19 item before it even was plopped on the grill.

But that's not all. I paid the bill with a gift card purchased at a 20 percent discount using a credit card that gave me a 1 percent cash back bonus. So my $9.99 goodie cost me a net $3.31. With a deal like that, I might have to become a Monday night fixture at Applebee's. Of course, after a month or two on a burger regime I might not fit through the door.

Really, I'm not quite as cheap as all this sounds. I did tip that helpful server on the regular $9.99 amount plus drink and tax.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Ford in Your Past?

To the delight of many Michiganders, Ford Motor Company sold a quarter-million vehicles in May. It was another in what has become a long string of positive performances since the U.S. economy started to emerge from the depths of the "Great Recession."

Ford's revival has been a do-it-yourself affair. The company declined to accept government financial assistance to weather the economic storm, while rivals General Motors and Chrysler dipped deeply into the federal till to stay in business. Ford management anticipated the crisis and, unlike the others, got its house in order before banking disasters struck.

Perhaps it's fitting that Ford led the way. It often did so in the history of American automotive companies. Henry Ford, a farm boy with little formal education, had a remarkable ability to introduce or develop novel ideas in building a manufacturing empire. His first product was the Model T, and his factories ultimately produced more than 15 million of them. The video celebrating the Model T has, I think, some fascinating scenes of the vehicles being produced and driven.

Ford did not invent mass production, but he was the first to develop the idea in a big way. He made large capital investments to build giant factories that housed assembly lines. Some believe he created the first workable private auto, but Karl Benz of Mercedes-Benz renown did that two decades before the first Model T Ford rolled off the line in 1909. Likewise, Ford did not invent mass media advertising, but he was one of the first to use it effectively.

Ford Motor Company produced print ads in color when color printing was a rarity. "There's a Ford in your Future" became perhaps the best-known advertising slogan in the 1940's, and various versions of the phrase popped up on the American scene for many years after the company adopted new tag lines.

Henry Ford gained some of his fame by paying assembly line workers $5 per day, an unheard of sum in the early 1900's. His motivation probably was not entirely altruistic.  Skilled workers flocked to Detroit for good paychecks, and Ford managers could take their pick from many candidates for every job that became available.

Whether or not there's a Ford in your future, there probably was one in your past. American families (and many in other countries) either owned a Ford at one time or another, or owned other mass-produced vehicles whose development mirrored the Ford example. The video claim that the Model T was the "great-great-grandparent of most every car on the road" has some truth to it. Sometimes the connection is close in unlikely places. On a trip to Europe, a German family member loaned us their car for a lengthy road trip--it was a Ford SUV!

My family didn't own a car during most of my years at home. Dad bought a 1927 Model T in 1945. It was one of the stranger of the many "T" models--a convertible pickup truck. Dad used it to carry materials to a lake lot about five miles from our home where he was helping build a cottage for an uncle. The tough old truck did the job well for about a year.

Dad (age 53), me (age 9), and our Model T (age 18).

One statement in the video probably is over-exuberant hype. There is no way our Model T ever was started with a "half-turn" of the crank. Dad was a strong guy, and he did a whole lot of cranking to get that four-banger engine going on many occasions when I was responsible for adjusting "the spark" at just the right time.

The last Model T's were produced in 1928; I bought one of the first successors, a 1929 Model A, in 1952 for $50. I drove it for about a year and sold it for $55. Wouldn't it be grand if today's cars held their value like that?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Will Polite Enforcement Work?

An ancient axiom holds there is some good in every situation. Indeed, there are indications that police forces in many parts of the U.S. are examining their practices and policies and making positive changes as a result of  a rash of documented brutality in dealings with the public they should be safeguarding, especially the reprehensible shootings of black men without sound justification. Justice may yet be served properly.

However, one might ask if the pendulum could swing too far the other way, a characteristic of American political life and social change seen often in the past.

The new sign pictured here popped up recently on a route we travel often between a home improvement store and our favorite supermarket. I am certain that the old sign it replaced said, "VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED."

Saying less forcefully they "may be" prosecuted, it seems to me, opens a loophole for miscreants who might be willing to play the odds and take a chance they will be among those who escape punishment. There also could be an administrative problem. Who decides which dumpers will be prosecuted? Based on what? The volume of junk they drop off? The esthetics of the stuff? The nastiness of any odors?

Could it be this type of more sensitive warning could go so far that tellers with their hands raised might say, "Please don't rob our bank. You may be prosecuted." I'm sure the bandits would pay a lot of attention to that sort of notice--right after they entertained the hostages with a round of  LOL.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Not a Packers Fan

With pro football's draft day looming, it appears da Bears, Green Bay's arch-rivals, are once again trying to pull off some sort of trickery. According to a Chicago radio station report (probably a plant), local authorities have called in the FBI to search for a man who allegedly robbed a Chase Bank branch in Chi Town's Woodlawn neighborhood while wearing a Packers cap.

Surveillance camera footage supposedly taken inside the bank shows a robber with a
Definitely not one of ours.
Packers logo on the front of his headgear. Suspicion is mounting in Green Bay that the image has been altered.

Odds are about as long as those favoring the Bears to win the Super Bowl that this man is a Green Bay Packers fan. We are not above stealing the Bears' signals or some of their better players (Julius Peppers comes to mind), but we have no need for Chicago money.

Cash is not a Packers problem. Again this year, the corporation's 100,000 or so stockholders will get no dividend despite multimillion dollar profits.

No one knows for sure what da Bears are up to with this robbery story, but now that we're on the alert the plot is destined for failure--like a Jay Cutler pass in a key situation

Monday, April 20, 2015

Modern Media Work Magic

Critics lamenting the vast changes in American news media continue to mutter throughout the land, and my voice has been among them for some time. The main concern is the disappearance of investigative reporters as newspapers continue to decline and die.

We oldsters reason that without ethical media watchdogs to create awareness of government, corporate, or ideological excesses democracy cannot flourish, or perhaps even exist. But recent events bring hope. Perhaps the old dogs simply are being replaced by a whole new breed that may prove capable of doing a better job of guarding the public interest.

Recent events in Indiana show that internet media can expose unsavory political actions and force change. And they can do it with remarkable speed and effectiveness.

On March 26, Governor Mike Pence expressed pleasure as he signed into law a "religious freedom" bill that supposedly had the benign purpose of defining  rights generally protected by the U.S. Constitution. The measure had overwhelming support in the legislature. Laws in one-party states, such as Indiana, enacted by wide margins and enthusiastically supported by the governor usually are impossible to overturn or modify without major electoral upheaval or campaigns that can take years to develop.

Justice was served remarkably quickly.
Yet the Indiana law bit the dust in a matter of weeks. The opposition said the law clearly would allow discrimination against a minority, in this case LGBT people, and that was intolerable. A huge storm of protest erupted within days. Statements by individuals on blogs and in social media led the way. Facebook and Yelp participants played major roles in the outcry. Businesses and organizations took action to penalize Indiana economically by canceling meetings, postponing investments, or threatening to pull operations out of the state.

Gov. Pence quickly went on television to explain that the law really did not promote discrimination. He failed miserably to make the case. As criticism and punitive actions mounted, he surrendered and backed a change in the law to make it clear it will not permit discrimination because of sexual orientation.

The fallout from the protests was dramatic. Pence's approval rating within Indiana plummeted. He went almost instantly from consideration as a presidential candidate to a man fighting for his political life.

I doubt any such change would have happened in the past when newspapers, radio stations, two press associations, and three television networks constituted our media.The Indiana law signing might have rated a couple of paragraphs in the Indianapolis Star. The Associated Press might have condensed that to a few sentences if its editors decided to circulate the news at all. Chances of the item drawing any national media attention would have been extremely low.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which keeps an eagle eye out for injustices, perhaps would have launched a protest. And probably few people would have paid any attention to it. It is doubtful the law would have become any sort of factor in Indiana or national politics.

Our traditional media developed over many years. Internet media still are the new kids on the block. The newcomers just proved they can work magic in righting a wrong that the institutions being replaced could not match.

Many questions of responsibility and ethics surround the internet as a news purveyor. But there always were similar issues with traditional media. Perhaps we critics of media change should relax a bit and just watch the new kids grow up and see if they mature into solid citizens.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Not Your Father's Badgers

Thanks to regional television connections that cover just about everything that moves on the Big Ten sports scene, I've watched more than 30 University of Wisconsin basketball games this season. The Badgers have a 31-3 record at the moment.

Seven-footer Frank Kaminsky is hard to stop.
The UW team is an interesting group in many ways. It features a seven-footer who handles the ball like an athletic little guy and swishes long three-point shots with ease, a Ho-Chunk Indian lad who went from sub to brilliant team leader, and a fifth-year senior nicknamed "Captain America" who is said to top the league in floor burns caused by diving recklessly for loose balls. These guys are fun to watch.

I was a student at Madison for four years in the 1950s. I attended one basketball game. Wisconsin basketball was not fun to watch.

Wisconsin won its only NCAA championship in 1941 under coach Bud Foster. Six years later the Badgers made their way to the national tournament, but were quickly eliminated. They didn't qualify again for a postseason tourney for 42 years!

Coach Foster hung around for 25 years, continuing to teach the same, old pattern game that was a winner in 1941. His strategy was producing perennial losers by the 50s. Most students responded by skipping basketball games altogether, even though an athletic ticket book cost $8.50, as I recall, and several basketball passes were included.

Curiosity got the better of me in 1955 when the Indiana Hoosiers arrived for a game. Indiana was a basketball powerhouse. They won the Big Ten and NCAA titles the year before, and were well on the way to another conference championship. Wisconsin, in 1955, was to finish with 16 losses. The Badgers tied for eighth in the Big Ten, and those were the days when the conference really had ten members.

I carried a very thick history book to the Fieldhouse. The plan was to do some required reading during timeouts and at halftime.

The superb play of the Hoosiers held my full attention for the first few minutes of the game. The inept work by the Badgers more than compensated. Using the history book for a head rest, I stretched out across several seats (there were plenty of empty spaces). I dozed off and stayed oblivious to events on the court until a fellow student shook me awake after the final buzzer. I actually only saw part of one basketball game during my college days.

Coach Bo Ryan arrived in Madison in 2001 with new ideas and a record of success. The Badgers have been winners since, and nobody is snoozing as the "Grateful Red" fans celebrate win after win. The Badgers may not be able to get past undefeated Kentucky and several other high-powered teams to once again become NCAA champs, but it will be fun watching them try. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bibi Deserves Boot

Indications are that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi to his friends and some others) will be retained in office after Israel's elections next week. That's too bad. Netanyahu's recent actions, and some past actions, ought to earn him political retirement, not a continuation in power.

Netanyahu doesn't lack gall. He recently insulted the President of the United States, and then proceeded to insult the thinking part of the American public, while carrying his reelection campaign to Washington, DC. His address to the U.S. Congress was featured on television and radio in Israel. Because of that, some believe the whole episode was a contrivance to enhance his chances of reelection. It probably did that; recent polls show the parliamentary coalition backing him gained some ground after his appearance.
A two-faced, worrisome creature.

Netanyahu improperly accepted an improper invitation to address Congress. The Israeli had appeared before Congress before, and he followed the accepted procedure to get there. Protocol dictates that foreign heads of state  get White House blessing before invitations are issued to address Congress. House Speaker John Boehner knew full well he was seriously out of line when he didn't bother seeking administration approval before issuing an invitation to Netanyahu, and so did Netanyahu when he accepted it.

Boehner of late has excelled at insulting President Obama, so the invitation came as no surprise. Netanyahu tried to mask his insult in accepting it by once again demonstrating his less desirable characteristics. In an amazing show of two-faced rhetoric he opening his statement by detailing at great length all the fine things the American president has done to support Israel. He then made a frontal assault on Obama's competence and the cornerstone of American foreign policy pursued by the president for the past six years--a preference for negotiation and formation of coalitions to deal with problems, taking military action tailored to the situation only after careful analysis shows it is necessary.

Netanyahu labeled negotiations over nuclear development between Iran and a five-nation coalition Obama played a lead role in forming "a bad deal," ignoring the fact that no proposal had yet been finalized. Key to Netanyahu's argument was his assertion that the Iranians can't be trusted. He has some expertise in that area. He once agreed to stop allowing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, then continued to allow them, and later said they would be encouraged.

President Obama, who shows admirable restraint after experiencing unwarranted attacks for all sorts of things, gave a measured response to Netanyahu's speech. He said he had no intention of  agreeing to anything that did not include rigid controls on Iran's nuclear program, and that the Israeli prime minister offered nothing new in his talk.

There is little doubt Obama was miffed by the whole scenario. But he's a big guy, and he'll get over it. Although Netanyahu's attitudes and actions have been extremely irritating, there is no reason to believe they will cause a reversal of U.S. support of Israel. I have endorsed American support of Israel as long as I can remember, and that's not going to change. However, Netanyahu's antics certainly added unnecessary strain to U.S.-Israeli relations, and I believe some formerly staunch supporters of Israel may reevaluate their positions.

My feathers were ruffled by an element of a "beggar wanting to be chooser" arrogance in Netanyahu's speech. The U.S. has given Israel about $3 billion a year for many years--the current appropriation is nearly $3.4 billion. In addition we are giving Egypt more than $1.5 billion in aid (mostly military) and funding Jordan at about $1 billion (about one-third military) per year. I consider the Egypt and Jordan subsidies as bribes to keep those countries at least fairly neutral in their positions regarding Israel

A prime minister whose country gets that kind of support from a country that has budget problems of its own has no business sneaking in the back door to lecture the donor nation's leader about his policies. And we don't need visitors from foreign lands promoting scare tactics and saber rattling. We have enough fools of  our own doing that. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

Let It Snow, Let It . . . Argh!

Among the presents under the tree on my ninth Christmas morn was a shiny new snow shovel with my name on it. The shovel was a little smaller than the giant scoop Dad used, but it obviously was intended for serious work, not as a plaything.

I became intimately familiar with the duties of an only son in northern Wisconsin. Calls for "snow relocation" seemed endless during the long, cold winter seasons. I was expected to answer. Our house was on a corner lot bordered by concrete sidewalks. There was no need to go to the gym for exercise.

Much later, we lived for 16 years in a townhouse within a homeowners association in Utah. Monthly association fees covered snow removal. I never tired of cheering on the workers as they removed the white stuff from our driveway and sidewalk. Having long ago mastered the art of battling snow drifts, I was pleased to leave the job to others.

Nearly seven years ago we moved to southwest Michigan. We had visited the neighborhood of choice several times--never in winter. I noted with a degree of satisfaction the absence of sidewalks in the rural community. Responses to questions about winter weather generally took the tone of "not too bad." I thought clearing a driveway once in a while would be good exercise.

Snowfalls indeed were "not too bad" our first several years in Michigan. They gradually worsened. Last winter they were awful; this season has been worse, reminding us that weather runs in cycles. We may be in for a long and unpleasant series of winters featuring large and frequent "lake effect" snows.
Reaching the end of our driveway on a snow removal day is cause for celebration (or soaking in a tub and a nap).
It turns out I perhaps should have worried more about driveways than sidewalks when searching for a new home. Our driveway is long and about three times as wide as the sidewalks that surrounded my boyhood home. Rough measurements indicate a big net gain in concrete area from the days of my youth when shoveling was tiresome. Now it just plain wears me out.

I compensate by hiring trusty neighbor Chad to remove the heaviest stuff  (as much as eight or ten inches several times this winter) with his snow blower. When accumulations are only an inch or two, son Lee, beautiful wife Sandy, or I take care of things by hand.

So far this year, Chad has cleared the driveway ten times. The "Klade shovelers" have done the job eight times. It has not been a lot of fun. The last time I pushed a light, one-inch accumulation out of the way the temperature was 9 degrees F. What's forecast for tomorrow?  Most of the weather gurus think we'll get up to three inches of new snow followed by ice showers and then freezing rain. Should be wonderful.

In Idaho they're planting gardens. In Utah they're playing golf. In Michigan. . . Argh!