Thursday, April 26, 2012

Northwoods Wants

The geezer doesn’t spend much time reading a weekly electronic edition of my hometown newspaper.  Members of my immediate family are long gone.  Even my interest in the obituaries is declining as fewer and fewer familiar names show up. 

A visit to the want ad section is extremely rare. Yet something drew my eye there in the April 17 edition of the Tomahawk Leader. I found this entry:

WANTED:  Double-barrel shotgun. Also: A girlfriend. Each need not be real pretty but proper functioning is important (Need not be a single transaction). 715-612-1680.

At least one north woods denizen hasn’t lost the somewhat quirky sense of humor long associated with the area.  If you’ve got the goods and  want to make a deal with him, call the number.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Musical Hits and Misses

Complete records for the 1940 census were released this month, touching off a wave of interest among those bent on studying their family roots. 

The geezer invested a couple of hours searching the census documents.  I found my grandmother, Ottila Klade. She was 75 years old in 1940.  A few pages later, up popped mom and dad, my sister, and me.  It was fun using the search tool to travel down our street and others in the old hometown, revisiting families we knew well while I was growing up.

The census entries reveal many things about the “greatest generation.”  What were their occupations? What did they earn? How many years of education did each person have? Were they citizens? Were they born in the U.S., or elsewhere?

It appears that many people interested in various facets of American history have seen the release of the 1940 census data as a good time to develop and issue pronouncements about their areas of interest.  Zipping around the Internet, it’s easy to learn who the top sports stars were in the 40s, what models of autos were in vogue, what clothing designs were popular, and many other things, great and not so. 

Of course, we simply must know what music was favored by the greatest generation.  Several Internet sites fulfill that need.

One source says these were the top five popular songs in the 1940s:

1. In The Mood
2. When You Wish Upon a Star
3. I'll Never Smile Again
4. Only Forever
5. Body & Soul

For comparison, an unscientific survey shows these titles seemed to be the top pop songs of 2010:

1. Baby, Baby
2. Oooooh, Baby
3. Baby, Oh  Baby
4. Baby, Baby, Baby
5. Yeah, Baby, Yeah

That’s progress?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Half an Education

Last month,  Encyclopaedia Britannica ended a 244-year tradition with the announcement it would no longer print its books.  Like a growing number of publishers, it will now make its product available only electronically. 

The company said for some years the data base has been too big to fit in a printed version.  That is big as in huge; the last print edition fills 32 volumes. 

The Britannica books once were considered the repository of most human knowledge.  World Book was its only real competitor in the U.S. Although World Book still has a print edition, computers have pretty much made printed encyclopedias obsolete, first with CD versions and now with Wikipedia plus a variety of search engines.

Both Britannica and World Book were sold by an army of door-to-door salespeople for many years.   A set of encyclopedias was displayed in most middle-class homes in the U.S., even in those where reading clearly was not a top priority.  Having a set of encyclopedias was a status symbol.  The very successful had Britannicas; lesser beings owned World Books.

Reading was the dominant activity in our home, but we had only one moderately sized bookcase.  All of us had public library cards, and we used them often.  Financial investments in reading material went to subscriptions for magazines (Colliers, Good Housekeeping, and the Saturday Evening Post) and newspapers (one weekly and three dailies). The subscriptions took a big chunk of the disposable income around our place, but my parents considered the magazines and newspapers indispensable.

Dad tried to equip our home with World Books, even though a set cost a lot of scarce dollars back in the 1930s. Dad made a deal with one of the salesmen.  He started buying one volume at a time on a budget plan. Unfortunately, conditions took a turn for the worse in the family business, and only half a set of encyclopedias was in our bookcase when Dad was forced to end his buying program.

I loved to read the World Book volumes we had.  But if a quiz show ever issues an invitation to me, I’ll need to decline on grounds I'd be fairly good on items from A through M, but not nearly so wise beyond that.

“M” was as far as “human knowledge” went in our home when I was growing up and eager to absorb it all. 

Twice as many World Books as we owned.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Those Kirtland's Warbler Calls

I’ve not been privileged to see a Kirtland’s warbler or even to listen to one’s song, except on recordings.  Yet the little bird inspired calls that figured in my life on two occasions.

It’s not unusual for people interested in the warbler to never have encountered one.  As humans gradually eliminated the Kirtland’s nesting habitat, the bird’s summer range diminished until it became a rare bird. 

A little bird with a lot of friends (USFS Photo: Joel Trick)
My first Kirtland’s warbler call came on May 5, 1980.  I was serving as the Public Information Officer in the Milwaukee headquarters of the Eastern Region of the U.S. Forest Service.  My boss phoned me at home and told me to get ready for an early morning trip to Michigan.  He said a planned fire had gotten away and I was needed to help answer media and congressional inquiries.  I got the details on an auto trip to Mio after a Forest Service plane dropped me off in Cadillac.

Ranger District personnel had started a fire to burn debris in a logged area south of Mio.  The plan was to create good conditions for planting jack pine seedlings that would become prime nesting habitat for the warbler.  The fire escaped.  It burned 20,000 acres and destroyed or damaged 44 dwellings in the Village of Mack Lake.  A Forest Service wildlife biologist was killed while he was trying to stop the blaze in its early stages.

I was almost immediately deluged with phone calls.  Among other things, I had no place to sleep, so I bedded down for a few hours on the floor of the county assessor’s office where I’d been given some work space.  I don’t remember having time to eat anything until mid-morning of my second day on the job.

The Forest Service launched investigations of the circumstances of the Mack Lake Fire’s start, and of the employee death. I was involved in a small way in the main investigation after the fire was over, and wrote a news release announcing the results that got major play in the media. The approach was to be painfully honest about everything concerning the fire. The Forest Service investigation report said the fire should not have been started that day. The report stuck to the facts, as did my news release.  

I transferred to the Intermountain West a few months after the Mack Lake Fire and heard almost nothing about the Kirtland’s warbler until about five years ago.  The phone call was from a Bill Rapai, who said he was writing a book about the warbler, and I was one of the few people still living who played a key role in the Mack Lake Fire. He thought the fire would be an emphasis item in his story.  Would I answer a few questions?

The few questions became quite a few, and my memory was being taxed to the limit almost 30 years after the incident, so I requested written questions.  Rapai’s e-mailed questions and my answers totaled about 3,000 words in seven pages.  From all that verbiage, the author described my part in the story in about 400 words included in two long paragraphs.  That probably is one paragraph more than the importance of my work deserved.

I just finished reading “The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight against Extinction and the People Who Saved It,” by William Rapai. It was published recently by The University of Michigan Press, and is available at all the usual book sales places. 

One thing needs clarification.  I am not one of the warbler saviors.  Over the years, several individuals did devote much energy and time to help prevent the extinction of the little bird, and their work is described in detail in the book.  There may be more heroes in the future. Experts believe that the bird cannot survive without continuing human manipulation of its habitat, and there is opposition to the types of work required.

Rapai is the president of the Grosse Pointe (Michigan) Chapter of the Audubon Society. He has been a successful newspaper writer and editor, and it shows. He presents historic material that could be dry reading in a compelling way, and adds interest throughout the book with many anecdotes.  His book is an easy-to-read guide to what’s known about the warbler plus descriptions of current preservation work and research aimed at gaining more knowledge.

What’s the bottom line?  Kirtland’s warbler numbers are up dramatically, and nests recently have been found in several areas outside Michigan. The warbler soon may be removed from the federal endangered species list.

How did that happy turn of events come about? Was the otherwise tragic Mack Lake Fire a positive force in helping the little bird with the big voice survive and thrive? Get a copy of “The Kirtland’s Warbler,” enjoy a good read, and find out.

Monday, April 02, 2012

A Ford in Our Future?

We’re hoping a family chariot replacement is still down the road a bit, but beautiful wife Sandy and I have been checking out new cars in a preliminary way.  We love our aging Pontiac, but it won’t last forever.

I’ve been leaning toward a Ford as a replacement for several reasons: (1) Ford has been producing high-quality vehicles in recent years; (2) Ford has several models that fit most of our needs; (3) Ford deserves a little edge for having good management in troubled times (it didn’t need government loans to survive the Great Recession); and (4) Ford is an American company.  Even if some parts and models are produced elsewhere, a good share of the corporate profits comes back to Michigan, and right where cash is most needed within the state.

I quit leaning Ford’s way Saturday.  The news from Detroit was that Ford CEO Alan Mulally’s compensation last year totaled a breathtaking $29.5 million.  That was up 11 percent from the year before.  That amounted to $5 for every vehicle Ford sold.

I believe that people who do exceptional work should be rewarded for it.  Mulally has done exceptional work.  Ford registered good profits for three consecutive years after he took over.  Stock prices soared.  It appears that Ford’s strategies under Mulally will carry the corporation forward for some time to come.

BUT, who on this earth is worth nearly $30 million for one year’s work?  Mulally is correct in saying much of his pay depends on performance bonuses.  He does earn his pay.  The problem is that his base pay is outrageously high and the bonuses ridiculously generous.  This is the kind of stuff that the “99 percent” is up in arms about.  This sort of tremendous gulf between the ultra rich and everyone else is not good for our society.

I have some issues with the “99 percent,” including that they represent a much lower percentage of Americans than their slogan implies.  BUT, if a lot of them think Mulally and other corporate execs are grossly overpaid, we are in agreement on that point.

Now I’m leaning toward a Prius.  If Mulally is in serious financial straits when we are ready to buy one, I’ll send him $5.