Friday, December 23, 2016

Please, Just One Tie in the New Year

Which do you root for when two of your favorite sports teams collide? I'm going to have that difficult choice on Jan. 2 when the University of Wisconsin Badgers and Western Michigan University Broncos square off on the Cotton Bowl football field.

I started backing the Badgers in 1953 as a student at UW. The main attraction was watching Alan "The Horse" Ameche run over and around opponents. Contributing to my interest in Wisconsin

football, which continues to this day, was the fact that fraternity brother Bob Gingrass led a lot of the blocking that allowed "The Horse" to set rushing records.

Ameche, the first Wisconsin player to be named  an All American, led the team to its first post-season game, a visit to the historic Rose Bowl. In recent years, bowl appearances have become old-hat for the Badgers. This year's contest will be their 15th consecutive bowl game. About half of them have been "major" bowl contests.

Led by a young, enthusiastic coach, Western Michigan has fired up folks where I live by going undefeated. Two of the 13 victories were against Big Ten teams (Illinois and Northwestern) so nobody can claim the Broncos rolled up all the wins against minor opposition. Western has appeared in eight bowls over the years, but this one will be special because the Cotton Bowl is one of the Big Six. No question, it is a "major."

Why am I unsure about which team to cheer for? I've been rooting for both all year. Since moving to southwest Michigan I've become acquainted with many Western grads and several faculty members. It's been fun joining them in pulling for the Broncos. The team's winning streak has had positive effects on the Kalamazoo community, including people who previously had zero interest in football. A page 1 headline in the local newspaper summed it up: "Cotton Bowl Bid Ties City Together."

I've always been amazed that success in sports, especially following years of mediocrity by local teams, actually could inspire a whole city or area. But it can. The city-wide celebrating in Chicago when the Cubs finally won a baseball pennant is a good example. In my youth, when the Braves arrived in Milwaukee to make the city "major league" business pretty much came to a standstill on game days as everybody was at the ballpark or listening to the radio. That happens nowadays in Green Bay when the Packers play at home.

The same kind of pride on display in those cities has been appearing in Kalamazoo of late. Management of a large movie theater announced yesterday that it will provide free seating for those who want to watch a closed circuit broadcast of the Wisconsin-Western game. Other merchants and organizations are sponsoring similar events or other types of recognition of the importance of the game. A Broncos' win in the Cotton Bowl would be a big deal.

The bottom line is I would like both teams to win on Jan. 2. That is impossible, so I would appreciate a tie. That can't happen either. Although tie games were fairly common throughout the first 125 years of American college football, those players, coaches, and fans who found them unsatisfying finally prevailed. In 1995, the rules were changed and ties became impossible. Teams tied at the end of regulation time must continue to play until one becomes a clear winner.

But, please, football gods, won't you allow just one more tie? It would make this Badger-Bronco backer very happy.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Our Holiday Traditions

Seasons greetings from Dick and Sandy Klade. As we get ready to usher out 2016 our activity review shows we stayed pretty much with old but good things. Among them were a couple of holiday traditions.

Dick continued a Klade family tradition that dates back nearly 150 years when he celebrated his 80th birthday on January 1. Dick's grandfather Friedrich C. Klade and father Fred J. Klade both were born on Christmas Day. Our New Years guy somehow picked the wrong holiday to arrive (his mother always joked that he was stubborn), but for us it is a special day nonetheless.

We more than a half century ago began carrying on family traditions when decorating our Christmas tree. Here we chatted before a completed tree while son Lee rode "Blaze." Blaze was a gift from his Grandfather Ed Steinmetz. Our matching sweaters were gifts knitted by Sandy's Mom, Vannie Steinmetz.

We've just finished an annual task that has been a family tradition for decades. Both Dick and Sandy's parents decorated their Christmas trees in silver and blue every year, and we adopted an identical practice more than 50 years ago in our first year of marriage.

The tree decor always has featured only blue ornaments. Until it became impossible to buy good quality tinsel, family members meticulously placed tinsel strips in every available space, a process that took many hours. We now maintain the silver look with strips of glass and snow flakes.

The blue glass ornaments we bought during our first year together have faded a bit with age, but all have survived a half dozen moves in their original thin cardboard boxes and many annual unpackings
and repackings. They bring us joy year after year.

May you enjoy happiness continuing the good things in your life in 2017 and many years beyond.


                                                                 








Thursday, December 01, 2016

Hands Off Our Rights, Mr. Trump

Still weeks away from our presidency, Donald Trump is acting more and more like the type of  establishment politician he continually criticized during his campaign. Trump is waffling all over the place.

Sometimes it's all to the good. Regarding LGBT rights to marry, an idea vigorously opposed by hard-core Trump supporters, The Donald recently said he had no problem with such unions because the matter was settled by two Supreme Court decisions.

Soon thereafter, Trump said that anyone burning an American flag should be treated as a criminal and face consequences--perhaps a year in jail or loss of citizenship. The Supreme Court twice has ruled that burning the flag as a protest, which Trump was referring to, is protected as a free speech right by our constitution. The court also has ruled that revoking citizenship is prohibited as a punishment for wrongdoing.
 
Making this a crime will make me a criminal
Trump obviously was pandering to his "alt-Right" followers, who consider themselves to be the ultimate patriots. This group was irate when he reversed his position on pursuing an investigation of Hillary Clinton ("crooked Hillary," he called her without a shred of evidence of wrongdoing). Trump now says he won't do anything to hurt the Clintons, because they are "good people."

I consider myself a patriot, but not the "my country, right or wrong" type that supports Trump and condones violence or discrimination for questionable reasons. I have generally good feelings about my country, although it is not perfect. My parents weren't  poor, but certainly were not members of a privileged class. The U.S. proved to be a place where I was free to choose my own path and work my way up to achieve a much better lifestyle for myself and my family than my parents had. I'm grateful for that.

We lived for a dozen years in a planned community where homeowner association rules precluded flying a flag, to my disappointment. When we moved to our present home nine years ago, a flagpole came with the property. I've flown Old Glory every day since we arrived.

I have no respect for a protester who thinks burning an American flag furthers whatever cause is at issue. However, I fully support their free expression right to do so.

Dave Stalling, an associate of mine in the U.S. Forest Service, expressed my feelings very well in a recent Facebook post. Dave served proudly as a Marine sergeant in a Force Recon unit, among the best of the best of our military personnel. He said: "Personally, I don't understand why anyone would want to express their freedom by burning a symbol of that freedom. However, although I may not agree with it, I have (and would again) defend with my life people's rights to do so. I have never considered burning an American flag, but if Trump makes it a punishable offense, I will burn one out of defiance and--to paraphrase Trump himself--I would not hesitate to use my Second Amendment rights to defend my First Amendment rights."

I'm not big on joining protests, but I'll go at least part of the way with Stalling on this one. If Trump succeeds in making flag burning a criminal offense, I will haul mine down, burn it, and invite the sheriff to drop by, observe my crime,  and arrest me. Spending some time in jail to defend freedom of speech is something I definitely would do.

I'm not so sure about the armed protest part of Stalling's declaration. I did qualify as a sharpshooter with a rifle in the U.S. Army, but that was long ago. I would be pretty rusty now and, even with expert coaching by Stalling, as likely to shoot myself in the foot as to seriously threaten anyone. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Second-Class Vets Get the Call

Another Veterans Day has passed, and it's once again time to thank those who so generously thanked me for my service. And once again, it's time to point out that in the United States not all veterans are created equal.

Thank you, Applebees, for a delicious dinner. The place was packed with veterans. This year, the brewers of Sam Adams provided a free beer with my complimentary meal. Thanks, Sam.

We wanted to replenish our dog and bird feed supplies and pick up several hardware items. Our local Tractor Supply store was the place to go, and they gave a 15 percent discount to vets. Thanks, Tractor guys.

A surprise gift showed up the day after Veterans Day. We went shopping for several exotic holiday gift items at World Market. At the checkout stand was a sign offering vets a 25 percent discount throughout the weekend. Thanks, World Market.

My local newspaper marked the day with a feature story about Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in the area recruiting honor guard members. The honor guards traditionally present a flag to the family of diseased vets and fire 21-gun rifle salutes at burial sites. Seems several posts can't come up with enough members who can shoulder a rifle to handle the duties, so they now seek members of the American Legion and even honorably discharged vets who are not members of the VFW or Legion to serve in honor guards.
 
They want us to help honor Legion vets who don't honor us.
I served two years in the U.S. Army, and was honorably discharged on May 19, 1960. I don't qualify for VFW membership because all my service was stateside and VFW members served overseas. I have no problem whatever with that.  However, I think it is reprehensible that many honorably discharged veterans are ineligible for American Legion membership.

Overseas service is not required by the American Legion. Members need only honorable service during seven "war eras," defined by arbitrary dates. Because my service dates don't fit into an "era," I am a second-class veteran not eligible for Legion membership, even though some of my less fortunate fellow soldiers were being dispatched to Viet Nam as "advisors" during my service time. Strangely, if I had served for just one day in the "era" that began nine months after my discharge, I would be welcomed as a Legionnaire.

Thousands, perhaps millions, who served honorably in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force are with me in the ranks of second-class veterans.   

It seems the ultimate irony that we now are being invited to join honor guards to shoulder a rifle and fire a salute to fellow veterans whose largest organization bars us from membership. Perhaps those "patriots" in the U.S. Congress, some of whom never gave a day of military service to their country, could act to give second-class veterans first-class status. The American Legion operates under a Congressional charter.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trumpism Will Test Our System

The fact that the American people have chosen an unethical, unqualified, racist as our president has been met by a mixture of  shock (me and many others), stark terror (some immigrants who fear deportation), outrage (young people protesting in the streets), and glee (by the small hard core of Donald Trump supporters).

Those, like me, who simply were amazed that polls could be so wrong and so many fellow citizens would vote for such a miserable human being should have done a better job of reading many signals that a huge demand for change was all around us, the Democratic Party candidate was not inspirational, and the samplers of public opinion were using antiquated models.

The youngsters now clogging up traffic and wasting our law enforcement dollars with pointless demonstrations should have used their energy getting out voters to support their causes. Their time now would be better spent in classrooms or adult education courses learning about our democratic system and history. Once the people have selected a leader, our tradition is to move on, more-or-less together, respecting the office of president, no matter how personally repulsive we find the choice to be. That works. Continuing demonstrations in our streets serve no useful purpose.

Trump's more zealous supporters ought to temper their satisfaction, because at least some of his more outrageous proposals will not be enacted. How many, and which ones, remains to be seen. Certainly, the next four years will provide extreme challenges to the checks and balances that are the bedrock of the American form of democracy.

Some opponents charged throughout the campaign that Trump never presented a real program, claiming he merely advanced ideas at random through often vague and confusing televised sound bites and internet tweets. Although a program statement was late in coming, one did appear near the end of October in a speech outlining what Trump pledged he would do in his first 100 days in office. Those interested can find documentation of the speech in several places with a computer search for "Trump's first 100 days." It is interesting reading.

Trump's action items are a strange mixture of Republican (huge tax cuts) and Democratic (public works to stimulate employment) Party ideals and some weird thoughts (a massive concrete wall will solve illegal immigration problems). We have early indications that at least some are not going to be adopted at all, and others will undergo considerable modification.

For example, Trump proposes imposing term limits on Congress, an idea that a fairly large number of Americans would support. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's reaction was, "It will not be on the agenda in the Senate." That means it is dead, at least for the foreseeable future.

McConnell took a dim view of Trump's plans for massive infrastructure work, saying it will not be high on the Senate's priority list. He did say he backed achieving improved border security, but made no mention of an immense, and immensely expensive, border wall.

I found McConnell's lack of enthusiasm for major expenditures especially telling. Throughout the campaign, both candidates shied away from detailed discussions of our horrendous national debt situation. I don't think a Congress dominated by conservative Republicans, including many who have been openly hostile to Trump, is going to quickly pass legislation requiring big new expenditures, if it passes such measures at all.

And if some of the crazier stuff on Trump's action list does get through Congress, it faces stern tests in the judicial system. Unfortunately for those of liberal persuasion, the Supreme Court is going to tilt toward conservatism for a long time as the effects of Trump appointments come into play. That, I think, is the most important consequence of the election. However, history has shown that the thinking of even the most biased justices can be balanced by excellent legal arguments by other members of the court.

Will our checks and balances work to keep America great? Let us hope and pray that they will.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

What Price Vanity?

I'm tired of complex numbers. Every news source the geezer follows has been crowded with a variety of poll outcomes, complicated analyses, and sometimes just plain wild guesses regarding the presidential election. The only big numbers I want to fill my head with in the immediate future are the results that will start appearing Tuesday night.

Those numbers will tell us whether our nation will be led for the next four years by a responsible, experienced person with a reasonable set of goals--Hillary Clinton--or an unbalanced, racist, egomaniac--Donald Trump.  I voted several weeks ago with an absentee ballot, something permitted by the State of Michigan for all people over 65. All the complex numbers tell us the election will be close in Michigan. Here's hoping we'll arise Wednesday morning to welcome our first woman president.

To stay away from the complicated numbers games, I decided to make this post about single digits, one displayed on my garage wall, the other adorning a luxury auto on the other side of the world.

Early last month, Balwinder Sahani, an Indian businessman, paid $9 million at an auction in Dubai for a one-digit auto license plate. It seems unique plates have become a fad in the glitzy United Arab Emirates. Auctions for them are held every two or three months, and millions of dollars are at stake.

 
Balwinder Sahani proudly displaying his D5 license plate (equivalent to No. 9)
About 300 bidders and observers crowded the auction hall when Sahani acquired the D5 plate. He said he will attach it to one of his Rolls-Royces. I don't understand Arabic or Indian mathematics, but apparently "D5" equals the numeral 9.

"I like number 9 and D5 adds up to nine, so I went for it," Sahani said. "I have collected 10 number plates so far and I am looking forward to having more. It's a passion."

I acquired a number 9 auto license plate in 1972. It had nothing to do with passion, and everything to do with luck.

I was registering our old Chevrolet shortly after we moved to Idaho. When my turn came, the clerk looked around at boxes of plates behind him and said, "How'd you like a really nifty number?"

"Sure, why not," I said. With that, my clerk and three others made a dive for one box. My guy came back clutching No. 9, which he promptly issued to me. He explained that Idaho had a license plate pecking order. The governor got No. 1, the lieutenant governor received No. 2, and so on down the political ladder. The line ended at No. 8 with the secretary of state. So by possessing No. 9, I had the lowest plate number a common citizen could get.

My number 9 didn't cost nine million dollars. As I recall, the vehicle registration fee in 1972 was just $12 or so.

We got a lot of comments and questions from folks who noticed our distinctive tag. One was from my supervisor, Ed Maw. Ed had many political contacts, and he was proud of his status in the community. He appeared to be miffed that I had the low number when he believed he deserved any such honor. I played the game. "Ed, it's all in who you know," I told him.
 
My No. 9 currently graces our garage wall.
It was fun while it lasted, but it didn't last long. About four months after my registration Idaho changed to a whole new plate design and numbering system. I got an unimportant replacement number just like the rest of the common people.

I kept Idaho 9 as a souvenir. It now graces my garage wall. Since Mr. Sahani could well afford the gesture, I hope he'll send one of those Rolls my way. I'll be pleased to drive it around displaying No. 9 for all to see.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

No Place Better

We could take a plane or a train to enjoy the magnificent colors this weekend as New England hardwoods prepare for winter. Or, we could hop in our car and take a four hour drive into the heart of Michigan's Upper Peninsula to view similar woodsy splendor.


Or, we could simply look out our living room windows . . . .



Monday, October 17, 2016

Our Rare Little White Neighbors

Sunday's regional newspaper carried a headline: "Rare albino squirrel seen." The sighting was in a subdivision of Brighton, a suburban community northwest of Detroit.

The story said a representative of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources stated she was surprised to hear of an albino squirrel being seen. The albinos result from an unusual genetic defect. The DNR spokesperson said the defect is so rare that the state doesn't even have a record of sightings. In addition to a low birth rate, predators easily spot the white fur of  babies and few albinos live to become adults.

We were a bit surprised to see the newspaper headline. About eight years ago, beautiful wife Sandy spotted an albino squirrel racing through our side yard and into the woods. About two years ago, a woman in our community about a quarter mile from us photographed an albino in her yard. Perhaps they are a bit more common in the western part of the state than in the east.
 
  Our neighbor's photo was blurred, but the color clearly was white
Making squirrel watching interesting for us are many resident black squirrels, another subgroup of fox squirrels and the eastern gray squirrel. The blacks are rare in parts of the U.S., but quite common in woods near us and elsewhere in North America. We guesstimate that about as many blacks as grays raid our bird feeders and frolic in the woods behind our house.

Our black and gray squirrels get along very well, and we presume the only problems the occasional albinos have are with predators. Perhaps some Americans who can't seem to accept neighbors of different colors could take a lesson from our furry friends.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Gd Gd Almighty, It Is Grand

Four summers ago, the Geezer posted the following lament with the full expectation that words here would have no impact on the highway gurus in Lansing.  Does the restoration of Grand to our signage signify the power of this blog to carry a message, or simply the dawn of common sense? I think the latter.


Thursday, August 09, 2012


Were I in charge of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, I would be irate and demanding change in the way the name of my city is routinely butchered by the Michigan Department of Transportation. MDOT consistently replaces Grand with Gd.

Yes, they could sneak "ran" in
Grand Rapids deserves a full ID.  It is known for several, admittedly not overly important, things.  Grand Rapids is Michigan’s second largest city.  Grand Rapids is the birthplace of former President Gerald Ford. Grand Rapids is a leading producer of office furniture.  More important to me, the city has two really good Mexican restaurants. 

How demeaning is a contrived Grand abbreviation? Can you imagine a sign saying: Gd Canyon--27 miles? 

Could MDOT put the “ran” back in Grand as a practical matter? Of course it could.  Possibilities include compressing the type, enlarging signs a bit, moving arrows, and changing the shape of arrows.

Because I am not the head honcho at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the strange signage is of no personal concern. Anyway, it is starting to pop up all over, so Gd may be making a move toward supplanting Grand in common usage. A recent Google travel search yielded this instruction: Turn right to merge onto US-131 N toward Gd Rapids.”

                                           * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Lo and behold . . . This summer MDOT decided to make things right. At least a dozen signs in our area suddenly pointed the way to GRAND Rapids!  Included was the one I photographed back in 2012. Here it is today. The picture was snapped from a slightly different angle because a tree limb had grown to block part of the sign from the original camera viewing point.



Isn't it grand?

Friday, October 07, 2016

How Do You Feel . . .

When I started this blog ten years ago, I had the misguided notion that it would provide some widespread benefit as younger readers thirsting for knowledge about life eagerly sopped up my accumulated wisdom. I simply forgot a truth about human nature, at least the nature of most Americans.

It is clear that young adults in the U.S. have scant interest in learning from the experiences of fully mature adults (AKA honey, sweetie, old man, granny, etc.). Advertising predominantly portrays the young enjoying life with the product being pushed. Television shows and movies glorify youth and often portray parents and grandparents as silly old people to be circumvented when necessary and ignored when possible.

This seems strange. It is obvious that people learn from experience. One would think, then, that the less experienced among us would want to avoid pitfalls by consulting the most experienced at every opportunity. However, as a teenager and beyond, the older a relative or friend became, the less inclined I was to ask them about anything. I've seen no evidence that things have changed.

Because we all obviously are subjected to the aging process, it also would seem that as they grow older the kids would ask fully mature adults how we feel at various stages of our lives so they would have an idea of what's to come. Yet, I've never had that sort of question put to me by anyone a generation or more younger than I.

Since we geezers are unlikely to be asked to provide serious information, we may as well offer some light-hearted thoughts about how we feel. Most of the time, I feel very good. There's a lot to feel good about. Blogging friend Ramana Rajgopaul provided a look at some of the less important positives with a list defining a "Seenager" a few posts ago. It brightened my day--perhaps it will do the same for you:

Friday, September 30, 2016

A True Spartan Sportsman

Amid all the sordid news about bad conduct by athletes and coaches throughout the sporting world, it is good to note there have been many instances of true sportsmanship. Two recent unrelated events caused me to recall one of my favorite positive sports stories.

Last Saturday, I watched the Michigan State University football team in action because they were hosting my Wisconsin Badgers. The next day, Arnold Palmer died. Palmer dominated professional golf for years, first on the regular tour and later as a participant with other older stars in the Legends of Golf tournament and similar events.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s I played golf many Saturday mornings at a course near our home in  Ogden, Utah, with a group of men who jokingly referred to themselves as the "Local Legends." Some of us were as old as Palmer and the rest of the real "legends," but none of us came anywhere close to their skill level. It was easy to join our group; anyone who wanted to play could.

By the luck of the draw, one Saturday I wound up in a foursome with a newcomer named Jones who was a professor at Weber State University. Dr. Jones was a big man who hit golf balls a long way, but not terribly accurately.

It was fall, and the chit-chat in our foursome naturally turned to football. "Did you ever play?" Jones was asked.

"Oh yeah," he replied, I was a  defensive tackle for a couple of years at a small west coast school."

"Which small school?"

"Stanford."

That exchange got some laughs, and also led to a question about Jones' experiences on the gridiron. He said only one was memorable.

"We played Michigan State. They had a lot of talent that year; we were pretty lousy. They beat up on us every which way.

"After we took our licking, we were sulking in our locker room when the Spartan coach knocked on the door. He asked our coach if he could speak to us. No one I know ever heard of an opposing coach doing that.
 
Daugherty earned many well-deserved honors
"Duffy Daugherty stood in the middle of the room and told us we had nothing to be ashamed of. He said even though we were over-matched, we had played our best to the very end, and he was impressed. He told us it had been an honor to coach against us that day. He said if we lived the rest of our lives with the perseverance we had shown, we would always have reason to be proud of ourselves."

Although he didn't specify the contest, Jones probably was referring to a game in 1961 when the Spartans beat Stanford 31-3. That year MSU's record was 7-2; Stanford went 4-6.

Several years later, Daugherty's Michigan State team was named national champions in a poll of coaches. Dr. Jones' story led me to believe coach Daugherty was one of the true champions we sorely need today in sports.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We Must Thump Trump

I watched the first televised presidential debate in 1960. It pitted Richard M. Nixon against John F. Kennedy. Nixon appeared sinister with his dark "five o'clock shadow" beard and evasive answers to questions. In contrast, Kennedy's image was one of a handsome, confident young man making clear, crisp comments.

As a confirmed Republican, I voted for Nixon anyway. That turned out to be one of the major mistakes of my lifetime.
 
She got it right, he got it wrong.
Last night, we watched a bully talk over his opponent and interrupt both her and the moderator increasingly as the debate wore on. Donald Trump's comments more often than not were exaggerations, inaccuracies, far off the point, or downright lies. Hillary Clinton stayed calm throughout the onslaught, made only two questionable statements I could detect, and was clear and crisp in presenting her positions.

Electing a deceitful racist whose interest appears to be limited to himself would be a tragedy for America and the world.

I'm not going to repeat my 1960 mistake. Hillary Clinton clearly is the candidate who as President will continue working hard to make America stronger and the world a better place.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Well, Well . . . Some Prices Fell

We fully mature adults living primarily on pensions are acutely aware of price increases, some of them enormous, for things we increasingly need such as medical and dental care. Any cost of living increases included in our incomes haven't come close to covering our expenses for some time. And any interest on risk-free savings has dropped 50 percent or more in the past few years. Sometimes it seems if we live long enough we are destined to wind up joining the ranks of the poor.

But some prices have fallen. Basic clothing prices have declined for years as the U.S. textile industry moved to countries with low wages. Gas prices are about half of what they were a year ago thanks to a glut in world oil supplies.

Last week, I was surprised to discover another area in which prices have dropped dramatically. The revelation started when my computer screen went black for no apparent reason. A visit to the Geek Squad provided a temporary fix, but when the problem returned after everything possible had been adjusted it became obvious a new monitor was needed.

My monitor was eight years old. I dimly remembered paying a fairly hefty price for it at a major electronics store. My recollection was correct; the old receipt for $319.00, including speakers and tax, turned up in a file. Considering eight years of inflation, I expected a heavy hit.

A bit of research showed the best price for a monitor of the same size and brand (Hewlett Packard) with new speakers, and again including tax, came to $192.00. And lady luck helped. The day I
Hey, geezers. "Old fashioned" electronics got cheaper.
headed out to make the purchase, the local Best Buy store ran a big sale. I bought precisely the monitor I wanted for $132.00.


Wasn't the quality lower as well as the price?  Heck no. The flatscreen LED picture is brighter and clearer than what my old monitor provided when new. The styling is far superior, making my office space more attractive. The sound from the new speakers has better range and can be controlled more precisely. The new monitor is better than the old one ever was in every respect.

How in the world can a store sell a superior product for less than half the price it would have received eight years earlier for a piece of equipment that performed the same functions?

Sometimes, "supply and demand" works to the advantage of consumers, and in the case of electronics I think that is just what is happening. Many companies jumped into the personal computer market as demand skyrocketed. That market now is saturated, both because of a higher production total by the competing firms and because laptops and smart phones are now all the rage among electronic gadgets. A lot of competition for fewer and fewer buyers of towers and separate monitors has driven prices down, and probably will continue to do so.

So, fellow geezers, take heart. When the kiddos chuckle at your old-fashioned computer setup, smile and secretly resolve not to change your ways. Staying electronically challenged may be saving you a bundle of cash you can use to pay some of that next dental bill. And your "computer" will never fall out of your pocket and break or be lost as you travel to your next doctor appointment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Back to Blogging

It’s that time of year—back to school, back to work, back to leaf raking. So why not back to blogging? On June 14, I started a summer break from posting stories here. My thoughts at the time included the possibility of never returning.

Serious writers know that the act of frequently coming up with a new thought and developing it into a coherent story is mildly stressful at best and difficult most of the time. The reward for writing is not found in the act itself, it is in the good feelings authors experience when readers make their presence  known. And readers generate great pleasure for writers when they say they liked what was written.


In my 80th year, it was becoming harder to come up with new material, and anything that smacked of “work” was increasingly distasteful. Although my blog readership statistics continued to increase, the number of comments had been static for some time.

Reader reactions were bittersweet during the first weeks of my hiatus from blogging. It was gratifying to hear from friends old and new who said they hoped my summer would be enjoyable and they looked forward to my return. On the negative side, some people who I care greatly about showed they care very little about my work by not even noticing the absence of posts. Happily, the positive reactions were much more numerous than the negative.

Two anniversaries played the biggest parts in convincing me to return. The most important happened less than two weeks ago. Beautiful wife Sandy wrote on Facebook: “55 years ago today on September 2, Dick and I were married. WOW! It doesn’t feel like that long ago. It’s been a fun and adventuresome ride. . . looking forward to many more!”

Presiding over this blog has been part of the “fun and adventure” for me for a long time. The blog's tenth anniversary was July 11. During our traditional anniversary dinner, Sandy and I agreed that ten more anniversaries are quite likely in our future.

So how is an octogenarian to spend another decade? Embark on entirely new activities? Minimize all activity and concentrate on pure rest and relaxation? Stick with the activities that were part of the fun and adventure of the previous half century? 

I crossed the last item off my bucket list last year. New adventures are not on my horizon. I'm still feeling good, mentally and physically, so doing nothing at all would drive me batty. So, it's back to blogging with no guarantees about frequency or quality. Seeing how that works out should serve to generate some fun while continuing to pursue an old adventure

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

So Long for a While

Ah, the sun is shining in Southwest Michigan, the flowers are blooming, and the little patch of forest behind our home is green and growing. Spurred by the long-awaited warm season, the geezer petitioned the big blogger in the sky for a sabbatical. And the wish was granted.

So, I'll be taking an open-ended vacation from posting here. Until we meet again, may you enjoy peace, prosperity, and a full measure of  happiness.


Friday, June 03, 2016

Graduation Gifts to the Unworthy

It's graduation time once more accompanied by a spate of news stories on various aspects of the educational rituals. A few focus on the costs of speakers. The Associated Press did that on May 25, just as the commencement ceremony season was getting under way.

We did a brief survey within our small family. Not a single person could remember who was the featured speaker at their high school or college graduation ceremonies. To be definitive, a broader survey surely would be needed, but our little sampling seems to question the truth of statements by college leaders that paying for celebrity speakers serves to impress alumni who make donations and causes potential students to take an interest in their campus.

A representative of Kean, a small public university in New Jersey that paid two speakers $80,000, claimed it was a reward for the graduates: "It makes their commencement just that much more memorable." Well, not if the grads don't even remember who the speaker was, much less what was said.

Do you remember who spoke and what they said at a graduation ceremony honoring your class?

Regardless of the validity for doing it, paying stars to perform at college graduations has come under some heavy fire in recent years. Of course, private colleges and universities can do what they please. The questions involve public institutions, whose leaders constantly complain that they are receiving inadequate taxpayer funding. If they speak truth, why are taxpayer dollars being devoted to activities that are not directly related to educating students or performing important research?

The good news is that the practice seems to be declining, according to AP data from 20 public universities that were asked about paying notable speakers to perform, including providing travel expenses. As part of the study, a large speaker booking agency was questioned. A representative said the firm was getting fewer requests for paid graduation speakers. Growing criticism of the practice was thought to be the cause. Of the 20 universities responding to AP's request, 16 said they aren't paying speaking fees this year.

The bad news is some universities have joined the payola group in recent years, and some fees are a bit startling. Rutgers made its first payment in 2011, rewarding author Toni Morrison with $30,000 for her talk. The University of Houston paid astronaut Scott Kelly $35,000. The University of Oklahoma paid television personality Katie Couric a whopping $110,000 back in 2006.

Last year, my school, the University of Wisconsin, paid Ms. Couric $3,100 for first-class flights from New York to Madison to speak at commencement. I don't object to paying travel costs, but couldn't she have flown coach or business class? And why not travel on her own dime? Wikipedia says Katie Couric is worth about 75 million dollars.

The Couric engagement brings up another concern. She certainly is a successful person, and therefore qualified to deliver in inspirational message. But she is a graduate of the University of Virginia, not Wisconsin. Every issue of the Wisconsin alumni magazine carries stories about highly successful graduates in many fields. One would think the school could sign up any number of graduation speakers without any cost simply by offering an honorary degree, or perhaps even without the degree offer. Most grads would consider it a high honor. Wouldn't you?

There was no problem this year finding a Wisconsin grad who is both famous and successful. Russell Wilson did the honors. He graduated six years ago with a liberal arts degree after quarterbacking the Wisconsin football team for two outstanding seasons. He has gone on to a successful professional career with the Seattle Seahawks.

Some, of course, would question the selection of an athlete when successful graduates in more important venues were available. However, I listened to Wilson's speech and it was terrific. He did a marvelous job of relating how he overcame serious obstacles to succeed at what he chose to do, and linked those experiences to some good advice to the grads. The selection committee must have strongly considered the message and the speaker's ability to deliver it.

Perhaps members of the UW Class of 2016 won't long remember who spoke or what he said, but if some do, the memory will be of a message from a fellow Badger. And the taxpayers didn't have to pick up a hefty tab to make it happen.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

What More Can An Auto Do?

Last week we acquired a new family auto equipped with every bell and whistle available. We marveled at all the gadgets showing us what's behind, beside, and closing in on the vehicle plus buttons to let us make a phone call or show the route to anywhere in North America.

Upon discovering that the outside mirrors automatically tilt in the right direction to show the curb when parallel parking, I remarked that there can't be anything else car makers can add to enhance new models, at least until we make the jump to driverless robots.

Wrong. Our old car had a navigation system with voice directions. "In a quarter mile, turn left," it would advise. How can you improve on that?

Our new system says, "In a quarter mile, please turn left."  This can be improved further. Next year's model may say, ". . . pretty please turn left" as auto civility marches onward.

Friday, May 13, 2016

UW Punished Sexist with Co-ed Monument

Some strange things have been known to happen in Madison at the University of Wisconsin, sometimes referred to as "Berkeley East." Pranksters and student rebels have long called the campus home.

I thought I'd heard about all the weird happenings at my alma mater until a recent newsletter explained how a sexist university president continues to get his comeuppance to this day.

Paul Chadbourne, the newsletter says, was an inspiring leader and teacher who helped the university thrive after the Civil War. However, his activities did not extend to supporting equality for women. He was notorious for opposing co-education at Wisconsin. A "normal school" to train teachers opened on campus in 1863 and 76 women were enrolled. However, that's as far as Chadbourne was willing to go. The normal school was segregated; only women could attend, and they were not allowed to take other UW classes.

Chadbourne died in 1883 before co-ed proponents completely reversed the institution's policies, but his name lives on at UW in a strange way. Dean Edward Birge apparently was one of Chadbourne's major adversaries. In 1897, the school opened Ladies Hall, its first women's dormitory,  Birge insisted it be renamed for President Chadbourne. He said, "I thought it was only fair that Dr. Chadbourne's contumacy (stubborn perverseness) regarding co-education should be punished by attaching his name to a building which turned out to be one of the main supports of co-education."

The original Chadbourne Hall looked somewhat like this when I passed it on the way to classes. 

The original Chadbourne Hall stood until 1957. I trudged past it many times for four years oblivious to its history. It was a weather-beaten building, not in the best repair, and about the time I graduated it was demolished and replaced by a modern structure carrying the same name.

My, how things have changed. Although male students outnumbered women (except for World War II years) at UW until 1995, enrollment has been near 50-50 since then. Women have been successful students in every discipline. Chadbourne Hall, known to students as "The Chad," how houses male and female students as well as UW classrooms where courses are open to all.

Paul Chadbourne might turn over in his grave.  If he did, he could possibly catch a glimpse of a towering continuing monument to his perversity.

The University of Wisconsin's monument to Paul Chadbourne now is modern and co-educational.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Oh, To Be Like Mom

'Tis Mothers Day, causing me to reflect a bit on my Mom. She was an orphan raised by a wealthy timber baron family shortly before the turn of the last century. The family treated her well, but never adopted her. After she finished high school, she was sent to a business school so she would have skills needed to support herself.

She didn't need the the training for long before Dad wooed and won her, but she made outstanding use of her talents throughout her life. She served as leader of her small church congregation for more than 20 years. She was the first woman elected to serve on the community's Board of Education, and the first woman to be chosen board president. Somehow, Mom found time to help promote just about every good cause that came along.

At the same time, Mom made sacrifices large and small to be sure my sister and I valued education and completed college, although helping us through years of higher education put a severe financial strain on the family.

Mom lived well into her eighties. In all the time I knew her, I never heard her say a disparaging word about another human being. She was an over achiever who was calm and cheerful in all she did. Wouldn't the world be wonderful if everyone lived their life that way?

Friday, May 06, 2016

Presidential Campaigns--the Bad and the Ugly

My borrowed title statement actually starts with "The Good," but since George Washington's initial presidency, and possibly Dwight Eisenhower's runs for office in the 1950s (it was hard not to "like Ike"), it has been difficult to find a lot of goodness and civility in contests for our chief executive office.

Many pundits now are saying a Trump-Clinton contest will set a record for nastiness. Possibly, but history gives us any number of unpleasant campaigns for comparison.

As "father of our country" and military hero, Washington was extremely popular. He was swept into office for two terms without serious opposition. He belonged to no political party, and in fact often cautioned Americans about the evils of parties. After Washington declined to run for a third term, parties appeared, and sure enough the mud-slinging began.

In early elections, proxies carried on the nastiness. Candidates did not campaign at all. They quietly let potential supporters know they were available for nomination. Gaining that, they sat back and let rabid supporters define platforms and frequently slander opponents in media and by starting whispering campaigns.

Jefferson:Some bad with the good?

Describing the change in "Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power," historian Jon Meacham said, "However different in form presidential contests were, one feature has been constant from the beginning: They have been rife with attacks and counterattacks."

The 1800 campaign pitting President John Adams against Vice President Jefferson provides a standard for nastiness that Trump-Clinton may find hard to top.  We hear every Fourth of July about the wonderful friendship between the two founding fathers, both of whom died on the same Independence Day after exchanging hundreds of cordial letters throughout the last years of their lives.

We seldom are reminded that the men who sat side-by-side while Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence was being reviewed and adopted, and who worked closely together as diplomats in Europe, were so antagonized by statements during the 1800 presidential campaign that they refused to speak to each other for more than a decade.

In the campaign, Adams' supporters characterized Jefferson as a cowardly weakling. They also branded him an atheist, a very serious charge at the time. The atheist assertion was a complete falsehood.  Jefferson's surrogates fired back with charges that Adams was an overbearing monarchist who sought to establish a "King's Army" to keep the American people in line (sound familiar, Mr. Obama?). They criticized Adams' character in detail, and very little of that criticism has survived the scrutiny of historians.

Although Jefferson eventually achieved great popularity as a president who championed individual rights and freedom and engineered the Louisiana Purchase, a huge land acquisition that was key to making America "great," he was not immune from criticism while in office. One critic published a scathing report of Jefferson's sexual relationship with a slave, Sally Hemings. That bit of nastiness, denied for years by Jefferson admirers, now is accepted as fact by most modern historians.

Among thousands of documents preserved by Jefferson was this brief letter from an anonymous writer in 1808: "You are the damdest fool that God put life into."

So it goes in American political life.

Will the Trump-Clinton contest be the nastiest ever? I think it is far too early to reach that conclusion. However, there is absolutely no doubt that Donald Trump is the nastiest individual ever to become the nominee of one of our major parties.  He exhibits a whole lot of "bad and ugly" and very little "good."



Saturday, April 30, 2016

Elevator Ups and Downs (Sometimes)

Two recent news stories brought elevator incidents to mind. In the first, a group of football heroes grossly exceeded a load limit and spent considerable time in limbo before help arrived. In the other, a group of police officers got stuck, only to be rescued by firemen who had lots of fun maximizing the cops' embarrassment by taking selfies that made it onto the internet.

Years ago, beautiful wife Sandy and I were in an elevator at the Salt Lake City airport when it stalled between floors. It's an eerie feeling. We were in close quarters in total darkness. Everyone except one man stayed calm until maintenance people got the elevator moving. That man lost it to the extent of screaming and thrashing around in the confined space. However, when we got out, he appeared to revert quickly to normal behavior.

I didn't know that!

My other elevator incident happened a few years later. I was sent to Albuquerque on Forest Service business. My neighbor's son had just built a new home there. He invited me to an early evening golf game, and his wife tacked on a dinner invitation. I brought my putter along with an eye to having at least one familiar club to buoy my confidence on a strange course.

My friend planned to pick me up at the hotel where our meeting was held and I was staying. He urged me to be prompt. We would try to get in 9 holes at University Course-North. Tricky winds were known to come up there in late daylight hours, so we would have to start play promptly to finish our game in calm conditions.

Unfortunately, my meeting dragged on beyond the appointed closing time. When we finally adjourned, I rushed through the lobby waving to my friend, zipped up to my 12th floor room in the elevator, changed shirts, grabbed my putter, and ran back to re-board the elevator. I was fairly close to being on schedule.

But at the first stop, a hotel maintenance lady got on. She squirted the control panel with cleaner and wiped it vigorously with a large cloth, hitting every button. The result was an immaculate button panel, but we stopped at each remaining floor--all 10 of them. I thought about getting off and running down the stairs, but that wasn't appealing following so closely on my frantic efforts to get up to my room.

We were just finishing the third hole on the North Course when a gust of wind blew my ball off the green. Further play was impossible.

Had I known about the advice with the control panel illustration shown here, I could have enjoyed a complete golf game. Oh well, the dinner was both complete and enjoyable.



Thursday, April 21, 2016

In Non-appreciation of Jimmy John's

A page 13 article in my Kalamazoo Gazette invited readers to "Get ready for a freaky cool deal at Jimmy John's. $1 subs for everyone!" The story went on to describe what sandwiches were included, for whom, and when.

Seemed strange to me that a daily paper would run a pr piece for a fast-food restaurant as a news item. When I got to page 18, the motive was revealed. Profit had overcome good journalism, something becoming common nowadays. Jimmy John's had paid the Gazette for a full-page color ad proudly announcing "Customer Appreciation Day Today Only!" The news item was a little kickback.

The ad said a customer could buy one of seven types of subs for $1 at a participating store today only from 11 a.m. to 2 p..m. (emphasis added).

Just happens beautiful wife Sandy and I planned to be shopping close to a Jimmy John's around noon and would be doing lunch in that area. Jimmy John's opened a new outlet near us this year, and we've found their sandwiches to be first-rate. What a deal! A nice lunch discount had dropped in our laps.

Except that it hadn't. Our newspaper never is delivered before 3 p.m. on a weekday. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Gazette subscribers have similar delivery times. Sure enough, 2 p.m. was long past today when I received the generous offer.

One might ask Jimmy John's advertising department: "What took you so long to understand you've antagonized customers instead of pleasing them with the worst possible timing of an appreciation day ad?"  The Gazette advertising department might well consider the same question.


Thursday, April 07, 2016

Careful What You Wish For, Senators

Today, President Obama is speaking at the University of Chicago, where he taught constitutional law for 12 years early in his career. It's a sure bet the thrust of his remarks will be pointed criticism of Republicans who have refused to consider his nomination of Merrick Garland for the current Supreme Court vacancy.

Obama's appearance will be just another salvo in the attacks on Republican obstructionism that are part of the Democratic Party election campaign strategy. What the GOP leadership is doing is perfectly legal, but criticism about stalling by Congress does resonate with many voters. Nevertheless, we can be sure that the president's message today will have no influence on Republican legislators.

The GOP stall might not be smart

What would strike terror into GOP hearts would be a surprise hint by Obama that he might have some interest in Supreme Court service. After all, he is an expert on constitutional law as his Chicago Law School appearance reminds us. If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, which appears the most likely scenario at the moment, what's to stop her from withdrawing the Garland nomination and appointing Barack Obama?

Were I a GOP senator, I might be pushing hard for a quick opening of hearings on the Garland candidacy. He seems likely to be much more conservative than at least one of the alternatives.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Keep on Smiling

After an anchor tooth for a bridge ruptured and associated problems indicated the future of my remaining upper teeth was bleak, my dentist and I decided the best way to go was to do some extractions and equip me with a full upper plate of false choppers.

My plastic teeth are performing rather well only three weeks into our get-acquainted period, but one bit of advice has not worked at all for me. Dental assistants, various internet sites, and product pamphlets all emphasize that the inconveniences of having to rely on false teeth are far outweighed by a big positive--users will bask in the glory of their beautiful new smile!
If I only could.

How wonderful is that? Probably very for many, but it's just a tooth fairy tale for me. I've spent more than 50 years compensating for somewhat crooked teeth stained by excess tobacco and coffee use. The situation was compounded by several dentists years ago who were not skilled with color matches when they installed crowns on a couple of front teeth.

I compensated by training myself always to smile with my mouth closed. Now with a set of perfectly proportioned and color-matched uppers to show off, I find I am unable to change. My acquaintances will just have to continue to settle for a little grin and a twinkle in my eye.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Now Real Turkeys are Going Postal

It's hard these days to avoid hearing about a disgusting politician "going postal" with a vicious attack on a sometimes fairly benign opponent. But an attack by a bird that is one of our beloved symbols of peace and thanksgiving?

Well, it's happened. Recently a flock of more than a dozen wild turkeys ambushed a mailman in Hillsdale, New Jersey, apparently without provocation. More than a dozen of the big birds trapped the postal worker inside his delivery truck until he was able to call for help and his supervisor summoned two policemen to shoo the turkeys away.

The supervisor's call was recorded: "You're not going to believe this, but I have a carrier that's being attacked by wild turkeys--won't let him deliver the mail. It's crazy. They were actually attacking, biting. They chase trucks."

Police said the turkeys eventually returned to a nearby wooded area.
A belligerent bird in New Jersey. (Keith Sra photo)

Sixty years ago, it would have been a rarity to find any turkeys, much less a dozen, in a wooded area east of the Mississippi. Once-large populations of wild turkeys were so decimated by over-hunting at the start of the 20th century that remaining birds had to be protected by strict game laws. The birds were virtually extinct in many eastern states.

Thanks to great restoration work by hunters, especially members of the Wild Turkey Federation, and state and federal wildlife managers, wild turkeys have made a remarkable comeback. We see individual birds and flocks often on routine drives on rural roads in our southwest Michigan area. Regular hunting seasons are routine, and estimates of Michigan populations have run about 200,000 in recent years. Wisconsin, where wild turkeys were considered extinct statewide in the 1880s, now has population estimates in the half million range.

It took years, however, to reach this happy state of turkey affairs. Initial restoration efforts failed when managers tried to transplant tame birds into the wild. Success came only after strategy changed to transplanting only with wild birds. But there were few wild birds available, so the process was lengthy.

Wisconsin's first major successful turkey reintroduction was made between 1954 and 1957 at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, south of Wisconsin Rapids. Enough birds were available by April 1966 for the first controlled hunt in that area in decades.

Local hunters were excited. I was sports editor at The Daily Tribune in Wisconsin Rapids at the time. A section in my book, Days with the Dads: Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist, describes the events this way:

      A self-styled expert arrived in our office a few weeks before the hunt. He wore
      a full camouflage outfit and startled our reporters and editors by producing a
      few loud turkey calls. We got a photo, and I wrote a story quoting him on exactly how
      a hunter should go about bagging a wild turkey.

      Some 30 gunners drew a chance to participate in the hunt at Necedah. I drove down
      to cover the historic event. There's not much a reporter can observe about hunting,
      except what he hears, unless he is one of the hunters. I didn't win out in the drawing,
      so my story was about the noises that day at the refuge. My story unfortunately
      ruffled feathers of quite a few of the neophyte turkey hunters.

      I said the air was filled with the sounds of many calls that sounded nothing like a
      turkey, the noise of random shotgun blasts, a whole lot of profanity, and some real
      gobbling that could have been a form of turkey laughter. My recollection is that the
      enthusiastic, but inexperienced, Wisconsin hunters bagged a total of six birds.

      Later, the hunters got wiser and turkey populations boomed . . .Experienced sports-
      men say it is fairly easy to call a turkey into the open. In 1966 they simply didn't
      quite know how to do it at Necedah.

Who would have guessed the same type of birds that hid out from humans at Necedah would become confident and numerous enough to launch attacks on members of a major federal organization? Let's hope the wild turkey assault in New Jersey is not a sign of something bigger to come.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Another Reason to Dump Trump

There's no need here to list the myriad reasons not to back Donald Trump as a presidential nominee. Others are taking care of that--he's a racist, blowhard, liar, male supremist, etc., etc., etc. However, in a list of little-known facts about The Donald, one characteristic appeared that the geezer had not heard of.

Trump claims he has never had a drink of an alcoholic beverage in any form.

This to some is a damning indictment, one which perhaps helped sink Mitt Romney in his unsuccessful 2012 campaign.




Monday, February 15, 2016

Robotic Robbery

If you've eaten out lately at a casual restaurant such as Applebee's or Olive Garden, an electronic gadget probably was a guest at your table. Language on its small screen cheerfully invites you to play a game, order extra items, or speedily pay your bill.

At first we thought the machines might be a tricky way for management to replace waiters and waitresses. But no, they don't allow you to order your main course, just add-ons. And at Applebee's, the server arrives at your table to slide your credit or gift card at bill paying time.

That automatic bill printer may deliver unwelcome surprises

We've learned that the little machines actually are kin to the infamous "one-armed bandits" familiar to casino patrons who enter with high hopes and leave with lighter pocketbooks. Our first hint was when we accepted the invitation to play a computer game on the device. It was fun, but our bill came with a surprise $1.99 charge included for the game. We don't do the games anymore.

We usually tip 15 percent at restaurants, and go to 20 for extra-good service. When an image of your bill pops up at Applebee's as your server stands at your table, it automatically shows a 20 percent tip. The server then points to the total and advises you may push buttons to increase or decrease the amount. It's hard to imagine a customer mean enough to go for a decrease with the server watching you make the adjustment. Although tempted once, I've been unable to bring myself to retreat to my 15 percent comfort level.

The advent of robotic service at some of our favorite places so far has been only slightly annoying. We must remember that progress has its price. Let's hope this is not the start of bigger cost increases as technology advances.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Time to Analyze the Situation and Fix Blame

With Republican and Democratic Party candidates for president of the U.S. filling the news with exaggerations, pie-in-the-sky proposals, insults to just about everybody, and downright lies, it seems time to take a more objective view of important trends and place blame for the situations that are making America "ungreat."

* Latest data show unemployment has dropped to 4.9 percent, lowest in eight years, while average pay increased modestly.

* Some 30 million Americans whose lives would have been ruined by a major illness a few years ago now have insurance that allows them to live without fear of being unable to pay for a health disaster.

* Over the past six years, American military deaths in Mideast conflicts have fallen from several a day to several a year.

* Violent crime rates continue to decline in the U.S., a trend that began about 40 years ago.

* Expert observers tell us more illegal residents left the country than entered it in the past few years.

* The geezer just filled up the family sedan with gas at $1.35 per gallon, half the price paid just a couple of years ago. Most predictions are that prices will remain stable or go lower at least through next year.

George W. Bush has been out of office for more than six years, so it no longer is reasonable or fashionable to blame these tragedies on him. There's only one thing to do. We should follow the example of our less-enlightened candidates for president and blame it all on Barack Obama's poor leadership.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Good Strategy Routs Militia Loonies

Yesterday was a good day for the good guys in the West--the men and women who care for our public lands and the many users of the lands who follow the rules and support good management.  Federal and Oregon State law enforcement officers arrested the leaders of a motley group of anti-government loonies who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2.

Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, both occupation ringleaders, and a handful of supporters were taken into custody as they traveled outside the refuge. Reports say Ryan Bundy and LaVoy Finicum resisted arrest and gunfire ensued. Bundy was injured and Finicum was killed.

It is unfortunate any violence occurred. Law enforcement personnel went out of their way to avoid bloodshed. They set up headquarters some 30 miles from the refuge, communicated often with the occupiers, and allowed free movement into and out of the compound for more than three weeks. In fact, the lack of a frontal assault or even  a show of force caused considerable criticism, including scathing comments by the Governor of Oregon about what was seen as a failure of federal agents to take immediate aggressive action against the occupiers.

The Bundys got no sympathy in Portland (Britt Anderson photo/ The Oregonian).
I admit to some concern that the feds were going to let the criminals get away with their actions as the days passed, but with positive results appearing it seems fair to say the law enforcement strategy has been excellent. I reached that conclusion after spending some time reading about the history of anti-government groups in the U.S., especially the various "militias," and reviewing a few cases of previous standoffs in the West.

Our nation began with revolt against what was perceived as government tyranny, although that belief was far from universal within the colonies. From the early days, Americans have prized individual liberty and personal and property rights. Criticism of government officials and actions is a cherished and legally protected right. It thus is not surprising that various anti-government groups sprang up. Some were tax protesters, some sought to impose their religion on others, some professed a need for self protection with arms. Most have come to be referred to under the umbrella term "militias."

Government responses to the militias have ranged from ignoring them to attacking their strongholds with brute force. In the 1990s, two incidents caused rising public sentiment that the forceful approach had gone too far.

In 1991 at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho federal officials surrounded the family of Randy Weaver, a white supremist. The agents attacked and when the firing stopped a deputy U.S. marshal, and Weaver's wife and son were dead. A task force investigated the police actions, and its report called for reforms in federal law enforcement.

A year later a band of religious extremists accused of weapons violations was surrounded at the Branch Dividian Compound near Waco, Texas. Four federal officers and 82 civilians were killed when agents stormed the compound and fires in the buildings followed a gun battle. The events caused considerable public outrage over what was seen as a heavy-handed government response to a rather non-threatening situation.

It appears anti-government feelings about the two incidents combined to motivate two terrorists to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City two years later. The death toll was 168 and nearly 700 others were injured in the tragedy. If the linkage between the three events is valid, changes in the federal approach to militia criminality obviously were needed.

Militia membership, primarily in the Midwest and West, increased after Ruby Ridge and Waco. But federal and state law enforcers avoided actions against groups of malcontents. Instead, they identified and arrested many individual militia leaders and members when they could prove criminal charges. Militia membership and activity went into a steady decline.

In the West, "Sagebrush Rebellion" leaders advocated views similar to the Bundys'--turn over ownership and management of public lands to local or state authorities with little or no regulation of grazing, mining, or timber cutting. In the extreme, the idea was to put the lands in private ownership.

When I was the Public Information Officer for the Boise National Forest in the 1970s, the "rebellion" was picking up steam.  Later, there were many documented cases of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees, and sometimes their families, being harassed. Those favoring disposal of the public lands made increasing noise, but no changes in ownership resulted.

I left the West for four years, and when I returned to the Intermountain Region in 1981 there was little enthusiasm for the "rebellion." But the seeds of it remained, and it flowered last year when rancher Cliven Bundy invited militia members from across the land to help him resist efforts by the Bureau of Land Management to force him to honor provisions of his grazing permit. Hundreds of armed militia members and sympathizers showed up to back Bundy, and federal agents backed down and left the area.

That perhaps emboldened Bundy's sons to attempt the Malheur seizure of federal property. They appealed widely for public support and got very little. This time law enforcement people were prepared. Their leniency in allowing the occupiers to travel freely set up an opportune time to arrest the leaders. A few hours later, the entrances and exits to the refuge were blocked, and remaining occupiers were asked to surrender. They did not comply immediately, but now they can have lots of time alone to think about it. And if they refuse, the feds can merely arrest them one-at-a-time as the opportunity arises.

The public lands belong to all of us and preservation and use should be directed by law and science-based regulation. Our law enforcement people have done a good job responding to the latest group of criminal loonies who think otherwise.

Let's hope Cliven Bundy is having unpleasant days looking over his shoulder whenever he travels away from his ranch. His next stop might be a jail cell. And it should be.