The Snow Drifts Of My Childhood

Central Wisconsin in January some 35 years ago was much different than it is today.  Piles of winter white surrounded our home.  The folks would monitor the radio for the threat of another storm brewing in the southwest part of the country that might plow through our region.  As a result, in my childhood we had lots of snow days when the schools would close, and traffic on our country road would be non-existent. 

I recall many times my Mom saying as she looked out the living room windows, that the passing car was the first one out on the road, and then she would look out a southern window to watch and see if the car made it up the way.  Our stretch of country road was prone to drifting with open fields on one side, and so winter weather would often close it down.  There were times the car my mom was watching had to turn around due to the high drifts.  This would confirm for her the severity of the storm.  This was also the time she would say should it be a cancelled school day, ‘they made the right decision’.  Though we might be loud and ‘underfoot’ I know she was happy to have us home instead ‘of out in it.’  She never knew the storms as friends like I did. 

And though it may be hard for some to believe there were other times that no traffic would be on our road for days due to the heavy snow and blowing winds.  There were times at night when the snows woudl fall that we would listen to the radio and schools would already be closing for the following day.  Other times we would wake up and start the process of getting ready for school when the announcer would say we were not going!  HURRAY!

My father who worked for the county would drive a huge snowplow and keep the main roads open.  He would come home for supper when he thought he could take a break and tell the stories of how bad the roads were.  I loved the stories of how the ramps on the highway were icy and slick, or ‘they can’t get through up on ’73’, but my Mom never seemed to find the adventure in a snowstorm that I did.  Many times I recall my dad saying they needed to ‘bring in the Oshkosh’ . Those were magic words to a young boy, as I knew then that the storm was a real nasty one since the Oshkosh was a double bladed snow truck that would not only push the snow off the roads, but also mound it far off on the shoulders.  I suspect to ride in one was a bit like taking a mini space shuttle ride, real loud and bumpy. 

I rode a few times in my dad’s snowplow while he raised heck with the drifts and ice on the highway.  Sitting up so high and seeing the snow plume off the wide blade was perfect fun for this kid.

But there was nothing better for really pushing the snow into high banks then when my Uncle would pass on our roads driving the motor grader with a huge wing plow attached to it.   After he made his trip down the roads the piles of snow could be over half way up a telephone pole.  I have pictures of this, even though it is hard for young people to believe.

After a good ole winter storm, when the roads again were passable, and when my dad had caught up on his sleep after working long hours, he would tell us that we had to see how some of the roads had drifted in.  I think he enjoyed the snowdrifts in his own way too. Off in the family car we headed down the back roads and I was AMAZED at the huge piles of snow mile after mile in the ditches.  I would remark that they would be perfect for sledding, and my mother would instantly reply, “You would be hit by a car.”  She may have been right, but so was I.

These are now just memories.  My childhood home remains, but winter lost its identity over the years, and the boy who marveled at the snowfalls lost some hair. However, the boy inside still gets all excited when the forecasters promise snow, even though the reality is always so much different.  I feel sorry for the young kids today who will never know the feeling of having their roads not passable, or the family car literally devoured by a snowdrift in the driveway. 

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A Never Ending Race

As a political junkie I am amazed at how I feel over the presidential nominating process in our country.  It is not a good feeling. 

We have never seen anything like this Presidential season.  With truly open and competitive races for both the Democratic and Republican nominations, high tech campaigning, tons of cash to spend, and an electorate that is angry, we are primed for election season.  Right? 

Well to be honest I feel awkward even writing about the Presidential race in January of 2007.  In fact, I have offered few posts as of yet on my blog about this cycle. It just seems way to early to be amassing funds, hiring political gunslingers, and holding Presidential debates.   The first debates are less than 3 months away!  CNN has been promoting them for a couple weeks, but to me if all feels like we should be in January 2008. 

I understand the ‘need’ to get ones campaign out of the starting gate early, tap the funds, hire the best advisers and staff that can be afforded….and yet…..and yet….

I was amused that every political reporter this past weekend was trying to better understand what real intentions Rudy Giuliani has in this contest.  He has set up an exploratory committee and is raising funds, but will give up lucrative speaking and consulting fees if he chooses to run for the White House.  One could almost hear the panic in some of the reporter’s voices, I mean after all this is already January 2007!  He should decide….and decide soon!

Every presidential election year I pull Teddy White’s much beloved book, “The Making Of The President 1960” off my shelves.  It is a brilliant read with a wonderful view of the way we elected a damn fine President just 47 years ago.  To be fair the Republican nominee that year was also ready for the leadership job.  The nominating process was intense and meaningful, but not a never-ending marathon.  As we move the political process ahead this cycle so that the nominee will be all but picked in early February 2008, it is nice to read White’s grand narrative of the wild West Virginia primary between John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey that was held…oh my gosh…on May 10th, 1960!  If only Humphrey had started his campaign blitz in January of 1959 he might have prevailed.

I do not think I am alone in my nostalgic feelings for how we elected Presidents just a few decades ago.  We have done this to ourselves and I am quite sure that we do not have finer leaders or more highly qualified candidates as a result of placing the California primary in February.  Worse still are the local reasons that California legislators are pushing for the early primary vote.  They hope to revamp the system of creating legislative boundaries along with other such actions, and need the voters to give support. As a result the date for the California presidential primary, which will be extremely expensive, will be impacting not only this cycle but will heavily influence other presidential cycles.  That ill serves those candidates with a message, but not the needed money to buy television ads in the western state at such an early date in the nominating process.

I would argue that the best and brightest in the country have no stomach for the marathon madness for the nomination that we have created, even though they might be the most capable of leading our nation. If I love politics and have these thoughts, what about the folks Jay Leno talks with on his “Jaywalking” segments?  Anyone want to bet that this early start actually works to undermine voter turnout in November…….2008?

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A New Look

Saturday I was feeling the effects of a food allergy that I brought on myself.  I had bought a food product with one item that I am really not allowed to eat, but since that item was the last one on the package’s ingredients list how harmful could it be?  Once again my stomach trumped my brain, and I paid the price.  But something good came out of staying inside on Saturday, and that is the important thing.

I sat on Saturday and considered how others view the landscape of my blog.  After watching HGTV I thought some rearranging of the furniture, and some curb appeal was needed with my cyber space venture.  So today I unveil the first part of my redesign that will make the blog (hopefully) easier to read.  A friend and fellow blogger had correctly commented to me that a simpler look is easier on the eyes.  I had to admit that the three columns I had were crowding to the senses.  The add-ons were not always conducive with the other parts of the blog, and the banner was boring.

So while my body scolded my brain on Saturday for not being stronger with certian foods, I made the blog changes.  I have some personal photos that in time will be up on the banner with a local home feel showcasing Madison.  And the new design will also accommodate some other ideas I want to try in the months ahead.  The content however, will remain left of center!

How Low Can The Numbers Go?

Two news articles today joined together in my mind that put me in a strange mood. 

There was that poll number from Newsweek magazine that showed President Bush has sunk to 30% for a job approval rating, and it was the lowest poll reading ever in Newsweek’s history for that question.  His stature with the public is dismal and little can change that fact without a true change in direction with the Iraq War.

I was far more bothered and disturbed by the fact that 67% of the electorate feels that President Bush packages his foreign policy based on his personal beliefs, rather than the facts that exist.  It is a sad state of affairs in our nation when the President is understood to be so far removed from reality.  It really bothered me to know so many of my fellow citizens no longer believe in the leader of the country.  As kids we were taught to have higher hopes and ideals about our Presidents.  Now my fellow countrymen feel the President does not even consult with reality for the biggest decisions of his term.  I never thought our nation would be at this point.

The second news item that made be moody today dealt with how little regard Bush has for different points of view that might have, had he listened, led our nation onto a different course in the Middle East.

Senator Carl Levin of Michigan wrote a note to the President offering to make suggestions about the Iraq mess.  Levin is not just another Senator but heads up the mighty important Senate Armed Services Committee.  Would it shock my readers to know that Bush never sent a response?  Granted Levin is a Democrat, but considering the $*$%#^* mess we are in Bush should have put his partisanship away for the sake of the nation.

But then I also discovered today that he backhanded a GOP Senator who offered advice as well.  Senator Susan Collins had just returned from Iraq and offered to advise Bush.  He had no time for her and instead set her up to talk with a staffer. 

I suggest that with these attitudes from our ‘leader’ Newsweek will see lower numbers in the weeks to come as they poll on President Bush.

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Meeting Our Information Needs

If you are reading this political blog I suspect you have your favorites on the computer loaded up with all sorts of news and political sites.  I admit to having a boatload of faves from the world of newspapers, news sites, and political blogs from around the city, state, nation, and globe.   If you are like me they also are all anally organized.  Otherwise it is a nightmare! So what other site could we possibly desire to make our information and entertainment needs complete?

Well…. if the following topics inspire you…then there is only one more addition needed to be made to your faves.

Will the Democrats in New Hampshire allow Nevada to get a jump on them in the ’08 nominating process for President?  Don’t think so.

How do staffers shield aging U.S. Senators in the new media age?

Those who do not campaign well and are boring wind up stuck in the Senate.

Or how about a most interesting slide show of pictures from the White House.

All those stories and many more insightful and politically enticing nuggets can be found on the new web site for political junkies.  The Politico.

The site was been created with some of the best newspaper writers who have come together in this new venture to make politics come alive and sizzle on the web.  This site does not replace others…yet…but if this first week is just the foundation of where they hope to head then I think many will be turning to The Politico for news and information.

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The Mystery Of Gasoline Prices

Over the past few weeks all of us have noticed that the price per barrel of oil has been falling on the world market.  In the past two weeks gas prices had also lowered to $1.99 in the Madison area.  It was explained to us many times that some more lowering of the gasoline prices could be expected, but that it takes a couple of weeks for lower barrel prices to show up as lower gas prices.

So when I heard earlier this week that the federal government was going to re-supply our national reserves, and as a result the price per barrel had again increased, I mused to James that I was going to watch the impact at our local service station.  Today the price is up to $2.09. 

I guess like many folks I wonder how it can take a couple of weeks for lower barrel prices to positively impact gasoline prices, but less than 72 hours for higher barrel prices to negatively impact them.

Now I understand that there are many factors involved with these prices such as refiners costs, and other international blips, but time and again I must wonder if big oil companies are screwing America.  And I did not even get a kiss before it happened!

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No Smoking Statewide In WI A Winner!

Several weeks ago a friend traveling cross-country stopped in Madison and requested to go to a local sports bar that had been listed in Sports Illustrated.  Within a few minutes of our arrival he turned with a smile and said, “Hey, no one is smoking!”  Knowing he was not a smoker I knew he was thrilled to be in this bar without the haze of smoke and the lingering effects that it causes both in the lungs and on the body.  We had a perfectly wonderful night with my friend wondering why all bars can’t be so comfortable to be in without the cigarette smoke.

Thanks to a gutsy proposal by Governor Jim Doyle smoke free environments could soon be the norm all over Wisconsin.  Today Doyle makes his plan for smoke free bars and restaurants public, and the legislature needs to offer serious and quick debate followed with a vote on the floor.  The effects of first and second hand smoke are not mysteries.  Nor is the failed argument that depriving smokers to light up in bars is somehow hurtful to the tavern industry.  If the establishment has a solid business plan, and people enjoy the camaraderie found within its doors any bar can still make a nice profit without smoking patrons. 

Madison had shown the way in the state by taking a solid stand for the health of our community by making our bars and restaurants smoke free.  There was a firestorm of protest at first, but that has calmed down and all can now see the benefits that are to be gained.  For friends and myself we have spent more money since the ban took effect bowling and enjoying happy hours after work than we did before the new policy was implemented.  Prior to that it just wasn’t worth the time to laugh and talk over a few beers and then walk out of the bar smelling like an ashtray.

Doyle will also correctly propose a stiff increase in the cigarette tax in an effort to prevent new smokers, especially our kids, from picking up the habit.  The hope of adding $1.25 per pack will still only bring it up to the level of our neighboring states.  The logic of these efforts is very clear to see.  The problem is that the political/special interests will cloud the matter in the Statehouse as thick as the smoke once did in Madison bars.  Therefore voters need to contact their elected officials in Madison and urge support for these common sense proposals for our long-term health and well-being.

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The Other ‘F’ Word

Words matter.

Everyday in the paper we can read of the carefully crafted words from diplomats around the world as they communicate with friends and foes.  The daily press briefing in the White House often has the Press Secretary dancing on the head of a pin in an attempt to convey just the right tone and meaning with his carefully chosen phrases.  With our family and friends we at times couch our words so as not to offend or hurt feelings.  Over and over again, day in and day out, we see evidence that the choice of words we use matters, and has consequences.

Over the past few months a story has developed from Hollywood that has more to do with our society, than with the stars of  “Grey’s Anatomy”, where the firestorm started.  Last October Isaiah Washington, an actor on the ABC drama not only verbally clashed with co-star Patrick Dempsey, but also had his hands around Dempsey’s throat.  Washington then uttered the ‘f’ word, in regards to T.R. Knight, another actor on the show.  Up to that point Knight had not ‘come out’ publicly as a gay man.    It was that moment, Knight explained later, that something shifted in him and caused him to step out of the closet.

The outrage over Washington’s slur only got worse following the Golden Globes last week when he denied ever using the ‘f’ word.  His more than clumsy style in making his statement only has made this story grow.  Clearly Washington has some issues that need resolution, and ABC needs to deal with him post haste.  He should be ordered to participate in anger management and counseling courses.  And his contract with ABC should be reevaluated.

Had one of the stars on the highly rated ABC-TV show called Washington the ‘n’ word there would be justified outrage over the racial slur.  If a Jewish epithet were used the same type of condemnation would have occurred.  There would have been much more national clamor for a resolution had a racial slur been used on the set of “Grey’s Anatomy” than what was received as the result of the insensitive and shameful ‘f’ word.  Why is that?  Why should it be more painful for black people to hear the ‘n’ word, than to have gay people hear the ‘f’ word?  Why should there be a double standard when it comes to hate speech?

The silence of too many in our country over Washington’s hateful word is, I fear, a sign of homophobia in America, and the moral drift that comes with this hatred.  ABC should have stepped in at once and denounced the words used by Washington.  If the network thinks that this issue is just going to go away as their ad revenues just keep rolling, I suggest they might have a rude awakening.  Gay people buy products…..and they can also stop buying certain products that get advertised on shows with actors like Washington who uses the ‘f’ word.

Words matter.

When words like that uttered by Washington do not meet with a national smack down it lends acceptability for others to also use them.  The scars and damage by words can be very real for people.  There are standards for social interaction and good manners that are part of any healthy society.  When words are used to injure others based on ethnic background or sexual identity there needs to be repercussions.  I have never worked in an environment where it was acceptable to act as Washington did.  ABC should have no fewer standards for postive behavior than the vast majority of other workplaces in America.

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