Letter From Home: “Modern-Day Settlers” 7/31/19

I had not intended to be reading, during the closing hours leading to the signing for purchase of the other half of our Old Victorian home, about the settlers who traveled the Oregon Trail.  The story about the hearty, adventurous men and women who made the journey, and who were far more fit and suited for such a trip than I can even imagine, seemed timely, however, as they too were following their dreams.  Turning the pages of “Polk” by Walter Bornenan I was again reminded of that ever-present human desire for expansion along with the gaining of personal happiness.

The settlers often started out in Conestoga wagons piled high but soon found the need to convert to prairie schooners as the terrain necessitated a more slimmed down mode of transportation.  If the settlers made 12 miles a day it was a successful effort.

I can relate to the tedious nature of getting to ones’s destination.  James and I moved into our home in 2007, the only two-condo unit association in Madison.  In terms of owning the rest of this 1892 home our ‘trek’ started in early November 2017.   The very elderly owner of the other condo moved to assisted living, and with James and I having right of first refusal to buy, a smooth and fast transaction should have been the obvious conclusion.  We were certainly ready, akin to the pioneers.  They knew it was important to sell the wagon and get the schooner packed for the next day’s sunrise.  But as we were to learn all are not able to move at the speed of those earlier adventurers.  So today, July 31, 2019, we finally signed the paperwork for full and complete home ownership.

The fact is we started to turn this whole home into our own back in November 2017.  We hired a painter to handle the job of  high walls and a story-and-a-half ceiling in our entry way.  We brought in our electrician to install floor outlets to both the front and back entrances.  We ordered a thin and tall Christmas Tree, perfectly sized and lighted, for the main entrance to showcase the grand wooden staircase. Long-time residents of the neighborhood told us they could not recall when the home had the Victorian Holiday mood so welcoming from the front stoop.

My appreciation for history and old homes starts with my own childhood.  As a boy I knew a small portion of the ‘back basement’ in my family home had been constructed prior to the Civil War.  It always had the coolest temperatures downstairs and it was where the root vegetables were stored for months on end.  I was sent there to bring back potatoes or beets or a fall squash for supper.

Hancock, in my childhood, had always seemed so far removed from where exciting and momentous happenings had occurred.  No major historic event took place in my town that demands any recognition. But there were many personal histories, when patched together like a quilt, along with all the other families in all the other towns and villages nearby, which then created a narrative which makes for history.

When I grew as a teenager, and focused on that more inclusive way of thinking about history, what is termed ‘people’s history’, is when that 1853 portion of the basement meant something to me.  My dad’s great-grandparents, the Wood Family, built the house.  Some of the extended family fought in the Civil War, with one dying at the most horrific Andersonville prison camp.

Pictured below is that old portion of the basement being connected with for the last time in 2011.


The first history class for me was in the fourth grade.  It was all about Wisconsin.  Fur traders, explorers, and Shake Rag, a term that caught my imagination from the start.  Among the state notables introduced was James Doty.  There was no way for me to know that he would play a bit part in my life decades later.

Doty worked to have the isthmus land between Lakes Mendota and Monona become the state capital. He was a land speculator and keen political mover and shaker. Madison was declared the permanent capital in November 1836, with construction starting in 1837. All this was due to Doty’s continuous efforts.

Roughly a year ago James and I returned home from shopping to find a large thick legal sized envelope inside our front door.  Inside the package was the complete Abstract Of Title to this parcel of land where our home sits.  To say we were taken by surprise and deeply pleased would be a huge understatement.  That it was left by an anonymous person means that we have not been able to say thanks for something that is not only special, but historic.

James Doty owned our land as the first proprietor.  Yes, that makes for smiles and a slight tingle that any lover of history fully well understands.

Here is a page with the elegant script.  Note the dates!


The abstract tells the story, page after page, of this land where a family of harness makers will build a huge house, and the decades which follow.

When the settlers moved west they did so for many reasons.  Some sought adventure, or better means of making money, while still others were fleeing legal entanglements.  When James and I decided to buy the rest of this home it was to have a firm hand on the maintenance and upkeep needed for these old gems.  Homes like this one need advocates.

Over the years while living in this neighborhood I have not been shy about advocating for historic preservation.   My first concern was for the carriage stoops that street construction crews were literally destroying.


These stoops were placed for the convenience of ladies as they exited the carriages back in the time the old Victorian homes were first constructed and lived in.  I fell in love with these at first glance as they conjured up all the grandeur of days gone by.   Madison is blessed to have these physical reminders of our past.   With some verve, and a sense of purpose, I worked with our local alder and city council to make sure that no further damage will ever again be allowed to happen to these stoops in our city.   That same intensity of purpose will be used to ensure our home will have the care and respect which it deserves.  After all, it will be here long after I am gone.  I want others to feel and know it as I do, but that only happens with our caring for it now.

Over the years I have heard many talk about their home as an investment.  I fully grasp the financial grounding for such views.  But I differ substantially with such perspectives.

I grew up with parents who became home owners after World War II.  The home they bought was not new, in fact, it was old and needed lots of work.  Over the years many projects were completed, including one that allowed for my brother and me to have a new bedroom off on the side of the house.  I have often joked that my parents were even smart enough to time our births (11 years apart) so there was never a question my brother and I would have to share that room.  He moved out on his own just as I was needing, for the first time, to upgrade my living space.

For all the years I grew up in the family home there was never, not once, any word spoken about what that improvement,  or that addition, would do for the value of the house.  The value of any improvement was the day-to-day pleasures and conveniences it made for the family.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The family home where I grew up was not so different from all those in the community of my youth. Inside were the favorite places to tuck away to read, the family kitchen where everyone gathered no matter how many folks there were or how small the room might be, and the favorite window to watch the snow pile up or the rain to fall.  The home was a place to live and relax.  It was a place to ‘be’.

Yesterday afternoon James and I were talking as he abruptly said, “I will be right back”.  He took the measuring tape and soon came back with the dimensions for the window seat on the third floor.  The colors of the cushion and the pattern are just one of countless conversations which start as soon as our feet hit the floor in the morning until after the last light is off at night.

The American Dream has always been about expanding the place where one lives life.  Like the settlers heading west those many decades ago we too wanted a new horizon to look out upon.   We now have that opportunity.


Gun Violence Continues, And Continues, And…

The carnage from gun violence has made headlines over the past few days from Wisconsin to California to the streets of Chicago.  The weak-minded resort to their usual “thoughts and prayers” chant after the news reports of gun violence.   It was gut-wrenching to hear of a six-year-old being the victim of an assault weapon in the hands of a ‘regular American citizen who had the legal right to buy it’.

But the trite words are nauseating in the face of the facts.

The saying ‘thoughts and prayers’ has been co-opted by the gun lobby to keep the church from taking action so they can increase their profits,” Ms. Hollas, who was installed in her new role by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) earlier this month, said in a recent interview. “While all that we do as Christians should be rooted in worship and prayer, it should not stay there. It is like breathing — worship and prayer is the in-breath, and action is the out-breath.

Not for the first time do I argue for the facts and science to be again allowed as a basis for the nation when constructing gun laws.  The NRA has barred the collection of needed data about gun violence by buying and controlling too many members of congress.

The numbers of gun violence statistics are staggering.  136,000 Americans are harmed or killed annually by gun violence.   Roughly 40,000 of that total are in coffins each year in this nation due to the NRA arm-twisting the legislative process.

Worse, the death side of those numbers are growing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in an upward trend that began in 2015. While mass shootings in places like Parkland, Florida dominate headlines, people being shot and killed singly or by twos or threes, make up the bulk of the victims.

Lets be most clear.  Guns are a clear and present danger.  We have about 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the nation.  More than enough to put one in the hands of every man, woman and child.  That means we have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world.

And more angry people who showcase their volatility day by day.

Where I am heading here is the only logical conclusion that can be reached.  Gun violence must be viewed as a public health problem.   The impact it has on emergency services and medical facilitates is very real.  But to prevent more gun deaths means we need to have data on the tens of thousands who die each year from these weapons.  To make well designed gun control laws means we need to have the science behind the slaughters. Yet unlike other pressing health threats, Americans have few ideas about the most effective prevention strategies because there has been almost no large-scale research on the issue.

Congress must roll back the NRA-inspired restrictions on the data collection of gun violence.

Audio Of Supreme Court Oral Arguments Since 1955


You are now entering a nerd zone. 

I became aware of an online site which is most amazing.  Oyez is without doubt the best resource imaginable when it comes gathering information about the Supreme Court and members who have served on that august bench.

A joint project of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute and the Chicago-Kent College of Law, Oyez provides the audio for all Supreme Court oral arguments and opinion announcements available since the court’s recording system was installed in 1955, along with transcripts of those arguments synchronized to the audio.

So as one listens to the audio the transcript advances on the screen with the name of the speaker noted along with a yellow highlight over the paragraph being heard.

So very useful and also so very nicely presented.

Superb to the point that one not be a nerd to learn from it.  Those who seek to know more about the high court, and know more about certain cases have a treasure trove with this site.

Consider this 1957 case.

In this suit under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, a section foreman of a railroad was awarded damages for injuries sustained while operating a gasoline-powered motor track car pulling a hand car hauling material, tools, and equipment. Each car had only four wheels. The cars were fastened together by a pin, not a coupler. The motor track car had only hand brakes, and the hand car had no brakes. There was evidence that the accident resulted from want of adequate brakes for the use to which the cars were being put. The sole issue before this Court was whether such vehicles, when used in the manner here involved, are within the coverage of the Safety Appliance Acts.

Now hear the oral arguments via Oyez.

Trump Advisers Admit Playing To Racist White Males


By now you are aware that Donald Trump doubled down late Saturday on his attacks against Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, and even worse this weekend used awful language about his Baltimore congressional district.  The behavior from Trump is despicable.  One has to ask why Trump repeatedly makes such statements about African-American members of congress.

Well, we have part of the answer today.  From Trump’s own advisers.

Washington Post: The outburst also undercut efforts by many Republicans over the past two weeks to defend Trump and insist that his earlier attacks were based in ideology rather than race.

But Trump’s advisers had concluded after the previous tweets that the overall message sent by such attacks is good for the president among his political base — resonating strongly with the white working-class voters he needs to win reelection in 2020.

Why are we not shocked to read such an admission?  Because we already knew it to be true.

No one else, other than George Wallace, ever so overtly told this segment of America that their whining and resentments has the attention of a politician.   And no one other than Wallace has so effectively used the bullhorn of racism for his own partisan ends.  Trump uses the lower paid wage earners, and under-educated, by playing to their biases and racial fears.  He stokes their lack of understanding about international trade and their confusion about other cultures to make more money for his family.  That is what his entire presidency is about.  Meanwhile, the ones who so gleefully voted for Trump still do not have the job training they need or the means to attain the life they yearn for.

They will never be able to afford the high-price porn stars Trump gets cozy around.

And so it goes.

The World As Seen From Two Magazine Covers


Donald Trump Is The Rat, Editorial Board Writes In Major Newspaper

“Fox News rang the bell, the president salivated and his thumbs moved across his cell phone into action,” the Baltimore Sun’s editorial board says in a Sunday editorial titled “Better to have a few rats than to be one.”

No mincing of words in the newspaper editorial. And following what Trump said about an American city–as the one sitting in the Oval Office–means the words from the editorial board is perfectly stated.

It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream. President Trump bad-mouthed Baltimore in order to make a point that the border camps are “clean, efficient & well run,” which, of course, they are not — unless you are fine with all the overcrowding, squalor, cages and deprivation to be found in what the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector-general recently called “a ticking time bomb.”


“I Shall Distrust The Power Of The Press And Of Truth”

This July 4th I veered a bit in a selection of a book regarding the formative years of our country.  I usually enjoy a Joseph Ellis type author to read as the nation observes another birthday.  But this year I moved to the next generation of movers and shakers who continued on from where Jefferson, Adams, and my favorite, Hamilton had left off.  (Please note I was fond of Hamilton decades prior to Broadway’s interpretation.)

In fact, the title of the book said it all as to where I was headed.  Heirs Of The Founders by H. W.  Brands showcases the political giants who battled over a national bank, sectionalism, and the tariff.  I have heard Brands lecture on C-SPAN, and can state his writing style matches the pacing and energy he exhibited in front of an audience.    Union-minded Henry Clay, orator- extraordinaire Daniel Webster, and dark-hearted John Calhoun jump off the pages and start talking, allowing readers to have insight into how they arrived at their perspectives.  And, of course, how those thoughts and actions  impacted a nation.


I would highly recommend the book.  It is roughly 400 pages, but engaging in that while the history is known from our classes or other readings, it is the depth of the characters as they develop, chapter by chapter, that is so intriguing.  And in Calhoun’s case most troubling.

What drives these men to make their case, even when at times, their health is waning makes for a powerful climax to the story.

I was once again into the life and times of Henry Clay, which is not hard to fathom, as he has made it to this blog over a dozen times.  He was a prime example of experience, intellect, and skills that were never allowed to shine as president.  I have stated that history will place Clay alongside Hillary Clinton as the two most qualified individuals who came so close, and then missed having their mark on White House history.  

With the conclusion of Brands’ book, but still wishing to reside a while longer in those decades, I got a small ladder and selected from a top shelf  in the den Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter Borneman.   It is there that we now get to the headline for this post.

It is 1844 and a presidential election is in full steam towards an outcome that has much potential for the fate of Texas and the Union.

James Polk was the Democratic candidate and while being always in line with tariffs for revenue also had stated he wanted as low a tarriff as possible.  He did not like the use of tariffs for protecting certain businesses.  Clay, meanwhile, had been a full-throated advocate of tarriff policy.  But when Polk writes to a friend, the contents of the letter which lands in the press, it makes it appear that he is close to the tarriff position as Clay.

Which then allows for a response from Clay that made for a laugh while reading outside last evening.

Nothing has surprised me so much  as the attempt now making in Pennsylvania to represent M. Polk as the friend and myself as the foe of protection.  If it should succeed I shall distrust the power of the press and of truth.

I spend some time each day with a book about history.  There is always so much to learn, and as with the case of Polk, reason to smile as too often we see events repeating themselves.  Lets see who made the latest such statements akin to that from Polk…….



Russian Interference Not Concern Of Deplorables


Talk to the average Donald Trump supporter and it is news to them that United States intelligence forces concluded years ago that Russia worked mightily during the 2016 campaign to get Trump elected.  Just this week we have learned more news in this regard as the the Senate Intelligence Committee says Russia infiltrated at least one election system in each of the 50 states.  As noted by the committee in 21 states, the infiltration was significant.

This morning on WGN radio the topic was discussed. Illinois was impacted when Russian hackers successfully penetrating their voter registration database,  and accessed up to 200,000 voter registration records.  One should be mighty concerned they took voter registration data.

Meanwhile over at the Trump White House one might hear crickets if it not for the narcissistic ramblings. Disdainful of reason, and prepared to allow the nation to be harmed, Trump has never given a speech on Russian involvement in the 2016 election.  He can not call attention to the fact he was used by Putin, or honestly address that each state in our nation was targeted by Russian hackers working to elect him.

On the other side of the troubled Trump coin are his supporters who continually prove they are willing to sell the nation out for nothing more than a red hat with a slogan.  On issue after issue, and most galling this week given the focus on Russian interference, they have demonstrated a disdainful view of being educated.  They would not recognize reason and logic if it came wrapped in a Bud beer can rattling about in the back of a truck.  What Trump and his truly addled supporters are not aware of is that election security is an issue of patriotism.

They rant and scream at rallies about America, and those they feel are not American enough.  But when asked to show their true colors this collective band of misfits have no concern or knowledge about the need to protect the very integrity of American democracy from Russian interference. That is due to so many in the base of Trump’s support not having any sense of history or civics.  The demographics that political scientists are using to understand this current phenomenon are most telling when it comes to levels of education.

What many experts in cybersecurity worry about at 3:00 A.M., when not being able to sleep, is the real threat that Russian hackers will be able to more capably interfere with the 2020 election.   This week those fears were underscored when Robert Mueller in his congressional testimony stated that Russia is “absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.”

The news this week about Russia and our elections is another gut punch. Therefore. hearing that Republicans in the senate have twice, in 24 hours this week, blocked the advancement of bills aimed at strengthening election security should almost set your hair on fire. Two of those bills would require campaigns to report to federal authorities any attempts by foreign entities to interfere in US elections, and the third is aimed at protecting from hackers the personal accounts and devices of senators and some staffers.

Clearly partisan measures!  Right?

Would you believe that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to personally object to the measures!  He labeled them partisan.

Can you imagine President Reagan, upon learning that United States intelligence forces concluded years ago that Russia worked mightily during the 2016 campaign, to not support strong measures to remedy the problem?  Can you imagine Reagan allowing a  nicotine stained majority leader preventing legislation for election security from Russian interference from moving forward?

What we have in this nation is Trump who has never accepted the intelligence community’s forceful conclusions about Russia’s threat to our democracy.  He has instead embraced Putin and even joked with him about Russia’s election meddling.  Trump has stated on the record he’d absolutely accept derogatory information from a foreign enemy about a political opponent.  Furthermore, he said he would not tell the FBI should it happen.

In 2016 Trump and his supporters were labeled as deplorables.  That term was criticized by some conservatives and Trump himself.  But, pray tell, what other word. that is family friendly, would this group be called other than deplorables?  After watching just this week regarding Russian interference, and how Trump and his ilk have responded, what else could we possibly say about them?

They have shown their colors.  And their IQ.  (Again.)