Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Visit to Bill's Birthplace in Hope Arkansas

Just before midnight Mountain Standard Time on November 3, 1992, I was laying in my bed in the Doubletree Hotel on Union Boulevard in Denver when news was flashed on the television screen announcing that Bill Clinton had become the 42nd President of the United States.  I leaped out of bed and danced around my room, screaming and hollering.  I opened two bottles of beer, shook them, and then sprayed them all over the room! 

Soon there was a knock on my door and on opening it I found hotel security standing there with a rather stern look on his face.  Asking me what was going on I told him “Bill was elected!!! Twelve years of tyranny against the earth is now officially over!!!”  The security guard smiled and said “I’m excited too but just try to hold it down a bit will you?”

Bill Clinton's first white house was this tiny one in Hope Arkansas

Bill Clinton was born in a tiny house near the intersection of two major roads (for Hope Arkansas at least they are major) by the railroad tracks in Hope Arkansas.  From those humble beginnings he moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas about 90 minutes away where he attended and graduated from high school.  After college and a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford and then Yale Law school he taught at the University of Arkansas, got into politics, was elected Governor of Arkansas four times, then elected President of the United States, and left office on one of the saddest days of my life. 

While Bill was in office he enjoyed some major accomplishments summarized by the National Archives and Records Administration including these documentable facts:

Longest economic expansion in American history

Highest homeownership in American history

Lowest unemployment in 30 years

Raised education standards, increased school choice, and doubled education and training investment

Largest expansion of college opportunity since the GI Bill

Connected 95 percent of schools to the Internet

Lowest crime rate in 26 years

100,000 more police for our streets

Enacted most sweeping gun safety legislation in a generation

Family and Medical Leave Act for 20 million Americans

Smallest welfare rolls in 32 years

Higher incomes at all levels
Lowest poverty rate in 20 years

Lowest teen birth rate in 60 years

Lowest infant mortality rate in American history

Deactivated more than 1,700 nuclear warheads from the former Soviet Union

Protected millions of acres of American land

Converted the largest budget deficit in American history to the largest surplus

Lowest government spending in three decades

Lowest federal income tax burden in 35 years

More families own stock than ever before

Most diverse cabinet in American history

When Bill left office the nation 1) had a multi-billion dollar (>500 billion in fact) budget surplus, 2) had not been lied into a war with Iraq, and 3) was adored by 85 percent of the world’s population. Those are all things his predecessor could never claim.

Those accomplishments and his humble beginnings are memorialized at the President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site in Hope, Arkansas.  This NHS, the 394th unit of the National Park Service system was the 393rd unit I have visited.

The National Historic Site consists of two buildings.  First the visitor center set in a brick building with a spacious back yard and next to it the small white house that was the first White House he lived in.  Dioramas and other educational materials in the visitor center tell the story of his life in Hope and in Hot Springs and his eventual movement through the ranks to be one of the best Presidents in the 20th Century. 

I visited the site on April 13, 2014, on a blustery Sunday morning with storm clouds hanging ominously in the western sky.  After obtaining my NPS passport stamp for the site I had a nice chat with the NPS employee working that morning who filled in a lot of missing bits of information I thought I had about Bill Clinton.  From the Visitor Center I followed a small path to the white house (not open for entry) and then hung out in the back yard trying to imagine him darting around being a typical little kid there. 

Because of the relative newness of the National Historic Site the amount of information about him is meager in comparison to most other NPS sites.  However there is a super abundance of information about him at the Clinton Presidential library along the Arkansas River in Little Rock.  I jokingly asked the NPS employee if Bill ever stops by his National Historic Site and was informed that he does not.  That is unfortunate because Jimmy Carter regularly shows up at his National Historic Site in Plains Georgia.  The NPS employee chuckled and said “He’s probably too busy out trying to save the rest of the world to stop by to see us.”

The Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas is the only airport in America named after a former and a future United States President

After about 30 minutes at the National Historic Site I left Hope and made my way back to the Little Rock airport only 120 miles away.  On driving into the airport I noticed the large sign announcing its presence and on looking at it noted what I hope is an omen.  The Little Rock airport is named the “Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.”  That makes it the only airport in the United States named after a former and a future United States President.  That’s just more hope coming from Hope Arkansas.

Every American Should Visit Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

The United States Supreme Court, in its landmark decision in Brown vs Board of Education in 1954 mandated that public schools in the country could not be segregated.  It all gets back to the “separate but equal” clause in the often-trampled Constitution.   Despite word from the Supremes that segregation was no longer to be tolerated, knuckle-dragging Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus decided (over the disagreement of the Little Rock School Board) that Little Rock Central High School would not be integrated after nine black students registered for classes there in 1957. 

When the nine black students attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School (which was their right according to the Supremes) Governor Faubus activated the National Guard and made them block the school entrance to keep the black students out.  An outraged President Dwight D. Eisenhower (the last real Republican to be President) Federalized the National Guard and suddenly those same guardsmen who were keeping the students out of the school were protecting them as they tried to enter.

An oft-forgotten amendment to the US Constitution

In a response reminiscent of the protesters at the Democratic Convention in Chicago chanting “The whole world’s watching” the entire world was focused on the events unfolding in Little Rock.  Arkansas became the epitome of state resistance when the governor, Orval Faubus, directly questioned the authority of the federal court system and the validity of desegregation. The crisis at Little Rock's Central High School was the first fundamental test of the national resolve to enforce black civil rights in the face of massive resistance during the years following the Brown decision. As to whether Eisenhower's specific actions to enforce integration violated the Posse Comitatus Act, the Supreme Court, in Cooper v. Aaron (1958), indirectly affirmed the legality of his conduct, which was never, though, expressly reviewed.

In 1958, federal Judge Jesse Smith Henley of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, stating that integration had "broken down under the pressure of public opinion," suspended operation of the federal integration order until the 1960-61 school term. The school board said that it had faced large fees and could not afford to hire security guards to keep the peace in school.

The words of one of the Little Rock Nine

Eventually Little Rock Central High School along with every other public school in the country was integrated and for the most part the plan continues to work.  The Congress established the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, located directly across the street from the actual high school, to memorialize that historically important event.  I visited the National Historic Site the first time on May 20, 2000, when the visitor center was in an old (now preserved) Mobil gas station across the street from the school.  I returned on April 11, 2014 to a much improved and expanded visitor center at the corner of 14th and Cumberland near downtown Little Rock.

In typical National Park Service fashion they have produced a superb site for educating the public about the events of those long ago days.  Several dioramas are in place telling stories of the Little Rock Nine, there is a constantly running news clip from the day Eisenhower Federalized the National Guard, and there are reminders all over the building of how horribly white people treated (and often today continue to treat) black people.

One of many photos available in the National Historic Site that tell the story of that horrible period in American history. Although this little Hitler youth's sentiment is largely overshadowed today it is unfortunately not behind us. Places like the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site are excellent places to help bury that sentiment forever.

I spent about an hour at the National Historic Site before heading out to visit some National Wildlife Refuges in Arkansas.  As I departed I said to the person at the front desk that “everyone in this country needs to visit this site.”  And everyone in this country does.  

Perhaps if more people were slapped in the face with the reality of how black people were treated there wouldn’t be so much outward anger and hatred directed at folks who, just like white people, bleed red when our skin is cut.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Unsportsmanlike Conduct of Jesus Montero of the Palm Beach Cardinals

Jesus Montero, the hot-headed catcher for the Palm Beach Cardinals in the Florida State League seems to have a little bit of an issue with not only plate discipline but also personal discipline.  The following is an email I sent today to the general manager of the Palm Beach Cardinals and to the President of the Florida State League regarding the unsportsmanlike conduct of Jesus.  I wanted to send it to the St. Louis Cardinals Director of Player Development but couldn't find his email address.  I sent it to him by snail mail instead.  I have now christened Jesus as "Peroito" - or "my little lap dog" and Sanguineo" which means "quick tempered" or "the hot head" for the remainder of his tenure in a Palm Beach Cardinals uniform.  Jesus is a very slow learner.

April 9, 2014

Dear General Manager of the Palm Beach Cardinals

In case you weren't aware before you have a little issue that needs to be dealt with on the roster of the Palm Beach Cardinals.  Jesus Montero, the Palm Beach Cardinals catcher is in need of a little counseling and perhaps a good ass chewing.

In a game with the Bradenton Marauders on August 14, 2013, Mr. Montero stopped his activities and gave me the finger essentially saying "fuck you" to me as I heckled him from behind home plate at McKechnie Field. My heckling of the opposition was no different than it was for any other visiting player.  

In reviewing notes on Palm Beach players before last night's April 8 2014 game between the Cardinals and Marauders I discovered a notation about Montero giving me the finger last year.  This led to immediate reminders of that incident each time Montero came to bat last night.  In the 6th inning of last night's game, after Montero made a mistake behind home plate, he turned around and mouthed the words "Fuck You" to me.   Then later, in the 9th inning when Montero was at bat he received more than the usual amount of attention from me and my colleague Dave Hilsheimer.  When Montero struck out and Hilsheimer did his now-famous march back to the dugout, Montero turned around and in front of the entire crowd gave us the finger again!  His actions were obvious enough that nearly the entire stadium responded when they saw him.  Not only does this reflect badly on Montero and demonstrate his lack of maturity, it also reflects negatively on the Palm Beach and St. Louis organizations.

Heckling is as much a part of the game as is throwing strikes or hitting a home run. And if players at this level (Advanced A) can't handle a little verbal distraction by two retirees in the stands behind home plate, they will never survive a place like the stadiums and fans in Philadelphia or New York.  Montero's repeated use of giving opposing fans the finger on top of him openly and obviously mouthing the words "fuck you" to a fan he doesn't like suggests to me that he is not mature enough to be allowed on a professional baseballl field.  

What is Montero going to do with the next fan he doesn't like?  Will the Palm Beach Cardinals pay for his legal defense if he comes off the field and shoves a knife into a fan who pestered him?  We live in a state where everyone and their brother carries a gun and where shooting someone and claiming you were standing your ground is almost an art form. What will the Cardinals do if this little hot head shoots someone who pesters him between innings?

For me personally I love the fact that Mr. Montero is so easily flummoxed on the field and if he thinks giving fans the finger is going to stop us from heckling he is completely misinformed.  In fact Montero's actions last night only served to earn him more unwanted attention and at a louder, more personal level.  Bottom line from this, however, is that the Palm Beach Cardinals and the St Louis Cardinals organization have a walking powder keg on their hands with Mr. Montero. If you take no action on reprimanding Montero for his unsportsmanlike behavior and he ultimately harms a fan he doesn't like, then both Palm Beach and St. Louis can never say "we had no idea" because now you do.

I wanted to include the St. Louis Cardinals director of player development on this email but couldn't find his email address.  I will copy the email and mail it to him instead.

Craig Faanes

Monday, April 7, 2014

Why Isn't Earth Day a National Holiday?

Earth Day is Tuesday April 22. On the first Earth Day in 1970 the Cuyahoga River was on fire as it flowed through downtown Cleveland on its way to Lake Erie. 

The cornucopia of unregulated pollutants being dumped into the Cuyahoga River at Cleveland caused the river to burn as it flowed into Lake Erie 

Today after passage of the Water Pollution Control Act aka Clean Water Act and other protections we have salmon spawning in the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland.

The Cuyahoga River near downtown Cleveland today looks like it belongs in the wilds of northern Wisconsin - and it has lake-run salmon spawning in it each spring

Protection of Mother Earth is celebrated one day each year (shouldn't we celebrate our real mother everyday?) in April. Given the importance of clean water to drink and clean air to breathe and wild areas to get in touch with ourselves again I think Earth Day should be a National holiday. Columbus Day is and Chris never stepped foot on what is now the United States.

Shouldn't the giver of all life - the Earth - rank higher in priority than an Italian sailor who was looking for spices for the King and Queen of Spain when he landed on Grand Turk island in the West Indies?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

When Rice Lake Beat Montello in Chicken Judging

The Rice Lake (Wisconsin) Future Farmers of America program was a powerhouse among Wisconsin chapters in the late 1960s.  This was due in whole and in part to Donald Triebensee our teacher and chapter advisor.  Don was a great teacher and a great man on top of being a great inspiration to many.  He always strived for excellence in his students even when some of us (like me) were major league goof offs.

One of the things Don had us actively involved with was the various statewide judging contests.  We kicked ass and took no prisoners when it came to Meat Animal Judging (beef cattle, sheep, swine) (State Champions in 1968), and Dairy Cattle Judging (State Champions in 1968) on the University of Wisconsin Madison campus. There was some other contest we won on the University of Wisconsin – River Falls campus. A couple years later it would have been a beer drinking contest but right now I can’t remember now what it was.  For some unexplained reason we simply could not get it when it came to Soil Judging (last place 1968, 1969) but give us a living breathing animal and we’d correctly judge it 99 times out of 99.

Forty five years ago this month, April 1969, just a few weeks before the Rice Lake Senior High School Class of 1969 was unleashed on an unsuspecting world (our unofficial class motto was “Booze, Broads, Butts, Wine – We’re the Class of Sixty NINE!”) the Wisconsin FFA association held its annual Poultry and Egg judging contest on the campus of the incomparable University of Wisconsin campus in Madison.  Rice Lake had participated in this judging contest in the past but had never fared well.  In those days Montello High School in Marquette County (north northeast of Madison) always won the Poultry and Egg contest – nobody ever came close. Still that did not dissuade Don Triebensee from putting together a team and giving it a shot.

The 1969 team was made up of three seniors and on Thursday before the contest the following Monday (four days earlier) it was determined that two of them could not make the trip (for whatever reason I cannot remember now).  That left one senior on the team and two others were desperately needed or Rice Lake would not field a team.

For whatever reason with just a couple days to go before the contest, Don Triebensee almost begged FFA Chapter President Dave Bollman and me to be on the team.  At the time about all I knew of chickens was that 1) everything tastes like them including chicken, 2) they get run over while trying to cross to the other side of a road, and 3) my mom could burn eggs while frying them almost as easily as she could burn everything else.  However Mr. Triebensee was desperate and I couldn’t turn him down so I said yes.  If nothing else we would get a free trip down to Madison where we could ogle college girls recently emerged from a winter of long pants, sweaters, and over coats as they sunned themselves on the shores of Lake Mendota. 

With little time and even less chance of winning, Mr. Triebensee gave us several books to read and said he had made arrangements with the Uchytil Egg Farm in Haugen to teach us what they could about chickens and eggs.  By this stage in our lives, we were far from proficient at feeling up girls in the Class of 1969 but that didn't stop us from wanting to learn how to feel up a chicken or how to candle an egg to determine its quality.  Uchytil’s had offered to give us that essential training and we were to be at the egg farm at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.  The three of us spent almost all day Saturday at Uchytil’s learning the ins and outs of chicken feeling up. 

Among other essentials we learned that if you could place three fingers in the space between the pubic bone of a chicken then they were in prime egg laying condition (life later taught us that it worked that way with human females also but we didn’t know that then).  If only one or two fingers fit in the pubic bone socket then she was not in good condition.

We learned how to tell the health of a chicken by feeling for its breast bone (another technique readily and eagerly transferable to the girls in the Class of 1969).  If the breast bone stuck out above the level of the breast meat then the chicken was undernourished and not in good condition.  However if you felt her breast and there was lots of flesh there and little bone then she was in great shape (I tried that technique later that night on a girl in our class and was amazed how similar were the results).

We also learned how to candle an egg.  Place an egg with the small end against a light source and judge how much air space existed in the end of the egg.  If there was very little airspace then the egg was fresh and of good quality.  If a lot of airspace was present then the egg and its quality were questionable and that egg would get a lower ranking.  We later tried to figure out how to transfer this bit of knowledge to the girls in the Class of 1969 but never made the connection.  However we were ready if the opportunity arose.

A candled egg showing the airspace

After spending a full day in a crash course in Chicken Feeling Up 101 at Uchytil’s farm in Haugen we returned home, milked cows, packed our bags and prepared ourselves for the four hour drive the next day down to Madison.

A trip to Madison was a major thing in those days.  A year previously, on the same weekend that Martin Luther King was assassinated, we were in Madison for the State Meat Animal judging contest.  The most memorable thing about that trip was watching Greg Rindsig, who was as skinny as a rail, wolf down 7 McDonald’s cheeseburgers, 4 packets of McDonald’s French fries, and 3 McDonald’s chocolate shakes in one setting in a Mickey D’s on US 151 on the east side of Madison.  Greg wasn’t with us in 1969 since he graduated the year before so we just relied on ogling college girls sunbathing on the lake shore.

Monday morning dawned crystal clear on the campus of the venerable University of Wisconsin (“Fuck em Bucky!”).  Mr Triebensee took us out to Camp Randall Stadium after breakfast just to look around.  Camp Randall is where the Badgers play football. It is the second most hallowed ground in the entire Cheesehead State – only Lambeau Field where the Packers play in Green Bay is held in higher reverence among Cheeseheads than is Camp Randall Stadium.

Bucky on the hallowed ground of Camp Randall Stadium

After an invigorating visit to the cathedral known as Camp Randall, and with one entire day of knowledge of chicken feeling up under our belts, we three intrepid seniors showed up on the College of Agriculture of the Madison campus where we did battle with the chicken goliath’s from Montello and 28 other high schools.  Team members were separated from each other and despite each participant feeling up the same chickens, no team members were allowed to be near the same chicken at the same time, ostensibly, I guess to reduce the chance for passing notes on chicken tits and their fullness to team members.  The same was true for the eggs we candled – we were in this alone. 

At the end of the contest the total scores for each team member were tallied and a cumulative score was awarded to each of the 30 teams involved in the contest.  As we waited for the judges to make their determinations we anticipated just how badly Montello had wiped the floor with us and everyone else.

However that was not the story today.  Nope.  When all the score cards were graded and all of the team numbers combined the Rice Lake FFA team had 2 more points than the perennial favorite Montello FFA team.  We beat the goliath of chicken feeling up. Not only were the Montello team players livid, their advisor/teacher was close to having a stroke.  Unable to believe his team had been defeated he demanded a recount during which it was determined that a mistake had been made. Rice Lake actually won by 3 points over Montello to become the undisputed Poultry feeling up and Egg judging champions of the Cheesehead state in 1969.

When we accepted the trophy later that afternoon we were told this was the first time in something like ten years that Montello did not win the contest.  A few minutes later we all piled into Don Triebensee’s car and sped north with the trophy in our hands.  To this day we never told Montello that they were beaten by three kids who didn’t know a chicken from a chinchilla three days earlier.