New Jewelry for Peregrine Falcons

I work one day a week at the US Bank Building in La Crosse, which has a nesting box for peregrine falcons. There is now a camera in the box, and the image from that camera is on a screen in the building’s lobby…

Two newly hatched peregrine falcons in a nesting box mounted to the top of the US Bank Building in downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin, are visible on a live display in the bank lobby.

Seeing the new baby falcons reminded us that we had some video of the banding of an earlier hatching of falcons that took place a few years back. This motivated us to edit the video we shot that day, and it’s finally “in the can”…

A Bite Out of the Sun


It’s rare enough to see a partial solar eclipse, but to have it happening during sunset is a photo-opportunity that can’t be passed up…

A partially eclipsed sun peeks below the cloud layer before setting over the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin on May 20, 2012

It was cloudy all day today. I made a special trip to Riverside Park in La Crosse not knowing whether I’d ever see the setting sun. It appeared from behind the cloud bank just as I arrived, then sank below the horizon five minutes later, but not before I managed to capture this image.

Scott Walker Must be Fired for Fraud

One week before he was elected governor, Scott Walker told the editorial board of the Oshkosh Northwestern that he was willing to work with unions and to listen to any ideas they had to save money. In general, Walker presented himself as a reasonable and collegial manager.

After the election, he told a billionaire donor of his plans to bust public employee unions as part of a “divide and conquer” strategy. This governor turned out to be the polar opposite of what he advertised himself to be. We all have friends, neighbors and family members who were directly hurt by Walker’s divisive and mean-spirited agenda.

For those who say that recalls should be reserved for cases of criminal behavior, I answer with one word: Fraud. Just as a worker would be fired for lying on a resume, the people of Wisconsin must fire Scott Walker for the frauds he committed to get elected.

Walker’s rich out-of-state cronies are dumping planeloads of money into our airwaves, mailboxes, and telephones to deliver their next round of lies. Voters must not be fooled by these expensive packages of deception, but I trust we are smart enough to recognize that gold-plated bullslop is still bullslop.

The people of Wisconsin made a major collective mistake in November 2010. Those who regret voting for Walker (or not voting at all) in that election can redeem themselves on June 5 by electing Tom Barrett as governor and Mahlon Mitchell as lieutenant governor.

Praise the Hoodie!

I’ve worn a “hoodie” as long as I can remember… I can remember my mother dressing me in a little hoodie (we called it a “sweatshirt”) back in the days when Eisenhower was president.

Obbie wears his favorite blue hoodie in 1995.

A hoodie is a great article of clothing for spring and fall… a heavy layer of cotton to keep warm, but not too heavy to carry when the weather warms up. If the sun goes away or the wind picks up, the hood pulls up over the head and draw strings tighten it up for extra warmth. There’s a big “kangaroo” pouch on the front, perfect for inserting cold hands (which rarely happened in my case, as my hands were usually busy with stuff like baseballs or basketballs).

Somewhere along the line, the hooded sweatshirt quit being a utilitarian piece of cool-weather clothing and became a fashion statement. We have friends that have been in the tie-dye business for many years, and they tell us that hoodies are now among their most popular items. Function has become fashion.

But now right-whinge blowhards are demonizing hoodies, saying that a 17-year-old kid walking home from the convenience store got shot and killed because he was wearing a hoodie. If these gutter-dwellers are to be believed, the hoodie is so threatening that if you wear one, a crazy yahoo with a gun can be forgiven for shooting you dead.

Obbie makes a fashion statement with a “threatening” backwards baseball cap in 1994.

That’s the same “blame the victim” BS that forgives the rapist for attacking a woman with a short skirt. In reality, this “logic” is a way of obfuscating racism, since the hoodie is only “threatening” if a black person is wearing it, just as a backwards baseball cap was deemed “threatening” a few years back.

If we’re going to criminalize a clothing style, lets start with suits. After all, it was (mostly) white guys in suits who ripped off our country to the tune of trillions of dollars over the past few years.

In the meantime, it’s a nice sunny day, so I should do something outside. But it’s kinda cool, so I’m gonna wear my blue hoodie.

“Creating Jobs” is the Wrong Reason

There’s an illogical argument consistently used to support big projects. I hear it in support of projects I’m against, but I’m equally uncomfortable with its use in favor of projects I support. It’s the argument that a project will “create jobs.”

Any endeavor must be evaluated based on whether the result will enhance our lives and improve our world. Once we decide to do something, then we find the workers to complete the project. I’m not denying that many people need more work (I’m one of those people). But at times like these we must ask, “What is the best way to deploy this idle workforce?”

Let’s look at an extreme example of the “create jobs” argument: War creates jobs. There are jobs building tanks, planes, guns, bullets and bombs; and jobs operating the machinery and firing the guns. But the end result is that a lot of the stuff we built gets blown up, and a large part of our population comes home emotionally and physically crippled (if  at all). “Creating jobs” is not a reason to start a war.

Before we blindly “create jobs”, we should make sure the product of those jobs will make our world a better place. Then we can offer our citizens work that is worthy of their efforts, and that produces results they can point to with pride and accomplishment and say, “I helped build that.”

Can We Say “Twenty” Now?

It made sense  to pronounce the year 2000 as “two thousand”. 2009 made sense as “two thousand nine”. But I think starting in 2010, it was time to start saying “twenty-ten”, even though the media has been saying “two thousand eleven” for 2011.

Apparently, just as the print media has style books to dictate the “rules” of word usage, capitalization and so forth (AP and New York Times style books come to mind); the broadcast industry has a style book that dictates 2011 be read as “two thousand eleven”.

Well, we think it’s time to end this “two thousand” nonsense. Too much time is being wasted pronouncing and hearing all these unnecessary syllables. 2012 is a fine time to start saying “twenty-twelve”.

So Happy New Year everybody. Let’s hope that twenty-twelve is much better than twenty-eleven.

Meet Gizmo – Our Newest Family Member

Gizmo is a three-year-old kitten who joined our household this week.

While many other people got gadgets for Christmas this year, we got Gizmo. He’s a small white shorthaired cat with a solid black tail and big black spots on his back and the top of his head. He has almond-shaped eyes titled at an angle to his pink nose that gives his face an Asian look. He is quite agile, so he can navigate the forest of knick-knacks and gewgaws in our house without knocking too many things over.

His job is to evict and/or eat any rodent that trespasses in our house. As a bonus, he supplies us with endless amusement and kitty cuddles, and we are generous enough to supply him with human cuddles in return.

We met Gizmo at a local pet store that was providing space for Tabby Town (a no-kill shelter nearby) to display cats available for adoption. We got to handle and “meet” the kitties that interested us, and Gizmo was determined to be Our Cat. That was Saturday (Dec. 17), and we made arrangements to have him brought to our house the following Wednesday.

Since then, Gizmo has lived up to Tabby Town’s descriptions:

“sweet and gentle, tried & true”
“You’ll love his antics when he wants attention”
“very playful”

He likes to chase the red dot from our laser pointer, and a little toy mouse tied to a string. A few minutes of play – a couple times a day – seems to wear him out enough that he sleeps the rest of the day. When he wants attention, he sticks his face right into yours.

Gizmo is a complete clown of a cat, the spirit of a kitten in an adult cat’s body, and we love him to death already.

Havel, Hitchens and Kim at the Pearly Gates

I don’t literally believe the myth about St. Peter and the “pearly gates”, but it provides a useful metaphor for the passage we will all make one day from this world to the next one.

After all, the Pearly Gates are a busy place, so there must be a very long line of people waiting for their turn to negotiate with St. Peter for admission to Paradise. I’ve stood in enough long lines in my time on this Planet to know that time is often filled by memorable encounters and conversations with those near our position in the line. (For our international readers, we Americans say “line” instead of “queue”.)

So when the passings of prominent figures are clumped together on the time line, I imagine these prominent figures waiting in line together at the Pearly Gates. Last weekend, three big names dropped off the Roster of the Living simultaneously.

Vaclav Havel was a creative dissident playwright who led the Velvet Revolution that freed Czechoslovakia from authoritarian rule. Christopher Hitchens was also an articulate writer who opposed the Vietnam War but advocated the Iraq invasion, and who was an evangelical atheist until his last breath. Kim Jong Il was a pathetic tyrant who was completely full of himself. (A hole in one on his first swing of a golf club? Give me a break.)

What would these three have to say to each other while they wait in line? Would Havel and Hitchens debate over the existence of God? Would Kim insist that he was God? I’d like to think that the other two would want to kill Kim, but they’re all already dead.

Comedy writers, there’s a lot of fun to be had with this scenario. If you have an idea of what’s happening in this scene, let us know in the comments below.

How Much is Enough? The Case for a Maximum Wage

We keep reading about corporate big-wigs, banksters, and other assorted riff-raff who collect annual salaries in the hundreds of millions of dollars. $100 million/year is $2 million/week, $400,000/day, or $50,000/hour. At that wage, I could work for an hour and take the next year or two off, or I could work for a week and retire for life on $100K/year ($2 mil at 5%, do the math).

Two questions: 1) How can any one person deserve that much money? 2) What can one possibly do with that much money? Does a $10 million bankster crash the economy only one-tenth as hard as a $100 million bankster? If the $10 million CEO gets a raise to $100 million, does his life instantly become ten times as awesome? I submit that the answer to both those questions is “no.”

One doesn’t need to spend much time reading gossip columns or celebrity biographies to know that the wealthy harbor the same pain and struggles that the rest of us do (and in many cases, far more so). So more money does not make life more awesome.

At the other end of the income spectrum, a little bit of money makes a big difference. It means bills get paid, creditors back off, kids get fed, houses get fixed, and life gets much more awesome. Looking farther up the ladder, houses get nicer, and people buy lots of stuff.

But at a certain point, the house is so big you only use a corner of it, they don’t make cars more expensive than the ones you already have, and you’ve already bought anything you would ever want, so what’s the point of making more money?

We have a minimum wage because to ask someone to work for a wage at which it’s impossible to make a living is oppressive. We need a maximum wage because for an individual to demand more wealth than he/she can possibly use is greedy.

So what should be the maximum wage? And how do we define and enforce it?

Back in the 1950’s, we had a 91% tax rate on annual income over $3.2 million (in today’s dollars). History (and people like my parents) remember this as a prosperous time. Most people don’t like paying taxes, so if rich people made “too much” money they would avoid taxes by paying their workers higher wages, investing in more equipment for their businesses, donating money to charities, and generally feeding that extra money back into their communities until their income dropped out of the top bracket.

Since then, short-sighted corporate stooges have taken over government and dramatically cut taxes on these rich people. So now instead of sharing the excess wealth with their communities, they are hoarding it in tax shelters and offshore accounts. Instead of hiring more people for better wages, they are closing domestic factories and replacing them with cheap contract labor in the third world.

So we can implement a maximum wage by setting a 99% tax rate for all income above that defined level. And by all income, I mean all income: interest, capital gains, rent, inheritances… everything must be taxed as regular income.

I propose that the maximum wage be tied to the minimum wage. Right now the minimum wage is $7.50/hour. (Set aside the issue that this is a pathetic wage. It should be much higher… $10-15/hour would be a good start.) So the formula could be, “The annual maximum wage is one million times the hourly minimum wage.” That way, the maximum wage would be $7.5 million/year, and it could only be raised by raising the minimum wage. The rich don’t get a raise unless the poor get the same raise (in percentage terms).

Excessive income above the maximum wage will go to 1) charities, 2) reinvestment in businesses and higher wages for employees, or 3) taxes that the government can use to hire people (at decent wages) to build stuff. Either way, the money is “in play” in the community doing good things, rather than gathering dust in a vault in the Cayman Islands.

They’re Not Bongos

I’ve heard many commentators refer to the “bongo drums” at the various Occupy Wall Street actions, and it kind of annoys me, mainly because it’s inaccurate. The term is mainly used to belittle and ridicule the occupations, but I’ve heard it used by people on “our side” who should know better. The most appropriate term to use would be “hand drums.”

Many years ago, I built a website for a maker of hand drums. (I won’t link to his site, as I was never fully paid for it, but that’s another story.) In the process I learned a lot about hand drums, and what all the variations of hand drums are properly called.

The most common drum you’ll find in public drum circles is the conga. Check out this picture from the Washington Post web site…

At the Wall Street Occupation in New York, drummers play congas and large tom-toms. (Image from Washington Post)

In this picture, we see (from right to left) a red conga, a blue conga, a snare drum behind it, a blue floor tom (another “kit” drum), a red conga, a tan conga, and an improvised steel drum. No bongos.

These women and their djembe drums were at an occupy rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (photo by a right-wing blogger)

This picture was posted for ridicule by a right-wing blogger from South Carolina who infiltrated the local occupy rally to gather fodder for his mean-spirited rants. He prefaced this picture with, “they even had bongos.”

No, they’re djembes. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

THIS is a set of bongos.

Bongos are indoor drums. They are small… far too small to be heard in the midst of dozens of congas, djembes, floor toms, snares, and hundreds of dancing and howling revellers; so they are rare in large public gatherings of drummers.

A bongo player struggles to be heard at a march in New York. (photo by Scott Lynch, "Scoboco" on Flickr)

The only place I could find a picture of a bongo player at Occupy Wall Street was from somebody’s Flickr stream, and this guy looks like he’s working really hard to be heard above the ambient noise of downtown Manhattan.