Whatever I'm Thinking

Keep Calm and Look Far


August 16, 2017

Keep calm and look far.  

Such a grand vista. A long, straight, gently undulating highway, traversing seemingly endless beaver ponds and pastures to join the far horizon below a boundlessly pleasant summer sky. 

The American prairie makes us look far.

Gazing ahead you foresee a great drive, maybe in a car or on a bicycle.

But suppose you were all alone and badly injured and had to crawl this road instead of driving it. Would you be able to keep calm, keep your head down, pull yourself elbow over elbow again and again until you’ve met the distant horizon, not knowing how far that might be?

Long ago a man did just that. He was a fur trapper and mountain man. The locals remember him to this day.

This is Bison, South Dakota, population 333.


Here are some of the principal town establishments:  The Bison Bar, County Title office…

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…the Bison Community Center, American Legion Post 255, the Bison Senior Citizens center. Structures (and people) are plain yet sturdy, built to withstand the strong winds and heavy snows of the Northern Plains.

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The Jack and Jill grocery store dominates local commerce. I walked in at 10:00 on a Wednesday morning and noticed a handwritten sign posted on the front door. It said simply:

“We will be closed from 10:45 to 12:30 for the funeral.”

Whose funeral? Someone from the store? A prominent man-about-town? Who?

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The sign didn’t say. Apparently it didn’t have to; if you live in town you would already know. They say that in small towns everyone knows your business. That may be true, but on the other hand everyone misses you when you’re gone.

The Perkins County Courthouse occupies a prominent corner block on Bison’s Main Street.  Perkins County boasts a total population of 2,982.  Donald Trump won 83% of the vote here in 2016. Pretty good for a New Yorker.


Bison High School:  “Home of the Cardinals” — because the “Bison Buffaloes” would invite derision. While school mascot names are fun, the obelisk in front of the school teaches a serious lesson.

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This is a monument to mountain man Hugh Glass, whom I mentioned at the beginning.

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Here’s the text of the monument:

Hugh Glass. Hunter with Ashley’s fur traders, mauled by a grizzly bear while camping at the forks of Grand River north of Bison in 1823. Left for dead, he survived, crawled south between present towns of Bison and Meadow, hiding from Indians by day, to Fort Kiowa 150 miles away.  Dr. John Neihardt tells the tale in “The Song of Hugh Glass.”

Keep calm and look far. Hugh Glass reached his destination after crawling on his elbows for 150 miles. If we must, we can do the same.

These are tumultuous times. Yet like Hugh Glass we cannot stop here to re-suffer the past. America still has great places ahead of us and great achievements to offer mankind if we keep a level head “with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right.” Keep calm and look far — persistence will conquer distance.


(Note: Since visiting Bison I’ve learned that the Jack and Jill grocery store has apparently changed hands and been renamed the Bison Food Store.)

Other photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog:

Mennonite Pastries Banned in Cimmaron, Kansas

Manistique — The Battle for Michigan

Emigrants’ Return: California Refugees in Plattsmouth, Nebraska

Los Alamos:  A City on a Hill
Truth or Consequences — and Quixotic Occupy Wall Street

The Entire State is New York and Albany is its Capital

∙ February in Walterboro, South Carolina

A Big and Notable Place — Lubbock, Texas


February in Walterboro, South Carolina

February 26, 2016

This week the political media frenzy swirls through South Carolina like a transient storm.  Last Saturday the GOP held its presidential primary here and this Saturday the Democrats hold theirs.  As pundits dissect this state, wielding the scalpels of scientific polling and demographics, I thought it fitting and proper to provide a glimpse beneath the hullabaloo.

Along Washington Street in the small Palmetto State town of Walterboro, banners on the street lamps proclaim it “The Front Porch of the Low Country.” Walterboro is 40 miles from the ocean, 50 miles from Charleston, and far, far away from northern climes shivering through February squalls.  It seems peaceful here, very quiet, quiet enough to catch the slow creaking of an old red wood rocking chair.


Sidewalks in town are paved with a conglomerate made of white seashells over which I would not want to walk barefoot. (This may be purposeful — I doubt the local merchants want you to enter their shops in bare feet.)


Of course you must smile and say hello to each and every one you pass by; they will certainly offer it to you expecting the same in return.

Even though some old storefronts have changed hands over the years, the general atmosphere feels familiar, and so the former Farmers and Merchants Bank is now the Old Bank Christmas and Gifts shop. The fixture clock was almost certainly the town meeting place back in the day.


Old Bank Christmas and Gift Shop

I had lunch at the counter of Hiott’s Pharmacy down the street. The Coca-Cola dispenser on the counter is a classic and probably worth some money as an antique but they don’t seem to know that — or perhaps they don’t care.

A few old-timers sat with me at the counter and I enjoyed listening to them — accents uncorrupted by the standardized pronunciations one hears today on national newscasts.  The Southern accent is strong here but the formality of their manners is even stronger. Tags of “Yes Sir, No Sir, Yes Ma’am, and No Ma’am” punctuated their conversations like dance steps and created a kind of rhythm, a cadence, reminiscent of a high school marching band or a cheerleader squad’s holler-back routine.

Just a peek around the corner leads to the First Baptist Church and its tall white steeple. Each rural South Carolina town must have one of these. If you’ve only seen such churches in photos then you’ve missed the best effect — the majestic old oak tree covered in Spanish moss. Blue sky, white steeple, and green leaves are standard fare in these parts even in February, but wonderful to one visiting from the snowy Rocky Mountains.


The Colleton County Courthouse complements the rest. This is a two-story whitewashed building with two half-spiral staircases at the main entrance. As with most Southern courthouses a granite Confederate statue dominates the grounds. Live oak trees spread their wide branches on either side of the building.


Colleton County Courthouse. Walterboro, South Carolina


Colleton County Courthouse

Beneath the small-town quiet, Colleton County has a combative history commensurate with its South Carolina heritage — the Nullification Crisis of 1832, and a hotbed of Secession.


I chatted briefly with a few folks as I took photos of the courthouse. Around here, although people won’t ignore you they’re not mistrustful.  They do understand humor. Carrying my camera and cell phone in one hand, I asked the guard at the courthouse entrance if these items were allowed inside. He answered me with perfunctory precision:

“Prohibited items are knives and pistols and rifles.  Do you have these?”

“Well…not all three,” I deadpanned.

He let out a belly laugh and let me pass through the metal detector as I held my camera and phone to one side for him to see.  We’re all just folks.


East Washington Street business district, Walterboro, South Carolina


Other photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog:

Mennonite Pastries Banned in Cimmaron, Kansas

Manistique — The Battle for Michigan

Emigrants’ Return: California Refugees in Plattsmouth, Nebraska

Los Alamos:  A City on a Hill
Truth or Consequences — and Quixotic Occupy Wall Street

The Entire State is New York and Albany is its Capital

A Big and Notable Place — Lubbock, Texas

2015 — Year in Photos

Friends and relatives have sent me year-end messages extending well-wishes and relating all their goings-on over the past year.  Thank you all.  Allow me to reciprocate with a collection of photos describing my past 12 months.

January 13th — Post-snowstorm Colorado Springs.  Pikes Peak is in the background of the first photo; the second photo is an evergreen coated with ice crystals.




  •  January 27th — Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre on a very warm January day.  The skyscrapers of downtown Denver are visible in the background of the first photo.  In the Rockies we get a balmy day two weeks after a blizzard, and never an “average” day.




  • March 15th — a business opportunity brings me to Austin, Texas for 3 days.  I toured the Texas Capitol on a Sunday.



  • March 29th — On a quiet Sunday drive I came upon and old Orthodox Church standing isolated on a hilltop in Colorado’s Eastern Plains. Named St. Mary’s Holy Dormition and still in use today, it was built in 1905 near Calhan to serve Slovak immigrants who had left employment in the steel mills of Pennsylvania for the farming/ranching life of Colorado.  The church has an interesting history (full story here), having been nearly destroyed by the ripples of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.  The second photo below looks west from the church, over the high plains toward the Front Range.




  • April 5th — An early spring view of Pikes Peak and Cottonwood Creek in Colorado Springs.



  • April 6th — A snack on my coffee table as I prepare to watch Opening Day of the 2015 baseball season (the real New Year’s Day).



  • April 13th — A business opportunity (a conference) brings me to San Diego for 3 days.  The first photo is the old Santa Fe railroad station downtown, the second shows sailboats in nearby Mission Bay.




  • April 30th — Illinois claims two American icons:  Abraham Lincoln and Route 66.  The two themes meet in the touristy town of Pontiac. Lincoln practiced law here, participated in that county’s first jury trial, and in 1840 — as a precursor to destiny — Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held an impromptu debate in the streets of Pontiac. A life-size statue of Lincoln stands in front of the historic Livingston County Courthouse so that you can check your height against his.  Various murals and fixtures ornament Pontiac’s place on old Route 66.

Livingston County Courthouse, Pontiac Illinois









  •  June 22nd — The Northwest is a fine place to be when summer reaches its solstice.  This year’s longest day was my year’s longest drive as shown in the next 4 photos.  The day started just after sun-up in Hamilton, Montana — an old western town nestled snugly between two high mountain ranges.


67 miles west at Lolo Pass, I crossed the Continental Divide, the Idaho State Line, and the Pacific Time Zone and headed downstream along the Lochsa River, paralleling the route taken by Lewis and Clark to the Pacific in 1805.  I rode through 76 miles of scenery just like this below Lolo Pass before I ever saw a town.  It’s mid-morning in the photo.


Travelling further west, I left the mountains near what the Nez Perce call the Camas Plains. Here are some canola fields in those plains, near Grangeville, Idaho in mid-afternoon.


The Wallowa Mountains near Enterprise, Oregon, 150 miles west of the Camas Plains of Idaho.  I reached them near sunset on the longest day of the year.



  • July 11th — Back to Pittsburgh to see family and old friends.  Included was a trip to the Heinz History Center downtown.  This was one of the exhibits.  Remember it from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?



  • July 22nd — Clear Lake, Iowa.  Iowa in the summertime lives up to all its clichés.  I won’t add any more. Buddy Holly’s plane crashed in a field near town in February of 1959; the farmer who owns the field allows fans to maintain a memorial for the rock star amid his soybean crop.  A signpost made of horn-rimmed glasses marks the entrance to the memorial.  The third photo below is of Clear Lake at the exact moment of sunset.  It’s my favorite.





  • August 17th — The Badlands of North Dakota within Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Teddy owned a ranch here before becoming President; he deserves the credit for creating our National Park system.




  • September 14th — South Bend, Indiana. I’d never been to Notre Dame before though I’d seen them play football on tv a thousand times.  Here’s the Golden Dome, and then a statue of Knute Rockne found in a plaza in downtown South Bend.




  • October 22 — Jonesboro, Illinois.  This little southern Illinois town was the site of the third Lincoln-Douglas debate, held September 15th 1858.  The debate was held in the county fairgrounds, a few blocks away from the main crossroads.  Of the several Lincoln-Douglas memorials I’ve seen, most include life-size statues of the two men, and the height disparity between the two always gives me a chuckle.  I’m sure many in the audience had the same reaction at the time.



  • October 22 (later that same day) — I drove north along the Mississippi River to the small town of Chester, which is the hometown of E.C. Segar — creator of the comic strip character Popeye.  Statues of Popeye and his gang can be found all over the small river town, which holds a “Popeye Picnic” each year on the weekend following Labor Day.  More info here if you’d like to visit.







  • October 23rd — Alton, Illinois.  The final debate of the Lincoln-Douglas was held in Alton.  Again, life-size statues.



  • December 8th — Llano, Texas.  Texans decorate for Christmas extravagantly, which should come as no surprise in a state that brags that “everything is bigger here.”  Many towns assemble light shows and displays in their town parks, calling them “Christmas Parks”.  See the way the Llano County Courthouse is decked out for the holiday season in this Hill Country town.  The second photo is the Llano River and dam in daylight, followed by the courthouse in daylight, and then the town mascot (Llano is the deer capital of Texas), decorated for the season.





And on to 2016! Happy New Year!!

September 30, 2014

Today is the last day of September and therefore the final day that can possibly claim any pretense to still being summer, so I’ve pulled together a few photos to honor the occasion.  Mostly photos in this post — the season’s political ads have made me tired me of words.

Sunflower Fields near Pollack, South Dakota:  A lot of South Dakota sunflower fields were ripening in August. The farmer told me that prices were down but yields were up.  Breaking even with last year.  He’s probably already off to Arizona for the winter.

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Canola Fields near St. Andre, Quebec, Canada: Bright yellow canola can turn a plain field into an impressionist landscape.  Nice of them to add the purple flowers along the roadside, though I imagine the more stolid types would call those weeds.  The rocky hills in the background are probably glacial deposits; they form the boundaries of the St. Lawrence River Valley.



One More Bright Yellow Summer Field — Countryside near Leuven, Belgium:  2 photos of canola fields in Belgium plus a nearby farming village.  These were taken in the month of May, but it sure looks like summertime to me.




Iowa — Farmhouses, Baseball, Cornfields, Old Churches, and Loess Hills:  The first two photos are from the Field of Dreams farm/set near Dyersville; the third shows late-summer cornfields outside Sioux City; the fourth is a view of the old St. Donatus church in July; the fifth shows a country road winding through the Loess Hills (yes, hills in Iowa!) along the eastern banks of the Missouri River floodplain.  The Loess Hills are ancient accumulations of wind-borne glacial debris.




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The Hot Summer Sun near Scottsbluff, Nebraska:  Scotts Bluff was an important landmark along the Oregon Trail. It rose so suddenly out of the Nebraska prairie that Oregon-bound wagon trains could see the rock formations for days before reaching them.  These photos to me epitomize the summer heat.  Bugs, dust, sweat, sunburn, biting insects, and rattlesnakes enhanced the experience.  In winter the bluffs are subject to blizzards and covered in snow.



Finally, in the High Country Autumn Comes before September Ends — San Juan Mountains of Colorado:  All these photos were taken in and around Durango and Telluride Colorado in late September, 2012.




IMG_6514There.  Summer is done for another year as the Colorado aspens introduce autumn once again.

The month of October begins tomorrow.  At the stroke of midnight you may buy your mega-bags of Halloween candy at Walmart without suffering social aspersions.  Enjoy.

The Entire State is New York and Albany is its Capital

October 1, 2013

New Yorkers are funny; they always have me laughing, or at least shaking my head.

After landing at the Albany airport on a quiet, sunny Sunday afternoon I let the GPS direct me onto a backwoods route to my hotel.  Nearing a rural roadside craft sale, held in a barn, I saw a sign warning to watch for pedestrians. Then I noticed a petite Asian woman on the side of the road ready to cross.  Seeing no crosswalk but figuring that New York pedestrian right-of-way laws were very strict, I stopped my car completely and motioned for her to cross.  She hesitantly approached the edge of the road, then set her feet and tilted her head at such an angle that she could both look down and sideways at me at the same time.  I checked my mirrors; mine was the only car in sight in either direction.  I waved my hand again.  She tensed ever so slightly at the invitation, but finally declined and just stood there, motionless, looking down, refusing to place one foot on the asphalt.  Apparently New Yorkers are not a trusting breed.  I conceded the stand-off to her and drove on by.

Welcome to New York.

The next morning in downtown Albany I saw a woman’s transmission fail in the middle of an uphill street.  She was trying to climb the hill but each time she shifted into ‘Drive’ and hit the gas the car merely rolled further backwards downhill.  Wishing to help, my first instinct was to look around for someone who might have access to a pay phone. (I must have very old instincts. People have cell phones now and can call their own tow trucks.)  I noticed a middle-aged woman having a smoke outside the courthouse door and shouted to her, “Could you please call a tow truck?”  She gaped at me, pointed at her chest and mouthed indignantly, “ME? You want ME to call?” Apparently I had broken the Sacred Law of the Street. Since the whole scene was comically absurd I drifted away shaking my head and laughing.

Welcome to New York.

The previous bit of pseudo-drama took place outside the new Albany County Judicial Center, across the street from the old county courthouse.  The new building is a four-story brick structure with an underground entrance for defendants and such. All sorts of suits stood outside, exiled to the sidewalk for needing to smoke.

Albany County Judicial Center

Albany County Judicial Center

The old courthouse next door is more ornate and even has a special entrance for “G.A.R.” members.  (The G.A.R. was the “Grand Army of the Republic”, an association of Union Civil War Veterans.)

Albany has a long history. European settlement began with Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage up the river which carries his name, looking for the fabled northwest passage to the Indies.  It was at this point that the Hudson River became too narrow for him to continue and forced him to turn back downstream.

Memorial to Hudson's ship the "Halve Maen" (Half Moon), Albany New York

Memorial to Hudson’s ship the “Halve Maen” (the Half Moon), Albany, New York

That was four hundred years ago. Ages have gone by. Today Albany is a collection of distinct parts each associated with specific periods of time.

The oldest part of Albany is along the Hudson River where I found some Dutch architecture:

The Hudson Harbor Restaurant

The Hudson Harbor Restaurant

Old Business Block along Broadway, Albany, New York

Old Business Block along Broadway, Albany, New York

The state government buildings comprise the next part of town. Albany became the permanent New York State Capital in 1797. The Capitol building itself was completed in the 1870s and looks like a European palace.  The statue in front is of Union Civil War hero (and Albany native) General Philip Sheridan.

New York State Capitol, Albany

New York State Capitol, Albany

The Classical columns on the building across the street from the Capitol make it look like a judicial building, but it’s not. This is the New York State Department of Education.

New York State Department of Education, Albany

New York State Department of Education, Albany

The building’s classical columns suggest that New York Education occupies the place Justice occupied in classical thought. Considering that these are the offices of the bureaucracy, that’s a very scary thought.

The administrative offices of SUNY (the State University of New York) are in an equally grandiose building at the foot of State Street. It’s too large to fit into one photograph.  The Gothic towers are remarkable:

SUNY Administration Plaza, Albany New York

SUNY Administration Tower and Plaza, Albany

The word “education” is derived from the Latin and means “to raise up from within.” By the two examples above it seems that the State of New York has built a grand central administration whose purpose can only be to “push down from above”, i.e. indoctrinate.

Moving on to the private sector, the next part of Albany is the Pearl Street commercial district. Many of these structures date from the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. Prominent towers and intricately carved red sandstone were the hallmark of this age. The buildings were purposely ostentatious and opulent yet beautiful; they are still beautiful today.

Gilded Age building on North Pearl Street, Albany

Gilded Age building on North Pearl Street, Albany, New York

On the building below the corner offices have alcoves jutting over the streets.  That’s the Gilded Age’s way of saying, “let me be part of the city and as close as possible to it while still enjoying my comforts.” These days the Pearl Street Pub occupies the ground floor of this old block.

North Pearl Street and Pearl Street Pub, Albany New York

North Pearl Street and Pearl Street Pub, Albany, New York

Next is an old residential area above the state Capitol, now occupied mainly by professionals. These are townhouses across from a city park.  Many have intricately painted trim.  Most have bay windows on the second floor:

Townhouses along State Street, Albany New York

Townhouses along State Street, Albany, New York

These townhouses could be mistaken for the Greenwich Village walk-ups found in Manhattan 150 miles downstream:

Walk-ups along State Street, Albany New York

Walk-ups along State Street, Albany, New York

Finally, in some mistaken vision of the future, Albany shows you the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza — a group of buildings which include four identical (and identically ugly) concrete towers, a tilted mushroom-type thing, and two stumpy 4-story buildings serving as bookends. The Plaza is integrated with the State Capitol across the street and houses various government agencies of the State of New York:

Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Plaza, Albany New York

Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York

Here’s the “tilted mushroom” building I mentioned, separated from the concrete towers by a wide pedestrian area.  I didn’t bother to look up its real name or purpose. I don’t want to know.

The 'Tilted Mushroom', Nelson A. Rockefeller Plaza, Albany New York

The ’tilted mushroom’, Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York

The Plaza was the idea of Governor Nelson Rockefeller (Republican) who was served as New York Governor during the 1960s and U.S. Vice President under Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s.  Rockefeller led the patrician wing of the Republican Party whose adherents at that time were known, unsurprisingly, as “Rockefeller Republicans.”

These days Rockefeller Republicans are called “RINOs”.  No one likes them.  In New York and elsewhere they are responsible for great government edifices just as domineering as those of the Education bureaucracy, which is dominated by the Democratic Party.  The Rockefellers intend their efforts to be unique and inspiring, yet like the tilted mushroom they just leave me shaking my head.

Other photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog:

Mennonite Pastries Banned in Cimmaron, Kansas

Manistique — The Battle for Michigan

Emigrants’ Return: California Refugees in Plattsmouth, Nebraska

Los Alamos:  A City on a Hill
Truth or Consequences — and Quixotic Occupy Wall Street

A Big and Notable Place — Lubbock, Texas

Top Ten Reasons to Vote for Barack Obama

November 2, 2012

From our corporate office in Moon Run, Pennsylvania, the top ten reasons to vote for Barack Obama:

Number Ten:  So every summer can be a Summer of Recovery!

Number Nine:  If something happens to Barack, Uncle Joe Biden has everyone’s full respect.

Number Eight:  Voting the same way as so many Hollywood Stars makes you feel so smart! Giggle!

Number Seven:  Israel Schmisrael. Them guys are a pain in the ass.


Number Five:  Because American politics should be more like Chicago’s — America’s model city.

Number Four:  Higher unemployment means more free stuff for more people. Oh the Joy!

Number Three:  Expert teleprompter reading is an under-appreciated talent.

Number Two:  As long as we don’t pass a budget it’s not really a deficit, right?

and the Number One Reason to Vote for Barack Obama:  Ten More Solyndras!

A Quick Note to Remember for Tonight’s Presidential Debate

October 16, 2012
‎”The classic liberal,” Reagan wrote, “used to be the man who believed the individual was, and should be forever, the master of his destiny. That is now the conservative position. The liberal used to believe in freedom under law. He now takes the ancient feudal position that power is everything. He believes in a stronger and stronger central government, in the philosophy that control is better than freedom.”
 — From “Where’s the Rest of Me?” 1965
Remember this passage. Remember it each time Obama complains tonight that some Romney policy would “leave you on your own.” When Obama says that he affirms what Reagan accused liberals of believing — that “control is better than freedom.”

Emigrants’ Return: California Refugees in Plattsmouth, Nebraska

July 15, 2012

When you mention “Nebraska” to someone from America’s left or right coasts they will freely associate this term with the words “corn” or “CornHuskers” (the college football team), or perhaps tornadoes or blizzards.  What is often forgotten is that Nebraska’s Platte River Trail was the emigrant superhighway of the 19th Century carrying travelers from the East to the West Coast destinations of Oregon and California.  Back then traffic went exclusively from East to West; yet I’ve found that in our day the emigrants have been retracing their steps.

Founded in 1855 on the banks of the Missouri River near the mouth of the Platte, Plattsmouth is a fair-sized small town, still relatively vibrant even though it lies far off today’s interstate highways.  Back when rivers were America’s highways Plattsmouth was a popular steamboat moorage and trading post.  Its downtown streets were lined with merchants selling goods downriver while also outfitting westward emigrants on the overland trails.  According to local historian Dale M. Bowman, “The area that is now lower main street was the staging point for the South Platte Trail of the Oregon Trail.  For approximately 18 years an average of 12,000 pioneers per month headed west on this trail.” (Early History of Plattsmouth)

The business district of Plattsmouth looks much as it did a hundred and fifty years ago.   The red-bricked architecture has been preserved and the red bricked side streets provide complementary color.

Main Street Plattsmouth with courthouse tower in background

The storefronts are open.  The old hotel — The Fitzgerald — is open for business as well.

The Fitzgerald Hotel (“The Fitz”)

The 1892 Cass County Courthouse towers above the streets of Plattsmouth like a Bavarian castle above its village.  This grand and ornate style of architecture was common in its time; it provided small frontier towns with a feeling of strength and permanence.

Cass County Courthouse. Plattsmouth, Nebraska

Inside the courthouse, old black and white photographs document the town and county’s history.  There have been numerous devastating floods.

By noon it was hot and I was hungry, so I found the River House Soda Fountain and Cafe and stepped inside. Obviously this old building was once a riverport saloon — there was a long bar, fixed barstools, and a pressed-copper ceiling.  Riverboat captains had drunk here.  So had emigrants — anxious to find their fortune in the West yet hesitant enough of the upcoming dangers to take one last draft in a civilized tavern before moving along.

But that was the past.  The new owners had turned the River House into a combination antique store, sandwich shop, and soda fountain.  Free wifi available.  A dozen others were already being served as I sat down at the old oak bar.  I ordered a root beer float and an Italian sandwich.

The River House Soda Fountain & Cafe

Looking around, I could see that the River House was run by a young mother with her two daughters.  (The great majority of small town cafes I’ve seen are run by women, not men.)  Mom was directing traffic. Her mid-teens daughter was the main waitress, enthusiastically taking lunch orders.  Then there was a younger girl, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, scurrying this way and that, trying to help Mom any way she could.

I flagged down “Mom”, a youngish looking woman, and asked if there was a place where I could charge my camera battery.

“Sure, right here,” she said pointing to an outlet behind the bar.

“Thank you. That’s great.”  I handed here the battery but added, “please don’t let me forget it here.”

“No, no of course not,” she assured me but added teasingly “this battery does look a lot like the battery I use for my camera.  If you were to leave here without it…”

“I guess I’ll just have to take that chance,” I added playing along.

“So where are you from?” she asked.

“Colorado,” I answered. “Just travelling this week.  Did you grow up here in Plattsmouth?”

“Oh no. I’m from California.”

“Ah, a California refugee,” I shot back.

She didn’t reply, but instead gave me a wistful smile which I read as ambivalence about having left the Golden State.

I went on.  “There are a lot of Californians just like you moving back to the Midwest.  I met a pair of California refugees in a small town in Kansas.  They were an older, retired couple.  They bought an old bank building and a cafe next door.  They’ve turned it into a bed and breakfast and restaurant.”

She was interested.  She asked me about the particular town.  I thought for a bit and came up with “Oberlin.  Oberlin, Kansas.”

We talked a bit more about how there were so many well-preserved towns in the Midwest before she had to attend to some other customers.

I had my sandwich and my rootbeer float which hit just the right spot.  The food is usually really good in these kind of places and the River House was no exception.

I retrieved my camera battery, paid the bill, said thank you and headed back outdoors into the hot afternoon.  I don’t know what brought them here to Nebraska from California, heading from West to East along the old California Trail.  Perhaps there are no longer good opportunities in California. Or perhaps she wanted a small town atmosphere to raise her daughters.  Perhaps taxes are too high or regulation too strong.  Or maybe it was something else.

But logic tells us that whatever terrible thing the California refugee is fleeing, that thing must be more dangerous to them than Nebraska’s tornadoes or blizzards.

Other photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog:

Manistique — The Battle for Michigan

A Big and Notable Place — Lubbock, Texas

Los Alamos, New Mexico:  A City on a Hill

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Mennonite Pastries Banned in Cimmaron, Kansas

Nebraska corn. The brown “silk” at the eartips mean harvest time is near.

Obamacare is a Tax

This morning, the Supreme Court agreed that the individual mandate of Obamacare is not Constitutional under the Commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. In short, Congress may “regulate” commerce but it may not “create” commerce by compelling us to make certain purchases.

However, the Supreme Court went on to say that, nevertheless, the individual mandate of Obamacare is Constitutional if it is viewed as a tax. Very well then, if the Supreme Court says it’s a tax then I will respect that. It’s a tax, and all Americans must carry health insurance or the IRS will compel them to pay this tax.

What does this mean?

It means that Obama raised taxes in a recession. He raised taxes on the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. He raised taxes on the Middle Class. He raised taxes on small business owners who create the majority of jobs in this country; consequently those jobs may never be created. He raised taxes on the student with a part-time job. He raised taxes on the day laborer. He raised taxes on the poor. He raised taxes on everyone. It is the largest tax increase in American history.

It also means Obama lied in his 2008 campaign. He said no one making less then $250,000 would see their taxes increase. That’s a lie. In 2009 Obama swore up and down that the mandate was not a tax.  But that’s a lie as well. We’ve all been deceived.  To save his honor, to prove he is not a liar, Obama must announce that he will sign a repeal of Obamacare since it has now been declared a tax. But I won’t be holding my breath for that to happen.

Abraham Lincoln said that ultimately, the people rule.  Ultimately a Republic cannot rely on the wisdom of its high officials but must instead rely on the wisdom of its people.  In this way the Court’s decision may be a Godsend. It will force the American people to act. It is now up to the people’s votes this November to repeal this foolish and life-destructive tax.

Obamacare Judicially Reviewed

Pete Spiliakos provides a nice review of Solicitor General Verrilli’s attempts to defend Obamacare in front of the Supreme Court this past week (“What Part of ‘Because I Said So’ Don’t You Understand?”).  Most tv and print pundits say the government’s lawyers (Verrilli) did a poor job defending the law in front of the court and many blame Verrilli personally.  In the final analysis however

 …Solicitor General Verrilli did his pitiful tap dance about how the health care market is “different” and how the federal government has the power to compel you to buy health insurance but not a cell phone or burial insurance.  And the result was that the more conservative Justices pounded him into the ground.  The problem wasn’t Verrilli.  It was the quality of his arguments.

From the day it passed I assumed Obamacare would be struck down by the courts as an unlawful abuse of Congressional power.  Article I of the Constitution enumerates the specific powers of Congress; the power to force purchases on people is not among that enumeration.

Although Article I grants Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, that power does not extend to forcing people to participate in commerce — so that they can then in turn be regulated!  Here I’m reminded of the climactic scene in Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” Eastwood’s character points a rifle at a frontier journalist who sputters “certainly you wouldn’t shoot an unarmed man!” Eastwood then points to a gun lying on the floor and growls “See that rifle there?  Pick it up!”  That’s the Pelosi-Reid Congress at work — Join the national health market so we can regulate you!  Or else!

A proper judicial review should thwart such an abuse of power.  In doing so the Court would exercise its proper role of oversight first used in Marbury vs Madison over 200 years ago. That’s judicial review in its proper place.  In case you’re wondering, should the Court strike down Obamacare it could not be justly accused of judicial activism — the judicial exercise of power not found in the Constitution.  Remember forced bussing of school children back in the 1970s?  That was judicial activism.  Obamacare is simply an unlawful abuse of power which needs to be vacated.

For more on the Obamacare arguments see also “I Wonder Why Solicitor General Verrilli…”

For a more practical (rather than legal) explanation of why Obamacare (or any other centralized planning solution to health care) is a foolish idea please see Walter Russell Mead “The Health Care Disaster and the Miseries of Blue.”

Finally, I think it’s important to remember why Obamacare is key to November’s election. The health care law is President Obama’s signature legislation. It’s also the perfect archetype of all he stands for: central planning, centralized government control of markets and industries, all supposedly for the benefit of the people yet in actuality at the people’s great expense and for the benefit of those who fund and support the party in power.  In an age of rapid technological advancement such policies are the exact opposite of the direction that America should take for the protection of individual freedom and the protection of individuals against the tools available to those who would seek despotic power.

All four remaining Republican candidates are running against Obama by running against Obamacare and the implications of Obamacare for government power.  Although Mitt Romney is the frontrunner he has failed to close the deal largely because of his association with “Romneycare” in Massachusetts.  Rick Santorum has said that the danger posed by the implications of Obamacare compelled him to enter the Presidential race (see “Rick Santorum — The Servant“). His stump speeches focus on freedom and resonate with the crowd (See Daniel Henninger’s “Santorum and Freedom“).  Gingrich and Paul are also strong opponents of the law.

I’m not in the prediction game; I’m lousy at picking football games against the spread and I won’t try to handicap the Supreme Court vote.  I just know how they should vote.

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