Forced to Bear Arms

Ran across an interesting article digging into Congressional history to defend Obamacare. The current argument before the Supreme Court (as I probably inaccurately understand it) is whether or not the government can issue an individual mandate, i.e., can the government force an individual to buy something.

The article points to a 1790 law that mandated health insurance. Interesting example. But I’m so not interested in arguing about the validity of Obamacare (so not interested).

The interesting part of the article is when they point to a 1792 law that made gun ownership not just a right but a requirement:

In 1792, a Congress with 17 framers passed another statute that required all able-bodied men to buy firearms. Yes, we used to have not only a right to bear arms, but a federal duty to buy them.

That’s hilarious.

According to Wikipedia it was part of a Uniform Militia law, which raised up state militias as opposed to a federal army. White men were required to register with the militia and have a gun ready to go. It was never fully enforced and there was never widespread compliance.

Oh so wacky. I wonder how that’d go over today?

Sidebar: It’s funny what we expect out of our political system. Sometimes we act like certain things are anathema to our way of life, but it turns out it’s all shifting and moving, depending on the issue, the era and who’s in charge. Sometimes an idea seems historic and foundational (like “under God” in the pledge, added in the 1950s), but it’s not.

Sidebar II: We can’t talk about the right to bear arms without mentioning the awesome T-shirt (or pick your favorite permeation).

Tornado Destroys Family Farm

My uncle’s farm outside Raymond, Kansas, was hit by a tornado late Saturday night. Everybody’s OK, but the devastation is pretty complete. The farmhouse is still standing, but the roof was lifted up and the windows blown out, so that doesn’t mean much.

While my uncle currently lives there, this has been the family farm. My grandparents originally owned the house and my mom grew up there with her siblings. My aunt was married there (I was the ring bearer in the wedding, though I seem to remember thinking I was the ring bear). When my grandparents “retired” (?) and moved to town, my uncle and his family moved in. My cousins grew up there and I have so many memories of going out to the farm. We’d play flashlight tag, truth or dare, light firecrackers, build forts in the old scrap iron pile and fight like siblings inevitably do.

There are a lot of memories in that place. Here’s what it looks like now:

I don’t have a very good before picture, but here’s my grandparents standing in front of that same door celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. And here’s my aunt standing on those very steps at her wedding. A little generational history at that old farmhouse.

The devastation is much more complete away from the house. A giant machine shed and two-story wooden barn were completely destroyed. In this picture those buildings should line the left side of the road. In the distance you can see a combine and several vehicles that were lined up inside the shed, which is now completely gone.

I remember that driveway feeling crowded with buildings. Not so much anymore. Now it’s mostly debris. A concrete silo was completely knocked down and debris is strewn all over, sheet metal wrapped around trees and even a pipe piercing a tractor tire.

My uncle heard reports of a tornado near Raymond on the radio and made for the cellar. Five minutes later his ears popped, then there was a loud boom and then nothing but the sound of falling glass. That was it.

This picture is probably the most brutal, my grandparents, picking through the debris. I don’t know what they hope to accomplish there, and maybe the futility of it is what makes it hurt all the more.

But then there’s my favorite picture. Among all that chaos and devastation, my uncle and cousin are standing there smiling:

Its just another storm to weather. After all, it’s just stuff.

Bizarre Stories: Sex on the Beach

There’s a story in the Pioneer Press this morning about the Wisconsin DNR cracking down on nudists. It seems the nudists are having sex in various public places (you know, the beach, the woods, sand bars…) and exposing themselves to passing canoeists. It’s been a problem for decades and has resulted in bans on nudity on public land, lawsuits and even a pastor protesting at the beach.

Here’s the best part of the article:

“They were having sex right on the islands, the sandbars, when the river was lower,” said Ruth Bender, who owns property directly across the river from the beach. “People can’t understand something like that is going on. That’s a nice section of the river. I don’t know what fun they get out of that.” (emphasis mine)

Um… they’re having sex. I’m pretty sure that’s the fun they get out of it.

Second best part of the article? The offending beach is in Mazomanie, Wis., which is where we got our dog, Mazie, and then named her after the town. My dog is named after an infamous nudist beach town (in Wisconsin of all places).

The Lily Pond at Como Park Returns

Como Park Lily Pond plans - 2012The City of Saint Paul has secured Arts and Cultural Heritage Legacy Funding to restore the Como Park Lily Pond. The pond last held lily pads in 1926 and has mostly been an empty concrete pond since. The 1903 fieldstone and concrete bridge will get some repairs and a new railing. The pond walls and bottom will be completely replaced, though it will have the same footprint and use fieldstones across the top like it currently has. The north pool will feature a water cascade and there will be a fountain in the south pool, both to help circulate water. The pond will feature native aquatic plants, so no more heating the pond and bringing in giant, exotic lily pads. There will also be a seating area north of the pond and another to the west with a pergola.

No completion date has been given, but the project appears to already be underway.

The Lily Pond has always been one of my favorite spaces in that grand public park. There’s an intense feeling of history there that’s hard to escape and it’s a fun place to wander around. I’m curious how that will translate with all the renovations. I’m excited that they’re doing something with the old Lily Pond, but part of me also wonders if it’ll still be the old Lily Pond. Part of its appeal was that it was empty and neglected, an odd pond with no particular use. Hopefully the restored pond will capture that sense of history that made it so great.

Lily Pond at Como Park - 1910 Lily Pond at Como Park - 2007

Grow More Stuff to Help the Environment

IMG_2330.JPGI’ve got a theory: We should grow more stuff.

The other day I was reading an article from a conservative Republican meteorologist concerned about climate change. His impassioned arguments made me want to do more to be environmentally friendly. I started thinking of things I could do and I was coming up blank. I already do a lot—recycling as much as possible, using re-usable containers and bags, trying to minimize water and electricity use, etc.—and something like getting a more fuel efficient car or furnace isn’t a choice you get to make every day.

But then I started thinking about my yard. I have a pretty low impact yard (i.e., I’m lazy). I don’t use any gas-powered tools or harsh chemicals. So my yard isn’t doing much harm. But is it doing any good?

I started thinking about all the good that plants do. They replenish oxygen, absorb carbon dioxide, clean the air, reduce heat in the summer and block wind in the winter, reduce noise, stop erosion and create habitats for wildlife (never mind the less tangible benefits, like the aesthetics and enjoyment we get). So more plants seems like an all around good thing. Grow more plants and you’re doing more good for the environment, theoretically.

I also theorized that the more you grow, the better. The larger the surface area of the leaf the more it can do to clean the air. So a tree is going to have a bigger impact than a patch of grass. A shrubbery might have less impact than a tree, but it’s going to do more than the grass it replaces. And a pot of flowers is doing more than bare concrete. We may be talking about minute amounts, but it’s still something.

So I’ve decided I want to start growing more stuff. Which is kind of funny for anyone who knows me. I have the opposite of a green thumb. Thankfully I’m approaching this with the idea that anything is better than nothing. So even if I plant a few pots and they die off in a month or two, that’s better than nothing. I don’t know if we’ll actually plant a tree (my yard is pretty small), but there are plenty of spaces where a small bush or even a small plant might do more good than some grass (or creeping charlie, as it is). We have plenty of concrete and deck space that we can reclaim with a potted plant, adding more green area and doing more good.

To start this little experiment I got a rain barrel and started a compost bin. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while, but it always seemed silly when we didn’t do any gardening of any kind. Now we’ll have a purpose for the compost and stored rain water, and hopefully that will encourage more planting and green growth.

I don’t know what will come of this little experiment. Maybe it’s silly. Maybe I’ll get bored with it. But I kind of like the idea that my yard could be doing more to help the environment. It’s one thing to minimize impact by recycling or using less. But it’s another thing to be actively improving things.