It’s a rainy day on the Minnesota farm so a good day to write the news for April. This is the kind of rainy day it was for a few minutes.
That kind of rain is common in the Midwest, but not so common in early May. A vintage memory from growing up on the farm – sometimes a storm like that would hit when driving in the countryside around Princeton. The common practice was to pull into the next farm yard and the folks living there would invite the travelers inside to wait out the storm which usually lasted less than an hour. That was done at the Angstman farm as well. In addition to the risk from driving with poor visibility, it was also intended to protect travelers from the risk of tornadoes and lightning strikes if left sitting in a metal car. It’s not clear when that practice ended but it likely coincided with the introduction of no trespassing signs in rural Minnesota. Running out of gas was another event that demonstrated what changes have occurred in 50 years. Teenage drivers often limped home on a low tank of gas for lack of pocket money, and more than once the closest farm house was the only hope after the engine sputtered to a halt. Not only would the hapless driver get gas, but the helpful farmer would never charge for the service. It’s hard to remember the names of all the farmers who helped out in that way, but one in particular does stand out. Neighbor Merle Knippling provided a full five gallons to get about four miles from his farm to home. After protest he stated, “I enjoyed the football game tonight. It’s my contribution.” Farmers all kept a supply of gas in a large tank for farm equipment use, which was much cheaper than the gas sold in the gas station, and for the teenage farm kids it was of course free. The urge to avoid stopping to buy gas on the way home was overwhelming. Dad would always make a point of stopping to buy some gas in town for appearances, but used mostly from the tax free farm tank. It seems the IRS never caught on to that ruse, or if they did, they didn’t care. Dad had other traits that stood out to his youngest kid. He loved ice cream and would enjoy stopping at the places where the customers stood in line at a window to get a cone. In those days a single scoop cone was a nickel, and the double scoop was a dime at most places. Dad always went for the double scoop. At some point, he learned there was a place in New York Mills that sold a double scoop for a nickel. So every once in a while for a Sunday drive he would take his family to New York Mills for a cheap double scoop. If he could have checked Google Maps back in the day, he would have learned that New York Mills is 114 miles from the farm. But remember five double cones saved him 25 cents, and the gas was likely about 15 cents a gallon out of the farm tank.
The Alaska Supreme Court made some folks from the village of Chefornak happy last week by affirming a judgment in their favor for more than $3.5 million. The folks around ALO perhaps smiled a bit as well. This was the last jury trial done by ALO before Covid intervened. The case involved an exploding boiler in a family home. The home was owned by an agency in Bethel that builds homes for low income people, and rents those houses to the occupants for a period of time leading to ownership. The agency is required to inspect the homes for safety every year, and those were done only sporadically in this case. The contract calls for the homebuyers to do routine maintenance. The dispute was whether the agency failed to inspect and repair the boiler. The agency, or its California lawyers, made a major mistake during the case, adding the elderly buyers to the suit and blaming them for their son’s life changing injuries. That enabled ALO to spend three weeks belittling the defendants for expecting a little old grandma from Chefornak to fix her own boiler. The village is about an hour flight from Bethel and it is well established that there are no qualified repair people in Chefornak. In Bethel, there are very few boiler repair people and it would be cost prohibitive to fly in a qualified person anyway. Such repairs would run in the thousands of dollars. The local newspaper in Bethel ran this article about the case - "Court upholds verdict in favor of Chefornak family" (Delta Discovery).
An ALO case reported here last month was picked up by the Anchorage newspaper which published this article - "Boiler company agrees to add warning labels after 2020 explosion that killed Homer man" (ADN). Gary Thomas was obviously a valued member of his community for his volunteer work and dedication to helping others. It is noteworthy that his family is sharing the proceeds of the settlement with some of the non-profits in Homer. ALO will do the same.
Dangers of Minority Rule
It wasn’t just the Alaska Supreme Court that captured the attention of ALO. The US Supreme Court made a huge headline when a draft opinion was leaked to the press. That decision if finalized would overturn Roe v. Wade, and upend abortion law nationwide. The decision is contrary to the wishes of about 2/3 of Americans and shows the dangers of the form of minority rule which governs appointments to the Supreme Court. How does that happen? Only one of the justices tentatively supporting the draft opinion was appointed to the Court by a president who received the majority of votes cast nationwide when elected. That’s because our electoral college gives greater say to small population states in selecting a president. And because the Senate as a body that also features over representation from small population states, the Senate’s role in approving Supreme Court justices is also minority rule. It so happens that the minority group involved happens to be very vocal, well- funded, and committed to their cause. It is scary to think that some grade school dropout who flies a Confederate flag on his truck as he carouses the back roads of Georgia had more say in who got on our current Supreme Court than did Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she was the nation’s leading advocate for women’s rights. It’s not just the current majority on the Supreme Court that seems to have a lack of respect for women’s rights. Consider this language from a Supreme Court case in 1876. In the Supreme Court case Bradwell v. The State (1876), Ms. Bradwell was appealing her inability to obtain a law license in the state of Illinois. The Illinois Court had ruled that she was ineligible, citing “That God designed the sexes to occupy different spheres of action, and that it belonged to men to make, apply, and execute the laws, was regarded as an almost axiomatic truth. In view of these facts, we are certainly warranted in saying that when the legislature gave to this Court the power of granting licenses to practice law, it was with not the slightest expectation that this privilege would be extended to women.” The highest court in America reviewed that finding and without a hint of shame agreed with the Illinois court that a woman could not practice law. The lesson to learn from that case, and the more recent abortion ruling, is that Supreme Court justices are not always right, especially on issues where religion and law intersect.
George Carlin was a national treasure who often directed his comedy at politics and government. This rant from a long time ago is especially appropriate right now. His ample profanity is from the heart, and he really means it.
Another point worth noting about the pro-life folks: many of the people who are adamantly anti-abortion are also anti-immigration folks. They want to keep out pregnant women, babies and small children. Is it only American life that is so precious???
A call asking a historical question about Chet Atkins, an old time Bethel name, prompted a few thoughts about that colorful character. Chet was a contractor who built a lot of things in the 70’s and 80’s around Bethel, and played a big role in the construction of the first fancy hospital which is now the old hospital in Bethel. Chet was a client of ALO, and a memorable one. He once asked if it was ok to take apart a building he had built for someone because he hadn't been paid. The answer was no you can’t, but the idea was a good one. He did brazenly sue Bethel’s State Senator for failing to pay a $15,000 construction bill. He won that suit, and was paid with cash carried in a brown paper bag. Not surprisingly, that Senator ended up in jail for accepting bribes. It makes you wonder where the cash in the bag came from. Chet was an early supporter of the Kuskokwim 300 with a large cash contribution, and also supported Bethel’s first Iditarod musher with a check. During his heyday, Chet was one the more successful business owners in Bethel, despite moving to Alaska from California mostly broke and with little education.
But it was his truck that earned him everlasting notoriety in Bethel. Atkins Steel was primarily known for making steel girder buildings. Thus Chet had a sign made for the side of his truck which read:
Cartoons, Mandatory Moose, I'd Be a Swan & Others
Gary Larson had a special place in his cartoons for animal-human interactions. In this one, he also captures the “I told you so” syndrome wives are known to use on their husbands at times, this time in reverse.
This month’s Mandatory Moose are out for a city tour.
With fishing season about to get underway, this suggests a bird lure might work.
There are lots of swans on the farm this year, but none have performed this ritual on camera yet. By actual count as many as 12 swans have been seen in a group, 40 deer in one herd, 35 cranes standing in a field, and 20 turkeys around the house at one time. The efforts to create a wildlife haven have clearly worked.
Take a close look at this video. It’s not actually a snow drift.
And this battle is one to avoid if you are nearby.
The price of gas is a major topic all over the world. This report should at least give a clue to anyone wondering who to blame. Most of the oil companies reported record profits recently. They are gouging to make up for a slow down during the pandemic. And because Big Oil has great influence over many lawmakers there is little the government can do to fight back. One suggestion, windfall profits taxes, doesn’t stand a chance.
Here's another common misconception. Americans with jobs pay an immense part of their wages for healthcare yet the idea of paying less and extending coverage to all is hugely unpopular. Insurance companies take a big chunk of health care costs for their business costs and profit but no one seems to care.
Breakup happened in Bethel and people couldn’t wait to get their boats on the river. Then this happened. They reportedly got out but not without some worry.
Finally this sad story. A field formerly part of the Angstman farm and later owned by brother Spence has been subdivided and several houses have been built. One homeowner, in addition to storing a bunch of junk throughout his 2 ½ acre parcel, erected a long fence that runs several hundred feet at the edge of his property facing a county road and most of his neighbors. On that fence he attached a long string of red, white and blue lights, very bright, facing away from his house and toward his neighbors. In the center of that string of lights he fashioned another string of lights that read Trump Won. The lights are on every night and can be seen for miles. Aside from the fact that Trump didn’t win, the act of putting up bright lights that are on all night every night in a residential setting is offensive. If he wants to persuade anyone on a political issue, he might try a better way of communicating his message. Note, the lights below run for 2-3 hundred feet and the letters are several feet high.