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An Open Letter to the Lady at the Museum (continued)


March 27, 2010






Good day, Madam ...

It's been quite a discussion, not exactly a "back-and-forth", as I've been doing all of the talking.

This hasn't really been new thoughts for me, as the letters imply.  I actually incorporated a lot of this into a novel on education a couple years ago.

Here is a relevant section on art, museums, etc.


Michael Round


An Excerpt from Chapter 23

Architects of Their Own Future

“Does Stephens get to monopolize the meeting?", balked Mrs. Frederickson?  “I’d like to talk about my visit to the museum.”

“Fine – Fine – if you two want to talk further, let’s wait a bit.  Mrs. Frederickson, you have the floor.”

“Is this the museum visit for the Impressionist tour?  I thought you talked about this at last month’s meeting, and decided you weren’t going”, said Coach Thompson.

“That’s what I thought at the time.  But the reason I thought as I did came about by thinking of the results of other visits my classes have made in the past.  Had any kids actually learned anything?  Maybe.  Have they even had a good time?  Maybe.  And so when we’ve been focusing on not wasting time, and effective classroom time, I realized this was wasted time.”

“So you didn’t go?  I thought you did go!”  blurted Principal Ragnar.

“Would you men let me finish?  I thought about not going, but then imagined the uproar if I canceled.”  Principal Ragnar silently understood.  He had thought the same thing earlier.  He was glad it wasn’t his call.  Now he wondered what call Mrs. Frederickson had made.  She continued:  “So I gave the kids the choice, and had their parent’s sign off on the choice.”

“You gave the kids ...”  Mrs. Frederickson raised her hand to cut off Mr. Stephens.  “I gave them the choice, but with one condition: they had to write a paper on something of the Impressionist movement if they were going.”

“You mean if they weren’t going?”, Mr. Stephens interrupted again.

“Now why don’t you stick to your mantra.  Here me out!  As I said earlier, I’ve had many museum visits – or trips in general.  We all have.  Let’s be honest.  How much do the kids really learn?  Or take in?  And compound this lack of genuine learning with the hassles of logistics, and I wonder why we even do them.  But let’s just stick to the museum.  There’s so much there to learn – to see – the kids – anyone – is easily overwhelmed by it.  And what happens?  There’s so much to see you actually see very little.  Maybe those aren’t the right words.  You see a lot, but it has no meaning.  So my thought was, ‘How can I get the kids to get to the museum and focus on something specific?’  That’s where the idea of doing a report before-hand came from.  With so much research available on the internet anymore, doing a research project takes little time.”

“So when they got to the museum, they had something specific to focus on – be it works of Van Gogh, or Degas, or a piece by Monet.  They all had something they could go to and see – to focus on.”

“And what of the students who opted out?”

“I had 5 out of 42 who opted out.  I had them sit in a study hall and work on their own homework and assignments.”

Mr. Anderson chimed in:  “Didn’t having 37 reports to grade take up a lot of your time?”

“Who said anything about grading them?  I didn’t even look at them.  I just checked off whether they had done them or not.  Remember my goal:  get the kids focused on something, so when they go to the museum, they had something to start with.”



5 Times A Charm

The Political Short-Story Regarding Nebraska


A Capital Idea


March 28, 2010






"A Capital Idea" Story

The Mexican-American War was over.

The West Coast of the continent was now officially part of the United States.  So was the interior, as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

The year was 1854.

North versus South had been brewing for decades.

Territories admitted as free states had to be offset by slave-owning territories to maintain a balance of power.

The nation was divided, geographically and philosophically.

How to connect the east with the west?

A Transcontinental Railroad.

And hence, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.  But written into the bill regarding the Transcontinental Railroad was a little provision regarding "Popular Sovereignty".  The people can choose:  anti-slavery or pro-slavery.

The Nebraska-Territory.  1854.  There was really no settlement, and few people.  President Franklin Pierce appointed Francis Burt to be the governor.

People flocked to the new territory, establishing "sites" along the eastern border of the territory - the Missouri River.

Where would the capital be?

This was undecided.  And Burt would not arrive by steamship from St. Louis until October, 1854.

Bellevue, it was thought, was the logical choice, being the most "established" of settlements, the ideal place along the Missouri for fur trading.  Bellevue is French for "Beautiful View".

Burt had purchased a home in Bellevue.

But he became ill on the steamship ride to the territory, and two days after being sworn in as Governor, he died.

25-year-old Thomas Cuming, territorial secretary, became acting governor.

And he had a home in Council Bluffs, across the Missouri River on the western edge of Iowa - across from Omaha City.


Omaha City, the territorial capital of Nebraska.

A wood-engraving.

The First Territorial Capital, Omaha City, Nebraska.


Omaha City?  Were you thinking "Lincoln" was the capital of Nebraska?  You're right - now - of course.

At this time, and for the next decade-and-a-half, there wasn't even a place called Lincoln, Nebraska.

It did not exist.

That is the "rest of this story" about "The Capital Idea".

Stay Tuned for Part II ...



An Open Letter to Mrs. Moore


Candidate:  Kansas 3rd District:  House of Representatives


March 29, 2010






Good day, Mrs. Moore:

I understand you're considering running for the House of Representatives, District 3 in Kansas, a spot currently held by your husband.

There are a few questions I'd like to raise, more specific than I usually ask of a candidate, but relevant to current events:

I'm asking these questions, parenthetically, because I'm assuming there's a spot available for you to run.  As you know, the 2010 census is underway, one of the goals of which is the reapportionment of House seats.

Illegal aliens are counted for the purposes, though they are ineligible to vote.  Missouri is projected to lose one seat. 

Do you support this?


Now a few questions on the recent health care vote:

1. After voting "yes" on the Senate bill, your husband was asked about the special deals in the bill - the "Louisiana Purchase" and the "Cornhusker Kickback" to name two.  There were others.  He said, "They shouldn't be there". 

Would you vote for a bill where you knew there were things in the bill you disagreed with?


2. You may have seen the recent article in the Kansas City Star regarding the alarming trend of C-Sections, now comprising 1/3 of all births.  Doctors, fearful of lawsuits, bypass the risks of regular deliveries in favor of C-Sections.

Defensive medicine, we know, has been an issue for years.  Malpractice premiums are skyrocketing.

The bill just passed is silent on tort reform.

Would you vote in favor of a bill that did not address this crucial issue?


3. Emergency rooms are closing around the country in areas heavily populated with illegal aliens.  The coverage of illegal aliens has been a contentious issue in the discussions of health care, but missing from the debate is not whether they're covered or not, but whether they'd receive care or not.

This latter issue is what ERs are up against.

One of the stated goals of the health care bill regarding the uninsured was the nation was already picking up the bill - it's being paid by someone.

This holds true with illegal aliens as well.

Does the current bill address this issue?  Are you in favor of denying care to illegal aliens desiring care?


4. Companies have an "opt out" provision - pay $750 / employee and they do not have to offer their employees coverage.  With the average cost of health insurance many times greater than this, the logical conclusion is many companies will simply drop coverage.

Does your husband know the rational behind this dollar amount?  Are you in favor of this provision, and if so, where would you have set the dollar amount?


5. As you know, individuals are forced, by law, to purchase health insurance or pay a fine.  The fine for individuals, as in (4) above, is minimal compared to the typical cost of healthcare.  Given the elimination of pre-existing condition clauses in the bill, is it reasonable for anyone to purchase insurance, when they need only pay the fine, and then purchase insurance only when they need it?

Is this what your husband intended?  Do you support a policy leading inevitably to such a conclusion?


6. Medicare providers already refuse to accept patients, as Medicare reimbursements are so low.  If doctors are refusing new Medicare patients due to low reimbursement levels, and if Medicare reimbursements are going to be slashed even more, the logical conclusion is ________.

How is this obvious negative consequence of doctors to treat patients to be dealt with?


8. Insurance companies are required to provide refunds to covered members in the event claims are below 85% of the premium.  Are you aware, from year-to-year, there is significant variation in claims expenses, even with large populations - that good years held fund bad years?  Earthquakes, for example, are rare, but when they hit, the insurance cost is significant.  9 good years of reserve buildup are necessary to pay for the one bad year in claims.

What are the consequences of having the insurance company refund that build-up in the 9 good years?


8. Much of the health care provisions of the bill do not kick in until 2014, though taxes begin now.  The cost "over the next decade" looks at 6 years of money going out, but 10 years of money coming in.  What will be the expected cost on an apples-to-apples basis?

Would you support businesses providing financial data on such a basis?


9. For some reason, the Student Loan program was rolled up into the health care bill.  The government takeover procedure will be:  student goes to a school and asks for a loan.  The school sends the request to the government and the government makes the decision.

How did this happen?  Are you in favor of this?  Why has one North Dakota bank been granted an exemption from the government takeover?  Was Dennis also against the Bismarck Bank Deal, as he said he was the Louisiana Purchase and the Cornhusker Kickback (though voting for them)?


10. The procedure to pass the bill, as you know, included discussions of Reconciliation. 

Are you in favor of this process?  If so, is there any limit to its use?


As preparation for these questions, you might ask Dennis his thoughts - if he's thought about these at all.

These are just a few of the questions I'll be asking, should you decide to run.  My future questions will be more philosophical in nature:  what is the proper role of government?  How should the Constitution be interpreted?  What should be the relationship between the State and Federal governments?  What are individual rights, and are they important?


Michael Round



Coal and Commerce

Through Olathe, KS

(Part II)


March 30, 2010






We were previously looking at railroad maps, and realized in the seemingly chaotic map of:

There was a lot of structure that gets hidden.

This is just one way of looking the information embedded in rail graphic incorporating all of the railroads together.

But there are other ways.

For example, consider the goods that cross the Pacific from Asia.  What happens to them?  Many of the ships dock in Long Beach, California, home of one of the few deep-water docks in the USA.  You may have seen this huge boats, carrying containers of goods ...


What happens in Long Beach?  Many are offloaded onto intermodal trains heading to the heartland.  Here's a BNSF map of intermodal train travel:


The transportation of goods is one of many things on the tracks, of course.  Another is coal.  You've seen the huge coal trains, right?


Where are they coming from?  Many originate from the Powder River Basin, home of huge coal deposits.  The coal is used to generate electricity at power plants.  It's taken, as you can see, all over the country.

So here are two more maps, with different perspectives, revealing more and more.

Let's isolate these even more, focusing on one particular path from the Port of Long Beach and the Powder River Basin ...

What is this point of intersection?  This meeting of commerce and energy?  This hub of activity?

Olathe, Kansas!


5 Times A Charm

The Political Short-Story Regarding Nebraska  (Part II)


A Capital Idea


March 31, 2010






"A Capital Idea" Story

Thomas Cuming clearly wanted Omaha City, if it could be called a "city", as Nebraska's capital.

This wasn't accidental, nor was his appointment as Burt's secretary.  Cuming was a political appointment by his fellow friends in Iowa, who too wanted to see Omaha City, across the river, named Nebraska's territorial capital.

They would benefit greatly.

But there was a fight brewing.

The Missouri River may have formed the eastern boundary of the Nebraska Territory, but it was another river, the Platte River, crossing the territory horizontally, that divided the people - both geographically, as well as philosophically.

The population south of the Platte River was twice that north of the Platte.  As we said, Bellevue was established.  Plattsmouth.  Brownville.

That's merely the geographical description.

North of the Platte River was anti-slavery sentiment, while those south of the Platt River were pro-slavery sympathists.

There was a philosophical rift as well.

We'll see how that played out, in a bit.

Cuming nonetheless changed the venue where voting would take place, from Bellevue to Omaha City.

He stacked the legislature with a north-Platte majority.

Omaha City - obviously - won out, and was named the first Territorial Capital - Omaha.

Let's remember Cuming was a temporary replacement for President Pierce's choice, Burt.  Pierce's replacement was Thomas Gizard.

He arrived in Omaha in 1855 as the new Territorial Governor, and immediately set upon building a new capital.

The Second Territorial Capital, Omaha, Nebraska.


This was completed in 1857.


But the folks from South Platte were still not happy.  Numerous attempts to have the capital moved to the more populous south-Platte region were brought up, and failed.


The South, in 1859, threatened to secede from the Nebraska Territory, and be annexed by the Kansas Territory.  This did not happen.


And then the Civil War came.


And the move to achieve statehood took center-stage.


The anti-slavery faction, Pro-President Lincoln, favored granting Nebraska statehood, to help Lincoln gain re-election in 1864.


The motion eventually passed in 1867.  Nebraska was now a state.  Omaha was still the capital.


And the people from south-Platte were still not happy.


In the meantime, the capitol building, erected in 1857, was crumbling rapidly.


And the south-Platters, relentless, got a motion passed to move the capital south of the river.  The region?  640 acres somewhere in four counties, one of the Lancaster County.  The state senate still had to vote on the bill.


A word should be said here about a further difference between those north of the Platte River and those south of the Platte River.


Those north of the river were generally anti-slavery.  Those south - pro-slavery.  Whether Nebraska would become a slave state or free state, as we've already seen, would eventually be up to the people.  Popular Sovereignty.


There was a geographical rift, for sure.  But as important was a philosophical division.


And now a vote had passed to move the capital south of the river.  The vote was coming to the senate.  Given the make-up of the Senate, likely it would pass.


Unless, thought one north-Platte legislature, I can get them to vote against this bill.  How might that happen?  There's got to be something snuck into the bill abhorrent to the people from south Platte.  What could it be?




That's it!  I'll write into the bill any new capital has to be named after the recently assassinated, and anti-slavery President:  Abraham Lincoln:



That is:


The plan failed.  The motion passed.  The land for the new capital was selected:  Lancaster, Nebraska, now named Lincoln, Nebraska.


And a new capital built:  the first state capital of Nebraska:



And like it's predecessors, it too was built poorly.  By 1875, it was in danger of "falling down".


So a new capital was built, the second state capital and the fourth capital the area had seen - in 40 years:


This building lasted until the 1920s, when it was decided yet another new state capital was necessary: the present capitol building:




So, when someone says, "The capital of Nebraska is Lincoln, named after President Lincoln", smile, and say, "You're right - but do you want to know the rest of the story behind ...


"The Capital Idea?"