27 January 2009

Red-shouldered Hawk

Not usually appearing in Minnesota until the middle of March, this red-shouldered hawk, seen on a January morning, is north of its normal wintering range.  

26 January 2009

Cool Jay

With its feathers puffed out to stay warm,
a blue jay surveys another subzero morning.

22 January 2009

The Modern Day Tetradactyl

The pileated woodpecker

Nearly a foot and a half long, the pileated
is almost the size of a crow.

This woodpecker is found in
deciduous or coniferous forests with large trees.
A pair will stay together year round and defend their territory
which can be as big as a couple square miles.

The Pileated Woodpecker digs characteristically rectangular holes in trees to find ants.
This work was done over a span of a few weeks.

Wood shavings from the pileated's handiwork.

Pileated woodpeckers can be attracted to birdfeeders by offering suet.

20 January 2009

Inauguration Day Eight Years Ago

Barack Hussein Obama II (born August 4, 1961) is the forty-fourth President of the United States and the first African American to hold the office.

President Obama and Vice President Biden are the second set of Senators elected to the high office.

"On this Inauguration Day, we are reminded that we are heirs to over two centuries of American democracy, and that this legacy is not simply a birthright -- it is a glorious burden. Now it falls to us to come together as a people to carry it forward once more.
So in the words of President Abraham Lincoln, let us remember that: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 20, 2009, a National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation, and call upon all of our citizens to serve one another and the common purpose of remaking this Nation for our new century."

19 January 2009

The Living Presidents with the President-Elect

From the left: George H.W. Bush (41st President), President-elect Obama, George W. Bush (43rd President), William Jefferson Clinton (42nd President) and Jimmy Carter (39th President).

The Great Communicator

Ronald Wilson Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004) was the fortieth President of the United States and, at age 69, the oldest president to assume office.
When Reagan campaigned for office, the United States inflation rate was over 14% and unemployment was rising to reach a peak of 10.8% in 1982. Reagan enacted two major tax acts, lowering tax rates, to stimulate the economy during his terms, creating growth and lowering the unemployment rate. Despite his economic success, the national debt rose during his eight years from $700 billion to $3 trillion causing Reagan to reflect on the increased debt as the "greatest disappointment " of his presidency.

On foreign policy, he began a series of summits with Mikhail Gorbachev, laying the foundation for the Soviet reforms and arms agreements that ended the Cold War. He is known for his famous 1987 speech at Berlin Wall's Brandenberg Gate, where he challenged Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." The Wall came down two years later and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

Reagan's style of communication and humor endeared him with the title of the "Great Communicator" of which he stated in retrospect:

"I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full blown from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation, from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries."


Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr. (July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006) was the thirty-eighth President of the United States and the first person appointed to the vice-presidency under the terms of the 25th Amendment. The Amendment was invoked three times under Gerald Ford. The 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, allowed Ford to be nominated for the vice presidency to replace Spiro Agnew who resigned under tax evasion charges in 1973. The Vice Presidency had been vacant several times throughout history due to death, resignation or succession to the Presidency. The Amendment also formalized the succession process upon vacancy of the presidency which applied to Ford in 1974 following Nixon's resignation. Thirdly, as sitting President, Ford was able to nominate Nelson Rockefeller to succeed him as Vice President.

Gerald and Betty Ford escort Richard and Pat Nixon to the Presidential Helicopter after Nixon's resignation speech. (White House photo)

One of the highlights of Ford's 29 months in office was his pardon of former President Nixon. In election of 1976, he was defeated by Jimmy Carter who thanked Ford for "all he has done to heal our land."

18 January 2009

Nixon's the One

Richard Milhous Nixon (January 9, 1913 – April 22, 1994) was the thirty-seventh President of the United States, and the only president to ever resign the office. The thirteen and a half years he spent as either President or Vice President also meant that he was the longest serving individual to have held the nation's two highest executive posts.

Nixon ended America's involvement in the Vietnam war, opened relations with Communist China and started diplomacy with Soviet Union. On the domestic side, Nixon chose to go off the gold standard stopping the direct convertibility of the US dollar to gold. He battled inflation with temporary wage and price controls and governed during the first oil crisis in 1973. He signed into law the bill that lowered the US freeway speed limit to 55 mph to conserve gasoline. Nixon was president during all the Apollo moon landings and approved the development of the space shuttle.

Nixon won his second term by a landslide. The break-in of the Democratic headquarters during the campaign and the subsequent cover-up by Nixon lead to his resignation on August 9, 1974.


Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27, 1908 – January 22, 1973) was the thirty-sixth President of the United States and became president upon the assassination of President Kennedy. During his time in office, he initiated his "Great Society" set of domestic programs. Two legislative outcomes were Medicare (government-funded health care for the elderly) and Medicaid (government-funded health care for the poor). On foreign policy, he was responsible for escalating the American involvement in the Vietnam War from 16,000 American soldiers in 1963 to 500,000 in early 1968.
The 1964 presidential election is known for the introduction of the negative political ad. The now famous "Daisy" TV ad attempted to portray contender Barry Goldwater was a warmonger who would possibly use nuclear weapons in the conflict in Vietnam. The controversial ad was immediately pulled from the air but lived on in news discussions and amongst the voters. Johnson won the election by one of the largest margins in history.

16 January 2009


John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963) was the thirty-fifth President of the United States and the youngest man to be elected President at the age of 43.

In his first year of Kennedy's presidency, the Russians, in April, launched the first man in space. The following month, the United States launched Alan Shepard into space and Kennedy used the success of that launch to declare America's goal to land on the moon. Kennedy witnessed all six of the Mercury space flights. Appearing at Cape Canaveral in November of 1963, Kennedy toured the new launch area for the Apollo Moon Project and saw the new Saturn rocket being readied for testing. Six days later, he was assassinated in Dallas.
Reflecting on his goal for landing on the moon, Kennedy said:
"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

15 January 2009

72 Hours of Below Zero Weather and counting....

Detail of ice at Minnehaha Falls

Mask of Chief Little Crow near the Falls

I Like Ike

Dwight David Eisenhower (October 14, 1890 – March 28, 1969) was the thirty-fourth President of the United States and a five-star general, supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and the first commander of NATO.
In addition to his war record, he is remembered for his foresight in supporting systems that would forever shape America's future. One is the Interstate Highway System signed into law in 1956. Eisenhower's experience with the German autobahns during World War II convinced him of the military and economic benefits of a federal freeway. Another involvement Eisenhower was instrumental in shaping was the fledging space program. During the intense Cold War tension of the space race and its military ramifications, Eisenhower insisted that the development of U.S. space program emphasize the benefit of peaceful endeavors. He championed the formation of a civilian agency to perform space research which lead to the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Agency in 1958. His crowning moment in the space race was the test of the first communication satellite to broadcast from space.

Launched in December 1958, the satellite transmitted the following first message from space:

"This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America's wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere."

14 January 2009

The buck stops here

Harry S. Truman (May 8, 1884 – December 26, 1972) was the thirty-third President of the United States. Five months into his presidency, Truman ordered the atomic bombing of Japan bringing an end to World War II. He supported the founding of the United Nations, orchestrated the rebuilding of Europe with the Marshall Plan, signed the National Security Act of 1947 which created the CIA and National Security Council and created the Truman Doctrine to support countries who resisted the spread of Communism. His folksy style included the use of such phrases as 'the buck stops here" and "if you can't stand the heat, you better get out of the kitchen".

Truman planned on adding a second story balcony to the White House to be able to get fresh air. The idea was controversial to purists who did not want the historical building changed and the idea became a slogan for the Republican challenger, Thomas Dewey, in the 1948 election. Dewey stated that he looked forward to living in the new "porch" that Truman built. Truman delayed construction until after the election, an election he barely won. As it turned out, the White House needed extensive renovations to its foundation which required rebuilding the whole interior of the main part so the Truman family had to move into the Blair House and lived there for over two years.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt (January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945) was the thirty-second President of the United States and the only President to have served more than eight years. The two-term limit was an unwritten rule since the country's founding as many presidents accepted it as convention. Not until the 22nd amendment in 1947 did the term limit become part of the Constitution and that applies to two elected terms with the stipulation that a vice president filling out the reminder of term would not be eligible for a second term if more than two years remained on the unexpired term.
In trying to combat the Great Depression, in addition to new government programs, new taxes were introduced. Payroll tax was created in 1937 to fund Social Security. Most states added income and sales tax to combat declining revenues. The withholding tax came into existence in 1943. To fund World War II, Roosevelt increased marginal tax rates for top earners to almost 90% and lowered personal exemptions for all individuals.

World War II started in Roosevelt's third term and the war in Europe ended shortly after his death in the first year of his fourth term. He served 12 years as President.

Roosevelt's Four Freedoms presented in his 1941 State of the Union speech:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want--which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants--everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world."

12 January 2009

Engineer • Public Servant • Author

Herbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964) was the thirty-first President of the United States and is the most recent cabinet secretary to be elected President. Secretary of Commerce under Harding and Coolidge, Hoover won the election of 1928 by a wide margin despite having no prior elective office, campaigning on the economic success of the Republicans in the 1920's. Hoover's presidential honeymoon was short-lived as the stock market crash in September of 1929 marked the start of the Great Depression. Hoover wrestled with ways to combat the worsening economy but ended up, after four years, being unsuccessful. He raised tax rates across the board, with top income rates going from 25% to 63%, doubling estate taxes and raising corporate tax rates to counter declining government revenue. He signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which cut world trade in half, worsening the effects of the Great Depression. From the U.S. Bureau of Census: Unemployment was at 7.8% in 1930 when the Smoot-Hawley tariff was passed, but it jumped to 16.3% in 1931, 24.9% in 1932, and 25.1% in 1933.

Hoover was a mining engineer before becoming involved in politics. As chairman of the Colorado River Commission in the early 20's, he oversaw the development of the Boulder Dam to be renamed the Hoover Dam by congressional act while he was President in 1931. Following Roosevelt's victory in 1932, his Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, succeeded in slowly removing Hoover's name from all literature relating to the Dam and did not mention or invite Hoover to the dedication speech in 1935. The name was not restored until another act of Congress in 1947.

Author of at least 16 books from mining textbooks to presidential history to fishing, Hoover writes in his book to children: "I did not "dream about becoming President" until forty-four years after I finished the eighth grade. I was busy on other things. Being a politician is a poor profession. Being a public servant is a noble one."

The Rise of Radio

John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. (July 4, 1872 – January 5, 1933) was the thirtieth President of the United States and claimed many firsts in the use of radio during his presidency. The first commercial radio station in the United States, KDKA in Pittsburgh, began broadcasting in 1922. Coolidge's inauguration in 1923 was a first followed by a broadcast of a speech to Congress later that year. In 1924, he became the first President to appear in a sound film.
Incumbent Coolidge with running mate, John Davis, won definitively in 1924 and his second term, characterized by the Roaring Twenties, experienced an economic boom. Coolidge lowered income tax rates that had crept up during World War I, reduced government spending and vetoed a farm relief bill. Coolidge, a farmer's son, stated that agriculture must stand "on an independent business basis," and said that "government control cannot be divorced from political control."

Coolidge did not seek renomination in 1928, explaining in his autobiography: "The Presidential office takes a heavy toll of those who occupy it and those who are dear to them. While we should not refuse to spend and be spent in the service of our country, it is hazardous to attempt what we feel is beyond our strength to accomplish."

10 January 2009

The last of a string of Ohio Presidents

Warren Gamaliel Harding (November 2, 1865 – August 2, 1923) was the twenty-ninth President of the United States and was the first sitting Senator to be elected President. John Kennedy and Barack Obama are the only other two to be elected president while serving in the Senate. Harding was the eighth President from the state of Ohio. From William Henry Harrison's election in 1840 to Harding's in 1920, Ohio produced a large group of politicians that served as Presidents or members of their Cabinets.
In the election of 1920, Harding defeated fellow Ohioan and Governor James Cox by a landslide victory of 60% to 34% in the popular vote. Cox's running mate was 38 year-old Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt. This was the first election where women from all states achieved the right to vote by passage of the 19th admendment in August of 1920.
Harding's campaign slogan was "Return to Normalcy", meaning turning away from the government activism of the World War I era. Harding signed peace treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary officially ending U.S. involvement in the war. He established the Veterans Bureau which later became the Department of Veterans Affairs. Harding's short-lived presidency was charactarized by scandals, most notably Teapot Dome. He also had a 15 year relationship with Carrie Fulton Phillips, the wife of a close friend. The Republican Party found this out after Harding's nomination, so in exchange for her silence about the affair, the Party aranged for her family to live abroad and receive an annual stipend. Love letters between the two were confiscated by Harding's heirs and remain under court injunction, not subject to pubic review until 2023, the 100th anniversary of Harding's death. Harding died in office in August 1923 of a heart attack while traveling the West Coast.

09 January 2009

American Idealist

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the twenty-eighth President of the United States. His first term comprised of many domestic firsts including the Revenue Act of 1913 and the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank. For 124 years, the largest source of the U.S. government revenue was generated by tariff duties. Prior to 1913, there were 19 different tariffs established by the government. In pursuing tariff reform, Wilson laid the groundwork for lower tariffs by creating a federal progressive income tax to supplement the reduced government revenue. In a few years, the federal income tax surpassed tariff revenues as the chief source of government revenue. The Revenue Act allowed rather high exemptions to income tax and a top marginal rate of 7% on those earning over $500,000 (10.7 million in today's dollars). The exemption for married filers in 1913 was comparable to income over $85,800 in 2008 dollars versus today's tax exemption of $17,900, and marginal rates have now increased to 35%. It was the 4th tax act in the 137-year history of the government which went on to create 45 new tax acts in the following 95 years.

Wilson's second term centered on foreign issues relating to World War I. He campaigned for maintaining America's neutrality but German submarine attacks eventually caused Wilson to declare war on the Central Powers in 1917. After the War, Wilson worked to develop his foreign policy "idealism" of world peace and self-determination by helping shape the Treaty of Versailles and forming the League of Nations. Although this work earned him the 1919 Nobel Prize, his own government chose not to ratify the Versailles Treaty nor join the League of Nations.

08 January 2009

Nature Break

Canada Wild Rye

07 January 2009

Commander-in-Chief to Chief Justice

William Howard Taft (September 15, 1857 – March 8, 1930) was the twenty-seventh President of the United States and, to date, the only ex-president to serve on the Supreme Court as the tenth Chief Justice.

Chosen by Teddy Roosevelt as his successor in the 1908 elections, Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan who ran for the third time as the Democratic nominee. The relationship soured in 1910 when Roosevelt did not see agree with Taft's governing and set up one of the biggest schisms in the Republican party. Roosevelt put his name back in the ring for president in the 1912 election. Taft was able to win the Republican nomination for re-election by garnering the support of the delegates despite Roosevelt's popularity with the people.
After the convention, Teddy Roosevelt promptly created the "Progressive" party as a third party contender in the election which divided the Republicans and handed Taft the worst defeat as an incumbent President. Taft finished third with 23% of the popular vote (8 electoral), Roosevelt 27% (88 electoral) and handed Woodrow Wilson an overwhelming victory with 42% of the popular (435 electoral).

06 January 2009


Theodore Roosevelt (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was the twenty-sixth President of the United States and at age 42, the youngest person to become president.
On September 2, 1901, Roosevelt delivered his “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” speech at the Minnesota State Fair. In less than two weeks, he would become president due to President McKinley's assassination.

An excerpt from Roosevelt’s 5,300-word speech, as reported in the Minneapolis Tribune:
"Right here let me make as vigorous a plea as I know how in favor of saying nothing that we do not mean, and of acting without hesitation up to whatever we say. A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick – you will go far.” If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power. In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting, and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words, his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. It is both foolish and undignified to indulge in undue self-glorification, and, above all, in loose-tongued denunciation of other peoples. Whenever on any point we come in contact with a foreign power, I hope that we shall always strive to speak courteously and respectfully of that foreign power.
Let us make it evident that we intend to do justice. Then let us make it equally evident that we will not tolerate injustice being done us in return. Let us further make it evident that we use no words which we are not which prepared to back up with deeds, and that while our speech is always moderate, we are ready and willing to make it good. Such an attitude will be the surest possible guarantee of that self-respecting peace, the attainment of which is and must ever be the prime aim of a self-governing people."

04 January 2009

Soldier • Statesman • President

William McKinley, Jr. (January 29, 1843 – September 14, 1901) was the twenty-fifth President of the United States, and the last veteran of the American Civil War to be elected.
He served in the House of Representatives for 11 years before becoming Governor of Ohio.
He was elected president in 1896 and 1900.

McKinley's opponent in both elections was William Jennings Bryan who, at the age of 36, remains the youngest presidential nominee of a major party in American history.
Byran campaigned on the issue of free silver which argued for silver to be minted freely at rate of $1 per troy ounce. The defacto gold standard at the time was $20 per troy ounce and opponents to silver money feared inflation. McKinley upheld the idea of having only a gold standard which lead to the Gold Standard Act being officially ratified and signed by McKinley in 1900.
McKinley was also a supporter of high tariffs on imports and authored the McKinley Tariff of 1890. He argued, "Free foreign trade gives our money, our manufactures, and our markets to other nations to the injury of our labor, our tradespeople, and our farmers. Protection keeps money, markets, and manufactures at home for the benefit of our own people." His tariff proved detrimental to farmers as it drove up the cost of imported farm equipment while prices for domestic agricultural goods declined due to lack of competition from foreign sources.

McKinley chose Teddy Roosevelt as his running mate in the 1900 election which they won easily with 51% of the vote. Roosevelt became president the next year in September of 1901 when McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, New York.
McKinley's last words were "It is God's way; His will be done, not ours."

Niles, Ohio is the home of the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial. Located just off of Interstate 80 in eastern Ohio, the formal memorial features an unpretentious museum wing displaying many artifacts of McKinley's life.

03 January 2009

Special Series: Countdown to the Inauguration

In anticipation of the upcoming inauguration, this series is going to take a look back at some historic tidbits of past presidents. Using campaign buttons and other memorabilia as a guide for discovery, this is a small nod to the great institution of the American presidency.

02 January 2009

Images way down under courtesy of the Penguin Cam

The Penguin WebCam is capturing more than penguins. Although it only updates every 15 minutes due to the extreme conditions, the cam is plenty fast to record the backdrop of icebergs going by. The icebergs provide their own visual wallpaper on a daily basis while the gentoo penguins sit on their eggs.

Midnight light in the Antarctic

01 January 2009

Did last year leave your head spinning?