Short workweek, a bit shorter-than-usual column.  This could have been a week when I skip comment, in order to concentrate on some personal matters as I plan to do in coming weeks.  But this week, comments on a few subjects currently or very recently getting media attention:

Nebraska Continues To Stand Out Nationally
In Its Splendid, Solvent Park System

What a contrast:

In Minnesota, locking all state parks and recreation areas because of a shortage of funds—part of a statewide shutdown in state services.

In Nebraska, a television newscast reporting that camping areas are still available at Two Rivers State Recreation Area.

What’s happening in Minnesota is an extreme example of what is happening in a number of states around the country.  Shut down—in some cases permanently—of major portions of a state’s park and recreation area network.

In Nebraska, a very different picture—thanks to wise management on the part of Nebraska Game and Parks department and the State Legislature’s recent decision to override Gov. Heineman’s veto and approve a modest increase from $20 to $25 in a permit which allows a vehicle and all its occupants entry into any state park or recreation area the entire year.

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Predictable Search For A Flood Scapegoat
Continues To Unfairly Target Army Engineers

Scapegoat-searchers who want to blame the Army Corps of Engineers for the disastrous Missouri River flooding should have been pleased by the approach taken in a Sunday news story.

The story gave a critic of the Engineers the loudest voice in a survey of opinions as to factors which contributed to what will surely go down as one of the worst Missouri River Valley flood disasters—if not the worst—ever recorded.

An outspoken critic of the Engineers’ management of their Missouri River dams storage capacity—Brad Lawrence, Public Works Director of Fort Pierre, South Dakota, got a combined total of 14 paragraphs of attention, starting on the front page and continuing on an inside page.  There was also a Page 1 picture of Lawrence.  (Fort Pierre is a town of 2,103, not to be confused with Pierre, South Dakota’s capital.)

The Lawrence criticism of the Corps could be boiled down to this charge:  The Corps failed to lower its reservoir water levels enough to meet even normal snowmelt and rainfall conditions.

Given less attention were the opinions of these officials:

Al Berndt, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency; Gina Loss, a National Weather Service hydrologist in Great Falls, Montana; and Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota’s state climatologist in Bismarck.

None of these three officials—who were quoted in a total of 11 paragraphs compared to Brad Lawrence’s 14 paragraphs of attention—was critical of the Corps of Engineers.  Among their comments:

Loss:  “Half of Montana got nearly a year’s worth of rain in a few days.  It was incredibly rare.  I can’t emphasize that enough.”

And this from North Dakota State hydrologist Akyuz:  The snowiest winter ever and the second-wettest spring in western North Dakota created perfect conditions for flooding—developments which could not have been reasonably predicted by the Corps of Engineers.

Rep. Steve King, a Republican whose Western Iowa district includes most of the hard-hit Iowa communities and farms, was quoted:  “I can’t lay the flood at the feet of the Corps.”

King, whose earth-moving company has done some levee work in the flood area, sees the current flooding as providing the initiative for changing the Congressionally-approved and court-tested Master Manual which sets overall policy for the Corps of Engineers management of Missouri River dams.  Other Missouri River Valley political office-holders have called for review and possible revision of the Master Manual.

The dams are, under terms of the Master Manual, supposed to manage the river’s flow to serve a variety of purposes.  Flood control, recreation, barge navigation from Gavins Point downstream.  Also consideration of the spring nesting environment of endangered species like the piping plover and least tern, which like sandbars below Gavins Point for spring nesting.

No one has effectively rebutted the Corps’ denial that management for protection of endangered species was simply not a factor in efforts to provide storage for this year’s enormous snowmelt and rainfall runoff.

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Let’s Have All The Facts
Of That Hotel-Room Encounter

We read that the New York hotel maid who said she was sexually assaulted by former International Money Fund Chairman Dominique Strauss-Kahn has a record of lying and is reliably reported to have talked about using her encounter with Strauss-Kahn for some substantial monetary gain.

But no story I have read so far addresses the question of whether, regardless of her character or motivation, Strauss-Kahn had sexual relations with the maid.

He didn’t help his credibility by his departure from New York City later that day, as if nothing had happened between him and the maid, only to be arrested on an airliner minutes before it was to take off for his native France.

More information, please, prosecutors and news media people.

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Americans Deserve Better Than
Politicians’ Dealing In Trivialities

When will some politicians stop playing what might be called a game of “Trivial Pursuit”?

I’m thinking of Michele Bachmann of Minnesota who some people actually consider a serious contender for Republican presidential nomination.

When questioned about her statements of unqualified opposition to Federal subsidies to the private sector while she has benefited from subsidies to two business enterprises in which she is involved, Bachman didn’t attempt to answer the question.  Instead she replied that wasteful federal spending had to stop.  For example, she said, in the past year there has been a 73% increase in Federal government “limousines.”

She didn’t specify the source of the numbers or indicate that her limousine-increase allegations, if true, would have more than a trivial impact on the nation’s near-trillion-dollar deficit problem.

“Trivial Pursuit” as played by is President Obama:  In a recent press conference he talked about plans to reduce tax deductions for corporate aircraft.  A non-political source pointed out that the administration’s proposal would save only an estimated $3 billion over a 10-year period.

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“The Rest Of The Story”
Of The Star-Spangled Banner

“And now for the rest of the story,” as the late radio commentator Paul Harvey so often said.

In this case the story which took up nearly all of the front page and an entire inside page in the July 4th World-Herald dealt with the Star Spangled Banner and the difficulty some people have in singing it.

Interesting was the report (presumably news to a lot of people) that the words to our national anthem includes four stanzas written by Francis Scott Key.  All four were printed on the Monday front page.

Interesting and informative.  And the color artwork, both on the front page and inside page, was outstanding, as is common in The World-Herald.

But there was no explanation for the source of the music, and it is the music, not the words, which make the song supposedly so hard to sing.

Quick research confirmed my recollection that the music came from a drinking song which originated at a men’s club in England and soon spread to America.

Francis Scott Key’s brother-in-law, Joseph H. Nicholson, saw that Key’s words fit the drinking song music and took poem and musical score to a printer in Baltimore.

Also included in the rest of the story is the fact that the battle-damaged but still recognizable flag that flew over Fort McHenry on the night Francis Scott Key watched the British navy’s bombardment of the fort is on display in the National Museum of American History in Washington.

The rest of the story also should certainly include the important fact that Fort McHenry and shore batteries withstood the British attack.  As a result, the British gave up their effort to capture Baltimore and retreated from the area.

Francis Scott Key observed the bombardment of Fort McHenry the night of September 14, 1814, while being held on a non-involved “truce ship” with an elderly Baltimore physician whose release from British detention Key had negotiated.

Now as to the singability of the Star Spangled Banner:  The July 4th story said that as the pitch rises in the closing lines you are likely to produce sounds which would have your dogs throwing themselves “o’er the ramparts.”

I put this bit of good humor to a humorous test of my own, singing the Star Spangled Banner to Marian and our two cocker spaniels.

Marian said it was a quite acceptable performance.  Neither Claire nor Charlotte jumped over anything in an effort to escape my singing.

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