Tragedy and Lore of Death Curve

Less than a mile outside of Cambridge, Illinois sits Timber Ridge Road. As motorists travel west along Timber Ridge, they encounter a sharp curve marked by a Mulberry tree and an old, rustic fence that divides two cornfields. This bucolic scene hides a dark history, a history that few would remember if it were not for the ghost stories.

In 1896, Julia Johnson married a man named Clarence B. Markham, and the young couple settled on a farm in Andover Township outside of Cambridge. In nine years of marriage, Julia Markham gave birth to seven children, an average of one every 15 months. There were four girls and three boys, aged from between five months to eight and a half years.

On the morning of Saturday September 30, 1905, while her husband labored in a neighboring field, Mrs. Markham, to quote the Cambridge Chronicle, “committed one of the most dastardly deeds that has ever occurred in Henry County.”

At around 11 o’clock, Julia sent her two eldest children to a nearby spring to retrieve water. While they were gone, she took an ax and swung it at the heads of her five youngest, killing them instantly. When her eldest returned, she dealt with them the same way.

Julia had carefully planned the massacre and tried to commit suicide afterward, but the knife that she used to cut her throat was too dull. Wounded, she laid her children out on a bed and doused them with coal oil. She lit the oil on fire and the entire house went up in flames.

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Leave Your Engine at Home

Winter has me feeling nostalgic for the halcyon days of summer, when my dad and I would make the long drive up to the Chain O’ Lakes in Northern Illinois to rent a rowboat and go fishing.

The Chain O’ Lakes, including Fox Lake, Grass Lake, Lake Marie, and Channel Lake, near Antioch, has offered summer visitors a unique blend of sporting and entertainment since the late nineteenth century.

Possibly the most famous establishment on the Chain is Blarney Island, “Key West of the Midwest,” a bar located a mile offshore in Grass Lake, where over a decade worth of bras, hats, and business cards used to hang from the ceiling.

Blarney Island – June 2002

But the fond memories of my childhood lay a little to the east, at C.J. Smith Resort. Don’t let the name fool you, C.J. Smith’s is not much more than a boat rental near the shore of tiny Spring Lake that looks like it hasn’t changed since the 1950s. At least it hasn’t changed in my lifetime.

If you are looking to rent large, gas guzzling speedboats, look somewhere else. C.J. Smith’s offers only top quality 14’ and 16’ aluminum rowboats, with a 6, 8, or 15HP motor for an extra cost. Ditch the motor, in my opinion. The experience is much more rewarding if you row.

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White House Employees Warned About Violating the Hatch Act

A reprimand for engaging in politics on official accounts shows the importance of distinguishing between official and personal social media.

Last summer, in what seemed like an eternity ago as new scandals and outrage constantly emerge, there was a brouhaha over news outlets treating President Trump’s Twitter posts as official White House statements. Despite a contrary statement from then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, I still believe Trump’s personal Twitter feed should not be treated as official statements from the White House, and this latest incident shows why.

According to CNN, six White House officials were sent letters of reprimand from Office of the Special Counsel to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Executive Director Noah Bookbinder for violating the Hatch Act.

The Hatch Act, passed in 1939, prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government, except the president, vice-president, and certain designated high-level officials, from engaging in political activity while acting in an official capacity. Most relevantly, the Act allows federal employees to express opinions about candidates and issues, but prohibits them from engaging in political activity while on duty, in a government office, wearing an official uniform, or using a government vehicle.

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Dem’s anti-corruption proposal promising

Democrats unveiled their legislative agenda in the form of H.R.1, a reform bill that has potential but is woefully short on details.

Vox is reporting the new Democratic congressional majority plans to put forward House Resolution 1 after they decide on a new Speaker in early January. The resolution aims to tackle corruption on Capitol Hill, which will certainly be a daunting task.

Some of these measures sound promising, but others are problematic, particularly when it comes to campaign finance. Others simply need more explanation. Here is Vox’s breakdown, with my comments:

Public financing of campaigns, powered by small donations. Under Sarbanes’s vision, the federal government would provide a voluntary 6-1 match for candidates for president and Congress, which means for every dollar a candidate raises from small donations, the federal government would match it six times over.“If you give $100 to a candidate that’s meeting those requirements, then that candidate would get another $600 coming in behind them,” Sarbanes told Vox this summer.

The main problem with public financing of campaigns is where the money comes from. If I donate $100 to a candidate, the federal government will match that with $600? Where does the $600 come from? Well, taxes, obviously. I’ve never understood this logic. Let people keep the money they earn and donate it to whom they wish.  You’re going to tax more of my income and give it to some politician I may or may not support? No thanks.

Passing the DISCLOSE Act, pushed by Rep. David Cicilline (RI) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), both Democrats from Rhode Island. This would require Super PACs and “dark money” political organizations to make their donors public.

I think this is a good idea, and we should know exactly where campaign donations originate. It would basically require politicians and political action committees to report every single donation, no matter how small, which sucks for them from an accounting perspective but it’s a win for public transparency.

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The End of Social Media?

The increasingly authoritarian behavior of social media companies is troubling and begs the question: are they worth our time?

The early days of social media were exciting. It was a new way to connect with friends, share photos and organize events, share your opinions and interests and promote projects.

I was an early fan of social media. I created my Facebook profile in 2005, when you still needed a .edu email address to join. I’ve spent countless hours finding friends on Myspace (remember that?) and hundreds of dollars of advertising on Facebook. I used to think it had great potential.

As membership ballooned, however, it became increasingly difficult to reach out to the people you want. A few years ago, Facebook buried all non-promoted Page posts, so you had to pay just to reach your own fans. A page with thousands of fans might only get a few views on a non-promoted post.

Facebook has an obligation to its investors to make a profit. I understand that, but we have no obligation to use their service, especially now. Facebook started as a platform where anyone could go on and express themselves. Then they started acting like a gatekeeper. (Remember the controversy over Facebook removing photos of women breastfeeding?)

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