History Monday #98

The fact is, they’re flooding this valley so they can hydro-electric up the whole durned state.

Uh-oh, Congress passed another big government bill that won’t really help financially strapped people. Yes, those are recent headlines, but they could also be applied to today’s #HistoryMonday event as well. Although, the historical event we’ll discuss was much more widely accepted at its inception and even today.

A Tennessee Valley Authority sign at the Pres. Roosevelt Museum

On this day in 1833, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt signs Tennessee Valley Authority Act. This act was a hallmark of New Deal programs. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was a connected effort of public utility companies to be administered by the federal government.

The Tennessee Valley which comprises the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee,  and Kentucky, as well as slivers of North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. These states are all part of the Tennessee River watershed which would provide much needed resources for hydroelectric plants.

Building hydroelectric plants and a utility commission in the South during the Great Depression was a way to assist communities that were suffering even more than other regions of the country. As much of the South was already impoverished before the Great Depression, the financial crisis from the Stock Market and banks only compounded the problems.

While seen as part of Pres. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the TVA Act was authored by Sen. George Norris (R-NE). Sen. Norris had previously blocked a private utility effort by Henry Ford some 12 years earlier. In hopes of preventing further private utility companies that charged unfair prices for their consumers, Sen. Norris authored the Muscle Shoals bill in 1931, but it was vetoed as being a socialist idea by Pres. Hoover. Pres. Roosevelt was not as opposed to Sen. Norris’s efforts, and had campaigned for public utility commissions to be overseen by the federal government prior to his election.

fast forward

The TVA was originally headquartered at Muscle Shoals, AL but would eventually move to its present location in Knoxville, TN. A three-member board appointed by the President administered the authority: Harcourt Morgan, Arthur E. Morgan, and David Lilienthal. Under their leadership, Lilienthal became known as Mr. TVA for his efforts to maintain the commission and to be its public face.

During the initial building of the hydroelectric plants, much of the power produced was directed to aluminum factories owned by Alcoa and others. These plants were necessary for the building of airplanes and other weapons for the war effort. By the time the Fontana Dam was built, much of its electric output was used at Oak Ridge, TN for the uranium enrichment process needed as part of the Manhattan Project.

As power demands grew after World War II, the TVA changed to a broader electric utility portfolio. Adding coal power plants became necessary in the 50’s & 60’s and this became their primary electric-producing method. Keeping their costs low and promoting competition, a handful of power plants were built to use nuclear power, but with skepticism of nuclear reactions, this never really became a primary method.

Of course, as concern grew over the environmental impact over coal, the TVA has retired many of those plants in accordance with EPA regulations. They have in the last decade purchased equipment for wind farms. Also, in attempt to be more in touch with the 21st Century, the TVA has also recently added an in-house energy infrastructure cybersecurity panel. This panel oversees social media and IT programs to prevent threats to energy by cyberterrorists.

Many other rural electric cooperatives aspire to have the efficacy and fame of the TVA, but much of those attributes are reserved only in their regions. Private utility companies also exist today and are not always appreciated for their costs to consumers, but government regulations try to keep those prices in check.

 

The TVA has also been a source for tourism. You can visit many of the sites used by the TVA today and learn more about their construction and their impact in the region. Additionally, museums include artwork form the TVA remembering their contributions.

Media has included the TVA as part of their efforts as well, Ronald Reagan was fired by General Electric for his criticism of the TVA for being a big government program that shouldn’t be celebrated. Given that General Electric used electricity from the TVA, this was a conflict of interest for them. A more recent and less-controversial media appearance features the TVA and their efforts from the Coen brothers 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou? The film includes the public utility as a timing foil for the protagonist who has to recover stored treasure before his house is flooded by the TVA.

Have you ever visited a TVA site?

Current Event Friday #54

The one time I’m not a fan of things that go boom in the night

Kentucky Derby fans start your engines! Tomorrow is the kickoff of the Kentucky Derby season. The day will be marked with an event that’s taken on a life of its own, rivaling the Derby itself—Thunder Over Louisville.

low angle photo of fireworks
Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

Thunder Over Louisville is a firework show combining popular music selections with thousands of fireworks to begin the season of Kentucky Derby Festival. What began several years ago as a kickoff event focused only on the fireworks has now added an afternoon air show, carnival rides, local restaurant specials, festival food and more starting on a Saturday morning a fortnight ahead of the Kentucky Derby.

Oddly enough, as much as I enjoy fireworks and watching them, I’ve never been. The sheer number of people, heat, and long day just don’t appeal to me. My brother and sister-in-law have gone in the years before my nephews came along. My biggest gripe is the price gouging that inevitably happens on Thunder Saturday. Restaurants in Jeffersonville and New Albany in Indiana along with Louisville offer specials with pricing on par for New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day. Not only is the price seemingly inflated outside of rational limits the reservations have to be made more than a month or two in advance. I know they offer use of their restroom facilities as an alternative to the thunder pots which are Porta-Potties but named for the event at hand. If you try to avoid the expensive restaurant trap, you’re relegated to squatters’ rights being in play in the local parks overlooking the bridge and barges where the fireworks will be shot off from. Families are encouraged to leave one unlucky person to stake their personal space out while others seek food and entertainment and then relieve their family member when the shift ends.

Like with watching professional sports teams, I would much rather watch the event from my own home. Why pay $8 for a soda and another $9 for food, fight traffic, and fight to hope to see the event when I can watch on television and pay less for food that isn’t ridiculously priced and stay away from traffic.

I’m probably also more than skeptical of the whole Derby Festival anyways. It’s two weeks of buildup for two minutes of horses running around a track. And if recent HBO specials and news reports about the industry are to be believed, it needs to stop. Horses obviously have ability to outrun people and humans will always be competitive, but there are modern modes of transportation that humans can use to compete with, i.e. race cars. I’m perfectly fine with Speedweeks at Daytona and Carb Days at the Indy 500 as ancillary events to the main races because unlike horse racing those events will last more than two minutes.

I know I’m sounding negative and downplaying tomorrow’s festivities, but inevitably I’ll watch the fireworks show on the local news to have something to talk about Sunday morning at church or with friends and family, but unless something magical like a girlfriend who always goes to Thunder Over Louisville comes in my life, I’ll stay home and enjoy my own way.

What are your thoughts about Thunder Over Louisville?

Poetry Wednesday #47

This edition of Poetry Wednesday is “Louisville” and is all about the city nearest (and sometimes dearest) to me.

“Louisville”

Bluegrass city on the falls, a player of the horses: The ‘Ville

Barges floating the river, and heavyweight ‘ships brought home by Ali, the stinging butterfly

Straight or on the rocks that amber elixir, it’s Bourbon you distill

 

Watering so many, the river named for the state of Buckeye

Towering, standing tall, and battering the sky is the upturned Slugger

Born of George Rogers Clark, named for King Louis the Sixteenth, Roman-styled X V I

 

And you’re off to better places where the sun shines, you’re an up-and-comer

Everyone looks to you for weeks as the equines are running towards roses

County of American founder Jefferson, he of Virginia, your grandmother

 

Lincoln Bridge the newest to help span the Hoosiers to your heart, appellation of America’s Moses

The ancient shepherd king, a Golden David patrols and spies your Main Street

Somewhere the sound of the Lovable Lush remains as the last bar closes

 

The frying and floured scent of chicken lays in the air, Yum! I’m ready to eat.

You are the Gateway to the South, Louisville, O Louisville, You can’t be beat.

 

 

© Ryan Stroud 2019

An Honestly Good Birthday

Hey Blinken, it’s the birthday of Abe Lincoln!

It’s an important birthday today (no, mine is almost two weeks away). It is the 219th birthday of Pres. Abraham Lincoln. Pres. Lincoln was born on this day in modern-day Hodgenville, Kentucky. The holiday is usually co-branded with Pres. George Washington’s Birthday as a singular holiday known as Presidents’ Day.

The day is marked by wreath-laying ceremonies at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in Hodgenville, Kentucky and at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Lincoln Memorial wreath is laid on behalf of the President of the United States an act afforded to every deceased U.S. president on their birthday.

Besides the ceremonies in Kentucky and Washington D.C., recognition of the holiday occurs in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, California, Missouri, and New York. The first observance of Lincoln’s birthday occurred in Buffalo, New York, in either 1873 or 1874 thanks to efforts from Julius Francis. Francis was an avid promoter of memorializing Pres. Lincoln after Pres. Lincoln’s assassination. Francis petitioned the U.S. Congress to recognize the birthday as an official federal holiday, but to no avail. The holiday is an official state holiday in Illinois, Connecticut, and Missouri.

Lincoln’s birthday is also important in regards to Pres. Lincoln’s efforts made on behalf of African-Americans. The creation of Negro History Week [sic] due to the historic birthdays of Frederick Douglass as well as Pres. Lincoln. This week-long celebration of African-American culture and history eventually  expanded to Black History Month.

The holiday is also celebrated in many local Republican Party precincts to kick off early campaign season. The choice of Lincoln’s Birthday is owed to Pres. Lincoln being the first Republican President. The party was founded just six years prior to Lincoln’s first victory and was noted for its strong abolitionist stance.

Luckily at least for me, Pres. Lincoln’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home are within an hour and half drive from my location. Although, I’m unlikely to make a road-trip to either site.

 

How will you celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday?

It’s a Boone for Business

Guess what day it is? It’s one for the Gapper.

Hey hey, kids it’s Daniel Boone Day today. Yes, I know any kids reading this likely have no idea who Daniel Boone is or why he has a day devoted to him, but I wanted a funny hook.

Today really is Daniel Boone Day and it’s important particularly for mid-Southern and Midwestern residents. Daniel “Dan’l” Boone was an important pioneer in both of those regions and his name litters the landscape of those regions in memory of his contributions.

I’ll admit, I’m a little bit more familiar with Daniel’s brother Squire Boone, Jr. Squire Boone resided south of Corydon, Indiana and a system of caverns located on property previously belonging to the Boone family bear his name.

Anyway, back to the more famous Boone brother — Daniel Boone. Daniel Boone began his adult years serving in the British army in the French & Indian War and his unit was commanded by future president George Washington. Boone would subsequently after the war relocate to North Carolina. It was during this time and during his military service that he learned about the existence of a passage into the frontier lands of Kentucky.

File:WPA mural Daniel Boone's Arrival in Kentucky, 24900v.jpg

Daniel Boone had learned how to hunt, fish, and trap during his formative years in his native Pennsylvania. The frontier skills he learned in the appropriately named Penn’s Sylvania meaning (William) Penn’s Forest that Boone would later use in the wild and untamed lands of early Kentucky. Daniel and Squire Boone were able to find the passage between Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky known as the Cumberland Gap along with several other North Carolinian and Virginian explorers. Unfortunately for most of the other explorers, they met untimely deaths at the hands of various Native American tribes, especially the Shawnee. The Boones were the only frontiersmen who managed to escape relatively unscathed in the exploratory parties.

Daniel Boone spent much of his life in Kentucky and its frontier and was able to guide others to make their way into the relatively unsettled region. Boone was again eager to serve in the military and fought for the Americans in the Revolutionary War and he was able to survive various dangerous skirmishes during the war and retired again to Kentucky.

As more settlers began settling in Kentucky, and Boone’s ill-fated decisions regarding deeds and land titles, Boone chose to move from the land that had provided him notoriety and a new home. Upon departing Kentucky, Boone traveled to the next American frontier located in the Louisiana Territory. Settling in Missouri, Boone was able to receive official positions in the Spanish territory of Louisiana before the American ownership of the lands. When the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from the French, Boone spent the next decade working to get official recognition of the ownership of lands in Missouri. He lived the remainder of his days until his death in 1820 in Missouri and is buried there. Yet, Kentucky has a grave connected to Daniel Boone that supposedly contains a plaster casting of Daniel Boone’s skeleton, but historians debate whether the skeleton that was cast in the plaster was actually that of Boone or an unknown slave.

Boone’s legacy of course lives on today in Daniel Boone Day, as well as Boone counties in Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, Missouri,  Arkansas, and Kentucky. As well as towns named Boone, NC and Boonesborough, KY and the Daniel Boone National Forest. Additionally, Boone’s legacy and legend grew thanks to John Filson’s book The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke which included a section titled, “The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon.” Writers like James Fennimore Cooper adapted events in Boone’s life in The Leatherstocking Tales and Lord Byron’s poem Don Juan. Much of the lore provided by Filson, Cooper, and Byron about Boone likely took artistic liberties and tall-tale characteristics in describing Boone’s exploits. While the actual individual events described in these events may be suspect, Boone’s shrewd lifestyle of a frontiersmen is not debated, and his cunning survival instincts are admired by Americans and celebrated as part of the pioneering spirit of America even to this day.

Current Event Friday #12

Teachers are leaving kids alone, and going on strike.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Educators around the nation have been arguing that the conditions in which students can learn are being severely undercut by their state governments.

I avoided addressing this Current Event last Friday, but felt it was worth exploring today. As a son and grandson of public school teachers, I’m aware of the impact of education. Additionally, half of my undergraduate work is in education, so I have an even more personal connection.

Teachers in nearby Kentucky have been protesting Gov. Matt Bevin’s attempts to reorganize their pension programs the last few weeks. Local school corporations have cancelled school to provide days off for teachers protesting in Frankfort, the state’s capital. The cancellations are necessary in Kentucky, as well as Oklahoma and West Virginia. These states have seen teachers striking to call attention to their plight, but since public schools operate by different laws, these strikes are not legal and seen as wildcat strikes due to their unapproved status.

Oklahoma teachers were given better pay and pension as requested by their union representatives and several of the individual teachers, but they are still demanding better supplies and funding to the curriculum in their respective classrooms. Legislators in Oklahoma have yet to agree to the demands added on to the salary and pension requests.

Even locally in Indiana, several schools are facing budget woes due to declining attendance and poor fiscal decisions. My home school corporation is among one of the Hoosier corporations navigating the shortfalls in enrollment and tuition. Within the last year, the school board unceremoniously removed the superintendent with accusations of financial malfeasance and incompetency. Even with a new superintendent tasked with tightening the purse strings, the corporation has removed nearly a dozen educators and half a dozen more are set to be removed by May 1 based on state standards of teacher proficiency.

The strain and outrage are fairly recent around the nation by so many in education. While there seems to have consistently been tension in the inner-city schools since the middle of the 20th century, many schools in the suburbs and smaller towns are now being affected by similar woes. With a wider swath of incensed teachers seeing the plight of public schooling, there might be a stronger and more united effort to reform education.

Now I’ll admit, I want to see the teachers do well and in doing so help their students. Maybe it’s the curmudgeon in me, but I see so many recent public-school graduates and current students struggle more mightily in the real world. Fast food restaurants, that used to be fairly reliable with even the most average students working there have slipped in the ability to do math, follow instructions, and provide worthwhile service. Auto shops and large mechanic shops suffer from similar struggles with their recent hires. Retail outlets are not much better. I’ve even seemed to notice the exceptional students that used to excel academically are not as proficient as previous generations. I know the tendency of many Republicans and conservatives is to blame the teachers. I don’t blame the teachers directly for choices they make about teaching, I blame them indirectly because of choices made for them. Teachers are now required to uphold standards for their students to be achieved on standardized teaching rather than teach what they know their students need to learn. Add on to that, that they lack financial support from their corporations and the state legislatures and it’s no wonder the students suffer.

How about you, do you support teachers’ demands and the outlook for education?