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Our little town held its annual fall festival the week after Labor Day.  It's a strictly small town affair, featuring a carnival with antiquated rides, enticing only to the little kids.  There's also entertainment -- this year it was a sampling of area talent, a change from the past couple of years when we've gotten once well-known entertainers whose star, however brightly it may once have burned, is a cold cinder now.  There's a parade, with lots of antique cars and tractors; horses; all the local fire trucks and ambulances; floats sponsored by local churches and organizations; the high school band; and a smattering of politicians, exclusively Republicans this year, and most of them running for the same redistricted state assembly seat.  Way to go, Democrats!

And, of course, there are "The Tents", which house booths where churches and community organizations fund-raise and local businesses hawk their products.  You can chow down on some Lutheran barbeque and a slice of homemade pie (packaged with a slip of paper containing a Bible verse, the better to save your sorry soul), or try a pork chop sandwich from the Boy Scouts, cut a deal on a new air-conditioner at the plumbing and heating company's booth, listen to a pitch on the latest products from the beauty parlor or the bank, or otherwise while away the time chatting with those acquaintances whom, though they may only live minutes away, you seem to see almost exclusively at the festival each year.  The last thing on anyone's mind is sheets flaming tent fabric crashing down upon them.  So it was in Hartford, Connecticut in 1944,

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It just breaks your heart.

TAMPICO [Illinois] – Two 14-year-old girls were electrocuted Monday morning in rural Tampico, and eight others were hurt in the accident that happened while they were detasseling.

Dead are Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza, best friends who would have been freshmen at Sterling High School this fall.

Authorities wouldn’t reveal the names, ages or sexes of the other workers, who likely also were younger than 18. They worked for Monsanto Corp.

Sauk Valley Newspapers: Two Sterling teens electrocuted, 8 others hurt in detasseling accident

Photo: facebook via Sauk Valley Newspapers
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In Elk Grove Village, Illinois, early on the morning of Wednesday, September 29, 1982, twelve-year-old Mary Kellerman, like thousands of schoolchildren on any given day, awoke complaining of a sore throat and runny nose.  Her parents gave her a capsule of Extra-Strength Tylenol, a common over-the-counter remedy at the time for the cold symptoms she was exhibiting.  Shortly after, Mary lapsed into convulsions and within a few hours, the young middle-schooler was dead.  She was only the first.

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The boat was to tarry at Memphis till ten the next morning. It is a beautiful city, nobly situated on a commanding bluff overlooking the river. The streets are straight and spacious, though not paved in a way to incite distempered admiration. No, the admiration must be reserved for the town's sewerage system, which is called perfect; a recent reform, however, for it was just the other way, up to a few years ago--a reform resulting from the lesson taught by a desolating visitation of the yellow-fever. In those awful days the people were swept off by hundreds, by thousands; and so great was the reduction caused by flight and by death together, that the population was diminished three-fourths, and so remained for a time. Business stood nearly still, and the streets bore an empty Sunday aspect.
Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)


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In late July of 1976, a number of attendees at an American Legion convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia suddenly fell ill with a mysterious, pneumonia-like illness that would quickly kill 34 and require over 220 to receive  medical treatment.

Public health officials scrambled to identify the disease and isolate its cause, and although the malady -- quickly labeled "Legionnaires' Disease" in popular parlance -- was ultimately determined to be a non-contagious infection  caused by bacteria proliferating in the condenser coils of the hotel's air-conditioning system, for several tense days the public watched with apprehension, contemplating the prospect of an un-treatable killer contagion spreading unchecked across the country on an epidemic scale.  Americans had not had to confront such a thing for a very long time.

A century before, they were commonplace.

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It is difficult to know with any certainty what was going  through the minds of the men gathered on Wall Street that day.  It was not the kind of meeting for which minutes are taken or a written record preserved, and I'm not the kind of person to try to "get inside the heads" of long-dead people.  I don't know what feelings the members of the Manufacturers' Association were experiencing when they met to discuss how to respond to the emergency fire protection rules for their factories that had been laid down by Fire Chief Edward  F. Croker in March, 1911, but I will speculate that panic wasn't among those feelings.  They had too many contacts in the Tammany organization, too many public officials who, while perhaps not corrupt, were at least beholden to them, owed, to some degree, their offices to them.  And plenty who believed, as a judge had told women strikers arrested during the Uprising of the 20,000 a few months before, that such interference in commerce was "against God and Nature".  

There were still plenty of favors to call in, markers to cash, and arms to twist before there was any need for panic.

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It's been so long since I paid any attention, so long since it made any difference, so many years since I had any choice, that I didn't know, and had to run out the garage to check. On my 1995 Ford Ranger, it's still there; on my wife's 2005 Honda Accord, it's not. In that difference, as they say, lies a tale.

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I'm reclined back in the passenger seat, eyes closed, the slap of the wipers and the drumroll of road spray off the tires splattering against the floor pan providing background as Randi Rhodes harangues a conservative caller who thought he'd come up with the perfect squelch to the tirade against the Bush administration Randi has been on for the last half hour.  

The half-frozen slush we were driving through earlier has turned now to a solid drizzle of rain.  I venture to open my eyes and steal a peek at the gray overcast.  The disturbing scallop of darkness in the upper-right quadrant of vision in my right eye is still there, but it hasn't gotten any worse.

We are on I-80 between La Salle and the Quad Cities.  There is still a long way to go before we get to Iowa City; we are going to be horribly late.  I knew the ETA the nurse at the ophthalmologist's office had given them was spectacularly optimistic, and the road conditions have only made it worse.

Mrs. d is at the wheel.  She senses I'm alert and smiles at me.  "Well, Mr. d, life with you has certainly been an adventure."

I return a weak smile.  "I guess I'm just not put together very well, Dear."

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Thu Nov 25, 2010 at 06:32 AM PST

My Christian Heritage

by dsteffen

On November 21, 1620, a ship bearing a group of people we know as the Pilgrims, dissenters against the Church of England, arrived in America.  After surveying the situation for a month, they settled on a spot near present day Plymouth, Massachusetts on December 21st and founded their colony in the New World.  They came to escape the religious persecution they had suffered in Europe.  It's impossible for a child to go through the American education system without learning the story.

But there were other things we weren't taught, and apparently haven't learned.  

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As eastern Europe deals with the toxic spill resulting from a waste reservoir failure at a factory in Hungary that killed nine and spilled 35 million cubic feet of waste from aluminum production and drained a river of red sludge into the Danube, it seems like a good time to take a look at one of our own, similar disasters.

Especially so with an election coming up.

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It's an event that has come untethered in memory, ambled about, and plopped itself down in a place it doesn't belong.  The incident has taken up residence in a much later time frame than it possibly could have happened.  Based on my personal circumstances associated with the incident, it could not possibly have been earlier than late November, 1969, and based on the historical record it had to have been no later than mid-1970.  It was shortly before a major holiday, so almost certainly had to have been December, 1969,  yet the sulci on my brain stubbornly resist my attempts to herd it back into that pen.  

Whenever the incident occurred, I remember it being one of those late fall or early winter central Illinois days when temperatures are pleasant enough during the day but drop precipitously when the sun goes down.  I was dressed for "pleasant enough during the day"; it was now well past sunset and I was cold.

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Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 05:00 PM PDT

I showed 'em

by dsteffen

I've seen a lot of diaries on the subject over the past few months -- I quit reading most of them long ago, although I'll occasionally read a diarist I like, however much I may disagree with them on this issue.

To all those diarists I'd like to say something.

I'm sorry you're disappointed with Barack Obama, sorry you're frustrated and fed up and feeling betrayed.

Listen.  I don't know what you were expecting when you voted for him, but I really wish you'd asked me first.  He was my Senator.  I could have told you -- he really IS a centrist.  He really IS the bi-partisan Boy Scout.  He supports capitalism and free markets -- you'll get a few regulatory restraints, but he ain't gonna be ushering in any socialist workers' paradise.

I made my deal with the devil.  Once the windmill thrashed Kucinich, I threw my support to Obama and didn't look back.  Do I wish he was a better Progressive?  Absolutely.  But he isn't, and he never was, and despite all the calculated campaign vagueness full of blanks for you to fill in with whatever hopes and dreams you harbored,  he never claimed to be.  So deal with it.

But I'll tell you another f*cking President I didn't have much use for.

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