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Across The Lake

If you don't want to date yourself when the conversation turns to how you've spent past Christmas mornings playing with new presents, pay attention. Don't tell your little ones, or your grandkids, about the excitement you had when you got your new Atari. If you mention how it came with that thrilling new Combat game cartridge, you're asking for trouble if you have to remember that it was the very new and exciting and the most-wanted gift... in 1978. It was another 11 years before that top spot went to the new Nintendo Game Boy.

And then there are those of us who recall the eager anxiousness when we unwrapped the box containing our new Marx streamliner train with it's string of passenger cars, just like the Burlington Zephyr in the magazine ads. Wind up, of course, because REA hadn't reached that far into the country yet and we watched it whiz around the living room floor by the light of a kerosene lamp.

Sixty some years later, the power has come and so has the government. With the growing concern about the environment and climate change and energy conservation, Congress was aided and abetted by bureaucrats. It set up a $300 million stimulus fund to provide rebates for energy efficient appliances. This was supposed to save energy, thus eliminating the need for new or expanded power plants.

With refunds of up to $425, a chief goal was to encourage purchase of new water heaters, which are often the second largest energy user in the home. That was the plan. The Department of Energy folks knew those rebates would work and that electric consumption would drop as a result, saving $84 million in fuel and water costs. Didn't work that way, of course. With 88 percent of the rebates spent, only 3 percent has gone for new water heaters and the fuel and water savings are nowhere near what the experts promised.

There's a glass-topped table in our house, filled with all sorts of memorabilia. That in itself is just another word for stuff that probably should have been thrown out long ago. Still, it's not easy letting go of things like the lapel pin from your days in the International Brotherhood of Magicians or your membership card in the Horizon Club from the long-gone Western Airlines. A piece of wreckage from a National Guard plane which crashed near Bismarck 50-some years ago. A calendar pencil from WDAY for the year 1947. Lots of good stuff like that.

And buttons. Lots of buttons. Some political and each with a story. Even the Landon-Knox button my mother got for campaigning for them in Hines Township. Some were used for promotions, like one of the 10,000 handed out saying simply, "Smile -- you're in North Dakota." There's another "43° below keeps out the riff-raff." And my old Navy dog tags, but not the draft card that put me in the Beltrami County quota.

That came to mind this week when USAToday suggested it may be time to consider re-imposing the draft once again. Their editorial stance suggested that we've been in a war for years, but too much of the fighting has depended on National Guard units rather than regular Army and too much of the American public isn't really involved. It's not like every family has someone in service or a relative or friend who is, or that we even have food shortages or fuel rationing or anything to remind us, Hey -- there's a war on.

Switching subjects, a lot of school officials from federal to state to our own school board are hopefully paying attention to that ranking of schools around the world. Seeing our nation's schools so far down the list in science, math and reading is not only disappointing but scary. China, Japan, Taiwan and Finland were all at the top while the US managed only 17th in reading and way further down in science and math.

Kids in countries around the world spend more hours in class every day and often have a six-day week. There are a lot of places where elementary teachers are required to have a master's degree. It all adds up to the same answer from those in charge of every other tax-supported government agency: More money. We'll hear a lot of that from Washington and St. Paul when the new year brings the opening of legislative bodies and there'll be echoes at every level. What those responsible will be hearing will be the reverberations of those saying, No more taxes.

Thoughts while drying the dishes... Wonder how many remember when you had to have a red token to buy a pound of butter or a ration coupon for hamburger. You can find examples at the History Center. In those days, Americans knew there was a war on.