Why Does It Matter?

“When I see the Confederate flag, I see the attempt to raise an empire in slavery. It really, really is that simple. I don’t understand how anybody with any sort of education on the Civil War can see anything else.“

-Ta-Nehisi Coates

confederate flag

I was returning from shopping yesterday when I noticed two flags displayed in a neighbor’s front yard. Looking closer I saw it was the U.S. Flag and the Confederate Battle Flag, presented at equal height and rank.

It shocked me!

I had mistakenly thought that Confederate flags had all been consigned to dusty history displays or to Bo and Daisy Duke Toy Collections. I did not expect to see one flying high in a small town in Minnesota.

I immediately thought, “What jerk would do that!” Aside from the breach of decorum of the flags flying at equal height, the symbolism of raising that old banner, in obvious pride, sickened me. Long after I got home the thought that someone in my town considered it proper to display that flag, gnawed at me.

I couldn’t help but think that so many people had died fighting against everything that flag stood for. As a family historian, I knew that two of my Great-Great-Uncles had died in a Memphis Hospital of dysentery after being pushed to the absolute limits of their endurance. One of them had only arrived from Germany five months before he joined up to fight for his new countries beliefs. In fact, he did not live long enough to learn English or become a citizen. When he died, the military listed his possessions as one pair of pants, a shirt, and a blanket. They buried him in a Memphis Union Cemetery and notified my Great-Great-Grandmother that her brother had given his all to his new country.

Then I thought of many of the people I knew, who were minorities that had told me how they resent the flags popularity. How they thought it allowed people to hide their racist hatreds behind a cover of false Southern Pride.

My wife asked me later, why I just couldn’t seem to let it go? Why did a small piece of cloth mean so much to me? Perhaps it had to do with the rancor that is occurring during this year’s election. The total lack of civility being displayed by some many politicians, the willingness to label races and religions as dangerous, not worthy of American Citizenship or worse, questioning the quality of those minorities who were citizens and the division of people by sexual preference or belittling of someone’s definition of love.

I guess I have come to equate that flag as the rallying cry of bigoted small minded individuals and can no longer stand to see it fly.

-Clarence Holm

Community Spirit

My wife and I have been at our new home in Ormsby, MN,  population 131) and its’ sister city, located 2 miles away, Odin, population 106. (From here on I will refer to them as “O-Towns”) for about three weeks now

“O-Towns” are classic examples of rural mid-western communities. They both have a declining and aging populations due to the changing agricultural market. Small family farms are disappearing as properties get snapped up by the larger farms that can afford the newer (and much more expensive) farming equipment. Unfortunately, these losses of farm employment opportunities have not been replaced by other means of employment that would keep younger people in the community.

This population exodus results in the loss of the retail support structure- As the population falls, businesses close. For example, grocery stores, coffee shops, barber shops that were traditionally part of rural living have all left “O-Towns”. Obviously, small cities need to replace these services with something and in our area, the answer comes with community involvement. In Odin, that meant a community club that sponsors a subsidized coffee shop/grocery store/bait store. The small business provides the opportunity for the men’s morning coffee/dice game club as well as a place to get needed grocery items like milk, ketchup and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup (main stays of Minnesota casseroles). It also provides a source of night crawlers for that afternoon of fishing on the small nearby lakes.

In Ormsby, that creative community spirit was brought home to me when we saw our 98-year-old neighbor on the street, pushing her stroller home one morning. She explained to us that she was just coming from her weekly morning coffee/women’s workout group held at the local tavern. The tavern is normally open from 12:00 to 9:00 P.M. five days a week, so there is plenty of opportunity for cross-purposing the space.

While the people of this area are naturally a very independent group, it’s apparent that individuals realize that interdependence is imperative. Cross utilization of resources is important, as well as having a willingness to take part in group opportunities. Yesterday we took part in city carnival in a neighboring town that featured a community lunch booth that featured a meal that included a pulled pork sandwich, chips, baked beans and a can of soda for $6.00. Afterward, we spent the afternoon playing church bingo for .25 cents a card, offering a chance for a shared payout of five to six dollars.

While we still are settling in from our move, my wife and I are already getting to know our neighbors and beginning to love rural small town living.

Social Media, Business And My Cat

"Let's talk about your photo fixation!"

My Cat (©2016 – Clarence Holm)

Although I do not often blog about my insurance career, I felt the subject of a meeting that occurred a few days ago with a marketing representative of a large property casualty insurance company was worth sharing.

Although I am basically retired, I do work with an agency part time (a few hours a week). My job includes writing insurance information for a website, working on computer issues and performing some basic marketing tasks. This week I sat in on a meeting with a company where the representative was speaking about social media and how their company offered great resources that we and our agents could use to build social media presence.

The resources she was referring to were a large amount of prepared content, which could be used on social media sites including our business websites, Facebook pages, Twitter posts and Linked In messages. It was all high-quality artwork and had articles that we could copy and post under our business name. By doing so, the representative suggested we could build a positive following that would result in more business. The rep stated that the company had social media experts writing and designing this content and they knew all about how to make social media successful for us.

What Absurdity!

I was shocked to hear a company representative suggest that I could copy and paste myself to social media success.

Before I rant, let me share some of my background. Early in my business career, I managed a Radio Shack during the time period the first personal computers hit the market. I cut my teeth on the TRS-80 and was intrigued enough with the technology. When I returned to college to complete my degree in English, I decided to take to some computer science courses (this was around 1980). During those classes, I learned programming (FORTRAN and Basic) on the North Dakota State College mainframe computer system. It was back in the days of computer punch cards and readers. At the same time, my brother in law was a graduate assistant in computer science at another college campus in a different city. We realized we could leave each other notes buried in the REM statements of shared computer code uploaded to the State’s University Computer System. It was a rudimentary form of social media (A very early forerunner of a bulletin board.) After graduating I worked for a number of businesses and cut my teeth in sales and marketing. I continued my interest in computers and was an early adaptor of email and websites. I used my knowledge of computers in my insurance career and went on to be recognized as an “Agent of the Year”  for a large insurance company. I also served for a number of years on another company’s national advisory council. Working with a multi-state insurance group, I introduced email concepts and procedures to hundreds of insurance agencies. I was privileged to have had a ringside seat in the growth of business marketing on the internet.

So it was surprising to me to hear a company representative be so completely naïve about electronic marketing in the year 2016. I was half expecting to hear about an emerging “Y2K” problem! It was disappointing to me to listen to a presentation that promoted social media success by foisting canned content on followers and representing it as fresh professional advice on Twitter and Facebook.

Never Tweeted

Of course, what should I expect from a company representative, who is probably not allowed to have a thumb drive for fear that company data might be stolen and are scared to death of the mention of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA). I’m sure they report to company lawyers who must approve all written communications.

I should have known that corporate structures are not fertile ground for social media expertise. In fact, when I questioned the representative she confided that she had never tweeted and wasn’t involved with Facebook or blogging. In fact, she had never seen a tweet and has certainly not kept up with the Kardashians. Yet she had been sent out on the road to give advice to agents on how to run a successful social media campaign.

The whole meeting brought to mind the words in Matthew 9:24 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…”

The goal of social media is to communicate quickly and informally. The goal of corporate structure is to issue a scripted precise uniform message.

Not Exactly Viral Stuff

While arcane insurance law might not be a page turner for the general public, there is plenty of good insurance information that would be of interest to friends and family. While most of my relatives don’t want to get caught listening to me expound on the merits of higher physical liability limits, I do get phone calls on what to do after hail storms damage their roof. And while insurance will never have the same cache as a cat video, who’s to say an insurance blog couldn’t have the following of the car maintenance guru’s “Click and Clack”

But that success will never happen if all the industry does is endlessly ask agents to spit out homogenized articles. It would be much better if insurance companies would follow Justin Bieber, view a Vine and post a cat picture.

Social Media Haiku

passion shared with friends
rarely wasted as a gift
nighttime croak of frog
-Clarence Holm

Do I Feel Lucky?

2004 Ford Ranger Dash & Airbag Photo - Clarence Holm

2004 Ford Ranger Dash & Airbag
Photo – Clarence Holm

A few days ago, I received a message from the Ford Motor Company in the form of a recall advisory notice. It appears my little red Ford Ranger has a product imperfection that will be replaced – when the parts are available. I was told my local dealer will then contact me to set an appointment to have them installed.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of cars recalled to have vehicle repairs made and it was never a big deal. Once I had a door latch that locked shut, another time an emission control failed and a few years ago an additive was needed for the transmission. All these items were repaired with little inconvenience on my part.

That changed for me as I read the reason for the last recall notice. It seems my trusty truck has a defective airbag. Suddenly I didn’t feel real good about this news.

I had been aware of the Takata Airbag problem for some time and had seen the news reports detailing the eight fatalities and more than 100 injuries linked to these safety devices over 15 years (1987-2012). I had also watched a news report of a lady who had an airbag discharge when she was driving, sending bits of steel into her body and permanently blinding her. I thanked heaven that (at the time) none of my current vehicles was listed in those warnings. Unfortunately, Ford’s notice made my Ranger part of the recall.

Luckily Ford is working on the problem and because it is unlikely that one of these horrific injuries might actually happen to me, the company said not to worry (too much). Unfortunately the recalled airbags for all types of vehicles now total more than 34 million. So switching them all could take years, even as other suppliers race to support this recall effort.

According to Consumer Reports there are a number of things I can do to minimize my risk concerning this recall. I should consider:

  • Minimizing my driving.
  • Carpooling with someone whose vehicle is not affected by the recall.
  • Utilizing public transportation.
  • Renting a car.

These are good suggestions, as far as they go, but if you have to drive the vehicle, like I will have to you may wish to ponder these additionally tips I thought of:

  • Drive really slow
  • Place a Plexiglas shield between yourself and the steering wheel.
  • Avoid regions of the country that are hot and humid that may increase the risk of explosion and heat stroke!
  • Let your spouse do the driving.
  • Sell the truck to a Millennial (They don’t worry about anything!).

While these tips may (or may not) protect you from an airbag incident, you may want to consider this piece of Stanley Weiser’s advice; “A fool and his money are lucky enough to get together in the first place?”

-Clarence Holm

Love/Hate challenge

Adventures in Cheeseland (http://cat9984.com/) tagged me for the Love/Hate challenge. The rules are below.

  1. List 10 things you love.
  2. List 10 things you hate.
  3. Tag other people to take the challenge.


  1. Fresh Sheets
  2. Cool Pillows
  3. Bird Feeders.
  4. Perennial Flowers
  5. Estate Sales (Good to know some people have more stuff than me!)
  6. People who don’t care when I stammer
  7. People who take the time to be original
  8. Watercolors
  9. A well written short story
  10. Repairing and Painting Garden Gnomes

Hate (more intensely dislike, except #10)

  1. Facebook Jerks
  2. Cleaning three litterboxes and vacuuming up runaway kitty litter
  3. Finding sour milk when you want cereal
  4. Mosquitos
  5. Wasps that attack me!
  6. People who constantly play trivia games and are always asking for answers
  7. Having no place to hide when babies cry
  8. 4th Day of leftovers
  9. People who don’t care
  10. People who never make a mistake

Below are the blogs I tagged. This part is confusing. I’ve seen people list from zero to ten people. If you choose to accept the challenge, feel free to distribute your largesse in any way you choose. If you do not choose to accept the challenge, please ignore the previous sentence. J

Ontheland (https://ontheland.wordpress.com/)

Claudette (http://ceenoa.com/)

Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie (http://outofmymindimages.com/)

Daily Echo (http://scvincent.com/)

Annette Rochelle Aben (https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com)

Wild Daffodil  (https://daffodilwild.wordpress.com/)

Charlie (The Cat) Uses Up Lives 1 through 7

Shared in hopes this will save others from this tragic behavior!

I have three cats that live with my family at home. Normally they are content to remain aloof, allowing us to serve them food at their whim and clean out their litterbox. They allow us to do that out of their desire to obtain every creature comfort they can envision. All we have to do is not ask anything of them in return.

That arraignment has worked perfectly well for a few years now. We put food in their bowl and they empty it. They put poop and pee in the litterbox and we empty it. It is the “Tit for tat” of our understanding with them.

That is until two months ago when my wife noticed a fragrant smell on our new cloth ottoman. It seemed that one of the cats had left a territorial marker on the furniture. In the years preceding this we had never had a problem, so we were shocked. We quickly got out the cleaning materials and scrubbed the fabric. My sister in law volunteered some spray scent neutralizer, from her failed cat experience, for the clean-up. We hoped upon hope that the “accident” was a one- time occurrence!

For a week or so it appeared like we were lucky, until my wife went to grab some freshly washed laundry waiting to be folded. “That’s weird” she said. “Some of the clothes are still wet!”

She dropped the hamper and screamed, “Those damn cats peed all over our clothes! They are your cats, go teach them not to do that.” Now I admit the cats and I do have a relationship, but it only covers where each of us lay at naptime, other than that I am just a member of the “feed and scoop team”.

My wife screamed, “If those cat can’t control themselves – we’ll have to get rid of them — and as far as I’m concerned,” she continued. “Those cats have used up two lives. If they use them all up – they go! One way or another.”

Things went from bad to worse in our home and more accidents happened. My daughter came home from college with a load of clothes to wash. Within just a few minutes the entire load was “pre-treated”! Later that day two upholstered chairs were soaked and to make things worse, we were not totally sure of which cat was the culprit. Although one of them did appeared a little sheepish when my wife interrogated them.

“They used up six lives” my wife pointedly said. “Cats only get nine!”

We were desperate. We actually liked our cats and thought we were bonded. They had recently taught us how to play fetch with them. We pulled up the ASPCA website and typed in Cat Pee. Thousands of articles came up including; “How to break a cat that is marking territory in 200 easy steps.” Another claimed, “High powered cleaners guaranteed to eliminate fabric color and smells!” One other mentioned, “10 foolproof methods to burn a house for the insurance.”

It looked like there might be no answers until my wife spotted, “Pheromones – The natural way to control your cat!” “Chemicals” I said. “I knew that Monsanto and DuPont would have the answer.” We went to our local PetSmart and purchased every sprayer/diffuser/applicator that mentioned pheromones. We also found cat collars infused with Chamomile – guaranteed to give your cat a sense of well-being. And, just for the heck of it we got one more covered litter box to give them another option.

$200.00 dollars later we left the store, but not before a clerk said. “Make sure you have your Vet check your cat, it might just be an infection!”

We got home and deployed our chemicals, put collars on our cat, and set-up a new litter station. We were sure we had found the solution. Our cats would inhale the fumes and float off into an euphoric cat trance, ending our woes.

Two hours later, our young male, Charlie jumps onto a sweatshirt I had just taken off and squatted- peeing all over it. I grabbed him and tossed him out the door. (He is an indoor/outdoor cat) I was shocked the cat just did it right in front of me and what was worse, he was wearing that stupid collar. “That’s seven strikes!” My wife yelled.

We knew we had to take action. We immediately made an emergency vet appointment to have him checked for an infection.

The next day we loaded the cat into a carrier and brought him to the Vet. A quick exam showed no sign of an infection or fever. But the Vet did say that sometimes a change in furniture or the arrival of a new cat in the neighborhood could cause that behavior. She also asked how many litter boxes we had and what type. It seems cat can be very particular about toilet facilities and some don’t like having lids on them. She suggested we take them all off the trays when we get home.

We get home and did what the Vet said to do. We uncovered all the trays, even though we had paid big bucks for them in the hopes it would contain the mess and foul odors.

We let Charlie out of his carrier and he immediately went to the tray and peed in it. It was like he had been waiting for weeks for us to do that.

We have had no further problems with the cat’s pee – thanks heaven because Charlie was running out of lives.

– Clarence Holm

Furline Purrtrait

Charlie the Cat Black & White Photo by Clarence Holm

Charlie the Cat
Black & White Photo by Clarence Holm

Feline vessel wrapped in fur,
Cantankerous weapons armed with claws.
A life seeking snacks, willing to purr
Unwilling servant, not subject to laws.

A life with a purpose
Daily beginning and nightly end.
Driven to nocturnal discourse,
A scented territory to defend.

Pheromone enhanced nasty chemical war
Applied by rubbing, touching and odiferous spray.
Marking a boundary as curious cats explore
Continuously prowling for mice or some similar prey.

Distracted by red lights, focused on a wall
Battery powered lazer, activated on a whim
Human intervention, flashing an electronic cat call
Whimsical interaction entertainment for him

Kibble stuffed tabby, lying on his back
Nap powered tiger, resting it seems
Conserving energy, but planning an attack.
Muscle twitching tails, signaling his dreams.

– Clarence Holm

Redundant Redundancies


Publikworks is passionate about his call to action featured in the February 25th blog “Stop That” https://publikworks.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/stop-that/ He believes the word “that” is being foisted on the public in what is a grammatically senseless act. Publikworks makes an impassioned plea to omit “that” when it is inserted unnecessarily into a perfectly good sentence.

Redundant redundancies occur frequently in life, but I do find it odd Publikworks focuses on “that” when there are multiple equally senseless actions taking place at any given time. For instance quotations “” marks used to assign credit to an original work. It is my contention nothing original has been written since papyrus was introduced. As Ambrose Bierce was fond of saying, “Quotation, n: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.”

In order to extend the superfluous work begun by Publikworks I would like to offer other useless personal items that I am constantly called upon to employ.

Keys – I have pockets full of them that I need every day! In fact, I have multiple drawers full of keys I may or may not need. I am afraid to throw them away, due to worries I may encounter a lock securing something I’d forgotten I needed.

I question the entire idea of keys. Much like a “Key to the City”, we all know keys don’t do much. The idea that a thief is going to be stopped by a simple lock and key seems like quaint logic. Especially since everyone knows most doors can be kicked open easily or defeated with a handy bobby pin obtained from a beautiful assistant.

In short, keys are made to bother honest people and as Diogenes discovered, they are hard to find.

Coins – The handful of metal mixed with your cash you drop between your door and the McDonald’s drive-up window you can’t retrieve because your car door won’t open wide enough to get your hand out and who really cares about that little bit of money anyway.

Working together with your keys and possibly a wallet, the only practical reason for loose change is to act as ballast to your pants, making sure that your inseam doesn’t ride up into your crotch. Of course that extra weight necessitates the addition of a belt to counteract the downward thrust of the coins.

Besides what good are coins anyway? Years ago as a youth, I began placing my coins into a can to save up for a good bike. Now 40 years later, a good bike costs many thousands of dollars and I am still putting coins into cans to save for it.

Wallet – That rare blend of leather (pleather?) and acrylic sleeves used to hold currency, credit cards, photos and identification cards. Most men carry theirs in the right back pocket and believe women are attracted to the sight of a particularly bulky one. Some men carry big long ones with snaps that are so bulky, an additional chain is employed to guard against woman who frequent truck stops.

The absolute need for a wallet is questionable at most. Identification and credit information can be achieved with a small implant. My cat (Charles) recently had one of those installed at the same time he was fixed, All of Chuck’s information is available through the use of a simple hand scanner and as an added benefit, he no longer wants to pee on everything.

While this is not a complete listing of useless or redundant items I feel they represent the type of items which should be eliminated through judicious pruning.

Remember if a magician really needs an assistant, why does he need to make them disappear?