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Not all seasons last for the exact same number of days PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 20 January 2012 15:16

What's Up

By Vernon Whetstone


Had a nice letter from a reader in McCook this past week. The writer expressed thanks for listing the time and date that Venus and Neptune would be visible together.

The writer advised that not only were they able to find Neptune and Venus with binoculars, but that they dusted off their old telescope which they had not used for some time and gave it a go. I wrote back and told them thanks, for that is the exact reason I am writing these columns, it is my hope that each reader takes some time and goes outside to take a look to see what is in the amazing sky overhead.

I overheard a remark last week that got me thinking, the person was lamenting that winter seemed to go on forever, and how they were wishing it was over. Well, from previous research I knew that winter is, in fact, the shortest of the seasons.

The questioner was quite surprised when I told them that. Most people believe that the seasons are all an equal length of 90 days. But, such is just not the case.

Earth’s orbit is not a circle, but an ellipse, sort of an oval shape. That puts Earth at varying distances from the Sun. From Kepler’s laws of planetary motion we learn that when Earth is closer to the Sun it moves faster in its orbit.

Conversely, when it is farther away it slows down thus giving each season a different length. On Jan. 4 of this year, Earth was at the closest point for the year which, according to Mr. Kepler, means it is moving at its fastest orbital speed, hence, a shorter season.

In case you are wondering, winter lasts 89 days, spring lasts 93 days, summer lasts 94 days, and autumn lasts 90 days.

Speaking of seasonal changes, you do know they are a function of astronomy and not of the calendar don’t you?

The autumnal (fall) and vernal (spring) equinoxes occur when the Sun is above the equator and rises due east and sets due west.

The solstices (summer and winter) occur when the Sun is either as far north as it goes or as far south as it goes respectively.

From the old English, Welsh, and Scottish calendars we receive what are called quarter and cross-quarter days. Days that divide the year up into nice pieces.

The quarter days correspond closely with the modern seasons. March 25 is Lady’s Day, June 24 is Midsummer, Sept. 29 is Michaelmas, and Dec. 25 is Christmas.

The cross-quarter days mark the halfway point between the quarters. Candlemas is Feb. 2 (or our Groundhog Day) and marks the halfway point of winter. May 1 is May Day and indicates the halfway point of spring. Aug. 1 is named Lughnasid, from an old Irish holiday and indicates that summer is halfway over, and Oct. 31 is named Samhain which corresponds with our Halloween, the halfway mark of autumn.


SKY WATCH: There is not much happening astronomically speaking this week. A slender sliver of a moon will be in conjunction with Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius on Thursday, Jan. 19 in the morning sky about an hour before sunrise. One good thing to remember is, Scorpius is a summer constellation, so just as the winter stars are holding sway now, summer is peaking over the horizon.


Vernon Whetstone of Benkelman is the “stargeezer” who compiles “What’s Up.” He can be reached at thestargeezer@

Last Updated on Friday, 20 January 2012 15:18
Tax relief for the Middle Class PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 20 January 2012 15:14

Dear Fellow Nebraskans

By Gov. Dave Heineman


I’m proud of you and our citizens for your input, your insight and your leadership. Every day I am proud to be the governor of this great state and as I enter my eighth year as governor of Nebraska, I am more determined than ever to keep Nebraska moving forward and to address the key challenges of today.

In my State of the State address, I said that we have worked hard these past few years to position Nebraska as an attractive place to live and do business.

My focus for the coming year is to provide tax relief to our hard-working middle class Nebraskans and to make Nebraska an even better place to live.

According to the Tax Foundation rankings, in 2006 Nebraska was one of the top ten highest tax states in America. Nebraska was 45th out of 50 states. Today we are 29th. Since 2006, Nebraska has made greater and more significant improvement in our tax climate than 48 other states.

That’s good news, but we can do better than 29th. Even with our healthy economy, many Nebraska middle class families still struggle from paycheck to paycheck. We can help these families by changing Nebraska’s income tax structure and allowing them to keep more of the money they make.

If your adjusted gross income is more than $54,000, you are taxed at the same marginal rate as Warren Buffett. That is unfair to middle class families. Our hard-working taxpayers are tired of government taking too much of their paycheck.

In 2011, Nebraska’s net tax receipts grew by $349 million. The opportunity to provide tax relief for our taxpayers is now. Our hard-working, middle class taxpayers need more discretionary income to take care of their families and to provide their kids with a good education.

For the past few months, I have been working with Senator Cornett to develop a major tax relief initiative for Nebraska’s hard-working, middle class families. Our proposal lowers tax rates and expands the brackets so that Nebraska’s hard-working taxpayers can keep more of their income.

Our proposal eliminates the inheritance tax. You’ve probably seen the recent headline in Forbes — Nebraska is named as a state “Where Not to Die in 2012.”

Even high tax states like Massachusetts, New York and California don’t have an inheritance tax. Nebraska is one of only eight states that has an inheritance tax and we need to change that.  

 This is about good tax policy and completing the elimination of the death tax.

 Our proposal reduces the corporate income tax rate to help small businesses grow. Our highest priority should be tax relief for Nebraska’s hard-working, middle class taxpayers. Special interest groups will argue we can’t afford tax relief because they want to take that money from our hard-working taxpayers and spend it on their favorite projects.

The question is tax relief for hard-working middle class Nebraska taxpayers or more spending for special interest groups?

The choice is clear and I am going to fight for our middle class families.

For example, if you are a young family of four with an adjusted gross income of $30,000, with our proposal, you will receive a 29.5 percent tax cut.

If you are a single mom with two kids with an adjusted gross income of $40,000, you will receive a 10.5 percent tax cut.

If you are a hard-working middle class family of four with an adjusted gross income of $75,000, you will receive a 10.9 percent tax cut. If your adjusted gross income is $100,000, your tax cut will be 7.2 percent. However, if your adjusted gross income is $1,000,000, you will only receive a 2 percent tax cut.

The focus of this bold tax relief plan provides Nebraska’s hard-working, middle class taxpayers the help they need. Nebraska families have had to tighten their belts and learn to do more with less.

So should government.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 January 2012 15:16
When Resolutions Matter PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 13 January 2012 23:52

By Dr. Craig Christiansen

Executive Director of the Nebraska State Education Association


I wrestle every January, as does much of America, with the dilemma of New Year’s resolutions. It is an old custom about what changes should be made in our personal lives, work or relationships. Some take resolutions very seriously and carefully ponder and write down their intentions as a kind of contract with themselves. Others think about making resolutions for change, but never quite get around to specifically articulating a plan. The result is that New Year’s resolutions are often the object of humor or derision and, sometimes, regret in the realization that another year will pass without any real attempt at improvement.

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they are almost never big enough. They fail, not because they are too difficult or long-term, but because they are too immediate, too private, and too focused on the individual. Most resolutions do not involve the community, family, friends, club or other social institutions. These groups could provide support and encouragement to reach goals that are far beyond our personal vanities. Instead, resolutions usually focus on such individualist concerns as how many times to go to the gym, how many calories to cut, how to quit smoking, or how often to review our high school French. Important, strategic decisions that promise significant change in our lives involve much more than focusing on just ourselves.


Strategic, Long Term

So, what are the social institutions that make the most long-term difference to the quality of life? Whatever else our lists contain, they undoubtedly include public schools. How can we talk about improving the quality of life without talking about a renewed commitment to our local schools?

Resolutions that count are strategic. They span time, sometimes generations. No one makes New Year’s resolutions that are intended for just one day. Some even argue that there is a direct correlation between the proposed time duration of the resolution and its significance, but most resolutions are lucky to last a year.

The effects of any support we can give to our local schools may last for generations. The offer to mentor an individual student or share special expertise with a teacher or her class (or with the entire school), giving a financial contribution for special equipment or materials, or simply being a volunteer at our local school are all great examples of a New Year’s resolution that makes a difference for others.

What issues should get our renewed commitment at the beginning of the New Year? What really makes a difference in the quality of life in our communities? Good parenting and special attention to the youngest members of our communities, including health, constructive play, and safe homes, streets and playgrounds are not just the responsibility of parents. These are critical components — with the local school — in the education and development of our children. And they are the perfect objects of resolutions that matter.


For Us...or Others?

So, are we serious enough about our resolutions to make such a contract? The point is that, if we are committed to the support of public education, safe communities, and a head start for our children, why do we keep making resolutions such as eating good carbs or spending more time with the dog?

Resolutions that matter can make a difference for our communities and the futures of our children. Consider being a mentor or volunteering in your local school. Become active in your community or neighborhood association to make our public spaces safe and clean. Volunteer to be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Actively support political candidates or elected officials that support education and child welfare.

So, what will our resolutions be this year? Are they just for us...or do they involve others? This year — make resolutions count.


Founded in 1867, the Nebraska State Education Association has 28,000 members across the state.


Last Updated on Friday, 13 January 2012 23:54
Education results for 2011 are in PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 13 January 2012 23:51

Dear Fellow Nebraskans

By Gov. Dave Heinemann


Education is a key priority in our state and educating our sons and daughters is an investment that will pay dividends for individuals, families and communities throughout our state. Education success and economic success are directly linked. In Nebraska, we are committed to creating higher paying jobs and developing a highly educated workforce so that our graduates and young professionals are prepared for high-quality, high-skill jobs with Nebraska companies. Fulfilling this vision requires a focused effort on student and school achievement.

I would like to share with you Nebraska high school academic results in several areas. This information includes high school graduation rates, the statewide reading assessment results, the statewide math assessment results, the latest ACT average scores and the college going rate. As you review the information, it is important to note the individual high school results and to recognize student and school growth and improvement over time.

Nebraska schools build on a tradition of excellence. Sharing this information is meant to prompt discussion between educators, parents, and communities about how we continue to improve our schools.

Since Nebraska schools began to administer statewide reading and math assessment tests, Nebraskans are now able to compare their school district with other districts in the state.

This past year Nebraska transitioned to the Four Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate to calculate high school graduation rates. A graduation rate of 90 percent for every high school is our goal. Over time, these results will be informative and useful in identifying schools with consistently high academic achievement and sharing their success stories with all schools. We should also be able to identify the schools with the best growth and improvement plans and share their progress with all schools. Its about individual school achievement and school growth. Both are important.

A few weeks ago, I visited a Norris high school and middle school academic achievement pep rally. They celebrated one of the highest aggregate performance levels in the state on the assessment tests and recognized 50 students who achieved a perfect score on the statewide reading or math assessment. At Norris, academic achievement is encouraged and expected. They are doing a great job and I am proud of the emphasis they put on education.

While poverty and diversity are challenges for our schools, we are determined to strengthen Nebraskas education system by eliminating academic achievement gaps. The best opportunity to reduce poverty and to provide every young person hope is with a quality education. We have good schools in our state, but as good as they are we need to do even better in the future.

If you would like to know your high schools scores and rankings go to our website at and click on the column icon.

To make it easier for Nebraskans to analyze and understand the results, they are reported by their sports classification (Class A, B, C-1, C-2 and smaller schools). For privacy concerns, federal law does not allow education data to be reported publicly if a high school graduation class has 10 or less students.


Last Updated on Friday, 13 January 2012 23:52
On Hitchens, Havel, and Kim—and Totalitarianism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 06 January 2012 20:56


By Dr. Paul Kengor


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared at


They say that famous people die in groups of three.

I recently heard the news of the death of Christopher Hitchens, one of the world’s best-known atheists and polemicists. I was saddened by Hitchens’ death. I’m no atheist, but I respected the man, his writing skills, and his fierce independence of mind. When I got the news, I immediately did what Hitchens might have done: I started writing, trying to collect my feelings into words. It’s how I cope with things.

Two days later, on a Sunday morning, a friend of mine at church grabbed my arm and whispered: “Did you hear that Vaclav Havel died?”

No, I hadn’t. That one hurt, too. Havel is one of a handful of individuals responsible for the collapse of communism. I’ve lectured on the man. As I sat in the pew, I began writing again—in my head.

When I got home, I hurriedly composed an article on Havel and Hitchens both. Hitchens, ironically, had great respect for Havel, conceding Havel’s crucial role in communism’s collapse.

He did not, however, agree with Havel on matters of faith. Havel was Roman Catholic, and saw in God the source of our fundamental freedoms. Havel extolled the inalienable rights of the Declaration of Independence, and the One who endows those rights. Hitchens, by contrast, called God a “totalitarian.” Havel lived under totalitarianism, one of its victims, and viewed God as the purest response to totalitarianism.

Later that day, Sunday evening, I attended a Christmas play. A colleague of mine, a fellow professor, was in the play. We were discussing the deaths of Hitchens and Havel, and the parallels. My friend recalled November 22, 1963, a remarkable day when John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley all died. We nervously chuckled: “Well, who will be the third person to die this time?”

At that very moment, our answer was unfolding in North Korea: it was Kim Jong-Il. And therein is more irony: Kim was the anti-Havel. And while Chris Hitchens commended Vaclav Havel, he excoriated Kim Jong-Il. Hitchens’ best work in that regard was a May 2005 piece for Slate magazine, titled, “Worse Than 1984: North Korea, Slave State.” Hitchens wrote:

“How extraordinary it is … that it was only last week that an American president officially spoke the obvious truth about North Korea. In point of fact, Mr. Bush rather understated matters when he said that Kim Jong-Il’s government runs “concentration camps.” It would be truer to say that the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, as it calls itself, is a concentration camp. It would be even more accurate to say, in American idiom, that North Korea is a slave state….

“In North Korea, every person is property and is owned by a small and mad family with hereditary power. Every minute of every day, as far as regimentation can assure the fact, is spent in absolute subjection and serfdom. The private life has been entirely abolished…. Everybody in the city has to be at home and in bed by curfew time, when all the lights go off (if they haven’t already failed). A recent nighttime photograph of the Korean peninsula from outer space shows something that no “free-world” propaganda could invent: a blaze of electric light all over the southern half, stopping exactly at the demilitarized zone and becoming an area of darkness in the north.

“Concealed in that pitch-black night is an imploding state where the only things that work are the police and the armed forces. The situation is actually slightly worse than indentured servitude. The slave owner historically promises, in effect, at least to keep his slaves fed. In North Korea, this compact has been broken. It is a famine state as well as a slave state.”

Now here was a form of totalitarianism that Chris Hitchens got exactly right. Kim Jong-Il was a true totalitarian, a textbook case, who portrayed himself as a god. God is not. As the late Bishop Fulton Sheen once observed, “God refuses to be a totalitarian dictator in order to abolish evil by destroying human freedom.” The evil that was Kim Jong-Il has been destroyed by death.

Hitchens was right on the relationship between Kim and evil and totalitarianism, but not on God and evil and totalitarianism. Havel, the playwright turned president, had the script right on both scores.

What, then, to make of this odd trio of deaths just before Christmas 2011?

Vaclav Havel constantly talked of “transcendence.” At his death, he hoped to ascend upward, to be with his God. Kim Jong-Il, atheist tyrant of a slave state, who persecuted believers of all stripes, expected to go nowhere but down at death—or at least opposite of where God resides.

As for Chris Hitchens, author of the enormously influential and damaging bestseller, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” my prayer at this season of hope and mercy is that he somehow remains nearer Havel than Kim.


Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of Political Science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision and Values.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 January 2012 20:57
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