Current Events

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Nancy Zieman

So, this morning, I read the news that Nancy Zieman died yesterday.

She was the star and host of a television show called “Sewing with Nancy” that aired on PBS for years and years and years and years — a show that I’d first learned of in 1987 while I was in middle school.

Back then, all junior high school students were required to take an “elective”, like Industrial Arts, Home Economics, or Art, or whatever, but since I was in the band, I was exempt from this requirement since band already counted as an “elective”.

Most kids in my situation — those in band or chorus — just took a study hall or open period.


No, I was a full schedule kind of guy so I signed up for “sewing”.

Now, before you start thinking I brushed elbows with Public Television royalty, no, Nancy Zieman was not my sewing teacher.

But, on the rare day that we’d have substitute teacher, they’d roll in the big A/V cart with the TV and top-loading VCR and play an episode of “Sewing with Nancy” for us.

We’d sit and watch, totally uninterested, and then poke fun at Nancy’s crooked mouth or how she appeared to never, ever, blink for the next few weeks as any middle schooler would as we sewed together stuffed mallards and eagles and things from patterns clearly targeted towards kids.

I’m almost certain some of the pattern packages we were able to choose from even had her face on them. In my 7th grade sewing class, she was kind of a big deal.

I’d always assumed she’d had a stroke or was maybe blind and had two glass eyes or something but now, having read her obituary, I now know that it was Bell’s Palsy that caused her facial paralysis.

Anyway, though I’d only seen her show maybe twice…and that was over 30 years ago now… I never forgot her.

When I saw her face, in a tiny blurb on a website this morning, aged 30 years (though you could hardly tell), I knew exactly who she was and spent much of the day in a google/wikipedia wormhole learning more and more about her.

All told, it hit me far harder than it probably should of. Moreso than the other recent deaths of Robert Guillaume, Roy Halladay, or Tom Petty — all much, much bigger celebrity names.

I guess, first, it’s the realization that people from my own “youth” that I don’t picture as being “old” are, in fact, old enough to be kicking the bucket — Nancy was 64, so older than my dad was when he died — but also cause she seemed like a nice lady, you know, doing something she loved and getting paid for it.

I kinda strive for that — doing something I enjoy and making a living doing it. And being nice too.

I’ve no doubt that she was aware of the snickering going on within her semi-forced target audience (of students) but you gotta give credit — she didn’t care.

I mean, really, she looked like someone’s Mom, hosted a sewing show on PBS, talked a little funny, and never blinked. She didn’t have any of the traits of a 1980’s celebrity — easy fodder for middle schoolers.

But you know what? She was still taping episodes as recently as September. You’re clearly doing something right if you can last that long on television — even PBS — and I’m certain she was probably living quite comfortably as a result of her “hobby” turned business.

It really sucks that she passed away.

Of anyone, Nancy Zieman should’ve been able to sew into her 90’s.

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Black & WhiteSitting against the wall in the hallway waiting for class to start back in 1981, I often sat next to a kid named Ricky Shah who was really the first “friend” I made when I started kindergarten.

Alphabetically, I think we were unknowingly forced to sit next to one another, actually.

Ricky used to wear loafers to school which meant he could do these really awesome (and often inadvertant) slides on the pavement and in the hallways.

Aside from being the only kid from school to be invited to his birthday party, it’s the loafers that I remember best. The kid had style.

I haven’t seen him in over 30 years — he acknowledged he didn’t remember me at all on Facebook a few years back after an attempted friend request (denied) — but I’d bet he still wears some really nice shoes.

Though we’d never met prior, we lived in the same area so we rode on the same bus. As a result, the two of us arrived (and left) school at the same time…and we both had some idle time both before and after school.

So, sitting there, we’d compare the palms of our hands (things kids did in 1981, you know, before cell phones), which looked pretty darn similar, and then flip our hands over and both state the obvious… “You’re a different color than me.

I was born in Canada in the 1970’s. Back then, it was comically called the Great White North by Bob and Doug McKenzie and it had absolutely nothing to do with skin color but, really, Canada was pretty white. I’m not sure I’d really EVER seen anyone that was a different color.

And that’s the thing, as a 5-year old, sitting there in the hallway, I didn’t think negatively or positively of Ricky (who happened to be of Indian descent…I think?). Didn’t phase me one way or the other.

I’d say the same held true for him — we were totally equal.

Different colours but, well, both wicked cool kindergartners living it up in the suburbs of Chicago.

I mention all of this because, three times, my oldest son Duncan (who just finished kindergarten in June) took out a book about Jackie Robinson from the library at school.

I know it’s 100% because of the picture on the cover cause, I mean, clearly, every book *can* be judged by it’s cover.

No question on that.

In this case, there’s a baseball player on the cover — a folk art style painting of what I could only assume is Jackie swinging the bat.

Now, Duncan takes a lot of pride in reading and, thankfully, so far, he kind of likes to show off his ability to read by reading outloud to either me, my wife, or one of his younger brothers.

I opened the book when he’d originally brought it home and the first page — before the title page even, shows an illustration of a sign on a chain link fence that reads boldly, “NO BLACKS ALLOWED”.

Um, yeah, we’re not going to read this book.

I already know what he’ll say… First, “What are blacks?” and secondly, “Why aren’t they allowed?”.

The first question, I have no problem answering.

“Blacks are the people that you say are brown.”

He’d counter, “But they’re not black, they’re brown…”

“You’re right, they’re not black. It’s kind of how you and me are called white even though we’re not really white. Get it?”

“Um, no. Wait, we’re white?”

So even before getting to that second question, why blacks aren’t allowed on a baseball field, we’re already on a slipperly slope with “names” and “labels” for things that really don’t make a lot of sense.

I’m not prepared to answer the second question anyway…to a five (now six) year old.

If I had my way, I’d prefer to NEVER answer it because, in his view of the world, everyone would be allowed on any baseball field — including the blue people from Avatar, Mickey Mouse, RoboCop, Adam Levine, and all four Ninja Turtles.

Maybe that makes me an irresponsible parent?

I do know that, for sure, there isn’t a single cell of racism in his brain. Not one.

He doesn’t think he’s better than anyone just because of his color. He’s not worse than anyone just because of his color either. He’s just him.

Teaching him that, not so long ago — and in some cases still to this day (thanks, South Carolina), black people were considered inferior would plant a seed for something I’m pretty sure no one really wants to grow.

You can’t change the past.

Not totally certain where I stand on all of this…

We shouldn’t forget the past, certainly, because we can learn from it…but by “over” referencing or teaching it, well, those same mistakes of the past just keep continuing…

Clearly, racism is taught.

Homophobia is taught.

The “every Muslim is a terrorist” paranoia is taught.

Stereotypes, while usually based on reality, in my opinion, are also taught.

Sorry Virginia drivers, you suck at driving. That’s a fact. (this post would not be complete without referencing a seven year old rant.)

But, seriously, the kids today probably shouldn’t be made aware of the horrible things that happened in the past. Not at age 5, anyway…

My kids talk to a woman with no hair — I don’t know if she’s sick or just chooses to wear it that way — but my kids don’t see or think of her any differently than someone with a full head of hair.

Just yesterday we ended up behind an old man using a walker — my middle son blurted out, “Hey, I want one of those!” within earshot. I’m pretty certain, he really does want a walker — tennis balls on the feet and everything.

And, yeah, they’ll gawk at the guy at the gas station that only has one leg or the midget at the grocery store but not as a cripple or something that should be harnessed up and tossed into a wrestling ring. It’s because they’re awesome to look at.

They don’t judge at all — people come in all shapes, sizes, colors, hairstyles, etc. and they’re totally fine with that — accepting it as “normal”.

Not even accepting it, that’s the way it is. Plain and simple.

I’d prefer to keep it that way for as long as I can…and hopefully a lot of parents out there do the same.

Maybe, then, when these guys are adults, everyone will be a lot more forgiving of things that were once, incorrectly, perceived.

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IranJust for one minute, I wish the average person living in America would listen to both sides of the story. Like, really listen.

The polarization in this country is at a comical level.

Just this past week, open enrollment for health insurance came and went with the usual groans about more and more being taken out of each paycheck to cover health insurance.

I find it comical that they still call health insurance a “benefit”.

Anyway, one co-worker outwardly denounced Obamacare left and right — apparently to blame, in their eyes, for our insurance premiums going up — and then proclaimed that they’d be better off moving to Canada.


I mean, those two stances are complete opposites.

You can’t stand on both sides of that fence… except here in America where the average Joe (and Jane) often times have no idea what they’re talking about.

If Obamacare were actually what it’s supposed to be (and what Obama would actually like it to be), the healthcare system in this country would be just like it is in Canada.

Get it?

So, supporting Obamacare (the way it was originally proposed) would ELIMINATE your health insurance premiums.

Yeah, gone. ZERO. Like, a “real” benefit to paying taxes (which is how the Canadian government pays for it all).

It’s not Obama’s fault you’re paying more for health insurance — he tried to make it so that it would be FREE. For everyone.

How that fact is lost on so many is a real mystery. And how anyone could be so passionately against such an idea is also very puzzling.

A no-brainer, really.

And that brings me to the past few weeks and the whole Iran thing.

I don’t even want to get started down the path of how or why the United States thinks it has the right to decide which countries get to progress and which don’t.

Iran or not, it’s a very un-American way of doing business taking on the global role of judge, jury, and executioner.

Anyway… watching tv this week, it’s been nothing but a long line of conservative Republicans eating up air time as they growl on (still?!) about the Iran nuke deal.

But here’s the thing — it is a good deal.

No, it’s not a perfect deal but it’s a hell of a lot better than no deal at all — which is what Republicans on their soap boxes are trying to turn it into.

And that’s hilarious to me, someone who actually LISTENS, and here’s why…

Republicans or Democrats in this country often say things simply to keep power, whether it’s the specific office they hold or just towing the party line — a HUGE flaw in the two-party political system.

In other words, the conservative Republican office holders on tv are likely wise enough to know that the nuclear arms deal with Iran is a good one but will still vow to defeat it publicly.

Their brain numb constituents, the base, eat it up and vow to vote their reps in over and over again.

Whether or not the conservative Republican office holder thinks it’s a good deal is irrelevant in this case as it’s a no lose situation and that’s because President Obama has already said he’ll veto any attempt to defeat the deal.

Republicans in Congress don’t have the votes to override a Presidential veto so… the deal gets done not matter what, even if they make a big scene during the process.

Of course, being seasoned politicians, they already know that but they’re counting on the fact that YOU don’t know that.

So, even though they likely actually SUPPORT the deal, they’ll continue opposing anything Obama does simply for political reasons.

It’s stupid.

Sure, Obama wins because the world will be a mildly safer place for next decade and the Republicans get to rile up their base just before an election cycle opposing it.

But it also makes our country looking incredibly petty on the world stage… (the deal is NOT just between the US and Iran like it’s portrayed — that’s all propaganda.)

I mean, this deal is clearly better than no deal yet our government (the Republican led Congress, actually) is going to reject it simply for political theater.


I guess to the average Republican voter, narrowing the “Axis of Evil” down to just North Korea is a bad thing.

Does that mean the Democrats would promote adding to the “Axis of Evil”

Sadly, if a Democrat weren’t in the White House today, the answer would be “Yes!”

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Red vs. BlueHere in Connecticut, the mostly Democrat legislature recently passed a budget and sent it on to our governor, also a Democrat, to sign off on.

All hell broke loose.

The Republicans balked that the “new” taxes were too high and that it was terrible, devastating even, for businesses that operated within the state.

Big companies like General Electric and Aetna jumped on the bandwagon criticizing the additional taxes they’d have to “apparently” now have to pay.

General Electric even threatened relocating. Gasp!

Of course, some investigative reporter types soon pointed out that the “new” business taxes they’d been lamenting were taxes those companies were exempt from anyway as a result of getting special tax credits as incentive to do business in Connecticut.

Didn’t matter though — the Republicans had gotten their message on the airwaves first and they continued to dominate the headlines.

Connecticut taxes are going up and it will be crippling to everyone and all of the employers will leave the state.

Mass hysteria.

Truth of the matter is — unless you’re making over $500k per year, chances are, your taxes for 2014 will actually go down.

Yep, 99% of us will be paying less tax but we’re freaking out that we’ll be paying more…and losing our jobs in the process.

Love how that works. All mis-truths.

Political mis-truths.

So, with all of the uproar, the governor called a special session to amend the already voted on and approved budget.

The Democrats made some concessions with the Republican minority and put together a “new” budget. It all got done last night.

This morning’s headline — from the Republicans in state government…

“State is Destined for a Shortfall”

You can’t make this stuff up.

So…the Republicans originally claimed that the tax increases were out of line, got the public all riled up and forced the Democrat majority to make concessions, which they did, and now the Republican’s claim the budget — the one they essentially neutered and approved — will lead to a shortfall in the state’s coffers.

I despise that this is how the American government operates.

It’s ludicrous that the Republicans are trying to have it both ways and putting the Democrats at fault…in both scenarios.

They misled the public and business leaders at the onset in an attempt to smear the primarily Democrat budget.

Then, when they got exactly what they’d wanted on a do-over, they immediately proclaimed that the new budget was inadequate. Worse than before, even.

Since the current governor is a Democrat, he owns it even though the Republican minority is who essentially wrote the final version.

It’s not a lean left or lean right type of thing.

Both parties play the same game.

In this specific case, the Democrats pulled a 180 degree turn due to politically induced public pressure… Basically flip flopping from a ‘Yes’ all the way to a ‘No’.

The Republicans claim the the budget was 100% garbage before the flip and continues to be 100% garbage after the flop.

There is apparently no middle ground.

But that’s the thing, in reality, both version of the budget were a middle ground.

In something as complicated and widespread as a state budget, you’re going to win some battles and you’re going to lose some battles. Weigh your options and hammer out something that pseudo works for every one.

That’s exactly what happens in the government.

Then, they get in front of microphones and cameras and proclaim that, if they’re the not the party in power, that the legislation (proposed or otherwise) is 100% wrong.

The only thing that’s 100% wrong are their claims.

It’s no wonder this country is so divided.

We really need another party…or ten along side the Republicans and the Democrats.

You know, like the other countries on the planet that already have universal healthcare, free education, “working” gun laws, and politicians that know they need to work with others to get things done.

Sure, they have higher taxes than us (which is what it always seems to come back to in the USA) but guess what?

They have more services too.

Services that we’re currently paying for out of our pockets…and paying more for than we would if it were built into our taxes.

Sounds pretty great, right? Fewer things to pay for and more money in your pocket.

Yes, your taxes would go up… considerably.

But guess what? You’d still come out ahead.

Most of the world has already figured this out.

The US is too stubborn to even consider it.

Oh crap, I’m starting to sound like I’m supporting Bernie Sanders for President.

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Graduation Season

Cap and DiplomaRead an article in the paper today lamenting about how millennials are “coming of age in a harsh economy”.

I swear, they must publish the exact same article during graduation season each year… And have been for at least the last 30 years…

Seriously, I’m all but positive my local paper published the exact same article when I graduated from high school way back in 1994.

“Oh, these kids won’t have jobs waiting for them because the baby boomers aren’t stepping out of the workforce…”

This article, though, gave them a “name” of sorts — NEETs — that I hadn’t seen before.

It stands for Not in Education, Employment, or Training.

Losers. Get off your lazy ass and get a job.

But really, the economic “climate” — for jobs, anyway — is pretty much the same as it’s been since the early 1990’s as far as I’m concerned.

I know more PhD’s than you can imagine.

No, not cause they’re brainy but because they couldn’t find jobs…so they just stayed in school.

No joke, one guy I lived with in University had a commerce degree and an arts degree already…while we were pursuing engineering degrees at the same time.

Nowadays? He has like 5 masters, some sort of fancy MBA title thrown in there and he’s a doctor of something too.

To his credit, now in his 40’s, he continues to refer to himself jokingly as a professional student just as he did when I first met him.

Really, though, his resume consists of 90% education and 10% actual work experience. I mean, he almost has to break the “limit it to one page” resume rule just to list out his higher learning credentials.

I’ve said he should just become part of the system — like a professor or something — but he insists he’s still “looking” for a job.

I guess, since he’s still in education, he’s not a great example of a NEET.

Or maybe people have finally figured out that getting a degree doesn’t magically turn into a job?

Frankly, that’s a nearly 50-year old way of thinking.

My dad had a degree in philosphy and somehow turned that into a 30+ year IT career in the insurance industry. Really?

Yeah, that kinda thing worked 50 years ago… not so much now.

Of course, all of those commericals that you see on television for associate degrees, MBA’s, and online classes from the University of Phoenix would have you thinking differently…

Hey, I can take night classes on my own time and, poof, a few MONTHS down the road with my new certificate, I’ll be placed in a position of leadership — so high that I don’t even really have to ‘work’ because I’m so qualified — at a trendy company.

Um, no.

You’ll still be working where you are now, be a few thousand dollars more in debt, and be no nearer to being handed the job that never truly existed.

So, you rather than go the NEET route (where does that lead?), just start at the bottom somewhere and work hard.

Guess what?

Chances are, your higher education background (or lack of) won’t matter one bit.

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Yesterday we went to a community festival and besides the regular girl scout troops, church groups, local politicians, and sub-par musicians you’d see at any similar event, there was a new group of folks dotting the crowd wearing anti-Common Core t-shirts.

They weren’t passing out literature or anything, thankfully, but “someone” was clearly trying to set an opinion.

I chuckled to myself a bit as I think much of the message they were likely trying to convey was lost based on the folks they’d convinced to wear their t-shirts. It would’ve been a pretty safe bet to say that out of the whole lot of them, maybe one had more than a 4th grade education.

Or a job.

Or taken a shower in the past week.

Regardless of who they’d (poorly) chosen to deliver their message, I’m not really sure what the big fuss is about — besides the blind apprehension to change some folks have — though I’m confident that there are great arguments supporting both sides.

I’m pretty indifferent on this one. I think?

One idea I’m pretty aware of is how a lot of vocal parents out there think their kid is “special” or ahead of the curve and “common core” will only hold back their potential.

I’ll keep it short and just say, I disagree.

And I’ve also seen a lot of propaganda out there on social media from my right-leaning friends about how long division (among other things) isn’t taught correctly anymore because of common core with ludicrous examples of how 10 divided by two is now equal to 4 or some such nonsense.

I’m not certain if it’s part of the Republican and Tea Party agenda to crush the concept, based on my social media experience, it just seems that way. It’s all Obama’s fault, all the time, after all.

I guess I support the idea of a common core education under the impression that the point is to give all kids across all school systems the same education. Kinda sad that somehow gets turned into a political issue.

Go ahead friends, call me a socialist.

Things change and education should too. My oldest smurfling, now 5, is learning how to tie his shoes these days. I was never taught the “bunny around the loop” technique when I was a kid and that’s what he’s being taught. I accept that.

I know the “bunny” method was around back when I was a kid too. I’d heard about it but my parents weren’t “fluffy” when it came to teaching me how to tie my shoes (in the pre-velcro era, I might add).

Even still, based on how often my kids shoes come untied compared to how often mine do, sorry, I think my way is better.

But if the “bunny” method happened to be a common core standard, well, I’m okay with that.

I know my way *is* better but the end result is essentially the same — tied shoes. And I think that’s the point that a lot of people are missing.

Sure, there are a few things in there, such as the bunny, that are just plain silly but, in general, it’s a good idea.

Regarding something that’s a lot more likely to be in the curriculum, when I was in third grade, we listened to 45’s on a record player in math class that played songs where the lyrics were times tables.

I can still hear it in my head now — “Six times Six is Thirty-Six!”

It was nothing more than memorization. We weren’t taught the concept at all. I didn’t know why it was 36 — I just knew…because of a jingle.

As far as I’m concerned now, that was a total failure on the part of the school system.

Sure, I figured it all out the right way eventually, but I certainly wasn’t taught multiplication — I just memorized it.

Do I want my kids to be taught the same way I was? Absolutely not.

Change, in this case and from my perspective, is good.

Now I know it’s unrealistic to think that every school across the country can be on the same page — logistically impossible — but I do think it might be a good idea that they’re all within the same chapter at least.

I switched schools, states, and even countries during my elementary and secondary school years. My first — and most difficult — switch occurred between first and second grade when I moved from Illinois to Connecticut.

Culture shock for a seven year old all on its own, sure. I was light years ahead of my Connecticut peers when it came to reading and writing. For math, I was a little behind — yes, even in a school system where they used a record player to teach us. Ouch.

My real Achilles heel, though, was alphabetical order (which was detailed in this post from years ago).

While I could read and write at a level far beyond anyone in my class, the entire concept of alphabetical order was foreign to me. It apparently wasn’t a priority or even a part of the curriculum in Illinois and, frankly, it made me feel like an idiot for my first few months in the new school.

Not the greatest mindset to have when trying to make new friends.

I think common core’s goal is to prevent that sort of thing from ever happening and — beyond that — set a REAL standard for what an educated person is and should be.

Really, I’m pretty sure I could’ve got my GED by the time I was ten years old. Yet, somehow it’s practically viewed as the equivalent of a high school education.

I can’t say I learned a whole lot in high school but I certainly came out smarter than I was in the 5th grade when I was 10.

I also think that most of the opposition — right leaning or not — to a common education system is coming from people who have never known a different school system than the one they were a part of.

When I graduated from high school, I’d venture to say that over ninety percent of the kids in my class had been in the same school system since kindergarten and I think that’s generally the case across the country.

You don’t know what you don’t see or encounter.

I’d bet that every kid that ever moved from one town or state to another knows exactly what I mean.

And it has nothing to do with how great a school system is. I graduated near the top of my class from one of the best school systems in the country. I aced the math portion of the SAT. My reading/vocab portion was sufficient but certainly lower than what I would have assumed a top student in a top school would muster.

Even with the crappy, in my opinion reading/vocab score, the perfect math score propelled me into the 95th percentile and I was accepted at all but one of the universities I’d applied to.

And when I got to university?

Complete and utter failure.

My midterm mark in APSC-171 (which was integral calculus for engineering students) was 12%.

And that was with a 46 on the actual mid-term exam so it kinda (sadly) made it appear as if I was getting myself back in the game.

I went to class every day. Did all of the homework. I studied as much as the typical student. I was never much of a socialite and didn’t really enjoy the party scene but I was a failing student pretty much from day one. To my credit, I wasn’t alone.

But how could this happen?

Well, it’s because all school systems were NOT teaching the same thing. I was so unprepared when I got to university, it was almost comedic.

How could a guy with a perfect score on the math portion of the SAT only muster a 12% in a frosh level math class? Seriously.

Thinking back, it’s a shame that my high school wasn’t using record player jingles (or a cass-single) to teach me the formulas for derivatives and integrals. I’d have been prepared then as calculus really is nothing more than memorization.

Twenty plus years removed from it all now, I now know why the school system I graduated from was so heralded.

We were trained how to take standardized tests, plain and simple.

Our town routinely lead, and continues to lead, the State of Connecticut on them and places incredibly high across the entire nation.

To this day, on, I see that all of the schools I attended in Connecticut have a 10/10 rating. Where I live now, the schools are rated 6 and 7 on the same site.

As you may have guessed, from the last 10 one-sentence paragraphs, that doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I came from an elite program only to learn I was truly far below average.

But really, I just hope that the common core concept helps level the playing field — not just from the university application aspect but for society as a whole.

It’s not dumbing down the smarter kids. The smart ones will learn, and excel, no matter what. Anyone with a brain knows that.

The concept is solid.

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Yeah, this is a little old now but it’s so catchy.

Actually, I’m just putting it up here so it’s easier to play for my kids — who both know all of the words — and so my mom will know what they’re talking about.

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Funny how I went there earlier this week

This just in, Jane Austen to be face of the Bank of England £10 note.

Anyway, I targeted Alexander Hamilton for replacement here but, really, any of the guys from over 150 years ago, many of which (cross) dressed like pirates, could and probably should be replaced.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I get it, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson created this country. But can anyone honestly say that those guys don’t have enough recognition already?

I mean, poor Millard Fillmore gets nothing…

Anyway, enough with the commemorative postage stamps, lets get some fresh faces on the currency!

My votes, in no select order, of more contemporary folks who haven’t been on any widely circulated US currency that I’m aware of are:

  • Thomas Edison
  • Henry Ford
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Martin Luther King
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Hank Aaron
  • George Patton
  • Neil Armstrong
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Bill Gates

Can You Dig It?


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