Dark Side of the Capitol

capitol_darkside_60d_0655One consequence of the capitol grounds construction is that the lights illuminating the north face of the tower are no longer in place.  I’m sure there will be new ones once the construction is completed, but for now it’s just dirt where the parking lot used to be.


capitol_dirtwork_ip_4088I took this photo a while back (click for larger size) and it shows how things are starting to take shape.  The north side of the capitol will have more pedestrian area, much like the south side.


capitol_projectDon’t take my word for it – this information is posted and updated on the capitol’s Facility Management website.  You can get a PDF copy of the plan by clicking here.

By the way, there were other notable song title candidates for the title of this blog post, such as “On the Dark Side” by Eddie and the Cruisers, “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens, “Standing in the Shadows” by Dokken, “Ribbon of Darkness” by Marty Robbins…need I go on?

BOHICA* – more “Local Control” coming Thursday night at 6pm

burleigh_co_anncThis terse notice to Burleigh County suckers taxpayers was posted on the Burleigh County website but flew mostly under the radar.  If you read it, you’re about to get socked by another expensive sucker-punch by commissioners Jim Peluso, Doug Schonert, Brian Bitner, and Jerry Woodcox.  I left Mark Armstrong off that list because he’s the one through whom I actually learned of this nonsense.


burleigh_co_noticeHere’s the obscure listing of the notice, which doesn’t even appear as plain text (just a PDF file).  What in the world does that even mean?  Well, apparently that’s all the explanation we’re going to get about this tax hike.


By the way, what do other Public Notices look like on their website?

burleigh_co_noticesThey’re posted nearly in their entirety.  Remember that Sesame Street jingle, “One of these things is not like the other”?  Start singing it now.  And then grab your ankles, because it’s clear that the Burleigh County Commission does NOT want you to know about this until it’s too late.  Well, you’ve been warned.  Show up at 6pm tomorrow and make your voice heard.
*BOHICA = Bend Over, Here It Comes Again


“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” I Thessalonians 4:13

(Originally posted in 2009)

Today marks the anniversary of the loss of my friend, Kirk Eckelberry. Anyone who knew him is well aware of the lives he touched as a Christian husband, local attorney, soccer coach at Shiloh, or just as a friend or neighbor. Kirk and I hadn’t seen each other much since we were kids, but in 1999 we had reconnected and loved blazing around on our big Kawasaki Ninjas and camping out at the races. Sadly, I only had the one summer with my friend.

I’ve always skilfully put up walls in my heart regarding loss, especially in this situation. It wasn’t the first time; my friend Norm Kukert died on his motorcycle right in front of me; my friend Brad Doll died on his motorcycle right before I arrived on the scene (I still have my collectible Scott Russell t-shirt with the tear from lifting Brad’s bike into the truck). One race weekend, when I had a really bad feeling about things and packed up my gear without ever getting on the track and headed home, one of our racers was killed in a high speed turn two accident. A young motorcycle racer tells himself things like “It’ll never happen to me.” For many reasons, which I still don’t understand, Kirk’s death really pierced my heart.

I found out about his crash while getting my scripts ready for the ten o’clock news at KFYR-TV one night. I was stunned…that’s not the way to find out your friend has been killed. We were looking forward to going racing together the next spring and had experienced a really fun summer of riding. Also, I wasn’t a Christian at that time and was really fond of having a friend who was saved. I could see the peace and joy he had, and it was starting to sink in exactly why and how he could have those things. And suddenly he was gone.

Many of us, including Kirk’s brother and myself, rode in a group of motorcycles at Kirk’s funeral. I’m sure he would have enjoyed that. I have no doubt that he’s in unspeakable joy up in heaven with his savior; the sadness I’ve felt has always been for those of us who miss him, most of all his family. That kind of pain and sorrow is the thing that I’ve shut out, bottled up, whatever sort of cliche’ you want to apply. This time around, however, despite my best efforts to skirt around the anniversary of the day, I was able to come away with a sense of joy and love I never expected.

Kirk’s family poured a lot of time and effort into me when I was a kid. When they had youth group events at their house or church, I was always welcome. It seemed as though I could smell pizza at the Eckelberry home from my house several blocks away! Many times i would come over and not even hang out much with the Eckelberry boys, but talk with Ma about my need to be “born again” or my need for a savior. Those things didn’t sink in at the time, but they laid the groundwork for me to realize the truth down the road.

It was actually Jesus himself who said that we need to be “born again” in John 3:7 (“Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”). Here I thought the term was just clever branding on the part of some Christian movement. Nope…the entire reason I’d been going to church all my life, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one who said it. That’s pretty high authority…after all, if we don’t believe in what Jesus himself said, why go to church in the first place?

The constant witness and the visible joy of my friends spoke to my heart, and there was a point down the road where I accepted Jesus as my savior, I became “born again”, I got “saved”…whatever term you wish to ascribe to it. I am now a Christian in every sense of the word. I wish I could have told Kirk in person, but I know that some day in heaven I’ll get the opportunity to do just that.

The reason I can now write this with such joy and with an unburdened heart is that I was able to find and call Kirk’s mom, “Mrs. Eckelberry” to me, and finally tell her how I miss Kirk. More importantly, I was able to thank her for caring enough for me to spend the time witnessing to me, inviting me in for pizza or to church, and always making me feel welcome. I was able to tell her that her kindness and the influence of her son Kirk were the pivotal influence in my life, that now I’m a Christian husband and daddy. That kid who had no regard for his eternal destination or relationship with the God that created him is a Christian man, active in a great church and trying to serve God every day. That’s fruit to their account, and the blessings they gave me were hopefully returned by letting her know what a wonderful difference she made in the salvation of that boy.

Sure, it’s still painful to miss Kirk and all the fun we had planned. I especially think of his wife and two little kids, especially when I go out riding these days. Rather than focusing on the loss of my friend, however, I can now think of the joy that his brief re-entry into my life has brought. Someday in heaven we’ll all share in unspeakable joy, and the pain of this life will be a distant memory.

I was listening to a sermon by Charles Stanley the other day, talking about the legacy we’ll leave behind. My salvation is part of the legacy of Kirk and his family. I’m not alone; there were many people who got up at Kirk’s funeral to describe their memories of him. One in particular that stood up was a woman who only met him once. She was in a very bad place, financially and otherwise, but Kirk helped her. He did so in a kind and loving way, and his influence on her was great enough that she came to stand in front of all those people and relate her experience with Kirk Eckelberry. Many people remember Kirk like that.

From now on I’m going to remember the joy of being friends with Kirk and his family, to be grateful for my soul’s salvation through their investment in me, and the knowledge that someday I’ll see him again in the presence of our Lord.

I hate to say “I told you so”, but…


Two years ago I posted an April Fool’s post in which I claimed that United Airlines would be discontinuing service to Bismarck-Mandan because a new competitor, Frontier Airlines, was going to be receiving subsidies to come and compete with them.  Apparently it was an entirely plausible idea, because a lot of people bought it.  Gotcha.  Well, it turns out that my satirical post was prescient in at least one way.

In the last paragraph of the post, I pointed out that the same thing happened in Fargo, where Frontier operated for the same two years, then left despite the incentives that city had provided:

Ironically, Frontier Airlines pulled out of Fargo in 2010 after only two years of being “touted as a low-cost carrier that would bring down fares at Fargo’s Hector International Airport” (Associated Press, 2/5/10). Flaweigh surmised, “Once that happens in Bismarck, maybe the City of Bismarck will consider offering United a ‘break-even guarantee’ and some other concessions as they are currently offering our competitors.

Here we are, two years later, and Frontier is doing the two-year two-step. I guess any consternation at throwing $250,000 and other incentives at them doesn’t seem so unreasonable after all. But if a simple photo blogger like me could have seen this coming, why couldn’t any of the local geniuses have done the same?

Always pack a backup piece

dead_battery_57896Little boy loaded in the truck: check.  Camera bag and tripod: check. Sandbar with grit getting everywhere: check.  Battery…battery?  Oh, seriously.  I even have a dual battery grip on my 7D, so how in the world did I get Munsoned out in the middle of nowhere?  Well, as you can see I still had something capable of taking photos with me: another Canon DSLR in its bag, which I’d forgotten to remove from my truck yesterday.


sunset_57878Fortunately, I realized this just in the nick of time, and was able to catch the sun just as it was about to disappear over the horizon.  I was in the best spot I could think of on short notice, and I think it paid off nicely.  Then we came home to watch Courageous with the rest of our little family while I stuck batteries into the charger.

Moonshadow contingency

Kp_091214The sky sometimes, so unkind
Then again, he’s my best friend…
                                                            – Crocodiles, “Sleep Forever”

See that point where the K index plummets from a tasty 7, indicating a geomagnetic storm, to a serene 4, indicating bubkes?  That’s the point where a friend and I loaded up the truck and blazed north to catch those auroras that we’ve been anticipating.  That’s okay…my photo buddy and I had a backup plan, and it worked out quite nicely.


lake_mitchell_dock_31837Step One: I had this spot in mind, along a little lake northeast of town.  Even though the auroras weren’t cooperating, the moon and sky sure were.  There was a fantastic lunar corona which actually manifested as a couple of paraselenae, or moondogs as the sky conditions mutated.


lake_mitchell_dock_31841We played around at this dock for a little bit, allowing the sky to do some things and letting long exposures turn the rippling lake to glass.  At this point we were still hopeful for some auroral activity, but moved on to the next stage in our backup plan since it didn’t require Northern Lights to bear fruit.


arena_church_31845This is the abandoned church at Arena.  It looks like daylight, even though it was around midnight or so, because the full moon was a-blazin’.  I grabbed my big 6-D-Cell Maglite and did some light painting of the cross atop the church’s steeple, and we let the stars and clouds do their thing in the background.


arena_church_31851In this shot it almost looked like I could see some splashes of color in the clouds, as if the auroras were trying to peek through, but even at full size I wasn’t able to tell definitively.  It was cool to be able to visit this ghost town in the dark, though, and it was another excellent consolation prize since the Northern Lights trip was otherwise a bust.

I have the attitude that any time I return from a photo trip with even one image that I really like, that trip has been a success.  It doesn’t even matter if the photo is relevant to the purpose of the trip.  In this case, I have a few such photos, and they were the result of a solid backup plan, so I’m pleased not only with the results we captured but the success of that plan.

Geometry at the best presentation I didn’t see

geometry_ip_4107I spotted this cool geometry the other night…any guesses what it is before I give the answer below?












geometry_ip_4106Yep, it was this stack of chairs at the library Wednesday night, where Marilyn Snyder presented the results of an incredible study into the history of the Bismarck Police Department.  More on that another time, because I haven’t actually seen all of it.  I had a church function at 7, and the presentation started at 6:30, so I had to peel myself away shortly after things really got going.  I returned later to find the chairs stacked, cookies gone, and presentation completed.

Don’t worry – Dakota Media Access recorded the presentation and will have it available sometime in the future.  Keep an eye on www.freetv.org to catch it!

Bismarck, bend over for some more “local control”

bps_dollarsRemember those who said North Dakota property taxes are too high and there’s little accountability for the entities who levy and raise them? We were told that eliminating the property tax would cede “local control” to state government. Well, get ready for “local control” here in Bismarck, where a mostly unnoticed meeting of a small group of people aims to increase your tax burden yet again. 

I didn’t like the wording of Measure 2 a few years back, but I sure like the principle. Unfortunately, the state legislature stepped in to “buy down” local property taxes, thereby hanging the property tax issue around their necks like a lead weight. In the aftermath, local boards and commissions continue to raise tax rates and assess properties higher and higher to fill their coffers. Great plan.

Several years ago I lived near Richholt School. The school district decided to “close it” due to declining enrollment, we were told. Meanwhile, they managed to get a new eighty million dollar school project rammed through during a special election in which almost nobody but their activists participated.  They were serving cookies at the polling places, for crying out loud!  And the Richholt facility?  It’s still there.  You my notice that the Hughes building, which was in such “bad shape” that we needed to build Horizon Middle School, is still in operation as well.

Now we not only have multiple pet projects in the works for the school district, but we also get to play catchup on funding the maintenance and staffing of those facilities…something that never seems to appear in the initial price tag when they propose these expenditures.

Once again, I’ll state my positions on property taxes in ND:

  • Measure 2 was flawed, but I believe the property tax should be eliminated in the future.
  • It was an enormous and tragic mistake for the state legislature to implement an ill-conceived “shell game” to try to ease the burden of taxes they neither levy, assess, or collect… but for which they have now assumed a good share of the blame.
  • Local entities continue to use their authority to fund pet projects and advance their own agendas, and this “local control” they screech about has translated only to local abuse.
  • Quite frankly, if more people showed up to board and commission meetings and expressed their opposition to these constant tax increases, and held elected officials accountable, we wouldn’t even need to have this discussion.

North Dakota needs to stop punishing individual citizens for owning property.  We have a sales tax (the only “fair” tax) and plenty of revenue from energy production in our state. My hope is that someone will find a proper way to eliminate it…with the right mechanism I think we could have a relatively smooth transition and quell the abuse of taxing authority.

Looking back on the longest year

footsteps_ip_3747I’d like to start out this week by pointing out that of all the blessings my family and I have received through the past year’s trials, we have deserved NONE of them.  They are the grace of God.  All the answered prayers, the people who stepped in to help, the healing and provision…they are a gift from above. We could earn NONE of them by any goodness on our part or by any bad things we’ve endured. All serve instead as a testament of the grace, mercy, and love shown to us by our Lord and Savior. We’re so thankful and look forward to a “light at the end of the tunnel” as it appears that we may be on the tail end of many of our health issues and other setbacks. :)

Around town…can you identify these?

where_ip_4055I spotted this door tonight while waiting for a friend.  I’d seen it before but never grabbed a photo of it.  I don’t suppose anyone can correctly guess where it’s located?  It’s actually in a place that sees plenty of traffic.


where_ip_3706Since I’m on a roll, I grabbed a shot of this unique curtain rod a week or two ago with the intention of soliciting guesses as well.  If you’ve seen this in person, you’re probably a very happy individual.

Any takers?  Comment below or on Facebook.