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This Sunday, March 9, most of the population of the United States will perform the annual chore of setting their time-keeping devices forward by one hour, as we enter the seemingly ever-lengthening portion of the year referred to as Daylight Saving Time—surely an ironic term for the many students who will lose one precious hour of their Spring Break this year! (Usage note: don’t ever call it Daylight Savings Time, even if you’re a congressman.)

Historical Background

Benjamin Franklin is credited with first conceiving the idea for a daylight-saving law, which he proposed (perhaps as a joke) in an anonymous and humorously-worded letter to the editor published in the Journal de Paris in 1784.

The first serious proposals for such a law came from the entomologist/astronomer George V. Hudson in New Zealand in 1895 and 1898, and from the builder William Willett in England in 1907. (Willett, incidentally, was the great-great-grandfather of Chris Martin of Coldplay, the band responsible for the songs “Clocks” and “Daylight.”)

World War I poster advertising the first daylight-saving lawFranklin’s whimsical idea was not taken seriously in the United States until Congress passed the Standard Time Act of 1918 to economize on fuel during the First World War. By then, several European countries had already adopted some version of a daylight-saving law.

The law turned out to be quite unpopular in the U.S., especially among farmers, who found it unnatural and disruptive, and it was abolished immediately after the war. It was reinstated during the Second World War, then abolished again after that war, then reinstated inconsistently by various state and localities. It has been a continual source of controversy up to the present day. A 2007 Congressional Research Service Report for Congress summarizes the contentious history of this law over the decades.

Observance

The latest version of the law was implemented in 2007 as Section 110 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Under current law, Daylight Saving Time (DST) is observed in the United States from 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March until 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday in November, theoretically saving energy during the longer days and keeping children safe (and candy companies in business!) during the prime trick-or-treating hours of Halloween.

A few U.S. states and territories do not observe DST:

Controversies

Among the advantages that have been imputed to DST are that it saves electricity and the money spent on lighting during the evening hours; it offers more daylight hours for recreation after our jobs, studies, or chores and encourages people to spend more time exercising and socializing; it stimulates tourism and business; and it reduces crime and traffic accidents during the evening hours.

Opponents to DST have objected that changing the clocks twice a year is inconvenient, unnatural, and confusing; the extra cost of air-conditioning at night negates any savings in reduced lighting; the extra driving drives fuel-spending up and generates pollution; the extra hour of darkness in the morning leads to more traffic accidents and endangers children on their way to school; and the jolt to our inner circadian clocks is unhealthy.

Many of these assertions for and against have been based more on hunches than on proven facts, but there have been several studies of the effects of daylight-saving laws in various places around the world. A 1975 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that extending DST from a six-month period to an eight-month period might have modest benefits in the areas of energy conservation, traffic safety, and reduced violent crime, although their conclusions were not asserted with much confidence. A 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Energy indicated a small savings in electricity during the daylight saving period, while a study of daylight saving time in Indiana suggested that a reduced demand for lighting is negated by an increased demand in electricity for heating and cooling, especially in the southern states. Perhaps most disconcertingly, several studies have shown that there is a spike in the rate of heart attacks, and even a rise in the rate of suicides, following the spring time shift.

A recent telephone survey showed that the number of Americans who believe that the advantages of daylight saving time are worth the trade-offs may be dwindling, but a White House petition to have the law abolished expired before receiving enough votes to elicit a response. For now, it seems, the law—and the controversy—will continue.

Would You Like to Know More?

Clock being set forward during World War IThe National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has answers to several frequently asked questions about Daylight Saving Time, as well as information about the current DST rules.

The U.S. Naval Observatory has compiled a chart showing the beginning and ending dates of Daylight Saving Time (which they call Daylight Time) from 2006 to several years from now.

For a list of government documents and other publications at the UNT Libraries related to daylight saving time, search the subject heading “daylight saving” in the Library Catalog. More titles can be found in the Library of Congress catalog.

Visit the Daylight Saving Time WebExhibit to learn more about the history of daylight saving time, about the reasons for it and the controversies surrounding it, and about how other countries around the world observe—or don’t observe—Daylight Saving Time, often referred to as Summer Time outside the United States.

Timeanddate.com also has a helpful compilation of information on their Daylight Saving Time—DST page, including tips on how to minimize the health risks encountered when we shift the clocks forward, and a chart summarizing how DST is observed around the world.

 

Article by Bobby Griffith.

Photos from Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002722591/ and http://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/hec.13949/

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The office of the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue was established in 1862, and in 1913 a personal income tax was authorized by the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The mission of the Internal Revenue Service, according to the U.S. Government Manual, is “to collect the proper amount of tax revenue, at the least cost to the public, by efficiently applying the tax law with integrity and fairness.”

Plucked goose with IRS 1040 tax formJean Baptiste Colbert, minister of finances under King Louis XIV of France and a grand master in the art of revenue enhancement, is said to have given the following advice about collecting taxes (the statement may have actually been made by his mentor, Cardinal Mazarin):

The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.

We can’t guarantee that you won’t feel like a plucked goose when you file your tax return this season, but here are a few suggestions on your options for filing and for obtaining assistance in undertaking this annual onus:

Filing Electronically

More than 80 percent of taxpayers now opt for the convenience and speediness of filing their tax returns electronically.

Free File

If you are one of the 70 percent of Americans who made $58,000 or less last year, you are eligible to access brand-name tax preparation software or fillable online forms through the IRS Free File service to prepare and file your federal tax return online for free. Even if you made more than that, you are still allowed to use the fillable, electronic versions of the forms.

Tax Preparation Software

A number of commercial software programs are available for purchase to help you prepare your tax return and file it electronically. The IRS does not endorse or approve any of these companies, but if you’re not sure which one to use you can find reviews of the top seven tax software options at About.com.

Commercial Tax Preparers

You can pay a tax preparer in your local community to prepare and/or file your taxes online for you. They’re not always identifiable by Uncle Sam or the Statue of Liberty waving in front of the building, but you can enter your ZIP Code in the IRS Authorized IRS e-file Provider Locator to get a list of the nearest commercial tax preparers in your location who are authorized to file your taxes electronically.

Filing by Mail

Do you prefer the old-fashioned paper tax forms? You can still use them! Tax forms, instructions, and publications can be obtained online at www.irs.gov or ordered over the telephone by calling 1-800-829-3676.

For direct access to U.S. federal tax forms and publications, visit the IRS Forms and Publications page. At this site, you can scroll through a list of current IRS publications, select the document you need, and print it. You can also obtain forms and publications for prior years, and there are some accessible forms and publications to accommodate people who use assistive technology or require accessible formats such as braille or large print.

Denton residents can still obtain many of the most popular tax forms, instructions, and publications in paper format, free of charge, at the Denton Public Library and at the downtown post office at 101 E. McKinney St.

The IRS Web site has instructions on where to file paper tax returns once they are filled out.

Need Help Filing?

Please don’t ask librarians tax law questions—they’re not tax law specialists. Instead, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 for answers to your tax questions.

There are also several programs that provide free assistance with filling out and filing U.S. income tax forms:

VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance)

The IRS VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) Program offers free tax help to people who earn less than $52,000. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals in local communities. They can inform taxpayers about special tax credits for which they may qualify, such as Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. VITA sites are usually located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls, and other convenient locations.

Denton County residents who qualify can get tax help from United Way’s VITA members at selected times and locations during the weeks before April 15 to help them fill out their forms and answer tax related questions. Be sure to bring the materials listed on the United Way VITA page.

The IRS and U.S. Armed Forces have a strong VITA Program for eligible military members and their families.  To help members of the Armed Forces make wise tax decisions, the IRS has prepared a compilation of Tax Information for Members of the Military. Military tax programs are overseen by the Armed Forces Tax Council , which consists of tax program coordinators for the Marine Corps, Air Force, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard.

TCE (Tax Counseling for the Elderly)

The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program offers free tax help to taxpayers who are 60 and older and specializes in questions about pensions and retirement issues unique to seniors. Most of the TCE sites are operated by the AARP Foundation’s Tax Aide Program. To locate the nearest TCE site or AARP Tax-Aide site and to find out if you qualify, use the AARP Site Locator Tool or call 888-227-7669 from January to April. During other months, call 1-800-829-1040 to find the VITA/TCE location and hours nearest your home.

Self-Help Tax Preparation

If you have a simple tax return and just need a little help or don’t have access to a computer, you can visit one of the participating VITA/TCE tax preparation sites, and an IRS-certified volunteer will guide you through the process.

Become a Volunteer and Make a Difference!

You can receive training in tax preparation and make a difference in your community by volunteering with the VITA or TCE programs. If you’re interested, send your contact information using the VITA/TCE Volunteer Sign Up form, and be sure to indicate the city and state where you would like to volunteer. Your information will be forwarded to the sponsoring organizations in your area for further contact.

TAS (Taxpayer Advocate Service)

The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers resolve problems with the IRS and recommends changes that will prevent the problems in the future. If you’ve had problems with the IRS that you haven’t been able to get resolved, the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TSE) may be able to help. Qualifying taxpayers who request assistance receive personalized service from a knowledgeable taxpayer advocate who will listen to their problems, help them understand what needs to be done to resolve the problems, and stay with them every step of the way until those problems are resolved.

Contacting a TAS Advocate

You can find the address and phone number for your local Taxpayer Advocate Service office on the TAS Web site. Other ways to reach a TSE advocate:

  • Call the TSE toll-free line at 1-877-777-4778
  • Fill out Form 911, Request for Taxpayer Advocate Assistance, which is available by phone at 1-800-829-3676, or online at www.irs.gov
  • Ask an IRS employee (in person or over the phone) to complete the form for you
National Taxpayer Advocate (NTA) Reports to Congress

The leader of TAS, the National Taxpayer Advocate, submits a Report to Congress twice a year.

  • The Annual Report, delivered each January, summarizes the 20 most serious problems encountered by taxpayers during the previous year, makes legislative and administrative recommendations for resolving those problems, and examines that year’s most frequently litigated issues.
  • The Objectives Report identifies the priority issues TAS will focus on during the upcoming fiscal year. 
  • This year the National Taxpayer Advocate has also issued a Special Report that examines the IRS’s history of using questionable criteria to screen organizations that have applied for tax-exempt status.
Tax Reform Suggestion Box

To further a dialogue about tax reform, TAS has established a Tax Reform Suggestion Box to receive taxpayers’ suggestions for tax reform. Take this opportunity to let your voice be heard! You can also Read Some Suggestions that other taxpayers have made.

 

And finally, here’s one last bit of (apocryphal) tax advice from an unnamed IRS Auditor:

The trick is to stop thinking of it as your money.

Article by Bobby Griffith

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Love is an elusive metaphysical concept, and perhaps not something one would think of as a topic for government agency publications, but it does come up from time to time. Here are just a few government documents dealing with this perennial mystery:

Romances and Love Stories

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is a subagency of the Library of Congress that lends books and magazines in the form of sound recordings or braille publications to eligible U.S. residents or U.S. citizens living abroad. Although they don’t provide music recordings, music scores are available in braille or large print editions, and instructional materials are available in audio format for learning to play various instruments.

Cover of Romances and Love Stories bibliographyRomances and Love Stories is an annotated bibliography of selected romance novels available from the NLS. The lists are divided into five categories, with a plot synopsis provided for each book (which might give you some ideas for writing your own romance novel!). If you’re not disabled you won’t qualify to borrow the books from NLS, but these are commercially-published books, many of which are readily available from public libraries and bookstores.

These are the categories:

  • Prolific Authors (authors who have five or more works listed)
  • Gothic Romances (featuring a threat to a naïve heroine and frequently a gloomy, isolated setting)
  • Regency Romances (set in England during the Regency period of 1811–1820 and usually a comedy of manners with a plot and style reminiscent of Jane Austen)
  • Harlequin Romances (uplifting escapist fare featuring realistic, relatable women and strong, deeply desirable men)
  • More Romances (a catch-all for anything else in the romance novel genre)

Mary Queequeesue’s Love Story

In 1972 the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (now Education Northwest) developed a community-based reading and language arts program especially for Indian children. Funding came from the National Institute of Education (a federal agency later replaced by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, which was itself replaced by the Institute of Education Sciences). Out of this program came the Indian Reading Series of stories relevant to Indian culture, written by local Indian authors and illustrated by Indian artists.

 Cover of Mary Queequeesue's Love StoryMary Queequeesue’s Love Story, one of the titles in this series, tells the story of Mary Queequeesue, who loses her husband to a younger woman. An elderly medicine woman helps her perform a ritual to bring him back, and eventually everyone lives happily ever after. It’s an engrossing, culturally authentic story, although some parents and teachers might find it rather steamy stuff for a children’s picture book—maybe a little too educational! An accompanying teacher’s manual and activity cards are provided to help explain the cultural references.

Love Goes West

The Federal Theatre Project was an ambitious effort by the FDR administration to provide jobs for theatre professionals during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Established under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 and lasting until 1939, when its funding was terminated, the FTP was responsible for several remarkably inventive theatrical productions and employed thousands of actors, directors, playwrights, designers, vaudeville artists, and stage technicians.

Love Goes West script  Love Goes West set design

Love Goes West is one of many scripts that were written by playwrights hired by the FTP. A brief vaudeville skit with a twist ending, it tells the story of several cowboys in the old west fighting violently over the new schoolmarm, who is the first woman they’ve seen in years. It includes a full script and a set design. This rare work is not currently available online, but a copy is available for checkout from the UNT Libraries Government Documents Department. Ask for it at the Third Floor Service Desk in Willis Library.

The Cut Paper Heart Forever Stamp

Since 1973, the United States Postal Service has issued every year about this time a new limited-edition commemorative stamp on the theme of love, affectionately known as the Love stamp.

Cut Paper Heart Forever StampThe Cut Paper Heart Forever Stamp is this year’s Love stamp. It was designed by USPS Art Director Antonio Alcalá and features a digital illustration by Q. Cassetti inspired by the traditional folk-art of Liebesbriefe (“love letters”). Predecessors of the modern-day valentines, these were ornately cut and painted love letters fashioned by utilizing the traditional folk-art of Scherenschnitte (“paper cutting”) brought to the U.S. by German immigrants.

You can obtain the stamp at your local U.S. post office, or see the USPS Web site for a description of the stamp and information on ordering the stamp and related philatelic products. You can view the limited-edition Cut Paper Heart Forever Stamp, as well as a preview of many of this year’s other stamps, on Facebook, Twitter, and the USPS Stamps Web page. Follow #lovestamp on Twitter and tweet your favorite love moments inspired by the Love stamp!

Article by Bobby Griffith

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The laws that Congress passes relative to the federal budget, as well as the fiscal policies that motivate that legislation, can have immediate and long-term effects on the national economy. In turn, economic factors such as the gross national product, the federal deficit, the national debt, and the unemployment level will inform and limit the legislative choices that Congress makes. No one can be sure exactly what the future holds, and budgetary decisions almost always require some sort of trade-off, but a fiscally aware Congress will be in a better position to make wise choices concerning federal appropriations and expenditures.

Congressional Budget Office logo

The Congressional Budget Office

The Congressional Budget Office is a nonpartisan agency that produces objective, impartial analyses of budget-related and economic issues to guide the Congress during the budget-making process, alerting members to the impact that current and proposed legislation and policies can be expected to have. The CBO makes baseline projections of the economy under current laws and provides estimates of the likely effects of proposed changes in policy, but they stop short of making any actual recommendations.

The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024

This week the CBO presented their latest report on the Budget and Economic Outlook for the 10-year period used in the Congressional budget process, and they had some good news and some bad news.

The Federal Deficit

According to their report, the federal deficit is expected to shrink to $514 billion in 2014. This would be equal to 3 percent of the nation’s total economic output, or Gross Domestic Product, which is typical for the last 40 years. $514 billion sounds like a lot of money, but contrast it with the $1.4 trillion deficit the government had in 2009 and it looks pretty good. Things will look even better as the deficit continues to decline during 2015 to about $478 billion, or 2.6 percent of the GDP. 

The rest of this 10-period doesn’t look so rosy, however. If current laws remain in place, federal revenues are expected to keep pace with the GDP, but expenditures will grow more rapidly as the population ages and more money is spent on Social Security, federally subsidized health care programs, and rising interest payments on the national debt.

U.S. federal deficits or surpluses, 1974-2024

The National Debt

The national debt is projected to reach 74 percent of the GDP by the end of the year, rising to 79 percent by the end of 2024. The CBO warns that this level of debt is “very high by historical standards.” Such an enormous national debt can put a damper on economic growth, reduce the flexibility legislators have to deal with unexpected challenges as they arise, and eventually could lead to a fiscal crisis.

Unemployment

The unemployment rate is expected to drop gradually, falling below 6 percent in 2017 and dropping to 5.5 percent by the end of 2024. This is an improvement, but still disappointing compared to the rate of 4.8 percent in 2007, and is well below the average rate of recovery after a recession.

A separate CBO report issued on the same day as the budget and economic outlook discusses the reasons for the slow recovery of the labor market and makes some very tentative projections.

Employment after recessions - current vs. average recovery

Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act

The CBO has made updated estimates of the insurance coverage projections of the Affordable Care Act and predicts that the glitches that kept people from enrolling in the exchanges for the first few months of the exchange period will cause total enrollment to fall below what was estimated earlier, but not by much, and last-minute enrollment by people wishing to avoid a penalty could still bring the enrollment close to the original prediction (or maybe not—they’re very noncommittal), and within the next couple of years enrollment is expected to rise sharply as people become more familiar with their options.

The Risk Corridor Program, which reduces the amount of financial risk to insurers that sell plans in the first years of the exchanges, is expected to bring in a net surplus to the Treasury of $8 billion by the end of 2017. This is considerably better news than the CBO’s earlier prediction that the Risk Corridor Program would just break even.

Premiums for insurance policies bought through the exchanges are also expected to cost about 15 percent less than previously anticipated.

Labor Market Effects of the Affordable Care Act

The CBO has revised its earlier estimates of the labor market effects of the Affordable Care Act, but warns that its estimate is “subject to substantial uncertainty” because of a lack of information to base its projections on.

Several features of the ACA, however, are expected to result in workers voluntarily reducing their hours or leaving the labor force entirely. For instance:

  • Some workers will retire earlier because they don’t need to work to keep their health insurance.
  • Some people may choose to work part-time, knowing that they now have the freedom to do so without losing their health insurance.
  • Some currently unemployed or low-wage workers may be actually be discouraged from working when they find out that their federal health insurance subsidies drop and their net taxes increase as their income rises.

The CBO predicts that total employment and compensation will increase over the next ten years, but that increase will be about 1.5 percent smaller by the end of 2017, and 2 percent smaller by the end of 2014, than it would have been in the absence of the Affordable Care Act. This projected reduction in employment will result primarily from workers voluntarily choosing to reduce their hours or withdraw from the labor force, not from a rise in unemployment or unemployment.

Would You Like to Know More?

Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the CBO, gave testimony before the House Budget Committee on the budget and economic outlook, summarizing and clarifying the findings for Congress.

This report and related data, reports, and other materials are available on the CBO Web site.

All CBO products except for informal cost estimates for legislation being developed privately by members of Congress or their staffs are available to the Congress and the public on the CBO Web site.

Article by Bobby Griffith.

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In 1802 the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts, renowned for the quality of its cheese, presented President Thomas Jefferson with a 1234-pound “mammoth cheese” incorporating milk from 900 cows and engraved with the Jeffersonian motto, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” The cheese apparently remained in the White House at least as late as March of 1804, at which point it was described as “very far from being good.”

In 1835 the dairymen of Oswego County, New York presented President Andrew Jackson with a 1400-pound block of cheese commissioned by Jackson’s supporters, who believed that “every honor which Jefferson had ever received should be paid him.” It was carried to the White House in a cart pulled by twenty-four horses, then deposited in the vestibule, where it aged for two years.

In 1837 Jackson announced that there would be, at his last major reception before leaving the White House, a cheese tasting and open house to which the general public would be invited. Thousands of people showed up, and the cheese was consumed within a couple of hours, although the odor lingered well into the administration and White House residency of Jackson’s successor James Van Buren, who was compelled to discard the stinky drapes, repaint the walls, and air out the carpets for several days. Not long thereafter, Van Buren received to his consternation a gift of his own 700-pound wheel of cheddar, most likely left behind by Jackson.

The Jackson cheese episode, in a somewhat garbled retelling, became the inspiration for a fictional event on the TV show West Wing. The White House Chief of Staff announces a “Big Block of Cheese Day,” during which the White House doors are opened freely to the public, who are allowed to present any question or concern, no matter how trivial or bizarre, and have it discussed by White House staff.

Virtual Big Block of Cheese DayOn January 29, 2014, inspired by Andrew Jackson’s spirit of openness and by the fictional “tradition” portrayed on television, the Obama Administration is sponsoring the first Virtual Big Block of Cheese Day. All day long White House officials will host a virtual open house on social media, answering random questions from the public in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout.

See the White House Web site for the day’s schedule and information about how you can participate. 

Article by Bobby Griffith.

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Take a Day On, Not a Day Off: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of ServiceMany of us take a day off from work or classes on the third Monday in January to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This day has been designated a national holiday since 1983, but since 1994 it has also been designated a national day of service.

The MLK Day of Service provides an opportunity for all Americans to help bring Dr. King’s vision of a “Beloved Community” a little closer to reality by engaging in action that helps solve social problems, working against the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism to create a society where all people can share in the wealth of the earth, and conflicts are resolved peacefully through a mutual commitment to King’s principles, philosophy, and techniques of nonviolence.

Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service Web site to learn more about what opportunities are available in your community and how you can participate. Both the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University have service projects scheduled. The City of Denton will have a day-long celebration with the theme “Living the Dream through Words and Deeds.”

More information about Dr. King and his philosophy can be found at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Shortly after Dr. King’s assassination, his widow Coretta Scott King established this nongovernmental, nonprofit organization to provide research, education, and training in King’s principles, philosophy, and techniques of nonviolence. The Center champions the causes of freedom, justice, and equality by working to eliminate poverty, build community, and foster peace. The Web site also includes an extensive digital archive of Dr. King’s works and papers.

Service to your community doesn’t have to be limited to one day a year! Learn more about ways you can become active in your national, state, and local community at the UNT Libraries Civic Engagement Portal.

Let’s each take some time on this special day to make a contribution to our community, keeping in mind these immortal words of Dr. King:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?

Article by Bobby Griffith

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Robert Feke, "Young Benjamin Franklin," c. 1748.About this time most of us have probably already given up on maintaining our New Year’s resolutions. It might be worthwhile, therefore, to observe Benjamin Franklin’s birthday today by reviewing the “bold and arduous project” he devised for achieving moral perfection in his personal life, and considering how his system might be applied in defining our own values and achieving our own personal goals.

Establish Goals

The first stage in Franklin’s plan was to establish a list of moral principles he found himself in need of practicing. He coupled the name of each virtue with a definition in the form of a brief admonition, and arranged the list in a climactic sequence so that each virtue would be built on the achievement of the previous one.

This is the list he came up with:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

You might come up with a different list, depending on what is most important to you or which specific habits you need to practice. The defining admonitions also might be reworded or otherwise adapted to be more personally relevant and more contemporary.

Keep an Account of Progress

Franklin knew that trying to keep all these ideals in mind all the time would be an overwhelming and futile task, so he established a system for focusing on one habit every day for a week while noting any violations of the other principles, but not focusing on them. When he reached the end of a thirteen-week cycle, he would start over and repeat the entire program, completing four cycles every year.

He designed an accounting ledger to keep a record of his progress, creating for each week a matrix that lists all the virtues in a series of rows, and the seven days of the week in a series of intersecting columns. He assigned one primary virtue to each week and gave himself a black demerit every time he found himself violating one of his principles, the object being to keep the entire row clean for the week’s featured habit, but keeping himself mindful what is happening in the other areas:

 Page from Franklin's ledger of moral virtues.

Franklin reused these pages many times and discovered that the constant marking and erasing wore them out quickly. Later he used a memo book with ivory pages that could be repeatedly erased without damage. If he were alive today, he would most likely be using an electronic spreadsheet or an iPhone app.

He also established a daily routine of working, resting, eating, and other activities, beginning each day by asking himself, “What good shall I do this day?” and ending each with the self-query, “What good have I done today?”

 Franklin's daily schedule.

Evaluate Results

Franklin conceived this self-improvement program when he was twenty years old and kept it up off and on at least until he was seventy-nine, when he wrote about it in his memoirs. Did it work?

According to Franklin’s memoirs, his bold goal was to arrive at “moral perfection.”

I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.

He certainly never arrived at moral perfection. His propensity for indulgence in food and drink, for example, and the ensuing gout from which he suffered because of it, are well-known.

His attempt at maintaining a constant state of mindfulness did lead to a self-awareness and an improvement in his behavior, however much he fell short of perfection, and he attributed much of his success to the regular application of this discipline:

To temperance he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution. To industry and frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the learned. To sincerity and justice, the confidence of his country, and the honourable employs it conferred upon him: and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper and that cheerfulness in conversation which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his young acquaintance: I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.

Did you make any resolutions this year? If you’ve had difficulty maintaining them, or have any areas in your life you need to improve, you might want to try out Franklin’s system. Let us know if it works for you!

Article by Bobby Griffith.

Portrait of the young Benjamin Franklin by Robert Feke, c. 1748. Harvard University Portrait Collection.

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JFK motorcade (photo by Walt Cisco, Dallas Morning News)Fifty years ago today, at 12:30 p.m., President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Two days later the chief suspect in his death, Lee Harvey Oswald, was himself shot and killed by Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Confusion, suspicions, and accusations followed immediately and have continued to this day. Every attempt to establish the facts only seems to create more controversy.

Several federal government investigations have been conducted and reports issued over the years, beginning with the Warren Commission, established a week after the assassination, and there have also been countless investigations, books, and articles from private citizens. Anyone attempting to learn about the Kennedy assassination has an overwhelming amount of material to slog through, and yet there are also numerous gaps in the record, missing pieces of the puzzle that only add to one’s sense of frustration.

Here are a few resources that provide convenient points to begin researching this complex and controversial subject:

JFK Assassination Records Collection (NARA)

http://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/

Shortly after Oliver Stone released his 1991 movie JFK, which mentioned briefly that thousands of government files related to the Kennedy assassination were still classified, there was a public demand for the government to release the files. Shortly thereafter Congress passed the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992, which mandated that all government records related to the Kennedy assassination be gathered into a single collection in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and required that all records be available to the public no later than October 26, 2017, with the exception of those the president decides must be kept secret for national security reasons.

The act also established the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), an independent agency that was responsible for reviewing and rendering a decision on files that an agency considered too sensitive to be released yet. The ARRB also collected testimony of people who had information connected with the assassination and added that testimony to the collection.

The JFK Assasination Records Collection Web site provides a number of methods for searching this enormous collection, but only a few of the materials are available online. There is also an FAQ that answers some of the most frequently asked questions about the collection, such as “How can I get a copy of the Warren Commission Report?” and “Can I view Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit?

The JFK Assassination (Mary Ferrell Foundation)

http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/JFK_Assassination

Mary Ferrell, a historical researcher who was working in downtown Dallas at the time of the assassination, almost immediately took it upon herself to begin collecting what eventually grew into an enormous—and enormously valuable—collection of books, newspapers, magazines, reports, and declassified documents. The Mary Ferrell Foundation has put many of these documents online, and their Web site also has a number of helpful articles summarizing various aspects of the event and the many investigations that have been taking place over the years. There are links to a plethora of related resources.

JFK Facts

http://jfkfacts.org

This site includes the latest news about the assassination and about progress being made toward the release of classified government files, especially from the CIA. It includes educational materials such as Tips for Writing a JFK Term Paper and questions raised about the assassination. The site’s moderator, Jefferson Morley, is a widely-published journalist and is currently suing the CIA for release of classified documents.

Press Kit: November 22, 1963 (JFK Presidential Library)

http://www.jfklibrary.org/About-Us/News-and-Press/Press-Kit-November-22-1963.aspx

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum has made available on their Web site a smattering of photographs, moving images, and audio files that were recorded from November 22 to 25, 1963. They have also provided a selection of primary source documents and oral histories from participants in the events of those days. All these materials are in the public domain and are media ready. This source is useful not just for reporters, but for anyone wishing to get a sense of what it was like to be around at that time.

Related Reading

There have been countless books written about the Kennedy assassination, some well worth reading, others less so. Here are two recent works of scholarship that present exhaustive arguments for or against conspiracy, each supporting their arguments by the mountain of evidence that has accumulated over the years.

Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by Vincent Bugliosi. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. (2007).

Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (cover)This book is largely based on evidence gathered while the author, who once successfully prosecuted Charles Manson, prepared for a mock trial in which he prosecuted Lee Harvey Oswald on British television and obtained a verdict of guilty. The author examines the events of the assassination in great detail and draws the same conclusion as the Warren Report—Oswald shot Kennedy and was acting alone. The author also discusses the trial of Jack Ruby and reviews and attempts to debunk several of the major conspiracy theories that have been proposed over the years.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, by James W. Douglas. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books (2008).

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters (cover)This book, highly praised by Oliver Stone, argues that Kennedy, who went through a conversion from a traditional “Cold Warrior” being urged toward violence by his military and intelligence advisors to a leader who sought peaceful solutions to international conflict arrived at through private negotiations with “the enemy,” was perceived as a threat to the burgeoning military-industrial-intelligence establishment seeking to control the government and was therefore eliminated as the result of a plot orchestrated by the CIA. The reason “why it matters,” the author argues, is that ever since this incident the national security state, operating in secrecy and with impunity, has only grown more powerful, more secretive, more expensive, and more violent.

What is your opinion on the causes and consequences of the Kennedy assassination?

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An old and familiar, sometimes beloved, sometimes reviled government resource is reaching the twilight of its life, and like an august but increasingly behind-the-times elder statesman is about to be retired from service and supplanted by his more vigorous young progeny.

For almost 20 years now, the Web site THOMAS: Legislative Information on the Internet has been providing U.S. citizens and others interested in the federal legislative process with free access to congressional bills, resolutions, statutes, calendars, and other information about the Congress.

Beginning on Tuesday, November 19, the thomas.gov URL will begin redirecting users to Congress.gov, a new legislative service that will fully replace THOMAS by the end of 2014. Users will continue to have access to THOMAS at http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php until the Congress.gov site is complete and out of the beta stage of development.

How it All Began

In January 1995 congressional leaders announced the launching of a new legislative portal, operated by the Library of Congress and designed to make the work of the U.S. Congress more transparent and more accessible to their constituents by bringing together in one free, centralized, online database information that was previously only available in separate locations or for a fee. The new Web site was affectionately named THOMAS in honor of our third president, who in a famous petition expressed his view that “in order to give to the will of the people the influence it ought to have, and the information which may enable them to exercise it usefully,” the communication of a government’s representatives to their constituents must “be free, full, and unawed by any.”

This early version of THOMAS was mainly valuable for providing searchable, full-text house and senate bills from the two most recent congresses at the time. It also offered several other features, including directory information, schedules, rules, and C-SPAN coverage for the House of Representatives, as well as links to the Library of Congress Web site. Curiously, not much information was available from the Senate yet, although THOMAS was touted optimistically by house leaders as a bicameral project.

Senate information as well as other valuable contents were added later, including summary and status of bills, committee reports, and voting records—all integrated with the full text of the bills. Presidential nominations, treaties, the Congressional Record, and live broadcasts from C-SPAN were also added to this increasingly heady mix of congressional resources.

THOMAS Starts to Show Its Age

Internet technology has changed considerably since 1995, and THOMAS has not always kept up with the times. Users often found its interface clunky and frustrating. For instance, the InQuery search tool used by THOMAS generates temporary URLS that can’t be bookmarked or linked to in a document or Web site. Users have to follow a whole separate set of instructions to obtain permanent links to their documents.  The THOMAS site also does not display well on the mobile platforms that have become so popular today.

Many started doubting THOMAS and gravitated toward non-governmental Web sites such as GovTrak and OpenCongress, which presented the same information in a more attractive, user-friendly format. Eventually the incremental improvements and additions to THOMAS were deemed not to be enough, built as they were on a once innovative but now unwieldy and increasingly obsolete infrastructure, and a decision was made to scrap the whole Web site and design another one from scratch that would contain the same data and more, but present it in a more modern, user-friendly way.

Time for a Change: Enter Congress.gov

In September of 2012 the new Web site, Congress.gov, was launched in beta format. Built with state-of-the-art technology and designed according to the latest standards in information retrieval and display, this site is intended to be sleeker, more accessible, and more intuitive than THOMAS, even with more features and more content added.

Here are a few of the improvements:

  • An attractive, responsive display that adapts to a variety of platforms, including desktop, tablet, and smartphones, without requiring a special app
  • A simple, intuitive search box displayed prominently at the top of the opening screen and incorporating Boolean search capabilities
  • Faceted searching, allowing users to refine their initial search and explore related information through a variety of filters
  • Consistent, permanent, logical, search-engine-friendly URLs
  • Congressional Budget Office cost estimates for proposed legislation
  • Profiles of congressional committees and members of Congress
  • Downloadable app versions of the Congressional Record and the Constitution Annotated
  • Video tutorials explaining each step in the legislative process

Even the new name might be considered an improvement by many. We may miss the distinctiveness and warmth of the old site’s name – no more having a chat with our old friend THOMAS – but the new name is admirably clear and straightforward. There will be no more wondering whether (or why) it should be spelled in all caps, nor rampant speculation on whether it’s an acronym, and, if so, what the letters might stand for.

Moving Forward

This transition won’t happen overnight—these things must be done delicately! Some congressional information is still only available on THOMAS. Until all the information has been transferred, the old Web site will be accessible from the Congress.gov home page as well as through a direct link: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/thomas.php

Theoretically any links to subpages on the THOMAS site should still work until the transition is complete, but some of them didn’t seem to be working today. 

The Congress.gov site is continually being tinkered with while in its beta stage, so be sure to send in any feedback you may have about your opinions on the site, your personal experience in using it, or your suggestions for improvement. You could be an influential contributor to this ambitious project if you act now!

Learn All About It

The Law Librarians of Congress blog, In Custodia Legis, has been posting numerous articles following the transition from THOMAS to Congress.gov as it develops.

Library of Congress news releases have also been following the transition process (enter “congress.gov” in the search box to see a list of articles):

Several online classes on how to use Congress.gov will be offered next year during the transition period. See the registration form for available dates and to register online.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact the UNT Government Documents Department if you need help with this Web site or have other research questions.

What has been your experience with THOMAS, and what do you think of Congress.gov so far?

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Gas PumpWhen you’re in the market for a new or used car or truck, you can compare how much it costs to insure the different makes and models by calling your insurance company, but how can you find out which vehicle will cost more in gas? The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency have come up with a powerful tool to help you save money and protect the environment at the same time.

FuelEconomy.gov is an interactive, online tool that generates side-by-side comparisons of gas mileage (MPG), annual fuel costs, annual petroleum use, greenhouse gas emissions, and the smog rating for new and used vehicles. There are also crash-test safety ratings available. Just select the “Find a Car” feature, plug in your information, and compare! Even if you’re not looking for a new vehicle, this resource can help you maximize the fuel economy of your current car or truck.

There’s even a Trip Calculator to compare vehicles according to where you plan to be driving them most often, or to calculate how much it will cost to drive your own vehicle on a specific trip. This can be a very useful feature if you’re planning to drive a long distance during the holidays, or if you’re looking for a car to drive to work every day.

There are many other useful features on this Web site, such as the following:

Articles on the Web site explain how the EPA tests vehicles and how to read and interpret EPA sticker ratings on fuel economy and air pollutant emissions. You’ll also find a plethora of articles to educate yourself in the areas of climate change, oil dependence, sustainability, and gas prices. Other articles will keep you up to date on the latest technological advances in fuel efficiency, such as electric cars, hybrids, fuel cell vehicles (FCVs), and alternative fuels.

Whether you’re looking for a new car and or simply want to improve the fuel efficiency of your current vehicle, the tools and tips on this site can help you save money, minimize your carbon footprint, and do your part to reduce our nation’s dependence on petroleum products and create a prosperous, sustainable future.

Article written by Jenne Turner and Bobby Griffith