Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Traveling Into the Past

Today has been one in which I find it difficult to settle on a topic about which to write.  I am therefore turning to the book of "300 Writing Prompts" for inspiration.  Today I choose: "Imagine you are planning a trip across the continent on which you live.  Assuming you have unlimited time, resources, and energy, what will be your mode of transportation?"

I'm going to "twist" this topic a little bit and move it in time to the year 1880.  I will assume a starting point of New York City and the termination at San Francisco.  The journey will be by multiple conveyances.

The fastest mode of travel across the continent is by train, however, I want to experience some of the local lifestyle along the way so, I will vary conveyance at times.  The trip does begin by train in a private car.  The first major destination is Pittsburgh where I will catch a riverboat down the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois, then up the Mississippi to St. Louis and then the Missouri River to Kansas City.  A riverboat trip is still on my bucket list.

From Kansas City, I will travel by train again to Dodge City, Kansas, and then south into the Texas Panhandle by horseback to Tascosa, Texas.  From Tascosa I will continue west to Las Vegas, New Mexico and then south and west to Silver City, New Mexico, and then to Tombstone, Arizona.  From Tombstone I will head north and west to Tucson, Phoenix and Prescott before heading north into Utah and then west to the Nevada mining district of Carson City.

From Carson City I would head west across the Sierra's at Donner Pass to Sacramento where I would catch a stagecoach for the last leg of the trip into San Francisco.

The year 1880 was a transition time for the western United States.  It was the end of the "heydey" of Dodge City.  The wild west was still alive in Tascosa where one might possibly have run into Billy the Kid at that time.  Doc Holliday, the Earp brothers, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, and many other famous "gunmen" were slowly moving into the last vestiges of the "wild" of New Mexico and Arizona.  Lawlessness was coming to an end and the "frontier" was becoming a safer place.

The Texas Panhandle had finally been opened to the beef industry with the roundup of Quanah Parker and his Quahadi band of Comanche in 1875 by Ranald S. Mackenzie.  They still occasionally would come and visit Charles Goodnight at the ranch in Palo Duro Canyon that he managed in partnership with James Adair.  Tascosa was still a wild a woolly watering hole for the cowboys of the Canadian River range.

1880 was the peak population of Carson City, Nevada, thanks to the Comstock Mine and others like it.  It didn't recover that level of population until 1960.  The trail across the Sierras into Sacramento was well traveled and travelers were sometimes waylaid by bandits seeking gold from the mines.

That period of history has always intrigued me.  I suppose my "dream trip" would have been to see it first hand.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Refuge or Trap?

Yesterday, my mind was exposed to at least two references to a World War II bomb shelter.  The first was in a book I am reading and the second was in a movie we watched last night.  I am quite certain they are what triggered a dream I awoke to sometime during the night which included a WWII bomb shelter.

The dream was strange because it began with some type of museum tour of an ancient building complex that was little more than foundations.  It was laid out in a circular pattern somewhat like ancient pueblo dwellings (which I also saw a photo of yesterday).  I was following a tour guide through the ruins as the trail wound around a bowl-shaped structure and began to descend underground.  There was no one else to be seen anywhere among the ruins.

As we proceeded to enter an underground area there were a few people scattered about looking at the exhibits which were much more modern than I had anticipated.  It was fairly roomy inside the structure as the pathway continued forward.

We then descended additional steps into a cramped room filled with people in which there was an additional trap door leading into an even deeper room.  The guide was explaining that it was a WWII bomb shelter that had been constructed beneath the ruins.

It was at that moment my claustrophobia kicked in and I headed back out as quickly as possible.

Tight spaces don't bother me too much unless there are lots of people.  I have always wondered why that is the case.  It happens sometimes in a crowded room.  I think it is more about being too closely surrounded by people than walls, but the combination of the two is difficult for me to handle.  I don't like the feeling of being trapped.  I need a clear "flight path."  Maybe it is simply survival instinct.

I think all of us have phobias of one kind or, another.  Some people fear snakes, or rodents, or certain types of insects.  Many have a fear of spiders.  Such fears intrigue me.  What is it that makes us focus our fears on very specific things?  Is it an experience sometime in the murky past?  I suspect that is often the case, but don't know.

In spite of the "fear trigger" in my dream, I found it interesting.  I often think preparedness in the form of some type of emergency shelter is wise.  With the strange things going on in Washington and other places across our country I wonder sometimes if we all should construct a place of safety -- of refuge -- against the potential storms which might be unleashed in the form of political turmoil.

A physical refuge is great, but ultimately we need a spiritual refuge.  I am thankful that mine is in place.  I hope yours is too. 

"Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge." -- Psalm 16:1

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Clean Water Needed

Yesterday we had an interesting discussion with a couple of friends about differences between cultures.  They have lived in numerous places and he traveled a large part of the world with the military.  Our experiences are much more limited, but we have been to a couple of other countries.

As we talked, one of the things that came up was the issue of water when traveling to other places.  We take water for granted.  In this country we are blessed with water systems that are sanitary and for the most part the water is free of harmful chemicals and parasites.  We can drink water directly from the kitchen faucet without concern that we will become violently ill.

We take water for granted because it is abundantly supplied and clean.  We use it without thought or, fear.  That is not the case elsewhere.

One of the reasons the life expectancy in many countries is low is due to the heavy parasite load that most people are carrying.  Many of those parasites are contracted through drinking water, or from eating food items that have been washed in that water.

In my limited travels to other countries, I was given advice to never drink the water, never eat fresh fruit or, vegetables washed in the water, and never rinse my toothbrush with tap water.  Always drink only bottled water and use it even for wetting my toothbrush prior to brushing my teeth.  Also, it is necessary to make certain the bottle of water had an intact seal before opening it.

This issue was truly brought home to me in Niger where I observed young women drawing water from a community well in the center of a village.  Upon looking into the well I observed trash and even dead rodents in the water.  It is a wonder to me how any of them live so long.

There are many opportunities for "doing good" in this world.  They surround us if we would only look and observe.  One of them is helping to provide clean drinking water to those in need.  There are a number of organizations devoted to that purpose.  If you really want to make a difference in the lives of others, it is a good place to start.  Seek out one of these groups and help them financially, or better yet, take a trip with them to help provide a good source of clean water to people in need.

We are all created in God's image.  We are all called to help our fellow man.  Quit admiring yourself in the mirror and look around.  If you know of a reputable organization, please post their contact information in the comments.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Purposeful Pursuit

Each and every day
We must set aside some time
To learn.

It must be deliberate
And purposefully lead toward some destination
We have set.

Without a plan
We merely drift along with whatever current
Pushes us.

Set your eye
On a worthy destination and remain focused
On the prize

While building
On knowledge gleaned by others and recorded
By them.

Read with purpose
In order to fill the gaps in your own toolkit
As needed.

Reach high.
Dream big.
Achieve greatness.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Socialized House Cat

A good friend suggested an appropriate analogy for describing the new breed of democratic socialists that seem to be rising in this country.  He described them as a house cat.

I know that many people have pets they keep in the house.  I'm not one of them.  I believe animals belong outdoors.  Most of you agree with me but seem to make exception for one species or, another.  I suppose one excuse for keeping a cat would be to control an infestation of rodents.  I mention rodents specifically because I don't know of anyone who wants them in their house.  I must remind you, however, that their presence really isn't any different than having some other furry creature underfoot.

Throughout much of history mankind has dealt with animals in ways that meant they often shared space.  Typically it was because they were protecting them from something -- either the environment, or perhaps some predator.  The purpose was to preserve them for personal consumption rather than to lose them to the elements or, some other elemental force which tended to cull the weak, or slow, or merely inattentive.

The problem with house cats is that they serve no purpose.  Oh, I suppose they are good for petting, or talking to if one is lonely.  They can at times be amusing to watch when being taunted with a toy on a string, but they really have no purpose in life except to meet some unfilled need of their master -- if a cat can truly have a master.

House cats tend to lose their survival instincts.  Perhaps it is a matter of selective breeding that chooses for domestication rather than useful skills.  Some small semblance of desire for their natural environment must exist deep within them, however, because they are often seen sitting on the furniture gazing out the window.  It is as though they know there is more to life than their sheltered existence but, they have no clue how to survive within it.  That view extends even to the neighbor's German Shepherd which is often seen romping across the yard in pursuit of a squirrel which usually, but not always, escapes up a tree.

The pampered feline gazes in wonder and perhaps curiosity at the occurrence while never making the connection with his own mortality and the danger presented by the scenario.  It does however, see the freedom of movement and perhaps somewhere deep inside longs to escape the confines of the walls which contain its entire world and enter into the "make-believe" land viewed through the window -- much as a human might daydream about some television presentation.

Many have been led to believe that democracy -- which is literally mob rule -- is the basis for our form of government.  That isn't the case.  We live in a Constitutional Republic which is designed to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.  Democracy doesn't even work within a family.  If the parent fails to retain control by veto, the children would vote themselves ice cream and movies and fail to recognize the impending loss of health and shelter due to wasteful and inappropriate spending.  The street would find them living in boxes while attempting to survive among the true predators which stalk and destroy.  Unfortunately, among our elected officials there are those who are both predators and democrats.

Socialism also has its appeal.  It reaches into the envious heart and says, "you should have what they have."  It pays no heed to true justification of the disparities that exist or their purpose within society.  It merely says, I deserve.

By educating the masses to serve as replaceable parts in the assembly line of productive enterprise which fills pockets with wealth unknown throughout the history of mankind, our system has created a huge number of "house cats" without survival skills and without knowledge of the dangers lurking beyond their sheltered existence.  Charles Darwin's theorizing regarding survival of the fittest has been circumvented -- at least temporarily -- by an affluence that finds house cats to be acceptable because it no longer fears the vagaries of a natural order that would find them easy prey if required to survive beyond the protective walls.  The allure is strong, but the consequences deadly.

We have created our demise by failing to educate succeeding generations of youth to the dangers beyond the walls. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Teaching Thinking

Once again I am drawing from the book, "300 Writing Prompts."  Today's question is:  "If you were to teach as a career, what would you teach?"

I come from a family of educators.  My dad and several of his siblings were educators -- one of them at the college level.  My brother is in school administration after many years of teaching.  My sister taught for awhile after graduating from college.  My mother worked as a teacher's aid for many years.  I was the "black sheep" for not choosing to be an educator.  I instead went into business.

The funny thing is that as I look back over my career, I spent much of it teaching.  I educated others about products, I educated people on financial decisions, I educated employees on various aspects of their job -- products, processes, general business principals, sales, etc.  I found that to be effective in business, one must be a teacher.

Now to answer the question:  If I could figure out how to do so, I would teach people to think.

Most people want to follow a recipe.  Reasoning out a process, or making a decision seems to be difficult for many.  They are dependent on someone else to do those things for them.  To some extent, I blame our education system for that mindset.  I don't think kids are taught to think for themselves.

Part of the reason for the failure to teach this most fundamental of skills lies in the foundations of our educational system.  It arose in order to train future workers with the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic so they could fill factory jobs.  Additional skills were taught through apprenticeships which were specific to their function as an employee.  Only at the college level were basic thinking skills emphasized and even that emphasis has faded over time.

The focus was on learning to behave in certain ways.  Children are taught "facts" which they are expected to regurgitate on a test.  They are not taught to reason through a scenario and determine probable or, desired outcomes.  They are taught to repeat what they have been told, or to follow a recipe with known outcome.

Over multiple generations the problem has become entrenched very deeply because those now doing the teaching were taught using those very principles.  How can one be expected to teach thinking skills when they were never taught thinking skills?

History is a subject that I found to be very dry and boring when in school.  It seemed to be merely about memorizing dates of events.  Today I find history to be interesting.  Instead of merely learning that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, triggered World War I, I would ask the question, "How did the assassination of Franz Ferdinand lead to the outbreak of World War I and is there a connection to the events that led to the War in Bosnia in 1992?  How do those events affect the political landscape of Eastern Europe today?"

Some would argue that I am asking graduate school level questions of children who need first to master basic facts.  The problem is that children need to understand why they are asked to learn those facts, otherwise they become disenchanted and fall into the trap of "studying for the test" and not for the knowledge.  When we see the importance of something we remember it for long periods and integrate it into our thought processes.  When we deem something as relevant only for the moment, we quickly forget it.  We need to teach that there is purpose in learning.  The purpose is not merely to receive a certificate that we consider our "ticket" to a job, it serves the purpose of creating an understanding that can lead to advancement of the human race.

Thinking is about "connecting dots."  There is an interconnectedness within and between almost every event that occurs.  The earth and all that is in it is one giant integrated organism in many ways.  This includes human events through time.  Until we begin to understand that interconnectedness, we merely pass through events that swirl around us.  Thinking gives us the ability to thoughtfully affect our surroundings -- hopefully in a positive way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Mentally Escaping to a Resort -- or Two

Today's post is again inspired by the book of "300 Writing Prompts."  The question asked is: "If you could build your own vacation resort, what is one attraction you would definitely include?"

I can't really think of "one" attraction that would be above all others, but will instead describe the type of resort that I would build if money was no object.

It would be a corporate-type retreat set somewhere in northern New Mexico with a view of the open plains in one direction and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind.  It would have a huge lodge with a 5-star restaurant.  The bar would be out of some old west saloon and have a brass rail.  It would be entered through swinging doors such as are on the Palace bar in Prescott, Arizona.

Lodging would be in cabins of various sizes.  Some would accommodate larger groups while others would be designed for 1 or 2 people.  All would have fireplaces of river rock.  All would contain modern conveniences.

There would be trout streams in which to fish as well as a couple of lakes.  I would have a stable of horses and mules for trail rides, or for more extended pack trips into the wilderness.  It would also be a working ranch and the cattle would dot the plains that stretched to the horizon.

Hidden behind nearby hills, but only a short distance from the lodge, would be an airstrip.  All arrivals would be picked up at the strip by horse and buggy for the ride to the lodge.  Anyone who arrived by automobile would park at the airstrip and also be carried to the lodge by horse and buggy.  No motorized vehicles would be obvious anywhere on the place.  Deliveries to the lodge would arrive by a back entrance hidden from sight.

There would be a sporting clays course as well as a rifle and pistol range.  Hunting trips would occur in season.  There would not be a golf course or, swimming pool.

In the lodge would be an area with pool tables.  On the weekends would be live music featuring acoustic instrumentation.  With prior arrangement, groups could experience chuckwagon cooking in an isolated area near the lodge.

I know there are places very much like I describe.  I've never been to one, but always thought it would be great.  Such experiences are expensive and always beyond what I felt was prudent to spend.  Since the question is hypothetical anyway, I figure one might as well dream big.  While I'm at it, I think I'll include a 2nd resort.

My "other" resort would be in Belize on the coast.  It would include a private dock, private beaches and world class fishing.  Sigh, another one out of reach....

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Green Gambit

Gambit: a device, action, or opening remark, typically one entailing a degree of risk, that is calculated to gain an advantage. (Google Dictionary)

An example of a gambit is "The Green New Deal."

Many of the concepts expressed in the document have been around for a lot of years.  I enjoy reading science fiction and in that genre there are generally four basic scenarios for the future of earth.  1)  It becomes one massive, all-encompassing city and we exploit outer space to support it.  2)  Through war, or other global catastrophe, we devolve to a more primitive age of small tribal enclaves surviving against an extremely harsh environment and fighting each other for the limited resources.  3) There is some scientific breakthrough in the realm of energy research that provides unlimited power without dependence on fossil fuels.  4)  Some form of power such as nuclear energy is utilized to power the cities while the agricultural sector is dependent on horses, oxen and people for food production.

All of the scenarios focus on energy/fuel/power -- whatever you want to call it.  Utilization of energy drives our economy.

Fossil fuels such as coal and oil (or, its derivatives) is problematic.  Burning it (which is the only way the energy is released) frees carbon that has been sequestered into the earth, to circulate back into the carbon cycle.  Too much carbon, or other particulate matter, pollutes the atmosphere in a manner that causes a slow and general rise of temperatures.  It is basic science.

This heating occurs in natural cycles which can be detected through examination of the geologic record through time.  Part of it is connected to solar activity and part to volcanic activity on the earth.  It also has been theorized that a meteoric impact could cause a sudden escalation of the effect and may have contributed to the demise of various life forms such as dinosaurs at some time in the distant past.

The science and logic behind an effort to curb or, virtually eliminate the release of sequestered carbon is sound.  Many of the predictive models, however, are just that, predictive.  Predictions, by their nature, are often inaccurate.  They are "educated" guesses.

In the case of "The Green New Deal" we are seeing an exploitation of a developing global mindset that is properly motivated to reduce dependence on the release of sequestered carbon to fuel our economy.  It is much like profiteers who exploit any global event of a catastrophic nature.  In this case, it is a move toward communism (not socialism which is a pie-in-the-sky concept that has never been achieved on a large-scale basis.)

Gambits are often designed to exploit ignorance.  In a business deal it is frequently the knowledge by one side of some piece of information that materially affects the outcome which is believed to be unknown by the other side.  It is a high-stakes bet based on perceived advantage that may, or may not, be real.  "The Green New Deal" is a high-stakes gambit designed to expand power.  The groundwork has been laid over the past 30 years.  We are just now seeing the opening moves of the "game."

Yes, we need to find alternative sources of energy.  It doesn't need to be wind turbines, or ethanol.  Nuclear is a much better bet.

We also need to be vigilant against those who would exploit ignorance in an effort to gain power.  "We the people" are being manipulated by those we have elected to serve.  They in turn are being manipulated by those who have power and wish to expand it.  We must become better informed of both the science and the political systems that seek to exploit us.  It is all about power and control of it.

The greatest appeal of "The Green New Deal" is to those who are most isolated from the beauty that is the natural state of this earth.  Those whose lives are surrounded by concrete, people and pavement -- i.e. live in the cities -- long for the opportunity to touch that natural beauty.  Those in the country still get to experience it on a daily basis -- if they are paying attention.  The appeal of "The Green New Deal" is to those in the cities.  It is also the environment most ripe for a reform of some kind that would improve their lives -- even for the most affluent.  "Socialism" appeals to those trapped in inner-city ghettos.  They also vote.  They are frequently ignorant.  They are angry at their circumstance yet feel powerless to escape.

We need to do something about it.  Instead, we complain about their ignorance, their violence and their perceived unwillingness to do something about their circumstance.  When you have no hope, it is nearly impossible to change without help.  The promise of socialism is a life preserver floating just out of their reach, but visible.  We must provide an alternative.

Monday, February 11, 2019

History, Science and Art

I am back to the book of "300 Writing Prompts" for inspiration this morning.  The question is: "Would you rather spend the day at an art museum, science museum, or history museum?"

My answer is a resounding, "Yes."  I like all three.

We don't go to museums frequently, however we have been to all three types through the years.  When it comes to an art museum, my favorite is probably the Amon Carter in Fort Worth.  It holds works by both Remington and Russell who are my favorite western artists.  The action and authenticity of their work amazes me.  They aren't "like a photograph" but, they convey even more, I think, than a photograph could do.  The figures seem to leap off the canvas for me.

As for science museum, my most memorable experience was the museum at Los Alamos National Laboratory when the museum was still located on the laboratory property outside of Los Alamos.  I went as a youngster and was amazed even then at the nuclear technology.  We have since been to it after it was moved to the Bradbury building in downtown Los Alamos and it was very good, but it was too "programmed" to suit me.  Modern museum displays are all the same with buttons and interactive gadgets.  The original museum had a much more "raw" feel to it.  To me, it was as though you were truly "touching" history, whereas the modern exhibits feel more "educational" in nature.

My favorite history museum is the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, Texas.  There are many reasons for this choice.  1)  It is primarily focused on the area of the country where I grew up.  2)  It is very "western" in nature.  3)  It includes many amazing pieces of art as well as historical artifacts.  4)  It is one of the largest historical museums in the country.  I have visited many times through the years and they change their displays on a reasonably regular basis.  It also has evolved through time to have that more "educational" feel about it, but many of the artifacts remain the same such as Charles Goodnight's original chuckwagon.  It is definitely worth the trip if you are ever in the Amarillo area.  It is also only a short distance from Palo Duro Canyon.  If you visit one, I would encourage you to visit both.  If during the summer season, make plans to take in the outdoor dramatic presentation of "Texas."  It is worth your time.

Historical museums (which include science museums) are important for giving us perspective.  Understanding where we have been helps us to understand why things are as they are today.  Most change is gradual and technology evolves through stages -- this includes weapons which evolved from rocks and clubs to modern rockets and space-based weaponry.  It includes tools such as those used in the cattle industry which range from the lariat to modern DNA analytic technologies.  Every industry develops through an evolutionary process.  Even political issues go through an evolution over time.

To me, art museums, although overlapping in some areas with history, are a different creature altogether.  They allow us to touch a "higher" self.  Quality art is uplifting, it is enlightening and it is inspiring.  Some of what is passed off as art today is not enduring except as a curiosity.  The better museums, however, will have works that have endured for centuries alongside more modern works that are likely to endure or, which represent current "fads."  Often, the displays portray history.  Viewing a Revolutionary War battlefield from the perspective of an artist of that time -- who witnessed the battle -- provides insight into our historical perceptions.

Perhaps, upon reflection, I would prefer to spend my day in an art museum.  All three appeal to me, but as I have written this, my thoughts have clarified.  Man's attempt to "touch" perfection is most clearly displayed through art.  I think down deep, that is something we all desire.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

What's Love Got to do With It?

Out upon the raging sea
There rides a tiny boat,
Bobbing on the waters
The little craft did float.

In it was a helpless man
Wracked with burning thirst
Asking the Almighty
Why he had thus been cursed.

Sharks were circling 'round him
As he waited in his gloom
Expecting any moment
To meet his final doom

And he cried out to the Father
As he baked in misery
Beneath the blazing orb
That hung for all to see

Up in the clear blue sky
Where not a cloud did show
To cast a cooling shadow
On the man who lay below.

In his mind an answer
Slowly taking shape
Rose to fill his thinking
And his mouth fell agape

At the forming realization
It was he alone to blame
Because of his poor choices
There was no one else to name

And he hung his head, forlorn,
Wishing he could die
Way out in that murky sea
Beneath the clear blue sky.

But, then on the horizon
There came a growing dot
That seemed to be heading
To the very lonely spot

Where he floated on the water
Out on the vast expanse
Wishing for the end to come
And he did not so much as glance

As a ship bore down upon him
Slowing as it came
With people standing at the rail
Calling out his name

But, he, so lost in suffering,
Ignored their mighty pleas
And hung his head in silence
As he sat there on his knees

Crying for an answer
From his God above
Never understanding
He had answered him with love

Shown through his caring neighbors
Who had chartered a great ship
To go out on the ocean
And save him from this trip

He had embarked upon
Alone and unprepared
That left him lying helpless
In his boat, so very scared.

But, he ignored them
As he floated on the sea
Consumed there in his anguish
Thinking it is only me.

Then his vessel started moving
Being towed by a long rope
And he began to think
There may at last be hope.

Hands reached down to lift him
From the place of his great doom
Up the side to the deck
Which above him did loom.

They placed cool salve upon his skin
And water to his lip
Slowly bringing him to life
There on the mighty ship.

He raised his head and looked around
To see wherein he lay
At all the smiling faces
That surrounded him that day.

To his dismay there looking at him
Were his friends and family;
The ones he had rejected
When he embarked upon the sea

And he thought that he was dreaming
Or, perhaps had even died.
Emotion rose inside him
As he broke down and cried

Thinking that his life was over
And how he'd wasted time
Pursuing what didn't matter
Chasing every dime

While all about him people
Were crying out in need
And God was speaking to him
That he must change in deed

And be the hands and feet
That went upon the sea
To rescue those perishing,
An answer to their plea.

Right there in that moment
He made a mighty vow
Before that crowd of witnesses
And God to whom he did bow

That he would change his focus
Away from selfless greed
But, work at helping others
Who were crying out in need.

The Almighty smiled upon him
As He looked down from above
And the man's heart that was hardened
Was filled with Holy love

Matthew 28:18-20