Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Friday, December 8, 2017

Fate is the hunter





Like most things I write, I stole that post title from a real writer, Ernie Gann.

Up early this evening. I'm going in to work ahead of schedule so an ailing co-worker can leave early. It's what you do.

The sun is three hours gone and the waning super moon has yet to make an appearance. The night sky is inky black and Bangled with hard pinpoints of starlight.



Just a smidge south of due east Orion has lofted above the horizon. The Hunter is sideways from my perspective but will be standing tall when I look again after midnight.

Far to the south a loose carpet of red pinpricks dot the place I know the horizon to be. They swarm for miles along the Colorado border and represent a wind energy swindle of monumental proportions. On an early December evening, with the howling gale of the last 48 hours finally abating, they're a cheery splash of color and I'm not unglad to see them. Things are never just one simple thing.

As I drive south the runway lights at KIBM flare to life. A throaty growl of turbofan motors tumbles down from above and landing lights heave into view. A G-3 floats over the fence, squeals down on the concrete, and slows markedly as the Speys roar into reverse thrust.

Nona the wonder dog is happy to see me, happy to be hanging it up for the day and heading home for supper, a bit of ball tossing, and warm slumber in her palatial dog house.

It's late in the year, and many things which seemed so permanent just weeks ago are fading toward senescence. It is the way of things. In only a few more weeks the sun will cease it's march south and reverse course. Winter will set in but a new year will have begun.




Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Send more heroin, please





Wow, it's been nearly an entire year since my last post.

Wait a minute. That's not right, is it?

No, it's been nearly a year since I had surgery to resolve the infected heel bone.

Yeah, that's it.

I have to say that even though the whole infection/surgery/recovery thing was a bit yucky to go through, the results have been absolutely stupendous. I was hoping to see the infection gone and the pain somewhat reduced. I'd have been really satisfied to still have stiffness and soreness so long as the threat of gangrene and amputation was gone.

As it turns out, though, they frickin' fixed the whole firetruckin' thing. I mean, not only is the infection long gone, the damme leg/ankle/foot is better than repaired. It's better than it was when I was 30 in fact. No pain. No stiffness. No swelling. I can use it as hard as I want and the whole thing works like it did when I was a kid.

I can't begin to tell you how great that is. I mean, I literally haven't come up with big enough, good enough, words, phrases, sentences, etc.

Soooooooooo.........

You might be wondering why I'm asking you all to take time away from your busy and important jobs and families to send me some (lots, please!) heroin.

Well, lemme just share wit' chall what I took and went and wrote for the newspaper this week.

Dateline: Here and Now.

Cow-calf commentary

By Shaun Evertson

Are most farmers and ranchers really drug addicts?

If you are a farmer or rancher, you are probably a drug addict. If you are married farmer or rancher and have a family it’s a virtual certainty that more than half of those who live in your home are drug addicts.

Sound familiar?

No?

C'mon, addiction in agriculture has been a major news story in the ag press this week. It’s gotta be true, right?

The story, which in some publications was written as straight news and in some publications as opinion or commentary, was quite formulaic. Catchy, sensational headline. Lede which describes a terrible tragedy in superficial but sensational terms, followed by citations from a couple of “scientific” studies. Quotations from agricultural “experts.” A call for “action.”

The problem, though, is that the narrative regarding an opioid addiction crisis in agriculture is at best wildly misleading.

One commentary referenced a survey conducted by something called “Morning Consult” which declared that “just under half of rural Americans” claim to have been “impacted” by opioid abuse, and “a whopping 74 percent of farmers and farm workers have been impacted.”

Okay, fair enough. Now what is “Morning Consult,” and what do they mean by “impacted?” Those details are absent from the commentary. The implication in those numbers is that about three-quarters of American farmers and ranchers are hop-heads, or at least employ hop-heads. Does that ring true?

Now I get it, the story didn’t say “exactly” that, did it? Of course not. But that’s a pretty skimpy fig leaf to hide behind, because the implication is clearly there and clearly intended to be drawn.

At the Morning Consult website (just search the name with your web browser of choice) the outfit says this about themselves:

“Morning Consult is changing how leaders use public opinion to make key decisions & drive strategy.”

Furthermore, “Our cutting-edge survey research and data science teams work with the world's largest companies on custom research and data visualization,” and, “Our team of editors and reporters deliver vital data & insights to over 275,000 daily subscribers on the issues shaping business, politics, tech and culture.”

Okay, so they do marketing. Marketing which appears to shade heavily into propaganda. What about their survey, though? They claim to do scientific surveys. It must be a valid survey, right?

I spent more than 30 minutes searching the Morning Consult site and the web itself, but I couldn’t come up with the actual survey. I don’t doubt that it exists, at least in some form, but it is not easily available. And it should be.

Despite that, the survey was cited in more than 25 ag publications. Probably many more than 25, I just happened to get 25 citations on the first page of results my web browser called up.

For those keeping score at home, we’re basically relying on the word of a marketing company that three-quarters of farmers and ranchers and/or their employees are hop-heads. Are you comfortable with that?

Let’s set that aside for the moment.

Another story quotes American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, who said, “We’ve known for some time that opioid addiction is a serious problem in farm country, but numbers like these are heartbreaking. Opioids have been too easy to come by and too easy to become addicted to. That’s why we are urging everyone we know to talk to their friends, family, co-workers – anyone at all they know or suspect needs help. And because opioid addiction is a disease, it’s up to all of us to help people who suffer from it and help them find the treatment they need. Government cannot and will not fix this on its own. Rural communities are strong. The strengths of our towns can overcome this crisis.”

It’s a fine sentiment Duvall expresses, but it’s also largely empty. It sounds good, but who isn’t for helping those who suffer? Who wouldn’t be for helping the agricultural community in a time of crisis? Still, read Duvall’s line -- which may be incomplete and taken out of context -- and you realize that there isn’t much there. A sympathetic noise and a call to action, but the problem remains essentially undefined. How do you act if you don’t understand the problem in reasonable detail?

Luke Runyon of NPR Illinois was frequently cited in the recent spate of agriculture addiction stories. “Rural areas and small cities across the country have seen an influx not only in the prevalence of prescription opioids, but illicit ones like heroin. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, four times the number of opioid-involved deaths than in 2000. A recent University of Michigan study found rates of babies born with opioid withdrawal symptoms rising much faster in rural areas than urban ones.”

Again, fair enough. And I don’t mean to imply that opioid addiction isn’t a problem -- it always has been and always will be. But as Zippy Duvall noted, it’s a disease which inflicts individuals, and there’s no easy, one-size-fits-all solution. Furthermore, there’s still no evidence that three-quarters of America’s farmers and ranchers and/or their employees are hop-heads.

What about the Michigan study? More rural babies born with opioid withdrawal than urban babies. That’s got to prove something, right?

What does the Michigan study prove, and more importantly, where are the data? Where are the numbers, and what do they mean in scale, context, and perspective? None of that is available in the many ag publication stories reporting on this “crisis.”

When you dig into the numbers you see that while the numbers of babies born with withdrawal symptoms are indeed up -- from about 1 per 1,000 in 2003 to 7 per 1,000 in 2013, the increase is only very loosely correlated with location, and much more strongly correlated with low income levels. In 2003, rural babies accounted for about 13 percent of those born with withdrawal, while 87 percent were urban babies. In 2013 the rural number had moved to 21 percent, while the urban number was 79 percent. So a slight shift, indeed, but clearly having to do more with income than location.

It’s pretty clear that statistics are being cherry picked to support a particular narrative -- a narrative that claims an epidemic of opioid abuse and calls for strict government controls on prescription pain pills.

Not mentioned in the narrative is the fact that strict controls already exist, and that nearly all pharmaceutical companies and medical providers adhere to the those controls. Nor does the narrative mention that providers and suppliers who violate the law are continually being caught and punished.

Increased government control will -- just as it demonstrably does in the case of gun control -- punish law-abiding citizens and do nothing at all to inconvenience criminals.

Let me offer a couple of personal anecdotes.

A couple of years ago my mom was suffering from severe degeneration of her hip joints. She was in incredible pain, and she needed medicine to control the pain while going through the process of having both hips replaced. It’s quite likely that if she had been unable to receive adequate pain control with opiate medication, she would have died. Pain is no joke. It’s real and debilitating. Mom took a lot of strong pain killers throughout the process. At the end of her medical/surgical journey, she emerged pain-free and with two new hips. And she was not addicted to pain pills. Mom and her doctors worked together to manage her pain without placing her at risk for addiction. Just as nearly all doctors and nearly all patients do when dealing with severe pain.

As for myself, last year I developed a bone infection in my heel. It was a serious problem, one that put me at risk of losing my foot. I was on IV antibiotics for seven months, and I was prescribed pain pills for seven months as well. Following surgery, my heel was fixed, I was infection free, and I was not addicted to pain pills.

According to the opioid crisis narrative, there’s simply no way that mom and I could have survived our bouts of pain management without becoming hop-heads.

So seriously, folks, what are you going to believe? Are mom and I some kind of superhuman examples? Or is it possible that the opioid crisis is perhaps less than people who cherry pick statistics and play fast and loose with facts in support of a manufactured narrative are willing to come clean on?

Do you farmers and ranchers really believe that three-quarters of you and/or your employees are hop-heads?

It’s probably worth thinking about this stuff.


gsurgery.jpg

A well-bandaged lower leg greeted me following surgery  to fix an infected heel bone last December. Opiate pain medicines helped me deal with the pain, and the usual well-managed pain plan avoided any possibility of addiction.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A prayer





Lord, in these tough times I pray that you keep me ever mindful that the grace and peace and love you give are meant to be shared and not hoarded.

I ask that you give me the strength to walk the walk rather than talk the talk, to listen and pay attention, and to treat my fellows as I would be treated, just as you have taught.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Battlefield Self





If you've wondered how it is that gergle and yewtoobe have come to a place where they censor content based on politics and ideology yet allow and profit from pedophilia, it's worth spending a bit of time thinking about what human beings are and what they are capable of doing.

One thing that the history of humanity tells us -- and proves, over and over and over again -- is that each and every one of us has the capacity to do unspeakably horrible things. And that we have less control over that ability than we like to tell ourselves (as we whistle past the graveyard of genocide).

"Ah," said the future concentration camp guards (every single one of them), "this doesn't apply to me. I'm a good person!"

The algorithms and ai's being produced and employed these days are being produced and employed by -- guess what -- human beings. They are not morally or ethically superior to people. How could they be? They're a mirror of their makers, albeit really fast and really loud.

That Socrates dude. You know, the unexamined life?

I suspect it's too late for many -- perhaps even most -- who've grown to relish the life of the matured and unencumbered feral child. But most isn't everyone

"After being fed a non-stop diet of freedom and rights for 60 years, people are starving to death for a diet of constraint and responsibility."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Night peoples





Without going into a lot of detail, it took a while to get my mind, body, and soul adjusted to nights.

In the beginning (the beginning of my association with this form of employment) the store was in a bit of a crunch so far as help goes. Not enough employees, and perhaps a few other personnel issues which I may delve into at some point.

As the new meat I got rattled around back and forth between the 3-11 (evening) and 11-7 (graveyard) shifts. All part of the new meat burden, which I understand, and on top of a help shortage. A blind man could see it coming a mile away. Once he picked up his hammer and saw, anyway. Butt I digress.

There were a few crises, a few double shifts, and when the smoke had cleared and all violent motion had ceased, there was a new manager and I found myself in sole possession of the Wednesday-Sunday graveyard shift. Which made it easier for me, not having to bounce back and forth on shifts and all. That meant a normalized sleep/awake cycle, and that really makes things much more manageable.

All the aforementioned to introduce the concept that I managed to suck it up, drive on, and win through. Also, now that I'm on straight nights, I'm a night people.

Last night was the first of my two weekly days off, my Saturday if you will. And it was a beautiful night. The day had been raw and blustery, with temps in the 40's and a howling northwest wind kicking up to as much as 60 mph at times. But the night was clear and calm and almost balmy, with the mercury hovering near 50 degrees.

Since I started at the store I've been unable (or unwilling) to get out and hike or do roadwork. At work I'm on my feet for eight hours and my fitness watch tells me that I cover 5-7 miles each night just going about my tasks. That's all to the good, being up and about is much better for me physically than sitting on my ass. But it's not the same as a hike, and I've missed that.

So I got out and hiked last night. It was glorious.





















Glorious.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Do you dare?





The Founders got it right. Sharply limited government and the sovereignty of the individual citizen.

But even before that, they Declared that it is self-evidently true that all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights.

The necessary corollary which attends unalienable rights is unavoidable responsibility.

The nation is very, very sick. When a land with a government of, by and for the people becomes sick, it is not for the government to produce the cure. This is a job for the people.

Getting down to cases, how is the sovereign individual citizen to help?

The first step goes hand in hand with the First Principle. The First Principle is that all men are created equal. It follows immediately that to be treated as an equal human being by ones fellows, one must first and foremost treat ones fellows as equal human beings. All of them, and without exception. This is the hardest responsibility of all.

I do not believe that one can hew to this principle without working at it. We are individuals, after all, locked forever in our own individual mind and body. Our default nature is selfish. It has to be so, else we'd perish. It's nature. Natural.

To treat others as we would be treated, and to hold ourselves to the same standard we require of others, this is the hardest thing. One can't just say it, one has to do it. And to do it, one has to have good and sufficient reason, and that reason (or those reasons) must come from within.

I can't get away with just parroting some high sounding words and issuing platitudes and posting memes. I have to do the hard work of developing and living a set of principles. Such principles must stem from a higher plane than that of the mortal human. Just as our natural rights come from our creator rather than from government, so our principles must come from a plane far above our egocentric, subjective, mortal selves.

Now a lot of people will read words like these and believe with utter certainty that they've got this principles thing suitcased.

Let me just suggest that might not be the case, and that furthermore, certainty is a very scary place for a human to be.

I'm going to go out on a limb here -- but it's a very short, very stout, and quite probably unbreakable limb. I suspect that few people in America spend much time thinking about, or to use the words of Socrates -- examining -- their principles. If this is so, and if the foregoing exposition comes anywhere close to describing reality, it might just be incumbent upon individual Americans to consider doing what President Kennedy suggested. A natural (perhaps the natural) place to begin doing something for the nation might be an intense study of ones principles. What are they? How closely do we hew to them? No, seriously! How closely?

To prime the pump, as it were, consider the following dare. Watch the video. It's hard. A SEAL and a Canadian psychologist. Talking about tough stuff and hard things. Watch it, think about it, and follow the path your thoughts suggest. Pick it apart. Think about what these fellows say in the context of individual responsibility. Or not. It's only a suggestion. Individual responsibilities can only be exercised by sovereign individuals, after all, and individual principles can only be developed by independent human beings.

Either way, it might also be worth pondering exactly what there is to be thankful for in this season of Thanksgiving.

Words to think about





Haven't been here in a while. Life stuff.


Getting back to normal. For some values of normal :)


It's almost Thanksgiving. Boy, do I have a lot to be thankful for!


Here are the words. Kipling's "If"

IF you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Perhaps they are words to live by...

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Just life stuff





Yes indeed, I have been casting a mighty small internet shadow of late. As I write this I'm not even sure when my last blog post was. As it turns out, I can check. It were October 10, so 18 days ago.

So a couple of things. I started a new winter job which is a night job at a cornvenience store. I used to work nights a lot, and I always liked working nights. This winter I will have something to do other than sit on my fundament eating bonbons and complaining about everything, and extra money will magically appear in my banque account.

By the by, there've been a surprising number of folks horrified by my decision to take employment in a position which is so, so beneath my station. That puzzled me for a bit, but then I realized (was reminded?) that there are a lot of people in the world who see their fellows as objects rather than as real, live, people. Objects are for using and manipulating and categorizing, and a great many people simply cannot abide having independent and self aware objects in their lives.

But I digress.

As it turns out, I am not quite the same fellow I recall from my youthful days of working nights. Or perhaps I am, and I've simply developed a selective memory regarding the impact of fatigue and disrupted circadian rhythms.

Either way, switching to a night-based existence has been a bit of a challenge. A complicating factor has been my assignment to the occasional 3-11 shift, necessitated by staffing disruptions at the store.

Be that as it may, the shifts have begun to steady out and I've managed to shift my biorhythms in the right direction.

So it's been a bit of a challenge. As for my online presence, I was in the process of pulling back from less salubrious aspects of the connected life anyway, and many days away from the interwebs and plugged into the local night realm has allowed me a lot of time to cogitate.

There's a lot of danger, I believe, in this electronic communication business. I know from my own experience that it can sing a siren song of egocentrism and lead me down the path of thinking that those I communicate with are, like the laptop screen, two dimensional constructs that cease to exist when I close the lid. To combat this danger, I need to take a more thoughtful and ethical approach to my interweb dealings.

I'm not entirely sure how I'll do this, but I'll figure it out.

After I get some sleep...

Monday, October 9, 2017

See if you can guess...





...what my new winter job is.



Last year, of course, I was sitting on my ass with an infected heel bone. This year I am not.

##########

Sunday was a gloriously lovely day across the southern Panhandle of Nebraska. It was seasonally cool at sunrise, with the temperature about 38 degrees and the air marvelously still.

I took a couple of pictures and a video of the sunrise. The video was taken with the whatsapp  app on my phone for transmission to my farmer friends in Herefordshire. Thus the dialog.



In return, the farmer sent a short video of what he was busy doing at the same time. Because the Earth is a rotating sphere of a planet, and Herefordshire is located some 4,444 (or perhaps 4,439, depending on the tool you use) miles to the northeast, the local time there was 2 p.m., or seven hours ahead of Kimball. A perfect time of day to be harvesting apples.



Last week he was applying lime to his fields.



Which has little to do with sunrise, but is nevertheless interesting. Lime is added to increase soil pH. Soils tend to become acidic, you see, where lots of rain can leach alkaline compounds away.

Anyway, there I was, 24 hours after making a video of a glorious autumnal sunrise. Now I was making a video of an equally glorious, but very different, sunrise.



That's one of the plethora of things I love about life. I inhabit a dynamic world and live a dynamic life. Living a dynamic life is a choice, and that's an important concept. It's also important to understand that choosing to live a dynamic life is much easier for me than for most of my countrymen, as I was born into a rural ranching family. I was not born a city or townsman, so I don't have to find an excuse and corral a bunch of dollars and make time to visit nature. Nothing special about me, you understand, just my great good fortune in selecting the correct time and place to be born.




Sunday, October 8, 2017

The night





I don't remember exactly how old I was, perhaps eight or nine, but I do remember the moment I realized that I didn't have to be afraid of the dark.



It was late in the evening. Late for a youngster with a firm bedtime closing in, anyway. I decided to go outside. Don't remember why, exactly, but possibly to extend the day's play just a bit longer.

It was cold out, and very, very dark. As it is out in the country in the Nebraska Panhandle. I walked around the outbuildings, feeling a shiver of fear as I did so. It was dark, probably overcast, and there was no moon, so I couldn't see well. Part of my mind insisted that there could be something lurking nearby, some kind of monster or wild animal or alien. Maybe a ghost or a bogeyman.



Another part of my mind insisted that there was nothing present in the night which wasn't present in the day. Sure, the darkness could be hiding something from my direct vision, but it likely was not. I also knew from experience and from science lessons in school the what and why (in an elementary sense) of night vision adaptation. My pupils dilated and I could see more and more. Before long I realized that I could see quite well. My hearing and sense of smell seemed to be heightened, too, and even my skin seemed to be more sensitive to the feel of vibrations in the night air.

In some ways it was a big moment, a moment of discovery and growth. I felt like I had learned an important lesson. It was in some sense a secret lesson, too, for in my experience humans tended to huddle away from darkness, leaving the outdoors at sunset and sheltering in a world of artificial light. An unspoken and perhaps unintended lesson had been learned from that behavior -- that darkness is to be avoided.



My exploration had revealed something quite unexpected. I'd discovered that the night is a lovely place, a place to be cherished and enjoyed.

Years later, when it came time to do naval night stuff, I was a bit more prepared than my peers. Many of them, I suspect, had a latent fear of the dark. I did not.


I was acquainted with the night. At some point I found that Robert Frost had managed to put some of my feeling about the night into lovely words.

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.


I have been one acquainted with the night.

I still love the night.

Nothing wrong with the day though. And the transition can be lovely.




There was a fellow giving away free pumpkins down at the Kwik Stop this morning. When I saw him standing on the corner, I thought at first that his sign read "free puppies." Which is why I stopped.

But no, it was free pumpkins.

Except they weren't free. He had a sob story about a sick baby. He was very well dressed and was driving a brand new Jeep with in transit tags. Color me skeptical.

In my world I try very hard to live by the first principle, that all mean are created equal, that none are better or worse than myself, that all men deserve my fundamental respect as fellow human beings.

Giving that respect is an important responsibility for me. It's not always an easy responsibility to exercise. Few people can just blithely ignore the sick baby story. We're all hardwired to protect babies, after all.

But the responsibility to respect my fellow man requires that I do so with vigorous honesty. When there's flimflam in the mix, I can't play the game. There's no way to play that game while still respecting the fundamental humanity of the player.

Just as this fellow was treating me as an object to be used to acquire money without working for it, I would be treating him as an object if I played his game. We would each be using the other as a means to an end, and not, as Kant suggests, as an end only.

I would be the means to putting money in his pocket, he would be the means to allowing me to feel wondermous about my wondermousness.

I briefly visited with the fellow. I was friendly and polite and wished him well. But I didn't play the game.

There's nothing wondermous about me for not playing the game. I merely met the basic standard of personal responsibility.





Friday, October 6, 2017

And today's sermon is...





Skip to the bottom for a great cockpit video.

##########

I am not a religious personage, nor am I ensconced in a parsonage. I am, however, going to preach just a tiny bit.

Preach. Intransitive verb: to deliver a sermon; to urge acceptance or abandonment of an idea or course of action. Transitive verb: to set forth in a sermon; to advocate earnestly; to deliver publicly; to bring, put, or affect by preaching.

Sermon. Noun: a religious discourse delivered in public by a member of the clergy as part of a worship service; a speech on conduct or duty.

Now why, you probably wonder, is this dumb shit preaching? He ain't no preacher!

It's a good question. And I'm sure as hell no preacher.

As it turns out, I'm preaching largely to myself. Writing it down like this is an exercise in ordering my thoughts and ideas in an attempt to winnow some fundamental grains of truth from the chaff of emotion and reaction. It's a Socratic thing; my try at not living a worthless life.

Is it the right thing to do or the right way to go about it? Beats the shit out of me. I am, after all, going by what Plato wrote about a rhetorician and sophist who managed to collect an Athenian death penalty some 2,500 years ago. So there's that.

Somehow, though, it makes sense to me. I have a powerful desire to find stuff out, and I am so very, very, fundamentally ignorant.

As I've noted many times before, our nation was founded on a set of principles. The bedrock principle, upon which everything America could be or should be depends, is the very first principle set down on paper by our founding fathers:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Now read that again. Before the rights comes the reality. All men are fundamentally, equally, human. None are fundamentally better or fundamentally worse. Each human life is of equal fundamental value. Period, full stop. No modifiers, no yabbuts.

That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Get that? Governments are instituted among men. Before there is government, there are men. All men are created equal.

Before there can be any discussion of rights or government, the first principle of fundamental human equality must be the foundation. Like it or not -- and an obvious majority of the folks who live here do not -- that's the way it was set up.

I've been thinking about this thesis for many years. I've tried every way I can to smash it; to falsify the notion and discover a different underlying truth. So far, however, it's the only thing that holds together.

Yes. It's not the only way for a society to be organized. It is, however, what the founders said and wrote and what the various states agreed to codify into the Constitution. 

Like it or not, the first principle is the foundation of America. It must be the most solid part of American society, or all else eventually crumbles.

So why is America crumbling? YGTBSM. I think it's safe to say that a majority of those who live here put their own personal wants, generally regarded as sacrosanct rights, well ahead of their personal responsibility to hew to the first principle. It's simple, really.

There's probably a critical number, a number that represents the sum of those who live here and who also do their very best to put the first principle first. If that number is large enough (in my critical number theory anyway) then the foundation remains solid enough. If the number drops below my undefined critical number, the foundation crumbles.

An obvious question is, well, what exactly is that critical number?

Like me, you've probably heard the third-third-third theory. At the founding, a third of the population were staunch British Tories, desiring to remain part of the Empire. A third were revolutionary patriots, desiring independence and holding a different vision of an ideal society, one based on -- you guessed it -- the personal liberty of fundamentally equal human beings. The final third of the population really didn't care one way or another. They wanted to live their lives and not be bothered by all that political bullshit.

So is the critical number 33.333 percent?

I doubt it.

Here's another stab at suitcasing the number. Victor Davis Hanson once noted in a lecture that since the dawn of civilization roughly 20 percent of any population tends to be ideologically collectivist, about 20 percent ideologically individualist, and about 60 percent don't really care. That 60 percent, he said, are more opportunist than anything else. In any given system, they'll do whatever they feel they need to do in order to get by -- and even flourish -- from day to day.

Now please pay attention to what I write. There's a very good chance that what I write is actually different than what the reader might imagine I mean.  I didn't write that being an opportunist was a bad thing, or that 60 percent of the world's population are immoral or monsters or thieves. I wrote what I wrote, nothing more, nothing less.

That 60 percent number bothered me at first, but then it occurred to me that it's a very good reminder that if I really do believe in the first principle, then it is vitally important that I respect the fundamental humanity of those who don't see things exactly the way I do. I don't agree that swapping principles with the direction of the political wind is a good idea, and it's certainly not the way the nation was set up, but I also can't afford to think of those I've labeled opportunists as anything other than human beings who are not fundamentally less human than myself.

So what is the critical number? Is it 19, or 20, or 21? Is it 59, or 60, or 61?

Well, here's where I'm at on that. If the critical number is the percentage of people who do their best to hew to the first principle and thereby keep the national foundation from crumbling...

I have no idea what that number might be. Sorry.

But I do know that when it comes to me and my own personal existence in this place and at this time, the critical number is...

One.
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Here's a gem. Imagine flying a Jag into Khasab.




Thursday, October 5, 2017

Scooter





This'll put a smile on yer mug...



A-4C with the J-65 motor, about 8k lbs thrust. VA-86 Sidewinders flew the Charlie from 62-64, upgraded to the E model with the J-52 in 64 and flew it through 1967. They transitioned to the A-7 in 67 and flew the A, B, C and E models through 1987. Then they went to Bugs.

When I refer to VA-86, I'm talking about the paint scheme of this particular aircraft. I believe Dollarhide, the pilot here, flew scooters with VA-46, the Clansmen.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Across time and space



A couple of weeks ago an aunt and uncle visited. They are retired and were spending several weeks roaming the country in their pickup and Airstream RV. They had made a big loop through Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska, and were on their way back home to eastern Oregon.

Aunt and Uncle and parked their rig at Point of Rocks RV Park, just east of Potter on Highway 30. For those old enough to remember the distant past, the RV park used to be called Buffalo Bend and featured a motel and restaurant said to provide the only really fine dining between Cheyenne and North Platte. It’s a lovely place, nestled into the Lodgepole Creek bottom and hard by a picturesque siltstone ridge which the creek, Highway 30 and the Union Pacific railroad tracks bend around to accommodate.




Mom and I visited their “home on the road” on one of the last warm evenings of the summer. We had a delightful meal of hamburgers, potato salad and baked beans and sat and visited for several hours.

During the conversation Aunt asked me a number of questions regarding my service in the navy and wondered how she could find more information about her father’s naval service during World War Two. She mentioned that she had a transcript of her dad’s war journal which he’d penned during his time as a Gunner’s Mate in USS Minneapolis (CA-36).
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Until this conversation I’d had no idea that my aunt’s father had been a sailor and served in the war. I’d met the fellow once, at Aunt and Uncle’s wedding way back in 1977, but the topic of World War Two certainly never came up. I don’t really remember anything about the man, though I’ve got quite a few snapshots of the wedding party safely digitized. Those images stir a few hazy memories, particularly of my aunt’s little sisters, who were quite fetching in their wedding-party frocks. But I was a teenaged lad in those days, with teenaged thoughts and dreams, and so little of substance about the wedding remains in my memory banks.

The journal that Bill Kruger wrote is sparse. Having served at sea I can read between the lines of his short entries and have a good idea of what he experienced. An underway sailor’s day is filled with work and routine. It was so in the days of sail and will likely be so when sailors sail the seas of space in some distant, future navy.

But then there’s combat, and that’s a different kettle of fish entirely. It’s anything but routine.

Bill Kruger was a Gunner’s Mate 2/C in 1942. He’d joined the navy before the war, in the late 1930’s. In USS Minneapolis he was a member of the ship’s Third Division and served as a Gun Captain in Number One Turret, the forward 8-inch mount of the cruiser.

USS Minneapolis was a Heavy Cruiser. The term heavy referred to her main armament, which consisted of nine eight-inch/55 caliber guns in three turrets, two forward and one aft. Light cruisers carried six-inch main guns, but were otherwise quite similar to their heavy sisters.

Minneapolis was ordered in 1929 and was a so-called treaty cruiser of the New Orleans class. Treaty cruisers were limited in size by the 1925 Washington Naval Treaty, an attempt to control the post-World War One naval arms race. She was 588 feet long and about 62 feet wide and had a draft of up to 23.5 feet with a displacement of around 10,000 tons. In addition to her main armament of eight-inch guns, she had a secondary armament of eight five-inch guns and an ever-changing assortment of 20 and 40 millimeter and .50 caliber antiaircraft guns. Her armor ranged from 1.5 to 5 inches. She could make about 37 knots, driven by four shafts drawing 107,000 horsepower from eight boilers. Her crew consisted of just over 100 officers and about 820 enlisted sailors.

Pre-World War Two US naval doctrine relied heavily on cruisers to accomplish multiple tasks. They were used as escorts for the main battle fleet and for aircraft carriers, as scouts, as commerce destroyers, as gunfire support ships for Navy and Marine Corps amphibious operations, as fast couriers, and even at times as VIP transportation for American officials including the President.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed much of that doctrine. With most US battleships sunk or out of action, cruisers were forced into the “heavy” role of the battlewagons, in addition to everything else, particularly escort duties for the now-precious aircraft carriers, as well as scouting and raiding.

On December 7, 1941, Minneapolis was at sea near Hawaii conducting gunnery practice. She was not attacked; later in the day she began scouting for elements of the Japanese fleet. She spent a lot of time at sea over the next few months. In early May she screened the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2) during the Battle of Coral Sea (45 years later I served on a carrier named for that battle, the USS Coral Sea). During the battle on May 8 Lexington was lost and Minneapolis took on board more than 800 survivors.

In his journal Bill Kruger wrote: “At sea. This is one day I shall never forget. The Lexington’s and Yorktown’s bombers attacked the Japs. Sank 1 carrier and left another burning. At 11:15 Jap planes attacked us. They sure were after the carriers. We had two torpedoes go under us and one near bomb miss. Our A.A. [anti-aircraft] battery shot down four Jap planes. The Yorktown is leaking oil bad from near bomb misses, but she seems to be O.K. otherwise. The Lexington was hit with four one-thousand pound bombs and five torpedoes. She kept making 23 knots for six hours. Then the fire got out of hand, and the crew had to abandon her. It sure made a lump come in my throat. We picked up about eight hundred men off her. The other ships are loaded down too. Guess there weren’t very many lost. After we pulled away, one of our destroyers sank her with four torpedoes. The Lex was a great ship to the very last. Boy it sure is crowded on here. That’s all.”

A month later Minneapolis participated in the Battle of Midway. She was likely screening Enterprise (CV-6) or Hornet (CV-8). There were no entries regarding this pivotal battle in Bill Kruger’s journal, though he did record that the ship went north to Alaska in the days following the end of the battle.

On August 7, 1942, US forces invaded Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the Solomons Islands. This was the first step in driving the Japanese out of their conquered territories. We know how it ended today, but 75 years ago we had no idea how horrific the campaigns to defeat Japan would be. In some ways the Solomons campaign has become a footnote to the history of the war in the Pacific. In late summer and autumn 1942 the brutal reality of war hammered the sailors of three nations, and the idyllic waters of the southwest Pacific became the graveyard of ships, men, and pre-war naval doctrine.

Between August 8 and November 30, six major engagements were fought between Japanese and Allied naval forces. In that short 110 day period losses were astonishingly heavy on both sides.

In those six battles, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) lost two battleships, two heavy and one light cruiser, seven destroyers, 11 transports, and a light carrier, and suffered severe damage to a fleet carrier, light carrier, heavy cruiser and destroyer. They lost 238 aircraft. As for naval personnel, the IJN lost more than 3,517 killed.

Allied naval forces, consisting of US and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) ships and crews, were savaged. They lost six heavy cruisers (one of them RAN), a pair of light cruisers, nine destroyers, and a fleet carrier. They took damage to five heavy cruisers, four destroyers, and two fleet carriers. They lost 238 aircraft. Personnel losses included 3,753 US and Australian sailors killed.

Bill Kruger reported the initial landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi, and the night Battle of Savo Island this way:

August 7
We attacked Tulagi this morning. Wasp (CV-7) fighters shot down 9 zero and 1 float type fighters and 4 patrol bombers. Sank one transport. Guadalcanal and Tulagi have both been occupied by our marines and everything is under control.
August 8
One of our destroyers reported hit by bomb at Tulagi during Jap raid, air defense sounded at 12:05. Our fighters shot down ten or twelve Jap bombers. 13:25 Secured from air defense.
August 9
We were at air defense stations most all day. The Japs are sending bombers from Rabaul. Many have been shot down. U.S.S. Quincy (CA-39) reported sunk last night by torpedos. Also heard the Chicago was hit. Hope Frank Renner is O.K.
August 12
Nothing new today. We heard that only 152 officers and men saved from the Quincy.

The Battle of the Eastern Solomons took place on August 24-25. US forces sank four IJN ships, including a light carrier and light cruiser. USS Enterprise (CV-6) was heavily damaged and the US lost 20 aircraft and 90 men killed. The Minneapolis was not damaged in the fight. Bill Kruger recorded his experiences:

August 24
Today was the day we have been waiting for. At 1:20 I saw our fighters shoot down a 4 motored Jap flying boat. At about 2 o’clock we had torpedo defense. Our fighters shot down two more flying boats out of a flight of 12. They turned and ran. We launched three attack groups, two from the “Saratoga” and one from the “Enterprise.” The “Enterprise’s” planes went into Tulagi after the attack so we haven’t heard the results. The “Saratoga’s” planes hit two Jap carriers, left one stopped and burning. Also hit two Jap cruisers and one battleship. At 4:50 we had torpedo defense and were attacked by 80 Jap planes. The only ship hit was the “Enterprise.” She has the fire out and the flight deck repaired. She has several of her after compartments flooded. But from the looks of things she is O.K. We have not received any word on how many Jap planes were shot down. But the people in ship forward said they were falling so fast, they couldn’t count them.
August 25
Received word that the fighter group on Tulagi intercepted a Jap force headed out to attack us. The results were five Jap twin motored bombers shot down and eleven zero fighters. Our losses were three fighter planes.
Received word that our force at Tulagi found a Jap convoy 90 miles north of Tulagi, bombed them, and left a heavy cruiser and a large transport burning.
We headed south all last night and today. We met our tankers about 2 o’clock. We should be through fueling by midnight. Then we will head north again.

In September, October, and most of November, Bill Kruger’s journal is filled with much routine and a few bits of action. Then came the night of November 29-30 and the Battle of Tassafaronga.

November 29
Got underway at midnight. We are making 27 knots headed for Guadalcanal. The force is made up of three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, four destroyers, and ourselves.
November 30
At 11:28 P.M. we attacked a Jap force of destroyers, cruisers, and transports. This ship sank two destroyers, one cruiser, and one large transport. As I was loading the tenth salvo in my gun, I felt a terrific impact. I could not tell where we were hit, but I know it was bad. When we were hit it blanked me out for a few seconds. After my head cleared I finished my load, we fired that one (it sank a destroyer), and loaded again. As we finished the eleventh load we lost all power and shifted to hand. I received word to take as many men as I needed and rig for auxiliary power. As I went out of the turret, I could see ships burning all around us. There was still much firing going on, and many shells going over us. We were dead in the water. The ship was down at the bow, and listed to port. When I reached the shell deck I saw a very large cruiser blow up amidships about six thousand yards off our port beam. It had to be a Jap, because I never saw one like it before. It lit us up like day and I expected all hell to break loose. But no one fired on us. About this time one of the men from the turret came out and told me they had power again. I went back in, and we trained around looking for a target. But we did not fire again. We were ordered out of the turret and to stand by the life rafts. After all hands were out of the turret I went down through to see if all hands got out. When I reached the shell deck I met Smith J.W. and he was going down for the same reason. We went together but found that everyone was clear. We went out and helped put life rafts in the water. At about four in the morning it looked as if we could save the ship. And I was ordered to man my 20mm gun on top of the turret, as we expected an air attack. As daylight came P.T. boats and two tugs came out to help us. A tug took us in tow, and we headed for “Tulagi” harbor. We reached there about nine in the morning. We were hit with five torpedoes, two which blew 88 feet of our bow off. And three in number two fireroom. They also flooded number one and three firerooms. We had thirty-seven dead, and many injured. By the grace of God I am well.


That was the last entry in Bill Kruger’s war journal. If you think about it, you might understand why. Bill survived the war, of course, married, had kids, had a career, and lived a long, full life of more than 80 years. He passed away in 2004.

In an interesting coincidence, a sailor from Kimball served with Bill Kruger in USS Minneapolis. Charles M. Lanning was a Chief Boilermaker. He also joined the navy before the war and may have been a year or two older. Charles Lanning did not survive the war. He was killed that November night at Tassafaronga. As a boilermaker, his battle station would have been in one of the engineering firerooms, and it’s quite likely he was killed when the Japanese torpedoes struck amidships after the bow was blown off.