Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Cosmic New Year

Happy Cosmic New Year 

 Actually, no one has identified the day the Cosmic New Year starts, so why not tomorrow? Let the Old Man get credit for something.

Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies collide

Image Credit: NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas; and A. Mellinger.

Another year has passed. If One was counting since the beginning of the universe, then this would be the 13,750,000,000th year, give or take 11,000,000 years, since creation. Then again, for the first 9 billion years or so the earth didn't exist, so a celestial year is not a good measure to count on a grand scale.

The One counting would be God. This is because man didn't appear on the scene until roughly 200,000 years ago. Don't ask me how anyone knows this, it all seems a bit conjectural. But conjecture is all we have. And, it is in the nature of humankind to wonder who we are, where we came from, and where we are going to. Counting is a way we measure the passage of time.

A year is quite simply the time it takes the earth to travel fully around the sun. And since the earth is returning to its natural starting point, this is a good way for earthlings to keep track of time. Keep in mind that even though the earth remains in orbit around the sun, the sun itself is slowly spiraling around the Milky Way Galaxy in a trip that will take 220 million years, something the astronomers call a cosmic year. Given the age of the solar system as 4 to 5 billion years old, that makes for about 20 trips for our own solar system around the Milky Way Galaxy. As for the galaxy itself, NASA predicts it is headed for a collision with the Andromeda Galaxy in about 4 billion years, a little less than another 20 cosmic new years.

Watch: NASA, when galaxies  collide. Read the story.

Have a Happy Cosmic New Year!

NASA Earth, Stressless recliner
NASA doesn't endorse any products. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Santa was an Old Man

Santa was an Old Man

What do you see when you look at me?
A jolly Old Man with twinkling eyes?

 An Old Man merry and wise?
What do you think when you look at me?

Will I put presents under the Christmas tree?
While you dream of faraway places.

Oh now, does anyone believe that a few good graces
Should outweigh so many mistakes through the year?

Have you been naughty? Have you been nice?
Have you been kind once or twice?

Never fear nor shed a tear for Santa is forgiving
You see, an Old Man has little time left for living

All that he has is a pipe for pleasure and,
A cup of strong ale for good measure.

Jest if you must for an Old Fool like me
For I trust in the kindness of all that I see.


This poem is based on a poem by Phyllis McCormick that is out there called Cranky Old Man. The actual poem seems to have been Crabbit Old Woman, with crabbit the Scottish word for cranky. The tale concerns an old woman in a nursing home. The sentiment seems to make the rounds of hospitals and homeless shelters. You can see one version of the poem here.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Life is a Gift

Life is a gift, enjoy each day

Life is a Gift

Life is a gift enjoy each day,
Find something nice to say;
Find someone troubled by sorrow,
Lighten a burden, brighten tomorrow.

Remember those who have less
Try to be generous and do your best;
Do a kindness now and then
And joy will fill your heart again.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Why pipes freeze when the hose is attached.

Why pipes freeze when the hose is attached.

November in Kansas was unseasonably warm. Most days the temperature rose into the sixties, sometimes even into the seventies. People walked around in shorts, t-shirts, and tennies saying things like, "If this is Global Warming, I'm all for it," or "Living in L.A.." Even into the first week of December, it seemed as if summer had lingered a bit too long.

Perhaps, to Al Gore's relief, the weather finally turned cold. The temperature last night dipped down into the low teens and for the first time, and the weatherman was using the words "frigid" and "wind chill".

The Old Man's wife came home late last night. Dressed in pajamas and shoeless, he was ordered out of the house and told to unhook the hose from the faucet.  "If you don't, the pipes will surely freeze," she said knowingly.

The Old Man is a skeptic, not a cynic, mind you, just a skeptic. There is a difference. So, he said, "Can't be!" It was not just because he did not want to go out in the chilly night air and wrestle with two hoses, it was because he truly didn't think water could freeze all the way to the interior pipes of the house and burst.

After minding the wife and disconnecting the hoses, the skeptic went to Googe for an answer. Not surprising was that everyone repeated the mantra that one has to disconnect a hose or a pipe will freeze and burst. What was surprising was that no one explained why.

Was it just an Urban Myth cooked up by wives to get their husbands out of bed and out in the cold?

Water is one of those molecules that has an unusual property. Freeze most things and they contract. Any guy standing out in the cold North Wind notices this phenomenon with parts of his body. Not so with water, freeze it and the molecules form a pattern that actually increases the volume of a given mass. This is why ice cubes float, why pot holes show up, why icebergs sink ships, and why, if the polar ice caps melted, Florida would be under water.

The skeptical Old Man googled the volume of ice compared to water. It turns out that ice has about one-tenth more volume than water. Here's what the chemistry experts at Elmhurst College say:

Elmhurst College, Illinois

Which is more dense - Ice or Liquid Water?
"The increase in volume of ice is about 9%. This increase causes enough force to break most rigid containers. This is the same force, repeated on a daily basis, that creates "pot holes" in the roads in the winter time."
Of course, the Old Man's wife knew already that the Old Man was denser than both water and ice. The Old Man needed proof. How could a hose, turned off at the faucet, have enough water to expand and reach inside the house, bursting pipes and making plumbers all over the America rich? Scientific fact or nefarious housewives' plot.

Let's think about it. Take a 50 foot hose that attaches to a faucet 2 feet off the ground. Turn the water off at the faucet and one would expect that, all things being equal, the water in the hose would drain out if it was on a down hill incline. But, if the hose was attached to a sprinkler or a nozzle or if the hose was on an uphill incline, then one would expect the hose to be chock full of water. This is something the Old Man verified as he unscrewed the hoses from the faucets.

Now, the Old Man could calculate the volume of the hose, but it the answer comes out the same if we just use the length of the hose as a measurement. Assuming, for argument sake that 2 feet of hose is empty (the distance from faucet to ground) that leaves 48 feet full of liquid water.

That is a hose that is 96% full of water, or more than enough to burst anyone's pipe.

Now the Old Man was out to dinner the other night when his wife gave him some bubble gum with the following message on the package, "Let's just assume I am right."

Following this advice would have saved the Old Man some time and worry.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Jennie A. Brownscombe (1850-1936), Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal
Edward Winslow (1595 – 1655) traveled on the Mayflower in 1620. He was one of several senior leaders and also later governor of Plymouth Colony.Although the following report was not written as a prayer, it reads as one.
"Our Corne did proue well, & God be praysed, ... but our Pease not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sowne, they came vp very well, and blossomed, but the Sunne parched them in the blossome; our harvest being gotten in, ...many of the Indians coming amongst vs, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoyt, with some nintie men, whom for three dayes we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed fiue Deere, which they brought to the Plantation ...

And although it be not alwayes so plentifull, as it was at this time with vs, yet by the goodneses of God, we are so farre from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

Friday, November 16, 2012

I've got just the thing

What follows is a snippet of dialogue from the movie Chocolat.

The movie opens with a shot of a small French village in Burgundy. It is February, the sky is grey,  and a cold north wind blows leaves down a deserted cobble stone street. All the doors are closed, the windows shuttered.

A stranger, a dark haired woman, and her daughter arrive. Vianne Rocher, is the stranger. She proceeds to set up shop as a chocolatier. A chocolatier is not just a chocolate maker, but an artiste, one who makes chocolate seem a most beautiful piece of art. And Vianne makes the most extraordinary confectionaries. Each chocolat is special, each chocolat has its own qualities, each chocolat has a story.

Her timing could not be worse, for it is the season of lent in this most traditional of French villages. Vianne works hard to open the shop. Meanwhile, a parade of curious town characters come to inspect her delicacies. Each of them have a story to tell.

Vianne and a Cranky Old Woman 
[An old woman enters the shop and inspects Vianne's chocolats]

Vianne Rocher: What do you see?
Armande Voizin: Not a damned thing.

Vianne Rocher: Come on, it's a game. What do you see?
Armande Voizin: I see a cranky old woman too tired to play games.
Vianne Rocher: Oh. I've got just the thing for you.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Duty, Honor, Country

“Duty, Honor, Country,”  is the motto of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

These three words set the impossible standard that required former four-star general David Petraeus, then Director of the CIA to resign after disclosure of affair was made public. Petraeus was, for those who don't know, the person who in 2007 brought Iraq back from the brink of disaster after he assumed command of U.S. forces. He is considered by many as the best military strategist since General Dwight David Eisenhower.

The affair was with Paula Broadwell, his biographer. The FBI discovered the relationship after monitoring Petraeus' emails. Investigators were alerted that Broadwell may have had access to Petraeus' personal email account.

I am reminded a similar situation during World War II when rumors surfaced of an alleged affair between General Dwight David Eisenhower and his wartime driver, Kay Summersby. Thank goodness, then cooler heads prevailed and Eisenhower remained as Commander in Chief of European Operations.

Another West Point Graduate, General Douglas MacArthur, famously said:
Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.
I hope that someday the American people can have the courage to stand behind those who have given so much in service to their country, the faith to see it though troubled times, and the hope to believe that brighter days are ahead. 

Sad, that it has come to a different conclusion for Petraeus.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Left or Right

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Volume Two (1840), Book One, Chapter II.
In the United States, the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own.

The Old Man would suggest that both political parties attempt to define the debate by definition. Thus, whether one is left or right depends on who is standing next to you.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Bitch, bitch, bitch

Bitch - (verb) Complain.

Any gender can bitch. Bitching is an activity not exclusive to women. Men can and do it all the time. It's just that when men do it, it becomes a whine. Whine, whine, whine - sounds more pathetic, and it is. Do you want some cheese with that whine?

The old man is not apolitical. In point of fact, he is intensely political. But, nobody listens to an old man. Moreover, he finds that 95% of the people out there have already made up their minds about who to vote for. No matter what you say, nothing makes a difference.

All he has to say is VOTE!

Then quit your bitchen and whinin'. And let's get back to work as Americans to make this a better country

*If you are not a native English speaker then you might not know that a bitch is a female dog. Cur is the male dog. Bitch is also a cranky, assertive female, the young female counter to a grumpy old man.  It is a few other things too, which I need not repeat here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Red River Valley

The Red River Valley

From this valley they say you are going
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathways awhile

Come and sit by my side, if you love me
Do not hasten to bid me adieu
Just remember the Red River Valley
And the cowboy who loved you so true

I've been thinking a long time, my darling
Of the sweet words you never would say
Now, alas, must my fond hopes all vanish
For they say you are going away
The Red River Valley, is perhaps as old as 1870. The Canadians claim it, but I think of the Red River Valley as the border between Texas and Oklahoma.

My mother used to sing this song to me when I was a child. Often, she would sing these words to me just before I would nod off to sleep. Many artists have recorded the song, including Jo Stafford in 1955 and an earlier version by Woody Gurthrie , but the words and the melody that I remember are my mother's. The sound is a soft and sad good-bye. The song conveys a sense of loss, a wish that our lives could continue on, but the knowledge that time moves on and, with time, our hopes vanish, but never our memories.

Joan Fletcher was not my mother, she was the mother of my brother-in-law, Andy Fletcher. She passed away the other night, peacefully I hope. I will miss her bright eyes and sweet smile. I will remember her for her wit and spunk. A favorite topic of hers was politics. We might disagree, we might even agree, but talking about it was always fun. And, I will think a long time of the good times we shared.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Poudre Canyon

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751):
Poudre Canyon, the locals pronounce it Poo-der.

The Old Man is visiting his son who is now in his first year of college at Colorado State in Fort Collins. Fathers and sons never get along at this time. They seem to eye each other like wary boxers in a ring, both trying to get in the first jab.

With relief the Old Man took the day off to drive up Highway 14, north and west of Fort Collins. The route takes you into the Rocky Mountains, west though desolate Larimer County. The fires which raged all summer long are now put out. The hillsides are bare, except for the skeletons of blackened trees. Here and there is a patch of green, the lucky trees that escaped destruction, and the sign from above that life goes on. There are signs of thanks to the firefighters which grace the driveways to the saved cabins. The river itself, once clear, is now dark, carrying enough hydrocarbons to ensure another degree or two of global warming. There is much to consider.

You are not going anywhere in particular. The next town is Walden, population less than 800, unless you head to Red Feather Lakes for solitude and serenity. Estes Park is to the south. Its route is filled with tourists heading for the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park. Better to stay off the beaten path.

Poudre Canyon, pronounced Pooder

Highway 14 winds though Poudre Canyon, a 40 mile stretch of ancient granite rock that was carved eons ago by the Cache La Poudre River. Poudre is the French word for gun powder. And the story is that the river and the canyon were named by French miners who in 1820 were trapped by a blizzard and forced to bury their gunpowder. The Old Man wonders who lived to tell the tale.Today the narrow route through the high canyon walls is marked by numerous turnouts. In the spring and summer, kayakers hazard the river. Now in the fall, fly fishermen in waders stand knee deep fishing for mountain trout. All year round, city folks, from Fort Collins, Longmont and all along the eastern range, come to escape the frenzy of city life.

Here in Poudre Canyon, the Old Man could wonder about the passage of time. After all, the rocks, mostly Precambrian Metamorphic granite  - the Old Man looked it up - were formed over a billion years ago and then thrust up in a cataclysmic shift of tectonic plates. In the back of the Old Man's mind he hears Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

Today all is peaceful. The Old Man and his dogs Sammy and Tobie, wander along the river bank, marveling at the round granite boulders made smooth by the force of glaciers eons ago. Watered by the river and the rains, the grasses have already reappeared. Here, cooled by the mountain water, the Old Man is far from the maddening crowds.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Boche

The Boche, a French slang word for Germans used first in WWI. Boche means pig-headed or obstinate.

Graffigny viewed from the hills my grandmother once owned

I know nothing (Je ne sais pas, Ich weiss nicht) of my grandmother's German side of the family. Marguerite Chevallier Meine was born before the turn of the last century and her mother's family was rooted in the small French village of Graffigny-Chemin, near the Vosges mountains. She always preferred her French surname Chevallier, and avoided use of her German surname.

On the subject of Germans, she was obstinate.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Questions and Answers

Read it in a book recently - The answer doesn't matter if you don't ask the right question. So true.

Tobie, doing what he loves to do.

I am fed up with political debates where the questions and answers never seem to match. So, the Old Man took the two dogs Sammy and Tobie to the park where the only question that mattered was whether we would see any deer. Sad to say, it was too windy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Alexander Francis McGahey

All wars begin as a grand thing. They are full of hope and adventure, at least, until the fighting starts. It is then that the ordinary soldier experiences the misery of the march, sickness, hunger, loneliness, and the fear of the battle. His family, waiting at home, never knows whether their husband, father, brother, or son will return. Alexander Francis McGahey was a private from Pickens County Alabama. He was with the 42nd Alabama Regiment. He was 43 years old when the Civil War began, and 44 when he died a year later, following the Battle of Vicksburg. He left behind a wife and 5 children.

Like many ordinary soldiers, Alexander wrote home to his wife and children expressing his feelings. This letter was written after his first taste of battle, the Battle of Corinth. Mississippi.

Alexander Francis "Frank" McGahey Letters, Submitted by Paul Young, from Ancestry.

[Note. Lest anyone think Alexander uneducated based upon his spelling, remember that Alexander was most likely a farmer in a rural Alabama county. And, anyone who has read Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, will recall that standardized English is spelled phonetically by those who are not trained in school. Alexander's sentence structure and thought demonstrates a thoughtful man. ]
Marshel C.O. Miss           Oct the 11th 1862 

Dear Margaret and Children 

I again take the opertunity of writing you a few loins to let you know how I am agetting along in this unfrinly world.  I am not well.  I have the diorer and the mumps.  I have had the mumps about ten days and thought was well of them when on last Sunday I commenced marching and had  bin at it ever since.  They have fell on me and I am afrade I will have a bad spell of them. 

I must say something to you about hour travels for the last 15 days.  Wee started from Baldwin on the 25th of Sept and thare to Ripley and from thare to Corinth and thare was a grate battle fought. 

The Yankeys ganed a grate victory. [Battle of Corinth, Mississippi]  It is suposed that their brigade lost 12 hundred men.  It is not known what hour loss is.  Hour company had fifty six men in the fight and brought out 15.  Daniel Coleman was lost and it is thought Bill Price taken prisoner.  J. T. Huff came through safe.  Josiah Eddins is wounded in the left arm above the elbow but the bone is not broke.  He is in Holly Springs in the horsepitle [Holly Springs, Mississippi, to the west of Corinth].  Hour captain is lost.  Robert Brown is wounded in two places, one in the coller bone and the other in the foot.  James Gibson was killed on the brest work with many others. I must say something about hour fare during this march.  Wee drawn 10 days rashins at Baldwin on the 25 of Sept and wee drawn again last night.  I have not eat anuff in 3 days to doo a man one good meal but I hope that times will git better now wee have stoped retreting. 

It is thought by some that wee will gow back to Columbus [Columbus, Georgia, just west of Pickens County] to recrute up and if wee doo I think thare is a chance for mee to git to come home again.  The magor has recamended Columbus as a suitable place.  I espect to go into the horsepitle today. 

There was the soriest generalship displade in this fite that was ever known.  It is thought by some that Vandorns command bee taken from him for his management.  Thare was but two brigades ingaged in the fight.  They was to make the attact on one side and  Vandorn was to attact the other and he failed to do it.   General Price would have nothing too doo with it after he found out how the thing was going.  Theer not more men in our regiment now then thare was in hour company before it went into the fight.  I am afrade Brother Tom is lost.  Cant hear of him since the first charge. 

I must close my letter.  You must write to mee.  I havent had any word from you since I left Columbus.  I doo hope that these loins may find you all engoying the blessings of God and the best of helth.  Give love to all of the children and kiss them for me.  I remain your affectionate husban until deth. 

Good by.
A. F. McGahey

The Battle of Corinth was indeed a great victory for the North over the South. The Confederates lost almost twice as many soldiers to the enemy. As Alexander's company brought out only 15 men of 56, it is apparent that they were in the thick of the fighting. [Van Dorn's losses were 4,233, 473 killed, 1,997 wounded, and 1,763 captured or missing.]

Alexander Francis died on July 15, 1863, shortly after the Battle of Vicksburg, another Union victory.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

On Writing

Ezra Pound by Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Old Man gets criticized for his writing. It is too long, too complicated, too this and too that. But then, the Old Man knows that critics are just failed writers.

But then again, so are most writers.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


While driving I-35 through the Kansas Flint Hills yesterday, I got to thinking about numbers. More specifically, I guess, I was thinking about how we measure distance. Highways are measured in straight lines even though we don't travel that way. It is really a combination of curves, rises and falls. No one travels as the crow flies, but still we measure that way.

Off of I-35. near Garnett, Kansas, a straight road

For the most part, the highway is measured in miles and feet. Inches are left to shorter items that we hold in our hand. But, miles and feet are not a universal measurement. In Europe and most of the world the kilometer and meter are used. This is because meters are a more precise form of measurement when it comes to computers and calculators. Kilometers and meters are based on the numbering system of ten. You can thank Napoleon for this revolutionary change. But remember the Greeks and Romans were counting in units of ten long before Napoleon resurrected their system.

But what are miles and feet based on?

Back in the Merry England of the Middle Ages, and Europe for that matter, no one kept rulers in their pocket. If you had to measure something, then the measuring stick was a body part. The foot is an easy one, for it is the length of a man's foot, give or take. The inch was the width of a thumb.

How about the mile?

The mile is a left-over of the Roman Empire's rule over Britain. The Romans had a measurement known as mille passuum, or a thousand paces. A pace (don't be confused, today a pace is generally considered as one step) was two strides, the distance from when the heel of one foot was lifted off the ground until it was placed back on the ground. This was about five Roman feet. The Roman soldier, like contemporary ones on parade, would count off until reaching a thousand paces. The Latin word for a thousand is mille, which becomes mile.

Hui! Or Latin for wow!

The Romans left mile markers throughout the Empire, so that they would always know where they were. Next time you are breezing down the highway look to the side and you will see highway markers in miles. Bridges have a similar mile marking. This way the Highway Patrol can note where you are if a break-down occurs.

But wait, why 5,280 feet?

The British farmer was not going to count up to 5,000. He would get lost in counting along the was. Instead, a shorter measurement was needed. One that aided one in getting to the magic mile. If you have ever counted the cards in a deck of 52, then you know it is sometimes best to stack them in piles of ten, so as to not mess up your count. The Chinese abacus has counters of five an ten that help the counter to add to higher numbers.

The Old Man is tired of plowing, Credit: © Bob Langrish.

Now, back to the ancient British farmer. This measurement was the furlong. The furlong was the distance a plow horse could plow a straight line on a farmers field before getting tired. This distance was agreed by all sensible people to be 660 feet. That number is convenient because it has as common factors the numbers 3, 4, 5, 10, and 12. It was easy from this distance to jump to a mile consisting of eight furlongs, or 5,280 feet. Today, the furlong has for the most part disappeared except on the race track where the measurement is still used.

Other body parts have been used by ancient civilizations for measurement. The Hebrews, Greeks and Egyptians used the cubit or length of the forearm. Noah's ark was measured at 300 cubits long, 50 wide, and 30 high. The cubit is similar to the yard, the distance from nose to extended arm, which was a useful way for merchants to measure rope or cloth. Finally, there is the hand which was the width of the hand or about four thumbs wide. Full-grown horses often measure about fifteen or sixteen hands, but it is hard to imagine that a horse would stand still while the farmer placed his hands along the horse that many times.

Hope this helps.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

No Good Deed Shall Go Unpunished

U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three others were killed when an angry crowd stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Tuesday night. For 20 minutes Libyan guards exchanged fire with the attackers, but they were overcome by automatic weapons, rocket propelled grenades and firebombs.

Christopher Stevens.

This senseless attack is an example of the phrase that, "No good deed shall go unpunished."

Ambassador Stevens supported the Libyan cause for liberation. His help to the Libyan people in their time of need was repaid with blood. That the film that precipitated the attack was not the work of the United States but a lone individual, demonstrates that hate needs no logic.

But as the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton observed, small and savage groups always try to hijack the cause of freedom.


Since the initial reports of the attack on the consulate office in Benghazi, it appears that the security guards initially identified as U.S. Marines were actually former Navy Seals. One of the former Seals has been identified as forty-two-year-old Glen Doherty, a native of Boston. CBS News.The other security guard/former Navy Seal was identified as Tyrone S. Woods. Woods was married, the father of three sons, and a veteran of  tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

NBC News.

The information specialist killed along with Ambassador Stevens and the two guards was Online Gamer Sean 'Vile Rat' Smith, part of the gaming Goonswarm guild, a husband and father of two sons. With the consulate under attack, Smith typed a message to Goonswarm director Alex “The Mittani” Gianturco, “Assuming we don’t die tonight. We saw one of our ‘police’ that guard the compound taking pictures.”

The Hollywood Reporter

The point of the afterward being don't jump to conclusions, people are often wrong about their facts, and, most importantly, real people die.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Outside the System

Note to my son on his freshman year at CSU.

College is not an education. A diploma is not the guarantee that you possess all the answers.

Remember the classic movie and book, The Wizard of Oz. Dorthy and her companions go to the Emerald City looking for the answers to their problems. For the Scarecrow, it is his lack of a brain. The Wizard concocts a bran cereal mixture, places it in the Scarecrow's head, and declares that he has bran-new brains. The Scarecrow then shows his brain power by placing his finger to his head and incorrectly reciting the Pythagorean Theorem:
"The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isoceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side. [Is this answer correct?] Oh joy, rapture, I've got a brain. How can I ever thank you enough?"

The Wizard reminds the now brainy Scarecrow about the universality of brains and solemnly presents him with a rolled up diploma:
"Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain. Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have! But they have one thing you haven't got - a diploma. Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universitatus Committeatum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th. D...that's Doctor of Thinkology"
Common sense is not so common, said Will Rogers, and brains are not so universal. Creative thought, the purpose of an education, requires thinking outside the box.

I am sitting on the back porch sipping a cup of coffee and reading Outside magazine. It contains stories of unconventional athletes, of extraordinary cities, and out-of-the-way places. It reminds me that one has to get outside the system to experience life.

Life is not about following a well worn path, it is about blazing a new trail. I think back to my own freshman experience and remember Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, a spiritual journey of self-discovery. Siddhartha has it all - he is rich, lacks for no worldly wants, has the best teachers, and yet, he knows nothing of the real world and its problems.

Thinking back on it now, isn't all philosophy a journey of self-discovery?

You mentioned to me the other day how dry and dismal is the Economics class you are taking.

It is thirty-some years later and the method of teaching an Economics class hasn't changed.  They are still teaching the same supply and demand curves as an explanation for all economic activity. Sure it is easy to quantify economic activity as a relationship between supply and demand, but this merely identifies that there is a economic relationship and doesn't begin to touch upon the many factors that determine production and price in an economic relationship. One example, water is in unlimited supply, therefore it should have a price of zero. And yet, we know that Madison Avenue has created a market. This market extends not only to the "rare" spring waters, but also to natural tap water, that Coca Cola markets and sells as Dasani.

My second major objection to the teaching of Economics is that it assumes for the most part that all transactions involve two individuals. Someone is selling and someone buys. In law, the buyer and seller in an exchange are referred to as ready, willing and able. The problem of how markets work is not so simple as to say I have X widgets and Y buyers, and therefore, Z production or price. Production, prices, and demand are products of many things. And distortions can occur because of many factors. Think monopolies, governmental regulation, cultural taboos, popularity, etc. Thus, Economic theory is an alphabet soup and not simply X's and Y's. Economics theory also demands an understanding of group dynamics. Read the work of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, and the protagonist of the movie and book A Beautiful Mind.

I think the Rolling Stones had John Nash in mind when they wrote and sang You Can't Always Get What You Want.
You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes well you might find,
You get what you need.
Bargaining often involves compromise of needs. Nash can be summarized as saying that most human interchanges are a function of game theory. We sometimes get what we want, but usually we have to compromise with the world around us, and settle for what we need. This distinction underlies the difference between macro and microeconomics. And if they are not teaching game theory in your Economics class, shame on them.

Enough of boring Economics.

My real point is that you have to get away from the classroom to get a real education. Like Siddhartha, you need to take your own spiritual journey to learn both the questions and the answers to life. You will learn in life, that both the questions and the answers change from generation to generation. This means that the problems that your generations face are markedly different from those of your parents and teachers.

Get outside from time to time. Go kayaking or hiking! Watch a dorky video on conventional stuff to do in Fort Collins.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We're going to hell in a hand-basket

Every boy's favorite movie has got to be Stand By Me, Steven King's paean to the awkward years of growing up. Growing up implies a slow process of maturing, but there is always a seminal moment when it strikes us that something has changed. The change is forever and there is no going back.

I suppose that we don't fully understand the change that comes over us at that critical age. And our conversation is an odd mixture of profanity, humor, and budding philosophy. It is only years later, as an adult, that the change make sense.

Memories are rare. There are simply too many people and too many events to remember it all. We have to be selective in what we choose to remember. In the movie, Stephen King's omniscient Writer, speaks:  "It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant."

My growing up summer was long ago, but I can remember some of the details like it was yesterday. That summer's popular TV show for boys was Daniel Boone, starring Fess Parker as Daniel and Ed Ames as Mingo, his Indian companion. Boone and Mingo were blood brothers, having partaken of the ritual of cutting their forearms and mixing blood. My friend and I became spit-brothers. Not brave enough to cut ourselves with a knife, we still mixed a little saliva and achieved a similar, though less painful result. Funny, I can remember what Fess Parker and Ed Ames look like, I can't remember my friend's face or even his name. 

I was in sixth or seventh grade. My family was then living in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. My father went to the Army's War College, a kind of graduate school to the Army Command and Staff School at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where we had been a couple of years prior. I was the middle child of five, I had four sisters who made my life miserable. Why not, we had nothing in common. In the two years we lived at Carlisle, my mother would give birth at some point to a sixth and final child, a brother. Too little, too late to make a difference in my isolated personality.

We lived along a street with a row of houses that are common to the military, two story red brick, all alike. In front of our house and all the houses were young sycamore trees. I remember them because the limbs were springy like a trampoline. Everyone in the neighborhood climbed the trees, and most fell from the tree at least once. Middle age is a time of dares. The big dare was to see who could climb the highest in the tree without falling. I remember climbing to the top and flipping upside down to get my toes just a bit higher than anyone else. I don't remember now why I thought that suspending myself upside down was an advantage. But then, not everything we did then made sense.

My strangest memory is what the mother of my closest friend said. I don't remember much of my friend now even though we built tree forts and rafts together, and, like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, we were often to be found in the woods on adventure. In time, he became like one of those many busboys in a restaurant a distant figure.

But his mother said something one day that has stuck with me ever since.

It was a normal day. It must have been summer for it was the middle of the day and we were not in school. The two of us, my friend and I, were going in and out of the house, annoying everyone with our rowdy behavior. Then, on one of the trips in or out, it matters not which direction, we ran into his mother who was standing at the door. She was tall and had brown hair. She wore Capri slacks and a white blouse with the sleeves cut off. Her brown hair was short. I remember her as a sort of Jackie Kennedy look alike, but who knows how accurate that is. She might have been carrying in the groceries, but I don't remember. All I remember is that she had the air of one who was busy.

She was like all mothers and fathers of that era. They lived in a parallel universe. We kids had little interaction with them, only at breakfast and dinner would we sit down together and exchange forced pleasantries.

What I do remember is that she said to the two of us something that was strange at the time. "We're going to hell in a handcart, and I am pushing the cart." There was no context, no reason to make the remark that I can remember. Perhaps, I had said to her, "How are you doing Mrs. SoAndSo?" And, this was her way of being flip. The world stopped for a moment as I processed this strange comment, and then it went on its way.

The phrase has taken firm root and like an oak tree stood the test of time. I can't be sure of the exact words, for the colloquialism should be, "Going to hell in a hand-basket." This is generally translated to mean, things are slowly coming apart at the seams. This might describe the mess we kids were creating, but, I remember her phrase slightly differently, and that she assured me that it was she who was one driving.

That, I think, is why the phrase has stuck in my mind. It was different. It was my first inkling of an existentialist philosophy. No matter where life takes you, be in charge.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Dawn of the Internet

The Dawn of the Internet

Listening to a one-hit-wonders, Video Killed the Radio Star, (See, the Bugles version 1979 on Youtube,, one is struck by the pace with which new technologies come and go. Youtube, created in 2005 by three early twenty-somethings, is the inspiration for the idea for this paper.

Video killed the Radio Star

I heard you on my wireless back in '52
Lyin' awake intent on tuning in on you
Rewritten by machine on new technology
What did you tell them?
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
Pictures came and broke your heart,
we can't rewind we've gone too far
Put all the blame on VCR
Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star

The newest of new technologies is the internet, which like all new technologies can be both a force for good and bad. The benefits of the internet are principally speed and information. Never before in the history of mankind has such a volume of information been available to the user at the touch of a keyboard.  Internet is a virtual treasure trove of data. And data on any topic under the sun is available. Search engines like Google, Yahoo sort your request for information. And, in a nanosecond, offer up a smorgasbord of data on any given search topic.

It is all the more amazing that the new technology called the internet has only been around since the 1960’s. Then, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, was the world's first operational packet switching network, allowing communication between computer users. The term "packet switching" is copied and pasted from the internet. Simply said,  ARPANET was the first electronic sharing of information. One might argue for radio, invented by Nikola Tesla in 1891 (If you thought it was Marconi, then look it up on the internet. See, Wikipedia, Radio transmissions did not have the permanence of the internet.

The internet is, to today’s generation, old history. But, the browser, invented in 1990 by Sir Tim Berner-Lee and popularized in 1993 by Marc Andreesen, is history in the making. So too, are the search engines like Yahoo and Google. The ubiquitous Google was first incorporated on September 4, 1998, and its public offering followed on August 19, 2004. This makes the world’s most visited internet site the newest of new technologies.

Like the radio stares of the fifties and sixties, and the video stars of the seventies and eighties, we should not be too quick to close the book on innovation. Video cassette recorders which created video stars, like the radio stars, are now just memories. Technology is relentless in its drive to improve.  What survives must adapt and change to today’s needs are cease to exist. It is as if Herbert Spencer's idea of "survival of the fittest" was applied to the digital world. A visit to the video closet reminds us of the fleeting glory of new technology.

Moore’s Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, observes that the processing speed, memory capacity, and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras doubles every two years. New technologies undreamt of are on the horizon. Fortunes await. Don't go West, go Digital.

How are we, the generation of the 21st Century, to view the internet? Is it like Mary Shelley’s fictional monster in the book Frankenstein? And is the internet, like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster to become a “fallen angel” or worse, a “malignant devil”?
What are the evils of the internet? The naysayers list three – first that the internet makes information commonly available; second, that it generates drivel; and, third, that it stifles creativity with its ability to copy and paste. The naysayers of the internet are the new Luddites of the 21st century, the Taliban of cultural correctness.

Information is not bad in and of itself. It is in its use that harms results. Google (used as a verb and not a noun) the phrase “How to make an atom bomb” and one gets 4,040,000 search results in 0.30 seconds. That one has not been made is not a matter of knowledge, but of the due diligence of the public in preventing just that. The desire to possess knowledge, our insatiable curiosity is the mark of mankind. Like Pandora’s Box, the good comes with the bad and must be tempered by the hope that we will uses the internet for good purposes. No coincidence that Google’s (used as a noun and not a verb) unofficial mantra is “Don’t be evil.”

Drivel can be defined as “childish, silly, or meaningless talk or thinking; nonsense; twaddle” See, It is the water that drips from your mouth at night when we sleep. Certainly the internet contains an enormous amount of drivel. Never before in the history of mankind has it occurred that anyone possessing a computer and a keyboard can become an author using Blogger or Wordpress, or a photographer using Flicker and Photobucket. As fast as the universe expands, 48 miles a second, See The difference is that the universe expands at a Hubble constant, the expansion of drivel and real information on the internet is one that is accelerating like the early moments of the Big Bang.

Is the amount and content of the information to be discounted? If history is a teacher, then the answer is no. And, the answer was written more than 500 years ago by Desiderus Erasmus, who commented on another technological invention of his day – the printing press. Erasmus, in his book, In Praise of Folly, observed that sometimes fun is the point of writing. From such fun often comes important discoveries. For the young and foolish at heart, one can read this foolishness online. See,

Last of the dire warnings of the internet is that of the English teachers who condemn the plagiarizers of the works of others. Copy and paste, to them, is the greatest of sins. And, in this warning there is some merit. To copy another’s creative thought and pass it off as one’s own is theft. It is also an intellectual laziness that neither contributes to the sum total of human knowledge or to the advancement of the student him or herself. Yet, even then, there is an argument to be made for copy and paste.

Certainly, no one decries the use of copy and paste when attribution is properly made. “No man is an island” (See John Donne, Meditation XVII, And it is the exchange of ideas and information which propels civilization forward. Moreover, ideas and information are two distinct concepts. One might repeat information gathered from multiple sources throughout the internet, but it is the organization of the information as ideas that are unique. Read Marcus Pearce’s Notes on Arthur Koestler’s The Act of Creation, found on the internet. See,

One wonders what the English teachers of old would have said about the thousands of monks of the Middle Ages, who labored on in anonymous toil, copying by hand original manuscripts. These plagiarizers of old kept the bright flame of knowledge alive. Finally, copy and paste keeps the academic staff fully employed on the internet searching for those who take such impermissible shortcuts. Academic plagiarism is inevitable. And it is the internet, the source of the plagiarism, which is also its discoverer.

The internet has not killed today's student; it has instead spawned a new generation of ideas and thoughts. It has opened up the opportunity to participate in the world of knowledge to the most remote corners of the world. Climbing on Mt. Long, Colorado once, it was an eight hour walk that began in the darkness of pre-dawn, I met a computer programmer who did his work from anywhere in the world. The internet is a liberating experience, allowing mankind to develop a greater potential for doing good. The internet is the dawn of a new and glorious morning.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Alone Again

Alone Again

"It has been a busy week in Lake Woebegon," Garrison Keillor says each and every Saturday on his homespun show titled Prairie Home Companion. The phrase is his intro to a mythical reminisce about growing up in the Midwestern community of Lake Woebegon, "the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." We all strive to find such a place, if only for a moment.

The Old Man is alone again, naturally. The wife and daughter are off to dinner, the Old Man was left out. The son is off to college at Fort Collins, Colorado, the Old Man is forgotten. And so it is images of Lake Wobegon and Gilbert O'Sullivan's laconic lament that the Old Man is thinking of. If you want to feel sorry along with the Old Man, you can listen to Alone Again on Youtube as your read along.

Actually, it has been more than a week since the Old Man wrote on his blog. Much has transpired. There are enough stories for several blogs. And each of them is worthy of time, the Old Man thinks. Here are some of them.

The Old Man is off to Atlantis in the Bahamas fro a last and final vacation with the famdamily. As a matter of accuracy, the Old Man brings along the niece and nephew, the daughter's boyfriend, and the son's friend. It is a big group. Atlantis is a billion dollar extravaganza built on Paradise Island, opposite Nassau. The island used to be called Hog Island, but the name was changed for commercial reasons, as if one couldn't figure that out.

The contradiction in wealth between the super rich and the ordinary poor is extreme. But the Bahamians accept this, knowing that their economy depends on tourists. The Old Man is more comfortable running in Nassau, and seeing the real Bahamas. He can see a million dollar yacht in any vacation resort anywhere, but where do you have to go to see four men standing around a goat, or a food stand with conch fritters boiling in oil, four for a dollar.

After leaving Atlantis, the Old Man then returned to middle America, and then drove his son to Colorado State University at Fort Collins, Colorado. Parting is such sweet sorrow, Will Shakespeare said,but it was time for the Old Man and his son Will to part. The Old Man only hopes that his son enjoys the journey.

The daughter guilt tripped the Old Man because she had to go to Chicago and DePaul. What is wrong with Chicago?

No sooner is the Old Man back from Fort Collins, heaven on earth, then he is off to Kansas City. The Old Man and his wife have furniture stores in Wichita and Kansas City. The Old Man goes up there to get away, only to find that one never can get away from their problems.

Next, it is off to Ottawa,

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dwight David Eisenhower

Most of us are too young to remember that when Dwight David Eisenhower ran for president in 1952 his fans wore buttons saying "I like Ike".
The Old Man just finished reading Stephen E. Ambrose's biography Eisenhower, Soldier and President. The Old Man chose to read this book for many reasons. First, if you want to be good and great, read about the lives of the good and great. Second, the Old Man likes military history. Third, the life of Dwight David Eisenhower was like that of the Old Man's own father and grandfather.

Both the Old Man's father and grandfather were lifelong career military officers. James Madison Pearson, the grandfather, was born the same year as Eisenhower, 1890. Eisenhower was born in Denison, then a small town in Texas, but grew up in Abilene, Kansas. The grandfather was born in Dadeville, Tallapoosa County Alabama and grew up in Montgomery. After World War I, both of them spent most of their adult careers waiting for the next war. In 1941, when war arrived, Eisenhower, who missed out on the action in World War I, was ready for action. The grandfather, who fought in France, was now the father of three young girls. He had his fill of death. So, he remained stateside, commanding Fort Dix, New Jersey, a major staging area for soldiers going into combat and where German prisoners were kept stateside.

Both men lost their first born sons to disease at an early age. In 1920, Eisenhower's son Icky died from scarlet fever. In 1922, the grandfather's son William died during an influenza epidemic. One never gets over the death of a child and one always assumes that the death was preventable. Naturally, the parent assumes some part of the blame. This was the case for both Eisenhower and the grandfather. The Old Man heard stories later about the depression that set in after the young son's death. How someone can cope with such tragedy, the Old Man can only imagine.

To the Old Man, Eisenhower is a physical reminder of his own father. Both were a similar height and build. Both were trim and physically active. Both were balding and yet unbothered by the fact. In a crowd, both men would seem average in appearance. They stood out because of their confidence and demeanor. The Old Man's father served in the Pacific as first a platoon leader in the Philippines, and later, in post war Japan. It is unlikely that he crossed paths with the older Eisenhower because of age, rank, and distance.

The good and the great all possess similar characteristics. First, is a love of humanity. Second, is a natural curiosity about the world. And, third, is the confidence and will to want to make a difference. Of all Eisenhower's attributes, the one most recognized was his ability to lead men, both in war and peace. Good leaders do not become bad because they make mistakes. The Good Lord knows that we all make our share of mistakes. No, good leaders are good because they have the self-confidence to respond to the situation. This self confidence is born of the fact that leaders are smarter than other men, they know more, have studied and read more, understand and think things through. And when they make decisions they project an air of confidence that that can be felt by others.

Historians have been unkind to Eisenhower as president, but history will, in time, will recognize him as one of the greatest. He kept us out of war, a remark that can be said of few modern day presidents. And the opportunities for conflict were perhaps greater during his eight years of office than at any other time since World War II - China, Korea, Berlin, Greece, Turkey, Vietnam, Algeria, Egypt. At one time or another all of these regions were flashpoints at which the war hawks were demanding the United States intervene by force. Eisenhower chose wisely to use diplomacy and patience to handle the situation. Eisenhower knew from his experiences in Europe during World War II that aggression is met by an ever accelerating aggression, unless a cooler head prevails.

In war and peace, Eisenhower lived by three precepts: never fight unless you have to; never fight alone; and never fight for long. It was a concept he learned early in life from a mentor, General Fox Connor, a man the Old Man's grandfather also served with on the battlefields of France. In Eisenhower's presidency, this advice kept him out of China, allowed him to settle the Korean conflict without resort to the use of atomic weapons, accepted Berlin as a divided city and not a casus belli, armed and fed Greek and Turkish citizens in their own struggles for Independence from communism, scolded France for its continuing colonial occupation of other countries, and even took the side of Arabs and Gamal Abdul Nasser in the Middle East when the British, French, and Israelis decided to go to war over the Suez Canal. Eisenhower knew that hearts and minds are won not with war but with ideas. For this reason he was a proponent of the Marshall Plan to feed and help a struggling post war Europe. He recognized that foreign aid paid more dividends to the United States than it cost. He knew that paying attention to our own infrastructure, building the interstate highway system, would benefit the American people. He was also a fiscal conservative who believed that a strong economy demanded a balanced budget. It is no wonder that it was said at his death that "Everyone likes Ike."

Oh, if only modern day presidents would follow this advice.

Friday, July 6, 2012

George Champlin Sibley

I envy the explorers, the first men who saddled up, rode out and explored new lands and people. They knew not what they would find and what dangers they would face.

George Champlin Sibley (April 1, 1782- January 31, 1863) was one of the lesser known explorers of the American West. He was born in Massachusetts, but spent time growing up in Rhode Island and North Carolina. In 1808, through friends such as William Clark and connections to Thomas Jefferson, he got a job as factor at Fort Osage on the frontier of western Missouri, near present day Kansas City, Missouri. In 1821, the Mexican War of Independence opened up trade between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Missouri. Charles Bicknell is credited with being the first to establish trade, hazarding both the difficult passage, the weather and the Indians along the way.

Because of the many Indian tribes hunting and living on the route, Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton petitioned Congress to survey the Santa Fe Route and establish treaties with the Indians guaranteeing safe passage. And, in 1825, because of his experience with the Osage Indians near Kansas City, George Champlin Sibley was put in charge. The task lasted two years.

So it was, that I crossed paths with George Champlin Sibley on Old Highway 81, just south of Elyria, Kansas. Near here, on August 16th, 1825, Sibley met with Son-Ja-Inga and other Kaw Indian chiefs.

Dry Turkey Creek

The site for the treaty was under an oak tree along the Dry Turkey Creek. The location is south of the Santa Fe Trail by a mile or so and about 37 miles from the Kaw Indian village. It was chosen because, in a mostly treeless prairie, this was one of the few spots where a grove of trees managed to escape the prairie fires that swept the plains.That there was an oak tree is all the more remarkable, for cottonwoods, cypress, and mulberries were the hardier stock that eked out a living along the creeks.

Grass near Dry Turkey Creek

Monchousia by Charles Bird King, image from Wikipedia

The Kaw were a distant branch of the mighty Sioux Nation. They had established a village on the Kansas River at present day Manhattan. Their living came primarily from hunting the buffalo and trading with French traders.

In 1822, President Monroe had a delegation of seventeen Native Americans visit Washington. Charles Bird King was hired to paint portraits of the delegation members. Monchousia, one of the delegates, wears a colorful turban, wampum necklace, mollusk shell earrings, and a peace medal given to the delegation by Monroe. Although Monchousia was not present at the 1825 meeting with Sibley, he prominently figured in many Kaw Indian matters.

As I said, I envy the excitement that Sibley must have felt meeting with the Kaw Indians. The clash of cultures must have been eye-popping for one used to houses, roads, and "refined living". It is the chance to test oneself against the elements that we aspire to. Truly living means to get away from civilization. What better way than to experience the thrill of the buffalo hunt, the danger of the prairie fire, and the vastness of the plains which stretched on to the horizon.

Then reality sets in. George Sibley, speaking of the practicalities of travel, described it this way:
"... with difficulty and embarrassment, arising chiefly from the annoyance of the green flies of the Prairies, which obliged the Party to travel much in the Night, frequently leaving the direct route in order to find Shelter from the flies during the day, in the Small groves that are Seen here and there Scattered like little green Islands."
And anyone today who has felt the annoying bite of the tic and chigger in the tall grass, the painful irritation of brushing against stinging nettle along the banks of a creek, or the swelling that comes from contact with poison ivy that populates the verge between forest and field, knows that travel can be down right discomforting.