Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Rev John Lewis Floyd - A Green Minister?

Rev. John Lewis Floyd

Gentle, intelligent, humble, and green.  GREEN?  Yes, now that I've had time to think about it, my father was as green as they come.  But first, let me back up a bit and write a little more background material.

My dad came from the other side of the tracks.  His father died when he was about 10 years old, and his step father, not a gentle man, was a share cropper in a part of Appalachia where that meant just enough acres to grow some corn and beans and run a few hogs and chickens; at least enough to feed a small family and trade or sell for a few essentials.  You think of Lincoln reading by the fire light . . . so did my father.  (It seems he may have had some part in a corn mash still operation in the Virginia woods according to an African American man that I met and who knew my father when they were boys, but that information is otherwise indirect and sketchy, and completely denied by him when I asked.) 

Somehow he escaped this bastion of poverty and non-education through being valedictorian of his class of 16, and going on tuition and books scholarship to Duke University and subsequently Texas Christian University.  At both institutions he earned room and board working dual jobs as a school janitor and being the equivalent of a bus boy in the dining halls.  He also was tasked with polishing the silver when he lodged with one of his professors, and he never was impressed by the sterling at a table setting after that; only thinking that someone had to have done that polishing before the table could be set.

In the fall of 1966, I was given an insight into his life when I went to have my transcript sent from TCU to the U of Texas medical schools as part of the application process.  At the registrar's office, they brought out my transcript and asked me to review it before sending it out.  Wow!  I had nothing but "A"s on every class! Not a single "B" or "C."   A small problem however . . . though the name was correct, the date was for the late 1930's . . . it was of course my father's transcripts.  Forever after it was very difficult to view myself as in any way intellectually superior to him.

As you could reason for yourself, his background in Appalachia and university socialization limited to talking to people as he cleared their plates or excused himself when taking out the trash or dusting imbued him with a general air of quiet humility which I think many interpreted as inferiority.  He either refused to, or didn't know how to, present himself nor the church as something that made one better than or above others socially.  Twice he was displaced from the pulpit of a church because of this.  In each case, he refused to support the push by a small, but socially cognizant faction of the congregation for building of a new church building, first because the congregation couldn't afford it, and second because they had not outgrown the existing church structure.  In each case, the new replacement minister led a building program, stayed for the construction of the church, and then moved on to a bigger church, leaving the local congregations with a large debt, which in one case ended in the dissolution of the congregation.  From talks with him when I was young, I know he would have liked to experience leading a large church, but he never had that chance.

And on top of that, both he and my mother were totally, completely tone deaf . . . couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.  Being a good singer seems to be part of the ministerial job these days.

He was intelligent, as I suggested.   In addition to the transcript experience I noted above, I remember book after book arriving from the University lending library by mail every week (the library in Spur was lucky to have a 10 year old Britannica encyclopedia set and a paperback copy of the latest Gothic romance thriller.)  In his prime, with his depth and breadth of knowledge, I think he could stand and argue on level ground with most any philosopher or theologian.  I am certain most people never realized it though.

Oh yes, the green part. . . 

As noted, he was a heavy user of the library for sharing rather than acquiring books, but his conservation went much, much further than that, most often driven out of necessity.  Wood pencils in our house were generally not discarded until (a) they were less than an inch long AND (b) the eraser was completely used up.  Whenever possible, things were not replaced, they were repaired.  I remember replacing the heating element in a toaster.  A butcher knife wood handle was wired together when it fell apart.  When the 1953 Plymouth engine was worn out, my father did some reading, bought parts (rings, seals, etc) and tools (hand cranked valve/valve seat grinder, block and tackle, etc) from the Sears catalog, and in the detached garage with a dirt floor he removed, completely rebuilt and reinstalled the engine.  It ran well for many years.  When a bar of soap became too thin and small to hold, he put it in a box.  When he had enough, he would press them together to make a new bar of soap, saving the purchase of one.

We always had a garden; occasionally a very large one with peach and apple trees.  The left overs or unused peels, etc that I routinely put down the disposal or in the trash, my parents would dig into the fallow part of the garden for next year's plantings.  Canning was a summer and fall ritual; Ball mason jars were a part of our life.

With his cast iron cobbler's last and wooden handled awl (both which I still have somewhere), he allowed both of us to walk on 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th replacement shoe soles until the uppers were completely tattered.  I remember thinking of him when reading Shakespeare's Julius Cesar -  "Truly sir, all that I live by is the awl. I am indeed, sir, a surgeon to old shoes: when they are in great danger, I recover them."

Perhaps the most outrageous example of getting the maximum use of anything was my father's conservation of dental floss.  He would use the same length many times before pulling a new one.  I know this sounds disgusting, but I have a parallel story in that vein.  When the Viet Nam POW's came home in 1973, the Air Force members were initially, for their own sanity and protection, isolated in a single ward in Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center in San Antonio, where I was Chief Resident in Internal Medicine.  There they received full physical exams and psychological counseling.  All of these men had parasites, poor nutrition, and terrible dental condition with cavities and missing teeth . . . except for one officer.  During his 7 years as a POW in Hanoi, though denied a toothbrush or other elements of dental care, he would remove a thread from his prison garb (or mattress when he had one) and use it to floss 2 or 3 times a day.  Only when it wore to the point where it broke would he find another thread to use for another few weeks.  This one officer returned with almost perfect teeth!

At times I berate myself for not keeping my father's tradition of self-reliance and conservation.  I am trying to be better, but I have a long way to go.


Monday, October 25, 2010

The Coyote Special - What A Blast!

The "Silver Solarium" rail car bringing up the rear

A couple of weeks ago we had a wonderful experience, recreating an historic rail trip from LA to Chicago and return to Denver.  The trip was with a party of 9 people riding, sleeping, and dining in a restored Pullman rail car, seen at the end of the Amtrak train in the picture above.

The trip was a new book release promotion by our Estes Park next door neighbor Walt Borneman.  It was a modern re-creation of a notable trip described in Walt's latest book, Rival Rails.  If you click around his website, you can find links to this trip and some pictures on the "Rival Rails" tab.

Here are a few pictures, but they are all from my cell phone camera and of limited quality.  Left-click on any picture to enlarge it.

 We assemble in the new entrance to Union Station, Los Angeles

 The LA Station is remarkably clean, open, and well-lighted

 We arrive at our historic rail car, the Silver Solarium.

 Walt doing a long distance interview with the BBC

 Walt and me in the lounge room

B and Walt, waiting to be called to dinner as the countryside glides past.
 Absolutely the best rack of lamb I've ever eaten!

 The rail car's heritage in the sign at the rear of the car.  Note the Golden Gate Bridge in the background of the sign.

Formal dress not required for breakfast!

 Left to right:  Bernd, our chef, Burt, historic rail car owner/manager, William, our Steward, Barbara

 View from our hotel room at the Drake on our Chicago stopover . . . NICE!

 On our free morning in Chicago, Barbara and I enjoyed a wounderful Sax player while we waited for the Art Institute to open.

 Back on the train and headed for Denver, Walt chats with William as he pours wine.

Formal settings for all three meals each day.  I could have gotten used to this very quickly.

 Menus printed for each lunch and dinner

 My picture is not very good, but this is a sterling bookmark with a period ATSF sterling steam locomotive and 4 cars  that Barbara made and gave to Walt.

 Again a poor picture.  Barbara made a necklace and bracelet of turquoise from Kingman, AZ (one of our stops on the route) with a sterling rail car clasp for Marlene, Walt's wife.

An NPR story and very nice 7-minute interview with Walt:

The book:


Wednesday, July 28, 2010


12" of rain overflows, then undermines, Lake Delhi dam, draining the 9 mile long recreational lake

We recently had still another record rainfall in Iowa with rather dramatic consequences such as the overflowing and destruction of the dam at Delhi, draining a 9 mile long lake.    I have quipped to many people "what do you expect, it's global warming", and I'm not saying it in jest.  Warmer air holds more moisture, so when it meets the cold air mass it has a lot more water to drop on whoever is below.  I do think there is global warming, but why is it happening, and what do I think that means.  This is an incredibly complex issue, with many interactions, and unintended consequences are not only possible but likely.   Most of us are far from experts in this matter, but the consequences of ignoring it could be catastrophic for for mankind (or not.)


YES!  At least in the short term.The earth warms, the earth cools, again and again.  Sometimes, the reversals are sudden and dramatic.  We are obviously on a warming trend. The first six months of this year have been the hottest on record, and the past 10 years were the hottest decade on record.  The big question is if this is a natural trend, or if it is due to human action, followed closely by another question, how hot is it going to get?  Is the earth going to get 1, 2, or 10 degrees warmer? (The latter number a true threat to our species)  Or . . . Is this warming averting what would have otherwise been another ice age with its consequences?  I really don't know, and I'm less than sure ANYONE knows.


MAYBE!  There have been unintended consequences to the industrial revolution.  Scientists it seems have extracted pretty good data from ice cores and other bits and pieces of our earth and determined the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere for the past several millennia.  The levels were stable for 2 or 3 hundred thousand years, but recently (in geological terms) there was a rapid and steady rise that coincided with the industrial revolution, and now it is at a level ~40% higher than it was for those many thousands of years, and it is still climbing.

CO2 is the lifeblood of plants, which extract it and produce O2, among a lot of other things, so CO2 is not inherently bad.  One of its properties however is that it is a "greenhouse" gas, and, other things equal, its increase in the atmosphere causes the Earth's temperature to rise.  Methane, another gas that has risen since industrialization produces a similar effect.  The rise in CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gasses is, as far as I am concerned, a fact.  But is this causing global warming?  Again . . .maybe.

Another offshoot of industrialization is wider availability of food and a dramatic growth in people.  People use resources  and indirectly produce more CO2.

What about other factors, like the variability in sunlight reaching the earth?  From What I've read, this alone cannot account for change in temperature.  More about sun energy in a moment though.

There are uncertainties when it comes to the interaction between greenhouse gases and other factors in what is clearly a complicated climate system. It is impossible to be sure exactly how quickly or how much the temperature will rise. This warmer atmosphere, as we know, will melt the glaciers and ice sheets, and  sea levels will rise. This warm air also contains more energy can hold more water, and is likely related to the global occurrences of storms, floods, and other extreme weather events


Will we be able to adapt to rising temperatures through technology?  Unlikely.  Even small increases of 1-2 degrees could drastically alter local climates, permanently change weather patterns, and significantly alter food production. . . a politically dangerous situation.  Larger increases of 6-10 degrees would end life as most of us know it.  The risk we are playing with are indescribably high.

Are we certain that industralization and CO2 production is causing global warming and will continue to push the temperature higher and higher?  No, we are far from certain.  However, what is the risk we run by not making a major effort to reduce our CO2 output?  The risks, even if low, are high:  Pascal asks the question: What is the expected value of a very small chance of an infinite loss? And, he answers, “Infinite,” and this is the potential risk . . . starvation, loss of biodiversity, and the end of life as we have come to know it.

So, it seems to me that with such high risk, we should do every thing possible to change our output of CO2:  eliminate coal plants unless we can find some way to extract and permanently remove from the atmosphere CO2 (as well as other pollutants,) most combustion engine cars, and other CO2 producing activities and replace that lost energy production with nuclear energy, supplemented with solar and wind generation.

Nuclear power is spreading in other parts of the world.  There is the potential for new nuclear technology to replace virtually all our fossil fuel plants, and do it safely with very low level waste (http://blipsinthecosmos.blogspot.com/2010/03/ray-of-hope.html). The US Navy has been safely operating small nuclear power plants for many decades, and these are large enough to power individually a small or even medium sized town.  Many "micro-nuclear power plants" are on the drawing boards, and all they need to be successfully installed around the country is a reasonable environmental/regulatory acceptance.

More energy hits the Earth from the Sun in one hour than the whole world uses all year. China is betting big on solar.  It is already the largest solar array producer, and is developing new hi-tech silicon PV chips that make solar competitive with current electric rates.  In Tucson, First Solar is one of the leading edge companies using Cadmium Telluride technology and is closing in on production cost of $1/Watt, the point at which it becomes competitive with coal.  I see a point in the future where all homes are built using roofing shingles that double as PV cells.

Is this the time to be spending huge sums on developing and deploying non-fossil fuels?  I think it's a no-brainer: reducing the chance of global climate disaster, becoming independent of fuel oil and the political instability associated with its production and distribution, cleaning the environment, creating new jobs, etc, etc.

On top of all this is the likelihood that we have reached a tipping point on the price of oil.  Remember $5/gallon gas?  It's coming back in spades because of the simple math of supply and demand.  We have passed the peak of easy oil production by industry estimates, yet the population and development of the less developed world is accelerating rapidly, and the demand for energy with it.  In coming years, we will not have to legislate fuel efficient cars; if it doesn't get 50 mpg or more, few will be able to afford to drive it.  Oil, now at $80/barrel has already hit $147 in the past and could blow way past that in the next year or two, exacerbating the uneven distribution of world wealth and dealing a severe blow to the world economy.  It's not a pretty picture.

So, why are we not doing anything?  The skeptics are many, and they may be right that global warming will not accelerate out of control.  For airing their views they have funding from  the petrochemical and coal industries that is almost infinite.  Also, many players in the arena have no goal other than short-term profits and will do or say anything to keep those profits intact.  People naturally tend to be optimistic, and will follow those with a good news message over the prophets of doom, especially when they are faced with giving up something now that might prevent something in the distant future (though according to some research institutes that future may not be all that far off.) 

This country must budget for and create tax incentives that result in massive investment in the development and deployment of nuclear plants and photovoltaics (and perhaps wind power.)  The cost of converting to non fossil energy with all possible speed up front seems large, but is insignificant when placed against the infinite risk accompanying an atmospheric temperature rise of 6 degrees or more.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

GILEAD and Memories of my Father

I recently read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, a book that quickly  returned me to my own youth growing up as a preacher's kid in a rural community.  Out of laziness and reluctance to plagiarize, I  will first give a couple of quotes from the Wiki article on the book, in the following two paragraphs:

"The book is an account of the memories and legacy of John Ames as he remembers his experiences of his father and grandfather to share with his son. All three men share a vocational lifestyle and profession as Congregationalist ministers in Gilead, Iowa. Ames' father was a Christian pacifist, but his grandfather was a radical abolitionist who carried out guerrilla actions with John Brown before the American Civil War, served as a chaplain with the Union forces in that war, and incited his congregation to join up and serve."

"Although there is action in the story, its mainspring lies in Ames' theological struggles on a whole series of fronts: with his grandfather's engagement in the Civil War, with his own loneliness through much of his life, with his brother's clear and his father's apparent loss of belief, with his father's desertion of the town, with the hardships of people's lives, and above all with his feelings of hostility and jealousy towards Boughton, whom he knows at some level he has to forgive. Ames's struggles are illustrated by numerous quotations from the Bible, from theologians (especially Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion), and from philosophers, especially the athiest philosopher Feuerbach, whom Ames greatly respects."

This is a fairly well read book (#3,441 in Amazon Books), though this surprises me somewhat, since I am not sure I would have appreciated a book with so many religious quotations had I not myself been the son of a minister who was the son of a circuit-riding minister.

Growing up in a parsonage with a liberal, extremely well-read, intelligent, humble, thankful, trusting, minister father who constantly struggled financially, I immediately identified with John Ames in this novel.  Even 50 years ago a minister who simply wanted to work with his congregation to understand the teaching of Jesus and try to live them without judgment of others had stiff competition from those who preached the gospel of social and material rewards in this life and the fundamentalistic rantings of Radio/TV evangelist (John Ames: "You can spend 40 years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow with no moe theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministry and all your work is forgotten.")  

 Ames, a pacifist, struggles just a bit with his 7 year old son playing with guns, tanks, and the other symbols of war, much as I am certain (from his comments) that my father did when watching me in the same activities (I was 11 in 1956.)  My father also struggled with the economics of being minister of a relatively poor congregation during the mini-dust bowl days of 1950's West Texas.  In 1956 my father also faced health issues; he had an emergency stomach resection that year in Lubbock for hemorrhaging ulcers.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield refused to pay, citing "pre-existing condition" because he listed ulcers on his application for insurance over 10 years earlier. This emptied the savings account my parents had accumulated over the years (I personally have still not forgiven the Insurance companies for doing this to our family.)

Like John Ames, Rev John Floyd had a flow of books into our home.  My father received books weekly it seemed from the lending library of Brite Divinity school or the main library at TCU; he only had to pay parcel post rates. Looking back he was much better read than I ever will be. These are not men who have accepted a set dogma and preach the same thing Sunday after Sunday, year after year.  They opened themselves to new knowledge, new understandings, and new interpretations of scripture and daily strove to live as "good" men in terms of personal behavior, community example, parent, and spouse.  In the book it is suggested that John Ames' father opened himself to the extent that he sided with John's brother Edward in a more Spinozistic philosophy and moved with Edward to the Gulf Coast, leaving Gilead behind forever.  It seemed to me that there is a lot of symbolism in the decisions by various characters at various points to leave or stay in Gilead; I have my own interpretation and will leave you to arrive at your own.

Finally, an important bit of the book for which I had no correlative experience growing up; Lila.  Lila came into Ames' life by appearing, from place unknown, sitting in his congregation one Sunday.  Eventually Ames, who has been a lonely widower for years, marries Lila.  Her prior life is apparently was hard and tragic, but  Ames never ask her about her earlier life, and in fact does not dwell on it, accepting her for what she is, unconcerned with anything she may have been, leaving the reader curious about Lila, but respectful of Ames.

Beyond straight forward enjoyment of the narrative, reading Gilead raised many memories of my childhood as a preacher's kid, and that is good and satisfying.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not for the Metrosexual

I'm not your metrosexual male**, in fact far from it.  I do have male friends that approach getting their hair cut from the same perspective as my female friends heading to their salon for a cut and perm. There are certainly some men-only and mixed shops to fulfill that need such as State Street Barbers in Chicago.  Even in smaller towns you likely will find something with a lot of added show (try Tim's barber shop). 

If on the other hand you are willing to go with something less than a "stylist" and take the opportunity to check the back corners of the inner city and suburbs you may still be able to find one of the dwindling number of traditional barbers, though it is getting a little harder as few young men or women are willing to pursue a career in a one-chair barber shop.  I have managed to find a couple of favorites, depending on my location.

Pictured above is the Third One Barber Shop in Estes Park, my usual spot for a hair cut when I'm in the mountains.  It is truly the classic, old time, small town barber shop where  Field and Stream is neatly stacked  next to the Playboys.  My neck is snugly wrapped, hair efficiently cut, and then a vacuum brush run over my head before unwrapping my neck so that I don't have itchy hairs in my neck the rest of the day.  The attitude is relaxed and the talk easy, and the tab is only $12 with tip.

** "The typical metrosexual is a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis – because that's where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are. He might be officially gay, straight or bisexual, but this is utterly immaterial because he has clearly taken himself as his own love object and pleasure as his sexual preference. Particular professions, such as modeling, waiting tables, media, pop music and, nowadays, sport, seem to attract them but, truth be told, like male vanity products and herpes, they're pretty much everywhere. For some time now, old-fashioned (re)productive, repressed, unmoisturized heterosexuality has been given the pink slip by consumer capitalism. The stoic, self-denying, modest straight male didn't shop enough (his role was to earn money for his wife to spend), and so he had to be replaced by a new kind of man, one less certain of his identity and much more interested in his image – that's to say, one who was much more interested in being looked at (because that's the only way you can be certain you actually exist). A man, in other words, who is an advertiser's walking wet dream."
- Salon Magazine

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A 9,000 Page Roman-fleuve

I was this past Christmas damned to spend endless weekends and late nights reading book after book about events of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars.  My daughter-in-law gave me the first in this series of 20 historical novels, and after reading it I was, so-to-speak, unable to not proceed to purchase the other 19 1/2 books in the series and displace many other books awaiting my attention.

The roman-fleuve (French, literally "river-novel") refers to an extended sequence of novels of which the whole acts as a commentary for a society or an epoch, and which continually deals with a central character, community or a saga within a family. The river metaphor implies a steady, broad dynamic lending itself to a perspective. Each volume makes up a complete novel by itself, but the entire cycle exhibits unifying characteristics.

Such is Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey–Maturin series of novels set in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.  Each of these books starts and finishes with two friends, English Naval Captain Jack Aubrey and the Irish–Catalan physician/naturalist/intelligence operative Stephen Maturin, who when not eating, drinking, or playing their violin and chello take part in historically accurate accounts of British Naval actions.  The 20-novel series is a well-researched and highly detailed portrayal of early 19th century life, in particular life related to the Royal Navy, with authentic and evocative language and, I might add, occasional examples of early 19th century European medicine.

Throughout the series, the author-narrator employs the same idioms and vocabulary as the characters would have used during their times, and his characters probably would have conversed easily with those of Jane Austin.  In addition to this period language, O'Brian tends to use naval jargon with no translation for the reader. This combination of the historical-voice narration and naval terms is daunting at first (at least to me); but it seems that this "total immersion" effect takes hold quickly.  Sometimes, O'Brian explains (to we nautical and historical neophyte readers) these terms by having Mautrin tutored in these matters either by Jack Aubrey or some other seasoned seaman.

There is no "last book" that wraps everything up and ends the series.  A partially-finished twenty-first novel in the series was published posthumously as a thin hardback with facing pages of handwriting and typescript.  In "The Nutmeg of Consolation" (about book #13 or so) Maturin and Aubrey actually discuss the merits of a novel that does not have a real ending, a "final" chapter and conclusion, and I wonder if O'Brien was writing this with a foresight that the series would end only with his death. His final, partial novel ends in the middle of a story, but that is OK . . . I can imagine that Stephen and Aubry will go on and on, living forever their unique friendship and sailing the oceans for Britian, Ireland, Catalan Spain and for science.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Another "Connection"

(click on image to enlarge)

It's always good to connect to one's past in some manner, and often that is through a physical connection with one's family or family history.  People live on in our memories, and when something stimulates that memory I often pause for a bit of . . . I'm not sure just how to term it.  It's more than nostalgia, it's a time when my consciousness drifts to past times and people, and those people really do live on in my memory.  Of course, for most of us, this only last for a couple of generations or so.

Many years ago, Barbara and I were on a road trip through France and saw a small sign "American Cemetery" pointing to the right.  With a brief nod to each other, we turned onto a narrow road that led us to a WW I  American cemetery.

The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery   is spread over 130 undulating acres in the northeast of France near the Belgian border.  This is the largest single burial site of American WWI casualties in Europe, almost 15,000. Most were victims of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive  in which the American Expeditionary Forces lost 26,000 killed and almost 100,000 wounded.  Barbara and I went to the visitor's center and were greeted by the manager of the cemetery who was a US civil service employee at this monument-cemetery near the French-Belgium border.  He seemed overly interested in us, asking lots of questions both specific and general.  As it turns out, there were very few visitors to this place, and he was eager to spend some time talking with Americans.  It was off the main road so there were not many "accidental' or drive-by visitors, and, even in 1974-5, the second generation family of those who were buried there were largely elderly or dead themselves so visiting family members were by then few and far between.  Do most of these soldiers really "live on in memory" or are they largely now forgotten as individuals?

Now, to the picture on this post.  My father retired from his last church ministry and wanted to physically step out of the way for the church to integrate a new minister.  To do this gracefully, he took up a locums position some distance away. . . in this case Raton, NM.  He would drive to Raton, preach for two Sundays in a row,  then return to Kermit, TX for a few days before returning to Raton.  Last Winter, Barbara and I were on our way from Estes Park to Palm Springs, and stopped in Raton to fill up with gasoline.   We decided to drive the town, and see if we could find the church where my dad preached, and indeed, as the picture shows, we were successful.  I took the picture, but then toured around the church a bit, with a strong memory of my father wandering through my thoughts.

Now, I certainly remember my father well, and my kids also have some fairly decent memories as well.  Any generation to follow that will have some stories to tell, but there will be no direct memory.  Beyond that, a few anecdotes might survive, but there will be no one who truly remembers Rev. John Floyd.  This is a little sad, but true.  Genealogists (like Barbara) doing their research are a good thing to have in a family, and artifacts like books or papers with the words will help.  Pictures certainly are more plentiful than in the past, but now we have so many digital pictures with no captions (can't use a pencil to write "John Floyd" on the back of a digital file, and most people have not annotated their pictures digitally. The digital file folder in most peoples computers is little better than the old shoe box full of prints.  I have a couple of thousand slides and at least that many prints to digitize, organize, and distribute to family members.  This is no small challenge, but I think important for the future generations (but even this is likely a bit of self-deception.)

Few of us will become well known to future generations or even future civilizations (think Julius Caesar, Aristotle, etc).  What I expect will really live on from my journey here is the change, however small, that may result from how I have lived my life and how I have related to my  my family, my friends, and every other human whom I have touched in some way during my life.  I hope on the whole I will have caused more good than not.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My Opinion about the Healthcare Bill as recently passed

What is my opinion about the Health Care Bill just passed by Congress?  I have been asked this often in recent days by friends who are outside the system looking in.  This is dangerous territory, and I risk stepping in quicksand (or at least a big pile of poop), but here I go:

The essence of the bill is a straightforward tradeoff:   The government gives the insurance companies 30 million new customers - via subsidies to help them buy their policies, and in return these companies can no longer deny coverage for preexisting conditions or set lifetime caps on payouts.  My problem is that I doubt we can afford this in conjunction with other government expenditures without endangering the U.S. currency.

Our current health care system is supposedly based on capitalism with it's inherent efficiencies and survival of the best product at the best price.  But, this is not capitalism or a free market because there is no competition and very limited options for competing on quality and efficiency/economy of care.

The recently passed bill simply pours massive amounts into paying the insurance companies more for the same old insurance, while doing nothing to change the fundamental way care is delivered and paid for . . . and it will therefore drain unbelievable amounts of dollars from the budget. This was not health care reform, it was just a decision to fund a transfer of billions and billions to the insurance companies using the same old system. I do applaud the decision to prevent these companies from refusing to insure individuals at risk and for extending benefits for psychiatric and chronic care, but make no mistake, this is coming out of the taxpayers pockets, and the insurance companies will rake a huge share off the top. Redistribution of wealth is accepted in this country (e.g. our progressive income tax), but the authority responsible for that redistribution is expected to do so efficiently, resulting in the most overall good and without regards to special interest (insurance corporations.)

Dr Welby MD disappeared a long time ago.  Individually most doctors are altruistic, but they live and work within the framework of either a group of practitioners or as an employee of a hospital or health care system.  Every hospital I know, profit or non profit, and every medical group in the country have management with a job description to maximize the bottom line, and the insurance companies are happy to help them increase the revenues from health care since they are a cost-plus manager of health care - e.g. if they set their profit/return at 5% of gross, then the higher the gross revenues, then the more the 5% is worth. The changes in insurability are not major issues for them; the recent 30%+ increases (my own group had a 31% increase) in premiums this year will more than make up expenses added by the health care bill.  Even so, I suspect individuals with insurability problems will still have to fight a paperwork maize and incur extra cost in order to get that coverage.

Yes, I believe everyone in this country deserves "medicare-like" health care (even though medicare is currently running in the red and changes will be enforced in the future by economic realities.) I really don't understand why people are opposed to giving the rest of our citizens what we have given our seniors. And . . . it is a disappointment that Congress did not do the most fiscally efficient thing by simply extending Medicare to those who cannot afford insurance, rather than enacting this massive transfer of wealth to an inefficent healthcare system, and giving the insurance companies a windfall along the way.  Some may not be aware that it was Richard Nixon who also felt it the responsibility of the federal government to assure citizens of reasonable health care and proposed in 1971 a public/private system for universal health care, paid by the government through negotiations with competing private entities such as Kaiser, Mayo, Group Health, Cleveland Clinic etc as well as traditional health insurance companies. (Congress however became more concerned with impeachment than assuring health care for its citizens.)

What we perhaps needed was a complete remake of health care in our country, hopefully using the best elements of places like France, Germany, etc in order to bring quality, affordable, health care to everyone in this country. I don't think this bill will do that, but then the devil is in the details, and we will have to see how the law, as written, is applied (similar to the IRS code/ interpretation of the generalities in the tax law) before we know exactly what we have here, so I reserve my final opinion for a few years.

My fundamental principle as a secular humanist is the "golden rule" in its various expressions, and I take as my obligation the need to make life better for others.  This health care bill is deeply, severely flawed, but it is a start.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Ray of Hope

I have long been a fan of nuclear energy as something that is in the long run affordable and can mitigate the possible effects of global warming related to CO2 production. Of course, there are many problems with nuclear technology as it stands.

There has been little change in the basic design of a nuclear power plant since the 1950's.  You would think that there would have been some innovation in that time, and perhaps finally there has been.  For the first time, I now have seen a technology that, while not the infamous "cold fusion," comes close to a magic bullet in solving mankind's energy needs.  It uses nuclear fuel that is now considered waste, and a plant would generate electricity for 50-100 years without refueling. 

In this this link, Bill Gates fairly well summarizes the concept of a "traveling wave reactor" (TRW) as a means of cheap, safe nuclear energy production for both developed and under developed societies.  This technology, if successfully developed and deployed, would use un-enriched uranium for its power, would use as it's source of fuel all the used power plant fuel rods stored on site around the world (the current US stored fuel rods would supply about 200 years of TWR power for the country.)

I don't know if this will ever happen, but it's much more realistic than cold fusion ever was.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Darwin Day


Today is the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin.

Darwin Day is a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin.  

A couple of years ago, watching a late night PBS broadcast of The Charlie Rose Show interviewing James Watson and EO Wilson, both eminent and respected biologists, I heard Wilson make the comment that there have been two great, unmatched leaps in biology:  first, Darwin's publication telling us WHAT happened, and later, the paper by Watson and Crick telling us HOW it happened. 
Just as Carl Sagan opened my mind to the wonders of the cosmos, Thomas Lewis, scientist, poet and philosopher, in his essays, The lives of a cell:Notes of a Biology Watcher, (in the New England Journal of Medicine) , opened my mind to the awe-inspiring depths of biology.  EO Wilson has involuntarily taken up the torch carried by Darwin and Lewis Thomas, and has become the inspiration for bio-scientist the world over.  
Wilson is one of the great minds of our time; the Guardian has a nice summary of Wilson's life and contributions to knowledge.  Not surprisingly, he has provoked some controversy.  You can watch him talk and accept an honor as he gives a TED Talk.  You can watch a much longer Wilson interview discussing the science of the mind as a guest on the UCSD "Guestbook" series in the Philosophy Department.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seeing Differently

"Life is like a rainbow. You need both the sun and the rain to make its colors appear."
     -  wolfdyke

Circular Rainbow
(color intensified with photoshop)

For the first time, I had a chance to see a circular rainbow from my airplane window on the way from Denver to Cedar Rapids today.  We were above the cloud as we approached CR.  The sun was on the opposite side of the airplane from my seat, projecting the rainbow on my side.

Rainbows can only be seen with the sun from behind you, and generally appear as a semicircle, with the lower portion hidden behind the horizon of the earth.  If you were on a sufficiently high position, all rainbows would in fact appear circular.  Complete circular rainbows can be seen under the right conditions, for example  when viewing the mists from above a large waterfall early or late in the day. As above, circular rainbows can also be seen from an airplane when it flies over clouds. 

Wiki discorse on Rainbows:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Durango - Bet on a Free Stay

When traveling in an RV, you always have your home along, but not your lot/land, so a place to park for the night is always needed.  We almost always have found RV resorts/parks and state/national parks available as needed with minimal advance planning.  In a pinch one could, and many do, simply park in the local Wall Mart parking lot - Wall Mart officially sanctions the practice.
Something Barbara and I have found recently is the trend for the newer Casinos to incorporate RV parks with full hookups as part of the casino grounds.  The new Indian casinos are usually close to a major population center (they need the customers.)  They have pretty much always allowed dry camping, but somehow setting up in the middle of a casino parking lot was never our style.  However, as you see our rig pictured above, when they have a nicely equipped RV park, it's free (if you don't gamble), and you have access to the restaurants and all of the amenities of the hotel as desired, then it can be the best option for the traveling RVer.  This casino was just outside Durango.

In addition to being the starting point for a journey on the Durango-Silverton railway trip, there is a fairly nice train museum there.  Here Bll ponders the assorted valves and switches required to manage this historic steam engine.

As Bill said, "what boy growing up in our generation did not want to make a journey from the caboose of a train?"  I share his sentiment.
The origins of both the car and the word are surrounded as much by legend as by fact. One popular version dates the word back to a derivation of the Dutch word "kombuis," which referred to a ship's galley. Use of cabooses began in the 1830s, when railroads housed trainmen in shanties built onto boxcars or flatcars.
The caboose served several functions, one of which was as an office for the conductor. A printed "waybill" followed every freight car from its origin to destination. The conductor kept the paperwork in the caboose.
The caboose also carried a brakeman and a flagman. In the days before automatic air brakes the engineer signaled the caboose with his whistle when he wanted to slow down or stop. The brakeman then would climb out and make his way forward, twisting the brakewheels atop the cars with a stout club. Another brakeman riding the engine would work his way toward the rear. Once the train was stopped, the flagman would descend from the caboose and walk back to a safe distance with lanterns, flags and other warning devices to stop any approaching trains.
Once under way, the trainmen would sit up in the cupola and watch for smoke or other signs of trouble from overheated wheel journals (called hotboxes).
The addition of the cupola – the lookout post atop the car – is attributed to a conductor who discovered in 1863 that he could see his train much better if he sat atop boxes and peered through the hole in the roof of his boxcar.

This was the first chance either of us had ever had to inspect the interior of a caboose with its original cabinetry and fittings intact.
It was common for railroads to assign a caboose to a conductor for his exclusive use. Conductors took great pride in their cars, despite the caboose's many derogatory nicknames, including crummy, doghouse, bone-breaker, snake wagon and hearse.
The men decorated their car interiors with many homey touches, including curtains and family photos. Some of the most important additions were ingredients for cooking meals that became a part of American folklore. Augmented with such comforting features, the caboose served as a home away from the trainmen's home terminals.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Barbara at it again!

Art vs Technique #2
(click to enlarge)

As I have discussed in the past (http://blipsinthecosmos.blogspot.com/2009/03/technique-vs-art.html), I know the technology of digital photography, but it is Barbara who has the eye.  This is her view of the mountains between Ouray and Silverton.  To provide some perspective, the trees are full sized, probably ~50 feet at least.

Look around . . . a surprise usually awaits

Olathe, Colorado
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Left click on any picture to enlarge

Uncompahgre River RV Park was a quite nice place, well taken care of, with very pleasant host/owners. Campground is definitely for 55+ and most of the campers were there for the season. Coffee every morning at 9:30 and drinks at 4:00pm. Everyone was very friendly.  Most of the "campers" are seasonal and return every year, a testament to the owners. A large community garden, started and maintained by the campers - across the road behind our rig in the picture above, serves not only the park, but also the senior center in town.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP was about an hour from Olathe.  Smaller than the Grand Canyon, but it is equally spectacular in it's own way.

 Dana looking back from a lookout point below the visitor's center.

No, that's not what we are doing!

Before we left Olathe for the short move to Ouray, we drove a short distance out of town to a dairy where twice weekly they divert some milk to make "artisan" cheese (http://www.rockingwcheese.com/).  The cheese was indeed wonderful, but on the way to the dairy, we passed an orchard with "pick your own" peaches . . . and we did!

The surprise at the orchard was their small winery (Mountain View Winery - http://mountainviewwinery.com/).  It was 9:30 in the morning, but we decided to try the wine anyway.   Ash Mesa, a blend of chardonnay grapes and apples was a particularly good production (yes, really!)

We stopped at Olathe to see the Gunnison Canyon, but almost anywhere on our travels, when we take the time to look around, there are almost always some smaller, but still worthwhile experiences that await the curious searcher.

Colorado: Aspen-Leadville Loop

A day-trip from Glenwood Springs through Aspen and Leadville, looping back via I-70

 After a nice drive from Glenwood springs, we arrived in Aspen.  Like so many of the well-known Colorado mountain villages, Aspen's original central area is a combination of original mining town architecture and affluent granola ambiance.

 The first order of business was to exercise the animals and wander the downtown.  There was a fair-sized street market of which we took advantage.

 There is a free gondola service from the "old" town to the modern Mountain Village above Aspen from which the high slopes are available.  From the gondola, you can look back and see how the original town sits in the upper reaches of a large canyon.

 Back down and before heading out, we stopped for a quick lunch with a lot of sun.

 Shortly out of Aspen, Hwy 82 is little more than a small country road with no shoulders and little clearance on the sides.  Once out of the canyon and approaching the treeline, it opens up.  We passed numerous mining relics like this stamping mill remains in what is left of the mining town of Independence.  The Saturn Vue (our tow car for the motorhome) has been a workhorse for us;  very sad the brand has been dropped.

 Finally the road crested at Independence Pass and, after a break we enjoyed the drive through Balltown and Leadville (lunch and touring the historic local architecture) back to Glenwood Springs.

As the sun approached the horizon, we returned to Glenwood Springs just in time for a quick tour of Linwood Pioneer Cemetery, on Jasper Mountain, above the town.  When visiting this historic cemetery you should have your walking shoes on as there are no vehicles allowed on the winding road to the cemetery. 
Established in 1886, Linwood contains the graves of the pioneers of Glenwood Springs. Its most infamous resident is John Henry “Doc” Holliday.  Harvey Logan, alias “Kid Curry” was also buried in Linwood after committing suicide following a train robbery in 1904 near Parachute. Logan had been, for a while, a member of Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid’s gang. Exploring this historic graveyard would optimally require a guide, or at least a guide book, and a fair amount of time, neither of which we had.

John "Doc" Holliday of course is famous for his role in the gunfight at the OK Corral.  In some respects, John Henry Holliday's reputation was as illusory as the cure he sought. Stricken with tuberculosis at 21, the aspiring dentist came west in 1873 and roamed from Dallas to Dodge City to Tombstone, drinking and gambling hard at every stop (so much for health concerns). After shooting up a few barrooms and dispatching a rival card-shark, Doc Holliday gained renown as a prolific killer and brilliant marksman. In reality he committed perhaps four or five murders, and his wheezing and boozing made him an erratic shot. But this much was true: he was hot-tempered and reckless, a dangerous man. And a dying one. By 1887, when he moved into the Hotel Glenwood, his ravaged lungs were beyond saving. He expired within a few weeks.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Walk your dogs . . . We'll walk our yaks.

You will not see things like this in the lobby of your hotel. 

(Click Picture to enlarge)

 Bill and Dana with local yak breeders/ranchers
One evening in Ouray  (our two rigs in the background), a couple came down the road taking a Tibetan yak and her baby out for a stroll and stopped to talk and let us interact with the yaks.  They had recently started a yak breeding operation on a ranch near us, and were getting their yaks used to being around strange things and (strange?) people.  These were very gentle animals.  Their natural habitat is the high elevations in Tibet, so they are a natural animal for the high, cold Colorado mountains.  They are efficient protein producers if raised for meat, have high-quality meat, and have a fine wool with a mosaic surface on the fiber that is smooth and non-itchy.  I think this is their operation - http://www.yakbreeder.com/index.html and blog - http://www.yakbreeder.com/blog/?page_id=2

History of the domestic yak (I knew all of you would really be interested!):  The wild Yak (bos mutus) is found in the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet and surroundings at elevations of 14,000 feet. In fact the wild Yak (bos mutus) cannot live below 12,000 feet elevation for any length of time. But during these occasions, the wild Yak bulls interbreed with various cattle breeds surrounding their native Himalayan Mountain terrain. These cross calf heifers crossed back several times to the wild Yak. These multigenerational crosses became the domesticated Yak (bos grunniens). The Yak was originally domesticated in Tibet thousands of years ago and has supplied the indigenous people of these mountainous regions with most of their daily needs including meat, milk, butter, cheese, wool, fiber, leather, fuel, and packing/trekking/travel requirements. The versatile animal is an integral part of the lives of the Tibetan natives and substantially adds to the renowned health and longevity of these people.
If you still thirst for information - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yak

Friday, January 15, 2010


Another Stop on our RV trip in Colorado Last Fall

(Click on a picture to enlarge it)
In southwest CO east of Durango, near the junction of Hwys 160 and 150 is a rock formation generally known as "Chimney Rock." On 4,100 acres of San Juan National Forest land, which in turn is surrounded by the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, it is in southwestern Colorado near the junction of Hwys 160 & 151.

In order to better manage the architectural exploration of the remnants of early residents of this area, Chimney Rock was designated an Archaeological Area and National Historic Site in 1970.

The site was home to the ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians ~1,000 years ago and is of great spiritual significance to these tribes. Their ancestors built over 200 homes and ceremonial buildings high above the valley floor, probably to be near the sacred twin rock pinnacles.

The Great House at Chimney Rock sits at the top of this thin, high mesa and is accessible only by a steep-walled narrow causeway of rock.

At the end of the first ridge, is a view of the formation from an unused Fire Tower built before satellite cameras and infra-red monitoring was possible.

As in my previous blog about connections, here is another one . . . this site is related to the community around Chaco Canyon, a New Mexico site that Karen, Matt, and I have previously explored.

This is a movie of the Great House, built on a wide spot at the top of the mesa, constructed directly upon bare sandstone bedrock, so the tons of rock and adobe had to be carried up to the site. The Great House dates from the 11th century and is linked architecturally to the Great Kiva, a Chacoan "community center" found below the mesa. (The background voice is the guide answering a question about the fire lookout tower.)

The population of Chimney Rock seems to have expanded during the time when the Ancestral Puebloans had moved to the high mesa top, following a decline in the resident farming community and probably is attributed to immigration of Chacoans.
It is believed that Chimney Rock became part of the larger Chacoan regional community during the time when Chaco Canyon became a ceremonial center to unify a dispersed population through pilgrimage festivals and ceremonial rituals. The festivals would have been related to the re-distribution of goods (corn, timber, pottery, meat, etc.) and the ceremonial rituals related to worship of the Sun and Moon. Chimney Rock itself could have been an occasional host to these festivals with its Chacoan Great House Pueblo serving as focus.

The Ancestral Puebloans moved away from the Chimney Rock villages and the valleys in the 1100's. No later buildings or artifacts have been found. Maybe the weather at this location became too cold and dry, enemies became too persistent, or resources and farming areas became depleted. For whatever reason or combination of reasons, the area was deserted by the prehistoric farming-based populations until the area's resettlement by colonists from Mexico in the 1700's.