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     Finally, the Democrats and Republicans are working together, and as a result we got the $1.3 trillion spending bill, or what some laughingly call the “swamp monster.” Just knowing that Congress was working together, gave me the warm fuzzy feeling I got when they passed Obamacare, and the similarities are striking.  Both bills have the distinction of being more than two thousand pages long, and neither bill was read by our actual congressmen before they approved it.  Like congress, I do not know much about what is in the bill, but it must be good because it has Nancy Pelosi grinning like a monkey eating persimmons.  Eventually the news media will find the time to dissect the bill and will tell us everything we need to know.

     What I do not need to know is anything more about Stormy Daniels. I have heard the same story repeatedly, and I have begun to feel that I am trapped in purgatory.  It would be different if they had some startling new facts, but they do not.  My understanding is that she had a consensual relationship with Donald Trump several years ago.  The key word is consensual.  It is not like there are several women accusing him of rape.  Maybe they are keeping her on the news because she has a new movie coming out, and they are trying to help her out with some free air time.  Maybe they just like the way she fills up a wide screen television, but for those people who actually want to see more of Stormy Daniels, they should just buy her ironically named movie, “Dirt.”  Speaking of dirt, Mueller’s investigation is out of control and has been expanded to include activities related to Stormy Daniels.  Fire Mueller and end the charade.

     For those people not interested in Stormy, perhaps the movie Chappaquiddick will be of interest. The movie about Ted Kennedy is being billed as his darkest hour, but I would suggest it was a bit darker for Mary Jo Kopechne.  It is the fifty-year-old story of an accident that claimed the life of Mary Jo Kopechne who apparently suffocated while waiting for help.  Ted Kennedy, a strong swimmer, drove his car off a bridge and managed to escape out the passenger window but could not rescue his passenger Mary Jo.  He did not notify the authorities for hours, and the story he finally told did not have the ring of truth.  Apparently, there was little investigation, but plenty of cover up.  The only apparent consequence was that Ted Kennedy was sentenced to a two-month suspended jail sentence and was reelected to the senate from Massachusetts, and the incident gave rise to the popular mixed drink called Chappaquiddick (scotch and murky water).  Like in many of the tragic events involving politicians, what we do know is what we do not know.

     Speaking of things we do not know, six months after the mass murder in Las Vegas, we do not know the shooter’s motive.  We do not know why two windows were broken out of his hotel room; we do not know why ISIS claimed responsibility for the shooting, or why the shooter wired $100 thousand to his girlfriend in the Philippines days before the shooting. A lack of answers always gives rise to speculation, and mass shootings always provide oxygen for the echo chamber that offers gun control as a solution to murder.  It is tempting to accept such a simplistic solution, but it is equally naive.  In every murder there is evidence of mental depravity, whether it is merely rage, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or the deranged mind of a terrorist.  Gun control will not solve the murder problem, so give it a rest, David Hogg.

     England outlawed guns many years ago, yet the murder rate in London is higher than in New York City for 2018. The weapon of choice is knives.  There has been a significant increase in knife crimes, rape crimes, and gun crimes in the London over prior years.  It should also be noted that acid attacks have become a popular form of entertainment in merry old England, making London the acid attack capital of the world.  And yet, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, claims, “London is one of the safest global cities in the world.”  Parliament plans to take up new knife control, but perhaps it is time for Great Britain to rethink their gun control laws, their immigration laws and to resurrect Sherlock Holmes.  Unlike the current mayor of London, Sherlock Holmes understood that London was, “the great cesspool in which all of the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.”

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

Would You Like to Super-Size That?

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     Image result for gun

     When I was fourteen, I got my driver’s license, and at that time, nearly every teenager I knew got their license as well. It was the age that the State of Texas believed I had the maturity and discipline to be set free on the open road.  Unfortunately for me, I did not own a car, and my parents were not going to loan me the family car, so my freedom was greatly limited.  Nevertheless, I had my freedom.  Much has changed since that time, and the State of Texas has since decided teenagers need to be sixteen years of age, complete a driver’s education course, and watch the Impact Texas Teens video before being allowed to drive a car.  A good decision I think, and based on my limited research, a decision that teenagers do not object to.

     When I have the opportunity, I ask teenagers who are not yet driving, “When are you going to get your driver’s license?” Generally, they tell me “In couple of years”, as though they are not thinking much about it.  I then goad them with the statement that I got mine when I was fourteen, and I think they should get theirs, too.  This often draws sideways looks from their parents, but the teenagers seem not to care much about it one way or another, and they do not express any disappointment at not being able to driver at an earlier age.  So, according to my research, they merely accept the limits imposed on them.

     I purchased my first gun at Ed’s Bait Stand before I got my driver’s license. I was between the age of twelve and fourteen, but I am not certain of the age.  I paid $18 for a nine-shot, 22 caliber revolver.  Although second-hand, it was a great target pistol.  As I recall, there was no background check or paperwork. At that time, the State of Texas believed I had the maturity and discipline to purchase a firearm.  However, time has changed things, particularly regarding the maturity and the discipline level of teenagers.  While there are many intelligent young people, there are many that are lacking in emotional maturity and discipline, and all are lacking in wisdom that comes from life experience.  Why else would Bernie Sanders have legions of young followers?  Why else would a thirty-something year old be crying because of a loss at the Winter Olympics if not a lack of discipline and emotional maturity? Time has changed things, and laws have changed, too.

     Currently, in Texas, you must be eighteen years old and pass a background check to purchase a firearm, and you must be twenty-one to purchase a pistol. There are other restrictions as well.  If you are a convicted felon, you cannot purchase a gun; however, five years after the sentence is completed, convicted felons can purchase guns.  Additionally, if a person is under indictment for an offense with a penalty in excess of one year in jail, that person cannot purchase a firearm. Also, those who are deemed “mentally unfit” by the state are prohibited from owning a gun, so the laws have changed since my childhood. The question remains, are the changes adequate? Do contemporary eighteen-year-olds have the maturity and discipline needed to purchase a gun? Should a convicted felon ever be allowed to own a gun? Perhaps the most complicated of all, what mental condition is used to determine who is “mentally unfit”, and is that determination adequate? Moreover, are the laws enforceable and are they enforced?

     Certainly, these are good questions, and just as certainly I do not have the answers. However, based on my observations, I would suggest raising the age to purchase a firearm may be in order. I could not help but notice over the last week that students across the country were demanding changes to gun laws. Also, as I mentioned previously, teenagers do not object to driving restrictions, so they are likely not going to object to additional age restrictions on purchasing a firearm. Raising the age to twenty-one to purchase firearms, with an exemption for military service personnel, should not be difficult to agree to. Wal-Mart and Dick’s Sporting Goods are now requiring all purchasers of guns to be twenty-on years old.

     I know this idea will be bothersome to some, but I challenge you to do the following. The next time you are asked if you want to super-size your order by a young person at a fast-food restaurant, ask yourself if this person should be purchasing firearms. Or, when the person with the cell phone in the faded rear pocket is bagging your groceries, ask yourself if this person should be allowed to purchase a firearm. I think if you are honest with yourself, you too may question the current age restriction. After all, age is not a guarantor of maturity, but it is a guarantor of immaturity. The question is, what age?

     By way of disclaimer I should say that I have owned several guns throughout my life, and they have all exhibited a high degree of maturity and discipline. Not once have my guns slipped out under the cover of darkness and gone on a shooting spree, injured an innocent bystander, or killed a police officer.  It is just this level of maturity, discipline and responsibility that is requisite to gun ownership. After all, in his first address to Congress, George Washington said, “A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined.”

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

Replacing Blake Farenthold

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Government and Politics, Opinion/Editorial

   

Photo design by Dan Thornton

     Campaign signs are springing up along the roadways which is a clear indication that an election is coming soon. In fact, the Texas primary election will be held on March 6th. One of the most important local races will be the Republican primary to replace Blake Farenthold. Blake Farenthold is not running for re-election, and I recently suggested to a friend that Blake was not running due to a guilty conscience, but my friend quipped lawyers don’t have a conscience. That is something to think about, but in the meantime, I am thinking about the five candidates in the Republican primary. They are Michael Cloud, Christopher Mapp, Jerry Hall, John Grunwald and Bech Bruun.

     In a report for KRIS TV, The “Out-of Towners Running for Farenthold’s Old  Seat,” it was reported that three of the five candidates do not actually live in the 27th District. Bech Bruun has a vacation home in Rockport, but his permanent residence is in Austin. KRIS TV reported that Bruun has been living in his vacation home since December. John Grunwald did have a trailer in Wharton County which is in the district, but it got destroyed by a hurricane, and currently he is living in Houston. Jerry Hall has property and legal records that tie him to Florida; however, he has rented an apartment in Corpus Christi. Residing in the district is not a constitutional requirement, but it certainly is desirable.  Why else would a candidate rent an apartment or relocate to a vacation home in order to claim residency just prior to an election?

District 27 map

     There are two candidates who have permanent residences in the district. Michael Cloud owns a home and a business in Victoria, and Christopher Mapp owns a home in Port O’Connor. If the election came down to residency, the candidates would be Michael Cloud and Christopher Mapp, but that is not the case. Elections often come down to money, and the attorney Bech Bruun has attracted both money and endorsements. It now appears the election is shaping up to be a contest between Michael Cloud and Bech Bruun even though Bruun’s permanent residence is in Austin. Since the election is not going to be determined based on residency, it is important to know where the candidates stand on the issues.

     I reviewed Bech Bruun’s website looking for issue statements, but I found none. I did find endorsements on two different pages, and I found one page about the candidate. All that I was able to learn from the website was that he claims to be a conservative Republican, he is a lawyer, he has a wife and three beautiful children, and that he has worked for water development and Get-Out-the-Vote at a state level.   However, I could not determine his position on any of the key issues of our time, so I have to wonder whether he is a conservative or not. Honestly, I have to wonder, should we send yet another lawyer to Washington? Is he trying to deceive me by claiming his vacation home is his residence? Do lawyers have a conscience?

     In reviewing Michael Cloud’s website, I found that he too has a wife and three beautiful children. I also found a page of position statements that did cover the major issues of our time. I would encourage you to go to his website and read his position statements for yourself. What follows are some highlights from his website:

  • Commitment to responsible spending cuts
  • Cutting back federal regulations
  • Ensuring the military has the resources necessary to combat terrorism
  • Protecting your right to keep and bear arms
  • Repealing Obamacare
  • Providing parents greater input in educational choices for their children
  • Reforming immigration, beginning with securing the border and upholding the rule of law
  • Ensuring veterans have access to quality health care and education
  • Controlling  the EPA or other government agencies
  • Continuing to pursue energy independence
  • Standing against government attempts to discriminate against people of faith
  • Working to enact policies that recognize parental rights, respect marriage, and protect life

     Based on the information that is readily available, I would suggest that Michael Cloud is a conservative. I would encourage you to research the candidates for yourself.  You can meet Michael Cloud at the Padre Island Candidate Forum to be held at Schlitterbahn February 21st at 6:00 p.m.  Remember the election is being held on March 6th.  If you cannot do as Al Capone encouraged, “Vote early and vote often,” at least vote.

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

Truth-goggles

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial
Photo by Dan Thornton

     I am glad to have survived another year of fake news, false claims, and frustration, and to tell you the truth, it has inspired me. I believe I am on the verge of the world’s greatest invention.  When I was a child, I remember seeing advertisements in comic books for X-ray glasses.  The prospect fascinated me, and I always wanted a pair of X-ray glasses, but the $2.99 price was always out of my reach.  I must admit that I did not think it was possible to merely put on a pair of glasses and acquire X-ray vision, but the idea was very appealing.  Later in life, I learned first-hand about beer -goggles, and much to my surprise they are at times very effective and affordable.  Like many others, I have found that beer-goggles alter reality in amazing ways.  While wearing beer-goggles, I find that I am taller, more handsome, funnier, dance better, and naturally more attractive to the opposite sex.  It is a rather amazing transformation at the right price.  Some would say that it is an altered reality, and they would not be wrong.

     It is just that altered reality that has inspired my invention. What if you could put on a pair of glasses, and they would filter out the altered reality, the lies, and innuendo?  It would be like a reverse invention of beer-goggles.  Since I have not officially named my invention, for lack of anything better, I will refer to them as truth-goggles.  Imagine if you will that you put on a pair of truth-goggles, and then you peruse the New York Times or the Newsweek.  The truth-goggles will filter out the lies and misrepresentations, and all you will see are the facts.  Headlines such as “Melania Trump Orders Removal of 220-Year-Old Tree from White House,” as Newsweek reported recently will not be visible.  Instead you will see a pleasant photograph of Switzerland.  You would also see a pleasant photograph of Switzerland where TIME reported  that a bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. was removed from the Oval Office by Trump.  When watching the news on television, your screen would display beautiful photographs of Switzerland instead of the ABC News story claiming Trump ordered Michael Flynn to contact Russian officials while a candidate, or when CNN claimed Trump and Trump, Jr. were given access to Wiki Leaks documents when in fact, the documents were public information.  I am sure you are thinking that the false stories have been retracted – and they have – but not in such a way that low-information voters are aware of it because the retractions were not bold headlines on the front page, and neither were they headlines on the 6:oo o’clock news.  In fact, the retractions were published in such a way that they received very little attention;  therefore, many voters walk around believing the original fake news.

     I am sure most people believe that the elimination of fake news would be worthwhile, and moreover some would agree that an invention such as truth-goggles would be worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize like the one awarded President Obama for no apparent reason. It is certainly my belief, but I know there are some obstacles to overcome to actually get the truth.  My first thought was the use of contemporary fact-checking databases, but many of them have proven to be flawed.  I have discussed the problem with a trusted friend who suggested that I should contact Joe Friday of “Dragnet” fame, since he was interested in “just the facts.”  That of course presents a real problem since “Dragnet” was an old 1950s TV series that aired in wonderful black and white.  Many people will not remember the series and have the trust in Joe Friday that my friend has.  Even if everyone had complete trust in Joe Friday, there is still the obstacle of time travel back to the 1950s.  I thanked my friend for his input, but I have decided on another approach that does not involve time travel.

     I have decided to use artificial intelligence since the technology is readily available and can be miniaturized to fit inside my truth-goggles. The intelligence chip will only be required to do two things very well.  The intelligence chip will have to reason and absorb information instantly.  My research indicates that the absorption and reasoning process must be accomplished a mere nano-second faster than the fastest human, and of course a pleasant photograph of Switzerland will have to be selected and displayed instead of false information.  In my introductory model of truth-goggles, I anticipate using only pictures of Switzerland because all of the pictures of Switzerland are pleasant  and most are downright beautiful, so it will speed up the selection process.  As the speed of absorption and reasoning improve, I intend to offer an upgraded model of truth-goggles that will display any digital picture available.  Naturally the upgraded model will have programmable intelligence filters to assure that all displayed content will be age appropriate.

      I must admit that I can barely contain my excitement. To think that I am introducing a product that is world-changing actually boggles my mind.  There has never been a product in the history of mankind that has such profound implications.  Imagine a world without absurd advertising claims, a world without pseudo-science, a world devoid of false political claims, a world where truth prevails, and people are not continually bombarded with misinformation.  Once truth-goggles are introduced, and people begin to see only the truth, the false claims and the fake news will disappear from recorded media.  There will be no reason to publish false claims or fake news because the content will not be visible, so eventually the publisher will begin to produce the truth, and the entire system will become self-correcting.

     For the first time in the history of mankind, people will begin to learn the lessons of history because all of the gnarly, twisted misinformation embedded in historical content will not be visible. Mankind will actually understand Greek and Roman history and will learn from their mistakes.  The future of our nation and indeed the world will no longer be destined to failed systems and experiments.  The world will truly be enlightened.   The age of Aquarius will be within our reach.

       Once the initial truth-goggles are introduced, I will begin working on Phase II truth-goggles. The Phase II model will have the ability to sort out the truth in personal conversation.  The intelligence chip will have to go beyond rapid reasoning and will have to read the speaker’s mind.  As everyone well knows, mind reading requires very keen observation of gestures and expressions along with a great deal of intuitive thought.  The keen observation is the simple part and can be programmed to any artificial intelligence chip, but the intuition is a bit more complicated.  However, after the initial adoption of the Phase I truth-goggles, the intuitive programming becomes much simpler because people become accustomed to dealing in truth.  The truthful thought behind any verbal expression is very limited and can be categorized as either positive, negative or neutral.  Then it just becomes a matter of degree, and the truth can be discerned with relative certainty.  It really becomes a matter of studying the history of comments and their outcome.  It is important to keep in mind, that in any discourse,  the other party is interested in one thing above all others.  The other party always wants to know, “What is in it for me?”  Answer that question, and you can predict the thoughts.

     Perhaps an example would simplify the understanding required to read someone’s mind. Suppose you go to a car dealership to buy a car.  You find the car you want, take a test drive, and are pleased with the car.  Naturally you are thinking about the cost of the car, when the salesman asks you what you would like your monthly payment to be.  In that moment, your Phase II truth-goggles go to work, and you realize what he is really asking is “How much money can I make off of this chump?”  Realizing his thoughts, you do not take the bait, and you respond with “I will give you $28,000 for the car.”  This is not the response the salesman wanted, and he flinches noticeably.  You detect the flinch and think “I’ve got this sleazy car salesman in the corner.”  As it turns out, the car salesman has on his Phase II truth-goggles and sensing the satisfaction on your face he realizes that you think he is sleazy.  The salesman does not want to appear sleazy, so he puts on his best smile and says that he will have to talk to his sales manager.  After a brief visit with the sales manager, the salesman returns and says that he can accept your offer.  He begins immediately to complete the sales contract.  He quietly offers you the usual add-ons but is not pushy.  He accepts whatever response you give, and he completes the contract.  At this juncture you begin to think the salesman was not so much of a sleaze as you initially thought.  The salesman sensing your thoughts naturally puts on a pleasant smile and wonders if his next sale will be as easy as this one.

     As you can see from the example, Phase II truth-goggles simplified a complex transaction and left all parties satisfied. As Phase II truth-goggles are adopted and people begin to experience discourse with the new mind reading chip set, it will become second nature for people to eliminate the negative thoughts and approach every exchange with honesty and integrity.  With the elimination of negative thoughts, the Phase II truth-goggles will begin to process faster because they will only have to deal with positive or neutral thoughts.  When processing time has sufficiently decreased, I will introduce the upgraded Phase III truth-goggles that display three dimensional and holographic art.  It will truly be a beautiful world.

     While researching and discussing my project, many people have expressed an interest in investing in truth-goggles. For that reason, I have decided to crowd-source funding for the project.  This approach will allow anyone to participate and share in the eventual rewards.  It will be as though everyone has inside information and can get in on the ground-floor.  There are still a few details to work out, such as naming the product and the company, but that is the easy part.  Certainly truth will be incorporated in both the product and the company.  After all, it was Buddha who said, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”  It is with the Buddha’s thought in mind that I devised the mission statement for the company.  It will be, “Truth – to integrity and beyond.”

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

The Sociopath, the Psychopath and the Wrong Path

Front Page, Health, Human Interest, Opinion/Editorial, Science

First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs (San Antonio Current Photo, 2017)

 

 

     Shots ring out, 14 are left dead, 29 are wounded and the shooter is dead at the scene from an apparent suicide. The motive is not known, but an investigation is underway.  Stop.  Does this sound familiar?

     It sounds familiar because it is. Five of the deadliest shootings in the United States occurred in the last ten years.  In 2007, 32 were killed at Virginia Tech.  In 2012, we had the Sandy Hook massacre and 27 were killed.  In 2016, there was the Orlando night club shooting where 49 died.  In 2017, we have had the Vegas attack and the Sutherland Springs attack with a combined total of 84 dead.  Since 2007, there have been 54 mass shootings.  In the ten year period, from  1997 to 2007, there were 23 mass shootings, and from 1987 to 1997, there were 17 mass shootings.  Based on the statistics available from Mother Jones, it appears that mass shootings are on the rise, but why?

     The easy answer and indeed what appears to be the only answer is guns. Nearly every article written about mass shootings concludes that guns and assault weapons in particular are the problem.  Without guns, there would be no mass shooting; the reasoning goes, but that is like saying, “Without cars, there would be no auto accidents.  Both statements are of course true, but neither statement addresses the cause.  Cars do not cause accidents.  Careless drivers, distracted drivers, sleepy drivers, drunk drivers, and even texting drivers cause accidents, and guns do not cause mass shootings; psychopaths do.

     Most articles on mass shootings eventually get around to the psychopath behind the gun, but it is done with great reluctance, and only after guns have been sufficiently blamed. The reluctance to label a mass murderer a psychopath is somewhat understandable.  Typically a mass murderer has not been clinically diagnosed as a psychopath, and in fact, the term psychopath has fallen out of favor for a more politically correct term.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM IV) used by psychologists and psychiatrists contains a category called “antisocial personality disorder” (APD) which covers both the psychopath and the sociopath.  While it is true,  mass murderers exhibit antisocial behavior.  It seems to me that referring to their mental condition as an antisocial personality disorder is inadequate to describe the morally depraved mind of a mass murderer.  For that reason, I will use the more descriptive term psychopath.  With that said, I will attempt to shed light on  the question, why is the frequency of mass murder on the rise?

     To be accurate both the frequency and the magnitude of mass murder is increasing. The impact of advertising, the moral decay of society and drugs are perhaps three of the contributing factors.  Radio, television, and other media coverage of mass murder functions as advertising and encourages other psychopaths to act out at some future time.  Often sensational headlines glorify the killing which inspires more killings.  Headlines can also offer a challenge.  Consider this headline from CBS News, “Two of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history come just 35 days apart.” I can imagine some psychopath reading that headline and saying to himself, wait until they get a load of what I can do.  Perhaps a better headline would have been written like this, “Two low-life psychopaths dead at the scene just 35 days apart.”  Sometimes headlines convey sympathy for the psychopath like this one, “He was the loneliest kid I’d ever met.”  That was the headline for a 14-year-old that killed his algebra teacher and two classmates.  The headline might have read, “Deranged 14-year-old murders his teacher and two classmates.” Certainly news coverage of mass murder is necessary, but the media should be careful not to glorify or sympathize with the psychopath and cover mass murder with an awareness that coverage can advertise.

     Acting out in our contemporary society appears to be the norm. It matters not whether you are taking a knee during the National Anthem, creating riots in the streets, or merely changing your gender.  Acting out is trendy and cool and is usually encouraged in the media.  However, being trendy and cool is merely symptomatic of changing values or moral decay in society.  As values change, actions that were once forbidden by society are now permitted.  The more values change, the more permissive society becomes until you reach the point that psychopaths feel it is okay to act out their macabre fantasies.  It is my belief that as values continue to be eroded, mass murders will continue to rise as they have in recent years.

     This notion is borne out by the immanent Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung.  In Carl Jung’s The Undiscovered Self, Jung mentions an  element of latent sociopathy and psychopathy within any given culture.  Perhaps 10 percent of a society is composed of latent sociopaths and psychopaths, and 1 percent or less represents actual sociopaths/psychopaths. Most of the latent people will never become dangerous if they are living within a culture that is healthy and morally balanced.  In fact, those with inherent psychopathic traits can become very high functioning members of society who excel at careers in business, government, and the arts.  However, in the event values continue to erode, latent sociopaths/psychopaths have the potential to become active sociopaths/psychopaths and act out as they see fit.  It is a disturbing prospect to consider that the mentally disturbed 1 percent could evolve into 10 percent.

Website Graphs - Violence
Note: The FDA estimates that less than 1% of all serious events are ever reported to it, so the actual number of side effects occurring are most certainly higher. (CCHR International Mental Health Watchdog)

     If the prospect of a growing number of psychopaths is not disturbing enough, then consider that the problem is compounded by the use of pharmaceutical drugs. Most readers will have seen more than one commercial for a drug with side effects including suicide and violent behavior.  If you doubt the truth of this, then pay attention to the next Chantix commercial you see.  Chantix is administered to smokers to help curb cigarette cravings, but it is 18 times more likely to be linked to violent behavior than other drugs. Even more interesting is the unadvertised psychotropic drugs administered to children.  Today more than 10 million children are prescribed addictive psychotropic drugs with the warning the drugs can cause suicide in children and adolescents.  In fact, according to the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System, the following drugs are linked to violence:  Pristiq, Effexor, Luvox, Halcion, Strattera, Lariam, Paxil, Prozac and Chantix.  Most of the drugs are antidepressants and are often prescribed for the treatment of ADHD in children.  It is probably just me, but it seems we are taking the wrong path when we give children with mental problems a drug that will increase the likelihood of suicide and violence.  I am not aware of any studies that link pharmaceutical drugs to mass murder, but it is interesting to note that Stephen Paddock, Devin Patrick Kelley, and Dylann Roof all had mind altering prescription drugs prior to their killing spree.  Perhaps we are no nearer to answering the question, which came first the drugs or the psychopath?  But should we deny the connection?

     We can continue to blame guns for mass shootings because it is easy, and it fits a political agenda. However, if we want to know the cause of mass shootings we need to look elsewhere. After all, “The wise man doesn’t give the right answers, he poses the right questions,”  according to Claude Levi-Strauss.

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

Conflicts and Consternation

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

     

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

     If you do not take it too seriously, conflict can be amusing. Consider the NFL, ‘Neeling Football League, for example.  Yes, I know that I omitted the silent k, but what the heck, the k is silent.  In recent weeks, the NFL has claimed that it supports the players’ rights to free speech (kneeling during the National Anthem).  It was not that long ago when the Dallas Cowboys wanted to wear stickers on their helmets in honor of six policemen who were murdered in Dallas, but as I recall the NFL, National Football Liars, denied them their right to free speech.  They were to remain as silent as the k in kneeling.  Amusing, isn’t it?

    President Trump voiced his concern about players kneeling during the National Anthem, and as far as I can tell, he disapproves of kneeling. I am amused by the fact that his predecessor, President Bill Clinton, approved of kneeling.

     It has not been widely publicized, but women’s rights recently took a huge leap forward. Saudi Arabia’s king proclaimed that Saudi women now have the right to drive.  However, it is not clear whether a Saudi husband can still use an honor killing as a way to suppress his wife’s right to drive.  The conflict is obvious – if not so amusing.  We will have to wait for a clarification from the Saudi king.

     Michelle Obama clarified the official position of women when she whined that women voted against their own voice when they didn’t vote for Hillary. Surely she was not addressing “the deplorables.”

    The deplorables have enough problems with their elected representatives. Despite controlling the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the Presidency, the Republicans have failed to repeal Obamacare, build the wall,  or scuttle the Iran deal.  Now they are promising to fail at tax reform.  It should be obvious the majority of the Republicans love Obamacare and the Iran deal, but they do not love the wall.

   Speaking of love, Hugh Hefner recently passed away, and the outpouring of condolences was incredible. Funny, but most of the condolences came from people who oppose sexism.  Hugh will be missed.

     Speaking of missed, perhaps you missed the special report on the Antioch, Tennessee, church shooting. A Sudanese immigrant, Emanuel Kidega Samson, shot seven people and killed one of the seven. It is not clear if he was a Dreamer.  His motive was reportedly revenge for Dylan Roof’s church shooting in  Charleston, South Carolina.  The Charleston shooting occurred in 2015, and Dylan Roof has been sentenced to death.  We will have to wait and see if Emmanuel Kidega Samson gets a death sentence.

     It is difficult to discuss conflicts in contemporary society without mentioning racism, but what I find to be rich is the racist groups NAACP and La Raza calling anyone racist, but they do. In fact, the term racism has seen such extraordinary use that it is now a cliché and very much like “crying wolf.”

    Finally, I come to the fascist group called ANTIFA. Oddly enough, ANTIFA is derived from the term anti-fascist.  Apparently they are the hooded domestic terrorist group chosen by the Democrats to replace their other hooded terrorist group the KKK.  They believe violence is the answer to free speech.

    The irony of conflict is perverse in contemporary society but sometimes overlooked because of the mundane nature of the event. At other times it is glaring and cannot be overlooked.  Regardless of the magnitude, it was put in perspective by Blaise Pascal who said, “Small minds are concerned with the extraordinary, great minds with the ordinary.”

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

On Comparing an Ocean to a Teardrop

Front Page, Human Interest, Outdoors, Travel
Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

 

     For those interested in folklore and mythology, there are volumes of material surrounding the occurrence of solar eclipses. When viewed through the spectacles of modern science, the mythology and folklore appear quaint or even laughable.  For example, who would believe that a giant wolf took a bite out of the sun?  In Norse culture, an evil enchanter, Loki, was put into chains by the gods. Loki got revenge by creating wolf-like giants, one of which swallowed the Sun and caused a solar eclipse.

     In India and Armenia, a dragon swallowed the sun, while Chippewa people shot flaming arrows into the air trying to reignite the sun. In Siberia, China, and Mongolia, it was believed that beheaded mythical characters chased and swallowed the sun.  In Columbia, natives shouted to the heavens and promised to mend their ways, apparently believing their bad behavior caused the solar eclipse. In Transylvania, an angry sun turned away and covered herself with darkness because of the bad behavior of men.  However, other cultures took a different view of solar eclipses and found them to be romantic.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     In a Tahitian myth, the moon and sun are lovers who joined up and caused an eclipse. The West Africans believed when the sun and moon got together, they turned off the light for privacy.  In German mythology, the sun and moon were married.  Seeking companionship, the moon was drawn to his bride, and they came together creating a solar eclipse.  To the Australian Aborigines, the sun was seen as a woman who carries a torch. The moon, was regarded as a man.  A solar eclipse was interpreted as the moon uniting with the sun.  Certainly, the romantic view comes closer to the truth in describing a solar eclipse.  It definitely is the relationship between the sun and the moon, and ancient astronomers and astrologers have been studying and predicting the event for eons.

     Ancient observations of solar eclipses can be traced back to at least 2500 BC in China and Babylon.  By 2300 BC, ancient Chinese astrologers believed a total solar eclipse was a major element of forecasting the future health and successes of the emperor.  Similar records can be found for the early Greeks.  Unfortunately, ancient Egyptian records have been destroyed as well as ancient Mayan records, but other evidence such as the Mayan calendar suggests they had an informed knowledge of solar eclipses.  Given the frequency of solar eclipses, which occur 75 out of 100 years, it understandable that they have been the subject of interest and study for ages, and the interest continues to this day.

Photo by Dan Thornton, 2012

     Our most recent solar eclipse occurred on August 21, 2017, and could be seen across the entire United States. It was widely reported in the news, and eclipse viewing glasses were being sold at Lowe’s, Walmart, and other retailers including Amazon.  On Wednesday before the big event, I began looking for eclipse viewing glasses.  I went to Lowe’s, but they were sold out.  However, I found solar viewing glasses in Walmart’s optical department.  I bought several pair and returned home.  I tested my glasses by looking into the sun; they worked well.  Pleased at my purchase, I sat outside on the patio to contemplate the event.  I had seen a partial eclipse five years earlier, and I had taken several photos that were good enough but not great.  As I anticipated photographing the current eclipse, the lyrics to You’re So Vain” kept running through my head, particularly the line, “Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun.” Carly Simon’s line would not go away, and I began to think about the possibility of seeing the total eclipse, not the partial eclipse I had seen before.

     I went to bed thinking I would not have to fly to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse. I could drive to Kansas or Kentucky and witness it firsthand. “It is not that far,” I thought. “I can drive it easily.”  After a restless night, the thought of a total solar eclipse grew larger in my mind and plagued my thoughts at every turn. I did not like the idea of photographing a partial eclipse, but I decided to buy a solar filter for my camera lens, so that I could. To my surprise, no online vendor had the filter I needed. Frustrated, I settled for a neutral density filter that I knew was not dark enough, but it might get me by in a pinch. Also, I thought if I could only see the total eclipse, I would not need a filter. The darkened sun does not require a filter to photograph it, and the darkened sun can be safely viewed with the naked eye. As Carly Simon sang softly in my ear, I imagined what it would be like. Twilight, then darkness, then twilight again, and it would happen in a matter of minutes. It would be fascinating – a thing to remember for a lifetime, and it was all going to happen within driving distance.

     It is a fine thing to allow your imagination to run wild, but at some point you have to face practical matters, and from a practical viewpoint driving 1,000 miles, more or less, to watch the sun for two minutes and thirty seconds seemed a bit impractical even to me. Also, there would be a long 1,000 mile, more or less, drive home. For the rest of the day, I toyed with the idea off and on – imagining the exhilaration and dreading the drive. Honestly, I thought my idea was a bit over the top, and I had not mentioned it to anyone. In a way, I feared the response I was sure to get, but it really is a fine thing to allow your imagination to run wild.

     I was sitting on the patio with my wife as the sun set, and without hesitation, I suggested we should go see the total eclipse ourselves. After all, it is a chance of a lifetime I argued, and it is not that far. We could drive it easily in a day I said to her. And I went on with whatever I thought might be a selling point. When I finally quit talking, she asked, “How far is it? How long will it take? Where will we stay?” I did not have all the answers, but she had not said no, so I continued with the chance-of-a-lifetime argument. “Kind of like seeing Haley’s comet,” I said, which we had seen several years before and found it to be a disappointment. “Can you imagine it turning dark in the middle of the day? Will roosters really crow? Will it be noticeably cooler?” I questioned? Finally she said we could go, but we needed a plan. After studying the map I suggested Kentucky because it had the longest viewing time and was about the same distance as Kansas. She immediately began to look for rooms for Sunday night, but none was available near Hopkinsville, our intended destination. Finally, she found a room in Dyersburg, Kentucky; we booked it. I was elated, but the planning had just begun.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     I intended to leave Sunday morning and drive straight to Kentucky, but that plan needed approval which was not forthcoming. Instead, I compromised and left Saturday afternoon. This was not my idea of a good plan, but we were going, and that is all that mattered. We spent the night in Texarkana and arrived in Dyersburg early Sunday. Dyersburg is a small agricultural community where cotton is still king, and it is about a two hour drive to Hopkinsville. By the time we reached Dyersburg, we had decided that Hopkinsville was not our destination. The enterprising residents of Hopkinsville were renting 64 square feet of their lawns to eclipse viewers, and people from all over the world were descending on Hopkinsville. There were estimates of 75,000 visitors and upwards in a town of around 31,000 inhabitants. It was not that appealing, so we decided to view the eclipse from the Walmart parking lot in Benton, Kentucky. It was a pretty good plan.  When we got on the road to Benton Monday morning, there was very little traffic, so we decided to go even closer to Hopkinsville. We would go to Eddyville and view the eclipse from the Walmart parking lot in Eddyville. While in route, my wife noticed a state park on the map just outside of Eddyville, so we decided to investigate the park. When we arrived at the park, we found a large parking lot at the visitor center, but it was filling up fast. We found a vacant spot and parked. This was our destination!  It was about 10:00 a.m., and we had arrived.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     I unpacked the lawn chairs and the ice chest and set up the umbrella. It was about 98 degrees with clear skies. It was a perfect day for an eclipse, and eager eclipse viewers in the park were trying out their glasses and staring at the sun. Some were holding glasses in front of their cell phones and taking pictures. A quick glance around the parking lot revealed the license plates, and they were from all over the country. The atmosphere was festive and friendly with people sharing stories of their travels. One person I met from Annapolis, Maryland, had first gone to St. Louis to view the eclipse but decided there were too many clouds in St. Louis and had just driven to Kentucky this morning. Others had planned their travel months in advance and purposely selected the state park we were in. I did not bother to tell them that we had stopped on our way to Walmart. We were in Land Between the Lakes Park on the Kentucky side. The park is shared by Kentucky and Tennessee and can be entered from either state.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     The eclipse had started, but the total eclipse would not occur until 1:30 pm. Periodically I put on my glasses to monitor the progress. I am happy to report that a giant wolf was indeed biting off huge chunks of the sun. It was disappearing in steady increments, and I took a few photos of the progress. It was blinding looking through a telephoto camera lens at the sun – even with my darkest neutral density filter. I would only glimpse at the sun and release the shutter blindly. The twilight had begun, and it produced an eerie, greenish light. I tried to photograph the twilight, but the photos are a poor representation of reality, as is often the case with photography. The camera lacks the nuanced sophistication of the human eye.

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017
Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

     The park was now almost silent as onlookers anticipated the coming event. As a small cloud approached the sun and threatened to block our view, the silence was broken by sighs of disappointment. The silence returned as the cloud passed from view. Only moments before the total eclipse, yet another cloud passed in front of the sun and the sighs were louder, but it too quickly passed away, and applause replaced the sighs. It was now dark, and stars twinkled in the sky. The total eclipse had arrived, and the corona was readily visible at the edge of the darkened sun. Cameras were snapping away rapidly, and dogs began to bark and howl. The cameras were being triggered by humans, but only Heaven knows what triggered the dogs. In two minutes and thirty seconds the sun was returning, and twilight was reversing. The temperature now hovered at 83 degrees, and it was over. In my life’s history, I have no other frame of reference for comparison. It is perhaps as Wendy Mass has said, “Comparing what you see during an eclipse to the darkness at night is like comparing an ocean to a teardrop.” To me, it was simply euphoric.

 

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

Negotiating Healthcare with Leverage

Front Page, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

     

Creative Commons photo

 

     In a recent tweet, President Trump said, “If ObamaCare is hurting people, & it is, why shouldn’t it hurt the insurance companies & why should Congress not be paying what public pays?” Good question: Why, indeed?

     Under Obamacare’s regulation, medical costs have risen sharply, and insurance companies have been subsidized by government to offset the rising cost. Even with the government subsidy, insurance companies have been leaving the Obamacare exchanges. Eliminating the insurance subsidy would certainly hurt the insurance companies, but it would also hurt the people they serve. Therefore, hurting the insurance companies seems unlikely, but why should Congress not pay what the citizens pay?

     The short answer was provided by George Orwell more than seventy years ago in his book Animal Farm. A sign was posted that said, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Congress believes they are more equal than the people they are supposed to serve. Congress believes it is above the law. It is that simple, but is it legal?

     In 2013, Obama allowed Congress to classify themselves as a small business, making them eligible for the small business exchange, where they receive an employer contribution through the Office of Personnel Management. This has often been referred to as the Congressional exemption to Obamacare. Clearly this exemption is unconstitutional because Congress is not a small business, and Congress did not appropriate funding for their subsidy from the Office of Personnel Management. Without the small business classification, Congress would have been directed onto the individual exchange which prohibits an employer contribution. More importantly Congress would have had to pay for their insurance like everyone else. There would have been no taxpayer subsidy for Congress.

     To qualify as a small business under Obamacare, an employer must have less than fifty employees. Congress has thousands of employees so the entire scam is based on fraud. Clearly President Trump could end the scam by instructing the Office of Personnel Management to eliminate the employer contribution for Congress. Taking such action would provide an incentive for Congress to address healthcare honestly and would be a move in the right direction with regards to “draining the swamp.”

     It remains to be seen if President Trump will take this action, but mentioning it has caused considerable discussion in Congress. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy used twitter to respond, “This is a clear threat to Congress: pass my health bill or as punishment I will end health care for you, your staff, & your constituents,” Murphy tweeted. Of course, Murphy is lying. There was no threat to end his healthcare. The threat was to make him pay for it. Murphy added moments after, “I would argue this is a very serious moment. President making personal threats to us and our constituents if we don’t pass his bill.” Clearly Senator Murphy does not understand President Trump’s use of leverage. Perhaps President Trump should have responded, “It is not a threat; it is a promise.”

     Not all responses were negative. Representative Ron DeSantis said, “I think the president would be absolutely within his rights to cancel the Obama rule (congressional exemption) that conferred this subsidy on Congress.” DeSantis also said killing the exemption would give lawmakers an incentive to get a health care plan approved. DeSantis is not alone.  Several Republicans have been criticizing the provision for years.

Congressman Ron Desantis  (Creative Commons photo)

     From the lack of congressional action on healthcare, it should be clear that Congress has no intention of repealing Obamacare even though they have been promising to do so for seven years. However, President Trump appears to be sincere in his desire to resolve the issue and has not given up despite having to deal with the pathetically inept and deceitful Congress. Congress would like to move on to tax reform, but President Trump has not finished negotiating on healthcare. In fact, the White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said, “The president will not accept those who said it is, quote, time to move on.”

Creative Commons Photo

     The President has a leverage in the congressional exemption for Obamacare, and he is not likely to give it up easily. Consider this quote from President Trump’s book The Art of the Deal. “The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead. The best thing you can do is deal from strength, and leverage is the biggest strength you can have. Leverage is having something the other guy wants. Or better yet, needs. Or best of all, simply can’t do without.” Congress wants the Obamacare exemption but President Trump controls it.

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

Barbecue, Bonfires and Balderdash

Front Page, History, Opinion/Editorial

     Summer has arrived in South Texas, and if it wasn’t for the heat and humidity, it would be the best season of the year.  The long summer days provide ample time for outdoor activities such as fishing, baseball, swimming and of course, celebrating Independence Day.  As I write, I can almost smell the smoke of barbecue pits and hear the sounds of fireworks.  Flags are being removed from closets and are unfurled on lawns, in gardens, and along the beach shore.  It is a glorious day for our nation and our people, and it is a day worthy of the greatest celebration of the year.  John Adams, one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, wrote to his wife, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” However, John Adams was referring to July second because this was the day the Continental Congress approved a resolution of independence declaring the United States independent of Great Britain.  July 4th was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed; however, not everyone signed on that day.  The last person to sign the Declaration of Independence was Matthew Thornton, and he signed on November 4th of 1776.

     While John Adams was wrong about the date, he was certainly right about the celebration.  Independence Day has been celebrated annually since 1776.  In the New England states, it was the custom to begin the celebration on July 3rd with a bonfire, and towns competed to have the largest bonfire.  The largest bonfire recorded was made from wooden barrels that were stacked in a pyramid shape that was forty barrels high.  The custom is still practiced in some New England towns today.  In 1778, General George Washington marked July 4th with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute.  In 1781 Massachusetts became the first state to recognize Independence Day as a state celebration.  In 1870 the U. S. Congress made independence day a federal holiday for employees.  Today the celebration continues with picnics, barbecues, parades, fireworks, patriotic displays and of course, a big sale down at the Walmart.  And naturally politicians want to get in on the celebration and can often be found on Independence Day delivering political speeches filled with nonsensical rhetoric and balderdash.

     With all of the celebration, it is sometimes difficult to understand the significance of Independence Day or the Declaration of Independence.  However, in the preamble to the declaration, we find these words.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is one of the best known sentences in the English language and has influenced many other nations declaring independence.  The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen is one noteworthy example, but it has been used with variation by many other nations including Venezuela, Liberia, Viet Nam, Haiti, New Grenada, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Rhodesia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, New Zealand, and others.  Despite the influence our declaration had on the world, it was our independence that was important, and it is our independence and our birth as a nation we celebrate.

     Too often our Independence Day is referred to as the Fourth of July or simply July 4th.  I think this diminishes the significance and causes confusion especially to younger people who are not well versed in history.  I am reminded of the college student who saw the Declaration of Independence for the first time and remarked, “How cool is that?  They signed it on the Fourth of July,”  Make sense of that if you can.

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.

Nightmares on our Streets, or How to Bring Traffic to a Standstill

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial, Travel

     

     Traffic engineering in simple terms provides for the safe and efficient flow of traffic on roadways.  At best, it is an imperfect system, and at worst, it can be a nightmare.  Most drivers experience traffic delays due to road maintenance, accidents, or severe delays or stoppage due to poor design coupled with congestion.  This can often be experienced on the IH-35 corridor between San Antonio and Austin.  Poorly designed interchanges and freeway entrances and exits are the major cause for delay along our Interstate Highway System.  Poorly placed traffic lights, intersection design and location, poorly maintained roads, as well as speed bumps cause problems on local roadways.

     Despite congestion around major cities and a few design flaws, our Interstate Highway System is a marvel. This 47,856-mile network of roads was established in 1956 by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower who had experienced travel on the Reichsautobahn in Germany is credited with the championing and the creation of the Interstate.  It was – and is – quite an accomplishment when compared to such modern legislative marvels as Obamacare.  The Interstate took 35 years to complete at a cost of $114 billion with more than 1,300 miles per year being completed.  It kind of makes you wonder why contemporary road construction is so slow.  About 70 percent of the funding for the Interstate is paid for through federal and state fuel taxes and is supplemented to a lesser extent by toll roads. Toll roads are advantageous because the people using the road pay for it.  One example is the Kansas Turnpike which is integrated with IH- 35.  The Kansas Turnpike is a 236-mile toll road that was completed in 1956 after two years of construction.  Nearly 120,000 drivers use the road daily, and it derives its entire funding from collected tolls.  No tax money is used for administration or maintenance.  Truly a modern marvel.

Crossing the causeway in 1950
Crossing the causeway in 2017

     Our Interstate Highway System was declared complete in October of 1992, but plans for expansion continue.  One expansion was initiated to facilitate trade with Canada and Mexico.  This expansion was spurred by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which became effective in January 1994.  The proposed highway, IH-69, is supposed to connect Tamaulipas, Mexico, to Ontario, Canada.  It has been 23 years since this began, and little construction has been completed.  A lack of funding is the largest contributory factor, so I would suggest that Canada and Mexico should pay for it since they are the biggest beneficiaries.  However, Mexico should only pay its portion after it pays for The Wall.

     While our Interstate Highway System is a marvel, local roads are often poorly maintained, and at times you have to wonder about the quality of traffic engineering.  I suspect that on a local level political pressure has too great of an influence on traffic engineering.  For example, speed bumps have become the norm on many residential streets.  Presumably they are built to slow down traffic, but the poor condition of many residential streets forces the traffic to slow down without speed bumps, and speed bumps merely aggravate the problem.  The speed limit on residential streets is 30 miles per hour, but speed bumps force you to drive at around 10 miles per hour, so is this good traffic engineering?  If the desired residential speed limit is ten miles per hour, then post a sign that says ten miles per hour and eliminate the speed bumps.  In some cases, the speed bumps are too high, so they should be called speed mountains.  This is evidenced by the scarring on the speed mountains caused by cars dragging their undercarriage over the mountain.   It would seem that local traffic engineering prefers to sacrifice the efficient travel of the many  for the benefit of the few.

     Traffic light placement and timing are critical to efficient travel, and many of the newer light systems are using advanced technology to help the flow of traffic.  The new light systems using artificial intelligence are sometimes referred to as smart lights.  The new traffic light located on Park Road 22 at Aquarius Street is one type of smart light called Advance Warning for End of Green System (AWEGS). This lighting system provides advanced notice to motorist approaching the traffic signal to stop, kind of like the old sign that said “traffic signal ahead.” Advance warning signs are generally believed to be most effective at intersections hidden from the view of approaching traffic and on highways where traffic signals are least expected. In other words, they are believed to be effective in locations where a traffic light should not be located. The AWEG System is effective at reducing the number of motorists running the red light, which has been demonstrated at installations in College Station, Brenham, and other locations around the state. The system works best when traffic volumes are under 15,000 motorists daily. When traffic volumes are greater than 15,000, traffic backs up, and the advanced warning system is less effective. Many motorist have already experienced the delays on Park Road 22 during spring break and Memorial Day weekend. Motorists should expect more delays with the upcoming Independence Day holiday. It seems a smart light cannot overcome a dumb location.

     Other than the frustration of traffic delays, there are real costs. Texas A&M Transportation Institute reported that traffic delays due to congestion caused drivers to waste more than three billion gallons of fuel and kept travelers stuck in their car for nearly seven billion extra hours in 2015. The total cost nationwide was $160 billion. I suppose that if you are in the energy business, traffic congestion might be a good thing, but if you are a frustrated motorist trying to get home, there is no good side to traffic congestion. Either way it is comforting to know our traffic engineers are doing their part to increase congestion and bring travel to a standstill. After all, as American humorist, Evan Esar put it:  “The car was invented as a convenient place to sit out traffic jams.”

 

Until next time…

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A citizen of the United States of America, a Texan and a resident of Flour Bluff, Dan Thornton, values enlightened reason and freedom. Dan is a lifelong student of history and philosophy, and a writer of poetry and song. The hallmark of his pursuit is a quest for universal truth. By admission, the answer is illusive, but he is undaunted, and the quest continues.