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…

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.

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Flour Bluff Athletic Hall of Fame Announces 2017 Inductees

Flour Bluff, Front Page, Human Interest

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

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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…

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.

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In Pursuit of Perfection

Flour Bluff, Human Interest, Opinion/Editorial

     In a recent episode of 60 Minutes, I sat in awe of a young, Japanese baseball player named Shohei Otani.  He is quickly becoming “the man” in the baseball world with his ability to pitch and hit better than – well – just about anybody.  At the young age of 22, he is one of those people who shows us where a strong work ethic can lead.

     “I’m not perfect!” is often the expression of the disappointed child – or adult – who fails at something in life.  To say these words is not the sin; to live them is.  If this utterance pushes a person to overcome the failure, then all is not lost.  If it is offered as an excuse, then the game is over.  The results of failing to pursue perfection are devastating to the individual and ultimately to the whole of mankind.

     Jesus boldly said to a group of imperfect, downtrodden people, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  In days gone by, even people who rarely attended church had a few tidbits of biblical wisdom to toss out when faced with the challenge of instilling a strong work ethic into a child. Jesus speaks these words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, what E. Stanley Jones, a 20th-century Methodist Christian missionary and theologian, wrote is not a sermon at all.  “It is a portrait of Jesus himself, and of the Father and of the man-to-be,” he explains in the opening paragraph of The Christ of the Mount:  A Working Philosophy of Life.  He tells the reader that Jesus is defining perfection as God defines perfection and that seeking perfection should be at the heart of all we do.

     On October 26, 1967, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. put shared this same philosophy for living a perfect life with a group of junior high students in a speech he entitled, “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?”:

     “And when you discover what you will be in your life, set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment in history to do it. Don’t just set out to do a good job. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.  If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.”

Seated Nancy Busby, c. 1971
Coach Nancy Busby, third from left on second row, c. 1980

    “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work,” said Aristotle.  Coach Vince Lombardi said that when we chase perfection, we catch excellence.  People who passionately pursue perfection show us what it means to live an excellent life.  These people, whose lives inspire greatness in others, are not always world-renowned.  However, they do have certain qualities that are worth noting and emulating, as is the case with a Flour Bluff Junior High coach, Nancy Busby, who recently retired after coaching girls basketball, volleyball, and track for 43 years.  Those who know her, have worked with her, and have been coached by her will say that she, like Otani, has chosen to use the gifts and talents that lie within her.   Imagine how the world would look if everyone possessed the qualities that really made Coach Busby great.  People such as she…

  • Know their work matters and see it as a form of worship to the One who blessed them with their special abilities;
  • Make what they do look so easy that the rest of us are certain we can do it, too;
  • Exude childlike joy when they are working and consider service to others the highest of honors;
  • Always take their work home – in mind, body, or spirit – because it is an integral part of who they are;
  • Face their failures and use them to hone their skills;
  • Identify problems then set out to solve them by respectfully tapping into the experience and wisdom of masters in their field;
  • Take the time to mentor newcomers, teaching what they know and applauding the efforts of the apprentice along the way;
  • Hold themselves – and others – to a higher expectation;
  • Despise the words: “That’s not my job”, “That’s good enough”, or “That’s close enough;”
  • Take up their swords of knowledge and experience to fight courageously against mediocrity – every day;
  • Have a “heaven on earth” attitude, seeking perfection in all that they do;
  • Never retire from their calling. They simply expand their service area, using their gifts and talents in other arenas;
  • Are not forgotten because their good works are forever intertwined in the history of the workplace and in the hearts of those they have served along the way.

     We should always be thankful for those who set the “gold standard” and become examples of excellence.  God has blessed our world with them, and they have honored God by answering His call and using the gifts and talents with which they have been blessed, something we should all do. When human beings strive for perfection, we experience a little heaven right here on earth.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

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The Constable’s Corner: What Does COP Mean?

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Human Interest, Law Enforcement

     Several popular etymologies for cop exist for this word now commonly used for policeman.  One offers it up as an acronym standing for “Constable on Patrol” or “Chief of Police.”  Another states that the first police officers in London (or perhaps another city–it varies in the telling) had copper buttons on their uniforms.  Still, another source asserts copper badges, not copper buttons, gave them the name.  Some of the first New York City police officers reportedly wore badges made from copper.  The most common stories trace cop or copper to the copper buttons or copper police badges.

     The police “sense” of the terms probably originates from the Latin word capere, meaning, “to seize,” which also gave us capture.  Cop as a slang term, meaning “to catch, snatch, or grab” appeared in English in the 18th century.  Ironically, it was originally used among thieves; a copper was a street thief.  By the middle of the 19th century, criminals apprehended by the police were said to have themselves been copped, caught by the coppers or cops.  And there you have the etymology of cop.  “Case closed,” as the cops say.

     Or, is it?  Lexicographers and etymologists have long disputed the actual origin of the verb copper.  It either derives from the Dutch kapen, meaning “to take” or from the Old Frisian capia, meaning, “to buy.”  It may even derive from the French caper, meaning “to take”, which also comes from the Latin capere.

     To make matters even more complicated, the acronym COP has many meanings, most of which are unrelated to law enforcement. Following are just a few:  COP Copper; COP Chief Of Police; COP College of Pharmacy (Xavier University of Louisiana); COP Coefficient Of Performance; COP Code of Practice; COP Coil on Plug (automotive ignition); COP Court of Protection (UK); COP Cost of Production (agriculture); COP Citizens On Patrol; COP ConocoPhillips (stock symbol); COP Chief of Party (various locations); COP Canada Olympic Park; COP Congressional Oversight Panel (US Senate).

     For me, I’m somewhat partial to Constable on Patrol.  It has been said that the Constables back in jolly ol’ England went to the livery stable and checked out a horse, lantern, and night stick. In a record book, they would write “constable on patrol” and record the time they went to work. Like so many others, I was told that eventually someone got tired of writing all of this and shortened the entry to COP and then entered the time.  We may never really get to close the case on the origin of this little word.

Semper Fi,

Constable Clark, your Constable on Patrol

Learn all about your constable by going to his new web site: ConstableMitchellClark.net

 

Constable Clark is the duly elected official for the Pct. 2 Constable’s Office. He has been involved in the Nueces County Constable operations since 1981 and holds a Masters Peace Officers license from the State of Texas. He is a licensed attorney in Texas and Tennessee and in the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a former Marine with assignments as a military policeman with a specialty in corrections and as highly prestigious Marine Corps Drill Instructor @ MCRD San Diego. Constable Clark knows the law.

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Baby Blues

Front Page, Human Interest, Opinion/Editorial, Science

 

     Prior to World War II if you mentioned “baby blues”, it would have been understood that you were referring to eye color. Now, a reference to “baby blues” might refer to the feelings of depression experienced by some mothers following childbirth.  This is especially true following the birth of the second set of twins or triplets.  However, I am referring to the blue eye color and the variants green and hazel.  Most babies of European decent are born with blue eyes giving rise to the expression “baby blues.”

     As it turns out, a baby’s blue eyes might change color during the first year and the eye color could change to green, hazel or even brown.  It is worth noting that no human eye has blue pigment.  The only pigment in human eyes  is brown (melanin).  Blue eye color is caused by a lesser amount of the brown pigment required to produce brown eyes.  Eye color is actually determined by the way light waves are reflected back out of the eye in much the same way as the sky is colored blue. Brown eyes result from high concentrations of brown pigment in the iris which causes light of both shorter and longer wavelengths to be absorbed.  In blue-eyed people, the shorter wavelength light is reflected back resulting in the blue color.

 

     Blue eyes occur in all parts of the globe, but brown eyes make up 75-90% of the world’s eye color, and it is believed that all humans had brown eyes up until ten thousand years ago.  It is also believed that blue eyes are the result of the mutation of a single individual in Europe which led to the development of blue eyes according to the theory of Hans Eiberg, associate professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Copenhagen.  It should be noted that  professor Eiberg’s theory fails to explain how a single individual was able to spread his eye color throughout the world population.   Blue eyes are common in northern and eastern Europe around the Baltic Sea, and DNA studies on ancient human remains confirm light eyes were present tens of thousands of years ago in Neanderthals, who lived in Eurasia for 500,000 years.  Currently the earliest blue-eyed remains of Homo Sapiens were found in Sweden and  were 7,700 years old.

     According to Brandon Gaille’s market based research, the percentage of the population with blue eyes of the United States is on the decline and now stands at 17% while worldwide blue eyes are 8% of the population.  However, in Finland and Estonia, 89% of their population has blue eyes.  In Ireland,  57% of the population has blue eyes, and 29% of the population has green eyes.  In Iceland 89% of women and 87% of men have either blue or green eye color, but  a study of Icelandic and Dutch adults found green eyes are much more prevalent among women.  Worldwide green is the rarest of eye colors and occurs in 1-2 % of the population.

     As a disclaimer, I should say that the numbers used  in eye color worldwide varies greatly depending on the source.  Apparently eye color distribution has not been well studied, but the study of eye color over all has led to some interesting findings.  Brown eye color has been associated with lower pain tolerance, increased sensitivity  to alcohol, lower sensitivity to bright light, lower night vision, and quicker reaction time.  Exploratory research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh  with 58 healthy pregnant women determined that women with blue or green eyes had a higher threshold for pain compared to their brown-eyed counterparts before and after labor.  The research team of the department of psychology at Georgia State University found that blue-eyed subjects were less sensitive to alcohol and therefore consumed significantly more alcohol  than brown-eyed subjects. They concluded that the greater sensitivity to alcohol in brown-eyed people resulted in reduced alcohol  addiction.  The study concluded that blue-eyed people are more likely to abuse alcohol than brown-eyed people.  This lends credibility to the old Western movie notion that you should not give “fire water”  to “red men.”

     Melanin is thought to protect the eye by absorbing light. Therefore brown-eyed people have more melanin and are less sensitive to bright light than blue-eyed people.  On the other hand, blue-eyed people are more sensitive to light and more prone to macular degeneration.  So, as ZZ Top would say, “Get yourself a pair of cheap sunglasses.”  People with blue eyes have a better night vision than those with dark-colored eyes.  From an evolutionary standpoint it  seems to make sense. Since  blue-eyed people evolved in the northern  part of the  world,  where there are long dark winter nights.  It is believed that blue eyes help man navigate their dark domain.  Apparently evolution did not work the same for the Inuit or Sami Laplanders herding reindeer. A study by the University of Louisville found that brown-eyed subjects had better reaction time and motor skills when performing tasks such as hitting a ball or boxing.  It should come as no surprise that the baseball legend Babe Ruth used a Louisville Slugger and was brown-eyed.  The study found blue-eyed subjects were better at tasks such as bowling and golf.  This could explain why golf was developed in Scotland.

     While the study of eye color has produced some unusual findings, it is interesting to consider that all blue-eyed people could trace their ancestry  to a single individual with a mutated gene meaning that all blue-eyed people are related.  Since this is not yet settled science it could well be that blue eyes are the result of visit by a blue-eyed extra terrestrial in our ancient past.  Either way eyes are fascinating and blue eyes, well they are captivating, but it is the vision that matters, and “Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye,” according to H. Jackson Brown. Jr.

 

Until next time…

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.

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Stories of Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was (#4)

Flour Bluff, Human Interest, Local history

     Three weeks ago the Blue Angels blew into the Bluff like a band of barnstormers.  In the days prior to the big event, they roared through the skies leaving jet streams to alert all of us on the ground that they had arrived and that the air show had come to town.  Oh, how those Angels made everyone jump as they appeared out of nowhere, dropped us to our knees, and zipped across the sky in their shiny F/A 18 Hornets.  Then, the day before the event, these rock star pilots swept into Veterans Memorial High School where they wowed the crowd, signed autographs, and left the children knowing that they, too, would one day be Blue Angel pilots, at least in their dreams. But, this story is not really about the Blue Angels.  It’s about a woman named Bernie, born September 2, 1899, in Bowie, Texas, to J.M. and Minnie Lee Harlan, who roared into Flour Bluff in 1950.  To understand this woman known as Bernie Arnold to the Flour Bluff community, it is important to take a peek into her early years.

     Coming of age in the Roaring Twenties seemed to shape Bernie.  Growing up in a town with the name of an Alamo hero who helped carve out the West, Bernie started carving out a life for herself in a male-dominated world.  As a little girl, she watched as automobiles replaced horses and buggies. She saw how the airplane brought the possibility of leaving the earth.  Bernie evolved just like the world – fast and furiously.  She was a self-liberated woman who never let anything hold her down, not even gravity.

Tarrant Street, Bowie, Texas early 1900s
Bowie, Texas, early 1900s

Mason Street, Bowie, Texas 1920s
Bowie, Texas, 1920

    Bernie, like a handful of adventure seekers (mostly male) took up flying in 1927, just 24 years after the famous Kitty Hawk flight.  She married young, the first time to Sam Coffman, an aviator and inventor.  Coffman designed, built, and produced the Coffman Monoplane, a three-passenger cabin plane that sold for a few hundred dollars.  He even tested a glider in 1930, which resulted in a broken leg, a broken ankle, and two broken wrists. The Coffmans were an aviation family, teaching their two sons, Sam and Jim, to fly at very young ages while big Sam continued to make a living giving lessons, building and selling planes, and creating a very successful business.  Bernie later divorced Coffman and married Ross Arnold, her flight instructor.  He was a barnstormer who took part in cross-country flights, so Bernie naturally turned to the life of a flying circus performer, going from town to town to show off her skills in loops and dives.  This life introduced her to the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Wiley Post, Amelia Earhart, and even Howard Hughes when her husband Ross signed on as a pilot for Hughes’s film Hell’s Angels.

     A barnstorming beauty, Bernie was the first female pilot to take off from Meacham Field in Fort Worth, Texas. She spent the succeeding years flying around the country and into the lower Yucatan jungles where she and Ross Arnold frequently flew across the Gulf of Mexico, hauling chicle’ from Yucatan to railroad terminals in Mexico.  The gum business ended after three months of operation in 1927 when the natives became unexpectedly hostile to them. The duo then took their air show to the most remote points of the United States. Recalling her barnstorming adventures, Bernie said, “First we’d fly over a small town and buzz it soundly so that all the people would be attracted.  Then with all the town’s eyes on us, we’d land in a pasture nearby for the crowd to flock around. In order to make enough money to buy gasoline, we’d take up passengers.”  Arnold lost his life in July 1929 while on an endurance flight in Des Moines, sponsored by the Des Moines Register newspaper.  Miraculously, a reporter riding with Arnold escaped serious injury. This event brought Bernie’s barnstorming days to an end.

     This grounded Bernie for a short while, but she continued to have an interest in aviation.  She became one of the few ticket agents in the country and went on to manage an air travel bureau for four pioneering airlines out of Ft. Worth, Texas, just 68 miles from her hometown of Bowie.  With the coming of WWII, Bernie took to the skies again.  Both of her sons became military pilots.  Lt. Sam Coffman was a flying instructor who died in a plane crash in Pecos, Texas, while on a training mission.  Jim Coffman served as an Air Transport Command pilot out of Palm Springs, California. Bernie, with a desire to help the war effort coupled with her love for flying, volunteered for duty with the Air Transport Command, where she served until 1945.  Bernie’s service to her country did not go unnoticed as she received an identification card on December 10, 1945, from Colonel R. J. Pugh that would grant her entry into any Air Force Station.

Left to right: Sam H. Coffman, Bernie Coffman Arnold, Jim J. Coffman

     At the end of the war, Bernie hung up her wings and moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, at the invitation of her friend and fellow pilot, O. L. Holden.  She and Holden went into business together, opening a sporting goods store on Water Street in Corpus Christi.  They simply named it A & H Sporting Goods.  “We were open 24 hours a day,” said Bernie.  “We had to be.  We didn’t have a door on the place.”  Soon, she got wind of an effort to build a causeway across the Laguna Madre to Padre Island. Bernie’s spirit of adventure and keen eye for business prompted her to buy land at the corner of Laguna Shores Road and what is now South Padre Island Drive.  The new causeway opened in 1950, and her new sporting goods store sat in the perfect place.  Thousands of visitors to Padre Island stopped in at A & H Sporting Goods, owned and operated by Bernie and her son Jim Coffman.  Bernie’s arrival in Flour Bluff, Texas, would lead her to new heights in business, local politics, and community service. Bernie would become a key player in Flour Bluff, the little town that almost was.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

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The BMX Life of James “J-­MAC” McNeill

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Human Interest, Personal History, Sports

Photo by Cyndi Asch

     James “J-­Mac” McNeill is a military veteran and an avid BMX rider. J-Mac, a 52-year-old Corpus Christi resident, races class and cruiser bikes at his local BMX track, STX BMX Raceway.  J-Mac, who joined the Coast Guard in 1988, served 23 years as a helicopter rescue hoist operator and Falcon jet drop master. He was also an aviation maintenance technician First Class. While he loved his life in the military, he continued to have a passion for riding bicycles.

     When asked about his BMX beginning, J‐Mac put it this way, “I rode BMX before racing existed.” The first race that he ever rode was in a park that had one obstacle – a mud pit! This was just the beginning of his BMX racing career. It wasn’t until the 1980s at the Orange County YMCA racetrack that he started racing real BMX.

     J­‐Mac said that he liked BMX when he first started riding because it was not a team sport. It was a sport that depended solely upon the rider. In BMX, the success of the rider depends upon how hard the individual pushes himself. In the more than 30 years of riding BMX, J­‐Mac has had many successes.  According to J-Mac, his biggest achievement thus far is reaching two goals in one season. He ended the 2016 season at number 2 in District and State on his cruiser bike. His current goal for this year is to make Expert on his 20­‐inch class bike. J­‐Mac is currently sponsored by The Valor Club, an organization dedicated to military veterans and active duty.

Photo by Cyndi Asch

     When asked what advice he would give to the younger generation racers and newcomers to the sport, J-Mac said, “Ride more.  Ride the track until you can’t ride anymore, and ride all over town when you can. If I could ride as much as I want to, I would be so much better. Ride like crazy!”

     This response clearly shows his passion for the sport. I know firsthand that this is truly how he feels because I am a rider at his local track.  J-Mac suggested one day at practice that everyone do ten laps without stopping. It was tough, but we learned that it was doable.  J-Mac is a great role model because he not only motivates other racers to set lofty goals and push harder to achieve them, he shows them how it’s done.

Photo by Cyndi Asch

Katy is a paralegal, wife, and mother of two boys, both of whom ride BMX. Even Katy has been known to race a moto or two! She is also a freelance photographer in her spare time – SevenTwelve Photography.

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Stories of Flour Bluff, the Little Town That Almost Was

Flour Bluff, History, Human Interest, Local history, Personal History
Flour Bluff School, 1939

     In the past few weeks, I have been inundated with all kinds of stories about Flour Bluff and Flour Bluff Schools.  One of my favorites came from Don Crofton, Flour Bluff resident since 1946. His story is attached to the wooden building just to the right of the main school building in the picture above.  It was a pier-and-beam building that was used as the cafeteria.  As Don tells it, many of the children who attended the school sometimes forgot their lunches, or the family had nothing to send for them.  To fix that problem, the lady who ran the cafeteria, Mrs. Dody, always had a pot of beans ready to serve anyone who had no lunch.  This filling meal became known as “Dody’s Beans.”  She had a free lunch program going even then to take care of the children she served.

Flour Bluff School, 1948

     Crofton also told me that he remembered a “lighthouse-type” structure at the top of the high school building. He said it was lighted by the sun but did not actually send out a beam of light. This really peaked my interest, so I started asking what others recalled.

     Greg Smith, lifetime resident of Flour Bluff, local historian, and current District 4 councilman, told me that he remembers a story about the shape of the building being made to resemble a plane, which would make the “lighthouse” the “cockpit.” Though he admits the story makes good sense considering how much influence NAS Corpus Christi had in Flour Bluff in the forties, but he could not validate the story as the absolute truth.

     Mike Johnson, a member of one of the original families of Flour Bluff said, “There was a dome above the front entrance and offices. All I ever saw up there was sweaty athletic uniforms.”

     Crofton added, “Yes, there were a lot of smelly football uniforms!”

Flour Bluff Football Field, 1956

 

     Another story came to me from John Stanley via Facebook.  Stanley moved to Flour Bluff in 1946 and recalls playing football on the sandy, sticker-covered field near the high school that is pictured.  “I moved to Flour Bluff in 1946. There was a dome on the high school, but I never saw any outside light like a lighthouse. There was a big room up there with various old equipment. When I was in the 6th grade we were taken up there to pick a football helmet. Those helmets were not like anything I have ever seen. They probably came from Navy Surplus, having large, hinged ear flaps. We wore those for the junior high games and played on the field which was located just north of the high school. One end of the field was full of grass burs. We played bare footed, with blue jeans and the helmet…no shirts. Most competitive teams were a little better dressed. On one occasion, the other team complained that our bare bones were injuring their players. We put on tee shirts and continued the game.”

     Joyce Dilley Pfannenstein spoke well of the education she received at Flour Bluff Schools under the leadership of Superintendent E. J. Wranosky.   “I was fortunate to have attended Flour Bluff all 12 years of school. I had the experience in my career of teaching in a parochial school, and I can say that we learned more values and how to treat others as well as the academics under Mr. Wranosky’s leadership. My class’s senior trip was the first time I had ever been outside Texas. I will always appreciate the education and opportunities that school provided. That was way before air-conditioned classrooms. We thought we were fortunate to have electric fans!”

     If you have a story to tell about the history of Flour Bluff, please send it to shirley.thornton3@sbcglobal.net.  My goal is to gather the stories and share them so that they don’t get lost over time.  Together we should be able to piece together the history of Flour Bluff, the little town that almost was.

Note:  All add-ons and corrections to existing stories are welcomed and encouraged.  We want to be as accurate as possible.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.

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The Ultimate Pillar of Success: Be an Existential DJ

Arts, Education, Front Page, Human Interest, Opinion/Editorial, Science

       Imagine the sheer astonishment of Leonardo Da Vinci if he were suddenly alive and flying in a 747 at 35,000 feet above the ground. Can you see his mind-body – all his senses – become arrested in a state of complete Nirvana? Can you see him gasping at the recognition and acknowledgment of the fact that one of his wildest luminary visions is now a reality. The nature of humanity, however, suggests that the sublime bliss of this experience is likely to dissipate by more than half by the time he sets foot on his return flight. The emotional return on the experience will continue to diminish with each passing flight until one day he will get on the airplane, shut his window, shut his eyes, and hope for a new dream to entertain him during the hours that follow.

         What happened to his awe? What happened to the ecstasy? This diminished return on experience is known as, hedonic adaptation (def. the tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative life events or changes). It so happens that being awestruck is the key to being our best selves, the key to our inspiration, and the key to liberating our inner genius. When in a state of utter surprise, we are attentive, we learn more, we think and perform better. These behaviors define what it means to be in an ecstatic state of mind (aka – a “flow state” or “the zone”). Unfortunately, the more exposed we become to the goings-on of the world around us, the less surprised or compelled we are by anything that happens, and the less affected we are by the sheer magnificence that engulfs being a living, breathing human being.

          So how do we transcend the been-theres and done-thats of our adult minds – the banality of our everyday lives? Can we reverse-engineer the experiences that allow us to use our minds in the most optimal way and tap into our highest potential? Legendary observationist, Charles Darwin, said: “Attention, if sudden and close, graduates to surprise; and this into astonishment; and this into stupefied amazement.”

Charles Darwin resting against pillar covered with vines.

           But how many of us today have the attention span of Charles Darwin? And how, in a world where the patience to pay attention to any one thing is so rapidly in decline, can we mindfully slow down and focus for long enough to become interested? Might this not explain why children seem less and less likely to sit through a full-length movie, but prefer instead to watch YouTube?

 

       We know that our minds and moods are dictated by neurochemistry. After years of examination, science seems to have become fairly accurate in identifying scenarios that trigger the chemicals which cause us to feel, think, and act in the various ways that we do. So, if scientists can predict which chemical will be released during a given situation, then we should be able to – using a variety of methods – author our own neurochemical Nirvana. Timothy Leery obviously believed so. And his “trippy” method, though highly controversial and ultimately unsuccessful, is still very much in use today. MDMA, for instance, is being prescribed to PTSD and OCD patients on a regular basis, and in many of these cases is being reported to have, in one afternoon, the same effect of 10 years of psychotherapy. (And yes, I did just use 3 acronyms in one sentence.) Using drugs as tools or loopholes to alter our state of consciousness in search of ecstasy is no doubt a controversial topic. But perhaps, through a delicate and mindful combination of psychology, technology, and pharmacology, the future will allow us to engineer our own paradise, offering us the proverbial “red pill”, a super-drug that has managed to dispense the bathwater and reprieve only the baby.

      Pharmaceuticals, however, are nowhere near our only hope. Neurochemicals, after all, are stimulated naturally and require no drug whatsoever if the human in question is disciplined enough to seek the proper experience and dedicate himself to the time and patience necessary to become submerged in said experience. For some, such ecstasy may be rendered through a specific artistic endeavor, or by spanning time in some natural or designed heterotopia; outer vastness reflects inner vastness, after all. Others might meet their hedonistic needs through meditation or Yoga, or maybe through an extreme sport where the risk of danger or injury is present. Personally, I haven’t found a high quite so exhilarating as that of leaping from the top of a tall cliff into a deep, glassy body of water. Though it is a very short rush, facing the fear of what I perceive in the moment (accurately or not) as falling to my death leaves me feeling completely alive.

 

       No matter the method, bliss and sublime well-being are consciously achievable and are not limited to fleeting moments which lie outside of our control. The final frontier has been said to be outer space, but I would contend that perhaps there is a final-final frontier, one which consists of our own inner space. You don’t need to be a “flow-junky” or a philosophical hedonist to aspire to have the key to your own happiness and your own gift of genius. As Brain Games host, Jason Silva, puts it, “Ask yourself: What makes me feel alive? What gives me the goosebumps? What makes me well up?” When you have the answer to these questions, make note of the surroundings – both those which lie without as well as those which lie within. Nail down the formula, and then, like a DJ with all the tools at your fingertips, tweak and tailor each component. Mix, match, and harmonize your own Nirvana.

Matthew Thornton is an Austin-based artist and a history teacher. Originally from Corpus Christi, his wide-sweeping artistic interests range from writing and film-making to photography and painting. His work and studies explore patterns within the endless nuance of life as he remains constantly in search of the so-called, “big picture”.

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