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…

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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Stop It Right Now!

Front Page, Government and Politics, Opinion/Editorial, Religion

     In one week, the local school children will be headed back to school, and not a minute too soon according to many moms, especially moms who have two or more children at home.  The start of summer is usually great!  The kids play with each other, attend camps, go on vacation, and spend quality time together.  Those family photos from early summer show happy children frolicking in the sun and enjoying just being together without the responsibility of school.  Moms are able to sit back and read a book or sip iced tea while the kids play together joyfully. Ah, it is a wonderful time!

     Then, about mid-July, when the kids are forced inside by the extreme heat, things change. It’s too hot to play outside where there’s room to run and play and stay out of each other’s way. The camps are over. Vacation is just a memory.  The boredom sets in. What’s a kid to do for a little excitement? Aggravating a sibling by touching him or his “stuff” will certainly get the party started. So, one taps the elbow of the other who is about to put a spoonful of cereal and milk in his mouth, spilling it on the table and – if lucky – in his companion’s lap.

     “Quit it!” the victim screams.

     “You deserved it!” responds the offender.

     “What’d I do?” says the other.

     “Remember that time you took my headphones?”

     “That was last summer!  Who cares?”

     “I care.  I’m still mad at you.”

     “That’s stupid!”

     “No, you’re stupid!”

     “No, you are!”

     “No, you are!”

     “No…

     Now, this is where timing is crucial.  As soon as it becomes apparent that a fight is about to begin, the good mom quickly speaks in a loud and scary voice, “Stop it right now!”  For most kids, the “tone” comes through loud and clear.  They know that taking the conflict to the next level will most certainly result in something painful to their allowances, their free time, or their backsides.  Most won’t chance it, at least not immediately. As good moms know, it is during these times of unrest that they must be the most vigilant, watching and waiting for one child or the other to fan the flame and reignite the war.  She must be ready to douse the flame, being careful not to take a side. She must point out the wrongs that each child has committed to make them think about all the ways that either one could have been the better person and nipped the growing “war” in the bud. The good mom is not afraid to call them out and even inflict a swift and appropriate punishment on both.

     What a good mom knows – and must teach her children – is that dredging up old offenses never rights a wrong, but it can certainly create new ones.  She must be the voice of reason and – more importantly – the voice of  God’s wisdom, giving her children the words and thoughts they need to be able to live among other people.  She must speak as Paul spoke and let her children know that the past cannot and should not be forgotten.  She must teach them to remember their failures and learn what to avoid in the future.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  These words echo God’s words spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ““Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

     Most importantly, a good mom must teach the Golden Rule in the manner in which it was intended. In an article entitled “What Is the Golden Rule?” found at GotQuestions.org, it is explained this way:

“The English Standard Version translates the Golden Rule like this: ‘Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.’ Jesus brilliantly condenses the entire Old Testament into this single principle, taken from Leviticus 19:18: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.’ Again, we see the implication that people are naturally lovers of self, and the command uses that human flaw as a place to start in how to treat others.”

     Judging by the behavior of some young rioters who are emerging in this country, it is possible that their moms failed to pass on these important words of wisdom or that they simply failed to listen.  Whatever the case may be, this childish behavior can lead to dire consequences – and has.  Whether a person believes in God or not does not mean that he can’t come to understand His teachings for living a complete life.  Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, put it this way:

     To all the moms who take the time to step in, step up, and speak words of wisdom words of wisdom, may God continue to bless your good works. For those who have somehow “missed the mark” (Strong’s Greek: hamartanó – to miss the mark, do wrong, sin), it is never too late to start righting wrongs.  It should not be done through rioting and killing and teaching hate but through telling the children (even the adult ones) to “Stop it right now!” Then, follow up with a lesson on what good, decent behavior is and how important it is to treat others with respect and kindness, especially when they make us angry.  More importantly, the moms (and the dads) must model the behavior they wish to see in their children.  When we choose to spread true wisdom, the kind that builds up instead of tears down, that forgives instead of condemns, that joins instead of separates, that loves instead of hates, we can start moving toward a perfect world, the one God intended for us.

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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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…

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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His eye is on the little ones. . .

Front Page, Health, Opinion/Editorial
Infant Charlie Gard and his parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard, 2017

     We are living in an age of politics that seems to know no end to divisions of all kinds. But, when President Donald Trump, the Pope, European Parliamentarians, and even Cher are all putting pressure on the United Kingdom, perhaps this is a situation that needs to be watched. There is a hospital in the U.K. which has been making a decision that an eleven month old child needs to have all “the plugs” pulled, and thus are saying he must die. The parents have been spending at least half of this young boy’s life begging to be able to make that decision themselves or to at least take him home to die, if dying is what must happen. Little Charlie Gard has a rare condition called infantile onset encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome or MDDS. The hospital staff and government entities have said he cannot survive. His parents have begged to fly him to the United States for even experimental treatment to give him a chance at life.

     The parents will make another court plea on Monday, July 10, 2017. They have at least one doctor in the U.S. who has offered help, and possibly more. The Pope said on June 30, 2017, “To defend human life above all when it’s wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all.” The hospital officials have said he will be blind and unable to speak, and his life will be meaningless. Does anyone who has read about Helen Keller believe that Helen’s life was meaningless? And who are these “death panel” participants anyway to decide that parents cannot make this decision for themselves?

     In February of 2017 there was a story online on several sites about a bridge being repaired just above San Francisco. The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge repairs were put on “hold” for at least two weeks at the cost of an estimated seventy million dollars because ONE tree that needed to be removed in the process of this bridge repair had in it a TINY hummingbird nest. In that nest was ONE egg. No work could be completed until the tiny hummingbird was born and left the nest. (At no time was this called a clump of cells within the eggshell.) The species of hummingbird was called Anna’s hummingbird and is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The tree must stay until the “baby” was gone.

     We shall all have to wait now to see what happens to little Charlie Gard. His parents are fighting for his life. A website has raised enough money for them to travel to the U.S. for experimental treatment. His parents have managed to get him a travel visa to the United States. A Pro Life group in the United States has started a hash-tag “We are all Charlie Gard.” But societies and countries have sunk to a really bad place when the hospitals and the courts who are designed to protect the vulnerable now can decide on death for a child…and the parents have no say.

     I, for one, am hoping the outcome for Charlie and his parents will be a positive one, with at least the parents having the ability to decide what to do. Around the world, people are praying for little Charlie Gard. For now, I have a song that I keep hearing in my head…”For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

Margaret Lynn (Margie) Dodson Lambert, lifetime resident of Nueces County. Graduate Corpus Christi State University (Now TAMUCC) , BA summa cum laude. Secondary education with certificates in English and History. MS Texas A & I in CC (now TAMUCC). Curriculum and instruction with all-level Reading Specialist Certificate. Taught one year in CCISD and 21 years at FBISD. Now retired.
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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…

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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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…

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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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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Fake News, Real Problems

Flour Bluff, Front Page, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

 

     April 15th, 2017—One hundred and five years after the RMS Titanic sank into the North Atlantic, it was the integrity of our democratic republic that took on water.  While the streets of Northern California are not lined with icebergs, the story reported over the weekend shared one of their fundamental qualities.  The majority of what threatens the future of our nation took place beneath the surface of mainstream media pools.

     The scene in Berkeley, California, was widely covered.  Groups of anti-Trump protesters marched on Tax Day in an effort to influence the President to release his tax returns.  Pro-Trump supporters hosting a “Patriots Day” march clashed with their counterparts outside Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Park.  Violence ensued.  Police watched from a distance before making arrests and confiscating weapons.

     Most media outlets have simplified the story as one between the Anti-Trumpers and the Pro-Trumpers.  While the catalyst combs a golden coif, the cancer that could kill this country was inherited generations ago.  Make no mistake: this was an ideological battle staged between the far-right and the far-left.  Or more specifically, that of anti-fascists versus white nationalists.

     Demonstrators donning Make America Great Again caps performed Nazi salutes.  Anti-Semitic standards waved as war flags.  Dozens of banners painted with symbols of the alt-right were proudly paraded. And in case the subtlety of throwing bagels at anti-protesters missed its mark, recruitment fliers were passed out preaching the notion that America belongs to the white race.  Their outnumbered counterparts came dressed in black.  And if the video footage is to be believed, the black-clad Anti-fascists did not win the day.

 

     Let it be said that the majority of Trump supporters do not sympathize with such hate-mongering. The bigger concern should be that the bloodshed was not spontaneous; it was premeditated.  Two groups of people came together with the sole intention of harming the other over ideological differences.  Combatants brandished shields and helmets, sticks and knives.  Peaceful protest was eschewed for Medieval Times.

     Our nation was built on the bedrock of free speech.  However, the moment we ignore laws meant to protect fellow Americans in defense of free speech, we have started down a slippery slope.  Similar conflicts have sprung up in the past month in towns like Salem and Huntington Beach.  Taken together these represent the first stones cast under the shroud of political protest.  There will be more.  As Mark Twain reminds us, “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”  Martin Luther King, Jr. Civic Park set the stage for the bloodiest clash thus far.  Irony will be our only reprieve if we are not vigilant in preventing future spectacles.  Our common enemy lies not in the far-left or the far-right.  It is born out of violent, organized civil unrest.

A first-generation Cuban American, Alex relishes the daily freedoms earned by the perseverance of his grandparents. After graduating from Flour Bluff High School and St. Mary's University, he began his career as a private wealth manager. He loves books, film, and all-things sports. Alex lives with his wife and pup--and gave his life to serve Christ and His Good News. (Mark 8:35)
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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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