On Comparing an Ocean to a Teardrop

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

 

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

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

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

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

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

Photo by Dan Thornton, 2012

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

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

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

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

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

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

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

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

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

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

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

Photo by Dan Thornton, August 21, 2017

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

 

Until next time…

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Barbecue, Bonfires and Balderdash

Front Page, History, Opinion/Editorial

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

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A Valentine Trilogy

Front Page, Human Interest

     

St. Valentine

     Valentine’s Day is well established in the mind of the western world, owing of course to the Valentine’s Day tradition. How it came about is not so clear.  One popular legend is that in the third century AD, a priest named Valentine defied the orders of Emperor Claudius and secretly married couples so that the husband would not have to go to war.  In yet another legend, Valentine refused to sacrifice to pagan gods and was imprisoned for this. While in prison, Valentine’s prayers healed the jailer’s daughter who was suffering from blindness.  On the day of his execution, he left her a note that was signed, “Your Valentine.”

     While there are many legends, it is not clear where the notion of giving Valentine’s Day cards came from. It is abundantly clear that on Valentine’s Day thoughts turn to romance and love.  What follows are some of my thoughts.

Ramblings of the Heart

Sometimes it’s music ringing in the ear

Sometimes the music turns to laughter

Sometimes it’s visions when no one is here

Sometimes the visions do not matter

I’ts like a symphony no one has heard before

It’s like a gallery without paintings

It’s like a dream leaving footprints on the floor

It’s like a heart that’s near to fainting

Sometimes it stings and makes a body numb

Sometimes the numbness is forgiving

Sometimes in silence it leaves you deaf and dumb

Sometimes it makes you glad you’re living

It’s like a circle that keeps going ‘round

It’s like a dream without an ending

It’s like it’s lost then somehow it’s found

It’s like a heart in need of mending

Sometimes it’s crazy ramblings of the heart

Sometimes it stirs the inner feelings

Sometimes it whispers, “We’ll never part”

Sometimes it’s love that leaves you reeling

Too Many Darts

When dreams fail to conjure the words

I sit in silence, but my thoughts are of you

My pen doesn’t write – my paper lays empty

I struggle with words too terse and too few

Images are formed but are lost in an instant

Scattered like dust in turbulent wind

Try as I might I cannot recapture

The moment that’s lost and won’t come again

Fragments and phrases like dirges dance

Scrawled on paper are too many starts

Conclusions are skipped like the fluttering heartbeat

Cupid I think shoots too many darts

Wrestling with words and uncertain meanings

Eventually the rhythm begins to flow

Too long it took – too near the ending

All that’s left is “I love you” you know

Related image

Bindings

Words alone seem useless

Like the child that only stutters

They can’t describe the feeling

Of the heart that flits and flutters

In the presence of your favor

Or the passing of a kiss

Moments strung like pearls

Leading to a certain bliss

It’s the happy circumstance

That spreads the rainbow on the heart

In one majestic moment

Without end and without start

It’s the twinkle of a star

On the surface of the eye

Fragments forged I fancy

That binds you and I

Salvatore Postiglione, Dante e Beatrice, 1906

 

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Eight Track Players and Obamacare

Front Page, Government and Politics

 

     Ever since the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) became the law of the land, Republicans have been promising to repeal it. In fact, most have included the repeal of Obamacare as part of their political campaign to get elected in the first place.  Now that they have a president willing to sign their repeal legislation, they are dragging their feet and are not providing the legislation to repeal Obamacare.  In typical Republican fashion they are waffling.  They now inform us that they need to keep the good part, but they fail to tell us what the good part is.

     Is the good part ever-increasing premiums? Is the good part not keeping your plan or your doctor?  Perhaps they think keeping basement-living adult children on their parent’s plan until they are 26 years old is the good part.  Frankly, I do not believe there is a good part unless you are one of the many welfare recipients who receive benefits through the plan’s Medicaid provision.  It is often claimed that Obamacare has added 30 million new insurance recipients since the plan was approved in 2010.  However, they seldom mention that 20 million are receiving their insurance through Medicaid, and hard working Americans are paying for it.

     It is time to remind your elected representatives that now is the time to repeal Obamacare. It is time for government to get out of the insurance business.  Congress should provide the legislation needed to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a free market system.  If there is a good part of Obamacare, the free market will provide it.  It is uncanny how the free market provides what consumers want and does not provide what the consumers do not want.  For example, the last time I looked for an eight-track player at Wal-Mart I was surprised to find they did not have one, but they had plenty of mp3 players, Bluetooth speakers, and sound bars.  That is how the free market works.  Apparently people do not want eight-track players in much the same way as they do not want Obamacare.  The same people who do not want eight-track players also don’t want to pay for mental health insurance, dental care for welfare recipients, breast pumps, and other Obamacare mandates.

     Apparently some members of Congress do not understand the concept of insurance because they cling to the pre-existing coverage requirement in Obamacare. They apparently falsely believe you should be able to buy fire insurance after your house burns to the ground. I understand that politicians are risk averse (although not when lining their pockets), but it is as John Paul Jones said, “It seems to be a law of nature, inflexible and inexorable, that those who will not risk cannot win.”

Until next time…

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Fakes, Lies and Propaganda

Front Page, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

     

Image result for russia controls presidential election

     The election is more than a month behind us, and the Democrats still cannot accept the fact that they ran a lousy candidate and lost.  They have had a long list of excuses and have blamed nearly everything except climate change, but I am sure they will get around to climate change once they make the connection.  For now, they have settled on Russian hackers and fake news as the culprits.  It seems to them that the Russians hacked the emails of John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee, and then circulated the emails via WikiLeaks creating “fake news.”  Everyone now knows this is the gospel truth because the Washington Post reported it, and they claimed that they got the story first hand from an unnamed CIA operative.  The rest of the mainstream media has picked up the story, and even Brian (the liar) Jennings is reporting it on MSNBC.  It has almost reached the level of “settled science.”

     Like climate change, there are still a few skeptics who do not believe it is settled science.  Some have been so bold as to suggest that if the CIA had the evidence suggested by the Washington Post story, wouldn’t someone be arrested, extradited or subjected to banking restrictions and sanctions?  My old friend Sam, a former NSA snoop, has suggested that this is merely a double fake, sort of like a double reverse in football.  He explains that the fake Russian hacking story was created to give credibility to the fake news narrative.  I told him that I thought that it would be very bold to create a big lie to cover a colossal lie, and he suggested that I think about it.

     I did not know what my friend Sam meant at first, but after some thought, I recalled the propaganda technique known as the “big lie.”  Adolph Hitler coined the expression in his book Mein Kampf.  His idea was that honest people tell small lies in small matters, but they would be too ashamed to tell a big lie.  So they would never believe that anyone would be bold enough to fabricate a big lie.  Therefore, they would believe the big lie.  When you think of it, this whole “Russian Hack/Fake News” episode smacks of a colossal lie, so maybe Sam is on to something.

     I did have another thought about lies.  I recall very well that my mother tried very hard to teach me not to lie.  She said if you tell one lie then you are bound to tell another lie when the first lie is found out.  I did not quite understand at the time, but I later found out, and so did she.  Since then, I tell mostly small lies in small matters.

     So as the Democrats cast about for an excuse for their failure, it is interesting to note that George Washington said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

 

Until next time…

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A Time for Healing

Front Page, Government and Politics, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

Image result for man scratching head + commons

     The longest presidential campaign in my memory has come to an end, and I am grateful. Pundits and pollsters are scratching their heads and wondering how it happened.  I would like to say to them that you are bunch of ignorant hicks who are out of touch with the good citizens of the United States of America, but I will not.  While it could be true, now is not the time for crowing.  Now is a time for healing.

     Over the last eight years, the division in our country has weakened the fabric of society.  Much like an old pair of Levis, the denim is frayed at the seams and the knees are soft, white and transparent.  It will take a delicate hand if they are to be mended.  But mended they must be.

     Over the last eight years, I have often thought about the slogan “hope and change.’  Like many Americans, in the early days, I remained hopeful that President Obama would unite the citizens of this great country, but that hope was soon ground beneath the heal of the community organizer.  Hope was quickly lost and the coming change was far worse than anything I had seen before.  At every opportunity, the presidential influence was used to divide the nation’s citizenry and to pit one group against the other.  Looking back it saddens me, but I am determined to look forward with newfound hope.

     It is easy in victory to look at the vanquished, and merely say “I won.” But, salting the wounds does not promote healing, and we must heal if our nation is to survive.  The election results clearly indicate that the citizens of our nation do not want to continue down the same stony path of division.  Therefore, it is incumbent on the victors to promote healing, to reach out, to lift up and to enlighten those bound to the path of division with truth rather than emotion.  It is not an easy task, but true enlightenment is the only way to unite a people and preserve the blessing that is freedom.

     The task is daunting, the path is long, but as my friend Bill Pruett often said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

 

Until next time…

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First American Fried Chicken and More

Front Page, Government and Politics, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial

   

     On September 19, 2016, there was another Islamic terrorist attack in New York , and the official response is bewildering. At first, it could not be admitted that there was a bomb, and Mayor de Blasio of New York could not admit it was a terrorist act.  Perhaps he thought it was work-place violence or a chemistry experiment gone wrong.  Who knows?  When there was absolute proof that it was an Islamic terrorist, then the claim was made that he was a lone wolf acting on his own.  And then of course, it was determined that he may not have been a lone wolf, so it was claimed that he was not ISIS-inspired.  And then it was admitted that he might have been ISIS-inspired, but he certainly was not funded or directed by ISIS.  That, of course, is a great relief to me because if anyone points a gun to my head, my first concern is who is paying him.  And, of course, the executive branch (think president) remains silent on the terrorist bombing, while the intelligence community is claiming that we are defeating ISIS, and as a result, they are calling on cells in Europe and the United States to commit terrorist acts.  Can it be both ways?  Does it matter?

     I think it is safest to conclude what most Americans concluded when they saw the aftermath of the bombing. It was an Islamic terrorist attack.  Whether he was inspired by Anwar al-Awlaki or ISIS is academic.  By now, most Americans have seen enough terrorism in the United States to recognize it on its face.  It is only the news media and seemingly all branches of government that cannot recognize terrorism when they see it.  But, it does raise a serious question, who is going to vet the 550,000 Muslim refugees that Hillary Clinton plans to bring to the United States if elected president?

     It certainly cannot be the FBI (our nation’s top police force) because they now have a long history of investigating terrorists and then releasing them on an unsuspecting citizenry (Boston bombers and others). In this case, they had interviewed the bomber, Ahmad Kan Rahami, twice.  Both interviews followed his extended trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan where he was known to have visited areas of Taliban presence.  Further acting on a tip that Ahmad’s father was referring to Ahmad as a terrorist, they interviewed Ahmad’s father.  The father apparently changed his story in the FBI’s presence and convinced the FBI that his son was merely involved in domestic violence.  After all, Ahmad was in jail for stabbing a relative.

     One would guess that Ahmad’s father knew more than he would let on to the FBI since Ahmad lived at home, in an apartment above the family business, First American Fried Chicken. It would make sense that the father was protecting the son, but you would think the FBI might suspect as much.  Protecting a child is normal parental behavior, so it is hard to overlook the FBI’s lack of diligence in the investigation.  At the time, they did not interview Ahmad and certainly did not put him on a terrorist screening database.  Apparently, the FBI also overlooked Ahmad’s Pakistani wife who has since relocated to the United Arab Emirates.  She left the country just days before the bombings.  It tends to make one believe that she knew something.  As an interesting coincidence, where did the San Bernardino terrorist’s bride, Tashfeen Malik, come from?  If you guessed Pakistan, you would be correct.

     Maybe it is just me, but it seems odd that the FBI can track all of my emails and phone messages and harass the citizens of this country, but they cannot detect a terrorist when they are told who the terrorist is. Perhaps being led by James Comey, they believe violating the law without intent is not a crime.  That is what he said about Hillary Clinton isn’t it?

     Maybe we just expect too much of the FBI. Maybe they are just Washington bureaucrats like many others.  Remember it was Senator Orrin Hatch who said, “We cannot let our respect for the FBI blind us from the fact the FBI has sometimes come up short of our expectations.”

 

Until next time…

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Burgers, Fries and Please Supersize

Front Page, Government and Politics, Opinion/Editorial

     Unless you have been vacationing in outer space, it is all too likely that you have heard more than you wanted to hear about the first presidential debate. I know I have, but most of what I have heard has missed the point.  For example, the moderator was biased, each candidate won, each candidate lost, Hillary Clinton looks great in a red pant suit (I made that up), Hillary was presidential, Donald Trump was presidential, and more.  Well, you get the idea, but there were a few points of substance that are worthy of consideration.

     One candidate promised to raise taxes on the wealthy and make them pay their fair share and to redistribute the tax money gained to college students, green energy projects, and perhaps some other pet projects that I do not recall. Certainly, this appeals to college students and others ignorant of how taxes actually work.  Consider this: I recently reviewed a corporation’s annual financial statement and determined that they were paying a 40% effective tax rate.  What would happen if their tax rate was raised to 80%?

     I think a simple example would make it easier to understand, so let’s assume the business is a local burger joint. This burger joint sells super-duper deluxe burgers for five dollars.  At the current 40% tax rate, two dollars of every super-duper deluxe burger sold is paid in taxes.  The remaining three dollars pays for employee’s wages, meat, overhead, and a small profit.  So what happens when we raise taxes to 80%?  The tax on the five-dollar, super-duper deluxe burger gets raised to four dollars, and a dollar is left to pay for wages, meat, overhead and a small profit, but one dollar will not pay for all of that.  The business must make a decision; either it can fire its employees and go out of business, or it can raise the price of the super-duper deluxe burger.  Either choice has negative consequences.

     If the burger joint goes out of business, it must fire the college students that it employees, and certainly they will be worse off. If it raises prices, the super-duper deluxe burger will now cost seven dollars, and the college students buying the super-duper deluxe burger will be worse off.  There is also the chance that people will begin buying less super-duper deluxe burgers, and the business will close anyway.  The truth is businesses do not pay taxes.  Businesses merely pass tax increases on to the consumer, and all politicians know this.  When a politician tells you that they are going to make the rich pay their fair share and raise their taxes, they are only trying to deceive you.  Taxes are always paid by the consumer, which is, of course, you and me.

     The other candidate promised to lower taxes. I do not want to bore you with the tedium of another example, but I trust that it is sufficient to say that lowering taxes will have the opposite result of raising taxes.  As in our previous example, the burger joint would be able to lower the price of the super-duper deluxe burger, benefiting all consumers, or they could open another burger joint employing even more college students.  Regardless of how you view it, lowering taxes will benefit everyone.  There really is no downside except to politicians because they will have less money to squander on their pet projects.

     There are other ramifications to taxes on businesses that people too often do not consider. What if our burger joint wanted to export the super-duper deluxe burger to England, and the tax remained the same at 40%, but France also wanted to export their version of the super-duper deluxe burger to England, and they had a tax rate of 20%?  If everything else was the same, England would likely import the French version because it would sell for four dollars instead of five dollars because of the lower tax.  The truth is taxing businesses makes them less competitive.  If our burger joint relied solely on exports, they would either go out of business or move their business to France and pay the lower tax.  Either way their college student employees would be worse off.  Politicians are also aware of this, so when they pretend that they are helping you by raising taxes on business, do not believe them.  They are merely trying to feed you a load of horse apples.

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The “trickle-down” theory was introduced by William Jennings Bryan in his Cross of Gold speech given at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, in 1896.

     One candidate described trickle-down economics as a failed system, but that is not true. Trickle-down is achieved by lowering taxes, and as you can see from the burger joint example, lowering taxes provides for business expansion which results in increased tax revenue overall.  This method was tried and proved during the Reagan era, and the benefit carried over into the Bill Clinton era which accounts for part of his economic success.

    Despite our $20 trillion deficit, one candidate proposed additional spending as a way to get the economy going again. This is lunacy in a pant suit.  No country has ever spent itself into prosperity.  Spending more than you take in is the definition of bankruptcy.  It is a simple concept, yet politicians continue to make the claim, and apparently the poorly informed continue to believe.

     One candidate criticized the Federal Reserve for playing politics with interest rates. Interest rates have been held artificially low for about eight years.  This serves the purpose of keeping the stock market doing well, and it provides the illusion of a healthy economy.  However, every time the Federal Reserve hints at a rate increase, the stock market plummets.  Interest rates should have increased long ago, but it appears likely they will only increase after the November election.  At that time, we will get a real assessment of the strength of our economy.  In all likelihood, we will have economic problems, and the new president will get the blame for the economy, when the blame should fall on the Federal Reserve.  So, yes it is true that the Federal Reserve is playing politics with the interest rates and the economy.

     There were other minor points, but I have already allowed this to run longer than I would like, so to close I would say, one candidate wore a pant suit, and the other was right.

No wonder Mark Twain quipped, “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.”

 

Until next time…

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Flour Fest Part III: The Celebrities

Arts, Business, Flour Bluff, Front Page

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     Dan Thornton, lifetime Flour Bluff resident and writer of the winning Flour Bluff song entitled “A Taste of Heaven” danced with Melanie Hambrick, President of the Flour Bluff Business Association, in celebration of what is now known as the “Official Song of Flour Bluff.”  Thornton, who has written poetry and songs most of his life and sang his own song, had this to say about the designation of his song, “Pretty cool.”  Dennis Gilley, local musician performed the instrumentals.

     Flour Fest goers were also treated to local musical talent, Michael Burtts, a guitarist and singer.

     “My style is influenced by the old and new genres of music. If you can think it, I can play it,” Burtts states  on his website.  He proved this to be a true statement as he showed off his musical and vocal talents by performing popular hits from  George Strait, Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, The Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, Lynard Skynard, and many more rock and country artists.

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     Following Burtts was Corpus Christi blues, rock and roll band, Cathouse.  They delivered or their claim of being “reminiscent to the likings of Cream, Deep Purple, Jeff Beck, and others” in the genre.  They have opened for Dick Dale, Pat Travers, Chris Duarte, Ian Moore, and Eric Gales along with Thin Lizzy, Blue Oyster Cult, and Foghat.   They rocked the park for nearly two hours and drew in young and old alike.

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     Headliner, Jimmy Spacek and his band, took the stage at 4:30 p.m. and finished the event out right.  Spacek, known as the “Godfather of San Antonio Blues,” and his band know how to make the crowd break into dance, sway with the rhythm, and wish they could play rhythm and blues.  Local attorney, Jeff Rank, did just that when he was invited to jam on stage with the band.

 

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     “A big thanks to the good folks in Flour Bluff and the FBBA for inviting us out to the 1st Annual Flour Fest.  What a great time playing down on the Texas Coast!” posted Spacek on his Facebook page after the event.”

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     Vendors and Civic Groups

     Of course, the event could not have even come to be without the many vendors, volunteers, and people who attended.  The FBBA Board of Directors wants to thank everyone who came out to help, to sell their wares, to entertain, to have fun, and to be with fellow community members.  Next year will be bigger and better yet!

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Dignitaries, Candidates, Volunteers, and Festival Goers

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A Toast from Lenin and Stalin

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial
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     The Democratic National Convention (DNC) kicked off with the resignation of their chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Apparently she worked unethically, if not illegally, to undermine Bernie Sanders and support Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders supporters protested the rigged primary for good reason and were not quick to fall in line behind Hillary.  There was little new substance in the convention speeches.  They loved abortion, climate change, a $15 an hour minimum wage, gun control, and surely I’m forgetting something, but “At this point what difference does it make?”  I was surprised to learn that they did not entirely love free trade.  You may recall that President Obama negotiated the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement and demanded that congress fast track approval without reading it.  So why are Democrats signaling a lack of enthusiasm?  Could it be they are channeling their inner Donald?

     Donald Trump has been outspoken on trade agreements and has said they were poorly negotiated and should be renegotiated. Trump feels that Americans are being taken advantage of through free trade. Free trade supporters counter that the good outweighs the bad.  But, does it?  What is the truth of the matter?

     To be fair, it should be noted that there are two kinds of free trade.  There is free trade among individuals and businesses, and there is free trade among nations.  Free trade among individuals and businesses is a right that should not be interfered with through government action.  Individuals are capable of looking out for their own interests and the interests of their family, without oversight, and will negotiate for their interests accordingly.

     Free trade among nations is quite another matter.  Nations have other interests to consider, for example, the economy, the national defense, the environment, and natural resources to name a few.  When you take into consideration national issues, it easy to see that unrestricted free trade may not be in the best interest of the nation.  Would a free trade agreement that requires an adversarial nation to supply critical military equipment be in the best interest of the receiving nation?  Such may be the case with regards to China.  Shouldn’t nations put their strategic needs ahead of the needs for trade?

     It may surprise some to realize the United States has not been a free trade nation historically.  Our forefathers thought it wise to nurture and protect our national resources.  It is through this nurturing that our resources matured and developed into the strongest economic force on earth.  It has only been in recent years that free trade has been a consideration.  But it is already obvious that free trade has a weakening effect on the nation.  The loss of jobs, the lowering of wages, the disparity in wealth distribution, all provide an indication that free trade is not in our collective best interest.  However, nothing points to our weakness more poignantly than the requirement that our astronauts hitch a ride with the Russians to the space station.  It has not been that long since we were in a space race with the Russians – a race we won when we landed on the moon.  Now after these many years, we find our victory was traded away like some useless swap-meet bauble, and we are left begging outside the Kremlin, while a winking Lenin and Stalin are toasting a vodka to our health.

     Perhaps the quote credited by many to Vladimir Lenin says it best:  “The capitalist will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

Until next time…

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