Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fort Scott, Kansas

As I said in an earlier post, we planned to do a little sightseeing. Today, we stopped and explored Fort Scott National Historic Site in Fort Scott, Kansas. Established in 1842, this fort was one of a line of forts that was supposed to separate the white American settlers from the territories reserved for the Native Americans, a "permanent frontier" at the edge of the "civilized" lands. Named after General Winfield Scott, this fort was typical of the peace-time forts of the day, with no palisade or earthworks to defend it.

When the first Army units arrived, the site was nothing more than open prairie. Captain Thomas Swords, the new post's quartermaster, was tasked with the job of building the fort. Of course, he started with the five buildings that would house the fort's officers. Four were duplexes, each providing a six room home to two officers. The fifth was the post commander's home. The hospital and powder magazine were also built in 1843. Wood, other building materials, skilled masons and carpenters, and construction equipment, the erection of the fort was slow. 1843 saw the construction of the Dragoon stables, with their barracks being built the following year, along with the infantry barracks. Political events, including the Mexican-American War, mounting pressure from Americans moving west, and the resulting Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 which opened the lands west of the "permanent frontier" rendered Fort Scott obsolete by 1850. It was abandoned by the military and sold, at auction, to the settlers.

The 1850s, saw Kansas was the site of numerous clashes between the pro-slavery, anti-slavery and abolitionists. The pro-slavery group wanted Kansas to be a slave state. The anti-slavery and abolitionists wanted Kansas to be a free state. The clashes were numerous and bloody, earning that period of time the name "Bleeding Kansas." During this period, the Army returned periodically to keep and restore the peace, but they did not stay.

In 1861, the Union Army did return to stay. Here, they trained soldiers – white, black and Native American – for fighting in the Civil War. The post was enlarged, adding the commissary, the quartermaster and several troop barracks. At the end of the Civil War, the Army again sold the fort, at auction. to the settlers. Many of the buildings were converted to civilian use.

The surviving buildings include two duplexes, which housed four officers and their families, one dragoon's barracks, two infantry barracks, a hospital, guardhouse, dragoon stables, ordnance and post headquarters, quartermaster stables, bake shop, flagpole, and magazine.

The historic site also includes five acres of tallgrass prairie restored as part of an ecology-restoration project.

We definitely enjoyed this stop, although most of the buildings did not have good handicap accessibility. The stairs in the Dragoon Barracks and the Officer Housing are steep, thus being rough on my wife's knee and hip.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

On the Road to MidAmeriCon II - WorldCon 74

Well, we are on the road again — Hey, that sounds like a Willie Nelson song..... This time we are headed for Kansas City, Missouri, the site of MidAmeriCon II. MidAmeriCon II is the 74th World Science Fiction Convention, or "WorldCon." Each year, it is held in a different city – last year, Sasquan was held in Spokane, Washington and next year, WorldCon75 in Helsinki, Finland.

We left the ranch last night, planning to drift our way north. We are not expected in Kansas City until Tuesday, at the earliest. We hope to do a little sightseeing along the way. Last night, we laid over here in Texas. We plan to drive north into Oklahoma later this morning.

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Friday, August 05, 2016

Farmers and Ranchers Must Be Optimists

Julie Tomascik posted a blog entry yesterday, entitled "Farmers: The eternal optimists", on Texas Ag Talks. In it, she points to the insanity of those of us who grow the food that we serve on our tables. She wrote:

Farming and ranching is a gamble. Every year. And 2016 has been a mixed deck at best.

It flooded. Then the rain shut off. Drought now steadily creeps back in.

Anti-agriculture crowds continue to attack farmers and ranchers, while regulations are piled on. Increased costs for inspections, fees and certifications add to the growing list.

Commodity and livestock prices are down. Net farm income keeps dropping. And it’s forecast to be down 3 percent this year at $54.8 billion, the lowest since 2002.

Most would walk away. Throw in the towel and find a less stressful, more predictable career.

The sad fact is that many of us have walked away. But, we all need to eat. We do not want most of our incomes to go toward the cost of food. This means that either we import more food from abroad or we hire low-cost labor to grow and harvest our food. Actually, we are doing both.

We are importing beef from Argentina, fresh vegetables from Mexico, fresh fruit from Central America and packaged foods and beverages from just about every major nation. Importing food makes us vulnerable other nations' problems &ndash political, economic, climate and natural disasters. How do we, as a nation, stand up to another nation who provides a significant amount of our food? The answer is that we cannot, for if they decide to cut us off we are going to pay more to get our food from elsewhere or go hungry.

Farmers and ranchers are also hiring workers, when they can get them. Few Americans want to work in the hot sun, tending to and harvesting our fresh fruits and vegetable. To be honest, it is hard, sweaty work. If you are tending to livestock, it can be dangerous, as well. The price the farmer or rancher receives for what they produce is set by the buyers for supermarkets and processing plants. From the amount the buyers pay, the farmer must pay for the seed, the fertilizer, the water, the pest managers and the harvesters. Precious little, seldom more than pennies per pound, is kept by the farmer.

Think about it. For a farmer who grows melons exclusively, take a minute and calculate how many melons must be sold to earn a reasonable "paycheck." Yesterday, cantaloupes were selling for $0.95 each and honeydews for $1.19. Of that, the grower may get $0.35. When you subtract the grower's costs to grow and harvest that melon, the grower gets to keep about 7 cents. If the grower wants an income of $40,000, that takes about 571,500 melons! More than half a million melons! That is a whole lot of melons! You can do a similar calculation with any food item.

Given these statistics, and the fact that each crop is a big gamble, why do we choose do it? Each of us has our own answer. Would you city dwellers or suburbanites do it? Probably not. You would rather fight with traffic, put up with noise and crowding, than take on our risks. Most of you cannot even be bothered to raise a garden &ndash "It's too hard." "I haven't got time." "It's too much work."

Your garden would be measured in square feet. Our "gardens" are measured in acres and square miles. Feeding you sure keeps us busy!

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Friday, July 29, 2016

The National Political Conventions

I have just spent my evenings for the past two weeks watching first, the Republican National Convention and second, the Democratic National Convention. I find that I cannot, in good conscience, support either candidate nominated by their party. I have been watching national political conventions since Margarete Chase Smith took on Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican National Convention and this year's were the worst.

The Republicans

I found the Republican convention to be amateurish and insipid. There were too many speeches by little known to unknown people and too few speeches by those who I would expect to be the rising stars within the party. Watching the convention on television, it seemed as if all of the experienced party members had abandoned Donald Trump and his campaign, going into hiding instead. Even the host Governor, John Kasich, did not show up to welcome the delegates.

The speeches sounded too many sour notes. Of course, this country has problems: that is obvious for all to see. The speakers spent lots of time listing them. What I did not hear, however, was how Donald Trump, if elected, and the Republican party is planning to fix them. Their ideas: law and order, build a wall, create good jobs, renegotiate trade deals, destroy ISIS, block some immigration, grow the military, support the Veterans and so forth, were just that – ideas. How to do this and, more importantly, how to pay for these solutions was never seriously addressed.

For me, the highlight speech was by Ted Cruz. He was the only speaker who talked about what America is ALL about, referring to our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

Donald Trump's speech had too many "I will" and not enough "We will," sounding like he was a one-man party. It sounded to me like a vain man's ego trip, not a serious speech by a Presidential contender. HE must learn that at all times, the President of the United States and by extension, those running for President, are more than national figures; they are world figures. His choice of words gave me the impression that he forgot that many, if not most, of his world-wide audience do not speak English as their primary language. For this audience, humor and sarcasm falls flat. Talk about working with one of our allies may, in another country, be seen as lining up with their enemy.

He said that HE will fix this, fix that, and fix the other thing. HE will make America great again. HE will create good paying jobs, bring back jobs outsourced overseas, and punish companies that send jobs abroad. He has conveniently overlooked the fact that many so-called "American" companies are no longer just American – they are global companies, headquartered in London, Frankfort, Dublin and hundreds of cities scattered around the world. The "American corporation" part that does business in the United States is just one subsidiary of many.

Missing from the convention, were the speeches extolling what the Republican Party stands for, the goals and aspirations of the party, and the vision of the future, not just for the next four years, but for our children and our children's children. Instead, it sounded like a meeting of "Whiners Anonymous." Do you what cheese with your whine?

The Democrats

I found the Democratic convention to be better orchestrated than usual. There were the usual gaggle of protests outside the convention site. This year offered LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, and a dozen others. Inside the hall, the Bernie Sanders delegates showed a surprising amount of spunk before they were steamrollered by the Hillary Clinton juggernaut.

The speeches were far more optimistic. Yes, the country has problems: poverty, shootings by police and at police, terrorism, to name a few. Again, the speakers said that Hillary Clinton, if elected, and the party would fix them. They added, however, that ALL Americans must work together to fix these problems. They also put forward an ambitious social agenda – free college tuition, higher minimum wage, affordable day care, affordable medical care, justice system reform and so forth. Again, details were lacking and no serious proposal on how to pay for it all was given.

Several speakers extolled the virtues of the United States, pointing to our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. In fact, if you closed your eyes, you could easily imagine that you were listening to the Republicans speak. Hillary Clinton gave lie to everything they said with the words "I am a Progressive." For my generation, Progressivism is the "Brave New World" of Aldous Huxley, with the "Big Brother" surveillance state, enforced political correctness of word and thought, hypervigilant policing and many other dystopian ideas.

The tone of many of the speeches gave me the impression that Hillary Clinton was entitled to be the nominee and to be elected President.

Common Themes

There were a few common themes of both conventions:

  • Crime and Justice
  • Schools
  • RobTax the Rich
  • Destroy ISIS

Crime and Justice

Both candidates agree that crime is a major problem, citing urban murder, unjustified police shootings, and police being ambushed. These topics were all flavored with race relations and racism. Donald Trump wants more policing and faster prosecution. Hillary Clinton wants to overhaul the entire criminal justice system. Neither can do what they want. Criming and policing are handled on the state and local level, thus out of reach of the President.

The President can, however, set the tone and use Teddy Roosevelt's "Bully Pulpit" to push the states for change.

Changes in policing and prosecution are not enough. We need to find ways to prevent the senseless (to us) "drive-by shootings" and "gang violence" of many of our inner cities. We need to seriously research the causes of this behavior. The liberals point to poverty and poor housing. That, for sure, may play a part. But, there are many poor areas with bad housing that does not produce violent criminals and gangs. Others point to drug abuse. Again, drug abuse is not just an urban phenomenon any more and not all areas where drug abuse is rampant have this problem with violence. I do not believe that social scientists actually understand why certain urban neighborhoods spawn this type of violence and other similar neighborhoods do not.

Schools

Both parties point to problems with our school systems: too many are academically below where they should be, too many are dropping out, too many going to college incur too much debt, and too many graduates are not ready for the workforce. Hillary Clinton says raise teacher salaries and throw money at the public schools. Donald Trump says let parents choose where to send their children. Both, again, are wrong. Public education, whether elementary, secondary or college, are state and local issues. Private schools and colleges are also governed by state rules.

Bernie Sanders fought for the inclusion of free college tuition into the Democratic platform. Great idea! But will Hillary Clinton push for it, if she is elected, and where will the money come from to pay for this?

The Federal Government can, using the powers of the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, other Federal banking regulators, the Security and Exchange Commission and the GI Bill of Rights, can place controls on student loans. Lenders do not want to risk their own money, thus, they want to bundle the loans and use them as collateral to borrow more money to lend or sell the bundles and use the proceeds to lend more money. Both these processes are subject to Federal rules. The Veterans Administration can, under the GI Bill, can simply set rules for lending to Veterans.

Tax the Rich

Both parties are saying "tax the top 1%" to pay for new programs. Let us look at the math:

  • Let us assume 350 million people in the United States.
  • The top 1% is thusly 3.5 million people.
  • If we tax them an additional $1,000, the take is only $3.5 billion dollars. A lot of money, to be sure, but just a drop in the bucket when measured against the annual Federal deficit. Taxing the top 5% would only raise only $17.5 billion – again, just a drop in the bucket.

To raise the money needed to pay down the national debt or to cut the deficit, you cannot just tax the rich. There just are not enough of them. You have to go where the money is: business community and the middle class.

Destroy ISIS

Everyone agrees that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) needs to be stopped. They wrap themselves in the cloak of Islam, but their actions are not Islamic, or for that matter, within the beliefs and philosophy of any major religion. Insults and perceived insults to Islam and Islamic leaders only act as recruitment posters.

As Harriet Tubman once said, "You cannot conquer an idea with an army." We need better ideas within the Islamic community to lead people away from ISIS. This is largely out of American hands.

In Closing

I will post this for now. I will review and rethink it and may revise this in the future.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Vacation Time!!

It has been a while,again. Life gets so busy and I just forget to take notes... This weekend, we are heading south to San Antonio. Six Flags, later today, then Sea World tomorrow. Of course, the weather report says rain for both days.

Tonight, Six Flags is doing fireworks - their Sprint Blast! Their water park is supposed to be open, too.

Sea World is previewing their new Discovery Point area. This replaces the old dolphin pool. The new facility will allow visitors to interact with the dolphins in the water. In another area of the tank, visitors can watch the dolphins under water. It should be interesting. Tomorrow is also the last day for their annual Seven Seas Food Festival. We went to Sea World about a month ago and bought passes for the Food Festival and sampled some of the fare. Tomorrow, we will sample the rest.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Today, on the website Slate, Jamelle Bouie penned their cover article, How Trump Happened: It’s not just anger over jobs and immigration. White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama. While she makes many valid points and I am sure that white racism form a significant part of the problem, I think she misses the bigger picture.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, we were taught that once you got out of school, regardless of whether it was high school or college, you looked for a job with a good solid company. If the first one did not fit or proved unstable, there were others. You had about five or six shots before recruiters would discount you as a suitable employee. You then stayed with that company until you retired. If you were good, you might get promoted into management and up the corporate chain. We knew that most of us would not make it that far. In return, we expected a steady paycheck with regular increases and the promise of a pension when we reached retirement age.

Sound too good to be true? Not to us! We are the "Baby Boomers!" We saw our parents, especially our fathers or our friends' fathers, do it successfully! Our families moved from the racially and ethnically segregated neighborhoods of the cities into the suburbs. Instead of renting an apartment, our families owned a little piece of land. While most of us were white, there was a sprinkling of non-whites in our suburban blocks (at least in my part of the country) – although I am of German-American stock, the ancestors others within a block of my parents house hailed from Ireland, England, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Egypt, the Netherlands, the American Midwest and the American South. The non-whites were just like us, with jobs in the defense industries, auto repair, banking, retail, restaurants and teaching. Racism and ethnic-ism were rampant, with derogatory slang for each of us – you learned to live with it and get into fights about it.

Perhaps I am presenting a romanticized version of life when I was growing up. But remember, I was a child. I now know that many families never escaped from the cities, living in much less comfortable surroundings with what is now called "food insecurity."

The first real crack in the bubble was the Vietnam War, when many of my classmates got shipped off to Southeast Asia. Some never returned. Some returned to be interred. The rest came back changed in a way that I, as someone who was not drafted, can never understand.

The next crack was the 1970s, when the "oil shocks" and serious inflation hit. Wages, both for us and our parents, just could not keep up with the cost of living. Major US corporations began to curtail their pension plans and the unions. Unions, who had grown fat on corruption from the 1940s through the 1960s, failed to take notice or take action. Our parents were squeezed out, years before they would be eligible for the promised pensions.

It has been all downhill since then. Instead of secure, stable jobs, the companies we worked for kept hiring, laying off and often, reorganizing in bankruptcy. My own resume is littered with companies that no longer exist. Only two of the companies I worked for will pay me anything in my retirement. Prices keep going up, but wages do not. I currently earn over twice my father's top salary, but that wage buys less than his did.

None of what I have just described is racial or ethnic. We, the Baby Boomers, are now at or beyond the "normal retirement age," but have little to show for it. We cannot wait ten or twenty years for our nation to recover from the last fifty years of stupid, wasteful policies. President Obama is just another politician that says, "Wait, things will get better." We have heard this lie from administration after administration. On the promise of "Hope and Change," we voted Obama into office, but he has left us without either hope or change: the rich got richer, our paychecks are stagnant and, every day in little ways, prices deliberately left out of President Franklyn Roosevelt's Consumer Price Index keep crawling up, especially food and medical care.

Now, eight years after electing Obama, we are more desperate. Who are we to turn to? Hillary Clinton? Her husband's policies led to the "Great Recession" ten years later. Bernie Sanders? He talks a good game and is getting significant Baby Boomer support from those of us who have, in spite of the odds, done reasonably well. Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz? They are too inexperienced – we had that in Obama. Of all of the candidates for this cycle, only Donald Trump is promising to make America great again. Although it is probably pie-in-the-sky, it sounds as attractive to us as FDR's "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" did to our parents.

To put it succinctly: Trump is offering us hope. It is probably a false hope, but it is hope nonetheless. None of the other candidates, with all their pretty speeches and proposed programs, are offering that. God help us all!

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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Bill of Rights, Part II - The Second Five

The Bill of Rights

Amendment VI

Another "dirty trick" that has long been used by governments around the world to silence someone is to arrest the person but then never quite get around to charging the person with a crime or bringing the person to trial. Or, if the person is actually brought to trial, it is done in a way that makes it very difficult for the press, relatives, defense witnesses and often the defense counsel to attend.

During the Colonial period in America, the British often dragged alleged criminals to England for trial. Often, after the trial, the defendant could not afford to return to the Colonies and remained in England. From this practice, the Sixth Amendment was born:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Over the years, American law enforcement, quite famously, denied many alleged criminals their rights. Police detectives would arrest a suspect, question them for hours, until they would confess to anything. The suspects did not know about their rights to a lawyer or that they did not have to incriminate themselves. As alleged criminals became more aware of their rights, cases worked their way up to the US Supreme Court. The Court decided, in 1966, the case of Miranda vs Arizona that this police tactic was illegal. This led to the "Miranda Warnings" which American law enforcement officers must give to suspects when they are arrested, either verbally or on a card such as this:

Amendment VII

A key concept of British law was trial by jury. Unfortunately, in the Colonies, many civil legal decisions were decided by a judge in camera, often following the payment of a "fee" to assure that the judgment was in favor of the fee-payer. Twenty dollars, at the time, was a considerable sum of money. Thus was born:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Unfortunately, this still happens today — usually, with a little more discretion. Today, instead of a private decision and a fee, the judge announces the decision in open court for which he receives a political favor at some point in the future, usually during their next political campaign either for re-election as a judge or for election to a higher office.

Amendment VIII

The purpose of bail is to ensure that the defendant will appear in court to face a criminal charge. Under a British law, The Statute of Westminster in 1275, bail was granted only when the accused owned considerable real property and only for certain offenses. The granting of bail allows the accused to work with legal counsel to prepare the best defense possible. This can be very difficult to do while jailed, especially with limited or virtually non-existent visiting hours.

Governments around the world today still jail suspects pending trial, regardless of how long they chose to wait prior to setting a trial date. Not only does this make planning a defense difficult, it prevents the accused from earning an income from which to pay the legal counsel and other costs related to the defense.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This amendment also prohibited punishments such as torture, maiming, and depriving a prisoner of food and water.

Amendment IX

Our Founding Fathers knew that they had not listed all of the rights that should be accorded to Americans. They assumed that, although they tried their best, the States and the people would consider routine actions needed for day-to-day living, such as hunting or privacy, as a right. This amendment allows the Supreme Court to declare judicially that this is an unlisted right.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The Founding Fathers firmly believed in limited government. They added this amendment in an attempt to prevent the Federal government from usurping all the power.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

This amendment says to the Federal government: if a power is not listed here in the Constitution, then it is not yours to usurp or exercise. It says to the States: all other power belongs to you and the Americans unless this Constitution reserves it to the Federal Government. This leaves most of the power in the hands of the States and, through state and local elections, in the hands of the people.

This does make sense. Laws and programs enacted by the Federal government must apply to the whole country — a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem. Our nation is so varied that a law that makes perfect sense in cold mountainous state like Alaska or Montana often seems nonsensical to a warm, flat state such as Florida or Louisiana.

Next - Amendments XI Through ??

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