Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Winds of Political Change

It is remarkable how fast winds of the political rhetoric shift.  We have gone from "Everyone should serve in the military" to "No one has a 'right' to serve in the military," on the one side and "The military should be abolished" to "We should be allowed in," on the other.  All in a few short months.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A Short Story (Part 6)

Setting Out

It was a fitful sleep for Tom, between the other men, the hard ground and a mid-night thunderstorm he did not get much sleep.  He began to wonder if this whole adventure was a mistake.  Had he, to use the archaic phrase – bitten off more than he could chew?  Finally, as the light of the eastern sun began to break through the dark of the night he heard his fellow tent-mates begin to stir.

Quickly, Tom realized “stir” was not the right word, for these men were loud, course, and in no way subtle.  Their rising was more of a very loud clamor and in many ways like an earthquake.  As quickly as they started, they were out of the tent and moving towards the outhouse.  Tom rose and pulling on his boots, he too followed the men.  He was amazed at the filth and garbage strewn around the camp.  He had not noticed it last night as he made his way to the tent, but in the early morning light it was almost overwhelming.  How could these men care so little about their environment?  As soon as that thought crossed he was shaken back to the reality.  These men survived in this environment, and the carnage they left was as it had been through history.  They thought little about the beaver, the bison, or the natives, they were here to make their fortune, free to do as they will, and they gave no thought to the consequences.

As the sun continued to rise, Tom found Fergus and set about negotiating for the animals he would need to travel west, away from the filth of St. Louis and into the vast plains in search of the Rocky Mountains to the west.  For the cost of 2 shillings, and an ounce of gold Tom was able to get a horse, saddle, and two pack mules, which Fergus assured him were in the prime of their lives.  He showed Tom how to saddle the horse and mules and asked where Tom was headed.  Fergus didn’t really care, he had seen idiots like Tom come and go, never to return and assumed Tom would be dead in a week, but he had gotten hard currency and gold from him so he was the better off.

Tom pointed in a vague generally west, northwesterly direction as Fergus asked about supplies.  Tom said he had some about a day’s ride away and with that he set out.

The first half-day was an experiment in balance as Chester walked slowly along.  According to the horse riding manual, Tom was supposed to get off every hour or so and let Chester have a break.  The getting on and getting off became quite tiring as the day went on, and he found his back and his legs hurt like the dickens.  Finally, he said to himself, enough is enough and decided to walk the last two hours of the trip. 

He found the camp he had stopped in that first day, and asked if he could join them for the night.  He had a case of whisky and slab of salt pork he had bought from Fergus and offered that as payment for their hospitality.  With the prospect of fresh whisky, the men quickly put down their tools and joined Tom at the fire.

The next morning, he again arose, stiff and sore from the night, as well as the long ride the day before.  Traveling on horseback was only slightly faster than walking as he figured out this whole horse driving thing.  Bidding his camp mates adieu he started to the west, but when he was sure he wasn’t being followed made his way to where he had stashed his real provisions for the journey.

He arrived in mid-afternoon and found a suitable place to tie the animals as he started figuring out how to pack the equipment on the mules.  With the setting sun to remind him that travel at night was never a good idea he made camp, finally in something that offered the comfort a little closer to what he was used to. 

Tom had brought with him a miniature, self-erecting, fully enclosed portable space camp.  It was standard issue for the military in 2222 and easily available on Amazon®. The entire assembly weighed just 5 pounds and provided shelter, light, heating and cooling, a comfortable mattress, a water distillation system as well as a waste disposal system.  Setting it on a level spot, Tom pushed the erect logo and stepped back.  The unit scanned the ground and the environment around itself and within about a minute was fully erect and ready to welcome Tom to its air-conditioned comfort.  He selected camouflage mode and the shelter virtually disappeared from sight.  The only sign of his camp was the horses tied to a nearby tree.  He figured this was alright for tonight, but once he got started he would shelter them as well.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What is the Purpose of Government?

If you’ve never wondered about why our government exists then perhaps it is time.  We are now in a period of transition; the unanswerable question is what will come from it? 
Our founding fathers, in the preamble to the Constitution said,
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Have we reached a point where these words no longer have meaning, and have lost their ability to bind us together as a nation?  We are at a point where the centrists have left the stage, and the radicals have chosen riot, rather than debate, as the means of communication.   The institutions we have historically looked to for our views of the world have chosen sides and news is replaced by opinion.
On the one side, there are those who would have “the government” be the nexus of all things.  They display a willingness to surrender their personal freedoms for the illusions of safety and expert control, placing their trust in a benevolent leadership.  In the process, they would forsake the traditional institutions of religion, and coopt the educational system, both of which served in the past to moderate the growth and abuse of power. 
The opposition must take the position of limiting government and the power it wields, opening it to attack from those who have come to expect a continuation of government largess, without consequence.  Everyone, it seems, loves the idea of paying no taxes and getting all the benefits of using other people’s money.
The Democratic party has pretty much admitted it stands for little, or nothing, except to gain power for those who control the party.  (Perhaps this has always been true, and now is now just more apparent.)
The Republican Party, is currently a fractured caricature of what it once was.  It seems apparent they have no clear and unifying understanding of either the needs of the nation, or the path to secure those needs.  It has proven itself great at complaining about the abuses of power by their opponents, but as we have seen, when it comes to actually legislating they have neither plan, nor the leadership to secure the “Blessings of Liberty” so desired by our founders.
Adding to the challenges of the traditional opposing political parties is the advent of a populist President who speaks to the concerns and fears of the average middle-aged working man and woman.  The very people the political elite have cast aside as they talk among themselves about the grand future of their parties and the utopia they will create.
Another element muddying the waters of political discourse is the rise of the religious right.  A growing force since the 1970’s.  It has become almost completely aligned with the Republican Party as the Democratic National Committee has moved further and further from its traditional “everyman” approach.
From this shift left comes the continuing attacks on what many centrists view as simple cultural norms, like the traditional holidays, but what the non- traditional religious and atheists view as state endorsement of a religion.  The courts have sided with their concerns often enough to provide the foundation for the religious activist’s belief the churches must engage politically if they are to survive. 
These almost daily legal battles ultimately end up in the legislatures as the politicians align with what they believe to be their most supportive constituents.  Oft times writing laws that are ill advised, or even counterproductive.
It has become apparent to me, and perhaps others, the political parties increasingly fail at providing the common people with a viable representative government.  Each party is bought and paid for by to serve their sponsors interests.  Couple this with the obvious self-interest for power and wealth on the part of the politicians themselves, and we have the perfect condition for institutional corruption.  One has only to look at the alumni of the Office of President, or the wealth accumulation of career politicians in Congress to see the obvious truth of this assertion.
We see in the class structure of our nation an increasing divide, where the traditional ideals of hard work, and ambition will no longer enable someone to migrate from the poor, to the middle class, or to the wealthy as was the promise of the past.  The question no one seems to consider is was that a reality, or just an illusion used to foster a unity of purpose?  I think the answer should be obvious.  The wealthy have always made up the 1%, but the ability to live comfortably and move from abject poverty was a real possibility for those who had the ambition, drive, and courage to seek change.
The Democrats have, for at least the past 10 years, talked about the wealth of the 1% and the poverty of the poorest, as if being wealthy is bad, and the poor are always victims of an unfair system who have no control over their status.  Remarkably the same time the Democratic politicians are blaming the rich; they have their hands out for campaign contributions while writing legislation that will affect those they are soliciting funds from.  What is the expectation of all those who contribute?  Is it just a magnanimous and humanitarian concern?
 The Republicans talk about reducing taxes, while giving lip service to the idea of reducing government, and like the Democrats they too have their hands out while blaming big government and writing legislation that will benefit the wealthy.  How important is the idea of reducing taxes for the growing percentage of Americans who pay no taxes?  With Republican control of the Congress they could have reduced the deficit through spending reductions on non-entitlement programs, but a Representative or Senator is elected to bring home the bacon (or pork) so why on earth would either party ever cut funding.  Especially now that they have convinced us that just slowing the growth of a program is called a cut.  Recently, my Representative claimed with all sincerity the House had passed the 2018 budget that would balance the budget in only 10 years.  Hmm, where have I heard that before?  With nine more budgets to pass, four more elections to hold, and an unknown global future I’m guessing in 9 years he will be claiming similar success is only 10 years away.                  
Neither party talks very much about the decay of the American dream where initiative is rewarded and a family has the opportunity to thrive and prosper without fear of a bank taking their home, or an employer laying them off to hire new workers at the minimum wage.  One party wants to open our borders to all, when we don’t have employment for those who are citizens, while the other wants to seal to border to those they view as threats.  As in most things these days, neither party wants to concede an inch and find reasonable balance to national employment, security, and immigration.
Sorry, I got a little side tracked there.  Let’s get back to talking about the meaning of the Preamble.
So, I come to the two questions, how do we understand the terms justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, and general welfare, and what is the role we expect of our government?  Fueled by a myopic media we, as a nation, seem increasingly unable to come to agreement over what the they should mean and what ideal they should represent.
Justice – at our founding, the original colonies had all experienced the rule of English law, where there was one set of expectations for the royalty and another for the commoner.  They had also imported, as their inheritance, the concept of “common law” as adjusted to the conditions of the colonies.  But as James Stoner[i] discusses in his commentary we have twisted the meaning of common law, and just as we seem to be twisting the meaning of common justice.  As proponents of “natural law” where the rights of the people come not from the state, but from a higher power (or nature if you prefer), then the ideal of equal justice for all would be foundational in their beliefs and would serve as a safeguard for the abuse of the state.  This was clearly their intent in the establishment of the checks and balances provided by organizing the government into three independent but interrelated branches.  Unfortunately, the execution of justice is left to us as a society, along with all our bias and hatred.  We may choose men and women who promise fairness to judge the law, but we see often they fall short when it comes to the having the wisdom of Solomon.   Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly at first, the common expectation of equal justice is eroded until one day we awake to find the political class is judged with a standard that differs from those who are not politically connected.  We are now at that point as we see with both the current and past administrations.  We are at a time where regardless of the public evidence of corruption a politically connected candidate will not be prosecuted, or despite a lack of hard evidence another will be continuously vilified, leaving the average man or woman to question the standards of justice this nation would have.  I’ve purposely left the issue of race and justice out of this paragraph for that begs for a much larger discussion.  Can a minority race receive equal treatment under the law? I am sure everyone has their own answer to that question, but the simple fact there are multiple answers would suggest in the larger sense a loss of faith in the underlying principle of equal justice.
Domestic Tranquility, what the heck is that?  Is it the same thing as “Happy wife, happy life?”  Well it kind of is.  When the revolution ended, we established the Confederation of States, where the individual colonies maintained a great deal of autonomy.  The federal government (much like the UN of today) had no real means to ensure the states cooperated with each other beyond brokering consensus.  We also had no means of quelling a resurrection should one occur.  These failures in our first government weighed heavily into the debates and concerns of the constitutional convention and led to the provisions within the constitution that placed limits on the states and gave the President and Congress the ability to quell rebellion (e.g. the Whisky Rebellion[ii])
Providing for the Common Defense.  This is, at least in my opinion, the simplest of the purposes of government.  Sovereignty is an interesting concept.  Throughout our history there have been very few years when our sovereignty has not been challenged by one group or another.  Without the means to defend ourselves would we exist today as an independent nation?   We’ve fought two wars with the English regarding our rights to exist, then there were the Barbary pirates who sought tribute and ransom, but as often as not we’ve used our military to achieve the political will of the day.  For example, when we annexed Texas and Mexico took umbrage, or when Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay.  In neither case was the employment of the military narrowly defined as “defensive.”  Today, our sovereignty is challenged by Islamic terrorism, and the defense of our nation is addressed by the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, and State, as well as the CIA. 
Finally, we come to that catch all phrase, promoting the General Welfare.  I share the views of Adam J. Bulava,[iii] writing in his blog “The Government Teacher” when he discusses the framers intent, and the conflict between unlimited and limited government.  He notes its origins lie in the classic philosophy, regarding putting the common good ahead of the desires of special interests.  Was it the framers intent that this phrase justifies an unlimited expanse of government?  There is sufficient other indication in the Constitution and the Federalist papers to lay to rest the idea the framers ever imagined Government as having unlimited power.
So, we come to today.  As the power of the government expands and the desires of the special interests are cried out with increasing demands and authority to that government, the question remains “What do we expect of our government?”
Clearly, we are willing to overlook the sins of those we favor, while we condemn those we dislike.  The Democratic candidate’s collusion, or the Republican President’s collusion are two sides of the same coin, yet we hear in the media completely different levels of acceptance or tolerance.  Clearly the needs of the general population are given little consideration by the public advocates who gain so much air time in the various media outlets.
To turn John F. Kennedy’s phrase around, ask not what you can do for your government, ask what your government is doing to you.  If we are to survive we must find a way to move from the extremes, and this cannot happen if we, the average citizen, support only the extreme positions our favored political party is moving to.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Short Story (Part 5)

The Adventure, (continued)
Tom claimed to be from New England and was traveling to see the west.  He had lost his horse a day or so earlier when they tried to cross the Missouri river, and he was now searching for a town where he could perhaps trade for one.  The strangers asked what he had to trade for, but he was weary of their motives so he just shrugged.  Finally, they just pointed south and said it was a day’s walk to the outpost of St. Louis.  By now it was getting late and they offered to let Tom stay the night.  Having no better option, he agreed.  They pointed to a pile of animal hides, suggesting Tom use a couple for bedding.
Tom rolled himself up in one that appeared to be from a bison, and was soon asleep.  It was a sound sleep thanks to the drink the men had shared.  In the morning, he awoke to the smell of coffee and sound of meat frying on the fire.  They camp came to life as the group shared breakfast.  At its finish, Tom thanked the group for their hospitality and set off to the south.  Tom left behind a compass, one of the three he had brought with him, as a thank you.
As the men had said, it was indeed a full day’s walk to reach the outpost.  As he reached the top of a hill he could see the small village below.  There were tents on the outer perimeter, then log and sod cabins in the center.  The air was filled with the smoke of a hundred fires burning, despite the heat of the late afternoon.  As he approached the village he asked, in French, directions to somewhere he might find shelter for the night, and perhaps a meal?  A burly man of about six-foot pointed towards a large sod covered building with a simple hand-drawn sign in front about 500 meters away.  With a word of thanks, Tom set off towards what appeared to be a store of some sort.
As he approached, he saw the emporium was really the be-all for the village.  It offered beds to rent, shaves & haircuts, dentistry, medicines, whisky, and hot meals.  It also seemed to have horses and equipment to sell.  Tom stood in awe for a few minutes as a flurry of fur covered men came and went from this haven of commerce. 
Tom had determined he would spend as little time as possible in this place, but it was late, too late to start out so he decided first to seek a meal and shelter for the night.  When the crowds thinned a bit he approached the man who seemed to be in charge and asked if there was a bed and a meal to be had, and if so how much?  The man looked at Tom, sizing him up, for Tom did not look like his normal clientele.  Clean shaven, with only a few days growth of beard, he obviously did not hail from this area, or the wilderness of the plains.  His first question of Tom was to ask how he thought he could pay for such luxuries?  Not to be put off Tom said he would figure that out once he knew it was worth worrying about.  With a loud laugh the man, who Tom would come to know as Fergus, said fair enough.  The bed was a shilling, the meal another shilling.  Tom agreed, and in the course of the conversation pulled a shilling from his purse saying “one now for the meal, the second if the meal is agreeable and I choose the bed as well.”
Fergus was impressed with his new client.  It was not often that real money found its way to this part of the world.  He had set the price, assuming there would be some barter and haggling, but this stranger didn’t argue a bit.  Clearly a man of some wealth.  Fergus invited Tom to join him for dinner and a drink.  Tom agreed. 
The dinner was a simple affair, a stew made from some kind of meat, a biscuit with some sort of ingredient Tom thought it best not to ask about, and ale made from who knows what.  At Tom’s urging Fergus began to talk about himself.  Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, he had signed on with a sailing ship as a cabin boy at 12.  He served the ship for two years, and when it arrived in New York harbor in 1780 he jumped ship and set out to make his way in the new world.  He traveled first to Philadelphia, where the crowds were too big, and then across Pennsylvania to the Ohio frontier.  As civilization closed in he moved further west until he reached the Missouri river where he decided to settle down, take a wife, and put his industrious Scottish heritage to work.
Tom, for his part, listened intently, for while time and space formed different lives, the desire to see the unknown, and find space away from the crowds was a shared feeling.  When it came his turn, he spoke of his education in the east, and how he too had grown weary of the crowed cities, although he did not mention the cities were now reaching a couple of hundred million residents each.  He said he had set out to find what lay beyond horizons, first through the Ohio territory, then the great plains that stretched before them.  Along the way, Tom asked if there was a party traveling west he might join with?
Fergus, passing some more ale, considered the question for a moment and said “aye, there may be a group or two, but you will need supplies and some horses.”  Sipping the ale, Tom looked over the rough formed mug and asked, “and do you know where one might find such things?”  Fergus laughed loud and long as he knew perfectly well where such things could be had, and it all meant profit for himself.
Tom slid a shilling across the table, as a way of saying the dinner was good, but it was time for sleep.  He looked at Fergus and said they would talk in the morning about the cost of the equipment, and the potential for travel.  With that Fergus showed Tom a canvas tent in the back of the shop.  He could hear the loud snores of already sleeping men, as he made his way first to a crude outhouse and then the tent.  Finding an empty pad on the ground he collapsed onto it, and quickly was asleep. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It’s a Curious Thing.

One of the current popular Democratic Party talking points is to accuse Republicans of being “anti-science,” over their opposition to much of the climate change (formerly known as Global Warming) legislation and international agreement.  For example, we have Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) rant about the “war on science” (see: Florida Politics - Bill Nelson takes aim at Rick Scott and GOP's war on science).

For the record I believe in science, but I also believe that scientists are human, not infallible, and when politics and science get mixed up together all kinds of strange things happen.  For example, it's a curious thing to me that the party that cries the loudest about their concern over science is the same party that cherry picks the science they like, and the science they don’t to just about the same degree as those other guys who are accused of being "anti-science."  For example: I believe in biology and don’t believe psychology can undo biology just for convience.  Yet, here we have a dilemma within the social order of the progressive movement. 

Biology tells us there are normally two genders, male and female, in most species (there are some notable exceptions) and those genders are assigned during the development of the embryo.  For humans it is determined by the addition or lack of a chromosome when the egg is fertilized.  Except now the scientists of the left are advocating that we pick our gender, based not on biology, but on our psychological feelings and how we perceive ourselves within the society.  If we challenge this position are we “anti-science?”  Of course we are; for that is the progressive view and progressives are always right.  Just like when they advocated for eugenics as a way to improve our society, or for lobotomies as a way to end our depression.

As a way to get around this annoying fact, we see increasing separation of the terms sex and gender so in the future the science loving fans of the left will be able to say the two have never been synonymous and what’s the big deal? Of course this will all be supported by the social “scientists” who will poll popular opinions from a small sample group, apply their anti-bias models, and determine the majority of the earth agree the two terms have never had the same meaning. 

Once again progressive science will triumph over the forces of anti-science.  Huzzah!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Short Story (Part 4)

The Adventure
Tom had estimated it would take him about six-weeks to gather supplies and prepare for his great adventure, it took him almost twice as long, but in his opinion it was time well spent.  Not only did he gather material he could use, worked on his conditioning, and studied the culture of the time, but he programmed his sleep-learning modules to learn about horses, camping, wild animals, and the native cultures and their languages.  Finally, he was ready to make the trip, or should we say trips?  For Tom had decided he needed to transport with him his supplies and his small time-machine/watch could only handle Tom and about 35 kilograms of stuff at a time.  As he laid out his supplies he realized he would need to make three jumps to carry all his things back.  Some would be used for barter, some for survival. 
Tom was a methodical planner.  So, he laid out his goods to make sure they were equally divided, just in case something happened while he was making the trips.  Even though each trip would be an instant, and all three of his arrivals would be within a minute or two of the previous one.  The one rule in time travel Tom was convinced was critical was he could never be in the exact same space-time twice.  This was called “the double-occupancy” problem.  He didn’t want to consider the consequences of such a mistake, but figured all of them would be bad.
Finally, with a big, deep, breath Tom gathered up the first load, mostly food stuff and clothing, set his watch (which was now a pocket watch), and launched himself back to the St. Louis town of 1790.  His research had identified a suitable landing spot just north of the area, where there was a sufficient isolation and shelter to secure his belongings, yet close enough to town to walk in and find the final items he would need, like a horse or two.
In the twinkling of eye, he was transported to North, 38o 51.73908’, and West 90o17.0742, 0530(local), June 5th 1790.  The location he chose was just south of the big bend in the Missouri River, well north of the center of what was the center of the old St. Louis city.
Once on the ground in 1790, Tom looked around as the sun peeked over the eastern horizon.  He could feel the humidity in the air, as he watched the lightning flashes on the distant horizon.  From his experience in recent travels, as well as his study of the weather he knew this was going to be a day of thunderstorms.  He also realized he needed to find some higher ground to secure his stuff in the event of a really heavy rain.  He could see a small hill just to his east so grabbing his load he headed over to it.  He was in luck, for as he reached the crest he found a number of large boulders that provided a convenient hiding place for is bundle.  Programming in these new coordinates he leapt home and back two more times to finish bringing all his stuff to this place.  He made sure to keep separation between his journeys in time and space by altering his arrival times by a good five-minutes after each departure time.  By 0700 he had all his stuff secured and set off towards where he saw smoke rising to the south.
As Tom walked, he was struck by the smells of the land.  The freshness of the air, the smell of the damp grasses, reaching waist high, and the occasional signs of man.  Tom walked until noon, and the smoke rising to the south seemed no closer than it had when he began.  How far had he come?  How much farther must he go?  He reached for his navigational computer to help answer these questions, but something was wrong it said it could not determine his position.  “Oh great” thought Tom, but then a thought came to the front of his mind.  A thought that should have come long ago.  When did we develop electronic stars we could use to guide our way?  When he realized, the device was at least 200 years out of date he tucked it away as useless weight. 
He stopped to rest, eat something, and drink some water, as he pondered what to do next?  After about a half hour he set off again towards the south, as the sky darkened and became threatening.  Soon the afternoon rains would start, and Tom hoped to be somewhere less open then this grassland when that happened.  As luck would have it he stumbled across a small camp with about six men busy doing something with bodies of some beaver.  They had built simple shelters covered with a white canvas and appeared to be engaged in simple conversation.  Tom activated the embedded translator chip all 23rd Century humans had, and entered the camp.  The men dropped their tool, grabbed their rifles and leveled them at Tom.  The first man barked “Qui es to?” Tom stretched out his hands and replied in English, “I am a traveler,” which his translator changed to “Je – suis – un – voyager.”
This did little to relax these new strangers so Tom decided to show them he was not armed.  The men began an excited discussion about this insane man and what could he possibly want.  Tom stood patiently while the men looked him over.  He really had little choice since the muskets they had leveled at him looked fairly lethal.  Eventually, the six decided this idiot who was walking around without any protection was probably fairly harmless and they invited him to sit and have a drink or two.
Sitting on a log, near the small camp fire, Tom was offered a ceramic jug, whose contents smelled quite powerful.  Tom raised the jug, took a small sip and almost passed out from the gagging that followed.  His new companions found this hilarious as they snatched the jug from him, and took long pulls of drink from it.  Tom asked them what it was they were drinking and all he got back was “the stuff of life.”  When it was again his turn he took another drink, prepared this time as the liquid burned his throat on the way down and settled roughly into his stomach.  With two drinks Tom was already feeling the effects.  He began to worry that if he passed out these men would strip him of the things he was carrying so he decided to stop the drinking until he could figure out their true intent.
Soon, the men set the jug down as they began to pepper Tom with questions.  “Where are you from?”  “How did you get here?” “What do you want?”  Tom smiled as they all flowed together in the warmth of the day and the drink.  Slowly he began to answer them with the story he had made up, hoping his answers would sound reasonable.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Short Story (Part 3)

Tom found his way to the historical society where he learned more about the history of St. Louis than the holographic monument had provided.  He also learned that spices like salt were valuable commodities in a time when it was not readily available in the food processors.  He also learned that money, in the form of the omnipresent bank chip did not exist in 1790, and barter was the most common business transaction, followed by simple theft.
Soon, his week of research was up, and Tom activated the return home mode of his time machine.  In a flash, he was home.  As he scrambled for that old iPad he tried to place his notes into a usable sequence.  Putting away his old clothing, Tom felt the pockets for his one new treasure.  In the museum, he had found a sample of native beading and was able to use his time watch to pick that up in the middle of the night when the museum was closed.
And so, it went for the next six weeks or so, as Tom made his way back in time to prepare for that final great adventure.  A bobble here, a small treasure there, something that might be useful on his journey was always a goal.  At the same time, while he was in his own time Tom began to realize he would need to be in better condition if he were to survive in the wilderness of 400-years earlier, so he set about the task of exercising.
This raised some suspicion in his neighbors as they wondered about Tom’s mental wellbeing.  After all, who in their right mind would set out to actually sweat in this day and age?  Would this wild behavior actually impact the harmony of the city?  Tom assured them he would ease off on this foolishness, as he found ways to mask the times he worked out by traveling to an earlier time to do it.  There seemed to be some kind of fitness craze in the late twentieth century, and it was very easy to fit in there as an out-of-shape guy looking to lose a few pounds.
Chester’s Story
Born to a mustang on the Great Plains, Chester had lived his first year by his mother in the herd led by his father.  It had been a free and easy time, except for the occasional wolf pack that would chase the herd until one of the older mares fell behind.  The first winter had been hard when the snow covered the grass and there was little to eat, but the herd had moved to the shelter of a river valley were grass could still be found.
His life changed dramatically in the summer of his second year, when humans came into it, and he was captured by a tribe of the Dakota.  For the next year he learned their customs, and allowed them to ride on his back.  He found great excitement in the wild chase of Bison as the humans drove them, much as the wolves had driven his herd.  He seemed to be joined with one particular human, but was still part of the bigger herd, led by a large stallion ridden by the strongest of the humans.  And it came to be for the next ten years of his life.  It became a comfortable life, as the humans took care to make sure there was food and water for him.
Then one day, when everything seemed so normal, strangers came into his herd and he was led away by men who smelled completely foreign.  He was now on his own with these new humans with just a small herd to bond with, but they were always on the move, with little time to graze or socialize.  He learned to carry the weight of a saddle, along with the increased weight of these new humans.  He also learned not to bolt with the noise of their guns, but each time they fired them the flash and the band did startle him.  Eventually they came to this encampment by the river, where the men gathered and became noisy.  It was here that Charlie met Tom.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Short Story (Part 2)

Toms Story (continued)
One trip a week is what Tom had settled on.  He would be gone for a week, but in the present he would only be gone for a few seconds.  He decided these trips would begin with recent history and slowly work its way back to the 18th century as he built up his knowledge of the culture, as well as his fortune to fund the trip. 
His first shopping trip had him heading to where his adventure would begin, only about 400 years later.  He went to his closet to pick out some simple clothing that would have been middle of the road fashionable in that time, reviewed his language requirements, and set 2190, and the coordinates for downtown St. Louis into the time machine, took a deep breath, and in an instant, he was transported to that place.  He had chosen a park, in the very early morning, hours as his landing spot.  With any luck, no one would see him touch down.
Perhaps we should talk about the time machine itself for just a moment, for it truly was a thing of beauty.  Tom found with the technical advances of his time, the power and weight requirements could be scaled down to look like one of those old-fashioned wrist clocks that were just now coming back into style after being passé for over a hundred years.  So, he figured he would not stand out too terribly with it on in his time period, and perhaps as far back as the early 1900s. Any earlier and Tom figured he would have to find another way to disguise it.  The fact he was wearing one in the twenty-second century could be chalked up as a family heirloom with personal meaning and he would be viewed as eccentric.  To initiate a trip, he opened the face to activate the brain link, thought of an exact time and place, initiated a transmit and launch code, and in a flash, was where he wanted to be.  To return home, all he needed to do was repeat the process with a home command and he was back to where he started, in present day time he would be gone for about 5 seconds.
The purpose of this first trip was to shop for local knowledge of the St. Louis area.  Tom chose 2190 because the global facial recognition grid was still in its infancy and he thought he could fool it while staying off the historical grid.  He intended to delve into the crumbling paper copies of the city’s records as if he were an academic looking for the first key to the city.  Along the way, he figured he might be able to pick up something that would be of some value three hundred years earlier.
At precisely 2311 hours’ local time, Tom opened his watch, activated the brain link and thought of 0530 hours (local) August 22nd 2190, for North 38.628383, West 90.185201.  He then thought through his launch code and go command.  In less than a blink of an eye he was there.  With this jump, only his second, Tom found he arrived just a bit disoriented and was forced to sit down for just a moment or two, but within a couple of minutes he was on his feet and walking to the nearest people mover stop.  After a tiring walk of 10 minutes he found the stop, called for a hover car with a bootleg communication chip, and settled in for the minute or so wait until it arrived.
And arrive it did.  A non-descript box with four seats, adorned with the latest in integrated advertising, Tom had only to say where he wanted to go.  There was no charge, for the corporation that owned St. Louis would cover the cost as part of their business expense, and it would be written off as so much was these days.  Tom realized it was still too early for the city historical museum so he chose to see the markers for the original city location.  He thought this would be important for when he came back four-hundred years earlier.  It took about 1o minutes to find the spot, and another tiring walk up to the mound where the marker stood, awaiting Tom’s arrival.
As he approached – a holographic scene awaited him, and his newly discovered, semi-transparent, guide welcomed his arrival, asking Tom what he would like to discover?  Tom suggested first scenes of the city in the early twenty-second century, assuming that was the most popular request.  As the scene played out Tom worked on a plan to walk his way back to the 1700’s.
St. Louis in 2100 was a bustling city, with its citizens adjusting well to the world government, and the new 40-hour work month.  It had just finished the bidding process for who would be the cities corporate sponsor, and what social benefits that corporation would provide.  Of course, with its long history associated with various brewing companies the residents were shocked when a small trillion-dollar start-up won the bid with a promise of full employment, great social programs, universal health care, and free memberships in the gaming syndicate they owned.  So, thought Tom, this is how St Louis came to be known as gambling capital of the world, displacing those historical centers like Macau, China, Las Vegas, America and Monte Carlo, Europe.
Choosing to step back in 50-year increments he discovered that St. Louis had been a moderately sized city with a vibrancy that impressed many of its visitors.  It had, of course, the big beer brewing company owned by the Europeans, as well as something called the St. Louis Cardinals who played a game called baseyball.  As best Tom could figure out it was a game begun by the natives who tossed rocks at each other, but it grew into a game where the rock was replaced by a ball made in South America that would be hit by a wooden club made somewhere else in America.  It was supposed to be the most popular game of its time, for the video kept calling it “America’s Game.”  Eventually, Tom learned the city began life as an outpost for the French fur trappers and traders, who would sell European goods to the natives in exchange for coats from dead animals like beaver, deer, antelope and buffalo.  Tom made a mental note to research what these animals were and how one was supposed to catch them, and take their coats off.
Enthralled with the monuments presentation Tom soon came to realize he was getting just a bit thirsty and hungry.  It was time to find a good restaurant, so he hiked back to the people mover station, summoned a ride and asked for a restaurant where he might have breakfast.  Off they went for about 200 yards where it stopped in front of the Brake for Breakfast All You Can Eat Breakfast Emporium.  Stepping down, Tom was transported inside by the moving walkway.
Once inside he was overwhelmed by the various smells coming from the aroma machines.  He settled on a traditional wonton and oatmeal curry, along with an electrolyte infused smoothie as his breakfast.  Sat down and began to observe the people coming and going about their daily routine.  Glancing up at the time on the wall Tom noted it was now 1000 hrs (local) and perhaps he should be heading over to the city’s historical society after he finished.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Short Story (Part 1)

Tom's Story
Tom swung an unsteady leg over the seat and settled into the saddle.  This whole horse riding thing was new for him, but he was determined to live out this dream.  The horizon lay out before him, unbroken by buildings, sky scrapers, paved roads, or any other sign of civilization.  How unlike his home he thought?  To be alone, totally alone, and without a deadline to make or meeting to attend, was something Tom had wished for as long as he could remember.
He leaned forward, taking the reins in his hands.  He looked behind him to see the two pack mules grazing on the knee length grass.  Finally, he checked the line tied around the horn of the saddle, took a deep breath of the humid summer air and said to Chester, his horse, go.  Nothing happened.  He sat there a few moments wondering why nothing was happening as he reviewed the horse starting procedures he had read about in his manual.  Finally, he said, “giddy up.”  Still nothing.  Obviously, Tom had a defective horse.  Then he remembered the second part of the instruction, a gentle nudge in the side with his heels should accompany the words. 
With renewed determination he shifted his weight, Chester raised his head from the grass as if to say, are you ready now?  He said the magic words and lightly kicked Chester in the sides.  With an unexpected lurch the two moved forward, and soon the four of them were slowly walking towards the unknown.
Tom came from a time without horses, a time when man had taken over all the planet and there were no grasslands, no empty spaces, no open horizons.  It was the year 2222 and the earth’s human population stood at 24 billion.  True, they had avoided nuclear war, moved to renewable energy, found a way to reuse almost everything, and had decided that all economists and financial experts should be shot, but still with 24 billion people milling around privacy was at a premium.
Tom was a rare anachronist.  He longed for a time when people were not living on top of each other, when one’s life was not so inextricably linked to everyone else.  A time when you could do what you felt, rather than what the state allowed.  For those reasons, Tom had tinkered with the idea of travel and the conveyance necessary to take him to where he wanted to go.  His eureka moment had come about two-years ago when he was rehashing the disconnects between quantum physics and Einstein’s theories of relativity.  He found he could bend space, just like that old story from Frank Herbert, where the Navigators could be in two places by using some substance called spice.  But he also found he could bend time to allow someone to travel forward or backward with great control.
Tom kept this knowledge to himself, for he saw the potential for unimaginable abuse by those who ran the earth.  But he also set out to build a device that would allow him his adventures.  Just as Jules Vern had imagined, Tom had built a “Time Machine.”
Once the machine was built, and tested with a quick run back to 2200 it was time for Tom to begin his preparations for his “Grand Adventure.”  Where and when would it be? 
He studied the knowledge grid to research the various times of humanity or even human-less time.  As a part time historian and author, he had authorization to the knowledge grid for history, and his search did little or nothing to set off the AI tracking alerts for suspicious or unauthorized activity.  He made doubly sure to keep his visits brief and in a specific order, which could be explained as a legitimate research process should the authorities choose to investigate. 
He chose to write about the European suppression of the natives living in the plains of the North American continent as his topic.  He had sent this request to the government, and in due course the bureaucracy sent back its approval with the usual caveats.
Everything was connected these days, so he began writing his outline as was expected, but he also made notes on an archaic iPad® he had found in his grandfather’s belongings years ago.  His grandfather had shown him the iPad® when he was a boy and said it was a family heirloom.  It was so old it wasn’t capable of integration into the global knowledge grid, but to be sure, Tom had opened the bulky old thing and removed the chip they had called the wifi processor.
After a few hours of research, he had settled on St. Louis, in what had once been Missouri, a part of the United States, and the year 1890, well before the serious exploration of what was called the Great Plains had begun. He figured he could get enough equipment and supplies from the French that inhabited that place, all he needed was whatever was the currency of the day.  Gold always seemed a good choice, but not too much of it, and perhaps something else as well.  So he began his shopping trips in the time machine to gather up the material he would need to outfit himself for the adventure.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Culture Change.

One of the pages I follow on Facebook had a post in praise of the new Secretary of the Air Force and the leadership vision she brings.  It shared this article.  New Air Force secretary presses for a culture change in her service. Please forgive me, but I have to suppress something that ranges from an inner chuckle to an outright laugh. 
I entered active service in 1974 and after retirement in 1996 spent the next twenty years working as a civilian for the Air Force.  In those forty plus years I can’t recall a time the Air Force was not experiencing some kind of culture change.
Sometimes the changes came so quickly we hadn’t even began the last one, before the new one had replaced it.  I often wondered if we wouldn’t be better off with a chameleon type uniform to show our ability to change.
I would like to borrow Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “How do I love thee?” to capture my view on this.
How do I change thee?
How do I change thee? Let me count the ways.
I change thee to size, strength, and mission so large
My soul can reach, while I am in charge
For the ends and purpose of political grace.
I change thee to the level my days allow
Most quiet change, by rule and wile
I change thee often, as airman’s lives I beguile
I change thee haphazardly, as if I am the night
I change thee with passion put to use
For I have but a short time to make it right
In my ego, and with childlike faith
I change thee with words, oft times out of place,
With promotions, selections, wisdom implied; and if the President smiles
I shall change thee for a longer while.
Don’t get me wrong, there are things that need to change in the Air Force, but with each new administration the Department’s need to bend to a new management style, a new political agenda, or to correct a real or imagined need means the service can never reach efficiency in either its organization or its leadership.
Perhaps I am too old to appreciate the dynamics at play, and it is the easy out to believe that, but I wasn’t too old when the Air Force changed from being led by airman who believed the nuclear bomber was supreme to airman who thought fighters were the only way to go.  At the end of the day that transition led the Air Force to carry nuclear bombs from North Dakota to Louisiana without realizing they were on the aircraft.  We had a culture change were regulations were no longer regulating, but just kind of giving advice; if you cared to read it.  (Kind of like the new SECAF suggests)
I was there when the culture was changed to tell our airman that doing your job was the number one priority, and rated officers should focus on being the best they could be and the rest would be taken care of.  I was also there when those same airmen were let go during downsizing, or passed over for promotion because someone else had spent less time flying and more time doing other things that impressed the squadron commander.
I was there when the Air Force management philosophy changed to reflect the current fads in manufacturing.  When management styles were defined in a box, quality management was job 1, when everyone should have 7 habits, when evaluation forms had rankings (or not), when officer evaluations needed secret key words, or when the Weighted Airman Promotion System (WAPS) should weigh this or that aspect heavier or lighter based on how many people could get promoted.  Because at the end of the day, everything is about promotion, isn’t it?
Break-Break:  Just a random thought here.  In celebrating the 4th of July, a friend who knew his family history, pointed out one of his ancestors had fought the entire Revolutionary war as a private.  He had lived through the winter at Valley Forge and participated as a part of the Colonial Army for four long years without promotion.  It was wrong of me, but my first thought was he probably had problems with the Weighted Revolutionary Army Promotion System (WRAPS) testing.
Somehow, I’ve missed the culture change where rated officers in the Air Force actually learn how to lead airman by example from the time they are Lieutenants.  For almost all pilots, or navigators/weapon system officers/combat system officers/pick your term, the first time they get to really be in charge of another individual to the point of controlling their life is when they are Lieutenant Colonels with 14 to 18-years of service.  Even then if you are a fighter pilot you are in charge of 24 type A personality pilots who want to fly and will avoid almost anything that threatens that choice.  Non-rated officers, on the other hand, have to deal with the young kids almost from their first day, but at the end of their careers they will never be the Chief of Staff.
All the previous aside, there are cultural changes that are critical and the question is how to separate them from the politically motivated changes that are never truly embraced by the average airman?
For example, when I entered the service we were learning to embrace racial equality.  Although the service had been technically integrated since President Truman’s Executive Order 9981, issued in 1948, the 1960’s had taught us discrimination was still an issue.  We had annual training on this issue during the 1970s.  Did this solve the problem?  Some would say yes, some no, but what I’ve seen is the military services have embraced equality to a far larger degree than civil society because of the need for discipline and harmony within a combat unit far outweighs personal bias. 
I believe, despite the changing winds of the political climate, the same will be said for the acceptance of the homosexual communities, unless or until they begin to disrupt good order and discipline.
How do we bring young airman who’ve grown up being sheltered from reality into a culture that demands we face the reality of the world on a daily basis?
As Bob Dillion so eloquently put it, “The times they are a ‘changing.” I wonder how we effectively change the military culture, when the civil culture doesn’t know what right is?

Monday, July 3, 2017

A Life Lesson

I was recently reminded of an important lesson in life.  It has been expressed in a number of ways throughout literature and history.  An old English proverb, “you catch more flies with honey, than with vinegar,” nicely sums up this lesson.
Affirmation is the cornerstone to success, regardless the occupation, the role you play, or the events in question.  If you can remain positive, see the good in those around you, and help them see the good in themselves you will succeed. 
This is especially true in those things like marriage, where the needs of one must become the needs of both if the marriage is to flourish and survive. 
If, on the other hand, you focus only those things that are troublesome or disheartening you will soon find those problems worsening.  We need only look around us at the state of our politics to see the truth of these words.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

I Wonder What They Thought Would Happen?

Around about four-hundred years ago refugees, castaways, and a few members of the lower European nobility began getting shuttled off to America to get them out of the way.  They were usually those who had little potential for advancement, had differences with the organized Church, or were criminals the kings and queens wanted to get rid of without the mess of a beheading.
While this lot was not predominately criminal, as was the case with the settlement of Australia, the American migration did have its fair share.  From this pool of refugees, we somehow became a nation unlike any before us.  We took the strength, determination, and resilience of the common man and woman to forge a nation from a continent whose scope was unimaginable to those who remained in Europe. 
Along the way, as we expanded towards the great Pacific, we brought diseases that ravaged the natives.  In some cases, we learned to live together, but in many there was tremendous conflict as we came to dominate a land we viewed as our manifest destiny. 
Before that westward expansion could really get started we had to assert our independence from those who sought to rule from afar.  This began with the rebellious men and women in the Massachusetts colony who railed against the increasing taxes on imports from England and the troops necessary to enforce their collection.
I wonder if the men who made the decision to send their poor, their huddled masses, to the New World had any idea that within a hundred years or so we would grow to be a nation?
Now, some 241 years later, we are a mighty power who is struggling with the very problems we had in 1776.  What is the role of government, and can a government insulated from an increasingly polarized people rule effectively?
As we gather to celebrate our declaration to King George, and his Parliament, let us remember the words of Thomas Paine, whose work Common Sense helped fuel our rebellion in words the average man could understand.  In his work, The Age of Reason he offers advice I think worth your consideration on this holiday.
“I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”   
Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
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