Category Archives: travel

Driverless Cars And The Future Revisited

There has been a lot of press lately about the advent of driverless cars in the near future.  Many are predicting that they will be common in another decade.  They have already been experimenting with some and they allegedly work just fine.   Heck folks are already noting that there will be a plethora of novel issues that will arise because of this new technological wonder.   Maybe it really will happen this time.  There have been many predictions in the past of some great leap forward in the technology of automobiles before.  If you read Look or Life magazines 60 years ago there were pundits who were predicting that most cars within a short time would really be flying cars.   They had lots of prototypes during that era.  Some were small with wings that would fold up or down just like the fighter aircraft on aircraft carriers during WWII.   Many others were a miniature helicopter.   There were predictions that the suburbs would be even farther removed from the city center and that fewer roads would be necessary because so many commuters would be flying in to work.  They believed the Interstate highway system had done all that was necessary the big challenge was going to be creating and controlling the flying lanes in and out of the city with different flight levels for inbound and outbound traffic and then the cross traffic.   Of course many really smart people were shortly predicting also that we were about to enter a new Ice Age.  The cost of the new control systems and the cars themselves were to be mostly covered by the gazillions of dollars saved in not building new highways.   They were going to be the next Big Thing.  How many flying cars you seen in your neighborhood lately?

Cars can be made to drive without human control now using off the shelf technology but it would have to be integrated to work properly.   The primary components will be a gyroscope of one type or the other, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), an inertial navigation system, GPS and radar.   We have all these already and have had some for over a century but they will have to be coordinated with a master computer software system even though the MEMS is a miniature computer and GPS works with computers.   We’ve had gyroscopes since early in the 20th century.  A fellow named Sperry developed the one that was the most famous and was used by the US Navy and other Navies around the world for decades.  It was purely mechanical and expensive to make but quite accurate.  What you say is the purpose of a gyroscope–the found true North.   You know that magnetic north is off by several degrees and hundreds of miles from the North Pole.   A gyroscope is  essentially a spinning wheel that never stops, indeed that is the whole point.  When operational the spinning gyroscope will aligned itself with the spinning axis of the Earth.  I don’t pretend to understand the physics of this but trust those guys in the lab coat it works.  It is momentum.   Once you know true north then you can start figuring out where you are, where you have been and where you are going.   They now have laser type gyroscope that serve the same purpose.  The MEMS measure torque and acceleration.  They use tiny mechanical measures and electric impulses to do this.  I can’t explain the science behind them but they work and have for a couple of decades.  By the way these tiny devices are already in use in your air bag deployment system and your electronic games and inkjet printer.   The gyroscope allows you to determine yaw, pitch, roll and direction of the vehicle it is in but it doesn’t tell you where you are without reference to something else.  The Inertial navigation system is used by the military because it doesn’t depend on outside factors to determine the direction of movement.  this is used for our rockets and cruise missiles.  It can’t be electronically jammed which is important in military terms but again it won’t really tell you where you are going.

So you need mapping by the traditional method even though enhanced with computer readings from “maps” built into the rocket or car or a GPS.  The GPS has been mostly used now for a couple of decades.  With GPS or mapping in the system then the “car” will know where it is and where it is going.   Lastly the car will have a small radar system to see objects, like other moving cars, and thus “advise” the total system when to turn or stop or slow down to avoid collision.  So all the parts to work the car and control its speed movement direction and acceleration are in place.  They will have to be coordinated by and utilize a master software program.    Many of the parts and pieces as you know are already in place in the newer cars today.  They all have GPS and those MEMS and some are getting radar.

First thing that concerns me is the idea of hacking.  Gee, the papers are filled almost daily with some story about hackers getting into all kinds of vital systems, banking, military, dams, Social Security, etc.  What will happen to the traffic on your favorite Interstate highway when  some pimply faced teenager hacks into the highway/car control system?   Or even worse a foreign entity that wishes us ill.  Of even greater concern will be a hacking into the GPS system.  So much of our modern world is now dependent on GPS that simply shutting it down or scrambling the signals would wreak untold havoc throughout our civilized world.  There is the conspiracy case to be made that the Government could shut down the system any time it wanted and ground us all for whatever their reason.  Remember the Boston lock down of just a couple of weeks ago? Imagine that anytime the Government thought it advisable.

There is also the question of the countless people who prefer to be in charge, they want to be driving that car not be dependent on some unseen distant computer system.  They like driving in addition to be a Type A personality.  Just because we can do it will that whole new system be marketable?   Will we be willing to pay the extra costs.  Of course there is the problem of computer shut down.  Not hacking just the typical computer crash.  We all know that does happen.  For whatever reason it just goes kablooey.   Be rather awkward at 70 miles an hour.   We’ll see how it turns out, or at least many of you will.

“Predictions are hard things, especially about the future.”  Yogi Berra baseballer extraordinaire.


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2 Cents Worth On Life Its Ownself

We take a back seat to no one including the New York Times or Wal-Mart for our cut-rate prices for opinions gleaned from the tomes of the ancients to the garbage heap of the daily news.

The recent news of the gas line explosion was tragic to be sure but it calls to mind the gas explosion of the New London School in East Texas in the depths of the Depression.  In the mid ’30’s the local school exploded one day with the deaths of over 200 kids.  The entire community was devastated as one can imagine.  This was in the days before they added methane to the gas lines so you could smell the odor and have some warning of a leak.  You can look up the old photos of the event. 

Military power and political goals have worked hand in glove since the dawn of recorded history.  The annals are replete with a big army showing up on someone’s doorstep and then the negotiations begin.  Without a battle the larger force more often than not got its desired object.  Military power doesn’t always have to be used, just visible and credible to serve the political purposes.  Read your Bible for many of these lessons.  With this in mind it is concerning to see the steady buildup of the Chinese military power both its land forces and especially its Naval power and the new missile systems it is deploying.  We are only a couple of decades away from the Chinese exerting influence over the entire Pacific area by the sheer force of its military power and the projection of that power.  Remember we never know for sure what they are spending on their military we only know what the Communist Party wishes to have published.  A real concern for our children.

The recent Turkish vote on their Constitutional amendments put the nail in the coffin for the foreseeable future for entry into the Common Market.  The vote was a victory for the Islamists pure and simple.  The Germans are already very worried about the number of Turks in their land and the influence of Islamists views spreading.  The Germans will not agree to their entry with this tilt to a more radical Islamist governing body.  France is nearly as repelled at the moment so the Turks will turn more to their Muslim neighbors for future development.  Good luck with that.  They missed a historical moment to truly join the modern world with that step back into the dark.

Many on the left in this country wish for more government involvement in our economy and a far larger role for government employment policies.  They want even more people working directly or indirectly for the government.  Big government, big control.  They like it that the slice of the GDP controlled by the Federal government is growing.  Curious that Cuba which has complete control of the economy by central planning is laying off 500,000 workers with the comment that the government payrolls are “bloated”.  And we are following their example?   Guess some believe we are nothing but lemmings who will follow any Pied Piper promising easy money, to mix some metaphors.

Is it just me but is professional football becoming more and more like the WWE?  These celebrations for the most routine of plays is very annoying and completely unsportsmanlike.  Play the game, do your assigned job and then get back to the huddle.  Those tattoos look like a Las Vegas strip gone wild.  Explain those to your grandchildren some day.

From Proverbs to Jefferson it has been noted that debt is slavery.  Is the US on the path to enslaving all its people?  Do the math and you will see the tens of thousands you owe for your share of the public debt, not counting of course the “trust” funds in the Social Security agency.  You didn’t put this on your credit card the politicians did it for you and in your name.  But we elected them.   Lots of us don’t like being enslaved by politicians from all over the country who don’t represent our views.  Why can Sanders and Schumer cause me to go into debt?  I didn’t even vote for or against them and can’t vote them out no matter how much I disagree with their views.   Pelosi and the others keep using my identity to charge on my credit card for things I don’t want.

One of the most peaceful places to spend a summer afternoon is high in the Jemez mountains just west of Los Alamos, New Mexico.  Going north from Santa Fe you take the turn off to Los Alamos.  A visit to the museum is well worth the stop.  Then proceed north and west on the state highway toward Farmington over the Jemez peaks.  A few miles down the road you will come to a very large valley high in the mountains.  Believe me you can’t miss it.  It is about a mile wide and probably three miles long.  It is ringed with the aspen and pine trees and the  mountain tops.  The valley is lush with high grass in the summer months.  The cattle will be chomping it.  You will see the ranch house off on the far side of the valley.  It is peaceful and very beautiful.  It is also very unknown.  It is off the beaten trail of tourists.  It is a wonderful place to spend a few hours and contemplate your life and journey.  You can also fly fish in the stream running down from the mountains into the valley.  If God didn’t make this place then I want to know who is Mother’s Nature’s decorator.

Just like FDR made farmers plow up their crops to increase demand and prices, the cash for clunkers program required that all the autos traded in had to be destroyed.  Of course that made the prices for the reduced number of used cars go up. You and or a friend tried buying one lately?   You tell me if that program on our credit card really helped the economy?

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Relearn And Respect The Lessons From Nature

One gets a sense of scale and even insignificance when we watch the latest eruption of a major volcano in Iceland.  We argue and moan and groan about the influence of Man on our climate and old Mother Earth with our cars and power plants.  But then along comes something like this again to rein in our over- broad view of our power.  We didn’t start the eruption and we can’t do a darn thing to turn it off.  Well, I guess some at the Sierra Club might argue that the eruption was due to climate change just like they do with hurricanes and other natural events and changes in the geology and climatology of Earth.  I doubt any credible geologist worth his salt would maintain that position.   That fact is that there are giant and powerful forces at work shaping the earth now and into its future.  The Earth is not a completed project yet.  Hard to believe but it never will be.  Earth will continue to change as long as it exist. 

It is often forgotten and rarely noted that a few hundreds of miles below our feet there is nothing but molten iron.  It rotates and moves with creates our magnetic poles and thank heaven, literally, for that or else we would die from radiation from our Sun.  Sitting on top of that molten iron is the crust of our earth–the ordinary  “dirt” and stones we see.   All of our power plants and nuclear bombs pale in comparison to the force and energy of the rotating blob of iron. We are the fly on the wall and can be swatted away by Mother Nature on a whim anytime.

Already transportation by air is shut down throughout much of Europe and almost all of Europe will be affected in a few more days if the eruption continues.  It is not like a runaway oil well that can be tamed by Man’s ingenuity and technology.  That kink in our modern transportation system is not caused by an oil embargo, terrrorits’ attack or financial crisis but by the forces of Nature exercising their muscles.  There is not shut-off valve they we can turn.  We are at the mercy of Nature.  When Krakatoa went up in the 1880’s the entire world cooled off for over a year.  That following summer was the one noted as the summer without summer because of the cooler temperatures throughout Europe and the US.  All you have to do is look at the clips of the eruption to see the tons and tons of ash and debris being spewed into the atmosphere by that eruption.  All the tailpipes in LA for a year wouldn’t equal what it coming out there in an hour.

It has already been reported that the makeup of the ash is more than that in the traditional definition because much of this is sand and grit along with the usual volumes of sulphur that when mixed with water droplets in the atmosphere will form sulphuric acid.  Sounds like a real witches brew.   It can’t be determined yet if the net effect will be to warm or cool the climate globally.  On the one hand the “dust” will reflect radiation from the Sun and therefore cause cooler temps but the gases will also trap some of the inherent heat from the Earth and tend to warm.  Bet your money on the cooling effect.  Of course nothing dramatic will happen if the eruption dies out in a matter of days.  It will be yesterday’s news and the folks in western Europe might have a little more dust to clean up than normal.  But if that thing wants to  continue it will affect our weather.  Also there is the possibility that it could have a really huge explosion that would put even more debris into the atmosphere in short order like Krakatoa which lasted only hours.   It also could produce very spectacular sunsets for some time as the setting Sun’s rays reflect off the floating debris in the skies around the world.  The trade winds and jet stream will influence where all this will move.  The first indications of debris should show up in the US by next week. 

So if you are worried about unemployment, the economy, public debt or political direction or parties, then you can add something new to your list.  Remember it was massive amounts of debris like this that killed off the dinosaurs and later the large mammals.   Those tectonic plates will move  and cause eruptions regardless of the Common Market actions or the passage of health care.   If you feel a shaking in your house then that is something to worry about or if you have to wear sweaters during the summer you will worry.  Use your own thoughts processes to imagine what will happen to agriculture if this thing continues much longer.  The impact could be devastating.  Buy long on the commodities futures if you think it will continue for long.  So sleep well but check the news one more time.

From ancient times to our own Man has always viewed the giant events of Nature as an omen.  The earthquakes, great storms, floods, drought and fires were portents of something wicked this way comes.  Does this eruption portend anything in your mind?  (Ray Bradbury fans will pick up on the above line)

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The Miracle of Moving Stuff

From the most ancient of times the transport and sale of merchandise has been of the utmost importance to whole nations or societies and to the merchants engaged in trade.  More than one battle has been fought over the rights of trade and trade routes.  More than one nation or city-state has been established based upon the ability to trade and the geographic facility to transport goods.  The Phoenicians were traders and they couldn’t have succeeded as well as they did without customers and having a reasonably reliable transport system.  Every time there is another discovery of an ancient galley in the Black Sea or the Mediterranean Sea they almost always find evidence of cargo being transported–oil, wine, salt, spices, wheat or raw materials like lumber or metals.  

It didn’t take very long for systems to emerge to regulate the shipment and sell of these goods.  People naturally wanted to receive something of value in exchange for their merchandise.  A straight barter system was often used but it didn’t take long to realize that method was often inconvenient and coinage came about so the merchant could use the coins or other forms of value to exchange for something else he wanted closer to home.  Today we have computer systems that monitor and regulate the flow of goods literally around the world.  Every ship, truck and train is today under some control of computer systems for identifying the cargo carried, its destination and the intended recipient of the goods.  The old guys were pretty efficient in their control systems even without computers.

As trade increased and the need to move as quickly as possible and to have maximum flexibility in dealings various types of paperwork came about to give instructions and identify ownership of goods in transit and who was to receive the goods and the final sale purchaser.   For centuries merchants and sea captains and the nations that taxed by import duties or excise taxes used the manifest to determine cargo on the seas.  The manifest would be a complete inventory of the cargo on board and the port of call for the ship and what country was its flag and the captain.  It was a very important document.  The mere absence of having a manifest on board was prima facie evidence of piracy.  All legitimate trade and cargo would have the manifest  and was required to be displayed to the harbor master or his equivalent around the world.  Sugar, tea, coffee, spices, lumber and all manner of goods were shipped in this manner.  Goods found on board not listed on the manifest were considered evidence of smuggling.  The US and other nations often issued letters marque which authorized the use of private ships and crews to enforce embargos or to engage in battle with the enemy of the day.  That is were the phrase “privateer” came from.  There was a huge difference between being a pirate and a privateer, for one you were hailed and rewarded with a percentage of your capture and for the other you were hung.

A similar document was a bill of lading which identified cargo on land shipments.  Sometimes the two phrases were used on land or sea but mostly the manifest was for the sea and the bill of lading for shipment by wagon or later train.  It served the same purpose of designating the cargo, its destination and the intended recipient.  The railroads as they became common got this down to a pretty precise system that worked for over a century.  The yard master would receive the cargo and fill out the bill of lading and even which boxcar would carry the merchandise.  The owner-shipper would get a copy of the bill, it was his proof of ownership and his receipt.  Under the manifest or bill there would usually be a phrase that the goods were received in “good order” and were to be delivered in like “good order” to its recipient and destination.  The recipient would have his own copy to verify he was entitled to receive the goods along with a purchase order or sale’s slip in most cases.  The boxcar after loading would be sealed with a soft metal alloy made mostly of tin.  Only the yard master at the destination was allowed to break the seal.  Any evidence of tampering was considered a crime and suspicions would rise quickly.  By the way most trains had very few if any empty boxcars.  That was dead heading and a waste of money and resources.  All those movies you see about people jumping into empty boxcars are Hollywood not reality in the vast majority of cases.  If you owned a railroad would move any more empty boxcars than absolutely necessary?  

Sometimes the seller of merchandise would already know what he was going to do with the proceeds of his transaction and would have arranged for the purchase goods to be shipped back to him.  This sale would likely be from someone other than the person he sold and shipped his goods to.  Thus the bill of exchange came about.  It was a written instruction from A for B upon receipt of goods to make a payment to C and not A the seller.  This could be because A was buying from C or A owed C due to an earlier transaction.  It enhanced and sped the flow of commercial transactions.   The bill of exchange would be with the bill of lading or delivered separately by mail or telegraph.

It is odd that after almost 250 years the amount of interest on our foreign debt is about the same. In the year 1782 the interest charged by the Dutch for their loan to the Colonies was 4%.  That was foreign debt of course and curiously the domestic debt we owed to our own citizens was at 6%.  May the locals were less confident of repayment that the foreigners.

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Electronic Controls, Health Care and Military Worries.

How many times has your computer “froze up” on you?  No matter the brand or type sometimes these little electronic wizards just have a mind of their own and won’t comply with the commands you give them or if they do it takes much, much longer than you wanted or expected.  Those tiny computers that are now becoming an integral part of all auto parts is concerning.  Toyota is at the top of the list now with worries about acceleration and braking but that is only the tip of a coming avalanche.  I really don’t want to be barreling down the road at 60 miles an hour and hit the brakes to discover they don’t work or else that there is a two second time delay.  Two seconds may seem like a really short time but at that speed you are covering couple hundred feet.  In an emergency you take less than a second to hit the brake.  It is a matter of life and death.  I think it is much safer to have well calibrated mechanical devices that respond directly to your body actions.  I am sure the chances of electronic failure or quite low but the brakes getting the wrong signal at the wrong time is a horrifying thought.  They now also have those keyless electronic starter systems.  First that will inconvenient as the devil when you can’t start your car and it has to be towed in just to replace a chip or reboot a system and worse what happens when you can’t get the car to turn off?  Newer is not always better.

If any form of the health care bill currently proposed by the White House passes it will lead to some truly epic Supreme Court cases down the road.   It will dramatically call into question anew the meaning of Article One, Section Eight and the interstate commerce clause.   How does my health impact interstate commerce?  Does my health status affect interstate commerce any more than my daily use of water?  Whether I use 10 gallons a day or 100 gallons does that affect interstate commerce?   If you think it does then the EPA or some other Federal agency could have the authority to specify exactly how much I can use and ration our water use.   Health and water are important matters and can have certain regulations and laws concerning their use or abuse.  But, but, but, it has been the States that have historically been granted the right to control such matters.  This is because of the limitations of the powers of Congress in Article One and the corresponding retention of powers of the States under the Tenth Amendment.  We have no national law regarding the ownership and transfer of ownership of real property in the US.  That is a matter of State law and each State has its own laws regarding real estate.  It takes no imagination to realize how important a topic property rights are.   Does my ownership of my home affect interstate commerce?  Some would probably say it does regardless of how nebulous it may be.  If anything and everything affects interstate commerce then we no longer have a Federal system of government but a centrally controlled government and the States become mere provinces of the central government, mere administrative tools for national policy to be implemented.  That was not the intent of our Founders and I don’t believe most of us would prefer that system of government.  There is also the little problem again of the Constitution.  Article Four, Section Four requires that the US shall guarantee to every State a Republican form of government.  Total control of our economy from Washington would destroy that provision’s meaning.

The Pentagon is going through another of its internal reviews about the nature and formation of our armed forces.  The general idea is that the traditional forces are not nimble enough to meet the demands of the 21st century.  The concept is to make the forces smaller in unit size and more specialized in their method of operations.  To review the military is always a good idea.  That old saw about the military always fighting the last war is a good one with lots of truth to it.  We all tend to go with what we know and the generals and admirals know what they did when the were younger officers and will naturally bend in that methodology when faced with a new challenge.  Often the old method doesn’t comport with the new facts on the battlefield and bad results can occur.  However it is best not to throw out the baby with the bath water.  Regardless of technical and tactical changes in battlefields there will always be the danger of the large scale clash with an enemy.  I do hope the military won’t abandon completely the formation and training of the traditional forces for large land and sea battles.  We will have the need for divisions, not only brigades and we will have the need for more ships in the Navy than just aircraft carriers and their escorts.  The Chinese are rapidly building their military power on both land and sea.  Who knows where their Communist leaders will want to expand their hegemony?  Especially in a few years when the demographers predict a serious decline in their population and an aging population that will be even more demanding on their economy than ours.  Battleships for example are considered very old school.  However as recently as the Iraq War of ’92 we used the old Missouri to good effect.  Both offensively and defensively there is something very intimidating and encouraging (depending on whether you are on the receiving end or benefitting from the salvos) about those huge 16 inch guns pounding away.  We don’t have even one of those today.  Cruise missiles are great but sometimes volume is more important than pin point accuracy.  Don’t believe for one minute we have “evolved” beyond the era when an all out bare knuckle conflict is possible.  Sadly, we aren’t there yet and for the moment the US is still the best hope for a better world regardless of our shortcomings.

Of course health care premiums are going up again.  They will continue to do so until the States reform the process so that all of us become “shoppers” rather than merely users of health care.  Empowering the people to bargain for the best prices just as we do for cars or cereal will reduce prices quicker than anything.

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Road Trip Out West–The Finale

We must add a bit of an addendum to the last post to cover a few interesting items omitted in the rush to get to press on time.   If your trip through the Panhandle of Texas is during the winter months you will see lots of ducks and those magnificent Canadian geese.  Every large cattle tank or lake along the highway will have them.  It is surprising since we normally think of them being much farther South during the winter but I assure you they are there in their thousands.  Those vee’s against a gray sky are quite awe inspiring and an assurance of the timeless flow of nature in spite of the doomsayers.  Also on the route from Clayton, NM to Raton you will see two other neck-turners.  Just west of Clayton if the sky is clear you will see no less than a dozen contrails of jet aircraft.   This is a natural confluence of the air routes for so many flights moving east to west or vice versa.   Around big cities you will also see a few of those if you watch the sky but here you are in a very remote part of the country and the modern intrusion is a stark reminder of just how large and diverse our nation is and the amount of travel people make.   Also on the drive between Clayton and Raton you will come across a few herds of Pronghorn antelope.  You will usually be right on top of them before you notice them.  That tawny color of their hide blends in so naturally with the open spaces and the brown grasses and that arid tan earth.  Often they will be close enough to the highway that you can get a good photo of them.  The bucks are easy to spot because they are so much larger than the does.

Now back to Colorado.  Just north of Pueblo is a highway that goes west and will take you into the heart of ski country if you are there for winter sports.  You will pass Florence and Canon City where they have prisons.   The one in Florence is the Federal facility and is in a fairly remote location surround by mountains on three sides.  The one in Canon City is the state prison and hugs the highway and is in the mountains and surrounded by forest and steep defiles and canyons.  The one is Florence is where the newspapers have talked about the high level terrorist being held.   I have never been inside so I’ll take their word for it. 

Next you approach Colorado Springs. It is a real peach of a city.  It snuggles up very close to the mountains immediately to its west.  They tower over the city.  The first place you will pass is the special military facility that is the strategic headquarters for the air force and other military command and control centers.  It has been featured in numerous movies over the years.   You can’t just drive up to the front entrance but it is there only a couple miles west of the Interstate 25. 

Then you will come to one of the most famous and scenic resorts in the US.  The Broadmoor at Colorado Springs.  It is pricey but you should take your sweetheart there at least once.  It is big and rambling and up a bit in the foothills to the Rockies so there are some tremendous views from there.  In fact the views are so good that they inspired “America the Beautiful”.  The song was written there and you will be able to see why.  Those fruited plains stretch out to the east for miles and the towering mountains are right behind you, including a view of Pike’s Peak.   Their Sunday brunch is something special as are the other restaurants.   For golfers there is a course right at the resort which is maintained impeccably and only a mile away is another designed by Arnie Palmer which is a great one with vistas and views to die for as you play your round.  It ain’t easy though I warn you.   The area around the resort is very, very nice with large homes on big lots.  They have an ice rink there where many of our Olympic hopefuls train.

As you get to the north side of the city you will pass the Air Force Academy on your left.  It also backs right up to the foothills of the mountains.  Once while driving in the mountains behind they campus we came across a group of cadets on a training mission to learn map reading and navigation.  Immediately across the highway from the campus is an airport that is used to train the cadets to fly.  Sometimes you will see one small trainer after another taking off or landing as they go through their basic drills of flight school. 

As you are almost out of town you will come to the highway that lead’s to Pike’s Peak. You can stop and take the train up to the top if you like.  The ride is a little less than an hour and the scenery and views are terrific.  Be warned that the altitude is really up there at 14,000 plus so the air is thin and the weather can be quite different than that back down in the valley where you begin the journey.   Take your jacket.  I have been there in July when it was snowing on top of the peak.

There are other wonderful areas to cover out west in your car.  Wyoming, Montana and Utah all have their beautiful area as does Arizona with the Grand Canyon.  Maybe someday will visit them.

Kiss your child bride, hug your kids and make a real effort to do a kindness to someone you don’t even know.  When times are good it is easy to be good.  We are tested and measured by our response to difficulties.  “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”  Proverbs 24, 10.

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Road Trip Out West

Let’s take a journey together through a portion of the Southwest and Rocky Mountains.  You start in Dallas and head northwest on Hwy. 287.  It will take you all the way to Amarillo.  The first hour and a half you are driving through typical suburban sprawl until you are well north of Ft. Worth and on the way to Wichita Falls.  The first place to stop for the rest room and refreshments is the Jolly Roger truck stop north of Decatur.  You have to experience all of Americana on the trip or you are missing some of the most interesting parts.  It is one of those huge truck facilities with bad food but lots of everything.  If you forgot anything for the trip you can get it here.  It is open 24/7 so you can leave as early as you like.  After you leave the Jolly Roger you will come to an area of very large rolling hills–one after the other for at least 20 miles.  There is an old steam train that runs through this country that makes for a great day trip with the kids.  It runs from Jacksboro, Texas to Wichita Falls.   When you approach Wichita Falls the land will flatten and except for a few hills here and there it will remain that way all the way to Amarillo.  You are now in the heart of Larry McMurtry country–Lonesome Dove, Texasville, The Last Picture Show, etc.  This is also the part of the state where the Commanches used to roam and cause great havoc, killing, stealing and generally plundering settlers in the outlying areas.  Quanah Parker was the best known of these renegades even though he was actually a half-breed.  This is also one of the areas of the earliest development of the oil fields.  There is still some production today but it is very small with “stripper” wells only. 

You will come to Amarillo after passing through some great quail hunting country and you have to stop at the Texan.   It is a large restaurant on Interstate 40 and the ultimate Kitsch aficionado’s heaven.  They offer one of those 40 ounce steaks free if you can eat the whole thing.  All the waitresses, yes, all female staff, dress as Indian squaws or cowgirls.  The beef is pretty good and the chicken fried steak equals those you find anywhere.  After your fill at the Texan you head north toward Dalhart.  You will pass the nuclear bomb assembly plant just north of town although today it spends most of its time taking apart the weapons under the various nuclear arms treaties.  After that you will pass the only helium production well and facility in the US.  If you use helium for fun or industry that is where it comes from.  Again you are passing through some really large rolling hills.  It is big country but not so arid and desert-like as the portions of west Texas farther south.  Then you are pulling into Dalhart and on your way to Dumas–some gray beards may even remember the old song about the Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas, well you are driving through the real deal.  It is mostly silos for grain storage and railroad junctions.  The a flatland shot to Texline (yep it is on the border with New Mexico) and to Clayton, NM. 

The drive from Clayton to Raton NM is very pretty and the landscape varies a great deal.  It is open country with large mesas and sometimes high mountains off in the distance.  It is an area that eons ago had a great deal of volcanic activity and there is a park where you can drive a couple of miles off the main highway to the rim of one of the last of these.  It is that majestic open country you portrayed so often in the Westerns.  Right before you get to Raton you will pass a very large ranch.   It even has a landing strip and hangar right beside the highway.  The ranch house  snuggles up against the foothills of the Rockies.  It is a very beautiful locale and as you drive by you will ponder what it would be like to own that place and be the king daddy rancher in the neighborhood.  You hit Raton and turn north on Interstate 25 which will take you into Colorado and points north.   You should also know that immediately west of Raton is what a few years ago was the largest privately owned contiguous land parcel in the Continental US.  It is called Vermejo Park.  It comprises 688,000 thousand acres and extends from just west of Raton all the way to Taos and and 30,000 acres in southern Colorado.   It has some of the best trout fishing in the US and the largest elk herd in the country. It is a beautiful place, very scenic, remote and I should warn you quite pricey.  It goes all the way back to Spanish land grant under the Hapsburgs when Spain controlled the Netherlands.  Then is passed to Phillips Oil and a few years ago Ted Turner bought it.  I have no idea if he still has it. 

When you leave Raton you make your way over the pass.  It is not very high but it is uphill for several miles and the weak car motors and heavy loads have a hard time.  I doubt those new fangled electric cars would ever be able to make the pull.  Then you are into Colorado.  It will be a mix of mountain driving and open spaces for the entire trip to C0lorado Springs.  The hills and mountains are covered with pine and aspen trees and the open land is brown with sage brush and cut with arroyos and ridges.   To your left you will always have the main ranges of the Rocky Mountains in view.  They are magnificent especially when the morning sun is shining on them.

Next up will be the great Sand Dunes and park just south of Pueblo.  They are a  few miles west of the Interstate and well marked.  You should give them a gander for the kids.  They are huge; each dune is sometimes a couple of hundred feet tall.  It is so barren there but you are within sight of the greenery of the forests covering the mountains.  The weather patterns there over the millenia have created a gap where there just isn’t much moisture.  It reminds of those Saharan landscapes.    If you have ever noticed on so much of your correspondence or dealing with almost any branch or agency of the Federal government the mailing address is Pueblo, Colorado.  Half that town is on the Federal payroll.  It goes all the way back to the Johnson Presidency and the Democratic push for more votes.  They established those huge Federal processing centers there to create jobs and assure a Democratic majority in that State forever.  The don’t really do anything there but push paper and you be the judge of whether the political strategy worked over the long haul.  Then you are on your way to Colorado Springs.  But that is a trip for another day. 

China and Japan together hold over 1.5 trillion of US debt and that is only the government owned debt, it doesn’t count the debt of private investors.  China takes the excess money it earns on its trade with us and converts some of it into Treasuries.  Since allegedly the companies selling to the US are “private” I wonder how the Chinese government ends up with all that money.  Please note that China cut back by 35 billion its debt ownership of US bonds in December.  They didn’t want to loan as much as they have been–hmm.

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Right Stuff Wasted

If you haven’t read the book you surely have seen the movie “Right Stuff” about our early astronauts. You also have seen “Apollo 13” at some point. Those movies and books do a great job of capturing the essence of what it is to be an American and our national psyche. We have from the inception of our nation been a people with a stirring, a thirst for exploration, innovation and risk taking to not only see the horizon but to seek out what lies there. Our earliest settlers were never content to sit on the coast and be fishermen. Our nascent merchants and traders sought out new markets and always were on the frontier of invention and development of the engines of enterprise and science.

It is not by accident that we are the land of Franklin, Edison, Bell and Salk. Yes, other nations have produced their great men of the sciences and arts and explorers. But our passion for looking for more, seeking more, searching for more was a group attitude. The whole nation rejoiced in Franklin and his achievements and we were proud of Edison and Bell. Some would say it is only because we were blessed with great natural resources that we always achieved so much and reached out even onto the stars. But that would be wrong. Africa is blessed with more natural resources than any continent on earth and it and its people never achieved any great advancement. They were not seekers and searchers. Their curiosity ended at the village walls or the scope of their hunting range. We imagined what might be and what might lie beyond the next mountain range or the next industrial advancement.

Other nations had a few men who worked on the airplane but it was the Wright brothers who made them fly, really fly. Some thought the telegraph was merely a play toy of the rich and that you could communicate by land mail anything needed. Others saw it for what it was and knew that knowledge had to be communicated and done so quickly. Many thought rockets were interesting amusements for the idle dilettante but our Goddard took it to a new level. Von Braun admired him and took much of his inspiration from him. Regardless of the competition of the Cold War it was not surprising that the US became the leader in space exploration. That type of endeavor was indeed our destiny. We made those explorations, of all kinds, our destiny. We believed that there was more to learn, more to see and more to know if we kept pushing the limits of our knowledge and were brave enough to dare and challenge the unknown.

When Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon it was an American achievement. We all felt a part of that great adventure. It was one more footstep in the tradition of Lewis and Clark, the Mountain Men, Powell, and our great barons of industry and the science lab. We have historically had the attitude that if we can dream it, we can do it. Those great and sometimes seemingly impossible dreams are what has made us great. We are not the most populous nation, others have the equal of our resources, but none to date has been able to match the American “Can Do” spirit. That has been our catch phrase for generatioins.

The recent announcement from the administration to cancel our Moon exploration program is sad. That also means the cancellation or generational delay of our hopes to visit Mars. We need the Moon as the staging base for that venture to another planet. Lord knows we have budget problems of staggering and unimaginable size at this time and our Government, Inc. boys need to rein in the spending by huge amounts. There are plenty of areas where we are spending billions to support more government employees to be union members to support the Democrats who in turn will give them largesse with increased salaries or jobs. They make way more than the private sector already. The affront here is that the buget cut to make political hay and tout paring the buget is a direct attack on the very spirit that propels Americans to greatness. Cut the department of education, commerce, interior, labor and yes, even the civilian side of the Pentagon but don’t cut out our heart.

Attitude and pyschology are important. Take a look at the stock market these days with all the uncertainty about the direction Washington will take. Our adventurous spirit is the well spring of American achievement. Who the hell gets inspired by another few thousand paper pushers at the EPA or OSHA or Commerce. The current administration really doesn’t understand what we are or who we are. This decision is a retreat; it is a retreat not merely from space exploration but it is turning our back on the very animal spirit of the nation. If the question was asked with your next income tax return “Would you like to designate 2% of your taxes to the space program?” I have no doubt that the money would pour in. As an aside it would keep and create jobs, lots of them and that is a announced goal of the administration. What good will all those social programs like food stamps and welfare and unemployment do us if we are have lost our heart to dare, to seek, to attempt the not-yet-done? We might have food, shelter and clothing provided by Nanny government but we will be drudges and aimless souls seeking only the comforts of the moment. Our history has been one of stepping out of the comfort zone. We can ill afford to turn our back on our historic spirit. When we lose that spirit we will have already become second rate and ordinary. We will not be a shining city on a hill but a hovel in a swamp.

It is interesting that new phrases pop up with the media, prompted by the Administration to describe some of our current financial dealings. A year of so ago all the borrowing to finance every dream project of the Democrats was called an “investment”. You will note now that the new phrase to decribe the overwhelming borrowing of our government is referred to as “selling debt”. Now that is a new one. Gee, I didn’t know that debt had a value and you could sell it. I guess I am a lot richer than I thought. I can sell tons of my debt. Why don’t they simply say what it is–borrowing money, living on credit, asking creditors for even more money?

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New Year’s Resolutions

I work out about 3 times a week at the local Y.  Today it was so crowded that I had to park about a block away.  Every machine and spot was taken inside and there were lots of bodies moving hither and yon.  Of course this happens every year at this time.  All those New Year resolutions are being fulfilled.   But it is predictable that within only a few weeks the crowd will be back to normal size.  You can tell right away those that are fulfilling their self promise to do something about their body and health.  They are the ones that spend more time tinkering with the electronic control and measuring systems than they do pumping iron.  When they do pump some iron the weights are less than impressive.  Especially noticeable for a quick exit from the workout routine are the ladies who show up with perfect make up on for the session.   It makes for a very interesting lesson in human commitments and the ability to persevere.   Hopefully you will make a more lasting effort with your resolutions than these folks who wilt at the realization that results only come from genuine work and  the steady -eddie approach.  Our impatience for results couldn’t have a more telling stage than these early January workouts at the Y.  Maybe the US government will make a few resolutions itself.  It could sure use some new directions.

The hardest resolutions to keep are the ones dealing with our behavior, habits and relationships.  The ones dealing with our bodies are easier.  But to pledge to be nicer and more available for your family is a tougher nut to crack.  How about that determination to quit smoking?  You don’t have to sweat or lift a finger to do that but, boy, can that be a tough one.   Just being more attentive to your fellow workers or family is so easy to commit to at the end of December but come February can you really say you have fulfilled that pledge?   We are social creatures and how we get along with family and friends is so important to our mental and emotional health but it is the area that we ignore the most often.  That is a true paradox.  The harmony and feelings we crave the most, we ignore the most.   It probably is that old bugaboo about familiarity breeding contempt or some such.  With family and friends we figure we can always work on it tomorrow or the next time we have a disagreement.   Just this one more time we will, by golly, let them know how we really feel and make no effort to stem the tide of that running mouth of ours.   How many times does unloading or your spouse or family really get you the result you were seeking?  How often  does it leave a heavy pall in the room?

Whatever you decide is the best area for you to improve I wish you well.  You will have more success if you ask for help from that Higher Power.  It cost no money, it is calorie- free and if the Big Boy is there watching and caring then you have an ally beyond all others.   Simply have good intentions and sincerity are not enough.  You have to have a moral compass that is attuned correctly.  Hey, Hitler was sincere and Stalin was filled with good intentions and look what they gave us. 

For me it is a no brainer, I want to express my love for those near and dear to me and show some patience.  They, no doubt, will sing hosannas that it is about time.  Don’t you wait until your 7th decade to begin working on that.  

As the major cities in Europe all had walls until well into the late 17th century, and some beyond even that, New Amsterdam on Manhattan had a wall built for protection along its northern boundary in the 1640’s and early 1650’s.  It pretty much went across the entire southern tip of the island.  Most of the Indian attacks were done by then but the danger still persisted and there was also the danger of an encroachment by the English or even the Swedes at this time.  It had watchtowers and gates just like you would see in the movies.  There are a few illustrations from the time that lay out the city at that time and the wall.  One of the main routes out of the city and through the wall was Broadway.  It was built along an existing Indian trail when the Dutch first arrived.  It went all the way up to the northern end of Manhattan.  It is now roughly the Broadway Avenue you follow during your trips to New York.  That wall is located at a famous location and gave the location is modern name–Wall Street.

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Some Weeks Are Tougher Than Others

When I reflect back sometimes on the adventures in life I wonder where I got the physical energy to do some of the things I did.  The very thought of them these days makes me exhausted.  I suppose it has something to do with be young and full of spit and vinergar.  My last semester in law school I had a job as a clerk and thought I would have a position there upon graduation.  I was graduating a little early because I had attended classes year round in order to get out and start making some money.  We had a first daughter that last semester and had bought a small and modest tract house in the suburbs. Weird to realize that our car payment then was more than the house payment.  I got fired because I asked for a 50 cent an hour raise that fall and the big boss after approving it when I asked decided that somehow I tricked him into granting me that raise.  I took the first job I could find which turned out to be in Santa Fe, NM.  I didn’t have the luxury of being picky and it was a pretty place. 

So, I graduated from law school in December of ’66 without a job and grim prospects.   I felt lucky to have landed the job in NM.  At that time there weren’t a lot of positions for young lawyers.  I worked part time as a clerk and we were fortunate to sell the house and broke even on the deal.  That was a huge burden off my back.  Thank you again Lord.   Then there was the bar exam which was scheduled for the first of March and the move to NM for the new job.  I couldn’t afford to take a bar exam preparation course.  I wish I could have.   Almost all my buddies for law school did it.  I studied as best I could at home with the new baby and between the work.  It was far from an ideal situation and it worried me but that was the way it was.  I didn’t have the $300.00 for the course.  In those days the bar exam was only given twice a year and only in Austin regardless of your domicile.  I went there with a couple of buddies the weekend before and crammed all weekend.   The exam was Monday through Wednesday and lasted all day each day.   The circumstances of the exam are another tale entirely.  We finished the exam on Wednesday afternoon and I drove home that night and was glad to see the wife and baby and was exhausted.  Slept  that night like the dead.

The next day we were up early and spent the entire day packing and loading the truck for the move to Santa Fe.  That was tiring.  We went to my brother in law’s for a dinner that night.  Right after dinner we hit the road.  We had a Karman Ghia at that time.  Fun car but not very practical.  Our daughter slept most of the way in the back on the shelf there.  They are very small.   I drove all night.  It was a thirteen hour drive and we arrived early Friday morning.   We checked into a cheap motel and slept only a couple of hours because we had to find a rent house.  I was to start work the next week.  We finally find a place that afternoon and did all the paper work.  Our truck with our things was due to arrive the next day and we had to have someplace.  The timing and pressure was very tight.   Around dinner time our daughter starting throwing up and had diarrhea.  She was dehydrating quickly and badly.   We had to take her to the hospital and called a doctor we did not know naturally.  He was recommended by the motel staff.   She was there all night hooked up to IV’s and cried without letup.  She was wrapped in towels and blocked into position with sand bags.  There was no sleep that night in the hospital.  Thankfully she was alright the next morning and we were able to leave but naturally worried as young parents.  The cost was a whole other worry for me.  

We made it back just in time to get out of the motel and then over to the new rent house to meet the truck.  We spent the day unloading the truck and moving everything into the house.  We didn’t get every box unloaded but we got the kitchen done, the bedrooms set up and the bathrooms organized.  We worked quite late into the night.   I got a little sleep.  I was too tired to sleep and had worries on my mind.

You see the next morning at 8 am I had to be at the Supreme Court for the NM bar exam.  I took two bar exams back to back from one week to the next.   Needless to say I had not studied one lick for the NM exam.  I was not exactly in the best mood for taking a bar exam.   We were still worried about our daughter and there was everything to do at the house to finish the move.  Well, ready or not those folks started the bar exam right on time.   It also took three days but it did finish at noon on Wednesday.  I really don’t remember sleeping Monday or Tuesday night, I guess I did, I do remember thinking that I should take every moment I could to study some but there was still all that work at the house to get it organized.  I finished the exam and then waited along with everyone else at a local pub for the results.  NM gave the results the same day you finished.  Of course there were only about 20 of us taking it because NM is so small.  They graded strictly on a pass fail method and the results were posted late in the afternoon.  I passed.  I wouldn’t know the results from Texas for a couple of months.  They were much slower.

The next morning, Thursday, was my first day due at work at my new position.  I was going with the State Highway Commission on the legal staff.  I am not making this up.  The headline in the Santa Fe Journal that morning read “Two Highway Commissioners Indicted for Fraud” .  That was my new employer.  Boy what a great start.  We moved back after 6 months.  I did pass the Texas bar and learned of that in May.  I guess I ate lots of vegetables and took my vitamins to make it past all that.  I would hate to try and repeat those two weeks again.

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