Archive for July, 2013

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

July 30, 2013

On the Road Again

Well, I may not be Willie Nelson ( which is okay with me), but it appears that I shall be resuming my pursuit of items on my bucket list as I once more enter the realm of flight and in September, head for Scotland. Part of my motivation is to overcome the major disappointment I suffered when the New Twinkies were placed on the market, and I found that they are only 76% as large as their predecessors. As a true aficionado, this was a terrible blow!

Some of you may recall that I had planned to visit Scotland in May, on my way home from a school visitation assignment in Bahrain, but which had to be cancelled due to the intrusion of a possible health situation. As it turned out, it was nothing of consequence, and I am once more able to navigate this once-proud cathedral of health and well-being to the farthest corners of the globe.

One of the highlights will be spending a Sunday in the town of St. Andrews where thoughtful-minded community leaders close down each Sabbath the famous birthplace of one of my favorite passtimes, the Game of Golf, to allow the townsfolk to stroll across the landscape and enjoy the fruits of Mother Nature. In addition to touring the “Auld Course”, I will immerse myself in the Golf Museum’s treasures and inspect the narrow streets and byways in the town and university area.

Following upon that, arrangements are being made for me to expend a wee bit of energy flogging (note: Golf spelled backwards is “flog”) a small white sphere around nine holes at Royal Troon, another famous golf venue located on the Western coast of the country. Ah! Paradise!

Naturally, there are many great things to see and again, an acquaintance is pointing me in a variety of promising directions. An Englishman, he has been living for a few years in our small town, but returns annually to the U.K. to lead tours of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. It promises to be much more informative and enjoyable than a 3 day visit I made to Edinburgh and Oban, fifty years ago.

All of this is a consequence of a gentleman I met last year in London, a Troon native, and who has graciously put me in touch with his father who lives retired, in Troon.

Other upcoming events include some school visitations in October, in southeastern Wyoming, following upon the always-excellent School Improvement Conference in Cheyenne, a gathering under the auspices of Wyoming AdvancEd. This is the local arm of the organization that includes over 30,000 schools in the U.S. and around the globe, and I have been extremely fortunate to have represented that body as we conduct accreditation renewal evaluations both at home and abroad. Hopefully, I can continue to do so for a few  more years.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying “being home” in the sense of once again soaking up the feeling of living in “a neighborhood” just like when I was a kid. As I look back upon those days in Kansas City, and as I’ve traveled around the U.S. and overseas, I am struck by the thought that the neighborhood created a home base of familiarity and consistency, and made it easy to carry out the daily demands of social living. At the same time, on my visits to large cities such as Cairo, Seoul, Tokyo, Istanbul, and others, I see armies of high rise apartments parading across the landscape, creating excessive anonymity among their tenants and establishing what is to me an unacceptable level of impersonal relationships. Populations becoming increasingly more transient further erode the sense of comfort, security, and consistency. The little everyday decisions become difficult, not knowing what is coming next, from where, and by whom.

I don’t have that. Our small town of a bit over 3000 people has a thread of folks who either never lived anywhere else, or they moved back here from somewhere. It’s like a neighborhood.

We came here 41 years ago, as I was hired to start the first Middle School in the state, and we’ve never left. Although I worked in several other communities around the state, my wife and sons stayed here as a “home base”, and I came home as often as possible. Now, my sons are established elsewhere, and my wife and I are both retired.

At one point, I was looking at a number of other places to retire, and had made a long list of things I wanted to have available to me as I grew older. Things such as “Does this place have Senior Citizen Bus Service for those who can no longer drive?’ and other questions relative to concerns about aging. Cost of living was another entry and included not only taxes (Wyoming has the lowest personal tax burden in the U.S.) but also recreation, entertainment, utilities, etc. I was comparing life in this little niche with perceived quality of life around Charlotte, N.C., Prescott, AZ, and western Colorado. The only items where our town fell short were “proximity to a major airport” (2- hour drive), and it does get really cold at times during the winter ( I can leave). Otherwise, our Thermopolis came out #1!

I find that there were some other benefits that hadn’t occurred to me such as where to go to get things done. Things like getting the lawnmower fixed, calling the plumber, dealing with government both local and county; getting house repairs done, etc. As it turns out, many of the persons now in charge of things were once students of mine, and are now in their fifties. They remind me of times when I gave them the choice of staying after school or getting a swat from a paddle, or when they were put in in-house suspension. They appear to relish these stories and are proud to tell them to their own kids. ( I must admit a bit of apprehension when one of them, a former NFL –Green Bay Packer, and who still holds the Rose Bowl punting record from when he played for Michigan, told me that he had been paddled twice. He’s pretty big.)

Shopping is something that outsiders would guess is lacking; they haven’t experienced the outstanding hardware store run by a couple who both grew up here, and who gained lots of experience with the world of retail sales through the parents of the wife. Her folks had the J.C. Penney store, a.k.a. “The Golden Rule”; she and her husband expanded upon the hardware base at one time into a Ben Franklin store, and a quilting emporium which became known regionally for its excellence. Granted, there are some things which just aren’t available here, but it’s even fun to make an hour trip to Riverton, two hours to Casper, or three hours to Billings. These trips are often coupled with medical appointments, and mileage is a tax deduction for medical purposes.

I must admit, there are some things that might seem difficult, such as major medical services. They are a minimum of two hours away, but on the other hand I recall driving with a friend for over an hour, IN Phoenix, just to deliver a urine sample to a lab. And most of the medical specialists visit our town on a fixed schedule every week or so, for non-emergency consults. We do have an excellent rehabilitation center headquartered here and which serves all of Northern Wyoming with satellite centers. Each one includes a well-equipped health club, available at very low cost ($15/month for Seniors).

Then, let’s look at government. In Wyoming, we can know our leaders personally, there just aren’t so many of us that it’s not difficult at all. One of my sons worked one summer for Alan Simpson; he took me through the underground transport over to the Senate when he was called for a vote. We all know our governor and, contrary to national belief about Wyoming politics, most of our governors in the last 40 years have been Democrats. In other words, it is a lot easier to have some influence here politically than it is elsewhere.

So what else is there? Well, I like dinosaurs, and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center has been named “the best dinosaur museum in the U.S.” by two travel organizations. I’m a member of the Board of Directors for the Big Horn Basin Foundation, the educational arm of the Center and which is the sponsor of ElderHostel (Roads Scholars) programs along with different levels of classes and activities for all interested persons. We have a dig site just outside of town, and two others elsewhere in the state. One of our specimens is 106 ft. long, and peers balefully down upon a T-Rex attacking a Triceratops, in the main hall.

We have the “World’s Largest Mineral Hot Springs” bubbling up from the ground in the Hot Springs State Park, also part of the town, and along with two commercial swimming pools with slides and outdoor facilities, there is an immaculate free bath house run by the state and required to offer ” the use of the hot waters, free, forever” as part of the treaty when the Native Americans gave the land to the town.

Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton N.P. are only 3-4hours away, depending upon which route you take. Either way, you can fish for trout along the way or, if you know someone with a boat, fish for walleye on Boysen Reservoir 20 miles away.

Finally, we do have a rush hour twice each day. During that time, which may last as long as five minutes, it takes twice as long to get across town—four minutes instead of two.  Our one stoplight isn’t there just to control traffic; it’s main function is to give directions—“ go to the light and turn left”, or “go one block past the light and turn right”. Also in the area of transportation, we do have to deal with a bit of snobbery—persons from a few of the larger communities in the state look down their noses at those of us who only have four digits on our license plates, whereas they are populous enough to have five. Elitists!

Look us up on the internet. You may be pleasantly surprised!

Always Be Happy       To Our Youth

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SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM A COASTER…

July 11, 2013

Some Observations From a Coaster….

I chose this title upon realizing that my mind seems to drift from one thing to another, with accompanying emotional ups and downs as I pass each experience through my mind’s filter. Just like on one of those giant roller coasters, although I’ve omitted any loud screaming.

There have been a few “white knuckle” moments however, especially when I try to digest the House GOP’s perspective on politics, social programs, and life in general. Take the proposed immigration legislation as an example; they apparently are afraid to provide a “path to citizenship” for the 11 million illegal immigrants, speculating that all of them will vote for the Democrats. This has some truth to it, but what they don’t consider is that if they would come up with sensible proposals and programs, perhaps they would attract many of those folks into the GOP fold. Instead, they continue to obstruct every piece of reasonable legislation, even those proposed by members of their own party, and stand as symbols of intolerance and bigotry. It’s difficult for me to remain a left-leaning Independent, but I’m thankful that the “other side” provides enough nonsense to keep me from going all the way over to that direction.

Obama

I was early on a strong supporter of Obama (and still am), and for quite a while was becoming more and more disenchanted with his apparent inability to follow through on those “ringing phrases” we heard throughout his campaigns. But I finally awoke to the fact that he has proposed well-thought-out legislation and solutions to many of the identified problems, only to have them blocked from proceeding further toward adoption by opponents hostile toward him personally, rather than the concepts themselves. In fact, some of his proposals had been eagerly put forth by those very same individuals, only to have them vote in opposition when he initiated them in the spirit of compromise.

Congress has become a joke, although one that’s not very funny. When 90% of the population is in favor of something, like universal background checks for gun ownership, and Congress votes against it, something is terribly wrong. We might as well throw in several members of the Supreme Court along with them, those stalwarts who set back Civil Rights Progress several decades, and are no doubt involved in finding more ways to restrict women’s rights to make personal decisions about their own bodies. Along with a number of GOP-controlled legislatures.

I can only hope that Obama can weather the storm for the rest of his term, and that people will return to the kind of Republicans that accomplished many significant achievements for this country. Those were people who were ruled by common sense while at the same time adhering to their underlying principles, and having the good of the country as their goal in common with their colleagues across the aisle. Our very own Alan Simpson was a prime example, and we need more like him. So many current members, including those from my state, are little more than ventriloquist dummies in parroting the so-called “platform” of their party. Which apparently has its main goal the maintenance and enhancement of Big Business at the expense of everyone else.

Islamic Radicals

I don’t understand how large numbers of members of certain religions use that religion as an excuse to kill non-believers. I already referred to Mark Twain’s perspective on this, in his short story, “Letters From the Earth”, in a previous blog. But the current clashing between two groups having similar roots, Shiite and Sunni, is completely puzzling to me. Their initial split goes back almost 1800 years, after the death of Mohammed, and continues to grow with each new assault of one group on the other. Both seem to ignore the two main functions of religion, the first the personal aspect in which the individual’s depth of faith to the Deity arises from within the person and provides solace and satisfaction only to the degree of personal commitment, and the second, the guidelines for interpersonal, societal activities that provide a format for maintaining a productive and functioning culture. Religious codes like The Ten Commandments, and secular codes like our Constitution are examples.

So far, no country in the Middle East has had an Islamic-based Constitution, in spite of being overwhelmingly Muslim. However, it appears that there are now groups wanting to go in that direction, and causing significant issues between themselves and others who want to avoid mixing religion with politics. Egypt, for example, has a long tradition of secular government in which numerous religious groups were allowed to flourish. I was struck by the consistent observation of Christian churches adjoining Islamic mosques throughout Cairo although the former only represents perhaps 10% of the population. This mutual respect was further seen in a song by Rula Zaki, popular recording artist and performer in the Middle East, which calls for continuing that respect. I hope that whatever solution is achieved through the current pain and suffering provides for all persons to not only adequately participate in government but also to receive its benefits equally. And I certainly don’t want to see the Lutherans going after the Methodists.

News

Why do the major cable “news” channels feel obligated to devote hours to a couple of courtroom broadcasts of murder trials in a faraway state? Are there really that many people who care? I was frustrated in trying to get updates of the situation in Egypt, having received emails from three of my friends in Cairo during the recent governmental changes. My friends were excited and hopeful, but there seem to have been numerous setbacks and increasing violence as events unfolded. I have great memories of my two visits there last year, and I wanted to know.

At the same time, I wanted more information about the tragic deaths of the firefighters near Prescott, Arizona, where I have friends also. But all that I could get on CNN, MSNBC and yes, even on FOX, were live broadcasts of a murder trial. For hours and hours.

I wonder if other folks share my frustration.

Sports and some rule change proposals

Golf-–I’ve never understood why it’s required to rake a bunker so that the sand is “pristine” for the next victim, that ball marks in the line of one’s putt may be repaired prior to putting, but that if your ball lands in a fairway divot made by a previous player, the ball must be played from that divot. The person who made the divot was hitting from an undamaged spot; the person following should have the same advantage. So change the rule, allow a free drop from a divot, but only a drop, not a placement. And while you’re at it, let us repair spike marks on the greens. Same logic.

Comment: I don’t think golf should be part of the Olympic Games. We already have team competitions and weekly tournaments with essentially the same cast of characters; the best golfers from countries around the world already compete against one another as much as they desire, through the various pro tours and amateur events. I would much rather see wrestling re-instated, after all, it was one of the original events.

Further Comment: As each Olympics is scheduled, cities around the world compete for the opportunity to become greatly indebted in order to build venues which, after the games, will subsequently have only limited use. Quite often, the construction phase uproots many people as whole, usually poor neighborhoods are destroyed in order provide building sites for arenas and other venues. At the same time, some entrepreneurs take advantage of the situation in order to enhance their own personal fortunes, as even occurred in the U.S. in connection with the Salt Lake City Winter Games several years ago. Any financial benefits to the locale are fleeting, if any, and primarily for the few weeks of the games.

Why not build a permanent Olympic facility in Athens, Greece, one that would be used continually as each Olympiad rolls around? Greece certainly could use the jobs required to build the complex, and the income generated continually throughout the future. With the prospect of permanency, adequate hotel and lodging facilities could be added, and used between Olympiads for tourism activity. Et cetera.

Pro football—Change to the college rule that the clock stops when a first down is made, to be restarted when the ball is readied for play. That would speed up the game, particularly in the latter part, when teams use those long times-out just to stop the clock.

Use the college rule on pass interference, a 15 yd. penalty. Currently, the pros place the ball at the spot of the foul, even though it might be 50 yds. downfield. That assumes that the receiver would have caught the ball if the foul had not occurred, which may or may not have been true. The college rule takes into account that although there was a foul and should be punished, we really don’t know if the ball would have been caught.

Basketball (all levels)—Basketball used to be a game of finesse; it has devolved into an activity of strength and speed particularly at the NBA level. I personally don’t even consider that to be basketball, having grown up in a different era. I’m concerned that this change is creeping inexorably downward to the younger players; on ESPN, Jay Bilas made a comment that college basketball is becoming more and more like pro basketball, which he referred to as “Organized Fouling”. His solution—call the fouls as the rulebook states, and we can get back to more of the finesse games of Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Wilt, Cousy, Kareem, and many of the other greats of the game who relied on agility and athletic ability rather than brute strength. That’s not to say those players weren’t strong; I distinctly recall being momentarily stunned when Mr. Chamberlain stuffed one on my head before 12,000 appreciative fans. Mr. Bilas  went on to say, and I agree, that offensive foul calls are the most egregious in either not being called or are favoring the offensive player in spite of good defensive work by the opponent. Quite simply, who initiated the contact and who had the position?

Personal Well-Being

Well, I only seem to be hindered by age factors of deterioration of the spine through the wonders of osteoarthritis. As a nerve becomes inflamed, it sends a message to one or two of the muscles in the back to go into a “knot up” mode, causing significant pain and discomfort. Investigation reveals that the cause cannot be healed, only dealing with the symptoms remains as a solution. If I play a few holes of golf, I suffer for several days thereafter. And just when I discovered that one of my sons joined a club with TWO golf courses. Life is unfair. My doctor and I are investigating other pain management options and hopefully I can become a bit more active in the athletic arena. Still not enough to get in to the Rio Olympics.

The neuropathy in my feet and legs causes some fatigue along with the loss of feeling; ascending stairs and hillsides presents a problem but I can usually achieve the summit given enough time and patience. Like three or four hours. I’ll be riding my bike when the current Global Warming Event decides to withdraw its fangs, at least for a few days or so. It’s 100 today; our summer temperatures are usually in the upper 80’s to 90.

At least I’m healthy enough to resume my traveling, and toying with either New England or Scotland in September. I have a few Wyoming school evaluations to do in October. Until then, I think I”ll stick close to home and work on the golf and fishing.

Always Be Happy      To Our Youth