History Tidbits

Transportation

I have some thoughts about transportation. I suspect that some will consider my ideas unrealistic or too costly.

For that reason, I intend to begin my proposal with a quotation from George Bernard Shaw “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

Shaw was quoted by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 in an address to the Irish parliament. The same sentiment was shared by Robert Kennedy in his 1968 presidential campaign. “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.” His younger brother, Edward, echoed that query in Robert’s eulogy later that year.

Each of these men were visionaries. The thread that connected them with each other and with visionaries across time and space is the refusal to accept the reality of what is, and to, as Cervantes so poetically expressed it “To reach the unreachable star.”

I was fortunate to be born into a nation founded on principles that included the voice of the people in government, of the equality of every person from birth endowed by the act of creation, and of the responsibility of government to guarantee those rights. What good is an inalienable right that is beyond the reach of the individual?

We have risen to the challenge numerous times when the potential for greatness presented itself. Just a few examples are:

Grand Coulee Dam

Farragut Naval Base

Tennessee Valley Authority

The Interstate Highway System

I was raised with the understanding that nothing, except refusal to accept our shared desire for excellence, could hinder our progress. I was at the site of Grand Coulee Dam in Central Washington near the time of its inception. The families that had gathered there from my hometown of Hagerman, Idaho came out of desperation during the years of the great depression. During the era of the Grand Coulee experience, they shared everything, which made them communalists. Since I was an infant, I have no direct recollection of the events. My understandings are based on the stories I have been told over the years. I suppose that I should record those stories for posterity, as I am one of the few remaining participants in that communal period.

That being an aside, let me move on to the main point. Americans came from all over in response to their government’s call to put their collective shoulders to the wheel and to restore the vibrant economy of this nation. My father took on work as a “high scaler,” perhaps one of the most dangerous jobs in history. If you want to get a description of what that entails, google the term.

My point is that our nation came together, both government and governed, to impose our collective will on the problem at hand. The result is electricity for most rural households in the country.

In 1941, my family was living a relatively comfortable working-class existence in Enumclaw, Washington where my father was building on Mud Mountain Dam. Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor. Our nation came together again to meet the challenge of a national emergency. We moved to Athol, Idaho where we lived for a time in a tent house while permanent housing was being built at Farragut Naval Base on Lake Pend Oreille. The base was built with astonishing speed, a tribute to the American spirit at work.

I believe that same spirit still exists among my fellow Americans. Now is the time for us to come together. We have the vision and foresight to construct a transportation system for the present and to continue to dream of possibilities for the future.

I envision an addition to the transportation system of the United States that would make significant improvement in the way we travel and the way we distribute resources. I would begin with a network of high-speed rail lines across the nation one hundred miles apart (as nearly as possible) both east to west and north to south.

I further envision both freight terminals complete with distribution warehouses and passenger terminals at the connection points.

I envision a fleet of small trucks designed to carry merchandise and produce to end point of delivery destinations. I would also allow for a fleet of rental cars at each terminal to meet the needs of rail travelers. With terminals intersecting at 100-mile intervals, all freight and passenger traffic would be within 70 miles (as the crow flies) of any destination.

What, one might ask, benefits would accrue from such a monumental project? I would begin by pointing out the few that come quickly to my mind:

  • Truckers would now be driving for delivery from terminus points to delivery destinations in smaller trucks during daylight hours for fewer miles allowing them home time.
  • Wear and tear on existing highways would be significantly reduced along with the cost of upkeep and repair.
  • The delight of rail travel would be restored.
  • I believe the delivery cost of goods would decrease, although I must leave that calculation in the hands of others more knowledgeable about the relative costs involved.
  • Safe travel during periods of inclement weather would be increased.

I also think that such an arrangement would allow for research on the application of alternative forms of energy. Here again, I yield to the expertise of those more conversant in the field of electrical engineering.

From a personal point of view, I would really like to be able drive my own vehicle from my home to junction point, board a high-speed rail car, travel in comfort to a terminal close to my destination of choice, rent a car to make the short drive to my destination or ride a bus rested and ready for whatever awaited my pleasure.

I just heard reference to an expression that has been used frequently during my life experience. It is, “the cold hard truth.” In thinking about it, I opine that the truth is not cold and hard. The truth is warm, gentle, and comforting. What is cold and hard are lies, particularly those lies that are designed to bring harm to others, to demean others, to restrict the right of others, to interfere with the empathic fellowship of either community in particular or society in general. Give me the warmth of truth over the malicious designs of the lie any day.

The year was 1946. I was just a innocent nine year old. The country was going through a massive transformation from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy. Formal rationing had just ended. I still have some of my ration cards from that time. Only two people participated directly in the story I am about to tell.

The story was related to me by my mother. The local newspaper in Nampa, Idaho where we lived published an advertisement that the J. C. Penney store in town had received a shipment of nylons which were to be available for purchase at their local store.

On the specified date, my mother, and my grandmother, eager to return to the realm of high fashion, made a pilgrimage to the J. C Penney store. My mother described the scene to me. “There was a mob of women inside the store beating on each other, scratching, and pulling each other’s hair in a mad scramble to get to the tables where the hosiery was displayed. Your grandmother simply said, ‘Minnie, this is no place for ladies, and we left.’”

That story has stayed with me for 75 years. I think it has informed my approach to civility, responsibility, and inner peace and harmony. Anytime I become aware of a mad scramble for anything, I am brought back to the memory of my mother and my grandmother turning away from that event with their dignity intact.

I am now of an age which neither my mother nor my grandmother achieved. I also have more than one physical ailment which make me more susceptible to the ravages of Covid-19 than most of the population. I do, of course, have the ability, thanks to those who care deeply about me, to isolate myself. Nonetheless, I will not engage in a mad scramble to push forward to be the first to get a vaccination. Yes, grandmother, that would be no place for a gentleman.

Power and authority

Recently I have been aware of statements regarding the power of the Presidency and the power of Congress. Those statements have directed my mind to the relationship between power and authority.

Power is the capacity to make another do something whether they would ordinarily do it or not. Every society, in fact, every social system, has a power structure. Over the centuries, the two most frequently examined social systems have been authoritarian oligarchy and democracy. When a society is small, power can be expressed directly. In such a circumstance, power and authority are the same.

I have heard it said that pure democracy is only possible in small groups. You may have heard the same expression. Upon deeper examination, I have concluded that pure authoritarian oligarchy is also only possible in small groups.

Herein lies the relationship between power and authority. When a social system grows to the point that one authoritarian oligarch can no longer force obedience because of what is called “span of control,” authority must be delegated into an authoritarian hierarchy. In a democratic society, the power lies with the people. In such a system, authority is granted to representatives to act on behalf of the people.

The two systems are diametrically opposite each other. In an authoritarian oligarchy, the power is at the top and authority to represent the oligarch is granted downward. In a democratic society, the power is in the hands of the people and the authority is granted upward.

In the United States of America, the structure is very mixed. Sometimes it seems as though the power is in the form of money. Money grants authority to whoever holds it. A person can exercise considerable authority based on their control of financial resources. A sudden turn of “fortune” might cause the individual to lose control of their financial resources, in which case, they would also see a reduction of their authority.

It is sobering to think that money, which was originally only a useful device to simplify trade, is now the purveyor of power. Sadly, even those political leaders who claim to have power in United States society, only have second level authority, the primary level of authority being in the hands of the holders of wealth.

Then, there is the issue of political parties masquerading as democracy. In a pure democracy, each individual would have a voice in selecting the person, someone they have access to, to exercise authority on their behalf. Instead, at periodic intervals, the people who are supposed to have the power, are given a choice between two candidates. Many eligible voters are so disenfranchised that they do not even exercise their right to vote.

I know that we can do better than this.

What is America?

What is America to me? There are two Americas. The first America is the land of my hopes and dreams. It is the land of my youth. It is the land I was introduced to by my parents, my grandparents, my church, and my community.

This America I have envisioned is a place where the worth of all persons is a guiding principle. It is a place where I learned that common respect enabled me and my school mates to work together and play together in spite of the differences that existed between us.

This America is the land that my forefathers struggled to bring into existence. It is the land whose promise is expressed in the lofty words of our founding document. When I read “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” my spirit soars.

When I read of the patriotic resolve of my distant relatives such as Mansfield French who founded several colleges and was deeply involved in the Freedmen’s Bureau and Captain John Higley who was responsible (according to family history) for keeping the Connecticut constitution safe from the prying fingers of the King’s Governor of Connecticut Colony.

I am certain that many of my friends have similar stories of patriotism and daring exploits in their family history. Let me state without equivocation that such acts on the part of family heroes must not be taken as a measure of nobility. They do not afford us any right to privilege. Rather, they place upon our shoulders a greater responsibility to live up to the example they have set for us. They had a vision of what is possible in the dream of a more perfect union. A desire for what might be. This is the America of my vision, a nation where patriots strive to bring the noble principles of equality, unity, and respect for others to fruition.

And yet, there is the America that stands in opposition to all that I envision. That too is my America. It is the America in which my ancestors “found” a land inhabited by others and claimed it as their own in the principle of white supremacy. This is an America who enslaved proud people from Africa, stealing not only their labor and freedom, but trying to violate and diminish their very humanity. This is a sordid America. This is not an America of our past only, but of our present.

And so, we are embroiled in a great struggle between the America our founders sought but were not capable of bringing into existence and the America they did bring into existence. The vision of a just America where equality, unity, and respect for all still awaits us beckons.

I pledge myself to the arduous work of creating the philosophical and structural framework for that America, the America so many have prayed for, worked for and died for. I encourage all my friends to take upon themselves this “great and marvelous work.”

Pride

Civic pride is a concept that has occupied an increasing part of my thoughts for some time now. I have reached two conclusions. Civil society is inherently divisive. Community is inherently unifying. I am basing these two conclusions on my reading of the work of prominent sociologists and social anthropologists.

Civic pride is an expression of tribalism. I am going to address this more fully in a series of essays that I am just beginning to write. For now, I want focus on one aspect of civic pride, that of sports.

This Sunday the Kansas City Chiefs will try to maintain their position as the most successful team in professional football. The metropolitan Kansas City area is awash in Chiefs Mania. I must admit that I find myself swept up in the excitement of living in a city whose team has the best record.

I find myself speculating on what other parameters could be used to advance feelings of civic pride. Could I transfer my feelings of pride from sports onto being proud that my city had the lowest poverty rate of any city in America? Or perhaps having the lowest homicide rate of any city? Then again there is the issue of homelessness. How proud could I be if Kansas City had shelter for everyone within her boundaries?

Since I live in Independence, could I be comfortable if the problematic issues listed above were nonexistent in my city because they had just been chased across the city boundary to Kansas City or another suburb? If the problems listed were solved across the entire Kansas City Metropolitan area, would my pride be justified if other cities in Missouri still struggled with the same issues? Is civic pride just an expression of tribal dominance? Is pride always divisive?

If, as I believe, community is unifying, is it possible to replace the divisiveness of tribalism with the expression of co-unity in mass society? How might mass society be structured to effect the emergence of community in lieu of tribalism?

Unity

I grew up proud to be an American. When I was in my childhood, I paced emphasis on the word United when I referred to the nation my ancestors fought for and built. When I recited the Pledge of Allegiance, the phrase “one nation, indivisible” stirred me.

Over the years I have become increasingly aware that we are not, in fact or in deed, united. The divisions between us distress me. I am uncertain what, if anything, I can do about the sorry condition we find ourselves in. I cannot, however, stop trying.

I have been giving thought to what it is that divides us. My conclusion is that our disunity arises from two distinct sources. The first of these sources is cultural and finds expression in beliefs and attitudes. A common manifestation of divisive beliefs and attitudes are feelings of superiority and inferiority based on physical characteristics.

These beliefs and attitudes reveal themselves in the form of racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism, although phenotypical discrimination can also be the source of such disunity.

The cultural sources of these divisive beliefs and attitudes would, in my opinion, be best addressed by increased contact and interaction between disparate groups. Acceptance arises out of understanding. These divisions have been with us for centuries and are quite embedded in our cultures. They are most difficult to address and to overcome.

The second source of our divisiveness is social structural. I have concluded that the two biggest impediments to our national unity are political parties and states. I will try to have more of my thinking about this in the next few days.

Decision

We citizens of the United States of America are coming to another election. I realize that you already know this, but I wanted to refer to it as a preface to what I want to share.

Most of our emphasis has been on the election of a president for the next four years. I cannot disagree with the importance of that election. Election to that office is, however, only one of the decisions we will make in this election period.

I submit to you that the election of your Governor and your representatives are at least as important for your day to day wellbeing as that of the President.

So, I am challenging you to use a method of evaluation in making these important decisions. If you are a member of a religious tradition, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or other. I encourage you to explore the tenets of your religious faith to identify the ten principles which are central to your understanding of moral and ethical judgement.

I you do not follow a religious tradition but identify yourself as a secular humanist, you can still find ten principles at the root of your secular humanism that that are central to your understanding of moral and ethical judgement.

Take the time to evaluate the policy statements of the candidates for whom you have the opportunity to vote. Determine which most closely match the principles you adhere to.

This exercise is a personal one in the same way that your choice of a candidate is a personal one. I do not expect you to engage in a conversation as to what the principles that guide you are anymore than I expect you share your voting preference. You can do that in your own post. I do, however, hope that you will consider this little exercise.

Snowflakes

I have seen references to caring people as “snowflakes.” Let me tell you something about snowflakes.

There is no sight more beautiful and peaceful as that of giant snowflakes falling silently to the ground. They bring a hush that even the noise and tumult of a busy city submit to. It is akin to sitting by a quiet mountain lake listening to the call of songbirds on a sunny spring afternoon.

Every year snowflakes fall and gather together in the mountains. They blanket the earth with a deep white carpet that fills my soul with wonder. In the spring the collection of snowflakes begins to melt. They find their ways into streams and rivers of life giving waters that provide our fields with plant sustaining moisture. They fill our reservoirs with water for drinking.

As far as human snowflakes are concerned, I proudly accept the title. This snowflake has run into an exploding building to help rescue those who were trapped. That is what snowflakes do. This snowflake has helped rescue people from overturned cars, that is what snowflakes do. This snowflake has gently held those who wept over the loss of a loved one, that is what snowflakes do.

There are many snowflakes living, breathing and caring across our land. No two snowflakes are identical. Those who are fighting fires in the west are snowflakes. Many, not all, of our military members are snowflakes. Many, not all, of our police officers are snowflakes.

For those who deride and dismiss us snowflakes, I wonder how you would define yourselves. Are you hailstones that break windows or strip the leaves and fruits from farmers’ fields? Are you raging fires that destroy everything in their paths? Are you violent winds and raging floods?

In these turbulent times, I am calling for all snowflakes to stand together and stand strong against the violence which seems to be all around us. Spring is coming when we will be needed to provide the life giving sustenance that is resident within our nurturing natures.

Principles

Citizens of the United States of America have some important decisions to make in the near future. I sincerely hope that every one of us looks at the issues which face us and compares what we see with a deep investigation of our hopes and dreams.

That is for the short term. I am also concerned for the long term. I dream of a just society where government, economics, community and family are so structured that peace and justice rise above the brutish demands for law and order.

Such a society would need to be grounded first in a set of principles which advance the importance of both peace and justice. In such a society government would formulate policies that would reflect those principles. In economics, policies would ensure the inclusion of all in the productive and distributive efforts of the society. I have seen such societies in action, but only on small scale. If we are to have a positive future, we must find ways to structure our society so that we can build on a common vision for the “more perfect union” our forefathers dreamt of.