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New Territory

Nothing clears away the mental cobwebs like a road trip. Especially a road trip to new territory.

Which is why, earlier this month, having a block of time when no obligations kept me home, I set out in my RV to see the Texas coast.

Somehow, at my advanced age, I’d never been there. I made no reservations. Had no plans to visit Austin or San Antonio. I was more interested in seeing the countryside and the small towns.

February, I admit, is a terrible time to go to the beach. It was a spur-of-the-moment trip out of simple curiosity, and I was stoked.

My plan was to drive down to Port Arthur, head south along the Bolivar Peninsula, cross to Galveston Island, and the rest would take care of itself. As is my custom, I would camp in state parks along the way.

Before the trip, I had a feeling I knew what I would find down there. And, pretty much, I was right. My observations:

First, much of coastal Texas is, no surprise, tourist-oriented. It being February, the attractions and shops were a bit sleepy, but no doubt they’ll be ready for the onslaught of vacationers when the season arrives.

Second, large parts of the beachfront are private and residential. I passed long stretches of homes, second homes, time-shares, summer rentals, hotels, motels, and resorts that go on for miles, unbroken except for occasional empty lots for sale.

Now and then, if you look carefully, a sign will identify a small public access point to the beach. You know — the beach you sometimes glimpse, over there beyond the private property.

Third, the terrain is flat and featureless, covered by a modest layer of low-growing vegetation. Bays and inlets are rare. So are sand dunes. No wonder hurricanes surge many miles inland instead of glancing off the coast.

Fourth, I was unsurprised to find that so much of the coast is heavily industrialized. You regularly encounter not only oil wells, refineries, and petroleum processing facilities, but also giant chemical plants and manufacturing operations.

I passed numerous industrial plants the size of shopping malls, with thousands of cars in the parking lots, a sprawling sea of gleaming, steaming pipes, and generic names that reveal nothing about the nature of the business.

Names like Texas Heavy Industries. MHI International. Direct Energy. Varco. Schlumberger — all quite mysterious to a passing tourist. The one thing they seem to have in common: belching smokestacks.

In sum, coastal Texas is what I expected. I was neither pleased nor disappointed. It is what it is.

My curiosity satisfied, I enjoyed a leisurely drive south to just short of Corpus Christi.

Along the way, I sampled the local cuisine as often as possible.

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Delicious char-broiled oysters.

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A superb shrimp po-boy.

And I had experiences not available back home in North Georgia. I shot this video on the ferry to Galveston Island.

To get from Georgia to Texas, I followed the Interstate highways, always a stressful and unpleasant experience. Once I arrived, I switched to ordinary federal and state roads. They were, almost without exception, well-maintained and lightly-traveled.

In fact, I was so impressed with the non-Interstate routes that I followed them, exclusively, on the return trip to Georgia.

Specifically, from South Texas, I drove north on U.S. 77 to Waco, then followed U.S. 79 to Shreveport. There, I picked up U.S. 80, which parallels I-20, and followed it across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and into Georgia. In Macon, I turned north on U.S. 129 back to Jefferson.

Those four routes are divided four-lane highways with minimal traffic. In Texas, the speed limit is 75. In the other states, it most often is 65.

Rarely did the roads bypass the towns. Which was fine with me.

The trip home was an easy and pleasant ride, and I remember it primarily for two reasons.

The first reason: the afternoon I spent at the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, located midway between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama. The Center is a museum, part of the Park Service’s “Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.” It chronicles events leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

If you recollect your history, blacks were demonstrating in Alabama in the early 1960s to protest the use of literacy tests to block them from registering to vote. At the time, the voter rolls in Selma were 99 percent white. That was not unusual around the South in those days.

In March 1965, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, police attacked and beat a group of marchers. The episode quickly prompted a massive organized march from Selma to the state capitol in Montgomery, led by Dr. King and other civil rights leaders.

When Gov. George Wallace refused to offer protection to the marchers, President Lyndon Johnson nationalized 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard and assigned them to escort the demonstrators.

The direct result of all that was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

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The film and exhibits at the museum are excellent. Moving and effective. Much more powerful than I expected. They reminded me of a time when the courts and our political leaders — most of them, anyway — were on the right side of important moral issues.

I miss those days, when I was optimistic about the future. When the government made me proud. It pains me that our progress toward fairness and social justice has slowed since those times.

Progress has slowed because, for decades, the terrified conservative masses — you know, the ones clinging to their guns or religion — have been steadily descending into paranoia, inflamed by the right-wing media, enabled by Republican politicians, and now, for crying out loud, abetted by Putin. No wonder we have a vulgar, incompetent clown as President.

But, hey — I digress.

The second memorable moment of my return trip to Georgia happened earlier that same morning in Selma. When I stopped for a red light near the center of town, I looked to my left and saw a man dancing.

Why the man was dancing, or to what music he danced (note the earbuds), I have no idea. I don’t know if it was a spontaneous, one-time thing or if he did this often.

Was he celebrating? Was he high? Are mental issues involved?

Whatever the answers, I was compelled to capture the moment on video.

From my standpoint, the music on my radio (Blue Monday, New Order, 1983) was a nice complement to the performance.

Road trips are, indeed, the perfect way to clear the mental cobwebs. Especially road trips to new territory.

 

Poems That Don’t Suck

More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

———

I Stood Upon a High Place

By Stephen Crane

Crane S

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)

I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
Running, leaping,
and carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, “Comrade! Brother!”

———

Not Waving but Drowning

By Stevie Smith

Stevie Smith, March 1966

Florence Margaret Smith (1902-1971)

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead.
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

———

Trees

By Joyce Kilmer

Kilmer-J

Alfred Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

———

I Am

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Wilcox EW2

Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919)

I Know not whence I came,
I know not whither I go;
But the fact stands clear that I am here
In this world of pleasure and woe.
And out of the mist and murk
Another truth shines plain —
It is my power each day and hour
To add to its joy or its pain.

———

Invictus

By William Ernest Henley

Henley WE

By William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

 

Pix o’ the Day

More random photos I’ve taken over the years that still make me smile.

Easter egg

Mannequins-2

Shredded

Budweiser

Carry

 

Merrick and Mitchell

Few places in the country are as spectacular and scenic, or as iconic, as Arizona’s Monument Valley. When people think of the desert southwest, this may be the landscape they envision.

Monument Valley

The earliest inhabitants were Paleo-Indian hunters, who arrived around 12,000 BC. They were followed by Archaic hunter-gatherers from about 6,000 BC to 1 AD; then by Anasazi farmers through the 1300s; then by Paiutes and Navajos. Today, the place is Navajo country.

As you may know, Monument Valley isn’t a valley, but a plateau. Over the last 50 million years, wind and water have eroded most of the rock, leaving behind the majestic buttes and mesas. In time, they will be gone, too.

Monument Valley came to popular national attention in 1939, when John Ford filmed the movie “Stagecoach” there. Dozens of films have been made in the valley since.

One of the most memorable episodes in the history of Monument Valley is a tale worthy of a Hollywood western: the story of James Merrick and Ernest Mitchell, two ill-fated fortune-hunters of the post-Civil-War years.

———

Many of the early Spanish explorers visited the Four Corners region, often clashing with the Navajo and Paiutes, but no expedition reported seeing Monument Valley. Apparently, the first outsiders to find it were Mexican soldiers in 1822.

For the most part, white settlers dismissed the place as ugly and useless. In 1849, one year after the Mexican-American War, an Army captain mapping the area called it “as desolate and repulsive looking a country as can be imagined.”

By 1863, as European expansion was accelerating and the pesky natives were in the way, Army Col. Kit Carson and his men were detailed to round up and relocate the Navajo people — the Diné — en masse. The soldiers marched the captives in small groups 350 miles south to the compound of Bosque Redondo, near Ft. Sumner, New Mexico.

In all, about 9,000 Navajo made the “Long Walk.” At least 200 died on the way.

The internment camps at Bosque Redondo were a disaster. Food, water, and supplies were inadequate, and most of the crops became diseased and failed. The overseers were inept and corrupt. The relocation was costing the U.S. government unexpected millions.

That was unacceptable. The idea was to remove the Navajo to make room for white settlers, not to spend money. Thus, in 1868, to correct the situation, the U.S. relented and signed a treaty with the tribe. A reservation was established on part of their original land, and the Diné set out on the Long Walk home.

When the Army first rounded up the Navajo in 1863, two of the young soldiers serving under Kit Carson were Jack Merrick, a Colorado miner, and Ernest Mitchell, newly-arrived from the east. Merrick and Mitchell became keenly interested in the finely-tooled pendants, bracelets, and other silver jewelry crafted by the Navajo.

Jewelry

Being familiar with the Monument Valley area after months of patrols, they concluded that the silver was being mined locally, not brought in from elsewhere. The Navajo, when pressed for information on the subject, denied that any silver mines existed in the valley.

In the late 1860s, at about the time the Navajo returned to Monument Valley from Bosque Redondo, Merrick and Mitchell mustered out of the Army. They resolved that they would return to the valley someday and find the source of the Navajo silver.

At this point, Historians relate two versions of the story. In one, Merrick went to Monument Valley alone in the late 1870s, discovered a silver lode, and enlisted Mitchell’s help to transport ore samples to the assay office in Colorado.

In the other version, Merrick and Mitchell entered the valley together, carrying the gear of typical fur trappers. While they set lines of traps as a cover, they surreptitiously looked for evidence of mining activity.

In both versions of the story, the men were being watched.

Kit Carson‘s soldiers had apprehended most of the Navajo in the valley, but some resourceful warriors eluded them. That group was led by Hoskaninni, “The Angry One.” When the Navajo returned home from exile in New Mexico, Hoskaninni became their chief.

Hoskaninni soon concluded that Merrick and Mitchell were searching for silver. He went to their camp and ordered them to leave the valley, vowing to kill them if they returned.

As Merrick and Mitchell agonized over their plight -- fearing for their lives, but obsessed with finding silver -- fate intervened. The two men stumbled upon a hidden silver mine with tantalizing amounts of high-quality ore.

With samples in their saddlebags, the two men fled Monument Valley and rode east to Cortez, Colorado.

For the next few months, Merrick and Mitchell traveled around Southwest Colorado with the ore samples, trying to find financial backers. Setting up the mining operation would be costly.

Finally, they succeeded in lining up several investors. But the backers had a condition: they wanted to see a new set of ore samples to confirm the existence of the mine and the quality of the silver.

Merrick and Mitchell had told no one about Hoskaninni's threat, so asking them to return to the valley was a reasonable business request.

In the end, the lure of imminent riches seems to have convinced the two men that the mission was worth the risk.

Cautiously, Merrick and Mitchell returned to the mine and collected more ore samples. There was no sign of Hoskaninni's warriors. According to some accounts, the two men relaxed, concluding that Hoskaninni had not spotted them or perhaps was away from the area.

They were wrong. The following night, as the men rested at the base of a butte, cooking supper over a campfire, Hoskaninni's warriors attacked out of the darkness.

Merrick was shot and killed on the spot. Mitchell was wounded, but managed to escape into the darkness. He fled west across the valley on foot.

Several miles later, at the base of a large butte, he found a crevice formed where a large slab of rock had fallen. He hid inside.

When he emerged at daybreak, Hoskaninni's men were waiting. Mitchell was killed.

Weeks later, word of the deaths reached Cortez. A posse of 20 men rode to Monument Valley and confronted Hoskaninni.

The chief claimed that Merrick and Mitchell had been killed by a band of Paiutes, led by a renegade called No-Neck, when the men were caught stealing water. Graciously, the Navajo had buried the bodies. Members of the posse were shown the burial sites. Hoskaninni said the Navajo knew of no silver mines in Monument Valley.

The members of the posse believed otherwise, and some wanted to search for the mine themselves, but the Diné outnumbered them. They returned to Cortez.

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The present-day Navajo admit that silver mines, do, in fact, exist in Monument Valley. But they explain that, by tradition, only a few select tribal leaders at a time knew their locations. Unfortunately, some decades ago, the last chief who held the secret died before relaying the information to his successor. Thus, the locations of the mines are now unknown. A complete mystery. Yep.

Today, the butte in Monument Valley where Merrick and Mitchell cooked their last meal, and where Jack Merrick went to his reward, is known as Merrick Butte.

A few miles away, the landform that towers over the grave of Ernest Mitchell is called Mitchell Butte.

Those are the Anglo names. I assume the Diné call them something else.

Merrick Butte

Merrick Butte.

Mitchell Butte

Mitchell Butte.

Monument Valley map

 

 

 

Quotes o’ the Day

Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.

— Charles R. Swindoll

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The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser men so full of doubts.

— Bertrand Russell

###

Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.

— Thomas Henry Huxley

###

An Englishman teaching an American about food is like the blind leading the one-eyed.

— A. J. Liebling

Swindoll CR

Swindoll

Liebling AJ

Liebling

 

Useless Facts

More useless facts for inquiring minds.

———

— Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. President (serving 1837-1841) was the first president to be born an American citizen. All presidents before him were born as English subjects.

— The word “chortle” was coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass as a combination of “chuckle” and “snort.”

— In 1974, the German band Kraftwerk (avant-garde and electropop music) released “Autobahn,” the longest non-classical song ever recorded. The 22-minute song simulates a drive on the Autobahn (Germany’s interstate highway system), featuring the cacophony of high-speed traffic, the tuning of a car radio, the monotonous stretches, etc.

— The Riddler, one of Batman’s evil foes, is known for leaving riddles as clues to his crimes. He first appeared in comic books in 1948. His real name was Edward Nigma. (“E. Nigma,” get it?)

Riddler

— TV stars Dick Van Dyke and Julia Louis-Dreyfus both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and both of their ceremonies were botched for the same reason. When Van Dyke was honored, the name on his star was misspelled as Vandyke. On Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ star, her name was misspelled as Julia Luis Dreyfus. Corrections were made.

— Bald eagles reuse their nests each year and continually expand them by adding new material. The largest known nest, found near St. Petersburg, Florida, was nine feet in diameter and 20 feet deep and weighed three tons.

— Henry Ford never had a driver’s license.

— In Japanese culture, napping in the office, on a bus, or elsewhere in public is called inemuri, which translates as “sleeping on duty.” Inemuri isn’t considered bad or embarrassing, but evidence that you are conscientious and hard-working.

Inemuri

— The first known use of the name Jessica was in 1596, when Shakespeare used it as the name of Shylock’s daughter in The Merchant of Venice. For the next few centuries, virtually no daughters anywhere were named Jessica. Then, in the early 1900s, the name became popular. Weird.

— A century ago, the Vanderbilt family was the wealthiest in the country, and Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest dude in America. Times have changed. The most notable Vanderbilts today are Anderson Cooper, his mother Gloria, and Anderson’s cousin, actor Timothy Olyphant.

The Vanderbilt family symbol is an acorn. The family motto is, “From the acorn grows the mighty oak.”

— Your fingernails grow four times faster than your toenails.

— The common coffee cup sleeve, typically made of cardboard, evolved from a Turkish gadget developed in the 13th-century called a zarf. Zarfs were made of metal, wood, or bone and sometimes were elaborately decorated. They served the same purpose as today: protecting the fingers from a hot cup.

Zarf

 

A Few Observations

A few observations of a sociopolitical nature…

A Fine Mess

Well, this is a fine mess the country is in, owing to the fact that great numbers of us (specifically, the political conservatives) are being played for suckers and are too bone-headed to realize it.

Let me put it another way.

The USA — the government, the private sector, and most of American society — is effectively run by, is under the thumb of, a rich and privileged mini-minority that has a lock on power. Look around. The wealthy own or control virtually everything. If you’re one of the elites, or are essential to them, you’ve got it made.

The same evolution happened in Russia after the fall of the USSR, but much more rapidly. Russia is now fully controlled by Putin and the Oligarchs. The occasional minor protests are of no consequence.

In the U.S., the transition happened slowly over many decades. The purpose, of course, was to amass wealth and power. The methodology: systematically vilifying certain people and groups — people not like you — and blaming them for your problems.

To make that happen, it was necessary to make the concept of compassion for others, and of using the resources of government to benefit everyone, seem weak and wasteful and stupid. Anti-American.

Think of the rich and powerful as an overlord class. They remain in charge by artfully keep the rabble — people like you and me — distracted and off balance. Fear-mongering is their tactic of choice. It works really well.

Joe Average in Rustbelt, Indiana, is told that he struggles and has a crappy job because black and brown people flood into the country illegally, joining those lazy welfare freeloaders, and they all get preferential treatment from the bleeding-heart liberals.

Joe is too busy hating on black people, brown people, and Democrats to ask why his wealthy employer can’t forego a teeny slice of the profits to pay him a living wage.

The truth is, the members of the rabble class could undo this preposterous situation in one election cycle. But there are too many Joes out there, perpetually seething with anger about illegals, welfare queens, and lib-tards.

Oil and Wealth

About a year ago, I wrote a post about how U.S. sanctions against Russia are blocking a giant oil deal between ExxonMobil and the Russian oil company Rosneft.

In spite of the fact that Donald Trump is now President (!!?), the sanctions are still in place. The latest:

— ExxonMobil asked for a waiver of the sanctions, hoping Trump would go along. He did not, probably because of the heat he is taking about his long-time personal and business ties to the Russian government, Russian banks, and Russian gangsters.

— Congress passed a bill that not only imposes additional sanctions, but also limits the President’s power to lift them. That was a shocker. Trump grumbled bigly, but he signed the bill.

Encouraging, yes, but hardly the end of the story. Not when a deal reportedly worth $500 billion is on the line. Russia and ExxonMobil will never give up and move on. Not ever.

So, if the sanctions eventually are lifted and drilling begins in the North Sea, what will be the consequences?

— All the bad actors with a stake in this are personally enriched and their power further strengthened.

— Russia gets away with invading and assimilating Crimea, which is, like, you know, legally a part of Ukraine.

— The world’s addiction to oil is prolonged for a few more generations.

— Cronyism seems more inevitable, more normal, more futile to resist.

— The gap between the haves and the have-nots widens further. This at a time when eight grotesquely rich men possess as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. Think of it as a scale being balanced with eight people on one side and 3.8 billion people on the other.

Thumping Trump

When the Orange Vulgarian first took office, his relationship with Putin was cozy to a creepy degree. But it didn’t last. Putin thought he was buying a compliant President. He expected the sanctions to be gone by now, and it hasn’t happened.

Trump turned out to be unpredictable and difficult to manage. He is vain, vindictive, and volatile. He shoots from the hip. Smart? Gifted? No, just a con artist, forever winging it, living in the moment.

It seems curious that Putin has not yet exacted his revenge, even though Trump has failed and displeased him in a major way. Why he hasn’t is anyone’s guess, but you can bet it will happen eventually.

What form will it take? How will Putin thump Trump? He has plenty of choices. We learn more every day about Trump’s personal and financial peccadilloes and indiscretions. They range from embarrassing to unethical to illegal — and more revelations are on the way. When Putin strikes, expect it to be inspired and devastating.

Trump’s tendency to admire dictators was always unsettling, but it’s especially so in the case of Putin. Putin is not the legendary evil-genius-master-politician that some people claim, but he is powerful, calculating, ambitious, and ruthless.

Clearly, Russia isn’t enough for him. He dreams of expansion — putting the old Soviet Union back together, and then some. He sees himself as Vladimir the Great.

That’s why the infatuation with Putin by a lightweight, thin-skinned amateur like Trump is scary.

Consequences

A point about where recent phenomena such as the election of Trump and the Brexit vote could lead us.

The wretched masses of the world have a boiling point. As their numbers grow, as their situations worsen, as they watch the rich get richer, they will become steadily more restless, angry, and defiant. When people become so desperate that they react in protest, consequences such as Trump and Brexit are no surprise.

But those in power have boiling points, too. Eventually, any government or regime will retaliate to protect itself and its interests. It will proclaim that the rule of law must prevail. Civil disorder can’t be tolerated. Send in the troops.

That scenario usually ends in one of two ways.

In one, “the people” somehow prevail, boot out the ruling class, and, nobly and piously, set about trying to create a social system equitable to all. Usually, the experiment devolves to rancorous infighting and disintegrates in chaos. Down through history, not an uncommon occurrence.

In the other, an autocracy or oligarchy prevails, with the leadership even more powerful and more deeply entrenched. Also a regular occurrence throughout history.

If you can see a just or happy ending to any of this, I would love to hear your story.

Trump at work