Posts Tagged ‘History’

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Political Monday – Guns, Driving and Our Rights

January 28, 2013

freecopyofusconstitutionI posted a couple of years ago something regarding gun ownership and the Second Amendment(click here to read). Here are some follow on thoughts:

OK, I admit it, the NRA is right, guns do not kill people, people kill people. Of course, you might at well say cars do not cause road fatalities, people cause road fatalities and accept that as true too. Let’s do that, let’s accept they are equally true and treat them as equals. Here are some of the points being considered recently on just how we make them equal:

You want to drive a car, you have to pass a written test. 
    How about passing a written test to own a gun? 
You want to drive a car, you have to pass a driving proficiency 
road test. 
    How about passing a shooting proficiency shooting range test?
You want to drive a car, you have to carry liability insurance.
    How about carrying liability insurance to use a gun?
You want to drive a car, you follow the rules of the road.
    How about setting the same sort of rule structure for responsible 
    gun ownership?
You want to drive anything other than a basic car, you must have 
a special license, CDL & motorcycle, for example.
    How about having special licenses for specialized weapons 
    like assault rifles?

We all know driving and gun ownership are not the same thing. Cars and guns serve very different purposes in our lives, but both carry risks and both enjoy some level of legal protection. Wile the right to drive is one of our unenumerated rights, gun ownership is written directly into our Constitution.

In fact, the Supreme Court decided gun ownership is a fundamental right, but that does not mean there are no rules regarding guns. After all, we do not treat

1920s Machinegun Ad

1920s machine-gun Ad

owning a Thomson sub-machine gun the same as owning a Remington Model 870 Wingmaster. There was a time when they were treated the same. Hell, back then you could buy the Thompson as easy as you could a BB-gun. It was decided that allowing automatic weapons in the general population was simply too dangerous, so we modified our fundamental right to own a gun with some rules.

That is not to say you cannot own machine gun now, you can. All you have to do is obtain the pertinent federal license and follow the special rules that come with owning a weapon like a machine gun. In other words, to exorcise the fundamental right to own a machine gun, you must exorcise the fundamental responsibilities that come with it.

Regulating driving a car aids in safe driving and promotes another fundamental right – to live. Regulating gun ownership is no different on that point. We recognize the differences between driving an 18-wheel semi tractor-trailer and a Toyota Prius by having regulations for each. All I ask is for gun ownership to be treated the same way. Does anyone really think owning weapons capable of killing dozens of fellow citizens in a minute is any less dangerous than a Tommy-gun?

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Geographic Tuesday: Cornwall – Much more than England’s Pointy End

April 24, 2012

Cornwall, England (c 1900)

Great Britain is a geographically diverse island.  About the only major landforms missing are glaciers and deserts.  Think of it as a land where the extremes have been removed, leaving only the good parts.  In the Southwest of the country lies Cornwall.  It is one of England’s unitary authorities, think of it like a county in a US state.   The land in Cornwall is upland, exposed granite surrounded rolling hills but the whole of it juts out of the ocean with craggy cliffs and a rugged shore, interspersed with stretches of course sand beaches.  It is impressive to say the least.

Way back, when I was a kid and we visited England for the first time.  This was around the time the currency changed from the old system of pounds, shillings, pennies, and farthings, to today’s decimalized system. Back then, I could not tell if I paid about 50 cents or 5 bucks for a cup of tea.  Back then, getting to the Southwest and Cornwall was not as easy as hitting today’s M5 then jumping on A38.  For us, it was many missteps down hedgerow lined lanes, until at last, there it was – Cornwall, more specifically, Penzance.  We had arrived at England’s pointy end.

Cornwall sticks out, thumb-like into the Celtic Sea.  Lashed with winds and storms coming in from the Atlantic, the weather in Cornwall is always subject to change at a moment’s notice but the gulfstream provides Cornwall with England’s most moderate temperatures.  Walking along a cliff’s edge when a squall blows in is awesome.  It well illustrates the power of nature and humbles even the most confident of souls.

Still, there is much more to Cornwall than geography alone.  It is what the Cornish have done with their geography that makes the place special.    Everything from the ruins of Tintagel Castle (with its connection to the legend of King Arthur) to St. Michael’s Mount (where legend says a giant named Cormoran lived) and even further back to in time to the Merry Maidens Circle.  The circle is the mythical place were nineteen young maidens were turned to stone for the high-crime of dancing on Sunday.  The Stonehenge-like circle predates Christianity so

Tintagle Castle

we can reasonably question the veracity of the tale, much to the relief of young maidens everywhere.

No visit to Cornwall is complete without learning something of the Cornish people.  While there is debate about a precise history, the Cornish trace their roots back to the original Britons and Celts.  Much of the culture of Cornwall is influenced by this heritage.  They even have their own language, a derivative of the Celtic language, which thrived until the late 19th century.  Today Cornish is recognized in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages[i].

When I visited Cornwall, I feel in love with tea-treat buns and the national dish of Cornwall, the D-shaped Cornish Pasty.  A tea-treat bun is a large, aromatic saffron bun flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and currants.  Sometimes they are even dusted with powdered sugar!!  The pasty is made with meat, swede turnips, and onions.  They are similar to the empanadas made throughout Central and South America.

My favorite place in Cornwall is the Bedruthan Steps.  In another legend about giants, it seems Cornwall has many, many giant legends, the step were created by a race of giants to use as stepping-stones from the cliff top to the sea.  Another version has them playing a form of quoits and tossing the stones about.  The stones, by the way, are measured in feet and weighed in tons.  Regardless of how the stones came to be, I would tell you the geologic reason but it is sort of boring and takes the mystery out of

Bedruthan Steps

it all, the cliffs and beaches around the Bedruthan Steps are breathtakingly beautiful and provide and great spot for a picnic, if you don’t mind the breeze that whips up with little notice.

Simply put, Cornwall is a place you will want to see.  It has charm and warmth, as well as buckets of historic sites to explore.  If you are planning a trip to Europe, put Cornwall on the “must see” list.  Just as on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish, all that visit Cornwall become Cornish and own the lore of the Celts, at least for as long as the visit to England’s pointy end lasts.


[i] BBC News. BBC, 11 June 2002. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.
<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/2410383.stm>.

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Samuel Dealey, American Naval Hero

December 11, 2011

World War II is full of heroes, as all wars seem to be.  Still, given the scope, scale and especially the sacrifice of our entire nation, the heroes of World War II stand apart as even the average soldier and sailor would be heroic, judged by the standards of other wars.  Samuel David Dealey is just such a standout when it comes to heroes.  His story speaks directly to the spirit of America and the ability of Americans to put country above self.

Born September 13, 1906 in Dallas Texas, Samuel‘s father died when he was six, causing his mother to move the family to California for a time.  He returned to Texas and finished high school and spent two years studying at Southern Methodist University before transferring to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  Sam was not the most dedicated student to say the least.  His studies lapsed at Annapolis in 1925 for a time.  He buckled down in 1926 and graduated in the middle of the pack in the class of 1930.  By all accounts, Sam was a smart young man who simply did not apply himself.

Entering the fleet in 1930, Dealey served on several ships (including the USS Nevada (BB- 36) and the USS Wyoming (BB-32)).  In 1934, Samuel made a decision that changed his life; he joined the United States Submarine Service where both his talent and bravado served his needs as well as the Navy’s.  Rising quickly, in 1941 he took command of USS S-20 (SS-120), an experimental submarine, stationed in New London, Connecticut.  He was serving on S-20 when war broke out with Japan attacking Pearl Harbor.

Due to his success on S-20, Sam was assigned to USS Harder (SS-257) a new-construction submarine as its commanding officer.  Many of the improvements tested while he commanded S-20, including the diesel-electric drive, were used on Harder.  After commissioning and shake-down in New London, while in the Caribbean, Harder survived an attack by US aircraft that mistook her for an enemy submarine.  After that, she sailed to Pearl Harbor to join the fleet in mid-1943.

Movie lore often obscures the true acts of heroism as they usurp notable achievements to advance their plots.  Separating fact from fiction becomes very hard.  Such is the case when talking about Commander Dealey.  You see, Commander Dealey earned a nickname during his time on Harder.  He was known as “The Destroyer Killer.”  It seems a requirement for World War II submarine movies to include what is known as the “down the throat” shot.  This is when you fire at a contact that is heading right for you and dive under them as your torpedo slams into them.  Commander Dealey did not invent the maneuver, but it can be argued he perfected it.   During his fifth war patrol, Dealey and the crew of Harder sank five Japanese destroyers in four days.  His tactics we so successful the Japanese thought the island of Tawi-Tawi was surrounded by numerous submarines and abandoned it as a base of operations.  The fact is, the numerous submarines they feared turned out to be just one, USS Harder.  For his actions during this war patrol, Commander Dealey was awarded the Medal of Honor.  The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Harder during her fifth war patrol in Japanese controlled waters. Floodlighted by a bright moon and disclosed to an enemy destroyer escort which bore down with intent to attack, Cmdr. Dealey quickly dived to periscope depth and waited for the pursuer to close range, then opened fire, sending the target and all aboard down in flames with his third torpedo. Plunging deep to avoid fierce depth charges, he again surface and, within nine minutes after sighting another destroyer, had sent the enemy down tail first with a hit directly amidship. Evading detection he penetrated the waters of  Tawi Tawi with the Japanese fleet six miles away and scored death blows on two patrolling destroyers in quick succession. With his ship heeled over by the concussion of the first exploding target and the second vessel nose diving in a blinding detonation, he cleared the area at high-speed. Sighted by a large hostile fleet force on the following day, he swung his bow towards the lead destroyer for another “down-the-throat” shot, fired three bow tubes and promptly crash dived to be terrifically rocked seconds later by the exploding ship as the Harder passed beneath. This remarkable record of five vital Japanese destroyers sunk in five short-range torpedo attacks attests the valiant fighting spirit of Cmdr. Dealey and his indomitable command.

In another act of daring, Commander Dealey placed his submarine nose-first against a reef off the Woleai Island to rescue a downed and injured pilot.  Using he engines to keep the submarine against the reef, Harder faced continued sniper and machine gun fire, as well and horrific rip-currents along the reef.  The crew used a rubber raft to cross the reef and retrieve the pilot.  Without his and his crew’s extraordinary efforts, the pilot would have fallen into enemy hands.

In the end, Commander Dealey simply took the fight to the enemy.  He was well aware of the danger he faced with the tactics he used.  Though successful as they were, sadly, USS Harder was lost to enemy action during her sixth war patrol with a loss of all hands aboard, including Commander Dealey.

While much controversy surrounds the reasons for this sixth patrol, nothing can diminish the bravery and sacrifice of men such as Commander Dealey and his crew.  They join the fifty-one other submarines, 374 officers, and 3131 men lost in World War II.  During the war, the US Submarine Service lost a higher percentage of men and any other service.  Remarkably, the entire service only made up 1.6% of the sailors in the US Navy but accounted for over 54% of Japanese ships sunk.  The submariners of World War II put themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis.  Commander Dealey exemplifies the spirit and love of country these special men had, to borrow from Winston Churchill “Of all the branches of men in the forces there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners.” 

During his time as Captain of Harder, Commander Dealey was awarded the Navy Cross with three gold stars, the army’s Distinguished Service Cross (presented to him by Gen. Douglas MacArthur), two presidential unit citations, and a Purple Heart, all in addition to the Medal of Honor.  He was responsible for sinking over 15,000 tons (16 ships) and damaging over 27,000 tons of enemy shipping.

Today, if you visit the submarine base in New London, you will see most buildings are named to honor a hero of the submarine fleet.  Dealey Center, the base cinema complex, is named in honor of Commander Dealey and dedicated to the memory of him, his crew and the USS Harder.

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The Danger of Unknowns

August 19, 2010

We live in a time when the best choices a particular politician made in years past are used as a club against him or her today, when times and situations call for different choices.  It really does not matter if a politician is liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, or any other flavor of alignment, votes and positions of yesterday haunt them today.

Imagine if such attacks happened around our Founding Fathers.  George Washington would never have been elected as president, he lost more battles than he won and seemed to always be retreating.  John Adams, president # 2, forget it, he represented the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, resulting in the acquittal of most and only two soldiers guilty of manslaughter and not murder.  As for Thomas Jefferson, he was a deist who was critical of organized religion, a death knell for a politician today.

Politics has never been a business for the thin-skinned, but what takes place today goes beyond simply pointing out ideological differences and extends to character assassination.  Every vote or position becomes a vulnerability for any politician with a few years of experience.  Moreover, it encourages the creation of proposed bills and legislation designed to force opponents in voting for or against something solely for use later as ammunition against them.

The ultimate result is electing individuals without a record or history.  While this in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, it does open the door to placing people in positions they are not fully ready to hold.  For example, after the corruption surrounding the Nixon administration, the country turned to a little known governor from Georgia, Jimmy Carter.  The country wanted an honest man, and President Carter is that.  His inexperience in dealing with national politics made his time in office difficult and prevented him from achieving much he tried.  America’s experiment with national political newcomers ended with the election of Ronald Reagan.

Following eight years with President Reagan, again voters elected the better-known candidate in then Vice-President Bush.  During his term, the national economic situation turned and a modest tax increase was deemed necessary for the good of the nation.  The Republican right-wing threw a fit, as Bush campaigned on no new taxes.  Not even the good of the nation is enough to overcome past statements and political parties will throw their own candidate under a bus to make that point.

After that, the nation elected another relatively unknown southern governor, Bill Clinton.  Unlike Carter, President Clinton understood the nature of national politics.  More importantly, he understood the nature of Washington politics.  Through his political savvy, his lapses in judgment regarding his personal affairs did not derail his presidency; in fact, the nation ended up in a stronger position than when he took the helm.  Clinton is an example showing an unknown can get the job done, but leaves the question of should we take the risk.

The conservatives picked up the mantra of electing an unknown in George W. Bush; you know “dub-ya.”  Unlike President Carter, this Bush played to his base.  In fact, in playing to his base, he did little else.  After 9/11, instead of finding the bastard that attacked us, he started two wars he was not willing to finish.  After eight years under his control, he left the United States with a wrecked economy, homeowners loosing homes in record numbers, the military stretched to its breaking point, fewer American’s with the ability to afford healthcare, and our returning veterans left to suffer all sorts of physical and mental problems overwhelming the Veteran’s Administration.

The nation blamed the conservatives.  While President Bush certainly is conservative, that was not the problem, he was simply the wrong man to run the country.  We elected, twice, a guy not fit to run a lemonade stand and left the competent conservative leaders marginalized.  The tide-swell of voter frustration was not to be turned; rather than accepting blame for electing an unknown moron, voters looked to liberals and picked another unknown, President Obama.

While certainly competent and far from being a moron, President Obama’s inexperience in national politics is proving to be an Achilles’ heel.  Much like President Carter, Obama seems incapable of controlling the political party he sits atop.  They are fractured, disorganized, and impotent when it comes to passing meaningful legislation.  Of course, they blame the Republicans but in doing so simply show they’ve been out foxed, or as some might say out “FOXed,” à la Rupert Murdock.

Back in my military days, I went through some very interesting training.  In one course on intelligence matters, the instructor made a statement like “In geopolitical affairs, always side with the despot you know and understand rather than the despot you know nothing about.”  That is good advice for our national politics too.  While we may not like the good-ol’ boys of either political party, we at least have a sense of who they are.  We, voters of both political parties, need to stop electing people we know nothing about.

Does that mean only elect career politicians, no, it means we must elect people with a record of action that points to how they will lead.  For instance, if you never worked in politics and your only experience with financial matters is balancing a checkbook, you might not have the qualifications to lead the nation in a financial crisis.  Warren Buffett, on the other hand, has the same political experience, but carries a financial pedigree that proves his ability.

As the mid-term elections approach, we need to stop firing the despot we know for the one that we know nothing about.  We can really make matters worse.  Politics in the United States has devolved to the point truly smart people avoid it like the plague.  The partisan bickering and backstabbing must end.  We need people who are willing to engage each other to solve problems rather than stand on ideology.  Firing an individual because he or she is not conservative or liberal enough and replacing them with some ideological robot without properly understanding who they are is a dangerous way to run a country.

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The Center of Truth’s Universe

February 1, 2010

From the beginning of time, history has indexed our universe.  Some history we know, some we will never know.  Moreover, some things we thought we knew, we learn were something else all together.  The truth we know today is in how we believe it to be, more than the fact of it – seems everyone knew the earth was the center of the universe until Galileo proved otherwise.  What belief of today will change tomorrow?

Galileo was not alone in his belief, of course.  He built on the works of another great from history – Nicolaus Copernicus.  The realization that the earth was not the center of the universe was a process that took over two-hundred years to understand.  Telling the truth can prove dangerous too.  In Galileo’s case, it cost him his freedom and nearly his life.  The Catholic Church was less than pleased with his proposals as it opposed the teachings of the day.  In 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Galileo held to his belief.  While he did recant, it was under threat of death.  Regardless of the Catholic Church’s efforts, his work remained in circulation and people quietly accepted the truth of it.  The truth of his work was undeniable.  Institutions, like the Catholic Church, are slow to correct mistakes; in Galileo’s case, they did not officially change their position until 1992 when Pope John Paul II expressed regret.  Now, there are plans to erect a statue of Galileo within the Vatican walls.

The lesson of Galileo is truth may be suppressed for a time but in the end it will prevail.  There is something indefinable that happens to a person when they learn a truth.  It changes everything they do from that moment forward.  Accepting one truth leads to other truths; the process of learning repeats itself with a perpetual motion of sorts.  It is the engine that drives humanity along our journey of discovery.

Looking back, the Church’s position may seem silly, but we cannot judge through hindsight; we have the advantage of knowing how events unfolded.  That is the point to keep in mind, when the world presents you with an idea that goes against a deeply held belief, the belief may need to change.  The fault did not sit with the Church as a whole, but with a belief system that did not allow for change.  The more we understand the universe, the more we will shed outdated beliefs.  There was a time when traveling faster than the speed of sound was thought impossible; today we routinely fly much faster.  Now, the speed of light presents the same dilemma.  Will we one day dismiss it as a barrier too?

Truth may seem dynamic; it is not.  While two plus two does equal four, other truths are not so easily defined.  In the end, it is our understanding that changes, not truth.  No evil comes from knowing the truth even if it breaks with tradition.  The evil comes in suppressing truth.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Galileo.

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