Thursday, February 22, 2007

Myths About Government

Have you heard the myth that the U.S. was founded on Christian principles? Here’s an interesting quote:

The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was an attempt by Thomas Jefferson to glean the teachings of Jesus from the Christian Gospels. Jefferson wished to extract the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists. In essence, Thomas Jefferson, along with other founding fathers, did not believe in Jesus's divinity, the Trinity, resurrection, miracles, or any other supernatural aspect described in the bible. (

President Jefferson was a fascinating person. In addition to stripping away much of the Bible, his morality did not prevent him from fathering children with Sally Hemings, a black slave. His paternity is contested but DNA evidence seems to indicate he was the father.

Although Jefferson wrote regarding marriage between blacks and whites, "The amalgamation of whites with blacks produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character, can innocently consent," a subject of considerable controversy since Jefferson's time is whether he was the father of any of the children of his slave Sally Hemings. Hemings was likely the half-sister of Jefferson's deceased wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. (

If Jefferson lived today, I think many right-wing Christians would reject him and condemn him as a heretic and immoral person and, all the while, continue asserting that the country was founded on Christian principles as opposed to humanitarian principles.

What does this have to do with the role of the government? I assert we have an imperfect and aging constitution -- which should not be rejected or abandoned as some might have mistakenly assumed from my last post -- but, more significantly, we have a majority of our population that has probably not read the constitution and believes many untruths, half-truths, mistaken beliefs and down-right lies about our constitution and our history.

As I ponder the role of government, I have to ask

  • What is the role of the government?
  • Why have a federal government?
  • What is written in the constitution?
  • What is the truth – not popular myth – but the truth about our constitutional heritage?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More Questions About Government

I ended my previous post on the role of government with a statement that I can’t write the perfect principle because I’m human and flawed. I wrote this because the U.S. constitution is flawed due to the flawed nature of the authors. The delegates who wrote the constitution knew this. Some thoughts, if I may.

  1. Could a constitution that denied rights to non-white, non-European, non-male persons be perfect?
  2. Could a constitution be considered perfect if a means of amending the constitution was written into the original document?
  3. Could a constitution authored by men who had never lived in a democracy write the perfect document about a theoretical form of government?
  4. Could a constitution be perfect if an immediate threat arose that resulted in the Bill of Rights?

What do you know about the Bill of Rights? The U.S. constitution was written in 1787, ratified in 1788 and the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791. Why? It appears the early citizens were suspicious of government including those for and those against amending the constitution with a list of rights.

During the debate over the ratification of the Constitution, famous revolutionary figures such as Patrick Henry came out publicly against the Constitution. They argued that the strong national government proposed by the Federalists was a threat to the rights of individuals and that the President would become a king, and objected to the federal court system in the proposed Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, ambassador to France, described his concern over the lack of a Bill of Rights, among other criticisms. In answer to the argument that a list of rights might be interpreted as being exhaustive, Jefferson wrote to Madison, "Half a loaf is better than no bread. If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can." (

I find life to be like a boiling pot. It’s never static, calm or peaceful. We must always be questioning, learning, adapting and working to prevent tyranny. As part of this effort, I’m asking more basic questions than “what should be the role of government?”. I’m pondering the questions: “Why have a federal government? Why did the early American citizens create the government rather than be content with state governments?” I think the answer to these questions are relevant for determining a valid role for government.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Birthing A Principle

"It is the mission of government to perform the educational, safety and humanitarian functions that individuals and smaller groups cannot accomplish."

Please, don’t quote the above. It’s my first feeble, incomplete and flawed attempt at stating a guiding principle with which to determine what I think should be the role of government and to evaluate claims for the mission of government.

Rather than compile a list of affirmative items (government should maintain a defensive army, secure separation of church and state, protect the environment, etc) or a list of negative items (government should not violate civil liberties, attempt to eradicate poverty, protect individuals from themselves, etc) I prefer to strive for an underlying principle.

Here’s an example in which I use the principle. Two years ago I attended a catered retirement banquet held in a community room at a gated community near Flagstaff. The homes are expensive, located in a Ponderosa forest and not all are occupied full time. Many are seasonal homes. A newsletter reminded residents to turn in reimbursement requests for trees removed from their property as a measure to protect their homes in the event of a forest fire. In my opinion, it is not the responsibility of the government to reimburse wealthy people to protect their own property. This violates my principle that the mission of the government is to do what individuals and smaller groups cannot do.

The principle that I’m attempting to state succinctly should encompass knowledge gained from psychology, sociology, history and other disciplines – knowledge such as the importance of personal responsibility and the dangers inherent in government.

I’ve got to ponder this more, revise the statement and develop something that can withstand intellectual challenge and fail gracefully. I’d like to write the perfect statement but, given that I’m imperfect, I don’t think it’s possible.

Your thoughts?

( I posted the above on another blog because I 'm interested in encouraging more reaction.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine's Day Gotcha - Almost

Men's Personal Growth Group: This group is designed to provide a non-competitive, confidential, trustworthy atmosphere in which men can explore ways to be as happy and functional as possible in their role as men, given the challenges and opportunities facing them in everyday life. In each group session at least one common male issue will be addressed through a discussion of related life experiences and opportunities for individual work on these issues.

The following themes will be explored: male myths, gender role identity, the impact of upbringing, taboos, defenses, the ways men tend to express feelings, aggression, competitiveness, cooperation, relationships, seeking meaning, personal growth, as well as issues presented by participants.

The group resumes tomorrow evening -- on Valentines Day!

Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm not certain which, Julie has Tai Chi on Wednesdays at the same time so I'll neither miss the group nor abandon her.

We're going to begin celebrating the day with breakfast in town at a restaurant of her choice.

Life is good and keeps getting better because we take care of ourselves, because we take care of one another and because we share a life together!

Monday, February 12, 2007


What's the role or mission or job of government? I've been pondering this question and can't frame an answer with which I'm satisfied. I began doing some reading and encountered the following survey results in the document By, or for, the People?.

American confidence in
  • The military - 83%
  • The federal government - 32%
  • Your state government - 29%
  • Your local government - 33%
  • The Congress - 24%
Perceptions of representing the public interest
  • Government generally pursues its own agenda. - 67%
  • Government generally pursues the people’s agenda. - 25%
  • I feel distant and disconnected from government. - 64%
  • I feel close and connected to government. - 30%
  • Government serves the special interests. - 63%
  • Government serves the public interest. - 25%
  • Government policies generally do not reflect my values. - 53%
  • Government policies generally reflect my values. - 35%
It appears most of us are unhappy with Congress and the U.S. government.

Hmm? Happy or unhappy, do I have a right to vote if I can't answer this question to my satisfaction? What is the mission of the government?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Permit

It was sad. It continues to be sad.

We were in the Backcountry office waiting for our turn when I noticed a poster with a photo of a runner from the Boston Marathon – a young female. I read the story of the 24 year old medical student who ran 90 miles per week and placed 15th in the marathon. With a friend she entered the canyon in July without a map, with gross misinformation about the length of the hike which was several miles longer than anticipated, with a snack and one and one-half liters of water. When her friend could go no further due to dehydration, she continued to look for water. The friend survived. Her body was found two days later. Sad.

Several years ago in Tennessee, I was descending a mountain when I passed a young boy of about 12 climbing at a fast pace. He was almost running. I wondered why his family let him get out of their sight. I expected to meet them within a hundred yards but didn’t. A while later I met a thin and frail woman who appeared to be about 80 slowly climbing the trail. She wasn’t far from the trailhead parking lot. She asked how far to the top and I told her she had about three and one-half miles and about 1800 feet elevation gain to go. As we talked, I learned it was her grandson I had passed. They had begun the “walk” without food, water or knowledge.

Only once in all the years and miles that I’ve hiked and backpacked have I misjudged a trail. About 15 years ago I was hiking in Tennessee in Savage Gulf. I got a later start than planned, took my time on the hike into the Gulf and then encountered a boulder field that seemed to go on for ever. As the afternoon waned, I was in no danger but was dog-tired and running much later than planned. Each step was a cautious decision as boulders rolled, rocked and moved. It was a slow and tiring hike with a full pack. When I finally climbed out of the Gulf to the campsite on the far side, I couldn’t fully enjoy the evening because I was dreading the return the next day knowing I wouldn’t get home until midnight. Live and learn.

When our turn came, the lady in the Backcountry office was extremely helpful. On a scale of one to five, I would give her a six. In the end, we changed our requested dates by three weeks and got a permit for three nights in the canyon.

There are two hikes that Julie fondly refers to as the “hikes from hell”. One was on Sandia Crest above Albuquerque. At 10,000 feel we encountered more snow than anticipated. The other was in the Guadalupe Mountains in western Texas. The temperature was 107 and shade was non-existant.

I don’t plan on giving her a third hike from hell. We're limiting ourselves to 10 miles per day and less than that in the canyon. We've planned two days of seven miles each descending to the river and two days of five miles each climbing the 4,380 feet out of the canyon.

When we arrive on the South Rim on July 3, we have reservations for a room in a lodge – an air-conditioned room!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Plan B

“We have a letter from the National Park Service.”

“It’s our permit!”

I ripped the envelope open to read “THANK YOU for your interest in the Grand Canyon! Unfortunately, your request has been denied because space is not available for the itinerary you requested.”

Tomorrow morning, Sunday, we implement Plan B. We’re driving to the Canyon to go into the Backcountry Information Center and attempt to get a permit for some other itinerary for early June. If this fails, we drop down to plan C which will exclude the Canyon and shorten our hike from 100 miles to 75.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Everything is fascinating! That’s one of the greatest gifts of childhood. Everything is new, strange, intriguing. Everything invites exploration and tickles the imagination. Childhood is a time to enjoy, to relish and to play in the physical world. It's a time before “No! Bad! Evil!”.

Childhood is a Garden of Eden, a paradise uncorrupted by that damned perverted religious teaching that the physical world is evil and to be shunned and avoided in preparation for a spiritual world.

I used to lie on my back and watch the clouds float by and let my imagination find shapes and animals and fantasy creations. I watched birds and dreamed and yearned for the ability to fly. Helping plant a garden was the opportunity to watch miracles.

Over the years I misplaced some of that wonder. The miraculous lost some of its luster and became more ordinary.

When my children were young, I used to thrill in their questions and their attraction to the natural world. Through them I had the chance to relive some of my youthful lust and passion for the universe.

While finishing college I worked a night shift and would get home about six in the morning. Before going in to shower and get ready for the day’s classes, I would walk to the backyard to check on six tomato plants. The fascination wasn’t as strong as it had been twenty-some years earlier but it was alive and healthy.

Several times I have raised egg plant. I don’t particularly like egg plant. I’ve eaten it only twice in my life but it’s such a miracle. I enjoy watching a deep royal purple fruit with a smooth sheen develop from nothing. It’s a miracle!

This afternoon I begin the master gardener program. For the next 13 weeks on Tuesday afternoons, I’ll take part in a series of three hour classes. Why? To sow the seeds of miracles; to recapture more of the wonder and mystery of childhood; to roll and revel and relish in the natural world.

I’ve learned that “as we sow, so shall we reap”. The more I invest myself in life, the richer my life becomes. I’ll not plant only fruits, vegetables and flowers. I’ll plant the seeds of a happy and content life as an old man – a young, and perhaps childish, old man.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Weekend in Pictures

Enlarged Bird
On Saturday, as we hiked to Devil's Bridge, we heard voices of two men shouting to one another. (Larger version)

Enlarged Bird
We spotted one climber immediately but it took a moment or two to locate his partner. I expected him to be below the first climber but he was off to the left. (Larger version)

Enlarged Bird
From the top of the bridge it was difficult to get a perspective to show the height and width of the bridge. (Larger version)

Enlarged Bird
To celebrate Julie's birthday, we ate at the Javelina Cantina, had ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hiked to Devil's Bridge and took this photo. It's not a good photo because we were in the shade but I wanted a photo of us on top of the bridge to remember Julie's day. (Larger version)

Enlarged Bird
As we returned, we found the first climber several feet above the ledge on which we first saw him. (Larger version)

Enlarged Bird
On Sunday morning, we ere visited by the regular flock of about 100 pinyon jays. (Larger version)

Enlarged Bird
Sunday afternoon we took a 3 mile walk. About a mile from the house, where this photo was taken, we discovered an area littered with pottery shards. A brief search located Anasazi ruins that we had never discovered before. (Larger version)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Weapon at the Airport - Part II

(This is part 2. Read yesterday's post first.)

The excitement was irresistible. I opened the door, stepped out on the porch and raised the gun. In the dark I couldn’t see but knew I couldn’t miss the barn. I pulled the trigger and listened for the shot to hit the wall. Over 52 years have passed but I can still feel the chill of the air and hear the sounds of that shot.

That Christmas morning began a series of memorable adventures. Not long after, an older cousin held the gun when his brother suddenly said “See if you can hit me!” He began running up the path that led from the porch to the road above my grandmother’s house. His brother took aim as I watched with fascination.

“Did I hit you?”

My cousin came back to the porch, pulled up his left pant leg and displayed the broken skin on the side of his calf.

“It just grazed me.”

“That’s what I planned.”

I was impressed by their courage, bravado and the easy lies that floated around the porch on that sunny spring day.

But, back to the airport, the fatherland security officer and the weapon of individual destruction

We left the gun with the police at the airport and tried to arrange for a courier to ship it to us. No luck. It may still be at lost-and-found or perhaps some employee took it and sold it.

The loss of the gun irks me; it raises my ire; it provokes me to turn to a colorful vocabulary to express my irritation. However, I’ll resist.

In 1954 it was the passion of any self-respecting, red-blooded, true American boy to own a genuine Red Ryder lever action BB gun complete with saddle ring! Little did I know at that time that an antique Daisy BB gun was a threat to national security when declared and checked with baggage to be transported by airline personnel in secure areas inaccessible to passengers.

There is a bright spot to this experience. I hadn’t seen the gun in years. It had been stored in my mother’s attic. My brother-in-law, Leon, found it and did some work on it. Over the years the plastic stock had bowed and he straightened it. Many, many years ago I lost a bolt that held the stock to the barrel and had replaced the bolt with one that was too long. He ground down the bolt and put a smooth finish on the exposed end.

Things are easy to replace but attitude, family and friends are not. I don’t need the gun or its monetary value. I have something more valuable and useful. I have childhood memories associated with the BB gun and the new memory of Leon’s creative skill and kindness in repairing a toy from my childhood.

The gun is lost but the memories are safe for a while longer.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Weapon at the Airport

“Think, think, think! What options do we have?”

We were outside the Louisville airport with a bag containing a dangerous weapon and had to dispose of it. We tried to check it but the attendant refused.

“Go ahead. Check the bag and if security confiscates it, I’ll accept that.”

“I can’t do that” she replied.

“Let me break it into two parts and put one part in each bag.”

“No, I can’t do that because someone may get hold of it?

“How?” I wondered. “It will be in two bags in the belly of the plane.” I thought it but didn’t say it because it was useless.

Our first option was to mail or ship it to ourselves. The cabbie wanted to take up to the far side of Louisville to a UPS store. Cost and time eliminated that option and he didn’t know of a closer location.

I thought of asking the woman who checked in the rental car to send it to me and I would pay her for her time and trouble. She was a pleasant, smiling, happy, helpful person. She would have remembered me because I thanked her and complimented her on her attitude and helpfulness.

“We could find a trash can in a secluded spot and drop it” I suggested to Julie.

While I waited outside with the weapon, Julie decided to go back to the check-in counter and ask for other options. It was suggested that she check with the airport police. That was a useless attempt – until she said the magic words.

“I’ll guess we’ll have to find a trash can and dispose of it.”

“Oh, no! That will make more work for us.”

The officer became more helpful at that point. He suggested that he fill out a lost item report and we give it to him and he would take it to lost and found. We could arrange for UPS for FEDEX to pick it up and ship it to us.

Perfect! That’s what we did and we made our plane on time

But … Yep, there’s always that darned but!

(Sorry, I have a meeting. I’ll finish this tomorrow! I don't mean I'm sorry that I can't finish it now. I mean that I'm sorry that I have a danged meeting.)