Workers need to be considered, not just profits

This letter was published in the Waynesboro, Virginia News Virginian on May 20, 2016

Thanks and a special “Hurrah!” for Brian Carlton’s editorial of May 18, “Value of a
workforce.”  It supports a lesson I learned long ago, before Corporate
America became so adept at concealing and denying it.  The lesson is this:
Wealth is created by a vital partnership of capital, labor, and government.
This theory was severely tested during events like the Great Depression, but
the American Dream flourished apparently better than it does today.  The old
theory deserves revisiting as we wrestle with current economic difficulties.
For those who forgot or never learned it, the gist of the theory is:

Capital provides investment needed to establish enterprises and furnish the
land, facilities, and equipment they need to do their work.  Fair return on
investment is an essential incentive for obtaining capital, given the risks
involved.

Labor acquires knowledge and skills, and devotes personal time and energy,
sometimes risking life and limb, to perform human tasks.  A fair share of
rewards provides incentive for professionalism and innovation, and enables
labor to purchase the products of business.  Labor shares the risks of
capital, but at a personal level where adapting to change is more difficult.
Sweatshop-level competition deters professionalism, innovation, and denies
labor the ability to purchase products of business.

Government supports capital by providing infrastructure, supports labor
through education and social safety nets, and supports the entire enterprise
by providing regulatory guides, defense, and domestic law and order.  The
Interstate Highway System, air transport facilities, the Internet, and
aerospace research and development are recent examples of enormous
opportunities for wealth creation that resulted from government action –
undertaken at times of higher taxes than we complain about today.

Support of this threefold partnership brought us the world’s strongest, most
innovative economy.  It raised our standard of living.  It created a sense
of national unity, of people working for common cause.  All are sadly in
decline today.  When we diminish labor and government, seeing them only as
costs to be minimized, we endanger the vitality of our economy and of our
republic.

JIM BURNS
Waynesboro

ARCTIC FIASCOS

This post summarizes a PowerPoint presentation that was given at the Summit Square retirement community in Waynesboro, Virginia on May 16, 2015.  Most of the events mentioned are documented elsewhere in this blog.  The PowerPoint presentation focused on humorous aspects having entertainment value for a live audience.  Wording is approximate because no script was used in the presentation.  Duration was about 40 minutes.

INTRODUCTION

With a title like this, I realize that some of you may be wondering, why is he so negative, why can’t he talk about Arctic Accomplishments instead?

I promise you, I will talk about accomplishments, but that’ll only take a minute or two. As for the negativity, that dates way back.  When I was a little fellow, I had lots of trouble trying to satisfy my father with my grades in school. I’d tell him I got 93 on a test, and he’d ask what went wrong.  I didn’t like that.  I wanted praise instead.

So, when I got a grade of 98, and he asked the same thing, I screwed up my courage and snapped, “Nothing went wrong. I think that’s a pretty good grade.”  He answered, “Yes it’s very good. But if you’ll think more about the 2% you missed, then you’ll know it all!”

I still didn’t much like it, but maybe I thought he had a point, because…  Now, eighty years later, lots of my memories are about what went wrong. They don’t hurt much if I laugh at them. I hope you’ll laugh with me.

I. SODA STRAW AND OTHER PROJECTS, ALASKA 1952

Here you see downtown Anchorage in 1952. I had gone to work for the Geological Survey a couple of years earlier, fresh out of school.   Now it was time to get some practical field experience.  I was assigned to spend that summer in Alaska, working on several different projects.

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I arrived in Anchorage in early June. Summer was right around the corner, and the city was in festive gear.  I expected to see a frontier town like those of the old West.  No such thing.  It was a modern city with all the latest conveniences – electricity, running water, even traffic lights and parking meters.  Yes, I exaggerate my surprise, but when I saw the first parking meter, I did think it was worth a picture.  The city also had a Piggly Wiggly supermarket, a pleasant reminder of my home in Virginia.

Anchorage was overcrowded by workers who had come for summer jobs. The hotels followed a “hot bed” policy. Day-shift workers rented beds by night, and night-shift workers rented the same beds by day.  Whether bedding was changed in between depended on what class of hotel one was staying at.

I joined with several other geologists in a tour of the Black Rapids Glacier. It had a bad reputation as a surge-type glacier, meaning that it could lie dormant for years, then it could grow rapidly and move forward at a dangerous speed.

BkRapGl

In three months of the winter of 1936-37, it had moved forward at the rate of 1 mile per month. A more typical glacier speed would be around 100 feet per month.

The Fairbanks newspaper reported: “Living, Sinister Mass of Ice 500 Feet High and Mile and a Half Wide Rumbles and Crashes Down Black Rapids Valley.”

The ice dammed up a river and came close to cutting off the Richardson highway. The glacier has been wasting away ever since, but could surge again at any time.  The trans-Alaska oil pipeline now runs alongside that highway.

In the front center of the picture above, you can see where the river was dammed. Also, please note the light gray stuff bordering the glacier and extending up the lower mountain slopes.  Geologists have a scientific name for it, “the bath-tub ring effect.”  It is rocky stuff deposited by the glacier, and it shows the highest level the glacier reached in its last surge.

Glaciers are often described as natural highways in Alaska. Where they have a firm, smooth surfaces, they allow easy walking (below, left).

wBR-04A      wBR-09A

Where crevasses – deep, open cracks — ave developed, walking is more dangerous (below, right). Many crevasses were much larger than these, but I didn’t have the courage to get close to them for a picture.  They are especially treacherous in winter, when they are hidden beneath the snow.

wBR-02A

The feature above is known by the French name “moulin,” meaning “mill.” It is a seemingly bottomless hole where meltwater from the surface drains into the depths of the glacier.  It got us thinking seriously about safety.   We asked if anyone had brought a rope for safety.  No.  Did anyone have crampons, which were sets of sharp spikes that could be attached to the boots?  No.  From here on we moved very cautiously.

The Black Rapids glacier presented other dangers. This photo shows where an earthquake caused parts of the nearby mountains to collapse onto the ice. Their debris suddenly covered 5 square miles of the glacier.  This was not a good day to be walking on it.

BlkRapEq2

Luckily, we had already finished our walk, almost exactly fifty years earlier.

The Army Corps of Engineers had problems with frozen ground in Alaska. At shallow depths, the soils freeze and thaw with the weather, just as they do in Virginia. But in many places beneath that, there is a zone where the ground stays frozen all the time.

We call this permafrost. It’s a few feet thick in some places, hundreds of feet in others.  Beneath a construction project, over time it can shift or melt away and the structure may collapse. Permafrost also makes it hard to find water sources for wells.

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The Engineers were charmed with a new product called the Porta-Drill (left), mainly because Porta meant that it was portable by only two men, while most drill rigs were much larger. They thought it might be the perfect gadget to explore permafrost and take samples of it, and even to find underground water sources.  They asked us to buy one and field-test it in Alaska.

As the new kid on the block, I got to run the tests, which were expected to take all summer. Nobody in Washington knew any details about the drill, so I had arranged to stop by the factory where it was made, on my way up to Alaska.

Soon after I got to the factory, I got the bad news. This was a diamond bit coring drill made for mineral prospectors. It could drill through hard rock and take samples to show if there were any valuable minerals there. It probably wouldn’t do anything worthwhile in permafrost. As for finding underground water sources, the advice was, “Well, you might put a soda straw down the hole and see what you can suck up.”

I told the boss all this and he said to keep an open mind. After all, anything that could drill through hard rock could surely get through permafrost.

I met with a field assistant who would help me haul the thing around, and we started drilling. I named the project Soda Straw.WbRszaAK 1_0014      WbRszaAK 1_0012

The boss’s advice wasn’t quite right. Below, you see two diamond drill bits.  The left one is brand new.  The one on the right has drilled through only 5 feet of frozen soil.  As we drilled, the soil thawed and slumped against the side of the bit.  Each particle of sand and gravel in the soil wore the bit down until diamonds in the lip began to fall out.  If there were any core samples, they turned into muck and got lost.  We never did manage to stick a soda straw into the hole.

There was another problem. When the drilling stopped, the soil quickly froze up again and trapped our drill rod.  We had to call a wrecking truck to pull it out.

It took only ten days to show that the Porta-Drill was useless for what the Engineers had in mind.

Now for the rest of the summer. Before I got my next assignment. I had to wait two weeks in a dreary town, in a dreary hotel where the best entertainment was a juke box playing Jalousie and Blue Tango.

My next assignment took me to into the mountains of the Alaska Range. Spectacular scenery.

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This was supposed to be another shot of those beautiful mountains, but a Smart Alec kept poking his face in front of the camera. Oh, well…

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Road maps at that time showed symbols looking like towns every 30 or 40 miles along the highways. These weren’t towns, but simple lodges such as the one below, which also had a nearby gas station with a few groceries, and a well-stocked liquor store.  Nearly all the roads were unpaved.  What we see here is the Richardson Highway, at what later would become the entrance to Denali National Park. On this road, driving a jeep at more than 25 mph would bump one’s head against the ceiling of the cab.

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I lived mostly in this log cabin (below) at Mentasta Pass. The shovel I held was a substitute for an outhouse.

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For whatever the cabin lacked in conveniences, it compensated with beautiful mountain views.

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My main work that summer was an engineering geologic survey along 50 miles of the Glenn Highway. I turned the report over to my party chief, a university professor who’d been hired for the summer. He was expected to publish it along with other results of the party’s work that summer.  I saw him a few years later. He had never gotten around to publishing the results, and he had somehow lost the only copy of my report.

II. THE SPY SHIP, NORWAY 1955

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In the mid-1950s, the US and its allies were busy building a ring of airbases around the Soviet Union and China — large airbases that could handle nuclear bombers. NATO wanted to fill a gap in the ring, in the Norwegian territory known as Svalbard.  This included the Spitsbergen island group, only 600 miles from the North Pole, and Bear Island farther south.  Svalbard was close to several parts of the Soviet Union: Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, and the Murmansk coast.

My job was to find and survey sites in Svalbard where an airbase could be built.

Norway governed Svalbard under a treaty that allowed no military use of the land. So I had to work in secret.  Things like that often happened in the Cold War.

We sailed aboard the Godønes, a seal-hunting vessel that was built to handle pack ice and powerful storms on Arctic voyages lasting several months at a time. I learned after boarding that it had been outfitted as a spy ship to detect and study Soviet radars.  This gave us even more need for secrecy.  We were warned: If the Soviets suspected what we were up to, they could easily board our ship and send us off to Siberia.SvGodønes

There were 15 men aboard. Five Norwegian intelligence specialists.  Five Americans, including four intelligence specialists and a geologist (me).  And a Norwegian skipper and crew that totaled five.

IsaksenLeiv gif

Leiv Isaksen, the skipper (left), was an outstanding seaman and navigator, famous for having made many rescues at sea. Sailing in the far north was a dangerous business.  In a storm just the year before, five ships went down with all hands aboard.  We were glad to have him with us.

The five Americans included some oddball types.  The electronics technician, who SvJRBinstalled our spy gear and kept it running, always turned the back of his head to a camera, and never told any of us who he worked for.  I’ll pass over the next two because I’ve told some really awful tales about them. At sea, they ignored their duties and preferred to hunt seals and polar bears, for the money their skins were worth.  While ashore, they hunted other species, to the point that one of the two got tied up in a paternity lawsuit.

After speaking of so many oddball Americans, I added this picture (right) to prove that at least one of them was, well, normal… Actually, he sort of looks like the Smart Alec we saw in Alaska….

Our first views of Svalbard didn’t promise much in the way of sites for airbases. Bear Island presents these thousand-foot cliffs (below left), populated by so many birds that they darkened the sky when someone fired a rifle.  But parts of the island are lower, and there we found cliffs only 100 feet high. We clambered up on all fours, dragging our camping supplies behind us.

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 The islands of Spitsbergen, farther north, are dominated by mountains and glaciers (below right). But here and there we found level areas on raised beaches, as in the foreground of this picture.  Places like this gave the best prospects for airbase sites.

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This is Ny-Ålesund (below), one of the few towns in Svalbard – a coal mining town in 1955, and now a research center. It has an established port facility that is warmed by the Gulf Stream and usually remains ice-free all year.

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Svalbard dominates the sea lanes that were used to supply the Soviet Union during the Second World War. The Germans attacked Allied convoys by both sea and air.  They left behind many artifacts.  Shown below are a battery-powered robot weather station, and a cabin built by a German pilot.   He used it for shelter while he repaired his plane after an emergency landing.  The timber had to be air-dropped to him — he couldn’t have found so many neat boards there, although many large cut logs are found on the beaches of Svalbard.  Ruts left by the plane were still visible ten years after the war.

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I’ve mentioned American oddballs. The Norwegians, too, included at least one of these. A young military officer took a stint as guest at the ship’s wheel.  To see what this baby could do, he slammed the ship at full speed into a huge slab of ice.

The collision disabled the ship. We can only thank the good Norwegian shipbuilders that it didn’t sink right then and there. But we faced a long tow back to Norway — 600 miles, taking 10 days, and every day either in sea ice, or in rough seas under gale or storm conditions.

We saw the damage in a shipyard in Norway: The collision had bent the propeller shaft, and a propeller blade is lodged against the rudder.

 

SvGrasmyr(3)        SvDamgProp

This damage ruled out what would have been the major success of the electronic intelligence mission — a sweep along the Soviet shores of Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya, and the Murmansk coast

My own work ashore was already done. I had surveyed 8 sites for major airbases.  The one I rated best was a place called Kvadehuksletta, shown below.  It is six miles from the town of Ny-Ålesund.  Access by sea through that port was a major plus for this site.

SvKvadehThe following year, two high-ranking Norwegians visited the site and agreed it was an excellent place to build the airbase. One of the two was a military official, the other represented the Scandinavian Airlines System.  They formally proposed that the airline build an emergency landing field here.  This was, of course, nothing but a cover story.   The Norwegian government debated the proposal for the next two years.  Then the Soviet Union protested that it was a military project, which was forbidden under the Svalbard Treaty.

And so the project died, and it remained secret until 1996, when a new Norwegian administration apparently decided to embarrass its predecessor by revealing the whole story.

III. THE OIL LEASE, ALASKA 1977

In 1977, the Federal government was moving to put a lot of Alaskan public lands into the National Park System. Private companies stood to lose mineral leases in those areas.  If they had done any work on a lease, the government would reimburse them.  If not, they would not be paid.

Shell Oil held a lease in the Samovar Hills, a small area completely surrounded by extensive glaciers. Shell had never worked on the lease, but now saw reasons to get started.  For any plan they proposed, my office would have to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement before the plan could be approved.

This map shows a small rounded bump on the south coast, indicated by the red arrow. That little bump is the enormous Malaspina glacier.Alaska77 arrow

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In a closer view by satellite, the glacier includes both white areas and most of the adjoining gray areas, where the ice is covered by rock debris. The glacier is about 40 miles wide from east to west.

The Samovar Hills lie near the head of the glacier, where they are surrounded on all sides by ice at least five miles wide.

Seen from a helicopter, the Malaspina glacier extends as far as the eye can see. Light-colored bands of clean ice alternate with darker bands of ice covered by rock debris.RszaSamovar pix 35_0006                  RszaSamovar pix 35_0004

Our helicopter landed in the Samovar Hills. Yes, there is oil here. We saw black tar in the creeks that flowed out from the hills and into a lake that is named Oily Lake.

Shell Oil employs many brilliant scientists and engineers, but they weren’t going to waste their time discussing environmental impacts with government employees. They sent their rookie team to deal with us.

Our first question was, “How will you move the oil out of here?”

(I must admit, the next three pictures of plans to cross the ice are fakes.)

They answered quickly, “By pipeline. We’re going to build a pipeline across the ice.”

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Didn’t they realize that glaciers move, and they would tear up a pipeline as they pulled it along?

The team needed a week to think about that.

They came back with the answer – A pipeline on wheels!

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We looked at each other in amazement. Don’t these people realize that the glaciers have crevasses and all sorts of other obstacles that will snag the wheels?  If nothing else, the mere drag of all those wheels on a pipeline five miles long, and anchored only at its two ends, would be enough to tear the pipeline apart.  Did they have a solution for that?

This time they needed two or three weeks, and then they presented a wondrously complex plan.

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They would drill a large borehole at an angle beneath the glacier, until the hole was under the glacier’s midpoint. There they would insert a radioactive source.

They would drill a similar borehole from the other side of the glacier. Homing in on the radioactivity, it would come within three feet of the first borehole. Explosives would then be used to shatter the rock between the two holes so that oil could flow from one to the other. Ta da, an underground pipeline!

The Shell people admitted that all this had never been done before in a single project. But each of the critical steps had been done successfully in one place or another.

We had our doubts, but we couldn’t rule the plan out as an impossibility. So we’d have to go ahead with an environmental impact statement.  By the time we gathered a team to do this, word came down from on high in Shell Oil to their rookie team, to this effect:

“This firm will not get involved in such a hare-brained scheme just to get some reimbursement from the Government. Cancel the project.”

No telling how many dollars were saved by the cancellation. We in the government couldn’t take credit for the savings.  Credit goes to Shell Oil for finally displaying some common sense.

 

IN CLOSING

These three trips took up a total of eight months, and they were expensive. Now it is time to see what was accomplished, as I promised you.  Most people would weigh this against its cost to the taxpayers. I would also weigh it against the use of eight months of my life.

 ACCOMPLISHMENTS DURING EIGHT MONTHS IN THE FIELD

Project Soda Straw: The Porta-Drill was shown to be useless for its intended purposes.

Black Rapids Glacier: We learned about the hazards of this glacier. We forgot to take any safety devices, but we still survived our walk.

Glenn Highway Geology: Report completed, but the only copy was lost.

Electronics intelligence: The main mission, to detect radars along the Soviet coasts, failed because tomfoolery wrecked the ship.

Airbase construction: I found and surveyed eight sites for an airbase, but the base was never built because of a Soviet protest.

The Oil Lease: Oil was never produced. Shell Oil withdrew its proposal, and taxpayers saved, at the very least, the cost of preparing an Environmental Impact Statement.

 

Unions are necessary

This letter was published in the Waynesboro, Virginia News Virginian on May 18, 2016

Your article of May 17, “Strike vote is on tap,” may have attracted the interest of only a few who are interested in labor union activities.  However, it deals with bread-and-butter issues vital to most of us.  I quote only the key items concerning Kroger’s current proposal for a new contract with its employees:

“Kroger’s current proposal offers employees a 25 cent raise effective immediately, with one personal day that wouldn’t begin until 2019.”

“…employees would only be eligible for raises every four years, as opposed to the one year cycle currently in place.”

“…the company would also eliminate healthcare benefits for all retired employees.”

“A big issue for employees is the fact they see those higher up in the company getting much larger raises. CEO Rodney McMullen, for example, saw a 17 percent raise in the fiscal year that ended Jan. 30, bringing his total compensation package to $11.2 million…”

“’Walmart raised their minimum wage to 10 dollars an hour, where Kroger is continuing to pay their employees eight dollars an hour,’ Robin Hall, a Kroger employee in Waynesboro, said.”

Unions have lost popularity since President Reagan initiated his war against them. Kroger employees have a union, and it is their main support in these contract negotiations. What would the company propose if there were no union?  Could we seriously wish that the employees had no such support?

Jim Burns
Waynesboro

P.S. I’d like to think that  this letter added a drop or two to the bucket that resulted in the following headline and subhead on May 26, 2016:

Kroger rethinks ‘last best offer’
The union’s bargaining committee voted unanimously
to accept Kroger’s newest offer

 

WHEELING, 1930’s (VI) — REVISED

Epilogue: After Wheeling

In 1936, the difficult employment situation in Wheeling finally forced my father to look for work in other areas.  After checking in various eastern cities from Baltimore northward, he was successful in New York City.  There he had friends from the old days in the orphanage, who were able to put him in touch with people in the building program of the Brooklyn Diocesan Building Commission of the Roman Catholic Church.  We took up residence in Kew Gardens, Queens.

This migration spawned a whole new series of adventures, far too many for an Epilogue.  I will present here only a few of them, just to give assurance that the painful process of growing up continued in the new location.  Much of this process took place at Public School 99, Kew Gardens, shown below as it was in the old days as well as more recently, in color.  I entered this school in the fall of 1936, and graduated in January of 1940.

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The Craftsman

Here we see a picture of the woodshop class – an end-of-semester shot with everyone dressed up and nobody really working.  I am shown at front right, holding a bookrack that I had made, and which is still extant in the family as of  2013.

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I frequently failed this course because of two major flaws.

One was poor technique in the use of tools. On one occasion, after I had been sawing at a piece of wood for an indefinite length of time, the teacher approached and asked, “Are you going to saw all day on that one piece of wood, James?”  I hadn’t yet learned that the saw blade needs to do more than move back and forth; it needs to be pressed downward.  Reminiscent of the lesson my father had tried to impart regarding golf: “It’s not enough to hit the ball.  That ball doesn’t know where to go, and you have to tell it.”

The other flaw was poor planning skills, as exemplified in the bookrack shown.  Cutting the grooves to insert the upright ends, I forgot to allow for the thickness of the saw blade, and produced a groove with lots of room for wobble.  The teacher, considering rigidity of the uprights in his grading, was perplexed to find them extremely rigid.  I might have been thoughtless, but I wasn’t dumb.  Realizing my mistake, I had filled the extra space with liberal amounts of sawdust and glue. 

The end of a singing career

This is a photo of the school’s Glee Club as of  June 1939, a collection of enthusiastic singers.

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I am first on the left in the second row, cocking my head in the usual attempt to deal with a vision problem.  By some quirk of our having moved around, the other boys averaged about 1½ years older than I.  As the year went on, the other boys moved, one by one, from the soprano section into other sections for lower voices.  Mostly into what we called Alto Tenor, but a few, who I thought were obviously oversexed, moved into the Bass section.  Then one day we gave a concert for the Parent-Teachers Association, and I was mortified to realize during the performance that I was the only male remaining in the soprano section.  An intolerable situation.

During the next rehearsal, I lowered my voice in an attempt to pass into the alto-tenor section. The teacher immediately registered a facial expression that is usually associated with bad smells.  Passing up and down the aisles and listening closely to each singer, she finally arrived in front of me, and she declared triumphantly, “You’re not making it, Jimmy!”  Unable to face the role of soprano again, my only honorable option was to resign from the Glee Club.  Thus ended my singing career at the age of twelve.

A Place for Adventure

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The photo above shows the Long Island Railroad station at Kew Gardens, just across the street from the Mowbray Apartments, probably about 2000. Much frequented by Jimmy, and the scene of numerous escapades.  Its main parking lot was a great place for endless bicycle riding.  Between the nearby apartment building (then a row of houses) and the tracks was an unpaved secondary parking lot where he had his chief biking disaster (a face full of cinders).  In this lot he and friend Lionel Fichman often found a small car unlocked at night, and they “drove” it all around – one pushing and one steering – and then returned it to its original spot.  The lot was also by night the scene of early smoking adventures, and by day the scene of wrestling matches to establish the order of dominance among boys at school.  The partly visible station platform on the left was open at the far end, allowing access and exploration of its mine-like tunnel interior by juveniles – and tales of unmentionable happenings there in the dark.  Just outside this picture to the right, – within a hundred steps of the station – is the setting for the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964 – observed by many, interrupted by none.

Parts of this posting are published in my book, Once Upon a Blog (Kindle and Paperback)

DETAILED CONTENTS OF THIS BLOG

For access, please click on selected item

Note: If this post does not appear when blog opens, you can access it by clicking on the Category BLOG CONTENTS. 

OTHER TIMES

Thoughts from Long Ago
I. Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65 to 8 BC (temporarily  withdrawn)
II. Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106 to 43 BC

Working Class Hero (my father), 1884-1954
I. Jim’s education
II. The price of progress
III. Jim in Argentina
IV. A devoted father

Childhood in Wheeling, 1930s
Introduction
I. Hairstyles for a young man
II. The river
III. Laundry days
IV. Summer evenings
V. The Island in winter
VI. Epilogue: After Wheeling Revised

TRAVEL ADVENTURES

Alaska, 1952
A restless glacier
Project soda straw

Nevada, 1955
Atomic testing

Svalbard, 1955
Arriving in style: West Germany
Arctic hunting: Svalbard
Bear Island, Svalbard
Spy ship

A Vietnam experience, 1966
The preliminaries
The main event
Letters from the front

Iran, 1967
I. Welcome to Bandar Abbas
II. Kerman

Alaska, 1977
An Alaskan post script

ARTS AND CRAFTS 

Enamel and metal arts
I. World askew
II. Healing fragrance
III. Alpha and omega
IV. Scorpion fish
V. Moon checkers
VI. Working with metals
VII. Long interest, short career
VIII. Design with nature: Birds
IX. High-firing experiments
X. More boxes, dishes, and mementos
XI. Design with nature: Fish and shellfish
XII. Design with nature: Flowers and butterflies
XIII. Design with nature: MORE birds
XIV. Grand finale

POLITICS

My introduction to politics

Published letters 
Capital, labor, and government create wealth
Education under attack
Another view of Obama’s policy (Syria)
Civics 101: Continuing resolutions
Environment work by Nixon … Reagan
… about Titanic survival
Press freedom and the Daily Progress
Tate misses the point (Republican legacy)
Logic should drive pipeline debate
Communication … needed during pipeline debate
Is armor-piercing ammunition needed?
Finding a balance on the Second Amendment
Quinn’s letter off base (support of Republicans)
Something to consider (response to ISIS)

BOOKS PUBLISHED

Once upon a blog (temporarily withdrawn)
Vietnam ‘66
Enamel art: An appreciation

OTHER TOPICS

Hospital care: A caution
A historic letter
A personal note: My dear son Philip

My Introduction to Politics

After retiring from the Civil Service, where my political activity was restricted, I continued for some years to have only a limited interest in politics. Most of the professionals in that field seemed unimpressive, and some downright lacking in integrity.  So I chose to give little attention while they went on doing their thing.

That changed during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. For the first time it became clear to me just how much damage the politicians were doing to people’s lives and welfare.  I didn’t use such a sharp term as class warfare, but I saw a growing suppression of the middle class under the policies of Reagan and his Republican successors.

The labor unions were weakened. Sharp limitations were put on governmental benefits – through lids placed on the existing benefits, proposals for privatization, and sharp opposition against new benefits.  A combination of technological advances and forced gains in productivity managed to reduce available jobs and to cap the growth of wages beneath the growth of inflation. The previously strong influence of Corporate America in politics has been expanded enormously.

To me, these developments were directly related to our lingering economic problems involving unemployment, declining tax revenues, and growing national debt. The reduced purchasing power of the middle class reduced demand for domestic products and services, from which the other problems were spawned.

Since the 1970s, I have never voted Republican, because I realize that their policies are against my interests as a member of the middle class. Unfortunately, many of my class continued voting Republican because they supported that party’s “cultural warfare” on such issues as abortion, gay rights, tax reform, climate change, and immigration.  This was warfare in name only, but it was an effective bait for voters.  The groups under Republican attack have consistently gained ground.  Middle-class Republican supporters were not only deceived about the warfare, but they have also seen their own economic situation shrink under Republican policies.

Business interests have repeatedly claimed that the solution to our economic problems is to get government out of the way and to minimize labor costs. They say that only capital can create wealth. This gave rise to my first published political utterance, a letter to the editor titled Capital, Labor, and Government Create Wealth.  Writings such as this became easier once the feet were first wetted.  And so, over the following years, I wrote more letters as more issues came into view.  Only those letters that met the test of publication have been featured in this blog.

I believe these political issues are so serious that I cannot simply rest after voting. I feel a further need to apply my skills as best I can, and to date this has been through writing and publication.

Something to consider

As leaders of many nations agree, the attacks on Paris were an act of war.  Not just against France, but against humanity.  Many nations have tasted the wrath of Muslim extremism; this will continue until we stop it.

We need to relearn proper responses to acts of war.  The Iraq campaign was no example; it was an opportunistic adventure based on lies and different purposes.

Proper response requires that we identify the enemy and his active supporters, pursue them into their homeland and havens, and destroy their ability to continue making war.

Given the hatred in ISIS, I believe the only way to destroy their ability is to kill them, not through criminal cases, but through swift military action.  I’ve long teetered on the brink of working to eliminate the death penalty, but this is no time for improving our justice system.  It’s a time for self-defense in war.

One might hope and expect that all the threatened nations would unite in a response to this act of war.  Russia is acting but, while acting alone, might well see opportunity for empire-building.

What is needed for the U.S. to act?  Congress needs to end its long silence and vote on measures directing and authorizing proper action.  During their silence, Republicans enjoy the luxury of condemning Mr. Obama for whatever he does or doesn’t do.  If he responds without Congressional support, he could be hounded the rest of his life for illegal action.  We shouldn’t expect that of any president.

Jim Burns
Waynesboro

The letter above was published in the Waynesboro, Virginia News Virginian on November 18, 2015.