Welcome Aboard

Like all of you who blog, I always notice and am pleased when somebody follows this blog. Normally I figure they are finding what they want here, and so no particular effort towards them is warranted. And that is, of course, also true for the blogs I follow; if I wasn’t finding what I wanted/needed, I wouldn’t be following.

But, you know, once in a while, somebody follows, whom you really didn’t expect to, and even more rarely they are somebody whose work absolutely enthralls you, although you can rarely figure out how to comment intelligently about it. 🙂

So it is today, as I say welcome aboard to one of my favorite authors. I’m glad you are here, dear lady.



Starting Another Year

The arms of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlbo...

The arms of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, are encircled by both the Garter and the collar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think it very important to thank Jess for her wonderful article yesterday. She said many nice things about me, some of which are true. 🙂 Where she is really right, is the strain of writing a blog. I decided quite early that it was reasonable to post at least once a day, and while I have never really reconsidered, doing my 4-15 hundred words 7 times a week and 52 weeks a years has often been a strain. Part of that is the unrelieved gloom of the political situation. and part of that is my memory of a better America, where a man worried about his honor. The good thing is that I have found it still exists, you just don’t see it on TV. And not just us old Americans either. One of the lessons that Jessica brings us is that the generations coming after us, and indeed in England as well as America, are very much like we are. We definitely need to increase the tribe, but that can be done. We are not starting completely over.

And, never doubt that she is an integral part of this blog, her by-line hasn’t appeared much in the last few months, and there are reasons for that, I understand and agree with them, but without her, this blog would have gone under several times, when she has rescued me from the ‘Slough of Despond’. It will likely happen again. So, if you like what I write, remember what I told a distinguished contributor from her wonderful blog, All Along the Watchtower yesterday, ” A lot of it, which won’t surprise you, is Jess, more behind the scenes than I would prefer. Muse, partner, supporter, and more, I wouldn’t have made it this far without her.”

One of my hobbies (time-wasters, if you prefer) has become the real estate listings in the £ Daily Mail. No, I’m not seriously shopping but when you live in a world that was settled slightly over a hundred years ago, it is fun to look at houses that are a bit older. Like this one.

CLI140692_01_gal (1)

Click to embiggen

It’s in the village of Painswick in Gloucestershire, and it’s called Castle Halle. The description says it is the third castle on the site which records say was occupied by Saxon Thane Ernsige before the Conquest. It passed into the control of the Lords Talbot, and the final Talbot, John of Shrewsbury  demolished the castle in about 1442 and there are some traces remaining. Sir Henry Winston lived here until his death in 1618 and presumably raised his daughter, Sara, here. Sara made a pretty good marriage, marrying Sir Winston Churchill whose son, John Churchill, later the First Duke of Marlborough, who became Queen Anne’s great general, and whose family eventually brought us another Sir Winston, and intermarried into the Spencer’s as well, thus being ancestors of Princess Diana as well.

I don’t care what you say, you just can’t buy a house with a history like that like that in Nebraska 🙂 I would bet ours are a bit more energy-efficient though.

But, hey, it’s Sunday and we try most weekends to have a movie. So let’s start the fourth year right, with a John Wayne flick. How about War of the Wildcats, and while we watch it, maybe we should think about having an oil boom somewhere besides North Dakota and Texas.


Reflections on a Train Trip

[This was the very first post on Nebraska Energy Observer, and I doubt many have seen it. So I thought for the third anniversary of the blog, which is today, I would bring it back. I hope you enjoy it, because I still think it speaks to some important things.]

The United States Steel Company paid $385,000 toward the construction of this $1million Gothic beauty in Gary, Indiana, in the 1920s, but now the church lies in decay

The United States Steel Company paid $385,000 toward the construction of this $1million Gothic beauty in Gary, Indiana, in the 1920s, but now the church lies in decay

I recently had an opportunity to travel by train back to Nebraska from Philadelphia. As most of you who have ever traveled by train know, it gives you a fair amount of time to think about whatever crosses your mind. For some reason this trip (which I actually take roughly every year) caused me to reflect on the industrial powerhouse that was America. If you travel by train, you see a lot of industrial areas new and old.  What struck me this time was coming through Pittsburgh, northern Ohio and northwest Indiana was remembering these areas when I was a kid back in the 60’s, when it was very common still to see the black smoke and flames shoot into the air at the steel mills. These were the mills that industrialized America and made the steel that built the machines that won two World Wars and conquered a continent and fed the world.

It is commonly said that steel built the railroad industry and the railroads built the steel industry and it’s true; if one includes coal in the steel industry. What awesome plants they were, for instance, the main street of Gary, Indiana (itself named for a steel executive) ends at the main gate of US Steel Gary Works. And remember a basic element of US Steel; Carnegie Steel produced more steel than Great Britain in the 1890’s. Pittsburgh was much the same, only possibly more so. Here was the steel produced that made the railroads, which then made the largest common market in the world, and the steel for the agricultural equipment that still feeds the world, and the steel for the American automobiles and the weapons and transportation of the American military that won two World Wars  and the Cold War. Just a few weeks ago, USS (X) was dropped from the Standard and Poor’s 500 because it was no longer valuable enough.

On this trip you pass by the old Pullman Plant in Michigan City, Indiana that built railcars, mostly freight cars in this plant (the passenger cars came out of the plant in Pullman, Illinois). Now it is an outlet mall, and American passenger trains have Canadian built cars. You also pass the ruins of the Studebaker plant in South Bend as well as the old Bendix plant (this one is still operating, now owned by Robert Bosch AG).

Most of the plants are still there, many in ruins, some still operating, that gave this region the nickname of the Rust Belt. There are a lot of reasons why it is now the rust belt; without going into those reasons, it is a melancholy sight for a person that remembers these areas in full operation to see it half-shut down and falling into ruin. This may truly symbolize the greatness of America in the future, the country that provided a far better living to the average man than anybody had ever dreamed possible; and provided much of it to the entire world as well.

Has that America gone forever? I don’t know, but I doubt it. I think the individual drive to succeed still exists. The one that caused Henry Ford to remember the hard life on a 19th Century farm and create the Model T to make the farmer’s life easier, the Cyrus McCormick that made the reaper, the John Deere and Oliver that made plows so much better than had ever been dreamed of, the Andrew Carnegie that started as telegrapher on the Pennsylvania Railroad and built the largest steel company in the world (and then built Libraries all over the country, to further help the common man) or for that matter Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They all made everyone’s life easier and more fulfilling. They also got very, very rich in a society that rewarded the man who would take a planned risk with a product that worked.

Where is that flamboyant public endeavor now? I think it’s still there, but now instead of trying to emulate the successful man (or woman) we castigate them for making money. Note that I said making money, for that is what they do. Without them, going back to Paul Revere (yes, the famed horseman) who founded the Revere Copper Works to provide the copper bottom for the USS Constitution and Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin (and the interchangeable parts in the Springfield 1793 musket) we would still be a strip of dirt along the Atlantic seaboard doing little more than subsistence farming, as a bunch of upstart rebels to the rightful King.

Am I the only one able to remember the glory of the early space program, I doubt it. Recently, I saw a clip of Neal Armstrong speaking at the dedication of Purdue’s new Engineering Administration building (Armstrong Hall, of course). After all, it couldn’t be Aeronautical Engineering (That’s in Grissom Hall). (There is also a dorm called Earhart Hall as Amelia Earhart was on the faculty and Purdue provided her Lockheed Electra.) Purdue isn’t called the ‘Cradle of Astronauts’ for nothing, besides having both the first and the most recent men on the moon as alumni. We may be called Boilermakers but engineering (as life, itself) marches on. What glorious days those were for America, I recall the entire world stopping to watch Armstrong as he stepped onto the moon. We need that daring, that quest back, to me, that is the essence of America.

And, so, the eternal question, Quo Vadis, where are we going now? Will we choose to subsidize half of our population indefinitely so they don’t have to work or will we go back to our individualistic, self-reliant past.

Yes, we had wreckage along our route, lots of it. Living here in Willa Cather country you can still see how and why this country broke the weak, he sickly and the unlucky. But, you know, it was a fairly small percentage and what a country they bought with their lives and courage and blood and toil and tears and sweat.

We must never forget that we; the whites, the Hispanics, the Native Americans, and the blacks, and even the Chinese, all were here and had a hand in the epic that is America. We are the descendants of the people who one way or another had the courage to come here and build lives and fortunes and hold on to that sacred honor that Jefferson spoke of. You know, all my life I’ve heard that mutts are the best dogs; I guess it true of nations too, If you can’t find a descendant of any nationality on Earth that is an American, you are not trying very hard!

Who We Really Are…On Father’s Day

This is based on an article from Tracie Louise Photography from a couple of years ago and wanted to add quite a lot for Father’s Day. Read her work, it made my monitor blurry, not many do that.

I had told George that I have barely looked at a photograph of my mother since she crossed over, 9 years ago this past Easter.  She encouraged me to get out some pictures and look at them, but this was my response:

 she was my best friend. If I am at all wise, or creative, or kind, or spiritual, it’s because of her. And I know exactly what she would say to this comment
 if I want to see her, I only need look into my own eyes, and my own heart. And she would be right. She left her body 9 years ago, and moved onto bigger and better things. She was never that body, it just housed her for a time (way too short a time). But it was never who she really was, and looking at a picture of it, will not bring us any closer. I hope you understand what I am saying
 I think I might actually be channelling it directly from her, as it seems far to wise to have come from me 

I lost my grandfather when I was 20 years old.  Pop and I had one of those special bonds
 you know the ones.  They don’t require words.  There is just this “knowing” between you.  Mum taught me a great deal about life and death when my Pop passed.  She taught me that if I ever wanted to spend time with my grandfather, to look no further than my own heart.  She taught me that there was no need to visit a cemetery because I wouldn’t find Pop there.  She said that Pop would never be truly gone as long as we were around to remember him
 to honour him
 to live our lives in a manner that would make him proud.

Please do read Tracie’s wonderful post, Who We Really Are…..

This is exactly how I feel about my Dad, who passed in 1978. I still, in quieter moments feel him around me. One of the more unusual things in my family is that almost all of the men are built alike, right down to suit size, and going completely grey in our twenties. In fact, Dad was buried in his son-in-law’s suit because I needed the one I had for the funeral, all three of us, and most of my uncles as well could have traded clothes. Dad pretty much never lectured, he led, he taught, and he disciplined when necessary rarely was more than “I’m disappointed in you.” necessary. In truth my sister (who was 20 years older than me) said, after he was gone that he had always scared her. I understood what she meant immediately. He never did me but, he sure motivated me. I’ve said before that our family motto is “If it’s not absolutely right, it’s completely wrong,” that came from Dad.

He had a command presence in any company. Once after he retired he took a wrong turn with his motorhome in southern Georgia, near as I can tell, he ended up at the main gate of Fort Benning. He found it funny that the gate guard looked at him took a step back and snapped off a parade ground salute, I figured it was normal. He looked and acted like he was at least a colonel, in fact he acted more like a colonel than most of the colonels I’ve met.

In his professional career he was simply the best: Lineman, Project Superintendent, General Manager, and the job nearly killed him because he was also a micromanager. He knew (the bad part is that he was right) that he could do everyone’s job better than they could. He didn’t tolerate sloppiness or second-rate work. He built the house he lived in for the last 30 years of his life. I mean built with his own two hands. He told me once not long before he passed that it had always bothered him that the house was out of square. A friend of mine from college was selling one of the new laser total stations and I talked him into a demonstration one weekend. Dad was right, the house was out of square, 1/32d of an inch in 135 feet. Dad insisted he could see it.

In his career the people that he got along with best were the operations people, he was one of them, and in the time I was around they were almost all World War II combat veterans. They had the same belief system: right or wrong, yes or no. That’s where I first learned “Yes, sir; no, sir; three bags full, sir”.

He trained me as a lineman, with help from the crews, There wasn’t a piece of utility equipment I couldn’t operate (pretty well, too) by the time I was 14, He let me wire an outbuilding on my own when I was 13, he inspected it and took off some hide verbally on a minor violation of Article 250.

To this day he is there looking over my shoulder, every day. Each and everyday my first thought on a problem is what would Dad do? It’s served me very well, not so much financially, that was never the point, but every decision I’ve made, I could defend to the toughest judge I’ll ever face on Earth, Dad.

But you know the other thing about that. When I got my first few jobs as an electrical contractor, I asked him to back check me both on the plans and in the field. He absolutely refused. It hurt my feelings a lot but now I understand. He had taught me and taught me well: now it was up to me to perform. When I did with few problems, it was a huge confidence booster.

We never talked much, we Norse are world renowned for being taciturn but, you can tell just how men feel about each other when they shake hands, words are superfluous. So I know Dad always knew how much I loved him even as I knew how much he loved me. And like Tracie said, If I want to see him, all I have to do is look in a mirror.

The other thing that I realized is that I give all too often a two dimensional portrait of Dad. There was another side (several in fact). The other family tradition is music. Grampa did two things, ran the town light plant and directed the town band, both were passed down. Of the 7 brothers, 3 worked for utility companies, the other 4 directed high school bands (good ones too, even including one that toured Scandinavia and England). Which is how we got here in the first place, my Great Grampa first came to America on a band tour of Iowa and Minnesota, guess he liked what he saw.

Over at Ace’s yesterday, there was a thread about where would you go back to in history, and given the clientele of the site I wasn’t too surprised that most would go back to the old (what I often call “My”) America, usually about from 1880 to 1920 or so. I feel that way myself often. British Airways a few years ago summed up the wonder of the years pretty well with this.

And that was still another thing about Dad. He never lost his sense of wonder at the marvels we had wrought, He’d watch an airplane from horizon to horizon, had the first TV in town, (and the first air conditioner, I think), and one of the first color TV’s as well, which he built himself. I wonder what he would have thought of the internet. Actually, I don’t. He would have loved it, he loved anything that increased the knowledge and power of the average man, that is one of the main reasons, I think, that he loved and honored America, all his life.

I realize this is getting a bit long but one other thing sticks out in my memory. he married one of the prettiest and likely well-off women in his home town, although I doubt he ever took a dime from his father -in-law, he did it himself. But I don’t think he ever looked at another woman, as a woman again. I can remember commenting on a girl’s looks when I was a teenager (she was beautiful). he just looked at me and said, “I didn’t notice.” He was married to Mom for better than 50 years and completely satisfied, it may have been the strongest partnership ever.

I hope he is half as proud of me as I am of being his son. Let’s end with the quote from Tracie that set me off.

She said that Pop would never be truly gone as long as we were around to remember him
 to honour him
 to live our lives in a manner that would make him proud.

History and Milestones

Well, it’s 9 November and I’m reliably informed that we have a birthday to celebrate. I’m not supposed to tell you but it’s Jess’s birthday. How old she is, is protected by the Official Secrets Act, 😉 but my understanding is that it’s somewhere between 18 and 80, but if I knew more, I couldn’t tell you, since I don’t want her to kill me! She might show up here but why not jump over to AATW and wish her a happy birthday by giving her even more than her usual stupendous readership. I’ll see you there. [By the way, the link goes to a multi-part piece of fiction written by four of us over there, I’d say it’s not bad for amateurs.]

Happy Birthday, Dearest friend!!!

In full disclosure, Jess also aimed me towards the rest of the things we will talk about today.

In other news, lets talk about history and it’s place in the world a bit. The other day I showed you a link to John Donne’s Gunpowder Day sermon. It’s here, if you missed it. That work was done by NC State and it’s most impressive. But other universities are doing some great work along the same lines. One of them is the Virtual Past which is a University of East Anglia Enterprise. Their website has some samples of their work, which is quite impressive.

Do go and have a look around. I assume some US institutions other than UNC are doing this as well, if you know of some, showcase them or tell me in comments because in a good many ways, this is one of the best ways to teach history in the 21st century.

While we’re hanging about in Norwich and the UAE, there’s another program I want to highlight. It’s called the ThoughtOut Project, and I really like their objectives. Here, I’ll let them tell you:

As the editorial assistant for History, the journal of the Historical Association, I get the opportunity to look at cutting-edge research almost every day.  Proof-reading articles just before we publish them, I always get a bit excited because I know I am one of the first people to get access to that new information. It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job. Working for History,I feel like I am always learning. I get sent stuff like this every day! It’s glorious! History is a funny subject, like that. Even though it’s ‘old news’ there’s always something new to learn; Something you can relate to, or a situation one can superimpose onto your own. Putting yourself in the shoes of a character from history can be delicious escapism, or a humbling, thought-provoking experience.

As the managing editor for the ThoughtOut Project, I do exactly the same thing, but the packaging in terms of how we share the information we find is very different. ThoughtOut is an organisation aimed at sharing cutting-edge humanities research with the general public. I tend to use the phrase “curated by clever people, for clever people” although I get told that this is a little too self-congratulatory! That’s not really what I’m getting at when I say it, though. The most important aspect of that phrase is the second half. I am a genuine believer in the power of humanities subjects to inform and educate, not in a superficial learning-by-rote talking at people way, but also a in terms of a deep, self-motivated thirst for personal development. And this is not learning for people who have ÂŁ9,000 to spend each year, and 3 or 4 years spare to dedicate to a full-time degree. This is everyday learning for your average-Joe, your housewife, your teacher, your estate agent, or newsagent. This is also where the events that I run for ThoughtOut are especially interesting, […]

Continue reading History and the ThoughtOut Project

Obviously I, and you, are not going to agree with everything that British (mostly, anyway) academics write, but the articles I’ve read there I’ve found fascinating, and I think a good many of you will as well. And as an example, I have two years of college in Electrical Engineering Technology, and the humanities have made my life immeasurably richer. So what do they write about, you ask? Please do! Stuff like this By Heather Brooke


The humanities teach enlightenment; markets are blind.

In 1780, the American statesman John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematicks and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, musick, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelaine.” A true student of the Enlightenment, Adams understood the difference between means and ends. Unfortunately for us, politicians, not statesmen, are determining current educational policy; with astonishing myopia they have decreed that the only subjects worth studying at university are those that can “forge links with business and industry.”

The study of the humanities in Britain today has lost a war that the people who teach humanities didn’t know they were fighting. Following the recommendations of the Browne report—overseen by a man whose career had nothing to do with education and everything to do with the corporate world of business and markets, commissioned by the Labour government and implemented by the Coalition—the funding of the teaching of the humanities in UK universities has been cut by 100%. The teaching of humanities will no longer be funded by the state at all: it will only be funded if students decide to pay to study the humanities, in a society urging them to think ever more instrumentally about education as a means to make money, rather than as a means to make better people.

According to the Browne report, “priority subjects” are science and technology courses, clinical medicine, nursing and other healthcare degrees, as well as “strategically important” language courses. Entitled “Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education,” the report made clear what the future of higher education would not include: the humanities were nowhere named in its 67 pages.

Continue reading THE CASE FOR THE HUMANITIES. (A hint, all you have to do is scroll down for the article, at least in my browsers.) 🙂

OK, you all know that I’m a huge proponent of the so-called STEM curricula, nothing changes that, we desperately need engineers and math majors and such but, if we allow the humanities to languish we will lose so very much of our heritage, and our knowledge base. I’m sure you’ve noticed how nearly all of us quote our founding fathers at the drop of a hat, even as she quoted John Adams above. The heritage of the English-speaking world is a treasure that must not be wasted, whatever the needs (real or imagined) of trade. I would remind you all that Andrew Carnegie, himself, after he built the largest steel company in the world, after starting as a telegrapher on the Pennsylvania Railroad, devoted the rest of his life to founding libraries all over the United States.

As I said above, do tell me about other institutions doing these types of things.



A note about Jess

One of the things that I love about you, my readers, is that you have accepted my dearest friend, Jessica as my co-author here so readily. I’ve often told her that I think she gets better readership here than I do, and that it pleases me greatly.

Jess has had an eventful year, and has decided to go to a retreat for the next couple of weeks. So we will all have to get through it without her wise counsel.

Her co-author, Chalcedon451, posted this notice this morning that she had made safe passage to her retreat, and offered a prayer he had given her, for us to share.

I’ll note in passing here that I’m going to also try to take a day or so off in the next few weeks, and do some reflecting on things myself.

All Along the Watchtower

20121115-180317.jpgJess phoned last night to say she had arrived at her destination and was looking forward to her period of retreat. She asked me to thank all of you who have wished her well for your kindness, and told me that she will be praying, daily, for all of us.

I assured her that between us, we would endeavour not to wreck her good work here, and that we should leave the place as tidy as it was when we found it. She needs the break, and I am sure we all need her prayers.  The nature of her retreat is that we shan’t hear from her again until she emerges from it.

For those of you who want, I offer here a short prayer I have given her:

Lord Jesus Christ, you told the apostles to retire to a desert place and rest a while.  I am taking this

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