Winning Life’s Lottery

I realize that it may be a bit un-cool to dwell too much on one’s own life experiences, but I have a point to make and I hope that I will be forgiven for doing so.

I was born in 1933, in St. Louis County, Missouri, in the midst of the Great Depression.  My parents, both of whom came from generations of farm families, had sixth grade educations.  Farming was a matter of hard dawn-to-dusk labor, so when children had learned to read, write, and “do their sums,” they were expected to leave school to carry their share of the workload.

When my parents married in 1929 they decided to purchase a small farm, but they had no money and the banks had no money to lend, so their only alternative was to become sharecroppers, giving a 1/3 share of their crops to our landlord in lieu of rent.  Sharecropping provided our family with a subsistence, but little else.  Nearly all of the food on our table was either from our vegetable garden, from farm animals… chicken, turkey, beef and pork… or the rabbits, squirrels, ducks, geese, and catfish that my father brought home from his frequent forays into our local forests and rivers.  Whatever butter and eggs we didn’t need for our own table was taken to South St. Louis every Saturday and sold to regular customers, door-to-door.  But then, when war clouds gathered over Europe and the Pacific in the late 1930s my father took a job as a pick-and-shovel ditch-digger at 67½ cents an hour, helping to build a new munitions plant under construction at Weldon Spring, Missouri.

My older sister and I attended a small one-room brick schoolhouse at Harvester, Missouri, three miles from our home, but when my father decided to give up farming for good in 1941 to work in the defense plants, we left our little red brick schoolhouse and moved to St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis, where we were enrolled at a Lutheran parochial school.  And when we completed our primary school education we attended St. Charles High School, a public high school.

I was not a good student and had little interest in high school.  However, my parents insisted that if we wanted to get a good job, we had to have a high school diploma.  It was the only thing they ever said on the subject.  Attending a college or university was never a consideration, so during my four-year high school career I successfully avoided all subject matter related to mathematics and the sciences.  I graduated in June 1951, with a GPA of just under 2.0, a C-minus average.

After graduation I took a job as a “grease monkey,” tow truck driver, and mechanics helper at a local automobile dealership, and months later I went to work as an assembly line riveter at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, a major manufacturer of jet fighter planes for the U.S. military.

Then, in July 1953, I received a letter from the president of the United States; it began with the word “Greetings.”  I was drafted into the U.S. Army on August 12, 1953, and was trained as a Field Artillery Operations and Intelligence (O&I) Specialist.  After completing my basic training and my O&I training I was sent to West Germany for seventeen months as a member of the post-World War II occupation forces.  Upon being honorably discharged in June 1955, I returned to McDonnell Aircraft where I worked as a Production Control Expediter for eighteen months.

During that time, as therapy for an injury to my left knee, the result of a “friendly fire” incident during basic training, I took a second job as a ballroom dancing instructor in St. Louis.  Those two jobs kept me fully occupied for at least fifteen hours each day, five days a week.  However, my injury prevented me from adequately performing my day job, so I took a job selling sewing machines and vacuum cleaners in the housing projects of St. Louis.  My sales territory included the infamous Prewitt-Igo housing project where it was absolutely foolhardy for a white man to enter without an armed escort… let alone attempt to repossess a sewing machine or a vacuum cleaner from a black family who’d failed to make their monthly payments.

Finally, in December 1956, I took a job as a draftsman for Laclede-Christy Corporation, a major refractory manufacturer in South St. Louis.  My job was to design open-pit strip mines on leases in Missouri and Illinois, and to assist the company surveyor in laying out prospecting plans for our drilling crews.  It was during the nearly two years that I worked for Laclede-Christy that I developed an interest in surveying, mining engineering, and geology.

In February 1957, I married my ballroom dancing partner, with whom I’d earned an all-St. Louis ballroom championship.  However, being unable to afford the rent for a house or an apartment of our own, we were forced to move in with my parents.  But then, as the economic recession of 1957-58 worsened, I learned that my job at Laclede-Christy was to be phased out.  It was then that I made the decision to “escape” into college, to enroll as a full-time student at the University of Missouri College of Engineering.  It was something that my supervisors at Laclede Christy had urged me to do, but I had little or no high school background in science and mathematics.  So, during the 1957-58 school year I took two evening courses in Intermediate Algebra at Washington University (St. Louis)… just to see if I could handle college-level mathematics.

In two semesters of Algebra I earned two Cs.  So in August 1958, armed with nothing but my two Cs and an abundance of hope and determination, I enrolled at the University of Missouri.  Since I had no money and no background for the study of engineering, I look back on that decision as the most courageous thing I’ve ever done.  After selling everything we owned, except for our clothing and our 1953 Ford, I went to the local Goodwill store and purchased three rooms of kitchen, bedroom, and living room furniture off the junk pile in the alley behind the store for a total of fifty dollars.  It was not good furniture; it was on the junk pile for good reason.

In early November, 1957, we were blessed with the birth of a beautiful baby boy who was ten months old in August 1958 when we loaded all of our belongings, including our fifty dollars worth of junk furniture, into a U-Haul trailer and moved into a dilapidated three-room tar-paper shack in Columbia, Missouri, just across the road from the Missouri Tigers football stadium.

Our only regular income was the $125 I received each month under the Korean G.I. Bill… $27 of which paid our monthly rent.  The remainder of our income, earmarked for the next semester’s tuition and books, gasoline, utilities, and insurance, left us with a food budget of only sixty cents a day.  After we’d purchased milk and other supplies for the baby we were able to afford only beans, spaghetti, and an occasional bottle of catsup to mitigate the blandness of our starchy diet.

But the biggest shock of all was the difficulty of the course work.  I was a 25-year-old veteran with a wife and child to support, and I found myself competing for grades against seventeen and eighteen-year-olds with four years of engineering prep in their high school careers.  I attended class every day, I studied very hard, and I completed every homework assignment.  Yet, when mid-term grades were posted during my first semester, I found that I was failing every course.

With no alternative, I developed a radical new study regimen.  I was in class at 7:40 every morning and completed my lectures by noon.  By 1:00 PM I was home, hitting the books, and I refused to turn the page in a textbook until I thoroughly comprehended everything on that page.  I was up every morning at 6:00 AM and I studied for fourteen hours a day, every day of the week.  It worked.  At the end of my freshman year I found that, not only had I turned those Fs around, I was named to the Dean’s Honor Roll.

Our second child was born in January 1960, after which my wife took a night-shift job at the University Medical Center.  Each night at 10:00 PM I’d load our sleeping children into the back seat of our Ford and drive my wife to the medical center in time for her 10:30 PM shift.  After driving home, I’d return our children to their beds and resume studying until 2:30 or 3:00 AM.  After a few hours sleep I was up again at 6:00 AM, changing diapers and feeding the children.  And after dropping the boys off at our babysitter’s home, I’d pick up my wife at 7:00 AM and drive her home so that she could get eight hours sleep.  I was in class at 7:40 AM, and when I’d completed my morning lecturers I’d return home to repeat my 14-hour study regimen.

It was our daily routine, and it was brutal.  When I entered the university in August 1958 I was 6 ft. tall and weighed 153 lb., but when I graduated four years later, in June 1962, I was still 6 ft. tall but I weighed only 116 lb.  But I have no regrets.  During my junior year I was elected to Chi Epsilon, National Scholastic Honor Fraternity; in 2001 I was elected to the Civil Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni; and in 2012 I was named an Honorary Knight of St. Patrick, receiving the Missouri Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Engineering.

During my junior and senior years we had a neighbor with three small children whose husband was serving a long prison sentence.  And although she was on the public dole, her in-laws often delivered supplies of freshly-butchered beef and pork from their farm… which she promptly tossed into our neighborhood garbage pails because, as she explained, she didn’t like “that old country meat.”  When I returned to the university for my 20th class reunion in 1982, our former landlord reminded me that he and his wife had often seen me rooting through those garbage pails with a flashlight, late at night, digging out food with which to feed my family.  It was such a painful experience that I had apparently washed it from my memory.

As we drove away that day, my eldest son said, “Dad!  You fed us out of garbage cans?”  To which I replied, “Yes, Mark, I did.  I did whatever I had to do.”

Those were difficult, character-building years.  But now, after more than fifty years of unlimited opportunity and exciting challenge, Barack Obama informs me that I’ve played no role in any of that… that I’ve arrived at this stage of my life because I’ve “won life’s lottery.”  I can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t purchased that lottery ticket.

Paul R. Hollrah is a retired corporate government relations executive and a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College.  He currently lives and writes among the hills and lakes of northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country region.

 

 

 

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Dr. Carson Meets the Press

Now that a new Fox News poll shows Dr. Ben Carson tied for first place with former Florida governor Jeb Bush among all potential 2016 Republican presidential nominees, it’s time that he prepared himself for a full scale assault by the mainstream media and by the same establishment Republicans who nominated George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.

Dr. Carson’s interview with Chris Cuomo of CNN is a perfect example of the inquisition he will face, only because he is a black conservative.  In that interview he was asked, “Do you think being gay is a choice?”  In response, Dr. Carson used the prison experience to support his point of view.  He said, “… a lot of people who go into prison straight – and when they come out, they’re gay.  So, did something happen while they were in there?  Ask yourself that question.”

That response was not sufficient to satisfy the mainstream media or gay activists.  Instead, if he had been adequately prepped he might have said, “There is some clinical research which tends to show that most homosexuals are apparently born with that sexual orientation.  However, we must also recognize that many men and women enter the prison population as heterosexuals, but then adopt a homosexual lifestyle while incarcerated… suggesting that, at some point, they chose to engage in homosexual behavior.  What this tells us is that there is much we still don’t understand about the homosexual phenomenon.”

As a non-politician, Dr. Carson can expect to be probed even more intensely than his Republican counterparts, even though several competitors are first-term members of the U.S. Senate.  Allow me to suggest some of the questions that will likely be put to Dr. Carson, along with some recommended responses:

Interviewer:  “Dr. Carson, you are an internationally renowned neurosurgeon.  Until recently you served as Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center.  Serving as president of the United States is another matter entirely.  With your background, what makes you think that you should be considered as a viable candidate for president of the United States?

Dr. Carson: “Well, I’m told that there are those who say that, given the mess that Barack Obama has made of things, he has essentially ruined things for any future black man who might have presidential ambitions, and that the American people may not elect another black president for generations to come.  I would remind them that, after Jimmy Carter earned a reputation as the worst president in U.S. history, I don’t recall anyone suggesting that he’d ruined everything  for all future white candidates.  Instead, four years later, the people elected a conservative Republican, Ronald Reagan, who not only ended the Cold War but implemented tax policies that gave us a period of economic growth that actually produced revenue surpluses by the mid-90s.”

Interviewer:  “In an April NPR interview, President Obama suggested that one of your rivals, Governor Scott Walker, should ‘bone up on foreign policy.’  What do you say to those who suggest that you would have even less experience in foreign affairs than Governor Walker?”

Dr. Carson:  “I would suggest that Barack Obama is the last person who should be questioning someone else’s foreign policy credentials.  For example, he spent most of his formative years, up to age ten, as a citizen of Indonesia; he has admitted that he visited Pakistan as a 20-year-old student and that he visited relatives in Kenya when he was in his mid-to-late twenties.  Visiting relatives and seeing the sights in foreign lands as a child and as a young man has nothing to do with assessing political and economic conditions.  In fact, if he’d learned anything at all from his travels he would have a far more positive view of American exceptionalism than he has today.”

Interviewer:  “In the history of our country, only twelve of our forty-four presidents had no military service.  You would be the first Republican since Herbert Hoover with no military service.  That being the case, how would you propose to win the respect of those in the military services as their commander in chief?”

Dr. Carson:  “The men and women of our armed forces are the finest that America has to offer.  And I can assure you that, regardless of whatever military experience a president may or may not have, the people in our armed services are more than capable of understanding when their commander in chief has their back and whether or not he commands their respect.  If I am given the opportunity to serve as their commander in chief, they will know that I will move Heaven and Earth to give them all the tools they need and that I will not send them on fools errands.  They can also be assured that, when I do what is necessary to retrieve a man who has been charged with desertion, the release of five of the worst of the worst Islamic terrorists will not be among my bargaining chips.”

Interviewer:  “Two of the early entrants into the 2016 Republican presidential primary are first term senators.  As a physician, you have even less political experience than they.  Don’t you think that the country needs and deserves a leader with far more experience?”

Dr. Carson:  I would point out to you that Barack Obama was a first-term senator when he ran for president and his failures may cause some to think twice about electing another first-term senator, or a pediatric neurosurgeon.  However, it is important to realize that Obama’s failures are not a product of his inexperience.  He has failed because his ideas and his policies are wrong for this country.  In my thirty-six year career as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, I have been required to make more life-or-death decisions in a week or a month than a president might be called upon to make in two terms in the White House.  And, unlike Barack Obama, I have always been available when the really tough decisions had to be made.”

Interviewer:  “Dr. Carson, if you are the nominee of the Republican Party, your likely Democrat opponent will be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  How do you respond to charges that she is highly experienced in foreign affairs while you have little or no experience in that realm?”

Dr. Carson:  Let’s look at the facts.  Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama engaged in a very bitter campaign for the 2008 Democratic nomination, a campaign in which the Clintons charged that the Obama people played the “race card” on them in South Carolina.  In the interest of party unity, Obama agreed to appoint Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State.  He gave her a large staff and the use of an airplane and told her to just travel… which she did… while foreign policy was made at the White House by Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and Susan Rice.  It’s impressive to hear Mrs. Clinton cite the number of miles she’s traveled and the number of countries she’s visited.  However, when asked to name one accomplishment she can point to as Secretary of State, Democrats are strangely silent.  As my colleague, Carly Fiorina, has correctly pointed out, Mrs. Clinton should understand that traveling is an ‘activity,’ not an ‘accomplishment.’ ”

Interviewer:  “It is quite clear to everyone by now that Barack Obama and the Democrats are doing everything in their power to wrap up Hispanics as yet another captive voting constituency.  In fact, they are talking about giving illegals Social Security cards, voter registration cards, free health care, free education, food stamps, and housing assistance.  Since Republicans can’t be expected to enter into a bidding war for the hearts and minds of Hispanics, if you are elected president, how would you propose to counter that effort by the Democrats?”

Dr. Carson:  Your question presupposes that Hispanics would vote as a bloc for no better reason than that their votes are being bought.  If I were a Hispanic I would be highly insulted by that suggestion.  I believe that the members of our Hispanic population are among the hardest working people in America and I refuse to believe that they come to our country looking for a handout, rather than a hand up.  As a case in point, I would refer you to the personal story of Senator Cruz’s father, Raphael, who came to this country from Cuba with only $100 sewed into his clothing.  He took a job as a dishwasher and worked his way through college.  Now he has a son who is a Harvard Law School graduate and a candidate for president of the United States.  That is the American Dream that Hispanics seek and I will never be convinced otherwise.”        

Interviewer:  “You have been quoted as saying that you would not go to war with Russia over Ukraine, but that military action should not be taken off the table.  Armed conflict with Russia could conceivably pose the threat of a nuclear exchange.  If you believe that to be true, under what circumstances would you consider going to war with Russia?”

Dr. Carson“Look.  I don’t know of a single person in possession of his faculties who believes that the United States would ever launch a preemptive nuclear attack against another country.  But every country with nuclear weapons must know that, if they were ever foolish enough to launch a preemptive strike against the United States, retribution would be swift and certain.  In the United States, nuclear weapons are seen as a deterrent, not as tactical weapons.” 

Now that Dr. Carson is officially a viable candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, he should always be aware that every response to reporters’ questions must contain three elements: 1) a brief clarification of the issue at hand, 2) a clear and concise statement of his position on the issue, and 3) a solid shot across the opposition’s bow.  If the mainstream media insist on using Barack Obama as the standard by which Dr. Carson is to be judged, then the bar has been set very low.  He should take full advantage of that weakness at every opportunity.

Paul R. Hollrah is a retired corporate government relations executive and a two-time Oklahoma elector in the U.S. Electoral College.  He lives and writes among the hills and lakes of Green Country in northeastern Oklahoma.

 

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Now for the Bad News

An article by Christopher Carson in the April 27 edition of Daily Mailer.FrontPage, titled, A Mad Max Nation with No Electrical Grid, is enough to scare the bejabbers out of anyone.

In predicting what America would be like during a major outage of our electrical grid, Carson tells us: “It’s been one year since a white-hot study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was leaked to the Wall Street Journal.  The government study concluded that coordinated attacks on only nine electrical transmission substations in the United States could bring down the entire trinity of grids (called interconnections) that supply electricity to America.  Terrorists would have to physically destroy only four in the East, three in the West, and two in Texas, plus one large transformer production plant, and ‘the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer.’

“Imagine what that would mean for a nation entirely dependent upon electricity for its very survival.  Almost all large transformers are constructed overseas, including China, and the typical lag time from order to delivery and installation is two years.  Forget no iPhones.  Try no working sewer systems, no heating, no cars (because no gasoline pumps), no transportation, no garbage collection, no hospitals, no medicine kept in cold storage, no working government, and no civilization.  It wouldn’t even be a medieval society because Europe in the Middle Ages had functioning governments, currencies, and a trading system.  The USA would be more like the world of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome – for the lucky survivors.”

This was preceded by an April 23 article by Discovery Communications and the Washington Post, describing a University of Utah geophysical study published in the current edition of the journal Science.  The University of Utah study, titled, Yellowstone Supervolcano Much Bigger Than Thought, reports that a giant reservoir of magma and hot rock beneath the Yellowstone supervolcano has been found and imaged.  The newly found reservoir lies 12-28 miles below the surface, and is four-and-a-half times larger than the shallower, hot melted rock zone that powers current Yellowstone geysers and caused the caldera’s last eruption some 70,000 years ago.

“The volume of the newly imaged, deeper reservoir is a whopping 11,000 cubic-miles (46,000 cubic kilometers), which is about the volume of Long Island with 9 miles of hot rock piled on it, or 300 Lake Tahoes…”

According to the Washington Post, the Yellowstone supervolcano is “one of the world’s largest volcanoes, one that is quiescent for the moment but is capable of erupting with catastrophic violence at a scale never before witnessed by human beings.  In a big eruption, Yellowstone would eject 1,000 times as much material as the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.  This would be a disaster felt on a global scale, which is why scientists are looking at this thing closely…

“The newly discovered reservoir is 4.5 times larger than the chamber above it.  There’s enough magna there to fill the Grand Canyon.  The reservoir is on top of a long plume of manga that emerges from deep within the Earth’s mantle… This system has been in place for roughly 17 million years… The last time Yellowstone had a calderic eruption was 640,000 years ago, and the misshapen hole it created was about 25 miles by 37 miles across.  This caldera has since been filled in by lava flows and natural erosion, and Yellowstone Lake covers a portion of the area. The main visual evidence of the old caldera is the striking absence of mountains at the heart of the park: They were literally blown away in the last eruption.”

But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission study on the likely impact of a terrorist attack on our national electric grid, and the University of Utah study on the Yellowstone supervolcano,  are only speculative… forecasts of what might happen “if and when.”  That’s the good news; now for some bad news.

In an October 23, 2013 study by respected writer and researcher Michael Snyder, titled, 28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima, Snyder paints a grim picture of the impact of the March 11, 2011 nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant.   The failure occurred when the plant was inundated by a tsunami following the magnitude 9.0 Tohoku earthquake, resulting in the meltdown of three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors.

As Snyder prefaces his study he points to a map provided by the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center which shows that “…radiation levels at radiation monitoring stations across the country are elevated… this is particularly true along the west coast of the United States.  Every single day, 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean.  That means that the total amount of radioactive material released from Fukushima is constantly increasing, and it is steadily building up in our food chain.”

As evidence of his assertion, Snyder notes a U.S. Geological Survey statement stating that some of the thirty-three polar bears found along the Alaska coastline showed evidence of “alopecia (loss of hair) and other skin diseases.”

Snyder quotes National Marine Fisheries Service wildlife biologist, Sharon Melin, as saying that, at island rookeries off the Southern California coast, 45 percent of sea lion pups born in June 2013 were dead by October of that year.  The normal mortality rate among sea lion pups is less than one-third.

Among the findings in his research, Snyder notes that:

Along the Pacific coast of Canada and the Alaska coastline, the population of sockeye salmon is at a historic low.

Scientists have found that something is causing the fish along the west coast of Canada to bleed from their gills, bellies, and eyeballs.  One test in California found that all 15 of the blue fin tuna examined in a test were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima.  .                                                                                             

A vast field of radioactive debris from Fukushima that is approximately the size of California has crossed the Pacific Ocean and is starting to collide with the west coast.  It is estimated that the radioactivity of coastal waters off the west coast could double over the next five to six years.

The California coastline is being transformed into a “dead zone.”  Coastal rocks are unnaturally free of kelp, barnacles, and sea urchins and tidal pools are eerily devoid of crabs, snails, and other scurrying creatures.  Snyder reports that there are days in which he is hard-pressed to find even a half dozen seagulls and/or terns on the beach, compared to 10-15 years ago when the skies and all the beaches were filled with seagulls.

Up to 100 times as much nuclear radiation from Fukushima has been released into the Pacific Ocean than was released during the entire 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.  It is projected that the entire ocean will soon have radioactive Cesium levels 5 to 10 times higher than during the era of heavy atomic testing in the Pacific during the 1940s and ‘50s. 

In 2012, the Vancouver Sun reported that Cesium-137 was being found in 73% of mackerel, 91% of halibut, 92% of sardines, 93% of tuna and eel, 94% of cod and anchovies, and 100% of the carp, seaweed, shark, and monkfish sold by Japan to Canadian markets.  Some experts expect high levels of cancer among west coast residents from eating contaminated fish.

The BBC has reported that radiation levels around Fukushima are 18 times greater than previously believed.  Atmospheric radiation from Fukushima reached the west coast of the U.S. in just a few days in 2011.

The Iodine-131, Cesium-137, and Strontium-90 that are constantly emanating from Fukushima will affect the health of those living in the northern hemisphere for generations to come.  Iodine-131 can be ingested into the thyroid where it emits beta particles that damage tissue…  Cesium-137 from Fukushima has been found in fish caught as far away as California.  It spreads throughout the body, but tends to accumulate in muscle tissue.  Strontium-90, which mimics Calcium and accumulates in the bones, has a half-life of around 29 years.

According to the Wall Street Journal, it is projected that the Fukushima cleanup may take up to 40 years.  Yale professor Charles Perrow warns that, if the Fukushima cleanup is not handled with 100% precision, humanity could be threatened for thousands of years.

To consider the impact of these tragedies… one politically preventable and two dictated by the laws of nature… tends to make issues such as global warming, the Middle East conflict, and an $18 trillion national debt pale by comparison.  Since it is impossible to say anything remotely positive about the fates that might await us, a few wise words on fatalism appear to be in order.

Samuel Butler once said, “Let us eat and drink, neither forgetting death unduly nor remembering it.  The Lord hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, etc., and the less we think about it the better.”

Finally, George Bernard Shaw once said, “Old men are dangerous: it doesn’t matter to them what is going to happen to the world.”  At age 81, I find that to be a very comforting thought.

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