Monthly Archives: November 2020

Let’s face it…2020, doesn’t seem to have a lot in it to be thankful for. It has been a tough year in many ways. With Covid-19, quarantines, lock downs, job losses, business losses, election struggles, riots, protests, and homeschooling…by choice or not, things looked pretty grim. Many people have lost loved ones, or friends, or friends and family of friends. Still, we have survived…those of us left, and many of us have contracted Covid-19, and still we have survived. This has been awful, and we will always miss those we have lost, but we Americans are a strong breed. We built this nation on God’s ways, and while some would disagree, that is a fact. Our forefathers came to this country to escape religious persecution, and founded this country on the principle that we should all have freedom to worship as we see fit. They knew that people would disagree on religion, but each person should have the right to choose for themselves.

This year has tested us in so many ways, but we are Americans, and we don’t give up. We are patriots, and we love God and country. As we are faced with new challenges, we have a chance to prove once again that we are fighters. We might be down right now, but we aren’t out, and we don’t quit. America is still the land where dreams come true, and it’s because we never give up. This year has been harder than any in my lifetime…maybe harder than any in the lifetimes of most of us, but we have come through it together. That is something to be thankful for, even with all the worry, loss, and fighting. Thanksgiving is a time to think back on the past year, and on our lives, and to be thankful for all we have been given.

This year may have been a really hard one, but our loved ones who have gone on before us, would never want us to give up…or quit. They would want us to live on and be happy. They would want us to be thankful, and to live our lives in such a way as to make them proud. We could have given up this year, but that was never really an option…now, was it? Thanksgiving is our day to celebrate this land that was founded on our love for God. So whether you are in quarantine, in a city where gathering together is only allowed in small groups, or just far away from your family, remember to take a few minutes to thank God for all we have been given. We are among the most blessed people in the world, and we need to remember that. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! God bless you all and God bless America!!

America has been the land of opportunity since its inception, and people often worked years to save enough money to pay for passage to what many considered the promised land. It wasn’t cheap, but the money for passage was just the beginning of the grueling process of becoming a citizen of the United States. They knew some of what they would face, but not all. Still, it did not deter them. For a chance at a better life, they came. Many immigrants came through Ellis Island, passing by the Statue of Liberty on their way. It was their first glimpse of what they considered the symbol of America. Then they went on to Ellis Island, where their pre-entry screening began.

First, they were rigorously questioned…what we call vetting today. They asked things like: “Are you meeting a relative here in America? Who? Have you been in a prison, almshouse, or institution for care of the insane? Are you a polygamist? Are you an anarchist? Are you coming to America for a job? Where will you work? Are you deformed or crippled? Who was the first President of America? What is the Constitution? Which President freed the slaves? Can you name the 13 original Colonies? Who is the current President of the United States?” Providing they passed this first test, they moved on to the next level. Many people these days would take offense at some of these questions…especially the health questions. What they don’t understand is that an unhealthy person or one with a disability could have been a burden to society…even more so than the problems with disabilities today. I know that sounds bad, but they couldn’t afford to take lots of people that the government was going to have to support. They also couldn’t take people with a communicable disease that could cause an epidemic in our country…something we can all understand these days. Every immigrant with a medical condition was marked on their on the shoulder of their clothing with their condition. Things like “PG” for pregnant, “B” for back problems, “SC” for scalp condition, etc. That way, every station down the line knew the problem. Sick children had to be quarantined away from their parents.

Sometimes people had to be held at Ellis Island for a time…weeks and even months, until they got well, or could get someone who would agree to sponsor them with their disabilities. That said, another problem or set of problems occurred. There were minimal beds available at any given time, and people spoke different languages, making communication difficult. Often, fights broke out and had to be settled, and sometimes people had to sleep on the floor. Sometimes, children came over alone. Their parents were dead, and they were sent to live with relatives or maybe to be adopted. Sometimes they were on Ellis Island for months…so long in fact that a playground was build so they could play. A school was started because they needed an education. And sometimes children had to be sent back alone or with a parent if they had one. Some people were rejected. It was part of the process. It was hard…on everyone, but the reward was a better life, if they were accepted. It was tough, and still, they came. They knew it was worth it. The nation has always accepted immigrants. We just expect them to do so legally. The process is difficult, but it is worth it.

What would the modern farm be without the tractor? People in the 19th century knew exactly what it would be, even if they had no idea what a tractor was. John Froelich was born on November 24, 1849, in Iowa. His life would end up changing much in the agricultural industry. As an adult, Froelich operated a grain elevator and mobile threshing service. His job was to bring a crew to local farms every year at harvest time. He hired a crew and dragged a heavy steam-powered thresher through Iowa and the Dakotas, threshing farmers’ crops for a fee. I suppose it was a good way to make a living, but his machine was bulky, hard to transport, and expensive to use. To top it off, it was also dangerous…one spark from the boiler on a windy day, and he could find the whole prairie ablaze.

Froelich knew that this was no way to do business. He decided that he had to try something new. In 1890, instead of that cumbersome, hazardous steam engine, Froelich came up with the idea of a gas powered engine. The size comparison alone made it a far superior choice. So, he and his blacksmith mounted a one-cylinder gasoline engine on his steam engine’s running gear and set off for a nearby field to see if it worked. To their excitement, it did. The tractor Traveled at a speed of three miles per hour. Of course, that was going to take them a long time to go from one location to another. The real test came when they took their new machine on the road for the annual threshing season. The good news is that the machine was a success there too. The crew threshed more than a thousand bushes of grain every day, 72,000 bushels in all, and they used only 26 gallons of gasoline. Of even greater importance, was that they did the whole thing without one fire.

It was time to take the project to the next level. Froelich found eight investors, and they formed the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company. They built four prototype tractors and sold two. Unfortunately, both were soon returned. Rather than lose the company, and to make money, the company branched out into stationary engines. That was somewhat more successful and its first engine powered a printing press at the Waterloo Courier newspaper. Froelich was happy with the success, but that was really not where his interests were. He was into farming equipment and wanted to make an engine that worked for that. So he left the company in 1895. Froelich might have jumped the gun a little bit, because Waterloo kept working on its tractor designs. The designs still weren’t wildly successful, and between 1896 and 1914, Waterloo sold just 20 tractors in all. Success finally came when in 1914, the company introduced its first Waterloo Boy Model “R” single-speed tractor, which sold very well…118 in 1914 alone. The next year, its two-speed Model “N” was even more successful. In 1918, the John Deere plow-manufacturing company bought Waterloo for $2,350,000.

I liked Mathematics in school and I was pretty good at it, but I can’t say that I had the mind of a great mathematician. As to being able to invent something, or create something of great mathematical value, I don’t know if my mind worked in that direction. The really great inventions take an extraordinary mind…one like that of Gladys Mae West (née Brown), an American mathematician who was known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS). I doubt if anyone alive today can say they don’t know about GPS. It has been a fundamental part of life since 1973, although most of us knew nothing about it then.

West was born in 1930 in Sutherland, Virginia, south of Richmond. Her family was an African-American farming family in a community of sharecroppers. Her mother worked at a tobacco factory, and her father was a farmer, who also worked for the railroad. West knew she did not want for follow in her parents’ footsteps, and she knew that the only way out was to get a really good education. Family money was not going to be her way to college, so she knew she would need scholarships. Fortunately, the high school she attended gifted the top two students each year with a full-ride scholarship to Virginia State College (University at that time), a historically black public university. West worked hard and graduated in 1948 with the title of valedictorian. With the goal of graduating as one of the top two students behind her, West was a little unsure of just what to do next. She had never given much thought to what she would study…if she got to go to college, but she really had her pick, because she had excelled in all of her courses. Her teachers and counselors encouraged her to major in science or math because of their difficulty. West chose to study mathematics, a normally male dominated subject at her college. She also became a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. In 1952, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. Following her graduation, West taught math and science at Waverly, Virginia for two years. Then returned to VSU to complete her Master of Mathematics degree. She graduated in 1955, and briefly took another teaching position in Martinsville, Virginia.

Her big break came in 1956 when she was hired to work at the Naval Proving Ground located in Dahlgren, Virginia. These days it’s called the Naval Surface Warfare Center. West started her job as the second black woman ever hired and one of only four black employees. West was a programmer in the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division for large-scale computers and a project manager for data-processing systems used in the analysis of satellite data. While she was working there, she was also in the process of earning a second master’s degree in public administration from the University of Oklahoma.

West was dedicated to her work. In the early 1960s, she participated in an award-winning astronomical study that proved the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune. She also began to analyze data from satellites, putting together altimeter models of the Earth’s shape. She became project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project, the first satellite that could remotely sense oceans. West consistently put in extra hours, cutting her team’s processing time in half. This extra time spent, earner her a commendation in 1979.

In the mid-1970s she began working on an IBM computer to deliver increasingly precise calculations to model the shape of the Earth…an ellipsoid with irregularities, known as the geoid. She generated an extremely accurate model which required her to employ complex algorithms to account for variations in gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort Earth’s shape. West’s data ultimately became the basis for the Global Positioning System (GPS), which we all know about today. She was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018. Today, West lives quietly with her husband, Ira. They have 3 children and 7 grandchildren.

My niece, Kelli Schulenberg is an outdoorsy girl who loves pretty much everything about nature. She is very into sports like hiking, skiing, biking, snowshoeing, and camping. She and my nephew, Barry Schulenberg have been doing a lot of camping, taking trips to the Big Horn Mountains, the Black Hills, and Alcova Lake, where they enjoy boating too. They take their bikes and do a lot of trail riding or hiking the trails in the area. Their dog, Scout rounds out their hiking and biking group most of the time, although, Kelli’s mom, Mary Wages joins them sometimes as well…especially this year, when Mary was forced to evacuate her summer camping site in Colorado, due to the wildfires there. Kelli and Barry were relieved that she was safe here with them. Having a parent in harm’s way would be an awful situation.

All that exercise can make the downtime very important. Some people have a hot tub, but Kelli and Barry decided to buy a dry sauna for their house last winter. Winter isn’t Kelli’s favorite time of year, so having a dry sauna at the house must be just like Heaven to her. Kelli has already used it a few times this year. I think I’m jealous. Kelli and Barry have a place in the country, and it is their sanctuary. In the summer of 2019, Barry put up a sun shade at their house, and bought a hammock to hang from the sun shade frame. Kelli has been enjoying both a lot. The hammock is a great place to read a book or just relax. Kelli works hard and plays hard, so being able to relax is a really important part of life.

Recently, Kelli’s bicycle met with an unfortunate end, when it fell over in the garage and made its last brave stand against the wheel of Kelli’s vehicle, which was too tall for her to see the bicycle laying in her path. It was a really sad day for Kelli, because she loves to ride her bicycle. Barry felt so bad for her, but it gave him and his mother, Jennifer Parmely a great idea for Kelli’s birthday gift, so they looked them over and picked out a pretty blue bicycle for Kelli, which she was given this morning. She loves the new bike, and has already taken it for a spin, thanks to our having no snow at the moment. Today is Kelli’s birthday. Happy birthday Kelli!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Many people have tattoos these days, and the shops that perform their arts for people, have to comply with strict and sanitary working conditions. A tattoo performed in unsanitary conditions can become infected, and cause the loss of limb or even life, if it is not caught in time. The artwork these days is intricate and very elaborate. People can customize their tattoo so as to reflect their own personality. These days a tattoo is something lots of people use to express themselves, but tattoos were not always considered a thing of beauty, and was often forced upon people. Never was this more forced than during the Holocaust against the Jews.

Maria Ossowski was a Polish member of the Resistance imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1943. So many people did not survive, but those who did have lived to tell the truth about the Final Solution…Hitler’s most evil plot and crimes against humanity. Ossowski later recalled the horrible first few minutes of captivity and the tattooing process in the camp. Those people who did not die on the trains, or who were not herded straight to the gas chambers were herded into what they were told was their washroom. Ossowski says, “It was a huge barrack, with the water running, cold water I must add, from the top, there were men in already prison garb, which we never seen before. We were made to strip, we were made to go in front – each one of us – in front of that man, that man or the other one, they were all standing in the line, and we were shaven – we were shaven – our heads were shaven, our private parts were shaven and we were pushed then under that water. And after a while we were pushed out of it into another part of that big block, where the huge amount of terrible-looking – and already smelling terrible – clothes were prepared for us.”

Then they were given one dress with three-quarter sleeves that was put on over their heads. Once they were dressed, they were herded into another part, where female prisoners were sitting by little tables. Each had a job to do. They were to tattoo numbers on each prisoner’s arm. The tattoo process was not done in sanitary conditions, but it was done with an instrument that basically “wrote” the number into their arm. The instrument cut the skin and pushed ink under the skin. Ballpoint pens were not invented then, but the tool used acted in a similar way. The process continued until the point and ink formed the shape of a number. Originally a sharp stamp was used, but it was impractical, and so they used the needle and ink method. Those who did receive a tattoo on arrival at Auschwitz might actually be considered “lucky” in that only those deemed fit for work were tattooed. The others were sent off for immediate execution. I doubt anyone who carried this forced tattoo considered it lucky.

Anyone who has ever been the parent of a premature baby, knows the importance of the incubator. In the mid-1800s and before, a baby born prematurely had almost no chance of survival. Most doctors could only offer comfort care for the infant until death came. All that came to a slow change when a man named Martin Arthur Couney, who was born Michael Cohen in 1869, a Polish advocate and pioneer of neonatal technology, invented the incubator. As time went by, Couney became known as the “Incubator Doctor.”

While the incubator is an amazing scientific invention, its origins were a little less than what would normally be considered scientific. Prior to Couney’s invention, it was widely believed that premature babies were weaklings, who were unfit to survive into adulthood. It reminds me of what people used to say about orphans. Couney became one of the first advocates for premature babies. Couney allegedly apprenticed under Dr Pierre-Constant Budin, an established French obstetrician in the 1890s, but there is no proof that he ever became a doctor.

Doctor or not…scientist or not, Couney had a knack for inventing…at least in this instance. He called his invention “The Infantorium” and set about trying to get a doctor to use it, but they would not. Left with no choice, Couney decided to take his invention on the road. Basically, he turned it into an amusement park sideshow, where he gave it the famous name. His plan was to charge visitors 25¢ to view premature babies displayed in the incubators. Now, you might think this whole idea is completely insane, and wonder what doctor…much less parent would give consent for such a crazy idea. I did too. Well, we are both wrong in thinking no one would go along with this. Parents agreed, because their child was considered a lost cause anyway. They were also told that the care given to their children would be free, and if the child survived, they got their baby back. I’m sure is was the hardest decision they ever made, but they felt they had no choice.

Couney is best-known for his Infantorium at Coney Island, New York, although he traveled all around the world before coming to America. The “show” consisted of nurses caring for the children as people watched the process. During Couney’s active years at fairgrounds across America, he and his Infantoriums have become widely accredited with saving the lives of over 6,500 premature babies. Couney is additionally recognized as one of the first pioneers of neonatological technology. He was so well known that people sought him out. “One day, an on-edge young man with the hatbox wanted to see Dr. Couney on a personal matter, he said. The doctor assumed he had something to sell and sent him away. The man took his hatbox and left to spend hours wandering amid the dancing elephants, scenic railways, and carnival din of Coney Island. At last he reappeared; could Dr. Couney see him now? This time Couney said yes. The man opened the hatbox. Inside was a premature baby, tiny and red and struggling for breath.”

Dr Martin A Couney knew what to do. In fact, he knew more about “preemies” than anyone else in the United States. He was the first American to offer specialized treatment for them and could boast, toward the end of his career, that out of 8,000 in his care, 6,500 survived. “I can’t save all the babies,” he said, “but the percentage of loss is not large, and every parent knows I took good care of his baby until God took its soul. I never had a complaint or an investigation.” He was truly a great man. Martin Couney died on March 1, 1950. As a side note, Coney Island, in New York City was named after this amazing man.

Some people like hot weather and some people like cold weather, which is probably a good thing, or we would all live in one area, and the overcrowding would be horrible. I personally prefer Spring and Summer, mostly Summer, but even I have to admit that I probably couldn’t do Summer very well without air conditioning. That said, I don’t think I could stand living in Death Valley or much of the surrounding area. Death Valley is the hottest place in the world. It is also the lowest and driest place in United States, and because of that conditions there can get pretty extreme. On July 10, 1913, the thermometers at the Furnace Creek Weather Station recorded its temperature to be 134 degrees which is the highest ever recorded temperature. I can’t even begin to imagine how awful that must be, and yet there are people who run in races in Death Valley.

Death Valley has over 1,000 miles of road for running! That might seem interesting, but the weather in Death Valley can be a very interesting. It would be an extreme place to take a run! The trails aren’t always well maintained, giving the park endless cross country opportunities for rocky runs. Many people stick to the roads. Even then, the heat can be very hard on the shoes. Death Valley, California, residents say the are used to the heat, but they know it’s bad when their running shoes start to melt. Now, you just think about that. You are on a run, 10 miles from home, and your shoes start to melt. What do you suppose is going on with your feet?

Still, as hot as it is in the valley, the towering peaks around the valley have snow on them. Elevation makes a big difference. In fact, as extremes go, there is a remote corner of Death Valley National park, cradled in between the Cottonwood and Last Chance mountain ranges, that sports an intriguing natural history mystery, Racetrack Playa. Here, slabs of dolomite and syenite, ranging in size from a couple of pounds up to 1,000 pounds, leave visible tracks as they slide across the playa surface, without any sign of human or animal intervention. It is a phenomenon that for decades visitors and scientists alike have puzzled over. How could large rocks slide across the sand without help? People thought maybe it was rain water, but that proved wrong. The situation has remained a mystery for many years, because no one ever “caught” the stones moving. Recently, photographic and scientific evidence revealed the truth.

In 2011, Richard D Norris and James M Norris, in conjunction with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, launched the “Slithering Stones Research Initiative.” They got permission from the National Park, to install a weather station and placed fifteen stones on the southern end of the playa equipped with GPS devices to record movement and velocity. Most of the natural sailing stones begin their strange journeys across the playa at this point, tumbling onto the hard, flat surface from a nearby cliff. Finally, in December of 2013, Richard and James stumbled into a rare confluence of events that allowed them to not only witness the stones moving, but to photograph it. So, what causes it. According to Richard and James, “First you need rain to turn the playa back into a shallow lake, followed by a cold that will freeze a layer of ice over the playa before it evaporates. Then you need a sunny day and a light wind. The wind and sun work together to crack the ice into sheets hundreds of feet wide and as thin as 1/4-inch, which then blow against the rocks. The ice then acts as sails, sliding the rocks along the slippery mud in a direction determined by the wind. This process is very slow, the stones rarely moving faster than a few inches per-second, which makes the motion easy to over-look without a fixed point to compare them to.” I’m not as amazed that a layer of ice is involved, but rather that a place that is known as the hottest place on earth, can suddenly have rocks that slide across the desert on ice. The conditions had to be perfect. Too much water, wind, or heat, would make it impossible.

Storms and high winds are not unusual in the Swiss Alps, and flying over any mountain can find a flight crew in hot water. Over the Swiss Alps, on November 18, 1946, the crew of the C-53 Skytrooper with serial 42-68846 that had taken off from Tulln Air Base near Vienna, Austria, was bound for Pisa in Northern Italy, when they encountered problems. The flight took them over Innsbruck in the Western Austrian Alps. While flying over the Canton of Bern, Switzerland, the weather had unknowingly caused them to lose their bearings. Their actual flight path was taking them deeper South, into the Alps of Central Switzerland.

As often occurs in high mountains, the aircraft encountered a violent downdraft, known as a katabatic wind at a speed of 170 miles per hour. The katabatic wind is comparable to a microburst that basically pushes even big jets into the ground on approach flights. The downdraft caused the aircraft to lose height rapidly in poor visibility conditions. There was no time to recover, and at 2:45pm, the plane hit terrain and crash-landed into the Gauli Glacier at an altitude of 10,990 feet. They had gone down just about 8 miles south of the Swiss Air Force Base Meiringen.

The crash had the potential of being a deadly situation. Crashing a plane into terrain…especially at a high altitude is not usually survivable, but this was a God Gift. The crash occurred on snow-covered near-flat terrain with a slightly sloping hill. For the passengers and crew in the aircraft to step out alive…that was the God Gift. Very few people have crashed into terrain and lived tell the story afterwards! The crew was able to send a distress call from the stricken plane that was picked up in Paris and Lyon, but they erroneously presumed that the crash had occurred in the French Alps. Two days later, an officer based in the control tower of the Meiringen airbase, received a message on his frequency as well and gave the alert of a new radio bearing, narrowing the search area to the Gauli Glacier. That’s two days in freezing November nights at 10,990 feet, with only the fuselage to protect them from the elements. There were two sightings during breaks in the clouds, and finally a rescue team made their way up to bring the crew and passengers down. Twelve people survived the crash and lived to tell about it.

After the rescue, the plane sat there in the glacier until the summer of 1947, when the dismantling of the aircraft started. The most precious parts like engines, and (cockpit) interior were airlifted from the scene. The bend propellers were left behind and the partially empty but intact airframe was left behind on the Glacier, where the ice would slowly grind it to pieces. In 2012, pieces of the C-53 began to appear as the glacier melted in the sunlight. Amazingly, there were no traces of corrosion. While the ice has made its mark on the plane’s structure, rendering it to a state that only remotely resembles the plane, it is still there. It now looks like the plane was torn apart in the crash. Of course, we know that was not the case at all.

If you were to travel to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, you would see what was once the fourth largest inland body of water in the world. The Aral Sea once had a water surface of 26,254 square miles. The salinity measured at 10g/L (grams of salt per liter of water). In comparison, the oceans are about 35 g/L, and the Dead Sea about 300 g/L. The Aral Sea has no outflow, and is fed by the Amu Darya and Syr Darya (Darya means river). It’s this lack of outflow that explains the high salinity. Still, it is much lass salty than the ocean, and especially much less than the Dead Sea.

The thing is…the Aral Sea was shrinking. By 1998, it had shrunk to just over 10,810 square miles. At that point, it became only the eighth largest lake in the world, and the salinity had increased to 45 g/L. By 2007, the lake had diminished to only 6,625 square miles, and became two separate basins…The North Aral Sea and the South Aral Sea. Now it is not even in the top ten list of the world’s largest lakes. The South Aral Sea is now further divided into two separate basins, east and west. Salinity in the southern basins is up to over 100 g/L, and has resulted in the death of most of the native flora and fauna of the lake. The lake used to have a fishing industry that supplied Russian markets with almost a quarter of their fish, while employing 40,000 people…but no more. Even the climate in the region has changed, with the loss of so much water, becoming more arid, with significantly decreased precipitation further adding to the decline of the Aral Sea. In total, the surface area has declined 90%, and the volume has decreased by 85%…basically like removing lakes the size of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined.

While these facts are strange in and of themselves, I wonder exactly how fast this transformation actually occurred. It is said that the sea level has dropped by over 98 feet in many places, leaving fishing boats stranded more than 60 miles from any shore. The ships were simply high and dry in the middle of the sea that had once been the source of income for their crews. The bottom of the lake became a new desert. The towns that had once been thriving were perched on vanished shorelines with toxic dust storms swirling around in the wind. The people struggle in poverty and high rates of cancer, tuberculosis, digestive disorders, and anemia. The area today seems relatively safe to visit today, at least in the short term. What is interesting about the Aral Sea today is the it is still full of scores of ships…all high and dry on the sand. Why didn’t the owners take their ships away before the sea went dry? I guess maybe they believed the rains would come, and maybe they will, eventually. Unfortunately, it will simply be too late.

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