The Trip of a Lifetime:  The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site

The third stop of our trip was unbelievable!  We journeyed a couple of miles up the road from The Badlands National Park to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  What we found there was one of the most fascinating adventures anyone in our group has ever experienced.  The Site is comprised of a not to be missed visitor center, a missile silo (Launch Facility Delta 09) with a missile still in the silo (It has been defanged), and a command center (Launch Control Facility Delta 01) just down the road.  Although the visitor center and the missile silo are must visits, the highlight of the historic site is the Delta 01 tour.  The tour of the once top secret underground command center, the center from which the fate of the world lay in the hands of twenty something year-old kids (trained young men, but kids nevertheless), was eye opening, frightening, and one of the most remarkable tours I have seen.

The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site tour is a relatively new tour, and it is by reservation only.  People who stop at the site expecting to book a tour on their day of arrival are likely to be turned away.  The tour is usually booked solid for three to four weeks in advance and sometimes longer, so anyone wishing to book the tour should do so weeks, preferably months in advance, to ensure a spot on the tour.  Why is the tour so popular?  First, it takes you thirty feet underground to visit a Minuteman Missile operation center that few people have ever seen; second, you get to enter the small command module buried thirty feet underground where teams of two men worked three-day shifts waiting for coded orders authorizing them to insert their individual keys into the doomsday machine that would have launched Minuteman ballistic missiles and ignited World War III.  It is a little disconcerting to think encased inside eighteen inches of steel and concrete layers designed to survive earthquakes and nuclear blasts you are standing in a place that once held life, as we know it, and the end of time in balance; three, the tour is conducted by veterans who were there and know the inside details; and fourth, the tour is limited to six people per tour, which provides easier access to the guide to clearly hear what he says as well as to ask questions.

Having scheduled our tour three months in advance, we drove straight to the tour site as directed.  The tour began the moment we arrived at the gate of a desolate yellow-tan building hidden in plain sight off South Dakota’s Interstate 90 down a dirt and gravel road.  Surrounded by chain-link fence topped by barbed wire, we found ourselves in the world of a Tom Clancy novel, only this was not fiction.  This highly secret command center was once home to a contingent of eight security and maintenance men above ground, a cook, and two teams of two men who alternated three day shifts thirty feet underground with the fate of the world in their hands.  These two men held the keys to launching up to ten Minuteman missiles, each with a 1.2 megaton thermonuclear warhead anchored to its top.  This one site had the capability to launch its missiles with pin-point accuracy anywhere in the world the moment it received the proper orders, codes, and firing sequences from the President of the United States.  Thank God, such orders were never given although the fabulous exhibits at the Minuteman Missile Historic Site visitor center show how close we were to nuclear war on more than one occasion.  It is chilling to think we were almost never here!

As ordered, we arrived at the tour site at 10:10 a.m., thirty minutes prior to our tour time.  At precisely 10:40 a.m., our military escort/guide appeared at the ten-foot chain-link gate.  Air Force Colonel (retired) Brad Riza, a regular visitor to the site during its heyday in the 1960s to 1990s, was our commanding officer for the tour.  After a brief debriefing outside the gate, Colonel Riza led our party of six, the four in our group and a couple from California, inside the building to tour the facility.

Colonel Riza gave a masterful tour, and his pride in his country and the role he played in the Minuteman Missile era was unquestionable.  He spoke in detail of the Cold War between the United States and Russia (Soviet Union), and how the missiles acted as a line of defense for the nation and as a deterrent to the Soviets or any other aggressor who might threaten a nuclear attack against America or its allies.  The missile field was scattered across the central and northern Great Plains of America next door to ranchers, farmers, and small towns.  Their purpose was to protect the freedoms and posterity of the American people as well as allied nations around the world.

One thousand Minuteman missiles were deployed during the last twenty-five years of the Cold War.  If launched the Minuteman Missile would travel over the North Pole and strike its target in less than thirty seconds.  However, within seconds of the launch, missiles would be incoming in retaliation.  There was only one guarantee if these weapons were used – the aggressor and the target nation would both be destroyed, which made an attack by either side unthinkable.  The greatest deterrent to nuclear war – the only trump card the people on either side of the Cold War could depend – was there would be no winners!  Therefore, why play if nobody could win?

Colonel Riza spoke of the Minuteman missiles as a deterrent not as a weapon of aggression, but primarily he spoke of the rigors and stress the young men (many barely in their twenties) endured while stationed in the missile fields.  They spent long mentally draining hours isolated from family and friends, not knowing if they might have to turn the key that would ultimately destroy the world and all they loved.  These men were forbidden to talk to family and friends about their job with the Air Force.  Faced with protocols that meant strict adherence or immediate court martial, imprisonment, or even death, they lived in a vacuum absent of any normalcy most young men enjoyed.

Part of Colonel Riza’s job was to evaluate the metal condition of the men assigned to the doomsday computers buried deep beneath the yellow-tan building on the surface.  There was no room for error or departure from protocol.  Violate protocol and orders were clear – shoot to kill even if it was the cook, your best friend, or the Colonel.  The survival of the nation was at state; everything else was collateral damage including human life in the bunker or outside the bunker.  There were no second chances!  The fate of the country depended on these young men to execute their orders without hesitation or error.  From 1963 to 1991, the fate of the United States depended on the threat of nuclear retaliation as a deterrent to Soviet Union aggression.  Finally, in 1991, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was signed by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to reduce the number of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear warheads effectively ending the Cold War.

Today, there are no active ICBM silos in South Dakota, but 400 Minuteman Missiles are still deployed across the upper Great Plains of the United States.  The Russians have a like number spread across their country.  Even though the Cold War has subsided, nuclear missiles intended as a deterrent remain on alert in the United States and Russia.  The biggest difference is today it is no longer a two-nation dance.  China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and others have all bought tickets and are clamoring to get on the dance floor.  This escalation means the Minuteman missiles are more important than ever, and they will remain on alert through at least 2050.  Hopefully, by then the world will have come to its senses.

Every American needs to visit The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site!  The story it tells is a story everyone needs to hear.  All of us have one life, one family, and one country; to jeopardize any of the three with nuclear weapons is the sign of a madman.  We have lived as madmen long enough, but unfortunately, the day of the madman does not appear to be over.  Therefore, I take comfort there are men such as Colonel Brad Riza and thousands of young men who give up their youth and innocence in the service of our country to ensure our freedom and way of life.

Thank you, Colonel Riza for your service and for a great tour!  May God continue to bless you, our country, and the young men and women who serve our country 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours per day.

God bless America!  Americans, if you can, GO visit the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota.  It might scare you, but it will make you proud to be an American.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 23, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime:  Wall Drug and Badlands National Park

Our second stop on Our Trip of a Lifetime was Wall, South Dakota where we planned to visit Wall Drug Store, Badlands National Park, and The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  Although we enjoyed the travel and camping up to this point, we were excited to finally be getting into the meat of our destinations.  Prior to the trip, everyone we talked to about places to visit along Interstate 90 in South Dakota recommended Wall Drug Store and Badlands National Park as neat places to visit although a few people voiced some reservations about the Badlands.  To my surprise, very few people had heard of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, so it became of special interest to our group.

The first of the three we visited was Wall Drug Store.  When we were within about a hundred miles of Wall, South Dakota, we began to see billboards marketing the drug store with such phrases as “As seen on the Today Show,” “As featured in the New York Times,” and “Get your free ice water at Wall Drugs.”  Our anticipation grew!  The drug store began in 1931, and over the years, it expanded to seventy-six thousand square feet of shopping area.  Picturing a traditional old-time drug store setting with a soda fountain counter and a plethora of novelty items to explore, I couldn’t wait to see the place.  Boy was I in for a surprise!

There may have been a time when Wall Drug Store was a traditional old-time drug store complete with sassafras root beer, penny candy, and homemade ice cream, but those days were long gone by the time of my visit.  Basically, I found a string of shops filled with overpriced clothing and trinkets made in China.  The place was what we call a strip mall back home.  The one redeeming factor was the walls and corners of the shops were decorated with unique displays and antiques ranging from a stuffed grizzly bear to a cowboy fortune telling machine.  The wives loved the place, but other than getting free ice water, I say stop at this mini shopping mall disguised as a drug store if you must, but if you really want to see the good stuff, drive out to The Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.  If you like nature and history that is so real it will awe you and maybe even scare you, these two places should not be missed.

I am probably being too hard on Wall Drug, but it was simply too commercial for me.  It reminded me of Disney without the Disney magic (again maybe too harsh) – little more than a highly marketed tourist trap.  However, our visit to The Badlands National Park made everything good once again.  I found the Badlands simply breathtaking!  One thing I have discovered about national parks is that each is unique, and unique certainly describes The Badlands National Park.

Located in Interior, South Dakota, a short drive south of the town of Wall, The Badlands National Park is not to be missed.  Rugged, dry, desolate – its striped layers of brown, pink, yellow, and red rock tell stories of millions of years.  Once a prehistoric seabed, the wind worn spires allow you to look back in time when brontotheres (a rhinoceros type animal) and sabretooth tigers roamed the earth.  Set in direct contrast to the South Dakota plains surrounding it, the area may be called the Badlands, but its beauty speaks otherwise.  The Badlands of South Dakota are a tribute to the forces of nature and its resulting beauty.  The Park is a MUST SEE!  Walk the trails, many of them boarded and easy to walk, climb the towering rock formations (be careful), and take time to simply look and imagine this place a million years ago.  There is no “made in China” here.  This is pure America!

From the Badlands, we journeyed a couple of miles up the road to the Minuteman Missile Historic Site.  What we found there was one of the most fascinating adventures anyone in our group has ever experienced.  The tour of the once top secret underground command center, the center from which the fate of the world sometimes lay in the hands of twenty-year-old kids (trained young men, but kids nevertheless), was eye opening, frightening, and one of the most remarkable tours I have seen.

 

Next Blog:  The Trip of a Lifetime:  The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

JL

 

©Jack Linton, July 20, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime:  STOP #1 The Corn Palace

After camping in Batesville, Mississippi; Perryville, Missouri; Platte City, Missouri; and Tea, South Dakota, we finally made the turn west in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  Our first stop was The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota.  We had received mixed reviews on The Corn Palace from “A must stop!” to “If you are in the area with nothing better to do, give it a try.”  After four days on the road with little to do but drive, sing along with John Prine, Neil Diamond, and Elton John cds and watch coals die in the evening campfire, we were excited to make Mitchell, South Dakota our first sightseeing stop.  To prepare ourselves for what we would see, we discussed the functionality and structural integrity of corn as a building material.

I should have known something was amiss when we walked up to The Corn Palace and three guys with staple guns and Elmers Glue were gluing and stapling corn cob halves to the building.  I was dumbfounded!  Prior to visiting The Corn Palace, I was like the little girl I overheard telling her mother as they walked through the front door, “But, Mama, you said this place was made of corn.”  Her mother smiled and tried to explain to her disappointed daughter that the murals and pictures on the front of the building and in the auditorium were made of corn.  The little girl was having none of it, “But, is that all there is?” she asked.  The mother stopped, and looked down at her.  “Sorry, Honey,” she said, “but that is all there is.  It is what is.”  I felt bad for the little girl; heck, I felt bad I had dragged my wife and friends to see what I told them was “a building made of corn.”  To be fair, the murals and pictures inside and outside the building were made of corn and its by products, such as the cob, and if you like that sort of thing, you should go see The Corn Palace because there is not much more to the place than that.

After the little girl and her mother were gone, I sat down on a bench in the foyer and reflected on the little girl’s words, “Is that all there is?”  Those words reminded me of a song by one of my mother’s favorite singers, Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” she sang.  “Is that all there is?” her sweet voice rang.  “If that’s all there is, my friends;  Then let’s keep dancing.  Let’s break out the booze and have a ball,” she warbled.  “If that’s all there is,” she sang with a finality that pushed me ever closer to the door – if I could only find my wife.

Unfortunately, there was no one dancing in The Corn Palace, there was no booze that I could see, and the only ball anyone was having was the stale popcorn balls sold for $3.00 each in the lobby concessions area.  The Corn Palace was not terrible; it served a purpose – from there our trip could only get better!  So, friends, whenever you are in the area, STOP if you must, to say you have done it, but don’t be disappointed when you learn “corn cobs is all it is!”

JL

©Jack Linton, July 19, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime: Pondering from St. Louis to Kansas City

I am never closer to heaven than when I am camping and television and cell phone reception is poor or non-existent.  Camping is my time to get away to relax, read, write, and enjoy nature.  Other than contact with family, the world can do its thing without me for a few days or weeks.  However, there are drawbacks.  One drawback is poor or no cell phone reception means there is also poor or no Internet connection, and that means it is difficult to impossible to post blogs.  As a result, I have been unable to post updates for my trip as frequently as I had planned, but I am not giving up.   Whenever and wherever I find an open network or hotspot, I will add a new post, so for those of you interested, stay tuned.  After a week on the road, things are beginning to get interesting.

The worst part of traveling anywhere is getting there, and The Trip of a Lifetime has been no different.  Mile after mile of mile markers, billboards, and nondescript highway scenery slowly peeling by leaves both the butt and mind numb.  After a while, just before the wife grabs you by the shoulder and shakes you awake, even Florida Georgia Line begins to sound good on the radio.  That is scary!  FGL has never sounded good on anything.

A week ago, my wife and I, along with another couple, left home pulling twenty-four-foot travel trailers, and thanks to the two wives the trailers are literally loaded with everything but the kitchen sink.  The deal is simple; the guys drive and the ladies feed us every evening.  To some, relegating the men to driving and the women to cooking the meals is a bit sexist, and maybe it is, but we are headed “out west” where men are men and ladies with the culinary skills of our wives make happy men.  Therefore, my buddy and I drive because we want the ladies well rested at the end of a long day, so while we are leveling the campers, hooking up electricity, water, and sewer hoses, they can concentrate on the most important event of the day – the evening meal.  Honestly, there is nothing sexist about it; it’s just how things break down when camping.

This trip is by far the longest camping trip either couple has undertaken.  The most nights either of us have camped consecutively prior to this trip is five nights, but for this outing we will camp somewhere between fifty-five and sixty-five nights.  Therefore, a certain amount of stress is a given on the trip.  In addition to stretching our endurance to the max, this trip is sure to take a toll on everybody’s nerves, especially mine.  For me, the biggest stress factor is backing the camper into a campsite at the end of the day without destroying the camper.  When it comes to backing a travel trailer into a camping spot, I may be the worst “backer upper” of all time.  However, during my years of camping, I have found the perfect solution for backing a camper – pull throughs.  Pull throughs, remarkable campsites where you simply pull your rig onto the campsite – no backing required – were designed by a camping angel.  The campgrounds that get the highest ratings from me are the ones that provide these gifts from heaven.  Therefore, a major part of planning for the trip was reserving pull-through campsites, which we managed to nail down for all but a couple of the campgrounds we will be visiting.  Die hard campers might say that is cheating, but no, that is smart.  Knowing your limitations and preparing accordingly is much better than arrogantly flaunting your ineptness, especially if you are married.  Most women marry a man despite his many areas of incompetence, but that does not sanction a man to rub his wife’s nose in his ineptitude.  There is nothing more trying on a marriage than backing a travel trailer into a campsite without running over the sewer disposal or the fire pit.

When backing my camper, I do my best to refrain from dirty words, nevertheless I tend to foam at the corners of my mouth and spit vilified words through my teeth when confronted by a cantankerous trailer that refuses to understand where I want the dang thing to go.  My wife, bless her heart, tries to help, but invariably she becomes a mark for my slobber casting fits, which creates a coldness that often extends to supper and beyond.  Of course, I could resolve the whole issue, and let her back the “damn” trailer up, which she could do with little problem, but oh no, we are headed out west where men are men, and turning over the reins to a filly is not a viable option.

Another situation that can cause undue stress on a trip is being in a rush.  One of the worst things a person pulling a travel trailer can do is try to get to the destination in a hurry.  If getting to a destination quickly is a priority, take a car or better yet, take a plane, but do not take a travel trailer, motorhome, or fifth-wheel although I have witnessed quite a few motorhomes and fifth-wheels flying low.  Although there are people who pull travel trailers and fifth-wheel campers at seventy-five and eighty-five miles an hour, I am not one of them.  I am much more concerned about arriving safely than I am about getting to the campground in five hours driving eighty miles per hour as compared to six hours driving sixty or sixty-five miles per hour.  Also, I am not one of those “dice throwers” who insists on driving eight and nine-hour days to get to a destination in three days rather than four days.  I am simply not into that kind of needless stress.

It may not be cool or manly, but my friend and I decided to follow a simple travel rule – “three or three-hundred.”  This means we stop for the night by 3 p.m. or 300 miles, whichever comes first.  By following this rule, we increase our chances of arriving safely, we never worry about setting up camp after dark, and we have time to unwind and relax before hitting the road again the next day.  We have just completed the first week of our trip, and this simple rule has proven to be a deal maker for all of us.

I am pleased to say, so far, the “three or three-hundred” rule has worked well. We are fifteen hundred miles into the trip, and we are making steady progress across the United States, we are not yet drained and exhausted, and the four of us are still best friends.  One of the great things about not being in a rush to get where you are going is there is time to observe the landscape and see unique things that at a faster pace you might miss.  For example, while traveling across Missouri, I was intrigued at the pairing of firework stands and adult book/novelty stores every ten miles or so from St. Louis to Kansas City.  If I had spotted a lone firework stand or adult paraphilia store every few miles along Interstate 70, I might have thought little of it.  However, seeing firework stands and adult book stores sitting side by side every few miles started me pondering.  What do these two have in common that would cause their owners to place them side by side?  Was there a connection?  Why this combination?  Why not a bicycle shop and an adult store or a firework stand and a medical emergency facility?  What was the significance of fireworks and adult books and toys sold in the same parking lot?  Did it really matter?  I had a lot to ponder from St. Louis to Kansas City.

There is a lot of pondering time involved while driving three-hundred miles anywhere, but especially hauling a travel trailer up and down the rolling hills of Missouri.  On more than one occasion, as I passed a firework stand and adult book/novelty store sharing the same parking lot, I saw multiple motorhomes and trucks pulling travel trailers parked in the parking lot.  As I approached and passed one of these places, an elderly gentleman with a cane helped an elderly lady climb out of a super large motorhome, and the couple walked arm in arm toward the adult book store.  About ten miles down the road, I witnessed a similar event – an elderly man and woman holding a brown package walked from an adult store to the firework building next door.  What was going on?  What was the attraction of combo firework stands and XXX book stores to elderly RV (recreational vehicle) folks?  Being a trained researcher, I decided I needed to pull into one of these places and conduct a survey.  How else was I going to solve the mystery?  As soon as I flipped the turn signal, my wife slapped me on the back of my head bouncing my forehead off the steering wheel and bringing me back to my senses.  I never conducted my study, but that did not stop me from pondering as I drove Interstate 70.  By the end of the day, I was pondered out.  All I could figure was whatever those old folks were buying in the adult stores gave them reason to also buy fireworks as well.  Maybe, now I am only sharing speculative ponderings, they bought an adult novelty as the result of road fatigue or maybe, to get the hanky panky juices flowing.  If the latter was the case, maybe, they bought fireworks to celebrate if it worked.  From the number of campers parked at those places, it must have been working.

When traveling there is no telling what you might see, but I am happy to say we have finally made it to the Badlands National Park and the National Minuteman Missile Historical Site.  We spent all day visiting both today, and I am overwhelmed, especially with the underground tour of the Delta 1 mission operation center.  I have never been so proud of the young men who serve our country, and scared to death for our nation at the same time.  I’ll tell you all about it soon.  Thanks for listening!

JL

©Jack Linton, July 12, 2017

The Trip of a Lifetime

After six months of planning and preparation, the time has finally arrived.  My wife and I are taking a long awaited get-a-way; she calls it The Trip of a Lifetime.  Our travel trailer and truck are serviced and packed, the house sitters are in place, people to take care of the pool and lawn have been secured, and the bank account has been depleted.  Our kids think we are too old and feeble to completely comprehend the magnitude of the trip we are undertaking, and the grandkids cannot understand why we are not taking them.  Although we have assured our children repeatedly we are not too decrepit to take a two-month camping excursion, they roll their eyes and say, “Dad, have you thought this through?  Sometimes people your age do crazy things;” “Mom, ya’ll don’t have a clue how to use an ATM;” or “We’re sure the two of you will have a great time, but where’s the will just in case?”

They are right; we may be a dime short of crazy and clueless about an ATM, but I am confident the great explorers Lewis and Clark also did not have a clue about an ATM and were called crazy when they set out to explore the northwest.  Like those trailblazers, this will be our first trip to the northwest United States, and like them, every turn will represent a new adventure for us.  If all goes well, our trip will take us north to the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Big Sky country of Montana, to Calgary, Canada, northwest to Banff National Park, back south to Glacier National Park, and Yellowstone National Park.  That is just the first 3,500 miles.  Where we go beyond Yellowstone, we haven’t a clue.  We may head southeast through Colorado and Kansas, or we may chase rainbows and UFOs to Roswell, New Mexico and beyond.  The only thing we are sure about is, the good Lord willing, we will come home eventually.  As for a will, the kids are being a little presumptuous in my opinion, besides we sank everything we own into this trip.

I have waited for this trip for fifty-three years.  When I was ten years old, I remember a school friend, Rocky, telling the class about his summer camping trip to Yellowstone National Park.   He talked to us about boiling water that shot hundreds of feet into the air, a grizzly bear studying him from the trees bordering his campsite, buffalo that stopped traffic for an hour, and mountains capped by snow in mid-summer.  Hooked, I told my parents, being careful to leave out the boiling water and grizzly bear, about this fantastic place Rocky had visited.  I did my best to sell them on friendly buffalo and mountains with snow cone peaks, and I believe my father was hooked and ready to go, but my mother said, “No!  We cannot afford it.”  Desperate, I blurted, “Tents don’t cost much.  We could camp like Rocky and his family.”  That was maybe the greatest blunder of my youth.  My mother was a beautiful lady – prim and proper – and although she worked hard, she had never dropped a bead of sweat in her life, and she was not about to do so camping in a tent.  “Over my dead body,” she said, and that was the end of the camping discussion and as it turned out the Yellowstone discussion as well.  I have often wondered if things may have been different if I had kept my mouth shut about camping.  The closest I got to Yellowstone after that was National Geographic and pictures of grizzly bears and buffalo my teacher gave us to color in class.  At the time, I despised her; I felt she was intentionally trying to rub salt in my wounds.

This trip is my wife’s dream as well.  I don’t know if there was a Rocky in her life to inspire her, but regardless, I have never seen her more energized and excited.  She has taken on the persona of a “town crier” excitedly sharing with anyone who will listen every detail of the trip.  By now, all our children, grandkids, and friends know the color of every outfit she plans to bring and wear, know the menu by heart for each meal, know the locations by city, state, latitude and longitude of every picture she plans to take, and know how many times per week she plans to do laundry.  As for me, one pair of shorts and jeans as well as a couple of t-shirts and pairs of underwear are all I need; you waste less time if you wash a t-shirt and a pair of underwear in the sink and dry them on the back of the camper as you travel.  Fortunately for me, stately and dignified was not high on the compatibility list when we married.

For years, we talked about this trip, but always found an excuse to put it off to next year.  Of course, life has a funny way of pushing by several “next years” before you know it.  Finally, we woke up one morning, not as young as we once were, and realized the possibility of running out of “next years” was too close to home for comfort.  We had some decisions to make.  We could hang around the house and help our kids plan how to make our home of thirty years more elderly friendly and accessible when we were no longer capable of climbing the stairs, we could practice for the retirement home, or we could thumb our nose at age, get off our butts, and take the flipping trip we should have taken years ago.  We decided to take the trip!

Once we decided the trip was a go, my wife started planning, packing, and talking.  She told everyone where we were going, until one day, she mentioned it to some good friends who decided to join us.  They had recently bought a new travel trailer and truck and were anxious to get on the road.  We were absolutely thrilled to have them join us on the trip.  Since our kids had stopped coming to see us for fear of having to listen to their mother talk about the latest trip menu or “ooh” and “aww” at the latest gadget I had purchased or built for the truck and camper, it was good to finally have some likeminded geriatric souls (seniors only in the eyes of our kids) to talk to about the trip.

The only downside was our planning became competitive.  In a very short time, the trip wardrobes for both wives doubled.  Heaven forbid they would ever be caught wearing the same color, style, or brand of shoes or clothing at the same time.  As a result, the bunk area of both campers had to be re-purposed to provide space for their wardrobes.  However, to be fair, I must admit my good friend and I became a little competitive ourselves.  When he bought a gadget for his truck, I one-upped him with a bigger gadget for my truck, and of course, he would counter with a fancier gadget for his truck, which in turn led me to reciprocate with another blockbuster gadget for my truck.  The dashboards of our trucks now look like the cockpit of the space shuttle.  There are monitors for the GPS, monitors for dashcams, monitors for rear view cameras, monitors for the monitors, and wires so thick it looks as if the dashboard is overgrown with black vines.

But, all is okay; all is better than good.  Before we leave, we may be forced to have a fire sale to lighten the camper and truck load, but if I must put a harness and blinders on my wife to help pull the camper, we are going on this trip.  Next year has finally come for our Trip of a Lifetime.  The family thinks we are crazy, but they are behind us one-hundred percent, and we are living and sharing the dream with good friends who we pray are still good friends by the end of the journey.  We are blessed with a family, friends, the means, and the health to make such a trip possible – life is good.  In a few days we will head north, so keep us in your prayers, we’ll see you somewhere along the six or seven-thousand-mile mark.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 5, 2017

Delbert Hoseman has it Right

Under Barrack Obama, one of the reasons people screamed “bloody murder” over Common Core Standards in public schools was they thought the Federal government was prying into their lives and attempting to mine personal information about their children.  Now, under the presidency of Obama’s successor, the man most of these people voted for and support, the Federal government is truly digging for personal information.  What gives?  Where is the outcry that Washington is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong?  Where is the outrage over the millions of dollars being spent to fund President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity, which is little more than an excuse to collect personal data on citizens and stroke the President’s ego?  The Commission says they only want to “root out” voter fraud; therefore, it is okay for Washington to ask states for the names, birth dates, and social security numbers of state citizens.  Hogwash!  The Commission on Election Integrity is a barefaced example of government infringement on the rights of private citizens.

Fortunately, at least one Mississippi state official, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, has taken a stand against President Trump’s commission and says he will deny access to confidential voter information.  Maybe, he recognizes, like so many others across the nation, little if any voter fraud took place during the Presidential election, or maybe, he is simply doing his job and standing up for the privacy of Mississippi citizens.  Most likely, he is doing both.  The fact that he has the courage to tell the Feds to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico” is a testament to his integrity and commitment to do right by state citizens.  Kudos to Mr. Hosemann!

The fact the voter fraud debate is still circulating when there is no proof, only speculation about possible fraud, is ridiculous.  The election is over and the verdict is final; Donald Trump won the election by the same process as Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barrack Obama.  It is senseless for Trump detractors as well as Donald Trump to continue to fuel the issue that never was.  Like him or not, Donald Trump did what he needed to do to win the election, and the Democrats did not.  He was elected by the same electoral college that elected every President that preceded him, so the Democrats and other naysayers need to accept the verdict and move on.  In the 2016 Presidential election, the popular vote was not the deciding factor nor does it matter; the electoral college was the balancing factor that mattered.

Donald Trump also needs to get his ego under control and accept he did not win the popular vote.  “Trumping up” bogus voter fraud speculation to justify his failure to win the popular vote will not change that fact.  He needs to accept that he is simply not as popular as he thinks and understand that if there was truly widespread voter fraud, as he claims, he most likely would have lost the election.  To anyone with a lick of common sense, it is obvious the whole popular vote issue is built on hard feelings on the Democratic side and vanity on the Trump side.  Both sides need to get over it; there are much bigger fish to fry than a petty popular vote vs electoral college vote debate.

Thank God, at least one public official, Delbert Hosemann, seems to recognize a non-issue when he sees one and has the courage and integrity to say so.  Mr. Hoseman has it right, and it is time President Trump, the Democrats, Trump haters, and Trump supporters stop sending this country on “wild goose” chases.

Thank you, Mr. Hosemann for stepping up.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 2, 2017

Cashing in on Fear:  The Catalyst Behind the Trump/Devos Education Budget?

The current focus on public school improvement is flawed.  Politicians, the public, and even some educators are caught up in a oversimplified mindset that lumps all public schools into one huge cesspool of incompetence.  It is dangerous to generalize anything, and public schools are no different.  It is not public schools in general we need to fix, but what is happening within each individual public school that needs our attention.  Many public schools are doing an excellent job educating children, but unfortunately, they are being dragged down the rabbit hole with those that are doing a poor job.

To say all public schools are bad and in need of improvement is a generalization that is simply not true.  According to education researcher John Hattie, the single biggest variance between a good school and a bad school is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.  Dismantling public schools in favor of charter schools and creating an open-door policy for parents to send their child to the school of their choice will not resolve inconsistent quality issues in the classroom.  Due to the human element, classroom quality issues are as likely to show up in charter schools as they are in public schools.  It is not a public school or charter school that makes the difference in a child’s education.  As Hattie points out, it is the quality of what transpires in the classroom that makes a difference.  Simply being hired by a charter school will not make a person a better teacher.  Enrolling a child in a charter school is not a guarantee of academic success or teacher competence in the classroom.  With the future of public schools in jeopardy and a shrinking teacher pool, it stands to reason today’s public school teachers will be tomorrow’s charter and private school teachers, so unless we resolve the quality issue we are doing little more than transferring the problem from one school to another.   Proponents of charters will argue charter schools will only hire the best teachers and cull the weaker ones.  They may try, but I am afraid they may find as the public schools have found, there are not a lot of master teachers walking around looking for a job.  Pile that problem on top of current hiring practices in many charter schools such as hiring unlicensed and inexperienced teachers and you have a recipe for disaster waiting in the wings.  Unless, charter schools can find the magic teacher formula that has eluded public schools, their savior status will quickly fade.  Unfortunately, at that point, we will have to sleep in the bed we have made due to a misplaced focus.

Some will say I am putting the blame on teachers, and yes, I am, but there is enough blame to go around for everyone including school administrators, school boards, politicians, parents, the public, and the students.  Everyone must share in the blame when students do not learn, but in rank order, teachers, students, parents, and school administrators are the most responsible.  Sorry, educators, but that is the bottom line truth in a nutshell.  Sorry, parents and politicians, but charter schools and private schools will not resolve the issue, especially since those schools have the same problem of finding quality teachers as the public schools.  At least, public schools have minimum standards teachers must meet to teach while most charters and privates schools can and often do hire almost anyone off the street.  Therefore, being called a charter school does not make a school better.  Regardless of what politicians say, and many parents believe, parent choice is nothing more than a distraction that takes away from the real education focus needed to fix schools and ensure students learn.  For any school to be successful – public, charter, or private –  the focus must be on quality, attitudes, and commitment. Promoting dismantling public schools shows a lack of commitment in any of these areas, and that lack of commitment has escalated over the past 16 years mainly for one reason – fear.

Since 9/11/2001, America has been at the mercy of fear.  Fear is the root of our current state of dysfunction in all areas of our lives including education.  We are currently in a state of dysfunction that is more dangerous than maybe anything this country has ever faced; we fear terrorists, we fear immigrants, we fear the Republicans, we fear the Democrats, we fear conservatives, we fear liberals, we fear any belief outside our own, and we fear and mistrust the color of a man’s skin.  This is not the first time in our history we have been in such a state of distress, but it is one of the few times in our history we have allowed fear to rule our lives and distract our focus.   In the 1960s, we feared thermonuclear warfare with the Soviet Union, but instead of allowing that fear to distract us, we used it to sharpen our focus.  Out of that fear, we put a man on the moon, built a national highway system second to none in the world, put greater focus on math and science in our public schools, and created the Internet as part of national defense.  Fear created a constructive response rather than the unconstructive response we are seeing today.  Since 2001, we have used fear as an excuse to fight two wars against terrorism with little to show for the loss of blood of the brave men and women who served our country, used fear to turn our political system and nation upside down, used fear to turn citizen against citizen, used fear to isolate ourselves from the world, and used fear to create a dysfunctional education dialogue that threatens to destroy an institution that helped make America great – our public school system.  In the 1960s, we turned fear into productive action while today we have allowed fear to drag us into uncooperative thinking and inaction.

Over the last 16 years, fear has ruled our lives and governed how we respond to events and issues.  Our answer to just about everything today is to lash out negatively, cast blame, and think in short term solutions.  The current dysfunctional focus on public schools is an excellent example.  In the 1960s, when we were caught up in an arms race with the Soviet Union, we did not scrap our education system or try to improve it with our heads in the sand.  Of course, back then, there was an “us versus them” mentality in America and not the present “us versus us” mentality.  Today, there is a political venom flowing through the veins of our country that no amount of antidote is likely to cure.  We are trapped in pockets of group think where outside views are considered a threat and too often solutions are reactions to distractions rather than the real issues.  Charter schools and vouchers are prime examples of such distractions.  These vehicles of parent choice distract from issues such as teacher quality and child poverty.  Such distractions can easily be seen in the education cuts proposed by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in their 2018 education budget.  Instead of cutting vital education programs that support millions of public school children across the nation, they could have easily used a portion of the $21 trillion saved by dropping out of the Paris Climate Accord to fund their pet charter school and voucher projects, yet they chose to cut public education by over 9 billion dollars or roughly 14 percent.  Why?  Could it be they understand the best time to push a personal agenda is during times of fear?

Any budget is a statement of values, and the Trump/Devos education budget is no exception.  Anyone who looks closely at the suggested budget cuts and to the areas the cuts are redirected can see the ultimate goal is to dismantle public education in favor of parent choice options.  If passed, the Trump/Devos budget will cut the United States Department of Education funding by $9 billion and redirect $1.4 billion of that money to school choice.  The cuts will eliminate at least 22 programs including $1.2 billion for after school programs which will have a negative impact on 1.6 million, primarily poor, children; $2.1 billion for teacher training which is a vital component for developing quality classroom teachers in both charter and public schools; $27 million for arts education; $72 million dollars for international and foreign language programs; and $12 million dollars for Special Olympics programs.

President Trump and Betsy Devos say the federal government does not need to be involved in these programs.  According to them, the programs being cut can be more effectively handled and funded at the state and local level.  Maybe, they can be handled more effectively at the state level, but how can a poor state such as Mississippi fund these programs when it cannot afford to adequately fund the state public school programs it has?  Mississippi can’t, so where does that leave after school programs, arts education, foreign language programs, and the Special Olympics in the state?  It means either the citizens of Mississippi will pay higher taxes to foot the bill, or those programs will be discontinued.  Likely, the programs will be dropped or phased out.

Most people in Mississippi will feel some concern for losing after school programs, arts education, and especially the Special Olympics, but in a state where so many believe English is the only language needed in America, the loss of foreign language will barely be given a passing thought.  That is a shame.  I have a PhD, but by global standards I am illiterate.  I regret to say I speak one language, English, and although that has been good enough for me, it most likely will not be good enough for my grandchildren and especially my great grandchildren.

I recently read over 80% of the world’s population has access to a cell phone or mobile device, and within a year – a couple at the most – that number will grow to 90%.  According to David Rothkopf, author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow, we are possibly only a couple of years from every man, woman, and child in the world being connected for the first time in history through a man-made system.  Companies like Amazon have already gone global, and others will soon follow.  I am not talking about moving companies overseas; I am talking about Internet presence.  Amazon can touch anyone in the world whenever they please.  That is the future for all of us.  Our kids better be able to communicate with the world when that happens.  They will not only need the latest and the greatest technology tools, but they will also need a second language and preferably a third language if they hope to compete in the world market.  Speaking only one language will no longer be good enough even for Mississippi, yet, we have a President and Secretary of Education who want to cut foreign language programs.  Why?  How does that make any sense at all unless we are in such fear of the world that we plan to remain isolated indefinitely.

A contributing factor to fear is the unknown, and since 2001, as a nation we have been grappling with fear of the unknown:  fear of unseen and often unknown terrorists, fear for our livelihoods amid fluctuating markets, fear of leaders who so often put their personal agendas above the good of the people, fear of losing our guaranteed rights as citizens, fear of changing attitudes and values, and fear our public schools are no longer in capable hands.  We have seen our leaders grasp at straws for solutions, and turn against each other in the process.  We have witnessed politicians wage war on science somehow ignorant to the facts that throughout history governments who denounced science often lost.  We have watched as our leaders and our people have grown closed minded to the diversity that made us the greatest country in the world.  And, now rather than focus on the real issues, of teacher quality, academic support systems, and poverty, we are watching helplessly as our leaders slowly dismantle a once proud education system that produced Americans who revolutionized land and air transportation for the world, turned simple farmers into a skilled labor force for industry, and lay the knowledge foundation that led to the world’s first heart transplant, harnessing of nuclear energy, put the first man on the moon, and produced some of the world’s greatest literary giants.  Unfortunately, our leadership is in the market for a new vehicle, and they will not be satisfied until that vehicle is sitting in the garage with or without wheels.  It is sad, they do not understand there is no need to reinvent the wheel; all that is needed is to fix a spoke or two in the old wheel, so we can focus on what really matters – our children’s future.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 18, 2017