Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Memorable Memorial Day

AvaSophia and Grandpa at the ranch
            Who wants to look at pictures of someone’s kids and grandkids?  Especially when everyone knows that their own kids and grandkids are the cutest, smartest, most athletic, and exceptional in the history of mankind.  Despite that truth, indulge me and let me torture you with a few photos of my newest granddaughter, AvaSophia Ciel Severino. 

Never let Grandpa babysit.  (It's only water.)
            Ava is a miracle baby, but that’s a story for another time.  She is a bundle of energy and never stops running, dancing, and getting into things from the time she gets up in the morning until she finally goes to sleep at night.  

          But there is a nap, if we’re lucky.  That little girl sucks the energy out of Grandma and me like a garage vacuum sucks up sawdust.  But nothing gets to me like that little angel running to me with outstretched arms yelling, "Grandpa, Grandpa."     "Gammie" has the same reaction when it's her turn.   

            My daughter Shannon and husband Steve drove nine hours from the Los Gatos area to visit us Memorial Day weekend.  Unbelievable. It took two or three hours sitting in bumper to bumper traffic before they escaped the bay area.  That’s a real ordeal with an energetic baby and an equally energetic dog stuck in the car.  Seeing four cars in the 8 mile trip from Greenhorn Ranch to Quincy is a traffic jam for Gayle and me.  
She steers by pulling an ear.
        I hope barbeques on our deck, walks around the ranch to see the horses, a visit to our old fashioned cowboy bar, walks in the woods, and a general exposure to mountain living will create memories in Ava Sophia, but what does anyone remember from the time they were 1 ½ years old? 

            But thirty years from now, there will be old photos in a dusty album – oops, those are obsolete now.  Well, maybe it will be a picture on a disc or somewhere in the air accessible by a new form of technology. In any case, the question will arise, “Who’s that old bearded guy I’m riding on?” 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Israeli Fighter Pilots

     It’s funny how a random thought will take you on a journey from thought to thought until you’re so far afield, you don’t know where you started.

            I saw a guy with an eye patch on TV last night and it reminded me of Rooster Cogburn, which reminded me of a wealthy guy at a church I attended who had a large construction company.  He was a giant of a man physically and wore a patch over one eye. 

            He said that one day he was driving his pickup with a Mexican worker in the seat next to him.  He was wearing his glass eye that day and not the patch.  He claims that the wind from the open window caught his glass eye in such a way that it popped out of his head and landed on the floorboard on the passenger’s side of the pickup.

            The Mexican worker was so terrified when he saw the eyeball rolling around by his feet that he leaped from the truck at 45 mph and was almost killed.  The poor guy regained consciousness briefly, but when he saw his boss leaning over him with an eye missing, he passed out again. 

            Reflecting on that situation led me to Moshe Dayan, another guy with an eye patch.  This then led me to thinking about Israel. How’s that for a strange segue?

            Israel is a tiny country surrounded by enemies.  Yet it seems that the entire world has turned against this little sliver of land huddled up against the Mediterranean Sea.  Its many and massive adversaries have vowed to push this tiny country the rest of the way into the sea.  But along with their hatred of Israel, its enemies seem to fear this little dot on the world map.

            Remember that great military leader, Moshe Dayan and the six-day war in 1967?  Dayan was an Israeli observer with the U.S. Marine Corp during the six-day war and wasn’t involved in planning the attack.  I seem to recall Dayan saying that Israel uses very young pilots, because they take risks that older pilots wouldn’t take. The world was amazed at the skill and bravery of the Israeli fighter pilots, who cleaned things up in less that a week.  There’s a good reason for using young pilots.

              Numerous studies by neurologists and other scientists have concluded that the human brain doesn’t mature until the age of 25. Makes you wonder why we pay any attention to the opinions of college kids. 

            The prefrontal cortex, i.e. the frontal lobes located behind the forehead, is considered the “C.E.O.” of the brain.  This area controls cognitive analysis, abstract thought, and monitors behavior, among other things.  This is the last region of the brain to mature in a human being - assuming it does mature.   

            Prior to the age of 25 the human brain is not fully developed.  This lack of development makes youngsters more likely to take risks.  Judgment is impaired.  That’s one reason drug use in kids is so common.  The brain is also very malleable in young people. You can call this lack of development cognitive deficiency, but even beyond that magic age of 25, we see cases of arrested development. Watch “man on the street” interviews for confirmation.

          Ironically, the slow development of the prefrontal cortex has advantages militarily.  Every Israeli kid gets drafted into the military at age 18.  Israeli pilots get 2 years of flight training, making the average fighter pilot 20 years old.  In the famous 6 day war, the brave pilots who took the risks to win that war were roughly 20 years old.  These young guys were willing to take risks that older pilots would avoid and it worked out very well. They did an amazing job as pilots.  I don’t think Israel lost a single pilot in those sorties. 

          Since 1967, additional training is required with an academic component tossed in, but Israeli pilots are still combat ready at 21 or 22 years of age.  That still keeps them below the 25 year threshold for the development of caution and rationality.  Most Israeli pilots are through flying by the age of 30.

        Wow.  It’s amazing how a simple recollection of an eyeball rolling on the floor can lead to heroic Israeli pilots.  Is it free association or a short circuit in my cerebral cortex?


Monday, May 13, 2013

Global Warming VS Environmental Pollution

     My last post dealt with the idea of “consensus” and the fact that many times consensus is mistaken for absolute truth.  That does not mean that a general consensus is always wrong – it just means that a consensus is not always right. 

            There is a general consensus that gravity keeps us from floating off into space.  That’s true.  Prior to Galileo the consensus that the earth was the center of the universe was not true.  My point is that science itself is in a constant state of flux and it behooves us to use discretion in trusting consensus, whether in science, politics, or social issues.

            I received an email from a college buddy who brought up some good points on my previous post regarding global warming. Based on his email, I need to clarify my position, because there may be some confusion.

            In my mind, these are really two topics.  Climate change on a global level is one.  Pollution and the destruction of our environment is another subject.  Personally, I don’t believe in man-made global warming.  I believe that more powerful forces than man have caused changes alternating between cooling and warming since the beginning of time on our planet.  The sun, for example, is a major factor, with its solar flares, sunspots, and powerful magnetic fields. Greater forces impact our globe than my outdoor barbeque.

            On the other hand, I do believe we are desecrating our land and polluting our air and water, which I find inexcusable.  This is an issue that angers me greatly.  I’m 100% environmentalist on this subject.  But this is not the same as nature’s impact on our planet.

            I remember distinctly the 1951 documentary about the Norwegian explorer who built a raft called the “Kon-Tiki” in 1947 and sailed for over 100 days across the Pacific Ocean.  He said that not a single day went by that he didn’t encounter trash floating in the water.  I was a kid in ‘51, but it left an impression on me that still bothers me today.

            More recently scientists have discovered a floating island of trash in the Pacific Ocean somewhere in size between Texas and the entire continental United States. That’s huge. This is evidently where several ocean currents converge, trapping plastic and other junk that doesn’t biodegrade.  The smaller particles obviously affect sea life and work their way through the food chain.  That’s mind-boggling to me and it spotlights human ignorance.

            In an old comic strip by Walt Kelly, “Pogo” said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

            I remember waiting on a pier in Costa Rica for a fishing guide, who was late in picking us up for a fishing trip.  I was traveling with my good friend Glen Dennee to look at some Costa Rican property, but we took time out for fishing.  I lack patience and tend to be impulsive.  I dove in the water for a swim while we waited.  I swam under a pier and happened to look up and see a series of round holes in the pier above me.  These turned out to be primitive toilets.  After a short swim, I dried off, caught the boat, but sadly caught no fish.

            Later Glen and I met with some Americans living in Costa Rica and we were told that we should avoid the water in a that particular bay, because it was one of the most polluted in the world, with sewage, medical waste, and anything else you can imagine.  The warning included the statement that contact with the water normally results in death within six months.  Glen and I looked at each other without saying a word.  I obviously survived, but there’s no excuse for that kind of environmental stupidity.  The U. S. has some of the toughest environmental regulations in the world, but look at third world countries and industries in places like China, Korea, et al. 

            Personally, I believe that the things we are doing to the environment are killing us with cancer and other diseases.  But when we talk about “global climate change,” I see that as a different issue.  We can do things to clean up our environment, but we can’t compete with volcanoes, solar activity, and other natural forces to control the climate on our planet.

            Between Gayle, Dakota, and me, we have formed a consensus on this material.  Our cat has withheld her opinion, but we had a quorum.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Building Sand Castles and Consensus

     The word, “Consensus” implies a general or widespread agreement among all the members of a particular group.  The group may be a religious group, political group, or even a scientific group.
            I once received an unexpected conference call and suddenly found myself on the line with the CEO of the internet company I sometimes write for and an administrator with the EPA in Washington, D.C.  Evidently my disagreement with the trendy belief that man is the cause of “climate change” didn’t sit well with this bureaucrat and her agency.  But she controlled a federal grant that our CEO and the company depended upon.

            She knew by my writing on the company website that I didn’t agree with her on man-made global warming.  There are many reasons for my skepticism, including the fact that scientists have now discovered that our planet has actually cooled by 0.7 degree over the past 100 years.  She stated emphatically, albeit inaccurately, that there is a general “consensus” among scientist that global warming is a fact. There’s that word, “consensus.”

Imagine the indignity suffered by this cow with a plastic tank
on its back and a hose stuck in its rear end.  Scientists were
measuring methane gas and its impact on the environment.
            Australian scientists claim that back in 1991 Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines spewed more CO2 into the atmosphere than the entire human race has produced since we entered the scene.  That’s only one eruption.  There are more than 200 active volcanoes belching gases into the atmosphere as I write this.  But I have this weird and subversive idea that the sun and other forces of nature have more to do with our climate than outdoor barbeques and bovine flatulence.

            Plants live on carbon dioxide and without CO2 there would be no life on earth.  It turns out that CO2 is actually being purchased and injected into greenhouses to maximize plant growth.  They need more CO2.  It’s a nutrient. Remember the process of photosynthesis?  Consider the amount of CO2 that must have been in the environment to support the tremendous amount of foliage necessary to feed that old Brontosaurus dude. He is the archetype for vegetarians everywhere and he loved vegetables.
           The same geniuses who want to save the planet by reducing CO2 are the ones who decided it’s a great idea to burn food for fuel, i.e. corn.  So Brazilians are cutting down rain forests, which are irreplaceable, to plant corn. Aside from the fact that these forests provide needed oxygen, the soil can’t support corn crops and is washed away by the rains.  So now we’ve lost rain forests that benefit our environment and produce many of the components necessary for medicine.  

            But there was a “consensus” among enlightened bureaucrats that burning food was a great idea.  Having burned food myself, even I know better than that.

            You notice that “global warming” has now been replaced with “climate change.” Changing language is a good way to change culture. (Always keep that in mind.) The world’s climate has fluctuated since the creation of the earth.  But by defining it as “climate change” there is more latitude for the “consensus-builders.”

            Science is not as objective as we may think.  It has always been driven by philosophy, but when there is “consensus” among scientists, we tend to think they’ve hit on absolute truth.

            The ancient Greek culture had “consensus” that Atlas, a primordial Titan, held our celestial sphere on his shoulders.

            Christopher Columbus was born in the same Italian town as my grandfather, Genoa, Italy.  As a child, I remember helping Uncle Chris pick raviolis and cannelloni in his orchard.  Columbus was expected to fall off the edge of the world, because the “consensus” was that the earth was flat.

            Prior to Galileo, the scientific “consensus” was that the earth was the center of the universe.  This geocentric view had its basis in philosophy and Galileo was rewarded for his blasphemy with prison. No good deed goes unpunished.

            The Theory of Evolution had a “consensus,” which, again, was based on a philosophy.  We had to get rid of a Creator.  If Darwin and his minions had our modern technology and were able to witness the complexity of the genome and DNA, the childish idea that the complexity of life happened by chance or luck or magic or was “just there,” as the atheist Bertrand Russell said, Darwinism would have been dead in the water.  But a “consensus” developed and remains stuck to our conventional wisdom like a barnacle.   

            The moral of the story is that sometimes it’s a mistake to confuse “consensus” with truth.