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


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Trading Places

     I miss the Lone Ranger.  When I was a kid I could visualize the Lone Ranger and Tonto chasing down the bad guys on the radio.  I still remember the “thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver” accompanied by the William Tell Overture.  My imagination came up with several possible definitions of Tonto’s name for the Lone Ranger, “Kemo-sabe.”  I think it was a profane Indian epithet unbeknown to the masked man.  Something like “pale-face horses ass.”

            I could visualize the Cisco Kid and Poncho, the Green Hornet, and Spiderman stuck in a cob web. I could visualize all of those radio characters prior to TV.  Sometimes the imagined characters were bigger than life and the later actors on TV didn’t measure up to the images in my mind. Television can usurp the imagination.

            Sex in the black and white movies left something to the imagination too, but no more.   Alfred Hitchcock was a master at creating suspense, thus stimulating the imagination.  Gayle and I watched one of his old movies last night.  As you know, Hitchcock always appeared in one scene, usually in a crowd.  Part of the fun was trying to find him during the film.  The suspense in his films allowed the imagination to amplify the tension, as in the 1960 film, “Psycho.”

            Today computer games do all the imagining for the kids playing them. 

            I’ve written on how the brain processes humor, the encouragement of creativity, the impact of music on cognitive development, and other related topics, including how science is bent on putting our brains on a computer.  Now scientists think they have discovered the source of human imagination.  And guess what they want to do with this knowledge.  Yep.  Put it on a computer.

            Without getting into how the brain manipulates imagery, suffice it to say that scientists think their findings move them closer to understanding how the organization of our brains sets us apart from other species, providing a playground for us to think “freely and creatively.” 

            You might think that all of this research is designed to better human beings, but the truth slipped out when it was stated that this information will help us design more intelligent and “imaginative” machines.  Remember my article on the scientific attempts to put you, i.e. your brain, on a computer?  This will be a new and improved computerized “you.”  The computerized you will soon be given an imagination.

            I guess someday we can own a robot that might cook more creatively than the best chefs and write more poignantly than Shakespeare. Maybe it can even imagine life as a human being.  That is unless we humans have become so well programmed and controlled that we aren’t much different than robots.

            But aren’t we seeing that now?  College teaches kids what to think – not how to think.  Laws teach us what not to do.  Political correctness teaches us how to speak and act.  Leaders even tell us what to eat and how much soda to drink.  The media tell us what to believe.  Now we find that the government can monitor our every move, as well as our communications.  True freedom has become an illusion relegated to what’s left of our imagination.

            So why do we need imaginative computers?  Maybe we are being programmed so well that we need “imaginative” computers to replace what we are losing.    

            Kinda like trading places…

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Culture Shock

            I doubt that most people want to read about someone else’s kids or grandkids, so I’ll make this brief.

            Two of our granddaughters spent a few days breathing clean air, seeing stars in a clear Sierra sky, and smelling authentic horse manure here in Greenhorn Ranch.  It took over seven hours for Vanessa and Emily to drive from San Francisco to our home, due to Bay Area traffic, but they agreed that it was worth it.

Emily, Grandma, and Vanessa
            We are part of a real western-style guest ranch, with an atmosphere reminiscent of the Lone Ranger days.  This is quite a contrast to the lifestyle of San Francisco, where both girls live and work.

            This isn’t the first time they’ve been here, so they weren’t shocked by the fall colors and cowboy hats.
            Both girls were here when we had horses and they were the size of a horse’s head.  Well, I may be exaggerating, but they were not too small to ride the horses.  We have photos of them when each looked like a little circus monkey on a Clydesdale.

Emily, Grandpa, and Vanessa
            Vanessa ( 26) graduated from the University of Oregon and works as a journalist in San Francisco.  She has traveled to Paris, Puerto Vallarta, and other places for work assignments, but had traveled to other parts of the world prior to here current job.  Both girls are well traveled.  Vanessa described her weekend with us in her blog http://vanessabrunner.com/.  She has some great photos along with a well-written description of life here in the mountains.  Click on it.  It’s very well done. 

            Emily (24) graduated from her sister’s football rival, the University of Arizona, and works as a graphic designer, specializing in logos and product branding.  If you happened to see the pink headphones worn by NFL football players and coaches for cancer awareness last week, you now know who designed them.  This is a famous and expensive brand called, “Beats” by Dr. Dre.  Emily travels to L.A. weekly to work with Dr. Dre on various designs.

Ranch owner and cowboy, Ralph Wilburn, falls in love with Emily while Vanessa cracks up.

            So that was a sample of a great weekend with our “city slicker” granddaughters.  Be sure to check out Vanessa’s blog at http://vanessabrunner.com/.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Man behind the Brain

     William F. Buckley is a man I’ve admired since my college days.  I always enjoyed watching his intellect bury adversaries on the old TV program, “Firing Line,” and in more recent years when his words and ideas continued to challenge my thought process.  Most people at least know his name, so I thought I'd mention some things you may not know about Mr. Buckley.

       If you’re old enough you may remember when Buckley threatened to punch Gore Vidal during a debate on live TV in 1968.  Or his theological discourse with Malcolm Muggeridge, where both men were in agreement.  I have a video of that discussion and still enjoy listening to the harmonious thoughts of two great minds confirming the basis of their mutual belief.

            William Buckley initially gained attention when he published his first book, “God and Man at Yale,” a book that attacked his school for not upholding Christianity and free enterprise against atheism and collectivism.  I recently read “Nearer, My God,” which substantiates Buckley’s deep faith. The placement of the comma in the title is significant.

            Buckley was the force behind the conservative movement.  Even Ronald Reagan relied on him for ideological guidance.  The two families were close friends.  It’s interesting to note that Buckley was a CIA agent in Mexico City during the Korean War.  Maybe that was the source of ideas for his spy novels.

            In addition to authoring numerous books, he founded the National Review magazine.  Several years ago he turned the editorial chores over to Rich Lowry and the next generation of writers.

            In addition to being a prolific writer who never needed a second draft of his writing, Buckley was an outdoorsman and a man of adventure.  He was a passionate skier and a daring sailor, which provided balance to his talent as an accomplished harpsichordist.

            I was honored to meet Buckley – to drink cognac with him and listen to his stories about sailing across the Atlantic, which he did three times and crossing the Pacific using only primitive navigational devices like a sextant.  His challenge was to make these trips without modern technology and navigational equipment. As usual, he was successful.  He was known for docking his yacht too fast and crashing into the pilings, which always resulted in his wife, Pat, yelling at him.

            I met Bill (as he preferred to be called) Buckley shortly after his wife of 57 years had died and at the exact time one of his close friends, Milton Friedman, died.  As you know, Friedman’s economic policies were the antithesis of the Keynesian economics of the Obama administration.
            Buckley never actually recovered from his wife’s death.  He didn’t last long after her death and died in 2008, a couple of years after I met him.  He was 82 when he died at his desk while working on another book.

            I was profoundly impressed by his warmth, friendliness, and his “down-to-earth” and humble demeanor. He was just “one of the boys.”   He treated you like an old friend.  I don’t smoke, but I made an exception with Bill Buckley’s exquisite cigars.

            One of the things that I get a kick out of is that Buckley was a peanut butter fan like I am.  I don’t have his brain and I can’t afford a yacht, but we are on common ground when it comes to peanut butter. Bill started each day with peanut butter on toast and he would only eat a certain brand, telling room service at hotels that he could tell the difference and warning them against switching brands. There were only two brands he would eat – I hadn’t heard of one, but the other was Skippy. 

            This may seem unbelievable, but his son Christopher said he placed four items in the coffin with Bill – his favorite rosary, his wife Patricia’s ashes, the TV remote control,  and a jar of peanut butter.

            When asked what he wanted as an epitaph Bill said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”  William F. Buckley was a profound intellect and a great man.  It was an honor to meet him.

My good friend Jerry Horton, Bill Buckley turning 80, and some guy with no neck.  Photo by Gayle.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


            I admit – I said I was done writing.  In all honesty, it wasn’t a lie.  And it certainly wasn’t a ploy to get attention or support.  I thought my posts might be starting to get boring, so I decided to hang it up. 

            But I was amazed and genuinely surprised at the number of emails I got just after I posted what was meant to be my last post.  Evidently, I was wrong.  If readers were bored, the response was the opposite.  So I promised many that I would submit an article now and then as a compromise to hitting you over the head every week. 

            Actually writing an article is not a “full time job.” It takes very little time. I once wrote a weekly newspaper column and many times I would forget that I had an article due the next morning.  I’d come up with something off the top of my head, edit it down to 700 words, and submit the final draft for publication.

            The point is that writing an article takes very little time for me and I enjoy it.  I actually have a normal life that is not affected by jotting down some thoughts. I will say that writing for pay was less fun than writing for fun, if that makes any sense.  I don’t have an editor making sure my articles are politically correct, although my wife tries to keep me on the straight and narrow.

            Part of the satisfaction of a blog is checking the world map of readers and knowing that readership in Europe has increased, for example, and people I don’t know are reading the blog in many foreign countries.  But the fact that so many of my friends enjoy my ramblings is even more rewarding to me.

            So I will get back in the game, if only on a “now and then” basis.  Thanks to those who wrote encouragement for me to continue or disappointment in my attempt to bail out. As I said, I was serious about closing shop.  It wasn’t a trick. If you enjoy my posts, know that I enjoy writing them even more.  And many thanks to those who contacted me.

            As Arnold famously said, “I’ll be back.”