Ed Briggs

Eagles

 Posted by at 5:16 am  No Responses »
Jan 052016
 

e-scout-medalMy interest in the American Bald Eagle began early. When I joined boy scout Troop 88 in Maryville, Tennessee with the rank of Tenderfoot, I knew that the ultimate was to become an Eagle Scout. This goal was held out before us over the years of advancing to higher ranks of scouting. I was not especially fond of studying and working on all those merit badges, but I did it because of the goal. Whenever I met an Eagle Scout in uniform I would glance at the imposing badge with the red, white, and blue ribbon and the silver eagle hanging below it. I wanted one of those and eventually did get one.

Select DSCN0223The Bald Eagle is, of course, our national bird and a symbol for others besides boy scouts. I am happy that Benjamin Franklin did not have his way about selecting the turkey as our national bird, even though I do like turkeys also. The Bald Eagle is just an amazing, strong, soaring, intelligent, skilled, majestic bird. I never tire of watching them, and when I can I enjoy trying to photograph them.

E7K_3493 selectMost of my photographs have been from a considerable distance. I do have telephoto lenses, but those get you only so close. I am amused when people observe my long lenses and think that they can magically bring any distant object "up close." They can't. You still have to work hard, be patient, and be lucky to get close shots. I keep trying.

I was lucky the other day in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland. From a distant road I saw two eagles apparently having a fight over something. It turns out there was food on the ground and they were fighting over it. By the time I got there one eagle had chased the other on off and was eating. There were already three photographer cars there I joined them. The eagle was intent on its meal and did not fly away. I shot from the roof of my car, first stills and then video. I got four short videos, each about a minute in length. The following is unedited and the sounds you hear in the background are camera shutters clicking as fast as they could. Enlarge to full screen for the best view . . ..

https://youtu.be/dBn5_BjS17Y

Evolved Thinking

 Posted by at 2:13 am  1 Response »
Oct 242015
 

On Tuesday, November 8th, 1960 I cast my first vote in a U.S. presidential election, at the age of 23.  I voted for Richard Nixon against John F. Kennedy. I was a Southern Baptist ministerial student at the time, and although I did not openly admit it, I was influenced by the fervent anti-Catholic sentiments I heard around me in Tennessee. Preachers said that a vote for Kennedy was a vote to have the Pope running things in America. My voiced rationale for the Nixon vote was that he was "more experienced." 

kennedy nixonI did learn better. In the 1964 election I voted for Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater, then for Hubert Humphrey against Nixon in 1968, then for George McGovern against Nixon (who seemed never to go away) in 1972. My thinking on Nixon and what he represented had clearly "evolved." 

I grew up in rural Tennessee, and although he had a Ph.D, my father was still a mountain man from North Carolina. He gave me a rifle at an early age and taught me to shoot and hunt. I developed a love for guns and hunting and marksmanship.

I joined the National Rifle Association and benefitted from its connection with the U.S. military that allowed NRA members to purchase surplus weapons for almost nothing. I obtained and refinished guns such as the classic M1903 Springfield .30-06, the army M1 .30 Carbine, and the .45 caliber pistol. I learned to re-finish and re-blue weapons, and to fit and furnish them with new and beautiful wooden stocks. In those days you might have called me a "gun nut" and been pretty accurate.

I also was a hunter. I have aimed at, shot, and killed squirrels, rabbits, dogs, ducks, deer, crows, groundhogs, doves, hawks, pheasants, rats, snakes, quail, frogs, large fish in a river, racoons, and possums, to name those I can recall. I once shot at a wild boar but missed. In those days I would probably have hunted and killed an African lion named Cecil if I posessed the money to do so.

1024px-National_Rifle_Association.svgBut today I would not even consider shooting an animal. I still own some of my old guns but I haven't fired one in years. I love watching wildlife films and doing wildlife photography. My thinking has evolved on the subject of killing animals. It has also evolved on the subject of the National Rifle Association, whose politics I now detest.

When I was a young man, the smoking of tobacco was stylish and popular. I had a professor I greatly admired, and he wore a vest and smoked a pipe. I got a vest and bought a pipe and tried my best to learn to use it. The pipe and my mouth and nose never took to each other, and I finally gave up on the effort, which I am grateful for today. Over time, the truth about smoking tobacco came out, despite the efforts of tobacco companies and the politicians whose votes they owned. Today, public sentiment is totally reversed on the subject of tobacco. Our national thinking has evolved on this subject.

When a person changes her mind on a matter, friends will give her credit for evolved thinking. The unsympathetic will call it "flip flopping." You might assume that flip flopping and evolved thinking are the same. You might believe that the only difference is in how they are being described, whether in supportive or derisive terms. Actually I think there's a difference between the two.

When a person changes his mind on a subject of importance, the decision may or may not be based on conviction and sincerity. An open and reasoning mind may not have been involved at all, just convenience or expediency or practical self interest. In this case, the term "flip flopping" fits well and is not inappropriate. But if a person begins to see things in a new and different light, finds and accepts new evidence, struggles with and overcomes old prejudice–when that happens things are totally different.

Thus, it seems to me, there are two kinds of change: one based on sincere reason, and the other based on following external influences. And, to make a judgement on the matter, one of these is admirable and the other is not. One is to be admired and the other is to be suspected. One can be trusted and the other cannot. 

We trust and admire those who live by the advice of Shakespeare's Polonius to his son Laertes:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Evolved thinking, if it is that, must arise from within a self that is true to itself.

The outcome may not be the most expedient, or the most profitable, or the most popular.

But you can live with it.

May 212015
 

When I was a boy and aspiring to become a man, I spent most of my summers at Boy Scout camp. For me, this was Camp Pellissippi on Norris Lake in East Tennessee. I began as a regular camper and later became a camp counselor and handicrafts instructor. I was also the camp bugler. I played Reveille to get them up, Assembly to form them into rows before the flag, and Mess Call to bring them to meals. Other calls sounded throughout the day, and Taps was played at the end, when they were obliged to go to sleep.

The highlight of my week at camp was the Saturday morning swim meet down on the waterfront. We swam in the lake, but mostly inside a floating wooden "crib" as it was called. Wooden boards formed the side walls and bottom of the crib, and it was supported in the water by empty oil drums. Water from the lake circulated freely in and out. It was much like a regular swimming pool, having diving boards, walkways, ladders, and life guards. The crib was attached to shore and held in place with cables, and these were adjusted as the lake level rose or fell.

My favorite swim meet event was the underwater swim. The goal was to swim farther underwater than anyone else. Those entered went one at a time and the order was determined by drawing straws or guessing a number or something similar. I became good at swimming distances underwater. I learned how to hyperventilate and store up oxygen in my system, and how to dive in with lungs full and exhale most grudgingly. Another camper was good as well, and one or the other of us always won the event. Often it came down to the order. If he went first, I had the advantage of knowing just how far I needed to go to beat him. If I went first, this advantage was his.

One memorable Saturday, I had to go first. I went through my breathing routine and dove in. I swam down to the end, came back, went down again, came back, turned and went part way and came up. His turn. He went down to the end, came back, went down again, came back, turned and started but didn't come up. Instead a lot of bubbles came up and he stayed down. The life guards dove in and pulled him out, and he coughed up water but soon was okay. We were both pretty serious about winning this event.

Pool signI'm reminded of those days when I go to my pool in Germantown, Maryland, and observe the dire warning about swimming underwater. I can only guess that no underwater swimming events are held at Boy Scout camps these days. In fact, I heard the other day that the Scouts have banned water guns at scouting activities. Apparently as a concession, they still allow the throwing of water balloons, but only those filled to the size of a tennis ball.

Nearby in Silver Spring, the police have picked up children for walking to school or to the neighborhood park without adult supervision, and their parents have been investigated by child protective services for suspected abuse or neglect. 

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there is a beautiful swimming hole at "The Y" on the road into the park from Townsend, Tennessee. For generations, young boys have climbed up the rocks and practiced diving into those mountain waters. Young girls and older people used to gather along the bank on the other side and watch. The braver boys climbed up higher and made a bigger splash. Recently the Park Service has banned this activity and put up a sign warning of consequences if you do it and get caught. 

I know that there is more risk of my getting hurt from riding my bicycle than from sitting on the sofa watching daytime television, but I would like the choice to be mine, not someone else's. I know that going out in my kayak is more dangerous than shopping at the Safeway, but don't tell me I can't go out. Indeed there are activities whose risks I would not assume: skydiving, BASE jumping, ice climbing, scuba dive cave exploring, and others often termed "extreme." But I would hate to see us tell those people, no, they must not do those things. Or children walking to and from school. Or swimmers swimming underwater.

I would rather live in a land of the free.

Apr 252015
 

Numerous U.S. State legislatures have passed or are considering what are termed "Religious Freedom Bills." These exempt the owner of a business from liability for refusing to do business in cases where the owner has a religious objection. When asked what problem these bills seek to address, the example often given is that of a Christian cake baker who is requested to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

gayweddingcakeIt is assumed that the cake baker will gladly bake a cake for John and Mary, but objects to the wedding of John and Jim, or of Mary and Sally. The cake baker considers these relationships immoral and does not wish to be associated with them. Providing cake-baking services might be construed as giving approval to a sinful act. Apparently, in this person's church, you do not want to become known as a friend of sinners.

"Friend of sinners" . . . I remember that phrase from somewhere. Actually it was a term used against Jesus by his self-righteous critics (Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34). Jesus was known to associate with the most despised people of his day: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, adulterers, Samaritans, thieves, Roman occupiers, and street beggars. Jesus was also known to suggest that these friends of his had higher moral standing than his self-righteous critics. Which brings us back to the sinner-avoiding Christian cake baker.

Really? If you are in the cake baking business, you want to pick and choose your customers? You want to focus your moral judgment on each person who comes to the counter and consider if you should be associated with him or her? Maybe you don't want to serve Muslims or Buddhists or Jehovah's Witnesses? You don't want anything to do with sex offenders or former prison inmates? What about "sinful" (your judgment) women who have had abortions? Why not screen for use of contraceptives or foul language or immodest dress habits? When you aim to create a legal protection for moral judgments, the list goes on and on.

In the days of start-up Christianity, believers would not have turned to the State to enforce their morality. They would have baked their cake, or not, and accepted the consequences. Only now, in America, where professed Christians are 85% of the population, do they seek support of the State, affirming that they are, indeed, the State religion and deserving of special treatment. This is historically interesting in that a formally despised religious minority is now exercising its muscle as the religious majority. The persecuted have evolved to become the wielders of power, despite their roots.

I have a dear gay friend who recently married his same-sex partner of many years. As a confirmed heterosexual, I admit that to some confusion of feelings about homosexuality. I was not born to that lifestyle. But I acknowledge that my friend was, and I wish him well with his partner. I feel this is a Christ-like position to take on the matter. I also do not consider my heterosexuality to be morally superior to his. Apparently god creates some of us one way and some the other. I accept this.

That Christian heterosexuals will turn to government legislation to enforce their moral judgments on others is troubling to me.

Why not just bake the damn cake for whoever needs one?

Apr 252015
 

As a former Southern Baptist myself, I was much interested in President Carter's reaction to recent actions by the Southern Baptist Convention. The SBC is the the largest protestant religious body in the U.S. 

450986231-8aa3bc9064417c9c4b78ddfdb32837aa3eb8e7e0-s800-c15I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Dec 182014
 

Years ago I knew an elderly couple living on a large farm near Winchester, Kentucky. The house was old and run down, the dairy was unkept, the car was old and smoked, and their clothes were plain and worn. To see them, you would never have guessed it about this couple, but they were worth a fortune. The owned a large tract of prime land that was smack in the middle of plans for a new interstate highway. They were cash poor but land rich. Very rich.

79292_Front_3-4_WebThe couple had a number of children, all grown up, around six as I recall. The couple was strong minded. They argued among themselves and with neighbors, and they argued with their children. The children fell into two categories: those in favor and those not. Those in favor would come around and visit now and then. The others never came around.

The mother died first, and the father soon afterward. 

When the will was read, it left $25 each to the out-of-favor children, and the fortune to be divided among the in-favor children.

The out-of-favor children took their money and went out to dinner together. There is no record of their discussion that evening, but one can imagine. Word of all this was out and about in the town and discussions took place in barber shops, beauty parlors, Sunday School classes, and whenever people met up on the streets. Some people laughed about it, others shook their heads. All wondered what would happen next.

None of the in-favor children had been very prosperous . . . until now. The cars they drove, the clothes they wore, and the houses they lived in were similar to those of their parents. But things began to change, and fast. Shiny new luxury cars replaced their old ones, new homes were built on estate size lawns, trips were made to Louisville to buy stylish cothes. A lot of showing off took place. It was the talk of the town, how the old couple had lived like poor folks all their lives, and now that they were gone their children were living like kings and queens.

Some of them, that is.

Dec 122014
 

I was approaching the handicapped entrance to the pool, and I saw her rushing to open the door for me. Rushing like it was urgent. She saw I was a man with a bandaged foot riding a scooter thing. She saw a tube connecting the foot to a shoulder bag. She took all this in and spoke five words:

"I hope you get well."

451px-Handicapped_Accessible_sign.svgAs soon as she spoke, the slur of her voice told me she suffers from a neurological condition of some sort. Her voice felt of some pain, but for me and not her. It said the woman identified with me as a fellow sufferer. 

I was drawn in by her words, as in the four months since my first surgery-gone-wrong, I have sometimes wondered if I will ever get well. Again and again I have hoped to get well. In four more days I will have yet another surgery trying to bring that about. 

She asked was I going to swim in the pool, somewhat disbelieving, I thought. She was wondering how someone in my condition could get in the water. I explained about the device that waterproofs my wound in a vacuum sealed covering and allows me to swim.

Her words—"I hope you get well"—stayed with me throughout that day, and are with me still.

A few words from the right person can mean a lot.

Our Military Heroes

 Posted by at 5:46 am  No Responses »
Oct 302014
 

No, I'm not speaking about the Army or Navy or Marines or Air Force. I'm speaking about those who are waging the fight against Ebola, especially our fellow country men and women who volunteer to fight it at its source in West Africa.

Is it stretching a point to speak of their efforts in military terms? I think not. On our behalf, they are fighting a deadly enemy that could destroy us all unless stopped. Those who know about such diseases tell us that Ebola must be fought and defeated at its source, and that trying to hide from or evade the disease, while letting it spread, will be self-defeating in the end. If we stand off and let the rest of the world perish from the disease we will join them eventually.

140801-ebola-doctor-5a_d8ef47b6ea1f911e2c99e137ac2b60dd.nbcnews-fp-1040-600Working directly to save Ebola patients and protect others from infection is dangerous work. It is especially hard in poor countries where the medical infrastructure is lacking or inadequate. It is especially hard in places where ignorance and prejudice add to the risks and burden of fighting the disease. Some are saying that Ebola is a plague God has sent to punish homosexuality. Reportedly some Evangelical Christian missionaries have joined in this assertion. And by this bizzarre logic, to fight against the disease is to fight against the plan and will of God. This, then, would make the task not only dangerous but thankless.

The man or woman who performs a dangerous task but with the gratitude of others is in one situation. These include our war heroes. But the man or woman who performs a task that is both dangerous and thankless is in another situation entirely. And there can be heroes in either situation, but it seems to me that the greater heroes are those who risk and sometimes give their lives with little thanks and sometimes even blame.

If Ebola is to be defeated, we need to admire, respect, and support the heroes who volunteer to fight it. How many American doctors and nurses would volunteer their time to do this work in West Africa? How many? Surely not a very high percentage. If that is true, then it should increase our appreciation for those who are willing and brave enough to do so, 

They are military heroes. They are fighting for us all.

Jun 202014
 

He had made an appointment to see me at 1:30 to "catch up." When I looked up and saw him walking in, I saw there was an HR person following. Inwardly I said, "Oh Shit!" Verbally I said, "Looks like I'm in trouble."

2014-06-20_05-40-29So yesterday I went to my local Social Security office to apply for Medicare to replace the company health plan I'll be losing soon.

The SSA office opens at 9:00 a.m. and I arrived right on time so I could get this done promptly. Instead, I found there were 50 people already there and lined up ahead of me. The guard opened the door on schedule, and we were all assigned a number and told to wait for our number to be called. Others kept arriving and all the seating on the hard steel rows of benches was taken and newcomers began standing around the walls. It seemed to take about 5 minutes for a new number to be called. That was not encouraging.

retirement250-70My number did get called a little over 2 hours later. A young man standing behind me said that yesterday he had waited three and a half hours without getting his number called. He had to leave to go to work, and so he was back for a second day.

When I finally got to the window and stated my business, I was given a form that my company needed to fill out and sign. When I returned with the form that afternoon, conditions in the office were about the same. I spent another 2 hours there, with plenty of opportunity to reflect.

For a person used to being around people with good jobs and lives in reasonable order, this experience was a sad one. The many pictures on the walls and on the Social Security literature show healthy, smiling, happy people from all walks of life. But the people waiting in these lines and on these benches were not smiling. Almost all appeared to be among Mitt Romney's 47%. The "takers" as he described them. They were people struggling to make it: elderly, immigrant, sick or disabled, mothers with small children restless or crying, young people needing a social security card to work at low paying jobs. I felt strange in this place, as if I was out of place. And yet this is now my place. I will need to come back here.

medicare250-70A friend who cares for a disabled child wrote me: "It’s a sad state of affairs at SSA and Medicare.  I can’t tell you how many times my daughter gets updates on payments, gets payments, and then gets billed for the same amounts–all within a day or two. it’s definitely human error, and I can understand your concern about your info getting entered correctly.  Sad indeed."

I found myself thinking that if FedEx or Google or Amazon were running this operation it would be much different. I even ventured that if I was running it, it would be much different. But then I considered that likely the funding for this operation has been cut again and again, and maybe they are doing the best they can with what they have to work with. I do recall that recently the VA administrator was fired for not getting our veterans served properly. But then the politicians turned right around and appropriated large sums of money to hire more doctors and build more hospitals for the VA. This suggests that the agency was under-resourced and under-funded and that the administrator had been made the scapegoat. 

Oh well, as long as I get my Medicare, I'll be happy. Or sad.


You can get an email notice when there's a new article. Just click the "Subscribe" tab above and provide your email address. That's it. The same form can be used to unsubscribe.

Jun 132014
 

Would an Amish man kick his horse right out in public? I would never have believed that until I saw it happen. It was on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The horse was hitched to his Amish carriage in the parking lot of an Amish farm market. I believe the man may have wanted the horse to back the carriage up, and maybe the house had been slow or even reluctant about doing that. So the suspendered, straw-hatted man hauled off and kicked his horse. And I mean a hard, nasty kick. A God-fearing Amish man. Really??

Pennsylvania, Lancaster County, Amish Horse And Buggy.Would the man driving his hot car with the power of 200 or more horses gun his engine like a race driver in order to surge pass me and my bicycle, which do not have the power of even one horse? Really??

Would someone explain why college football coaches are paid way more than the college president, any of the teachers, and very often the governor of the State? Really??

Would conservative people who deny a woman's right to the abortion of an unwanted pregnancy also try to deny her the right to contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place?  Really?

Would people readily believe things published in gossip tabloids, but flat deny things published in scientific journals that deal with climate and environmental issues? Really?

Would politicians with premium health care coverage provided at taxpayer expense be opposed to providing affordable health care for Americans who have none at all? Really??

Would someone explain why rich and for-profit religious broadcasting companies are allowed to be classified as churches, thus paying no taxes and obliged to no auditing or accountability? Really??

Would a woman deliberately buy a tiny bikini bathing suit that does not cover much of her butt, then spend half her time at the pool or beach tugging and trying to get it to cover? Really??

Would a country whose military budget is six times that of China, eleven times that of Russia, and 27 times that of Iran have leaders who argue that we still are insecure and need to spend more? Really??

When the Amish man kicked his own horse, I was amazed and didn't know what to say. It was hard to believe.

Those other things you get used to.