About Me

Pearl City, HI, United States

Monday, December 31, 2007

Public Schools: Drastic Action for Critical Times

Picture from the Discovery Education website

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

People agree that elements of our Public Schools are broken. Researchers and professionals have offered plans for repairing the system. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays over, and with time hanging heavily on my hands, I thought I’d chime in.

Time: Research regarding unlawful behavior of children and adolescents, including drug abuse, shows that most juvenile offenses occur between the end of school and bedtime. Schools in the U.S. dismiss between 2:20 and 3:30 in the afternoon. It would seem that some kids have way too much time on their hands.

I would suggest extending the school hours to perhaps 5 p.m. and using that time for elective classes that kids would find fun and interesting. Students who are struggling would probably benefit from extra tutoring during this time. Or, with the rise of childhood obesity, organized physical activity, such as intramural sports or classes in dance would keep them active and healthier.

Classes with a point: Every kid is unique. They have their own strengths and interests which should be encouraged. In our society, we have people who want and need college, and others who can succeed just fine without it. Computer scientists and brain surgeons need university degrees. Automotive technicians and carpenters don’t. Yet all four professions are absolutely crucial to our economy. Vocational education needs rejuvenation. It’s relevant and honorable, and needs to be taught. There will always be a need for craftsmen.

Small businesses provide the lion’s share of jobs in our national economy and are the backbone and lifeblood of communities. That hard-won knowledge and expertise of starting and running a small business should be passed along to those with the entrepreneurial spirit. Make it fun, make it hands-on, make it relevant, and students will come in droves.

There should be classes teaching life skills. In one high school, administrators were concerned that no boys were signing up for class called “home economics.” In a stroke of pure genius, they repackaged the course under the title “Bachelor Living,” and suddenly found they had to beat the boys off with a stick. It wasn’t just learning how to cook, but also how to craft and live by a budget, the dangers of credit, how to negotiate for the purchase of a car, how to wash clothes, how to clean house, how to look for an apartment, interview for a job. all the survival skills that a young person needs to know in embarking on their independent lives. Far too many young adults lack those basic tools.

Human Relationships: Bullying has expanded beyond the bathrooms and hallways with the help of technology. IM, cell phone texting, email, and social websites have all been used as platforms for unbelievable cruelty. Kids used to find sanctuary at home. Now, the cruelty reaches behind that door, giving the child a feeling that there is no safe place to go. Every human, regardless of appearance or station in life is deserving of dignity and respect. We are universally horrified by violence; we should be equally horrified by the verbal and physical abuse that has become a daily part of so many kids’ lives.

Uniforms: “Clothes make the person,” the saying goes and nowhere is this more apparent than among students. Clothes separate kids into economic and social classes, and also serve to define criminal activity as well. A uniform could be as elaborate as a coat and tie for boys and dresses for girls, or simply coveralls decorated with school patches, such as the comfortable, affordable, durable, and functional clothing worn by the Navy. Uniformity in appearance promotes unity in the ranks.

Parental involvement: Kids can’t raise themselves. Raising a child is a pro-active, hands-on, full-time task. This includes talking to teachers and being involved at school.

In recent years, researchers have amply demonstrated that the adolescent brain is underdeveloped in those areas of behavior control and risk assessment. Therefore, parents need to hover constantly. Don't be afraid to snoop. Don't hesitate to ask pointed questions. Insist on meeting their friends. Check on them to make sure they've gone where they told you they went. Will they get mad? Sure. Will they hate you? Oh, yeah. But our job is to get them through this time successfully. And alive.

These ideas probably seem drastic. But these are dangerous times. Deluding ourselves into ignoring things has only made things worse. We’re in danger of losing our kids. We should, therefore, lose our fear of drastic change.

Their future is, after all, our future as well.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Castle of Dromore

The Castle of Dromore, apparently from the Maloney family collection. Posted on various websites without attribution

A haunting traditional Irish lullabye. To satisfy the curiosity of the purists, yes, I composed and added the second verse. This follows the version sung by Kate Power.

The October winds lament around the castle of Dromore
Yet peace lies in her lofty halls, my loving treasure store
Though autumn leaves may droop and die, a bud of spring are you

Sing hush-a-bye loo, low loo, low lan
Hush-a-bye loo, low loo

Come to me and rest peacefully in the Castle of Dromore
The fears of night the gates deny, safe in loving arms you’ll lie
Though the night be cold and the lonely winds blow, the Angels watch over you.

Sing hush-a-bye loo, low loo, low lan
Hush-a-bye loo, low loo

Dread spirits all of black water, Clan Owen's wild banshee
Bring no ill wind to him nor us, my helpless babe and me
And Holy Mary pitying us to Heaven for grace doth sue

Sing hush-a-bye loo, low loo, low lan
Hush-a-bye loo, low loo

Take time to thrive, my ray of hope, in the gardens of Dromore
Take heed, young eaglet, till thy wings are feathered fit to soar
A little rest and then the world is full of work to do
A little rest and then the world is full of work to do

Sing hush-a-bye loo, low loo, low lan
Hush-a-bye loo, low loo

The October winds lament around the castle of Dromore
Yet peace lies in her lofty halls, my loving treasure store
Though autumn leaves may droop and die, a bud of spring are you

Sing hush-a-bye loo, low loo, low lan
Hush-a-bye loo, low loo

Sing hush-a-bye loo, low loo, low lan
Hush-a-bye loo, low loo

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Flight 93 Memorial
Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Heroism is latent in every human soul, however humble or unknown.
In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays.
Spirits linger, to consecrate the ground.
And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not,
shall come to this field to ponder and dream;
and the power of the vision will pass into their souls.
--Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Thursday, September 27, 2007

October Days*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat October 14, 2007
as "October is a time that awakens some souls"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots
may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on
the feelings, as now in October.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Everyone has a favorite time of the year, something in a season that touches us in a deeply personal way.

Spring is it for many, because of the sense of new life and renewal. It is a return to the open feeling of blue skies and sunshine after a long winter indoors. Flowers begin to bloom and the healing warmth of the sun sinks deep into the bones.

For others, summer rules. The days are long and warm and everything is green and growing. It’s a time when the memories of childhood are born. People enjoy the “good tired” of a day of hard work or play. Family vacations produce high adventure and the enjoyment of just being together. And in the evenings, folks relax on front porches, enjoying cold lemonade and good conversation in the long, purple twilight.

Winter lights the fire in some of us, with the beauty of snow, on the ground sparkling like a field of diamonds in the bright sun, or falling in huge, soft flakes from leaden skies. It’s a time of holidays, families gathered amongst love and lights. Sledding, skiing, even hiking fills the short days. And afterwards, the magic of a fireplace, hot cocoa, and the One you love sharing long, intimate evenings.

For me, autumn is the time when my spirit comes alive. Having grown up in Missouri, summer was a time to be endured. From mid-June through mid-September, temperatures regularly soared into the 90s and beyond, accompanied by humidity that had to be felt to be believed. In mid-September, when the first fingers of Canadian cool pushed away the heat, we celebrated.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

9/11: Making it Personal*

Firefighters carry Father Michael Judge from the rubble.
Photo credit: Reuters.
*September 11, 2007 Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
as "On this day, remember life's fragility"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

“Time is passing. Yet, for the United States of America, there will be no forgetting September the 11th. We will remember every rescuer who died in honor. We will remember every family that lives in grief. We will remember the fire and ash, the last phone calls, the funerals of the children. “

“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend–even a friend whose name it never knew. “
- President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001

These words spoken by President Bush will be echoed by many on this day. Six years ago, in the space of 2 hours, the world was changed; our nation was changed; we were changed. 9/11 has become a watershed event in history, defining two separate worlds – the one before, and the one after.

For the world, the memory of that day is a shocking visage of death and destruction unparalleled in modern human history. For Americans, the attacks were more than the sum total of damage and loss of life. Collectively, our myth of invincibility, our illusion of invulnerability, our delusion of safety was shattered.

But in the midst of the death and destruction of that day, a great light broke through. The darkness was dispelled, illuminating this nation from border to border and sea to sea. We, the people of the United States found our unity. For a few brief, precious moments in time, we stood shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm. We spoke with one voice. We felt with one heart. We proved to the rest of humanity, and to ourselves, that the phrase "United We Stand" is not mere words, but the singular defining element of what it truly means when we say "We Are Americans." And the world stood back in awe.

“Wisdom enters through the wound,” and in examining the harsh lessons learned, changes since have been made, and our ability to respond has improved. It is perhaps important to note that since September 11th, 2001, over 9,000 terror attacks have occurred worldwide.

But not one on American soil.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Fairness Is As Fairness Does*

Rush, from the DittoCam

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 7/12/2007

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

Recently, the rumblings of support for the so-called “fairness doctrine” have begun to surface. The goal, according to the proponents, is to somehow legislate into existence some kind of counter to the 900-pound gorilla known as conservative talk radio. Air America Radio was intended to be that agent of balance, but despite the infusion of millions of George Soros money and the Star Power of Al Franken, it has been unable to gain nationwide traction with listeners or advertisers. AAR has lost several stations and last October filed for bankruptcy.

Faced with this failure and the continuing strong growth of conservative talkers like Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, and Savage, progressives seem intent on legislating what the free market failed to deliver.

The Fairness Doctrine was adopted by the FCC in 1949 in a time when frequencies were limited and the Commission was being flooded by license requests for new stations. In 1949, media outlets were considered “public trustees,” instead of private businesses. As the Museum of Broadcast Communications explains, “…broadcasters should make sure they did not use their stations simply as advocates with a singular perspective. Rather, they must allow all points of view. That requirement was to be enforced by FCC mandate.” (http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/F/htmlF/fairnessdoct/fairnessdoct.htm)

Friday, June 22, 2007

“A Serious man; to be treated with respect…”

Kansas City Star 6/24/2007

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

Larry Johnson’s frank interview with Jason Whitlock has predictably raised eyebrows, and in some cases, hackles among the Chiefs Nation. Part of the reaction has to do with the usual response that a blue collar fan base has when a perceived millionaire complains that he’s not making enough money. The other reaction has to do with Johnson’s brutal pragmatism toward the profession, or game, where he earns his keep.

Up till now, we fans have expected to hear the language of cold, calculating business emanating from the front offices. Oh, we hear the platitudes about the value of a particular player to the organization and the community, but I think we all realize that the people who run these teams at times look at their locker rooms with the same coldly appraising eye used by a cattleman eyeing his herd. Now we hear those same coldly calculating words, only it’s coming from a member of the herd.

Larry Johnson is an anomaly. There really hasn’t been anyone like him for quite some time. “He runs angry” is the description we hear most often. Although he has nice moves for a big man, he is never afraid to take on a linebacker, daring the opponent to stop him. Christian Okoye was also a big, bruising runner. But to the press and public he was always “a nice guy.” LaDanian Tomlinson is a “nice guy.” Emmit Smith was a “nice guy.” Johnson, in contrast, is the dark side of The Force. He is Darth Vader, saying, “I find your lack of faith disturbing” to coaches who suddenly feel short of breath.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Worst Hard Time*

Black Sunday
Dodge City, Kansas
Ford County Historical Society, Dodge City, KS

*Book Review, Amazon.com

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only
The Dust Bowl.

Those words describe a catastrophic era in American history. More than that, they convey a sense of hopelessness, the oppressive cloud that drifted through the lives of people already laid low by the depression. The years between 1930 and 1938 saw record drought and heat, this on the heels of wild undisciplined land management, saw the soil of the central plains take flight on the winds, and along with the soil, the dreams and hopes of the people.

As the greatest generation ages and passes from this life, the memory of those years has begun to fade from our collective consciousness. Today, when people think of The Dust Bowl, they think of an unparalleled assault on humans by nature. Very few understand that the cause lay mostly with poor farming techniques and speculation agriculture that left the soil open to the incessant winds. And fewer still can speak with any intelligence of the cost in human lives.

Timothy Egan, a reporter for the New York Times authored a book entitled “The Worst Hard Time.” It is a history of those years, true. But Egan goes deeper into the human tragedy and at the end of his 312 pages the reader not only understands the historical events, but acquires a seemingly personal relationship with the individuals and families who were made to suffer.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Darkest Part of Night*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, April 16, 2009

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

When the phone rings at 2:30 in the morning, it’s never good news. It's not the lottery or prize patrol. Nobody is calling to salute your character or stroke your ego.

Most of us have experienced it; that moment when we are yanked unceremoniously out of what was a deep, restful sleep by the jangling sound of that accursed marvel of modern technology. For a moment, you are disoriented, caught between dream and reality. Then, startled to full wakefulness, you lunge for the nightstand and fumble for the handset. Usually, it's a wrong number. After a brief conversation you hang up, drop an expressively colloquial bomb or two, and go back to sleep.

But, life is uncertain and fragile. And one dark night, a disembodied voice turns your life upside down. On the other end might be a child in trouble, a relative sick or dying.

Or, a police officer steeling himself for the delivery of some very bad news.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Finding a Future*

The next generation; from the eCycle website
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 6/8/2007
as "Technology, peace go hand in hand"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

It used to be fun to sit back and contemplate the future. I remember with great clarity those Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazine covers from the late ‘50’s predicting that the 21st century would be a technological Disneyland, a life free from the mundane and stressful, having conquered poverty, racism, and a host of political and social problems. Those gleeful futurists wrote with great flourish about automated homes, controlled weather, and every husband commuting to work in his private helicopter, leaving behind a picket-fenced Eden in the country.

These were quaint visions, the Leave It To Beaver culture recast into the Wi-Fi age. Of course, reality has been far crueler.

The loss of innocence began with the ‘60’s; lost even more luster during the gas crisis of the ‘70’s and culminated in the soul-draining drug-fueled glitz and glamour of the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. We’ve seen violence and poverty explode across the globe and our own country become the torn field of a political and ideological battle, a war waged with a hateful ferociousness unequaled since the Civil War.

Against that background, it probably shouldn’t surprise us that our view ahead has become universally gloomy and pessimistic. The future, once a place of gleaming technology and bucolic lifestyles now is populated by visions of conflict, disaster, and privation. Now we have people predicting that our planet has only five years left. And while I’m inclined to doubt short-term predictions that are cast in round numbers, there is nonetheless the distinct feeling that time is indeed running out.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Consolidation and the Dead Horse*

Picture from the Johnstown Convention and Visitors Bureau

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 5/25/2007
as "Wanted: True leaders not afraid of consolidation"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

At times we are compelled by mysterious forces unknown to us to engage in a seemingly futile exercise colloquially referred to as “beating a dead horse.” With all respect and apologies to the equine enthusiasts among us, here we go.

Consolidation. I can hear those groans already. I know these arguments have been put forward again and again, always seeming to find them shattered on the rocks of politics. I can’t help but notice that those who campaign the hardest against the idea are the ones who stand to lose their personal slice of the political pie. But, I digress…

I could talk about how consolidation would level the tax burden on homeowners throughout the area.

I could talk how the patchwork of municipalities and governments, laws and regulations do more to drive businesses away.

I could talk about how that lack of opportunity is hemorrhaging the valley’s population.

I could point out that Balkanization (the subdivision of a country/county/city into small isolated units) never creates prosperity or economic growth.

I could talk about having one fire department, one police department, and one municipal government is inherently more efficient and less costly than maintaining the 10 or 15 in place now.

I could talk about a lot of things, but those are arguments that have been made ad nauseum, arguments to which people here seem intent on turning a deaf ear, seemingly happy with maintaining the status quo. Look, history is a good thing; heritage is a good thing. But hanging on to outdated and outmoded things just because it’s always been that way is not a good thing. It’s like insisting on wearing a cast on your leg months after the bone has healed. All you end up doing is weakening the leg.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Circle of Life*

Crystal and Andy, glowing.

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat April 29, 2007
as "Another family is created in circle of life"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

There are certain events that, as they occur in our lives, serve as markers, signaling the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Graduations, marriage, births, and deaths are some of the events that mark the passage of time.

On a certain weekend in early April, I found myself in a church standing in front of a couple, a young man in a rented tuxedo and a young woman in a long, white gown. The young woman was my daughter and it was my responsibility that day to seal the covenant of love between them.

A minister (or priest, or rabbi) is someone who becomes intimately familiar with life-changing events, since we seem to be involved in so many of them, both joyful and sad. We officiate at weddings and funerals, baby blessings, we conduct spiritual counseling during troubled times, occasionally contributing prayer at a graduation. We spend a lot of time in close proximity to the raw edge of human emotions, so it becomes our duty to always be the source of serenity in the face of life’s storms.

As anyone who has been a part of one can attest, the run-up to a wedding is a maelstrom of events, often seeing the ship of careful planning founder on a storm-tossed sea of the unplanned, unpredictable, and unavoidable. Sometimes, the wedding itself almost seems a let-down after the muss and fuss of the final few days. Some late RSVP’s led to a renegotiation with the reception caterer and the inexplicable bankruptcy of the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner was supposed to take place added to the general chaos.

I did my best to be that rock for everyone else, despite suffering from my one and only cold of the entire winter. But on that day, as I faced my daughter and her husband-to-be, I found myself to be struggling with emotions of my own.

Monday, April 09, 2007

When Tomorrow Starts Without Me

This picture of Chris Carstanjen was taken by an as-yet-unidentified member of the Internet Pacific Coast Riding Club (IPCRC)

Christoffer Carstanjen, a beloved member of the Honda Pacific Coast Motorcycle Community, left Boston on a sunny morning bound for the West Coast to join the annual Pacific Coast Highway ride.

His flight was United Air Lines 175.

The date was September 11, 2001.

When Tomorrow Starts Without Me

By David M. Romano, adapted by Margaret Tait & Rick Elderkin

When tomorrow starts without me, And I'm not there to see,
If the sun should rise and find your eyes, All filled with tears for me,
I wish so much you wouldn't cry The way you did today,
While thinking of the many things, We didn't get to say.

But when tomorrow starts without me, Please try to understand,
That an angel came and called my name, And took me by the hand,
And said my place was ready, In Heaven far above,
And that I'd have to, thru a tragedy Leave those I dearly love.

But now I've walked through heaven's gates, I feel so much at home.
When God looked down and said to me, From his golden throne,
“Today your life on earth is past, But here it starts anew.
This is life eternal and all I've promised you,

Here there’s no tomorrow, But today will always last,
And since each day's the same day There’s no longing for the past.
You have been so faithful, So trusting and so true,
Though, at times you did some things, You knew you shouldn't do,

But you have been forgiven
And now at last you're free,
So won't you take my hand now
And share eternity with me?”

So when tomorrow starts without me, Don't think we're far apart,
For every time you think of me, I'm in your loving hearts.
So ride the roads without me And see what I can see
I'll be right there beside you In peace and harmony

But remember me from time to time And speak to me at night
When you sit in solitude in the glow of soft starlight,
Tell me all your journeys And where they've taken you
So I may share the happiness And thrills life has for you

The world will smile upon us as we journey here and there,
And freedom lays it’s blessings for we are without cares.
Go ride for peace; Go ride for joy; never asking why,
For tomorrow starts without me, with the sunrise in the sky.

The Power of 5

The Purest Swing.
(From the Internet without attribution)

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

One Friday morning, I sat down at my desk, flipped on the computer and surfed over to the Kansas City Star’s website. After a cursory glance at the headlines, I drilled down to the sports page to see the image of George Brett at spring training. Not that such a picture is unusual. Every year since he retired, Brett has gone to Florida in the spring, laced up the spikes and pulled on the jersey with the familiar number 5. I’ve also seen pictures of George in a suit and tie, but somehow the sight of this leathery-faced warrior wearing a Royals jersey is the one that fits him the best.

The Royals have been a major league franchise since 1969. I can still remember the excitement of that first year at Old Municipal, the clean look of blue and white erasing forever the taint of another team in garish green and gold that foundered in the American League basement until they left Kansas City, moved west and began winning World Championships. The Kauffman’s were a breath of fresh air; they looked like everyone’s favorite grandparents. They loved their city, they loved their fans, and they loved their team, smothering it with a sincere care and nurturing that helped the Royals mature into an early contender.

Despite the giddy excitement of those first few years, one could arguably make the point that history of the Kansas City Royals really began in 1973. That was the year that a young tobacco-chewing Californian with untamed hair and a reckless disposition donned a Royals uniform for the first time. Over the next 21 seasons, George Brett and the Royals would make history. Once he retired in 1993, the team receded into history. New York fans will always remember Joe DiMaggio, another number 5, as the Quintessential Yankee. Likewise for Royals fans, George Brett was not just a Royals player; for almost all of us, he was the Royals. And 13 years after his retirement as a player, he still is the face, and the heart of Royals baseball.

In Consideration of Grandchildren

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

I’ve been watching my grandson for the past few weeks, marveling at his exploration of his still-new world. One of the things that fascinates me is the speed at which he learns. Of course, every grandparent thinks their grandbaby is brilliant. And I’m sure they all are. But, every day, he has learned something new. 

Human children are unique, in that they are born completely helpless. But they have the capacity to rise to the position we all hold as the most advanced lifeform on the planet. To me, that is an amazing thing. Even a monkey is born with far more strength, agility, and independence, but at the end of his life the only thing he’s accomplished is to swing from trees and eat bananas. And although I’ve had days where I wished all I had to do was swing from trees and eat bananas, I know that we humans alone of all of teeming life on Earth, have the intelligence, capacity and the ability to change our world.

As a father, I am familiar with the sensations of holding a new baby, that moment where we look at this tiny little human and ask, “Where will you go? What will you do? Where will your life take you?” And in that moment felt the weight of heavy responsibility.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Meaning of Meaningless Death*

*Saint's Herald May 2008

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.

John 11:25-26 I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

"If there is a God, why does he allow all the suffering in the world?"

The eternal question; the stumbling block most Christians run into when trying to explain God. It is also the attitude of many who have suffered the untimely loss of a family member or friend. It is the question that intrudes into the consciousness of even the most devout believer when confronted with the awful reality of violence and cruelty. It is the question that haunts me when reading reports of the unspeakable tortures inflicted on innocent people during the Rwandan civil war, the diamond wars in West Africa, and over 100 million people worldwide put to death by regimes of oppression and aggression throughout the history of civilization.

The easy, quick answer is that God doesn’t allow such suffering; we allow it. God’s gift to us of free will and agency puts the responsibility for controlling such acts squarely on the shoulders of humans, both individually and collectively. Although succinct, such cold logic fails to embrace the larger picture.

Friday, March 30, 2007

9/11: This Generation's Waterloo*

Photo by Thomas E. Franklin, The Bergen Record, Passaic, NJ

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat September 8, 2006

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only, except for song lyrics

“Have you forgotten
How it felt that day
To see your homeland under fire
And her people blown away?

“Have you forgotten
When those towers fell
We had neighbors still inside
Goin’ through a living hell?”


Sept. 11, 2001.

No one needs to explain the date or how our lives were changed on that late-summer morning. On this, the fifth anniversary of the most devastating attacks on American soil, a tragedy seared into our minds by the clarity and immediacy of television, the memories should still burn bright. There were comparisons to another day of infamy, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941. But beyond the most obvious parallel, the two events have very little in common.

The immediate aftermath of both attacks left a shocked and angry nation eager for retaliation. In the case of World War II, that passion sustained Americans through 41/2 years of combat. Despite the early setbacks and the mounting casualties, Americans remained resolute, unwilling to accept any result short of victory. As evidence, I cite the public and political outcry that resulted in 1945 when President Harry Truman indicated in one of his communiqués to Japan that the Allies would not insist on deposing the emperor, long the symbol of the Asian nation’s aggression, as a condition of Japan’s surrender. Through their protestations, the American people made it clear that not only did they want Japan defeated, but they wanted its military-run government dismantled. This stalwart stance was rewarded. The emperor, seeing no hope of a negotiated settlement in the united will of the American people and the Allies, ordered the Japanese Imperial Government to accept the Allies’ terms.

But 60 years later, the change is starkly dramatic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Troops Outrank Career for this Aussie Singer*

(Unattributed photo)
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 12/3/2006

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

As we go through our lives, we hear a lot of songs. But every once in a while, we happen across one that strikes a chord deep inside. That happened last week when I heard for the first time an Australian country singer named Beccy Cole.

She apparently is popular in the land of Oz, or was until last year when she made a Christmas visit to Aussie troops stationed in Iraq. Some of her fans were outraged by this act, equating the visit as an endorsement of the war itself.There were even a couple of public events where her CDs and posters were burned.

One can imagine, knowing the fragile egos and insecurities of most performers, what her response could have been, ranging from public anger to abject apology – anything but firmly standing her ground.That certainly is what we’ve come to expect from her American counterparts.

But instead of a public rant, Cole’s response was measured, mature and adult. She wrote a song called “Poster Girl.” Its heartfelt lyrics express a certain sadness about the divide between her and some of her fans. But they also firmly state her belief that regardless of a person’s stance on war, supporting the troops is the right thing to do.

Cole would much rather be a poster girl for troops fighting for freedom than for the self-indulgent and self-absorbed back home.

It Will Always Be a Field of Dreams*

Camden Yards

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, April 3, 2008
*Ada, OK Evening News, April 4, 2008
as "Signs of new life, and baseball, spring forth"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

Green grass; blue sky; soft breezes. The sunshine caresses the shoulders with gentle, welcome warmth. All around us, life is springing forth. The tree branches, once so stark in their winter outlines now seem a bit fuzzy with the buds of future leaves, dappling the sunlight as their shadows dance with the winds. The grass loses its monochromatic dullness to the richly verdant green of new growth.

In our homes, the windows, for so long locked tight against winter’s relentless cold, are joyfully thrown open, the soft breezes dispelling the months of mustiness and gloom. It’s time to be outside; the spirit awakens; smiles come easily.

It is the season in which we are drawn to lovely green diamond-shaped fields. There, we breathe deep and smell the familiar earthy aromas of dirt, leather, and chalk.

Winter is over; spring is here. Baseball is back.

To the purblind and the visionless, it is only a game. But, for the rest of us, it goes much deeper.

Baseball is a game meant to be played under clear skies and sunshine. It is spring and summer, freed from the clock-driven tension of the other sports. And although there are moments of excitement, most of the time the mood is easy, even pastoral. As one wag described it, “6 minutes of excitement squeezed into two-and-a-half hours.”

There is a timeless element to this game. Each day is longer and warmer. The long season renders yesterday’s loss a forgotten memory replaced by the eternal hope of tomorrow. It is of the moment, yet firmly linked to a nostalgic past and an unquenchable hope for the future.

The Ballpark is a sanctuary, one of those increasingly rare places where we’re shielded from the grinding complexities of the world. We can lose ourselves in the sun, the sky, and the game. No one’s said it better than James Earl Jones in the iconic movie “Field of Dreams::”

Tornados and You

Picture from NOAA

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

Information for this article was taken primarily from “The Tornado” by Research Meteorologist Thomas P. Grazulis, who is the director of The Tornado Project, a private research and archive organization. Additional data was taken from the websites for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The National Severe Storms Laboratory, and the National Weather Service.

Tornados are nature’s most violent windstorms. Born of powerful thunderstorms called supercells, their powerful winds and unpredictable nature pose a very real threat to life and property. According to the National Weather Service, the U.S. gets more tornados than any other country, around 1,200 per year. And while most seem to occur in Florida and the swath of Midwestern states known as ‘Tornado Alley,” all 50 states have experienced these storms. Anywhere supercell thunderstorms can form, the threat for tornados exists.

Hurricanes, in comparison, are enormous storms, covering thousands of square miles. But even the winds of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, Camille in 1969 and Allen in 1980, both 190 mph, were equal only to a medium-sized tornado.

The question of how and why tornadoes occur is still being investigated. Scientists know there are conditions within supercell storms common to tornado formation, but as to exactly what the actual trigger mechanism is, no one yet knows. Some supercells might spawn several tornados, while others with measurably identical parameters won't even form a single wall cloud.

Identifying and understanding that trigger mechanism also holds the key to determining how long a particular tornado might stay on the ground. Some have only touched down for a few minutes, while others might roar across the landscape for an hour or more. The infamous Tri-State Tornado of 1925 was reportedly on the ground for an incredible 219 miles across parts of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, leaving in its wake F-5 level damage and 619 dead. In recent years, meteorologists have begun to doubt that this was actually one tornado. In 1998, storm spotters recorded on video one instance where, as one tornado dissipated, another formed and strengthened within the same wall cloud. Although there were two separate twisters, the resulting damage path was uninterrupted. Some researchers suspect that this mechanism was at work in that Tri-State storm.

No one, not even an expert can rate a tornado by looking at it. There's simply too much variability in the twister's appearance to make such an assessment reliable or accurate. Tornados are rated according to the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which gauges storms based on a comprehensive damage assessment done after the tornado has passed. Such damage to a well-constructed frame home can range from shingles and windows for an EF-0 to complete obliteration in an EF-5.

The Town Too Tough to Die*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 2/25/2007

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

The sun was sliding towards the horizon, its butter-colored rays beginning to cast long shadows as I motored up the winding road from Sierra Vista. The sunlight, passing through the prism of dust on the horizon, painted the desert in a myriad of beautifully subtle hues. Cresting the last hill, I entered the legendary town of Tombstone, Arizona.

Tombstone began life as a mining camp in 1879, when early prospectors began mining high-grade silver. In less than two years, the town boomed, bringing in elegant hotels and fancy saloons. Within a few short years, however, the boom went bust. The price of silver fell from $123 to less than $10 per ounce and the mines flooded when the aquifer was breached at 560 feet. The mines could no longer turn a profit, so investors pulled out, businesses failed, and people left, leaving behind a dying community. But the Tombstoners who stayed were made of stronger stuff. The “Town Too Tough to Die” survives today on the strength of an epic tale.

In October 1881, a political crisis in Tombstone climaxed when the leaders of two factions faced each other across the narrow confines of a small empty lot called the OK Corral. On one side were the Clantons and the McLaureys, fronting The Cowboys, a loose band of rustlers and robbers who controlled the county government and the courts. On the other side were three lawmen named Earp and a tubercular dentist named Holliday, professional gamblers all, backed by the town’s business interests. In a flurry of gunshots over a few seconds of time, men died and legends were born, searing the name of Tombstone into the annals of history.

Friday, February 09, 2007

"Killing Rage"*

The late Eamon Collins
Unattributed photo from the Internet

An IRA soldier
(unattributed photo)
*Book Review: Amazon.com

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
Written content only

“KILLING RAGE” By Eamon Collins
Reviewed By Ralph Couey

“Killing Rage” vividly recounts the compelling personal journey of Eamon Collins through the violent morass of Northern Ireland politics; the evolution from committed Republican, to terrorist, to an activist for peace.

For most Americans, the dominant impression of the war in Northern Ireland would be a confused mélange of news video images, reports of exploded bombs, and dead women and children. With little exception, the violent tactics of the Irish Republican Army have met with universal condemnation. Even a basic understanding of the roots of the conflict and the reasons for its perpetuation would prove quite beyond the ability of most to recount. For the first time, however, the words and passion of Eamon Collins provide an honest, if chilling account of his involvement in the conflict as a member in various capacities of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army between 1978 and 1987.

The book opens abruptly and brutally with a detailed description of Collins’ first operation in December 1978, the killing of Major Ivan Toombs of the Ulster Defense Regiment (UDR). As Collins works to gather intelligence on his target he takes us through the process of dealing with a very human conflict::

“For me, the more I found out about him, the more admirable I found him. I liked him and felt that in other circumstances we might have been friends.” (Page 20)
“...to strike at Toombs was to strike at an ancient colonial system of elites. Killing Toombs would also be a symbol of our dogged resistance to inequality and injustice...” (Page 23)
“He was an idea, a force, not a person with a face. He had no humanity for me.” (Page 17)

This apparent moral conflict occurs repeatedly throughout the book in Collins’ continual debates with himself over the effectiveness of political violence. Collins also spends some time discussing the roots of the Irish conflict, which began as a growing dislike between the Protestant majority and his Catholic minority, which he characterizes as “... (The) Catholic underclass, marginalized, on the periphery of society, jobless, poorly educated, powerless and voiceless.” (Page 12) Students of the American Civil Rights Movement might recognize some clear parallels between life as a Catholic in Northern Ireland and life as an African-American in this country. Indeed, Collins recounts several incidents during both his and his parent’s childhood of acts of discrimination and outright violence committed against Catholics by Protestant civilians, police, and military. As might be expected, this violence went largely unpunished. It was out of this atmosphere of hate that the Republican movement gained strength. Over time, however, it changed from just a civil rights movement to “...a very ultra-left kind of Marxism.” Collins continues,

Boomers and Aging*

The Author at Deal's Gap
*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, May 28, 2008
as "Seize the day - Live life to the limits"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

Turning 53 can be one of three things: A day of celebration, a day of mourning, or just another day. On my last birthday, my brother-in-law called and with his usual Aussie bluntness asked, “Well, do you feel old?” My reply was that since my hair was still dark and largely all there, while his is snow white and in full scale retreat, no; I didn’t feel old.

Attitudes towards aging are connected to our personal view of life. If we have accomplished most of the things we set out to do, then regrets tend to be few. On the other hand, if all we see are missed opportunities and failures, then age becomes a terrible burden.

Star Trek’s Captain Picard described aging as the moment when one realizes that “…there are fewer days ahead then there are behind.” That realization strikes in moments when you least expect it. In the giddy hours after closing on our house, I was struck by the realization that if we held this mortgage through to its conclusion, that we would be 80 when the thing was finally paid off.

Baby Boomers have been described as “the ageless generation.” Thanks to modern medical technology and our generation’s funding of the home fitness industry, we will probably live longer and most likely work more years than our predecessors, not because we have to, but because we want to. In our youth, we rebelled against conformity and rallied for our independence. That attitude has carried us through the decades. Although we are aging, we refuse to act our age.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Flight 93: Forever Remember; Never Forget*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 2/16/2007
as "Always remember, never forget"

Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey

Several hundred thousand people annually find their way to the temporary Flight 93 Memorial near Shanksville and those numbers will likely increase after the permanent memorial is built.

The plans have been finalized, after clearing up the apparent misunderstanding about the four extra commemorations scattered throughout the design. The new memorial will no doubt be a place of beauty and reflection. But the stark simplicity and the spontaneous expression of what stands there now will be lost forever.

I go to the memorial several times a year. Each visit keeps fresh in my mind the memory of that day, a day that left an indelible mark of history and tragedy on us all. The fleeting sense of unity we felt that day has, as anticipated, dissolved and left us bitterly divided, perhaps irretrievably polarized. But, standing there and gazing across that field, I recall that for a few short, precious weeks, all of America walked shoulder to shoulder; we spoke with one heart.