Urge to travel, need for a change

Today an old acquaintance from my days as an English teacher in Japan put up some pictures of Packwood House in Warwickshire, England.  One great thing about teaching in Japan is I made a lot of friends;  the English teachers came from many English speaking countries and many Japanese staff members married them.  From this short couple of years in Japan they then spread out across the globe and I now get to see many wonderful and interesting pictures arriving on my news feed.

The Packwood house interested me as I love history, especially English Tudor history and so I looked it up on Wikipedia.  I learned that it was just an old farmhouse until around 1906 and then created into one of Tudor character.  Ok, so it is not an ancient house which does temper my interest slightly but even so, this is my dream house, especially the office.  I’d make a few adjustments such as a large, ancient and wooden desk at the end of the room but pulled out from the wall so that my back was to the window and I could see the fireplace while working on my left.  I think I’d have to remove the cupboard as well.  I imagine a scene a few days before Christmas, snowing outside with a fire blazing.  I’d be sitting at my desk drinking a bit of sherry while having a pleasant discussion with a neighbor about ancient Christmases in the town and the customs involved.

It would be nice if my family could trade houses for three months or so; they could come live here on the coast of California and we could go live in Newcastle upon Tyne with weekly short excursions around the United Kingdom.

Like all Wikipedia pages, the Packwood House page had numerous links that lead me to more interesting discoveries.  The next was Baddesly Clinton, a truly ancient manor house complete with hidden passageways and medieval stories such as the killing of a priest, perhaps within the manor walls.  And then finally another link that lead me to the Forest of Arden which reading its description conjures images of a large, dreadful forest, the type that Robin Hood would inhabit.  The description tells me that the Romans made no roads through it and the spot still exists where travelers would gather and pray for safe journey before they entered.

Reading history excites my imagination and I begin motivated to set a goal.  Once the kids are older and able to appreciate these historical places I’d like to go visit.  This is a bit of a gamble because although I’m absolutely fascinated, the family might not be and could be more of a hinderance, non-stop complaining or wanting to leave a place before it has been thoroughly explored and so on.  Therefore, perhaps I will ask and take only those that are interested and able to appreciate history.  The others could hang out in Japan, maybe go to Tokyo Disneyland or something.

In either case, I’ll need to make more money in order to be able to afford the upcoming trips.  This is why 2017 is going to be focused on career advancement and earning more money.  It is learning about places like these that excites me, rekindles my love for international travel and exploration and gets me motivated to make something happen. It is time for a change.

Interconnection – Muslims, Mexicans, California and Conquistadors

Recently, I have decided to call California home for the long term.  It has been difficult to let go of the possible return to life in Asia but using the techniques laid out in my post “Mind Control” I’ve been able to do so and am enjoying myself!  (I simply decided to become enthusiastic about it and so it was)

In order to to ease my mind in this mental transition, I have decided to turn inward and study the history of California.  At first, my aim was to discover local, historical places of interest for weekend jaunts.  But what I have quickly learned is that California has been a crossroads for all the major cultures I enjoy!  Further, in a way it connects my past with the present.

Railroad Tracks

Railroad Tracks

The US standard railroad gauge is 4 feet, 8.5 inches.  That’s an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?  Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates designed the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that?  Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the  pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did ‘they’ use that gauge then?  Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?  Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads?  Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (including England) for their legions.  Those roads have been used ever since.  And the ruts in the roads?  Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for frear of destroying their wagon wheels.

Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.  Therefore, the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.  Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a specification / procedure / process and wonder ‘What horse’s ass came up with this?’, you may be exactly right.  Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses.  (Two horses’ asses.)

Now, the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank.  These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs.  The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory in Utah.

The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site.  The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.  The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a hourse’s ass.  And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important?

*Received by e-mail – reminiscent of those entertaining e-mail messages that spread like wildfire when people first started using e-mail – Original source unknown


Vietnam – An American complex

In the past week I have seen many articles concerning the influence of politicians service (or non-service) in Vietnam.  Most recently, Richard Blumenthal claimed he served when actually he did not.  During the presidential election of 2004 there was a big issue about the “swift boat” soldiers and to be honest, I forget what the controversy was and really do not feel like looking it up.

Being an American who has lived in Vietnam, I really cannot understand why (in what it would seem) in every political election we have to keep mentioning Vietnam and who did what there.  I am no academic on the issue but what I can tell you is that what happened there certainly was not good for either country and therefore do not understand why it would be seen as a political “badge of honor” for current politicians.

Perhaps it is a generational thing.  I was born just after the war and if I do my calculation right then these politicians must be around 50 years old.  I’m also a bit confused because when I listen to the music of their generation it would seem like many were against the war so why would it be seen as a positive thing to have participated now?  I understand the “service to country” aspect of it, but would it not be best forgotten as a very difficult period and time to move on?  What happened to the “Beetles Generation” and the message of peace, love and getting along with people?  When did it switch to “how good of a soldier were you?”

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions and from my experience I would describe the political climate as a sort of “bizarro world” in which participating in an awful war scores political points.  Could participation just be seen as neutral?  Why does advocating peace during that time not score any points?

Again, I was born after the war ended and can only relate my experience in Vietnam which might explain why I think all this “Vietnam” talk is crazy.

I lived there for a period of two years and would have absolutely no problem moving back should circumstances permit it.  I find the Vietnamese to be very wonderful people and extremely open and friendly.  In fact, the Vietnamese are some of my favorite people should I set about comparing people of different nations.  So, when I come back to the USA and have to listen to politicians try and score points off each other concerning a terrible war I get a little sick to my stomach.

There are some things I could write that would definitely not be very popular but this is not what concerns me.  I have a large amount of Vietnamese friends and to drag up all those painful memories would be a disservice to everyone.  So I’m just going to write a very quick summary from the things I have learned both from American and Vietnamese points of view.  If there are any academics out there please feel free to correct if I’m in error.

A Quick History Lesson – With things most likely not taught until university…

– The French were in Vietnam for quite a long time.  Colonialism is when a stronger country takes over a weaker country and uses the resources and population for their own benefit.  Some Vietnamese do well by this but I would say a large majority resent being subjugated by the larger power.  Ho Chi Minh often talked about racism and the unjust treatment many Vietnamese suffered at the hands of the French.  His principal aim was simply to get the French out of Vietnam and restore sovereignty.

Through his writings he eventually came to be seen as a leader and from what I understand was looking for ANY ally to help him drive out the French.  The following is cited from Wikipedia

“he petitioned for recognition of the civil rights of the Vietnamese people in French Indochina to the Western powers at the Versailles peace talks, but was ignored. Citing the language and the spirit of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Quốc petitioned U.S. PresidentWoodrow Wilson for help to remove the French from Vietnam and replace it with a new, nationalist government. His request was ignored.”

Apparently, the western nations had no problem with an Asian country being under the thumb of another western nation so no support there.  The only choice Ho Chi Minh had was to turn to Russia and China.  I wonder what would have happened if his requests had not been ignored.  Perhaps it is safe to say things could have turned out to be completely different?

Time goes by and Ho Chi Minh returns to Vietnam to lead the independence movement.  He again PETITIONS THE USA FOR HELP and is ignored.  He even tried to base the independence on borrowings from French and American declarations as stated here by Wikipedia:

After the August Revolution (1945) organized by the Việt Minh, Hồ became Chairman of the Provisional Government (Premier of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and issued a Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam that borrowed much from the French and American declarations.[13] Though he convinced EmperorBảo Đại to abdicate, his government was not recognized by any country. He repeatedly petitioned American PresidentHarry Truman for support for Vietnamese independence,[14] citing the Atlantic Charter, but Truman never responded.

Time goes on and Ho Chi Minh finally drives out the French.  Yet, as a condition of the treaty the western powers decide to split the country with Ho Chi Minh in the North and non-communists in the south.  (Divide and conquer anyone?)

Then the Americans support the south and China and Russia support the north.  As stated by a good friend of mine, the Americans “sent advisors, then more advisors, then the advisors started shooting.”  American invades and I don’t think any more explanation is necessary.

What I am getting at with the history lesson is I find it amazing that Ho Chi Minh asked the USA to please add support in driving out a suppressive French regime only to be ignored, then attacked.  If the world had done the right thing and helped them gain independence then it would most likely follow we would have a very good relationship with Vietnam and avoided a war entirely!

Now, fast forward to this decade and my time spent there.  As I already mentioned, I find the Vietnamese to be some of the kindest, warm-hearted people in the world.  Yet, from history lessons I really could not connect why in the world we ever let a war happen?  I’m sure some will say for “this reason and that” but given that Ho Chi Minh asked numerous times for help just to get a colonialist power out of his country I find myself in a world that simply doesn’t make any sense.

Being that the only thing I knew in the beginning was about the war, I quickly found myself at the “War Crimes Museum.”  From the images and things I saw, let’s ju
st say they were ALL BAD and when a current politician wants to flippantly bring up the war I believe they should do so with some of those images I saw right next to their stupid faces.

I also saw many of the lingering after affects such as what happens to people when they come into contact with agent orange and how it affects their offspring.  This is not good either.

But I no longer wish to write about that period but rather the Vietnam that exists today.  I only wrote those things to get some people to understand the horror of war, the inexplicable events that lead up to it and to remind people that the politicians who continually want to bring up the Vietnam,,, er excuse me, American war, are all idiots.

Vietnam today is a country that is focused on the future. They have a great amount of enthusiastic young people who are very excited to learn about the world and build Vietnam into a great nation.  I cannot tell you how many smiling young people I saw and how it really made me feel glad.

I also saw that America was also trying to heal the wounds and observed these developments.

1. Many US veterans doing wonderful things like building parks and schools.
2. The first direct flight to Vietnam from the USA since the war.  (United Airlines – I was at the party, think it was called “A Walk in the Clouds”)
3. US navy is allowed to dock at a Vietnamese port for the first time since the war
4. US companies setting up shop.

The Vietnamese view on the war is to forgive, forget and move on.  Why can’t the American politicians do the same?  My advice to you politicians is to get old quick and move out of office.  Let some people in who are not stuck in the ’60s and ’70s.

As a side note, I wish we could bring back my grand-parents generation so they could ground the entire generation of baby boomer politicians.