Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Colin Kapernick's Controversial Protest Receiving Support From Other Athletes & Some Military

Okay, so, I am still in that zone of writing all about the recent trip out west, and will continue to do so shortly, although that will be interrupted in order to address an issue that seems to have generated considerable controversy recently.

I am talking about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game last week.

He did not burn a flag. He did not hurt or kill anybody. All he said was that he would not stand for a flag that he felt did not represent all of it's citizens fairly.

And there was an explosive outrage that followed, as if he had done something truly horrendous and unthinkable.

What's more, most of the outrage are by some of the very same people who will criticize anyone who does not feel like they do about issues for being too "sensitive." People who will say, "Oh, come on! It was just a joke!" after they tell a racially sensitive joke, or will tell others to "toughen up" and pick themselves up by the bootstrap if they find themselves in need.

Yet, here they are getting completely derailed because a football star refused to stand for a symbol. A symbol, I might add, that represents an ideal that this country has not always lived up to, which almost everyone can agree with if they have even a small measure of objectivity.

Certainly, the numerous shootings and episodes of clear police brutality all across the country disproportionately targeting minorities earlier this year served as evidence that there really is a problem, although you might never know that by the reaction (or decided lack of reaction) by many whites, including many people who I know, and even consider friends. There were people who made a point of showing their unconditional support for the blue, which is seen by many as positive. But it also stubbornly refuses to acknowledge what has clearly become a serious problem.

Even less helpful was the reaction of one guy in particular, who will remain nameless. But he put up a post surely intended to be humorous, claiming "All Black Sabbath Albums Matter."

Showing support of law enforcement in general under such circumstances is one thing. Actively deriding and mocking the legitimate concerns of a minorities after a long period with one episode after another of police officers with itchy trigger fingers killing black men for no good reason is something else entirely. Yet, I would be willing to bet that that guy would not consider himself a racist, and claim that it was just a "joke."

Don't be so sensitive, man.

Yes, but I would also be willing to bet that this guy got all worked up because Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem.

Would it be a surprise to reveal here that this guy is a Trump supporter? Well, be that as it may, I have also seen similar strong, negative reaction to this whole story from people who would identify themselves as having a more liberal stance. And to me, that is a problem, because one of the main things that I feel people in the rest of the world simply do not understand, and cannot relate to, regarding Americans is their excessive self-worship, and their focus on outward displays of nationalism. I am not talking about the Chinese here, or Iraqis, Iranians, Somalis, Syrians, or even Russians. There was a professor of mine from Great Britain, who suggested that the "Pledge of Allegiance" was downright "creepy" and that most British people did not understand it, and felt uncomfortable with it.

My father, who is not even an American citizen, opened my eyes when younger by taking exception to something that far too many Americans take as fact. Namely, that they are the "greatest country in the world," that they are Number One. 

He countered by asking who was number two, number  three, number five, ten, fifteen, one hundred? For that matter, who is dead last? And what does that mean, anyway? Does that mean that our lives, as Americans, are automatically more significant, more important or noble, than those of other nationalities? 

If the history of the last century should have taught us anything, it is that excessive focus on nationalism and symbols representing the nation can be very dangerous. Americans might have an easier time acknowledging the dangers of Germans singing 'Deutschland ├╝ber alles', or of seeing Soviet/Russian military parades displaying an obvious military might. Many Americans will shake their heads in disgust today when they see similar images coming from North Korea or China. Yet, somehow, they cannot see that the rest of the world views such things here in the United States with suspicion?

That is the danger of making such things virtually sacred, so that all are almost mandated to participate, to show proper respect and reverence for what are symbols. This can become particularly dangerous when such gestures seem to replace actual thinking about real issues that the country faces, and I hardly think that the United States today is above suspicion in that regard.

Here's the thing: Kaepernick did not break any laws. He knew what he was doing, knew that it was risky. After all, he lost what had been an automatic starting position on his team last year, and it definitely is not a certainty that he is going to get it back. There were whispers that he might be traded, which is often a sign of the beginning of the end of a formerly high-profile career's end. 

Yet, with all of that at stake, and with him even acknowledging the likelihood that he would lose a lot - if not all - of his sponsors, he still went ahead with his protest. Still refused to stand, and then waited for what he knew would be a massive amount of criticism. 

Afterwards, of course, many of these same people (again, the criticisms that I have seen and heard have been almost exclusively by whites, and certainly the most vehement and dismissive ones have been entirely by whites) showed images of members of the military standing at attention and showing support for the flag. However, there is another side that many of these people have not been acknowledging, and that is those members of the military who actually support Kaepernick's actions. At the end of this blog entry, I added a link to an article showing that quite a few members of the military actually support Kaepernick's protest. 

Many other athletes have also voiced their opinion, with opinions varying. One that seemed particularly interesting was from a guy who has himself been the center of controversy at times, Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks. This is what he had to say about the whole thing:

"You can't ever stand against the flag. A lot of people have sacrificed for it, but there is also a deeper meaning to what he did. He's talking about the oppression of African-Americans in this country, and that has been going on for a long time. I think a lot of the focus has shifted away from his message. ... I think there's also things in this nation that people need to remember and take heed of and also acknowledge.

"This country is the same country that had 'whites' and 'colored' signs on the bathroom. We're still in that country, we're still in that nation. And that needs to be acknowledged and that needs to be changed. There are people with that mentality that still exists, and that needs to change. There are people that still treat people of color with subjectivity. They treat them a certain way. They categorize them. They put them in a certain category. 

"There are certain statistics that are put out there to make sure that police profile certain people in certain neighborhoods, and that needs to change. So there is some depth and some truth to what he's doing. 

"I think he could have picked a better platform and a better way to do it, but every day they say athletes are so robotic and do everything by the book. And then when somebody takes a stand like that, he gets his head chopped off."

For that matter, other high profile athletes have voiced their support of Kaepernick's protest, including Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I particularly liked Jabbar's response, and his definition of patriotism, which I can certainly relate to, as he reminds Americans that there is more - much more - to patriotism then outward signs of showing respect to the flag and reverence for iconic symbols representing the nation. Here is what he had to say:

"In truth, both men, in their own ways, behaved in a highly patriotic manner that should make all Americans proud.  

"The discussion of the nuances of patriotism is especially important right now, with Trump and Clinton supporters each righteously claiming ownership of the “most patriotic” label. Patriotism isn’t just getting teary-eyed on the Fourth of July or choked up at war memorials. It’s supporting what the Fourth of July celebrates and what those war memorials commemorate: the U.S. Constitution’s insistence that all people should have the same rights and opportunities and that it is the obligation of the government to make that happen. When the government fails in those obligations, it is the responsibility of patriots to speak up and remind them of their duty."

Here are links relating to this story, including two from which I got the quotes used above (Sherman's quote came from the CNN article, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's quote is from the USA Today article below:

Colin Kaepernick and a Brief History of Protest in Sports Mahita Gajanan, Aug. 29, 2016:

Tony Stewart calls Colin Kaepernick an 'idiot' as more reaction pours in Jill Martin-Profile-Image By Jill Martin of CNN,  August 30, 2016

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Colin Kaepernick 'behaved in a highly patriotic manner' By Andrew Joseph, August 30, 2016:

Military personnel voice their support for Colin Kaepernick on Twitter By Andrew Joseph, August 30, 2016:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Rocky Mountains - The Plata & the San Juan Mountains - Aug 21

All of my life, I had heard about the Rocky Mountains, and how spectacular they are.

Yet, in over 40 years, I still had not managed to visit them.

Oh, sure, there were the views from up high in planes as we flew over them. I remember two occasions specifically where we actually got fairly spectacular views. The first was in 1997, on our trip back from Seattle, when we flew over Montana and Wyoming, and the pilot (who said that he was a month away from retiring) was in the mood to tell us where we were, and what we were flying over. Not everyone on board was thrilled, although I enjoyed it! I remember the small thrill when he pointed out that those jagged peaks below us (a few miles off) were the Grand Tetons! And he told us as we were flying over the Rockies, and once we were past them. So, technically, that was my first real glimpse of the Rocky Mountains.

Then last year, on our way to Arizona, the pilot told us to brace for turbulence, as we were about to fly over the Rockies. Everyone tried to catch a glimpse, although we were actually surprisingly close, getting a very clear view of some of the peaks, which had some snow on them (although they were not exactly covered in snow).

Still, you cannot rightly claim to have visited the Rockies if you have not even been to one of the states or provinces that they run through, and that was the case with my son and I - until this trip.

This time, I made a point of trying to take at least a day in the Rockies, and ultimately, this proved surprisingly successful!

Yes, I would have liked to spend more time - much more time, frankly - in the Rockies. But on a trip where I was trying to give my son at least a small glimpse and taste of everything that the West offers, the Rockies were certainly something not to be missed. And I realized this could be done, having done some research and looked into the southern portion of Colorado, a state that had pretty much always fascinated me.

Last year, I wanted to make a point of visiting Mesa Verde, but time was just too short. Knowing what I have come to find out now, however, it was probably for the best that those plans last year had to be scrapped, because indeed, all of this takes much more time than it might at first seem. And when I say that we spent the day in Colorado, visiting the Rocky Mountains and then Mesa Verde, I do mean that we spent pretty much the entire day, from predawn hours to dark.

The day prior, we had visited the Grand Canyon's North Rim, which we found to be far smaller and more isolated than the more popular South Rim, which we had visited last year. By far smaller, I mean the amount of places that you can access by road on the North Rim are far fewer, although you can do it in a day. We got some spectacular views of the Grand Canyon nonetheless, and I am pleased to have made a point of visiting the North Rim, although if given the choice with another visit of the Grand Canyon, I would surely choose the South Rim, because it is far larger and offers more views.

In any case, we spent more time visiting there than expected. This was not entirely unexpected (after all, we are talking about the Grand Canyon here), but nonetheless set the schedule back a bit. Then, we happened to run into the Horseshoe Bend, which I had seen pictures of since last year, and really wanted to visit. We happened upon it almost accidentally, as I do not recall so much as seeing a sign for it, or anything. But as we were fast approaching Page, Arizona, there was suddenly a parking lot filled with cars, and tons of people climbing up and down one particular hill near the lot. Knowing that there had to be a good reason for this, and suspecting (really, hoping) that it was this famous Horseshoe Bend, we were blessed with the visit. I passed it initially, and turned around, pulled into the lot, and squeezed into the only parking spot that I saw available.

We climbed the hill ourselves, and then went down another quarter to half mile to the edge of the cliff that gave out on the truly spectacular view of the Horseshoe Bend! Again, this felt like a surprise blessing!

However, if we were running late by that point, this little excursion set us back perhaps by as much as an hour. Then, being in Page, the only town within a fifty mile radius of any significant size, and thus with options for food and gas, we decided to eat, which set us back still that much later.

And so it was that most of the driving was done in the dark, and it was fairly traumatic, in terms of being scared badly when we almost hit a couple of presumably wild horses. From that point onward, I drove much slower, and this likely set us back even more still.

So by the time we arrived on the outskirts of Durango, Colorado, the town that I had felt gave us the best chance of actually achieving a visit to the Rockies, it really was the wee hours of the morning, and there were hardly any cars in either direction that we saw on the roads at such an ungodly hour (it was past two in the morning).

The reservations were for the local KOA of Durango, and although I had called in advance (after finally getting reception about half an hour outside of the Grand Canyon), we were arriving at a ridiculous hour. The thought of pulling up in what surely would be (and was) a gravel lot, and then looking for our spot, was off-putting. Plus, we were not going to set up the tent at such an hour, completely in the dark, which meant that we would have to sleep in the car. And since we were sleeping in the car, why not just pull off to some quiet part on the side of the road, and sleep right there, not interrupting anyone else's night?

So, that is what we did.

Not surprisingly, my son had long since fallen asleep, so it was just for me to recline the seat and close my eyes. It took a while to fall asleep, but eventually, I did.

When my eyes reopened, there was the faintest light. It was still dark, and initially, the temptation to close my eyes and go back to sleep was strong. Yet, I could tell that it was actually just before dawn, as I could make out shapes more than just a few hours before. The excitement grew, as thoughts of capturing the Rocky Mountains at dawn danced through my head. Before long, I was fully awake!

The mountains were still vague shapes at this point, although I know that the camera seems to pick up the light more than the human eye, which would mean that it might pick up the landscape far better than I could see it.

So, I went outside (and boy was it chilly!), and snapped a few pictures, taking in the cool, refreshing mountain air. Between my excitement and the rather surprisingly cold morning, I was now not only awake, but filled with a new energy! Finally, this was the chance for my son and I to see the Rocky Mountains! How cool was that?

For some reason, my thoughts went to two women that I basically used to know who moved to Colorado. One was a classmate of mine from junior high school on, and she was extremely beautiful. Could not tell you how she looks now, although I do remember seeing a picture of her in her backyard, with the San Juan Mountains of Colorado in the background. As it turns out, the part of the Rockies that we were visiting were the San Juan Mountains, which immediately rang a bell, so it came to me that these must be the mountains that she saw in those pictures. The other woman was someone I knew in college, although I have not heard from her now in going on two decades, and she lives in Denver, which was still quite far from where we were.

When it was fully light (well, at least light enough for safer driving), I woke up my son enough to make sure that he was buckled, and then allowed him to go back to sleep, before pulling the car back on the road and heading toward Durango.

It was still mostly quiet, although by now, there was some morning commuters on the road. Life was beginning to stir in Durango, although there was something strange about it. The town was much smaller than I had previously thought, and the mountains, such as they were, also looked remarkably small, as well. Frankly, they hardly looked much bigger than the foothills back home in New Jersey! It was more than a little disappointing, but I was sure that there had to be more to this, and that someone could probably clear it up quickly.

Indeed, once we finally got to the KOA campground to shower and have breakfast and swim, it was cleared up. The campground was great, and also offered miniature golf, as well as a video about Colorado while we enjoyed breakfast (S'mores pancakes for both of us!). Everyone there was so friendly, it was amazing! Total strangers would smile and say hello, and trust me, coming from New Jersey, that was not something that I failed to notice! Not for the first time (or second or third or fourth, for that matter), I really began to question just how strong my commitment was to remain in Jersey, and if it was not having an adverse affecting on me, if I was not becoming part of the problem myself.

In any case, one of the women that we got to talking to told us all about the surrounding mountains. She said that the one actually in town were nothing, and that we should drive up someplace called "The Million Dollar Highway" to see some really tall peaks!

So, this we did. And boy, was she ever right!

That was when we started to see exactly the soaring type of alpine peaks that come to mind when you think about the Rocky Mountains!

However, she had warned us that the road was extremely curvy and steep, with no real space between you and a sheer cliff of hundreds of feet or meters. She was used to it and felt comfortable, and so it did not bother her. She did not give it a second thought.

Not sure how nervous I would have been or not, although we had plans to visit Mesa Verde while here, which meant that our exploring and admiring of these higher peaks of the Rockies would have to be done at a distance. For now, it would have to be enough to snap some pictures of these wonderful mountains, before we headed off towards Mesa Verde for a visit to yet another site which surely would be simply unbelievable!

The following pictures are some of the better ones that I was able to take during our day in the Rockies:

Engineer Mountain: 

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Difficult Night of Driving Out West

It was a strange day, and it started off at a ridiculous hour, although admittedly, I hardly have any regrets, since it ultimately went well.

You see, my son and I got to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon earlier the previous day, and then we got a pleasant surprise when we kind of stumbled into the Horseshoe Bend outside of Page, Arizona, on our way towards Durango, Colorado.

We spent extra time in both places, and so we were running far behind schedule.

Since it was that late, I figured it might be best to eat somewhere in Page, remembering that in this part of the country, unlike the greater Tri-State area, it can be extremely difficult to find anything that is open late. In fact, even during business hours, it can sometimes be a task to find businesses at all, depending on what part of the state you are in. And if we needed any reminders of that, we had just come from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and that was about 70 miles away from the next real town. So, we knew that this was our chance.

Of course, we had limited funds, and so this was not going to be high dining at a first class establishment, but rather a quick and filling meal to kind of refuel and recharge prior to the next really big chunk of driving, which again, would have to be completed now in the dark.

After a dinner at Jack in the Box in Page, we headed out. It can be extremely dark in the desert at night, and that was what it was now. Very dark, but at least it was clear. If driving conditions could remain optimum, hopefully we could make up for some of the lost time.

We were going to stay at the KOA in Durango, Colorado, and maybe an hour after leaving the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, I got some reception on my cell phone again, and was able to call them to let them know that we would be running late. At that time, we were still four and a half hours or so away, and so I guessed (incorrectly, as it turns out) that we would be arriving at 10:30pm.

That turned out to be waaaayy off.

By the time we finished visiting the Horseshoe Bends, and then by the time we finished dinner (and I finished my daily writing) at Jack in the Box, we were not likely to get there before 1am.

As it turned out, we would not make it there at all that night.

The drive was indeed long, and the darkness did indeed hinder driving. Still, it needed to get done, and so after finishing our meal, I made sure to fill up the gas tank (again, every little bit helps when you are driving out in the desert and do not know when you will run into another gas station, let alone one that stays open late.

However, I had no idea that the fill up at the next available gas station would prove to be far and away the strangest occurrence of filling a car up with gas so far in my life.

 Not surprisingly, almost every gas tank was full, as everyone had the same idea that I did. However, there was one that was open. So, knowing this is not full service like we have in New Jersey. I went in the store and paid for $10 of gas, knowing that it was still quite full, and would probably be significantly less. Again, I was getting gas out of an abundance of caution.

Well, the first strange thing that we noticed was a stray dog crossing each gas tank. Of course, we were in a rental car, an unfamiliar car in a still mostly unfamiliar state. It was not all that late, yet with how quiet those back roads in the desert can be, and how everything closes early, it felt like it might have been three or four in the morning.

So, after paying, I go to the car, and am approached by this young Native American girl. She is trying to sell Native jewelry - specifically earrings. They were not very expensive, and they looked nice, so I went ahead and bought one pair for my girlfriend, and one pair for my mom. But it seemed so strange to be approached by a young and obviously pregnant girl, looking to make the equivalent of scraps. It brought to mind just how impoverished Natives were here, and I was glad to help. I had bought a nice necklace for my girlfriend earlier in the day, shortly after leaving the Grand Canyon, and had also bought a real arrow (at least, that was how it was advertised) for my son.

All of that was strange enough, but then, as I was pulling away after filling the tank, I noticed that it still was at the exact same level that it had been when I pulled into the station. That was strange, and so it was time to call in a worker. He agreed that it seemed strange, but told me to go inside and speak with the teller. That is what I did, but he seemed as perplexed as me, and not inclined to look into the matter further.

By then, I was feeling tired and annoyed, and so I walked out and took the car across the street, to the slightly more expensive station. Put in my credit card, and filled it up.

It stopped before it reached 40 cents.

A little baffled, I tried again, and it stopped again. Looked at the gas meter, and now it read full, even though it had been running for the better part of ten minutes by then. I happened to look inside of the gas station and, amazingly, in the twenty or so seconds that I was filling the tank, the lights inside of the gas station were turned off, and the guy working inside was heading outside with trash bags in each hand.

Clearly, they were closing.

Still, I had managed to get the 50 cents of gas, plus the gas that I got in the other station was now showing.


And so it was time to start getting a move on again, and that is exactly what I did.

As the border between Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona approached, yet another wildly strange incident occurred.

It was very dark, and very quiet in the desert. Had been all night, and then you kind of figure it will be for the rest of the night, too.

Yet, I suddenly saw this huge form on the road, and was wondering (almost excited in the fraction of a second after I saw it and slammed on the brakes) if this maybe was a buffalo.

Nope. It turned out to be horses - two of them! And they did not show any real fear or sense of danger with the car.

Even now, thinking about it, I thank my lucky stripes that we managed to avoid one another, because a collision could not only have wrecked the car, but it could have led to something far more serious. Frankly, it could have been fatal. At the very least, it likely would have ended the trip right then and there, one way or the other.

So, yes, I am very, very appreciative that we did not hit, and it was one of those things that I felt very grateful for. Still do, actually.

Obviously, though, that was enormously unsettling, and my speed went significantly down after that, half convinced that there would be more stallions waiting in the middle of the night just to jump in front of the car. The rental car.

Before too long, my son was sleeping, out like a light. He had been drifting prior to the horse incident, although that really woke him up for a while. But maybe half an hour later, he laid down, and went promptly to sleep.

Funny thing was that even though I made it to within 20 miles or so of Durango, I pulled over, realizing how obnoxious it would be of me to pull into the KOA roads - surely gravel - at some ungodly hour, and then keep the car running to heat us up a bit, because it was cold. Certainly, setting up the tent at such a bleak hour was virtually unthinkable.

And so, my night in Colorado was spent in the car, and I might - might - have gotten three hours.

In fact, as I write this, I am still just trying to recover from the excessive fatigue. Hopefully, I will catch up on the rest later.

But it was not a great night for rest, and I was cold. My son said that he was fine, and he had taken my hooded poncho sweatshirt as a pillow, even though I had meant it as a blanket for him. Tried to get it, but he can be very hard to wake up when he is really, really tired.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Being Thankful #5

Okay, so this is going to be a pretty big one.

Just came back from our big trip, which was out west for the second consecutive year. Last time, we spent most of our time in Arizona, although we did spend an afternoon into an evening in Nogales, Mexico.

This time, we similarly spent some time in Arizona, as well as a few hours (and really not much more than that) again in Nogales, Mexico.

However, we also went to a lot of other places. The flight out west was to Las Vegas, as well as the departing flight out. We went from Las Vegas and through Rachel, Nevada (the closest you can really get to Area 51 without risking getting into serious trouble - which I am unwilling to do with my ten-year old son accompanying me) to the eastern end of California, just outside of Yosemite. The next day, we went to Yosemite National Park, and then headed through Sacramento and into San Francisco. Then the redwoods of northern California (the southern portions of the Pacific Northwest), and then down to Bakersfield and into St. George, Utah. Like last year, we visited the Grand Canyon, although we did the more remote North Rim this time around, and even got the chance to visit the Horseshoe Bend outside of Page, Arizona. After that, we headed up to Colorado and got a day to visit the Rockies and Mesa Verde, before heading back down to Arizona, entering into Nogales and revisiting one of my son's favorite places, Tombstone. The driving finally got a bit more relaxed after that, as we headed to Phoenix, before finally winding down back towards Las Vegas, but making a wonderful stop at the Hoover Dam on our final night out west.

After leaving Las Vegas, we had slightly less than 24 hours in Dallas, Texas. This was not originally part of the plan, although the airline had changed the itinerary. So, we made the most of it. The first place we headed after picking up the car rental was to Dealey Plaza, the site of the Kennedy Assassination back in November of 1963. Then, we made a small stop at Parkland Hospital, where Kennedy was pronounced dead. Ironcally, even the airport that we landed in, and would eventually take off from the next day, had some significance with the Kennedy Assassination, as it was here that Kennedy landed prior to the assassination, and where his body was taken after he was killed. It was also at this airport, which is now in the shadow of the much bigger Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, that Lyndon B. Johnson officially took the oath of office to become the 36th President of the United States.

On our second day in the area, we would visit another place with some signficance to that day, as we visited the Kennedy Memorial in Fort Worth, Texas, which is under the shadow of the former Hotel Texas, where Kennedy spent his last night. We also visited the active water fountain, and saw the longhorns being marched through Exchange Street, in the Fort Worth Stockyards.

We did a lot for the limited amount of time that we had there, I think. Moreover, it felt like such an enormous privilege to get to do all of this with my son, of all people. It was a bit draining financially, and at times, all of the driving got to be exhausting. However, the memories already stand out to me as great, and he himself judged the trip very highly, rating it 7 and a 1/2 stars out of 5 stars!

And so, to me, that means that it is time to take a moment and be appreciative, to be thankful for such a blessing as this trip proved to be.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The National Park Service Turns 100

Yes, one of the most valuable and noble programs of the federal government is celebrating it's 100th anniversary, although I missed it by a couple of days.

This marks 100 years since it was established, which means, of course, that it will be celebrating it's centennial one year from today.

Last year at this time, I had just taken my son to the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.

This year, we just got back from another western trip just yesterday. This time, we revisited the Grand Canyon (although we did the North Rim this time around), as well as Yosemite National Park and Mesa Verde. Just some incredibly beautiful parks, and I for one am appreciative of these lands at least having been preserved by past generations for us to enjoy. It is our duty to preserve these lands for future generations to enjoy, as well.

I have to admit that I thought about Theodore Roosevelt while at the Grand Canyon last year, and reflected a little bit on his words and his actions. He was such a strange president, albeit a unique one. There are things that I strongly admire about the man, such as his foresight with regards to conservation and protecting open spaces from development and destruction. Also, his populist, anti-corporate message resounds with me.

This year, it was hard not to think about him. There was a whole plaque at the North Rim a the Grand Canyon dedicated to him, and the book of John Muir's works that I was reading while at Yosemite had a prominent picture of Muir meeting with Roosevelt. That meeting helped to establish Yosemite as a national park, as well. And at Mesa Verde, I even asked the guide if Theodore Roosevelt had ever visited this site. Indeed, he had.

Yet, I also remember his tendency towards empiricism, and how he was all for starting wars to expand the American empire, and this is a huge turn off. Frankly, this spirit is a large part of the reason, if not the main reason, why the world is in such dire straits today.

Still, as I understand it, he did come to regret this aggressive, militaristic attitude late in life, after the outbreak of World War I, when it had a huge and very personal impact on his life.

Be that as it may, one great thing that he did do was help to establish the National Parks Service. It protects millions of acres of land, protecting it from potential development and the destructiveness of human activity, even though it seems that these are still constant threats today.

So, with that in mind, today I recognize the greatness of this landmark achievement, and the significant foresight of those who helped to bring this vision to a reality, and perhaps particularly embodied in the person of Theodore Roosevelt. The National Parks Services is, to me, undeniably one of the better and more noble aspects of the often discredited federal government, and it celebrates a birthday today.

I celebrated this anniversary the best way that I know how last year: by taking my son to visit one of the many beautiful national parks that this country is blessed with, and to try and both learn the lessons that these offer, and to try and impart those same lessons of respect and reverence for the land to my son.

This year, we had to take a flight out to Dallas, and this occupied to much of the day to realistically hope to visit one of the national parks. Hell, I did not even get to post this on time.

However, we did visit three national parks this year (four, if you include Morristown's Washington headquarters). Each one has opened our eyes and our sense of wonder, and I, for one, am very appreciative and grateful for these parks, and our chance to visit them.

Here is a toast to honor America's National Parks system!