Thursday, July 4, 2019

My Declaration of Retirement

There is a tradition in retiring from our office of federal employees for the U.S. Department of the Interior (National Parks, Indian Affairs, Fish & Wildlife, Public Land Management, Reclamation (western water dams and management), Geological Survey, etc.) to send of a farewell email to All-Employees. They are usually friendly little good-byes with the occasional long diatribe of political sentiment pent-up in the "non-political" civil service until that day of release.

Mine was this:

That was a last-minute and appropriate replacement for my diatribe. I thought it best to save that for this blog. My post-departure comments are in [ ],  i.e., brackets. Here goes:

Thursday, April 25, 2019

"The Ancient Yew" or "Otzi, We Barely Yew Thee"

My photo of one of the yews at St. Mary's Cusop, Herefordshire on the border with Wales.
Many people come to the yew tree with preconceived notions. Modern-day Druids want to believe the yews in British churchyards are from pre-Christian origins as they "return" to the ancient practices that were mostly made up by the Romans in their anti-Celt cultural wars. The author of the yew book* before last tried to convince the reader and perhaps himself that the British yews were all planted in churchyards by the Normans, or maybe the Saxons at a stretch.

My latest dive into yew lore is The Ancient Yew: A History of Taxus Baccata, by Robert Bevan-Jones (Oxbow Books, Oxford 2017). The author is amazing in his comprehensive assembly of the evidence. I think it is all there as well as can be gathered. There are extensive, footnoted sources. However, the writing style is a bit jumpy as is the presentation of the evidence. Bevan-Jones is strongest in his theme that the churchyard yews are "at least" 1500 years old which places them right at the time of the establishment of Christianity in Britain by the Celtic Saints. He first discusses the botanical challenges of the strange growth patterns of the tree and then presents the best estimates by charts and graphs to support his Celtic-Saint-planting theory.

But then came the Iceman. In the final chapter, "Yew: an Archaeological Perspective" (which perhaps should have come earlier at least in a chronological sense):

Sunday, April 14, 2019

I Can't Fix America

Very few people read me. Fewer are convinced by me. That doesn't change the facts that America is corrupt at the top with the trump criminal conspiracy, down through the greedy hordes who want more by denying others, and the hypocrisy of the religious right that deals with the devil to promote its agenda.

Politics may have to do with out me for a while as I concentrate on other things. The fires of progressive rebellion still smolder in me. But with apathy, hypocrisy, and corruption all around, I will shrug off the latest tweets and news of the day and go with my new GIF:

Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Daffodils Are Out!


It is a wet Spring after late snow and we're only a month or so late for St. David's Day (Dydd Dewi Sant). Now I have the opportunity to share a poem I've been saving along with my dozens, if unfortunately not thousands, of daffodils:

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Religion, Superstition, and Rationality in Scotland

Book Report: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (1824)

Flag of Presbyterian Covenanters, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
It's great to find a literary classic that I hadn't known before. Reading all I can devour about Scotland helps me be a better tour guide. This one intrigued me as it was listed as an odd book, a religious-psychological thriller that had served as inspiration to another Scot, Robert Louis Stevenson, in writing Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It has sword fights, murder, mayhem, and a couple of strange games of tennis. What's not to like?

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Holy Yew Becomes Holier

"That shady city of Palm Trees. . . ."

Palms don't grow in Britain. There are some surprising palmetto-types along the south and western coasts as the temperate climate is warmed by the Gulf Stream. And as Basil Fawlty explains, Torquay is the Riviera of Britain. . . .

So what do they use for Palm Sunday?

Yes, the Holy Yew!

My distant cousin, Henry Vaughan, knew this. And surprised I was to learn that when he wrote of the Palm Tree, it was the Yew! That poem makes so much more sense now so I share it here thinking of that peaceful resting place below the Yew in Llansantffraed Churchyard.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Not Killing Babies

It is burned into my brain what I saw with my wife on that operating table at the end of her sixth planned pregnancy. You were not there and I will not describe it to you. We could have lost either or both lives. Our doctor was brilliant and blessed as she knew exactly what she was doing. Had it come to it and without a moment's hesitation I would have directed the doctor to save my wife, my life-partner, the mother of five living children.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

My Heroes: Widtsoe the Apostle and Vaughan the Silurist

While searching the online version of the British publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Millenial Star (1840-1970) for any trace of the Vaughans, I found a couple. Serendipity has its day because it was my distant cousin, Henry Vaughan the Silurist, Metaphysical Poet of the 17th Century. Apparently, LDS Apostle, John A. Widtsoe was a fan.

Just the other day, I was thinking on these same themes, the eternal nature of man and woman and the gift of Agency! And here is Widstoe and Vaughan right on point. I'll just let Dr. Widtsoe take it from here:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Free-Will Families

One of the things I did right when I was a Bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 20 years ago, was to have some really good talks with the combined youth of the ward. One of my favorites was to talk about the joy there is in proper intimate expression between husband and wife and in creating families.

Not everyone has this opportunity due to circumstances of life - and we talked about that. We also talked about how rare it is in the world for a lot of reasons - mostly the unwillingness of males, mainly, to be responsible for sexual expression and the fact of much sexual activity outside of a godly marriage. Even in marriages supposedly done right, there is still a lot of abuse, hurt, and shame. Strangely, while all can sin, most of these are still male-caused problems.

To celebrate the positives and to try and promote agency, responsibility, and the male and female positives in life, I would have a young man stand up and read what Adam said after leaving the Garden and being instructed by the Angel of the Lord:

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Trump Shutdown Update #2


The latest furlough notice that I just acknowledged does not have a requirement of 15-minutes "excepted" work to check emails. Either that fight I had with DC and my dear supervisor (sorry) was irrelevant or it paid off.

Although, it leaves me even more depressed to be cut-off, shut-out, and furloughed completely. There is an HR contact, so I think I will request retirement papers to make sure they can be processed as soon as humanly possible considering the inhumanity of indefinite furloughs with the bare hope of restored pay, someday. . . .


Subject:  Written Notice of Second Furlough Decision

The uninterrupted and unforeseeable absence of either a Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) appropriation, or a continuing resolution for the Department of the Interior, Office of the Solicitor, prevents DOI from incurring further financial obligations, except for those related to performance of excepted duties, functions, and activities as defined in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies dated November 17, 1981. Because you are not performing excepted duties during the continuing lapse in appropriations, you will remain in a nonduty and nonpay furlough status, beginning and effective at 12:00 a.m. on January 21, 2019, for a period not expected to exceed thirty (30) days. This second furlough notice will accordingly expire at 12:00 a.m. on February 20, 2019. If the length of the current lapse in appropriations for DOI has caused a new contingency to arise relevant to your work, please contact your supervisor or another excepted supervisor/employee for guidance on how to proceed.

During this second furlough period, you may not work at your workplace or other alternative worksite unless and until recalled. You will not be permitted to work as an unpaid volunteer. Any paid leave (annual, sick, court, etc…) approved for use during this second furlough period is cancelled.

Please continue to monitor public broadcasts and the Internet, including but not limited to, for information and public notices relevant to any FY19 appropriation or continuing resolution for DOI passed by Congress and signed by the President. You will be expected to return to regular duty on your next work day immediately after the end of the lapse in appropriations. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Abednego Rising

My order of the great historical losses in the word:
1) the Library of Alexandria;
2) the Library at Raglan Castle, Wales;
3) the 1890 US Census, and;
4) the 1831 Merthyr Tydfil Petition of 11,000 signatures to save the life of Dic Penderyn.

Some of those 11,000 on the petition to Lord Melbourne may have joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840s. We think we know one of them.

There's some irony that during the longest federal shutdown, being locked out of work, I've read The Merthyr Rising, by Gwyn A. Williams (University of Wales, Cardiff 1978). The Rising came about because of the Ironmasters conspiring to lower wages and shut-down work making it very difficult for the families of working poor in the ironworks, the coal, ironstone, and limestone mines, and processing mills to feed their families.

"Bara gyda caws!" was the shout of the crowd for "bread and cheese" in front of the Castle Inn when the 93rd Highland Regiment fired on the crowd killing two dozen and wounding dozens more. It only gave the leaders of the town and small contingent of soldiers an opportunity to escape to Penydarren House, which was more easily defended.

The workers held the town for a few days in June 1831. They even held off the Highlanders' relief troops from Brecon at the steep slopes of Cefn Coed just north of Merthyr Tydfil. However, within a few days, the gentry militias and soldiers of the King converged on the town and the workers went back to the mines and furnaces. The British Parliament and the ironmasters were smart enough to establish some reform.

We found a newspaper article from 1833 that Elinor Jenkins Vaughan's son-in-law, Abednego Jones (1811-1890), appears to have participated in the Rising. The book confirmed my source. Here's how Professor Williams lays it out in his Preface about the stories he heard growing up in Merthyr:
It was astounding to me, or to be more accurate, it became astounding tome in retrospect, how often the talk curled back to 1831. One story lodged in my mind like a limpet intruder. They would shriek with laughter as they told of a young boy, Abednego Jones, who went about Merthyr during the Rising carrying a huge white banner as big as himself (by the end of the evening, it would be twice as big) and piping in a shrill, choir-boy treble: 'Death to kings and tyrants! The reign of justice for ever!'
     I did in the end find one 'huge white banner': it was carried by workers on the  march to the Waun Fair which started the rebellion. The young boy I never found. But once, quite by accident, I came across a court case in the Merthyr Guardian for 1833. A miner sued two others for cheating him out of his stall, won, and was then exposed as a man who had 'carried a banner during the Merthyr Riots'. This phrase recurs constantly in obituary and other notices; it evidently marked a man out. The judge read the offender an appropriate sermon. His name was Abednego Jones. [footnote to the same article that I found.] In 1833, he was no boy. Perhaps he was short. The Merthyr Rising, at 14.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Shutdown Update - 2019

I did go into my work email today. I guess we are supposed to check now and then to make sure our litigation deadlines are met. I don't have any active litigation as I've been working my way out of that in preparation for retirement. I went into email today just to check my calendar. I had the following email which I haven't even read because to me it is a mass of confusion. I only skimmed it to delete any names or personal identifiers. If you want to just skim down to the end for my response, that's OK.

SOL Employees,
As a reminder, all employees must report their time for the current pay period in QuickTime by 6:00 pm EST on Thursday, January 17. Employees may use only the following codes for this pay period:

Code 105 "Government Shutdown - Furlough": Use this code for all Furloughed time, including hours not worked by an excepted or exempted employee. The FAV key for Leave and Holidays is used in conjunction with this work code.

Code 107 "Government Shutdown - Excepted": Use this code for all Excepted time (unfunded work that has been authorized). The FAV key for "Administration" is used in conjunction with Code 107 when checking emails for up to 15-minutes per day. Use the normal appropriate FAV key for all other excepted work.