Saturday, July 30, 2011


Every author wonders what names of famous persons he can use and what quotes are allowed without infringing on copyright laws. The Fair Use doctrine below answers the question well, but here is a link to a good discussion of copyright laws that I came across,

Another question concerns the use of old photographs - when can they be used?

1. Virtually all photographs published in the US before January 1923 are now in the public domain.

2. Fair Use generally allows the use of quotes for specific purposes. But as for novels and such, the discussion above notes that copyright laws do apply.

Specifically, the government says:
How much of someone else's work can I use without getting permission?
Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a specific number of words, a certain number of musical notes, or percentage of a work. Whether a particular use qualifies as fair use depends on all the circumstances. See FL 102, Fair Use, and Circular 21, Reproductions of Copyrighted Works by Educators and Librarians.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fear and Loathing

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, a novel by Hunter S. Thompson, is a semi-autobiographical description of Thompson's descent into Las Vegas to search for the American Dream. The search becomes a drug induced escape from reality and a scathing litany of complaints about the American Dream. Under the influence of a variety of recreational drugs, such as LSD, ether, cocaine, alcohol, mescaline, and cannabis, nothing is as it seems. Thompson, as Raoul Duke, and his side kick, Gonzo, wreck cars, destroy hotel rooms, shoot guns, and imagine anthropomorphic desert animals, all the while postulating on the decline of American culture in America's most iconic city of excess.

Nothing is as it seems. Reality is an illusion and this includes the American Dream. A home with a two car garage and a family with a wife and two children is the aspiration of American males in the Sixties. Thompson, writes his novel from this perspective, all the while realizing that the ideal excludes the hopes and dreams of women and minorities, not to mention men who may have a different outlook on the standard heterosexual relationship.

America of the Sixties is conspicuous for its wealth and consumption, yet it is unable to come to terms with the ideals of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." America in the sixties was a time where nuclear destruction was just the press of a button away, It was a time when the American Dream seem to die with the best and the brightest - John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. It was a lifetime away.

Thompson's novel got me to think. Was America of the sixties so different from 21st Century America?  The danger of  a nuclear holocaust does not seem so imminent, racial disparity, not so great, and personal political differences wordy and not so mortally fatal, at least here in America. Have we changed? Has the world? Perhaps only in degrees, but our methods of dealing with reality and disillusion have altered. For the most part, the excess of drugs and alcohol which characterized the Sixties has been replaced by an excess of food and gadgets. We, as Americans, spend more time indulging ourselves in food and electronics that we don't have time to think about the more serious matters of life.

If the Sixties represented in America a time of social revolution and counter-culture, then today represents a return to the hope that the American Dream can be found in values and traditions. Only the values and traditions of that time have evolved. American's are for the most part more accepting, and not so rigid. The American Dream of a home with a two car garage  and a wife and two children may be fine for some, but it is not necessary that all Americans share this same dream.

This, I think, was Hunter S. Thompson's paradox. He could not resolve his own conceptions of the good life with what was idealized. And so, Thompson sought to destroy everyone's dream and himself. He did this by condemning the excess of the American lifestyle with his own excess of drugs and alcohol, hoping, as he said to "make a mess of myself".

Is there a way out for the contemplative human? Or is the answer merely to get lost in the distractions of living life at a furious pace? Do we really need to make a "mess" of ourselves?

This thought does not need to have an answer. Thompson's predicament was that his answers did not jive with his conception of reality. But, each of us has our own perception of reality. Each of us must come to decide what we need to get ourselves through the day.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Trippin'

Summer Trippin' is pretty much a random trip down memory lane. The week started off with a vacation in Destin, Florida with my wife and son, along with a friend and her two children. It was the July 4th weekend, so there were party revelers from everywhere, making their way to the beach to celebrate America's birthday. More on that later.

From Destin, Florida, it is a two hour trip to Dadeville, Alabama. And Dadeville, if you go back to 1835, is the ancestoral home of the Pearsons on my mother's side of the family. Dadeville was first home to James Madison Pearson in or around 1835. My great great great grandfather's arrival in Tallapoosa County coincided with the removal of the Creek Indians by General Andrew Jackson during the period 1830 -1835. The Creeks were removed to Oklahoma near Ft. Arbuckle, which later figures in the life and times of Jesse Chisolm, a famous Wichita figure in the 1860's.

James Madison Pearson had come from Georgia to find new lands and opportunities in Alabama. He brought with him his wife Sarah Brown. They settled quickly into the life style in Tallapoosa County. James bought land at a prodigious rate. Often, he lent money to other land owners and secured payment with a mortgage on the property. By this means, he became one of the largest land owners in Tallapoosa County. The land records are recorded and can be viewed in the Registrar of Deeds in the basement of the County Courthouse in Dadeville.

James and his wife Sarah had a lot of children. One of them was Benjamin Rush Pearson, who was my great great grandfather. He tried his luck at many things before going to medical school and becoming a doctor. He married Sallie Ferrel Coleman and from that union, my grandfather James Madison Pearson was born. Dr. Pearson lived long enough in Dadeville for my grandfather to be born, but then he resettled in Montgomery, the capitol.

Most of this trip was spent in and around Dadeville. And most of my time was spent hunting for the General Charles Lafayette Pearson cemetery.The cemetery is there, nestled in the woods on one of the many properties that James Madison Pearson, the elder, acquired during his lifetime. Finding it is a story on its own, but more on that later too.

Technically, the cemetery is called the General Charles Lafayette Pearson cemetery. Charles was the youngest son of James the elder, and brother to Benjamin Rush Pearson and others. Charles stuck it out in Tallapoosa County, and by all accounts did exceedingly well. He studied law, but did not practice. He went to France and studied the ways of war, from which he got his title General. He came back to Tallapoosa and succeeded as a businessman and as the father of nine children.

What do you want to hear now?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Pursuit of Excellence

My son has to write a paper in college English using example in his composition. Here my example.

Larry Bird joined the NBA Boston Celtics in 1979. Before Larry Bird's arrival, Boston finished a bottom of the cellar 29 and 53. The following year, in which Larry Bird won Rookie of the Year, Boston went 61 and 21, the league's best team season record. Early proof that to Larry Bird, winning mattered.

During Bird's 12 year career with Boston, they won three national championships in 1981, 1984, and 1986. As a player, Bird won the Most Valuable Player award three times, the Finals Most Valuable Player Award twice, appeared in 12 NBA All Star games, voted 9 times to the NBA First Team, and the list goes on and on.

Larry Bird epitomizes the pursuit of excellence. His choice of words would be "drive", a word which summarizes his autobiography, Drive, the Story of My Life. Once long ago, I recall watching a television interview with Bird after his retirement. The interviewer, whose name I don't recall, asked Larry what he would have done if he had not played basketball. Larry responded by saying that he would have been the best darned sanitation engineer in French Lick's history. Off camera, Larry would have said "best damned sanitation engineer".

Larry Bird's rise to the top in basketball is a bit of an improbable story. First, he grew up in a dirt poor family in the small Indiana communities of French Lick and West Baden, Indiana. Larry recalls being so poor, that the rent often went unpaid. If the kids need shoes, his mother took the rent money and bought the shoes and then dealt with the bankers. Larry's father, a Korean War Veteran struggled with life after his return to Indiana. Alcoholism and financial problems together with a divorce caused him to commit suicide in 1975, Larry's freshman year at college.Confused by the size of the Indiana campus, Bird dropped out. For a year he  worked for the Sanitation Department in French Lick picking up garbage, repairing roads, removing snow in the winter, mowing lawns in the summer.

You have to ask yourself, what turns a poor white kid from French Lick, Indiana into one of the NBA's greatest players? One factor was certainly his dedication to practice. Even in high school Larry Bird would often go to the gym early, shoot between classes, and stay late into the evening. He quit both football and baseball to focus on basketball. Likewise in the NBA, he was one who was known to relentlessly, hour after hour, practice his jump shot. Practice makes perfect so the saying goes,  but practice, practice, practice is not enough.

Success in life is more than  practice. It is also having a proper attitude. Attitude is something hard to define, but, that said, we know that it is a belief in success. Attitude is the recognition that you control your own destiny. Attitude is the predominant factor in determining both success in life and happiness. Attitude is a will to win. Larry Bird used the word "drive" in describing his attitude to life. It was the confidence to take shots and make defensive plays that resulted in wins. As an example, in only his second season in the NBA, Bird led the Celtics into the playoffs. They faced off for a second consecutive year Julius Erving's Philadelphia 76ers. Bird helped the Celtics overcome a 3–1 deficit by winning the last 3 games by 2, 2, and 1 point margins, propelling them into the NBA Finals, where they defeated the Houston Rockets in six games. Throughout his career, Bird was known for clutch game winning shots and clutch defensive plays that turned games around.

Attitude is hard to define. It is a confidence in one's own abilities that allows of only one result - winning. Where a winning attitude comes from is equally hard to discover. In Larry Bird's case, his mother's hardscrabble approach to caring for her brood obviously impacted Larry's take on all comers attitude. And there were coaches along the way that encouraged Larry. But it has to be something within that makes the difference. The pursuit of excellence is something the individual has to adopt and hold out as a personal mantra. This Larry Bird did.

Excellence is something that can't be compromised. It allows of only one result and that is winning. All other options result in failure. But importantly, one has to accept the notion that in striving for excellence failures will happen. In Larry Bird's life these were many: his family's poverty, his father's death, his first year at college, all of these obstacles were mere bumps on the road to winning. Moreover, it is obviously a fact that Bird didn't make every shot and the Celtics didn't win every game. The pursuit of excellence admits to failures, but recognizes that it is only though failure that success is achieved. In another field, Thomas Edison once remarked that he failed to make a light bulb work ten thousand times, learning each time what didn't work. And, eventually, what did.

Larry Bird is great example for anyone. Find something you are good at and be the best, whether it is as a basketball player or a sanitation engineer. Strive to get better, work at it, make every failure a life lesson, and enjoy the journey.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When I was Seventeen

When I was seventeen, my father would tell me, "Get with the program." I didn't understand it then, I am not sure that I understand it now. But he would say it after he had asked me to do something, and I had not done it to his satisfaction. I guess that I wasn't doing it right. Fathers are never really satisfied with their sons, and sons never relish listening to their fathers.

My son is now seventeen, and when I ask him to do something, his response is that he works for someone else. This someone else is his aunt, his mother, anyone else, not me.

I am not upset at this response. Instead, I take solace in the fact that all children repeat the mistakes of their fathers. So, said Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Teacher

They are all familiar people. That is what makes so engaging the characters in Sherwood Anderson's collected short stories which make up Winesburg, Ohio. We have known or met them all before.

Winesburg, Ohio is the American Midwest at the turn of the twentieth century. It is peopled by friendly but solitary inhabitants. Their hopes, fears, and dreams are all confided to George Willard, a young reporter for the Winesburg Eagle.

Kate Smith is the teacher.The towns people thought her an old-maid because she was thirty, spoke sharply, and went her own way. In reality she was the most passionate of souls in Winesburg, Ohio. She is also the most enigmatic. She had traveled widely before coming to Winesburg five years ago. She never married, or at least we know, she is not now married. She is sickly though we do not know the cause. She is passionate and yet like all of the characters in Winesburg, she lives a solitary life.

In George Willard, a former student, she tried to bring home some idea of the difficulties he would face as a writer. On a grassy bank at the Fairgrounds, she declared, "You will have to know life." It was said with the earnestness of someone who simultaneously possessed a notion of the boy's creative potential and her own romantic passions. Taking him by the shoulders, she said, "If you are going to become a writer you will have to stop fooling with words."

Words are spoken, words are heard, and what is spoken is not always what is heard. Thus, it was that Kate Smith explained to George the seriousness of life.

It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared.Now it's time to be living.  I don't want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.
Of course what Kate says and what she means has two meanings.She is infatuated with George and has romantic notions of an idealistic love. He is at the turn of manhood and understands only the stirrings of lust. Leaning forward, her lips brush his cheek and he becomes aware of her beauty. The event ends harshly as she remonstrates, "What's the use? It will be ten years before you begin to understand what I mean when I talk to you."

Later, a second meeting, a second encounter with romance ends just as badly. In the dark, Kate makes a long lonely walk through the snow to the office where George works. In the warmth of the office her hands again take a hold of his shoulders. The passion blazes in her eyes as she coyly says, " I must be going," she said. "In a moment, if I stay, I'll be wanting to kiss you." For a moment he held the body of a woman next to him before she stiffened. Two sharp fists beat on his face and Kate runs away. George is confused by the conflicting emotions and can not fathom what Kate is thinking about. George stays up reliving the experience in his mind. That night George is the last person in Winesburg to fall asleep.

Sherwood Anderson at the beginning of Winesburg, Ohio called his characters "grotesques". The introductory chapter becomes "The Book of the Grotesques". Anderson goes on to explain that not all the grotesques are horrible. Some are amusing, some almost beautiful. Rather each character possesses a truth. It is the truth that makes them grotesque. For each character tries to live this truth. The character speaks the truth as he or she sees it. But behind the spoken words lies an unspoken falsehood that is revealed to young George.

Every young man has had an infatuation with an older woman. I dare to say that every older woman has been infatuated with a younger man. A teacher finds a spark of genius in a student and a student finds a mentor in a teacher. The emotional conflict is always present. But most often the difference in emotional age renders the pairing impossible. There are exceptions and we read about them in the tabloids or see them in TV exposes, but for the most part the fantasies are fictionalized. They exist in the minds of the players.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Chisholm Trail

For 20 years following the end of the Civil War, from 1865 until 1885, three million Texas Longhorns were driven north from Texas to points in Missouri and Kansas. There they were gathered and shipped north to Chicago or back east by rail to easterners hungry for meat.

The impetus for this phenomenon was simple - cattle in Texas were cheap, a few dollars a head, or if you were adventurous and mischievous and lucky, you could rustle up a herd and hightail it north.In Missouri and Kansas cattle fetched $30 and $40 dollars a head. For an enterprising cowboy who collected a herd of 3,000 head, the average size of a herd, this represented a staggering profit. The cowboy who did the grueling trail work, often a teenager seeking adventure; well, he collected his dollar a day and at the end of the trip was paid $100 or so for his efforts, which he often wasted on gambling, alcohol, and women.

There were many cattle trails heading north out of Texas, but the most famous was the Chisholm Trail, named for Jesse Chisholm.The Chisholm Trail connected the numerous Texas trails with the famous Kansas Cowtowns of Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, and Caldwell. In the first four years of its use as a cattle trail, over a million cattle beat down the green prairie into a dusty brown.

Views of the Past, a blog by Matt.

Finding the Chisholm Trail today is not easy. Farms, towns, and highways have replaced the open prairie of yesterday. Consider for example the following description of the Chisholm Trail:

From two hundred to four hundred yards wide, beaten into the bare earth, it reached over hill and through valley for over six hundred miles, a chocolate band amid the green prairies, uniting the North and the South. As the marching hoofs wore it down and the wind blew and the waters washed the earth away it became lower than the surrounding territory, and was flanked by little banks of sand, drifted there by the wind. Bleaching skulls and skeletons of weary brutes who had perished on the journey gleamed along its borders, and here and there was a low mound showing where some cowboy had literally "died with his boots on." Occasionally a dilapidated wagon frame told of a break down, and spotting the emerald reaches on either side were the barren circle-like "bedding-grounds," each a record that a great herd had there spent a night.
Charles Moreau Harger, writing in 1892.The Chisholm Trail by John Rossel.

Life is for the most part routine, a monotony of the same activities day in and day out. So to change things up a little, I decided to follow the Chisholm Trail south from Wichita to Caldwell, Kansas, on the Oklahoma border. The trip involves only two Kansas counties, Sedgwick where Wichita is to be found, and Sumner, the self-described Wheat Capital of the World and home to Caldwell. The trip is short - a distance of about 60 miles. It is not even a Day Trip unless you want to visit the museums in Clearwater and Wellington or the Opera House in Caldwell. In a pinch, you can drive it in an afternoon.

Do not drive south on I-35! ... You can be there in an hour, but then you would miss the adventure of the Chisholm Trail, which takes a less direct route through Clearwater and  Mayfield, west of Wellington past Wellington Lake which did not then exist, over the many creeks and rivers, through the rolling wheat fields of Sumner County to Caldwell.

Sumner County makes up most of the trip. These are the back roads though small communities that are untouched by mass transportation. And one gets a feel for the beauty of the Chisholm Trail by noting that the population of Sumner County today barely exceeds 25,000 friendly souls. The people living there now are the descendents of the hardy pioneers who came to Kansas in the 1870's and 80's.

Jesse Chisholm, for whom the trail is named was the son of Scotch and Cherokee parents. He was born about 1806 in the Cherokee Nation in eastern Tennessee. As a youth and prior to the forced migration of eastern Cherokees known as the Trail of Tears, he went to live with the western Cherokees in Arkansas. Thereafter, he lead many pioneering trips though Indian country, Texas and Kansas, learning about a dozen Indian languages.

Eventually, he established a trading post for the Wichita Indians at the confluence of the the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers. In 1865, Chisholm blazed a trail and hauled a wagon loaded with buffalo hides from his trading post near Wichita to a site near what is now Oklahoma City. Jesse Chisholm died in 1868, and over the next 20 years, the trail came to be called the Chisholm Trail. While it served as a trading route, it primarily became known for the millions of Texas cattle which were driven north after the Civil War to the rail heads in Kansas. It was extended south to the Texas Oklahoma border, a distance of 250 miles from Kansas and north another 180 miles to Abilene, Kansas.

Read more about Jesse Chisholm.

Joseph "Cowboy" McCoy, a.k.a. the "Real McCoy" was a cattle baron from Illinois. In 1867, McCoy, knowing that the railroads needed freight for their empty rail cars and that Texas cattlemen had no market for their millions of Longhorns, he established a hotel, stockyard, office and bank in a little village where the Union Pacific line ended in Kansas. The village would become Abilene, Kansas, one of the very first cow-towns. McCoy's job was to then convince Texas cattlemen to drive their herds north to the rail head in Abilene. While there were several cattle trails then in existence, McCoy's idea was to use Chisholm's trail which steered west of the homesteaders in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. Simultaneously, he avoided the white settlers and many of the Indian tribes who imposed bounties on the cattle driven on routes to the east.

On a handshake McCoy offered Texas cattlemen top dollar, $40 dollars a head, for their cattle and  made good on his promise when the cattle were delivered, earning him the moniker of the "Real McCoy".

By 1870 thousands of Texas longhorn cattle were being driven over the Chisholm Trail to Abilene. By 1871 as many as 5,000 cowboys were being paid off during a single day in Abilene. Due to their long legs and hard hoofs, Longhorns were ideal, even gaining weight on their way to market.

McCoy made huge profits in bringing cattle from Texas to Abilene. He also wrote a contemporary account of life on the cattle trail. The book was written in 1874 can be read online. Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest by Joseph G. McCoy, published by Kansas Collection Books. McCoy gives an idealized account of the cowboy's life, one which must have included flies, rattlesnakes, dust and poor food, in addition to the thunderstorms, tornadoes, and thousand other hazards to be found on the trail.
Few occupations are more cheerful, lively and pleasant than that of the cow-boy on a fine day or night; but when the storm comes, then is his manhood and often his skill and bravery put to test. When the night is inky dark and the lurid lightning flashes its zig-zag course athwart the heavens, and the coarse thunder jars the earth, the winds moan fresh and lively over the prairie, the electric balls dance from tip to tip of the cattle's horns then the position of the cow-boy on duty is trying far more than romantic.
From Chapter 6 of Cattle Trade of the West and Southwest.

Abilene's success would encourage other entrepreneurs. Then too, other Kansas towns would encourage the railroads  to locate closer to the Oklahoma border than Abilene. Thus, a railroad line was laid to Newton in 1871. The same year construction was started on a route to Wichita, a city which had only been incorporate in 1870. The line was completed in 1872 and Wichita became the new cattle capital, and was then nicknamed "Cowtown".

Image is C.M. Russell's classic image of the American cowboy. Wikipedia.

Delano, just west of the Arkansas River, was the point at which the cattle were gathered and processed to be shipped back east.Delano became the recreation area for the cowboys and their vices. Wyatt Earp was a Deputy-Marshall for Wichita before leaving for Dodge City in 1876. Likely though, he stayed out of the lawless Delano District.

It was not until 1880 that the railroad lines extended all the way to Caldwell, but by this time Wichita like so many other cattle towns was tired of cattle and ready to become "respectable" as a farming community.

Retracing the Chisholm Trail today is not easy.

What was then an exciting adventure for many young cowboys who rode the trail quickly was forgotten with the advance of civilization. In 1916 at a convention in Houston, Texas for old cowboys, the following exchange took place.
"Know what year the Chisholm Trail was blazed?"

"Must a been about in '68 or '69. I went up with a herd in '70 and the blazes were still bright on the trees then all through the Oklahoma timber country."

"Now this Chisholm Trail, where it started and where it ended and when it was blazed we're not plum sure of it and I'd like to find someone that is," said George W. Saunders, presiding.

Farms and communities have disturbed the natural prairie. Wheat fields replace the prairie. Highways cut more direct routes and gas stations replace the water holes of old .

There were several cattle trails that headed north from Texas to the northern markets, but the Chisholm Trail was the best for many reasons not the least of which was its directness to the cattle markets. As McCoy described it:

[The Chisholm Trail] is more direct, has more prairie, less timber, more small streams and less large ones, and altogether better grass and fewer flies -- no civilized Indian tax or wild Indian disturbances -- than any other route yet driven over, and is also much shorter in distance because direct from Red river to Kansas. Twenty-five to thirty-five days is the usual time required to bring a drove from Red River to the Southern line of Kansas, a distance of between 250 and 300 miles, and an excellent country to drive over. So many cattle have been driven over the trail in the last few years that a broad highway is tread out looking much like a national highway; so plain, a fool could not fail to keep in it.

One drives west on Kellogg to K-42 highway.  A feeder road takes you south to Clearwater and the Ninnescah River. Ninnescah is an Osage-Sioux name meaning "water clear". Before the cattlemen and the homesteaders, the Osage had crossed southern Kansas on their way to hunt buffalo. The passage of the river here in Clearwater is normally easy except in heavy rains.Abbie Bright, a 22 year-old school teacher, came from Indiana and homesteaded west of Clearwater, Kansas. On June 4, 1871 she wrote in her diary:

The heavy rains raised the river, and a heard (sic) of cattle stampeded and 15 or 20 were drowned. Every week 7-10 thousands of Texas cattle are driven north over the trail. If the cattle stampede, and don't want to cross the river, the hearders (sic) yell and fire off their revolvers. Sometimes we hear them here, and it sounds, as I suppose a battle does. It is the cattle that keep the trail worn so smooth.
For more information, contact the Clearwater Historical Society, P.O. Box 453, Clearwater, KS 67026, or (620) 584-2444, Skyways. this is an excellent site with many historical references.

It is fifteen minutes by car and a full day for a cattle drive to Slate Creek Crossing, south of US 160 and east of Mayfield, where a trading post was built in 1869.A marker donated by Fred Rose, who traveled the trail as a child marks the spot. Slate Creek is still there of course and a flavor of what it was once like can be seen if one travels north of Wellington City Lake.

For more information and a Google Map.

It is another 10 miles south to Caldwell.Today one sees rolling fields of wheat that have replaced the tall grass and short prairie grass that made the area of feeding ground for the millions of native American bison that once roamed the Central Plains.

Caldwell, which was established in 1871, was the last of the cow-towns. The better known cities of Abilene, Wichita, and Ellsworth all had the advantage of being first or, perhaps, having more colorful characters.

In any event, cowboys went wild in this wild "Border Queen City" after months on the dusty trail with nothing to do. Gunfights, showdowns, hangings and general hell raising were trade of the day. The city likes to boast that it experienced a longer cow-town period (1880 - 1885), a higher murder rate, and a loss of more law enforcement officers than the other more famous cow towns.

Caldwell History

This year Caldwell celebrates 140 years of cattle drive history as the city proudly looks forward to recreating the cattle drive down the center of  town. The image to the right can be viewed in Karl's Market, a friendly center of town grocery store. If you look closely at the photograph on the right, just left of dead center, you will see a next to the covered wagons a square covered structure which was a well in the center of town for watering the horses that lined up in front of the main street businesses. One can find many old photographs of Caldwell on the walls above the well stocked shelves at Karl's.

Until you go to a town that doesn't have a Walmart or a Dollar General, you forget how nice it is to have stores owned and run by locals. A place where everybody knows your name and if you are from out of town, they stop and talk to you.

The photograph is of Caldwell's other historical claim to fame, the Cherokee Strip Land Rush of 1893.

The town today is off the beaten path. I-35 is 20 miles to the east and travelers in a hurry don't take the time to stop and enjoy the history of Caldwell. But for the residents of this town history and community are still important.

The railroad created Caldwell and today it still serves the community by transporting its farming crops, even though the cattle are gone.Caldwell today is a farming community. Wheat and corn are its primary crops.

Friendliness is their greatest product.

Why does anything end? The trip from Wichita to Caldwell was a trip back in time. The city of Caldwell  gets ready to celebrate this Labor Day weekend the 150th anniversary of Kansas and 140th anniversary of the founding of Caldwell. The celebration will include a cattle drive down the main street of Caldwell.

Caldwell has managed to keep much of the charm of small town America. It is a small community that still bases much of it wealth on the wheat that has been farmed there since the earliest settlers came to Sumner County in the 1880's. It has a great newspaper, The Caldwell Messenger. The paper describes itself as "A good little newspaper in a fine little town", and that is an apt description. But what of the end of the cattle drives and the Chisholm Trail. Well, the Chisholm Trail ended for the same reason it was created. Farmers who settled in Sedgwick and Sumner counties wanted an end to the cattle drives just as the Missouri farmers did years before. Texas Longhorns and new breeds of cattle did not mix well. Moreover, the ranchers of Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri created their own cattle ranches which fed off the blue-stem grass of the prairies.Finally, the railroads which pushed west from Missouri into Kansas to collect the cattle continued to expand.Thus, the railroads made their way to Texas where they could gather the cattle directly, and, so ended the need for the cattle drives.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Advice upon Graduation

Wing Biddlebaum became wholly inspired.  ... Something new came into the voice that talked. "You must try to forget all that you have learned," said the old man. "You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices."
Wing Biddlebaum giving advice to young George Williard from Winesurg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.

Graduation is a rite of passage - the change of child into adult, of student into mature, reasoning, intellectually sound man or woman capable of independent thought. Prior to graduation every waking hour was accounted for. Courses of study selected, books assigned to be read, and ideas vigorously pounded into your consciousness such that one wonders if the whole process is not unlike a bakery. That is that the whole thing is left up to the cook and not the ingredients themselves as to what is to happen. Flour, butter, and salt are all mixed in a bowl, rolled out, shaped and formed at the whim of the cook, and then baked. Who and what we are is purely a matter of what we are taught.

Celebrate - graduation represents your emancipation from thought control. For the first time, your thoughts are truly yours. And learning becomes an independent act that you choose to continue or end. Those who choose to continue their education become students of life. They seek out new information, new people, new ways of looking at life.

Learning is the acquisition of new knowledge, behaviors, or values. Prior to graduation, learning was the process of education and the imprinting of ideas by teachers. Going forward, the graduate must make the chose to learn. The danger is one of becoming habituated to the thoughts of those around you.That is to accept the world for what it is and not dream of what it could be.

The graduate, like the character of young George Willard in Winesburg, Ohio has the tendency to be too much influenced by those around him or her.The urge is to be like others, you hear their manner of speech and imitate it, but in doing so you are destroying the yourself. What are we, if not the sum of our dreams, hopes, and aspirations?

You must, as the old man advises, "shut your ears from the roaring of the voices," and dream. Dream as if you were still a child, wishing to become something new and different, and, maybe, one tiny piece of those dreams, hopes, and aspirations will be realized.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Save The Cat!

I am not a writer. I wish I were. Sadly, like most of humanity, I lack the talent needed to become a decent writer. Still, I try.

The latest book that I picked up on writing is Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! .The subtitle is: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need. Wow! that says a lot.

I am not a screenwriter either But I like cats, I know people with cats, and I have saved a cat at least once in my lifetime. So, how can you not pick up and read a book like that?

The book is thin. It has that going for it. Too often a book makes a better door stop than a good read. And like Blake says, when screenwriting you have got to know, "What is it?

Actually, by training, I am a trial lawyer and I have been saying a version of "What is it about?" for most of my life. Lawyers, by training, seem to be obtuse. The old joke is there is nothing brief about a lawyer's brief.

I was not quite so blunt in my assessment of a case. Rather, I said, "Say it in 20 words or less." I called it the "Golden Nugget" - the thing we have all been searching for. Hidden among all the refuse, dirt, and waste is something of value. We just need to pick it up and give it a little polish.

Imagine  you are a jury sitting there listening to two lawyers drone on with highfalutin' words.  Most likely, you are going to agree with the one who can put it in plain words without boring you to death.

Blake, of course, is speaking of movies and not lawsuits. And by this question, "What is it about?, he means that if you can't figure out what the move is about pretty quickly, you'll know. You  will know and move on, for as Blake notes, there are hundreds of cable channels with which to click. It is not like the old days, where you actually had to get up off the couch or bed and turn the TV dial.If you know what I mean then you are probably a Baby Boomer. Today's generation has a remote in its hand and if the channel doesn't entertain, then it is history.

The "logline" is Blake Snyder's synonym for my "Golden Nugget". The logline or one-line is how the screenwriter says what the movie is about in one quick sentence. It is the cut to the chase moment, the aha moment, when the movie goer gets in on the action. Lately, I find my self saying to my children or others who go on and on and on, "I hope this story has a point." Really, everyone has been there when a rambling and confusing array of words streams out of someone's mouth without any real purpose or direction. Abraham Lincoln said it best, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

Whoops, I find my self digressing. A fault my children often point out.

Blake gives some great examples of good loglines. Try this one on for example:

NY Cop comes to LA to visit his estranged wife and finds the building under attack by terrorists - Die Hard

Can it get any better? My daughter who used to debate in high school would observe that the terrorists make it topical. NY cop LA says it it is about cross cultures. Estranged wife says that all the executive women in the audience are going to love one-upping it over the blue collar husband on the outs.

This compelling mental image means that the audience has already formed an image of what the movie is about without even seeing the first scene. Who can't relate to one of those three genres. The audience is keyed in. And what is up with the title, Save the Cat! Well, that is nothing more than Blake Snyder's mental image of the hero of the movie swooping in and saving the cat for the heroine.

Blake Snyder also observes that we all love irony. So, a good title should have a touch of irony. If you think about it, the King of Irony was William Shakespeare. Not so much with the titles to his plays, but in the words his actors spoke. All's Well that Ends Well might be the one nod to an ironic title in Shakespeare's portfolio. The point being is that irony gets us to think.The screenwriter means this, but he might also mean that. Die Hard, for example is a battery that has a thousand lives like the Bruce Willis character of the movie.

The ancient Greeks theorized that we remember by associating images with ideas. And Die Hard makes it easy by associating Bruce Willis' character with the battery with the same attributes.

There is more to Save The Cat! Read it and enjoy.