Dawson #1

miners_dawsonToday, February 8, is a somber anniversary. The event is not well remembered, as is, say, the Hindenburg disaster, but just as lethal. On this day in 1923 in Dawson, New Mexico, the #1 mine exploded at about 2:30 PM. The force of the explosion was such that pieces of the entrance portal were sent flying across the canyon, leaving a huge crater. There were 122 victims of the blast and only two survivors. It was the second major disaster in the Dawson mine complex, the first occurring ten years before, in which 283 miners died, my grandfather among them.

The Dawson Cemetery

AHEPA chapters throughout the country commemorated the 100th anniversary of the 1913 disaster with memorials held at many Greek Orthodox churches. These memorials culminated in an observance held at the Dawson cemetery in 2013. Organized by members of the Albuquerque AHEPA family, I attended along with Brother Anthony Kouzounis, Supreme President of AHEPA at the time, and a number of others.

The Dawson mines do not quite fit the usual image of the careless mining company, oblivious to the dangers brave miners faced. The company town was also unusual, to the extent that to this day descendants  and residents of the town come together for a reunion at the town site. The definitive work on the Dawson mines and town is the book,Coal Town: The Life and Times of Dawson, New Mexico by Toby Smith. The book is out of print and if you find a copy, you will find it rather expensive.

The Dawson mines operated for more than half a century before closing in 1950. In that time, some 33,000,000 tons of coal were produced. It was the declining market for coal rather than depletion of the deposit that brought the closure. It is believed that another fifty years supply of coal is still there, should the mine ever be reopened.

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Good by, Dave…

The news came as a shock. David L. McDonald, the former CEO of Pelco, had died suddenly.. Last Thursday, January 24, a memorial was held at the Saroyan Theater in Fresno. The service, conducted by former mayor Alan Autry, made a pretty good effort to convey the magnitude of all that Dave had accomplished in his 69 years.

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Dave McDonald with a sculpture of one of his dogs at the time of the dedication of the Miss Winkles Pet Adoption center in Clovis, CA. Fresno Bee photo

I worked for Pelco for seven years, retiring at about the time that the company was sold to Schneider Electric. It was, to put it mildly, a unique experience. It was exceptional because Dave ~ we all knew him as Dave~ used a combination of perks and policies that propelled Pelco to becoming the dominant security camera maker in a highly competitive market.

To begin with, there was the orientation, a legendary experience that every new employee, no matter how high or low, would receive. The orientation was a day long seminar that gave the new recruits a comprehensive overview of the company’s operations. This was not put on by outside trainers, nor delegated to low level subordinates. Instead, each department head spent an hour or so telling and showing just what their departments did and how. Typical of Dave’s policy, at the end of each spiel, a small offering of gift items was handed out to each of us present. This included little things like pens, notepads, etc.

And then Dave entered the room. His role was the wrap-up, giving a thorough overview of the company concluding with the secret weapon of Pelco. You must understand that company organizations are hierarchical in nature. They have to be as someone has to be in charge. Someone has to make the final decision. All too often, this degenerates into a system of buck-passing, pushing decisions ever upward, trying to avoid responsibility for failures.

Dave had a different idea. In his domain. every employee was empowered to make decisions when dealing with customers. That is, if I went on a service call and decided that a camera needed replacement, I would not have to call the office for approval or permission. My only call would be to locate that camera and get it shipped ASAP. This policy gave all of us a sense of responsibility unlike any other business.

There were other policies, two of which were instrumental in building the company’s reputation for service. For one, shipping on the promised delivery date was sacrosanct. Missing a date would bring on a review at the weekly staff meeting by Dave himself. So rigorously was this adhered to that Pelco had a track record of shipping on time better than 99.9% of the time. Interestingly, as onerous as this sin might be, Dave never yelled at or humiliated the responsible parties in any way. The facts were reviewed and then he would simply state that steps must be taken to ensure this would not happen again. No one ever doubted that he was serious.

Along with that policy, repairs were guaranteed a 24-hour turnaround. Send in your broken equipment and it would be repaired and returned in 24 hours. Again, the adherence to this policy bordered on the fanatical. This sometimes meant replacing equipment if the repair solution was elusive, but it built a solid reputation for the company.

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The parking lot in front of Pelco. The flag and pole were put in place as a memorial for the 9/11 tragedy. This included a museum displaying items from ground zero , along with first responder equipment and uniforms. As a salute to those men, McDonald had some 1,100 of them brought to Clovis in December of that year for relief and recreation. 

And Dave knew how to treat customers as well. Equipment training was a definite part of the Pelco experience. Not long before the sale to Schneider, Pelco acquired a private jet, but not for business travel. The jet was first and foremost for bringing customers to Clovis for sales meetings and the like. Annually, Pelco displayed at the security show in Las Vegas. This included a dinner and show and admission was much sought after by attendees. Pelco employees were brought to Las Vegas to get exposure to the industry and to act as hosts at this dinner. Did I say ginormous shrimp? And first class entertainment? I went twice and saw Huey Lewis and the News, and Kenny Rogers, just as an example.

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One of my work spaces at Pelco. As the company grew, we moved more than once.

Dave knew how to treat his employees just as well. There were things like the Friday donuts, the monthly department lunches. In the engineering department, when a project was completed, a special lunch was held. There were opportunities to volunteer for many of the charitable events that Pelco staged and sponsored. Fresno will never forget the campaign for Measure Z that helped fund the Chaffee  Zoo. Nor has the Marine Corp forgotten the Toys for Tots donations that Dave promoted. There were the departmental safety gifts, handed out for each quarter that the department had a clean safety record. I still have a very nice thermos, typical of them, and a number of other items. And there were Pelco Bucks, given for various reasons and redeemable at the gift store.

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My engineering group on a tour of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in 2007, lead by a certain interesting personality. Sadly Dave McDonald is not the only  one to have passed on. Two of this group have died recently, Dave Toste next to Kopi and Ann Henebury, the blond lady next to me.

All good things come to an end. Businesses are no exception.  In 2007, it was announced that Schneider Electric, a major company in the building integration market, had acquired Pelco. With the change in management came changes in the policies and purpose of Pelco Since then, the plant in Clovis has essentially shut down and perhaps a third or more of the staff let go. The unique experience of Pelco is no more and now Dave is gone. It is a temptation to liken it to a Camelot but I will resist. Even so, it was a far better working experience than any other I have had and I know, judging by the fact that ex-Pelconauts still get together, that many others thought so as well.

Good by, Dave McDonald. May you long be remembered.

 

Kamala, O’ Kamala!

I belong to an organization called AHEPA. That is the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. It is closely associated with the Greek Orthodox Church but not officially tied to it. The proximity is due to the fact that most of our members are Greek-American and thus the relationship is strong. This is unlike the Knights of Columbus, a philanthropic charitable organization which is wholly a part of the American Catholic Church.

The knights are currently in the cross hairs of the presidential ambitions of one Senator Kamala Harris, recently California Attorney General and also recently highly visible in the Kavanaugh debacle. There, in spite of her beaming campaign photos, she displayed an icy, almost reptilian demeanor when interrogating Judge Kavanaugh.

And she is at it again. Since she is still a member of the Senate Judiciary committee, she is now raising objections to the nominee, Omaha attorney Brian Beuscher, based on his membership in the Knights of Columbus. The Knights, being an element of the Catholic church, follow the teachings of the church in regard to abortion, among other things. Ms. Harris’s interrogation of the judicial candidate focused on those issues as if the Knights were some far right extremist organization bent on a return to the medieval world.

Predictably, a howl went up from pundits on the right, as this was a clear violation of article 6 of the US constitution, which expressly forbids any religious test for public office. What has gone unmentioned is that it is certain that Harris knows this and was not attempting to expand her knowledge of Catholic doctrine. Given her presidential ambitions, this was an exhibition aimed at pandering to her -possible- base and shore up her credentials as the standard bearer of the far left.

It does have more ominous implications, however. She was joined in this attack by Senator Mazie Hirono, and this is not an isolated exception. Numerous similar attacks have been recorded in which Democrat Senators question the propriety of nominees involvement in religiously based organizations. Matthew Continetti, writing for the National Review, detailed many of these incidents. As he summarized it,

“No longer is the debate over Christianity in the public square. It is over Christians in the public square. And this is an argument in which people of every faith have a stake in the outcome.”

Looking on this as an AHEPAN and an Orthodox Christian, I can only shudder at what might come to pass under a Harris administration.

The Steyer Mire

Silicon Valley Big Tech gazillionare Tom Steyer is on a tear to impeach Donald Trump. He has committed some $40,000,000.00 to the effort and can be seen regularly (at least on day-time TV) flogging his lame idea. On my deepest dark side, it would be a delicious outcome to be tiptoeing across the feces flecked Union Square in San Francisco, the heart of darkest leftism, and encounter an impoverished Tom Steyer begging for handouts having blown his fortune tilting at the windmill that is Donald Trump. I don’t hold out much chance of this. I suspect that $40M is but chump change to him and besides, he didn’t get that much cash by being fiscally stupid. More’s the pity…

Certainly there is much about The Donald that is off-putting. He has not stayed in the proper lane through life or even in office. His bluster and braggadocio does little or nothing to increase his base and, according to many pundits, his reelection is likely in jeopardy. But impeachable? That requires some reflection.

The Founding Fathers were certain that an impeachment process was necessary to good government. Elected officials must be accountable to the people and be removable if circumstances warrant. But they shied away from being definitive and instead used the term of art high crimes and misdemeanors instead. They did so to make impeachment essentially a political act, not a statutory one. (Here I would suggest you look up the commentary of Andy McCarthy at National Review. He has examined this issue at length from his knowledge as an attorney and as a federal prosecutor. It will be worth your trouble.)

In his TV pitch, Steyer claims that he has a list of ten impeachable acts, though he doesn’t cite anything specific. This is where his whole campaign falls apart. The deliberately unspecific specification has never been followed by any legislation detailing what might constitute high crimes and misdemeanors, and the fact that presidential impeachments have been so rarely used means that Steyer’s list is of no merit. In short, Steyer could claim that any act of Trump is impeachable and it would be nothing but the ranting of a loon with too much money and time.

Finally, it must be noted that Steyer started his campaign even before Trump was sworn in. It is a “hang ’em first and find a reason later” effort. That is evidently from his generic distaste for Trump, coupled with delusion that the election was somehow illegitimate. But Trump was legitimately elected. One may question the effectiveness of the electoral college system, but it is sheer fantasy to argue that the 2016 election was erroneous.

So keep on, Tom Steyer. Squander your fortune on your effort. And if it comes to it, I will keep an eye out for you in Union Square.

Fishing

Saturday was a fishing day. The FFFC, Fresno Fly Fishers for Conservation, held a monthly outing at Avocado Lake. It is a popular swimming and recreation location and fishing spot. The lake itself was not the target for the day as the Kings River flows right nearby. This stretch of the river is designated as a catch and release area, meaning that any fish caught must be returned to the water, preferably alive. Moreover, only artificial lures may be used -no bait! Trout is the dominant species so it is popular for fly fishing, of which I am a devotee -of sorts. (Another blog will give you an idea of the area. http://www.keepcalmandflyfish.com/2016/12/visit-to-lower-kings-river.html.)

I have been fishing ever since childhood. Kings Canyon was a frequent choice for family outings and we would make our way there once or twice a year from San Francisco, an arduous journey. I remember arriving late at night with the stars shining through the tall trees. Camping in Cedar Grove became a family tradition. My first trip there was in 1946 in old Studebaker sedan. Sadly I do not have pictures from any of those trips though I am certain they still exist.

My father was an ardent fly fisherman but in my earliest days, he provided me a bait casting rod and reel meant for little guys like I was. It was not until my teens that he began to introduce me to the gentle art. I have been fly fishing ever since and greatly prefer it, especially dry flies.

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Michael with his first fish of the year, a 20″ beauty taken from the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam.

However, I have been anything but diligent, fishing only infrequently over the years. Until recently. Allow me to introduce my grandson, Michael. How and when he discovered fishing I do not know, but a few years ago, he discovered the FFFC. The club (which you can find at http://www.fresnoflyfishers.org) has for a number of years held a youth academy. The Roger Miller Youth Academy is an annual event during which interested young people are taught the basics of fly fishing and fly tying. Michael applied with the stated purpose of being able go fishing with his grandfather. We have been members ever since. (There is more to the story, but that is for another time.)

This day, however, Michael could not participate. His schoolwork is pretty intense and he has to devote considerable time to it and give it first priority. We did get out earlier this year, with a very satisfying result -for him, at least. For myself, Saturday was quite productive. We found a hole right near our picnic site where a large school of trout were holding. They must have been hungry (I think they were recent transplants) as several of us were able to take (and release) fish. I caught three, the largest about 13″ and a strong fighter. I was not disappointed. It was a very good day.

I know Where the Grinch Lives…

The BBC Internet news feed featured an item recently, a story about a panel of “experts” warning  parents not tell children about Santa Claus. The story must have got some push back because it disappeared rather quickly. Stories on the Beeb often linger for days, sometimes weeks but this one vanished almost as soon as it was posted.

Those experts stated that parents should not lie to children as it might do irreparable psychological harm to the kiddies when they finally realize they have been deceived. They are right, of course. Parents shouldn’t lie to their children.

Except…

Anyone who is or has been a parent knows that it is not that simple. Not every child’s questions should be answered, or can be answered in a way a young child can comprehend. And then there are those questions parents would rather not deal with right at the moment. Kicking the can down the road is a useful strategy, and sometimes a little deception satisfies. (Ask my grandsons about the gypsy detector…)

So what brought on the BBC article? One might keep in mind the ever present need to generate copy, and the ever present desire for a little attention and publicity among those “experts”. But take them seriously for a moment, even if it is a stretch.

First, if this is a problem, there ought to be evidence of the consequences. But there is no crisis of confidence, no traumatized tykes rioting in the streets because they have been told that Santa isn’t real. Instead we are treated to the sight of Santa being joyously greeted at the annual Macy’s parade. Parents scramble to get the kids to sit for pictures with “the jolly old elf” and Christmas programs abound in churches and schools (in spite of the ongoing grinch-like effort to euphemize them into “holiday” programs).

The simple fact is that Christmas and Santa flourish regardless. Parents find that Santa motivates toddlers to some semblance of good behavior. Children look forward to Christmas and the mad exchange of gifts of every magnitude. In short, Christmas and Santa go together and, even with all the frenzy of gift shopping, it is happily anticipated by one and all, no matter what they think or know about Santa.

But there is a dark side to this matter. Those “experts” are up to something more than quashing a harmless little fiction. I look back to a Christmas short story that became a family tradition when I was young. In the telling, a preacher in a country church explains to his Sunday school class how Santa came to be. As the preacher told his young charges, Jesus is for grownups but Santa Claus is for kids.

There in a nutshell is the whole issue. The reality is that Santa Claus is a stand-in for God and what the experts really want is to destroy the faith of children. Implicit in their argument is that, as Santa is not real, God does not exist and all children should be raised to be happy atheists. Sadly, too many have followed that path.

Still, Christmas and Santa persist. Sure, we make up fictions about Santa and the North Pole. Sure, no expedition to the North pole has stumbled upon a vast toy factory or flying reindeer or any of the rest of it. But the Santa story teaches children to understand faith in the face of relentless secularism. And, as one Facebook meme put it, they go from believing in Santa to becoming Santa. The whole concept of generosity is wrapped up in the annual gift giving binge. No one can participate in the spirit of the holiday if they cannot enjoy both getting and giving. Experts fail to see that but children absorb the idea that there will be gifts under the tree and from that grow to understand and have faith that God will  provide.

For me, I still hear the bell even though I know that Santa Claus is the modern manifestation of the true story of a generous ancient bishop. The generosity of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra is legendary and he has been greatly revered throughout history. We honor him still. I, for one, do not think that Christmas or Santa will fade  away. It will be a cold day in this world if Christmas is reduced to a mere winter holiday. And while I dream of Christmases past, I wonder what story Charles Dickens might have told had he listened to the experts.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Loyal to… ?

A recent poster on Facebook lamented the possibility his son might have to join the service under that “moron-in-chief” obviously referring to the current president. What he seems not recognize is that every president in recent times has been disdained by some portion of the populace. Thus the epithet would have been used in regard to presidents every party.

This is a minor matter but there is a an underlying principle that is being forgotten. Those who join our military services swear an oath to “preserve and protect” the constitution. This oath remains in force regardless who is in the White House. In fact, many military members serve through the terms of more than one president and no repeat oath is needed.

Why is this? As I stated, the oath is to preserve the constitution not the president, or any other person for that matter. The founding fathers wanted no royalty and that oath is an expression of that desire. Thus presidents, governors and all the rest can come and go but “the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible” as Stephen Vincent Benet phrased it in The Devil and Daniel Webster.

There will always be those who find it onerous to serve a particular president and that will be true of presidents of either party. This will not be a problem unless it develops as a widespread sentiment. But that will only happen if the military lets up on its dedication to serving the country.