The Baby Always Cries

baptism2A baptism in the Orthodox Church tends to be a happily chaotic affair. Most baptisms are of infants and that involves family and friends on the joyous occasion. It is unlike other sacramental and liturgical events in the life of the church. Here, all the solemnity and pomp are set aside to welcome one more small life into the faith. The church can do pomp and ceremony, to be sure, but baptism is the one that kids truly enjoy.

It begins at the entrance to the church. The parents meet with the godparent (or godparents in some instances) and the presiding clergy. The child is given to the godparent and prayers are recited to renounce the devil and confirm the faith. Then  the priest leads them into the church and to the baptismal font.

The font has been prepared in advance, of course, and the priest blesses the waters in the font, while the child is undressed. Every Greek Orthodox home has embarrassing (to the child) naked baby pictures. This step is necessary because baptism requires a triple immersion. Sometimes the baby enjoys the bath, Sometimes it is all a bit too much and then the crying starts. And it usually continues until baby is back safe in the arms of mom and dad.

baptism3The final step after the child is anointed and tonsured, is a procession around the font while final prayers are chanted. Often the whole family joins in, an exciting privilege for older siblings. At last, the baby is given its first communion and is henceforth an Orthodox Christian. Somewhere in all this, the baby inevitably begins to cry, probably due to the inordinate amount of handling and all the people.

[You need no more description than that from me. You will find more than one baptism recorded and published on YouTube. You can also learn more from this blog post, A Holy Bath indeed! I encourage you to read it as well.]

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His great-grandfather, two uncles, his father and George .

Thus was my great-grandson baptized recently. Here I must admit, with a slight degree of embarrassment, that he was born without the benefit of marriage. That, I trust, will come…soon, I hope. In other circumstances, he could have ended up like so many of his contemporaries, as so much medical waste. The grim fact is that during the period of his gestation, perhaps a half-million unborn children died. Just on the day of his baptism, statistically as many as 1,400 abortions ended the life of children like him.

But on this day, my great-grandson George was welcomed into the Orthodox faith as he was welcomed into life. The fact that he was conceived and born before marriage is becoming a common event. Out of wedlock births are at or near a majority of live births. This marks a huge change in the social order. In times past, it was treated as a shameful thing, often leading to family division and, ironically, abortion. That fact has been used endlessly by the abortion industry as a defense of the practice. The irony seems lost on them that far and away more abortions have been administered than ever occurred before it was legalized.

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George and his mother, the baptism now complete, dressed in baptismal white.

Perhaps the change in social attitudes is necessary. The abortion rate is declining but is still the highest of all the countries in which it is legal. It may be safe. It is certainly legal, but it is by no means rare. If we must change our standards to welcome all infants into life and stop the slaughter of the innocents, than change we must.

One more happy note. His baptism took place on November 30, the feast day of the Apostle Andrew, patron saint of Scotland. Yet he is named for the legendary slayer of dragons, St. George, patron saint of England. His English and Scottish forebears might take pleasure in that. We can hope those venerable saints will guide him through life.

union-jack-flag-1365882581V0RFor all you vexillologists, it is noteworthy that the crosses of St. George (vertical and horizontal) and St. Andrew (diagonal) comprise the British union jack. A fortuitous and happy coincidence indeed.

 

They Also Serve…

Today, May 30, 2019, is a good day to contemplate service, as in service to your country. It is the original date designated as Memorial Day, and was originally called Decoration Day. You should consider a visit to one of the many cemeteries and monuments that dot the land. As with the rusting hulk of the USS Arizona, the tomb of nearly 1,000 sailors, it can be a moving and educational experience.

Military service runs through my family. We aren’t a military family on the order of, say, John McCain, but we have done our share. When I dig into my family history, the fact that many of my ancestors, both recent and as far back as I can go, served in one capacity or another is a bit surprising.

My own service was a curiosity. I joined the Navy to see the world, as they say, and spent

Bob Sexton w/ John (Spike) Marlin (rt) and friend at Treasure Island 1959
Bob Sexton w/ John (Spike) Marlin (rt) and friend at Treasure Island 1959

my hitch in San Diego and San Francisco. I never went to sea. That was in part a consequence of having a talent for things electronic and no command wanted to part with any technically capable personnel. The stint in San Francisco was while attending electronics school on Treasure Island. San Diego was for boot camp and three years tending radio transmitters at a now abolished naval radio station.

More immediately, my nephew also served in the navy, along with a brother-in-law who retired from the navy as a four-striper, that is with the rank of captain, no mean feat for naval officers. My father put in a stint in the army joining the 76th Field Artillery at

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My father, Lyle Sexton, served in the army but in civilian life wore another uniform. Service came naturally to him.

Camp Ord near Monterey during the height of the depression .

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Sgt. John Hepburn in full field regalia, though he probably thought bib overalls and a straw hat more appropriate to his duties.

Further back, an uncle of my mother served in World War I. He made it to France but with the veterinarian training he had received , he was assigned to tending horses and he never got close to the front. Another of my mother’s cousins was part of a special forces unit. He made the news at the end .of the war by going into Tokyo without permission. Another cousin by marriage was not so lucky, dieing in Normandy in September, 1944.

There are others, not all of them lucky enough to return home. Two of my wife’s cousins died in WWII, one in a training flight accident, the other somewhere in the Pacific near the close of the war. Her father served in the Greek Army on the Albanian front, until Greece was overrun by the Nazis who came in support of Mussolini’s hapless Italian Army.

Even further back, you will find the

Dr Marshal Perkins
Dr. (and Captain) Marshall Perkins, veteran of Gettysburg and other campaigns.

gaunt looking gentleman (below) in uniform.* He is Dr. Marshall Perkins, who served in the Union Army during the civil war and was present at Gettysburg. He would tell of an orderly who tried to catch a cannon ball and got his arms ripped off for his troubles. Even into colonial times, I have historical information concerning William Perkins and his military service. William was the first of the family to arrive in the new world and seems to have had some difficulty establishing himself. Records still exist that describe bis occasional lapses of judgment. Still, he was given the rank of Sergeant and served for many years in Roxbury.

 

All this is not to single out my family, or extended family. I suspect that many families have a similar history. I recently saw Cold Blue, the restored Wiliam Wyler footage taken at great risk to record the efforts of the Eighth Air Force during World War II. Some 127,000 men served and 28,000 died in the air war against Germany. The numbers are staggering and starkly underline the cost of service.

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Harold Robert Criswell, a cousin by marriage, lost in Normandy in September 1944.

Kevin Williamson, who writes for the National Review (and briefly for The Atlantic) wrote recently “A friend who is a lifelong military man says that he wishes sincerely that people would stop thanking him for his service as though doing so were a kind of mandatory social convention somewhere between Welcome to Starbucks! and Have a nice day!” I am much in sympathy with Kevin’s friend. I have encountered that greeting frequently. When I compare my service to what many others endured, I feel not a little embarrassed to stand along side those who gave their all.

The practice of thanking anyone in uniform for their service began some time after the Vietnam war. During and after the war, the treatment of servicemen and women was terribly shabby. Public expressions of gratitude seems to be the product of a collective guilt complex, a means for making amends for past mistreatment. A far better expression of gratitude would be to add your service, whether it be military or in  many civilian capacities. Which would be better, remembering those lost in that rusting hulk at Pearl Harbor, or posting more signs of faux gratitude that no one will observe?

 

    • Dr. Perkins was a captain, an officer and a gentleman, as were all doctors. Just think of M*A*S*H. As such he was required to wear a sword when in dress uniform. I had a 
      physics teacher who recounted once his experience as an officer in WWII. He was even then required to wear a sword with his dress uniform and found it particularly troublesome when going to a movie theater.
IMG_20190530_083835611_HDR
These have been springing up around town lately.  Is anyone checking?

 

What to do With TrainHenge?

Stonehenge is a fascinating monument of mysterious origin. Are we building a similar monument?

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This structure is north of Fresno, on the south side of the San Joaquin River.

The saga of California’s high speed rail project took an unexpected turn when newly elected governor Gavin Newsom decided to cut the project in half. Originally planned to extend from San Diego in the far south to the SF bay area and Sacramento, Newsom’s change of direction would reduce it to the Bakersfield to Merced segment, a distance of about 165 miles. The project is ~as expected~ well over budget, underfunded, and behind schedule. Not one inch of track has been laid but hulking monuments loom over the landscape. If the project is never finished ~and that is a distinct possibility~ one wonders what will become of them.

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The Last Spike at Promontory, Utah. Building railroads was much easier then. We celebrate the 150th anniversary of this event in May.

The project is a victim of the fact that those once open spaces are no longer open. When the first trans-continental railroad was constructed, right-of-way acquisition was a simple matter of surveying a route and laying track. Native Americans might have objected, but most of the land was under federal control and thus readily available. The structures being built in Fresno for HSR reflect the difficulty of finding a usable route. Rather than building on the ground, the planners have chosen to create an aerial path through the city.

As is typical in such instances, this project was sold on questionable premises. First, of course, was the original cost estimate. It was so far below reality that  no one even mentions it anymore. Then it was the promise that it would pay for itself. That might have worked had the original cost held but at $66 billion and rising, it would be a long time happening. Amtrak currently quotes a Bakersfield to Sacramento ticket at about $45. Considering the faster service, one might expect an HSR ticket for the same route to be double. The segment to be built, if it extended to Sacramento, might cost $20 billion. If so, it would take more than 22,000,000 tickets to recover that cost.

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The overpass structure south of Fresno. What could it become?

Traffic reduction was another selling point. It is reasonable to think that some reduction would occur. If so, why is the San Francisco – San Jose corridor still a traffic nightmare? The California DOT, a.k.a. Caltrans, operates the Cal Train service over that route and claims 65,000 average daily riders. The impact on traffic for all that is vanishingly small. To have any significant impact on valley traffic, the HSR system would have to carry at least ten time that number of passengers. Are there a half million  people eager to ride the train each day?

The critics of the project are legion and most of the arguments against have merit, as I have noted. One argument, however, is as fallacious as anything that has been offered in support of it. That is that trains are obsolete. This is a useless argument from the outset, and ultimately meaningless. Yes, it is an old technology in its essence. (I have a poster commemorating 100 Hundred Years of the Railroad that was produced by the Baltimore & Ohio for a centenary pageant in 1927, to illustrate how old it is.) If age is the criterion, the automobile and the airplane, competing transportation technologies are more than a century old. Should we be searching for replacements?

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We are always “putting America to work”.

A line from Bakersfield to Sacramento may still be worth the trouble and expense, though I stand by the arguments that it will never recover its costs and have little impact on traffic. In fact, that route may be ideally suited to a high speed rail system just because the competing technologies do not serve us well. Anyone in the valley, especially south of Sacramento, knows the pain of trying to fly anywhere. If one were to book a flight from Bakersfield to Sacramento, the airlines typically will soak you about $500 and sned you to LAX or SFO in the process. And there is the enjoyable prospect of being scrutinized, x-rayed, maybe frisked or even strip searched in the bargain. Oh, and be sure to leave behind that bottle of whatever that is too large and anything vaguely resembling a weapon.

One more thing on which no price can be placed. People like trains. Given the choice between a bus or the train, most will gladly take the train. The same thing is true of streetcars or trolleys. There is something appealing about trains that cannot be quantified.

Stonehenge is a mystery to us. Its origins are lost in the mists of time. It has its own problems, mostly that it is a popular destination hampered by traffic problems. Perhaps Trainhenge will not be forgotten, all the troubles of its beginnings digitally preserved for the ages…maybe. But if the rail project is not continued, what will it become?

stonehenge
These Stonehenge tourists can tell you about the traffic problem. They did manage to survive left-hand driving…

 

 

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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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.

Michael's first fish for 2019
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.