The Urgent First Priority

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This morning I went back to see what we’ve said about climate change. Here’s an audio guest commentary from June, 2010 on All Things Considered. Click the red link below for  the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) site with the commentary.

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A lesson learned out on the Gulf of Mexico. Then click LISTEN to hear the three minute reflection prompted by the day on the skipjack with Earl, the oysterman.

November 6 mid-term election opens the door for the American electorate — irrespective of party affiliation — to demand of candidates that they their parties, and the nation itself make climate change action their urgent first priority.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October

Climate Change and the Golden House

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256px-ShipTracks_MODIS_2005may11Have you sometimes felt you’d be better off not knowing? But you can’t help knowing what you know, or think you know?

This is a time like that. It doesn’t just feel like that. It is a time like that. I know, for instance, that the over-riding challenge of our time is climate change. I also know that the ruling party in my country denies that climate change is real, and that neither major party sees climate change action as Priority #1. I know from articles like the one in yesterday’s Phys.org (“Carbon tax gets renewed attention but still faces resistance“) and the U.N. report that the clock is ticking. We’re fiddling while the Earth burns.

NeroThe story of Nero burning down Rome appears to be apocryphal. I know that now. But before I knew that, I wondered what the Roman Senate was doing. Did the members of the Senate follow Nero’s lead? Did they light their own matches? Did they applaud? Did any of them head for the well for the water buckets to douse the fire?

The real Nero Claudius was much different, but also, it turns out, much the same as the one I thought I knew. Britannica speaks as “infamous for his personal debaucheries and extravagances.” Its biography of Nero offers the following on the burning of Rome and the aftermath.

The great fire that ravaged Rome in 64 illustrates how low Nero’s reputation had sunk by this time. Taking advantage of the fire’s destruction, Nero had the city reconstructed in the Greek style and began building a prodigious palace—the Golden House—which, had it been finished, would have covered a third of Rome. During the fire, Nero was at his villa at Antium 35 miles (56 km) from Rome and therefore cannot be held responsible for the burning of the city. But the Roman populace mistakenly believed that he himself had started the fire in Rome in order to indulge his aesthetic tastes in the city’s subsequent reconstruction. — “Nero: Biography and Accomplishments,” Britannica.com.

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Trump Hotel with gold-infused glass, Las Vegas, NV

Today, Nero and the U.S. Senate mock what I know: climate change is real and action on climate change should be priority #1 for every political political party and nation. Knowing Jesus’ parable about the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, and the wise one who built his house upon the rock, I keep hammering on the door of the Golden House that’s built on sand. “Our prayers are hammer-strokes against the princes of darkness,” said Jacob Christoph Blumhardt long ago. “They must oft be repeated. Not a single stroke is wasted.”

I add my little hammer-strokes to those of Governor Jerry Brown, Bill McKibben, 350.org, the Sierra Club for the rescue of the rain forests, the oceans, and all things green from the Golden House that threaten to entomb us. I can only live by what I know: the cry and hope that the hammer-strokes are not too late.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” canto 54

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 10, 2018.

Hope is IN SPITE OF Troubles!

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Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama (1929-2009)

“You have to be hopeful; you have to give them hope.”

“Okay,” I said, “but I can’t give anyone else hope. Hope comes from within.”

Hope seems harder in 2018 than it was when Kosuke Koyama advised the younger preacher to stay positive. Years later, it was to Dr. Koyama that Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness was dedicated for many reasons. Maintaining hope was one of them. His humility was another. His characteristic kindness and compassion reached out when friends were scarce. But nothing became more impactful than the statement he made over lunch: “There is only one sin: exceptionalism.”

Years before his death in 2009, Koyama (“Ko”) had begun to view the environmental crisis through the lens of humankind’s presumption: the mistaken belief that we, the human species, are the exception to Nature. For Ko it was a form of idolatry.

In light of this week’s avalanche of news, I’ve wondered what Ko would say. He still would bless us with his smile. He would encourage us to resist the claim of American exceptionalism, the confusion of nationalism (worship of country) with patriotism (love of one’s country), any border policy that takes children from their parents arms in the name of national security, every energy policy that feeds the coffers of the fossil fuel industry (“God is green,” said Ko), every exaltation of greed, every distortion of truth, every tax policy that keeps the poor poor while lining the pockets of the 1%, and any President and Congress that reminded him of Emperor Hirohito and the cult of national exceptionalism he grew up with in Tokyo. The god of empire, he observed, never says no. The God of the Bible says no: “You are a stiff-necked people!”

But amid all the issues that deserve our attention, I believe Ko would urge us to keep our eye on the biggest of sin — the mega sin — the sin against Nature that imperils the planet as we know it. His legacy invites us to bow our stiff necks to that which is bigger, longer lasting, and more encompassing than ourselves. Everything less is built on sinking sand.

Ko spoke in metaphors and parables. I believe he would remind us of Jesus’ parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock versus the foolish one who built his house upon the sand. “And the rains came down, and the floods came up, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

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NASA satellite photo of clouds created by the exhaust of ship smokestacks.

 

He would rally behind Bill McKibben’s declaration that “climate change is the single biggest thing that humans have ever done on this planet. The one thing that needs to be bigger is our movement to stop it.” The only way to stop it is to turn from the the mega sin — the idol of human exceptionalism, the worship of ourselves.

“[T]hrough endurance, to feel that life is surrounded by the warm approval of God, will that not be the experience of hope? Hope is in spite of troubles. There is not hope apart from troubles. There is no automatic hope, no easy hope. Hope is hope against all odds.” — Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, September 25, 2018.

 

The Spiral Staircase

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Simone_Weil_1921

Simone Weil (1909-1943)

French playwright-novelist-philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote about “the hole” in me, the hole in you, the hole of nothingness in the midst of mortal being. To live authentically is to live courageously in spite of the threat of nothingness. Sartre’s French contemporary Simone Weil offered a similar observation: “All sins are attempts to fill voids.”

Today their perspectives speak to the greatest challenge of our time: climate change. The spiral stairway we climb up toward the mastery of nature also spirals down to dust and ashes — the death of the planet as we know it.

512px-Mangkhut_2018-09-14_0750ZWe are not content to live as mortals on the plain of nature, along clean streams, rivers, and oceans, or in lush valleys, in the desert or on nature’s mountaintops. We must go higher, higher, higher — up, up, up — to no real anywhere.

Our climb to mastery reaches where no other species can go — above the storm clouds, where we look to DNA manipulation to rid us of nature’s mistakes, and where satellites search for other sentient life light years away — above the clouds of Mother Earth’s torrential storms and rains that remind us of the void. The higher we climb, the closer we get to the bottom, the irreversible plunge into Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘nothingness’, Simone Weil’s ‘sins’ that attempt to fill the void’, the Bible’s ‘dust and ashes’.

António_Guterres_in_London_-_2018_(41099390345)_(cropped)U. N. General-Secretary Antonio Guterres calls for immediate international action on the Paris Climate Change Accords and much more. Days ago, he tweeted:

My condolences to all those affected by storms in East Asia and the United States. We need urgent #ClimateAction to prevent an irreversible spiral into catastrophic climate change. bit.ly/2MHvZkV

Here in the United States the White House and Congress ignore his plea. Funded by dark money legitimized by Citizens United, and forgetting the Wall Street financial crisis of 2008, our elected officials and dominant political parties continue to measure the nation’s health by the stock market’s rises and declines. Crony capitalism provides the electorate with what we demand: positive thinking, silence about the void, and the stuff that keeps us busy shopping at the mall.

1024px-9.3.07GardenStatePlazaMallbyLuigiNovi

 

“America’s favorite weekend activity,” writes American Quaker Robert Lawrence Smith, “is not participating in sports, gardening, hiking, reading, visiting with friends and neighbors. It’s shopping…. We leave boredom and emptiness behind as we browse through (the mall’s) glittering corridors of stuff. Yet many of us have learned that acquiring too much stuff can get in the way of happiness, lead us back to boredom and emptiness, corrupt our children’s values.”

We stay on the stairway, deaf to the Secretary-General’s startling cry, and blind to the planetary clock ticking closer to midnight. We Americans are positive thinkers who disdain the idea of nothingness and the void that belong to the French philosophers and other negative thinkers. We dare not stop to think.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland, September 18, 2018

PS. “The economy’s never been better.” I think I’ll head over to the mall or swing by the Porsche dealership.

9/11/18: A Defining Moment

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WTCmemorialJune2012Today, the 17th anniversary of 9/11, the subway station that was buried by the fall of the World Trade Center towers, has reopened to loud cheers. Hope survives! So does the question “What have we learned since we trembled in horror and disbelief 17 years ago?”

The 9/11 Anniversary in 2018 coincides with the release of Bob Woodward’s FEAR exposing the moral abyss that is the White House; National Security Advisor John Bolton’s “America First” attack of the legitimacy of the international court; and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s statement urging immediate action on climate change.

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U.N Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at a defining moment. … Far too many of leaders have refused to listen.

If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change. [Antonio Guterres]

The collapse of the World Trade Center brought us to a dead stop. We could see it. First responders touched it. NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani became “America’s mayor”.

We Americans wondered what sense of morality would lead someone to highjack commercial aircrafts and turn them into weapons of mass destruction. All these years later, morality is still the question. “America’s mayor” today declares that truth is not truth, while we ignore a greater threat, less visible to the naked eye — climate change — exceeds the geographically limited horror of 9/11. 9/11/18 is a defining moment in a sea of moral amnesia requiring a voice from beyond the spiritual-moral morass America has become.

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Václav Havel

“The worst thing,” wrote the Czech writer and former President Václav Havel, as though peering ahead into the American of 9/11/18, “is that we live in a contaminated moral environment. We feel morally ill because we became used to saying something different from what we thought. Concepts such as love, friendship, compassion, humility or forgiveness lost their depth and dimension” (bold added by Views from the Edge).

In this defining moment, hope again rises against hope with its own kind of prayer for the end of the planetary moral madness:

“There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause.”
― Vaclav Havel, Summer Meditations

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, 9/11/18.

 

 

 

Mother Earth and the devil’s dung

Pope Francis documentaryOn Mothers Day 2018, “60 Minutes” featured an interview with the film-maker of “A Man of His Word,” the new documentary on Pope Francis in which Pope Francis speaks boldly about Mother Earth, the mother of all life.

Views from the Edge visitors and the readers of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness will recognize our long-standing position that all other moral, social, economic, political, and spiritual issues pale in comparison with the stewardship of the web of life we call nature. Like Pope Francis, we have contended that the planetary crisis is not just one issue among others; it is the singular overarching challenge to everyone everywhere all the time. We agree with Pope Francis. It is a faith crisis like no other.

In advance of the release of the documentary, we offer this excerpt of Franciscan Media summaries of Pope Francis’s previously published statements.

“Our common home is at risk. Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home. Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem.

“The earth, entire peoples, and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea—one of the first theologians of the Catholic Church—called “the dung of the devil.” An unfettered pursuit of money rules.

“This is the ‘dung of the devil.’ The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, Sister and Mother Earth.” – Pope Francis.

The Pope’s position also reminds us of another man of his word, Bolivian President Evo Morales who observed the following relation between Mother Earth, the devil’s dung” (money/greed), and the human species.

“Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.” – Evo Morales.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 14, 2018.

This Unfathomed Secret

 “At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature” (1836)

What do I know?

Is what I know back in the city — outside the gates of the forest — more “knowledgeable” than the knowledge of the forest and the farm? Is knowing different from imagining? What is the relation between knowledge and imagination? Are they opposites, kin, companions, enemies? Is one kind of knowledge superior to another? Is one more civilized than the other? Are they of equal value, each in its own right? Or is it all relative, a fool’s question in this world of relativity where one person’s perspective and opinion is as good as another’s, one person’s truth and wisdom another person’s fanciful imagination and foolishness?

Publishing “The Bovine Chorus” yesterday brought the questions to mind. After a day seeking knowledge about the loud mooing that overwhelmed the bird calls on the wetland, I realize my imagination got the better of me. The last conversation was with a retired dairy farmer. “Probably needed to be milked,” he said. “They’ll let you know! Or the farmer was taking a calf away. They can be really loud!” Memory flashed back to my dairy farmer friend Bruce, who showed up on Sunday with a broken hand from having punched a cow. What does a city slicker know about cows and the life of a dairy farmer!

I wasn’t always a city slicker and I’m not much of one now. If I were, I wouldn’t prefer this remote cabin on the wetland. It’s less civilized here. Some would say it’s less knowledgable. Others might say, more given to faulty imagination. Like imagining a bovine herd singing Friedrich Handel’s Magnificat to celebrate a cow birth in Bethlehem only to learn from my old musicologist friend Carolyn that Handel never composed a Magnificat, so far as she could recall, and from my new retired dairy farmer friend that the mooing was probably a protest by cows whose udders ached or who lamented a calf being kidnapped from the holy family.  

“Woe am I!” say I, like Isaiah overwhelmed by the smoke that filled the Temple. “I am a man of unclean [stupid] lips!” [Isaiah 6:5a]. I know nothing worth knowing. My imagination has deceived me. Remember Carolyn back in the city, and the retired dairy farmer. And then there are the books I’ve brought here from the city. Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin and Colin’s Birds of North America and Greenland with pictures that help identify the Brown Thrasher feeding on the ground and train the eye to distinguish the Trumpeter Swans here from the Tundra Swans, and Mute Swans. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays on history, nature, experience, politics, et al., and The Book of Common Prayer bring the wisdom of the ages that ground me in both nature and tradition, knowledge and a better imagination, a pair of spectacles alongside the binoculars next to the wetland in the time of climate change. I read Emerson again.

“We nestle in nature, and draw our living as parasites from her fruits and grains, and we receive glances from the heavenly bodies, which call us to solitude, and foretell the remotest future. … Literature, poetry, science, are the homage of man to this unfathomed secret, concerning which no sane man can affect an indifference or incuriosity. Nature is loved by what is best in us. It is loved as the city of God, although, or rather because there is no citizen.” 

Elijah: “Grandpa, What’s Hope?”

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Elijah @ seven-an-half months

Grandpa and Elijah’s conversation about love and faith led to further conversation about hope. Like most conversations between a seven-and-a-half month old grandson and a 75 year old grandfather, it’s a bit convoluted.

Grandpa, now that I know all about love and faith, tell me about hope.

I hope you don’t mind my saying so, Elijah, but you’ll never know all about love or faith or hope, but that’s okay. You’ll learn later how little even the oldest people on the planet know.

We’re on a planet?!!!

The Good, Good Earth: Our Island Home

NASA photo of planet Earth

Yes, we’re on planet Earth.

Wow! Where’s Earth? Will I ever get to go somewhere else?

No, I don’t think so. We’re Earthlings. Earth is our home.

Uh-uh. Edina’s my home! Mom said so. And my daycare’s somewhere else. You’re messing with my brain, Grandpa!

Well, Edina and Chaska aren’t planets. They’re tiny towns on planet Earth in the Milky Way in a vast universe.

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Milky Way galaxy

Mom loves Milky Ways. I hope someday I can have one. I hope Mom will share one of her Milky Ways when I start eating solids.

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Milky Ways

Aha! See, you ALREADY know what hope is!

So hope’s like hunger?

Sort of. I hadn’t thought of it as hunger, but I guess it is in a way. Hope is food for the soul. Hope is desire for something you don’t yet have, or for what you haven’t yet become.

Like being able to walk, right?

Yes. Like that. Hope is always ahead of us. We’re always reaching toward it. Hope requires us to crawl rather than run. It’s a slow crawl. It’s hard. It’s the opposite of despair.

Pretty soon I’ll be done with hope! I’ll just need faith and love, right? I’m going to walk pretty soon. I can just feel it in my bones! I’m certain of it. I don’t need hope!

Yes you do, Elijah. You do. You can’t be certain of anything. You could get hit by a car and die before you learn to walk and talk.

That’s mean, Granda! Why’d you say that? So life is cruel. God’s mean! I’m going be an atheist!

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Hope and Despair

Well, you can be, if you want. But atheism is its own kind of certainty. Certainty is the opposite of faith, Elijah, and, like we already talked about, everyone has some kind of faith. And despair is the opposite of hope. Everyone has some kind of faith and hope. Otherwise we’d be in despair. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.”

Yeah, like the planet. We can’t see the planet, right, Granda? We have faith and hope for the planet, right?

Right. Planet Earth is in danger right now, Elijah. I want you to grow up on the good green Earth the way I did, and I’m sad because I’m afraid you won’t. The Milky Way’s not in danger, but Earth is.

Yeah! I sure hope Mom drives carefully on the way to daycare! I’ll tell her to leave her Milky Ways in tiny Edina. Otherwise Earth might get eaten up!

— Gordon C. Stewart (Grandpa), Chaska, MN, January 13, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geoengineering and the Climate Crisis

Rex Tillerson clearly stated his views of climate change during remarks in 2012 at an event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations.

“And as human beings as a — as a — as a species, that’s why we’re all still here. We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around — we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. And so I don’t — the fear factor that people want to throw out there to say we just have to stop this, I do not accept.” 

earthwrenchGeoengineering now seems to have become the de facto climate policy of the Trump White House and the GOP as they, on the one hand, deny the apparent fact of climate change, and on the other hand, prepare to fight it by employing poorly tested technology with unknown long term effects! 

In Conservative circles, seductive but superficial reasoning exists for Geoengineering being so popular.  One is that on a large scale, it can make several corporations and individuals very rich.  Another is that the effects of carbon based fuels can be downplayed by government and industry now.  After all, any atmospheric heating caused by burning fossil fuels and a buildup of carbon dioxide can be minimized by employing geoengineering technologies.  In short, the current state of Conservative thinking, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs translates into Burn, Burn, Burn.

Globally, the atmospheric carbon dioxide level reached 403 ppm this year (it held between 180 ppm and 290 ppm for the previous 800,000 years).  Even so, fossil fuels still reign supreme as the power source of world economies.  With no end in sight for the abatement of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels or the employment of alternative/renewable power sources, carbon dioxide levels will continue to rise.  Planet cooling by geoengineering will just mask the warming effects of elevated carbon dioxide levels.  At some point, as yet undetermined, Earth will depend upon geoengineering to remain within livable limits.  It is apparent that once we are hooked on geoengineering in a world with high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, any cessation of geoengineering efforts will be accompanied by rapid and severe global climate changes to unacceptable levels.

Obviously, clear thinking is in short supply.  At best, geoengineering is the environmental equivalent of the opioid crisis and at its worst it is applied asininity, if not a downright “Faustian Bargain” of epic proportions.

If you want deeper insight into geoengineering and the climate emergency, please read the following:

https://cleantechnica.com/2017/11/09/new-computer-modeling-helps-scientist-analyze-effects-geoengineering

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article183547911.html

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/02/561608576/massive-government-report-says-climate-is-warming-and-humans-are-the-cause

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/11/08/pruitt-says-alarming-climate-report-not-deter-replacement-clean-power-plan/839857001

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/06/how-indias-battle-with-climate-change-could-determine-all-of-our-fates

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/08/seven-megatrends-that-could-beat-global-warming-climate-change

https://qz.com/index/1116160/for-800000-years-carbon-dioxide-levels-moved-between-180-ppm-and-290-ppm-last-year-they-got-to-403-ppm/

The Pruitt Bible and The Jefferson Bible

You’ve heard of the Jefferson Bible. But you may not have heard of the Pruitt Bible.

Today’s Daily Beast brings the Pruitt Bible to the public’s attention. It’s well worth the read.

The Jefferson Bible is missing whole sections. Thomas Jefferson, a produce of the Age of Enlightenment, a Deist who believed in science, took a penknife or some other sharp instrument and cut out passages of the four Gospels that made no sense to him. He didn’t twist their meanings. He just cut them. But he did so only after studiously comparing six different copies of the New Testament in King James English, Latin, French . . .  and Greek, the language of the New Testament.

The Pruitt Bible is different. It’s the bible of twisted meanings that serves the interests of eliminating real scientists from serving at the EPA. Here’s Jay Michaelson’s “EPA Director Scott Pruitt Sites Bible for Industry-Led Science Boards and Gets the Bible Exactly Wrong in today’s Daily Beast.

There’s a big difference between the Pruitt Bible and the Jefferson Bible. One of them took the texts seriously. The other twisted them.

We may also suggest that only one of the authors read Shakespeare’s Richard III, or F. Jacox:

Shakespeare embodies in Richard of Gloucester a type of the political intriguer; as where the usurper thus answers the gulled associates who urge him to be avenged on the opposite faction: —

“But then I sigh, and with a piece of Scripture

Tell them that God bids us do good for evil.

And thus I clothe my naked villainy

With old odd ends, stolen forth of holy writ;

And seem a saint when most I play the devil.”

An unmitigated scoundrel in one of Mr. Dickens’s books is represented as openly grudging his old father the scant remnant of his days (on the ground that “Three-score and ten’s the Bible-mark”); whereupon the author interposes this parenthetical comment: “Is any one surprised at Mr. Jonas making such a reference to such a book for such a purpose? Does any one doubt the old saw that the devil quotes Scripture for his own ends? If he will take the trouble to look about him, he may find a greater number of confirmations of the fact in the occurrences of a single day than the steam-gun can discharge balls in a minute.”

 – F. Jacox

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Nov. 6, 2017.