Sam Burnham, Curator
I first met Danny Lee in the spring of 1998, just a few weeks shy of 22 years ago. I was fresh out of college and beginning what would become a 21 year career in the fire service. He was roughly a year and a half ahead of me on that career path and one of his assignments placed him close to the training facility where I was learning the basics. He won me over from the very beginning. We became fast friends.
Throughout the next 21 years our careers overlapped often. We were never permanently assigned together but we worked different sifts at the same station on numerous occasions. We also worked in neighboring stations and responded to calls together. But it was in the Honor Guard that we really bonded. Our duties in that branch of our department included honoring the lives of our friends and coworkers who had slipped the bonds of this world and entered the next. For that reason I feel it is appropriate that I'm here doing that very thing for him.
As I look back at his career one fact rises above the rest. He was a man who went out of his way to help his coworkers better themselves. He offered his advice, he offered his time, and he offered his resources to enable people to put their best foot forward. He just had a way of helping people realize their strengths and how to use them. He had, in a sense, recreated himself and had a lot of insight on advancing, growing, bettering yourself.
But the profession was merely what created proximity. Friendship was bigger than that. Through many conversations around the fire hall or during down time at a cemetery detail we talked about life and death and all those entail. We had a lot in common including a love of funk music - particularly Parliament and also Bootsy Collins. We laughed a lot. We both loved history and travel. We often talked politics and religion, a rare delicacy these days. One of the best compliments I've ever received was Danny telling me that he and I had some of the best conversations he had ever had. We often disagreed on things, but we always listened and we always respected each other. That's the way it should be.
It is because of those discussions, particularly the ones on faith, that I know I'll see my friend again. We shared the same faith, the same God. Perhaps that's ultimately why we got along so well.
I long suspected this day would eventually come. Danny was closer to my parents' age than mine so I always figured I'd one day write a memorial for him. But this is still so premature. He was not an old man by any means. He was taken from us by a cruel disease that may have been a result of the very service to others he dedicated his life to. He's leaving behind so many people who loved him so dearly. It is easy to share the platitudes of one day seeing him in eternity. Reality slaps me though when I think of his wife, his children, and his grandchildren and how this tragedy tears at their lives. It just doesn't seem fair.
Our last meeting was bittersweet. But we parted with a handshake and a smile. That's how I want to remember him. He had a large personality and he used it to serve others - the Army, the fire department, in his church, and in his personal life. But a handshake and a smile is what I want to remember because when you tear it all away, he was my friend. That's what matters. Memory eternal.
Sam Burnham, Curator
It is doubtful that anyone would think less of you if you were unable to locate Bhutan on a map. Nestled in the eastern Himalayas between India and China, this Buddhist kingdom is noted for monasteries and fortresses, so seclusion and obscurity have kept Bhutan independent over the centuries.
In this age of globalism, however, there is almost no place that isn't susceptible to the all-seeing eye of modern opportunity. So I wasn't really surprised when the South Asian branch of the World Bank tweeted out an article on the profit potential of Bhutan's forests. The nation is currently estimated as being 71% covered by forests. The nation treasures these forests and has constitutional restrictions that set 60% as the minimum allowable coverage area for forests. Sure the article is peppered with terminology suggesting that the World Bank is wanting to help maintain the forests and protect Bhutan's natural beauty.
But I'm still skeptical. Really that's a conservative way of saying it. Honestly, I'm calling them out here. It is too easy to use the right words, say the right things, put on the right appearances, and then rob some good people blind.
Consider the way Atlanta markets itself as "the city in a forest." Anyone who has sat in traffic on the Downtown Connector anywhere between 14th St and University Ave knows that such a claim is a load of manure. Sitting in the Grady Curve with a blown AC unit on a hot sunny day, window down, choking on the fumes in the humid air will make you wish you were in a forest. No, Atlanta is a city in what used to be a forest. It might even be a city surrounded by a forest.
But back to Bhutan.
A nation that is 71% covered by forests remains a net importer of forest products. Is there something they could do to add economic strength with their forests? Of course there is. Wendell Berry talks a lot about the economic potential of the forests in his native Kentucky. But he champions truly sustainable ways of doing it. There are ways of managing the forest, of harvesting timber that is good for both the economy and the forest. It is also essential that Bhutan, rather than China, India, the United States, or the World Bank, determine the way in which their forest is monetized. They certainly don't need the forces of globalism tweeting out that they have untapped resources for every greedy industrialist waiting to make a quick buck at someone else's expense.
Bhutan might need some advice on how to develop this corner of the economy. But we should also remember that the most secure culture in the world is found on North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean where the people tend to be hostile to outsiders, eating the majority of the visitors who have appeared on their shores and usually trying to kill outsiders before they land. Just because we might think Bhutan needs our help, doesn't mean that they want it. Just as we don't want arrogant outsiders poking their noses in our business, it stands to reason that Bhutan feels the same way.
Sam Burnham, Curator
The recent caucus disaster in Iowa obviously left a bad taste in the mouths of voters. "Electoral Dysfunction" is a term of our times for a reason. Disasters in Florida, Iowa, and elsewhere have frustrated people on even-numbered years for decades. We want our electoral process to be reliable, trustworthy, and secure. While recent fears of outside intervention stir the conversation further, the finger pointing this time all seems to be focused in one place. Iowa.
But is that really a fair assessment?
Consider that (this time anyway) the GOP caucus had no such issues. Sure, a smaller field and an obvious winner made that an easier task for Republicans, but they still had no hint of malfunction in their realm of the caucus. Only the Democrats were affected this year. The Republicans had their own controversy in the 2012 Iowa Caucus while the Democrats were unaffected. This shows us evidence that the two caucuses are completely independent and not connected in any way. The fact that it has happened to both parties shows us that it isn't just Iowa as one side or the other got it right in 2012 and 2020 and both sides do fine the vast majority of the time.
What really happened is what has me crying foul over the finger pointing at Iowa. The Iowa Democratic Party hired Shadow, a company started by former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers with the purpose of creating election infrastructure for the Democratic Party. This is not a herd of Iowans gathered in a cornfield licking 9 volt batteries as a step in troubleshooting technology as much of today's media suggest. No, the responsible party is a herd of Washington professionals, the type of folks who are typically critical of rural America and "flyover country" in general. The only way Iowa is at fault is that the state's party leadership elected to use this technology in their cacus reporting process.
Without a doubt there were other reported problems. Party officials seemed to be understaffed, particularly on the phones, but if the app had worked properly, they would have had enough people to get the job done. The biggest part of this debacle lies and the feet of Shadow, not Iowa - not the party and certainly not everyday Iowans. But, as always, Iowa gets the blame while the Washington organization that is truly responsible escapes accountability. After all, it can't be the techies, it has to be the yokels.
Nevermind that the "yokels" are trying to do what the big city moderns suggest - modernize. Paper and telephone calls would have averted this whole debacle. Mayberry, Walton Mountain, and Hazard County all would have been laughed at for their outdated simplicity but the results would have been much more timely.
So while Nevada Democrats scurry to redesign their electoral infrastructure before their big day, all eyes are on New Hampshire. Small states remain under scrutiny and media pressure. The powers that be want to diminish the political influence of such "backwards" places. It is an ugly phenomenon that is not remotely fair and even less recommended. So long as those of us in the hills, pastures, and plains dare to participate in society, that scrutiny will remain.
The big cities don't want us here. We can't let that stop us.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire