What’s Going On?

It’s hard to escape the political news when writing this blog, and escape is what I would really like to do. How can you avoid wondering about the way this president treats governments that most of us think are our allies. Or, has basically withdrawn us from the Unity of European states. North Korea, China and Japan seem to have been given short shrift. And, the embassy to Israel has been moved to Jerusalem-all by itself.

A major question is whether other countries really need us any more. The Europeans have been operating as a union, and now seem to have slipped more into that role. The Japanese and South Koreans seem to be slipping into less dependence on us. Yet, our Pacific fleet can’t keep all of its ships at sea for lack of funding.

For this country, the Republican Congress is on the verge of passing a funding bill that will cut billions from the budget. Our national road system-particularly bridges-is getting shabbier. Congress has passed a bill encouraging coal mining. Yet, in the West Virginia region, coal can no longer be mined for prices that compete with western coal. So, that revision to supporting mining in the east really provides no benefit. What will this country look like in three more years of this “administration”?

As I submit this, there is a light snow falling, a reminder that all life is not going to hell in a handbasket.

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Long Time Gone

The seasons of the year bring such different things to my attention. In Spring, the weather in the East warms up, sometimes slowly and sometimes all at once. The world turns green and gardeners (my wife) are very busy working in the dirt planting the new flowers. Grass needs to be cut and increasingly garden “managers” are hired. By June, students walking past our house have lost their winter trudge and there is a spring in their step. (From my high school teaching days I had a spring in my step too.)

Summer time brings lots of outdoor activities. Swimming pools go great guns. Our son and 5 five of his friends parceled out breakfast among their parents after after early morning swimming practice. We had six famished boys on our deck once a week for most of the summer.

Fall brought school back for the whole family. For the children, growing older brought less enthusiasm with increasing years. Leaves fell off the trees, had to be raked up and disposed of. Days at the swimming pool gradually faded from memory. Halloween with its full bags of candy and other sweets brought queasy stomachs with just one more piece. Thanksgiving brought family and friends to an overloaded table.

Winter began with a month devoted to Christmas. We then trudged along going from house to work or school with little interruption. Many clothes to keep warm and maybe a snow to bring some variation-not all appreciated by working people.

Spring began with different weather from year to year. Sometimes a long spell with mostly cool, pleasant weather. Yet, one year winter temperatures hung on into June.

Time has moved on; we continue to plunder the physical environment. I wonder what this is doing to the earth we live on.

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Thanksgiving

Well, Thanksgiving day is over, church followed by good company with an excellent dinner at our daughter’s across the street. So, what is there to be thankful for? To start, I took our car to the body shop expecting it to be there for four or five days and I got it back the following one. Not only that, I got a note from the manager hoping that their work was satisfactory. My wife and I are still up and doing-me mostly up and she doing as she always has, particularly in her garden. Our church still has the same great rector. Our cat considers himself as an equal member of the family and inserts himself into every activity. My retirement checks come regularly. Our wonderful daughters keep tabs on us. We have been with our primary care physician since he entered practice and he has good ideas about our ailments.

I could go on, but these examples convey the idea that we are full of gratitude for our lives and looking forward to another year. I hope you have the same prospect.

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New World

Understanding the world you live in depends upon the time when you were born. In my case, my understanding goes back into the late 19th century when my grandparents were born. They lived through the final stages of railroad development that made travel and shipping long distance possible. But, as you know, development continued. From the automobile on, machine development transformed farming and city development and machines unimaginable. World War II broadened, speeded up and involved more of the population. Following the war, the industrial and management capacity were at the level where growth in these two areas, plus educational levels, produced a society that was the basis for economic growth.

As we passed through the later 1900s industrial development pretty much reached its limits. We have followed through into a stage that is different from what I have lived in and I do not completely understand. Computers have given us a capacity for technical development that demands higher levels of education. Today, farming, making things, construction all require less human labor than I would have ever imagined. While I don’t understand where we will be taken technically and socially, I know it will be more intellectually involved than the life I have lived.

 

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The Election

Well, the election is over and the Democrats seem to have done better than the Republicans. How this will work out for next year looks more favorable for the Democrats than their opponents, but that is not always true. The mass of information put out in the media about elections, issues, people, becomes (to me) confusing.

It’s too early to start talking about who the Democrats will select as their candidate for the presidency. For the Republicans, the choice has to be Donald Trump if he decides to run. I think this will be a crucial election. Trump and the Republicans are committed to reducing the size of the federal government by reducing the size of the welfare operations.

My first two presidents were Roosevelt and Truman, both of whom had to fight through wars at the same time they were trying to provide more opportunities for Americans to live better lives. Roosevelt was faced with starving people and no economic growth. Working with Congress, they stopped starvation and began public works projects, Hoover Dam for example. When we were faced with World War II sixteen million young men were taken out of the labor market. This provided work for a variety of minority groups which at that time included women and our total black population. The war over, a variety of projects provided veterans with education through college and, for some, health care. Before these benefits could run out, we were faced with another war in Korea.

It seems to me that these two events led to the assumption that the Federal Government could/should deal with the needs of our population. There were those who raised questions about the expansion of benefits, but politicians found that supporting something that benefitted more of the population was a good way to win elections in most districts. This past election was the first time the winners were those who said the end had come.

People who wanted to cut spending won the last national election. However, they are finding that it is not “my” benefits that should go.

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Harry Truman

By my count, I have lived under thirteen different United States Presidents, beginning with the politically brilliant Franklin Roosevelt to the present slightly unhinged Donald Trump. My favorite, however, is Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman. He was the last president who could get out and do things informally. He took morning walks in neighborhoods around the White House. I saw him several times walking through the GWU campus (“You aren’t learning anything sitting around out here, get inside and start studying”), walking to the Riggs bank across the street from the White House. When the White House was being renovated, he walked to and from Blair House across the street. He stood at the intersections waiting for the light to change, engaging in conversation with other walkers. Unfortunately, an attempt by two men to shoot their way into Blair House brought that informality to an end.

I have recently started re-reading his autobiography and I am reminded of why I thought so much of him. His opinions/judgements were very straight forward. One example was his reaction to establishing a permanent intelligence gathering operation. At the conclusion of a discussion about what such an organization should be, he said “I am very much against building up a Gestapo.” It would have been very difficult to engage in further discussion of whatever was being proposed.  (Apparently, that response brought further work as the CIA was established in 1947.)

Another thing that struck me was his reaction to a proposal for the federal government to build a network of airports from coast to coast. The proposition was that flying was to become an addition to railroads as a means of public transportation. He opposed this action because he saw it as pork barrel legislation with federal funds. As air traffic grew, major cities could build and support their own airports when they saw a need.

He followed a man whose ideas about what government should do emerged from a mind that never gave a straight forward approach to anything. Truman’s ideas were very similar to Roosevelt’s, but his approach to implementation was a real difference. I came to see again the man who impressed me when I was setting my character. Listening, discussing, keeping my values in mind and then moving to action has served me well.

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Fashion

One of the more interesting things I am observing since retirement is the seasons and what they do to the way we display ourselves. When I was working, my attire changed from season to season, but my activities stayed the same. In the Fall I changed my clothes from Summer School casual to slightly heaver suits. As the leaves changed and fell to the ground, I had to rake the yard and as time went on, I added a topcoat for work and other similar activities. Thanksgiving brought temperatures that often required an overcoat. By Christmas we were definitely into heavier clothes full time and preparations for snow brought out different shoes and clothes that would accommodate wet and wrinkling were dug out. March generally led to putting the winter “woolies” in the closet and going back medium weight clothes. Summer, when teaching, light weight pants, jackets, short sleeve shirts (provided arms were kept covered) were acceptable. However, ties were still socially required.

All of these seasonal changes were simply something to be accepted. Well, that has changed. For one thing the weather in the winter seems warmer. However, that does not explain some of the changes I see. Hats are gone, ties are going as are suits for many men. I have also noticed that socks are optional. Shaved heads and collar length hair, while seen, are rare.

So what. Well, the so what I am getting at here is that social mores have far less influence on human behavior than they did through most of my life. Dress no longer describes social and economic position as it did when I was younger.

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Whatzup?

Astronomy has given us another scientific blast. The collision of two collapsed stars (planets?) 130 million years ago was registered on astronomy instruments here on earth. Astrophysists have gone bananas, as well they should. What they learn from this event will have considerable impact on astronomical science

What they will not consider (for a while) is what does it mean for me, and for all future humanity. We have been evolving for maybe a quarter million years on earth. Despite the daily headlines about great human activities in newspapers and evening tv shows, this event shows what inconsequential pipsqueaks we are in the universe. It also shows that planets probably come and go through destructive processes. Environmental change, climate disruption, ocean acidification, deforestation, and biodiversity loss are examples of the massive changes we are implementing. This should interest human beings as we are destroying the very basic environment that supports earthly life.

But, it won’t. We will watch the ads that promote some of the things that promote atmospheric destruction and purchase and use them. Simply look at our current national government unhinging actions taken as far back as  Richard Nixon that were an effort to stop the degrading process. There is no sign that our current president has the wits to grasp how his actions are promoting this destructive process. After all, it won’t affect him, but it may benefit some of the corporations that support him

Humans have the intellectual capacity to interact with their environment, as this situation demonstrates. However, our self interest drives most people to have little concern beyond what is related to us.

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President Trump: An American Savior?

This is a question posed to me by a friend who shares different political views from mine. My answer is definitely negative. His decision to resume paying coal companies/miners a government subsidy is certainly a departure from his public image. By withdrawing from international organizations he is relieving us from political and economic connections that carry both positive and negative benefits for us. And he is closing programs that benefit poor people. My concern about that comes from living through the Great Depression and World War II.

When I was a child, Roosevelt’s New Deal literally kept people from starving. One way was by making surplus food available to public schools, which then had to find a way to cook and serve it since schools had no cooking facilities (aside from home economics programs also provided by the Feds). I went to school with children who got one meal 5 days a week, many of whom brought a container to take food home.

We acquired our position as THE leader of the non communist world following WW II because no other political entity was capable of doing so. As I have said in other blogs, the GI bill got me, and millions of others, as much and the kind of education we wanted. However, that bill, and its success convinced a substantial number of people that the federal government could (and should) support more programs that would help groups and individuals. (there was more opportunity than food pails)

Since the Depression, then, lots of people and organizations have taken advantage of this beginning to get the Feds to provide programs for their special interest. It may be time to reduce the number of federally funded programs. And, we have to accept that this will be done just as President Trump is: whack here, whack there wherever you can get the votes to support a whack.

My worry about that from living through the Great Depression is that the people who need these programs the most are those at the bottom of the economic pile. Poor health, poor food, limited opportunities have made them prime candidates for federal help. Unfortunately, they do not know how and could not afford the legal direction to compete with corporations and their armies of lawyers in getting at federal money intended for them.

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Hurricanes

 

The President finally decided to drop in briefly on Puerto Rico, which hopefully will result in more assistance for people and organizations (Army, Navy, local government rescue groups) that have been providing the outside help that the islands have been receiving. Unfortunately, he told them how much help they were already getting and things there were not nearly so bad as inTexas and Florida.

All of this media coverage brought to mind the Sept 21,1938 hurricane that swept in through Long Island, through New York City on up through the northeastern states, through to Quebec at an average speed of 70mph. Before it came ashore, weathermen had an argument about its path with all but one predicting it to keep out to sea. Only one was right and he lost out. As a result, people saw no reason to prepare and the damage was massive. In today’s money equivalent, the damage cost was $5.1 billion, and very few people had property insurance.

Approximately 600 people died in its path and 100 others in peripheral places.  Thirty five percent of New England forest was devastated. Approximately two billion trees were downed in New York and New England. Harvard and Yale owned large forests which were demolished; approximately 2.7 board feet lost. Seaside towns and villages had their piers and boats destroyed, in addition to the damage done to the cities and towns themselves,  Through wind and flooding 57,000 homes were destroyed.

There is no mention in my sources about the President visiting. In any event, he would have brought no money.

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