Archive for May, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

 I am writing this as I anticipate another Memorial Day with my family, flying the flag and eating far too much special food. Afterwards I will probably sit hoping my stomach is doing its job, and wondering if I really gave any thought about the men and women for whom this special day was established.

Several times when I was a child I was taken on what I learned was Confederate Memorial Day to a small cemetery which contained the graves of two or three Confederate soldiers. People gathered and quietly shared stories about what they had been told about life in THE WAR and about relatives who had served in it. Eventually (it seemed to me) a minister said a few prayers and the small crowd straggled off. Our entrance into WWII put an end to this little ceremony and by the end of the war the idea of a Confederate Memorial day was lost in the reality of young men we knew being killed in a struggle against two vicious enemies.

When my family moved to Washington my father and I went several times to the ceremony at the amphitheater in the National Cemetery. The Korean War and my own entrance into the navy put an end to that. When I sit as I am now thinking about this memorial day, I realize how much my pleasant life depends on the deaths of young men and women who had looked forward to the same opportunity.

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Pictures in My Life

Below is one of my favorite pictures.  It is by the   political cartoonist Herblock on the death of Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II and after.

Churchill's Death Herblock



Above is another by the same cartoonist about the Republican Senate trying to find another candidate who would be acceptable to the Senate ufor the Supreme Court during the Nixon presidency.




The cartoonist above is getting at the groups of older citizens who were organizing to stop loose sex in the late 60s.  Below is a scene I saw many times when I was teaching in public schools.



Pictures play a major role in all of our lives and these are some that have impressed me to the extent that I kept them.  What are some of yours?


Knowing The World

Last week we discussed the difficulties of highlighting and reporting on selections from a massive bank of information about the United States today.  This week we are attaching the results of another selection comparing thirteen countries, one of which is the United States. analyzed the same data, and came up with this observation.  It is a real attention getter.  The point is that there is so much data available about human beings and their environment that it is impossible to present anything more than a small picture about what the earth and its creatures are like.

This is not to say that we should not continue to mine our experience, the experiences of others and the vast banks of data in attempts to develop understandable pictures of the world.  It does mean that we know the limitations of our pictures and ideas and continue to work our way through to some meaningful (to us) understanding of the world.

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America in Decline (Yet Once Again)

Its April 23, 2014 issue the New York Times published an article entitled America’s Middle Class Is No Longer The Richest In The World using data from the Luxembourg Income Study Database.  The article drew from the database a version of an old saying, the rich are getting rich and the poor are getting poorer.  In their version, the Times added that the American middle class is standing still and falling behind middle classes in similar countries.

(This article was done by Jim Murphy, one of the two brains who keep the blog on track.)

One of the LIS findings is that middle class income is growing less than that in other countries.  One of the conclusions about why this is so is that educational attainment in the United States has grown more slowly than that in comparable countries.  The  Times example is that Americans 55 to 65 have literacy, numeracy and technology skills above those in similar groups for which LIS has figures.  Those from 16 through 24, however, are near the bottom.

Is this data easily explained by what’s ‘not’ included in the LIS?  That is, if I read it correctly, it does not include non-cash benefits, such as health care, the costs of which have been skyrocketing in the U.S.  Per capita spending on health care in the U.S. is twice that of Canada and Sweden.  The Canadian gov’t pays 70% and the Swedish gov’t 80% of health care costs.  The U.S. pays 45%, but a much higher per cent of its GDP (data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).  If the data were corrected for health care, would the U.S. middle class have fared better in this study?  Would it have fared worse?

Second, the data on education (once again OECD) is fascinating.  In the U.S. there is practically no difference in tertiary educational attainment between 25-24 year-olds and 55-64 year-olds, and greater than 40% of 25-64 year-olds have achieved that level.  So yes, attainment has flattened out, but it was already high.  The rest of the world is simply catching up, but isn’t that what we want for the world?  Don’t we want the people of Japan and France to be educated?  Or is it more important to us to simply always be ahead?

Third, American society is far more diverse than any other society in the study with a large number of recent immigrants who, together with their children, are starting out the way most immigrants to this country began; at the educational and economic bottom.

Interpreting vast amounts of information is not easy.  What I have done has been to point out that there is probably more to be thought about here than the Times could manage even in the extensive amount of space provided.

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