Archive for June, 2014

Who Are We?

Occasionally, (mostly in the middle of the night when I can’t get back to sleep) I wonder who I am, what am I here for and where am I going. As the years go by the possibilities for the last question appear narrower and this puts more pressure on the two preceding questions; who have I been and what have I done. I bring this whole business up because I have found that through out our lives others have had the same questions, though we rarely express them this broadly.

For most of my life I have been a teacher. That has defined me in that it has tied me into the lives of people both in my classes and those for whom I have served as advisor. I have spent a lot of time involved in (and worrying about) other peoples problems and trying to figure out how I could help. Sometimes this meant a pat on the back and in others a kick in the seat. Neither course, and all in between, involved a clear cut decision. As a teacher I spent a lot of time on the first two questions. I was a teacher, but how much should I be involved in the lives of students, who, as the years rolled on were increasingly adults. Who I was became increasingly influenced by my answer to the the preceding question as I moved toward seeing myself as helping students improve their lives as they saw themselves and where they were going. Passing along information was simply part of the job.

While the prevailing belief is that we are independent individuals and should act as such, I came to realize that I was member of a variety of communities; family, work, social, religious which were interactive. As all my roles in these communities expanded, so did their interaction in my life. My concept of individualism changed as the community around me enlarged and my participation in it became so interconnected that now I really can’t explain it

As time has moved along, my concept of myself has also changed. Marriage has made two into one in likes, choices, enjoyment, world view. Being a parent not only gave me a sense of responsibility for our children, but it also taught me that final decisions did not last to the next birthday. I came to realize that one way or another this was the case with all social and professional relationships. With the death of my parents the sense of security that having someone with more life experience who was devoted to me was replaced with the knowledge that I now served that role for others.

This could go on, but the point has been made (both here and in countless books). What I am I have been made by life in an attempt to adjust to constant change that will stop only when I die. Fortunately for me, the woman I share my life with has shifted my view from me to us and that has made a great difference in facing challenges through our married lives.

I end this blog as I began. This personal topic confronts every human being: who am I? Do I ever stop becoming who I am? How much control do I have over the factors that make me what I am? As I age, how do I continue being part of a community?



Varieties of Religious Experience

Religion is a topic not much discussed in today’s world, particularly outside of church. When I was a boy in a small town in rural North Carolina it was not unusual to hear men sitting around the mule stable discussing last Sunday’s sermon or or the biblical reasons why Willis shouldn’t divorce his wife. It was with interest some time ago that I saw a review of a book by Charles Taylor, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at McGill University, in which he compared his views of religion with those of William James. William James first delivered lectures on varieties of religious experience at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland over 100 years ago and then published in a book of almost 800 pages. It was an extensive examination of belief in religion through interviews, historical accounts and examination of the rational of beliefs.

“Most religious men believe (or ‘know‘ if they be mystical) that not only they themselves, but the whole universe of beings to whom the God is present, are secure in his parental hands…. God’s existence is the guarantee of an ideal order that shall be permanently preserved”.# This comes as close to a conclusion for this enormous scholarly work as I can work out.

In his small book (in physical size) of 116 pages*, Taylor compared his views with those of James. After much hauling back and forth between the books, it seems to me that Taylor shares James view that there is God who is in control of our lives. But, he thinks our view of God today is shaped by the increasing confusion in human life.

Accepting that there is so much more to both books than I finally pulled out, this is the thing that has stuck with me. James I read when I had much more of my life ahead of me. Searching through his book again reminds me of the positive outlook he gave me about the role of religion in my life. Many years later, looking back over the experiences of my life leads me more to an acceptance of Taylor’s idea that the confusion of life is affecting our (my) concept of God.


# William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Modern Library.

* Charles Taylor, Varieties of Religion Today, Harvard, 2002

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Eric Cantor

Well, it has happened again. Constituents have thrown out another congressman. This time it’s Eric Cantor of Virginia. A majority of his constituents who voted found he was too focussed on taking and distributing Federal money. As majority leader, Cantor dealt with the concerns of all House Republican members about their need for money to help them stay in office. One of the results of his success in making other members happy, he was able to secure federal money for his own state. THE naval base for the east coast is Norfolk, which, among other things keeps Newport News as the place where ships and submarines are built. Along with the army installations nearby, federal money creates thousands and thousands of jobs both by providing federal jobs as well as commercial support enterprises that employ workers.

What would happen if we cut federal spending drastically? The Norfolk and Newport News region (in addition to sinking slowly beneath the sea) would lose much of its work and population and the Northern Virginia region would suffer similar effects. Tax revenues would decline and most state services would be cut. All of this leads us to the national corporations that live on this activity. Mr Cantor’s demise probably means a great deal to the current business, banking and industrial community for whom he was the man to go to for their concerns, for instance the extension of life for the Import Export Bank.

So, what does this mean? For the people in the district it means that they have lost an impressive advocate. People all over the country have lost a thoughtful man from Congress, a man who was able to change his mindset if the evidence called for it. For the leadership, a man who was able to raise and distribute considerable amounts of money. And, we must not forget the income generating economy that is already searching for another contact to support their operations.

He will be missed.


D Day 2014

As one who lived through WWII as a youngster, our annual remembrance on Friday of the D Day invasion of Europe in 1944 brought on thoughts about that war and war in general. It’s hard to think of war as ever good, and particularly WWII with its massive destruction of human life and property. Russia, China, Germany and eastern Europe were particularly hard hit, though very little of Europe escaped.

In America, however, not only was there no property damage, but we had to revitalize our industrial capacity and bring in both women and blacks to the labor force in large numbers to supply the allied war effort. While the military continued to be segregated, women were allowed to join and serve in positions thought suitable for them. By the end of the war, all black units had black officers and female units had women officers. I taught a man who had enlisted and was put in a unit that served as loaders for various forms of transport. After the invasion of France, casualties in combat engineer units sky rocketed. These units sometimes got out ahead of combat troops to do such things as build quick bridges across streams and rivers so the combat troops could get on with their work. My friends’ unit was converted to this task and the first to get shot were the white officers because it was obvious they were in charge.

General Patton showed up at this unit twice to see how far along they were in getting his combat troops across a particular water barrier. The first time the white officers had been killed so Joe had taken over. He gave Patton his expectations, Patton left and shortly thereafter Joe was notified of his promotion to Lieutenant.

Making “minorities” military officers and giving blacks and women job skills and work in industry did not go away at the end of the war. The demand for civilian goods replaced war time production. The “GI Bill which focussed on education was available to all serving members of the military and colleges were required to take all former military members who were qualified regardless of sex or race. This required a lot of change in colleges and universities that had previously taken only boys just graduated from secondary school. Technical training was also a part of the package, but was inadequate and led to the creation of state community colleges. The destruction of much European industrial and farming capacity helped create an economic boom in the U. S. that absorbed all of the newly educated veterans as well as any other qualified citizens.

War is a terrible event, and WWII was particularly so, but in the United States it created the environment in which the stupidity of segregating black people to their own communities and women to the house became obvious. Acting on this recognition took time, but Supreme Court decisions and the civil rights act(s) have given legal structure to rights and aspirations.

When WWII began, we were still in a depression. How long equal rights would have taken without the loss of the lives of thousands of young men and dislocation of traditional social structures is unknown. What is known however is that the D Day celebration is also a celebration of advancement of the civil rights movement that offers equal opportunity to the poor, women, non white people and older workers.

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Say It Ain’t So Joe

As I was leafing through one of the magazines at the barbershop, I was seized by the realization that the thing was dominated by advertisements as is TV. I came home and got down some of my old volumes of HARPER’S WEEKLY newspaper from the 1860s to compare the modern with the ancient. Who says our concerns have changed (and improved)? We have just discovered that it is more profitable to produce a “cure” for one problem rather than one for many problems.

“Drakes Plantation Bitters

They purify, strengthen and invigorate

They create a healthy appetite

They are an antidote to change of water and diet

They overcome the effects of dissipation and late hours

They strengthen the system and enliven the mind

They prevent miasmatic and intermittent fevers

They purify the breath and acidity of the stomach

They cure Dyspepsia and Constipation

They cure Diarrhea, Cholera, and Cholera Morbus

They cure Liver Complaint and nervous headache

They are the best bitters in the world. They make the weak man strong and are exhausted nature’s great restorer. They are made of Pure St. Croix Rum, the celebrated Callisaya Bark, roots and herbs, and are taken with the pleasure of a beverage without regard to age or time of day. Particularly recommended to delicate persons requiring a gentle stimulant. Sold by all Grocers, Druggists, Hotels and Saloons.

                                                                             P. H. DRAKE A CO 202 Broadway, New York”

The essential ingredient in this, as in all similar concoctions, was the rum. When I was a child in the South, all Southern states severely limited the sale of whiskey, beer and any other alcoholic beverage. The shelves of country stores, gas stations, etc were full of products similar to Drakes. These were sold in considerable quantities and not, my father told me, to purify the breath, cure constipation, diarrhea and nervous headache. He gave me a list of men in our small town who bought one or more bottles a day. Over time I noticed that those I could check on were more jovial at the end of the day than in the morning, a condition one or two of them attributed to their version of Drake’s Bitters. When Southern states allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages, mostly through state run stores, these products disappeared.

“THE HORRORS of WAR can be greatly mitigated by that sovereign remedy, HOLLOWAY’S OINTMENT, as it will cure any wound, however desperate, if it be well rubbed around the wounded parts, and they be kept thoroughly covered with it. A pot of ointment should be in every man’s knapsack. Only 25 cents per pot.”

This was simply one of the products that Dr. Holloway wanted soldiers to stuff in their knapsacks to deal with Dysentery, Scurvy, Wounds and Bruises.

“A Bad Breath – The Greatest Curse the human family is heir to. How many lovers it has separated – how many friends forever parted. The subject is so delicate, your nearest friend will not mention it, and you are ignorant of the fact. To effect a radical cure, use “BALM OF A THOUSAND FLOWERS” as a dentifrice, night and morning. It also beautifies the complexion, removing all tan, pimples and freckles, leaving the skin soft and white.                     Price 50 cents. Sold by all druggists”.

All of the above advertisements appeared in the August 1, 1863 edition of Harpers Weekly.