Archive for September, 2014

The Roosevelts

The recent television series The Roosevelts was not only superbly done, it spoke to me because I lived through Franklin Roosevelt’s time on the national stage. When I was first aware of pubic events, Franklin was president and doing good things for the country. I know this because, not only did my father tell me this, he was doing things sponsored by the federal administration. As principal of a rural eleven grade school in North Carolina, he went to the Wilson railroad yard and collected surplus food in as many automobiles and mule and wagons as he could assemble. Powdered eggs, apples, wheat flour, even butter, anything that could be shipped in bulk was brought back to the school kitchen where mothers who volunteered to cook prepared free lunches for students. In addition, students brought in metal pails (lard buckets) and took home as much as they could for the rest of the family. Many of my classmates did not have shoes or jackets, and many did not bathe at all to the constant dismay of my mother and other teachers.

School was in session for eight months and we went to southwest Virginia for a good part of four months to live with my mother’s father because there was some work to be had around the coal mines. A couple of summers he worked for Uncle Gregory in his automobile shop. Once, he was sent with two other men to Detroit each to pick up a car and drive it back. He was strongly advised by every member of the family not to get off the train in Lynch or Harlan, just over the border in the “deep” mountains of Kentucky. These two towns traded the honor of being the murder capital of the US in those days. For a couple of summers he was a meat cutter for one of he mine company stores. Another, he stayed in NC and, together with a high school student, repainted the school’s tin roof red in the heat of summer.

When the President gave a speech it was almost always in the evening so people would be home to listen. The yard beside the principal’s quarters, built at one end of the school, would fill up with farmers, my father would sit his radio in a facing window and all would listen to the president’s 15-20 minute address. I remember a couple of times when the same means was used so men could listen to a Joe Lewis boxing match At that time, the school was the only building that had electricity. One of the President’s projects was rural electrification, and these memories soon ceased as there were many other places to listen to the radio.

The memories go on, but the point is that I grew up among people who thought Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest man in the world. We thought he was working hard to provide work, as well as food, retirement income and health services. When he died, for most people it was like losing a parent. Who would do what was best for us now?

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Scotland the ???

Scotland The ???

The vote by Scots on their independence from the rest of Great Britain seems to be part of a movement. Catalonia in Spain wants to be independent in order keep more of its wealth at home; Belgium divided between Flemings and Walloons is constantly under threat by one group or another about leaving, and so on.

In the United States we settled that problem well over a hundred years ago and it stays settled, not only because of the Constitution, but because as our population has increased, it has diversified and mostly doesn’t care about sectional differences. Also, with our size has gone an ever changing, growing economy. History shows that these two factors matter a great deal and that smaller countries in size, population and economy can be (and through history have been) at the mercy of larger ones.

Sweden, Norway, Denmark have recently been let go their own way because they no longer matter. Maybe the same would be true for Scotland, but it has not been true for the smaller countries of eastern Europe, or those to the south of us. The giant that is Russia is showing second thoughts about the devolution of the Russian Empire and we keep constant watch on the economic affairs of our southern neighbors.

Ceasing to be part of one of the most economically and politically powerful countries in the world strikes me as being like a sixteen year old wanting the keys so he can drive the car whenever and wherever he wants and stay out all night. As those of us who keep up with political and economic affairs know, situations change constantly. Sometimes with the speed of light and sometimes so slowly as to escape notice until too late. The kind of change we had in the 20th C is not gone. When something threatens, being part of a larger whole is probably the only way to influence events that threaten our lives.

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Home Repairs

Working on a house is something I began doing almost as soon as we bought one in 1957. I had never done anything like this before, but there was an assumption on both my and my wife’s part that this was my job. Fortunately, my father lived fairly close because, while the house was only 14 years old it had been treated badly. The first job was to get three coats of paint and two of wall paper off the walls. The poor man who agreed to do this after his regular work day took a week to finish. When I paid him he was rueful about the small amount he had charged, but unfortunately my second year teaching salary did not allow me to add to our agreement.

I started a round of replacing caulking in windows that went on year after year until I was able to afford replacement windows. The window frames also required regular painting. I made sure that our replacement windows were aluminum clad. I built bookshelves along one wall in the living room, though even with my father’s help I was not able to get any one of the three bottom shelf boards I bought to fit in in the last empty shelf space. I finally arranged one of my jerry rigs, painted it and put books in to prevent my father from seeing that I could not manage his careful advice and early help.

I took the front door off its hinges, burned off the paint, repainted, put in a new lock, rehung it and, much to my surprise, it continued to work for the next thirty years. This was one of my few successes in keeping our house operating. I could go on, but the point has been made. Home repairs have left mostly emotional scars.

The reason for this blog is to complain about the way I have been treated by some of the experts for trying to help. Most of the professionals called in took a dim view of my failing to partially successful efforts. Early on, our plumber told my wile to call him directly and he would try to hurry out and keep me from making the problem worse.

I’m sure I’m not the only homeowner who has tried to build and repair things around the house to limited success. If you happen to be one, I would appreciate hearing from a fellow bungler (If you aren’t, don’t bother telling me how good you are).

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Human Extensions

One of the things I have discussed in different ways in this blog is what comes in our social and work world as the kind of work we have to do changes. Edward T. Hall, a cultural anthropologist wrote The Dance of Life in 1984. In it he talks about human extensions as a part of his over all theme. Computers that extend the memory, telephones from his day to this increasingly extend the human voice, memory, visions of people and things and who knows what’s coming.

There are several points that I wish to draw from creating human extensions. One is the intellectual activity consumed in conceptualizing and creating an extension. Another is developing the technology to manufacture this object and convincing people that they need to use it. There are also other kinds of extensions such as cranes that extend the back, arm and hand, automobiles, airplanes and (my favorite right now) hearing aids.

All of these things have created a culture of life on which production (work) and use are integrated. However, as production is increasingly being done by machinery (human extensions) that require little to no human management, what happens now? Human extensions are replacing human beings in making and doing things. Information technology can now drive cars.

What happens to life in a culture which is built around production but no longer needs human labor? Is our system of work, leisure, accumulating wealth, etc already working to provide answers? Is the accumulation of wealth in fewer hands that pay fewer taxes one of the answers? What do we do about unemployment? Are our institutions of higher education even thinking about the issue?