Archive for March, 2015

It’s Sad

When I grew up in North Carolina we had one snow, yet my parents told such wonderful stories about deep snow and pulling people around on large sleds. When we moved to Maryland, just out side of the D. C. line on the Potomac River we had deep snow every year I was in high school. One year all of the boys in Glen Echo borrowed a long toboggan belonging to a birding expert and took it across MacArthur Blvd and up through the increasingly high hills of a golf course. We all pilled on and had a harrowing ride down one hill and up the next, across MacArthur Blvd, the streetcar tracks and around the circle in Glen Echo. Then we did over again with the goal of reaching the canal by the river. Fortunately, we never made it.

When I was in the navy, we made a trip to our air force base at Thule in far northern Greenland. We traveled with two ice breakers mostly in sight of the ice covered coast. We frequently saw the coastal edge of an ice glacier break and fall into the sea. Several times we were bound up in the ice and had to wait for the ice breakers to free themselves so they could free us.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s we had snow and deep cold in the Washington area. Less than twenty five years later all this seems to have changed. Greenland is no longer covered by glaciers and northern Canada may actually provide a northern route to Europe. Although we are now in the grip of a blast of arctic air, we are told that the earth’s climate is warming. There are articles describing how the climate change will affect all aspects of life, animal and plant.

Yet, most of our politicians don’t seem interested. Even though there are reports and articles and books about how the climate change will affect us, the argument is all about who has and will get federal money. Even if there seems to be little that can be done about this change, it’s sad that our government will not make the effort.

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Robert Putnam Once Again

Robert Putnam once again. Those of you who took my class in the early 2000s will remember Robert Putnam, a sociologist whose book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, dealt with the social disconnection being brought on by changing social and economic conditions. He is now out with a new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. As before, his basic thesis is that as our economy changes, the opportunities for children change; increasingly not for the better.

The economic growth that followed WWII propelled movement by people from farming areas to cities and suburbs to occupy better jobs and income. Suburbs grew and cities changed. People could buy (relatively small) houses and produce children who needed schools that were built. Most schools had kitchens and eating areas and small prices for lunch. The economy continued to expand by producing automobiles, materials to build houses and furniture and electronics needed to furnish them. As we all know, we also invented machines to replace people in this production process. For some time now, well paying work is changing in composition and beyond what many unemployed people are capable of performing. For young people education in vocational home economics, and work related programs in farming and industry became outdated and abolished. New programs in electronics required math and skills and interests that were beyond many youngsters.

Putnam is now addressing the issue of an economy failing to provide non technical, relatively routine work for masses of people. He describes how families fall apart and what happens to children in increasing numbers. In Putnam’s description of the decline of social institutions and human aspirations in this “new society” focusses on children and it is depressing.

I am living on a comfortable income at the end of my life and looking at conditions that I saw as a child in the late 1930’s. World War II was a savage struggle for millions of people. But, for Americans, it provided for the birth of a new and better life. Putnam’s view is that what happened for me is not happening for today’s youngsters. More of us will have to get involved in what is happening to provide the change that will lead to a return to full employment and the opportunities it provides for most most Americans.

Read Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

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Willie and Joe

 

One of the favorite memories of WWII were the cartoons of Willie and Joe drawn by Bill Mauldin.  Drawn during the European campaign, they made a case for the ordinary soldier and had General Eisenhower as one of their devotees.  When they drew one that offended General Patton,  Eisenhower came down on Mauldin’s side.  What brought him to my mind was my struggle to find people in our national congress whom I admired such as Congressman Cannon of Missouri, Senator George of Georgia and Senator Barkley of Kentucky, conservative and liberal, but not nuts about it.

After stumbling on Mauldin’s Willie and Joe, I came back to an old conclusion I have never wanted to accept; you can never recreate the past and its people. Mauldin and Willie and Joe are fixed in a particular time. So, I will just have to live with the jerks who currently populate our national public life and hope times will change.

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Sunrise is Beyond Us

As I lay in bed this morning with a new kneecap and unable to attend church, I got to watch the sun rise. And, that led me to the realization that the sun was rising an hour later. That led me to wonder what it would be like if we really had control of the sun’s rising and setting. Think of it! The Russians would claim complete control. The matter would be referred to the United Nations for discussion and “settlement’. Speaker Boehner would have to mediate between the positions of the liberal and conservative wings of his party as well deal with the Senate. The President would issue a proclamation saying his position was the final word.

This sounds foolish, but we humans think we have control over everything and, among other influences, science encourages us. Some group is going to see if they can create a mastodon out of tissue found in the Russian arctic. (If they do, the Russians will claim it’s theirs.) Probably, the most common meeting place between scientists and people like me is over food. Over my married lifetime I have gone from two eggs and bacon for breakfast to cereal because eggs and bacon contained “things”, cholesterol among them, that were bad for you. Now, science has found that not to be true. Cholesterol is not an unmitigated evil. The same with all fried food. And worst of all for me is sugar. Unfortunately, there are so many people like me that food producers overload everything they can with sugar.

Medical science has gone the same direction of changing effects and treatments. In my youth, if you had an operation, you went home to bed rest. Now, you get up as soon as you can and get on with your life. These simple examples are just the tip of the iceberg. And speaking of icebergs, where are they going? Well a major topic for consideration seems to be that we will finally find the northwest passage from North America to Europe, which will be good for business.

We are polluting the oceans at such a rate that coral reefs are dying. We are overfishing the oceans and finding that this is causing effects beyond the decreasing numbers of fish in the ocean. All of this of this ranting was caused by the sunrise. The management of ideas and human activities seems to vary between Vladimir Putin and the American Congress.

So, watching the sunrise is comforting. It will be back tomorrow right on schedule and there is nothing we can do about it.

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Back to Bed

One of the things that gets on your mind and won’t leave when you no longer have a job to stir up worries is the weather. This is the second year in a row with very cold weather over a good part of the country and lots of rain and snow and low temperatures over the northern portion. In the Washington area we have had lots of grey days, low temperatures and moisture in the form of rain, freezing rain and enough snow and sleet to shut schools and many other non commercial institutions.

One grey day after another, snow piled up on your side of the street so that it’s your cars that have to be shoveled out and, now, ice covering everything leads to a sour mood and a feeling that we will never see the end of this.

So, rejoice in the return of daylight saving time. I don’t know why we still have this useless change of time, but right now it does lead to the (foolish) hope that the physical environment is in for better times.

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