Archive for May, 2015

Living Better

One of the newspapers I read carries a long article about global warming having stopped sometime in the 1990s, or maybe even earlier. This has been determined through measuring the temperature. So, what does this mean for me? Ice at the poles continues to melt as do mountain glaciers. We continue to have warmer weather year round in the Washington area. One calamity that has brought is the movement of a black mosquito into the area that stays active twenty four hours a day and whose bite seems more vicious that than of the breed they displaced. Human health issues also change. Sugar in my coffee was two spoonfuls and rising until it was pointed out to me that sugar intake was responsible for certain health issues. I tried to reduce my sugar to coffee ratio and finally just quit using any. Now we are being informed that sugar is not responsible for as many health issues as we had thought.

As we all know, human health issues and global warming are not all we struggle with. My mother and father were teachers and I followed them. My whole professional life has been spent trying to find ways to “improve” the education of children. Schools have been built on the open model with few walls. Curricula have been changed, methods have been changed, relationships among teachers and between teachers and administrators have shifted back and forth. However, we can’t get beyond the fact this society has certain knowledge and skills that it wants passed along to its children. So far, we have not found a better way than laying it out, provide basic ways to make it stick and test to see that it has.

Having said that, is there any way to tell whether we are living our lives better today that 200 years ago? We have the same question about what is happening to the world we live in. What does the melting of the ice cap mean? What does the black mosquito moving north mean? Should we take the attitude that we are going to be alive less than 100 years, so why should we worry?

I can’t help but feel that we can make a positive difference, that everything we do does not have to be wrecking and pillaging the environment and wrecking others through war and stealing. But, two stories out of Texas this week may give us the reality. One, the state legislature passed a law prohibiting local jurisdictions from preventing underground oil drilling within their borders. Two, dirt bikers gathered in a bar in Waco and shot each other up assisted by the police; eight dead, one hundred arrested.

Maybe we never will get away from total concern with ourselves!


Memorial Day 2015

When I began going to Memorial Day services with my father shortly after World War II, we memorialized both World Wars and the Civil War. The number killed in these wars was around 564, 000. Since then we have had two more major wars and numerous actions. The numbers have more than doubled.

Time has led me to become more aware of the number of deaths young men and women have suffered in giving the rest of us a wonderful place to live (with all of its problems).

For these young people I give thanks this Memorial Day

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Let’s Get This Straight

When the allied armies (American, British, some French) invaded France (Normandy) in June of 1944, they faced a German army of inadequate size to stop them. After two and one half months of heavy fighting the Germans collapsed and the Allies raced through Paris, as seen through newsreels, mobbed by cheering Parisians. The allied armies made it into Belgium and then ran out of gasoline. From November through the rest of the war, soldiers were sent back to Paris for rest and recreation. And, by that time there were1.5 million of us who looked forward to seeing Paris.

It didn’t help that unlike the Normans, Parisians wanted to cheer us and have us move on For American soldiers, however, Paris was the only place in France most of them wanted to see. It was also the only city in France that could accommodate the numbers we had to send.

What planners in Paris arranged for recreation – stage plays, even the famous burlesque show, visits to art galleries and museums – were not what soldiers wanted. They wanted to experience sex and drink alcohol. Needless to say, American military men rapidly lost favor with Parisians and vice versa, a fact which senior officers recognized. A group was put together to collect negative things soldiers were saying about Frenchmen and respond to them. In short order a book was put together and every soldier who came to Paris was given a copy.

One of my advisors in college had been an army colonel in Paris in charge of law and order. He would never talk about his experience and I found out about it only because the Dean told me a little. Recently, I got hold of a reprint of this publication which in my advisor had a hand, three questions and responses from which I share with you.

“They ride in our jeeps and waste our gas”
They ride in our jeeps which are officially loaned to them by our government.
How do you know they are wasting gas? How do you know their trips are not on official business? Did no Americans waste gas on pleasure trips?

“The French don’t invite us into their homes”
They don’t have the food. (The Germans took it.) They don’t speak English and we don’t speak French. it’s hard to extend hospitality under those conditions. Ask those soldiers who have been invited into a French home what it was like.
How many American homes were you invited into when you were stationed near a “soldier town” in the states?

“The French are mercenary. They’ll do anything for a couple of hundred francs.”
Where do you draw the line between a “smart businessman” and a “mercenary Frenchman?”
The French think that the American soldier who sells cigarettes, soap, or candy on the black market at fantastic prices is mercenary. Some Americans “will do anything for a couple of hundred francs”.

112 Gripes About the French

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Choices ??

As Americans we think that one of our characteristics is that we can make choices about just about any thing. The problem for many is what is the point of our lives? What do we make choices about? Obviously, we can’t make choices about who our parents are, but thereafter the world seems to be our oyster. Who do we marry, what kind of car do we buy, what clothes do we wear, etc.

In other words, we have freedom. However, the basic freedom has to do with what is the point of our lives. For example, we have just been in the season of shopping like mad to be able to give so that we may be able to get. Our individual freedom is bounded by expectations set by the culture of individualism rooted in the material world. Life becomes making choices among alternatives.

But, what is it that drives the choices we make? Do we have a concept of our relationship to people other than what we can expect them to do for us? To make that work, what do we have to do for them? Is freedom just making choices among alternatives that will benefit us?

Or, is freedom the space in which we can decide how to flourish together? That requires a different set of choices. It also requires a different set of institutions to help set our mindset, one group of which are Mosques, synagogues and churches.

Having said all of this, how many times are we confronted with issues with which we have no idea what to do, much less what choices we have. People who have children can immediately empathize with this situation. How many times do we find ourselves struggling to find alternatives? Are choices freedom or obligation.

At this point it is obvious they are both. But, how do we tell?


Beyond Tomorrow-Way Beyond

I think I am not unusual in having spent most of my life in being concerned with me, those I love and those with whom I was close to in work. I knew that the human race had not been around long in cosmic time and that living species came and went. However, that knowledge was kept in the back of my mind. There was the next lesson plan to think about, concern for what was coming up for my children, how would I pay for needed new clothes; in short all those things that affected my life.

Now that most of those concerns no longer occupy much of my time, I am keeping up with the broader picture of the world we live in. The disappearance of ice from our environment can’t be ignored, nor does it appear that it can be fixed (restored) by human knowledge and activity. What does this mean in the next 100 years? Or, what does the continuing disappearance of edible fish in the ocean do for our food supply? Or, the continued slow disappearance of coral reefs? Or, sinking ground from pumping shale oil?

None of these concerns were really part of my regular interest until recently. Now in addition there is our continuing ability to manufacture more with fewer human hands, which leads to more unemployment with people who lose jobs in addition to those who can’t find work. Baltimore is a perfect example of a city that lost three major corporations in steel working and manufacturing. Skilled workers were laid off with little to no replacement, and new, mostly unskilled workers couldn’t find work (police charges & work for young with previous work) This is both individual and collective disaster waiting.

So, at the same time that we are faced with a changing world to live in, we are faced with devoting much of our living ability adjusting to that constant change. Many of us, maybe most, can’t face that change with any degree of control by ourselves.

What bothers me is the extent to which the haves care about the non haves.

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