Monthly Archives: June 2010

Sad Chronology

If you have an interest in politics you probably have an interest in history also. It would be tough to make good decisions between opposing views without some historical perspective (along with a basic construct for the future). Apparently it’s tough to make good decisions even when we do know the past. Sadly I organize American history (and could, in fact, organize all human history) by our wars. American wars furnish a chronological scaffolding for all other events.

Recite the wars with me (leaving out battles, skirmishes, and massacres):

French and Indian War
Revolutionary War
War of 1812
Civil War
Spanish American War
World War I
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Desert Storm
War in Afghanistan
Iraqi War
War in Afghanistan

And we supposedly only fight in self-defense. What would our history be like if we were actually aggressors? And how is our history different from that of any other nation except for the names of our encounters? Will it appear to denizens of the future that we went to war for better reasons than other nations? Will human endeavors ever be free of war?

Our Best Behavior is Required

Politics always interested me because in America the people are supposed to be the government. We say who represents us and we are supposed to tell our government what we would like them to do, although how they know who to listen to with all the opposing opinions, I’m sure I don’t know. I guess they listen most to those who elected them.

We have certain humanitarian ideals which make me proud to be an American so I tend to support people who I think uphold these humanitarian beliefs. However, to maintain our position as a world power, which is necessary to accomplishing our humanitarian ideals we must have a healthy economy. Our capitalist economy is sometimes at odds with our ideals. We have to have balance between idealism and economic realities.

I hate to see my country experiencing financial difficulties and I hate how our tight financial circumstances are curtailing our more altruistic instincts. If our economic health doesn’t improve will we get more and more selfish and contentious.

I also hate to see my country reviled around the world. I know we have meddled in other governments, sometimes for national security reasons, sometimes for financial gain and sometimes, because our ideals kicked in. I know we seem to have a zeal to “convert” countries around the world into democracies, which is somewhat arrogant and pretty unrealistic in some cases. I can see that some countries cannot help but be our natural enemies because they have so little regard for the humanistic concerns that motivate us. I don’t think we can afford to go to war with every country whose leaders don’t live up to our beliefs.

We have to walk the fine lines of diplomacy and make our case to the world through the way we treat each other. We’re a little behind the curve on this I would say. I hope we can solve our problems with our economy and our environment and our energy requirements without losing sight of our ideals. Our planet is feeling so little out here at the edge of the universe.

Coming Down Off the Hill

I live in an economically challenged city with a very expensive university. This university is on a hill above the city and for many years only came down to do research and dispense charity. Although they have given us many hours of wonderful sports to enjoy they have never offered special tuition rates to residents of the city. For many years they had an off campus division devoted to serving part time and evening students, but costs were the same as for on campus courses. Most city and area residents of middle means or below have to go out of town to college.

In many ways (besides sports) we are very lucky that this university is so successful. It puts us on the map of the state. It is probably responsible for the richness of our cultural life. After all, we have a very good symphony orchestra which would most likely not have lasted here without the patronage of the university. We used to attract major ballets, we have a famous authors lecture series, we have several options for theater including the university student theater.

This university shows signs lately of trying to interact with the city in a more positive way. Our city is dying. The university is trying to help resuscitate it. They want to create a “corridor” to connect the university and the city. They made a tangible contribution to the city when they moved their architecture students studios to a downtown location (near the most vibrant downtown area.) Now they want to add bicycle lanes to this corridor which connects the university and its architecture students. The push for bicycle lanes seems more than a little self serving. In a city that gets an average of 100 inches of snow each winter, bike lanes sound expensive to design and maintain given the economic and meteorological climate. Although it seems low on the priority list of a city that is basically empty, it may have some unforeseen benefits. Anything that brings the university down off the hill and gets them to interact with the rest of us, to lend us their considerable talents, should have some positive outcomes. Already it has attracted an architectural and an engineering firm back into downtown (albeit, it to that only vibrant neighborhood.)

It is still also true that most people from the area cannot even think about going to this school. Most of us have to start at the community college and transfer out of town to finish our college educations, and maybe we end up living the rest of our lives elsewhere.

I believe if you wanted to forge a lifetime relationship with a community you would offer the people in that community a way to lift themselves up – well publicized scholarships or special fee rates. There is a lot of resentment in this community along with our appreciation and gratitude. We want our university to stay, but we would like to be able to pursue our college careers here, in our own city.

Cable Wars

I haven’t counted, but it does seem as if there is more than a sufficiency of Time Warner Cable ads on our TV. I can’t help but wonder what this is costing. How much could be shaved off our cable bills if Time Warner cut back a bit? The commercials are not horrible. The catchy music is good. I actually enjoyed the medieval themes, at least the first five or six times I saw them. I am not enjoying the ridiculous press conferences nearly as much. I guess we are in the middle of the cable-internet-telephone wars. These companies are fighting for our business, but they must be doing their battling on our dime.

Time Warner is expensive, but they have the shortest disclaimers. I would rather shop the best bottom line, but with all the chicanery that seems required by the combatants it seems safest to pay the highest price and stay with the most up front. Time Warner may not be winning though, because we still have all these ads.

Mary Crabtree – Chapter 6

Even though our house was in the country, it was a transitional community. The old farms had been broken up and not all of the lots had been sold. A lot of older homes already occupied lots scattered here and there. Lots were larger than city lots, maybe ¼ to ½ of an acre. The roads were tarred, there were no sidewalks, and the leafy elms leaned out over the roads, lending shade and beauty. Ten years after we moved here, all the elms had to be cut down because of Dutch elm disease.
On one side of us lived an older couple who were Mennonites. We thought they were nice, but very strange. They had an old house covered in brown shakes, hidden behind many shrubs and pine trees. It looked like it belonged in Appalachia. They, “Aunt Annie” and “Uncle Kenny” could not cut their hair or have a TV, or listen to the radio. Their children were already grown and lived away. They had a huge garden in their back yard and canned their own vegetables. Uncle Kenny worked for the railroad. Sometimes Aunt Annie would invite us girls in to complete sewing projects and listen to religious lessons. For Halloween they gave out pumpkin cookies which we tried to trade off for candy until we found out how delicious they were. They raised a hedge against our back yard which allowed them pretty much total relief from the Taylor backyard mayhem.
On the other side of us was a tiny house that one could really only call a shack. It had been built at the back of a narrow, wet lot, so it was right next to our back yard. In this house lived a woman from our nightmares, Mrs. Crabtree.
Mrs. Crabtree definitely smoked and she drank, a lot. She never cut the grass in her front yard, and she would not let anyone else cut it either. Of course, she only had a front yard, so it gave the appearance that we lived next door to a vacant lot.
We really were scared of her, but we cut across her yard so many times to visit friends on her other side that we wore a path through the tall grasses. Usually the grasses were higher than our heads if we scrunched down a little.
Mrs. Crabtree was not sociable. She hardly ever left her house, that I remember, but always took deliveries, which must have cost a pretty penny, because we did not have many stores nearby. I guess once in a while she went somewhere in a cab.
We did see Mary Crabtree sometimes though, because living next door to her was sort of like living next door to a geyser. Periodically she would “go off”. She would stand in her doorway with her flyaway head of dull ginger and gray hair, a cigarette in her hand or hanging from her bottom lip. She wore a full-length white slip for these occasions and she would start lecturing the neighborhood. She would sometimes spend half an hour or forty-five minutes reaming out everyone for all the injuries done to her since the last time she “went off”. Although by daylight we made fun of her, when the sun went down we weren’t so brave and we were most often the subjects of her tirades. I’m sure she rued the day we arrived next door. She didn’t know our names but she yelled at each of us individually, identifying us by our misdeeds. Many a dusk caught us all sticking pretty close to Mom and Dad and keeping a real, low profile while Mary did her thing. It never turned into one of those sweet stories where a child softens the grief and pain of an older person’s life.
Once a trio of us was cutting across Mrs. Crabtree’s front yard through the tall weeds when she jumped out of her door and yelled at us up close and personal. We turned tail and ran. After that we avoided her yard. Even as teenagers, when we played Hide and Seek in every other yard in the neighborhood, we avoided Mrs. Crabtree’s yard so as not to touch her off.
Dad told us, when he thought we were old enough to understand, that Mary Crabtree was a WAC in WW II. He told us that she had a metal plate in her head. She drank to ease her pain and she yelled because she was so angry that when she got drunk, she finally let it all out. Dad sometimes did errands for her and tried to remind her that we did not break her windows on purpose, or yell just to ruin her naps (which was true because we were too scared of her). When she eventually got seriously ill, long after I was gone from the house, Dad drove her to the VA hospital where she lived out her days.
Mary Crabtree probably had nothing to do with my smoking addiction. She, actually, should have been a great smoking deterrent.

California Dreaming

I have been entertaining myself by imaging how CNN and Fox News would have covered certain historical events. I imagine Tony Harris and Glenn Beck covering the the 60’s. I wonder if Tony would have had a big afro. Maybe Glenn Beck wouldn’t have been quite so conservative. Can you picture him with long hair? I picture Wolf Blitzer interviewing John Lennon and Yoko Ono on their bed in Canada. What would Rush Limbaugh have said about Richard Nixon? Would Anderson Cooper have joined the “flower children” in the “Summer of Love” in California. Imagine Fox news covering Woodstock in 1969. Would Bill O’Reilly have gotten a contact high. This would make a great SNL bit.

The Hippie Days provide the richest vein for humor. What would Sarah Palin have been like as a hippie? Some events might have turned out differently if we had 24/7 news. Some very nefarious people might have acted better if the world was watching in real time, although, judging by today, probably not.

Jelly Legs

These low pants- I thought they would be so over by now. No self-respecting thug can conduct any gansta’ business with his pants buckled around his knees. How can anyone respect this? You all walk like old lady penguins. I remember when we used to make faces when we were kids and our moms said, “what if it freezes that way?” Well what if your legs freeze in that bowlegged position? What if your bones are already storing up damage to haunt you in your senior years? Somebody needs to start a new style – be creative, but make some sense. Don’t be so mean to yourselves.

The "Yield" Sign

Yield – def. “to give place or precedence”, “to give way to”, “to surrender or submit to another.”

If two cars will arrive at the same spot on separate roads, but one person on one road has a yield sign, the car with the yield sign is supposed “to give place or precedence to” the car on the road without the yield sign.

Fat chance! Many people think a YIELD sign means ‘step on the gas and go like hell,’ let the other guy stop. There are a few instances where the person with the yield sign will actually have to stop, like if the WUSS in front of her or him stops, but these situations are very rare and you can usually make it through without stopping. It’s sort of like a game of ‘chicken.’ You will rarely see a policeman near a yield sign, but if you do I would suggest that you temporarily honor the dictionary definition. Otherwise, don’t let a simple thing like giving your fellow drivers heart palpitations stop you. Gun it! Happy motoring.

P.S. Yield does not mean the same thing as merge either.

Lament : The Demise of the Mom and Pop Grocery

In days of yore when I wanted a half gallon of milk, or a loaf of bread, or just a few staples I would run into a convenient store or a small mom and pop grocery, get my few items and get on with my life. It is getting harder and harder to find a nice little neighborhood grocery store, in fact, in my neighborhood, impossible. The gap between convenient store prices and supermarket prices is increasing. I cannot make myself pay those convenient store prices any more just for the sake of – well – convenience.

Do you know where the milk is in most supermarkets? About as far from the door as possible. In some stores it’s farther away than the beer. The parking lots are mine fields. People take the parking space you’re waiting for and then shoot daggers at you if you look unhappy. They do not care if you are walking up the lane to your car with your cart through the pouring rain. Cars have precedence over pedestrians. People rush past you and cut you off at the carts, they walk on your heels. It’s war out there. So not only do you have to walk to the back of beyond to grab your milk, you take your life in your hands while doing it. Sometimes I just do without the milk.

Mom and Pop, I know you had to go, you could no longer compete, but I miss your friendliness and your smaller size and your lack of supermarket marketing strategies. As the population increases will the distance between the door and the milk increase in direct proportion?

Another Oil Spill Variation

This is what I was afraid of. I am beginning to accept that we are doomed to go through a prolonged and miserable period of destruction in the Gulf. We can clean oily animals again and again, but where will they go? I am afraid we will have to accept a huge die-off of living creatures who are dependent on the Gulf waters and shorelines and who never imagined they would be coated in thick, gooey, smelly oil. I am afraid we will have to accept the destruction of the marshlands that are so essential to the health of the Mississippi Delta. We will have to accept beautiful sandy beaches fouled with oily goop for an unknown period time. I am afraid that we will have to accept years of suspense while we wait for the Gulf to recover, if it can. I am afraid that we will accept a return to our daily lives and will no longer think about the oil spill during every waking hour of every day because this is how life reasserts itself.

The only worthwhile thing that could possibly result from this is that we will learn some techniques that will help us if (when) someone fouls our planet again. Or we will learn to be way more cautious when plundering our planet’s resources. Please!