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Monday
Sep252017

CHANGE EVERYTHING AND MAKE IT BETTER!

 

I watched the end of Independence Day the other evening. I’ve seen the movie at least twenty times and I still get all verklempt when they defeat the aliens. (Sorry if this spoils the ending for the two of you who haven’t seen it yet.) What happened?  Jerry and I saw this 1996 movie the first time in a theater where there was a packed crowd.  When the president gave his speech before taking off with the rag-tag bunch of civilian flyers, the world’s last resort, the audience cheered and applauded.  When victory was established the audience went wild and stood up and cheered.  Some actually cried. A feel-good movie that showed the best of people regardless of their color, religion or sexual orientation; where they came from didn’t matter, that they all came together, did.

People in this country are going crazy!  Nothing seems to be good anymore; everything is bad or causing emotional upheaval to someone’s psyche and the only way things will be fixed is to remove these bad things from our sight and memory.  Statues and memorials related to long deceased, slave holding individuals are under fire. Some groups want the names of schools to be changed, street signs, etc.  Did you hear about the USC mascot?  Their mascot is a white horse named Traveler which, spelled with an additional l, is the same name as Robert E. Lee’s horse.  How about the nerve of Hobby Lobby, selling fake raw cotton! How many enslaved people toiled in fake cotton fields, picking that stuff? Where is this going to end; or will it ever?   

During the buildup to World War Two, German shepherd breeders changed the name of the dogs to Alsatians because of anti-German sentiment.  In a more relatable era for some, the late 1940s and 1950s, Americans lost their livelihood, friends and their good name just because they “might” be a Communist sympathizer since they were seen talking to or at the same social function as an alleged Communist.  Can you remember the uproar caused when ISIS started destroying mosques and ancient statues in Iraq and Syria just a short time ago? It seemed that the entire world was shocked.  ISIS claimed that they were only doing it to cleanse the area of idolatry, reinstating monotheism. Some found it interesting though, that what artifacts were not destroyed, were instead looted, and sold to further their own group’s activities.

The ancient Egyptians were notorious for removing names from all their records of pharaohs that fell from favor, defacing their statues, even tearing them down.  The Romans were into this also.  Both cultures considered names very important and to be lost to the annals of history was a terrible punishment.  Even some unpopular Catholic Popes disappeared from official church records in the same manner. 

You have to be able to know the past in order to understand the present.  The world has always been inhabited by both saints and sinners; some would insist, more sinners.  We must remember that life is not lived entirely in black and white.  What saint has lived without a least a few spots of gray clouding an otherwise faultless existence?  What sinner never felt a spark of compassion toward another individual?

Should I feel guilt because my ancestors came from Germany?  Think of all the deaths caused by Germany’s lust for expansion.  But, didn’t a German also give us a printed Bible and Silent Night? The Spanish Conquistadors killed and pillaged entire civilizations across most parts of the world, in their lust for gold, land and trade routes, spreading infectious diseases along the way.  Spain also gave us Picasso, Don Quixote, foosball and sherry.  George Washington was indeed a slave owner.  He was known for his compassion and his willingness to consider the ideas and opinions of others, regardless of their station in life.  He fought to give us a nation to call our own at the cost of his personal life and health.

Maybe instead of finding fault with the past which we can’t change, we should look to ourselves to see how we will be perceived by future generations.  Will we be known as the ones who found a way of uniting a diverse population or the ones who tore us apart?  Maybe still, we will not be mentioned at all because we’ve become just useless information.

BTW:  I attended a large, annual Fall Festival last weekend.  It was held on the site of a former campground used by both the Creek and Cherokee.  Back in the seventeen hundreds it was declared a no-kill zone by both tribes, which included hunting the local fauna. It later became a white settlement, the location of the first church in the county, etc.  Later still, the property housed a grist mill and cotton gin.  In modern times, historical buildings, such as churches, log cabins, barns, a smokehouse and even a privy have been donated and moved to the area so people can see firsthand how others lived before today’s modern conveniences.  More land was acquired and through the hard work and devotion of many volunteers, the park is now a place to go for a family day of picnicking, water play and fun.

Beside the usual arts and craft booths, food trucks and demonstrations of “what life was like before electricity,” there were scheduled Civil War battle enactments.  Men on horseback, many more on foot, showed the large crowds gathered how the battles were fought; smoke bellowing from the cannon and the muskets the men carried, and bodies falling upon pre-determined spots on the ground.  We saw no protest signs nor heard cries of dissent.  We stood and watched history.

Sharon

 

Friday
Aug042017

CARS OF A DIFFERENT COLOR

Our first car as a couple was a nineteen sixty-four Nash Rambler that we bought from my sister and brother-in-law.  We made monthly payments and, as a wedding present, they let us slide on the final payment.  Maybe we should have tied the knot sooner although I don’t know how far their generosity would have gone.  It was an aqua blue and white box with wheels but it served its purpose, getting us around town safely.  I took public transportation to my job in downtown Chicago and Jerry had the Rambler all to himself.  I still didn’t know how to drive anyway.  My family didn’t own a car and public transportation was readily available.
The Rambler was still running by the time our three year anniversary approached but was having some serious problems that were costing us time and money.  On the day of our anniversary Jerry, after going through the local classifieds, found a vehicle that he was sure would be perfect for us and on the way to a dinner appointment with his parents, we stopped to take a quick look at it.  It was a used, white Volvo 1800S sports car just like the one Roger Moore drove in The Saint television show, a show Jerry was a huge fan of.
You guessed right if you figured we bought it.  After a ten minute lesson from the salesman on how to drive a manual transmission, we lurched out of the lot and sped across town to our already way late dinner, praying for continuous green lights and, when we did occasionally have to stop, praying that he could get the damn thing in gear before we started a riot of angry motorists trying to get around us.
We finally made it to the restaurant without any damage to the Volvo and only severe nerve damage to ourselves.  We looked; I’m sure, like members of an Olympic rowing team who had tried hard not to come in last place, exhausted, disheveled and perspiring like wet pigs. His parents were pissed off at having to wait so long but I think his dad was secretly envious of our purchase.  His mother thought we had gone crazy and for once, I had to agree with her.  We also had to deal with the fact that we still had to get it home that night.
We got to our place late that evening after a few more trials and errors, some more dangerous than others and some noisier, especially while trying to get the stick in the correct notch. We were now living in our four story walk up which was situated in a suburb that did not allow overnight parking.  We had a spot we paid for a few blocks away for the Rambler to be legally parked but until we could rent out another space, the Volvo would get towed away unless we called the police and tell them where, why and how long they were going to have to ignore our vehicle.  
We set up for a nice spot in a tire store parking lot next to where the Rambler spent its nights until we got it sold.  A few months later, after a snow storm, we walked to the lot to retrieve our vehicle and found out that it had been damaged by a snow plow.  A white, low slung sports car does not do well when challenged by a plow on an early, overcast snowy morning.
The Volvo was only a two-seater but with a hump behind the bucket seats, we occasionally, were able to jam upwards of four adults or nine juveniles all in uncomfortable and physically challenging positions behind us.
 After spending a huge fortune each month on repairs and constant tune ups to keep our Volvo mechanic in the lifestyle he had chosen for himself and his family, we finally had to let her go and replace her with something more sensible and cost effective.  Enter the orange Volkswagen Squareback!  At least we didn’t have to worry about snow hiding it; we did have to avoid parking too close to fruit stands.
Sharon

 

Thursday
May252017

ROBOTIC LUGGAGE THIEVES

Don't let him get away!I remember years ago when Steve Martin admitted he believed robots were stealing his luggage. Up until that time, most of us would have been too embarrassed to agree with him but not anymore.  In 2016, airlines mishandled 21.8 million bags at a cost of 2.3 billion dollars in reimbursements to passengers.  Now putting that in perspective, passengers paid the airlines 4.2 billion dollars in baggage fees – this is based on the twenty-five largest US airlines -- to transport their belongings to their correct destinations.  The vast majority of the bags went missing during layovers when they had to be taken off one plane and deposited into the cargo compartment of another.  Hmm.

The above figures seem huge but, the amount of lost or misplaced luggage has gone down dramatically over the last few years.  Airline agencies insist that it’s because of new tracking systems now in place that keep a better eye on wandering bags.  I tend to think there is more to it than that.  My theory is that those bag stealing robots that have been hanging around airports have found better employment.

Back around 400 BC, Archytas built a wooden bird that he powered using steam.  The bird could fly for short distances until the steam ran out but, it made enough of an impression to go down in history as the first known robot.  My first inkling of what a robot should be was Robby the Robot, big, fat and usually friendly, unlike Gort who was big and scary.  Then the day came when I watched Fritz Lang’s1927 movie, Metropolis, featuring “the Machinenmensch.”  She was one of the first robots ever depicted on film and should have had enough influence on us to never want to create any others like her, but of course, we kept going forward, producing robots that would make our lives easier and get the job done on time.

The 1960s saw the beginnings of the industrial robotic age when General Motors included a unit capable of lifting hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and then stacking them. From then on there was nothing stopping the future.  Robots, although still not physically resembling humans, took over many of the dangerous, dirty and low-end tasks supposedly allowing us more freedom to take on more difficult endeavors, more suited to our intellect.

Even more sophisticated robots have become part of our lives, driving automobiles, flying airplanes – the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Global Hawk flew over the Pacific Ocean from Edwards Air Force Base in California to RAAF Base Edinburgh in Southern Australia in twenty-two hours – and even joining the astronauts up on the Space Station.  Robots play a big part in the manufacturing process and in laboratory research and even perform surgery with skill and precision beyond human capability.  What about the robot telemarketers that tie up your phones lines and make you feel stupid when you think you’re talking to a person.  We can’t forget that tiny, hard working Roomba that is capable of multi-tasking, cleaning your floors while entertaining small children and animals.

Many of those airport robots that were hanging around baggage areas and lounges have left the area entirely  Instead of selling the contents of your luggage they found better gigs elsewhere.  According to a Bank of America study, by 2025 robots will be performing 45 percent of manufacturing tasks, given that the prices of robots and computers are falling.  Costs have declined by 27 percent over the past decade and are expected to drop by another 22 percent in the next decade.  With the bottom line being profitability, employers will have little choice when it comes to hiring.

Customer service jobs will be performed by pleasant, clean and always cheerful automatons as well as positions requiring accounting and statistical analysis.  Models with the perfect face and figure will always be on call to take to the runway and umpires will be able to call a ball in or out without his Seeing Eye dog.  Soon, luggage will remain in the belly of that big metal bird, to be reunited with its rightful owner and the new cry that will be heard across the universe will be that robots are stealing my JOB!

Sharon

BTW     Years ago when we lived in Chicago, I wanted to buy a toy robot for our son.  Trekking downtown, I entered the holy grail of toy departments at Marshall Field and Company.  I purchased the robot and we all had a fun time playing on the kitchen floor, Jason laughing when the dogs would either run from it or try to attack it.  It survived many battles and I still have the thing but, I took the batteries out after I found my purse missing.

Wednesday
Apr262017

A STORMY AFTERNOON IN GEORGIA

When Tony Joe White wrote A Rainy Night in Georgia, he forgot the rainy mornings and the ever popular rainy afternoons and early evenings.  After a beautiful Saturday, highs in the mid-eighties and sunny, the clouds moved in and by late evening, the rain started.  Not a gentle spring shower, this was a heavy downpour with strong winds.   I was happy that Shelby was able to take her final outing of the day just before things got interesting.

Early the next morning, I’m awakened to the familiar click, click, click, click of bare paws on a bare floor as Shelby goes to the window to check out the condition of her outside world.  I could almost hear a few doggie expletives coming from her as we made our way to the back door, ready to start the day’s activities.  After attaching her lead, I gave her a hug and told her to be quick about it and opened the door.  One paw, then another made it over the threshold before she got hit on the head with brain chilling raindrops.  Shelby turned, with panic written all over her face, and she dove back inside, feeling I’m sure like she had just encountered incoming enemy fire.  Luckily for both of us, she has great bladder control and I was able to take “Ole Yellow Eyes out during a break in the weather a few hours later.

I’ve mentioned before that Shelby hates thunder and lightning and at its first sign, runs into the bedroom and sticks her head under my bed, leaving the rest of her body to fend for itself since she can’t edge any more of her anatomy in.  Keeping to our usual Sunday morning routine, we cleaned house to a rock and roll beat.  Many Sunday mornings are spent listening to Rod Stewart or the Bee Gees or Queen but this day was definitely a Tina Turner or Righteous Brothers situation.  Things were picked up, floors were vacuumed and dishes washed and put away to the beat of Little Latin Lupe Lu and Ebb Tide.  Shelby was grooving on the tunes and not paying attention to the storm outside.  

Going for a classier mix next, I put in a Charles Aznavour CD and pushed the buttons.  Nothing happens!  I keep trying to get it started but to no avail.  Now I can’t even get the door to open to retrieve the disc.  OK, no time to panic.  Numbers and letters start flashing across the display.  Time to panic!  My first thought is to pull the unit out from the wall and check all the connections.  The entire stereo -- radio, phonograph, tape deck and CD player -- sits atop an old cigar stand that belonged to Jerry’s dad and is wedged in a corner next to a large, very old china cabinet filled with breakables.  After emptying half the china cabinet onto the table, I was finally able to move it just enough to free up the cigar stand and pull the unit out for me to check the wall plugs and the connections.  Nothing. 

I then turned to the next logical repair process and slapped the blasted thing as hard as I could on its side. At first silence, but then a whirring sound and the door snapped open, teasing me with a glimpse of the CD before sucking it back into its inner working parts, reminding me of Jabba the Hutt snacking on a Klatooine paddy frog.  I had just about given up and was already thinking of turning on the dishwasher to hide the noise from the storm when the door popped open once more and I was able to remove the disc.  After sticking its drawer out at me a few more times and retreating, it once again went dormant.  The stereo has not recovered and is now sitting back in the corner but luckily I had a backup system and we finally listened to French love songs.  Over the never ending chorus beating down outside, our choices in music moved to Billie Holiday, Wagner and Rod McKuen and finished with a Sarah Brightman album.

As the day wore on and the rains continued, I had a clean house, finished some old projects, started some new ones and never once made it into the office.  Shelby survived the storm, had more play time than usual and I hope she realizes that life’s obstacles can be overcome, partly because, the beat goes on.

Sharon

PS  I just stepped out on the deck this evening; work finished for the day.  The sky is clear and dark blue, the stars just beginning to emerge.   The frogs in the neighboring pond are singing loudly, their bellies full.  Life is good.

Thursday
Mar232017

THE ROOSEVELTS AND VETERANS

I love to read.  Since discovering Dick and his sister Jane, I’ve spent a goodly amount of my life in libraries, bookstores and resale shops whenever possible.  I’m a research addict and proud of it but I do go through spells where the bulk of my reading is mostly confined to novels, then maybe I’ll switch to how to books or then again, memoirs or biographies.  There’s usually no rhyme or reason as to my choices except what catches my eye at a particular moment.  Yes, cover copy and illustrations lure the strongest of us.              

 Lately, my tastes have run to biographies.  A while ago I read one about Eleanor Roosevelt and her many contributions to such causes as the Civil Rights and Women’s Equality movements through both her writings – she was the first, First Lady to write a daily newspaper column - and her feet on the ground, hands on, person to person volunteerism during both World Wars.  She was also active in improving working conditions in rural mining areas and farming communities during the depression.  Eleanor had a genuine concern to help all who needed it even if it meant voicing her opinions which were sometimes contrary to her husband’s.  She did not want Franklin to become president but was able through her platform as First Lady to become a world leader, working with organizations throughout the globe to secure the theme of universal human rights.   

I’m now reading another Roosevelt biography, this one though deals with Ted Roosevelt Jr., the oldest son of Teddy.  Ted spent his life having to live in his Rough Rider father’s shadow, never certain if he was good enough to carry on the legacy.  Reading this book should convince anyone that he was more than up to the challenge and was a man of great courage and moral conviction.

He served in France as one of the first Americans to go over during WW1 and received honors for his bravery and leadership.  He became an American hero.  Ted was one of the founders of the American Legion which promoted the supposition that all veteran soldiers were comrades, regardless of rank. He did well in business and, like his cousin, Franklin, was involved in political activities, holding various offices which included Governor of Puerto Rico.  Funded by the Chicago Field Museum, he and his brother, Kermit travelled to faraway locations, bringing back exotic animal specimens for study and display, trekking across the Himalayas through India and China.  At the age of fifty-six, Brigadier General Ted Roosevelt was the oldest soldier landing by sea on D-Day, the only General hitting the ground with the first attack wave on Utah Beach, one of the first off the landing craft, and the only man who had a son, Captain Quinton Roosevelt III, who was also part of the invasion, landing on Omaha Beach.  I think he did more than just living up to his old man’s expectations, he rose far above them.  The name of the book is HIS FATHER’S SON THE LIFE OF GENERAL TED ROOSEVELT JR by Tim Brady.

Segueing from World Wars One and Two, I’d just like to remind everyone that this summer officially marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War; timing varies depending on when we officially entered the conflict versus sending numerous “advisors” over there unofficially. Most will agree that this was not a popular war and many Americans protested or chose not to go.  Unlike earlier wars that were sometimes romanticized with deeds of honor and chivalry, we at home were now able to see war up close and personal via our televisions, seated in our living rooms, perhaps eating our dinner on a tv tray.  We watched people get blown up, executed, homes burned, bloody children crying, lying next to dead bodies.  After a while, seeing this day after day, a different village with different people but the scenes the same, we grew desensitized.  The number of dead or wounded became just numbers.

But what about the 2,709.918 Americans who did serve?  Most came back to their homes and families and carried on with their lives.  Some did not.  47,378 died.  Sixty-one percent of our men killed were twenty-one years old or younger.  75,000 came home severely disabled.  Many, having been exposed to Agent Orange, came home seemingly healthy only to later suffer and many times die from COPD related disorders, heart disease, lung cancer and kidney failure.  Some soldiers would and still do suffer from mental disorders and various other types of debilitation. Some veterans just disappeared.  And the worst blow given to these war veterans was the utter disrespect and downright hatred shown to some of them when they returned home. 

We’re all older now.  We’ve seen young men and women leave home for yet another conflict, most returning, some not.  Let’s remember our veterans who are now gone, and hold dear and respect those with us now                

  “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."                                                          Theodore Roosevelt

Sharon