Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Our Disappearing Culture

Do you know what this egg-shaped thing is?

Without reading the label on the can, do you know what this is?  And, if you know what it is, why is there a light bulb lying beside it?  If you know, I suspect that your age has something to do with it!  The egg-shaped rock is a darning egg, and the light bulb is a substitute if you do not have a darning egg.  

Now that I have told you what it is, I would bet that some of you still have no idea what I am talking about.  A darning egg is used to darn socks when a sock gets a hole in the toe or the heal.  You slip the darning egg into the sock, and then you can mend it.  Perhaps you are not familiar with mending, nor do you own a needle or keep various colors of thread on hand to match whatever you are mending.

It is not just the language between those with gray in their hair and their grandchildren.  It is our generational differences about whether it is more reasonable to mend the sock or simply to buy a new sock. Both generations see the question as wastefulness, the older seeing it as a waste of money to throw away a sock that can be mended and worn for twice as long, while the younger would see the craft of mending such an inexpensive item as a waste of time. 

This blog is not about darning, but rather is about Cultural Erosion, the disappearance of things taken for granted from generation to generation.  I have blogged about disappearing traditions, such as  traditional ceremonies, traditional crafts, and cultural knowledge.  Once, Americans took pride in being what was called a 'melting pot' of emigrants.  That is not to say we never had ugly examples of shameful abuse--of indigenous people, of black slaves, of Chinese railroad laborers, and Japanese Americans in WW II as obvious examples.  Yet, even those examples ultimately contributed to the American culture--enriching our so called 'melting pot' with such things as food we eat, the music we love, the clothes we wear, the words that blended into the American language, and countless more.  Those things enriched all of us, even if we sometimes need to be reminded.

However, this blog is not about discrimination or any one group of immigrants that created our American mix of ethnicities.  It is about the overall rapid changes in the American Culture--changes that make some of us feel as if the culture we knew is disappearing.  

I used the darning egg as a simple example, not because I expect young people to start darning their socks but to comment on what is called our Cultural Erosion.  Cultural Erosion is defined as when parts of a culture start to disappear or become lost over time.  The term originated with the loss of cultural traditions, causing ethnicities to lose part of their identity, history, and way of life.  For many people, that led to feelings of disconnection, and loss of cultural pride, and I would add, a disconnection between generations.

Today, what I see is not only Cultural Erosion but also Cultural Explosion.  I have blogged about Generational changes over the past century, but Cultural Erosion is more about the impact of changes on people.  Changes have always occurred, but the rapidity of change has become disorienting, and sometimes even frightening.  While we all know that it is impossible to turn back the clock, perhaps some of us have wished at one time or another that we could.  Changes in the past were not so abrupt, nor so personal.  We had more time to accept them.  That is no longer true.  The changes from one generation to the next happen faster and are more extreme.  

As a simple example, my mother's earrings had screws to tighten to her ear.  I had my ears pierced.  Today piercings are everywhere.  Another example is that in my parents' generation, some men got tattoos, but my generation, a few women got tattoos, although generally small and often located where they could be covered for work or other occasions.  Today both men and women get tattoos which often cover large areas of their bodies.  A third example is how we dress for particular occasions.  Sometimes, I don't have a clue!  Cultural Erosion can be disorienting, confusing, and sometimes may seem disrespectful, eroding the cultural thread that binds generations across the decades.      

 We cannot return to the ways things were in the past, but right now we seem to be struggling with our new world.   We cannot go back, nor can we stop the clock, but we can learn things from the past and apply that wisdom to the present.  At least, I hope we can.


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Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Which Generation Got it Right?

 I have needed to look up the Generational Definitions over the last century, so I hope you will enjoy sharing my research, whatever generation that you are.  

Those born 1928 to 1945 are called the Silent Generation.  I'm wondering whether they are really silent or if nobody cares to listen to them.  It is obvious that marketers don't have any reason to pay attention to them, since if they are alive, they are probably in a nursing home or are trying to get rid of their stuff rather than buying things.

Those born 1946-1964 are the Baby Boomers, born after WW 2 when the soldiers came home and couples were eager to start their families.  The economy was booming, with families needing houses and furniture and cars and cloths.  Now, they share something in common with the Silent Generation, since they too are probably trying to downsize their homes and pass things on to their grown children, who probably do not want it.

Those born 1965-1980 are Generation X, whose parents may have had a high old time, but who grew up in a recession time, causing them to be more cautious with money.  In general, they still like nostalgia and tradition, they have enjoyed technology most of their lives, and they probably enjoy email.

Those born 1977-1995 are Millennials, although they are also called Generation Y. They became the largest generation in history and were the first generation to grow up with modern technology.  They became particularly comfortable with social media, checking with influencer marketing, reviews, and Brands that supported causes.

Those born in 1996-2012 are Generation Z, which might make you think we had run out of alphabetic names, but you would be wrong.  They are particularly familiar with Influencer marketing, reviews, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and other things I don't understand.

Those born 2013 to the Present are Generation Alpha, but if you think that brings you up to date, you will be disappointed.  Because some of the generations were too long and too indefinite to exactly fit the named categories, --whoever these people are who decide these things--, they came up with Microgenerations: the Xennials and the Zillennials

Xennials were early Gen Y or late Gen X babies, growing up with technology but without social media during childhood and teen years.  The impact of 9-11 in their teens made them more likely to be skeptical.

 Zilliennials were alive when 9/11 happened, but were too young to really understand.  Perhaps that somehow influenced them to be better at balancing their strong work ethic with their personal lives.

So now that we understand these labels for various age groups, what is the point?  First, marketers want to know how people spend their money and their time.  Second, politicians are interested in knowing how voters think.  Third, educators need to understand the right training for students and what teaching methods work best for preparing them for what is to come. Forth, housing and population growth are impacted by things like at what ages people marry, or choose not to marry, or prefer to live with their parents longer.  Fifth, decision about having children, and how that impacts social planning. Sixth, how people interact with one another-- using social media or personal meetings require adjustments. Seventh, all of these choices impact social behavior, addictions, privacy, confrontations and ridicule, cyber bullying, and mental health that will need modifications and assistance.

Our world is changing, and if we want to keep up with it, we are forced to at least try to understand a  bit of how others see the world.  What is important is that whether you are a member of the Silent Generation or Generation A, we all need to look around and recognize that whatever generation we are, we can learn from the past and the present generations.  No single generation ever got everything right or everything wrong.


Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Socrates was Right

 Socrates said "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.   

As an author, I take great pains in trying to choose the right words, not just in the since of grammar or finding words that are technically correct.  As author Ursula K. Le Guin described it, "A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it.  Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight."

This blog is not about an author's responsibility with words, however.  Rather, it is about the importance of the right of free speech and the abuse of that right.  On March 18, 2022, the New York Times published an editorial titled "America Has a Free Speech Problem."  The link to the full article can be found at the bottom of this blog.  The opening paragraph stated, "Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country:  the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned."  

I have blogged about this subject previously, but the editorial offers some important insight.  For example, "If people feel free to express their views in their communities, the democratic process can respond to and resolve competing ideas.  Ideas that go unchallenged by opposing views risk becoming weak and brittle rather than being strengthened by tough scrutiny.  When speech is stifled or when dissenters are shut out of public discourse, a society also loses its ability to resolve conflict..."  

Included in the editorial are results of a survey in which the Times joined with Siena College to gain data about, among other things, whether people feel less free to talk about politics than they had a decade ago.  Forty-six percent said they did.  It seemed that the old saying "Think before you speak" has become, "Speak at your peril."

The five freedoms that make the United States of America what has been called the freest people in the world are freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to petition the government.  Termination of those rights, whether by changes in laws or by individuals self-limiting their willingness to exercise those rights, diminishes our freedoms.

It has been said that those freedoms are the lifeblood of democracy, and the words of Benjamin Franklin validate the importance felt by the founding fathers at that time.  "In those wretched countries where a man cannot call his tongue his own, he can scarce call anything his own," and furthermore, "Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a Nation must begin by limiting the freedom of speech."

When it becomes difficult, or even dangerous, to speak with those having different opinions, we weaken the evolving wisdom of the nation.  The founding fathers knew the importance of sharing opinions as a way to keep up with our ever-changing world, both the exchange of ideas in communities and in state and national political chambers.  The warning of Socrates remains:  "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul."  

America has a Free Speach Problem. https://wwwnytimes.com/2022/03/18/opinion/cancel-culture-free-speach-poil.html  

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

A History of Vice vs. Virtue

 Recently I came across this quote from Joseph Heller's Catch 22.  

"It was miraculous.  It was almost no trick at all, he saw to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice.  Anybody could do it:  it required no brains at all.  It merely required NO CHARACTER."  

The quote led me to consider the real-life temptations of misdeeds by those in power, and I found examples old and new that included politicians, Ponzi schemers, and others.  The temptation to cheat is not limited to petty thieves.     

The hope of Lady Justice

Last week's post reflected the positive side of President Ulysses S. Grant in seeking education for all American children.  He was also an admired war hero, but as president, he tended to trust the wrong people.  Although he retained his honorable reputation, his "thievery into honor' as Joseph Heller described in Catch 22was more a neglect of duty by failing to oversee those he had appointed.  For example, his appointees speculated to corner the gold market, others cheated the Lakotas to allow mining for gold found in the Black hills, while in addition a whisky ring involved government officials who participated in a national tax evasion scam, as well as his neglectful oversight allowing a corrupt system to obtain lucrative postal contracts.  More directly, while his abuse of nepotism was not an exception, since Presidents Buchanan, Madison, Tyler, Monroe, and Jackson were also guilty of that abuse, it is estimated that during Grant's presidency, 40 relatives financially prospered directly or indirectly.  While Grant did not dip his own hand in the till, his lack of oversight allowed others to do so.  Questionable presidential appointments continue to this day.    

The temptations of power are not confined to Politicians.  Remember Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff, who orchestrated one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history, defrauding philanthropists, the elderly, and many famous people who trusted a man of 'No Character.'  Or, Michel Milken, who was lauded for his high-yield bond strategy for corporate mergers and acquisitions in the 1970s and 1980s, but in 1986 he was sent to prison and barred from the securities industry for life.  Perhaps in his case, a lesson was learned, and he is now known for launching the Prostate Cancer Foundation, his awareness of the need for which grew out of his own cancer.

Scammers include the former chairman of Sotheby's auction house, who was indicted for conspiring to fix auction commission rates.  He was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day, which he served, but his reputation was shattered.

Neither is the temptation of wealth acquired without honor limited to men.  Real estate mogul Leona Helmsley was sentenced to prison in 1992 by a judge who said in her sentencing, "Your conduct was the product of naked greed [and[ arrogant belief that you were above the law."  And, despite her fame and popularity, Martha Stewart was convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators.  She served her time and managed to return to her television career.  

Recently, Elizabeth Holmes, known for her black turtle necks and blond hair, found that beauty and charm were no protection from being sentenced to 11 years in prison for fraud after persuading investors that she had developed a revolutionary medical device which was actually a sham.

Whether a brief lapse or a sustained deception, finding that "it was almost no trick at all...[to turn] plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism...It merely required no character."  Sadly, Joseph Heller's themes in Catch 22 of the distortion of justice, the influence of greed, and the issue of personal integrity live on.

     F.N.  Joseph Heller, 1923-1999.  His 1961 novel, Catch-22, a satire on war and bureaucracy, was both initially very controversial but ultimately very popular.  Modern Library's list of the top 100 Novels of the Century places Catch-22 number 7 out of 100.  The novel became a movie in 1970, directed by Mike Nichols, staring Alan Arkin, Jon Voight, and Orson Wells.




Wednesday, March 13, 2024

What Guides Us?

Quote from Ulysses S. Grant


 When I saw this quote by Ulysses S. Grant on the internet, I was reminded of the danger that lifting a single sentence from a speech can create, so I went in search of the context of Grant's quote.  We live in a nation where freedoms are very important to all of us.  Yet, what does it mean?...of speech, of religion, of the press, of assembly, of expression?  Grant sought to make a distinction between freedom of Patriotism and Intelligence versus Superstition, Ambition, and Ignorance.  Although "Ambition" may have been a questionable choice, since it can imply both "a praiseworthy or an inordinate desire," I like the quote.  In fact, his intention was concern about the delicate balance of government support for things about which Americans disagreed--some seeing them as good while others saw them as bad.
  
He was thinking about education.  In America's beginning, there was not immediate government support for education. Early schools were funded by parents paying tuition, charitable contributions, and sometimes by property taxes.  Today, public schools are funded through local, state, and federal money.  Even those who do not have children pay taxes to educate children who will grow up to be able to read, write, and capably have jobs that serve other Americans, whether that service is as doctors, hair dressers, musicians, soldiers, authors, or countless other things. However, public education did not really become common until the 1830s, gradually increasing between1850 and 1870.

Ulysses S. Grant served as President during the time decisions were being made about public education.  He recognized its importance.  It was a time of immigration, and Grant saw the role education would play in teaching all young Americans about American history, of sharing a common language, and bringing citizens together.  Different ethnicities could still preserve their traditions, while receiving a common education in public schools.

The challenge for Grant was that some public schools at that time were using the King James Bible in classrooms, causing Catholic schools to feel public funds should also be available to their schools. What Grant wanted were public schools that all children could attend. Rather than having the government fund all the different denominational churches, he wanted all Americans to have access to an education in public schools where no students were made to feel uncomfortable.  He was not trying to pick a fight about the King James Bible or the Catholic Bible.  He just wanted kids to have access to a free public school education, without imposing beliefs contrary to their own, or embarrassing them or making them feel different.  

Before I posted this quote by Grant, I wanted to know the context from which the quote was taken. What Grant was talking about was the challenge of a nation of so many differences in genetic roots, traditions, religions, and opportunities, to acquire a common public school education that brought Americans together in a mutual respect and patriotism for all Americans,  

The freedoms of our Constitution only work when applied to all Americans. without regard to ethnicity, wealth, or power of office.  Ulysses S. Grant was right in fearing for the Nation if we forgot the responsibility of all of us to protect and defend the Constitution.  If the American people, forget the careful drafting of our Constitution and the checks and balances they included, if Superstition, Ignorance, and perhaps his meaning of excessive Ambition cause us to ignore what our Founding Fathers risked their lives to give us, then this Nation may not survive.

Grant feared a threat "in the near future," --a threat that generations of Americans have so far avoided--, protected by those in uniform, by those in political office, by those on Court Room Benches, and by those in voting booths.  Perhaps in a democracy there will always be those who threaten the precious freedoms we enjoy, but none of us should ever take them for granted.  Read through the Freedoms I listed in the first paragraph of this blog.  Those freedoms are for all Americans, a gift from our  Founding Fathers, preserved by our ancestors, and left to us to protect for future generations. not just for us but for "Our Posterity.".  

"We the People of the United States, in Order to Form a more perfect Union
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty
to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish 
this Constitution for the United States of America.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

You Can't Get There from Here isn't Always True!

Some budding musicians in the Byers Grade School Band 

Kansas isn't always known for College Basketball, Professional Football, or Deer Hunting.  For some Kansans, it has been the sound of Music!  This blog will share some well-known musicians' names you probably know but may not have known they were born in Kansas.

I will start with a name you may not recognize as having a musical connection, but Hattie McDaniel was born in Wichita, Kansas on June 10, 1893, and she grew up to be a singer-songwriter, which is what took her to California.  However, what you probably know her for is her role in Gone with the Wind, where she played the Mammy, for which she became the first Black actor to receive an Oscar.  Hattie McDaniel died October 26, 1952.

Charlie Parker, known as Bird or Yard Bird, was born in Kansas City, Kansas on August 29, 1920.  He was mixed Choctaw and African-American, and some people would say he was the best Jazz Alto Saxophone player that has ever lived.  He died too soon, at the age of 34, but he was recognized with a Grammy in the Hall of Fame Awards.

Stan Kenton was born December 15, 1911 in Wichita, and by the age of 15 he was playing piano at a local hamburger eatery for fifty cents a night and tips.  In the 1930s, with little money, he headed west, gradually gained attention as a jazz pianist, and in 1940 formed his first orchestra. As musical tastes changed, he changed with the times, and when he died on August 25, 1979, he left an indelible mark on big band jazz.

Having taken a look at these examples from the past, let's move forward, for instance to Melissa Etheridge, born May 29, 1961 and raised in Leavenworth, getting a Grammy Nomination with her 1st album in 1989, and two more in 1992, and with her third album bringing her first Grammy home...and she was just getting started and is still going strong.

Or, how about Martina McBride, born July 29, 1966, in Sharon, Kansas, a Country music singer-songwriter, who developed a crossover sound that not only pleased fans but also made her a 14-time Grammy nominee and a Country Music Association award four-time Vocalist of the year award.

And, in another musical direction, Joyce DiDonata was born in Prairie Village and was a K-Stater, is a multi-Grammy award winner whose operatic voice has been heard in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Chicago, Geneva, London, Tokyo, Vienna, Berlin, and many other opera venues.

I must not leave out the boys, including drummer Danny Carey, for the band Tool, as well as contributing his talent to albums of many artists, including a favorite of mine, Carole King.  He was born in Lawrence.

My research found many others who have gone from Kansas to the bright lights around the world, as well as a few younger people just getting started...whose names may someday become familiar.  But I will close with someone who thought enough of his home state to name his band after it.  Kerry Livgren was from Topeka and became a founding member of the band for which he suggested the name Kansas.  As primary songwriter for the American rock band Kansas, he put his home state in the spotlights.  Born September 18, 1949, as a child he loved classical and jazz, which may have had some influence in the development of a reputation for poetic lyrics and complex compositions.  He may be best known for Carry on Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind, definitely two of my favorites.

So, if you know someone who dreams of a career in music, and wonders whether he or she might some day perform under the bright lights, share this blog with them.  Others from Kansas have achieved success!


 

Thursday, February 29, 2024

America, One Nation

 

It was the Super Bowl that inspired this blog.  The flag ceremony, the Star-Spangled Banner, the crowd and the players representing Americans from all states, of all races and backgrounds.  Televisions turned on to Super Bowl parties of all kinds!

But, this blog is not really about the football game.  The blog began when I happened upon the NFL Ticket Exchange that Sunday Morning and saw the price of tickets to the game.  They ranged from $6,000 to $7,216, and that was not even for the best seats!

I scrolled on to the betting, and if you could not afford a bet on the game, you could bet on the color of the liquid dumped on the winning coach after the game, or other ridiculous things during the game to bet on.

It made me think about both how the game brought Americans together and how wealth and poverty separate us.  The disparity in wealth in America is significant, but the urge to spend money--beyond your means or not--seems to be part of the fun.

At the website The Ascent I found a study on the Most Wasteful Spending Habits Among Americans.  Their survey found that 95% of their respondents believed that people in the United States waste more money than they should.  Among the examples responders mentioned were overpaying for luxury items when less expensive items would do as well, and upgrading to the "latest version" when what they already own was just fine. Among some of the specific acts of wastefulness to which they admitted were:  frequenting fast-food places, buying overpriced beverages, impulsive buying, purchasing name brand when generic is comparable, and overpaying for digital services.

At Yahoo!finance, their research found that 1/3 of Genz's spend more money than they make, and about the same amount don't budget at all.  

However, some Americans would have looked at those surveys and shrugged their shoulders, feeling that they barely had enough money to survive, let along reflect on wasteful spending.  What I read led me to continue researching the wealth inequality in America. 

The Institute for Economic Equity provides quarterly dates on racial, generational and educational wealth inequality based on average U.S. household wealth.  These statistics can be found on line for those of you interested in details.  I will only offer some general comments that I found helpful to understand how family wealth is determined:  Family wealth is what a family owns, minus what they owe.  Another important statistic to consider is whether family wealth is going up, staying about the same, or going down. Records are also kept determining wealth gaps among groups, specifically White families, Black families, and Hispanic families.

In addition, records are kept by age, determining the generational wealth gap, as well as the wealth gap by family education.  Further, they look at overall wealth inequality, without regard to ethnicity, age, or education.  In the U.S. Wealth Inequality Survey of February 5, 2024, the top 10% of Americans by wealth had 6.5 million on average, and as a group they held 66.6% of total household wealth.  

The biggest gap in wealth seems to be with regard to education, and although Blacks and Hispanics have made advances, and there are now many who have leaped into the higher levels of wealth, overall they remain in the lower brackets.

All of which brings me back to the Super Bowl and the extreme display of wealth.  On playing fields and in universities, as well as independent businesses, people of all colors can be found.  Wealth  Inequality in America is changing, perhaps too slowly and still too unfairly, but it is changing.  While learning how to manage money and avoiding foolish spending may never make you a millionaire, it still may make a difference.  Perhaps that will never buy you a $7,000 ticket to the Super Bowl, but it might buy you a big screen TV and a steak dinner to celebrate if your team wins. 

The world is changing rapidly, and AI is already here and will obsolete many things taken for granted in the past.  But good sense and hard work can still make a difference.  


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Evolving of America, II

Abraham Lincoln

On February 19, 1862, which was in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that Americans mark George Washington's birthday by pausing to read Washington's "immortal Farewell Address."  This blog post will share some of what Washington included in that proclamation.    With his usual modesty, Washington suggested that listeners (or readers) regard his words as those of "the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel."

What Washington suggested was that the "common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it."  In other words, he was concerned that politicians might forget that they were cheering for the same team--for America.  Washington warned that divisiveness between parties when taken to extremes hurts the nation.  

 ~                    *                    ~         

    The following quotes share some of Washington's warnings about the dangers to our nation caused by political extremes: "It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration.  It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection.  It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion.  Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another."

    Continuing, "There is opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty.  This within certain limits is probably true..."  But, Washington reminds, that there is a "constant danger of excess."  He continues, "It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the power of one department to encroach upon another.  ...The necessity of receptacle checks on the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constructing each the guardian of that public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern..."

    Washington continued:  "To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them.   If in the opinion of the people the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the constitution designates."

~                    *                    ~

Once in a while, it is wise for those of us who live in a very different world from that of our ancestors, to look back at the wisdom of those in the past.  As I read Washington's words from his Farewell address, I was shocked by how important they are for us to read today.  Likewise, in the middle of a Civil War, Lincoln realized that those same words would be important at that time for the nation to read.  

In fact, he thought the wisdom of Washington was so important that his birthday should be observed every year, and that the wisdom of his immortal words in his Farewell Address should be read as a reminder of the importance of our unique country.  Out of that ideal came the creation of President's Day.  Not all states recognize President's Day as an official holiday, and Kansas is among those.  Washington's Farewell Address is recited annually in the United States Senate, a tradition that continues to follow the suggestion of Lincoln.  

As I read Washington's words, they seem as important to me in 2024 as they were when he first spoke them.  May those trusted with the honor of holding offices in our government heed Washington's warnings about the dangers of political extremes.  

Members of both the Senate and the House take the same oath:  "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take the obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will faithfully perform the duties of the office on which I am about to enter."  The Supremacy Clause makes federal law paramount over the contrary positions of state officials, and certainly paramount to any dictate of political parties.     

 

Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Evolving of America, I

Memorial Day  *  Country over Party

 The Constitution our Founding Fathers drafted established a framework that would be capable of adhering to fundamental ideals, but also capable of expansion into unforeseen or changing events.  George Washington's election as our first president was indescribably important, for his wisdom and humility established norms not specifically detailed.  For example, he chose to serve for two terms, determined to avoid the possibility of a tradition that presidents would serve for life like kings.  Some later Presidents chose to serve longer than two terms, but ultimately Washington's wisdom regarding limiting presidential service to two terms was adopted.

Try to imagine the responsibility of George Washington as our first president.  He could not look back on what former presidents had done. The entire process of ratification of The Constitution, presidential election, and ratification of the Bill of Rights took place from 1788 to 1791.  It is hard for us to imagine, in our times of immediate transmittal of information and transportation from one side of America to the opposite side, the natural delays of the 1700s.  Yet, this was the environment in which Washington served.  

Not only was the communication and transportation so different from today, he was dealing with a variety of cultures, not only in ethnicity, but in one particular situation, matters of religion.  Washington himself was a devout 18th-century Anglican, following the faith of England, but the split from England had loosened any strict adherence.  Washington wrote, "I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far, that we should never again see their religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of Society."  Even on his own plantation, historians have found evidence that Washington did not oppose the practice of Islam and other traditional African religions at Mount Vernon.

Baptists and Methodists, as well as other new sects, were even less restricted by traditional structures of the old church, and fellow Patriots of George Washington, such as Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, were deeply skeptical of all organized religion.  Our Bill of Rights was not finally ratified until December 15, 1791, but the opening words of that document are:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and Article VI of the Constitution itself provided "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both in the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

John Winthrop, an English Puritan lawyer who served 18 annual terms as Governor or Lieutenant-governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, said America became a religious "refuge."  However, he, also gave a speech identifying two kinds of liberty: a natural liberty to do as one wished, whether "evil as well as good," vs a restrained liberty intended to do good.  In the Antinomian Controversy, in which Winthrop served as an assistant, the Colony was split by whether following religious laws was required for salvation.  The result was that religious differences proved not to be a refuge for everyone.

President Washington was faced with guiding the new nation through not only the various differences of Christians and Catholics, but other religious beliefs from across the world.  His broad tolerance (his choice of words) for differences is seen in his visit in 1790 to the Touro Synagogue of New Port, Rhode Island, and his letter to that body which clarified his broad view of tolerance.  "It is no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights."

However, perhaps of greater concern to Washington was not religious differences among Americans but rather what he called "the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party." In his farewell address, he emphasized the danger of political parties losing sight of their responsibility to work together for the good of the nation, warning against putting party first.

The Evolving of America, II will be posted in next week's blog. 



 



Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Romance or Love

Royal & Lillian's Wedding Picture

 It has been my practice to share a Valentine blog post, and this year is no exception.  In fact, I thought some of you might be in the mood for a romantic book to read. There are countless books with romance as their subject, and this blog will share some examples, starting with Romantic stories from history.  It seems that historic romances often ended tragically! 

For example, the Greek story of Paris and Helen is said to have provoked the downfall of Troy, and when the Greek lover Orpheus rescues Eurydice from Hades he ignored the instruction not to look back and failed.  Bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde didn't turn out so well either, not did King Arthur when Lancelot and Guinevere split the Round Table.  The romance of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony ended tragically with his suicide caused by false information, and her own unwillingness to live without him, and what about Romeo and Juliet?!  Since these historical love stories did not end happily ever after, perhaps we should shift to literature.

I consulted several websites online, including "The greatest love stories, Romance Novels, Good Reads" and "Oprah Daily." All 4 websites recommended Pride and Prejudice and, Jane Eyre.  Romance Novels and Good Reads both recommended The Notebook, Outlander, and Persuasion, which was also recommended by Reddit.  

Among some of the other books recommended were Doctor Zhivago, The Princess Bride, Gone with the Wind, Wuthering Heights, West Side Story and Anna Karenina.  Over the years, I have read all of the books just mentioned and enjoyed them; however, my recollection is that heartbreak, deception, and betrayal often appear in romance novels, and you may want to keep a handkerchief nearby to dry your tears.

You may have noticed that many of the recommended romance novels were written decades ago, some even centuries ago.  Has the meaning of romance changed over the centuries?  When we speak of Love, what exactly do we mean?  

 Thanks to Yessmagazine.com I can share with you some wisdom from the ancient Greeks, who had six levels of words to describe love.  First there was Eros, which we would call sexual passion.  Next there was Philia, or deep friendship, then, Ludus, or playful love, such as flirting and teasing.  The 4th word in the Greek's description of love was Agape, or love for everyone, meaning universal loving kindness, or we might say empathy, which I have written about in other blogs in reference to how reading improves empathy.  

The 5th level was Pragma, which meant longstanding love.  We don't have a word for that, but we do celebrate Marriage milestones.  The traditional anniversary gift for the first year of marriage was Paper, advancing to Cotton the second year, and reaching Tin or Aluminum by the 10th year.  I'm not sure how those traditional gifts were chosen, but times must have been rough for newlyweds back then!  There are revised modern gifts today, mostly advertised by jewelry stores!  I'm not sure many brides today would be impressed with most of the humble traditional choices.  However, the exchange of a lovely note on beautiful paper or a pretty card on their 1st Anniversary has continued to be a romantic tradition, with the annual exchange of Valentine cards, as well as flowers and chocolate. 

Finally, the 6th level of Ancient Greek words for love is Philautic, or love of self.  I had to do a bit more research to determine whether the word's meaning was Narcissism vs. a healthy respect for one's self, and fortunately, it is generally regarded to mean self-understanding, and is considered desirable rather than narcissistic or excessively vain.     

While we may not have 6 words for love, may Valentine's Day bring you the level of Ancient Greek love you are hoping for.  And if you choose to settle down with a good book, maybe one of those I recommended will be just the one you want!   

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Put Out to Pasture...Our Changing World

Put Out to Pasture

 In 2020 author Kurt Anderson released his book, Evil Genuis, The Unmaking of America: A Recent History.  Four years after reading it for the first time, I took the book off the shelf for a second review.  I found myself amazed by how much more of what he had predicted had happened.

The book points out how technology has always changed labor, but the distinction for today is the extent that human labor is being replaced by machines and AI.  Jobs simply disappear.  As machines and AI replace skilled labor, without new jobs of the same skilled level replacing them, workers are left with unskilled jobs at lower wages, if they can find jobs at all.

He uses this analogy:  When automobiles replaced the horses used to pull carriages, the horses were put out to pasture.  Labor adjustments of the past created new jobs for skilled labor, but today's displacement of skilled labor with machines and AI often reduce the need for skilled labor. Executives and those few needed to oversee the machines and AI continue to be needed, but many jobs simply disappear. In effect, many skilled laborers are simply put out to pasture or forced to take jobs that require fewer skills with less pay.

Fantasy writers of the past anticipated the risks of making workers obsolete.  Kirk Vonnegut's book Player Piano, published in 1952 was about the negative impact of machines, but even earlier Aldous Huxley's book Brave New World in 1932 and George Orwell's book 1984 in1949 also sounded the alert, as well as other books.

All of this might sound like an urban problem, but we should look around.  Farmers in our own communities have monster equipment which allows one operator to do in a few hours what took my father days, not hours, to do.  Small farms have been sold or leased to large farming operations, who must own or rent more land to justify the expensive massive equipment they use.

I have blogged about the screen writers who felt endangered by AI and went on strike to gain some security about their livelihood, threatened by generations of writers having had their work fed into AI to allow a machine to use the unpaid for work of generations of authors to create their stolen manuscripts.  Perhaps it isn't as easily understood as equipment displacing skilled laborers, but the real and potential impact is the same--lost jobs.  

Four years ago, when I first read Evil Genius, I had not fully recognized the threat.  Now I better understand.  This is not a problem for our children and grandchildren to confront.  The problems have already arrived!

Kurt Anderson saw the impact before most of us did, as is evident in the title of his book, The Unmaking of America.  Maybe we don't pay attention until it impacts us.  I saw the machines that were changing factory workers' jobs, but if I gave it any thought it was probably that those people doing heavy or boring repetitive work, day after day, were probably glad to be free of such jobs.  I did not consider whether the replacement job, if any, might be worse.  Like many of us, I didn't pay much attention until it impacted things relevant to me, like AI displacing artists and authors. 

Kurt Anderson is not entirely disheartened.  He writes, "I think we could prevent America from turning into a permanent dystopian horror show.  We might even manage to make it better than it was before..."  There is much food for thought in his book about ways we might adapt to changes, but for many of us, first we must see the impact of these changes before we can consider adjustments.  If you can buy or borrow or find a copy of his book at your local library, I recommend it.  We humans are not ready to be Put Out To Pasture! 

 

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

What is Populism?

Isaac Werner's Journal
 Many of you who follow my blog know that the discovery of Isaac Werner's Journal was what inspired my decade long research and writing of Prairie Bachelor, The story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement.  Because Kansas played such an important role in that movement, and because the community in which I grew up was among those active in the movement, I have a deep sense of what populism meant at the time Isaac Werner and many in his community were part of that movement.  

Therefore, I am often perplexed by what is being called Populism today.  While I was doing research for my book, I found present day politicians described as populists who were unlike the people I came to know in my research for Prairie Bachelor.  It did not seem to make sense that very different politicians today are being called Populists.

Watching news during the recent 2024 primary election in New Hampshire, I heard someone say, "You know there is both  Negative Populism and Positive Populism." I decided it was time for me to do some research to explore how the term Populism had evolved since Isaac Werner's time.  In the era of my book, during the late 1800s, Populism began with the common people, such as farmers, ranchers, miners, and small business owners.  They believed the two major political parties, Republican and Democrat, had become overly influenced by wealthy men, to the extent that they were ignoring the intensions of the founding fathers.  Although the wealthy had more money with which to influence government, the common people had greater numbers of voters.  They formed a party of their own--The People's Party, and although their party was short-lived, it remains the most successful third party in our nation's history.  Many of their ideas were implemented by the two old parties.

My current research found that the term Populism had practically disappeared in common use by the 1950s; however, historians began to apply the word to those who were Anti-Elites.  With the rejuvenation of the word Populism, it's original meaning expanded, becoming so broad that the meaning from the late 1800s, as well as the achievements of the people of the Populist movement, were nearly forgotten.

One political scientist noted the modern ambiguity of the term by describing the range of meanings for the word.  It was used for farmers' radicalism, peasant movements, and intellectual agrarian socialism, as well as populist dictatorships, populist democracy, reactionary populist, and politicisms' populism.  If you followed all of those adaptations of the meaning of Populism, your head must be spinning.  Some have observed the contradictory meanings of these uses and have suggested that the word should be abandoned entirely.  (Wikipedia, Populism)

What would Isaac Werner and other Populists of the late 1800s think of the use of the word they created as it is being used today.  If there is the word Populism in today's politics, who defines what is Negative Populism and what is Positive Populism?  I am inclined to agree that the journalists, news commentators, and politicians of today return the word to the Populists of the late 1800s and come up with new words for the political turmoil of today! 

 

 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Importance of a Free Press

 

Find journalists you trust--they are still out there!

Recently, I have been reading books about World Wars I and II.  Those of you who have followed my blog for over a decade know my interest in history and my admiration for the Constitution, and while I had an interest in America's involvement in wars, I have sought to learn more in the past year. This blog was motivated by a quote from Leon Uris's book Mila 18,--a conversation between a disillusioned news journalist who feels as though his reporting is being ignored and his editor, who encourages him to keep reporting, even when too many are not paying attention.   

    Journalist:  "Can I go on being a journalist under these conditions?  I have learned now that truth is not truth.  Truth is only what people want to believe and nothing more."  

    Editor:  "But you will continue to seek it as a journalist... You have lost sight of the fact that there is a world of decent human beings and a lot of them are listening.  They depend on the Christopher de Monts to be their eyes.  You are not a man to abandon the human race because you have lost a battle."  

The book from which this quote is taken is about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, in which nearly everyone was killed or removed to the extermination prisons.   Christopher de Monts, the disillusioned journalist, was protected by the fighters in the Ghetto and led to safety so that he could live to tell what had happened.  Although Mila 18 is a novel, based on an actual event, it caused me to think about the real journalists that are risking their lives to report the news in violent places.

As of January 1, 2023, the Committee to Protect Journalists, have documented deaths in the Gaza-Israel war as 82 journalists and media workers confirmed dead.  The Committee to Protect Journalists have sought since 1992 to document deaths of those who risk their lives to gather news--killed by murder, crossfire, and on dangerous assignments-- and the total since they began is 2,284. 

The 1st Amendment of the American Constitution says, "Congress shall make no law ...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..."  Our Founding Fathers recognized the importance of citizens having access to accurate information in order for the nation to survive.  Although there has always been concern during wars that disclosing information might reveal secrets to the enemy, records from W.W. II report that 67 journalists died over 7 years.  In Vietnam 63 died over 20 years.

Some countries do not allow the same freedom of the press.  According to the World Freedom Index, information from North Korea, Iran, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, and Syria are among those difficult to access information.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Not all deaths of journalists happen on the battlefield.  In October of 2018 Saudi journalist Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  When telling the truth made it too dangerous for him to remain in his home country, he had left, coming to America to continue reporting as a columnist for the Washington Post newspaper.  Knowing the danger of returning to his own country, but needing some personal documents, he went to the Saudi consulate in Turkey to acquire the documents he needed.  Although he avoided returning to Saudi Arabia, he was killed.  His death is evidence of how important a free press is and a reminder of the courage of men and women who sometimes risk their lives to provide accurate information.   

Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of a free press.  We have had Yellow Journalism perhaps as long as there were printing presses, but people seemed to know that their exaggerations were just that--sensationalism rather than facts.  There were scandal sheets and romanticized magazines that may have been offensive but did little harm.  People found radio, television broadcasters, and newspapers that they trusted for keeping informed.  There were also commentators who expressed opinions, and often there were dueling commentators to offer different points of view, but there was a distinction between news and opinion.   

Find Original Sources that have been documented (Anne Frank's Journal),
.

The world has changed, and sometimes it is hard to find the truth, but a Free Press is still essential for Americans.  We do not want the government dictating our news, but as more unsourced information enters the internet, we have a greater responsibility to make sure we are not allowing ourselves to be duped. Just because someone tells us what we want to hear doesn't make it true.  We must be more vigilant to seek the truth today.  Even evening news today seems to have included more soft news and human-interest stories than in the past, seeming to believe we are more likely to watch if we are entertained. 

The professionalism of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite is difficult to find but important to seek.  Thank goodness for the internet which brings amazing information into our homes, but watch out for the misinformation that it also brings.  Those who choose to distort reality have no moral code.  They have even attempted to challenge the truth of Anne Frank's Journal.  

If it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, don't let someone convince you that it is a swan.          

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

A Not So Sweet Tale

Ideas do not always succeed, not even when 'experts' believe they will succeed.  This blog is about one of those times when education, experience, and determination did not succeed, a historic failure most of you may never have heard about.  A respected, successful businessman from Larned, John Bennyworth, was a strong advocate for the effort, and he acted on advice from professionals whose early efforts led them to believe their research would bear fruit.  They sincerely thought that producing refined white sugar from sorghum cane was 'just around the corner.'

My research for Prairie Bachelor first made me aware of the effort to produce refined white sugar from sorghum cane, having learned about it from entries in Isaac Werner's journal and further research in local newspapers.  Later, after my book was published, I discovered a wonderful paper by Homer E. Socolofsky titled 'The Bittersweet Tale of Sorghum Sugar' published several years ago in "Kansas History."  For those readers of "Prairie Bachelor" who would like more information about the failed Sorghum Sugar effort, I recommend Socolofsky's article, and you may want to look up "sugar mills" in the index of Prairie Bachelor to read more about local efforts.

There were many reasons why the idea of sorghum sugar had momentum.  First, Kansas farmers were getting disappointing prices for the crops they were raising in the late 1800s, and the idea of a different crop was appealing.  Second, white sugar was expensive enough that a cheaper, sorghum sugar would be competitive.  Third, it was believed that the sorghum sugar might be sweeter.  And fourth, white sugar production in the south had been disrupted by the Civil War, which resulted in higher prices, opening the door for a competing means of producing white sugar, especially until the Southern sugar cane fields recovered.

Although the process of refining sorghum sugar had not been perfected, scientists were reporting the optimism of advancing technology, and the U.S. government Laboratory was predicting advancement, which led to government funds becoming available.

In 1880-1881 there were three sorghum sugar mills in Kansas:  The Marion County Pioneer Sorgo Sugar Factory, The Central Arkansas Valley Sorghum Sugar Association at Larned, and the Ellsworth Sugar Works.  Between 1884 and 1894 the U.S. government poured $509,000 into Sugar Manufacturing experiments, as well as private investors.  Thirteen of the twenty-three locations in which the federal government research was invested were located in Kansas, with 75% invested in materials and machinery.  

Kansas communities that invested in sugar factories included Hutchinson, Sterling (2 Mills), Dundee, Kinsley (a relocation from Larned), El Dorado, Conway Springs, Pratt, Medicine Lodge, Topeka, Ness City, Fort Scott, Bavaria, Douglass, Attica, Meade, Liberal, Arkalon, Minneola, and Garden City.

There were several reasons why the production of Sorghum Sugar failed, including the success of beet sugar.  Farmers discovered that they could profit more from feeding sorghum to cattle than trying to profit from sales to a potential sugar market.  The Sorghum Sugar boom for white sugar-making failed, and some of those who had promoted Sorghum Sugar suddenly suffered a loss of memory about their previous promotions.  

In "Prairie Bachelor," I quote from a letter to the editor:  "Let me ask in the name of common sense what right the press of Kansas has for denouncing the people for doing the very thing that they have been recommending."  This disappointment is only one example of the struggles farmers on the Kansas Prairie faced in the late 1800s as they explored crops and methods suitable for the prairie.


Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Some New Words for the New Year

Always more new words for us to learn!

   
     As a writer, I take words very seriously, trying hard to select the right word for what I mean to say.  However, I am finding it more and more difficult to keep up with new words that seem to pop up regularly.  In case some of you are experiencing the same confusion, here are some guides to new words than can be found in modern dictionaries!

    Hellscape  -  a place or time that is hopeless, unbearable or irredeemable.  I am not sure that I have found a use for this word yet, but perhaps that day might come! 

    Cakeism - the false belief that one can enjoy the benefits of two choices that are in fact mutually exclusive, the name taken from the notion of having your cake and eating it too.

    Decision fatigue - mental and emotional exhaustion resulting from excessive or relentless decision making, especially the cumulative effect of small decisions throughout each day.  I confess that my fatigue may be less about too many things I want to do than too few that seem worth doing!

    Bloatware - unwanted software that is preinstalled on a newly bought device, especially when it negatively impacts the device's performance.  This is definitely a word that I will find the need to remember as a result of changes I struggle to learn on my new lap top and the changed search link!

    Self-coup - a coup d'etat performed by the current, legitimate government or a duly elected head of state to retain or extend control over government, through an additional term, an extension of term, an expansion of executive power, the dismantling of other government branches, or the declaration that an election won by an opponent is illegitimate.  This word is new to me, and it sounds very scarry indeed!

    Digital nomad - a person who works remotely while traveling.  Once upon a time, that might have sounded like fun to me.  Lately, I am fairly content to stay close to home.

    GPT - abbreviation of Computers Digital Technology--a type of machine learning algorithm that uses deep learning and a large database of training text in order to generate new text in response to a user's prompt.  My definition of GPT is a little different:  Theft by downloading huge amounts of information created by others without compensation to use to 'create' content that can be used for advancing knowledge and eliminating the need from the people whose work was downloaded, as well as being used by people today and in the future because they do not want to take the effort to create things on their own or who have lost the skill to do it for themselves.  I know that my definition is rather narrow minded and harsh, but there is truth in it that deserves considering.

    Information pollution - the introduction of falsehood, irrelevance, bias, and sensationalism into a source of information, resulting in a dilution or outright suppression of essential facts.  

    In doing the research for this blog, I was amazed by the number of new words being added to dictionaries, and I was a bit reminded of my age, finding so many of them as unfamiliar and irrelevant to my life.  If you are curious for more new words, there are many more out there for you to find!  The research gave me "decision fatigue"!!!

    

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

New Year Advice from Abraham Lincoln

     As someone who believes so strongly in the importance of learning from history, I decided to share the advice from the man who held the Union together during such divisive times during the Civil War as my New Year's post.  Perhaps his words have value to our current turbulent times.  


    "I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle."  July 10, 1858.  "Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of equal right of men...ours began, by affirming those right.  They said, some men are too ignorant, and vicious, to share in government.  Possibly so, said we; and by your system, you would always keep them ignorant, and vicious.  We proposed to give all a chance; and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant wiser; and all better, and happier together."  July 1, 1854    

    "Passion has helped us; but it can do so no more.  It will in future be our enemy.  Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense."  January 27, 1838  "If a man will stand up and assert, and repeat and re-assert, that two and two do not make four, I know nothing in the power of argument that can stop him."  February 22, 1854   "The people  -- the people  --  are the rightful masters of both congress and courts  --  not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it."  Speech in Kansas, December 1859 

    "It is not merely for to-day, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children's children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives."  August 22, 1864  "May our children and our children's children to a thousand generations, continue to enjoy the benefits conferred upon us by a united country, and have cause yet to rejoice under those glorious institutions bequeathed us by Washington and his compeers."  October 4, 1862


    Thank you Mr. President.  May your words echo through the centuries, and may 2024 be a happy new year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Holiday Season

Winter Memories from the 1940s

Did you know that there are at least 17 holidays during this season?  In fact, historians have found winter celebrations as far back as 3000 BCE.  Some of the early celebrations have disappeared while new ones have appeared since ancient times.  Some are related to religious beliefs, while others honor various  traditions.  Faiths and traditions vary from country to country, and while some may be celebrated primarily in a particular location, others are celebrated around the world.

Since ancient time the Winter Solstice has been recognized by many cultures, and traditions from those ancient times have influenced later cultures.  The astronomical occurrence was celebrated as a return of the sun.  The Romans wintertime celebration was called the Saturnalia, a 7-day celebration at the midpoint of the winter season.  In early Europe there was a holiday known as the Yule festival.  Iranians celebrate Yalda, one of the most ancient Persian festivals. 

Today, there are many celebrations in December and early January.  On December 5, Muslims celebrate Ashura.  On that same day in Germany and Eastern Europe, Krampus Nacht is celebrated, with a devil-like character that scares bad children and rewards good children the next day.  St. Nicholas Day on December 6 recognizes a Christian bishop who sold all of his possessions to give to the needy, and people in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg remember him by giving gifts on that day.  On December 8 Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day by performing kind acts.

 In the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand there was Boxing day, when gifts were placed in boxes and given to the poor the day after Christmas, although today it is more of a holiday for sports and shopping.  To honor African American culture, Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through January first, a relatively new holiday celebration that originated at California State University and has spread.  Three Kings Day is celebrated on January 6, believed to be the day when the three kings first saw baby Jesus.  It is also the end of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas on January 7, which is Christmas Day on the Julian calendar, and on January 11, Hindus in Northern India celebrate the passing of the winter solstice.

American Jews use the Soli-lunar calendar, which means that the months begin on the new moon, to calculate their traditional days of celebration.  This year Hanukkah falls on December 7 through December 15.

There are other holiday seasons celebrated around the world that I have not included in this summary of winter holidays.  As I am sure you have noticed, many of our Christmas traditions are adapted from other nations, and in America today, there are many winter holidays, both religious and secular.  It is increasingly common to hear Happy Holidays ringing out to respect the multicultural nation that America is today.

Around the world surely most people wish for peace.  Can we not find ways to suppress cruelty and greed without war.  And, in the greatest nation in the world, can we not remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, who said, "The people - the people are the rightful masters of both congress and courts - not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it."

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Children's Books at Christmas

 ,

I love decorating the house for Christmas, and the only disappointment I have is the inability to accommodate more of our decorations because we lack the  room for them. Our cat, Emerson, can be trusted with the decoration sitting on every possible shelf, since frankly, he prefers the Christmas trees.  Low hanging Christmas balls better not be breakable, although it is actually sliding and rearranging the tree skirts that he most enjoys.  This year I have given him an entirely new level of Christmas fun with the Singing Santa tree.  Rearranging the artificial forest floor around the trees is his best holiday activity yet! 


However, this is not about Emerson, although he naturally assumes everything is, and his disappointment is apparent, because nothing on the dining room table is small enough to bat onto the floor, or at least knock over...all of the Santas being too heavy.  Since he cannot read, he doesn't see the point in covering the table with books, although he has found one that might be interesting.  I, on the other hand, love the excuse to get out all of the children's Christmas books in my collection out, just for the sheer pleasure of reading and seeing the beautiful illustrations.

I confess, the arrangement was prettier years ago when I had fewer Christmas books, but how could I hurt the feelings of any book by making it think it wasn't loved enough to be included.  There are 44 books, illustrated by 42 different artists.  Seven of the books are "The Night Before Christmas" and 4 are "A Christmas Carol."  There is a "Happy New Year" book, and a "Hanukkah book.  There is a "Nutcracker" book, and  "Jingle Bells," and "The Polar Express.  Obviously, Emerson's favorite is the book titled "The Christmas Cats," although he would have preferred a gray and white cat on the cover.

Many of my favorite illustrators are included.  Larry discovered one he had not seen, a Christmas book about "Franklin and Winston, A Christmas that Saved the World during W.W. II."
  


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!  I hope at least a few books are under your Christmas tree, and I suspect the "The Night Before Christmas" just might be read in many homes.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

What are you reading?

Some of my classic children's books
 and my bookend collection

I confess.  We have book cases in every room in our house (including a small rack in one bathroom) and we still have books stacked on the floor.  I love books!  We are fortunate in our community to have wonderful libraries nearby, with enthusiastic librarians that cultivate readers, especially children.   However, the sad truth is that people aren't reading as they once did.  

In 2022, the revenue from book sales was  78.80% from printed books, 10.77% from e-books, and 10.43% came from Audio books.  While the majority of readers still enjoy a book in their hands, many like the ability to read from their phone or laptop.  Audio books are often popular with readers who listen while driving to and from work.   

You might be curious to know that internationally the top three book purchasers were, at least in 2016, the United States, China, and the United Kingdom.  The global book publishing market in 2022 is predicted to reach $143.65 billion, with the expectation of 163.89 billion by 2023.  Another interesting set of statistics involves the busiest time of year for book sales.  November and December account for over 21% of the annual sales for bookstores, which you may know have been struggling to survive against internet sales, and as for overall book sales, almost 12% of all books are sold during the last week of November to the years end.  Apparently, books make nice Christmas gifts.  Over 82% of all books sold during November and December were print books, higher that the annual print book average sales.  (Just a hint for your Christmas giving!)  It will probably not surprise you that in the United States Amazon accounts for over 40% of book sales, and 30% globally.  As for e-books, Amazon dominates 80%.  

Those of you who follow my blog know how important it is to encourage children to read books.  Many of you may still be doing your Christmas shopping, and even if you thought you were finished, surely you can add a few books to your Christmas giving.  Authors will appreciate it--publishers will appreciate it--and most importantly, those for whom you have chosen to give a book will have it to enjoy!


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Are Our Kids Falling Behind?

 

When I took the ACT Test, I didn't know it might have been wise to have prepared for the test.  Today, students do that, with tutoring, practice tests, often taking the test more than once.  When I took the LSAT to apply for Law School my husband brought home a brochure, with a few sample questions on it.  I answered those and thought I was good-to-go.  I don't know if other students prepared for those  tests back when I was taking them.  Did my good fortune indicate that our educations several decades ago prepared us better for the tests or that the tests are more difficult now or something else?

The newspaper headline that prompted me to write this blog had a headline in bold black letters:  State lags in national marks, followed by "Kansas' class of 2023 has record-low ACT scores.  The article went on to say that Kansas fell behind the national average.  

This blog is not meant to belittle Kansas students, nor is it meant to criticize teachers.  It is meant to make all of us think.  I have blogged about how expensive college is.  I have blogged about people in our community who have chosen not to attend college and who have become successful business owners.  I have blogged about what I see as unfairness of paying off college student loans for students that knowingly went into debt to get a college diploma, while other students chose a career path that did not put them into a huge debt, settling for a path that they could afford.  It troubles me that kids that had the judgement to find another path--working part time, alternating college one semester-work the next, getting through college in twice the time but without debt, getting a 2-year degree and then working and taking night or online classes to finally get the 4-year diploma, or finding various ways to fulfill their dream in ways they could manage economically.  

Part of a college student's education should be awareness of the debt they are accruing and having a reasonable plan for how they will repay the debt.  This is a problem that needs to be addressed in some logical way, and the government simply paying off student debt is not going to resolve the problem of continuing expense for those who want a college education. Neither is it fair to those students who acted responsibly and did not accumulate excessive debt.  Colleges and universities also have a responsibility to find ways for the expense of a college education to be manageable, and that does not mean just asking others to sponsor scholarships while costs continue to rise.

We haven't figured out how to guide responsible capable students to affordable education, if that is what they want, nor how to recognize and aid those students that need help.  Universities do not need climbing walls and other perks to entertain and attract students.  They should not need to lower criteria for top grades.  I was an honor student, and I did not have a straight A average.  Sorry, but just because today's students are smarter than I will ever be on a computer does not mean, in my opinion, that other ways of measuring education are no longer relevant.  I have not been in a classroom in a very long time, and I do not know how students are evaluated today.  However, I do know that universities feel pushed to be competitive with other universities when graduates enter the hiring market.  It seems almost unavoidable that they might be tempted to flatten the old bell curve to help their graduates find jobs, if they perceive other universities are doing that.  

I cannot but wonder how today's students are tested.  Have they shown discipline, preparation, responsibility, reason, on a daily basis.  Are they tested regularly or only at the end of the semester?  Are they tested without access to phones and laptops?  Are the class sizes limited enough for professors to even recognize individual students and character traits? 

What I do know is that we are entering a time when education is about more than asking AI to solve our problems.  That is why reading is so important.  It trains our minds to follow information, whether we are reading history, fiction, logic, instructions,--all of which develop reason, logic, sequence, discipline, empathy, and so many other things that make us intelligent humans.  Our phones, our computers, and AI give us answers.  They do not teach us how to be humans.    

Here is one thing I do know.  High Schools are still free.  That is the time to take advantage of getting as much education as you can.  Do your best work in High School and take advantage of extra classes if they are offered.  And read!  It is wonderful that kids are more proficient on computers than I am, but reading does more for your brain than just surfing online.  The world seems mired in problems, and we need thoughtful, responsible people to resolve those problems.