Category Archives: History

Perception

Perception is a strange and wonderful thing. Many people live with the perception that “it will never happen to me.” Objectively this sounds foolish, if each of us included everything that could, indeed, happen to us, we would  be paralyzed with fear and spend our lives quivering under our beds in a fetal position.

However, since we are not data driven, realistic, computational intellects, we take totally unnecessary chances that make no sense and what do we have to show for it?

  • The ability to fly
  • Transplanting organs from a dead person to a living person
  • Automobiles, with gas stations full of highly flammable/explosive fuel located throughout the world
  • And a very humongous, etc.

On the other hand, a logical, realist would be naked and cold, banging stones together outside his cave because fire is just too dangerous.

 

Sears

So, Sears is in big trouble. That’s a shocker.

When I was a child, there were various stores that were ubiquitous in my part of the world.

F.W. Woolworth’s, founded in 1878, was a so-called “Five and Dime,” which was also noted for its lunch counters. In 1962, management decided that it needed to be a superstore, which it named “Woolco.”  It died in 1983.

S.S. Kresge was another five and dime; it was founded in 1899, and, also in 1962, its management decided that it too needed to become a big-box superstore, which operated under the name of K-Mart. K-Mart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2002. When it emerged from bankruptcy, its business geniuses decided that it should purchase another retailer, Sears, in 2004.

Sears & Roebuck was founded in 1892 and after malls became popular in the 1960s, it was often one of the “anchor stores.” Sears had a reputation for not reinvesting in its core business but focusing, instead on shareholder dividends and purchasing or starting other businesses, such as Allstate Insurance, Dean Witter Financial, Coldwell Banker Real Estate, creating the Discover Card, etc.

Today, Sears is showing dismal performance, which it blames on its requirement to pay for the pensions that its retirees earned. My mother worked for K-Mart and with the bankruptcy and merger, she lost her pension, so we’re not talking about every Sears/K-Mart employee, only some.

Incidentally, most of us who get a paycheck have money deducted each payday for Medicare, Social Security, and possibly some type of retirement plan and/or other savings. Shouldn’t Sears have done something similar and invested money over time so that they wouldn’t have to pay pensions out of their operating budget today? However, their priority was shareholder dividends and purchasing other companies. They apparently were neither interested in their future, nor their people.

COincidentally, today retail is shifting to remote purchases that are then delivered to the consumer, usually by US Mail. For many years, Sears was known for its mail order catalog–during my childhood, it wasn’t Christmas without the Sears catalog and its extensive toy section.

By today’s standards the mail order catalog process seems a little slower with sending in an order by mail, but it was the same basic concept. In other words, it’s just possible that if greed were not so huge a factor, Sears could have been Amazon rather than on the verge of collapse.

John McCain

I rarely meet famous or important people, but I did meet John McCain.

The US Navy had committed to providing Sailors to fill in US Army combat support and combat service support roles in order to free up Soldiers to do what they had been trained for. Sailors are very adaptable–when one is at sea and a barber is needed (or a damage controlman, or a firefighter) there isn’t the opportunity to wait until someone trained and certified arrives. One of the Sailors will learn how to fill the gap, until relieved by someone better qualified. However, a nineteen year old Soldier knows more about ground combat than most Sailors ever will, so the two are not interchangeable.

US Sailors were serving, boots on the ground, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait (alphabetical order). When they returned home, I believed that they deserved to be met at the airport by someone in a US Navy uniform, even if it was just me. Many came back through Thurgood Marshall International Airport in Baltimore, MD, so I made regular trips to that airport.

In 2008, while waiting for a group to return, John McCain happened to be in the area. Apparently someone alerted him to the return of the Sailors, and he, his bus, and everyone on it showed up. This was not a political photo opportunity–John McCain knew all too well what it means to come home from war. He was there to welcome the Sailors, the Soldiers, the Airmen, the Marines, and the Coast Guardsmen home. It s an open, honest, and heartfelt measure.

I have a picture of myself, a fellow officer, who is a wonderful person (but I don’t know if she wishes to be identified) and John McCain. This was after he had graciously greeted the returning service members of all branches as they entered the terminal. In the picture, his expression makes it obvious that he had more important things to do than be photographed with me–and that’s what makes the picture so special. He had greeted the returning American warriors, and even though I was there for them too, it was not about me–it was about them. Now it was time for him to move on to his next task.

I respect that. I respect a man who knows what’s important and especially respect a man whose moral compass is incorruptible. In McCain’s case, he did all this while maintaining a sense of humor. He was rare, which to me qualifies him as a treasure–a National Treasure.

Eternal rest, grant unto John McCain, Oh Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen

The Story

I’ve been working on a story for a while, but writing it keeps getting in the way.

I’ve always admired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes,” which was published as a serial in the Strand magazine, a monthly publication. My story–“The Story”–has been under development for a while. Like most writers, I d-r-a-g things out far too long as I write them. It’s a case of “Wait! It was a small dog, not a puppy!.”

As George Lucas supposedly said, “Movies are never completed, only abandoned.” The same is probably true of stories, so I’m going to publish–on this blog–at least a chapter a month. I make no promise that a particular chapter (including one that I may publish) will not be removed or eliminated.

Welcome to the wonderful??? world of writing. You may have the chance to experience my dreams, frustrations, pain, and stupidity, as I try to write a story.

I’ve already changed at least five chapters, but, interestingly, all of the characters remain, although their experiences might be different. If I share, I’ll try not to be too confusing (I’m not responsible for confusing myself).

If it’s worthwhile–I hope you enjoy.

Chapter One is coming soon.

Interesting Facts

I try to stay out of politics for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I have a hiatal hernia and gaastro-esophogeal reflux disease. However, from time to time, I come across facts that are just too interesting to keep to myself.

However, beware, for as John Adams said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.*

Anne Frank

—–Every western nation seems to be wrestling with the issue of immigration these days. Interestingly, there was a recent discovery by the Anne Frank House and the Holocaust Memorial Museum that Anne Frank’s father had applied–twice–for permission to move his family to the United States, but was turned down due to  “American bureaucracy, war, and time.” ** As everybody is probably aware, Anne Frank spent much of the war hiding in a secret room in the attic, was eventually found, arrested, sent to a Nazi concentration camp, and died only a few weeks before the British Army liberated the camp.

911

—–NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an organization formed among western nations in 1949 for their mutual protection. Article 5 of the NATO treaty that essentially says that an attack on one member nation would be viewed as an attack on all the NATO members.  Interestingly, Article 5 has only been invoked once, with the other NATO nations coming to the aid of the United States after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.***

 

* Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_adams_134175

** https://www.click2houston.com/news/national/anne-franks-family-tried-in-vain-to-flee-to-the-us

*** https://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/us/after-attacks-alliance-for-first-time-nato-invokes-joint-defense-pact-with-us.html

 

The Whatth of July

800px-USA_declaration_independence

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on 2 July 1776, which is why John Adams expected the celebrations to take place each year on the second.  Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers were politicians, so the wording wasn’t finalized until the fourth of July. (If it had been the founding mothers, they would probably have been more practical, organized, and less egotistical. I’m sure the Declaration would have been completed much earlier.)

Not everyone who signed the Declaration did so on the fourth of July.  There’s no complete record as exactly who signed when. It’s probably safe to say that John Adams, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson all signed on that day (Hancock signed first and large–so King George could read it without his glasses).

The last signer was probably Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire, who wasn’t elected and seated in the Continental Congress until November; he asked for and received the privilege of adding his signature at that time, and signed on November 4, 1776.

So, two things:

  1. The Declaration of Independence set us on the path of the most improbable and radical experiment in civilization. The hereditary monarchy thing failed, as did leadership by military conquest. Our experiment is still running with its ups and downs, and will take forever to perfect. However, as Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
  2. We should never be surprised if politicians do not deliver in a timely manner.

Given the importance of the event, maybe it would be better to celebrate Independence Month!

 

 

 

Twenty-First Century Bare Knuckle Fighting

th3ILF0YAI

The big thing today is bare-knuckle boxing–a throwback to the days when women were expected to stay home, and prohibited from voting; when horse manure in the street was normal and every house smelled like stale cigars, and brass spittoons (or tin cans for the less affluent) were standard furnishing.*

As a philosopher-at-large, I should claim that this was fully expected, but unfortunately, I was blinded by my faith in the human species. Sorry about that.

Honest disclosure–I never thought two people trying to beat each other up was entertainment. I was never a fan of schoolyard bullies, bar fights, gang fights, or boxing. I never watched professional wrestling–even though we all know it is choreographed ballet for muscle-bound males.

In any case, at a time in which everyone over the age of three has their own smartphone; when cars drive themselves with the same skill as humans (“Lookout, we’re gonna crash and die!”); we have suddenly become fascinated with 19th century sports.

Don’t get me wrong, The 19th century gave us many things, including, including some of the best paintings, sculpture, and literature. Fisticuffs, on the other hand, is not on my list of positive accomplishments.

However, we seem to have an overdeveloped fascination with beating one another senseless.

How weird is that?

* I remember the tin can behind the couch at my grandparents’ house—–yuck—–never mind.

Memorial Holyday

Memorial-Day

The word holiday was once just a different spelling for holyday, but has come to mean something quite different to many people. That’s unfortunate, because we tend to remember the specific meaning of our holydays; we do not confuse Passover with Christmas or Eid al Fitr. On the other hand, we do confuse holidays.

In the United States of America, today is Memorial Day. I observe Memorial Day, but do not celebrate it, since it is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the defense of our country. Veterans Day, on the other hand, recognizes all who served or are serving in the military.

It is an ancient custom to honor the dead by placing flowers on their grave. After the American Civil War, this practice became an annual ritual and was originally known as Decoration Day. There are a number of people and organizations who have been credited with initiating it from both the Union and Confederacy.

To me, Memorial Day, is when I remember when I was deployed and we lost someone. The theater–which was also used as a chapel–would have the inverted rifle, helmet, boots, and dog tags representing the lost warrior, and too many times it was not just one. The building was packed by men and women in camouflage uniforms; under the seats, the pre-staged boxes of tissue were intermingled with rifles. Friends paid tribute, and no one was too proud to cry.

Military rituals are often misunderstood, but the link provides a good explanation. One misunderstanding is that at a military funeral, the honor guard fires a 21-gun salute. Actually, they fire three volleys, a 21-gun salute is reserved for heads of state.

Except for Memorial Day.

On Memorial Day, those who, as Abraham Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure,” are accorded the same honor as a head of state. On Memorial Day, the fallen are recognized with a 21-gun salute.

From Rocks to Fails

In the absence of honest journalism, the media (plural for medium, as “in the middle” such having a C average in school) have resorted to various gimmicks to attract readers–especially if someone is paying for clicks on the web page. Among the traditional gimicks is the unfinished headline, where they try to make it look like they ran out of space:

Political analysts caught by surprise when president signs bill making 

Then there’s the shock/tease headline:

If you thought this starlet was cute in the 1960’s, you’ll be shocked at how she look today!

Gradually we ended up on the rocks:

Fifty year old movie star rocks bikini!

Of course, ending up on the rocks, is another term for failure, so now the media is into fails:

Biggest fails at the gala awards program!

Actually, they might do better if they just made up words:

You’ll absolutely snarzl when you see this!

Us vs. Me

 

illustration-of-human-evolution-ending-with-smart-phone-resize

“Wait, I need to take a selfie!”

Far too many events today are due to decisions by people who think only of themselves.

This is unnatural.

The hermit, alone in his cave, has always been an idiosyncratic caricature. The word hermit is derived from the word for desert or desert dweller. Deserts are not particularly attractive to people who depend on hunting and gathering. Deserts are more successful as after the invention of are air-conditioned houses and refrigerated food trucks. (Casinos, although optional, seem inevitable.)

Humans from earliest times sought out one another.  Our ancestors, the Homo erectus, (stop thinking dirty thoughts–it refers to having the ability to stand upright) or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis  tended to keep their families together, eventually becoming tribes. Some believe that the reason that there are no identifiable descendants of the Neanderthals is because the two groups combined and interbred, ultimately resulting in us, Homo sapiens.

We belong together, but sometimes are reluctant to admit it. As such, in order to survive and prosper, we must look at things in terms of the common good. Life is not a zero-sum game (if I win, you lose). It is a life-or-death struggle in which WE win or lose.

I could wax poetic for another 300 pages, which I might enjoy, but WE, as a totality, would not, so I’ll stop.

* Links courtesy of Wikipedia. If you use Wikipedia, then use PayPal to send them a few bucks–better yet, a few bucks a month.

Magic with Numbers!

SONY DSC

Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkins were rank amateurs because they were handicapped by their pathetic math skills.

The real math pros are accountants.

As the old joke goes:
A businessman needed to hire someone who knew math. For the interview, he had written on a white board “2 + 2 =.” The mathemetician wrote “4,” as did the physicist. When an acountant arrived, he looked at the whiteboard, locked the door, checked to make sure the window was locked, and pulled the curtains. He leaned close to the businessman and whispered,
“What do you want it to be?”

Creative accounting requires more mental gymnastics than figuring out how the universe began or will end. Here’s a great example:

Forestt Gump, the movie, cost $55 million dollars to produce. It earned nearly $680 BILLION, but according to the accountants, it lost money. Some of the contributors (like author Winston Groom) had agreed to a percentage of the net profits. However, since it never made a dime, their share was zero.

Let’s review the math:

$679,850,637,000
–        $55,000,000
             ZERO*
* After depreciation, marketing, amortization, title, and dealer preparation charges–and other “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles”.

I didn’t include taxes, because if it “lost money,” I’m not sure whether or not they had to pay any.

Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, eat your hearts out!

 

 

My How Things Change

The United States Constitution is a marvelous document–a framework for what was a radically new form of government in 1787–but a living document that has changed with the times.

TheNationalArchivesholdstheUnitedStatesConstitutionOriginalDocument

And the times have so changed.

Legend has it that, during the war, a British military commander sent a note addressed to ‘Mr. George Washington.’ General Washington accepted the note and placed it in his pocket saying that he was aquainted with Mr. Washington, who was a planter in Virginia, and he would deliver the note after the war. The next day, a similar–and possibly identical note–was sent, addressed to ‘General George Washington.’

After the war, General Washington appeared before the Continental Congress to return his commission to them. He had done his duty, and no longer needed or wanted the rank of general and handed the paperwork that had made him a general back.

Initially, there was a populist movement to make Washington king. He would have no part of that. There is a place in the Capitol Building that was intended to be his crypt, but he had left clear instructions that precluded his internment there.

Often, he closed his correspondence with “Your obdt (obedient) servant, George Washington.”

Regardless of your political views, it is reassuring that our nation is not based on birthright, caste, or class, but on a set of ideals laid out in the Constitution. It is a set of ideas that bonds Americans together.

 

History Doesn’t Repeat

I heard a great comment on NPR’s Fresh Air the other day. I believe it might have been Jake Tapper, but since the quote is wrongly attributed to Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens nom de plum), if I attribute it wrongly, so be it.

The comment was, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

A day or so later I read that Ford was no longer going to manufacture sedans, but would focus on trucks and SUV or crossover vehicles that look like this:

2019-ford-expedition-release-date

Ford Expedition 2019

It’s kind of interesting that Henry Ford’s vehicles started out looking like this,

 

Ford-Model-T-1

Ford Model T 1907-1927

eventually evolving into this.

ford_model_a_tudor_sedan_1930_01

Ford Model A – 1927-1931

Notice any similarities in the body shapes? He might have been onto something a century or so ago.

Maybe Henry Ford’s design

Would repeat again, after a time.

The shape of his car proved to be fine,

And history, does–once again–rhyme.

Goodbye to the Newspaper

When I was growing up, almost everybody took the local newspaper. Many cities had several competing newspapers, although Toledo’s two papers–one morning and one evening–were owned and operated by the same company.

Journalism is dead, having given way to commentary. Many newspapers are moribund. In my area, so few people subscribe to the actual news that the newspaper distributes a free weekly printing of advertisements. They probably copied the business model of the US Postal Service, which became a model of financial success when junk mail became their most profitable business.

Many papers already rely primarily on the wire services for their content, which means that in the morning paper you’ll see the same articles you read online the day before. With reliance on wire services–of which there are basically two–the entire nation receives the information as perceived by one writer. While I don’t like this, I must admit that it is an approach that has worked well for Vladimir Putin.

News is framed so as to attract everyone’s attention–in other words, it must be sensational or salacious–ideally both. This results in the media altering our perception. Travel by airplane, for example, is very safe, which is why an emergency landing on a highway with no injuries is considered nationally newsworthy and causes some people to perceive airplanes as dangerous. On the other hand, automobile accidents are so common that it must involve a self-driving vehicle, have a dozen or so fatalities, involve over 50 cars.

It’s sad that most people don’t want journalism because it requires readers to think. It’s easier to find some online source that reinforces their existing position and biases than to have to think and possibly change their minds occassionally.

Freedom of the Press

In a discussion with my wife, I had one of those Eureka moments.

The Constitution speaks to “freedom of the press,” although we apply it to all media. What struck me today is that there is a significant difference between the press—or the written word—as opposed to other communications methods.

On television, we have twenty-ish minutes of “news” presented by anchors, or as they are commonly referred to as “talking heads.” With more than one newsreader on television, it is virtually impossible to dispense with the small talk when moving from one story to another. This injects the attitude or even the opinion of the newsreader into the message. In many cases—choose your network—the news is much closer to (or, indeed) commentary in support of an agenda rather than the news.

The press isn’t perfect, but a news item in print has durability, and that includes an extended time to challenge it. A printed version must be able to stand on its own today, tomorrow, next week, and perhaps into the next century. That is why the press is unique. In addition, in most major cities, anonymous comments are not printed the way they are online. If you have something to say, then you identify yourself as Thomas Jefferson, not “mount76”. Acknowledging authorship requires a whole different dynamic when responding. The press has far fewer—if any—trolls compared to online sources.

Journalism isn’t a lost art, but it’s best seen in print. The old story rings true:

A young reporter had submitted his story to the editor, who called him in. “This is good,” the editor began, “very good. However, you mentioned that Alderman Johnson responded angrily. How did you know he was angry?”

“Because he was shouting and his face was red!” replied the reporter.

“Then,” replied the editor, “that’s what you write—he was red faced and was shouting—but first you need to find out if he doesn’t always shout, and his face isn’t always red. If that’s his normal demeanor, then it is not worthy of mention.”

I Cannot Say It Better

Gary Varvel [garyvarvel.com], the editorial cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star [www.indystar.com] is a genius who can draw a picture that is truly worth at LEAST a thousand words.

In this day of fewer and fewer newspapers, and inevitably, even fewer quality dailies, it is a wonderful gift to still have some publishers and editors who understand how humor can convey a stronger message than even the best written article—and as a writer, saying that does not come easily.

As a Christian, I wish you a Merry Christmas. As a member of this melting pot we call America, I wish you Happy Holidays. As a human, I wish peace on earth to all  people of good will—and I advise everyone to celebrate any and every holiday that reminds you that we are all in this together; there is no “them,” only 7.53 billion of “us.”

XMAS, Improved

My friend, Rick Martinez, with whom I’ve shared wonderful intellectual and philosophical conversations—as well as my writing efforts throughout the years—comments on some of my blogs. This is in response to my last blog, and is a beautiful thought for the season. I formatted it as a blog, but the thoughts and words are Rick’s, unchanged.

Thank you, Steve, for writing about Christmas—the Birth of Christ. No matter of all the “scientific” facts surrounding when Jesus was born and who believes what–there’s at least two general things we all acknowledge and accept as true. At the time and in the area of Christ’s birth, what was true 2000 years ago continues to be true today–some 2000 years later: There were believers and non-believers and warring factions back then as there are now. And–for Christians all over the world, the most tragic words ever written of our Lord are those set down by the Apostle John in the beginning of his Gospel:

He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

Bethlehem had no room for Him when He was born;

Nazareth, no room for Him when He lived; and

Jerusalem, no room for Him when He died.

XMAS

As a Christian, I hold this time of year as a most special time. December 25th has a one in 365 ¼ chance of being Jesus’ actual day of birth. In the absence of accurate records of births circa 003 BCE, and given the significance of the winter solstice—when each day has more light—the early Christian church may have taken advantage of events and combined celebrations. (Since gospel means, “good news,” it should not be surprising that Christians enjoy celebrating all of the good things in life.)

Some Christians take issue with the idea of Xmas, but, as often happens, a study of history enhances understanding. Xmas is not a way of removing Christ from Christmas, but a connection back to a time closer to his life. The “X” is the first letter of “Christos.” the Greek word for Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Christians have seen the chi-rho symbol, and because of the prominence of the Greek letter rho—which looks like a “P”, they transpose the first (X) and second (P) letters and miss the fact that Xmas appropriately recognizes the Christ and does not replace his name with a variable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, regardless of your religious viewpoint, celebrate a few days of love. History has examples of wartime enemies, laying down their weapons, exchanging food and drink, singing Christmas Carols and playing football (soccer), for one precious, blessed evening. THAT is powerful.

 

 

Fake News!

There is no truth to the allegation that Vladimir Putin said:

In America, people take advantage of other people.                                                       In Russia, it’s the other way around.

I just don’t know how such rumors get started!

Finding Life

I’m sure that over the past ten years I’ve mentioned this—at least once or twice, if not more.

We’re having a Thanksgiving potluck at work on Friday. I usually contribute jambalaya, but this time I decided to bake bread—sourdough bread. In the 19th century, during the gold rush, someone discovered that there were microbes in the air near San Francisco that would not only leaven bread, but also give it a crisp crust and a savory almost sour flavor. Sourdough has been popular ever since, to the point that we don’t even realize that it is routinely overpriced.

For a while it was claimed (and maybe even believed) that you could only make sourdough in the climate conditions found in the Bay Area. Fortunately, that’s not true.

I bought a sourdough “kit,” which included dried sourdough starter (which included some of the lactobacilli that make the magic happen), a crock for storing starter, and a book of recipes. That was in 1982, and I’ve kept it going ever since. This has not always been easy, especially with a few deployments taking me out of the home scene.

Nevertheless, the starter has lived long and prospered. Today it was combined with flour and water to make the “sponge,” the first step in making sourdough bread. As I write this, the  lactobacilli should have everything under their control. I have already returned  a cup of sponge to the crock to be the starter for the next batch and carefully placed the crock in the back of the refrigerator.

I’ve added more flour, water , and salt to the mixture, and tomorrow it will be formed into loaves and baked. I will literally “break bread” with my coworkers.

I see sourdough the way I view wine and cheese; it is what it is because we combine living organisms with the hand of man. Wheat is alive, we harvest it, and it dies, but when we add yeast–or better yet, sourdough starter, it lives again and morphs into something new and better. Then we share it, which is another living thing.

I’m told that there’s an old Russian saying, “Where there’s food, their’s life. Where there’s life, there’s hope.” You may not agree with their politics, but you must give Russian philosophers their due.

Pass the bread, wine, and cheese. Share life.

P.S. Most of this was typed one-handed because Alex the parrot claimed the other hand as her perch.