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Category: Social Commentary

Repeat Posting: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

Repeat Posting: Thoughts on “the Longest Day in the World”

This piece initially appeared a year ago, on June 21, 2017, the Summer Solstice. Today it is once more the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, and the actual solstice officially took place at 6:07 a.m. EDT/10:07 UTC this morning. The time and other references and weather comments in the piece are as they were last year, when the post first appeared. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s June 21, the day of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a day that holds various meanings for different peoples, and its significance goes back millennia. The solstice, whether summer or winter, officially took place at 12:24 a.m. U.S. Eastern Daylight Time this morning, or 04:24 UTC.

Just to set the record straight and dispel any questions about my scientific knowledge, I know it’s not the longest day in the world. It’s the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day in the Southern Hemisphere. But we’ll get to this a bit later.

It’s been a mixed bag today here on the West Coast of Florida. We’ve been having a lot of rain, something we didn’t have much of over the winter, and the rainy times are interspersed with sunny breaks. Right now, as I look out the window of my boat, the sun is mostly out but I’m looking at the light through rain-drop spattered glass. At least we’re not getting the effects of Tropical Storm Cindy, which is much further west and at this moment dumping lots of water on the upper Gulf Coast.

In this country, the summer solstice marks the official beginning of summer, though in other places and other cultures it marks the middle of summer, as indicated by the name Midsummer Night, which can occur anywhere from the 20th to the 24th of June. And really it is midsummer, since the days, which have been lengthening since the equinox three months ago, now will start to grow shorter, the nights longer.

The sun has reached its apogee in this hemisphere, as it stands today directly over the Tropic of Cancer. I feel summer ending, we already are on the downhill side, the side that will take us through the hot coming months but already on the slide back into winter, the cold time of year. Just as in the Southern Hemisphere the days will begin to grow longer as the seasons move back to summer.

A year ago on this day I was in Alaska, where there never really was a night. Where I was, well below the Arctic Circle, the sun went down sometime around midnight, but there was a kind of twilight that lasted until the sun rose again a few hours later. Above the Arctic Circle on this day, the sun never sets, and it truly is the Land of the Midnight Sun.

My thoughts turn to other things on this day. Someone asked me the other day, which was Father’s Day in the U.S., what thoughts I had of my father on that Sunday. But really, I think of Father’s Day as a commercial holiday. I also remember the last Father’s Day I had with my father, and how my mother did her unwitting best to create conflict between me and my father. While I may wish a happy day to the fathers I know on Father’s Day, it is today, the day of the solstice, that I think of my father. June 21 was his birthday, which in most years coincides with the solstice. I was told as a child that it was the longest day of the year, which I translated in my own way into it being the longest day in the world, and I would go around telling everyone who would listen that it was.

“It’s the longest day in the world!” I’d exclaim each year on his birthday, from morning until night.

I think today of my father on this day, the 21st of June. Gone now, for nearly 48 years. And I think back to the day of his birth, June 21, 1913. One hundred and four years ago. Even had he not died young as he did, just 56 years old, it is hard to imagine that he would still be alive today had he not died when he did. A prolongation of the inevitable.

A factoid I learned earlier is that today is not the longest day in the history of the world, as one might imagine it to be given that the earth’s rotation on its axis generally was slowing. Rather, the longest day in the history of the world is believed to be June 21, 1912, and things like the earth’s tides and recession of the glaciers have caused a slight increase in the rate of the planet’s rotation since then. My father was born a year later, which arguably could have been the second or third longest day in the history of the world, if not the actual longest day in the world.

I wonder what it was like on that June day, the day of the solstice, the longest day of the year, the day my father was born, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Did his father and mother, his Italian parents, my grandparents that I never knew, know it was the solstice? Did they even know of the solstice? Regardless, I’m inclined to think they did not think of it, if for no other reason than that they had something else on their mind that day. And then I think of the things people from then knew and were taught and how many of those things have been lost today, in these encroaching new Dark Ages in which we find ourselves, and I have to wonder. Perhaps they knew, better than most people today know. Or care to know. And they did note the auspicious day on which their son was born.

I’ll think of my father again on July 27, the anniversary of his death, and by then even our summer, the summer as we define it, will be half over.

The solstices, like the equinoxes, serve as a kind of punctuation for me. I watch the ebb and the flow of the days, the seasons, the years, and they mark the passage of time, time that increasingly slips by way too quickly. All of life is punctuation, I think. Slowing. Stopping. Breaking things, even waves on the water, into different parts, different pieces, different rhythms and fugues and movements and phrases and sentences. It is through such punctuation that we mark our lives, mark our transit through summer and back into winter, from day into night, from life into death. Watching, as a reader of a story does, while the time of our lives flows past. When we lose that punctuation, everything blends into one big mass, and we feel lost in the current, flailing and drowning as we’re pulled inexorably along. At least I do.

Enjoy this song, which I found today amid my files, and with which I end this post, and enjoy the time that nature and life give us.

This piece also appears on Medium. Follow me there, and here.

The Orchestrated Smoke Screen on the Southern Border

The Orchestrated Smoke Screen on the Southern Border

I had resolved not to fall for the smoke screen that as been raised in the media about children being separated from their parents on the southern border, and here I am about to deal with it.

I call it a smokescreen since it’s pretty obvious that it has been raised at this time and in this way to distract attention away from the hearings going on in Congress this week over the Inspector General’s report detailing unprecedented corruption and malfeasance within the FBI, beginning with the Hillary Clinton email so-called investigation.

I’m not going to ignore that report or those hearings, but the din over the children on the border has gotten to the point where it’s virtually impossible not to deal with it, and there is so much utter nonsense and dishonesty embedded in the blather that it offends the senses of anyone even vaguely familiar with what is going on. So, despite my best intents, here I am discussing the border issue. The other, no less important, issue will have to wait for a subsequent posting. Okay, let’s get going with this.

No matter where you come down on the question of whether children should or shouldn’t be separated from their parents when the parents are apprehended for crossing the border illegally, if for even a moment you think this isn’t an orchestrated crisis, I have several hundred miles of border fence I’d like to sell you at a very good price. Neither the timing nor the volume nor the shrillness of the cries nor ferocity of chest beating and rending of garments over this latest border crisis isn’t without behind-the-scenes orchestration.

To establish where I’m coming from on this, I will cite my background as a U.S. consular officer posted to what is called a high-fraud post. That’s a post that gets a high percentage of fraudulent visa applications. It was awhile back and in a different part of the world, but I saw lots of fraud and lots of tactics used by people who would enter and stay illegally in the U.S. And much of what I saw can be applied to interpreting the current situation, including how people would use and abuse their children when their goal was entry to the U.S.

Let’s start with the issue of political asylum, since a big part of the media angst has been over children separated from parents seeking political asylum in the U.S. And let’s start with the facts and not the emotions. For a moment, let’s assume (and it’s a big assumption) that someone has bona fide grounds for seeking political asylum. According to the international standard, they should seek asylum in the first country they come to where they might find protection. In this case, for those coming from Central America, that would be Mexico. But these people are not seeking asylum in Mexico. They want to declare it in the U.S., which is a long way from the countries in which they originate.

Next thing: If you wish to declare yourself as a political asylee, you do it at a port of entry. A regular border crossing. You are showing yourself openly as having a legitimate reason why you should be admitted to the country. But most of these alleged asylum seekers are crossing the southern border illegally, like any other border jumper. Then when they’re caught by the Border Patrol they say they are seeking political asylum. Well, they can say anything they want, can’t they? If they got away with entering the country illegally and managed to make it to the hinterlands, for one moment do you think many, if any, would then apply for political asylum? I highly doubt it.

When I was at that aforementioned high-fraud post, we received a communication from someone at the State Department in Washington. They explained they weren’t supposed to do this, but thought we needed to have something brought to our attention, which was that many of the people we were issuing visitor visas to were declaring political asylum once they got to the U.S. This person in the Department also sent copies of the letters that were filed on behalf of these “asylees,” and every single one of them had been typed on the same typewriter (this was back when typewriters, which had distinctive characteristics, still roamed the earth), were all worded the same, and were all put out by the same bottom-feeder immigration attorney in San Francisco. That was bad enough, but the country we were in and from which these “asylees” hailed had then none of the conditions that would justify a claim of political asylum. Let me just say we tightened up considerably on our already tight visa-issuance consideration standard.

I think it would be naive to assume that all these people showing up across the southern border and declaring political asylum just spontaneously came there. Let’s not forget that a few years ago the Obama Administration put out word on the radio and in the newspapers in Central America telling people what they needed to do to get to the U.S. so they, too, could declare political asylum. More on that period a bit later. But clearly there is something more than just chance behind this latest wave of arrivals.

As for the question about whether children should be separated from their parents, that is one especially prone to emotional responses. Assuming the adults are the children’s parents – which not all are – personally I think it’s not a great policy and generally think it can lead to more problems than it avoids. That said, let’s not be Pollyannish about this whole thing.

One has to wonder what leads a parent to put their children through the danger of a long journey through a country like Mexico, to put them at the mercy of coyotes who exploit and abuse and rape and even kill immigrants, and in some cases to put the children up on the roof of a train for a journey of several days and nights. And then those same parents take their children across the Rio Grande or into the Arizona and New Mexico desert, and all the dangers entailed in that. These are all things that might be considered, in calmer moments, child abuse, and would have the parents charged by CPS and the children taken away from them. I mean, parents have been charged with abuse for letting their kids walk home unaccompanied from school in the suburbs, and yet there are those who would defend these egregious practices that can lead to death and serious injury for the children. What is wrong with these people?

Let me tell you another tale from my consular posting, if you have any delusions about how some parents will exploit and abuse their children to get themselves into the U.S. We handled immigrant visa applications for citizens of a neighboring country which had, at the time, the highest overstay rate in the U.S. That’s the rate at which people arrive with valid visas and then don’t leave when their stay is up.

Adults from this particular country – and I’m sure it’s not the only country in which this occurs – would get a visitor visa, go to the U.S., and stay for years until their numbers for immigrant visas came up, based on some family relation or another. At that point they would have to leave the U.S., go back to their home country, and go through a visa interview, which is where I would come in. Meanwhile, these folks would leave their children behind while they were overstaying in the U.S. to be raised by the children’s grandparents in the home country. We’re not talking a few weeks or months here. We’re talking several, even many, years, so the children who might have been infants when the parents abandoned them were pretty well grown into preteens and teens by the time their parents returned to claim them. I had no compunction against asking those children, in the visa interviews I conducted, how they felt about being abandoned like that by their parents. I can tell you, most of them weren’t too happy about it. And for their part, all the parents could do was squirm in their seats and grin stupidly. Frankly, I thought it was disgraceful, and I had no problem telling the parents that. Unfortunately, this kind of child abandonment wasn’t grounds for denying them the visas they sought.

That was bad enough. But what do you say about a parent who would subject their children to the kinds of risks that they face on the trip north to the U.S., or once they cross the border? Those opposing the Administration’s policies seem to be silent on the topic.

The numbers in the current “crisis” don’t come anywhere near the numbers of unaccompanied minors and family units that overran the southern border back in 2013, 2014, and 2015, under the Obama Administration. Currently, we’re talking about a few thousand children and families. Compare that with fiscal year 2013 when, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics, 38,759 unaccompanied minors showed up on the southern border. Or the next fiscal year, when the number of unaccompanied minors swelled to 68,541. Meanwhile, “family unit apprehensions” numbered 14,855 in FY 2013 and 68,445 in FY 2014. Do you recall the kind of outcry then that we’re seeing now? I don’t. I do remember the images of what the detention centers looked like at that time, and I have to agree with what President Trump had to say about them.

“You look at the images from 2014,” the President said, “I was watching this morning and they were showing images from 2014 and they blow away what we’re doing today. I saw images that were horrible.”

If you watched Fox News at the time, as I did, you would have been shocked at what you saw nightly. You might not even have seen those images if you watched some of the other media. Those same media that are screaming about what is happening now.

Which leads us to the conclusion that this current outcry, along with being a smoke screen, is politically motivated. It’s one more – pardon the expression – trumped-up offense the Dems think they can pin on the President. The angst and tenor of some of the rhetoric is over the top. And then, when the President relents and signs an executive order stopping the separation of children from their parents, the Dems aren’t happy with that, either. Anything short of releasing all those who cross the border illegally into the general population, never to be seen again (and ostensibly to eventually become Democratic voters, the real goal), won’t appease them. Just keep moving the goal posts and criticizing the Administration and claiming there is nothing you can do about it by getting serious about passing meaningful immigration legislation, and you can fool at least some of the people.

Many of the anecdotes coming out of all the hysteria would be amusing, were they not so serious. A bit of levity did, however, come on the news Tuesday evening when Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator Bill Nelson, the valedictorian and salutatorian of Democratic hubris and grandstanding in the Sunshine State, whined about not being granted access to a youth detention center in Hialeah, Fla.

Balderdash” – I’m not making this up – is the word Nelson actually used to describe what he had been told in being turned away. Obviously they thought they could just barge their way into the facility and then use it to make political hay. Or, more likely, they knew all along they wouldn’t be granted entry without going through the usual channels. Whatever. Are people naive enough not to see through this sort of thing? I fear they are. However else can these people get elected to office?

Then we have actor Peter Fonda (remember him? Easy Rider? What, 1969?) urging the kidnapping of the President’s young son, Barron, and placing him in a cage with pedophiles. Now if you, kind reader, or I were to make that sort of goad I can just about guarantee that we’d be paid a visit by the Secret Service or the FBI. I wonder what will happen in Fonda’s case, even with First Lady Melania Trump referring him to the Secret Service for investigation. Oh, he’s issued an apology. So sincere, I am sure. Like his calls for raping DHS Kirstjen Nielsen and other tasteless tweets that, were he not of the leftist persuasion, would bring down outrage. Instead we get the sound of crickets from that side of the political divide.

And then there was the near riot that broke out when DHS Secretary Nielsen was cornered inside a DC restaurant – it’s hard to ignore the irony of it being a Mexican restaurant, an irony not lost on those organizing the demonstration, either – by a shouting, jeering mob of Washington Democratic Socialists. So much for democratic discourse and tolerance amid the orchestrated hysteria (a call to the demonstration was put out in a series of tweets).

Finally, one can only wish that someone on the Democratic side of the aisle would call for an end to the offensive references comparing the Administration’s border policy to Nazi Germany and the round-up of U.S. citizens of Japanese decent during the Second World War. Really? Concentration camps? But that’s not going to happen, since some of those offensive references are coming literally from – surprise! – that side of the aisle.

Okay, I’ve said my piece, for now, on this subject. I can almost predict that all the frenzy will blow over as soon as the hearings on the FBI and the abuse of power that went on within it are over. We’ll get to that matter in due course. Meanwhile, don’t believe much of what you see and hear in the media maelstrom centered on the southern border which, I assure you, is more about putting up a smoke screen than anything really to do with the children.

Learning From the Mice, Dammit

Learning From the Mice, Dammit

For anyone that doesn’t know, I live on a boat. As life aboard often holds, there are events and occurrences – usually unexpected and mostly unwanted – that crop up from time to time, ranging from electrical emergencies to a non-functioning pump, from rain leaks to other kinds of leaks. Fortunately, though, I’ve been spared the bane of rodents taking up residence on the vessel, something that is not unknown to boaters. Until recently, anyway.

I first became aware that I might not be alone a couple weeks ago when, in the darkness and quiet of the middle of the night, I was awakened by what sounded very much like chewing. The chewing of little teeth on who knew what, in another and distant part of the boat.

My hope that what I heard was imaginary or was one of those transient boat noises that usually can be explained began to evaporate when I started finding subtle signs that something unwanted was aboard. And finally that hope disappeared altogether when one morning I found the plastic top of an oatmeal container quite thoroughly chewed up. I definitely was not alone.

Day-by-day more evidence of a stowaway began to pile up. It was no longer possible to just ignore this interloper, and there was no hope it would just go away. I was unsure whether I was dealing with a rat or a mouse, though when I began to find stowaway poop I became more convinced that this was a mouse. Or, more likely, mice. Now, given a choice, I wouldn’t want either rats or mice aboard, but between the two, I’d pick the latter.

My foray into the world of rodent traps and poisons and all the rest began at a Super Walmart on the way back from a tiny house show at the Florida State Fair Grounds. While they didn’t have anything equivalent to a live-catch trap, there were some high-tech “quick-kill” traps, along with a range of more conventional mouse and rat traps, poisons, glue strips, and high-pitched sonic devices that claimed to make the pests nuts and drive them away. Thinking that technology would get the better of these small-brained critters, I opted for the high-tech traps, as well as one traditional and huge rat trap, in case I had misjudged what I was dealing with.

Well, you know how they say pride cometh before a fall? Well, that might be the moral of my story, that night and many nights to come. I loaded up my high-tech traps with oatmeal (which the critters had already shown a preference for) and (falling for the old, though not necessarily accurate, cliché) some cheese. I set them out in places the creatures seemed to frequent, turned out the light that night, and headed to bed, visions of trapped mice lurking in my head.

Well, that’s the only place there were trapped mice, since the next morning the mice had completely ignored the high-tech traps, preferring to tear up the paper wrapping on yet another oatmeal container, chewing through the plastic top of that one, too. At that point, I castigated myself for falling for some British high-tech trap that might or might not work on Euro mice but had no apparent attraction for American ones. Now it would be war, and we were going to go low-tech and count on good old American spring traps to get the little bastards. Or so I thought.

I went online and found a site that described seven mistakes commonly made in trying to trap rodents. I followed that guidance (well, six points of it, anyway – I decided I didn’t have time to put out unset traps for a few nights for the mice to get used to them) and did the things the site recommended. I set four low-tech traps and four middle-tech traps to join the three high-tech ones. I was now up to 11 traps of four different types. The mice wouldn’t stand a chance.

Just as I was climbing into my berth in the aft stateroom that night, I heard a huge crash that originated forward in the dinette area. When I went to look, I saw the rodents had knocked over several of my champagne flutes, breaking one. Now the creatures, still not visible, had joined the fray, and I went back to the berth and to sleep with the rodents very much on my mind. So much so that I dreamt that I heard traps going off in the night, and in the morning I found squashed mice in the traps. I pictured taking their semi-liquefied remains to the railing and dropping them overboard. Ah, victory, sweet victory.

In my dreams. The reality that confronted me when I awoke the next morning was something different. Entirely different. Not a single trap had been sprung, but the mice had had a fine old time making a mess of things. My victory was all a mirage that took place in my sleeping mind. I could almost hear the mice, or whatever the hell they were, laughing at me. If you’ve ever seen Roadrunner cartoons, you know how Wile E. Coyote plots endlessly to catch the Roadrunner, but the Roadrunner beats him at his own game every time. I was now thinking of myself as Wile E. Coyote, and the Roadrunner was winning.

Now it was time to pull out all the stops. Another foray to find more, and more kinds, of traps, which I did at Lowe’s this time. I escalated to 17 traps of six different varieties, all over the galley area. It was a veritable minefield out there. The little bastards couldn’t walk across it without setting off a trap. I even put out the giant rat trap, in case I was dealing with something bigger than a mouse, and almost lost a few fingers when trying to set it, sending peanut butter flying all over the place. Why don’t they put warnings on these things?

Well, the Roadrunner won the next round, too. Somehow the mice or whatever they were found their way through the minefield. They even set off one of the low-tech traps, flipping it upside down, but there was nothing in it when I looked. That morning I consulted with someone who is something of an expert on capturing rodents, and he suggested coffee cans with torn-up toilet paper in the bottom. The idea being that the mice would climb or fall into the cans and then not be able to get out. Sounded like a neat solution, one he said worked for him. Meanwhile I was receiving such suggestions as getting a cat (but then, I retorted, I’d be left with a cat, and I didn’t know which was worse), poison (which doesn’t always work and, if it did, might leave me with dead mice squirreled away in some obscure place smelling up the boat for weeks), and using such things of dubious efficacy as the sound devices and glue strips. I thought of getting a gun and blowing the critters away, but the fear of blasting a hole in the hull with more severe consequences than those caused by some rodents deterred me from that.

Besides, between the traps and the coffee cans, something had to work. Clearly, I had overwhelming deadly force on my side, so I would win and the rodents would lose, right? Hmmm, as it turned out, not so much. Meanwhile, I had taken to telling myself not to dream of mice before going to sleep, not wishing to raise more false images of success.

Wile E, Coyote’s first victory came yesterday morning. When I got up, I found all three of the high-tech traps sprung, but nothing in any of them. What the hell? And that’s when – picture my surprise – I saw it, the small gray critter crouching on the shelf down below the oatmeal containers. It appeared to be injured, probably from one of the traps, but it was loose and not entrapped. I’m not much of a rodent expert (in case you haven’t figured that out yet), and my estimate was that either it was a big mouse or a very small rat. Probably a big mouse. I managed to sequester this cowering little beast, whatever it was, in one of those coffee cans, and put the top on it. By the time I was done, the whole dinette area looked like a war zone, littered with chewed cereal boxes, traps, torn paper, and the results of general rodent war entropy.

I later took the sequestered thing off to an abandoned shed nearby that was the territory of a bunch of feral cats. They would know what do to with it. But when I checked later in the day, not a cat was to be seen, the furry critter was curled up sleeping where I had left it, and I didn’t know what to do. Okay, maybe the cats would be back after dark. It was now Wile E. Coyote 1, Roadrunner 8. At least it wouldn’t be a shut-out.

Last night I heard a trap snap. It was one of the original high-tech traps, and when I went to move it, there was a small mouse – now I was positive it was a mouse, not a rat – caught in it, seemingly caught by the face fur. It appears the mice are faster than the traps which, I assure you, are very fast, just not fast enough. I took the trap to the aft rail, lifted the snap bar, and let the mouse fall overboard. I didn’t know what to expect, but when it hit the water the thing started swimming like crazy. Back toward the boat. In the darkness it wasn’t clear what happened to it, but I hope when it finally got to shore it had enough mouse sense not to try to re-board the boat. Okay, now it was Wile E. Coyote 2, Roadrunner 8.

A little later I heard more traps snap. I went to look, and all three of the high-tech traps had been tripped, but nary a mouse was in any of them. That’s when I saw another of the furry beasts, sitting there pretending like it had been injured. But when I went to sequester it like its brethren earlier in the day, it showed itself to be anything but injured, and it took off running, crossed the dinette table at record speed, and then disappeared as if into space. In case you don’t know, there are about a million hiding places on a boat, and as many finger holes and other ways into these hiding places, and this guy knew exactly how to take advantage of one of those finger holes. So I set some traps loaded with peanut butter and chocolate chips right next to the more likely holes through which the escapee would have to come up. Bring it on, baby, bring it on.

Later, another snap. One of the traps I set near the holes had been tripped, turned upside down and spewing more peanut butter around. It didn’t look like a mouse had been trapped, but at that hour I really didn’t care to look. More prepared this morning, I finally lifted the trap and, not to great surprise, all that was in it was some residual peanut butter. But no mouse.

Somehow the little bastards managed to trip more of the high-tech traps without getting caught and didn’t go near any of the others besides the one tripped near the finger hole on the floor. They also seemed to be extending their territory, and today I am finding mouse poop in places it had never been before, beyond the dinette and galley. Later, I went to that shed to check on the mouse I had relocated yesterday, and thankfully it was gone. Probably some predator, a cat, a raccoon, a bird, maybe even a rat, did what predators do. That’s the way of nature. But meanwhile I had lost further ground, and now the score stands at Wile E. Coyote 2, Roadrunner 10. A betting person would have his money on the Roadrunner, though I’m not about to throw in the towel, even if we have to go into overtime.

So what, perhaps you ask, have I learned from my battle with these little beasts? One thing, I can say, is how clever they are. Now I’m not about to give them credit for having some sort of superior intelligence, but they are certainly clever and seem capable of learning about dangers (in the form of traps) and how to outsmart them (with their seemingly amazingly speedy reflexes) and to drive their involuntary human hosts nuts (as I’ve described). I might say they’re arguably more clever than some people I’ve known. I’ve also learned they are resilient, and are not deterred either by the adversity posed by a human or the risk of death or capture. And I’ve learned that they are pretty good swimmers, even after being released into chilly brackish water from the jaws of a trap, and they know which way to swim to get to shore.

Like many other life forms deemed lesser to us, whether rodents, bacteria, viruses, cockroaches, moths, mosquitoes, or terrorists, they just keep going and going and going. I’ve watched videos where mice climb over dead compatriots to get to the peanut butter, and the unquenchable pursuit of their own perceived self-interest seems to be hard-wired into them. There is no time for hand (or paw) wringing, no time for tears, no time for fear. Just keep going, survive, look out for yourself above all others, and in that way the species survives.

I don’t know how much applicability all this has for our own survival, but I’m confident there is some. The drive to keep moving, to not let emotion get in the way of doing the necessary, the ability to use clever, if simple, means to outfox our opponents, are all useful human survival techniques. And the overwhelming determination to survive above all else is one of those qualities that we see among human survivors, just as I’ve seen it in the mice.

I can’t say that I have any affection for these little beasts, but I have developed a certain respect for them, as one can learn to respect a worthy opponent. I’m determined to overcome them and rid the boat, my domain, of them, but it is going to take more effort and more cleverness, by far, than initially I had bargained for.

One other thing I think I have learned is that the way to beat a mouse is through its appetite, which appears to be the one weak link in the species’ survival instinct. The willingness of the mice to play Russian roulette with the traps just to get at a drop of peanut butter or a carrot slice will ultimately prove to be their undoing. It may take just the right trap, just the right bait, and just the right set of circumstances to slow a mouse’s reaction time or the ability to extricate itself from the path of the trap bar, and it loses.

Now I’m feeling hungry as I contemplate this last point on the Mouse War learning curve, and I think about how much trouble appetite and hunger can get us into. While I won’t have to dodge a kill bar to sate my appetite, not this time, anyway, it’s another lesson, for sure, of the mice to be learned, and absorbed.

Going Off the Rails With No Way Back

Going Off the Rails With No Way Back

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon once again, there are some things that need to be said. If I’m a curmudgeon — I don’t think I am — so be it.

What brought this sudden bout of curmudeonness on, you ask? It began Saturday morning with telephone conversations with two different bankers in Maryland. I’d written two checks to a friend of mine visiting from Albania, repayment of an old debt. She took the checks to a local branch of Wells Fargo Bank (I’m naming names this time), the bank on which the checks were drawn, and someone from the branch called me to verify the checks’ legitimacy. Okay, I can see the point of that, though I wonder if they would have done the same if my friend was American or had, say, a British or Canadian passport and not an Albanian one. I also have questions about the need for a call given that Wells Fargo seems to have policies in place that deliberately make it as difficult as possible for customers to access their own funds. But that is a whole other story.

In any case, one of the checks was for $2,000.00, and the other one was for $9,000.06. I put the numerical amount as I always do, $2,000.00/100 for the first check, and $9,000.06/100 for the second one. And then I wrote out the amount in the proper format, the one I’ve been using for some 50 years virtually without incident: Two Thousand and No Hundreths Dollars, and Nine Thousand and Six Hundreths Dollars. Okay, granted, the proper spelling is hundredths, but close enough for government work since the words spell out what the numerals already show, and in my haste I dropped the “d.” But that wasn’t the issue.

Now, I don’t know, but I think anyone from about the age of 5 should know that a hundredth of a dollar is a cent. A penny. One hundredth of a dollar is one cent, six hundredths of a dollar is six cents. Even misspelled, I’d bet most 5 year olds can figure that out. But apparently this fine point is lost on Wells Fargo bankers, and I had to explain to two different genius bankers that Nine Thousand and Six Hundreths (sic) Dollars was not $9,600, but $9,000.06. The first banker said their branch policy was not to accept checks with the cents expressed that way. That made no sense to me, but finally he conceded and said they’d cash the checks. All good, right?

Not quite. A few minutes later another banker, the first one’s manager, called me, and after a few unnecessary and unwanted pleasantries, she repeated that the branch didn’t normally accept checks where the cents were expressed as they were on my check. She had me read off the amount of the check, and confirm the intended amount. I was rapidly losing my patience with this whole thing, and I told her I’d been writing checks like this for 50 years, it was the proper way to write a check, and what exactly didn’t she understand? She then feigned a brief reconsideration of the matter, and finally confirmed that they would accept the check. Hurrah. I got to tell a banker what should have been obvious to her by reading the check as it had been written. Duh.

Now I have better ways of spending my Saturday mornings than explaining the obvious to bankers, but this whole affair served to remind me the extent to which this country is going to hell in a hand basket. The signs are increasingly everywhere, how far off the rails we’re going, this just being the most recent one. It seems people, and the country as a whole, just get stupider and stupider by the day.

I’ve railed against the madness in the direction we’re headed before, but it’s time to do it again, drilling down a bit this time.

In the course of a typical day, I get messages – obviously written on a phone with a run-away spell corrector – that are virtually incomprehensible. I’m asked questions that I already answered, sometimes multiple times. And I get abbreviated messages that fail to respond to issues I raised. In short, I can almost always tell when someone is writing me from a phone, and the communication is seriously impaired as a result. This is a significant matter, since communication should be primary, not to mention I don’t understand how people don’t go crazy typing and reading on a small screen. Well, maybe they do, and we just don’t have a name yet for this mental illness.

If you’re a parent in this country, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that your little darlings are no longer expected to learn cursive writing. At one point, some 45 states and the District of Columbia had dropped the requirement to teach cursive writing, and the dreaded Common Core was at least in large part responsible for that since Common Core doesn’t require cursive as part of the curriculum. Now blaming Common Cause for stupidity is a bit like blaming phones for errors. It’s the people behind Common Core who are exhibiting their ignorance, and the curriculum is just the symptomatic outcome of that.

There has been some retrenchment in a handful of states that realized the folly of dropping cursive writing from the curriculum, but overall this country is on the verge of entering a new Dark Ages where kids can’t even sign their own names. The idea is that they can do everything on a keyboard, but somehow that seems equivalent to saying they don’t need to learn to walk since they can get driven around everywhere by their parents.

Additionally, as studies confirm, the ability to write, and not just type, promotes some cognitive and motor skills that typing does not. Writing is not the same as typing, and while both skills might be worthwhile, school districts and states don’t want to spend the money teaching both. So out goes cursive writing, and with it one of the traits of an educated person. And people wonder why I’d never put any child of mine in a public, and probably most private, schools.

While this has been going on in more recent years, another long term trend – grade inflation in the nation’s colleges and universities – has been underway for more than half a century. It’s true that a degree of grade inflation began during the Vietnam War years, Recent GPA Trendswhen I was in college. Some attribute this to the desire on the part of many professors to keep students out of the draft, which worked for awhile, but based on my own experience it also probably had to do with the proliferation of pass-fail grading during the turmoil of years of sit-ins, walk-outs, and student strikes that closed some institutions, including the one I attended, for nearly entire semesters. But the grade inflation of that period pales to what has been going on since the 1980s, when grade-point averages have been rising an average of 0.1 points a decade, and the percentage of A grades given has gone up 5 to 6 percentage points a decade.

Since the 1990s, the A grade is the most common grade given in four-year colleges, and As are now three times more common than they were in 1960. At that time Cs were most common, and in my own era, Bs were most common. Now if they don’t get an A, students are at the professor’s throat as if the failing rests with the prof and not with their own performance. If you believe that is because college students have gotten that much smarter since 1960, I have a nice athletic building on a fine campus I’d like to sell you. Very good price. Just sign right here. Oh, wait, you can’t sign, because you never learned cursive. Okay, put your “X” on the line there.

Having been a college professor, I can tell you there is a strong tendency toward treating what are supposed to be young (and sometimes not so young) adults as 50 Years Rise of A Gradechildren. There is a stress on not offending the students, sandwiching any critical remarks in between praise, not being unduly harsh in comments even in the face of abject and repeated refusal on the part of the student to follow guidance. This is called the Student as Consumer Era, and it is indicative of schools that need to cultivate their students to stay enrolled and to pay the exorbitant tuitions and fees charged them and their parents. And instead of challenging their minds and belief systems, these educational institutions allow students to retreat to so-called “safe spaces” and to drive speakers with views divergent from their own off campus, allowing a new form of Fascism and sheltered closed-mindedness to run rampant on college campuses.

Moving from the swamp of so-called education, we have cars that stop themselves or keep themselves in their own lanes, ostensibly so their owners (“drivers” is too strong a word for them) can text and talk on the phone. Things seem increasingly geared toward the lazy and the ignorant. My own car turns its own lights on and off, doesn’t have a key, and tells me how many miles I can go before I run out of fuel. Thank goodness it doesn’t stop itself or do that lane thing, which would be way beyond what I would tolerate of my car. It does open its own trunk, though, for unknown reasons and at very inconvenient times, sometimes multiple times in a row. I guess taunting its owner is part of the deal. I can almost hear it laugh when it does this.

In the course of all these trends, we continue to lose human contact at an almost alarming rate. My most recent two forays into paying entry fees – one at a movie theater, the other at a major conference I attended – were done at terminals. Gone were the friendly ticket girl and the helpful conference gatekeeper, replaced by screens and credit card readers and keyboards. That may all be more efficient, but it’s a bit disconcerting, too. My local Walmart has installed all sorts of self-check-out equipment, but I have never found self-check-out to be faster or more efficient than dealing with a human cashier, and it’s also a tad insulting, I think. If the store wants my money, it should at least have a sufficient number of humans on hand to take it. So, unless I have just one or two items and am in a major hurry, I won’t use the self-check-out.

Meanwhile, the medical profession – one area that might benefit from more, rather than less, technology in enabling improved communication between physicians and patients – remains mired back a century or two. If anyone is able to email their doctor, or even their doctor’s office, I’d love to hear about it. And our prescription drug system seems designed to breed frustration and inefficiency, and we wonder why healthcare costs continue to escalate. I’ve written on these things before, and on the inherent inequities and inefficiencies of the medical system, and the most I’ve gotten in response from doctors is a smile and a laugh, as if I were proposing absurdities.

Call me a curmudgeon if you like, but somehow this all feels like we’re headed off the rails with no way back. Maybe, as the illustration says, you’ll get it eventually, but by then it might be — probably will be — too late. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. Am I only the only one who feels this way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on all this, regardless which side of things you come down on.

Charts from http://www.gradeinflation.com 

Guest Post: Something Is Very Wrong With Parents

Guest Post: Something Is Very Wrong With Parents

I have been wanting to put up a guest post for some time, and finally I have one that is worth sharing. Originally posted on Medium, this piece by Gabriel Iosa precisely mirrors the things that concern me about how people are raising their children these days, exposing them to social media from birth, and substituting devices for actual communication and interaction with their kids. The result is what we are witnessing in rapidly growing trends among young people of de-personalization, alienation, depression, suicide, violence, and other social and mental ailments. You can visit the author’s web site at www.gabrieliosa.com.

Complete lack of privacy, iPad addiction and mental struggles from an early age are the ingredients of a hard adult life

Baby

The online life of the new generation starts early, way before the actual life of the newborn begins. Pictures of the mother and her big belly, wandering around in a forest or at the hospital, waiting for her son or daughter to come out into the world are spread online on Facebook and Instagram like wildfire. Even the moment of birth is captured on camera, from the womb all the way out into the hospital delivery room.

The minute they come out of their moms, newborn babies are online. Their first picture on Facebook is live in about 60 minutes after birth. The baby is not even considered a legal person yet, has no legal name and all of the gist, but he or she is already on social media, getting likes and comments from people that care little about them, but consider it to be the social norm to felicitate the parents for their achievement and for the fact that they posted the whole thing online. And fast!

“Pictures of newborns appear online within an hour of birth. Of the parents surveyed, the average time it took to share their newborns’ first photo on a social media site was 57.9 minutes. They surveyed 2,367 parents of kids 5 and under. Seventy-seven percent of baby photos appear on the parents’ Facebook page, with Instagram trailing behind at 48 percent” — Huffington Post

Between 3 to 14 days later, they have their first professional photo shoot. I’m not talking phone cameras and a toy that the mom dangles in front of him and then the baby laughs and gets photographed for the family album. I’m talking two photographers, costume changes, sets, scenes, lights and so on. The whole thing lasts for hours and the results are immediately posted on the internet, with parents having no clues about the consequences.

Camera

Their first walk, which was once a private, emotional and unforgettable moment, sometimes captured on an old camera that barely worked is now rather transmitted live on Facebook or Instagram, or simply recorded and then posted online, losing its spiritual, private values but being available online immediately for everyone to see and like, for some reason.

For the first birthday of the child, the whole thing goes off the charts. Photographers, camera guys, drones, a huge buffet and even live bands celebrate the event in front of friends and family, and the whole thing is posted on Facebook as it happens.

The first bath of the baby, the first burp, the first caroling, first haircut, the first trip to the store and the first laugh crisis, they’re all posted online by the parents, some hoping that they’ll go viral probably, as if the only reason for that baby being alive is to gather as many likes and shares and comments as humanly possible.

Baby at Laptop

But it doesn’t end here. No, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Not only that kid has absolutely no privacy, probably the hardest thing to get as a kid or a person in today’s world, from the second he takes his first breath onwards, but he gets his own Facebook or Instagram account, with his own smartphone or tablet at age 2 or 3. That’s when I started walking, and now kids that age are already developing an addiction to games and social media, as they see their parents are doing. There’s even a Messenger for Kids app now.

“ I opened my eyes to find our three-year-old, William, standing at the bedside table in his pyjamas. He pulled the duvet, to make sure I was awake, then grabbed my hand.

‘Daddy,’ he announced, with a sense of urgency in his little voice. ‘I need the iPad.’

I checked my watch, stumbled to my feet, and marched him back to his room.

‘You don’t need the iPad,’ I told William, tucking him back into bed. ‘You need to lie down and go to sleep. It’s the middle of the night.’

At 7am, my alarm clock rang. Getting out of bed, I noticed something amiss: the white iPad, which I had left to charge overnight on the sofa next to our bed, had vanished.

I walked to the sitting room. There sat William, cross-legged on the floor, with the stolen device in his hands. He was playing a noisy video game called Peppa Pig’s Puddle Jump. The battery was already half empty, suggesting he’d been using it for at least two hours” — Daily Mail

By age 4, they’re spending hours upon hours in front of a huge, LED screen TV watching brainwashing Youtube videos generated by an algorithm, singing along and “learning” about the alphabet and colours from monstrous-looking creatures that hop around and dance on rhythmic music. It looks cute, the scene is “Facebook material”, but in reality, it’s life-altering.

“These videos, wherever they are made, however they come to be made, and whatever their conscious intention (i.e. to accumulate ad revenue) are feeding upon a system which was consciously intended to show videos to children for profit. The unconsciously-generated, emergent outcomes of that are all over the place. To expose children to this content is abuse.

We’re not talking about the debatable but undoubtedly real effects of film or videogame violence on teenagers, or the effects of pornography or extreme images on young minds, which were alluded to in my opening description of my own teenage internet use. Those are important debates, but they’re not what is being discussed here.

What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse. It’s not about trolls, but about a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives. It’s down to that level of the metal” — Medium

By age 7, the child has his first dizziness crisis, the first heart palpitations and the first panic attacks. You read that right, more and more toddlers have severe anxiety disorders because they’re never going out, never playing on the playground and never having normal social interactions, but just staying indoors with an iPad and a PlayStation controller hooked around their arms.

“While that result set might not be surprising in the teen search rankings, it’s interesting to note that “porn” ranks fourth in the “seven and under” category, receiving more searches than “Club Penguin” and “Webkinz.” Meanwhile, “sex” is fourth for teens and tweens alike. Facebook, YouTube and Google take the other top spots.

The data was compiled from 14.6 million searches made using Symantec’s OnlineFamily.Norton, which lets parents track their kids’ online activity. And while Symantec is almost certainly hoping to sell more software as a result, it’s also a timely reminder that kids are growing up fast these days” — Mashable

Comes age 10, and the kid is already searching online for porn and sex, and by age 12, he’s most likely had it’s first intimate contact, regardless of its form. By age 14, most children have already lost their virginity and are in their second or third intimate relationship. Their lives are all online, with great moments, love deceptions, depression episodes and everything else posted on Facebook as they happened.

Girl Taking Selfie

When finally reaching the supposed maturity at ages 16 to 18, the children are suffering from a disorder in the anxiety, depression or phobias sector. There’s no privacy for them, there are no social connections that are stable and valued enough, but just internet and more internet, Facebook and more Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat and Netflix and so on. Instead of being out and getting their heart broken in the real world, kids are so sensitive that even an SMS text can drive them into suicide.

“Messages that are delivered electronically are very powerful,” said Barbara Greenberg, a teen, adolescent and child psychologist. “Kids aren’t aware of how powerful their messages are and how their messages might impact others.”

Key issues that trip up texting teens include expecting their messages not to be seen by other friends, parents and potentially the police; misinterpreting the tone of messages; and navigating peer pressure and other coming-of-age hurdles, experts told journalists” — CNN

Parents are doing parenting wrong. Some of them even go way too far with posting everything that they do on Facebook (WARNING: Disturbing Content) and it takes a lot of time even for Facebook to stop the spreading of some of the acts that are unspeakable but are still posted online.

There’s no doubt about it that putting the entire life of the child online from the moment of birth all the way into toddlery, and then letting the kid himself do it afterwards and continue using technology from an early age into teenagery is causing the now adult, 18-year-old or older person a series of problems that take years or even a lifetime to cure. Some of them are unfortunately life-lasting, and there’s nothing parents can do about them.

“50 percent more teens in 2015 (versus 2011) demonstrated clinically diagnosable depression in the NS-DUH national screening study.(It’s important to note that all of these sources are surveys of unselected samples of teens and not those who seek treatment — thus they cannot be explained by greater treatment-seeking). The teen suicide rate tripled among girls ages 12 to 14 and increased by 50 percent among girls ages 15 to 19. The number of children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or self-harm doubled between 2008 and 2015. iGen’ers were experiencing a mental health crisis. As if that weren’t enough, no one seemed to know why” — Psychology Today

The only way from stopping the new generation from becoming the Facebook addicted, anxious and depressive, medicated population of tomorrow, which is happening as we speak, is by stopping doing parenting in the wrongest way possible. No more newborn photos online. No more Facebook Live’s.

No more iPads and video game consoles for toddlers. No more weird cartoons. No more expensive laptops for 12-year-old kids. No more total freedom for them to go and use the internet whenever they want, as much as they want and how they want.

Disaffected Youth

Do some “bad” now, but think of the better good. Enjoy your healthy kid and see him grow as a normal person, not a privacy-deprived, mentally exhausted, brainwashed and scared teenager who, turning into adulthood, has no taste of the real world, but only for the virtual one, which provides him with no food, no clothes, no money for rent, no human contact and no mental stability.

Bringing a baby into the world is the most beautiful gift any two people can receive in life. But if you’re not sure that you’ll be able to dedicate your time and effort into raising that kid well, know how to do it and be financially and mentally capable of doing it, just don’t! Use a condom. You are the one who should raise your kid, not Facebook, not video games or cartoons and definitely not medical professionals.