Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Earth is Mad

On April 22 the world marked Earth Day. Most of us did something to show that we care that the earth is in trouble. We may feel that our actions are of little consequence, but if everyone did something, the results could be significant. 

Earth Day had a modest beginning in 1970 when U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin invited students to implement projects to sensitize their communities to the needs of the environment. Since then, the warnings from scientists have become more dire as our actions have brought us closer to a point of irreversibility. But there is reason to be optimistic because we are changing our ways and becoming more engaged in our efforts to heal the earth. I can certainly see that in my grandchildren. Being green is now second nature to them.

However, when you make that comment to older folks, they are proud to point out that they were green before it became a fashionable modern-day virtue. I remember that my mother who sewed a lot of our clothes kept all the remnants and when there was enough she would braid them and make beautiful rugs displaying an array of gorgeous colors. Braided rugs are still available of course, but they are now made by machine and the yarns dyed to make symmetric patterns. I don’t think they have the same soul!

In the old days, little was thrown away. However, with after-war posterity life changed. Like most of you, I remember a time when cars were long and pink and gas was selling for about 35 cents a gallon. So we fell in love with automobiles not thinking about their growing impact on the air we breathe. Fortunately, we are getting back to basics after decades of spending our resources without much thought to how it was affecting the environment, but a lot remains to be done. 

Each of us should get involved in “greening” our world beyond the weekly recycling of household trash. We should be involved in our respective communities and putting pressure on decision makers so that economic development does not come before environmental protection. There certainly is no doubt that climate change is now a reality. Floods, hurricanes, drought and earthquakes seem to be the norm everywhere. We’ve always had those, of course, but now it seems that they occur more often because the earth is rebelling, or as my grandson puts it: “The earth is mad?”

The earth is not only mad, it is fuming. We have abused it and it is rebelling and telling us to clean up our act. Yet there are still people who believe the whole climate change is just a sham made up by scientists. But what is most upsetting to me is that some elected officials are rolling back ecological standards. Everyone should be up in arms about this and let it be known that voters are ready to rebel to save our poor planet. 

People like my grandmother and my mother did so much for the earth as a matter of course. Nature was respected and little was thrown away. For those who lived through the Great Depression reusing and recycling was second nature. Clothing was mended and hung on a line outside to dry, appliances repaired, not discarded like they are today in our throw-away society. Families had one car, not two. How things have changed! We may have a better lifestyle overall but at a cost.

It seems to me that if everyone was an environmentalist and did their share, the world could be a better place for our grandchildren who may have to pay a high price if we continue to ignore the earth’s message. If we don’t, I fear that the earth will remain “mad” and the future may indeed be bleak for them. Every day should Earth Day.



Wednesday, April 19, 2017


We see many faces as we go about the business of living. The faces of those near and dear to us could never be forgotten. The same goes for the people we deal with on a more or less regular basis like doctors, dentists, and so on. My dentist works behind a mask that looks like the lower half of a cartoon cat’s face. Not easy to forget.

But every day we see the faces of people we recognize but whose names we don’t know. The cashier at the grocery store who always greets you with a smile, the bank employee who goes out of his way to make certain all your questions are answered. In their environment, we have no problem figuring who they are. However, if we see these people outside their work place, it may take a second or two to figure out who they are. They are after all nameless faces

When I worked full time, I commuted downtown by train. I always rode the same train in the morning and in the evening. Not being a morning person, I was often late and I would rush to make it to the station before the train. The engineer would wave at me as I ran through the open space behind the houses in our neighborhood and he slowed down so I could make it to the station. In the evening, as I walked back home, he would briefly use the train’s whistle as he waved at me. This went on for a number of years.

One day, I went home at noon for some reason. As I was making my way through the downtown station to catch the midday train, I saw a man walking towards me, a smile on his face. I knew I knew the face, but for a second or two I could not place it. Then it dawned on me. I said: “I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you without your train.” He laughed for a long time. After that, he seemed to laugh again as he waved from the train, no doubt my inane remark still echoing. 


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

New Worries
It seems to me there’s always something new to worry about. Not so long ago, we were told that talking on a cellular phone, i,e. with the unit close to the face for any length of time, could cause brain tumors. That could be the reason texting seems to have become the preferred mean of communication, especially among the young. People who use cell phones all the time in their work solved the problem with one of the hands-off options.
            So, while we may have thought we were out of danger, we are not according to the latest research. In Berkley, California, the bedrock of change—that community was the first to ban smoking in restaurants, for examplecomes a warning about carrying cell phones close to the skin. By doing so we could be putting ourselves at risk of being exposed to level of radiation above what has been determined to be the safe.
            So, what is the solution? According to those who studied the problem, we should be carrying cell phones at least 5/8 of an inch, or 15 mm, away from the body. So, not in a shirt or pants pocket or in a bra as some women do.
            It seems most things we do in this world have a negative side of some sort, so having to be careful how we handle mobile phones is not an exception, rather something to keep in mind. It’s only a matter of paying attention to warnings. Just like when a doctor warns a patient not to mix some medication with alcohol, we have to get used to the fact that new means of communication also come with caveats.
            One of them is certainly that we should make certain that mobile units do not end up in the washing machine along with clothing!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Brain Health – 2.0
To follow my musings of last week, there is another thing that we may be forgetting as the years go by: writing long hand.
            I received a note from a relative in the mail recently. A very nice gesture to be sure, but I had trouble understanding what was written. The letters were not properly formedcertainly not like the round letters we all practiced in the first gradebut I did eventually make out the message.
            I found it sort of sad that my relative has lost the beautiful penmanship for which she was famous. This is an intelligent person in her forties who has no health issues, but because of her work she is on a computer for hours at a time. Perhaps she was rushed when she wrote the note, but I think it’s more than that. Like many people today, there is no need for her to write long hand. After all, we have e-mail and all the other media for communicating electronically. So we are no longer practicing writing on a regular basis.
            After I got the note, I began to ask around to see if people had given up writing by hand. All those I talked to said there was no need to do so. They said they don’t even write notes inside Christmas or birthday cards anymore because they send e-cards.
            I wonder if the fact that I find it sad that people are no longer writing by hand makes me an old bird stuck in the past? I don’t think so. There is something so wonderfully personal when someone takes the time to write a letter by hand, instead of typing it, don’t you think?
            One of my sons acknowledges that he has very bad penmanship. Always did, it seems, so when I asked him if he ever writes by hand, he said that he no longer does. Not even short notes. “I want people to understand what I have to say!”
            Things are a changin’ as the saying goes. Perhaps wemeaning Ineed to concentrate more on the benefits of our new age rather than bemoaning what is being lost. At least, I will try! 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Brain Health
With age everyone hopes for a brain that remains healthy. And challenging it with new tasks as often as possible is certainly the way to go. Things such as learning a new language, doing crossword puzzles, reading, taking lessons to play a musical instrument, etc. will benefit the brain in myriad ways. However, the computerized world in which we now live may not be best for the brain.
            As I was recently gathering my income tax papers and adding my receipts, I did it the long way by hand (perhaps the last one in the world who still does that!) because I believe it’s a good way of keeping my brain sharp. I worry that the younger generations who now rely solely on calculators may not be doing their brains any favor.
            The same certainly applies to phones today. No one seems to remember numbers anymore because they are entered in our hand-held devices where the name is the identification rather than the number.  When we need to call someone, we only need to push the name. A far cry from not so long ago when we did need to write numbers down on an actual piece of paper. I think it made the brain work as we tried to remember numbers. Another brain activity lost.
            I think brain activity is also diminished when our computer programs go into action as we write letters or messages. They either auto-correct or underline words they do not recognize. I am sure all of you remember when we actually had to check words in a dictionary when unsure of the spelling before having to carefully review letters to catch typos. Of course, today that’s all done for us.
            And then there is GPS, that marvel which helps people find their way. The global positioning system is a great help when we travel a tricky route or are guiding a ship through the Panama Canal, but it has drawbacks. A new study from the University of Kent in the U.K. concluded that when we follow the instructions from a GPS rather than planning our own route, the brain switches off. The end result is that humans will get worse and worse at using their brain for planning and decision making.
            And then, today, instead of having to search for answer, we only need to ask Siri or Alexa or any other robot living in hand-held devices for the information we need. Easy and quick.
            It is speculated that our brains are changing because of all these new realities. Of course we have yet to see to what extent we will be affected or if mankind will simply slowly adapt. Let’s hope for the latter, especially where the children are concerned.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Death of Privacy
When I tried to explain to my grandchildren that as I was growing up, black-and-white television was the norm, they simply could not believe it. After all, they live in a world of high definition.
            We, of a certain age, have witnessed so much change in the last few years that it is difficult to explain it all to a younger generation. For one thing, I really don’t know how we lived before ATMs, but somehow we did. We all remember a time when we had to go to our own branch to get money. Amazingly today we can access our bank accounts from basically anywhere in the world.
            It is difficult to imagine a time when personal computers and the Internet were unheard of. And not so long ago the idea of today’s wireless technology belonged to the realm of sci-fi. We’ve come a long way, baby.
            When I got my first computer, it took me a long time to learn how to make the most of it. And I’m still trying to do just that with newer versions! On the other hand, computers are second nature to our children and grandchildren.
            If you spend enough time surfing the Internet, there is no information you can’t find. It can be very useful and helpful. But the Internet is also a huge trash dumpster for everything from pornography to fake news. I don’t think we should be ashamed to discuss the less-than-perfect aspects of technology with our impressionable grandchildren because you never know on what site they might end up.
            Many years ago I saw a man walking down the street in Hong Kong while talking on a mobile phone. Of course, it was a huge unit compared to today’s models, but I was witnessing history in the making. When I returned home and tried to explain to those around me that wireless telephones were a reality in Asia, albeit not yet in widespread use, people didn’t believe me. How things have changed!
            Today, cell phones can do so many things, not the least of which is take pictures. For a techno-deficient person like myself who still believes that phones are for talking, I see cameras on phones as dangerous because they show us that privacy is becoming a thing of the past. You could be anywhere talking to someone while another person is taking your picture, taping your conversation and posting it all online for the world to see.
            With all the technology which keeps on marching at a mind-dizzying pace, the future of privacy is looming ever less assured in the 21st century, and I think it should worry all of us. Not only is Big Brother watching, but so is our neighbor, our colleague, our competitor.
            I don’t think I’d like to go back to the time of black-and-white television, but since nothing is ever perfect in this world, we should all pay a lot more attention to what is being loss through the advent of greater and greater technology in order to make sure the slope does not get more slippery.
            Once privacy is lost, it will be almost impossible to recover.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Beginning
Spring is almost here. I could smell it in the air a few days ago even if the actual date is still a week or so away. The snow was almost all gone except for the piles shoved into the corners of parking lots of malls and such over the last few months.  I was enjoying one of the wonders of  spring: stepping out the door in shoes for the first time after months of heavy boots. That makes me so appreciative of the new season, just like everyone else, I’m sure.
            But like everything else in life, not everything goes according to plan. A couple of days ago my corner of the world was blasted with a miserable winter storm that blanketed everything in a couple of feet of fresh snow. Luckily, unlike an OCDer I know who was sure winter was gone, I had not put my winter boots away! Nor my shovel! In case. After all, experience has taught me that winter can be can quite bitchy on its way out, and that it’s best to be prepared to face it head on.  
            Now spring won’t appear quite as fast as I had hoped just a few days ago, but all is not lost, because as we all know the longer the wait the sweeter  the reward. The snow will melt as it always does and spring will warm up the earth exposing the filth mankind manages to leave behind in the   cold months.
           With the melting snow, litter appears in the streets and on the lawns. I was noticing on my daily walk before the storm just how much of it there is, from newsprint blowing in the wind, to empty cans of soda, to miscellaneous bags, to mitts without their mates and scarves people hang on fences so owners can see them and hopefully retrieve them. The last two is something I don’t understand. It seems to me that if you lost a mitt you would notice that one of your hands is getting cold. No matter your age. And how can a scarf just blow away?
           But not to worry, streets will be cleaned and lawns raked as soon as the sun is once again warm enough, and we will all feel the renewal of a new season, a new beginning. It makes me wonder how people who live in climates where the weather is essentially the same all year long can truly appreciate nature. The lucky bastards!!