There are mileposts in our lives: first kiss, high school prom, college perhaps, marriage, divorce perhaps, job gains and losses, home purchases perhaps, the birth of children and their growth, and other key memories as the "growth phase" progresses. At some point, the imaginary graph of a our human existence leaves its "blur" phase of young children, striving for more this and more that, and stabilizes into the satisfaction of career, adult children, then grandchildren, mature relationships, and at some point retirement -- hopefully an emphasis that is different from always "up and more." Life's movement seems more deliberate, although the calendar appears to speed up; a counter intuitive process in many ways. For me, now fifteen years into retirement, life is pretty good, albeit dealing with my wife's stroke in 2011. I realize that age seventy-five has crept up and possessed me, even though I would prefer that it didn't. Looking back, allow me the (perhaps selfish) luxury of listing a modest number of things I have noticed, experienced, learned, or in some way have made an impression on me as after three-quarters of a century. This in spite of daily being surprised and humbled with the fact that the more I might think I know, or have learned, the more that I realize I do not know.
In no particular order, here goes:
I appreciate good newspapers more and more. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal come to mind, and weekend editions of both are excellent in terms of not only in-depth news analysis, but special sections on books and other cultural events. The Journal separates a conservative editorial position from outstanding news reporting, while the Times does the same from a different political perspective.
It's becoming clear that President Trump is doing a one-eighty on many of his Candidate Trump positions: NATO, Mexico paying for the wall, China as a monster we need to bash, Russia as a potential friend, Repeal and replace Obama-Care on day one, etc. Actually governing and doing something is much harder than criticizing.
Several news networks have clearly biased positions, and the ratings of the most strident seem to gain along with their slant. Fox News clearly is Right-Wing, while MSNBC is the opposite. "Fair and Balanced" is just a cute, empty slogan for Fox. For me, CNN, BBC, NPR, and PBS are more central in their presentation.
Redistricting and gerrymandering of the US House of Representatives is rampant by both parties when they are in power in individual states and can redraw the districts. Some of the most ridiculous geographical arrangements have been constructed to pull in voters thought to be likely to vote for the party, or to exclude those deemed unlikely. In 1997, 164 of the 435 House seats were considered to have voters within +/- 5% of a balanced electorate, and thus are considered to be "in play." By 2016, after state legislatures continued to redraw the lines, only 72 of the 435 met the same criterion. Thus only 16% of House seats are now felt to be contestable by both parties. A full 84% now are "safe" for one party. Is this really the democratic system of government we should have, such that the "election" is decided in the primary, when fewer voters take part, true no-compromise believers who drive the candidates of both parties to the edges?
At least in Texas, it's clear that "Voter ID laws" are designed to make it harder for older, sicker, minority citizens, especially those who live in vast, remote areas along the border with Mexico, to vote. Even the conservative Fifth Circuit Court has agreed and invalidated the law. It's disappointing to see the majority party in Texas go after this again and again with the totally phony claim that there is "massive voter fraud," completely false.
Book clubs are wonderful. I would hope that everyone is able to be a part of such a club. It's socially fulfilling, and the knowledge and additional perspectives are gifts.
People who post on social media pledging love to their spouse should save that for a nice candlelight dinner. Along the same line, those "If you love Jesus, type 'agree' or 'amen'" proclamations are better served in a place of worship.
The Second Amendment includes these words: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The words "well regulated" never seem to be mentioned by those who argue for unlimited carry rights including no background checks and no training. Even the conservative U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the requirement for "well regulated" as constitutionally valid.
Societies that maintain a healthy balance between religions beliefs of the majority and the operation of the state will be much healthier and last longer. The separation referred to by Thomas Jefferson is key to understanding the Founders' intention: "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make 'no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State." You can read his entire letter, sent to the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptists in 1802 here:
Climate change has been continuous on planet Earth for billions of years. We can argue about the effect of man on the natural cycles, but the expansion and retraction of ice ages, dramatic changes in sea levels, and the impact of tectonic plate movements over geologic time frames are indisputable. For us to have leaders who state that "climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese" is a stupid and dangerous thing. It might take decades or even a century, but a one foot increase in sea levels would displace millions. A much more dramatic ten foot increase caused by a huge chunk of antarctic ice melting and dropping into the southern ocean would cause hundreds of millions to relocate, and virtually destroy the world's economy and great cities. The resulting mass movement of refugees would spark drastic unrest and wars. This seems clear to me. It's not "if," but "when" if we do nothing.
Related to the previous paragraph, the world's usage of energy will be ever increasing as more and more people move out of abject poverty and into some phase of developing economies. The ability to generate this energy in an environmentally friendly way is essential. Electric cars are not the full answer, since the net emissions are roughly equal from fossil fuel-based power plants to recharge the cars' batteries, compared with the exhaust emissions from conventionally powered gasoline vehicles. Also, what do we do with the old batteries?
The world is interconnected more and more, but no country can see large numbers of their citizens lose their employment (and thus hope) without drastic ramifications. We are seeing some of this now. Retraining, counseling, and perhaps assistance to relocate to areas where jobs are more plentiful could be part of a program to help, but it's imperative to address the vast portions of the country that are lagging behind. People who are fearful and angry are not good for democracy. It's a bad mix.
The development of semiconductor technology has enabled such far reaching new technologies! The ability to put several billion transistors on one silicon chip the size of your thumb nail is just as disruptive today as was the early industrial age based on harnessing steam, or the later development and deployment of electricity. Computing power based on the unstoppable silicon train will result in artificial intelligence and humanoid-like robots within fifty years that will strain our ability to keep them separate from "real" humans. If we could be alive a century from now, we would be hard pressed to recognize society.
The Internet changes everything.
JK (Jim) George
Please feel free to post a comment here on the blog, or email me directly at <email@example.com> with any comments. Also, I'll very much appreciate your recommendation of "Contact Sport" and/or "Reunion" to friends. In addition, I'd be pleased to appear at book clubs and/or radio clubs within a two-hour drive of Austin to discuss either book.