HARD TIMES ARE GOOD FOR YOUR SOUL, IF YOU LIVE THROUGH THEM – Marilyn Armstrong

Easy times, good times are not always the best times, at least not for creating a better world. When the world is running smoothly and turning sweetly on its axis, we are not building solutions to important cultural issues. Problems force solutions. Difficulties change society.

In the earliest years of what would later be called “The Renaissance,” the death of 25-million people resolved into a serious push to make the world a better place. Which is why I was sitting here thinking about the 1400s.

Not everybody thinks about the 1400s, but I do. Not only was it the time of the black death, it was a time when bands of terrorists roamed through Europe killing anyone they met. Inflation made money worthless. There was little of what we call “central government.” No congress, no government to address. Also, no roads, bridges, or books. And a whole lot of dying going on.

You know how Dickens said at the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or something to that effect? This was the worst of times.

Beginning in the early part of the 1300s with the importation of the Bubonic Plague-carrying rats, Europe became a horror show. Unless you lived in Warsaw which for some reason was spared.

The bubonic plague hit the continent in the 1340s, arriving on ships from (probably) Constantinople. The Black Death swept Europe like a hot blade cutting through butter.

Beginning in 1346 and through 1353, the number of deaths is unparalleled in human history. Ultimately, the Black Death killed more than 25 million people in Europe. Remember too that the world was much smaller. 25-million people were the largest part of the human race.

More than half the population of Europe died in the plague and in some towns, it was 100%. In other words, everybody died. The forest grew back over lands that had been sown. Murderous gangs that had formerly been remnants of disbanded armies roamed throughout the continent. When most of the peasants died, everyone starved. No one remained to grow new crops.

A burst of invention occurred. The peasantry, always been the least valuable members of European society, suddenly achieved importance. So few people remained who were able to grow crops, it was not unusual for peasants to go from castle to castle to see where they could get the best deal for their labor.

The middle class grew too, while more than half the nobility disappeared. Between death by plague and war, and the abject poverty the Crusades produced throughout Europe, many families slid from the bottom of nobility to the center of poverty. By the 1600s, many former nobles were tilling their own lands.

The Wars of the Roses consumed England. The printing press arrived. Europeans took to movable type with enthusiasm. The press was created sometime between 1400 and 1455. Movable type swept the scribes away.

I’m sure someone was telling everyone that this whole “printing thing” would never last. It was probably someone running a school for scribes.

The 1400s saw the invention of:

The golf ball (1400)
The piano/spinet (1400)
The trigger/matchlock (1411) The handgun arrived in 1364. Before the trigger, it was ignited with an ember or another form of portable fire.
Oil painting (1420) The paint was invented long before this in China, but oil painting techniques (Rembrandt, et al) were 15th-century.
Hoisting gear (1421)
Spectacles/eyeglasses (1450) Possibly earlier.
Printing Press (1450-55) Johannes Gutenberg
Engravings (dry) (1465)
Muzzle-loaded rifle (1475)
Parachute (1485) Leonardo Da Vinci
The copyright (1486)
Bell chimes (1487)
The map globe (1492) This is also when Leonardo was pondering flight because he had a parachute, so you ought to be able to fly, right?
Whiskey (1494)

Sometime during this period, the moldboard plow was invented, turning agriculture on its ear. Deep plowing allowed real farming in areas that had previously been non-tillable. Historians are still arguing exactly when the moldboard plow was invented, but it was sometime between 1350 and 1475. Because there was no official “inventor,” it’s hard to set the date. It was more of a development by farmers until finally, someone got it right.

This might not sound like a lot to you, but the invention of the printing press was a bigger deal than the mobile phone or the computer or, for that matter, electricity and diesel power. It overturned the world. Made knowledge available to the many rather than the élite few.

Back when eyeglasses were really expensive

Everybody drank the whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s and only nominally better in the 1400s, yet by the 1500s, the world began to flower.

These terrible old days gave the world a kick in the butt and triggered the arrival of central governments. It elevated both peasants and the middle classes. It advanced banking, industry, and art. Towns grew. The building industry changed and expanded. Bridges were redesigned to enable better roads and better roads made it easier for people to take goods to market.

Everything changed, including religion because this also was the birth of Protestantism, though it was not called that until later.

Hard times create a new world. Our two world wars were what pushed Europe into modern socialism and the caring world that they now (or used to) embrace. I think a lot of people have forgotten that before the first world war, it wasn’t the post-war caring, sharing Europe. It was a bunch of rich nobles doing whatever they felt like to anything and anyone.

The world doesn’t advance when times are easy. When all is well, we get lazy. Comfort doesn’t force change.

I’d want to believe that the current awfulness is going to push us into a creative change which will ultimately improve our world. I don’t know that it will be true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the outcome of this world into the next, but I’d like to think that’s how it will go.

ANOTHER DAY SHOT TO HELL – Marilyn Armstrong

Not so much a bad day as one of those days where you don’t get to stop. Didn’t get to comments. Haven’t opened my email. Haven’t taken any pictures. Other than the one I wrote early this morning, I haven’t written anything today.

Because? First, there were the phone calls. I didn’t make them yesterday and absolutely had to make today. A long conversation with our trash collectors, leading to my piece on garbage and a “senior rate” for collection. A discussion about bears because they have been sighted in the woods. Wondering about the price of bear-proof trash bins.

The current big plastic bins cost more than $100 each and that’s for the company to buy en masse. Bears are powerful animals who love trash. A 96-gallon bin that locks them out $671 on Amazon, but Jet.com sells the same bin for $377. I don’t know how good these are, either. An interesting price differential, too.

I have nothing against bears, but they are big and powerful and I don’t know if I’m ready to deal with them. The coyotes are enough of an issue, not to mention the skunk and wildcats and raccoons. Are we ready for bear?

Then Owen was here and off we went to buy groceries. Which was followed by unpacking and stowing all that stuff.

A glitch in Garry’s baseball channel that went on for hours entailed a prolonged wait on hold for tech support. To learn, as we suspected, they were having the problem, not us.

I needed to fix Garry’s broken email which wasn’t difficult but took a long time. Warning! Delete your old emails! If you don’t, eventually your email server stops serving and goes on strike.

Portrait of the man and dog

The family dropped by. And then, it was dinner time.

I made dinner. Steak, corn, and yellow summer squash. I’m not enthusiastic about zucchini, but I love big yellow squashes. Deliveries from Amazon: 20 lbs of dog food! No hungry kids in our family.

Realized I forgot to buy lunch meat and never found the lens cleansers, though I looked. Really. I looked. Garry says they are way up on the top shelf. I am short so my eyes never got there.

Home again

There’s a bad bearing on the front left wheel of the Jeep and I had to make sure it got fixed. Bad bearings get worse. We have a lot of driving to do this month and next.

The hospital’s automated equipment called twice more to remind us of our appointment with the doctor on Monday. They have called every day this week.

None of this sounds like a big deal and it wasn’t a big deal, but each thing took time. With the washing of the dishes, the day is done and I feel like it never entirely started. I knew this month was going to get weird.

I was right. At least it was better than yesterday. On my agenda for tomorrow? Other than housekeeping and vacuuming? Explaining to the doctor that Garry’s out of hydrochlorothiazide because Duke ate the container.

Duke

We aren’t sure what happened to the pills, but since Duke is fine, I have to assume he didn’t eat them.

SHORTER IS BETTER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I have seen many plays that were interesting, but way too long. The producers had to fill out the required time for a Broadway play, whether or not they had enough good material. A lot of movies are also too long for the same reason.

To me, most action movies are no more than a series of barely distinguishable scenes of violence strung together from the opening credits and beginning “premise,” to an even more spectacularly violent dénouement. As far as I’m concerned, you could cut movies of this genre in half without altering the plot (what plot?) at all. But then, you might have a 47-minute movie which no one would pay to see. I would be one of the people who didn’t pay to see it.

smiley-face-desktop-x-391568

This is particularly painful with comedies, particularly on television. Many sit-coms have a few funny bits and that’s it. The rest of the show just isn’t funny. In a perfect world, you could air an 18-minute episode because that’s all the funny material you had. You should be able to present the material that works, then call it a day.

For the most part, half-hour shows are only 21 minutes after subtracting commercial breaks. Take off another one or two for coming attractions and you’re down to 19 minutes. So maybe the problem is the really bad scripts? Maybe they only feel long because they are so bad? Or maybe they are so short, there’s no time to develop a plot?

I worry about this with blogs too. I have good ideas but I they don’t always add up to a whole post. So I’m simply going to present a few paragraphs from a couple of interesting articles I read recently.

First, apparently, babies and young children are ‘designed,’ by evolution, to seem cute and winning to adults to ensure kids get the maximum love and attention they need to thrive and grow. Infants’ big eyes, button noses, and chubby cheeks elicit a kind of primal bonding reaction in adults. So do the sounds they make and the way they smell. It’s a visceral, chemical, and nearly universal reaction.

Children start to lose those physically attractive ‘baby’ features around age two or three, so adults are hard-wired to respond equally strongly to the speech patterns of young children.

The way kids perceive and say things sound funny and charming to us. Their observations about the world seem irresistibly adorable. This phenomenon has a name: “Cognitive Babyness.” Studies show that between age two and seven, a child’s cute behavior replaces their cute faces in stimulating a caregiving response.

Go evolution!

Ana McGuffey - 1946 - Mme. Alexander - Doll's faces are intended to embody the "adorable" factor of real toddlers.

Ana McGuffey – 1946 – Mme. Alexander – Doll’s faces are intended to embody the “adorable” factor of real toddlers.

So much for interesting factoids. I’ll move to my next mini topic.

I taught Yoga and Meditation for eight years. I know the enormous benefits to adults — increased focus, attention span, calmness, control, and confidence. Also, decreased tension and stress, anger, frustration, distractibility, and fewer physical aches and pains. It never occurred to me that teaching some form of Yoga and/or Mindfulness into schoolchildren might have the same amazing benefits. \

Recently, I’ve read articles about these kinds of programs being taught in kindergarten through high school, all around the country. They have produced outstanding results.

The skills taught have reduced the symptoms in ADHD kids. Calmed children with anxiety disorders. Helped kids with learning issues, behavior problems, and social deficits. The same studies have shown improved grades, a higher degree of empathy and kindness between kids — and an enhanced enthusiasm for school.

Many schools have incorporated some form of mindfulness into the curriculum for teachers as well as students.

Way to go! Good for you! Over and out!

HOW DOES THE OCEAN CLEANUP TECHNOLOGY WORK?

This is one of the things they are doing to try to clean up the mess.

ScienceSwitch

Plastic was long considered to be a revolutionary material. But, what has it turned into now? A trash – and millions of tons of it end up in the ocean every year. Of course there are plenty of attempts to thwart this growing problem, but this approach by the Ocean Cleanup seems to be the most effective. Here’s how it works.

THIS IS COOL. I WANT TO LEARN SOMETHING ELSE, TOO!

Video via – The Ocean Cleanup
Further Readings And References @ ABC News, The Ocean Cleanup Technology, Plastic Oceans Foundation

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GARBAGE – Marilyn Armstrong

Yesterday, I got a shipment from Walmart. It was a heavy box, made up of sports drinks — the ones with electrolytes and all that other good stuff in them. I have to drink them. Not that I like them. Nobody likes them. it. It’s not horrible, but it is not delicious, either, no matter what they tell you on television.

I have a low blood sodium issue, so I can’t drink water or fruit juice. I can only have two cups of coffee, which in my world is one very big cup, and after that, I have to drink that goop. If I don’t, my feet and hands cramp up, my gut knots, and eventually, I will die. I don’t know if this is a common thing or not, but I’ve got it and have to deal with it.

The thing is, the bottles came in a crate big enough to carry me, Garry and all the dogs. I know it was heavy, but more than half the crate was full of plastic air bubble packing, which was barely enough to keep the bottles from rolling around.

It took me a long time to cut up the crate. Longer than it did to unpack and store its contents. This is not unusual.

Along the shore – where all the garbage lives

I don’t recycle. Why not?

Because no one has any use for the recycling and the trash people pay to have it taken away. It used to go to India or other parts out there where they still used it, but they too have run out of viable uses, so it basically goes on trucks and lives there, moving from truck to truck, or from womb to tomb as they say in the trash business.

I know this because I wrote a manual for software for recycling hazardous waste. That was more than 10-years ago, so I’m sure the situation has not improved.

There is a mountain, a monsoon of recyclables we’ve created. We are gullible enough to believe by recycling, we are in some way fixing our environment.

We aren’t. We’re just moving trash from here to there and then back again. The problem is not recycling. The problem is there is too much trash and nothing to be done with it. There is no giant hole in the earth where the garbage goes. That’s why so much of it winds up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans, and woods.

As I was cutting up that huge box, I thought: “Why do they do this? Why do they over-package everything? Surely there must be a better way?”

As long as we keep creating more trash than we can ever use, reuse, bury or burn, the world will keep getting dirtier, smellier, and uglier. This is not intended to encourage you to throw trash in the road or woods, but to make you recognize we have not found a solution to the trash problem. If everybody on earth recycled, we’d still have the same mess.


We need to create less mess. 


We need to stop over packaging everything. We need to create and use bio-degradable packaging, so it becomes soil and not more trash. Plastic bottles don’t need to be plastic. There are other substances which will degrade, but they cost more than plastic.

Ultimately, if we want to live in this world and not be up to our hips in our own rubble, we are going to have to pay for the privilege. Everything can’t be delivered in huge containers because that’s the only box someone could find that day. Containers need to be as small as possible for items. Boxes need to be recyclable. Every little thing does not need a big box with a plastic wrapper.


Our gullibility is such that we think recycling is the magic key to getting rid of the monsoon of trash. The truth is, nowhere remains to put the garbage. Nowhere on this earth.


The whole recycling game is how we fool ourselves into believing we’ve found a solution when what we’ve found is another way to move trash around. This may sound like a minor problem until one day, your city or town doesn’t have anyplace to send their trash and you find yourself living in it.

I somehow doubt shooting it out into space is going to work out, either. I have a mental image of our spaceships trying to forge their way through huge rings of trash encircling the earth.

The garbage of space.

Now there’s a sexy sci-fi book for the future!


RDP#62 – MONSOON 

Fandango’s One-Word Challenge: Gullible

STAY AT HOME KIDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I have a friend who has three daughters, including a set of twins. They are now in their late twenties and early thirties. And they are all back living at home now. I was shocked to hear this.

All three girls have four-year college degrees. All three have full-time jobs. But none can earn enough to live on their own. One of the girls has a one and a half-year-old baby. The mom is no longer with the father, though he is still in the baby’s life. He also works but doesn’t earn enough to contribute to his daughter’s support.

What is going on here? What a tragedy, that middle class, educated working, young people can’t afford to live on their own without their parents’ support. It can’t be good for twenty and thirty-somethings to be living with their parents. It’s infantilizing and demoralizing. There also doesn’t seem to be any prospect for them to move out in the near future. This set up is not necessarily great for the parents either, especially if they want to retire at some point.

Starting wages today don’t seem to be high enough to pay for a home and even minimal living expenses. At least in New England, where I live. And this is even true with a college degree. Part of the problem may be that kids leave college with heavy debts that contribute to their financial dependence on their parents. So, it’s a vicious cycle.

And if you have a baby, the financial situation becomes exponentially worse!

My friend’s daughters are lucky that their parents can afford to support them. And that they didn’t already downsize their home. The kids contribute to the household, but not significantly. What will happen when my friend and her husband want to retire? They probably won’t be able to.

My friend is also lucky that she can work part-time from home. So, with the help of the other girls, they don’t have to pay for daycare or other childcare. This makes a big difference, financially. I know young people who pay a large percentage of their annual income on childcare – just so they can continue to work. This is also a travesty.

I don’t have any earth-shattering insights or solutions to any of these problems. I just got to see first hand what this economy and this society can do to young adults and their retirement age parents.

I’ve read about this phenomenon, but things affect you differently when people you know are involved. I can now put a face on this problem. It’s no longer an abstract issue, but a personal story. I’m shocked, appalled and depressed.

What will happen to whole generations? What will happen to our society? This is our future. And it looks pretty bleak.

RIGHT AS RAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

One of the ways I know I’ve gotten old is when someone goes missing, I’m afraid they are in the hospital or some other catastrophe has befallen them.

I worry about the fragility of the people in my world. My family. Garry. Me. The dogs. Online. Personally. Distant and nearby. To be fair, I also worry about the fragility of our planet, the insanity of our government, the likelihood of catastrophic climate change.

Fires. Dogs. Pretty much everything, come to think about it.

Rusty pickup truck

Almost every day, someone Garry worked with dies. Because he worked on TV, he usually finds out when they announce it on the air. I can see him wince when they announce the name on the local news. Mostly, we don’t go to funerals. There are too many and we’d be going to funerals all the time.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I remember — probably like 40 years ago? — my mother said, “You know you are getting old when your friends start to die.” And sure enough, that’s exactly what is happening.

While I was pondering this, I realized that there’s another side to this which is (are you ready?) — we might live a really long time. Considering all the crap I’ve already gone through physically, I’m still alive and doing pretty well, all things considered. Garry is amazingly healthy with relatively minor creaks and groans … and both of us come from families that live long lives (but were not necessarily prosperous) …

We could live to 100. Or more.

Oh no! If we are going to live that long, the world better improve a lot. Soon.

I’m pretty sure a very long life might be almost as bad as eternal life — another appalling concept. I mean seriously, how many reruns could I possibly watch?

Meanwhile, we are right as rain. One quick question

Why is rain right?