HARD TIMES ARE GOOD 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) Hey, for some folks this is a big deal
      • 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. There was no official “inventor,” so 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, though they aren’t exactly cheap now!

Everybody drank whiskey.

The point is that times were really bad in the 1300s, 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 the peasants and the middle classes. It advanced banking, industry, and art. Towns expanded and grew into cities. 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 want to believe the current awfulness of our world will force us into great creative change and will ultimately improve this world. I don’t know if it is true because I don’t think I’ll live to see the future.

All I can do is hope for the best.

YOU’VE EITHER GOT IT OR NOT – Rich Paschall

Style, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have noticed that it seems to have died out.  You are probably glad of it too.  You did not like it.  You may even have been insulted by it, so it is so long and farewell.  It should be like many style statements we have seen over recent generations.  It is here for a while, then reason sets in.

Of course, we are talking about that so-called “fashion trend” that saw young men wearing their baggy jeans below their rear ends so that we could see their boxer shorts.  I am sure this did as much for makers of boxer shorts as it did for sellers of baggy jeans.  Perhaps these guys have started to realize just how crazy this was.  There may have been some cheap thrill in letting us see their underwear, but as a practical point of view it could not have been dumber.  At least you know these guys were not going to cause trouble.  It is tough when you have to waddle away from the scene of the crime.

Maybe the lack of a Justin Bieber tour helped to kill this idea.  Let’s hope that his next tour (if there is one) does not bring it back, or some equally strange wearing of clothes.  The alleged singer-songwriter stopped his Purpose tour without performing all the shows.  We are not sure of the Purpose or style yet, but we know he is unpopular at certain venues, but I digress …

rollingstone.com

When I was younger we had our strange fashion trends, which I am sure were heavily influenced by the entertainment industry.  If someone looked cool in the movies or on television, then I guess we wanted to look cool too.  I was too young to be influenced by the first wave of the British Invasion.  It did not matter to me what John, Paul, George, and Ringo were wearing.  For clothes choices, I got whatever my mother thought I should have.

As I got a little older I realized, as all kids do, that a little (or a lot) of whining would probably get me a few of the things I liked.  By high school, it was white Levis, madras shirts (plaid) and penny loafers.  I thought this ensemble was cool.  I guess I still do.  For a while, it was “skinny jeans.”  I don’t think we called them that, but they were the type that was difficult to put on and the opening at the bottom of the pants leg was barely big enough for your feet to go through.  I guess we thought we were sexy, like the boys showing off their boxers in more recent times.  Skinny jeans also seem to be quite popular at present, but mostly, it’s young girls.

It was just a few years and then that whole “preppy” look I loved so much was out. A whole collection of things that would not stand the test of time followed.  When skinny jeans gave way to “flares,” that is pants that had wider leg openings at the bottom, and then bell-bottoms we had a whole new look.  Yes, I got those, including the “hip huggers” style.  Those had a lower cut.  Neither my parents nor my grandparents ever wore any such items.

Your wide pants might go with a variety of looks, but maybe not with your Nehru jackets or shirts.   These items may have retained their popularity in India, where they are named after  Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who served from 1947 to 1964, but they were a brief trend here.  The jackets and shirts with the “mandarin collar” would make you look like a priest if you wore something dark.

Your 70’s hippie look did need “tie-dyed” t-shirts.  I guess those just keep coming back around the style block.  They were always popular with the Grateful Dead crowd and then with Phish, the Grateful Dead for the 21st Century.  I am glad to say I never owned one.  You may think that picture of you with beads, tie-dye shirt, bell-bottom pants and sandals that one of your friends posted on facebook on “throwback Thursday” looks really cool, but I have news for you…

All of this was followed by the regrettable trend we called “leisure suits.”  The polyester creations featured jackets that looked like shirts trying to be jackets.  Unfortunately, a number of pictures of my youthful self in these suits can be found.  My friends who escaped the camera at the time are pleased to point out how unfashionable that look is today, using one of my pictures as an example.  The worst looks were the ones with the leisure suits featuring a polyester, flower-patterned shirts with big collars.  Thanks to the internet and some Boys Club photo albums, I may never live that down.

It would have been easy to be an Urban Cowboy next.  Who does not love a classic American western look?  Following his success in making us all want to look like something out of Saturday Night Fever (which I saw more than once), John Travolta soon convinced us we should change to jeans and ride a mechanical bull.  Yes, the fashion bull kept galloping through our lives and many of us got trampled by it.

It probably would have been better to stick to standard looks that stay in fashion generation to generation.  Frank Sinatra always looked cool.  He has style throughout the ages, even if it was all pretty much the same.  A sharp suit and a fedora hat would have been good, but not as good as a tux with a carnation or other fresh flower and a hat tilted to the perfect angle.

If you do not understand, here’s your primer:

A VISIT TO COLOMBIA – Rich Paschall

I have seen a few articles that claim Medellin is one of the best international cities for retirement. The US dollar goes far and the climate is pleasant.Forbes rates Colombia the number 6 country in 2019 for International Living. I have made two trips to Colombia. Here are my thoughts after the first visit.

Medellin, RICH PASCHALL

A mile high in the Andes mountains of Colombia, located in the Aburrá Valley, lies the city of Medellin. It is somewhere between the size of Los Angeles and Chicago. Some of its neighborhoods are built up the sides of the mountain, but the city center is mostly flat.

Nevertheless, bring a good pair of walking shoes to make you tour around town.  Traffic in downtown Medellin can be something close to gridlock in midday.  A large number of buses and taxis will not help you get around quickly.

Medellin downtown
Medellin downtown

My trip was somewhat of a lark. A longtime internet friend encouraged me to come visit. Although we talked often on Google Hangout and Skype and chatted on Facebook Messenger, we had never actually met.  After seeing all the Facebook pictures of friends and relatives, it was as if we were old friends.

The weather there was just about perfect, so I decided to use my few remaining vacation days and hop a plane south.

I was not eager to transit another country, I decided to take American Airlines from Chicago to Miami and then fly directly to Medellin. It would have been cheaper to connect in Panama City, but lacking Spanish, it seemed a better choice to connect in an American city. Besides, the Miami connecting times were shorter.

Columbia’s international airport is in Rionegro, 45 minutes from Medellin. It’s at a higher altitude than Medellin and offers amazing views of the tropical region. Although the airport is the second largest in Colombia, it was closer in size to Sarasota, Florida, though much busier. The airport is modern and efficient. Much easier to get through customs than Miami — a story for another time.

My friend was waiting for me as I came out of customs.  From this point on in the trip, it’s a good idea to have someone local with you, even if you speak Spanish, which I don’t.  Most signs are entirely in Spanish … which by itself can be a problem for tourists.

I had exchanged currency at the airport in Miami — never a good thing. Rates of exchanges at airports are the worst. Even ATM rates would have been better, but then you have fees, so I suppose it’s a toss-up.  I did not see currency exchanges in the city, but there were some large banks in downtown Medellin that might have been able to make the exchange at a better rate.

You definitely need cash. Most stores and restaurants take only cash, even when you see a MasterCard sticker on the door. The only place you’ll likely use plastic is at an ATM.

There are plenty of taxis and buses at the airport, so transportation to the city should be no problem. My friend took us to the taxi line. The first one was for a shared cab to a designated spot in the city. He chose this for economy

We shared the ride with a couple and a single person. A three-way split is very economical.  In fact, it was cheaper than from O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago — and O’Hare is actually in Chicago proper.

Road to the airport
Road to the airport

The ride down the mountain in the dark was an adventure. The road into the airport is wide and well-lit, but shortly you are on a winding two-lane highway. In the mountains. At night.

The driver knows the road well, but racing down was quite a thrill.  We would get tossed from side to side like a roller coaster ride.  When we arrived in town and dropped off the others, my friend negotiated a rate to his apartment.

At night we visited a neighborhood filled with outdoor cafes and sports bars. A large central square was crowded. You could buy beverages at nearby stores. The square and two streets along it formed an “L” and were like Bourbon Street in New Orleans — one big open-air party.

The downtown shopping area the next day was crowded.  We went by Metro and returned by taxi. The wide walkways on many streets could accommodate outdoors stands and carts where a variety of goods were available. Tropical fruit drinks (nonalcoholic) were everywhere  — a good thing when you’re doing serious shopping.

Downtown shopping
Downtown shopping

Many stores featured products from the US. We saw one store supposedly selling “USA brand” clothes.  My friend said to me, “all originals,” with a wink and a laugh. I decided after a while that I could figure out which places sold authentic goods and high-end merchandise because they had armed security guards at the door. It did not appear the police walking the streets were armed, although I didn’t study them.

Medellin is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its temperate climate.  The average annual temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most days are in the 80s all year long, but since they are in the mountains, it cools off to low 60s at night.

Upper 50’s would be a cold night.  Few places had air conditioning. Restaurants and bars are open-air and the climate is perfect for living outdoors. Cool enough for comfortable nighttime sleeping, too. For my visit, the days were in the upper 80s, and the cooler nights did not require jackets.

If your knowledge of Medellin comes from news stories from 1993 or earlier, forget it.  They have worked hard to live down the past and transform the city into a welcoming place.

If he comes up in conversation, locals will tell you that Pablo Escobar does not live there anymore (died in 1993), just as Chicagoans sometimes have to say that Al Capone does not live here anymore (he died in 1947).

The people are friendly, food is good, the climate is great, and the scenery is beautiful. The trip was too short and I wouldn’t mind another visit. Especially in the winter.

Visit the Medellin photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog here.

Also see: “The Top 10 Places In The World To Retire: 2 New Lists,” Forbes.com, January 4, 2019.

PROUD TO BE CIVIL – Marilyn Armstrong

Politically correct. What outrage that term produces! How dare anyone tell me how to behave, how to speak? I can say anything I want. I mean … look at our president!

Yeah. Look at our president. Take a good look.

To be politically correct means to tread carefully on other people’s feelings and sensibilities. I’m for that.

Around here, “P.C,” means you can’t go around spewing racist epithets thinly disguised as humor or these days, as pure hatred. PC is designed for all the morons, bigots, racists and the socially challenged. It is a simple rule: “DON’T SAY THAT,” works much better than sensitivity training.

So many amongst us have no sensitivity to train.

Even if the morons who insist they don’t mean it — in which case why are they saying it? — I feel any rule or law that protects me from having to listen to hate is political capital well spent.


I would not call it political correctness.
I would call it civility.
Good manners.
Common decency.

If anyone feels that not calling other people insulting names is cramping their style, these are the exact people for whom these rules were intended. These are precisely the folks who most need them. Normal people have enough intelligence and good manners to know when to shut up without being told. They don’t need those rules. They already “get it.”

For everyone else, we have rules. Call it whatever you want. PC, good manners, civility, sensitivity, or politeness. It’s the same thing.

When we are amongst friends and we know each other well, we relax, let out guards down. Especially when we are a minority among others like us with similar culture and history, it’s all good. We are family, we act silly like family. But if you are not one of us, leave your mouth outside. I don’t need to be insulted. I don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Many people still think racism is sort of cute. I think they should be eliminated from the gene pool.

THE WOUNDED HEART OF PARIS – Sue Vincent (Reblog)

Many people wonder if we, as humans, will survive as long as Notre Dame stood. Maybe we can gain hope as Notre Dame is reborn.


 

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

Notre Dame de Paris.
The three images of the Cathedral are photographs of postcards in my Parisian diaries.

The white dome of the Sacré-Cœur, floating like some fairy tale castle against the blackness was my very first glimpse of Paris. It was a school trip, we were no more than children… and I fell in love with the city there and then. My eyes filled with tears, my heart with memories and emotions that should not have been mine, I felt that I had come home.

We stayed at the Lycée Henri-IV, just behind the Pantheon. Sneaking out, illicitly, before breakfast, very early next morning, I found myself wandering down the Rue Mouffetard. A tramp was curled around his wine bottle in a doorway. Market stalls were being set up. Everything smelled of coffee and new bread… and I determined that one day, when I was old enough, I would…

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THE SUMMER OF ’69 – Rich Paschall

The Golden Anniversary, by Rich Paschall

There is no doubt in my cluttered mind that 1969 was the most memorable year of my life. None. Of all of the events that have happened through the years, I can not say that any other years stands out like this one.

When you are a Senior in high school and people tell you to enjoy it because these late high school, early college (if you go to college) years are the best years of your life, it is hard for you to believe.

Surely better times will come along, you think. You cling to that belief for many years. Then you realize something.

The years around your high school graduation may, in fact, have been the best years of your life. They are the touchstone. They are the yardstick by which all future events are measured. They contain the moments you treasure, and they are locked away in your memory vault for all time. They are the springboard that launched you into adulthood.

My first high school closed and I went to another for one year. Our class play is the extracurricular activity that introduced me to many of my classmates. Most seniors joined the spring musical which was South Pacific. It was a great experience as a large cast worked together at a common goal. It turned out well.

I’m in this group, just left of center.

Meanwhile, a series of astounding events filled the spring and summer of ’69. In April the convicted assassin of Senator Robert Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, was sentenced to the death penalty in California, but the state would eliminate the death penalty and he would never be executed. He is still incarcerated and is now 75 years old.

In May Apollo 10 took off for the moon. It was just a dress rehearsal for Apollo 11. On July 20th the world watched in wonder as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon. President Kennedy had promised the nation in May of 1961 we could accomplish this by the end of the 1960s, although he did not live to see it himself.

A technician works atop the white room, through which the astronauts will enter the spacecraft, while other technicians look on from the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 11, 1969. (NASA)

Also in May, The Who introduced their”rock opera,” Tommy. It was an album of rock songs that told the story of that “deaf, dumb. and blind kid” who “plays a mean pinball.” The “Pinball Wizard” may not have been the first rock opera, but it was the first album to call itself that. Others have followed to varying degrees of success.

The Beatles were still hitting the top of the charts. In May “Get Back” would reach number one. The song would later turn up on the “Let It Be” album. Who knew we were nearing the end of an era that in many ways never ended? In September The Beatles released Abbey Road.

Abbey Road

In ’69 I went to the movies a little more often than I do now. Midnight Cowboy came out in May and I recall seeing it in the theater. It was likely then that I first took notice of the Harry Nilsson song, “Everybody’s Talkin’.” It became a favorite. After the movie came out, the song received a lot of radio play.

In June the Stonewall riots took place outside a Greenwich Village, New York City gay bar. A confrontation between police and activists turned ugly over a few days period. Many say it led to the modern gay rights movements. The following year the first gay pride parades were held in several cities, including Chicago. I can not say that I was aware of any of this at the time. However, Stonewall marked an important moment in LGBT history in this country.

On two days in August, The Charles Manson “Family” killed 8 people in murders that would shock the nation. The gruesome details that came out over time were almost too horrifying to be believed. Manson was sentenced to death for his role in the killings, but, like Sirhan Sirhan, his sentence was changed to life in prison when California did away with the death penalty. Manson died in prison in 2017 at the age of 83.

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration

In August it may not have been a half million people who went down to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm 43 miles from Woodstock, New York, but the crowd was certainly in the hundreds of thousands for the “3 days of peace and music.” Perhaps a half million said they were there. Over the festival, 32 acts performed, sometimes in the rain, while organizers proved rather unprepared for the massive event.

I can not say I knew much about Woodstock in 1969. The film, the music and the many videos that have turned up taught us about the event. It meant little to some of us back home in the Midwest at the time it was happening. The 1970 documentary of the festival won an Academy Award. Joni Mitchell wrote a popular song that was a big hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young who played at the festival. Mitchell had turned it down.

The big news in Chicago that summer for baseball fans was the miracle collapse of the Chicago Cubs. On August 14th the Mets were nine games behind the Cubs in the standings and it looked like the long pennant drought for the northsiders was about to end. Then September happened. The Cubs lost 17 of 25 and the Mets got hot. They went on to win the World Series and the Cubs did not make it to the Fall Classic until 2016.

Sources include 1969: An eventful summer, http://www.cnn.com August 9, 2009.

See also: This Magic Moment, The Golden Age Of Rock Turns 50, 1969, SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, 2/1/2019.
Good Old Rock ‘N Roll, One Hit Wonders of 1969, SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, 3/10/2019.

WHO ARE “THEY”? – Marilyn Armstrong

A couple of days ago, I commented, “They say that Boston now has America’s worst traffic.” Personally, I bet New York is much worse, no matter what “they” say.

That got me to thinking about who “they” are?

Is there a special group dedicated to calculating how bad traffic is in every city in the U.S.? How often do they check? Do they check all the inbound road as well as the in-town roads? Do they check every city in every state? What about people who tell us about our manners. Like, “They say it’s okay to not change hands and only American eat that anyway.”

Who are they?

Weddings. “They” say you don’t really need a veil, just the ‘idea’ of a veil. WHO ARE THEY?

They say more American are Democrats than Republicans. If that’s true, how did we elect you-know-who?

Whoever they are, they have a lot to say.

I think when “they” get quoted, we should establish who they are. Are they an official government group? Just a bunch of people who got together and decided to write a blog or a tweet? A bunch of college kids? Or maybe — third graders?



MAN SMART, WOMEN SMARTER


I say let us put man and a woman together
To find out which one is smarter.
Some say man but I say no.
The woman got the man de day should know.

Chorus:
And not me but the people they say
That de man are leading de women astray
But I say, that the women of today
Smarter than the man in every way

That’s right de woman is, uh, smarter
That’s right de woman is, uh, smarter
That’s right de woman is, uh, smarter, that’s right, that’s right!

Ever since the world began
Woman was always teaching man.
And I tell you, listen to my bid attentively
I goin’ tell you how she smarter than me.

Samson was the strongest man long ago
No one could beat him, as we all know
Until he clash with Deliah on top of the bed
She told them all the strength was in the hair of his head.

You meet a girl at a pretty dance
Thinking that you would stand a chance.
Take her home, thinking she’s alone
Open de door you find her husband home.

I was treating a girl independently
She was making baby for me
When de baby born and I went to see
Eyes was blue — it was not by me.

Garden of Eden was very nice
Adam never work in Paradise.
Eve meet snake, Paradise gone
She make Adam work from that day on.

Methuselah spent all his life in tears
Lived without a woman for 900 years.
One day he decided to have some fun
The poor man never lived to see 900 and one.

Songwriters: Norman Span
Act II “In the Caribbean.” Man Smart (Woman Smarter) lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Next Decade Entertainment, Inc