Month: January 2015

OLD PHOTOGRAPHS

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Both of my parents died in 1994.

At some point in the ‘50s, ‘60s, or ‘70s, my mother had meticulously collected snapshots (most of them likely taken with an old Brownie-Kodak box camera) and put them into albums, securing them with stick-on corners. Unfortunately, the pictures are not labeled.

So here is this photo: a group of maybe a dozen people taken in the ‘40s—you can tell by the clothing and the women’s hair styles. I know from other photos that two of the people are my parents—but is that child in a frilly dress in front me? One of my cousins? Who? Nor have I (or my siblings) any clue as to who the others are. The group is standing in front of what appears to be a Plymouth (maybe) of late ‘30s, early ‘40s vintage. Somebody must have been proud of that car!

It must have been a special occasion, for the men are wearing white shirts and ties and the women seem to be “dressed up” with clumpy looking heels. Perhaps it was a wedding. They look too joyous for it to have been a funeral. Maybe a graduation? Not a family reunion, I’m sure: no one would have thought that degree of sartorial elegance necessary for just a family gathering!

Do people save such photos in this day of instant pictures—on their phones yet! Or do they share and laugh and then hit the “delete” button? Let’s hope they provide labels for the “keepers” to satisfy the curiosity of future family members!

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NEWSPAPERS

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newspaper-clipart-12I gave up my newspaper subscription a few years ago when I had a writing deadline and realized I was spending upwards of an hour and a half every morning on the newspaper. During an extended visit with friends who still indulge in the not-so-guilty pleasure of a daily paper, I am reminded of what I’ve been missing.

Internet snippets and TV sound bites are simply not designed to supply adequate information on—well, anything! Even skipping around from CNN to MSNBC to Fox does not satisfy as a real, honest-to-goodness newspaper does. I know features like Ann and Abby, the comics, and puzzles are all available on line, but I like them better in print.

Op-ed stuff is somehow better in print form, too. Perhaps because when you’ve read one feature there, your eye strays to another on that same page that you may or may not find interesting, but it is there. This is true of straight news pages, too. The reader can divert to some item he or she selects—not something chosen by TV folks or internet people. Letters to the editor are more thoughtful than the instant messaging of “comments” at the end of an internet story or feature. Often as not, the anonymity of on-line comments encourages inanity and bigotry.

So . . . when I get home, I am renewing my newspaper subscription.

BLAME ENOUGH TO GO AROUND

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Journalism—before it became an amorphous entity called the media—used to be devoted (primarily, at least) to reporting the news. Nowadays journalists and wannabes seem as ready to create—or “enhance”—events as report them. “Breaking news” stories go on and on and on . . .

The hostage situation in Australia was but a recent example. That went on non-stop as “breaking” news for nearly seventeen hours. Wouldn’t an occasional update have served as well to keep the public informed? I cannot help but believe such coverage—the repetition, the sensationalizing of every trivial detail—merely encourages the sickos in our midst. School shootings are a case in point. A Columbine begets a Newtown begets a—

Protests following the Ferguson incident in Missouri and the choke-hold tragedy in New York caught our attention—and continue do so. The basic issues should do so! But to what extent are the protests the result of sensationalized media accounts—and/or of opportunists seizing on events to promote their own agendas? Still, one cannot deny that, while there is a degree of exaggeration and “jumping on the bandwagon” on the part of many demonstrators, there ARE fundamental inequities in the legal system. (To protesters, however, “the legal system” has taken on the persona of some sort of monolithic entity, practiced uniformly throughout the nation!)

Now we are seeing police officers—totally unconnected to the incidents in question—being assassinated as they go about routine duties, their deaths born of an “us versus them” mentality. No right-thinking person can condone cops’ targeting black men, but neither can we summarily dismiss all police officers as racists who have merely traded their white sheets for blue uniforms.

A little moderation—common sense—serious thinking—sincere consideration of an on-going problem in the American psyche would seem to be in order . . .

THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION

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I recently received a gift from friends in Russia—a piece of embroidery that arrived via a convoluted route involving Midwestern Americans who had been traveling in Russia. (Apparently Russians still don’t trust their own postal system.) A nice note from Boris and Marina came with it.

In the ‘90s Marina was my counterpart in a student exchange between her school in Ivanovo, Russia (a textile producing town 300 km NE of Moscow), and my school in Ramstein, Germany. At the time, Boris was Ivanovo’s representative in Russia’s first freely elected Duma (parliament). These were those euphoric days after the “fall of the wall” and the collapse of the Soviet Union—the days of Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Marina’s note this month ended with a PS: “—and don’t believe all they say on TV about Russia.”

I am not exactly sure what she means. I shouldn’t believe that Russia unilaterally invaded the Crimea? I shouldn’t believe that Russia has a huge number of troops on the Ukrainian border poised for action? However, I am sure of some things about Russia:

(1) The Russian people are warm-hearted, generous, and hospitable. They go all-out to entertain guests. Westerners are always flabbergasted by elaborate entertainments and laden tables in both public and private venues. Their young people are imbued with the same kind of idealism and enthusiasm for a better world as ours are—witness the growth and popularity of the Model United Nations program in Russia!

(2) I think in the last three or four centuries—that same time frame that carried America from the Mayflower and Jamestown to Barrack Obama’s presidency—the Russian people have not been well served by their governments. Under the czars, the common people were held in oppressive serfdom; the czar was to be seen as the “Little Father” (as opposed to the big father—the Deity?). He would take care of a populace too stupid or too naïve to care for themselves. For those who did not wholly accept such benevolence, there was always Siberia.

Lord Acton’s famous adage, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” was as true for Russia in the 20th as in earlier centuries.

The communist ideal sought to alleviate the plight of the people, but soon evolved into a reign of terror in which the Soviet dictators “improved” upon the czars’ holdings in Siberia.

It appears to me that the hope and promise of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin years has been swallowed up in the greed and ambition of Putin and the oligarchs.

(3) I would add: “No, Marina, I am not assuming a ‘holier than thou’ position.” America’s history has certain parallels with Russia’s: black slaves in America were treated as badly as Russia’s serfs and we are still—a century and a half later—dealing with residuals from that sad institution. Stalin’s forcing the Kulaks to give up their land and their way of life had a parallel in the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans. And Russia’s oligarchs certainly have their counterparts in the Koch brothers and Washington lobbyists who own Congress.

My opinion of the “real” Russia has not changed in the last quarter of a century, but I must admit that my view of world politics and world leaders has become severely tarnished!