Thursday, March 20, 2014

Harold Fleener - to die or not to die!

I recently ran into an old school friend while we were in a rehab hospital after knee replacement surgery. I’ll call him Harold Fleener.  Harold and I weren’t close in school but I have had many long conversations with him since we became reacquainted in the hospital.  I’ve kept in touch with him since and have gotten to know him.

Hal was a pretty good athlete – one of those guys who was strong and agile but not particularly gifted; he was pretty good at all sports but never excelled at any.  He played a lot of ball – baseball and basketball mostly and he got into distance running and bicycling. Everything for him had to be an all-out effort because of his limited talent. He learned that the one person who he always had a chance of beating was himself so he started to compete with his best personal performances in running and bicycling.  He worked out with weights and always tried to lift more than he did last time, he lifted more than he should be lifting.  He was about my size and had small bones.  He worked construction for a long time and always worked hard. As a result, Hal just wore out his body. 

He has had rotator cuff surgery on both shoulders and five knee surgeries including replacement of both knees. He is 85 years old and hates being old. His wife is 78.  Hal was blessed with exceptionally good health until about ten years ago.  He always took his health for granted and never spent much effort in thanking the person responsible. He had never taken a prescription pill except for pain resulting from one of his many surgeries. A few years back he discovered he had an atrial fibrillation and due to testing discovered that he had to have triple by-pass surgery. He is having trouble understanding this because he has always kept in good shape through exercise and a healthy diet.  Additionally, he has developed chronic dizziness that the best medicine in the world is unable to diagnose.  He constantly struggles to keep from falling when he is in a standing position.

Hal’s wife, we’ll call her Mary, has also taken some health hits – more than Hal actually.  She has had two strokes and thyroid cancer.  Fortunately, and with the help of God, she is recovering from all of them.  Mary was a beautiful woman when she was younger.  She is still a beauty but of course, time has taken a bit of the glow.  Hal complains to her that he married a beautiful 17year-old girl and wasn’t informed that she was going to turn out to be a 78 year-old woman. Mary is too kind to remind him that he has regressed too, and from a not so handsome start.

I have gotten to be very close to Hal and he confides in me.  AS I stated, we spend a lot of time together. Sometimes he grows very despondent although he and Mary are surrounded, albeit with great distance geographically, by family love and support.  They are LDS as I am so they are very confident of their long range future but Hal sometimes worries about the short term problems.  He combats this by always being able to joke about it. One of his favorite lines when some of his young friends get on his case is to get real close to them and tell them, “Look at me real close! Take a long long hard look! Right now, you young punks are feeling pretty good about life but someday you’re going to look just like me.”

Hal is in some serious pain.  He has arthritic pain in his shoulders from the surgery he had years earlier. He has developed a problem in his right replaced knee.  His lower bone has thinned and the metal knee above it protrudes  over the edge of the lower bone and his tissue hangs up on it.  He first discovered it while asleep.  He woke up screaming in pain and totally confused as to the cause. He had to work himself to the edge of the bed and slowly straighten his leg out.  He had several occasions when this happened, both awake and asleep and it frankly scared him. There isn’t much you can do about a knee replacement that has gone bad.  He has learned how to control it when awake by careful movement of his leg. Folks who don’t have  faith in God may not understand but Harold had a priesthood blessing by his son-in-law and the pain in his knee has been much less intense.  Another thing that bothers Hal is that he is no longer able to work out.  This has put a serious crimp in his life style. 

Because of the pain and his heart problem, he is taking around 30 pills a day.  He tells me he isn’t sure exactly sure how many he takes because he loses count,  or forgets what he is counting,  or Mary will interrupt him. I think he just really doesn’t want to know. He takes pain pills every four hour around the clock. He can’t sleep without ambien!  It’s not all bad, though,  he saves a lot on their entertainment expense.  They have four movies and they watch one a day.  By the time they get back to the first one, they have forgotten what it was about.  It does present a problem, however, when they can’t remember where they put the movies…or how to operate the thing they put the disks in to make the TV play them.

He and Mary are both stricken with hearing problems and conversation becomes a problem.  “What” is frequently answered by “huh,” or vice versa. Mary suggested that they tape a day’s activity and sell it to a TV show. It has to be more entertaining than most of the reality shows they watch.

Some days when we are speaking seriously, Hal tells me that he would like to die tomorrow and get it over with but the thing that worries him most is leaving Mary. He knows that their children love Mary too much to ever let her need anything but Hal feels that no one could love her like he does or take care of her as well as him. Hal and Mary, fortunately, are fairly well off with excellent health care coverage. They have no bills other than day to day living expenses.  Hal worries about how his death will hurt his children and their children and is saddened by knowing that he will not be around to see his grandchildren and great grandchildren develop and take their place in the world.

Hal tells me that it is hard for a younger person to understand what goes on in the mind of an 85 year old man with health problems that could end his life at any time. One of his biggest concerns is getting to the point that he can no longer drive. He has grown up being able to handle anything confronting him. What if this ends while he is still alive. He wonders, when he sees a loved one or a friend who he doesn’t see regularly, if it is the last time he will see them again. He wonders if he will ever meet the new additions  to his family.  He is saddened that the new great grandchildren will never know him (or their wonderful grandmother).  He is saddened to know that if he hasn’t had an impact on the world around him that he never will have. It is what makes an old man want to write about things around him or to plant a palm tree in the front yard. His daughter recently planted one for him and the tree reminds him of her. He is sure that the tree will also remind her if him. 

Hal may well live another ten years. Only God knows.  But Hal does know that he will be reunited with his mother and father and other loved ones and someday, all will be reunited.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ode to Bernie Cinque - most valuable teacher!

The following essay was written by Shellie Bray, a granddaughter of two of my best school friends, Bill Bray and Anna Mae (Matie) Bray, nee Demmer. Shellie was a sophomre in high school when she wrote this essay about Bernie Cinque who was her teacher in the 5th grade. Bill, Bernie and I played basketball together for years.

Shellie Bray
Period 4
November 13, 1990
Mr. Cinque
"My definition of a good teacher includes: communication with the students, interesting activities, and some sense of humor.  Although I have had many teachers that have fullfilled these qualities, there is one which sticks out the most. He was one person who really inspired me.
Mr. Cinque was my fifth grade teacher at Oleander School. I have to say he was the best teacher I have had so far. The thing that makes me remember him is his sense of communication with his students. The first day I met him, I felt very comfortable with him. I like when I feel closeness with a teacher.  That quality makes it a lot easer to learn. But I do have to admit, if you got on his bad side you were one sorry person.
Another thing that made Mr. Cinque a good teacher was his interesting ideas.  The one thing I hate the most is a boring teacher.  Someone who will never try anything different. The same old routine day after day.  He was different. You never knew what to expect for that day.
The last thing I remember that I liked was his patience and understanding of "class clowns."  I don't like it when the teacher is strictly by the rules. That makes it boring for the students, so I automatically don't want to learn. I understand teachers can only put up with so much, then you have to put your doot down. But some have no sense of humor at all. They don't remember we're still kids. That's what I liked about im. He would joke back with me.
So, in my book, Mr. Cinque would get a 10+ for his teaching.  I not only got an education from him, but also morals about life. I feel he made a big difference in my education."
I am in a family of educators - teachers and administrators. I have a teaching credential and have done some part time instructing. I hesitate to use the word "teaching." To teach, you have to be a teacher. Bernie was a teacher. I view teachers as the most important people in our society.  Bernie was very intelligent and very talented. He would have been successful in any field he chose. He chose teaching because he wanted to make a difference. Shellie is evidence that he did. Three other of the Bray family were Bernie's students and they all laud him. I know other teachers in the Fontana area and they all feel the same way about him. I knew him personnally for a long time and feel a part of the Cinque family. Bernie's mother and father treated me like another son.

Another friend, I believe it was Bill Bray, told me that Bernie frequently sent home a special question that was totally unrelated to the subject being taught and often very esoteric. One such question was, "Who was the most valuable player on the Fontana Blue Jays?" The young student took it home and asked his father, again, I believe it was Bill Bray who also played on our team. Bill told him that, actually, he (meaning himself) really was but if he wanted to pass, he better say that it was Mr. Cinque. Fontana was a small town, for some, close knit. Our group was close knit and remained so for all our lives. Here is a picture of "The Fontana Blue Jays (at that time playing for Fontana Motors):
Kneeling, left to right: Bernie Cinque, Dick Klepper (manager of Fontana Motors), Frank Mosher (owner), Dino Papavero.

Standing left to right, Myron Cinque, Jake Mayab, Brooks Wilson, Roger Williamson, Bill Bray (Shellies, grandfather, Sonny Cinque, John Papavero.

Fontana Blue Jays in action:

Bernie Cinque, going up for rebound, Bill Bray left of Bernie and Brooks Wilson, right of Bernie. Other Blue Jays, Sonny Cinque, extreme left and Marvin Rucker, extreme right. Number 11 for the opponents is LaMar Healy. 

We once voted for the most valuable player and we had six players each with one vote. The most valuable teacher is uncontested.
Bernie Cinque

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Twilight of Our Society?

A new study sponsored by Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of 'collapse' are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that "the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history." Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to "precipitous collapse - often lasting centuries - have been quite common."

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary 'Human And Nature DYnamical' (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharrei of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

It finds that according to the historical record even advanced, complex civilisations are susceptible to collapse, raising questions about the sustainability of modern civilisation:

"The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires, are all testimony to the fact that advanced, sophisticated, complex, and creative civilizations can be both fragile and impermanent."

By investigating the human-nature dynamics of these past cases of collapse, the project identifies the most salient interrelated factors which explain civilisational decline, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today: namely, Population, Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy.

These factors can lead to collapse when they converge to generate two crucial social features: "the stretching of resources due to the strain placed on the ecological carrying capacity"; and "the economic stratification of society into Elites [rich] and Masses (or "Commoners") [poor]" These social phenomena have played "a central role in the character or in the process of the collapse," in all such cases over "the last five thousand years."

Currently, high levels of economic stratification are linked directly to overconsumption of resources, with "Elites" based largely in industrialised countries responsible for both:

"... accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels."

The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

"Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use."

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from "increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput," despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions "closely reflecting the reality of the world today... we find that collapse is difficult to avoid." In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

".... appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature."

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that "with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites."

In both scenarios, Elite wealth monopolies mean that they are buffered from the most "detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners", allowing them to "continue 'business as usual' despite the impending catastrophe." The same mechanism, they argue, could explain how "historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases)."

Applying this lesson to our contemporary predicament, the study warns that:

"While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory 'so far' in support of doing nothing."

However, the scientists point out that the worst-case scenarios are by no means inevitable, and suggest that appropriate policy and structural changes could avoid collapse, if not pave the way toward a more stable civilisation.

The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure fairer distribution of resources, and to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth:

"Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion."

Compare this with the prediction of by book, "The Rise and Fall of the American Middle Class," pages 343-347:

"What we are seeing today, with this economic crisis is the fruit of the 30 years of Reagan’s supply side or trickle-down economics. Until, and unless, we reverse it and return the jobs back home through the Alexander Hamilton-like protectionist trade policies, most of us will be standing at the door of the elevator waiting for the driver to return and take us back up to an upper floor with 10% unemployment being the norm.
 “President Grover Cleveland in the 1888 State of the Union address had this to say:
“The gulf between employers and the employed is constantly widening, and classes are rapidly forming, one comprising the very rich and powerful, while in another are found the toiling poor. As we view the achievements of aggregated capital, we discover the existence of trusts, combinations, and monopolies, while the citizen is struggling far in the rear or is trampled to death beneath an iron heel. Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.” 
 This unsustainable condition continued to retrogress until it reached a point in 1929 where the system collapsed from lack of consumers who could afford to buy the products they were making. In 1928, one year before the global economic collapse, the wealthiest .001% of the U.S. population owned 892 times more than 90% of the nation’s citizens. There are many micro theories for the collapse of the economy then but the lack of consumers permeates all of them. As bad as it was then, it’s worse now! Today, the top .001% of the U.S. population owns 976 times more than the entire bottom 90%. This again is not sustainable, and makes for a very volatile economy.
 The recent financial crash was a result of too much money in the hands of too few people who had nothing to spend it on. Their larder was full! Had it not been for help from the government, we well may have had a collapse worse than in 1929. Bailing the banks out, however, did nothing for the average American who was thrown out of work by the collapse of the building industry and the collateral reduction in business activity. The obvious reaction would be a healthy application of Keynesian Economics. Ironically it was resisted by the very ones who survived only because of it; financial aid from government. The decision by the Supreme Court giving corporations all the privileges of being deemed a “person” without any of the responsibilities enabled them to funnel money into the electoral process and determine the outcome of elections.
 We literally, now  have a government at the federal level that is de facto owned by international corporations. With the weakening of our government as a protective entity, we are in real danger of becoming what Marc Bloch describes as a “feudal society” in his book by that name, with government by, for and of the rich. It’s a cold hard fact that there is no such thing as laissez faire. It can’t exist for long. Either you have a government that controls business or business that controls government. A healthy stable economy requires a balance – as we had from the end of WWII until the slow dismantling of New Deal legislation and the rebirth of supply side economics. Capitalism is a harsh appeal to selfishness and unchristian darwinistic survival of the fittest. Its sole redeeming quality is that it has been very effective at producing goods and it will only continue to do this as long as good government prevents it from emasculating itself.
 I won’t be here but our progeny will. We have four children, all adults now, of course, 14 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. In addition, our brothers and sisters all have children and grandchildren.  I can’t count the cousins. I am not able to wash my hands of the whole mess that greed and selfishness has made of my country because my genes will still be around…until the end. Every living organism has a life cycle; birth, growth, maturity, degeneration, atrophy and death. The same is true of states/empires. All have fallen and all will. I believe the end of the United States as a great dominating empire is about here. I think my generation’s life cycle runs parallel to the blossoming and impending fall of our nation as an exceptional society.
 There are multiple reasons given by historians for the fall of the Roman Empire: Here are a few that are most applicable to the USA, the most dominant empire since Rome:
  1. Antagonism between the Senate and the Emperor (Legislative, Executive and Judicial)
  1. Decline in Morals
  1. Political Corruption
  1. Fast expansion of the Empire
  1. Constant Wars and Heavy Military Spending
  1. Failing Economy
  1. Unemployment of the Working Classes
  1. Decline in Ethics and Values
 While all of these problems exist in the United States,  the most dangerous ones are the wars and the economy. The other six exacerbate the two primary problems.
 The American people, it seems, are bored with war. Like a reality show that's gone on too long, it ceases to shock, shame or even interest. Recently, when pollsters asked what the most important problems facing the country are, just 3 percent mentioned Afghanistan, the war of choice at that time. Even when combined with Iraq it had not reached double digits for several months. In a CBS poll it did not register at all. A Pew poll the same month found that just 23 percent said they were following the situation closely. And they do not like what they see. Polls show that 60 percent of Americans believed Afghanistan is a lost cause, and roughly half compared it to Vietnam and favored a timetable for withdrawal.
 The war profiteers have done it. With the help of two administrations, including Obama’s, they have converted an act of mass murder into an endless war attracting very little public concern.  The rich folks' kids are not involved, there is no draft, the voters were distracted with an extension of a deficit bulging tax cuts and we are borrowing from a communist nation to pay for it. What's not to like, at least until some future group of voters are forced to pay for it....somehow. And the profits just keep rolling in.
  As Milo Minderbinder, the war profiteer extraordinaire of Heller's Catch 22, said, "In a democracy, the government is the people, Milo explained. "We're the people, aren't we? So we might as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry."
 Halliburton Chevron, ExxonMobil, Blackwater and many others, with the swinging door between the Bush White House and the corporate world, has made this a fait accompli! America has become, or maybe I should say has been for some time, the most war-like country in history, only now the corporations are in charge. How has this happened?
 Personally, after serving reluctantly during the Korean War, I was through with war, or hoped and thought I was. I believe most Americans felt the same way. Then along came Viet Nam, a totally political and needless war. I think that, for the most part, our government was honorable in its first. It became more and more political, more and more deadly and more and more needless. It ended tragically and we lost. We were no longer undefeated.
 Again, many of us were through with war and hoped that the USA was too. Wrong again. There are just too many people of power who benefit or think they would benefit by war. I won't go into those people and their reason now but they learned a lot from Viet Nam; to the extent possible, isolate the public from the war. The Neocons made sure the military was all volunteer...avoid the war awareness that democratic participation produces! Avoid public awareness of the true cost in human life and fiscal cost by privatization. Who cares that a private contractor, a mercenary, is killed? Avoid contemporary awareness of the fiscal cost by borrowing. Who cares about the war if we are not taxed and are not required to make ANY sacrifice?
 9/11 provided a fortuitous opportunity for making war. Of course, we made war with the wrong country and with tragic consequences but a profitable war all the same; and that's the important thing to Milo Minderbinder and the Dick Cheneys of the world.
 Now, in addition to fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we've become embroiled in still another never ending war; this, while we are occupying South Korea, Iraq, and in a sense, Germany and Japan. We will stay in these countries indefinitely relieving their governments of the expense of a military, and who knows how long we will stay in a shooting war in Afghanistan or how involved we will subsequently be in Libya, particularly now that nobody really cares and of which fewer and fewer will be aware. Make no mistake about it, pulling our troops out of these countries doesn't end our involvement or expense.  They are replaced by private contractors or American trained and financed locals - whose loyalty is questionable.
 The attack on the middle class is more insidious than the attack on the Twin Towers. The plight of the Libyans is truly sad. The plight of 15 million out-of-work Americans and their families is sadder and it is at home, where our military should be.
 What does this portend for our national well-being? Wealth is usually needed to underpin military power, and military power is usually needed to acquire and protect wealth. While worrying about their foes, states playing in the world arena must constantly maintain a delicate internal equilibrium. Armies are required for security, but they cost money. Military superiority by itself is often deceiving, since it may be weakening a state's ability to compete economically and fund future conflicts.
 The combination of the U.S.'s declining rate of industrial growth and its extensive military commitments spells trouble: "Decision-makers in Washington must face the awkward and enduring fact that the sum total of the United States' global interests and obligations is nowadays far larger than the country's power to defend them all simultaneously." Even aside from this dilemma, American dominance is on the wane, not because the nation is growing poorer or weaker but because others are becoming richer and stronger. We can expect both China and Japan to improve their shares of world power; if the European Community can submerge national disputes and agree on common goals, then it too will find its wealth and influence increasing. The Soviet Union possesses a vast military machine and a stagnant economy; uh-oh for the U.S.S.R. India could be an awakening giant.
 It simply has not been given to any one society to remain permanently ahead of all the others.  The threat to the interests of the United States can come from a failure to adjust sensibly to the newer world order.  I see no American  leaders or movements on the horizon that will recognize the fact that a healthy survival depends on our accepting a diminishing status gracefully. But until it is convincingly refuted by other theorists or the years ahead, The rise and fall of the great powers stands as a fascinating response to ancient questions about the life-span of nations.