November 18, 2017

History: Tipping points

Beginning of the French Revolution ... Storming the Bastille, Paris, July 14, 1789 ~ unknown artist

“That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended — civilizations are built up — excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfish and the cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin.” ~ C.S. Lewis
It occurred to me just this past week, as I stood in line at a local national retail chain store in Enid, as more self-checking devices were being installed, obviously supplanting the need for human checkers: At what point will the United States economy hit its tipping point?
By a tipping point, I mean at what point will machines and technology overtake our economy and our society, where fewer and fewer jobs mean fewer and fewer people able to actually afford items we now take for granted in our lives.
I mean, I don’t have to have a TV set in my house. What if I lost my job, or my job was reduced to the point I could no longer afford to replace an aging flat screen?
And, at what point will I be able to adequately feed myself, keep a roof over my head, afford my utilities and taxes and insurance and on and on and on?
If a machine or technology replaces me, that may all sound well and good for the people who developed that technology, who sell goods and services over and above basic human needs to sustain life, whose shareholders make bushel baskets of money on their investment. But, is that technology really good for the great masses of people, or just for the dwindling pool of people who can afford it?
Is there a point where we tip past the point of no return? Or, as in past civilizations and nations, at what point do people rebel and a revolution occurs?
There is an old saying that a few people starving and homeless in a society is pathetic, but tens of thousands of people starving and homeless can become a revolution.
I’m not saying the United States is headed for that tipping point, but then again, maybe we are and just don’t realize it — we can’t see the forest for immediate economic trees.
At what point in our history does the world of business and technology realize the sometimes human cost of advancements?
Interestingly, you can use the French Revolution in 1789 for some answers.
There were a number of reasons for the French people to take up arms and protest against their ruling class and governance, all complex at the time, and which would take volumes of space to explain.
But then, you get to the bottom line, the tipping point of French history, and it was the very simple fact that tens of thousands of peasants — the lowest working class in their society — were literally starving to death.
There was little money, weather had grown intemperate, crops had failed and food was quite a scarce commodity.
You see, life is quite simple when you boil it down to just a few absolute, basic needs.
Human beings need three essential things to stay alive: good air to breath and sustain bodily functions, food to fuel those functions, and water that is relatively free of bacteria, carcinogens or impurities that otherwise could contain disease or poisons that would kill you.
Take any of those three life essentials away and you have ... death.
Go back in human history to the caveman. They lived in caves to have a roof over their heads when it rained and snowed, to stay warm and dry so they could hunt and fish for food, be close to good water and just live and reproduce.
No iPhones, no internal combustion engines to drive cars and trucks, no electricity to run devices, no grocery or Target store to run to when the bread ran out, or you needed batteries for your flashlight.
They had food, water, air to breathe, fire to sustain warmth, and a place to stay in out of the elements — in this case the cave, which was provided by nature.
And … they had to rely on one another.
That was it.
They had to learn not to be killed by predators, be careful not to get too close to the fire, and figure out that the dead animal carcass in their water supply was making them sick or killing them.
Again, that was it for our earliest ancestors.
In 1789, women marched on the French royal palace at Versailles, begging for bread to feed their starving families.
Peasants eventually faced bayonets, bullets and cannon storming and taking the Bastille — and the French Revolution ignited.
I’m sure Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette thought that a revolution was unthinkable and could not happen in their opulent world — right up until the time their bloody heads rolled from the guillotine blade into a basket filled with straw.
Can we learn from history?
Maybe … maybe not.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to http://www.enidnews.com/opinion/columns/history-tipping-points/article_55231f17-0047-598a-914a-2db8c6e885f2.html

June 24, 2017

To be a rock and not to roll


What triggers your memories, your personal history flooding back to you from time past?
Is it a sight or a sound or a situation? Is it a song, a face, something painful you had not experienced in years, that suddenly came flooding back into your consciousness, until tears welled in your eyes and you were taken back to the day, the hour, the very moment you experienced whatever it was that brought out that powerful emotion?
That, my friends, is history. It’s not some writing in a textbook, it’s not some bit or piece on the History Channel, or a snippet in time you are watching on TV. Each of us is a history book, a history lesson, a life’s history. The older you get, the more that history book fills its pages.
I’ve written about this before, but it seems my history book of pages all are coming back to me at once.
And, I’m not talking about the “big” things in our lives. Those are a given. We will remember those as long as we live.
I’m talking about the little things, the stuff we have experienced in our day-to-day lives, maybe only in passing, maybe only for fleeting moments — yet they stay with us, tucked in our memories, tucked in our unconscious thoughts, packed away until they come springing back as real and as vivid as when we experienced them years before.
In the past few months, with the passing of my mom, memories flooded back on the day we buried her next to my dad, earlier this month in Waukomis Cemetery.
I’ve walked those many rows of graveyard stones countless times, seeing names inscribed that were real and vibrant people from my youth — names I took for granted.
They were people who lived in my hometown, faces I would most times irregularly see, but I knew them and they knew me.
And, they are gone now — but only in the sense they are no longer among us. That’s what memories are for — the good, the bad, the funny, the in-betweens we call everyday lives.
I spoke after the funeral with Gene Anderson, who has been around and involved in my small community and Enid since I can remember — who worked part time in his youth at our family weekly newspaper, the Oklahoma Hornet and Christy Printing.
He shared a few tidbits from his memory of our town, of my mom, of my family, both poignant and heart-felt.
As east-wind raindrops from a nearby rainstorm threatened, we shared how lucky we were to be able to grow up in a small town like Waukomis, in an era of American history that is singular to both of us, that is unique in our individual experiences.
When I went off to a big university in the fall of 1968, America was changing dramatically from those small-town lazy-day grade school and high school days in the late 1950s and ‘60s, that seemed like they would never end.
Remember looking at the clock above the teacher’s desk, and thinking that hour was the longest hour of your life?
I wished I had that hour back — all those hours I spent in school — but just for the nostalgia, and seeing again that they weren’t all that bad, or all that long.
I was watching and listening to a 2012 YouTube reprise of a then-live tribute from Washington’s Kennedy Center to the rock group Led Zeppelin.
Wow, talk about memories.
The group sprang upon the music scene in my first semester at OU, and many of their songs still are tucked away in my best memories.
The greatest rock band of all time — with four of the recognized greatest rock musicians of all time in singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, late drummer John Bonham, along with keyboards/bassist John Paul Jones.
And, as Ann Wilson and her sister Nancy rolled out “Stairway to Heaven” in a stirring tribute, I watched the faces of those still fabulously talented musicians sitting in balcony seats of honor, faces now furrowed, hair graying, their youthful looks replaced by the experience of old guys reliving the flower of their youth.
There were smiles and tears and obvious memories.

Led Zeppelin tribute

My generation grew up with the rock music of Led Zeppelin, The Band, The Who, Moody Blues, the Stones, Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison.
Music has been called the link we all share with one another. I don’t care who you are, what your beliefs are, what your politics or your religion, music is a common bridge we all walk across every day of our lives.
Listening to their music again returned me to my youth — my memories.
Many didn’t have the good fortune of growing up in small-town America, in the era I did.
To be a rock … and not to roll.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column at http://www.enidnews.com/opinion/columns/to-be-a-rock-and-not-a-roll/article_67ff1eb8-73d9-5ab2-9356-ac53b69c34e0.html

March 25, 2017

For whom the bells toll

Carillon of bells at Peter and Paul Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

On the future! how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells —
To the rhyming and the chiming of the bells!
~ “The Bells,” by Edgar Allen Poe

Was watching some news show a while back, can’t really remember when, but it quite possibly was a Sunday morning.
In the background to the newscast, the reporter was having to raise her voice above ringing bells from a nearby church, and memories came flooding back.
I lost all interest in her news story, and instead just listened to the melodic singing of the bells.
Here in 2017, I don’t hear bells ringing and chiming like I used to. Maybe they still ring in places, even here in Garfield County, and I am just not in the right spot to hear them — or the right time of day.
I miss the ringing of the bells.
When I was growing up and about age 11, my maternal grandparents took me on my first road trip away from my parents.
They lived in El Reno, and I didn’t get to see them nearly as often as my Christy grandparents, who lived just blocks away in a town of then 516 people.
They knew from the age of 10 I had developed a passion for the American Civil War. It’s all I ever talked about.
So, the three of us first drove to El Dorado, Ark., for my first and only visit with my great-grandpa, who’s father had served as a lieutenant in a Pennsylvania regiment in the Union Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
I was in heaven talking to him, on an old Southern covered portico, with cane-back chairs, slated shades that kept out the sun but allowed a cooling breeze across the veranda, and helped to cool his high-ceilinged house.
Anyway, they took me to Vicksburg, Miss., for a two-day tour of the great Civil War battlefield there. Again … heaven.
As we reached our motel, amidst the heat and humidity and Southern charm of a Mississippi town, I distinctly remember bells from three churches chiming in the distance, all at once with different tones and most-charming sound.
I had never heard that before. Must have been about 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening, I’m not sure.
But I am sure of that melodic ringing, seemingly at a time when I was most carefree in my young life, soon overlooking the history and ambiance standing aboard an old paddle-wheel steamer on the Mississippi River, gazing up at the heights above where the quiet town stood, imagining the blazing guns, the sights and sounds and smells of Union gunboats exchanging fire with Confederate cannon.
And, I soon discovered church bells had been melted down during the war across the South to make into cannon.
Such are memories made.
But it occurred to me just this week, I don’t hear bells ringing from churches much anymore.
Maybe they do, and I’m just not in the right place to hear them — ensconced at a computer terminal composing pages for this newspaper.
I remember Sunday mornings, when church bells infrequently would ring in my home town.
I’m sure the school bell rang out in days past in Waukomis. I don’t remember them from my younger years, but the old school bell was restored and sits in a bell tower above my old high school today — but rather quietly.
I miss hearing bells.
Oh, I know church bells still ring out in cities across America today, but I wonder if their number is ever dwindling.
This nation’s most famous bell, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, is relegated just to tourist view, due to its rather large crack — a story all its own.
I know bells still ring across the British Isles, at great and old churches. Bygone cities and ancient cathedrals of Europe like London, Vienna, Florence, Paris and Cologne I’m quite sure have their share of tolling bells at certain hours of every day.
At times I long for the past, if only for a few brief moments. I don’t want to return to the past, for that is fruitless. There can be no progress by going back to the past, as we have already been there, done our thing and moved on. That is life, that is change, and though many are loath to change, it is inevitable.
At the same time, we should never forget the past.
Historical movies with bells marking time on four-masted sailing ships still hold a deep fascination for me.
I still long to hear — every now and then — the swinging and the ringing of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. 

January 7, 2017

The forgotten amendment

Colonial Minutemen stand ready on Lexington Common for British redcoats ~ Painting by Don Troiani

When was the last time you actually pulled out a copy of the Constitution of the United States and read the first 10 amendments to it, commonly called the Bill of Rights? Or, for that matter, just pulled it up on your computer screen or smartphone and read each and every amendment?
I thought so. Me either.
I was perusing the Bill of Rights for a previous column on the First Amendment, and couldn’t help but notice there is one tucked neatly inside the first 10, right after the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms, and before the Fourth, which is supposed to keep the government from unlawful search and seizure of property.
The Third Amendment to the Constitution is one we likely will never use or hear of, but it was placed rather highly among the Bill of Rights for a reason, and it must have been more than just a passing fancy for our Founding Fathers and American colonists.
“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
That’s what it says, and it seems odd to us today it would be in our basic rights as citizens to say such, and so boldly and in terse words.
In 1775, both pre and post, British soldiers — soldiers from a foreign country, albeit England as our mother country — were quartered amongst the population of America.
And boy, did it rankle our forefathers.
In researching the amendment, I found that the roots come to us directly from England, and became a contradictory wedge that eventually helped bring about the American Revolution and our split with England.
The British people, from whom the 13 Colonies sprang, saw standing armies as anathema, from having had a long history of standing armies throughout the history of Great Britain.
In the days prior to 1775 and the outbreak of revolution here in America, the British people both feared and loathed a standing army.
And from the National Constitution Center comes this explanation for that feeling transferring to America:
“During the Seven Years War between Britain and France, which also was called the French and Indian War, American colonists who had inherited the traditional English fear of standing armies resented having to billet British redcoats. Americans preferred to rely for their protection on local militia, not on professional soldiers.
Although the peace treaty of 1763 ended the war and ousted France from the North American continent, the British government believed it still needed tens of thousands of soldiers in America in order to police the newly acquired territories. Since the earlier English Quartering Act did not extend to the colonies, Parliament in 1765 passed a Quartering Act that set down the regulations for housing soldiers in the American colonies during time of peace.”
The colonists, most who had either come directly to America from the British Isles, or who were descended from British citizens, were required to provide barracks for the soldiers, and if they were not available, the troops were to be billeted in inns, stables and ale houses.
And, if these were insufficient, the governors and councils of the colonies were authorized to use uninhabited houses, barns and other buildings to lodge the soldiers.
And it went even further, saying the colonists were required to furnish provisions and necessaries for the troops, including firewood, bedding and beer.
OK, now you can see where this all was headed.
Once again, British Parliament was making American colonists do something that was not allowed in England — the billeting of soldiers in times of peace.
Today, we have a strong central government that more than has the resources to house, train and maintain our vast armed forces.
I mean, right here in Garfield County, the federal government maintains an Air Force training base that nestles along the southern border of Enid’s city limits, and has peacefully co-existed with Garfield Countians since its inception 75 years ago.
But take your mind back to 1775.
Because the French and Indian War had cost the British government an enormous debt having to raise, supply and fund an army on foreign soil (yes America was foreign soil back in 1775 to England), they expected the colonists to shoulder some of the financial burden.
Just a few of the acts of taxation on the colonies included the Sugar Act, Stamp Act and Townshend Acts — highly unpopular taxation.
So, when the Quartering Act was passed, it heaped one more perceived injustice on colonists — who had no say in the matter and no representation in Parliament.
And, in 1775, the Shot Heard Round the World at Lexington Common and Concord Green gave us revolution — and the Third Amendment.
Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle.