Tag Archives: Claude Tate

Claude R. Tate, Jr.

Claude Tate, an indispensable teacher in the BLS Program since its inaugural semester, passed away suddenly this past Thursday, April 25. He was in Hendersonville, where he and his wife of 35 years, Suzanne, have a mountain getaway.

Claude came to the BLS Program by way of his enrollment in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (his second master’s degree), during which he studied under Dr. Stephen Ruzicka, who has been involved in the BLS Program since its conception. Claude’s love of learning and teaching, his humanitarian spirit, and his interests in widely varied topics of learning made him a perfect fit for the BLS Program from the beginning.

Originally a native of Ossipee, NC, Claude began his college career at Rockingham Community College just out of high school. He finished his Bachelor of Arts in history at Appalachian State, before coming to UNCG for his first Master of Arts, also in history, and education coursework toward his Advanced Competencies certification. He taught history at Southwestern Randolph High School for twenty-eight years before retiring in 2008. Meanwhile, he had completed his second Master of Arts, in liberal studies, and begun teaching online for the BLS Program. A lifelong learner and teacher, Claude enjoyed the opportunity to teach students at a higher level and in more esoteric subjects. After his retirement from SRHS, he also enjoyed the fact that teaching online allowed him the mobility to teach from his home in Asheboro, his mountain getaway in Hendersonville, or wherever else his family or interests took him.

Claude had a knack for engaging students in difficult subjects and for bringing struggling students to the joy of learning. He was a consummate teacher, even in retirement from a career as a teacher.

claude150x135

Dr. Ruzicka, who taught Claude in the MALS Program and introduced him to the nascent BLS Program in 2004, remembers that Claude “was always simultaneously a learner and teacher,” and that he “pursued advanced degrees both for his own sake and for what he could add to his teaching.” He observes that Claude would take on developing and teaching new courses in order to broaden his own understanding of the world. As Dr. Ruzicka puts it, Claude was “a wonderful big thinker and relentless interpreter, who always sought and found links and interconnections among seemingly disparate ideas and events. His own intellectual vitality made long dead people, unseen places, and forgotten events come alive as part of a timeless web of meaning.  He gave himself over selflessly to students for nearly 40 years.”

Claude’s wide variety of interests is reflected in the posts he wrote after being conscripted as a contributor to the BLS Program blog. He immediately jumped on the rapidly rising cost of higher education, and wrote a few other posts on such political topics as (in no particular order) the resurgence of the American Right, the problem of explosive population growth, and the insidious power of congressional redistricting. But not all his posts were about political issues. He also wrote about excellent movies, gloriously bad movies, a rare little lightnin’ bug, and perhaps most telling of the wild diversity of his interests, a post in which he outs himself as an “old space nerd” and gives us the news from the final frontier. This is neither a complete nor a chronological list, but there are some links if you want to go back and read some of his posts.

Claude is survived by his wife of 35 years, Suzanne, by his adult son Matt and daughter-in-law Ashley, and by their children Mason and Adeline. He also has a surviving half-brother, a sister-in-law, a niece and nephews, great-nieces and a great-nephew.

There will be a Celebration of Life gathering this evening from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at The Exchange in Asheboro. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorials be made to Friends of DuPont State Forest, PO Box 2107, Brevard, NC 28712, or to a charity of the donor’s choice.

It’s So Bad it’s Good.

By Claude Tate

I devoted one of my blog entries last fall to a movie, Raise the Red Lantern,  which I felt was not only an excellent movie in and of itself, but a movie of educational value in that it provided a window onto traditional Confucian society in early 20th century China.  In fact, I liked it so much I’ve used it a number of times in classes and recommended it on numerous occasions to my BLS students.

Gong Li in Raise the Red Lantern

Gong Li in Raise the Red Lantern

This blog is also devoted to a movie, but a very different kind of movie. This movie is far removed from an excellent movie. It’s a bad movie. A very bad movie. The general consensus is that it is the worst movie ever made.  In fact, it is so bad that even some critics see it as good.  For example, Phil Hall on his film review site, Rotten Tomatoes, said the exceptionally poor quality of the movie made him laugh so much, he could not put it at the top of his ‘worst of’ list.  Another source, Videohound’s Complete Guide to Cult Flicks and Trash Pics, states that, “In fact, the film has become so famous for its own badness that it’s now beyond criticism.”

Also, this movie does not have the clear educational value that “Lantern” has. But if one defines educational value somewhat loosely—strike that, very loosely—it is not without some value.  In fact, I used it on several occasions in a face to face class I used to teach entitled “US History Since 1945″.  Since we had time in that class to go beyond the high points that one is limited to in the broad surveys, I tried to include things that would allow students to re-imagine what everyday life was like. Toward that end, when I covered the 1950s, among other things, I brought in clips of some of the old classic TV shows as well as some movies.  The atomic bomb and the possibility of nuclear annihilation became a part of our lives during the ’50s, so there were a number of movies made that were built around that theme. Some were good, while others were not so good. We also really became very much aware of space during this ’50s, so a number of movies were made devoted to that theme. Again, some were good, while others were bad. While I mainly used clips, when there was time, I would try to work in an entire movie using one or both of those themes. I tried a couple of the really good ones, but film-making has changed quite a bit since then, so students didn’t seem to appreciate the quality of what they were seeing. So I decided to look for stinkers.  Luckily, I not only found a stinker, the stench from this ‘masterpiece’ could encircle the earth several times over. Students generally really liked the movie, so I thought I would suggest it here.

Plan_9_poster

Plan 9 From Outer Space original poster

It is (music please) Plan 9 From Outer Space (made in 1956, released in 1959). It is a horror movie that incorporated an invasion from outer space theme as aliens planned to conquer the earth by raising the dead against us. It was conceived, produced, written, and directed by the infamous Edward D. Wood, Jr.  After years of criticism, in 1980 Michael Medved and Harry Medved named it the “worst movie ever made” and awarded it their Golden Turkey Award.  That same year Ed Wood (who died in 1978) was also posthumously awarded the Golden Turkey Award as the worst director ever.  I don’t know whether any of the actors in the movie received any ‘worst’ awards for their performances, but a number of them should have. It also played at a Worst Films Festival in New Orleans, figured prominently in an episode of Seinfeld, and was the centerpiece of the movie, Ed Wood, (1994) which was directed and produced by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp.

Johnny Depp as Ed Wood

Johnny Depp as Ed Wood

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, I don’t want to spoil the beauty of it by saying too much about the number of ‘gems’ it contains. But a few hints will not hurt.  Bela Lugosi was going to make a comeback with this movie, but died after only a few test shots. Ed, ‘ingeniously’ included those few shots on a number of occasions in the movie. For other shots, his wife’s chiropractor, who looked nothing like Lugosi, was the stand in. That is why the DVD released through Image Entertainment, states “Almost Starring Bela Lugosi” on the cover.  The special effects are also a thing of beauty as the flying saucers are campy even for the ’50s.  And one just has to love how night turns to day and back to night in back to back scenes. But if you wish to know more, a plot summary can be found on “The Movie Club Annuals…” website.

I own the DVD. I just had to have a physical copy. But it is in the public domain, and can be accessed on YouTube here.   You should also be able to download it from other sources.

Ed Wood

Ed Wood

By the way, Ed Wood made movies before and after this one.  I have not seen them so I cannot attest to their quality, but given his talent for movie making he showed in Plan 9 and the titles, I would assume they are bad also.  But movies evidently weren’t his only passion.  He wrote a large number of books, which I have not read nor intend to, but from the sampling of titles I’ve seen, he seems to have been just as good at writing books as making movies. Ed also led an interesting personal life which you get some hint of in the movie, Ed Wood.  If you want to find out more about Ed or his other “artistic” endeavors, you’re on your own.  I’m only recommending Plan 9 From Outer Space.

If you plan to watch Plan 9, I would suggest you watch Ed Wood first.  I think it will help you understand and appreciate both Ed and Plan 9 since it focuses on Ed’s early career and the making of this ‘masterpiece’.  By the way, Ed Wood is a very good movie. It won two Academy Award, one for Best Supporting Actor (Martin Landau), and one for Best Makeup (Rick Baker, Ve Neill, and Yonlanda Tousseing).  Unfortunately, this movie is not in the public domain so you will need to rent it.

Vampira (Maila Nurmi) in Plan 9

Vampira (Maila Nurmi) in Plan 9 From Outer Space

I would also suggest you watch it with friends. It’s always more fun to see an awful flick with friends as they may see things to make fun of you may miss. So I guess it has value beyond just its dubious educational value. It’s a great excuse for friends to get together.

News From the Final Frontier

by Claude Tate

This is not something I normally put out for public consumption, but maybe the time has come.  I’m a space nerd, and have been since I first became aware of rockets.

Neil Armstrong on the Moon

Neil Armstrong on the Moon

I can’t remember when I was first introduced to rockets, but I do remember seeing the launches of the first manned flights in the auditorium of my elementary school.  I remember our teacher taking us to the auditorium where a single TV was placed on a stand. It was a small country school with few resources, so while I don’t remember whether it was the only TV in the school or not, it may well have been. At least it was the only one I was aware of. Our class and a number of others would sit there staring at the rocket sitting there on the pad on that small, grainy, black and white television way down there on the stage. The early Mercury flights always had delays, so often it would take some time before the big moment happened. But it always happened.  The rocket would come alive and lift majestically for the heavens. It only lasted for ten seconds or so, but what a magnificent ten seconds. I was hooked. A fire was lit that still burns today.

Last year, politics dominated our news. John King is probably doing something to torture that touch screen election map he stood in front of every day, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out. I hope he got extra pay for that.  I was listening to NPR one day and they had a story about a 5 year old being shown a picture of President Obama. When they asked him if they knew who that person was, he said “I’m Barack Obama and I sponsored this message”.

But while everyone seemed to be focused on every word that was uttered in the political arena, there were some significant things happening on the final frontier; some of which received attention, some did not. While the following does not comprise a comprehensive list of everything that happened, these four events stood out for me.  One was a milestone, two signified the passing of an era, and the other was a WOW! event for NASA.

The Voyager Interstellar Mission

First, a milestone was reached as the two Voyager spacecraft began leaving the solar system.

Voyager Spacecraft (Both Voyagers were identical)

Voyager Spacecraft (Both Voyagers were identical)

Their mission can be broken down into two parts. The first part was to increase our knowledge of the solar system. Voyager 1, launched in September of 1977, did flybys of Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 2 was launched in August of 1977, and in addition to flybys of Jupiter and Saturn, also flew by Uranus and Neptune. The second part, the Voyager Interstellar Mission or VIM began after Voyager 2 passed by Neptune.  The VIM consists of three phases, the termination shock phase, the heliosheath exploration, and the interstellar exploration phases.  Both are now in the heliosheath exploration phase. We do not know how thick this environment is, so we cannot determine exactly how long they will be in this phase, but it will probably be several years.  After that, it will be interstellar space.  They are still operating like champs and have enough power to last until around 2020. After that they will drift.  And providing neither are hit by anything, Voyager 1 will come within 1.6 light years of a star called AC+79 3888, and Voyager 2 will pass within 4.3 light years from Sirius. And then, who knows.

The Retirement of the Space Shuttle Fleet

A Typical Space Shuttle Launch

A Typical Space Shuttle Launch

The next two events signaled the passing of an era.  First was the retirement of the Space Shuttles and their final trips to their respective exhibition sites.

The Space Shuttle flew 135 missions and was the face of the American space program for 30 years, from 1981 to 2011. The accomplishments of Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor are far too numerous to list here. But two things that really stand out to me were the contributions it made to the construction of the International Space Station, which would probably have been impossible without the Shuttle, and the placing into orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Enterprise Being Flown Over New York To Her New Home

Enterprise Being Flown Over New York To Her New Home

Enterprise was the first orbiter built, and while it never flew in space, was essential to refining the technology and design for the other Shuttles. It has been moved from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to the Intrepid Sea, Air &Space Museum in New York City.

Endeavor at home in Los Angeles (shuttles are big)

Endeavor at home in Los Angeles (shuttles are big)

In October Endeavour was moved to the California Science Center in Los Angeles.  Shuttle Atlantis has been moved to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in Florida and will be placed on display in 2013. Discovery replaces Enterprise at the Smithsonian. It was heart-warming to see so many people turn out to see the shuttles make their final voyages to their respective retirement destinations.

The Death of Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong

The other event that signified the passing of an era was the passing at of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, at the age of 82 from complications following bypass surgery.

Armstrong, a Navy pilot during the Korean War, served as a civilian test pilot until being selected as part of the second ‘class’ of astronauts in September of 1962. He was one of two civilian astronauts (the preference was for military test pilots) and the first American civilian to go into space when he commanded Gemini 8 in March of 1966. He was selected as commander of the Apollo 11 crew in December of 1968. The other members of the crew were Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

Apollo 11 left on its voyage on July 16, 1969.  His coolness under pressure was legendary; a trait that would serve him well in those last few seconds over the moon.  In the final seconds, as the lunar module, Eagle, descended to the surface of the moon, the landing computers became overloaded.  When Armstrong saw they were headed for an unsafe landing site, he took over and manually flew the Eagle to a safe touchdown some distance away. The folks at NASA were worried, but they should not have been. As it turned out, while estimates of the amount of fuel left has varied over the years, the number most often cited is that they had under 20 seconds of fuel left when they landed.

The Apollo 11 crew:Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.

The Apollo 11 crew:
Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin.

The landing took place on July 20, 1969.  I was among those millions around the world who were glued to the television and listened to the NASA audio and animations as the Eagle approached the moon; heard Armstrong describe the descent to Mission Control in Houston; and felt that feeling of pride as he said, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”  I was still there when after several hours of rest and preparation, Armstrong opened the hatch of the Eagle, attached a TV camera to its leg and descended the latter to the moon’s surface.  And I watched and listened on live TV as his first boot touched the moon and he uttered those famous words, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” In 1960 our rockets were blowing up on the pad and just nine years later, we were walking on the moon. Words simply cannot fully capture what America accomplished in July of 1969.  The closest I can come is to say it was beyond extraordinary.

After the moon landing, Armstrong could have cashed in and made untold millions of dollars.  Instead, he chose to return to Ohio and lead a quite life. He taught aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati from 1971 to 1979, worked on his farm, served on several commissions including the investigation of the Challenger explosion, accepted membership on several boards, and took a few jobs as a spokesman for companies he believed in. But until the end, he insisted he was no hero.  He was only doing his job and was one of many who were responsible for the moon landing. NBC had an excellent story of his death and also those first steps on another world.

His family released a statement after his death responding to the many who had asked what they could do to honor Neil.  It stated that in addition to honoring his service, accomplishment and modesty, when you look at the moon, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

The Curiosity Mission

The other event may not equal the moon landing, but I would still classify it as a WOW! event, the landing of Curiosity on Mars.

Curiosity, which was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, made a powered soft landing on Mars August 6, 2012.  The landing used a technique never before attempted and was nothing short of amazing. The following description is taken from the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Fact Sheet.

Engineers designed the spacecraft to steer itself during descent through Mars’ atmosphere with a series of S-curve maneuvers similar to those used by astronauts piloting NASA space shuttles. During the three minutes before touchdown, the spacecraft slowed its descent with a parachute, then used retrorockets mounted around the rim of an upper stage. In the final seconds, the upper stage acted as a sky crane, lowering the upright rover on a tether to the surface.

And it all worked perfectly.  We have sent a number of unmanned missions to Mars; missions that have yielded a great deal of information about Mars.  But Curiosity is by far the most sophisticated unmanned probe we have ever launched, and has the potential for advancing our knowledge of Mars exponentially. For more information on this amazing mission, go to NASA’s homepage for the Mars Science Laboratory Mission.  A good place to start when you reach the page is the Fact Sheet I referenced above.  It is under Mission Resources located on the right side, and it provides an excellent overview of the mission.  The scope of Curiosity’s abilities is nothing short of amazing.

Self Portrait by Curiosity on Mars

Self Portrait by Curiosity on Mars

We will not be sending men back to the moon anytime soon. And I was disappointed when our new moon program was cancelled.  And presently we have no vehicle to send astronauts to the International Space Station. But we are moving forward into that final frontier. Private U.S. companies are developing the vehicles that will soon be sending Americans back into in a few years.  SpaceX has already developed a rocket and capsule that has begun making supply runs to the space station, and will soon have the capability to send men into space. NASA, in addition to continuing to send men to the space station and someday to an asteroid and Mars, will be undertaking missions that will increase our knowledge of the earth and unlock the secrets of the solar system.  And hopefully in the near future, the James Webb Space Telescope will be ready for launch. The James Webb Space Telescope may not sound as exciting as some of the other missions, but it should extend our vision to the edge of the universe.  And of course, Hubble continues to make discoveries that prove the universe is far more magical and wonderful than we ever imagined.

Our future in the final frontier is bright. And for this old space nerd, it’s going to be exciting.

Congressional Redistricting: Where the Real Power Lies

By Claude Tate

We hear the names of those who sway influence in America every day. We are familiar with those who lead our federal government. The President and the Executive Branch obviously have a major impact, as do the members of Congress and the Supreme Court. We are also familiar with the leaders of our state and local governments. And of course the CEOs of our major corporations, banks, etc. are also powerful in terms of shaping our future.  We even hear about people who develop new technologies that impact our lives. But there are others who also impact our lives in major ways that are not in the news every day.  In fact, I would say that few of us even know they exist. They are the people who toil behind the scenes to shape the choices we have when we go to the polls. They are, according to an article by Robert Draper in the October issue of The Atlantic magazine, “The League of Dangerous Mapmakers”.

Tom Hofeller

Tom Hofeller

Draper’s article focuses on one of those mapmakers, Tom Hofeller.  As the article states in its opening paragraph, every ten years following just behind the census takers, “Tom Holfeller takes up anew his quest to destroy Democrats. He packs his bag and his laptop with its special Maptitude software, kisses his wife of 46 years, pats his West Highland white terrier, Kara, and departs his home in Alexandria, Virginia, for a United States that he will help carve into a jigsaw of disunity.”

As allowed by the Constitution, every 10 years following the census, the 435 congressional districts are redrawn (normally by the state legislatures) so they represent population increases, decreases, and shifts. The framers of the Constitution allowed this so as to “keep democracy’s electoral scales balanced”.  But from the beginning; redistricting has been a “blood sport” that has used to keep some in power and others out of power. As Draper notes, in 1788 Patrick Henry engineered the creation of a district in Virginia that he felt would prevent James Madison from winning a seat in Congress by putting him in the same district as James Monroe, who he felt would defeat Madison. Madison won anyway, penned the Bill of Rights, and became President.  And when Madison’s second vice president, Elbridge Gerry, was governor of Massachusetts, he helped create a district shaped like a salamander so as to benefit his party, thus the origin of the term, gerrymander.

Elbridge Gerry

So redistricting has had a long history in America. And it has been practiced by both parties. But today there is a difference. Thanks to people like Tom Holfeller the process has become far more precise. In the weeks leading up to the 2012 election, I saw a poll that concluded only about 50 or so seats out of 435 were even in contention. I saw other polls which put the number even smaller. In those other approximately 400 districts, they were going to go Democrat or Republican regardless of who was running.  What that means is that the candidates in those ‘safe’ districts do not have to listen to the other side. They do not even have to appeal to ‘the center’. So we are electing representatives who do not have to compromise once they get into office. In fact, in the recent elections, a number of veteran members of Congress lost because they had the gall to listen to the other side and compromise.  I recently saw a statement by a candidate, and I cannot recall off-hand who it was, who proudly stated he would never compromise. Our government cannot function without compromise.  It’s interesting how polls show an extreme dissatisfaction with Congress for this attitude which produces gridlock, yet we continue to elect the people who only represent the extremes. And that is due in large part to folks like Holfeller (he works for Republicans, but Democrats have their ‘Holfellers’ too).

“The Gerry-Mander”

The article caught my attention because it focused on the redrawing of districts in Texas and North Carolina. The new Republican legislature in North Carolina hired Holfeller to redraw our lines while Texas did not. Due to our past, both states must have their districts approved by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act to show the new districts are not discriminatory.  Texas has run into a number of problems. But in NC, while cases have been brought claiming discrimination, things are far more calm because Holfeller makes it a point to not get too greedy. There are still several ‘safe’ Democratic districts.  Mel Watt’s 12th district is safe, as is G.K. Butterfield’s 1st district.  David Price’s 4th district was also preserved as a safe Democratic district.  (Butterfield, Watt, and Price won re-election). But Price’s district was restructured dramatically so as to remove much of the Democratic base from Brad Miller’s 13th district.  With his prospects for re-election in the new 13th district dim, Brad Miller decided not to run. A Republican, George Holding, now represents the new 13th district.  Moderate (Blue Dog) Democrats such as Mike McIntyre (7th district) and Heath Shuler (11th district) were put in districts less favorable to re-election.  McIntyre chose to run in the new district. (As of this writing, with all precincts reporting, McIntyre was holding a 378 vote lead, but I’m sure there will be a recount.)  Heath Shuler’s district had included the entire southwest mountains.  While the majority of that area votes Republican, Asheville and the Swannanoa valley to Black Mountain normally votes Democratic, and were responsible in large part for Rep. Shuler’s two election victories.  Holfeller and the NC legislature took those Democratic leaning areas out of the mountains and put them into a district with Gastonia, Rutherfordton, Shelby, etc., which is solidly Republican. Asheville may have little in common with the communities in their new district, but that does not matter.  What matters is that a Republican will be guaranteed to represent the new 11th district. (Mark Meadows, a Republican, is the new Representative from the 11th district.)  And with Asheville and the Swannanoa valley now in the 10th district, Asheville’s power to impact congressional elections has been taken away. (Patrick McHenry, a Republican, won re-election in the new 10th.)  Another moderate Democrat, Larry Kissell (8th district), decided to run, but the environment is far less favorable to a Democrat in his new district.  (He was beaten by Republican Richard Hudson.)  Due to the work of Holfeller and the Republican-led legislature, our congressional delegation has shifted dramatically in favor of Republicans.  Before the 2012 election our delegation was composed of 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans. Now there are 4 Democrats (including McIntyre) and 9 Republicans. Holfeller did his job well.

NC Congressional Districts per S.L. 2011-403

And since the legislature also draws up the districts for the NC House of Representative and NC Senate, barring a major shift in population or a major event, the new districts that were drawn based on the 2010 census will ensure Republicans will maintain power in Raleigh, and in our congressional delegation, probably for the next decade.  And since the legislature is involved in the process in some form in the majority of the other states, the party that gained the majority in 2010 will likely shape their state and its congressional delegations for some time to come also.  And nowhere will they be looking at balancing the districts so both Republicans and Democrats will have an equal shot at winning office.

It is obvious that there are problems with how we handle redistricting. But what is the solution? Some have suggested that bipartisan commissions be created to handle the process. Various models of bipartisan commissions are used in some states now. Five states use an ‘advisory commission’ to draw the state maps, which are then presented to the legislature.  Ohio and Rhode Island use an advisory commission for their congressional districts also.  However, in most cases, the legislature is not bound by their maps.  And some states use backup commissions who will draw the maps if the legislature fails to pass a plan. Seven states use ‘politician commissions’ where certain elected officials separate from the legislature are chosen to devise the maps. And six states use what is called ‘independent commissions’ that minimize the input of elected officials by forbidding both legislators and other elected officials from serving.  An explanation of the various models and how each state determines the legislative districts can be found at http://redistricting.lls.edu/who.php. But partisanship makes its way into each of those processes also. Those who make the decisions have their own political views, and the outside consultants they all utilize, even if they do not work for either a Republican or Democratic organization, also have their personal political views. Maybe we just need to hope that Holfeller is correct when he says the system will correct itself.

NC 12th Congressional District

So while the news may give attention to those traditional power brokers, keep in mind that the real power may indeed lie with those anonymous mapmakers like 69 year old Tom Holfeller who are major forces in shaping who gets elected to our state legislatures, and who in turn, shape who gets elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Clock is Ticking

By Claude Tate

I’ve been thinking lately about the problem of overpopulation.

WARNING:  I cannot verify the following story from my sociology professor is true. However, I can verify it got my attention.

My first encounter with the population problem came early in my college career. I had a sociology professor who told us of an effort in a rural village in India to help women use the rhythm method of contraception. The health workers gave each woman of childbearing age an abacus.  Each day they were to move another bead to one side. They were told how it was safe to have sex once all the beads of a certain color were on one side. The abacus experiment did work exactly as planned. The women did not move one bead a day as intended. They simply moved all the beads that indicated danger over at once, and went on their merry way.  Of course in America we believe in using more reliable methods of birth control…or do we?

Recently, the Obama Administration got into some political hot water in issuing a requirement that birth control pills be covered in the new health reform legislation.  Schools, hospitals, and other institutions supported by the Catholic Church felt the government had overstepped its authority in requiring them to offer birth control through the health insurance policies they offered.  For many Catholics, this was a matter of faith.  But unfortunately for many politicians, it was just an opportunity. President Obama thus sought an accommodation. The accommodation, that the insurance companies that cover the costs of birth control must assume the full cost, took some of the air out of the opposition, but it still may have a political impact.  Only time will tell.

And at the time of this writing, a bill is moving through the Arizona legislature that would require employers to ask women who take birth control pills if they are using it for birth control or a medical condition. It will allow an employer to refuse to cover a prescription used for contraception. And according to the American Civil Liberties Union, the law would make it easier to fire a woman if the employer found out she took birth control medication for the purpose of preventing pregnancy. In other words, the beliefs of the employer would take priority over the beliefs and needs of female employees. It has already been approved by the House, and as of this writing, is in the Senate Rules Committee. If approved there, it will be considered by the full Senate.  Whether it will pass or not or what the specifics of the final bill will be is still up in the air, but the fact that it is actually being considered by a state legislature is disturbing. I wonder if those opposed to medicine to prevent unwanted pregnancies would allow insurance companies to buy abacuses. Who knows, maybe they will work this time.

They call the time leading up to elections the silly season. But for this election cycle, we may need some new descriptors. I can see the arguments of the opponents of abortion.  But I find it difficult to believe that insurance coverage for medication to prevent pregnancy be denied, especially in a world whose human population has just passed 7 billion people and counting.

Our world is facing many problems.  In fact, their number is so daunting it’s simply hard to wrap one’s mind around them.  I may deal with some of the others in future contributions, but for this blog I thought I would focus on one problem, that of overpopulation. But as I thought about it, I realized it was simply too broad to deal with in such a limited format as overpopulation is a factor in one way or another in so many of the problems we face today. So, I decided to limit my discussion to only one aspect of the problem, the impact of our increasing population on the future of the biosphere. We are going forth and multiplying at an alarming rate.  And for the earth, that means we are running through its resources at exponential rates.  Mineral resources are growing more and more scarce, the problem of what to do with waste products is growing worse on land and on sea (there’s a major floating trash dump in the Pacific that we do not know how to deal with), fresh water is being depleted and is already running low in many areas, the demand for food is leading to deforestation on a massive scale, and plant and animal species are disappearing daily as natural habitats are destroyed or altered. And of course, regardless of what some still say, we are changing our climate.  If something is not done to rein that growth in, and rein it in soon, we will reach the point where the planet’s biosphere simply will not be able to support any more humans.  We will reach its “carrying capacity”.  And the entire biosphere will be impacted.  Life is tenacious. It will continue. Human life will even probably continue. But it will be different.

As you can see, even introducing the impact of overpopulation of the biosphere is simply too complex to adequately deal with within this space. So I searched for some websites that would introduce this issue to anyone who may be interested in the impact of overpopulation and the environment.  So I typed in ‘population growth and the environment’ and received 5,480,000 results. After closely reading 5,479, 999 websites, I settled on an essay from the website, 123helpme, called “The Population Explosion” .  It provides a nice, brief overview of some of the major environmental problems associated with the growing human population.

Note:  I was just kidding about reading ALL of those sites. I really read only a few hundred thousand or so before deciding on including “The Population Explosion”.

Obviously, we need to bring our population growth under control, but how to do that is still very much open to question. Any solution will involve among other things, something we deal with in the last unit of my BLS class, “Visions of Creation”; how we understand what it means to be human.  However, as with any problem, the ‘devil is in the details’.  And the details here will have implications for every human on the planet.  So any discussions of solutions must wait for another time and another place.

But I do know this… the clock is ticking.

Resurgence of the American Right

By Claude Tate

In my BLS class, “Self, Society, and Salvation” we devote a unit to problems of society.  In that unit we look at three different approaches to organizing society.  Each approach is designed to promote what it believes to be the best society.  The focus of aristocratic theory is to create an orderly society. We next look at liberalism, which seeks to create a society as free as possible. Our final lesson is on socialism, which strives to create a society that is fair and just. In each discussion we examine how those three approaches are manifested in America.  In our lessons on liberalism and socialism in particular, I try to emphasize how we have struggled from the start over how to create a society that is not only as free as possible, but also fair and just. I also try to emphasize how we see that struggle played out in the news every day.  This post concerns that struggle; a struggle that will only grow more intense in the coming months as the 2012 elections near.  And that intensity will be due in large part to the resurgence of the American Right.

In 2008 our economy suffered, for want of a better term, a melt-down that impacted every area of the economy. The specifics of what caused the “Great Recession” will be argued over for years to come much like the specifics of what brought on the Great Depression. But it is safe to say that the cause of the 2008 collapse was ideologically driven.  The drive for lower taxes and less regulation of business, which began to gain traction in the ‘70s and steadily gained ground through the ‘80s and ‘90s, dominated policy under the administration of George W. Bush.  Taxes were reduced. Regulations that could be eliminated were, areas where new regulations were needed were ignored, and people were put in charge of our regulatory agencies that had spent much of their careers fighting the very agencies they now lead. Our yearly budget surplus was quickly turned into a yearly deficit as revenues coming into the government failed to keep up with our spending. And businesses from Main Street to Wall Street were allowed to conduct business as they saw fit.  The gap between the rich and the middle class which had begun decades earlier widened at an increasing rate.  And both the government and individual citizens were going deeper into debt. But the stock market was soaring. All was well.  And if we had any doubts, President Bush and the Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson assured us the economy’s fundamentals were strong.  In retrospect their statements sounded much like the statements the leaders of business were making in September and October of 1929, weeks before the crash that signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.

But just as with 1929, statements of reassurance could not stop what happened to the economy in the fall of 2008. Capitalism depends on a sound banking system, and our major banks were failing. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed the government had to help them survive.  The economy as a whole was beginning to go into a tailspin; a tailspin that was feared would end in another Depression if the banks failed.  Thus TARP was passed under President Bush. Taxpayer money flowed to the major banks to save them from a catastrophe of their own making.  And it should be noted that our actions were not unique. Other Western nations took similar actions.  The American public did not rise up in protest. In fact, Democrats dominated the election of 2008 as they not only won the Presidency, but also increased their majority in the House, and clearly took control of the Senate. Prior to the election Democrats had relied upon two independents with whom they caucused to control the Senate by a 51 to 49 margin.  Virtually everyone agreed, the American Right was dead.  But the banking situation had not stabilized when President Obama took office in January of 2009, so he continued TARP.  And within weeks the Right started to show signs of life.  The defibrillator was the policies enacted to help the nation recover.  TARP led the way. We began to hear of banks that were being given taxpayer money to survive handing our large bonuses to many top executives. Their justification was that they needed to hold onto their talent.  This was the same talent that had almost destroyed them. The American public began to grow restless. A movement was born, the Tea Party, which embraced the very ideology that had caused the collapse.  Anger that one would think should have directed at Wall Street and to the business practices that caused the collapse instead was being redirected at the government. A stimulus bill, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was passed, but due to Republican opposition, the final bill was too small to have a substantial impact on recovery.  It mitigated the impact of the economic downturn and saved many jobs, but it was not enough to pull us out. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, designed to tighten regulations on banks and cover loopholes that had allowed for dangerous speculation passed, but with opposition and resentment. And to save the automobile industry, the government loaned money to General Motors and Chrysler.  What in the past would have been hailed as necessary now was condemned as government interference in the private sector. Both are paying their loans back and GM is once again number one in sales. Thousands of jobs were saved and both are hiring back workers. (But still, Mitt Romney maintains we should have let them fail.)  And finally, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, an act very similar to a Republican proposal from the 1990’s, was vehemently opposed by Republicans and derided by the Tea Party and others as a government takeover of healthcare.  Misinformation was rampant. The government was not going to kill granny. (I loved a sign I saw a woman holding up at one of the “town meetings” which said, “Government, keep your hands off of my Medicare”.)

The anger against the government accelerated in the fall of 2010 leading to a Republican victory in the mid-term elections with Republicans not only taking over the House of Representatives, but many governorships and state legislatures. And many of those newly elected Republican officials vowed to reinstitute the policies that led to the collapse.  And that move to the right in the Republican Party has continued. Today we are even hearing of Social Security as we know it being dismantled, Medicare fundamentally altered, funding for our public schools and  universities being cut, and our universities called places where the “liberal elite” indoctrinate our young. (I refer to our indoctrination methods as “guerilla teaching”, but evidently the right has seen through us.) And that is the tip of the iceberg. How did this happen? How did an economic collapse that one would think should have opened a window of opportunity for the left instead lead to a resurgence of the right?

On January 9th my wife and I were coming home from the mountains, and as we normally do we were listening to NPR (otherwise known a propaganda tool for the liberal elite that should not be supported by taxpayers).  The guest on “The Diane Rehm Show” that day was Thomas Frank.  Mr. Frank, writer and former opinion columnist for “The Wall Street Journal”, had just published a new book, “Pity the Billionaire”, in which he explored the birth of the Tea Party phenomenon. I purchased the book at soon as we got home and read it immediately.  His is not the final word on the Tea Party and the rise of the Right, but the book does provide insight and in my view, is well worth reading.

From the bestselling author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a wonderfully insightful and sardonic look at why the worst economy since the 1930s has brought about the revival of conservatism

–From book description on Amazon.com

Economic catastrophe usually brings social protest and demands for change—or at least it’s supposed to. But when Thomas Frank set out in 2009 to look for expressions of American discontent, all he could find were loud demands that the economic system be made even harsher on the recession’s victims and that society’s traditional winners receive even grander prizes. The American Right, which had seemed moribund after the election of 2008, was strangely reinvigorated by the arrival of hard times. The Tea Party movement demanded not that we question the failed system but that we reaffirm our commitment to it. Republicans in Congress embarked on a bold strategy of total opposition to the liberal state. And TV phenom Glenn Beck demonstrated the commercial potential of heroic paranoia and the purest libertarian economics.
In Pity the Billionaire, Frank, the great chronicler of American paradox, examines the peculiar mechanism by which dire economic circumstances have delivered wildly unexpected political results. Using firsthand reporting, a deep knowledge of the American Right, and a wicked sense of humor, he gives us the first full diagnosis of the cultural malady that has transformed collapse into profit, reconceived the Founding Fathers as heroes from an Ayn Rand novel, and enlisted the powerless in a fan club for the prosperous. The understanding Frank reaches is at once startling, original, and profound.

Click here to listen to the interview of Mr. Frank my wife and I listened to from The Diane Rehm Show

Transcendence on a June Night

By Claude Tate

The topic area for this blog is designated as “Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Leisure, Family”, So naturally I thought about a little lightnin’ bug, whose scientific name is Phausis reticulate, but is commonly known as the blue ghost.

Image from the Encyclopedia Britannica

 

     “As humans we are born of the Earth, nourished by the Earth, healed by the Earth.  The natural world tells us:  I will feed you, I will clothe you, I will shelter you, I will heal you.  Only do not so devour me or use me that you destroy my capacity to mediate the divine and the human.  For I offer you a communion with the divine, I offer you gifts that you can exchange with each other, I offer you flowers whereby you may express your reverence for the divine and your love for each other.
In the vastness of the sea, in the snow-covered mountains, in the rivers flowing through the valleys, in the serenity of the landscape, and in the foreboding of the great storms that sweep over the land, and in all these experiences I offer you inspiration for your music, for your art, your dance.”

~From  the essay, “Evening Thoughts”, included in Thomas Berry’s 2006 book of the same name.

I was first introduced to Thomas Berry (a native and resident of Greensboro) in classes I took with Dr. Charlie Headington in the MALS program here at UNCG.  Sadly, Dr. Berry passed a few years ago, but fortunately, he left us with a considerable body of writings, some of which I’ve included in my BLS class, “Visions of the Creation”.  Thomas Berry’s legacy cannot be summed up easily.  As one of the world’s leading eco-theologians, he drew on numerous cultural, scientific, philosophical, and religious traditions to weave a narrative of a universe filled with mystery, wonder, and the sacred.  But to me, perhaps the most important message Dr. Berry imparted to us is that this knowledge and these insights are accessible to everyone. The earth stands ready to reveal its sacred knowledge, and show us our place and role, and what it means to be human. All we have to do is to pay attention.

Far too often, we only give the earth a passing glance as we go about our daily lives, but we do not really pay attention to it.  But from time to time, the earth will show us something so special that we must stop and pay attention. One such instance occurred to my wife and me last June.  It wasn’t one of Martin Buber’s “I/Thou” moments, but it was magical nonetheless.  Since I’m somewhat lazy, or maybe a should say extremely busy, I’ve pasted a portion of the letter my wife and I wrote to Our State in August of 2011 concerning our ‘stop and check this out’ moment.

“We read with great interest “Southern Lights “about the “blue ghost” fireflies in Henderson and Transylvania counties. About 10 pm on June 5 of this year, we hurriedly left our place outside of Etowah (10 miles NW of DuPont State Forest) to be with our son and his family as they awaited the birth of their second child in Hendersonville. At the foot of our mountain, near the French Broad River, there’s a large open valley.  That night the entire valley was positively aglow in fireflies, from the ground to the tops of the trees. While we wished we could have stayed longer, we could only stop briefly to appreciate this remarkable display as our granddaughter was on her way.

We had no idea why so many fireflies had gathered in that particular place until the arrival of our August edition of “Our State”.  We are now convinced that blue ghosts were responsible for this magical moment that heralded the arrival of a new life.

We have returned same time, same place but have never seen them in such abundance. But with a healthy granddaughter, a memorable sighting and another keepsake edition of Our State, we are blessed threefold! ”

The article “Southern Lights” was written by Diane Summerville.  There are several things that make them remarkable.  First, they are rare.  According to the article, blue ghosts only exist in a few places, and “Henderson and Transylvania counties are two of those places.” They can also be found in areas of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. One reason for this is that they are very fragile.  We referenced DuPont State Forest (the legislature recently changed its designation to DuPont State Recreational Forest) because due to the cool, moist climate, there are a number of colonies there. But even there, they only come out during late May and June when the temperature and humidity are just right.  Everything was ‘just right’ on that night in June when we saw them. Another reason they are rare is that there are very few females. So when the population of a colony drops, it may take years for them to re-establish themselves. So sighting them is special.  Also, their lights are special.  First, they are slightly bluish, thus the name, blue ghosts.  And rather than staying lit only a second or two like other fireflies, their lights stay lit for several seconds, and sometimes up to a minute. They don’t twinkle. So a few thousand blue ghosts will be far more visible than ordinary fireflies. That was why our valley looked so magical that night.

But understanding what lit up our valley on that June night has taken nothing away from the wonder we experienced. In fact, it has only enriched the memory. I’m sure Thomas Berry would agree.

If you are ever traveling to the Hendersonville area in late May or June, and have some free time, you may want to contact The Friends of DuPont Forest. They normally take two or three blue ghost tours each spring.  But sightings aren’t guaranteed. Conditions must be just right. Wonder cannot be ordered at a take-out window, and it doesn’t come with fries.

Image from the Blue Ghost Post blog of a blue ghost sighting.