Why don’t people know this stuff?

A few days ago, a reporter walked out on the street after doing a story about the Supreme Court to see how much random passersby on the street know about the court. When asked how many justices are on the court, several people thought 35 sounded about right. When asked what the court does, some thought it passed bills.

Recently, news reports of a Pew Research Center study showed that half of all Americans don’t know six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.

Years ago, when Jay Leno was the host of the Tonight Show, he went out on a city street from time to time and asked people simple questions such as who’s the governor of your state and the kinds of questions that appear on a basic citizenship test. The studio audience laughed at the stupid answers.

My response to such things is why don’t people know this stuff?

Some say the schools are at fault. Some say we’re in the middle of the entitlement culture where folks think “it’s all about me” and don’t see any point in knowing what isn’t about them.

I don’t suppose high schools and middle schools have civics courses any more, but they must have some course that teaches students how the federal government is structured. If history is still being taught, it’s hard to see how students got through school without knowing about World War II and the Holocaust.

But when it comes down to it, it’s a shame studio audiences think ignorance about basic stuff is funny. Surprising, yes. Sad, yes. But hardly funny.

The latest incarnation of the “Weakest Link” is is currenlty airing on NBC. I’m surprised by the questions people miss. Some of the answers should be known by people in elementary or middle school. Okay, let’s stipulate that in a quiz show studio, things are a bit chaotic. But still, why don’t people know this stuff?

Some of my college professors thought it was more important to know how to find information when we needed it rather than having an encyclopedic memory of facts. Perhaps people today think they have no need to know stuff when all they have to do is go to Google or WikiPedia for the answer. Okay, that does make some sense.

Yes, I think we need a certain amount of knowedge just to function. Some basic facts and ideals. Enough stuff to make intelligent decisions about life, politics, career choices, &c.

I guess many people think “this stuff” doesn’t matter. If they think that, then I worry that one day we’ll all be governerned by the weakest link.

Malcolm

How many crutches do we need?

Aeon Trump Card. Thoth Deck

Some say that Tarot cards, I Ching hexagrams, thrown bones, and other methods of uncovering the future only tell us what we already know, showing us that we do not trust what we know or that it’s buried deep in our minds and needs to be remembered. So we have these crutches, then.

In general, I think many of us know what we should be doing, but put it off by leaning on various other crutches while we decide whether or not to do it. It’s as though the thing we know we should do seems risky and we need to make sure one way or another that it’s not as dangerous as it appears.

I Ching Hexagram 1

So we do research–books, websites, experts, college courses, etc.–all of which are good to a point but then, as we delay moving ahead, become more crutches. Spouses can become crutches, so too, siblings and parents and our next-door neighbors and colleagues and best friends. They don’t want us to change, leave town, become involved in a cause they’re less sure of, or even miss bowling night.

Most people who employ the usual crutches to “see” the future agree that the future is not fixed, but that it represents what will probably happen if nothing is done to alter it. I think that’s probably true, but add that I also think we’re creating that future knowingly or unknowingly. It’s better I think to realize we’re doing that rather than blundering ahead and then being “surprised” at what happens. Pretending that we don’t know we did it–created that future–is another crutch or, perhaps, a civilized form of plausible deniability.

Sometimes people who have been drunk wake up and can’t believe they did the things sober people claim they did while they were drunk. Since they don’t remember it, they can claim in the middle of their hangovers that they’re not responsible for whatever happened. Do you suppose we might do this even when we’re not drunk?

I suspect so. Being drunk is a crutch, I think, as is going through life acting like we’re drunk even when we’re sober. I wonder: are we afraid to make commitments, to take this job rather than that job, adopt viewpoint ABC rather than viewpoint XZY? As long as we don’t commit, we probably feel free to make another choice later. Some people like keeping their options open, often until “outside forces” start eliminating those options.

A belief in fate is, perhaps, a large crutch. We say the cruel hand of fate caused whatever it caused or that life got in the way, believing that’s absolution. A comforting thought, but I don’t buy it. Who caused this “fate,” I want to ask?

We don’t need Tarot cards or coins/yarrow stalks and an I Ching book to tell us the answer because we already know.

–Malcolm

“Fate’s Arrows,” the latest novel in the Folk Magic Series, is on sale on Kindle today for only 99₵.

Everybody knows everybody here, so a drowning brings out all the neighbors

A steady line of cars has come and gone at the house across the road where the parents of the 34-year-old man who drowned in a nearby lake yesterday live. The son died on his father’s birthday and his daughter-in-law’s child’s birthday.

Lake Allatoona, GA.

We don’t know them well, but well enough to know the news and that the family gathered at the son’s house last night and told stories into the night.

Now, nothing will never be the same. Those who remain seem to bear the brunt of a family member’s death, for they are still here and have to cope with it, settle all that needs to be settled–his house, his company, his will, all he left behind.

I cannot imagine a parent celebrating his/her own birthday again with this tragedy inscribed on the date. My brother and his wife lost their son to suicide and they make sure they are never home on that sad anniversary. Our neighbors might end up doing the same thing, avoiding everything that reminds them of yesterday afternoon.

As weekends go, the Labor Day weekend holds its share of accidents and other tragedies. For the most part, we don’t know those whom we lost. Today, I know his name and his parents’ names. He was a great guy, folks are saying, and I don’t doubt them. I didn’t know him but I think it’s sad that he’s gone. I worry about his family most of all and how they will move forward. I hope they can.

–Malcolm

 

Images of chaos or images of protest

The autopsy is not yet clear about what killed 46-year-old George Floyd when he was apprehended by police. What is also not clear is why officer Derek Chauvin and his men kept Floyd pinned down on the street for eight minutes rather than putting him in the back of a squad and transporting him to HQ for an arraignment.

We do know that police departments generally have banned/discouraged various kinds of chokeholds since they often become lethal force when such force is not warranted.

Wikipedia photo

I tend to respect the motives of the legal protesters in the 30 cities across the country where there have been folks marching in the streets or congregating in parks. I worry, though, that the protesters’ valid anger and a valid message is, in some cities, being stolen by outside agitators who appear and set cars and buildings on fire while looting stores.

The public’s impression from the multitude of images on late-night news stations is probably not positive because the protesters are being blamed for the violence caused by those who showed up to create a mess.

The mess has become more tangled as police fire pepper-spray and rubber bullets at reporters who have credentials and are obviously not part of the rioting.

I do see signs of home. Protests that don’t become violent, and stories such as this one: “A sheriff put down his baton to listen to protesters. They chanted ‘walk with us,’ so he did.”

Violence tends to beget violence as more agitators appear or as overwhelmed police and national guard troops try to avoid the bricks and Molotov cocktails thrown at them without harming innocent protestors of using “excessive force” against those who are rioting.

As the Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said after a night of unrest, “this isn’t protest, this is chaos.” I had to agree with her. I also think she might be right when she says Trump needs to stop talking. TV viewers leave with the impression that protestors think looting, burning buildings, and destroying police cars helps their cause. In most cases, it appears to me that bad apples appear once the protest starts and play out their own criminal agendas.

I hope most police officers are not guilty of racial profiling and so-called “street justice.” The trouble is, there are more than enough incidents every year that show everyone, especially African Americans, that our police departments need more training and a fresh agenda. We can start by getting rid of the trend of militarizing our police, and we can follow that up by firing officers who are guilty of racial profiling. This anger we see on our streets didn’t come out of nowhere.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

As an introvert, I’ve found it easy to stay at home

Johnny Carson

If you’ve been around a long time and used to watch the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, you may remember that one of his recurring bits, when others were talking about going out on the town for an upscale night of partying or dining, was to sit at his desk with a woebegone expression and say he’d probably just go home alone and eat a cracker.

As for me, I’d rather stay at home than go to a party or (hell) a rock concert or any event with 1000000000 people and eat a cracker. My wife of almost 33 years (our anniversary is tomorrow) feels the same way. We have shelves full of books and old movies and know how to prepare comfort food that we usually prefer to a $100 meal.

Biltmore Estate

Now, had we known our favorite vacation spot (Biltmore) was going to announce today that it’s reopening its 8,000-acre estate in Asheville, NC, we might have bought a three-day pass. We’ve been going to Asheville regularly since we were married (if not before). So, we do come outside our house from time to time and go back to places we’ve come to know as comfort places. I did send off to Biltmore for Cardinal’s Crest, our favorite wine from their winery. Fortunately, it arrived today.

We have steak, pork chops, and ribs in the freezer, but seriously during our rainy days, getting out and cleaning up the old Weber grill isn’t very tempting. Don’t laugh: we’ll probably have a squash casserole or beef stew instead. (“Isn’t that just typical of old people,” our Facebook friends are saying.” My response is, “Hell, we ate like this 33 years ago.”)

History Channel

If the space launch doesn’t get scrubbed due to bad weather, we’ll be watching that. Neither of us misses space shots, a habit we started before we knew each other. Since our regular TV shows are on hiatus, we’ve turned to the History Channel. We’ll finish up “Grant” this evening, but if they’re not lying to us, the previews have shown snippets of more cool stuff coming up. (“Yawn,” you say? My response is “Pshaw!)

I saw a link on Facebook today to an article that predicts kids are going to have a real depressing summer. My only response to that was if so, it’s due to a lack of imagination. Yeah, we went on family vacations and such things might now be possible this year, but even without them, we were seldom bored. Of course, my brothers and I played outside from dawn until dusk, and that was a lot more infinite in scope than the Internet or, God forbid, screaming in a swimming pool so filled with kids all you could do was, um, just stand there. Yawn.

Florida Panhandle (still not ruined)

Luckily, we grew up in the Florida Panhandle where are beaches weren’t screwed over by developers like the Peninsula part of the state. Our beaches were free and clear so we could enjoy them rather than share them with 10000000 other people who, when it comes down to it, are needless clutter.

But, I digress. As an introvert, I enjoy being quiet and going to quiet places. So staying at home and (figuratively!) eating a cracker is the cat’s pajamas. (Google that phrase if you’re too young to know what it means.)

Or, as Johnny Carson said, “Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle of whiskey, and a dog to eat the rare steak.” Okay, we’re not quite that bad because we have cats and my wife doesn’t like Scotch. So, maybe happiness is a night at home with somebody you care for a whole lot.

–Malcolm

Centuries of progress

A Facebook friend of mine reported today that her mother has just passed away after living for 100 years. The post reminded me that one of my aunts lived over a century and shared memories of the old days (crossing the country in a covered wagon) that to her were just as vivid as yesterday. She was physically frail for years and lived in a nursing home of sorts where my brothers and parents and I used to visit her.

Nursing Homes

When I was young, it bothered me a great deal that during all the years of my going to grade school and high school and college, she was living in that room. She knew everybody and had her fair share of visitors, so she didn’t lack for company. While I was bothered a lot about her being in that home, I didn’t know quite how to ask why because the question would have implied that somebody in the family in her part of the country should have taken her in.

Kirk Douglas

When Kirk Douglas died at 103 in February, the press and those who knew him talked about his accomplishments and the pride he must have had in the success of his extended family.  Of course, Douglas’ life was a public life, so his accomplishments are usually discussed in terms of movie roles. That’s not the case with our own family members

A Century of Progress

The 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago was called “A Century of Progress.” While it celebrated industry and invention, I always liked the larger meanings of its theme because I think they can apply to all of us whether we live 100 years or not. I have no idea what most people believe is the over-arching purpose of their lives. I think our purpose is to make progress, spiritual progress, more than wealth, power, or acclaim.

When we talk to people who’ve lived long lives, we tend to talk about what they remember and how they felt when monumental events and discoveries were made. Perhaps it’s too private to ask them how they’ve changed, and I suppose most would think it vain to even answer such a question. The standard joke about old-timers is that they reached an advanced age by smoking a pack of cigarettes a day along with a quart of whiskey.” Too bad that’s not true for most people.

My belief system doesn’t presume those who live a century do so from luck, fate, or the Lord’s intervention. I think they learn and continue learning and have plenty of advice to pass along to others if and when they found anyone willing to stop thinking about the latest fads and listen to their philosophies.

It would be presumptuous to suppose one became perfect during their one-hundred-year stay on this planet.  But one hundred years of improving day by day is worthy of mention. I can’t help but see that improvement as a Century of Progress.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of magical realism and contemporary fantasy novels and short stories.

 

How are you feeling?

 

 

 

 

Those of us who aren’t old enough to remember the fear and uncertainty, the rationing, and all the shortages and economic changes during World War II, will probably see the COVID-19 pandemic as the nation’s greatest crisis. The last U. S. figures I saw showed 277,205 cases and 6,593 deaths. We are told that these numbers don’t include cases and deaths we don’t know about and that they’ll go higher. We’re also told that a vaccine is probably at least a year away.

Historians are comparing this pandemic with the 1918 influenza pandemic that impacted 500 million people throughout the world, 50 million deaths worldwide, including 675,000 deaths in the U.S. That’s not reassuring even though it sounds long ago and far away with no one alive with personal memories of it.

I’m reminded of the polio scare in the 1950s, with 57,628 cases in 1952. The Salk and Sabin vaccines generally put an end to the outbreaks, but prior to that, there was a fair amount of fear and unease about the safety of one’s children. (My younger brother had a mild case.)

Whether they’re joking about it or trying to deny the real danger to themselves, my sense from news reports and social media is we’re seeing off-the-scale unease, uncertainly, and frustration that exceeds the 1950s polio scare, one that has captured the country’s consciousness like the national efforts to mobilize on the homefront for World War.

Cases and deaths are spreading across the country for a disease with no cure but to try to simply lessen one’s chances of getting it and to endure it if one does get it. The economy is, of course, a resulting tragedy as stores and other venues close, travel is restricted, and employees are furloughed, and businesses facing bankruptcy. The pandemic seems like a sword with multiple sharp edges.

The Internet is filled with ideas for things to do while quarantined. These ideas probably help, but I doubt they’re a real substitute for unemployment, disruptions in products and services, and concerns about any flu-like symptoms one has had. It’s nice to see news stories about people pulling together: they offset some of the stories about the political squabbling as well as the crazy people who ignore guidelines and/or purposefully try to infect others.

My younger brother and his wife were planning a European trip. My wife and I were planning a trip to Maryland to see my daughter, her husband, and my two granddaughters. These trips have been cancelled. Thousands of people are probably having similar experiences.

Day to day, I’m impacted by news stories and the latest lockdown style regulations and lack of many grocery items in the stores. I try, though, to focus more on the book I’m writing, the TV shows we watch, our two cats, and life around the house rather than becoming obsessed with the pandemic.

How about you? How are you feeling and how are you coping?

Malcolm

 

 

 

Be careful where you say you’re from on Facebook

I no longer list Berkeley, California as the place where I’m from on Facebook because in “debates,” people say, “well, of course, Malcolm would say that, look where he’s from. We don’t need him telling people in Georgia what to think.”

I was born at Alta Bates Hospital, but don’t tell anyone.

My family is basically from California, with my late relatives living in Berkeley, Los Gatos, Santa Cruz, and Palo Alto. I think I was in high school (in Florida) when my father told me he could never go back because the farms and orchards had all been ploughed up and turned into developments, the places Pete Seeger said were houses like little boxes all made of ticky tacky and just the same.

I can’t go back either. For one thing, I can’t afford it. For another, I think the state has lost its connection to reality, a connection that always was fairly tenous on a good day.  Sorry, folks, but I really can’t support a state that says illegal immigrants should have a right to vote.

So, in these Facebook “debates,” I suppose people thought I support all the lunacy associated with California these days. During the Vietnam War protest era, I was part of that lunacy because (a) I hated the war, and (b) had an apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District while my ship was in port across the Bay and had trouble anywhere I went in a Navy uniform.

When I was told on Facebook that “they” (the people in the thread) didn’t need a person from a crazy state telling people in the South that he (meaning me) thought the state and federal governments had no right to legislate or otherwise mess up women’s health care, including the right to an abortion, I said, “ladies, I’ve lived in the South longer than anyone else commenting on this thread.”

Huh? I said that I grew up in Florida from the first grade to college and now live in Georgia where my wife was born. We live on a farm that’s been in her family for five generations. They were surprised. They were happy to see that I had changed the town where I’m from to Tallahassee, Florida, and appreciated the fact that I like boiled peanuts, collard greens, mullet, grits, and cathead biscuits.

However, according to their assessment, a California birth certificate meant that even if you left the state at an early age, you were more or less the devil’s spawn and couldn’t possibly go to enough church services to get even with the Lord. If not that, then I was probably dropped on my head in the hospital.

So there it was. Clearly, my identification with California was an albatross around my neck. In the old days (whatever that means) people said Florida really wasn’t truly Southern. My response was that North Florida was/is about as Southern as you can get and that unlike other states in the Confederacy, “we” weren’t conquered by the North during the Civil War. Okay, so we’re overrun by snowbirds every year and from Live Oak to Miami, the state’s been pretty much ruined by developers who’ve paved over everything there that used to be good and created endless sprawl.

But, I digress.

On the minus side, now that I’ve changed my Facebook hometown to Tallahassee, everyone thinks I’m a racist. When they push that view too hard, I mention that the biggest race riots in the country all happened outside the South.

Is there a safe place out there I can claim as my hometown?

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell has written a bunch of novels set in the South, or partly in the South, including the Florida Folk Magic Trilogy.

 

 

‘Catch Me if You Can’

I don’t think I lead a sheltered life, but every once in awhile I seem to “wake up” and hear about something that’s been in the news for years. I wonder, have I had amnesia, been in a coma, or simply had too much Scotch.

So last night we watched the movie “Catch Me if You Can” about a check forger (Leonardo DiCaprio) being chased (sort of like the movie “The Fugitive”) by an FBI agent (Tom Hanks) that came out in 2002. It’s based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr. who wrote a book about his experiences in 1980 after having appeared on the quiz show “To Tell the Truth” three years earlier.

According to the movie, Abagnale was so good at forgery, he ultimately worked for the FBI in a check fraud unit and designed anti-fraud procedures used in today’s banking system. The movie kept our attention even though I was a little preoccupied about how this story could have been in the national consciousness for some 43 years without my being aware of it.

Sometimes I feel like one of those people in a TV movie who’s been in a coma for 25 years and wakes up to find the world has completely changed. Yet, I have supposedly been awake between 1977 and 2002 and logic tells me I should have been aware of at some bits and pieces of this story.

Either that or the movie studio spent a lot of money just to play a practical joke on me.

Malcolm

 

Today’s stunning Potpourri of stuff

In no particular order. . .

  • I listened to Trump’s speech this morning. It was more low key and measured than I expected. Having said that, I’ll probably wake up tomorrow and read that we bombed something in Iran. I hope we don’t.
  • I tend to agree with Melinda’s comment on yesterday’s post about writer weblogs. She thought people tended to visit after buying a little-known author’s book (or hearing about them) just to learn something more about them rather than to buy a book. I haven’t cancelled my website yet, but I did get rid of a pricey add-on that I really don’t need.
  • My ex-wife and I haven’t spoken (or written) for years, but we both hear about each other via our daughter. I learned yesterday that my ex-wife’s older brother died two days ago. I messaged my daughter that I was sorry to hear the news. That’s all I can do since leaving a message on his Facebook profile or any of his family members’ profiles would probably be seen as a very unwelcome intrusion. He was a great guy.
  • Homemade chilli is simmering in the Dutch oven. Maybe some of it will be around later in the week when the bad weather hits the Southeast. Right now, our low temps here in north Georgia are in the high 20s.
  • I’m currently reading and enjoying Dora Goss’ The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. It’s the third in her Athena Club series. The club looks into mysteries and other weird stuff. Club members are reading the manuscript as it unfolds, so we frequently have comments and dissenting opinions about the way the story is being handled.
  • It’s been fun watching the special “Jeopardy” competition this week between three all-time winners. Even when we know the answers, the champs say them before we do.

Malcolm