Mostly recaps of two wheeled rambles through the countryside, but sometimes thoughts on other things.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

You can't Escape Politics

Rainy this weekend, and we're not as gung ho here about riding in the wet as they are in say, the Pacific Northwest. We shortened yesterday's planned 75 miles to 30 and got back an hour before any real rain fell, although I was getting spritzed with some droplets just as I reached our subdivision.  13" of it in total fell a few hours south of here in the FL panhandle but we don't expect that much locally.  It's raining right now and a Sunday relaxer ride is not happening. It seemed like a good time to write a little on observations in the news of late and in local doings.

When I was a small boy, our family still attended what they called "Cousins Meetings." Many members were recent arrivals in the USA, refugees from Europe following WW II. Earlier, these informal associations helped new arrivals learn English, find jobs, and generally get plugged in to the new country and new way of living. Prior to these cousins meetings, my ancestors banded together to form groups to handle their funeral arrangements, called burial societies (or "benevolent" associations). New York City at the end of the 19th century had dozens of them. My great-grandfather was a president of one, the Shrentzkers. As near as I can tell, they named themselves after a town in the east central portion of achsen-Anhalt in Germany. This agrees with a genealogy search showing my first ancestor in the US being a Sylvester Herbitter (a mis spelling of the word arbiter - workman) who was a stone mason and listed his country of origin as Germany. The reason for the burial association was that Jews were often excluded from Christian cemeteries. Even in death, they couldn't escape discrimination. This group bought some land in Richmond County NY and in a cemetery named for a hero to Jews of the period, Moritz von Hirsch - a successful businessman who purchased the title "Baron" and was an actual German noble - they were able to provide closure with dignity to our family members who had passed on.

But back to the family meetings of the cousins. They featured lots of good food, and plenty of opportunity to play with cousins my own age. (I saw one of these childhood playmates again after an absence of at least 50 years when Sharon & I visited Washington DC in the Fall of 2010.) They also featured a lot of arguments. My father told me that "where you have two Jews in a room, you have three opinions." That is to say that we are a highly opinionated and very verbal race of people. (And I use race in the sense that Jews are descended from Shem - where the word "Semite" comes form - and more particularly call themselves the people of Eber. "Eberim" the plural translates as "Hebrews" in English. The word "Jew" came much later. Judah was a son of Jacob and his tribe's territory eventually became the southern kingdom of ancient Israel. Judah means "praise God." His mother, Leah, was happy to have him come along.) So, you can imagine that in addition to arguing about everything else, I heard lots of debate on politics. An oft heard refrain, was "but is it good for the Jews?" I suppose that with the impact of the Holocaust in Europe still fresh and unfolding in greater detail, a narrower focus was employed than big picture thinking about what might be best for the melting pot country as a whole. We had a lot of people who came in with little and had very liberal, even openly communist leanings, but others who had been here longer, had some success and wanted to protect what they had earned from the hand of the gov't reaching deep in their pockets to give away to others. A good example of this was my Uncle David. David was a card carrying communist in the 50's (Marx and Trotsky were disaffected Jews. Their success in Russia attracted other Jews looking for a voice on the world stage, but who didn't think enough about the implications of what they were getting involved with)

A half century later, not much has changed. The country is still full of opinions. While my parents and their cousins argued Kennedy vs. Nixon (and in those days it was probably Kennedy who was relatively conservative and Nixon liberal compared to each party's modern day nominees, despite the party tags each wore to the dance) as being better for the Jews or for the country (we were a Kennedy family) today we hear about how to fix the economy, who should pay taxes and how much, are there absolute values in life or does might make right, and so on. The immediacy of information - much of it incorrect or least biased - is not necessarily conducive to high level consideration and response. When anyone who disagrees with you is a "terrorist" or a "vicious racist extremist," meaningful dialogue is difficult. Shouting down your debate opponent is a tactic from human pre-history, but not one that would pass in a high school debate class and not one that helps in real life. I don't know why it is so hard for people to have open and honest discussions about our shared lives on this planet, and any prospects for what might or might not await us at our next stop. I have friends in two areas of interest, pen collecting and bicycle riding. (The third area, church, consists of spiritual family, but no real friends. Not by choice, just the way it turns out) Some of these friends are liberals and some are conservatives and some are of unknown politics to me. I don't find that any of their ideas on politics makes our inky or cycling friendships impossible to maintain. Certainly there are those with which no friendship has or currently can exist.  One cyclist, a PhD chemist is so angry with religion (I suspect this is rooted in her own history, but has mushroomed to application everywhere else) that she closed off all communication because I stupidly (she pointed out that I do not have a PhD) still believe in God. Okay, but I'm not the one who got mad and took her toys home. For the most part, all my friends have been respectful when they disagree and hopefully they will find the same true of me. The chemist is far from the only person in my circle of friends with a doctorate. Most of the doctors I know will readily tell you that some very smart people and some very wise people are found that lack advanced degrees. Lincoln comes to mind to name just one example. You can have an advanced degree or none at all and equally lack common sense. Common Sense  the pamphlet ( T. Paine 1776) made tough concepts clear to an American colonial public by putting ideas on a shelf where readers could grasp them and then letting people of all persuasions apply their own reasoning powers. It was a best seller. And effective.

In the course of my hobbies and interests I find that I am on about a dozen email lists as well as being on several enthusiast pages of FaceBook. I suppose it should surprise me that almost all of the correspondence in all of those lists is pretty conversational and respectful. It caught me by surprise though when someone on one of the above wrote something negative about me this past week. No names were used, but I got the message and in a private email, the author confirmed that it evened us up for a past perceived wrong. Which is too bad actually, because we are both on the same side of the particular question that was under discussion in that email. It's also too bad as it shows how hard it is for all of us to let go of things, even the things we tell people we are over and done with, and to find solutions in living together and move on. Turn the other cheek, walk another mile stuff.

So with local elections coming up, Elaine Wilkes knocked on our door yesterday to hand me a flyer. She's running for city council, district 4 in place of the retiring incumbent. I invited her to sit in a porch chair and tell me what her plans would be on council. She stayed about 10 minutes and shared her views which dealt with changes to trash collection expenses and bond debt structure, then listened to mine, which to your great surprise I am sure, included a need for a more cycling aware and friendly community, with bike lanes and "share the roads" marking. I think we each listened to one another.  I'd like to see other people listen to one another too. Then vote. And if you lose, you lose. That's democracy. It's not the "end of democracy as we know it" if the other candidate/referendum/whatever wins. Roll your sleeves up, get your own Tom Paine and do a better job of persuading others instead of trying so hard to hate them and shout them down. And seriously, if you say you're over something, don't dredge it back up two years later to excuse bad behavior.



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