Independence Day, History, Technology, and Making A Better World

Independence Day is a few days away here in USA.  It is a time to reflect on sacrifices of current and previous generations of military personnel during times of war and crisis in my nation’s history.  It is also a time that the public at large gets some refresher courses on American history.  One of my Independence Day traditions is to watch the fireworks after dark while I have songs like “America the Beautiful” playing courtesy of Google’s Youtube (both tech firms that were started in the USA).

While it is a celebration of the USA’s beginnings and struggles to become what we are (and what we can become in future generations), for me it is also a time to remember the efforts of non military personnel and brilliant leaders.  I remember the contributions to the USA and the world of immigrants like Nikola Tesla and Andrew Carnegie (among numerous others) in the fields of science, industry, and commerce.  While they were not born here, it was here in USA that they had the opportunity to follow their dreams.

I remember the science breakthroughs in agriculture and food production led by such people as Norman Bourlag, the Armour family, the Cargil family, and Roswell Garst that made crops and food available to, not just Americans, but to billions of people all over the world that will probably not know their names.  In fact, we now have more people on earth being overweight (slightly over 2 billion) than we do have people suffering from insufficient food (around 800 million).

I remember that it was computer scientists and engineers from America that were among the big drivers in getting personal computers and internet access made available to the public at large. It was this year (2019) that we crossed the threshold where now slightly over 50 percent of the world’s population has access to internet, whether it be smart phones or tablets or full size computers.  It was also primarily American scientists and engineers (and immigrants working in American based firms) that got GPS navigation going.

I know some people (myself included) sometimes get irritated by American pop culture, tv shows, music, etc.  But no one forced me or anyone else to pay attention to our culture.  I, and many others, sometimes get upset about how much war my nation has fought over the course of history.  Yet, most previous powerful nations annexed or colonized the territories and peoples they won wars over. Many powerful nations in past eras colonized territories that weren’t on even the same continents as the home nation. Yes, our practices of slavery and taking land from the Native Americans will be a dark mark against my nation for the rest of history.  But many nations won’t even acknowledge their past sins and transgressions.  A couple of weeks ago I heard there were talks before congressional committees about possible reparations for past practices during slavery.  The idea of reparations can be debated one way or another ad nauseam, but at least there is even talk about attempting to make amends for past sins.  Every civilization as far back as we can tell had some form of slavery, indentured servitude, etc.  Yet it wasn’t until a few centuries ago that people began to acknowledge that the idea of one human owning another the same way one would own a building or a horse, even in past times, as disgusting and barbaric.  Now slavery is officially illegal in every country of the world.  It still goes on in the forms of human trafficking, sex slavery, etc.  But even two hundred years ago, that would have been acceptable in the entire world.  I don’t write this to justify my nation’s past sins.  We certainly made our mistakes.  I won’t hide our mistakes. But I also won’t hide the progress my nation or my species progress.

On another note, many advances we take for granted in 2019 were pioneered in the USA. This includes things like electric light bulbs, telephones, airplanes, people on the moon, common pharmaceutic medications, do it yourself investing in the stock markets, television broadcasts, much of what computers, internet, and cell phones have become.  Even with our current internal strifes and issues, the USA is still a world leader in the emerging fields of Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, nanotechnology, fusion technology, robotics, autonomous automobiles and drones, etc.  Even though our government officially pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreements, many local and state governments, along with private businesses and industries, are still implementing nonpolluting technologies and power generation.  Many businesses and individuals, are voluntarily severely limiting their uses of disposable plastics.  Even the people I personally know who are skeptical of the sciences behind climate change, most of them still recycle their garbage, take car pools to work, limit their uses of pesticides, use less water than previous generations, drive fuel efficient cars, use solar panels to power anything that can be by traditional grids, or allow wind turbines and solar panels to be built on their farms and ranches.  Even though our elected leaders may not see that renewable and recycling tech are the future, most of my countrymen see that it is even if they don’t accept or understand the science behind climate change or environmental pollution.

I know I am often tough on my friends, family, countrymen, etc.  But I am tough because I know even ordinary people are capable of accomplishing great things.  Even though I see ignorance and stupidity every day, I also see people doing great things and changing for the better every day.  Sure the ignorant and hurtful actions catch our attention more because it is natural for us to pay more attention to negativity than positive news.  I wasn’t born an optimist.  I had to become one by forcing myself to find out the good that is going on out in the world and in my hometown.  And thanks to inventions like internet, search engines, and social media, it is far easier to find such good news than even twenty years ago.  Sure some people will abuse such tech.  Every tech in history has been abused by at least one person or group.  A sharpened stone tied to a long stick can kill a deer and feed a family just as easily as it can kill another man and be used to enslave his survivors.  And on it goes.

I should wrap this up.  Sure much bad has been done in the name of my nation and science.  Yet, much good has been done too.  We rarely acknowledge anyone’s decency simply because we are not hardwired to do so.  Many cool things are happening right now.  And among the leaders forcing these positive changes are American scientists, engineers, medical personnel, teachers, craftsmen, construction workers, factory workers, farmers, students with dreams, business people, etc.  It is an eventful and hopeful time to be alive.  I am grateful to live in a college town in America in the early 21st century.

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Independence Day, Loud Fireworks, Veterans, and Mental Health

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Indepence Day in USA is only a few days away.  For most of Americans it means being more mindful of veterans living and dead alike.  For my readers in the UK, it probably means the colonials’ celebration of high treason 🙂  Regardless, over the next few days there will be many fireworks displays, barbecues, programs remembering veterans, and so on.  For the large part, these are a few days of celebration and reflection.

Yet, for some it is also a stressful time.  For many veterans the loud booms of fireworks and the pop of firecrackers can bring out bad memories of being in a war.  I didn’t realize how bad this was for many veterans until the last few years when my dad, an Air Force pilot during Vietnam, would make it a point to avoid fireworks displays and sounds by spending the 4th at the family acreage.  And he quickly admits he had it easier than most military members.

I’m beginning to see people of my age bracket and younger who did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq avoid fireworks too.  At the lower income apartment I live in shooting off fireworks of any kind is specifically banned right in our lease agreement.  As I’ve lived in this complex for several years, I saw some World War 2 and Korea veterans just stay in their apartments on the 4th.  Now that those men have died it’s the Vietnam era men that are avoiding the fireworks and loud noises.  And I didn’t realize what an issue it was for these veterans until a few of them started talking about their personal experiences.

With my schizophrenia I am mildly irritated by the loud booms of firecrackers but I do love the flashes of colors that the night fireworks have.  And they aren’t that loud.  But I also don’t have the bad memories of being in war that loud booms and explosives can bring back that many of my veteran friends and family have.  I just make myself mindful of  the generations of veterans, those living and those deceased, who too often suffered in silence with bad memories of war brought back by some of the ways we in USA celebrate our country’s beginnings.  I don’t favor banning fireworks, but I would love to see more and more people and public fireworks displays refrain from using the really loud fireworks that sound like gunfire and cannons, if for no other reason out of consideration for the veterans.

The Story of Two Brothers and What Is Still Good About American College

I’m going to be treading off the beaten path again.  This time this blog will be telling the story of two brothers I’ve known from my parents’ church their entire lives.  They’re quite a bit younger than me, but I’ve gotten to know these two pretty well as their parents are family friends of ours and that home community is one of those places that tight knit enough that everyone knows everyone.  I’m very reluctant to share their names as they really don’t like to brag about their accomplishments, but many people I grew up with are the exact same way.  It probably goes with the farming/ranching orientation of my entire home state.

After finishing their high school careers with about every athletic honor, social honor, and I think many of the academic honors their small high school could offer, these two enrolled at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.  From there they got on the track and field team, with both of them training for multiple events for the Husker track and field team.

These two put in full time classes, long hours of training, as well as the required studying for classes.  I don’t know the exact dollar amount of their scholarships (of if they even qualify for track scholarships as they have been in the program for only one year), but from what I understand, I was getting more on an academic scholarship to a small, private college than most T&F athletes do.  I received $5,000 a year and all I had to do was keep a 3.5 GPA after four semesters.  Well, I couldn’t keep that even though I wasn’t doing a time consuming sport or activity like band or student council or student journalism, etc.  Getting back to these two young men, both of them made the Dean’s List their freshmen year.  One of them even had a perfect 4.0, which I can never claim.  To help pay for college, these two are doing farm work this summer.

These two have been excellent athletes since they were toddlers running wild on the church front lawn every Sunday.  They won state championships in their individual sports as well as football.  Yet they are more than just athletes.  They are also dedicated students.  They have always been active in the church and lived Christian principles to the best of their abilities.  They are hard workers as they’ve grown up on a farm and doing farm work since they were children.  In short, these two brothers are what’s good about a lot of things.

In the last couple weeks alone, we college sports fans have seen a star quarterback get suspended for academic misjudgment from Notre Dame.  We’ve seen, from the same University of Nebraska these two brothers attend and compete for, a football player get arrested for assault.  We’ve seen the p.r. nightmare that has become Rutgers’ athletic department administration.  We’ve just seen the University President at Ohio State carelessly spouting off at a fundraiser.  Now we’re seeing the family of the late former Penn State coach suing the NCAA.  I could go on about conference realignments, tv revenues, money hungry college presidents, athletes cheating in school, the pro leagues using colleges as de facto minor leagues, massively paid coaches, etc. But those stories have been told time and time again to where we think that is all there is to tell about the story of athletics at American colleges.

For every major bad story involving the odd mixture of academia, athletics, money, media, government, and the law, there are other stories that easily get ignored.  Those are the stories of the young men and women who compete/participate/work/study in the athletics, student activities and organizations, jobs, and schools we too often sell out as being corrupt, wastes of time and money, demeaning and low paying, and failing in comparison to our foreign counterparts.  In short, we refuse to see what’s good anymore.

In closing in this story about these two brothers, I think I will mention them by name.  While there are many young men and women like these two at every university in America, their stories never get heard because names never get put to them.  These two are Jed and Guy Fenske; scholars, athletes, model workers, and morally upstanding citizens.