Debatable results

Last night we viewed the last of the election debates between President Obama and Governor Romney, and the winner was – one more time – the candidate of your choice before you turned on the TV or watched online. Did either of the candidates change anyone’s mind? I think that one’s debatable.

One thing I observed this time is that Mr. Obama may have gained a measure of respect for the debate process as he curbed his tendency toward interruptions. How can interested citizens possibly hear through the name calling and comments sufficiently to discern which plan makes sense when one candidate can’t control his tongue long enough for his opponent to explain his version? Maybe that’s the plan. Because time is short, grab all the minutes you can. That way, no one will be able to hear anything but your side. Hmmm, didn’t we get bad marks for this in elementary school?

Evidently Rachel Martin of NPR did her homework and found out that indeed there are rules for these debates – lots of them. In her article, Turns Out There are Rules for the Debates. Lots, she tells us there are 21 pages of rules. Maybe that’s the problem. There are just too many regulations and not enough time to read and understand all of them let alone follow them. I guess it’s just easier to ignore them.  Does that go along with the line elementary school students use? You know the one, “the dog ate my homework.”

It seems to me, the Presidential debates, rather than being an opportunity to hear a clear, concise presentation of each side’s viewpoints and perspectives, have become an extension of the negative ad campaigns that have been frequenting the airwaves, tweets and other social media.  It appears it’s much easier to point your finger at someone else instead of intelligently explaining your position. Didn’t we learn that in elementary school, too? I think it was in detention not history class.

I’m beginning to think that perhaps Presidential debates have outlived their usefulness. They are more of an embarrassment than enlightenment. Maybe they should go the way of the cassette, typewriter and other outdated technology. I guess that’s debatable, too.

Christopher Columbus … who knew?

In a past post I mentioned that I had relocated an old history book, copyright 1885, on my book shelf. Since today we celebrate Christopher Columbus Day, I thought it fitting to see if there was anything of interest in this timeworn volume about this renowned explorer.

According to Barnes Historical Stories, Columbus entered the world in 1435, the first of four children and the son of a poor wool-comber.  He assumed responsibility to contribute to the family to educate his young brothers and support his aged father from the savings of his meager wages. Did you know that his hair was totally white by age 30? Supposedly due to trouble and anxiety, it makes you wonder why it is included in this history text. Can you imagine today’s kids even caring about the color of his hair let alone what might have caused it?

Yet Columbus had a dream that was 18 years in the making. Determined, shrewd and intensely religious, Columbus believed his mission came from the Lord to carry the true faith to the uttermost parts of the earth. He deemed this cause his purpose and pursued it with courage and devotion.

You would think that with the acclaim Ferdinand and Isabella received from sponsoring Columbus’ travels, they would have treated him exceptionally well. Evidently that is not the case. Columbus made four voyages for the Spanish royals, yet evil men slandered Columbus, and they disregarded their promise to him that he should become governor-general over the lands he had discovered. Instead, they appointed another governor, who promptly returned Columbus to Spain in chains. Spain’s general population was outraged, and Ferdinand and Isabella tried to ease the wrong done to Columbus although they never permitted him to be governor. Eventually they neglected him altogether. Columbus died a grieved and disappointed man and requested that he be buried with his chains, a symbol of the Spanish ingratitude.

Here we are 506 years after his death celebrating his discovery with a holiday, yet in this age of global travel and communications, few of us even think about the cost of his investment let alone the man himself. So, take a minute today, just for fun, and quiz your family and friends to see if they can remember any details of Columbus or his voyage to discover a new world. He changed history. As you share what you have learned about him, it might become a conversation starter leading to discoveries of your own about their dreams, goals and purpose in life. Hmmm, Christopher Columbus. Who knows? He might still impact lives to encourage a new world.

What was it like during the early Plymouth days?

I’m not sure how I ended up with this treasured volume, but Barnes Historical Series found its way to my bookshelf likely coming from the home of my maternal grandmother. Used as a textbook for 11th grade students in the Philadelphia schools circa the end of the 19th century, it covers US history from the explorers through some events in the late 1800’s. I especially enjoyed reading the fine print explanations of life during these various periods.

No way would you find this information in today’s academic resources. They would neither be politically correct nor would they support the changes that have occurred as history has been rewritten to agree with the more modern models of government. You know how it goes, if you say a lie often enough, someone will believe it, and it will become fact. The ironic part is that someone thought this volume with a copyright date of 1885 had already been rewritten as I found references relating to General Greene of Revolutionary War fame corrected in pencil. (My grandfather’s family was Greene, but I have no idea if they were related to the General.)

But alas, I digress. My intent was to provide a humorous example of life during the early Plymouth days.

In the early Plymouth days, every house opened on Sunday morning at the tap of the drum. The men and the women, the former armed to the teeth, assembled in front of the captain’s house. Three abreast, they marched to the meeting-house, where every man set down his musket within easy reach. … The sermon was often three or four hours long, and at the end of each hour the sexton turned the hour-glass which stood upon the desk. Woe to the youngster whose eyelids drooped in slumber! The ever-vigilant constables, with their wands tipped on one extremity with the foot, and on the other with the tail of a hare, brought the heavier end down on the nodding head. The care-worn matron who was betrayed into a like offense was gently reminded of her duty by a touch on the forehead with the softer end of the same stick. … “

Although the religious services provided a great contrast to those today, this text presents our ancestors as real people struggling with real life issues. You also see the level of vocabulary with which they wrote. Makes you wonder if today’s high school students would understand the words. I confess. There were a few words that I had to look up. I guess it’s a good thing I live in the age of the Internet and not in early Plymouth.

What happens when the power goes off?

I’ll deal with the first thoughtful responses to the title question up front.

Although we can join the debate about whether the population spikes 9 months following a major power outage or whether the number of births is well within the norm, that’s not really where I’m headed with this one. I’m talking about the power that runs today’s technological devices we so depend on. What happens when those resources are not available? Here’s why I ask.

During a power outage, I went into a local store hoping to make a purchase. Unfortunately, the clerk did not know how to compute the change needed from the cash tendered without the aid of the cash register. Counting on her fingers, she struggled several times, but I finally had to tell her. She could not get it right.  It was not a matter of being inconvenient to perform calculations by hand. The root problem stemmed from the fact that she had not learned the skill.

Recently, I tutored an extremely bright twenty-something’s man preparing for an entrance exam. He had no problem solving quadratic equations and understood higher math concepts, so why did he need to find a coach? He had never learned how to do long division. He was unable to solve these problems without a calculator, and the rules did not permit using one during the test. None of his elementary teachers had taught him this skill.

There are more benefits gained from using the left side of the brain than mere academic exercises.  Learning math facts like the multiplication tables and grasping other concepts prepare you to think clearly to make other decisions and analyze situations. It also keeps the brain agile and sharp during the senior years. Certainly using technology makes the job easier, but if it’s not available, could you go it alone?

But here’s the more important question. Do you know what the local schools are teaching – or not teaching? Perhaps you should check it out, and don’t stop with just math. You might want to investigate other subjects like history and writing. This would be good to find out before we’re all left in the dark.