Reflections on Being 80

June 26, 2012

Reflections on Becoming 80

by Jon Foyt

 

This is a Presidential Election Year, as it was 80 years ago when I was born. Most of you are too young to remember the campaign of 1932. I recall it vividly. Especially that last night, election eve, when President Herbert Hoover arranged for his transcontinental private train—on his way back to his home in Palo Alto so he could vote—to pull off the mainline Southern Pacific tracks and onto a siding at Winnemucca, Nevada.

There, his aides had arranged for something completely new in the arena of national campaigning—a Presidential address to the entire 48 states on both the Blue and the Red Radio Networks, which, as you will recall, eventually became NBC and ABC.

That evening, it  was the depths of the Great Depression—a controversial time when socialists and communists and proponents of The Townsend Plan and other “solutions” to joblessness, despair, hoped for a system adhering to their designs. Hoovervilles of cardboard houses had sprung up across the land. Men and women were riding the rails. Many were yearning for a new system, some new plan, perhaps even a new governing framework—anything that would pull the nation, and even the world, out of the nadir of sour economic news and unsolvable personal tragedies. That Presidential campaign of 1932 was conducted amidst signs such as “Hoover, we trusted you and you busted us.” And so that evening, the nation listened to the new technology of radio and thought deeply about its future, which was to be to be voted on the following day,

On the radio waves of the nation, President Herbert Hoover, humanitarian hero of Europeans during the aftermath of World War I, former Commerce Secretary, and pioneer of the art of fly fishing in bucolic mountain streams, set forth his viewpoints. He called, essentially, for a return to yesteryear with the tried and true values associated with fiscal conservatism.

His adversary, in advocating America’s future, himself raised in conservatism’s conversations, essentially said, “No,” we’re going to yield to the present as we look to the future. We’re going to advance America and its worthy people, both important and ordinary—all inclusive—forward into a nirvana that we’ll call the New Deal.

Needless to say, with my father being an establishment banker, my family and I went early to the polls that next election morning and, you guessed it, we all voted for Mr. Hoover. You will note, as I reach 80, that that vote, being my first decision in life, was a bad one—a humbling fact that has haunted me for eight decades. Yet, hoping to learn from that unwise choice, over the ensuing decades I have come to believe that, politically, this nation is better off, for both the important and the ordinary people, if it is governed on behalf of all the people and not just the few, the devotion to whom Mr. Hoover apparently viewed as his Presidential job assignment.

At my age of 80 today, I can’t help but wonder what if Mr. Hoover had been 80 back then in 1932, rather than his actual age of 58, would he have viewed matters of state differently. Does age change outlook? It does with me, for, crossing this calendar threshold, I feel a more immediate vitality of purpose in every day life, a responsibility to cherish certain things such as thoughts, words, friendships, relationships, even political and economic issues, and to not be deterred in that personal pursuit. Would President Hoover have felt and expressed such a political philosophy in his national radio address, had he been 80 on that pre-election eve? And would he have delivered a more compassionate message to his fellow human beings?

So my advice, now at age 80, to all you younger Rossmoorians who live in this nirvana retirement community, is to view this Presidential election year in terms of the issues and the candidates that will best serve all the people and not direct the muse of history back into the past of yesteryear, where the only ones catered to are the wealth of special interests and the special people aligned therewith. Instead, yield to the present and look to the future, especially to a future that must, for the benefit of all, include all the people of this great land all the time.

So, to high-ball a railroad metaphor, “Don’t get sidetracked.”

 

Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor novelist, has completed his tenth novel, Time to Retire, set in a fictional active adult retirement community. He posts his Blog at https://writerlygifts.wordpress.com/  and can be contacted at jonfoyt@mac.com

 

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China See, China Do, We Do?

May 13, 2012

China See, China Do, We Do?
By Jon Foyt

What system best governs? Our Founding Fathers struggled with that powerful issue, conceptualized, debated, and finally created and established the system of governance that has prevailed for more than 200 years.
Fast forward from Philadelphia to today. Add these forces: power of corporations, the influence of lobbyists, and the advent of run-away technology—three matters the Founding Fathers had no clue about. Nor could we expect them to have seen 200 years into the future, anymore than we today can gaze with any forecasting reliability into tomorrow’s crystal ball.
Elsewhere, the Australians invented a system of governance that works effectively. Patterned on the Parliamentary system, with an obligatory nod to royal heritage, their political campaign season is short and precise. Citizens must vote, or else…. Differences of opinion and philosophy abound, as they must in a democracy. There is no limitless election coverage by the media. Nor does the economy devote millions of dollars to political advertisements in a seemingly unending campaign. Nor does the voter become lost and overwhelmed in the extended election process. And some 30 days later, when the campaigns end and the votes are counted, the winners take office immediately and go to work.
But how many people live “down under?” And what foreign country is now influencing the Aussies more than a simple election outcome? Read on:
What of the larger countries? Think of China today. Huge and vibrant. Huge in numbers and vibrant in progress and development—a major world force. Like the United States of the 20th century. But we are living in the 21st century. And what are the changes in governing systems that, in this new century, appear on the horizon?
David Brady, Deputy Director of the Hoover Institution, in a recent address at the University Club in San Francisco, cited the significant rise in the number of Independent voters as a sign of discontent and even disfavor about the two party system, and the electoral college, and the societal time, money and effort spent on seemingly redundant primary elections. Perhaps, he hinted, changes may be in the wings.
In a detailed treatise entitled “The Costs of Political Corruption in America,” published by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Bruce Owen, Director of the Public Policy Program at Stanford, warns of the overbearing corporations and lobbying interests in the American governing system. Things have gone almost too far, he hints, for a meaningful correction with a return to the “good olde days of people-generated demonstrative democracy. He suggests that we’ve ceded power to the corporations and to the moneyed interests who pay for the election of the members of Congress.
General and former Ambassador to Afghanistan, David Eikenberry, now at Stanford, asks the penetrating question: “Who Owns the American Military?” He suggests that the answer is: Members of Congress, who control the budgets and who, in turn, are influenced by campaign contributions from the vast moneyed interests.
What of China? “Oh, there’s this 9-man (all male) Politburo, left over from Red China, and they control everything and determine the country’s course.“ Or is it that way? What of the thousands of new enterprises, (enterprises cast in the Western mold), that bloom in China today, many partly owned by the central government, or by almost autonomous regional governments, or by the huge numbers of billionaire investors in China, and even in part by foreign (American and European) corporations and venture capitalists?
Perhaps, and don’t breathe a word of it around Rossmoor, we are becoming more like China, than they are becoming like us. I mean, what system is really governing us today? Not in fantasy historical time, but in real time?
If we were queried by a little green person from Mars, stepping off a space ship at Gateway, and speaking in perfect English, “Take me to your leaders.” What would be our reply?
Perhaps our answer would, in reality, be: Look to the multi-national corporations, to the moneyed interests, to the forces of investment capital: international, venture, and sovereign government funds. It is with them that you will find the forces of governance at work, cloaked, of course, in the latest fashion designs of democracy’s sheep’s clothing. Therein gestates today’s American governing system, as well as elsewhere, down under and up above. Given such economic and business dynamics, can future governance anywhere develop any other way?

Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor novelist, has completed his tenth novel, Time to Retire, set in a fictional active adult retirement community. He posts his Blog at https://writerlygifts.wordpress.com/ and can be contacted at jonfoyt@mac.com

Climate Change: An Updated History

April 8, 2012

Climate Change: an Updated History
By Jon Foyt

In his comprehensive history of East versus West down through the millennia, “The West is Ahead…for Now,” (Farrar, Straus, New York, 2010) Stanford archaeologist and geographer Ian Morris recounts the episodes throughout the eons of our Earth’s existence in which our climate has changed and adjusted. These long-ago events altered our planet’s weather, as well as her sea levels, creating new and different configurations. (During the several ice ages, of course, the oceans subsided. With glaciers melting, sea levels rose again.)
Morris also tells of certain geological occasions on which occurred a shifting of the Earth’s axis with profound effects on seasons, rainfall, crops, and glacier size. From time to time, certain other astronomical adjustments changed our climate, depending where on Earth you were, producing heating and chilling and hosts of side effects in between.
Then there were the meteors barreling down upon us from outer space and striking our planet, creating all kinds of ramifications, billowing up dust clouds and, for long dark years, wiping out the sun’s warming rays. That was when Dinosaurs became extinct along with other species, as once again our earth experienced dramatic climate change.
So therefore, you may rightly ask, what’s the big deal today about this alleged climate change that the media, the scientists, and the politicians are talking about? Many scientists are warning us of dire consequences; meteorologists are predicting that melting glaciers will thaw Greenland into a truly green land; geographers are telling us that rising ocean levels will flood seaside cities and resorts—that higher levels of San Francisco Bay will inundate important places like SFO and Oakland airports and, perhaps even worse, our Fisherman’s Wharf. Why, they might even be forecasting Sausalito houseboats floating up Market Street. Yes, they advise, it’s time for you to worry about that cozy seaside rental in Stinson Beach being swept away out to sea where it may finally hit land again on the still-visible tip of the Farallon Islands.
In disagreement, certain right wing politicians are telling us that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by nutty liberals who simply want to impose more restrictive regulations on government and on business, thus eroding still further the bottom line profits of giant multinational corporations.
Speaking of bottom lines, here’s the scientific climate change bottom line: Writing in The Washington Post, Juliet Eilperin and Brian Vastag report: “Scientists are increasingly convinced that the uptick in heat waves and heavier rainfall is linked to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, posing a heightened risk to the world’s population…”
Yes, today’s climate change is man- and woman-made. We are doing dastardly deeds to ourselves. The culprit this time is not nature. Nor is it some wandering meteor lurking in the sky. This time it is not some movement induced by the Earth shifting on its axis one restless night. No, the perpetrators today are chemicals such as carbon emissions from cars, trucks, factories, mines and those other human-induced industrial discharges that are belched into the atmosphere. They each eat away at the Earth’s natural shield that keeps our oxygen in and filters out the sun.
In other words, we are destroying the planet’s built-in natural regulators that have been with us since the Earth itself came into existence. We—you and I, right here in Rossmoor—and the pollutant emitting corporations here and in China, Russia, and Mexico and everywhere else on Earth are the responsible parties.
The fear is that nothing’s going to halt the relentless advance of this battalion of adverse forces that continues to heat up the planet. Some day soon these unstoppable forces will turn the Earth into a lifeless hunk of rock with ocean levels lapping at its peaks. That is, unless we—you, and I, and the culpable corporations and our governments unite and, together, take appropriate action to mitigate these planet-threatening effects.
After examining the facts, any serious person must conclude that there is no basis or evidence upon which to logically dispute the verified scientific facts that confirm the threat of global warming. The special interests, who are trying to sell us a contrary story of gobbledygook, get their material from the campaigns of right wing politicians who don’t want their corporate donors to be required to spend money to control these hideous emissions because that money spent will reduce bottom line corporate profits. Yes, for sure, keeping those corporate stock prices up is due to play out in tandem with the tragedy of ignoring the Earth’s crisis and putting down our very human survival.

Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor published novelist, has completed his tenth novel, Time to Retire, set in an active adult retirement community. He posts his Blog at https://writerlygifts.wordpress.com/ and can be contacted at jonfoyt@mac.com

PG13

March 2, 2012

PG13

by Jon Foyt

             We in Rossmoor can take half a victory lap as a result of this February’s Oscar Awards. Hollywood is finally hearing the message that the American population is aging. No longer is everything coming out of Hollywood produced for—what I call—PG13, or “Pretty Good for 13 Year Olds.” That’s what I was taught about the makeup of the American movie audience in my first screenwriting class given by a Hollywood producer a decade ago in Santa Fe, when my wife, Lois, and I were pioneer sponsors of the Santa Fe Film Festival.

             “The Artist” won big on that recent Sunday evening, as did “Dependents.” While the best acting in the latter was not by King George (Clooney), but by a teenage young woman, the plot was all about mature adults and what goes around and around in those mature minds. The average age for those vetted by the Screen Actors Guild to judge the flicks was 67. Our contemporary friend, Christopher Plummer, looking like he just came out of an event at the Fireside Room, got Best Supporting Actor at age 82, the oldest person to ever win an Oscar.

            Watch “The Artist.” It’s about silent movies from a time preceding many of our lifetimes—especially the many Rossmoor Boomers! Stay tuned, kids, for we’re all advancing along Calendar Way. And take a cue or two from those of us walking arm and arm with Christopher Baby.

            So, what’s this Aging thing all about, really? Silly to ask, you say. But wait, grab onto these thoughts I gleaned last month at the Stanford Medical School from a Symposium on Aging, students and faculty literally hanging from the rafters to hear the cutting edge speakers: In the last decade, and really just during the last five years, medical academia has begun to focus on the concept and the conundrum of Aging.

            Extensive research is being conducted at the relatively new Paul F. Glenn Laboratories for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging at Harvard, MIT, and now Stanford, along with studies well underway at medical schools and universities in the UK. Today more and more minds are delving into researching and learning about the subject of Aging.

            Here’s one idea for all these probing minds: maybe it would enlighten their findings if they were to conduct an in-depth study of We the People and our lifestyles at Rossmoor. At any rate, the point is that those of us who are living this camaraderie of Aging may soon be reading more about the under the surface medical and physiological secrets of this (for-all-of-us) pervasive condition of Aging.

            Politically, as those of us leaning left approach and live with Aging, our resolve becomes tainted with fearful concerns that Social Security and Medicare and even pensions may not be enough to get us through. Add to those concerns our worries that these social supports may not even endure, as those well-funded corporations continue to raise consumer prices while bankrolling and influencing all of our elections, one of which may soon spell the end, or the reduction of financial and medical benefits. For in our political system today those corporations pay the lobbyists who, in turn, contribute to the candidates of their sponsoring corporations’ choices, with the results being that our benefits and our entitlements may wane or vanish entirely.

            Whereas those on the right approach Aging by living in luxury with pockets bulging, oblivious perhaps to the needs of these less fortunate, who, through the roll of life’s dice, enter the awards arena in tattered togs, while the box seat people revel in luxury.

            But through all this bias, one thing’s becoming perfectly clear as to the subject and the effects of Aging and its attributes, whether you be on the left or on the right: money can’t buy your way out of Aging.

            Now both academia and Hollywood have raised the blinds and are looking in upon the lives and the lore of all of us in places such as Rossmoor, as the role of Aging moves to center stage and the lights, the camera, and the action focus upon us.

             Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor published novelist, has completed his latest novel, Time to Retire, set in an active adult retirement community. He posts his Blog at https://writerlygifts.wordpress.com/  and can be contacted at jonfoyt@mac.com

 

 

Entitlement Ethics

February 5, 2012

Entitlement Ethics

By Jon Foyt

Entitlements today in America encompass ethnic groups, economic levels, endless medical environments, and even us elderly, as well.
Yet the ethics of these entitlements can be elusive. For example, recently I attended a Silicon Valley panel discussion dealing with what to most of us might seem to be an unusual (and perhaps dull) subject, yet one that is politically charged in today’s ethics environment: American Corporate CEO Compensation, with the title: “Every CEO Is Above Average.”
Sponsored by the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at the Stanford University Law School and the National Association of Corporate Directors, the panelists, each a consultant to American and international corporations discussed the complex subject of executive compensation. None of the panelists, however, questioned the entitlements of the executives who were the subjects of their consulting assignments. Apparently, the consultants would leave such judgments, ethics aside, to the purview of the law, the IRS, and the ISS (Institutional Shareholder Services), a worldwide organization (with thousands of employees) which, should you Google it, you will discover is a subsidiary of another corporation with the name of MSCI, Inc.
ISS personnel are the judges of executive entitlements from both a legal and tax standpoint. By the rules of corporate governance, these deep baskets of executive compensation (stock options, salaries, bonuses, exclusive club memberships, golden parachutes and pensions) are subject to shareholder approval. Yes, shareholders do play in this corporate arena where CEO compensation soars. However, shareholders are a force, or so fear the consultants, should these shareholders revolt against soaring CEO compensation, demonstrating their displeasure by, perhaps, occupying corporate boardrooms, marching around the lengthy mahogany tables, sleeping in tents, and hoisting corporate revolutionary placards. Fat chance! Indeed as corporate executive entitlements are so well established in the American corporate lexicon—that’s so much a given that only the nitty-gritty details need to be worked out to the satisfaction of, yes, the mighty “ISS.”
That morning on Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, not one of the compensation consultants on the panel questioned the ethics or morality of excessive executive entitlements from the perspective of American social values. So, if you are a working stiff on a factory line or a clerk in a corporate cubicle, what are your entitlements? Nada—other than perhaps group health coverage and, maybe, a pension. Now, compare that to your CEO’s benefits package and ask: “Whence have gone the ethics, the morality, the justice, the rule of fairness?”
What of America’s bedrock social values? Where have these basic social values gone? And what of all those other entitlements (defined as “the amount to which a person has a right”) existing today in our lives?
Take one of those other entitlements—the medical. And make it personal to this writer. For four months I’ve been undergoing prostate cancer treatment at the Stanford Hospital, the grand total cost of medicines and radiation from those hugely expensive Varian machines approaches, so far, a quarter of a million dollars. Yes, $250,000 is as accurate a figure as I can total up right now.
Apart from weird side effects, this procedure is painless both to my body and my pocketbook because, as a Korean War veteran, I have been able to arrange for the Veterans Administration to foot the giant part of the bill. That’s you, the taxpayer. And I thank you, each and every one of you here in Rossmoor and elsewhere. But what if I were not a veteran? And what if I had no Medicare backup, which, by my computations, would still leave me with a considerable amount of co-pay—twenty percent or $50,000—with which I would have to somehow deal?
Yes, the ethics of entitlements. They apply, but only if you fit into the system. And what if you don’t? If you’re not a CEO, if you are without medical coverage (and I mean complete medical coverage monetarily), then you’re out in the cold. And where are the ethics of entitlements for those who are wandering aimlessly in the cold and winter rain? What is to become of those who can’t get into the lifeboat in which they are, by the virtue of the fact that they are a human being and, as such, automatically entitled to a seat?
Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor published novelist, posts his Blog at https://writerlygifts.wordpress.com/ and can be contacted at jonfoyt@mac.com

Fire! Fire! Where’s the Fire!

November 30, 2011

Fire ! Fire! Where’s the Fire?

by Jon Foyt

The old adage is: Don’t yell Fire! in a crowded place. Well, that’s exactly what I’m doing: Yelling Fire! in this crowded place of the United States of America. For Fire is raging everywhere and consuming everything in sight and mind. What Fire? This FIRE:
It is the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate sectors, known as FIRE in campaign finance jargon, according to Joe Garofoli writing in The San Francisco Chronicle.
FIRE is omnipresent in today’s political world, for it is the money given from these corporate sectors to candidates and office holders that is, dare we say “buying” the democratic process? This moneyed force is the beneficiary of a sell-out, making this force without doubt the most highly influential force in America today. Or is it?
You may ask: what about that good old American “grass roots’ force most of us all grew up with and came to admire as the backbone of this country’s democracy? Certainly popular opinion is still there, still at work, still a force. But what of the darkening shadow blowing in overhead, having emanated from corporate boardrooms, corporate treasurer’s offices on Wall Street and other denizens of American Capitalism?
Now, we all love capitalism. It’s America’s answer to world poverty, world turmoil, world trade, word finance and all the other worldly things. And so do those men and women running America’s corporations love capitalism. And aren’t they the ones who now seem to be running America’s elections by imposing their financial influence on every candidate through gifts. They’re not stuffing envelopes and licking stamps like we used to do in political campaigns. They’re financing the candidates.
Consider these situations if you yearn to run for public office, even today. What’s the first thing, or for sure the second thing you must do to jumpstart your political campaign for office? Raise money? Right? And where do you go. Well, after brother Joe and Aunt Matilda have been milked, and you still haven’t enough dough to pay for one little newspaper advertisement, you go your local neighborhood, or your distant Wall Street corporation and ask for a campaign donation. Just like you’ve heard the Supreme Court says they can make—just like Joe and aunt Matilda did. The corporation replies with “sure,” so long as you echo our side of the story, help us get our favorite earmarks passed, support the paying of our corporate bonuses, bail us out with your tax dollars when we bumble around and make big mistakes, and then save us from failing, for as everyone knows we’re too big to fail. Don’t you agree?
Oh, and by the way, don’t you think personal income taxes, as well as corporate income taxes, should be lowered? Yes, on our evaluation of your campaign—which political party did you say you are affiliated with? Makes no difference to us for we see that you have nodded your head affirmatively on nine out of the ten issues we’ve been telling you about. Haven’t you? Well then, Ms. or Mr. Candidate, here’s our check for your campaign and an engraved plaque suitable for framing that proclaims: “I, (Your name calligraphed here) am a certified friend of FIRE.”
Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor published novelist, posts his Blog at https://writerlygifts.wordpress.com/ and can be contacted at jonfoyt@mac.com

The Many Ways We Can Read American History

October 17, 2011

The Many Ways We Can Read American History

by Jon Foyt

 

Clio, the Muse of history, you may recall, is one of the nine ancient Greek muses who represent the varied categories of knowledge. Clio is usually pictured holding a parchment scroll. Her name translates into “recount.”

Today history may be recounted in a variety of ways. Thus we might picture a modern-day Clio holding multiple sets of scrolls, each representing a different way to read or recount history.

Last month in Rossmoor’s Fireside Room, author Ted Nace described one way to read history, that being via the Supreme Court decisions relating back to the birth of the Republic and the creeping legalized increase of corporate power. Supreme Court decisions also concern themselves with such vital issues as women’s rights, aid for the handicapped, Social Security, Medicare, historic preservation, and a multitude of issues affecting our lives. Pick your topic, and you can follow its legal evolution through relevant Supreme Court decisions. That’s one way to read history.

Remember those school days when we read about the reigns of European kings and queens? The study of royalty and its many dynasties was another historical path. Then there were the wars to read about and trace through time with the development of weaponry from crude to modern-day complex. We could follow the stories of ethnic groups and glimpse their cultural history, which leads inevitably to the story of human migration in which at varying times in history we, or our ancestors, all participated.

Migration suggests the study of time, and how different cultures view time, from Native Americans who think of time in a circular fashion, whereas most other Americans view time as linear…then…and then…and then. How each of us views time may influence how we read Clio’s scrolls.

Trouble is, most of these different ways of reading history avoid the emotional experiences of the “common” person, that is, the non-regal, non-super rich, non special interest group members wearing their corporate-issued cloaks. Unrecorded, except in personal memoirs or anecdotal media stories, are the everyday accounts of the anxious and the unemployed seeking jobs in a jobless market, and those trying to understand and cope with today’s mystifying medical world with its bewildering plethora of drugs and complex insurance codes.

Also unrecorded on any scroll are the challenge of addressing one’s marriage and family, along with the struggles for economic and emotional survival in a recession-era economy. More positive, but also missing, is the successful search by us common folk for the ringing melodies of happiness.

Robert Samuelson, writing in The Washington Post, compares Census numbers on American poverty, to previous data, observing, “The Great Recession is different… The standard trends measured by Census (income, poverty, health insurance) are incomplete. (These figures) don’t fully convey the recession’s effects on Americans’ welfare and psychology.”

He goes on to reference the “devastating housing slump, which has subtracted huge sums from people’s wealth,” and “parents’ fears for their children.” These sorts of concerns are yet another way to read that familiar American history which many of us in Rossmoor have personally experienced. Today, right in our secluded valley, we can’t help but recognize the vivid contrasts between past events and the dark sides of today’s economic nightmares.

It is these many “common” unrecorded stories that fall into this vast category that Clio should “recount” in one of her scrolls. She might then address a joint session of the Congress, directing her scrolls toward those conservatives who shy from solving the list of issues affecting the common people. After her Congressional address, Clio might virtually shake those distant and distracted politicians into recognition of a more enlightened and progressive way of reading the common people’s history.

Yes, Clio, dear Muse, do expose those whom we elect to pubic office to a closer look at the real world surrounding them, one that is populated with real people leading real lives. The result would be to instill in these representative accounts of individual stories with their worries, their hunger, their illnesses, their people buried in medical bills, past due mortgages and overdue rents, while haunted by their own joblessness. To see today’s true picture, multiply each account by millions to arrive at the truest way to read current pages of American history in the making.

Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor published novelist, can be contacted at: jonfoyt@mac.com

An Open Letter to Charles Darwin

August 22, 2011

An Open Letter to Charles Darwin from Jon Foyt:

Sir: When I was in college some fifty years ago (and counting)—many years after your scientific work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (London, 1859)—I was challenged by a revered professor who demanded to know: “Why, Young Man, are you here in this college?”

I voiced a stereotypical freshman response, “To learn…” and then I paused and added, “…ah…I guess.”

He stared at me with his cold, searching academic eyes and said, “If you’re not here to both search for the truths in society and science and to study the factors that make up the human capability, what I call the human equation—the two and the only two reasons to seek higher education—then you don’t belong in this institution or in any other university today.”

I’ve pondered his words over my next half century of living.

Now, Mr. Darwin, back to your esteemed theory as reported from two decades of tireless scientific research, I wish to pose this hypothetical question: How and why has the evolution of our species—homo sapiens—gotten so off track as to eschew the truths of society and the universally-accepted axioms of science, fundamental economics, as well as the truths about the human experience with its grand potential?

Sir, I know you did not intend to forecast the future of human development in 1859, but I have to ask, even if you are not here to answer, why, in the past century and a half of human evolution, have the truths about society and science gotten lost, befogged by biases and falsehoods, bigotry and rigid political party lines?

Have the multiple truths we seek become too grotesque in their starkness for any of us to accept? Have these universal truths grown too frightening for us to live with in our comfortable retirement lives? Have the truths grown too threatening to believe so that, in their stead, we substitute myths of all measure, along with folklore of the most ferocious kind and subscribe to unscientific and unproven doctrines combined with the awful distortions of our beloved American history? Have we in today’s chaos of wild and aberrant thought reverted to an alchemy of absurdities?

Sir—and I must ask this question, given the foregoing—has your evolutionary theory of mankind become distorted? Has our evolved species bifurcated into separate evolutionary branches—one retreating to our ancestors in trees who care not a twit about the truths of the world and, the other focused on bridging the chasm between today’s divided political parties?

Whence on your evolutionary tree sprout the “Young Earthers,” who, oblivious to scientific truths, espouse their six thousand year-old date for the birth of our planet? Whence descend the politicians who know only distortions about American history, or worse, advocate theories of economics repeated from mutant partisan groups? When and where and why, Sir, did the long road of human evolution fork into these two very different and opposing paths of mental evolution?

But wait! Of course, the species you have tracked down through the eons—ours—has the mental capacity and the freedom to believe anything it wants, to worship whatever or whomever it chooses, to promulgate such dogma as the earth is flat and the moon made of green cheese, and so on, and so forth. Yet, does not our human species—and is it now two divergent political “branches”? (like What’s the Matter with Kansas?)—also have the God-given capacity, indeed the spiritual mandate, to seek out truths? Indeed, does not our species have the obligation, as the epitome and culmination of your evolutionary story, to so do?

Alas, many of these other folks have attended college, are products of our American educational system, and have received one of more of its carload of degrees. But what gives with their lack of search for truths? Are they lured by the camaraderie of like-minded folks intent on joining the same political party? Has this particular political party demeaned the human equation to where human factors are subordinated to the golden chalice of corporate power? Has the search for truths been supplanted by efforts to control our national, state and local governments, with the support from well-funded special interest groups? Has the craving for wealth replaced the search for truths?

Could you, Sir, please drop by the Dollar Clubhouse for a scheduled appearance before an authorized Rossmoor group and give us an update on your theory of evolution? For we, like you, search for the truths around us and how they have come to evolve into what they are touted to be today, and we find ourselves alarmed by how misguided versions of social and scientific truths of the human potential may erroneously be shaping the world around us.

Jon Foyt, a Rossmoor novelist, can be contacted at: jonfoyt@mac.com

To research “Young Earthers,” who do not per se have a website, readers are advised to Google the subject and then click accordingly.

Y’all Come Together Now, Y’Hear!

July 15, 2011

A clarion call for the Political Right and the Progressives to come together to forge an American consensus for the nation’s future.

Y’all Come Together Now, Y’hear!

by Jon Foyt

Here’s some common sense advice for a nation deeply divided about its basic values, its future and its continued well being as a democracy: Hey, Dear Leaders all, y’all come together and craft viable plans for the nation so that we all can meet the future head-on and prevail.
Consider this exemplary event: back in 1808 in Upstate New York in a community near what today is the city of Syracuse but was then only a dark and dismal swamp, two men and the voters who elected them influenced dramatically the course of our nascent Republic’s development.
As background for this little historic scenario, y’all recall that in the early years of our nascent Republic two opposing governing and political philosophies were continually debated amongst the male property owners of the thirteen states. The Federalist had one philosophy and the Jeffersonian Republicans quite an opposite view. The arguments between these parties grew vitriolic, as well as being elegantly debated by orators of the day.
Loosely categorized, the Federalist point of view sprung from the dominant European tradition that those in charge of society, namely the kings, the nobles and the lords of the manor were somehow chosen by a Higher Authority to own the land and to run society. The opposite point if view prevailed, otherwise we might have had King George Washington and a court of noblemen instead of President George Washington and a popularly elected (albeit in those days limited to male land owners) body of the people.
Now back to our 1808 true story for your consideration: Joshua Forman, an avid Federalist, and John McWhorter, an equally avid Jeffersonian Republican, campaigned for the New York Legislature on a combined “Canal Ticket.’ Elected, they carried out their mandate and together wrote the speech that Joshua gave before that Legislature later that year, following which the body appropriated the first monies for the survey of what was to become in 1825 America’s First Super Highway, the Erie Canal, which opened up the then Northwest to cheap transportation and trade and kept the British confined to the wilds of Ontario.
During the ensuing years following Joshua’s speech, the nation entered into a brief phase devoid of political parties as we know them today, a sort of common unity of purpose for the expanding nation, an era during which the nation put aside philosophical differences about how to govern this new land and this fledgling country and turned its attention, politically and economically, toward the West and toward forging the beginnings of what today has become a great nation.
You may observe that 200 years ago was a much different, and perhaps simpler time, and of course you would be right. But looking back, these two Americans did what was needed to be done in their era. Jump ahead 200 years from today and look back and ask: did Americans of 2011 and 2012 do what was needed in what today is “our era?”
So, fellow Americans, how about the suggestion that we in Rossmoor, as matriarchs and patriarchs of this nation, have a mandate to come together as did Joshua Forman and John McWhorter, back in 1808, to look forward toward the future and not to join with much of the popular media and the down and dirty political debate that wallows in the weeds of a dark and dismal swamp of aberrant and caustic name calling, racial slurs, birth certificate challenges and religious attacks aimed directly at the President of the United States of America, accompanied by wanton character bashing. Such aspersions, as delivered to us daily only widen and deepen what has become a non-productive national chasm, its dismal depths clung to by a far right warped ideology that eschews the truth and an opposite and stubborn decades old political dress that needs a new and brilliant bow, or at least the addition of something cobalt blue and brilliant.
Couldn’t this year of 2011 be the appropriate time for us all to rise above the mundane media muck that we’re hit with daily and come together in common purpose as all of us did on the Fourth of July celebration in the beautiful Dollar gardens and reach out together to claim the brightness that our future surely offers?

Jon Foyt is co-author of The Landscape of Time, a novel about the creation of the Erie Canal. His email address is: jonfoyt@mac.com

Shakespeare’s Words

May 14, 2010

Shakespeare’s Words

Did William Shakespeare write his plays and sonnets with a collaborator? Perhaps his co-author was someone who had experienced the intrigues of the Royal Court, as did Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, who was at Court and who did travel to such foreign places as Venice and Verona. Or was his collaborator fellow playwright Christopher Marlowe, or maybe the dramatist Ben Jonson? Oh, or maybe Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, her creative participation covered up in a conspiracy of authorship? To write, to compose, to tell a story, to express in blank verse, composed in iambic pentameter, is no easy matter for one person.

Shakespeare is Shakespeare. All you have to do is to undertake to compile a list of Shakespeare Festivals staging plays today across the country and around the world, even in China and Japan. You soon bag your endeavor because the list is virtually endless. All these productions, of course, require collaboration on the part of many, many talented people: the writer who adapts, skilled actors, experienced stage designers, effective directors, possibly musical background composers, even imaginative publicists creating websites to sell tickets. So today academia and audiences respect and praise the final draft and even the sometimes modernized setting of a Shakespeare stage or movie production.

Therefore, we should read or watch and enjoy Shakespeare, all the time imagining the Bard with his quill pen and inkwell composing away in some pub amidst the hubbub of turn of the 16th century English, Bohemian and Italian life. It’s not that possible collaboration diminishes or advances; it’s the final production and the thoughts it conveys that we love.