Oldegoats.com welcomes all personal narratives including those which contain opinions on matters of public interest.
If you express sufficient interest about the 2024 Presidential Election I will open a room dedicated to political opinions and discussion.
Material in this Room expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of oldegoats or Dan Bell
A SMALL, ROUND TABLE
Generally considered to be the first ever feminist novelist, the reputation of Jane Austen (1775-1817) is based on six novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Only the first four titles were published in her lifetime.
I read my first Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice (1813), when I was sixteen years old, and she has been my favorite English novelist ever since. I have always enjoyed her skillful use of humor, social satire and irony. But at the all-boys high school that I attended in London, I usually avoided expressing my admiration for Jane Austen’s novels. When I did reveal it, I often met with scorn and derision from my classmates for liking a “minor” novelist. (At that time, they were more likely to be reading Hemingway, Steinbeck and Kerouac).
But during my adult lifetime, Jane Austen’s popularity has undergone a sea change with scholars and the general reader alike. I like to date this change from the 1995 movie of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee. This beautiful movie met with universal acclaim, and helped propel an unprecedented interest in Jane Austen, her life and her novels.
From 1809 until her death at the age of forty-one, Austen (who never married) lived with her sister and mother in a cottage in the village of Chawton in the English county of Hampshire. The cottage is open to the public and has been restored to the condition and appearance when the Austen family lived there, and when Jane was busy writing the six novels that her reputation is based on. I have visited the cottage on three or four occasions, and my imagination has always been stirred by the small, round table in the front room. Legend has it that this is the very table where Austen sat and created the novels that are now read and admired throughout the world.
After a short illness, Austen died in Winchester in 1817, and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
I graduated from the University of Hull in England in July of 1968, and soon afterwards left home to work for three years as a volunteer teacher in Belize in Central America. I was assigned to work at Fletcher College, in the small seaside town of Corozal, close to the border with Mexico.
Fletcher College was staffed mainly by volunteer teachers from the USA and the UK. It was the custom among the volunteers to use the summer at the end of their first year of teaching to travel in Central America, typically journeying by bus through Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
I don’t recall exactly how I met Michael Martin for the first time. Like me he had grown up in London and had been a volunteer teacher at Fletcher College some years before. He was back in Belize for a few weeks and suggested we make the journey through Central America together. His plan was to get to Panama City and then fly from there to visit friends in Jamaica.
So for three weeks we travelled together by bus through Central America, stopping for two or three days in each country’s capital city: Tegucigalpa, San Salvador, Managua, San Jose and Panama City.
In Costa Rica, we hiked to the rim of the active Irazú volcano, and we were the honored guests at a party on a coffee plantation. In Managua, we smoked cigars in the lobby of our hotel, surrounded by the high command of the Nicaraguan Army. In Panama City we went out to the Canal Zone and watched ships pass through the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal. On many evenings we sat outside in the coolest time of the tropical day, drinking beer and exchanging stories of good fortune and unrequited love.
After a few days in Panama City, I went out to the airport with Michael to see him off on his flight to Jamaica. As I watched his plane take off, I reflected that in life there are times when you get to know someone quite intensely for a short period of time, and then they disappear from your life forever. I certainly never expected to see Michael again.
Two years later, I was back again at the University of Hull, beginning a one-year postgraduate program designed to convert an English major like me into a social scientist. At registration I learned that there were book lockers in the basement of the Social Sciences building that could be rented for a small annual fee. I paid the fee and went down to find my new locker. I opened the locker to make sure the key worked, and as I closed the door I noticed someone was opening a locker a short distance from mine. That someone was: Michael Martin again!
GAMAGES DEPARTMENT STORE
Gamages Department Store, located at Holborn Circus in the heart of central London, proudly served its customers for almost one hundred years. It opened in 1878, and finally closed its doors in 1972, when it was demolished.
In a television version of the Sherlock Holmes story “The Cardboard Box”, his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson advises Sherlock Holmes to buy Dr. Watson's Christmas present at Gamages Department Store. Later, we see Holmes arrive home with a parcel with the Gamages label.
According to Wikipedia, “Gamages had many departments, a much larger number than modern department stores. There was a substantial hardware department on the ground floor which included specialist motor parts and car seat cover sections. There was a photographic department, and camping, pets, toys and sporting goods departments, the latter selling shotguns. The toy department was extensive and there were substantial fashion, furniture and carpeting departments.”
I have many fond memories of the two summers that I worked at Gamages, spanning my last two years at high school. Six days each week I travelled by commuter train from my home in the outer suburbs to Liverpool Street Station, one of London’s storied main line terminals. I would then always walk the rest of the way to work (about two miles), crossing streets and seeing buildings familiar to all readers of the novels of Charles Dickens: Threadneedle Street, the Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Ludgate Hill, The Old Bailey, Cheapside, Holborn and Chancery Lane. On my way back to Liverpool Street Station on those hot summer evenings, I often stopped for a drink at one of many pubs along the way (my favorite was the Mitre Public House, built in 1773).
My employee classification was “contingency,” which meant that from day to day I could be assigned to any department where staffing was needed due to sickness or vacations. I started in office supplies, and spent time in sporting goods, pets and camping. Sporting goods was a challenging assignment because I knew nothing about, for example, fishing. In response to questions as to “what type of bait/size of hook/weight of fishing line do you recommend?” I would ask “what have you been using?” and then reply with feigned confidence, “then I would stay with that if I were you”.
The Wikipedia entry I quoted earlier reminded me that we sold shotguns in the sporting goods department. The only staff person authorized to sell them was an elderly gentleman retired from a long career as a game warden in one of the former British colonies in Africa. When business was slow, he liked to regale us with unlikely stories of his exploits and adventures there.
This story from my youth has the happiest of endings. Each year around the middle of August, national examination results were published that determined university entrance. After all these years I can still remember my joy the day I arrived at work with the letter in my pocket telling me my grades (after twenty-seven hours of exams) were good enough for a university place.
In the early 1970’s the Wisconsin legislature made a comprehensive system of community care and treatment for mental illness, drug dependency and developmental disabilities the responsibility of each county in the state. These laws, contained in Wisconsin statutes Chapter 51, included the process (known as a 72-hour emergency detention) under which an individual can be involuntarily detained by law enforcement and transported to a locked treatment facility for initial evaluation. But this is only if the individual is mentally ill, drug dependent or developmentally disabled, and there is a substantial risk of physical harm to self or others, and the individual is unable or unwilling to cooperate with voluntary treatment.
Taylor County, in north central Wisconsin, is one of the smallest counties by population in the state. Its current population of almost 20,000 is unchanged since I was hired there in 1976 as a psychiatric social worker. When I arrived, the county was just starting to establish its Chapter 51 programs and services, and there were many challenges (and rewards) associated with providing services to individuals who typically had never received treatment before. Often, even the most florid symptoms of mental illness in an individual had been tolerated by the community for many years.
One of my earliest cases, for example, was an elderly man who for many years never left his house without wearing a hat lined on the inside with aluminum foil. He explained to me that he did this to protect himself from dangerous rays from outer space.
It was in responding to potential emergency detention cases that long-standing, untreated mental illness or drug dependency were most frequently encountered. Our department established a cooperative agreement with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department to accompany them, 24/7, on calls involving potential emergency detentions. Our role was solely advisory since the decision to detain always rested with law enforcement.
Sometimes in the four years I worked with emergency detention cases in Taylor County, things went wrong. On one memorable night, I was one of two social workers with a deputy transporting a man to a treatment facility. We stopped on an isolated rural road surrounded by cornfields, because the individual we were transporting was complaining his handcuffs were too tight. A struggle with the deputy outside the squad car ensued. I remember thinking to myself, “If he gets hold of the deputy’s gun, we’re all dead”. Somehow, we managed to subdue him and complete the drive to the treatment facility at breakneck speed.
In another case, I assured the sheriff’s deputy I went on a drug dependency call with that there was “substantial risk of physical harm to self” when in fact the actual evidence was very weak. The next morning, I found myself in the Circuit Court Judge’s chambers, receiving a harsh reprimand over the seriousness of depriving anyone of their liberty without adequate legal cause.
After 4 years I left Taylor County and was hired in a county in another part of the state. To my great relief I was informed that in their county, emergency detentions were left entirely to law enforcement.
I like to say (whenever anyone asks me about my path to US citizenship) that I became a US citizen during my lunch hour, although this comment is never meant to dishonor the process or the achievement in any way.
I arrived in the USA with my wife (a US citizen, born in Ohio) and baby daughter in 1976. From time to time, I explored becoming a US citizen, but always rejected it on the understanding that dual citizenship was not possible. Becoming a US citizen would require me to give up my British citizenship (I recall that the requirement was swearing to something like “I hereby renounce forever my allegiance to all foreign princes and potentates”). So for 20 years I lived and worked in four different states with the status of Resident Alien, ready to show my “green card” whenever requested (it hardly ever was).
Then, in the 1990’s, three events occurred that led me to become a naturalized US citizen.
The first event was a change in the US Immigration Service’s laws and regulations, that for the first-time permitted nationals of certain foreign countries, including Britain, to be granted dual citizenship.
The second event was my admission to the two-year Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at the University of Washington in Seattle. I had for many years thought that the MBA degree would be a valuable complement to my MA in Social Work degree from the University of Wales, especially as I rose through the ranks of psychiatric social worker to middle management to agency leadership. Shortly after we arrived in Seattle in 1990, I visited the university and was discouraged to learn that the fees for the MBA were $47,000 (in 1990 dollars!). But I also learned that a scholarship was available to one person working in the nonprofit sector to join the 30-person class. After achieving a good score on the Graduate Management Admission Test, and submitting some very supportive reference letters, I was awarded the scholarship and entered the 1992-94 class. Who would not want to be a citizen of a country whose higher education system was so welcoming and generous to me?
And the third event? In 1994 the State of Idaho hired me to be Chief of the Bureau of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in the Department of Health and Welfare in Boise, Idaho. One of my responsibilities was to bring proposals to the State Legislature for changes or additions to the state’s laws regarding mental health or substance abuse. We successfully brought forward to the 1998 legislative session several significant changes and one completely new law (outpatient civil commitment for mental illness). But for some reason I didn’t feel right about my part in the process. I concluded (rightly or wrongly) that I would feel much better changing or creating Idaho’s laws in the future if I was doing so as a US citizen.
I completed the naturalization process some months after the conclusion of the 1998 legislative session. The Federal Courthouse in downtown Boise was just a few blocks away from my office, so it really was possible for me to attend my naturalization ceremony in front of a federal judge during an extended lunch hour. I was honored to be one of fifty individuals from countries all over the world who became new US citizens that day.
I first met Martyn in 1958, when we were both 11 years old, just starting our academic careers at Leyton County High School for Boys in London. Martyn became one of my oldest and dearest friends. I’m incredibly thankful for the many years of humor, conversation and friendship that we enjoyed together.
I fondly remember, while we were still at school, our walking holidays in Dorset & Devon, on the Pennine Way, and on the islands of Mull, Skye and Iona in western Scotland. Equally memorable were the trips we made together to Stratford on Avon to see performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I’ve lived in the United States for over 40 years, but we managed to stay in touch and always spent time together on my visits to the UK. In recent years, this included time together in the English Lake District and in North Wales. Martyn was always a most gracious and generous host, for whom nothing was too much trouble. I could always count on him to share my passion for visiting the cottages of famous (deceased) writers: Jane Austen’s cottage, Thomas Hardy’s cottage, Lawrence of Arabia’s cottage, and William Wordsworth’s cottage, to name just a few.
Martyn died on March 2, 2022 after a long illness. In keeping with his wishes, his ashes were scattered on a mountain in his beloved English Lake District.
In thinking about Martyn, the words of Hamlet paying tribute to his deceased father come to mind: “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”
Roy Sargeant May, 2023
THE ESSEX WAY
“Now you’re here, Roy”, my sister Valerie asked, “which tea shop do you want to visit this time?” It was 2012, and I was on one of my regular visits to family and friends in the UK. Valerie, a lifelong resident of the English county of Essex, had some years before discovered a book with the title something like “Tea Shops and Walks in Rural Essex”. The location and description of a dozen delightful tea shops in villages throughout rural Essex were followed in each case by a map and guided walk starting (and ending) at the tea shop.
It was on this tea shop excursion in 2012 with my sister that, by accident, I discovered the Essex Way. After leaving our tea shop and walking some distance, we made our way up a steep hill. At the top, the guidebook informed us we were now crossing the Essex Way. ”The Essex Way?” I thought to myself, “Never heard of it.” Back in the USA, I did some research (there are many resources on the Internet and on YouTube) and decided that walking the entire length of the Essex Way would make an interesting and challenging retirement project.
The Essex Way is a waymarked, long-distance footpath some 81 miles long. The trail starts in Epping, 20 miles north of the center of London, heads in a northeasterly direction across the county, and ends at the port of Harwichon the North Sea coast. In the words of one writer, “It leads through ancient woodlands, open farmland, tree-lined river valleys and leafy green lanes, unveiling historic towns and villages and charming inns along the way”.
Of all the history and scenery that I have enjoyed while walking the Essex Way, there are two recollections that are especially memorable. For history, it is hard to beat Greensted Church, which is said to be the oldest wooden church in the world. It is also the oldest wooden building in Europe, with part of the building dating to between 998 and 1063 AD. For scenery, the area known as “Constable Country” stands out. This is because the trail goes through the village of Dedham and the Vale of Dedham, both made famous by the paintings of one of England’s leading landscape painters, John Constable (1776-1837).
I hate to walk alone, and I have been fortunate to always have companions on every section of the Essex Way that I have walked. These companions include mysister Valerie, my niece Joanne (a long-distance runner who has participated withher running club in the annual Essex Way Relay Race), and my friend Ian, who lives in a cotage some miles from the trail.
I must admit that my retirement project of walking the entire length of the Essex Way has yet to be completed. A painful episode of plantar fasciitis, hospitalization with a blood clot in my leg (technically known as deep vein thrombosis) and constraints imposed on travel by the COVID-19 pandemic have all conspired against me. But I take solace in the words of the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson that “It is beter to travel hopefully, than to arrive.”
Iowa Dem Caucus Position Paper
Steven H. Johnson, Ames
For those who might not have read "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson, its message goes to the heart of what we're up against in 2024. Caste societies assign different kinds of identities to different groups of people and then build ferocious "stay in your place" ranking systems to enforce each caste's assigned role. Just as India has long had a caste system, just as Germany under the Nazis had a caste system, America has long had a caste system. People of European descent were at the top, people of African descent were at the bottom, and immigrants from other parts of the world were in the middle.
Demographers are now predicting a day, roughly twenty years from now, when American white people will no longer be America's dominant group by size. Conservative politicians are now playing on this prediction to inspire fear in white voters.
If the Supreme Court agrees that the 14th Amendment prohibits Trump from being a candidate, this issue won't play nearly as extreme a role as it surely will if Trump is allowed onto the ballot.
I am relatively indifferent about which candidate we run. I'm fine with Biden on almost all issues except the Middle East, but I don't know that anyone else in our party would be that different. I'm intrigued by the idea that the Supreme Court might give us the chance to have Nikki Haley as the Republican standard bearer, which would certainly tempt me to have Kamala Harris as our standard-bearer. The only sure way to end up with a woman president is to have a race in which both parties run women for President. If that option opens up, I'm for seizing it.
What I'm more concerned about is our ability, as a party, to get our message right. If the message isn't strong enough, it won't matter who we run. We'll have hard sledding, no matter what.
So here's how I see America's challenge. We live today in an America that has fused the corruptions of social prejudice with the corruptions of economic privilege. If we are to put our nation on a healthy footing for the future, we will need to generate an aspirational vision that overcomes both our nation's core domination systems, the domination system of Enrichment Capitalism (which I personally would call "Depravity Capitalism"), and the cultural domination system of Caste, i.e. "White Supremacy."
Isabel Wilkerson's book "Caste" describes America as a country in which the subservience of African-Americans was enforced by ruthless white violence for ever so long, and continues to be reinforced by cultural snobbery and still more violence, even today.
The depravities of Enrichment Capitalism weren't that much of an issue from the New Deal years of FDR through the Carter Administration. But then Reaganism turned our economic order upside down.
What the FDR years had given America were four or five decades of Prosperity Capitalism. What we have had since Reagan's presidency has been an economy that would politely be described as "Enrichment Capitalism" but that would more accurately be described as "Depravity Capitalism."
Several years ago, I was browsing Cal-Berkeley professor Emmanuel Saez' website. On it I discovered an Excel file showing the relative share of America's earnings received by Americans in the Bottom 90%, the Next 9%, and the Top 1%, on a presidential administration by presidential administration basis, running from the Truman presidency to part way through the Obama presidency, at which point Professor Saez' research interests took him down a different path, and the database I was admiring had therefore come to a halt.
Americans in the "Bottom 90%" did reasonably well for quite a long time. The Truman years. The Eisenhower years. The Kennedy years. The Johnson years. The Nixon years. The Ford years. The Carter years. Total earnings going to the Bottom 90% ranged from sixty to seventy percent of the total, except for the Truman years, in which those in the Bottom 90% topped the 70% line.
But with the advent of the Reagan presidency, America's Capitalist Elites got even, big time. Earning shares for the Top 1% had generally been confined to the 1% to 10% range for seven straight post-FDR presidencies. But, BAM! With Reagan, the share going to the Top 1% exploded, running generally in the 20% to 30% range, or even better. As an inevitable result, the share going to the Bottom 90% got knee-capped. It hasn't topped 50% since, and during the recessions of both Bush presidencies, the income share going to Americans in the Bottom 90% turned negative. Members of the Bottom 90% were worse off at the end of the two Bush presidencies than they had been at the beginning.
So - if we are to see our nation for what it really is - we need to acknowledge not only America's dark social reality, a caste system for oppressing African Americans that's been with us for four centuries, but also the dark reality of a capitalist economic system for oppressing working Americans of all races, a capitalist economic system that was yanked in a far more savage direction in the 1980s than had been its norm previously.
In short, American Conservatism, aka The Republican Party, is in the Depravity Preservation Business. Societal Depravity. Capitalist Depravity.
Theirs is a value system of pure madness. We're Americans. We shouldn't let ourselves be defined by the dark social and economic values of Conservative Propagandists and Republican office holders. We can and must do better.
As Americans, we should all be in the Integrity Culture business. The Caste System of yesteryear needs to be consciously dismantled and shut down. All humans are god's children!
And as Americans we should all be in the Integrity Economics business. It's the only proper platform for America's future.
Let's lay that out, us Democrats, and let our conservative friends know that: Both as Americans, and as Democrats, we want to see America in the Integrity Culture business, and we want to see America in the Integrity Economics business.
An Integrity America will be a healthy America for all its people. Culturally Healthy. Economically Healthy. We're Democrats. We understand America's higher promise. The GOP doesn't believe that we Americans have the right to realize our higher promise. Nuts to that. Join us!
That's my recommended message for our 2024 campaign. Regardless of who our standard-bearer turns out to be.
Consider Geezerhood. I think about it a lot while doing cognitive assessments of patients being evaluated for possible dementia. Some 60-year-olds are already geezers – some 90-year-olds are not. What’s the difference? Not health status (some non-geezers are mentally energetic but walking medical disasters); not intactness of cognitive abilities (some patients with moderate Alzheimer’s disease look just fine - until you ask them what day it is). The main thing that distinguishes the geezers from the non-geezers is how they see their lives and their futures. Are they ready to die? Geezerhood is knocking on your door. Looking forward to years of decades of interesting life? You will barely recognize what geezerhood is, much less act the part. The Life Report touches on this, and I’m hoping my fellow classmates are going to focus on what we did well, even while acknowledging that there were some things (maybe a lot of things) we didn’t do so well, and that we have learned a lot along the way and are still lifetime learners. For my part, I’ll start with the last question - what have I learned along the way? I've learned the truth of the aphorism that we don't get wiser as we age, we just run out of stupid things to do. Well, in my case, I guess I still have a few stupid things I haven't done yet, but they are definitely fewer in number. I have learned that there are some behaviors that just don't have a good outcome. In personal relations, you just don't do something behind someone's back. You apologize if you are in the wrong, and sometimes even when you aren't - revenge is out (I like the Chinese expression that if you are planning revenge, dig two graves). Thank people who deserve it, especially those who helped you get where you are - even if it was in the remote past (I learned this from Positive Psychology, which is worth exploring). I've also learned that people who are nominally at the bottom of the hierarchy can be very powerful; they just might not know it (and of course there are times to express your power and times when it will backfire). In this context, I've learned that you have to choose your battles, and that you can't expect to win all of them. I've learned that you should ask your questions when they occur to you; don't wait - I frequently think of things I wish I had asked my parents and other relatives and friends before they died. Especially things that help define you, like half-remembered events from childhood - "What was that all about?"
My mother cautioned us more than once not to brag - she would tell us that people in high places fall the farthest. This was usually said in the context of a mildly self-praising statement uttered by my sister or me. Having absorbed this lesson means that saying what I did well goes against the grain. But I will say that I am content as I look back at my contributions to a healthy family (wife, two children and three grandchildren) and to a healthy science (contributing to the scientific literature working on the editorial boards of two journals). I think I have helped many students realize that communication is everything in both research and clinical work (I am a clinical neuropsychologist, formerly an experimental neuropsychologist). I have developed a good sense of how a reader might find a sentence hard to understand, and what questions might come to the clinician's mind while reading a report. I teach students how to avoid providing irrelevant information in a report, because this just makes more work for the reader who will tuck the useless information away for possible future reference, wasting energy and causing the report to be mentally and physically tiring. I think and hope I've been a good father and husband, though we aren't the best judges of that. My wife and I certainly have taken more interest in what our children are doing and thinking than my parents did; Margaret and I feel we understand their hopes and fears - we reward often and offer advice (often unsolicited) when we see something that's not going well.
I don't focus on things done badly, but I frequently become painfully reminded of a faux pas from years ago. I wish I had taken an active role in the civil rights movement (classmates went to Mississippi to help with voter registration - why didn't I?). I have mixed feelings about “our” war – I was lucky to be in graduate school and then too old to serve, so I survived but I can’t say I’m proud of having stayed out of harm’s way. I still think it was a war that shouldn’t have happened, and I see the damage done to bodies and minds every time I work with a veteran from the Vietnam War, but many of our classmates fulfilled their duty and I wish I had too. Those are the major lapses - the others are really minor but it’s amazing how I remember the mistakes even if the people present at the time don’t. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s observation that humans are the only animals that blush, and the only ones that need to! I guess I shouldn’t assume that we are all equally sensitive to past mistakes - this is probably one of those personality quirks that reflects birth order (I was the youngest, so I had to watch out or be put in my place by my older siblings).
If I had to choose one pivotal period in my life after the four years at Dartmouth, it would be my living and working in Europe for nine years (bookended by five then two years in Montreal). This experience opened me up to worldviews different from my narrow Denver upbringing and made me more appreciative of diversity and definitely more wary of patriotic impulses that lead to death and destruction.
Retire? Maybe some day. But not any time soon. Work is still too interesting and rewarding, and my impression is that retirement is dangerous - likely to open the door to geezerhood, and I'm not ready for that yet. My new projects are learning how to use the modern social media for family and science (blogging and Twitter, which almost count as new languages), and teaching my granddaughter to play the piano. I wish my classmates a mentally healthy 8th decade and look forward to renewing friendships at our 50th. So, consider geezerhood, but reject it.