Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"What Brought It On?"

Winston Churchill called it his "Black "Dog".  A psychiatrist who knew Churchill said of him "Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation, whose courage was beyond reason and whose aggressive spirit burned at its fiercest when he was hemmed in and surrounded by enemies, could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us in the menacing summer of 1940". Much the same could have been said about Robin Williams. Those who suffer as they did from depression and it's dark partner anxiety are hemmed in by forces that do not rise from the rational mind. Their demons are not summoned by events of the day.  They linger and taunt and then seek to destroy by cloaking and choking and snuffing out all light. Don't ask "what brought it on?".  Grieve that there is no warning and no cure. Marvel at the courage and strength required to overcome.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Father

Tomorrow, September 29, 2014 would have been my father's 97th birthday.  He died in the spring of 2001.  He lived much longer than his own father who died at age 54.  My grandfather's name was Frederic Lyman Ballard.  He named his son, my father, Frederic Lyman Ballard Jr.  My  grandfather was still alive when my brother, his first grandchild, was born and was named Frederic Lyman Ballard III.  They followed my great grandfather, in turn into the law. They practiced in the same firm.  When my grandfather died, my father dropped the "Jr" from his name and my brother took it in place of his "III".  When my father died my brother dropped "Jr" too.  He died this year, too young at 72.  As the year turns to 2015, there will be no Frederic Ballard practicing law.  One hundred years have passed . Their combined effort spanned a full century. I loved them all.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

To Succeed in School, You Have to Get There

This afternoon I drove several miles behind a school bus.  We were on a country road.  It was never safe to pull around the bus when we were underway.  I was content to sit and watch as the driver and children made their way home.  Each stop offered a short story about America.  Friends disembarked,  animated by their plans for the afternoon.  A father waited as first one, then a second and finally a third child emerged.  Each was embraced.  They walked off tightly, lovingly.  A dog joined the crowd of moms at the end of a cul de sac development. Backpack personalities: "Twelfth Man" for the Seattle Seahawks; Dora the Explorer; Skip Hop Zoo; Disney Frozen Princesses; courageous transparent plastic; day glo orange.  The earliest bus collecting children for school was called a kid hack. It was often just a farm wagon.  Children in the late 1800's bounced along like so many pigs or chickens.  It would be 50 years before young passengers had much comfort and protection from the weather. Until the 1930's school buses remained crude adaptations of trucks and wagons. The best offered roll-up canvas side curtains.  Many remained open to the elements.  In 1939 rural education representatives met at Columbia University and took up school bus design and safety.  The body and chassis manufacturers were there.  Also the paint companies.  Among the 44 agreed upon industry-wide standards was adoption of National School Bus Glossy Yellow, favored for visibility and sharp contrast with black lettering. There is an American School Bus Council.  You can visit their website and learn much more.  It is their assertion that to succeed in school you have to get there, and they offer convincing statistics about school bus efficiency, effectiveness and safety.  For example, 58% of student fatalities during school hours occur when a teen is driving.  23% when an adult drives but only 1% when students are traveling in a school bus. Twenty five million children ride 480,000 busses every day. The bus dropped off three little girls who skipped and hopped away.  Then it turned off, leaving me, and the line of cars behind me free to go. The pageant was over.   I was a little lonely.  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

You Could Not Make This Up

There is a (usually) dry lake bed in California's Death Valley called the Racetrack.  Since 19th Century pioneers pushed their tired oxen across this arid land, diaries and travel logs have told of large rocks that appear to have slithered across the sand.  The rocks left trails behind them dredged from the hard pan.  How could this have happened?  What force slid boulders hither and yon leaving no evidence of method but the trail in the sand. Theories have been offered.  Observations and measurements made.  But until last winter, the mystery remained unsolved.  Follow this link to NPR and read how it happened.  There is even a video of a rock on walkabout.  Go to the source if you want to know more.  The research is documented in PLOS ONE, a free-access journal for peer-reviewed work.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I Have Not Looked At The Videos

I have not looked, but I have obsessed about the events.  I am a mother. James Foley and Steven Sotloff were the same age as my children. Could I bear it?  Could I watch.   Could I ever resume my own life?  Are these ISIS fighters the cruelest men who have walked the earth.  Beheading the enemy, killing babies and raping women is not new. Does the video recording make the act more cruel, or is reality-barbarism simply more accessible? From 1206 until his death on August 18, 1227 Genghis Khan ruled over what became the largest contiguous empire in history.  What is now China, Korea, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and substantial portions of Eastern Europe were conquered during his reign, and the reigns of his sons.  The Mongol Empire was forged through ruthless, wholesale slaughter - no doubt using the same barbaric acts we are now witnessing.  For Genghis Kahn, the driving force was economic power.  He introduced uniform script and writing to advance trade along the "Silk Road".  He promoted those who performed well.  He encouraged religious tolerance.  Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIS force are driven by ideology.  Where barbarism is concerned, is this a distinction without a difference?