Category Archives: Social Anthropology

A question most worth asking

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.Our annual school tax check – about 75 percent of it goes to public schools – is on the dining room table. Yes, it’s mostly a school tax and, truth be told, a reasonable investment in our communities’ offspring. Still, it’s taxes, and it’s a large enough check to pay for a trip I’d like to take later this year.

Wednesday morning’s newspaper had a front page story about Darlene Brown earning more than $168,000 plus nearly $34,000 benefits for her role in providing housing to poor people. Clearly, those numbers were what the writer wanted readers to take away – he mentioned them several times – and in a county that considers $30,000 to be a pretty OK salary, those numbers are certainly worthy of note.

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Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the The Wall

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.“In early spring 2008, two young bison bulls jumped a sagging three-string barbed wire fence separating Chihuahua, Mexico, from New Mexico in the United States. On both sides of the international line lay an unbroken grassland valley scoured almost bare by a prolonged drought, which announced itself meanly on the dusty hides stretched taught [sic] over bison bones. … Here is a landscape that has seen the birth of jaguars, the death of Spanish missionaries, the budding of Saguaro cactus, the persecution and dogged endurance of native peoples, and the footsteps of a million migrants recorded in the smoldering sands of the Devil’s Road.”

One of the principles I have offered my children and grandchildren has been that books have the power to take us places we might otherwise never visit. One such book is Krista Schlyer’s “Continental Divide.” In words and pictures gathered over several years, Schlyer, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental photographer and writer, takes us to this nation’s border with Mexico, and “The Wall.”

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Myth and reality

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.We humans, I’ve discovered through many years of observation, are complicated.

We like, for instance, the story of Romeo and Juliet, two young (some say about 15-year-old) lovers who got together in spite of their parents feud. Or maybe at least partially because of it; youth often does things just because the elders forbid it.

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Ode to lettuce

With enough lettuce, one can forget the entree is tiny.My favorite movie popcorn went up a buck. I didn’t mind that. Really! I normally attend the $5 show, and often I’m one of the few in the theater. Paying staff and electricity can’t be cheap, I figure, and I think the township gets a cut off every ticket, so why complain.

Then I started noticing the giant tubs that once were served rounded were about two or three handfuls from topped up. Of course, when you buy a giant tub of popcorn, the movie house offers a free refill  (provided you don’t attend the late show, when the concession stand closes before the movie gets out and there is no one there to dispense the refill).  But I don’t usually go to the late show, so I get two buckets of popcorn – one when I enter to eat with the movie, one on the way out to eat later, while watching Game of Thrones.

But I was taken aback the other day when my favorite dining-out partner and I went to our once-favorite sit-down, not quite fast food chain. The atmosphere is nice, the service friendly, and the prices not terrible. At least that was the case. Times, and servings have changed.

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Silly Rules

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.News Flash: Archeologists have found Sally Hemings house. Most of us know Sally Hemings was a slave owned by our third president, Thomas Jefferson. I wonder what, if anything, will her abode reveal.

I was a substitute high school teacher in the late 1980s, occasionally in charge of a high school Social Studies class.

“How many of you think women’s lib started in your lifetime,” I asked one day. Except for a couple of students clever enough to suspect a trick question, all raised their hands. So I told them about Abigail.

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The American Way?

Rep. Steve Scalise, third in the chain of command in the House of Representatives, two House staffers and two Capitol Police officers were wounded Wednesday morning, apparently by a guy from Illinois who didn’t like Republicans. The operative phrase is “didn’t like,” because police killed the shooter.

It’s OK to not like Republicans – or Democrats – but when we claim this isn’t the way we do things in this country, shooting people we don’t like, or people ostensibly on their side, should top the list. Unfortunately, it does not.

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A message to Garcia

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.We were chatting over breakfast about that bridge in Atlanta that collapsed, closing a part of Interstate 85. One of the guys wondered whether that affected I-75, so we Googled the news reports, and were treated to detailed instructions such as:

From Peachtree, take the Cheshire Bridge Road, under Lindbergh Drive – or was it over Lindbergh Drive, under the Cheshire Bridge and across Peachtree … there were a bunch of other streets and roads mentioned. All of them, probably, of significance to the locals. If I were headed to Atlanta in the next week or so, I believe I would head somewhere else.

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A new area code on the near horizon

It seems telephone sales are doing so well that the phone companies are running out of numbers for the 717 area code, so the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission will be adding a 223 area code. Sometime this summer, probably in August, telephone callers in the 717 area will be required to dial all 10 digits including the area code, rather than only seven digits.

If your new neighbor obtains a new number, you may have to remember that 223 is not necessarily on the other side of the region; it’s next door. And the seven-digit number you are dialing is not in some other state. It’s across the street.

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First solo flight

A boulder once named The RocketI believe I have come down with a nearly debilitating case of cabin fever. This constant grayness, in which I wake in the morning to a liquid sky the color of a World War II battleship dripping just outside my pillow, is like a scene from “The Twilight Zone.”

But I’m pretty sure Spring, if I can hang on long enough, will arrive in a spectacular explosion of soft colors. It’s happened nearly 70 times thus far, so probably …Granddaughter affirmed my hope New Year’s Eve.

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Thanks for everything

The wind was blowing strongly but invisibly when we arrived at the breakfast place. Later, our morning hunger sated, we exited the establishment into a wind speckled with seeds of the impending season.

Not enough to whiten the grass, but snow, nonetheless. For my part of the planet, four days before Thanksgiving is early, even for snow that does not stick.

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Olympic-grade cheering is tiring

Disk showing Olympics runnersI’ve been watching the Olympics with great dedication, and I’m very glad it’s almost over. I am tired, and I don’t know how much more I could take. I need about four years to recuperate.

My favorite sports are beach volleyball – the kind with only two players on each team; gymnastics – in particular the floor and parallel bars; and long distance running – except shorter distances are fun when Usain Bolt is leading, and smiling at the space his closest competitor would occupy if he was close enough.

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A fine kind of sorcery

Gettysburg ER entranceI was about to leave the house one afternoon this week, when I decided to mention to the Resident Nurse:

“I don’t feel right,” I said, “and I’ve been out of bed long enough I should have woke up by now.”

“My heart is sending Morse code like back in the days of black-and-white TV – a couple of quick beats, skip a few, another one, skip a couple more …”

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We are Ameri-cans

There is no hyphen on the American flagAs I listened to a news anchor this week talk about the hullabaloo surrounding a speech delivered by a Muslim whose son was killed in Iraq, I was struck by the way in which the parents of the lost soldier were identified: Muslim-American.

Much has been made of late about how divided is our country, and it occurred to me attaching a prefix to “American” sharpens the wedges. The now departed son was an American. He served in the American Army. He was quite possibly a hero, for reasons beyond merely his signing up to go fight, and die, for the rest of us. He happened to subscribe to the Muslim faith, as do a few million people around the world.

We humans are a tribal lot. We love to identify with a group. We include, within the boundaries of the U.S.A., Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Sikhs, and Atheists. We wear jeans to work, or ban them. We drive Fords and Chevys and Harleys and Hondas.

When I came to Gettysburg, I took up residence in Bonneauville, a town I soon discovered to be nonexistent – at least to the post office and  the Department of Motor Vehicles. When I went to get my Pennsylvania driver license, I put my address as Bonneauville 17325. The nice lady at the window, in a not quite so nice manner, questioned which was correct — Bonneauville, of which neither she nor her computer possessed knowledge, or 17325, which her computer said was Gettysburg.

A label can give us roots. In Maine, it was said to be a True Mainer one had to be at least seventh generation. I wrote about a farmer whose Maine origin went back to two brothers who had been paid for their Revolutionary War service with a deed to land near where I lived. In fact, the original land encompassed much of what had become, by the time I was writing, at least three towns.

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The worst mass shooting

I woke Sunday morning and, as is my wont, perused my email. I subscribe to several forums and news sources and it takes less time to get the important stuff than to turn on the TV and wade through the commercials.

Early reports said 20 people had been killed, 23 more wounded. The writer must have misread, because later the report was 50 killed, 53 wounded – “the worst mass shooting in U.S. history,” some have said. I doubt that, but I suspect it depends on the definition of “mass shooting.” The shooter was one of those who lay dead, which is too bad; it would have been helpful, maybe, to know for sure what prompted him. On the other hand, he apparently called 9-1-1 to proclaim his allegiance to ISIS.

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Getting used to it

Board a 1929 Ford TrimotorThe Transportation Security Administration says the extra security for flights taking off and landing in the United States is necessary because of the attacks in Paris and Brussels. The lines get longer and the evening television news says check your bags so they don’t hold you up in the search line.

Then the airlines increase their fees for checked bags. TSA promises to hire more people to search our luggage.

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Mincemeat pie and a perfect Christmas tree

Children on Christmas morning.The previous night’s snow had coated the forest with foot-deep powder, silencing the footsteps of the three hunters – my brother and I and our father, in the annual quest for a Christmas tree. It was like being in a sound-proofed studio – that weird, echoless sensation of walking alone in an enchanted world.

“Look at this one, Daddy,” my brother exclaimed.

“Shake the snow off it and let’s see,” the elder replied.

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A time to thanks give

The last pieceI can almost smell the mincemeat and apple pies, sitting on the porch rail to cool, and woe to the child who even contemplated poking a finger in one before The Big Meal.

In my youth, this was an aromatic week, culminating in a table full of turkey, at least one type of squash (and I love them all, in sooth), a humungous bowl of mashed potatoes, a heaping pile of hand-squooshed biscuits and a bowl of cranberry sauce. When cranberry sauce became available in cans, Mom was sure anyone who used the stuff would be consigned to the lower reaches of the eternal furnace.

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In which are extinguished smoking pachyderms …

A can of tobacco snuffThe day I quit tobacco was sunny and warm. Beyond that, I remember only that it was the summer that Travel Partner No. 2 and I were still dating.

I tried cigarettes when I was in about seventh or eighth grade. I swiped some from Dad’s supply. A few of us slipped off down a trail behind the two-room school house and tried to impress each other with our hoped-for manhood. If inhaling Dad’s Marlboros was a ticket to manhood, I was doomed to stay with Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.

A few years later, I was in the Navy. Cigars – especially big, fat, Bering Plazas, seemed cool and, along with my mustache, they made me look older. Sandy, a.k.a. Travel Partner No. 1, was two years older than I, and would become visibly unhappy when she got carded in some nice wine-and-dine establishments, while I, at 19, was never questioned.

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Father seeks family haven

Millions of our fellow residents are driven bare handed by the ravages of war.Let’s call him Jimmy. He is 31, more or less, from the town in which his father and mother were born. As a youngster, he knew nearly everyone within a mile or so of his home, and several who lived farther away. He rode his bicycle around the town, the way some kids where I live ride their bikes around Gettysburg.

“Sometimes we stacked concrete blocks in an alley, to hold up the end of a two-by-ten board,” he said. “Then we raced our bikes to see who could jump the longest.”
“I usually won,” the now father of four boasts.

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