Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Guns and Personal Safety

As I read about the Supreme Court striking down some of the recent gun control laws I am challenged to reflect on my view of guns in our society. I grew up in a rural setting on a farm and in a family culture that was accustomed to the use of guns for hunting and extermination of vermin. I learned to shoot a rifle and shotgun at an early age after having a Red Ryder air powered b-b gun. Gathering with my uncles and cousins for deer and fox hunts was a pleasant family activity. My father taught to me to be very safety minded in the use of guns and drilled into me the dangers of misuse of guns. I no longer hunt but still own a collection of guns inherited from my dad.

Hand guns never were a part of our arsenal and were believed to be an unnecessary weapon that had the potential to be of more harm than value. Their harmful nature was emphasized for me by the tragedy of a near fatal injury of one of my high school classmates. He dropped one of his loaded handguns which fired on impact with the floor and the bullet entered his brain and forever impaired his normal functions.

I am somewhat baffled and disturbed by gun owner advocates who see the need for carrying side arms and to own an use high powered automatic weapons. I find it very uncomfortable to think that we have a society where some people think they need to carry side arms for their own protection. I have no trouble with people owning guns for recreational activities of skeet or trap shooting or for other target shooting contests. However, when the ownership begins to center on self protection and defense I pray that our society can move to a less violent way of maintaining safety.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Geezer Tribute

This morning I heard of the passing of Senator Byrd over night in a hospital in Washington, D.C. His long and distinguished service in the Senate is being applauded by both political parties and speaks to the integrity he brought to service of our nation. Perhaps his distinguished character and courtly manner belies the designation of geezer but as far as I am concerned he represents the quintessential geezer. He lived a long and productive life. He learned from his mistakes and was man enough to admit to them and move on to support justice for all. Would it be that all geezers could perform as well.

Although, I never met the Senator, I did benefit directly from his support for the state of West Virginia. He was instrumental in garnering support for the Appalachian Fruit Research Station of the USDA in Kearneysville, West Virginia. During my years of research on apple harvesting and sorting I had joint research ventures with colleagues at the Station and received financial support for our apple bruise detection work. I suppose some would see Senator Byrd's influence to direct resources to the Research Station as pork barrel spending. However, this support did provide a boost to the entire apple industry of the Northeast and even for the growers in the State of Washington.

Condolences to the Byrd family in the passing of their patriarch. The U.S. Senate has lost one of the greatest members in its history. And also condolences to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the loss of her husband Martin. This couple met at Cornell and formed an unusually successful marriage and professional partnership of mutual support. It is good to appreciate the senior people that have served our country with wisdom and dignity as we approach our Fourth of July holiday.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Living History

Yesterday I had the pleasure of having lunch with Professor Emeritus of Plant Breeding Dr. Royse P. Murphy. He is a living legend at age 96. He truly is a geezer many times over but his courtly manner belies that designation. His daily routine continues to be visiting his office on the Cornell campus and remaining conversant in issues of plant breeding. At our lunch, I took the opportunity to lead the conversation to his recollections of professional and personal life. Born in Kansas 1914 he grew up on a farm where horses were the main power source. He went on to the University of Kansas and later to the University of Minnesota to become educated in plant genetics and breeding. With stints at the Universities of Montana and Minnesota he eventually arrived at Cornell University in 1946. He had distinguished career at Cornell from 1946 until retirement in 1979 when he became Professor Emeritus. Post retirement he continues to be active in his profession even to this day at age 96.
He told me several stories during our lunch. One story relates to hearing about the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. The night before Pearl Harbor he and his wife were attending a party hosted by Norman Borlaug and his wife. He obviously moved in high intellectual circles since Norman Borlaug became a Nobel Prize Winner for his work on wheat varieties. Upon hearing of the Pearl Harbor attack he realized that his tenure at the University of Montana would be short. Thus he enlisted in the Navy and became a radar officer on a ship in the Pacific. His ship became one of the supply ships for the battle for Okinawa. He relates that he is grateful that his ship was not hit by enemy fire since they were supply aviation gasoline as one of their cargoes. On the way back to the U.S. west coast they heard of the end of the Japanese conflict and thus did not have to return to the Pacific islands again.
It has been a privilege to know Prof Murphy and I look forward to hearing more of his life stories.
Living history beats reading the history books.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Hard Times

Thursday night we heard a presentation on a visit of a youth group to the Heifer Project International demonstration farm in Massachusetts. The purpose of the visit was to expose the group to animal husbandry that could be useful to the development of third world nations. Heifer Project has a long history of providing breeding stock for useful for food and power for rural citizens of disadvantaged nations of the world. Part of the youth experience was to live in a demonstration village under the conditions of the indigenous peoples. They experienced for one night what it was like to have no electricity, no indoor plumbing and only the heat of a wood fired stove in a space of about 15 by 15 feet. This was an eye opening experience for all in attendance. Nancy and I had also visited this same facility several years ago and bunked in a communal tent and ate the primitive food typical of a third world nation. We of the United States are indeed privileged people.

The presentation caused me to reminisce about my childhood and teen years. I grew up on a farm with rather primitive living conditions by today's standards. The farm house that I lived in did have electricity. However, we had no running water or indoor bathroom facilities. Nor did we have central heat. Heating was simply a wood burning kitchen stove that provided a warm spot in that area and a pot bellied coal stove in the living room for sitting room heat. Bedrooms were unheated. More than once I got up in the morning to find my shoes frozen to the floorboards. During some winter storms the wind would blow through the window at the foot of my bed and drop a sifting of snow on the covers. Thank God for a feather tick that gave one enough warmth to sleep if you did not move to let in any cold air. By the time I was fourteen we did get water piped into the house driven by an electric pump. A bathroom and central heat did not appear until I was nearly finished with college so I never did live at home with those amenities.

I suppose all the above would say that I lived in hard times. Although many of my contemporaries of that era had most common amenities, many also shared the same conditions as I did. I did have the necessities of food and shelter. I would not wish the conditions of my childhood on anyone today, but as I sit in my comfortable air conditioned home, a few steps from modern bathroom facilities I am continually grateful how fortunate I am. Today it seems we take for granted all the good things we have. It seems that as a society we have moved our standard of what is necessary for a good life to almost unsustainable levels. For most of us now not just food clothing and shelter is required but we must also have multiple cars, cell phones, multiple computers, cable service, and instant connection to the world at all times. We seem to have to consume at every increasing levels to sustain our economy.

Today's paper highlighted the hard times of those who are suffering long term unemployment. The author of this article suggested that in these hard times, we have become less generous to our disadvantaged fellow citizens. Perhaps we have. I do think we have an obligation as a society to provide the basics of food, clothing and shelter for the less fortunate. My hope is that both our government and our charitable organizations can at least provide the basics for life. I hope that I don't get so comfortable that I forget those who need some help.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Living Celebration to Celebration

It seems like my life has been full of celebrations over the last few weeks as well as the last few months and there are many more to come. The celebration events have included birthdays, Cornell graduation, a Cornell Alumni weekend breakfast, Mother's day and a 50th Anniversary celebration for ministry of the Fayetteville United Methodist church at it's present site. And today is one of my daughter's 50th birthday. On Sunday we will also celebrate Nancy's birthday and Father's day. Also today I attended an ice cream social for the retiring dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell celebrating her accomplishments of the past 10 years.

The above are milestone events. However, I think that life can be one long string of living celebration to celebration in small doses as a way of living the good life. If one could think of living in celebration all the time it adds a zest to life that refreshes every day. In my simple way of approaching life in this model I can view having my fritter with my favorite coffee each morning as a celebration. Completing the daily crossword puzzles is a a triumph and a form of celebration. Enjoying a good meal, conversation with friends and associates and healthy exercise all can be forms of living into celebration. In the rhythms of life it is good to enjoy the little things that contribute to the sense of well being as well as the milestone events. In my memory there are snippets of lyrics of songs that have celebration as a theme. John Denver even had an album entitled Celebration of Life. Perhaps it is that artistic muse in our soul that thrives on life as celebration.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Little Things

Recently I wrote a piece called "Notice Me". This is a follow up on those thoughts triggered by a lecture by Tom Peters, Cornell '64 that I attended today. Peters is the author of the seminal book "In Search of Excellence" published in 1982 and 15 other books on management with the most recent book just out with the title "The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence". I read his works when I was moving into an administrative role and his writings continue to be a inspiration for my interactions in leadership roles and in personal interactions as well. The gist of his teachings and writings is that success of an organization is highly dependent on the little things. Excellence comes from paying attention to all the little things that contribute to the atmosphere of respect and caring in the operation. The simple things of knowing the support staff names and greeting them in a respectful way counts for a lot. And when you visit a restaurant, the cleanliness of the bathroom is probably as important as the skill of the chef. Also, never underestimate the value of a smile. I am sure there are many other little things that should be considered. I am looking forward to reading the latest book.

I have become more sensitized to the value of little things influencing my sense of satisfaction when I purchase goods and services. In fact, I plan to change some of my service providers because of the small annoyances of some of the establishments. In these tough economic times, perhaps businesses should pay more attention to the small things that could improve their service to their clients.

As I criticize others about little things, I am reminded these principles apply to me right at home. Probably we all have read about the demise of the Tipper and Al Gore marriage. No big things happened. Just a drifting apart to the point of no common interest. A warning for all of us in a long term marriage. It is the little failings that can add up to a big problem. Striving for excellence in marriage is worthy of attention to small expressions of love and caring.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Senior Games

My wife and I are both participating in the Senior Games in Cortland this week in the tennis tournament. We both had matches today that tested our abilities. She will be playing for the bronze tomorrow in women's doubles and I finished my singles matches today achieving a silver medal.

Over the years I have become acquainted with a statewide group of tennis players who regularly play in the games. Although we are often opponents on the court, we are are happy to renew our friendships at our annual gathering. These seniors experience a whole range of joys and tribulations in between annual events. Friend Jim related to me the tragedy of the loss of his 38 daughter to lung cancer. I truly think there is no greater challenge in life than to have a child prematurely die. And others of this group have recovered from surgeries as well. The great thing about the event remains the pleasure of knowing that being senior does not preclude enjoying athletic competition and the camaraderie of the the playing field.

Hats off to my nemesis on the tennis court Dave S. We have competed in the finals many years. He's a true gentleman. But, some day I hope to win that final. Oh well, I guess I'll never be a Federer or Nadal!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Dress Code

I am senior enough to have seen vast changes in acceptable dress for social and business environments. In my early years of teaching in the late 50's it was simple. White shirt and tie with a sport coat or even a suit was the normal attire. As things evolved the coat was dispensed with and eventually the tie was also mostly eliminated. I never did last long enough in the classroom to be comfortable in jeans and polo shirt. Although today I think I could adapt.

I now find it difficult to be dress casual in social situations. I am still most comfortable attending church and many social gatherings wearing a tie. Perhaps I will learn to eventually dress to the casual style of today. However, I know my wife will never allow me to wear drooping baggy pants with huge cargo pockets. That's for the teenagers.

Admonitions from our parents in our childhoods continue to play as tapes in our memories in spite of all the effort we take to erase them. In my youth, proper dress was considered to be a measure of good upbringing. So, I'll continue to seek the right balance.

I must be doing something right. Often I get compliments on my ties and attire. I can't claim all this success in my own right. Fortunately I have great guidance from my wife.

How about it geezers? Have you adapted to the 21st century or are you still hung up on the 50's?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Connection and Community

This past Sunday I followed and participated in portions of the Cornell Graduation Ceremonies. Although I was on campus to mingle with the graduates of my department, I chose to listen to the President's address on radio. I was quite impressed with his advice to the graduating class which included the following points.
1. Stay connected.
2. Expect the unexpected - life is improvisation.
3. Ask for help - it is a sign of strength.
4. Take care of yourself.
5. Effect positive change - give something back.

This has to be good advice for every one of us. In fact, for this 1957 graduate of Cornell, I hope that I have played the game of life with these principles guiding my behavior. These guiding principles probably are very idealistic. Everyone knows that asking for help is often precluded by our pride. When we encountered the unexpected we can fall into despair. And many times we drive ourselves beyond the point of healthy rest and relaxation. At the same time we also find we feel so stressed we don't feel like we have the energy to give back.

How do we right our ship of existence if we fall into bad habits regarding points two through five? There is a good reason for staying connected to be the number one point in Dr. Skorton's address. Being a part of community in meaningful connection with others is the bulwark of support. This community can be family, temple, mosque, church and/or a circle of friends. True connectedness requires developing true community and takes some work to achieve. Last night our cable service disappeared for the evening. This sent me on a late evening search for a good book to read. I remembered how moved I was by M. Scott Peck's book, The Different Drum -Community Making and Peace, published in 1987 and began a reread of this material. This book sets out a process for community building that brings being connected to a stellar level.
It gives me hope for a better world. I would recommend this book for any graduate and for any geezer.