Ed Briggs

A Hand and A Foot

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Mar 202014
 

My father and I had in common a pair of physical disabilities: his right hand and my right foot. Both were handicaps beyond our control, and both were a part of our self-consciousness around others. Although he was right-handed, Dad shook hands with others using his good left hand turned thumb downward. Around others, I instinctively hid my bad right foot behind my good left one. This created something of a bond between us.

Dad had mangled his right hand as a poor North Carolina mountain boy feeding sugar cane into a sorghum molasses mill. The mill took his index and middle fingers, and did damage to the rest of the hand as well. Despite this, Dad went on to college and played football, baseball, basketball, and track. The lack of fingers never kept him from writing or gardening or typing or fishing or anything else. But he was always conscious of it and spoke little about it.

Now and then, when they give us our feet, someone gets a defective one. My right foot was given me defective, being abnormally large and equipped with tiny useless toes. Doctors removed the toes and over the years whittled down the size as much as possible. The lack of toes never kept me from football, running, golf, hiking and mountain climbing, tennis, and swimming. But I am always conscious of the foot, especially around the curious.

One day I had finished swimming at a community pool and was showering in an open area in the men’s dressing room. In from the pool came a young boy, and I saw him see my foot. After an excited, wide-eyed look, he turned and ran back the way he’d come in. He returned with his little sister to show it to her. Then he went to the door and called for his mother to come in and see. The mother called them both back out and that was the last of it. Over the years I have had many wide-eyed children staring, and occasionally some adults.

When he was old, my father took me to the area where he had lived as a boy and lost his fingers. Out from Asheville is the town of Marshall, and out from Marshall was Brush Creek. Dad and his family lived in a cabin in a valley there, close beside the French Broad River. The valley was all grown up and void of homes or dwellings, but Dad took me where he said the cabin had been located, and where the cane mill had been. He explained that after the accident they took him across the mountain to a doctor, and the doctor removed what was left of the two fingers by lantern light. His older brother George kept the fingers in his pocket and the next day the boys buried them on hill behind the house. Dad told me he could show me the burial spot “within ten feet” and did, I can only assume.

Yes, I have been to VA hospitals and seen the war-injured. And, yes, I know that a bad hand and a bad foot are not to be compared with the wounds of those service men and women. And I know I could never fully appreciate the mental trials they endure. But I do have some idea about it.

Mar 032014
 

When my mother died in 1970, my father purchased burial spaces in the Grandview Cemetery of Maryville, Tennessee. Maryville was our home town, and the location of Maryville College, where my father and mother had met as students, and where Dad returned to spend most of his life teaching.

slide02Grandview Cemetery is well named. The “grand view” is its view of the Appalachian mountain range, locally bounded by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Out town has changed a lot over the years, but the grand view of the Smokies does not change. If you want your body buried in a cemetery, this is a good place.

Besides Mother and Dad, our family included myself and two brothers. My oldest brother is buried in France in a U.S. Military Cemetery. My other brother is buried in Grandview, as is Mother. My father’s ashes were interred in Mother’s grave when he died.

The last time I was in Maryville, I visited Grandview and tried to find these graves. I thought I could do this, but much has been added to the cemetery in recent years, and I never wrote down any locations. I tried to find someone in the cemetery office who could help me, but found no one.

What I did find the other day, while looking for something else, was the original purchase document for these cemetery lots. Included was a map and location information. Dad had paid $1,142 for 6 spaces in Grandview. He had made a down payment of $342 and agreed to make two payments of $400 each over the next six months.

As I glanced over the remainder of this old document, one of the “purchaser agrees to the following” statements stood out. I was stunned. The following was a legal and binding condition of the cemetery lot purchase:

“He, She or They are of the White and/or Caucasian Race and will make no attempt to obtain internment and/or internment rights for any other than of that Race in or on said plot and/or in or on the cemetery.”

I know, of course, that I could break this agreement now and no harm would come to me. I know that likely by this time there have been non-white burials in Grandview Cemetery. I assume that new purchasers of grave sites in this cemetery no longer sign such a statement. So is this just a relic of the past? We are now a multicultural society, and prejudice and discrimination are behind us, right?

Not so fast.

What of Arizona and the other states that today are passing laws allowing businesses to refuse their services to same-sex couples. Is discrimination based on sexual preference any better or worse than basing it on race? How much better is a law allowing a cemetery business to refuse burial sites to same-sex couples than one that does so based on skin color? And this is in 2014, not 1970.

Of course, the discrimination needs to be on “religious grounds” under terms of these laws. The business refusing the service must profess that gayness offends its religious beliefs. (This raises the question of how a business has a religious belief, and whose religious belief it needs to be, but no matter.) In passing these laws, the states say they are upholding the principle of religious liberty, which, they say, is under attack today. Thus do the victimizers portray themselves as the victims.

I can tell you from my personal experience growing up in Maryville that religion was the rationale behind segregated cemetery lots. It was the rational behind separate toilets and signs reading “Colored to the rear” on the White Star Line busses. Preachers preached about the Old Testament “curse of Ham” and used it to justify all types of discrimination against persons of color. They preached that god made black birds and blue birds and red birds, and that these do not inter-breed. They observed that god placed people of different races on different continents and obviously meant for them not to mix.

The days of that preaching is largely gone. But the idea that a business serving the public can discriminate against people based on religion is obviously not.

The Southern Curse

 Posted by at 6:09 am  No Responses »
Feb 222014
 

It happened again this morning. After swimming my laps, I proceeded to the large jacuzzi beside the slow lanes. There was a woman already in the jacuzzi and she had the Monster Jet. The MJ is my name for what is the strongest hot water blowing jet in any pool in Montgomery County, Maryland. I know this from trying them all, trust me. Put any sore bone or muscle in front of this jet and appreciate the results. All the regular swimmers at this pool know the MJ, as did the woman sitting there. As did I, and also the two men who entered soon after. You watch for your chance to take over the MJ as soon as someone leaves it.

frferfergverThe woman finally did leave it and immediately, simultaneously, I and another man made moves toward it. Our eyes met and each of us hesitated. He was a polite Asian man and middle-aged. He gestured toward the MJ as if to say “you were here first, go ahead and take it.” Instinctively I gestured back, “no, you can have it. I’m leaving soon anyway.”

I could have insisted and taken the MJ, but then I would have felt guilty. I kindly let the other man have it, and then I felt cheated.  Guilty or cheated, those were the choices.

But why are these the choices, you ask? I call it the Southern Curse. I was raised in Tennessee by a mother who taught and practiced the traits of kindness, generosity, politeness, patience, humility, and loving consideration for other people. She often quoted the words of Jesus about treating others the way we would want them to treat us. This was known as the Golden Rule. And as if our mothers were not enough, we heard of it often in sermons and Sunday School lessons and even from school teachers who were religious. I think it was recognized that we would never succeed in attaining this ideal completely, but the responsibility of trying to was ingrained.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was the motivating force behind John Brown’s stand against slavery and his eventual martyrdom by hanging in Charles Town, Virginia, in 1859. He reasoned that no person would want to be enslaved and therefore, as followers of Christ, we must not only refuse to enslave others, but must not tolerate a society in which human slavery is condoned and practiced.

We do not have slave ships and slave auctions and plantation-type slavery today, but we do have other forms of it. We have millions of hard working people whose wages leave them in perpetual poverty and economic misery. Their children grow up sick and hungry and with scant hope of escape from this life. And rich business owners love the system because it provides cheap labor in abundance. They even try their best to ban contraceptives and abortions so this population is kept in good supply. This, too, is a slavery system.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I heard about an interesting conversation once, perhaps in or after a Sunday School class. Someone asked if Jesus Christ had been an NFL quarterback, how great would he have been? And there were various suggestions, all in the superlative mode. Until someone expressed the view that if Jesus were a quarterback he would probably figure out a way to let the other team win. And that ended the discussion.

So which is better, to help yourself or to help someone else?

In corporate America, it is all about helping yourself at the expense of others. The incentive is to self-promote and to get ahead of others by any means available, open-handed or under-handed. The rewards are to those who do unto others precisely what they hope will never be done to them, to do it to others before it gets done to them. The system is rigged to reward the ruthless.

If you have five hungry lions together in a cage and someone throws in two large steaks, what will happen? Will two lions will have steak dinner and the rest go hungry? Or will one strong and ill-tempered lion roar and bare its teeth and grab everything for itself? Whatever the outcome, the last thing to expect, the near impossible, is for the lions to share this food equally among them.

Human beings are not bound to behave like wild beasts, although we often do. Human beings are capable of kindness, generosity, politeness, patience, humility, and loving consideration of other people. Of treating others the way we would want to be treated.

This isn’t just a Southern thing, and I should not have called it a curse. Sorry, Mother.

Jan 122014
 

Our state has finally passed a law making it a primary offense to not wear a seatbelt when driving your car. That means they can stop you and give you a fine without any other reason. Not wanting to be stopped and given a fine I have been trying to train myself to always buckle up. I put a yellow velcro strap around my steering wheel when I park the car. This reminds me to put on the seat belt when I get back in the car to start driving.

Buckle_Up_Its_The_Law_GWT26When I tell you that I have not done this very gladly, you will wonder what is wrong with me. Shouldn’t I be happy that people are looking out for my welfare and making laws that force me to do things for my own good? They say that seat belts save lives and that they want to save mine. They want to keep me from hurting myself.

Currently they are also working to pass laws about using cellphones in the car. This will also keep people from hurting themselves and others. Perhaps someday it will also be illegal to drive while eating a sandwich or drinking coffee. Or fiddling with the GPS. Or listening to the radio. Perhaps someday we will be required to wear crash helmets while driving, like the NASCAR drivers all do. That would save lives too. So would wearing those fire-resistant coveralls.

If it seems that I am being ridiculous here, I submit that the same rationale for requiring a seat belt also applies to requiring a crash helmet. A large percentage of automobile crash injuries involve head injuries. These would be greatly reduced by a mandatory crash helmet law. No one can reasonably deny that. So if we want a society that passes every law that can possibly keep people from hurting themselves, this should be on the list.

When I visited Cape Town, South Africa, I rode the cable car up Table Mountain and hiked around with all the other tourists. Besides the breathtaking views, the thing that struck me was that the mountain top had been left in its natural state. There were no fences or ropes or barriers to keep you from the cliff top edges. I don’t even remember a lot of warning signs.  This was in contrast to a park my family used to visit which we named “The Do-Not Park.” Everywhere you went in the park there were signs warning you what not to do there.

There are two main entrances to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee side. Gatlinburg is the main one, but my favorite is the less traveled one at Townsend. Just inside the park at the Townsend entrance is a beautiful swimming hole we always called “The Y” because there the park road forks in two directions. When I was a young boy there were two things we loved to do at this swimming hole. We would try to swim upstream against the rushing current and see how far we could get. And we would climb up the steep cliff on the far side, as high as we dared, and dive down into the clear deep water. In the summer there was often an audience gathered on the bank to watch this diving. Young boys impressed a lot of young girls here.

This diving has gone on for generations, but now it is no more. Now there is a park sign on the side of the cliff saying it is illegal. The rangers will give you a ticket and a fine if they catch you doing it. This is to keep people from hurting themselves.

I know that all these laws are well-intentioned and have merit if we want a society that regulates the details of our lives for our own good. But the glaring contradiction for me is that the greater harms are often left untouched.

We force a worker to wear a safety helmet on the job but do not force his employer to pay him a living wage for his work. Fast food workers are required to wear hair nets to protect our food, but their employers may pay them poverty-level wages. Predatory lenders are free to scam the poor, the elderly, and the uninformed. The banks may gamble with our savings instead of keeping them safe as a bank is supposed to do. And, of course, don’t even suggest regulating the sale of deadly weapons. And regulations to protect the environment are always under threat. Laws intended to protect the poor and minorities are deemed an infringement. Tax laws allow billionaires to pay half the tax rates of working people, to shelter wealth from taxes by investing it overseas, and for large corporations with teams of smart lawyers to avoid all taxes whatsoever.

Do you see my point? We regulate the smaller threats and leave the greater ones alone.

Mouse Trap

 Posted by at 9:15 am  No Responses »
Nov 272013
 

Being the last of November, the weather is thinking ahead to winter here in the DC area. That sometimes means an appearance of mice into our homes. So the other evening, while peacefully watching a movie in the family room, I saw one run around the corner of a sofa. It was startling and somewhat embarrassing. Something had to be done. mouse trap

When I think of catching mice, I think of the wooden Victor brand mouse trap that you bait with cheese. You bait it carefully, especially after you’ve attached the cheese to the small bait holder and you bend the wire frame back over and secure it with the flopping metal pin. If you’ve done this before and had a trap spring on you and scare you half to death, you be sure you hold the trap from the harmless end and not the end that catches the mouse. To have a finger caught in a snapping mouse trap would not be fatal, but would hurt like hell. Which is considerably more than you would want something to hurt.

Our local supermarket did not have any wooden Victor brand mouse traps. They had a strange round plastic thing I bought two of because there was nothing else. The plastic things have caught no mice. It is unclear to me how they would ever do so. If someone thought this was a better mouse trap, then this is a case where better isn’t better and is actually silly.

The local hardware chain store did not have wooden Victor brand mouse traps either.  Instead they had “catch and release” mouse traps. You are supposed to trap your mice, transport them somewhere, and release them unharmed. The instructions do not suggest where this might be: a neighbor’s yard, the school playground, hardware store where you bought these traps, the desk drawer of a co-worker–use your imagination.

I love most animals and am opposed to the cruel treatment of animals. But the idea of catch and release as applied to mice that take up residence in my private home raises issues. Am I also obligated to catch and release termites, roaches, stinging wasps, bed bugs, and poisonous snakes? Yes, in theory these are all god’s creatures, along with the mice. But I don’t want them in my home. My neighbors don’t want them in their homes, either. Catch and release makes no sense. I will not attempt to bother these creatures in other locations, but if they invade my living space I will do away with them if I can.

I’m sure that whoever believes we should catch and release mice is a good and well-intentioned person. I would actually love to speak with such a person and suggest a future project. The project I have in mind relates to the killing of fellow human beings.

We now have laws in an increasing number of states that permit you to kill someone who feels threatening to you, someone in your yard perhaps, or passing by, or even walking in your neighborhood. These are known as “stand your ground” laws and they can allow people to get away with murder.

My plainspoken Tennessee friend put it this way: “If you ever need to get rid of a black guy, just take him to Florida and shoot him.”

That should be more troubling than the use of traps that kill mice in the home. It should trouble us that we would treat animals like people while treating people like animals.

By the way, you can still find the original wooden mouse traps.  Just Google on the words “victor,” “mouse,” “trap,”and “wood.”

Harbin

 Posted by at 6:56 am  No Responses »
Oct 272013
 

I remember forming my first impression of Harbin, China. We were watching an engaging documentary about this part of Northern China. It is up near the border with Russia and actually north of Vladivostok where the Trans Siberian railway ends. Harbin is known for its cold temperatures and its wintertime ice sculptures. The ice sculptures draw tourists from all over the world. They are all over the city and lit up at night.

209575-china-gears-up-for-harbin-ice-and-snow-world-festivalWe formed an image of a beautiful, remote, and pristine environment. We spoke of trying to visit there sometime. I remember looking up the airfares.

Then I met my young Chinese co-worker. “Where are you from?” I asked, expecting Beijing or Hong Kong. But instead, she was from Harbin. Harbin. I remembered the documentary. “That’s in the north of China and it’s cold there, right?” “Yes, very cold,” she said. “And that’s where they have the wonderful ice sculptures in the wintertime?” “Yes, we have them every winter and lots of people come to see them.”

I still thought of Harbin in a pristine kind of way. It was much later that I was talking with my friend and mentioned the recent news about air pollution in Beijing. And to my surprise, she told me that the air is also bad in Harbin. There is a lot of coal-burning heavy industry, she said. She said that now when she goes home to visit, she is usually sick for several days because of the bad air.

So I began to notice any news about Harbin. And then, the other day, I saw this:

In the industrial city of Harbin, home to more than 10 million people, the PM 2.5 level of fine particulate matter in the air reached 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in parts of the city Monday, 50 times above what the World Health Organization considers safe. It is the first major pollution emergency of the coming winter Vehicles crawled through the smog with fog lights on or emergency lights flashing. Buses were canceled and a major highway was closed, while hospital admissions soared by 30 percent, local media reported. Visibility was so low in the city, about 780 miles northeast of Beijing, that two city buses got lost while plying their regular routes. Pedestrians wore masks or clutched their hands in front of their faces in an effort to breathe more easily. “I did not even dare to cross the street,” said Zhang Xiaofeng, a 24-year-old bulldozer driver who said his eyes hurt and he was coughing as a result of the smog. “I waited and waited at the intersection and looked again and again, but I couldn’t see if any cars were coming. Even the traffic lights were invisible.” While the air quality had improved by lunchtime, the fog descended again in the afternoon; primary and middle schools and the airport remained closed. “I can’t even see the next apartment building next to mine, which is only 10 or 20 meters away,” said 42-year-old housewife Li Li. “I’m not going out, and I won’t let my child go out.”

What does this matter? Obviously it matters if you live in Harbin, China. You might argue that it doesn’t matter much if Harbin is an isolated case. But the story is the same, or heading in the same direction, around the globe. People breathing dirty air and drinking polluted water. Lands spoiled by industrial wastes.  And larger changes in our climates brought on by the burning of coal and oil and other fossil fuels.

People in Harbin who would rather not be sick and would like something done about the situation must hear the familiar arguments.

We can’t afford major upgrades. We have to stay competitive with other industries. People will lose their jobs if we have to spend that kind of money. Let the industries that know about these problems handle it themselves. The government should stay out of this; the last thing we need is more government regulation.

And so it goes. And so it goes. And meanwhile I’m rethinking about the visit to Harbin.

Sep 182013
 

I once was pastor of a church in Silver Spring, Maryland. My office window looked out over a large parking lot behind the church. Over the years I worked in that office, I saw many things from that window.

Parking Lot & TruckCouples would arrive in separate cars, park one car in a far corner, look around nervously, then depart together in one car–returning after hours or sometimes days.

Teenagers would come at night to drink and party, leaving trash and urine behind. I often called the county police, but usually to no avail. The kids had police scanners and a mass exodus took place as soon as the police were heard to be on the way.

I once heard a ruckus right below my window and found a man forcibly holding a woman down. A pistol was lying near them on the ground. The man said he was a plainclothes policeman and would I please come and help him. I thought that he could just as well been the criminal of the two. With no way to verify and not being inclined to join a fight, I helped by calling the police.

There was an orthodox Jewish synagogue adjoining this parking lot. Now orthodox Jews are supposed to walk to synagogue, and most did. I would see many of them walking in all kinds of weather. But I also observed some less strict ones who drove and parked in our lot, then walked the rest of the way. One Saturday, I observed one of them hiding behind his car as a group of others passed. He watched until the coast was clear and then emerged.

There were many other interesting sights, but the the following has always been my favorite.

One clear, summer day I noticed a pickup truck parked in the back of the lot. That was nothing unusual, except that there was a man standing behind or around it and now and again there was something bright rising up out of the truck. I kept trying to figure out what it was and had no clue. It went on for a long time and I decided to investigate.

The man with the pickup was from Baltimore. The bright objects I had seen from the distance were homing pigeons being released. The man had brought them in a large cage in the back of the truck. He explained that pigeon racing was his hobby and he was training his pigeons for an upcoming event.

As we talked, he took out and released a new pigeon.  The bird climbed upward in ascending circles and was visible for a long time. The man explained that it was hoping for others to be released and waiting for them to fly up and join it.  But finally the bird headed off in the direction of Baltimore.

The man explained that the nature of pigeons is to gather as a flock and fly together. But he said that if they do that, they will fly at the speed of the slowest pigeon. One bird in the flock might be flying at its best speed, but all the others will not. So he forces them to fly alone, despite their wish to do otherwise. Only by training this way will each bird have a chance to achieve its speed potential.

I thought how flocking together and taking it easy is a human trait as well. Unless you want to be exceptional.

Sep 172013
 

Continuing to pursue my passion for open water swimming, I will be joining a group of eleven swimmers for a week of swimming in Sardinia starting this Saturday September 21st.

Sardinia swim mapThe northern tip of Sardinia on the mainland Italy side has an archipelago called La Maddalena. Its largest island and city share the same name, and this will be our headquarters. Each day we will be going out to swim to and from and around the various islands nearby. We will have local guides and escort boats. We will be swimming about 13 miles total during the week. Needless to say, I am looking forward to this adventure.

The Mediterranean Sea is said to be clear and teeming with sea life around these islands. I have purchased a small waterproof camera to carry on some of the swims and hopefully get some interesting shots from a swimmer perspective, as well as underwater.  Expect a future post describing this swimming trek.

The Goat

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Jul 082013
 

The goat sat wisely on his tree stump. It was his place to observe the world and to think. There on his stump he felt royal and in possession of his surroundings. Other animals knew this. Other animals knew better than to try to take his place on the stump.

Goat on stumpHe observed a car pass by on the winding road out front. He saw a head jerk around and brake lights come on. “They’ll be back,” he thought. “They’ll turn around and come back for a better look.”

The goat was used to this, and he enjoyed the attention. He gazed back at them as they pointed and clicked their cameras. There atop his stump he was perfectly poised. From the tips of his horns to the whiskers of his chin he expressed the confidence and satisfaction of his years. His steel-grey eyes never blinked. The ears adjusted only slightly.

After the car drove away, the goat turned his head from the road. His hearing was good, and if another car came he would know before it came into sight. He would also know if it was a familiar car, one that was used to seeing the goat on his stump. Those cars might notice, but they had no need to turn around. Others would come along that did.

The goat imagined the pictures they made of him from those cars. He knew that the colors of his fine coat matched those of the wood he sat on, as if intended. His health was apparent in the shine of his eyes, his polished horns, his damp nose.

Somewhere nearby was the mother of his recent offsprings. He thought of how she gazed at him adoringly and craved his attention. A dusty chicken was pecking small gravels around the base of his stump. The best a chicken can hope for, he supposed. The horse nearby swatted flys with its coarse tail.

There are worse things to be than a goat on a stump in Pennsylvania.

Communication

 Posted by at 4:10 pm  No Responses »
Jun 252013
 

The man walking to his airport gate with a cellphone at his ear is giving final instructions to someone with a tone of importance. Sitting in the splashing jacuzzi does not deter the bathing woman from talking on hers. And even the hotel maid waiting at the bus stop for her ride to work is talking, talking, talking.

How can she afford this? Something has convinced even our lowest wage earners and their children that their phones and talking on them is a necessity of life.

Switchboard-OperatorsI can remember when placing a call in our small town meant picking up the receiver and waiting for an operator to say “number please.” The phone numbers were three digits and all calls through this operator were local. A long distance call was needed even for another town just a few miles away. For those you needed to ask for a long distance operator. The reception on longer distance calls was often marginal. And because of the costs, long distance calls were considered a luxury and used sparingly. Often they brought bad news: a relative dead or a soldier killed in action. When the phone system was upgraded to rotary dial models that needed no operator, that was high technology. It was also the end of their jobs for a lot of women.

If this sounds like along time ago, it really wasn’t. It was not so long before those days that nothing like a telephone or telegraph existed. Or railroads or automobiles. Or a postal system or newspaper with wide circulation. It is not that far from when the fastest way to spread the word was someone riding on a fast horse or running on foot if they lacked one.

The trend, the ever-accelerating trend, has been toward universal connectedness. People talking with more and more people including those farther and farther away. News arriving from more and more sources, and faster and faster. Information arrives constantly today, as does misinformation. Important information arrives along with the unimportant. The process overwhelms the content and the purpose. The process becomes an addiction.

Do we really need all the information that comes at us constantly? We thumb through a stack of magazines and find nothing at all of use or interest. We flip through a hundred channels on the TV without finding a single one we want to watch. Broadcasters try to entice us with “breaking news,” but we have grown accustomed to the fact that it is neither breaking nor news. Most times it is just the same things repeated over and over.

As a result of our constant communicating, things that would never have been heard about in previous human generations now seem close at hand. A woman raped in India, a famous person arrested somewhere, a few miners trapped, or a shooting in Texas. A clothing factory burned in Bangladesh. A newspaper cartoon deemed offensive and setting off riots far away. Suddenly the business of everyone else in the world has become our business.

There is the potential for great good in this, or for great harm. All of these means of communication are essentially neutral. Digital signals do not discriminate between the voices planning a happy family reunion or those planning a deadly bomb blast. Good news can be spread by our media, but bad news seems to predominate. Spreading the news can mean help is on the way, or death and destruction.

We are made spectators and almost participants in every conflict going on anywhere in the world. Also every tragedy, injustice, uprising, and downfall. Also every notable achievement, scientific advance, and humanitarian success, although these tend to be ignored or underplayed.

A country makes war on another country, and all the other countries feel compelled to take sides. Sometimes they offer assistance and the fight becomes wider.

Unhappy citizens communicate their anger and organize themselves using mass communications. They rise up against their own governments, who respond with deadly force. Then everyone else in the world seems called on to take a side and join in. Poor Obama, who has tried to keep out of the civil war in Syria, and now is getting swept toward it like a stick in a rushing river.

Like it or not, we are all becoming participants in an emerging global community where someone’s business becomes everyone’s business. Someone’s disease becomes everyone’s disease. Someone’s bad economy becomes everyone’s bad economy.

Like it or not, we are citizens of the world we live in. Any war among us is a civil war.