Thursday, January 29, 2009

Green Topics

Here's a post providing possible topics for student research in the "GREEN." This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it organized in any particular way. It is really just a brainstorming list. Please augment it by adding in the comments area.

global warming
alternative energy
drill, baby, drill!
bikes versus cars
hybrid cars
solar products
resources and materials
energy depletion
land use and community
low-flow plumbing
water resources
indoor lighting
depletion of natural resources
electronic waste
plastic bags
carbon footprints
pollution(air, water, noise)
green policies
natural ventilation
building environmentally-friendly
marine-life depletion
World Wildlife Fund
non-native species
dam building
sustainable development
preservation of natural heritage
monoculture farming
rainforest preservation
waste management
managing fisheries
coral reefs
Save the Tiger
habitat destruction
the effect of eco-campaigns

Monday, January 19, 2009

Where is the Bliss?

Contrary to popular opinion and to the old axiom, ignorance IS NOT bliss; it's dangerous. In America, two examples suffice to illustrate this point.

One example is that, without enough information about the potential of Saddam Hussein to truly threaten the USA, without a proper understanding of the cultural and religious complexity of Iraqi society, and without knowledge of the fact that secular Saddam and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were actually enemies rather than brothers in arms, the American public unquestioningly supported George W. Bush in invading Iraq in 2003. The result has been a tremendous loss of life, billions of dollars wasted while casting an entire country into ruin, and much damage done to America's reputation abroad.

For another example, you only have to turn the clock back 60 years to the end of the Second World War. At that time, the nation of Vietnam, which had been under the dominion of the Japanese, and prior to that for nearly a hundred years, the French, was declared independent by one of its most popular factional leaders, the scholarly Ho Chi Minh. Uncle Ho, as he was affectionately called by his people, had tried to negotiate support for his nationalist movement from the US. He had even communicated with several former presidents about his nation's desire for statehood. Roosevelt, who died shortly before the end of WWII, dubbed Ho as one of the most articulate and wisest men he had ever met. But again, because of the general American ignorance about Southeast Asian history and cultures, an irrational fear of the Vietnamese leader's "communist" aspirations and his country's ties to China and the Soviet Union was perpetrated by warmongers. The eventual result was a conflict that lasted 30 years (roughly 1945-1975), one in which million of pounds of bombs were dropped, billions of dollars wasted, the destinies of three countries-- Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia-- sent into a tailspin, and 50,000 American soldiers and 4,000,000 Vietnamese killed.

Today, on the eve of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first biracial American president, America and the world at large are at a historical turning point. Citizens the world over can look back to a US presidency dominated by fear-mongering, fixed ideas about good and evil, and narrow-minded dogmatism; at the same time, we can see forward with hope inspired by a new, more intelligent, more globally astute leader, one who has sharpened his mind and communication skills with careful, critical study, wide reading and broad social networking.

Barack Obama is a model for citizens/students everywhere, as a man who came from modest means and yet took pride in developing himself, in shaping his own capabilities, in learning about the world then fine-tuning his place in it and his destiny.

photo Doug Mills/The New York Times

Two articles in The New York Times well describe Obama and his commitment to learning. One, entitled The Long, Lame Goodbye, is essentially a brief comparison of Bush and Obama. The other, entitled
From Books, the New President Found Voice, describes part of Obama's self-education process. Read these and consider the role that an education plays in shaping the place that each of us reaches in the world and how that learning impacts not just our world view, but the crucial decisions that we make.

And finally, here is a quote that succinctly gets at the heart of the matter, from the ubiquitous Lao Tzu:

Kindness in words creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
Kindness in living creates love.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Family Tree: Genealogical Roots & The "Science" of Becoming

What was the year 1595 like? 414 years ago?

In that year William Blackstone (or Blaxton, as some spelled it), a future New World pilgrim to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and non-conformist Church of England clergyman, was born. By 1634 though, he had long left his homeland and was living across the sea as the lone European on a rocky peninsula known by the local native inhabitants as Shawmut. When ships such as the one he had arrived on began putting in at Back Bay with greater frequency, he decided to take his white bull and books and move on. After informing one group of the newcomers of the excellent spring on his stretch of gently rolling scrubland, sloping as it was from Beacon Hill to the tidal marshes of Back Bay, he managed to sell the entire tract -- some 50 acres -- to these Puritans. In 1635 he settled on a river -- known eventually as the Blackstone River -- many miles southwest of the settlement that the buyers of his former place came to call Boston, and it was said that old William only returned to that area to bring back a young wife (actually a widow).

It was after that marriage that William produced his only son, John, who years later would beget a son, John II, who would beget his own version, John III, who on May 18th, 1776, the year America was born, brought forth Ebenezeer Blackstone. Years later as a soldier Ebenezeer went West to fight in the Battle of Tippecanoe in the Northwest Territory. He then settled in the bustling Ohio River town of Marietta, marrying a local girl by the name of Sophia White. In 1809, just after Ohio had become the 13th state of the young nation, Ebenezeer and Sophia brought into the world a boy named Vestus. It was this Blackstone who was the first of many born in Ohio.

On January 9th, 1842, Vestus Blackstone, at the age of 32, and Matilda Ann White, a young girl who like Vestus hailed from hilly Southeastern Ohio, welcomed their own baby, the handsome Horace Pearl Blackstone. Renowned for his good looks, Horace Pearl didn't take long to attract the ladies, and in 1861, not long after Fort Sumter, South Carolina, was attacked by "rebels," he was said to have married Sarah Bright, the daughter of a prominent member of the Hocking Hills community of Logan. On March 26th, 1862, their union brought into the world Simeon Blackstone, just as America's Civil War began to rage (HP joined the conflict as a soldier for the Northern Army). Fifteen years later, in 1877, Horace Pearl and Sarah welcomed into the world another son, Wesley Rader Blackstone. It was Wesley, the skilled carpenter and part-time farmer who had a tendency to drink hard, carouse more than he should, and unleash a terrible temper, who married Ethel Elizabeth Poling near the start of the 20th century. They blessed the world with nine children, including in 1913, Jeremiah Franklin Blackstone, my grandfather, just before Ethel Elizabeth died in 1919 during the Great Flu.

Jeremiah, or Jerry as I always knew him, was a strong-willed and ambitious country boy who left home at the age of 17, after threatening to strike his inebriated father with a coal poke in defense of his youngest sister. Four years later, while prowling the streets of Thornville, Ohio, in a friend's roadster, Jerry met Carrie Elizabeth Cooperider, the pretty teenage daughter of Ira and Rachel, and within months she was pregnant with my own father, Wayne Franklin Blackstone, born in February 1935. Dad, a bit of an Elvis type with greased back hair and a penchant for singing ballads, was not much more than a teenager himself when he met a farmer's vivacious daughter at a country fair in Pleasantville. Martha Elder was the youngest child of a devout church-goer named William Elder and his faithful wife Edith. When they learned that their little girl was pregnant by the Blackstone boy from over in Thornville, well, all hell was about to break out.

In the end though, it was just me that was born.

What's the moral to this story? Time and lifetimes may be fleeting, but the roots of each one of us are very deep. What was the year 1595 like? Probably in many ways similar to today, with love and hope and hardship and pain as constants in the human experience. What can we take away from this?

As the combined passion of my many forbearers suggests, live each day with deep feelings. Don't take anything for granted. And follow your dreams ---for the sake of yourself, your children, and your children's children's children. They're right behind you.


Blackstone, J. W. (1907). Lineage and History of William Blackstone.

various Internet sources, family accounts & the human imagination