Wednesday, July 18, 2012


“When you go to build a cathedral, you must build your foundation strong.” Robin Longstride in Ridley Scott’s version of the Robin Hood story. Or you can go with Sir Isaac Newton. “If I have seen further than other men it’s because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants.”

The president made a speech the other day. Rush Limbaugh excerpted about three sentences from the whole thing and issued one of his over the top fulminations. Oh, Rush, the gift that just keeps giving, like dysentery. 

“I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together." (Okmaybe he was speaking off the cuff and wasn't as clear as he could have been)

The president didn’t say businesses don’t succeed on individual hard work and creativity. He did say that you have to have a strong foundation to build on. And a profound appreciation for all the hard work that went into building those foundations. That pyramid of strong shoulders we stand on.

Some early human realized that you could use scrap rock with sharp edges to cut pieces off a critter. The first brick in the foundation came when somebody, somehow realized he/she could recreate that edge on demand. That you could shape those rocks, put them on the end of a long piece of wood and have a more reliable weapon than a sharpened stick.

Lightning starts fire. Humans made it semi portable. More bricks went in when several somebody’s figured out how to make it reliable and portable. How DO you get from rubbing sticks together really, really fast to making fire? How DO you get the idea of putting a piece of string (after you’ve invented string), gut or tendon between the ends of a piece of wood and using it to shoot another piece of wood with a stone tip at something, preferably dinner.

Domesticating animals for meat, milk, hides and fleece. Love to know how that happened. When did some bright man or woman (Probably a woman, men still hate to take out the garbage) notice that the wild grain they’d been gathering was growing near the camp’s rubbish tip?

Weaving? How did we get to that? Watch spiders spin their webs? But spiders don’t use looms or spinning wheels. What Neolithic genius fastened a piece of hide to a stick and used it to catch the wind to help move his raft along? And who the heck was the unsung genius somewhere in the Med who came up with the Lateen sail. That triangular steering sail that lets a ship tack against the wind?

Wheels? And some folks saw the Central American natives as backward because they put wheels on their kid’s toys but didn’t use them the way Europeans did. And did I also mention they lived in either a jungle or steep mountains or both. Even the northern Europeans used the sea, rivers or man made rivers when they could.

The biggest improvements in the last thousand years haven’t been in how we do the jobs but where we get the power to do them. From animals walking in circles to power millstones to water wheels to internal combustion engines. Same job, different power source. And what genius figured out how to use a series of wheels and gears to turn the round and around motion of a water wheel into up and down or back and forth to power sawmills, lathes, trip hammers the whole foundation of industry. Actually, what genius realized he could put two really big wheels together with flat pieces of wood between and harness the power of a river in the first place. All Watt’s engine did was make it possible to have your factory someplace besides the edge of a river or canal. As long has you could get fuel you could keep the engines going. 

The president’s speech might have been better written but it was said in praise of the foundation builders. The ones who provided the tools for the bright, hard working business builders we have now.

Cross posted in Walking With Hope. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Being a woman...

Today I read about photographer Liz Gorman getting groped in Dupont Circle and then I discovered the CASS site, which is worth checking out.

Years ago, in Chicago, on a crowded street on a sunny afternoon, I had an eerily similar experience. Last Friday night, although thankfully there was no contact, I had a creepy experience that reminded me that even at 62, being a woman means I sometimes feel very vulnerable, in a way that men don't.

As I was finishing up my walk, about 2 blocks from my house, I heard someone coming up behind me. I thought at first it was someone on a bicycle, and although I was on the sidewalk, I glanced over my shoulder to see if I needed to get out of the way. To my surprise, the guy was not on a bike, but was on foot, jogging, with a dog on a leash. He held a cellphone to his ear, and he was talking loudly into the phone, so loudly that I could hear his conversation, and my hearing is not that great. Among other things, he said he was only in Dallas for a couple of weeks, yada yada yada. Flags went up in my head on hearing this because there are no hotels anywhere near my neighborhood, and if that was the case, whose dog was he walking? But then I thought well, he must be staying with a friend, or in a friend's place...

He was jogging, I was walking, so I moved to the side to let him pass, but he didn't pass. Instead, he stayed right behind me, closing the distance, with the dog off to the side. This felt weird, and made me nervous. I increased my speed, and as I turned the corner, to my relief, I saw an elderly neighbor whom I don't know by name, but whom I frequently see when I walk in the evening as he steps outside his house to allow his ancient dachshund to take a few steps for his evening constitutional. As usual, we exchanged hellos. I slowed a bit to let the jogger pass, but the jogger slowed too; he wasn't passing. I could see my elderly neighbor checking him out, and I thought well I'm not the only one who finds this weird. I'd completed the short block and was now at my street; relieved, I turned the corner, thinking I'd lose the creep. WRONG. He turned the corner right behind me, and continued to stay about 10 feet behind me, although he was now in the middle of the street, which didn't particularly reassure me. I heard him say into his phone that he'd been running for 1.7 miles and the comment seemed so pointless that I got a feeling that there was no one else on that call. Suddenly, to my great relief, I saw another neighbor jogging toward me on the opposite side of the street. I ran the rest of the way to my door, unlocked it, and rushed inside, very relieved to be home safe and sound.

Was I unnecessarily paranoid? I don't know. But I'm pretty sure that guys have completely different concerns when they're out in the world, and I wonder if this will ever change.

cross-posted on Talking to Myself