Category Archives: History

All I Wanted Was to Play the Sport I Loved

In 1972, women celebrated the enactment of Title IX which prohibits gender discrimination in any school or educational program receiving federal funds.  Suddenly, schools and universities were required to invest in sports programs for girls and young women.  Title IX opened the door for female athletes.

Because of Title IX, Pat Summitt led her teams to 1,098 wins, more wins than any other college basketball coach.  Many of her student-athletes turned pro after graduating and became stars in the brand-new WNBA.  

Because of Title IX, there were school programs that trained our gymnasts who went on to win dozens of Olympic medals. 

Because of Title IX, our colleges continue training soccer players who join our national women’s soccer team. The USWNT has won 4 World Cups, 4 Olympic gold medals, and 8 CONCACAF Gold Cups.  They are the world standard in women’s soccer.

Title IX isn’t perfect.  Women’s college sports still receive fewer resources than the men’s programs.  Women are still forced to wear obscenely sexist uniforms.  At the recent Olympics, a women’s volleyball team was fined for wearing shorts instead of the official uniform which looks like a g-string and pasties outfit for strippers.

Our national Olympic committee doesn’t appear to have noticed the shorts scandal, which isn’t surprising considering how they’ve handled the whole Dr. Nasser pedophile mess. Our Olympic committee spent years ignoring or discrediting the teen-aged gymnasts who reported Dr. Nasser’s sexual abuse of them. 

Now a similar scandal has erupted in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).  A handful of players allege sexual improprieties against a widely respected coach. The players also allege that team owners and the sport’s governing authorities either ignored their allegations or leaned on them to keep their mouths shut for the good of the league and their careers. 

Why were these girls and young women ignored and discredited for years? Institutionalized sexism, reinforced with conservative religious teachings, assumes that females are always to blame because they “must have been asking for it” or they lured a hapless male into becoming a sex offender. Never mind that the male offender is often an authority figure who is violating his fiduciary and legal responsibilities, as well as common decency. 

Title IX was intended to bring an end to unequal treatment of girls and women in sports.  Almost 50 years later, that hasn’t happened but at least they are finally being heard.  Let’s hope this means the future is brighter because girls and young women deserve better when all they ever wanted was to compete in the sport they loved.  

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Filed under Fun Savvy, History, Self Savvy

A Magical Elixir of Life

Gilgamesh Cunieform

Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. He spent the remainder of his life searching for a magical elixir that could allow him to live forever.  

Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.  His story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE.  It was the first major piece of literature in the western world and has survived only in fragmented form. One version includes a story about a man who saved his family and animals aboard a boat during a great flood (probably a floating reed platform like those used for millennia by the Marsh Arabs until Saddam Hussein gassed them to death in the 1980’s).  Today we know the Old Testament adaptation of the story as Noah and the Great Flood. 

Gilgamesh’s story may have been written over 4000 years ago, but he was not so different from us today.  We are still looking for the magical elixir of life.  Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.

Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and healthy food.  I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome.  

For example, years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated.  Another study told us sugar is bad for us because it can cause diabetes. Then a study claimed that lab rats died from consuming massive quantities of saccharine and other sugar substitutes.  Suddenly sugar was good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoiced.

Along with dietary changes, we’re told to exercise regularly.  Anyone with the requisite income can buy a Pelaton exercise machine and a subscription to have a 20-something fitness instructor haranguing them via a video link.  After we pass the age of 40, do we really think we’ll look ripped like a 20-year-old? Do we really want to?  I’d rather sit in a comfortable chair with a suitable beverage and a bag of pretzels while I watch 20-somethings playing soccer or football. 

Here’s what all the pundits of longevity never admit.  If we live forever, we’ll outline all our friends. We won’t have anyone to talk to who shares our life’s experiences. We’ll end up as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died.  Instead of agonizing over living forever, why not accept that the magical elixir to long life is a sense of humor and enjoying time spent with friends, family, and our favorite foods?

Norma Shirk is an author, speaker, business owner and an attorney. In 2011, she founded Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, LLC (www.complianceriskadvisor.com), a human resources consulting firm for small employers. 

She writes a weekly blog that alternates between human resources issues (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) and history (History by Norma, www.normashirk.com).  She is also a founder and monthly contributor to the Her Savvy blog, www.hersavvy.com.   In 2018, she published, Psycho Bosses and Obnoxious Co-Workers, an amusing look at workplace behavior.

Ms. Shirk frequently speaks to a variety of audiences on topics ranging from human resources issues to historical events and persons.

She may be contacted at norma.shirk@complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Filed under family, History

History Wars

If your history teachers were like mine, they made it sound as if history is unchangeable.  If it’s in the history books, it is the correct and only version of what happened, right? Not so fast.

History is never that simplistic.  History is a written account of what happened. Until the 19th century, only the rich and powerful were literate.  They ensured history covered only what interested them, which was themselves.  As a result, history was primarily an account of kings, dynasties and their wars.  We learned almost nothing about the ordinary people whose work made possible the great lives told in historical accounts.

This traditional approach to history broke down in the 19th century when European and American governments decided that literate workers would make better factory workers.  Mass literacy brought fresh perspectives.  Ordinary people wanted to know about the lives of ordinary people from the past.

By the 1920’s, stories of ordinary people were in vogue, how they lived, worked and died. It’s still a popular subject given the number of Americans researching their family genealogy and getting DNA tests to learn “where we came from”.  But the closer we look, the more we realize how much was airbrushed out of American history books because the facts didn’t fit the preferred narrative of a good and righteous nation.   

Black people were brought here solely for the purpose of being slave labor. They were prohibited from learning to read and write because illiteracy was the easiest method to control them.  (Today, the Taliban has retaken Afghanistan and they will again ban literacy for females.)

Chinese men helped build the cross-continental railway, one of the greatest engineering feats in U.S. history.  Those Chinese laborers could not bring their families because the U.S. government didn’t want them settling permanently in the U.S.  They endured pogroms by anti-immigrant whites who saw the hard-working Chinese as job and wage threats.  (San Francisco’s Chinatown now offers tours of their escape tunnels.)

American Indian tribes were hunted to the point of extinction and forced onto reservations. Once on the rez, they were routinely starved and denied healthcare. Their children were kidnapped and placed in government-sanctioned schools in pursuit of forced assimilation. (Canada recently apologized for their forced assimilation programs.  The U.S. refuses to do so.)

These examples give a flavor of the countless facts of American history that were airbrushed from our history books.  History is often ugly and unpleasant, particularly in hindsight after social and political attitudes change.  Future generations will certainly take issue with things we do now as they uncover our unfortunate facts. 

Acknowledging these unfortunate facts does not diminish our country’s achievements and is not a rejection of our country’s history.  It means that we are mature enough as a nation to accept everything done by our predecessors.

As uncomfortable and unpleasant as it is to acknowledge past moral and legal wrongs, it would be so much worse to pretend they never happened.  We can never move forward until we acknowledge the good and the bad of our past.  Call it a 12-step program for the history wars and teach the kids the ugly stuff along with the glorious stuff in history class.  Ignorance is justice denied.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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A Ride Through France

I’ve spent the past three weeks watching the Tour de France.  I know nothing about cycling except that the sport has been riddled with doping scandals.  This year was no different.  During the final week of the tour police raided the hotel rooms and vehicles of one of the teams searching for drugs. They didn’t find any, but it cast a shadow over the race.

I first tuned in to watch the race because I wanted to see the background shots of the French countryside with its castles, chateaus, villages, churches and Roman ruins.  The race began in Brittany, moved east, and then south to Nimes and Carcassonne.  Nimes was built by the ancient Romans and their arena is still used today for concerts.  Carcassonne also dates to the Roman era although the medieval walled city and fortress are why tourists visit today.

From there the race moved into the Pyrenees Mountains. These mountains are as magnificent as the Rocky Mountains. Not surprisingly, the winners of these group stages grew up in mountainous areas.  One such winner was a young American, Sepp Kuss, from Durango, Colorado. Expect to hear much more of him, by the way.

Expect to hear much more about Tadej Pogacar, the young Slovenian who won the Tour de France with a whopping 5-minute lead over his nearest competitor.  He also snagged three of the four color jerseys: yellow (Tour winner), polk-dot (King of the Mountain), and white (best young rider).  He couldn’t have done any of it without the support of his team.

The Tour de France is simultaneously a group sport and a test of individual stamina.   Riders participate as part of a team and support their lead cyclist.  Pogacar’s teammates helped him stay at the front of the peloton in every stage of the race, away from the wrecks near the back of the pack.  Pogacar’s stamina helped him win two of the four most difficult mountain climbs.

It was fascinating to watch the camaraderie of the riders. Riders in the back of the pack supported each other without regard to team affiliation, sharing food and water and encouraging each other to keep going.  When a spectator caused a massive crash in Stage 3, the riders protested the poor security and narrow roads by staging a slow ride and an hour-long stoppage during the next stage.

The race ended in Paris on Sunday.  It was a fascinating journey through the French countryside.  But what kept me tuning in every day was watching the camaraderie of the riders. We all want to be respected by our peers for our diligence, honesty and hard work.  The Tour de France epitomizes that.  

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Support the Gig Economy

We’re in a time warp on employment law.  The economy has shifted toward a gig economy model, but the Biden administration seems to be stuck in the 1930’s factory model. 

Start with the gig economy.  The shift began in the 1980’s when business schools preached the benefits of “shareholder” value to the exclusion of all other considerations.  The bean counters scrutinized each company’s expenses in slash and burn operations. First to go was in-house training of workers.

Second to go was entire swathes of workers.  The downsized workers were often hired back as independent contractors to do their old jobs.  The “savings” on not paying employee benefits to them created “shareholder” value.  Senior management promptly rewarded themselves with bigger pay packets and stock options while shoveling a few dollars more to their shareholders as dividends.

(Business leaders now moan about their inability to find workers with the appropriate skills but are still unwilling to invest in their workers.  In an article a few years ago in The Wall Street Journal business leaders admitted they would not invest in training their workers because they didn’t want to lose their investment when the employees left. The irony of demanding loyalty from workers while offering nothing in return is apparently lost of these overpaid masters of the universe.)

By the 2000’s, the internet had lowered the cost of starting a business.  The switch to a gig economy accelerated during last year’s covid.  Many workers pushed into unemployment during the past year have decided to bet on themselves by starting their own businesses.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems to be stuck in the past. Don’t get me wrong. Biden’s boffos are a distinct relief after Trump’s minions tried to resurrect the 1980’s by dismembering every law that might protect workers.

But the Biden administration’s approach will undermine the gig economy, the most dynamic part of our economy now that most big businesses are monopolies dominating their industries.  Recent Department of Labor guidance makes it more difficult to classify workers as independent contractors.  The rationale is that too many companies deliberately misclassify workers as independent contractors in order to save on payroll taxes and employee benefits.  That is true.

However, that’s no reason to rip the heart out of the gig economy.   Instead of rolling back the economic clock, it’s time to change how employee benefits are offered.  Employee benefits like health care, fair wages and overtime pay were forced on employers in the 1930’s in a clever maneuver to bust the unions; and indirectly to fight communism since most Americans believed that all union organizers were commies.

That was then. Now we need to free up workers to use their skills and interests to the best of their abilities. Instead of looking backward, the Biden administration should imagine how the future of work could look.

It’s time to create individual health accounts, just as there are individual retirement accounts.  Allow gig workers to top up their IRA’s with amounts equivalent to an employer’s 401(k) match.  Give gig workers a tax credit to cover a set number of vacation and sick days each year.

Some people prefer traditional employment. Some people are suited to be gig workers.  The benefit of encouraging a hybrid economic model, part traditional and part gig, will unleash the creative abilities of our country. 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. We also integrate HR compliance into the company-wide compliance program through internal controls and advising on how to mitigate risks with insurance. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com). For my musings on history, visit History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts here on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Filed under Business Savvy, History, Self Savvy

Time for a Change

Recently the English Premier League announced they are considering a ban on all social media platforms effective May 1st.   The ban is being considered to protect footballers (soccer players) from racial and homophobic abuse.  Most footballers are teenagers or 20-something’s.  

Racial and homophobic abuse has always been a feature of sports from a segment of “fans”.  It’s on a par with the jerks who post revenge porn against their exes when they realize those women won’t put up with the selfish, spoiled brat behavior that mommy indulged all those years ago.  

When racial or homophobic abuse happens on the field, the footballing authorities can investigate, identify and ban the moronic player spewing hate.  When “fans” scream filth, the home team can investigate, identify and ban the jerks for life from attending games.

Social media abusers can hide behind avatars and fake identities. In some cases, abusers are based outside the country of their victims.  In other situations, the abusers deliberately, with malice aforethought, route their internet connections through countries that can’t or won’t prosecute the abusers.  

It’s time to stop social media abusers from using their cyberspace anonymity to avoid the consequences of their hateful, malicious actions.   The first step is to require all social media companies to authenticate the identity of each account holder just as banks are required to “know your customer” by authenticating the identity of new bank account holders.  Social media companies should also continue shutting down the fake accounts they find littering their platforms.

The second step is to enact laws that require social media companies to provide the identity of the abuser to the victim.  This process should be quick and easy and low cost. There are limited (at best) privacy concerns for the abuser because no one has a First Amendment right to spew hate and the threat of violence.  Foot-dragging on ID’ing the abuser is tantamount to enabling and condoning the abuse.

The victim can then decide whether to file a criminal complaint or to sue for civil rights violations or defamation.  That brings us to the third step. The civil and criminal penalties for engaging in hate speech and revenge porn on social media should be much more severe.  At a minimum, abusers should be banned from social media platforms until they can demonstrate they deserve the privilege of having an account.

Abusers who spew hate on social media are usually feeling insecure and afraid of social and cultural changes that they view as a loss of power and control.  Their fears make them lash out to try to regain control.  They’re counting on us being so scared of drawing their abuse or violating their free speech rights, or of secretly sympathizing with their racist, sexist, xenophobic comments, or so uncaring that we do nothing.  It’s time for that to change. 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Filed under family, History, Self Savvy

AUDREY!

I watched “Audrey,” on Netflix last night and was so impressed and inspired, I decided to skip my original topic and share this one with you all.  Perhaps you’ve seen it, a biography of Audrey Hepburn.  Perhaps you already know her story.  I’ve always loved her and her characters.  Who doesn’t?  I just never knew HER story; Where she came from and how she became the powerful force she was; dancer, actor, philanthropist, and that she really became an actress by accident.   

Audrey Kathleen Ruston was born on Мау 4, 1929 in Ixelles, Belgium. She adорtеd thе pseudonym Edda van Heemstra іn 1940 tо evade capture bу thе Germans because аn “English sounding” nаmе wаs considered dangerous durіng thе German occupation. 

During World War II, when she was just a little girl, the Nazi’s over took Audrey’s town in Holland and thousands died, including some of Audrey’s relatives. Food was very scarce, and, in fact, just to survive, Audrey and her family would grind tulip bulbs to eat and attempt to bake grass into bread. This led to her being extremely malnourished and left her with complications later in her life; Undernourishment, acute anemia, and respiratory problems during the war, contributed to her lifelong waif-like figure.

Audrey wanted to be a prima ballerina. She began training at the early age of 5 for many years to fulfill this desire. Unfortunately, at 5 feet 7 inches, she was too tall, and after being so malnourished when her town was occupied during the war, she often fell ill and could not continue training. She is quoted saying, “…there is probably nothing in the world as determined as a child with a dream and I wanted to dance more than I feared the Germans.” 

Audrey worked for the Dutch Resistance and would carry secret messages in her ballet slippers. Anyone suspected of being a part of the resistance, was rounded up and killed. Once, she was suspect and rounded up by truck. She barely escaped when the Nazis pulled over to the side of the road and she crawled under the truck and out the other side.  As an agent for the Dutch Resistance, she performed in a series of secret ballets to help raise money for the rebels – after the shows, no one would applaud so as not to alert the German Soldiers. These performances would be called “black performances” to raise money for the rebels and their underground war against Hitler. 

At 16, Audrey was a volunteer nurse in a Dutch hospital. During the battle of Arnhem, Hepburn’s hospital received many wounded Allied soldiers. One of the wounded soldiers Audrey helped nurse back to health was a young British paratrooper. Little did she know, the young man would be a future director named Terence Young and within 20 years would later direct her in Wait Until Dark.

Having suffered several miscarriages during her various marriages, but always wanting a family, Audrey was blessed with two sons.  She took a hiatus from her career to spend time with them and was away from acting for many years.  Her childhood traumas and malnourishment, not to mention her three-pack-a-day smoking habit, contributed to her death at just 64 years old in 1993.

From “Our Fair Lady” at People.com,

OUR MOST RECENT IMAGES OF HER CAME OUT OF AFRICA where, as a shirtsleeved ambassador for UNICEF, she walked in a ravaged Somalia, giving solace with that radiant smile—and focusing the world’s attention on a starving land. Last September she asked to be taken to the famine’s epicenter, a feeding camp in the town of Baidoa. As she arrived, she saw hundreds of small lifeless bodies being loaded onto trucks. The worst of it, she would later say, eyes welling with tears, was “the terrible silence.”

Audrey donated аll thе salaries shе earned fоr hеr final movies tо UNICEF. She hаd contributed tо UNICEF sіnсе 1954 and wаs appointed Goodwill Ambassador оf UNICEF іn 1988. UNICEF was the foundation that actually helped thousands like Audrey during WWII and she is quoted saying, “I can testify to what UNICEF means to children, because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II.  I have a long-lasting gratitude and trust for what UNICEF does.”

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher.  She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations.  She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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The Prime Directive

One of the concepts introduced early in the Star Trek franchise was the Prime Directive.  This guiding principle prohibited the Star Fleet alliance from interfering in the social and political customs of societies on the planets they visited.  These societies were supposed to develop naturally without outside ethical and social rules imposed on them.

Of course, every Star Trek captain, beginning with Captain Kirk, violated the Prime Directive every time he (and only once, she) visited a planet that offended the captain’s notion of how things ought to be done.  At least Captain Picard debated the matter with his senior staff. 

Their discussions sounded an awful lot like debates at the European Union or the United Nations.  The EU was founded in hopes that economic integration would prevent future European wars.  The UN was founded in hopes that nations would negotiate their differences rather than going to war. From the beginning, both organizations faced Prime Directive problems. 

When Putin’s Russia repeatedly tried to murder Alexey Navalny and imprisoned him on bogus charges, should the EU and the UN have intervened?  Navalny is fighting for an end to the kleptocratic reign of Putin and the creation of a democracy that works for Russians.  Putin and his enablers argue that Navalny’s treatment is an internal matter for Russia.

When China imprisoned a million Uighers in “re-education camps” where they are tortured and used as slave labor, should Chairman XI and his minions be charged with “crimes against humanity”? China claims the Uighers are Muslim terrorists and besides, it’s an internal matter for China.  

Prime Directive arguments pop up in the U.S., too.  Our federalist system allows states broad scope to enact laws on social and political matters.  But sometimes the federal government overrules what states want to do.  Notable examples include creating Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and civil rights laws that ended segregation and reduced voter suppression.  These laws were challenged by states who argued that how they treat their citizens is an internal matter.

The Prime Directive debates will flare up over the next year as each state legislature creates a new districting plan for federal and state elections.  Nearly two-thirds of state legislatures are controlled by the Republican Party. In states like Tennessee, the Republican Party has a super majority. 

Already, the Republican-controlled state legislatures have introduced more than 100 bills to restrict voting rights based on the bogus claims of stolen votes.  The proposed laws include purging voter rolls, eliminating early voting, severely restricting mail-in voting, making it more difficult to register to vote, and cutting the number of polling locations in areas that historically haven’t voted for Republican candidates. 

President Biden and his advisors will have many Prime Directive discussions on whether the federal government should intervene in the redistricting and voting law changes taken by state legislatures.  Expect the states to raise the same arguments as in the past. 

The Prime Directive debates could potentially become a lot uglier over the next year. A recent survey conducted by the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, found that 55% of grassroots Republican Party members believe it is acceptable to use violence to enforce their political vision for America.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Will We Ever Be Normal Again?

As we say goodbye to the Trump years and begin the Biden presidency, some people are talking about a return to normality.  This talk is premised on the notion that the Trump years, particularly the past few months, are an anomaly.  But what exactly is normal for our country?

True, we’ve never had an armed mob storm the U.S. Capitol in a desperate attempt to block the results of an election.  But our country has always had demagogues, con artists, opportunists, and sleazy provocateurs looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.  Without wishing to diminish the magnitude of the threat the current bunch pose, it is instructive to look at what was normal in the past.  

Long before Trump’s tweets supporting white supremacists, Woodrow Wilson openly supported Jim Crow laws because he believed whites were superior to blacks.   In 1924, a purported one million Klansmen descended on the Washington, DC mall in their white robes and hoods to spout their hatred of blacks, Catholics, Jews and immigrants.  President Calvin Coolidge didn’t condemn them or their rhetoric. 

Before social media platforms amplified the white power movement, a Catholic priest named Father Coughlin hid behind the label of “Christian” while spewing anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi garbage. He was the country’s most popular talk radio host in the 1930’s until some of his supporters were arrested on suspicion of trying to overthrow the U.S. government.   

Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz aren’t the first politicians to endanger the country in the cynical pursuit of their personal ambitions.   John C. Calhoun announced his national ambitions by whipping up an anti-British mob that pushed the country into the War of 1812.  That’s the war we don’t talk about because the British burned down the White House.  Calhoun became a prominent pro-slavery southerner who developed the legally dubious “nullification” theory which Tennessee’s less-gifted politicians periodically drag out of the trashcan of history. 

Hawley and Cruz are also not the first politicians whose cynical ploy backfired on them.  In 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were fading into the political sunset when they decided that fighting a duel would draw attention to resurrect their careers.  Instead, Hamilton was gut-shot and died in agony days later while Burr had to go on the lam to escape a murder charge.

In 1861, Abraham Lincoln traveled to his first inauguration by train.  His travel schedule was supposed to be kept secret and security was increased due to the number of death threats he received. Several last-minute route changes ensured he arrived at the U.S. Capitol on time to be sworn in as president. 

This year, Joe Biden had planned to travel to his inauguration by train.  But last week a brief announcement said that Biden’s travel plans had changed due to the level of violent threats made against him (and V.P.-elect Kamala Harris).   Unfortunately, and depressingly, our new normal looks a lot like the old normal. 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Nothing New Under the Sun

He benefited from the wealth bequeathed by his father.  He inherited a politically stable country that was militarily stronger than its enemies.  His country was at the heart of a vast trading network that made it wealthy and spread its influence across the world.  Its’ fertile soil provided so much food that it exported the excess to neighboring countries. 

He set out to destroy all that.  He felt only contempt for the competent, experienced government officials he inherited and replaced them with sycophants loyal only to himself.  He built a new capital city in a remote location where he lived in an echo chamber surrounded by his supporters.  The working class that built his new city were underfed and overworked.  They died young while he lived in a palace and treated himself to the best food and wine available.

He created his own cult and demanded that everyone worship his new god.  Traditional religious leaders were unceremoniously tossed aside, and their treasures confiscated to fund the new cult.  His wife and children slavishly followed his lead.

While he was busy dismantling the existing order, his country’s enemies grew bolder.  Other great powers began expanding their territory.  His country’s allies begged for help but he ignored them.  He was too busy attacking his real and perceived enemies at home to notice or care about the threats at his own border.    

When he finally left the scene (due to his death), his country’s hegemony had faded.  Society was fractured, the economy was in decline and his country had lost about a quarter of its territory to other great powers.  His inattention ruined his country’s alliances and its allies shifted allegiance to others, including the new great powers.   

His surviving opponents moved quickly to restore order, reinstating the traditional government structure.   His cult was abandoned and replaced by the former religion.  His name was erased from the written record as was his wife’s name.   His children repudiated him and his cult in a desperate effort to salvage their own lives.

His name was…..Amenhotep IV, better known to us as Akhenaton.  He ruled Egypt at the end of the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom.  His son, Tutanhkamon, was the last of that line of pharaohs and died young.  Ancient Egypt never again attained the cultural, political, and military hegemony that Akhenaton inherited.

Today, as we debate good versus bad leadership, Akhenaton is a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Filed under History, Self Savvy