Category Archives: History

Family Secrets

What if you learned that your family’s most cherished stories are a pack of revisionist lies used to cover up shocking crimes?  At the age of 38, Jennifer Teege was doing some research at the library when she found a book that was a biography of her biological mother.  From the book, Jennifer learned that her grandfather was Amon Goeth, SS commandant of the Plaszow labor camp.

Her beloved grandmother, Ruth Irene lived with Goeth at Plaszow.  (In Schindler’s List, Ruth Irene buries her head under the pillows while he stands on the balcony shooting Jews.)  Ruth Irene kept Goeth’s photo by her bed for the rest of her life.  She told Jennifer that Goeth was a kind and gentle man who never killed anyone. 

When Jennifer revealed her secret past to her adopted family, it almost destroyed them.  Her adopted father became obsessed with studying the Holocaust.  Before dying, he revealed that his obsession arose from fear of not knowing what his father did during the war.  What if his father committed crimes while serving in the German Army? The German Army was used to commit war crimes on the Eastern Front in Russia.

He never learned the truth about what his father did during the war.  German soldiers were discouraged from keeping diaries or journals and their letters were censored.  The Nazis wanted to control all the information so that their propaganda was the only narrative available. (Today Putin’s Russia and Chairman Xi’s China use internet firewalls to control the narrative and cover up probable crimes against humanity in Ukraine and Xinjiang.)   

Jennifer and her adopted father struggled with the ethical dilemma of what responsibility, if any, they should bear for the actions of their family members.  Americans may discover a similar dilemma when they log on to Ancestry.com and similar sites looking to build their family trees.  The U.S. has plenty of its own horrors. 

What if you learned that during Jim Crow days your kindly grandfather and his buddies used to drive along country roads at night looking for black people to terrorize?  Hurling watermelons out car windows was a popular “sport”.   What if your grandparents show up in an old photograph screaming and hitting black college students who were attempting to desegregate the lunch counter?

Or maybe one of your ancestors served with Arthur MacArthur (Douglas’ dad) during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) when the U.S. used dum dum bullets to suppress a Filipino independence movement.  Dum dums were banned as too inhumane by a treaty signed in the Hague, but the Americans negotiated an exemption covering their use in the Philippines.

What if you found a book that proves your great-great-granddad was one of Chivington’s 100-day militia? In 1864, Chivington’s militia attacked Black Kettle’s encampment at Sand Creek, Colorado without provocation and massacred the inhabitants who were mostly the old and sick, or women and children. They didn’t have a camera crew with them, but they bragged to the local papers about their manly deeds against noncombatants. Both the federal and Colorado governments insisted they lacked jurisdiction to prosecute their crimes.

What if you discover that your God-fearing grandfather is one of the men implicated in the Southern Baptist’s sex scandal?  The denomination recently released a report revealing decades of sex crimes (rape and molestation) committed by church leaders and covered up by the church hierarchy.   The denomination still seems to be more interested in protecting the perpetrators than in apologizing to and comforting the victims.  

Like Jennifer and her adopted father, we may struggle to assimilate the awful truth about our families.  The closer we are in time to the perpetrators, the more difficult the emotional distress.  Jennifer Teege descended into a deep depression that required intensive psychotherapy before she could reconcile herself with her new knowledge.  However, she eventually found peace in knowing the truth.  Knowing the truth is always better than living a lie.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small employers 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 administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy. 

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Futility Defined

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

We’ve been here before. This time will end like the last time and the time before that.  Since our country was founded, we have fought futile culture wars that delay but never stop the inevitable changes to our society.  

“Pray, do not forget the ladies”, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, as he sat at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.  Abigail wanted women to have property and voting rights.  John and the other men ignored her plea as they drafted the Constitution.  Women got the vote in 1920 but continue the struggle for equality. 

About half the delegates at the Constitutional Convention owned slaves.  They threatened to torpedo the entire project unless they were allowed to keep their “peculiar institution”.   Slavery ended with the Civil War but was followed by decades of domestic terrorism as white supremacists tried to reverse the laws granting equality to former slaves.   Racial inequality is still the most divisive topic we face as a nation and domestic terrorism attacks continue, most recently in Buffalo, N.Y.

We’re a nation of immigrants yet after the U.S. expanded from sea to shining sea, immigration suddenly became a threat.  Earlier immigrants, who now saw themselves as red-blooded Americans, tried to block later waves of immigrants.  They argued that the new guys would undermine American jobs and wages and our culture, ignoring their own successful assimilation.  

The latest culture war is the same stale mix of fear and hysteria.  In the 2020 census Americans could choose more than one ethnicity; many did so.  That change highlighted the fact that the percentage of white Americans is declining.   

Hoping to reverse demographic trends, white supremacists are joining the anti-abortion crowd.  The latest laws would ban abortions even when it would save the mother’s life or when the females (including VERY young girls) have been violated by rape or incest.  Other forms of birth control are also being banned.

None of the anti-abortionists have ever suggested that male persons should learn to use condoms, get a vasectomy, not rape children, and respect a woman when she says “no”.  They never will because that’s not the point of these laws.  These laws are intended to oppress all women while simultaneously forcing more white women to have babies. 

Closely aligned with the anti-abortion crowd are the Protestants demanding “religious freedom” laws which allow them to discriminate against people who are of other faiths, female, LGBTQ, or living any lifestyle which offends these self-appointed protectors of “Christian America”.  It’s also the most recent effort to entrench Protestantism as a state religion based on hysterical fear of Islam, replacing hysterical fear of Catholicism.  It won’t stop church pews continuing to empty. 

The most short-sighted culture warriors are the anti-immigrants. They are taking an enormous gamble that they’ll never end up old and sick.  Medicare already eats up a huge chunk of the federal budget and America’s working age population is shrinking.  Without immigrants to fill jobs and pay taxes, there won’t be enough money to fund Medicare in its current generous form.  

Culture wars ruin lives. Targeted people are terrorized with death threats (women are also threatened with rape).  People die violently.  But in the end, this war will end like all the previous culture wars.  

It’s time for the culture warriors to go through the seven stages of grief and learn to accept the things they cannot 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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The Other side of the Couch – Ukraine

 

sunflower

I sit here today, safe, in my own warm house with my own possessions around me.  I can use my cell phone to call anyone I want to call.  I can walk outside without worrying.  I can speak my mind to my neighbors, and while we may disagree, I am not afraid that I will be turned in to the police for something I have said or done. I have money to buy food, and if I need cash I can go to the bank and access my checking account to get more cash.  My family is safe, and I know that I can see them whenever I want to do so.

And as I sit here, safe, warm, with choices and a future, I am thinking of the people of Ukraine, who have none of these certainties.  I am thinking of the women and children who are saying goodbye to their husbands and fathers; I am thinking of the young men and women who are choosing to fight for their country at the risk of losing everything, because if they do not they have already lost everything worth living for.  I am thinking of the maternity hospital, bombed by the Russians.  I am thinking of the waves of refugees pouring across the borders into the West.

And I am thinking of the soldiers from both countries, soldiers who are fighting in a war that they neither chose nor believed would happen.  These young men – and women – will die because of the twisted mind of a man whose greed and vanity and ego have released the scourge of war once again on an innocent people.

The Russian people are suffering as well – pulled into a war they, too, did not choose and blinded by the limited access to other perspectives than that which is fed to them by the state-run media.

Here in Fortress America, far away from the realities of war on the European continent, it may be too easy to say to ourselves that this war has nothing to do with us – it is over there, far away.  I know that there are some who are saying exactly that, although their voices have been muted by the extraordinary courage and resilience of the Ukranian people’s fight against Putin.  This is exactly what was said in the 30s and 40s in the runup to WWII by many – until we were attacked at Pearl Harbor.  Let it not come to that – let it not be that our political will to fight Putin and his war machine has to depend on our own country being attacked in order to muster the will to crush him.

I am grateful that the leaders of the European Union have stepped up and that the careful diplomacy of the Biden administration has created a unified response to an unprovoked attack on all democracies.  May it hold firm in the difficult days ahead.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP
Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 35+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com.
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A Digital Library of All Knowledge

In 2012, Islamist militants attacked Timbuktu, Mali and destroyed 14 of the 16 mausoleums that are part of the World Heritage site.  Timbuktu was a center of Islamic learning from 1100 – 1600 AD, rivalling the universities in Cairo and Baghdad.  Militants didn’t just rip down buildings, they burned books. Books that contained historical accounts and Islamic teachings to which the militants objected.  Because they didn’t like what the books said, they decided that no one should be able to read them.

But before the Islamist militants drove into Timbuktu to destroy it, residents rescued some of the books.  Priceless manuscripts were crated up, loaded on rickety boats and sailed down the Niger River to safety.  In the Malian capital of Bamako, an international team immediately began photographing and scanning the books to save digital versions.

Saving the books of Timbuktu is just one example of what some are calling the second Renaissance.  Every major library in the world, from universities to the Library of Congress to the British Museum are creating digital copies of their collections and making them available to anyone with an internet connection. Many of these efforts are done in partnership with Google, IBM and Microsoft who have the money and technical expertise in digitizing collections.

Digitizing books and priceless manuscripts is often done using multispectral imaging which uses different wavelengths of light to see details invisible to the naked eye. It was developed by NASA to take satellite images through cloud cover but is excellent at capturing high resolution images of manuscripts.  It can detect layers of images.

In medieval times, it was common to reuse parchment.  A scribe or monk would scrape off the old ink, the medieval equivalent of erasing, and write a new text. The original images can now be seen with multispectral imaging, which is how the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore discovered two treatises by Archimedes underneath the prayers in a 13th century prayerbook.

X-rays and CAT scans are also being used to digitally unroll scrolls that were turned into charcoal at Pompeii in 79 AD.  Scholars are beginning to read the same texts once read by the rich and famous Romans who owned vacation homes by the bay.  What once seemed lost, isn’t.

Which brings us back to the Islamist militants who tried to destroy Timbuktu’s books because the texts contradicted their narrow, bigoted view of the world.  Someday soon, an archaeologist will recover the burned manuscripts of Timbuktu and technology will help us read the texts.  Ideas can’t be killed.

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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Keep Banning Those Books!

Politicians in search of a chance to appear relevant so that they can justify their grift for PAC campaign donations are busy banning books.  Texas and Florida kicked off the latest round of book banning.  They’re going after books written by women, Jews, and African-Americans; covering themes like violence, racism, slavery, the Holocaust, and LGBTQ issues. 

Other states quickly jumped on the bandwagon.  A group of moms in Williamson County, Tennessee have been fighting to ban books on the grounds that their children might read something that makes them “feel uncomfortable”.  Can’t wait for their kids to grow up and get a gander at their first employee performance review.  Many bosses think making subordinates uncomfortable is the way to motivate them to work harder. 

The latest book banning in Tennessee comes from the McMinn County School Board which just banned a young adult book called Maus, by Art Spiegelman.  Apparently, in McMinn County, middle school kids need to be protected from reading a Pulitzer Prize winning story about how Mr. Spiegelman’s father survived the Holocaust.  I had never heard of Mr. Spiegelman’s book but now I can’t wait to get hold of a copy to find out what all the fuss is about. 

Years ago, I eagerly read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain after I heard it was periodically banned from school reading lists.  It turned out to be a story about a raft, a boy and his friend interspersed with uncomfortable satirical vignettes on American society’s racism and intolerance. Hmm….

Being banned is the greatest thing that can happen to a book.  It attracts attention.  Kids might actually set aside their sex and violence fueled video games to test their literacy skills.  Here kid, the electronic version of the book has the same forbidden stuff as the hardback!

The publishers of the banned books will thank the pols for the free marketing.  More profits!

The authors will thank the pols. More royalty checks!

Your local public library will thank the pols for driving people into their hallowed precincts in search of the banned books.  Look we have lots of other books you might enjoy!  See your tax dollars really working for you!

Amazon will thank the pols for helping them make another billion-dollar profit from shipping the banned books to individuals who can’t find copies at their local bookstore or who don’t want to wait their turn on the library’s waiting list for the banned book.  Maus is currently an Amazon best-seller. Don’t miss out, renew your Amazon Prime account now!

Everyone, google “lists of banned books”!  Time to get your hands on books that will outrage your sensibilities and make you uncomfortable!    

As for the pols and their enablers, why bless their little hearts!

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 Business Savvy, family, History

Hope at a Time of Despair

We’re a few days away from Christmas and it’s difficult to see signs of hope. 

We’re heading into another covid winter as infections and deaths again rise.  More than 800,000 Americans have already died from the covid virus.  Vaccines are widely available and medical evidence indicates that the unvaccinated are the ones dying now.  But too many people claim they have a Constitutional right to their “freedom” to refuse the vaccination. 

This argument distorts the Constitution.  Constitutional freedoms extend only to the point where one person’s rights infringe on the freedoms of others.  By claiming a right to reject the vaccine, anti-vaxxers increase the risk of infecting others, thus infringing on the Constitutional rights of others to live virus-free.  Anti-vaxxers also increase the likelihood that we will never reach herd immunity and that the virus will mutate into a form that is vaccine resistant.  

Unfortunately, the political and social disputes about covid and the vaccine are just the latest symptom of the twin diseases of political intolerance and violence.  Our country has a violent history. Therefore, it is disturbing to learn from recent surveys that around a quarter of Republican Party supporters believe it is acceptable to use violence to win political disagreements.   Meanwhile, the leftist fringe infecting the Democratic Party screams a message of tolerance through an intolerant program of “wokeness”.  Significantly, these pampered pooches haven’t agreed to give up one iota of their privileged, coastal-elite existence to bring their utopia to fruition.

Since no one is listening to each other and the few voices of reason have been drowned out by a sea of intolerance, there is a mad scramble to impose intolerance through the capture of the political process.  Too many states are passing “secure voting” laws that are designed solely to suppress the votes of people who are deemed politically and socially undesirable and inferior.  Virtually all the states are racing to create gerrymandered districts that will distort the outcome of elections over the next ten years.  Our Constitution stands in grave danger of becoming more useful as toilet paper.

So where do we find hope in this time of despair? History teaches us that intolerance eventually burns itself out due to its own excesses.  The Inquisition eventually ran out of victims to torture and murder in the name of God.  The American Civil War ended when the “secesh” states ran out of people to fight and die on the battlefield.  The covid pandemic will end when the virus runs out of people to kill.

My hope is that our country will reject intolerance sooner rather than later. My despair is that we value our lives and the lives of others so cheaply that we are willing to watch so many people die before our intolerance finally burns out.  

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 New American Tradition

Next week we will celebrate Thanksgiving, an annual food fest for family and friends.  The cuisine reflects our diverse culture. Most of us will eat New World foods like turkey, squash and cranberries.  But the choices will vary from kosher to halal; from tacos and burritos to pickled red beets and pumpkin pie; from sweet and sour pork to chutneys and curries.

Thanksgiving is the most “American” holiday we celebrate. According to the accepted historical version, the first Thanksgiving occurred in 1621 when the Pilgrims sat down to a feast with Squanto and the Wampanoag Indian tribe. The meal was a celebration for the Pilgrims of surviving a hard year and recognition that they couldn’t have done it without the help of the Wampanoag.

Of course, that version is completely bogus because we know from historical records that the Pilgrims pushed the Wampanoag and neighboring tribes off the land through what today we call ethnic cleansing.  The tribes of New England, like all other tribes within the territorial borders of the U.S., were systemically decimated by wars and diseases. Indians didn’t become U.S. citizens until federal law changed in 1924.

So why bother celebrating Thanksgiving? 

Every country is held together by its common traditions.  Common traditions give us a point of reference to help us find our place in the world. In a huge, diverse country like America, common traditions had to be created from scratch.  Traditions created from scratch reflected what those with power at the time wanted to showcase; not how it really was. 

George Washington issued the first presidential proclamation calling for a celebration of thanksgiving.  No one asked if his slaves were invited.  Abraham Lincoln called for a day of Thanksgiving in 1863, when the Civil War wasn’t going well for the Union.

Thanksgiving became a federal holiday in 1942, less than a year after the Pearl Harbor attack.  No one mentioned that Japanese Americans had been unconstitutionally stripped of their property and rights as citizens and then required to prove their loyalty by sending their sons to fight in the war.  (For a real American hero, google “Senator Daniel Inouye”.)

But over time, countries evolve as circumstances change. What was once socially or politically acceptable is no longer so.  Now, the diversity of America’s people calls for a more nuanced view of our history and traditions.  The unpleasant truths behind the origins of Thanksgiving, and so much more in American history, can be acknowledged without damaging our country.

It’s time to create a new common tradition that is a more honest reflection of who we are and what we aspire to become. Our food choices already acknowledge our diversity.  Now, celebrate Thanksgiving by acknowledging the good and bad historical experiences of our diverse population.  An America without our diversity would be uninspiring and the food boring.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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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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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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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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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