Tag Archives: History

A Thoroughly American Feast

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.  These foods and the rest of the feast will be prepared from recipes handed down the generations.

The food may 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. My family traditionally had ham with Pennsylvania Dutch delicacies like mashed potatoes doused in browned butter; shoo fly pie (like a chess pie made with molasses instead of sugar) and deep dish apple pie.

Thanksgiving is also a holiday of giving. Many people deliver Meals on Wheels to the elderly or serve meals at homeless shelters.  Each year there seem to be new opportunities to help others who are facing adversity.

All of these activities follow traditions established at the first Thanksgiving. According to tradition, the first Thanksgiving was held in 1621 when the Pilgrims sat down to a feast with Squanto and the Wampanoag Indian tribe. The meal was a celebration of surviving a hard year for the Pilgrims and recognition that they couldn’t have done it without the help of the Wampanoag.

Thanksgiving is the most “American” holiday we celebrate.  It was multi-cultural from the beginning. It combines old and new foods that are prepared using both traditional and new fusion cuisine methods.   It reminds us that family means more than just our blood relatives.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

 

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).

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

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Filed under family, History

HOPE

My last post was pretty depressing, I know. The issue of plastic overtaking our environment, killing off wildlife, and affecting our health IS depressing. This post comes to you with hope for the future. As an ex-partner of mine would say, “Science created it and science can un-create it.” I’m counting on that.

Well, now, there is a lot out there about a “natural” remedy for the problem. Is it really possible that nature has provided “plastic-eating bacteria?”

“Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles,” a headline from The Guardian touts:

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinks bottles – by accident. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a waste dump in Japan. Scientists have now revealed the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests showed they had inadvertently made the molecule even better at breaking down the PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles. “What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. “It’s great and a real finding.”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic – far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speeded up even further and become a viable large-scale process.

From another The Guardian post:

Nature has begun to fight back against the vast piles of filth dumped into its soils, rivers and oceans by evolving a plastic-eating bacteria – the first known to science.

In a report published in the journal Science, a team of Japanese researchers described a species of bacteria that can break the molecular bonds of one of the world’s most-used plastics – polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or polyester.

The Japanese research team sifted through hundreds of samples of PET pollution before finding a colony of organisms using the plastic as a food source. Further tests found the bacteria almost completely degraded low-quality plastic within six weeks. This was voracious when compared to other biological agents; including a related bacteria, leaf compost and a fungus enzyme recently found to have an appetite for PET.

Here in the U.S., Morgan Vague, Clinical Research Coordinator at Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine in Portland, Oregon, presents a TED Talk about her research. She talks realistically about the problem we face and how “my bacteria” can help.

How about the solution presented here in an article from Fast Company discussing the enzyme used by bacteria to digest plastic and how it can be developed?

Around the world, several research projects are exploring the potential of enzymes, the part of the microorganisms responsible for digesting the plastic, to help. In the U.K., scientists studying the Japanese bacteria accidentally created a version of the bacteria’s enzyme that worked even better, breaking down plastic bottles in days rather than weeks. At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in the U.S., scientists are also working on the enzyme—called PETase, because it can eat PET plastic—to make it work faster. Researchers in Germany studied the structure of PETase to optimize it. And in France, a startup called Carbios has developed its own enzyme, which can fully break down PET plastic so it can be recycled into new, consumer-grade plastic of the same quality as virgin PET. Major corporations including PepsiCo and Nestlé are now partnering with the company, which plans to begin building its first demonstration plant this fall.

Like some other new recycling technology, using enzymes has advantages over traditional methods of shredding up old products. The plastic doesn’t have to be clean, and can be broken down completely. “We take these plastics back down to some of their precursor components, and then they are maybe in a better position then to be reused and reincorporated into new materials,” Hallinan says. Creating precursors for making plastic, rather than recycling whole plastic into a lower-grade material, might incentivize more recycling because there’s a better market for the final product. “There might be more economic appetite, more industrial appetite, for those types of materials.”

Then, there are the two students, Jeanny Yao and Miranda Wang, who have been studying and have invented bacteria that “eat plastic from the ocean and turn it into water.” Seeing a headline with their work is what got me looking deeper in this possible “miracle” cure.

I’m certainly not convinced these bacteria are the silver bullet we need, but, combined with limiting plastic production, returning to the days of re-usable materials like glass, and the biodegradable, sustainable materials paper and cardboard, even recyclable aluminum, we may be able to get some control of the situation. At least, we can hope.

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.

Like what you’ve read?  Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit.  Thanks!

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Waste

Navigating through Nashville is difficult these days with all the construction projects in various stages of completion. The skyline of downtown Nashville is dotted with more than a dozen giant construction cranes.  New hotels, businesses, apartments and condos are opening on a daily basis.

Growth is good. But there’s one thing the city’s cheerleaders aren’t talking about. Waste disposal.

New construction projects must include some infrastructure, such as waste water lines that tie into the sewerage system.  But the city’s sewerage system is outdated. Ancient water mains collapse with depressing regularity.  More pipes will collapse by next spring as the soil contracts over winter and expands with the spring thaw.

During the Great Flood of 2010, only one water treatment plant remained functional.  Since then, the city’s population has increased by tens of thousands of people.  With all that growth, the city should have built more treatment plants but hasn’t.  Meanwhile, thousands of new residential properties and hotels are tying into our decaying system.  Usage is expanding but the system isn’t.

I was reminded of these depressing facts of life recently when I received a notice from Metro Water Services saying that they would be asking for a rate increase.  As someone who grew up in rural areas where cesspits and outhouses were the only options, I place a high value on flushing toilets and safe drinking water.  This is one time I don’t think I’ll protest paying higher taxes.

 

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).

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

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Filed under Business Savvy, History

No Going Back

I’m a news junkie and an avid historian so I feel compelled to read the news. I read a variety of sources in print and on-line to get different viewpoints.  Recently, I realized that the headlines are uniformly depressing.

Hate crimes are on the rise.  White supremacists continue their terrorist attacks on women, Jews, immigrants, blacks, school children, and any politician who denounces their racist beliefs.  Democratic governments are under threat around the world as their apathetic voters fail to vote and their elected leaders undermine their own governments for personal gain or to save their political lives.   International alliances are being sabotaged by politicians with dubious agendas, breaking down the support system that has saved us for 70 years from another world war.

But then I saw a news story that broke through the gloom.  Three cities just elected black mayors: Montgomery, Alabama, Danville, Virginia, and Richmond, Virginia.  What’s the significance?

All three cities were capitals of the Confederate States of America.   The CSA was formed to defend “states’ rights”, meaning the right to continue enslaving black people. White supremacists often wave Confederate flags to show their desire to return to a mythical past unsullied by multiculturalism.

White supremacists, corrupt politicians and haters have always been a part of history.  But on some level they know they can’t win.  Corrupt politicians are always replaced by reformers who strengthen democratic institutions.  The CSA lost the war in 1865 and the white supremacists have been losing the battle against equality since the 1950’s.  Violence is all they have left.

Then I thought of the scene in Stars Wars when Peter Cushing’s character refuses to leave the Death Star.  “Evacuate in our moment of triumph”, he asks a few moments before the Death Star explodes.

The headline stories about terrorism, failing democracies, and hate are like the Death Star just before it explodes.  Behind those grim headlines are a fresh batch of Luke Skywalkers, taking aim at government corruption, terrorist massacres, and the haters.  They are the types of people who just elected black mayors in three cities that were a symbol of a dead past.

There’s no going back.

 

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).

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Filed under History, Self Savvy

Plastics.

‘Trash islands’ off Central America indicate ocean pollution problem

“Floating masses of garbage off some of the Caribbean’s pristine beaches offer grim evidence of a vast and growing problem of plastic waste heedlessly dumped in the ocean, local residents, activists and experts say. These “trash islands” have been captured in images by photographer Caroline Power, who lives on Honduran island of Roatan.” This, from Phys.org.

I know it’s depressing, but, people, we’ve got to talk about this. We have created a debacle probably much worse than any war – and in a VERY short time. This is something that is universally affecting us, all of us.

I met up with some old friends of mine recently. One friend is a Marine Biologist in Florida involved in Ocean studies. We got into a conversation about the plastic problem she is studying. She told me that they have found micro plastics in the bottom of the ocean. The bottom of the ocean! If you’ve seen the 60 Minutes exposé on plastic, then you are probably as mortified as I am. In that documentary, they talked about the introduction of plastic items into our lives. Commercials touting the wonders of plastic, which, by the way, (in case you don’t know) is a petroleum product, and stating excitedly that “it will last forever!” Yes, indeed it will. It is proving itself so. Obviously, no one considered the consequences of such a material and we have embraced it in nearly every aspect of our lives. 60 Minutes Overtime offers more.

Who remembers the 1967 movie The Graduate? The elder corporate guy at the party wrapped his arm around the shoulder of young Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and advised, “Plastics, son. Plastics.” Hmm…

According  to an article from National Geographic, “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, spans waters from the West Coast of North America to Japan. The patch is actually comprised of the Western Garbage Patch, located near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, located between the U.S. states of Hawaii and California. These areas of spinning debris are linked together by the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, located a few hundred kilometers north of Hawaii. This convergence zone is where warm water from the South Pacific meets up with cooler water from the Arctic. The zone acts like a highway that moves debris from one patch to another.

About 54 percent of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from land-based activities in North America and Asia. The remaining 20 percent of debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from boaters, offshore oil rigs, and large cargo ships that dump or lose debris directly into the water. The majority of this debris—about 705,000 tons—is fishing nets. More unusual items, such as computer monitors and LEGOs, come from dropped shipping containers.

While many different types of trash enter the ocean, plastics make up the majority of marine debris for two reasons. First, plastic’s durability, low cost, and malleability mean that it’s being used in more and more consumer and industrial products. Second, plastic goods do not biodegrade but instead, break down into smaller pieces. In the ocean, the sun breaks down these plastics into tinier and tinier pieces, a process known as photodegradation. Most of this debris comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic water bottles, and Styrofoam cups.”

From Wikipedia: “It is estimated that approximately “100 million tons of plastic are generated [globally] each year”, and about 10% of that plastic ends up in the oceans. The United Nations Environmental Program recently estimated that “for every square mile of ocean”, there are about “46,000 pieces of plastic”. The small fibers of wood pulp found throughout the patch are “believed to originate from the thousands of tons of toilet paper flushed into the oceans daily”. The patch is believed to have increased “10-fold each decade” since 1945.”

More from National Geographic; ‘Huge Garbage Patch Found in Atlantic Too’

“Akin to the Texas-size garbage patch in the Pacific, a massive trash vortex has formed from billion of bits of plastic congregating off North America’s Atlantic coast, researchers say. The newly described garbage patch sits hundreds of miles off the North American coast. Although its east-west span is unknown, the patch covers a region between 22 and 38 degrees north latitude—roughly the distance from Cuba to Virginia (see a U.S. map).

‘Many people have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,’ said Kara Lavender Law, an oceanographer at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. ‘But this issue has essentially been ignored in the Atlantic.’

As with the Pacific garbage patch, plastic can circulate in this part of the Atlantic Ocean for years, posing health risks to fish, seabirds, and other marine animals that accidentally eat the litter.”

Many years ago, I read the 1976 novel Woman On The Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy. It is an intense commentary on many aspects of 70’s society as seen through the experiences of the book’s heroine who “communicates” with “a figure from the future.” I was struck when I read it, and, in my recollected words, I offer the thought that has stuck with me to you now; On one “visit” to this “figure’s” Utopian world, the heroine asks where they throw away their garbage. Perplexed by the idea, the reply is, “Throw away? How can you throw something away? The world is round.”

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.

Like what you’ve read?  Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit.  Thanks!

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The Stupidity of Unintended Consequences

I recently saw a news article about a federal criminal prosecution in Arizona that reminded me of an unwritten law which should be called The Stupidity of Unintended Consequences. Or to put it another way, short term thinking will rise up and bite you.

In the Arizona case, Scott Warren was accused of conspiring to harbor and transport illegal aliens, a crime carrying a 20-year prison sentence.  Mr. Warren spends a lot of time hiking in the Arizona desert. During his backcountry hikes, he has buried the bodies of individuals, most likely illegal aliens, who died in the desert from dehydration or starvation after becoming lost.  He was prosecuted for helping a couple of illegal aliens avoid that fate.

The case is currently in limbo after the jury was unable to reach a verdict.  The prosecutors must decide soon whether to start over with a new trial.  They have already watched their case boondoggle once due to the Stupidity of Unintended Consequences.

The unintended consequences began back in 1993 with a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  This law was originally intended to carve out a narrow religious exemption to federal drug laws that would allow the Native American Church to use peyote during their services.   The RFRA prohibits the federal government from creating a substantial burden on an individual’s religious freedom unless the government has a compelling interest to do so.

In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court said the RFRA applied to the states. The states began passing their own unique versions of the federal law based on the culture wars.  Most of the state versions of the RFRA allow conservative Christians (and so far only Christians) to ignore or break anti-discrimination laws they don’t like in the name of religious freedom.

In Mr. Warren’s case, his supporters argued that the RFRA protected him from prosecution because he followed his conscience and a higher authority in giving aid and comfort to the illegal aliens.  Although unsuccessful, the argument was apparently sufficient to cause the trial to end in a hung jury.

The irony is extraordinary.  A law intended to reduce discrimination is now the basis upon which a segment of the population is authorized to discriminate.  Liberals are now embracing a law they once loathed in order to support Mr. Warren.  And Mr. Warren would probably be a convicted criminal today if the religious right had thought about the long-term consequences of ignoring Jesus’ commandment to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

That’s the Stupidity of Unintended Consequences.

 

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 HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new 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).

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

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The Power of False Doctrines

 

The earth does not revolve around the sun, proclaimed the Catholic Church leaders in the 1633 trial of Galileo Galilei.  Galileo was on trial for heresy, accused of reinterpreting the Bible which was forbidden. If convicted he would be executed.

Galileo had scientific proof that the earth revolved around the sun. The Church leaders had their own experts who cited the Bible and Church doctrine to support their earth-centric theory.  Why did the Church leaders cling to their false doctrine long after it was proven to be false?

The Catholic Church faced an existential threat in the 17th century on two fronts. On the scientific front, experiments conducted by European scholars were exposing fallacies in Church doctrines.  Meanwhile, the Protestant Reformation challenged the religious authority of the Catholic Church by exposing the Church’s corruption.

If the Catholic Church admitted that Protestants were right about corruption and Galileo was right about the earth’s orbit, what else was it getting wrong?

The Catholic Church leaders reacted as anyone would who faces a loss of prestige and therefore power.  They ordered Galileo to stop experimenting and to not talk about his discoveries on pain of death. Protestants were tortured and murdered in a forlorn effort to stop the spread of their teachings. The Church clung to its discredited doctrines in hopes of preserving its power, only to find its power and authority permanently diminished.

Now let’s fast forward to today’s debate about climate change.

The climate change deniers have staked their personal and professional reputations on the idea that climate change is a hoax. Over the years, several administrations and Congress have ordered government agencies to stop collecting and publishing data that might undermine their arguments denying climate change. They intimidate their opponents by withholding government research dollars.

Climate deniers face the same existential threat that the Catholic Church faced less than 400 years ago. If they are wrong about climate change, what else are they getting wrong?  Since the climate change debate is now inextricably entwined into our political debates, climate deniers fear an irreversible decline in power and authority.

The fear of lost prestige and power keeps doctrines alive long after they are proven to be false.

 

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 HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new 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).

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

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A Confluence of Commemorative Events

On Saturday, Passover begins and Jews around the world will commemorate their liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt.  On Sunday, Christians will celebrate Easter Sunday, remembering the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Saturday is also the anniversary of the 1889 birth of Adolf Hitler.  Neo-Nazis will surely celebrate this event with a stream of hate and rage at their “enemies”.  The confluence of these events leads to reflection on the world that was and the one we live in today.

In 1933, the world was in the middle of the Great Depression and German democracy was weak, similar to some of today’s eastern European countries or Central American countries.   Weak government coalitions fought incessantly, oligarchs fought to preserve their economic privileges and political extremists fought in the streets.

Then an opportunist appeared promising law and order, the restoration of national pride and economic prosperity.  In 1933, as in any year, most people were not political extremists. But after watching the career politicians bicker themselves into deadlock, they were willing to vote for a political outsider while ignoring his hooligan supporters and his more outrageous rhetoric.

Besides, rhetoric that blamed an enemy whether Jews (Nazi Germany), democratic Western Europe (Putin’s Russia), Imperialist America (Nicolaus Maduro’s Venezuela), or Jews, Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, women and independent journalists (today’s America), made sense to people who were angry.  Angry people want to lash out against their perceived impotent inability to change their circumstances.

All they need to fan their sense of injustice is a seemingly strong leader blathering hate that feeds their anger. But populists aren’t strong; they are cowardly schoolyard bullies. They incite others to violence. They stay in power as long as they can shower their closest associates with money and privileges. Abdelaziz Bouteflika (Algeria) and Omar al-Bashir (Sudan) were recently deposed when they could no longer guarantee wealth and privilege to their inner circles.

Today’s populists will cause untold misery before they too burn out. But they will fade away because hate is a dead end.  As people around the world celebrate the confluence of this weekend’s commemorative events, it’s important to remember that two of those celebrations are of hope.

 

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 HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new 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).

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Food as a Weapon of War

Using food as a weapon of war goes back to the dawn of civilization.  Torched granaries are often found in the ruins of ancient cities destroyed by war.  In Medieval Europe, war usually meant laying siege to castles and towns until the enemy population was starved into submission.

Richard the Lion-Hearted used siege warfare to defeat his rebellious French barons.  Then he ordered that their fields be sown with salt condemning the local Gascony population to starvation because nothing could grow in salted fields.  That was the point for Richard.

In 19th century America, killing the buffalo was an intentional government policy aimed at destroying the primary source of food for the Plains Indians.  Eventually starving Indians agreed to confinement on reservations in return for regular rations of food.

Once they were on reservations, Indian agents routinely withheld rations from “hostile” Indians who objected to forced assimilation.  When starving Indians left their reservations in search of food, newspapers published lurid accounts of attacks on white settlers, conveniently omitting the reason why the Indians were off the reservation.  Then the military would hunt down the Indians and force them back onto the reservations….where their food rations were withheld because they were “hostiles”.

Today food is still used as a weapon of war from Yemen to Syria to Venezuela to the refugee camps run by the United Nations.  In Yemen and Syria, each side prevents the distribution of food to areas they consider hostile.  In Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro’s regime gives food only to party loyalists and recently ordered the military to block the border with Columbia to prevent a convoy of food from reaching starving Venezuelans.  U.N. refugee camps are routinely blockaded to prevent food deliveries.

Another threat to U.N-supported refugees arises from the erratic behavior of the U.S. government. The current U.S. administration continues the practice of reducing financial support of the U.N. citing a variety of reasons. Since the U.S. covers about a quarter of the entire U.N. budget, a loss of American funding means that millions of Rohingyas, Palestinians, Yemenis, Darfuris, and countless others are threatened with starvation since less money means less food is distributed in refugee camps.

Using food as a weapon is usually justified as a suitable punishment for an enemy.  A starving enemy is too weak to fight. While undeniably true, this justification should be rejected as barbaric and inhumane.  Using food as a weapon of war is a collective punishment against civilians.  Collective punishment targeted at civilian populations is prohibited under the “crimes against humanity” laws enacted since World War II.

Individually we may feel helpless, but collectively we have the power to remind governments of their U.N. treaty obligations. Ending the practice of using food as a weapon of war is a humane and ethical goal. It’s also a pragmatic goal. After all, we may someday find ourselves on the “enemy” side of a war.

 

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 new 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).

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please….. Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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Feeling Thankful Amid the Chaos

Two days from now, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends.  At first glance there seems little to be thankful for given the chaos in our society.

The working poor in America face daily hunger because their wages are not sufficient to cover rent, utility bills and food but they make “too much” money to qualify for public assistance. Not surprisingly, a rising number of people believe capitalism is a failed economic system that benefits only insiders, according to a recent survey in The Economist magazine. The most anti-capitalist are young people just entering the workforce.

Our recent mid-term election has brought the threat of more chaos. The prospect of Democratic control of the House of Representatives has caused our president to unleash shrill tweets filled with paranoiac fear and conspiracy theories about how everyone is out to get him.

On November 13th, the FBI released their annual report on hate crimes showing a 17% increase from 2016 to 2017.  The most common hate crimes are based on race, ethnicity or ancestry. The second most common category is religion, closely followed by sexual orientation. These statistics are borne out by recent mass shootings against religious and ethnic minorities.

Last week the National Rifle Association sued Washington State to block a new law that bans the sale of fully automatic weapons to anyone under the age of 21.  The NRA apparently believes an 18-year-old kid should be allowed to buy a weapon that can kills dozens of people in minutes even if that same kid can’t buy his own beer for another three years.

All of these headlines left me feeling deeply depressed and wondering why I should feel thankful on Thursday.  But then I took a closer look.

Social engagement has increased with hundreds of groups trying to solve problems ranging from climate change to eradicating hunger to opposing intolerance.  Younger people are more relaxed by racial integration and sexual orientation.  White supremacists and other haters are a tiny percentage of the population who cannot win their battle against demographics and decency.

Political engagement has also increased as voters actually showed up to vote and mostly rejected the nuts of the left and the right.  Most importantly, young voters showed up at the polls in large numbers for the first time, having finally recognized that marches aren’t enough; voting is what counts in a democracy.

I see many dark days ahead as our society struggles to adapt to gut-wrenching economic, political and social changes. But amid the chaos, I am thankful this year because I also see signs of hope for our future.

 

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 new 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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