Sunday, October 29, 2017

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s Estates in Fort Myers, Florida (Part II)

Henry Ford's The Mangoes in  Fort Myers, Florida
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
Thomas Edison and Henry Ford met in 1896 at a convention when Ford was working as chief engineer at the Detroit Edison Illuminating Company. “Sixteen years later the two men would meet again to discuss using Edison’s storage battery for the Model T.”

Edison invited Ford and his family to go camping in the Everglades in 1914; it was the first time Ford visited Fort Myers. He was so enchanted with the area that he purchased three acres of riverfront property adjacent to his friend’s estate and a Craftsman-style bungalow, The Mangoes, for $20,000, which he sold in 1945 for the same price.

River view from Ford's porch
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
The two industrialist friends spent many winters exploring Florida, relaxing, bird watching (one of Clara and Henry’s favorite activities), fishing, and planning business strategies, new inventions, and innovations. Their lengthy discussions and planning yielded products and innovations that would change the world.

The Mangoes living room
Photo: Ileana Johnson
Few know for example that the Ford Motor Company sold soybean flour among other products. Henry Ford created a suit and an entire car body using experimental soybean products.  Ford had built in 1930 an experimental soybean lab in Dearborn, Michigan.  

Statue of Henry Ford at the edge of his estate
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
According to the museum archives, by 1936 Ford had tested 300 varieties of soybeans on 8,000 acres of farmland for industrial uses, spending $1.2 million in the process. “Ford manufactured soybean-based paints, lubricants, and plastics such as gear shift knobs, horn buttons and door handles.” In 1940 Ford created a soybean car.

Kitchen at the Mangoes
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
Trying to find a natural source of domestic rubber, Ford, Edison, and Harvey Firestone partnered in 1927 and formed the Botanic Research Corporation located in Edison’s winter estate in Fort Myers. Ford planted experimental rubber crops in the adjacent Hendry County. Additionally, Ford spent $20 million to start a massive rubber plantation along the Amazon River in Brazil.

The Mangoes bedroom
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
Henry Ford (July 30, 1863-April 7, 1947), his son Edsel, and wife Clara explored southwest Florida in the Model T Touring car that Ford gave to Edison.

Ford secretary's bedroom with the typewriter
Photo: Ileana Johnson
The Model T changed how America traveled and developed into towns and suburbs. This vehicle freed America to develop and explore the wide-open roads and areas less traveled. Americans were able to visit their beautiful country even in remote areas but they had to be able to make quick fixes to the car themselves. To help them do that, the early Model T came with a tool box that fit under the driver’s seat: pliers with screwdriver blade on handle, gas gauge, transmission and combustion wrenches, monkey wrench, grease gun, Ford oil can, and spark plug cylinder head bolt wrench.

Ford's personal Model T in Fort Myers
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
In addition to the fact that Ford’s car could not go faster than 40 MPH, starting a Model T was a challenge and not for the faint of heart because of the several steps that had to be taken in order for the engine to crank and run smoothly:

-         Set parking brake, throttle and spark lever

-         Get out of car, pull out choke, turn crank slowly, push in choke

-         Get in car, turn key

-         Get out of car again and turn crank quickly

-         Get in car, adjust spark lever until engine runs smoothly. (Museum Archives)

Born on a farm, Ford did not have much use for farming even though his father was disappointed that Henry was fascinated by mechanics and left the farm in 1879. The future machinist repaired pocket watches in 1876.

He started repairing watches at the age of thirteen as a hobby. He would scour the neighborhood for watch parts. This hobby helped him develop his future skills as a machinist and engineer. Taking a fine watch apart is easy, putting it back together to make the intricate mechanism work, is much harder.

“My father was not entirely in sympathy with my bent toward mechanics. He thought I ought to be a farmer,” said Ford.

He founded in 1902 the Henry Ford Automobile Company and began producing the Model T. By 1914, he was paying his employees $5 wages. In 1919 he became the sole owner of the Ford Motor Company and his son Edsel Ford was named President. After the death of Edsel Ford in 1943, Henry Ford resumed the presidency until 1945 when he transferred it to his grandson, Henry Ford II.

When Ford purchased it in 1916, the estate in Fort Myers was surrounded by many citrus plants. There were 100 grapefruit and 50 orange trees, mangoes, paw-paws, lemons, limes, guavas, tangerines, coconuts, and bananas. The property was called The Mangoes because it held so many mango trees.

Henry bought The Mangoes fully furnished. Killian Melber, a local florist who was preparing the home for the arrival of the Fords, told Henry that “all they needed was silverware, bedding, and table linens.”

The Caretaker’s Cottage “evolved from a garage built in the style of the Ford house with accommodations for a good-sized car, a sleeping room for staff, a tool room, and a storeroom overhead.”

The Biggar family bought the estate from Henry Ford in 1947 and added a building to house the Edison/Ford antique car collection and other memorabilia.

Ford's memorabilia and his Stradivarius
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2017
Henry was a big supporter of the arts. He learned how to play the violin and played tunes such as Tukey in the Straw on his Stradivarius. His collections of Americana, including well-preserved quilts, are on display at Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford.

It was a lucky strike for our modern mobility and urban development that one farmer’s son out of six siblings chose to become a machinist instead of a farmer like his dad and matured into the titan of America’s automobile industry.





Friday, October 27, 2017

Edison and Ford Estates in Fort Myers, Florida

Seminole Lodge, Edison's house
Photo: Ileana Johnson

Hurricane Irma hit Florida with a vengeance six weeks ago, the island had to be evacuated, and the ocean receded from its bay. Siesta Key was spared severe devastation but its neighbors to the south, Naples, San Marco, and Fort Myers did not fare as well. Irma hit them as a strong category 3 hurricane. The evidence is painful to see in the mounds of chopped up uprooted trees and torn vegetation yet to be picked up in front of every home.
The Edison/Ford Estate lost 100 old trees, shrubs, and other tropical vegetation that used to shade almost 20 acres of property, now fully exposed to the sun. Vegetation grows fast in Florida but 100-year trees are hard to replace. The estate museum opened on October 14, 2017 for the first time since the severe winds devastated the once shady and lush green gardens, still beautiful but showing signs of distress.

Edison's 90-year old Banyan tree
Photo: Ileana Johnson
Edison’s beloved 90-year old Banyan tree survived the hurricane onslaught. This Banyan tree was among the more than 17,000 samples that Edison tested for his research effort to find a natural source of rubber. It is documented that the tree was planted in 1927 and is one of the largest in the continental U.S. The Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) produces a milky sap (latex) that can be used as rubber. The Edison and Ford estates have more than thirteen types of ficus trees.

Fort Myers is known as the City of Palms; it is a tradition started by Edison – he planted 1.5 miles of royal palms along McGregor Boulevard in front of his winter home.

Edison’s botanical research laboratory eventually found a source of rubber in the plant called goldenrod. He was worried that the source of rubber domestically would dry up in the case of a shortage in the foreign supply. The lab, which was built in 1928, remained operational until 1936, five years after Edison’s death.

                                                             Sanibel Island Beach
                                                             Photo: Ileana Johnson

Nearby Sanibel Island, lush with jungle-like vegetation seemed to have fared better.  Off the fishing pier, the sugary-white quartz sand shell beach was sparkling in the noon sun. The ocean had a greenish-rusty brown hue. Wading in the surf to find more shells on the bottom was fun even in leather sandals. Sanibel Island’s lighthouse had an unusual iron skeleton appearance; it was first lit in 1884.

Sanibel Island Fishing Pier
Photo: Ileana Johnson
Sanibel Island Lighthouse
Photo: Ileana Johnson
The bay in Siesta Key was flooded by jelly fish and hundreds of bathers and swimmers were stung daily; nobody could resist the balmy 83 degree Fahrenheit waters with small and gentle waves. The life guards were flying the purple caution flag for dangerous marine life. People took a careless attitude to the jelly fish.  How much can they possibly hurt? We are going in for a swim.

As clouds gathered for a rainy afternoon, it was a perfect time to visit Thomas Edison’s estate in Fort Myers, Florida.  One of Edison’s famous inventions, the incandescent bulb, inexpensive and reliable,  is now becoming extinct as the environmental scaremongers are blaming inexistent global warming on everything man-made despite evidence to the contrary.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) was a prodigious inventor, newspaper printer/publisher, telegrapher, and businessman.  Edison’s research lab in Florida focused on finding a domestic source of rubber. He was the only person who was awarded consecutive patents every year for 65 years, a total of 1,093. His favorite invention was the phonograph, but his work improved the telegraph, generators, motors, batteries, movie-making, and cement.

Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, John Burroughs and families camped often in the Florida Everglades. His famous remark, “There is only one Fort Myers and soon 90 million Americans will discover it,” certainly rings true today.

River view from the porch
Photo: Ileana Johnson
Edison found a 14 acre property along the Caloosahatchee River countryside, one mile south of the city of Fort Myers. The land was mostly scrub and wild vegetation with Giant Green Bamboo, a natural fiber with which Edison experimented as filament for his incandescent bulb. Among hundreds of exotic plants growing on the island, mango trees and orchids, there are many species of green bamboo.

The Edison estate pier
Photo: Ileana Johnson
Edison and his family were trying to evade the cold winters of West Orange, New Jersey and found a mild paradise in Fort Myers.

Pergola which connects the main house with the guest house
Photo: Ileana Johnson
The riverside buildings were built in 1886 and remodeled through the years. The large Seminole Lodge is composed of a family home, a connecting pergola, and a guest house. His little office, a pool, a teahouse, the Caretaker’s house, seawall recreation area, and Moonlight Garden were added later. In 1911 the pool constructed by W.R. Wallace and Company cost $1,000.

Edison living room
Photo: Ileana Johnson
Edison bedroom
Photo: Ileana Johnson
The Guest House was built for Edison’s good friends Ezra and Lillian Gilliland as their winter retreat.  They owned the home for three years and, in 1891 sold it to Ambrose McGregor who lived with his family year-around in the house until 1902. In his honor, the boulevard that runs along the Guest House was named McGregor in 1914. Edison bought the home in 1906 and turned it into a guest house with a dining room, kitchen/pantry, and servants quarters. “Visitors included Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone who stayed for days and Charles Lindbergh who came for dinner. They received reminders of a Florida visit when mangoes, grapefruit, guava, and orange marmalade would arrive at their northern homes.”

The Caretaker’s House is an example of early “Cracker” architecture and is one of the oldest standing buildings in Fort Myers. The lumber for all buildings on the property was pre-cut in Maine and transported by ship to the pier.

In 1947 Madeleine wrote to her mother, “We did enjoy the lazy days at Fort Myers – I couldn’t have borne it not to see the place again as it always was – and I’m glad it was warm enough for a farewell swim in the pool.”

Mina and Thomas Edison's swimming pool
Photo: Ileana Johnson
Until 1929 when city water was hooked to the riverside property, Edison provided water to its own property by ingenious ways such as a windmill which pumped water from a well, a 40,000 gallon cistern which captured rainwater, and two artesian wells. Today he might have been imprisoned by environmental agencies for capturing rainwater on his property.

The pier which stretches 1,500 feet into the Caloosahatchee River was initially called the wharf and was used to load and unload boats of supplies for the family and for the lab. Later, it was used mostly for recreational activities such as boating and fishing.

Mina, Edison’s wife, wrote to the family in 1909, “Thomas caught a trout, snapper and I think a small tarpon which he did land, right off the pier… We may supper there this evening, I am not sure.”

At first Fort Myers was isolated from the rest of the state; the railroad connected to the city by 1904; then a wooden bridge was built in 1924; and the roadway now known as the Tamiami Trail, connecting Tampa to Miami, which allowed the Edisons to visit their friends, the Firestones, at their winter home in Miami Beach.  The Tamiami Trail cost $8 million, took twelve years to complete, and 3 million sticks of dynamite. The Edison Bridge which spans the Caloosahatchee River was built in 1928 and dedicated on Edison’s last birthday, February 11, 1931. (Museum Archives)

When completed, Edison’s bridge had no electric lights. A nationwide cartoon satirized the irony of the bridge for its lack of lights and, in 1937, the city added over fifty lampposts, work completed by the Florida Power & Light.

In 1910 Edison had developed a commercial iron-nickel alkaline battery for use in electric cars which he considered the future of mass transportation. Because of the internal combustion engine, Edison sold his battery for industrial use instead, thus becoming Edison’s most lucrative invention.

His miner’s cap lamp battery (1930) saved thousands of miners from flammable gases igniting an explosion if a bulb broke. His secondary battery was encased in a steel case, an electric lamp connected with a flexible cable, and a safety measure preventing ignition.

Another important invention was the carbonaire primary battery used for railroad applications (1950); it replaced prior primary batteries. Edison’s primary battery emerged during 1880s, providing power to telephone systems, fire alarms, doorbells, sewing machines, electric fans, and phonographs.

Edison’s research on secondary batteries (1899), which could be recharged, “was an alternative to existing lead-acid secondary batteries, which were heavy and difficult to recharge.”  His portable unit from 1925, the 6 volt Edison Radio Filament battery which could recharge radio batteries, was on display. So were the Edison-Lalande batteries from 1890, named to recognize the French scientist, Felix de Lalande, who had the first patent for the copper-oxide-zinc-caustic soda battery.

The first movie camera was called a kinetograph. Edison worked with George Eastman. Edison announced in 1888 that he would manufacture a machine called a kinetoscope that would “do for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” (kineto, Greek for “motion,” and scope for “view”) Edison modified Eastman’s flexible film and “adapted it for his own motion picture products.” (Museum Archives)

Edison’s system of lighting with Direct Current (DC) was first used on Pearl Street Station in New York. The area included Wall Street from which Edison attracted investors and several New York newspapers from which Edison gained publicity. The system was most efficient within a square mile of the station. The station burned in 1890 but the standard for an electrical utility was set.

But the alternating current (AC) proved more practical because it continually reverses direction, can be conducted at high voltage over long distances, and can be transformed to lower voltages to power many devices.  The direct current (DC) runs in a single direction, is conducted at low voltage with a lower risk of injury, and can only be conducted a short distance.  Direct current (DC) powers today cell phones and electric cars.

Nikola Tesla worked briefly for Edison in 1884 before he went to work for competitors. They were not really bitter rivals as the media portrayed them. The museum archives evidence the fact that years after the “war of the currents,” Edison appeared in public to hear Tesla address the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and Tesla graciously “asked the crowd to give Edison a standing ovation.”

By December 1878 Edison had designed numerous generators and an electric meter. The electric lighting was so much cheaper than gas yet he had not yet devised the incandescent light bulb.

Edison’s laboratory held equipment to perform chemical and mechanical experiments (1886). Edison had spent $12,000 to build and furnish each of his homes but he spent $16,000 on the lab. It had a dynamo powered by a coal-fired steam boiler which provided electricity for the entire estate in 1887, eleven years before the City of Fort Myers was electrified. The original lab was sold to Henry Ford who moved it to Dearborn, Michigan, where it became base of operations of The Edison Institute, still open to visitors today.

The New York Times reported in February 1886 that “one of the ships carrying supplies for the lab was hit by lightning and sunk.” The insured cargo ($3,000) held “chemicals, machinery, and furniture.” (Museum Archives)


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Cultural Marxism Indoctrination into Islam through Opera

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Photo: Wikipedia
The “enlightened” and multicultural” public from Cluj Napoca attended recently Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man, a Mass for Peace, an “opera that included a Muslim muezzin chanting the call to prayer.” It was a thinly-veiled attempt to force Romanians to accept the Cultural Marxism agenda of the European Union which is implemented through the heavy islamization of Europe’s population.

Five Romanians interrupted the opera by singing the Romanian National Anthem upon hearing the infamous Allahu Akbar shouted on stage by one of the characters. But their singing did not last long. Special police escorted the protesters out of the theater and the local police fined them.

“We see this as a play to brainwash viewers, so people might easily accept the Islamization of Romania.”

The opera The Armed Man, a Mass for Peace, advertised as an anti-war play, was brought from London “to culturally enrich Romanians into submission to Islam.” In Bucharest, the capital of Romania, the National Opera refused to present the opera on stage, but Cluj Napoca, a city run by leftists, accepted it.

Codrin Goia was one of the protesters escorted out; he described how the London opera was to bring a message of peace to Romania but instead brought the Allahu Akbar scream heard a few days earlier in Marseille, France, shouted by terrorists who stabbed and killed two women.

The five protesters were members of the New Right Party. “We did not want the National Theater to be turned into a mosque, to have an imam scream Allahu Akbar across the street from our Orthodox Cathedral and the statue of our great hero, Avram Iancu.”

Romania joined the EU in 2007 and, as a member, it is required by EU dictates to accept ever larger numbers of Islamic economic refugees as immigrants.

Having survived Ceausescu’s dictatorship and hundreds of years of constant battles with the invading Ottoman Empire armies, some Romanians see their membership in the EU as a “suicide pact.” Romania is the first stop of migrants into Europe via the Black Sea from Turkey and into Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Germany.

The Romanian National Anthem, Deșteaptă-te, Române, says, “Wake-up, Romanian, from the sleep of death into which you have been sunk by barbaric tyrants, Now, or never, make a new fate for yourself, To which even your cruel enemies will bow.”

Ned May reported that “the Mandarins of Multi-culture recently sent [from London] an ‘inclusive and diverse’ opera to Romania to enlighten the benighted locals with extracts from Mass, the Islamic Call to Prayer, the Mahabharata, and other poems.”

When the imam said, “Allahu Akbar, I confess there is no god greater than Allah; I confess that Muhammed is sent by god, the patriots broke into singing the Romanian National Anthem.”

The “multi-cultured” (read indoctrinated) audience told them that they were “cretins” and should get out as the idiots that they are, with no respect for “higher culture.”

But this “higher culture” educated Europeans have invoked for decades as an excuse for their suicidal tolerance and air of superiority, will be easily destroyed by Islam if there is no common culture, language, and secure borders.

Ned May wondered when the Catholic Mass ever started with the invocation of Allah and Muhammed, and why Catholics were not offended by the poetic license the writers took with their Christian rites?

Progressive leftists are constantly telling us that all religions are morally equivalent but that is certainly not the case. Christianity is a religion of life and love.

William Kilpatrick of the Crisis Magazine wondered why the London Opera picked this opera to indoctrinate the EU masses. Why have they not picked Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio, a stark reminder that “thousands of Europeans once fell victims to the Islamic slave trade?”

Romanians grumble about the new arrivals, at their apparent well-off status, pushing baby strollers and with other kids in tow, with shopping bags laden with goods at the mall, but never seen working. A National Geographic glossy cover page called them last year the “New Europeans.” They are forcibly new but they are not Europeans, they are Eurabians or Islamopeans who will transform Europe into Eurabia by fertile wombs and multiple wives.

Romania is a harmonious country with many minorities that are well-integrated into society, with a single language and culture. As Darius Roby said, “Here nobody gives a damn what your race or ethnicity is as long as you learn Romanian, love pork, and enjoy drinking.”

Sadly, he added, Romanians are so eager to be Western, to be part of the EU, and hate Russia so much, that they will be unable to resist EU’s multicultural diversity indoctrination.

For now, the only roadblocks to full Islamization are Hungary and Poland. Unfortunately, their objections will be neutralized by the careful injection of a few thousand fertile Muslims in their midst, and the future threat from these Polish and Hungarian Christians will be diffused.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Communist Indoctrination or Common Core Mis-Education?

During a recent interview about life in communist Romania, Bill Muckler asked me a pointed question about the quality of education I received under a totalitarian system of government.

Aside from absurd courses such as Scientific Socialism and Socialist Economics, courses which were aimed at legitimizing an otherwise disastrous economic model of Five-Year Plans which were put in place by the Communist Party, by apparatchiks who often had grandiose pipe dreams but had no idea how to translate them into reality given the lack of resources and education of those in power, I received a good education in terms of the subjects taught. The indoctrination efforts did no work on me at all.

I had three years of Calculus in high school, eight years of various foreign languages, Latin, English, French, German, Italian, studied world literature and history, geography, chemistry, music, physics, physical education, and behavior. It is true that we had labs but we were not allowed to experiment with anything, nor did we have the money to do it, all classes were theoretical.

The literature class in high school was highlighted by an elderly gentleman from the old society that preceded communism. He came to class wearing an elegant and always pressed grey suit with his old violin passed on from his grandfather. He played with his eyes closed various classical compositions which he felt that they fit the mood of the literary selection we were studying that day. It was uplifting and I felt a sense of beauty and freedom beyond physical reach that flowed from his violin strings. It was mesmerizing.

We did not have calculators; we either figured complex calculations in our heads, with pen and paper, or, in colleges of engineering, with a slide rule. We did not study math based on the insane Common Core method which American students now largely do despite parental protests around the country. Occasionally, the teacher would demonstrate a simple chemical reaction with two elements which we were allowed to watch intently but not touch anything.

Common Core standards and curricula dumb down the education of American students. It is a cleverly designed program that prepares students to become busy working bees for various corporations and to destroy their own Christian faith at the expense of the “superior” religion of Islam. When it comes to Christianity, liberal educators scream about the division of church and state but welcome with open arms the theocracy called Islam.

As A.J. Cameron said, “Those behind the total, fundamental transformation of mankind know human nature, and are wickedly smart, deceptive, patient, and determined. Total control is the overall goal. They make sure we are chasing what they want us to see so that they can sneak in behind us with what we aren’t supposed to see. They also play both sides of the divides they deploy upon us, leading us to believe one side is the enemy and the other side is our friend.”

Steve Jobs limited his children’s use of the very technology he developed. “Why can’t parents see that what is taught in the classroom and promoted in life by the media is diametrically opposed to what they believe in and want their children to believe in?”

Communists believed that a student learned better if sports were included in the curriculum. It was not the type of competitive sports like in America that would lead to a football, basketball, or tennis career and millions of dollars in remuneration. It was sports for the sake of exercising one’s body and fueling the brain with oxygen from physical activity.

A few students, who were truly talented, were usually vetted and picked up by the sports associations existing in every large town, to develop their talent every day to competitive perfection. Thus parents lost a child to a rigorous gymnastics program that would eventually develop their progeny into an Olympic star. Parents did no generally object; they were grateful to the party for giving their child the opportunity to succeed and live better than they did.

Parents benefitted in the sense that the Communist Party would give them financial incentives if their child won international competitions. Nadia Comanici’s parents were awarded a small apartment as a thank you when their child won perfect scores in international gymnastics events. Tennis players were allowed to keep some of their earnings in international matches and generally lived a life that many Romanians envied.

To this day, a lot of talented mathematicians, physicists, computer programmers, and chemists come from Romania because they go through rigorous academic programs and they have a good work ethic. Parents do not object that the curriculum is too hard.

In this country parents complain that Johnny is failing tests not because Johnny’s talent or effort do not match the difficulty of the subject, it is because the curriculum is too hard and the teacher makes unfairly difficult tests. If curricula were dumbed down to Johnny’s level of comprehension and ability, Johnny would have perfect scores too.

Communist parents were shamed publicly during mandatory parent/teacher conferences if their progeny were not doing their homework, not studying, or not behaving according to the communist-prescribed code of behavior in and outside of school. These parents came home and spanked and punished their children because, unlike America, nobody put them in jail for doing so, and no child services removed their children from the home because they were disciplined to behave and speak properly.

Teachers and administrators were allowed to use a ruler for punishment and many children were made to stand in the corner for various infractions. Our principal, a tall man with a booming and intimidating voice, often slapped boys who misbehaved constantly and, on a few occasions, left a mark on their faces from his heavy gold ring. He was so dedicated to proper education of children that he attended every beginning of the year ceremony of the high school I attended, well into his nineties. On my visit five years ago, he was present at the ceremony of the remodeled school.

Students who did not perform, did not behave, missed school too much, had poor grades in some subjects, were held back to repeat the year. No pregnancies were tolerated in high school, and no child care was allowed on the premises of a school. During my four years of high school, I know of only one girl who became pregnant and she was forced, three weeks before graduation, to repeat the year during night school.

Night school was offered at all levels for such students like her and for those from rural areas who had never completed their basic education, or adults who never actually went to school as children because they came from large peasant families who worked in the fields and never had time for school or schools did not exist in their remote villages for lack of teachers.

Communist education did not emphasize individuality but the collective. We had to think and act collectively for the good of the community; the root Latin word, communis, means “shared.” Individuality and creative thinking were highly discouraged.

We all studied hard but we knew from the beginning that we were weeded out from elementary school, to middle school, to high school, and to college. College was a privilege for the communist elites and for those lucky enough to get placement in a highly competitive pool of other students who had perfect grades and test scores, just as good as yours, but were lucky to get in first before the number of places offered that year were filled. Often someone with a perfect 10 got in but someone with 9.99 did not. When I tried to study philology, there were ten spots available and thousands of candidates. So I chose Economics instead.

American journalist Lenora Chu spoke to NPR on September 28, 2017, about her experience with her three-year old son who attended Shanghai’s most prestigious Chinese public kindergarten. She was amazed how much better behaved he was and how, one day, he came home with a red star on his forehead, a reward for better behavior and how, her child refused to take it off and even wore it bed. It was a badge of honorable behavior conforming to prescribed standards for that age group. This conformity, she explained, extended to art classes where children were only allowed to draw rain coming straight down as if rain never came down sideways.

Chu said, “I realized immediately how they introduced conformity in the classroom, sometimes by physical methods.” Corporal punishment is obviously something that American parents object to vehemently and particularly liberal parents. I remember having my palm wacked by my elementary school teacher when I used my predominant left hand to write with – she forced me to learn to write right-handed. In a move of defiance, I started writing letters and numbers backwards with my right hand. I don’t remember how long that lasted, but it left an impression on me to this day. In my old age, I am trying to regain some of the left-handedness. Creativity and individual ability in the Romanian schools I attended were highly discouraged.

Chu emphasized the fact that the Chinese system “weeds out children” while in the American system we are concerned with “not leaving any child behind.” This of course can also mean that in America we tend to socially-promote students even though they did not master the required skills to be promoted to the next grade level thus graduating students who can barely read or write or are totally ignorant of geography, history, basic mathematics, and literature.

Conformity was clearly expressed in my elementary school teacher’s phrase.  She always used to say when she taught us addition, “two plus two is always four, children, even in the Soviet Union.” Everything we did or said had to be connected somehow with the experience of the Soviets because they were our role model of perfection.

Teachers in America spend a lot of time on discipline because the children we are sending to school are behaviorally challenged and are never raised to mind and respect authority. Their parents never taught them to behave properly in public or in school, no matter how bad they were, their progeny was always right and exceptional human beings.

This resulted in generations of students who believed they could do no wrong, always demanding trophies for participation, and passing classes without any effort. Failure was never an option for Americans even though it is part of life.

Nobody is good at everything. Follow your dreams and never let anyone discourage you from pursuing your passion are great catch phrases but, what if you are not good enough for that passion, should you not pursue something else that you are good at but not as passionate about and just carry the passion with you as a plan B?

My cousin told me recently that Romanians are now experimenting with new learning methodologies from the West (such as the Montessori school) as the quality of their education system seems to be declining. It is not that the education system has changed so much; it is the behavior of the students and their supportive parents who believe that anything bad in their child’s behavior must no longer be subjected to punishment.

The students themselves are divorced from any sense of history, of their Romanian roots; they are told constantly in school that they now must be global citizens. Since Romania joined the EU in 2007, this strong feeling of belonging to the world has superseded their feelings of belonging to their own people, family, and sovereign borders of their own country.

As the old adage says, education begins at home at an early age, and behavior and hard work are still its lynchpin.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Catalonia and Its Referendum on Independence from Spain

Catalonia, satellite image of snowfall
March 8, 2010
Catalonia is located on the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula and has a population of 7.52 million people. Catalonia has a distinct history, culture, and language. Its main city, Barcelona, was captured in 1714 by the first Bourbon king of Spain, Felipe V, and Catalonia lost its autonomy. Catalonia’s national day, September 11, commemorates this event.

The regional Government of Catalonia decided that a referendum would take place on Catalan independence on October 1, 2017. But the Constitutional Court of Spain declared on September 6, 2017 that the referendum and its invocation violated the Constitution.

Spain is divided in 17 autonomous communities with government delegates who must follow the same Constitution and legislation. However, Catalonia has tried for a long time to become independent. A few Catalonian politicians believe that they have something important to gain if they separate from Spain. After all Catalonia contributes the lion’s share of taxes to poorer regions. Catalonia provides one fifth of Spain’s industrial output.

Estelada blava, the pro-independence Catalonian flag
Photo: Wikipedia
Few citizens actually voted to break away in the legal referendum which took place five years ago on the issue of separation from Spain. Most ordinary Spanish citizens do not seem to be at all interested in separation. The average Spanish citizen sees the conflict in Catalonia in their own light.

But the current president of Catalonia, in an unconstitutional move, decided to organize a new referendum on the issue of independence from Spain.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his government made a mistake in dealing with Catalonia and addressed the conflict by calling in the national police and the civilian guards which he sent to Catalonia to “establish law and order” and to prevent Catalonians from voting.

Naturally Catalonians were outraged by the police presence and overt force and decided to vote even though many were not initially convinced that it was a good idea or even useful to separate Catalonia from Spain. It was reported that 2.225 million Catalonians voted on Sunday out of a total 5.5 million citizens registered to vote.

The conflict escalated when the Spanish police prevented Catalonians from entering the improvised voting centers while the Catalan police (Mossos d’Esquadra) protected the voters.

Additionally, the Internet was cut in voting centers and the voting population could not be cross-checked and verified; anyone could vote as long as they wrote down their names and an I.D. number. In the ensuing chaos, people who were not residents of Catalonia got to vote and some voted five times.

Catalonia is a more industrialized part of Spain, however, in the event of separation of Catalonia from Spain, business owners threatened to move to other areas. If Catalonia becomes an independent state, it is no longer part of the European Union; it must mint its own currency, have a monetary policy, and force Spanish citizens to travel with a passport in their own country.

The problem for Spain is that the rail road and interstate which connects it to Europe runs through the Mediterranean coast, through Catalonia. In the northern part of Spain, in order to cross into France through the Pyrenees Mountains, people use a narrow highway that crosses through Andorra.

Some Spanish believe that the Catalonian president acted unconstitutionally and forced the central government to take radical and unpopular measures which allowed Catalonians to claim that their democratic right of self-determination was violated.

The public opinion is greatly divided and many Catalonian families are separated along political lines; family members in the same house do not speak to each other because they have different political and economic views on the matter.

Most argue that an independent Catalonia would not benefit either side; it is simply a manipulation of the masses by a few elites with personal agendas.

For several years now, schools have been teaching the Catalan language while the Spanish language classes have been reduced. In public administration, nobody is hired unless they speak Catalan - same situation for professors or doctors. Some Spanish believe that English would be more beneficial since Spain has a huge tourist industry.

Violence was not the answer, many Spanish citizens claim, but it was necessary for the central government to re-establish law and order. Voting in a referendum that has been declared illegal by the central government in Madrid and by the courts was also a bad idea.