Saturday, February 18, 2012

Culture 101 (part 1) - Reagan's Challenge

This coming Monday - February 20, 2012 - marks President's Day

And what more appropriate tribute to this holiday than to impart some of the wisdom of one of the greatest presidents in the 20th century (in my humble opinion) as well as kick off a new series -

Culture 101

 First of all ...
Let's rock through the latter half of the 20th century

As a baby boomer, I have seen a lot in the last half century.  When I crunch the numbers, I shudder to think that I have lived between one fifth to one fourth of American History - if you reckon from 1776.

1950s -

In the middle of the Eisenhower administration, the country (the 1950s) seemed to have breathed a sigh of relief after World War Two, then to be followed 5 short years later by the "conflict" in Korea. Yet, for most of the 1950s, the times seemed more innocent and the nation had more of  a sense of optimism.

1960s -

But as we entered the 1960s, the tranquil life of "Leave it to Beaver" was shaken with the rumblings of the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the unpopular War in Vietnam, the Counter-Culture, assassinations (JFK, RFK, MLK), the frantic Space Race to the Moon.

1970s -

No relief came in the 1970sWatergate destroyed Nixon.  Ford (the only president not to elected as either president and vice president) fizzled in two short years.  The next four years of Carter brought another serious energy crisis with long gas lines, the Iran hostage crisis, high inflation, and a sense of national malaise.

Innocence seemed lost - though it may be argued we never had it in the first place.

1980s -

Amid pessimism, national humiliation, high inflation, deep recession, we elected Ronald Reagan - former movie star and governor of California - as the 40th President of the United States.  One of the great achievements of the Reagan years during the 1980s was bringing back a sense of optimism.

On January 11,1989, Ronald Reagan gave his farewell address to the nation.  The video clip is below.

The last part of the speech, the President issued a warning of teaching our children what -

"America is and what she represents
in the long history of the world."

Shortly, President Reagan makes this point -

"So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important -- why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant."

One reason I started the series,  America's Story, was to remind viewers (and especially myself) who we are as a people.


Check out the previous posts on America's Story:

America's Story (part 1) - The Speech that redefined us, November 19, 1863 (2011)

America's Story (part 2) - Savages! (2011)

America's Story (part 3) - Over There - 1917, 1941 (2011)

America's Story (part 4) - Christmas 1944, when we said NUTS to the enemy (2011)

America's Story (part 5) - Amazing Grace (2012)

America's Story (part 6) - GI Joe Tuskegee Airmen (2012)


Likewise, Reagan spoke of his desire for an "informed patriotism." 

The baby boomers and the greatest generation have grown up in a different America than the Generation X-ers and later generations.  Before Generation X, the family, the institutions, schools, the neighborhood had imbued a love of country.  And if that failed, there was sense of patriotism in the popular culture.

"The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties."

Some things I have already blogged about were the positive influence of some movies and TV shows and even books in our culture.

Here they are:


Mary Poppins:

I first saw Mary Poppins (1964)  movie as a child.  Later, I watched it as an adult, but this time recognized in the story line  a serious message of the importance of fathers in the lives of their children.  The magic and the fun songs made the movie delightful for us little and big kids alike, but what Mary and her friend Bert did to bring the family together was wonderful - especially in this "me" culture strewn with broken and dysfunctional families. 

Mary Poppins (Part 1) - from 1910 to 2010  (2010)

Mary Poppins (Part 2) - It's a Wonderful Life? (2010)

Mary Poppins (Part 3) - Take your kids to work day? (2010)

Mary Poppins (Part 4) - Go Fly a Kite! (2010)


I grew up with Barbie dolls.  Much has been said about the influence of the Barbie franchise - good and bad.  The last ten to fifteen years Barbie made it into movies ... at least videos and DVDs.  I was curious and checked out some of these.  And I was pleasantly surprised.   The characters Barbie portrayed showed great character, something to be emulated.

Barbie ought to be in pictures - and she is  (2011)

TV shows:

The Beverly Hillbillies:

The premise for this 1960s sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962 - 1971), is displacement - a bunch of hicks in a sophisticated society.  It's been done many times.

Yet, the basic goodness Clampett family drew a sharp contrast against the background of the sophistication of Beverly Hills.  This was something that was missed in the movie.  It reminded me of the prophet Amos going to Bethel.

Beverly Hillbillies and Amos - country folk in the big city (2010)

Gilligan's Island:

One episode in the Gilligan Island (1964 - 1967) series really spoke to me and I blogged about it for a New Year's message.  Generally, the character Gilligan was portrayed as incompetent, inept, dumb as a bang of hammers.  But not in this episode - Diogenes, will you please go home?  Here, Gilligan shows great character - honesty, meekness, a pure heart - in contrast to his more worldly wise fellow castaways.

New Year's Lessons from Gilligan's Island (2010)


Other than the Bible, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of the books that has influenced me in the way I look at things.  It addresses the sorry disconnect in our society and how to integrate science/technology, art, and the spiritual.

Consequently, I have started a series on it - ZAMM (short for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, of course):

ZAMM (part 1) - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  (2011)

ZAMM (part 2) - Journey through Life  (2011)

ZAMM (part 3) - Chautauqua, then and now  (2011)

ZAMM (part 4) - Ghosts  (2011)

and I hope to continue with more ...


I conclude this first in the series of Culture 101 with this quote from Reagan's Farewell Address -

"We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom -- freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs production [protection]."

And with this challenge and with God's grace, I hope to be many more in this series.

Related posts:

America in Decline?! (2011)

3 birthdays, 3 presidents, 3 centuries, 3 defining wars ...  (2011)


Photo from WikipediaRonald Reagan in a cowboy hat

Saturday, February 4, 2012

America's Story (part 6) - GI Joe Tuskegee Airmen

This February 2012 has been designated African American History Month.

And one of the recent movies released last month was so timely in celebrating African American history - Red Tails, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War Two.

(It has not played yet in my neck of woods. I know. I'm really out in the sticks.)

And the story of the Tuskegee Airmen still resonates well beyond the war throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

Back in the days when I worked outside the home for pay, I was employed by a big company with a diverse workforce. Before long, diversity training got phased in considered as serious a business as safety or security training.

In fact, diversity training had become a requirement in all major companies - especially those that get government contracts.

Frankly, I thought the mandatory diversity classes were very good. They boiled down to the Golden Rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

It's not all about you.

Try to empathized with your fellow co-worker, who may (and most likely has) come from a different culture than yours.

All this was very good stuff ... if only everyone would put these principles into practice, instead of just going through the motions to present a good image to the public and our customers.

Diversity on one particular project

On one of my stints at the turn of this century, I was on a project composed of many small teams. My small group was lead by an African American, who conscientiously worked hard to get us to bond and focus on the common good of the project. Looking back, that was something I really respect him for doing. Frankly, I had some leads, who I swear were working for the competition. Their poor management skills and big egos divided and totally demoralized the team.

Happily, this was not the case this go around. Though small, our team on this particular project was diverse. One programmer was of Hispanic origin. Two of the engineers from different parts of Asia - one a young man, whose family had been one of the Vietnamese Boat people that sought refuge in the United States, and another a very sharp immigrant from Sri Lanka. Then there was little of me - a girl from a small town in Montana.

Individual space

In our space in a common cubicle, we had some room to express ourselves. Our computers back then used CRT monitors - not the thin flat screen. They were more clunky, but the tops of the monitors allotted much space to park things on. I had a small collection of stuffed cats that perched on my monitors looking down on me and my computer mice. It earned me the nickname - Catwoman.

Gosh!I would kill to look like Michelle Pfieffer in the movie, Batman Returns (1992) .

My African American lead also had his personal stuff - a collection of GI Joe dolls ... er ... I should say "action figures."

GI Joe Action Figures - Barbie dolls for guys?

Here is the skinny on GI Joes dolls ... er ... action figures -

My lead just didn't have any old GI Joe collection. He had a special collection of GI Joe action figures - the Tuskegee Airmen - as show here: GI Joe Tuskegee Airmen. His were still in the collector's box.

I could tell that these action figures meant a lot to him, especially when learning about their story of the pursuit of excellence against great opposition (stuff legends are made of) as seen in this video clip:

Equal Opportunity?

My company promoted that they were an equal opportunity employer and respected diversity. A few times, I saw pictures of my lead in the company newspaper shaking hands with someone in upper management. My lead was being honored for his work in reaching out to the African American and other minority communities. That press was worth a lot to the company in PR capital.

But reality can be different than the image.

In my early years with the company, pictures of management in organizational charts gave the impression that it was an exclusive white males' club. And indeed it was. Some seemed blessed with "the look" and had an easy and fast track into management. Yet, many had to prove themselves over and over, again. Only after much time and perseverance did the glass ceiling finally start to crack.

To the company's great credit, overt racism has been obliterated and severely sanctioned. But prejudice and discrimination are equal opportunity maladies that cross all races and genders. Prejudging individuals just becomes more covert and so it's much harder to detect and sanction.

As a casual observer, I could see that my lead was not given an easy pass and had to prove himself over and over, again. I see why he identified himself with the Tuskegee Airmen and their struggles, which were much greater than his. Yet, their story inspired pursuit of excellence and gumption to keep on keeping on in face of covert prejudice ... even if doing the right thing would go unrewarded or unrecognized in our lifetime.

Never give up. Keep on keeping on. Do the right thing.

In the spirit of African American History Month, I salute my lead with the GI Joe collection of Tuskegee Airmen! The way he quietly pushed on without complaint still inspires me as I face new challenges in the next stages of my life. Frankly, he was one of the best leads I had in my working life, who believed in building up people, instead of tearing them down.

The Tuskegee Airmen's pursuit of excellence in face of great adversity is part of America's story

which is to be continued. ...


For other posts in the America's Story series:

America's Story (part 1) - The Speech that redefined us, November 19, 1863 (2011)

America's Story (part 2) - Savages! (2011)

America's Story (part 3) - Over There - 1917, 1941 (2011)

America's Story (part 4) - Christmas 1944, when we said NUTS to the enemy (2011)

America's Story (part 5) - Amazing Grace (2012)


For other posts about February:

Groundhog Day - Time for a do-over? (2010)

The US Presidents Remembered in February (2010)

Who said George Washington will be the Greatest Man in the World? (2010)

3 birthdays, 3 presidents, 3 centuries, 3 defining wars ... (2011)


Photo from Tuskegee Airmen