It’s A Hateful Day In This Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers might experience a beautiful day in his neighborhood, but things aren’t so nice in other locations. There’s bickering and dissension in Washington, D.C., and people perpetrating mass shooting elsewhere in the U.S. on an all too frequent basis. Is the problem here in America.only? Nope. Apparently being unneighborly, in fact downright hateful, is a worldwide problem.

Germany is the latest site for the most unneighborly of behavior. In Hanau, a suburb of Frankfurt, one man was not capable of loving his neighbors. He couldn’t even be content with simply hating them. No, he had to kill them. Why such extreme behavior? Well, his neighbors just happened to be–GASP!–a minority group from a different country. How could he possibly be nice to someone different from him?

Mr. Hater was not some hotheaded young man lacking maturity and worldly experience. He was age 43 and perpetrated premeditated violence. In layman’s terms, this means he planned his violent attack in advance. He just didn’t lose it when someone who looked different than he does did something that didn’t sit right with him.

So what happened? On February 19, 2020, the gunman, one Tobias Rathjen, shot and killed nine people of foreign background. Why? Because they were of foreign background. His rampage began in a hookah bar (where flavored tobacco is smoked from Middle Eastern water pipes) frequented by immigrants, i.e., he specifically targeted a place where immigrants were likely to be found. Before making a statement with his gun, he made a nasty statement, a rant really, online about the “extermination” of other races or cultures in Germany’s midst. I’m sorry, but isn’t “extermination” a term that’s supposed to be used with household pests, not living and breathing human beings?

Among those killed in the mass shooting were ethnic Kurds, Turks (five Turkish citizens to be exact), and those with backgrounds from Romania, Bulgaria, and Bosnia. German authorities, crack investigators that they are, have been treating the case as an act of domestic terrorism. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the perpetrator acted “Out of hatred for people with other origins, other faiths or a different appearance.”

Don’t hold your breath for a sensational criminal trial. Rathjen returned home following the shootings and killed his 72 year old mother before killing himself. That’s one way to insure his poor mother didn’t have to hear about what a bad boy he had been.

What’s Rathjen’s beef with immigrants and foreigners?  Well, it’s tied to his homeland’s current situation. Germany has experienced a slowing economy and a wave of immigration. In the 1960’s and 1970’s there was a shortage of workers in Germany, and foreign workers, particularly from Turkey, were sought. The idea was that young immigrants would bolster Europe’s shrinking labor force.

Chancellor Merkel’s open-door policy towards refuges brought 1.2 million new migrants into Germany in 2015-2016. Many of these immigrants were fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East. Turks are now the largest minority group in Germany at 3.7% of the population.

The influx of immigrants has placed a strain on Germany’s finances. Poverty among elderly pensioners is at an all-time high, and of December 2017, over two million foreigners were receiving unemployment benefits. Needless to say, a downturn in the economic picture has led to anti-immigration sentiment in general and the rise of an anti-immigrant political party, AfD (Alternative for Germany), in particular.

Bad feelings against foreigners has given rise to actions against them. Turkey’s ambassador in Germany reported that Turkish immigrants in Germany are experiencing more and more hate crimes. In fact, 2017 saw a 50% rise in migrant crimes. That’s not a nice neighborhood. Chancellor Merkel, has, of course, denounced the “poison” of racism and hatred in Germany.

Unfortunately, the Hanau shooting is not an isolated incident. It is the third major hate crime in Germany in the last year. Another deadly attack occurred on Yom Kippur back in October. The targets this time were not those from a different country but those of a different faith.

The perpetrator of the October crime, a 27 year old German man, unsuccessfully attempted to enter the Halle Synagogue; however he did manage to kill two individuals nearby. He live-streamed his attack via a head camera and recorded himself using hateful language. The assailant announced that “The root of all these problems is the Jew.” Investigators characterized the crime as a being far-right and anti-Semitic, and police reinforcements were sent to synagogues across Germany. So, it’s not safe to be an immigrant or a Jewish neighbor in Germany these days.

A third hate crime made German headlines in June 2019. A local politician in Hesse was assassinated at his home by a neo-Nazi extremist. A German man named Stephan Ernst took issue with Walter Lubcke’s outspoken support of Chancellor Merkel’s pro-migrant policies. He went to Lubcke’s home not to engage in a political debate but to shut Lubcke up–permanently. Lubcke was found dead on the terrace of his residence having been shot through the head. Ernst had previously been convicted of knife and bomb attacks against targets connected to ethnic minorities in Germany. You sure don’t want HIM for a neighbor.

The fact that people don’t like and don’t want to associate with people who are different than they are is nothing new. Remember how the Jews and Samaritans despised each other in Biblical times? At least in the story of the Good Samaritan, those who didn’t like their neighbor simply ignored or failed to help him.

As much as society has progressed over the last two thousand years, relations with our neighbors have not. Now if your neighbor looks different than you do, expresses an opinion not in line with yours, or hails from a country different than yours, killing them might be considered..As a result, neighbors who are different than you are may not be safe at a bar, a place of worship, or even their own home. What a hateful day it is in our world neighborhood. Mr. Rogers is surely turning over in his grave.

Just WONDER-ing:

Who do you think your neighbor is? If you can’t love your neighbor, could you at least agree to disagree with him? How can hate crimes be prevented? How should they be punished?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up, Up, And Away! –The Global Helium Shortage

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a helium-filled balloon escaping. Better enjoy the sight now, because that view is becoming increasingly less common. Why? There’s a worldwide helium shortage serving as a party pooper for many celebrations where balloons are an important part of the festivities. Decorating with balloons is no longer a gas because helium prices are way up and helium supplies are way down. What’s going on?

Knowing a little about what helium is and how it is used is a good start. For all of us non-scientific types, helium is an inert gas whose chemical symbol is He. (Aside: Is that a gender neutral designation?) The gas is odorless, colorless, and tasteless as well as nontoxic and nonflammable. Helium is stable and doesn’t react with other elements. It occurs with other gases in the ground. Ho hum!

Although the gas sounds boring, it is actually the life of a party. Not only is it used to fill the balloons floating about the party site, but it can provide loads of entertainment if someone inhales the gas and then tries to speak. Just think of Donald Duck’s voice, and you’ll understand the effect.

The biggest consumer use of helium is in party supplies. Helium is lighter than other gases, which makes helium-filled balloons go up. Without helium there would be no weather balloons or Goodyear blimps. Think of helium as the yeast of the balloon world. It is what makes things rise.

In addition to its crucial use in the party planning business, helium is also an essential ingredient in medical and aerospace technology,  In fact, there is no alternative to helium to keep magnetic resonance imaging (“MRI”) machines running. The gas is used as a coolant for MRI’s and is a critical component for operating atom smashers. Helium is also effective for use in rocket engines because it doesn’t burn. Who knew how versatile and important helium is? Not me.

Interestingly, helium is the second most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen. So why, then, are we facing a worldwide helium shortage? Shouldn’t the gas be plentiful? At its most basic, the reason for the shortage is supply and demand. (Yea! I can understand economics better than science.) Helium is being used up faster than it can be produced. That’s pretty straightforward. Shouldn’t we just produce more of it to solve the problem?

Alas, the solution isn’t that easy. Unlike hydrogen, helium cannot be manufactured. It exists in the Earth’s atmosphere, but most of that helium simply floats off into space because the gas is so light. That gas is out of our reach just like the balloon which has escaped from a child’s grasp.

Helium used for industrial purposes, however, comes from the ground rather than from the air. It is a byproduct of natural gas production. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s helium is a “waste product” obtained when liquefied natural gas is produced or natural gas is processed. “More waste product please,” consumers are chanting.

Unfortunately, helium is a non-renewable resource. The gas is produced very slowly under the Earth’s crust when uranium and thorium decay leaving pockets of the gas trapped near reserves of natural gas and oil. The helium comes from the ground mixed with natural gas in varying concentrations and must be separated from the natural gas. It is expensive to separate helium from natural gas and then to store it. The cost is as high as that helium-filled balloon floating up in the sky.

Production of helium is even more complicated than simply separating it from natural gas. To produce it, one has to find where helium is in the Earth first. And that’s a guessing game. Almost all of the known helium reserves on Earth were found by accident. Apparently we can put a man on the moon, but we can’t find helium right here on Earth.

Currently, helium cannot be produced efficiently and economically. Helium supplies are particularly low lately because existing sources are dwindling and new production projects have been delayed. (Aside: Is ANY construction project EVER finished on time?) The number of helium plants has shrunk since 2006 just like a deflating balloon. Party City is not partying as a result of this situation; its bottom line has taken a big hit due to helium supply pressures, and it has closed a number of stores.

Who is producing helium? The U.S. provides 75% of the world’s helium, and the Texas Panhandle is the helium capital of the U.S. A massive helium reserve, not so creatively known as the Federal Helium Reserve, is located across Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas; that reserve is set to close down production in 2021. Qatar produces another 30% of the world’s helium; new production sites are set to open there in 2020. Russia is also scheduled to begin new helium production in 2021. Produce that waste product people!

According to reports, this is the third global helium shortage in the past fourteen years. Enquiring minds want to know why the general public is ignorant about this important problem. The media  assaults us on a daily basis with fluffy news about celebrity goings on, but they can’t take the time to tell us we about to be out of gas–helium, that is. What’s wrong with this picture?

We need to get on the stick to address the issue of the current helium shortage. Scientists indicate that, at current consumption rates, the world’s estimated helium supply will only last another 200 years. What will future generations do to party if they can’t decorate with balloons? If they can’t have MRI’s to diagnose medical problems? If they can’t smash atoms? A rosy future may be about to burst like a pin going into a helium-filled balloon.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are helium-filled balloons a decorating essential at your celebrations? Were you aware a global helium shortage is ongoing? How concerned are you about the depletion of resources here on Earth?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten–The Political Version

Whew! Mercifully the impeachment proceedings are now over and Americans can move on to the next political brouhaha. With all the divisiveness and sniping, it’s a wonder our elected officials in Washington have time to think about running the country. What the American political world needs now is to go, not back to the future, but back to the basics. And when I say basic, I mean BASIC. As in kindergarten basic.

New York Times best-selling author Robert Fulghum had the right idea in his immensely popular book, All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”  He explained that adhering to the basic rules we learned way back in kindergarten serves us well in the adult world. Since squabbling politicians are acting like kindergarteners, perhaps they could use a refresher course in Kindergarten 101.

Kindergarten is a year for learning the basics. Subsequent school years build on the foundations set at the very beginning of a student’s academic life. Don’t believe me? Think you’d pass driver’s ed in high school if you don’t know a red light from a green light? Sure kindergarteners learn their colors and numbers, but they also learn some very important principles about social behavior. Let’s consider some of the lessons they learn and how those lessons might help our elected representatives.

LESSON #1: Respect Authority

Unsurprisingly, the very first lesson youngsters learn is to respect authority. The teacher is in charge, and they are not. Students might not like Mrs. Smith, but they have to respect her position at the school. They are perfectly free to think she is mean, dumb, unfair, etc., but she’s still sitting at the desk in the front of the class and running the show. Things go more smoothly if the relationship is cordial. Starting off the day by sticking their tongue out at her is not likely to make their day go well.

Raise your hand if you think politicians are respectful of authority today. They simply aren’t. Anyone who belongs to a different political party, is on the other side of a controversial issue, or who is a block to achieving a political goal is likely to be called names, talked down to, etc. Starting with the president and working our way down an elected official of the smallest town, each of these representatives deserve respect for serving on the people’s behalf. It’s not about who they are, what they look like, where they come from, or how they got the position. It’s the fact they are in the position. You don’t have to like them; just show their position some respect.

LESSON #2: FOLLOW THE RULES

A second lesson kindergarteners quickly learn is to follow the rules. Breaking the rules leads to consequences they won’t like. They might not get to go to recess, they might have to go talk to the principal, or they might have to sit in time out. If a student doesn’t like a rule, then there is an acceptable way (another rule) to go about changing that rule.

The current mindset for politicians is that rules (translate laws) were meant to be broken. The ends justify the means. If it gets them elected or keeps them in office, who cares if it is illegal? But the rule (law) is there for a reason. What if we didn’t have any rules? What if everyone could pick and choose which rules they wanted to follow?

LESSON #3: SHARE

One of the hardest things for young children to learn is to share. Apparently adults have a hard time with this concept as well. In a kindergarten classroom, there will only be a certain number of purple crayons, and that number will undoubtedly be less than the number of students wanting to color with them. With sharing, every student might get an opportunity to use the much coveted crayon color. Hoarding of the crayons by a few will lead to hard feelings and run-ins.

Politicians don’t have crayons to share, but they might be in a better frame of mind if they took some time to chill and do some adult coloring. What politicians do have is experience, knowledge, resources, connections, and information. Using these items collaboratively would lead to a better outcome for all. Hoarding any of these things can cause anything from hard feelings all the way up to a lawsuit or investigation.

LESSON #4: Listen

What’s easier said than done? To listen. Kindergarteners can’t wait to get their two cents worth in and will interrupt fellow students as well as their teacher. Moreover, they may not pay attention to what is said because they are not interested; the bug crawling on the wall is enthralling while the teacher droning on about what she wants the students to do is boring. But failing to listen means the student may not receive important information, i.e., we can go to recess early if you put your books away.

Sure politicians will listen; however, that is generally only to themselves or to someone who can do something for them such as make a campaign contribution. Putting their “listening ears” on as my mother always told me to do, might give them some surprising insight into what their staff, colleagues, and constituents want or how they are feeling. And if the politicians take the time to listen, they might find that others will then be willing to listen to them.

LESSON #5: Don’t Hit People

Kindergarten is a year when youngsters learn to control their actions. They are told, “Don’t hit people.” That admonition may be followed by the comment, “It’s not nice.” Kindergarteners may not care about or understand being nice, but they do learn that hitting others usually has negative consequences. They may be hit back by their victim and they may suffer repercussions from authority figures, i.e., the teacher, the principal, or their parents.

Politicians don’t generally go around hitting people because battery, of course, is not legal. But they think nothing of verbally assaulting each other, particularly on Twitter. Saying mean things on Twitter has led to the trend of politicians reading aloud mean tweets made about them. Well, it’s better to use the insult to get a laugh than to retaliate in kind.

Robert Fulghum astutely put the situation this way: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our hearts.” How united are we in the United States if politicians are bashing each other with words and inflicting emotional harm? How about not speaking, tweeting, or posting anything that is a verbal jab? You can disagree without being disagreeable–my mother told me so during my kindergarten year and for many years afterwards.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are politicians currently acting like kindergarteners? Which of the above kindergarten lessons do politicians today need to learn most? Which of these lessons do you yourself need to learn?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Homes Are Our Castles–And McMansions Too

Home sweet home isn’t a cozy abode with a white picket fence anymore. No sir! We Americans love to supersize things. It isn’t just our fast food lunch; now it’s our houses too. Forget cottages. We want McMansions!

But surely I exaggerate you say. Nope. The size of houses on the market is mind-boggling. Sunny California made the news this past week with a just listed “house” for sale. Poor Lori Laughlin and her hubby Mossimo Giannulli, apparently weighed down by hefty legal bills, opted to put their residence on the market for a mere $28 million. And what a “house” it is! There are 12,000 square feet, 6 bedrooms, and 9 bathrooms on the premises. Oh, and let’s not forget the garaging for 5 cars, a gym, a paneled library, and a media room. Sounds more like a McMansion than a house to me.

Yeah, but that’s Southern California. What about the rest of the country? Well, let’s see what’s going on back east. There’s a dandy “house” on the market here in my local area. It’s way less expensive than Lori’s Cali McMansion– only $11 million. This custom-built home on Choctawhatchee Bay has 7,125 square feet, 5 bedrooms, 4 full baths, and 2 partial baths and took almost four years to build. The living room has a 22-FOOT fireplace and a 20-FOOT television. Moving outdoors, there’s a sunken fire pit with seating, an 88-foot pool, and an outdoor kitchen and dining area. According to the realtor, coming off the dock and approaching the back of the residence one gets the feel of being at an exclusive resort. Well, this may be a grand “house,” but would it feel homey? Not to me.

A familiar expression says a man’s home is his castle. The idea being conveyed is that the owner is the boss in his own home. Nevertheless, seeing the homes on the market today, you’d be apt to conclude folks are taking the expression literally. They must have a supersize residence resembling a castle overflowing with luxury amenities. Of course what was considered a luxury amenity in the past–laundry rooms and home offices–are now must have features in today’s houses.

When one mentions a house being a castle, my first thought is of royalty. What is Queen Elizabeth’s “house” like? Buckingham Palace, her official residence, is supersize on steroids. It boasts a whopping 828,000 square feet and 775 rooms, 240 of which are bedrooms, for Elizabeth R. to call home. But she’s got a slew of royal relatives who might drop by and tons of visiting dignitaries to host; one can see why she might need a massive residence.

But that’s jolly old England. What about over here in the former colonies? The Donald probably needs some room for entertaining as well. At least his official residence is way smaller than the Queen’s. The White House has a mere 55,000 square feet and 132 rooms, 35 of which are bathrooms.

The average American, though, doesn’t need to literally live like a queen or even a president in a McMansion of phenomenal proportions with a plethora of rooms. A house, according to Oxford Dictionary, is a building for human habitation especially by a family or small group. In essence, a house is meant for living, not necessarily living high on the horse.

Over the years, Americans have come to believe their homes must bigger and bigger. A big home means a big status symbol for our big heads. Materialists that we obviously are, we need bigger homes to hold all the stuff we have accumulated; with more space, of course, we’ll accumulate even more stuff to fill up our big houses.

Research by MSN Real Estate found that the average new home in the United States has grown over 140% in the last 60 or so years. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the size of a new house has doubled since 1960.  Back in 1950, the average new home was 938 square feet. But supersizing occurred. The square footage rose as the years went by. In 1975, it was 1,725; in 1993, it was 2,095; in 2003, it was 2,330. By 2013, the square footage had risen to 2,598. Wondering where Big Foot is? He’s in our architectural plans.

The amount of square footage of the average house has sharply risen, but the size is even more striking when put in perspective. The average American has double the residential space of the average U.K., Spanish, or Italian resident. My house is bigger than your house, we might accurately taunt our European friends.

The size of our houses is not the only factor to take into account. Family sizes are shrinking. When combined with the expanding square footage of our houses, the result is growing space per person in the household. The U.S., along with Canada and Australia, enjoys the greatest per capita household space in the world.

What’s the big prize for having all this space in our house and to ourselves?  Well, big houses cost big bucks to purchase. Then it costs big bucks to keep the house in repair, furnished, heated/cooled, and clean. Sounds like a big headache to me.

Sometimes less is more. Smaller houses mean less building materials and less heating and cooling which is more environmentally friendly. Smaller houses mean more chances to interact with your loved ones and more chances to share life together. Don’t we want to live life in our houses and not just occupy a big space to ourselves in them? Even better, shouldn’t our primary focus be the type of home we provide for our families rather than how much space we can give them in a house? Nobody ever said, “House sweet house.”

Just WONDER-ing:

What’s the square footage of your house? Do you think your house is big enough? Why or why not? When is a house too big? Is it truly a “house” if it resembles an exclusive resort?