Sunday, September 30, 2012

Contrast in Societies

The differences between Amsterdam and Paris were striking. The one reflected a history of regal and absolute governance with the results of power and wealth in the hands of the few aristocracy, with their opulent palaces and homes designed to impress and overwhelme the visitor. They filled their city with grand monuments to celebrate national glories and accomplishments. With wealth held by the overly wealthy few, it was done at the expense of the common citizen.  From generation to generation the poverty and missery of the common citizen increased until the masses cried out and revolution occured. During the Napoleonic age national wealth while held more broadly, the trickle down to impact the average citizen was limited and the middle class while larger was a small part of the overall national population. While national wealth under Napoleon shifted from building grand palaces to building national infastructure, the added grandeur of the decor and statuaries of the projects reflected the design to impress attitude of the monarcal area. In Paris one has a clear sense of a world view build around national pride and view of France being one of the world's intellectual and financial leaders, not needing to draw lessons from others.

Amsterdam on the other hand reflects different mindset and view of themselves. They are a historically independently minded people with governance grounded in compromise (much like the American Declaration of Independance and the Constitution), with the common citizen having a voice in civil affairs and far more of the national wealth in the hands of a large middle class. As a result the wealthiest 5% had far less of the national wealth than found in France. With civil leadership more diverse their buildings are more functional in nature and design, grand opulence unsought. The city reflects immense wealth of the past but expressed in more subtle ways, including in building of trade and commerce with the world, and in functional public infastructure.  The city also demonstrates that wealth was diversified across the populous, and with an attitude of maintaining of pragmatic collective assets. Their strong albeit quiet national pride is coupled with a world view that is global, collective and pragmatic.

The challenge of any society is to find balance, particularly in regard to wealth and lack thereof. Pre-revolution Paris is an example of a disregard of the middle class and the average citizenry and the accommulation of immense wealth and power in the hands of a few. Amsterdam of the same era reflects a different structure. Today, numersous countries are in the process of defining if they will be more like Paris or more like Amsterdam.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Canals, Rivers and Lakes

Paris and Amsterdam's rivers and canals are beautiful, picturesque, and post WWII they were increasing viewed in romantic terms. Yet as I walked along their banks I could not help recall that what I saw was so sanitized from how they were 150-300years ago. Even as little as 100 years ago the canals of Amsterdam, the rivers of Paris and the canals of Venice we're  smelly, dirty sewers full of rotting dead animals and other human refuse. The wealthy of Amsterdam left town during the summer heat due to the stench of the canals. In Paris, the grand houses were some distance from the river so that the smells of a polluted river did not fill their homes. 

Polluted waterfronts were not a European issue only. Four decades ago the Toronto Harbor Front, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the Hudson River in NYC were smelly and polluted.  Rivers in most major cities across North America were not the places of choice  for romantic and leisure strolls or where the wealthy sought to locate their homes.

I remember in the 70s the smells of the Toronto waterfront and seeing garbage filling the Hudson River and the images of the Cayuhoga River in Cleveland on fire.  I remember being in LA in December when the city was covered in a thick blanket of smog for as many as five days at a time.  Thank goodness for environmental activists who advocated for better cities in which to live and socialize. We are heirs of their work, with fresher air to fill our longs, and with cleaner and more pleasing waterways to enjoy with each other.  Let's not relax our standards, otherwise, the polluted  waterways of yesteryear will  return. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Significant Shift in Evangelical Thinking

This year something transpired in the Evangelical and Fundamentalist church that 20 yrs. ago, or even 8 yrs. ago I thought wouldn't occur in my lifetime. In the 70s and 80s several of my professors and other Evangelical leaders claimed that Mormonism was a threat to the church. They said ministers needed to teach those sitting in the pews that though it may seem at first to be a type of Christian faith, Mormonism was anything but a Christian faith. They noted it was a heresy on so many levels. A plethora of books were published in the same age on the subject. 

 Further, since the 70s Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have maintained that the President being a Christian was of paramount importance. Since the 90s it has been more so. Hence, for many presidential election cycles we have witnessed prospective candidates pandering to the conservative church. We have seen the same with House and Senate candidates who speak openly of their faith in "born again" language yet behind the scenes living a life contrary to their claims. 

 In the last months, overwhelmingly so Evangelicals have embraced Mitt Romney's bid for for the White House. To maintain the later means viewing Mormonism as a Christian faith, not a heresy or cult. To still view Mormonism as a heretical cult means Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are not as dogmatic about their President being a Christian by their definition of orthodox faith.