A Teacher Worthy of Notice

(A reflection from November 9, 2016)

While my wife—Sarah Latimer—and I were walking our dog, Juno, we chanced upon an outside window of this history classroom at Nashua’s Fairgrounds Middle School, where our daughter, Naomi, attends.

I was moved to tears at the display, particularly given the anniversary of Kristallnacht. This was a meaningful reminder that, despite what we have seen all too often on social media and propaganda outlets, there are, indeed, those like this English teacher who are quietly and efficiently going about making the world a better place for all our children.

The Signs of Science

One of the best parts of the March for Science Sarah and I attended on April 22, 2017, in Washington, D.C., was the nearly endless creativity the marchers put into their signs. Not too many were repeated, and few would have been considered offensive. The preview image here is my sign, cribbed from “Stand back! I’m going to try science!” of XKCD origin.

All the signs we photographed:

Signs of Science
The oceans are rising and so are we.
The oceans are rising and so are we.
The oceans are rising and so are we.
« 2 of 107 »

 

What Is Wrong with These People?

On the eve of the nomination of Donald Trump as President of the United States:

My biggest complaint* of the past year has been this: White “Evangelicals” ignored virtually all of Scripture to support a man who represents a near perfect antithesis of Christianity.

I have watched those on the fringes and outside of Christianity shake their heads, and wonder what is possibly going on in the minds of these Christians, and determine that they never, ever want to embrace a religion with such obvious hypocrisy. The Evangelical swell of blind support for a preacher of hate, lust, greed, lies, and ignorance has done more to harm the cause of Christ than anything else I have seen in my lifetime.

But I remind myself of this: Paul explained we should pray for our leaders—and I shall. Paul did this under perhaps the most corrupt government ever seen on earth, where his brothers were routinely murdered for sport.

So I will pray for (as of tomorrow) President Trump. I will also pray that we are spared from the horrors he has promised. I will also pray that the binding of extremism and near-insanity of the Republican Party to White Christianity is revealed for the disaster it is and forever abandoned. I will also pray for the healing of a nation terribly divided—while I, as promised and commanded, pray for the one who most wanted to divide it for his own gain.

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man[a] Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1–7, ESV)

*This complaint is probably tied for first place with the practice of those same people chain-posting completely fraudulent and easily refutable propaganda. (No, that’s the Black Speech from Lord of the Rings, not a school distributing donuts with verses from the Qu’ran.)

A Republican No More

My voter registration is now undeclared. (Sadly, no exotic options, like “Rational Anarchist” are available in New Hampshire—not even Communist.)

Man with a 1950s style fedora waves goodbye .
Goodbye, sewage-ridden idiocracy.

In a time when a voice of reason is desperately needed, your leadership has proven itself unable to take a stand against an obvious megalomaniac. You continue to propose revoking the victory of universal health care. You have protected and praised racists and worse. You have gone to war without cause, and destroyed our great nation’s international reputation. You have chosen a Presidential candidate who makes Vermin Supreme a rational choice by comparison. You have defended environmental destruction, and embraced ignorance over science.

I am saying goodbye to the sewage-ridden idiocracy the Republican Party has become. You are now, indeed, “Not my circus—not my monkeys.”

Adios.

“Sewage-ridden idiocracy,” is a phrase coined, as far as I know, by Connor Houghton.

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?

Quite often I think about a Charlie Brown special I saw when I was in my mid-teens, in 1983. It’s designed to continue the story of the film, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!), and commemorates some of the events of World War I and World War II.

Linus quotes John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields. I find it nearly as moving as the recitation of Luke 2 in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Periodically, I’ve searched Amazon, hoping that this had been released on DVD or better (the only consumer release was on VHS video). It’s finally coming this fall, as part of Peanuts: The EMMY Honored Collection (DVD)!

Sadly, the as-I-recall-excellent Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!! is still, apparently, only available on used VHS.

Racism: Things Really Have Changed

Racism has always shocked me. When I was 7 I was astounded to hear a neighbor declare, “Randy’s father doesn’t like black people.” I can’t remember how old I was before I understood what the “N word” employed as a quotation in a comic book adaptation of The Cross and the Switchblade meant, because I had never heard the word. In my family, thanks to my parents, racism simply wasn’t employed, ever.

One of the things I am proud of with my own children is that they don’t “get” racism. I tried watching one of the few sports films I like—Remember the Titans—with them a few years ago, and it was meaningless. The main point of the drama’s racial tension went completely over their heads, as they had no context for it.

It is very rare now for racism to intrude on my life, and it still surprises me. In Florida, I overheard someone claim that a recent increase in drug problems in the local area were all due to blacks. I laughed, though, when, the next morning, a photo of the two major drug dealers in the town was on the front page after a sting operation had gone down: They were both most certainly Caucasian.

Over time, though, with so few reminders of our country’s very racist past, I’ve tended to minimize it, much like Louis CK explains in his appearance with Jay Leno.

Then I read this week’s “Honorary Unsubscribe” in the “This Is True” newsletter to which I subscribe. It tells the story of Lee Lorch, who passed away last week. Give it a read.

Due to his stand for equality, Lorch, a Jewish mathematician:

  • He was fired from his teaching position at City College of New York
  • He was fired from Pennsylvania State University
  • While at Fisk University (a historically black school), he argued (but failed) to prevent a meeting of the Mathematical Association of America from being, as per policy, “Whites only”
  • He was ordered to testify at the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he directly denied being a Communist, and then refused to answer questions about his politics, citing the First (not Fifth) Amendment to the Constitution. This got him indicted, and tried (but acquitted) for contempt of Congress, and then fired from Fisk.
  • While at a Black College in Little Rock, he and his wife volunteered to help escort the Little Rock Nine to school, earning them numerous death threats, and leading them to move to Canada.

This is greatness. Not winning an Oscar, not being elected to office, not amassing wealth …

May I be so determined to fight, and live, for what is right.

9/11: An Eyewitness Account

Originally published on September 11, 2003. Republishing for the 10th anniversary of this terrible, world-changing event.

Personal background: Michael Frenchman is my “not-father” (an interesting title that I coined with a history of accusation, assumption, adoption, and eventual DNA test), a dear-but-distant friend to our family, and a videographer/producer/diver/etc. He and his wife, Karen, reside on West 27th Street, in New York City. Coincidence brought him very close to the tragedy, and his well-written perspective goes well beyond the sound bites we (especially today) are accustomed to hearing from NYC residents.

From: Michael Frenchman
Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2001 13:23
Subject: Where were you…

Sorry to have been out of touch in the last few days. We still can’t get long distance service and even email is sporadic.

Karen and I arose early on Tuesday morning, preparing to drive to the Staten Island car-ferry and another day working on our rental apartments there. We were running late and began to think we would miss the 8:45 boat. Our best route was straight down 7th Ave. to Vesey St. and then right a block to take the West Side Highway a few blocks further downtown to the ferry entrance at South Ferry. I suppose we turned onto Vesey Street at about 8:44 and onto the West Side Hwy at about 8:45. That corner is the northern base of the World Trade Center. We had the radio on. As we pulled into the ferry area, I heard one brief report that there had been an explosion at the WTC. Looking nearly straight up, we saw smoke and clouds of paper flying towards the east, to Brooklyn.

As soon as our car was loaded on board the ferry, we scrambled to the rear upper deck and watched in amazement as nasty gray-white smoke poured from the northwestern tower looming above us. Someone said they’d just heard that a twin-engine plane had hit the tower. Karen thought it might have been an accident—a small-plane pilot having a heart attack or some such and losing control. But I was convinced it was a deliberate act, by whom, I could only begin to guess.

A few other passengers joined us on that rear deck as the ferry pulled away from the terminal. The skies were crystal clear and blue. A foreign couple gazed in shocked amazement and tried to get a better look through the 25-cent binoculars. They offered us a peek. But the unaided view was clear enough from our close south side vantagepoint. We could see numerous plumes of smoke and tongues of flame pouring from broken out windows. We could not, of course, see the huge and gaping diagonal slash on the opposite north side of the building where the first plane had hit.

The ferry was perhaps a half-mile from the towers when we saw a silver and blue two-engine jetliner flying unusually low and slow up the harbor in-between us and the Statue of Liberty, passing less than a thousand feet to the west of our boat. People who often land at LaGuardia Airport know that the pilots frequently treat the passengers to a run up the Hudson River for a spectacular view of the city. The sentence was only half formed in my mind that the pilot of this jet must have been trying to see and show what was going on at the Trade Center when the actual trajectory of his course became frighteningly clear. As the plane banked slightly to its right, I said aloud “He’s going to hit it!” We stood fixed in horror for the 5 to 10 seconds it took for my prediction to be realized. Set against a perfectly clear and blue sky, our reality transformed into a wide screen movie as each frame presented a new millisecond of action: the jet angling for its final alignment, the glide of the now-irrevocable projectile, the counterclockwise-tilted plane disappearing into the building, a fractional moment of black gashed wall instantanously billowing out one-two-three conjoined black and orange balls of fire and debris, the slap of thunder three or four seconds after the impact.

“We’re under attack,” I said twice.

We watched as long as we could from the open deck until two police officers on board ushered everyone inside, I don’t know why except for some irrational and false sense of control in the midst of the surreal. We watched through the windows as all the other passengers gathered, some crying, some staring in disbelief, some talking excitedly on cell phones, many still all but oblivious to the event and unwitting as to it’s meaning. Karen and I touched the arm of a nearly frantic woman crying on her cell phone as if she were in communication with someone in the doomed buildings. There was nothing for us to say or comprehend.

Once off the ferry, we drove half wild to our apartments and sat with one of our tenants to watch the terrible drama unfold on TV just like the rest of the world. We are now somewhat like those hundreds of people who were in Daley Plaza in Dallas and had a glimpse of the Kennedy motorcade and those awful moments and who then watched that eternal frame replayed and replayed for the past forty years. Our actual memory: the sights, the unwarned, unformed reactions, the smells of the harbor, the brush of the breeze, the heat of the early morning sun, the murmur of the other passengers, the rumble of the ferry engines, the hand of Karen in mine, the raw surprise as the world tipped on a new and unexpected pathway. All this will now blend and merge into the TV images of others’ amateur video, of traffic-helicopter cameras and sky cams on network TV buildings uptown.

I remember that in the plaza in front of where the towers stood was/is a sculpture depicting two pyramids—an allusion to the notion that these structures would last as long as their antecedents at Giza. Like you, we watched them melt to the ground and blow like so much desert dust.

So that is where I was and what I saw on one of those days which we will all always remember. “Where were you when ….?”

Karen and I spent the rest of Tuesday alternating between the TV and our chores at the apartment. What else could we do? We spent the night with friends on Staten Island, obviously unable to return to a besieged and cut-off Manhattan.

By late afternoon yesterday (Weds.), enough access had opened into the City that we were able to wend our way across the Verrazano Bridge, up the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, past the prohibited Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridge entrances, onto the Long Island Expressway, past the “show your driver’s license” check point at the Midtown Tunnel and back into a quiet and subdued city. We have traveled a lot this summer. No time away has seemed as long as these 36 hours.

Thanks to everyone who called to see how we were. We were never in any real danger except during the moments we were driving below the base of the now-disappeared twin towers. We’ll never know what flaming debris may have fallen to the street yards behind our passing car. But our personal story is so many orders of magnitude less significant than that of the thousands dead and injured and directly traumatized and so picayune compared to the onrushing and unpredictable consequences of this ugly act that I even hesitate to retell it.

We hope you are all well and that some good ultimately comes out of this tragedy.

Love and peace,
Michael and Karen

How Our Government Works

Once upon a time the government had a scrap yard in the middle of a desert. Congress said, “Someone may steal it at night.” So they created a night watchman position and hired a person at $18,000 a year for the job.

Then Congress said, “How does the watchman do his job without instruction?” So they created a planning department and hired two people—one person to write the instructions for $22,000 and one person to do time studies for an additional $22,000 per year.

Then congress said, “How will we know the night watchman is doing the tasks correctly?” So they created a quality control department and hired two people. One to do the studies for $31,000 and one to write the reports for an additional $31,000 per year.

Then Congress said, “How are these people going to get paid?” So they created the following positions: a timekeeper for a $35,000 annual salary and a payroll officer for an additional $35,000. Then they created an administrative section and hired three more people—an Administrative Officer at $155,000 per year, an Assistant Administrative Officer at $125,000 and a Legal Secretary at $100,000 per year.

Then Congress said, “We have had this operating for one year with a budget cost of $574,000 and we are $18,000 over budget. We must cut back costs.”

So they laid off the night watchman.


(Contributed by Paul Anderson, via e-mail.)

Ethnicity Conundrum

We ran into this problem when registering Naomi for kindergarten, and now, changes in government regulation require Isaac’s school to provide this information as well. According to the school:

  1. The school is no longer allowed to report race as “not reported.” This means we are required to report your child’s race starting with the 2009-2010 school year.
  2. The US DOE has modified the collection and reporting requirements for racial and ethnic data starting with the 2010-2011 school year. They now use a two-part question.

Amusingly, the questions the school is required to ask are as follows:

"Racial" Questionnaire

Now, how in the heck are our children going to pick a primary ethnicity?