Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category

SOME GOOD READS

May 22, 2013

Recently my favorite blog writer introduced me to some comments about “Depth of Faith” and the superficiality of many persons ostensibly committed to an organized religion; comments put forth by Tariq Ramadan in his book, “Islam and the Arab Awakening”. The book covers a number of topics growing out of last year’s widespread political changes throughout the Middle East, and provides what I, as an amateur viewer, believe are practical and necessary solutions to the continuing upheaval.

However, my interest was especially piqued by his speculation about an individual’s commitment to religious beliefs, whether such commitment is real or only imagined. Coincidentally, I have been re-reading Mark Twain’s skeptical commentary contained in the short story, “Letters From the Earth”, a highly-acerbic attack on religion in general. In the story, archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Satan are observing a certain degree of restlessness in God, and become concerned when He decides to experiment and create a planet (they don’t really know what the term means). They then see Him follow up with making all sorts of things, some he calls “animals”, and his final act is to create some beings he calls “humans”. Becoming increasingly ill-at-ease about these activities, the three decide that one of them must visit this new creation, and Satan draws the assignment. He is to go to this “Earth” and write letters back to the other two, commenting upon what he observes. Many of the letters focus on the erroneous (to Twain) beliefs of humans that God is forgiving, loving, etc., while at the same time sending things like pestilence, drought, plagues, and other nastiness. Satan can’t understand how humans continue to imbue God with all these good qualities when they can see that his real actions fly in the face of those qualities.

I plan to have my own copy of the Ramadan book, and read it in comparison with Twain, to further my own closely-similar opinions about religion. I greatly admire those persons who have a true commitment and who totally immerse themselves in the underlying practices decreed within their particular code. I personally consider myself to be deeply committed, but to concepts that developed within my own being and only include elements unintentionally from the organized belief systems, as appropriate to my personal perceptions. My blogger “resource” is one of those individuals of deep faith, and I take her commentary as “Gospel” (yes, that’s a pun!).

Speaking of books, a number of years ago (1964) I was fortunate to have lunch with Norman Cousins, former editor of the Saturday Review of Literature, and author of many books and articles including the small commentary, “Anatomy of an Illness”. This latter had an influence on my thinking about the nature of dying, in that Cousins had faced the prospect of imminent death by immersing himself in a cornucopia of humor, his idea was that laughter and its associated physical effects on the body would forestall the intrusions of his particular disease. He watched lots of Marx Brothers and Three Stooges films, he read humor from a variety of sources, he listened and watched radio and TV comedy, and involved himself with anything else that would add to this arsenal. And Lo!—his illness went into remission!

And so, over the years and particularly with the florescence of technology, I have personally amassed a large collection to use if ever it needs be. With my current health situation, I have been considering turning to those resources, “just in case”, but after my first day at the Mayo Clinic today, things may be looking up a bit. Tomorrow and Friday I continue, with a number of tests on both days and even one next week just prior to my returning home. The purpose of the testing has the partial intent of validating the neurologist’s opinion that the CIDP diagnosis is not correct, that while there is still a version of neuropathy present, it may in fact not be progressive. At the same time, I was informed that MGUS is common in persons over 70 and is generally classified as a “benign condition”. If no bone tumors are evident, then all that will be done is an annual checkup to make sure none have appeared, and this happens in only about 15% of MGUS cases for all age groups.

And speaking of humor, I recall when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the early 60’s, I was walking by the library at our school and heard someone laughing. I looked in and saw one of the staff, Mr. Shetty from India, sitting alone and laughing out loud. Now think about that; people don’t usually laugh out loud when they’re alone, so whatever he was reading must be really good. I asked him about it, and got my first taste of P. G. Wodehouse, the creator of the “Jeeves the Butler” stereotype along with his master, Bertie Wooster. I began to surf my way through all of Wodehouse’s writings, eventually reading everything he had written. I developed a great appreciation for the way he created phrases with which I could empathize: “I was sitting in a warm bath, and raised a meditative toe”, or “I took my cigarette for a stroll in the garden”, images I could easily apply to my own activities.

My final year in Ghana, I was living alone in the most isolated part of the country, but as one of my responsibilities was a 5000 volume school library, I was able to continue my Wodehouse study as a vehicle to help me maintain my sanity. Upon returning to the US, I wrote him a letter thanking him for providing that support, and I was highly pleased that he thought enough of my letter to send me a note thanking me for thanking him. I had hoped to meet him when I worked briefly in NYC, and he lived on Long Island, but that meeting did not materialize. However, I include Bertie, Jeeves, Aunt Agatha, Gussie Fink-Nottle, and the others in my personal collection, and I even have the videos of the BBC’s “Jeeves” series among my treasures. They are supported by my Mel Brooks’ Collection, Pink Panther tapes, “Some Like It Hot”, and a few others, even some TV variety shows such as Sid Caesar’s “Show of Shows”. I think that everyone should have one of these collections, it could be a important as a well-placed shelter from Nature’s calamities.

Always Be Happy!         To Our Youth!

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POPE and PEEVES

March 13, 2013

POPE AND PEEVES

A New Pope

A huge sigh of relief blanketed St. Peter’s Square when the new Pope emerged onto the balcony, and everyone could see that it was not Dennis Rodman. Although there is still some speculation that the new kid may also have tattoos, they are well hidden under the vestments and shouldn’t interfere with his new duties.

The selection process was, at times, confusing, occurring as it did simultaneously with the NFL’s Free Agent Scramble. The two activities occasionally crossed one another, and U.S. Politics even entered in at one point. However, Mitt Romney took another job although there had been consideration given to a merger between the Catholic and Latter Day Saints Churches, the former providing the traditions and elaborate rituals, and the latter the cornucopia of cash from its widespread investments. In an interview with one of the U.S. Cardinals, he indicated that Pope Benedict had been placed on Injured Reserve and relegated to a taxi squad; that the conclave was described as “The Papal Draft” and Mel Kiper, Jr., was asked to evaluate the candidates. There was even a rumor that they each were timed in the 40, wearing cassocks.

Other perspectives entered in to the selection;  traditionally, a Pope had to be old and knowledgeable of the Church’s Biblical History and Traditions. To find someone to address these concerns, it was first suggested that the Church consider a “Dual Pope”, and hire Billy Graham for the “old” quality and at least one Rabbi to provide the interpretations of the earliest days of the Bible. Both ultimately were rejected, Graham because he probably in currently paying too much attention to some of the Baptist colleges’ basketball successes (Wake Forest, Baylor), and rabbi’s due to their probably close relationships to the plethora of standup comics flooding the entertainment world. One commentator shuddered at thinking the latter would start a service with, “A funny thing happened to me on my way to Mass”, and go downhill from there.

Oh, well, at least it’s over for the time being, and everyone can wonder, once again, if the New Guy will address the major issues of Gay Marriage, Priestly Indiscretions, Celibacy, Women’s Rights and Their Role in the Church Hierarchy, Birth Control, and other things involved with the usual Catholic Church tradition of living in the past.

PEEVES

People who leave shopping carts in parking lots, so they can be blown into cars. Are examples of self-centered, arrogant individuals, too lazy to push the emptied cart to a designated area; instead, blocking access to parking spaces. The Germans may have partially solved this; I noted that at a supermarket, a shopper, wanting to use a cart to take groceries out to the car, deposited some money into a coin slot mounted on the cart’s handle, and received the money back when the cart was returned.

Those cardboard ads inserted between the pages of a magazine, thus effectively preventing me from happily thumbing through the articles. The AARP and golf magazines I think are the worst; I usually spend a few minutes ripping out all the offending literature before proceeding to my reading.

Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough for being rude and insensitive. They like to ask questions then interrupt the answerer before they can finish, and so they themselves can “dominate” with their own opinions. I’m tired of Scarborough living in the past, constantly going to “when I was in Congress during the Reagan years” or something akin, instead of realizing that today’s situations are quite different. And Reagan wasn’t that great anyway. Matthews is very bright, but is probably the most obnoxious person on TV. If he’d play “Softball” instead of “Hardball”, perhaps his real messages would get through more effectively.

Wolf Blitzer for consistently trying to make everything controversial, pushing people to express inner thoughts in order to spark conflict among guests who have been invited but are not always treated with respect.

TV interviewers asking persons directly involved with a traumatic incident, “How did you feel when—-your child was run over by a truck, you discovered that all your IRA had been wiped out, you were told that you only have three months to live, your daughter has been missing for three days, etc. etc. etc.

What are some of your peeves (bloggers?)

Always Be Happy…in Spite of Peeves!    To Our Youth…Always!

SOME EDUCATION THOUGHTS AND A VENT OR TWO

February 25, 2013

Some Education Thoughts, and A Vent or Two

During the past few years, I have become increasingly disturbed relative to the directions that both local and national emphases have taken toward the demand for educational accountability. As a matter of fact, our state legislature this month stripped the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction of most of her duties and responsibilities, arguing that under her management of the State’s Department of Education, she had not effectively carried out the legislature’s dictates toward establishing a productive system for measurement of school effectiveness and student achievement. Instead, they are creating a Director of Education position within which the legislature’s directives constitute a major focus. The existing Superintendent will retain some comparatively minor responsibilities and function with only a relatively small staff. It needs to be mentioned that there were some other concerns expressed by Wyoming educators through their legislative representatives, so it was not only the accountability issue that precipitated the action.

As a part of this upheaval, the role of assessment played a major role in decisions about how schools should be held accountable. During the past 20 years, Wyoming has been a leader nationally in establishing high standards within assessment programs. In the early 90’s, school districts were directed to individually establish standards for graduation, a difficult task especially when most of the school districts are quite small and have a limited number of staff members having the time to accomplish such a complex assignment. Many of our districts looked to the three largest ones, ones that were well-staffed with specialists and having significant funding to support the “movement”. Materials that were developed in these “anchor districts” were shared across the state, but as they differed somewhat one from the other, there continued to be a lack of consistency in the measurement of student achievement throughout the state. Ultimately, the state offered standards in nine subject areas, that could be adopted by districts, and most did so. Unfortunately, the state left the task of developing assessments of those standards to the local districts, we were still left with the difficult issue of inconsistency throughout the state, and the problem of not having enough staff to create effective, well-aligned measures.

The district in which I was the Curriculum Director attacked the initial assignment in two directions; first, we hired two consultants to provide leadership in developing and aligning assessments with our district’s curriculum objectives, by subject area and by grade level. Second, we formed a committee of school personnel and community representatives to establish requirements for graduation.

That first direction was relatively straightforward, I doubt if there is any school district anywhere that doesn’t rely to either a greater or lesser extent on test data. But it was the second activity that was the most exciting; I’ll try to give a brief overview here and expand upon it at a later date. Here’s what we did:

Instead of looking toward tests and grade points as the foundation of decision-making, we asked the question, “What do we want our students to be able to do when they leave our high school?” This led to discussing what background a student needs in order to be successful, regardless of which path is chosen. This led further toward one of the main points included in a blog I just read, High Performing Educational Systems (in “It’s a Halal Life”, by Susan Labadi). I summarize some of her reasoning by stating that Learning and Living should not be separated, knowledge and performance are not conveniently divided into separate little cubicles but must be taken together. She goes on to provide strong support for not removing the so-called “liberal arts” from the curriculum in favor of providing more math, reading, and science; the areas which are the “usual” focus for assessment. To be really “educated”, students need to know that the liberal arts are the fertile ground from which most of “who we are” has grown; the Humanities represent the all-encompassing universal that brings it all together. Math and Science do not exist in a vacuum.

I was further excited to see that she, along with our current President, are making the case for students to graduate from high school with a marketable skill, something for which I was a proponent 20 years ago, but to deaf ears. I think that there has been too much emphasis on “going to college” when in fact there are lots of careers that do not require a college degree. Our state, for example, has a host of high-paying blue-collar jobs related to the mineral and fossil fuel industries. It seemed a bit ironic to me that a number of years ago, recognizing that our state often is “rolling in dough” from the mineral, gas, and oil extraction, our legislature established a scholarship program which would provide for many students’ tuition to one of our state’s higher education facilities. The advertised intent was to keep more of our Wyoming college graduates “in the state”. What they ignored was that there just aren’t that many openings for college graduates within our hiring community; in fact, the coal and oil companies have had to set up their own schools to train new persons for the specialized requirements of their industries.

To return to my overview, we wanted students to demonstrate that they could competently apply what they had learned from their four years of high school. To do this, we identified seven areas, each of which emphasized the interaction of subjects rather than their separation. The seven areas were Communication, Citizenship, Global/Environmental, Health/Fitness, Career/Vocational, History and Culture, Independent Learning. Within each one, a student was to make choices about topics and skills to use and select modes for communicating; the areas were stated in terms of what the student would do. An example would be “Health/Fitness: The student will use a research-based assessment to determine the state of his/her fitness, establish personal fitness goals and implement a plan of action toward meeting those goals.” A variety of evidence was to be used including portfolios, projects, videos, etc.

Note that we didn’t mention, math, science, or reading; since graduation also required meeting certain numbers of course credits, we assumed that the students had had their fill of testing of those topics within their classes. We were interested in seeing if they could use what they were to have learned. An interesting series of discussions focused on Writing; instead of requiring Writing as one of the areas, we recognized several things—First, most people don’t use actual writing as part of their jobs. Second, what they do need to learn is how to organize their thoughts in order to communicate effectively whether it’s through writing, speaking, use of technology, art, etc. Our graduation requirement allowed the student to choose a format with which he/she was comfortable; to choose a topic to either narrate, describe, evaluate, critique, etc.

Another example came from Global/Environmental; we wanted the student to be able to demonstrate understanding of how changes on one part of the planet affected things elsewhere not only environmentally but also economically, politically, and culturally. To be effective, the student would have to draw from a variety of courses. They might choose the Brazilian rain forest as a topic; it’s deforestation in order to grow sugar cane for ethanol has caused a spike in coffee prices throughout the world, due to the loss of coffee growing regions, and added ozone to the atmosphere. Here we see economics, agriculture, politics, and etc. woven together.

Unfortunately, our plan all went by the wayside in the mid-90’s, when the state decided to have everyone write assessments and use them as the basis for graduation along with the usual class credits and GPA. I still hope to resurrect it in some form, somewhere.

____________________________________________________________________

Odds and Ends

Social Networks—-One current issue is the florescence of the “social networks” over the Internet. A trustee of our major university expressed his concern about the lack of involvement of students with creative writing; these short “tweets” and facebook texting are “dumbing down” good communication and, in my opinion, interfering with the thought processes that allow for any kind of in-depth introspection either personal or in one’s surroundings. I need to add that I’m also skeptical of all the “distance learning” programs; I’ve yet to see one that even somewhat approaches the effectiveness of a good classroom teacher having the skills described in Ms. Labadi’s blog.

Whom to Blame? A note about an issue in assessment—our legislature has been tussling with the whole “Teacher of Record” problem. If indeed student performance on the usual math, science, and reading tests is to be used to measure teacher effectiveness, then how do the shop teacher, the P.E. teacher, and the Social Studies teacher fit in? Who gets the blame for poor performance? The question remains unresolved!

School Resource Officers—I don’t think they should be expected to be able to deter one of these maniacs from doing terrible things to kids in school. After all, if the SRO has several schools to patrol, the perp only has to wait until the SRO goes to another building. Furthermore, even if there is an SRO for each school, I am of the opinion that if someone really is intent on malicious acts, they can do them. I would rather consider the SRO to be someone who coordinates activities that help to identify youngsters who might have the tendency to become a problem, such as loners, un-involved, social outcasts, bullies. I recall a film, “Cipher in the Snow”, from the BYU film library, which really brings home how some kids are “part of the wallpaper”, with sad results. Many of the recent killers are documented as not having “fit in” when they were in high school; perhaps if someone had made an effort with them they would not have gone “to the Dark Side”. I recall that in evaluating six alternative high schools, when I asked students “Why are you successful here but you weren’t at the regular high schoo?”, I always got some version of the same answer. “Because an adult took an interest in me and wouldn’t let me fail.” Identifying these kids and having activities to address their interests would go a long way to resolving these issues. The SRO could coordinate all of these.

Bridging the Gap—Last week, I referred a young teacher at a Christian elementary school to the series of blogs that I mentioned, written by a leader in the Islamic education community. It’s not much, but maybe a good start. “A journey of a thousand miles begins……..”

Core Curriculum—I think this is a good move because it will promote consistency nationally. At the same time, it raises standards by requiring students to be able to tell “why” along with the traditional “how”.  The latter is based only on the first two levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy instead of promoting knowledge and skills as tools to use in navigating through the avenues of daily living; the “why” moves toward the Applications, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation levels.

Travel—I’m still scheduled for accreditation visits to schools in Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, in mid and late April. I cancelled a following stop for a school in Kosovo, needing to spend some time with a family member with major health issues. I may drop down to L.A. and Phoenix sometime in March, to deliver some items to my son and to see if I’m still capable of destroying a golf course. It’s become an issue that I’m now required to file an Environmental Impact Statement before setting foot on a course. I’ve been accepted as a volunteer worker at the Wells Fargo Golf Championship in Charlotte, NC, in early May after I return from Bahrain. I’ll also hit the Duke Law School graduation where a close friend’s son is finishing.

Health—-I was disappointed to learn that my correct diagnosis, MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance) is not treated, unless it turns into multiple myeloma (5%-15% of cases). I’ve requested a referral to Mayo, but my doctor hasn’t gotten back to  me about that. Perhaps I’ll hear something by next week, when I attend the Wyoming School Improvement Conference in Casper, where the neurologist is located. I’m still on one 10 mg. prednisone on alternate days for CIDP, and daily doses of the alpha lipoic acid supplement which may or may not help. Less feeling in feet, and maybe some loss of leg strength although I continue my thrice-weekly workouts.

Politics—-I’m tired of Lindsay Graham, John McCain, Chris Matthews. And I have concerns about Chuck Hagel. And how do some of these other idiots get elected—Is the citizenry that stupid?

I hope that the blogs I’ve read recently and referred to are saved for a book–they are extremely well-written and provide thoughtful insights into the educational process. I highly recommend them.

Always Be Happy!       To Our Youth!

TIGERS?

October 24, 2012

Recently, a close colleague initiated some thoughts relative to some currently-popular notions of child rearing, in particular those expressed by the Kim sisters in their book. ”Top of the Class: How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers”…. and Chu’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. The “perpetrators” who follow “a highly active role in channeling their students’ progress in academics and other personal growth skills” are sometimes referred to as “Tiger Moms”, conveying a somewhat inaccurate picture of someone taking the last generation’s Tough Love to further extremes.
Examples were provided of what has become stereotypical of Asian Americans—-they are all high achievers in the academic world and owe a major element in their success to the prodding and support of loving, but rigidly restrictive, parents. The suggestion is that this would be something that other parents should consider if they really want their children to succeed in a highly competitive world.
Some of this harkens back to an earlier blog I wrote in which I described my experience in evaluations of alternative high schools, and in which I asked the question of students, “Why are you being successful here but you weren’t in the regular school?”  The answer was always some version of “Because an adult took an interest in me and wouldn’t let me fail”, essentially saying that a lack of the kind of quality espoused by the Tiger Mom Perspective was a prime factor toward the child’s failures. As a further comment, I said that in my 40 years of school administration, it was very unusual for students coming from stable families, whether both parents or a single parent, to not graduate from high school. The stability included helping the child gain self confidence and know that there was a loving figure committed to the child becoming a successful adult.
And this is where I might have some differences with the Tigerism, depending upon the degree of parental and family involvement in providing an umbrella of external motivation to the targeted individual. My initial question would be, how intrusive should be those influences on the child’s performance? As I have written before, a program has a better chance of success if the participants’ have ownership of the decisions necessary for implementation and operation; might this also apply to an individual? If there is too much pushing and prodding from external sources, then the question becomes, “Who owns the success?” Might it not be more fruitful to provide or establish in collaboration with the child a buffet of choices for the child to make, along with interactive discussion of the consequences of each, and let the child make the choice? Of course, the choices presented must all be satisfactory to the parent, but the child is given a goodly share of the power toward personal guidance, and also must live with the consequences.
Too often, we ignore teaching children to evaluate their own performance, to establish associated goals, and to design a plan of action toward achievement. Our Western perspective is one of achievement being representative of the individual’s ambition and industry; many non-Western cultural viewpoints look upon the individual’s performance as a reflection of the family. Thus, in the latter case, the individual is properly submerged within the gestalt of the group. That is not normally an acceptable option within much of our own culture.
Finally, there are cases where two parents may not be in alignment with the implementation of the Tiger approach, just as they also might not agree on any other type of child-rearing practice. It’s not unusual for the male to abandon most of the responsibility to the mother, although reserving “the right” to be critical when things don’t go especially well. In fact, it might be less of a problem in a single parent scenario, as the potential schism would not exist and thus would avoid additional anxieties and tension being added into the mix.
I must confess that all of these comments are based upon my own speculation without having read anything more than reviews and articles referencing the Tiger literature. As such, they are only opinions but perhaps ones that offer a springboard to further consideration.
I can withdraw into my comfortable Winter shell, tomorrow facing the first major snowstorm of the season, and try to plan my travel route to my son’s California wedding next week. I’ve already delayed leaving until this Saturday, and hope that next wave goes somewhere where I’m not.
At the same time, I’m continuing my experiment with Alpha Lipoic Acid to see if it has a positive effect on my neuropathy. Maybe it’ll help my chipping.
Always Be Happy!                                        To Our Youth!

Randomly Yours

October 14, 2012

Occasionally one needs to be able to have a few moments just to savor, and with me, that offers a wide range of topics. Over my many years, I finally recognized fairly late in my career path that one of my fundamental personality traits was the avoidance of ever doing anything in any “real depth”.

At the same time, I have always wanted to know a bit about everything, a characteristic which stood me in good stead as a school administrator because it gave me some insights and empathy throughout the curriculum, and thus an understanding of what my teaching staff had to deal with. I could appreciate the concerns of the physical education teacher as well as those of the band instructor, the math and English teachers, and the shop and social studies instructors. Malcolm Gladwell would have categorized me as both “A Connector” and “A Maven” in his book, The Tipping Point. Others would have called me a Dilletante, with a capital “D”. And still others would have just called me Lazy. My prowess at Trivial Pursuit was legendary in the circles in which I ran; unfortunately it didn’t provide any financial rewards.

In Anton Gregoric’s rating system, I came out as Abstract Sequential, in other words, I have ideas and I can establish a sequence of events and activities in order to implement them, but after that, I’m finished and ready to move on to something else. And turn it over to a Concrete Sequential for implementation.

Which brings me back to my beginning point—-when I savor, it may be about anything, and you, the reader, become the victim.

Let’s start with some comments about the upcoming election and politics. I have recently become more disgusted than I was before, having felt that I had been able to tune out much of the rhetoric (read, BS). But I really need to say that there are three persons who are far above their colleagues in the area of being rude and obnoxious; this is unfortunate because all of them are extremely bright but their manner and mannerisms destroy what otherwise would be a significant contribution to their points of view. Those persons are Chris Matthews, maybe the most obnoxious person on TV; Joe Scarborough who, on his excellent “Morning Joe” cable show on MSNBC, consistently puts down his co-host with rudeness and verbal abuse; and finally the terrible performance of our Vice-President during last week’s debate when he was condescending, rude, and loud. Had he pursued a serious or at least calm demeanor, his message representing his party’s platform might have been heard, but it was overwhelmed by the nastiness of his performance. I believe he lost a lot more voters than he might have won. I certainly don’t want someone like that as my President. But then I don’t want any of the other guys, either. They’re far worse from the perspective of what they would do with our economy, as well as the major social issues they ignorantly raise. Here’s an example of poor thinking:

They decry the suggestion for raising the taxes about 4 % on the rich, saying that you shouldn’t discourage the “Job Creators” by taking away more of their money that would be used to create jobs. But I read an article submitted by a Republican billionaire that said, “that argument is so much BS (my translation). What allows them to create jobs is if the middle class has more buying power, creating demand, which in turn allows businesses to add more employees to make more goods. They’re  not going to add any jobs if there’s no demand. Actually, it’s the Middle Class that causes jobs to be created.”   Unfortunately, the Jobs Bill that President Obama had submitted to Congress was defeated by the Republican-dominated House; it was to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure with millions of jobs, and thus more tax revenue to replace whatever needed to be borrowed to fund the program. They just couldn’t see him be successful.

One further comment on that: Who is Grover Norquist? I don’t recall anyone ever voting for him. Why is he directing this “Assault on Reason”?

As for Abortion and Gay Marriage, they are taking away too much time from dealing with our real problems. If you don’t believe in either one, then don’t do it. It doesn’t affect you directly unless you’re a participant. A recent stupid ruling says that at conception, the fertilized egg is entitled to all the privileges of a fully- born person. Biologically, that egg “has the capacity” to become a human, but is not yet there. Probably the same thinking that considers a corporation as an individual.

Whenever I hear a politician refer to “The American People”, or I see him wrinkle his brow and widen his eyes to appear sincere, I know that there is more BS coming. How they have the arrogance and effrontery to act as though they’re representing all of us, by stating a partisan position, calls out for FactCheck.com to do its work. When they start a statement with “I think” I realize that (a) they’re expressing an opinion, not a fact, (b) they’re probably not thinking, and (c) there’s probably at least one or more other opinions about the same issue and we will be lucky if one of them is correct.

I continue to hear comments about “how far we’ve come” in the Arena of Tolerance. Yes, we’ve made some steps, but there’s a long way to go before racism goes the way of polio and smallpox. The current wave of Islamophobia sweeping through much of the lesser educated regions of our country is a major example of large groups of people being ignorant about that which they attack, and some of their leaders derive their status from fostering vicious attacks of hatred to their flocks. Rather, they should be reading the Qur’an, and seeing how the two religions supplement one another, not divide. Those who perpetrate terror are Muslims in name only, they are not following the basic tenets of the faith.  But the blatantness of their actions serves to increase the lack of trust and acceptance among peoples.

Well, enough ranting for the time being. As far as my own activities are concerned, I am looking into the use of Alpha lipoic Acid, a dietary supplement, to control my neuropathy. Googling reveals that it has been used widely for years, in Europe and especially in Germany, with good results. The clinical trial in Oregon which I’m investigating is focused on this regimen, but I may begin its use fairly soon instead of going through a 16 week research trial where I may be given the placebo instead of the material under study.

And to supplement whatever benefits may accrue, I purchased an Elite Integra Massage Chair (Google it) and a Sealy 12” Memory Foam Mattress. The former is now ensconced in front of my 55” TV and seems to be personally delighted to establish new muscle aches and pains through deep probing massage. The latter will be delivered next Friday, the same day as I close on the purchase of the house.

The weather has been cooperative in providing opportunities for daily golf, with temps around 70.

I hope to soon start using the 8” Meade Cassegraine-Schmidt telescope I bought from an astronomer friend, maybe I can finally begin using that major in Astronomy I received in 1960, then forgot. The scope is fairly heavy, the tripod alone weighs 26 lbs. It has a clock drive to maintain its position focused on a celestial object, but I foresee some careful study necessary for me to really use it. Fortunately, the skies out here in Wyoming are usually very clear, and all the forest fires have finally been extinguished so that the smoke is gone.

And I’ve joined a tennis group that plays two mornings a week indoors. One of the players has Alzheimer’s and seems to have a bit of trouble following what’s happening; this will be a good opportunity for me to learn more about the disease.

Finally, what is the the usage of the word, “well” at the beginning of an answer to a question? Is it still an adverb, or a noun, or is it something else? What is it really contributing to the answer?

Always Be Happy!                                                        To Our Youth!

COMING OF AGE

June 25, 2012

Many years ago, as a budding anthropology major, one of the classics we were assigned was “Coming of Age in Samoa”, a classic study by Margaret Mead detailing the life passages of children ascending to adulthood in the South Pacific. This past weekend’s activities of my 56th high school class reunion caused me to revisit Ms. Mead’s constructs, and tweaked a notion that perhaps she hadn’t gone far enough.

In the first place, there were only 40 or so of our original 272; some of course have passed on but I believe that in general, many had adopted the attitude that I had at the “50th”; I had been in contact through the years with most of the ones, the five or six, important to me during high school. As for the others, I really could care less what they have been doing all these years. In fact, I didn’t know most of them then, and have no urge to “meet them” now. (I probably would have given this a miss also, but I needed to return to KC to pick up some of my Peace Corps artifacts which had been on display at the University of Kansas, having been that school’s first Peace Corps volunteer and the school  was recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps). A reception was held on the top floor of a building owned by one of our class, the Bernstein-Rein building, and which housed their advertising agency on two floors. I discovered that one of their other enterprises is a high end cosmetics firm, “Beauty Brands”, and I attempted to acquaint Mr. Bernstein with the long-ignored Halal market potential I had read about in publications of the American Halal Association, and which is a project of a former colleague.

But to get to my point—–I feel that I personally am still “growing”, continually looking within myself searching for the answer to the question, “Who am I?”.  But as I looked around the room, I wondered, “How many of these folks are still Seeking?”  Is this affair merely another compartment of The Waiting Room as each listens to hear “Next” called out, attached to their name, to enter into the Beyond? Are they like the guys at McDonald’s having coffee every morning, before heading to the golf course or their flower garden, no longer actively contributing to their society and surroundings? I wonder.

Margaret Mead was interested in cultural growth events in the lives of her research subjects, but maybe she should have gone further and looked internally into each one, and far beyond the “I am an adult” level. Every culture and society has events which signify either formally (christenings, etc.) or informally (attaining a driver’s license), that a new level has been attained, but studies usually stop when adulthood is reached. I assert that there remain many new plateaus to be reached, many canyons yet to explore, and many of them lie within. I am realizing that I am still “coming of age” as I continue to explore the worlds within my mind—what is Faith?  Love?  Leadership? Is there a Life Force? Questions, questions, questions. And in wrestling with them, I sometimes feel a deluge of a sea of words, sometimes even poetic, as their revelations wash across my thoughts. Yes, I am a Work in Progress. I am still “Coming of Age”.

I like to drive across Kansas, more so than Nebraska or South  Dakota which have been my routes east and west on other occasions. Contrary to the accepted thought, Kansas is not all flat, and there are many places when one meets new vistas, gazing out across gentle valleys and hills toward a distant horizon. At one point on my trip, I was driving beneath a cluster of towering wind machines, generating kilowatts to spread throughout the landscape for our obese consumption. Each one appeared almost as a living sculpture, each huge blade a graceful curve seeking the slightest breeze wandering by. In contrast was an area of eastern Colorado, where the temperature in my car registered a stunning 113 degrees, and initiated a comment from me that is unsuitable for mixed company.

Throughout my trip, I was preoccupied with new potential health issues seemingly appearing on a daily basis. The neuropathy in my feet and legs is lessening my leg strength and balance, which greatly interfered with my attempt to play tennis with one of my former classmates. I could only stumble awkwardly around the court; me, who used to play in tournaments and sometimes even won! I tried to ignore those conditions along with the continual arthritic pain in my back and neck; my golf game appeared to be on the mend during the front nine when, after a rocky first three holes, I finished out that side with a few pars and a couple of birdies.  Alas, some fatigue reared its ugly head, and I had trouble keeping the right hand out of the shots, the right hand being the source of most problems in the golf swing. What to do? I emailed my doctor immediately and we decided to do a complete onslaught on this citadel, my body, whose failing infrastructure rivals all the bridges and highways in the nation. Tomorrow I begin a series of tests with a neurologist, hopefully to determine that I’m not saddled with one of those diseases that is only known by a cluster of capital letters. Maybe the use of letters instead of the actual name ameliorates the evil that besets the victim.

My computer, formerly blamed for sending out malware, has been cleansed in spirit and memory of the nasty interlopers, and is ready to re-enter society. I’m writing this on my laptop, but am anxious to begin using my newly-blessed desktop for my writing. As a friend observed, the writing process is cathartic, and provides a sense of calm and pleasure as the words flow from the fingertips to the keys. Just another step in my coming of age.

Always Be Happy!                                                                        🙂                                                                          To Our Youth!

Coming Home, Again

May 26, 2012

I returned yesterday afternoon from a five-week, three country Odyssey combining professional courtesies, travel, physical challenge, and the opportunity to cross off a few more items on my personal “Bucket List”. As the trip ultimately involved a complete circumnavigation of the globe, I was a bit understandably upset that there was no one leaping forward upon my re-entry to present me with a gilt-edged certificate recognizing the “around the world” feat, much like the first time crossing the Equator, or the International Date Line (come to think of it, I didn’t get a certificate then, either). The fact that the temperature was only 37 degrees also cast a bit of a pall over the whole arrival thing, and I recollected that “Yes, we usually have snowstorms in May, in Wyoming”. This was of little comfort to someone who had been basking in the 105 degree readings in the Upper Nile Valley, only four days prior.

As a happenstance, I was fortunate this evening to read a quite eloquently-written blog, “Coming Home”, that encapsulates many of the same feelings I experienced upon entering the front door of the house. Fleeting thoughts abound, many of them repetitious of ones that invaded my personal thought canals while lying awake during the long, quiet nights on the Nile river boat; others appeared at odd times among the many hours of flight between target destinations. Often, that “stream of consciousness” of James Joyce would begin with a look back at the day’s events, and ramble on hither and thither trying to achieve some sense of completion or closure.

But always, there appeared to be a sense of unease; something was making me uncomfortable. In Korea, I had visited the DMZ, and felt, but what? When I looked at a palace, or a viewing tower, or a freeway, I saw, but I didn’t feel. When I viewed the pyramids, I was impressed, but the feelings I had didn’t seem based on the pyramids themselves. Temples at Aswan, Luxor, and in-between—they were all so similar that they blur in memory into one amalgam, one Ultimate Temple. Again, no feeling. Later, Buckingham Palace made no stirrings; the people and pigeons in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly were more of interest; the stroll along the haphazardly laid out streets in Central London held my interest because of what people were doing, not where they were doing it. My visit to Stonehenge, high on my list, evoked nothing but fatigue from the long bus ride to and from, and registered only as an item of interest.  And then it was in the massive foyer of the British Museum, that an epiphany occurred—I suddenly realized that I really didn’t want to see any more “stuff”, I’d had it with famous structures built on the backs of the masses—folks like us. It meant nothing to me that, given time, money, and abundant labor, any of these structures could arise. And I began looking back upon my other trips for validation of this perspective—palaces in Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Istanbul, Cairo, Nurenburg, Paris, and others—-all a tribute not to an idea, or an ethic, but merely evidence that given enough resources, it could be done. And for whom? Therein lies my unease.

So, what did I learn? I reflected back upon people I had met—the Scotsman in St. James Park, with whom I shared a two-hour conversation beginning with observations about the weather, and expanding to discussions of our homelands, elections, and other “people topics”, and all on an uncomfortable park bench.

There were the people at the three schools in Cairo, and one in Jeddah; their passion and enthusiasm for what they were doing was infectious. One of the schools has the most comprehensive special education program I’ve seen (I was a special education director for a number of years), with total inclusion. One of the parents we interviewed has an autistic son, and had heard about the school while she was living in Saudi Arabia. She moved to Cairo strictly for her son to attend the school, and for the first time, he is showing progress. And this in a region of the world that barely recognizes special needs children. All because of one woman’s vision and perseverance in establishing this program; her early demise has led to a strong commitment by the school’s staff to carry on her legacy.

Many times during my voyage, I longed to be able to share thoughts and ideas with my former “muse”, no longer available. This was especially true when I met Rula Zaki, the wife of the principal of one of the schools, and a well-known singer in the Middle East. She has a personal “mission” not unlike that of the Muse, to break down the barriers between peoples to achieve Peace and Harmony. One of her songs I especially wanted to share, from the rula.zaki website, combining a video with beautiful pleas toward mutual understanding and the recognition that Islamic and Christian faiths share the same foundation. Ms. Zaki was delightful, and we had an enjoyable time singing Broadway song duets while her husband transported us in his speedboat, down the Nile to lunch at a riverside café’. Her husband, Muhammed, is a former surgeon turned educator, and they and their two sons are planning a trip to Yellowstone this summer, and may visit us in Thermopolis. Later, I shared one of my poems with her, one that mirrors her mission and stresses the concept that believers can find Safe Harbor and Serenity through their faith, regardless of their religion.

So again, I think I have grown. I now consciously recognize that people are the most important thing for me, not giant palaces or temples, or cathedrals, or anything else which is merely a product of resources and not ideas. I enjoyed greatly seeing how people do things, differently from us, I liked watching them argue in Egypt as their first Presidential election approached. My guide would provide me with summaries, after he cooled off enough himself from the various exchanges he had with his neighbors.

Yes, I will continue to struggle at golf, as the ravages of age interfere with achievement of unreasonable expectations. It is difficult to accept the fact that many of those days are in the past. I hope to be able to continue my travels, not so much to see tributes to power as to experience friendship and mutual respect with persons of many religions, races, and cultures, elsewhere.

I think I shall be able to resume chasing after some of those elusive thoughts, once again providing myself excitement and comfort as I further explore the inner workings of my own mind. I want my writing to improve so that each word is a necessary building block toward a complete thought, not so much for others to understand but for my own self-clarification. And who knows? Maybe the Essence of that Muse is still dimly somewhere in the shadows, urging.

Always Be Happy!                                                                                          To Our Youth Everyday!