Playing with a piece of writing

“Long ago and oh so far away, I fell in love with you before the second show…but you’re not really here, it’s just the radio.” Thank you Karen and Richard Carpenter for these lyrics from your song, “Superstar.” The piece of writing I am going to share has your song playing as my muse.

I have been playing with this piece of writing I did some time ago and it has been tucked away for a good many years waiting for me to revisit. I promised I would start sharing what I know about writing. I have read and studied many that talk about writing and their writing process. After all of this, I am sure writing is not formulaic and it is unique to all of us. Writing for me is serendipitous, I never know what to expect, and that is part of the discovery process. I write to know what I think.

I have always planned to build this short short story into a longer piece of writing. It starts out situational – I guess I have this in common with Stephen King as he talks about all of his writing as building on a situation.

Well, here goes – enjoy.

“Even now, what can I say to you? It all happened so long ago. Yes, I remember it clearly, but they are my memories, and mine to choose to share. I know I’ve never told anyone about this – the less said the better.”

She stopped talking and stared down at her hands. Moments of silence passed which seemed long and strained the quiet.

After a while, she started talking again. “I promised myself never to speak about this to anyone. I hate breaking that promise, even for you, but I supposed now I must.”

We just sat there again without speaking, the silence creeping back into the room and slipping down over the last echoes of sound. I regretted this visit, the question I asked, and my making her feel so painfully uncomfortable. Yet, I knew that from this moment on, we would think of nothing else.

Her cat tip-toed into the room. Cats always seem to be able to find comfort even in the most awkward of times. It licked its paws and curled up on a chair in the corner acting like we were the intruders.

After another eternity, she began again. “You know, he wasn’t really a bad person. We all did love him so.”

“He could make us laugh until our sides ached,” and she seemed to let a smile pass across her face. She tried to look up at me secretly to see if I noticed.

“Mother loved him the way you love your firstborn, and she hated him too. More than once, she damned him to hell.”

I just looked at her and never said another word. This was hers to share if she wanted to. My part in this whole affair was over. I listened now whether I wanted to or not. I started something, and now it had a life of its own.

What I Know About Writing

What seems like a long time ago, I left the world of business accounting (no great loss) and started working in a public school. I hate to tell you, but this was just about thirty years ago.

I kept a private tax practice going during most of the thirty years, finally stopping six years ago – thank God! Tax accounting crunches a lot of work into a short period from about the end of January until April 15th. I always had a few extensions so the work usually lasted into May. Most of my clients were self-employed loggers, mechanics, farmers, and carpenters. I cannot tell you how many boxes of receipts I went through that were kept on the floor of a pick-up truck all year where they also were joined by old jelly donuts, soda and beer cans, partially eaten sandwiches, and other assorted small forms of wildlife. I was teaching record keeping and the tax code to my clients as much as I was preparing tax returns. Oh well, that was a past life.

I have always enjoyed writing, and of course, reading. Reading and writing are inseparable. In Stephen King’s book, “On Writing,” he gives some good advice to wanna-be writers early on in his book and the advice is to READ, and read everything you can and always be an insatiable reader. I think this is the best advice to aspiring writers.

When I started working in my first public school, Williamstown Middle and High School, in Willamstown, Vermont, I was hired as a para-educator for the middle school, and I was told my size and physical attributes had something to do with my assignment. Someone once told me to shake the hand of every student and give them a good grip, let them feel how strong your grip is. I did this, and I think the advice was good. Rumors circulated among the middle school students that I was a former football player – true, but nothing I had shared. The rumors worked in my favor so I let them live – yeah, I did.

Middle school teaching and program were going through a large re-think at this time (mid to late 1980s and into the 90s. I found the changes happening in middle school education exciting and kind of thrilling to be part of. I would never consider myself a traditional learner, and opening up the learning process to accommodate all kinds of learning styles and different intelligences really resonated with me, and I could see how much this worked well for our students.

I soon found myself inspired to start a Master’s Degree program that would also lead to teacher certification. I focused on what intrigued me, and that was the writing process. I have been especially fascinated by the critical thinking that happens at the point of a pencil, so to speak, and before writing hits the paper. So, there lies my Master’s program with a focus on writing and the middle school curriculum.

At this time, there was an amazing group of teacher/writers coming out of New Hampshire, Maine, and also Vermont. They were finding their way to being published by a great educational publishing house, Heinemann out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I read and studied them all, and still do. I will share some of the names of the teacher/writer/authors here and I think you will recognize many of the names like Nancy Atwell, Lucie Calkins, Regie Routman, Donald Graves, Donald Murray, Ken Macrorie, Toby Fulwiler, Tom Romano, Thomas Newkirk, Janet Emig, and many others, my apologies to any I am missing – you all were my teachers and inspiration. Add in some William Zinsser and Peter Elbow – both contributing some very powerful and helpful books on writing.

So, I had some good teachers, very good. My writing is still a work in process. I enjoy writing and need to dedicate more time to doing writing – end of story. I have written a few unpublished short stories, and when my daughter was in middle school, I was able to entertain some of the village kids with a young adult novel I was writing set in the early 1900’s during the logging boom here in Vermont and New Hampshire with the Connecticut River being where most of the story takes place. I need to get back to this unfinished book as it seemed to past the test of pleasing adolescents. They would come up to the house and ask me to read to them the next chapter. I never should have stopped – I promise myself, now that retirement is looming, to pick up this thread again.

I have had this “WordPress” platform for about a year now. I have written about some things dear to me from my Vermont childhood and family, some politics and history – also passions, and now I want to write about writing and share what I know, and what I don’t know, and hope find as part of my growth as a writer. This will be a welcome respite from politics which I am finding continually depressing and I need to pull away from.

My intention is for this piece to launch me into writing about writing and sharing some of my experiences. I will start with some thoughts about Nancy Atwell and the wonderful books she wrote about writing. She started me to think about writing and writing to learn. This is what I hope to share here and I will try to work my way through the wonderful list of teacher/writer/authors I mentioned earlier in this piece.

So, you have been forewarned, I will be writing about writing and writing to learn here. In this time of the pandemic, hybrid school, home schooling, and de-schooling, it seems like the writing piece as I know it, has a lot to contribute to how we think about learning.

How Little I Really Do Know

Oh, this hits me in the face over and over again every day. I run into so many challenges just trying to take care of and maintain my simple home here in West Topsham. Technology is my bane. Oh, how I cross swords with technology and can barely gain a temporary truce. I want my life to be more simple and this is a losing battle today.

Just the other day, I went to use my Estwing nail hammer. These were the Cadillac of nail hammers back in the 60’s when I bought mine. I was working for Paul Vermette, a small contractor in Washington, Vermont back in 1969 when I bought this Estwing hammer. I was hired as a carpenter’s helper at the princely sum of $.35 per hour. An Estwing hammer cost about $16.00 back then and I saved and saved to buy that hammer. When I finally had mine, I felt like I truly belonged to the guild of carpenters and my price of admission was paid.

That first year working for Paul, my main tool was a shovel, or what was affectionately called an “idiot stick.” I got very good at using an idiot stick. Maybe this was fitting as my Dad used to say when we moved to our farm for the summer, that, ” Usually summer folk went into town and hired the village idiot for the summer, but that we did not need to because our family had me.” This was in the days before folks really thought too much about self esteem and I seemed to get past this anyway. Oh well, my Dad also said, “I was like the salt of the earth,” and this probably rang true. If anything, I was born about 100 years too late.

To return to my theme of how little I really know is my easy challenge. I am reminded of this over and over. I do try hard to have a bountiful garden every year and I am quite proud of my high bush blueberries and my red raspberries. I freely admit to spending a great deal of time reading and trying to learn how to grow these crops successfully. I have become quite a student of composting and this is my continual project. My soil is the beneficiary of all my work and study. I am always learning and maybe that is what keeps me going. My library shelves are filled with books that I turn to over and over to help me past my latest challenge.

I built most of two of our homes myself, most of these skills were learned in my carpentry days working for Paul. And, I will admit to sometimes turning to some carpentry and construction books in the evening so I could take on the next part of my project the coming day. I guess it was more about just being willing to learn.

In most of the daily doings of my life, I am making a full fledged effort to keep it simple. I get frustrated with much of the educational writing that comes out of our Vermont Agency of Education. To me, most of it seems to be written for the person working in the cubicle next to the person doing the writing. My dying words will be that the last thing the world needs is more three-ring binders chuck full of policy. I have very few friends in the world of bureaucracy as you can imagine and I have some less the gentlemanly words for all of this, but I will spare you my language right now.

I was recently reading some E.B. White essays on democracy. White is my hero and I find great wisdom and comfort in White’s writing. Many of you will surely remember his wonderful story, “Charlotte’s Web,” or the little English grammar and writing handbooks we all were given, “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White. E.B. White wrote regular essays for “The New Yorker” magazine and we are blessed to have all of this in print. White’s essays are often my bedtime reading as I cannot seem to get through a novel much any more, but a good essay is just the right length to hold my attention and get me to think.

White’s piece I was just reading had to do with F.D.R. trying to pack the U.S. Supreme Court in 1936, hoping to get a court that would look more favorably on his New Deal programs during the 1930s. A sometimes supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, but White was not enthralled with the court packing episode. E.B. White wrote this in response to F.D.R’s attempt to pack the court:

“Americans should decline to follow a leader, however high minded, who proposes to take charge of affairs because he thinks he knows all the answers.”

Damn, but this resonates with me today, especially because I know so little. Enough said, I think you all can connect my dots here.

Take care and be safe.

Ed Pirie, West Topsham, Vermont

This is when I am really learning.

What’s On My Reading Table (August 31st, 2020)

It’s been a while since I shared a “reading table” post. It was popular the last time I shared this list so I thought it might be worth sharing again.

I just finished reading How The South Won the Civil War, by Heather Cox Richardson. Heather Cox Richardson is a very good historian, and a professor of history at Boston College. She has written other books on U.S. history and seems to specialize in U.S. political history. She also has a popular weekly newsletter called “Letters from an American.” I find her writing of history well researched, fair, and informative. I would say the same for her weekly newsletter, “Letters from an American.”

Ok, so what did get from How The South Won the Civil War? A lot, and in some ways I learned some U.S. history that gets very little to no attention in standard U.S. history classes. What am I talking about? I am talking about the paradox that goes back to our founding and the problems with our history as a nation that wrote slavery write into our Constitution from the beginning. You might want to start with the “all men are created equal” stuff and work forward from there. It is no secret that many of the founders had problems with our new Constitution and its institutionalizing slavery. They argued about this and recognized they were walking away from Philadelphia as hypocrites. They left the problem of slavery and its place in American democracy for a later generation to solve. Some said that dealing with this at the time the Constitution was being born, “…would have killed the baby at birth.” Does my opinion of our founding fathers get diminished in all of this? Yes, it does. I also recognize that in 1787, the colonies where slavery anchored the economy were dominant in the birth of the American nation.

Ms. Richardson writes about a lot more of our history pre Civil War and post Civil War. Again, she writes a history that is not going to make everyone feel like, “Wow, we are so great.” And you know what, the truth is we are not. We have been fallible and continue to be fallible. The issue of race has not been solved in our existence yet. We fought a Civil War that ended with a military victory for the North, but a political and cultural victory over race and racism is still waiting to happen here.

When my children were younger, I used to think how fortunate they would be growing up in a world and in America where the poison of race, prejudice, and bigotry were put to rest. Oh, how I deceived myself in my thinking. I never dreamed that our politics would take big steps backward as they have now and our leaders would use division and race for their own political advantage. There is no uplifting story here – sorry.

I recommend Heather Cox Richardson’s book, How The South Won The Civil War. I went to her book trying to find answers for what has happened to our country, in my mind, in the last 40 years. My intuition told me to look at the time of Reagan in the 1980s for a starting point as it seemed to me that this is when our politics went bad. Sometimes, it is hard when you have a front row seat to notice the trees for the forest. This is how I would describe my understanding of our recent political history. I knew something had changed in the Republican Party, but I did not know enough to explain or understand it. I just knew it was not the party of Eisenhower, and in fact, President Eisenhower would probably not be welcome in today’s GOP.

My understanding of the period of Reagan to present has grown by reading Ms. Richardson’s book. She is not some talking head for the Democratic Party. She writes history, blemishes and shameful acts included. I have a better understanding of the GOP agenda now – something that was evading me. I knew the Democrats are, if anything, really the same party. There is no new leaning to a radical left unless you think health care for all is some sort of Communist plot. It’s not, and it really is no different than our Social Security/Medicare system. Plenty of us depend on these programs, myself included. Does wanting an expansion of Medicare make me a raving communist? I don’t think so, but keep in mind I have an immigrant and blue collar background – might just make me someone Joe McCarthy would want to hunt down before I subvert the country – oh, so crazy!

My Dad used to get frustrated with me because he said I told too much about a book so why read it. I can still hear him saying this to me. I’ll stop now and let you discover Heather Cox Richardson for yourself – she is worth the effort.

There is more on my reading table and I will share some more in a later posting.

I should add a post script. This has been part of a long effort I have been making to understand what happened in 2016. I started with some of the more simple explanations, but I knew it was more than just frustration in the Rust Belt. The second part of this quest has been to try and understand how the Republican party has morphed from the GOP of the pre Reagan period to the GOP of today. I knew the GOP today is not the GOP of my parents or of anyone that grew up in my lifetime. In fact, the GOP today more closely resembles the John Birch Society, a hard right movement that sprang up in the late 1950s. All of this is a bigger quest for me and it is still on-going. The book I share here today is a good read and not part of a partisan agenda. We get enough of that stuff as it is.

Take care and be safe,

Ed Pirie

Make America Great Again???

This slogan has been a bit of a puzzle for me, “Make America Great Again.” The word “again” suggests a reference to some period in time, some time in our past.

I was born in 1951 so that gives me about 70 years of reference. And, it would not be an exaggeration to say I am part of the population that is in the winter of our lives, we are on our way out, some sooner than others. This tells me that I have probably experienced this “great time” referred to in the slogan. It would not be very useful to refer to some time that none of us can relate to. So, I am going to share what I remember about the last 70 years and see if I can tease out the “great time.” I am going to be a bit of the old “Sherman and Peabody” from the Rocky Squirrel show here as I do some time traveling. Please bear with me.

I am going to start with what for me is the obvious, that time right after the end of WWII. Our place in the world was very secure. We were the dominant partner in the allied victory over Hitler and fascism. Our economy produced so much of the materials and weapons used to overcome the Axis powers. And we were ready to convert this economy back to peace time purposes.

I don’t think the “Make America Great Again” period refers to any time prior to WWII. That would be the Great Depression lasting from the Crash in October of 1928 right up to the war and our entrance in December of 1941. Prior to the Great Depression, you have the 1920’s, and the the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and WWI of 1914-1918. I don’t think any of these are the “Make America Great Again” reference period. No, they just don’t work and there are not many left that any of this resonates with.

So, my search for the “Make America Great Again” period goes back to my first thoughts of the time right after the end of WWII. Millions of our soliders were coming home to a welcoming country and there were programs in place to help our returning GIs get their lives going. Many went to school and colleges through the GI Bill and many veterans were able to buy homes with government help on mortgages. American industries were firing up making cars, appliances, and all kinds of consumer goods to satisfy the exploding demand of a new generation. The New Deal programs that started in the 1930s under Roosevelt were the anchor to a government that recognized its role to help provide a stable economy and social safety net for Americans. Labor and capital were partnered in making the economy hum. Wages were good and working Americans could provide for a family and a home.

President Eisenhower, a Republican, was elected in 1952 and he continued the role of government much as it had been under Roosevelt during the Great Depression and the war years. Eisenhower called his program the “Middle Way” and it helped to continue the prosperity we enjoyed through the 1950s and into the 1960s.

There is a cloud on all of this though. African Americans also contributed to our victory in WWII. They fought and helped the war effort like all Americans. Our African American soldiers came back from the war and they wanted to share in the prosperity and growth of America. Laws of segregation and voter suppression, especially in the South denied African Americans any share in our new found prosperity. In 1948, President Truman ordered the end of segregation in our military. President Truman also started pushing Congress for action on civil rights for all Americans.

Go forward a few years and under President Eishenhower in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issues its landmark decision in the case, “Brown vs. the Board of Topeka declaring that the separation of educational facilities on the basis of race is unconstitutional. The South ignored this Supreme Court decision until September of 1957 when Eisenhower sent federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce the court decision and provide protection to black students trying to go to school.

Ok, so there are some clouds on the 1950s for sure. Add to the clouds the threat of nuclear war and also the start of the Cold War between the West and the Communist East. The Soviet Union and its block became our adversaries in a world wide chess match and we were beginning to worry about the fall out of radiation as countries including us were testing nuclear weapons. I can remember drills in school that we practiced of what to do in case of an attack. Some Americans were building “fall out shelters” tunneled into their backyards. I went to a father and son supper at our church, the Universalist Church in Barre and listened to a man explain how to build a fall out shelter in your back yard. The details are fuzzy, but the event is not.

Let’s time travel into the 1960s. We have prosperity here for the most part, a new president, John F. Kennedy, and a growing challenge from the Soviet Union. Americans are also in the middle of a period of strife that had to do with gaining civil rights for our African American population as well as other minorities. I can remember seeing “Life Magazine” come into our home and sometimes, the pictures were stunning as I looked at black Americans lynched and hanging from trees in the South.

Add to the 1960s the Vietnam War and the reaction to this war here in America. The demonstrations and protests were not quiet by any stretch. So many of us could not see the need for this war at all. It looked more like American aggression than anything else. The Vietnam War was also a war fought mostly by poorer Americans. If you could afford to go to college, you got a student deferment that exempted you from military service while you were in college. It does not take a lot of figuring to see who was serving in the military and who was home going to school. I turned 18 the year of the first lottery for the draft, 1969. My birthday was the 11th birthday drawn. In the first lottery, the Selective Service took over the first two hundred birthdays drawn. I think it was something like the first 220+ birthdays drawn. Technically, I was drafted, but I enrolled in college so I had a deferment. I graduated in 1973 and by that time we had signed a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese and the war was winding down (for us). We started to pull out, Americans had no more stomach for an Asian War of doubtful purpose. I was notified by the Selective Service that my draft would be put on hold. I won’t lie to you, yes, this made me happy, and I had a new wife as well by this time.

Ok, so, I don’t think the 1960s are the “Make America Great Again” reference period – no, not at all between the Civil Rights struggle, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, and the Vietnam War, this was not a happy decade at all.

Then, we get into the 1970s and the Watergate Scandal with President Nixon. This was not a proud time either. Nixon got caught in multiple lies, and Congress and Nixon’s own party remembered their role in our constitutional government as well as what it is like to have a conscience. A group of Republican Senators and Congressmen went to Nixon and told him that he would most likely be impeached in Congress for his conduct. Nixon announced his resignation the next day on August 9, 1974. The countries long nightmare with a dishonest president was over.

Something else to keep in mind, with the end of our role in the Vietnam War, America had little will to use our muscle and presence in other parts of the world that had problems. One of these growing hotspots was the Mideast. We were still engaged in a global Cold War with the Soviet Union and the chess match around the globe continued. Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, helped to form a policy in the Middle East that would transfer America arms to the Arab countries so they could be a formidable opponent to Soviet aggression. The problem was the price of oil was cheap, and the Arab countries could not afford to buy U.S. arms. Well, Kissinger came up with an idea, raise the price of oil so the Arab countries could afford to buy U.S. arms. Do I need to say anymore about the why and the where with the price of oil during the last 50 years? The Arabs discovered the world, and especially the U.S. would pay any price for oil just as long as we could get it. At that time, about 25 % of the American economy was driven by the automobile industry. A lot of American jobs were dependent on cars being on the road and Americans getting oil.

Vice President Gerry Ford succeeded Nixon in the presidency. President Ford tried to help the country heal from the Watergate ordeal. He later pardoned Nixon for any crimes committed. This pardon hurt President Ford as many felt he let Nixon off and made it so Nixon would never be held accountable for his crimes.

President Ford lost the election of 1976 to President Carter. Carter served one term and the country continued to simmer with troubles just under the surface. Carter’s presidency was pretty much ended when Iran took Americans as hostage in the American embassy in Tehran in November of 1979. The Iran Hostage Crisis continued through the end of Carter’s first term and was ended just after Reagan took office in January of 1981.

No, I don’t think the 1970s are the reference period for “Make America Great Again.”

Then, we get into the 1980’s with President Reagan. There are some major shifts in American politics going on during the Reagan presidency. One big shift was within the Republican Party as the West and South came to dominate Republican politics. Time travel back to 1965 for a moment. In August of 1965 President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 This ended literacy tests and other voting restrictions in the South that were designed to keep African Americans from voting. Up until this time, the South had historically been a solid voting block for the Democratic Party. After signing the Voting Rights Act on 6th, 1965, President Johnson was heard saying, “This is the right thing to do, but I am afraid the South will now become Republican for generations. ” Johnson was right.

To get back to my story, with the rise of the Reagan Republican Party in the 1980s, the Republican Party became a party determined to dismantle the Roosevelt programs of the New Deal and any other programs that provided governmental assistance to Americans. Keep in mind, this GOP hates Social Security, Medicare, and any other programs that provide for Americans. Reagan is often remembered for saying, “The last thing any American wants to hear is, ‘I’m from the federal government and I am here to help.'”

This period also saw the entry of faith into American politics like it has never been before. The growing Evangelical movement started exercising its muscles and pushing for government action of religious issues, especially birth control and abortion.

Reagan’s presidency also brought about a major change in the U.S. tax laws. The first of several cuts to the highest income tax brackets were enacted as well as major changes to itemized deductions. The deduction for medical expenses became a worthless deduction for most Americans at this time. Also, for the first time, Social Security benefits became taxable. All of this was wrapped in a program called “trickle down economics,” the brainchild of Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman. The argument made was that if the wealthy could keep more of their income, they would spend it and it would eventually “trickle down” to all of us. Well, most economists have given this a failing grade. It did not happen. What did happen was we started driving up our deficit to some alarming numbers.

Also, in the 1980s, we begin to see the transfer of production from the American heartland to places in Asia, mostly in China. If you remember H. Ross Perrot’s campaign, this was his biggest issue, and he said, “You can almost hear the jobs being sucked out of America.” Well, whether you could hear the vacuuming of jobs or not, it did happen. Large American corporations lost their sense of being American at this time, and whatever made the most profits, America be damned if so, was ok with the top CEO’s of what were now “multinational corporations.” Their old American identity seemed to get lost in the chase for profits and shareholder dividends.

Reagan’s presidency kind of came to a wind down with the Iran-Contra Scandal. Remember the Iran Hostage Crisis that ushered in the Reagan presidency. Well this is an interesting twist. Congress had passed a law that made it illegal to sell arms to Iran. Some in the Reagan administration wanted funding for insurrections in places like Honduras and Nicaragua. The insurrections needed arms which Congress had made it illegal for the U.S. to supply. So, some creative Reagan folks like Bill Casey, CIA director, Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter, and an Army Colonel, Oliver North, came up with the idea of selling arms to Iran (illegally) to get money to funnel to the insurrections in Central America (again illegal). This all came crashing down on the Reagan administration, another big American scandal, and there were lots of claims from the President and Vice President that they were not “in the loop” with any of this. Reagan was also beginning to show the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. I think the Reagan presidency effectively came to an end with this scandal. I have always suspect that somewhere in some backroom in Washington, a group of men decided that the country could never go through another Watergate type scandal so the search for responsibility at the top with Reagan and Bush was never done.

No, I don’t see the 80’s as any great reference period either. I’ll have to keep on with my time travel.

Well, the 90s and we have President Clinton. If you are a Republican, this is not your reference time with fond memories either. What we do get in the 90s is the real beginnings of “napalm politics” curtesy of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House. This is the politics that plague the country today. Compromise is not possible as politics are anchored in extreme ideology and faith as well. Compromise is considered a defeat. Welcome to a dysfunctional government that has been our bane ever since. No, I don’t see the 90’s as this throwback time of pleasant memories for Republicans, or Democrats either for that matter.

Now, we get to the new millennium and the presidency of the 2nd Bush, George Walker Bush. Of no connection, but both this Bush and I share the same middle name, Walker.

Well, this Bush presidency starts off on shaky grounds with the close vote in Florida, and the old “hanging chads” business. Remember folks with magnifying glasses looking at punch card ballots and trying to determine just who the voter was voting for. Florida became the ground zero of party lawyers down there trying to force the election one way or the other. In the end, Bush’s lawyers were the heavier force and Bush declared victory and Al Gore conceded rather than drag out the controversy.

Well we all know what happened early in this Bush presidency. On September 11, 2001 Saudis hijacked American airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center in NY, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a last plane was crashed in Pennsylvania.

It was about two years later that we started the Iraq War. I say “we started” as we attacked Iraq blaming them for the 9/11 attacks. This connection was never proved. The arguments made were false and fabricated, and shameful at best. And if you want to draw some lines, go back to the time of Kissinger during the Nixon presidency and the decision to start selling arms to the Arab countries.

So, I am getting quickly up to the present. I don’t think the period of the 2nd Bush is anything the Republicans want to point their fingers at and say, “those were the best of times,” and I am sure they do not want to look at the Obama presidency following Bush and preceding Trump as their “great time either.”

So, if I walk back in my time travel, it must be the Eisenhower years in the 1950s that call Republicans back to a good time. The contradictions with this period and the present GOP are too numerous to list. Eisenhower and the Republican Party during the 1950s saw government much the same as the Roosevelt New Deal. In fact, Eisenhower named his program the “Middle Way.” And again, so much of the prosperity of the 1950s owed itself to a strong partnership between labor, capital, and government. And by the way, compromise was not a dirty word then either. The tax rates for the wealthiest Americans were high, in some cases, as much as 90%. We built roads, schools, hospitals, homes and the infrastructure that a modern economy needed. Billions of defense money found its way to the west coast, especially California with the growing aircraft and other defense industries. Other western states also benefited from this deluge of federal money during the 1950s.

So, I think the 1950s must be the anchor period for “Make America Great Again.” The irony is this time had nothing to do with current Republican or right wing politics. There was one connection to today during the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy. This was a scandal of its own. I can draw one connection for you. Senator McCarthy’s right hand was a lawyer from New York named Roy Cohn. Well, guess who Trump’s father hired later to mentor and guide Donald Trump? If you are following me now, it was none other, that Roy Cohn, McCarthy’s old dirty trickster. By the way, Roy Cohn was disbarred in 1986. Cohn was a close adviser to Nixon and Reagan, as well as a retired Harvard Law professor, Alan Dershowitz, who referenced Cohn as the “quintessential fixer.” Alan Dershowitz’s name has showed up again in the Trump administration along with some connections to the sex trafficking scandal with Jeffery Epstein. Interestingly, there are many pictures with Trump also with Jeffrey Epstein. And if I am not mistaken, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and assistant also prided himself as being “Trump’s fixer. I digress here and need to stop as this is another story in itself.

To get back to my thesis, the only time that might be the reference period for “Make America Great Again” is the 1950s and this was hardly a time of Republican politics as we have today. The 1950s were a period of growth and expansion resulting from our role in the WWII victory and the continuation of politics and policy that grew out of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Try again MAGA folks, you are missing the mark. Your narrative does not stand up under close inspection.

I Have Stayed Away for a While – but I’m back

I have not wanted to write for a while – I guess I find the world depressing, and it takes the starch out of me just living in it. I have a bit of my thinking here to share – it’s what’s on my mind.

I have a question. If so many Americans got filthy rich off their unemployment benefits, then why is there an impending flood of evictions that are only being held off due to a federal moratorium on evictions? If you follow the Republican argument, unemployed Americans have been making more money staying at home and collecting unemployment than they did working. If that was the case, would there be all these eviction notices waiting to be served? I think the economy was not near as good as we are told. The whole country went broke in the span of one pay period back in March, even our biggest corporations were lining up for handouts, bailouts, and PPP loans, and you name it – they all had their hands out for some corporate welfare, yes, corporate welfare is the right term. If this is not socialism, then you tell me what is. I am damn sick of this doubletalk, and just plain Republican bull shit – sorry for the term, but it fits. And, I think I just blew a hole in their argument about folks getting rich off unemployment. Many of our workers in this economy do not make a living wage – and there is the story behind this economy.

I can tell you what a good economy looks like. I started working in one back in the 1960s. We built roads, interstate highways, bridges, schools, hospitals, and homes for people that worked here in the U.S. making the products that we use every day. We had a space program that sent men to the moon and brought them back again safely. Everything we wear and use did not come from China or someplace overseas. Yea, there were some Volkswagens, but most of what we needed we made here and people worked at jobs that paid a living wage with benefits. Most of our moms could stay home and raise a family. All of this now sounds like I am sharing a fantasy, but I am not. I do not blame China, or anywhere else – I blame the lousy politicians that gave us an economy that is a house of cards. They crafted a tax system that has funneled money to the top and left little for working Americans. Remember “trickle down” economics – well, we are living in the result.

I also lay some of the blame with American businesses. Many of our biggest corporations walked away from the country that made their success possible. They went off shore every chance they got, and then banked their profits off shore as well to avoid paying taxes on their profits. There are no flag waving patriots in that bunch, unless there is some government hand out coming their way.

And, by the way, if folks are getting so damn rich on unemployment, then they won’t be needing to get evicted. And, has anybody thought about all the lost health insurance that went bye-bye when folks were laid off?

Being A Bad Neighbor Is Not Ok (because you are having fun doing it)

Many of you know I live in a very rural area of Vermont. The town I live in has a population of about 1200 residents. Life is simple where I live and in many ways, we are a bit of a time warp here. The village I live in has about a dozen houses, a church, a general store, and a post office. There is a state highway that travels through the middle of our village, and if it were not for the occasional car or logging truck, you would not know that this is the 21st century. This is a good place to raise a family and enjoy life on a small scale.

But, sometimes the 21st century intrudes in our lives here, and sometimes, the intrusion is not a happy one. I might be about to launch into a discussion of the coronavirus, but I will get to that later. I am going to talk about ATVs or all terrain vehicles.

ATVs, if you are not familiar with these little off road vehicles, are designed and intended for trail riding in off-road environments. The can go through just about anything including all kinds of mud, and even beaver ponds. They are fun to ride and I do not deny that, but they are also noisy, and can go quite fast. Think of an off-road hot rod type of vehicle. People do get hurt on them, but that is usually when the riders are using the vehicle in an unsafe manner, like what kids and big kids might be apt to do.

There is a social aspect to ATV riding. The riders often form large groups, I will call them packs, and they ride together, often stopping from time to time to socialize, and maybe drink alcohol. I say maybe because it is not a requirement, but it does happen. We are all adults here and we know what life is.

Most of the towns surrounding my town have banned the ATVs because of the public nuisance and frequent property damage that occurs with the use of these vehicles. They also are often ridden in an unsafe fashion. The ATV can go quite fast – think in speeds in excess of 60 mph on some of them. They are an open vehicle without much structure except for wheels, an engine, and a frame. I think of them as miniature hot rods, and they really are miniature hot rods, and the riders operate the ATVs like they are hot rods.

So, to get back to my town of Topsham, Vermont. My town has allowed the use of ATVs on our roads as well as designated trails. Last weekend was a big ATV riding weekend. Most of the other towns that surround my town have banned these vehicles so we have become the Mecca for ATVs. All day Saturday until after 11:00 pm packs, sometimes more than 30 ATVs in a pack, pass right in front of my house as they come into the village. The town road these ATVs are using joins on to a state highway in front of my house in the village of West Topsham. The destination for the ATVs passing in front of my house is the store in the village where they can get more beer, gas, and snacks.

Now, many of the operators of these vehicles are kids not old enough to have a Vermont Driver’s License, yet they are operating a high performance vehicle on the state highway and also town roads. We all know that it is the rare young pre-adolescent that possesses lots of good judgement and maturity. That just is not part of being a pre-adolescent or even an adolescent. So, we get young kids, no helmets mind you, drag racing down the town roads, two abreast, and never stopping before entering the state highway as they race for the store.

All of this is intolerable from the perspective of a home owner and a tax payer. By the fate of my location, I am forced to have a front row seat here. The noise is excessive. At times, my wife and I could not talk to each other in our own home. Forget watching tv, you could not hear it. The dust is just a constant cloud. I could not see the Post Office across from me. And, the bigger problem, is sooner or later, there is going to be a horrific accident right here. An ATV is no match for a loaded logging truck coming into our village on the state highway and meeting a kid on an ATV racing for the store.

My home is being ruined for us at the expense of a sport. This is what I mean about being a bad neighbor and having fun doing it. Ok, I have set the scene here, and now I am going to get into the rest of the story.

It is fine and more than quaint to live in a town that is a really a time warp and you might think you were visiting 1875 instead of 2020. But, the reality is this is 2020. The simple life that was possible in 1875(I use 1875 metaphorically here) is not what we get in 2020. The present is the present – it is what it is.

The bigger issue is sometimes, as a community or a society, we have to regulate behavior and provide for the common good of the community as well as the safety of its members. Turning a blind eye to this responsibility is in vogue now because we seem to exaggerate personal rights. Personal rights do not trump (no pun intended) the rights of society when the exercise of personal rights cause harm or take away the rights of society. Think about free speech, free speech is not a blank check. Free speech can be hate speech which is illegal. Free speech does not give me the right to enter a crowded theater and yell, “Fire” when there is no fire.

At some point, my Selectboard, the town governing body, has to accept that they will need to regulate the use of ATVs in our town. Right now, we are an ATV magnet as most of the neighboring towns have banned the ATVs from the town roads. The unfortunate piece here is my town prides itself on never regulating anything, and I mean anything. I have asked others, and none can ever remember our town writing an ordinance or town law for any purpose.

I write all of this because our country, in many respects, is going through a period of exalted personal rights, and often at the expense of the common good. Think about some of the shut downs and closures governors and mayors have tired to implement to protect us all in our fight against the coronavirus. Now, stop and think about the armed militias storming state capitols and state houses to intimidate and threaten state governors and legislatures.

I do not know where this is all going to end, but it is not 1875, 1775, or some other time in the past. It is now, 2020, and the world is under a pandemic that is threatening human life as we know it. This is one of those times when my personal rights do not trump the rights of society. Wear masks please, observe social distancing, be a good neighbor – let’s give us all a chance to live and enjoy life.

Sorry, for a long piece here – it seemed what is going on in my life is a microcosm of our world today.

Paying Attention to the Backstories

Yesterday, I shared that McConnell had admitted on Fox News that he was wrong when he said Obama did not leave a pandemic plan.

First, McConnell made this statement that the Obama administration did not leave a plan at a campaign event in which he appeared alongside of Lara Trump, Trump’s daughter. So, keep in mind the audience and that these events are similar to Trump’s rallies and also places where Trump has never been too concerned with being truthful. I will suggest that McConnell had no concern about being truthful at this event and deliberately lied for the benefit of the audience.

Secondly, this whole discussion of the existence of a pandemic plan and also a group charged with its implementation and use was in the news at least a month ago, and early on in this pandemic. It was reported then that the plan not only existed but that in the transition period between the Obama administration and the new Trump administration, the Obama team tried to introduce the plan to the Trump people and also provide some guidance/help with the possibility of a pandemic.

Another group of epidemiologists existed whose responsibility was to give the U.S. and the CDC advance warning of a potential pandemic so we could begin to prepare. The Trump administration cut out this advance warning program and also cut out the pandemic team that was part of the National Security Council.

To give credit where credit is due, President Bush (the 2nd Bush) read John M. Barry’s book, “The Great Influenza” sometime in the early 2000s. Bush was traumatized by the history of the 1918 flu pandemic and demanded that we prepare for a similar catastrophe. We started preparing for the eventuality of a pandemic at that time. Obama inherited these preparations and updated them when the Ebola outbreak occurred during his administration. The Obama team also felt the likelihood of a world pandemic was high and upgraded our preparations even more. This was all dismantled by the Trump administration, and not in secret either. This happened in plain sight and with the approval of the Republican-controlled Congress at the time (keep this in mind as this is important to remember too).

By the way, I strongly recommend John Barry’s book, “The Great Influenza.” It is fascinating and scary reading, but we need to know that we have faced this sort of catastrophe before. If you are really interested, there is Barbara Tuchman’s book, “A Distant Mirror,” that is a history of the 14th century and the devastation of the Black Plague. Sorry, I am a history fanatic and this is my reading.

McConnell, if anything is a political animal. He knew all of this. It was not a back page story in the news cycle early on in this pandemic. McConnell deliberately lied to the audience at the campaign event that he attended with Lara Trump, and McConnell also lied to Fox News when he said that he did not know about the pandemic plan left by Obama for the Trump people.

Ironically, this week McConnell made some news when he said, “Obama should keep his mouth shut,” in reference to a comment Obama made about the chaos and incompetence of the Trump administration in fighting this pandemic. I think McConnell should be the one that should keep his mouth shut.

Since the impeachment acquittal, Trump launched a purge of all the possible voices in our Federal government that might be critical or even might raise a flag when inappropriate or illegal conduct is present. This purge started with the inspector general that raised the Ukraine issue to the level of inquiry. Others have been walked out the door since and yesterday, the inspector general in the State Dept. was fired. He had been looking into some of Pompeo’s actions. Pay attention to this purge going on throughout the Federal government. Trump has installed officials in all of the federal agencies and their job is to assess the loyalty of the people working in all of the federal agencies. This has NEVER happened before in our history. This is a big story, and very ominous as well.

I bring this up because we need to be watching the backstories all the time with the Trump administration. The headlines often are smokescreens for the real nefarious work going on in the background. Pay attention to these backstories. The piece about the existence of a pandemic plan was a back story about a month or so ago. Now, it surfaces again as part of a lie and an attempt to blame others for the mess the Trump administration has made of fighting the coronavirus.

The other thing, the one constant with these people are the lies. They will lie about the consequential and the inconsequential every day and every chance they get. Lying is their way of breathing. Lately, I have to applaud the news people attending the White House briefings that have resumed after over a year’s absence. The journalists are challenging the Trump administration and calling out lies right there. Trump walked out of a briefing earlier this week when challenged after a testy interaction with a reporter. This needs to happen all the time. I hope the news people continue to bring the fight for the truth to the Trump people and not wait to write about it later in their reporting.

Sorry for the long piece here. I do pay attention and I follow this stuff – can’t help it – an old history and political science major here.

On Learning

Growing up, I was blessed by two parents that encouraged my curiosity and always tried to foster my independence in learning. I have to say that the result was a sense of the pure pleasure of learning. Resources and opportunities were always provided so I could follow my interests. And, my parents wanted to know about what I was learning – the sharing was part of the process.

I received an email today from the parent of one of my students. She described all that her son is doing during the school closure. I was impressed. Her son is building a cabin up in the woods and using pictures as well as a journal to share his progress with his building/construction teacher at the tech center. He is practicing some of the OSHA safety standards in this project and sharing these in a photo journal as well. He is also puttering around with some biology in a natural setting and also putting in a little time with the other academic tasks sent home to him.

My reply to our educator team and to the mom was, “You have made my day sharing this. Your son is doing education and doing it well!”

I write this because something came up in some discussion the other day about what is happening during this period of school closure due to the coronavirus. Many lament that it is not what would be happening back at the school if the virus had never happened.

You know, I have to say, that maybe something better is happening during this time. I went into education because I was inspired by a time when the pleasure of learning was driving educational thought. This was in the 1980s and 90s. This pleasure of learning as the foundation of education was short lived. It was replaced by the new reign of the data collectors.

Today, everything needs to be reduced to data, something that can be printed in charts and graphs. Where does all of this data come from – think testing and assessments.

I retained very little from my days in high school, or even from my time in college. But, what I did retain was that pleasure of learning that my father and mother fostered in me as a small child. It keeps me curious and more than anything, it keeps me a life-long learner.

In high school, I made an appointment with my guidance counselor to ask her if I could take some classes in woodworking and building down in the vocational center. She denied my request because I was considered a college prep student. What a poor decision on her part, not only for me, but for others with interests that may have been beyond the college prep curriculum.

At that time, my parents had been having some remodeling done at our home. I went to the contractor that summer and asked him for a job. I was 17 and really wanted to learn building skills. Paul, the contractor, hired me. I worked all that summer digging, carrying cement blocks, mixing mortar, unloading construction materials off of trucks, and just trying to do anything I was asked as fast as I could. I learned some building skills by observing and watching what was going on around me.

The next spring, I went back to Paul and asked him if I could come back and work for him that summer. He said, “Gee, none of you kids ever come back after the first year. Are you sure you want to?” I said, “Yes, I do.” “Well,” Paul said, “Then I will put you with my son, Dougie, and he will teach you how to be a carpenter. If you want to learn, he will teach you.”

I worked for Paul for 6 years, a month every year during my Christmas break while in college, and every summer right through college. I learned enough to build two of our homes mostly myself. I learned because of the pleasure of learning. I loved every minute of it.

This brings me back to my thinking about learning and what has been happening during this school closure. I am in hopes that maybe some of our students are getting some time to be self-directed learners. I am in hopes that some of our students are rediscovering the pure pleasure of learning because it is something they want. I am in hopes we educators and parents learn something from this ourselves. I am in hopes some parents stepped away from the packets and worksheets sent home and took some cues from their kids, and let some learning happen that was for the pure pleasure it brings. There is more to life than some data that can be captured and charted. When life is reduced to this, it smothers the living.

Opinions are great…

I think opinions are great – I have many myself. But, uninformed opinions are what self-deception is all about. Be informed with facts and the truth, and not just from the source that seems to coddle your uninformed opinions. That’s the last place you want to go to learn about anything.

Most of us went to school for a good part of our formative years. The biggest job school had was to teach us how to learn. This may be where we need to start – learning how to learn.

Be skeptical of most group mentalities. If there is a crowd and they are all shouting the same thing, walk away, unless you are at a ball game, because that is the mentality you will find in a crowd. It is wonderful and fun to root for your favorite sports team. You do not have to think, just get caught up in the enthusiasm. This is recreation, this is not learning or supporting ideas.
This is where politics is today – a bunch of people caught up in a crowd, not having to think, just getting caught up in the enthusiasm of the crowd. The politicians know this – they actually are thinking about how to get your support. I think they call this herd mentality.

We have brains and the ability to think. It is probably one of the most pleasurable exercises we can have. Brains are shut down when we are part of the herd. Again, politicians/demagogues depend upon herd mentalities.

It is interesting that I can say all of this without pointing any fingers, yet we all can connect the dots, if you think about what I said.

Take care and be safe.