Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Thursday, January 7, 2016
I watched an extended commercial for Santa Fe's Super Chief from around 1950, a slightly earlier film from The Milwaukee Road about their luxury train, the Super Dome Olympian Hiawatha, and short films about the North Shore and South Shore Lines operating out of Chicago.
What struck me was how oblivious folks were. At one point in the Milwaukee Road film that announcer describes the copper mining in Montana "soon the tops of these mountains will cave in," (not those words, but pretty much that meaning. It was as if that were a good thing.
The people in the films were all white. Native Americans showed up as exotics at Albuquerque, sell souvenirs to the white folks on their way to Los Angeles (which he pronounced as Angle ees). The only black folks were the porters and waiters. Culture was white, white, white. Women were decked out in hats and gloves and taken care of by their big strong masculine men.
Since we don't live in that world it's no wonder that some white people are befuddled by the world we do live in and angry that it can't ever be like that again. You actually have to be mindful about your communication.
This is what many conservative politicians seem to be objecting to in their opprobriums against "Political Correctness." Why can't it be like that simpler time when everyone knew and no one questioned the propriety of "white" being normal. It was so much easier then.
It was also destroying our environment, locking significant sections of the population out of participation, and in general distorting our view of the world. In fact, it seems to me that part of the reason for our failed Vietnam effort was precisely that we had no idea that there were people in the world who didn't want to be white, didn't want American culture, didn't care to fit in with us.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
It’s all about a young man, a seventeen year old, who holds out a hand to a young woman. They touch. They sing the chorus of a teenaged song, shama-ling-dong-ding. Which is the name of the song. “The way we danced was not a dance, but just a long embrace. We held onto each other and we floated there in space.” That perfectly describes the kind of relationship that every romantic seventeen year old ought to have. Unfortunately we also have the need to rut and let loose and let the hormones have control (thank goodness we do).
At the same time I’m listening to Elvis with I’m scanning negatives from Rock Island. I come to one shot among many I’ve forgotten (I processed 250 shots yesterday). This one shot struck me. It arrived during Winchester’s song so that happenstance struck me as well. There’s a couple in the shot, a young man solid as a block, dark hair, square shoulders and (I think) a spring car coat. She’s got short hair, a “pixie” cut. A sweater. Tan slacks. There is a sequence of 3 photographs. I was a distance away, shooting with a telephoto lens – as was often my wont. In the 3rd photo the young woman sees the shooter on the hill.
No jealousy from the boy-friend. I doubt he even noticed. It was an innocent flirtation anyway, a wave at a distant photographer who used the camera to keep people away from the shy, easily spooked little boy holding his lens in his left hand to keep the shakes away. That boy certainly didn’t notice the wave. I’m relatively sure his response was nothing, not even an acknowledgement of friendship.
Earlier in the scan session I’d found my 1970 negatives from my first visit to Bishop Hill, the mid-19th century pietistic colony in central Illinois that marked the beginnings of the great migration from Sweden. There are no photos of the inside of the community building, but there is the façade. There is the community hall with its one armed clock (hard workers don’t need to count the minutes). And a flood of memories of another type overwhelms me. Suddenly I “get it.” I understand why you would give up a predictable existence in your homeland and leave for a strange land, willing to suffer and die for your new found faith. I understand why normally placid Swedes would suddenly be ready to defy King and Crown and follow the ravings of a mad man. I understand. It all works together – for me, though probably not for everyone.
Yet the best I can articulate what I suddenly understand is to say something like “deep in every human being lies the desire to be something more and other and better than our daily selves.”
But as soon as I write that down I have to admit, “no, that’s not quite what I mean, what I’ve found, what I’ve seen” that links religious devotion, young love and a girl waving hello to a young would be photographer.
It isn’t quite what I mean, but it isn’t quite wrong either.
Something, something, transcendence, ground of being, “here and there, and sometimes even in ourselves” novelist and theologian Frederick Buechner quoted Tillich as saying to his Union Seminary class.
Monday, September 21, 2015
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Saturday, September 19, 2015
Monday, August 31, 2015
The Hollyscoop news people reported that doctors suggested that she end her pregnancy, but that she responded “There’s no reason he doesn’t deserve life.”
Not necessarily their judgment, but the ideology that says that live birth is preferable, is morally better, is the only way that a pregnancy should be terminated.
For whom are we giving life that will end in just a few hours? For whom are we giving birth when the birth will result in a predictable death? Is this for the sake of the child or for the sake of the parents?
Danielle Flores (I think that’s her last name) already had a pet name for her little sick baby. After its birth she talked about how blessed that child was. She showed a photo of a tiny foot with an IV. She showed a pic of the child’s chest. She didn’t show a pic of the child’s intestines outside the child’s body.
The Minnesota army captain showed the ultra-sound of her twins, but nothing of the survivor in the ICU.
The Rodriguez’ don’t yet have a picture of their daughter. They probably won’t publish it if they take any photos.
Friday, August 1, 2014
The House Republicans are insistent that we don't have a secure southern border, and that that's the President's fault.
I have to wonder what the Republicans mean by a secure border. Does it mean that no one attempts to cross from Mexico into the United States? That no one manages to sneak into the country without the proper paperwork – from any nation? (While the numbers are much smaller, I seem to recall that there are Polish and Irish undocumented immigrants as well as Mexican undocumented immigrants. Jose Vargas is Philippino and came through Los Angeles airport.)
The federal government employs more Border Patrol agents than ever before. These agents are apprehending high numbers of people arriving at our Southern border without the proper paperwork. The Obama administration has deported at a much higher number than the Bush administration. How do you make the border more secure? What do the House Republicans actually want?
Steven Colbert's guest last night was Campbell Brown. Formerly anchor for CNN and MSNBC, she is now leading a foundation for educational reform.
Campbell's interview was greeted by the rare appearance of protest at the Colbert show. While I don't know much about her educational reform group's aims, there are two dubious assertions that were aired in her interview with Colbert.
First: the educational system is in crisis.
Second: tenure is the root cause of the crisis?
Is the educational system in crisis? The common wisdom is that it is. Our experience in Higher Education – in an institution that has large numbers of athletes from Texas – is that our students arrive unprepared for higher academic work. They can't write a research paper. Their command of the mechanics of the English language, particularly their command of punctuation, is faulty to say the least. Their thoughts tend toward the profane, focused on money and jewelry, sex and drugs. And their sport. Their sport. Sports in general, but mostly their sport.
There is also a racial component in all this, at least there is at our little college. The majority of the kids from Texas who come north to play football or basketball with us are African American. Many of them come from the inner city schools of Dallas or Houston. I'm guessing on this, but I guess that the challenges of education in the inner cities of Dallas, Houston, Chicago, New York are more alike than they are different. These challenges include the mandate to teach everyone who shows up for school; to teach in English even if a third or more of the class are new English speakers; to motivate children who are demonized daily on the evening news as lazy, unemployable, failures; to make academic superstars of kids who have no use for academia.
As a graduate of what could technically be called an "inner city" school in Chicago (albeit nearly 50 years ago) I recall that there was a wide differentiation among the motivations and abilities of my fellow students. I particularly recall one kid who sat either next to me or right in front of me. I don't remember which, all I recall is how he smelled. The class was right after lunch, and he came to class reeking of tobacco. He obviously spent his lunch hour at the Teepee Hut, a burger joint right across Western Avenue, legendary for the thickness of its air at lunch time.
I remember that the smell was missing one spring afternoon, as was the source of the smell. I asked what happened. The rumor was our classmate was caught burgling and went backwards out a third story window, dying on the sidewalk on Chicago's south side. I never knew if that was true or not, but I took it to be truth. I wonder if that classmate was academically motivated. I wonder if he was able to read at grade level (quite possibly. Our High School was what you would now call a "magnet" school and was available only by application). How many others in our High School were behind academically? I don't know, but I suspect that there were some. Other Chicago schools, those deeper in the ghetto, were "in crisis" fifty years ago. Crane, Lindblom, schools on the west side were in difficult straights even then.
Not every Chicago school is in crisis. The suburban schools remain academically strong. Our small town school continues to produce students ready to perform in the classroom and, one hopes, in the boardroom.
Why are some Chicago schools a mess and others working just fine? Why are suburban schools by and large working OK? Why do some small town and rural schools produce capable students, while others do not?
I do not know. I am certain that tenure is not the cause of school failure. I am certain that removal of tenure will not solve the problems of the inner city schools of New York, Chicago, Dallas or Los Angeles.
What will removal of tenure actually do? It will allow new administrators to come into a school or a program and remove those instructors they don't like or don't feel they can work with. This is not a reflection of the competence of these teachers, but a natural function of being a new administrator. You want "your people" in place to implement your policies. Those who are fired will not be given due process. They will be given reasons for their firing, but those reasons will be subjective and often based upon incomplete assessments.
The politically connected will not be fired. The teacher whose parent is part of the school district administration will remain on the job, regardless of their competence. Teaching will become even more difficult and teachers will be returned to the days when they were expected to bring in the coal, go home and stay home after school and not venture into society except for church going at the fundamentalist church of your choice.
The question that I haven't heard raised is "where are the hundreds of super competent teachers who are waiting to get the jobs that the incompetent are hogging?"
I don't think that the anti-tenure crowd has thought about tenure in this way. They seem to see removal of tenure as a way of making current teachers accountable and willing to work harder. It isn't. We know what makes a great school system and how teachers fit into that – we've had the Finnish example before us and have chosen to ignore it. Great schools take great money and great respect for the teachers who have one of the most difficult tasks in the world. What doesn't help is standardized testing, attacking teachers, and a belief that our schools are in crisis that can be solved by removing protections for the workforce.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
NBC is carrying the raw video of Ray Rice's apology for beating up his wife.
In the apology Rice says two contradictory things:
"That's not me." "That's not who I am as a man."
"I will have to live with this, with what I've done for the rest of my life."
He seems to want to learn from this, and to make amends for his action. But at the same time he seems to want to distance himself from the beating. If that is "not me" doing the beating, then who is it? And how will he learn and grow unless he confronts whatever part of the "me" it was that did the beating?
The problem with Rice's apology is that he doesn't want to admit that it was him, he is totally capable of administering a beat down to his wife. If you aren't willing to face your demons you aren't going to overcome them. Rice will be forever stuck as a domestic violence "dry drunk," a phenomenon similar to the drunk who is able to stave off drunken incidents for a very long time – but who, when it comes, indulges deeply in their passion for alcohol.