Why do a GAP year?

Loading Likes...

Throughout my career I have advised my Grade 12 students to do a GAP year before beginning their college studies. I gave the same advice to my own children.

Why?

Most first-year university students waste their parents’ money and 25% of their four short years as undergraduates, because instead of going to every class and studying as hard as they can, they are busy doing all the things they couldn’t do when they were living at home with their parents. That year would be much better spent out of the classroom in one of a very large number of excellent GAP programs. After a year traveling, living abroad, working in a service program, etc., students are not just ready but eager to go back to school. They are a year older. They are less interested in staying up all night and going to parties.

Here is one college professor’s take on this question:

It is the rare high school graduate who is ready to take full advantage of what a Bachelor’s course can offer. A year away from education – traveling, working, volunteering, growing up – before college should be the preferred option, the default, not the rarity it is in the US. It is common enough in Europe, and often very successful. Our undergrads who return from their Junior [third] Years all around the world (we send around 2/3 of them abroad) are often, finally, the kind of curious, thoughtful, broad-minded students who are ready to take advantage of what we can offer them. And they get a year of it [i.e., their last year of university] before they move on. If more of our students came to us at the beginning in something like that frame of mind, they would get a great deal more out of their college experience.

I did not take a year out between school and university. I had a fabulous time and learnt a lot, but missed so many opportunities. It was only in my mid-20s, looking back, that I realized what fantastic resources had been available to me, had I only had the wisdom to use them.

—Ed Webb*

*Source: http://weblogg-ed.com/2008/oh-and-you-have-a-degree-too/#comments

Many colleges and universities allow students to apply, be admitted, and then defer their entrance for one year so they can do a GAP program of some kind. They do this because they recognize that first-year students who are a bit older, a bit more mature, and really keen to study do better, usually, than those who go straight from high school to university. Ask your college admissions counselor for advice about this process.

Gene Krupa: how to develop your left hand

Loading Likes...

The author has found it very helpful to try do as many things with the left hand as is usually done with the right. Opening doors (the ones with the door-knobs being an ideal hand turning exercise), lacing your shoes, carrying parcels, tieing your necktie, buttoning your shirt, feeding yourself at the table, and writing, have been found to be excellent exercises for the left hand.

—Gene Krupa’s Drum Method (1938)

“This is a monstrous act of savagery”

Loading Likes...

“This is a monstrous act of savagery.”

“Yes, it’s terrible. But can we talk about the forces that would drive some people to such acts?”

“You want to make excuses for these animals? Outrageous! They are scum, it’s as simple as that, and they need to be exterminated.”

“Well, can we talk about how an innocent baby is turned into ‘scum’ that needs to be ‘exterminated’?”

“NO! Let’s talk about the innocent babies who were killed and orphaned by these monsters. Why are you more concerned with the killers than you are with the victims?!”


Did you imagine the killers as part of a group that you sympathize with, or part of a group for whom you have no sympathy? Go back now and re-read, imagining it the other way.

Yvonne Bogy Burger, 1949 – 2014

Loading Likes...

My cousin Yvonne was three years older than I. The summer she turned 18 she and (I think) her younger brother Matthew spent a few weeks with us in Coronado. She was slim, blonde, beautiful, and boy-crazy, and of course I was in love with her in that entirely theoretical but still heart-throbbing way that a 15-year-old boy can be in love. Here is the only photo I have from that summer, the two of us back-to-back, the neighbor boy (Jamie?) in the middle, and Matthew—I think—at the far left.

Yvonne was the eldest child of David and Marilyn Bogy, who were Catholic in the old-fashioned way and had a very large family. Eight kids? Twelve? I can’t remember. David Bogy was my mother’s first cousin, although since David had been adopted there was no “blood relation”—a fact that helped to nurture my teenage infatuation.

Years before, when I was perhaps six or seven, we were at some sort of family gathering at the house of David’s parents, Vernon and Margaret “Daisy” Bogy. The evening was coming to an end, and everyone was standing inside the front door, trying to say goodbye but failing. It was always at moments like this that my mother quoted Mr. Timmis, a man she had known in her youth. “Come as often as you like. Stay as long as you wish. But when you get up to go, for godsakes, go!”

At that time we were living in the San Fernando Valley and we had Siamese cats. Alex, five years older than I, had demanded a baby brother early on, and my mother had responded by promising him a cat. In the event she couldn’t bear the idea of the cat being lonely, so she got two cats, and soon she had many more, as she was too tenderhearted—at first—to consider birth control. I remember being told that the year I was born, thirty-six kittens were born in our backyard.

By the time of this family gathering at the Bogy house on Laurel Canyon Drive, however, my mother had become a believer in birth control—for cats, at least—and so I knew all about it. Standing in the doorway, listening with increasing impatience to the pointless chit-chat, I heard the conversation turn to David and Marilyn’s ever-growing family. Here was something I knew about, I thought. “David,” I said, “if you don’t want to have any more children you should have Marilyn spayed.”

That summer of 1967, my mother was alarmed at the responsibility of supervising a boy-crazy 18-year-old girl during her beach holiday. There was a bit of furtive smooching with Jamie, and some flirting with sailors on shore leave, but in the end no harm was done. Mother was much relieved, I think, to send Yvonne home.

I lost track of Yvonne for a while. The way I heard it, she married Bill Burger to get out of her parents’ house as much as anything else. We corresponded quite a bit for a while in the early 1980s. By then her husband was very ill with a degenerative disease, something like Huntington’s chorea. He was unable to work, his parents were decidedly unhelpful, her son and daughter were in their teens, and she was left trying to hold it all together.

In 1986 I took a job teaching at Casablanca American School, in Morocco. I had never been to England, and I wanted to see Dorset, especially, because I had been teaching Thomas Hardy’s novels for several years by then. I knew that Yvonne had had a rough go of it for the last few years, so I offered to pay her airfare if she would meet me in London and share my Christmas holiday in England. To my surprise, she accepted. We stayed at a rustic B&B in Dorchester, visited someone I don’t remember, went to Oxford, and we must have seen a bit of London, too, but I don’t remember exactly what. Yvonne had turned into quite a keen gardener, and she wanted very much to visit Kew Gardens. I think she did, but on her own. I can’t remember what I did while she was there. It was great to see her again after so many years, and I was very happy to provide her with a break from all her family problems, and to give her a holiday that she never could have afforded on her own. But it was also sad to see that the carefree 17-year-old of my youth had not only aged, but had been worn down, physically and emotionally.

After a while we lost touch again. I married, continued to work overseas, had two children of my own, and had little time for anything beyond work and family. Years passed, including over a decade in China. I returned to North America in 2015, kids grown up, marriage ended long before. Last year, after I settled in British Columbia, my brother discovered several boxes of mine that he had misplaced years before. He sent me a box of papers, and among them I found a collection of letters from Yvonne.  I wondered how she was doing. I thought I should look her up, and send the letters back to her. My brother said he had her contact info, but it was on an old phone that he couldn’t find. Finally, I went online and after a few false starts I learned that she passed away five years ago, before I came back from China. She was 64 years old. In June I will be 67, and for the first time I will be three years older than Yvonne, instead of the other way round.

It just doesn’t seem right.

Yvonne, I miss you, and I’m sorry we lost touch, and I wish I could hug you just once more.

Much love,

Your cousin Eric

Zhuangzi on death

Loading Likes...

Zhuangzi, whose name in earlier transliterations is rendered as “Chuang-tzu,” was the best known exponent of Daoism after its founder, Laozi. Where the book attributed to Laozi, the Dao De Jing, is enigmatic and elliptical, Zhuangzi has given us a wonderful collection of stories that illustrate the wisdom of Daoism. Here are two of them, translated by Patricia Ebrey.

What happened when Zhuangzi’s wife died:

When Zhuangzi’s wife died and Hui Shi came to convey his condolences, he found Zhuangzi squatting with his knees out, drumming on a pan and singing. “You lived with her, she raised your children, and you grew old together,” Hui Shi said. “Not weeping when she died would have been bad enough. Aren’t you going too far by drumming on a pan and singing?”

“No,” Zhuangzi said. “When she first died, how could I have escaped feeling the loss? Then I looked back to the beginning before she had life. Not only before she had life but before she had form. Not only before she had form, but before she had vital energy. In this confused, amorphous realm, something changed and vital energy appeared; when the vital energy was changed, form appeared; with changes in form, life began. Now there is another change bringing death. This is like the progression of the four seasons of spring and fall, winter and summer. Here she was, lying down to sleep in a huge room, and I followed her sobbing and wailing. When I realized my actions showed I hadn’t understood destiny, I stopped.”

And here is what he says about his own death:

When Zhuangzi was about to die, his disciples wanted to bury him in a well-appointed tomb. Zhuangzi said, ”I have the sky and the earth for inner and outer coffins, the sun and the moon for jade disks, the stars for pearls, and the ten thousand things for farewell gifts. Isn’t the paraphernalia for my burial adequate without adding anything?”

”We are afraid the crows and kites will eat you, master,” a disciple said.

“Above ground, I will be eaten by crows and kites; below ground by ants. You are robbing from the one to give to the other. Why play favorites?”

Source: Patricia Ebrey, Chinese Civilization : A Sourcebook, 2d ed. (New York: Free Press, 1993), pp. 28-31. https://web.archive.org/web/20060219221611/http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/chuangtz.html

Lest we imagine that only ancient China could produce such equanimity in the face of our common destiny, here is Shakespeare, from Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2:

                                                             If it be now,
’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is’t to leave betimes?

Why the pundits love Kamala Harris

Loading Likes...

Because they know that Americans almost always elect a president who is the opposite of the previous president.

President Trump is an old, reactionary, incompetent, rather stupid white male without government experience.

Therefore President Not-Trump will be a young, liberal, competent, intelligent, female person of color with government experience.

Kamala Harris matches that description perfectly.

Hence all the drooling in the media since she announced her candidacy.

Of course, her experience is limited and her track record at least questionable, and we have little idea where she actually stands on issues. But to raise such questions would be a terrible distraction from the overwhelming, vague impression that she’s the right person for the moment, and that she’s a safe choice who can be counted on not to upset the status quo—not, in other words, to alienate the ultra-rich and the corporations and the Pentagon, as Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders certainly would.

So there you are: President Harris.

Let us pray.

Faculty Meeting

Loading Likes...

We’re all aware of the math teacher’s problems.
The PE guy gets exercised over the smallest things.
The history teacher can’t forget his past.
The English teacher has choice words for everyone.
The geography teacher knows his place.
The biology teacher loves life, but hates frogs.
The computer science guy is bug-eyed.
The chemistry teacher overreacts to the slightest change.
The physics teacher is energetic, but no one understands him.
The art teacher claims he’s been framed.
Put the Home Ec teacher together with the Crisis Management Counselor and you have a recipe for disaster.

—ca. 2003

Too dumb to quit

Loading Likes...

The great jazz drummer, Joe Morello, in a 1986 interview, tells a story about his teacher, George Lawrence Stone:

Another of Stone’s little axioms was, “The secret to success is an unbeaten fool.” I asked him what that meant, and he said, “It means you’re too dumb to quit.” [laughs] You’ll be criticized and put down, but you keep coming back and trying again.

Ain’t it the truth!

Pat Barker’s “Regeneration” trilogy

Loading Likes...

I’ve been meaning to read this for years and finally got around to it during these holidays. It’s one of those stories that reverberates, in a disorienting way, for a couple of days after you’ve finished it. Here are some of the bits that struck me from the third part, Ghost Road:

Page 134: 

‘Mate’ in all the dictionaries was translated as ‘dead’. ‘No mate,’ Rivers said, breathing deeply and pointing to Mbuko’s chest. There and then, across the dying man, he received a tutorial, not unlike those he remembered from his student days in Bart’s. Mate did not mean dead, it designated a state of which death was the appropriate outcome. Mbuko was mate because he was critically ill. Rinambesi, though quite disgustingly healthy, still with a keen eye for the girls, was also mate because he’d lived to an age when if he wasn’t dead he damn well ought to be. 

Page 143: 

Hallet came from an old army family and had been well and expensively educated to think as little as possible; 

Page 207: 

Though it might seem callous or frivolous to say so, head-hunting had been the most tremendous fun and without it life lost almost all its zest. This was a people perishing from the absence of war. 

Page 229: 

Rivers wondered whether Sassoon and Harrington had been too much in the forefront of his mind while he was listening to Wansbeck. At best, on such occasions, one became a conduit whereby one man’s hard-won experience of self-healing was made available to another. At worst, one no longer listened attentively enough to the individual voice. 

This last one made me think of my own work. As a younger teacher, I approached every student without preconceptions. Now, all these years later, I have the benefits, but also the risks, of experience. I have to remind myself sometimes that, even if the face reminds me of other students and the behaviour reminds me of other students, the student in front of me is not those other students.

May You Hear Ancestors Singing

Loading Likes...

Those who came before us
cried salt tears, loved and lost,
wondered what was yet to come,
worried they weren’t good enough . . .

Steered by who knows what, they carried
on through wars, disease, and infant deaths
whose frequency made no difference
to the grief they suffered. Year after
year, women brought new lives
into the world, and sometimes gave their own
in the bringing.

Those who remained kept on singing
through the turning of the seasons,
planting, harvest,
sacraments of every kind,
singing while they worked,
singing while they worshipped,
singing after supper with the darkness
huddled round them.

We are here in spite of,
we are here because they persevered,
because their laughter and their music
kept them going,
because their faith kept rising
from the ashes
and drove them on toward us.

It is our turn now
to keep the faith
to sing the song
to gaze at stars and wonder why,
to love our children,
build our dreams,
to laugh, to cry,
and know the humble satisfaction
of having done our part.

In this winter season
may you hear ancestors singing.
Leave them a portion of your holiday feast,
take a moment to thank them
for their sorrows and their songs,
and may you be blessed enough
to feel the joy that sustained them,
to be sustained, yourself,
and to pass the joy along to
those who follow.

—1999

“Mending Wall,” by Robert Frost

Loading Likes...

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offense.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,

But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Number Sestina

Loading Likes...

Cooking for one

is, strangely, more difficult than cooking for two

although one ingredient may suffice for one, whereas three

ingredients may not be enough for two. But four

pounds of, say, beef, can be consumed pretty quickly by five

people, or six,

 

whereas even six

ounces of certain ingredients might spoil, waiting for one

person to use them up. Time is another factor. Some eat breakfast at five

in the morning, though this is unusual. Two

people who want to share meals must agree on such matters. Four

people who want to share meals will find this even more challenging, but if three

 

of them are children, it’s easier. Three

adults, however, will have trouble agreeing about anything. Dinner at six?

Some will find this quite sensible, as it provides the stomach four

hours’ digestion time before sleeping. But one

person in the group who insists on eating two

hours later—or earlier—will wreck the plan entirely. Five

 

o’clock is a bit early for the evening meal, since many people work until five.

Three students who share meals might have lunch at three,

since many students routinely stay up until two

a.m. or later, and hardly any of them wake up at six.

There may be one

somewhere, but for each of those there are four—

 

—or eight, or more—who sleep until noon. Musicians may not awake until four

p.m. if they don’t finish work until, say, five

in the morning. One

guy I knew finished his first gig at three

a.m. then went to another club and jammed until six.

You wouldn’t expect a guy like that to wake up much before two

 

in the afternoon, at the earliest. Even two

in the afternoon would give him less than six hours’ sleep. Four

p.m. would be more likely, and some in that situation would sleep until six.

Personally, that kind of schedule would finish me off in five

days, max. At my age, I couldn’t do it even for three

days. To be honest, I couldn’t do it for one.

 

A man my age can’t stay awake until two, much less five,

And getting up at four in the afternoon, or even three,

Is no way to live. Give me dinner at six, thanks. For one.

Where did all those homeless people come from?

Loading Likes...

As I move past hundreds of homeless people on my daily commute, I wonder where their counterparts would have been, say, a century ago. And the answer seems clear.

They would have been in rural communities, doing low-skilled jobs on farms or in farming towns.

Or they would have been working in labor-intensive factories.

Today, those jobs have disappeared. Farming has been industrialized and mechanized. Factories have been automated. Today, the people who would have done those jobs have no jobs at all. From unemployment comes depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc. Add in those who would have been confined in mental hospitals in earlier eras, and voila! —today’s massive homeless problem.

In England, beginning in the 15th century, landowners began enclosing their fields. They expelled the peasant families who had worked those fields for generations and replaced them with sheep, who were less trouble and expense, and more profitable. From Wikipedia:

There was a significant rise in enclosure during the Tudor period. These enclosures largely resulted in conversion of land use from arable to pasture – usually sheep farming. These enclosures were often undertaken unilaterally by the landowner. Enclosures during the Tudor period were often accompanied by a loss of common rights and could result in the destruction of whole villages.

The now-homeless peasants migrated to the cities, especially London, where they became the urban poor, many of whom succumbed to the vices of the urban poor: drunkenness, petty theft, prostitution. When the English began colonizing in North America and elsewhere, they realized that they could alleviate these problems by sending thousands of these uprooted peasants to Virginia and Australia as indentured servants or deported convicts.

Today, alas, we have nowhere to send our homeless people. What to do?

Let’s give them useful jobs and affordable housing. There are jobs that need doing, but aren’t being done. Cleaning streets and sidewalks, for example. Repairing items that would otherwise be thrown away. Recycling: why do we send our waste overseas to be recycled? I’m sure there are many others.

Would it cost money to give the homeless jobs and housing? Of course. But what is it costing us now to have thousands of people sleeping on the streets? A lot more, I bet. And what is it doing to the quality of life in our communities?

Poetry vs. Horses and Dogs

Loading Likes...

Found in John Merriman, Modern Europe: Volume One, From the Renaissance to the Age of Napoleon (1st edition, 1996):

Literature flourishes in Italy and princes there are not ashamed to listen to, and themselves to know, poetry. But in Germany princes pay more attention to horses and dogs than to poets—and thus neglecting the arts they die unremembered like their own beasts.

—Pope Pius II (1405 – 1464)

After reading Miranda Carter’s wonderful George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I, it is difficult not to connect Pius’s remark to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a.k.a. the House of Windsor, Britain’s royals, whose country houses were—are?—filled with dogs and hunting parties. Kaiser Wilhelm II was also an avid hunter. Carter describes Wilhelm’s enthusiasm for hunting, and that of his royal British cousin, the future King George V:

Wilhelm . . . kept a list of everything he’d ever killed: by 1897 it totalled 33,967 animals, beginning with “two aurochs, 7 elks” and ending with “694 herons and cormorants and 581 unspecified beasts.” George could bring down 1,000 pheasants in one day. At [the Windsors’ country estate] Sandringham the quantities of game shot were positively obscene.

Positively.

And in case you think this is all in the past, do an image search for “British royals with dogs and horses.”

A free press is an essential service.

Loading Likes...

What if we decided that accurate information is an essential need in a democracy, just as effective police and fire services are essential in any society that values safety?

The logic here is straightforward. Democracy cannot function properly unless voters are knowledgeable and well-informed. By funding public education, most democracies acknowledge, at least tacitly, that voters must be knowledgeable. The shortcomings and confused aims of public education are obvious, but my point here is simply that education is regarded as so universally valuable that we all agree to pay taxes to fund schools. But what about the need for voters to be well-informed? 

We obviously cannot rely on private, for-profit media outlets to provide accurate information to voters. Partisan propaganda is part of the problem, but the profit motive, fundamental to any business, undercuts the desires of conscientious reporters and editors to provide essential information to voters. To understand this, imagine that all police services were privatized. It would soon become apparent that the costs of policing certain areas are just too high. To protect profit margins and please shareholders, services to those areas would be reduced or eliminated. 

Similarly, many news stories that would provide essential information to voters are complicated. To explain them requires long, detailed reporting and investigation. An editor or publisher who chooses to run such stories will quickly find that he or she is losing out to competitors who feature punchy, eye-catching, easy-to-understand stories that are full of “human interest.” As a result, the mass media landscape today is dominated by scandal, gossip, and superficiality. So long as journalism remains a for-profit enterprise, this is unlikely to change.

The internet has accellerated journalism’s decline, not only by increasing the competition for eyeballs but by eviscerating what was once a newspaper’s main source of income: the classified ads. Many local newspapers have simply disappeared. Others have been gobbled up by corporate outlets like USA Today. Even at local papers that have survived, reporting staffs have been cut drastically and content is mostly from national syndication. School board meetings and city council meetings go largely unreported. 

How are voters expected to make informed decisions under such conditions? 

There are some alternative models. Britain’s BBC, Canada’s CBC, and National Public Radio in the U.S. come to mind. All of them have flaws. Public funding is often inadequate. Political pressure is a constant threat. Fundraising through donations, memberships, and sponsorships brings another set of challenges. Keeping a publicly-funded news service both independent and accurate requires a carefully-designed system and unrelenting vigilance. None of that is easy, to say the least. But if we accept the idea that well-informed citizens are essential to a 21st-century democracy, then it follows that a free, independent, non-profit, publicly-funded press is an essential service just as much as policing and firefighting are. 

A free press is an essential service.

Daniel Willingham: “When Can You Trust the Experts?”

Loading Likes...

I have been impressed with Dan Willingham’s work separating the wheat from the chaff in the world of educational psychology ever since I found his earlier book, Why Don’t Students Like School (Jossey-Bass, 2010), in which he explains what we actually know about teaching and learning, as opposed to what many people believe about teaching and learning without any scientific evidence to support those beliefs.

Only this year I have I discovered his subsequent work, When Can You Trust the Experts? (Jossey-Bass, 2012), and I am kicking myself for not reading it sooner. It would have been an outstanding book to use with students when I was teaching IB Theory of Knowledge, which poses the questions, “What do we know, and how do we know it? What do we believe, and why do we believe it?” Willingham addresses those questions in a practical way that would be especially valuable in a TOK class because educational psychology is a social science, and the social sciences deal with complex, messy human situations that make experiments, measurement, evidence, and conclusions problematic—but not always impossible.

Willingham sorts through this maze of questions with the same wit and clarity he displayed in Why Don’t Students Like School? Anyone who has read about (or taught!) the Golden Ratio, for example, will be hooked from the first page. Anyone who has sat through long committee meetings thrashing out the wording of a school mission statement will enjoy his “do-it-yourself school mission statement,” which made me laugh out loud. Anyone trying to teach the “scientific method” will find a valuable resource, filled with clear explanations and vivid examples.

Most importantly, anyone whose job involves curriculum decisions—high school department heads, school and district administrators, school board members, and state and federal officials and bureaucrats in departments of education—needs to read this book three times and consult it carefully before adopting a single new textbook or curriculum program. At a minimum, they should all photocopy Willingham’s “Exhibit 8.1: A Checklist to Be Completed Before You Adopt a Change,” distribute it to everyone in their organization, and direct them to post their copies prominently in their work areas.

In fact, every teacher should read this book, and every parent with school-age children should read it. As Willingham writes, we need “individuals who are better able to discern good science from bad, institutions that are willing to help individuals in that job, and a change of mind-set for all in how science relates to educational practice.” Amen to that!

 

The Progressive’s Dilemma

Loading Likes...

I saw a tweet yesterday warning that Russian bots, already at work on the 2018 elections, were ginning up fears that Democrats favor open borders. Most Democrats, of course, do not favor open borders, but I do, and that puts me in a funny position. Should I make the argument for open borders, and thus risk playing into Trumpian fear-mongering, or should I just keep my opinions about borders to myself, to help increase the chances of electing an effective opposition to Trump?

Here’s another one: since the Vietnam War I have been highly critical of U.S. intelligence agencies like the CIA and the FBI for their reprehensible activities, at home and abroad—assassinations, smear campaigns, illegal surveillance, torture, planting agents provocateurs among dissident groups, etc. Now, however, those same agencies are under attack by Trump for quite different reasons, and the nation is depending on them, among others, to protect it from Trump’s worst excesses. So is this a bad time to remind people that Jim Comey’s Boy-Scout version of the FBI is not quite accurate? 

Or take Russia’s aggressions in Crimea and Ukraine, and the joint Trump-Putin attacks on NATO. Putin and Trump are both, to different degrees, criminal thugs who must be opposed. Is this the wrong time, then, to point out that Russia’s recent behavior is the predictable response to the decision to expand NATO during Bill Clinton’s presidency? “Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia,” said George Kennan in 1998. But perhaps that history would confuse the simple good-guy, bad-guy narrative we need right now. 

And then there’s the Democratic Party establishment. Arrogant, elitist, smug, blind with self-satisfaction, so easy to despise. And yet, we need them if we hope to stop Trump and the Republicans from their ongoing attacks on civil rights, the environment, public education, Medicare and Social Security, etc. The Republicans’ main tactic in the approaching elections will be to turn out their base with phony fears about the Democratic Party being taken over by leftists. So by speaking out on the issues important to us, do we progressives actually help Republican propagandists do their work? Should we all just shut up and vote Democratic?

It’s a dilemma.

Binary Thinking

Loading Likes...

Problems with the European Union? Brexit will solve them.

Problems with taxis? Uber and Lyft are the answer.

Does the Veterans Administration have problems? Just privatize it.

Problems with government regulations? Deregulate everything.

Problems with the Democratic Party establishment? Vote Trump, or vote for a third-party candidate, or just stay home.

Problems with politics in general? Just forget it.

Or maybe it would be better to . . . work on fixing the problems.

George Kennan: “the sowing of bitterness, suspicion, and intolerance”

Loading Likes...

People are not always more reasonable than governments . . . [and] public opinion, or what passes for public opinion, is not invariably a moderating force in the jungle of politics. It may be true, and I suspect it is, that the mass of people everywhere are normally peace-loving and would accept many restraints and sacrifices in preference to the monstrous calamities of war. But I also suspect that what purports to be public opinion in most countries that consider themselves to have popular government is often not really the consensus of the feelings of the mass of the people at all, but rather the expression of the interests of special highly vocal minorities — politicians, commentators, and publicity-seekers of all sorts: people who live by their ability to draw attention to themselves and die, like fish out of water, if they are compelled to remain silent. These people take refuge in the pat and chauvinistic slogans because they are incapable of understanding any others, because these slogans are safer from the standpoint of short-term gain, because the truth is sometimes a poor competitor in the market place of ideas — complicated, unsatisfying, full of dilemma, always vulnerable to misinterpretation and abuse. The counsels of impatience and hatred can always be supported by the crudest and cheapest symbols; for the counsels of moderation, the reasons are often intricate, rather than emotional, and difficult to explain. And so the chauvinists of all times and places go their appointed way: plucking the easy fruits, reaping the little triumphs of the day at the expense of someone else tomorrow, deluging in noise and filth anyone who gets in their way, dancing their reckless dance on the prospects for human progress, drawing the shadow of a great doubt over the validity of democratic institutions. And until people learn to spot the fanning of mass emotions and the sowing of bitterness, suspicion, and intolerance as crimes in themselves — as perhaps the greatest disservice that can be done to the cause of popular government — this sort of thing will continue to occur.

—George Kennan, American Diplomacy (1951)

Too crazy to fight

Loading Likes...

From Scott DeVeaux, The Birth of BeBop:

Howard McGhee told the army psychiatrist, “Man, why should I fight? I ain’t mad at nobody out there. . . . I wouldn’t know the difference. . . . If he’s white, I’m going to shoot him. Whether he’s a Frenchman, a German, or whatever, how the fuck would I know the difference?” McGhee was informed, “We can’t use you.” Later, he reflected: “I wasn’t ready to dodge no bullets for nobody. And I like America. But I didn’t like it that much. I mean, it’s all right to be a second-class citizen, but shit, to be shot at, that’s another damn story.” Dizzy Gillespie (who drew the attention of the psychiatrist by carrying his trumpet in a paper bag) had a similar reaction:
They started asking me my views about fighting. “Well, look, at this time, in this stage of my life here in the United States, whose foot has been in my ass? The white man’s foot has been in my ass hole buried up to his knee . . . ! Now, you’re speaking of the enemy. You’re telling me the German is the enemy. At this point, I can never even remember having met a German. So if you put me out there with a gun in my hand and tell me to shoot at the enemy, I’m liable to create a case of ‘mistaken identity. . . .’”
They finally classified me 4F because I was crazy enough not to want to fight, in anybody’s army.

Sit on your trap case!

Loading Likes...

Daniel Glass’s podcast conversation with Brooks Tegler reminded me of the old days when drummers sat on their trap cases and a cushion. I learned in the podcast that Gene Krupa was the first to sit on a purpose-made drum “throne,” which in his case was a “box throne” designed at the urging of a concert promoter who didn’t like the look of Gene sitting on his trap case. The box throne was never put into production, but was followed by the canister throne that was—I learned—initially open at the bottom, but later turned into a . . . trap case! . . . by putting a bottom on it and putting clasp hinges on the lid. I still like the minimalist beauty of just sitting on the trap case. Here are two photos of the great Kenny Clarke sitting on his trap case. The first might make you think that this was only done in rehearsals or recording sessions when the drummer didn’t want to haul a lot of gear, but the second one is clearly a performance. As for not wanting to haul a lot of gear . . . who needs a lot of gear, eh Kenny? Bass, snare, hats, one cymbal—done!

Here’s Krupa himself, sitting on a trap case:

And here he is again, sitting on what appears to be that custom-made box throne, wrapped in white marine pearl to match his drums:

Queen Elizabeth Park

Loading Likes...

Queen Elizabeth Park is one of my favourite spots in Vancouver, so I decided to ride my bike up to the top of the hill and see if the North Shore mountains were still there. They were.

Why Does the American Right Love Russia? Let Mr. Solzhenitsyn Explain

Loading Likes...

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was one of the 20th century’s greatest novelists and a constant irritant to the communist leaders of the Soviet Union until he was expelled from the country. After a brief stay in Switzerland he moved his family to Vermont in 1974, where he avoided publicity and worked on The Red Wheel, a series of historical novels tracing the end of imperial Russia and the founding of the Soviet Union. In 1978 he emerged from his rural retreat to deliver a commencement address at Harvard University.

I remember reading press accounts of the speech and thinking that Solzhenitsyn was a man stuck in the past. Like his predecessor, Leo Tolstoy, he seemed mired in a Christianity that was largely irrelevant in the modern world. Re-reading the speech today, I find passages that support those earlier impressions. He bemoans, for example, the West’s moral decadence:

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil. 

He also condemns, not just communism, but any form of socialism:

Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind unto death. 

And in remarks on the Vietnam War, which had finally drawn to a close in 1975 after thirty years, he expresses a view that would have been welcomed by the most right-wing generals in the Pentagon.

Your short-sighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing spell; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam was a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation’s courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small, Communist half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future? 

Such views seemed retrograde and wrong-headed to me in 1978, and still seem so to me now, even though his condemnations of the moral decadence so obvious in American culture, and of the amoral materialism of capitalism, resonate undeniably. Other portions of the speech, however, read today almost like a guide to understanding the initially puzzling sympathy for Russia that Donald Trump’s supporters express. 

Distrust of Journalists

Trump has consistently trashed the media, calling every news report that puts him in a bad light “fake news” and even calling the press “enemies” of America. Here is what Solzhenitsyn says about journalism in the West:

What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If he has misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, it hardly ever happens, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance. . . .

The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists made heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan “everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era: people also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information. . . .

Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. One would then like to ask: By what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the Communist East, a journalist is frankly appointed as a state official. But who has granted Western journalists their power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives? 

There is yet another surprise for someone coming from the East, where the press is rigorously unified: one gradually discovers a common trend of preferences within the Western press as a whole. It is a fashion; there are generally accepted patterns of judgment and there may be common corporate interests, the sum effect being not competition but unification. Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership, because newspapers mostly give emphasis to those opinions that do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend. 

Without any censorship, in the West, fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those that are not fashionable. Nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally, your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. 

It is easy to find these themes being echoed today by Trump and his followers.

Christian Nostalgia

It is easy, too, to see the appeal of Solzhenitsyn’s views for conservative Christians:

However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred, or even fifty, years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries, with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. 

Solzhenitsyn closes his speech by imagining a future that revives the best features of the Middle Ages without repeating the mistakes of that era:

It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more important, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the modern era. 

Instead of this utopian spiritual revival, however, current events suggest a good old-fashioned upsurge of authoritarianism, tribalism, and nationalism. And so far, at least, Christian conservatives have distinguished themselves only by their craven support of a blatantly immoral leader, not least at his most racist, white-supremacist moments. “Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism,” Solzhenitsyn said in 1978. Forty years later, his dream seems even more naive while his distrust of liberal democracy is echoed far and wide—even in the Oval Office itself.

“Life will break you.”

Loading Likes...

Thanks to L.K. for this one:

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t, either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

― Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

4 Reasons the U.S. Is Doomed

Loading Likes...
  1. The success myth, which tells us that anyone willing to work hard can succeed in America. What’s wrong with that, you ask? Check the flip side: if anyone willing to work can succeed, then it follows that anyone who has not succeeded has only himself to blame. As a result, most Americans either downplay or simply ignore all the other causes of poverty, refuse to pay taxes that might go to address those causes, and thus condemn themselves to living in a society with a huge, chronic gap between rich and poor, and a middle class who can’t figure out why they are having so much trouble making ends meet. (Oh yeah, it’s the illegal immigrants, the brown people, the foreigners ripping us off, etc.)
  2. Anti-intellectualism, deep-baked into the culture from the very beginning. Distrust education, distrust “worldliness,” just read the Bible and pray. Today, even where the religion has worn away, the anti-intellectualism persists. Book-reading is effeminate; real men don’t read books. Professors are suspicious by definition. And who needs a college education anyway? Meanwhile the cost of a college education keeps rising further and further out of reach for middle-class, much less poor, students, helping to reinforce the wealth gap (see #1). And who needs to study history? or economics? Who needs actual knowledge and understanding to vote? Any ignoramus can do it.
  3. The religious worship of Freedom! above all other values, leading to such absurdities as people insisting that they would rather suffer an obscene rate of gun violence than give up their freedom to own weapons of war; or that they would rather risk being bankrupted by the next illness or injury rather than give up their freedom to be ripped off by private insurance companies. Freedom to live on the streets. Freedom from the humiliation of accepting government handouts. Etc. Free! The possibility that freedom is just one ideal among many others like communitysafetyhealthsecuritycompassion, etc., barely enters the conversation. Our delusions about Freedom! lie so deep in our view of the world that millions of Americans actually believe, and will repeat without the slightest doubt, that “the terrorists hate us because we are free.”
  4. The military-industrial complex. In those irrelevant history books we can read of many a king, prince, or emperor who was infatuated with war. War they must have, but how to pay for it? Tax the peasants? They were already one bad harvest from starvation. Tax the incredibly rich nobles? They would rather overthrow the monarch than pay for his wars. And so, the only alternative (because peace was not an option!) was to borrow the needed funds. Eventually, of course, the country goes bankrupt, the ruler is overthrown, and we start over. Today the U.S. is deeply in debt and headed for bankruptcy because of its ridiculously oversized military budget. The military budget can never be cut, because that is not an option! You see where this is going.

Notice that the racist ideology of white supremacy, an ideology that permeates U.S. history, does not appear on my list except marginally (see #1). That’s because I actually think that, given demographic change (more brown people!) and generational change (“What is all this racist shit about?!?) white supremacy could suddenly flip, in the same way that opposition to gay marriage suddenly flipped. Here’s the problem: even if that happened, all four items on my list would still pertain. Because the success myth, anti-intellectualism, the worship of Freedom!, and the sacred military budget cross all classes, races, genders, and sexual preferences in American society. Those values and beliefs are not going to flip, and sooner or later they are going to bring down the empire.

The Mel Brown Septet

Loading Likes...

L to R: George Mitchell (subbing for Gordon Lee), Stan Bock, Tim Gilson, John Nastos, Derek Sims, Renato Caranto. Invisible, behind the drums, the fabulous Mel Brown. Performing at Christo’s Pizzeria Lounge June 9, 2018.

What a joy and an inspiration it has been to hear these master musicians once a month at Christo’s! If you live within an hour’s drive of Salem, Oregon and you miss one of their performances, shame on you.

Chris Hedges: “The Coming Collapse”

Loading Likes...

I wish Hedges could write without hyperventilating, because his inflated rhetoric undercuts his message.

I share his pessimism about the future of America, but I think the reasons for pessimism go deeper than the surface-level events he lists.

  • The success myth, which tells us that anyone willing to work hard can succeed in America. The flip side: anyone who has not been successful has only himself to blame, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to give such lazy sods any of my hard-earned dollars.
  • Anti-intellectualism, deep-baked into the culture from the very beginning. Distrust education, distrust “worldliness,” just read the Bible and pray. Even where the religion has worn away, the anti-intellectualism persists.
  • The religious worship of Freedom above all other values, leading to such absurdities as people insisting that they would rather suffer an obscene rate of gun violence than give up their freedom to own weapons of war; or that they would rather risk being bankrupted by the next illness or injury rather than give up their freedom to be ripped off by private insurance companies. Etc.

I can imagine even white supremacy finally being overturned, just as homophobia has been. But I can’t imagine the success myth, anti-intellectualism, or the religious worship of Freedom disappearing from American culture, and it seems to me that these values, deep-baked into the culture, produce most of the ills that Hedges writes about.

Read Hedges’ article here: https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-coming-collapse/.