Category Archives: Hope

The Lost Children of Tuam

For the past two months I’ve read very little. No books. I’m looking forward to the end of this campaign so I can once again look beyond the Duluth Schools.

I woke at 3:30 and trudged up to my office to work on the mandatory Finance Report that will be turned in Monday it having been due yesterday, Friday. After returning to the accounting later this morning I paused to look at the New York Times online.

I have some Irish in me, although my Dad always joked that it was orange not green. The haunting photo above lured me into an extended story about human indifference and one woman’s quest to bring the dead to light if not life. Maybe it was the adagios I had playing on Pandora in the background but I used up a couple of tissues wiping tears away. Tales of human decency often do that to me.

DACA

How much has America spent educating 800,000 children illegally brought into the United States by their parents as infants and toddlers? If its anything like what we pay to educate kids in Duluth its a lot. Multiply $10,000 per year, times 12 years of public school, times 800,000 and you get $96 billion dollars thrown into the Rio Grande.

Forget the humanitarian issues of punishing the innocent. Forget the windfall for Mexico for our nation to send this incredible investment back to them. Cold hard finances all by themselves offers a compelling case to keep these children who will constitute an important economic resource for the US in future years.

Trump roared during the campaign that he would toss them all out. He seems to be reconsidering right now. But it was an Obama executive order that brought these 800,000 out of hiding and into his cross hairs. This dream is a nightmare.

On Being

I caught the end of a BBC broadcast early this morning which I found engrossing and then tuned into On Being while I ironed wrinkly t-shirts brought back from China – all short sleeved.

It was the second time I heard Margaret Meed’s anthropologist daughter Mary Catherine Bateson being interviewed on “On Being.” Claudia was up early and listened too. Bateson is a practicing Christian unlike her parents who did read the Bible but as Atheists/Agnostics. It was a thought provoking interview even the second time through.

Bateson was raised with her Mother’s ethos of participating in life while at the same time being an observer of what is actually happening during that participation. Back in 2015 when I first heard this interview I concluded that this perfectly described how I went through life. Another way of describing this quality is “mindfulness” or even “living in the moment.” Except that, living in the moment suggests not paying attention to the past or the future and that is not me. I think of the past and the future at all times.

I joked ith Claudia that we were like one of Bateson’s cells (nucleus and cell) originally different creatures which back in the primordial past combined and found our synergy to be a survival tactic for our separate selves. Bateson used this as a metaphor for marriage. She also noted that it was easier for a couple in the past to stay together because they mostly didn’t live beyond 35 years and never had a reason to separate after raising children because that was generally the end of their life expectancy.

Fear and silencing in 2016?

The initial reactions of many in the wake of Donald Trump’s election have been fearful, ugly, gloating and generally panicky. There is an abundance if not an excess of caution. There has been local Radio talk-show indignation and Facebook hand-wringing over an evidently Anti-Trump message slipped into a school trophy case. It seems proof that political animosity works both ways. The tremors across northern Minnesota Schools yesterday from a vague threat is likely one more manifestation of this sorry situation.

I’m afraid that one more consequence of this election result is a powerful urge to cover our eyes and ears. At Tuesday’s school board meeting Supt. Gronseth expressed unhappiness with the student at Denfeld who took a picture of racist grafitti and posted it to Facebook to show how things were at the school. I’ll bet the police who have just charged a jumpy policeman in the Twin Cities with manslaughter may feel much the same way about Internet Videos. Silence is Golden.

I disagree. Communication is golden.

Yesterday a speech by an African-American historian was given at East High but then canceled for Denfeld when it was deemed inappropriate and perhaps an incitement to bad behavior. That’s a shame because the Denfeld students showed remarkable maturity and creativity in the face of the racist grafitti found on a bathroom wall. They countered it with a student led campaign to retake the school’s walls with positive and uplifting post-it note messages. According to one source this is what they missed when Dr. El-Kati was silenced:

“According to 3 equity minded individuals who all saw El-Kati’s talk yesterday at East, they are in complete and utter shock that Denfeld did not get to hear the awesome messages that El-Kati delivered. His main theme was moral character, and also touched on many topics and historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, John Lewis, Frederick Douglas, Quakers, MLK, war, Minnesota tops in education, Duluth is wonderful, power and privilege, among others.

“They said Denfeld kids needed that talk more than East kids.”

I was unaware of the speech which the District had contracted until the Superintendent offered this post script to his email to School Board members about the “non specific threat.” This is all I know of why Dr. El-Kati’s Denfeld appearance was canceled:

Oh– and Dr El-Kati’s visit did not go as well as hoped. He did not deliver the planned message. He did not meet the terms of the contract. After things did not go well at East, it was decided that the Denfeld presentation would be canceled.

Judging by the superlative response of the Denfeld students to racist grafitti I have every confidence that they could have handled whatever Dr. El-Kati had to say. I wish my confidence in our students was more widely shared.

Speck # 6 The League of Democratic Women Voters

This is a report from a reliable source who attended the pre election meeting of Duluth’s League of Women Voters:

At one point a member got up and harangued the audience telling them that they had to go out and register voters to prevent a win by Donald Trump. Whether the candidate’s name was actually mentioned or not that was the obvious message. Not everyone was happy to have it put so bluntly.

The good old LWV ain’t what it was when I moved to Duluth in 1974. Back then it was a bipartisan group composed pretty equally of Democrats and Republicans. That began to change that year with Roe v. Wade. Two years earlier I went to a Minnesota State Republican convention that approved a “pro choice” plank in its platform. That soon changed as Republicans began to see a huge Catholic block that opposed abortion and as the party’s operatives began encouraging protestant preachers to oppose abortion. At first the protestants, soon to become the Moral Majority, opposed abortion because it made promiscuity consequence free. Saving “babies” was more of a Catholic thing initially. I’ve always thought that for southern Christians, still smarting from having northern Christians chide them for their racism, defending unborn babies gave them back some moral ground.

Over the next decade, as once solid Republican League members fell out of favor with the new pro-life Republican Party and all but disappeared taking their pro-choice views with them, the League became a mostly Democratic bastion in practice if not in principle. Its one more casualty of a divided nation. That doesn’t exactly excuse its local members playing partisan politics. BTW – They especially like to dabble in our local school board.

Speck # 3 a rumor of a threat against Trump

By now all of Duluth has heard of racist grafitti on our high school walls. Today a rumor got to me that the Ordean East Trophy case had a vague threat against Donald Trump placed on or in it. The rumor says it was there for a full day and that a parent took a picture of it and furthermore that the Duluth police and even the Secret Service came by to inspect it.

The log (or beam) Jesus talks about will tempt many partisans to only see the crimes of “the others” not those of their allies when people overreact to the consequences of this election.

A million dollars worth of damage attended the Anti Trump marches in Oregon. I found Black comedian Dave Chapelle’s comment about this noteworthy – “Amateurs.” If it was my storefront I’d be furious but it was pretty small potatoes however ugly. Four years after the post King assassination riots I took a bus through Baltimore and gawked at blocks worth of blackened storefronts behind metal bars. I know that every crowd attracts troublemakers and that all too often they are not anticipated before the crowd arranges itself. The crowd is both an attraction and a good hiding place for mayhem driven far more by mendacity than fury.

So the issue to consider in the case of the rumor, should it prove to be true will our District Administration be even handed in dealing with it……if it has or will raise its ugly head?

I suppose I could make calls to confirm this but to me the more important point is that we should not take sides. In fact, a threat to the president of the United States is a bigger deal than a racial epitaph.

Remember Johanna’s post-it notes.

Speck #2 Kids

What’s the matter with kids today? That was the question asked in the 50’s musical Bye Bye Birdie. After watching my generation’s reaction to the recent election I’d have to answer – Not much.

Before I left the School Board in 2004 Mary Cameron was clamoring for us to bring back student reps to Board meetings. I must tell you I didn’t discourage Mary but I thought the idea sort of silly. They couldn’t vote. They’d be board stiff. It looked like frosting.

After three years back on the Board I no longer have that opinion. Sure, They can’t vote. Yep, I imagine they are often board. But no. They are not frosting.

I talked briefly to Spencer Frederickson from East high and I was buttering him up by telling him how bright I’d found his predecessors. He said of them that Paul Manning was very political and Jude Goosens very articulate. I added that I saw in Spencer a person with a deep well of caring….or something to that effect. I wasn’t really buttering him up it was the truth.

This conversation took place after our student representative from Denfeld, my seatmate Johanna Unden, was lauded by the Superintendent for the video she shot and posted to Facebook in reaction to the hateful messages scrawled on the walls at Denfeld. The reaction? To have hundreds of students place post-it-notes all over Denfeld’s walls with positive messages written on them. This is how to fight the gremlins escaping from Pandora’s box and much better than pronouncements of “no tolerance” for hate.

Time and time again I’ve seen our students rise to all sorts of occasions. East Robotics students helping Denfeld’s lagging Robotic’s program. Students advocating for more counselors to help depressed kids organizing to make sure minorities were not left out. Working to make new Freshmen student feel welcome in strange new schools. They put the adults on the school board to shame by comparison.

I told Spencer how I remember the old days when Central students shouted unfriendly taunts at East “cake eaters” at Hockey games and how the East students responded with a cheer telling Central kids that their parents worked for the East kid’s parents.

Sorry for the false labeling of this post. There is no speck here. You will find them in the next few posts.

Seeing the Speck in their eyes

Confirmation bias has become a subject of great interest lately especially as it relates to the US Presidential election.

As a cerebral sort myself I want to roll my eyes when someone repeats as gospel something they prefer to believe rather than pick it apart to see if it really adds up. My Buddy would call this being “tribal.”

Jesus is quoted in the Bible on this point with a brilliant observation about people: Mathew 7:5

America won’t heal as long as people with a log in their eyes are only able to see the specks in the eyes of those they disagree with. My Dad, an anti papist if there ever was one, told me that the one thing he particularly admired about Catholicism was the act of confession. That’s not a very popular thing in Today’s America of self absorption. We prefer the ancient Egyptian’s approach to self criticsm. We write “books of the dead” to tell the gods how wonderful we have been so that the gods will let us into Heaven. The Egyptians thought they could sweet talk their gods into ignoring their less than noble qualities.

I’m not sure I’m much different. Like most Americans I can clearly see the specks in a lot of other people’s eyes. To help get the recent election results out of my system I need to write about a few of those specks.

Rank Vote

I don’t have a category for just “politics” or “elections” so I’ve lumped this post about Ranked Choice Voting under “hope” and “moderation.”

My Buddy has become a fan of Karl Schuettler’s blog “A Patient Cycle” and he sent me this link to Karl’s very sensible appraisal of the debate over ranked choice balloting. This is Karl’s last paragraph but the whole post is well worth a read for those still pondering the question.

From http://apatientcycle.com/ :

The shrill tenor of the debate and dismissal of critics as simpletons or bigots is especially ironic, given the claim that RCV is supposed to reduce negativity in campaigns. Somehow, RCV has become part of a religious cause; one that is incapable of self-reflection and above any criticism, and considers the cause more important than the deliberative democratic process it needs to go through to become reality. If only it were actually a cause worth fighting for.

Mondale lauds Reagan

From my Buddy:

http://millercenter.org/oralhistory/interview/walter_mondale:

Martin

I’m curious, as someone who has run for President and has served as Vice President, did your feelings about your average fellow citizen change as a result of these experiences?

Mondale

I told somebody afterwards that I think I would have voted for Reagan if I weren’t running, because he is a nice guy. He never was mean to me. I was never mean to him, and look at that campaign. It was a pleasant year, I think, for Americans. I think we ended up a united country, and so I could see why the average American liked the guy. They thought he was stable and good. They had a lot of memories about Carter and me that weren’t very good from the tough times we’d had, and that was a cloud over my campaign. Even though I could explain it, people don’t all hold doctorate degrees in political science and sort out this stuff. They have to deal with moods and feelings and tendencies, and he persuaded them that it was morning in America, feeling good, and it worked.

My Mom always told me you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Of course, no one ever censured her.

Please mark your calendars for the Karen Lynne Burmeister Show

I asked Loren Martell to file for the School Board seat in District 3. He warned me that he has some personal priorities which will severely limit his campaigning. First among those priorities is setting up a showing of his late wife, Karen Lynne Burmeister’s, art work. A long time teacher at Marshall School she succumbed to an aggressive cancer far too early leaving Loren alone.

This showing is an act of devotion to her memory to share Karen’s talent with the community.

In Loren’s final summing up column in the Duluth Reader he concluded with this information about the show:

*Personal note. Not everything in this world is hardball politics. My late wife, Karen Burmeister, was an art teacher and a very talented artist. I’m having a retrospective show of her artwork in the Duluth Art Institute. For those who don’t know, the Art Institute is in the old train depot on Michigan Street, just below the main library. The exhibit will run from Sept. 10 through Oct. 4. The opening reception will be held from 5pm to 7pm, Sept. 10. The whole town is invited.

Give Peace a Chance

I am a cat. If there is a closed door I keep hanging around it waiting for someone to open it. There are so many closed doors.

This post is a flight of fancy before the one I must write today which is coming up next. But, before I could steel myself to write the next one I tarried to listen to NPR’s morning edition. There are three news segments I will mention but I’ll save the one that has pushed me to the blog today for last. First up…..

I listened to Obama’s continuing interview with Steve Inskeep. He gave a subdued argument for the nuclear arms agreement that’s been fashioned with Iran. I’m in the minority that supports it. I tend to discount every criticism of it emanating from Republicans because from the beginning of his Presidency they have howled like wolves that he is the Antichrist. What he’s aiming at is what is so needed; some rapprochement between Sunni (Arab) and Shia (Persian) Islam.

I’ve mentioned a fantastic book that I’m 97% finished reading to Claudia, My Promised Land. (Kindle keeps track of where you are in a book by percents not pages). I selected it to read to Claudia in anticipation of our pilgrimage to Israel while taking a course on peace keeping.

The last chapter is a disappointment. Its far too much like some of my long winded rants in Lincolndemocrat. I did check to see what its’ author, who frets about a nuclear Iran, thought about Obama’s negotiations with Iran. Apparently he’s deeply skeptical of anyone’s being able to wrestle good sense out of the Ayatollahs. I disagree. I think a new generation of young people will change Iran for the better.

The next piece that heartened me was this remarkable story about North (yes I said North) Korean entrepreneurs. The millenial generation may change that Kafkaesque land. An old public service ad formed the basis for my continuing hopefullness:

When I was in grade school I saw this Voice of America Ad over and over on television. I had faith at a tender age that this ads’ contention that leaking western music and news behind the Iron Curtain would lead to the end of the Cold War. And that is almost exactly what happened. I believe that the same thing is now happening in North Korea. BTW I still love this song.

I suppose that this ad helps explain my confidence in free enterprise over the Cold War era closed economies. My Dad was always convinced that communism would fall of its own accord. I think more broadly that given the siren song of freedom most autocracies will fall as new generations tired of the same old – same old strike out to escape the mental fence imposed on them. I’ve always been sorry that the Berlin Wall fell just after my Dad died because his faith predicted it.

And that leads me to the final story about the book written by Elizabeth Alexander in memory of her husband a refugee from Ethopia’s Eritrea. Her husband of 16 years survived the war that my high school roommate Bedru Beshir most likely did not live to see. It was actually part of a succession of wars the first described in the book Surrender or Starve. It led eventually to the liberation of Eritrea from Ethiopia and then to a never ending war between the two nations which still sputters on.

The thing about the story that caught my ear was Alexander’s description of her husband who had endured years of hell. He was light hearted, cheerful and optimistic. We were told before Bedru arrived at our home in 1968 that Ethiopians were taciturn severe and no nonsense. In some respects this was true of Bedru but I have to wonder now if that wasn’t more a result of growing up in a repressive society which would exact terrible penalties on those who would not conform to its strictures. I suspect Bedru died in prison.

When he arrived I took what I knew of Ethiopia and projected it onto him enthusing about his Emperor, Haile Selasie. Bedru reacted to my enthusiasm rather awkwardly. I’d learned that the Emperor was regarded as a hero by the West for his brave, futile defense of Ethiopia in the 1930’s when Hitler’s ally Mussolini invaded it. Little did I know that Selassie’s regime got hold of Italy’s old province Eritrea after World War II and ruled it as gently as Mussolini had ruled them. Eritrea was largely Muslim while Ethiopia was largely Coptic Christian. Bedru was a Muslim. His treatment upon his return has always been a powerful lesson to me about how the world should not work.

When Bedru came to the US he was proud to show us pictures of Eritrea’s great city Asmara. Ms. Alexander’s husband was a resident of Asmara.

Bedru could speak five languages Trigianian, His native language with something like a 275 letter alphabet, Amharic, Arabic, English and Italian. Its a pity that so many nations waste talented people just to hang on to power.

No Lance Armstrong

And thank goodness.

What is happening here? The Spanish runner who is behind refuses to overtake the African runner who thought he had crossed the finish line and slowed up not seeing the real finish.

Just when you think utopian Christians…

will never get a clue by deluding themselves that they can cure homosexuality.

Others are opening their eyes and seeing that their strident call for chastity is not very practical:

80 percent of unmarried evangelical young adults (18 to 29) said that they have had sex – slightly less than 88 percent of unmarried adults…the article also asks a question that rarely comes up in discussions about abstinence movement. Relevant notes that in biblical times, people married earlier. The average age for marriage has been increasing in the U.S for the last 40 years. Today, it’s not unusual to meet a Christian who is single at 30 – or 40 or 50, for that matter. So what do you tell them? Keep waiting?

Borrrrrrring! I endorse this.

I was sent a link to this homily with the advice that if it looked too boring I should just read the last four paragraphs. That’s what I did. Here is the whole piece which I skipped. Here are the last four paragraphs:

Isaac Bashevis Singer once told an interviewer that the purpose of art was to eliminate boredom, at least temporarily, for he held that boredom was the natural condition of men and women. Not artists alone but vast industries have long been at work to eliminate boredom permanently. Think of 24-hour-a-day cable television. Think of Steve Jobs, one of the current heroes of contemporary culture, who may be a genius, and just possibly an evil genius. With his ever more sophisticated iPhones and iPads, he is aiding people to distract themselves from boredom and allowing them to live nearly full-time in a world of games and information and communication with no time out for thought.

In 1989 Joseph Brodsky gave a commencement address at Dartmouth College on the subject of boredom that has a higher truth quotient than any such address I have ever heard (or, for that matter, have myself given). Brodsky told the 1,100 Dartmouth graduates that, although they may have had some splendid samples of boredom supplied by their teachers, these would be as nothing compared with what awaits them in the years ahead. Neither originality nor inventiveness on their part will suffice to defeat the endless repetition that life will serve up to them, as it has served up to us all. Evading boredom, he pointed out, is a full-time job, entailing endless change of jobs, geography, wives and lovers, interests and in the end a self-defeating one. Brodksy therefore advises: “When hit by boredom, go for it. Let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom.”

The lesson boredom teaches, according to Brodsky, is that of one’s own insignificance, an insignificance brought about by one’s own finitude. We are all here a short while, and then, poof, gone and, sooner or later, usually sooner, forgotten. Boredom “puts your existence into perspective, the net result of which is precision and humility.” Brodsky advised the students to try “to stay passionate, ”for passion, whatever its object, is the closest thing to a remedy for boredom. But about one’s insignificance boredom does not deceive. Brodsky, who served 18 months of hard labor in the Soviet Union and had to have known what true boredom is, closes by telling the students that “if you find this gloomy, you don’t know what gloom is.”

“Boredom,” as Peter Toohey writes, “is a normal, useful, and incredibly common part of human experience.” Boredom is also part of the human condition, always has been, and, if we are lucky, always will be.

Live with it.

D day – the first wave at Utah Beach

This is belated. Today is the anniversary of D Day plus one. From the noted military historian SLA Marshall published 16 years after the invasion:

Able Company has planned to wade ashore in three files from each boat, center file going first, then flank files peeling off to right and left. The first men out try to do it but are ripped apart before they can make five yards. Even the lightly wounded die by drowning, doomed by the waterlogging of their overloaded packs. From Boat No. 1, all hands jump off in water over their heads. Most of them are carried down. Ten or so survivors get around the boat and clutch at its sides in an attempt to stay afloat. The same thing happens to the section in Boat No. 4. Half of its people are lost to the fire or tide before anyone gets ashore. All order has vanished from Able Company before it has fired a shot.