Category Archives: meaning of life

Flying over sunken ships

Even when I haven’t just returned from France my head is often bursting with thoughts I’d like to commit to the blog. France has only given me lots more with the counterpoint of my very positive experience in France counter to the national trauma I’ve come home too.

I’ve been back in the states for 22 hours and watched PBS news hour. I’m reminded of the great war that Gulliver found being waged on the Island of the Lilliputians over which way to open a soft boiled egg. Only its not a trivial issue trying to decide which of two idols is Satan is which is God.

So, here’s a picture of the planes map showing its location as it left France and headed for the US. I thought it was very strange that a plane flying overseas with sometimes fearful passengers would plot the wrecks of sunken ships on a map. More showed up as we neared the US including the Titanic, the Andrea Doria the Hunley and some Spanish treasure galleon.

That’s a much less significant question than how America will come to its senses. I don’t have an answer to either question at the moment. I’m going to bed. Good night.

An Open Letter to MCCL (and why even the Supreme Court will not end abortions)

A short note before I share the letter.

I was alive when “back alley” abortions took the lives of women. I formed my opinions on the subject of abortion in 1960’s and 70’s as a then liberal Republican. my thinking aligned with the Republican Supreme Court justices who ruled on Roe vs. Wade. My opinion hasn’t changed nearly as much as our society has where sex is concerned. I always wanted to make contraceptives available rather than rely on abortions. I was appalled that “pro lifers” of that era were more anti premarital sex than they were anti fetus killing. As you will see in my letter to the MCCL I haven’t changed my mind.

I have always felt that abortions, like guns and traffic and food production was a legitimate area for sensible regulation. I have always sympathized with the folks who felt that human life, even before birth, was sacred. But I’ve grown impatient with such people when they fail to act as though the life that follows birth is also sacred and have cemented themselves to a political party that makes a virtue of the poor being forced to “fend for themselves.”

The Pro-Life movement is woefully ignorant about what will result should Roe vs. Wade be overturned. They think that it will be the end of all abortions in America. That’s obviously wrong. If Roe is struck down it will take the passage of a pro life amendment with by a 3/4ths majority of states to make it illegal in all fifty states. That will not happen in my lifetime. Abortions will always be available to the well-to-do even in states that would outlaw it. All they will have to do is travel to a state where its legal. When I was in high school such folks had to have the money to fly to Sweden.

Here’s that letter I sent to the MCCL

MCCL stands for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life: Continue reading

Bread and Circuses

A lot is on my mind again. When I don’t post stuff it builds up like bran in a constipated elephant. This and the also empty post that precedes it both represent much that I want to write about. It almost goes without saying that it will be just like everything else that I’ve already written about and/or will ever write about and, in fact, everything that every other writer writes about.

But first, I should put the beginnings of a column together for my every other week contribution to the Duluth Reader. That too will be more of the same. Maybe I’ll write about my attempt to learn French in nine months or about my memorizing the order of service of our 45 Presidents or some of the interesting history books piling up on my shelves unread….. Gotta make a decision soon.

Rome’s “Bread and Circuses” were meant to keep its citizens from rioting much as the faltering Soviet Union’s drowning citizens in cheap vodka was used to keep them compliant. Keeping me from rioting is greatly aided by pointing me to a computer to pound out another column or post. That’s one way of keeping me out of gun shops for a quick non-solution.

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.

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.

Burying the Hatchet – more than once if necessary

Just when I want to chuck my Buddy out the window he offers up a peace offering. I know it won’t last long but if I can’t get over my quarrels how can I expect anyone else to? Denmark’s is setting a good example for us here in North America.


To: “Harry Welty”
Cc:
Sent: 01-Feb-2017 19:55:04 +0000
Subject: A little Harry’s Diary | lincolndemocrat.com

From http://lincolndemocrat.com/?p=19202:
I woke up at 3AM yesterday and couldn’t go back to sleep because I was mulling over Trump nation. That happened often last year and the chaotic beginning of his new Administration isn’t offering any peace of mind.

And from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer:
A slightly different version of the prayer has been widely adopted by Twelve-Step Groups:

God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

From: “Your Buddy”

My Reply:

I was confused about that because those were the first words to come to me when I started posting. Then I read the prayer and that’s not how St. Francis starts or finishes it. The Serenity Prayer offers good advice especially that last line. Of course, where change is concerned a lot can be accomplished by many people. It took more than one man to make the United States. It will take more than one to bust it up. In the meantime I can be a band-aid or squeaking hinge. If if I’m not sticky enough or the hinge comes loose I expect there will be others to take my place and be more useful.

Children can’t handle philosophy?

I was delighted with today’s rebuttal of this ill thought out think piece published in the Trib on December 4th.

I was strongly tempted to write my own critism. Its the second time I’ve been tempted to argue with this retired Iron Range teacher but I’m a busy fellow and, as a school board member, I don’t want to wear out my welcome writing op-eds to the Tribune. This “educator” opined that it was a waste of time to teach kids philosophy because their brains weren’t ready to handle it and more prone to taking stupid risks. Hell, why do we bother to teach them anything other than readin and writin and rithmatic before they are old enough for post-graduate studies?

Here’s is a sensible reply I second.

A short sample:

Heck, I’m a middle-aged man; we are famous for making bad life choices despite our well-developed brains. Just this summer, against my better judgment, I followed a couple of friends over a dangerous waterfall crossing at Tettegouche State Park. (And I’m still gunning for a sports car.) My fully developed prefrontal cortex may mitigate bad judgments, but it doesn’t immunize me against them.

More importantly, my bad choices do not make me a bad philosopher; they just make me human.

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 # 4 Roy Cohn’s Revenge

In no way do I mean to praise Donald Trump. His campaign was as sleazy as it gets. Hillary’s insider string pulling in the Democratic machinery is part and parcel of every campaign. Its both understandable and unavoidable. However, Barack Obama proved that it was not invincible in 2008. Bernie Sander’s loss is hardly surprising. He was severely handicapped by announcing that he was a Democrat just before seeking that party’s nomination. The same was true for Donald Trump. Had Trump run as an Independent I suspect he would have done little better than Bernie would have as an Independent. They would likely have gotten Ross Perot-like numbers – close but no cigar.

All the Trumpian pundits who are saying the mainstream media was mean to Trump are full of _ _it. They shined a light on him but he was a nuclear explosion. Media flash lights meant little compared to the candidate’s sizzle. There is a whole lot in his closet for historians to ponder but most of his voters have been too blinded to notice. I’ll only mention one of them here – Trump’s muse, Roy Cohn.

Cohn is a vestige of my youth’s realities when police vice squads raided gay bars and rounded gays up with one aim – to publicize their depravity in newspapers and soil their reputations forever. There is a scene in the marvelous old movie “Advise and Consent” of the gay 602 bar that would have been repellent to audiences of that era. You can catch a brief glimpse of it in this trailer as the attractive JFK-like Senator walks in desperately seeking out an old lover who is blackmailing him about their old affair. When the blackmailer refuses to back off there is only one solution for the Senator. He has to commit suicide to hide his depravity. Modern audiences may find this preposterous but it would have made sense to people in 1960.

Roy Cohn worked in this atmosphere as the right hand of Senator Joseph McCarthy and helped him ferret out information on Commies in the Government at the height of the Red Scare. They destroyed many people at a time of national hysteria. McCarthy was finally upended when he went after the US Military unsuccessfully when it drafted Roy Cohn’s lover. Shortly afterwards the anti-communist crusade quieted to a dull roar sufficient only to mire us in Vietnam but no longer a threat to our Democracy.

Cohn’s homosexualy was common knowledge after this and he became a bitter man. He vehemently denied he was “queer” and became infamous for his take no prisoners legal maneuvering. The New York legal establishment tried for years to disbar him. A year ago Claudia and I watched the old HBO series Angels in America. Its about the Aids crisis that took out tens of thousands of gay lives in he 1980’s. Al Pacino gives an extraordinary performance as Roy Cohn. This scene tell you everything you need to know about what Donald Trump learned under Cohn’s tutelage and why he conducted a scorched Earth campaign for President.

One of the most hopeful things about America today is that under President Obama we have largely swept the homophobic past away so that we will never again create a Roy Cohn. One of the great ironies about Donald Trump’s election is that the homophobia that created Roy Cohn fifty years ago gave Cohn’s acolyte Donald Trump the strategy that elected him President of the United States. How ironic that Trump asked the pro-family, 2016, GOP convention for their help in stamping out homophobia and got applause it. Roy Cohn hated queers!

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.

Lenny Cohen

I’m always getting teed off with my Buddy and vice versa. Its amazing how we go on and get over our spats. Then he sends me something like this New Yorker story on the song writer Leonard Cohen.

Being subject to brief moments of the lachrymose I got teary not long after reading this lengthy piece about the singer concerning his message to an old lover on the eve of her death. I decided there and then to post the whole article which obliged me to read the whole thing. That was a mistake. Its a New Yorker article after all and I’m not that interested in a famous song writer that I can only identify one song with.

That it was sung on the last Saturday Night Live by Kate McKinnon who seemed almost apologetic for helping bring about Hillary Clinton’s defeat made a link to the Cohen story that much more seductive. Ah, But the story was written by a fan and chronicled decades of the song writer’s progress finding himself. Bleah!

An email I just sent with the subject heading: “A discussion of suicide”

NOTE that I have corrected this post here.

********

I keep thinking about a truncated discussion we had on suicide after one of our Board meetings last spring. You joined it and dogmatically insisted that schools don’t cause it.

Frankly I neither agree or disagree with you. Like Alanna you had a personal family experience that has made you think long and hard about the subject.

Below is a link to a thoughtful NPR story about suicide myths that is instructive.

http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/09/02/478835539/6-myths-about-suicide-that-every-educator-and-parent-should-know

About 20 years ago 709 experienced 5 suicides in a period of a couple of months that was described as a spate of copycatting. Today one family is preparing a lawsuit against us for their child’s suicide. I am not a fan of certitude and dogma. The world is a complicated place and I recommend this NPR story as a good place for us to begin a discussion about this sensitive subject.

All the best.

Harry

PS. This is not a new issue

PPS The five student suicides represented several area schools not just ISD 709. Our current Education Reporter Jana Hollingsworth wrote the story.

Can a 65 year old white man who has never had a period become the Amy Shumer of American School Boards?

A year or two ago I heard an NPR story about a woman comedian who tells the raunchiest stories imaginable and about her great popularity. A couple months ago I watched her hour long stage performance during my flight to Israel. Holy xxxxxx! Was it ever funny! Holy XXXXX! Was it ever raunchy!

So, the answer to the question posed in the title is. No. I’m not that smart and I’m not that funny. But I am trying to be that honest. And honesty is often the key to good comedy as is the surprise its telling can bring to a listener. Truth can be gut bustingly funny. Here’s her story in the Trib.

Amy Shumer is drop dead honest even if she embellishes her stories. Her shtick roils her audiences, both men and women, with laughter. If her visceral honesty showed bloodshed I would no more watch it than one of the ISIS decapitations on Youtube. I’m insulted that comic book criminals think they can scare me into fearing them. They are ten-fold more fearful of the comics in Kurdistan or the cartoonists in Europe who mock and expose them for the dim wits they are.

I learned about such a man when I visited Israel. He was a Palestinian and his name was Naji al-Ali. He was assassinated in London, where he had moved to be safe from the people his cartoons skewered back in Israel and Palestine. A good guess is that Yasir Arafat had him executed.

Thank God that in Duluth the people who find criticism painful only resort to character assassination. I’m so glad I live in a nation where an Amy Shumer can embarrass the hell out of me. Its a fine example of truth telling that goes back long before Mark Twain who’s quote I have placed on this blog and quoted many times in the past.

Martell’s heartbreak – just kidding

This is the fifth post in a series. To read them in order I’d suggest going back five posts ago to “Promises, Promises” and read them in order to this one.

[I’ve only just finished this post now a couple days after first uploading the title. I didn’t proof it and Loren deserves better. I’ll work on it and put it back when I find time. In the meantime my growing backlog of ideas for posting will be held in abeyance. (Love those fifty cent words)]

I’m turning this into a Harry’s Diary Post. The real deal will follow.

I’m about a week away from having more time to blog, should I still feel like it. I’m pretty sure I will. But at the moment I’m still racing around with lots of projects to tidy up. Yesterday I spent six hours of perfectly good sunlight to help out Tim, the young black man who I blogged about a few days ago in regards to his complaints about, six DWB’s (Driving while black). According to my buddy I should have said “alleged” in describing the six incidents Tim claims he endured this summer.

Well, my buddy has tattled on me to Gordon Ramsay, Duluth’s Chief of Police. Chief Ramsay thanked him for keeping him abreast of local comment on the Department. My Buddy sent me the Chief’s reply which hinted that Tim’s word wasn’t above reproach. Sheesh! It wasn’t that long ago that I engaged in an email debate with the Deputy Police Chief. That’s when I spoke up for keeping our high school lunch hours open describing their closing as turning schools into prisons. Deputy Chief Tusken would have none of my libertarian clap trap.

Golly, now I’ve gone up one rung on the police radar. Will I have to worry about DWBSB’s? (Driving while on the School Board) I woke up this morning deep in thought about the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, that prompted some of my recent posts. There is a lot of very rational questioning now of how we police our racial differences. Are the police racially sensitive enough? Are they too aggressive? Do they shoot first and ask questions later (and shoot a lot)? Are they too militarized?

My buddy and I have sparred for twenty years on issues of race sometimes quite testily. This morning I imagined doing a lot of blogging on the issue of race but I’ve got a lot of other issues to write about more pertinent to my current concerns as a school board member. My buddy recently sent me an email asking what would be accomplished by giving the Red Plan a “colonoscopy.” He’s practically a recluse and has all the time in the world to stir up my blogging by sending me email like the time he kept calling me a bigot for my constant barbs aimed the new Republican Party. I’ll hold new posts in abeyance for now. I’ve got a garage to paint and a lawn to mow now that I’ve got another crack at a sunny day.