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Odds & Ends

August 30, 2011

Going through my blog files I found some miscellaneous quotes and questions that never made it into any of my posts. Here they are, a mish-mash of miscellany.

One of the tragedies of life is the murder of a beautiful theory by a brutal gang of facts.  La Rochefoucauld

Politics is the art of finding trouble, whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedy. Ernest Benn, British writer, publisher  (And I would add, “…and then blaming someone else.”)

After urging creation of a committee to develop a permanent over-all promotional plan for New York, Grover A. Whalen, the city’s famed official greeter, was promptly informed that there already was such a committee and he had been a member for over a year. American Magazine, May, 1949.

RACIAL PREJUDICES (Fortune Magazine, Nov 1942): Survey of representative cross-section of American youth.

 Whites should not marry Negroes                  93.1%

Christians should not marry Jews                  56.1%

This date in sports history: 3/5/1973: New York Yankee pitchers Fritz Peterson and Mike Kecich announce that they’ve swapped wives and children.

Dodgeball without the balls is just a room of bizarre, flailing mimes.

Came across this somewhere on the internet:

“My boyfriend slapped a retard today! LOL!”

 “All domestic violence should be reported and you shouldn’t let him hit you again.”

On Creativity by Alan Ashley-Pitt

 The man who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever been before. Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. And the unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right, they say it was obvious all along. You have two choices in life: you can dissolve in the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different. To be different, you must strive to be what no one else but you can be . .”  (Can anyone tell me who Alan Ashley-Pitt is? I can find no definitive references to him anywhere.)

Here are some personal ponderings:

• When I dream, I experience all five senses: I can see, hear, taste, smell, touch/feel. Does everybody?

• Do people who lose their hearing after language is fully developed continue to hear in their dreams?

• People who are born deaf: Are their dreams visual only?

• If they have learned to sign, are their dreams signed?

• People who are born blind—what are their dreams like? Sounds only? Colors?

• Science tells us that the universe is expanding. Will it expand infinitely? Where does it expand to? Is there a “leading edge” galaxy beyond which lies…what? Nothingness? And is the “nothingness” infinite?

• If the amount of matter, anti-matter and dark matter in the universe is finite and if everything in the universe is moving away from everything else, then someday, in the incomprehensibly distant future, every particle of matter, anti-matter and dark matter will be incalculably distant from every other particle of matter. Does this matter? (No pun intended.) Does this mean life will be impossible?

• If the universe is expanding in all directions, is there a center?

Check out this website:



And now for two more installments of “IF ONLY I COULD DRAW!!”

Cartoon #63: Two frogs, a Mr. and Mrs., are walking into a tavern. The name of the tavern, “Froggie’s” is emblazoned on the front window. Just below it: “Hoppy Hour 4-6”.

Cartoon #72: Scene: A parking lot with two attendants, both dressed in tutus and ballet slippers. One is pirouetting into a car ready to be parked, driver standing nearby. The parking lot sign reads “Ballet Parking”.

Until next time…




August 19, 2011

This is a chapter from my book on teaching. It’s a not-so-nostalgic look at the technology available to teachers when I started back in 1970. If you have teacher friends or if someone in your family teaches, send this to them—they’ll enjoy it. For that matter, you will too!


I have a cartoon I cut out and saved many years ago. The first drawing is of a middle-aged male teacher sitting at his desk correcting papers, a harried look on his face. The caption, like a voice-over, reads, “This teacher has various teaching aids at his disposal.” The next several drawings enumerate them: three pencils, four large erasers, one bottle of ink, one ruler, a box of white chalk, one straight pen, one hundred sheets of white paper, a dictionary, a box of thumb tacks and a chalk eraser. The final drawing shows the teacher again, looking off absently into space with the follow-up caption: “Plus forty-seven students in his classroom . . . At moments he still feels inadequate, even with all this technological backup.”

Teaching has changed in many ways since I started in 1970. For one thing, we no longer have anything like forty-seven students in our classes. (Heavens! I hope no one does!) Classroom technology has certainly changed, and radically, even when compared to the reality of 1970, let alone what our poor cartoon teacher could claim. Let me share with you the changes I’ve seen. For you veteran teachers, this will be a walk down memory (or maybe nightmare) lane. For you younger teachers, count your blessings.

The first big change for me was the advent of copy machines. I took a sabbatical in 1985 to pursue doctoral work at the University of Washington and when I returned to the classroom, I was amazed: Copy machines had replaced the ubiquitous ditto machines that I had previously used. For those who have never experienced the thrill of using a ditto machine, let me digress here for a moment and give you some idea of what that was like.

First, the ditto masters. There were many commercially-produced workbooks with the ditto masters all ready to crank out copies. But if I wanted to make my own, I was on my own. First were the blank ditto masters. These were 8 1/2 x 11 papers, slick and heavier than bond, attached at the top to a heavily purple-inked under-sheet. To create a ditto master for math, for example, I had to write the problems on the top sheet, bearing down hard so the back of the top sheet would pick up the purple ink underneath. For some assignments, or for a letter home, I could use a manual typewriter (remember those?), always keeping in mind that I had to strike the keys hard in order to make an impression. From this I learned that you can type fast or you can type hard, but you can’t do both.

Making ditto masters was a slow process, not even taking into account the many times I had to start over after making a mistake – there was no way to correct or erase. It was also messy: It was hard to avoid getting the purple ink on my hands and on my clothes, and equally hard to get it off.

After school, I could easily spend one or two hours laboriously making ditto masters for worksheets in three core teaching areas plus homework and a letter home to parents for a class of thirty. Then I was finally ready to make copies and it was off to the book room where the ditto machines hung out. Every school had at least two, sometimes more. These machines were about the size of a small piece of carry-on luggage and sat on a counter or table. There was a heavy metal drum at one end, a crank (until they replaced the manual ditto machines with new-fangled electric ones), a paper feed and a receptacle tray. This innocuous description, of course, doesn’t begin to convey just how unreasonable, even nasty, ditto machines could be.

Ready to start, I first had to make sure there was sufficient reactive fluid in the drum to make my copies. When there wasn’t, I had to take a heavy one-gallon can from its fireproof metal cabinet (does that tell you something?), take off the cap, attach a spout, and fill the drum through a small opening. It was awkward and many were the times I sloshed the fluid all over. (Many of us suspected the ditto machine somehow nudged the can, causing the spill.) When this happened, there was fluid everywhere: the machine, the table, my clothes, me and, worse, my stack of precious ditto masters. After the first couple of times, I learned to keep the masters away from the machine, like on the other side of the room.

I don’t know what that fluid was, but it was toxic, with noxious fumes. The first time I spilled it on myself must have given the ditto machine considerable satisfaction. It sloshed all over my hand and arm (worse: my masters I’d labored so hard over!) and I instantly experienced a freezing, numbing sensation, as if my arm were being flash-frozen. Then, as the liquid evaporated and feeling returned, my skin felt dry and cracked, as if moving it would cause the skin to split. And, to add insult to injury, I was left with a thin film of white residue on my arm. There was one small blessing, though: it evaporated so quickly I didn’t have to worry about cleaning it up; all I had to do was blow on it.

The next step was trying to actually make copies. To do so, I detached the master from the purple ink sheet and clamped it to the drum, giving the drum a slow turn to make sure the master was smoothed out, another lesson hard learned. If I didn’t take this precaution, the ditto machine would cheerfully crease and wrinkle the master as it rotated, cutting off some of the text or numbers. Then it was back to my room for ten, twenty, thirty minutes to make another master. Or, and this was much easier, I’d just think of something else to do for that class, something that allowed me to avoid the ditto machine altogether.

So, the drum is loaded (and I’m feeling a little loaded myself, from breathing in the fumes) and the ditto master is in place, uncreased and unwrinkled. I grab a small stack of white paper, slide it into the feeder tray and commence cranking and counting, wondering what else can go wrong.

Well, ditto machines had a whole book of things that could go wrong: The paper feeds crookedly. The master tears on the drum. Several sheets are picked up at once, instead of just one. The copies aren’t centered properly on the paper (fixable only through much trial and error). Too much fluid spreads on the master and my copies come out wet. It was a never-ending challenge to stay a step ahead of the ditto machine.

But, if all goes well, my master produces all the perfect purple copies I need and I can file it away till next year. And maybe next year I can squeeze out another thirty copies. After that, the purple ink starts to fade badly, producing copies too faint to read. More copies than that and it was back to square one.

Like cod liver oil, roller skate keys and fifteen-minute newscasts, ditto machines are now in the museum of what-used-to-be. Thank God!

Another piece of technology teachers take for granted today is the classroom telephone. Until relatively recently, most schools I was in had five, maybe six, in the whole school: two in the main office and one each in the principal’s office, the nurse’s office, the staff room and the custodian’s office. It was a hassle to make or receive calls. And forget making a private phone call—there was no privacy. Now, there’s a phone in every classroom and one in every pocket or purse.

Nor did most schools have a PA system. If the office needed to contact a classroom, a system of buzzers was used. One buzzer meant there was a phone message for the teacher. Two, send a messenger to the office. Three, custodian to the office. Four long buzzers signified rainy day recess. (A quick aside here: Rainy day recess is as common in the Great Pacific Northwest as fights at a hockey game. Teachers dread them because it means students take their break in the room, usually with the teacher supervising. It’s hard to say which is worse: the noise level or not being able to go to the bathroom.)

I spent several early years teaching in a big double portable. Other than “big,” I don’t know the exact dimensions but I had a lot of space. And a lot of space to heat in winter. The heating system (such as it was) was maybe two steps up from a bonfire. It consisted of two free-standing oil heaters, one in front and one in back. They were UPS brown, boxy, and stood maybe four feet high. During the cold weather months (October through April in Seattle) I had to turn them off when I left at the end of the day and fire them back up the next morning. This meant priming the combustion chamber with oil by vigorously depressing a small plunger several times. Next, I opened the door to the chamber, lit a piece of paper and tossed it in, hoping the oil would ignite. If not, throw in more lit pieces of paper until at some point the heater conceded defeat and I could see flames. But it still had its ways: It withheld heat for at least thirty minutes; that’s how long it took to begin to radiate warmth, even with the blower on full blast. (This, of course, made conversation in the immediate vicinity difficult, if not impossible.) After a cold weekend or after the four-day Thanksgiving break or, worse, after the two-week winter break, those heaters were really stingy. One year I had to take my class into the library for the first two hours; the temperature in the portable was forty-seven degrees.

And now? I don’t know about portables, but all the new schools built in Seattle have computer-controlled heating and cooling systems, controlled, I might add, from a central location somewhere downtown. Nobody knows just where and the custodian isn’t talking. If the room is too cold, someone calls downtown for more heat. But, teachers being the resourceful folks we are, we found a shortcut: put a wet paper towel over the thermostat and the heat would come on.

Computers? Document cameras? Overhead projectors? No such things when I started. We did have a monstrously large, heavy and cumbersome piece of equipment called an opaque projector. You could insert maps, photos, books, whatever, into it and it would project a weak image of the object onto a wall or a screen or you could trace it on butcher paper. No TVs (or VCRs and DVD players, of course.) We did have 16mm film projectors (and we had to attend a training session before they trusted us with it) and film-strip projectors. These have all joined the ditto machine.

Not surprisingly, our classrooms today are technology-rich compared with all those years ago. The technology in my double-portable back then consisted of . . . Wait, wait . . . I’m thinking. Lights. Two electrical outlets. The two heaters. A small, portable tape player. Oh, and I could check out a filmstrip projector or a 16mm film projector from the library, assuming no one else already had. And today’s classrooms? Technology is everywhere. New computers. Printers. TVs with VCR or DVD player. Telephone. Document camera. Motion-controlled lights. (In reference to this last one: Not all today’s technology is a boon. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to be sitting in the back of your room after school, correcting papers, and all of a sudden the lights go out? Every fifteen minutes I had to get up, walk to the front of the room and wave my arms at the sensor to make them come back on. Embarrassing when a parent walks by and sees this teacher mindlessly flailing his arms.)

But does technology always mean better? Are we better teachers now because of technology? Or, at moments, do we still feel inadequate even with all this technological backup? Perhaps Seymour Papert has put it best. He is an MIT mathematician, a pioneer in artificial intelligence and an educator. He asks us to imagine that a doctor and a teacher are transported from a century ago to the present. Technology has so changed today’s medical landscape, with new tests, drugs, knowledge, techniques, and equipment, that the doctor would be unable to practice medicine. Nevertheless, beyond a few small adjustments, a teacher from a century ago would fit well into today’s classrooms. Technology, he says, has been a huge expense for schools as well as a big disappointment. That assessment may be a little harsh, but I think we can agree that it’s still the teacher that makes the difference. Would you rather your child be in a class bereft of technology but with an experienced and inspired teacher? Or in a technology-rich class with a mediocre one? For me, the choice is clear.

Yep, it’s time for some more “If Only I Could Draw!!” humor.


Cartoon #36: Scene: A climber is puzzled by two signs he sees while struggling up a mountain. One has an arrow pointing up and says “UP. The other an arrow pointing down and says “DOWN”. Caption: Mountain climbing for dummies.

Cartoon #90: A father and son are looking at a statue of Gen. Lee. Father is saying to son, “Yes, son, General Lee was a great Southern adverb!”

Finally, a rather risque photo (for the time anyway) from Life magazine and an ad that was perfectly acceptable at the time. To men anyway.























The Tree

August 5, 2011

In 1951 I was eight years old and in the third grade at Chandler Elementary in

My 3rd grade class photo. That's me, 2nd row, 2nd from left.

Sherman Oaks, California, a ‘valley boy,’ I guess. The post-WWII construction boom was well underway and the oldest houses in our neighborhood were no more than five years old; we’d moved into ours in 1949. They were perfect Malvina Reynolds houses: little boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all looked the same—the house across the street from us was identical to ours except that it was laid out as a mirror image. But they were affordable and were quickly gobbled up by war veterans and others who now found themselves part of the growing post-War middle class.

Like pretty much every other kid in the rapidly expanding suburbs, my friends and I walked to school every morning, Chandler Elementary being only six or seven blocks away. About halfway to school, on Hazeltine Avenue and sandwiched between two blocks of homes under construction, was a small orchard of walnut trees waiting, dreading, its turn.

In the middle of the orchard stood The Tree, one that was strangely out of place, towering above all the other trees, a Gulliver among Lilliputians. I imagined that the orchard was still there because The Tree, powerful in its majesty, was the orchard’s Protector, daring the men with their chainsaws and bulldozers to step foot into its territory. Whatever the reason, The Tree stood there, regal and proud.

A curious thing about The Tree was that for all its hugeness, the fruit it produced, a soft, lavender berry, was tiny, the size of a marble. It seemed to me contrary to the natural order of things. Elephants produced large baby elephants; whales, large baby whales. For me, the mismatch between The Tree and its fruit added to its aura. And we ate the berries. They weren’t real good and they weren’t particularly bad; we ate them because we could.

The Tree was very special to the boys at Chandler, drawing us like pigeons to popcorn: it represented the supreme tree-climbing challenge. If tree climbing were an Olympic event like diving, The Tree would be given the highest degree of difficulty. Because of this, it was our regular after-school assembly ground: every boy who could, gathered there in order to test or show off his tree-climbing prowess. Notebooks, school books, papers and empty lunch boxes were carelessly tossed to the ground, joined by jackets, sweaters, gloves and caps in winter. The older boys went right to it; we younger ones, aware of the pecking order, waited until they were up before we started. Meanwhile, we regarded The Tree with awe and a strong touch of anxiety at the challenge awaiting us.

Over time, unwritten rules had evolved, turning efforts at climbing The Tree into a ritual, bonding us all into an unspoken brotherhood. The first challenge we faced just getting up to the lowest level of branches. These were out of reach, too high off the ground to simply jump up and grab one. One of our rules, though, was you couldn’t give or get help. No boosting someone, no reaching down and pulling them up. It was an on-your-own, do-or-die struggle and woe to the boy who showed up with hammer, nails and planks with the thought of making a ladder up the trunk. We had too much respect for The Tree to allow that to happen. We didn’t think of it as such at the time, of course, but climbing The Tree was a sort of minor rite of passage: If you needed help doing this, then you weren’t ready for it.

Yes, girls came by to see what was going on and that was fine so long as they didn’t interfere. The question of whether or not girls should be allowed to climb The Tree never came up. For one thing, in 1951 girls just didn’t do things like climb trees. And in any case, all the girls wore dresses, making it a moot point. I can’t help thinking, though, all these years later, that there must have been at least the occasional girl who came by and watched enviously as we met, or tried to meet, the challenge of The Tree, all the while believing that she could do it and wishing for the opportunity.

Once a boy reached the lowest crotch in The Tree he faced his second challenge. Here were two large limbs that branched outward while the main trunk continued up into the foliage, limiting the view of what lay above. The two limbs offered ample climbing opportunities for those who were content with having made it that far. The real challenge, though, was higher up the trunk.

Over a period of time the older and bigger boys, using ropes to haul up tools and wood, had assembled a network of platforms, perches and guide ropes high, high up in The Tree. Once up there a boy could move around fairly easily and safely as long as he was careful. But getting up there took strength, determination, and, above all, guts. No “little kid” had ever made it up there because by definition, once you were up there, you were no longer a little kid.

After the first crotch in The Tree it was a pretty simple thing to go up several more feet. There were branches and stump ends from limbs that had fallen off or been cut off. But then you reached The Tree’s greatest obstacle, the one that separated the big boys from the little boys. There was a stretch of trunk that shot several feet straight up over our heads, uncluttered by any branches, handholds or toeholds. Nothing. In addition, this part of the trunk was smoother. Shinnying up the first section of the trunk you at least could turn the natural roughness of the bark to your advantage. Up here you had to cling, and cling hard, with your arms and legs while you shinnied up. The Tree’s only concession to us was that the trunk was smaller around this high up and you could grip more of it.

Even though no physical help was allowed, it was okay to pass on tips and directions. For example, boys were told to start on the side of the tree away from the street because it was easier. Move to the right going up the first stretch of trunk because there were cracks and crevices, handholds, not visible from the ground. Then, when a boy was faced with that final shinny up to glory and manhood (or, at least, big-kidhood), the advice was clear and simple: Keep your eyes open but don’t look down. Focus on the trunk in front of you or above you.

I’d been up to this make-or-break point many times but had never gathered the courage to attempt the final stretch. On this day, though, I was going to tackle it. For me, it was like venturing to jump off the thirty-foot high-dive platform at the Sherman Oaks War Memorial Pool, another test I’d not yet passed. As with The Tree, I’d been up to the platform any number of times. I’d even gone to the edge and looked over but I’d always chickened out and gone back down the ladder. I’d been up to this point on The Tree many times but had always headed back down, never making the attempt.

I quickly and easily made it to the first crotch, impressing the younger boys who had tried and failed or hadn’t even tried yet. The smooth straight stretch of tree trunk loomed above me like Jack’s beanstalk, disappearing into the foliage seemingly miles overhead. Pike’s Peak must have looked like this the first time Mr. Pike laid eyes on it: difficult, dangerous, foolish even to attempt the ascent.

I rubbed the palms of my hands hard on my pants, then slapped the trunk a few times, as I’d seen the older boys do. I had no idea why they did it, I figured it was just part of the ritual. I didn’t want to get up there only to be told I didn’t slap the trunk so I’d have to go back down. (Later some of the boys told me they did that in order to bring more sensitivity to their palms and fingers; at least, that’s what they claimed.)

I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around the trunk, my feet still planted solidly on a branch that angled past the main trunk, making its tapered way up and out of sight. I gripped The Tree as hard as I could with both arms, hard enough to imprint my shirt buttons on my chest. Next came the leap of faith that allowed me to remove my feet from their safe haven and join my arms in clinging to the trunk. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I started to shinny up, afraid to relax my vise-like grip on The Tree. My eyes were tightly closed (in spite of the advice I’d received) and I could feel my heart pounding in every part of my body and my mouth was dry from fear.

As I struggled to make upward progress, my arms and legs began to tremble uncontrollably from the exertion. I couldn’t even guess how far up I’d gone, not with my eyes closed. A foot? Several feet? Then I made two mistakes: I thought about having to make the even scarier return trip down the trunk and then I opened my eyes and looked down. That was it. All of a sudden down was a whole lot more inviting to me than up and I started sliding back to where I’d begun, my feet anxiously kicking about, looking for a secure foothold. I found one and finally relaxed, my body leaning against the trunk. Part of me was angry, frustrated, disappointed: I hadn’t made it up. But another part of me recognized that I had made the attempt. I hadn’t finished, but I’d started and there would be other days, other attempts. The Tree had won the battle, perhaps, but not the war.


July 22, 2011

Just as many (if not most) adherents to western religions have an iconic image of God in their heads (he’s an old white man), so do they have an iconic image of heaven. But how deeply do they question this image? Do they question it at all? Or are they content with the iconic images: St. Peter, pearly gates, clouds, long white gowns, harps and wings? Do they ever ponder the following questions:

 1- When an infant dies, does it remain an infant in heaven for all eternity? Who provides the perpetual care? Where do the diapers come from? And where do they go?

 2- Won’t heaven be a pretty lonely place for children? Just about everybody there will be fifty or more years old.

3- Won’t older people, and particularly the very old, get tired of being old? Or very old? Who wants to be old and wrinkled for eternity?

4- Will people eat and drink in heaven? Or will these earthly delights be absent? If you can eat and drink, where does it all come from? (See Question 7 also.) And what happens to all the heavenly waste? And will religious restrictions around food still apply?

5- What about sex? Obviously, there will be no need for procreation but how about sex for pleasure? Will that earthly pleasure also be absent? If not, is it restricted to couples who were married on earth? If so, how about all those who died while single? Are they denied the joy of sex? Will they have to marry somebody? (There’s a bit of ironic pleasure in the thought that the only other alternatives, adultery or sex outside of marriage, while “terrible sins” on earth, might be allowed, or even encouraged, in heaven.)

6- How about pets? Most people believe that their beloved cat or dog will join them in heaven. But how about their turtle? Or their goldfish?

7- For that matter, what about animals in general? Moose roaming the clouds? The Tasmanian Devil? Mosquitos? Will they feed on us? Can we swat and kill them even though God commanded Noah to rescue the last two? Are animals consigned to hell? Or do they simply cease to exist? If God created them, why would he simply throw them away?

8- How will people spend their time in heaven? I suppose some artistic pursuits and sports are possible but many people who had hobbies will be out of luck. You can’t collect stamps or coins in heaven, you can’t hunt or fish, skydiving is probably out, as are stock car racing, TV, slot machines and playing Mortal Kombat.

9- Will earth’s natural beauties be there? Will people be able to hike mountain trails, delight in waterfalls, enjoy swimming in lakes and streams? Will there be gardens with flowers? Will the flowers ever die? Or will they last forever? Wouldn’t that be boring?

10- Will there still be different religions? And sects within religions?

11- Will people be expected to continue worshipping and praising God in heaven? If so, will it be Sundays only for some? Or, for others, Friday nights only? Or will they be at it every day?

12- What will all the preachers do in heaven?

13- Will God have visiting hours? And will there be tours?

14- Will time exist in heaven? Night and day? Sleeping and waking periods? I would hope so! It’s one thing to spend an eternity in heaven but to have to be awake 24/7 as well seems a little bit much.

15- Will people in heaven know what’s happening down on earth? If so, how? Probably not thru TV or radio. Maybe newspapers? The Heavenly Herald (Pearly Publishing)?

 If you have any answers, or if you’d like to add more questions, please feel free to comment.

 NOTE to believers: While these questions are more tongue-in-cheek than anything, they nonetheless should get you thinking more deeply about just what heaven is. If it is at all, that is.






Doodles & Poems

July 10, 2011

This will be the last of my regular weekly posts. It’s becoming increasingly frustrating trying to format my posts in a way that is artistically pleasing, to me at least, only to have Word Press rearrange all the elements when I go to preview or when I publish. I doubt that what you’ll see today is formatted in anything other than a random way, and certainly not the way I wanted. In any case, I will still be posting, just not every week. If you want to receive my posts, please click on “subscribe” and you’ll automatically receive them. Now, on with the show.

I Know

 Streams overflow.  Dreams under tow. Screams on the go. I know.  I know.

Dreams on the go. Screams overflow. Streams under tow.  I know.  I know.

Screams under tow. Streams on the go. Dreams overflow.  I know.  I know.



















It’s not in the finding, it’s in the seeking.

 It’s not in the knowing, it’s in the learning.

It’s not in the destination, it’s in the journey.

And it’s not in being, but becoming. 






 Under divine skies roam I.


Under the vine skies roam I.


Under the fine skies roam I.


Under the fine skies. Rome. I.


Under the fine skies room I.


Under the fine skies: roomy.


Under defiant skies: roomy.


Under defiant skies: rumor.


Under defiant skies: boarder.


Undirty fine skies’ border.


Undirty. Find skies’ border.


Underdefined: skies’ border.


Underdefined: skies’ Bordeaux.


Under the vine: skies’ Bordeaux.


Under the fine skies: Bordeaux. Yeah.



Cartoon #30: A drawing of Wayne Newton. Next to him, a square, fruit-filled cookie. They’re on a stage with the MC in front of a packed theater audience. The MC is saying, “Give it up for The Newton Brothers, Wayne and Fig!!.”

Cartoon #43: A father cabbage is having a talk with his son: “Remember, son, you have to work hard to get a head.”







July 3, 2011

Am I a pacifist? I like to think so but if I’m honest with myself, I’d have to append ‘more or less’ to my assertion. I’ve never defined pacifism for myself so I have no definition I can ‘try on’ to see if it fits. I could go to the dictionary, of course, but that works best for words that are far more objective, and less emotionally laden, than ‘pacifism.’  The dictionary can define ‘personality,’ for example, in a general sense, but it can’t define my personality. Just so, the dictionary can define ‘pacifism’ in a general sense, but it can’t define pacifism for me.

Here’s what I mean. The simplest definition I’ve seen (Wikipedia, my American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition), is simply ‘opposition to violence and/or war.’ That’s a very broad definition; its three elements, opposition, violence, and war, all have to be further defined to give any substance to the definition.

Start with opposition. What forms can it take before it becomes violence? How forceful can ‘opposition’ be? Gandhi and King both gave us stellar examples of non-violent resistance (another word for opposition). In spite of the violence directed against them, they remained true to the fundamental meaning of pacifism.

And what is ‘violence’? Is it a swat on the butt of my two-year-old (who was wearing diapers at the time)? Is self-defense a violation of pacifism? And what about verbal violence? Does that, too, violate the spirit of pacifism?

I’m going to pass over the ‘opposition to violence’ issue for now and focus on the one thing I’m very clear on: I do not believe in the purposeful taking of human life, whether it’s murder or state-inflicted capital punishment.

But what about war, the state-sponsored purposeful taking of lives on an unimaginable scale? It seems self-evident that I should be opposed to war and I am. But what if the ‘other side’ is carrying out acts so horrendously terrible and evil that they must be stopped at any cost? That’s the dilemma, and Gloria Steinem had it right when she noted that, “From pacifist to terrorist, each person condemns violence—and then adds one cherished case in which it may be justified.” Is war my Gloria Steinem exclusion? I don’t know, but I don’t think you can be a part-time pacifist.

Slavery, tyranny, and genocide are all moral issues that have led to horrendous wars, but for me, war is the preeminent moral question: either you fight and kill or you choose not to fight and kill: conscientious objector status. To address that I have to ask: which is the greater evil? Slavery or killing in a war? Genocide or killing in a war? Tyranny or killing in a war? In WWII, would I have killed barbers and bricklayers, accountants and clerks? Fathers, brothers and sons? It makes a difference to phrase it this way: these were people who were in so many respects just like us and I see them first and foremost as fellow human beings, not as enemy combatants. Would that alone have precluded my fighting and killing in WWII? And I have to ask: would my participation in WWII even have made any difference? Would it have saved even one Jewish or Roma or homosexual life? And if so, does that justify the killing?

To better understand the question, I rephrase it into a moral hypothetical: If I knew that killing Adolf Hitler would have prevented the massacre of millions of innocents, would I have done so? I have to say, yes. And I’d have to be willing to face whatever consequences might come from doing so. And I’d have to recognize that Gloria Steinem was right.

But what if killing Hitler would have saved only thousands of lives? Or hundreds? Or ten? At what point do I stop saying ‘yes, I would kill to save those lves’? Is there such a point? One hundred = yes, 99 = no? Fifty-one = yes, 50 = no? Would it make a difference if my wife and daughter were part of the fifty? Would I then kill? I don’t believe there can be any cutoff point.

The name ‘Hitler,’ of course, stirs powerful emotions so I’ve tried stripping emotional content from the question. A is going to kill B. I can either stop A by killing him or allow A to kill B. This one is easy to answer—I do nothing. I do not know A’s motives nor am I responsible for A’s actions. Nor am I responsible for Hitler’s, but there’s a clear difference between preventing one murder and preventing millions. Or is there? It seems that no matter how the question is phrased, there can be no clear-cut, black and white answer. Having affirmed my willingness to kill Hitler, have I forsaken any claim to pacifism? It seems that for me, pacifism is not, cannot be an absolute.

It was Carl Sandburg who said, “Someday they’ll give a war and nobody will come.” That’s the way it should work: people refuse to fight, enough people on both sides so as to make war impossible. But that doesn’t happen. Am I willing to stand in the ranks of the few who will decline the invitation?

Herman Wouk, in his powerful novel, “War and Remembrance,” had this to say:

Forty years ago, when I was a lieutenant commander and our pacifists were pointing out quite accurately the obsolete folly of industrialized war, Hitler and the Japanese militarists were arming to the teeth, with the most formidable weapons science and industry could give them for a criminal attempt to loot the world. The English-speaking countries and the Russians fought a just war to stop the crime. At horrible cost, we succeeded. What would the world be like had we disarmed, and Nazi Germany prevailed and won world dominion?

For me, it boils down to this: Would I have fought in World War II? I think so.

And would I have killed? Again, I think so. The answers sound wishy-washy, I admit. But it’s one thing to be 68 years old, sitting in my office, comfortable, safe, unthreatened by any enemies either personal or national and quite another to have been of draft age in 1942. My stance now is theoretical; my stance then would have been life-changing.

Pacifism is a strong and virtuous moral position to take. Indeed, if the whole world were pacifist there could be no war. But when one takes a virtuous moral position at the expense of the lives of millions of innocent men, women and children, that position no longer appears so virtuous or so moral. If anything, it seems rather smug. There are no absolutes in life, not even for pacifists.



More from “The Museum of What Used to Be”

June 26, 2011

There’s much to be said for youth, but even more for age. (Note that I don’t say OLD age, just age.) I don’t necessarily agree with Shaw’s quippy quote that youth is a wonderful thing, what a shame to waste it on the young. I like where I am and where I’m going. And, no, death does not intimidate me. All this is simply preamble to listing more of the things I remember from my youth, things that are now on display only in The Museum of What Used to Be.

Pay phones with three round openings, one each for nickels, dimes and quarters, each coin producing its own musical chime when it was deposited. This allowed the operator to determine if the correct amount of money had been deposited when making a call. Phone booths, too, were different. They were of wood with a glass-paneled accordion door. When you closed it, an interior light came on. There was a shelf for phone books and even a little seat to sit on.

One pound blocks of white margarine, accompanied by a packet of yellow food coloring. Margarine gained a foothold in the American market during World War Two, when it was used as a substitute for butter. The dairy industry, afraid of inroads into its market, successfully lobbied Congress to pass a law forbidding the sale of yellow margarine in quarter pound sticks. I remember my mom (sometimes dad) dumping the white margarine in a bowl and mashing in the yellow food coloring with a fork. The process was neither easy nor particularly pleasant. Margarine, however, was cheaper than butter

 • Dime stores. Also called “five and ten cent stores” or “five and dime,” they were a twentieth century incarnation of the old General Store of generations past. In them you could find just about any common household object you might need. Woolworths was probably the epitome of the dime store and there was one in virtually every town of more than a couple of thousand people. Dime stores have been replaced today by dollar stores and, sometimes, 99¢ stores. (Competition is cutthroat!)

Trading stamps, particularly S&H Green Stamps. Mom used to recruit me to lick the stamps and stick them in the booklets. We got lots of things for them but I don’t remember what.

Vacuum tubes. You could probably keep a living room comfortably warm in winter from all the heat generated by the vacuum tubes in the radio and the TV. When one burned out it required a trip to the grocery store or the drug store to a tube testing machine where you could test it and pick out a replacement.

Comic book characters: Andy Panda; Oswald Rabbit and his two nephews, Floyd  and Lloyd; Wally Walrus; Mighty Mouse; Little Lulu and Tubby; Li’l Iodine; Mary Jane and Sniffles. (Mary Jane was a little girl and Sniffles was her little mouse friend. She could make herself as small as Sniffles and then have all sorts of adventures. “Mary Jane”, of course, is an old name for marijuana and cokeheads often get the “sniffles”.)

• Backyard incinerators. All the new tract homes built after the war (at least, all the ones in our tract) had an incinerator where we burned much of our trash. This was back in the days when smog didn’t matter. Or fire safety either, apparently. Flames and sparks shot out the top, perilously close to our garage and the neighbors’ fence.

Metal taps you could buy at the dime store and nail to your shoes. We thought this was pretty cool. Parents complained that it ruined shoes. We were both right.

• Stoplights with no yellow, just green and red. In addition, they had two alternating arms that swung up each time the light changed. One arm was imprinted with a large green “GO” for the green light, the other with a large red “STOP” for the red light. And, as a kind of back-up measure, the signal chimed with each light change.


Cartoon #71: The scene is a lab with a chalkboard covered with esoteric equations and calculations, including a sketch of a rocket. One man, in a white lab coat, sits at a desk covered with papers; wads of discarded papers surround him. He looks frustrated and unhappy. A colleague, also in a white lab coat, stands nearby, looking exasperated. He’s saying to the other,  “Of course it’s hard! It’s rocket science!”

Cartoon #96: An anthropomorphized hyena, nicely dressed, is in line to board a plane. He’s carrying a dead animal. The ticket agent says, “I’m sorry, sir, but your carrion is too large.”

...and I'm not going to tell you where they are!