Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Portland Maine Students Vote With Their Feet

Deering High School
School choice is a good thing, and it is highlighting problems in Portland, Maine. The city has two large high schools and students can attend whichever one they choose. The Portland Press Herald ran a series of articles over the summer indicating why so many students and their parents are choosing Portland High School over rival Deering High School. Most cited student discipline, or lack thereof.

Meg Baltes (Portland Press Herald photo)
They like Portland High School because, as Meg Baltes — president of the rising junior class at Portland High School — put it to Press Herald reporter Rachel Ohm: "I think things are handled very swiftly and very aggressively at Portland. Any kids who get into trouble are dealt with pretty immediately. It’s a very no-nonsense policy. I know students see that and that helps a lot with problems being diverted.”
Students at Deering (from Press Herald)
It’s a different story at Deering. As former math teacher Tim Eisenhart put it in the same article, “There’s a weird lack of discipline inside the building. [The administration] is too soft and what ends up happening is kids do whatever they want.” Eisenhart resigned mid-year and went back to his engineering career. “I think you will find there’s a lot of shoveling it under the carpet, because [administrators] didn’t do anything. They send kids back [to class] less than 15 minutes later with a cupcake without doing anything.”

As a retired teacher with two years teaching delinquent high school students in Lowell, Massachusetts and thirty-three years in Maine public schools, those two quotes sum it up. If teachers aren’t backed up by building administrators when disciplining a students, everything breaks down. If I sent a student to the office (which I rarely did) and a principal sent him back with no consequence, I’d send him out again and inform the principal that he was not allowed in my classroom until an appropriate consequence was enforced, and I would not continue teaching otherwise.

From Portland Press Herald
Projected enrollment for the freshman class in Portland next month is 272, while at Deering, it’s only 127. Nine years ago the numbers were roughly equal with Deering at 245 and Portland at 232. Clearly things have changed at Deering. As Meg Baltes went on to say: “A lot of students at Deering feel the administration is chill and relaxed. They feel they can talk to them and have a more honest relationship, but it also means there’s less discipline and a feeling they can get away with stuff.”

Principal Gregg Palmer in drag (Press Herald photo)
Neither Deering Principal Gregg Palmer nor Assistant Principal Abdullahi Ahmed would answer specific questions from the Press Herald. Principal Palmer did, however, perform in Deering’s Gender Sexuality Alliance 2nd Annual Drag Show dressed as a woman. “This is all about them [the students],” Palmer said. "They are brave and they encourage the rest of us to be brave,” as he told the Press Herald. Too bad that bravery didn’t enable Palmer to back up teachers dealing with his problem students. One parent said to the Press Herald: “I think they’re too scared to discipline students in a way that would have an impact, so they just let things go a lot of the time without even a slap on the wrist.”

Superintendent Xavier Botana (Press Herald photo)
Deering administrators referred all the Press Herald’s discipline questions to Superintendent Xavier Botana who tried explaining it away as a lack of communication regarding violent incidents at Deering last year. Then he indicated that, “[H]e plans to start a conversation with the school board about capping the number of students that can attend each school.” In other words, Superintendent Botana wants to limit school choice. He doesn’t want students voting with their feet because that’s making his job difficult.
School board Chairman Rodrigues
Even if Superintendent Botana were to pressure his administrative team at Deering to toughen up, he may not be backed up by his school board. Board Chairman Roberto Rodriguez told the Press Herald: “It’s difficult to change the expectations of what discipline truly means. If we have an old-school expectation of what discipline is, something like zero-tolerance, then yes, you’re not going to see that today. That’s not how we want to discipline our students.”
Really Mr. Rodriguez? How would you do it? It looks like Deering is in for another tough year.

From Portland Press Herald
Complicating all this are changing demographics. Though it used to enroll the poorest kids in the city a generation ago, Portland High School is located on Portland’s peninsula where real estate values have skyrocketed. The Deering neighborhood used to be more prosperous but has lately absorbed a high concentration of so-called “refugees” and “asylum seekers,” many of whom speak no English. The Press Herald reports: “In 2018-2019, minority students accounted for about 47 percent of the Deering student body. Twenty percent were English language learners and 57 percent were economically disadvantaged, according to school district data.”

Portland from South Portland
Big city problems have arrived in once-placid Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Signs of Summer's Eb

Looking out over the yard two weeks ago I noticed spider webs on the lawn sparkling with morning dew That’s been a sure reminder that summer break is past its late-July halfway point and schools will be reopening in a matter of weeks. Today, crickets are chirping in the yard during daylight hours and that’s an August sign that fall is getting even closer. The autumn chill the past few mornings brings a certain fragrance with it and nothing brings back memories more powerfully than familiar smells.

It’s been more than eight years since my retirement, but from ages six to sixty my life was dictated by the academic calendar as student or teacher. These distinctly New England sights, sounds, and smells will always affect me the same ways. I would feel a combination of lament for the fading summer mixed with dread and pleasant anticipation of going back to school. Soon the big yellow school bus will go by my house at 7:00 am. I’ll look up from my reading and remember all those times I’d be heading out the door to follow close behind it. Not anymore though, because I’m no longer captive to the academic calendar. Now I can choose how to spend my day. I can go anywhere, do anything. 

Dawn at Moose Pond in Bridgton, Maine

For example, watching sunlight fill the day with a camera in my hand is one of my favorite things. That’s more difficult from May through July when the sun clears the horizon around five am. I’m usually up by 4:30 but I prefer to shower, exercise, dress, and drink coffee before going out. From late August through November, it is much easier to accomplish that. Being out and about at dawn is usually a solitary endeavor, but sometimes I’ll see another dawn person on my sojourns. I’ll nod to them or perhaps say good morning, but they usually enjoy their privacy as much as I do. They’ll nod back and then we’ll each go our own way.

Twilight at Kezar Lake in Lovell, Maine

Watching daylight fade at dusk is another special time. I like to be out and about then too, but so do many others. Unlike the solitude of dawn, twilight is more of a social time, especially in late summer and fall when daylight diminishes at an accelerating rate — from two minutes per day June to July — to three by end of August. By September 1st those small increments have added up to the point where daylight has diminished by two hours since school let out in June. In early August we see the first leaves turning red, usually on maples stressed by various factors like too much or two little water. Sumacs change early as well and sometimes it starts as early as July. Certain ferns turn yellow and then brown. Soon the sweetish smell of decaying vegetation can be detected after a rain.

Our back field in Lovell, Maine
For months, there’s been a big pile of tree-length hardwood in my back field. It’s hard to estimate but there are probably twelve cords plus or minus, and it needs to be cut and split. I used to do that work every year at this time, and I may go out there and do a little just for old time’s sake — but that’s all. I miss the unique fragrance given off while splitting red oak and I want to experience that again, but I don’t need the wood. It’s all there because I asked someone to cut the trees beyond the field that were getting too tall and blocking some of our view. I didn’t think it would amount to that much firewood, but a former student has agreed to work it up in September.

My daughter and grandson
In a few more weeks people will be donning an extra layer as they go out in the morning. Some may even start a fire in the wood stove. Then they’ll look at their wood piles and think about adding to them. It’s hard to get motivated to do that kind of thing in August when the temperature is in the 80s every day. It makes me tired now to remember myself as a young man spending two August weeks getting out my firewood, hauling it home, and sweating off ten or fifteen pounds in the process. I’ve been heating with oil the past several years and only keep around a little wood for the fireplace. These days I’d rather go out and take pictures to sell — then pay someone else to work up all that wood.

Sunrise at the Eastern Prom in Portland, Maine

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Left & Right July 31, 2019

Newspaper publisher Mark Guerringue sits in the left chair for this episode. The producer gives us two questions to start with: Are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren too far left to beat Trump? I answer that if the election were held today, Trump would win, but it's a long way off and anything could happen in the next fifteen months. The Democrat field is so far left that what we used to consider centrist has also shifted considerably to the left to the point where John Delaney is called moderate. Mark believes Delaney, Hickenlooper and Bullock to be moderate because they're capitalist and don't want to give free medical care to undocumented immigrants. Mark also contends that Mitch McConnell is blocking efforts to monitor/regulate social media, thus enabling Russians and others to continue influencing elections. I say all that is overblown and an issue manufactured by Democrats to harass the Trump Administration. Mark asked what I think of Meuller's appearance before Congress. I said Meuller appeared doddering, incompetent, showing signs of dementia. Mark emphasized that Meuller responded "Yes" to a Democrat congressman's question: "Would you have recommended indictment if Trump were not president?" Mark believes there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in spite of the Mueller report claim that there wasn't. I question whether Meuller wrote the report, that he appeared incompetent at the hearing and I believe the entire Russia collusion affair was invented by the Obama Administration intelligence apparatus, the Hillary Campaign, and the DNC, that they all spied on the Trump Campaign, the Trump Transition Team, and the Trump White House. I believe there will be indictments of several people associated with those organizations. A grand jury is right now investigating this under special prosecutor Durham. I contend there is little or no evidence for the ubiquitous charges that Trump is racist. All his "evidence" is circumstantial, that he questioned Obama's birthplace only because Obama was black -- that he criticized the Squad because only because they're brown and black. He [Trump] just is [racist], Mark claims. It's obvious, he says. Not to me it isn't. I claim Trump's criticism of the squad is because of the Squad's views, but the left, including Mark in this case, says it's only because of their skin color. I contend that cities around the country that Democrats have run for sixty years are hell-holes. Mark says they're thriving, that they're centers of entrepreneurship. He discounts that the murders in Chicago and Baltimore have anything to do with Democrat leadership.

Monday, August 05, 2019

I'm Harassed And Assaulted Wearing A MAGA Hat

Young man who knocked the hat off my head
It’s dangerous to wear a MAGA hat in liberal cities like Portland, Maine. Remember when the left appealed for tolerance of their views on social and political issues? Well, many have become most intolerant of conservatives — sometimes violently, as I personally learned at Portland’s “First Friday Art Walk” last week.

Jahagir Turan beaten in Manhattan last week
A quick online search reveals several instances here, here, here, and here over the past two years in which people were physically assaulted for wearing MAGA hats — including a Manhattan man who had his face smashed in last week, but the incident was ignored by mainstream media. With all this in mind, I put on a MAGA hat and walked down Portland's Congress Street during that city's monthly event.

Artists selling their wares filled the sidewalk from the Museum of Art to Monument Square. My wife agreed to come if she could walk twenty feet behind and pretend not to know me. Along the way, I saw several stylized paintings of breasts and “Buteruses,” short for “Beautiful Uteruses.” Another woman sold T-Shirts proclaiming “F**K ICE” and “F**K THE POLICE.” I asked questions of several artists who were happy to discuss their work. Some, however, looked at my hat and answered through gritted teeth.

At the Art Walk in Portland
Two men walking by and nodded approvingly. Other people elbowed each other and pointed at me. A small group in Monument Square held up a large piece of canvas with the words: “Say No To Racism!” I walked around them as they stared at my hat. It was much the same on the return trip until a young black man snarled, “Why you wearing that hat? You shouldn’t be wearing that!” But he kept walking in the opposite direction so I proceeded on.

On Congress Street last Friday
There were more dirty looks from artists and passers-by until I got back to the intersection with High Street. In front of the Museum is an open triangle on which several artists had set up. A young man there said he admired my courage and took my picture. Then dozens of people applauded as a group of 20-30 demonstrators marched by with signs proclaiming “MAINE JEWS SAY CLOSE THE CAMPS — NEVER AGAIN IS NOW” and “ABOLISH ICE!” and “STOP FAMILY SEPARATION!” I went to the curb and took pictures.

On Congress Street last Friday
Back at the triangle, I saw the young black man had returned. In a more civil tone, he asked why I was wearing the hat. I said I liked Trump’s policies on immigration, his judicial nominations, his handling of the Middle East, the economy — until someone shouted: “What’s your job?” I said I was a retired teacher. “What did you teach?” I told them US History. “So you know about US History?” said the young black man. Yes, I said. “Trump hates people like me!” he responded, getting hostile again. “You shouldn’t be wearing that!”
Looking at my hat
Seven or eight others behind him, all white, joined him saying loudly, “Trump is racist!” I asked them what evidence they had. A young woman said Trump called white supremacists in Charlottesville “fine people.” I said Charlottesville began as a demonstration against removing statues honoring soldiers who fought for the South, but the angry group wouldn’t let me finish. Several shouted at once: “He’s racist! He raped women!”

What the left sees when looking at a MAGA hat
As they loudly berated Trump and me, I asked if I could photograph them. “No!” they said, except for the young black man. He extended his arm with his middle finger out and said, “Go ahead.” I snapped the picture, then noticed our audience had expanded. The black man got more hostile and said, “You can’t wear that hat! This is my city! I told him I watch the news, form my own opinions, and I have a right to express them just as others do — and this isn’t your city. He clenched his fists and pretended to rush me. Another man appeared at my side and told the young man to “cool it.” Still another said, “You’re saying that because he’s black! Why don’t you tell me to cool it? Because I’m white?”

At that point, the young black man knocked the MAGA hat off my head and ran off down Free Street. I put it back on and turned around to face the crowd again. Some apologized for what he had done. Others got more civil at first but soon resumed shouting at me. I offered counterpoints whenever I could though I doubted I would change any of their minds. But others were watching and listening so I calmly stood my ground.

My wife, however, looked very worried and asked me to leave but I wanted to continue. I parried verbally with the hostiles a little longer until she pulled my hand and whispered in my ear: “Those children are getting scared.” Behind her were three kindergarten-aged kids sitting on the curbstone who looked at me wide-eyed and upset. That bothered me more than my opponents did. A man, their father maybe, watched over them.

Once more my wife pleaded with me to leave, so I did, promising myself I’d return next month — wearing my MAGA hat again, of course.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Politics of Racism

Has Democrat identity politics so saturated our culture that we must all think our race the primary determinant of who we are? It sure seems that way when listening to what passes for political discourse these days.

It’s been a long time — so long I cannot remember the last time it bothered me when someone called me a racist. It did sting the first few times and it put me on the defensive. I felt compelled to refute the charge, but I don’t anymore. The accusations are most often in anonymous comments on my web site, but also in signed letters to the editor in newspapers carrying my column.

When on my “Left & Right” TV show, one leftist opponent habitually calls Republican policies or individuals racist, I ask for specific evidence. His answers indicate he doesn’t know what racism actually is. Dictionary.com defines it as:

a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.

Early charges of racism against me came after I wrote columns arguing against Affirmation Action policies enforced by the federal government. According to HG.org Legal Resources:

The purpose of affirmative action is to promote social equality through the preferential treatment of socioeconomically disadvantaged people.

My point was that in order to grant preferential treatment to historically disadvantaged groups like blacks and women in hiring, college admissions, and granting of government contracts, other groups like white men must necessarily be passed over. That, of course, requires bona fide racial and sexual discrimination.

There can be no argument that so-called “affirmation action” discriminates against white men. College admission policies discriminate against Asian men and women as well as whites as evidenced in recent lawsuits against Harvard University by Asian students who have been denied admission on the basis of race. Evidence indicates other Ivy League colleges do the same.

A 2015 LA Times article reported on a Princeton study using SAT scores to measure advantages and disadvantages of applicants according to their race. It was summed up by a college admission specialist named Ann Lee who said: 

African Americans received a “bonus” of 230 [SAT] points. Hispanics received a bonus of 185 points. Asian Americans, Lee says, are penalized by 50 points — in other words, they had to do that much better to win admission.

It’s the ultimate irony that Asians and whites who argue against such racially discriminatory policies are the ones accused of racism. Who is making these racist accusations? New York Times columnist David Brooks last week claimed that for the past twenty years:

…white educated Democrats have moved left is true, but it’s not the essential truth. The bigger truth is that this segment is now more likely to see politics through a racial lens. Racial equity has become the prism through which many in this group see a range of other issues.

While I find myself agreeing with Brooks less and less lately, I’m with him on much of what he says in this column. Charges of “racism” hurled against me for more than twenty-five years have nearly always come from educated white liberals. Though many are still impressed by them, I’ve learned that college degrees do not prove intelligence, and I believe educated liberals yell “racism” when they run out of logical arguments. Another driving force behind accusations of racism is “white guilt,” especially as described by Shelby Steele in his 2006 book by that name. Educated white liberals are terrified that anyone may think them racist, so they bend over backward to forestall any such possibility.

As Brooks put it last week: 

“…if you’re a rich white child of privilege you have to go to extraordinary lengths to prove you’re one of the good children of privilege and not one of the bad ones. In this take, white progressives don noble clothing to make themselves feel good…

Are educated white liberals signaling their virtue when calling the rest of us racist? It was less than three years ago that candidate Hillary Clinton labeled half of Trump supporters racist. Compared to today’s far-left Democrat candidates she was a moderate. It’s Tuesday as I write this and I expect charges of racism against the president and his supporters to dominate tonight’s Democrat debate in Detroit.

Our Supreme Court recently forbade the 2020 US Census to ask people if they’re citizens of the United States but has no problem with questions about race — for which there are over a dozen possible categories. If even the United States government is now officially more concerned about people’s race than their citizenship, what kind of country have we become?

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Graffiti A Sign of Cultural Decay

It was a bad sign and disheartening to see. While strolling along the new, upper-cliff walk at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, Maine — one of my favorite places — I saw the graffiti. Park officials had cleared brush from a small level area and put in a picnic table surrounded by a semicircle of ten or twelve boulders rolled into place. Then some selfish, depraved individual came along with a can of red spray paint and defaced them.

It’s an otherwise lovely spot in a stunningly beautiful park with views of Portland Head Light, the shipping channel to Portland Harbor, islands in Casco Bay, and the open Atlantic beyond. Now, however, anyone enjoying a picnic there is forced to look at undecipherable symbols on most of the boulders and a good old, “F*** You” on one of them. If I were a judge and the apprehended vandal came before me, I would force him (it’s most likely a young male) to sand off every bit of that red paint by hand, however long that takes, or go to jail for the maximum sentence.

Graffiti signals a deteriorating society, the cultural equivalent of a canary in a coal mine. It should be eradicated as soon as it is detected. To leave it is to invite more. I’d liken it to the “broken window theory” first put forth by George Kelling and James Wilson in a 1982 Atlantic article: “if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.” It’s the same with graffiti. Leave it up and it will spread.
Woodford's Corner http://portlanddaily.cradockphotography.com
I’ve witnessed the phenomenon over the past seven years driving up and down Portland, Maine’s Forest Avenue every week. Stuck in traffic, I’d stare at graffiti on buildings and rooftops. At first, property owners would hastily remove it either by sandblasting it off brick walls or painting over it on other surfaces. After a year or two, however, those efforts slowed down. Now it appears proprietors have given up and the contagion is getting out of control.

"Graffiti is Art, Not Vandalism" claims an article in the Temple University newspaper Temple News. The argument is ridiculous at best. Graffiti spoils someone else’s property. I’d liken it to a dog lifting his leg on a building to mark his territory. How would a genuine artist feel if he or she purchased a large canvas and a graffiti “artist” sprayed on it in the dark of night? If vandal “artists” won’t rent billboards, how about they walk around wearing a sandwich board to display their “art”? One commenter wrote: “Graffiti is filth, period. That is like saying I took an artistic dump on the sidewalk.”
Subway in Rome
In Rome four years ago I hired a guide to show us around the Eternal City. He pointed out endless fountains — repetitive, stone-carved, muscular nudes laying around displaying genitalia. We, especially my grandson and I, were more interested in historical sites like the Colosseum and the Vatican, but each day I would ask him his opinion of the graffiti we were seeing everywhere. “Oh, that’s art too,” he insisted. On the third day, we encountered old paintings under an archway defaced by someone with a spray can. Finally, he admitted, “That is sh*t!”

This pushed our guide over the edge
Guides are licensed by Italy’s government to comment only in certain ways, but our guide got so exasperated he finally ignored those constraints. Rome was bad, but Athens, Greece is by far the worst graffiti-ridden European city I’ve seen so far. It’s a rather ugly city anyway, apart from the Acropolis and a few other sites, and graffiti is epidemic. On that trip, I was part of a larger family group and didn’t want to rain on the parade by asking our guide about it — a lovely older woman named Dora. There was much less in the rest of Greece outside Athens which was amazingly beautiful.

Walking back from Acropolis in Athens
The graffiti I saw at Fort Williams was fresh. Park officials there are very diligent and I hope they will have either painted the stones or replaced them by the time I return next weekend. The City of Portland is attempting to alleviate their problem by advising property owners, but I’m sad to report that it seems to be losing the battle.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Working With Words and Images

This weekly column pleases some and annoys others. One of the newspapers in which it runs editorialized years ago that people either love it or hate it. Last week’s edition featured a letter from Connecticut residents who summer in Casco, Maine and describing my columns as “filled with vitriol and hate.” The writers threatened to cancel their subscription should the columns continue to appear. This week, a letter from a local woman appeared declaring the columns to be a “breath of fresh air.” She sends them to friends in Connecticut who “enjoy [my] approach on state and national issues.”

My photographs are received differently. Some people love them while others just seem indifferent. Photographs don’t generate controversy the way columns do. They either resonate with viewers or they don’t. Some people like them well enough they throw down money for enlargements to hang on their walls, but no one has yet felt compelled to express a negative opinion.

Thinking and feeling go into creating both a photograph and a column. When I see something beautiful or dramatic, I have to think about how to frame the scene — what angles to use and what settings to make on my camera and lens. Then come cropping and editing. Lastly, I must decide which photos to keep and which to discard. Columns and photographs each communicate my view of the world to others, yet some ideas expressed in the columns grate on people while images in the photos do not.

Often I need a break from writing when my brain gets tired as I struggle to find words that adequately express what’s in it. I’ll get up and walk around a bit, then return to the computer and pull up photographs to edit instead of the unfinished column. I’m using my brain again, but a different part of it. Working with images can energize me after a search for words has exhausted me.

There’s deadline pressure when writing columns every week, but there can be time pressure when taking photographs too. Walking or driving, I’ll stop and try to capture a passing scene, but by the time I have my camera in hand with the proper settings, the light has changed and the opportunity has passed. In another case, I’d been watching a nesting loon on Kezar Lake for weeks, boating to the site several times trying to be there for a photo of her chick. Last Saturday I saw that she had left the nest. I looked all around that section of the lake for her and the chick but never saw them.

Some letter-writers have declared my columns are the sole reason they buy a paper. Others fulminate against them, heaping scorn on both me for writing them and the paper for publishing them. I wonder why they don’t just skip over the column. What compels them to read it? It must be something akin to attending a horror movie or reading a Stephen King novel. Why take the time to view something you know will disturb you? Is it the adrenaline rush? Maybe they’re progressives trying to expose themselves to a conservative view — and then get so incensed they must write something scathing in opposition.

When seeing my photographs hanging somewhere, people can either can stop and look or just walk on by. Unlike angry readers, those who see my photos don’t feel compelled to share negative impressions. I’ve never gotten an email, a letter, a phone call, a text, or a comment that my photos are incendiary, hateful, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, or vitriolic.

It’s not as if all my images depict beautiful things. I have pictures of gruesome things like a hawk tearing a robin apart, an eagle ripping up a fish, an approaching thunderstorm about to snap off trees or uproot them, a gathering of angry protesters, a fight between an eagle and an osprey, and hunters looking for deer to kill. People seem to just accept these images as depictions of reality, but when I write about unsavory actions by leftist politicians or by certain protected minority groups, I’m excoriated as a hate-filled villain.

Every week I spend hours both writing and working with photographs. The extra income is nice but I do it because I like it, especially moving from one to the other. Photography takes me outside. It gets me up early to catch morning light. Never do I catch all the beauty in a scene that inspires me, but sometimes I can obtain a reasonable facsimile. Writing makes me sit down and reflect on things.

I can think of worse ways to spend my remaining time on this earth, so I guess I’ll continue.