Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Organizing Knowledge

Most students came to me unable to fix themselves in space or in time. They had little idea of what the world looked like beyond their neighborhood and their school. They could not point to Maine on a world map, or to their town on a map of Maine. Neither did they have much idea of world and national events during the lives of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and other ancestors which shaped their families and the culture into which they’d been born.

It took me a while to realize what an impediment those deficits were. I had a curriculum to deliver and try as I might, results of my labors were sporadic at best. Information I delivered went in one ear and out the other because there was no context, no net, no web in students’ minds onto which it might attach. Some did have those contexts. They comprehended everything and progressed. Most, however, did not.

My first target was geographic ignorance, so I passed out maps of the world with no labels anywhere. Depicted were continents and the blue water surrounding them. On the continents were tannish mountain ranges and blue rivers. That’s all. Next I passed out a list of names — continents, mountains, rivers, seas, bays, gulfs, straits, channels, deserts, isthmuses — about one hundred fifty of the earth’s most important physical features. Their task was to find them and label them the same way cartographers did on the atlases in the back of their textbooks. They had to find and label each, then print the name on a horizontal plane except when labeling rivers and mountain ranges. Most of them gasped.

“Get to it,” I said. “You’ll be tested the end of next week. I’ll pass out the same blank map and a list of fifty places randomly selected from that one hundred fifty that you must label correctly without looking at your atlas.

“Which ones will be on the test?” they asked.

“I’m not telling. You’ll see when I pass it out.” We drilled in class for about ten days and played various map games. Ultimately most did fairly well on the test. Those who didn’t were allowed to take it again until they did. They had begun building a physical context — a net between their ears. To their surprise, they actually enjoyed it.

Then came a respite, after which came another blank world map with another list of one hundred fifty countries and major cities. They had to label each and outline political borders between countries (which were already lightly drawn), and locate cities with a dot. Then came more drill, more games, and another test. Again, most did fairly well.

The goal was for each student to be able to conjure up the world map in their mind’s eye whenever they heard one of the three hundred places mentioned — then see exactly where in the world it was. Standing before a pull-down world map they would need less than five seconds to point to it. For the rest of their lives, whenever they heard something about one of those places, there was a framework in their minds to which it might stick before it went out the other ear. It was a way to begin organizing knowledge.

After that we’d take another break from map drills, but only for a month or so. Then I’d pass out a blank map of the United States and another list of one hundred fifty place names — and they’d do the same drills. Then came another blank USA map and they were tasked with finding all fifty states, all fifty capitals, and dozens of other major cities. After appropriate intervals would come blank maps of Europe and the Middle East. For the last several years of my career, I was determined that no student would leave my class geographically ignorant. Some did anyway, but not many.

Every day we’re bombarded with information from electronic media in our pockets, in our living rooms, in the car. Most of it doesn’t stick in our minds because far too many Americans are like my students were. They cannot fix themselves in space or time. For them there’s only here and now. Ask them when the Civil War was fought and they cannot answer. World War I? Forget it. Even World War II is hazy in America’s collective mind. When they hear of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), can they point to either Iraq or Syria? I doubt it. North Korea? Iran? Probably not. 

All during my thirty-six-year teaching career, America’s access to information increased manyfold while our ability to retain and make sense that information went in the other direction. Worse, it appears that decline is accelerating. Why? There’s no construct, no context in which to arrange global information so it can even be understood, much less acted upon.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Tommy The Commie

The principal knocked lightly on my door in the middle of a class. When I looked up, he opened it a crack and said, “The superintendent wants see us in his office right after this period.”

It was 1985. I was teaching US History and current events at the old Snow School in Fryeburg, Maine. The superintendent’s office was a short drive down Portland Street near the traffic lights which weren’t there yet. On the way, he told me it was a parent complaint. As we walked through the door, the secretary pointed to the superintendent’s office saying, “Go right in.” 

“Mr. Smith (not his real name) was in here, angry,” he said after we both sat down in front of his desk. “His daughter is in your class, right?”


“He told me you said President Reagan is either a liar of a fool — and he’s pissed. Did you say that?”

“I did, yes.”

“Why?” he asked.

“Well, Reagan said he wouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, but his administration traded weapons for hostages with Iran,” I answered. 

“He said he didn’t know anything about it, but it was happening right under his nose. I can come to only two possible conclusions: either he knew about it and he’s lying, or he should have known about it but didn’t — and that would make him a fool.”

“That’s your opinion?”


“Did you say it was your opinion?”

“I did.”

“I told Mr. Smith he should talk to you about it directly, and come back to me if you two can’t resolve it.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Here’s his number. Give him a call and let me know how you make out.”

“Mr. Smith” was a retired Marine and a large person, bigger than me at least. We sat down and I thanked him for coming in. He squared his shoulders and let me know that he didn’t like my criticism of President Reagan and why. I told him same thing I said to the superintendent. After a prolonged stare, he accepted it as he might accept that a bird had crapped on his windshield. 

It wasn’t the first time I had annoyed a conservative parent. Another complaint came from a local attorney who also had a daughter in my class and had been elected to the school board. He objected to how I portrayed President Reagan’s invasion of Grenada. After covering what happened down there I had told students I agreed with those whose opinion it was that Reagan was trying to distract America’s attention from his disastrous deployment of American troops at the Beirut Airport. More than 200 US Marines had died in a truck bombing there less than a week before the Grenada invasion. We met and discussed particulars of where we disagreed about what motivated the Grenada invasion. Then he suggested that I needed to offer alternative viewpoints when I presented liberal interpretations to students.

That seemed reasonable, so I invited him into class to offer one, and a week or so later he did. He took most of a day in all four of my history classes explaining why Granada was important to shipping lanes leading into the Panama Canal. If the island were led by a communist government, American shipping could be threatened as well as US control of the canal itself. Then we both answered questions from students.

Later in the 1980s sometime I found myself sitting at a lunch counter next to a local heating contractor and oil dealer who also had a daughter in my class. After listening to her describe some of our classroom discussions at their dinner table, he concluded that I taught with a liberal bias. “People call you ‘Tommy the Commie,’” he said with a chuckle. “I’d appreciate it if you could offer the other side once in a while.” I thanked him for his feedback and promised I would try to do so.

Reactions from other conservatives in the community were similar. When they didn’t like the way I was teaching, they confronted me face-to-face with specific objections. We’d discuss issues rationally and with civility. If other conservatives complained about me behind my back, I never heard about it. By the early nineties, after I’d become conservative myself and my column was appearing regularly in local newspapers, many, many more complaints came from parents and other members of the community on the left.

I lost count of those, but I can recall only two that had names attached, and only one liberal parent ever sat down to talk with me. Typically I would hear from the principal that parents objected to a column or a lesson. When I asked who I’d be told they wanted to remain anonymous.

So do most of the leftists who comment on my blog. Come to think of it, so do the leftist thugs in Antifa.

There’s a definite pattern here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

White Supremacists Under The Bed

“That’s so bourg,” said one of the Saul Alinsky community organizers I was working with forty-five years ago in Massachusetts. Though I didn’t know what "bourg" meant, I got that it was a pejorative. “Bourg” meant “bad.” Only later did I ask the full meaning. It was short for “bourgeois,” she said, as if that explained everything. I still didn’t understand but the word sounded familiar and I knew its spelling so I looked it up. Bourgeois meant “middle class,” but I was still perplexed. I saw myself as middle class and still do. What was so bad about middle class? 
Amy Wax University of Pennsylvania Law School

Well, just about everything, I guess. At the ultra-progressive, ivy-league University of Pennsylvania, a law professor named Amy Wax is being vilified as “racist” and “bigoted” by students, faculty, and alumni for daring to write that bourgeois values exemplified in 1950s America are superior to those prized in today’s progressive America. She asserted in a Philadelphia Inquirer  op-ed that in the 1950s people believed you should:

“Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.”

The last straw came when Wax dared criticize mores in sacrosanct sub-cultures:

“the single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks; [and] the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants.” Wax asserted those were, “destructive of a sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans.”

UPenn took all that as a declaration of war and several scorching columns appeared in UPenn’s daily newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. One, signed by fifty-four faculty and doctoral students declared that Wax’s bourgeois culture:

“stem[s] from the very same malignant logic of hetero-patriarchal, class-based, white supremacy that plagues our country today,” and “These cultural values and logics are steeped in anti-blackness and white hetero-patriarchal respectability, i.e. two-hetero-parent homes, divorce is a vice, and the denouncement of all groups perceived as not acting white enough i.e. black Americans, Latino communities, and immigrants in particular.”

Forty-five years ago bourgeois culture was still acceptable but today it’s anathema to the progressive left which rules media and academia. Above her original op-ed, Wax included a picture of actor John Wayne from Director John Ford’s 1956 film: The Searchers, the film was depicted as reinforcing bourgeois culture and further enflaming the UPenn establishment.

Other symbols of the bourgeois 1950s like “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It To Beaver” are often derided by progressives. Must we now regard Jim Anderson and Ward Cleaver as hetero-patriarchal white-supremacists? Were baby boomer minds corrupted by their propaganda? Do we need reeducation and sensitivity training? To remedy this, perhaps there could be another remake of “Leave It To Beaver” in which Lumpy Rutherford marries Eddie Haskell. Maybe Whitey Whitney can renounce his white male privilege and transition into a woman. Maybe June Cleaver can organize a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood.

NBC’s Chuck Todd invited Dartmouth’s Chris Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook onto the August 20th “Meet The Press.” Bray argued for Antifa's use of violence in opposition to fascist white-supremacists. Arguing against was Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Then Dartmouth President Phil Scanlon denounced Bray’s remarks, only to be himself condemned by 100 active Dartmouth faculty. Sounds a lot like UPenn's antics.

Thus is political polarization exacerbated. Antifa uses violence not only against real white supremacists, but imagined ones as well. The Marxist left, which seems now to control of the Democrat Party, sees anyone who opposes it as white supremacist. So when Antifa beats up Trump supporters, capitalists, readers of Ann Coulter’s columns, and anyone it considers conservative, leftist Democrats either cheer them or keep silent, recent remarks by Nancy Pelosi notwithstanding.

Perhaps observing how Maine’s rural 2nd District where I live went for Trump in 2016, former Trump campaigner staffer Mark Braynard is bringing his “Look Ahead America” organization to New Hampshire. Interviewed on WMUR-TV, Braynard said he identified 15,000 to 100,000 disaffected rural voters he’ll try to register. In response, NH Democrat Party Chairman Ray Buckley called these disaffected citizens “white supremacists.

Who knew there were so many white supremacists in NH? Might these disaffected citizens also consider themselves middle class? Bourgeois? Whereas the late Senator Joseph McCarthy saw communists under his bed and everywhere else in the 1950s, it appears today’s Democrats are seeing white supremacists everywhere now.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Cheap Talk

Actions speak louder than words. Talk is cheap. Put up or shut up. Prove it.

There are many ways to say it, but they all come down to one thing: Do you mean what you say? For anyone claiming to be a leader that means warn once, then execute. Never bluff.

When Saddam Hussein first took steps develop nuclear capabilities in the Iraqi desert, Israel sent jets in to destroy his facility at Osirak. In and out went the planes — a surgical strike. That was June, 1981. When Bashar Assad built a nuclear facility in Syria called Al Kibar for the same purpose, Israeli jets destroyed that too. In and out went the planes — another surgical strike. That was September, 2007.

Syria's Al Kibar destroyed

With the destruction of Osirak, Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin established his doctrine: “prevent confrontation states … from gaining access to nuclear weapons.” Both Iraq and Syria had tried to invade Israel after declaring it had no right to exist. 

When the Kim dynasty was threatening the United States and simultaneously building nuclear facilities in North Korea, American military officials advised sending jets in to destroy them. President Clinton instead deployed former President Carter and a lead negotiator named Wendy Sherman for talks. They came up with the 1994 deal under which North Korea promised to freeze its nuclear program. In return, the United States gave $4 billion to develop nuclear reactors that would ostensibly be for generating electricity. We also gave them $100 million in oil and some food.

Then in 1998, two things happened: One — North Korea was caught sending missile technology to Pakistan, itself a nuclear power. Two — it tested an ICBM. Four years later in 2006, North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon. That same year, Israeli intelligence photos showed North Korean workers helping to build the Al Kibar reactor in Syria the Israelis later destroyed. Clearly, the Clinton/Carter/Sherman agreement was a disaster and North Korea couldn’t be trusted. In the middle of all this, however, Carter won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

All through the George W. Bush administration, aid to North Korea was suspended and restarted, talks were restarted and suspended and restarted over and over. Long story short, North Korea continued testing missiles and nuclear devices, just as it is today. One thing Bush did was declare Iran, Iraq, and North Korea “The Axis of Evil” which the left criticized as too simplistic. President Obama repeated the bluffing and talking cycle during his eight years with about the same results.

Hey, what could go wrong?

Thus did the Kim Jong Il learn how gullible the United States and the United Nations could be. He continued promising to stop developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them — and the USA continued sending aid for his starving citizens. When he wasn’t making fools of US presidents, he would stay up late watching old Daffy Duck cartoons. Meanwhile, his chubby son Kim Jong Un was taking notes.

So were the Mullahs in Iran. They played the same game with Presidents Bush and Obama and got everything they wanted. Obama even used the same chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, that President Clinton used for the 1994 debacle. Obama and Kerry insist Iran will not have nukes for ten or fifteen years. Can we trust Iran to comply until then? About as much as we can trust North Korea — which is not at all. We cannot send inspectors into Iran to verify compliance because Iran inspects itself under the Wendy Sherman/John Kerry agreement — and they get back their $150 billion in frozen assets up front.

Why didn’t anyone get tough with the Kims? Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon said out loud what everyone suspected just before he resigned: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about. There’s no military solution here; they got us.” He was talking, of course, about the 10,000 mobile artillery pieces aimed at Seoul, South Korea. We have no way of neutralizing them.

How about in Iran? Were we ever able to take out Iranian nukes militarily? Yes, but not without pain. Iran has Hezbollah proxy armies in Lebanon and Syria ready to use rockets and other assets against Israel, not to mention another proxy army in Gaza under Hamas. Nonetheless, Israel was ready and willing to attack Iran’s nuke facilities just as it had Iraq’s and Syria’s. Saudi Arabia would have allowed Israeli planes to fly over its air space to Iran. If the USA had supplied two things: in-air refueling for Israeli jets and bunker-busting technology for destroying underground facilities, Israel would have attacked. Many expected President Bush to help out, but he never did. Nobody ever expected President Obama to.

In Bush’s Axis of Evil triumvirate, North Korea has nukes and Iran will soon. Thanks to Israel, Iraq won’t. Now it’s all in Trump’s hands.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Beware The Mob

Up to now, we have been a nation of laws and not of men, but I fear we are becoming unhinged. I fear the mob is gaining power and rule of law is diminishing. Nazis and the KKK are certainly evil and if they existed in any great numbers they would be a threat to our republic, but they don’t. They have a web presence that exaggerates their influence and media coverage that magnifies it further.

Whenever they hold meetings, FBI infiltrators likely comprise a quorum. The [Jewish] Anti Defamation League, or ADL, estimates membership in the KKK at five thousand. In 2011, The New York Times estimated membership in the National Socialist Movement [NSM]: “…the largest supremacist group [is NSM], with about 400 members in 32 states, though much of its prominence followed the decay of Aryan Nation and other neo-Nazi groups.”

It’s much harder to find out the size of “Antifa” which is perhaps the largest violent left-wing group, but it is international in scope with chapters all over Europe and the United States. Unlike the KKK and neo-Nazis, it tries hard to be anonymous. One USA Antifa web site called itsgoingdown.org declares: 

“We strongly recommend against [emphasis in original] antifa groups being organized using the open, public model of most contemporary activism… that you stay anonymous both while forming and until your first action. Anonymity is your best defense, and you should keep it intact as long as you can.”

They dress in black and wear masks when they use violence so police cannot easily identify them from video. Antifa advises:

“Build a culture of non-cooperation with law enforcement…The cops will be Trump supporters; do not collaborate with them.”

And Antifa is universally leftist. From the same site:

The anti-fascist movement has come from multiple theoretical currents; it is based on an agreement on tactics, not ideological uniformity. In the U.S., most activists are anarchist, although a few are Maoist or anti-state Marxists. In other countries, the movement is predominately Marxist.

If Antifa targeted only the KKK and neo-Nazis I might even applaud them, but their scope is much wider. They’re against capitalism in whatever form and have violently disrupted G-20 meetings around the world. They’re emphatically anti-Trump and violently disrupt his rallies wherever they can. If you’re against illegal immigration, Antifa is against you and will try to take away your free-speech rights as columnists Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos discovered in Berkeley.

I watched an Antifa organizer interviewed on Fox News last week who claimed his organization received no money from outside groups or individuals. However, The Daily Caller investigated the Antifa riot at the University of California Berkeley last February and shed light on its camouflaged money trail: 

The left-wing group that helped organize the violent shut down of the Milo Yiannopoulos event at the University of California, Berkeley on Wednesday is backed by a progressive charity that is in turn funded by George Soros, a major labor union and several large companies. The Alliance for Global Justice, based in Tucson, is listed as an organizer and fiscal sponsor for Refuse Fascism, a communist group that encouraged left-wingers to shut down the Yiannopoulos event. The call to arms succeeded. Yiannopoulos’ talk was cancelled after demonstrators lit fires, vandalized businesses, and assaulted Donald Trump and Yiannopoulos supporters.

On Antifa, Anarchist, LGBTQIA+, Black Lives Matter, Muslim, and other sites, I’m seeing calls for “Intersectionality.” It’s a word I didn’t understand when I first heard it in January during the lead-up to the Pussyhat March the day after Trump’s inauguration. It’s a strategy to bring all self-identified victim groups together in one political movement against conservatism.

Elizabeth Corey, writing in "First Things" described a conference she attended last March at the University of Notre Dame entitled: “Intersectional Inquiries and Collaborative Action: Gender and Race” at which the keynote speaker was an angry black woman named Patricia Collins — a sociology professor at the University of Maryland:

At the end there was a question and answer period. I asked whether and how Collins would suggest that intersectionality engage with its adversaries, the ­hated conservatives. Given the polarization of ­America right now, did she see some way for the two camps to communicate or find common ground? The vehemence of her answer was startling. “No,” she said. “You cannot bring these two worlds together. You must be oppositional. You must fight. For me, it’s a line in the sand.” This was at once jarring and clarifying.

The Free Speech rally in Boston last Saturday was disrupted by the Intersectionality groups including Antifa and police arrested 27 of them. It was not white supremacist as far as I could see but it became a target for 40,000 protesters who shut down speakers. Free speech rights and rights to assemble were trampled. The mob ruled. Monuments were destroyed or defaced in other cities. What’s next? Book burnings? This is getting scary.