Monday, October 23, 2017

Keeping Your Head When Others Are Losing Theirs



You probably hadn’t heard because it didn’t get a lot of attention, but David Daoud Wright was convicted in a Boston federal court last Thursday of conspiring to cut Pamela Geller’s head off.


ISIS ordered her killed and Wright was attempting to implement that “fatwa,” or order. As quoted in the Boston Herald: “Acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb called Wright’s conviction a ‘victory in the fight against ISIS and all terror organizations targeting the United States. Wright is a terrorist, an ISIS supporter and recruiter who intended to wage war against the U.S. by beheading people and killing Americans,’ Weinreb said. ‘Together Wright and his uncle planned to murder Americans, and those plans were as real as the long knives Wright’s uncle bought to carry them out.’”


Ten years ago Pam Geller interviewed me in Washington, DC after an exchange I had with Newt Gingrich at National Review’s “Conservative Summit.” I had no idea then who she was, but it was clear that she was an intense person on a mission. Gingrich had just finished a speech in which he predicted that sometime in next ten years radical Muslims would destroy an American city with an atomic device. Happily, that has not yet come to pass.


During the question and answer period following his speech, I went up to the microphone and identified myself as a middle school history teacher. I told Gingrich that my job of explaining to my students why radical Muslims were trying to kill us was getting difficult because the Bush Administration kept denying any connection between Islamic terrorism and fundamental Koranic teachings. My students were hearing one thing from me and another from the president. That put me in an awkward position as a teacher in the public schools. Gingrich basically told me to keep doing what I was doing.

Spencer, Me, Geller

As I returned to my seat I was swamped by media people asking me questions, and the most persistent was Pam Geller. I’ve met her several times since at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) and she’s nearly always accompanied by her sidekick, Robert Spencer. He directs Jihad Watch and is the author of seventeen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad.


Even before ISIS condemned her to death, she was surrounded by bodyguards. When once I slid into a booth with Geller and Spencer for a chat at a Washington hotel lounge, I was immediately aware of rugged-looking men in nearby booths scrutinizing me before Geller signaled that I was okay. She’s an extremely courageous American and a Jew who won’t be intimidated by Islamic threats — and she’s willing to pay the price for speaking out. Like her friends the Somali immigrant Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, she lives under guard 24-7-365 and will for the rest of her life for daring to publicly criticize radical Islam.


Fatwas are not empty threats. They were issued against a Danish newspaper and a French magazine for publishing pictures of Muhammed and jihadis twice tried to kill the Danish cartoonist. In January, 2015 jihadis murdered fifteen Charlie Hebdo magazine staff people in Paris. American media outlets (except for my web site a few others) self-censored and declined to publish the Muhammed cartoons.They claimed it was out of respect for the religion of Islam, but this writer sees that as a smokescreen for cowardice, because they had no problems publishing images degrading Christianity.


So what did Pamela Geller do after the Charlie Hebdo massacre? She conducted a “Draw Muhammad” contest in which the winner received a check for $12,500. Two jihadis from Arizona showed up with assault rifles at the Garland, Texas facility where the contest was held and opened fire, wounding a security guard. Another guard took them both out with only a pistol. Liberal media outlets like the New York Times who were too cowardly to publish the Muhammed pictures from Europe blamed Geller, accusing her of “hate speech.”

The Winning Picture

Geller later learned that the FBI had an undercover agent at the scene of the “Draw Muhammad Contest” who had been surveilling one of the jihadis. According to TheIntercept.com: “FBI Director James Comey said in a press conference following the shooting that the FBI [agent at the scene] did not have reason to believe Simpson was planning to attack the event, even though the bureau had spent years trying to build a case against him.” 

Might once have been true
Yeah, right. There was a time when I would have had no doubt about the credibility of a statement like that from the Director of the FBI, but those days are long gone.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rhythms of Life



“I got rhythm, I got music,” goes the old Gershwin lyric, and I like both. I can’t dance well and I don’t play any musical instruments, but the rhythms of life? I’ve willingly subjected myself to them and I’m better off for it. I’m in bed before nine o’clock every night and asleep minutes after, then I’m up and at it by 5:00 am. That makes me a morning person, but I wasn’t always. During the first half of my adult life I was a night owl who hated to get up in the morning. As a child, however, my daily routine had been parentally imposed — bed at 8:30 pm and up at 6:00 am, so I’ve gotten back to an older, more natural routine.

Day's End Casco Bay

On that note, three Americans recently won a Nobel Prize for medicine because of their research into the benefits of what they call “circadian” rhythm. They claim bad things can result when we upset our daily sleep cycles, things like increased risk of cancer and “degenerative neurological conditions.

New Nobel Laureates

Important as daily rhythms are, I think our annual rhythms are too and this year seems strange. As someone born and raised in New England I like my seasons, all four of them — even though up here in the mountains of Maine winter can be a bit too long. By March, nearly everyone wants it over and all of us long for signs of spring, even the tiniest manifestation, like a glimpse of bare ground between snow storms can be enough to sustain us for weeks, but we got none of those last spring. March was colder than January and April wasn’t springlike either. Summer was fine when it finally arrived, but now it has stretched into October. It feels unnatural.

From Portland Press Herald

One of those new Nobel Prize winners, Jeffrey C. Hall, lives in rural Maine. He’s retired with seven dogs and several Harley Davidson motorcycles in Cambridge, Maine, which is in the geographic center of the state — in the boonies. He’s not a stereotypical scientist with a lab coat, but instead looks just like any other pot-bellied, middle-aged, balding, white-guy, Harley driver you often see on the back roads of northern New England. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Washington DC, he gradually migrated north to New England, first to Massachusetts and finally to Maine. I wonder if he’s noticing how our seasonal rhythms are off this year.

Kezar Lake Sunset

I’ve been living in rural Maine forty years and we always expected the first frost shortly after Labor Day. We’d would get out the winter jackets for Fryeburg Fair week — not every day, but one or two. This year it was shorts and tee-shirts for most of October’s first week. I like wearing shorts with those little socks under my sneakers from June through August, but then I’m ready to don long pants and taller socks come September. We’ve always gotten a few warm days in the fall and they’re nice, but not every day. I’ve had to put a fan on me to sleep in both September and October. That’s not supposed to happen and it’s throwing off my annual rhythm.

Autumn in the Yard

Autumn in New England has its own smells too and they’re comforting to me as my olfactory sense gets stronger as I get older, although maybe it only seems that way as both my eyesight and hearing get measurably weaker. There’s a certain very pleasant scent detectable when I first step outside on a crisp, clear fall morning. I get a burst of energy when the weather cools that I used to expend on things like splitting and stacking firewood. Cool air and autumn breezes would keep me from sweating too much and I liked smelling smoke from a woodstove while I worked. I also liked keeping at it until sunset, then going inside for dinner.

Early snow in the yard
In November, I look forward to the first snow. I can always smell it before it comes and it’s comforting as long as I’ve got all my autumn chores done. November can be cold enough to break out the flannel-lined pants and woolen socks which I’ll then wear right through most of March, or all if it as I did this year because it was often below zero. If the first snow doesn’t come in November it’ll surely come not too far into December.


By then our days will have shortened, but government upset that rhythm by imposing Daylight Savings Time, which ends at midnight, November 4th this year. I wonder what Mr. Hall and his Nobel laureate colleagues think of that. I’d like to ignore the mandated time changes, but then I’d be an hour out of step with the rest of America.

Monday, October 09, 2017

There Will Be A Next



When playing an academic game in class, nothing helped students focus more than to make it “girls vs boys.” At fourteen, masculine and feminine pride was strong and they bore down intensely. When I afterward explained that many feminists insisted there were no differences between males and females other than the obvious physical ones, they were incredulous. “No way,” they’d say. “Are they kidding?”


“No, they’re definitely not kidding,” I’d answer. “Teacher training today ignores differences and insists that boys and girls are the same. Many if not most now believe the only differences are physical and everything else is due to how they’re raised by parents and schools.” That’s when I’d pull out my VHS copy of a 1995 “20-20” episode John Stossel narrated called, “Boys and Girls Are Different: Men, Women and the Sex Difference.” 


Stossel declares his personal belief at the outset, “We’re just born different,” then interviews prominent feminists of the era who disagreed. But first he set it all up by interviewing parents who believed there were no differences beyond the physical and who tried very hard to raise their children accordingly. No matter what they did or didn’t do, boys preferred playing with guns and girls chose dolls. Toy manufacturers also tried marketing traditionally female toys to boys and vice versa, but their efforts failed as well.


Stossel summarized scientific studies documenting sex differences beginning in utero and continuing afterward through most of life, but when he put them to Gloria Steinem she said those studies shouldn’t be done because they kept women down. Then Stossel asked her, “Don’t you think women are by nature better nurturers?”

Bella Abzug

The temperature in the room plummeted as Steinem responded icily: “No. Next question.” There were similarly icy interviews with Bella Abzug and Gloria Allred. My students were affirmed in their belief that Steinem and company were defying common sense. That’s when I’d tell them the next generation of feminists younger than Steinem and Abzug were claiming there were more than two “genders,” a word they were substituting for sex —  that not all humans could be categorized as either male or female.

Gloria Allred

If they were incredulous before, this time they were flabbergasted. They thought I was making it up. “What else is there?” they’d ask.


I explained there were feminists with Hillary Clinton in the US delegation to the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing who argued there were five “genders”: male and female on each end with gay, lesbian, and transexual between them. Some students considered the gay and lesbian categories might be possible but the transexual one was out of the question. Here in 2017, the word “transexual” isn’t used anymore. It’s been replaced by “transgender” in every media stylebook. I believe if I taught the same lesson today students would take it in stride and say, “So what?”

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Now I ask myself what’s next, because there will be something — then something else after that. US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) spotted the trend back in 1993, and coined the phrase “defining deviancy down.” Moynihan was one of the last classical liberals in the party that used to have many. He defeated feminist Bella Abzug in the 1976 Democrat primary for the US Senate but was succeeded in that office by feminist Hillary Clinton in 2001. Moynihan wasn’t referring only to criminal matters but to many sociological trends, and the process he identified has accelerated since his death. What was unthinkable only twenty years ago is routine now.

Oh yeah?

After fifteen years, I’d worn out my VHS copy of Stossel’s 20-20 episode. I tried to purchase a replacement but it was nowhere to be found. One male/female difference he spotlighted sticks with me: the distinctly female skill of remembering where things are. A university study in Canada hired students for an experiment in which they were told to wait in a small office for their turn to be called. In it were a desk, a chair, wall hangings, and many other items on the desk. When summoned, they were asked what they remembered seeing in that office.


The males would say, “There was a desk, a chair, and umm…” then struggle to recall anything else. The females, however, would look off into space and say, “There was a desk, a chair, and on the desk was a pink calendar, a blue pencil holder, a tan telephone…” and many other items. “On this wall there was…” and they’d gesture to show each item’s exact location. Researchers stopped them lest go on for an hour.


I remember that study when asking my wife if she’s seen something I cannot find. After she’s told me where to look and I still can’t find it, she’ll say, “If I have to come over there…”

Sound familiar?

Monday, October 02, 2017

Mutilation in Maine



The euphemism is “female circumcision,” but federal law banning it in the USA labels it “Female Genital Mutilation” or FGM, and that would seem to be the more accurate term. That law passed in 1997 but if it hadn’t, I wonder if it would pass in today’s political climate.



The issue is getting controversial and opinion is divided along left/right political lines. Generally, Republicans want to ban it and Democrats resist. There’s also disagreement about whether FGM is a Muslim religious practice or strictly an African cultural ritual. Some say it’s both.

Prevalence of FGM

A report in The Middle East Quarterly claims FGM is practiced in many Muslim countries beyond Africa, especially in Kurdistan, but there’s little research beyond that because such discussion is discouraged in the Muslim world. An article on stopfgmmideast.org claims FGM is discussed in a “hadith,” a singular or plural noun for accounts of what Muhammed said, which records a discussion between Muhammed and a woman who performed FGM. Muhammed said, “Yes, it is allowed … if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband.” On the strength of that hadith, today’s Muslims do not prohibit FGM.



So how would one “overdo it”? Carmen Fishwick, writing in the UK Guardian, describes FGM thusly:

“Female genital mutilation involves the removal of the clitoris, inner-and-outer lips of the vagina, and the sewing or stapling together of the two sides of the vulva leaving only a small hole to pass urine and menstruate –- depending on the type. Typically FGM is performed with a razor blade on girls between the ages of four and 12, traditionally without anaesthetic.”


One FGM procedure only removes the clitoris.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala

No one had been prosecuted in the United States under the federal law until April of this year when two Michigan doctors, Dr. Jumana Nagarwala and Dr. Fakhruddin Attar were arrested for mutilating the genitals of two young Muslim girls from Minnesota. A USA Today article claims there were many more victims and that Dr. Nagarwala regularly performed the practice but tried to cover up her activity. Nagarwala was released under $4.5 million bond two weeks ago while awaiting trial. Her attorney said she would not flee because the wants a trial: “It's a fight about a sacred religious practice,” she added. Nagarwala, a Muslim, clearly believes FGM is a religious practice. Attorney Alan Dershowitz agrees and is consulting with Nagarwala’s defense team.

Dr. Fakhruddin Attar

A bill to criminalize FGM in Maine failed by one vote last summer. Maine State Representative Heather Sirocki of Scarborough had introduced the bill and she told me she expects it to be reintroduced by Governor LePage in January. Opponents of Sirocki’s bill claim FGM doesn’t happen in Maine and her bill is a solution in search of a problem. Sirocki claims Maine girls are indeed being victimized. As evidence, she cites a survey of federal Medicaid data where there are codes for each procedure performed including female genital mutilation. For 2016 alone, Maine documented eight incidents of treatment for FGM — presumably medical intervention for complications resulting from FGM rather than for the procedure itself.

Maine Representative Heather Sirocki

When I attended a forum at St Joseph’s Church in Bridgton, Maine last year, a woman claiming to work in the Portland school system said Somali girls told her they’d been taken to Boston for the procedure. If anyone who attended can tell me that woman’s name, I’d appreciate it. Sirocki also told me that Maine’s Department of Human Services (DHS) instructs mandated reporters to notify DHS about suspected incidents of FGM, but that didn’t happen for the eight incidents reported above.


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lobbied against Sirocki’s bill in Maine and against a similar bill in Minnesota where it was also defeated. However, twenty-four other states have outlawed the procedure. It’s perplexing that neither the Democrat Party nor women’s groups in the US are not leading the charge against FGM. The issue would seem to be tailor-made for them. Neither do they complain about widespread abuse of women within Islam from beatings to honor killings. The same kind of myopia is evident in the European left as well.

Augustin Bahati

Some claim it’s multiculturalism — the idea that all cultures are equal, that no one culture is superior or inferior to any other culture — even one that oppresses women. In my conversation with Maine Representative Heather Sirocki, she cited the case of a Manchester, New Hampshire man, Augustin Bahati, 33, who was arrested last August for what the Manchester Union Leader described as “striking, pushing, grabbing, kicking and pulling out the hair of a woman who was 27 weeks pregnant…” The charges were dropped by Manchester domestic violence prosecutor Andrea Muller because “he lacked the cultural competency to participate in the American justice system.” Bahati is an immigrant from the Congo. It’s okay to beat up women in the Congo, so let him do it here too?

NH Prosecutor Andrea Muller

We’ll see what happens when Maine Governor LePage reintroduces the FGM bill in January.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Finding Ourselves in History



To the old aphorism “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know,” I would like to add: “…and neither does anybody else.” None of our best historians understand all of history. They specialize. They study what happened in a particular time and place. They try to be objective in a Jack Webb-style: “Just the facts, Ma’am,” but that can make for dull reading. So they adopt the writing style of a storyteller. They humanize the main characters, illuminating both virtues and flaws. They make judgements. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t sell many books. If they’re also teachers, and many are, their students would fall asleep.


Like the late star of Dragnet, historians are trying to solve a mystery, but unlike him they’re not going to arrest a perpetrator. They may, however, tarnish a reputation here and burnish one there. Such may be their intent when beginning their research. The best historians try hard to be unbiased, but they know they’re human and will always fall short of perfect impartiality. Others only offer a pretense of impartiality.

Bias or fact?

Another human factor that may work to distort history I will call peer pressure. When historian colleagues all tend to interpret the events of a particular time and place in a particular way, there’s a strong tendency to go along. One might dare to offer a slightly different shade of meaning but to go further would risk being shunned or even attacked.



When I taught history I’d do what many teachers do and parse the word, suggesting it can mean: “his story.” as if there may be other stories offering different perspectives on the same events.  Feminists like to parse the word too, but emphasizing the “his” part as biased in favor of men, and that students might want to think of it as “herstory” as well.


Never was I taught history as a separate subject until fourth grade when Sister Charles Paul passed out the first history books at St. William’s School in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. By the end of September I’d read all of it and longed for more, but no more came along. I don’t remember getting any more history texts until I went to high school and had Western Civilization I and II. Then it was US History in junior year and that was it until college. Never did I sense a love of history in my teachers though. Many high schools gave US History classes to football coaches who had little or no interest in them.


After my risk of getting drafted declined in 1971 I dropped out of college, then went back in ’73 after deciding to become a teacher. For that I needed degrees and took a few more uninspiring history courses, so my interest in history had to be sated by my own research. After being horrified watching the Adolph Eichmann trial with my father in 1961, I learned all I could about the Holocaust. Then the Vietnam War affected everyone in my demographic as my best friend and others I grew up were sent there. Some died and all were profoundly changed, so I learned all I could about that as well. Thus did those two phases of history became my own specialities. 

D-Day, WWII

When students came to me with little or no historical perspective or interest, I devised methods to help them to fix themselves in time. Digital imagery became available in the ’90s, so I encouraged students to bring in pictures of their ancestors to be scanned. Then they digitally constructed  horizontal timelines of the 20th century with pictures of their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents across the top above the years corresponding to their lifespans. Across the bottom they put images of major world events occurring during those lifepans. Just as Vietnam had dominated my generation, World War II and the Great Depression affected the lives of their grandparents and/or great-grandparents. World War I affected their great-great-grandparents, and so forth. They could also import pictures of presidents who served during those lifespans. 

Ellis Island

After that exercise, study of relevant historical occurrences became personalized. My hope was they would gain a deeper understanding of how world and national events can have enormous effects on the lives of ordinary people. Many students were thus motivated to question surviving ancestors about those events. Thus they’d fix family members in time and gain a deeper understanding of where they fit in too.

Last week’s column concerned fixing students in space by learning geography. My hope was they would leave my class having merged the two skills. They would be able to visualize where their ancestors came from, know when they came here, and even why. They’d be motivated to research further back in time as well as further away in space, and then realize how they came to be here — living and speaking English in rural Maine.