Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Window On The Doors

Fifty years ago, I worked at the newly-built Holiday Inn at the intersection of Interstate 495 and Route 38 in Tewksbury, Massachusetts,  the town in which I grew up. I’d started in the summer of 1966 as a dishwasher, then a groundskeeper, and ultimately a porter carrying room service trays, vacuuming the lobby, setting up tables in function rooms, and emptying ashtrays. My father would often pick me up on his way home from work. I had my learner’s permit and he’d let me drive the rest of the way in our 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne.
Rock-and-roll groups stayed there when playing concerts at the Commodore Ballroom in Lowell. One of my jobs was putting red plastic letters up on the marquee to welcome them. Sometimes my father couldn’t drive me home and I’d hitchhike. One such evening in 1967, a late-model Buick Riviera pulled over and I hopped in. Driving was the drummer of The Doors, John Densmore. I had never heard of The Doors or of Jim Morrison, who was crashed out and sprawled across the back seat. Though I’d just come from work, nobody told me The Doors were staying there because they weren’t that popular at the time. Nobody was excited enough to tell me they were in residence. Neither was I told to put up a greeting for them on the marquee.
Anyway, Densmore was miffed that he had picked up an American teenager who didn’t recognize him. “Do you know who I am?” he asked.
Densmore and Morrison

“No,” I said.

“Ever hear of ‘Light My Fire’?”
“Umm… yeah, I think so,” I said, feeling uncomfortable. It sounded vaguely familiar but I wasn’t sure. He didn’t look like a typical guy from Tewksbury and nobody I knew drove a brand-new Riviera. His hair was longish, his clothing was different, and he was driving with bare feet. The guy in the back seat had bare feet too and a small tattoo on his ankle. I think it was a flower.

“Ever hear of ‘The Doors’?” he asked, getting more peeved.
Morrison crashed at performance in Amsterdam

“No,” I said. He seemed to sense my nervousness then and eased up. I turned to look behind me at the unconscious guy, and Densmore said something about him. I don’t remember exactly what, but it had a tone of disapproval, disgust even. By this time we’d gone about four miles and I was relieved to tell him he could stop at the next crossroad and let me out. He pulled over and I thanked him before closing the door. “You’re welcome,” he said.
Not long after, I heard “Light My Fire” on the radio and I liked it. So did millions of others and The Doors were invited to perform it on The Ed Sullivan Show. Morrison had been asked to modify the lyric “…girl we couldn’t get much higher,” as the audience might consider it a reference to using drugs, but he sang it anyway and was banned from further appearances.
After that encounter, I paid closer attention to stories about The Doors as Morrison was becoming notorious for his hedonistic lifestyle. He was convicted of exposing himself onstage to an audience of mostly junior high and high school girls in Florida when evidently very drunk. Densmore wrote later that Morrison had a serious alcohol problem and he died in Paris at twenty-seven, only four years after our short ride together. There was no autopsy so his cause of death can’t be known for sure, but many believe it was alcohol-related. 
During his four years of fame, Morrison became a symbol of sixties alienation, of rebellion, and of “the counterculture.” Though I liked his music, I was put off by his behavior and that of so many other counterculture figures too numerous to mention who also died of lifestyle-related causes. I liked much of their music as well and all were heroes to baby boomers. To me, however, they were reverse barometers — examples of how not to act. Some posthumously diagnosed Morrison as bipolar. Such people are often highly creative, highly intelligent, highly sexual, and highly prone to substance abuse. Add his Irish genes to that and what happened to him wasn’t inevitable, but understandable. 
One Morrison biography claims he knocked on Jack Kerouac’s door while he was in Lowell, but was turned away by Kerouac’s wife and told to “get a haircut.” Kerouac died of alcoholism two years later in 1969. While Morrison’s music still appeals to me, Kerouac’s books never did.
Doors Drummer John Densmore who picked me up half a century ago, said in an interview for Huffington Post recently: “Jim was one of those kamikazes who had creativity and self-destruction in the same package, dammit.”
A fitting symbol of his generation? Maybe. What do you think?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Words and Pictures

It never comes out as good as I want, whether I'm capturing an image with my camera or describing something in writing.
Photo by Vito Acconci

My camera is always with me because I always expect to see something beautiful and/or interesting wherever I go. I’ll photograph it, but the result falls short in some way. There’s beauty there, yes, but the colors aren’t as bright or as vivid as in the actual scene. The contrast or focus isn’t as sharp. I don’t get the same feeling from the image that I got when observing the real thing.
Granddaughter Lila at 7 months

It’s the same when I finish a piece of writing. Whatever words I put together do not sufficiently express what I think or feel while I’m banging them out, so I edit. Then I edit again. Then I edit some more. If I didn’t have deadlines, the editing process would never end. The piece will improve, but never to my complete satisfaction.
From elephant journal.com

It’s one thing to record an image to evoke a feeling, but trying to accomplish that by stringing words together is another matter. Nearly every week for over a quarter century I’ve published an 800 word account of whatever was foremost in my mind at the time. Subjects vary widely and while feelings drive my picture taking, thinking more often catalyzes writing. Feelings are not absent, especially when writing about family or telling a meaningful story, but making a point about something abstract involves stepping back, thinking, and analyzing. Picking something to write about means I have some feeling about it but intensity is sometimes problematic. It can energize the writing, but it can also put analysis out of balance if the feeling is too strongly in favor of a thing or against it.
Photography and writing are both limited by perspective as well. Since my camera lens goes from wide angle at 18 millimeters to telephoto at 270 millimeters, I can record a large crowd scene or zoom into an expression on an individual face to fill the frame. I can shoot the big picture or focus on a detail. The same is true when commenting. I can opine about general trends or discuss a particular aspect of whatever’s happening. The result, when published, will gratify some and annoy others depending on the readers’ perspectives as much as my own.
The same is true of the photos I take, though less so. I and others may like a particular photo of a family member or friend, but the person who is the subject of the photo may not. Maybe the pose or a facial expression displays an aspect of personality about which others are aware but the subject is not. A photo can capture mood, and it has a degree objectivity by its very nature compared to a column. “Pictures don’t lie,” they say, but that’s not entirely true.
When I post the column on my web site, I include images of whatever the words describe. Sometimes they’re my own pictures and sometimes I borrow them from Google Images, which usually has something suitable. Browsing the site, I was surprised to discover they’d posted pictures they’d mined from my blog — which is enabled by Google. Now I don’t have any qualms about using theirs. Their archive has such a wide variety, I can find shots that portray any personage favorably, unfavorably, or something in between. Doing this kind of spin myself, I more often notice when mainstream media does it. Pictures may not lie outright, but they can distort.
My four-year-old grandson, Henry, got annoyed last week while I was photographing him as he played with his sister. “Stop doing that!” he said, angrily.
Grandson Henry: "Stop doing that!"

“What? You don’t like me taking pictures of you?”

“You don’t have to take pictures of everybody!”

“No,” I said, “I don’t. Just of the people I love.”
Grandson Luke

Later I mollified him somewhat. He likes sandwiches made with peanut butter and honey, so I proposed a deal: “How about I let you eat my honey and you let me take pictures of you?”
Granddaughter Claire

“Okay,” he said right away. We’re all good now.
Grandson Riley at Colosseum

No, I’m never completely satisfied with either images or columns, but with each I must come to a point where I have so say, “Good enough.” That I have done with over 27,000 pictures and 1200 or so columns. They’re as good as I can make them and that will have to do.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Democrats' Diminishing Brand

Donald Trump has record disapproval ratings for a president early in his first term. Congressional Democrats and mainstream media tell us so repeatedly, reporting little else but alleged collusion with Russians. Yet his congressional candidates keep winning special elections despite being vastly outspent.
They cannot understand it. Trump is their antithesis. He enrages both, fears neither, but voters like that. Do Congress and mainstream media not realize they have approval ratings lower than Trump’s?
Trump can be crude, egotistical. He bragged about grabbing women. He stretches truth to look good, yet voters accept him warts and all. They know a lot of guys just like him. Every corner bar has them. They can be tiresome but they’re harmless, and deep down most are nice guys. Tell them they’re full of sh** and they laugh, because they know they often are. They don’t take themselves too seriously, unlike hysterical Democrats and solemn talking heads who claim leaving the Paris climate change treaty will destroy the world and repealing Obamacare will kill thousands of Americans.
Voters detest Congress and loathe mainstream media. It’s the pomposity, the political correctness, the condescension to anyone who doesn’t think as they do. Voters don’t believe a man is a woman just because he says he is. They don’t want to call him “her” or her “him” as media do, and they don’t want to be forced to by government either. New York City has a civil statute requiring it. Last week, Canada passed a law making it a “hate crime” to refuse. And they don’t like their kids learning about transgenders in kindergarten.
Voters like borders around their country and they want them enforced. They don’t like being called bigots because they want American citizenship to mean something. They want people to work for a living if they’re able and they resent supporting deadbeats. Despite Democrat media denials, they know they’re paying for lots of them because some are neighbors and relatives. They know many illegal immigrants are on welfare and working under the table too. They know this pushes their wages down and their taxes up no matter what Democrats media claim.
When the majority of the FBI’s most wanted terrorist are Muslim, they know there’s a connection with Islam. They don’t like Democrat media calling them racist for saying it. They don’t understand why, but they detect some kind of solicitous interdependence between radical Islam and Democrat media. When someone shouts “Allahu Akbar!” while killing people here or in Europe, voters know immediately it’s a Muslim terrorist — even though media claim for days or weeks — or even years to be puzzled about motive.
They know it can be a sacrifice to raise children but it’s wrong to kill them in the womb. They know that’s what abortion does no matter what Democrat media claim. They don’t like being accused of a “war on women” for saying it either. They know Planned Parenthood is all about abortion (330,000 per year) and doing pap tests (380,000 a year) helps mask that. They don’t believe Democrat media insistence their tax money isn’t spent on abortions.
They know being called “non-college-educated-white-men” is a put down. They believe Hillary spoke for most Democrats and media when she called them “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it.” They believe media think them deplorable, bitterly clinging to guns and religion as Barack Obama claimed. They’re not fooled when racism is called Affirmative Action. When blacks, Hispanics, and women are given preference, they know it’s white men who are sent to the back of the bus. It’s especially galling when after nearly three generations of “Affirmative Action,” they’re called “privileged” and told to “renounce” it.
They know women vastly outnumber men in colleges and universities, which are almost all controlled by the leftists who support Democrats and media. They know professors teach that dead white men are responsible for bad things in history. They see white men habitually depicted as dumb, oafish, nasty, or cruel by television and Hollywood. It’s almost a hate crime when any other group is thus portrayed, but not when it’s white men — the universal scapegoats of our age.
When Democrats and media hit Trump he hits back — and voters love that. Some Democrats like Ohio Representative Tim Ryan are starting to get it: “I think, in part, we try to slice the electorate up. And we try to say, ‘You’re black, you’re brown, you’re gay, you’re straight, you’re a woman, you’re a man.’ The reality of it is there’s no juice in that kind of campaign,” he said.
Will Democrat leaders listen? Will their media partners? Maybe they will if they keep losing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Lacking Common Sense

The young woman looked nervous as she knocked on the window of my classroom door. “Excuse me, class,” I said as I stepped out to speak. She was a former student and substituting in the next classroom.
“A boy is throwing things at other students. He won’t stop, and he refuses to go to the principal’s office. Can you help me?”

“Sure,” I said. The boy wouldn’t make eye contact when I entered the room. Every other student did though, waiting to see what would happen.
“Bobby,” I said (not his real name). “Miss Fellows told you to go to the principal’s office and now I’m telling you.” He just sat there, still not making eye contact. “Bobby,” I repeated, “Maine law say that if a student is a danger to others and refuses to leave the classroom, the teacher can use the necessary force to remove him. Now I’m telling you again to go down to the principal’s office.”

That got no response either.

“I’m going to count to three. If you’re not moving at three, I’ll move you. One, two, th…”
He got up, went out the door, and headed for the stairs. I picked up the wall phone and called down to say Bobby was on his way. “Thank you,” said Miss Fellows.

“You’re welcome,” I said, then returned to my classroom and forgot about it.

The following Monday, Jim Underwood, the principal, came into my room during my free period. I liked Jim. He was a very effective administrator. “Tell me what happened with Bobby,” he said, because he’d been out of town when I dealt with the incident and had appointed another teacher as acting principal. I filled him in.
“If you had removed him,” Jim said, “I would not have backed you up.”

That surprised me. Like I said, Jim was a good principal, one of the best I ever worked with. “Jim,” I said. “That is state law. I have a copy in my briefcase.”
“I know it is,” he said, “but the courts are interpreting it differently now.”

“So, if I wasn’t to remove him, what was I supposed to do?”

“Call the police.”
“You’re kidding,” I said.


“That’s crazy. I’m supposed to leave two classrooms full of students sitting on their hands and wait for the cops because of one disruptive student?”
“Yup. That’s what they’re telling us now.”

Bobby went to the office on his own because he knew I wasn’t bluffing. Calling the police would ruin half a day for about fifty students and at least two teachers. Clearly, things were getting much too complicated and I wondered how long I could continue in the teaching profession.
In July of last year a similar case came before our newest Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, when he was on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A middle school boy in New Mexico had disrupted class by generating fake burps. He wouldn’t stop and was sent into the hall, but he kept opening the door to “let out a giggling belch” as the Daily Signal described it. Then:

“a school resource police officer placed the student under arrest ‘for interfering with the educational process.’ The 13-year-old then spent approximately one hour locked in a juvenile detention facility before he was released to the custody of his mother. He was never charged for his misbehavior.”
The boy’s mother filed suit claiming her son’s civil rights had been violated. This was an even less serious case than the one I dealt with because there was no danger from flying objects, yet the student had been arrested and incarcerated, however briefly. Ten years had passed and the teaching profession had continued its decline. A minor incident became a federal case and made it to a high court, which, in a 94-page ruling decided in the school’s favor. 
Gorsuch wrote only four pages in dissent. According to the Daily Signal again: “Gorsuch . . . explain[ed] that a reasonable police officer should have understood that arresting a ‘class clown for burping was going a step too far.’”

Gorsuch concluded that: “the statutory language on which the officer relied for the arrest in this case does not criminalize ‘noise[s] or diversion[s]’ that merely ‘disturb the peace or good order’ of individual classes.”
Referring to his colleagues on the 10th Circuit, he said: “Often enough the law can be ‘a ass—a idiot,’” quoting Charles Dickens, “and there is little we judges can do about it, for it is (or should be) emphatically our job to apply, not rewrite, the law enacted by the people’s representatives. In this particular case, I don’t believe the law happens to be quite as much of a ass as they do.”

Common sense is often a misnomer when applied to educational and judicial practice these days, and it’s refreshing to have a Supreme Court justice willing to point that out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Leaning Windward

What the old man said about me was accurate. He’s been dead a while now and I’d forgotten about it, but his words have been popping back into my head a lot lately. “You have the character of the tiller,” he told me.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“You know when someone stretches way out over the windward gunnel when a sailboat leans too far? He’s trying to bring the mast upright lest the boat capsize.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ve seen that.”

“That’s what you try to do in your writing.” 

He was a liberal, but more of a classical liberal than a leftist or a “progressive” as they call themselves today. He was willing to consider any idea on its merit and wasn’t dubious because it might be conservative. If he didn’t agree he would argue logically, not acrimoniously. Together we formed a political discussion group, an old-fashioned salon. For the first few years it was all men, many of them WWII vets and all somewhat left of center, I was too — then. I was the youngest member at a time when my own perspective started moving right. We met every two weeks in a library the old man had built in part of his barn.
The old man

During the ten or so years of my involvement I was still a Democrat, but the party’s movement left was accelerating. The old man saw me trying to counteract that in my writing even before I did. I had voted for Bill Clinton in 1992, but was dismayed by what he was doing and considered resigning from the Democrat Party, but the old man urged me to work from within. Our group started moving left also as new members came in and railed against Clinton’s impeachment. I began to skip meetings and eventually stopped attending altogether. Not long after, the group disbanded.
My movement right continued. I registered Republican but I was still feeling isolated as the education establishment was moving harder left along with all of New England, including Maine’s Republican Party. Some in the community began assuming that I was inculcating students with the same conservative views I expressed in my columns. I was “poisoning young minds,” they claimed. They pressured my district’s administrators, the school board, and Maine’s teacher licensing agency to discipline me and worse. My administrators knew their charges were baseless but had to respond to their complaints with an investigation. I was cleared, but being an out-of-the-closet conservative in public schools got increasingly difficult. Other leftists came after me too, which is the subject of a book I’m still working on.

Nationwide now, acrimony dominates left-right debate and is increasing to dangerous levels — even to violent attacks by far-left "Antifa" goons on college campuses and in the streets. That’s bad enough, but what is perhaps worst of all is something The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol wrote last week:

For young Americans today, Donald Trump is the face of Republicanism and conservatism.
They don't like that face. And the danger, of course, is that they'll decide their judgment of Trump should carry over to the Republican party that nominated him and the conservative movement that mostly supports him. If he is indeed permitted to embody the party and the movement without challenge, the fortunes of both will be at the mercy of President Trump's own fortunes.

Trump’s fortunes are tanking. That scares me because I think Kristol’s analysis is on the mark. At the 41st annual convention of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists last weekend, I sat in the audience as Maureen Dowd delivered a devastatingly effective diatribe against Trump. The smart-ass Irish wit in her DNA was on full display. On Ms. Dowd’s bad side isn’t a safe place for anyone to be. Earlier that day, Manchester Union Leader publisher Joe McQuaid, a conservative, also displayed his disdain for Trump in just a couple of short remarks.
Trump and McQuaid

With majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans cannot unite behind Trump and, so far, Trump isn’t a good enough leader to bring them together. Has he got it in him to become one? I hope so, but I’m not optimistic. At this point, I’m afraid of how much more damage he’ll do to the conservative movement if he doesn’t.
In Bill Kristol, I see myself as the old man saw me thirty years ago. He’s been leaning far out over the gunnel too, trying to steer his party away from Trump. He has a bigger megaphone and might persuade more people to join him.
I’m a small-time columnist and he’s the founder and editor of a widely respected, national, conservative magazine. Can he prevent the conservative Republican ship of state from capsizing? Can he bring the mast up straight? I don't know. We’ll see.