Saturday, March 31, 2018

Left and Right March 28, 2018

We start with John Bolton appointment. Gino defines an "extreme" Republican. Recent deal that added another trillion in our broken budget process. Tom wants to go back to an annual budget process in Congress. Gino is afraid of Russian missiles. Tom brings up black racism in Zimbabwe and South Africa who won't let white people own farmland. Tom points out media hounding Trump for congratulating Putin, but didn't mind it when Obama did. They criticize Trump for using Facebook data in his campaign but praised Obama when he did the same thing. Gino disagrees.
We compare special prosecutors for Clinton and now Trump whose investigations got out of hand beyond what they were charged to do. Presidents with strong libidos from Kennedy to Trump. We're asked about Trump tariffs. Marshall Plan in Europe.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Holy Week in Jail

It’s Holy Week, but how many Americans know anymore what that is? For Christians, it’s the final week of the Lenten Season, but this year it coincides with the Final Four, the end of March Madness. Perhaps the latter is more recognized than the former in today’s America.

It’s been nearly two years since I volunteered for a weekly Bible study at Cumberland County Jail (CCJ) in Portland, Maine and it’s a challenge. When I taught history I’d have the same students every day and planned lessons each building on the other. At the jail, I never know who will come through the door or how many. Maybe two or three will have attended before. Maybe none. Sometimes it’s a completely new group. Some enter carrying donated Bibles which are supplied free but most arrive empty-handed. 

Windham Correctional Facility
Most CCJ inmates are there less than a year either awaiting trial or already sentenced. Those who get longer stretches go to Windham Correctional Center or Maine State Prison in Warren. Inmates at every prison were in a jail first and given high recidivism, all correctional facilities have revolving doors.

An average Bible Study has eight or ten guys, some with much biblical knowledge, some with none, others in between. I always have a plan but it seldom unfolds as intended. How can I impart a sense of what Holy Week means to inmates who don’t know what Christianity is? Those with knowledge are eager to expand it. Others have no idea of what the Bible contains and for their sake I most offer a broad context.

I tell them the Bible has two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Last week I drew a timeline on a white board. Explaining that we don’t know when creation occurred, I began by writing:

Abraham — 2000 BC
Moses — 1500 BC
King David — 1000 BC.
Babylonian Exile — 500 BC
Jesus Christ — 0.
Muhammed — 600 AD.

Dates were approximate and the Bible doesn’t mention Muhammed, but most inmates have been exposed to Islam because it’s usually not their first experience behind bars. They’ve have done hard time in prisons where Islam has a significant presence and occasionally I’ll get Muslims from Somalia or converts.

After fixing the Bible in time, I fix it in space using a folder full of maps. Starting with a world map showing Maine and Israel highlighted in red, I then I hold up one of the Mediterranean Sea with Rome, Greece, and Israel highlighted. Then I’ll draw a crude map of the eastern Mediterranean across the Persian Gulf toward Iran on the white board. Often there are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans present who know the region. I trace Abraham’s migration from the Persian Gulf up through Syria and down to Israel. Then I trace Israel’s enslavement in Egypt, the exodus back to Israel under Moses, the rise of King David, the establishment of Jerusalem, Israel’s captivity in what’s now Iraq during the Babylonian exile, and finally back to Israel for the birth of Jesus.

If I ask how long ago Jesus lived there are lots of blank stares. “What year is this?” I say. “In the western world, we measure time from before Jesus and after Him because He was considered the most important figure in history and the Bible is divided the same way: The Old Testament is about events before Christ. The New Testament begins with His birth 2018 years ago. We get our seven-day week from the creation story in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament.”

Wide eyes tell me most never realized this. Finally, I explain the four gospels which begin the New Testament, each of which ends with events of Holy Week — the Last Supper, Crucifixion, Resurrection — the crux of Christianity.

Questions are asked and answered. Then comes a review of original sin — Adam and Eve’s fall from grace in Genesis. Throughout the Old Testament Jews sacrificed lambs to atone for sin. The New Testament tells of Jesus Christ offering himself as the perfect sacrifice by His death on the cross, then rising from death. That’s why He’s called “The Lamb of God” — the final atonement.

This week I’ll offer a more detailed summary of Holy Week: Christ re-entered Jerusalem on Sunday. Thursday he held the Last Supper, was betrayed, put before Pontius Pilate, then beaten and scourged. On Friday he was crucified with two others. On the third day, Easter Sunday, he rose from the dead.

Recently a very young inmate with a cross crudely tattooed between his eyes came in early before anyone else. He asked me, “Is it ever too late to get into heaven?” I told him of the “good thief” crucified next to Jesus who said to Him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

“Today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus said.

“No,” I said. “It’s never too late.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

Left and Right Show Thursday, March 15, 2018

We examine yesterday's special election in Pennsylvania. Tillerson firing. Gino cranks up Trump hatred to overdrive. He asks me what the Deep State is, then doesn't like my answer and accuses me of McCarthyism. He really gets cranked at about 18:50 and I call him on it about 42:40. The gloves came off during this show.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pineland to D-Day

Phillip Kupelian at his home in Falmouth 2018

Ninety-four-year-old Phillip Kupelian lives alone in the Falmouth, Maine house he built himself. Last Saturday I interviewed him there about two things: Growing up on the grounds of what was then called the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded in Gray, Maine, and his experience in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Pineland Farms today

Phillip was born at what’s now called Pineland Farms in1924 because his father was a doctor on staff there when it was renamed the Pownal State School. Phillip couldn’t attend local schools because roads were bad and horse-drawn sleighs were his only transportation. He and his older brother were sent to stay with their maternal grandparents in Randolph, Maine (near Augusta) to attend school until Gray constructed plowable roads.

Phillip’s father, Nessib, had fled Ottoman Turkey around 1915 to escape the Armenian genocide. Out of 2 million Armenian Christians in Turkey, 1.5 million were slaughtered by Muslim Turks. The rest, including Nessib, took flight. In Maine, Nessib attended medical school at Bowdoin College and practiced at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded. He was made superintendent from 1938 to 1953. “Coming to Maine, to America, was the greatest gift a father could give his son,” said Phil.

Scene from Armenian genocide

When I asked about eugenic practices at Pineland, Phillip didn’t know what eugenics was. I explained it was sterilization of the “feeble-minded” which was done at Pineland and many other venues in early 20th century America. He said he remembered hearing it discussed, but that’s all. In 1912, eight mixed-race squatters forcibly evicted from Maine’s Malaga Island were sent to Pineland. There they were probably sterilized along with several hundred other Mainers. Eighteen bodies from Malaga’s cemetery were re-buried there as well.

From its inception in 1908, Pineland was designed to be self-sufficient, a town in itself almost. It had an operating farm, a coal-fired steam generator, its own water system, and laundry. Phillip became quite interested in all of that so after high school he went off to study steam and diesel engineering at the Wentworth Institute in Boston. Then World War II broke out and he was drafted. After boot camp in Newport, Rhode Island he went across the Atlantic to England on the crew of LCI 506 — one of over 900 LCIs, or “Landing Craft Infantry” built in the USA for amphibious invasions. They were flat-bottomed, 158 feet long, and 23 feet wide.

No one on the 26-man crew of the 506 had any experience beyond US territorial waters when it set out in January, 1944. At a 1996 reunion, Ensign Phil G. Goulding, described his first time aboard the 506 being greeted by its 31-year-old skipper, a Lieutenant J. G. named Albers:

“Goulding, do you know anything?”

“No sir,” I said. “I just got out of midshipman's school. I don't know anything at all.”

Al Albers smiled. He pounded the wardroom table with his open hand. “Thank god for that,” he said. “Nobody on this ship knows anything and I was afraid those idiots were going to send me someone to spoil it. Siddown and have a cup of coffee.”

He turned to the others. “By God that's great,” he said. “He doesn't know anything. By God that's great.”

The crew that didn’t know anything nonetheless made it to England across the stormy Atlantic, seasick much of the way. Then, assigned at the last minute to a British command, they crossed the English Channel six months later on D-Day and delivered two hundred British infantry to Rose Beach — right between Omaha Beach and Juno Beach. The 506 hit a German mine just as it hit the beach which blew off one of its two ramps and tore a big hole in the bow. Soldiers got off safely though, and the ship limped back to England for repairs carrying wounded Allied troops and German POWs with them.
LCI 506 circled

Fifteen million Americans fought in World War II but there aren’t many left today. Phillip, one of the few, was modest about his wartime service. Most of what I learned about LCI 506 and what it did came from my online research. My own father was aboard one of the other 5000 ships that crossed the channel on D-Day, so I have a personal interest in that largest invasion in history of the world.

Cafeteria at Pineland School
Phillip returned to Pineland after the war and met his wife, Margaret, who lived nearby. They were married from 1947 until she died in 2012. They had one daughter who lives in Colorado now, and three grandchildren. Phillip is still quite active and goes back to Pineland every couple of weeks to take part in a veterans program housed there. “It’s quite different now,” he said, and invited me for a guided tour after all this snow melts.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Fickle Flirt

Portland Harbor 2017
Spring has teased for weeks now, but New England knows she’s a flirt and not always a pretty one. Snowbanks melt back along streets in Portland to show us accumulated trash the careless have dropped or thrown from car windows all winter. With it are thawing remains of pigeons and seagulls. Little is picked up because we know more snow will bury it again and soon.

My granddaughters in Lovell

Along country roads the melt exposes empty beer cans but thankfully not many. Other detritus is mostly leaves and branches — the benign debris of Nature. Turkey buzzards back from southern climes appear overhead scouting remains of forest animals too old and weak to have survived winter. During seasonal transitions we look forward and back. New England poet Robert Frost reflected on this in A Patch of Old Snow:

There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper
The rain had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I’ve forgotten — 
If I ever read it.

Few poets appeal to me but Frost always has, and he knew the tease of March and April. Reading him I see it, smell it, feel it.

Frost in New Hampshire

Warm breezes over Portland Harbor carry a stronger scent of salt water. The sea was whipped up last weekend by a strong storm to our south and helped a full moon, making high tide very high indeed. Wind whipped the white salt spray from tops of waves, but Boston and Cape Cod absorbed most of the fury.

Next to Portland Harbor a mountain of snow melts slowly. Front-end loaders on city streets filled trucks that dumped load after load beside it as bulldozers pushed snow up ever higher up its side. Like the dirty snowbanks that comprise it, no white is visible. It’s a pile of frozen liquid covered with sand that doesn’t melt completely until the end of May sometime.

My back yard

After the flirt of our fickle New England spring comes the snub. By the time you’re reading this another storm will have blanketed everything once again. Then spring will resume her flirting only to spurn us again before April arrives. But our April spring isn’t steadfast either. Frost tells of that in the third stanza of Two Tramps in Mudtime:

The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You're one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you're two months back in the middle of March.

It’s not just ominous buzzards. Other, more agreeable birds appear too. Near the sea in South Portland I’ll see cardinals, but rarely do I see them in the mountains near Lovell.

Out my office window to NH

Frost the poet spent decades in New Hampshire, the mountains of which I see out my office window in western Maine. He describes another spring songbird in the fourth stanza:

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And turns to the wind to unruffle a plume,
His song so pitched as not to excite
A single flower as yet to bloom.
It is snowing a flake; and he half knew
Winter was only playing possum.
Except in color he isn't blue,
But he wouldn't advise a thing to blossom.

March brings New Englanders together in town meetings as sap buckets appear on old maple trees. Mud forms atop frozen ground after the sun is high but freezes again at night — over and over before finally drying firm again. Mud doesn’t impede life in paved-over cities but it brings many things to a halt in the countryside. Roads are posted against heavy trucks. Loggers and builders wait for mud to dry, but most of us savor warm spring breezes. Frost wrote about those in To the Thawing Wind:

Come with rain, O loud Southwester! 
Bring the singer, bring the nester; 
Give the buried flower a dream; 
Make the settled snow-bank steam; 
Find the brown beneath the white; 
But whate’er you do to-night, 
Bathe my window, make it flow, 
Melt it as the ice will go; 
Melt the glass and leave the sticks 
Like a hermit’s crucifix; 
Burst into my narrow stall; 
Swing the picture on the wall; 
Run the rattling pages o’er; 
Scatter poems on the floor; 
Turn the poet out of door.

When our New England spring finally exposes the brown earth beneath, my wife is turned out with her boots on to scratch it and coax her buried flowers upward.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Left and Right Show February 28, 2018

We start by discussing the voluntary arming of teachers to make schools safer from school shooters; "Gun-free school zones"; Again, the Florida high school shooting; those who reside within the Mainstream Media bubble demonstrate their ignorance of firearms; Google and DNC won't hire "cisgender white men" which would describe both Gino and me -- heterosexual white guys; are students juvenile delinquents or "disabled"?; Jails and prisons full of addicts and mentally ill as well as criminals; Curling competition in recent Olympics; Janus vs AFSCME in Supreme Court; Parkland Florida police ineptitude; numbers of illegals coming over the southern border.