Read It All!

An old friend, really old friend, sent me the list of the 2017 Darwin Awards. Made me think about when I taught high school about a hundred years ago. At the beginning of each year I handed out copies of a 1-page list of instructions to see just how many of my daily 140 or so math and Russian language students would read the entire page.

The first instruction was: “Read the entire page before you begin.”

The second instruction: “Write your name on the blank space above the line in the upper right-hand corner of this paper.”  Most of them got that right, but there was almost always one Darwin Award candidate in each class who wrote: “Your Name.”  Most of the them tried to convince me they did that on purpose; as a joke.  I only believed some of them……

The third instruction: “Read all of these instructions before you do anything else.”

The last instruction, number 20: “Disregard all of the above instructions except for instructions 1-3.”

Instructions 4-19: a collection of unexpected and somewhat silly things such as: “Stand up, turn around, and sit back down at your desk.” “Shake hands with the person on your right.” “Stand, walk around your desk, and sit back down at your desk.” “Raise both hands and wiggle your fingers for 5 seconds.”

You get the idea.

In every class, every year, about half the kids read to the end and sat watching the other half of their classmates do all the silly things in 4-19. Everybody got a good laugh out of it, although the kids who were standing up, wiggling their fingers, etc., laughed a bit nervously, not sure of what was going on. Within a few minutes everyone had caught on.

After a few words imploring them to make sure they read all that was to be read, we moved on.

To my eternal gratitude, many of “my kids” later told me that was one of the most valuable lessons they ever learned: namely, when someone puts something to read in front of you, read it all. Read everything carefully and thoroughly before taking any action.

I was convinced that high school teachers should toss in a life lesson now and then.....

Just Have to Laugh (or at Least Grin)

Read the comics in the newspaper? “Argyle Sweater” in today’s (July27, 2017) Raleigh News & Observer has a moth and a ladybug at a bar. The moth’s beer can: “Bug Weiser” and the ladybug’s: “Bug Light.”

Moth: “Ya know, contrary to popular belief, I’m really not drawn to the light at all.”

Ha! (Like a moth drawn to the light…..get it?)

And then there is this old chestnut, circa 1970, around Haloween time in Lansing, Michigan:

Two vampires sit at the bar.

Bartender: “What’ll you have?”

First Vampire: “Blood.”

Second Vampire: “Plasma.”

Bartender: “That’s a Blood and a Blood Lite, comin’ up.”

Ha! (Well, my kids liked it…..)

Two Irishmen leave a bar.

It could happen!

(And I’m half Murphy…..)

Attention All Hackers!

We now have a distinguished (“very distinguished”), appointed Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity.

I can’t help being surprised, very surprised, that our President is still claiming massive, very massive, voter fraud.  There are dozens of excellent, very excellent, studies and research papers on the subject.  A simple, very simple, search using the phrase “voter fraud” produced a large, very large, number of hits (6,080,000), among which are various, very various, conclusions that voter fraud is statistically insignificant, very insignificant.

But insignificance is not my main, very main, concern today.  I can only wonder what a group of appointed members of an advisory committee might do with the records of (200 million?) voters.  Send them a postcard asking for proof of life?  Ask the ones who chose to register as Democrats or Independents whether they might want to make a switch?  Make those records available to already drooling, very drooling, cyber crooks making plans to grab all that information for their new, very new, credit cards, bank accounts, etc.?

Can’t help being concerned, very concerned.  (And yes, I’m imitating the style of the almost daily, very almost daily, barrage of tweets from, well, you know…..)  Puts me in mind of “Rain Man,” who said such things as: “I’m a good driver. I’m a very good driver.”  Or Demi Moore in “A Few Good Men,” who, upon hearing the judge deny her objection, said: “But your Honor, I strenuously object,” which of course didn’t persuade the judge to reconsider his ruling.

Still, I strenuously object to creating a new and massive pile of personal, very personal, information in the office of a newly appointed advisory commission.  Do they even have an office?

Instead of Overbooking……

Nobody asked, but I have the answer to airline company overbooking, and I learned it in the summer of 1965 while on a graduate Russian language study tour of the USSR.  The tour was managed by Indiana University and funded by the National Science Foundation.

Our group, 25 high school Russian language teachers, showed up at the airport for a flight from one Soviet city to another. We were on time.  In fact, we were a bit early. Our departure time came and went, and we waited.  And waited.  Finally the professor in charge of our little group asked whether the flight had been cancelled, the aircraft was in need of repair, or what other reason explained why we were waiting for more than 2 hours for our flight. The answer: “We are waiting for more passengers to fill the seats that are still vacant.”

Problem solved.  Instead of overbooking, just don’t take off until the seats are all spoken for.

And thank you for flying Aeroflot.

The Bully Pulpit, part two

“The Bully Pulpit,”

The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt,

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Writing this a few days after the 2016 election of a man who lacks even a trace of so many of the attributes of any president in my lifetime, I’m searching for anything that will give me some hope. As so often has been the case, returning to a history book read a year or two ago has provided a bit of rescue.

A little over a hundred years ago Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, was thrust into the presidency of a country in crisis. Elected to his own term after completing the term of the assassinated William McKinley, Roosevelt confronted a widening gap between the rich and the poor a struggling middle class, and a country dealing with scores of other serious problems stemming from the Industrial Revolution.

“Yet by the end of Roosevelt’s tenure in the White House, a mood of reform had swept the country, creating a new kind of presidency and a new vision of the relationship between the government and the people. A series of anti-trust suits had been won and legislation passed to regulate railroads, strengthen labor rights, curb political corruption, end corporate campaign contributions, impose limits on the working day, protect consumers from unsafe food and drugs, and conserve vast swaths of natural resources for the American people.”

An impressive list of achievements that helped America continue to be great. Those who supported those achievements were then called “Progressives.”

We will be vigilant and active while watching to see whether governance during the next four years will transcend the regrettable, bizarre and often insulting campaign tactics of the last eighteen months.

Will the changes be progressive or will they take us backward?

Congress: How Did Americans Like It Then?

The Russians I met back in 1965 on a study tour of the then Soviet Union may have had it right with their observation about the superiority of their legislature vs. Western legislatures, that one could tell simply by their names. Back then I heard from several Russian friends that while the British legislature is called parliament, from the French “to speak,” and the American legislature is called Congress, from the Latin “to congregate” (have a meeting, so to speak), the Russian legislature is the Duma, from the Russian verb “to think.”

Since I was a guest in their country at the time, and a polite guest by nature, I went along with their joke.

But recently I found in my book club’s monthly read a discussion about our Congress and how much Americans have more contempt than love for the institution. Those of us who haven’t made it our life’s work to ensure President Obama never hears a kind word are especially prone to view Congress as obstructionist. Witness the Senate’s refusal to even consider a Supreme Court nominee.

But the dismal amount of popularity for Congress isn’t exactly a new thing, and here is modest, historical proof, a ditty about the very first Congress, the Continental Congress of 1776:

“These hardy knaves and stupid fools, Some apish and pragmatic mules, Some servile acquiescing tools, These, these compose the Congress!

When Jove resolved to send a curse, And all the woes of life rehearse, Not plague, not famine, but much worse, He cursed us with a Congress.”

(Source: “A More Perfect Constitution, Larry J. Sabato, 2007, Walker Publishing, Chapter 1, Note 1. Quoted from the 1776 Pennsylvania Evening Post.)