Friday, April 30, 2010

I Can Think of Worse Ways to Spend an Afternoon .....

... than the way students at our Early College High School were passing time and pursuing studies, yesterday on the Midland College campus - reclining on the grass, in the shade of trees, reading one of the great works of American literature.

The students are high school freshmen - the inaugural freshman class at ECHS. Next year, they advance, and are joined by a new freshman class, then another and another, until we have a full, four-year high school campus on the grounds of MC. For the students' first two years, the ECHS curriculum is largely high school classes, with college-level courses being introduced the second two years. The goal - by the time the students receive their high school diploma, they will also have an associate’s degree from Midland College under their belt. The curriculum is rigorous, shored up by additional counseling, mentoring and advising to help these students succeed.

A new and different venture for education here, in the Tall City. But there's also some of the same old challenges you find on our other campuses, like the TAKS (the
Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) tests which are under way this week. Readers of this blog residing in the Lone Star State will know what THAT entails, and the stress that accompanies the tests.

And what better way to relieve that stress than to take your English class outdoors, let the kids select their own spots in the grass, shaded by trees from the glaring sun and high temps of West Texas, and read - quietly, to themselves - "
To Kill a Mockingbird," the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. Those of you who have read the book may not be surprised that there was no chatter among the students, none of the goofing-around that sometimes accompanies a foray outside the classroom ... those kids were engrossed.

Me? I can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

This One Will Probably End Up on My Bookshelf .....

Books from politicians, and from those who are a part of their aspirations and achievements, are common enough ... but not many of them find their way onto my shelves.

This one might ...

Spoken From the Heart,” by former First Lady of the United States Laura Bush has been in the headlines for the last day or so. A copy of the book, scheduled for release in early May, was obtained by The New York Times at a bookstore. While most of the day's headlines have been devoted to what she writes about her part in a fatal traffic accident in Midland, in 1963, she also writes about the unique perspective she gained over the years, into national and world affairs, and the people who conducted those affairs.

It's been about a year-and-a-half since news of the book, and speculation over its content, began circulating. At the time, the Associated Press reported, "while Nancy Reagan famously settled scores with old foes like former White House chief of staff Donald Regan in 'My Turn,' one publishing executive with knowledge of the meetings with Laura Bush said the [then] current first lady has vowed to write a positive book, with a minimum of criticism."

That's not to say, though, that the book doesn't contain some strong statements. In this report from and the New York Times, we learn that, "on several occasions in the book, Ms. Bush admonishes her husband’s political adversaries for 'calling him names,' and she pointedly rebuts criticism of some of his key decisions."

That wouldn't surprise me. While she was First Lady of Texas, I had a chance to interview Laura Bush twice, and found her to be smart and well-informed, with the ability to speak firmly - though not offensively - on those topics on which she felt strongly. I also found her to be very gracious and open to 'the press' ... far more so than those who comprised her entourage at the time (and still do, as a matter of fact). For me, First Lady Laura Bush remains one of the best things about the George H.W. Bush White House. He definitely traded-up when he married her ... but, c'mon guys ... don't we all?

Which is why I'll probably add hers to to those few of the aforementioned books that have made it to my shelf. Others already on the shelf include ...

Profiles in Courage by John Kennedy;
Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant;
The Strenuous Life by Theodore Roosevelt;
It Takes a Village by Hillary Clinton;
Faith of My Fathers; by John McCain; and
Earth in the Balance by Al Gore.

... so, what's on your shelf? ... And what are the chances of a public book-signing here, in the Tall City?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sharing a Link and a Laugh .....

I've always thought my yearbook photo looked a little dorky, with the haircut and the glasses that were on the cutting edge of fashion back then, twenty-million-or-so-years ago.

But then, along comes
this post from ... and I get to thinking, "maybe my photo isn't so bad, after all" ... well ... at least not as bad as SOME of what they've labeled "30 Awesomely Bad School Portraits."

Those of you with kids will know ... the school photo business has grown dramatically. Times were simpler in our day, with buggy whips, leeches and single photo shoots - a shot of your homeroom class, than a quick cattle-call of individual photos of each student. Now, school years may feature more than one shoot, and private studios have really taken their place in the process. And the simple head shot, taken with a plain background and no props, is long gone.

The one drawback to being overly-critical, or laughing too hard at this post from is that, once upon a time, these photos captured - perhaps with laser precision - the youths' views of their world, and their place in that world. It may have made perfect sense to them at the time. And I must admit, there were a couple that I appreciated ... and, NO, I won't tell you which ones. But today, those same youngsters might be hard pressed to answer Dr. Phil's exasperated, "What were you thinking?" But then again, maybe they CAN answer, and explain something so obvious to them, and so lost upon us - and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Getting to the Roots of Earth Day .....

It's hard to believe that it's been forty years since the seed for a worldwide celebration of the Earth and its environment was planted forty years ago, by a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin.

According to this post on Wikipedia, "Earth Day, celebrated April 22, is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. It is held annually during both spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere. It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in in 1970 and is celebrated in many countries every year." That post goes on to report that, responding to what he saw as widespread environmental degradation, Nelson "called for an environmental teach-in, or Earth Day, to be held on April 22, 1970. Over 20 million people participated that year, and Earth Day is now observed each year on April 22 by more than 500 million people and national governments in 175 countries."

This post from the Earth Day Network notes that Nelson's innaugural "teach-in" was one of several significant events that year, in just about every facet of American society, including "the Kent State shootings, the advent of fiber optics, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Apollo 13, the Beatles' last album, the death of Jimi Hendrix, the birth of Mariah Carey, and the meltdown of fuel rods in the Savannah River nuclear plant near Aiken, South Carolina - an incident not acknowledged for 18 years."

Interesting note on Earth Day's origins, and its designation for April 22nd ... this post at Environmental Graffiti notes, "perhaps the most endearing thing about the holiday is the footnote surrounding the reason Earth Day is on April 22nd: Eddie Albert. Yes, that Eddie Albert: the warden in The Longest Yard, and Oliver on Green Acres. The actor was so active in the early environmental movements that the decision was made when organizing Earth Day that it should be held on his birthday, April 22nd. After this, he proudly spent celebrating the planet, instead of himself, for the rest of his life." Similar claims are made at imdb, and, while wikipedia suggests it's just a coincidence.

Appreciation of Earth Day, and support for its goals is NOT universal ... even among environmentalists. "Make This Earth Day Your Last," write Alex Steffen and Sarah Rich, in this 2007 post at, calling for stronger connections, more information and "a dramatic break with the past."

Green Entrepreneurship Can Make Every Day 'Earth Day' .....

It's been argued that if there were serious and common-sense alternatives to the products and processes of our everday life - alternatives that were environmentally-friendly - we might all become a little greener in the way we live and work.

Which is where Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre are the co-founders of Ecovative Design come in.

"We all use Styrofoam and don’t realize it. Beyond packaging, it’s in the tables we use and the airplanes in which we fly," Nichole Lapin writes in this post at her Young People Who Rock blog. "We’ve long heard, though, that it’s not the most environmentally friendly product, taking 10,000 years to break down. Enter two 24-year-old innovators with some mushroom roots and seed husks."

Think about it ... an eco-friendly replacement for Styrofoam, something that (unlike ethanol) does not consume resources that could be used elsewhere, something you can pitch into a free compost heap rather than the public-funded city dump ... could make a lot of sense, to a lot of people, for a lot of reasons.

CLICK HERE for more on Earth Day 2010.

Go Ahead, Hug That Tree - It's Okay .....

Quick ..... picture an 'environmentalist' in your mind, and what do you see? ..... Who are these people, anyway? ..... And where do they get their crazy ideas?

All too often, people deal with stereotypes formed from incomplete and inaccurate observations. For example, because one totes a firearm (and, maybe, hunts), does that make one some kind of NRA-cold-dead-fingers-off-the-trigger fanatic? ..... maybe not.

Because one is an environmentalist, does that make one some kind of wild-eyed-tie-dyed-bare-footed-tree-hugging-leftist-leaning-granola-eating hippie? ..... again, maybe not.

That's not to say there aren't some individuals out there who might fit those stereotypes ..... but you have to ask yourself if they are the 'rule' or the 'exception' ..... are YOU an environmentalist, even just a little bit? ..... you may be, even if you haven't spent much time at an outdoor concert in Woodstock; a commune in Taos, or a revolutionary neighborhood in San Francisco.

Me? My environmental roots took hold in very different soil, in lessons learned from my family, my parents and my grandparents. They were people who experienced first-hand the Great Wars of the 1910s and the 1940s, and the Great Depression of the 1930s. My father's family were farmers, and that provided an added lesson for me to respect the blessings that are the earth and its resources, and to do whatever I can - within reason - to nurture those resources, to use them well and wisely .....

..... to be a good steward. My family had never heard of Gaia (that was something I learned later, in college), but there was still something spiritual - a matter of fundamental faith - in their relationship to the Earth and its resources. They had read in the Bible (KJV), the Book of Genesis, that their dominion over the Earth and its resources, and their command to replenish and subdue, came from God ..... pretty heady stuff, and a topic that is still the subject of heated debate today.

Spirituality ..... and frugality ..... wasting nothing ..... helping to make limited ends meet by finding a way to use (or re-use) anything and everything before you decide to dispose of it ...... to repair/rebuild/restore the old before having to buy the new - a decision that is taken more and more out of our hands in the modern electronic age, where car maintenance (for example) is not as easy it was in my father's day. And frugality extends to the kitchen, as well ..... recipes my grandma shared with me, and strategies for re-using products, and stretching limited amounts of meat, and serving leftovers in a creative manner, reflected the days when household budgets were especially tight.

Spirituality ... and frugality ... and patriotism. World Wars I and II were fought on many fronts, including the home front, where we were asked (and, in some cases, required) to conserve valuable resources such as gasoline, needed to aid the war effort. In retrospect, it seems to me that recycling efforts of the past thirty years (which I have experienced) were nothing compared to those of the 1940s (which I did not experience, but were described to me by my parents and grandparents). And Victory Gardens (some as big as a house lot, some as small as a window box) provided fresh produce that might be lacking on store shelves.

Spirituality ... frugality ... patriotism ... and good economic/business sense. Take aluminum recycling, for example. Some are surprised that the process has been used since the early 1900s - it only gained a high profile in the 1960s and 70s as environmentalism became more and more a part of the public consciousness. According to industry statistics, recycling aluminum uses 95% less energy, and a lot less money, than making new aluminum through the mining and refining of ore products. And recycling aluminum (or any other recyclable product), rather than just throwing it away, also makes good sense to taxpayers who have to pay for growing waste/landfill services in their community ..... and even those who make fun of 'tree-huggers' can appreciate anything that reduces our shared tax burden.

Spirituality ... frugality ... patriotism ... good economic sense ... and pride. Environmentalism reflects my love for, and pride in my community and its appearance. And that includes efforts to pick up the trash that others have discarded along our roadsides, in our parks, and around our town ... and recycling ... and promoting reasonable alternatives ... and including environmentalism in the issues that guide my vote.

Anyway, that's why I AM an environmentalist ..... and proud of it.

CLICK HERE for more on Earth Day 2010.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

An Opportunity to Make a Joyful (?) Noise .....

As we draw near the end of Holy Week, a week where the two biggest Christ-related news stories involved sex abuse in Europe and Christian militia in America, with breaks devoted to ads for Easter candy and holiday sales events, it's good to remember the biggest news story of all ...

He is risen ...
Christ is risen, indeed ...

"We are the Easter people," Pastor Jim Miles of First Prez-Fort Stockton reminds us ..... and that is what we affirm today, the day for which we have prepared all week, the day for which we live at all times. A promise was made on a joyful, star-lit night, in a stable in Bethlehem ... but that promise was kept on a bloody, storm-darkened day, on a hill outside of Jerusalem.

The following is part of my annual observance of this wonderful day ...

A pretty-full house for early service and a filled-to-capacity house for late service this morning at First Prez-Midland, and I don't think anyone went home disappointed. The church's staff and ministry did themselves proud today, and the message of Christ's resurrection - and our salvation - was loud, clear and compelling.

There was a little something for everyone ... including me. A small notice in the church bulletin said, "Those who have sung the 'Hallelujah Chorus' and would like to join with the choir in this great anthem, please come to the chancel during the singing of 'Christ is Aive'"

I had ... so I did. As I do every Easter, now, I sang that awesome piece with a choir. And not just the choir this morning, but accompanied by brass, percussion and organ.

I was a tenor in high school, and I don't quite have the range now, that I did then. The lump in my throat - not the result of stage fright but, rather of exhilaration - didn't help either ... what can I say? ... it was a wonderful moment. And even as I mangled this note or that, I didn't care ... I was making a joyful noise, nonetheless. And, I enjoyed it so much that I came back and sang at late service, as well.

Perhaps what I felt was something like what Edward Hoagland once described ...

"Though I'd seen mobs behave savagely, some of my experience was of the moments when, on the contrary, a benign expressiveness, even a kind of sweetness, is loosed. When life seems to be an unmixed good, the more the merrier, and each man rises to a sense of glee and mitigation, alleviation, or freedom that, perhaps, we wouldn't quite dare to feel if he were alone. The smiling likeness, infectious blitheness, the loose, exultant sense of unity in which sometimes, the mass of people as a whole, seems to improve upon the better nature of the parts."

"This intrigued me."

"Just as with other natural wonders of the world, to which one relinquishes one's self, instead of feeling smaller, I often felt bigger when I was packed into a multitude And taking for granted the potential for mayhem of crowds, of which so much has been written, I was fascinated instead by the clear, pealing gaiety."

"It manifests itself, for instance, in the extraordinary quality that singing by a congregation acquires. The humdrum and unlovely voices gradually merge into a sweet, uniquely pristine note, a note angelic-sounding, hardly believable. Looking about, one can't see who in particular might have such a voice. Everybody in the pew has an expression as if he were about to sneeze, and squawks just a little. It is a note created only when hundreds sing ... it needs them all. No single person is responsible, any more than any individual in a mob lends that its bestiality."

"It's like riding in surf. It's like a Dantean ascent ... one circle up. Suddenly, we like all these strangers, even the stranger in ourselves, and seem to see a shape in life, as if all the exertions of the week really were justified and were a source of joy."

Alleluia ... Amen

With thanks to Florence Sherwood, Chorus Director at Dallas Senior High School, Dallas, Pennsylvania, for her wonderful talent and her incredible patience.