This Pope

Pope Francis isn’t a bad fellow at all. I know that today we’re expected to dissect every public figure to find out what isn’t all-good (such as today, the day after Nelson Mandela died, and the first voices reminding the world of Mandela’s cooperation with exploitative capitalists) but I still think this Frankie is okay. Don’t worry: I’m at no risk of returning to that silly religion of a dead and resurrected soothsayer born of a woman who had sex with God just like that God was Zeus and had a kid who was born because that God wanted to show the Devil who was boss by having the Devil stand by while God prepared for the murder of his own child, after which the devil quickly arose from his laughter and began causing mischief in the world once again. But Frankie is my kind of Pope. 

I have no problem with a guy who sincerely desires to improve the lives of all this planet’s people. I don’t really care that he’s against female priests or gay marriage or abortion, even though I favor all these things. It’s just that he’s putting the emphasis of the church back where it should be: on social justice issues, not on peripheral, canon law. Yay for him, and may the world’s millions of Catholics for once realize that this is what it means to be a Christian.

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How television destroys reading comprehension

I am not a big fan of television.  I’m not really what one might call a fan of motion pictures, except for the ones that have really had something to say.  Das Leben der Anderen (The lives of others) is one that comes to mind.  It has what is, for me, the tenderest and most profound ending of any movie I’ve ever seen.  So yes, there is a place for movies: I’m not a Luddite.

My experience as a second grade teacher has shown me that the skill most critical to reading comprehension in the young is the ability to identify the setting of a story.  Setting is so important that in books aimed at the primary grade students all have pictures in them; the pictures help the reader see where the story is taking place.  This helps immensely.  Have you ever been reading a story only to find that Harry is suddenly in an elevator with Pauline?  How the heck did they get there?!  A good reader is not one who is never confronted with these problems: a good reader is one who recognizes when he or she is lost and cannot reason why the setting has changed and goes back into the story to re-read and find out.

What does the moving image do to the brain’s ability to develop the specific attentive ability of sifting out extraneous information and putting a setting together out of meaningful descriptors and signs?  I would argue that movies — which are, really, stories read to us by multiple readers — spoon-feed us visual images that leave no doubt as to setting.  As long as we’re having someone else do the job for us, why should we expect our brains to sift through the dialogue to determine where the story is taking place?  It is an unnecessary skill in movies.  And what you do not use, you lose.

That’s my serendipitous thought for the evening.

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Well, this certainly stinks.

Pine beetles have been destroying the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.  Of course, they didn’t just recently develop an appetite for pines: they are called pine beetles, after all.  Unfortunately, our very love of trees is leading to their destruction.  Fire is a natural friend of the forest — and it’s hard for us to imagine fire as being good.  We have to remember, though, that the health of the forest is independent of us.  If we want healthy trees, we have to get out of the way and let them burn.

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Thanksgiving 2013

Happy Thanksgiving.  If you’re a cop, work in an electric power plant, run a radio station, drive a snowplow, work in a hospital, or do any other of the many, many jobs that require you to ignore the ups and downs of the calendar, take heart.  Lots of folks will join you, working in WalMart, KMart, and lots of other stores this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving used to be (and I’m talking only a few years ago here) the most sweeping holiday in America.  It was the one day when you had better have made all your grocery purchases beforehand, because you were not going to pick up a pound of butter anywhere on Thanksgiving.  Most gas stations, even, were closed.  No newspapers, no mail, no bustling crowds: it was the quietest day of the year.  Now that is no more.

I’m grateful to have the memory of a quieter Thanksgiving.

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Next Thursday.

It has long been my passion to listen to recorded music, especially that recorded between 1900 and 1941.  Damn, but there were some good tunes penned then!  It seems like everybody acknowledges this, too.  Many an aging singer of the present day has contributed their interpretations of songs such as Over the Rainbow, Night and Day, Blue Moon, Say It Isn’t So, and bucketloads more.  They call them “classics.”

Indeed, they are that.

Well, here’s a tune that is a real Tin Pan Alley classic.  Not one that will be recorded by Rod Stewart any time soon (though Night and Day was) but listen to this one.  It’s from a Hit of the Week of 1931, with Don Voorhees’ Orchestra.  At the very end is a lone speaker with a very timeless suggestion.  I love it.

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Letter to NYSDOT re: Preserving the Rails.

September 14, 2013

Raymond F. Hessinger,
Director, Freight & Passenger Rail Bureau,
NYS Department of Transportation,
50 Wolf Road,
POD 54,
Albany, NY 12232.

Dear Sir:

I strongly support the maintenance of the rail system in the Lake Placid – Remsen travel corridor. The sudden and aggressive nature of the rails-to-trails folks has all the hallmarks of a fad, while an existing rail system is an expression of hope for the future and respect for the past. Throughout history, transportation networks have often been the proximal cause of a better standard of living; there is no question that advanced countries all over the world, from Germany to China, are rediscovering the value of rail transportation.

My specific reasons for favoring rails and opposing their destruction follow.

  • There is no existing model for the Remsen – Placid corridor as a bike path.  It goes through a wilderness in which no amenities can ever be placed.
  • The train can provide a means for bicyclists and canoeists to travel to interior parts of the park.
  • The cost of tearing up the rails is not comparable to any existing project.  An EIS would have to be done; the cost of disposing of the ties would just about equal the value of the iron in the rails; the trail would have to be widened along trestles and boglands; the cost of construction 30 miles inside a wilderness area has not been calculated.  Hence, a reasonable estimate for the construction of a bike path is certainly higher that has been so far announced.
  • The existing rails-to-trails entity, the Bloomingdale Bog Trail (from Saranac Lake to Loon Lake via Onchiota) gets no use from bicyclists. Indeed, as ARTA itself has admitted, “it gets no maintenance because there is no call for it.”  How much more likely is it that we should see routine maintenance along a 90 mile trail when the one that already exists in the area is not used except by snowmobiles?
  • Should a bicyclist get halfway into the wilderness, then camp and neglect to put out a campfire, the resulting fire in the center of the Adirondack wilderness would be devastating.
  • The railroad goes directly through some of the most isolated wilderness left in the State of New York. Whether snowmobilers or bicyclists, it is certain that there will be many, many new unofficial trails created simply by repeatedly entering at a given point.
  • Such a long corridor would require significant law enforcement resources, which currently are not situated nor equipped for such an environment.
    It would mean a victory for short-sightedness and a permanent defeat for the American commitment to the importance of transportation networks.

Further, much work has already been done both by your agency in rebuilding rail crossings and by volunteers who rebuilt train stations such as the one in Tupper Lake. Eliminating the tracks and the hope of ever having rail transportation would mean believing in the meanest propaganda: the claim by the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates that the bike trail would see hundreds of thousands of tourists flocking to it. If such a claim were to have been tested this year, May, June and July might have been somewhat too soggy for such numbers. August and September, then, were the months for the greatest use of a bike trail, and that would mean thousands of bicyclists every day, which is unlikely in the extreme.

Finally, I believe that the Rails-to-Trails effort led by ARTA is a bait and switch operation. They are selling this conversion as promoting a healthy form of recreation. Actually, it will primarily benefit snowmobilers, who now will be zooming thoughout the center of the Adirondack wilderness, trampling young saplings and crashing through icy ponds. Our last quiet spaces will cease to be.

I sincerely hope your Department rejects the current effort to eliminate the rails in the Lake Placid – Remsen travel corridor.


Emmett Hoops
Saranac Lake, New York

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What I believe.


I believe that government of and by the people is not necessarily government for the people. We don’t usually know much at all about the representatives we choose, and we don’t understand most of the issues they vote on. The language of bills is written by people trained in law; it is not a language most Americans can easily understand.

I believe that even if we did have a government that worked for the people, it would be a disaster. The people want everything without paying for it. Legislators know this, and so make little effort to make the lawmaking process transparent.

I believe that schools are designed for an industrial society, and are not equipped to educate today’s children. Educate comes from the Latin educare, which means to lead out; it suggests that it is a process of being led out of the darkness of ignorance. We are living in an age of technology, a post-industrial America where shopping is the greatest source of GDP. Schools are the last bastions of the #2 pencil and the ballpoint pen: everywhere else, keyboards are the means of getting language encoded. Voice commands, while not yet ubiquitous because of the industry’s infancy, will be more important as the years go on. We, however, still regiment kids chronologically into grades. We expect everyone will need science, math, art, and competitive sports. Well, did you ever meet someone who just had a knack for pitching? A penchant for gardening? These are hardly skills that can be learned, but they are important skills in people’s lives. Yet these are not the skills that are fostered and measured in school. We teach and measure the skills that were necessary for success in the 19th century. We have not yet engaged in a debate on what skills kids need in a post-industrial society, but it is one we need to engage in.

I believe that the first amendment to the Constitution guarantees that religion has no place in the process of lawmaking. It is not that the establishment of a state religion that is referenced. It is that:

  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

and that’s all. Not to nitpick here, but there are very few words to analyze, so we can assume they were chosen carefully. The big word here is ‘an’ rather than ‘the’. “An establishment” is synonymous with “institution”: an organization founded and united for a specific purpose. In other words, those 16 words prohibit Congress from making any law that is in any way concerning a religion. (I get ‘concerning’ from its synonym, ‘respecting’.) So, if the grounds for prohibiting abortion are primarily religious, and if such a ban would affect any religious group beneficially, it cannot be countenanced. That many laws have already been made which benefit different religions is beyond dispute; but ignorance of the law is no excuse, and shoddy precedence is no reason for future maladministration.

I believe that climate change is scientifically demonstrable; and that it is occurring now. I do not believe that we can observe climate change individually, because it takes place over the entire planet to different degrees and at different times. But we can individually experience the changes that will occur, as we have experienced what already has occurred, such as “once in a thousand years” storms that happen every five years or so now.

I believe that television is the most powerful medium on the face of the Earth. As such, it is too dangerous to be left in the hands of private corporations. I have personal experience with the power of television, and I’ll share the story with you. I was teaching fourth grade in a rural school, and my class was using the Internet to participate in a weekly math puzzle. This was 1993. I got a call from a public television station (not my local one) who informed me that they wanted to do an interview with me, because I was one of the first teachers in my state to use the Internet with kids. After the show was taped and edited, I was told when it would air. My principal shared the air time with parents via a newsletter. After that show was viewed, I was the star of my school. People I had never met came to me and told me what a great teacher I was. (They could not have known this from the 5 minute segment I was in.) My class was changed. They had been on TV! That Christmas, I got a $100 bill anonymously; the parents got together and bought me a fabulously complex custom-made cake; the school had a television in the front hallway with that show on a continuous loop for the rest of the school year.
Television is like nothing else the world has ever seen. It makes magic that we don’t understand.

I believe that the Old Testament is by definition superseded by the New Testament.  I believe, therefore, that nothing in the Old Testament has any relevance except as a history comparable to The Iliad of Homer.  The New Testament is a book made by vote, as there were many, many books that recounted the Jesus story but did not make the official canon.  You can say that this choice was guided by the Holy Spirit; I would ask you to produce evidence of that before I would agree.  So it follows that, absent a demonstration of proof of the Holy Spirit’s influence, the New Testament is a man-made book, subject to the whims and prejudices of those who compiled it.  I am under no requirement to believe anything in that book ever happened, and I do not believe they did; at least not in the way the stories are related in the New Testament.  There was a man named Jesus; he had some followers, which was normal for a charismatic speaker.  He was said to be celetially begotten, which was a popular way for the Roman ruling class to come into this world also.  (Julius Caesar was celestially begotten, they said.)  Jesus ran up against the Jewish ruling class, puppets to the Romans who occupied Palestine.  It was expedient for these classes to conspire in the murder of this charismatic man.  Nothing that hasn’t happened to thousands of other popular leaders throughout history.

I believe that I am a hypocrite, and that we all are hypocrites.  Hypocrisy is the invisible tool that enables us to live lives of relative luxury while others starve and die of curable diseases.  Hypocrisy allows me to drive my car to work, thus adding many pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere, which accelerates climate change while I rail against climate change and those who cause it.  Hypocrisy allows me to own land and refuse others access to it for any reason, thus depriving them of one more piece of this planet that really should belong to us all.

I believe that health care costs will not be contained and will continue to drive the deficit unless and until we have a reasonable discussion about what we want our health care dollars to cover.  Should an 89 year old man with Lymphoma receive $150,000 worth of treatments if it gives him a 75% chance of survival over three years?  Probably not, you’d say.  How about an 80 year old?  A 77 year old?  At what point do we say enough is enough?  I do not think American society is ready for this discussion.

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