Open Mic Night at the School Board: I Play the Gray Card

Inspired by Michael Morris’s September 8 column in The Facts, I called the school district office and got on the list to offer public comment at the start of the September board meeting. I am not an open mic kind of person, but Mr. Morris reminded me of the importance, in a democracy, of speaking up when you have a reasonable opinion about how things should go in your community’s life.

As the day approached I thought about the possibility that the Justice for J-6 crowd may well be preparing to flood the board room with bikers recruited from Sturgis, South Dakota to chain whip anyone daring to appear at the meeting masked against “the Chinese virus“. At a minimum I thought I ought to choose my words carefully and write them down to keep myself on script.

So I wrote about two and a half minutes of my thoughts in which I appealed to my status as an elder in the community. Maybe they would’t beat up an old man wearing glasses, leaning on a cane, and talking about the olden days.

G-Droppin’ with Greg

Politicians will do crazy things to try to connect with some part of the electorate whose votes they crave but whose life and culture may be foreign to them. The Democratic candidate on their first hunting trip is a favorite. Only Ann Richards was able to pull that one off persuasively. With her big hair, Texas drawl and a deer rifle in her hand, she let them know that she would probably hold her own in a bar fight with any of them two-steppin’ cowboys. And it probably wasn’t her first hunting trip, either.

My all-time favorite was when an incumbent Texas Secretary of Agriculture named Reagan Brown decided that he could connect with Texas’ farmers and ranchers by jamming his hand into a bed of fire ants while the photographers stood by drooling. Cowboy types were not impressed. His opponent wasn’t only a Democrat, he was about as progressive as they come. Thank you, Reagan V. Brown for giving us a few good years with Jim Hightower.

A bit less showy than the faux hunting trips and the fire ant challenge (too bad there were no social media in 1982), there is the practice of what I call G-droppin’. Candidates for statewide and national offices typically have been educated with bachelor’s and law degrees, often from Ivy League schools. They have learned how to speak proper English and they speak it with a precision that often makes their home folks think of them as “puttin’ on airs.” Put these folks in front of a judge in a courtroom and they speak the king’s English.

But a roomful of voters at the American Legion Hall in Clute will have them droppin’ Gs from their present participles. Even President Obama did it. He dropped Gs with the worst of them. But it never sold the way Ann Richards sold her NRA-appealing hunting trips. With Obama, the G-droppin’ seemed like the opposite of puttin’ on airs, at least to me. He was just too honest and too good for that kind of panderin’ to the willfully ignorant. It never seemed natural.

But Greg Abbot has handed me one that tops the Reagan Brown performance. But there is no way that I can wring any humor from it.

In order to establish kinship with folks in the Trump cult, he has endangered all our lives and put our children at the head of the line. By issuing an executive order forbidding local governments from mandating masks and vaccines, he no doubt hopes he will be able to pick up the support of the leftover dregs of the Trump “base” in Texas. And as the evidence builds that his edict is probably going to cost lives and create more drag on the economy, he does what DJT would do. He doubles down. How utterly stupid and mean.

Fortunately there are some leaders at the local level who aren’t having any of it. Call it civil disobedience. Call it leadership. They see their jobs as protecting their citizens. Lina Hidalgo’s doin’ it. Sylvester Turner’s doin’ it. Some school districts are doin’ it, too.

In your face, *re* Abbott.

Let’s Learn Spanish: Advice for Duolingo Language Students

Varios de mis amigos estudian español con Duolingo. Nuestro maestro es Duo, el buho. Duo es muy listo, él sabe muchos idiomas. Pero, yo siempre he querido aprender español porque vivo cerca de la frontera con Mexico y tengo unos amigos que hablan español solamente.

Duolingo es un buen método para enseñar un idioma. Duo usa técnicas motivacionales como esos usado en los videojuegos. Pueden convertirse adictivo. Ten cuidado.

Of course, I am trying to show off for you and I confess to having a Spanish-English dictionary at hand. My vocabulary, usage and grammar are undoubtedly not quite up to Duo’s standards but I think they would get my ideas across to a good many Spanish speakers.

My real purpose is to offer advice to anyone using Duolingo to learn a language. It is simply this: beware of the video game motivations. In my case, I became so obsessive-compulsive about running up points and competing to attain goals and push ahead of other users that I was sacrificing the kind of learning that occurs when you stop to examine and think about the last item posted, to listen carefully to pronunciations, to look at the way sentences have been constructed, and, dozens of other details that you miss by hurrying on to the next item as soon as you hit enter.

I had attained a status in Duolingo called the Diamond League. It was difficult to get there and I maintained it for a sizable number of weeks. I watched the scores in “the league” as they mounted every day and I made sure I generated enough points to put a safe distance between myself and the others in the league. I found “cheap” points to score quickly and easily.

One week I set out to see if I could nail a number one finish for the week in Diamond League. I did it. That was the week that I discovered I had reduced Duo’s great teaching tool to a lousy video game, and a pretty lame one at that. From then on I was determined only to avoid “demotion” by keeping out of the bottom 10 per cent of the class. That wasn’t so difficult. But it still distracted from my learning.

So, today I changed my strategy. I am spending more time with each item. I have a set goal of points (XP) that I want to achieve every day and I am determined to stay with that number and not go beyond it. I found that I spend as much time studying as I did with my more compulsive approach but it is much more satisfying and I felt I learned much more.

Design your own approach. Establish your own XP goal for each day. Do it every day. Daily practice is important. I have a five year streak going and plan to keep it up until I can have a decent conversation with a native speaker in Texas’ first European language.

UPDATE: After the first day using my new approach, I was awakened by my cell phone with the following ominous message: You fell to #28! Be careful! You’re going to drop back to the Obsidian League. I will post another update at the end of the week to let you know what life is like in the minor leagues.

One & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 1):

That I was privileged to live in America’s Golden Age.

Yes, 2020 was a challenging, no, a horrible year. The Trump presidency wound down toward an election loss to a demonstrably decent patriot who loves America as much as I do. So there will be some better days ahead. But, with so much to be turned around and salvaged, what will our new President Biden be able to accomplish and sustain?

My fear is that you and I, dear reader, have seen the best of America’s days. We are the country that, in my lifetime, liberated Europe, emptied the concentration camps, welcomed millions of immigrants, advanced space technology, outlasted the Soviets in a Cold War and did all these things and still managed to turn out creditable literature, music, and visual art. Government programs provided assistance so that people could eat, become educated and receive a level of health care that, even at its lowest level, was better than people receive in much of the rest of the world.

Our appraisal of history is limited by our place on the time line and by our position in society. When I say we have lived during the Golden Age, I understand that most of the people who were alive at various times in the past probably believed that they were living in their country’s best years. And, of course, that assessment would vary by each person’s place in society. What may look like a golden age to one person, will look like a lifelong descent into hell by someone born without the privilege of color or inheritance. I am sure that my view turns to a large degree on having been born white and in a family where one or the other of my parents was able to work and secure some income most of the time.

But looking ahead to the future, there are so many problems of truly major proportions that it is hard to be optimistic. The climate is changing rapidly. We know why it is changing. We know how to retard and even stop the process. But we would rather gorge ourselves on material wealth, travel and entertainment. In the process, we have attacked the science capable of providing deliverance. Why? For revealing truths that would demand a level of discipline from us that no government was willing to enforce. The inconvenient truths Vice President Gore warned us about years ago.

We have undermined and exploited public education by privatization and “reforms” designed to reward teachers for teaching their students how to test. We have purposely denied health care to millions of Americans by failing to expand Medicaid to take full advantage of available federal funding. And political leaders have purposely led the public to distrust science, the key to so much of the nation’s progress since our founding.

After decades of progress in expanding the franchise, we are watching Republican majorities shrink the electorate through shameful voter suppression techniques. Technology assisted gerrymandering has made it possible for legislators and parties to perpetuate their majorities in the Congress irrespective of the general will of the voters. As a result, the legislative process is usually in a state of gridlock and unable to legislate for the needs of the citizens.

We have catered to the National Rifle Association as they campaigned to put guns and ammunition into the hands of every right wing voter the industry could reach in order to shake them down for the price of long guns and ammunition. The court has provided them an interpretation of the Second Amendment that arms manufacturers have taken to the bank while consumers take to the streets, armed and dangerous, to make the country safe for the nonsense and lies they have seen and read online.

All of these things taken together make it likely that we have not seen the last of DJT and his “base.” He was not the most competent candidate to lead an authoritarian movement. He may trail off into the sunset but the followers he has stirred will find someone else and, sooner or later, they will find someone with more of the skills and planning abilities to move beyond the entertainer stage of development Trump seemed be stuck in. It’s a job my junior United States senator seems to be auditioning for with great relish.

I look to the future of our country with foreboding. There may be another “Greatest Generation” out there. It seems odd to say it, but it may be us they have to liberate this time.

For the last fifty or so years, I have suppressed my pessimism. But my visions of the bad things that could happen have come true more often than not. I wish I had something more than thoughts and prayers to offer the young ones who have to try and deal with the mess we are leaving them. But I am afraid it has come to that.

Thoughts and prayers – and Joe and Kamala. May God bless them in their work.

Ten & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 10):

Civics education is important.

Of course, I knew this already. I have been interested in government and politics since I became aware in my childhood. The subject has interested me since I first heard President Truman’s voice coming out of our Philco console radio and my sister explained to me that he was the president, that he was in charge of the country, and that he told everybody what to do. Her childish understanding was insufficient for me and I have made a lifetime study of politics.

But not everyone has been paying attention. Some citizens never learned much about their government beyond a few patriotic platitudes. They have been too easily duped by pundits, preachers, and playboys into using their votes to gain admission to see lousy snake oil promotions.

One of the beauties of majority rule is that most people can’t be fooled. But now and then, the snake oil candidate slips through the screen and becomes a governor, a senator, or even a president. I recall that Minnesota elected a wrestler for governor. Texas once elected a hillbilly singer to the governor’s office.

Sometimes the promoters grow into the office and surprise us by delivering a creditable performance, at least managing to preserve our most hallowed institutions. For example, Ronald Reagan.

And sometimes we get snake oil. Just snake oil. And slime.

Some Thoughts on the Election from Over There

www.theguardian.com/books/2020/oct/24/how-do-we-become-a-serious-people-again-dave-eggers-annie-proulx-and-more-on-the-2020-election

I will offer more on this myself after I finish reading the entries from various writers. However, after reading the first by Annie Proulx and the next by Dave Eggers, I wanted to go ahead and post it so others could take a look for themselves. The Guardian offers a fresh view from the UK that I don’t get from the Times and the Post, my usual first stops in the morning.

I will get back to these essays later. In the meantime, enjoy them as YOU have the time.