Monday, October 21, 2019

Pace Yourself, Dear Bernie, Pace Yourself

To an Activist Dying Young


(With apologies to A. E. Housman)




Three times you won Vermonter races
Mayor, congress, senate;
Three times we cheered you
From our mountain spaces:


Now, the road all runners come,
The heart has slowed your paces; 
As white hair sprouts like antlers,
Aged armor of a racer.


Smart buck to pace your heartbeat
With antlers’ aging color.
For thirty million donor dollars
Cannot a grave uncover.


Eyes the shady night has shut
Will not see the record cut
And silence sounds much worse than jeers
When earth has stopped the ears.


So set your fleet foot
Not on the sill of shade,
But on the lecterned stage,
And round that silken antlered head
Let voters flock to gaze.


They’ll hear a breathing Bernie speak
Autumnal activist he,
Wise enough to fight a fight
He’ll stay alive to see.

Monday, February 11, 2019

* My Life With Clutter

Everyone can’t be Marie Kondo

  • New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT)
  • By Paul Keane

Paul Keane sees certain amount of charm in clutter.

If you walked through my house, you would be amazed at how neat everything is: A place for everything and everything in its place.

Except for half an inch of dog and cat hair, it is remarkably clean too.

But lurking behind this deceptive exterior order, is a secret life of clutter.

Clutter increases exponentially. I know this truth from living in my house for 27 years.

No matter how many times I’ve had Oakes Trucking and Disposal cart away truckloads of outdated and broken or just plain unwanted stuff, the remaining clutter multiplies even faster, and fills my drawers, my closets, my cellar, my garage, my file cabinets (and my mind) with more and more clutter.

I even had a carpenter come in and turn my closets into bunk beds, with upper and lower poles to hang things from, thinking I would give breathing space to the dozens of shirts and pants that were jammed together inside. And instead of breathing space like you see on Home and Garden TV closets, I soon had two levels of stuff that was jammed together instead of one.

Unintended consequence: the cat could now reach easily the lower level clothes and pull down shirts to make a comfy little nest to sleep in on the floor.

It’s not that I had never seen neatness.

My 88-year-old Uncle Walter had a great way of organizing his workbench. Nails and screws and tacks and rivets, nuts and bolts and anonymous tiny metal junk all went in pickle jars.

He nailed the tops of the pickle jars to a 2-by-4 over his workbench and filled each pickle jar with a different species of metal junk, screwing the jars back on to the stationery tops he had nailed there.

In other words, he could see at a glance where his nails and screws and bolts and nuts were located.

When I set up my own workbench. I rejected that idea as old fashioned and risky because the glass of pickle jars could shatter and make a dangerous mess.

Instead I collected coffee cans and used them to organize my work bench. Unfortunately, they took up space on the bench so I had to build make-shift shelves so they would only take up a coffeecan width of space. Gradually my work bench was shrinking to accommodate the cans and their shelves. It was becoming more like a large shelf itself.

In addition, since I couldn’t see what was inside the coffee cans, unlike Uncle Walter’s pickle jars, I had to leave “some items” out of the coffee cans and on the bench in front of the shelves for easy access, making the bench even narrower and less useful for working on projects that require space.

Soon “some items” became more items and more items became buried in piles of items and the whole method of organization fell apart in my impatience and annoyance every time I heaved a wrench or a hammer or a broken part of a project back on the bench.

Then many of the nails I had put on the wall for the neat hanging of tools soon went unused or used just as random hangers.

This mess, plus my jammed closets, have convinced me that there is a genetic component in clutter that makes it multiply the minute its owner attempts to enslave it into an orderly process called neatness.

Take my kitchen drawer, which has everything in it from tape to extra hammers, glue, screw drivers, and missing pieces of light fixtures, electric tape, and more.

I have organized that drawer three or four times over the last 27 years and it looked great for a day or two until I put “something else” into it.

“Something else” leads to something else and that drawer became a kind of game in my head: I know in my mind’s eye what is in there and if I just rake my fingers through it long enough it will turn up.

It’s almost like hide and seek. I have been promising to organize that drawer again for months now, but I know I will throw things away to make everything fit neatly and then I will regret having thrown away exactly what I am convinced I will need sometime in the future.

And besides, neatness isn’t everything. Quantity reigns. I can fit more stuff in that drawer if it is chaotic mess, than I ever could if it was neat.

Let’s not even talk about my “digital drawer” in the dining room china cabinet with the dinosaur bones of Polaroid and digital cameras and flip-open cell phones and dozens of tangled wires snaked together, surely breeding into dozens more wires the minute I close the drawer and am not watching.

And the linen closet? Forget that. Tissue boxes, toilet paper, and dozens of mismatched pillowcases and sheets are constantly falling out when I open that sedate looking door.

I love watching Home and Garden TV and the modern houses with walkin closets the size of my bedroom. My experience teaches me, that if I had such a closet, it would become a breeding ground for shirts and jackets and sweaters that I just can’t “bear to part with” but wear only once a year, if that often. I still have a leather vest I wore as I hitchhiked across America in 1971.

Recently my android phone sent me a message which says “You have created too many files.”

I went to “settings” and clicked on “device maintenance” and selected “clear”. Voila! The junk files were gone.

Maybe the new world of houses with internet intelligence will offer such a feature: a “device maintenance” button that removes clutter from the house by simply hitting “clear.” Poof.

There goes the charm of my secret life of clutter.

* Half a Century Later



Column: 50 Years Later, Re-Evaluating My Old School

For the Valley News

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Maybe I’ve gotten too big for my britches. It’s been 50 years since I graduated from Ithaca College and I don’t even read the alumni magazine anymore. For a while, in the 1980s, rumor had it that Ithaca had “made” Playboy’s list of “Best Party Schools.” But that was just a rumor. It is currently way down, at No. 23, on a list of top New York party schools.

But that was the way I had come to think about Ithaca over the years: as a party school that never dared to rock the intellectual or political boat. Its most famous graduate is the host of ABC’s World News Tonight — and speaks so fast you’d think the world is ending.

I guess I had gone onto bigger and better things, or so I convinced myself: After Ithaca, I earned degrees from a huge state university in 1972, a great Ivy League university in 1980 and, finally, an elite sub-Ivy college in 1997. I hadn’t seen the name Ithaca College for decades, except on alumni propaganda, until 2016.

That’s when it showed up on the front page of The New York Times.

The college’s president, Tom Rochon, had been hounded into resigning after being accused by students of insensitivity to racial issues. Maybe Ithaca was at last throwing off its party school reputation and embracing the great political issues of the day.

I had created the college’s first teach-in 50 years ago, in the 1968-69 school year, on the same topic that propelled the college to the front page of the Times: Racism. (Actually, I stole the idea from Cornell University. That Ivy League school, which sits on a hill opposite from Ithaca College, had shut down for a weeklong “Teach-in on Racism” in response to its own paralyzing race-related crisis. But that’s another story.)

So it seemed a bit late to me, in 2016, after 50 years of silence, for Ithaca College suddenly to decide to deal with the issue of racism.

False alarm. After raising the racism banner, Ithaca faded back into oblivion — in the news, and in my mind, for two more years.

That’s when I learned about Shirley Collado, Ithaca’s new president and the first person of color to be appointed to that post. What an eye opener! Then Google told me that The Ithacan, the college’s otherwise ho-hum student newspaper, had reported in January 2018 that Collado had pleaded no contest in 2001 to a sexual assault charge during the time she was training as a trauma therapist at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington.

That doesn’t sound like the timid little party college I had been ignoring for decades. Read on, thought I.

Bureaucracies and presidents, I believe, traditionally engage in “benign neglect and intransigent equivocation,” a phrase I invented decades ago to describe how many administrators behave. It means ignore accusations, muddy the waters with meaningless words and hope the problem will go away. But during her interviews for the Ithaca post, instead of a covering up or issuing denials, Collado responded openly and frankly to the search committee’s questions about why she pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor charge of putting her hand on a patient’s body outside of her clothing.

Collado, who was 28 at the time of the incident, denied allegations that she had a sexual or romantic relationship with the patient, and said the woman was no longer her patient during the short time she stayed in her home.

Collado said she was emotionally vulnerable at the time because her first husband had recently committed suicide, and she granted that, in retrospect, her friendship with a former patient had been a mistake based on that vulnerability.

In other words, she is human.

She didn’t have the money to fight the charge, so she did what many people do in those circumstances — she pleaded no contest, which allowed her to maintain her innocence while ending the proceedings. She received a 30-day suspended sentence, and 18 months of probation.

All of this Collado has recounted publicly.

Wow. In one stroke, my humble little college was suddenly involved in almost all of the major controversies of 2018: gender fluidity, race and gender discrimination, sexual assault, gay relationships, justice and money, power dynamics in professional relationships, and the First Amendment.

While I feel terribly for Collado’s former patient and what she went through, to tell the truth, I’m proud of little Ithaca College and the courageous behavior of its faculty, its board of trustees and its tiny student newspaper: No cover-up; face the problem squarely; acknowledge redemptive behavior; offer forgiveness; move on.

And I’m a bit embarrassed that I got so big for my britches that I ignored my first alma mater for two decades.

Did I mention that when I left Ithaca in 1969, I went to graduate school in Ohio at a university named Kent State? Within six months, on May 4, 1970, it became the most notorious university in the world after Ohio National Guardsmen shot into a crowd of student demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine others.

Kent State’s board of trustees and the Ohio courts then adopted a strategy quite unlike that taken by Ithaca College: Blame others; muddy or cover-up the facts; protect institutions; let decades pass; and then, and only then, reluctantly acknowledge reality. History will judge how that approach worked out for Kent State.

Maybe The Ithacan, Ithaca College’s gutsy little student newspaper, is reminding us all of something we need to remember: The mission of the Academy — even a former party school — is the pursuit of truth.

Is half a century too late for this prodigal alumnus to resize his pants and say he’s proud to reclaim his status as a graduate of Ithaca College?

Paul Keane, Ithaca College Class of 1968, lives in Hartford.

* Facebook's Pope

New Haven Register

Paul Keane: Where does all that data go?



I don’t know a gigabyte from a mosquito bite, but I do know that one drains my blood and the other drains my wallet.

But when my computer said I had used 99 percent of my storage or 14.86 gigabytes of the “15 GB” provided by my system for files, I thought I’d better find out what a gigabyte is.

A gigabyte is a billion bytes.

MacDonald’s has sold 99 billion hamburgers for instance and the astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson says that if stacked one on top of the other, that would be enough burgers “to reach the moon and back.”

He notes as an aside it is also “terrible news for cows.”

But it gives me a visual idea of a billion, or in this case 99 billion.

A tech friend told me that my email was definitely the culprit, eating up my 14.86 gigabytes and I would have to delete them.

It took three tries before the computer could clump all 55,410 the Inbox and Sentbox emails together and delete them.

Where did they go? I have no idea. Will they pour down from the cloud now as digital acid rain?

My hunch is that Google is selling them to somebody, although both Google and Facebook claim that they do not “sell” their data, they “share” it for free with advertisers who want to target Facebook and Google users.

What’s the difference if the money goes into the cash cow as “sharing” or “selling”? Either way the cow gets fatter and delivers green milk.

It was amusing to watch Facebook’s creator 33-year-old Mark Zuckerberg testify last year before Congress. He had donned a Wall Street uniform, a sedate suit instead of the college Joe uniform he usually wears: a T-shirt and hoodie

You cant really be an ordinary Joe when you are worth $55.7 billion, even if you do wear a hoodie and did start your Facebook empire in a Harvard dorm room as a dating service for hormonal undergraduates.

It turns out if you do the math, that my 55,410 emails amount to a mere 12.6 emails a day.

Just imagine the digital chains America’s teenagers are accumulating who have switched from emails to text messages and now send between 90 and 100 texts a day.

“Appalling!” some might say.

As a English teacher who taught teenagers for 25 years in Vermont schools, I have a different take.
Anything that encourages reading and writing is good, even text messages.

You can’t read if you don’t eye a few words now and then and you cant write if you don’t scribble something occasionally. You have to begin somewhere. I began with comic books and graduated to The Hardy Boy mysteries.

So text messaging and emailing in my opinion are stretching the cerebral reading and writing muscles of our children.

That may have been the hidden agenda of Dartmouth’s late president John G. Kemeny when he and a colleague invented the first digital language in 1964 called “Basic” setting in motion the birth of digital empires now called Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon.

Facebook by the way has 2.27 billion “monthly active users.”

Thus Facebook is very close to catching up with the world’s largest religion, Christianity, which has 2.3 billion active users or as they used to call them “members.”

But there’s one caveat. Facebook is run by that 33-year-old guy in the hoodie and T-shirt or Wall Street suit, depending on his audience’s costume needs.

No one, not a Pope or a president, or a Nobel prize winner, or the Dartmouth inventor of Basic, should have the kind of power to govern such a gazillion gigabyte universe involving 2.27 billion “monthly active users” without some kind of oversight.

Even the Pope had a Martin Luther.

In 1519 Christianity was split in two after a Pope tried to scam the public by, in effect, selling tickets to heaven, called “indulgences” and a Catholic monk, Martin Luther, challenged him, inadvertently spawning the Protestant Reformation.

Is there a challenger waiting in the offing for Facebook?
Listen to the words of Sen. Dick Durbin when he interviewed Mark Zuckerberg before Congress :

“Mr. Zuckerberg, would you be comfortable sharing with us the name of the hotel you stayed in last night?”

Zuckerberg: “Um. No.”

Durbin: “If you messaged anyone this week would you be comfortable sharing their names with us?”

Zuckerberg: “I would not feel comfortable doing that, Senator.”

Durbin: “I think that might be what this is all about.”

Facebook and its “services” seek and record exactly where we are located thanks to global positioning satellites, every time we click on one of their accounts, perhaps hundreds of times a day. Google does the same with Gmail.

When I deleted my 55,410 emails, I got a automatic digital message from Gmail. “Your account is empty. We miss you.”
I’ll bet they do.

Paul Keane grew up in the Mt. Carmel section of Hamden. He lives in Vermont where he retired after teaching English for 25 years.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

* Presidential Pinnochios

Column: All the Presidents Can Tell Whoppers All Right, and They Do

  • Shawn Braley illustration

For the Valley News
Saturday, November 24, 2018
Let’s tell the truth about lies: Almost everyone tells them. Except maybe Jimmy Carter, our 94-year-old former president who promised, “I will never tell a lie to the American people.” And he apparently has not.
Carter once even admitted in an interview in Playboy that he had “committed adultery in his heart” by lusting after women other than his wife. That’s pretty honest even for an evangelical Christian, which he is. We rewarded him for that scrupulous honesty by throwing him out of office after one term.
I suppose you could say another president, George Washington, was first to declare, “I cannot tell a lie,” even though, as the story goes, he said that as a child. But that story about cutting down the cherry tree has itself been found to be a lie. A white lie, I suppose, or a myth, but untrue nonetheless.
So, is our current president the exception, or is he the rule? Donald Trump regularly earns The Washington Post Fact Checker’s award of 3 Pinnochios (a significant factual error) or 4 Pinnochios (a whopper), meaning that, like Geppetto’s wooden puppet whose nose grew longer every time he fibbed, our current president is a liar.

But every other president in my lifetime (except Carter) has been a liar, as well. Just listen to them:
■ Barack Obama: “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.”
■ George W. Bush: “Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction.”
■ Bill Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
■ George H.W. Bush: “Read my lips: no new taxes.”
■ Ronald Reagan: “We did not, repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages — nor will we.”
■ Gerald Ford: “There was no deal, period, under no circumstances,” after issuing a pardon to Richard Nixon, later disputed by the reporting of Seymour Hersh.
■ Richard Nixon: “I had no knowledge of the ... break-in, that’s for sure, no knowledge of the ... cover-up. Oh no.”
■ Lyndon Johnson: “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”
■ John F. Kennedy: We have no intention of military intervention in Cuba.
■ Dwight Eisenhower: The American U-2 spy plane that was shot down over the USSR was merely a weather plane that had flown off course.
■ Harry Truman: “We wished in the first (atomic bomb) attack to avoid, in so far as possible, the killing of civilians.”
■ Franklin Roosevelt: “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”
And that is just in my lifetime. Why would we expect anything different of Trump? At least his lies have not caused thousands of war deaths. So far. We can’t say the same of the Bushes, Nixon, Johnson, Truman or Roosevelt.
By the way, except for the prohibition against bearing false witness against thy neighbor, lying is not one of the transgressions forbidden by the Ten Commandments. That’s pretty limited. You can’t lie about your neighbor, but you can lie about your family, you can lie about people who aren’t your neighbors and, incidentally, you can lie about “the failing New York Times.”
Even U.S. libel and slander laws are more strict than the Ten Commandments. You can’t tell a lie about anyone out loud or in writing. If you do, you can be sued for damages. Unless you are a politician. In that case, the courts say, stretching the truth can be acceptable. As U.S. District Judge S. James Otero ruled last month, Trump’s reference to porn star Stormy Daniels’ accusations as a “con job” was protected by the First Amendment as the kind of “rhetorical hyperbole normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”
So what are we to do? Are we all swimming in presidential Pinnochios from Roosevelt to Trump? The Washington Post reports that Trump has told about 6,000 lies since he was inaugurated two years ago. That’s a whole lot of big wooden noses.
If we can’t look to presidents for guidance about truth, what about Jesus? Did he lie?
We will never know because all the witnesses are dead and all the documents are disputed. There is even a whole field of scholarly debate called the “ipsissima verba jesu,” the very words of Jesus.
In 1976, when I was a religion student, only 26 words in the Bible were accepted by scholars as being “the very words of Jesus.” Now, in 2018, that number has grown to more than 1,000.
But there is a catch: The attribution of those words to Jesus is largely based on the argument that they are written in Aramaic in translations of the original texts, not in Greek or Latin. Aramaic was the language that a Palestinian carpenter would have spoken in 32 A.D. Therefore, those Aramaic words might have actually been spoken by Jesus.
That’s pretty soupy scholarly evidence I’d say, and opens up another problem: If you believe something that cannot be verified with witnesses or documents, does that make it true? Consider American history, which does have witnesses and documents.
“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races,” said Abraham Lincoln in his first debate with Stephen Douglas on Aug. 21, 1858. Witnesses heard Honest Abe say it.
Five years later, as president, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Paul Keane lives in Hartford.