Earlier today Donald Trump tweeted that Boeing was spending $4 billion dollars to renovate Air Force One. He was off the facts by orders of magnitude but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know knew exactly what he was doing. It’s time we stop trying to read his tweets as exercises in truth finding. It doesn’t matter if Trump didn’t know or didn’t care about his numbers: With authoritarians, we must follow the effects, not the logic.
Trump’s tweet came less than half an hour after the Chicago Tribune posted a few short quotes from the Boeing CEO saying they were concerned about the implications of trade with China under a Trump Administration. It was relatively tame stuff and of course a multinational with billions of dollars in China is going to be concerned. About a quarter of their aircrafts are built for the Chinese market.
But follow not the logic but the effect: if you criticize this president in public he will destroy your shareholder value. Boeing lost half a billion dollars in value following Trump’s 140 characters. Every CEO in America will now have to think twice before speaking to the press. It would be fiscally irresponsible to do otherwise. A few quotes in a paper isn’t worth that amount of shareholder value.
Free speech isn’t just court cases or a few lines in the Constitution. Even the CEOs of the largest corporations in America need to watch their tongues. Silencing has begun.
A good piece in the NYTimes on the stagnant jobs facing blue-collar America. I wonder if they would have written this if the votes had broken a different way and we were all talking of Hillary as president elect. A quote:
For workers like Mr. Roell, 36, who started at Carrier just weeks after receiving his high school diploma and never returned to school, the problem is not a shortage of jobs in the area. Instead, it is a drought of jobs that pay anywhere near the $23.83 an hour he makes at Carrier, let alone enough to give him a toehold in the middle class
When the McKinney video started trending I wasn’t in a state to watch so I read the commentary. Now that I have, the whole thing is completely messed up but at least three parts especially unnerve me:
The completely unnecessary commando-style dive-and-roll that introduces Corporal Eric Casebolt. Some reports describe it as a trip but to me it looks like he’s playing a Hollywood action hero stunt double. Has he just been watching too many of the police videos he’s been collecting on YouTube?
That none of the other officers saw his derring-do and said “yo Eric, stand down.” Is this something cops just don’t do? And if not, why not? We all know what it’s like to be hopped up on too much adrenaline. I know people do weird stuff when their reptilian brain fight-or-flight mechanism cuts in. It seems that officers should be on the lookout for just this sort of overreaction and have some sort of safe word to tell one another to take a chill.
The videographer was a “invisible” white teenager. He walked nearby – and occasionally through – the action without being questioned. At one point Casebolt seems to purposefully step around him to put down his dark-skinned friends. The videographer told news reporters that he felt his whiteness made him invisible to Casebolt.
I never quite realized all the race politics behind the switch from public pools vs private pool clubs. I grew up in a Philly suburb with two public pools and very much remember the constant worry that Philadelphia kids might sneak in (“Philadelphia” was of course code for “black”). The township did have a historically African American neighborhood so the pools were racially integrated but I’m sure every dark-skinned township resident was asked to show town ID a lot more than I was. And it’s hard to think it was entirely coincidental that both public pools were located on the opposite ends of the township from the black neighborhood.
There are no public pools in the South Jersey town where I live. A satellite view picks out thirteen private pools on my block alone. Thirteen?!? There’s one private pool club across town. There’s a lot of casual racism around here, primarily directed at the mostly-Mexican farmworkers who double the town population every summer. If there was a town pool that reflected the demographics of the local Walmart parking lot on a Friday night in July, we’d have mini-riots I’m sure — which is almost surely why we don’t have a municipal pool and why wealthy families have poured millions of dollars into backyards.
(My family has joined the Elmer Swim Club, a pool located about half an hour away. While the majority of members are super nice and I haven’t heard any dodgy racial code phrases. The pool is diverse but is mostly white, reflecting the nearby population. That said, I’ve read enough Ta-Nehisi Coates to know we can rarely take white towns for granted. So.)
Yesterday I was home with the kids on comp time and got to participate in their religion session (my wife keeps them to a schedule in the summers and religion makes for a quiet half hour midday).
My 9 year old was reading the passage of Jesus’s temptation in the desert found in Matthew 4. I find it such a relatable story. No, no one with pointy ears and a red tail has offered me a kingdom lately, but there are a number of normal human elements nonetheless.
To start with, Jesus is fasting and living without shelter for forty days. I know I become less of the person I want to be when I’m hungry, tired, and stressed. The tempter also proffers a test to see if God cares. That too is familiar: how often do we want something from close family and friends but hold back to see if it’s offered. “Oh, if they really cared I wouldn’t have to remind them.” We do this with God too, confusing changing states of fortune with divine favor rather than welcoming even hard times as a opportunity for growth and understanding.
One of my favorite parts of the Lord’s Prayer is the plea that we not even be led to temptation. There’s a certain humility to that. Jesus might be able to resist the sweet promises of the tempter even when cold and hungry, but I’d rather skip the tests.
It’s hard enough living in this world in a state of humility and coöperation. None of us are perfect, starting with me, and we all certainly have plenty of room to grow. But it’s nice to know that we don’t have to face the tempter alone. God knows just how hard it can be and has our back.
The notion for the “commonplace book” comes from Thomas Jefferson, who used just such a book to capture pretty much anything: passages from books he was reading, notes, sketches, you name it.
Wikipedia takes it further back in its entry on Commonplace books. The name comes from the latin locus communis and the form got its start in a new form of fifteen-century bound journal:
Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator\'s particular interests.
I really like this idea. I\'ve been thinking a lot about workflows recently (and listening to way too many geek podcasts on my commute). I\'ve been muddling my way toward something like this. I\'m currently using Evernote to log a lot of my life but there\'s scraps of interesting tidbits that have no home. An example from half an hour ago: I was listening to Pandora the train when along came an unfamiliar song I wanted to remember for later. A Commonplace book would be a natural place to record this information (First Aid Kit\'sLion\'s Roar if you must know, think Bonnie Raitt steps out with Townes van Zandt for a secret assignation at a Stockholm open mic night.)
Of course, being a twenty-first century digital native, my workflow would be electronic. What I imagine is a single Evernote page that holds a month\'s worth of the bits that come along. I have something similar with a log, a single file with one line entries (lots of Ifttt automations like logged Foursquare check-ins, along with notes-to-self of milestones like issues sent to press, etc.). I\'ll start setting this up.
When I was growing up we’d make the trip from Philadelphia to my grandmother’s house a couple of times a year. As we headed north, the highway threaded across farm fields and through rock cuts in the hills. About an hour in, we’d start noticing the thin blue band on the horizon. It would slowly get larger and larger until Blue Mountain loomed in front of us and we whooshed into Lehigh Tunnel.
My Nana lived on the other side of that mountain. On this side the mountainside was red. The forests that carpeted the rest of the thousand-mile ridge had been ripped up by the decades of chemicals pouring out if the smokestacks of the giant zinc processing factories that bookended the town of Palmerton.
When conversation turned to adult matters, I’d wander to the back porch and count the dirt bike trails going up the barren mountain. When I tired of that I’d play in the stones of my grandmother’s backyard. Even grass didn’t grow in this town. Ambitious homeowners would sometimes make rock gardens for the space in front of each house that had been designed for marigolds, but most of the town had gotten used to the absence of green. When the EPA finally got around to declaring the mountain a superfund site we all snorted dismissively. My grandmother was actually offended, having long ago convinced herself that the factory effusions must be healthy.
The Palmerton factories were funded by New York bankers. Princeton University got multiple multimillion-dollar bequests in the wills of the founders of the zinc company. I’m sure there are still a few residual trust funds paying out dividends.
Today we have Philadelphia and Pittsburgh bankers orchestrating the removal of the mountaintops in West Virginia. As our technology has improved so has our capacity for ill-considered mass destruction of our natural surroundings.
All living creatures have an impact on their surroundings. My comforts rely on the coal, oil, and natural gas that are brought into our cities and towns. But I do know we can do better. I’m optimistic enough to can find ways to live together on this Earth that don’t break our mountains or poison our neighbors.
“What do you think of this?” It was probably the twentieth time my brother or I had asked this question in the last hour. Our mother had downsized to a one-bedroom apartment in an Alzheimer’s unit just six days earlier. Visiting her there she admitted she couldn’t even remember her old apartment. We were cleaning it out.
The object of the question this time was an antique teapot. White china with a blue design. It wasn’t in great shape. The top was cracked and missing that handle that lets you take the lid off without burning your fingers. It had a folksy charm, but as a teapot it was neither practical nor astonishingly attractive, and neither of us really wanted it. It was headed for the oversized trash bin outside her room.
I turned it over in my hands. There, on the bottom, was a strip of dried-out and cracked masking tape. On it, barely legible and in the kind of cursive script that is no longer taught, were the words “Recovered from ruins of fire 6/29/23 at 7. 1067 Hazard Rd.”
We scratched our heads. We didn’t know where Hazard Road might be (Google later revealed it’s in the blink-and-you-miss-it railroad stop of Hazard, Pennsylvania, a crossroads only technically within the boundary of our mother’s home town of Palmerton). The date would place the fire seven years before her birth.
We can only guess to fill in the details. A catastrophic fire must have taken out the family home. Imagine the grim solace of pulling out a family heirloom. Perhaps some grandparent had brought it carefully packed in a small suitcase on the journey to America. Or perhaps not. Perhaps it had no sentimental value and it had landed with our mother because no one else cared. We’ll never know. No amount of research could tell us more than that masking tape. Our mother wasn’t the only one losing her memory. We were too. We were losing the family memory of a generation that had lived, loved, and made it through a tragedy one mid-summer day.
I stood there and looked at the teapot once again. It had survived a fire ninety years ago. I would give it a reprieve from our snap judgement and the dump. Stripped of all meaning save three inches of masking tape, it now sits on a top shelf of my cupboard. It will rest there, gathering back the dust I just cleaned off, until some spring afternoon forty years from now, when one of my kids will turn to another. “What do you think of this?”
Update March 2017
Beyond all odds, there’s actually more information. Someone has put up obituaries from the Morning Call newspaper. It includes the May 1922 notice for Alvin H. Noll, my mother’s great grandfather.
Alvin H. Noll, a well known resident of Palmerton, died at his home, at that place, on Sunday morning, aged 66 years. He was a member of St. John’s church, Towamensing, and also a prominent member of Lodge, No. 440, I.O. of A., Bowmanstown. He is survived by two daughters, Mrs. Lewis Sauerwine, Slatington, and Mrs. Fred Parry, this city; three sons, Purietta Noll, Samuel Noll and Thomas Noll, Palmerton. Two sisters, Mrs. Mary Schultz, Lehighton; Miss Amanda Noll, Bowmanstown; two brothers, Aaron Noll, Bowmanstown, and William Noll, Lehighton. Ten grandchildren also survive. Funeral services will be held at the home of his son, Purietta (sic) Noll, 1067 Hazard Road, Palmerton, on Wednesday at 1.30 p.m., daylight saving time. Further services will be held in St. John’s church, Towamensing. Interment will be made in Towamensing cemetery.
And there it is: 1067 Hazard Road, home of my mother’s grandfather Puriette Franklin Noll one year before the fire. So I’ll add a picture of Puriette and his wife Elizabeth with my Mom eighter years after the fire, at what the photo says is their Columbia Avenue home. Wow!
I’m writing this from the back of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, a small church built in the 1920s in the small crossroads town of Malaga New Jersey. It was closed this past November, supposedly because of a broken boiler but really because the Diocese of Camden is trying to sell off its smaller churches – or any church with prime real estate along a highway. It was reopened without permission by parishioners in early January, while we were still in the hospital with baby number three, a.k.a. Gregory.
We’ve spent a lot of time here since then. It’s a 24 hour vigil and has been and will continue to be. In Boston there are vigils that have been going seven years. I try to imagine Gregory as a seven year old, having spent his childhood growing up here in this little church. It’s not an impossible scenario.
I also spend a lot of time talking with the faithful Catholics who have come here to protect the church. It’s a cacophony of voices right now – conversations about the church, sure, but that’s only one of the many topics that come up. People are sharing their lives – stories about growing up, about people that are know, about current events… It’s a real community. We’ve been attending this church for years but it’s now that I’m really getting to know everyone.
I sometimes ponder how I, the self-dubbed “Quaker Ranter,” got involved in all of this. Through my wife, of course – she grew up Catholic, became a Friend for eleven years and then “returned to the Church” a few years after our marriage. But there’s more than that, reasons why I spend my own time here. Part is my love of the small and quirky. St Mary’s parishioners are standing up for the kind of churches where people know each other. In an era where menial tasks are hired out, the actual members of St. Marys tend the church’s rosary garden and clean its basement and toilets. They spend time in the church beyond the hour of mass, doing things like praying the rosary or adoration.
The powers-that-be that want St Mary’s closed so badly want a large inpersonal church with lots of professionalized services and a least-common-denominator faith where people come, go and donate their money to a diocese that’s run like a business. But that’s not St. Mary’s. There’s history here. This is a hub of a town, an ancient crossroads, but the bishop wants big churches in the splurge of suburban sprawl. Even we Friends need places like St Mary’s in the world.