This is how free speech gets shut down. #BoeingGate

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.

Jobs disappearing thread

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

Great stories and good reporting.

Can we count the ways that the McKinney video is messed up?

mckinney2When 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.)

Desert temptations


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. 

A modern-day Commonplace Book?

From a post by Jamie Todd Rubin, \"Going Paperless: How Penultimate and Evernote Have Replaced My Pocket Notebook,\" I\'ve learned the concept of the \"Commonplace Book,\" which he attributes it to Jefferson:

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\'s Lion\'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.

Why I’m fasting with @eqat against mountaintop mining

On March 22nd, I joined the fast against moun­tain­top coal min­ing called by the Earth Quak­er Action Team.

“Old Zinc Fac­tory; Palmer­ton” by road_less_trvled on Flickr (cre­ative com­mons license)

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.

Pho­to: “Old Zinc Fac­to­ry; Palmer­ton” by road_less_trvled on Flickr (cre­ative com­mons license)

Story: The teapot that survived

“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.

Almost forgotten history.
Almost for­got­ten his­to­ry. by martin_kelley, on Flickr

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

Prob­a­bly the old­est pic­ture of Liz I have, from 1931. Eliz­a­beth “Lizzie” “Gram­my” Williams Noll, Eliz­a­beth Klein­top, Puerette “Puri” “Pap­py” Noll. On porch of Colum­bia Ave. home, Palmer­ton.

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!

Places like St Mary’s

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.