Monday, February 18, 2008

The Pledge of Allegiance--a Brief Recollection of Childhood

For some reason, I've recently been thinking much more about my elementary school years. I had gone quite a lot of years without having thought much at all about them. Interesting that I should have recently started remembering bits of childhood that I thought were forgotten. Strange that I've actually been pondering them.

I remember that we used to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every school day. I participated with as much vigor as did each of my classmates. It was a recitation that was learned by rote. Participation was expected, and there was no question as to whether to participate or not. (That came later.)

What strikes me as the most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that, as far as I can recall (and I firmly believe this to be true), we were never taught what it actually means. Big words involved there!

Why were we taught to use the word "allegiance" in kindergarten (or first grade at the latest), without being taught its definition? We could all use it in the context of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but I really don't think that I could have used it in any other context at age 6 or 7 or 8.

I must admit, the distinguishing characteristic of a "republic" has been an elusive concept for me to grasp. I think I have it now, but I can't guarantee that I won't have forgotten it a year from now and need to look it up again.

What kind of craziness is involved in pledging allegiance first to a symbol and then to its object (either as a school-age child or as a grown-up)? I have no problem with reasoned pledging of allegiance to the republic. . . . But to a flag?!? That's just bizarre.

"Indivisible"...pretty self-explanatory, I guess. Unable to be divided. And I think I grasped that pretty early. But is it reasonable to expect young children to comprehend that without having it explained?

"Liberty" equals "freedom". But I don't think anyone ever told me so when I was a child. "Freedom" would surely have had deep conceptual meaning to me a lot earlier than "liberty" did. It's more common parlance.

"Pledge" equals "promise". Simple enough.

"Justice" equals "fairness". I think this was the most accessible definition of the bunch, but I really think it should have been explained and discussed in class, before we were ever expected to recite it on a daily basis. In practice, the daily recitation was a mindless exercise, until (years later) I (and I hope my classmates) got around to really pondering what it meant. Maybe everyone in my class got it right away. But I doubt that very much. I hope by now, all of my classmates have really pondered it. (The cynic in me kind of doubts it.)

Anyway, if you are a teacher or a parent of elementary school students who recite the Pledge of Allegiance on a regular basis, I suggest that you poll those children to determine whether they can explain, in their own words, what the Pledge of Allegiance means. If they can, great! If they can't, I strongly suggest that you make a point of discussing it with them.

And, of course, I invite you to share your results with me. I'm interested! I would also be curious to know whether your own experience (whether you have/teach children or not) parallels mine or not. I would be greatly heartened (and surprised) to learn that I was the only child who was clueless in those early years.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cornish-Windsor Bridge (A New Photograph)

I went out yesterday for a little bit of photography. Here's a photograph of the Cornish-Windsor Bridge. [I guess Vermonters call it the Windsor-Cornish Bridge, which actually has a nicer ring to my ear, but since I'm living in New Hampshire, I'll call it "Cornish-Windsor".]

What you see is the Connecticut River, not nearly frozen over, but covered with a lot of floating ice. The long horizontal thing is the bridge: the longest wooden bridge in the U.S. and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. There's snow on the roof. In the background, I believe that's Mt. Ascutney (VT), but I could be wrong about that. I have no idea of what mountain it would be if it's not Ascutney, though.

Cornish-Windsor Bridge, Windsor-Cornish Bridge, covered bridge, New Hampshire, Vermont, Ascutney, Connecticut River, ice, snow, winter

As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Friday, February 8, 2008

02008: A Nightmare Scenario

Since my last political post, three noteworthy (from my perspective) things have happened in the U.S. presidential nominating process:

  • John Edwards has dropped out of the race. That's OK with me. I'm sad it had to come to that, but the writing was on the wall, and it was obvious that the Democratic race was not available for him to win.
  • Super Duper Tuesday has come and gone, seemingly establishing that the Democratic race is too close to call (note the great discrepancy between CNN's delegate tracker--currently showing Hillary ahead by 96--and Newsweek's delegate tracker--currently showing Obama ahead by 4), and that Huckabee is still alive on the Republican side--although he's still in third place in the delegate count.
  • Most interesting of all is yesterday's announcement that Romney is out.

Why is this last bit so interesting? Because of the potential nightmare scenario it sets up. Before I describe my nightmare scenario, let's keep in mind what happened in the West Virginia caucus. Round 1: McCain was ahead. Round 2: Huckabee won, by virtue of Romney supporters deciding it was better to support Huckabee than to give McCain the victory.

Now for the nightmare scenario:

Suppose that the McCain supporters in the remaining states basically assume that it's a foregone conclusion that McCain will get the nomination. After all, he's established a pretty sizable lead and his closest competitor has dropped out. These voters may get complacent in the nominating contests, and just not show up to the polls.

Suppose that Huckabee supporters in those remaining states get energized by Huckabee's wins on Super Duper Tuesday and by the removal of Romney. They may all come out to vote.

Suppose that all of this "conservatives won't support a McCain candidacy" talk turns out to be true and that all of the Romney supporters in the remaining states decide it's better to go with Huckabee than to go with McCain.

Suppose a bunch of those McCain supporters decide to vote in the Democratic contests instead of the Republican ones. Remember, this is a group who wants McCain to not only win the Republican nomination, but also wants him to win the general election. The conventional wisdom is that in a McCain-Clinton race, the independents will break for McCain, whereas in a McCain-Obama race, the independents will be largely split--which is to say that Obama takes a large chunk of the independent voting block away from McCain. So the assumption is that McCain has a much easier time defeating Hillary than defeating Obama. So these primary ship-jumpers are most likely to support Hillary in the nominating process, in hopes that she will be crushed in the general election. Essentially, the fair assumption of the McCain supporters is that Republican voters will all rally around McCain ("conservative enough"or not) when faced with the choice between him and Hillary.

If all of this plays out, McCain may end up going into the convention without enough delegates to win. Hillary may end up going into the convention with an easy majority of delegates. Huckabee may be close enough to McCain that the Romney delegates can put him over the top. Suppose that they do just that (either instructed by Romney to do so, or actually using their own free will).

What we'd end up with is a Huckabee-Hillary contest. To me, that's a nightmare scenario. On the one side, you have a fundamentalist religious nut job. (Who, flawed as he is, is still far superior to Brownback, or Santorum--whose decision to not run is something I'm endlessly grateful for.) On the other side you have Hillary, who is at least as off-putting to me as is a fundamentalist religious nut job.

If this happens, where do I place my hopes? I guess in the possibility of a Michael Bloomberg independent candidacy. Do I know enough about him to support him? Not yet, but if he jumps in, there'll be plenty of time for that before the election. I just hope that if he does jump in, he doesn't somehow manage to turn out to be as unpalatable as Huckabee and Hillary are.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

New Year's Resolution, 02008

Cracking a nut is not really an art, and therefore no one would ever dare to call together an audience and crack nuts in front of them in order to entertain them. If he does it anyway and he succeeds in his intention, then it can certainly not be a matter of nut-cracking alone. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it becomes clear that we have ignored this art because we have mastered it too completely and this new nutcracker shows us its true nature for the first time, in which case it might even be useful for the effect if he were even less skilled at nut-cracking than most of us.

-Franz Kafka, as translated by Kevin Blahut
from the story
Josephine, the Singer
The Mouse People

I made a New Year's Resolution this year, and I actually did it at the start of the year. (I made last year's resolution in June.) My resolution for 02008:

To at least make a valiant attempt at resisting the urge to cut my hair, with the eventual goal of donating it to Locks of Love.

The last time I got a haircut was in November, so my hair has already grown longer than I'm accustomed to. The last time it was long enough (or close, anyway) to meet Locks of Love's 10-inch minimum length was in August of 01990. I moved onto the Penn campus, got my student ID photo taken (now that's a funny picture!), waited until the first Saturday morning, walked to the nearest barber shop, and got a respectable hair cut. If I recall correctly, I even had the barber give me a shave. Since that day, my hair has not been significantly longer than it is now.

I am aiming to shoot a series of self-portraits on or near the first of the month, each month until I either crack under the pressure (Beth has already started pointing and laughing) or succeed in achieving my goal.

Here are the February 1, 02008 photos:

Self portrait, Locks of Love, hair, growth

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Photo of Autumn! (just a few months late)

Well, this past autumn was absolutely spectacular here in New Hampshire! (By far, the best we've seen since moving here.) However, I was largely lazy about taking my camera out to shoot it. Mostly, I just gazed in wonder, without any thought of my camera. I did take a few shots, though, and I think this one is the most interesting:

Tree, Color Change, Autumn, Night, Green, Orange

This shot was taken at night, using a compact fluorescent light source. As always, I welcome any feedback.