When Words Escape Me

NEVER in my 77 years has the United States faced a time as daunting as the one we now face.  Unbelievably it was just a month ago today (March 3, 2020) when Alabama went to the polls for our presidential primary.  That was the day voters slam dunked the attempt by the legislature to take control of public education by defeating Amendment One 75 percent to 25 percent.

Little did we know that we were within mere hours of having our world jerked out from under us and whatever “normal” may have been replaced by fear and uncertainty.

Since I started this blog five years ago, probably at least 90 percent of what I’ve written about has dealt with public education.  But to be honest, education is now about the farthest thing from my mind.  Which does not mean that I am not in awe of the efforts educators and volunteers are making on behalf of our students.  I am indeed.

But in my mind, until we somehow get our arms around this tremendous health issue, little else matters.

I am scared.  For my son and daughter, for friends scattered from coast to coast, for every one who claims this country as their home.

We’ve all been inspired by stories of common folks doing uncommon things during this time.  I saw an interview with a 4th grade girl in Boston who loved to sew and had already made more than 800 face masks for local policemen.   God bless her.

BUT I am still appalled at those who see this pandemic through political eyes.  The fact that for the most part Democratic governors have responded differently than Republican governors is beyond comprehension.

Were we ready for this pandemic?  NO.  Of course not.  Was New Orleans ready for Katrina’s flooding?  Was Tuscaloosa ready for the horrific tornado that hit in 2011?

Whose fault was this?  Who cares?  All that matters is what we do from this day forward, not what should have been done three months ago.  And for the Democrats to announce that they want to investigate who may have been at fault is ridiculous.

This country has never been so divided against itself.  Where is the tolerance?  I see friends of many, many years posting crap on Facebook that is often untrue, but is of no value if it were.  Recently one posted that a number of prominent Democrats go by a different name than they had as children.  Most of it was total B.S.  But Sweet Jesus, people are dying and this is what we’re thinking about?

In my opinion, the Crown Prince of division is Sean Hannity.  How does the poison he spews each night make the United States a better place?  It doesn’t.

The best scientists in the world are working feverishly to find answers to what confronts us.  The hospitals of New York City are filled with countless heroes.

Do what you can.  Give blood.  Make masks.  Remember your neighbors and your friends.  Listen to the scientists,  Be part of the solution.  Not part of the problem like Sean Hannity.

In Praise Of Porches

Like most homes built in the 1930s and 40s, Grandpa’s little wooden structure at Rt. 2 Red Level had a porch.  And a swing and some rocking chairs.  The swing was perpendicular to the road, so Grandpa sat in it with his back to the house and his feet to the road.  Cars would go by and each one would blow their horn.  Grandpa would wave and Grandma would look up from the pan of butterbeans she was shelling and ask, “Horace, who was that?”

A dirt dauber worked on his mud mansion in a corner of the ceiling.  In the distance a mama cow bawled for her calf to come home.

These thoughts came back to me when I read what Troy Turner, editor of the Opelika-Auburn News, recently titled “Suddenly, it’s a front porch world again.”

“How about this:

Instead of going into panic mode over being left behind in the stylish run on toilet paper, or instead of being selfish in your disappointment about the prudent cancellation of sporting events, why not draw up an old-fashioned to-do list that actually could change your state of mind about a few things?

Divide and conquer

Folks who see the glass half full are very much enjoying the idea right now about having a week or two or three of downtime. Especially if they are blessed enough that their finances are somewhat secure.

Folks who see the glass half empty and leaking fast either have real health concerns already, real financial concerns, or a disappointing outlook on the life of what they’re missing more so than the life being presented to them now.

The best way to see this, especially given how little control we have over the situation at large, is to look at the opportunity existing before us.

Prayer warriors already are ahead of me here, but the point is, we need to channel our energies into things more constructive than joining the mad, mad world of mass hysteria.

Disappointment abounds, true, and so does justified concern.

But catch your breath a minute.

This isn’t the end of the world, folks, and if you look hard enough, you might get through all of this a better person — in more ways than one.

No batteries required

Growing up in rural Tallapoosa County, we had nearby Lake Martin for swimming, picnics and fishing; plenty of cast-iron skillets for a good fish fry; gardens we hoed by hand for fresh vegetables such as the peas we shelled and corn we shucked in the evenings; and there was no such thing as a stranger for a neighbor.

There was one constant when it came to a favorite venue for social media: the porch.

For some, it was the front porch; for others, the back porch; and for the fancy folks, they’d call it a veranda and it might wrap around at least two sides of the house.

We’d find the coolest spot to sit, relax and talk.

Sometimes we’d play games, and not a one of them required batteries. The only worldwide web available belonged to that spider up on the post that we appreciated for catching all the flies.

Life was simple. Life was good. Even when it wasn’t.

We figured someday it could change. Maybe, we even knew it’d take a very sick world to find it again.

Meanwhile, you gotta love those among us with humor.

Like the guy who posted on Facebook that he is in desperate search of a sports addiction rehabilitation center.

Or the woman who shared news that Walmart is going into crisis-management mode, and therefore until further notice will open a third register on Lane 3.

The world reaction and public-health threat because of the coronavirus is what it is.

We each have a very serious role in combating it, which includes respecting others enough to stay away when we’re sick, to wash our hands as directed, to stay away from close contact with others and do this thing being called “social distancing,” where we try to stay several feet away from one another.

Understand if someone prefers an “air five” — imaginary high five through the air — instead of a handshake, at least for now.

Clean surfaces that need to be cleaned.

Don’t gossip and share rumors; read, read, read the facts for yourself, and only from trusted sources.

Basically, if you’re out of practice or never was taught well: Learn your manners.

Opportunity knocks

Take time to appreciate this opportunity for what it is.

Read a good book.

Write a good book.

Pull out the stuff our parents and grandparents called stationery, hand-write a document they called a letter, a visit a museum that has the words “post office” on the sign, and mail said document.

Support your local newspaper, subscribe, and keep up with the local news! I kinda especially like that one.

Discover and pursue that hobby you’ve always wanted to enjoy, or perhaps did in the past.

Or, maybe, if you really want to find peace and tranquility without having to down an energy drink or do something that requires batteries, electricity or the World Wide Web: sit on a porch.

You might learn something about your family or loved ones or neighbors that Google could never find in a hundred years.

You might learn something, maybe, even about someone else you could stand to know better:


Living In A Bad Dream

Like everyone else, I am caught up in a world of great uncertainty, unlike anything I can ever remember.  Both of my parents were children of the Great Depression, a time that marked this nation for decades  They were also young adults when the country undertook the massive effort to do battle in World War II.

I vaguely remember great concerns about polio when I was a child.  Pictures of people in an “iron lung” leave an impression.

But that was then and this is now.   And the “talking heads” who are trying to minimalize the risk this country now faces by digging up comparisons to past outbreaks of things like swine flu are irresponsible.   At a time when lives are at risk, to attempt to disguise the situation we all face as nothing more than some grand political gambit is unforgivable.

Matt Gaetz is the congressman from Florida’s First District.  This is the western part of the panhandle, an area well-known to Alabamians.  So what did he recently do?  He wore a gas mask on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in his own pathetic attempt to belittle the crisis the country faces.  This was just before one of his own constituents became one of the first coronavirus victims to die in this country.

Gaetz is a buffoon.

My son Kevin lives in Mobile.  Unfortunately he has a severe respiratory condition caused by a deficiency of Alpha-1 antitrypsin.  Basically this is a genetically caused emphysema.  Even in the best of times I worry about him a lot.  Now, much more.

But thank the Good Lord, people across Alabama are rallying to the aid of their neighbors.  This is especially true as schools have been closed indefinitely and there is great concern about young students who depend on meals they get at school.  A friend in north Alabama told me her community has had an outpouring of volunteers asking how they can help get meals to childrfen.  A central office staffer in south Alabama explained how churches in this very rural county are pitching in to provide meals.

This situation is real.  Our future is very uncertain.  All we can do is pray for the best and pay attention to the doctors and scientists.



Internet Warning

While I am definitely low tech and challenged by most things electronic, that is not the case with my daughter Kim.  So when she passes along info, I pay attention.

In light of the chaos and confusion about coronavirus, I share this info Kim shared with me.

Beware of Fake Coronavirus / COVID-19 Websites

We ask that you to continue to be vigilant as cyber criminals are actively attempting to exploit us with what sounds to be important information about Coronavirus. A malicious website pretending to be the live map for Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins University is circulating on the internet waiting for unwitting internet users to visit the website (i.e., corona-virus-map[dot]com).

Visiting the malicious website infects the user with the AZORult Trojan, an information stealing program which can exfiltrate a variety of sensitive data from your computer. It is likely being spread via infected email attachments, malicious online advertisements, and social engineering. Furthermore, anyone searching the internet for a Coronavirus map could unwittingly navigate to this malicious website. DO NOT visit this web site.

IMPORTANT: The only websites we recommend you visit for Coronavirus/COVID-19 information are the following:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html


When You Know The World Has Passed You By

I freely acknowledge that much of today’s world is one I do not understand–or relate to.

Alexia does not sit on my coffee table waiting for me to issue a command.  My GPS is this big piece of paper that is sometimes hard to refold and has lots of lines on it and looks strangely like what we used to call a map.  My phone does not take pictures.

Consequently, I often refer to myself as a dirt road in a four-lane world.

And this was never more evident than when I read this article on AL.com.

It is the recap of a reality TV show called “The Bachelor.”  The only reason I read it is because I had heard that one of the female contestants was from Auburn.  She is Madison Prewett, whose father coaches Auburn basketball with Bruce Pearl.  Of course, I am interested in almost anything relating to Auburn.

The bachelor involved in this gruesome plot was Peter Weber.  Since I never saw an episode, my judgement of him is totally second-hand.  But I got the impression he was not a choir boy and even former basketball great Charles Barkley called him a “loser.”

Apparently the final episode of this show was two hours long.  It seemed to have more twists and turns than a back road going to Mt. Cheaha.  A contestant name of Hannah Ann played a significant role, as did Peter’s mother.

Ben Flanagan, a reporter for AL.com was tasked with writing up the narrative for what took place.  As best I can tell he did a fine job.  And certainly should be given a bonus for enduring all of this.

I have friends who profess to watching this show religiously.  Lord have mercy on their souls.

For me, I’ll stick to the Gunsmoke reruns on the ISPN channel.

Retired Educator Strongly Opposes Amendment One

With the March 3rd vote on Amendment One now less than a week away, more  and more people are speaking out in opposition.  One of these is Dr. Joseph Dean, Emeritus dean of the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University.  He is a former member of both the Shelby County school board and the Hoover City board.  Here is his op-ed piece that appeared on AL.com:

“Alabama voters will make a decision next week that could fundamentally change the future of public schools – and not in a way that will benefit students or our state.

If voters approve, Amendment 1 will change the makeup of the state Board of Education. It will go from a board whose members are directly elected by the people of Alabama to a commission whose members are selected by one person — the governor of our state.

As someone who has devoted much of my life to education – including service on both elected and appointed local school boards – I oppose Amendment 1.

Supporters of the amendment say our state’s current school board – with eight members elected from geographic districts – is too political and that it has failed to create success for our children.

They say an appointed board will be less political and more effective. They point to many successful local school systems in Alabama, as well as many school systems in other states, that are governed by appointed boards.

Their views are based on flawed premises. Appointed boards don’t necessarily equate to school success. Education outcomes hinge on multiple factors, ranging from socioeconomic conditions to teacher training and community resources. While there are certainly examples of dysfunctional elected boards overseeing poor quality schools, research has not shown that executive “takeovers” save the day.

With all due respect to Gov. Kay Ivey, it’s foolish to presume that an elected governor is less political than an elected school board representing diverse districts.

To the extent the governor might be considered more insulated from politics, it’s not in a way that fosters accountability and public involvement.

Most of us do not have access to the governor. Most governors are surrounded by staff whose job it is to shield them from regular people.

Who has access and influence with the governor? Special interests and bigmoney donors.

According to the website FollowTheMoney.org, candidates for governor in Alabama raised $15.3 million during the 2018 election cycle. Those running for the four state school board seats on the 2018 ballot raised a combined $336,000. To put that in context, candidates for governor in 2018 raised 45 times more money than candidates for all four district school board seats combined.

Raising money for a statewide race is serious business that gives outsized power to those with the deepest pockets.

Yet, we are to believe that the governor can do a better job of sidestepping political considerations as she appoints an education commission that will hire a chief executive and oversee our state’s public schools. And that our elected state senators – also beholden to lobbyists and special interests — will be better stewards of public education in their role of confirming the governor’s selections.

A look at some of the big interests that support Amendment 1 gives you an idea of how this change will play out.

A big proponent is Alfa, which has worked ruthlessly and relentlessly for decades to keep property taxes low in Alabama. Their efforts have robbed the state of a fair and stable source of school revenue (a source that is a staple in most states). They not only have kept state property taxes among the lowest in the nation; they make it ridiculously difficult for local communities to increase their own property taxes for schools.

That’s because the big-money political interests are convinced that they can do this better than you.

It’s true that voters mess up sometimes. Alabamians have put people I would not have chosen on the state school board. They have also put people I would not have chosen in the governor’s office. At least in the case of the

state school boards, terms are staggered to ensure some continuity and to mitigate the impact of occasional bad choices.

In opposing Amendment 1, I am not defending our current school board, nor am I arguing that all Alabama schools are performing to the level they should be.

Too many of our children are not getting what they need at school. Too many struggle through K-12 and drop out along the way. Too many aren’t prepared for college or equipped with the skills for the workforce. These missed opportunities can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.

But the answer is not to strip regular Alabamians of their control and hand our Department of Education over to political interests that have continuously fought progressive policies that would have benefited our students and our schools.”