Saturday, December 12, 2015

A remarkable experience seeing the results of xenophobia

How fortunate I have been in my 90 years. I've never had to be fearful because of my race, religion or national background.  Never have I seen such extreme polarization in our country.  How difficult it must be for religious people of the Islamic faith to see/hear/feel the hatred spewed by political candidates and free speech on the social media.  Thus I felt it mandatory that I reach out to those Muslims who worship at my Christian church every Friday with a welcoming greeting.

I am proud that for many years one of the churches I attend has provided space for Muslim for their Friday afternoon prayers. Given the current state of hostility I didn't know if there would be protesters or not, but for my own personal feeling, I felt compelled to try to make the worshipers feel especially welcomed.

I was overwhelmed by the response to my simple greeting. As the crowd of some 50 to 100 men and women entered over a one hour period I had an opportunity to converse with a majority of them. One could easily see the apprehension in their eyes as they approached a stranger standing near the entrance! After an assuring handshake I was profusely thanked with expressions telling us how meaningful such a greeting was.

While I thought I was doing it alone, youthful workers and volunteers who had been serving food to the homeless since 6AM insisted on joining me. How marvelous to see the enthusiasm of youth in responding to various human problems. How remarkable to see cabdrivers taking time from making money, to see so many young  people, and folks from many different races and nationalities coming to the house of a different faith to pray to our common God.

How thankful I am for being taught another way to express friendship, greeting and love - other than a handshake - by gently touching my hand to my heart.

Monday, October 19, 2015



It sounds like something one would read in the National Enquirer while standing in line at the checkout stand! But it gets even weirder! The cactus is in my bathroom – and there are three slender projections, one adult 4 inches tall and two children, each 1 inch tall. And what lessons they have taught me! They're on top of the water tank near the only source of light in the room: a clouded window with no direct sunlight. Each day as I enter my bath, I see that the top of each cactus has moved very slightly in the direction of the light - in the direction of some power (it knows not whence it comes or what it is) as it seeks to fulfill the potential of its life. That power is so strong that when I slightly move the container, the life of the each cactus grows in a different way. And if there is some obstacle, they become strangely distorted. I can even note a significant difference between the adult and the two children attempting to overcome that obstacle in seeking fulfilment.

How thankful I am that through 60 years of attending church Sunday School, I learned how to enrich my life through parables.



Alice in Wonderland may have told you that there is no such thing as an agnostic atheist, but let me tell you about them. I became aware of them after two events. The first occurred when I was finally able to persuade my grandchildren to go to Denny's for breakfast early in the morning one January 1st. I began by saying that I was again awakened early in that morning when God gave me a brilliant idea. My third oldest grandson, with anger in his voice said, "Grampa, I wish you would realize that those are your ideas they're not sent by God."  All of a sudden I realized that my children and my grandchildren have thought that I actually believe those beautiful stories found in MY Bible and in the myriad hymns I love.

The second occurred when I was too busy at the age of 88 with my free culture blog, but I finally found time to go to a lecture by Boston University theologian Stephen Prothero based on his book, “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know – and Doesn't”. The statement I heard was something like, ".....the characteristic that defines Christianity and distinguishes it from all other religions is its claim that it's founder was raised from the dead." Thus I knew I must end my hypocrisy and recognize that I truly am an ATHEIST! I KNOW there is no God!   Certainly not the one I have been taught about all my life!

But how can I say that I am an agnostic? What happens to me almost every morning between 4AM and 5AM seems so similar to that of Samuel (for those not reared in Christianity or Judaism see I Samuel:3)?  How can I explain that miracle?
As I returned to blest slumber after one of those early encounters, I finally awakened, went to my bath and noticed the strange contours of my three cacti. The next morning I realized that I was an atheist, certain that there is no God, but also an agnostic: uncertain about some “unusual power” at play in this marvelous universe. 

And then I recalled Unitarian/Universalist minister (really brilliant essayist) David Rankin's class many years ago in which he had us “define the word, 'god'”. My response was:

That creative and sustaining power in the universe
which draws us to good and positive relationships with others
and the world around us.
When we are thwarted or distorted or somehow cut off from this power
by chance or misadventure,
life goes awry.

Thus I feel confident and proud to be know as an Agnostic Atheist filled with wonder at this marvelous world!

That said, I take leave of my Ranting and Raving to celebrate my forthcoming 90th birthday by taking a sabbatical. I'll follow my older sons advise given to me several years ago,“Dad, you've paid your dues, just take it easy and do what makes you happy". 

Part of my happiness will be continuing my weekly free cultural blog, going to many more of those I recommend to others, watching more quality TV, having more naps and doing a better job of keeping the fish pond clean. Perhaps I'll even return to college to finally take a course in philosophy. Maybe I'll even sleep straight through the night and perhaps I'll rant or write a book when I'm 91. I may even go to more than two churches, synagogues and mosques. I'll embrace any religion that seeks to follow the mystery found in Victor Herbert's lyrics Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life (with my slight paraphrasing):

Ah! sweet mystery of life at last I found thee.
Ah! Sweet mystery of life at last I'm yours,
The hopes and dreams and burning tears that fall.

Ah! Sweet mystery of life at last I found thee.
Ah! At last I know the secret of it all:
'Tis LOVE and LOVE alone that rules the world!

In fact for once I agree with George Bush who named Jesus as his favorite philosopher, Perhaps someday I'll be known as an Agnostic Atheistic Christian. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Why an agnostic atheist attends two churches

 The time is running out! I've resolved to end my ranting and raving when I reach 90 years of age in two months. Yet I feel I have a number of things yet to say and many of them are among my most deeply felt convictions. Thus I began attempting to answer a recent question asked of me,"Since you are a 'nonbeliever', why do you go to church?"

  1. It's in my blood. My parents, of German heritage in our lower middle class economic position, found the church and public schools as our major ties to society. Were I in another culture, I would probably be writing about the predominant religion of that society.
  2. The southern mainline church we attended provided moral teaching focusing on the example of the life of Jesus. I believe this continues to hold true today.
  3. Throughout the history of our country, I believe churches have played a leadership role in every progressive social movement for human rights and social improvement.
  4. In the church I find a mutually supportive group of people concerned not only was each other but also was the problems and issues of the world.
  5. Every church I have attended has encouraged and developed my appreciation of the beauty of literature, music, art and poetry.
  6. Churches provide a sanctuary for contemplation and meditation regarding spiritual, emotional and philosophic issues of life - even the meaning of life itself.
  7. While progress may have been slow at times, churches have changed and evolved as social institutions. By continuing to attend, I can help facilitate change.
  8. The churches I have attended have encouraged progressive thoughts, ideas and action by the individual. They have respected and encouraged freethinking and sponsored meetings, events and activities open to all.
For me this is the easy part: explaining my views, and fascination with religion and the church. In the near future - hopefully next week - I will "get in over my head in theology and philosophy" as I look at the inconsistency of being a self-described "agnostic atheist"  and my views of "god" and the meaning and purpose of life. My church-going friends may not want to look at it since I shall be frank about what I perceive as hypocrisy and current trends that increasingly make church going out of vogue.       

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Helping the Homeless - a lesson learned

He was so courteous and seemed so needy! The "prescription" he held in his hand added to his plea which began, "I'm just out of the hospital:…!"   But I was in a hurry to enter Brookville Market so I replied, "I'm sorry but….!" I was in the market only long enough to feel the pangs of guilt. Thus as I left the store I felt compelled to hear his story. He stated that he had been hospitalized for attempted suicide, that the prescriptions for Clonszepan and Zoloft were $30 each and that it would take a few days for Medicaid to provide payment. Since I was somewhat acquainted with both drugs and depression it all seems so logical, and I pulled out my wallet to help. Yet his statement of the cost of the medicines made me somewhat suspicious so I invited him to go to the nearby CVS to see about getting the prescription filled for him. He stated, however, the prescription had to be filled at Walgreen's and so we turned to go to the nearby Walgreen's and I asked to see the prescription. With this he turned with an abrupt, "Oh forget it!"

I'd promised that my last blog before traveling for a month would be about, WHY AN AGNOSTIC ATHEIST ATTENDS TWO CHURCHES, but distractions like this get in the way. I promise to return to more intellectual ranting and raving when I return in October. I hope you'll check it out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Rants and Raves Return with a lesson I learned more than 45 years ago

And a plan for the next three months
of concluding ranting and raving

       It was in Washington, DC in 1969, and I was thrilled to see that the minister who had so impressed me in 1945 at Hollywood's prestigious Presbyterian Church was the guest minister at National Presbyterian in Washington. What a thrill for me to have the opportunity to take my children to hear this marvelous, challenging minister who so mesmerized me as a Marine Lieutenant during those war years. But what a disappointment! I learned the lesson that one can hang on too long. The lesson was underscored just a few weeks ago at National Archives when the author of what appeared to be a fascinating book was speaking. Again I should've learned that as I approached 90, I may have reached that same fate.
       Thus I'm committed to have my final say before December when I turn 90 by sharing a few more of my deeply felt beliefs and insights with family and any who might be interested.
       First of all though, I must admit that I feel I sincerely believe I OVERPLAYED MY HAND IN SPEAKING OF THE “GREATEST GENERATION”. While we won a war again the forces of evil, suffered and overcame the "great depression", added many to a more comfortable middle-class and voted for a government a bit more responsive to the needs of all people, there were two dramatic areas where we failed miserable. How obvious were our failures in race! Certainly it has taken another generation to make progress in the field of race relations.
With my lifelong profession and interest in education and race relations, I was completely mesmerized by the challenge of the book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs. I hope you will have a chance to read it before I have my final say on education, youth and race in a month or so. I'd surely be interested in feedbacck from your thoughts on the book.
       And having just completed the book, Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese Americans Internment in World War II by Richard Reeves, I am appalled by my generation's failure to provide basic rights to 120,000 Japanese Americans and forced them into concentration camps. (Yes that was the name given to them at the time.) I marvel at how blithely ignorant I, and our society generally was, of the shocking treatment of citizens of Japanese ancestry who lived on the West Coast. Even the president of the ACLU supported the action. To think that Japanese parents, some of whose children were killed defending us, lost their their property and were incarcerated in these prisons. And yet I must admit I, and most people I knew, maintained we were not aware of it. How similar were we to the “innocent” people of Germany who maintained they knew nothing of the horrors of the Third Reich? I would be remiss if I did not encourage everyone to see the Japanese internment display in the park at the corner of D St. & New Jersey Avenues NW to see our belated recognition of this failure of justice. Surely our reparations were also an effort to make amends and recognize the loss of life and property by our extreme action. I hope more of you will read this book to see how distorted our thinking can be     when we face adversity.
       As is obvious from this rant, I still have a number of views to get off my chest. However there is one rant I am most eager to get to begin sharing before taking a month off to be with my family in Michigan and Germany. It's been a consuming interest of mine – one that I have increasingly felt is largely responsible for the wars and hostilities that have existed through the years – one that – like politics is something “good manners” dictates not be discussed in “polite” society. Yet I believe it has the answer to finding world peace! My working title is Why an agnostic atheist attends two churches.
       I'll follow that with a final say about all those topics I introduced almost a year ago ranging from race to the environment to mental depression to issues of American youth to American exceptionalism to wage disparity to education and to youth participation in sports.
       And not wanting to conclude as a ranting old man, I'll end with some thoughts on how it is possible in my 90th year to have one of the seven best times of my life!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A rant - about the proper function of government and a rave about my life in DC

Perhaps I'll learn that "A rant a day keeps the doctor away."  What then will a rant and a rave a day do?

Standing in line at the Cleveland Park Post office I saw someone selecting a birthday card from their rather pathetic supply.  My thought was, Why can't the government do more effetively the things we expect from a government rather than compete with one of the best greeting card stores in the city RIGHT NEXT DOOR?

An how fortunate are we who live in Cleveland Park with the opportunity to greet three doting parents with smiling children on a five minute walk;

I hope a number of folks will read these two blogs and read my plans for future blogs tomorrow when  I  "divulge" my plans for closing out my rants by December 8.  I'm eager to share some of most deeply felt on everything from a-politics to z-religion.

The briefest RANT I'll ever make concerns "Impatience".

When one approaches his 90th birthday, it is hard to hear, "Don't be so impatient!"

Especially when one is interested in pursuing change!


I hope you will tune in to the plethora of R and R's I'm planning to send before my month in Michigan and Germany with family.

And it will begin tomorrow as I  "divulge" my plans for closing out my rants by December 8.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Let us sing the praises of the daily newspaper!

In his book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam expounds the theory that our American society has suffered tremendously because of the loss of organizations and agencies that bound us together as a people in the past. While he speaks of the unifying nature of the schools, churches, clubs and the like, I don't believe he considers the power of the daily newspaper as a unifying force.. While the younger generation may look to the Internet and myriad television channels to provide information, I can't help but feel that this cacophony of voices can be more harmfully divisive than informative, and I become nostalgic about the importance of the daily newspaper of my youth.  I wonder how much our country suffers by that constant broadcasting of doubt, fear and suspicion found on the internet rather than the considered, tempered analysis of events that is more likely to be found on a quality newspaper. 

As a lower middle class family with limited income, we not only subscribed to one daily paper, we had twoThe San Antonio Express in the morning and The San Antonio Evening News in the afternoon. And ours could in no way be considered an intellectual family.  Others of a different mindset had the opportunity to subscribe to William Randolph Hearst's, The San Antonio Light.

Rather than considering the deeper philosophic positions of censorship and which is the more valid democratic position, I want to share three recent newspaper articles that cause me to renew my appreciation of the power of the press, America's 4th Estate.

1.  The Washington Post for Friday, June 12, 2015 on Page C1

Michelle Obama commences telling it as she sees it"

These are among the quotations that our First Lady shared with high school and college graduates that could serve as a basis for discussion were they read by more of the populace.
  • "I want to encourage you to actively seek out the most contentious, polarized, gridlock places you can find. Throughout our history, those of been the places where progress really happens."
  • "There will be times when you feel like folks look right past you."
  • “There are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers, and they think to themselves, well, that's not a place for me, for someone who looks like me."
The article goes on to state how vital her message was to those in attendance. How honest and direct she was in her statements. I couldn't help but think of how she was vilified for her statement just after her husband's nomination for the presidency that for the first time she felt proud to be American. Indeed this has been underscored personally for me as I have seen the crowds of African-Americans who for the first time are eager to visit a president who felt they could relate to in the White House. In a single day I think  I see more Afro/Americans visit the house than I did in a year previously.

2. While not at the same level of importance, I found the article on page D1 in the sports section on Monday, June 29, reflective of one of the joys of an earlier generation: "through 66 seasons, Scully hasn't lost voice". How remarkable that Vin Scully was at the same job for 66 years – and one constantly before the public eye. There's something to be said for longevity.  Beyond looking at the joy of sports the article could spur thoughts about the present tendency to hire "temps" rather than commit to permanent employees in order to save money

3. Also on June 29 Page C1 Sarah Kaufman had an article, "A return to the grace of God – and of man". Regardless of one's religious or atheistic or political persuasion, one has to appreciate her view of the president singing a song that can unite us.

Thanks to any of you who've stayed with this rant and rambling until the end. I could say much more about the miracle that I believe the daily newspaper to be. Think of it: "That in retirement I can venture out my front door at 7 AM and hold in my hand a thoughtful report of events from sports to dramatic worldwide events or catastrophes that occurred less than eight hours previously".

Let us all sing the praises of (and subscribe) to the daily newspaper.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Insights about America thrlough the eyes of German tourists

After a couple of months without ranting or raving, I have a lot of pent up R&Ring to do.  I'll be getting a lot off my chest in the next few weeks.

During the past two months it is been my pleasure to show relatives and friends from far and near around our great city. Each time I do this I feel anew the marvelous opportunity which is mine to have retired in our nations capital.

Perhaps the most remarkable of these visits was a mother and daughter, distant cousin of mine, from Germany.  It was the first visit to the United States for both of them, although they have traveled throughout Europe and on two occasions to Israel. It was fascinating to me that high on their list of MUST SEE were Arlington Cemetery, the war memorials and the United States Holocaust Museum.

I found there reactions extremely fascinating. I felt that I was indeed reliving Alex de Tocqueville's, Democracy in America, however, not as an aristocrat might report, but as an average German citizen sees things. Their observations included:
  • That so many Americans were willing to sacrifice their lives to secure freedom for others in far off places ranging from Europe to the Middle East and Asia.
  • That during a visit to Arlington when the cemetery was crowded with eighth grade tour groups, the children were so well behaved giving their attention and respect to the learning experience.  
  • They were particularly impressed by the volunteerism present at so many of the venues we explored. It seems a concept not present in their society
They were also highly impressed by the honesty and clarity with which the Holocaust Museum, particularly, The Story of Daniel, depicted the horrors of the Nazi era and that we have a government that makes such museums free to all.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Random thoughts as I approach my 9th decade of life.

I'm far too busy inaugurating my two year celebration of turning 90 to Really Rant or Rave, but a quick look at today's (5/21/15) Washington Post brings three thoughts to my attention:

  1. What a remarkable achievement is the publishing and delivery of a daily newspaper.  
  2. A picture can reveal so much:
    • Everyone talks and no one listens.
      • Page D-1 shows all three (Harper, Williams and the umpire) all with their mouths open and (probably) their ears shut.    
    • The universal appeal of music - not only worldwide but across all socio-economic levels.
      • Page A-8 shows "Burundian Richard Samuel, 14, plays his homemade guitar as he waits to be moved from a stadium a refuge camp.  The United Nations says more than 100,000 people ................flee unrest..... !!!!!!!!!!
It's great to be retired and do the things one really wants to do - perhaps ere too long I'll get to my suggestions for solving the three great American problems:
  1. Achieving world peace 
  2. Rescuing the public schools, and 
  3. Reducing income disparity

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A different view of one aspect of American exceptionalism............

...............from one who lived through prohibition!

It seems to me that one of the defining characteristics of the American people and scene is our adaptability and readiness to promote and except change. In some areas, of course, change comes extremely slowly. Civil rights and gender issues are examples of issues that began with our country's founding and are still in the process of change. There are other areas where change comes with lightning speed as we rush to accept the latest gadget or fad.

This topic came to mind recently as I saw an advertisement on the Metro taken out by one of the most prestigious, even the hallowed, agencies of our government, THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES. It made me think of an area of social change that has made a complete reversal was in my lifetime. The ad was for a series of 10 lectures on the history of the cocktail given by Derek Brown, Chief Spirit Adviser for the current display at archives entitled, Spirited Republic: Alcohol in American History . The titles of the sessions begin with Our Founding Drinkers and continue through The Golden Age of the Cocktail to The Lost Generation and ending with The Fine Art of Mixing Cocktail.

What a dramatic change within my lifetime. How remarkable that it was the surprising power of women (primarily) that, through such organizations as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union facilitated the enactment of a constitutional amendment banning (most) alcoholic beverages in January, 1920. I recall how effectively fear was installed in me as I saw demonstrations of what might happen within my body when one of the ladies dropped an egg in alcohol. Change of course again occurred was the 21st amendment adopted 13 years later.

The inevitability of change is apparent. Managing it is a responsibility we share for good or ill.  How are we doing as a society in balancing and maintaining our social and cultural heritage with new opportunities and threats?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another change in Ron's Ranting and Raving

As might have been suspected, it's taken longer than I had anticipated for me to formulate my thoughts and plans for solving what I perceive as America's three greatest problems. It's a bit more daunting than I originally thought and at 89 years of age I am too often sidetracked by the inconsequentials of life. You might recall that I listed them as:
  • The problems of America's Public Schools
  • Social class disparity
  • Achieving world peace
And when these topics are covered
I'll retire from ranting and raving 
Take questions on Reddit

Until I get to the first of these topics, I'll reminisce occasionally about topics of lesser importance. 
Rather than rants or raves they will be anecdotes that seem interesting (at least to me). Here's one that made me think that perhaps my "greatest generation" might well be superseded by an even greater generation: such is my admiration for the young people of today who confront problems even greater than we faced back in the 40s. And they often do so with idealistic fervor.

Automotive Safety
I continue to be impressed use and power of the social media. How striking that a young person, one who has even disdained driving an automobile, cautioned on Facebook, (and I loosely paraphrase) "Think how dangerous it is - even for a second - to look down at your cell phone while driving – it's the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed at 55 miles an hour.

How much more complex driving is today than faced by my generation. I distinctly recall the issue that arose when car radios were introduced. How distracted we felt we would be by listening to the radio when our thoughts should be devoted entirely to driving safely. I guess that problem has been solved and its called multitasking!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Looking for solutions to three major American problems

World peace, social class disparity and America's schools

These are the three topics I previously stated I would tackle upon returning from vacation. Unfortunately, I got sidetracked by talking about the plight of interscholastic sports. But I'm ready now! And while this rant is not intended to solve these three problems, it is written to call to your attention the three books I mentioned earlier. Their authors give me confidence that there are ways these three critical problems can be mitigated.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam
In interviewing Putnam this week at the Aspen Institute, Institute President Walter Isaacson, said,...”this book is perhaps the most important book of the decade.” That's quite a statement from someone who has written the book on Einstein! Putnam's advise has been sought by the last three presidents and both political parties and he was called, “the most influential academic in the world today” by The London Sunday Times. His previous book, Bowling Alone was best seller as it looked at the decline of community agencies in American life.

Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools by Joel Klein
You might recall that my rant of February 9 entitled, "Veteran educator reconsiders opinion of charter schools" was written after I heard Klein's talk, but before I had a chance to read the book. I now have some further insights I am eager to share.

Religious literacy: What every American needs to know – and doesn't by Stephen Prothero
At last I have an opportunity to share some deeply felt of my personal beliefs about religion: that (many/most/all) of the world's problems have been brought on by religion, BUT that it is only through (truly understanding and using) religion that they will be solved.

How fortunate I feel to live in a city where I (an average citizen) was able to hear all three of these authors speak for FREE! I'm sorry for those readers of my other blog who were unable to hear them.  While I'll have something to say about each of thse topics in the weeks ahead, the most important aspect of this blog is to encdfourage you to read the books and consider the topics.  Just as Walter Isaacson urged the audience at the Aspen Institute, “not only to read Putnam's book but to buy 5 to give to friends and urge their them to do the same”. I'd like to urge readers to give thought to the topics and share them with others on my blogsite:

I know this departs from my theme of giving advice from the "Greatest Generation”. Yet as I turn 90 retirement enables me to ponder the insight of this brilliant, generation of insightful writers. But I'll still be raving about the “good old days” and want to close with this bit of nostalgia unrelated to the theme of this blog.

Playing with Guns
My father taught me to play with guns. As an amateur woodworker he even made guns for me out of scrap wood and rubber bands made out of discarded car tire inner tubes (we didn't know we were recycling – we thought we were just saving money). What fun my buddies and I had playing war!
Twenty years later, life was so busy for me as a father that I never thought to make them for my children. However, as a doting grandfather, I eagerly made them for my first grandson. How crestfallen I was when my "baby boomer” son and daughter-in-law rejected them as a part of the the generation that disdained our gun oriented society.
And now I am mystified that these peace-loving children and grandchildren are enamored with computer games with titles alone that scare me: Modern Warfare, Hitman and Carmagedom.

There are things that puzzle me!

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Lesson in International Relations

Once again I had a fascinating conversation with a seatmate on the Metro. She appeared to be a tourist and so I ask where she was from. I was taken aback when she answered very clearly in English, "I am from Moldava".  Somewhat startled since my mind's map of Europe goes back to Yugoslavia, I asked exactly where that was and she replied that it was in Southeast Europe. With her husband  working in our State Department she too was hoping to find employment there . How disappointing not to have my business card so I could continue our conversation on the Internet!

Just before departing I asked her to share with me one outstanding difference she found between her home country and living in the United States. "In Moldava people are not friendly, and we would never have a conversation like this," was her reply.

I know this does not qualify as a rant or rave, but it affords me an opportunity to share two thoughts:

1. Recalling again the opportunities that are there for learning when we are not wedded to devices, and

2. The enjoyment that is mine when I share ideas and thoughts with family, friends and any who might tune in to my rants. Thus I'm hoping do this more often in an informal way - hopefully most Mondays  I'll assure you that I will soon return to more deep-seated problems and thoughts: insights from the perspective of another generation.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Ron's Rant Returns with A Brief Look at Four Amereican Problems

I returned from a months vacation ready to tackle what I a believe are three of America's most important topics: achieving world peace, reducing the disparity of income and opportunity in our country and restoring America's public school system. All this because I read four books on vacation. Unfortunately March madness has intervened, and once again the insight of sportswriters caused me to tackle America's fourth greatest problem, The Plight of Interscholastic Sports.

Please do not scoff! There is historic precedence for an American president intervening in college athletics when President Theodore Roosevelt was prevailed upon to intercede in reducing the brutality of football. Fortunately today's Washington Post (March 23, 2015 on pages D2 and D3) has articles by Norman Chad and Sally Jenkins (respectively) that provide a basis for bringing sanity to the sporting scene. By taking the lead from these two sports writers, perhaps we could bring pressure to bear to make change without distracting the president from other more pressing problems.

While I have previously chastised Chad (known as the “couch slouch”) for resorting to a highly sexist style of writing in his weekly column, he names names and pulls no punches in attacking the ridiculous hypocrisy of the college sports. Sally Jenkins not only outlines the problems, but takes it a step further to propose “Five fundamental changes (that) would alter the landscape”.

Certainly I am aware that college sports come no way near the other problems I mention. However they do represent a degree of hypocrisy in American life that leads so many of our idealistic youth to tune out many of our societies values.

I'm sorry if this Rant really doesn't speak to your (and even my) deep-seated concerns. Thus my next blog will tackle those first four. Truly peace (with a nod to religion), education and the welfare of all classes of society top my list. While a few of you may ponder what are the four books, I'll instead put in a plug for my other blog and the great opportunities we have in the nations capital to hear authors speak of their books for free – in this case at Politics and Prose, American University and the Aspen Institute - where the four authors spoke recently.

Monday, February 23, 2015


Here's a bit of insight from Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Clinton.  She suggested that for one to truly see and understand the perplexities of life in America one needs to ride a bus. Two recent Metro rides reinforced this wisdom for me. I'm left to ponder the two incidents below and feel they are important to share with others.

The woman with the baby:

I had seen her before at a Metro stop, her baby held tightly to her bosom and a coke bottle tucked in her back pocket. But this time she was walking the aisle on my car. There were but six or so  of us on the car including the rather strange looking person seated toward the front who in addition to giving strange verbal outbursts at had the "baggage" that often accompanies a homeless person.  As she came to me I gave my usual, "I'm sorry" and regretted that I had not recommended that she go to Miriam's Kitchen where (from my having volunteered there) I knew she could be assisted. Future prospects on our car were indeed dim as each of the one seated in front of me declined her entreaties. I surely anticipated that she would leave our car without any help only to be totally floored as the most unlikely person on our car - the apparent homeless person - reached out and gave her $5.00!

A walk to the Metro

One of the aspects of retirement that I truly enjoy is the ability to sleep late in the morning. Thus 6:15 AM was an early hour for me to walk to the Metro on my way to my physical therapists office.. The moment I left our house I saw two men talking Spanish as they walked up the Newark Street hill to work at a neighbor's house. There was no one on Connecticut Avenue except two joggers. Upon entering the Metro I was surprised by the large number of people on my car for such an early hour. In looking around I could observe that only a very small number of us had light complexion. All the others had the same skin color or darker than the workers going up Newark Street.  How strange - usually when I go to my medical appointment in Friendship Heights for a saner 10:00 AM  appointment - I see people whose skin is the same tone as mine while............ 

...........two hours later as I left my physical therapists Friendship Heights office and walked down Connecticut, the only people I saw had my same coloring. And almost every one of them was carrying Starbucks.
Indeed there are obvious lessons for our polarized society for one looking for them, And I hope you
will join me in adding two more "R'" to my "Rant and Rave" - Let's Ruminate and Reflect about them.

But one less obvious rant comes to mind and it does reflect a personal bias.  Perhaps it comes with my age, but I personally delight in both living in the present moment and place.  What a joy to observe life around me and not be transported on a hand held device to be with someone else - someplace else.  How often do we miss out on life's beauty by being somewhere else?  Must we succumb to each new gadget?

And yet in saying this, I know how much I have learned and profited by the facts and opinions of the Internet.  While I could not find Donna Shalala's quote how fascinating did I find her insights as I merely typed, "Bus quote of Donna Shalala!

That's it for a month as I travel to the Bahamas and Michigan.  When I return it will be with a new direction for this blog as I use the next 9 months to finalize my Rants et al before I turn 90 and terminate this blog.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Veteran Educator Reconsiders Opinion of Charter Schools

 As a life long educator committed to our public schools, I have continued to advocate certain practices and positions including my view of Charter Schools. This book and the talk by the author has caused a 180 degree turnaround in my beliefs. I hope you will read to the end including the personal coda at the end of this (too) lengthy document and join in the conversation regarding our public schools.

Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools
Author Joel Klein
Former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education

As a lifelong educator with deep-seated feelings about the role of public schools in our country, I was excited about the opportunity to hear the author discuss his book at the Aspen Institute. I was even primed with a question. How delighted I was to be the first to pose a question. My intended question:

You have hope, as a retired principal of an inner-city school, I have none! I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Americans are not interested in fixing the nation's schools, they just want an outstanding school for their child. Can you help me?

But I could no longer ask that question! Klein had given me an insight which had previously totally escaped me. I cannot even remember the question I finally asked or the response he gave because one of his insights totally changed my view of the potential of charter schools.

Charter schools provide poor people with a choice of schools!

What a horrible thought! One system for the rich and one for the poor? Yet how close is that to what we have? But it does characterizes the direction we are moving – private schools for the wealthy and..................

Please read on to see how my feelings are evolving.

Upon changing my residence from the Midwest to the East Coast, I had an opportunity to observe and volunteer in a broad spectrum of schools: public, charter and private in Washington, D. C. While I was impressed with the education I saw in charter schools, my public school bias gave me many questions about their effectiveness and limitations. But my experiences in private schools led me to a feeling that I had finally arrived at education's Valhalla.
How wonderful it would be if all Americans had a chance to attend a similar school which incorporated all of the positive hallmarks of education that I had studied and dreamed of for over 65 years. How judgmental I became as I realized that financially such a solution would be out of reach - that such opportunities were only present for the wealthy who only cared for their own child's education.
Thinking further I realized that my personal, middle-class background also provided me with a choice – I could choose outstanding schools for my children and grandchildren because I could choose to live in a school district that had good schools. AND contrary to most peoples thoughts, there are many outstanding PUBLIC schools in our country.

Schools of choice for the poor!
1.While this bombshell was intriguing, something about Klein's presentation still bothered me. As I thought further about this statement other problems and considerations came to mind. Schools for the poor would maintain a position I find intolerable in our democratic society. Quality charter schools should have appeal for all.

2.The effective charter schools I observed seemed to function outside the framework of both the teachers union contract and the purview of the local school board. Indeed from my 35 years of experience at all levels of education, I am aware of both the positive contribution of such a relationship as well as its limitation in the operation of the school. As a principal I both appreciated the contribution of “teachers unions” to raise the stature (and certainly salaries) of my staff, but the times I was kept from keeping the needs of students first were unfortunately legion.

3. Many school districts without using the word “charter” already have "charter like" schools that both give creative educational experiences to children, but also provide all their constituency a choice of school. These schools often go under the name of “Community High School” or “School Without Walls”.  If ways can be found for schools to operate as these do, then Charters should also be considered for control by the  citizenry under the local school board.

4. So where does that leave us? If a 89-year-older can so abruptly change a lifelong bias – even prejudice - we should as a nation have the ability to come together to change and create effective schools for all children!

And finally
Close to a century ago I recall conversing with graduate students from throughout the world and learned of their admiration for America. The two aspects of American life that they held up as being most outstanding were:
a. The opportunity of middle-class Americans to purchase a home, and
b. The American educational system.
While home ownership is a problem of recent years, the problems of American education have long simmered. It's time to stop worrying about semantics and the host of issues we have argued about in the past. Our public schools are too precious to lose and must be saved. Is there any other force or institution that can give us the unity needed so desperately in a divided country and world?

I have not read all of Klein's book, but I know there is much to ponder. Everyone interested in children would find much to consider. The postscript alone provides a challenge in only five pages with the final three lines, “..........we've long known. Too many of our schools are failing. We who can choose would never deem them acceptable for our own children. That should mean they are not acceptable for anyone's child.”
I hope you will be challenged to join in an internet dialogue about Klein's book.

A personal coda

My journey as a public school principal at all grade levels extended over a 36 year: from 1950 to 1986. It was interrupted when I was the Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. One of the most dramatic aspects of that tenure was the Hillsdale, Michigan, court case which established the fact that principals were to be considered as a part of management. Not only did this exclude them from the Michigan and national principals associations but it removed them from being considered a collegial member of the instructional staff. I believe that in the ensuing 40 years a part of the problem in education has been a result of the loss of this relationship between the principal and her/his staff. And from my (admittedly) limited acquaintance with Charter Schools, I believe that to be one of their strengths. Both Klein and Charter Schools recognize the important leadership role of the school principal.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Ron unexpectedly rants about torture

I'm totally surprised that I find this a topic to write about. Two books led me to face a topic I have previously sublimated because of its complexity and horrors.   In trying to recall issues of torture, brutality and injustice during World War II, nothing comes to  mind that compares to the accusations that are surfacing presently save for being appalled by the treatment of our personnel by the enemy and our disregard for the freedom of Japanese/Americans.  And yet the issue of closing the Guantanamo Bay prison persists as a political football as the continuing accusations of brutality and inhumane treatment of prisoners by our government continue to mount.  What should I as a citizen think - what should I do to make sure we are doing all we can to protect our citizens in the future and yet continue to feel that our government follows humane and and fair practices of justice - that we do not succumb to inhuman treatment of prisoners in seeking security?

Thus it was my good fortune to be a part of a book group discussing the Pulitzer prize-winning book, 
The Looming Tower
 by Lawrence Wright. Although published over eight years ago it was recommended as the definitive book about the role of Al Qaeda in leading to the events of 9/11. While reading the book presented me with many problems with its unfamiliar names and locales, I felt I finally had a basic understanding of the history, structure, role and methodology of Al Qaeda as led by Osama bin Laden.

I then felt that I would become further enlightened by attending a presentation about the book Guantanamo Diary, the first and only diary written by a still imprisoned Guantanamo detainee.   Discussing the book at Politics and Prose Bookstore were two of the author's attorneys since the author, Mohamedon Ould Slahi, remains a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. The book is based on notes made by him the first five years of his imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay in 2002.  In these 13 years  of imprisonment he has never been charged with a crime and five years ago was recommended for release at a hearing in Washington, D. C. by District Judge James Robertson.  The book was edited by Larry Siems, was didacted (censored), declassified by the government and released after a seven year legal battle. The information about his torture and extreme punishment has been corroborated by multiple government interventions.  The personal description of Slahi's torture and continued incarceration for over 15 years without being formally charged are extremely dramatic.

Slahi's  involvement with Al Qaeda began in 1991 when Al Qaeda was supported by our government in resisting Russia's invasion of Afghanistan. In the mid-1990s as Al Qaeda changed its focus to hostility toward America, Salah terminated his allegiance and involvement with the group.  I am impressed by Slahi's response to incarceration and the logic for his release from Guantanamo Bay. Having had the book but two days, I have only begun to feel its impact, but I feel supported in my perception of the book by the reviews of the book in yesterday's (9/25) New York Times and The Washington Post.

As I have indicated earlier blogs, I truly believe that the present crisis even exceeds that which my generation was able to overcome. We are in a time of war, and 9/11 showed the vulnerability as never before of our shores in facing an enemy that uses totally inhuman practices in striking out at civilians and military personnel alike.

Yet as too often happens in time of war nations have too often failed to live up to professed ideals out of fear. Our nation's history is fraught with examples of our abridging personal freedoms and human rights of our citizens in time of war. While I yield to no one in taking all appropriate steps to protect our citizens, I want to continue to feel that there is something about our national pride so that - even in wartime - we maintain proper respect and care for individual rights and freedoms. Thus I'll continue to study this issue and and encourage all to be knowledgeable of the issues involved.  How fortunate I feel to live in a city where so many forums are available for consideration of such issues.  Please know that my other blog - - is available every Friday listing free intellectual and cultural events in the city.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Washington DC's Elusive Visitors Center

Have you ever tried to take visitors to the Official Washington DC Visitor Center?   In my experience every major tourist city has a prominently placed tourist and visitors information center,centrally located for visitors to get up-to-date brochures and maps of tourist attractions. I've usually found its location on the Internet.

Thus I began my search for DC's Center and learned of two locations for the site in D. C.
  • White House Visitors Center at the corner of 15th St.& Pennsylvania Ave NW,  and
  • Destination DC at 901 7th Street NW #400
Since I volunteer at the White House Visitor Center, I knew we were not the place to get general tourist information. Our location is perfect, just one block from the White House, one of the most highly visited places in the city. However as a National Park we do not distribute commercial material. Ours is a recently remodeled facility telling the history of the White House and in my opinion a place EVERY one should visit.  It is also a place where we are deluged with questions about other sights in the city.

Thus 901 7th St. NW #400 must be the place!  Being a rather experienced traveler and one well acquainted with the city's attractions, it seemed like a rather strange location to attract an anticipated throng of visitors - a 4th floor somewhere between Chinatown and the Convention Center. Yet driving down Seventh Street I saw nothing on 7th Street but a bank and an underground parking garage. Disappointed, I returned home, found their telephone number and was told the entrance was actually on I Street?!  

And there, some fifty or so feet from 7th Street, halfway between the Goethe Association and 6th and I Historic Synagogue was the entrance that took me to their very attractive office.  They seemed rather surprised by my intrusion, and in response to my questions about its remote location, I was told that they serve downtown tourists and the convention center.

But where does that leave the visitor to who comes to the major attractions in the city, unattached to a convention, who wants information on the city sights?  As a volunteer at the White House Visitors Center I know there are thousands of visitors who want maps, brochures, advertisements about the city's attractions. I doubt there is an area more visited than around the White House. Ours would be a perfect spot for a Center  - Near the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue!

Eureka - there is a such a spot.  It's extremely easy to spot a vastly under-used area even closer to the White House than our Visitors Center, and that is Freedom Plaza and Pershing Park

Having spent 15 years of weekly attendance in that area I can attest to its under use. Rarely (except when there are special events) are there more than a very few people taking advantage of the enclosed gazebo or the seats in the area. Undoubtedly there would be complications from the various governmental agencies that have an interest in the site. I'm sure historians might find a Visitor Center a desecration to the memory of  General John J. (Blackjack) Pershing of World War I fame an improper homage to the man.   Although a plaque with the current statue could bring even greater attention to his past contributions to our country.

While this rant of Ron seems rather pedestrian, I hope it might alert appropriate authorities to the need for establishing a first-class visitors center in a first-class city.

 Issuing this rant a week early enables me to have a vacation in Michigan. The regular schedule is the 2nd and 4th Monday of the Month.  I hope you can check them out at