Thursday, January 19, 2017

Go and Do Likewise


My father, portraying Galileo, in a short play he wrote
as part of the science curriculum for the
Baltimore School for the Arts
Three years ago today, my father died.  In actuality, his personality and physicality were lost to us for several years before that, to Parkinson’s with Lewy body dementia. 

I mourn my father today especially because he would know What To Do.  He would be able to face the future with integrity, with intelligence, with strategy, and with humor.  He had done so many times in his life. 

Throughout his life, he stood up for what is right.  He paid for that – at one point, because of his honesty, his army superiors punished him by sending him away from his stateside army post to an overseas post. In the 1960s he and my mother were in the thick of the civil rights movement. They both paid for that by being harassed by members of their own church.  My father paid for it by being forced out of his job.  As a result he found another job in another city.  

When we were moving (I was about 4 years old) my parents sold their house to the first African-American family to move to the neighborhood.  The neighbors offered him a bribe to not sell the house.  He refused.  The payment for that was that the neighbors put up confederate flags in their yards.  The neighborhood children also bullied his son, my older brother.  We moved to Baltimore and my parents moved to a neighborhood consisting of Orthodox Jews, African-Americans, and us. He was our neighborhood’s Shabbas goy.  Years later he worked on a process to safely destroy chemical weapons.   In the midst of all that, he worked a full-time job as a chemical engineer managing chemical plants.  He served his church and the broader church extensively.  He raised three children and was a loyal husband.

Throughout his life he remained intellectually curious and always wanting to learn more.  He would take a decisive stand on issues, but was not afraid to revise his opinion if he learned something to change his mind.


If he were alive and well today he would be joyful, argumentative, optimistic, funny, and active as much as is possible for any citizen.

Go and do likewise.

Monday, January 16, 2017

To Keep in Mind

Some quotes NOT by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Anger doesn’t help you win. 
            – Trevor Noah


But you should not have gloated over your brother
    on the day of his misfortune.
- Obadiah verse 12


“There’s a danger on the internet that you think you’re accomplishing something,” he says. “So you see an article about a disease and retweet it and think ‘It’s cured now!’ And you’ve fooled yourself into thinking that you’ve done something productive.”
-Judd Apatow, interview in New York Times with Maureen Dowd.

Note: I do not know who Judd Apatow is or why he should be famous. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Balloon Car Science

A guest post written by Younger Daughter

Prologue

As Lab Partner and I stood, with the sun at our backs and the balloon car before us, we knew that we could do no more. It was about to be winter break, and neither one of us would be here on the day that the balloon cars would be tested, since we were instead going to various lectures and better learning opportunities (a.k.a. starting vacation early). There would be no more opportunities to improve, no more variables to test. Our grade was in the hands of our teacher, who had promised to test the car in our place, as we had asked him prior to signing our absence forms.

The trek had been long and arduous, and the car itself had gone through many redesignings, resulting in broken corks, makeshift straws, and wood shavings all over our desks. But now, as we stared at the CD wheels, chopstick axles, and balloon set to propel us to glory, we could not help but feel proud, and terrified. For if it didn’t work, if it didn’t go the distance required… It would result in a grade of zero. For both of us.

The Epic of the Physics Balloon Car

When we returned from break, both Lab Partner and I checked our grades anxiously, as we waited for this notoriously tardy teacher to put in the grades he had neglected all week, apparently unaware of our desperation. But when it finally appeared, our shock rang for miles around the sun, for a zero appeared next to the 25 points meant for our balloon car. Partner and I were both angry, but I felt that it was a fault of our own, that our shaky and fragile vehicle had been unable to stand up to the challenge. Partner encouraged me to stand and fight, and ask our teacher why we got a zero, but confronting a teacher, especially such a one as this, about this kind of decision? I remained behind, and Partner went to fight alone.

He returned, yea, with not broken and bloody bones from a reading of the riot act, yet with grave news. For our teacher, in his treachery, had not even tested our balloon car, and had given us zeroes without explanation. Though both of us boiled under this betrayal, the might of the teacher was too great, and we knew we could not face him. We resigned ourselves to the zero, with the promise of further burdens of homework and points to come.

Yet, the gods were with us, and there came a time when we had completed our next lab early, and the teacher’s mercy was enough to allow us to test our balloon car in front of him. We went into the hallway, bound by walls (though no windows, as our school was designed like a prison), and ready to redeem our zeroes that had brought our grades down a letter.

But fate is a fickle mistress, for though she had given us the chance to bring back our grades, she sent down the gods of Clumsiness and Poor Planning, causing our balloon car to fall to pieces. We were almost turned to tears at the sight of this collapsed vehicle, yet we did not despair. We rushed inside, grabbed materials, and began to rebuild. We created new wheels, making up new designs off the top of our heads, grabbing and cutting and taping. And yet, every time we tested it, it was not enough. Either it would run into a wall, or else it wouldn’t go the required distance for getting a grade, and once again we were close to despairing. I ran back into the classroom to get more materials, and thunder and lightning seemed to flash as the teacher raised his head. “Oh, are you guys ready? I’ll come out.” With terror in my heart, and prayer on my lips, I had no choice but to lead him out into the hallway. I blew up the balloon, as Partner set the car facing the right way, and I knew this was our last chance. We would either succeed, or fail. There was no alternative. We attached the balloon, braced ourselves for our fates, and released.

It trundled forward, the balloon pushing the product of my lungs, turning it into propellant. But, something was different about it this time. Something had changed. The balloon car kept going… and going… and it didn’t stop! It even went past the required distance, giving Partner and me bonus points for all our work! Truly, the gods were on our side that day, as our hard work and belief in Lady Luck had paid off at last. The teacher entered in our points the next day, jumping our grades to over 100 percent. And at last, the balloon car could disappear from our minds into the epochs of history.

* * * * * * * *

When Younger Daughter reported this triumph to us, she was particularly excited about the balloon car going even further than required.  My husband said, “That is evidence of God.”  Then he asked, “What was the problem – why wouldn’t it go the first few times?”

YD said, not quite explaining,  “It would either stop dead or hit into the wall.”

My husband, ever practical said, “Clearly the solution is to move the wall.”


I must add that this physics class is YD’s least favorite class this school year. When she says that the balloon car will disappear from her mind, she means it.  Also, in the first sentence the “sun at our backs” is a metaphorical sun.  The school building is truly prison-like, with very little sunlight penetrating the interior.  I guess the architect thought that light would be a distraction from learning.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Disturbances in the Universe

Jan 1, 2017
Last night I dreamt that a dog tried to swallow my arm.  The dog wasn’t vicious, just hungry.  In the dream, my mother had decided to let the dog stay in the house, but hadn’t thought to buy any dog food.

Jan 2, 2017
Today I narrowly avoided running into a deer. I had just turned the corner to head up the hill from the park, and a deer decided to run into the path of the car.  The anti-lock brakes worked on the wet pavement.  It is worth pointing out, though, that when anti-lock brakes are working, it seems like they are not working – it feels like the car is skidding.

Jan 3, 2017
A spider fell on me in the shower.


In summary, I still can’t fully trust dogs, car brakes, or spiders.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Favorite books of 2016

The best fiction I read in 2016
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The children's crusade : a duty-dance with death, by Kurt Vonnegut

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by Dylan Thomas (for book club)

Coraline, by Neil Gaiman.  A very scary children’s book.

Salt and Saffron by Kamila Shamsie.  A young woman returns to Pakistan to discover family secrets. A quirky book.  The narrator is excessively chatty, clever with languages, and digresses frequently.   

Green on Blue, by Elliot Ackerman.  About war in Afghanistan, told from the perspective of an Afghan soldier.   A very troubling and violent story, but I read it until the end.   



The best non-fiction I read in 2016
Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, by Jonathan Sacks

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

With some details here.



What were your favorites, among the books you read in 2016?

(For my "First Lines" of the books I read during December 2016 edition, click here.)