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Reflections on 9/11 after returning from Mass

Posted on 2010.09.12 at 16:37
Current Mood: worriedworried

The “anniversary” of the September 11th attacks came again.  I recalled all that happened from my point of view.  The surreal hours in the classroom as the events unfolded, my decision to fully commit to Scouts, as my age and other factors prevented me from taking a more active role in defending the nation, and an essay written by the now departed Professor Gould.  It made a fair impression on me. I even used it as the reading for a Scout’s Own service.

 Apple Brown Betty

By Stephen Jay Gould

The patterns of human history mix decency and depravity in equal measure.  We often assume, therefore, that such a fine balance of results must emerge from societies made of decent and depraved people in equal numbers.  But we need to expose and celebrate the [falseness] of this conclusion so that… we may reaffirm an essential truth too easily forgotten, and regain some crucial comfort too readily foregone.  Good and kind people outnumber all others by thousands to one.  The tragedy of human history lies in the enormous potential for destruction in rare acts of evil, not in the high frequency of evil people.  Complex systems can only be built step by step, whereas destruction requires but an instant.  Thus, in what I like to call the Great Asymmetry, every spectacular incident of evil will be balanced by ten thousand acts of kindness, too often unnoted and invisible as the “ordinary” efforts of a vast majority.

Thus, we face an imperative duty, almost a holy responsibility, to record and honor the victorious weight of these innumerable little kindnesses, when an unprecedented act of evil so threatens to distort our perception of ordinary human behavior.   I have stood at Ground Zero, stunned by the twisted ruins of the largest human structure ever destroyed in a catastrophic moment…   And I have contemplated a single day of carnage that our nation has not suffered since battles that still evoke passions and tears, nearly 150 years later:  Antietam, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor.  The scene is insufferably sad, but not at all depressing…

[I]n human terms, Ground Zero is the focal point for a vast web of bustling goodness, channeling uncountable deeds of kindness from an entire planet -- the acts that must be recorded to reaffirm the overwhelming weight of human decency.  The rubble of Ground Zero stands mute, while a beehive of human activity churns within, and radiates outward, as everyone makes a selfless contribution, big or tiny according to means and skills, but each of equal worth.  My wife and stepdaughter established a depot to collect and ferry needed items in short supply, including respirators and shoe inserts, to the workers at Ground Zero.  Word spreads like a fire of goodness, and people stream in, bringing gifts from a pocketful of batteries to a ten thousand dollar purchase of hard hats, made on the spot at a local supply house and delivered right to us.


I will cite but one tiny story, among so many, to begin the count that will overwhelm the power of any terrorist’s act.  And by such tales, multiplied many millionfold, let these few depraved people finally understand why their vision of inspired fear cannot prevail over ordinary decency.  As we left a local restaurant to make a delivery to Ground Zero late one evening, the cook gave us a shopping bag and said:  “Here’s a dozen apple brown bettys, our best dessert, still warm.  Please give them to the rescue workers.”  How lovely, I thought, but how meaningless, except as an act of solidarity, connecting the cook to the cleanup.  Still, we promised that we would make the distribution, and we put the bag of 12 apple brown bettys atop several thousand respirators and shoe pads. 

Twelve apple brown bettys into the breach.  Twelve apple brown bettys for thousands of workers.  And then I learned something important that I should never have forgotten -- and the joke turned on me.  Those twelve apple brown betty’s went like literal hotcakes.  These trivial symbols in my initial judgment turned into little drops of gold within a rainstorm of similar offerings for the stomach and soul, from children’s postcards to cheers by the roadside.  We gave the last one to a firefighter, an older man in a young crowd, sitting alone in utter exhaustion as he inserted one of our shoe pads.  And he said, with a twinkle and a smile restored to his face: “Thank you.  This is the most lovely thing I’ve seen in four days -- and still warm!

I reflected in my homily that the acts of selfless bravery and heroism, as well as the many acts of support and pulling together all over the nation show how the worst will bring out the best in us.  In the end, I stated, as long as there are those who are willing and able to be helpful in even the most seemingly insignificant ways in the darkest of hours, evil can never ultimately win.

Sadly, it appears as if I may have been wrong.Some of the nicest people I have known seem to be taking the side of an ugly nastiness that is spreading.  Ideals that our country is supposed to stand for and the sacrifices made to defend them seem to count for naught among more and more people.  Some of these same people have been the most vociferous about their fear of losing the freedoms that these ideals are based upon.  I really fear that if we as a nation do not wake up, remember who we are, and pull together as we did on that terrible day and the weeks that followed- not caring who the next person was or what they believed in other than that they are a fellow human beings and that we believe in each other- I really do fear that the terrorist will have succeeded.

Posted on 2010.09.12 at 16:20
As mentioned earlier, we were saddled with an unusual theme this summer.  "Bringing the City to the Country" may have been a stretch for some program areas, but Oest Nature Lodge always rises to the challenge!

We went with a focus on what animals have done well even when a city encroaches on habitats in "the country".  We started out with Josh T doing a schpeal about not collecting or touching animals at camp, except for saving frogs from the pool or shower house.  He segued into identifying the Northern Copperhead and telling campers what to do if they see one.

I followed up with an intro that led to asking if they knew what encroachment meant, giving a hint that they might know if they were football fan.  This led to a Q&A about what happens when city encroaches into habitats in the country.  Mostly it turns out bad, but I then would show a video of the coyote that wandered into the Quiznos in the Chicago Loop. 

I also asked for other examples and showed a video clip of Peregrine falcons on an apartment balcony.  The key was to get them to realize examples of animals that do well even in the city and that was because they could satisfy the 3 essentials: food, water, and shelter.  This led to a segue to rats, which usually had been mentioned as an animal that does well in the city.

This was a lead in to a game show called: "Are You as Clever as a Rat?"  The game was set up like the old TV game "Concentration". Under the squares were matching pairs of pictures they had to try and pair up.  The picture pairs were either things rats can use as a food source, or places rats can use as shelter.  There were also "Lose one turn" pictures of things bad for rats.  These included Rodent Control officer, Rat poison, and Domestic Predator (a picture of a Kittycat eating a rat). There was also one special square labeled "Super Rat Mutation", which allowed the team to use the Rat Poison as a food source for a point instead of losing a turn.


2010 Scout's Own Homily

Posted on 2010.08.10 at 18:22
Current Mood: contemplativereflective

The Theme handed down to us by BSA National was "Bringing the City to the Country".  I took on that challenge in my program area (Nature) pretty well, and will detail it in a later post.  What I wanted to do here is give an overview of the Service I put together, and share the homily i wrote to go along with it.  Before every service I do a brief introduction, as many of the campers have never encountered a Scout's Own Service before.  They used to be called "Vespers", but due to the fact that this is supposed to be a nonsectarian service, and the strongly Christian overtones of this term, the older "Scout's Own" is coming back into use.  Here is some of what I usually say:

Welcome to Camp Oest’s Scout’s Own service.  A Scout’s Own service is an nondenominational prayer service that Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Ventures use on camp outs and other outings , particularly when the activity interferes with the scout’s ability to attend regular services at their own place of worship. 

These services are meant to be inclusive.  For this purpose, a Scout’s Own service may incorporate parts of prayer and worship from a variety of faiths.  Often, as the American Scouting movement’s roots are intertwined in the culture and lore of the very first Americans, Native American prayers will often be used.

You may also notice that one of the names used to refer to the Supreme Being is spelled out G_D in the text of the service.  This is out of respect for those religious denominations, such as Orthodox Jews, who consider the Name of the Creator so sacred, that it would be improper to put it on anything that might be discarded or destroyed.

Please join us now in or Oest’s Own service and feel welcome in the fellowship of the scouting movement...

The various parts of the service are usually read by or lead by staff members.  This year during Webelos week session we had some of the campers volunteer to do parts of the service, just as it is supposed to be done at the Boy Scout and Venture Scout level.  They did very well.

The call to prayer this year was as follows:

Come all ye sons and daughters of The Lord.  Open your townhouse and farmhouse doors.  Come forth from country lane and cul-de-sac, from apartment building and bungalow.  Bring an end to your work in barn or garage and gather together here and now, whether ye be wise in the ways of the wood and field, internet and book, or simply street-wise, for the true wisdom of Our Maker lies in our shared reverence and joy in praising His glory.  Let our prayers of thanksgiving be louder than a tractor engine’s roar, or an impatient taxi’s horn.  Let the stillness of our contemplation of His wondrous works be quieter than a snow-bound country night or the Public Library’s reference section.  Let us all join together in the Name of the Lord.

The Homily followed a little later.  It was based on 2 main parts: a version of age-old fable and a story about my exploits earlier that year:

The Country Mouse & the City Mouse

A Country Mouse invited his cousin from the city to come visit him. The City Mouse was not very impressed with the humble home of his cousin.  He was so disappointed with their meal of just a few kernels of corn, some grain, and a couple of dried berries, that he invited the Country Mouse to visit his own home. 

"My poor cousin," said the city mouse, "you hardly have anything to eat!  An ant could eat better! Please come to the city and visit me.  I will show you such feasts, readyfor the taking.  I don't want to seem rude, but I wish you could taste the fine things I have to eat every day!"

Unable to turn down such a tempting offer, the Country Mouse went with his cousin to the city.  The two came to an apartment that contained a magnificent meal. The Country Mouse could not believe his eyes!  He had never seen so much food in one place. There was bread, cheese, fruit, bits of cake, and tasty things of all sorts scattered about a giant dining room table.  Fine wine pooled at the bottom of crystal glasses. 

The two mice settled down to eat their wonderful dinner, but before they had barely taken their first bites, a cat approached the dining room table. The two of them scampered away and hid in a small uncomfortable hole until the cat got bored and left. When all was finally quiet, the two mice crawled out of the hole and resumed their feast. But before they could get a proper taste in their mouth, a huge roaring sound interrupted them.

“Hold tight to the curtain cousin, or the vacuum cleaner will gobble you up!” cried the City Mouse.  The noisy monster finally left the two of them alone for a moment and the two little mice let go of the curtain and scuttled away. 

As the City Mouse motioned for the Country mouse to follow him back to the table, the trembling Country Mouse shook his head “No Goodbye dear cousin.” cried the Country Mouse over his shoulder as he ran off, “You do, indeed, live in a plentiful city, but I am going home where I can enjoy my simple dinner in peace.”

Earlier this year, a scout leader had his own Country Mouse/City Mouse experience.  He traveled half way around the world to learn about schools and Scouts in the country of Armenia.  While he was there he sometimes felt like the Country Mouse and at other times he felt like the City Mouse.  For example, the City mouse in him had trouble understanding why the class rooms did not have the space or equipment to run the science labs he did with his own classes.  Most of the charts were very old and falling apart.  While the Armenian coffee worked just as well as American coffee, it would get like motor oil sludge by the time he got near the bottom of the cup.  One of the things that would make him feel more like the Country Mouse was crossing the street.  Speeding taxis, trucks, and cars would make up traffic lanes where they had not existed before.  This made crossing the street a little too exciting for him.  Strange words, as well as signs and billboards that used an alphabet unlike anything he had ever seen, tended to make him feel uncomfortable and alone. 

Like the Country Mouse, he was very happy to get home again, but when he had a chance to think about it, he realized that there were many things he had in common with the people he met in Armenia.  They shared his love of pizza- even if they didn’t use the same kinds of toppings he was used to.  The teachers he met and shared his own strong dedication to the students and, like him, were very enthusiastic about what they taught.  The Scout leaders he met worked tirelessly, giving up much of their spare time, to spread the Scouting Spirit throughout the youth of their country.

So in the end, it doesn't matter whether you are from the city, the country, or even a completely different country.  The things that we all share in common unite us in a way that cannot be broken.



Posted on 2010.06.17 at 14:24
Current Mood: frustratedfrustrated
This is the actual, un-editied version of a card that was on the shelves for three years before any stink was raised about it:


Here is a news report about the card:


One Youtube poster apparently needed to point out what others may not have seen or heard without assistance after prefacing it with an inflammatory introduction:


I was moved to comment on the last post:

When I first saw the footage of news reports related to this, I had to double check to see if there was a brand mark in the corner for "The Onion News".Sadly, there was none.As a science teacher in a predominantly African American school I am deeply troubled that those who are supposed to be leaders and role models for  my students would show their own intolerance and hostility in a manner that either shows a lack of education or a disdain for learning and science literacy.Your disingenuous use of a purposefully misleading subtitle of the content is also, at best, disturbing.

A response was sent minutes later:

1 hour ago
@radconPU83 Well, before you started teaching maybe you should’ve taken courses in advertising, too and the history of advertisers using images and words to degrade blacks. Advertisers have been doing this for decades. Destroying the images of black people. A study showed black girls would choose a white doll over a black doll because of years of destroying the beauty and image of black people. It’s time we stop it.

My response:

I am fully aware of the studies,some of which were cited in the Brown v Board of Ed. by Thurgood Marshall's team,that showed underlying attitudinal predispositions in individuals of various races.My motivation for becoming a teacher of science was to educate young people, particularly about science, not to nurture such misbegotten attitudes past their natural life.With all the REAL things we need to be concerned about,searching for or manufacturing confrontational non-issues is counterproductive.

His well thought out and reasoned counter to my observations and opinions indicated that I had about as much of a chance to reason with him as I would with Red Sarah, Glen Beck or someone else from FOXNEWS

There is, indeed, too much that really needs to be addressed and spoken out against without lowering ourselves to the strident and paranoid level of FOXNEWS and the Tea Baggers Partiers...or even those from the supposed other side of the isle like the gentleman above...

Alex & Zlot

Very First Boy Scout Troop in Decatur, IL

Posted on 2010.06.04 at 20:01
Current Mood: curiouscurious
Tags: , , ,


The above link is to a photo of the very first Scout Troop in Decatur, Illinois. Here is another view of it:

It was formed sometime after December 1910, based on an archived newspaper article from the Daily Review.  http://www.bsatroop65tidewater.org/bsarchives23.html The only individuals I am pretty sure of are #12 and #13, As I believe them to be my Grandfather and his older brother.

The troop supposedly met in the basement of their home. The following is information provided by my Uncle Keith about the identities of the scouts and adults in the picture:

(1) Claude Quickel
(2) John Brockway (Scout Master)
(4) Frank Quickel
(5) Granville Winter
(6) Dan McClellan
(7) Tom Hildebrandt
(8) Roy Ives
(9) Harry Ramsey
(10) Wilbur Duncan
(11) Nelson Fisher
(12) Lynn Fisher
(13) Walter W. Fisher
(14) Nate Millsbaugh
(15) Ralph Veech
(16) Brandford Bishop
(17) Joe Riggs *Wearing the first scout uniform in Decatur (called a "suit")

The information was told to my Uncle by my grandfather back on March 16th, 1958.  If anyone knows more information (Date of inception, actual Troop number, identities of the still unknown Scouts, etc.) please add to in the comments. I will try to get a better pic of this photo later, but the original went to the Historical society in Macon County, so  am limited by what I was given.


Well, I got through to at least one student in spite of everything this year

Posted on 2010.06.01 at 21:51
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
So we are on the way home from our annual trip to the National Museum of Natural History and one of my student says, "hey Mr. ___, I think I got one of the Chaperones mad at me."  This student often takes joy in pushing buttons of people who may not be as fast on the uptake as he, so I sighed and said, "OK C____, what did you do?"

"Well, he asked aloud if all this stuff was just going to be evolution and why wasn't there anything about Creationism," the student replied.

"And you said what to him?"

"I told him that Evolution is a scientifically proven fact.  He said 'Oh really?' and I said yes it is.  Then he said 'No it isn't.' and i said 'Yes it is."

I chuckled and left it at that.  I didn't bother to ask if he had gone any further.  I wonder if the parent will complain...don't really care if he does.  My work here is done.

(cue music and roll credits)


Dispatches from Yerevan: Day One, Part one

Posted on 2010.03.30 at 06:44
Current Location: Europe Hotel, Yerevan, Armenia
Current Mood: tiredtired

The “S7” Airlines plane to Yerevan is much smaller than the one we took over to Moscow (I still have  a hard time believing I was there, if even for a flight connection.). The seats are much wider but the leg room is far less.  We are finally taxiing onto the runway.  Feeling a little tired now-probably a little jet lag.  Lots of side-to-side turbulence on take-off, but we quickly got airborne over the taiga outskirts of Moscow.  Too bad it was such a short layover for the connecting flight, as I missed what may have been my only chance to poop on the land that was only 2nd to the Mongols in terms of running rough-shod over and pillaging the land of most of my forbearers (forgive me Triumph!).  Gonna try and get some shut-eye.  It is a 3 hour tour ahead for TJ and myself, but it is far less than the butt-breakingly grueling first leg to Moscow.

Interesting in-flight meal that included a aluminum foil hot-pack that may be my first taste of Armenian food if not central Europe/West Asia minor cuisine.  The coffee served at the end was STRONG- almost worthy of a café Cubano rating.  The hot part of the meal was a nugget of some sort of ground meat similar to that described in our printed briefings (definitely NOT spoo!).  It rested in a “pilaf” of what I think was cracked Bulgar wheat with a smattering of tomatoey stuff, diced carrots, and a chopped green veggie of unknown origin.  The cold portion in the colorful card board box whose many commercial messages were lost on me due to my inability to read Russian, was the fixings for a mini-sandwich in several cellophane-sealed plastic containers.  The container that held the 2 slices of cheese (one Colby and one Colby-jack, I suspect) also contained what appeared to be a single VERY small prune and a solitary shelled almond.  Desert was a rectangular slice of a fruit tart-esque pastry.  All in all tasty and not bad for an light lunch. 


Even though I am still a bit at a loss grasping the time, I think I’ll adjust via the sun thanks to the naps I have been sneaking in.  I’m thinking about getting a cheap watch after we land.  I had thought about taking a non-cell phone based timepiece with me at the last minute, but none of mine had working batteries.  I’d not fully realized how much I’d come to rely on the cell phone as my timepiece.  Ever since we were over the Baltic, my cell phone has read 12:00AM- most likely due to the lack of signal broadcasting the date and time.  We will see upon landing if that rectifies itself.


Just checked the cell and it says it is 2 something AM.  Maybe I can set with World Clock function once I know what time zone Armenia is in.  Very little in the way of turbulence for most of the trip.


We are landing and TJ is going to try to get pics of Mt. Ararat out the window.  Landing a little rough, but not warranting the applause the rest of the cabin break into upon touchdown.  Either they are not as used to flying as I am, or they know something about these Russian pilots that I don’t know, and most likely don’t’ want to know.


Our driver is waiting for us after getting our visa, exchanging some money to pay for the visa, and clearing customs. Ride is somewhat uneventful, although the local drivers seem to have a penchant for making up lanes where they see fit.  The above pics are a few of the “best” attempts to take shots of the area through the window of the moving car.  My skills as a photographer are highly suspect if one uses these as a sample of my ability.  We arrive at the Europe Hotel and pay him about $5 US for the ride. 


We met with our main coordinator, Tigran, and some other teachers here on various exchange programs, including Ms. Kriewald, in the hotel lobby to discuss our missions and our itineraries.  Later we went with Ms. Kriewald and a teacher from Ann Arrundel County schools to shop for a light dinner to eat in our rooms.



Monday, March 29, 2010


After thinking my ride was late, I got to my destination: Yerevan School #150.  Most of my observations and collaborations were of the biology and social studies teacher, Ms. Knarik Gyulumyan.  Helping with translations were 3 English teachers including head English teacher Ms. Nune (??SP?)  The school has a little museum of Armenian artifacts, antiques, and student artwork.  Several very old Armenian rugs were displayed on the floor and I kept embarrassing myself by stepping on their edges as I clumsily moved about.  I learned about a number of Armenian historical figures, including the beloved priest-composer Komitas.  Most of the faculty here are female.  The low pay for teachers is believed by most of the people I am interacting with to be the reason for that, although TJ, who is visiting another art and trade oriented school headed by the former Minister of Education, sees less of a disparity in the gender ratio.



After meeting the principal, assistant principal, and a brief tour of their school’s

I observed several classes, including a special ed physical therapy/training session (inclusion/mainstreaming is practiced in this system), a middle school level social studies lesson freedom, a science class on fish taxonomy and anatomy, and a slightly older class on democracy.



Some stuff from the trip so far

Posted on 2010.03.29 at 14:34
Current Location: Yerevan, Armenia
Current Mood: weirdweird

Below is the view of the shuttle to the Dulles International terminal.  I keep feeling like I'm in a B5 episode.  Looking around the car to see if the Centari planted a "device" when the last group exited the shuttle.

TJ got to the gate quite a while after I did.  Apparently he was not as worried about making flights as I was, though he DOES seem a bit dubious.

We made it to Moscow! After failing to trust our guts about going to the counter labeled "TRANSIT" with our passports, we JUST made the connecting flight to Yerevan.  We discovered that even in Russia you need to take off your shoes to clear security. 


Feeling more and more like a B%episode, as the signs begin looking les and less readable and fewer and fewer instances of hearing English being spoken.

On the last leg of the flight.  I'll write and post more later, as I need to upload this and get off the internet before midnight to avoid more charges for its use.


A Youtube Tribute to Andrew Koenig

Posted on 2010.02.26 at 06:10
Current Mood: sadsad

Oest Vegemite

I had forgotten I had this on my cell phone

Posted on 2010.02.23 at 22:39
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
Current Music: Holst's The Planets
A brief glimpse of the asteroid belt along the Planet Hike this past summer at Oest:

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