Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Societal Voyeurism

I was listening to Glenn Beck talk about the Hurricane Katrina disaster while driving yesterday morning. I often listen to Beck and Rush Limbaugh on the local AM talk radio station, mostly because the music radio stations are junk around here (thank you ClearChannel), and not because I agree with much of what they say. Often their comments are just stupid.

For example, Rush said yesterday that any attempt to tie global warming to the severity of the hurricane was left-wing propaganda. His logic was that if there was nothing humanity could do to stop the hurricane, even though we knew it was coming for days, then how is it possible that humanity could cause the hurricane in the first place? That’s just bad science and worse logic. I don’t know if he’s really that ignorant of science, or if he’s purposefully spouting falsehood to push his own personal agenda. Gee, I don’t know that the severity of this hurricane can be tied to global warming (but I suspect it might have been), or that global warming can be tied to anything being done by humanity (although I suspect it can). But just because we can't stop a hurricane doesn't mean we didn't start it (I think we find it hard to stop a nuclear bomb once the fission initiates).

One of Beck’s comments yesterday was that at some deep visceral level, he had been hoping that New Orleans would get nailed by the worse winds ever seen, and a storm surge 100 feet high. His staff cringed at the comment, as did I. But as he talked more about it, I found that he was describing a feeling I had too – we wanted something bad to happen for the entertainment value.

In my case, as an engineer, I’ve always wanted to see if those big pumps they have in New Orleans could really evacuate water from the city fast enough in a big rain. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt, or any property to be lost – I just wanted to see images of those big pumps spewing out millions of gallons of water.

It was fun to see images in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow” of New York City getting pummeled by tsunami then being frozen solid, all as a result in sea temperatures. We knew it wasn’t real, and no one would get hurt. Entertainment only.

Beck’s point was that we watch the news hoping to get the same kind of thrill. Unless you know someone personally who was killed, injured or wiped out by the hurricane, we just sit in front of the TV wondering what kind of astonishing image we’ll see next, and hoping it will give us a zing of some kind.

It’s not like we just got this way. Crowds have been gathering around disasters for as long as disasters have occurred to humanity. Our technology for conveying words and images has just gotten better.

New Orleans is in trouble for a good long time. The impact on the US will be widespread and personal. The first thing everyone is talking about is a spike on oil prices. My feeling is that oil companies use this kind of a event as an opportunity to lift prices significantly, and they will not let them fall back to the old levels. We’re gonna blow through $3.00/gal and stay above it permanently.

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast will consume a significant fraction of the country’s building supplies: plywood, drywall, wiring, piping, lumber, shingles, concrete and masonry products. Armies of workers will flock to the Gulf coast to participate in the rebuilding effort. Maybe that’s a good thing if it means the thousands of immigrants who have flooded our community go south to get these jobs and decide to stay down there.

Some fraction of the folks in that region will never want to experience anything like this again, and will relocate to other parts of the country. More seriously, some of the businesses who were down there are going to leave for good. Folks will find that when their house gets rebuilt, their job is gone.

I hope our political leaders are up to this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Being a Good Samaritan

I'm still trying to figure out how I should feel about being involved in building a Habitat for Humanity for a Muslim immigrant family. It's not about them being Muslim. Nor am I concerned that they are immigrants.It's a matter of priority to me. Should we be building houses for a family who has unity and faith and is just looking for a better place to live when we might instead use it as a tool to help break the cycle of poverty for an American family?

If we make a real difference in this cycle of poverty, we can impact deep problems such as unwed mothers, drug selling, violence, and school dropout rates. The objective of is not to help the poor folks stay poor more comfortably, it is to aid and mentor the children by helping them latch onto a future in which they have an opportunity to be fulfilled, contributing members of society.

We studied the parable of the Good Samaritan in Sunday School last Sunday. The pious Jews all walked by their fallen brother. It took the Samaritan -- someone from a culture in conflict with the Jews -- to stop and give aid -- and that aid was extraordinary. Jesus told this parable in response to a lawyer's question about how to achieve eternal life. Jesus' first answer was a question back to the lawyer: "what does the Law say?" The lawyer correctly answered that we must love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus then told him "Go and do likewise."

So I'm now of the mind that helping is helping, and it doesn't matter whether it is an immigrant family, or a family which is the decendents of slaves brought here 200 years ago.

Now I think my question is whether allocating $thousands to one Habitat house for one family is a better use of money than using that same amount of money to teach and mentor many children.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

School Funding Crisis in Ohio

This is an excerpt from an article published in the Columbus Dispatch this morning:

“Hilliard schools and Logan Elm, a Pickaway County district, both fell prey to a new provision that downgraded them to "continuous improvement" — the equivalent of a C — even though districtwide test scores could have given them higher ratings.

Hilliard, which met 21 of 23 state attendance, graduation and testing goals this year, had expected to maintain its "effective" rating, but dropped a rank because its Latino, English-as-asecond-language and specialneeds students did not meet state benchmarks.

One of the principles of No Child Left Behind is that a school or district isn’t succeeding if certain
kinds of students aren’t. Hilliard and Logan Elm ended up in "continuous improvement" because more than one subgroup of students has failed portions of math or reading tests for three consecutive years. “

This is going to boil over in our community. The school district is already in a financial crunch because the funding system is broken. The federal government is allowing hordes of legal and illegal immigrants to pour into unprepared communities, then turns around and dings us because they can't pass the No Child Left Behind requirements.

If the School Board puts a levy on the fall ballot, the debate will be ugly.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

USMC

Yesterday, we attended the graduation of my great-nephew, Aaron, from USMC Boot Camp at MCRD Parris Island SC.

I've known many Marines over the years, from with my time in Navy ROTC at Ohio State, through adulthood. There's something special about these men and women. They've done something few ever do -- survive Marine Basic Training and earn the title of US Marine. They've joined a community of professional warriors who remain bonded to each other throughout their lives.

My nephew is one. He's one of The Few, The Proud, The Marines.

I'm just proud. Way to go Aaron.

UPDATE July 4th 2006:
Aaron's unit, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, has now been in Iraq for several months now. They were recently written about in Time Magazine, as being in one of the tougher spot. He's manning the 50cal on the top of a Humvee as they sweep the cities looking for bad guys. He's had his helmet shot off his head, and has lost some hearing due to an Improvised Explosive Device going off near his vehicle.

UPDATE: Dec 2006. Aaron made it home safely from Iraq. His unit is schedule to redeploy as an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit sometime in 2007.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Habitat for Humanity for Whom?

An interesting phenomenon is happening here in central Ohio. Over the past several years, we have been getting an influx of immigrants from all over the world, and the rate of new arrivals seems to be accelerating. The largest groups are from Latin America and Africa. But even the homeless community is growing -- much faster than the rate people are becoming homeless in our community.

In more than one setting, I've heard similar comments for why this is. Perhaps the most succinct was by a homeless guy I was chatting with when our church group served dinner at one of the shelters downtown. He said, "Columbus is a great place to be homeless -- you guys have great programs for us" He wasn't a long-time resident of city who had fallen on bad times -- he was a professional homeless guy, and he migrated here to partake of our city's generosity!

I saw a broadcast of a community meeting where the director of social services for our city said that nearly all his clients were immigrants. At the same meeting, a representitive from the urban school system said that much of the resources of his department was being applied to dealing with immigrant kids who need language and socialization assistance.

If you go to one of the Dept of Motor Vehicles agencies around our part of town, it's like going to another country. The lines are full of immigrants seeking to take driver's tests and receive Ohio driver's licenses. It used to be that I could go to the local license agency in a nearby strip mall in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon, and find almost no line. Now there are lines all through the day.

Our church has become involved in two Habitat for Humanity house builds in the past year. The project we're working on now is a partnership of six churches. Both of these houses are being built in predominately African-American neighborhoods. In fact, one was built in a neighborhood that was formed by freed slaves after the Civil War.

Sounds like great places to build a Habitat house right? Except that both houses were 'sold' to immigrant families (the homeowner buys the house via an interest-free loan for the cost of the materials -- under $200 per month). What message is it sending to the African-American community when a bunch of white folks from uptown roll into their ghetto neighborhood, build a new house and essentially give it to an immigrant family?

I met a wonderful man last week named Jim Swearingen. He has built a ministry called CityVision in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. His mission is to break the cycle of poverty in the African-American community, and he's attacking the problem through the children. He gets them jobs so they don't have to do deliveries for the drug dealers to make money. He brings in tutors to help the kids find success in school. He tries to be a positive male role model for kids who typically live in single-parent homes headed by their mother. He's getting results. His neighborhood showed the biggest decrease in crime over the past few years of any inner city area.

The immigrant families are just that -- families. They come as a family group, and have strong bonds in their transplanted community. They are often well educated (the father of the family we're building the house for now is a physician). Certainly, the places they're coming from are truly bad, and we Americans have long been a place that accepts refugees. Most of the African immigrants are Muslim, and are able to come here and immediately plug into a community of other immigrants who share their faith and culture.

But it's gotten to the point where it's as though a beacon has been lit up in Columbus, signalling from people all over the world that our city has a bounty of wealth that we're just giving away to all that come.

So I'll say it: I don't think Habitat for Humanity should be building any more homes in our city for immigrant families. Instead, I think the local Habitat chapter should team up with folks like Jim Swearingen and begin to use these houses as a tool in breaking the cycle of poverty and the culture of poverty in the African-American community.

Swearingen told us a story about a family where the kids were raised by a single mother, with the father pretty much out of the picture. Jim's ministry worked with the children, helped them be successful in school, and make a start in college. One of the boys in this family fell in love with, and married a girl he had met in the program. The example Jim and the kids set motivated the boy's parents to get married and raise the younger siblings in a two-parent home.

These are the folks I think we should build Habitat houses for -- the ones who a clawing their way out poverty. The immigrants are welcome, but there's some dues to be paid to our society before you get all the benefits of membership. They're coming to a land that is what it is because hundreds of millions of folks paid their dues -- many with their lives. Some in war, and some in slavery.

But most of us pay our way by just getting up each morning and doing something that someone else is willing to pay for -- that has economic value. Rather than being a burden on society, we earn our own living, contribute to the common good, and are the most charitable people on the planet.

I think we're being taken advantage of.

UPDATE January 2006
Just for curiosity, I drove past the home that our Habitat team build last year for a Mauritanian family. Right there on the side of the house was a brand new dishTV antenna. I think the cheapest Dish service is about $50/mo, plus the purchase cost of the equipment. I have to ask whether this family was the best choice for the Habitat house. They obviously have at least $50/mo of disposible income that they feel is better allocated to their TV service than to many other things I would think are higher on the list if they are trying to build a new life in a America. Now I'm sure we're being taken advantage of.

Monday, August 8, 2005

The Lamberts

WASP -- White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. If I had to pick any one catch-phrase to best describe my hometown, this one would do. Take a look at the high school yearbook, and the names you'll see will be Smith, Kelly, Whitman, Parker, Young, Fields, Coleman, Bradley, Hess, and Lambert. I don't remember anyone talking about "the old country," and I don't remember thinking of myself as anything but American. Okay, I knew that on my Mom's side, everyone was German and they all came in the great wave of immigrants in the late 1800s. But Mom was orphaned when she was 11 years old, so I never got to know her parents, nor hear stories of the prior generations. One point of interest is that Mom's father and others of his family headed to Panama to work on the Panama Canal when the US took over from the French. Mom and her siblings were all born in the Panama Canal Zone, as was one of my sisters and several cousins.

We have some decent documentation on the families of my two grandmothers. Grandmother Lambert was a Van Hoose, and we have a large book listing hundreds of members of that family, all the way back to the immigrant who came over from Holland in the 1600s. Grandmother Hirsh was a King, and we have a pretty good list which was put together by Judith King several years ago. But there are no such books on the Lambert or Hirsh families. My Dad has been working on Lambert geneology for years, so here's a little of the story:

My grandmother Lambert was a Van Hoose by birth. Her family lived in eastern Kentucky, where her father was a pastor. Granddad Lambert was a electrician for the C&O Railroad, the company that brought his father from the family homestead in southeastern Ohio to live in Huntington WV, a town that came into existence to serve the needs of the railroad. My grandparents met at some church function in Huntington WV or Russell KY, or some little town in that area. One of granddad's responsibilities was to replace all the oil fired lamps on steam locomotives with electric lamps. He installed the steam-powered dynamo on the engine, ran all the necessary wiring, and installed the lighting system. For a while he was posted at the engine shop in Thurman WV, well known today to the many people who enjoy whitewater rafting on the New River (also also the town in which the movie
Matewan was filmed). Soon after my dad was born, in Huntington, granddad moved the family to Charleston WV to take a job with duPont, who had opened a major facility in the Kanawha Valley.

As much as Mom talked about the German roots of her side of the family, I never grew up with any sense of where my Lambert side came from. After Dad retired, he and his brother Bill became very interested in Lambert geneology. What they found is that the Lamberts and the Van Hooses came to the New World a long time ago, with the very early settlers.

The Van Hoose ancestors arrived in New Amderstam (New York City) in the mid 1600s. They soon moved further inland, buying farmland from the Mohawk indians. They were stonemasons and farmers by trade. As happens when families grow, the eldest sibling gets the farm and the rest have to strike out on their own. That why my Van Hoose ancenstors eventually headed west on the Ohio River and made a place for themselves in Kentucky. The complete history of the Van Hoose family is well documented in a thick book that my Dad keeps by his chair.

The Lambert history is less well documented than the Van Hoose family, in part because the courthouses that archived public records like birth/marriage/death certificates all burned down at one point or another. We don't know who the immigrant was, but we do know my direct ancestor (a great ... great grandfather) was named Josiah, and that he was born in 1744 in New Jersey. We don't know for sure where the Lamberts came from, but one researcher Dad contacted said that Josiah spoke 'German.' I don't think of Lambert as being a German name, and never ran into a Lambert in Germany. However, once when I was in Luxembourg, one of my hosts said my ancestors must be Luxembourgish because there are tons of Lamberts there. I think the truth may be that the Lamberts were from the region of Europe called the Alsace-Lorraine, where the French-speaking and German-speaking cultures are mishmashed together.

Josiah served as an ensign in the American Navy during the Revolutionary War, and was taken prisoner at one point by the British. As was the case with most Revolutionary War veterans, he was granted land 'out west' instead of being paid cash for his service. The land Josiah was given was in Pennsylvania, but he decided at some point to upgrade his land holdings by selling his land in PA and buying a larger tract of land in southeastern Ohio, in what is called Lawrence County today. Josiah is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, near Ironton OH.

During the Civil War, my great-great... grandfather Thorton Lambert served as an enlisted man in the 10th Ohio Cavalry. I'm not sure which battles he fought in, but he was injured at Petersburg when his horse fell on him. At point point he was accused of desertion (a huge problem in the Civil War), but actually he had merely gone back to his home to heal up and recover from a repiratory problem. Eventually he and the Army got things squared away. He is buried in the Lambert/Russell cemetery near Aid OH.

I don't really remember my Great-grandfather Lambert, and have only tiny memories of my great-grandmother. But I knew my Grandfather Lambert (Pappaw) and Grandmother (Mammaw) very well. From ages about 4 to 10, we lived in a home on my grandparents' property, about 100 yards away from their home. It was very cool living in this extended family setting, having breakfast before school with my granddad and father in Mammaw's huge country kitchen (2 stoves, three ovens, giant sink). They then took off together to their jobs at the duPont plant, and I caught the bus to school.

It really sucked when Pappaw retired and they moved to Florida in 1964. After that, we saw them about once per year, usually in the summer when Dad took two or three week's vacation and we drove down to Florida. Those were fun times as the grandparents had a big house on the water with a swimming pool and a boat dock. But it wasn't like having them next door.

Pappaw rose from being an electrician at duPont to being the Electrical Superintendent for the huge duPont complex in
Charleston. Along the way, he was posted in other duPont operations, notably their ammonia production facility in Birmingham AL. It was there that he developed two of his patents, including the variable speed motor control. During WWII, duPont was tasked by the War Department to build and operate one of the most secret and important facilities that has even been built -- the plutonium production facility in Hanford WA -- a key component of the Manhattan Project.

Even though he had never been to college, Pappaw had taught himself everything there was to know about electrical engineering, and was assigned to the Manhattan Project as the manager in charge of all electrical power generation and distribution. I've read much about duPont's success at Hanford, and wish I Pappaw could be around still to teach me about. Interestingly, when he was still alive, he considered much of what he did to be classified, and would only talk in generalities.

My dad, who will celebrate his 83rd birthday this year, grew up in the shadow of the duPont plant in Charleston, and in fact graduated from duPont High School. He started college at Marshall University, but this was in the middle of WWII, and the call to duty eventually got to him. He joined the pilot cadet program, but with the ending of the war in Europe, the cadet program was cancelled and he was reassigned to radar technician's school. In 1945, he was assigned to the B-29 squadrons in Tinian. During the summer of 1945, he flew on several bombing missions over Japan. In July, the top-secret 509th Composite Bomb Group arrived on Tinian. They were kept segregated on another part of the island, and no one knew that on August 6th, the 509th would drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Dad's plane flew the post-drop photo assessment mission over Nagasaki. On the day of the surrender signing, Dad's plane was one of many that overflew Tokyo Harbor and the USS Missouri (see picture below).

After the war, Pappaw and Dad came back the duPont plant in Charleston, both retiring after 40 years service -- Pappaw in the 1960s and Dad in the 1980s.

Dad still lives on Pappaw's former property. He's been alone since Mom passed away, but is being checked on weekly by his step-granddaughter-in-law, Rita Shaffer. More of his story at another time.

Glad he was my Dad, and proud to be a Lambert