The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

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Rather, they have been here all along and top administration officials in previous Executive branch positions have either ignored them and benefited from it, or allowed them and benefited from it. Either way, the evidence that the Russians are playing freely on American soil and in American cyberspace appears to be mounting – and this isn’t just a Trump issue, this is an issue that was prevalent long before him.

The interesting thing is this all took place during James Comey’s FBI. Another big questions is, if this was going on while he was the head of the FBI, why was this issue not raised during the past administration, like screamed from a mountain top! Or why wasn’t it raised during the presidential election when a Clinton was running and clearly benefitted from the arrangement outlined in the article?

There are a lot of things the need to be questioned here AND why isn’t this all over the media?

See the article and link below:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Source: FBI uncovered Russian bribery plot before Obama administration approved controversial nuclear deal with Moscow | TheHill

And an UPDATE:

Senate Judiciary opens probe into Obama-era Russian nuclear bribery case

 

What if you could rewrite your life?

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Ever have one of those days?

Ever have one of those days where the “What ifs…” begin to wander in and you start to think about what you would have done differently? What you would do if you could go back and start over?

I am not having one of those days; but, as my pen lay on the notepad in front of me, I had a moment of creative inspiration with an app on my phone so I decided to record it and create. I guess, for a moment, I was being philosophical.

So, tell me, have you had one of those days? Or, moments? Tell me your “blank page” moment/story in the comments – what would you do if you could rewrite your life?

Transitioning from the classroom

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Over a year ago I stepped out of the classroom as a high school teacher (after 15 years) and began a new career in software support. I am still in education, technically, since I work for an educational service district and I am supporting the school information systems used by a large number of school districts in my state. It has been a good move and I don’t regret it at all – except that I miss “my kids” and the conversations about history and current events.

Anyway, my last post on this format was about a “branching out” of sorts. Not really in the sense of something completely new, but in the sense that it gave me an outlet to share some of the fun memories I gathered over the years, and it also helped me keep a “promise” (to publish) to “my kids” by getting their words out there for them to enjoy again.

There are, however, still two areas from my teaching career that I am trying to figure out what to do with. And by figure out, I mean how or what do I do with some of the resources I created over those years? Lots of work and time went into them so it would be nice to get something from them. So, now I have links to them here on the blog (over there in the margin on the right) with the hopes that at some point they may get some traffic and generate…something.

The first thing is what to do with all those teaching materials I created over the years. A few years back I found a website called Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT), where teachers can post their work and make a little extra money while saving fellow teaScreen Shot 2017-10-12 at 1.34.47 PMchers time and money. I started posting my teaching materials on the website and lo-and-behold, people started buying it! I have continued to post materials up there over the last year and I am starting to see a nice return (it could always be more!) on my work. I don’t think it will ever make me rich, but it is something and at some point may produce a little extra spending money. As of now, I think I have solved this dilemma.

The other thing that I created a couple of years ago was a “classroom website.” I got to the point in my class that I was tired of trying to keep track of all the places on the internet I would like my students to go and all the materials I needed them to have (even when they were absent). So, over the summer a few years ago I spent my hours designing and creating a website so that it could be used as a supplement to my classroom instruction. It worked out far better than I could have imagined and the students appreciated having access to the materials (really, I promise) even when they were not at school. Since leaving teaching, I have kept the website (though I have done little updating to this point) but I am not sure what to do with it at this point. I think it may still be useful to some degree so I don’t want to give it up quite yet until I explore some possibilities, but I am just now sure on what to do. Suggestions? I am looking for some hints or helpful tips that might make the work I did in the past and how I can use that to my advantage going into the future. Leave a suggestion in the comments if you have any advice at all. Note: Some pages are password protected because there is material there that is copyrighted.

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If you are interested, you can visit the two sites by clicking on the links (TPT or Grenz History) or over there on the right side of the page. I would appreciate any feedback you can give me. If you know someone who is a history teacher (specifically US/American history, Civics, American Government, Contemporary Issues, Current World Issues), I would appreciate a recommendation for at least a look. Again, some feedback would be nice.

Branching out, er, expanding?

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Just a quick note to have you take a look at the new page on the blog. You’ll find it up there in the top next two “Home,” “About,” and “Contact.” If you can’t figure it out from all the hints, try looking for “Stupid Board: Classroom Quotes.” There is an explanation about what it is and where to look as well.

Happy viewing, and I hope you will be intrigued enough to join me on Instagram as well!

Tragedies Shouldn’t Serve Political Agendas

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre, I have struggled with what to say. Words can’t really express the sorrow, the hurt, the grieving that some must feel and offering words of condolence sometimes feels hollow when you feel helpless. Yet, words of condolence and understanding are all that can really be offered at this time.

I am not a victim and I don’t know anyone personally (at least not to my knowledge as of now) that was affected. What I do know is that bad stuff often happens to good people and there really isn’t anything we can do about it. That isn’t comforting, I know, but unfortunately humans do bad things to each other and until something changes in our hearts, people always will.

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One of the reasons I have struggled to find words to write is that there are always those who use tragedies to pursue their political agenda. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle they are on, they just try to use it for political capital in their fight to enact their agenda. No time to grieve. No time to mourn. No time to comfort. Just straight to the microphone and soapbox.

There are discussions that have to be had, that is for sure. But they need to be done rationally, in a time set apart from the tragedy so that knee-jerk reactions don’t add to or become a part of the problem – or worse, have unintended consequences that create larger issues. Time, they say, heals all wounds. How much time? Well, “they” have never said but I am pretty sure they didn’t mean hours, or days, or maybe even weeks after something so horrific.

Let’s just take a step back and breathe for a minute, or three.

Then let’s talk. With reason, rather than emotion.

 

 

Gaffigan and Giggles

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That is one happy girl! Tickets to Jim Gaffigan’s “Noble Ape” tour.

She waited a long time for this night, since April in fact. We asked her what she would like for her birthday – something tangible or an experience – weeks in advance and she chose an experience. Before her birthday arrived, the chance to do something we knew she enjoyed came up on Groupon so we took the opportunity to get something she would enjoy. We knew she would enjoy it because she has enjoyed every one of the Jim Gaffigan’s specials on Netflix. So, now was her chance.

It was hard for her to wait, I mean, it was almost six months before she could enjoy her birthday present. She has watched him on Netflix over and over. She has listened to him on Spotify over and over. She has been patient, though it was hard. But the tour had finally arrived in Seattle and off we went! And as we went, she played DJ in the car and we listened to tunes the whole trip.

First Stop

Our first stop was for dinner. I asked her about where she wanted to stop but she didn’t have too many ideas. I mentioned a couple of places, but nothing sounded like it was a winner with her until I mentioned a place we have gone to several times for different trips to “the big city.” We didn’t want to battle too much downtown Seattle traffic so we decided to grab a favorite just north of town. It’s cheap, it’s greasy, but it is fairly tasty.

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It just so happened that this evening there was also a Washington Husky game in town, so there were lots of people in the parking lot and a wide variety of people to watch as we downed our food. It was certainly a happening place while we were there…but it was also dinner time too!

Seattle Center

After dinner we headed down to Seattle Center. We knew we would have time to kill so we found some parking and wandered around the iconic area, the place of the 1962 World’s Fair.

As it turns out, there was a festival going on with people wandering around with aromatic food and colorful clothing. There was music too! Again, there were lots of different people to watch and we found an art gallery that was open so we wandered that to start with.

We saw the sights, we took pictures, we “played tourist” as she said.

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Jim Gaffigan – The Noble Ape

We stood in line and did the now ever-present security check to get into the event. This process was a little different from what I was used to going through at a sporting event, but we made it through fairly quickly and made our way to our seats in Key Arena…our seats clear up in the “nose bleed” section (second row from the top, if you must know). I actually expected to have a little better seats than we got for the price I paid, but I guess that is for another discussion, another day.

We watched people come and go. We discussed the music the house was playing – all seeming favorites of hers, all very current. We talked about the other artist’s tours that were coming and which ones she would like to go to. We just had a nice time visiting. Laughing. Joking. Testing each other’s knowledge of the music.

Then came “the warning.” The warning about not filming or taking pictures during the performance (yeah, like that is going to be happening…I mean, not me of course…) so we took some pictures before it started. Really, there wasn’t much to see in the one I took. (I tried to scale it to what it actually looked like instead of blowing it up and making it look like something better than it was.)

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Inside Key Arena – view from our seats

The opening act (can’t remember his name) was pretty good and we laughed. I am not sure how much she totally got – I mean, he was talking about being a guy in his 50s and the aches and pains that go along with age so she couldn’t really relate, but I could. I think she enjoyed watching me laugh at the jokes. I could be wrong. I am, after all, her dad…

We both really enjoyed Gaffigan though. Even for as much as we have watched and listened to him prior to the performance, he really did have mostly new material. There was only a little bit that was a repeat from other shows and, as my daughter put it, “he expanded on the topic a little more tonight.”

What I loved was watching her. What I loved was watching her laugh uncontrollably with a smile as big as her face. She giggled. Her eyes sparkled. She was having a good time and memories were made, that was the goal.

It was over too fast. The performance, that is. It seemed like it had just gotten started and then it was over and time to file out of The Key like cattle. We walked back through Seattle Center and stopped to take a couple more pictures, specifically one that would kind of encapsulate the whole evening – an early and late picture of the Space Needle (almost three hours apart).

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Space Needle – 6pm & 9pm

We piled back into the car and made our way back north to home. We talked about what we liked best about the show. She can be rather insightful when she wants to be! The conversation didn’t last long though. She was ready to play DJ once again and we rocked out to a wide variety of music (even some old 80’s music “just for me,” but she likes it too).

As she gets older, and busier, I cherish these times. I know they will get fewer and farther between, but for tonight it was perfect. Just giggles, smiles, and laughter perfect.

9/11: Inside and Outside Perspectives

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So we may never forget…

Every year as a history teacher I used to be faced with the reality that the anniversary of 9/11 also came very close to the beginning of the year. I was always challenged with the question, What do I do to commemorate the anniversary in my classroom this year?

It actually is an easy question, aside from the myriad of choices I had at my disposal. I mean there are a plethora of sites, organizations, and materials that are available to these days so there is no shortage. But, the harder part was always what can I use to help students who were barely alive, at the time of the attack, understand the scope of the attack while also helping them to understand the feelings of the day. That is a much harder task because helping students connect to historical events is really tough. So, I had two videos that were really the mainstay to my instruction and let to larger, more in-depth units later in the year or even to following year.

In most cases, I would start their exposure to the subject during their junior year since I had them for US History. It is, of course, an American historical event. The following year, as seniors, I would pick up where I left off in their exposure and delve more deeply into the background and aftermath of 9/11 via units in my Contemporary Issues class. This would allow them to develop a deeper understanding with a more complete history of the event instead of just a simple moment of commemoration.

Two invaluable resources are shown above and each are briefly described below.

Inside Perspective: 9/11

There is of course really only one video that can be used for this purpose. What was it like inside the Twin Towers that day? While this can’t be fully known, there is only one surviving video from inside the towers that day and it is the one shot by the Naudet brothers, Jules and Gedeon, as they were recording a documentary about become a New York firefighter. The video, 9/11, is or should be essential watching, really for all Americans.

Perspective. Always an important thing to consider. There is no better video to show students what it was like inside the towers. I really believe this is a MUST SEE for students.

If you would like to see this video (if you haven’t, or want to remember) you can see it on YouTube, in its entirety (here / here / here), though it is hard to tell for how long as it is copyrighted. I have included several links just in case one or more becomes unavailable. It is also available for sale from many of the popular shopping sites.

Outside Perspective: 9/11 Day that Changed the World

Again, I believe there are questions that have to be answered and students often wonder after watching the first video, What was going on outside the buildings and what were our leaders doing while the attack was happening? This video answers both those questions with incredible insight so this was also an important video for them to see.

This video takes actual news footage, firefighter and police radio broadcasts, phone calls, hijacker cockpit radio transmissions, air traffic control conversations, and weaves it together with interviews of the most important people (except President Bush) who had a role that day. This video was put together by the Smithsonian Channel for the 10 year anniversary of the attack, therefore giving the people who were responsible for running the country and cities a chance to put a little time and perspective into their insights. The video is extremely powerful as it bounces between cities as the timeline of the attack unfolds and then incorporates the interviews of the officials

This video is currently available on YouTube as well (here / here). It is also available to order at the usual places online.

Final Thought

It is important to remember 9/11. We can never forget what led to it, and the profound affects it had on our nation moving forward from it. There were implications in and to all facets of life. We must never forget – ever.

 

**Please be aware that both of the videos deal with sensitive topics and show some alarming scenes. Do not let that discourage you from showing them to students, however be sensitive that each student may handle to emotions differently and react differently. It is always good to follow up each viewing with a discussion to process what they saw, what they felt, and how it impacts them.**

The Ministry of Objectionable Materials

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Doesn’t it seem as if life in the United States is getting more and more surreal every day? It almost appears that we are watching scenes from a movie unfold before our eyes. Movie scenes we thought we would never see in our country. The events on the East coast over the last couple weeks just make it more and more clear we are headed for a change and I don’t think it is a good one.

As most of my readers know (at least I hope so), I am a history guy. I think it can be very useful to study it and think it is more important than ever to teach it (something our schools and society doesn’t think is important any longer, but that’s another discussion). No, I am not in the classroom any longer, but there are times like the last couple of weeks that make me wish I was still there.

History is being made. Every day. Good. Bad. Ugly.

At the moment, I believe we are headed into the bad…into a scene from a movie I never thought I would see in real life. I used to show it in class because it provides a good example of how a government can become oppressive, but also how the people of a country can allow it to get that way – mostly because they DEMAND it to become that way.

I used the movie V for Vendetta in my classroom as I wrapped up my unit on the Constitution with my seniors. It is an awesome teaching movie as it uses lots of references and allegories that are historically based as well as great examples of what a government shouldn’t be (and how our Constitution should keep it from getting that way). Plus, it’s just kind of a cool but that isn’t really for discussion here.

What is important is one of the things it references in passing, a government organization called “The Ministry of Objectionable Materials.”  The female lead character asks the main character where he got all of the works of art, film, music, etc. (because she obviously knew they were all banned materials) and he responds by saying he stole it back from the government (see clip).

Apparently we are demanding this of our government now. Any by this, I mean that we are asking out government to protect us (or better yet, others) from things we find objectionable. We are doing it because we have many in society who can’t handle our own history. We would rather run and hide from our history than learn from it or, perhaps we’d rather run to hide history because we’ve still not learned from it.

lenin-statueThis is offensive,” said Tony Barger. “This should be taken down. This is an actual Russian relic and should not be here on American soil.”

History is beautiful. History is ugly. History demonstrates many successes, but it also exposes many failings too. That is why it is important not to hide it away. As Americans we should certainly want to learn from the “historical black eyes”, we ourselves have put into our own history. We certainly shouldn’t want to tear down or hide our history. As Americans we should celebrate the successes we’ve had, and I honestly believe we have had more success than failure.

Tearing down our past and hiding it away isn’t going to make our history any better, but it just might make it worse. Public memory fades fast, probably faster than any of us would really like. If we don’t have reminders of the past before us, we will forget it. Does that mean we should keep monuments commemorating our “historical black eyes”? Yes, even if they offend. They are important reminders to times that were not so good and they also represent mile markers in our road to success.

There will be some who use those monuments as a rallying point to their agenda or beliefs, but they typically represent a minority point of view and while it may be disgusting they are within their rights to believe, and assemble, as they wish (the Supreme Court says so and the ACLU helped, surprisingly). As a society we need to work to change their views, but we can’t do it the way it is being done right now. The more attention you give it, the worse it will get. Think of it along the lines of a bug bite – if you leave it alone (not ignore it) it will go away faster but the more you scratch it, the longer it sticks around (sometimes opening it up so it can fester into something more/worse).

Obviously, we can’t ignore it. Nothing just goes away on its own. Hostatues-removed-at-ut-austin-20174518-700x467wever, if not given attention on a grand scale, it will diminish. Fire, as destructive as it can be, if left alone eventually burns itself out. The president of the University of Texas wrote a letter to students just before classes resumed for the fall. He made some good points, but I can’t help but think he only provided fuel for a fire that wasn’t burning (at least not brightly). Instead, by giving a voice to the small fire that may have burned there on campus, he most likely made things worse.

Where should the Ministry of Objectionable Material stop? Where does the line get drawn? Who gets to decide where the line is drawn? When do we stop getting our feelings hurt? When do we stop getting offended by nearly everything around us?

For some more food for thought, check below.

Truman and Free Speech

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“There is no more fundamental axiom of American freedom than the familiar statement: In a free country, we punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have. And the reason this is so fundamental to freedom is not, as many suppose, that it protects the few unorthodox from suppression by the majority. To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…But we would betray our finest traditions if we attempted…to curb the simple expression of opinion. This we should never do, no matter how distasteful the opinion may be to the vast majority of our people…We need not fear the expression of ideas—we do need to fear their suppression.”

– President Harry S. Truman

Context: fighting communism in the United States and around the world.

The emphasis above is mine. One of the most important freedoms we have is under attack and I’m afraid it will only get worse. The attacks are coming fast and furious and from every side. I doubt there will be a turn from this trend, only a charging straight into an unknown and dark future.

“We punish men for the crimes they commit, but never for the opinions they have”

We have sunk so low these days that we are punishing people for their opinions. I don’t mean we are legally punishing them, though I suspect we aren’t far off from this. (On second thought, maybe we are – see the baker, the florist, the photographer, the wedding venue, etc. being prosecuted because of their beliefs and opinions.)

We are now punishing people in the public arena via social media, sometimes even to the point of violence off-line. There is no crime in holding an opinion and expressing it, yet many people apparently believe it is these days. The trend to punish people for their opinions has gone to name calling, bullying, harassing, taunting, threatening, unfriending, embarrassing, humiliating, and in some cases even following through with physical violence simply because someone disagrees with another person’s opinion or disagrees with their extreme viewpoint.

Take this student photo article as an example. No harm done, to anyone, by her posting a photo she is proud of. It is easy to imagine that anyone would post a picture they have when they got it while interacting with someone famous. So, when did it become acceptable to treat someone so poorly because you disagree with them?

We teach our kids in school not to bully, harass, threaten, or otherwise make someone uncomfortable (Really? Because that’s reality…). Yet, there is no reasonable expectation among the adult world that this will carry forth into daily life. We aren’t practicing what we preach. It brings to mind that whole “Do what I say, not what I do” adage.

Now, it appears at least as adults, we celebrate people who go out of their way to bully, harass, or even attack others who have opinions that don’t line up with mainstream opinion. We are teaching our kids that it is ok to fight detestable and offensive opinions with violence and intimidation and bullying and harassment, etc. as long as we believe it to be repugnant.

The whole point of the United States and it’s foundation was to protect free speech, even the kind we find repugnant. Our Founders, who were persecuted for their beliefs and opinions, are celebrated because they fought against a society that believed their ideas were repugnant. (Back to the whole historical argument – were our Founders patriots or terrorists? It depends on your point of view.) Our Constitution is meant to protect all ideas and opinions, even the ones we don’t like, because we are supposed to have a “marketplace of ideas”. Take the ones you like and leave the ones you don’t. There is nothing in the Constitution about convincing others they are wrong by bullying and harassing them into changing their idea.

Truman understood that “To permit freedom of expression is primarily for the benefit of the majority because it protects criticism, and criticism leads to progress…”  He understood that if there is a problem in society it needed to be discussed and worked on until it was fixed. If there is a belief that our country is going in the wrong direction, then there needs to be open dialogue about it not suppression and violence.

If we become a society that suppresses ideas we don’t like or find repugnant, how do we move forward? Censorship at every corner and in every facet of life? I know everyone hates the cliche “slippery slope,” but we are seeing some prime examples these days. Where does the suppression of ideas or thoughts, or opinions end? What one person finds objectionable, another finds acceptable. Who gets to decide in a open and free society?

 

 

 

“Can you please call the police”

I think we are far enough removed from this event that I can finally write about it. Probably. I mean, it was a bit traumatic at the moment but everything ended fine.

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The screen shot above is an email from my wife. It was sent to me while I was at work, coming from her while she was at work. I froze and my heart stopped…

Was she serious? I wasn’t sure. It had come in 10 minutes prior to me seeing it in my inbox. Was it too late? I needed answers, but I was frozen and I’m not sure my heart was beating…

I grabbed my phone. Texted her:

“Are you serious? Or are you joking?”

“Not joking,” or “serious,” was the quick, short response that flashed onto my screen. To be honest, I am not sure I remember what her response was. All I know is that it confirmed my fears.

At the time I received the email, I was in my classroom teaching history to juniors, or seniors, but that doesn’t really matter. What mattered was my wife was in trouble and I was at least an hour away, I had a room full of students, and I couldn’t panic in front of them or really even alarm them. So, I stepped out of the room with my phone and called the police.

The 911 operator answered and I explained what what going on. That my wife and the other woman in her office were in a situation they didn’t know how to get out of and they weren’t sure how the man would react if he was provoked. The operator asked for an address and said the officers were on their way.

One problem, among many, is that mental illness isn’t dealt with. Often it is ignored, especially in the homeless society that lives right under our noses most days. Is there a better way to help those who need it? Are we wasting money on social services that aren’t needed instead of spending it on social services that are? If someone has a mental illness and they are homeless, are we doing them injustice by allowing them to fend for themselves instead of institutionalizing them and getting them help? Hard questions.

As it turns out, but the time the police got to my wife’s office the man had already stepped outside and was standing out front of the building. When the police arrived, they talked to him out front and they talked with my wife and the other woman in the office. They knew him. They had dealt with him previously, and according to them he was harmless. They talked to him some more and then he walked away towards the bus stop near the office building. The police left.

That was it. It was over. Nothing happened.

Needless to say, the women in the office were a little shaken but they continued to work. They have seen many homeless people wander through the parking lot of that office building. They continue to do their job.

That moment in my classroom, looking at an email from my wife who was in trouble, has stuck with me. Talk about a helpless feeling. Talk about thoughts of the worst going through your head. Panic.

I can’t help but wonder, are there other stories out there like mine, like my wife’s? Tell them to me in the comments. What would you do if you received a message like the one I got?