To Sir, With Love

Once the scales started to fall from my eyes, I had no trouble accepting the fact that I had been swimming in a sea of racism all of my life. It was so ubiquitous that I noticed only the outliers, the most egregious examples.

  • Of course I was revolted by the horrible physical violence of the lynchings and beatings suffered by people of color
  • Of course I believed intellectually that black people should have the same advantages that I enjoyed
  • Of course I was in support of the civil rights movement in the sixties
  • Of course I believed that I had somehow missed being infected by a belief in white superiority, that those evil and moronic cross-burners out there had nothing to do with me
  • Of course …

My extended family of origin were all nice people. About as white as they could be. They would have been hurt if anyone had suggested that they were bigoted. And yet it was routine to describe haggling over prices with tradespeople as “Jewing them down.” The brazil nuts in our Christmas bowls of mixed nuts were more commonly called “niggertoes.” They were upset when a black family purchased a house on a previously all-white street, because they believed that property values were now going to plummet. They were swimming in that same sea that I did, and it has been said that fish do not notice the water around them because it is always there and everywhere. (But what do we really know about what fish think, eh?)

But there were moments when a bit of light would creep into that world. And for me some of those moments were provided by Sidney Poitier, who died this week. Let’s ignore the fact that he was tall, dark, handsome, and a fine actor. What radiated from him in his performances, and what he personified in his public life, was decency and courage. Especially that miles-deep decency.

So as I read this piece written by Charles Blow, I did so with appreciation for what Poitier had meant to me, and I reflected back on my own story. If I am to look for positives there, it is that underneath it all I think that I can see a painfully slow evolution at least in the direction of the sort of decency he represented so fully and seemingly effortlessly. And if I can just live long enough … .

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From The New Yorker

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I haven’t worn a necktie for the longest time. The occasions where such an accessory is needed just don’t come up like they once did. There are still a handful hanging in my closet to remind me of all those years where I was never without one, at least when at work. I don’t miss them, except for the fact that they allowed a guy to toss a bit of color or whimsy onto his person without having to explain it.

Rising each morning and trying to get that knot just right was a pain in the posterior, of course. This frustration once led me down a dark path where I wore those pre-tied things with the plastic wings that hid under your shirt collar. Shame brought me back to the real thing, however, after I had been outed as the pretender that I was and I was subjected to all sorts of verbal indignities by my peers. It was obvious that wearing irregularly knotted ties was easier on my self-image in the long run.

The last bunch of ties that I recall purchasing were some created by Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. They looked a lot like those over on the right.

Whimsy and color. That’s all I asked, and these provided both in abundance.

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From The New Yorker

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I didn’t get into personal computing at the dawn of the era, but jumped in happily in 1984 when the first Macintosh came out. At a local Team Electronics store, there was a single Mac sitting on a table, and customers were allowed to mess with it. So I sat down and within five minutes it was obvious that I needed one of those, and what a game-changer it was going to be, at least to the craft of writing.

And what was this epiphany composed of? Why, cut and paste is what, plus the ease with which copies could be made and the intoxicating possibility of endless corrections or changes to an original document. So I bought one and played with it like a kid with a new electric train from Santa.

But its real magic was revealed to me one winter night, perhaps a year later on. It was near midnight, and I had just returned home after spending tense hours with an ill child who still needed a diagnosis. I was tired but wired by the stressful evening’s happenings. So I turned on the machine, booted up the primitive browser of the time, and began searching for answers. Within an hour I had what I needed to ease my mind vis a vis the patient’s problems.

I sat back in my chair and thought about what had just happened. In the middle of a stormy snowy night, in a small town in South Dakota, an ordinary citizen had access to the world’s medical literature, with a gigantic searchable database at my fingertips. My mind was officially blown, and has never recovered.

If you can wade through the dross and the garbage on the present-day internet, that wonderful door to an infinitely larger world is still wide open. Those endless library shelves and digital volumes are out there on tap and all we have to do is flip a switch to get to them.

That’s why the internet was originally created – for scientists to share information across distances. And while you and I may not be working in a laboratory and need to collaborate with a group of physicists in Schenectady, we do have needs. The internet is our 24 hour sandbox to play in.

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