Friday, December 7, 2007

Harlan Albert Walls, Sr. (1913-1998)

Note: I originally published this on August 20, 1998 at a website that has since disappeared from cyberspace. This being Harlan Walls' birthday, it seemed appropriate to republish it here...

The greatest man I ever knew died on Monday.

Harlan Walls, about 1995Harlan Walls was 84 and had lived as rich and as full a life as most men ever dreamed of. On Friday, I will get to help carry him to his grave in Tazewell County's rich earth.

The last of seven sons, the 12th of 13 children for Andy Reid Walls and Martha Ann Jestes Walls, Granddad was born in Coalfield (Morgan County), Tennessee, on Dec. 7, 1913.

In 1938 he married Anna Clemons.

Granddad's family made a living from coal in Tennessee. And when he finished his degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Tennessee, he was offered a way out of coal country: the Tennessee Valley Authority offered him a job. But one of his professors at UT told him that the TVA was just a political program and probably wouldn't exist in a few years. So Granddad turned it down and went to work instead in the coal industry. It was a story he told often and with a smile; he never seemed to regret that twist of fate...

Before long coal brought my Granddad to Buchanan County, Va., and to Jewell Smokeless Coke and Coal. Until 1964 he was Jewell's general manager. Then he moved to Diamond Coal in Pike County, Ky., where he was a vice-president until his retirement in 1980.

He and Grandma lived in Richlands, Va., in Tazewell County.

But Granddad's life extended far beyond the coal industry.

  • He was a fairly active member of the Baptist Church.
  • He served on the Richlands Town Planning Commission and the Tazewell County School Board.
  • He was part of a Kiwanis Club.
  • He started the first scholarship program at Southwest Virginia Community College, near Richlands.
  • And he served on the Board of Directors for Virginia Intermont College - a Baptist school near Bristol, Va.
All of that falls short of summing up the greatness of Harlan Walls.

Granddad was the happiest man I ever meet. He smiled reflexively. He rarely seemed threatening in what anger or dissatisfaction he might have occasionally displayed.

Grandad loved his gardenAmong my earliest memories is the ride from my childhood home in Georgia to the mountains of Virginia. The grass was greener, the sky was bluer, the water was clearer and even the bricks of the town's houses were a different shade of red.

I remember that Granddad cooked the best pork ribs on Earth. I remember wishing that when I got old enough to cook, Granddad would give me the recipe that he teasingly claimed was a secret when I was a boy.

I remember that even in those rare moments when Harlan Walls actually was too busy for me (or someone else) as a child, he took pains to be sure that he never seemed too busy.

And I remember that few people ever left Granddad with anything but a smile.

That strength of character, that graciousness in dealing with people and what always seemed to me to be an ability to do anything he wanted to, and do it well -- those things come close to summing up why Granddad was the greatest man I ever knew, but they are still not a sufficient explanation. And that truth is that some of the man's greatness defies explanation...

Death takes all...

When the funeral arrangements for Granddad began to be finalized, the idea of reading a poem was suggested. Dylan Thomas immediate leapt to mind:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at break of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

But Granddad had specifically requested that another poem be read - a poem with almost the opposite message. The poem he asked for, only a day before his death, was William Cullen Bryant's Thanatopsis.

Dylan Thomas's poem is about a common experience: we all lose people we love. Thomas was writing about his experience watching his own father die. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night is the poem for anyone who has been the cheerleader, watching someone else die.

Thanatopsis is about a rarer experience. It is a poem about facing personally the arrival of the appointed hour of death. The poem acknowledges that everyone dies, and suggests that we have a choice: we can go to the grave like a slave being beaten into submission; or we can go to the grave with grace and dignity, as if we are simply moving to a new home.

Making fruitcake...Few people get the chance to actually face death. We see death take others much more often than we see it coming for us. Granddad was afforded that privilege. Cancer tested my Granddad's character and personality and had little impact on him. At the age of 84, after being told he had a tumor in his lung that would probably kill him, he continued to mow his own grass, worry about his tomatoes and speak at college dinners.

And when the time came, Granddad faced death, and embraced it almost at will. When his life seemed spent and living made no more sense, he stopped living - before anyone really expected it.

May God grant that I do as well - both in death and in life...

Bettercaring Offers Nursing Home Answers in the UK

No one really likes to think about nursing homes. We all hope that we'll never need one to care for a loved one and we'll never face the possibility of living in one ourself. But the reality is that with today long life expectancies, eventually we will come to a time when we will need help in life on a more or less constant basis - help that is more than our lived ones alone can provide for us.

As you consider the options available when that time comes, take a look at Bettercaring. According to their website, Bettercaring is a dedicated service for anyone who needs answers to crucial questions about care for themselves or their loved ones. The website is easy to navigate and provides all kinds of useful information - including regular features on health issues, a forum where online visitors can discuss nursing home care, and a search database for finding registered care nursing homes in the United Kingdom.

Bettercaring is an excellent source of information on nursing homes for residents of the UK.

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was financially compensated for this post...

The Disconnect: Syndromes, Disorders, and Special Education

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup.

The Disconnect between syndromes, disorders, and conditions on the one hand and placement in Special Education on the other is sometimes hard to explain to parents. This is a look at why...
February 21, 2006 - It is not always easy to explain to a parent why their child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or Dyslexia, etc. is assigned to a particular special education placement and someone else's child with the SAME DISORDER or condition is assigned to a DIFFERENT placement. The explanation becomes even more difficult when the parent's child is denied special education services and someone else they know has a child with the same disorder that IS placed in special education...

Special education law and practice places students in a special education environment based on a variety of factors. While some special education placements are straightforward (a blind child is, after all, blind and a deaf child is deaf - though in either case those may not be their only problems), others are not so clear cut. Special education law places students in particular categories based on educational issues, not as the result of a medical diagnosis. So, for example, in my state (West Virginia) a doctor would generally conclude that a patient with an IQ of 69 was mildly mentally impaired (or retarded). But IQ ALONE is not a sufficient factor to have such a student placed in the special education environment. West Virginia's Regulations for the Education of Exceptional Students (Policy 2419) says that the student must also have "limitations" in two "adaptive skill" areas - areas like the ability to communicate, to care for themselves, to relate well with their peers, or to look out for their own health and safety. Academic performance, their ability to adapt to their academic environment, is one of the areas. The point is that just because your family doctor says that Johnny is mentally impaired from a MEDICAL standpoint, that doesn't AUTOMATICALLY make him mentally impaired from an EDUCATIONAL standpoint.

The situation can get more confusing. Consider some condition that may not affect IQ per se and can vary in severity. The International Dyslexia Association says in its Frequently Asked Questions section that "Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin..." Well, maybe. Testing would have to determine that -- on a child by child basis. A specific learning disability is defined in most states as a discrepancy between IQ and academic performance. When a student with an average or better IQ doesn't achieve well we change the way he's being taught. Eventually, if that doesn't work, we consider the possibility that he has a learning disability. The learning disability IS (at the moment at least, in most states' policies) the discrepancy between achievement and intelligence (not the dyslexia). And plenty of students with dyslexia end up responding to changes in the way they are taught in the regular education setting before the process reaches the point of placing the student in special education.

ADHD provides an even more complicated set of problems when trying to decide how (and whether) to place a child in special education. ADHD is not always easy for a doctor to diagnose. If it is properly diagnosed and the child is successfully treated for the disorder before it becomes a long term educational problem, the child may never be placed in the special education setting. If it is diagnosed but NOT treated, the child may be placed as Other Health Impaired (OHI). If ADHD is suspected but never diagnosed by a doctor, the student may be placed as having a specific learning disability (LD). Or in those circumstances the student may be placed as having what some states call an emotional disturbance (ED) and other states call a behavior disorder (BD). Why the differences? Because each child is different and the question is not one of what medical condition or disorder the student has. The question is this: How does this particular child's medical problem affect its education.

Parents often find the process confusing. They think their doctor has already told them what their child's problem is. But while the doctor may be right, medically speaking, the consideration at school is not medical. The school has to consider how a medical condition effects the way a child learns. And it has to consider that question one child at a time...

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Romney, Religion, and the Speech

If you follow the presidential election campaign it would be hard not to know that Mitt Romney gave a speech today about religion. It would be almost as hard not to know that John F. Kennedy gave a (some would say) similar speech on September 12, 1960. You probably know that they both gave their speech in Texas.

Why Texas? The Romney campaign is trying to win Iowa. So why not give the speech in Iowa. My guess is that Texas was chosen as a way of increasing the number of parallels that could be drawn between the two Massachusetts politicians, Romney and Kennedy.

Both men are from the same state. Except that Kennedy was born and raised in Massachusetts and Romney is from Michigan and moved to Massachusetts at the age of 24 to attend Harvard. If Harvard had been in Providence, Romney might have ended up as governor of Rhode Island.

Both men ran for president. The candidacy of both men faced or faces opposition because of their religion. Both men gave a speech about religion, in Texas.

The parallels end there. However much Romney would like to acquire some sort of "glory by association" from President Kennedy on this issue, Mitt did not give the Kennedy speech - not by a long shot...

As a small example, take this quote from the John F. Kennedy's speech:
Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind...
Romney seems to agree with the pragmatic issue of the Kennedy speech. Romeny said this: "A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith." But compare Kennedy's larger vision to Romney's speech:
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator...
As Romney's philosophy on the relationship between religion and government is fleshed out he makes the statement that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." For Kennedy, we are free and we have religion; the two do not need to be connected. For Romney, it seems as though we are free because we have religion and we keep our religion because we are free. Many in the Republican Party would agree with him.

The most insightful quote from Romney's speech is this: "It's important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions." Emphasis added. Romney is talking to churches and their members; he is trying to associate himself with the Religious Right by reassuring them that he shares their values even if their theologies differ on minor details (like the incarnation or the nature of God.)

Kennedy sought to decrease the influence of religion in politics; Romney wants to promote it. It's just that, with the people who are already doing that Mitt has to convince them that he's one of them. I doubt he accomplished that.

Mitt Romney did prove a couple of things today. He proved he can give a great speech. And he proved that he is not JFK.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cool Bedding to Personalize Your Room

Do you love your car? One of the coolest things I've seen recently is the Cool Bedding available from Vision Bedding Dot Com. Think of walking into your room and finding your car (or at least a good picture of your car) right there on your bed! All you need is a good digital image of your vehicle to send in.

Vision Bedding guarantees high quality. Best of all, the spreads and blankets can be cleaned in a regular washer and dryer without fear of losing quality from the image because it is not a cheap screen print.

In addition to custom products made from your photos, Vision Bedding offers a range of bedding with theme photographs on the (like the Lamborghini pictured here).

Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I was financially compensated for this post...

The Snow Dance

At 5:25 this morning the dog began to beat it's little paws on the edge of the bed where my head laid and breath in my face. I opened one eye, looked at the clock, and noticed her hairy little tail whirling like the blade on a helicopter. I knew that if I did what I wanted to and said "go away," the nice doggy would go to the other side of the bed and beat on Cheryl's head. Cheryl still had another 15 or 20 minutes before her clock would go off and she would begin dragging herself through the morning routine that gets her out the door at 6:20 am and on the way to her job as an assistant principal.

So I sat up. The air was cold in our upstairs bedroom. The room was added to the house by improving our large addict; but no pipes from the basement furnace reach that level of the house. There's a small electric wall unit we sometimes use.

The dog was excited by her success if waking me. I reached down to the floor and gathered my clothes - a pair of shorts, my underwear, a tank top, and an orange Tennessee sweatshirt. I walked downstairs naked; but it was mostly dark and the dog doesn't mind. I put my clothes on the couch, separated the pieces and put them on. The dog stood by the door and jiggled her body in anticipation...

Dress now, I picked the dog up to prevent her from darting through the door and roaming the neighborhood in freedom. I opened the door and looked through the screen. Snow was falling. The road had spots of snow on it, but it was still mostly bear. I opened the screen and found the red plastic-coated cord that laid there and I hooked it to the dog's collar. Macy (the dog) ran down the steps and I let her go and postured in the yard, looking for enemies to bark at. I stepped inside and closed the door.

It was now 5:30 am. I went to the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee. I found Cheryl's thermos and filled it for her to take with her, pulled her lunch from the fridge, and sat the lunch and thermos near our hall tree for her to find when she left. I turned on the morning news and sat on the couch to wait. Usually I lie back down and go to sleep while Cheryl goes through her motions. I don't leave for work until 7:30 or so most mornings. This morning I needed a few minutes with the iron after she got up because I'd neglected to iron her pants last night.

Cheryl came downstairs. It was about 5:35. She asked why I was up. I explained about the dog and her pants. We touched lips. I went back upstairs and applied the iron to her pants, then ironed my own clothes and hung the on the door. I came back down and went to the kitchen for my cup of coffee.

The dog was barking, pretending (judging from the sound) to be a superhero in a film about horrible villains. I opened the front door. She stopped and looked at me. The snow was falling heavier now. In the ten minutes the dog had been out the road had become completely snow covered. I called Macy and she came up and stepped inside the door. I unhooked her. She took off for the kitchen to check her bowl...

At 5:40 the phone rang. One of my wife's co-workers wanted to know if they could leave their car here and ride over the mountains to her school with Cheryl. Cheryl's Subaru has four-wheel drive. A minute or two after that call the phone rang again. My wife's boss wanted her to know that our county was now on a two-hour delay. I found Cheryl. She made the three or four calls to other people at her school that she makes on such occasions. I called the one person that I pass such information on to. And I went and laid down on a guestroom bed.

Cheryl came in later and woke me. I have no idea what time it was - probably around 7:15 or so. She told me we were closed. I made my one call and went back to sleep.
At 9:45 I got up and walked to the kitchen, tip toeing past the recliner that Cheryl lay sleeping in. I warmed so of the morning's coffee, now almost five hours old. I stood at the window looking out over our back deck and the creek in out yard. There was perhaps two inches of snow in the rails around our deck. Some 32 West Virginia county school systems are closed today and students in Tazewell County stayed home, as well.

Yesterday, as the school day was ending I assumed my normal position on bus duty outside the PreK and Kindergarten rooms. As the kids lined up in the hall with their coats and mittens and hats and book bags on, I explained to them that they needed to go home and do a snow dance in their backyards. I tried to sound serious and they looked at me as though I was. I demonstrated, raising my hands over my head and turning in a circle while the other teachers tried not to snicker. Now when I see the kids I can tell them it worked...

Monday, December 3, 2007

In a Moment of Insanity, Romney Makes Religion an Issue

It can't end well for Candidate Romney, but Mitt has decided to talk about his religion - kind of...

A quote from the Associated Press muddies things up a little:
Romney said Monday his speech will not focus on the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the formal name for his Utah-based faith. But he's hoping his willingness to discuss religion openly, and put his wife and sons on stage with him, will convince critical evangelical Christians he's worthy of their support in the approaching Iowa caucuses and later Southern contests across the Bible Belt.
That makes it sound like he will talk about some aspects of his religion, but not others. That process, I suspect, will make it seem like he's hiding something. And that impression will make the Mormon faith seem more (not less) mysterious to lay Evangelicals in the GOP...

The political situation is fairly simple. Romney wants to win Iowa. He wants to be considered the GOP frontrunner going into New Hampshire and South Carolina. Until recently it was a Romney-Giuliani race, a scenario that made Romney look conservative.

Romney and Giuliani beat each other up so badly in the last GOP debate that one commentator said that they had each achieved their goal of discrediting the other. And in the meantime, Iowa Republicans discovered Mike Huckabee...

Huckabee is a former Arkansas governor and an ordained Baptist minister who seems to recently have become the conservative Christian candidate that the rural Bible Belt has been looking for over the course of the last year. Romney has courted the GOP's Religious Right extensively but has never been able to close the deal. He's spent $7 million in Iowa. That's about 22 times what Huckabee has spent. And now Huckabee leads by a few points even though a short three months ago he was considered something of a vanity candidate who could never actually win.

As the Christians of Bible Belt America gather to listen, what can Romney possible say on the subject of religion that he thinks they will enjoy hearing.

  • Will he say that he has lived a good life without drinking or smoke or getting divorced? They will think that he lacks an understanding of concept that human beings are sinful creatures who please God only by accepting His grace. And they'll be right; Mormons believe that Jesus came to set an example, not to make an atonement for sin.

  • Will he say that he believes in Jesus? I doubt he'll be that folksy in his choice of words. But if he were to say that, to say something along the lines of "Hey, we both believe in Jesus!" to an audience of conservative Christians, most of them would know that he meant something different than what they do by that statement.

  • Will he talk about the Mormom Church's view of Protestants and Catholics? The Mormons teach that other forms of Christianity are apostate, that true Christianity died out centuries ago and was revived only with the Angel Moroni reveal the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. I'm guessing Romney won't discuss his church's position on that issue - at least not voluntarily.
The central issues of Christianity were defined early in Church history. Heretics were thrown out of the Church for teaching incorrect views of the nature of Jesus. It is correct to say that he was the Son of God. Mormons can, I believe, make that statement. But that statement, however correct, is insufficient; to be Christian one must go the whole nine yards and insist that Jesus is God, the Son. Not a god, but the absolute and only God, a unique Being. Mormons can't say that.

Heretics were also thrown out of the Church for arguing that God accepted individuals because they tried hard and lived right. In sections of the Bible like Galatians, Christian belief is based on faith in what Jesus did - not the hope that we can be good enough to make God happy. But Mormonism is a religion of good works, not faith.

At the end of the day, Christian leaders will be polite. They'll all shake hands. Some of the more politically oriented will embrace Romney as perhaps being the candidate that can free up the stalemate on abortion or roll back the clock on civil unions and gay marriage. But the laypeople of the Evangelical churches in Tennessee and Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama are going to sit around and try to remember what they were told about Mormon's in Sunday School.

And here's that message, from the pen of Josh McDowell - the poster boy in the minds of Evangelicals for telling true Christian beliefs from heresy and cult theology:
The Mormon doctrine of God is contradictory to what the Bible teaches. The Mormons believe in many gods and teach that God himself was once a man. Moreover, Mormon doctrine teaches that Mormon males have the possibility of attaining godhood.
My point is that you don't have to be either a Mormon or an Evangelical Christian to see how this will end. There's not an endorsement that Romney can get that will make the average Baptist churchgoers in the Midwest or Southeast feel like "Oh, well, he is one of us..." And the discussion coming up on Thursday will only make Romney's target audience more aware of their differences, and make them like Huckabee more...

The bad judgment involved in making religion more of an issue in the campaign may by itself be enough to disqualify Romney from being President in the minds of many.