Sunday, August 21, 2011

SpongeBob GreenPants

Maybe I should learn to respect people who can compartmentalize current events, people who can listen to only parts of the news and disregard the uncomfortable stuff. I can’t do that. So I am consistently in a state of disequilibrium about politics and science and social justice and, well, just about everything.

The other day I saw a FOX news bit blasting Nickelodeon for “Pushing a Global Warming Agenda”. They criticized a SpongeBob SquarePants book and video about global climate change because “They did not tell kids that that [climate change] is a disputed fact.”

It is almost impossible for me to believe that a corporation as big as FOX, a group with a tremendous capability to research, with even the most cursory information, would deny the dangers of global climate change. It is incredibly unlikely that FOX just doesn't know any better.

Yet on the August 3 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy said:

"The Department of Education invited a bunch of DC kids in and they had this festivity and they handed out these particular Nickelodeon books where clearly Nickelodeon is pushing a global warming agenda." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/3/11]

To get a sense for how irritated at Nickelodeon FOX and Friends are (is?) and how serious they are about denying global climate change, watch these clips.

CARLSON: The Department of Education using SpongeBob SquarePants now to teach kids about global warming. The government agency showed kids this cartoon and handed out books that blamed man for global warming, but they did not tell kids that that is actually a disputed fact.

If this wasn't so pathetic (and dangerous) it would be funny. But it is surely not funny. On its face, FOX's claim is incorrect. Here is a brief response from the Department of Education.

Department of Education: "We've Never Shown Any Videos" At The Reading Events. Contrary to Carlson's claim, Tim Tuten of the Department of Education said that the SpongeBob video was not shown at the reading events. "We've never shown any videos ever, so I have no idea where that is coming from," he said. Tuten added that participants were permitted to choose one of dozens of diverse books to take home with them and the SpongeBob book was one of those options. [Phone conversation, 8/3/11]

The department gave away "Spongebob" and "Dora the Explorer" books to elementary school kids at a Washington, D.C. event on July 20, but no cartoons were shown. Both books carry themes of conservation and environmental protection, as part of Nickelodeon's "Big Green Help" campaign, funded by numerous civic and community organizations. (

The spooky part for me is that FOX is serious about denying global climate change and how humans have influenced climate. It is not out of ignorance. FOX has their own agenda and it is a dangerous one. A LOT of people watch this network and believe their so called fair and balanced approach.

Although recent studies have shown that 97-98 percent of scientists who study climate agree that it is changing due to human industrial activity affecting the environment (Study Affirms Consensus on Climate Change, June 2010, NY Times), FOX's mission is to keep denying the obvious. Never being confused by climate science facts, there is an obvious attempt to obscure the truth by constantly suggesting that the jury is out on climate change. However these "news anchors" have actually been told to present information about climate change as though it is still some kind of obscure theory held by a few liberal scientists.

In an email leaked to liberal watchdog group Media Matters last year, Fox News Washington Managing Editor Bill Sammon directed subordinates to cast doubt on a climate report, even though its results were not in question at all. The email was sent just moments after one of the network's anchors accurately reported that 2000-2009 was on track to be the "warmest" decade on record. (FOX boss ordered staff to cast doubt on climate science.

To me it is honestly a question of patriotism. My definition of patriotism includes doing what is right for our country and our children's future. I would contend that recognizing the dangers of global climate change and acting on them in a responsible way, and soon, is what is best for our country and our children. Honestly, anything else seems anti-intellectual - and definitely unpatriotic.

You go, SpongeBob!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Oregon Coast

Oregon, August 2011

I had an incredible opportunity to go to the Oregon coast a week ago. Along with three teachers from The Center for Inquiry, two research assistants from USC, a computer engineer and one of her doctoral students, Dr. Brian Helmuth and his wonderful daughter Morgan, we set off to learn and measure, to experience and now to teach about scientific inquiry into marine life and the effects of global climate change. We also got to spend a couple of those days with Jim Gandy and Nate Stewart from our local CBS affiliate WLTX.

I will write more about it later, but in the Portland airport as we were waiting to board our long flight home, the teachers and I were sharing curriculum ideas. Specifically we were talking about teaching poetry.

When we went back to our own thoughts and books and writer’s notebooks I wrote this poem about our experiences in that wonderful environment. I will write more later, but here is a taste of that…

Oregon Coast

The Pacific here

Once a vague postcard

Has taken on new meaning.

Once a blur,

An uncertain picture

A far away faint notion

Has come into focus clearly.

At first it was BEACH


LAND and

SEA and


But now I have shared its breath

Its smell is on my fingertips still

I have stared for hours

Into crystal tide pools

To find treasures

Hidden from my first grainy impressions

Each little pool

Holding complex webs of organisms

Interacting with each other

Logically, beautifully

Predictable yet

Each full

Of surprises

Hermit crabs,

Bright green sea anemones

Orange and purple sea stars





Isopods, mussels,

Tiny darting fish,

Limpets and snails

And so much more.

All in

Less than

One cubic

Foot of


Each has its own story,

Its own cycle

And each fits perfectly

Into the balance




Then looking up and out

At the gulls and crows

And vultures and

Great blue herons

And pelicans

And curious sea lions

Spying on us

From a


Now I am AWAKE


And there is this blend of

Mystical and scientific,

Magical and measurable,

Tangible and intangible.

Now it is truly beautiful.

Every animal here is

Perfect in its place

Every creature plays

An essential role.

And every creature

In every tide pool

Is part of that shoreline

That beach

That ocean

This earth.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jim Burns

I knew Jim for most of my life. When I think back on it, outside of my own biological family, I knew Jim longer than anyone.

Back in 1966 or 1967 Jim Burns was my sisters’ chemistry teacher at Andrean high School in Merrillville, IN. He became a good friend. He spent a lot of time with our family and actually lived in our old summerhouse in Michigan City, IN for a school year. I knew him when he was single, I knew him when he fell in love. And then he married and moved away and our family barely kept track of him in Rochester, NY and then Austin, TX. It was mainly Christmas cards.

Many years passed and I had pretty much forgotten Jim Burns. It was a very long time before I saw him again. His wife Diane had died and his two sons had grown into their own independent lives. Jim was a nomad, driving around the country becoming reacquainted with old friends, revisiting his old haunts.

I ran into him at my sister Ruthie’s house in Toledo. It was good to see him again.

Fast forward to the present. My mom and Jim Burns were married for seven great years. They lived in Brevard NC, which is relatively close to us. My family got to see them fairly often. For the last several years they drove down to have Thanksgiving with us. They knew our friends and got a big bunch of backporch folk music from time to time.

Jim died just a few weeks ago. I was honored to spend a lot of time with my mom and Jim during these last seven years, especially this summer.

It was a privilege to know Jim Burns for as long as I have. His passing has left a hole in my mom’s life that will never be filled.

I wrote this letter to his sons the day after he died. I got to meet Michael and Pat and spend a few days with them just at the end of Jim’s life. I post it here because it tells of my great admiration for Jim and how much he meant to my mom.

Dear Pat and Mike,

I am sorry about the loss of your dear old dad. Jim was a good, sweet man and our lives will not be the same without him. I’ll remember his quick wit, his intelligence, his wonderful stories, his sense of justice and his compassion. His years in Brevard with my mom left him a great distance from you. But I was the lucky one, wasn’t I? I saw them quite often. And they made each other very happy.

My own dad died in the late 80’s. It seemed unfair. Jack O’Keefe was so young. And my mom was adrift. We were left fatherless. Ruck was lucky enough to find love again with a wonderful guy – Otto. I did not know Otto very well and they lived far away from all of us. I love him because he loved my mom. But I never referred to him as my stepdad.

You guys, when Otto died, Jim was there. He helped my mom make it through her second hardest time. He helped her to start over. You’ll never know how grateful I am for Jim coming into my mom’s life. And when they settled into NC, I never saw my mother happier. My family saw them often. My boys, who never met Jack O’Keefe, will remember Jim as a grandfather and I will remember him as my stepdad.

How wonderful that you both got to be with him in NC toward the end. I was with them a few days before you came and you must know how excited he was at your visit. The afternoon you all came in from the airport – when he knew you were almost there, he wanted a clean shirt, to have his oxygen tank in the bedroom with the door closed and to have his hair brushed. He wanted this time with JD and Teddy to be special. Honestly, I was going to stay with my mom and Jim indefinitely – until the end I thought. But when I saw your warm and generous hearts, and how much you loved your dad; when I heard you call him “Pop” and kiss him on the head, I knew it was the right time to go and leave you Burns Boys to yourselves.

So, thanks for coming. It meant so much to your dad and my mom. Thanks for sharing your stories with us. It was funny to meet you guys after having known Jim for most of my life, to have known him as my sister’s teacher, my family’s good friend, to have seen him fall for your mom and then to wonder for years about him, and finally to have him come back into our lives for some happy times.

In the great scheme of life we all have pain and sorrow along with our happiness and joy. You can’t have one without the other I suppose. I just wanted you to know that Jim has been part of my family’s joy.

I hope our paths cross again. I like you guys. And I loved your dad. Our world will never quite be the same without Jim Burns.

May your happy memories come quickly to fill the space of your grief.


Tim O’Keefe