Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The George Cabot Lee, Jr. Window

My uncle whom I never met.
(781) 326-4553
St. Paul's Episcopal Church Newsletter
Today at St. Paul's
August 17, 2020 
THE GEORGE CABOT LEE, JR. WINDOW
Dear Friends,

Today we take a close look at the last of the St. Paul's windows, the George Cabot Lee, Jr. window. For myself, I always take great delight in telling children who are visiting St. Paul's for the first time that we have a dragon in the church, and then I invite them to search for it. As we take a closer look at this window, we also gain an understanding of heroism. St. George was a perfect choice for the Lee family to memorialize a son who died in war. Look closer and you will learn more about George Cabot Lee as well.

Yours in Christ,
Melanie+
GEORGE CABOT LEE
George Cabot Lee, Jr. was born on July 20, 1929 to George Cabot Lee (1899-1970) and Kathleen Bowring Stoddart (1903-1999) in Chelsea, London, England. He would grow up in Westwood, Massachusetts. George was the oldest of four children. He graduated from Milton Academy and attended Harvard University. He, along with three other classmates of Milton, joined the armed forces. All four were killed in Korea. They are remembered in a memorial at Milton Academy.

George is remembered by his sister, Madeline Gregory, as a great older brother. By all accounts, people adored him. The last time that Madeline saw him was at her wedding, where he served as an usher. He is recalled as a kind, principled and good individual who died too young.

George died on December 15, 1952 in Korea. It is believed that he was killed in another battle as he is listed in his obituary as "killed in action". As to which battle, this is unclear. George had been planning to return home for Christmas. One of the heartbreaking aspects of his death was that he had purchased Christmas presents for his family that arrived following the news of his death.

George was laid to rest in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
(The inscription on George's gravestone reads 
"In a short time, he fulfilled a long time")
ST. GEORGE & THE DRAGON
St. George is the patron saint of England, Portugal, Aragon, Genoa, the Boy Scouts, Farmers, Knights and Soldiers.

The most well-known story associated with St. George is his defeat of a dragon (a symbol of the devil). One of the symbols of defeat is have your heel planted on your opponent. Here, you can see St. George has not only one foot—but both feet firmly planted on the dragon.

St. George came from a second-century Christian family and grew up to be an officer in the Roman army. At that time, so the story goes, a dragon was terrorizing a part of Libya and demanding human sacrifices. Villagers drew straws to determine the next victim, and one day the choice fell on a princess. She was dressed in her finest clothes and led to the dragon's lair.

Fortunately, George happened to be riding by on his white horse. After making the sign of the cross, he attacked and wounded the dragon with his lance; then, drawing his sword, he beheaded the beast with a single blow. So inspired were the villagers by George's bravery, that they all became Christians.

George's reputation grew during the crusades when knights and soldiers chose him to represent Christian chivalry. He represents the triumph of good over evil and is often shown with a red cross on his armor or on his flag. In the case of the George Lee window, the cross is on George's shield. The red cross on the white background is known as St. George's Cross. It was also associated with the Knights Templar. The red cross on a white background is also known as a Crusader Cross. This cross was adopted as the flag of England. You can see it today, embedded in the Union Jack.
(Here is St. George decked out in a plethora of crusader crosses. This is a miniature from a manuscript of Vies de Sants, c. 1340 (BNF Richelieu Manuscripts Francais 185)  
THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL, KOREA
This portion of the window depicts the Battle of Bunker Hill, in which George Cabot Lee was mortally wounded. It is, perhaps, one of the few stained glass windows in a church in which you will see machine guns depicted. Perhaps the soldier at the front is George Lee, who commanded a platoon. Notice how the hand is pointing directly to the medal of the silver star. 

The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought between August 9 - September 30, 1952 during the Korean War between United Nations and Chinese forces over several frontline outposts. This battle contained some of the fiercest fighting of the Korean War between American troops and the Chinese. The unit involved was the 1st Marine regiment, to which George belonged.

The United States commander of the battle was General John T. Seldon. By the end, the United States would have 96 killed versus over 4,000 Chinese casualties (though the United Nations estimates the number to be closer to 3,900 Chinese casualties).

George Lee was injured on either August 17th or 18th of the battle (both dates were listed in letters to the family).  However, his death from injuries sustained in the battle wasn't until December 15, 1952.
(George C. Lee is on the right)
The Aftermath of the Battle: Despite regular small ambushes and artillery attacks, UN forces would hold Bunker Hill until the end of the war. Bunker Hill lay within the Korean Demilitarized Zone, set out in the Korean Armistice Agreement.
MEDALS
There are three medals depicted in the George Lee window. I am grateful for the assistance of John Woodard (who is a Marine veteran) who helped to identify these medals and provided information.
This medal is the Purple Heart awarded for being wounded or posthumously if killed in action.

A letter from George Lee's Commanding Officer reads: 
"In the name of the President of the United States, and by direction of the Secretary of the Navy, the Purple Heart Medal is awarded by the Commanding Office, 1st Marine Division (Resr), Fleet Marine Force to:
           Second Lieutenant George C. LEE, Jr.
           For wounds received as a result of enemy action in the Korean Arena 
..........on 17 August, 1952.
By copy hereof and in accordance with the provisions of reference, the Commandant of the Marine Corps is requested to forward your permanent Purple Heart Certificate to you.
John Woodard writes: "(This) is the emblem of the First Marine Division, which I believe was the only Marine Division sent to Korea. A Marine Division is commanded by a general and consists of three regiments and various support units (tanks and artillery). As I recall George Lee was a Marine infantry platoon commander, which would be at the company level after battalion and regiment levels.  

The third medal is a Silver Star, which is the third highest medal awarded only for valor, which he may have received posthumously.

A citation, awarding the Silver Star Medal to George's family reads:
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving with a Marine Infantry company in KOREA on 18 August 1952. Serving as a platoon commander, Second Lieutenant LEE exhibited exceptional heroism and leadership when assigned the mission of defending a section of an important hill position against repeated fanatical enemy attacks. With no concern for his personal safety, he exposed himself to intense enemy fire to deploy his men in the most advantageous manner.  Although seriously wounded and partially blinded, he refused evacuation and continued to call in supporting mortar and artillery fire which inflicted many casualties upon the enemy. Second Lieutenant LEE's selfless devotion to duty and leadership were inspirational to all who observed him and materially contributed to the successful defense of the position. His gallant and courageous actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
                                               E.A. POLLOCK
                                               Major General, U.S Marine Corps
                                               Commanding 

In addition to these medals, George Lee also earned:
The National Defensive Service Medal which was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 22, 1953. At the time of its creation, the medal was intended for eligible members of the Armed Forces who serviced between June 27, 1950 and July 27, 1954. Eligibility was subsequently expanded to include service members who have served honorably during a designated period of national emergency or war, or to other active military members at the discretion of the Secretary of Defense. The National Defense Service Medal is the oldest service medal in use by the United States Armed Forces.
The Korean Service Medal which is a military award for service in the United States Armed Forces and was created in November 1950 by executive order of President Harry Truman. The Korean Service Medal is the primary US military award for participation in the Korean War and is awarded to any US service member who performed duty in South Korea between June 27, 1950 and 
July 27, 1954.
The United Nations Korean Service Medal is an international military decoration established by the United Nations on December 12, 1950 as the United Nations Service Medal. 
A Facimile of the Korean Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the First Marine Division for service 1950-1952: The Presidential Unit Citation, originally called the Distinguished Unit Citation, is awarded to units of the uniformed services of the United States, and those of allied countries, for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy on or after 7 December 1941. The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.
(Some of George's medals. From L to R Silver Star, Purple Heart, United Nations Korean Service Medal)
THE TOP OF THE GEORGE C. LEE WINDOW
The Eagle, Globe, and Anchor is the official emblem and insignia of the United States Marine Corps. It is commonly referred to as an EGA. The current emblem traces its roots in the designs and ornaments of the early Continental Marines as well as the United Kingdom's Royal Marines. The emblem depicted here is (fittingly) the one used prior to 1955. The present emblem of the Eagle, Globe and Anchor depicts the eagle in a slightly different position.
 The Eagle represents the proud nation of the United States of America. The wings of our national bird are outstretched over our coastlines and within reach of the world. 

The anchor points to the Marine Corps' naval heritage and its ability to access any coastline in the world.

The Globe shows the continents of the Western Hemisphere and represents worldwide service.

Above the eagle are the words "Semper fidelis", a Latin phrase that means "always faithful" or "always loyal". It is the motto of the United States Marine Corps, usually shortened to "Semper Fi."
A WILBUR HERBERT BURNHAM WINDOW
The Lee Window is yet another creation of Wilbur Herbert Burnham.
Wilbert Herman Burnham is the artist who designed several of the stained glass windows in St. Paul's. Burnham lived in Massachusetts and had a studio in Boston. He was born in 1884. From the East Boston High School, Wilbur Burnham went to the Massachusetts School of Art. He began his work as a designer of stained glass in 1906, while attending art school. In later years Mr. Burnham studied in France, England, Italy and Spain.

This master craftsman has done outstanding work in churches and colleges. He has created great windows for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Washington Cathedral, the Riverside Church in New York, Princeton University, Trinity Cathedral of Cleveland, the American Church of Paris, and Belleau Chapel in France, and, of course, St. Paul's, Dedham. The list of Mr. Burnham's work is long and illustrious. He stands in the forefront of the American Renaissance of the stained glass window.
A PRAYER
It seems fitting that a prayer for George Lee be the "Thanksgiving for Heroic Service" found on p. 839 of The Book of Common Prayer.

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Yours in Christ,
--
Walk in balance,

Alexander Lee

Sent from my iThang

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Ballotpedia to me: Get a lawyer

I sent the following message through a web form to Ballotpedia (I screenshotted it or there would be no record): 


In 2018, they were very responsive to a different request so I was disappointed that a question about the sort of information that they regularly publish was treated as a legal inquiry rather than a suggestion to gather and share information that would allow voters to make better decisions.

What do you think of this response? Maybe my message was not clear enough? I greatly admire this organization, despite it being founded by a Libertarian and have used it when teaching civics. I believe that citizens living abroad need to know which states permit them to vote in local elections. I'm glad that at least one organization, Democrats Abroad, is providing that info on their wiki at this time: 

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Ballotpedia Editor <editor@ballotpedia.org>
Date: Tue, Jul 28, 2020 at 7:21 AM
Subject: Re: What US States only permit overseas or abroad citizens to vote in federal elections?
To: <alee@alexanderplee.com>


Hello Alexander,

Thank you for contacting Ballotpedia! It is our policy that we do not offer legal advice, and this question would be considered legal advice. We would recommend consulting with a lawyer about this question. Sorry we couldn't be of more help!

Sincerely,
Megan

 

--

Ballotpedia The Encyclopedia of American Politics

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Stay in touch: DonateFollowLike, & Subscribe
--
Walk in balance,

Alexander Lee

Sent from my iThang

Friday, July 10, 2020

Letter to Congressman's Office on USPS Preparation for Elections

How Will Overseas Voters Find Info They Need for Remaining Primaries and General Election?

I spent an hour this evening (China time, starting just after 9:15 AM ET) on hold with USPS's 1-888-275-8777 toll-free number before giving up. I did try leaving your office a VM, but am also following up with this email.

Essentially, it is very difficult to find Section 8 (see below) and I think it would serve overseas voters better if the USPS had, front and center on their website, readily available information on postage-paid envelope specs (e.g., dimensions, weights) for returning a) ballots, b) the FPCA, and c) a FWAB.

For understandable reasons, the Dept of State consular offices who place our sealed ballots in a diplomatic pouch have indicated that they do not want to act as a post office, rejecting or accepting envelopes based on size or weight or indicia. It is the responsibility of the citizen to properly follow all USPS guidelines, but it is exceedingly difficult to find (on the USPS website) how big an envelope (i.e., US size 10) one is permitted to use for a postage-paid envelope that will travel by diplomatic pouch back to the USA. This information was provided to me by FVAP, which has been helpful, but many voters will turn to the USPS for info about how to mail a ballot and will be unawares of the FVAP office nested in DoD.

Section 8 at https://pe.usps.com/text/DMM300/703.htm?q=ballot&h=ballot&t=H&s=R&p=1&c=DMM|QSG does have some helpful information, but this is not particularly accessible to the layperson. I am wondering if anything can be done soon and ahead of the election to make this information easier for overseas voters to find. I can imagine that even domestically, people will be turning to the USPS for information on how to mail their absentee ballots and may have a hard time finding the info that they need.

Walk in balance,

Alexander Lee

Thursday, July 9, 2020

"Whataboutism" (Red Lives Matter)

臭蟲論  

(with credit to Lu Xun[1])

What about 1495 in addition to 1619?

What about 1962 in addition to 1865/1965?

What about Jorden Stephens in addition to George Floyd?

Can we make the Washington, Donehogawa Commonwealth or District of Crazy Horse (Tȟašúŋke Witkó)? Should Washington itself become Pulaski or Rush? Who really is pure enough to deserve this honor (asked ironically)? The man who saved Washington or the doctor whose students killed him—abolitionists both, though Rush a demonstrable racist.

Are there statues of General Stand Watie that need to be torn down?

Why is there no Gen. Ely Parker (Donehogawa) statue?

Why do Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima ride off into the sunset before the Redskins or the Indians? Is it tyranny of the minority majority?

You want to talk about Joseph Vann?  Let's talk about Buffalo Soldiers.

It is high time to name a federal holiday for a day when a white general came to Galveston, Texas, and announced that a white President's words bestowed freedom upon the remaining slaves, but why don't we name it with the Karankawa word for the sixth month of the year instead of naming it after June. [2] Or maybe we should make the day that white men in Utah in 1962 finally bestowed the franchise on American Indians a federal holiday.

-------------------

[1] "A synonymous Chinese-language metaphor [for whataboutism] is the "Stinky Bug Argument" (traditional Chinese: 臭蟲論; simplified Chinese: 臭虫论; pinyin: Chòuchónglùn), coined by Lu Xun, a leading figure in modern Chinese literature, in 1933 to describe his Chinese colleagues' common tendency to accuse Europeans of "having equally bad issues" whenever foreigners commented upon China's domestic problems. As a Chinese nationalist, Lu saw this mentality as one of the biggest obstructions to the modernization of China in the early 20th century, which Lu frequently mocked in his literary works." (Wikipedia)
[2] The Latin name for June is Junius. Ovid offers multiple etymologies for the name in the Fasti, a poem about the Roman calendar. The first is that the month is named after the Roman goddess Juno, the goddess of marriage and the wife of the supreme deity Jupiter; the second is that the name comes from the Latin word iuniores, meaning "younger ones", as opposed to maiores ("elders") for which the preceding month May (Maius) may be named. Another source claims June is named after Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the Roman Republic and ancestor of the Roman gens Junia. (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Difficulty of Voting from Abroad in the Time of COVID-19

As the head of a social studies department at a reputable Guangzhou high school,  I care about American history and, as a lawyer and amateur civil rights activist, I know something about poll taxes. Paying to send my ballot through China Post, EMS, DHL, UPS (the green option), FedEx (which may rise to the occasion and mail US ballots for free!), etc. is, in my opinion, possibly a poll ta. Even if I might, personally, be able to send my ballot in a platinum envelope by private jet...which I cannot, there are those who cannot. That is why Americans overseas are able to send ballots through their consulates' diplomatic pouches. Yet, I also understand from the consular officer who just called me that it is a service but not a requirement, dependent on volume (which, incidentally, is very low now), that the consulates accept ballots to be mailed in this fashion. 

Mailing out ballots without a poll tax is discretionary in 2020!?

At approximately 10:40 AM today, I entered the US Consulate in Guangzhou passing two male security guards at different checkpoints with my backpack and proceeded to the door of the security checkpoint where a young woman was helping another American with a green card. After she finished helping him I told her I was there to mail my ballot and she said that I needed an appointment. I insisted on being seen, explaining that staff were supposed to be retrained in January or February  after my last visit where I was told that mailing a ballot does not require an appointment, and, at that point, she asked me if I spoke Chinese, then summoned another guard who spoke English. That guard had me call American Citizen Services and they required my name (just my name) so that they could call the door guards to let me in. They let me in and then told me that since I had a laptop in my bag, I would need to leave and come back. 

At about 11:10 AM, I came back, bearing only keys and a cell phone, which I left at the door in a cubby, and thanked them politely. 

Then, I went to the window on the second floor with my envelope which I believed was too large for postal regulations. I asked if it was an acceptable size and she asked me to wait while she went to check and then she returned saying I was all set and I could just email them, like last time, to get the tracking number. I do not blame this person for doing a poor job in checking the size requirements, but I am worried that others' ballots will be rejected by USPS somewhere along the chain (or even by some consulates) because they do not meet size requirements. This possible objection to ballots needs to be resolved! 

At about 12:10 pm, I called to say that I was confused because I did not think my ballot was the right size and they told me the person who handled it would call me back and let me know if I needed to return to retrieve it. Imagine returning to retrieve a voted ballot when the staffer at American Citizen Services did not even check my passport, although, to her credit, the door staff did check my passport after I was forced to call and give my name. 

I received the promised call at about 1:25 PM Tuesday in China and it was from a male consular staffer who was very helpful, professional, and understanding, not the Chinese staffer who had helped me, who was also helpful. I have messaged them now and asked for the tracking number. They will also RE-confirm that the envelope size is appropriate. I hope this information is helpful for you as we strive to improve the overseas American voting experience ahead of the remaining primaries and November 2020 General Election. Thank you. Apologies for being such a strident, Kafkaesque character, but given the alacrity with which these problems need to be solved I do not know how else to communicate efficiently with those who need to know about these problems.  I hope they are local and not happening across the globe.

Alexander Lee
Guangzhou, China 🇨🇳 

PS I buried the lede: I was almost turned away again from the same consulate. If I was not versed in my rights, I would have left when the first guard asked me to. This really is not acceptable, even in this plagued time, given past correspondence with this consulate to which this message is a reply.




---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Guangzhou ACS <GuangzhouACS@state.gov>
Date: Fri, Feb 7, 2020 at 12:13 PM
Subject: Re: Voting
To: VoteBEIJING <VoteBEIJING@state.gov>, CIS.Guangzhou@uscis.dhs.gov <CIS.Guangzhou@uscis.dhs.gov>, alee@alexanderplee.com <alee@alexanderplee.com>
CC: Aaron Kruse <aaronmkruse@gmail.com>, ada shen <ada.shen@gmail.com>


Mr. Lee,

Thank you for taking the time to email with your feedback. Your ballot was well received this morning and we have reminded our staff that U.S. Citizens do not require an appointment to deliver their ballots, even during this difficult time.

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.

Best regards, 

Carrie

Guangzhou American Citizen Services Unit

U.S. Consulate General Guangzhou | 美国驻广州总领事馆

43 Hua Jiu Road, Zhujiang New Town, Guangzhou, China 510623 | 广州市珠江新城就路43号,510623

Tel:  (020) 3814 5775

Fax:  (020) 3814 5572

 

After hour emergencies:  (010) 8531 4000

Email: guangzhouacs@state.gov

Website:  http://china.usembassy-china.org.cn

 

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From: Alexander Lee <alexander.p.lee@gmail.com>
Sent: Friday, February 7, 2020 11:07 AM
To: VoteBEIJING <VoteBEIJING@state.gov>; CIS.Guangzhou@uscis.dhs.gov <CIS.Guangzhou@uscis.dhs.gov>; Guangzhou ACS <GuangzhouACS@state.gov>
Cc: Aaron Kruse <aaronmkruse@gmail.com>; ada shen <ada.shen@gmail.com>
Subject: Voting
 
To Whom It May Concern:

In light of the coronavirus, it is understandable that an appointment may eventually be needed for all American Citizen Services in China, Hong Kong, and other places in the world. On Wednesday, in Guangzhou, I was turned away with my completed ballot and asked to make an appointment. Today, I brought my ballot and it will go in the next diplomatic pouch. I received very good service at the counter and want to thank you for helping Americans fulfill their sacred duty to vote during this troubling time, when so much else weighs upon us.

I hope that at all consulates across China and in Beijing's embassy facility, the paid Chinese security personnel can be reminded that nobody who appears to mail a ballot, even in this trying time, should be turned away...as I understand that is still the policy.

Thank you and sorry to add to your burden during this busy and trying time.

Walk in balance,

Alexander Lee

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sending a Hershey's Kiss: An Open Letter to Bill McKibben of 450.org

This post wrestles with the question, "What is hubris?" and may even display some of my own. 

Jeff Chiu/AP/Shutterstock; Craig Lassig/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Before you read this, you should watch Michael Moore's Planet of the Humans and read Bill McKibben's response in Rolling Stone, ‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal.

I have personally known Bill McKibben since college, when, in 1996-97, I wrote part of my thesis about him and invited him to join the advisory board of a nascent Project Laundry List, to which he agreed. I participated in the 2007 and 2011 events of 450.org [sic] as a principal organizer in Concord, NH. I have supported him morally and loyally over the years, maintained a friendship, and believe he has great courage (death threats suck, I am sure) as well as leadership ability.

I watched his earlier days as a frequent attendee at his public remarks, replete with his practiced "I am humble" boilerplate, delivered consistently with an almost Biden-like stutter, "I am a writer, not a public speaker." I observed him with some mixture of skepticism and some measure of awe. Though, from a technical forensics point-of-view, I could never really understand why, he is nonetheless a force behind the podium. With his Mr. Rogers-like, sweater-wearing shtick (except Rogers was a Presbyterian minister, not a UCC parishioner) and his command of the zeitgeist, as well as the evolving "facts" of climate science, he draws us in. He does not have the outwardly powerful oratory skills of Dr. Helen Caldicott, his other Project Laundry List advisory board member and a closer friend of mine. But he does have a command of the logos, ethos, and pathos that are necessary to deliver a good talk. He also has a sort of John the Baptist prophetic thing going on, some of it born of his constant reminders that it was he, in 1989, a year after I did my 8th grade science project on the greenhouse effect, who really brought the climate change debate out of the laboratories and into the New Yorker-reading salons of America. He greets people like a Quaker, "How are you, Friend? Nice to see you again, Friend." He is just appealingly warm, like Mr. Rogers. And I don't say this to be dismissive. (What is it that Dorothy Day would say when people called her a saint? "I don't want to be dismissed so easily.")

With Machiavellian or Sun Tzu-esque determination and stratagems, McKibben has built 450.org [sic] into a force to be reckoned with and the battery of successes in recent months with Goldman Sachs, Oxford University, Chase Manhattan are a testament, in part to the fortitude he has shown, in the face of our daunting task: repairing humanities ways enough to avoid major disruption or even our own species decimation. As Bill would say, though, even before his daughter Sophie reminded him of it after that "overflow" Brown talk (mentioned in the Rolling Stone piece), these successes are really attributable to a small army of mostly volunteers, not all under the banner of 450.org [sic] and many of them not white men, like Bill (and me).

I respect Bill, admire and like him as a very human being. Therefore, I read his self-admittedly somewhat self-aggrandizing, albeit probably necessary, Rolling Stone piece, mentioned above as required prerequisite reading for this post, and came away feeling sad that he felt the need to write it. There is an aspect of, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." (Shakespeare, Hamlet) It is a convincing polemic, but sort of pathetic, too.

Michael Moore has always been a noisy, iconoclastic, sloppy grouch. It is his brand, his schtick. He seems to revel uncomfortably at times in his wiggly girth and shows off his Flinty proletariat sneakers as the quintessential Everyman from Middle America. Like Bill McKibben in his Boston Red Sox cap, some of Moore's trappings are campy and rehearsed, or, to give the benefit of the doubt to both successful men, authentic expressions of who they really are. (We are citizens, after all, of a country where the Senate Majority Leader thinks the return of baseball is a top priority. Meanwhile... no, I will not digress.)

Anyway, I was sort of sorry that McKibben took the bait, but maybe "all press is good press" and this is a fight worth having, because McKibben really believes, like my friend Chris from high school ("$&@&((;!!!! $&@$&($;@??)!!!!!!...I’m going to have this film thrown in my face by policy makers."), that this is going to divide the environmental movement or, worse, provide power to the fossil fuel power lobby. I am not convinced on these last two points, partly because I do not fancy that there really is a cohesive environmental movement and mostly because I think people are smart enough to see the problems with Moore's film. A small library of critiques has already been published.

A Story Out Of My School: Is the Kiss Story True?


Now I want to tell a tale out of school. A couple days after hearing Dr. Helen Caldicott speak powerfully about how we are likely to all die from nuclear weapons or nuclear power, I went to visit Bill McKibben in his office on the top of the hill in Middlebury, Vermont, at the college on the hill. He was a somewhat recently appointed Scholar-in-Residence at that point and his sparse bookshelves had a bag of Hershey's Kisses on them. He offered me one and I smirked, "Helen would not want me to eat that."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because Hershey's Kisses are made next to Three Mile Island." [the site of a nuclear accident near Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania]

McKibben's next words surprised me. He has always been avidly anti-nuclear, because he recognizes the hubris inherent in that bargain, but he said, "That's ridiculous. Black carbon is going to get us first..." He launched into a long description of what he meant and I ate the Kiss. A couple days later, Professor Michael Dorsey, then at Dartmouth College, had invited me down to Cambridge, MA, to hear Dr. Theo Epstein, an aged, now deceased expert on endocrine disruption. In her speech she said something to the effect of, "It is not climate change or nuclear weapons, but dangerous chemicals in the environment that are going to get us first." This inspired me--as much an expert on laundry as Helen on nukes or Bill on climate or Theo on endocrine disruption, to write ironically, in a book about laundry that I never got published, "Laundry is the only thing that matters."

In looking for a publisher, I shared the manuscript with Bill. Though I will go to my grave knowing what was uttered, because I could not make-up the details of the Hershey's Kiss story if I tried, McKibben told me that we had never had that conversation. I decided not to pursue it, because I thought what Bill was doing was worthy and I did not need a rift with him over some silly throw-away line in an allegory for my book. It wounded me, though, because he questioned my veracity and it scared me a little, because I saw that he knew then how important control of the message about who he is had become. There were so many lessons to glean from the day of the Kiss and the day he rejected the Kiss story.

Nobody Likes (Or Should Like) A Javier

Jon Krakauer's nasty Three Cups of Deceipt turned me off to his writings permanently. Well-researched and correct on many accounts, it was a tremendous amount of effort on Krakauker's part to show (er, expose) that someone who was basically well-meaning, if ethically a bit loose, was not a knight in shining armor. Michael Moore, niggardly and with all of the flare of Ai Wei-wei but less of the gravitas, has advertently or inadvertently stepped into that Victor Hugo role with the release of this film. I hope that McKibben's Lady Macbethian protestations do not force him and Gibbs to dig in their heels. That is, indeed, the risk of McKibben's response. Since Bill has sought to demonize them and make them into irresponsible trolls, bent on breaking a movement (that does not really exist) or providing cover for the dishonest corporations, such as Exxon, and their eleemosynary handmaidens at Heartwood or such, the natural response of Moore and Gibbs might be to say, "We made this movie because we think we are right."

I am no moral relativist, but there is no right here. We are all feeling our way in the dark. I have some John the Baptist qualities, too. I remember having another conversation with McKibben, both of us non-scientists, where I said that I did not understand why "natural gas" was being promoted as a transition fuel, because methane was 87 times more potent as a climate warming gas over a 20 year period than carbon dioxide. At that time, natural gas was seen as better than dirty coal and he did his best to explain. Now we know that it might not be (but let''s not get lost in that red herring argument right now) and, as Bill notes in Rolling Stone for the zillionth time, we know that we have to get off all fossil fuels and wood chips today. Whether we should also get off solar and wind is an interesting question. (Maybe we should stop doing laundry, too, and just wear our Levi's for months without washing. Not a novel suggestion!)

The real truth is that we, as a sentient species with higher-consciousness, are desperate in the face of a likely existential challenge. We are faced with the question, in America (as America goes, so goes the planet?) of whether we want to die quickly with Trump, a dangerous anti-science ignoramus, or slowly with Biden, who has never been a leader on climate change. Those of us who have been thinking about climate change since 1988 or 1989 or longer know that we are, as a species, fucked and that a lot of other species are fucked because of us. I knew it about ten years ago, which is why I did the cowardly but sane thing, and moved to China to teach English and American history, leaving the environmental movement behind. It was clear. Enough people were not going to cold-water wash or line dry their clothes, properly inflate their car tires, adopt LED bulbs, etc. Corporations and governments were not going to do the right thing in time for us to avoid catastrophic warming. We did not know enough about the impact of thawing permafrost and methane clathrates, leaking pipelines or much of anything to be sure that we could keep the Earth's air and water currents flowing in their current patterns. But people like McKibben and my high school friend Chris, who, when we met again in our thirties, was an eager beaver bureaucrat (with the over-confidence inculcated into us at the Academy, he thought he could change the world), have soldiered on for this past decade. Why? Hope. Hope, faith, and love. The greatest of these may, in the end, not be love (heretical as that may be), but hope. Hope, Human and Wild.

So what is so enraging about the Moore and Gibbs' project is that it is hopelessly devoid of solutions, but that does not then make it a worthless endeavor. Michael Moore works on worthwhile topics; credit where credit is due. As I said before, it asks some good questions, which, as I tell my students, is the most important skill. The big question for all of us is: where do we need to go and how fast? The Hopers (like Chris and Bill) think that the world we must create assembles a bearable existence (no Utopia, for sure) with fields of solar panels and pasture-fed livestock. The Cynics like Leonardo DiCaprio's Cowspiracy directors, Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, and Michael Moore's Planet of the Humans director, Jeff Gibbs, believe that the world, if it is to be joyous and inhabitable, may not look like that Sierra Club and Greenpeace-approved version. These are not two camps. I, for one, do not belong to either one. I hope, nay I faithfully believe that most of us know we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic until we figure out together what that world has to look like, still knowing that when we do "know" we may still be wrong. Nobody can be sure. If they tell you that they are, cry, "Hubris" and move to China...or Australia.