Friday, September 28, 2012

Finding William Blake, 1983





An Unread Book

Who would have guessed, or ever
Imagined what treasure
Lay in the antique bookshop in Chelsea, England?
Long after my fascination had been firmly
Ingrained in my soul –
And though my mind was not on the poet that day –
My steps must have been guided.

Book lover that I am, the crowded shelves drew me in.
Leather bound and one hundred years old,
Almost like new, it must have been unread.
Kindred spirit, his words spoke of infinite beauty seen in
Every grain of sand.

2002                                                 Charles Kinnaird


[Artwork credit: “Christ in the Sepulchre, Guarded by Angels,”  by William Blake
Public Domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Eugenics and Misguided Visions for a Better Society


(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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In the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, in addition to seeking better treatment for people with developmental disabilities (or “mental defectives” as was the term at the time), there was also a move toward “improving society” by segregating troublesome segments of the population. In the early 20th century, people with mental retardation were thought to reflect decay in society and were considered to be a contributing factor toward crime, poverty, and immorality.  In 1921, an editorial in The Birmingham Age-Herald praised Alabama’s Home for the Feeble-minded as a humanitarian dream, not just for being a “step forward in the care of her wards needing and deserving help,” but also for protecting society which “runs a great risk in having them at large.” (Larson, p. 90)

Among the medical and scientific communities, eugenics was also being promoted throughout the early decades of the 20th century as a means to improve the human race through genetics and breeding. In the U.S., eugenics had its greatest influence from 1905 to 1930. There had been studies indicating that heredity was a major factor in “feeble-mindedness,” insanity, delinquency, poverty, and crime. Eugenics became a movement promoting the idea that a better civilization could be built by the elimination of the unfit. Eugenists had the idea that “such schemes as marriage restriction, sexual sterilization, or permanent custody of the defective,” would lead to an improved human race. (Haller, p. 6) 

Mark Haller, in his book on eugenics, explains that with the advent of intelligence testing in the early 20th century, there arose the "myth of the menace of the feebleminded." The idea was promoted that those with mental retardation would inevitably lead a life of crime and immorality. In order to protect society, institutions were built across the country to keep the feeble-minded segregated from society and to prevent them from reproducing. The eugenics movement saw this as a way to eliminate the "unfit" elements of humanity and improve the human race. The institutions for the feeble-minded soon embarked upon establishing farm colonies where their charges could contribute to society and, more importantly, could allow states to run the institutions with little investment from public funds due to revenue generated from the farm colonies). The "myth of the menace of the feebleminded" began to be questioned as scientific testing became more adept and further social research was done. It became clear that mental retardation did not unequivocally lead to crime and  delinquency. Some institutions were finding, in fact, that many inmates who were trained in their farm colonies could then be hired in the community to do similar work and lead productive lives outside the institution. (Haller, pp. 95-123)

W. D. Partlow
At Partlow State School, the concepts of sterilization and “permanent custody of the defective” were actively promoted by none other than the school’s founder, Dr. William D. Partlow, one of Alabama’s strongest supporters of eugenics.  Under his leadership at the institution and influence with the state legislature, the school “maintained a strict policy of sexually segregating all inmates during their stay and sterilizing them upon their discharge. This was done, Partlow explained in purely eugenic terms, to ‘serve the State and society by looking to the future.’” (Larson, p 106)

Dr.  Partlow continued to lobby for state legislation promoting eugenics even after the public opinion in Alabama had turned against it.  As early as 1935, people were seeing the dangers of eugenics in Nazi Germany and many became more vocal in their opposition. (Kaelber) Nevertheless, the idea continued to persist that people with mental retardation should be kept separate from society for their own good and for the protection of society based on the unfounded fear that that they were a danger to the public.


*    *    *

In 1941, when Dorothy entered Partlow State School, the institution was not quite 20 years old and the influence of the eugenics movement had peaked but was still play. She was coming to a place that had been overcrowded and underfunded since the first year it opened. She faced an entirely new world at the age of ten, with no family to guide her. During my conversations with her she had been living in her own apartment for many years. I asked her to tell me what life was like at Partlow.  The following are some of her recollections shared during our conversations:


The Daily Routine

"They had a school there. They had some real sweet teachers and then they had some real hateful teachers.  They told me in Sylacauga that when I went to Partow I could fix my lunch and take it to school. When I got there I said, “Who’s going to fix my lunch?” They told me we didn’t take lunches to school. I got mad and said, “Well where do we eat at?” They said you eat in the dining room with everybody else.” I thought we would take our own lunches, because when I was in school in Sylacauga, everybody took their own lunch to school. At Partlow there was a big main dining room. Later they turned it into offices and a beauty parlor, and they put a cafeteria in downstairs.

"For a long time we had tin cups and tin plates in the dining room. We’d have cocoa in the morning – they wouldn’t let us have coffee back then. It was almost like a prison camp to me.

"I would go to school every morning. I didn’t really like going because they wouldn’t let us take our lunch and they wouldn’t let us go off the campus to shop for anything. We had breakfast in the dining hall. We used to have to walk all the way form the main girl’s building over to the dining room – it was a pretty good piece, too.

"We had a big place called the Community House. They had an auditorium there and we had school and church and picture shows in the same place. They did have them in the old workshop for a while until it caught fire, then they had to keep them in the Community House."

"I could read some before I went to Partlow, but I was just as dumb-headed as they make ‘em when it comes to arithmetic.

"Classes went from 7:00 in the morning to about 2:00 in the afternoon. The boys would go to school, but they wouldn’t let them sit with us, they had them over in another room. I went to school I guess until I was about 35 or 40 years old. I think I was about 44 or 45 when I can to Birmingham.

"I had one or two teachers and I liked them both, but I didn’t really have any favorites.  I learned how to read and write [at Partlow]. When I went there, I knew how to write my name and my ABCs. The hardest part was having to stay there all the time and not having any home-cooked meals. They would fix the food, but they wouldn’t season it. We used to have apple butter and peanut butter and pork ‘n beans on Sunday night and Thursday night.

"I think I was about 14 or 15 years old when I learned to read and write. It was a girl taught me. She had beautiful handwriting and I used to watch her. I would try to write the way she did. I was bad to make capital letters. The teacher told me one day, you write real good, Dorothy, but you make too many capital letters.

"When I went to Partlow I didn’t know how to do nothing but write my name and my ABCs. The teacher’s name was Maggie Williams. I used to love to read them story books. They had a shelf in the school room. They had it like a library but they didn’t have no library. We had to get books off the shelves to read.  I would go around and pick the ones I liked to read. I read one story about the 12 brothers that turned in to 12 swans and one about a little country school house. I read one about the peanut children.

"We took all our meals in the dining hall, and if we got sick they always had a can of tomato juice and grape juice or orange juice.  There was also an infirmary there. It was like a hospital. They had this suction pump and if people had a bad cold and didn’t know how to get that stuff up, they used the suction pump on you.

"On Thursday nights they’d have movie night. It wasn’t in a movie theater, it was in a workshop. Then they’d have peanut butter, pork and beans, and crackers and apple butter – that was for Thursday night. Then Sunday night they’d have it again for supper. Sometime during the week they’d have string beans and rice, of macaroni, and it wasn’t even seasoned or nothing."

Occupational Training and Work Activities

"In addition to school, they had a place to teach occupational jobs, like working on the rug loom and things like that, but I never did do it. I tried to crochet, but I couldn’t get it right. We had to go to a place called the O.T. Shop. I was there one time and I wanted some coffee. This girl promised me some and she didn’t give me none. I got so mad I threw a glass jar and broke it. The instructor made me go back to the building. The reason she sent me back was I called her a S.O.B.  An attendant put me in the corner of the day room and I had to stay there until three o’clock when it was time for her to go off duty. 

"One day I was trying my best to learn how to crochet, but I could do nothing but make a chain. I got my twine in a knot and I had a #5 needle. I chunked it and the needle went one way and the twine another. Then the lady told me to go back to the girls’ building.

"They never did pay us for work we did. They would pay the employees but they wouldn’t pay us.[I did] laundry work and ward work, cafeteria work and things like that.
I worked in the laundry, maybe two years. Then I fainted one time and they took me out. I never did go back. I worked on them old steam pressers, a big old flat iron with iron rollers on it. We did the laundry for everybody there at Partlow.

"I had to do ward work where they had all the cots and beds. Then I had to put down wax and turpentine. It was that old Johnson’s wax and that stuff would blister your knees. We cleaned with turpentine, and then we would put the wax down. We had to do all that on our hands and knees. That was a big old place, too. It was on the ward where we lived and in the sitting room.

"I used to scrub a big old rotunda that had those old marble floors. They would have as many as they could get out cleaning the floors. We would start at the top of the steps mopping – there were three different levels of marble steps – and we would make our way down. We had them old sling polishers – it was a big ol’ block of wood with a rope nailed on both ends. It was wrapped all in blankets. We would have to drag them and sling ‘em, and some people would sit on ’em and we’d have to pull them around. Those things were heavy! We had one with a wooden handle and you had to use it by itself. Then we got a floor buffer and I never could use it. It would start going one way and I’d get aggravated. I couldn’t even run the thing, I mean it was hard to handle! We cleaned the floors every Saturday and every Thursday. I had to clean the big Rotunda. It was real big and it had a skylight overhead. I mean I had a time cleaning it.  You’d start at the top of the steps – and they had three different levels of marble steps – and you’d have to work your way down. There was also a big sofa.  I had to soak that thing, scrub it with a scrub brush, mop it and then rinse it – by myself!

"They had a place called the Boys Colony. They used to take some of us on a big ol’ truck and take us out there to gather peanuts or pick cotton or something like that. I mean it was pretty much a job! They’d make you go to the okra field, and I despised that old okra field. That stuff would get on you make you itch and sting. I didn’t mind getting out in the apple orchard and crab-apples.

"They would make us do every kind of a thing. If they caught us sitting around, or if you felt bad and didn’t have a temperature, they would make you get up and go to work whether you felt like it or not. It was about that way in Thomasville.
When I was in Thomasville [after they moved me out of Partlow], I had to wash and iron the bed linens for everybody. I had to clean two or three houses for the employers there. They would pay me some for that."

Bathing and Dressing

"I remember they would line us up in the hallway with no clothes on. They would take three of us in to get a shower, then they’d come and take three more in for a shower. They never would let a bunch go in together. That was in the girl’s building.

"They used to keep our clothes behind a screen on these little wooden shelves. You had to get way up high to reach them. They would put them on a chair and set them out in the hall or in the living room when you got out of the shower. They would have them all wrapped up with your name on them and they would call your name and they would hand them to you. They kept our Sunday dresses hanging on a hanger under the shelves. We would dress up on Sunday and we would have church in the auditorium. We never did go anywhere else, though.

"At Partlow I helped to take wet things off when people would wash their under clothes by hand. They wouldn’t send them out to the laundry. They would wring ‘em out and they’d still be dripping wet when they hung them over the cot, and I mean it would be a mess.  Water would drip all over the floor. If the attendant caught ‘em they would really get on to them. I’d gather them up sometime and put them in the laundry so the staff wouldn’t get on to them. That was back during the post-war days. They would give us old domestic bloomers with draw strings. Some people had store bought underwear that their family had brought, but the rest of us had that plain old domestic underwear and pajamas."

*     *     *     *     *

Next week we will learn about some of the recreational opportunities that were available to the residents at Partlow State School.
____________
References:


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Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Music: The Lowlands

Every now and then I enjoy listening to recordings from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Will the Circle be Unbroken. The first historic recording was made in 1972 featuring old time country and bluegrass artists playing with the younger generation of musicians. Two more collaborative albums ensued over the years. It has been a wonderful way to preserve authentic acoustic music born of simple hard-working lives in an era that rewards mostly slick commercial productions.

One of my favorite numbers from Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Vol. III is "The Lowlands," featuring Jaime Hanna and Jonathon McEuen.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

An Autumn Memory


She Sat in Autumn

My grandmother sat in autumn
Shelling pecans at the kitchen table.
At mid afternoon
The children were at play in the yard
Parents, at work.
She made herself useful
Preparing a sack of pecans
That would go to candies and pies
Destined for holiday enjoyment.

Her fingers remained nimble
Though hands were darkened
By age spots;
Skin wrinkled by
Time and duty.

She thinks back to younger days 
(My childhood heart knew nothing of her sorrow).
So many years a widow,
She wonders what might have been
If that fiery Irishman, ten years her senior,
Had only had a stronger heart.
She hurts for her son –
The favored one –
Whose life spiraled into alcohol and bitterness.

“How did you keep yourself whole
And loving?” I asked
In this autumn-tinted memory,
“So that all I ever saw
Was gladness and light?”

“I had to welcome what life brought,”
Her thin fingers grasped the nutcracker
To loose another autumn kernel,
“I had to be here to shell pecans.”

                                     Charles Kinnaird



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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: A Judge's Ruling


(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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Institutionalization

A move toward the humane treatment of the mentally ill in Alabama began in 1861 when Dr. Peter Bryce established the Alabama Insane Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The institution would later be named Bryce Hospital in honor of its founder. The plight of the mentally ill before that had been relegated to care at home, sometimes locked away in an attic or cellar, or if they were indigent, they wound up in the county poorhouse. Social reformer Dorothea Dix had campaigned for the establishment of institutions where the mentally ill could receive humane treatment and had visited Alabama to appeal to the state legislature to establish such an institution.

At a time when little was known about treatment of the mentally ill, Dr. Bryce seems to have been at the forefront of medical thought. “He firmly believed in the following four methods of treatment: (1) Early treatment (2) Tender loving care (3) Occupational therapy, and (4) Non-restraint.” (Tarwater, p. 10) By the early 20th century, the hospital was becoming overcrowded, making it necessary to establish a second hospital (Searcy Hospital in Mount Vernon) for the mentally ill.  

In 1908, Dr. W.D. Partlow became administrator for both facilities and recognized the need for a separate institution for the treatment of people with mental retardation. In 1923 he opened “The Alabama Home for Mental Deficients,” which was later renamed Partlow State School and Hospital.  There had previously been no public provision for people with mental retardation and the institution was completely filled within two months of its opening, many of it residents coming from poor houses and orphanages. With room to accommodate only 160 people, Partlow State School and Hospital immediately faced what happened with many similar institutions across the South: being overcrowded and underfunded. (Larson, p. 90)  

In an after dinner address at The Newcomen Society of North America, delivered in 1964 in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. James S. Tarwater painted a rosy picture of the treatment offered at Partlow State School and at Bryce Hospital. He detailed modern advancements and improvements in treatment, proclaiming that Dr. Bryce’s basic methods of early treatment, tender loving care, occupational therapy, and non-restraint were still the cornerstone for patient care.  After dinner speeches, like ribbon-cuttings, are designed to put the intended subject in the most favorable light. No doubt many were impressed by the picture of how patients with mental illness and mental retardation were being treated in Alabama.

An Insider's View

At the time Dr. Tarwater's speech was delivered, however, my friend Dorothy Burdette had been at Partlow State School and Hospital for 23 years.  Her recollections as a resident on the inside the institution are quite different from those told by the good doctor to the dinner guests that evening.  Dorothy, as you may recall, told of being taken before a judge in Sylacauga who issued the ruling that she be placed at Partlow State School. She was ten years old at the time. Here is how she recalls her admission to Partlow:

"It was in 1941 [the day I went to Partlow], and it was an awful day. We got up at 6:00 that morning. My legal guardian, she bathed me and dressed me and everything. We started out, got as far as Montgomery or somewhere, then the judge from Welfare took over. And he took me down there.  I thought sure they had a shopping mall down there and when I got there, we couldn’t even go off the premises or nothing.

"When I first got there they gave me a typhoid shot. I went to the main girl’s building for two or three nights, then they moved me to the #3 building where the “high type” girls was at, and I didn’t like it much over there either. Then they moved me back to the other building because I was still pretty young and little. I remember one girl said I looked like a walking Shirley Temple doll – she said I was the prettiest little girl she ever saw. I stayed there about two or three months and then they moved me back to the main building – that was where I grew up. 

"At the Girls #2 building was where the lower-type people were. They had a drug room there where they always kept medicine and they made this old toothpaste out of soda and something-or-other. They had them old wooden toothbrushes. We had to brush our teeth with that stuff and it tasted horrible. They had an old wooden toothbrush board in the bathroom. One time a girl got on to me about laughing at something, and she made me mad, and I slapped her and I slapped her harder than I meant to and her head went up agin that toothbrush board and it fell and all the tooth brushes went in the floor. The attendant opened the door and she told her she couldn’t mess with me that I’d slap her crazy. I thought I was the cock of the walk.

"We all lived on one ward. We had 44 beds to the ward – them little cots – and then they put beds in there later.  I think they moved the beds in just a little while before I left from there.

"I was in B Ward in Building #2. They had an A ward, a B ward, a C, D, and E ward. I stayed down on 1 and 2 East a long time. 1 East was really a little girls’ ward.  And the big girls was on one side and the little girls on the other. 

"Then they had these cross halls in the # 2 Building. These were little rooms with slats and one window. When somebody would act out or misbehave, even the higher types, they would put then there and put them in an old cover-all dress and lock them in their rooms.

"In the lower-type building, it was horrible the way some of them were treated. Some of the attendants would tie them down to their beds and beat them – those were the ones that were badly retarded. Some of the higher-type that they had over there to help out would mistreat them too. I thank God I never did. I always tried to be kind to them. I won’t have to face that judgment before God for mistreating them.

"They had a little boys building where they put the lower-type boys, and then they had a building called 10 East with the girls that were crippled or handicapped, or something like that where they couldn’t do for themselves, and they put them down there. And the same with the #2 East Building. They had little cross halls, and they would put some of them in there. The ones that didn’t know any better would go the bathroom in the floor and wipe it all over the walls.

"They also had a C building where all the colored folks lived, then later they integrated.
[Toward the end, before I left Partlow] I went to Cottage Nine and stayed there about three months then they moved me to Thomasville.

"I stayed there at Partlow 32 years before I ever got out."



*    *    *    *    

Next week we will learn about the influence of eugenics and hear more from Dorothy about the daily routine at Partlow State School.

______________

Citations:

  • Larson, Edward (1996). Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South, Johns Hopkins University Press 
  • Tarwater, James (1964). The Alabama State Hospitals and the Partlow State School and Hospital, Newcomen Society in North America 


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Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Music: Wide Awake

Earlier this month I was on a road trip with my daughter. Listening to her choices of radio stations, I had the opportunity or hear what young people are listening to these days. I was surprised to find that much of it was similar to the Top 40 hits from my day (in other words, I could actually listen and enjoy it). One of the hits being broadcast was "Wide Awake," by Kathy Perry. I like the declaration of being awake. As the Buddha and other spiritual leaders have tried to tell us, many of us have yet to awaken.

The song tells of being jolted awake by a dose of reality: "falling from cloud 9," and "everything you see ain't always what it seems." I had a professor once who said that sometimes he would hear people lament that they were disillusioned. His comment to the class was, "If it was an illusion to begin with, is it such a bad thing to be disillusioned?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Living Arrangements


(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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In our conversations, Dorothy would sometimes describe the house or houses where she lived as a child. Once she described her house as “being near the woods.” Another time she indicated that her family lived in a duplex.  After her mother died when she was ten, it seems that she and her father went from poor to destitute.  When her father was sent to prison, Dorothy tells of being sent to live with a legal guardian prior to being committed to Parlow State School.

Living Arrangements

“We moved around a lot back then. We didn’t have no house to live in after my mother died. My daddy, it’s a sad, sad thing, had to live in an old outhouse. It wasn’t no iron pit toilet in there, they took it out. There was no door, just a tow sack nailed across where the door was supposed to be. Later, my daddy found an old door and put it up there. He had to live in there and cook in there. He cooked on a little wood-burning stove that he picked up somewhere.

“We had no running water. We had to go way down in the hollow to this little spring to get our water. People used to keep their milk and butter down in the spring to keep it cold.
“To go to the bathroom, we had to go down this trail behind the house and get behind some bushes. There was a cot in that house. Sometimes I’d go to sleep with him on the cot, sometimes I would have to sleep on a quilt on the floor. Back then you could sleep with the door open, or out on the porch and still be safe. It wasn’t like it is now.

“The only time we got somethin’ to eat was out of the garbage dump.  My daddy didn’t have no job and couldn’t get one. He used to sell this old scrap metal. He never could get a job. I were with him there about half a year, then I went to live with that Knights. After that I went with my legal guardian in Comerdale.”

*    *    *

“After my mother died and my daddy went to prison, I was living with a couple, their name was Knight. Then I lived with my legal guardian, Mr. and Mrs. L.A. Stevenson. She came one night when I was at the Knight’s house and I didn’t know who she was. She handed me a block of chewing gum. I was practically a little wild and scared of anybody and I snatched it and took the wrapper off of it and put it in my mouth. Then she went and got me and put me in her lap. She said, “I’m going to take you to my house and fix you some hot corn bread and soup.” She did, and from then on I never did want to go back to where I was because they had got my daddy and took him on to jail. And then they had his court. After that I never did see him no more.  He went to Kilby prison. They didn’t have his records. That old Kilby Prison was destroyed by fire, and they had to build a new one on to it.  He died July 28, 1941.”

*   *   *

“I got under Child’s Welfare [when I was living with my legal guardian].  The probate judge of Sylacauga, named Harvey Littles, Judge Harvey Littles.  He had two nieces in Partlow. One of them was a lot older than me and she worked in the laundry at that time. Well, Ms. Ruth Hamilton and Ms. William Todd with Child Welfare got together and they decided to place me down there. And they gave me a mind test, a lady by the name of Miss Keebler did, I don’t remember her first name. And then there was a lady named Miss Vortman. She was a nurse at the city hall in Sylacauga.

“So my judge and the welfare lady had me took down there and I didn’t even want to go. Ms. William Todd, she came to see me one time and brought me a coloring book and some colors. I didn’t have any better sense and I got mad with her about something or other and I wouldn’t let her know I was mad. I had a coloring book and I just took my crayons and twirled them around and around in my teeth, and I think I pitched them out the car window, as well as I remember. I didn’t want to go there. She wound up and signed the papers and they put me on the waiting list and they wound up putting me down there.”

“No, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t even have a choice, they just put me there.”

*   *   *   *   *

Next time we will begin discussing the years at Partlow State School.



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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 9-11


Last year I re-posted a poem on the tenth anniversary of 9-11. This year, my friend Jane at Spiritually Speaking offers some soul-searching words of healing for all who would hear. You can read her essay here.



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Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Music: Stardust

In the movie Men in Black there is a scene in which Tommie Lee Jones' character is showing Will Smith's character some new technology recently acquired from space aliens which will provide a more compact and efficient way of recording music. "I guess I'll be buying the White Album again," Tommie Lee Jones added.
Although I do have the Beatles' "White Album" on CD, Willie Nelson's Stardust is one I have listened to on vinyl, cassette, and CD.

Recorded in 1978, Willie Nelson's rendition of old standards demonstrated that American music has certain essential characteristics that cross all genres, and there are things about every genre that everyone can enjoy. Here is the title track, "Stardust," written by the great Hoagy Carmichael.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Poem From Space: Curiosity Takes a Turn

I was inspired to write a poem about NASA's new rover "Curiosity" when I saw this image from an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Images taken by the Curiosity rover on Mars show a plume of dust, left, which had disappeared when 
another photo was snapped 45 minutes later. Engineers say the plume indicates the crash-landing 
of the spacecraft that delivered the rover to the Martian surface. (NASA)


Curiosity Takes a Turn 
Arthur C. Clark whispers from his grave –
Strains from Songs of Distant Earth
As the images transmit
From Curiosity on Mars.

The robotic cruiser had descended
Onto a barren landscape.
Her mission: to gather data;
To find any possible evidence of life;
To take note of even a distant notion of cellular being;
To employ scientific curiosity at every turn.

True to her mission,
Curiosity began at once
Surveying the undiscovered country –
A land not seen by human eye.

Then turning,
A plume of dust
Registers in the unblinking lens:
An impact cloud upon the horizon.
The mother ship that dropped her in this
Strange new place –
Now scattered remnants.

She records the data:
No way back home.
Nothing left but to proceed as planned
In silent isolation.

                                                                               Charles Kinnaird



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Here's a fascinating video of how we got there:






And here is some actual footage of Curiosity's descent:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: School Days


(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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I wanted to find out about Dorothy’s early experiences in school.  Most of my questions were open-ended questions just to find out from her what her early schooling had been like. Sometimes I would ask a few more questions to clarify, but I never asked any probing questions. I am no psychologist and I was not interested in delving into how she felt about her childhood and its circumstances. I primarily wanted to hear her story as she wanted to tell it.  If she did not want to dwell on a particular topic, I saw no reason to push it.

Some of her memories evoked light-hearted moments, while most indicated that she had difficulty learning and also faced some teasing and bullying from the other students.  After I had typed up our recorded conversations, I arranged her comments to put them in chronological order. I also edited out my questions so that what was written would be Dorothy’s story in her own words.  Here are the words that I placed under the category, “School Days:”

“I went to school in Sylacauga but we weren’t graded and everything. I read some, but never could do anything with arithmetic. Then one day they were all laughing at me. The teacher told them, ‘She can out spell any one of you!’”

“I first went to school at Drummond-Frasier. I wasn’t in school long, maybe about 2 and a half months. Then they got to pickin’ at me and everything and I was scared to go to the bathroom. This little ol’ girl would always fasten me up in the bathroom. Back then it wasn’t like it is now. I didn’t like her.  One day I got sick and I was afraid to go to the bathroom because of the way they would latch me up in there. I was afraid to go and I wet all over myself. The teacher sent me out in the hall. My mother came and took me out and I never did go back. I told my mother I didn’t like that girl and she took me out of there.”

“Professor Crothler was the principle, the teacher there was hateful and sent me to his office, but he didn’t whip me because he knew me and my mother had told him all about me. One time he gave me a little rabbit in a cage, and I kept that rabbit ‘till he died.”
“One time I was showing a picture that I colored to the teacher and that girl pinched me and, I don’t know, somehow or other I shoved her and they took me to the principal’s office. He didn’t do nothin’ because he thought I had a right to shove her if she pinched me.”

“The next year I went to Mignon. I think I went to Mignon a little over a year. I never made any grades – I couldn’t read or write or nothin’. One time I got on the wrong school bus. I don’t know where I went, but I got on the wrong bus. I thought I never would get back. Then the driver put me off and somebody else took me to where I was supposed to go.”

 “Then there was this one time I tried to go home with another girl. The driver wouldn’t let me get on the bus because he knew I didn’t ride that bus.”

“After I went to live with my legal guardian, she put me in Odena School. It was a little two-room school house. I used to walk to school. Then one day going home, an old crazy man got after me. I got scared and I run. He was in a car, and I ran through a corn field. When I got home I told my legal guardian. She told me he was crazy and he had killed a little girl a couple of years before. After that they wouldn’t let me walk to school no more. My legal guardian would drive me. She worked in the cotton mill. Later they told me that they put that old crazy man in an insane asylum.”

“I couldn’t learn nothin' [at school]. The teacher wouldn’t take no time with me. They finally took me out of school.  About 6 months after that they admitted me to Partlow School.”



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