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A Yankee Notebook

March 23, 2015


MONTPELIER, VT – Information flows through this office in a steady stream if I but open the portal to the Internet. “Shocking truth” from obscure and highly suspect sources; televised interviews with public figures; warm, fuzzy video clips of dogs and cats and wrestling pandas; hateful, profane screeds against the usurper in the White House; stunning photographs; archeological discoveries; and now and then some genuine news. P.T. Barnum couldn’t mix it up it any better.

The Canadian evening news broadcasters seem genuinely tickled that a “former Canadian” is the first declared candidate in the 2016 United States presidential election. I attribute their delight to their use of the word, “former.” Evangelical preachers are trolling the prophecy of the Book of Joel to warn darkly that the current cycle of four “blood moons” is evidence of the end of Earth. And one of my favorite institutions, the New Hampshire General Court, has made the national news with an amazing demonstration that, against all scientific evidence to the contrary, dinosaurs and human beings do indeed coexist on the earth.

This goes one better on the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, in which the exhibits place the two life forms in common tableaux. The museum’s sponsor, Answers in Genesis, admits that it’s possible the sauropods may no longer be with us. But if they’re looking for exciting new evidence that they are, they have but to visit New Hampshire and watch its legislature in action. One of its recent deliberations was far too good to let pass without comment.

“You sit in the gallery above those 400-some old people,” a friend told me some years ago, “and watch all those retired gray heads nodding and trying to keep awake. It’s like watching surf breaking on a beach.” But this recent incident seems to have awakened at least some of them.

Do you remember fourth grade? I do, sort of. Genevieve Crowe was our teacher. It was during the War. We bought Defense Stamps and learned tooth care from Mrs. Hungerford, the school nurse, who held up an outsized set of plaster teeth with a brush to match. We were taught (I almost said “learned”) arithmetic and basic math, spelling, and...and that’s all I can remember. If there were lessons in history or what’s now called Civics, they didn’t stick.

Fast forward to today. Those of you who occasionally begin complaints with, “Kids these days...” need not continue. Because kids these days are doing just fine, thank you – even under the constant demands for their attention from ubiquitous electronic stimuli. They’re preparing for a world that we old fogies can’t even envision, much less understand. Naturally, we think that’s an irrevocable step backward. We’re half-right; it’s most likely irrevocable. The jury of history is still out on the other half. But the kids’ emerging values and practices – gender equality, renewable energy, eschewing automobiles, foreign study and language – clearly put us fogies to shame. Consider the recent mini-flap in the Vermont House when a youngster proposed a state slogan in Latin. The Ignoronet lit up: “If they want to speak Latin, let ‘em go back to Mexico.”

In this somewhat oppressive atmosphere, eight fourth-graders at Lincoln Akerman School in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire – down on the seacoast – hopefully created a bill to be presented at the legislative session (a right guaranteed to any citizen). The bill would designate the red-tailed hawk the New Hampshire State Raptor. The class, according to its teacher, Jim Cutting, had been studying state symbols and the democratic process for creating laws. They found a sponsor for their bill – House Bill 373– who saw it successfully through committee hearings. They knew, before the bill reached the floor, that only about twenty percent of debated bills are passed on for the Governor’s signature. But red-tailed hawks? Pretty innocuous – unless you’re a rabbit.

Or, it turns out, unless you’re a blood-red member of the antiabortion wing of the Grand Old Party. When the bill was presented for debate on the House floor, Representative Warren Groen (R - Rochester) responded: “[The red-tailed hawk] grasps [its prey] with its talons, then uses its razor-sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird, is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.” Other members in opposition snickered, one of them suggesting that if this sort of thing kept up, they’d soon be designating a State Hot Dog. There was no mention of every conservative’s favorite bird, the American eagle, which does just what the hawks do, but also often either devours carrion or steals the prey of weaker raptors. Now, there’s a national symbol to die for! The bill failed, anyway.

The kids were disappointed by the defeat and bemused by the sarcasm and snickering. They were bewildered by the references to Planned Parenthood, the hysterocentric Representative Groen’s favorite whipping boy. Their parents were at some pains to explain the allusion. Mr. Cutting, the teacher, was upset by the tone of the debate and the irrelevancies of hot dogs and abortions, and suggested that the representatives might remember that they’re role models.

But there are all kinds of role models, eh? Instead of watching a phony mock debate in their classroom (which one legislator suggested as an alternative), they saw the real thing in full flower, in a debate that involved them directly. They saw a herd of aging dinosaurs: Conservative old white men are on the way out. So, too, is their passionately held desire to regulate the lives of others; access to abortion (though much nibbled at) is the law of the land. Any of these kids who worked on this bill and saw its messy, dismissive butchering will never forget the experience. And in less than twenty years, fresh out of college, they’ll be back. God, I wish I could be around to see it!

Photo by Willem lange