The Five Whys of Renaming a Middle School

We are about to go down a rabbit hole, or three or four, so I will give you the punch-line, the spoiler ending, up front. Juan Crespí Middle School, which sits on the northeastern edge of San Francisco Bay, was formally renamed Betty Reid Soskin Middle School Wednesday, on Soskin’s 100th birthday. And there was much rejoicing.

But Why? I asked. Not Why choose Soskin. That’s easy. She’s a badass social justice warrior, as I’ve said before in my pre-pandemic 2019 blog, Betty Reid Soskin: Social Justice Ninja Warrior.

Why was the school named for Crespí in the first place? Who was the dude? How did he get picked for the naming? Why did they decide to rename it now? I had questions. Of course, each question led to more questions. In my previous work life, we were trained to uncover the root cause of problems by asking Five Whys. When you do that on the Internet, suddenly, the morning disappears. There’s always more than meets the eye. But it’s all good.

So, if you want some answers and to learn a little about the history of the Spanish New World expeditions, missions, epidemiology, and the politics of nomenclature, then settle in for a few minutes. The Internet beckons. La madriguera de coneja–the rabbit hole–beckons.

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How Dinosaurs Matter to Our Survival

If you come at the king’s arms, you best not miss. Better yet, run sideways. Photo at

Dinosaurs do matter to our future. Of course, I am not suggesting that there will be a time machine where a bespectacled parasaurolophus jumps out and yells, “You must plant Okra, before it’s too late!” … although that would be cool. But thinking about dinosaurs could be helpful to us, as explained in a fascinating little book by Kenneth Lacovara called Why Dinosaurs Matter.

I highly recommend the book, or at least Lacovara’s TED talk on YouTube, but let me debrief you. Consider this a book report that might contribute to saving the planet. It’s the scientific variation of the saying:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.


Dinosaurs Are a Metaphor for Abundance, Not Failure

So what lessons can dinosaurs teach us? If you see an 8.5 mile wide asteroid heading for your neighborhood, bend over and firmly place your head between your knees… or something a little less primitive?

Lacovara’s strongest point is that dinosaurs were an incredibly successful branch on the tree of life. They had zillions of species, ranging from smaller than a chicken to bigger than a Boeing 737. Their reign covered nearly a third of the span of time that multi-celled life has been on earth–three times as along as us mammals. The biggest irony, in fact, is that the word “dinosaur” is used as a metaphor for being outmoded or incapable of change because the dinosaur kingdom’s capacity to diversify and adapt is still unparalleled. They didn’t really “go extinct” as much as being extinguished by an extra-terrestrial bolt of lightning. Besides, technically, they’re not extinct–but we’ll get to that.

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Our History of Labor: Strike One! Strike Two!

Exhibit from the earliest factory strike in America, Rhode Island 1824

I suspect many of us are enjoying this three-day weekend: Labor Day, Back to School, End of Summer, Back to Work. Of course, many kids have already gone to school–or some semblance of it, with masks and shortened days–and those who work have probably been doing so and will continue. But any time’s the right time for a Holiday, isn’t it?

The focus of this holiday has always been barbecues and the last little celebration before the chill of autumn begins. Yet, unlike Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, there’s rarely a thought given to the reason the day itself. Let’s change that.

Let’s talk about Labor.

Picture from celebrating Labor Day

If you remember your high school American History — or if you google it — the late 1880s always pops up as the “birth” of Labor Movement. This is both true and false. America, like other places with expanding factories and machines in the late 19th century, saw a rise in demands for better treatment of workers. But demands didn’t spring out of nowhere in 1886, the date of the first government-sanctioned Labor Day. History did not begin in 1886. Worker demands go back further than that.

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