Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: Generation Kill, Evan Wright

A review of Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America And the New Face of American War, Evan Wright.

The author, a journalist at Rolling Stone, rides fully embedded with Marines of the First Recon Battalion as they spearhead the initial drive into Iraq, blazing through small towns and dealing with jihadists, fayadeen, and forward observers disguised as civilians. They sleep --- very briefly, and intermittently --- in "Ranger graves" (small holes in the sand) and talk nonchalantly as tracers whizz by overhead. The talk about pop culture, squabble, say silly things, and fight valiantly.

With a keen ear for rough dialogue and a flair for making his subjects seem real and three-dimensional, Wright depicts the young military men of First Recon as brash, not particularly worldly, honest, willing, brave, strong, stoic in hardship, modest, and skilled. At the same time, he’s honest about the crude, racist language they use, their less sophisticated demeanor, and the generally infantile behavior of young men in close quarters. What emerges from the pages are men who may not be entirely likable, but are often wholly admirable.

The fact that Wright captures the men warts and all makes his depictions of two unnamed commanders all the more astonishing. One, nicknamed “Captain America,” is so utterly incompetent in every conceivable way (wrong each and every time about everything from coming under fire to the right direction to the hospital), and vicious to the point of arguably committing war crimes, it’s hard to believe anyone could be like that. But Wright seems a reliable reporter, and when he tells how this or another officer blunders again, or how the men don’t have the right batteries or equipment for a task, his convincing style makes the point hit home. It’s all the more powerful because Wright lets facts do the talking, rather than commenting on them himself. When he lets Captain America tell his side of a controversy, the reader can sense the spin from the captain rather than the facts.

One over-arching message of the book, aside from how worthy of respect the men of this battalion are in many ways, is that from the top, the war is in the hands of fools or evil people. One Iraqi says to the soldiers, “You are tearing this country apart. I do not think you will fix it.” And that’s exactly the point. On ground level, the men can tell that the absence of humanitarian aid is undermining all the good the military may do by killing insurgents, and at least one commander is personally disappointed when he comes to realize no aid will follow the army; as a result, he becomes less caring himself.

It’s a masterfully written book, and hard to put down. I found myself torn between cheering for these brave warriors and weeping at the waste of such good intentions and such powerful forces.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


The master of Kennin temple was an old and respected monk. At the temple lived a young protege studying under some of the more experienced monks. The protege saw the older disciples visit the master's room three times a day to receive instruction in sanzen or personal guidance in which they were given koans to stop mind-wandering.

The protege wished to do sanzen also. The old master shook his head, saying he should wait, as he was too young and unschooled.

But the young man insisted, so the master finally consented.

That very evening the young man went at the proper time to the threshold of the master's sanzen room. He struck the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went to sit before the master in respectful silence.

The master gave the young monk his koan. "You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together," said the old master. "Now show me the sound of one hand."

So the protege struck the master hard across the face with his open palm, making a satisfying "smack" sound.

His cheek stinging and his ears ringing, the old master stammered, "That's not really what I---"

"Fuck off," said the protege.


Two monks were walking the long road from Kennin temple to the nearest town. Around a bend, they came upon a rich woman standing still in the middle of the road. The rich woman had reached a particularly muddy patch, and was hesitating, unwilling to dirty the hem of her expensive silken garments.

Without a word, the first monk took up the woman in his arms and sloshed across the patch of mud. He put her down on the other side, again without a word, the two monks continued their journey. They walked on in silence, but the younger monk strained with impatience at every step. Finally, he could no longer contain himself.

"Why did you carry that rich woman across the patch of mud? We should not be involved with worldly affairs, or women at all! That was not an act befitting a monk!"

The first monk replied, “I put that woman down hours ago. Are you still carrying her?"

The younger monk realized what his friend meant, and was ashamed.

"Also," said the first monk, "I slid my hand up her cooch."


Sozuken, a master at Kennin temple, was asked by a student: "What is the most valuable thing in the world?"

The master replied: "The head of a dead cat."

"Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world?" inquired the student.

Sozuken replied: "Because no one can name its price."

So the monks had Sozuken committed at a nearby psychiatric care center.

Friday, August 29, 2008

An I clipped from a we

Work's been great for me, except for the horrible watery-eye congested allergy. The kids are great and behaving well, reacting quickly to a few quiet words by me at transitions. I introduced centers today, and the kids burned through all the activities I assigned them. I've got a very wide achievement gap, a couple who can read with perfect and immediate fluency; a couple who can't with confidence identify the sounds of all the letters; and the rest somewhere in between. Bless those struggling little guys, they try so hard, even if they sometimes don't really know what they're doing. I've been getting some much-appreciated praise from a few of the parents, which is nice. Despite my other worries and time takers going on these days, I've been staying at work til nearly five. If all else was stable, I'd be happy doing that every day.


The new place has electricity and water and gas now. Gas was a pain. I'm obviously unable to take any time at all away from work for the time being, and the gas company demanded that I be available to go home to watch the gas installer at any time from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Luckily, my very nice aunt (who can leave her work briefly) agreed to take the call, and went to let him in around 10 a.m. And then the guy left without lighting the pilot light. Which is kind of weird, I think; why wouldn't he go ahead and finsih the job as if someone was going to, oh, I don't know, live in the house? I had no idea where the damn pilot light was in the new place, and looked for it for some time. And then I called the gas company to tell me how to do it.


My father made an exponential improvement in the first seven days or so at his rehabilitation center, but the last ten have shown a plateau. Today I took Dog in to see him, but she was distracted and a bit skittish of the new place and people and the wheelchair, and so I think he was disappointed with her perfunctory glance at him. He seemed to me rather clouded in mental acuity. I don't know what's going to happen to him. Will he need to be in a nursing home for the rest of his life? I wish I could take care of him or pay for the care he needs at home, but I can't. My brother wants him to come live up in Oregon (with the wife and three kids), but my father isn't very enthusiastic about that scenario. He and my sister-in-law don't see eye to eye very much, and the kids are a handful. And, conversely, my father is a crotchety, chronically depressed drug addict who may need help doing things like getting up and down stairs for the rest of his life. Oh Vishnu preserve us, it's all so maudlin and depressing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Our generation's Bobby Kennedy

Watching Obama, one of the best orators of recent years, giving the speech at the convention. Very powerful, very stirring, very effective. He's extremely charismatic and says many things very close to what I (and I suspect many others) want to hear.

Too bad the election's rigged by Republican-made voting machines and street-level dirty tricksters, and the American heartland's teeming with racists. (See this excellent Slate piece).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I feel bad and I've felt worse

I have a runny nose and sneezes and scratchy throat and watery eyes. I think I got it from visiting my father in the care center. Damn dirty old people and their germs.

Fun game. Addictive algebra.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Loaded for Bear

Typing up conference notes on the school laptop. No time for content. Have this meme. The blog that I normally credit this meme idea to seems to be kaput.

Hypotheticals: If you were a professional wrestler, what would your ring name be?
Le Petit Homme Sans Merci.

Anything Goes: Who makes the most stylish clothes in the world?
No idea. Jos. A Banks? Banana Republic? Some gay guy?

No-Brainers: What is your favorite kind of chocolate bar?
I'm not much of a chocolate bar eater, and when I do indulge, it's usually a high-end chocolate, such as Paul Newman's, Dagoba, or Endangered Species --- preferably something with bits of lemon or ginger or toffee or something. I like bits in there. All that said, if I were in a 7-11 and absolutely craved a junk bar, I'd probably look for a Whatchamacallit or something similar with a lot of crisps and bits and such.

Personals: What is the biggest inconvenience about the place you are currently living in?
Masses of bees (I thought they were wasps, but they're bees). I woke up this morning to another cloudless, dry morning, the sound of a strong rainstorm on my bedroom window. It wasn't rain. It was bees drumming against the panes. Why? What do they want? I have not kidnapped their queen. Also, the foundation is sinking. Luckily, I move soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I am weary, let me rest

It's much harder being the actual teacher this year than subbing for Mr. C was last year. That may seem obvious to the outsider, but I fully believed that logging in a month in Mr. C's room enabled me to say that I had walked in the K teachers' shoes, even if only for a few steps. It has now become painfully obvious that I only looked at their shoes and maybe gave them a little polish.

As that metaphor rasps out its last painful breath, I consider all the things that hadn't occurred to me then. Things in addition to the reading and math activities that we do every day. I have to write my own schedule for things like computer use, activities outside the room, show and tell, and so on. I need to make sure Scholastic book orders go out and then are put in on time. I need to create a class calendar and hand it out to parents. I need to type up my initial conference notes. And much more --- and that's without yet mentioning the most salient fact of all: the buck now stops here. I'm responsible for all that.

I had a father call me today and ask if his daughter would be getting homework soon. It's the fourth day of school, this is kindergarten, and that's the second inquiry I've had about that. (Both were from Indian parents, for whatever stereotype-feeding fodder that's worth.) The kids are still getting used to the schedule; of course they're not sending papers home. And there's not going to be any homework all year, because, well, your kid is in kindergarten. She is five.

Okay, so tired.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: Into the Quagmire, Brian VanDeMark

A review of Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation Of the Vietnam War, by Brian VanDeMark.

This is a detailed history of the decisions Johnson and his advisors made regarding Vietnam from the fall of '64 up to the summer of '65, when LBJ decided to send hundreds of thousands of ground troops there. VanDeMark shows that these decisions were based on two major factors. The first factor was the administration's faulty assumptions about global politics, such as outdated conceptions of monolithic communism and belief in the domino theory; and ignorance of, or deliberate blindess to, the actualities of Moscow-Beijing discord and Vietnam’s indigenous troubles. The second factor was a (justified) fear of conservative backlash if LBJ "lost" Vietnam to communism. This fear caused LBJ to obscure his actions in Vietnam so he could keep public attention focused on his Great Society; in the end, this secrecy cost him his credibility.

It seemed clear to me from VanDeMark's arguments that instead of accepting criticism as a given if he withdrew from Vietnam, thus prolonging a war which his own military admitted was a slim hope, LBJ could have considered that losing the war was a given and thus tried to put a positive spin on pulling out, tackling his critics' objections before they were made. But he wavered to the end, and tried to cover his political ass with a short-term solution to a long-term problem. This all-too-American story has all the elements of Greek tragedy: hubris, good intentions, even a "chorus" of nay-saying Cassandras whom no one attended to. Fascinating stuff.

This book was written in 1995. I leave it to the modern reader to determine how much of this can reasonably be applied as analogy to the current Iraq conflict. One obvious difference in the parallelism is that LBJ hid his war aims because he felt he'd be able to ameliorate the plight of America's poor and disenfranchised; while GWB has never so much as thought the phrase "ameliorate the plight of America's poor and disenfranchised," and wouldn't understand it if he did.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Face is okay, purse is too tight

Okay so uh I've been paying rent on the new house since about Thursday or so, but the electric company can't give me power until next Wednesday. Worse, the DSL won't be installed until September 13 (because I can't take time off from work to wait four hours during the weekday), and if you think I'm going to move before I have DSL in the new place, you don't know me. Actually, I had a brief sinking feeling when I found out that DSL was not available in my new neighborhood. However, I found that I can get cable internet. This means I will also get television. More specifically, I'll get 300 channels. Since I've lived for the last five years with zero channels, I can't imagine why I would need 300, but there it is. And all this for only four times the cost of regular DSL! Oh, the convenience of the modern era.

Oslo, I bought some new plates and silverware, since my current set of dining ware has undergone steady attrition through my ham-handed clumsiness.

Oslo, I bought a new bed. It cost --- and I'm ashamed to write this --- close to $900, including delivery. Seems a bit steep in retrospect. The last bed I bought, in 2003, cost me a scant three hundred. My aunt, by contrast, thought this new purchase was a remarkably good deal, having spent nearly $2000 on a bed a few years ago; but then she is a far wealthier person than I am.

In all, taking into account (or rather, out of my account) deposits and first month's rent and the aforementioned, I've spent around $2800 before spending so much as a night in the new place. Well, I've been saving money for quite a long time now and avoiding big expenditures, and am rationalizing all these new costs by figuring I should get around to enjoying some nice things before I die with a bank filled with useless unspent dollars (which are generating close to zero interest anyway, thanks to this tanked economy).

Friday, August 22, 2008

May all these walls we've made in our wasted years and days not stand in our way

Well, it's the third day of school and Friday at Prestigius, which means once again free pizza for the teachers. Except the K team got sandwiches for Miss Busty's birthday.

Oh, have I not mentioned Miss Busty? She's a second-year K teacher at Prestigius. She's a rather... well-proportioned young woman, and not shy about showing a little (officially verboten) cleavage. Last year, the kindergarteners had a tropical island themed party, and T-Bone's daughter, who was in Miss Busty's class, wore a coconut-shell bikini top. Miss Busty cooed over the cuteness of it, and sad she had a coconut-shell bikini at home, too. T's five-year-old daughter said, "I bet your coconuts are bigger than mine, though."

At last year's auction, some teachers offered up for bids their "tuck-in" services (basically just evening baby-sitting, with a bedtime story) for kids in their class. I heard more than one father say, "I'd like to be tucked in by Miss Busty, myself."

And, at that same auction, a mother was overheard saying that the building should have been equipped with a pole for Miss Busty to dance on. Meow!

Okay, enough salacious anecdotes about that particular team member.

So where was I? Oh yeah, pizza. Well, we had sandwiches, so one of my room moms who had come in to hand out the slices to the kids loaded up a big plate for me to take some home, so I wouldn't miss out on that pizzalicious goodness. She was extremely solicitous, asked me if she was in the way and if it was okay to be in the room while her son (the sensitive G, who thought our photos were psychic) was there, and did more than her share to help. Also, her sister is apparently the long-time lover of a famous lesbian. G's pre-K teacher got asked last year to go to a big gay event with the family, but didn't go. Wow! Maybe they'll ask me!

...I may be busy that week.

Anyway, I broke out some profession puzzles today. As the kids did them, I asked them to identify the jobs they showed. One was "politician" and depicted a woman declaiming behind a lectern prinked out with those red white and blue streamers used on the hustings. The woman had a rather round face and black hair puffed out wide. I asked my sweet shy boy D what job that puzzle showed, and he paused just a bit, then ventured, "Oprah?"


Later, went out to see Sonar play his music, along with the Friar and T-Bone's wife Courtney. We played table shuffleboard. I may have drank too much, but I was still the only one remotely sober, so won handily, but everyone else was too drunk to notice. Then I drove home, which may or may not have been a good idea.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That feelin' goes stealin'

So it's the second day of school and I should post about how I had the kids decorate their bubble-letter names, and do self-portraits with mirrors, and create a graph of eye colors in the class, and write their favorite colors and foods, and how I read Flat Stanley to them.... but I am utterly, totally, soul-stultifyingly, bone-shatteringly, mind-mushingly, tired. So I must pass over the details in exhaustion.

The kids were drawing, and sweet little A, coloring with a blue crayon, called to me as I passed by, "This is Core Lean."

I stopped. "What is what?"

"This color." She held up the blue crayon. "It's Core Lean."

I knew, without taking the crayon and looking at it, that it was Crayola's color Cerulean.

Man, teaching kindergarten is a hoot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Back to school, ring the bell

First day of school. It was fun meeting the kids. They're overall a very sweet group. I had one boy and one girl cry coming in, but they both calmed down before fifteen minutes had passed. Today was a day of just easing into the routines. For example, I took them to drama and music class, but we only stayed a few minutes, just long enough to get used to the idea of going. Mostly I went over my room rules and my expectations, as well as the physical layout of the room. I read Mr. Monkey's Classroom, and the kids drew pictures on the covers of their writing journals. They seemed to go home happy, and that's the important thing.

So I ended the day utterly exhausted. Six hours of sleep, worrying about my father, and having no breaks all day (that'll change, but this week it's rough, with briefer specials classes and lunch in the room with the kids).

An administrator went around taking photos of all the kids. About an hour later, she dropped off the pictures, printed out. I showed them to one boy, G, and he looked wonderingly at them. "How did you know what we would be wearing?" he asked, thinking the photos had been prepared in advance.


As a kid, I hero-worshiped my father, despite his occasional drug binges. I forgave him everything. Gradually, over the decade or so after college, the scales fell from my eyes and I saw that he could be an irrational, weak-willed, impatient, and unsympathetic person. There's nothing worthy of condemnation in that --- we are all, every one of us, those things, at least at times --- but worse, I saw him clearly as a haunted, depressed figure, never satisfied and always believing fervently in the next magic fix. And I don't mean that in terms of drugs entirely, though that figured in prominently; I mean that he always believed that the thing he didn't have or the place he wasn't in was better.

Obviously, I've inherited some of those traits, as well.

When I was younger, I heard of Ram Dass' mantra, "Be here now." I considered it, while not exactly the stupidest thing ever, at least utterly meaningless. But now that I'm old and wize(nd), the simple beauty and truth of it seems clear to me.

Too many people are unhappy in their own skin, always worried about what they don't have or what they might have later. Or they rely on external things for their own happiness. And I'm not talking about a clueless neo-hippie attack on material goods (because I know that material goods can, in fact, make you happier), but something less simplistic --- yet also more basic. It's simply that if you're unhappy because of your situation, you will likely always be unhappy no matter what the situation. Obviously, there are exceptions, because some situations are utterly crushing. But on the whole, it seems true to me that discontent lives within.

I'm not sure that's it, exactly. Perhaps I just mean this. You can't depend on other people or elusive things, even intangible things, for your happiness. There's no "if only." We should strive to just be, here and now. Just be content? Or maybe not even content, but at least not discontented.

All the above verbiage relates together, in a convoluted way, but I can't really express what I thought made sense when I began writing it. So never mind. As you were!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A riderless black horse, the bridge has disappeared

I met the other half of the parents. I think we're off to a good start. Everyone seemed satisfied with me and excited for the year to begin. Of course, I have no way of knowing if they're harboring dark doubts about me and my qualifications, but it doesn't seem so. The good thing about Prestigious is how involved the parents are; all these meetings help the parents with that big jump of their baby into kindergarten. They can talk to their child's previous, pre-K teachers (and I'm well aware that most have asked about me). Even better, because I was a substitute last year, all those kids know who I am, so that probably eases a few qualms as well.

Later in the afternoon, we had sexual harassment training, finally. Unfortunately, nothing happened that I could make fun of. It wasn't even a very irritating talk.

So, the kids start school tomorrow. Am I ready? Oh, no. But we'll muddle through the day somehow.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I wince in self-revelation

Today we had parent meetings; I met eight of them, half the class. They were almost entirely friendly and complimentary, with just a couple of exceptions. The mother and father of one girl (who's widely considered a bit of a brat among the faculty) seemed to be a rather irritating mixture of high-maintenance and laissez-faire, sort of a "we know our child's a problem, but she's your problem, but you better do a good job" vibe.

And another father, the husband of this year's room mom, was a bit intense and Type-A. I felt as if his stare bored into me, judging me on any number of levels and finding me wanting. "Mene mene tekel upharsin," his stare seemed to say.

By contrast, most were, as I say, cordial, and our conferences were full of laughter and good information passed. One father said in a serious, demanding tone that his son should know multiplication table by the second week, then said I should beat him with a belt if he misbehaved. He was joking, as I knew; but it's rare to meet someone who has a sense of humor as dry and inapproriate as my own, and I experienced a moment of social disconnect. Then I replied that I would use the son's own belt so as to inflict psychic scarring as well. He liked that, or at least I hope he did. Yes, I'm a kindergarten teacher who jokes to parents about beating their children. That's how I roll.

I'm not to worried about any of the parents, even the high-maintenance or judgy ones. They'll see how I work soon enough, and hopefully all will mesh the way I like it.

After work, at 7 p.m., I had to come back to school for a grade-wide parent meeting. All of us stood at the front of the gym and introduced ourselves to the hundred or so parents that came. then we split into classes, and I showed my kids' parents around the room and gave them a brief sketch of the day. By 8:30 I was pretty tired. Especially since I only get about five hours of sleep a night. Yes, that's still going on.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: Jarhead, Anthony Swofford

A review of Jarhead, by Anthony Swofford

A lucid and brutally honest account by a Marine sniper who served in the first Gulf War. Swofford’s writing is clear and stark, but his erudition and poetic sense come through on every page (he studied at the renowned Iowa Writer's workshop); no gruff, simple Hemingway, he.

An emotionally draining memoir, this long but incredibly enthralling book not only discusses the actions of the war and its aftermath as seen by an infantryman (walks among charred corpses), but ruminates on the nature of war, of what it means to kill or not to have killed, of fear in the face of fire, of loneliness and despair. Swofford is forthright about his love/hate relationship with the military and his own experience. He is both proud of having been a Marine and possibly wishes he could forget; he is there to fight but is terrified; he serves and obeys but knows that some very bad and costly mistakes were made, and he details some of the arrogance he encounters in some of the higher-ups of the corps. In short, Swofford very successfully depicts on the printed page the human side of soldiery.

Did Swofford massage the facts or twist timelines to make his story more dramatic? Probably; almost all memoirs have a touch of exaggeration. But who cares if he did? He was there, his boots on the ground, and in these pages he pours out what the war made him see. To my mind, that's truth enough.

Without being ostentatious or even all that direct about it, by the book’s end Swofford has painted a picture of jarheads, including himself, coming home from the war shattered, twisted, with a strange sort of sadness hanging over them. Just a terrific, moving account.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Controversial, polymath

Dear Olympic commentators and everyone else in America. It's Beijing, with a hard /j/ sound, as in "jerk." Not Bei-zhing with a fluid Francophonic /zh/ sound, as in je suis un pédant. I realize you want to sound worldly and sophisticated, but not all languages are the same. The 'j' represented in Pinyin is a straight, American-sounding /j/ sound.

A linguistic nitpick. Not a patch on the time John Tesh hosted the Olympics and kept using the word "histrionic" to mean "historic."


I went in to work today to make up for yesterday's snow day. I put up a few charts and boards and materials, and I created a PowerPoint slide show that has all my kids' names zooming in and out; I figure I'll let it play during conferences, unless it gets annoying.


Yesterday at the school dinner, the Head's secretary couldn't get over that I'm 37 and not the age that I appear, perhaps 22. She kept asking if I followed rejuvenating regimens. "What vitamins do you take?" she asked.

I said, "Uh, vodka has vitamins, right?"


My father's health is deteriorating at an exponential rate. He doesn't have control of his bowel functions and can't walk more than ten feet without getting dizzy and tired. I went by after work and helped him around the house, made him some sparse meals, and washed his soiled clothes and sheets. My mother is looking into a rehabilitation center for him --- not a nursing home, but a place where a doctor and a physical therapist strive to get his health up to where he can function at home again.

Part of me feels guilty that I can't take care of him, but he really does need professional help at this point. Like I say, he can't even walk. The hospital's run several tests on him and his doctor says there's nothing organically wrong with him. But clearly, something's not working: he's not getting nutrition from food, or his meds are messing him up (he's currently taking an appetite stimulant, two antidepressants, an antipsychotic, a bladder control med, and antibiotics the size of rifle bullets). Dare we hope that he can get checked into a place that can nurse him back to health and return him, perhaps a bit worse for wear but able to perform the basic tasks of daily survival?

Anyway, I was supposed to meet my realtor tomorrow to sign a lease on that new place, but instead I'm going to the rehabilitation center. If I lose my place in line to lease the house, c'est la vie.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wine is wine, but I am a phantasm

We had a "snow day" in a Texas August. Actually, there was a storm and the school lost power all day. So no school. Which is not so great, because I meet my first parent at 7:45 a.m. Monday, and my room's not ready.

In the evening there was a get-together barbecue at the Head's house. I went and ate and join in the peripheries of conversations. I'm not a very social creature, and I don't have much in common with most of my co-workers.

Father is not improving.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A penchant for comparisons might have been withheld from me.

I was mistaken; the sexual harassment meeting is tomorrow.

Instead I attended two meetings that were reminiscent of the one discussed here, which was generally recognized (and frowned upon) as tracking by the commenters.

In the first, we (the K teachers) read out our kids' names, one by one, and the pre-K teachers who had those kids would call out a few lines encapsulating their general impression from the year. "A sweet kid." "Very needy." "Super bright, but needs to be pushed." "She needs to be told she's not in charge." "High-maintenance parents." "A bit behind academically, but eager to please." That sort of thing. The second meeting was much the same, except that the first grade team read out their kids' names and the K teachers called out their own assessments. The grade taking in the kids took notes.

I suppose it's a helpful process, but there really was a lot of pigeonholing going on. The teachers didn't frame their descriptions in terms of specific events (such as "last year he cried a lot"), but generally phrased them in the present tense and in such a way as to tar the student with that particular brush: "he's a crier."

Frankly, if we must have such meetings, I'd like for the language to be a lot more curtailed, so that teachers are stating just observable facts instead of making proclamations about what the next year's team should expect. And then we can take notes and file those notes away and not look at them again until the end of the year. And then we'll see whether the notes match what actually happened.

I'm not saying it wasn't an interesting session, or even that I didn't come away from it feeling a bit more prepared for my kids. (For example, Ms. C telling me that a certain girl is a great kid, but needs to feel comforted and safe, led to me making a mental note to make sure that girl understands that my room is a welcoming, safe place.) However, it does go against all the data from studies about high expectations. Statistically, if a teacher is told that a low-performing student is a high-performing student, that kid rises to the level of expectation.

Is it better just to go in blind, each kid a blank slate? Don't know. If I knew everything, I'd be able to afford a nice house.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

So much unlearnt, so much resigned

This morning we had a meeting on employee practices. You know, show up on time, be professional, confidentiality, etc.

And, for the ladies, "no cleavage." As one of the administration said, "Cleavage doesn't just mean you have boobs." (That is, even flat-chested ladies need to keep the necklines high --- showing any expanse of chest skin is not professional.) Also, apparently some of them need to bring sweaters to wrap around their waists, for when they crouch down in those low-cut jeans.

Not that I would, uh, know anything about that. I always avert my eyes. (Damn all these dress code regulations!)

Oslo, we had CPR training. I've taken first aid and CPR classes for nigh on ten year now, and this was one of the easiest and briefest. Apparently, all the repetitions have been equalized, whether for adult, child, or infant victims: two breaths, 30 compressions. Good, because I never could keep all the different ratios straight.

We practiced our breathing and pushing on some dummies. Then we watched the instructor model how to use an AED. The AED talks, telling you to calm down. Apparently it even will tell you to push harder if you're not doing the compressions right. Next stop: android medics. The instructor happily encouraged us to rip out the victim's nipple ring, if present, before applying the patches. Several of my coworkers cringed and winced at that. I myself don't have piercings, or care to look at them.

The instructor even brought a little dog dummy. A teacher asked, "Are we going to learn how to blow a dog?"

Later, when the instructor was, yes, showing us how to perform CPR on the dog dummy, she mentioned variants in the procedure when trying to save gerbils. Yes, really. A Pre-K teacher dared me to ask how to revive unconscious lizards, so I did, and we were rewarded with a straight-faced story of a teacher who once revived a turtle.

Tomorrow: sexual harassment training.

Yes.... "I already know how to do that." I made that joke early and often.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Now I could tell you what I'm thinking, but it never seems to do me good

Went to see father in the hospital. He seemed have just a bit more pep, possibly due to whatever solution they were pumping into him. But he's not eating, and the nurse expressed concern at that. I encouraged him to eat, but he refused all entreaties. My brother and I think his mkain problem is attitude. He's always been a pessimistic person, and now he may have convinced himself that he's "on the way out," as he himself put it without emotion.


Still putting the room together at work. Every new thing I do seems to bring up five more little chores that need to be done. I need to set up an All About Me board, a Word Wall, name tags for chairs, a job chart... It seems endless, and the kids arrive Wednesday.

I wrote sixteen postcards --- one to each of my students --- and boy is my hand tired. Good night.

Monday, August 11, 2008

When you're sick you need a doctor; it's like the doctor holds a gun

My father went to the doctor today. He was admitted to the hospital for observation. Hopefully some IV antibiotics and some nutrient solution will push him back off the brink.

Also, first day back to work. Staff week, no kids. Breakfast and lunch were generously provided. We had a few meetings, mostly about the new technology --- all the rooms have interactive whiteboards now.

My assistant, C, was formerly one of the substitute teacher team I was on last year. Now she's working part time. And, I discovered, has apparently reverted back to her maiden name. I suppose she got divorced? I didn't ask. Anyway, I'm extremely grateful to have her as an assistant, as she likes to keep busy, like me, and eschews most of the gossip that goes around.

There's around 75 employees at Prestigious. Male employees total: me, the Head, the two custodians, the computer guy, the admissions guy, the drama teacher (gay), the music teacher (gay), a fourth-grade teacher, and a pre-K teacher. Conversation tends to get a bit hennish at times, is all I'm saying.

All the new teachers got MacBooks. I forgot my power cord at school after I took mine home, so it may be utterly drained and ruined by tomorrow? I'm not very responsible with equipment.


Fact: Fruit tastes better at room temperature.

Water is the scarcest and most obligatory resource on earth. Unlike coal and oil and so forth, which are scarce and merely crucial to our civilization, we would die if we didn't have water for just four days. So what do we Americans do with it?

We wash our clothes in clean, pure, potable water, first poisoning the supply with soap and sending it down the drains.

We pour clean, pure, potable water all over grass in the summertime.

We piss into clean, pure, potable water. Then we pour another gallon and a half of clean, pure, potable water over it, because we think that's clean.

We're nuts.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: The First World War, Martin Gilbert

Hey! I have a degree in history! I like to read! I like military history! Why not?

The First World War: A Complete History, by Martin Gilbert.

This very long work is essentially a chronology of the Great War, from the rapid escalation of tension before August 1914 to the problems of armistice in 1918 and how they affected state relations in the 1930s. Gilbert, better known as the official biographer of Churchill, manages to humanize the war here. He often makes all too real the nine million military dead of WWI through use of poems, quotes and letters written home by the men who died, as well as graphic recollections by nurses who served at the front (one image that stays with me is a hospital room full of nothing but amputated limbs).

It’s fascinating reading and broad in scope, but it does have its problems. First, the endless litany style does grate after a while. Second, Gilbert is intensely pro-Anglo-American. Thus he ignores all the fighting out of Europe, and while he mentions Japan once, fails to satisfactorily investigate why Japan entered the war, how her people felt about it, what her success or losses were, etc. Thus, too, he dwells on German "atrocities" during the war but elsewhere mentions several instances which make it quite clear that barbarism and selfishness were aspects of both sides. Finally, while arguing that superior Allied force was the deciding factor in the German capitulation, he fails to convince that internal revolution played a small part.

In all, it's an impressive feat of scholarship, and tremendously informative for those with little or no grasp of WWI. Its omissions might leave history neophytes with the wrong idea, however, if they aren't scared off by its great length in the first place.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Election 2008 Fact Sheet

Normally, I don't blog politics, because (1) people's hatred of truth and facts makes me sad and angry, and (2) so many people, even non-professionals like Dave, do it so much better than me. But I've been kicking around the idea of an election fact sheet for a while, so here it is.

By the by, I note that Obama's lead in the polls has been shrinking. Is this racism in Democrats kicking in as the reality of a black president looms closer? Or are people swallowing McCain's continual hammering of Obama (and the facts)?

Speaking of which: see the intriguing portrait of the candidate as a pile of words, via the Boston Globe. Someone can't stop thinking about his opponent!

But enough of that. Below, a collection of refutations and facts on the nominees that the mainstream media doesn't seem to want to talk about. This page may be edited several times before the election.

Let's start with the tragically necessary, refuting racist and fear-mongering lies:

* On Obama’s patriotism

Fact: Obama is not and never has been a Muslim.

Fact: Obama was not educated in a madrassa.

Fact: Obama does not take contributions from Arab or any other non-US source.

Fact: Obama will and does recite the pledge of allegiance.

Fact: Obama is a U.S. citizen. Seriously, lies about his citizenship are really scraping the barrel.

* On elitism

(I love that "elitist" word these country-club Republican millionaires love to toss around. Actually, of course, Republicans, not Democrats, are more likely to be elitists who do not care about everyday Americans.)

Fact: Phil Gramm, McCain’s top economic advisor at the time, a multi-millionaire who has never stopped suckling on the government teat, said that Americans who are having economic troubles "whine" and "complain."

Fact: Dick Cheney, the vice president of the USA, who ought to be the representative of the American people, asked "so?" when informed that the will of the people was not his own. How elitist!

Fact: for all Americans earning less than $277,000, taxes will go down under Obama's plan. Americans who make average, working class wages – not the wages of the elitist super-rich – will pay less taxes under Obama.

Fact: under a Republican president and his long-time Washington millionaire insiders, the dollar has slipped to a new low and oil to a new high. Jobs are scarce. Meanwhile, oil companies are making the biggest profits in the history of the world. That's as elitist as it gets.

Fact: McCain is so elitist and removed from the everyday concerns of the American people he didn't know in June 2008 how much gas cost.

Fact: McCain is so wealthy as to not understand anything about how the average hard working American lives. Note, for example, his $520 shoes, his many houses, etc.

* On spending

Fact: it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are big government, tax-and-spend porkers who waste hard-working Americans' tax dollars.

Fact: the Bush administration has squandered our great military on Iraq (lying to congress to do so) instead of finding the terrorist groups actually behind 9/11. In doing so, it has severely curtailed civil liberties, resulting in the most obtrusive government in American history. McCain approves of this.

Fact: McCain repeatedly falsifies Obama's tax plan. Again, Obama's tax plan actually means less tax burden for 90% of Americans.

Fact: Most of McCain's financial backers are lobbyists.

* On "the liberal media"

Fact: the media is much harsher on Obama than it is on McCain, often glossing over McCain's flaws (see next section).

(Could it be they don't spend as much air time on McCain because [1] he's uninteresting and [2] to do so, they'd have to spotlight his flaws?)

* On "family values"

(Personally, I think that a candidate's sexual peccadilloes are between him and his family, and far less important than other more impeachable offenses, but, you know, Republicans claim to think it's a big deal, at least when a Democrat does it. So sexual values are discussed here as well. Hey, if John Edwards' affair is news, why not McCain's?)

Fact: McCain has links to the Keating Five and falsified his tax returns.

Fact: McCain left his first wife, Carol, after she was disfigured in a car crash, to marry a much younger heiress.

Fact: the second marriage was just weeks after the divorce; he was seeing Cindy while still married to Carol. This fact was glossed over in his memoirs.,0,6546861.story

Fact: McCain admits to having affairs while married to Carol.

Fact: The FCC rebuked McCain for trying to use influence for the woman he had an affair with, Vicki Iseman. So, not only did he commit adultery, his affair influenced how he used political power.

Fact: Cindy McCain became addicted to prescription drugs and stole from her employer to get them.

Fact: Those close enough to see McCain away from the cameras say he makes racist jokes and uses racist language in his everyday speech.

Fact: McCain has flip-flopped on almost every core issue since he began his run for president.

Fact: The McCains adopted a baby girl from Bangladesh. Terrific! But why did they concoct a story that Mother Teresa herself implored them to do it? Is it because the truth is never exciting enough for an inveterate liar?

* On experience and fitness

Fact: McCain is computer illiterate and graduated 894th out of 899 at his naval academy.

Fact: McCain is consistently ill-informed on world issues. Is this a man qualified to wage war and help build a global economy?

Fact: McCain makes a lot of gaffes when talking about world affairs.

Fact: While McCain makes gaffes, the rest of the world has proven more than willing to work with Obama.

* Attacks on Obama, hypocritical

Fact: if you're all up in arms about Michelle Obama's "proud of America" comment, note that McCain said he did not love America until becoming a POW.

Fact: if you're all up in arms about Obama's pastor Wright, you ought to be equally concerned about McCain’s former buddy and endorser John Hagee, who called the Catholic church "the great whore" and makes some pretty radical comments about Hitler and the Jews.,0,5141859.story

Fact: if you think McCain has a point in deriding Obama for his 'celebrity factor," you should know that McCain's own website described him as being a "political celebrity." And before his presidential campaign, he accepted offers to be in television and movies.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Like the wild hyacinth which on the hills is found

So, in anticipation of the Staff Work week starting Monday, a few selected teachers had a big lunch at some Mexican place, paid for by the school. I met most of the assistants and the new teachers. In keeping with the school's apparent hiring standard (as mentioned here), most of them were quite stunning. I'm joshing, of course. They're not deliberately hiring good-looking women. It just works out that way most of the time.

No work was done or discussed; it was purely a social event. It's important at Prestigius that the faculty get along. That's why I'm always on knife-edge.

The art teacher shared a couple of great "kids say..." moments from her past that, even though they didn't happen to me, I liked enough to repeat here. First, she was showing the kids some Modigliani paintings (for example like à gauche) and emphasizing his elongated forms. She asked the kids to point out a few of the features that were elongated, and they mentioned one or two.

"What else can we see that is elongated?" she prompted.

"Your neck, Mrs. K!" one kid cried out happily.

Well, it sort of is.

The second "kids say..." moment was with a kindergarten girl (one of my favorites from Mr. C's room),

Girl: "Are you a famous artist, Mrs. K?"
K: "I'm not famous, but I am an artist."
Girl: "Maybe when you grow up you'll be famous."
K, who is past fifty: "Well, here's hoping it'll happen someday."
Girl: "I guess you'll find out after you die."

That's like a Zen koan, man.


Pop culture ingestion. As mentioned here, I've started watching "Lost" (at Friar's suggestion --- he thinks it's the best TV show ever, but he's, of course, utterly wrong). I'm starting the second season. Ooh! I know! They're on a modern-day version of Fantasy Island where willpower engenders miracles! And Walt's like the a cross between Mr. Roarke and that kid in The Sixth Sense!

Well, maybe not.

Also! I'm finally getting around to reading those Harry Potter books. I hear they were big with the kids a decade ago.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

There was the Door, to which I found no Key

Given yesterday's back-and-forth with the house, I was surprised when the realtor called this morning and said now the owners said it was mine to pick again. Huh.

I'm going out there again tomorrow with the realtor, and I asked my aunt to come look at it too. But you know what? I kind of don't want the place anymore. I feel like the owners played a game of cupidity in instigating that little bidding war, and that I got pressured into offering a higher rent than was originally listed. So I'm thinking maybe I'll only take it at the original offer. I have the great luxury of being able to wait for the right place, not having to take whatever looks good first.


Took my father to a doctor today; he got two antidepressant prescriptions. We went to Wal-Mart to get the scrips, because they're so cheap. I haven't stepped inside a Wal-Mart for years, both because of their unethical business practices and because I can afford better than the cheap crap they sell. Still, I guess it's nice that they finagle deals that benefit those with not much money. In this case.

While I was there, I saw this machine called Redbox that rented out DVDs for a dollar a day. That's exactly the type of business scheme that rakes the poorer consumer over the coals. It sounds good, but it's a rotten deal in the long run, just like most of the cheap unhealthy disposable dross Wal-Mart sells.

There's no late fees, the box proudly proclaims; no, you just get charged another dollar every day you don't give it back. So if you're a poor working mom and you get your kids a movie, and don't find the time to get back to Wal-Mart or McDonald's or outlet mall to return it immediately, that movie cost you $7 at the end of the week. And if you lose it, the machine charges you $25. Yay! Way to overcharge for your crappy DVD!

By the way, I read somewhere that something like 60% of union families shop at Wal-Mart. Given the facts, why? Why? Why are Americans so proudly hypocritical, uninformed, and ignorant of facts?

I got lost on the way to the store and on the way back, so the whole errand took three hours. I have a terrible sense of direction.


And now, the Republican Horror Show Link of the Day. Here at Daily Kos, we see that McCain's negative ads are all Obama's fault. Republicans love throwing blame around. After all, it's still Clinton's fault the economy is this bad, right? Right?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Evil things, in robes of sorrow, assailed the monarch's high estate

Went out to look at new places to lease again today. One was exactly what I was looking for, but when the realtor called to find out the application fee, they said it had been taken the day before. Lame. So I put in applications for two likely-looking second choices, and we heard back within an hour from one. My realtor called to say they'd approved me and it was mine if I wanted it. Then, not ten minutes later, he called back, saying that the owners now wanted to see my "highest bid" for the place before noon tomorrow. Apparently, the other applicant, upon hearing he was not approved, said they'd pay a higher rent (an offer they didn't specify to me). So the owners thought they had a little bidding war on their hands.

In this housing market? I know here in Devil-Town it's not as bad as it is elsewhere, but this is still a buyer's smorgasbord. Fuck that noise! Also, not cool to call and say I was approved only to rescind the verbal offer a few minutes later. I guess I'll keep looking.


My father's been visiting Brother for the last three weeks and came back tonight. Potato picked him up. I came over, of course. It turns out that he's still on the drugs from that quack meth house, still blathering the same lame excuses, still acting half-zonked. There was a scene with my mother. Voices were raised.

I know it's wrong to say about my father, but most of the time these days I think that if he wants to be a junkie, he should just leave his family out of it and go rot on Skid Row.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Me and my friends are like the drums on 'Lust For Life'

Today, I went looking with a realtor at houses to lease. My aunt recommended the realtor; he's a childhood friend of Cousin's, and thus exactly ten years my junior. I remember trying to teach my realtor how to play Minesweeper when he was five; he couldn't catch on for some reason. Anyway, yes, I know I've been mentioning that I'm thinking about maybe preparing to decide to possibly look into moving into a bigger house since way back in January. But this time, I may be serious!


Also, later on in the evening, Friar and I hitched a ride in a local band's van --- jouncing along over poor shock absorbers --- to a place where the Greatest Band In Existence was playing. It's my third time seeing Craig Finn and company, and I remain just as blown away as ever. Seriously, this band's got like a religious power over the initiated, of which I joyfully count myself one (see 'H' on this list).

I'd give a run-down of the night, but instead I'll just link to my post on the first show of theirs I saw, here.

Stay positive!

Monday, August 04, 2008

And now, a message from our Savior

1. If you call yourself a Christian, and you judge people, you are not a Christian.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? [Matthew 7:1-4]

2. If you call yourself a Christian, and you are wealthy while others go without, you are not a Christian.

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. [Matthew 19:21-24]

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. [Matthew 6:19-20]

3. If you call yourself a Christian, and you start wars, you are not a Christian.

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. [Luke 6:27-29]

4. If you call yourself a Christian, and think that means nothing but "family values," you are wrong. That oft-quoted phrase where Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but a sword? He wasn't talking about killing people in war, or about killing to defend monetary interests abroad. He was talking about breaking up families.

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [Matthew 10:34-37]

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? [Luke 6:46]

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The force that blasts the roots of trees is my destroyer

Trivia Bar, where my mother likes me to take her of a Sunday, has a promotion where a birthday celebrant gets [their age]% off the entire check for their entire party, minus alcohol. So we got there early today and had a birthday dinner at 2/3 off. My mother doesn't really have friends, but my friends --- Friar, 74, T-Bone, and their families --- came to wish her a happy one and to eat some middle-grade food. They brought their squirmy, peeved children, and left before the trivia game began. My mother, Potato, and I stayed the whole boring next three hours, and came in second.

It's not how I would pass an evening, but it's pretty much the only time my mother ever leaves her house, so I don't mind going once a week.

Hot Waitress W, still working there (I'm not entirely sure if she ever finished her certificate), said that just had to join her and her friends at her favorite bar after work at 1:30 a.m. I don't see that happening; I think I'm too old or lame or lazy for those kinds of shenanigans. Besides, I'm trying to get up earlier and earlier this week in anticipation for work starting Monday.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse

Last month, I read a terrific book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by novelist and essayist Barbara Kingsolver. I already recommended this memoir to Samurai Frog; it's in my opinion essential reading for our times. In a nutshell, the book documents Kingsolver's year of eating locally, or to use our neologism-loving society's term, they became locavores.

The book begins when they move to a new house on several acres of wild land in the southern Appalachians. With a few exceptions, they eat only things that originate within 100 miles of their farm. Much of their meat and produce is grown themselves, and they make a point of knowing the origins of the other items. It’s a bit heavy on the preaching (especially the brief fact boxes from Steven Hopp, Kingsolver’s husband), but then, this is a topic very easy to get worked up about, and it makes for fascinating reading regardless. There’s a vast wealth of common-sense information here backed up with facts and figures. Just a few of the salient bits:
  • factory farmers dump a billion pounds of pesticides on our crops annually! Yes, really.
  • the moral question of relying on nonrenewable fossil fuels to transport food
  • the way food factories are destroying America’s health at the taxpayer's expense
  • how a psychological disconnect between the making of food and the eating of food (and the harvesting of animals) is connected to America's fear of food and our obesity epidemic
  • the established link between farm-raised food and good mental health
It really is a persuasive, important book, every page a reminder of how corporations crush small business and sell us fetid garbage made cheap through subsidies. I read it wishing everyone in America would read it and take its crucial messages to heart. Not everyone needs to be a locavore, but everyone ought, at the very least, understand where food comes from and the benefits of eating sustainable, humane, farm food.

And for pity's sake, can we stop cutesifying farm animals and hiding from kids that hamburgers are cows and ham is pigs? What's wrong with telling them the truth: that we kill animals to eat? If we can't admit that as a society, what does that say about how mature our food attitudes are?


Speaking of health, he smoothly segued, I've doubled my walk with Dog. I don't really have any idea if I walk anywhere from .75 miles to 1.5 miles or more a day, but on the advice of my GP, I increased the walk length to get in some cardio. In the summer here in Devil-Town, where it's still a nice and toasty 98 degrees F at 8:15 p.m., this isn't the great fun it could be, but I've been doing it.

And, as I mentioned a while back, I've pretty much stopped lifting weights, on the advice of my cardiologist. I still do pushups daily and about ten minutes of desultory moves with the 45-pound dumbbell, but the heavy weights have been gathering dust for a while. I've been lifting weights since I was 18 years old, nearly 20 years, and it doesn't feel right, and I miss it. I used to have a fairly impressive upper body; now when I walk, I'm sure people wonder what that silly little fellow with the spindly arms is doing wearing a sleeveless shirt. "Cover up them pasty white twig-arms, boy!"

Well, perhaps no one actually gives a shit, but it's funny to imagine. Anyway, who am I trying to impress? I'm 37. A nearly-40-year-old fellow like me should expect a little corporal degeneration. Even if I still get carded when I buy alcohol.

Friday, August 01, 2008

As one that for a weary space has lain

Back with daily blather.

Nothing exciting this summer, I'm afraid; I had a relaxing staycation. I did nothing out of the ordinary, worked at the Old Job about a dozen times or so for a little extra cash, stayed up very late and slept in like a lord's bastard.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

Or, in my case, observing a DVD.