Friday, February 24, 2017

Say What You Will

“Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody thirteen years old who is sexually mature.  Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty.” And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we begin to see the sun setting on the glorious and periodically fabulous career of Milo Yiannopoulos. You may remember Milo from some of his other greatest hits: “Given America’s obesity epidemic, the truth is that hot people are an endangered species. We are a marginalized group constantly punished by society’s unrealistically ugly beauty standards.” Or “America has a Muslim problem… The terror attack on Saturday is an expression of mainstream Muslim values," after the attack on an Orlando nightclub last June. How about “Women have huge competitive advantage when they go into tech because there aren’t many other women. They get coverage when they don’t deserve it, when they enter a room, people pay attention to them. Privately successful women will tell you this." And of course “If a white person gave Dr. King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech and said his line ‘I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,’ they’d face charges of hate speech from liberals too ignorant of history to even know it’s Dr. King’s line.” Yup. This guy's a winner from way back. And now he is a former senior editor for Breitbart News
Milo resigned on Tuesday after some people, a whole lot of people, got angry about his definition of pedophilia. These remarks were made over a year ago, and after apologizing and resigning, he went on to complain, “But let’s be clear what is happening here,” Yiannopoulos said. “This is a cynical media witch hunt from people who don’t care about children. They care about destroying me and my career, and by extension my allies. They know that although I made some outrageous statements, I’ve never actually done anything wrong. These videos have been out there for more than a year. The media held this story back because they don’t care about victims, they only care about bringing me down. They will fail.” Feel free at this point to try and reconcile his rant about "Dr. King's words" and his own. If you're feeling like it doesn't exactly add up, you are not alone. That would be why the Breitbart folks didn't bother trying to save poor Milo. They cut him loose. Maybe because he had finally gone too far, or maybe because he was openly gay and it was only a matter of time before someone would have to explain that steaming pile of hypocrisy, but whatever the case Milo has moved on to the next great thing that any homosexual alt right journalist would. Oops. His book deal with Simon and Schuster was cancelled. Was it because he was too conservative? Was it because he was too gay? Was it because he was too much for conservative Republicans to deal with? Consider that the tapes of that interview were released by right wingers calling themselves The Reagan Battalion. Tune in tomorrow as the Republicans continue to feed one another to the lions. 


Thursday, February 23, 2017

It Burns

Staring into the sun is a bad idea. It can really hurt your eyes. Staring into the abyss can be just as painful. This is why I avoided watching "President" Trump's press conference last week. I was afraid of the damage that might have occurred in my cerebral cortex. Instead, I chose to take a page from the book on watching a solar eclipse: use a filter. For me, I find that what works best is time. If I watch his Creamsicleness live, I tend to tense up and start to whimper. So many emotions are competing, but sadness seems to win out. Finding some middle ground between rage and hysterical laughter, I am left with the sobs of a country who want a do-over in the most profound way. When Fox News starts defending CNN, end times are near. 
"Nuclear holocaust would be no like no other. They're a very powerful nuclear country and so are we," he burbled about relations with Russia.
As for the BBC, he rolled his eyes, "There's another beauty." The power of the fourth estate. 
"The leaks are real ... the news is fake."
"Russia is fake news." His eyes continued their clockwise rotation.
"I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two: Racism. The least racist person." Spittle flies.
How did you win the 2016 election, daddy? "That's how I won, I won with news conference and probably speeches. I certainly didn't win by people, [pointing at reporters] listening to you people, that's for sure. But I'm having a good time. Tomorrow they will say, 'Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.' I'm not ranting and raving, I'm just telling you, you know, you're dishonest people. But, but, I'm not ranting and raving. I love this, I'm having a good time doing it. But tomorrow the headlines are going to be, 'Donald Trump rants and raves.' I'm not ranting and raving."
Bnow back to a certain Cable News Network: "I watch CNN. It's so much anger and hatred. And just the hatred. I don't watch it anymore."
"We're becoming a drug-infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars. We're not going to let it happen any longer." Did he just take a bite out of a Snickers bar?
About Michael Flynn? "When I looked at the information I said I don't think he did anything wrong. If anything, he did something right."
And pumping up his second nominee for Secretary of Labor, he gurgled, "I just wanted to begin by mentioning that the nominee for Secretary of the Department of Labor will be Mr. Alex Acosta. He has a degree from Harvard Law School, a great student. Former clerk for Justice Samuel Alito and he has had a tremendous career."
Again, these were not all of his words. These were the ones that were attempts at making sense of the light at the end of the tunnel. Not daylight, but an oncoming train. If you need me, I'll be under my desk whimpering. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

You Wanna Go Where Everyone Knows Your Name

I remember San Clemente. I remember the Ranch. I remember Kennebunkport. I have heard stories about Warm Springs. These were all places that previous presidents retreated to when they needed a break from the action. Whether it was walking along the beach or clearing brush, these places were sanctuaries for the leader of the free world. A place to unwind, to get away from it all. The Western White House. The Southern White House. The Pretty Close Still To Washington D.C. White House. Call them what they were: Vacation homes. 
A lot of people, of a certain income, own vacation homes. And some people own other people's vacation homes. I'm not talking about timeshares here. I'm talking about owning a resort. Like the Crown Jewel of Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago. This exclusive golf club is one of his Royal Hightweet's resorts, featuring ocean views and beautifully landscaped grounds. "Since purchasing this landmark in 1985," the website tells us, "the Trump family has spent many weekends and holidays at their home away from home." And now, it would seem, they have found their White House away from White House. 
All of that would be fine if this were some opulent, T-shaped estate of some opulence, with the inclusion of round-the-clock secret service protection. Mar-a-Lago has all that plus. Plus paying guests. Other members of the club who are there paying dues to be able to hobnob with the hoi polloi. It's a golf club, after all, and if you want to shoot eighteen holes in the afternoon and go back to your room to change for dinner at eight, who knows who you might run into. 
Maybe even "Rick The Man." You probably won't get close enough to "The President" to snap a photo, but the guy who carries the briefcase containing the launch codes for all our nuclear missiles is, apparently, available. Club member Rick DeAgazio was able to get such a picture, with  arms around one another and big smiles, and then he posted it on his Facebook page. So much for that notion that aide-de-camps for the President of the United States have to be all stand-offish and uptight. Why worry about National Security? Why let a little thing like protocol stand in the way of a perfectly nice evening? An evening which saw our "President" discussing strategy with the Prime Minister of Japan just after North Korea test fired a ballistic missile of their own. In front of Rick and a great many other members of the club and their guests. Did they all have their top-secret clearances? Well, they had certainly paid their dues and probably a hefty campaign contribution to the club's owner in addition. Isn't that enough? 
I'm all for giving the country back to the people, but I'm not exactly sure this is what I meant. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Low Continuous Buzzing Sound

The future has arrived, and it is being delivered by a drone. Amazon is getting ready to drop packages in your front yard via parachute from hovering machines guided by satellite. Hooray. At last I can get my forty-one ounce bags of Skittles brought directly to me without all that fuss of a human being lumbering up my front steps and placing the box on the porch. Instead, the same technology that allows pimply-faced video game aficionados to launch missiles into bad guys' apartments from half way around the world while they sit placidly in their La-Z-Boy recliners in air conditioned trailers. Ah, progress!
And to think at one time I could have altered this flow of time. Twenty-some years ago, I was working as a warehouse manager for an employee-owned book wholesaler. We bought books from publishers and then turned around and sold them at a tiny profit to small local bookstores. At this point, I don't know how much farther I need to digress: Should I explain wholesaler? Warehouse? Books? In order to make any money at all, we needed to move our packages in and out of our warehouse as seamlessly as possible, and for a long time we relied on humans carefully stacking and stuffing books in boxes then surrounding them with crumpled bits of paper before we sealed them up and sent them off to their destinations. At one point during my tour of duty as warehouse co-manager, it was decided that we were going to invest in some machinery to refine that labor intensive process and switch to a machine that would shrink-wrap stacks of books to a cardboard flat, then a box would be formed around that flat, labeled and shipped. It was so very late twentieth century.
One day, a call came in from a group of folks from Seattle who were starting their own warehouse business. They were going to sell books over this newfangled invention of Al Gore's. We snickered at the idea, but happily offered to have them come and take a look at our operation. The job of showing these wacky kids around our warehouse fell to me. It was a slow day, so I had plenty of time to wander around showing these folks just how things worked.
Years later, when I was unwrapping a book or CD purchased from Amazon.com, I noted how well they had been paying attention, and I was pretty sure they were using the same brand of shrinkwrapper that we had used back in my warehouse days. Back when there were still neighborhood bookstores. Back when drones weren't delivering pizza and lighting up halftime shows at the Super Bowl.
It's only a matter of time before they figure out how to deliver math tests via drone. Goodbye, Mister Chips.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Words Their Way

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count,” the quote read. “It’s the life in your years.” It was attributed to Abraham Lincoln, by members of his own party. Inspirational? Sure. Lincoln? Not so much. Al Gore's Internet and the folks at Google would have you believe that this is the case, but a little further investigation makes things a little murkier. This aphorism was probably first written for a book on aging written in 1947 by Doctor Edward J. Stieglitz. It was not immediately clear what Doctor Stieglitz's party affiliation was, but since he was born some thirty years after Abraham Lincoln died, it is not likely that he passed this wisdom to him personally. 
So what? 
Well, let's start by looking back just a few months instead of a few years, to the Republican National Convention. The "President's" wife gave a speech at that time that lifted large pieces of Michelle Obama's speech for her husband in 2008. There was a lot of fuss made at the time, but after much denial, there may have been a little crilbbing and a definite lack of footnotes. No one was fired for this little bit of plagiarism. This should have been our first solid hint about alternative facts. 
In Bizarro World, if you need words, you simply borrow them. Don't worry about from whence they came. Let the chips fall where they may. Buffalo or otherwise. 
This might also be why the Department of Education, in their first public display since bringing new head Betty Devos was to misspell the name of civil rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP William E.B. Du Bois incorrectly. Again, not exactly a shock, and even though it appeared in a Tweet it still managed to continue a trend of shooting first and going to spellcheck later. 
This trend seems to value words more than ideas. The sound more than the quality of that sound. By keeping a constant barrage of words churning out there, perhaps they hope that they might eventually land on a good idea to match up with all that verbiage. 
Suddenly I am imagining a room full of chimpanzees banging away at their IBM Selectrics in hopes of generating the works Shakespeare. Or one orangutan with a smart phone. 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Assembly Required

I can remember so many Christmas eves, back when I had a son who required things like Hot Wheels garages and Rescue Heroes Command Centers, I stayed up late into the night making all those little pieces fit together, peeling and sticking all those decals, and doing the work of a hundred elves without the figgy pudding breaks. I worked until my eyes crossed and my fingers were worked past their useful function. It was all for the glee that would come bubbling up into the face of that little boy and the sight of his brand new toy.
Then there was the time my friend and I spent an afternoon on the front lawn constructing the bright yellow riding front loader that same boy pedaled up and down the driveway and out onto the sidewalk in front of our house in what seemed to be endless loops. All of those toys were loved to the point of extinction. Pieces of them still float around our basement, too dear to be part of a landfill but not important enough to be moved into any permanent rotation or display in the real world. This dismays my wife, who has wondered aloud on many occasions just how much plastic we carted into this house and how much of it still has useful purpose. None of it is disposable. But short of having a garage sale, which seems somehow unthinkable for a family that periodically prides itself on stuff, there is little to be done about the wretched refuse that used to fill toy boxes way back when.
And we've got one of those still, too. Toy box, that is.
Then there's the new bike. Way back a year and a half ago, when I was relieved of my commuter bike by evil twits who would steal a bicycle from the front hallway of a school, my wife did me the considerable favor of rushing out and buying me a new machine. This was hardly a replacement, but it was a place holder. It came to me all in one piece, but it never quite felt right. It could not live up to the glory that was the Raleigh C-40. It was serviceable. And boy did I service that thing. I spent a lot of time changing inner tubes, as this thing seemed to have a slow leak somewhere and I was always on the verge of pushing that lumpy nearly bike home on the rims.
Then, years after the first Valentine's Bike, came the replacement. This was a much fancier deal than the bargain bike. It had "components" and was made with "quality" in mind. It also required a good deal of assembly. Thankfully, years of bike riding and ownership put me in good stead when it came time to take it out of the box and piece it together. Handlebars, seat, brakes, wheels, all pushed into place and tightened with Allen and other wrenches. I felt oddly at home, building this vehicle and eagerly anticipating my first ride. It was Christmas Eve all over again.
I just wish there were more decals to stick on.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

In Public

I am used to hearing how awful our public schools are. Often this line of rhetoric comes from the very people in charge of our public schools. It is more than a little discouraging to have the ones steering the ship telling us that we are hopelessly lost. But, in the wisdom of Yogi Berra, we're making good time. I get up each morning and head to work with the knowledge that I am working for a team that ranks fourteenth out of fifty, with nothing that says we will be competing for the top spot anytime soon.
Part of the challenge here is that, as educators, it is nearly impossible to step in the same river twice. We inherit children who may have had intense and fulfilling experiences in the previous grade - or not. In public education, we play the hand we are dealt. The kids who walk through our door on day one are the ones we are charged with molding into future biochemists and restaurant managers and mayors. When we are lucky we get lots of help from the parents of these short people, and that support generally translates into success for those involved. It is an awesome and powerful thing, this home-school collaboration thing. Then there are those who cannot, for one reason or another, make that kind of commitment. We still teach those kids too. In most cases, these are the students who will need the most time and attention. In many cases, these are the families who will complain bitterly about the way their children are being educated and insist they are just a phone call away from moving their child to another school where they will most certainly get the teacher or facilities or lunch they deserve. In most cases, the phone call doesn't get made, and that kid keeps coming to a school where he or she is at odds with the collision of their two worlds: home and school.
How can this work? When we are lucky, there is a magic moment when that student takes it upon themselves to shift their focus to becoming an active participant in the process, and suddenly the resistance to learning becomes a clear pathway to that goal: making it to the next grade.
And then we start all over again in a new room with a new teacher.
Or maybe that family has to move, and the search for a school where the magic of education can once again be found.
I'm not announcing that I have discovered a solution to the crisis that is American Public Education. Instead, I am saying that I understand that there is a problem. There are all kinds of possible ways to attack the issue: no homework, more homework, shorter school days, longer school days, charters, vouchers, technology, testing, no testing, and the ever-popular learn by doing. Sadly, while we try and figure this out, the stream keeps flowing. Children keep moving past us on our assembly line missing important pieces of their intellectual development that we have sacrificed in order to make sure that those basic building blocks are inserted: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. These have been referred to as "The Three R's," which given proper English spelling, may explain how we got off track in the first place.
Meanwhile, be patient, youth of America. We are bound to get this right. There are a lot of us out here working hard to make that happen. We are the ones in classrooms before the bell rings in the morning, and after it has stopped in the afternoon. We want it to work. We are teachers.