Mr. McGillicuddy A postwar blog, or not.

2003-07-07 :::
Scampering to a New Shell
I suppose it's safe to direct you to my new home. I've been playing around with the format, pretending I know what I'm doing, skirting disaster. Thank you to Mike at Miscellaneous Etc for setting me up, and Jackie of Au Currant for "introducing" me to Mike and for linking to me. The new blog is on Moveable Type, which I've loved ever since I heard the name.

::: posted by mr. m. 12:07:00 AM

2003-07-04 :::
Out of the Woodwork
Here's a not-so-lucrative paragraph from Andrew Sullivan today:

One of the many layers of the arguments for invading Iraq focused on the difficulties of waging a serious war on terror from a distant remove. Being based in Iraq helpsus notonly because of actual bases; but because the American presence there diverts terrorist attention away from elsewhere. By confronting them directly in Iraq, we get to engage them in a military setting that plays to our strengths rather than to theirs'. Continued conflict in Iraq, in other words, needn't always be bad news. It may be a sign that we are drawing the terrorists out of the woodwork and tackling them in the open.

Yes, typos are his, including they're's, or however he spells it. As for the logic that "continued conflict" in Iraq has the salutary quality of bringing terrorists "out of the woodwork," I guess that's his too.

::: posted by mr. m. 12:27:00 AM

Sorry the blog looks so funky now. Blogger went to new software which looks nice on my end but unfortunately makes the blog, under my old formatting, look terrible. I'm slowly figuring out how to make it look less terrible.

::: posted by mr. m. 12:02:00 AM

2003-07-03 :::
Just Slightly Bankrupt
Got back from Canada a couple days ago. When I was in Vancouver there was a big ceremony on TV with Mike Myers and Shania Twain and some other people who'd been given stars on the Canadian Walk of Fame. Mike Myers gave a good speech. Driving back down through Washington, I heard a news update on a country channel. "And Shania's been busy. She just got a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame. It's funny how in America a whole country can be italicized, but not really.

I enjoyed the story "U.S. Producer Pans Canadian Talent Pool" from the Globe and Mail, about the awful TV show American Dreams. Unfortunately the article's not archived, so here's the "money" paragraph:

The pilot of American Dreams, a drama chronicling a 1960s family, was shot in Vancouver, but Prince convinced NBC to shoot to remaining episodes in L.A. "We saw the limitations of the talent pool, especially the number of black actors in Vancouver, and knew that this wasn't going to work," he said. Besides, "it always seemed to be slightly morally bankrupt to be producing a show called American Dreams in Canada."

I wonder how he pronounced Canada.

UPDATE: I promise not to use the phrase "money paragraph" again, even as a pun.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:39:00 PM

2003-06-21 :::
Everything Changes
A moving piece in Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo.

::: posted by mr. m. 1:15:00 AM

2003-06-20 :::
"Is this your first day?"
I'm not sure if this will make much sense, but now that the school year is over, I thought I would post some snippets of the "teaching journal" I wrote over the first three months of subbing, from December to March. Hope this doesn't scare anyone off. It is certainly the most interesting job I've had, and I'm looking forward to going back next year. Oh, I'm leaving on a road trip to Canada for a week or so, so I don't know how often I'll get to update this. I just saw an interview on PBS with (I think) a guy from Michigan taking about affirmative action, and he actually said that they don't just take into account whether someone is African American, but also for example if they're from Oregon or New Mexico. I'm an Oregonian American! Off to find my roots.

Friday, 12-6 [Second day, got there late because my original job was canceled in the morning]
6th grade
Everyone was friendly, and I felt good until I got to the room and realized I didn't have a pencil. Scurried around the room looking for a pencil. Nothing. Rummaged through her desk, nothing. As I went to open the door, I saw I had $15 in my pocket, and as I pulled it out to flatten, the door opened, because another teacher opened it. I stuffed the money back into my pocket and tried not to look sheepish. I walked around awkwardly. The first kid I saw with a pencil, I asked if I could borrow it. This sounded flaky.
Soon the class was out of control. Before we got to the art room, one girl asked, "Is this your first day?" I was honest when I said no.

Monday, 1-13
6th grade
...Going over worksheet answers, I started giving explanations for answers, partly to amuse myself and partly to kill time. I even made what I guess was my first joke: they had to choose correct punctuation for, "Wyoming became a state on march 8, 1889," with four options, and after taking a vote on which ones they thought it was, I said, "Well they're all wrong, because Wyoming became a state on March 9, 1889." There were no laughs but no groans.

Wednesday, 1-15
3rd grade
...I got to the school and it was immediately clear that this was a depressing, degraded place. There was no sign with the school's name, just something on the fence about parking. The receptionist was wearing a track suit and complaining about the principal, saying she was ready to take a break and just walk out of the school. A woman was sympathizing, dressed sexily, looking almost worn out. The floor tiles were two shades of brown, so worn out, like they should be in a 100-year-old tenement.
But the kids were wonderful...

Thursday, 1-16
High school science
Went back to Ms. H's science classes today after some debate. It was a great day, especially fifth period, which had been pretty hellish on Tuesday. There was a group in the right corner, with a new kid, Alex, and a girl from another period who asked to stay, and other nice kids. They called me over at one point and asked me where I was from. Asked if I was Irish, etc. Very nice. One of them hinted that the girl liked me, which was of course flattering. At first I pretended that I didn't hear, then I said, "I thought everyone liked me!" I left for a while, a little nervous, then came back and asked where they were from. Mexico, Mexico, El Salvador, Mexico. Someone mentioned Guadalajara, and I mentioned [my girlfriend] Y...From that point they were really talkative, interested, and open and friendly. I was so happy, and it felt like, I realized tonight, this is what I want to do.

Wednesday, 2-5
4th grade
Bad day day two. The kids were super sweet before class, little Latina girls, and I thought, "Fourth graders must be naturally sweet." Not naturally sweet....An hour later, someone from the office comes in and says that 911 was dialed from the classroom. Jose, a fat kid standing by the door, flushes and starts mumbling, and the guy takes him away. Later Jose comes back in, crying, and other kids get taken out. In a way I was glad that it happened, because it showed - for some reason it really matters - that these kids were bad and it wasn't my fault at all. Keeping kids from dialing 911 didn't involve classroom management (aside from getting them to sit down, which may be impossible) - there's no way they can say, "But everyone else is dialing 911!"

Friday, 2-14
We were working on the hard i and hard u sounds. There were six words, and I was to ask them to make a sentence from each.
"It is...dark at night."
"Okay...good. Blue."
"He likes the color blue."
We went through the six words and I realized we had some extra time. What to do? Would they riot? When would they start running around? Then I thought, ahh, I can do something! We can make more interesting sentences! I had them write a story using those words, in order.
"One night the princess had a big party. She wore a white dress with blue slippers..."
Sometimes I'd reject sentences, carefully, for not being "exciting" enough. It was hard to get a sentence which wrapped the story up and included "time." I helped them.

Wednesday, 2-26
High school algebra
Now writing this over two weeks later, so it's a bit foggy. A bare, dirty classroom which I inferred - from the Dr. - that the teacher didn't have decorations, not from lack of inspiration, but from inspiration that gave up a while ago. Five classes of kids who almost exclusively wouldn't try. I read the sub's note from the day before, full of complaints, even the phrase "I could not help this class academically." Some of his or her classes didn't do any work, and all of mine did some work, so I was proud about that. But a couple ridiculously rude girls who two weeks later, don't bug me at all. And I remember more the few kids in each class who really did want to try.

Monday, 3-3
Standing in the office, a woman is there, complaining to the secretary. "I'd like to speak to the principal. My daughter ______ is gettin' hit in class. They're hittin' her head in class. I don't appreciate it. She was at another school that this didn't happen. That teacher can't control his class..." And it seemed so obvious that this was not the appropriate way to go about these things. You could call, write a letter, go after class starts, but you don't start complaining and criticizing the teacher in front of everyone. The key was "I don't appreciate." It's funny: she uses a polite vocabulary, but through her vulgar intonation, she makes it sarcastic: I don't appreciate means I'm so mad that...It reminded me of the girl I moved who said, "This ain't my tradition." My heart sinks a little when I hear that intonation, as horrible as that sounds...There's something so bitter and narrow about it.

Then, meeting the kids in the auditorium, the principal or someone stands up and gives announcements. I think it was a monthly or a weekly thing. One of the first is about the "thought for the month" or something. And it was "working together" or something like that. I thought, this is just talk to everyone. If I was in third grade at my old elementary school and they started talking about that, I'd space out too. Or, if for some reason I had a habit of noting the thought for the month, could I possibly maintain any interest past the assembly? If I did, wouldn't I notice that each thought for the month was totally bland, and never advancing? Would I think, if only I wait a few years, these thoughts for the month might get really interesting? And if they did get more interesting since I was in third grade, what would we be on now?

Then the really weird announcement came. "I want everyone to listen. You might have noticed that there's two different rules. The rules for your home and the rules for school." And I thought, at some schools the point would be, "act like you do at home here," but didn't think that would be here. Still, I was surprised at how bluntly it was put. "The school rules are different from your rules at home. There's been some fighting, and some of you have maybe been getting hit. A lot of parents have told you to hit back. But that's not the rule at school. There's no retaliation. You can't hit back. The rule is, you can't hit back unless it's a life and death situation. Getting punched, or pushed, is not a life and death situation. What you do it tell an adult. You certainly should tell your teacher."

This is a little out of order, but the phrases "retaliation" and "life and death" were used, and all the stuff about parents telling their kids to hit back. I couldn't help but sigh. I wasn't actually scared of fighting. (Though I did think, Oh great, this'll invite tattle-taling.) I just thought, simply hearing this lowers everybody somehow. And yet I didn't think having the assembly was a bad idea. I can see why they do it. But if only they could somehow get the point across without saying it quite like that. If only there really was a guest speaker who could get kids to never hit.

Tuesday, 3-4
4th grade
...One kid, Sam, showed me two little "books" he'd written that impressed the hell out of me, about the Mystery Club he was in. I could imagine the whole unfolding of the club - starting with a joke, then excitement, then a club. Some kids never get to the club level. And from there he went to the book level, and from there he wrote a funny book, with no or almost no errors - did someone help correct it? - a book that made me a little envious, because I probably wasn't that good, and certainly wasn't in a Mystery Club in fourth grade. The endings were great. After a humdrum mystery he wrote, "And so the mystery was solved. That's it. The end. And we didn't let Becky in the club." It was almost as if he was channeling a college kid, channeling a kid.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:38:00 PM

2003-06-19 :::
Was Everyone Wrong?
As Calpundit points out, the failure to find any WMDs is a way, way bigger deal than the misreporting of museum looting. (When anti-war people made a big deal about the reports of looting, I thought, "Funny, I never knew you were so concerned about Sumerian harps." Now that pro-war people are making a big deal about the mistaken claims after having equivocated about the looting in the first place, I think the same thing. Neither side really cares about Sumarian harps, they just want to be right.) Using wordplay about Saddam's regime being a weapon of mass destruction itself shouldn't impress anyone.

My dad and my grandma were against the war for intuitive reasons: they thought it would enrage the Arab world and cause a humanitarian disaster, and they didn't think there was enough proof that Iraq was a threat. Now they've virtually conceded the first two points, but...where are the weapons? If we don't find any, or very many, my dad and my grandma will always be right, and that's so annoying. They've had two months of getting used to being wrong, but it's just dawning on me that I might have to say I was wrong too.

You would think that by now, the US would have at least found some lone nut with chemical weapons. But no.

In the same way that anti-war people (correctly) accused the administration of shifting its avowed justifications for the war, the former are shifting their criticisms of the war. Having "lied" about the Arab street rising against the US and the humanitarian crisis, and the quagmire, now the line is, "Yes, well, perhaps getting rid of a sadistic dictator wasn't such a bad idea, but we did it while telling a bunch of lies." They may have been wrong about most other things, but they may be right about this.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:42:00 PM

2003-06-17 :::
Perspicuousness vs. Perspicacity
Did anyone have trouble with this paragraph in Thomas Friedman's latest column?

In a fluid situation like Iraq, there are 10 things happening every day. All you want is that 6 out of the 10 be positive and moving upward — unlike Afghanistan, where only 3 out of 10 are positive and moving downward. Right now, talking to U.S. officials, I'd say the score in Iraq is about 5 to 5.

Well, I think I get the drift. The fluid is moving sideways.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:18:00 PM

Us and Our Guff
I admit that the Contra Costa Times letters to the editor rarely feature the such guff-checking flourishes as seen in the London Times:

Despite the familiar ring to these charges against people in high places, any attempt to describe the current post of chancellor as a constitutional bastion for the last thousand years is so much pompous, sentimental guff, mistaking continuity of language for continuity of substance, the bane of clear understanding of English history. The judicial role of the chancellor, for example, developed only slowly, reaching a recognisable, if still very different, form only in the 14th century.

We do get some zingers off about Bush.

Radiohead, though, is giving the letters to the editor writers of Pleasant Hill and Concord a run for their money with their just-almost-controversially-titled new record, Hail to the Thief.

::: posted by mr. m. 1:18:00 AM

2003-06-16 :::
Separated at Practice
Students I've had, in their non-self-censoring way, have said I looked like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ichabod Crane, Tracy McGrady, and the Spurs' Manu Ginobili. (She had many pictures, and was crazy.) Congrats to Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs for winning the NBA Championships, and for being such nice guys. Next year it's the Kings.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:30:00 PM

"Don't make a foot-stool cover from a Whippet"
My NPR affiliate has been on recently. On Saturday they had a wonderful program on knitting with dog hair: "This program will encourage listeners to look at their four legged friends in a new and creative light. Dog hair needn't be wasted or disposed of thoughtlessly so 'stop vacumming and start knitting.'" Give it a listen.

::: posted by mr. m. 3:55:00 PM

Salam Pikeville
If the Hatfields and McCoys can come to peace, can't anbody? I was only vaguely aware of the rivalry before reading about it on Au Currant:

When I was growing up in Ohio, in a town very close to both Kentucky and West Virginia, I had occasion to meet members of both the Hatfield and the McCoy families. There's something morbidly fascinating to me about such a long-running, murderous family feud. So, while I guess it's good news that the feud is (ostensibly) over, I can't help being a little bit sad about it.

I wonder how long it will last.

UPDATE: Less than two days after the truce, one Hatfield is in the hospital and one McCoy is dead.

::: posted by mr. m. 3:30:00 PM

Not Big & Tall
"The man who wore this suit was a small man."

::: posted by mr. m. 3:07:00 PM

Tests for All
California education officials may be getting ready to step down from their bluff of actually having testing requirements for graduation, but the opposite's happening in Britain.

Secondary school pupils face a huge extension to their workload under proposals by Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, to have them tested in all subjects at the age of 14....Mr Clarke is concerned that the curriculum in the early years of secondary school is not demanding enough and that pupils can abandon subjects such as history, geography and foreign languages at 14 without anyone knowing what they have learnt.

I don't know much about the British school system, but I'd support a similar measure here. Britain already has much more rigorous testing and standards than the US, and I think that that has something to do with them being, well, more educated as a whole. I don't know how to be euphamistic about this. At least we're as good at soccer now.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:58:00 AM

2003-06-15 :::
Almond Surprise
I've been wanting bubble bath for the longest time. It seems like forever. Yesterday I finally got some - peach. I was spending an old gift card for JC Penney, a name French speakers find terribly amusing. ("I have six penises.") My earliest recollection of JC Penney is going with my mom in the mid-80s, when I was obsessed with skateboarding, and they had t-shirts of some gremlin guy on a skateboard announcing, "SKATE OR DIE." Even at that young age I knew that such a Manichaean declaration was not for me, and I soon got over skating. Twenty years later JC Penney is still selling more or less the same stuff. You think if you just keep circling around long enough eventually you'll find super snazzy designer clothes, but they're just not there.

I settled on some very basic clothing, sunglasses, and the bubble bath. I overheard the woman at the counter talking about finally being moved to Jewelry and Perfume after applying for a transfer for months. "What a great job! You go in smelling good, and leave smelling even better." I'm trying to cultivate that positivity. When it was my turn, she said, "That bubble bath's not for you, is it?" I got defensive: "I like to pamper myself." She smiled and said that she loved the stuff, especially the almond flavor. I said, "Ah," and then thought, geez, I'm not even spending all of this certificate. "Can I get it for you?" So I ran back and got the almond bubble bath. She was totally tickled and called over one of her friends, and said she couldn't wait to tell her kids. After throwing away hundreds and hundreds of dollars on tips for drinks, I wished I'd stiffed them all and spent it on bubble bath presents.

::: posted by mr. m. 5:29:00 PM

2003-06-14 :::
Prizes for All
Oh, no. It looks like California is going to delay requiring high school students to pass to exit exam for two more years. The reason, plainly, is that an embarrassing number of students are failing the exam. Whose fault is that? The teachers: "Critics of the test say that it is unfair to students who have not been provided adequate instructional materials and well-trained teachers, as well as to students who do not speak English fluently or are disabled." Blaming the lack of "adequate instructional materials" is the old fallback: "The students have old mathbooks. They couldn't possibly learn algebra." As for the lack of well-trained teachers - well, I'm one of them. My training for substitute teaching consisted of being given a 50-page handbook with pearls of wisom like, "Do not dress even remotely sexy." Still, somehow, I feel equipped to teach any kid enough English and math to pass the exit exam, as long as he or she is willing to try. The last criticism, that it discriminates against students who don't speak fluent English or are disabled, is a good point. That's what waivers are for.

But why have twice as many students not passed the math as the English section? Could it have anything to do with math being "hella lame"?

There's no magic way to make California's schools better, but having some standards does help. Maybe we'll always test below the national average because we have so many students who don't speak English as their native language. But the exit exam's aim wasn't to be punitive, it was to make sure that we don't let students scrape by without learning anything. I refuse to believe that basic math and reading is beyond the ability of more than a tiny fraction of students, and to say that the state's backing down has to do fears of being sued by parents strikes me as ridiculous:

An independent study last month revealed that while the exam has motivated high schools to improve instruction, those efforts came too late to benefit some students in the class of 2004. As of January, 19 percent of students had not passed the English-language arts portion of the test and 38 percent had not passed math. Both sections are required to graduate....The study put state officials who championed the exam, including Davis and O'Connell, in the difficult position of either backing down from their tough accountability stance or preventing thousands of high school students from graduating, and possibly opening themselves to a costly lawsuit.

Could you imagine parents going to the trouble of suing the state rather than making their kids do their homework? Really?

::: posted by mr. m. 7:38:00 PM

2003-06-13 :::
Are teachers paid too much?

::: posted by mr. m. 10:47:00 PM

Excitement for Peoplesoft
I've been possibly perversely enjoying the news of Oracle trying to take over Peoplesoft, as I used to be a temp at the latter. I was thrift store shopping today, and for the first time since I quit last summer, I wished I was working there just to see what the response would have been if I'd come in blithely wearing an Oracle t-shirt.

I know I should feel bad about the prospect of Peoplesoft being taken over and its thousands of employees being fired, especially since they kept rehiring me despite my obvious disinterest in financial software. But Christ, those are thousands of boring jobs.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:44:00 PM

True to Your School
Today was the last day of school in my school district. Somehow ending my school year as a sub at a high school rally was very anticlimactic. I couldn't help but thinking, "What is all this cheering for? This school is in the bottom 10th percentile, and hardly anybody's going to college." But I guess that's why I was never on a rally committee. In fact I'm not positive I ever attended a rally when I was in high school. And I have no recollection of my school trying to get us to dress up in school colors - especially different colors for different grades. The whole senior versus junior versus sophomore versus freshman thing is strange to me. I'm not sure if I like high school being a ground for enforced, arbitrary rivalries. At my high school, I think we were just too shy to shout at each other.

But there was something refreshing about the shouting too. When some teachers got up to lip-sync and dance to a Motown song, the place erupted, and all the grades rushed onto the basketball court to watch and laugh and clap. At my school I imagine we would have been too cool to cheer - and the teachers would have been too cool to lip-sync and dance to a Motown song.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:28:00 PM

2003-06-12 :::
Skeptical Inquiries
I had a humbling moment on Monday. I was subbing for the AP class I wrote about earlier. They were good and as insanely friendly as before. (Contrast that to this exchange I had today: wandering around school looking for the rally, I asked a girl, "Do you know where the rally is?" "No," she said. I had a feeling she was just being inexplicably rude. "How 'bout the basketball court?" "Nuhh." I followed her to the rally and made a rude comment myself.) This kid I'd talked to a couple weeks ago who had all these theories about The Matrix was going off on the disintegration of American society. I tried to make the point that, despite the tackiness and confusion of life today, society is probably healthier now than during any other era. I made the offhand remark that I'd rather live in America today than Greece during Socrates, because those pricks had slaves.

"Ah!" he said. "Greece is totally messed up. I read on the news that they banned video games."

For about two years I've developed a rule of thumb: when anyone makes a shocking, unsubstantiated claim, especially one that seems to serendipitously fit into the claimant's worldview, serious skepticism is called for. The first inkling of this came to me in high school when a friend of my mom's was talking about the FDA suppressing cancer drugs (or something malevolent). When I asked if she had any proof she said, "Well, no. But even if they didn't, they would if they could." It hit me that she was letting her nutty view of the government totally affect her filtering of facts. If someone said something that agreed with her view, she repeated it. It's actually quite scary to think about what happens when a lot of people act like this: a version of the game telephone.

So now when I'm at the post office and the clerk says, "You know why Bush wants this war? He admitted on this late night TV show that it was about the oil," a little buzzer goes off and I think, "Hmm. Does Bush often make appearances on late night TV programs? Does he not have people who coach him on what to say and not say?" And I'm pretty darn confident that my postal clerk is simply unreliable.

"Come on. They banned all video games? I have a really hard time believing that. Where did you hear it?"

"The news."

"What news?"

"I was watching the news and they said that Greece banned all video games."

"But I mean, what news?"

"What does it matter?"

"Well, if it was in the New York Times..."

"What does it matter if it was in the New York Times?"

"Well...I'm sorry. I'm just super skeptical. If you can find something that says..."

So we searched the NY Times website and couldn't find anything. I was getting ready to gloat about the virtues of not believing everything you hear.

Then he searched Google. And I found out that Greece banned all video games.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:01:00 PM

2003-06-09 :::
"I went away for a while
I adored a moat for a while
I lived in coats for a while
I went hopeless for a while"

Sorry I've been away. My "personal life" has been through some sort of machine which burns, grinds, glues, drowns, and dries off the pieces. I don't see the point in pretending nothing happened and that what I really want to talk about is politics. For the past week I haven't thought about politics at all except as a possible distraction, a failing distraction.

I'm in the awkward position of needing to say something, but not being nearly comfortable enough to say everything. It was about my girlfriend, who lives eight hours away, and it was about us. I think things are better, but I've had a taste of the hollowness which everything seems to have if you're nearing hopelessness.

For most people politics is simply a distraction. I like the idea of ripples and all, but how much effect have blogs really had, aside from getting together people who nearly agree, facilitating snarkiness, and demonstrating that politics is a lot like sports? I think some. But what do you read when you stop caring about wars because they're far away and you have your own explosions to run from and run to? (Even though I argued for war, part of it was simply for the sake of argument.) Who would want to read a political blog when they're depressed? Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan don't exactly hit me on a gut level. "I'd like to hit him on a gut level," Woody Allen would say.

One Woody Allen will always be more inspiring to me than a million blogs. But perhaps there will be more than a million blogs someday. Are there already? I hope I can stick around for a while.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:28:00 PM

2003-06-01 :::
Moving House
Jackie D of Au Currant has a new home for her lovely blog. But when will she finally make the move to blogspot?

::: posted by mr. m. 8:31:00 PM

Surprised I didn't see anyone else commenting on this: "Poverty Doesn't Create Terrorists" by Alan Krueger a few days ago in the NY Times:

The stereotype that terrorists are driven to extremes by economic deprivation may never have held anywhere, least of all in the Middle East. New research by Claude Berrebi, a graduate student at Princeton, has found that 13 percent of Palestinian suicide bombers are from impoverished families, while about a third of the Palestinian population is in poverty. A remarkable 57 percent of suicide bombers have some education beyond high school, compared with just 15 percent of the population of comparable age.

I haven't looked up the study, but if it's true, it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom 'round the Bay Area expressed in the bumper sticker I see sometimes, "Terrorism Is The Symptom, Not The Disease." One of the root causes of terrorism, they say, is poverty. But if confronted with the fact that people have always been poor, and that the proportion of non-poor, non-starving people has been rising since the industrial revolution, "inequality" would no doubt be substituted. In any case, the above study - and a look at the Sept. 11 terrorists - indicates that that excuse is, well, an excuse.

Another cause often mentioned is the nebulous "All the terrible things America's done." In other words, it's our fault - in the moral sense. And you could debate our virtues versus our sins till you're blue in the face, but to me, asking "What did we do to cause the terrorist attacks?" sounds a hell of a lot like, "What did she do to provoke the rape?"

The very question tells you loads about the person asking.

But Krueger has a better question: what do the countries which create many terrorists have in common? His conclusion:

Once a country's degree of civil liberties is taken into account — measured by Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that promotes democracy, as the extent to which citizens are free to develop views, institutions and personal autonomy without interference from the state — income per capita bears no relation to involvement in terrorism. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, which have spawned relatively many terrorists, are economically well off yet lacking in civil liberties. Poor countries with a tradition of protecting civil liberties are unlikely to spawn terrorists.

Unfortunately it's hard to fit that on a bumper sticker.

::: posted by mr. m. 6:10:00 PM

2003-05-31 :::
Scraps of Paper
To continue with the AP thing: if the goal is shaping students in elementary and junior high into students who will sign up for AP classes in high school, how do you motivate them early on?

A lot of elementary schools in my district use what is called "positive reinforcement." They give students slips of paper for good behavior and attendance, and the slips of paper are redeemable for little toys and things. During all of my years of elementary school, I don't think I ever had a teacher who even used a star chart. You know, where you get a star on the row with your name for doing your homework and things. I remember seeing a star chart in junior high and thinking it was pretty pathetic, as if accumulating stars would be enough motivation for students who need a star chart for motivation.

I don't want to reject the paper slip system automatically just because it's a pain for substitutes like me. (Once I was subbing for a teacher who was the "banker" of Ford Bucks, and a few students robbed the bank when I wasn't looking, making a mockery of the whole aim of the system, and potentially creating inflationary problems. Thank God for tattle-tales.) It's probably not any more of a hassle for regular teachers than dealing with kids who want to go to the bathroom too often. But I wonder if it's effective as soon as the immediate reward is taken away. If students are only doing their homework in order to get a toy on Friday, doesn't that make homework seem even less appealing intrinsically? At some point you need to have kids doing homework for, well, something other than a treat.

That said, I heard a girl in an AP class the other day say that if she didn't do her homework, her parents would kill her. I suppose that would go under the category of negative reinforcement. Why do I instinctively find negative reinforcement preferable to positive reinforcement? I guess because I imagine it works better. It's easier, I think, to recognize the reward of learning if you're trying to avoid dire consequences. You see that your parents care enough to kill you. But if you're just doing homework for toys and treats, it shows that your parents or your school just cares enough to bribe you.

I guess it depends on the kid. My parents never grounded me in my life, and I always got good grades. I would have been mortified if my mom put a "My Son Is an Honor Student at So-and-So School," even in elementary school. Who wouldn't, I wondered, insist that such a sticker be removed immediately? But apparently some kids tolerate them. Maybe some kids even strive for the bumper stickers. Maybe there are some kids who don't care too much about the toys, and just love to see that collection of papers stacked up in their desk before they have to turn them in.

Oh, I'm sure there are.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:44:00 PM

2003-05-30 :::
Hitchens Does Dirty Limericks and Shakespeare
You've got to check out Christopher Hitchens doing stand-up comedy at the Hay Festival.

::: posted by mr. m. 12:35:00 AM

2003-05-29 :::
How geeky (and cool) are AP kids? In my sixth period class today, they decided to have an unscrambling-words contest. I didn't pay much attention until I heard someone shout out, "Antidisestablishmentarianism!" I haven't heard that word since 4th grade. Soon I joined in, and there were about eight of us. One kid, after every word was written on the board, would shout out, "Vocational!" Even after massive groaning. I was struggling for a while as the kids quickly got hard words like toopryptiun and eeesssssspniov (answers below), and I had this awful thought for a while, "My God, what if they're better at this than me?" They put aaaccchllseiiyrrtt on the board and someone shouted, "Crystal!" Another kid yelled back, with feigned indignation, "That's not nearly long enough!" I caught up by getting the word (with a little help), but lost at the end.

(Answers: opportunity, possessiveness, and characteristically.)

::: posted by mr. m. 11:40:00 PM

"A statement of passion or stupidity"
Hummer drivers are stupid. Or at least incredibly tacky and deserving of societal silent treatment. Some of them go to "Hummer Camp" and say things like this:

You know when you go shopping and nothing moves you? Then there's the time you see something, and right away know it's perfect. It's like falling in love. When I'm driving it, I feel empowered. It's the car that opens the sea for me. Now I know how Moses felt.

Now I know how Sartre felt.

::: posted by mr. m. 9:21:00 PM

2003-05-28 :::
Ahead of the Curve
While you're all reading your Newsweek magazines from late May, I happened to get my hands a future Newsweek from June 2. Here's a preview of next week's news:

--Al Qaeda will be ratcheting up the "chatter." If only we'd paid attention to the Berkeley Daily Planet on May 27, which pointed out the dangers of not making ourselves more likeable to Al Qaeda:

Terrorist bombings in Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya - the last two timed to greet Colin Powell's arrivals - seemed to validate warnings that the Iraq war could backfire by reinvigorating Al Qaeda.

You hear that, Al Qaeda is reinvigorated. And they were just about to come around to us.

--There will be a review of the Finding Nemo movie. It will be called "a whale of a movie."

--Annika Sorenstam will get Conventional Wisdom's up arrow because she has proved that "she can play with the boys. And," CW will declare, "she did it with class." I know I was surprised the Swede didn't prove she could play with the boys in a totally tasteless, vulgar manner, as women golfers are wont to do.

--LeBron James, the high schooler who can dunk, will also get an up arrow for getting a $90 million Nike deal. No word on whether he will use it to buy 1,600 Hummers.

That's all for now. Oh, there will be an article on "America's Best High Schools" which I might have something to say about. Or maybe I will have already said something.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:52:00 PM

Outside Bloomfield
Newsweek has an interesting article on successful public high schools and the rise of Advanced Placement classes. If I'd read it yesterday, after subbing for a "continuation" school where students are sent when they get kicked out of the regular high schools, I might have had a hurricane of sighs. Over half the students were absent, the lesson plan consisted of having everybody fill out summer job applications, I had to define words like "hobbies," and I was asked how to spell the name of the high school where a student was expelled from. K-E-N-N-E-D-Y.

They were mostly pretty friendly kids, and I even had two girls who worked hard, but there was something undeniably arrested about many of them. The Newsweek story would have simply depressed me. What people are doing in places called Bloomfield Hills and Old Westbury has a limited interest for me when I'm with kids who don't know what grade they're in.

But today, today I had three AP classes! A rundown:

1st period: English 2AP. I'm supposed to have them reading their novels for their final essay. (In 9th grade a smart and cocky student in my honors English class declared that he could write a five-paragraph essay "in my sleep," and I've always remembered and been impressed and a little bit repelled by that turn of phrase.) They're okay, but a bit loud, and one student is too sarcastic about pretending to be talking about his book. I hear someone call him Shane, and realize that I didn't call a Shane on the roll. I ask if he's in the class. He says yes. I ask what his last name is. That always gets them. "Uh..." I tell him to leave, and he leaves. Then I say, because I want to say, and think they might appreciate, "I thought they were lowering the standards for AP classes." One girl says, "They are." And the class is totally quiet, reading, for the rest of the period.

2nd period: English 4, seniors. I let most of them go to the library. It's hopeless getting them to read. They ask me a ton of questions about college and teaching and my girlfriend. I answer most of the questions.

3rd period: (prep)

4th: English 2. Loud but pretty good. I have to stop an arm wrestling match and one attempt at getting on the internet.

5th: English 2AP. By this point in the day I decide that it's kind of a lame assignment, just having them read in class, when they're AP kids and will stay up late and finish the books anyway. I just talk with them all period. One girl tells me she got into show choir, because I subbed for the choir teacher a few times.

6th: The same. I'm so glad I can joke with them, that they are looking out for cleverness. One girl writes "Welcome Back, Ms. Barry" on the board, and I say, "You know, I'm gonna be back tomorrow. That doesn't make me feel very...appreciated." Then she says, "Oh!" and writes, "We love you, Mr. McGillicuddy." Another girl tells me she got into show choir.

School's out. I drive to the movie theater and watch Bend It Like Beckham, which makes me smile.

Which brings me to Newsweek. The article talks about how the number of AP courses has significantly increased in the last decade, resulting in tons more students taking AP tests, getting college credit, and making the AP more valuable as a tool for rating applicants. (I graduated in 1995, and we only had one honors English class per grade.) A "majority of educators" support the growth of the advanced classes, because they challenge students and prepare them for college:

Many communities have found that adding AP really turns a school around. Seven years ago, when Tim Berkey became principal of Perry High School in a rural area east of Cleveland, there were no AP or IB classes at all. He told teachers about the marked change in student attitude and achievement he had seen at his previous school, Adlai Stevenson in suburban Chicago, when the AP program was opened to everyone willing to work that hard. Five years ago Perry High started with 87 AP tests; this month it administered 214. "We believed in kids, held high expectations, provided them with the resources, tools and challenging opportunities, and then simply got out of their way," Berkey says.

Sounds good to me. It certainly seems to be working at the high school I was at today for those students who saw the connection between what they do in high school and what they can do after high school. But guess who's turning against the trend of added AP classes? Private schools:

Fieldston, Dalton, Exeter and a few other private schools have declared themselves AP-free zones....Many advocates of college-level courses say the prep schools are guilty of an elitist reaction to programs that are helping more and more average and below-average schools, as if AP and IB were last year's high fashions that had to be thrown out because similar clothes were being sold at Kmart. At the average high school, "the kids would not get into elite colleges if they did not have AP courses," says Nicholas Lemann, author of "The Big Test," a history of the SAT, "but Fieldston knows that for socioeconomic reasons, their kids do not need AP to persuade those colleges to take them." Lemann and others fear that the rarefied complaints of privileged schools could slow the spread of AP and IB to poor districts where students need the challenge.

Of course the private schools' responses are more involved than this quote makes it out, but it reminds me of an old teacher of mine who moved to Bangkok to teach at a fancy international school. "We don't have GATE classes there," she said, "because the parents are spending so much money, everybody's GATE." GATE is a program in many states for elementary and junior high students which stands for "Gifted and Talented Education," and I'm not sure what its status is in California now.

What's great about the AP system is that it's open to anyone who volunteers - who's willing to do the work. I admit I'm sometimes in awe of the younger high school students who seem to have figured out already that it's worth all the extra work, not just for the future, but for right now: the classes are more interesting. (I never totally figured that out in high school - only now do I think, God, I spent a year in that class when I could have hung out with some of the more clever kids? Then come recriminations.) Even now, I feel like I have a pretty limited perspective on the whole AP thing, as I'm "just a sub" and could easily mistake social graces for academic achievement. But I'm in favor of both, and more AP classes must help.

That's not to say I won't go back to the continuation school. It's just nice to know that Bloomfield Hills isn't a million miles away.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:14:00 PM

2003-05-27 :::
Arrogance or Elegance
Nice quote in the London Times today from French "design guru" Philippe Starck about trying to get passengers on the Eurostar to "upgrade themselves":

There is a tendency today for people to travel wearing purple jogging bottoms, green fluorescent sweaters and orange Nike trainers. I can understand that people want to be comfortable, but it is possible to be elegant as well. Sometimes you open a little door to people and they will be inspired to upgrade themselves.

I don't think it's arrogant. Americans are famous for dressing sloppily, so I guess you can blame bad European fashion on globalization, though anti-globalization protesters are also offenders. Strangely enough, I've found that French students seem to think it's passé to get too dressed up when going out. Swedes and Danes are quite snazzy, but a little predictable, with the tight black everything, plastic-rimmed glasses and healthy glow. Old ladies in Spain and Italy also have a good look, but seem to all shop at the same boutique.

There are some stylish Germans: the band Brideshead, who inspired the above title with a gorgeous song, Arrogance or Elegance.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:16:00 PM

2003-05-26 :::
High Tolerance Levels
I went to a childhood-friend's wedding in the wine country today. I got sentimental: just the other day I was going to go out with her and her fiancé to see The Matrix 2, and now she's on her way to Costa Rica and a new stage of life and all that. (I considered asking if they'd be up for seeing the movie tonight, but thought it might be weird.) There was no alcohol at the reception, which my family (mom, dad, and sister) agreed was a good thing, because it's so expensive for the bride's parents, some people drink too much, etc. Then when they opened the doors to the banquet area and each table had a couple champagne bottles we all said, "Yes! Alcohol!" Sitting down, we realized that the champagne bottles were in fact fancy non-alcoholic cider, and we agreed again that it was good they weren't serving alcohol.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:16:00 PM

2003-05-25 :::
Mr. Manners
Jackie D of Au Currant (which means "to the gooseberry") agrees with my post below, that blaming academic failure on racism is self-defeating and frankly dishonest. Teachers are, I believe, usually so eager for any sign that they're a good teacher, they'll take willing students, whoever they are, and plead at least for a while with the unwilling ones. I'm always surprised when I see wooden apples or award certificates or "inspirational" messages about teaching on the teachers' desks I sub for. It seems so corny. I figure I won't have any apples. But maybe if I got one I'd change my mind.

In the earlier post I said I didn't think I was going out on a limb by saying that there's a big correlation between behavior and GPA. And yes, I know behavior isn't supposed to be very good for substitutes, but I've become a connoisseur of bad behavior. A bad class is like a bad glass of wine, and I can sniff out and identify all the separate little rotten things. And at the same time I try to extrapolate: what will this student be like the rest of his or her education? (Most of the problems are with guys: it's not in the slightest surprising that there's more women in college.) If it's just chatting, I figure they're fine. I chatted. If it's shouting across the room, I worry. I never did that after second grade, when my teacher told me not to. (I also didn't draw much after she yelled at me for drawing on the desk, but nevermind.) If it's tossing a ball of paper in the trash, I don't care. If it's repeatedly engaging in a wadded-up paper fight, despite threats of a referral, and then yelling at me for writing a referral, I wonder: are you thrusting yourself upon Burger King?

Manners are so important. I can't stand it when I'm in line at the supermarket and someone puts their basket in the stack without uncrossing the handles, so you can imagine I'm not so good at hiding my chagrin when I'm looking at a student's work and he says, "Hey, you gotta be all up in my face?" It would bug me if it weren't so preposterous and transparently insecure. There's no response. The best is just to move on and turn your chagrin at least into a half-smile. But some things demand a response. Sometimes I'll get a comment so rude that I figure, if you won't learn about English, at least we can have an etiquette lesson: "That's really not very good manners," I'll say, without the composure that sentence seems to show. What's amazing is that the response is often, "Oh" or even "I'm sorry" or just silence. I'm not sure if this is because of the old "Didn't your mama teach you any manners?" line or what. I haven't invoked that A-Bomb.


Of course, there's different manners for different settings. It's like "library": when I asked an old teacher of mine the most tactful way of correcting the pronunciation of "library," she suggested saying, "Well, there's two ways of pronouncing it. In school, you're supposed to say li-brar-y." I need to practice that.

I was totally impressed by a 6th grade teacher whose class I sat in on a couple weeks ago. He was talking about different dialects of English, and made the point that there are certain ways you speak with your family and friends that you don't speak in school, and you definitely wouldn't use if you were working in a bank. Knowing how to switch between them is important - knowing different dialects is a good thing. He had the kids laughing and giving examples. He was so good. He had everybody's attention, and certificates on a cluttered shelf as well.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:46:00 PM

2003-05-24 :::
Democracy, Whiskey, Unsexy
Thomas Friedman, as usual, has an interesting column - this one's about Saudia Arabia and our oil dependency:

But we also need to tell ourselves the truth. We constantly complain about the blank checks the Saudis write to buy off their extremists. But who writes the blank checks to the Saudis? We do — with our gluttonous energy habits, renewed addiction to big cars, and our president who has made "conservation" a dirty word.

In the wake of the Iraq war, the E.P.A. announced that the average fuel economy of America's cars and trucks fell to its lowest level in 22 years, with the 2002 model year. That is a travesty. No wonder foreigners think we sent our U.S. Army Humvees to control Iraq, just so we could drive more G.M. Hummers over here. When our president insists that we can have it all — big cars, big oil, lower taxes, with no sacrifices or conservation — why shouldn't the world believe that all we are about is protecting our right to binge?

Driving through Southern California last weekend, I was not quite amazed, but depressed to see car-lot after car-lot with Hummers. Wasn't it just a few years that Arnold Schwarzenegger was downright eccentric for driving a Humvee of some sort? And now normal people - if you consider people who want to drive around in army vehicles normal - are buying them up and trying to intimidate us earnest, secure Honda drivers. I'm sorry, but these people gross me out. It's the motor equivalent of stuffing your face with cake, and it's not very attractive or healthy. We need a vehicular diet of some sort, if we want America to stay sexy.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:55:00 PM

2003-05-23 :::
After First Grade
Oh my. I just read an article in my very good free weekly, the East Bay Express, entitled "Rich, Black, Flunking." It was almost revelatory. It's about a Berkeley professor, John Ogbu, who was asked to research why black students in Shaker Heights, a wealthy suburb of Cleveland, were not doing well academically. His conclusion, that the main problems were the attitudes of the students themselves and their families, made a lot of people mad, but is not new. It's the stuff of a Chris Rock routine. What amazed me was the dishonesty or delusions of Ogbu's detractors:

"I find it useless to argue with people like Ogbu," says Urban League educational fellow Ronald Ross, himself a former school superintendent. "We know what the major problems in this school system are: racism, lack of funding, and unqualified teachers." Although Shaker Heights is in fact an integrated, well-funded, and well-staffed school district, Ross is nonetheless convinced that it suffers from other problems that contribute to the achievement disparities between the races.

And Asa Hilliard, an education professor at Georgia State University:

"It doesn't matter whether the students are in Shaker Heights or an inner city," he says. "The achievement depends on what expectations the teacher has of the student. There are savage inequalities in the quality of instruction offered to children....Based on other things we do know, many teachers face students who are poor or wealthy and, because of their own background, make an assumption certain students can't make it. I wouldn't be surprised to find that would be the case in Shaker Heights."

As I wrote earlier, I distrust anyone who simply blames teachers. But the "the teacher's a racist" excuse is so self-delusional it's tragic, really. As for the "the teacher has lower expectations for blacks," that's just silly. I imagine that every junior high and high school teacher in my district has wished that the lower-achieving students would try harder, and most have struggled and gotten very upset at times about it. As a sub, I come in with little or no expectations. When I have a great elementary school class, with kids who want and try to be good, like I did today, it makes me so happy. Of course I notice race, but I just think of them all as little shrimps. I want to say something that will make them stay that way - wanting to be good. But you can't hit it head-on. My girlfriend had a good first grade class once, and she said to a girl, "So are you going to go to college?" The girl said, "I want to go to second grade."

I'll admit it's not all idealism. The good students make our job easier, because they make the classroom more pleasant. The bad students who don't do their work and talk and disrupt and are rude make the class unpleasant. So when a student is disrupting class - and I doubt I'm making a leap to say there's a big correlation between behavior and GPA - we don't have time to consider whether we're raising or lowering our expectations based on race, we just want them to be quiet and work, so the classroom will be more pleasant. That's why the whole line about expectations is nonsense: bad students naturally get more attention, and saying that there's not enough expectations is putting the horse in front of the cart. When I have a high school class and can't even get a kid to put his name on the paper, and the other kids say, "Oh, he never does anything in this class," I don't assume it's because of the teacher. I assume it's because of the student. That so many people react angrily when Ogbu points this out is part of the problem.

The one thing I don't buy is this: "Ogbu concluded that the average black student in Shaker Heights put little effort into schoolwork and was part of a peer culture that looked down on academic success as 'acting white.'" I've heard the line about black students looking down on other blacks "acting white" before, but have never really encountered this. Things are so divided, not just socially, but academically: often I'll have a few okay classes, one or two classes of low-achievers, one or two wonderful motivated classes. They call this tracking. I doubt the AP kids look down on the goof-offs any less than the goof-offs look down on the AP kids. Just like I doubt the choir kids look down on the football players any less than I looked down on the football players and choir kids in high school. But now I see things differently. I look up to anyone who tries.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:16:00 PM

2003-05-22 :::
A Family Affair
The word coerce, in the last post, bugged me today: "We have to be able to reach the parents at first grade, and coerce them to help us." It bugged me because it still seemed to fit better than convince. As a sub I usually don't find out much about my students' home lives, but I catch little bits, and sometimes meet the regular teachers, and can guess. Now I usually don't refer to parents in the plural in class, because so many of the dads don't seem to be around. If I need to refer to a parent, I use mom. And there's an art to defusing a "Yo mama" stand-off - an art which I haven't learned. I used to say, "Hey, don't worry. You know he doesn't know your mom, so just ignore him." That doesn't work. Now I say, "Hey, don't say stuff about his mom." That doesn't usually work either. I want to freeze the class and just talk to the two kids and work it out, and get them to not say stuff, or at least ignore each other. But that's a non-starter.

One thing I can't stand is cuz, as in, "what's up cuz?" It's short for cousin supposedly, and it's quite popular with, well, thuggish kids. What it implies, I think, is a sarcastic relationship. Whereas "brother" implies a connection, "cousin" implies a lack of connection, a coolness, a distancing. A few times kids have called me cuz, as if they're testing me. I've started calling them on it, and they always stop, because they know it's an ugly word.

Appropriate and lovely lyrics from Sly & the Family Stone:

One child grows up to be somebody that just loves to learn
And another child grows up to be somebody you'd just love to burn
Mother loves both of them, you see it's in the blood
Both kids are good to Mom, blood's thicker than the mud

::: posted by mr. m. 11:42:00 PM

2003-05-21 :::
Glazing Over
Saw a newspaper headline on campus yesterday, complaining about California "Cutting Education and Expanding Prisons." This is really a false dichotomy. We should be able to educate every child and imprison every adult.

But seriously, there is a crisis. My school district is firing hundreds of teachers and - it's hard to hear this (or say this) without kind of glazing over - cutting counselors, music and science classes. (The music teacher in my class today got a pink slip and I asked if there might be a reprieve. "Yeah," he said. "But it's like, do I want to stay on this sinking ship?") The class size reduction is gone: kindergarten through third grade is going to have up to 31 students now. And if you've ever taught twenty first graders, the idea of 31 first graders is pretty scary. I'll be back next year, apparently, as a sub, and I am a little scared.

The only solution I can think of is to allow deficit spending. California forces itself to balance its budget every year. Tax revenues are down and we're paying off these disgustingly overpriced energy contracts, so everybody is getting hurt. I think. The newspaper headline seemed to be making a scapegoat of the prisons, but they do seem pretty important to me, with the locking up murderers. Are there really that many potheads in prison? Fine, let them go. But I doubt there's enough to make up for all the kids in dire need of manners and multiplication tables and everything.

That said, I get annoyed when I hear people say the only problem is a lack of money in education. As long as we've got enough teachers - and I don't think there was a drastic shortage, though now there will be in some places - money isn't the main problem. I teach in one of the worst school districts, and lack of textbooks, or the old cliche about "textbooks from the 1950s," hasn't been a problem. Do you know why poor schools don't have enough textbooks? Because the students mess them up. There aren't textbooks from the 50s because they were destroyed by the 1970s. But if there were textbooks from the 50s, that's not an excuse for not being able to teach or learn algebra.

I don't trust anything that smacks of blaming the teachers. Teachers in poor areas do have to be better and providing incentive and showing how learning algebra actually will - "we swear!" - help students have better lives, but if you try every single day to help students get out of the rut of apathy and ignorance and gangs, and they're not willing to lift a finger, and then a presidential candidate tells you that the problem is the lack of dedicated teachers, that guy won't get my vote, because he doesn't know what he's talking about. At some point it is the student's fault, and it's the student's fault because it's the family's fault. We have to be able to reach the parents at first grade, and coerce them to help us.

I don't know how to do that, but it's not a lot of money. Putting computers in most classrooms hasn't helped anybody, though it has made checking email easier. It only takes one poster project with the topics pasted from Google to make you see that having kids "research" on the internet is a downright negative. It makes for not going to the library. I'd love California to become to first state with the internet in no classroom. There's something perverted about thinking the internet will help us educate our students, when 20 to 30 percent of juniors haven't passed the exit exam, which is at a 10th grade level.

Let's not glaze over. Let's admit we're in a very bad spot, let's forget about computers, let's start a massive PR drive for lifting a finger in high school, let's be tough as nails and as caring as possible in junior high, and let's try to make every elementary school kid feel safe. Somehow.

::: posted by mr. m. 8:58:00 PM

2003-05-15 :::
A kid in one of my sixth grade classes today had some of those "9-11" fake bills with the angry alterations and crazy websites. She was giving them out to other kids who were really excited about them. My theory is that they weren't all terribly political, and it was just cool to have a fake bill. My barber yesterday also had one. I had the same theory for him, but we were discussing the education crisis in California, and he said, "Well you know it's because of the war." I told him that it wasn't because of the war, because most of the funding for public education (K-12) comes from the state. (I think about 90%.) I was surprised he said, "Oh, thanks. I didn't know that." I always expect a terrible response when I disagree with people about such things -- but everyone's so sensitive in the Bay Area. I'm sure those gauges in the back were an accident.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:16:00 PM

2003-05-13 :::
Yesterday was the last day of my class. I graduated a few years ago, but took this English class sort of for fun, sort of for a possible letter of recommendation next fall -- to atone for not being a very bold student the first time. It was a small seminar, and I did get over some of my timidity. I went to office hours and talked every class.

The one thing that threw me for a loop was when politics would come up. While living in the Bay Area and being in support of the war helped my debating skills, I realized that I was maybe the only person in the class of 12 who was pro-war. I didn't want to be a pariah, or less than recommendable if I did ask my professor to write a letter.

One day she announced that she read that the administration wasn't ruling out using nuclear weapons against Iraq--to my mind purposely misreading their intentions and goals, as if they actually wanted to destroy the country--and it hit me that even though I thought she was a good professor, I found her politics kind of blinkered. And I wasn't going to be the one person to say so. Perhaps there were a few other timid students who weren't going to be the ones either.

Another day she said that she felt that Iraq was like the "elephant in the room" no one was mentioning. She asked if we wanted to spend class time discussing it. A couple said yes, and I said no, becayse I already read and talked about it all the time. But part of the reason was that I didn't want to be known as the guy who's in favor of nuking Iraq.

She decided not to have a class discussion. When war became imminent, my professor said she'd "have a hard time coming to class" after the war started, so when it did, don't expect there to be class. The war started after our last class before spring break, so we didn't miss a class. She asked again if we wanted to have a discussion, and people really wanted to -- so I didn't say anything. My professor said that we could spend half of the next class discussing the war, and then spend the second half on the book we were reading.

I debated and debated. I didn't want to not show up simply because I disagreed and was afraid of a debate. But it annoyed me that my professor was using class time to rail against the war. I didn't go. When I entered class at the halfway point, I heard enough to make me glad I didn't go.

A few weeks later, after the war was over, she told us that there was a teach-in on campus -- which was at the same time as our class. She canceled class so we could go to the teach-in.

I didn't go to the teach-in. I saw the poster, and it didn't sound like a teach-in so much as a whine-in. No debate, because everyone already agreed, and no self-criticism, even though many of the predictions of the war protesters seemed to be quite wrong.

Why did I think this would be a three-paragraph post? The point is, that even though I totally disagreed with my professor, and didn't like the way class time was used to talk about the war, I liked the class. I had to separate my professor's politics from her skill and knowledge of the subject. It's kind of like celebrities who say things you totally disagree with: you can keep a running tally of all these people to avoid, or you can try to separate them from their politics so you're not limited when you go to the video store. My third favorite band in the world, Belle and Sebastian still has a ridiculous, ancient blurb protesting the war. (#1. The Smiths. #2. The Cat's Miaow.)

As I walked through campus yesterday on the way home, the air smelled almost too sweet, and I already missed my class.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:22:00 PM

2003-05-12 :::
Rarely simple...
One Vera Blum corrected my assertion that WWII was simply about "defeating the Nazis and saving Europe and Jews":

What you said about the WWII and Jews is not entirely true. At that point there was not a Jewish lobby in the US and American anti-Semitism was still running strong. The Holocaust was reported on the back pages on the New York Times and since immigration was curtailed in 1924, Jews were unable to escape into the US. Having said that, Roosevelt's sympathies were with the Jews, and American Jews, who were well aware of the events in the old country, were represented in the US army. But if the US did not enter the war to save the Jews, it did so for England and liberal democracy. Even though the Soviets were popular after the defeat of Nazi Germany, few citizens of the Western Europe came to regret being liberated by the US instead of the Red Army (presuming the Red Army was in a position to do so).

Thanks. This reminded me an interview I heard on TV with Michael Beschloss, who wrote The Conquerers, about why Roosevelt didn't bomb the concentration camps. This is from a speech he made at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council:

What moved Roosevelt, and this does not reflect well on him, was not the moral issue but Morgenthau said, “You have a political problem because members of Congress know about this and unless you act you are going to have a political scandal. People are going to ask why you have done very little for the last year and one-half to directly stop the killing.” He did not need to go on to say that Roosevelt had had about 80 to 90 percent of the Jewish vote in his first three elections. If he lost that in 1944, he probably would lose the election. In retrospect, that was absolutely right. So, it led Roosevelt to move a little bit on refugees, but not much. A lot of people lost their lives as a result. So it leads to the question “Why was Roosevelt unable to see this?”

One way of explaining this is that early in the war Morgenthau was having lunch with Roosevelt and with a Catholic official named Leo Crowley and Roosevelt said to them, “You guys have to remember that America is a Protestant country and you Catholics and Jews are here under suffrage and therefore you have to do everything that I ask.” And Morgenthau, who loved Roosevelt, went back to his office and said, “What the hell am I working so hard for if America is not for me?”

::: posted by mr. m. 11:17:00 PM


I saw Far From Heaven last night. I thought the movie was going to blow up 50s cliches of happy families, and I guess it did, but I found it pretty flat and unbelievable. It's surprising, some of the little things you catch when you watch a movie with the subtitles. There's a scene where the wife's friend is telling her that he's going to leave on the 4:30 train the next day. In brackets, it says, "Train Whistle Blows." Sure enough it does.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:58:00 PM

2003-05-11 :::
No Trademark
I can't resist. Another odd correction:

In addition, Detective Boyle was described as being dressed in her trademark combination of a blazer and black shirt. Lieutenant Lubas said that Detective Boyle did not have a trademark combination and preferred bright colors, not black.

You wonder if things like this were genuine mistakes, or if he was thinking, "I can change anybody's wardrobe!"

::: posted by mr. m. 1:55:00 PM

What does the porch overlook?
Amazing ten-screen apology and attempted explanation in the NY Times for the plagiarism/making-stuff-up story which I guess is now a big deal. My favorite part:

In an article on March 27 that carried a dateline from Palestine, W.Va., Mr. Blair wrote that Private Lynch's father, Gregory Lynch Sr., "choked up as he stood on his porch here overlooking the tobacco fields and cattle pastures." The porch overlooks no such thing.

I imagine this guy seeing himself as the hero of an anti-Kafka novel. "They'll never put me on trial..." I guess it's nice to be a hero, while it lasts.

::: posted by mr. m. 1:45:00 AM

2003-05-10 :::
Que Lastima
Peter Beinart has a nice column in the New Republic about Bush's not-so-sociable responses to to countries which didn't support the coalition:

Bush officials noted that when the president attends the G-8 summit in Evian, France, this June, he will stay across the border in Switzerland....And, in a slap at Mexican President Vicente Fox, the former Bush pal who refused to back the Iraq war, the White House has scrapped this year's Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Pettiness? Perish the thought.

Perhaps there's someone in charge of snubbing these countries. It's can't be easy to figure out how to snub Guinea. ("In the febrile atmosphere sweeping the building the whisper that Guinea would vote against the US on the advice of its president's witch doctor provoked new excitement.") But the disharmony between the US and Mexico didn't start over Iraq.

Since September 11, 2001, the White House has torpedoed Vicente Fox's efforts at an immigration deal, although rationalizing movement across the border might actually improve U.S. security. He has reneged on promises to open U.S. markets to Mexican agriculture, and, this summer, he turned down Fox's plea to commute the death sentence of a Mexican national executed in Texas. Furious, the Mexican president cancelled a trip to Texas.

Hopefully things will get a bit better by the Dia De Los Muertos.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:58:00 PM

2003-05-09 :::
The Missing 34 Years
I only read 1984 in high school, and still haven't read Christopher Hitchens' Why Orwell Matters. Thomas Pynchon makes the case that the novel isn't as pessimistic as you think by virtue of its appendix. "The Principles of Newspeak" was written in the past tense, he points out. Nice point. However, there's a few flourishes of paranoia which make Pynchon sound like he should be ranting on a call-in show about how we're soon going to be implanted with bar codes.

We must not be too distracted by the clunkiness of the means of surveillance current in Winston Smith's era. In "our" 1984, after all, the integrated circuit chip was less than a decade old, and almost embarrassingly primitive next to the wonders of computer technology circa 2003, most notably the internet, a development that promises social control on a scale those quaint old 20th-century tyrants with their goofy moustaches could only dream about.

Yes, if Stalin had just been able to harness the power of the internet for "social control" the way we have in America, he would have really gotten to exercise some control.

Few have any problem with a war-making apparatus named "the department of defence," any more than we have saying "department of justice" with a straight face, despite well-documented abuses of human and constitutional rights by its most formidable arm, the FBI.

In other countries, do they rename their justice departments whenever there's a scandal? As for the department of defense, I suppose I'm just engaging in doublethink when I think of our military stationed in, say, South Korea, as actually defending anything. The difference between the Department of Defense and the Ministry of Peace is that the former is a euphamism, whereas the latter is lie. Sure, Orwell didn't like euphamism, but given a choice between the statements "my dog passed away" and "my dog's feelin' fine," I think he could tell which one was closer to the truth.

Memory is relatively easy to deal with, from the totalitarian point of view. There is always some agency like the Ministry of Truth to deny the memories of others, to rewrite the past. It has become a commonplace, circa 2003, for government employees to be paid more than most of the rest of us to debase history, trivialise truth and annihilate the past on a daily basis.

So who's he talking about? If he's talking about totalitarian America, we must not be annihilating the past very well, when McCarthy's private transcripts have just been released, and today I read a story about people trying to uncover the "missing 18 1/2 minutes" of the Nixon tapes. If he's talking about Iraq, he manages to do so without ever mentioning the country. And even there, memory wasn't so easy to deal with: people at least remember where the mass graves are.

I think they'll also remember who helped them, and who had literally-named departments of defense.

::: posted by mr. m. 7:56:00 PM

2003-05-08 :::
Questionable Sources
Tacked to the single bulletin board of my "Mayberry-by-the-Bay" was what looks like an oversized dollar bíll, with charming alterations like Fraudulent Event Note for Federal Reserve Note, One Deception for One Dollar, and "Thus note contains websites which reveal tender, public and private truths about 9-11 and the war on freedom." "Private truths" is the key: kind of like people's private truths about Bigfoot. Imagine a preposterous conspiracy theory about Sept. 11, and someone out there has made a snappy webpage with even more preposterous theories. I couldn't help clicking on a couple. (These groups got together to make the bill, apparently.) is great. They've got a page for, well, Unanswered Questions, and a tally for how many people want each particular question answered. The most wanted-answered General question is: "I have heard the following: GW Bush 'saw' the first plane hit the tower; pentagon officials cancelled travel plans on 9/10; white house officials took cipro 'before' anthrax attacks on democrats and media;FEMA groups were transferred to NYC on 9/10. All these point to prior knowledge by the Bush administration. Why is no one reporting these facts?" 482 people want to know why the fact that this person has heard these rumors is not major news. Let's have some answers!

Two people would like to know: "Why do the daughters of George and Jeb have obvious problems with drugs and alcohol? Do they have suspicions of their own? Do they know something we don't? Has the stress of hiding this information from classmates and friends driven them to escape?"

Five people would like to know: "Why were there UFOs at the WTC bombings, what were they doing, and with so much video footage of them, how come we are not seeing them on TV?"

Good question.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:43:00 PM

2003-05-07 :::
Speaking of daily frustrations...The Daily Cal is once again the focus of nutcase protesters. An article appeared yesterday about a football player accused of an assault which resulted in a fractured skull. Then:

About 50 students crowded into The Daily Californian office yesterday, demanding a front page apology for an article in Tuesday's edition about a student arrested in an assault that took place in front of a fraternity Saturday night.

Students said the article, which included a photo of the student, unfairly singled out an African-American student without telling "all sides of the story."

"Very easily something as simple as a picture gets translated in public mind as a mug shot because of the historic criminalization of African-American males," said UC Berkeley alumnus David Philoxene, a reader for an African American studies class.

Of course, newspapers were stolen.

There's something about the Daily Cal which inspires people to go nuts: demanding front page apologies, stealing their newspapers, occupying their office because of a controversial cartoon, hacking their website because of a controversial cartoon, proposing raising their rent because of a controversial cartoon...

But most of us aren't nuts. I think.

(CalStuff via Instapundit.)

::: posted by mr. m. 11:54:00 PM

Real Problems
Nothing makes your daily frustrations feel a little trivial like reading Salam Pax's weblog.

His exchange with taxi drivers in Baghdad:

Besides asking for outrageous fares (you can’t blame them gas prices have gone up 10 times, if you can get it) but they start grumbling and mumbling and at a point they would say something like “well it wasn’t like the mess it is now when we had saddam”. This is usually my cue for going into rage-mode. We Iraqis seem to have very short memories, or we simply block the bad times out. I ask them how long it took for us to get the electricity back again after he last war? 2 years until things got to what they are now, after 2 months of war. I ask them how was the water? Bad. Gas for car? None existent. Work? Lots of sitting in street tea shops. And how did everything get back? Hussain Kamel used to literally beat and whip people to do the impossible task of rebuilding. Then the question that would shut them up, so, dear Mr. Taxi driver would you like to have your saddam back? Aren’t we just really glad that we can now at least have hope for a new Iraq? Or are we Iraqis just a bunch of impatient fools who do nothing better than grumble and whine? Patience, you have waited for 35 years for days like these so get to working instead of whining. End of conversation.

Somehow my last arguments haven't quite had the, finality.

::: posted by mr. m. 9:48:00 PM

2003-05-06 :::
I've mostly been having a monologue with my sister. She marched in the big SF demonstration (along with my uncle, the only person I've heard of whose crowd estimate is greater than the organizers' estimate). She has a friend in ANSWER. I periodically send my sister dirt on ANSWER, usually from ANSWER, and she ignores me.

My favorite quote came from their "brochure" on "The U.S. and Iraq in Historical Perspective."

In 1989, Gorbachev went further and withdrew support for the socialist governments in Eastern Europe, most of which then collapsed. This sharp shift in the world relationship of forces -- culminating with the collapse of the Soviet Union itself two years later -- constituted the greatest victory for U.S. imperialism since the Second World War.

Yes, thanks for that historical perspective. World War II wasn't about defeating the Nazis and saving Europe and Jews, it was about promoting U.S. imperialism.

I imagine ANSWER will be around for a long while, but they'll never have the attraction or attention they had before the war. They know this. It's another reason they hate the war, because it turned their acronym into simply, ER. They seem to be living in an alternate reality. It's like the flying saucer cult my psychology teacher told us about. They predicted the day the spaceships would arrive. When that day came and went, they started really believing. They started really trying to convert people. In order for their faith not to be crushed by the evidence, they had to preach ever more furiously. My teacher called this cognitive dissonance.

Best to just ignore them and let them fizzle themselves away.

::: posted by mr. m. 11:29:00 PM

I'm catching up. I left off at the statue. This is an email I sent my dad a couple days after the fall of Baghdad, and then sent it to the rest of my family, who were also against the war.

One thing I've found pretty interesting is looking at prominent anti-war websites' reactions to the fall of Baghdad. From ANSWER, one of the principal organizers of the marches, we have, "Occupation Is Not Liberation." From, we have "Iraqis Relief Tinged With Sadness at US Conquest" (which interviews one Iraqi), and from Not In Our Name (another big organizer) we have "US and UK Troops Out Of Iraq Now." The list goes on...

The common thread, of course, is anti-Americanism. And, frankly, a willful blindness to what has happened and what is happening. As for the countries who didn't support the US, you already see some backpedaling and self-questioning. It's beginning to dawn on at least some in france that when a third of your country is rooting for Saddam, something's gone wrong. Could you imagine actually attending an anti-war rally now? It seems almost embarrassing having to cite the things we're uncovering.

Among which, a children's jail.

So we'll see how it all turns out, but the vitriolic anti-war crowd seems to have simply been very, very wrong, for the wrong reasons, and their future pronouncements will surely be greeted with less credulity, for the right reasons. (Being wrong about Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan didn't help.) To their credit, they see their diminished popularity coming. Here's the statement on common dreams: "All campaigns for social change ebb and flow in relation to current events, and this one is no different."

But this is their headline to the statement:

"Events in Iraq Do Not Change Campaign of Nonviolent Resistance to War and Occupation."

Somehow that sums it up: actual events aren't going to change our beliefs.

Even if they change lots of other people's.

My parents have come around, but my grandma thinks it was too expensive.

::: posted by mr. m. 10:40:00 PM

Even just a year ago I was against the war. I remember a string of op/ed pieces by big-name people in the NY Times which spelled out doom, or at least made the case for restraint. I enjoyed them. I thought, "Well, this'll be a nice defeat for the administration."

I'd love to point to an "ah ha" where I realized I was in favor of the war. Mostly it's just "hmm" moments which made me wonder. One was getting an email last spring from my Australian pen-pal, Megan. She's brilliant in a bunch of ways, but I just cringed at her political jabs.

She said that people were pointing out that both the US and Nazi Germany have (had) birds of prey for their symbols. So? Should we have gone with the turkey? Germany still has a scary stylized bird (on its euro coins). Comparing almost anything to Nazism isn't a great line of argument, because it's a sign that you're not terribly subtle in your reasoning or rhetoric. What will you do, when you really do need to compare something to Nazism?

Another moment was when I was in Sweden last summer and told my friend Björn that it seemed like people thought there was going to be a lot more prejudice against Arabs than there actually had been. (Of course, leave it to the Bay Area to assume the worst in human nature, as the "Our Community is a Hate-Free Zone" posters popped up almost immediately after Sept. 11. I myself wrote a letter to the President on the subject, but never got around to sending it.)

"Yeah," Björn said, "except for bombing them in Afghanistan."

Zing. I was stunned for a second. The first thing that came out of my mouth was, "Well, what do you say to all the women in Afghanistan who have more freedom now?"

"I don't know."

I guess I should say that I was kind of "conflicted" about Afghanistan. It seemed inevitable that we were going to go there, but I couldn't help but wonder if we were going to do more good than harm. And it was sad that we hadn't done anything while all these stories had been piling up about the Taliban before Sept. 11, the repression of women, the blowing up of Buddhas. This guy at my work who'd traveled in Afghanistan in the sixties said, "One good thing the Taliban did was turn the country into a nation. It used to just be a lot of different tribes." He also showed me a print-out showing the oil pipeline somebody was supposedly going to build.

I thought, "Hmm." Then it hit me that, oil pipeline or no, the main reason we were going there was about the terrorism.

At first I didn't like Saddam because he was like this little brat that thrived on goading the US. I just wanted to stop hearing about him, stop seeing his face. I disliked Saddam just a little more than I disliked the constant media attention on him.

Then I started reading weblogs. I grew to hate him. I could never quite conjure up a vision in my mind of another attack -- it's still like the driver's ed video that's too scary to really make you think. But the catalogue of Saddam's utter cruelties that Megan and Björn and that guy at my work didn't mention did make me hate him.

A year later, two weeks into the war. Elke, A Dutch friend, is visiting the Bay Area, and she says, "It's funny, in the news at home, it seems like everyone in America supports the war. We don't see what it's like here."

"Well," I said, "I have to admit that I'm with the majority on this one."

We had a civil discussion, and I talked about Saddam.

"That's one thing I've noticed," she said. "In the European media--" I was ready to hear something about how they have a much more worldly perspective. "They don't really talk very much about Saddam."

Elke said she felt conflicted about the whole thing.

I knew I wasn't.

A week later they toppled the statue.

::: posted by mr. m. 12:14:00 PM

This is a professional weblog. Will this thing post? Okay, this thing will post. I have a confession: this is not a professional weblog. For a long time I thought professional meant "extremely good at sports." Baseball players were professionals. Olympic athletes were also professionals. Then somebody mentioned doctors being professionals, and I thought, "Now, they're just giving professionals a bad name." Unavoidably, though, I came to consider professionals as being more than only athletes. And a little romance has died from the word for me, because anyone, really, could be a professional.

I, however, am not. I'm a substitute teacher. Yes, I know you were bad to your substitute teachers. I was bad twice. I regret those two times. But no, if you're wondering, I'm not one of those bitter-type teachers. At one junior high, they had a photocopied sheet on the wall of the teachers' room. "You're know you're a teacher when..." I was all set to pass it over after reading the first saccharine saying, or all of them, but the first one was incredibly tacky and, well, bitter. I read them all. They were slightly humorous and rather pathetic. You can imagine.

It was a terrible school, in the bottom 10 percent for test scores, like many of the schools in my district. (Usually I can guess within 10 percentile points after one day.) But there was something particularly bad about this one. I went a few times, and on the third day, I decided I wouldn't come back anymore. It was too frustrating, too close to pointless. My grandma was a teacher in the 60s in the same district, and I told her about the school. She said, "Oh, I taught there for one year. That was my undoing."

So far, I'm doing all right. I hope I never find those tacky bitter posters very funny.

::: posted by mr. m. 1:29:00 AM


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