Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ponzi Workshops

Just read a cute article in the NY Times about "The Ponzi Workshop" as of late, which was essentially an argument that writing programs are churning out educated and intelligent writers and graduates, but no TRUE writers. And so in that sense, we should label these workshops and programs as schemes because they do not produce what many assume all entrants want, i.e. unbridled, financially free success as a respected and revered author. Instead they offer a degree, a lot of (semi-)challenging courses and mentorships, and more prompts and assignments than you can shake an anthology at.

But my retort is that most students know this going into it. Don't they? I did, and I still do. I know I won't become the next Robert Frost and I know I won't suddenly wake up with the gifts of Emily Dickinson just because I sat through ten days of conferences in Cambridge. I know that it takes a lot of work, revision and inherent skill just to get published, and that constant thought, rumination and revision is the only way to achieve success. This is why Bob Hicok is such a remarkable story. He allotted himself fewer than two hours per day to writing, reading and Yet he managed to earn himself nominations for the most prestigious writing awards, published voraciously and prolifically, and was a 'poetry success,' despite never having earned an MFA, not even a Bachelor's. He even admitted English was not his strong suit or his interest in school either.

Strange how the world works, isn't it?

So if a student does believe a workshop will miraciously gift them with the ability to free write in iambic pentameter and to produce a book per year (in an industry struggling to survive), should they then be allowed to sue a school for false advertisement or for unfair practices and lost promises? That's what happens during the aftermath of a Ponzi Scheme: lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits. And more bickering, slander, etc. than imaginable. Right?

Perhaps programs need to better advertise or even come right out and say, "this program will not make you a writer. You have to be born with at least some ability and/or passion for writing. You must show skills to be admitted and you must hone these skills and learn the craft of writing in order to better your own inherent talents and dreams. We cannot provide you with the skill. You must have it already blossoming and must be prepared to work like mad to expand it."

Or would that mean we would have to dumb everything down so much as to defeat the purpose of the writing program in the first place--to anoint and declare the pure successes and intelligences of the entering and current students.

Team Learning

Note to self: Implement some of this teaching methodology into my classroom. By creating assignments for teams (class is split at the beginning of each year and teams remain the same for the entirety of the year) as well as individual assignments that reflect, and at times heighten and expand upon, the materials being learned, the majority of students will learn in two ways and will do the same amount of work as if they had been lectured, but will retain information nearly 200% better. That's reason enough to try it for a while, especially if the students can learn from me and from each other. Peer assistance and group work is prescribed in every curriculum, after all. It seems this is a win-win for me in the classroom. The only downfall is it does little to assist in the preparation for the standardized tests.

Here's where some of the idea derived from:

The AP Argument

Sure, parents want their child(ren) to take as many AP courses as possible while in high school, it can only improve their college applications and high school transcripts and can only better prepare them for college. Right?

Well, according to a lot of recent research, including a piece played on NPR a day or two ago, there are other reasons, and the effects of these intentions aren't as benevolent and heroic.

There were somewhere around 1,000 AP students questioned for the study, as well as 1,000 teachers and a much smaller proportion of district administrators.

The study found that the majority of students took AP courses to pad their college applications and high school transcripts. They had little to no interest in simply striving for more challenging/thought-provoking academic schedules, and many admitted their parents were the prime reasons they chose to take the courses; they urged and even forced them into the courses without questioning whether a students was truly mature and prepared enough to handle such rigors and tests. They believed that taking these courses would guarantee them a spot in college, no matter their grades on the AP exams, so long as they put in enough time and effort to be given satisfactory to good grades by their teachers.

The study found that the majority of teachers felt students were unprepared for the coursework, overestimated their own intelligences, expected the same level of coddling/trial & error as in other courses, and saw their classes' or district's scores decrease over the past five-to-ten years.

During this same five-to-ten year period, the amount of students taking AP courses nationwide has grown by 50%, making AP appear closer to Honors, and Honors now closer to 'the norm.'

The danger, teachers felt, was that many students would now feel that standard courses would be thought of as 'remedial,' though that word has a totally separate stigma about it. They also worried students who should be enrolled in truly 'remedial' courses would be clustered with those in standard courses, as more and more AP students sign up. I don't even have to outline the problems with this approach.

One teacher admitted in 2002 to teaching one AP US History course for juniors, with 20 students in the class; today the same teacher teaches 5 courses of AP US History with 25-30 students in each class. She admitted the scores, as an average, have decreased over the past 6 years, student enthusiasm after several months declines dramatically, student preparedness is deplorable, and she finds herself doing more and more extra work to help the students through the courses to save their grades and college hopes.

With more students taking AP courses, perhaps the argument for American academic superiority is gaining traction. Maybe it's the first or second of many needed steps in the right direction to reaffirming an intelligent, prepared and educated population.

With more students taking AP courses, what differentiates one from the other on their high school transcripts (when colleges weigh who to admit), will come down to extracurricular activities, other courses, and, sadly, the reputation of a school/district. Schools known for no-nonsense teachers who promote sheer autonomy in their students, will produce AP students of a 'higher caliber' when it comes to completing the rigors of AP work (and in turn college work), than say a district where the teachers offer lots of extra help, try to pad or fluff grades to assist the students on their transcripts, or stray from the prescribed curriculum at times in favor of lessons and activities that will truly break through the walls many students put up.

Also, I think it also paints a grim picture of what will happen at the other end of the spectrum. With so much focus coming on special education and now on AP, where are the standard courses left? Will a student interested in math who takes standard English now be grouped with students who have no career aspirations? Simply because they are not 'AP' or 'Special Ed.'? And what happens to those non-special ed. students who need extra help in reading and writing...will they not 'fit in' with the other 'remedial and standard' students, and therefore be pushed in special education courses? It has happened before and it seems like it could happen again.

The solution isn't pretty. For districts (and a globe now that I think about it...) strapped for cash and unwilling to make any unnecessary hirings and expansions during this time (and for the most part, ever), the solution is scary from a financial standpoint, but rewarding, liberating and correct from the standpoints of: considering our children's future, offering the best individual education possible, and not allowing students to be 'grouped,' 'transferred,' or 'forgotten.' (Yes, 'forgotten.' The Times did an incredible story on the forgotten students of The Bronx a few years back. Dozens, even hundreds of kids, allowed to graduate over a number of years without having learned even basic multiplication and writing skills. They were thrown in special ed. resource room because of class sizes or needed remediation, or were allowed to create their own assignments because of a lack of staffing.)

Districts must hire more teachers and expand school sizes. Creating classrooms of no more than 20 students is the only real and viable solution to truly solving the crisis of overcrowding and unfair grouping. Hiring more teachers helps solve it, as does creating more classrooms. Only in this way will students other than AP and Special Education not be forgotten, grouped, transferred, or cheated in any way out of the best education possible for them.

Of course, almost no district can afford to do this, and until we emerge from The Great Recession, and reevaluate how much we allocate towards schools and education in this country, little will change and the result will be this vicious circle of ill-enthusiasm and dangerous tendencies of skimping, conservation, and streamlining when it comes to education.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


W.S. Merwin wins the 2009 Pulitzer for Poetry for his collection, "The Shadow of Sirius." Who would have thought he'd get the Pulitzer this year?

This guy. (Points to self.)

I have predicated him to win it for a while now, and I had him along with a few others pegged for this year's or next year's. Often now, it seems the Pulitzer is more of a charity award given to a specific poet's book, but reflecting more of their overall accomplishments over the years than from a single book. Take Robert Hass for example. In no way was "Time and Materials" his best book so far, but it does show a lot of what makes his work awesome. Yet, Natasha Trethewey's "Native Guard" was amazing book, while only her third book overall. She breaks the 'charity' mold.

Did I just jinx myself from ever receiving a Pulitzer? Like I would anyway...

'September Never Stays This Cold...'

Yes, it's a Taking Back Sunday lyric, but if you grip the metaphor, then you know why I'm posting it. There's still a prevalent scarcity and a huge surplus of qualified candidates, which makes me extremely worried and tense. What will happen? I can only hope for the best at this point and trust my qualifications and accomplishments.

Swine Flu 'Patient Zero' Found

This just in:

In the small county of Veracruz, Mexico, a local pig farm has been labeled as the potential catalyst for the Swine Flu, after a young boy in the community has tested positive for it. He is thought to be the first person in Mexico to contract the Swine Flu, and it has passed on from his infection--making him the infamous 'Patient Zero.' The whole 'Patient Zero' search is the stereotypical search after any dramatic and quick outbreak of any disease.

If he is, and since he has recovered fully as well as the majority of people in that community who contracted it, then there is HUGE hope for a quick and succinct recovery of this sudden outbreak and it will not become the 'death blow' to poor, rural communities without health care that has long been rumored to kill millions when it finally appears. Let's hope it is quickly cured.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Godfather Dances?!

The Godfather, as K. and I affectionately refer to him as, is outside dancing in the parking lot right now. Our other neighbor has his Mustang doors propped open, his trunk hoisted, and is toiling around beneath the hood while Spanish and Cuban music blares at decibels so high the windows inside my apartment are shaking. The Godfather is dancing nearby in the parking lot--swaying himself in circles beneath the morning sun. Sounds picturesque in odd way, doesn't it? And all this craziness is occurring before 8:30 in the morning.

Dance, Godfather, dance!

Remembering Middle School Math (that's consonance!)

I'm having a lot of fun at the B&G Club these days--playing games with kids and entertaining them in general. I helped out a handful of them with homework for around an hour yesterday, and boy was that a challenge. Do you remember how to write the alphabet, uppercase and lowercase, in cursive? It was hard, but I got it. Nowhere near as challenging to me as figuring out how to do matrices again. A matrix, not the movie (hence no capitalization), involves, at least in this case, two numbers inside brackets separated from another two numbers inside brackets, and you either divide, multiply, add or subtract the product of the two brackets once you either complete the equation inside the brackets, or solve for x, which was in this case, the second number in each of the series. Whew!

Good thing I am going to be an English teacher and not a middle school math teacher. I'd need some serious review to be able to teach this sort of material on a day-to-day basis. Math always came easy to me until around 9th or 10th grade when variables started wiggling their way into the mix. I think that's when I became mad at math and abandoned it in favor of my true love, English. Mixing English and math just seemed a bit convoluted to me at the time, I suppose. But hey, the world does need more math teachers, I wonder if with some review I could learn all the concepts over again and could eventually teach middle school math at some point: as a tutor, summer school teacher, or even full-time teacher if a severe need ever arose. It's important to teach kids the essentials, and all I keep hearing is that there are no math and science teachers to "teach kids the essentials." Maybe I'll have a second life as one of them years and years from now--hey, someone has to teach the next generation, right?

New Yorker Article

There was a great article in the New Yorker a few weeks ago, which I have just gotten around to finally reading, about the new Yankee Stadium. The author begins by regaling how the christening song of the new stadium, as the parade went by outside of it during the opening ceremonies, was to the tune of "Sweet Caroline," which among other things happens to be the Red Sox's call-to-arms. Now I'm all for the irony of the Yankees' faithful (?) dancing to the Sox's mantra/jingle, but it seems a bad omen that someone gravely overlooked and I wonder just how this could have happened? Is someone really THAT out of it? Or has a Sox fan infiltrated the planning committee? He he.

The article continues on to describe the exorbitant prices of food and beverages at the stadium, but praises the new stadium for including the calorie content for each item sold at every vending station. (I suppose that's progress, right?) But with ticket prices increased 76%, and a new digital transcription service running on one of the scoreboards, which details the announcers' words and the fans reactions and inadvertently chastises those Yankees players for whom the fans have an indifferent reaction or for those who are somewhat booed, and with many fans labeling it "The House The Bondholders Built" or "The House That TARP Built," one has to wonder just how extravagant of lifestyles the elite who decided to build this second adjacent stadium believe the majority of New Yorkers live. I think we'll see those $2,600 per game seats behind home plate vacant the majority of the time, or at least given out at a hefty discount to fool the cameras.

Let's see how the new Yankees fare with their new stadium, their bloated payroll now boasting three out of the top four salaried players (A-Rod, Teixeira, Sabathia) in baseball, and new management after a dismal and beleaguered season. Oh, and Wang's ERA is 34.50. Nice.

I can't help but agree with every bit of the article, written by a die-hard New Yorker, as to the shifting mentalities of those who attend the games. It seems even the tested and stubborn Yankees fans who are accustomed to World Series victories, great players and huge personalities, have gotten a bit irate at the challenges they now face just to attend a game (or to see their team win.) The article, though unbiased, seems like an argument toward bias of 'returning to the grand ol' time of simplicity and frugality' when it comes to prices and attendance pluses, though I want to interpret it as a bias towards 86 years of ache for their poor decisions.

Message in a Bottle

I found this nifty article this morning detailing how a renovation crew at a college situated near the former Auschwitz concentration camp found an old handwritter letter from 1944 stuffed inside a bottle hidden inside a rock wall. The letter is authentic and includes the names of seven young people who believed they would die in the camp. It lists their names, hometowns, the date and several more sentences. Officials said at least two of the people on the list survived. What a neat tidbit of history.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bin Laden Dead?

It seems pretty anticlimactic, but it looks like Bin Laden could be dead, and could have been dead for more than a year. There is a lot of chatter that he could have died of natural causes, seeing as how he is on dialysis, is diabetic, and possibly has scoliosis. He would(could?) be 52 right now (his birthday was last month). But I think this begs a huge question: In 1945, allied forces penetrated Germany, and then Berlin in pursuit of Hitler. And we got him, though he committed suicide first. World leaders, both good and bad (relative, of course :) ), have been hunted and tracked and eventually found, many have been assassinated, and many others have been taken captive. We cornered Bin Laden in late 2001 between Afghanistan and Pakistan, then came down from Tajikistan and up from southern Pakistan. Then we stopped and haven't hunted him in these regions in the same, sweeping and stalking motion way in which we hunted Saddam Hussein. Why? I'm sure it's politics. But if we can find Saddam in a secured hand-dug hole in the ground outside of a farm miles from come we cannot find Bin Laden with his 'posse,' his dialysis machine, and his massive stash of weapons?

The only reasons I can hypothesize are that he must be dead, or is not being sought.

A 'Sick' Market

I was flipping channels earlier and found CNBC. Usually I have a love/hate relationship with them, seeing as how they are super-capitalist, overly conservative, and generally against what is best for everyone in favor of what is best for an investor or businessperson. But they are a business-focused channel and all of their pundits and anchors are conservative capitalists, so should I really be surprised that they're frightened to the bone about socialism or 'sharing the wealth.' Politics, as always. Anyway, their top story today was why the stock market will open lower, and they provided a single cause and reason for the huge market drop: The Swine Flu.

So I took some time to mull it over and it really doesn't make as much sense to me as the anchors said it should to investors. Cruise and air line stocks are down, as well as a bunch of technology stocks including Yahoo and Apple. They're flat as many people believe that technology, including iPhones and a Yahoo conference set to happen in southern California this week, will shrink in the coming weeks because people will be less apt to engage in face-to-face meetings and conferences and will stay away from Apple stores, where one of the outbreaks hit in the US. Is it fair? Absolutely not, in my opinion, but I suppose it makes a tiny bit of sense.

Oil prices were down. A lot. Essentially because people will go fewer places if everywhere else is perceived to be the pandemic epicenter.

Silver is up, apparently because its major exporters happen to be countries not affected by The Swine Flu. Huh?

The stocks that are up: vaccine makers, rite aid, hospitals, medical supply companies, etc.--all of which make sense.

Now for what really makes no sense whatsoever: GM is up, because it will lay of 23,000 people and will cut Pontiac out, making it the first brand to be eradicated because of choice, not demand. But it's not up as high as it should be, according to a lot of the pundits, mainly because people are frightened to go into car dealerships because it could get them infected....

So does it all make sense to you? Does it register as well-thought-out and logical, as correct and well-informed? To me it seems very illogical, impulsive and helter-skelter. I agree certain stocks should rise higher than others, but there's no reason that stocks should take hits because of it, aside from perhaps hotel and airline stocks. But cruise lines is pushing it. And Yahoo and Apple? That's just a bit capricious to me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


As a quick note, I just remembered that today is the anniversary of the Chernobyl explosion 23 years ago, which happened just six months after I was born. It's amazing to think about how poignant the incident has been to our collective consciousness and how it has affected our cultures and our world.

Did you know there are animals currently there right now? Thriving populations? And the trees are beginning to grow back? Still, human populations are advised against settling there for at least another 100 years or so, and so it remains vacant and ghostly. Here's an eerie picture of it.

And here's a link to a great website I found displaying a current visual tale of Chernobyl.

Missing From The Blog

Have been missing recently because of a very tight schedule, some work, a good amount of writing, and a lot of squandered opportunities (mainly because of the Sox/Yankees rivalry all weekend).

As mentioned previously, I went to the Sox game this past week and it was awesome, though it was much more of a pitchers' duel, but this current series with the Yankees has been anything but. Any time there is an inkling of a run-away for the Yankees (such as the 6-0 yesterday [Saturday]) the Sox suddenly come storming back through some amazing hitting and some unbelievable luck. Varitek hits a grand slam?! Ellsbury steals home?! I place double end punctuation on my sentences?!

Yes, I do.(.)

Nevertheless, it's a great waste of my time, but a great privilege and love of mine to watch the rivalry and so a lot of things have suffered: blogging, writing, reading, concentrating on my career, etc.

I have an interview late tomorrow and have to catch up on a lot of reading and writing that I have neglected until now. I have been sorely missing out on completing The Inferno and feel sort of guilty for leaving Dante near the final ring of hell not knowing when he'll emerge or continue.

Which reminds me of an interesting movie I saw the other night: Constantine. I'm guessing the idea for it arose from The Inferno as the main character, Constantine, played by the enigmatic and effervescent Keanu Reeves (sense the sarcasm?), has 'literally been to hell and back' and can now sense demons here on Earth and battles with the likes of a crooked and corrupt Gabriel and several gateway demons who play roles neither for heaven nor hell. It seemed a pretty neat concept, and I can't help but analyze it and try to deduce from where its influence came from. Is Keanu essentially Dante and Virgil? With a bit of Ghostbuster mixed in? What a concept! I bet that's exactly how it was pitched to the movie executives too...

Anyway, it did seem to have a lot of the aspects I look for in great movies including action, history, facts, and twists and turns, but it seemed pretty unbelievable and far-fetched. The primary qualm I had with the film was that it featured the archangel Gabriel as a crooked, corruptible and heavily secretive being that made Constantine look benevolent and was eventually chastised by God and sent back to Earth to live as a mortal and fight his way back to heaven through good deeds...yeah, that's incredibly believable! I rest my case.

While I have been away Bea Arthur died, which is tragic considering I know they wanted her to come back for another Comedy Central Roast as she was hilarious as the last one and it seemed she could have a burgeoning late career as a comedy pip on the Roasts and other events. She did, after all, have a storied career and extremely devoted following through The Golden Girls and her many other endeavors. We'll miss her.

And while I have been away the Swine Flu has also emerged and has claimed many lives in Mexico and is beginning to spread around the world. As I write this, the US has declared a State of Emergency as have other governments around the world, yet this outbreak seems to be small on the scale of the past influenza outbreaks and I doubt it will become the killer predicted for so long. I doubt that The Swine Flu will be the one to kill millions of people and eradicate species, and decimate entire villages and towns and plunge the world into a mini-Dark Age. I think we have to wait until 2012 for that one.

More to come on my MIA time, my interview(s!), and my delves into entertaining first graders as opposed to teaching middle/high schoolers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Craigslist Killer

So everyone is already weighing in on the Craigslist Killer, so I suppose I should too. It's shocking that he is 23, is a BU student, is pre-med and has a fiancee. Yeah, I'd say that he qualifies as being the most unlikely suspect for a murder and for several robberies of 'masseuses' or possibly prostitutes. He was planning on getting married this summer, and his fiancee says he is innocent, sweet and couldn't 'harm a fly.' That's a far cry away from how he's being portrayed by the Boston police, and it's a stark contrast to what his profile is in the US government right now: wanted, dangerous, homicidal.

I want more evidence before I believe he did it, but it does seem like he's the killer and is the correct suspect. He does seem like he's been hiding his true identity extremely well....

Earth-like Planet Found

This week is European Week of Astronomy and Space Science, which doesn't mean much to many people in America, but it suddenly became relevant today when this came out. There was an earth-sized and shaped planet found that is only 20 1/2 light years away, which is less than a stone's throw away in galactic terms. It's very exciting since it qualifies more than any other planet found so far as hospitable and probable for life. Now THAT'S exciting!

World Digital Library

I'll be putting a link to this on the right-hand side very shortly. It's a link to the World Digital Library, which just expanded tenfold today and will continue to for the remainder of this week and the next until it's, well, enormous. It features at least 8 different language translations of some of the world's earliest known literary and historical works including the first European map of the new world and ancient Chinese translations of oracle bone prophecies.

The world is becoming easier and easier to access at a moment's notice and I only hope this can lead to smarter and more informed citizens. No offense to the 40% of Americans who believe Benjamin Franklin was one of our presidents...

State of the Blogger

Have work all day today (woo-hoo!) at the after-school program, so I will be indisposed until later tonight when I'll comment on some of the other current events and interests that are intriguing me lately.

Rainy still, but hopefully that just means that next month will be filled with warm and sunny days--perfect for running and for creatively writing (let's hope.)

Other things currently tickling my fancy: The so-called Craigslist Killer is a 22-year-old pre-med BU student living in Quincy? Whoa.
Obama may open up the UFO files ahead of schedule in a very-publicized event towards the end of this year, which many believe will confirm that the government has reason to believe or even proof of life on other planets.
Many news outlets including FoxNews and CNBC (both conservative and right-wing leaning media outlets) have made a mockery of the 'pirate' situation: playing accordion-like music, dressing up anchors like Captain Hook, and running 'become a pirate fighter' programs. Should this really be something to scoff?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

At the latest U.N. conference, Iran's President again said he 'doubted' the holocaust occurred, and called Israel racist. Clearly he's pretty crazy, but I think his latest moves outline that we clearly need to start talking with him. He's said he's excited to talk with America in a civilized manner again and would be willing to bring concessions to his development programs in order to appease the rest of the world if it means beneficial and fiscal changes come to Iran and it's people. What a revelation!

That in and of itself is encouraging, but the three most encouraging and pleasingly startling aspects of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are: 1) He has called the Iranian imprisonment of an innocent Iranian-American journalist from America INSANE and that she must be freed and deserves a fair and full trial with Americans present. 2) He has blamed the world's financial mess on the US (it was our fault, c'mon, admit it, people), but said he believes we are 'genuinely apologetic' about the situation and are 'working as tireless sages' to fix it. Those are some pretty strong and seemingly un-quarrelsome words, especially coming from someone who so many refer to as 'the new Hitler.' 3) And finally, he believes American capitalism is the 'norm' for so many European and Western countries, while socialism remains prevalent in Eastern countries, but believes that if the world can become more stable and unfaltering because of this, then he will be a supporter so long as (and this is a direct quote), "all countries are considered more or less equals and given the opportunity to sit at the table as a friend and fellow person."

All right, so he's clearly crazy. We know this. But look at some of the glimmers of hope in what he's said. It is encouraging and thought-provoking. Has he turned a corner? Realized America is an enemy, but can also be an ally? Is he willing to concede that a nuclear (nu-clear not nuc-u-lur) war would destroy his country and annihilate him? Is he willing to not attack Israel so long as it does not attack his country? And finally, is he willing to place politics as the coat at the back of his chair and sit down to eat with UN leaders and express gratitude, praise and hope? I surely hope so.

We need an open dialogue with him and other tyrannical leaders, including Chavez and Kim Jong Il. We can't embrace him and praise him obviously, as so long as he makes threats against other countries he's a 'terrorist,' but we can calm him and work with him.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Critics of Obama's Plans Jumped All Over This

This just drips with irony. The ubiquitous conservative critics of Obama's plans have jumped all over this story posted today on Yahoo. Sure, it shows that not every family making $250,000/year is 'rich' by wealth standards, but it sure does show what the centralized family could cut back on or cut out if they were living like the majority of middle-class workers, who make less than $250,000.

The family earns $260,000/year (but with donations and tax deductions they actually earn about $230,000 so this story really doesn't even qualify them. Sorry, pundits.) Classification point # 1. They pay a mortgage on 'extra land they bought.' If they were not 'upper-class,' they wouldn't have a second location of land they own somewhere other than in their home. Classification point # 2. They hope to remodel their house soon, but are unsure because of the economy. The majority of people right now cannot fathom it as they have had salaries significantly cut or are out of a job. Classification point # 3. They have $1,200 left over each month after putting their kids entirely through college, and all their payments. That's an unrealistic dream for the majority of families. Classification point # 4. Oh, and, finally, their vacation at the beach resort. Sure, it might be a family house and it might be split with other members of the family. But the majority of middle-class families can only dream of vacationing at one of them, nevermind owning one. Classification point #5.

Alright, so there's my opinion, although it is slightly more biased than I would like it to be. They are under the $250,000 bracket after all, and the majority of those affected won't even see a tax change unless they earn, including all deductions, gratuities and donations, more than $315,000 (according to CNN Money.)

extra land they bought, $1,200 left over each month, and the hopes for a remodel.

Hawking Ill

Famed mathematician Stephen Hawking is extremely ill and has been in a London hospital for the past few weeks. His book, A Brief History of Time is an amazing piece of writing and thinking and although I've never been able to comprehend more than 50% of it, I hope to finish and understand it to the fullest extent in the upcoming years. And while his body is virtually useless, his mind still seems sharp as he just recently resigned his position as Lucasian Profess of Mathematics at Cambridge University, the same position and title held by Isaac Newton in the mid-18th century. Unfortunately Lou Gehrig's disease usually takes someone's life within 1/4 of the time that he has survived with it.

First Sox Game of the Year

Went to my first Red Sox game of the year yesterday afternoon with K.'s dad and had a great time. Lester threw for more than 9 strikeouts (I don't remember the exact number, unfortunately), and improved his ERA nearly 3 points yesterday. It was great to see it drop incrementally with each out!

Papi is still 0 for nearly everything this season and there were again some boos at the end of his final at-bat when he again struck out swinging.

It was basically a pitcher's duel game with fewer than 12 hits and 3 runs. There were two doubles and the rest were singles.

By the way, the price for Fenway Franks is starting to become a little ridiculous now as they're approaching $5. Is this a recession or a period of uninhibited economic growth?

K.'s mom and dad are back in Boston today, visiting the sites where they once lived and taking in some of the Boston Marathon as it comes screaming into the center of the city later today.

Quick update on the race's progress: the women are running a little more than seven minutes slower than the record time (for the 11-mile marker), while the men are approaching the same mileage marker at a little more than 35 seconds ahead of the record.

10th Anniversary of Columbine

Today is the ten-year anniversary of the now fourth-worst school shooting in US history, and the worst at a high school. 13 people were killed when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, names now synonymous with violence and terror, opened fire with six separate weapons, set off a bomb, and prepared two other bombs to explode (which failed to detonate) at Columbine High School, a rural and quiet suburban town outside of Denver. They killed themselves after being surrounded by police.

A candlelight vigil was held last night, the school is closed today, and memorials are being held all across the country today to honor the memory of those who died. A large memorial was erected nearby and dedicated in 2007. Click here to visit it.

Always remember.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Are Humans Meant to Run LONG distances?

Check out this article supposedly confirming that human bodies ARE meant (or at least originally designed) to run abnormally long distances (and at times, ridiculously long distances of 100 or more miles at once). The gist of the article contends that humans' toes, large glutes, Achilles tendons, and adaptability (especially endurance-wise) prove, through thorough research and calculations, that our bodies are made for long-distance runs, jogs, and endurance climbs and walk of hundreds of miles or more. We are essentially endurance athletes, not sprinters, like the majority of animals are. Except for migratory birds of course, which does beg the question: Are our legs equivalent to birds' wings? Are we the 'half-winged beasts swelling the land small' as referred to by Nostradamus?

RIP JG Ballard

Famed author of the book "Crash" died over the weekend. Yes, it was the book that was made into the movie with the same name a few years back.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mass Jo(pi)ke

That's right. The tolls of the Mass. Pike are an absolute joke with an easy solution. Did you know it costs nearly as much in revenue to RUN the Mass. Pike every year as the agency collects each year? Unbelievable!

Here's a pretty simple solution:

How many people actually carry cash/exact change with them when they cruise the highway nowadays? Not a lot. How many people are now taking advantage of FastLane? More and more each year. So doesn't this clue in Massachusetts?

All they have to do is install tolls in which a person can insert exact change or slide their credit/debit cards. They receive a quick receipt and move right on. There requires no staffing problems and more lanes can be opened, and opened constantly. It should save about $110,000 per day, at least. And that, if you're counting is $40,150,000 per year saved, just on the tolls. Now, DOUBLE that amount, as the revenue that was paid to the employees can now be TAKEN OUT of the state budget, leaving more than $80 million is new revenue for the state, which can be implemented late next year (after all the tolls are switched over to automated).

That's enough to give every town in Massachusetts at least $100,000 with plenty left over for those towns that need extra revenue. That amount saves at least three teachers and/or three town workers in each town from being laid off for EACH year. That's an incredible amount of change we need.

The Importance of Hummer

There's a blog title I never thought I'd write. For years I despised Hummers as much as many other Americans did--they seemed to be bumbling trolls clogging highways, earning 9 MPG, and few of them were owned by people who were located in an area that might necessitate a vehicle such as a Hummer.

BUT with GM's bankruptcy imminent and several brands, including Hummer, slated for sale or dissolution, I have to plead for Hummer to be saved. The situation is much more complicated than just saying, 'do away with that abomination!' There is also a lot more to any eradication of Hummer than there is to the selling of Saturn to Toyota (which I think SHOULD buy Saturn from GM): Hummer is the number 1 military vehicle, is the number 1 military training vehicle, and, with some redesigns and augmented engines, it could really be a viable automobile for elevated and icy locations, as the Hummer is amazing in the snow, at high elevations and on ice--more so than most trucks. Granted fuel efficiency, weight/size, and cost are the biggest issues that must be dealt with first.

But if, as is being reported, a Chinese company decides to purchase Hummer from GM, it would mean a huge contract for a Chinese manufacturer from the US. China would in essence be in control of a minor portion of our military (so-to-speak...), which is not anything negative in my view, as we control a large portion of their economy. So I suppose in these times everything needs to come full circle and both nations need to acknowledge that our economies are more intertwined than they were 50 years ago and that if one is not strong, the world could fail in a domino effect (as we're seeing right now).

Here's hoping Hummer sticks around to help with international relations and to keep supporting our troops; and here's hoping someone comes up with a bio-diesel engine for a hummer, or figures out how to make it get 50MPG running on vegetable oil or something 'ridiculously awesome' as that.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ferrell Vs. Wild

It's official and I am shocked and awed, anxious and excited, jovial and inspired. Will Ferrell, yes, THE Will Ferrell just finished filming an episode of Man vs. Wild with Bear Grylls.

No, this is not April Fools, this is not a stunt or a prank. This is a genuine episode that will air in June. Bear Grylls set out for the Swedish highlands and was accompanied for a portion of excursion by Will Ferrell, who has said he always wished to learn how to thrive in a survival situation. He was with Bear for two days in Sweden and will be featured on the special that will air in June. Yes, Ferrell is doing it as a sort of promotion for his new film Land of the Lost, which will be released simultaneously. BUT the movie really has nothing to do with him repelling waterfalls and eating yak eyeballs. BUT my entertainment has a ton to do with it and I think my blog opening best describes me at this moment. I cannot wait.

Taking the Economy's Pulse

JP Morgan Chase reports better than expected earnings, to pair with Intel reporting the same and many other companies reporting earnings that happened to be above the dismal expectations and guidance they had provided months ago. All great signs, and combined with a rising stock market, job losses beginning to ease (a TINY bit), final arrangements being made for car companies, banks and insurers protected, beginning to lend and beginning to pay back their loans to the government, it seems we may be turning a corner.


Mortgage defaults and foreclosures rose by 27% over the past few months (despite the moratorium on foreclosures, explain that one!), Nokia saw profits plunge 90%, UBS warns it may have to add to the 8,700 layoffs announced earlier this week and won't know 'for months' if it 'will be able to stay in business if the economy does not immediately and aggressively turn around,' and now the world's second-largest mall owner has filed for bankruptcy protection. Now it's not to close everything, just to restructure debt as it gets settled back into a different market, and it will probably try to sell off a lot of its assets, including: FANUEIL HALL!

That's right, Fanueil, which has seen good profits even in this downturn is currently $1 million in debt because of defaulted mortgage loans and with either need to be 1) bought by another company or 2) closed down. So, if there isn't a company willing to pay the extravagant price for it and willing to close its debt window, then it's bye bye Fanueil Hall.

I'm Tired Of All These Snakes!

Four baby pythons escaped their container on an Australian airplane. Yes, making it a near Snakes on a Plane. Unfortunately they were only six inches long, were in a cargo hold, and weren't discovered until the plane landed. After the snakes couldn't be found, the plane was fumigated (in case they were still inside) and it is now back in operation. Samuel L., how do you feel about it?

Comparing the educator's tests for RI, MA, and CT

Now the post I have been trying to put up, but needed to preempt with the previous entry.

After taking the Connecticut educator's tests (Praxis I and II), the Massachusetts educator's tests (MTEL Comm, Literacy and 007 English), and the Rhode Island educator's tests (a different Praxis II), I'm ready to give my verdicts, complaints, praises and suggestions.

The Most Difficult award (in terms of broad knowledge, depth, length, terminology, etc.) is awarded to Connecticut's Praxis II. Congratulations, CT.

The Longest award and The Most Specialized award go to Massachusetts.

The Easiest award (in terms of length, depth, terminology, etc.) goes to Rhode Island for their Praxis II. Sorry, RI.

Connecticut's test was comprehensive to say the least. It focused on everything from grammar and poetry to the names of characters in specific novels AND the names of the authors who wrote the 'canonized' books. It was extremely difficult and tested a very very very wide range of knowledge that could only be gained through at least four years of college and possibly additional years of study (as many Master's programs encourage students to take it closer to graduation to ensure they have been thoroughly prepared). It punched me in the gut and knocked me over the edge. I remember napping afterward. In all seriousness, it deserves its title. I have never studied so much for a test (given a list of 'possible topics, books and material to be covered' as its primary study guide), and had the breadth of my knowledge so thoroughly tested and tried. Overall, I give it a grade of A-/A.

Massachusetts' test was different than I expected it to be. I expected a test similar to Connecticut's Praxis II and in many ways it was, but in many ways it was a hue divergence. Nowhere was there a single question about poetry; nowhere were there questions about stereotypical canonized authors such as: Steinbeck, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Dickens, Dickinson, or Frost; and, my biggest complaint, the test referred to Samuel Beckett as "an English memoirist and satirist." OK, Beckett was an Irish dramatist and poet who spent the majority of his life in exile in France. Sorry; I needed that outburst. It focused thoroughly on interpreting short passages for 'most nearest meaning,' and relating A LOT of passages to the themes of Romanticism and Classicism (at least 25 questions.) It seemed to exclude a lot of what I would think would be essential or crucial for an educator to know, was at times very redundant (see above), seemed to have some factual errors in it (also see above), but took the title for sheer length. All together, I spent more than 10 1/2 hours in testing the day I took the MTELs, so I can't fault the creators there. It was long and very difficult, but it didn't require ALL the knowledge Connecticut did. If you were an expert on Romanticism and Persian/Ancient Middle Eastern writers, you would not need to know much else. Overall I give it a B/B+ for all the reasons it succeeds and challenges, but also because it excludes so much that is necessary.

Rhode Island's test was specific in that it presented real-life situations that a future educator would encounter in the classroom. It then asked how would you address these concerns, or include this aspect into your lessons to improve the classroom or provide the necessary services to Student A or B. It was enjoyable as it really made me contemplate a lot of these situations and create innovative lessons and solutions. It was a beneficial in the end, but seemed to test your opinions, improvisation skills, and ability to write as much as possible in a two-hour period more than anything else. One could pass it without having to know the specific knowledge of the MTELs or the other Praxis II. It was definitely a test for an 'educator,' as opposed to a teacher of literature. One could take a lot of courses in Psychology and Education and do well on the test, perhaps even better than someone who has never taken coursework in Psychology or Education but has a Master's in Literature. Overall I give it a grade of C/C+ for the reasons stated above. It needs to be much more challenging and include more specifics about literature and language.

Standardized Tests

I short bit about my opinions on state standardized testing for students in public schools, as a preempt to the posting to follow this one.

If you want to know my position, I support the testing, at all levels, but think it should be broader than it is now and include niches in, my forte, literature. Specifically, I think there should be different levels of the standardized tests (because one test for ESL and AP English students just doesn't work). I propose a standard English test, a remedial English test (to ensure the necessary skills for a career path that leads directly into the workforce, for students who plan to not finish high school, or those pursuing a path other than college), and an advanced literature test. Give teachers, parents, students and administrators final say over which test their children take as a way to promote interest in the tests for college (make it sort of like an SAT Jr., but with just as many incentives and more choices).

Obviously it solves the disgust many kids have for the tests if it means they'll receive credit for doing the test, it will boost their appeal to colleges, they have an incentive to study for the tests, and they can choose a level they will be more comfortable with. Not every student wants to work as a banker or businessman, there are many who love to work on cars and NEED to be a mechanic and providing a test that actually tests them on things they'll NEED to know in the real world is essential: How do you write up a paragraph of explanation to a customer of the services you've just performed (fits many professions), Create a sign or advertisement you would use to steer customers toward a new product or sale in your store (fits many professions), Read through these three pages of text and pick out the most important and relevant points as they pertain to your pay, workday, benefits and job description (fits many professions that involve signing contracts for work such as: contractors, carpenters, electricians, many construction workers, etc. etc. etc.

For the advanced test though, if I had my way and my wish, there should be questions included such as: 50 questions on contemporary poetry, fiction, drama and memoir; 50 questions on ethnic literature including Chinese, African, Hispanic, and Chinese-, Hispanic- and African-American literature, to name a few specifics; as well as 50-100 questions on the craft of writing. Not proving you can write a persuasive essay, but proving you can connect themes into your own life (personal/reflective/creative), and can expound meaning, themes and influenced from the works of authors spanning centuries and all around the globe. Additionally, prove you can come up with a decent creative attempt when issues a very inductive prompt, such as: Write a brief free verse poem about "What I Remember Most About That Day." Use it as your title, your first line, your theme, your influence; it's your choice.

I realize if any of my wishes were to come to fruition there would need to be immediate and comprehensive augmentations to all the tests, immediately. But I think this would test today's students in a way that current tests fail to: a student can study vocabulary and character names and pass the tests, yet they'll graduate not knowing how to be creative, a skill that is arguably more essential to ANY profession than vocabulary. The tests are a one-size-fits-all prescription which, coincidentally, is also a prescription for eventual failure.

I'm sure things will change in the years to come, though, so I am hopeful and a bit happier than I was just 5 years ago. I just hope schools broaden the types of courses, electives and paths of study they offer students. High school should act more like college prep. if we are to become the most educated nation again, with the highest percentage of college graduates in the world in just 5-10 years! We'll need smaller class sizes to keep students in schools and captivated, more course options and offerings to help them find their interests, perhaps longer school days or longer school years to help prepare them for college, and finally (and I know a lot of people will disagree with this), much tougher requirements for Honors, AP, and College Prep. courses, INCLUDING those taken during the first year or two of college. Too often now, it seems, college courses are passed down word-of-mouth as a 'joke' or 'easy,' when they are meant to be rigorous, convoluted and trying.

We'll evolve.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A poem for K.

Noah and Joan

by Denise Duhamel

It's not that I'm proud of the fact
that twenty percent of Americans believe
that Noah (of Noah's Ark) was married
to Joan of Arc. It's true. I'll admit it—
Americans are pretty dumb and forgetful
when it comes to history. And they're notorious
for interpreting the Bible to suit themselves.
You don't have to tell me we can't spell anymore—
Ark or Arc, it's all the same to us.

But think about it, just a second, timeline aside,
it's not such an awful mistake. The real Noah's missus
was never even given a name. She was sort of milquetoasty,
a shadowy figure lugging sacks of oats up a plank.
I mean, Joan could have helped Noah build that ark
in her sensible slacks and hiking boots. She was good with swords
and, presumably, power tools. I think Noah and Joan
might have been a good match, visionaries
once mistaken for flood-obsessed and heretic.

Never mind France wasn't France yet—
all the continents probably blended together,
one big mush. Those Bible days would have been
good for Joan, those early times when premonitions
were common, when animals popped up
out of nowhere, when people were getting cured
left and right. Instead of battles and prisons
and iron cages, Joan could have cruised
the Mediterranean, wherever the flood waters took that ark.

And Noah would have felt more like Dr. Doolittle,
a supportive Joan saying, "Let's not waste any time!
Hand over those boat blueprints, honey!"
All that sawing and hammering would have helped
calm her nightmares of mean kings and crowns,
a nasty futuristic place called England.
She'd convince Noah to become vegetarian.
She'd live to be much older than 19, those parakeets
and antelope leaping about her like children.

State of the Blogger

The first of many with the title, I'm sure.

1.) Getting very antsy and very impatient with this incredibly slow and delayed CORI process...just to begin an after-school aide job. Seems pretty superfluous and ridiculous if you ask me...for it to take so long (7 weeks!) I mean...since I would have expected this to take a week or less.

2.) Having a bit of writer's block recently, but am attempting to plow through it with a lot of trips to the library and a lot of reading.

3.) Happy to see that the Dow has again crossed 8,000 and has been flirting with this level for a while. I don't like to label myself as very much outside of my self-prescribed ones already to the right-hand side of this post under the "About Me," but I would venture to say I've become sort of a 'freelance economist' in the interim since about December. I now know terms I had never heard of before, I am able to understand how to predict a 'market anomaly,' I can pick stocks that will rise even in a downtown (though they're very unpopular because of their slow but steady growth), and I'm able to navigate through a ton of the 'economic clutter' that inundates us everyday to pick out what's essential, indicative and influential. I suppose that means I've learned something completely new, huh?

4.) Anxiously awaiting results of one of my job interviews, waiting patiently for another to come, and hoping to get many more invites for them in the near future as we draw closer to the end of this year.

5.) Have gained back 10 pounds I lost around January when I entered my own recession of working out, eating and sleeping. I'm now finally approaching 200 again (after being down to 187 at one point.) Keep in mind, I've fallen from 218 when I left ECSU in Dec. 2007. I'm glad to be working out again...and now I can run like 2 or 3 miles without stopping, granted I am pretty slow still. I'd like to run a marathon one day. Maybe not the 26.2 Boston marathon, but a 5K or possibly 10K could certainly be in my future.

6.) On a related note, I'm hoping to get a teaching assignment next year so I can begin lesson planning, reading and researching to make it a flawless and streamlined year of plenty of preparation and structure to ensure success on my level and in my students.

7.) Word of the day: scotopic. Meaning able to see in the dark or in dim light and having eyes adaptable to see in this sort of light.

The (new) Boston Tea Party

Today marks a new Tea Party in Boston. What a novel idea!

The only problem...a lot of the protesters are protesting against what is right. Now that's not just my opinion, as I try to stay as unbiased as possible on this blog. It's true. Let me explain:

One woman was quoted as saying, "I'd like to eliminate the superfluous (correct word usage?) taxes that go towards our towns to support bloated salaries and pensions. I'm scared for my daughter for what the future will look like in 10 years."

Ok. Besides the obvious contradictions and ironies in her argument, lies the one looming question: are salaries and pensions bloated? Simple answers: In comparison to other professions requiring the same education levels, stresses, hours (including home hours), and commitments, absolutely not. In fact, they still serious bounds.

Pensions are becoming a problem, though, as the amount of people collecting them swells each year. Should there be a higher amount of years before a pension can be collected? A smaller amount to be collected? More money put into the pension system before one can be collected? All of these are viable and probable arguments that I'll entertain listening to, though I'm not sure that any of them singularly can solve anything. Perhaps a commingling of all of these, included with several additional parameters, will effectively solve a lot of the problems.

Ok, so here's her largest crux: She's scared for her small daughter, presumably for what lies in her future. Her future is of course filled with education, buying a home, and getting married and having children. Let's just assume the stereotype is the expectation, for the sake of the argument, shall we? If no one pays money into the system, how will salaries be paid? Is she suggesting educators take massive pay cuts, or work for free? Is she suggesting the nominal amounts we pay for taxes right now are too large? What about in other countries where nearly 50% of your wages are taken to cover expenses of the companies such as provided food, transportation, retirements, etc.? We look like a country with no taxes compared to them.

Maybe some of these protesters need to rethink what they're having the tea parties? Originally, and I mean this with no disrespect to any conservatives, Republicans would have been the equivalent to British sympathizers, and any Washingtons or Adams (Gores or Kennedys) would be the ones protesting them. Instead, it has sort of been flipped around. Reminds me of the argument about 'maverick' I posted about earlier.

Protest many things: Unfair taxation (providing for basic essential funding is not so 'unfair'..but I'll entertain the idea), government greed, wall street bonuses and bloated salaries (why is she not protesting that?), and a country still so politically divided in the face of something (recession/depression) so incredibly beyond politically squabbling that it isn't even funny.

I'm sure some are there for the right reasons, others for the wrong reasons, and many others just to observe or dawdle. Just remember what the original Tea Party was all about--freedom for all, not for one.


Doomed, I think, would be the best word for the situation.

If all goes 'according to plan,' the school board in Los Angeles has just effectively said yes to eliminating nearly 5,000 educators from the LA public school system. Granted that is less than 10% of their workforce, and many cuts will come from retirements and offered early retirements or buyouts (not all layoffs), and a lot will be reshuffling of teachers to other districts, consolidating less than 1.0 FTE's, and eliminating redundant positions or cutting unnecessary positions. But no matter how you cut it, it's devastating.

This is leaps and bounds above the 300 predicted layoffs for Arizona that I previously blogged about, and is essentially 'dooming' the education system around LA. I'm not the one to coin the term, however; a former school board member who spoke up at the meeting shouting it to tremendous applause and nearly incited a riot. An estimated 500-1000 students would drop out (on average, of course) at each grade level (Pre-K through 12) as a direct result of the parameters instituted because of the educator layoffs. I say of course because you're not going to have pre-schoolers dropping out in droves, but you'll see that average number of students across the grade levels, meaning probably 100 kindergarten students might drop out, but more than 10,000 high school seniors would, according to the average.

How come? They have a $600 million budget gap. Just the LA school district, not the city and not municipalities, and not suburbs and hamlets. Let me repeat this: 5,000 layoffs.

The only silver linings: The board did vote to extend, by millions of dollars, the size of the deficit they're willing to work with and sit on over the next two years, and will therefore save more than 1,000 of those positions, which belong to experienced teachers with tenure. The other silver lining, this does not include any allotted stimulus money, which is still being worked through the system. There are also countless earmarks the government is trying to negate in order to provide more funding for the school district, so the actual amount the district could receive is still up in the air.

It is an extremely trying time for the country and if we have any hope of a brighter future, we need to support education to the fullest extent possible. We need to effectively double the Department of Education's budget. Do to it what the GI Bill did coming out The Great Depression and into WWII. It made college affordable, attractive and nearly the norm today. Do this after the next two years of stimulus money runs out, but gear it towards later education, including the creation of more charter schools, community colleges and funding for secondary schools to boost graduation rates, college attendees, and those pursuing in-need fields like nursing, math and science, medicine, IT, and specialized engineering. This will make education attractive again and not something that is publicized for its struggles or shortcomings.

We're still leaving plenty of children behind and the answer is funding. We've effectively done nothing to reverse the trends, and that is becoming more worrisome each passing day. Only with more and better education can we change our position. Fewer manufacturing and construction jobs are a problem for blue-collar communities, but if these communities were shaped into educationally apt communities, there would be plentiful opportunities in 'green jobs,' nursing and engineering.

Why is this idea only be twiddled (not to be confused with twittered) about? Is it because we are still too conservative about paying more necessary taxes? Are we too afraid of a technological future? I think both these futures are already here and the longer we wait to confirm it, we'll be in an American rocking chair: we'll be doing something, moving and rocking essentially, but ultimately going nowhere.

State of the Shortages

A new report by a group of prominent education experts, including government analysts and state and district superintendents, indicates that after the recession ends, there will be a severe shortage of teachers. Reports indicate that many veteran teachers will "probably trench in and hold tight for the next two or three years until things seem to stabilize. The only way we don't see this occurring is if districts make deep and sweeping cuts to pension benefits, pay, and cost of living increases over the retirement life of the taxpayer-subsidized pension. If this happens, expect the mass exodus to occur even sooner." What are they distinctly warning about?

Severe shortages in math, science, world language and some special education teachers. To the tune of 4 retirees for every 1 qualified applicant beginning during the 2012-2013 school year. That means fewer qualified teachers in their assignments, undereducated students, larger class sizes, and more initiatives to try to attract more people to the teaching profession, but only for shortage areas. On the other hand, retirements for: elementary school teachers, health and physical education teachers, guidance counselors, and vice principals (in many states no certification or only additional coursework is required) are expected to be even with the amount of applicants, or, in many states, will actually not be affected as a surplus of candidates will be seen beginning in the 2009-2010 school year and extending onward.

The number of early childhood education teachers is taking a large upswing, which they predict as very beneficial given the new government education legislation and ECE earmarks. It is predicted more teachers will fill out those gaps in the coming three years to nearly break even by the 2012-2013 school year. Other subject areas expected to keep pace despite the upcoming blistering baby boomer retirements: English 6-12, History/Social Studies 6-12, Reading, Principals and Superintendents, and specialty subject teachers, such as Tech Ed. (which will see a huge reduction in districts offering the courses), Family and Consumer Sciences (Home Ec.), and Art (which is seeing a growing number of applicants out in the West and South, while shortages will remain in the Northeast and Midwest).

They expect the average years of service for teachers in a district to drop from 16 in 2007-2008 to 9 in 2012-2013, which, when put in perspective, is a huge impact on students if teachers are not properly trained, intelligent, mentored thoroughly, and given plenty of opportunity for growth, assistance and longevity incentives. Higher salaries and more thorough benefits should be re-instituted after the recession is over, along with more professional development opportunities; mentoring programs and group sessions; and incentives for pursuing higher degrees and coursework, for staying within a district, and for participating in after-school activities such as clubs, sports teams, office hour/help sessions, and curriculum planning and management.

Also, being able to develop creative and specialized new courses that requires teachers to be a bit more esoteric can only be beneficial in the end. If a new History teacher is urged to pursue coursework in Chinese History when pursuing their Master's in History, and after three years, is supported in developing a new course in Chinese History at the school district, interest will swell for the course. In fact, students look forward to taking electives, especially those that will look great on college applications and ones that will perk their interests.

There once existed a time when students were offered a bounty of electives, but not anymore. Since 1999, nearly 60% of elective offerings have been scrapped from schools because of tight budgets, education mandates, and pressure to achieve high scores on standardized tests. The answer? To appease to both sides, expand the knowledge content of standardized tests to require knowledge outside of 'the canon.' More to come...

..of course!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Cuba Issue

While more than 5% of Americans are direct descendants of Cuban residents, were Cuban residents themselves, or have family still in Cuba, there has been a longstanding order in place to prevent Americans from traveling to Cuba. All visitations must take place through an intermediary country. How long has this been happening? Since 1959, when America put into place countless economic, political, trade, fiscal and humanitarian embargoes against Cuban as a way to influence them to shut down their productions of missiles, nuclear factories, etc. and to sway them into leaning toward a pro-Democracy stance and to relinquish all ties to Communism. It has essentially been in place since Fidel Castro came into power.

Now the shocking part? Only within the past week have the embargoes for travel, humanitarian aid, and fiscal policy been lifted--thanks in part to a very liberal President, as opposed to the more moderate democratic Presidents before him. The 800-pound gorilla is still in the room though. We haven't agreed to yet lift the economic and trade embargoes with Cuba. It is still illegal to import and/or export goods, and to allow Cuba to tap into some of the (still-strong) American dollar, which Puerto Rico is allowed to do (and many other Caribbean nations also do).

Today Castro praised the steps made so far and is 'begging' (though he says Cuba will not beg) America to lift the trade embargoes as well. I am in complete support and think it's a necessary, proper, humanitarian and just plain mature move to make. We're not in 1960 any longer and Cuba can be a strong ally against many of the current threats facing America and the remainder of the world now.

What do you think? Could Cuba be an ally? Is there a large enough percentage of the population that can trace their ancestry back to Cuba that it warrants a strong national recognition in the way Puetro Rican and Mexican heritages have been awarded? Should there be a lifting of all embargoes, new discussions and a renewed atmosphere instituted?

Here's a kicker to assist in your decision: When hurricanes Rita and Katrina struck Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, Cuba pledged $5 million for EACH of the states, no strings attached, as humanitarian aid if America would agree to do the same in the future if they were struck by a hurricane.

The former administration immediately turned down the offer and refused to assist in the future. From a humanitarian and good-natured, mature perspective, this is an outrage and now is the time to erase our past errors.

Booth in the Booth

144 years ago today President Lincoln, while viewing a slightly comedic stage play, was assassinated by a famous, well-respected actor who viewed him as a tyrant and had sympathies to the South (shouting after the assassination and after he broke his leg "thus always to the tyrants"...meaning death).

Perfect Storm Recession

I like Obama's title of the current recession: The Perfect Storm Recession.

Let's write it into textbooks immediately. Seems fitting as so many elements contributed to this massive shift and downfall. It also seems fitting as this recession looks and feels so different from anything my generation, and the generation before mine, has experienced. It's a bank recession, a housing recession, a technology recession, a job-loss recession, a global recession, and a normal cyclical recession (as many economists predicted one coming towards the end of 2007/beginning of 2008 [boy, were they good!]). Usually only one or two of these elements come into play when a recession hits for 5-12 months. This one has been going strong for 17 months and it will take at least another 3 (by its confusing, convoluted definition) to come out of it, with a probability of about 6 months. That makes it the longest since WWII (as I'm sure you've heard constantly), and if it lasts for 9 more months, it will be longer than the WWII recession; and without argument it is certainly the deepest since The Great Depression.

He said in his speech today that what he would say would be prose, not poetry, which is clever and profound at once. Some have called him the most poetic President in a long time, while others contend he is only 'words' and little 'correct action,' I suppose much like they would interpret poetry to be. But poetry is greater and requires eloquence, imagination, intelligence and risk--a lot of which appears in prose, but with a distinct difference. In prose, you can bumble some of your words, elaborate where desired, and go into detail and explanation, where in poetry you must be succinct, connotative and metaphorical. The majority of his ideal and speeches have been poetic, and this was truly more prosy. I'm sure it answered a lot of his critics' demand that he elaborate and explain though, but of course, not bumble. And if you comprehend my metaphor, you know how I feel about it all.


Two movies I am ecstatic about seeing:

Half-Blood Prince

Angels & Demons

Monday, April 13, 2009

Current Reading

Still working through McCullough's John Adams, the entirety of the Divine Comedy (eek!), and nearly finished with Lives on the Boundary. In addition, am currently reading Marvin Bell and Kim Addonizio's new latest on writing technique, which just came on order from the library. I'll also be reading more Bob Hicok when it comes in. I wish Hicok resided at a college nearby; I would take a useless course just to sit in his presence and learn whatever I could from his ramblings and writing exercises.

The students at Virginia Tech rave about him, even those who simply have him for Freshman Lit. One kid was in a local newspaper (when Hicok was awarded another Pushcart [which I am nominated for!]) saying Hicok, "gave us a writing assignment about 'convincing someone else to want something that we ourselves do not want but should want.' I picked community service." What an amazing concept! And though I'm sure he intended the meaning to go deeper than that, I'm sure he was nonetheless proud and ample with his comments/critiques/enthusiasm. I should use this as a journal prompt in the future, and probably write a poem about it.

Did I mention I got the job for this summer as an outdoor skills specialist at a daycamp? That's right. I can finally put my fondness for the outdoors to use and teach middle schoolers how to set up lean-tos, make fire, and have more self-reliance. Wouldn't it be amazing if I were able to teach my students these skills simultaneously as we read through Thoreau? Yes, self-reliance transcends the page as it transcends even the New England woods.

Philip Levine's The Mercy

Just finished reading Philip Levine's The Mercy, an incredible book of poems. It was written in the years following his receipt of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (so you know they're going to be pretty good...), and boy, he didn't let me down.

He grew up in blue-collar Detroit, and worked in factories, automotive equipment shops, etc. and experienced the working-class life for a long time before final moving out to Fresno, California. His previous location looms over the entire book though, as would be expected. What a change of scenery to go from 'greasy restaurants and abandoned urban decay' to 'picturesque, sunny hills were not a drip of grime has ever been smeared.' The book is filled with striking characters both lay and intelligent, boring and intriguing, but all entertaining. Especially in the way in which Levine writes: slowly, carefully, using simple phrasing and comfortable poem beginnings, easily accessible metaphors and resounding stories and harsh truths.

I recommend it without hesitation to anyone who appreciated or is enthralled by the working-class or blue-collar life, especially of mid-20th century Detroit--tough, working-class and racially mixed neighborhoods where bars and debauchery were more numerous than schools and the upscale establishments we see in most of suburban or urban New England. (Though there are rural areas that may bear a similar resemblance.)

He has inspired several ideas for poems, including some about those 'working-class heroes' that I knew growing up, and a poem I think I will title Harsh Realities. Though it is much different than Levine's harsh realities, I think the inspiration will be apparent and, if it continues the way it has begun, Levine will approve with a dignified smile.


Hope everyone had a great Easter. Went down to the house in Colchester, which was fun. Saw the grandparents, the parents and the dog. Took him for a walk across the street into one half of the state forest and went about a mile in. I visited the old camp sites (which did appear to have been used recently...hmm...perhaps in preparation for opening day next weekend?) down the hill by the river and saw that the fire pits now look pretty extravagant: perfectly shaped rocks adorn its perimeter, large areas have been cleaned for tents and sleeping bags, chopped firewood is stacked neatly between trees for whomever needs it (a nice gesture), and large chopped pieces of wood encircle the pit as backwoods chairs. I do need to write a poem about it one day. Maybe about my own experiences camping out there, or at camp (which was located nearby in essentially the same woods), and especially about all the stories I've been told over the years, or have experienced first-hand and will remember forever, about the events that have transpired out in those woods. Specially about when someone, who shall remain nameless, decided it would be a good idea to drive his truck down an embankment and down the old logging road to the campsites. Of course, he couldn't get it out and it's still out there, somewhere, buried until brush and trees, covered in mud, moss or pine needles and leaves now, just waiting to be extracted.

...and the bridge is still not open. Grrr....

Three Shots Sound in the Horn of Africa

What began as another pirate takeover escalated into a hostage situation and was then overexposed by the media, sensationalized in the press and eventually played out minute-by-minute on virtually every news TV show. Sounds familiar, huh? Well, yes, it is, but it was a bit different this time.

The difference is this is the first time our President has been faced with a national security issue, and I think it was handled with patience and confidence in the armed forces. What else makes it different is that the pirates off the Horn of Africa may just become a new threat to the world, while the one-time threats/perceived enemies in North Korea and Iran calm slightly. The tension is rising out there, and I believe this will be the first in a long string of well-publicized incidents that will be carefully dealt with by governments all around the globe. These pirates are demanding they be treated as a whole entity, essentially a country or territory unto themselves, and a government all their own--negating any rules and regulations of the sea, Africa, Somalia, Yemen, Oman or Kenya.

While I try at all times to stay unbiased in my politics, and always try to view both sides of the argument, I think this is pretty straight-forward and means we'll see escalated tensions, attacks, and a new 'war on terror' in that area. I think most countries of the world, including some that may still be considered our 'enemies,' i.e. Iran, however, would agree that a military/naval presence by several countries in that area to protect ships, innocent citizens/sailors, and prized commodity and food/aid shipments is very necessary and will only be beneficial in the long run. There may be some battles, but I think it's the only way to prevent such a threat from swelling to the point where it turns into a war. I know it may be biased to some, and may go against human rights issues/opinions, but it seems the only viable option.

What do you think?

No Ketchup for Fenway Franks

Here's a good one:

The guy who was supposed to deliver the ketchup to Fenway P(ah)k for opening day purposefully left the trailer in Tennessee as a retaliation against what he deemed were unfair practices by his employer (the trucking company). He felt the act would teach them a lesson and let his voice be heard, but unfortunately, he nearly cost the Sox all the ketchup for opening day. Read all about it here: (Boy, don't I sound like a stereotypical 1920's paper boy...)

New Moon

K will be proud of this post.

Over the weekend it was announced that Michael Sheen will play Aro, the patron vampire leader in Stephanie Meyer's New Moon film adaptation due out this autumn. While I would think they would opt for a more buff and intimidating actor, say Ving Rhames or Chuck Lidell, the studios did choose a rather scrawny actor to play Jacob, so I guess it's fitting. Below are pictures of Michael both as he looks regularly, and how he looked in his werewolf make-up (yes, he played a werewolf and now he will play a vampire interacting with werewolves...) when he played the patron of the werewolf brood in Underworld. (On second thought, maybe he does seem pretty intimidating when all dolled up. PS, yes, he is the guy from Frost/Nixon.)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dance Dance European Revolution

Yeah, awesome is this? I've been meaning to post it for quite some time. Spontaneous dancing is always interesting, especially when it shocks others and intrigues the public. This is a hit in Europe, of course, and is just now making it to America.

Poor performance

While flipping channels I found the new Real World/Road Rules challenges. And though in the past I enjoyed watching these shows, they do seem a bit juvenile now. (Boy, don't I sound mature/elitist!) At the opening of the show, which is what originally caught my attention, the contestants/paid reality TV characters were performing a poor version of the haka, the traditionally New Zealand tribal dance. While it has long been a tradition for rugby players (specifically the NZ All Blacks), it is a respected dance challenge (at least the peruperu version the contestants were imitating), which supposedly conjures the gods to protect a specific tribe during battle.

I know there are some discrepancies about whether the haka can be jovial, can be performing by both sexes, and can be used recreationally. Traditionalists will argue no, while contemporaries will argue yes. Whatever your opinion, it seems trite and disrespectful for a bunch of these people to perform it on the opening to a reality television series to essentially do nothing besides mock it. I'd like to see the males on this show take on the All Blacks. Then we'll see what sort of competition there is.

I know as a former rugby player that there are probably some unhappy ruggers around the world now, having viewed this.

Quick update: one of the first 'challenges' on the show is essentially a rugby game. Seems like MTV is just trying to exploit any niche they can find in a nation's pastimes for the enjoyment of less informed audiences. Sad.

A must-have poetry post.

A Blessing by James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

James Wright should be a staple of every poet's regular reading. Just look at those images, that metaphor, that ease and importance in the writing. Franz (his son) has much of the same poetic impact and many of the same skills, but the verdict (at least my verdict) is still out as to which of them is the better poet. Which is subjective, after all.

Out to dinner....

Dinner was exciting tonight. Went to a sassy restaurant named Primavera, and what a fitting time of year to visit it. And while we pestered S. to speak to us in Italian, we chowed on some delicious dishes. I of course opted for some pizza, which wasn't bad, but wasn't as thick and greasy as I am accustomed to eating. Boy, do I miss Mama's Pizzeria--where the pizza is more than an inch thick, the pepperoni is layered thicker than the cheese, and the grease stays on your hands long after you run out of napkins. It may sound disgusting to some, but it's delicious.

K is sick and sleeping in bed right now, as I attempt some writing and reading (and a bit of TV) before bed in the other room. And now, obviously, blogging.

Happy Easter everyone...let's see is the Easter Bunny brings me something. Know how the Easter Bunny came to be? Originally Easter was celebrated as the return of spring (coinciding closely with the solstice) by pagan cultures, and their deity which represented this return of spring was named Eostre. (See where this all originated?) The symbol for Eostre is a rabbit or hare (and through the original translation, "Eostre Hawe" means Easter hare, not rabbit), and Eostre used to pass out eggs in order to repopulate. The coloring is another story altogether.(Rabbits are also traditionally symbols of fertility and rebirth, of course). So enjoy your Reese's bunnies and your jelly beans. And if you get one of those giant chocolate rabbits, just remember that more cavities are estimated to be caused by chocolate rabbits consumed on Easter than by any other food at any other time during the year. Enjoy your daily dose of facts.

The Importance of Being Punctual

Timeliness is crucial in life, this is also true in writing. However, someone apparently forgot to send me that memo. I mistakenly believed my submission for the current submission period in the MFA program to be due today, but turns out it was due several days ago. YEEEK! I just sent the submission out moments ago, it has essentially been done for a few days--it just needed some proofreading and rewording in a few parts to be complete. It was a good submission overall, though it was a bit less polished and less creative than I would have liked. I suppose it does display some of my progress as writer though, so I can't complain about that.

In other news, it's currently snowing in Attleboro. And..whoa, wait..snow? Yes. From yesterday's high of 65 in town, it's not 41 and snowing. This reminds me of Twain's essay on New England's weather. If it's a beautiful, warm day in early spring don't make plans for a picnic. Just as quickly as you can unravel a blanket a blizzard will bury your picnic basket.

The birds look confused outside my window. They seem to be looking at the sky and saying, "are you serious right now?"

I will be updating the blog soon to include a lot of the older posts that I still haven't recopied from the former blog (that has now been deleted...thank you very much, blogspot), including the Disney World pictures and summaries, Obama's inauguration, and countless other interesting facets of my life.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Random Fact 1

Bird droppings are the chief exports of countries in the South Pacific. I smell an idea for a poem....

Isolating Boston

In an unbelievable move that seems like it should have been released on April Fool's Day, the MBTA has instituted the following budget cuts to take effect immediately following the adoption of the 2010 budget in July, 2009. They are, and I quote:

"The MBTA [will] halt all evening and weekend commuter rail service, eliminate six Green Line stops, discontinue lightly used bus routes, and lay off 805 employees if the agency does not get legislative help with its $160 million deficit, according to a state document."

Seems a little drastic, right? Well, perhaps you don't quite understand the severity yet. Exactly what does "all evening and weekend rail service" mean? You'll be irate. It means that after 7 p.m. no commuter rail trains and no T lines will run. Anywhere in the city. At all. Ever again. As of right now, the T continues until around 1-2 a.m., and commuter rails continue up to and after midnight, including on weekends. This initiative would also eliminate all trains, including the T, during the weekend.

This means anyone wishing to visit Boston will either have to drive in or stay from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. Anyone wishing to visit a Red Sox game will be unable to do so. Anyone working on the weekends, including hospital employees, will be unable to get to work. Anyone taking college courses, including commuters, or students wishing to go home on the weekends, will be unable to get into the city. Oh, and for all those restaurants accessible off the T lines that receive heavy traffic on the weekends (including museums, bars, etc.), they'll lose all their business, forcing the city into looking like a ghost town.

Missed the 7:00 p.m. train because you had to stay late at work past your usual leaving time of 6:30? Sorry. Looks like you'll be checking into a hotel for the night. Need to get into Boston on a Saturday for a course at Northeastern? Sorry. Try arriving during Friday mid-day, then check into a hotel. Want to go to that new restaurant Saturday night? The one in Cambridge across from Porter Square? Oh, look's like we won't be able to get there...unless you can hitch a ride with a bike messenger.

Do they propose people skip to work? Park their cars on the no-longer-used rails during the weekend? This is ridiculous and absurd. I can't believe this is seriously being considered at all. In effect, Boston will become isolated, will lose much more money than they would by keeping the rails going, and many more people will lose their jobs. It's a terrible domino effect that will shatter Boston and could drive it back into the stone age. Just because a 'traditional work day' goes from 8-4, 9-5 or 10-6 doesn't mean the trains should stop after that and not run before it, and that the weekends are just for sitting at home, staring at the wall.

Thursday, April 9, 2009!

Check this out:

That's right. Scientists have for the first time captured images of lightning spewing OUT from inside a volcanic eruption. I'll leave you to the awe.

Totally Solar City

...and in Florida, nonetheless. Where else could the solar idea work better? None really come to mind. A former NFL lineman turned real estate mogul has proposed the idea of a solar powered city near Fort Myers, completely sustainable on its own. He projects close to 65,000 residents could live and work in the community, which would generate all of its energy through the sun (with a small portion allocated to wind or water) and which would have its own businesses set up in the area (mostly solar energy and 'green' companies) to allow all commuters to walk, bike or run to work each day. What an amazing entrepreneurial idea.

Fox's New Reality Show

"Someone's Gotta Go." That's right. Exactly the opposite of The Apprentice. And what's most disturbing is it will involve more than 15 small companies of 15-20 people, all of which will need to lay someone off during their filming period. Each employee must agree to go on the show beforehand and will be offered no compensation if they are the one let go, and will not be part of any follow-up reality show afterward. "Essentially it's an opportunity for people who fear they will be laid off to have it televised in front of the world, and then have a much better shot at finding a new job because they're kind of already out there, in the minds of employers," said a person associated with the show.


Economic Facelift

More and more older job seekers are getting plastic surgery as a way 'to look younger, fresher, and more interested' for the jobs they will be interviewing for the in the future. While plastic surgery was down more than 10% last year, it's up this year, and the vast majority of patients are job seekers who want to look better because they believe it is the key to landing a job.

Wow, really?

School Closures

In yet another disturbing and shocking turn of events, as a direct result of The Great Recession 23 schools in the Detroit area will be closed and nearly 600 teachers will be laid off in order to trim enough money from this year's budget to eliminate the deficit.

While this is hurtful, appalling and nauseating for teachers and administrators, it is nothing compared to what an independent report concluded based on the results of closing 21 schools in the district (5 of which were schools that will remain open and are not included on the city's list for slated closure). The independent report, not discussed by the city's board and not included in most news reports, shows a projected increased dropout rate next year of more than 4,000 students as a result of longer school commutes, larger class sizes, and fewer school and after school programs, clubs, and sports. That depicts a nearly 5% increase in the drop out rate from last year, which was already a record high. Altogether, the graduation rate of area high schoolers is projected at an abysmal 60% for the next four years. Not all schools are high schools, of course, many are elementary schools, meaning that a significant percentage of children will drop out before they finish elementary school as a result of having (projected...) 90+ minute bus rides each way to and from school.

Similarly, Tucson, Arizona, will also cut more than 600 teachers this year, though they hope will stimulus money and additional petition funding from the government, they can retain more than 400 of those laid off. A bit brighter, but still bleak.

While I agree with the stimulus package, it seems the provisions were too small for many school districts, and as a result, many are continuing with closures, layoffs and cut programs.

"Now A Real Angel"

So I saw the headline "Now A Real Angel," and thought to myself, "self, what could this article be about?"

Intrigued, I read the breaking news article, now being reported on CNN, about Los Angeles Angels' pitcher Nick Adenhart, who last night threw a 6 inning shutout game against the A's and was then killed in a hit-and-run car accident just miles from the stadium. Reports indicated the driver who fled has been caught.

But let's focus on the two most shocking parts about this: Within hours of his fourth big league start, and arguably his most important to date, he, along with two other passengers in his car, are killed indiscriminately by a van driver who ran a red light. As unbelievable as it is, it's true, shocking, and a horrible twist of fate. He was only 22. The second part is the headline, and while the irony of the team he played for is strange and shocking as well, it seems sad that it is the main portion of the story being exploited at the moment. Aren't there any better gimmicks for the headlines than to use the 'Angel' pun? A sad event in all senses.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Proof of musical transcendence:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

New Wheels

Want an easy way to get around town in the summer? Looking for an alternative to your bicycle when cruising the backroads or the boardwalks?
Check out this new invention from Segway and GM. Having tested the Segway before, it is pretty difficult to master initially, but easy after some experience. However, the ease and simplicity of its design makes this the perfect sequel to the Segway, and it is even easier to use. A fast, electric two-seat and two-wheel alternative to the gas guzzlers ready to hit the market sometime soon, we hope.