My school is condemned to fail.

Today, the malcontents who work in my school took a step I should have easily anticipated: they voted to begin using a reading series, Journeys, beginning in September 2017 in P – 6.  I’ve worked at this school for 20 years, and have seen many bright hopes come and go in reading, in writing (oh, 6 + 1 Writing will change everything!) and in mathematics.  No approach had anything different about it but the publication date and some of the stories, but essentially a basal reader is a basal reader is a basal reader.  In case you’re unfamiliar, a basal reader is organized such that a story becomes the base for the week’s lessons, which include spelling, which is only peripherally related to a few words one might find in the story; vocabulary, only occasionally related to the story; grammar, totally unrelated to the story; and, of course, the SKILLS LESSON!  Ah, yes, you, too, can teach a child to predict outcomes, even if they don’t know what predict outcomes means!  Sure, all they need is a lesson or two each week and they’ll be experts.

Unfortunately, they will not be readers.  They will have no knowledge to apply to what they read.  They’ll be able to decode beautifully, elegantly; but when you tell a child who knows nothing outside the confines of her town to use context in figuring out new words, they will be able to pronounce the words quite nicely, thank you, but they will wonder why you’re talking about context when they don’t understand the context.  They don’t have the content knowledge to apply to the passage under consideration.  Take the following samples for consideration:

Complex structural effects in the nuclide production from the projectile fragmentation of 1 A GeV 238U nuclei in a titanium target, manifested as an even-odd effect, are reported. The structure seems to be insensitive to the excitation energy induced in the reaction. This is in contrast to the salient structural features found in nuclear fission and in transfer reactions, which gradually disappear with increasing excitation energy.

What does “salient” mean here? Come on, figure it out from context!

Maybe you’d prefer something more familiar, but just as complex for its subject:

Over the centuries, people settled in stable communities that were based on agriculture. Domesticated animals became more common. The invention of new tools—hoes, sickles, and plow sticks—made the task of farming easier. As people gradually developed the technology to control their natural environment, they reaped larger harvests. Settlements with a prodigal supply of food could support larger populations.

What does “prodigal” mean in that last sentence?  You can probably figure it out from the context, because you know something about communities, people, and tools.  But for a kid trying to read a new text that has, as a prerequsite, broad background knowledge of the world, it’s just as hard as the selection from a chapter on muons and complex nuclides.

So my school voted to get rid of a highly acclaimed English Language Arts program that incorporates the direct introduction of general background knowledge along with necessary skills in phonics, grammar, and text strategies.  They voted to get rid of it so they could live on Easy Street with a basal that ensures kids will learn their phonics and their decoding — but ensures also that they will have no success in reading comprehension, because they don’t know — they simply don’t know — what the text is talking about.

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February, the dismal month

Whoever thought to limit February to only 28 days was a great humanitarian.  Better were it 10.

Two years ago, my brother died.  February 21, 2015: the most dismal date in my life.  Two days before that, the water main under our front yard froze.  Our pipes burst.

This year, people near and dear to me have moved far away.  My world has gotten smaller.  Donald Trump is the Occupant of the White House and has awakened the Ignoranti. And a dear golden retriever, Chance, is being put down today because of an incurable disease.  He’s 10.

It should be obvious from Valentine’s Day that February is made for heartbreak.  Starting from childhood, we pass out Valentines indiscriminately to classmates.  But there’s always the kids who got fewer than the rest.  They sit in sadness, trying not to be noticed.

Spring: I’m waiting.  Do come.

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Everybody lies.

Yep, it was a good song by Leo Kottke (which you can see performed here) but it’s generally true in human affairs.  By now, it feels like Trump has been Occupant of the White House for months, but it’s only been weeks.  The lies he and his representatives have spewed before the public have been nothing short of breathtaking.  Unpresidented, as Trump himself would say.  And they keep coming.

What’s even more astonishing is that his supporters see his lies as evidence of his genius.

“He’s keeping the press off balance, and that’s a good thing,” said an 80 year old woman who voted for Trump.  “This is how you negotiate in business.  You never show the other side your hand.”  I was at a loss for words to respond.  I began, “But the government is not a business…” and then lost heart, knowing fully that I was just blowing air, that it mattered not to the listener that I was giving sound reasons why she might want to reconsider her opinion.

I then cast my mind back to a time, some years back, when Obama told the Syrian leader Assad that there was a red line that he dare not cross, and that red line was the use of chemical weapons.  When Assad used chemical weapons anyway, Obama hesitated, then asked Congress for permission to launch a military strike.

This was disingenuous at best, stupid at worst.  Obama knew that the Republican Congress wouldn’t vote to set the Statue of Liberty aright if it fell over, were it Obama’s idea to do so.  Predictably, Congress rejected his request and nothing was done.

So what did Obama supporters say?  “Genius!  He put the responsibility on the Republicans and they screwed up!  Now Syria is THEIR responsibility!”

You should live in Dave’s hands / at Sunnybrook Park

Counting little days there / turning into dark.

Everybody lies.

To which I would add: Everybody lies — to themselves, especially.

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The Last Day.

Today is a sad day.  Donald Trump is taking over the office of President tomorrow, and Barack Obama will no longer be my President.  I’m proud to have voted for Obama twice; I’m prouder to be able to say that I strongly disagreed with him on many occasions, but I never lost ultimate faith in his decency and good intentions.

Not so with Trump.  I never respected him, not from the first days of his notoriety in New York City.  Those days when he played Bad Boy with the amused tabloid press.  Those days when he announced plans that took crass advantage of New York’s housing laws.  Those days when he sued the City of New York for millions in tax abatements for his millionaire condos — because the laws were written hastily in the depths of the ’75 recession.  To his credit, Trump had faith in the city.  He did.  He had faith that its lawmakers would be so grateful to have their pictures taken with a rich guy in a gilded chair that it could bring him untold riches.  He was right.  It was the last time he’d be right.

I do not want to ever say the words “President T—p”.  Ever.  He will never be my President.

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You’re under arrest, Trump!

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The Broken Presidency

Earlier this year (2016) journalists and pundits were falling all over themselves declaring the Republican Party to be “broken.”  Now, after the disastrous and terrifying results of the election, the same voices are now describing the Democratic Party with the same word.  Broken.

They have good reasons underlying their conclusions, but they are quite off target.  It is not the party system that is broken, but Americans’ idea of the Presidency itself.

Let’s go back to 1964 to understand how this came about.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson ran a sanctimonious campaign against Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, a man temperamentally unsuited to a national campaign.  Johnson said Goldwater would get us into a war, but Johnson was actually planning our involvement in Vietnam as he was waging his campaign.  There is irrefutable evidence to support this.

In 1968, Richard Nixon ran a sanctimonious campaign against Vice President Hubert Humphrey, whose biggest drawbacks were his nasal voice, his bulldog face, and his unflinching support for President Johnson’s efforts in Vietnam.  Nixon lied his way into office, saying he had a “secret” plan to end the war.  Nixon was planning increased bombing of North Vietnam even as he said this.  In this election, Nixon inaugurated the politics of fear and resentment.

In 1972, Richard Nixon ran a sanctimonious campaign depicting him as a lover of peace, a bringer of law and order, and entirely reasonable.  His opponent was Senator George McGovern, a kind, sweet, noble man entirely unsuited to running a national campaign.  He wanted to end the war and run the country like FDR did.  Nixon refined the politics of fear and resentment in this election.

In 1974, Nixon’s Vice President resigned over some issues related to malfeasance of office when he was Governor of Maryland. Later that year, Nixon himself resigned after it was clearly demonstrated that he obstructed justice as a matter of course over the term of his Presidency.  America was not happy about this.

In 1976, Jimmy Carter ran a sanctimonious campaign against Gerald Ford, who, to everyone’s dull surprise, was named President after Nixon’s resignation.  Carter promised to bring dignity and honor back to the Presidency.  He is best remembered for ordering a failed rescue mission of Americans held hostage by so-called students in Iran.  Think of Jimmy Carter’s Presidency and crashing helicopters come to mind.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran a sanctimonious campaign against Jimmy Carter.  Ronald Reagan promised his orders would not end in crashing helicopters.  Reagan said that government was not the solution but the problem.  He got people believing that you could cut income and increase income simultaneously.  That is, cut taxes and expect the economy to respond in such a Pavlovian way that more money is in the economy, with more money paid in taxes despite the lower rate.  It did not work, and Reagan apparently was upset, so he raised taxes more than anyone ever had before, yet he is best remembered for cutting taxes.  Odd that few Reagan supporters remember the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, resulting in 241 deaths and our immediate withdrawal, like scared puppies with our tails between our bloodied legs.  But Reagan was an actor; Carter wasn’t.

In 1984, astonishingly, Reagan was re-elected. This time he ran a sanctimonious campaign against Walter Mondale, a man who could have done wonders for insomniacs, had he a bit more of the entrepreneurial spirit.  Reagan promptly set about laundering money with Iran’s help while Iran looked the other way in sending weapons to right-wing guerrillas in El Salvador who were best known for dragging a well-known priest out of church during Mass and cutting his throat.  When news of this hit the airwaves and print media, it resulted in a storm of controversy.  Nothing happened.  Lots of people thought he should have been impeached, but: never mind.

In 1988, Reagan’s Vice President won a sanctimonious campaign against (yes, I had to look this up) Mike Dukakis, Governor of Massachusetts.  Dukakis talked about the “Massachusetts Miracle” — which was nothing other than a bunch of factories that had lots of defense orders because of Reagan’s military buildup.  It was about to stop being a miracle, but he didn’t know that the Soviet Union was about to collapse.  Bush waged the most scurrilous and vile campaign to date, with campaign chair Lee Atwater directing the religious vote, the white racist vote, and the overall idiot vote in such masterpieces of YouTubable videos as the Willie Horton revolving door lie.  Bush won.

In 1992, Bush ran a sanctimonious campaign against Bill Clinton and lost.  Bill Clinton?  Governor of Arkansas, but nobody important.  He had a very selfish message: I’m gonna do something about welfare and get the economy roaring for the average American.  What he didn’t know was that China was entering a new phase of its history, creating a market economy that had the potential to change the world.  Oh, and he didn’t know much about the Internet, either, which has had the biggest impact on daily life since the invention of the printing press.  Both China and the Internet made Bill Clinton’s Presidency one of incredible good luck, but he screwed it up royally by his sexual promiscuity.  The idiot.  Nobody would have noticed if he hadn’t forgotten to put a sunset date on his appointment of Kenneth Starr, right wing lawyer extraordinaire, whose job was supposed to find out if the Clintons had done anything wrong in the Whitewater real estate deal.  (They hadn’t, but Starr didn’t want to leave a cushy little job like that.)  Republicans, whose sanctimoniousness knew no bounds, took to the airwaves to describe the semen stain on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress.  Never before had the word “semen” been heard on radio and television.  Seamen, yes, but semen, no.  This caused a profound change in how Americans saw the Presidency.  No longer was the Presidency an office with honor and dignity.  It was now on the level of your town dog catcher.


Thanks to Pew Center for Government Research.

In 1996, Clinton easily won re-election against Bob Dole, whose angry countenance was incredibly out of touch with the overall sentiment of America in 1996.  Clinton’s sunny assurances that everything was gonna be okay overwhelmed Bob Dole’s workmanlike Republicanism.  Clinton may have won re-election, but he was not respected by about 90% of the population — even among those who loved him, the old respect was gone.

In 2000 and again in 2004, George W. Bush ran a nauseatingly sanctimonious campaign against Al Gore, then John Kerry.  I think I’m not going out on limb here in saying that George W. Bush was among the worst, most divisive Presidents we have ever had.  The attacks on America in 2001 showed us that the President cannot protect us any more.  The trauma of this was exploited by Bush and his cronies as they passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act: 342 pages long, changed 15 major laws, and was passed overwhelmingly just six weeks after September 11.  Even the most trusting Americans began to wonder how a bill like that could be written, printed, and thoughtfully analyzed by legislators in just six weeks.  A lot of people began absolutely hating the President, believing he had destroyed the dignity of the Presidency with his torture policy, his quagmire wars, and his cowboy arrogance.

In 2008, Barack Hussein Obama became President in a campaign promising hope and change.  Americans wanted change, for sure; but then they changed their minds and elected a solidly Republican majority that was able to thwart every major initiative President Obama brought forward.  In a masterful performance, Obama seemed to be unperturbed and supremely confident as President, but both his supporters and detractors knew he was a lonely man surrounded by hate.

Obama was re-elected in 2012 in a very muted campaign that very few remember.  The Republicans put up Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and a private businessman of some repute.  He may well have lost because of a video someone took of him telling a group of wealthy supporters how he viewed the Presidency, among other things:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”Romney went on: “[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

How can you respect an office that buys its way into power by throwing other people’s money at fat bastards who are laughing at you?

In 2016, Donald J. Trump won the most implausible, most disgusting, most hallucinatory campaign in American political history.  He ran against Hillary Clinton, former Senator, former White House spouse, former Secretary of State.  Neither of them talked much about what they would do as President, at least not much that was realistic.  Because, really, nobody believes in the Presidency any more.  People who elected Trump did so largely because they thought, “Well, here’s a guy who says he can do what everyone else says is impossible.  Let’s make him President and see if he can do it.”  You don’t fiddle around with an office that you respect.  You respect your spouse: you wouldn’t bring home a loudmouthed alcoholic who wants to masturbate in front of you both and think, “I did this because I love and respect my spouse.”

No.  There is no respect for the Presidency any more.  America doesn’t care who they make President because they don’t believe the office is viable.  We are witnessing, in Donald Trump, the setting of the sun on our representative form of government.  The nights will get colder.

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Religious support for Donald Trump

The hypocrisy of religion can no better be illustrated than in the support given to Donald Trump by religious zealots across America.  Never has there been a more vulgar person to run for the office of President; never before has there been such a mean-spirited trickster at the summit of world power.  You’d think maybe someone with a background in religion might well have dismissed such a person out of hand.  You would only think that because you misunderstand the nature of religion.

Religion has nothing to do with getting us to live better lives.  It has everything to do with tribal identification and the successful exclusion of those who do not belong to the tribe.

The short and long of it is this: You, too, can become loved by evangelicals.  All you have to do is say you’re one of them.  You don’t have to act nice, you don’t have to do anything different.  It helps if you donate lots of money, but really, just tell them they’re right and you totally agree with them.  This warms the cockles of their hearts, and makes tribal affiliation official.  They feel more and more justified in their religious convictions with every new member.

One day, religion will be seen for what it is: a remnant of simian behavior that has to be discarded as we move forward from animal to human.  Or, as Nathan put it in Lessing’s Nathan der Weise: “Unsere Aufgabe is dies: einen Schritt weiter zu tun von Tier zum Menschen.”

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Trump: an exponent of the Zeitgeist.

Rock sprite

Rock sprite

Sometimes it seems as if there is a universal radio station, some worldwide broadcast working in polyglot fashion to influence the minds of the world’s population.  (Well, the part of the population that has written language and is generally aware of other parts of the planet, that is.)  Lately, this Zeitgeist has been harsh, bullying, xenophobic, and nativist.  Witness the election of Donald Trump and the concurrent rise of autocratic ideologies across the world, from Putin to Marine Le Pen to Xi Jinping.  What we’re seeing is the sanctification of bullying and the denigration of education, with science serving as the public whipping boy.

It’s amusing to look back on the way terminologies were used to denote new and progressive thinking in the 20th Century: just think of the Social Sciences.  Political Science, Economics, and such.  It was as if there were laws of politics out there to be found; laws of behaviors and of monetary policy.  All one needed was enough education, and the answers would be found, leading to universal human happiness.

One might think such a reliance on education and science to be quaint or idiosyncratic. A person who is out of work is rarely interested in anything beyond the immediate answer to his or her own employment dilemma; no political scientist ever came up with a hard and fast Law such as might exist in Newtonian physics. But science is always more concerned with the process than in the destination. It was this reliance on science and education that made a hopeful world, a co-operative and welcoming world.

How utterly different things are now.

China thinks only of China’s welfare; Putin’s concern is Russia, period; Alternative für Deutschland cares only about Germany; Trump wouldn’t care if the rest of the world disappeared, except that he’d like to turn the Great Wall of China into a glitzy, banal hotel.

The Zeitgeist has already gone past the first step in this denial of the modern by creating national leaders who puff up the pride of native-born individuals, as if everyone were superior to the rest of the world because of where they happened to have been born.  American Exceptionalism is ridiculed in Russia, but Russians have a very similar set of beliefs about Mother Russia.  The rejection of immigration and multiculturalism is inevitably a means of strengthening the nativist love of place.  We see this rejection all over the world, with only a few notable exceptions such as Canada and Sweden.  The Zeitgeist will reach those places, too, in time.

The future is not bright.  State-sanctioned bullying is never profitable.  My hope is that Donald Trump self-destructs, taking his entire wing of the party along with him into the abyss of Lethean forgetfulness.  Maybe the world can learn a lesson from us.  Maybe the hunger for tribal behavior and vindictiveness will leave the United States exhausted, bloodied, and incapable of partaking of more.  Then, perhaps, we might educate ourselves out of the darkness.  Until then, keep your mind open, your books at hand, and your love of this entire planet — not just your little piece of it — preciously intact.

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No Trump.

Donald J. Trump has won more electoral votes than Hillary Clinton and so shall occupy the White House on January 20, 2017.

I never thought my country was capable of doing this to itself.  Not after having elected Obama.  Twice.

Apparently, the big issue was the economy. Trade deals, declining Main Streets, underemployment.  A majority of voters think Donald J. Trump can deliver answers on the economy.  A man who has never run a successful business, but whose every idea has ended in bankruptcy and ruin for his employees, though millions in tax write-offs for him, is considered trustworthy to bring jobs back to America’s heartland.

Americans voted for a Republican President, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate.  They have a monopoly on power now.  Those people who think they’re forgotten will find that the man they hoped would magically bring prosperity back to their towns has no plan to do that.  That he has no agenda other than self-aggrandizement.

Will those who voted for him remember his promises and hold him to them?  Will they turn sour on him if there is no border wall built at Mexico’s expense; if there are still gun-free zones around schools; if Muslims continue to enter the country; if the ACA is still functioning after Year 1; if unemployment rises; if ISIS does not disappear; if the deficit rises?

I certainly wouldn’t put my money on it.

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NY 21 CD musings #1

Mike Derrick (D), Elise Stefanik (R), Matt Funiciello (G)

All three say they want to “bring back jobs to the North Country.”

What a load of nonsense.  It’s not nonsense that we need more employment opportunities in northern New York, but it is nonsense to say we’re getting them back.  It’s akin to saying, “Make America Great Again.”  When was it great, and for whom?

Employment in NY 21 was overwhelmingly agricultural at one time, and just about anyone who needed work could find it on a farm or orchard.  Now, the work is either done by machine or by migrants, because local people don’t want to work on farms any more.  (Many local teens with whom I’ve spoken don’t know anyone who’s ever applied for a job in a local orchard.)  These days, we sit around and wait for jobs to fall from the sky and hit us on the head, rather like an apple.

Do we want to do away with road construction equipment and bring back the work gangs?  Do we want our forests cut down and made into paper, firewood, or lumber?  Do we want our rivers filthied by industrial pollution as it was before the Clean Water Act?  I’m sure the answer is no to all these questions.  So then, what jobs would we bring back?

Of course, the best question is: What industries do we think can thrive here?  Will anyone want to invest in a place that treasures its water, its air, its forests?  Do we have the infrastructure to support such investment?  Until we can begin debating these questions and possible answers, we will continue to wonder why our politicians don’t seem to deliver on their promises.

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