Yes, it was -48F in Crown Point, NY in January 1994.

Press-Republican (Plattsburgh, NY) front page from January 28, 1994.

Ever remember seeing something in a newspaper but you don’t remember the date? Not even sure of the wording, so it makes it hard to research? Yeah, me too. Well, I found it. Every winter, when people tell me how cold it is, I remind them that in 1994, Crown Point, NY was minus 48. They tell me they don’t remember. Well….now….

 

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Economics 101

The fundamental truth about politics is that it is always driven by fear. The poor have nothing to lose, hence, no fear (unless somebody tells them they’re having their God taken away from them, as we see happening.) The middle class is driven by fear, but unwilling to act decisively because they’re afraid of falling. The rich know that the more money you have, the more fearful you grow of losing any of it. This creates a powerful motivation for the rich to control the government and to manipulate the fears of those of us with less than stellar incomes. It is a tough system to change, because it conforms so well to human emotions.

 

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Always a brother.

My brother,  Mark T. Hoops, died on February 21 of this year (2015) after a six month sentence of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis.  I miss him.  Everyone who knew him misses him, but most of all, his wife, his son, and his daughter feel the loss.  And, in a much different way, my brother Brian and I feel somewhat like we have been cut loose in deep space.

Since this website exists solely to provide me with a space to write what I want, when I want, and for whom I want, this entry needs no other definition than this: it has something to do with brotherhood.

The breezeway, remember the brown tiles?  In the door, the 558 on the right side, a few steps and then left into the kitchen where yellow predominated.  Or maybe it didn’t; I was 4 or 5 when I started developing the memories I have.  Mark, you were 8 or 9.  9 is when many of us begin to remember things in a big way, so you know more of the details.  Remember Flip?  The toad that Brian brought back from — was it Tennessee?  And Tyanne.  One week and poof!

I loved that two-headed white tree.  Was it you who told me it was an oak?  Somehow calling it an oak made it like any other tree, so I insisted on calling it the Two Headed White Tree, as if it were the only such member of its species.

The Savoy in the background.

The Savoy in the background.

You liked the Oldsmobile, but I like the Plymouth, the Plymouth Savoy.  8 miles to the gallon.  Always wanted to get Sky Chief, but we only got Fire Chief, and never knew why; at least, I didn’t.  Maybe you and Brian did.  Loved that smell, didn’t you?  And remember the way the ’59 Saab smelled, that blue smoke?  And the sound its engine made, like a big lawnmower, and that tiny exhaust pipe.  The curtain in the front!  And Kronowicz!  Man, those were the days before seatbelts.  I thought we were being arrested for having been hit, because the police were taking us away.  Did you have to get stitches, or was it just Dad?  I remember the big lump I had on my head.

I remember when you and Brian asked me how old I was.  It was May 24, 1963.  I put up three fingers.  You both laughed and pulled up another finger and said, “Now you’re FOUR!”  I hated the way four fingers looked.  Three was perfect.  Of course, it was only three if I held up my pinky, ring finger, and middle finger: any other three fingers was simply not Three.  The Lussiers, for instance, held up the index finger, the middle, and the ring fingers to show three, imagine that!

The woods.  I wonder when they got “developed.”  Smoking Viceroys and Tiparillos stolen from the kitchen.  Some sort of hut was in there, or an old ice cream stand, or something.  Some kind of structure’s remnants, I remember that.  Rolly Manila.  Gregory Seff.  The Merkels.  The Lowery family.

The pebbles that ran off the road when they repaved or resurfaced or repebbled or whatever they did back then.  White roads.  Remember that smell?  The tar.  And when the trees were sprayed with DDT.  Smelled like summer.  I thought all roads had to have pebbles along their sides.  That’s why the streets in Brooklyn looked so foreign when we moved there: they were black.  Asphalt.  City.  And mercury vapor lights that made everything look like a crime scene or a public toilet.  Al Collura getting his head smashed under the bus wheel, the blood still on the snow hours later along Prospect Park SW.  Must have been ’68 or ’69, the snowy winters that made sledding so memorable.

Remember waiting for Dad to come home in the Saab?  I wonder how many times he was drinking on the ride home.  Must have been some times, because, well, it’s the nature of the alcoholic.  I will never forget the time I saw him leaning over you, punching you in the face, screaming, “Damn you, Mark!”  You must have been all of 8 years old.  The four knuckles were imprinted above your left eye.  Jimmy Merkel came over asking for you, and I was at the foot of the driveway.  I told him you had been bad, so Dad punched you.  Mom pulled my hair: she had been racing down the driveway, apparently, to intercept me blabbing out “family secrets.”  She was big on family secrets, remember?

Woseepie Park.  That clubhouse that was off-limits, the green one, we thought all kinds of wonderful things must be in there.  You were the big brother, so you knew.  You had all the wisdom of the ages at 8 years old, you know.

What the hell did you wake me up in the middle of the night and put a hot lamp on my forehead, by the way?  I think I was 4 at the time.  “Here, I want to try an experiment…” you said, holding the light up as I moved toward it.  I had a burn on my forehead for weeks.  Wtf.

One day, I must have been five, you and Brian cornered me in the living room.  I can still see that Brightwaters house from the inside: facing the front windows of the living room from inside, we were in the corner at the upper right of this memory.  There was a chair there, too.  Anyway, the question you both put to me was this: “What do you like,  the American League or the National League?”  I knew that I lived in America, so I naturally gave the wrong answer: American.  You both quickly corrected me.  Of course I love the National League!  The Mets are in the National League, and Joe Christopher, who hit the first home run I ever saw, was on the Mets and he was the best player on the planet, with a .300 average that year.

There’s so much I want to say, not all of it coherent.  I’ll stop here, though.  To be added to and updated in the near future.

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[Publisher’s Letter] | By John R. MacArthur

[Publisher’s Letter] | By John R. MacArthur.

 

 

When I began my tenure as publisher of Harper’s Magazine nearly thirty years ago, my biggest challenge — or so I thought at the time — was to get advertising agencies to pay more attention to the celebrated journal of American ideas and literature entrusted to my care. Harper’s had tens of thousands of loyal readers but not many loyal advertisers, so my task seemed clear. Fawning over salesmen rubbed against my political grain, but those days were dominated by the free-market dogma of the Reagan Administration, and I fell prey to some of the president’s most simpleminded thinking. If advertisers didn’t sufficiently admire serious readers of the Harper’s variety, then it was my job to persuade Madison Avenue and its clients that I was serious about their concerns — about selling their products to my readers.

And oh how we sold! For twenty years, editor Lewis Lapham and I crisscrossed the country in pursuit of what everyone else in our business was after: glossy, high-profile consumer and corporate advertising. Armed with our good name — Harper’s, after all, was deeply enmeshed in America’s cultural and historical fabric — we maneuvered our way into company dining rooms from Wall Street to Rockefeller Center, from Louisville to St. Louis, from Boise to Palo Alto. We engaged our hosts in discussions of the political and literary issues of the day, but to better impress them we also invoked our affinity with the advertising world, presenting as evidence the brief stint on the Harper’s board of the legendary adman William J. Bernbach, as well as our own very slick house ad produced by the renowned firm of Scali, McCabe, Sloves. It didn’t hurt our cause that my late father, Roderick, was something of an advertising genius. I spoke the language of the advertising trade because, along with journalism and politics, I’d absorbed it nearly every day of my childhood at the kitchen table. It also didn’t hurt that Lewis Lapham and I were spawned by the very business establishment we criticized in nearly every issue of America’s oldest continuously published monthly.

Current readers may be surprised to learn that we were largely successful in our efforts: many corporations encouraged their ad agencies to take a fresh look at Harper’s Magazine, and the ads began to roll in. For my part, I was astonished that most of the CEOs we met, though nearly all Republicans, were barely ideological and almost never objected to the subversive, sometimes overtly anticapitalist articles that appeared in our pages. As our advertising revenue grew, I rarely worried about reprisals for anything we published. Indeed, one of the most stinging critiques I ever heard of George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq came from the chairman of a major American oil company over lunch at his headquarters in Houston. For many of these men, and for their more liberal-minded advisers, Harper’s and its brand of open-minded, freewheeling discourse were automatically worthy of their backing.

But as the magazine’s bottom line improved through the dot-com boom that ended in 2000 and the anti-Bush boom that ended in 2009, something crucial seemed to be missing from our “marketing equation.” In all my scurrying back and forth between Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, I never considered a fundamental question: Why did a magazine of ideas, criticism, and reporting need to serve as a sales medium between advertisers and readers; why should advertising be our principal means of support? Not that I didn’t want advertising or have respect for our advertisers, some of whom were genuinely civic-minded. But wasn’t the truly important compact — really the only relationship that mattered — between reader and writer or, to some extent, reader, writer, and editor? Harper’s is published first and foremost to be read. If the magazine functions as an intermediary, it is between the creative imagination of the fiction writer or essayist and the creative spirit of the sensitive reader; between the inquiring mind of the journalist and the engaged mind of the alert, occasionally outraged citizen. This compact now needs to be stated forcefully and in unmistakable terms.      (continued extensively…click on the above link to read further.)

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I love this song.

Green Isle of Erin, by Frank Ryan. 1937.

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Berlin, 1979.

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Potsdamer Platz, 1979.

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This doorway was part of the Berlin Wall.

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Looking across the anti-tank traps, minefield, and East Berlin side of the Berlin Wall, into East Berlin.

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This is where the heroes who attempted to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944, were hanged. It had previously been a slaughterhouse. It was the most powerfully disturbing place I’ve ever seen.

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Center of Berlin. Potsdamer Platz, looking southeast.

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I took these on an Olympus OM-1.

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Stick to the Core.

Since I wrote this (five months ago as of this writing) more arguments have been added to the four I here enumerate.   The opposition is metastasizing, grabbing headlines like nobody could have predicted in December.  I will include those new arguments — and my counter-arguments — in red.

 

There are four main arguments against the Core Curriculum, which constitutes the new learning and teaching standards for elementary and high school.

  1. It is a dumbing down of the curriculum.  We need a more rigorous curriculum.
  2. It is far too difficult.  Children’s self esteem is negatively affected.
  3. It requires teaching to the test.  There are too many tests.
  4. It is developmentally inappropriate, especially in the lower grades.  First graders should not be expected to learn about Mesopotamia.
  5. No teachers nor parents were involved in its development.
  6. It is a corporate takeover of education.  Follow the money.

Okay, then.  First argument.  Such judgements were made within the first few weeks of school this year, when the Language Arts skills curriculum was largely and deliberately a review of first grade skills.  This quite effectively reversed the effects of summer vacation.  In fact, if you ask any teacher using the curriculum beyond week 10, you will learn that this ELA curriculum is incredibly fast paced and very challenging.  Math is another area of misunderstanding.  Teachers used to be expected to cover Mathematics with a very broad brush, with only one coat of paint.  Children had a very shallow understanding, therefore, of grade level Math.  The Core Curriculum introduces a new concept: depth of knowledge rather than breadth of knowledge.  Children will have a better foundation for higher math if they learn the basics thoroughly.

Second argument.  Too difficult?  Would you rather a second grader learns about Dan in the Van and Sally in the Alley, or about the Great Wall of China and Greek Mythology?  You may be surprised to learn that children actually prefer non-fiction. They love to learn from stories, not just be entertained by them.  The previous method of teaching reading featured one story per week: a story that was rehashed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and part of Friday with the objective of teaching skills such as sequencing events, finding the main idea, and identifying the setting.  Believe me, it was as dull as North Korean opera.  Now children are hearing stories about Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, and other far-off places.  They are not expected, at the primary grade level, to fully understand the geography and the place in literature associated with these stories: they are expected to learn an advanced vocabulary and to gain a foothold in cultural literacy.  Later on, in the fifth grade, for example, they may hear about Pandora’s Box.  The fifth grade teacher will be able to draw on prior knowledge, because the story will not be entirely strange to the students who learned about Pandora in the second grade.  One might well ponder the words of Albert Einstein: “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”

Three.  Teaching to the test, or too many tests?  Not if you know what a test is.  There are several different types of test.  One is evaluative; one is diagnostic; one is, quite frankly, punitive.  An evaluative test might be, for example, a math assessment at the end of a lesson.  Or it might be a worksheet.  Or it might be a written explanation of what was learned.  It is used to determine whether the students actually learned what was covered in a lesson.  A diagnostic test is given before a lesson is taught, so teachers know what the students do not know and must be taught.  It is akin to going to a doctor’s office to find out what medicine you may need.  A punitive test is one that is given as a sort of punishment, such as a pop test.  The important point to remember is that the Core recognizes that any student work can be perceived as a test.  If a teacher needs an evaluation of his or her lesson, what could be better than to assess student learning via an examination of student work from that day?  The students may feel they’re being tested, but for whose benefit is it and what kind of test is it?  Incidentally, there are no more standardized tests in the Core Curriculum than there were in the old one.

Fourth argument? This is a subset of argument two, the difficulty argument.  This attempts to pull a veil of respectability over that more direct argument, however; a not very convincing attempt, as you will see.  Teaching children about Mesopotamia or Mohenjo Daro is not developmentally inappropriate — even if those places are news to the teachers.  You cannot expect to have a literate, civic-minded population if you don’t give them the tools to think and the knowledge that brings wisdom.  Allow me to illustrate how the Core Curriculum encourages the development of higher-order thinking skills.

  • Assume we’re doing a lesson on Pandora and Prometheus.  The children hear how Prometheus brought us fire and how Pandora’s disobedience brought about misery, pain, sorrow, death, drought, disease, famine, war, and all evil in the world.  The teacher then asks, “Why do you think this was a popular story in ancient Greece?  What do you think was being explained here?”  What the teacher is asking is for the children to evaluate what they know about mythology and synthesize a new idea.  This is precisely how we will develop critical and creative thinking.

Fifth argument: No teachers and no parents were involved!

  • When did anyone, in 170 years of public education in New York State, ever care about who wrote the schools’ curriculum?  Where did anyone read that parents and teachers have ever developed a curriculum that resulted in the kind of results society wanted?  I am a teacher.  I am not an expert on the cognitive needs of children.  I am an expert on delivering a curriculum and at getting kids to read and do math.  Expecting a teacher to be prepared for curriculum creation is rather like expecting your waiter to know how to cook haute cuisine.  Let me repeat: nobody ever cared about who wrote the curriculum.  

Sixth argument: My God, it’s Bill Gates!

  • It is no secret that the Core Knowledge Foundation (the source of the Core Curriculum) has people working for it.  It is not funded by states nor the national government.  Fortunately, enlightened capitalists like Bill and Melinda Gates, George Lucas, and George Soros have collaborated to put money into the most promising research on elementary education.  This all began in the late 1980s, and nobody made a secret of it.  Lucas published a magazine called Edutopia, and it often headlined articles about the efforts to develop a broad curriculum that could be shared by states.  The National Governors’ Association got involved and things got rolling.  No state was required to take a predesigned set of learning standards; it was like a menu of possibilities, all linked by a common philosophy.  States were supposed to develop their own tests, or they could use ones developed by the Core Knowledge Foundation.  I know, it sounds like the Affordable Care Act: leave it up to the states and you have disaster.  Well, New York State contracted with Pearson, Inc. to make the tests; it relied on itself for the development, preparation, and publishing of its own version of the standards.  It was a botched rollout, just like the ACA.  But for some reason, perfectly reasonable people who realize the ACA is better than its rollout seem to be unable to apply the same logic to the Core.  
  • For years, we’ve heard that capitalists and academicians didn’t think schools were doing a good job.  We heard about remedial writing classes being given at big banks.  We heard colleges saying that fewer than 20% of their incoming freshmen were capable of writing an essay.  That didn’t bother us too much.  So when the same capitalists and academicians decide to do something about it, it’s time to get up and holler that they’re hijacking the education system?  And let’s not forget that the father of public education, Horace Mann, was clear about why he favored it:  “For the creation of wealth, then,—for the existence of a wealthy people and a wealthy nation,—intelligence is the grand condition.”  (Mann: Twelfth Annual Report of Horace Mann as Secretary of Massachusetts State Board of Education)

 

 

The opposition to the Core Curriculum is vaguely reminiscent of the tactics of the Tea Party.  Blind rage against inevitable change.  But we need to understand the urgency of improving our schools.  We need to understand the urgency of making a more national curriculum, because our mobility puts our children at a disadvantage.  We need to stick to the Core Curriculum and make it even better.

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QRZ?

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New York City.

the starlings and the pigeons in city hall park
the traffic coming off the brooklyn bridge
then into the subway and under the river
a transfer later and up into the brooklyn air
walking for no purpose on 8th avenue staring
at passing fences then it’s william gaynor’s house
but somebody’s removed the stoop
nothing is just right
nothing is perfect
just like love

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2014.

It’s always fascinating to look to the new year. All we can do is guess what’s going to happen. Will we be okay? Will all our loved ones be okay? What’s the worst thing that will happen? 

Every year has its ups and downs. Not many are as bad as 1941, 1963, 1968, and 2001. All in all, I’d venture to say we’re destined to have a fairly unremarkable year. I really hope so.

Happy new year!

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