Friday, August 31, 2007

a-way down South

We're off today for Charleston SC and Pork Heaven's wedding. It's likely a ten-hour drive from B'More, so we're leaving as soon as I'm done teaching this morning, and we'll likely stop somewhere in northern SC at a cheap hotel before hitting the road again tomorrow morning.

The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner are tomorrow evening, and the wedding is Sunday afternoon. Cha's boss's family has kindly lent us their Charleston condominium for Saturday and Sunday evenings. I'm hoping to get a bit of free time for site-seeing and beach visiting.

Looks like our Labor Day will be spent in the car. A long drive home, y'all.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What they don't tell you

What they don't tell you in education classes fills volumes. They don't tell you how quickly you can fall for youngsters. How their failures and their misbehaviors can wreak havoc with you as you try to fall asleep at night. Or, better, how their successes and achievements can fill you with a swelling inordinate pride that also keeps you awake. I knew Maurice had it in him, you'll think, or I was right about Ikeira! And the next day they break your fucking heart.

And kids will tell you if they had some money they would buy shoes for their brothers and sisters, or they would make sure their grandma had a good home. Or they will tell you their brother is in jail or their brother got shot for standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And you're supposed to shrug it off and teach.

My world is a completely different place. I live and work on a completely different planet. I feel like I'm in a TV show or something.

Day 4

A local congregation lined both sides of the streets at the school the last two mornings, holding signs saying "Welcome Back," "We are Praying for You," and "Thank You." They distributed PopTarts to students and teachers and administrators. This kind of thing makes a big difference in the community, particularly for a school which a few years ago was considered one of the best in Baltimore, but which has now fallen on hard times.

We got the scores for the assessment tests last year. Only 25% of Booker T.'s seventh graders passed the language arts assessments. That compares to 48% in the City as a whole, 70% in the entire State, and 68% in Baltimore County. Howard County passed 85% of its students.

Both morning language arts classes went exceptionally well today. The students did group work. I circulated, helping them find the main ideas of passages they had to read.

After I helped Chanique and Chanaiea, Nate raised his hand. "Hey Mr. G! I saw you helping Chanaiea. You tryin' to get with her? PSYCH!"

Terel is in our second period class. His brother Isaac was the one killed last week. Terel asked for the book The Gun because his brother was reading it when he died. Yesterday Terel wore a pin in honor of his brother, whose wake is tomorrow morning. Tyrone is starting to speak in class a bit after being understandably quiet of late.

Also in the second class Myeesha said "Guess my name, Mr. G." I said "Myeisha" and she told me I was wrong. "I'm Emily. And Da'Shana is Stephanie, and Destiny is Brittney, and Ikira is Vanessa." I said they could quiz me on their new names after they finished their quiz on Friday. On yesterday's warm-up drill, the students were asked how they would each spend $744, which is the amount of difference between what Howard County pays per student versus Baltimore City. Myeisha wrote: "I would have my dog dyed pink. I would buy her a pink stroller. We would go to the mall and buy pink shoes."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Loose has broken all hell

I thought our first period class was on point and no problem aside from one problem child, and that our second period class was liable to blow its top at any moment. So this morning first period starts as Maurice and Chenikea are verbally sparring and it carries over into the first few minutes of class. I have to intervene and request that Maurice ignore "that trifling bitch" while my mentor tries to quiet down "that 'bama-lookin' muthafucka who lie all the time." Class starts, and Lukie is showing transparencies about the achievement gap between rich and poor schools in Maryland. Her intention is to get the kids to conclude that students in the counties in Maryland have more money and resources and better teachers and less wasted time than the students in Baltimore City. Instead Chenikea and Chanaqua'kea start screaming about "white ass teachers coming down here saying we dumb" which immediately starts a conflagration of verbal abuse and ridicule of the teachers and the administration and the Board of Ed that lasts about twenty minutes. Lukie gamely tries to reign the discussion into manageable form, but the kids are angry (rightfully so) and many are already bored and pissed off about school and eager for the three-day Labor Day weekend. Chaos rules. Tamalik and LaQuann look fucking stoned when they arrive at class--could be conjunctivitis? Both are good students and they sit at a table of fine and upstanding young men who are smart and spend their time trying to survive school first and learn something second. At the high point of the chaos poor little LaQuann raises his hand and asks Miss Lukie if we can move on. He doesn't want to argue any more. Tamalik is fast asleep. Lukie tries to move on but mostly the class limps along to its own discordant conclusion. For about ten minutes I crouch by Chenikea and Chanaqua'kea and try to get them to write on their worksheets the points they were making in class. "You have things to say that are important. I heard you make good points. What would you write in a letter to the Board of Education?" Chanaqua'kea says "Fuck that shit. I'm going to get my GED and get out of this mess." Chenikea says "Oh my God I would tell them something. First I would tell them--hey, that Hakim in the hall?--Hey Baby! Maurice is fucking with me!"

The second period class is a dream. Lukie switches her approach with the same lesson to focus on the money first, to elicit the intended criticism of our fucked-up resource problem in Baltimore City schools, and to dispell the racial tension that blew up the first class. It works. We have worksheets completed, a positive discussion, and ten minutes left over at the end of the period for the students to sign out books from the class library. I spend my time talking to the tough kids who don't participate, who don't do their worksheets. John says "I like math but me and writing? We simply don't get along. We oil and vinegar." I tell him he's got style and he speaks like an actor and that he just needs to put his words on paper as he thinks them, but he's having none of it. "You know this class is going to get all volcano soon enough. I'm gonna make sure I get to punch some niggers out. I got to get ready for high school, and want people to know me. The only way they know me is if I punch niggers out here and now. Then I'll be the starting running back." I tell John he won't be starting anything if he doesn't get his work done, but he laughs. "I know how it works. If I'm good I'll play. Don't matter if I fail. Principals bet on the games." William tells me he wants to get a Master's Degree some day. John tells him "Shit, man, you gotta go to school for another five years before you get out of high school. Why you want to go another six or seven years? Fuck that."

I saw today how quickly things can derail into a dangerous situation. Our first period class has three adults in the room, and we lost control over a third of the students for much of the period.


Note how Senator Craig says "I am not gay, and have never been gay." He does not say "I have never had sex with a man" or "I did not have sex in a public bathroom." He says "I did nothing wrong" in the airport bathroom, instead of "I did nothing illegal."

It's terrible that Craig has to play this game, and I feel for the gay and lesbian community for living in an intolerant society which causes such conflicted feelings and complications.

But Larry Craig I have little sympathy for, because he perpetuates the culture of intolerance by moralizing about "family values" and gay marriage, while sucking anonymous cock in public restrooms. Craig likely fucked teenage boys when he was first elected to Congress during the "Bent Page" scandal twenty years ago, but managed to get away with it, and continuing to call out others over their affairs and "moral" lapses.

How did Flynt not nail this guy?

The media have been typically adolescent dealing with this. Dan Abrams, Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson were giggling school boys over it last night. They need to be beaten.


Chanikea is the worst behavior problem in my two classes so far. She is perpetually talking and tugging at the students around her. She is slender and wears corn rows and about ten strings of plastic Mardi Gras beads that click as she turns from tormentee to tormentee. The first two classes in Language Arts have been all about classroom management: the teacher's expectations and the consequences for failing to meet them. Throughout this time Chanikea has proved incapable of keeping still or quiet. Yesterday she tried to throw her water bottle in the trash from across the room and missed, then she got up and walked over to the trash can without permission. This was right after we discussed not throwing away trash until the end of class, and not getting out of your seat without raising your hand and getting permission first.

Chanikea is in the eighth grade but reads at about a third grade level. She simply doesn't "get" school work, and is incapable of staying focused long enough to finish any task, even the most simple like making a name tag for her desk. She has extraordinary social skills, however, and she uses these to compensate for her other failures by pulling her peers off task too. Chanikea leads, in fact, a cohort of much more academically inclined girls who hang on her every word and follow her commands. Their grades suffer as a result.

Chanikea is funny. "Oh man, I am done with school already. I'd rather be in Boot Camp now," she says, feigning exasperation while being exasperating. Then later, "I am going to end up in a stupid high school with those stupid people if I can't get my grades up. I do not want to go to stupid high school." When you tell her she'll never get her grades up if she doesn't stop talking in class she insists she hasn't been talking that much. Her drill sheets, worksheets, and homework pages are all half-filled in at the end of each class. She watches resentfully as her cohorts, despite her best efforts, hand in completed work.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Til death do us part

Evangelicals and others who protest civil unions or gay marriage as somehow going against the enduring tradition of a sacred institution are wrong for many reasons. But now a historian has uncovered evidence that civil unions between gays was sanctioned in Medieval Europe. Somewhere long ago I read a preface by Gore Vidal making the same case. Apparently these gay marriages didn't destroy the sanctity of anyone else's marriage, as is often predicted by today's fire breathers (who seem unable to stop soliciting sex in men's rooms from undercover or off-duty cops).

Our "sacred" tradition of marriage has little resemblance to the "sacred" tradition of marriage just a few centuries ago, when the idea of choosing a mate out of love was regarded as preposterous. You chose a mate for financial or security reasons if you were in the upper class, or you married a mate chosen for you by your parents, or you were bought and paid for.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Day 1

The first day of school wasn't so bad. There are some tough kids with really bad attitudes, but nobody lost their cool today. A few altercations broke out in the hall. It's hard to believe but there is gang violence in our middle school, so these apparently insignificant fights have to be watched carefully.

Of course I left early for a five-hour ordeal at the City Clinic. BCPSS requires all employees to get a pre-imployment physical at their facility. I waited 45 minutes, got a PPD test, then waited 2.5 hours, got a physical, then waited another 1.5 hours to take my piss test. Ridiculous. Because of the piss test you're not allowed to leave the waiting room, which is a wretched place full of miserable people waiting through the same process. Total time elapsed was five hours. Total time actually spent being poked, being probed, or peeing in cups? Twenty minutes.


Just back from visiting Yahtzee. His cat of 19 years gave up the ghost last night. A bridge to our youth is broken.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Neighborhood

This morning I was reading The Sun out on the stoop. Everett was out with Bodhi talking to Linda who was out with Pooch. Pooch kept trying to kill Bodhi but Bodhi is all about the love. I was reading the cover story in the Sun, which was about dogfighting in Baltimore. Just then a teenager walked past with his fierce pit on a rope leash. Pooch lunged at the pit who wagged her tail in response. I've been seeing many scarred and tough-looking pits strutted around the Park and along Whitelock Ave of late, as if in support of Michael Vick.

Linda has cancer, and after her overnight shift at Target she goes for chemo. Her son is getting married on Martha's Vineyard at the end of September, after which Linda will go in for surgery. We're going to be watching Pooch again during the wedding. I hope she's ok. She lives alone and works nights and it's hard to keep your spirits up under those circumstances.

Tonight I was out on the stoop when our other neighbor Ben came home. He owns an awesome salvage shop called Housewerks, and we bought* a cool pew from an old church in Mount Vernon which was converted to condos from him. The pew has tiles on each end, made by a famous tile maker in the middle nineteenth century. We're going to have a pew in the living room. Ben said he would bring the pew home for us as soon as his truck is back from the shop. Somebody tried to steal his truck when it was parked in front of our house a couple weeks ago, and they fucked up his steering column and his transmission but were unable to drive the truck away. I had no idea this had even happened until tonight. A couple weeks ago Linda called because her younger son was staying over at her place and he'd locked himself out of her house. It was around 1am and she told us he was sitting on her stoop. I went out and got him because it isn't safe to sit on the stoop at 1am. When I opened the door there were sketchy looking junky types looking underneath the cars on Madison and shining flashlights in the windows. As soon as I opened the door they fled. Linda's son was terrified. I wonder if these same scumbags are the ones who fucked up Ben's truck?

Tomorrow is my first day at Booker T. with students. I get to leave after second period to go take a piss-test and get a physical at Mercy Hospital. Then it's back to Notre Dame for more Reading Acquisition.

*More accurately, Julio and Yo! Adrienne bought us this pew with their kind housewarming GC. Muchas gracias!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Get thee behind me

This delightfully silly little book is a memoir of the author's spiritual awakening. Unlike most folks who discover God later in life, Tony Bentley found Him going in through the out door. She's a modern Saul on the Hershey Highway to Damascus. She describes her own most interesting Quo vadis moment.

The Surrender purports to be a penetrating analysis of a particular form of ancient Greek Art, but it is mostly an overwrought and narcissistic meandering through the asinine. Like the subject matter of Bentley's book, I don't regret taking the plunge and reading it, but it's not something I'd try every day. It is often hilarious, but likely not intentionally. I laughed until I was pooped.

Her writing is marred by the use of too many colons. As a writer of erotic memoir, I'd say that Tony Bentley comes in a little behind.

Magic Bullets

Robert Fisk says "I'm no 9/11 conspiracy theorist, but..."


I know what you're thinking. A film about the Stasi and the repressive police state in East Germany? Ugh. That might be interesting, but it's going to be a drag even if it's done well. I won't say much about the film because spoilers would be inevitable, but you must see it. It is, as you'd expect, a thriller, and a damn good addition to the genre. But it's much more than that.

I saw a preview for The Lives of Others at The Charles but missed its brief run in B'more last year. Silenus caught it in New York and sent me a Netflix recommendation, but I had to wait for the DVD. The Lives of Others was worth the wait.

Don't let your preconceived notions chase you away from what turns out to be a truly special film. There is a surprising twist early on that adds clever complications. I always enjoy a film nestled firmly in troubling moral gray areas, and The Lives of Others surprises with its scope. All of the characters, even the most awful, are understandable, and are presented with depth and humanity by a fantastic cast. The film has great visual appeal, and a delicious score to boot.

The Mrs. cried her eyes out at the end, and is now doing what she does after a film gets under her skin, which is to watch all the DVD extras. But the crying is again not for the reasons you might expect in a film about the Stasi. I'm telling you: rent this.

There's of course a whole raft of current events ramifications I won't even go into--if for no other reason, see The Lives of Others and think of our own burgeoning surveillance state.

Friday, August 24, 2007


The current exhibition at the American Visionary Art Museum is one of their best so far. I particularly enjoyed the series of religious oil paintings featuring apes, chimps, and oranguatans in the guises of St. Christopher, Adam and Eve, and Christ himself. They were exquisitely imagined and achieved, and I've seen many grand old cathedrals with worse art in them across Europe. The painter was a schizophrenic mute.

There are: fingerpaintings by Baltimore's own Betsy the Chimp; architecural schemata by Temple Grandin; wonderfully wrought carvings of animals; some works by Bruce Bickford, including Prometheus Garden, which is one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

You've got to hurry if you want to see this show, however. Only a week left!

Number 201

The Baltimore Sun might not have information about the victim's name in this shooting, but the teachers at Booker T. know all about it. The victim would have started the eighth grade on Monday.

The teachers don't cry when they talk about Ishmael. Some of them get a kind of glassy far-away look, but it passes quickly. They've seen this too many times to get worked up. Ish might be more than a statistic to them, but their focus is still on Monday and those students who will return. Perhaps they saw this end coming? Perhaps they're thinking of others in sixth and seventh grade, the potential Ishmaels? I don't know.

I spent this morning drawing a poster of a totally ripped brain lifting weights. I also moved boxes of books, made letter cards, and hung charts. When my mentor heard about Ish she paused for a few seconds, then continued organizing her classroom. She called her boyfriend and told him about it and was obviously emotional for perhaps thirty seconds. And then she was talking about karaoke and duck pin bowling over at Patterson Park. There is a lot of work to do, but the teachers are already planning Friday night debauches.

We had a team meeting about disciplinary procedures. An old veteran--one of the wheezing brontosauri--told me: "You need to talk to these young men if you see them get in your mentor's face. You need to practice what you are going to say if you see someone getting out of hand. Practice your tone of voice. You need to be prepared to step in." She knew Ishmael since the sixth grade.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wedded Bliss

Haven't spoken to Pork Heaven for a long while, since he moved to Hawaii in fact. He and La Domina are getting hitched in a bit over a week in Charlotte, SC. I'd heard that Pork Heaven was in the duldrums a bit. That's easily explained. Anyone who's been a groom knows the causes:

1) Brides face an enormous burden of work in planning their weddings.

2) Grooms who offer to help are scolded for their suggestions and lack of understanding of the big picture.

3) Grooms who fail to offer to help are scolded for their insensitivity and laziness.

4) Grooms frustrated by this conundrum withdraw into themselves.

5) Grooms who decide to help anyway end up being scolded for mucking things up.

Pork Heaven is working through this koan, while La Domina suffers through her own Gethsemene, complicated further by a remove of 6,000 miles between her home and the site of her imminent nuptials. I emailed to see how he was doing and he is hanging in there.


Had a professional development meeting for language arts faculty this morning. I've sat through some tedious, pointless presentations in my time, but Rosalind and Melody plumbed new and uncharted depths of insipidness. I feel the need to coin a new term: insipidicity.

Now I'm off to Notre Dame to take an exam in my Reading Acquisition class, which is the most kindergartenesque* class I've taken since, well, kindergarten.

*A former employee of mine used this term to describe a loss prevention test all staff had to take. He works for the NSA now. I doubt he reads this blog because he's spending most of his time reading my email. (note: In case you ARE reading this blog--despite what your X-girlfriend said, we didn't hook up in Singapore. She tried and I turned her down.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Here we go

Staff meetings at Booker T. this morning--what a mess! Of course I'm not on the payroll, my mentor teacher had no forewarning that she had an intern, and the acting principal had no clue either what was going on.

About 70 people were crammed into a meeting room, many of them great brontosauri teachers barely mobile, with bags of Funyans and Cheetos spilling from their purses and oral insulin tabs and asthma meds clutched in their fists. There was a huddled and focused group of Teach for America volunteers, with their clipboards, their folders, and their lanyards decorated with keys, mace, whistles, sticker dispensers, and tiny fabric banners with life-affirming slogans about success stitched upon them. There were a half-dozen teachers from the Philippines (several of whom were unsubtly husband-hunting), and a contingent of teachers from rural African schools turned loose on the tough streets of Baltimore.

I had fun people-watching. I noted a group of hipsters obviously too cool for school, I saw several cynical unshaved and obviously hungover faculty rueing their final days of freedom, I noted with happiness that there are several very sexy women on the faculty.

The acting principal is not particularly organized, but she has an office assistant who is no-nonsense and who obviously wields the true authority in the building. She's not a large woman by any means but she has corn-row braids and a booming voice and she carries herself like a soldier. I made sure to befriend her immediately, and made some jokes that had her laughing so hard she put her head on my arm.

The armed and ferocious Officers Black and Wheeler explained to us that we need to remember where we are: "Don't leave anything visible in your car. ANYTHING. People will break into your car if they see coins, because even fifty cents is worth stealing. Don't walk alone to the parking lot in the dark either before school or in the evenings. There have been assaults and shootings around the campus. We are police officers. We are not baby sitters. Do not call us to your room if a student refuses to remove his hat." blah-blah.

I met a PhD in physics from Montana who is earning her MA in education from JHU. I met a math teacher from western NY state. I met a woman who teaches science and special ed and who transferred to Booker T. from a much more dangerous school in SoWeBo. As I soaped up in the bathroom during a break, an old worn-out teacher told me: "The soap dispenser and towel dispenser are brand new. They'll be torn off the wall Monday and won't be replaced until next August. Enjoy washing your hands for the last time in this restroom."

I saw the room where I'll be teaching with my mentor Lukie (a shortened and simplified version of her multisyllabic Eastern European name). It's a nice room in a turret in a classic old building that has seen better days.

I felt good this morning despite the chaos. There are morose burnt-out staff, and eager young paladins, and laid-back goof-offs, and driven professionals. In other words, it's like any place of employment. When I left WTMD was playing, ironically enough, "Way Down in the Hole" by Tom Waits. Just south of the school are the McCullough street projects, and just north is a sea of boarded up houses.

Here we go!

Don't go changin', to try and please me

Ouspensky, having quarreled with and broken from his old mentor Gurdjieff, gives a series of lectures about man's psychology and his evolutionary mission. Humans are robotic creatures who for the most part wander around being acted upon by external forces, all the while laboring under the misapprehension that they are free. Only through hard work--the cornerstone of which is to remember oneself--can low-grade humans ever hope to achieve their fullest potential.

Ouspensky briefly describes seven types of humans, three of which are asleep, one of which is borderline awake, and three which are of a spectacularly different order of being (presumably avatars and saints are amongst them). Humans must awake and contact a school whose teachings are in line with ancient wisdom traditions in order to progress. Evolution through individual study is impossible.

Ouspensky's claim that schools are necessary directly contradicts Steiner, who seems to think you can start on the path alone. Of course Steiner was a special case; he met the ailing and comatose Nietzsche, who communicated to him via pituitary brain-waves a collect phone call from the serpent. Steiner was so special, in fact, that a school went looking for him. Ouspensky's dictum: remember yourself and awake is also contradicted by many Eastern schools, which advise you to forget yourself because you don't really exist.

Balderdash, fowlderall, fiddle-faddle? Or, perhaps, the door to another world?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back to School

Tomorrow is my first day at Booker T. Washington middle school. The students aren't back until Monday, so the next three days will be spent in faculty meetings and other preparatory rituals. I'll meet my mentor teacher tomorrow, and hope to make a good impression.

Four hours per day in the middle school, then between four and eight hours a day at Notre Dame taking classes--including Saturdays--through January. In the Spring our graduate course load eases off because we'll be taking over teaching duties from our mentors, writing our own lesson plans and working out ways to meet curricular goals.

I'm terrified and excited in equal measure.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Dear Graduate School Faculty:

When you are teaching accelerated graduate classes--three credit classes in an intensive 8-day, four-hour-per-day format--you don't need to assign busy work in lieu of actual academic papers. Of course it's necessary to tailor the degree of out-of-class writing and reading to a manageable level. But please, for the love of God, stop assigning Personal Belief Statements and Personal Reflections. These assignments are pointless, insipid, and irritating beyond belief. I'd much rather write a real two- or three-page paper. Don't ask me to write any more three-page Personal Belief Statements about IDEA or FAPE or literacy. I can't take it anymore.

Friday, August 17, 2007


It is perhaps a mistake to tackle David Lynch's most troubling, intricate, and obscure film by starting it just after midnight and drinking too much wine as it unspools. I was sleepy and cognitively impaired when I needed to be alert at focused.

Not really. A sleepy and cognitively impaired state likely helps more than hinders one's ability to "get" Inland Empire. I must admit failure on the first go-round. I understand the slippy trickery of Lynch, and know his cues and signals that a transition between realities has just or is about to occur. I understand that much of the film is not the real story of the film, and that there are layers of fantasy, dream, hallucination, and wish-fulfillment to penetrate in order to find out what really happened in room 47, and to whom. There's a relatively simple and obvious solution (Laura Dern's actress character has a schizophrenic break and becomes her character Susan Blue) that seems too obvious. Something deeper transpires, and it involves the morose spectator watching the mysterious and deeply troubling rabbit-headed humanoid TV sitcom. Liking animals and understanding them is a recurring theme, as are unpaid debts, the marketplace, and borrowing.

It has something to do with telling time. It is already tomorrow instead of tonight. Something happened in Poland which launched the disturbance and the delusional experience. I have to re-enter this labyrinth again armed with clues gathered the first time. But I'm going to wait because though the film is beautiful and interesting, watching Inland Empire is like having your mind broken on the rack. Cha saw the briefest of sequences and fled in terror.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

To the Max

RIP. My two favorite Roach recordings will get a little play time today.

Hey, hosers

McKenzie Funk has an article in the current Harper's entitled Cold Rush: The coming fight for the melting north. Its subject? The attempts by Canada, Russia, China, the EU, and the US to ensure control of newly available resources as the northern ice cap disappears. Funk rides along as the Canadian military runs security exercises in the rapidly thawing Northwest Passage sea lane.

Good to know that global warming is real enough for oil companies and governments to plan access to previously unavailable natural gas and oil reserves, and to plan how to profit from global devastation. The science is still in question, however, about whether global warming is real enough for us to improve car fuel efficiency standards, or to require solar panels on all buildings, or to eliminate by law plastic bags and bottles.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


I pushed for Nader in '96. I didn't like that Blue Dog Democrat bullshit. Clinton was to the right of Dick Nixon and I thought NAFTA was a bad idea. I pushed so hard, in fact, that my wife began working for the Greens in 2000. Unlike me, she doesn't just chat people up and bitch and moan--she does things. So she ended up as Maryland State Green Party co-chair for a couple years. We used to have Green dignitaries stay at our house, and big Green meetings in our tiny living room, and Presidents of the San Fran City Council stayed over, and David Cobb crashed at our place during his 2004 Presidential run. He was a nice guy, but walked around with no shirt on and permanently borrowed one of my Philip K. Dick paperbacks.

We went to Nader Super Rallies in 2000. We went to debate protests.

And Bush won.

In 2004 I voted for Kerry. It was like chosing an enema instead of a colonoscopy, but I voted for his lame ass.

And Bush won again.

When Nader took money from Republicans, and when he gleefully accepted help from Republicans who agitated to get him on state ballots in 2004, I was deeply disturbed. His motto in 2000 was "Not for Sale." In 2004 it was "Any money I can get, no matter how disgusting the source." Ralph was right about our democracy being a shambles, and about the nefarious corporate interests running the show, and about the moral failings of Democrats. But he continued to claim that there was no difference between Donkeys and Elephants in 2004 when it was obvious that there was enough of a difference to cause grave concern about the future of the Republic if W. won again.

So I voted for that piece of shit Kerry. Democrats in Congress still prove Nader was right to this day, caving again and again on a progressive agenda, even from a position of strength.

I don't buy any of the revisionist "Nader cost Gore the election" nonsense. Gore lost by running a crappy campaign and running away from Clinton's popularity. He was a conservative southern Dem who chose an even more conservative Dem as running mate (does any self-respecting Dem still think Joe Lieberman was a good choice for VP?). Yes, the media drubbed Gore unfairly, but Gore made it easy for them to do so, and practically sucked W's cock during the second debate. ANYONE who could lose a debate to that moronic inarticulate goofball doesn't deserve the White House.

And people forget that 9/11 made the Bush presidency much worse than it likely would have been otherwise. The neocons got a big opening that day, and Rove exploited it for all it was worth. Cheney, Wolfie, Perle and Rummy were able to dust off their old PNAC agenda and Bush wasn't sophisticated enough to see through their machinations. He isn't sophisticated enough to run a cash register at the local BK, for Christ's sake.

So here we have a documentary about Ralph Nader which recalls his glory days as a crusader for the little guy against corporate power, and his dedication as a lawyer who used his gifts and belief in the American legal system to save countless lives. But while An Unreasonable Man gives fierce critics of Nader like Eric Alterman good screen time, it is more hagiography than objective portrait. Ralph has a diminished legacy now. He deserved hagiographies in the past. I think more unpleasant details about 2004 should have been discussed here. There's nothing wrong with remembering the good that Ralph wrought back in the day, but why did he run last time?

Some of the people interviewed in the movie have been at my house. Seeing footage of that Madison Square Garden event was painful, because Nader gave a great speech that night, and there was magic in the air, and I felt truly engaged in something meaningful back then.

But Bush won. And much that Ralph worked for over 40 years has been eroded since.

Torn between two loves

I'm trying desperately to wrap up some loose ends before all free time vanishes in a poof next Wednesday. Season 2 of Rome has just been released on DVD, and so far it lives up to the promise of season 1. Octavian and Marc Anthony are butting heads, Brutus is exiled, and Cleopatra wants recognition for her bastard baby as an heir of Caesar. Season 2 of Carnivale is even darker a few episodes in, with much alchemical and Tarot symbolism tossed around for fun.

Not sure how much reading or Netflix I'll get done once the shit hits the fan next week. I'll be taking three and sometimes four accelerated grad classes and working half-days at Booker T. Washington Middle School. Acclerated grad classes are fun. For homework last night I read 130 pages of my textbook, did two journal article synopses, and prepared a case study and a ten-minute presentation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Dark Side

Tom DeLay, whose sorry ass will soon be in jail alongside Jack Abramoff, thinks Karl Rove is some kind of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Says Tom of Karl: If you strike him down, he shall only become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

Melting Pot

No visit to Rehoboth Beach is complete until you sing karaoke at the Purple Parrot. We went on Saturday night and the joint was jumping. The bouncer at first refused me admission because he thought my driver's license was fake. "There is no way you were born in 1969," he said. He asked me for more ID with my name on it. I showed him my faculty/staff card from Towson University, my credit cards, and my ACLU membership. The bouncer turned to his fellow security guy and said "This fucking dude was born in 1969. You must have to look young to teach at Towson fucking University."

Cha said "Show him your gray hairs," but by then he was letting me in. I guess I was flattered that he thought I looked young, but the way he said "this dude was born in 1969"--as if that was completely shocking--was more than a bit insulting.

The Purple Parrot is, like much of Rehoboth, a cultural hodge-podge. Make no mistake, the gays and the dykes rule the Parrot, and outnumber breeders to a considerable degree. We were pleased to see some regulars we'd seen last year, like the 6'5" blond tranny who sings Travis Tritt tunes and calls herself Amanda Cruz, and the diminutive cowgirl lesbian in a biker vest and straw hat who line dances to every song. Last year she freak-danced my mother-in-law, which was rather hilarious (see above photo). She also goosed me tremendously as I sang a Sinatra tune during our 2006 visit. We were down at the shore for a wedding last year, and were still thirsty after the full top-shelf open bar reception.

But back to the hodge-podge. A good chunk of the clientele at the Parrot last Saturday were gun-totin' Bush-lovin' NASCAR types. It was amazing to see the dance floor full of gays and rednecks and redneck gays and lesbians and gay black men and old gay men and young Dale Earnhardt in memorium T-shirt types all having a good time together. Such a melting pot display makes me feel the forgotten goodness and exciting potential of the United States of 'murka. I'd like to think of our experience at the Parrot as a good send-off for Karl Rove, whose divisive brand of politics I hope has been discredited, along with his boss's administrative capabilities. I saw a mulleted crew of tough PA boys line dance with a drag queen. It made my day.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Frank Burns at Rest

Gore Vidal, in "Rabbit's Own Burrow" (The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000) lays upside the narrow head of John Updike a most painful literary bitch-slapping:

There is nothing, sad to say, surprising in Updike's ignorance of history and politics and of people unlike himself; in this, he is a standard American and so a typical citizen of what Vice-President Agnew once called the greatest nation in the country. But Updike has literary ambitions as well as most of the skills of a popular writer, except, finally, the essential one without which nothing can ever come together to any useful end as literature, empathy. He is forever stuck in a psychic Shillington-Ipswich-New York world where everything outside his familiar round is unreal. Because of this lack of imagination, he can't really do much even with the characters that he does have some feeling for because they exist in social, not to mention historic, contexts that he lacks the sympathy--to use the simplest word--to make real.

Rabbit at Rest
is vacuous in the extreme. There are pleasurable moments, mostly moments of nostalgia experienced as characters live through memorable events (as in: oh yeah, I remember the first shuttle disaster), and there are passages of quality writing. When Harry Angstrom and his granddaughter capsize a sunfish sailboat and Harry is having a heart attack while unable to locate her, Updike's prose takes on an uncharacteristic urgency. But such moments are few and far between.

Rabbit is an amoral and ultimately uninteresting knucklehead whose opinions are foolish, whose behavior is boorish, and whose judgments of others come from some mysterious and entirely unwarranted belief in his own exceptionalism. I slogged through these four novels merely to get a portrait of ugly Americanism at its worst? I suppose there's some value in recording for posterity our societal tendency to exhibit inadequate meta-cognitive skills, our ethical oversimplifications and shallow self-justifications, and our patented gift for sloth and self-destructive consumptive behaviors. But fuck these books. Vidal was right; Updike is a hack, and this is basically a novel about Archie Bunker or Frank Burns. Updike should, however, revisit the series to include a final volume: Rabbit is President.

East Coast Elitist Top 10 List

The Top Ten List of things I learned in Delaware this weekend:

10. 18% of the 22% of Americans who still support Bush vacation or live in Lewes and Rehoboth.

9. Rush Limbaugh is appropriate radio for your retail business or restaurant to broadcast to its patrons.

8. People from Delaware hate Senator Joe Biden as much as I do.

7. Lewes is the oldest town in the First State. There is a cemetery in the heart of Lewes with stones dating to the 1680s.

6. There is a museum in Lewes featuring artifacts from a Dutch settlement there that was wiped out by Native Americans in the 1630s.

5. Restaurants touting awards for "Delaware's Best Sushi" should be avoided at all costs. As my friend Takanorii Ishii said of the sushi in Baltimore in comparison to his home town of Tokyo: "This sushi is not dericious."

4. Tax-free outlet shopping rules.

3. Pennsylvania drivers are the worst drivers no matter what state you're in.

2. Most Americans regard Cracker Barrel as haute cuisine.

1. The QVC Outlet is a good place to go if you want to feel thin.


Your humble narrator in the surf at Rehoboth.

Heavy surf

Heavy surf, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Just back from a long weekend at Rehoboth Beach. Cha found a campground/trailer park with vacancies at reasonable rates. We rented a mobile home that came with its own library of right-wing literature--paranoid anti-Communist paperbacks and Regnery Press titles galore. There were Confederate flags, Confederate flag bathing suits, and Confederate flag towels everywhere. Our VW was the only non-American car, and Cha was the only non-white in sight. We didn't spend much time at the campground.

The surf was surprisingly heavy for Delaware. I had a great time getting the shit kicked out of me by waves in excess in 12 feet high.

Rough surf

Rough surf, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

What happens when you ignore surf and swimming advisories. I got scraped all to hell in a riptide that slammed me into the gravel and rolled me around.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Strange conversations

I'm going to start documenting the strange things people say to me.

A few months back a friend asked: "How old were you when you were eleven?"

Two days ago the Parisian who lives two doors south of us said: "I have some hot chili peppers for you. I will slide them into your mail slot."


nebulous, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

After practicing some meditation techniques learned from a Tibetan Bön shaman, I was able to visit the Crab Nebula and manifest it on a wall in our dining room.

Or, Cha left a shiny plate on a chair by the window.

You don't know Dick

My intention in 2007 was to eliminate almost entirely the personal journal entries from Blog-Sothoth, and migrate to a book/film/music blurb model. Of course bloggers are capricious creatures, and I'm not merely capricious but restless and unfocused as well. For months here book/film/music blurbs have been few and far between, while the personal journal entries abound. Sigh.

Dick's writing is often a pastiche of the language found in hard-boiled detective fiction. Many of his characters of course are cops or druggies or thugs, so this makes a kind of sense. It's often charming to find stories set centuries in the future wherein the characters spout Bogie and Bacall talk. You don't read Dick for literary style. Clipped, terse, tough sentences. No bullshit.

You read Dick for his marvelously inventive paranoia. There are layers of time, with precognitive mutants who can see bits of the future, of folks who journey to the past and fuck things up, but not in the cliched and expected sci-fi manner. There are characters who read minds, who communicate from beyond the grave, who exist simultaneously in the past, present, and future. Nothing is ever as it seems. I recall turning on the news once while blasted on 'shrooms. I was disturbed to note that I knew in advance the sequence of stories, and even knew what commercials were coming up. That's what reading Dick is like. You feel slipped out of time or reality and into something larger and more mysterious, something beyond reckoning. A Lovecraftian void of mysterious damnable geometries and mindless deities. Kind of like the set on the Teletubbies.

What surprised me most is the humor in a few of these stories. I'd never thought of Phil Dick as a funny guy. He did, after all, go back in time and live for a few years as a persecuted Christian under Roman rule. And then his robotic head was stolen. But Dick has some fun at the expense of fellow sci-fi writers here.

There are a few duds in this collection, but overall The Minority Report is a solid volume of inventive sci-fi. Worth a look for a few mind-fucks.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


In between hundreds of pages of reading and several homework assignments:

Newt Gingrich joins other conservatives who've lately admitted the War on Terror was a sham all along. Turns out it WAS all about the oil.* [nod to Seth for the linkage]

The URL of Pembroke sent me an email deconstructing E. Howard Hunt's deathbed confession about CIA involvement in the assassination of JFK. Hunt names names, and admits his role as a pinch-hitter who would shoot the pres if others missed their target. The URL made good points: perhaps Hunt wanted to hang this baggage around Johnson's neck for political points. Perhaps Hunt felt excluded after a few decades out of the limelight. Maybe he was running a PSY-OP from beyond the grave, or possibly he wasn't quite of sound mind?

Or, as many of us conspiracy nuts have long suspected, he might have told the truth at last. Or some of the truth. I recall Gore Vidal writing a long and interesting article postulating that Hunt had written Sirhan Sirhan's diaries and Arthur Bremer's memoirs. Said essay is included in United States: Essays 1952-1992, which should be in every library in the US, public or private. Gore read Hunt's novels and found literary similarities with the ravings of the two shooters.

*To those of you who called those of us who said so unpatriotic: You can continue to SUCK IT.

7th heaven

7th heaven, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Photo taken at 11:30 am, just west of the City Schools headquarters on North Ave. The temperature was 103, and some guy was yelling at passersby that the world is fucked, and we better get ready.

rowhomes with wreaths

rowhomes with wreaths, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Another shot taken roaming around the City.

Frank cuts loose

Frank cuts loose, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Frank not only organized the National Night Out on Madison Ave, but he played keys in the jazz band. Frank is always organizing or fixing or cleaning something up. I've seen him mulching and weeding around the neighborhood many times. He's good people. City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake presented Frank and the RHIC with an award tonight.

fountain of youth

fountain of youth, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Tonight was the National Night Out on Madison Ave. Dozens of neighbors dropped by the sculpture garden across from our house for a cookout, a jazz band, a DJ, and a film screening for the kids.

Morgan and Lavender and Robert and Kennedy are playing in the fountains.

The event was intended to forge community bonds, to raise awareness about crime prevention, and to allow politicians and police leaders to mingle with the common folk. I met most of the City Council candidates tonight (those I'd not met before), and also had a brief chat with Michael Sarbanes, who is running for City Council President. Keifer Mitchell, mayoral candidate, introduced himself and we had a nice long conversation. He asked me to be in one of his commercials, and then sought me out as he was leaving and asked me again. Mr. Peck says "I knew Keifer when he was tiny. He's a good man."

Can a good man win in Baltimore these days?

The old-timers

The old-timers, originally uploaded by Blog-Sothoth.

Cha works with Cab Calloway's daughter Camay Calloway Murphy regularly, and Camay mentioned that her father at one time lived in our neighborhood, but she didn't know where. I asked our neighbor Mr. Peck (pictured above, in the center) about the Calloways, and he said "oh, sure. My brother and Cab was best friends. His sister lived down a block or so on Madison." Mr. Peck says he has old 8mm reels of the neighborhood. I'd like to see them and perhaps get Mr. Peck down to the Historical Society to record some of his stories for posterity. When told of this plan Mr. Peck laughed and made a self-deprecating comment. He's a neighborhood treasure despite his opinions to the contrary.

According to the Pecks Vicki Mabrey from CNN and 60 Minutes used to live next door to our house, where Everett lives now.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Back to school

It's always fun to go back to school. I've been going back to school for so many years that I forget how fun it is. When I filled in my job application yesterday it asked "How many years of college and grad school?" and I put in 11. And counting.

Seated behind me in Special Ed was a lovely Nigerian who went to school in London and speaks with an English accent. She's quite talkative and within minutes knew that I was a Taurus and that I was precisely 3 days short of being ten years her senior. She asked my wife's birthdate and said "Capricorn and Taurus are a perfect match!" She asked if she could put her feet up on the side of my chair, and though I said I didn't mind I must admit they were quite distracting. She's perpetually grabbing and touching the rings and clothes and arms of those around her. She loves to exclaim.

To my right sits a Texan embarrassed to admit she's from there. "What my poor state has inflicted on the world," she said, head lowered. She's teaching music in the inner city, and I pointed out that Texas is doing alright if she came from there. And Molly Ivins, and Jim Hightower. "Yes," the Texan said. "But our progressive idealism is dead as Ann Richards. At least until they lock Delay away."

The classroom is dingy and the instructor is well-intentioned, has loads of experience, but is an absolute bore. And there are crucifixes on every wall, and an occasional visit from the Dean, Sister Ima Tough Cookie, to remind us we are at Notre Dame.

The GEI program has its perks. I went to buy text books and all I had to do was show my City schools ID and the books were handed to me with no charge.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Spent three hours at Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters this morning filling out forms, getting fingerprinted, and being herded from place to place. The HR rep who co-ordinated our fingerprinting had teardrop tats below her right eye and sported large RIP tattoos on each bicep. One said "Soldier Man 03-27-2007."

I saw a contingent of Filipinos cowering in the corner, three women and two men. The City is so desperate for teachers they've been shipping them in from Manila. I think there are 300 native Filipinos in the BCPSS right now. Cha has heard that some of these imports are turned loose on the City without any guidance about housing or utilities or resources. I introduced myself to them, chatted about food and Boracay Island, and welcomed them to Baltimore. They were very impressed that I like bilo-bilo, and offered to cook for me any time. I can't imagine flying halfway around the world to teach English in a hard-core urban school system in the U.S. The culture shock for a bit of white trash from southern PA like me is bad enough; flying in from Cebu City or a rural one-room schoolhouse near Banaue and ending up at Lake Clifton High takes coconut-sized cojones.

I found out that I'll be spending 20 hours a week for the next ten months at Booker T. Washington Middle School. Not as bad as some of the possible assignments I faced, but not the best of the lot by any means. Cha knows the GT English teacher there, who drives from Delaware every day because she wants to help the kids in B'more. I wouldn't mind having a mentor like that.

Off now to Notre Dame in Maryland for orientation and the first meeting of Special Ed.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Bourne again

Not sure why I like the Bourne films. Typically such flix are not my cup of tea, but somehow these satisfy.

The Bourne Ultimatum is the least interesting of the three, but it's still great fun. The plot? Fight scene, car chase, fight scene, foot chase, fight scene, car chase, motorcycle chase, rooftop chase, fight scene, car chase, foot chase, fight scene, brief expository sequence with backstory, fight scene, car chase, unsubtle Abu Ghraib/rendition/waterboarding references, fight scene, explosion, car crash, fall, resolution leaving door open for the fraternity of writers named "Ludlum" after the true Ludlum's death to churn out sequels in perpetuity.

Note to film-makers: stop the camera sometimes. It doesn't need to drift and jitter continuously.

Is there a more un-interesting actress than Julia Stiles? Christ, she is more wooden than the cast of my high-school's production of Guys and Dolls, and has no charisma.

Time away

Two three-day weekends loom, the remnants of what was to be our two weeks' vacation. Now that I've quit another job and I'm starting Monday with grad school and a new gig mid-August that of course is kaput.

August sucks for last-minute weekend travel deals. All of the lodgings at local beaches, mountains, rivers, and charming towns quadruple their rates this time of year. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and DC are pricey enough without this late-summer boost.

I'd like nothing more than to swim in the ocean, but not for $240 a night.

Maybe we'll just day-trip it here and there. Hell, I'll likely have gobs of homework anyhow.

Friday, August 03, 2007

So old

What does one do when off work at 10am on a Friday, with a gorgeous summer day and total freedom?

Apparently one curls up on the couch with a book and promptly falls into a three-hour nap.

Last Day

Today is my last day in non-profit curriculum-writing land. I had a deadline for today but finished that project on Monday. The extra work I agreed to finish was finished on Wednesday. Why am I here? I'm 'working' a half-day to use some accrued vacation I won't get paid out for. By 'working' I mean roaming pictures on Flickr and reading news blogs.

Perhaps I should work the rest of this half-day from home.

Monday morning it's pre-employment time in the Baltimore City schools: criminal background check, fingerprinting, and urinalysis. I've never had one of those before. Hopefully everything is squeaky clean, otherwise I'll have to plead poppyseed bagel consumption.

Monday afternoon I'm back to grad school. Haven't taken a course since that French current events class last fall. Jonesing hard, too. Unfortunately I'll be taking Special Ed for the Classroom Teacher, which I've taken before, but not at the graduate level. Then I'll be taking Educational Psych, which I've also taken before, and which ranks as the single most boring class I ever took. How can you make Piaget boring? That Bob Barker-looking mofo who taugh Ed Psych at Towson managed to do so. My advisor at Notre Dame initially told me I could skip these classes after a transcript analysis, but the Dean of the Ed Dept, Sister Ima Goina Kikuress, said nobody opts out of any required courses on her watch.

No vacation for me again this year. Last week off was January 2006. Hopefully we can get away for a couple of three-day weekends before the public schools are back in session and the shit hits the fan. Even if we only get to Rehoboth Beach.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


The Mrs. is hosting a baby shower for her boss at our place tonight. I of course want no part of it, but when I told her I'd find something else to do I was fed small portions of guilt:

"There will be some guys here."

"Don't you want to talk to X?" (the drummer from Uganda)

"Don't you like Z?" (the journalist from Congressional Quarterly and the AP)

The answer to both questions is yes, but not at a baby shower.

X is a nice guy. He's funny, and I like music and musicians. But he has a tendency to try and get everyone around him to dance and clap and participate in his music. That's why he's great at working in elementary schools. I had behavioral problems in elementary school because of this sort of activity, however.

Z is also a nice guy. I'd have thought, hearing about his resume, that we'd have good chats. But Z is very narrowly focused on the House delegations from Arkansas and Alabama. Not exactly my forte.

I'm sure I bore both of these guys to tears. Why inflict myself upon them?

Some of the artists and performers on the payroll are coming, and a few big-wigs in local foundations. I don't schmooze well with boardmembers or doners. Good, interesting people all--but not my bag.

And those baby shower games with the clothespins and ribbons? I think I'll pass.

Am I being a jerk to want no part of this?

Gin Rummy

Remember when Don Rumsfeld was a steely Clint Eastwood Pentagon stud and media darling? Now Dennis Kucinich kicks him around. I love it.

I'd love it even more if Rummy was in jail.

Some like it hot

On the one hand, I'm increasingly convinced that American cities and towns must adapt new models of food production and delivery in order to save energy. I don't think our current model of shipping in broccoli from China and melons and bananas from Central America and bacon from Canada and then transporting the shit across country in big rigs and on trains is sustainable for more than another decade or so.

On the other hand, I'm excited by the prospect of trying a ghost chili, which of course must be shipped half way across the world. Maybe we can return to sailing ships to feed my appetite for exotic chilis and spices?

BTW--Saigon Remembered, which is of course primarily a Vietnamese restaurant, has great pad thai, but they simply can't make pad thai "Thai hot." Their idea of Thai hot is perhaps the equivalent of one star at Thai Landing, where the "Thai hot" standard approaches the limits of my chili endurance. Thai One On and Thai Restaurant are also exquisitely painful--order the whole rockfish at Thai Restaurant (in Greenmount) and you'll swoon under the crushing weight of Scoville Units. The hottest Indian food I've had locally? Mughal Garden.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Staged car accident

A car accident blocking the intersection north of our house this afternoon turned out to be a staged film shoot for The Wire.

Still haven't seen Season 4 yet, because the DVD isn't out.
UPDATE: Turns out it isn't The Wire. It's a Disney movie about kids who dance in the ghetto. Also, the accident was real, but involved members of the production crew.