Monday, August 31, 2009
2nd period was a bit more active, and I had to bust out the teacher voice and whistle earlier than I'd like, but things went smoothly for the most part. One little guy burst out crying and said he wanted to go home, and then repeated this performance before last period. I tried my best to get him to suck it up because he'll get marked as a 'wuss' or 'pussy' and it will be hard to keep him safe.
Last period was a bit hectic but went ok. I had to blow the whistle, use my "silence" hand-signal twice, and even ended up with some names on the Verbal Warning wall for violating class rule #3.
But the kids are bright and strange and funny and I'm looking forward to working with them this year. The first couple weeks are traditionally the easiest: we'll see!
At 2:38 I was thinking "Wow! No fights today!" when two youngsters started throwing down outside Mr. C's class. His method of breaking up fights is to yell at kids; mine is to get between them, which I did. As soon as I do so they typically stop punching, and if they don't and they hit me then I can restrain them legally, which I did, because one of them swung with his head down and punched me in the side. This particular sixth grader weighs at most 70 lbs, so there wasn't much to the blow, but it was enough for me to wrap him up and put him in the corner for a stern dressing-down.
After school the 'acting' principal announced a 'very short staff meeting' for 3:00, which lasted until 3:50. They gave us a raft of shit for not doing our attendance using the new electronic system, but for much of the day the system was down and we couldn't use it. Typical.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
YOU JUST CAME BACK FROM A WAR! Teaching in the City is difficult, but BEING IN A WAR IS MORE DIFFICULT!
They're only children. I can handle them all.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Today I drove over to West Baltimore Middle. All the Baltimore public middle school language arts and social studies teachers were crammed into a parking lot too small for the number of cars, and there was a lot of scurrying going on. But things went pretty smoothly once we got into the bulding. Two efficient and helpful young ladies sorted everyone out and got them where they needed to be. After our entry, however, the efficiency ended.
I sat in the boiling hot Cafeteria from 8:00am until 8:55 waiting for the "kick-off" session, scheduled for 8:30, to start. They finally got their Power Point up and showed us five slides in five minutes and then we went to Session I, scheduled for 9:00am.
70 teachers were crammed into a very small un-airconditioned class room with 20 chairs in it. The same woman who'd done the kick-off presentation was our presenter again, her topic the 6th grade curriculum. She booted up her laptop, handed out three packets, and then the internet wouldn't work. For 45 minutes we sat in the classroom while she fussed with Activex controls and then she said "you have hard copies of most of what I was going to show you. This session is over."
The session was supposed to run until 11:30, and we were let go at 9:45, having accomplished absolutely nothing. I don't see how she couldn't do her presentation/discussion by using the hard copies of the curriculum and guidelines, but whatever. Session II and III are this afternoon at the same school, but I drove home to avoid sweltering in that miserable building for no reason. I though about driving over to the March to work on my classroom, but they're using my room for science PDs today.
Why, you ask, do I go to these meetings? Because they make you fill out a bubble sheet for each session AT THE END, and if you don't turn in your bubble sheets at the PD you don't get paid for the day.
I'm already planning to be sick for the remainder of our scheduled PD days this upcoming school year. Ridiculous!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
In order to get a minimal amount of work done in my room I stayed two hours late. After coming in more than an hour early. Oh, well--might as well get used to the standard school schedule now. Just as I was planning to leave an administrator popped her head in the door and said "we are using your room for a science PD tomorrow. You need to clear the desks and lock up any supplies you don't want stolen." That added another 20 minutes to my day, and will likely cost me an hour or more of re-sorting and organizing time on Thursday.
At least I got the key to the book closet first: I scored all the best texts and even managed to get my dictionaries and thesauri from last year back. AND my two six-headphone listening stations made it through the summer unscathed. Unfortunately we don't have the teachers editions of the sixth grade texts: I'm not that concerned with the answers, but would like the questions and sidebars in the margins, because the required City curriculum refers to them quite often. I'll have to Rosetta Stone them and infer what these texts say when planning...
Tomorrow we're having off-site City-wide professional developments, guaranteed to be useless or your money back! The middle-school language arts crew is headed to West Baltimore Middle for 8 hours of eye-glazing redundancy. Can't wait.
Some kids were playing in the parking lot today as I left. One called me "penny head" and packed my shoes.
Monday, August 24, 2009
The "acting" principal is an assistant principal who is retiring in June after 37 years in the biz. She is much more competent then her predecessor, but is less physically active and I'm sure she cares not a whit for anything except making it through the year. The only other administrator in the building is retiring in December. We're supposed to have a principal and three APs, but we're starting the year with two APs and no principal, and both are retiring.
Let's just say I'm not particularly optimistic about how the school will run.
I got my schedule and I have only sixth graders, so I'm pleased. Hopefully I can keep the inevitable hallway chaos out of my room. Not likely given the fact my door not only doesn't lock, it doesn't even latch! Class sizes will be bigger because we're short-staffed, but what else is new?
My third year in the system and I'm treated like a veteran. Last period a 30-year language arts teacher is coming into my classroom to 'assist' me. One would think this should happen the other way around, but according to my department chair "she needs some mentoring." Oh boy.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
We rolled north for the last summer weekend, stopping in sweltering Philly for the night Thursday. We stayed at the Latham Hotel and walked over to Independence Hall--maybe a bit more than a half-mile, and we were drenched with sweat within a block. But Cha had never seen the Liberty Bell and she got to gape at it through a glass wall, tho the crack wasn't visible.
Then we looked for a place to eat and settled for an upstairs pub which I realized I'd been to, likely in my first year at Temple U 16 years ago. Friday morning we got up and drove over to the University of Pennsylvania Archeological Museum: I wanted badly to see their collection of Babylonian treasures from Ur, so of course that particular exhibit was closed Friday. But the museum has plenty of other excellent galleries, including a wonderful Egyptian collection, some fine Chinese loot, and Etruscan, Roman, and Greek collections. They have a fine selection of MesoAmerican stuff too, and a nice traveling exhibition of Mayan pots.
But no Ur, dammit. The goat trapped in a hedge will have to wait for another day!
Then we went to Barnegat NJ to hang with friends of Cha's, and met her sisters there. Lots of kids, dogs, drinks, and food later we rolled home exhausted and ready to face the school year. I wish the lifeguards weren't so serious--they wouldn't let me out more than shin-deep in the surf because of Big Bad hurricane Bill and his awesome rip tides.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I've had a couple good rolls with sitting meditation, getting to the point where I was sitting every day for more than a year at a time. But I always eventually fail to keep up the practice, despite the fact I'm much calmer and more focused when meditating regularly.
Reggie Ray's approach intrigues me. He's an expert not only in Tibetan yogic techniques, but also knows Jung and psychoanalytic theory and shamanic traditions. He advocates using meditation to open awareness of our bodies, which we ignore far too often. The first meditation practice on his CD set starts by focusing the awareness on the big toe. There's a lot of sensation and energy in the toe and unless I bang it on something or it gets trod on I typically shut it out completely. Ray says the entire body is full of sensation and energy which is vital to our health, but that we cut it off to avoid sensory overload and distraction from doing our daily Facebook and Twitter duties. I need to develop the discipline to do this regularly, particularly given Ray's last chapters, which read like The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, or that Alex Grey Tool video.
I know I carry stress and negative energy in my body tissue. Tai Chi, regular massage, and exercise help, but I need to bring this material to consciousness instead of sublimating saidsame. Especially given the fact that school starts soon.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Netflix is streaming Grindhouse with the fake previews as a long feature until 9/1. I'd missed it here when it was at the now-defunct Senator Theater, and somehow had never got around to it on DVD.
Planet Terror is far superior to Tarantino's Death Proof. Rose McGowan looks fantastic, even with missing limbs. The fake preview for Machete was one of the greatest things I've ever seen. I in fact looked up Grindhouse on Netflix after seeing an article somewhere that Rodriguez is making a film based on that preview, with Robert DeNiro and Jessica Alba and a very eclectic cast. Don't ruin a good thing.
While Planet Terror is head and shoulders above Death Proof, it was still fun to see Kurt Russell. And it's always fun to see Rosario Dawson.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
District 9 is an ambitious film, and writer/director Neill Blomkamp manages to cram a lot of current events into the narrative. The result is a bit like Children of Men meets Black Hawk Down via the short alien spaceship sequence in Monty Python's Life of Brian.*
What first drew me to District 9 was Peter Jackson's name. I've been a fan since his early gross-out pictures. The second thing was A.O. Scott's somewhat enthusiastic review in the Times. The third was when Michael Sragow panned it in the Sun--that's often evidence that a film is good.
While I enjoyed the manic energy and peculiar flavor of District 9, I think Sragow (and Roger Ebert, as well), make valid arguments contra the film's novelty. No matter how creatively carried out, the various objects of Blomkamp's satire: apartheid, capitalism, evil weapons manufacturers, privatized militarized police forces, torture, man's inhumanity to man (and to E.T.s) have been done to death in SciFi. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, from its quirky mockumentary beginnings to its (original) Day the Earth Stood Still moralizing. I think Ebert is a bit unfair to the story in his review--the fact that we don't know a lot about the aliens and why they are trapped on Earth is part of the point. Those questions shouldn't have any relevance on how the aliens are treated; but as we know from real life, the Other is always regarded with suspicion, feared, and loathed, and the Xenophic hope amongst the general population that they just "go away" is all too familiar in American politics, whether or not we're currently rounding up people and putting them in camps.
So I'll recommend it, with caveats, but those caveats are related to conventions of the sci-fi genre, which has certain earmarks, much as horror films do. Like them or no, one learns to accept them as genre characteristics. Suspend belief for a while, and think about the 'prawns' in Distric 9 as representing large portions of the human population on Earth.
*Have I ever told you how much I hate this critical device? The listing of other films a film resembles, pays hommage to, or derives from is simply a lazy way to avoid making original points while still sounding like you know what you're talking about.
Friday, August 14, 2009
The Big Cheese even got the boot, which is in many ways a good thing because she was incompetent, lying, manipulative, deceitful, and completely insane. But at least the kids feared her, and they don't fear anyone else in the building, in particular the Assistant Principal who will be running the show in an acting capacity. So the behavioral climate in the building will likely deteriorate this year to new depths of destruction and depravity.
But I found out I have a new room on the 2nd floor instead of the 3rd. This pleases me no end because I won't have so many steps to lug my junk up in a couple weeks, and the 2nd floor is a peaceful oasis compared to the third, which is a dark, scary place. I also heard tell that I will have a Smartboard this year-but won't believe it until I am plugging it in. Smartboards have a way of disappearing from rooms...
AND I'm supposed to be teaching all sixth graders this year, which is GREAT because they'll be new to middle school and I can mold them to my will much more readily than 7th or 8th graders who are already off the chain. But again this could change at any time, given they've still yet to hire a couple dozen faculty for this fall, including several language arts teachers. I'd love to avoid teaching the incoming 8th and 7th graders because those kids are bananas.
So: right now I'm cautiously optimistic, but I'm prepared for everything to turn out the opposite of what I've been told. That's just how the City schools are.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
When Silenus recommended this via Netflix notes, he wrote something like "I couldn't sit through this, but it occurs to me your stoner ass might like it." Indeed, my stoner ass did. I often fantasize about dropping out and living a monastic existence: the self-scrutiny, the time for research, the Gregorian Chant--all of that appeals to me. Some monastaries even brew good beer! Of course there's no porn...
Into Great Silence simply shows you monks at work, at prayer, eating their meals, reading, singing, etc. You see them get haircuts, you see them cut cloth for robes, you see them garden. That's it. For two and half hours. Interspersed occasionally with shots of nature. I particularly like the individual monks sitting and facing the camera in silence. Oh, and I laughed out loud when they have a debate about what some regard as a worthless tradition whilst hiking the Alps: "I don't object to ritual hand-washing, I just fail to remember to dirty them before hand."
"I know this is kind of short notice, but we're having a planning meeting today from 9 until 1. It's very important that you're here to get ready for the school year. There will be a second meeting tomorrow at the same time."
According to my phone, this message was received at 8:48 this morning. Calling a teacher still on summer break to announce a planning meeting which starts in ten fucking minutes is not "kind of short notice." But this sort of behavior typifies the way City schools are run.
So I missed today's meeting, but I'm going tomorrow. Hopefully I can find out what grade(s) I'm teaching, and what room I'm in.
I need to remember to buy a Mega Millions ticket today. I never buy Lotto tix, but any chance to avoid going back to the March is worth a shot...
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Tonight I'm off to beautiful south-central PA to assist my brother-in-law as he repairs damage to my parents' roof. In an attempt to prevent trees from falling into their roof, they hired a guy to bring some down. One of these smashed into the garage. An ounce of prevention?
At any rate it's weird being on a ladder with a hammer again. I don't miss it at all!
Monday, August 10, 2009
Wolfgang Pauli was one of the premier physicists and mathematicians of his time, and was involved in many fundamental discoveries of early quantum physics. But while his professional successes were extraordinary--Einstein considered Pauli an heir--his personal life was an unmitigated catastrophe. He ridiculed colleagues and belittled others in his field, often cruelly. He drank to excess and spent his evenings in bars and brothels, unable to connect with women in any more lasting way.
In desperation, Pauli visited C.G. Jung, asking the eminent psychologist for treatment, thereby beginning a fruitful series of discussions, analytic sessions, and a lasting correspondance.
Both Pauli and Jung inhabited the peculiar no-man's land between scientist and mystic. Each was an advocate of the scientific method, of statistical analysis, of observation and notation, of the controlled experiment. But at the same time both men achieved their greatest insights and discoveries via intuition or other non-rational methods. Both were fascinated by alchemy and Eastern thought, and both read Latin and Greek. Each was curious about the idea of numbers as archetypes, and strove to understand the significance of the number 137. When Jung's research and practice leads him to a belief in spirits, precognition, ESP, and a collective unconscious, Pauli is watching the laws of Newton collapse in the magical and contradictory world of subatomic particles.
Pauli was victim his whole life to mechanical accidents which effected those working around him. These synchronistic occurences were labeled "the Pauli effect," and some die-hard rationalist physicists took it very seriously. These episodes are breezily narrated here, and Arthur I. Miller handles worthily the comlex careers and lives of these two curious souls, with their personal failings and public successes. There is just enough detail about quantum physics and analytical psychology to avoid bogging down the story, and the detailed descriptions of Pauli's dreams, submitted to Jung for analysis, are alone worth the cover price.
John might not blog particulary often, but we'll forgive him. He's busy with other things, such as being a juror for the interactive category in I.D. magazine's annual design review. Congrats!
Pick up a copy at your local newstand to see the winners in each category. The interactive winner is pretty spectacular.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
I'm a trainee on a police force. Members of my unit include a woman, a robot, and Dirty Harry. There's a long involved narrative with an evil scientist villain which I can't recall. I am in the office restroom which is ungendered. As I use the urinal the woman is telling me how astonished she is that Dirty Harry has been so nice of late. I agree with her, though I never really knew him when he was not nice. I tell her something which I don't think of as a betrayal, but moments after she leaves Dirty Harry breaks the door off its hinges and yells at me. I get the sense that she told him what I said, and that he interpreted it as a betrayal of trust. I think he is against all robots and that my comment led him to believe that I don't think all robots are bad. His exertions have hurt him and he is kneeling on the floor. I realize how old he is, and comfort him by putting my arm around his shoulders.
Our mission is to infiltrate the mad scientist's lair and destroy his robot. I am given a small weapon which is made of two discs with holes around the circumference on one and small dents on the other. Long plastic tubes go through the holes and fit into the dents, joining the two discs together. All of this must be lined up for firing, but as nothing is permenantly attached I am having trouble getting the weapon ready. Finally it works. I destroy the scientist's robot, and then to appease Dirty Harry I destroy our robot too. He walks me up onto a hill in the desert. There is a monstrous man with a gun on his hip there who is the scientist's sidekick, but he tells us we can't arrest him for lack of evidence and starts walking away. Dirty Harry says "What can I do? He's a lawyer!" but then he wrestles the man to the ground. The man wails pitifully, becomes a buffalo and jumps up. The buffalo runs over to a circular dug-out area on the cliff, and a wolf and bull arrive at the same time. As the two bovines charge each other the wolf is caught between them, snarling. The impact sends the bull flying over the cliff and I wake up.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
This interesting doc was recommended to me by Silenus, and I am going to recommend it to you because Timothy "Speed" Levitch is worth spending time with. I liked it almost as much as I liked My Dinner With Andre, and that's saying something.
Of course "Speed" is the main narrator of the doc and its focus, but the Big Apple is the main character.
I'd encountered "Speed" elsewhere and not known it: in Waking Life, and in a TV show I saw on the Cartoon Network whilst under the influence of skunk bud. A cop named Hoop asked the question "Why is 'seedy' bad? Seeds are miraculous!" That was "Speed."
Thursday, August 06, 2009
H.L. Mencken, from "On Being an American"
This evening I broke my self-imposed, summer-long abstention from televised cable news. I watched Rachel Maddow gamely attempt to nail long-time shady Republican PR innovator--and crony of master manipulator Ralph Reed--Tim Phillips for his role in encouraging and staging fake grass roots protests over health care reform. His group, Americans for Prosperity, is behind much of the misinformation and bullying going on at recent town hall meetings. Rachel did a pretty good job digging up Phillips' corporate associations, and his history of forging "grass roots" outrage using industry dollars.
Now I don't doubt that the majority of people showing up at these town hall events are concerned citizens exercising their right to petition their government representatives for redress of grievances, etc. But they are being crassly manipulated and lied to by industry shills, a compliant and corporate press, and politicians and lobbyists on the take. They are given scripts, they are coached to bully and shout down opposition arguments, and they are told horror stories about Federal Agents stacking up gassed grandmas in old folks homes to keep costs down.
More than a decade ago I read a useful book called Taking the Risk Out of Democracy. The author, an Aussie named Alex Carey, traced the growth of the PR industry from its successful propaganda beginnings during WWI to its devious machinations in getting American citizens to vote against their own economic interests for much of the latter half of the 20th century. Carey wrote a densely detailed, academic tome which proves its point--that corporations run the show and routinely use disinformation and propaganda to manipulate a gullible and hapless and ignorant US electorate--elegantly and unassailably, but in a dry, pedantic manner. Unless you're a fanatic about the subject, you'll likely find the book more boring than church. Rachel Maddow is more interesting to watch than Alex Carey is to read, but even her listing of shadowy shell organizations with mysterious connections to beltway insiders would glaze the eyes of Birthers and the other yahoos intent on derailing programs which would likely benefit them.* This is the problem progressives face on health care: facts and reality are complicated, and bullshit slogans and scare tactics are simple. Show people a detailed and factual chart of health insurance and big pharma dollars going to the reps who are against health care reform and they'll shrug in mystification and stay at home. Lie to them about the Canadian and French health care systems and tell them that Obama supports eugenics and the eradication of old folks and they take to the streets waving confused and contradictory banners. And commercials featuring actors pretending to be Canadian citizens complaining about health care are unfortunately more believable than actual Canadians who receive some of the best care in the world-go to Canada and talk to Canadians. I've been there more than a dozen times, and they LOVE their health care!
When insurance industry lobbyists can use fake grassroots organizations to rally thugs to beat up and intimidate people who want to have discussions about pending legislation, democracy becomes a joke. Hence Carey's title: by gaming the system, the powerful interests minimize the risk that they might be subject to the desires of the majority of citizens--and possibly held accountable to some moral standard.
I find the whole situation frustrating, disgusting, and at the same time quite amusing. Obama and Pelosi are somehow 'socialists' and 'nazis' at the same time, and only Pauli or Heisenberg could puzzle out the mathematics behind this wave/particle problem. I'd be curious to know how many of the thugs attempting to thwart our democratic processes can describe what a socialist or a fascist is? Maybe Joe the Plumber can hire another ghostwriter to write a book explaining the difference?
I find all the 'fascist' and 'nazi' rhetoric hilarious, particularly when used by people whose stated goal is to intimidate those who disagree with them. One of the tenants of fascism is, after all, to beat the fuck out of political opponents. Or kill them! I get a whiff of post-Weimar Munich from recent events, and wonder if Limbaugh understands the irony when he compares the Obama health care logo to a Reich symbol as a means of freaking people out.
Sorry folks, but the left is getting pummeled on health care, and unless they get their shit together they are going to lose seats in the House for trying to fix a corrupt and broken system. Meanwhile Canadians and Frenchies will get quality health care guaranteed while the only guarantee here will be continued growth in profits as fewer and fewer are covered.
I fear that my biggest hope for reform is that the legislation is defeated without further violence.
*Don't assume here that I'm for the health care reform package, because I have only the vaguest idea what is going on in Congress right now, and what I do know is very disturbing. I'm for socialized medicine, and it appears to be dead in the water once again. Paying insurance executives and share holders billions of dollars in windfall profits seems a rather inefficient way to utilize money targeted at health, after all. I don't object to capitalism, but think that certain things should not be for profit: education, the military, and health care in particular. Oh, and water.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Because of these recurring bureaucratic bumblings I missed cleanings for five years in a row in my 30s. When I finally got in for a check-up and cleaning I tried to explain to the rather severe African American doc that it wasn't my fault my teeth were so filthy-I blamed years of insurance snafus. She simply sighed, got out the giant brush and tooth, and showed me how to brush with up and down strokes, NOT side-to-side.
"I haven't had a cavity since I was 7 years old!"* I complained, but she continued the demonstration nonetheless. Humiliating!
Before my next bi-annual appt. her office stopped taking my insurance, and I went back to doing the dentist shuffle.
So when I became a teacher I got the good health insurance through B'more City, only to find out that the good health insurance did not extend to dental care. I searched high and low to find someone who would take it, and finally found a guy out in the sticks on the East Side in some crummy half-abandoned medical center. A jovial and rather goofy Indian man named Dr. G looked in my mouth and said "why are you here?" I told him I hadn't had a cleaning in a couple years and wanted that and a check-up. "Your teeth are gorgeous," he said. "Come back in a year!" He chiseled a bit at the back of my lower front teeth and kicked me out. He looked in Cha's mouth and told her to go away.
This guy was obviously a nut, so I searched diligently for another office online which takes the Balto City dental plan. Office after office told me "no" or "hell, no" until I found one right up the street. I made an appointment and got in quickly. Today was the day.
Unfortunately the dentist was Dr. G in a different office. He looked in my mouth and said "You haven't had a cleaning in too long. What is wrong with you?" I reminded him that he'd seen me last year and not cleaned anything, and told me to come back in a year. He laughed. "You caught me right before vacation then! I must have been dreaming of golf. I'm going to have to do a deep cleaning. This will hurt a lot." He took out a high-pressure deck sprayer and set to work. There was a lot of blood, but things are OK now, except that I have to go back in two weeks for a cap; a tooth I broke on a tongue piercing 12 years ago has apparently decided to croak on me. What better way to spend my last few days before school starts up?
*And those cavities, I believe, were frauds perpetrated by a shady dentist in Reisterstown, MD. After years of no problems he found 7 cavaties at once? Give me a break? When I went back to my old dentist after a brief hiatus I never had another.
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
The early passages describing Charles' perambulations in antiquarian Providence are simply lovely-and I don't mean "simply lovely for Lovecraft." Even pulp writers can wax poetic about their passions, and HPL's home town was an excellent muse here.
The story? Not as good as I remembered, but it was fun nonetheless to re-visit those subterranean catacombs echoing with nocturnal and unpronouncable incantations.
I wonder, has anyone done a porn parody of the Cthulu mythos?
Monday, August 03, 2009
Driving down Eutaw two days ago I saw one of my former girls from Booker T. carrying a baby. She's all of 15 now. I also saw Nat Turner and the Gardner and some other Booker T. kids at Art Scape. Hope they're all well and that the West Side avoids the calamitous upheavals over East of late. That's where I teach now.