Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Books #8 and #9

This paperback was listed as forthcoming on Amazon for ages, and then it never forthcame and the link disappeared, so I bought a UK edition used via Amazon. Even though his novels tend to be uneven, I enjoy Campbell's prose so much I don't like to miss them. I enjoyed Thieving Fear because it reminds me of many old-school Campbell books about a malevolent dead person trying to invade the world by using the living: The Nameless, or The Influence, or The Grin in the Dark, or half-a-dozen others. But Thieving Fear also includes elements of my fave Campbell novel, Incarnate, where dreams bleed into reality and really wreck everyone's day. Thieving Fear is not as good as the early ones, but it's pretty good. I wish Campbell would rely less on misunderstood dialogue as a method of characterization because it's too difficult for a reader to try and go back and figure out who was supposed to have said what, but I dug it. The climax is over-the-top and somewhere between Clive Barker and HPL, but that's half the charm.

This historic novel posits that Josef Breuer and Frederich Nietszche worked together to create the "talking method" with young Sigmund Freud coaching Breuer at dinner. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The Antichrist never met Breuer, but he could have, and the co-founders of psychoanalysis were indeed mining some of the same territory as the often incapacitated Zarathrustrian fetishist. So the verdict is fun, if you're into novels about psychoanalysis. It's certainly no The Manticore, but it's pretty damn good.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I gave up blogging about politics ages ago, and gave up following politics closely shortly after that. But I recall calling that the health care bill would result in a Republican sweep of the House and that the Supreme Court would likely strike it down. The first prediction came all too true. Here's the original post.

And now it seems quite likely that my second prediction is imminent. I'd love to be wrong!

Some wise commentors refuted me; I think they were absolutely correct given a reasonable Supreme Court. But this Court has a bought-and-paid-for majority.

Which way will Kennedy swing? After his Citizens United decision I have little faith he'll do the right thing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book #7

I started reading The Civil War in early 2011, planning for what I thought would be a spring trimester focused on said conflagration. I had the idea I'd finish Foote's trilogy by the end of the school year last year. But we switched, largely at my impetus, our focus from the Civil War to John Brown, and though interested and engaged by this book, I languished in its completion. One could be forgiven for taking a year to read this book given its scope and length, but it's certainly not the best approach to so complex and wonderful a text. Foote writes with a novelist's sense of character and timing--allowing weeks to lapse between readings causes one to lose the delicate threads of plot and character, and though Foote draws his generals with exquisite and often endearing precision, it is still without daily readings quite possible to forget who is whom after an absence of some days. So read this--it's fabulous, but read it when you have the time and endurance to stick to it daily. I plan that approach as I continue with Volume II.

Monday, March 12, 2012


If you're a fan of the documentary Hearts of Darkness, you should check out Burden of Dreams. Francis Ford Coppola's awful experiences in the Philippine jungle just might pale in comparison to Werner Herzog's in Peru.

While shooting Fitzcarraldo, Herzog indeed seemed to be cursed. When a huge portion of shooting was complete, he lost his star Jason Robards to a punishing amoebal infection. Robard's co-star Mick Jagger had to part due to Tattoo You tour obligations, and Herzog was forced to go to his backers and beg for more money and time. He was so impressed with Jagger's performance that he had to cut his character from the film and re-write entirely, replacing Robards with his "best fiend" Klaus Kinski and starting from scratch. These problems were only the beginning.

Herzog contends with intertribal politics, rumors that he wants to repeat earlier German racial atrocities in the Amazon basin, Catholic priests who advise him to provide whores at his camps, three rusty river steam boats, environmental catastrophes, oil and mineral and logging companies, the Peruvian military, plane crashes which wipe out crew members, arrow attacks, sickness, insects, serpents, a flat soccer ball, engineers who think his plan will kill dozens of natives, a Brazilian TV star, and Kinski. He tells his backers that if he can't complete this project, he will be a "man without dreams. I refuse to live my life that way."

Of course Herzog maintains his jolly disposition for half a decade in the jungle, giving cheerful pep talks about Art and Beauty and Meaning:

I find Werner's musings endlessly entertaining. I recommend this film even if you've not seen Fitzcarraldo.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

At the Charles...

A very wise film, and timely, as it focuses on an age when the world underwent financial crises and upheavals, as new technologies disrupted and derailed traditional modes of communication and entertainment and it seemed the center could not hold...

And now we're in a similar mess with many of the same troubling variables making life by equal measure more convenient and more vexing. And The Artist gives us space to reflect on what's lasting in these eras of transience; it's charming, sad, quaint, and quite beautifully shot.

Yes, there's more than a bit of A Star is Born, Singing in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard, and even some Purple Rose of Cairo in the mix--but The Artist is not derivative. I really lost myself for a while, and it felt good to sit at the Saturday matinee with a few dozen other old people.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

And what rough beast, its hour come at last...

Things are no longer so lovey at the lovey dovey hippie charter school. We absorbed the 7th and 8th graders from Diggs Middle last year when we took over their building, and worked our asses off to integrate them into our system with some success. A couple of those chuckleheads are headed to City and Poly because of us! But others struggled and are now lashing out. We have only a few weeks left until the last of those students are gone. They want to graduate 8th grade as Diggs students, and they're acting out against the SBCS system. One put a boulder through the Science teacher's windshield and got suspended for two weeks. A few of the more charismatically thuggish boys have gone to some $5 tattoo dude and had their names inked crookedly up their forearms in a neo-Gutenberg Bible script. This of course sends electric charges down the spines of the 7th grade girls, who are drawn to bad boys. Once the 7th grade boys see the 7th grade girls drooling over thugs, they have to step up their street game, and suddenly the sweet sheltered lovey-dovey charter school kids are running gang initiation fights behind the skatepark next to our building after school.

So now I'm running around jazzed and edgy pulling kids apart and getting between kids about to throw down again. I've had a couple years off from that shit and it is not making me happy to be thrust back into it. Especially when I see my former students at the March attending another candlelight vigil.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

My Old School in the news a lot recently, and not for good reasons.

I didn't teach Monae, but I taught the older brother and cousin of one of the boys arrested for shooting her. That's a very rough corridor over East, and I often think of the kids over there. Too many of them end up on the news.

At the end of this year, all the sixth graders I taught at the March will (I hope) graduate the 8th grade and get the hell out somehow.

Friday, March 02, 2012


Hooray for my school. The Governor dropped by today to kick off our new library renovation! You can see some of my co-workers and a few of my 7th graders in the background!

Video here.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Dayzed and Confused

The last period sixth grade class went off the rails today. Within the first half hour I'd sent a third of the class to complete behavior reflections in Student Support. There was a lot of street drama; girls were fuming and threatening to get their crews and stomp someone or other. I was breaking up a fight between 4 foot 2 inch boys when the Big Cheese strolled in my room just as another fight was breaking out behind me--a girl grabbed a boy by the hair and pulled his head down while kicking him viciously in the shins.

After school I was commiserating with some other staff in the math teacher's room. We shared horror stories. "All I accomplished with the sixth graders today was getting them to copy three questions on a piece of paper. That took an hour and 15 minutes!" the math teacher said. Another teacher, from Cameroon, had been called a "black African monkey" by a young African American who threatened to kill this wonderful human being. The Big Cheese walked into our impromptu gab fest. "Take a big breath y'all. It's the long stretch between Xmas break and Spring Break, it was a delicious warm day, and the kids are bonkers. It's totally appropriate at this time to step back and hand out workpackets if they are not available for learning. You have my support!"

To complicate things a semi-autistic student of mine found a dime bag on the floor of my room after school as I was cleaning up. He and another student were marveling at it and saying "I think it's weed" when the autistic kid turned it over to me. A bunch of thoughts burned through my head, primarily among them the idea that both of these students had very active PTO parents who were going to hear about this immediately. So instead of ditching the evidence, I had to turn it in to the Big Cheese, who was like "just flush it--or smoke it," until I told her the kids who'd found it, and then she was like "OMG I have to file a police report just so I can tell those parents that I did something!" Baltimore's finest were bemused. "You should have just flushed it," they said. And then I had my formal observation debrief, which went swimmingly.

Tomorrow the Gov is visiting our school. I'ma hug him for signing the Gay Marriage law in MD!