Monday, August 30, 2010

Hot For Teacher Testing

When I decided to leave consulting and become a teacher (note to self: in a lifetime full of errors, bevues, and regrets, this had to be one of the real keepers...) Oregon, and the nation, were in the midst of the fervor for "high-stakes testing".

Part of this was the whole Bush "No Child Left Behind" thing, but a lot of it goes back to the "A Nation At Risk" kid-brain-missile-gap hysteria and the usual need for the usual suspects to Do Something About It, or at least to be visibly seen Doing Something.In our case we had an assessment at 8th Grade, and then another in 10th, called the CIM or "Certificate of Initial Mastery". The theory was that in 12th grade the kiddos would take a CAM or "Certificate of Advanced Mastery" - what my father and mother had taken in high school in New York state in the 1940s and had been called a Regent's Exam.

The idea was the same; to use the test to certify that the kids had learned their lessons, at least the ones the state felt they needed to learn.

Well lots of schools torqued their entire curriculums around to fit this damn thing. For example, because the 10th graders had to take a History CIM the entire freshman year social science was taken up with something called "World Studies A" and "WS-B". And because the CIM started with questions about the Industrial Revolution, we started in September with the Industrial Revolution. And from there on to WW1. And from there on to the Russian Revolution. Why Russia? Who the hell knows? Especially since in 2002 teaching the Russian Revolution was like teaching buggy-whip making. The damn ramshackle Soviet ediface had just come tumbling down - who the hell cared about the Aurora and Kerensky and the Five Year Plan and Lenin.

Though my students loved the hell out of Boney M's "Rasputin":

"Rah Rah Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
There was a cat that really was gone
Rah Rah Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
It was a shame how he carried on..."


Anyway, have you ever tried to teach history to 14-year-olds? It's like teaching sudoku to a cat. You will only frustrate yourself and the cat doesn't give a shit. Not surprisingly, for most of the kids WS-A and -B were a total wash.

Except maybe for Rasputin. They liked Rasputin.

But whether the little buggers learned history or not wasn't the point. They HAD to get the history fed them in 9th grade so they'd be ready for the Big Dance in 10th. God forbid that a teacher, or a school, or a district, flushed the CIM. You might never get funded for so much as a new Habitrail for the biology classroom again...

But I always looked at it this way; if you make me take a test and my welfare depends on it, I will likely try and do well on the test, or at least as well as I can. If my paycheck, or my standing, or my future employment rests on doing well on the test, I will bust my hump to make that happen.

But if YOUR welfare depends on MY performance?


You'd better be a pretty sweet pal, or have some sort of serious threat to hold over me. Because otherwise, Giacomo?

You could kiss my ass. Why should I bust my butt for you?

So when I read that there was a study that concluded that "There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.", among other things, I had to laugh. This was a surprise?

Teaching is an odd thing. There is tremendous power there. Forget the "classroom discipline", the power game between adolescent and adult that characterizes a hell of a lot of American high school classrooms. No, it's the tension in the relationship between the teacher as possessor of knowledge and the student as seeker of knowledge as old as Plato. The student has to learn as much as the teacher has to teach. The failure of one is the failure of the teacher's power is shot through with faults and weakness.

And it's not really a science and its not really an art. If anything, teaching is a sort of craft, where you learn people like a carpenter learns wood, feeling the grain of them, searching for the places where the gouge will pare away smoothly, where it will bind and crack.

So when you reduce teaching and learning into the kind of test you complete by filling in little ovals with a number 2 pencil...well...let the researchers explain it: "As we show in what follows, research and experience indicate that approaches to teacher evaluation that rely heavily on test scores can lead to narrowing and over-simplifying the curriculum...provide disincentives for teachers to take
on the neediest students (and) also create disincentives for teacher collaboration."

Or, as one of the commentors on this study said over at Crooked Timber: " seems like it would make kids, particularly difficult to teach kids, my adversaries in a sense. If they do not improve, then I get fired. It would be so hard to keep my eye on a student’s well-being in that context and not see them as little performers who hold the key to my future. If I suspect them of being unable to help being underperformers, there’s the risk I would start to resent them."



And y'know what?

I could have told you that twenty years ago, and saved a lot of money I spent on getting a teaching certificate. Because when I was an Army sergeant part of my evaluation was a graded exercise called an ARTEP. Several months before the ARTEP I would gather my squad for a friendly talk.

“We’re about to do this graded field problem” I would explain. “We will be graded as a squad but the grade will only reflect on me. The graders will not listen to my explanation of how many of you are gimps, wheezers, chronic self-abusers, morons, gomers, mouth-breathers, learning disabled products of the union between a Marine and a gorilla, the offspring being, of course, a retarded gorilla. They will not believe that the reason we fucked up were because you oxygen thieves were unable to learn. They will blame it on my being unable to teach you.

Therefore, I will carefully explain everything we will do. I will show you how to do it. I will coach you through it. You will then do it for yourselves, with my direct supervision and correction. Finally we will do it at combat speed.

After that you have my personal assurance that any subsequent failure on your part, however small, will result in your horrible lingering death, probably involving a red-hot poker and one or more of your bodily orifices, or a transfer to a posting on the Korean DMZ, whichever you fear more.”

Now I never failed an ARTEP. But this is, in effect, what high-stakes testing will do for teachers and students; make the student fuckups the teachers' problem.

Mistakes? Mistakes are good. We learn from mistakes. But fuckups? As a teacher I can deal with fuckups.But the fuckups won't like it, and neither will I.

This doesn't seem like a good way to teach, or a good way to learn.

But I have to tell you; I'm not sure if a lot of people really understand how to do these either, and that will be the subject of some of the next posts.

Oh, and just as a note?

The Oregon Department of Public Instruction never fully implemented the CAM and abandoned the CIM several years ago.

But CIM or no CIM I wonder if my students still remember Rasputin?

"Rah Rah Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
They put some poison into his wine
Rah Rah Rasputin
Russia's greatest love machine
He drank it all and he said "I feel fine"Oh, those Russians..!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Beef with Spiced Sauce

I had to flip through my key ring the other day looking for some damn key I hardly ever use when I came across my P-38.

Those of you who weren't in the service, or were not in the forces before 1980 probably have no idea what I'm talking about, but it's the little rectangular thing on the top of the ring in the picture below. Yeah, that thing, with the little hook sort of blade piece on it.It's a can opener.

Really. I shit you not. The little hook blade opens out at a right angle to the rectangular piece and you hook it over the rim of the can and punch the tip of the blade into the top. You work it around, punching and moving, punching and moving, until you get most of the way around, and then you bend the top of the can back.

It works slicker than water off a cat's ass, usually. I've opened all sorts of cans with it, from gallon tins to tiny potted meat cans. It's slow, and you have to take your time and be thorough, but I've never had one fail on me. It does what it's designed to do - open tin cans - and does it well.

I always thought it was a neat little piece of American ingenuity, but it turns out that the original design shows up in 1913 as the brainstorm of one E.M. Darque', so the American in question seems to have been French, or of French extraction.The version I was introduced to in Basic Training back in 1980, though, goes back to WW2 and looks American as the Andrews Sisters. It worked pretty well even in the hands of a cherry private learning which meals to open and which to bury and which to try and trade away.And it occurred to me, as I was thinking about this little gadget, that the things that were of crucial importance to me; finding a way to wear my P-38 on my snap-link key ring because I hated the way it would open inside your shirt and poke your chest when you wore it on your dogtags, making sure I opened the boxes of C-rats (or Meals, Combat, Individual, to give them their right name) prior to getting on the 80-pax for Green Ramp to ensure I dumped the nasty crap and stowed the trade goods somewhere out of the way. Fruitcake? Fuck THAT. Cinnamon Dust Roll? Somebody might trade you a B-1 packet for that. Pound Cake? OhsweetjesushappydayIloveyoudarlingpoundcake..!

Were as useless now as knowing how to speak ancient Sumerian. I had carefully amassed all this knowledge and lore...only to pass on and, though retaining most of it, find it completely and utterly useless.And the hard-won knowledge of arcane foodie lore now lost and useless? Things like knowing which C's had John Wayne bars (a round chocolate bar with tooth-busting nuggets of toffee all in a silver foil wrapper found in the B-2 units [I think] - legend had it that the name came from a scene in the movie "The Green Berets" where the Duke himself gnawed on one. I've seen the movie - it's terrible, as advertised, BTW - and I don't remember the candy bar scene. But that was the story, anyway) and which had the loathed "Charms" fruit candies.Knowing which meals had the good desserts, like peaches or pears, and which had the dust rolls and the apricots. You had to know which cases had which, because to bring back a case full of Beef and Shrapmetal and Fruitcake was to be pounded by your squad.And the little tricks to eating well in the field, like humping a bottle of tabasco (I liked soy sauce, instead) or something to mask the flat, heavy taste of almost everything in the meal. Or remembering to keep the box, which could be used as a stove when you didn't get the little blue or purple Trioxane heat tabs. Punch a hole in the can, put it back in the box, light the box, and when it burned to ash the meal would be at least half cooked. Warm Spaghetti with Beef Chunks, while not as good as hot Spag & Chunks, was better by far than COLD Spag & Chunks.Mind you, there were some C's that you only ate if you were truly starving. Chopped Ham and Eggs? Sweet fucking Baby Jesus, but those were awful. Find someone who would trade for them and you were golden. Or not, and get stuck with the horrible foodlike thing and eat it or go hungry.

And remembering how to trade. Marketing was key; packaging a couple of jam tins with a tuna can for a Beans and Baby Dicks. Or, frabjous day, getting someone to trade you a Pound Cake.

One of the medics in my outfit liked to play the same mean trick on the new grunts in his platoon. At the first meal stop on a field problem he'd pick through his C-rat tins and casually ask "Who wants to trade for a Pound Cake?"

A gang of hopeful cherries would shower him with largesse in hopes of taking advantage of the obviously feeble-minded Doc, and he would wait patiently, picking his victim and make the trade. At which point the outraged new meat would squawk that he had, not the treasured Pound Cake, but a Chocolate or Cinnamon Dust Roll.

"Yes, but pound it up your ass and it will be a Pound Cake..." Doc would sneer, and all the old sweats would roar.

And sitting here, remembering Doc's scurvy trick and the laughter and the cursing, all my memories, for good or ill, of the canned meals and the guys who shared them summed up in the little metal gadget still on my key ring all of thirty years later, I realize that the are probably no more than a tiny handful of soldiers now in the Army I served who remember those cans and those days. And that they, like me, have nowhere to take their old wisdom, no reason to impart it to the next generation of soldiers. We might as well know how to load and fire a crossbow.

And realizing that I realize that time and a way of soldiering, a way of life, has truly passed by, that the Army I knew and the times I served in have gone, are part of the Past, and like all past things have left just the merest of traces behind, like the tiny OD metal shavings floating in the yellowish jelly of a newly-opened can of Pork Slices, Cooked, With Juices.

Dance for joy

I've never really "gotten" dance the way I get music or drama or film. Stories told by Terpsichore have just never worked for me. And, yes, the "Nutcracker" is very pretty, yes, thank you. I do have a four-year-old who loves princesses and ballerinas.So while I don't get the princessy part what I do get is the dancer as athlete. Which is why I wanted to repost this photograph of the dancer Naiomi Goldberg's battered feet.

Often the price of knowing the truth, or attaining beauty, or achieving mastery in anything, is pain.

And often the pain must be given freely for to attain the true mastery, the true beauty, the requisite suffering must be a gift that does not count the cost.

(h/t to Kevin Rolly, whose image this is)

Le Brave des Braves

One thing you can always count on driving Southeast Portland's McLoughlin Boulevard is bumper stickers.

All sorts, from the usual cowboy and redneck slogans that dominate life in the southeast through the twelve-steppers' "One Day At A Time" all the way to the "Keep Portland Weird" and the outre' band stickers of the hipsters.

But among the most common are the military. These range from my own 82nd Airborne patch decal (stuck down in the corner next to the Rose City Rollers and the literary mudflap girl that represents Mojo) through the very visible USMC propaganda, the yellow-ribbon and pray-for-our-troops painless patriotism tokens. It's pretty amazing, when you think about it, for a nation that supposedly began with a stern rejection of all things standing-army-ish, how infested we are with militaria of a rather denatured and cartoonish sort.

I caught this one as I was still laughing at the one I'd passed several miles back that stated that the driver's other ride was my mother. This kind of statement is actually pretty witty for southeast Portland, the land of the rubber trailer-hitch scrotum.

But I'm not sure the driver got the sort of sexual-dominance result he was looking for (I'm doing yo momma, bitchez!); the mental picture of my mother, 86 and in need of adult diapers, getting sexed up by this Lents Lothario struck me as powerfully ridiculous. Hey, I thought, it doesn't really work for me but you go for what you need, stud, and I was still laughing about that when I ran up behind the pickup flying another of the fairly common southeast Portland automotive messages;

"Land of the Free/Because of the Brave".Normally I shine this sort of silly shit on. I usually find it offensive but harmless, like obese twenty-somethings waddling around with SWAT team t-shirts or screaming eagle ballcaps, the sad ejecta of an American culture that says if you say you want to do something (or worse, say you merely like something) it's almost practically the exact same as actually doing the thing.

But this week I caught a little bit of the old Ridley Scott file "Blackhawk Down" and was struck hard by the bitter sorrow in the movie's account of the vicious, futile Battle of Mogadishu.

Scott didn't mean it that way, of course; his Beyond Thunderdome battle flick is intended to make you all misty eyed about the young American heroes fighting for each other in comradely love. It's a beautiful, elegiac piece of utter crap war porn.

The American troopers are all gutsy heroes fighting for each other while the cynical politicians wheedle and betray them, of course. The hordes of Skinnies aren't really people; they are there just to be fuckdolls, to give the war porn its money shot. And like good porn, the hot pounding battle action just keeps coming; wave after wave of nameless Somali freaks seem to rise from the dead and attack like horrible real-life Negro zombies armed with AKs and RPGs, their fearsome inhumanity insuring that you will love our fighting men because you fear the dusky legions they are killing.

The reality behind the film - that this meaningless horseshit mission, the bastard product of a midnight union of eleemosynary television and credulous national greatness politics, managed to get 19 men killed and almost 100 wounded for absolutely no fucking purpose - was as invisible to the viewer as the larger context in which these men fought and died. If you took the film at its face value, as it intended you to take it, you saw only all those lovely young American men fighting and dying for the love of their country and each other. You saw the brave defending the free.

And - mind you, I'm still driving along McLoughlin, past the seedy payday loan storefronts and the chrome and neon blare of the car lots, the many newly-vacant windows where the small businesses and mom-and-pop stores have failed under the weight of the Great Recession - as I'm thinking about this I started to get angry, really angry, about the lies that our "leaders", civil and military, that our press, that our punditry, told about Somalia, about war, about the politics of Puntland, that led up to "Maalintii Rangers" - the Day of the Rangers, that left young American and Somali men dead in the dirty streets, and are still being told, told to send more young men to their meaningless deaths in the dirty streets of similarly worthless Third World cities and, as a byblow, inflate the "patriotism" of the sort of fool that drives around with a "Land of the Free Because of the Brave" bumper sticker.

And I started wondering.

What freedoms have we Brave been defending lately? Who are these Brave, and what the hell have they been doing to earn their bumper sticker praise?

Were there the brave that stopped the Grenadian armored spearheads cold in the bloody snows around Bastogne and Houfflaize and defended the Arsenal of Democracy from Caribbean aggression?

Perhaps this was the brave whose rifles shredded the Panamanian grenadiers in the fields of Freeman's Farm as we beat back Noreiga's bold bid for continental dominance at Saratoga?

Could these brave have been the brave that caused the astounded Iraqi general to cry "Those are regulars, by God!" as we repelled Saddam's invasion of the Midwest at the Battle of Chippewa?

Could these brave warriors have been the ones which sank the Al Qaeda carriers at Midway, sweeping the Pacific clean of The Pan-Islamic Co-Prosperity Sphere, and saving the West Coast from invasion?

Or the brave that rolled over the remnants of the evil Ba'ath legions on their way to Berlin and the end of the global Ba'athist threat?


Our public worship of soldiers and soldiering, our yellow ribbons, our "War on Terror", is built on the same fucking self-deluding horseshit that ended with good men face down in the dust in a dump of a town by the Red Sea. If we were an honest nation we would admit that for most of the past sixty years and certainly for all of the past twenty years - since the fall of the Soviet Union - our armies and navies have done little but exercise the prerogatives of global power. That's what the armed forces of Great Powers do, and that's much of what we have done since the defeat of Japan, nearly entirely since the defeat of the Soviets.

If we still are the land of the Free - and although I believe we still are, more or less, there are some legitimate grounds to be skeptical of this - it is because of the Rude, the Skeptical, the Free-thinking, the Morally Outraged, the Watchdogs of Government, the Gadflies, and the Critics.

Yes, we have sometimes served freedom, we soldiers, in our way, when we could, when it served the purposes of our political masters.

But only a fool places blind trust in the powerful. The business of soldiering has been the business of power as the business of dealing fear and death always is, and to pretend otherwise is to be a fool.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cooling off

Both the weather, and my little Peeper.

He called me where I was working late to night to tell me he loved me.

Mind you, his little sister also horned into the conversation to tell me he was teasing her.


At least the weather is cool.

My ass

I usually try and ignore the military priapism of the American Right.

Some of it is genuine love for the U.S. Army, some of it comes from soldiers who have served, some of them in hard and ugly places. Some of it is a genuine respect for and honor towards the Americans who, as some sort of anthem set to the tune of an old drinking song says, "...stand between their loved home and the war's desolation".

But a hell of a lot of it seems to be the worst sort of war-porn woody, the second-hand fawning and meeching of wanna-bes and never-weres over people whose lives and hardships they never really cared to try and whose sufferings they celebrate only until the sufferers themselves become a burden. I seldom see the Chamber of Commerce types who sport the lapel pins and magnetic stickers at the veteran's homes, or the shelters, or the VA hospital where the underpaid workers wipe and dry the wreckage of the wars that these ruddy businessmen and hearty politicos seem to find so magnificent. American conservatives appear to have some sort of mindless adoration for people, at least American people, with weapons, as if somehow by the mere act of putting on some tree-colored clothing they stop becoming the dudes, hosers, jocks, stoners, gimps, wheezers, knotheads, romeos and juliets, wierdos and whackos and just plain fucktards we knew in high school. It's their magical thinking thing, and they're welcome to it. I've been a GI, and trust me, we can fuck up a wet dream; I've seen it.

But, whatever.However, I do reserve a special contempt for the "professional patriot" who has actively passed up an opportunity to serve yet insists on sporting the colors and talking the talk of a hardened veteran. People like Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, men of the wartime generations who chose to, if not actively flee, at least find ways to avoid the merest chance of military service, only to return to (or emerge in) public life unchastened by their own fear and eager to hasten others into the line of death.

So it is with a particular sneer that I read and see that the patron of the professional patriots, the Archpundit of Conservatism, Rush Limbaugh himself, had a uniformed color party at his fourth wedding.Now I have no particular opinion on the presence of the national colors at a wedding, first, fourth, or otherwise. It would seem to me that flaunting national symbols on a day intended for the celebration of personal union reeks of a certain...mmm...insecurity? Weakness? A draping of patriotic bunting to cover the failure of three preceding marriages?

Or perhaps I'm reading too much into this; it's Limbaugh - the man is practically a walking lapel pin, a right-wing bumper sticker with legs. Why wouldn't he think it appropriate to have fighting men with flags at his wedding?


If these really ARE servicemen (and the poor picture makes it difficult to discern details but something about the cut of their uniforms makes me think more of cheap costume rentals than an actual interservice color guard), then I as a taxpayer, you, and everyone else in this country who pays a penny in federal taxes, is helping pay for a right-wing blowhard's fourth wedding. And five troopers, who should be doing something useful for the nation, are being used as props at the quadrennial nuptial fest of a man whose opinions are loathesome to at least half of the nation they serve.

I've had a couple of weddings, myself. At both of them I was serving either as a U.S. Army reservist or an Army National Guardsman. In neither case would I have considered it appropriate to have asked my units to provide a color party; even if I had desired one, the notion of dragging fellow enlisted men to dress up in their Class A's and march about on a day when I schmoozed, drank, and partied would make me sicker than a rat. As it was, I got fuck all from the Army for my weddings other than some colored ribbons to pin on my suit.

To be splashed with beer in the sergeant's mess to celebrate your wedding is one thing; to demand drill and ceremonies from enlisted men...well, I would hate to be the sort of man, or the sort of soldier, or the sort of sergeant whose troops thought of him with that in mind. I would think of myself as a very poor man, a very poor soldier, and a very poor sergeant, if I had to parade out troops to make myself look patriotic, or powerful, or whatever having uniformed troops at my wedding would make me look.

Manly, perhaps?But then, I never missed out on the war of my generation because I had a cyst on my ass.

I can see how that might leave a man feeling he looked a trifle less than...manly...on his wedding day.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


We returned from the paradisaical Oregon Coast and our rented Xanadu in Tillamook County ("Land of Cheese, Trees, and Ocean Breeze") on Sunday to the dogmouth heat of a Portland August, and were mightily displeased withal.

You have to understand that Oregon goes through about a month or less of what you people call "summer"; you know, where everyone outdoors sweats, the sidewalks burn the soles of your bare feet at noonand everything not anointed with the balm of mechanical cooling (I've heard it called "air conditioning" and I understand that entire actual houses are built with it in other parts of the country...hard to believe, I know, but there you go; autre pays, autre mores...) melts into a wilted heap for a good part of the period between the spring and fall equinoxes.

For Northwesterners this is particularly pathetic since our "summer" is what many other portions of the world, and much of the rest of our own nation, would call "a week or so of pretty warm weather".

Temperatures in the mid-90's would merit at best a sniff from Angelinos, outright dismissal from the humid denizens of the Atlantic seaboard, and a sigh of relief from the truly heat-smitten in places like Florida, Texas, the entire Gulf Coast, and much of the central continent as far north as Saskatchewan.

Here they practically prostrate the entire region, with freeway signs shrieking smog alerts and local fire-and-murder news shows pausing to note the number of heatstroke victims. These are usually second only to the drowned, drunken bastards and bastiches
[There really needs to be a feminine of the term for the product of the sexual union between unmarried people. "Bastard" is such a...male...word; you just can't get the same satisfaction out of calling a truly loathsome female a "bastard". So, as a complimentary service, I give you "bastich"; the double-X version of the despised love-child.]
heaved out of the Sandy and Clackamas Rivers like so many doughy pale salmon.

I note in passing that in those portions of the outer Southeast drained by the aforesaid rivers it is considered a social faux pas equivalent to failing to obtain your ankle tattoo by puberty to swim without downing a half rack of Natty Light, or the equivalent in nasty fruit-flavored "coolers" for the distaff dwellers of the land of the payday loan and the Budweiser cap. Hence the slow but steady drain on our priceless national reserve of future check-kiters and meth cooks.

Anyway, that dreaded Hell-week is upon us, so it was a hot and somewhat frayed little family that went back to work, daycare, and Portland Parks camp on Monday. I don't know how the others did - I worked a hell of a long day Monday. I know that by today everyone was pretty cranky, and as I was finishing up another fourteen-hour workday today I got a call that showed my bride's name on the face of the cell phone.

"Yes, love, you caught me; I'm working." I answered.

The sounds coming out of the phone sounded like tango night at the Lemur House up on the hill at Oregon Zoo. I was finally able to make out my daughter singing, my son shouting, and my wife's exhausted voice.

"If you can come home soon, I really need help."

"What is it?"

"It's your son. He's out of control, and I need your help with him."

Now my wife is a pretty hardy woman. A century ago given a gingham frock, a lean-to shed with a couple of heifers, and a Henry repeater her name would have been the byword for flinty self-reliance in every sodhouse from Kennebec County to the east bank of the Platte. She isn't intimidated easily, and can whip her weight in progeny if well dug-in. So this sounded like a bad one.

"OK, I'm on my way."

I was already in the work truck - I'm scheduled on a grading job tomorrow at seven - and headed home before I was able to get all the information.

It seems that, along with the more predictable misbehavior, defiance, namecalling, insults, and all-around crappy attitude the Boy had managed to somehow attack and "tried to choke" his baby sister.The lad's explanation - which he delivered in the patient, ever-so-slightly-bored but exquisitely rational tones of a Republican congressman explaining to you why it is far the better that your grandmother learns to survive on Whiskas than that his multimillionaire constituent foregoes his windsurfing vacation to Dubai - was that the tiny preschooler "said mean words to him". Mean words, apparently, being her comments about her daycare class going bowling that day and her having had a kegling experience denied to him. Which, as any fool could tell, required that he grab her about the neck.

It was insanely difficult, listening to his offhand recitation of his attack (however abortive, however brief), not to go utterly, Drill Sergeantly, berserk. To unleash the sort of fearsome rage that once reduced quivering 98-pound trainees to...umm...more fiercely quivering 98-pound trainees.

Especially when he explained that he liked bowling more than he loved his sister.

But I have promised that I would not be the "Mad Dad". Instead, we had a very adult, very direct conversation. He produced, as requested, three options to control his temper before it led him to attack his mother or sister again. He mouthed the "right" words. He fidgeted and wriggled, making clear his discomfort with his shaming.

I did fix him with a very modified version of the noncommissioned stinkeye which produced a gratifyingly immediate quiver when I insisted he apologize to his sister and inquire as to her welfare. His mother stood in the doorway, and I could hear the tremor in his voice between Missy's piping replies.

I think he understands how seriously I feel about what he did. But his deepest regret - the only time he cried at all over the entire affair - was when his mom told him he would be denied his weekly overnight cuddle with her. He is more sorrowful, and more regretful, for his punishment than his little sister's peril.

I told my son, at one point in the proceedings, that you could love someone and yet not like them, or not like something that they did; this in relation to how he had attacked his sister for what she did - "teasing" him about the bowling. My point was, I added, that part of being a family was caring for, and about, your family, even when they were irritating you.

And restraining your natural instinct to choke the living shit out of them for so doing.

But I'm afraid that I do not like what my son has done, and am finding I do not like him much, either, at the moment, because of the obvious insincerity of his contrition and his unconcern for his sister.

I am finding it rather more then a little difficult to digest my own advice, as well.

At the moment.

The house is quiet now, with only the tapping keys and the faint, odd grinding noise from the television cabinet to my right front that tells me my bride has, again, turned off the television but left the cable on. The children are asleep, each in their several beds, at peace for the moment.And outside the mirrored night-windows the stars are shadow-patterned with high clouds that foretell the coming of a cold wind from the sea, and the hopes of a softer, gentler day tomorrow.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Swept Homeward

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
(Sea-Fever, John Masefield)The hollow sea-shell, which for years hath stood
On dusty shelves, when held against the ear
Proclaims its stormy parents; and we hear
The faint far murmur of the breaking flood.
We hear the sea. The sea? It is the blood
In our own veins, impetuous and near,
And pulses keeping pace with hope and fear
And with our feeling’s every shifting mood.
(Sea-Shell Murmurs, Eugene Lee-Hamilton)Into the audience hall by the fathomless abyss
where swells up the music of toneless strings
I shall take this harp of my life.

I shall tune it to the notes of forever,
and when it has sobbed out its last utterance,
lay down my silent harp at the feet of the silent.
(Ocean of Forms, Rabindranath Tagore)...the great luggage of the sea
falls thudding and trundling
and tumbling up the stairs of
beach; its undertow hissing,
sometimes spitting, rolling
back on its own prolonged
susurrations; pouring in
loud hushes across planking
through the open bedroom door;
(Rapture, Robert Dana)Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
(Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold)When these small
clear pools and
nets of weed

teased by spray

they glowed
glinted sunsparks on
their speckled
skins.Spilled on the
they were
wet-sand jewels
still flecked with

gray stones
dry and dim.

Why did we bring them home?
(Beach Stones, Lillian Moore)When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.

My holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up,
Till it could come no more.
(At the Sea-Side, Robert Louis Stevenson)I thought they were gone—
like the tutus and tiaras and wands
when she morphed from ballerina
to fairy princess to mermaid to tomboy,
refusing to wear dresses ever again.
Gone, those pastel party dresses,
the sleeves, puffed water wings buoying her up
as she swam into waters over her head.
(Shopping Urban, Jane Shore)If you should look
into a starlit night
and see a reflection of me
know only that
I will one day
come crashing again
to the shore
swept homeward
by the pull
of the tide
(Like Waves from the Shore, Marge Tindal)Out into the deep of the great dark world,
Beyond the long borders where foam and drift
Of the sundering waves are lost and gone
On the tides that plunge and rear and crumble.
(From the Shore, Carl Sandburg)Down on the shore, on the sunny shore!
Where the salt smell cheers the land;
Where the tide moves bright under boundless light,
And the surge on the glittering strand;
Where the children wade in the shallow pools,
Or run from the froth in play;
Where the swift little boats with milk-white wings
Are crossing the sapphire bay,
(Down on the Shore, William Allingham)And thank you for coming along on our trip.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thalatta, thalatta!

Well. Here it is, halfway through August and I have yet to find my voice. I am wandering about lost in midsummer, unable to find anything compelling to speak of. My family is fine, I'm actually on vacation at the moment, but I have been unable to get a moment to myself to sit and think, and write.

And I can't really find anything to write about that doesn't drive me batshit crazy.

So I am going down to the Oregon Coast with my family for a little while, in hopes of enjoying some quiet time in a peaceful stretch of the coastline near Tillamook. Hopefully the sea will work its way with me, as it has in the past, and restore a portion of breadth to my vision, and some depth to my reflection.Thalassa by Louis MacNeice

Run out the boat, my broken comrades;
Let the old seaweed crack, the surge
Burgeon oblivious of the last
Embarkation of feckless men,
Let every adverse force converge--
Here we must needs embark again.

Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades;
Let each horizon tilt and lurch--
You know the worst: your wills are fickle,
Your values blurred, your hearts impure
And your past life a ruined church--
But let your poison be your cure.

Put out to sea, ignoble comrades,
Whose record shall be noble yet;
Butting through scarps of moving marble
The narwhal dares us to be free;
By a high star our course is set,
Our end is Life. Put out to sea.

For those of you fellow military historians reading here you probably recognize the cry of Xenophon's troops at reaching the Black Sea, having marched back across Asia Minor:
"On the fifth day they reached the mountain, the name of which was Theches. No sooner had the men in front ascended it and caught sight of the sea than a great cry arose, and Xenophon, in the rearguard, catching the sound of it, conjectured that another set of enemies must surely be attacking in front...(b)ut as the shout became louder and nearer, and those who from time to time came up, began racing at the top of their speed towards the shouters, and the shouting continually recommenced with yet greater volume as the numbers increased, Xenophon settled in his mind that something extraordinary must have happened, so he mounted his horse, and taking with him Lycius and the cavalry, he galloped to the rescue. Presently they could hear the soldiers shouting and passing on the joyful word, "The sea! the sea!" (Book IV, Chapter VII)
I note in passing that the actual words these soldiers cried have been debated ever since. Were they shouting "Thalassa!" ("θάλασσα!"), which is the classical Greek for the word "sea" or "ocean"? Many historians, and many publishers, have believed so and copied the passage as such. But the mercenaries escaping Cyrus' disaster were largely Attic, and in the dialect of Αττική the word for sea is "θάλαττα" - "Thalatta". The soldiers would probably have shouted their happy news in their local tongue, and as such have I quoted them at the head of this post.

But thalassa or thalatta, Alexandra Lianeri does well to remind us that
"Most significantly, the march itself did not end at the glorious point of encountering the sea, and the next day revealed a gloomy picture contrasting with the shining moment of the shout.

The Ten Thousand did return to Greece, but there they found themselves as much at a loss as at the start of their journey: the political confusion they encountered when they crossed the Bosphorus left them isolated and without support. An escape story that began as a eulogy of the Greek achievement subverts itself by exposing Greek weakness."
The sea doesn't always afford us a means of escape, and even when it does, we often come to land only to find that we have been pursued by our own failings and futility. We can change our skies, but not ourselves. In the ripe heat of late summer, is it too late to hope that I can find some change of heart in a change of scene?

"Sometimes, in my green retreat,
the weather makes a joke,
with early falling leaves
and snowy flowers.
It’s August;
nothing will change
until we tell it to."

Dorothea Grossman

Friday, August 06, 2010

You Brain Too Short to Box with God II: God Hates Fags?

Courtesy of my friend Meghan, a concise visual depiction of one of the most, to me, irritating aspects of current American culture, the religious Right's obsession that somewhere, somehow, two men or two women are gettin' jiggy wit it.Honestly, WTF?

Is it some sort of prehominid monkeybone itch-scratching, poop-flinging, knuckle-walking instinct that makes some people worry about this? Or is it that organized religion can make you bone stupid? I mean, you have all the OTHER biblical stuff going on; war, famine, pestilence, death, Newt Gingrich...and some people seem to have a desperate need to fixate on this nonsense.

Remember how I was just feeling utterly drained by the ridiculousness of what seems to pass for 90% of American life? Well, this is just one of parts that make the sum of that feeling.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Just not much to say at the moment.

Something about the dog days of Summer, perhaps?

I just can't find anything to say that doesn't involve:

1. Domestic stuff that, while infinitely entertaining to me, isn't really worthwhile fodder for public conversations,

2. Public matters that I can provide neither intelligent discussion nor a unique perspective.

The sad fact is that, once again, my own present circumstances are fairly benign and even pleasant while it seems like the larger world is going to Hell in a handbasket with someone unpleasant - Newt Gingrich, perhaps?

I observe this, noting in passing that the top "news" stories on my Comcast webpage (unavoidable when checking mail, otherwise avoided like an orthodox rabbi walking wide of the Armour hot dog packing plant...) were something about Kate Couric making snarky comments about Sarah Palin's kid's names, and a woman who sent a text message with her toes while tied up by a burglar.

And the only real reaction I can manage to all of this is a sort of irritated grunt.

There seems to be nothing I can do about this idiocy, and to even attempt to tease out whatever threads of common sense are hidden within is to lend myself to the madness surrounding the celebritized, commercialized, Tea-Party-ized, Sarah-Palinized, moron-grade pottage that passes for the Velveeta brand of middlebrow American culture. I come away feeling vaguely unclean and with a strong urge to bite something, perhaps myself.

I have been thinking about teaching, learning, and education as I see it effecting this mess, and I want to post something about that. But that will have to wait a bit for my work schedule to ease off a little bit.

Until then, enjoy the great Ella Fitzgerald bringing you "Night and Day"...