Thursday, December 29, 2011

When everyone has a crutch, no one is blind

I was watching a bunch of the future today and I got a bit worried. One future was an annoying, immature, loudmouth. All this at age 14. I thought to myself, "man, the world is going to eat him up and spit him out." Then I saw another piece of the future; a lazy, whining, excuse finding young person. "Wow," I thought, "in college, the student will not survive!" And on and on it went. I looked at how today's youth seems to be shaping up and I licked my lips excitedly when I thought about how the demands of "real life" will crush the immaturity and stupidity out of them.

Them I had an attack of the nice. Uncharacteristically, I started feeling all generous and whatnot and thought, "they'll all grow up and mature and turn in to perfectly reasonable and productive members of society." I even went so far as to think "we all went through that stage and we grew up and turned out just fine." Lucky for me, at that point, another bit of the future got really annoying and I was shocked back into my version of reality. I was all ready to fear the future and complain about how these punks will need to get a harsh dose of billsville and shutthehellup that adultedness has to offer. And then I realized the scarier point of view.

These miscreant youths (yes...*sigh*...I said "youths." Can we move on now?) will be judged, demanded of and contextualized by not some ideal adult who is either me or someone like me (as if...) but by those OTHER MISCREANT YOUTHS! This lout is going to be the adult administering the harsh dose of adulthood to that whiner. Neither will ever grow up. The next generation will be evaluated by the next generation! All those accommodations that we make for the kids, all the technology that they have used as crutches will become the new status quo and all the whining and weaseling which we look at with disdain will became the new way to go. As long as we lower the bar consistently, no one will ever notice how low we have sunk.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Letter to the Disaffected Youth

We get it.

You don't care.

That's your thing, right? You don't care. You sit there with, at best, your glassy eyes and distant stare and just don't give a darn about what we say and what we think you should value. Wow. How deep. Or, you smirk cynically with a sense of intellectual superiority as if you, at your tender age have developed some insight or understanding that somehow eluded all of us, the ol' folk. Adorable.

You and your aloof condescension are not very exciting to us. We see our own vapid rebellion of all those years ago and at least we have the hindsight to tell us that we were just being jerks. But we also remember that had someone told us we were being jerks, we would have shifted into "you just don't get it, man" mode and tuned him out. So we aren't going to try.

But think about it. Whom are you impressing? Your cool it there to make us see you as somehow important? It isn't working. We pity you for not seeing that caring is a valuable tool and asset. Is it to show your contemporaries how little you are controlled by the powers that be? And do you crave their approbation so much that you would affect that nonchalance to impress them? Are you really that superficial? OK, if that's what you want to find pride in. Are you trying to impress the opposite sex, thinking that what makes people fall into a deep and meaningful relationship is the reassurance that the significant other has perfected the fine art of not caring?

Maybe (to be generous) you really and sincerely just don't care and don't see why you should. You aren't acting apathetic; you really are. And you are happy with that. All those big, important things that the old people keep talking about really just don't matter to you. You haven't been deprived of anything so you don't know to fear the loss and thus value the presence of anything. Should I be advocating a famine so you respect the food you have? A war so you value peace? Torture so you appreciate health? It isn't a new idea -- the quest for intolerance so we value our group memberships, the understanding that through victimhood we can band together against an external foe and thus appreciate our unified identity. But I'm not going to push in that direction because it is a sleazy way to get you to appreciate what you have and what you are. Though I admit, I don't know of any other method of getting you to care. And why does it matter that you care? Maybe it doesn't. Maybe any group is made up of a small minority who bear the standard and who either have an innate sense of being, or who, due to unfortunate events, develop that sense, and a majority who are members nominally and who, while they fill up the ranks, do nothing but demonstrate the most latent and subtle of connections until they find a singular moment of threat and then stand up and proclaim loudly of their constant allegiance and participation.

I like to think of myself often in the former group. And to the others, I say, we see you. We aren't proud of you. We resent you. But we are simply too busy trying to prevent your victimhood to try and put a mirror in front of you.

So maybe you should want to grow up and see that things aren't always as rosy as they seem and caring might actually matter. You won't, but maybe you should. Lecture over. You didn't read this whole thing, but you might have jumped down to the end so you knew when to nod knowingly and pretend to care because it would get me off your back. I'm not fooled. I invented that. And I'm playing you, not the other way around.

Carry on.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In the Middle of the Night

There are, I assure you, many good reasons to be awake at 3:30 in the morning. During my life, I have been awak at 3:30 and (though maybe I'm only trying to convince myself) there seemed to be, when it happened, many compelling and persuasive reasons which justified it.

I think that one of the first times I was up at 3:30 was when I, as a younger man, travelled through time zones. Jet lag had me up at all hours because for me, it wasn't really 3:30 on a Wednesday morning, but 8:47 on the previous Friday, but a year later. Yeah...when I get jet lag, I get it real bad. In college, 3:30 was one of two times -- either it was the tail end of some evening of significance -- be it what my daughter calls a DMC (deep meaningful conversation), a party in a friend's dorm room or a late night trip to the 24-hour 7-11 to replenish the supply of Nerf darts and generic BBQ chips, or it was simply the middle of an all-nighter, inspired by some educational deadline which loomed in the form of a paper's being due or a test which demanded more preparation than daylight hours would afford.

During my time in and after college, I worked a bit in radio. When one first starts a career in radio, one takes the kinds of shifts that those who have "made it" need not take any more. In fact, it was the presence of those people who were up at 3:30 in the morning which reassured me when I found myself at a younger age, tossing and turning, convinced that as I awoke briefly from my sleep that I was the only one alive in the world. Upon joining the ranks of the radio folk, I became that sense of solace to others. Being up at 3:30 meant that I was keeping the world safe for the innocent man's ears, assuring him that there was music being played and commercials being run. 3:30 was smack in the middle of a shift and the deepest, darkest hour. The fewest callers, the least traffic. It wasn't quite 4AM when I had to call the morning show woman to wake her up (her name was Annalisa, and I always felt guilty). It was no longer 3AM when the last denizens of the bars made their drunken requests or the local college kids still called for some pick-me-up conversation while they contended with their own deadlines.

After college and my brief stint as a media darling, the opportunities and reasons for being awake at 3:30 dwindled. Social events as I aged, began to break up a bit earlier and my hours of shut eye became more and more vital and concentrated as I fell into the rut of real life. There was the occasional road trip (ok, it was on only 1 occasion) which required a 3:30 wake up. The unique religious ritual which demanded wakefulness in the middle of the night. But these were, as stated, few and years between.

Kids became another reason to be up. As infants, my children could not read the clock nor listen to reason. Trying to explain to a 6 month old why she should be asleep at 3:30 never quite worked and, for both girls, there were way too many nights when I was up walking, rocking or soothing a child. My wife bore the brunt of this so I can't complain. But somehow, I do anyway. Who's going to stop me? It is now 4:15 and no one in this house is up. The missus (thank you Andy have taught me the value of drunkenness, spousal abuse and calling the wife "the missus", all in Sunday comic form) is often still up at 3:30, because apparently pregnant ladies can't read clocks or listen to reason -- this explains their babies' limitations. Education begins at birth.

But now that the girls have sleeping patterns which approach "reasonable" (which means that they let me fall asleep when I want to and I wake them up when I have to) and they are not, thank God, sick often so I don't need to be consoling them in the bathroom through the night while they unburden themselves to the sewer system, 3:30 has returned to the realm of myth. It is there because logic dictates it has to be (or else how could it ever be 3:31) and I know that if I have good reason, I might see it again. But always for good reason.

Except tonight. And I guess that's what makes tonight so frustrating. I realized I was awake at 3:11. It was one of those experiences where you don't clearly remember waking up -- there was no noise or alarm, pressing need to run to the bathroom, or anxiety which prevented sleep. There was just a moment of realization that I was up, and not tired. I tried falling back asleep, knowing that the longer I stayed up, the tired-er I would eventually be during the day. Eventually I gave up. I actually considered going to the 24 hour gym, but I felt that I should not encourage the gym people. They need to learn that there is a right and a wrong time to work out. If I keep them thinking that sweating is appropriate at 3:30 in the morning, how will they ever learn?

3:30 is still that magic, deepest part of the night. My cell phone is asleep, the activity on Facebook has died down because the whole world runs on Eastern Time, even the cops driving in their cars put their sirens on vibrate. And yet, it seems that tonight, the muse has a touch of insomnia and she didn't want to be awake all alone.

It is now approaching 4:25. The early birds are getting ready for that yummy worm breakfast. It will be respectable for me to be awake in an hour and a bit, and all will be right with the world. But I will have a story -- a story of an abbreviated night's sleep. A story of regaining a lost connection with a time of day that we too often sleep through. And a story to dream of when I fall asleep in front of my class in about 12 hours.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pain? My foot.

Just to keep you all updated as to the current state of my foot, here's the summary.

Tarsal Tunnel, plantar fasciitis and heel spur syndrome. All packed within one foot. So a series of shots -- first, some in the bottom of the foot. A little pinch and then some numbness, not bad. Then into the nerve. Not too bad. Then more and the one in the nerve hit right into the nerve and, holy cow, the electric shock through the foot was daunting. A couple more rounds of each. And then a shot into the nerve which caused the ouch but didn't really resolve the pain. Now a shot into the heel which, get this, hit an extension of the inflamed nerve. So now I have intense pain throughout the foot from the nerve pain even while parts are numb from the heel shot. And a little round bandaid -- I got a little round band aid.

Next stop, foot casting for new orthodics,and nerve conduction tests. Good times...good times.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Calorie Recount

A recent post discussed the computation of calories burned and a comment by my big bruddah has inspired me to think more on the matter. He is, and has always been, a proper intellectual foil. Someday, maybe I'll make a hat out of him.

So here's where we start. Websites I found confirm that a person of approximately my size (give or take a lot...) burns about 85 calories per hour simply by sitting around and doing nothing. This presents me with two separate directions for complaint. And that's a good thing because I don't like to be limited.

First problem -- that 85 calories was burned as I was doing NOTHING. So zero effort equals 85 calories burned. If I want to burn double that, I would have to multiply my effort by 2, right? Well, two times zero is still zero. So I have to sit even more still, and try to do doubly nothing in order to burn 170 calories. To burn close to 300 calories, I would have to really be doing nothing for an hour. This is the kind of training I can handle. Let's say that, somehow, my logic is askew (though I'm not asking you), and that 85 calories is the result of some modicum of effort, be it breathing or somesuch. The jump from zero calories to 85 based on breathing and occasionally crossing and uncrossing my legs is pretty steep. Here, 85 calories = minimum effort. It seems then, that the calories burned should skyrocket if the effort expended is at all demanding, like standing up or peeling a grape. It seems bizarre that it takes extreme effort, the kind that produces sweat, for me to increase the calorie burn by any appreciable amount. It seems that the effort is not proportional to that jump from 0 to 85 accounted for by the leap from "being dead" to "breathing".

The next problem I have is in the realm of practicality. I burn 85 calories simply by sitting around, so a 2000 calorie (or so) diet should keep my weight at a stasis point. The thing is, I don't just sit around. I get up, I walk, I drive stick shift. I should be burning loads of calories when I do the kinds of daily activities -- standing and pacing, hitting the candy machine and typing furiously. Any motion I make should be reflected in a calorie burn and my daily burn amount should not be 85 times 24 hours, but 85 times 7 sleeping hours and a much higher number times my waking hours. I should be able to consume 2600 calories per day without even the hint of gaining weight. Alas, this has not proven to be so. There is some sort of metabolic conspiracy keeping me from slimming down.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

End of the year list

As the secular year winds down, I felt that I should make a list of things that I don't like. I know it would be shorter to make a list of things I like, but I'm in a particularly snarky mood right now, so I'll go with my gut.

1. styes
2. all other aches and pains with the following exceptions:
fun pains after an athletic event
the achy full feeling after 1 too many cookies
smacking the funny bone
note -- just because I laugh after other pain doesn't mean I like that pain. Laughter is an involuntary response.
3. tofu
4. pop ups
5. interruptions and intrusions in my routine, peace and silence
6. midnight blue by Lou Gramm
7. the sad combination of gaining weight and losing hair
8. telephone conversations
9. stupidity in all its forms
10. most classic literature
11. pointless stories
12. zombies
13. bad drivers
14. zombies who are bad drivers
15. sudoku and all things based on numbers including "paint by numbers"
16. secured wireless networks. I want to glom on your service not hack your My Documents
17. people who glom my wireless service
18. ignorance. If you think that that is the same as stupidity then I don't like you for both reasons.
19. people who think that I don't know that I didn't tie my shoes (cf earlier blog entry, i think). those same people think i don't realize I'm not being consistent in my (non)use of capital letters.
20. doing stuff
21. going places

That's a start off the cuff. of yeah

22. cuff links.

Friday, December 9, 2011

An Open Letter to Verizon HSI

Dear Verizon,

Thank you so much for the restoration of my internet and phone service. I know that each is actually a luxury and I, who should be simplifying my life, too often take them for granted. Your plan of making me appreciate what I have by intermittently and unpredictably taking away my various services really has made me more aware of my position of privilege in the Western world. You have reminded me of the empathy which I should have and for that I thank you.

You have also rekindled my love for my family. Long winters evenings with neither internet nor phone have led us to band together - not just in opposition to you but in sincere affection for each other. We have rediscovered the lost art of watching basic cable.

But I would like to ask one small favor while I cruise the web at a speed 20 percent slower than I'm paying for. This fix took a month to effect. It took 4 visits from technicians, a new modem when the problem was outside the house, countless hours on hold and speaking with uninformed service reps and a series of nasty emails to everyone on the "leadership" website from the CEO on down.

How about (because, remember - I went through this same thing 8 months ago and 2 years ago) you just write down whatever you finally did that has me (relatively) back up and running so that you can jump to that solution next time and I can learn life lessons from some other corporation.

Dan Rosen

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why I hate math and working out

I was never meant to be an active person. I was also never meant to think. These two things cause problems. And when I mix them together, more problems.

I have started going to the gym. By "started" I mean I have gone twice for about an hour each time. Once I used 2 machines, and once, only 1 machine. These fancy contraptions show you everything from how many seconds you have been exercising to how many calories you have burnt to your IQ and a nice recipe for a lemon souffle. I, for lack of anything else, spent much of the hour staring at the read out. Fascinating stuff. After about 45 minutes of exercise (on a level which was demanding of me...I even sweated...gross, right?) I was on track to burn about 257 calories an hour. Wow, I thought, I can eat a whole single serving of applesauce and 30 peanuts now with no guilt! Huzzah.

Then my math stupidity started creeping in. According to much of what I read, adult, human males should be on a 2000 calorie a day diet. That's from the USRDA so don't yell at me.

2,000 calories in a day. That means, I would need to work out at that relatively intense level for 8 hours in order to burn off what I eat. I know, though, that the goal is not simply to burn off everything I eat -- I'm sure I'm supposed to hold on to some of the calories, right? Can't I lose weight by, um, burning less than I eat?

My job is not an athletic one. Even if I walk around a bunch, I also stand in front of a class, or sit grading papers. There is no way that I can claim to be at the proper level of activity for any length of time -- even going to the gym for that one hour can't do much, then. How many calories could I possibly burn during the course of an average day? 500 (if I go to the gym for an hour and then just live my life the rest of the time)? So in order to lose weight, even going to the gym, I have to live on 2 empty wraps a day while I am walking briskly, constantly. Then I can close the day off with a thimbleful of orange juice.

Even if I were to ratchet up my activity and sprint everywhere so I am on track to lose 450 calories an hour -- I would need to sprint for 4 hours straight to burn off the day's food, and I would probably collapse well before that.

Why try?

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Flipped classroom

So much is in the news these days about the new model of classroom which relies on the "flipping" of instruction that I felt it meet to put in my 3 cents. I'm just that important that I get to put in an extra cent.

Flipping the classroom means establishing a pedagogical model in which the student is instructed to watch a video at home and then does the practice with the teacher in the classroom.. This decentralizes instruction from the teacher and makes the teacher more responsible for a one-on-one and individualized supervision of review and practice of skills -- as it is practice which allows for and ultimately demonstrates mastery. I would like to say that I am of a single mind about it, or at least that the system on the surface this leads to one particular conclusion and only on reflection does one reach any other. But it just so happens that I see two sides even on the surface.

First off, I chafe at the suggestion that the teacher is replaceable by a computer. Instruction is dynamic and the spot checking requires that students make eye contact, watch body language and get a sense of comfort. Can we expect that students will take of their home time to watch (and focus on) videos? What happens when a student doesn't "get it" while watching a video? Or doesn't have internet? Or doesn't really want more sitting time after the school day is over? What about non-visual learners? Where are the manipulatables which will allow tactile learners to construct meaning? So I see why this method, even when used sparingly, is problematic.

But hold on. We are holding on to a traditional model of instruction simply because it is traditional. Why do we believe that sitting in a group and hearing from a single expert and practicing in solitude is the best way to teach? In the past, we didn't have the technology to record lectures and presentations and have students engage in them on their own time. Maybe had we had the ability to let students work on their own, we would have adopted this system many years ago. Maybe a teacher supervising actual work as opposed to trying to present information to a mass gets to better learning and students need the different presentation which outside lecturers and the internet can provide.

Should we be stressing more engaging presentation initially or more effective remediation the next day? When did we decide that validity lies in face to face as long as face to face happens during the first interaction with the student and material? But how can we expect that students will truly get all the subtleties when the mode of instruction doesn't allow for asking questions?

The bottom line is that flipping a classroom is an interesting method. And sometimes, it is a really neat and innovative way for some classes to pass along some information to some students. But it is a singular approach in a pool of other approaches. Technology is a tool. And so is lecture. And so is drilling for homework. And sometimes, each of these methods really can work. Or really not work. What we need is a not a new model but a teacher who can, on any given day, choose one of a hundred different models and try it out. And if it fails, try something else. Maybe that's what bothers me about videos. If they are failing as instruction on a given night, who realizes this and what steps are taken before the kid shows up to class to do the practice work? Wouldn't this simply lead to a larger division between "abilities" in the classroom the next day (not as a matter of intellect but of being able to demonstrate based on learning independently and from video)?

And can a teacher effectively monitor the progress of widely differentiated students? Can students, in the social setting of a classroom, truly do their work without being distracted by everyone else in the room? How does a student ask for help from friends who are working on something separate?

OK, I think I have decided. I don't like it on its own, but see no problem with it as an occasional resource. Use this and all other systems wisely if at all.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I went to the gym today. The gym is a place where out of shape people can go to itemize and remind themselves which parts of their body hurt most so they can make arrangements for replacement parts well in advance.

While I was there I went on to an elliptical machine. The machine was not elliptical but I guess that had I been holding a magic marker, I would have been drawing ellipses all over while using it. Unlike a treadmill (Latin for "you could just walk outside"), when you hit "start" the machine doesn't just start moving. So you have to provide the power instead of simply trying to keep up. As that is the case, while the machine is plugged in, it isn't using electricity to create motion. When I do the exercise, I'm burning all the calories. So how come the machine isn't attached in such a way that it can convert the energy I expend into energy that can replenish the grid? Why isn't my effort defraying my membership? Can't I bank the watts I generate?

This is why I shouldn't go to the gym. Well, that and the aches.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A real fear I have

If you were to pull over a random teen ager and ask him about the history of the United States, you might (and I stress, might) hear mention of the fourth of July. In fact, if you started by asking that teen ager about the significance of July 4th, odds are, you would hear about fireworks, cook outs and maybe a day off from work for the parents. The idea that the United States has a "birthday" is difficult to connect to. It brings up the notion that the US could possibly not exist, that it did not exist at some point. For the random teen ager, this is a difficult idea. The aspect of the day which commemorates struggle and freedom from tyranny is lost among car sales and the All Star game. Well, it has been over 230 years, so I guess, after a while, existence is such an understood thing that the anniversary stops being an anniversary and takes on its own identity simply as celebration. Is this such a bad thing? I don't know. But I saw a parallel case this morning which scared me.

I work in a Jewish school. Not that the school is Jewish -- do you want to try and find where on a building to perform a circumcision? but that the school has a curriculum which includes religious education and stresses Zionism. This morning, we announced to students that the 29th of November marks the anniversary of the vote to partition the British mandate and create a Jewish state. Sixty-four years ago, Jews world-wide were huddled around radios in breathless anticipation of the fulfillment of a dream, maybe a prophecy, or at least an historic promise.

In the quiet conversation which broke out after the announcement in school, I heard a student ask "Who cares?"

The State of Israel is not 230 years old. It is not a super power. The idea of its nonexistence is not difficult to absorb -- it hasn't existed for much longer than it has existed. That the random teenager, who shouldn't be so random -- he has chosen to come to this school which should mean that he has a connection to Israel (or at least that we have inculcated such a connection if we have done our job), doesn't care to mark the moment when his own grandparents gained an aspect of their identity, is disheartening, and even frightening. We have no fireworks today. We have no cook outs or ball games. This anniversary has not been supplanted by some other form of expression which, at least in some way, sets the day apart. No, this student is simply happy to walk away from this date and expect that the state will be there for him when he decides to take a vacation and drop a few bucks at a tourist trap. But once we forget how we got here, what anchor do we have which will help us continue to exist?

Friday, November 25, 2011

What I did on my vacation

One thing I haven't used this blog for is to catalogue the trivial events of a particular day. I usually wait until I have some deep insight into the human condition before I type stuff up. Well, at least until I have some smarmy remark OR a deep insight.

Right now, I have neither, but I have the urge to list what I have done today.

I had a miserable night's sleep -- partially because my throat and head hurt and partially because I'm not very good at sleeping. I try every night, but haven't mastered it.

The internet at home is still out (3 years of complaints during which they insisted that the problem is in the wiring outside and now, suddenly, the problem is our modem) so I graded some papers. Not enough (I still have 5 more of the most pressing papers to grade, then 25 others). The throat started to even out but the headache has not quit. Tylenol does nothing and I'm resisting overloading on caffeine.

I went shopping this morning. That was good for my ego -- here I am, a balding, overweight, scruffy middle aged man and the woman working there calls me "sweetie" and "hon." I still got it. I also saved about 17% on my shopping costs by buying generic.

I tried a new vodka, bought an old favorite and got a haircut. "Leave me my dignity!" I insisted. Well, the follicles and his money are soon parted.

Went home. Tried to grade more papers. Still feel pretty awful, so I went out to an internet coffeehouse for a large cup of tea and a diet muffin. Neither has really lifted my spirits or made my head feel better.

So I'll be headed home now. More papers to grade and a few opportunities to be social on the horizon. And if this is what blogs are supposed to be for, then that's just stupid. I haven't learned a damn thing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

I have a beef

I have lived many dreams. i have come to terms with what I want and I have gone out to get it. And now, a new scheme is taking its place in the queue of my desires.

If you are at all familiar with the process of producing kosher beef, you know that one of the ways in which a piece of meat must be prepared is through a process of soaking and salting in order to remove a certain percentage of the blood. I'm OK with that because I have never been a big fan of blood. But the down side is that the reputation of kosher meat is that it is salty.

There is another way. Meat that has been ritually slaughtered can be taken (pretty much immediately) and broiled over an open flame and it can be consumed as kosher. My plan springs from that.

I have done some research (not much...just a webpage or two) and it seems that i can secure a full sized cow for something in the range of $1500. If I go to a kosher slaughterhouse in the midwest and "adopt" a cow, because I'm not taking a lien on all the parts which will not be sold to the kosher consumer, I can probably get away with shelling out a cool grand and calling it even. So, with my thou paid, I want to get the slaughterhouse to shecht me a cow and pull aside a bunch of the meat, prepare it to be steaks, and then have a big ol' cookout so I can eat that meat without the salting process. There will be more than enough meat, so I am throwing the door open for other investors. Some quick research shows that I can get 50 steaks of various cuts from the cow. Charge each guy (this will probably be only guys...) 30 bucks for his steak and my 1000 is covered. If each guy has to buy a plane ticket and a hotel room for (let's say) 3 nights -- enough time to get in on a Monday, eat the meat on Tuesday, mid afternoon and probably some of the fully kashered/salted meat on Wednesday night and then leave Thursday. The balance of the meat can be shipped back here and divvied up, or donated to a soup kitchen out west and the donation can serve as a deduction.

Yes, this plan needs some refining. Yes, it will cost some money. But there is some dream fulfillment, some charity and some male bonding.

If you are game (HA!) let me know. I figure sometime this summer is a reasonable goal.

I'mold [sick]

I have been doing some math this morning. That's a bad way to start a day or a week -- with math. But a thought popped in to my head and it required math. So, I foolishly did some math.

I have been teaching high school for about 18 years now. Five years at the first job, seven at the second, and now, I'm in year 6 (I think) at my current job. That's around 18. A student of mine who was a senior in my first year of teaching, had he gone straight to college and gotten married at the close of college (4 years later) and knocked up the missus immediately would have a child in the range of 13 years old right now. So this kid might start high school next September.

Let's think about this. In September next, I could have as a student, the child of a former student. That's ridiculous.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


This morning, I discovered that I lost my cuff link. My left cuff link, though I grant that that label is somewhat arbitrary -- they are effectively interchangeable so for all I know, I lost my right cuff link precisely because I was wearing on the incorrect (i.e. left) cuff.

Since I discovered the loss, I have been wrestling with the sign I want to compose. Here's what I have:

"Lost, one cuff link. Grayish-blue, sort of triangley. It looks like my other cuff link. You know what? Odds are, you aren't going to find more than one cuff link on the ground today, so if you do find one, just assume it is mine and come find me. You already know what I look like."

I'm leaving out the left/right issue because I don't want someone saying that I deserved to lose my cuff link because I put it in the wrong cuff.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dear Anonymous

An open letter to the Anonymous collective.

Dear Anonymous,

You don't know me. That's ok; I don't know you. I have read stuff about you and theoretically, by you online and on the news but when you go by the name "anonymous" it is hard to know what is real and not.

When I first read stuff about I actually thought that what you were doing was somewhat righteous -- you were ensuring that information was available. You were standing up for the little guy. You hid behind the name anonymous both because you were a boat rocker and because the media wouldn't be as entranced by a force known collectively as "Ralph."

But, I have to say, the bloom is off the rose. First, it was your threats against Israel. Fact is, I'm an ardent supporter of Israel and don't think that internet piracy is a particularly moral direction for any group, especially when one is doing so for the sake of appearing to stand up for the little guy, history and facts be darned. But, though I disagree with your politics (and doubt you have any real, cohesive representative politics), I let that go. You have the right to be wrong.

Then I saw threats against Facebook. What? Really? Facebook is a voluntary activity for people. If you don't like it, don't join. But to threaten to let loose worms, viruses or trojans on Facebook (even if you have valid concerns about Facebook's privacy policies) is immature. No one forces anyone to be a part of Facebook so if you sign up, do so as an involved consumer who is getting a free service and has to stay informed of the consequences. Do we really need a knight in shining armor saving us from our own ignorance? Where lies personal responsibility?

Then I heard about this Mexico thing. Apparently, a member of your group was kidnapped by a Mexican drug cartel. In response, Anonymous threatened to reveal the identities of the drug personnel. Then the hacker was released so Anonymous relented. Since the beginning of November, this narrative has become a bit muddled ( so I don't know what to believe, except that you have, historically, gone after corporations, politicians (and the occasional nation state) but have NOT gone after patently criminal organizations.

You could be such a force for good, ignoring politics. You could expose drug cartels left and right if you wanted to. And for a moment, it seemed like you wanted to. But (either because you were afraid of reprisals, or your kidnap victim was released) so far you have done nothing to use your skills and power against the groups who are universally considered to be criminals. That is unforgivable. If you mixed in some real social conscience with your politics, your politics would seem all the more noble. But you haven't. It shouldn't take a kidnapping to motivate you, nor should your higher moral obligation be sacrificed when physical safety is on the line.

Have some principles. Don't go after faceless corporations because they can't do anything back. Don't go after governments because you think that they are doing wrong on some grand opinionated scale (there are plenty of governments doing all sorts of evil right now so your choice of any one will smack of some favoritism or subjectivity), go after the people who are causing real problems in the world and we all know it. Be the savior, not the trouble maker. Have some guts to do what we all know is right and needed. Otherwise, you come off as a bunch of petty wonks who pick on people who can't or won't defend themselves.

I have no way of knowing if you will see this, answer me, or decide that I, sitting in front of my cheap-o netbook pose any real threat to your veneer of importance and your self-image and must, therefore, be dealt with. I just think that you could reach respectability and acceptance by doing some simple "good" stuff instead of going for the controversial splash which is sure to make people think less of you.

Sincerely yours,
Dan. But you knew that. My name's right there, Ralph.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Vindication of the Rightness of Me

Back when I was in elementary school, I was so busy watching reruns of Monty Python and new episodes of Uncle Floyd and Georgia Championship Wrestling that I never quite got around to watching college athletics. I followed a few professional teams but between the Saturday games and the vast number of schools involved with ever changing line ups of teen agers, I couldn't find the energy to follow college sports.

By the time high school rolled around, I understood that I was supposed to care about college teams, but my own distaste for high school jocks soured the entire topic. A bunch of guys who got away with stuff outside of class, and weren't held to the standards I was, because they took of their free time to play sports. How noble. They made me mad. Kids who should be failing. Kids who didn't follow rules. Teachers who bent rules, administrators who showed preference for certain groups, and a school more interested in the newest trophy than in giving proper academic guidance. I hated jocks.

In college, I was able to step out from behind my own inability to play sports and base my revulsion on more real and reasonable grounds. I saw the abuses first hand -- the alcohol consumption both condoned and facilitated by coaches. The classes missed by team members because of practices and long trips. The lower academic expectations applied to incoming and current students on many teams (but not all -- I knew students on the baseball team who seemed to work hard...unless that was just because the classes I found easy were a real challenge to them...). The artificial stress by the school on tournaments and games with results sent out to alums to instill pride when the bulk of the student body was busy writing papers and getting no glory for being hard working, intellectual beings. Every time I walked past someone's dorm room and he was watching a college game on a Saturday afternoon, all I could think of was "don't those guys have a test on Monday or a paper due for a History class this week?"

Bottom line was that it made me angry.

After college, I saw the flaws in the system even more starkly. Alumni giving spurred on by athletics; programming and other educational opportunities slashed while the sacred cows of jockdom remained; applicants for jobs who graduated without basic skills because of their presence on teams and the reduced expectations that that allowed for.

I have never liked college sports.

This whole Penn State scandal should have no bearing on my feelings. I condemn violence against and abuse of anyone so I see that the assistant was criminally wrong and those who didn't not stand up to bring him to justice should be punished. But, theoretically, this has no connection to my feelings about the entirety of athletic programs. So when I started reading articles which expanded the critique from an attack on pedophiles and institutional cover ups into an expose on college athletics, I jumped for joy. Metaphorically -- as stated, I'm not overly athletic.

This sad state of affairs has allowed writers to question the whole notion of sports programs. Yes, they give opportunities to students who otherwise might not have had any, but I'm not sure that that is a good thing. Need based and academic scholarships can be more effective motivators and if the money funneled into new stadiums (stadia?), uniforms, PR and staffing for teams had been donated to other school causes, the rest of those scholarships and grants could exist. We should be encouraging high schoolers to get good grades and value their learning. Their evenings shouldn't be about a game, but a book. For most of them, their sporting lives won't become a career and won't equip them with the skills or knowledge to help them move into another field. Sure, the Ivy League players will still have the name of an Ivy League school on the diploma, and sure, some players have the smarts or the built in opportunity to succeed, but the majority of students who mortgage their educational futures to play ball will have their opportunities foreclosed upon.

This is how I have felt all along. Maybe it was because of my own limited time, or energy, or ability. maybe it was because of my experiences with the system. Whatever it is, it seems to have taken the mainstream media a while to get around to it -- pity that it takes so long, and such a horrible act of violence for people to wake up and feel empowered to question bigger systems. Welcome to the curve. I've been waiting just ahead for the rest of you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occupations in the Wall Street Journal

Over the last 2 days, the Wall Street Journal has published two articles which are particularly dumb. Both seem to have the same aim, and both make the kinds of logical leaps that offend people who think.

The first article is entitled "Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay". It goes on to explain how students are shying away from Science, Tech, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors because of the difficulty of their courses, and opting for social science courses even though jobs in fields which those majors traditionally populate pay less. Insulting on many, many levels. Let's walk through the basic problem.

Who is to say that certain majors are "easier"? The article looks at the number of hours used for studying and GPA's to support that a Psych major is easier. Hogwash. Maybe it has to do with the nature of the topic. Maybe it has to do with the natural skill of the students. Maybe it has to do with the attitude of the professor. To generalize this as an inherent quality of the discipline is ridiculous. You take someone who has been studying the hard sciences for a few years, and ask him to write a 3-5 page paper in an hour and he'll balk. He'll need a lot more time and find it really tough. I'll be done with half an hour to spare. Does that make it "easier"? Or maybe it makes it "more along the lines of what I should be doing". And science is what he is hard wired for, so it is "easier." When I was a cosci major (for that glorious semester) and I spent hours in the computer lab writing programs, I found the work easier than my history course, because it made more sense without as much thought. More hours did not reflect "difficulty". An artist can spend days in the studio perfecting a piece but that doesn't make his work easy or hard.

Maybe, just maybe, not as many people are cut out for the hard sciences but have historically been toughing it out due to external pressure or the lure of better salaries. Many have reported their majors harder because they were, academically, swimming upstream. Maybe, if we rewarded people for doing what they love, there would be fewer people in the STEM fields, but they would be the right ones. Same with law. Same with medicine. Same with education. Instead, people get in to fields for all the wrong reasons and then we have these false conclusions about what is tough and what is easy.

The article further relates that the Georgia Institute of Technology split its computer science courses up and made one section more about practical applications than about theory. More people passed and this is supposed to be about "ease." Maybe, just maybe, the goal of education is about the practical application and memorization of the arcane not only takes more hours of study, but is harder to accomplish -- and yet, not nearly as important in the actual world. So the "easy" was actually code for "more authentic and useful." More people passed because the class was designed to tap into a way of learning which unlocked potential more effectively.

The second article in entitled "Public School Teachers Aren't Underpaid." This article attempts at one point to take salary and correlate it to educational background to normalize salaries for comparison. It does other things, like look at days off, and considers he summer, when teachers can take longer vacations and make extra money at another job -- this is foolishness for a few reasons, detailed below. But back to education. The article states "Education is widely regarded by researchers and college students alike as one of the easiest fields of study..."

Really? I found my courses in English really easy. My siblings breezed through some science courses. My Ed. classes included psych (so i guess psych is an easy field of study). I don't know who the researchers are who think education courses or programs are easy, but maybe (yes, just maybe) the people who go in to it are a self selecting lot who are cut out for education so they find the course work straightforward. Some of the "course work" is actually being in front of a class -- teachers generally don't find actual teaching to be "easy" so I'm not sure this was included.

Or maybe, just maybe, more mediocre students think they can be good teachers and go through and do well in the classes, but make for miserable teachers because the course work is not an accurate preparation for teaching (thus the high turn over and all the criticism of teachers). Is taking notes in an organic chemistry class a good indicator of who will make an effective surgeon? Maybe taking notes and passing a memorization test is easy, therefore doctors are paid too much? Or maybe, salary is based on the ability to do the job, not just pass the class.

As to the question of teaching days and trying to equate salaries by taking out summer time and normalizing that way, that's ridiculous. A teacher gets paid for the year. During the summer there is an expectation that the teacher prepares for the school year. Why does the teacher take another job? Because often, the salaries are so woefully low. Why does the teacher take vacation over the summer? Because during the school year, the stress level of dealing with 150 students every day and being accountable to parents, bosses, board members, kids and the media is demanding, especially considering the salary.

The article does say that it speaks of averages not the exceptional teacher, but I think that the conclusions drawn about the "average" teacher, and the formulas used to equate salaries to "private sector" jobs are just plain nuts. I think that one of the best ways to make this case is to have the authors stop burying their heads in their math books and try to teach a class for a year. Meet the expectations of external tests. Keep the students engaged. Satisfy the expectations of parents and bosses. Prepare, execute and assess constantly. Do all that and look at the salary. Then decide how the entire experience stacks up against a random "private sector" job in terms of demand and salary.

I dare you.

No one has ever taken me up on that dare. No one ever will. No one who doesn't already want to teach, wants to teach. And only a small percentage of those who do teach, do it well. The WSJ has done a disservice to educators who put their all into a career with daily, serious real world implications. It has demeaned a profession, minimized a struggle and poisoned the well of public opinion by wallowing in ignorance.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Timations on Mortality

When I was finishing up college, I had a chance to work as an unpaid intern at a big name radio station in NYC. Those two summers provided some of the most amazing experiences. I got to meet important people; I saw how content was created, scheduled and programmed; I got my hands on oodles of swag. Pretty neat.

In the programming office/music library, I worked with two wonderful women -- Amy Winslow and Lorraine Carruso (apologies for misspellings). They taught me what to look out for, what conclusions to draw and how to make good (political) decisions. It was (and I can't stress this enough) a really good experience.

Those 2 summers, between my Junior and Senior years of college, and between Senior year and grad school, were in 1990 and 1991. I was about 21 years old. How old were these 2 women? I don't know -- at the time, age seemed so irrelevant, but looking back on it, they must have been in their upper 20's, maybe low 30's. Both unmarried, both living the rock and roll lifestyle: parties, concerts, nights out drinking and who knows what else. They were the epitome of cool. They knew the right people and dropped the right names, and still got their work (their VERY COOL work) done.

That was 20 summers ago. I'm a middle aged man now and sometimes I think about those people I worked with. They must be nearing (or right beyond) 50. That's not young anymore. That's not cool anymore. The other interns I worked with, there and at other stations, must have families and kids approaching high school age. The bosses, already in middle age when I was but a lad, are beyond 60, possibly significantly so.

It isn't just that I spend my days realizing how much closer to the end I am than to the beginning, but it is the realization that all the people I looked up to when I was really making connections to the world, are now, I guess, "done." The camp directors when I was a counselor, the professors when I was a student, the barbers from my childhood when I still had hair. All these pieces of my memory have not only grown up or old, but have started to go away. That's sad and scary. They are no longer how I remember them, if they "are" at all. I figure I must have changed also, and yet I still feel like that young guy. A heavier, more bald, creaky "young guy." Do Amy and Lorraine still see themselves as the cool ones? Or are they grandparents who go to dinner at 4:30 (which is starting to sound like a better and better idea to me...) and can't listen to music because it doesn't make sense and is too loud.

I don't want to be cryogenically frozen when I die. I want to be frozen when I was 22 years old and defrosted when they find a cure for growing up.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What hath Gore Wrought?

I spend way too much time (according to some) on internet message boards and such answering questions and engaging in arguments about theology and politics. If you are familiar with the cartoon then consider me THAT guy.

But why do I do it? I blame the internet.

The web has had an incredible egalitarian effect on the world. Anyone with an opinion can present his unfiltered view out there and the masses can stumble upon it. Gone are the days of fact checking and where only the official representatives of a group had a loud enough voice and could issue edicts, challenges or other statements which could then be dissected, rejected or perfected by other experts of other groups.

But the web has leveled the playing field. Now, the foot soldiers -- the man on the virtual street can wade into the fray. When I post a message on a forum, you might be tempted to ask me "why argue with that idiot? He knows nothing and its not like he is speaking on behalf of anyone else." But that's wrong. He might know nothing but on screens around the world, his words have the same weight as someone who knows a lot. Since we can't verify CV's before we answer, and we all operate under the quasi anonymity of the web, every posting and message has the same ability to influence, confuse or educate.

Maybe it used to be that the top guys argued with the top guys and the lower down guys sat around and led their lives. But now, the little guys can shout just as loud, and the other little guys need to shout right back, so that the people on neither team hear a full story.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Well, the big snow storm over this past weekend pushed us to the limit. Our cable went out. After the initial shock, the family banded together and came up with a strategy to avoid any further interaction. We rejcted family game night, or listening to music and opted for "to each his own." We each went to an individual computer and immersed ourselves in the internet. Email, websites and streaming TV served admirably as a replacement for regular TV.

It wasn't easy but we made it through, and we did it as a family. A family of people all dedicated to th same ideal - totally ignoring each other.

Now, 4 days later, as we share the war stories of the "16 hours without the remote" as we will someday like to call it, we have lost electricity. This means, of course, no television. We decided to eat all of our ice cream and drive to some friends' house to use their cable.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

a serious break

It has been a while since I interrupted my flow of stupidity with something striving to be considered seriously, especially from a religious perspective, but the muse descended and so I have to put this Torah thought down in words.

In parshat Noach, the text initially describes Noach as "ish tzaddik tamim haya b'dorotav et ha'elokim hithalech Noach." [no punctuation intentionally]

Rashi comments on the wording of "b'dorotav" in his generation and cites the famous discussion in masechet sanhedrin regarding Noach's righteousness -- was he a tzaddik EVEN in his own generation (and would be at least as great if not greater in a more righteous time) or ONLY in his own generation (were he alive in a more righteous time, he would be "nechshav klum" thought as nothing).

This presents a problem. How can anyone say that Noach would have been less than perfectly righteous in another generation because of the word "b'dorotav"? One cannot explicate that word while ignoring the remainder of the verse -- that he was "perfectly righteous" (tzaddik tamim)! And the verse concludes by saying that he "went with hashem." How is this not a good thing at any time?

First off, there is an argument in the 2 Aramaic versions of the text. The phrase "tzaddik tamim" is not clearly how the verse should be read. The trope seems to connect "ish" and "tzaddik" and then starts a mercha under "tamim" which ties it to "hayah" and not "tzaddik." This would account for the Yonatan Ben Uziel's translation as "gvar zakai, shlim b'ovadin tavin hava..." he was a worthy/righteous man, complete in his good acts in his generation." The Onkelos reads "gvar zakai shlim hava..." he was a completely worthy/rightous man in his generation. If the notion of tamim (perfect, unblemished, complete) modifies the nature of his righteousness (tzaddik tamim) then how could one question how he would be at any time? The trope seems to be creating this reading "a righteous man, in his generation he was complete/perfect" thus allowing the negative reading, in that his completeness was only based in the relative comparison to his generation.

The Siftei Chachamim discusses at length the entire question of how one could see anything negative here. He begins his answer by citing the next Rashi which seems to say that the notion of "et ha'elokim", going in hashem's path, is different from Avraham's blazing a trail inspired by some inherent righteousness, not relying on external inspiration.

I'm not convinced by this. It is apparent that different people derive their inspiration from different sources and we don't try to assess how "good" someone is by the source of their love for hashem. If No'ach had lived in Avraham's time, maybe he would have developed differently. Maybe his generation was on such a lower level that he needed this external push (in fact, the Siftei does conclude that the insult is on the generation and its deficiency, not on No'ach! Had Avraham lived THEN, who knows if his internal inspiration would have been enough?) Different people find their centers in different places, but the end result, righteousness and sincerity should not be second guessed.

I think the answer is that Rashi's point is subtler. In any generation other than the deficient one of No'ach, simply being righteous and following hashem's path shouldn't be enough to be considered remarkable. Yes, in any generation, Noa'ch would have been completely righteous and would have followed what hashem wants. But this isn't the standard he or we should be shooting for. We need to be an Avraham, blazing a trail somehow even higher. Only in a generation where people are all deficient does seeing someone doing mitzvot seem incredible. In any other time, mitzvot should and would seem common place, so seeing someone do what is expected wouldn't be note worthy.

Our goal in our generation isn't to tout the mitzvot we do and say "but our generation is so deficient that I have to be patted on the back for following in the path of Hashem." We have to see that we aren't lliving in No'ach's time, so simply trying to be righteous and do mitzvot simply isn't enough. We have to be on an even higher level, pushing forward and finding the fire within to go the next step and be an Avraham. No'ach was an ish tzaddik, and his righteousness would have risen in another generation, but in his generation all that was needed to be newsworthy was to be who on a particular level, one lower than Avraham.

Monday, October 24, 2011

questions for Siri

I don't have an iPhone and I am woefully ignorant about this Siri character. Apparently, one can ask the phone a question, and inside the phone, somehow reproduced in miniature, is a woman who knows everything (redundant? you decide). So the commercial shows people asking their phones a question. We are left to assume that the phone can interpret the question, distill it into a search, and come up with the answer. Meanwhile, I am amassing a list of questions to ask the iPhone, if I ever get one.

1. Does this milk smell bad?
2. I just killed a guy.
3. If a man and a half can dig a whole and a half in a day and a half, what color were the driver's eyes?
4. Are you bound by any ethical code, or legal confidentiality agreement?
5. Please hold this for me.
6. Do you feel like we do?
7. and what's the deal with airline food?
8. Muhammad Ali vs. disc brakes.
9. Why do fools fall in love?
10. y'know that thing in your ear. No, not that, the other thing. What's he deal with that thing?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

or your money back

I don't like guarantees. I don't like promises. I don't like commitments of many sorts. Does that make me a bad person? No. I'm a bad person for other reasons. But the fact is, I don't like guarantees. And I'll tell you why.

I want people to like me.

That probably doesn't make sense to you, so allow me to explain.

I started using this new toothpaste recently, called "Optic White." It promises "whiter, more fabulous teeth in 7 days." That is a guarantee, or you get your money back. My teeth, truth be told, are "off white" the way the house in the Amityville Horror was a "fixer-upper." I have tried lots of different stuff, not because I particularly want whiter teeth, but because pop culture told me I had to. Who am I to argue with the hive mind? So I bought this toothpaste and have been checking it out.

A week has passed. My teeth look very much like my teeth. I haven't noticed any difference and strangers on the street still refuse to come over and tell me how amazed they are by my blinding smile.

So I should call, and get my money back, right?


If I call the conversation goes like this: "Hello? I tried your toothpaste and I'm still ugly. I'm cheap also and actually thought that I could by my beauty in a tube. Since that has failed and I must admit that I'm naive and gullible, I'd like my three dollars back. OK?" I may have to tweak the wording to get it just right, but the idea is that this phone call forces me to fess up that I tried to cure my image problem by buying something with the same active ingredient as 12 other products on the market. And I have to admit that I am still the same monster I was last week, with the children crying and the court issuing their restraining orders. No diff. I have to make the claim that I'm not just tough to look at, but I want to capitalize on that wretchedness by asking for my cash back.

I mean, I could say "you promised me noticeably whiter teeth, and I don't notice anything." Then all they have to do is say "Sir (meaning, 'jerk face'), just because you aren't able to notice something doesn't make it not so. Some people can tell the difference between cornsilk and sky blue and some are unperceptive morons. Your inability does not constitute justification for your miserliness."

Wouldn't it be easier if I called up and told them what they want to hear? "Your product is fabulous -- I'm a new man, and I owe it all to you!" That's the kind of talk that wins friends and influences people. Do I want to call the guy at the acne place and say "I'm still pimply you liar. Gimme my cash." I want him to think I'm dashing and happy. Don't get me started on the lady who sells the "male enhancement" pills. I'm not calling her back and saying "I'm still less of a man." I want people to say "There goes a guy who is comfortable with himself -- which is easy when you're as good looking and well adjusted as he is, and you don't need to whine and ask for your money back."

Yeah. That'd be swell.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Vocation, all I ever wanted

I'm a teacher. I admit it. I go into classrooms every school day and try to transmit information which I believe is important: facts, skills and methods of understanding. I try to transmit it in a way which is interesting, engaging and which keeps in mind the mindset of a high school student. I work hard at it and take pride in what I do. That's why I get offended when people from outside the profession come around and try to tell me how to improve my field. Introduce technology, they say. Work towards standards, they insist. Increase relevance, they advise. The fact is, no one knows my students and what works for them any better than I do. And I will argue that "experts" WITHIN the education field are hard pressed to give me any advice.

Teacher education is like handing an archer a quiver with 100 different arrows. The archer has to know which one to choose in any given case. Others can suggest that he get more arrows, but no one can tell him that a particular one is the magic arrow that will work. I recall my first time being observed. The administrator criticized my class because I didn't use the board enough. Sure, I understand the value of writing key words, or addressing the visual learners, but the fact is, nothing I did necessitated using the board that day. Forcing a medium for the sake of saying I am using the medium is not the answer. Smartboards in the classroom are a resource, but not one that I need to use every day, week or month. The responsibility for transmitting the info rests on the teacher's shoulders.

So what makes a good teacher? I have written extensively about this elsewhere but I'll go on record here as saying "good teachers can be made; better teachers can be made; great teachers are born". Quality teaching is about that ever changing blend of content mastery, empathy and the temperament to connect with students. Can that be taught? Well, someone can tell me that to be a good doctor I have to tie a good knot and not faint at the sight of blood. I'll still faint. A good teacher can take 25 strangers, build trust, have them in rapt attention and begging for more and go home and not feel like their time was wasted. It isn't easy and the demands change day to day, but that's what makes teaching a profession and not a rote series of steps that anyone can do.

So to all the business people who think teaching is all the lawyers who think teaching is is. But good teaching is really tough, and which would you like for your kid: a teacher or a good teacher?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Change we can't believe in

Someone asked me a question last night and then accused me of not answering when I asked for clarification, context and other defining elements. The truth is, I find questions difficult to answer because I see complexity in them. The motivation of the asker plays a large role as does the meaning of particular words and ideas. Men know this intuitively -- when a woman asks "does this dress make me look fat?" or "I don't know; what do YOU want to do?" we know that there is more than meets the eye.

See, the thing is, everything is more complex that it seems and only simple people don't understand that. So when simple people ask a question, they may sincerely mean it as a simple question, so they expect a simple answer. But simple answers are almost always wrong. Is the quest for complexity to problematic because it injects a mode of confusion in everyday discourse? Sure, but it is more honest.

The same holds true for protestable moments. Are we concerned about the 1% who have all that cash and the 99% who have less? Yes. Is there a simple answer that a protest can bring about? No. Are we being foolish wasting our resources on "occupying" a city park? Yes. Is there a better way to bring about change? No.

The thing is, change is difficult if it is to be real. Change is upheaval. Change is revolution. Change means a real shift in an underlying paradigm. And we don't want that kind of change. We want a simple alteration which will solve everything. If we don't like how are system has ended up, then we need to revamp, nay remove the ENTIRE SYSTEM. Our system of capitalism and corruption has worked just fine for so long. If we now turn around and say "hey! How come no one ever tried to bribe ME?" then what we have to say, in order to be honest, is "the entire system is flawed and we need to abandon it and start over. I'll still be poor, our entire economy and culture will crumble but if we start over, in 250 years, we won't be in this mess."

And I don't want that. It is nice to say change, but we can't stand the pains of starting over which real change would require.

I was in the store today and I saw some eco-friendly drain cleaner. I happen to be in the market for some drain cleaner as I have a drain which needs cleaning. My brand of choice is rife with nasty chemicals and harsh products which blast the clog out, beat it up and go after its family. But those chemicals, once loosed on the pipes, do the job. So this eco stuff claims that it is not harmful to the pipes or nature or furry animals. So I started reading the bottle, thinking globally, but willing to act septicly. The instructions indicated that I should pour a quarter of the bottle into the drain every night for 5 nights. Ignoring that this would mean that I have to buy 2 bottles, it meant that the drain would not be unclogged until next week. It even cautioned me that the drain would run slower in the short term. This is proof that the product is working.

So if I want to save the earth, I have to lose the convenience of a product which gets the job done on my schedule. It is the same for so many other "healthy" options. If I want organic food, I have to pay more. If I want to go to an organic cleaner, I have to drive farther from my house, or have a longer turn around time on my clothes. Drive an electric car? Find a plug, have less acceleration and shorter range. These are trade offs because, for there to be real change, we have to abandon our time honored practices and make do with less.

Are we really ready to go through rebirthing pangs and growth pains again? We would be crippled in the world market, vulnerable to our enemies and not nearly as cool in the eyes of the hot girls.

True fact.

So I say "yay for the 1%! May I have my bribe now?"

Monday, October 10, 2011

On Being a Writer

I was looking at a couple of reader responses posted in an online forum today -- we, as a school use online sites to allow students to post material and interact with the teacher and each other in a way both complementary and supplementary to the classroom experience. Neat stuff.

One student wrote a by-the-numbers response with a topic sentence, some supporting facts and a conclusion. The content was serviceable and the argument, sound if uninteresting. Another student began with a hook sentence: seemingly unrelated, grammatically jarring and on the whole, disarming. She then moved from this unexpected statement into a subtle and interesting discussion of a topic which, it just so happens, turns out to be tangentially related to the assigned topic. By the end, she wrapped up an elegant statement and a complex but orderly paragraph which informed and entertained.

These are high school freshmen. Ninth graders. Fourteen year olds. No one taught the second student how to write; she naturally saw this mode as the best way to engage with and speak to her audience. It seems that those people who find writing "easy" do so because they naturally already have something they want to say. They explore and turn ideas over and the ideas bubble out into words. Give them a concrete question, and you'll get a long and intricate response. Give them an open ended essay and you'll either get brilliance or a free-flowing fountain of everything and nothing.

It seems that good and natural writing cannot be taught, only refined. And those people who don't naturally write can't be taught the skill -- it either develops out of reading and a maturation of thought, or it has to be replaced by the workmanlike and competent writing which is the end product of direct instruction. We cannot teach inspiration and passion, just a satisfactory replacement.

Monday, September 26, 2011

some recipes

With the holiday season upon us, I feel it appropriate to share some of my culinary gifts. TPTB have graced me with skills galore in the kitchenette so I would like to spread the wealth like so much chunky peanut butter.

The first rule -- Fry, baby, fry. Nothing there is that doesn't like a deep fryer. A bath in hot oil makes everything better, from chicken legs to chicken thighs. And poems by Frost. But for heaven's sake, use canola.

Rule number 2 -- if you wash all your dishes BEFORE you use them, you don't have to wash them afterwards. True fact.

Third -- there are two secret ingredients, depending on whether what you are making is meat or dairy. The ingredients are butter and schmaltz. The details are simply commentary.

Rule the fourth -- you need NOT preheat the microwave.

Number five -- choose your shirt to match the sauce.

Six -- regardless of what the name indicates, a side of beef actually has 2 sides.

Seventh -- many people have asked me about using wine to cook with. I prefer to stew the cook starting 3 hours before you begin. Wine? Wine not?

Rule number 8 -- cookbooks are a good place to start. Write the phone number of places that deliver in the margins of the cookbook. Only later should you consult a phone book.

Number nine -- you don't have to wear that cool white hat but if you don't, you're a loser.

The tenth rule -- once the food can get up and walk around by itself, it is no longer safe to eat. It IS safe to serve, and occasionally, clear and wash dishes.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A 9/11 thought

I'm not a political being and I don't try to understand most major issues, but one interesting subtlety in terms of the upcoming commemoration of the 9/11 anniversary has caught my attention.

This year (on Sunday) we will be marking 10 years since the country was attacked. 10 Years. I have been working to put that into context for a while, now. What I am left with is a comparison to other such horrors.

I won't compare this to events in other countries, especially ones where, sadly, terrorist attacks are more frequent and the per capita equivalent mortality statistic is significantly higher. I'm comparing this to the US. The only similar situation I can think of is Pearl Harbor. True, it isn't identical for SO many reasons, but it will serve my purposes for this post.

Ten years after Pearl Harbor, the world had changed markedly. WWII had been over for 6 years and the US was already focusing on another area of the world. The 50's had descended in all their pea soup green Father Knows Best glory. Everything had changed.

Ten years after 9/11, we are still living, daily in its shadow. Technologically we are in a similar place. Emotionally we are in a similar place. Geo-politically we are in a similar place. Some of these don't change because the nature of the event was different. Different bad guys, location, methodology. But maybe WE are part of the equation and we react differently now. I don't know.

I just wonder if in 1951, Pearl Harbor seemed as fresh and raw as 9/11 does now.

Monday, September 5, 2011

An Open Memo to the Good Folks at VH1

Recently, I found myself in Israel. I was taller than I expected but that's not my point. While wasting some time in my mini junior suite I worked through the TV stations and found myself watching VH1 Classic. It led me to some questions which I will now pose. These are aimed specifically at the people who run VH1 classic, and by extension, those with some expertise in the field.

1. What exactly defines "classic"? A segue from Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" into something by Fine Young Cannibals ( ) is jarring -- I can't see any category which includes them both other than "songs by people who breathe air."

2. Do you think that the director of the Miami Sound Machine's "Dr. Beat" really believes that the video he directed is either effective story telling, or a reasonable representation of "good" video work? [If you have stumbled upon this and have never seen the video, watch the video here
or even better, watch the "first version" which I guess wasn't even good enough to be considered the official one, ]

3. At what point did the video for the Pretenders "Back on the Chain Gang" turn into Yes's "Owner of a Lonely Heart"?

Thank you for your attention in this matter.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

There is nothing under the sun

I am sitting and trying to separate the good chaff from the bad chaff at a meeting and I find that the best way is to ignore content completely and assume that anything of value will be repeated by my peers later on. So I get to thinking and a bunch of random thoughts pop into my head.

First off -- is it wrong that when listening to the "Top 1001 rock songs" on the radio this morning, I get angry at the relative placements of numbers 999 and 1000?

Second thought -- when we look at history and we worry that our material to teach history is somehow outmoded is it possible that history never was the way we imagine it but is always some artifical construct that we teach? Do we worry about "accuracy" when we might never have been accurate, only true to that same artifical construct?

Next idea has to do with rearing my kids. What will they be like when they grow up? Am I trying to turn them into what a "success" was defined as in earlier generations? The thing is, if I try to turn my kids into what I have become, I am missing an important variable -- I became what I am because of the time, and the parents. The times have shifted, and the direct causal "parent" influence is different. No two generations can be identical because there are too many variables. We need to continually reevaluate our goals and try to figure out what we want and what we think is proper.

I know these ideas aren't well thought out, but that's because the speaker is making me angry with the stuff he says so I can't effectively ignore it. That's a rant for another day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Dream Vacation

Se since we recently returned from a family vacation, and we have so few of them, it is essential that I over analyze my experience and take from it every potential teachable moment that I can. One thing which I can get in the "know thyself" realm is 'what do I actually want from a vacation.' This is not to say that I was disappointed by my recent adventure overseas, but if I can be so bold as to imagine the perfect setup, I think I should. This way, I know on future trips when I am being let down.

OK, so my perfect vacation. And please, no one take offense.

1. No kids. I love my kids but a vacation means I stop having to worry about anyone other than myself. Does this mean 'no wife'? I'm not sure. A vacation with her is fun and we share so much but the truth is, we also have different interests and priorities (all in a healthy way) so there is much to be said for a vacation on which I am truly alone.

Different people enjoy different types of experiences. Some like being alone and some hate it. I think that when you see my itinerary, it will become obvious that being alone and doing nothing for long stretches doesn't faze me but it might not be something others enjoy.

2. Location -- this is a tough one. I hate air travel and sea travel, and if I have to drive somewhere then the trip is not relaxing. I also don't want to deal with natural disasters when I'm there. I want warm sunny days (79 to 87 degrees, please, low humidity and a light breeze) and cool but comfy nights (no lower than 65 and clear, almost no breeze). I think that, maybe, Florida via train is an option. Just not during hurricane season.

3. I want access to scads of kosher food. I want a Jewish community that can feed me and then leave me the heck alone. Kosher room service is a plus.

4. Accommodations -- a hotel. A fancy, schmancy hotel. I'm talking wifi, phone in the bathroom, welcome basket, free robe fancy. I want a suite with big screen TV's, a couple o' bathrooms maybe with a whirlpool or the like. While the idea of a villa is attractive, I would prefer being in a nice building with a central lobby where I can sit with a paper and a cuppa and watch people. People I don't know and don't have to talk to. I want there to be an outdoor pool I can sit next to and a heated indoor pool (heavy on the chlorine...none of those salt water pools) I can swim in (not so much swimming laps as jumping in and diving down to pick up toys from the bottom).

5. I need a car. And valet parking. I don't know why, or if I'll use it, but I need a car.

6. During the day I want the option of walking or driving (under 15 minutes travel time) to some sort of attractions -- museums, stadiums, concert venues, monuments, scenic sites, parks and like that but I don't want to stand on long lines in the sun, watching loads of children drip ice cream on my feet. Some days, I just want to stay on the balcony of my room (add "balcony" to item 4, please) and some days I want to go into the pool for 5 or 6 hours. Make sure there is a book store nearby. Real books. Not a religious book store, and not one that sells three books, 45 tourist souvenirs and soda. I want the option to do something or nothing.

My goal, clearly, is to read, eat, swim, walk, watch TV/films (make sure there is a movie theater in or near, and a bowling alley while you are at it) and generally soak in the experience. Very little talking or interacting. Close but far, quaint but modern, big but small.

and if you can make it free, that's be just skippy.
edit, a little while later -- i'd like to have a bunch of friends on the same vacation, all interested in being left alone. that way we can have a poker game in the evenings or a steak eating contest during the day and then go back to ignoring everything.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I was wrong

There. I said it. I was wrong and I'm not too proud to admit it. I freely admit that I was wrong about digital photography.

We just came back from vacation and I have been going through the pictures. We took (I think) 5 cameras, all digital. Let's crunch the numbers.

I have reviewed the 544 pictures I kept from my little Canon Powershot. 544 pictures. In the olden days, that would mean over 20 rolls of film -- to carry, to load and reload, to worry about taking through the x-ray machine, to have to take (and pay) to get developed. That's substantial. And since I have them on the computer, I can manipulate and share them, and even print them out as pictures or as part of a photobook.

Julie's fancy camera (the Canon Rebel T3) was useful for multiple shots and artsier photos...over 1100 of them. Think about another 40+ rolls of film and not knowing if the pictures taken are any good. We must have deleted another couple of hundred as we took them. I was concerned thatt he film SLR would still have an edge over digital because of the speed and options, but the Rebel, while not quite as simple as the controls on my old Canon AE-1, did some great work, even for the formal shots. The higher megapixel count allows for post shot zooming and blowing up. Not yet on the level of a solid bit of film, but soon that will be standard as well.

I haven't been through the girls' cameras yet, but the idea that each can have a reasonable quality camera and take pictures without any worry over wasting film makes taking pictures an incredible educational opportunity.

I honestly didn't think that the quality would go up, price down and learning curve be so scalable so quickly. I'm glad I was wrong. Digital is a pretty neat thing.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Home, sweat, home

We awoke in Israel, and spent Thursday buying stuff. Julie got a ride to Talpiyot and took Maddie as they went to the Emanuel factory and then to the mall for lunch, while I took Talia back to Cafe Cafe -- she had pizza and fries and I started with crispy eggplant stuffed with cheese and served in a cream sauce, followed by a toasted Italian sandwich (mozzarella, red peppers and something else which I forget but not tomatoes on a flat sesame seed pita/roll). Talia had a Belgian waffle and I had coffee. We were stuffed. We walked to Machane Yehudah so Talia could find some gifts. When Julie called to ask where we were, we told her to come to the shuk and we'd find her. A needle in a hay stack, but it actually worked. We kept walking around and we found her! And then we spent half an hour in a candy store.

We walked out and about, down King George (plus some side streets) and came back up through Ben Yehudah so we could hit all sorts of stores one more time and eat some more Moshiko's felafel. We made it back to the house at 7:30 which left us and hour and a half to finish packing. I had found a guy driving an actual minivan cab and set up to have him come at 9PM for (what I thought was) a 1AM flight. He showed up on time and we had a great ride. If you need the name and number of a quality Israeli cab driver with a minivan, let me know. On the way, I realized that the flight was at 12:30AM but I didn't let that panic me. We still got to the airport with 2:45 to spare.

Then the lines began. First there was the line to get to general check-in so that our backs to be checked could get a security tag. Julie had to get the VAT back on all she bought so that was another line. Then another, longer line to actual check in. There, we were told that our checked bags were too heavy (we tried to balance them but it didn't work out). Our carry-on baggage was also deemed to be too heavy so we had to go to another security line before getting our boarding passes so that we could have that same security check in to add our 2 other bags to the "checked bags" list. Then back to the check in line for boarding passes. Then, into another room for a security check and passport stamp.

After the passport check we were herded (and I use that word intentionally) in a room with the metal detectors. There were no lines or guidance. Just everyone from every current flight leaving the airport in one room moving somewhat forward. People who were running late for one flight asked to jump ahead in line. But there was no line. For an airport which has such tight security and professionalism, this was insane. And the clock kept ticking. Suddenly, we weren't so ahead of the game. We made it through the metal detectors and still had to go towards the gate and stop in the duty free/VAT area to get the VAT money. At that point, our flight was already moving from "boarding" to "last call." We RAN to the gate. Have you ever seen those families running through the airport? We were that family. And just to clear up your thoughts -- we were there on time, even for a 12:30 flight. The lines were crazy and everything went wrong on line. But we were there in time, dagnabit. Stop judging.

We ran to the gate (which was, of course, the one farthest away) and when we got there, we asked if we were last. The woman smiled and said "no". The woman next to her, in Hebrew said "they are last." Just so happens that we speak enough Hebrew to know that we were on everyone's not happy list. As we ran down the tunnel, people were asking us our name to confirm who we were. We made it on board and settled in to the 777 and then all of us on that flight sat around and waited another 30 minutes till we could leave.

The flight started fine and after our mystery sandwiches, everyone settled in to a movie or tv show or sleep. Then, once everyone else was comfy, the turbulence began. Not only was I crazy nauseated, but I was also pretty much convinced that I was going to die. I don't like flying. I like turbulence even less. On the plus side, I was able to make space for another meal rather effectively. Julie calmed me down so I could get a little sleep but the whole experience was rather, well, unsettling.

We landed in Newark by around 5:45 and made it through the customs, passport control, security, baggage claim, immigration and getting to our car within 45 minutes. Then, the drive home so we could start laundry, unpacking and readying for an apparent hurricane on its way. So now I'd like to move from the play by play to the color commentary.

I love Israel. Let's start with that. But I am a spoiled American. I like things the way I like them. Houses, streets, drivers, cultural norms...all of it, I like as it is. And while I respect and admire those people who can up and go and live in Israel, I just don't know how to do it. Maybe if we had huge amounts of money and could afford to buy an apartment in a luxury condo or buy a home in a tree lined, not hilly neighborhood somewhere, then maybe. But aside from the spirituality (which, yes, is palpable) and the ease of eating out (which is great but guaranteed to drive one bankrupt) there is so much that just isn't in my comfort zone. And that's ignoring the bureaucracy and the paperwork. There are so many things that I am just used to.

We have already told the girls that if they want to go back and study or go for a summer then great. But if they move there, while that's all well and good with us, and we visit, we are staying in a hotel and coming over during commercials. And I can't be sure I can stomach the flight without scads of Xanax or stronger.

I was torn when I got off the plane -- what would I say if someone at the various check points said "Welcome Home." Would I say "thanks" as I kiss the ground and use money I understand, look at the temperature I understand, watch the traffic I understand, the television shows I understand etc, or would I say "well, I'm back, but Israel is my home." No one said anything but I'm still all confused. If you'd like to simplify things by giving me millions of dollars and inventing a teleportation machine, then I'm game.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'll be brief about most of Wednesday.
Woke up, drove over to the Avis return place on King David Street. Got gas, circled the block and tried to find where to return the car. The gas station guy gave me standard Israeli directions (the kind which assume you already know the answer and are just asking for directions in order to engage another human, not to learn anything) and when I called the phone number, I was connected to the Avis desk in Eilat. His response was "no, this is Eilat" click.

Eventually I got through to the Jerusalem desk and their directions were a touch better. Apparently, all you have to do is replace "straight" with "sharp, hidden left" and the whole language makes sense.

I returned the car with little fanfare (which is ok, because it is a little car). I found a cab to take me back to the house and then we all saddled up to walk over to the light rail. Jerusalem is just starting to run its light rail so as part of the testing period, the trip is free. This means that EVERYONE is riding it for no real reason. They push their strollers on and take their extended families on just so that they can get somewhere, cross the tracks and go back. The trip, itself, is slow but not wholly uncomfortable. At Har Herzl we found the one sign to Yad Vashem and walked down. There is no admission fee (though I did try to pay the security guard...I see a guy stopping people so I figure...hand him my credit card. At this point, whatever) but the maps cost a few bucks. They aren't very good maps but at least the pictures are in English.

Yad vashem needs no discussion. It is a comprehensive, moving and important visit. The kids didn't "get" everything, but I am glad they walked through it.

We took the shuttle back to the light rail, crammed inn along with the 17% of the nation's population, and rode back. We got off at Machane Yehudah, walked in a bit, around a bit, and then worked our way to Ben Yehudah street. A few stores later (over priced skirts, under priced liquor and shoes but at 2 different stores) we started back to Machane Yehudah. Candy and souvenirs and we made it back to my sister's house just in time to get picked up to be driven to dinner in Talpiyot.

In Talpiyot, we went to a "steak-a-ria". Lots of skewers of stuff on the menu, and they serve with never ending lafa and salads. Very impressive even if the food itself is nondescript. Final good byes and we made it back to home base to collapse.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

near vana

When I woke up this morning, in a hotel bed in a foreign country, I almost forgot that I had no way of getting back to where all my stuff was. When that memory set in, I went to call the rental agent to find out what the deal was with my replacement car. He said there was no replacement car. He encouraged me to call any other car rental service and get a car from them and he assured me that I would not be charged. Let me point something out --- I found this out by calling him. He wasn't exactly falling over himself to let me know that I had no car. Customer service reps all over the world are hurting right now.

So, down to the front desk I go to try and get some contact info for other rental places because, you remember, I'm a tourist. I don't live there and don't know the local resources. The front desk woman got me a few different numbers and she worked out a system. She would dial and then hand me the phone so i could struggle with the language. She didn't speak on my behalf, or try to help set anything up. She handed ME the phone. 3 places had no cars. Finally, Avis said they had one. Smaller than what I had, and more expensive, but a car. So I asked where the Avis place is. Big mistake. The directions were the combination of every phrase I have learned is a trick.

"Right down the hill, then go right, everyone knows it, it is right next to a pharmacy only 5 minutes away, ask anyone." I'm a tourist -- maybe a map would be appropriate? Oh yeah, the maps are missing streets and no one actually knows where things are. So I took a walk. After a few false starts and semi true middles, I reached the Avis desk. A few tense minutes later, I was winding my way back through the streets to the hotel to pick everyone up, check out and get to the water.

We drove over to the Gai Beach water park and met with our Efrat friends. First, we parked on an empty side of a mountain and crossed the street to pay our money and get in. We snagged the last two umbrellas and got ready for the water. I took a quick dip in the overcrowded wave pool and figured I'd ride out the day in the shade. That worked well for a while...light chit chat and a bunch of people watching. Then it was pointed out to me that there was also the beach on the Galilee. I didn't realize that we had access to the beach from the water slide area. Much of the next few hours was spent on a perfect day, lazing in the water. It was as close to relaxing as I have been in a while. Truly spectacular weather, no big waves, the water was the right temp (and fresh water). I could imagine staying there for 8 hours for a number of days in a row. Who needs anything else. I assume the kids had fun on the water slides who who cares. I was happy.

They closed at 5 and kicked us out so we made plans to drive in a convoy up to Beit She'an for dinner (lunch had been snack foods which we packed and lots of water). So we drove up to the tiny "mall" in Beit She'an and went to the McDonald's there. The Chicken Selects were a bit peppery but very nice. My concern was that evening was approaching and I didn't relish the thought of driving my little rental car through the West Bank after dark. I did it anyway (with my friends leading the way). It was a bit scary, and we took streets through the city which got us a bit lost. But we made it back. Tomorrow I have to return the car, get back here and then walk to the light railway to head to Har Herzel.

I am still somewhat relaxed, my hair is frizzy and grayer and the last thing I ate was in a cardboard box. I started the day with no car, did some swimming, and now I am going to turn in. Any questions?

Monday, August 22, 2011

What goes up must call a cab

Strange days, indeed. Today was a day which pointed out the ridiculous, the sublime and the ridiculous. We got up this morning and busted our tushes to try and get out of the hotel quickly. We had been reassured that the trip from Tiberias to Tzfat ("Zefat" for some reason, on signs) was 20-30 minutes. I guess Israelis compute minutes on the Celcius scale. It took us 30 minutes just to get on the road. But we zoomed up, and up on route 90. Eventually, we hit route 89 and took a left. A left in Israel means a right around a circle until you are headed to the left. Makes perfect sense. We went up higher along roads untouched since sheep and goats blazed them thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, these particular goats and sheep were stupid and drunk and couldn't walk a straight line so the road took all sorts of weird twists and turns and at the end, I still didn't know who done it.

After an hour of traveling 30 kilometers (computed as the crow staggers. It doesn't include the extra 400 kilometers of vertical climb) we started seeing signs. We were told that there would be clear signas to where we were going, but that's another famous Israeli phrase. "Follow the signs" means "there will be one sign. Establish a telepathic link with it and you'll be fine." We got pretty lucky and found the world's smallest parking lot and parked in it. We met our guide, Jeff Katz and started walking through the Artists' Colony. Some art I get, some I don't. Some I like, some I don't. In fact, my appreciation is reflected in the price - I like expensive stuff because that's the only stuff worth liking. We saw some synagogues and heard some stories. The girls were hot but only somewhat bored so we were doing OK.

For lunch, we ate at Cafe Isadore. Talia found a plain toasted bagel and Maddie had a bagel with butter. I had a quiche of sweet potato and onions and each of us also had a green salad. Very nice. Not fancy and their credit card machine didn't work, but it sufficed and the courtyard was cool and pleasant. Next stop was pottery with Batya Erdstein.

There, the girls learned how to throw a piece of pottery on a wheel while I climbed the 300 or so steps to try and find a bank so we could pay her. Thing is, many banks are closed for siesta in the mid afternoon. I stumbled into a money conversion kiosk and paid the premium for money there. Then back down the stairs to watch the girls make stuff. The activity was fabulous, Batya is very nice and we all left with a piece of art which we created. We piled back into the car planning to find a beach and stick our toes in the Kinneret (Galilee). On the way, we stopped for gas and I used the self serve. We got back on the road and the car started making weird noises and responding poorly to the accelerator. After 7.5 kilometers, I had to pull over and the car simply stopped working. is it possible I put in the wrong gas? I guess. But there were no particular signs saying that I was using anything other than regular ol' gas so who knows. We pulled over and tried to figure out what to do. I'll streamline the story by listing the process:

1. we called the "24 hour emergency number" only to be told that it was for use after hours. It was still before 5 so we were directed to call the rental office.
2. We got an English speaker on the phone and explained the situation. He said he'd get right back to us.
3. He didn't, so Julie called 10 minutes later and got snapped at by a woman who said they were "working on it."
4. We waited another hour and then called back, only to hear the recording that the office was closed.
5. We called the 24 emergency number and heard an answering machine telling us to leave a message.
6. Tried another of the 24 emergency numbers and got a guy who said he couldn't help, but I should call the manager at the other number. I told him I had and it was a machine but he insisted that the manager was there now.
7. The manager ended up being the guy from step 1. He said that he'd call us right back.

side note -- I am an English teacher in a high school. I am not a mechanic. So when the various people asked me repeatedly "what is wrong with the car" I couldn't really answer other than "it no make moving".

another side note -- I pulled over right next to the marker indicating the entrance to the city. From this side, there is a single road which enters; it is marked by a giant stone etched with the words "welcome" and a smaller stone marker indicating where Israeli forces entered from the north in the 1948 war. Remember, there is only 1 entrance from this direction. And yet no one with whom I spoke had any idea where I was. I detailed the road number and he signs and markers, but got no where with people who actually live in the town.

8. Eventually, after a series of back and forth calls and attempts to explain, we were told that the car would get picked up and a replacement car provided in 4 hours. We had already been on the side fo the road in 95+ degrees for 2 hours. Four more hours. We were encouraged to get a cab and get back to the hotel. We didn't have the number of a cab company handy and the local cabs do not have their phone number on the side. We had to call a friend who found the number and called it in, while we flagged down cabs and tried to press drivers into calling ahead for us.
9. Cabs showed up eventually and we returned to the hotel. It took 5 more calls for the mechanics to find the car. They confirmed that it did not start.
10. As of now, I still have no car. We are supposed to drive back to Jerusalem tomorrow (and we wanted to stop at a water park on the way -- both will be tough without a car).

Final note -- do I feel bad if I broke the car? Nope. I paid extra to remove the deductible on the car so I'm just cashing in on my investment. Nyah nyah.

For dinner, we had planned to go up the hill (our hotel is 60 percent of the way up the hill) to a pizza place just to celebrate our being alive. It took some work but we were advised to walk DOWN the hill to another pizza place since we wanted to be down the hill anyway to walk on the Boardwalk. We were told that the walk all the way down is only 15 minutes. That should have been a red flag. I am disillusioned about the Israeli notions of time and space. Their idea of "15 minutes" is completely skewed. It may be that they didn't beat the Arabs in any of the wars, they just gave the Arabs some directions. So we ate at "Bereishit Pizza." We ordered the XL Pizza. XL is Hebrew for "medium sized and not very good." No menus, no prices, no side dishes, no options. Just poor pizza. We continued town the hill and I marveled at how the ice cream coolers had Ben and Jerry's, Nestles and Stolichnaya. Second dinner was a mediocre felafel at a place smack dab in the midst of the tourist area.

We made it to the Boardwalk, watched the light/water show at the Tiberium, and then argued about what to do next. Boardwalks are not interesting to everyone especially after the day we had. They were crowded, loud and over priced. Lots of fun. We all stuck it out though there was plenty of whining involved, but when we tried to get a cab to drive us back up the hill, none could be found! So we figured that while we looked, we could start walking. We ended up schleppping all the way back to the hotel.

So in total, we have no car, no plan, no energy and are running out of money.

I love Israel, but this trip is testing me. Julie is being a real trouper helping organize and arrange. Talia is having some fun as is Maddie, but each positive is offset by a negative. I'm gaining weight because I eat when I am frustrated, but when I'm not frustrated, I eat. Tomorrow, maybe a water park, eventually back to Jerusalem.

In theory, at least.