Monday, September 28, 2009

Worth watching

I wish I could show this in class--a funny, concise overview of science and civics.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cuckoo ale

This has nothing to do with teaching.
This is intimately related to teaching.

You tell me.

How different would we be if we allowed unprogrammed events to elicit "mirth and jollility"?

Corporations have all the legal rights of citizens in the United States, thanks to the Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company Supreme Court ruling back in 1886.

Publicly owned corporations have a legal duty to maximize profits for the shareholders, thanks to Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., Michigan Supreme Court ruling back in 1919. (OK, an oversimplification of a more complicated problem, but this is a blog, not the Yale Law Review.)

Corporations are immortal, despite the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party was a deliberate anti-corporate act. American corporations had a finite lifetime back in the 18th century, and they faced dissolution if they failed to act in the public interest.

(This is one of those odd, true statements that rock my mind, right up there with "President Nixon was the last liberal President.")

We just became a Title 1 district--the educorporomob is baying at our doors. I spend a lot of time after school tutoring students. I consider it part of my job.

I can sign up for a tutoring company and make real dollars tutoring during the same time I spend after school helping my lambs. I'd get a nice cut of money paid to professional tutoring organizations. They'd get a nice chunk of change, too.

Alas, I have an old-fashioned sense of duty, and though the union will vociferously proclaim my right to pretty much do anything I want after 2:45 P.M., my professional obligation is to my students.

Call me a chump.

Still, when I go home at night, with a backpack full of papers to grade, I'll drink my cuckoo ale to remember, not to forget. I'm all for "mirth and jollility," and drinking a pint after a day's work well done fuels the feeling.

It used to be the American Way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The weather is drop dead gorgeous--you can smell death creeping in, as it will in autumn, yet you don't care.

The honeybees will chase you down if you wear a colorful shirt, and the impatiens are flowering like there's no tomorrow.

Tomorrow never comes.

The carnival came to the town green, and the carnival left.

The colors were unreal, or maybe just too real--a monitor has 16.3 million colors, and cannot capture the light of a carnival at dusk on the equinox. Nor the smells . People working. No, really working. Laying tracks. Flexing cable. Smiling and joking. Cussing. Living.

I used to work on the docks. Not for long, but long enough to help rebuild a boom on a crane anchored to a barge. I helped thread the cable once we were done welding the boom back together.

I felt like I did something that day. I could point to it. Look what I did.

Feeling useful beats feeling used.

I once took care of a carny mother and her two young ones. Life was not easy, but she took good care of the children, and they were happy.

They were not, however, in school.

Now I've missed a few things while playing doctor. At least one cost a life. Rarely, however, does anyone call you on it.

I got called on this one.

The NJ Division of Youth and Family Services wanted to know why I did not report the older child, well into her 7th year.
Well, um, they get home-schooled while traveling with the carnival.
How do you know?
I don't.
Truth was the mother said her said carnies school their children on the road, and I had no motive (though plenty of reason) to doubt her. I practiced medicine; I cared about kids. Her child was healthy, her child was sane, her child was happy.

Carnies face a lot of prejudice. They're different. They're transient. They're drunks. They're shifty. They're loused. They're ne'er-do-wells. They're a lot of things according to the townsfolk, but their biggest sin might be their strengths. They do useful work, and they have reason enough not to trust the future, so they live more in the moment.

A few of them are even, well, happy. Perhaps their biggest sin.

We should all be carnies for a day.

When I was a pediatric cardiology fellow at Mount Sinai, a short-lived disastrous turn early in life, I spent an afternoon poolside with a dozen docs or so, and their clans. The hostess sniffed at her perceived happiness of one of her gardeners--"they're too ignorant to be unhappy."

It's hard to pretend class lines do not exist in the States when you're a doc, and even harder when you think that as a doc you've fallen on the wrong side of the line.

I was, I think, a good doc, but never a "gentleman." I wonder about the child from the carnival--she's a young adult now, and by now DYFS has given up on her, one way or the other.

I wonder whether the extra few month with the show made any difference one way or the other.

I know this much, though. She was happy once in her life.

The photo was shamelessly lifted from the Dixieland Carnival Company until I get my own photos uploaded here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Walt Kelly is dead. Long live Walt Kelly.

I've been busy. Too busy.

Too busy to clam, to write, to stargaze, to play my guitar, to get drunk, to chase ghost crabs on midnight beaches, to watch the monarch butterfly migration, to catch sea bass, to carve wood, to watch the ferry come and go, to brew peach melomel, to be human.

Last night Leslie and I stargazed on the edge of the Delaware Bay, chased ghost crabs under the starlight, and today we raked up some clams from Richardson Sound. I will play my guitar tonight for her after an ale (or two), and tomorrow I hope to sit on the jetty and watch the butterflies flutter by. Next week I'm brewing peach melomel, come hell or high water, and I am "wasting" my time writing now.

My hands smell like low tide at the moment--I played, today, and rejoined the universe. Women and cilantro and bay mud all smell like life, and that's no accident. I forget sometimes. If I ever forget permanently, I may as well be dead.

Clamming is serious business--it costs lives. Not just the lives of the clams and, occasionally humans. I rake up bloodworms, tiny blue claws, whelks, and all kinds of critters I cannot see.

Clamming is serious business--it feeds lives, As I stir up the muck, shrimp and kellies and whelks congregate around me, nibbling on the manna, and occasionally nibbling on me (apparently psoriasis is tasty).

Right now 15 clams sit in the fridge--I raked up a few more than that, but Leslie and I decided that 15 was enough, so I put a few back. I scooped up a few small holes in the sound, and placed the clams in my artificial beds. No doubt I killed a few thousand critters to save the few extra clams I dug up. Still, there's something to be said for knowing when enough is enough. (15 clams for two people may be too much.)

I teach, or try to, anyway. I teach about excited electrons, Latinized naming systems, and entropy. It's all very exciting for me, but out of context, I'd bet it's stultifying. If you're 15 years old in our culture, a culture predicated on lies and salesmanship, what I teach is out of context.

A couple of hours ago I was sitting in a kayak, surrounded by water and herons and sea weed and egrets and cormorants and, of course, clams. Context.

If you kill but do not consciously slaughter, you are missing something. It is very hard to live without killing, unless you are a green plant. If you are not a green plant, you have an odd sort of agreement with the universe.

I love Walt Kelly's work, and had I known him personally, I'd have loved him, too.

This is the 2nd time the pogo strip used the phrase "Don't take life too ain't nohow permanent." Walt was alive the first time. He's still alive in my head.

We pretend we're as immortal as the corporations influencing our curriculum, but, of course, we are not. IBM will exist long after my children celebrate my life at a good ol' fashioned Oirish wake.

If I teach nothing else this year, I hope I teach this much.

You are alive, part of a mystery that you cannot comprehend. You will die, also a part of a mystery you cannot comprehend. Enjoy the ride.

(Alas, it's not in the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Science Standards. I'm teaching it anyway.)

Addendum: turns out 15 clams was just right.