Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Course Correction?

There appears to be a growing consensus that online dating tools are coming up short in the the one area that matters most: true love.  While certainly many people are currently enjoying wonderful relationships consummated initially via the Internet, the mystique of love remains. Isn't true love supposed to transcend personality differences making the impossible impossible? After completing a lengthy questionnaire gauging your tolerance for disco music and dirty laundry, the web services set you up with any number of people who you could get along with just fine. And, as it turns out, they're all looking for a significant relationship! It's just too easy.
World Magazine recently featured the issue of Christian vocation and calling. "Serving a Higher Purpose" reviewed some common ground in reformed Presbyterian circles while offering fresh commentary on one of the more angst ridden issues in my life and many others. (See http://www.worldmag.com/archives/2010-12-04)
The classic reformation inspired understanding of calling is that God is glorified through our vocations, not in spite of them. We are called to use our gifts in the world to their greatest potential. The baker, plumber, and street sweeper can all be honoring to God by performing the duties of their vocation to the fullest.
In the reformed Christian family, children are thus taught to explore their gifts and then make a judgment on vocation based on these gifts and their passions and interests. Unfortunately, ones God-given gifts are not always obvious. Once discovered, it isn't always apparent how they match up with current employment options and jobs. Of course, a thoroughly rounded education and incredible exposure to the world via good books, travel, media, and the Internet have expanded interests exponentially. In the midst of what becomes a quagmire of self-searching various career guides and life path programs have popped up touting clear headed answers on what you would be best at.   
I'd like to propose that our current concept of vocation has been corrupted by individualism. Vocation is used as an excuse to pursue personal interests rather than the needs of the family, church, or society. With such a wide menu of vocational offerings, there is a respectable job for every Christian vice.  
What if Christians are supposed to be pursuing "high impact" vocations? We should stop fooling ourselves that being a great IT Helpdesk agent is the same as being a great medical researcher.
What if vocation is not about me, but about what the world needs and what God wants for the world? Yes, we do all need good plumbers in our lives. But they don't need to be Christians.
What if vocation is not what comes most easily, but what may be actually quite hard? We should stop trolling the waters for a job that is "the right fit" and admit to ourselves what every Olympic athlete knows: you become great by working hard, by practicing. 
Our "personality profiles" and "career maps" have become sacrosanct. But I suspect that there are many of you that deep inside know that "serving a higher purpose" is much more meaningful than a 40 question questionnaire and a job that is nominally challenging, a little bit interesting, and pays the bills.

An Interesting Map

The northeast will shed congressional seat while the South and Southwest pick up seats in 2011, based on the U.S. Census data recorded this year. The political implications are interesting. While the south is a stronger Republican region, it is likely that a good portion of that population growth is due to immigration (hispanics). The hispanic vote trends Democrat, although by no means a lock.
More generally, I am under the impression that regional differences are the single most overlooked and important factor in U.S. politics.
 
 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Assange and WikiLeaks

It has not been immediately obvious to me what the proper reaction ot WikiLeaks continued bombardment of the U.S. State Department. Nor is it apparent to me how to feel about Assange and the organization itself. Chime in with your thoughts.
For starters, here's an interview with Assange just published in Forbes. The interview is sure to get a lot of press since Assange claims to be preparing for a major "megaleak" on a "major U.S. Bank." I wonder how the markets will respond?
 
But echoing my own dubious attitude, here's what Assange had to say to one of Greenberg's questions:

Greenberg: What do you want to be the result of this release?

Assange: [Pauses] I'm not sure.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cam Newton

I'm monitoring the increasing controversy over Cam Newton, star quarterback from Auburn
The outlook is not good. Even if he didn't receive any money for committing, he is the kind of kid that would. That's the real problem. Add purchase of a stolen computer, and mutliple cheating offenses...
The macro problem is that if he keeps throwing touchdowns while denying everything and getting pat on the back by Coach "He's a Great Kid," he'll just skate on by.
Bench him. Expel him. Make him get a real education.
Or here's a genius idea: Send him over to Northwestern, bench him for the last years of his elgibility, and see if anyone actually notices when he squeezes behind a desk at 8:15 for his 8 o'clock lecture.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

It comes with the territory, Mr. President

Prio to the 2010 elections last week President Obama said:
"Lately I feel like somebody made a big mess and I've got my mop and I'm mopping the floor and the folks who made the mess are there (saying) 'you're not mopping fast enough. You're not mopping the right way. It's a socialist mop.'" http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE59Q05Z20091027
 
Does the President actually expect anyone to feel sorry for him? Yes, Mr. President. Many Americans do think you are mopping the wrong way. And unless you are prepared to write them off as ignorant hicks from the backwoods, you might as well give them a listen. Pardon me if I sound too harsh. I truly have an incredible amount of respect for anyone bright enough and tough enough to serve as the U.S. President. But all the credit, and all the blame, just comes with the territory.
 
The same goes for any incumbent who lost, or nearly lost, last Tuesday. One always hopes that a stellar record of service to the American people will prevail over the proverbial shifting sand of public sentiment. Yet there is something to be celebrated here, and I do think Obama recognized this in his post election comments. The genius of American democracy is that power is not necessarily settled in the hands of one faction or even just a few. Every two to four years, the American people have the opportunity to sweep a whole new slate of their fellow citizens into a position of authority. An election that brought scores of new faces (and thus new ideas) into public service should be celebrated.
 
It's just a little less of a bitter pill to swallow when it's the other guys getting dusted.
 
 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Shifting Sand

Prediction: The GOP will gain control of the House of Representatives handily tomorrow but fall 3 seats short in the Senate. Congressman Reid will lose his seat.
There will be an unprecedented level of compromise over the next two years, even if it is downplayed or ignored in the media. Republicans, afraid of truly earning the "obstructionist" label, will have to pick their battles wisely. Democrats, relieved to still hold on to the Senate and in an effort to stop the bleeding, will likewise be willing to negotiate modest compromises. Without significant improvement in the U.S. economy, or a positive reason to rally voter turnout, President Obama will not be re-elected.  

Assertion: If there ever was any doubt that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are anything but liberal comedians, I felt like the recent "Rally" tore that cover off completely. The rally was clearly held in reaction to conservative groundswell and attended by an unabashedly liberal audience. Maybe my problem is that I just don't think either of them are that funny (And that, yet more proof perhaps, that they are liberal!).

Interesting: Today I used "Project Vote Smart's" EasyVote web tool to gauge who I would vote for if I had happened to have moved and registered in PA in time. Try it here: http://www.votesmart.org/voteeasy/#
 The tool displays the candidates for federal office and a menu of issue questions above. As you work your way through the questions, the tool gives you a "% similar" for each candidate in real time, adjusting up and down as you complete the survey. I found with the candidates in front of me, I began with something of a bias in regards to who I thought I should be voting for. But when I concentrated on answering each question, however un-nuanced, exactly the way in which I generally think about them, the % match between candidates was surprisingly similar, no more a 10% spread between the front-runners.

Bistro 19 gets the Church Family Treatment

I have a slight aversion to all restaurants named "Bistro x," so we passed over this restaurant once before. This time it was the low-lit bar and warm oak through the stained glass window above the door that caught my eye and convinced me to stop. What we were looking for was just that- warm, cozy, comfort food.
We were seated by an over-enthusiastic bar tender- maybe it was just my mood -in the restaurant seating, a brighter lit and less defined space adjacent to the bar. Less coziness, still plenty of bar noise. "Oh s***!" the friendly Steeler's fans yelled to the roar of the telvised crowd. My wife like the tree branches painted on the walls and unique table centerpieces. The meatloaf with blackberry gravy grabbed me and I didn't equivocate. My wife found a ham and brie pannini. But first we had  to try the egg-roll cheese steak from the appetizer menu.
The food was served quickly. The excellent cheese steak was enough to serve as a meal. The entrees were delicious and heavy. For an awkward, spur of the moment, Sunday dinner, the Bistro 19 turned out to be a decent choice. Recommended.   
 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rethinking an American Obsession

Lately I have increasingly questioned my love, or even interest, in professional football. I rarely go out of my way to watch a particular game, but I will monitor records, watch replays, and generally cheer for the Eagles and Ravens.
But lurking in the back of my mind is the knowledge that the NFl is branded and marketed sport with few heroes and a nasty, dirty, backside. Here's fuel to that fire- an article from ESPN.com, which interestingly, probably makes most of it's money from the NFL.
 
 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You need some Identity help buddy...

This past week I witnessed an interesting trend that I thought deserved some thought. At my college fellowship our campus minister started in on a series on Christian Identity based on passages from the book of John. Then at the church I attended on Sunday I was surprised to hear the pastor announce his new sermon series entitled: "I Am: Finding your identity in God." This was an interesting coincidence but it didn't turn into a trend until I talked to a friend of mine that afternoon over lunch and learned that he had also received a sermon on "Finding your Identity" at the church he had attended!


Apparently, pastors throughout the area have decided this fall is a season of identity crisis. Well, I hear you Reverends, I'll be working on it!

Monday, September 27, 2010

You be the Judge: Gluten Free Frozen Pizza v. Digiorno's

After a long week of work and a successful but exhausting trip to the grocery store on Friday, we were obliged to go with frozen pizza for dinner. My pizza is on the left (gluten free BBQ chicken pizza from Glutino), and Laura's on the right (supreme from Digiorno). They cost roughly the same amount of money.

You be the judge!

The Limitations of Reason

"[Reason] soon learned from experience that reality refuses to provide what is expected of it. Reason alone cannot provide an interpretation of the world that assigns a course of ethical action for man." -Albert Schweitzer

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Burned Out

The following short non-fiction piece appeared in The Urbanite July 2010 edition. Many thanks to the Keim family, for their friendship and hospitality throughout my childhood. Only as an adult have a truly gained an understanding of the immense heart and courage it took for them to live and grow a family in the place they did- and the wonderful blessings that can come from it.
---
Visiting my friend Tyler and his family in South Philly was an adventure for me, being young, naïve, and thoroughly suburban. On the drive there, I stayed glued to the windows. The homeless, the hookers, and the glassstrewn parking lots glittering under the streetlights were a mysterious carnival; the city lights above and beyond danced. I wondered what secrets were hiding behind the boarded-up windows.

Tyler's parents were the hipster types, so we kids ran wild. We stampeded from room to room, firing rubber bands at each other and barricading the doors against Tyler's sister. From his bedroom window Tyler pointed out the rooftop where a woman sunbathed topless. Below us, the alley provided ample targets for his wrist rocket. Sirens wailed, and I thought they must be coming for us, but he just laughed.

"The house two doors down caught fire," Tyler informed me, "and the guy died. Want to see it?" His dad led the way into the burnedout house. The fire chief, they said, had found the asphyxiated violinist with the stub of a cigarette still in his hand. Within hours after the last fire truck had left, scavengers ransacked the house for anything of worth. Tyler's dad finally boarded up the house, giving what dignity he could to his deceased neighbor.

I kept thinking about the elderly musician asleep on the couch as flames engulfed the pile of newspapers at his feet. An old upright piano stood blackened in one corner of the room. There were piles of sheet music, smoky but otherwise preserved. Tyler was getting bored. I shook off the sordid feeling that clung to me like soot, and we rushed off to shoot marbles at the alley cats.

—Asa Church is currently sailing on the Chesapeake. He teaches eighth grade but dreams in poetry and prose.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Terabithia

I've been thinking about what "Terabithia" means and its significance, not just in the book by Katherine Paterson, but more broadly in life. In the meantime, a meaningful quote:


"It ain't beautiful," May Belle broke in. "It's scary. Nailing holes right through somebody's hand."
"May Belle's right." Jess reach down in to the deepest pit of his mind. "It's because we're all vile sinners God made Jesus die."
"Do you think that' true?"
He was shocked. "It's in the Bible, Leslie."
She looked at him as if she were going to argue, then seemed to changer her mind. "It's crazy, isn't it?" She shook her head. "You have to believe it, but you hate it. I don't have to believe it, and I think it's beautiful." She shook her head again. "It's crazy."

In Spiritual Depression, Loyd-Jones writes about the dismal attitude of many Christians. Here, as the character Leslie describes it, I'm not sure which is worse. The passage says more about human nature I think than it does about the nature of faith. There are many people, perhaps in this country many more people, who stand in Leslie's position, on the outside looking in at a beautiful story or set of teachings rather than under the compulsion of cultural religion. But who can stand both in the beauty and the fear of this story, a God made sacrifice?

Later in the story, after the tragic death of Leslie, Jess discusses the loss with her father:

Finally his father said, "Hell, ain't it?" It was the kind of thing Jess could hear his father saying to another man. He found it strangely comforting, and it made him bold. 
"Do you believe people go to hell, really go to hell, I mean?"
"You ain't worrying about Leslie Burke?"
It did seem peculiar, but still- "Well, May Belle said..."
"May Belle? May Belle ain't God."
"Yeah, but how do you know what God does?"
"Lord, boy, don't be a fool. God ain't gonna send any little girls to hell." 

Would he? It does indeed seem rather foolish to think so. The power of literature is that it can take something that may have thus far been an abstract issue in life and make it a bit real, even if only to the imagination. 

Jess doesn't take any chances, at any rate. Maybe that's what the bridge is all about. A bridge to Terabithia -salvation wrought with human hands.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fact or Fiction

It was only the second day into our trip and we didn’t have the battle scars to prove much of anything. Just three scrawny kids, obviously brothers, riding bikes rescued from Goodwill.  Of course people wouldn’t believe us.

We fell asleep to the patter of rain which had mercifully held off long enough for us to discover that our untested camp stove didn’t work. We got dinner at the gas station instead and then headed back down the road and into some woods where our tent was. Three teenage boys in a two person dome tent would take some getting used to, but for the moment, we were sufficiently exhausted.

When we got back to the gas station the next morning one brother started doing Tai Chi in the middle of the parking lot while the other washed up in the bathroom around the back of the snack shop. I ate two Hostess fruit pies, staving off any chance of a caloric deficit with breakfast alone.

That’s when we got that question for the first time, “You guys are biking where?” We explained that we had started in Atlantic City, NJ – yesterday actually –but we were headed to the Pacific Ocean. Maybe our own incredulity was what inspired a lack of confidence. But it had to have been our otherwise absolute appearance of earnestness that made up their minds. “You are definitely smoking something. Well, good luck!”

Journalistic Restraint




Bonnie Berkowitz writes in the Washington Post "In Louisiana, damage from the oil spill can be deceiving" http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/31/AR2010053103113.html

In the article, Berkowitz describes how at first glance, the Louisiana coast doesn't appear all that damaged. The oil is not obviously devastating, but perniciously present -everywhere. The slow choke will be much more terrible than the flash of flames that began it all.
As I read, I was refreshed to be reading an honest REPORT of someone's experience rather than a sensational GLOSS. This is journalistic restraint. As a journalist, it is so tempting to tell a story with the way you want your reader to think of it at the forefront. Because you think the oil spill is a tragedy, you want to make it seem as tragic as possible. Because you think people should be outraged, you are tempted to report only the outrageous. It is a subtle form of professional arrogance that perpetuates this idea that the reader needs to be schooled in what to think rather than simply given the facts to think about.

The Gulf oil spill is indeed a tragedy. It needs no gloss.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The sorry "end" to the Floyd Landis case

It's once again a sad reminder of how the mighty fall, and so terribly. Floyd Landis, one time winner of the Tour de France, after being stripped of his medal, launching a widely publicized legal defense fund, publishing a book to argue his innocence, losing his appeal, and then being served a warrant for computer hacking (I'm sure I missed something)- is now admitting publicly and in detail that he has used performance enhancing drugs through much of his career, including the Tour. But he is not stopping there. 
He has volunteered full cooperation in the investigation of nearly every big name biker that he rode with. He is accusing Lance, Levi, Hincapie, and others of blatant drug use including one instance in which a team bus pulled to the side of the road on a remote mountain road and feigned engine trouble while the whole team received blood transfusions.

I want to view Flandis' full disclosure as an attempt at doing good for the sport. Someone and something needs to give. But he needs to understand it cannot be him. There is so little sympathy for him from any corner that reactions will be sufficient to render doing anything about it impossible. Far more powerful would have been an honest and contrite admission of guilt, without any back door excuses, to burn the conscience of the collective sport. 

This news hits an additional nerve because of my wife, who is Mennonite. Landis' family are Mennonites and many people in this tight knit community were still arguing for his innocence. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Interstate squabbles make for entertaining politics

Arizona is now threatening to cut off or complicate electricity flow to California in response to tourism boycott. I love state politics like this! It feels old school and simple and out in the open. Reminds me of militia led border skirmishes between Michigan and Ohio (the Toledo War).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

Confessional

Something must be terribly off balance or wrong if your work is becoming increasingly a source of guilt in your life, the place where dirty secrets pile up and you are glad no one else is watching. In the profession of teaching, I think it may be a game ender.
Would you believe that I yell at my kids? Even worse, argue with them? Would you believe that I even sometimes goad them, taunt them, make fun of them in front of their classmates and intentionally try to shame them? (sometimes a sense of shame would be a relief) I do all these things. And that is an area of repentance since what my students need most of all, and admittedly it is the hardest thing to give, is love.
I teach 8th grade students in an inner city school. For some people, that is a pardon more than sufficient for all of my sins. I'm not sure I agree or am willing to let myself off the hook. But then that's not what worries me the most. Because ultimately all of it probablydamages me more than any of my tough skinned students. They do care -that's a lesson I had to learn -but not nearly as much as me. I'll beat myself up at letting them beat me up, then say things I regret and beat myself up some more. Most of all, I'll just feel angry and ugly inside. This can no longer be.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Heavy Lifting: Are state governors doing the dirty work when Congress has failed?

Across the country, state governors are facing the reality of more than just slightly unbalanced budgets. For example, in NJ, the state deficit is approximately 1\3 of the entire budget. See the following article.
http://thehill.com/opinion/columnists/ab-stoddard/97603-nj-gov-sets-tone-for-us
I can't deny that I am harboring a small bit of NJ pride over Governor Christie's very bold and seemingly integrity driven stand. Check out this video:
 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O70vGKpX-2Y&feature=player_embedded#!
Even as a teacher, I am unsympathetic to the mostly Union led outcry over salary freezes in education. 

Most states avoided severe cuts in services last year because of enormous federal payouts. This year, there's no escaping it. Another headline from the LA Times reads, "Schwarzenegger unveils austere budget plan."
 Unlike NJ, California is laying off Education funds, although teachers and administrators are still crying foul. If "audacity" was the rallying cry of 2009, surely 2010 will be something a little less, well, audacious.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Middle School


For Jim Pickard

Life is like a catapult
Launching kids into the world
Marshmallows (in winter)
And water balloons (in spring)
Don't kid yourself that summer
Is but a temporary thing.

Life is like a transformer
Making us into adults
There's magic still (in sixth)
And the seventh inning stretch
Please believe me 8th graders
These years you won't regret.


---

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Emotional?

"Abortion provider says complying with new Okla.ultrasound law leaves some patients emotional"
This the headline of a short article. Who would have thought? http://inform.com/united-states/clinic-new-okla-abortion-law-hard-patients-918833a

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Flecks and Bits

I have tried
To turn the word you
Into a we
To remind you that the world alone
Is merely the arm's length
Between you
And me

Last night in my dreams
I dreamed in pieces
Life and each piece like bits and flecks
Broke off and floated away.
This morning when I woke up
I lay in bed to slowly reclaim
All the dreams that were merely lies
And those that were meant to stay.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Man in the Hearse

They parked a U-Haul
At the back of the church
Holding the weight of the world
And it's curse
And all of the problems
And all of the hurt
That couldn't be made new
By the man in the hearse.

During the service
They sang his praise
How he gave up belongings
And his space
Called everything nothing
Only to exchange
For water and bread
His mountain of simple ways.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Of our own...

A U.S. adoptive mother, unable to deal with her adopted son, abandoned the 7 year old on a Russian bound plane. Russian officials are understandably outraged and it is a particularly unflattering thing for the United States to be getting press coverage over it. At the same time, it really isn't any more accurate to conflate the irresponsibility of a mother with the ineptitude of all American adoptive parents any more than it is to mistake one's own son as a representative of Russia that can be packed up and sent back to where he came from.

While Russia's suspension of U.S. bound adoptions in response may be a more political move along the lines of similar posturing in China, it should revive in us a passion for adoption of American children by Americans. Legal red tape needs to be cleared, the rights of adoptive parents protected, and the overall cost and time of adoption reduced. The average cost of adoption through, for example, Catholic Charities is $20,500 according to their website. It may not be true, but my understanding has long been that American couples adopt overseas at a much higher rate than they otherwise would because of the difficulty in adopting an American born child.

4\19 I want to add that this is not so much a matter of an America first argument, or even a take care of our own thing. Instead it is a matter of common sense. Why go overseas when there are so many children who need homes right here in front of us? Save on airfare and avoid international law issues.  I can think of some other reasons, legitimate or not, why Americans might prefer foreign adoption. 1) Perhaps there is a quiet fear of having to face birth parents later in life, a complication that while embraced by some, is incredibly intimidating to others. Foreign adoption, you would think, reduces this risk. 2) Foreign adoption leaves adoptive parents with the warm feeling of giving a home to a  foreign child who might otherwise live in squalor while being choosy about physical ailments and disabilities. One of the cases in this story from CNN is a direct counter to this though.
http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/04/13/russian.adoption.families/index.html
3) Many of the children available for adoption or in need of adoption here in the United States are African American living in poverty. A majority of adoptive parents in the United States are Caucasian and upper middle class. (by my estimate)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Recess"

Four young brown birds preening around a park bench
Picking through polyester strands of fake hair
And chattering about love and common sense
How she said what he said was way
Out of line. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

1.3 Billion Dollars Worth of Illegal Immigration

Have illegal aliens contributed 1.3 Billion dollars to the IRS? It would be interesting to know if the comments of readers to this article are on the right track.
http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/03/09/old.tax.refunds/index.html?eref=igoogle_cnn

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The 295 Sequel Continues!

"On the Strange Things That Happen When you Drive 295 Too Much" Sequel
-By the Matriarch
 
Route 295 in New Jersey particularly north of the North-South Freeway has long been legendary in the Church household, even more so now with the construction between exits 28 and 32- we have dubbed it the "13th" Wonder of the Modern World. 
Who of you haven't been driving south near Woodcrest Station when invisible ropes pull you into a lane that you have no intention of entering. "Keturah, what are you doing.?! Stay in your lane." Only to find the very same thing happening to me the next day at the same spot. Freaky!! 
The other day returning from the infamous "Springdale Road" what should appear directly ahead but a miniature man filling potholes with black grit- you know the stuff that lasts the maximum of 12 hours. Whew, swerve a little to the right and I just miss him. 
My favorite game along 295 is "chicken". You know when you merge into 65 mph traffic (wait I thought the speed limit was 45 mph in construction zones) from a dead stop- how long is the line behind me??? Or when you are in the lane being merged into- do I slow down, speed up, or close my eyes? My favorite tactic is to shout aloud, "Don't you dare go now" as I pass. The other night it didn't work. Keturah and I were on the way to Medford Lakes in the pouring rain. She was having a pleasant conversation with a nameless college admissions' counselor (power of cellular) concerning a favorite archaic college tradition much loved by the alumni as we approached a car getting ready to merge and I yelled "Don't you dare" and he did. No chance to stop in the squeaky Chevy, no idea what is on my left. GAS It YOU GEEZER!!!! Not a chance! Sure collision!? Now this is one of the mysterious properties of 295- the expected never happens. I honk (weakly). Well at least he ought to know that he should have been rear ended. Keturah to the admissions' counselor, "My mom just almost ploughed into another car." Mom yells, "No, he almost side swiped me." Admissions' counselor doesn't miss a beat in his dramatic tradition description. "Oh rats, maybe my headlights aren't working and he didn't see me. Exiting at Route 70, "No, headlights are on." OK, what is the story? Phantom car? Your guess is as good as mine. Praise on the refrigerator, "avoided an unavoidable car accident. 
Last Friday night goes to the top of my list of 295 experiences. Yes, the night of the Salao tournament. Not up for 3 hours of sitting on the bleachers waiting game after game, I opt for a period drama in the comfort of home and at 1:30 AM head out to catch the last couple of games. 295?? Tempted to do the roundabout Haddonfield way, but take courage and 295 it. Too many potholes, so I take the express cattle shoot. I always wonder what happens if you break down in this lane-nowhere to go. Lots of trucks heading south to the left- can't they dim their headlights- police action on the right and no you won't believe this one, I hardly did, a horse galloping along the median toward me. I try to slow the car as he moves toward my lane. I check my rearview to be sure no one is following closely. As I return my gaze ahead, something flies toward my windshield and hits it with a thud. I am so surprised I almost duck, but thankfully I keep my nerve and stay on the road shaking in disbelief. After that I have no more "visions" of galloping horses the rest of the way to Bethel. As I get off the highway, I seriously doubt that anything really happened and am convinced that I am really too old for these late night excursions. Upon arriving at the tournament, all is forgotten as audible cheering from the gym changes 2 AM gloom to mid-day clarity. 
Next morning, of course, I think it must have been a dream. Upon jumping in the car to deliver some forgotten basketball shoes, I see a substance streaked on the windshield in front of the passenger seat. Investigating, I wipe a sticky pumpkin smelling substance on my hand. What can this be? In a hurry though, so I wipe the pulpy stuff from my hand and mind and am convinced that it must have nothing do to with any incident last night. 
Today 295 again, traveling south and there it is again that infamous streak of green spray paint that I see every time I am heading south just north of Haddonfield – Berlin Road exit. But this time not far from it, I also see what looks like a squished orange pumpkin plastered along the shoulder. 295 legends live on!

Please Advise: Extortion

I have to plead ignorance on this one. What exactly is so bad about extortion? Maybe I can answer my own question. For example, a greedy domestic of the Travolta family tried to blackmail them with "evidence" that they mistreated their son. Problem: it was a lie, and a particularly egregious one given that Jett Travolta died tragically from symptoms of a longstanding health issue. So extortion, when it seeks to ruin the the good names of hurting people out of greed, is really a bad thing.
But then is it always so?
Example two: David Letterman is off the hook after sleeping around with co-workers because the jealous boyfriend was stupid\insincere enough to ask for money for his silence. But what if the guy had simply spread the news? The difference in this case is that it was true. I hardly feel like 6 months of jail, 4.5 years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service is fair given the situation.
Read more about it here
Granted, I don't know what all was in the blackmail letter, but I get the moral of the lesson:

Call the bluff, laugh off your slimy behavior, and if your funny, and you have money, you've got it made honey!

Choose Civility Spoofs by Pumthuggee

A hilarious set of spoofs on Howard County's "Choose Civility" campaign from my friend Jon Barnes:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/pumthuggee/4420315678/

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Teacher Gossip

Until I began working as a teacher's aid at an elementary school I had no idea of the similarities between teachers and students. Apparently, the age old practice of discussing good and bad teachers with fellow students is something teachers also indulge in. My lunch breaks generally consist of listening to different teachers discuss how ridiculous their students are. The most common topic is discussing just how many students a teacher has that really should be in some special program and need to be diagnosed.
In fact, the amount of gossip that passes between teachers on an average school day could certainly rival that of any group of chatty high-schoolers.

Re-thinking already?

Maybe "already" is the wrong word. It has been, after all, almost two decades or more since America's tepid voyage into standards based accountability gained traction.
So it's not surprising that some people are re-thinking their enthusiasm. Diane Ravitch is one of them.
After three years of teaching in Baltimore City Public Schools (at both a public middle school and a public charter elementary\middle school) I have a a certain sympathy for Ravitch's about face. The Maryland State Assessment, and linking the future of a school's existence to their results on the test, has led to a paucity of imagination in curriculum. Middle school instruction in low performing schools has literally been reduced to the teaching of isolated skills. This, I hope is obvious to see, is indeed a tragedy and even an outrage. Does that mean standards based accountability is the real problem? I think you have to look further and deeper. We should not expect a simple conclusion.
I just hope that Ravitch doesn't give up the ghost entirely. Unions, and the public school bureaucracy continues to cripple the education system more than any other curriculum or standardized test.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Gleanings

An interesting article about the possible effects of 80% of job losses being for men. 
I feel fortunate to have passed into an ostensibly more mature stage in my life with marriage, and hopefully before long, kids. In fact, at 25, I feel very behind. Life is too short to squander on years of drunken nights that all blend into one. And fortunately, there are others who agree with me in asserting that exotic travel with small children is not such a bad idea after all (see the latest edition of the Atlantic).

On an entirely different matter, I read something interesting while teaching my 8th graders today (!). According to our MSA Finish Line books, "Many farmers [in Pennsylvania] practice traditional methods, using only the natural fertilizer from there cattle. Their picture-postcard farms are more productive than many larger agricultural operations that depend on chemical fertilizer. The trouble is that the manure runs off into the streams. They in turn flow into the Susquehanna River. And the Susquehanna provides half the fresh water for the Chesapeake Bay."
I guess I just thought the giant industrial chemical farms were the bad guys? 


Monday, February 22, 2010

An interesting wrinkle

I have been watching the latest tea-party machinations with growing interest. Glenn Greenwald writes an interesting piece at Salon.com
I finished the article feeling a bit confused. Is Palin not a darling of the tea-party movement? She has been embraced but only for the exposure and recognition, as Greenwald suggests?
Suddenly Paul is gunning for another run at being President and it's only February 2010. I wonder by the time mid-term elections roll around how the scenery will look. The tea-party has already proved a surprise.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Bzzzz. It's your friend from Missouri, who you met in college, and lives in your city now!

Has the universal use of cell phones made area codes more or less relevant? There was a day when people identified with particular area codes, perhaps more distinctly in urban and ultra-rural areas of the country. Are codes have been used to identify location and distance, signifying that a person belongs elsewhere. Sometime in grade school I distinctly remember the addition of a new area code in southern NJ. Suddenly I had to dial an area code to call my best friend. More recently, my wife only reluctantly changed her phone number from her hometown of Harrisonburg, VA to Baltimore with more than a tinge of nostalgia. 
Because we all have cell phones now, and everyone's number programmed into our contacts, it hardly matters what number someone has. It isn't so strange to not know the number of someone in your family, including your spouse. In this way, area codes are increasingly irrelevant and we move closer and closer to simply a 10-digit phone number that has no geographical significance. 
Then, a number pops up on your cell phone and you wonder "3-1-4 Who do I know from that area code? What area code is it." A quick Google search and suddenly you are reminded that you dear friend is originally from Missouri. Roots. Connections. We are not entirely done with our old ways. Just re-discovering them.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Love Note to Baltimore

Baltimore, I love you this winter. You are actually more than just a drab, sometimes chilly place. You are at the center of big snow. Even now your inhabitants are scurrying for cover like the roaches that infest your 40% vacant housing. I actually enjoyed the camaraderie of standing in line for 45 minutes at the Mondawmin Shoppers last night. And now the street is actually quiet. It will be a good 24 hours of quiet from what the forecast is saying. Quiet and beauty, a white robe over a soiled and naked body. Once the snow stops there will be employment for all- every last hustling dreamers I probably won't have to shovel one bit but by the time I get outside, there will be a fight about who shoveled my ten feet of sidewalk and thus deserves five dollars. Drinks for all at the Two-Spot, on me!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Days of Regret and other recent poems...

















These are the days of regret
The already here but not yet
When the sun has not even set
And there is work to be done.
These days slip into those days
The gloss of time is kind
Surprised by the peace and acceptance
The place of eternity finds.
---

This morning there was arctic ice
Floating in the sky
Bits and flecks and windblown drifts
Stretched from mile to miles
---

The tiny babe is stuck in his cradle
We won't let him out
Since he is so meek and mild
He's sure not to shout
Let wise men worship
And skeptics doubt
There's no reason to worry
Or be down in the mouth
Just a baby
In a manger.
---

I bought Christmas
I found it on sale
For the economic uplift
Keeping bankers from jail.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn, at 87

Zinn wrote honestly in his autobiography, "I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'" The "more" that Zinn referenced is a revisionist history that elevated the American people, those on the left that is, over the realities of commonly accepted history. Certainly we can benefit immensely from understanding the power of dissent. It is also interesting to read history written from an alternative point of view. Controversial in its time,  when I reached the University in 2003, "A People's History of the United States" was still appearing in classrooms, not as a primary textbook but as a source worth referencing. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

If we could just get our message across...

Ruben Navarette Jr. writes that "what we have here is not a failure to communicate."
I have noticed that a lot of politicians operate under the premise that if the "message" is properly communicated the poor huddled masses will see the light and wisdom of their agenda. On second thought, maybe this is not so much a feature of politicians but academic elites. This type of person possesses a keen sense of their own abilities and the rightness of their opinion coupled with a low regard for the average and less educated American. But ironically, they demonstrate a naive sense of human goodness and moral spirit. Can I be so bold as to suggest that in some ways I am describing "gentry liberalism"?
I have always held the strong suspicion that no matter how much we "communicate" there will be significant disagreements and a general breakdown between idealist notions and the day to day demands of regular people. Surely there is a relationship between this conservative viewpoint and my own Calvinistic convictions of an all pervasive human depravity. A world of good can be done by just talking, by genuine communication. Dialogue can lead to empathy, empathy to understanding, and understanding to compromise. But only sometimes. And if people don't seem to like your message, maybe they just don't like it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Avatar


I enjoyed the blockbuster Avatar immensely tonight. The computer graphics and 3D effects are clearly without parallel and set a new bar. My wife astutely pointed out that the use of 3D is very tasteful, unlike many previous movies. Instead of gimmicky "jump out of your seat" moments that make the 3D obtrusive, the movie was content to let the effects highlight the amazing "natural" scenery of the movie.
Regarding plot, my wife and I agreed that there isn't anything particularly earth shattering about the plot, story, or message. The movie plays on all sorts of trendy spheres of debate including the environment, native relations, the military, and corporate greed. All of this adds up to a tired but effective manipulation of western white guilt. With so many allusions in a number of directions, there is no surprise that practically everyone has something to be concerned or offended about.
As a Christian, I might have taken greater offense at the pantheistic mother earth worship in the movie if it wasn't all set in a glow in the dark fairy land with blue cats (nice tails!) and oily jungle hyenas. Final call- lighten up, it's a FLICK, and a damn good one at that.
Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Someone said it...

The Times Online has flipped the coin and is now allowing this traitor to talk- because it makes for compelling reading- and it got my attention:

Patrick Muirhead is now fleeing "a lifestyle, reinforced by a social milieu of flamboyant media gays. At the BBC, where I worked for seven years, homosexuality was very nearly compulsory."

Joining the Mob

With the hope of challenging the label:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

On the strange things that happen when you drive 295 too much.

Dear Friends,

I have recently gone through the greatest trauma of my life.

Who would have thought that the miles between exit 36b on 295 and exit 26 could contain such a strange destiny as I made my way home one late night.

What you are about to hear is a true story. Please do not be deceived by the strangeness of this adventure. I would have trouble believing it myself if the handcuff marks upon my wrists didn’t force me to believe the dreamlike events of last night.

So here goes…

I left Maranatha in the darkening gloom with never a thought that this drive would be any different from any other. And besides accidentally getting on to the ramp for 295 north and having to back out of it while hoping I wouldn't get rear-ended....nothing strange happened for quite a while.

So I was driving along pretty normally at a pretty speed of 90 mph listening to the sounds of Q102 and musing on many wondrous things, when this car in front of me, who I'd been quickly approaching but still had some distance on me does something that cars are not supposed to do...

It was one of those real old minvans...(you know the boxy hippy ones???)

So...ok hold on to your seats people...

He slows down and TURNS his FLIPPIN van sideways in the middle of the stinking HIGHWAY!!!! I repeat!!!! He turned his van sideways and just STOPPED, BLOCKING the WHOLE highway!!!!

yeah!! thats what I thought....heck I was so surprised I almost forgot to hit the brake!! Like what the FLIP is going on??? what is this? a bus stop???

As you may well imagine I was pretty confused and quite at a loss at what to do....As I slowly gazed at the unfolding scene, my mouth frozen in the actions of singing "So what, I'm still a rockstar....."

It was like...gosh, I was just waiting to wake up and figure what I'd crashed into!!!!

Well...I've had a lot of time to think over what happened in the next minutes or so....and having to explain the story multiple times while under custody has definitely forced me to get my facts right....

So I managed to narrow down the facts of what happened to a couple points...

1. Minivan pulls sideways blocking highway.

2. Old geezer (one of those skinny but spry looking ones...) with big white mustache gets out sets flares at strategic spots around van.

3. Pulls several potted shrubs and small trees out of van and places them around van.

ok...

this is the part that really made my mouth drop...like no lie....the radio went OFF at this point...

So the dude pulls a can of SPRAY paint out of his van and begins to paint on the side of his minvan in lurid Green letters:

ready...

STOP DRIVING SAVE THE TREES

um

um

um

um

can somebody smack me????

As I stared at the words staring back at me, even the increasing shouts, screams, honks, and other assorted vocal expressions of anger that came from all the cars behind me slowly receded into a mixed hodgepodge of incredulity....

A freaking tree-hugger??? What is this California??? I'm in NEW JERSEY for heaven's sake!!!!! What is this ol’ dude doing here???

whoooooooooooooooooooo

thats all I'm saying kids...

The next part of the story gets bit blurry for me, but here goes...

Well, you can guess the crowd wasn't exactly as content to stare in wonderment as I was, so I was soon awakened from my reverie by an approaching mob of people with obvious violent intent to remove the old man and his van.

Now I have never been a hero or anything but I've never enjoyed watching an unfair fight....

Anyway...somehow I found myself approaching the old geezer (who had succeeded in painting a large portion of himself green by this time) with some vague thought of mediating the impending argument...

The thing is, the dude wasn't the old hippie I had thought he was...

So he reaches into the back of his van and pulls out a pistol (one of those old looking revolver kinds?) and a shotgun.

HEre's the part you're going to have to bear with me on...

its kind of hard to explain....

So...well he chucks the pistol to me right? and says something...like I dunno....all I could think of at that point while I stared at the loaded pistol chilling in my unresisting hands was the same song over and over again "SO What, I'm still a Rockstar!" again and again.... I raised my eyes to see rows of patrol cars pull up and surround us....

I mean...I've never thought too much about being a rebel, breaking the LAW......OUTLAWRY.....but what was I doing??

You may be thinking right now, "Aijalon you are a stupidhead!" but please understand, when in your a crazy situation like that....and its happening a lot faster...your mind just refuses to put your priorities in the right order...and you just can't reason correctly.... I dunno.

All I know is, when the old treehugger growled with a seasoned old chuckle, "You best get behind the van door for cover."

Something inside of me kind of went "I WANT OUT OF THIS SITUATION!!"

NExt thing I know I chuck the gun and jump on the ground yelling (the cops claimed that I was screaming in a very high pitched tone, but I don't think they liked me so don't believe that) "I DIDN'T DO IT" (again here the accounts vary...the police officer at the station insisted that I screamed "HE MADE ME DO IT!" but again...lies.)

Well..the rest of the story is history...

And while my upcoming court date sheds some gloom on the situation...the fact that I now have a story that will live to be told around my children's children's tables and doubtless be retold until it echoes in the halls of tall taledom brings me great satisfaction.

Whatever happens I know I will never forget the sight of that old man, covered in green spray-paint, being dragged away by two cops screaming at me, "THE TREES ARE ASHAMED OF YOU!!!!!!!!"

Perhaps his bony accusing finger will inspire me to an insanity like his one day......

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Alvin, the Hamster


Much to my chagrin, Laura volunteered to adopt a hamster for her classroom right before Christmas. I could only imagine the cleaning, smells, and general inconvenience of being responsible for a rodent. Bringing it home on weekends and during breaks just didn't seem appealing.
Now that "Alvin" -as her students have named him- has arrived, I have warmed up a bit to the little guy. He's kind of cute. And he came with a palace of a place to live.
Today we made our first PetSmart run to get a smaller weekend carrier and the exercise "pure entertainment for the human captors" ball.

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