Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tattle tale journalism

In today's ABJ, Bob Dyer reports about a city worker who forwarded a funny email joke about George W Bush. In the grand manner of the investigative reporter uncovering massive waste of tax payer dollars, Dyer tells the story of how this email ended up in his lap after five plus hours. It got forwarded to someone who sent it to Columbus, who sent it to Dyer's editor who sent it to him.

In the article, Dyer gives the name of the city worker, who forwarded the email. He doesn't give the names of the people who passed it along or their particular circumstances: were they at work, what was the company computer-use policy and so on. He only gives the details of the worker in question.

What was in this email that upset someone enough to forward it to the Akron Beacon Journal? Take a look:
The e-mail in question consists of a picture of Bush on a condom wrapper, with the headline ``Bush Condoms'' and the caption, ``For the dumb (expletive) who doesn't know when to pull out.''
The city computer usage policy grants "limited personal use" of city computers. That certainly sounds limited to me. It would seem that the disgruntled nameless one in Columbus was more upset by the content of the email than the fact that a city employee was forwarding jokes on company time.

The article has receive a lot of attention online. It has collected almost 24 pages of comments from a vast majority who think that the premise of the newspaper story was morally bankrupt. One person referred to the story coming across as "tattling" and I agree. Dyer's series on local teens using My Space was another form of tattling. He didn't need to give out details that would lead to actual identification in order to make his point about staying safe online.

Read the story and the comments here. At one point, Mr Dyer actually responds to the comments and he seems to be shocked that:

1. People actually make anonymous comments on public bulletin boards
2. People think his outing of the city worker is wrong.

From that point on, the local Commenters let him have it. Fun reading!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday Mashup

Bits and pieces of things I've been meaning to comment upon:

Countywide Landfill in Stark Co, home to half of our county's trash, ran "afoul" of the Ohio EPA, who recommended that the landfill's operating license not be newed until the company deals with what is going on under the layers of smoldering metals and plastics. The latest details from Bob Downing at the ABJ are here. Whether the recommendation will be carried out or not is yet to be seen. Truth is, the solid waste management business has a lot of power over us. We make too much trash which would pile up around us very quickly if the landfill is suddenly closed.

Speaking of recycle and reuse -- there is a meeting of the Save the Highland Theatre group tomorrow, Tuesday Feb 27 at 7 pm in the basement of Grace United Church, W Exchange and Portage Path. More details at the Highland Square Neighborhood Association web site.

Hair at Kent State University. Unfortunately, the last performance was Sunday, so all I can really say is -- too bad you missed it! It was a time trip back to those trippy days of yore. And of course, The War. Seems like there is always a war that involves sacrificing young men (and now in the latest one, young women as well) by sending them across the planet to kill or be killed. The Powers-That-Be certainly learned their lesson from Nam. In this war, they made sure not to have a draft. Drafts only rile people up. No, the current war operates on constant recycling of career soldiers, siphoning of national guards away from their more benign duties stateside, and paid mercenaries. Well we are almost at Three Five Zero Zero once again.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


...by a whole lot of deadlines. It is not easy trying to catch up after so many days off. I know now why they are called "calamity" days. The more days off, the more the carefully honed schedule looks like a disaster!

Our district used all of our allotted five calamity days, so the weather needs to just settle down for awhile and move forward toward spring. I am very ready for it. Looking forward to this:

Friday, February 23, 2007

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cap out, begging

The Mayor made his case for a tax increase to the city council. He has turned mayoring Akron into a career. City Council are all Democrats. Only one voted against putting the tax increase on the ballot. Akronites live in a Democratic stronghold, or perhaps stranglehold. Certainly we are feeling the squeeze. The new tax is for more cops and to attract business, with some money for infrastructure fixing and Community Learning Center funds as well. I wonder how much programming 1 million per year will bring our citizens at the CLCs?

I'm hearing that the Akron Civic Theatre (pictured here at Canal level) is bankrupt again. Who's bright idea was it have the same guy book both the Civic and EJ Thomas? All the best stuff went to EJ and the Civic got dance recitals, wedding receptions with the occasional Wurlitzer organ concert. There hasn't been anything at the Civic that I've wanted to see since I don't know when.

Meanwhile, I've heard nothing on the Highland Movie Theatre situation since attending that community meeting. Are we watching the death throes of art and culture here in Akron?

If you feel like wallowing in more Ohio gloom, read Pho's account of how the new Bush budget will make matters even worse. When you look at the list of cuts, you'll immediately notice that women and children are the big losers. Kids lose out in every way -- less money for education, Headstart, children's health care and having a warm house during the winter season.

Sure hope my union negotiates enough of a raise to cover the tax increases.

Obama event in Cleveland Feb 26th

Just got an email about this.

Here is the relevant info:

Senator Barack Obama will be in Cleveland next Monday, February 26, 2007 for his very first presidential campaign rally in Ohio. It's a rally we hope will build on the tremendous grassroots strength this campaign showed in its very first week, as Obama was met by thousands of supporters from Los Angeles to New Hampshire. Now it's your chance to show your commitment to transforming this nation and changing politics in this country.

Please join us: 6:00 P.M. at Cuyahoga Community College - Eastern Campus.

In announcing his candidacy, Senator Obama said this campaign can't only be about him. He said, "It must be about us - it must be about what we can do together. This campaign must be the occasion, the vehicle of your hopes and your dreams."

The event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP by clicking here. Once you've done that, you will receive an e-ticket in your email that you should print and bring with you to the event.


If you would like to volunteer, there is an organizing meeting on Tuesday, Feb 20th at the Cleveland Playhouse in the Old Lobby at 4:30 pm.

Hope to see you there!

Obama for America http://www.barackobama.com/

You can see a video here:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

V Day in Akron

This in courtesy of Fred Sternfeld's North East Ohio Performing Arts List (NEOhioPAL):

Come see University of Akron students perform Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues and the Clothesline Project from the Battered Womens Shelter!

Help end Violence against Women.

The Vagina Monologues will be performed in Simmons Hall Auditorium (room 111) at the University of Akron on February 23rd and 24th at 8 PM and Feb 25th at 2 PM.

Tickets are $10 at the door, and all proceeds go to the Rape Crisis
Center/Battered Women's Shelter of Summit County and the V-Day

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Atheists poll at the bottom -- we are the scum of the earth

A new Gallup poll indicates the present levels of prejudice in our society toward various groups of people. The polls ask simply, would you vote for a woman, black person and so on. Here are the results:

Black 94%
Jewish 92%
A woman 88%
Hispanic 87%
Mormon 72%
Married for third time 67%
72 years of age 57%
A homosexual 55%
An atheist 45%

I'd like to thank 55% of American society for your complete and utter disdain.

Granted the entire premise is so very silly. Why should anyone not be considered simply because they reside in any of the above categories?

It's also chilling that 12% of the populace are pro-patriarchy.

On the other hand, the 94% who would vote for a Black show us that social progress is moving us forward with decreasing numbers of troglodytes screaming in protest. Even homosexuals now have majority support as possible presidential candidates. It all looks good unless you are looking through the eyes of the atheist. We still must bear the scorn, the condemnations to hell, the cold steady chill from those who don't care to associate with the devil's spawn.

I wouldn't really care about what people think, except -- in this case, it means that I am excluded from participating in the political process as a candidate. How much money do you think an openly atheistic candidate would raise? And most likely, candidates that I do support aren't going to be overjoyed if I show up at an event wearing a button that says "Atheist for So and So." I really thought about making one last summer that said "Atheist for Sherrod Brown." But I wanted him to win, so I didn't.

Snow Dazed and Confused...

...we returned to school today, parents over-joyed while students and teachers struggled to figure out how to get back on track and play catch-up. Lots of frantic re-scheduling of everything from Valentine's parties to play dates and sporting events.

The challenge for the teacher is how fast you can get them to remember everything they've learned so far so you can guide them ever onward.

I expect that non-teaching adults might envy our paid "calamity days" off per contract. I will tell you that this teacher stressed over each missing minute of school and spent a great deal of the time snowed in working on things that would directly benefit my students.

The great mounds of snow began to melt rapidly today. Spring is just around the corner And we are back at school -- hooray!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Keep Your Plastic Bag Out of the Landfill

News on two areas of interest in today's ABJ:

An update on the suspected underground fire at Countywide in Stark. (You can more about the the original story here.) Turns out there's a whole lot going on under the surface:

"Abnormally high temperatures, the release of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide, and a 30-foot settlement in part of the Countywide Recycling & Disposal Facility in Pike Township indicate fire, said Todd Thalhamer. The California-based expert made recommendations released Friday by the state EPA.

According to Thalhamer's report, an underground metal fire in 2005 probably caused the surrounding garbage to smolder, and the compounds released produce the odors. Because the smoldering is at a lower temperature than a typical underground fire, it is not releasing toxic gases such as benzene because plastics aren't melting, Thalhamer wrote."

The landfill owner continues to downplay the story:

"Tim Vandersall, general manager of the landfill, has said he believe the problem is not a fire but a chemical reaction of aluminum waste and water.

Vandersall said Friday the landfill is safe and will be treated the same whether the hot spot is a fire or a chemical reaction.

``As I've said for six months, it doesn't matter what you call it,'' he said."

Remember that the landfill is not a government-run entity. It is a business and it is busily burying tons of Summit county waste every day. It's not like there is a whole lot of competition for its services. And it is not very likely that Summit county is going to convince its residents to heed the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) any time soon. So when the general manager tells us everything is OK, I for one have my doubts.

The new Ohio EPA director says he will wait until reading the report before acting on Countywide's renewal license. What do you want to bet that the landfill gets renewed? They may tie some provisions on to the license, but there's no way in toxic plastic hell that they'll close the place. Where will all our trash go otherwise?

Nobody really wants to face the problems of dealing with waste from our communities, let alone thinking about the total waste from 6.7 billion people. We are happy to put our trash in bags and bins and then forget about it. Somebody else will deal with it -- and they'll do it far from our homes so we don't have to smell it or see it or risk our lives from chemical explosions and fires.

Tagged on at the end of a Betty Lin-Fisher article about phone companies, is a response to a reader question about recycling plastic bags. The reader wanted to know where she can recycle her plastic shopping bags now that Tops has left the area. Tops used to provide a recycling bin at each store for shoppers to return those madly multiplying bags.

Lin-Fisher got a more detailed response from Acme than I did. Acme will NOT recycle bags, because it is just too damn inconvenient for them. According to Jim Trout, VP of merchandising and sales:

``We think recycling is best left to the communities. A supermarket, in our opinion, is not the place to do recycling,'' Trout said. Years ago, Acme did recycle plastic bags, but bags would be returned with things still in them, which made the bins unsightly and dirty."

The good news is that some Giant Eagle stores and some Walmarts provide plastic bag recycling bins. Missing from the article is information as to which stores provide the service. If any Akron area readers spot a plastic bag recycling bin, we'd appreciate it if you share the information here.

Convenience is the big enemy here, along with the capitalist drive to open more markets. Convenience has brought about the rise of non-recyclable packaging to ship fast and convenient processed foodstuffs all over the country and the world. Business leaders talk about opening new markets without thought as to what that really means. It means more stuff with more packaging ending up in landfills.

We need a new business model based on scientific research into sustaining a safe and healthy life on this planet for all people. Anything that is made should have a plan for its entire life-cycle from manufacture to shipping to use to reuse and ending with a precise recycling plan.

Do we want to continue throwing our toxic trash into a pit and covering it up with some dirt and crossed fingers that it won't ignite or leach into the water supply?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Saturday Senate on C-Span

It's more fun than college football and just as elegant as an international skating competition! Whiling away the snowed in hours with the Senate voting whether to debate the Iraq resolution. 7 Republicans joined in the ayes, 56 - 34. The rest of them, including our own Republican coward, Voinovich, chose to vote for their party ideology rather than upon what their constituents wish. May they go down to overwhelming defeat next time they go before their state's voters.

All Democrats voted yes, excepting Johson of SD still recovering in the hospital

9 chickens did not show up to vote.

Bennet Bond Corker, Corcoran, Ensign, Hatch, Kyl, McCain, Murkowski

Smith, Hegel, Coleman, Snowe, Warner Hecter, Collins -- we salute your courage.

The Dems say they will keep up an onslaught of bills and resolutions until Bush finally caves, which might be never or until he is dragged off in a straight jacket.

At the beginning of this unusual Saturday session, a chaplain stood up for a senate prayer. Naturally, I find this annoying not to mention offensive. The chaplain (also a military reserve officer) gave a little homily on love and duty in these times of "challenges that demand greater than human wisdom."

We'll be waiting forever if this is indeed the case, that the problems we face today are beyond human wisdom to solve. We can either stand at our telescopes scanning the skies for alien intelligences or decide that human problems must be solved by human wisdom and set off down the path to do just that.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Night Kick Back: The Clash

Today the House of Reps passed a non-binding resolution to oppose the surge but continue to support the troops. As a life long pacifist and anti-militarist, I can only think that the best way to support those young men and women is to get them out of there and out of uniform.

This goes out to anyone who is tempted to join the military. Don't heed the call-up, You don't want to kill. You don't want to die.

Ladies and gentlemen -- The Clash:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Snow Day Three

One more picture from the Great Snow of 2007.

Another school day off. We have used up all our snow days! I miss my students and feel very out of sync with all upcoming deadlines.

More digging out today after the snow plow made it up our hill, but nothing too difficult. I revved up the vehicle and drove for the first time since Tuesday morning. The roads had been plowed but lots of snow was still apparent on the streets and sidewalks.

I made it to the Kenmore Acme and picked up some soy milk, tofu and vegetables. Looks like the drive to school tomorrow will be fine. Yes, the kids are out of school tomorrow, but the teachers will report for their mandatory In-Service Day.

Meanwhile like an absurdist drama, the Iraq debate continues in the House. The citizens figured it out by last November, yet the politicians are still trying to figure out "the safest" way to vote on the non-binding resolution.

Review: Girl Sleuth, Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

I don't know that I read every single last Nancy Drew published in my day -- but I know I tried to! The mystery books were available at the Acme store, so family grocery night was an opportune time to spend allowance money on a new Nancy Drew.

Nancy lived a thrilling life and I was one of those girls who wanted what Nancy had: freedom, confidence, intelligence, multiple talents and skills, loyal friends, a nifty blue roadster and a supportive yet never controlling boyfriend.

Nancy's mom died long ago and was out of the picture. Her dad, an attorney, provides her with an endless source of mysteries and with a house-keeper who could whip up a great picnic basket for Nancy and her friends Bess and George. Bess and George are on opposite ends of the femininity index, with Nancy firmly placed in the middle, a self-contained balance of yin and yang qualities.

I found myself reflecting upon Nancy and her influences on my life when I picked up a fairly recent (2005) biography of the women who wrote the Nancy Drew series, developing an idea originated by Edward Stratemeyer, of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, producers of numerous series books for boys and girls. His initial notes state:
"These suggestions are for a new series for girls verging on novels. 224 pages, to retail at fifty cents. I have called this line the "Stella Strong Stories," but they might also be called "Diana Drew Stories," "Diana Dare Stories," "Nan Nelson Stories," "Nan Drew Stories" or "Helen Hale Stories" . . .

Stella Strong, a girl of sixteen, is the daughter of a District Attorney of many years standing. He is a widower and often talks over his affairs with Stella and the girl was present during many interviews her father had with noted detectives and at the solving of many intricate mysteries. Then, quite unexpectedly, Stella plunged into some mysteries of her own and found herself wound up in a series of exciting situations. An up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful and full of energy."
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her by Melanie Rehak (a poet and critic published in The New Yorker, The Nation and more -- interview with the writer here) gives us the two intertwining stories behind the pen-name Carolyn Keene. From the east coast: Harriet Stratemeyer Adams a Wellesley graduate, inherited her father's syndicate when he died at an early age. The syndicate made its money from a stable of ghost writers who worked at piece rates writing to formulas created by Edward Stratemeyer. The Nancy Drew Series was only in its infancy at the time of Stratemeyer's death.

Meanwhile in the Midwest, Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson was busily establishing herself as a writer in Iowa. A graduate of Iowa State University, Mildred was athletic with an independent streak and a love for writing and language expressed at an early age. Longing for her own copy of Peter Rabbit, at age five she hand-copied the story so she could hold it in her hands.

Rehak compares and contrasts the backgrounds of these two fascinating women within the context of the character of Nancy Drew -- what is her appeal and how did these two women further her development? I find it interesting that although both Harriet Stratemeyer Adams and Maude Wirt Benson married and raised children of their own, Nancy's own romantic life always steered clear from anything involving commitment, let alone any kissing or other mushy stuff. Nancy Drew's appeal has always been that of the independent female, able to take action without paternal or any other male interference.

Rehak's Girl Sleuth is a gripping tale that not only gives us the inside information on how Nancy's traits and story points were developed over the decades, but also gives us a panoramic view of expanding vistas for young girls growing up in the 20th century. Writing was one career in which women could find both a vehicle for self expression and a means of earning some money. Mildred's writing became her family's sole support after her husband suffered a series of strokes:
"I had to write all the time....I had no choice on writing, it wasn't a leisurely thing at all. It was a hard deadline and I was usually three for four books behind on orders. I put my typewriter up beside my husband's bed and I'd take care of him at night and typewrite right by the bedside...I just wrote as long as I could write each day and night."
Toiling for fees of between $100 - $250 per book, Mildred never shared in any royalties from her work, although upon occasion, a syndicate bonus check might boost her spirits.

One of Mildred's last books for the Stratemeyer Syndicate was The Mystery of the Tolling Bell. By good fortune, I happened upon a copy of this book in an antique stall in Berlin, OH. Having just finished Girl Sleuth, I wanted to revisit the experience of reading a Nancy Drew story. Published in 1946, it features a mysterious cave, an apparent ghostly appearance, secret passages and a gypsy woman selling fake cosmetics. As I galloped through the story (just like in younger days), I thrilled again to Nancy's ability to develop clues and leap into action. Her independence is intoxicating, the mystery is intriguing, and she never backs away from facing danger.

In the introduction to Girl Sleuth, Rehak identifies this book as one of her particular favorites, and includes the final lines of the story as they underscore Nancy's ability to solve mysteries without interference from her boyfriend Ned Nickerson:
"Mysteries!" he exclaimed, turning out the lantern. Haven't you had enough of them?"
Nancy was sure she never would have. Already the girl was longing for another, and it was to come in the form of "The Clue in the Old Album."
"Anyway, " said Ned, "there's one mystery I know never will be solved."
"What is it, Ned?"
"Why you always change the subject when I try to talk to you about something that isn't a bit mysterious!"
Nancy merely smiled sweetly, and walked out into the sunshine.
So both thumbs up for Melanie Rehak's Girl Sleuth. I picked it up in paperback at Borders awhile back, in one of their buy 2 get one free deals. It should be available at your local library.

For some excellent Nancy Drew information online, visit NancyDrewSleuth.com. Here I found handy information as to whether one is reading an original story or a later "revised" edition. Quick hint -- if your Nancy Drew is sporting 25 chapters, it's an original. The revisions are chopped down in page numbers and shortened to 20 chapters.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Digging Out

The snow stopped at noon today, as forecast.
We've dug out a path for the US postal carrier.

And a path to the compost bin in the backyard. Oberon is making his own paths round the garden and under the pine tree.

Our short but steep side street has yet to see a plow. My drive still needs digging out, so I've put out a call for the young lad living next door to give me a hand. I'm taking a reading break for awhile. Akron Reads on Snow Days!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Another Snow Day in NE Ohio

I woke today as usual to the sound of 1350 AM's Bill Press show, staying warm under the quilts until the local news and weather break. Not a peep about school closings, and the weather report was not delivered in tones of Major Winter Storm Ahead. So I got up, dressed, let the dog out and in, poured the coffee and headed out to my vehicle.

The roads were drivable, but when I got to Margaret Park Elementary school, there was not a child, car or crossing guard to be seen. Uh oh. I drove on past toward my school, just in case Margaret Park was having a heating breakdown or something. Nobody was there either, so I turned around and headed home, much to the delight of the resident dog and cat.

I did fire off an email to Radio Free Ohio, urging them to at least report that schools in the area were closing and for listeners to check with their local district for further information. I don't want to set my radio alarm to WAKR, fer cyin' out loud!

I am not happy to be home today, as the more time off from school, the harder it is to get the kids back on track. However, I'll make the best of it. Switching on the TV to C-span and I see that the House is starting to debate their resolution to oppose the troop build up in Iraq. I wonder how many snow-bound citizens will stumble upon this on-going reality show? Everybody gets their five minutes to speak to the problem at hand. The people's house of government is not going to run away from this disaster that is Bush's war in Iraq.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy Darwin Day!

Charles Darwin is 198 years old today! In celebration, be sure to check out eSkeptic, the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society. This is what is on offer:
"... a short excerpt from Michael Shermer's Why Darwin Matters on “What Evolution Is,” and a review by Tim Callahan of a wonderful new book written by Edward Humes on the Dover Intelligent Design trial, entitled Monkey Girl. Enjoy as we celebrate one of the greatest thinkers in history.

Tim Callahan is Skeptic magazine’s religion editor and author of the books Bible Prophecy and The Secret Origins of the Bible."

You can access it online here.

Planning a trip to NYC? Be sue to visit the Natural History Mueseum's brand new Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. They have a very nice online presence, with lots of support for researchers, visitors and educators.

It's a good idea to review the evidence every now and then -- because the un-evolved among us continue to try to hobble science and cast out Darwinism as the work of the devil. The following illustration was found on a bible-code web site that attempts to link the death of Saddam Hussein with various "prophecies."

I've never understood the anger that some people feel about descending from apes. They act like it is so insulting, when really it is quite an honor. Apes are amazing creatures and we would do well on this Darwin Day to pay tribute in some way. Put on Apeman by the Kinks, and do an apeman dance around the room in tribute to your distant ancestors!

I think I'm sophisticated
'Cos I'm living my life like a good homosapien
But all around me everybody's multiplying
Till they're walking round like flies man
So I'm no better than the animals sitting in their cages
in the zoo man
'Cos compared to the flowers and the birds and the trees
I am an ape man
I think I'm so educated and I'm so civilized
'Cos I'm a strict vegetarian
But with the over-population and inflation and starvation
And the crazy politicians...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Review: Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire by Rafe Esquith

The No Child Left Behind act proposes a system of regulations that are supposed to ensure an effective and equitable education for all children. Coming from the top down, it has achieved at least one useful outcome -- it has forced us to look at education in our society. But at the same time it has diminished the joy in learning and teaching for many students and their classroom instructors.

As funding inequities continue, charter schools compete with unfair advantages, state boards of education call for stiffer standards and assessments, and districts turn to pacing guides -- the tangled weave of educational process (student - teacher - parents - administration - politicians) can depress the hell out of me. That's when I reach for a dose of Rafe Esquith, the teacher extraordinaire from one of the poorest public schools in LA, the man who created the Hobart Shakespeareans, and who shows us what it really takes to provide a high quality education for all.

Rafe's classroom operates on two basic principles -- work hard and be nice:

1. "There are no shortcuts." This applies to everything the students do in his classroom and for the rest of their lives. To learn is not to rush through something. It is to be mindful of the work at hand, to focus and to observe one's own progress.

2. "Be kind." Two short words that in conjunction exhort the best from each of us. For many, it is very difficult to carry this out consistently. It is a command for teachers as well as for students. Our emotions often take control of our rational minds and we find ourselves shouting from frustration or losing patience. We fling unkind words at our students, and yet expect them to act civilly at all times. Our growing cynicism may be revealed in the tone of our voices or the sharp glance from our eyes.

Some students' home lives consist of nothing but chaos and screaming. The classroom may be the only safe haven in their lives. Rafe has taken the concept of haven and turned it into an eclectic laboratory for the advancement of student learning through Shakespeare, rock and roll and a whole lot of innovative teaching.

If you've never come across Rafe and his work, the first thing to look at is the PBS Point of View documentary, The Hobart Shakespeareans. Once you see the children in action, and are thrilled and amazed by their accomplishments, you will want to know more about Rafe's teaching theories and techniques.

Rafe's first book was called There Are No Shortcuts. It's a gripping tale of an extraordinary teacher and the students who have flourished in his classroom. It is still available and highly recommended.

The title of his latest book, Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire, is a metaphor that sprang from an unforgettable science lesson. The book focuses on the work and travel of his class (Room 56) in far more detail than his first book. It provides tried and tested creative ideas for teaching reading, writing, science, social studies, math and the arts. Although Rafe teaches a self-contained 5th grade class (all are students who speak English as a second language, which makes their work on Shakespeare even more staggeringly amazing), the ideas and concepts presented in this book can be adapted for middle school and high school and even college.

Rafe gives us a clearer picture of how he approaches his unabridged Shakespeare play productions and lists the rock songs the students learn to play and sing to underscore and highlight their live production. Naturally I was thrilled to see a number of Kinks songs used, including:

The Taming of the Shrew:
"I'm Not Like Everybody Else" performed during the first meeting of Kate and Petruchio. "Tired of Waiting for You" when Kate is left standing at the altar

Love's Labour's Lost:
"The Village Green Preservation Society" as the Queen of France and her court arrive in Navarre to encounter the new rules. The students present the lyrics in sign language. Wow -- I'd love to see that!
"Days" -- a perfect wrap up and curtain call tune.

The productions are three hours long and are performed for two weeks at the end of the school year. Half of the classroom becomes a stage. They have professional stage lights mounted and great sound equipment. Rafe's hard work for the past 24 years has paid off. There are many sponsors of Room 56, which has become a non-profit corporation. Noted thespians such as Ian McKellan, Michael York, Hal Holbrook, Patrick Stewart, and Peter Hall visit and support his program. Ian McKellan comments that unlike many performers, the Holbart Shakespeareans always understand exactly what they are saying when they perform their parts. The documentary includes much great footage of a terrific young Hamlet and an utterly moving Ophelia.

Rafe's use of rock and roll is not limited to the classroom (which is equipped with electric and acoustic guitars as well as drum sets and microphone), it also can be found in chapter titles to Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire, including these Kinksian chapter headings:

"Celluloid Heroes" (how to inspire through use of classic films)
"Art Lover" (infusing arts into the curriculum)
"Add It Up" (learning math without tedium)

Rafe Esquith works his wonders from the ground up -- despite the never-ending dictates from politicians and boards of education. He succeeds because he has dedicated his life to his work and because he has learned that in order to teach well, he must model the kind of human being he wants his students to be. No matter what you teach, you will leave Rafe's books and video with a new hunger to do better and teach harder than ever before.

The hard truth of the matter is that the government can pass as many NCLB bills and amendments as it likes, but the real break-throughs in teaching take a great deal of time and commitment at the classroom level. Rafe is at school teaching from 6:30 AM until 6 PM and often longer than that. He holds Saturday sessions for his former students who are working toward success in middle school, high school and college. Every year he takes his former students on a college tour around the country. These kids who began as immigrant children, living in a crime-infested and destitute area of urban decay, are graduating from the best colleges into a wide variety of successful careers that all got their beginning in room 56.

I watch the Hobart Shakespearean video every year before school starts as a rev up exercise, and for a buck up whenever I feel myself getting frustrated and my patience evaporating. I think of Rafe and his students and their commitment to learning and realize I have a long way to go, but at least there is a light ahead of me revealing many wonderful possibilities if I just continue to work hard and be nice. As Rafe puts it in the introduction to his new book:
"There are so many charlatans in the world of education. They teach for a couple of years, come up with a few clever slogans, build their Web sites and hit the lecture circuit. In this fast-food society, simple solutions to complex problems are embraced far too often. We can do better. I hope that people who read this book realize that true excellence takes sacrifice, mistakes, and enormous amounts of effort. After all there are no shortcuts."
Thanks Rafe!

Blog-keeping chores

I deleted a couple of comments posted last night that were graffiti rather than any sort of rational debate or comment. The Village Green reserves the right to remove vulgar scrawls and offensive smears.

Carry on!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

No Hillary Dissing Here

It's all the rage -- diss Hillary and force her into public humiliation. She must confess her sin of voting for the Iraq War before a large segment of the blogosphere will consider her a worthy candidate, let alone vote for her. Kos attempts to put her in her place here. He compares her to Dick Cheney!

The problem is that Hillary refuses to grovel. In politics, groveling is a display of weakness. As a woman fighting to be the first of her gender to win the presidency, she is damned either way, but much more so if perceived to be "weak."

I am not happy that she voted to allow Bush to have his Iraq adventure (now disaster). It was a pragmatic political decision and it rubs my idealistic self the wrong way. However, she has responded to the changing situation and says she will end the war when elected. I rather like it that she's found a way of stating her case that doesn't involve a load of wallowing in humiliation. She put it this way in an AP interview:

"I have said clearly and consistently for quite some time that I regret the way the president misused the authority," said Clinton. "He misled Congress and the country on what he was seeking and what he intended to do."

The responsibility Clinton said she accepts was helping clear the way for Bush's path in Iraq. "I take responsibility for having voted to give him that authority," she said. "My focus is on what we do now. That is the proper debate."

This is not good enough for Kos and many other liberal pundits and bloggers. They want to bring this woman down. How many times am I going to hear from male voters, "I"m voting for the best candidate -- and gender will have nothing to do with it."

Gender has everything to do with it when it comes to Hillary. In order to compete in a male-dominated profession (politics), she has found it expedient to show toughness. She has also played up her centrist persona and tried to avoid the dreaded "lefty" label. Would she be in this strong position so early in the pre-primary race if she had taken the far left, anti-war stance?

She voted against making flag burning a constitutional amendment, but joined with a Republican to offer a bill to make it a federal crime. This absolutely outraged me when it went down. Now I'm seeing it as yet another one of Hillary's very clever moves to avoid the left-wing label. She is critiqued for too much nuancing, as opposed to George W Bush who wouldn't know a nuance if it hit him in the face:
"That careful, deliberate style impresses some Democrats but irritates and deflates many others: She tends to tweak her views and her rhetorical nuances to position herself in the center of most issues, leaving an uninspired impression for some."
Edwards, the darling of the netroots, is fading fast as Obama climbs the charts. Hillary is on top, much to the dismay of many. She's the top runner here in Ohio, according to this Quinnipiac poll. And here, in a collection of many polls, Hillary is seen to be running away from the pack.

We know the Right is going to send the attack dogs full force. I rather think Hillary will do better against them than Kerry did. She sticks to the issues and to proposed policies, which is going over very well with the voters.

Let me be clear here -- I could live happily with an Obama presidency, or Edwards, Gore, Kucinich and so on down the line. Anybody the Dems send up is better than the Bush mistake we've been living with for 6 years. However, I'm going to admit upfront to a secret thrill that Hillary is leading the pack. She's smart and she's determined, and I have no doubt she will actively run things, and run them well once elected president.

I just hope she takes one big risk and picks Obama for her running mate. I think it would be a heckuva ticket and would steamroll over any Republican opponent.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Night Kick Back: Todd Rundgren

How do we love YouTube, let us count the ways! Here's some vintage Todd performing the tune "Bread" with the Hello People, a rock and roll mime band. I saw Todd and the Hello People at Carnegie Hall in 1972.


The Mayor's Proposed Akron Income Tax Increase

It's Friday night and I really want to rock out, but instead I've got taxes on my mind. The mayor of Akron is calling for an increase in income tax. It would be about $33/per 10k in income.

The mayor wants more cops -- that was the leading point of his tax plea as reported in today's ABJ. Then a list of other items, all very non-specific:

"The proposed 0.33 percentage point increase, expected to generate an additional $17 million annually, also would help replace aging vehicles, fund after-school uses of new school buildings, boost the capital budget and fuel more economic development."
My first thought was reflexive -- ouch! I can't afford it. My second reaction was "No, not more cops." Americans always want more cops and more jails, rather than finding what -- over time -- turns an innocent baby into a criminal who needs policing and jailing.

Then I began to read all the citizens postings on the ABJ article comments section. This topic garnered copious amounts of word-slinging today. There are the Love It or Leave It people vs the Hated It and Left people. The usual Won't Pay Any New Taxes Ever people are smashing heads with The What's In It For Me people. It got way too emotional in the Comments section, so I went back to the original article and read it more carefully.

Plusquellic certainly made good logical points in his arguments. He is also one gutsy politician --he and his entire Democratic city council are all running for re-election on the same ballot! The mayor makes it clear that federal tax breaks will compensate for some of the increase in local taxes. (Bush's tax cuts in essence mean that state and local governments will be paying more for services. It's the old shell game.) According to the Beacon, Plusquellic

"...argued that the city has cut costs and reduced the city's payroll in the last 10 years by 400 full-time jobs from 2,673 full time employees to 2,242.

``We have not raised taxes for the operation of city government in 26 years, a record that I think we can all be proud of,'' Plusquellic said.

``But today I stand before you and tell you we cannot be the city we want to be, we cannot be the city that we need to be, we cannot continue to compete without asking each of you to help reinvest in our future by giving back locally just a small portion of what you used to send to the IRS in Washington.''

Damn, I really wanted to go with my initial response -- No new taxes. But how can I say no to improving living conditions in the city that I freely choose to live in? I can feel myself being persuaded, but--

There's still the annoyance factor of the push for more cops and the nebulous list of new needs. What does it mean to "fuel more economic development" and what specific programming is going into our new after-hour community learning centers?

I'd like more specifics before I say OK to this new tax. In the same article, the ABJ points out that our sewer rates are going to increase by 7% just as soon as our City Council stops dithering about it.
"The city asked for the surcharge to fund a specific project: stopping the overflow of sewage during heavy rains into the Ohio & Erie Canal in downtown Akron."
Yes, I think we need to stop the overflow of sewage into our canal system that we have been spending lots of money to fix up into a recreational attraction (see photo above). Cleaning up the messes from the 19th and 20th centuries are going to increase our tax burdens over the coming years, whether we like it or not. It's either fix the sewers or wallow in the disease-bearing muck.

To conclude my meditation on the proposed new tax increase, I'd like to see some of it go to the higher things in life, something to take our minds away from the gutters and sewers. Mr Mayor, if you want my vote for sure, put some of the revenue into a fund for developing and maintaining the arts in Akron. Remember, the arts are what make life worth living!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Downtown Akron to lose the Farmer's Market?

Akron's downtown farmer's market is moving to Stan Hywet as reported on Feb 1st in the Akron Beacon Journal. According to the report, they want to move where people live. People don't live downtown. Well some do, but not the kind that can afford heirloom vegetables and organic cheese.

The city is vowing to put together some kind of farmer's market downtown. The original idea was to provide fresh produce for downtown workers to purchase on their way home from work. The market used to be at Cascade plaza from mid morning to mid afternoon -- two days a week, as I remember. The farmers who showed up were definitely not the trendy type. But the corn was fresh and the tomatoes juicy, and there's nothing like a big pile of freshly picked green beans.

The city moved it to Lock 3 on Saturday mornings for one summer. That was a very inconvenient time for me and I only made it down there once. I liked it best when it was across from the Beacon Journal on the east side along the old loading docks. It was easy to park and get into it there, and I enjoyed the stroll up and back along all the stalls.

Urban dwellers deserve the opportunity to shop for locally farmed produce. There really are people who live downtown, many of them live diminished lives in the old Mayflower Hotel and the odd rooming houses that still rent rooms by the month. All of these neglected citizens would surely benefit from having fresh food rather than the over-processed and excessively-packaged food stuffs they obtain from the Aldi Store long blocks away on South Main St.

There are no grocery stores within walking distance from downtown Akron. The elderly residents and the mentally and physically handicapped must take a bus ride to get to their food sources. Let us hope the farmer's market down town can continue in some form. And again I say, it is too bad we can't have something that goes all year long, like Cleveland's West Side Market.

I took the above photo at the West Side Market last December.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Oh hard is the fortune of all womankind

That sad old folk tune came into my head tonight while reading the story of Lisa Nowak, the astronaut who came unglued when a rival appeared for the love of another astronaut. It's the story few can resist reading. So I clicked on the latest AP update tonight, which included interviews with people involved with the astronaut program.

I had to stop and take a breath after reading some comments from Dr. Jon Clark, a former NASA flight surgeon who lost his wife, astronaut Laurel Clark, in the 2003 Columbia disaster,

"Clark...said there can be extra pressure on NASA's female astronauts - and the men, like himself, who marry them.

"They made more sacrifices than the 'Right Stuff' guys," he said, comparing women astronauts to the original all-male astronaut corps. "They have to balance two careers - to be a mom and wife and an astronaut. ... You don't come home at night, like most of the male astronauts, and have everything ready for you."

It is somewhat astonishing to me that women remain oppressed in this 21st century. After all the consciousness raising we did, and all the glass ceilings that continue to shatter -- at the end of the working day, a woman goes home and runs the household while hubby seldom contributes the same sweat equity as the wife in the day to dat details of child-rearing and sorting out the laundry.

This woman was married with three children and competing and training in one of the most intense career tracks imaginable. The story to me is both ancient and futuristic. It has the overtones of Greek tragedy, with a plot right out of a science fiction romance novel. The need to "have it all" seems to run deep in many women. Lisa wanted the moon and someone else's man. While I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for her, I am saddened by the impulse that drove her to this result.

Oh hard is the fortune of all womankind
She's always controlled, she's always confined
Controlled by her parents until she's a wife
Then a slave to her husband the rest of her life.

All young girls, take warning, take warning from me,
Never place your affections on a young man so free,
They will hug you and kiss you and tell you more lies,
Than the cross-ties on the railroad or the stars in the sky.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Spay Day - Feb 27

Here's a worthy thing -- Spay Day is February 27th. It is a national campaign to promote spay/neuter programs to help control animal populations and to cut down on the tragic endings of too many cats and dogs in this country.

The web site offers many ideas for people to contribute to this event including:

Organizing awareness events.
Sponsoring spaying and neutering at local clinics.
Raising money for local spay/neuter rescue groups.

You can get further information about Spay Day from The Humane Society.

There are no events listed for the greater Akron area yet. But there's nothing to prevent any of us from donating to worthy local animal groups like the NE Ohio Public Animal Welfare Society.

Monday, February 05, 2007

49 yeas to 47 nays -- the debate is buried

And now on to other more important debates like tax relief for small businesses. Grrrrr!

Iraq resolution debate

No school today or tomorrow, so I've got C-Span on, watching the debate on the Warner-Nelson non-binding resolution on Iraq. The political maneuverings are up front and on display. Sherrod Brown, our new senator, was presiding as acting senate president pro tem today for awhile. According to Wikipedia, new senators from the majority party are assigned this task to get them up to speed in parliamentary procedures.

Lieberman just got smacked down by John Warner, who noted that he was discussing the McCain -Lieberman proposal while the subject at hand was the Warner bill. In fact, the McCain-Lieberman bill has not even been filed yet and isn't on the record, so shut up Joe!

A NYT editorial today has a bleak assessment on Iraq, noting that the one province which has been given control over its security failed to deal with an uprising and had to call in American forces to assist. News over the past few days has been exceptionally bloody. Anyone who keeps insisting Bush deserves yet another chance at botching things in Iraq is either delusional or willing to stand in line for Kool-aid.

Now it is looking like a group of Republicans are working to block an up and down vote on any of the Iraq ammendments. Guess they need more time to study the Iraq Study Group report. May they all rot in loser hell at the next election cycle and may the lives of both US soldiers and Iraqi citizens weigh heavy on their consciences.

They are voting as I type to decide whether to proceed with debate -- 60 votes needed. You can't see a running tally of votes -- you'd think in this day and age, something could be rigged up for visual display.

I guess the Republicans voting against this don't want to debate on the record, but by voting against debate -- they have put themselves on the record -- as being obstuctionists who choose to go against the will of the people.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Can we go solar now, please?

On a nose-bitingly frigid day like today, we might well warm ourselves a bit by thinking about solar energy. The front of my house faces due south. I would love to have a solar-powered solarium attached at that end. Unfortunately, my roof tilts east and west. Surely somebody has invented some kind of solar collector that can fit over top of a roof like mine. That sounds less fanciful than the idea of erecting solar deflectors up in space to counter global warming.

Maybe I can find out at this event happening in Cleveland, July 7-13, 2007:


The National Solar Energy Conference is the largest and most inclusive solar and renewable energy conference in the U.S. each year. SOLAR 2007, taking place in Cleveland, Ohio, will explore the theme “Sustainable Energy Puts America to Work .” The National Solar Energy Conference combines a premiere technical conference, plenary and forum sessions exploring both the conference theme and the most timely topics of the day, a Renewable Energy Products and Services exhibit that showcases manufacturers, dealers, distributors, installers and other related businesses and services, and workshops, tours and special events of interest to professionals and consumers.

SOLAR 2007 will feature the following:

36th Annual ASES Annual Conference
32nd Annual National Passive Solar Conference
2nd Annual Policy, Advocacy and Marketing Conference
Green Energy Ohio Annual Meeting
Renewable Products and Services Exhibition

Register on-line starting March 15!

For further information, click on the image above.

The sponsor of the above conference, The American Solar Energy Society, has just published a nuts and bolts "How To" report on achieving energy efficiency using renewable energy sources. Amazing! Some people are actually working on the problem at hand as if their might be some urgency to the problem. The greatest unspoken truth of all the inconvenient ones we are facing in the 21st century is that there are 6.7 billion plus human beings on the planet sucking up all the petroleum, coal and gas and burning it and taking down the climate at the same time.

Notice that the conference is for all possible sustainable and renewable energy sources -- not just solar. Their report examines each possibility in detail as well as looking it within context of operating with the other sources. For example, plug in vehicles charging during the night hours when the electric grid is not used so heavily. They are looking at viable, practical roads toward reducing dependency on carbon-producing fuels.

Here's a list of chapter titles and authors:

by Joel N. Swisher, Ph.D., P.E.

by Marilyn A. Brown, Ph.D., Therese K. Stovall, and Patrick J. Hughes, P.E.

by Peter Lilienthal, Ph.D., and Howard Brown


by Mark S. Mehos and David W. Kearney, Ph.D.

by Paul Denholm, Ph.D., Robert M. Margolis, Ph.D., and Ken Zweibel

by Michael Milligan, Ph.D.

by Ralph P. Overend, Ph.D. and Anelia Milbrandt

by John J. Sheehan

by Martin Vorum, P.E. and Jefferson W. Tester, Ph.D.

The Science and Challenge of Global Warming
by Charles F. Kutscher, Ph.D., P.E.
You can download the entire report here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Connie Schultz -- back and better than ever!

If you didn't have a reason to read the Cleveland Plain Dealer online, click here and bookmark for regular reading. Connie Schultz has returned from her self-imposed hiatus, after working on her husband Sherrod Brown's amazing campaign for US Senate. While we are waiting for the book she is writing about her adventures on the campaign trail, we can now enjoy her twice-a-week columns once more.

The most recent column speaks to the hypocrisy of Cleveland attempting to attract tourist dollars from the GLBT community:

"...when I heard that the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland wants to target gays and lesbians -- this time "target" being a good thing -- I was skeptical. What's the motto going to be: "It's a Nice Place to Visit But You Wouldn't Want to Live Here"?

You could fill a medium-size town with the number of gays and lesbians who left Ohio after 2004. I've met at least half of them in Manhattan alone, and I don't think we can count on them anytime soon to spread the good cheer."

You can read the rest of this column here.

With the untimely death of Molly Ivans this week, it is reassuring to know that another woman of vision and purpose is back on the scene to point to the injustices in our world and ask us why we continue to allow them to tarnish our society.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Night Kick Back: Ray Davies and David Bowie perform Waterloo Sunset

Time to kick off the shoes, pour a glass of wine and enjoy what is left of Friday night here at the Village Green.

And what a treat tonight, thanks to good old Youtube and a tip of the old British music hall hat to Frank Lima of the Kinks Preservation Society Email Digest for pointing it out. The actual video is provided by Nick:

"David Bowie and Ray Davies perform Waterloo Sunset live at the Tibet House Benefit, Carnegie Hall, New York, 26/02/2003.

This video comes from his David Bowie DVD collection which is listed on this page:

Speaking of the Tibet House Annual Benefit -- it is coming up very soon. If it weren't on a Monday I would be sorely tempted to see this year's concert. Details ahead, followed by an amazing duet from the Benefit four years ago.

17th Annual Carnegie Hall Benefit Concert
Monday, February 26, 2007

Performers to date
(updated 1/28/07):

Laurie Anderson
Ray Davies
Philip Glass
Deborah Harry
Lou Reed
Sigur Ros
Patti Smith

Michael Stipe

Concert tickets are $35-$108 and can be purchased by calling Carnegie Charge at 212.247.7800 or in person at the Carnegie Hall Box Office (57th Street and Seventh Avenue).

For more info, check here

Thursday, February 01, 2007

On not giving up

I've had a petunia blooming in my indoor garden all winter long. It's a "wave" petunia variety that has been sharing a large pot with a geranium. I generally bring in one geranium for the winter, but this time I wanted to see how long the petunia would go before giving up. It hasn't given up at all.

That seems to have been the theme of the week -- not giving up. On the local level, the Highland Square community has been rallying around an old theatre to save it for the community. The local theatre critic, reassigned by the Akron Beacon Journal to the Business beat last summer, isn't giving up either and is blogging and freelancing theatre reviews. The arts will not give up in Summit County either.

At the state level, a grassroots group in Stark county did not give up on paying attention to Countywide Landfill. An expert has been called in to test with infrared photography to determine if the landfill is indeed on fire underneath the top layers. The toxic brew underneath could threaten aquifiers, and if it explodes into the air, could release some deadly fumes. We continue to pollute and to reproduce at rates that will have us choking on our own deadly chemical wastes. None of us can afford to give up on this one.

On the national front, Patrick Fitzgerald has doggedly pursued the truth behind the twisted lies of Cheney/Rove/Libby regarding the Valerie Plame Affair (it sounds like a Perry Mason mystery title). I've been following the story every night when I get home from work -- watching the parade of famous journalists enter the court.

Planet-wide global warming is on the minds of most people, if not the Republican White House. A huge collection of experts and countries set out a declaration today. From local to global, we simply cannot give in to defeat.