Tales of Wawa

On my way to Wawa, I saw a teenage girl with long dark hair hanging over her face and she was high in the air, sitting cross-legged on the roof of a car, texting away in the cold . . . it was an odd tableau, especially on a deserted suburban street; the next day, when I bought a spicy turkey chipotle sandwich at Wawa, the guy making my sandwich told me I made a "good choice," which made me very happy (probably a little too happy-- what the hell does the sandwich maker at Wawa know about good food?) though I think he was breaking Wawa protocol-- because the reason you get a sandwich at Wawa is the fact that you can order on the little touchscreen and avoid all human interaction (and it turned out that the sandwich was not such a "good choice" . . . I normally bring lunch from home, and my stomach wasn't used to digesting an entire spicy turkey chipotle sub while teaching my 10/11 creative writing class . . . and rule #1 of teaching is that it's no fun to teach when your digestive system is going berserk).

New Music: Girl vs. Death Squad

After a few hiccups, I've got my home music studio up and running again (everything pretty much died in the span of a week-- my DAW software, my operating system, my digital audio converter, and my MIDI drum machine) and I'm trying to record ten solid songs and call it an album . . . I've got a cool name for the project-- Slouching Beast-- and "Girl vs. Death Squad" is the first track I finished, it's inspired by all the Mexican drug cartel stuff I read last summer; for lyrics and more, head over to Gheorghe: The Blog.


I've been consuming loads of crime stuff: The Fall, True Detective, The Skeleton Road, The Fifth Witness . . . so you'd think my investigative skills would be on fleek, but the following mysteries in my life still remain unsolved:

1) two weeks ago, the garbagemen took the recycling on Wednesday instead of Thursday;

2) both my jump shot and my hairline have diminished on the same timeline;

3) even though Rudy was totally cheesy, it still made me cry.

Can You Build a Teacher Bigger, Faster, Stronger?

Elizabeth Green's book Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone) avoids most of the politics that Dana Goldstein covers in The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession and instead focuses on the quest to find out what good teaching is and what characteristics a good teacher possesses; along the way she dispels some myths-- one is that teachers are "natural born" . . . it would be convenient if this were so, because then it would be simply a matter of firing the worst ten percent of teachers (which is a LOT of people-- there are 3.7 million teachers in America . . . it is by far the largest number of white collar workers in any one profession, as a comparison, there are 180,000 architects and 1.3 million engineers) and replacing them with folks that are "born to teach" and then all our test scores would rise, but though there have been plenty of attempts, there are no particular characteristics or personality traits or intellectual capacities that make a good teacher-- as long as you are smart enough, it's something you learn . . . then there are the folks that just think if there were enough accountability and testing, we could figure out where the problems are-- but these sort of data collection set-ups don't actually help teachers improve and generally collpse under their own weight, and on the other side of the coin are the autonomy people, who believe that good teaching results from teachers being completely on their own, free of testing and data . . . but there's no indication that this is the case either; Green goes to Japan, a country that test far better than us in math, and she finds that they use a system very different than ours, where teachers have a lighter class load, but much more time to collaborate and observe colleagues, and then study and criticize their lessons in an intense fashion-- and, ironically, the Japanese learned this system from the United States-- we invented it, but we never implemented it (the book closely observes math teaching and an easy way to spot the difference is that American classes progress in an "I, We, You" fashion-- the teacher demonstrates, the kids work together, and then they try it alone, while Japan works in a "You, Y'all, We" manner, where the kids work on a single problem-- carefully crafted by a team of teachers-- and they work alone and struggle at first, then discuss possible methods with each other, and then have a teacher directed discussion on how they might go about solving the problem) and Green comes to the conclusion that though we've tried some noble experiments (the "zero tolerance" charter schools in impoverished areas and plenty of collaborative programs in certain schools) that we have no national infrastructure for this sort of thing, no shared curriculum and vocabulary in disciplines, and a general incoherence because of state, national, and district mandates (which may or may not conflict with each other) and that more observation (especially by people outside of one's discipline-- which is what is happening now in schools everywhere around the country) is not particularly helpful unless the teacher is a complete trainwreck-- and most teachers are not (in fact, teachers which are rated ineffective one year, have a very good chance of being rated effective the next, so there's a lot of subjectivity in these ratings) and so they need very specific feedback and lesson ideas for their subject area, not more administrative data, but-- as Michael Roth points out in this review of the book, American teachers clock far more hours in the classroom than teachers from other countries (especially successful countries) and so there is no time to collaborate or watch other teachers lessons or team plan, and -- because of the particular American obsession with business and productivity-- I can't imagine our course or student loads ever diminishing, so in a sense, we will remain islands unto ourselves (I am very lucky that a lot of collaboration goes on informally in my department, but it's pretty random and essentially determined by what English teachers you have lunch with . . . which is no way to improve national test scores in reading and math) but you never know, the book is worth reading just for the math ideas alone, which might help you to help your kid with his math homework.

Dave Learns How to Use a Scarf!

It took my me all winter to figure it out, but I finally mastered the scarf-- in order to wear one, I need to first put on a hooded sweatshirt, then I need to wrap the scarf around my bare (and rather thick) neck, and then, in order to secure the scarf in place, I need to pull the hood of the sweatshirt over the scarf-- so it's jammed in there; this method really keeps the scarf up over my chin and mouth and it stays that way-- I walked the dog for an hour down by the river and the wind didn't bother me at all . ..  so if next winter is a bad one, and I start posting scarf incompetence stuff again, someone please remind me about this epiphany.

I Don't Know What Women Want, But I Know What ISIS Wants

Though I still don't know what women really want, I do know what ISIS really wants . . . and you can too if you read Graeme Wood's really long and in-depth Atlantic article "What ISIS Really Wants" but if you don't feel like reading it (it's definitely a downer) then I'll sum it up in a nutshell: apocalypse, genocide, slavery, crucifixion, beheadings, territory, a caliphate, social welfare, free healthcare, Sharia law, and-- finally-- a showdown in Dabiq between the jihadists and "Rome," where the Islamic State will be victorious, and then they will go on to sack Istanbul and spread through the world, only to be beaten back by the anti-Messiah "Dajjal" . . . and the remaining five thousand members of ISIS will be cornered in Jerusalem, where--with the help of Jesus-- they will triumph and rule the earth . . . and this is all derived from a carefully considered, radically rigid reading of the Koran and the Hadith . . . so it's not so much to ask for, is it?

Cowardly Swedes in the Snow and the Jungle

It is both awful and compelling to witness a grown man's total humiliation-- I have only seen this once and it is indelibly engraved in my brain . . . my wife and I were hiking up a limestone karst in the Khao Sok region of Thailand, and our leader Nit-- a whiskey slugging ex-tiger hunter turned eco-guide-- was pointing out the jungle sights: boar, elephant, and tapir tracks; trees that had been ripped apart by Malayan sun bears; monitor lizards basking in the sun; hornbills flying overhead . . . it was loud, cicadas and gibbons shrieked and chattered; and we were making our way up a steep section, switchback after switchback-- Catherine and I were at the back of the line; Nit was in the lead, followed by Hans the big Swede, his tall and lovely wife Maude, and their teenage son . . . and one moment we were soaking in all the nature and the next moment was pandemonium . . . first we heard a loud predatory growl and then Hans turned and bolted, knocking his wife to the ground, and he sprinted by his son, his eyes round with fear . . . and finally, right in front of Catherine, he fell face first into the mud, tripped by a log . . . Nit was laughing hysterically, and Catherine and I, with our view from the back of the line, had seen the whole thing: Nit got ahead of the group and just before Hans rounded the turn, Nit did his best tiger imitation, a sharp guttural scream-- and granted, this was tiger territory-- and Hans bought it-- hook, line and sinker-- and took off like a bat out of hell, abandoning his wife and children in a moment of Costanzaesque panic . . . and so, a few minutes later, when we ended the hike on top of the karst, Hans was able to regain his breath, but not able to save face (which was bright red in embarrassment) and Nit couldn't have been happier that he had destroyed this man's reputation . . . this is a moment I can still see as vividly as the day it happened, it was both funny and horrible, but I never imagined what it did to Hans and Maude's marriage . . . until now-- an ex-student sent me an email recommending an international film called Force Majeure because she thought it was similar to this story (which I told in class) and though it takes place in the French Alps instead of the Thai jungle, the film is more than similar-- it is exactly like what happened in the jungle; a Swedish family is eating breakfast outside at a mountain-top ski resort and they see an avalanche headed towards the deck-- and while at first they think it is a "controlled" avalanche, as the wall of snow gets closer and closer, the restaurant patrons move from fascinated to afraid, and then the wall of snow hits-- and the Swedish mom grabs the two children to protect them and meanwhile the Swedish dad grabs his gloves and his phone and then (like brave Sir Robin) he runs away, abandoning his family to the snow . . . and though it turns out that the avalanche was indeed "controlled" and the frightening wall of snow which enveloped the deck was only avalanche "smoke," that doesn't change matters, and minutes later the dad slinks back into the scene and the rest of the movie (this is just the start) is about the consequences of his cowardice-- just like the event I saw, it's painful and terrible to watch (but also impossible to look away . . . check out the clip to get the idea).

How Much Light Do You Need in the Bathroom, Anyway?

Another sunrise, another sunset, another day the new bathroom light fixture stays safely nestled inside its box.

The Fall (Asleep)

The Fall might be a good show-- my wife certainly loves it-- but it's thin on humor and certainly takes things slowly (read as BORING) and this effectively and literally puts me to sleep every time I watch . . . but then my wife kindly summarizes the plot of the episode I missed and we move on . . . and now I've "finished" watching season two and I am very excited for season three, because the skin under my eyes is smooth and wrinkle free from all the shut-eye I've been getting.

Winter Gets Seriously Cold (and Seriously Silly)

It's gotten so cold here that I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to wear a scarf . . . how does one wear a scarf?

Ghost in the Machine/ Ghost in My Head

I'm teaching Hamlet now, so whenever I see that little "remember me" check-box that asks if you'd like a website to save your information, I hear it in the voice of Old Hamlet's Ghost . . . remember me.

Dave (Inadvertently) Appreciates Canada!

Back in 2012, I made a New Year's Resolution to appreciate Canada more, but apparently that's not the kind of thing you can force yourself to do . . . despite my abject failure at deliberately appreciating our neighbors to the north, I'm pleased to report that sometimes you can end up appreciating Canada by accident (which seems fitting for a country with a capital city that no one can identify) and I've been doing just that: two years ago I learned to play Gordon Lightfoot's ominous and excellent song "Sundown" on the guitar (and my friend Rob coincidentally learned it as well) and then a couple days ago I heard a snippet of a song on the radio and vaguely recognized it and wanted to learn it on the guitar and so I looked it up, and it turned out to be another Gordon Lightfoot song ("If You Could Read My Mind") and so I did some research and not only is Gordon Lightfoot Canadian, but he is one of the most appreciated Canadians; for example, but Robbie Robertson considers him a "national treasure" and Bob Dylan wishes his songs would all last forever . . . anyway, I like his lyrics more than I like his voice, but he's a hell of a lot better than Nickelback.

I've Seen the Future and It's Ridiculous

My children had their first Twinkie experience Friday night-- my wife's boss heard that they had never tried the quintessential processed treat and so she bought a box of them in order to corrupt their taste buds-- and my kids spent some time just soaking in the smell before they ate them, and while Alex held his Twinkie under his nose, he said to me: "this is the future, a Twinkie attached to a pair of glasses so it sits under your nose and you can smell it all day" and I almost pursued the discussion, but then I thought better of it and let him enjoy his greasy cream filled treat (when I was a kid, I preferred the Chocodile . . . which is a chocolate covered Twinkie and-- according to Wikipedia-- Hostess reissued them in 2014, but in a slightly smaller "fun-size," which seems like a weird appellation, because with something as delicious as a Chocodile, the bigger the better-- so a smaller version should be termed the "less fun" size).

Best Friends Forever (Aside From a 17 Year Hiatus After You Slept With My Wife)

So in the end, True Detectives is a Buddy Cop Show (Starsky and Hutch . . . Marty and Rust) and if you've got a buddy -- even if you're buddy is obtuse and philosophical and cold and obsessive and damaged . . . or drunk and licentious and hot-headed and undirected-- then you can head into the heart of darkness and maybe come out unscathed (or very scathed, but not so scathed that you can't do another season) and I'm wondering if the design of the mystery was so byzantine, like a Raymond Chandler novel, so that you could just sit back and enjoy the weird relationship between Marty and Rust, and forget about trying to figure out who was abducting and sacrificing children in the swamps of Louisiana (which isn't all that fun to think about anyway).

Snow Schtick

As a high school teacher, you occasionally educate your students, but in between the learning, you need a lot of schtick; Thursday during Creative Writing class, it started to snow and the kids reacted in the typical way: "Hooray, it's snowing! It's snowing!" and usually I allow them a minute or so of precipitation celebration before I make them start doing school stuff again, but not any longer--because I figured out how to nip the snow celebration in the bud; I said to them "an old lady just slipped on the ice and broke her hip, a car accident just happened on the Turnpike, and a stray dog just froze to death . . . and you're celebrating?" and a girl said "stop it!" to me and no one mentioned the snow again.

I Know Why the Enraged Bird Tweets

The New York Times article "How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco's Life" investigates how public shaming in a digital forum can lead to very real consequences for the people targeted-- the article focuses on Justine Sacco's infamous tweet and there is no question that what she posted to her small group of followers was fairly dopey, tone-deaf, and possibly racist (Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!) and though Sacco claims she was satirizing the protective bubble that many white people inhabit, she came off as gleefully "flaunting" her privileged life; Sacco tweeted this before embarking on an eleven hour plane ride, and the by the time she touched down in South Africa, she had been lambasted all over the internet and as a result of the frenzy-- her tweet trended at number one-- she was fired from her job, she was told by authorities that no one could guarantee her safety, and employees at her hotel threatened to go on strike if she stayed there . . . and while I agree that people should be very careful what they post on the internet, as it is a permanent and public forum, I also see an irony in this system, where people are pushed to write controversial and edgy things in order to attract attention, and then the very people seeking these controversial and edgy things invoke unbridled indignance at the author, when they were trawling through Twitter to find exactly such things; this reminds me of Howard Stern's mantra: if you don't like what you're hearing, turn the dial . . . if you don't want to be offended, then get off the internet and read something that's been vetted by a professional editor-- satire is really hard to write (especially in 140 characters) and Justine Sacco failed at it, but the people who publicly humiliated her also failed to take the post in its proper context; the medium is the message here-- the tweet was in poor taste, but it was just a tweet, designed to live and die in a moment-- take flight or plummet into the binary abyss-- not haunt a woman for the rest of her days.

Defense Heuristically

I will guard you to the right until you prove that you can go left.

Icy Stairs vs. Hannibal Lecter

We just started watching another crime show about a serial killer (True Detectives) and this made me wonder how often serial killing actually occurs-- because if you watch Luther and The Fall and Dexter and Hannibal and The Following (I've only seen the first two on the list-- and that's enough serial killing for me) then you'd think that the world is absolutely overrun with psychopathic homicidal maniacs . . . but it turns out (according to Scientific American) that only one percent of the 15, 000 murders that occur in the U.S. each year are the work of serial killers, and the FBI estimates that there are 25-50 serial killers operating at any particular time . . . which is actually more than I thought, but you should still worry more about getting the ice off your porch steps then the chance that your neighbor has a bunch of frozen heads in the freezer.

Snow > Frozen Ice Terrain

A few weeks back I waxed poetically about how much I love to stomp across Donaldson Park in the snow, wearing my Sorel boots, my trusty canine companion bounding and rollicking by my side, tossing the fresh powder into the air with his snout-- but now that fresh snow has been rained upon, and sleeted upon, and it is frozen into a phantasmagoria of icy slicks, jagged chunks, and crusty shelves; my Sorel boots afford no traction on this stuff, and my back hurts from hiking across the uneven surfaces every morning and afternoon, and I'm not hoping for spring, because all that means is mud and rain, and I'm not sure if more snow will help matters, because the snow will be layered on ice, so the only thing I can wish for is that someone offers me a job in Colorado, where the beer flows like wine and the sun always shines and the snow is dry and powdery and you can just brush it off your windshield with a magazine.

Dave vs. the General Public

According to The Week magazine, there is a growing gap between what scientists believe and what the general U.S. public believes . . . for example: 86 percent of scientists think parents should be required to vaccinate their kids but only 68 percent of the general public believes this; also, 87 percent of scientists think climate change is caused by human activities, but only fifty percent of the general public believes this . . . and while I'm not a scientist, I am noticing that my beliefs don't often coincide with the general public either; for example:

1) it seems like everyone in the general public who has heard of Sleater-Kinney really likes their new album, but I find it kind of grating;

2) the general public is fond of skinny jeans, but I prefer them a bit baggier;

3) the general public seems to really enjoy seasonal decorations, and I think they're a hassle;

4) the general public likes cars with hubcaps, but I don't really care one way or the other (and I tend to lose them because I'm an awful parallel parker);

5) the general public couldn't give a shit how they use "lie" and "lay" but I like to use them properly;

6) and finally, the general public likes to dance at weddings, but I don't know what to do with my hands (or my feet).
A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.