Thursday, February 28, 2013

10,000 protesters are downtown today. Another example for toleration in a few weeks, when we cover political toleration and free speech. I think this was a serious miscalculation on the governor's part.

 Last night I was casting around for a (kindle) book to read. A friend had posted her short list of five books Americans should read. It consisted of My Antonia, The Grapes of Wrath, the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, and the poems of Emily Dickinson and Gwendolyn Brooks. I don't have a problem with her list, but mine would have to include at least one by Mark Twain and maybe A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

That musing got me thinking about John Steinbeck (as it happens, it was his birthday yesterday). My favorite book of his is not GoW but Winter of Our Discontent. I own it in paperback, and have read it more than once, but it has been many years since the last time. So I decided to get the kindle version, and I started it last night. I can already tell that I am going to thoroughly enjoy it once again. (And, I see some possibilities for the toleration midterm, which I have to write next week.) I even enjoyed the introduction, which is a surprise. One of the reasons I did not like English classes that focused on novels in high school and avoided them entirely in college is that I don't care to suffer through someone's interpretation of a work of art. I want to develop my own understanding. But I did glean a tidbit from the introduction that was news to me -- the setting was Long Island. I thought it was coastal New England, likely Massachusetts when I first read the book 30+ years ago.

 This has nothing to do with any of the above, but I couldn't stop myself:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Someone had placed the following scary flyer in the faculty mailboxes yesterday (I am only scanning the front; there are three more pages):
My first reaction was irritation. It reminded me of an incident nearly 22 years ago. I was working as an intern and my MPA graduation was approaching. The speaker was some Turkish official who was alleged by certain groups to be involved in human rights violations (as I recall; it may have been some other scandal). 

There was an odd woman who worked in the office (who far outranked me). She claimed to have some illness or disability that required the constant presence of a helper -- purportedly she was an aide or nurse of some sort although I never saw any evidence that my colleague was seriously ill. Both women cornered me, demanding that I skip graduation or at least join in a protest by standing and turning my back during the speech. 

I told them I had no intention of missing the ceremony or being disruptive, that my family was looking forward to witnessing my graduation and I would not disappointment them for any reason. This strange woman's alma mater was an elite place and her demeanor spoke of privilege; how could she possibly understand what a proud moment it is for a first generation college student to earn a graduate degree? I still remember that I felt extremely uncomfortable, as they were blocking my exit from the room, but I held my ground. 

Back to the threatening flyer. Now, I'm no fan of Coke, tobacco or sweatshops, but I spent about 30 seconds searching and found this story. Does it strike you as just a little strange for this organization to be claiming the moral high ground?
Happy first Gotcha Day Rosie! My little ray of sunshine.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In faith formation class, the kids had reconciliation (where they were allowed to light and blow out candles, which they loved; they also got lollipops, and were described as a "lively group." Ya think?). Afterwards, we looked at the art print The Virgin (Joseph Stella, 1926). We also studied The Good Shepherd Among His Flock (unknown) and Jesus Mosaic (unknown) in preparation for a big project we have planned: they are going to make mosaics! We finished by praying the rosary and having a healthy snack (for Lent) slices. They came with caramel dipping sauce, so they were not completely health food, but the kids certainly thought they were.

Today is the one year anniversary of Millie's death. Hard to believe, the year has flown by -- but in some ways it seems longer ago than that. Life, and memory, are funny that way.

And now for something completely's a story that falls under the category "truth is stranger than fiction." Take your pick: suicide, double murder, body stuffed in barrel for three years, arson, giant pumpkins -- it's all there. (Yes, it's macabre, yes, it's rubbernecking, and yes, I should be ashamed of myself.*)

*For some reason, this reminds me of that wonderful, hilarious book, The Innocents AbroadMark Twain took great pleasure in displaying the ignorant behavior that his tour guides were expecting when he would ask incredulously at the site of ancient ruins or a tomb "but, he dead?" Imagine my delight when I came across this while hunting a quote: 
 “The guide showed us a coffee-colored piece of sculpture which he said was considered to have come from the hand of Phidias, since it was not possible that any other artist, of any epoch, could have copied nature with such faultless accuracy. The figure was that of a man without a skin; with every vein, artery, muscle, every fibre and tendon and tissue of the human frame, represented in detail. It looked natural, because somehow it looked as if it were in pain. A skinned man would be likely to look that way, unless his attention were occupied with some other matter. It was a hideous thing, and yet there was a fascination about it some where. I am sorry I saw it, because I shall always see it, now. I shall dream of it, sometimes. I shall dream that it is resting its corded arms on the bed's head and looking down on me with its dead eyes; I shall dream that it is stretched between the sheets with me and touching me with its exposed muscles and its stringy cold legs.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

1) I didn't watch the Academy Awards last night, but Bob put it on for about 15 seconds. It happened to be right when the cast of Les Mis was singing. Even he thought it sounded atrocious and I think he was afraid it might cause me to have a seizure so he quickly turned it off.

Weeks ago, when we were discussing Lincoln, my nephew emailed me that Hollywood loves Ben Affleck and especially George Clooney so he predicted an Argo win. Somewhat less annoying, Hollywood also loves Ang Lee, so the best director nod isn't a shock either.

I saw several nominated films this year, but I did not see either winning movie, for very different reasons. Having lived through the Iran hostage crisis as a teenager, I have zero interest in Hollywood's take. And I don't care for most adventure / fantasy movies so was sure I couldn't sit through Life of Pi. (Now, Life of Pie, that's a different story.)

Something that came to mind this morning when I saw the results on AOL's headline was that I've heard movie buffs discuss the irony of a best picture win with no actor or director awards. How can that be? It's certainly a good question.

2) Now, for a totally unrelated subject...the latest development for the La Grange Inn. It's essentially the same proposal put forth by Walgreen's in 2008, just switch the mega drugstore to CVS, and there you go. Allegedly they will move and restore the original structure, but unless the town makes that a requirement and monitors the situation, I have my doubts.

Bob grew up on the street behind La Grange. Only a fence separated his backyard from the parking lot and the building. As a kid, he made a model of it for a school project. We took Bob's Oma there for lunch not too many years before she died, and his mother had a dinner there to celebrate the marriage of his brother and sister-in-law.

Sadly, Long Island -- maybe suburbia generally -- does not especially value historic preservation. Why couldn't this place remain viable? I think destination or banquet hall extravaganzas are favored by today's bride- and groom- zillas, national chains have cut into the routine dinner trade for privately owned establishments, and the abysmal economy is hurting every business -- and us all, fancy eating out being a luxury, restaurants in particular.

3) still more unrelated news, this is outrageous! Really, I'm shocked. Talk about board of education and administrative overstep into teacher autonomy. What's next? Micromanaging every lesson plan, all grades, and handing out scripts for teachers to deliver in the classroom?

James Coleman (1981) argued that private schools outperform public schools because they enforced more rigorous academic standards, were more intellectual, and gave teachers more autonomy. Little (1995) found that the development of autonomy in learners is related to teacher autonomy. Pearson (2005) demonstrated that teacher autonomy decreased on-the-job stress, and increased empowerment and professionalism.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I finished I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had last night. In the end, I'll stay with my impression that it was a good read, and I intend to watch the show Teach on the A&E website. (Added later: There are only brief clips on the website, no full episodes.) I'll more than likely share it with my students. However, there was a passage near the end that really irritated me:
...the sheer logistics of teaching, counseling, comforting, coaching, and inspiring 150 students each and every day are beyond the capability of most normal human beings. Yet public school teachers are expected to perform these tasks calmly and brilliantly while simultaneously documenting and evaluating every move they and their students make.   Oh, and don't forget staying up-to-the-minute and responsive to those constantly changing district mandates and national policy shifts. All for less money than the average plumber, real estate agent, or sales manager makes. Shouldn't we value the job of expanding our children's minds more than we value the job of Roto-Rooting our pipes? We say we do, but we never seem to put our money where our mouths are. [emphasis added]
Now, obviously I don't know Tony Danza personally, but he always came across as a likable guy on television (full disclosure, I was never a Taxi fan, but felt he was the best character. I did watch and enjoy Who's the Boss?...however, it is a show that did not wear well with time, sadly). He comes across as likable and relatively down-to-Earth in his book, too.

But there are so many false assertions in that excerpt it ended the book on a sour note for me. First, maybe he should have done a stint in the district finance office when he wasn't teaching his class. I'm not suggesting for a moment that teachers are the source of our problems in education. I appreciate his desire to defend them, especially since it is indeed a burn-out job, and teachers often are simplistically targeted for blame. But review school expenditures, and it is quite clear that we spend enormous sums. It is unrealistic to assume we could afford significant increases if we just shifted our priorities. What are we going to cut? Where will the funds come from? The military or the 1% are also simplistic targets.

The sentence in bold is the most telling. In the first place, does he have even a most basic understanding of economics? If plumbers are in demand, the market will respond with compensation. It doesn't make me happy that teaching is under compensated and jobs are hard to come by -- it is my bread and butter, after all. But we do not have a teacher shortage at present and it is unrealistic to argue otherwise.

However, none of that is what irritates me the most about the slam on plumbers. While I firmly believe being an educator is not a bad way to make a living (as my father would say), despite the critics, the burn-out, and the under compensation, I don't have a problem with his fretting about our priorities. But why is he singling out plumbers? Isn't there dignity in all work and all workers?  Has he so disconnected from his roots that he no longer has empathy for people in the trades? Why is he silent about the true incongruity: the way celebrities are compensated compared to almost everyone else. That's an area he know well and could speak to with some authority. Or does he believe he, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Venus Williams, the guy who stars in the Jackass movies, A-Rod, Charlie Sheen, the Kardashians and the host of Survivor deserve millions?

Tell me a plumber is not important the next time you awaken on a below zero morning and your bathroom pipes have frozen and burst.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

1) Great column today.

2) So incredibly happy about this. (More here.) Two of the four U-Haul dogs are recovered and up for adoption today at MHHS. The remaining two will be available once they gain more weight. And, it turns out two of the U-Haul dogs are the parents of the Railroad Puppies (not really a surprise). The father is one of the dogs available today. I know there will be many good folks there hoping to be chosen as the forever homes, hopefully the ones who miss out will adopt one of the other needy dogs in the shelter!

3) My personal email account receives so much crap on a daily basis. It isn't necessarily unsolicited spam. It's caused by the necessity of providing an email address for various reasons, with the result being 10 emails a day from the site or vendor. I try to remember to click don't send me email alerts but often that only prevents email from their "partners." It has gotten as bad as paper junk mail. Such a time waster.

4) Yesterday in my evening class, the (rhetorical) question was asked, "what was done in school before computers?" The student didn't mean what did we do before email or texting or google or GPS, ie, how did we live without them. She was marveling at the change in her experience between grades 3 and 12, and wondering how was the time filled, how was the curriculum taught, before K-12 students had computers in the classroom. 

I've sometimes discussed a similar question with friends and family. What did we DO (in offices) before the computer? Now we sit harnessed to machines, writing email, researching on the Internet, typing in word processors and spreadsheets, looking up thing in databases. When the machine is down, might as well go home. 

I remember an enormous amount of time spent on carbon paper. Whiting out and retyping. Hours spent looking thing up in filing cabinets, binders and print-out tomes. And a lifetime spent on the telephone.

5) I have to work on my website. Tweaking necessary...usually I'd spend this week doing things like that, because I'd have winter break. But the kegs 'n' eggs fiasco of '11 resulted in a March week off rather than a February or April break. I loved the old spring schedule, which was five weeks-break-five weeks-break-five weeks. Perfect. So this sucks.

6) My class has been chosen as part of this spring's sample of students to respond to the counseling center's survey. It's used as marketing to challenge the stereotypes of UA students. Here's the one that is plastered in my hallway right now:

You can see the others from this semester here. I've always thought the campaign silly and the research design suspect, but whatever. I'm OK with allowing my class to participate. However, right now I am thinking, if most students don't do these things...why am I losing my winter break?

7) I'm reading I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I've Ever Had by Tony Danza. I can't say that it is great literature exactly, but it seems sincere (if occasionally a bit sappy -- did he really cry that often?), despite his year as a teacher being the basis for a reality show. (The network pulled the plug after six episodes, but he continued to teach for the full academic year.) It's definitely an enjoyable read. Here's the article I found a while ago that made me aware of the book.

I'm the type of person who can be very undisciplined when I like a book. What I mean is, I will do nothing but read...slack on all else. Stay up until 3 am every night. Just one more page, just one more chapter, just until the end of this section. So I am forcing myself to be happy with one chapter per night, with maybe a few pages sneaked in here and there during the day. It's not easy, but so far I'm managing. I'm rationalizing that this way I can read more books, without having to wait until I have the time to do nothing else.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Yesterday we went to Litchfield, CT for a second birthday celebration for our grandnephew (& Godson).

On the way down, we stopped at the Fuel Coffee Shop in Great Barrington, MA. I had the most delicious scone! I remembered (sadly) that the last time I was in Great Barrington was when Rudy was dying -- he was receiving Vitamin C treatments and we had to leave him at our vet in Ancramdale for a couple hours for the infusion.

They had about a half dozen recycled designer fashions on display such as this one, very clever!

Bob gave Nolan his vintage ~45-year old Tyco HO electric train set that we have been storing for about 30 years. It's mint, he even saved the instructions.

 They live on the campus of the Forman School.

On the way back we stopped at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, which is fairly close to home. It was packed with skiers, even more so because of the President's Day three-day weekend, I suspect. All in all, it was a really nice day.

Unrelated: we watched the movie Flight. Spoiler alert! It was a good movie, but very different than I was expecting. The ending seemed off to me, so much so that I googled to see if there was an alternative ending, if perhaps with advance screening it was determined that audiences really didn't like the ending at all and so a slightly more crowd-pleasing one was tacked on instead. I discovered that my sense of the ending being "off" is not uncommon, but I did not find anyone else who also perceived the ending I predicted. Most of the others who had issue with the ending wanted Denzel's character to either walk away a hero, or felt the alcoholism angle was over-played, or the girlfriend subplot was pointless. They felt the direcotr or writer had painted themselves into the corner and may have had no choice but to end it in such an unsatisfying way.

My POV is very different. I think everything after finding him passed out in the hotel was a Hollywood re-write. I believe he was either dead, or would have died shortly afterwards in the hospital. The entire movie had so many religious overtones and a general theme of death, from his crashing near a church, to meeting the cancer patient and heroin addict in the hospital, to the co-pilot and his wife. I have a hunch that he would have been exonerated at the hearing posthumously, but the ending of him dying from alcohol poisoning and drug overdose without eventually shaping up, taking responsibility and making a Denzel speech was not acceptable. So the ridiculous closing scenes in the hotel with John Goodman, at the hearing and in the jail were tacked on. Audiences don't like it much, but it's cheerier than the much more logical one I've described.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Historic preservation is close to my heart; one of the few issues (besides fighting animal abuse) that I really care about. So when I read this appeal to publicize a sad recent event, how could I pass up the invitation?

I am reminded, or course, of the outrage I felt when every trace of the Defreest-Church house was erased from the planet to make way for yet another big box (in this case, some parking spaces for a Target store). Yes, Joni Mitchell was right!

I also remembered that a few years ago I read a story about a neighborhood of Lustron homes in Albany being placed on the National Register, so I did a little "hunting," and came across many pictures of the houses on Jermain Street at this post.

What is it with developers rushing to demolish before a site can be documented? Can it be interpreted as anything but a purposeful and hostile act? I still remember that the ancient trees surrounding the Defreest-Church house were destroyed in the early morning while researchers from Cornell were on their way to take samples -- they arrived just hours too late.

I take comfort when outrageous things like this happen by thinking of Penn Station's legacy. The demolition's impact is widely regarded as the most significant milestone in the preservation movement. People's attitudes changed afterwards. They knew, and still know, that it was a terrible mistake.

I thought of this recently when I was dwelling on this story. They now have 4,500 followers on facebook; folks from every state in the country and all over the world care. I believe the story of their abuse may wind up decreasing breed prejudice and help to pass this pending legislation.

Sometimes something good can come as a result of something bad, and if so, maybe the Lustron amalgam at 4111 Tonawanda Drive will not have died in vain. (Unfortunately, this has not been the case for the Defreest-Church house, as that ghastly bullseye reminds me every time I go by. But one can always hope.)
This is a really interesting blog post about the meteor that hit Russia last night.

Sprouts are ready! AKA how I (barely) satisfy my need to garden in the winter (the tulips are helping).

Finally, this musical link is fascinating -- and just a little creepy!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Yesterday I finally remembered to take along my cell phone to my afternoon class so that I could get a photo of the impact of the fountain construction on the lecture centers. This is what greets me when I leave my classroom; this is what it looks like everywhere there used to be windows. I don't have claustrophobia (thankfully), but there are now many fewer ways in and out of the LC level, so there are numerous "traffic jams." Couple that with most students' tendency to be focused more on texting than walking and it does push a few of my anxiety buttons.

Every so often there is one of these explaining the construction:

I don't see any obvious work taking place this winter, so the stated goal (Fall 2013) seems ambitious to me. The School of Business building is making progress, however. Once that's done, the old building will be renovated and that's where the School of Education (and me) will be headed.

A friend (and colleague from my former life at system) met me for lunch at the Patroon Room yesterday. We do this a couple times per semester, and since both of us are dieting during Lent, we wanted to get a splurge in. Most days I pick up some fruit or yogurt to eat in my office between classes from one of the other venues. So I'm excited about the future move to new digs, I guess, but it will make the walk to campus center much longer!

Monday, February 11, 2013

We are going to (try to) make these rosaries in faith formation class tonight, in preparation for Lent. Wish us luck!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

We got all dressed for the elements and headed outside to shovel. Our reward would be homemade soup and cinnamon rolls for lunch. Wool gloves, scarf, hat, plastic bags inside shoes, check. Discovered our neighbor had already done it for us with his snow blower! Have I mentioned recently what a nice village this is? (Yes, we decided we get the reward anyway.)

Anyway, it was just a regular storm here in the Capital District (I measured 7.5"), with about a foot in the Catskills. CT & MA got clobbered (2 to 3 feet). Sure is pretty, a cold but bright day. It is supposed to be zero tonight. Luckily, we did not lose power, although I know many folks have.

Friday, February 08, 2013

This is making the rounds on facebook, coinciding with the big snowstorm. Too funny to pass up! It's a mean night out there, no doubt about it -- and to be sure, tomorrow will feature much shoveling. But the hysteria is unwarranted! Last night Hannaford looked like it would run out of food any minute, and the bananas were one thing that was totally wiped out. Bananas get too ripe rather quickly, why would anyone hoard them?

More pictures from Sunday. These two are the Frost Valley YMCA camp.

I probably should have been wearing a scarf (and too bad this was before Wednesday's much-needed haircut)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

1) Today is the one year anniversary of dear Sophie's death. This is going to be a month of sad anniversaries. RIP, Sophalina Wegalicious :-(.

2) A valve was compromised sometime over the weekend at the Corning Tower and the 16th thru 23rd floors flooded. Bob's office is on the 18th, so there was no power yesterday, asbestos contamination from damaged ceiling tiles, and a lot of people were displaced. It was on the north and west side of the building, the part with a view of the Capitol, and Bob's office overlooks the Cathedral, so his space wasn't impacted, but he has had to relocate staff, and of course concerns about asbestos are not fun. Human Resources is on the 22nd floor, right under the conference room where the leak originated, and many personnel files were damaged. We couldn't help but speculate, could it have been caused by a disgruntled employee? Is that paranoid? Or our affection for Murder, She Wrote reruns?

3) Faith formation class last night was a challenge! Two of our best behaved students were absent, which really empowered two of the worst behaved to act up...we read two sections of the Action Bible (Jesus' temptation in the desert and the wedding miracle), looked at the art print Holy Apostles (by Manolis Grigoreas, 1998), made cards to give to a family member or friend and another for local nursing home residents, and then turned water into "wine" for snack (really bottled water and flavored drops). One girl made a card for her brother's birthday, and a boy made a sympathy card for a friend whose mother recently died. But imagine our surprise when another girl chose us as the recipient for the card she made for a family member or friend!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Yesterday after church, we went to the Blue Hill Cafe for brunch, with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law. It is quite a drive over Peekamoose Mountain from West Shokan to Claryville (~25 miles), and we went a different way to get home, past Frost Valley, came out in Big Indian (~20 miles), then took old Route 28 and headed back to West Shokan (~18 miles). It's beautiful and much of it is remote (quite an understatement in both cases). It almost goes without saying that I am not a stranger to the woods and rural areas, but these roads travel through areas that are breathtaking -- almost harsh, raw, even brutal. And, there are signs of Irene's devastation, especially on the Shandaken end. I remarked, it's comforting to know that there are still not-so-distant places that are mostly untouched by suburban sprawl.

 West Shokan to Claryville
Claryville to Big Indian
  This part, Big Indian to West Shokan, near 28, is much more traveled

 Deer are hardly a rare sight, but it almost seemed as if you could reach out and pet her
Buttermilk Falls (on Peekamoose) -- way more spectacular in person

Added: here's a feel-good short film that gives me hope for places that have been touched by people.

Friday, February 01, 2013

When we were in Saratoga on Wednesday we got Rosie a tie-dye tee shirt at Sloppy Kisses.
A difficult week, although not especially in terms of teaching. My classes seem to be very good. Toleration might have more heated debates than usual, although maybe that will not be true eventually. Tuesday evening Foundations is small and high quality, almost makes up for the classroom being in the next town (not really, but the earth science building when it's ten degrees sure seems like it). That it is dark and the nearby area mostly unlit (with the excuse of the green initiative, I suppose) doesn't help matters.

I have students develop questions to ask class, and we start discussions with those. It works well. In all three on campus classes, the questions stimulated so much dialogue that we only got to address two (of four, five, or six, respectively) questions!

Feedback from the online class (also more than usual) included that static in the audios is a barrier. So, I got a new mike. I also got editing software, but I don't think I will need it very often, since the new microphone works well.