Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cat Litter

Met with some good friends recently and in the course of our many conversations, we realized that we both lamented the demise of the white plastic buckets in which 40-lb. units of cat litter could be bought at Costco (about three months ago they switched over to a non-biodegradable bag-like plastic container). Oh, the many uses of those white buckets which became ubiquitous in suburbia:

  • small gardening tools and supplies
  • toys
  • sheet music (I swear, my band's librarian uses them to hold pieces going in / out of folders)
  • mold for snow fort bricks
  • white out drills in the Antarctic (okay, so that's not in suburbia)
If I didn't consider the four that I still have so valuable, I'd consider selling them for $2 apiece at the next neighborhood yard sale. They'd sell out.

Our recent stop in the Frederick, Maryland area reminded me of how similar and homogeneous many of our consumer experiences are here in the metroplex. Frederick is a good 3-hour-plus drive from here, but we ate breakfast from food purchased at the same grocery store (Weis) that we use, cleaned up spills with paper towels bought in bulk from, where else, Costco, and saw the same combinations of complementary stores in big box malls as we traveled to and fro.

Still, I remain fond of the Frederick area. It rests right on the border between built-up Suburbia and quaint rural. In some ways, that's why I've become so fond of Lansdale, though Lansdale certainly doesn't boast the size and economic vibrancy of Frederick and the I-70 corridor. The area reminds me of what Reading could be, if Reading could somehow overcome the deterioration of safety and economy that has befallen it in the past decades.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Merry Christmas

This posting exists only to prove that I'm still alive and interested in blogging . . . as soon as I figure out something worth writing.

Oh, yeah, I'm supposed to elaborate on today's momentous this day in history. Hmmm. So 115 years ago today the first motion picture was screened. Neat. But I've got nothing on that. Oh, and in 1832 John Calhoun resigned as Vice President (just in time to be elected to Senate from South Carolina, surely). Sorry, still nothing. I must truly be on vacation mode.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Come now. History Channel is making today's key anniversary event Elvis Presley's drafting rather than South Carolina's secession from the Union. I'm speechless. And I had so been looking forward to the inauguration of my Civil War sesquicentennial celebration. Oh well, four more years to celebrate.

Two comments on today:

I've adopted the philosophy that Christmas break has already begun. I'm just spending the first four days of it going into work. This is healthy.

Second, an interesting article in today's Inquirer is analyzing teacher's salaries in the context of a class war. Probably a helpful perspective, and humbling too to realize my profession and what it represents has become such a political flashpoint Perhaps we're on the way to a shift in consensus about what teachers represent and how we should be compensated. Are we civil servants? Are we professionals? I do see a real shift in consciousness toward the costs of doing education, and in many ways it's a healthy shift from some wastefulness.

Maybe it will push us to rethink the models by which we pattern our classrooms and schools. Do seniors really need a full day of 24-student classes? Would we be better off with more independent study and larger lecture-style classrooms. Or, is it time for a 13th year of education? I bring this up because the sheer math behind the 17:1 student-teacher ratio must be questioned if we as professionals wish to be paid as professionals while tax bases tighten.

However, though we might be ready for a change in how society values or compensates teachers, I don't know if we're ready yet for a real conversation about the entitlement culture that permeates education and the costs that come with it. Though it's an awesome thing that we welcome all comers age 5-18 regardless of disability or background, the mandates to teach all according to their ability and provide a free and appropriate education are expensive values we live out.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday, 12/19

Here's an event I remember, it's the twelfth anniversary of Bill Clinton's impeachment. To say the least, Clinton and Congress complicated the lives of Social Studies teachers everywhere.

So, how many presidents have been impeached?



Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson.

I didn't think Bill Clinton was impeached.

He was, he just wasn't convicted. Same with Johnson.

I thought Nixon was impeached.

Well, technically he wasn't.

But he got kicked out of office?


But why?

Because he was about to be impeached?

The above dialogue, or something close to it, must get repeated every month in high schools across America. I guess this dialogue serves a purpose, not just to remind students of checks and balances and the nuances of the 25th Amendment but also as to the intent behind our political system.

Though intelligent people can disagree, it's clear that the episodes involving Johnson and Clinton represented significant watersheds in our understanding of presidential power and privilege. In each instance, America's elected officials made the judgment that what these men had done, though wrong, wasn't grave enough to rise to the level of "High Crimes and Misdemeanors." Probably a good thing in each case that the men were acquitted, for conviction (especially in the case of Johnson) would have shifted powers decisively in favor of Congress. I say a good thing because I ultimately think the shift in power toward the presidency over our time as a republic has been a good thing. As for the story of Nixon, he did have the grace and dignity to step down in the face of an imminent impeachment and conviction, thus preserving some element of dignity for the office of president in very trying times.

Our political system is designed to be deliberate, and it usually works to check great abuses to the system. Clinton, Nixon, Johnson . . . the system prevailed each time.

Ironically, today is also near the anniversary of the speech that catapulted Andrew Johnson to national prominence. I read this column in today's New York Times about that famous, but somewhat lost, speech by Johnson. Amazing speech. Just a shame it catalyzed the journey for America's worst-ever president to eventually become president.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


So, today is the anniversary of the Mayflower's arrival at Plymouth, or at least the arrival of the passengers from the Mayflower. And yesterday was the anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight from Kitty Hawk. I'm prompted to wonder . . .

Were those people out of their mind?

I don't know what is more outrageous of a proposition: two bicycle makers thinking December is a great time to fly a gigantic motorized kite off of a beach or a group of Puritan Separatists thinking the Massachusetts coast is lovely this time of year.

Perhaps great leaps in mankind are made by the cold and bold.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Slippery Slopes to Conspiracy

Hmm. I didn't realize today was the birthday for the Bill of Rights. I actually came to love teaching about the Bill of Rights to my politics classes. They're essential to our lives as Americans, but prone to misunderstanding, largely because the wording of some of them are quite cryptic. But I do find it interesting how they are limits as to what government cannot do rather than guarantees of what a citizen may do.

So it seems the tax deal President Obama and the Republicans struck last week has disintegrated into yet another partisan squabble. Finally Hannity and the New York Times agree on something: they both hate the bill. But it's funny to hear of how the former assails it as an attack on the wealthy while the New York Times op-ed page runs a column as to how it (namely, the modification of the inheritance tax) is just more evidence that this country won't move toward ways of redistributing wealth.

So we have a tug of war - the tax bill is either a socialistic attempt to redistribute wealth or another egregious example of how we don't have the guts to redistribute wealth. Gee, and I thought it was just a hasty, expensive, desperate, kick-the-can-down-the-road compromise.

I'm starting to tire of the grand conspiracies offered by both right and left. Could some politician please offer something more positive and purposeful. I can't remember the last time I heard a political figure sell an idea to me as an investment in making the country better. More on that whole investment line of reasoning later. As for now, bed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 14

This Day in History acknowledges today as the anniversary of Admundsen's arrival at the South Pole. This is an event I really know little about, though I do know America disputes the claims of the dozen or so nations that lay claim to Antarctica. Sorry, don't have much on this.

Also, it's the anniversary of George Washington's death in 1799. History teachers spend lots of time talking to students about the famous two-term precedent Washington set by not running for office again in 1796. In truth, his health was poor and he had been worn out by the partisan antics of his second term. If anything, Washington showed us no man can probably withstand more than two terms in that office.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lemme try something . . .

I need to start doing this blogging thing again. I wonder if this would work: link to the This Day in History page on the History Channel's website and riff about that day. Hm. It's got potential.

This Day in History

Okay, so the most significant item that site suggests is that today is the 10-year anniversary of Al Gore's concession of the 2000 presidential race. To some readers, a dark day in our past. To some, a peaceful resolution of one of our nation's greatest political crises. However, I don't know if the Election of 2000 ranks in my top five political crises. Without doubt, I know that the following four beat it out:

  • The Civil War
  • Andrew Johnson's Impeachment
  • Watergate
  • Election of 1824 (you know, the "Corrupt Bargain")

To me it's a close call between Bush vs. Gore and the Election of 1876, when Hayes sold the freedmen down the river to secure the disputed votes of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. I might have to give the edge to 1876 because the fate of so many former slaves hung in the balance and because, sadly, that compromise left the Southern black populace at the mercy of Jim Crow and Sharecropping. I guess in another 15 years historians can more appropriately size up the impact of Gore conceding, and the impact of the whole recount controversy itself (after all, George Will wrote a column yesterday claiming that the 2000 election has been the catalyst for the commonness of he-said-she-said recount battles in the last decade). But Gore's election likely wouldn't have stopped the defining moment of the decade, 9/11.

I will remember 2000 as one of the more humorous and humbling moments of my teaching career. I had built a substantial portion of my 9th grade Social Studies class around that election. I remember having an essay due for the day after the election where my students would tell me why candidate x won or lost. Oh, the fun of pushing that essay back a day, then two, then just telling my students to bag it.