Friday Assorted Links

1. The British Open has always been my favorite golf tournament because of the history, creative shot making, hellish bunkers, cold wind and rain, and the gorse of course. I’m going to miss it.

Englishman Nick Faldo, a three-time Open champion, said it is no longer correct to call it the Open Championship. “Now it’s ‘The Open. In another five years, it will just be called ‘The.’ ”

2. Tyler Cowen on his writing process.

“I try to write a few pages every day. I don’t obsess over the counting, I just do as much as I can and stop before I feel I am done, so I am eager to start up again the next day, or after lunch. That to me is very important, not to write too much in a single day, but to get something written every single day.”

3. Principals are loath to give teachers bad ratings.

“When principals are asked their opinions of teachers in confidence and with no stakes attached, they’re much more likely to give harsh ratings, researchers found.”

4. So this is why eldest daughter chooses to live in Chicago.

“Another interesting trend is that all cities in Southwest, from Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, are taco cities. Burrito cities are mostly from the Midwest and West. California has cities in both categories. It appears that SoCal prefers tacos (LA and San Diego), while NorCal prefers burritos (San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose).”

Clearly, burritos > tacos, so I need to visit Indianapolis and San Fransisco.

5A. Trumpcare collapsed because the Republican Party cannot govern.

“In truth, it was never possible to reconcile public standards for a humane health-care system with conservative ideology. In a pure market system, access to medical care will be unaffordable for a huge share of the public. Giving them access to quality care means mobilizing government power to redistribute resources, either through direct tax and transfers or through regulations that raise costs for the healthy and lower them for the sick. Obamacare uses both methods, and both are utterly repugnant and unacceptable to movement conservatives. That commitment to abstract anti-government dogma, without any concern for the practical impact, is the quality that makes the Republican Party unlike right-of-center governing parties in any other democracy. In no other country would a conservative party develop a plan for health care that every major industry stakeholder calls completely unworkable.”

5B. The Republican healthcare meltdown.

“The larger lesson of this sorry episode is that nobody—not McConnell, or Trump, or House Speaker Paul Ryan—can resolve the contradictions of today’s Republican Party. Once the political arm of the Rotary Club and the affluent suburbs, the Party is increasingly one of middle-class and working-class voters, many of whom are big beneficiaries of federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidies for the purchase of private insurance. But the G.O.P. remains beholden to its richest, most conservative donors, many of whom espouse a doctrine of rolling back the government and cutting taxes, especially taxes applicable to themselves and other very rich people. It was the donors and ideologues, with Ryan as their front man, who led the assault on the Affordable Care Act.”

5C. Trump’s clueless abdication of presidential responsibility.

“Predictable and despicable” are more apt than “clueless”.

“The first duty of any President is to protect the welfare of the citizenry. In blithely threatening to allow the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges, through which some twelve million Americans have purchased health insurance, Trump was ignoring this duty. Arguably, he was violating his oath of office, in which he promised to ‘faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States.'”

The Scourge of Vagueness

The Columbia Basin Herald:

“The Moses Lake School District is looking for a new high school principal following the resignation of Mark Harris Wednesday.

“We came to a mutually agreeable decision that his skill set is not the best fit for Moses Lake,” said outgoing superintendent Michelle Price.”

I’d be very disappointed if one of my first year writing students explained someone’s firing by writing, “his skill set was not the best fit”, because that requires readers to work way too hard.

Then a slight elaboration:

“We had a conversation about where we are and the future of two high schools,” Harris said. “And we decided they need someone who knows the community and is steeped in its traditions and culture.”

More vagueness, “where we are”, “the future”, “knows the community”, “its traditions and cultures”. Those references are far from self-explanatory. This reader is going to guess Harris didn’t ask enough questions, implemented changes with little input from teacher-leaders, and probably lacked the needed interpersonal skills to effectively lead a high school more generally.

There’s this pseudo-elaboration too:

“Explaining the phrase ‘skill set,’ Price elaborated that with the addition of the second high school as well as planned upgrades to the existing high school, Harris didn’t really have the skills to lead through that kind of change.”

But again the phrase, “the skills to lead through that kind of change” is the same vague reflex. What does that mean? What specific skills was Harris lacking? The reader has to speculate. After a couple of readings, I still don’t know what “the skills to lead through that kind of change” is code for?

The district spokesperson concludes by proving it is possible to speak entirely in cliches:

“It will take someone special to lead people through the coming changes,” she added. “Leadership is about fit.”

What does “someone special” mean? And “changes”? And “Leadership is about fit.”? Dear CBH, please resubmit.

Even though all of Moses Lakes probably knows, I can’t help but conclude that Harris flamed out as a principal in ways the district really doesn’t want made more public.

Here’s an idea. When no one is willing to tell ANY of the story behind the story, just go to Twitter, and spare readers the public relations chess game.

Sentences Worth Re-reading

A horrendous sentence by an exceptionally good writer. Pulitzer good. I proceed knowing full well that kharma is going to kick my ass sometime soon.

Kathryn Schulz in Polar Expressed:

“The Greenland Ice Sheet, which is more than a hundred and ten thousand years old and covers six hundred and sixty thousand square miles of the Far North, has shed two hundred billion tons of water a year since 2003.”

Three references, each one extremely difficult to picture, taken together, laughably incomprehensible. Can you picture hundreds of thousands of years or square miles? What about 200,000,000,000 tons of water (or 444,000,000,000 lbs)? We need the equivalencies. For example, six hundred and sixty thousand square miles, or the size of “x” number of Western states. Or two hundred billion tons of water or enough water to fill “y”. The best writers sometimes swing and miss, just a lot less often than the rest of us mortals.

An exemplary sentence by Zoe Heller’s in her review of Sally Bedell Smith’s new biography, “Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life”.

“Too physically uncoordinated to be any good at team sports, too scared of horses to enjoy riding lessons, and too sensitive not to despair when, at the age of eight, he was sent away to boarding school, he was happiest spending time with his grandmother the Queen Mother, who gave him hugs, took him to the ballet, and, as he later put it, ‘taught me how to look at things.’”

One sentence, seven detailed references about Charles, resulting in genuine insight into his personality. Brilliant.

And another Heller gem from later in the same review:

“Even Charles’s love life was choreographed for him with the sort of elaborate care and tact usually reserved for pandas in captivity.”

A master lesson in how to make your readers smile.

Sentence of the Sentury

In my early twenties, while attending a workshop on “Teaching About Africa”, I was introduced to African literature which has enriched my life unmeasurably. My current exercise in seeing the world through African lenses is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Highly recommended. Before digging in though, read a bit about recent Zimbabwean history. For example, this backgrounder compliments of the Daily Mail.

There are so many passages I’d like to highlight, but I’ll limit myself to one which requires a brief intro. Here the central character, Darling, is describing her Kalamazoo, Michigan, adolescent self:

The last book I read was that Jane Eyre one, where the long meandering sentences and everything just bored me and that Jane just kept irritating me with her stupid decisions and the whole lame story made me want to throw the book away. I had to force myself to keep reading because I had to write a report for English class.

Then Bulawayo goes all Jane Eyre on her readers. Dig this sentence of the sentury:

It’s early in the morning so the mall is a little dead. If this was at home, the place would be throbbing with life already: little kids riding that escalator over there like it would take them to heaven, their screams rising like skyscrapers—you would hear them all the way at Victoria’s Secret on the third floor; the mothers gossiping and laughing on the first floor, taking turns to look up and shouting warnings at their children, bodies constantly shuffling about because women never stand still since there is always something to do, always something; the men doing their thing maybe around those benches outside Payless, maybe passing around a Kingsgate cigarette or huddled around a newspaper and maybe talking about football scores in the European League, or the war in Iraq; their voices deep but never rising about those of the women and children because a man’s voice needs to stay low always; and then, in the open space where that Indian girl does threading, the older kids would be dancing to house musice, to DJ Sbu, and DJ Zinhle and Bojo Mujo, being reckless with their contorting bodies like they know they don’t own them and therefore they don’t care if they break; and in the massage chairs near the elevator, toothless old people sprawled out like lizards basking in the sun, making groaning noises as the massage thingies worked their wilted bodies; and at the telephone near the candle shop, an impatient line queuing to make calls to relatives in places like Chicago and Cape Town and Paris and Amsterdam and Lilongwe and Jamaica and Tunis; in the air, the dizzying aromas of morning foods cutting those perfumed smells from Macy’s to shreds; and maybe on that little square outside Foot Locker, under the fake tree, someone preaching from a Bible, a small crowd gathered around him, maybe wondering whether to believe or not, litter at their feet and around the mall to show there are people living there.

A Life Built on Service and Saving

If my ticket gets punched sometime soon, I’ll have lived a life filled to the brim. Almost disorientingly so. I’ve crouched in the final passageway of a West African slave fort, been drenched by Victoria Fall’s mist, walked on the Great Wall of China, ran around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, hiked in Chiapas, and cross country skied in Norway. I’ve lived in the Midwest, the West, the Southeast, and as one six year old here says, “the Specific Northwest”. I’ve interacted with thousands of young people, the vast majority who appreciated my efforts on their behalf. I’ve cycled up and down mountains in the Western United States. I’ve taught guest lessons in my daughters’ elementary classrooms. I’ve been blessed to know lots of people more selfless than me, some who will read this today. I’ve been loved by caring, generous parents, and been privileged to know my wife and daughters and their friends.

My life has been so full that I tend to think about whatever my future holds as extra credit. Everything from here on out is a bonus.

Maybe I don’t look forward to too much anymore because my cup has been overflowing for some time. Apart from a story well told and nature, not a lot moves me these days.

So getting choked up in church yesterday, during the announcements of all things, was totally unexpected. A guest was invited to the front to make a surprise announcement. A tall, dapper man in his late 30’s began describing his relationship with ChuckB, a member who had passed away a few months ago. He had been Chuck’s financial planner for eight years.

I didn’t know Chuck until I attended a celebration of his life that was planned nine months ago after the church community learned of his terminal illness. He worked as a forester for the Department of Ecology for a few decades and kept a low profile at church, driving the van, tutoring after school, doing whatever was needed behind the scenes. At his celebration I was struck by how everyone described him as one of the most humble, caring, and giving people they had ever known. He lived a simple life in a modest neighborhood that revolved around participating in church activities.

The financial planner announced that Chuck and his wife, who had passed away previously, were leaving the church $925,000, divided four ways, the largest portion for international aide, another for local charities, another for Lutheran World Relief specifically, and about $220,000 in the church’s unrestricted fund to use as the Council sees fit. A Council that has been seeking about $35,000 to fund a half-time position dedicated to strengthening our ties to local people in need.

There was an audible gasp. Two people stood and began applauding and soon everyone followed. My favorite part, and probably what moved me so much, was that Chuck wasn’t there for his standing ovation. Shortly before he died, he confided to one member that he was leaving “the bulk of his estate to the church,” but that person said she had “no idea it was anywhere near that much money.” No one did.

The most beautiful and moving part to me is that Chuck intentionally passed on his standing ovation. He didn’t need it. A life filled with service and saving was more than enough. Blessed be his memory.

 

 

Most Read Posts This Year

  1. The Problem With The Simple Living Movement
  2. Two Types of Self Esteem
  3. School Mission Statements
  4. When Parents Are Too Child-Centered
  5. What Engineers Get Wrong

Each was written prior to 2015. Meaning it’s time to step up my game this year. Thank you as always for stopping by. Most readers were from the United States, with Canada and the United Kingdom close behind. Most groovy of all, readers were from 139 different countries.

My two favorite Christmas gifts this year.

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The Cold, Hard Reality of Teaching’s Artificiality

Yesterday a colleague said she thought about “just canceling everything” this week, the last of the semester before final exams. “I thought I’d just tell them we’re through. That’s it. That’s all there is.”

That brought “I feel you” laughter from others. So when I told another colleague that today was the last class session of the semester, she said, “I bet you’re happy about that.” “No,” I explained, “I’m going to miss this group.”

My thirteen first year writers this semester were amazing. They were from Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon, and different parts of Washington State. They were funny and kind and they listened to whomever was speaking. They thoughtfully embraced the questions inspired by the course theme, “The Art of Living”. They shared their differing perspectives on the need for a philosophy of life; on gratitude and empathy; on money’s relative importance; on friendship, family, and romantic love; and on spirituality’s relative importance. They liked one another, they liked the course content, they tolerated their teacher.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve had a group of randomly assigned students gel with one another and me in unexpected ways so I have a feel for what our future holds. I’ll see them in a few months or years somewhere on campus, probably walking across Red Square. And a fair number will pretend they don’t see me. I have a sophisticated phrase for this phenomenon, “That was then, this is now.”

I remember the Good Wife experiencing this her second or third September of teaching. Much to her dismay, her third graders whom she had poured her soul into, quickly bonded with their fourth grade teacher. She was lucky to get sheepish hand waves when she wanted hugs of continuous gratitude. Their subtle head nods conveyed “That was then, this is now”.

This semester I instituted a social psychology experiment of sorts. Mid-semester, after bonding with my thirteen writers, I explained the “That was then, this is now” phenomenon. Of course they didn’t need it explained, but my figuring them out brought smiles of appreciation.

Then, occasionally, I would begin class by reporting on brief interactions with former students elsewhere on campus. “Saw three students on my way to and from the pool at lunch yesterday, two made eye contact and said ‘hello’.” They enjoyed my scorekeeping.

So today, my parting words were a request, “When you see me on campus, don’t look past me, say ‘hello’.” They said they would, but I’ll settle for subtle head nods.