Almost Moving In Day

The summer of 2008
seems like yesterday
Olivia sat on a chair
in the middle school
band room warming up
on her tenor saxophone
preparing to wow
the high school
band director.

Tomorrow she’s off to Hofstra
as an accomplished bassoonist
ready to wow the world.

I’m very proud
of how hard she’s worked
to arrive at this moment.

I pray she learns to find
the secret places where
life’s true blessings lie
and that she always remembers
she is strong enough
to face her challenges
and to overcome
the inevitable obstacles.

Mythologizing the Michael Brown story

In Pluto’s diary on the life of Michael Brown, you might notice one detail that’s both touching and disturbing: Mike’s graduation photograph was taken in March 2014, still many months ahead of when he would be able to graduate in August. Imagine the “why” of this fact: The grinding […]

Michael Brown’s situation was indeed unfortunate. I don’t understand what this has to do with the shooting. A friend insists this is just an interesting side note worthy of a compartmentalized discussion about academic and economic inequities and institutional racism. I think pulling these threads at this moment have the effect of adding back story to the “Michael Brown” victim-character who will inhabit the story we tell about the shooting and the social unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.

To be clear, I am not suggesting in any way that the lethal force applied by Daren Wilson was justified. Neither am I ignoring the structural problems of public school education or the generational inequities suffered by the African-American community.

What I am saying is when we start looking at elements not directly related to the shooting, we begin the process of mythologizing the story as opposed to asking and answering the important questions like was lethal force justified in this situation according to the current rules?

Conflation does not help, rather it makes solving the problems more complicated. A good friend complained the president of the Missouri Board of Education, Peter F. Herschend, of Bransonn, MO “lives across the state. He’s a rich, politically connected businessman who runs a state board in charge of perhaps the poorest districts in the state.”

Then he said, the “state took two incredibly poor, essentially all black districts (already paying the highest tax rate in the state), merged them (instead of merging them with other adjoining districts—richer and whiter), took away their accreditation and then—when that entitled the children to be bused to other districts—they reversed that decision, locking the kids into the local schools, but run by the state, by the rich guy with no actual education training who lives nowhere near the kids who have to share graduation gowns. Even if this is business as usual, it shouldn’t be.”

I think we all agree poverty, injustice and inequity are serious problems in our society. But let’s unpack the complaint: first and foremost the school problem is complex. Racism may play a role in the change but economics and the structure for school funding are the larger controlling factors. Leaving aside any discussion about how, the local district failed its students.

When that happens the state is supposed to take over the district, help them develop and execute a plan to fix the problems, and eventually return the district to local control.

Combining two poor black school districts and manipulating the accreditation rules to keep students in place in their local districts without a clear plan to fix the problems is cynical at best and may well be racially motivated.

Nevertheless, I suspect race took a back seat to economics. School funding relies primarily on local tax receipts. Here in Massachusetts, where I live, local tax income pays between 60% – 70% of the school’s budget. The balance is made up mostly from state funds with a sprinkling of federal money.

So the bulk of the money comes from property taxes. If the residential and commercial properties lose value and there is no growth in the district, the amount of money available to allocate to the schools dwindles and therefore the per-pupil rates and monies for facilities suffer. In an ideal world the state should increase its share but that rarely happens in practice.

In fact Brown’s school district couldn’t afford to educate the kids in place. Then it cost more per pupil to send them elsewhere. Somebody has to make up the shortfall.

De-accrediting Normandy High School in effect gave ownership of a structural problem to neighboring school districts without providing them with the resources to accommodate the influx of new students.

Neighbor school were organized to accommodate their existing student population. A large influx of new students skews the calculus in many ways. E.g. The building has x number classrooms and teachers. Building more classrooms is expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, student to teacher ratios have to change. That means students suffer and teacher contracts will have to be renegotiated.

Third, teaching in poor districts is daunting and unrewarding for most educators because of the economic and social factors preying upon students and their families. Staff recruitment and retention is a problem. How does an English teacher convince students struggling for survival that it’s important to be able to identify Epic Similes in THE ODYSSEY?

As to the board president not being an educator, that’s as it should be. Like the military, schools serve the community, not the other way around. Citizen oversight is essential to ensure a proper balance of executive functions and community values. Furthermore, most boards have professional staff and the ability to hire experts so it’s not like they make uninformed decisions.

The laws in Massachusetts contemplate this by placing a statutory firewall which prevents local school committees (i.e., boards of education) from interfering with the day-to-day operations of districts and schools. Essentially they hire and fire the superintendents and allocate funds. Of course decisions can be politically motivated but that’s the nature of our government. Good luck getting that changed.

With all of that said, Michael Brown’s killing and the resulting civil unrest are horrible. We all suffer the loss of the young man and the deficiencies in our police departments and schools.

50 Shades of Curmudgeon and the art of Facebook kibitzing

Today I posted the following status on Facebook:

I’m thinking about taking a break from discussing the issues here on FB. Apparently no one is ever wrong–except me.

That was followed by a string a of good natured jibes because my friends know I’m full of shit:

“you are soooo wrong about that”

“play George Costanza for a day ….before you type think through your thought(s) and then write the exact opposite … if you are always wrong then you will now be always be right”

Doug’s right. Besides, I had it figured out a couple weeks ago…. the problem with the rest of the world is that they are always 5 drinks behind….

Even my wife got in on the act,

“Honey,just send around happy thoughts of the day like I do! Ya know, “the crappin’ rainbows stuff… Might make you less crabby.”

Don’t get me wrong. I love a good conversation–especially with smart people who have different points of view.

Today’s post was a reaction to a thread from which I just extricated myself. I posed the question:

So, here’s a questions for those who side with the Palestinians because you believe the Israelis were not entitled to settle the land and create their own country. Where’s the righteous indignation as ISIS kills everyone who disagrees with them, gobbles up territory from several sovereign nations without the leave of the local inhabitants and sets about starving the Yazidis?

Mostly it was a great conversation. My friends are smart, well read, and passionate. My point was that the ISIS was engaged in a murderous land grab in which people were brutally tortured and killed over 5,000 people and yet the Hamas apologists were completely silent on the matter.

That seems hypocritical to me. That’s when my favorite amateur Aristotle cum English teacher chimed in with,

“It sounds like you’re suggesting an equivalency between ISIS and Israel.” Which then prompted a comical discussion about equivalency. (Yeah I know I’m living 50 shades of curmudgeon.)

Ari, examined the word from every possible angle and concluded

But Bob, if you’re suggesting that people who condemn Israel must also condemn ISIS, that only works if there is an equivalency. The converse would be that people who condemn ISIS should also condemn Israel.”

These conversations usually peter out after a few days so I pressed on. We bantered about who deserved the moniker hypocrite and clarified some facts.

All was well until Ari weighed in with  “true hypocrisy would be if someone took the position you described on Israel, and then stated that ISIS actually HAS the right to the land they have taken.” And, “Actually, the more common use of “hypocrisy” involves a person’s stated values not matching his actions. But in this case we’re not talking about actions, simply stated opinions.

E gads. Why didn’t I see that? There’s hypocrisy and there’s true hypocrisy. Just like an unwary swimmer, I failed to notice even though my head was pointed at the beach and it felt like I was swimming forward, I was heading feet first into a whirlpool of tortured analogies, nuances without differences, and word parsing that would, as my mother used to say, drive a saint to drink.

Upon reflection, I should have just quit. Just as with a real rip tide, the only way out is to take the ride or swim parallel to the shore. As a former Fire Island lifeguard, I would have ridden the current and body surfed in. I knew better. As a Facebook kibitzer, I put my head down and swam against the current.

Things deteriorated in slow motion. I countered with,

I really don’t have the patience to niggle over definitions. Henceforward, the horse carcass is lying on the side of the road with its skin flayed to the muscle. You are most welcomed to continue flogging.

Then we parsed the world flogging , Says Ari, “I hardly think that constitutes ‘flogging.’” Followed by,

So Bob, every despicable act you have failed to object to on Facebook is one you approve of?” And the coup de gras, “Ergo, failure to object to a despicable act does not constitute approval of the act.”

Ouch got me there.

Unfortunately, I have never developed a facility for walking away from a provocation. My big mouth has gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years. Especially when I was an elected official. So I got crankier and crankier.

He just went on and on,

My analogy is comparative, not absolute

Okay, this is falling into a familiar pattern: I say we shouldn’t be concerned with what Hamas SAYS, and you counter with an argument about what Hamas DOES. These are two different subjects, however much you may try to conflate them.

I finally lost it,

As there are thousand and one reasons why “the other guy” is the problem, it appears more suffering is required. Frankly, as long as the U.S. government does not draft my son to fight this any other war that does not involve defending our own backyards, the Palestinians and Israelis (and other country) are free to kill and torture each other for all of eternity.

Suddenly I was now apathetic, even though I posed the question, spent days reading my friends posts and links and formulating responses.

Well Bob, if you’re that apathetic, why have you gone on so long about this?

Then we tortured the words apathy and action, which apparently does not involve asking questions, reading, writing, discussing the issues with friends, and replying to their posts. There is doing and there is doing,

What you post on Facebook are only words, Bob.

To which I replied,

Case in point Aristotle.  You’re niggling over the definition of the word action and trying to make a distinction where none exists.

He finally put up the white flag.

I’ve really had enough of this discussion.

I tell my kids all the time, you don’t have to respond to every provocation. if only I listened to my own advice. It’s funny how we become our parents. They used to tell me not to smoke as they lit one cigarette with the burning end of the last. You know, do as I say, not as I do.

Maybe there’s hope for the next generation. I never smoked.

As always comments are welcomed.

Memo to blog comment spammers

No Spam Please

Attention blog comment spammers human and bots: your insipid comments have no chance of ever seeing the light of day here on It’s a Bob World, never mind convincing me or my readers to buy your bullshit knockoff products. Know I have various means at my disposal to prevent blog comment spammers from being published here. Do us both a favor and just go away. You are wasting your time and mine.

I often fantasize of developing software that creates a feedback loop to gently shock blog comment spammers when their fingers touch their keyboards; or, in my crueler moments, which deletes the data on their servers. Where’s Lizbeth Salander or Chloe O’Brien when you need them?

Ideally, the software would also remotely activate the spammer’s web cam and microphone so my readers could see them react with surprise and consternation every time they touch their keyboards and feel the gentle shocks.

To my readers, you on the other hand are cordially invited to leave comments. I know from my site analytics that there are a good number of you. It would be nice if you left feedback–regardless of your point of view.

One way conversations get lonely and beg the question if blog writer publishes his work, and no one comments, has he really published his work?