Blue Chameleon Blues

Inspired in part by Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon”

Dawn’s finger tips of rose, along with the rest of her heavenly body, repose deep beneath a quilt woven of light and Phoebus’ traces across the sky. Above, a dark vaulted blackness leaks pin pricks of lights depicting cave drawings of her friends and relatives. Breakfast or brunch or whatever you want to call it came and went in a the flick of a young girl’s knot of curls. Dinner too. The reels on the recorder spin round and round. He inhabits the two and the four as the drummer taps those swung triplets on the high hat while punctuating them with the kick. The bass man slaps a repetitive figure like a shuttle on a loom, weaving the groove with ghost notes and swinging so hard everyone marvels at how close he gets to the next beat without falling out of time. Memories of the Blue Diner fade into his cries, “Stay on the one, on the one!” The guitar player and piano man shade the sketch purple with notes of red and blue. He taps a stomp box, raises harp and mic to his lips and threads a melody through the narrow spaces left in time and silence. The groove holds them or they hold it. No more instrument and musician. No one knows for how long. Groove, only groove.

A light flickers in the booth, She’s pours into the room like cream falling into rich black coffee. He feels the light on his lids and knows it’s Her. Smooth creamy skin and dark curls inhabit the groove. Somehow it becomes tighter and silkier all at once. The melody fills all the empty spaces to the point of bursting. To the bridge he cries, take it to the bridge. Tension builds and resolves to the groove and they stop. They hear her voice over the studio PA, when are you coming home?

Brain Chemistry

different emotions
waves of emotions
different ways of
saying the same thing?

i think not
i do not think

spider in the web?
i sure wish, she’s
in control while I am not

different emotions
waves of emotions
brain chemistry in real time

spider in the web?
maybe so. she spins
to catch the pieces
of her fractured soul.

An opinion about data driven decision making

I read a quote today attributed to W. Edwards Demming (yeah I know it’s Wikipedia, so what) which says, “Without data you’re just a person with an opinion,” to which I replied “With data, you’re just a person with an opinion on what the data means.”

That’s right. Data driven decision making obfuscates the opinions and leaves the meaning in the hands of people who almost always have an agenda and who almost always either cherry pick data or start with their answers and work backward.

But even if absolute intellectual integrity were possible, the observer effect and the unique and complicated  lenses through which each observer views the information, results in inferences rather than glimpses at absolute truth.

The policies inspired by Education research are case-in-point. If I had nickel for every time an academic or an administrator or a politician proclaimed their ideas and policies were research based, and therefore unassailable, I’d have enough to start my own school and fund it in perpetuity

Leaving aside my very dim view of the results and rigor of education research, how the hell are policy makers supposed to make sense of the research when people look at the same numbers and reach different conclusions?

Blue Plate Special

Young Dawn contemplates a fork full of cold eggs as He sits quietly in his booth. A Dylan lyric loops in his head, “There must be some way out of here.” He reaches for his third habnero infused Bloody Mary, “Said the joker to the thief.”

At once She appears in the vestibule by the front door and crosses the space in a bubble of self-possession. A baggy wool hat abruptly flops on table followed by a shower of thick-dark curls.

He contemplates her arrival and imagines the conversation,

“You stole the covers again. I got cold so I left”
She smiles imperiously.
“You do it all the time, I’m tired of it.”

“You left me,” Her voice cools the peppers’ heat as it carelessly veers to remonstrance.

He manages, “You looked so comfortable wrapped in our blankets. And I was hungry.” She doesn’t take the hint.

From the empty space behind the booth the word “Coffee” interrupts the moment. Hot black liquid spills into a white cup. She frowns, “Tea.”

The cup disappears. The cymbal clink of a stainless steel carafe lid punctuates the silence followed by the muffled tear of a tea bag. Hot clear liquid mixes with the leaves as the metallic scent of commercial tea billows upward.

“Need more time?” asks the empty space. She doesn’t bother to look at the menu, “Blue Plate Special.”She rips six packets of sugar and tips the cream.

She notes the dead soldiers strewn about his paper place mat, each grave marked with a twisted lemon slice and half-eaten a stalk of celery. She adds, “And thirsty too, apparently.”

Scovilles of doubt enflame his belly. There’s too much confusion / I can’t get no relief. She goes in for the kill. First a pout then,

“How come you didn’t wait for me?”
“I’m sorry. You looked peaceful. I didn’t want to wake you.”

The blue plate specials arrive. Two eggs over easy, hasbrowns, and toast. They tuck in. He motions for another drink. The chill of silence cools the moment.

Young Dawn stands on the sidewalk, brushes her hair from her face and hails a taxi for home.

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?

Liberal conspiracy to hijack higher education

Have you noticed that conservatives often complain about a so called liberal conspiracy to hijack higher education? One such wag recently informed me that taking over the education system was one of the Soviets’ primary goals.

When I pressed him by saying I failed to notice a liberal conspiracy when I went to college and grad school, he explained, “You fail to see the tentacles of Marxism, they are long and entwined. They are not bound by geography but by ideology. Whittaker Chambers wrote that in the ’30s the Soviets had three main objectives here in the USA: Education, Media, Government. They have succeeded in infiltrating and takeover all of those.”

Let’s hold aside the media and government for another day. Let’s even suppose the Soviet Union succeeded. Guess what? The Soviet Union no longer exists. Just ask any supporter of Ronald Regan: the commies lost the Cold War.

With the Soviet Union gone and Communism having exited the world stage, to what are these “tentacles of Marxism” attached? What sustains them? And for what purpose?

According to the aforementioned Facebook wag, they seemed to have become a self-sustaining and decentralized global entity (rather like Al Qaeda, I suppose). Evidently there is a secret international conspiracy comprised of whom? Former Soviet, Chinese, and Cuban ideologues? Apostate Westerners who long for the good old days of Stalin and Chairman Mao?

He offered as proof of their success the observation that college campuses are bastions of liberal thinking. I wonder if he has it ass backwards.

Where are these agents provocateur? How are they organized? Do they convene in grubby student apartments in college towns throughout the west? Are they gray men hiding in plain sight? Biding their time? Whispering in the ears of academia bound Ph.D. students? Are they lying in wait for the right moment in history to seize the opportunity to create a second global Communist/Socialist government? That would make for a wonderful William F. Buckley novel but otherwise strains credulity.

Maybe tolerance and compassion and liberal mindedness are the natural products of an education? After all, kids move out of their childhood homes, they meet people who are different from them and have to learn how to amicably co-exist, and they spend four years intensively acquiring knowledge and developing their minds.

Now you know why closing down universities and killing or threaten the academics are on any new repressive regime’s short list upon taking power–right after taking over the media and killing and/or jailing the officials from the previous government.

Just a thought.

America, Imagine a World Without Her

Recently, an old friend, who has become an arch conservative in his middle-age posted a review of Dinesh D’Souza’s film “America, Imagine a World Without Her” on his Facebook timeline. The piece was published on the conservative web site Frontpage Mag and written by Arnold Ahlert.

I don’t know about you, But I can’t imagine a world without America. On the other hand I find myself struggling with imagining an America that isn’t willing to contemplate all of our past. We’ve accumulated a great deal of bad karma. I’m not talking about self-loathing. But I do think it’s important to understand how we got to this place, whom we’ve hurt, what we’ve destroyed to get here, and to endeavor to be better human beings today and in the future.

I also find myself puzzled by my friend’s news sources. He was an intelligent and gentle boy. He married his high school sweetheart. He is a very accomplished musician. I cannot understand how he can take a web site seriously that bears the subtitle, “Inside Every Liberal is a Totalitarian Waiting to Get Out.”

“America, Imagine a World Without Her” calls to mind the old silent film Birth of a Nation. Sorry but myopic ultra-nationalist apologia give me the willies. And Ahlert’s review was nothing more than a poorly reasoned screed against liberals. Both are quite beside the point.

The community of people who respond to my friend’s posts are the real point. There are a number of us middle-aged types of varying political persuasions who regularly post on his Facebook links. Aside from being Americans, we are all musicians.

The conversations start off polite. We seldom agree. After a while the words get more pointed. I don’t think we change each others’ minds. I do think we respect one another. I hope we give each other food for thought. I know it has done so for me.

In any event, the conversation meandered away from the D’Souza’s film (no surprise there) and the insults flew.

K***: I could never get tenure because I’m too politically incorrect.

T***: a radical leftist denied tenure at an university because of his politics… someone notify Ward Churchill…BWAHAHAHAHAHA

K***: Well T***, perhaps if you had read my entire comment you’d see that I am not, in fact, a “radical leftist,” since I criticized the radical left in several specific areas. But then reading doesn’t seem to be your strong area.

Bob: Oh boy. Another house of weak arguments, furnished with innuendos and prejudice, built upon on a foundation of wrongheaded assumptions which rest on footings dug into the quicksand of stereotype. Anyone who takes this at face value is a fool.

T***:I love it when radical leftists suddenly claim to be “centrist” when it becomes convenient…

Bob: Please define your terms T. What is a radical leftist? And and who in this discussion qualifies?

T***: I already have, ad nauseum… “

T*** shared a link to Jonah Goldberg’s book, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change and left the question about who among us was a radical leftist unanswered, though I’m pretty sure he meant K*** and  me.

One of the things I like about discussing politics with this group is that we are well read, intelligent and that we agree on little. In as much as their ideas and insults often infuriate me, I cherish the opportunity to ask how they arrive at their ideas. I have read more far right “literature” in the last year than ever before.

I followed T***’s link and downloaded Goldberg’s book. I know I risk sounding like a Kool-Aid slugging liberal, a characterization which I deny, but Goldberg’s arguments torture the point and in the end do nothing more than inflame people’s prejudices rather than provide a useful way to contemplate differences of opinion.

Let’s say for the sake of our discussion Goldberg’s basic premiss, is true. The word fascism encompasses more than turn of the 20th century meaning. That liberals are self-deluded crypto-fascists (and therefore aligned with the worst actors of the 20th century) because early in the 20th century “liberal thinkers” and policy makers were enamored by European fascism and because some of that thought influenced Progressive/Liberal thought.

So what.

Political ideas are like everything else. They come in and out of fashion. People wear the ideas for a season and move on to the next great thing. What’s more, when it counted, the “liberals” stood up against the Nazis and the Italians and came to view fascism as a fundamentally evil political movement.

Goldberg argues that fascist ideas/ideals permeate the liberal DNA and therefore they are the bad guys. In the time honored propaganda trope, he conflates progressives and liberals with the most evil leaders of western civilization: Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Napoleon, and Robespierre.

That some of the ideas persisted from one era to another and from one political ideology to another speaks to the reality that our ideas do not exist in a vacuum, that there is nothing new under the sun. Rather we recycle, deconstruct, reassemble, and repackage as oppose to innovate. We can trace the roots of everything in the present to something from the past.

From what I can tell, LIBERAL FASCISM’s true purpose is to say “I’m rubber, you’re glue, everything you say bounces off of me and sticks on to you,” and in so doing attempts to affix a universally pejorative term, fascism, upon the chest of the so called “left”.

First of all the left/right thing is reductio ad absurdum. Very few people can distill their world views to such find points.

What’s more, I’m still left with lingering questions about the core issues and whether these discussions are anything more than vanilla is better than chocolate. Why? Because I like vanilla better than chocolate. No chocolate is better than vanilla. Why? Because I like chocolate.

Help me understand why anyone has to write a 500 page book calling liberals fascists except as an attempt to demonize them? Help me understand why people have to reduce the world down to such absurdities and then use minute differences to fuel their hatred.