Saturday, December 5, 2015

All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth (Because the ed deformers knocked them out)

My Christmas Anti-Wish List

Dear Santa,

                This is the time of year when we write to you with our gift desires. What we want you to bring us. What we want to find under the tree, wrapped in bright paper, dressed in bold ribbon, and beautifully-crafted gift tags so everyone knows this package … is … for … ME.
Dear Santa,

                I have no wish list for you. No demands for gifts that magically show up between the hour I go to bed Christmas Eve and the morning hour in which I wake up.

Dear Santa,

                My list is for the things I want you to take away:

1.       Invalid, unreliable standardized testing that tortures children with the hours they must spend on a computer taking an assessment that makes no sense to them. They have learned, but the test is just too damn confusing.
2.       Collapsed curriculums because superintendents, under-superintendents, district staff, administrators and teachers have given up. “Give me the script and I’ll read the script.” Take the scripts away, Santa. Surely you have room on the sleigh after you have emptied your bag of gifts.
3.       High expectations. OMG, no one has suffered from high expectations like you, Santa. Yet you deliver the right gift to the right person. Can’t we trust teachers to do the right thing by their students without the bludgeoning of ridiculous buzzwords and catch phrases?
4.       Test prep masquerading as lessons. Achieve 3000 anyone? iReady? Or my favorite, please Santa, take away all the #Pearsoncrappyproducts.
5.       PARCC. SBAC. And all the derivatives that are nothing more than the Emperor dressed up in new clothes, especially you, SAGE test rented by Florida.
6.       Charter school rules that tilt the playing field until we, public school employees and children alike, slide into the sewer.
7.       Naked greed, as in Manny Diaz’s bill to strip school boards of any authority over charters in their district. But Manny is connected to a charter chain. Isn’t he reacting to Palm Beach County’s challenge to charter schools in the courts? Oh, Santa, maybe you could take Manny back to the North Pole and isolate him in one of your workshops. Ten years of making Legos sets might fix his lack of ethics. Or maybe not. I’d hate to see a new line of Legos Charter Schools. All you need is the plastic bricks and you too can rip off taxpayer dollars.
8.       VAM measures for teacher evaluations, which everyone, including expert statisticians and research foundations, agree do not capture any significant metric for teacher performance.
9.       School grading formulas. Stupid idea, really, when you think about it. Best practices and research say to have multiple measures, but then the JEB Bush ‘this-is-my-mark-in-history’ moment says one narrow test, flawed and badly constructed, tells all. Take it away, Santa.
10.   Common Core. How did we let the worms that eat the apple construct the apple and convince us it was good to eat? This monstrosity makes Eve in the Garden look good in comparison.
11.   At least Eve was deceived. Adam knew better and sinned anyway. Santa, could you take away the Gates Foundation? The Walton Foundation? The Koch Brothers? And just for kicks, Eva Moscowitz, too.
12.   Finally, Santa, as in the 12 Days of Christmas, it is my twelfth wish and I am allowed no more. Can you take away the real cause of educational failure? Poverty, violence, and the mess our children must live in. Take away their trauma.

Please, Santa. Is it too much to ask for?

The Syrian War

An Analysis of the Players,
At the end of which you will understand why a resolution of the conflict is damn near impossible

Ground Central: Syria, a nation ruled by a brutal dictator who used chemical weapons against his own people. He’s not stepping down until he is forced out. When the Arab Spring started, demonstrators began demanding political reforms. He used force to suppress them. Then Syrian women went into the streets, believing that a centuries-old tradition that forbid violence against women speaking out would be upheld. It was not. When the dictator used violence against them, rebel groups formed and the civil war began. At first, the rebel groups worked together, but their differences soon separated them into ‘moderates,’ by which we must presume that their political motivation is secular rather than religious, and the ‘extremists,’ who would gel into what we call Daesh. (I will not use the terms ISIS or ISIL, which implies that they are a state. They are a rogue force wreaking havoc, an organized criminal syndicate.)

The problem is as old as the Shi’ite/Sunni split in the religion of Islam. In Syria, we have the extra twist that the Assad family are Alawites, a controversial (within Shi’ite Islam) sect within a sect. Assad retains support from Alawites in the nation because they are a minority among a Sunni majority. At its most basic level, Syria is a battleground for the millennial conflict.

This is not your father’s Arabic Middle East. In the previous generations, each Arab nation fastidiously refused to interfere or comment upon the doings of another nation, more importantly, its rulers. This has changed as the new generation of rulers competes against the threats they believe others present to them. This change goes back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when Iran came under the rule of Shi’ite clergy, who conflated the rule of government and the rule of religion into one and showed their determination to influence and direct the entire Islamic region.

Sunnis, led by Saudi Arabia, and Shi’ites, led by Iran, are competing for dominance of the entire Middle East.

Turkey: Since the days of Ataturk, the founder of modern-day Turkey, the Turks have looked for integration into Europe. That has changed and they are seeking to expand their influence in the Islamic world. They look south these days.

The Turkish government has two goals prompting their involvement in the Syrian war: one, continue suppressing the Kurdish revolutionaries who seek to secede not only from Turkey, but also Iraq and Iran, to form an independent Kurdistan; two, to protect ethnic Turks who live in Syria, who are participating in the revolt against Assad’s government.

Turkey action against Daesh seems to be directed against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). The Turks are using the excuse of intervention against Daesh to target another enemy of theirs.

They also hope that the ‘moderates’ will ultimately win the Syrian conflict and that will give them more influence in the region. Perhaps they still dream of the Ottoman Empire and hope to reassemble it. The irony of the conflict between Turkey and Russia is rich as both nations invoke the same justifications for their actions: protecting their ethnic members, regaining lost territory that broke away.

Iran: The self-appointed leaders of the Shi’ites and striving for regional dominance, yet members of the minority sect, Iran has but one ally: the Syrian government of Bashir Assad. Iran seeks to maintain Assad in power. However, they have challenges of their own that limit their involvement: the Iraq mess, in which the country is on the edge of coming apart. Ever since the U.S. deposing of Saddam Hussein put Shi’ites in power, Iran has tried to support, influence, and control what could be an important ally. Certainly it is important to Iran to keep a friendly, or at worst neutral, government in Iraq. The Iranians have not forgotten the menace that Saddam Hussein posed to them when he initiated the border war of the 1980s. They have also not forgotten the fascism of Hussein’s government, in which he fantasized about being the second coming of Nebuchadnezzar and ruling over an empire worthy of the ancient Babylonians.

The Turks and Iranians have conflicting interests in the Syrian war and in the region.

Also, the overrunning of Iraq territory by Daesh threatens Iranian security as Daesh seeks to rule the entire 10-40 window from Morocco to Indonesia.

Daesh: The successors to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the brutal terrorists whose signature move was to cut off heads with knives, Daesh was a minor player until the former Ba’athists army officers of Saddam Hussein got tired of living under Al-Malaki, the discriminatory and persecuting Prime Minister of Iraq from 2006 – 2014, and joined them to form a disciplined army that they deployed in the field. Daesh quickly overran remote areas of Syria and moved through Iraq, taking some of the most important cities. If you were wondering how they did it, it was through radicalizing and incorporating these experienced military officers.

Daesh dreams of a new caliphate that unites all Islamic countries and moves to complete the work of conquering Europe that was stopped first by Charles Martel in 732 and then at the gates of Vienna in 1683. After a swift conquest during the summer of 2014 reminiscent of the German blitzkriegs of World War Two, they came to a standstill as opposition solidified and put up a fight.

But they govern a territory with important assets such as oil wells that give them the means to carry on and menace the world. They have the means to acquire what they need to carry on the war. They are also showing a capacity to strike across the world that we have not seen since the United States led the effort to demolish Al-Qaeda’s financial network.

Daesh maintains itself through convincing propaganda distributed through social networks that attract young persons around the world to travel to Syria and join them, sales and purchases of oil, arms, and explosives through the black markets of the Middle East, and terror of a sort that surpasses the worst of the French Reign of Terror during the 1790s.

Their dreams of dominating the world would be quickly crushed, but they are able to exploit the rivalries of the powers that oppose them.

Iraq: Iraq has been comprised of three groups since its borders were determined at the end of World War 1: Kurds, Sunnis, Shias. These groups have no historical, ethnic, or religious basis for unity. The country has been held together only under the domination of a dictator. Since the U.S. invasion and establishment of a democratic process, the Shi’ites have dominated and the others have sought to leave. Iraq now perpetually stands on the edge of dissolution.

Further, since the professional army of Saddam Hussein was dissolved, the new Iraqi army has existed of persons who enlisted to have a source of income. They are not disciplined as was proven by their abandoning their superior position, equipment, and numbers when Daesh first attacked them.

The government seeks to maintain the country’s territorial integrity, but lacks the will of its military to fight in order to do so.

Nevertheless, through the assistance of Shi’ite militia and covert Iranian forces, Iraq has stopped the Daesh advance and is slowly turning back their conquest. Their efforts would be futile but for the Kurds.

Kurdistan: The Kurds have dreamed of independence for generations after being split among the Turks, the Iraqis, and the Iranians. Given the geopolitical rivalries of the Great Powers of Europe, then the Cold War, and now the splintering of boundaries, they have never found a backer for their independence. Yet they are useful pawns and the nations have made use of them. Ironically, when the Iraqi Kurds gained their semi-autonomous zone, they had to share power among their factions and forged a decent democratic process.

They fight because they must. Given weapons of sufficient firepower, they have been effective in pushing Daesh out of their cities. But their dreams of independence are doomed.

That would be quite enough to demonstrate how the conflicting interests of the competing regional powers will perpetuate this conflict into future generations. But now we have to consider the world powers that have involved themselves.

The United States of America: In the days of the Cold War, the USA competed with Russia for influence in the region. It was one of several arenas in which the two superpowers sought to defeat the other without the direct involvement of their military power. As the competition advanced through the 1970s, the U.S. slowly but steadily boxed the Soviet Union out of the Middle East until the only ally Russia had left was Syria.
That left the U.S. with a victory but also a burden of leadership that it has not been able to meet. In truth, it is not possible that any nation could meet it.

The U.S. has found itself in a state of futility as it has tried to lead a peace process in the Middle East between the Israelis and Palestinians. With an assist from Anwar Sadat, who made peace with Israel because it helped Egypt, the fear of states like Jordan, who fought a ferocious battle in the early 1970s to kick the PLO out because the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization, led by Yasir Arafat) was destabilizing the country, the U.S. pushed Russia out of the Middle East, but learned that the goal of peace was elusive.

While the U.S. would like to continue as the Grand Master, weak leadership on the part of its presidents has allowed others to re-enter the game. (I choose the word deliberately. Great Powers vie with one another as if they were playing a war game produced by Avalon-Hill, forgetting the devastation and loss that ordinary people suffer because war is not a parlor game played with plastic pieces and cards.)

Having initiated the Iraq War that deposed Saddam Hussein, struggling against an insurgency that it did not expect, coming up with a winning solution in the ‘Surge’ of David Petraeus, but then abruptly pulling out when there was a change in administration, the U.S. seeks to extend its legacy and influence in Iraq by supporting the government.

In Syria, the U.S. has long designated the country as a supporter of terrorism. It wants the Assad regime replaced. Therefore, it supports the rebels.

But the current mood in the U.S. is that two wars are enough. While the U.S. is happy to fly overhead and drop bombs, it will not land troops. It is capable of putting a third ‘Desert Storm’ into Syria and taking out Daesh. But perhaps the bitter experience of its other two wars has taught the U.S. that winning battles is not enough. A superpower must consider what it will leave behind when it departs.

The flux of the U.S. between speaking softly and swatting a big stick has eroded the confidence of the world in its leadership. The world has learned not to trust in the U.S., but to take the measure of each new president and figure out what that means. In the current case, weakness and an amazing ability not to perceive how the world is laughing at him.

Air strikes mean little in terms of winning a battle, how much less a war. The U.S. has tried limiting itself to air strikes over the past 25 years. While great damage results, it does not break an enemy’s resolve, it reinforces it. The ‘Shock and Awe’ opening of the first Gulf War showed that the pyrotechnics mean little.

Then there are the drone strikes, a policy of assassination that the U.S. has not tolerated since the Nixon administration. Except that drone strikes rarely make the news and the killing of innocents from these strikes never make the news. People are unaware. What is the cost-benefit ratio of taking out one terrorist at the cost of killing dozens of innocents, which turns the local populations against the United States?

The U.S. pursues a losing strategy and everyone knows it. But it persists because … well, leadership. And Russians. And autopilot.

France: Somewhat sitting on the sidelines, France now finds itself the object of an organized terrorism campaign that began with the Charlie Hebdo attack last January. France has long been eclipsed by Britain as the preeminent European power and has sought to regain its influence and dominance it last enjoyed when Talleyrand was foreign minister for its king (that gives you an indication we are talking centuries here), but a direct attack brings about a response worthy of Napoleon or the Franks.

France wants to destroy Daesh for more than its internal security. Its ideals that it inherited from its revolution are under assault. France has cast aside its reservations about borders and whatever else. It is going after Daesh in the same way that the public immolation of a captured pilot galvanized Jordan.

Russia: As mentioned earlier, Russia seeks to preserve its only ally in the Middle East: Assad. Its goal conflicts with the U.S. goal to replace Assad. Russia has military bases in Syria that it does not want to lose and believes Assad is its best bet to keep them.

Therefore, when Russia feared that Assad was about to be swept away, it moved in. In a big way: air power and now, if reports are believed, 150,000 troops.

Russia first went after the ‘moderates’ backed by the U.S. and its western allies. That pushed the rebels back who might have gotten Assad since Western air power was concentrated on Daesh.

The West complained but Russia continued on. And now we must take a detour into the Peace of Westphalia and the Great Powers Doctrine, because that is what we see taking place in the actions of world powers in Syria.

The Peace of Westphalia concluded Europe’s religious wars and the attempts of one person to achieve hegemony over the others on behalf of the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope. What replaced empire establishment was recognition of national sovereignty. Did that mean that the nations of Europe stopped trying to expand at the cost of the others? No, but it meant that whenever one power gained dominance, the other powers aligned against it to limit its expansion.

We see that at play today. In Europe, Russia is the power that the others are trying to limit. Thus, Britain, Germany, and France are working to halt Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and the Baltic states. Now that Russia has intervened in Syria, the other powers are also active (except Germany, who does not act outside its borders as a result of its consecutive losses in the last century’s European wars) in trying to limit Russia’s activities.

Thus the West supports the ‘moderate’ rebels. Russia works to stop them. Because the world powers are not united against the threat of Daesh, Daesh exploits the opportunities.

Russia seeks to undermine the U.S. and its European alliances by reaching out to France after the November 13 attacks. The puppy? And Hollande jets to Moscow for discussions? Say what you want about Putin, the man is a genius at realpolitik and exploiting differences, not to mention reading into other world power’s leaders characters and finding their weaknesses.

Everyone wants to crush Daesh, but only after ensuring it will give them an advantage in the global competition amongst the Great Powers.

Britain: Fashionably late to the party, I would like to believe Britain when it says it has the bases (proximity) and munitions (accuracy) that no one else has and it can do the job the Americans and French cannot.

More likely, Britain is reacting to two things: one, reports that it is the next target for a sustained campaign of terrorism that France has seen over this year of 2015.

Also, Great Powers. Britain feels the need to intervene to oppose Russian activity. 150,000 troops, if true, means that Russia is impatient and will move to crush all opposition to Assad swiftly, moderate rebels, Daesh, and anyone else. Britain needs to get into the game.

This is why this conflict will not wrap up anytime soon. Everyone shares the objective, but only works to achieve it at the expense of others. That means rather than being focused on the objective, they are focused on their position vis-à-vis the others.

I offer this to you for your consideration, debate, comment, and rebuttal. Understand only one thing, that in discussing the various players, I am not biased in favor of any particular one, even my own country, except that the evil of Daesh must be dealt with and eliminated.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Charter Schools

I left this comment on an education blog and thought I would share it here as well:

Charters aren't going away. But they need reform.

One: Any charter that is not under local control by a board constituted of parents and Duval County citizens should have its charter revoked. No law or change of law is needed for this one; only an enforcement of existing law.

Two: The state of Florida should annually audit the financial records of every charter school that operates in the state. Findings should include prescriptions of corrective action required or the charter is revoked in one year. Findings of fraud, gross waste, or mismanagement should result in immediate suspension of the charter and prosecution if evidence of criminal activity is found.

Three: Local school boards should be empowered to have the final say over charters. No one can open a hospital unless the state determines there is a need. School Boards should have the same authority to say no to charters if there is no need for the charter.

Four: Charters enter into a one-year contract with parents. Charters are not allowed to expel students (known as 'counseling out.')

Five: Charters must provide all services that a public school requires, including ESE and ESOL. The day is done when charters were going to be laboratories of experiment and innovation. Charter School USA, to name only one national chain but I mean all of them, has the resources to provide resources.

Six: Charter school teachers must be certified.

Seven: Charter schools must receive accreditation by a recognized agency within three years of opening or they lose their charter.

If I ever run for the legislature, this would be part of my platform.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ages of Human History

Here's a silly piece I wrote last night:

Ages of Man

Stone Age
Bronze Age
Iron Age
Silicon Age

Hunter-Gatherer Age
Agriculture Age
Industrial Age
Electromagnetic Age
Space Age
Information Age

Oral History
Cuneiform Age—clay tablets baked in the sun
Hieroglyphics Age—chiseled into hard stone
Papyrus Age—scrolls from reeds or animal skins
Paper Age—then the printing press
Digital Age—electronic storage and the cloud

Sunlight Age
Fire Age:
Dung Age
Wood Age/Peat Age
Charcoal Age
Oven Age
Whale Oil Age
Petroleum Age
Atomic Age
Biofuel Age
Renewable Energy Age

The Chinese would like to tell you to go to hell.
The Russians would like to remind you that they built their empire during the last four and it still exists.
Africans would like to tell you that they had empires too and to stop disrespecting them because their ancestors left no written records.
The Mayans are laughing hysterically because although their empire disappeared, people still agonize over their calendars.
Montezuma still has his revenge and the Aztecs are not forgotten. Sorry, Spain.

This took a weird turn.

Rock Age (gloriously relived in my youth)
Slingshot Age
Blade Age (Sword, spear, and knife)
Shield Age
Armor Age
Arrow Age (Bow, Crossbow, and Longbow)
Gunpowder Age (Cannon, musket, rifle)
Atomic Age
Laser Age

Mesopotamia/Egypt—Counting Age
Greece—Geometry Age
India—Zero Age
Arabia (caliphate)—Algebra Age

Europe—Calculus Age

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Kid, the Cop, and the Video

Spring Valley High (South Carolina): a student is forcibly removed from her desk, thrown to the floor, and arrested.

In case you haven’t seen it, and it is only one side of the story: or

Everyone jumps to judgment on this one. It is disturbing to view an officer of the law manhandle a teenager in that way. I have held off on comment because there is much we do not know, like the context or circumstances and the history of the teacher, class, and student.

I absolutely condemn the actions of the officer.

But I can’t help wondering as a teacher how it could have been different.

In my school system, if a student uses their cell phone during class, we are to confiscate it. If the student refuses to hand it over, we write a referral. Bam! Situation dealt with. Although that policy remains in place, our Superintendent expressed a preference to our principals that he would like us to stop confiscating phones because that puts the school district in the position of being responsible for the phone. What happens if it is lost? The district may be financially responsible.

As a teacher, I would not put a student out of my classroom for using a phone. I would not ask them to leave. That opens me to a power struggle in which I must win or I will lose—in front of the student’s peers. Smart teachers avoid power struggles with students. Tell the student that if they do not stop the misbehavior, they will receive a referral. If the student continues, tell them that they are getting a referral. Then stop. End it while the teacher remains the adult informing the child of the consequence. Go on with class.

There is no imminent danger to life or limb to anyone in the room. There is no need to engage in a power struggle.

Peer pressure is always a feature of a classroom. Given that admins and the SRO (school resource officer) were summoned, it is necessary to remove that feature. Before doing anything, when the student refused to do what she was told, the adults should have taken everyone else out. It is amazing what will happen when there are no peers in front of whom an adolescent feels a pressure to impress.

Class was over for the day. When an incident of this nature takes place, learning is done. Take all the other students and the teacher out. Then the officer could sit down next to the student and talk it out. The admin could have joined the conversation.

No arrests. No violence. Not necessary.

Who knows? They might have learned something about the young lady, something going on in her life, and provided support. There’s a reason she refused to comply. There is always a reason and until we know what it is, we are not in a position to judge. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015


I ran into two interesting posts about internet trolls Saturday morning, here and here That got me thinking about what defines a troll.

It may not seem like an easy thing to define. Some would post their views on blogs or news stories or other places, and if they disagree with the prevailing view, are at risk of being called a troll.

Disagreement does not equal trolling.

Therefore, it is important to ask the question, “What is a troll?”

In mythology, a troll is a creature that is large, dull, and muscular; it preys upon humans and is usually found in mountainous areas inhabiting caves or under bridges.

According to, an internet troll is a person who posts inflammatory or inappropriate messages or comments online for the purpose of upsetting other users and provoking a response.

A troll then is a person defined by behavior with the literary allusion indicating dull and predatory in nature, which is in keeping with the internet definition.

How do they do it?

Tell-tale Signs of an Internet Troll

11.  Faulty generalization: if one does it, all do it.
2.       Ad hominem attacks: trash the person, not the idea (usually because there are no arguments against the idea.)
3.       Hyperbole: it’s the end of the world as we know it.
4.       False perspective: the classic example is the New Yorker cover which shows how Manhattanites view the world--google images to see it.
5.       Gratuitous insults: make up cute nicknames for persons disagreed with, a la talk radio.
6.       Non sequiturs: state conclusions that do not follow from the premise or antecedent.
7.       Sheer prejudice: I know what I want to believe, don’t confuse me with the facts; often combined with obstinacy.
8.       Argumentation: continuously replies to replies in order to keep the fun going. (This is why we are told not to feed the trolls—arguing with them only increases the perverse pleasure they are getting.)
9.       Red herring: diverting the discussion to an unrelated issue.
10.   Beg the question: posing a proposition so that there can be only one answer or assuming the conclusion.
11.   False dichotomy or forced choice: choose one or the other, there are no other options or compromise possible.
12.   Bandwagon: everyone agrees with me (not often seen in trolls, who know they are going against the current.)
13.   Affirming the consequent or confusing cause and effect: Best illustrated through an example: If it is raining and I am outside, I am wet. I am wet; therefore, it is raining outside. Uh, no, I have only been taking a bath.
14.   Doublespeak: using a word to mean something other than its usual meaning. Or use the sentence structure to confuse meaning (English is exceptionally prone to this as its lack of cases makes it overly dependent upon sentence structure.)
15.   Fallacy of division: something that is true of a whole must be true for all of its parts. Example: humans, on average, need 8 hours of sleep every night. Teenagers and babies need 8 hours of sleep. No, studies show they need more.
16.   Missing the point: ignoring the main argument and failing to address it.
17.   Trick questions: the classic example of which is “Did you beat your wife last night?” Answering yes or no implies that you beat your wife.

All of us fall prey to these on occasion when we post, so the mark of the troll is the intent: to upset others and provoke responses. And I suppose that many of us, like drunk driving, have done it at least once in our lives, but we should know better.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

One More Poem

When writing YA, sooner or later the writer runs into hormones, which is very problematical because the "rules" surrounding teenage sexuality are firm and unyielding: romance okay, but nothing more. (Which is totally realistic because I don't know of any teenagers who ever think or talk about sex.) So how do teenage characters be realistic without crossing that line? Every writer has to find their boundary, but I think a general rule of thumb is to remember that while teens think and talk about sex, they don't generally want adults as part of those conversations. I'm not talking about serious conversations like birth control, but the general talk that goes on with their peers. The key lies in hints rather than explicitness, such as these inner thoughts of the girl Wanyika as she contemplates Antwan washing in a river (Bagnosgura was a rough town where society's outcasts went to live):

Wanyika’s Smile

Give me him, god carved from coal
Concealed beneath the water’s flow
Drips run down tight chest to slow
At waist’s edge short of my goal.

Whence he came-young buck ‘pon my knoll?
Cause of cows to sound and low, O
Give me him, god carved from coal
Concealed beneath the water’s flow

With such a one I long to foal
But promised was I long ago
To Bagnosgura I will not go
Yet just once I’d yield my soul …
Give me him, god carved from coal
Concealed beneath the water’s flow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Antwan's Pride

This one gives you a taste of important plot developments (YA novel, Tiger Claws, search on Amazon for ebook or paper version). Do not be offended by the foreign swear word. I struggled for quite a while deciding how to keep the character authentic, because urban kids cuss, and how to keep the text presentable for a wide audience. My solution was to give Antwan a talent for picking up foreign languages quickly and using them. I think it quite elegant although you may disagree. However, you can't quibble with the rare talent for languages. I based it on an actual person who was a spy for the U.K. during the 1920s and drove the Russians mad because he sounded like a native and could go into areas of the country that the Soviets did not want the world to know about.

Antwan’s Pride

Those conchetumadres, they carved my chest
With burns and cuts they marked my fate
In a deep well they made me wait
Yet of all of them I proved best

Kill the tiger--me they pressed
While at their feasts they sat and ate
Those conchetumadres, they carved my chest
With burns and cuts they marked my fate.

But I tracked the beast. I said yes
To their strange dare, and weirder bait
Fourteen to hunt a tiger great
With that man-killer I had a date
Those conchetumadres, they carved my chest
With burns and cuts they marked my fate.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Poetic description of main characters

As I share some previous poetry about my YA novel, Tiger Claws, and the characters, here's another one describing Antwan but also his best bud, Amadi, and the people he is living with. Yesterday's poem was a rondel. This form is often used in middle school and is known as a diamond poem. What I did with it was to contrast two characters in one verse. The last technically is about one people, the Oonani, but they have two (or more) sides to them as does any society.

Fierce, combative
Challenging, fighting, finding
Anger, peace, agony, snarl
Hunting, preying, killing
diseased, black-striped

Free-of-fear, wild
Laughter, Joy, Mantle, rank
Leading, Striving, burning
Stoic, ambitious

Structured, kind
Adopting, teaching, resisting
Iron, coal, trade, law
Watching, Patrolling, giving
Friendly, wary


Sunday, June 14, 2015


Revisiting some of my favorite characters and some fun I had trying to describe them in poetic form. Antwan is the protagonist (hero) of Tiger Claws, a YA novel.


Born of dark night, he shows hard form

Boy whose riddle you cannot crack

Divorced from this world, he’ll not come back

But he crashes ‘pon you a fierce storm

Flint strikes fire. His spirit grows warm

The challenge is what he’ll always attack

Born of dark night, he shows hard form

Boy whose riddle you cannot crack

Foes around him come to swarm

Boy alone to slap and whack

Drive him down but he fights back

Unafraid. Fists up his norm

Born of dark night, he shows hard form

Boy whose riddle you cannot crack.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Mind's a Dusty Chalkboard

Something different this time--a piece from about 20 years ago:

The mind’s a dusty chalkboard on which the’logians write
They stand before, pushing and smudging chalkdust to the sides
And taking the chalk they leave their thoughts
Splitting atoms of doctrine more finely than what was done before
And writing on, their chalk grips the slate stronger more and more
The chalkdust enters the air cloying the tender nostrils
Of those whose fate it is to stare at the figures writing and to decipher
The minute logic and philosophic upon that great gray board.

The mind’s a dusty chalkboard on which the’logians write
To die unknown ‘tis their central fright
Their voice unheard by their generation and peers
So they think they have to say something new--never heard before
Thus they smudge the chalk of their betters’ labors
To write new dogma more stranger and stranger
Till their immortal souls have come into the danger
Of the eternal fire for many are the souls who go astray
From reading as the the’logians write away.

The mind’s a dusty chalkboard on which the’logians write
They seek philosophy and astronomy, psychology and biology
To wrap as their theology
Never realizing that Revelation is not found in human thought
Nor ideas, nor systems, nor in debates fought
Revelation is not upon that dusty chalkboard captured
How does one write for the eyes to see
What the Word is sounding for ears to hear without recourse
To the old gray slate.

Do little flecks of calcium multiplied upon thousands
And millions and billions once wrote by the Hand of God
In carbon make sense when human flesh endlessly rearranges them?

Yet, still, the mind’s a dusty chalkboard on which the’logians write.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Boundary Crossed: Book Review

Here goes with my first book review, Boundary Crossed. Author Melissa F. Olson, Publisher 47North, Seattle, Washington.

There are two challenges inherent for an author working in the Urban Fantasy subgenre, which is a narrowing of the vast fantasy category and a refreshing change from the medieval world and errant knights that dominate the class of fantasy offerings. Lovers of the urban-type story don’t miss the dragons, thank you very much.

Without the normal props, the urban fantasy author must create a gritty world of realism that causes the reader to wonder whether such a world actually exists around them and provide a fresh presentation of the stock types that populate these stories: vampires, werewolves, witches.

Melissa Olson hits those marks for the most part in this awakening or coming-of-age story of a young witch not aware of her power until one night she catches a couple shoplifting diapers from the all-night store she works at and by the way, they are also kidnapping her niece.

Lex, our young heroine, launches into action and a series of events unfolds as she fiercely acts to save her niece at all costs from all threats, which the author is only beginning to unfold in the first chapters. Told from a first person perspective, the author skillfully holds us in the dark and speculating about the story as we only learn about the plot surrounding the niece as Lex does.

This could have been a superficial comic book story told in a few pages with drawings, but Olson is a better writer. She takes us deep into Lex’s psyche so we can see the impulses that motivate her to make the decisions that she does. Ultimately, we are left wondering if we would be the same: protective to a fault, willing to put our life on hold for the sake of our family.

We see her past relationships, and are given but a hint of her complicated and devoted relationship with her twin sister that lays the groundwork for future stories in the series. We learn that Lex is not only a witch, but one with a specialized power (and not good at anything else): SPOILERS, close your eyes and scoll … Lex can suck the life out of anything she chooses. She gets high on it.

A+ for the fresh presentation. In fact, we should be revolted, but by the time we learn the extent of that special power, we are in sympathy with the character who has already stated her objections many times to the harming of living creatures, then is appalled by what she can do.

The vampires are also given a unique governing structure by the loyalty they pledge that they cannot break.

B for the world. Olson uses the “must stay hidden” rule, but as readers, we do wonder why. It makes sense for the vampires, whose feeding stock (us) will remain complacent in our ignorance that they are around us, but the witches? What could ordinary mortals do against their powers? Why should they bother?

To be fair, I thought this was also a weakness of the Statute of Secrecy J.K. Rowling used. She gave the lame explanation that if the Muggles knew witches existed, they would pester them unendlessly for solutions to their trivial problems. Really? A good banishing charm would take care of that. Maybe Voldemort had the right idea after all. Let them taste the magical power and they will obey for fear of their lives.

I digress. But those who work in the fantasy genre and want their magical people to be hidden from the rest of humanity need to devise a better explanation.

Aside from that quibble, the world works. It is our world, the world of city life, coffee shops, convenience stores, and suburban housing. Olson keeps it true to that and we have no problem believing that the story is taking place just down the street.

Overall, the story is great. In a few places, the plot is obvious where it is going, but give credit to Olson, she doesn’t create unrealistic twists to keep us guessing. Yes, I figured out early on who the ultimate villain was, but she doesn’t try to evade her clever readers by bringing in some 11th hour figure to take the rap for the sake of surprise. The result is a consistent story and a good read. For fans of the genre, I recommend it.

--Boundary Crossed is available on Amazon Kindle May 1, 2015.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Iran and the Negotiations

Why does Iran want a nuclear weapon? We are focused on shutting down their development of atomic technology because we feel threatened by Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, hatred of Israel, and antipathy for the United States that was born of our sponsorship of the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.

I’m not in favor of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. I am sure they will not stop, framework for an eventual agreement or not, trying to construct nuclear weapons until they have them. But I am thinking about the issue in a new way.

We think they want to develop the technology to bomb Israel to eradicate its existence and to threaten us with terrorist attacks within our borders. But that’s a self-centered view.

Maybe it’s not about us.

In the West, we don’t appreciate the deep fissure that lies between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam. The feud between Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity doesn’t come close. The days of Protestant heretics being burned at the stake are five centuries past. Religious wars among Christians flared and died out long ago. Christians of differing sects might think others are going to hell, but the time is long past when we thought we had a role in sending them there.

Maybe Iran sees the Sunni/Al Quaida/Islamic State threat, has seen it coming for far longer than we have, and feels the need to protect itself. That could be a defensive reason for their wanting—to put it crassly—a bomb.

Ever since the U.S. detonated two bombs over Japan in 1945, everyone has understood the devastation of such weapons. There is no need to use them, but peoples have felt a need to have them, so no one dares to attack them.

Seriously, a nuclear weapon is an ace in the hole.

Pakistan has a bomb. But they are not in the confluence of the Middle East. They are a split part of the Indian subcontinent that the British mistakenly thought would bring peace to South Asia when they cut their crown jewel colony loose. Pakistan developed a bomb because India did so first. That is not relevant to this issue.

Iran may want a nuclear weapon as a deterrent to Sunni terrorism (and that does not in any way imply that all Sunnis are terrorists), but having a bomb would also enhance their prestige as the leader of the Shi’ite branch in the Middle East.

Are you catching on that the whole issue may rest within a regional struggle for influence and power that only marginally involves the West and Israel?

Look at the proxy war in Yemen between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Damn, it reminds one of the proxy wars that took place between the Soviet Union and the United States in places like Korea, Vietnam, and Angola.

Iran plays the long game as does most of the world. Sadly, we do not. 20 years is nothing to them if the sanctions lift, their economy recovers, and domestic pressures for change ease. They can wait.

We might be able to slow it down, but we will not stop any government determined to develop nuclear weaponry. This is indeed the brave new world we inhabit. Let’s not lose our perspective while we deal with these emerging threats.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Overlooked Education Stories in 2014

Five Top Stories Overlooked by the Media

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund named their top 5 education stories for 2014:

1.       Testing and accountability.
2.       Violence in Jacksonville (involving youth).
3.       Quality Education for All Fund.
4.       Marketing, school choice and middle school reform.
5.       Rise in graduation rate.

But here are 5 stories that have been overlooked but should not have been:

1.       Large swelling of class sizes in core classes along with no effort to reduce excessive elective class sizes. A law took effect July 1, 2014 that negated penalties for excessive class sizes. The constitutional amendment remains in effect but schools and districts will no longer suffer penalties for non-compliance. This year, the state will determine penalties according to school-wide averages rather than a class by class measurement, which by the way, is what the amendment prescribes. In response, districts have increased class sizes dramatically: core mathematics classes in middle school have 33 students and no one blinks an eye as long as the average is met or within the district’s predetermined tolerance. The real scandal is in elective classes which now average in the 40s because there’s no penalty. District leaders have abandoned the pretense of caring.
2.       Tepid response to violence in the schools. Every time students are caught bringing guns to schools, we are promised an increase in random searches of classrooms and buses. Duval County, know the truth: it doesn’t happen. Three guns were found within a 30 day stretch in my school. The number of random searches taking place after that: ZERO. Perhaps the people in charge don’t know the meaning of the word random. Random means there was no tip, no reason to suspect a weapon, but a class was selected and a search was performed.
3.       The failure of the new Code of Conduct. This one bothers me because the new Code has not been given a fair chance. It cannot stand on its own, but that is what schools are trying to do. Initiatives like Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Support are half-hearted or non-existent. That is why Class 2 and 3 violations have dramatically increased. There is little encouragement for students to act right and the consequences of acting wrong are gone. The District may protest with statistics that show violations are down, but people, get real. District statistics are based on what schools enter into the information systems. The old game of not entering referrals to show good numbers goes on.
4.       The collapse of Westside schools. As the QEA initiative draws the best teachers and lion’s share of resources into the district’s most challenged schools, the Westside continues to be ignored or come last in the district’s priorities. As a result, the district is replicating the failing conditions of the Northwest corridor on the Westside. The media stories are already written: rerun the stories of the last 15 to 20 years but replace Ribault and Raines with Westside High, Ed White, Jefferson Davis, and Jeb Stuart. Don’t be fooled by Middle School reform: if you go through the plan carefully, you will understand the lack of thought that went into themes for the Westside schools. Lots of school received information and communications technology, aerospace engineering, or the like. Schools like Jeb Stuart: technology, with a little T. That could mean anything. Pencil manufacturing is technology, low tech indeed, but still technology.

5.       Revolt of School Boards against privatization: Admittedly, we have not seen this in Duval County. But in South Florida, School Boards are beginning to question the need for charter schools that open next to successful public schools and to examine the history of applicants for past failures, and are turning down the applicants. Since we are experiencing a perfect storm of wealthy businesspeople, non-profit foundations that push charter schools, and a compliant school board, don’t look for this story to appear anytime soon.

On Guns

I’ve been reading a Facebook debate about the right to bear arms, that is, to carry a concealed weapon and what restrictions could be or should be placed upon that Second Amendment right.

Let’s start with that amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Unlike the other amendments, the Founding Fathers who created the Bill of Rights thought it necessary to give a reason for the right being protected. We could speculate endlessly on why that was the case, but it really is immaterial to the arguments that rage in our times. The language, as written, plainly guarantees that people may own and carry guns.

The odd thing is that the writers got it wrong. Citizen militias have never been able to maintain the security of a free state. Think about it: millions of people gather together to stare down an army. They bring squirrel guns, antique firearms bequeathed down generations, assault rifles, and on and on. They are unable to carry out any effective military maneuvers because they have never trained for such. They would be easy pickings for a real army.

George Washington did not defeat Cornwallis with citizen soldiers. His victory at Yorktown was won with a trained army, one he fashioned with the assistance of the French General Lafayette and Polish military officers Pulaski and Kosciuszko. It was a professional army that delivered independence from Great Britain (with assistance from the French navy that drove the British navy away from Virginia at the time of the crucial battle), not a citizen militia.

The Civil War (or War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression, depending on your ancestry and location) called up state militias. But all were under the command of professional army officers, graduates of West Point. On both sides, the military was run by professional officers who undertook the great task of forming real armies. It was the only way they could hope to win the conflict.

Nevertheless, the Second Amendment grants the right to own and carry guns to ordinary citizens.

But no right, not even those guaranteed by these amendments, is absolute. The most famous example is given by Oliver Wendell Holmes in a Supreme Court opinion as the Court considered a case involving the most famous and cherished of rights: Free Speech:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

No right is absolute. So what reasonable restrictions might Congress place upon gun ownership and the right to carry?

I think our driver’s licenses is a good way to think about this. Automobiles can also be a deadly weapon, especially given the high number of hit and run fatalities my city seems to be experiencing at the moment.

In order to drive an automobile, a person has to be of a certain age, practice under a learner’s permit, and pass a test that demonstrates their knowledge of traffic laws and ability to control the vehicle.

Why not apply the same to gun ownership? Can we all agree that persons wishing to own guns should qualify through training and exams that they know the laws, what is allowed and what is not, and that they can handle a weapon appropriately?

This is not a restriction on gun ownership, but a regulation of gun ownership. Perhaps that militia reason suggests that the writers of the Bill of Rights knew that governments would have to be involved in the exercise of the right.

The right to gun ownership is not absolute. Convicted felons are not permitted to have firearms. But the right to gun ownership is protected by the Constitution.

One last word. The Facebook debate began with an essay that the Florida legislature is misguided in advancing a bill that would permit college students to carry guns on campus when college administrations have banned them. I support the right to own and carry guns. But that is in general society. The Constitution covers public areas, general arenas, and such. You do not have a right to carry a gun in my house or yard if I say no. Property owners have property rights and can make such rules. Businesses, like stores, can ban weapons if they choose. The same is true for schools and college campuses.

Or does someone want to argue that the three 14-year old students who brought guns into my school, in two cases loaded, have a right to do so?