Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Message

The link below is to a power point that speaks from my heart.....I did not make it but received it in the mail from a dear friend...

Christmas Power Point

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all......

Saturday, December 13, 2008

An interesting look at education

I offer you this article on what should be happening with education......Fluid Education.....I have been trying to do this for years and just get pushed out of where ever I am by scared control freaks. Carpe Diem!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday videos

Here are some video clips from Thanksgiving dinner in Buffalo and at Homestead Gardens in Maryland where we bought our Christmas Tree and looked at all of the Christmas stuff. Nancy and Lauren also came with Jackson, Nancy grandson.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Have a Happy Thanksgiving feast. The WOP is off to Buffalo. See you in December.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Passing of Yet Another Member of the Old Guard - Studs (1912-2008)

It seems somewhat fitting that Studs departs us on Halloween. A true man of the people, he'll have one more opportunity to dance with the damned and bedevil the complacent, the fat-cats, the oligarchs. Too bad he didn't live to witness the election of Obama. Farewell sweet prince.

You Nazis and you fascists
tried to boss this world by hate;
He fought my war the union way
and the hate gang all got beat;
This world was lucky to see him born.
- Woody Guthrie

Friday, October 24, 2008

In Flanders Fields

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Take a look....

As an old policy debater, I found this to be a very interesting read and also a testament about the worst of what we have become at university level anything.

National Policy Debate Topic:Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase alternative energy incentives in the United States.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fight Breast Cancer

Please tell ten friends to tell ten today! The Breast Cancer site is having trouble getting enough people to click on their site daily to meet their quota of donating at least one free mammogram a day to an underprivileged woman. It takes less than a minute to go to their site and click on 'donating a mammogram' for free (pink window in the middle).
This doesn't cost you a thing. Their corporate sponsors/advertisers use the number of daily visits to donate mammograms in exchange for advertising.
Here's the web site! Pass it along to people you know.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Another Nite at the Zoo Bar

Paddy and I met at the Zoo bar again on Friday. We sat outside and had a few pints and a delicious "Tavern Burger" as mine was called. Paddy just had a cheeseburger. It was nice sitting in cool autumn air. After the burgers we went inside and enjoyed the atmosphere of a mid-western neighborhood bar. About 10 o'clock 4 wonderful musicians, called Sookey Jump, took the stage and entertained us with delta blues and some great rockabillie tunes. There was even a railroad song! I requested Orange Blossom Special but it was not in their repetroire. Maybe Patsy and Brian can play their stage some night. Ah for days past.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A new spot.....

I finally feel completely betrayed by Nanny's. They promised live music last night and I was excited to visit for my birthday with Paddy and my wife. The music never came. So we walked down the street to the Zoo Bar about 11:00 and enjoyed ourselves completely with a bit of participatory blues music. I actually joined in though I had my usual trouble keeping the beat but it was great fun.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Germans did invade the Netherlands---

I agree Paddy that the armor thrust through the Ardennes was a "sickle cut" that trapped the allied troops in the low countries. Army group C(I think) invaded the Netherlands with other flanking movements in Denmark and Norway. The Netherlands invasion enticed the allies to move into the low country to resist the German drive which made the "up the gut" sickle cut work. It was concieved by Guderian. Here is a battle map. I admit to being wrong about the curve of the sickle cut but not about the idea of invading the Netherlands to draw the allies into the low countries. Rommel commanded the 7th Panzer Division in the 15th Panzer Corps in the French Invasion. His division became known at the "Ghost" or "Phantom" division.

Just a Start - I hate ignornace - this is the cut up the gut through the Ardennes

he German Army was divided into three army groups:

  • Army Group A commanded by Gerd von Rundstedt, composed of 45½ divisions including seven armoured, was to execute the decisive movement, cutting a"Sichelschnitt" — not the official name of the operation but the translation in German of a phrase after the events coined by Winston Churchill[20] as "Sickle Cut" (and even earlier "armoured scythe stroke"[21]) — through the Allied defenses in the Ardennes. It consisted of three armies: the Fourth, Twelfth and Sixteenth. It had three Panzer corps; one, XV Army Corps, had been allocated to the Fourth Army, but the other two — XXXXI Army Corps including the 2nd Motorised Infantry Division and XIX Army Corps — were united, together with XIV Army Corps of two motorised infantry divisions, on a special independent operational level in Panzergruppe Kleist. This was done to better coordinate the approach march to the Meuse river; once bridgeheads had been established they had again to be divided among Twelfth and Sixteenth Army andPanzergruppe Kleist abolished.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Books Sarah Palin would ban

A friend of mine named Anne posted this list on Facebook....this list is from the minutes of the Library Board meeting of the small town that Sarah presided over in Alaska.....I guess she was commander in chief of the Libary police also.

From the minutes of the Wasilla, Alaska, Library Board meeting.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Blubber by Judy Blume
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Carrie by Stephen King
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Christine by Stephen King
Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Cujo by Stephen King
Curses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel Cohen
Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite
Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Decameron by Boccaccio
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Fallen Angels by Walter Myers
Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland
Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Forever by Judy Blume
Grendel by John Champlin Gardner
Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Have to Go by Robert Munsch
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Impressions edited by Jack Booth
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
It's Okay if You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
My House by Nikki Giovanni
My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara
Night Chills by Dean Koontz
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women's Health Collective
Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl
Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz
Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Separate Peace by John Knowles
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Bastard by John Jakes
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Devil's Alternative by Frederick Forsyth
The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder
The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks
The Living Bible by William C. Bower
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders
The Shining by Stephen King
The Witches by Roald Dahl
The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder
Then Again, Maybe I Won't by Judy Blume
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster
Editorial Staff
Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween

Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Blog post I wish I had written......

From the Blog

Beyond School
by Clay Burrell

When Corrupting the Youth is Good!

“Piper, sit thee down and write
In a book that all may read!”
So he vanished from my sight,
And I plucked a hollow reed,

And I made a rural pen,
And I stained the water clear,
And I wrote my happy song,
Every child may joy to hear.
–William Blake, Songs of Innocence

“And I stained the water clear”: look at that line a few times, and see the beauties of that exquisitely ambiguous modifier, “clear.” It’s a line to cherish.1 And it has to do with the thoughts below - after which, in the next post, we’ll get to an also exquisite sacred sex scene (and I’d like to call it a love scene to avoid the appearance of sensationalism, but it’s not a love scene) from Gilgamesh, along with laughs, I hope, about trying to teach it to today’s teens, in today’s classrooms. But first, an interlude:

When “Corrupting the Youth” is Good
“Good people” can be dangerous.

Socrates and Jesus, for example, in the eyes of the “good people” of their times, were both criminals. 2 They were criminals because they challenged those good people’s conventional views of religion, of the sacred, of moral right and wrong.

How do you know?
They both attacked the gods of their day. Socrates questioned both the truth and the righteousness of the Olympians; and Jesus (though less consistently) similarly questioned the teachings and the righteousness of the Hebrew priests and the “good” church mosque temple-going Christians Muslims Jews around him. Both were reviled by the good people back then, and both paid with their lives for the same “sin”: critical thinking. The good Athenians killed Socrates with poison, the good Hebrews - the Romans, actually - killed Jesus on the cross.

(Since this crucifixion episode, by the way, has been used to justify Christian Antisemitism and the slaughter of Jews for over a thousand years, I have to add this point to keep my conscience clean: Jesus may not have been crucified at all; he may not, in fact, have ever lived at all, according to many serious scholars.3 It’s a fascinating question for those who care to think critically about important things. If it’s true, after all, that means the Jews were framed and persecuted by the Christians for an execution that never happened, and that American voters today are electing leaders on the basis of faith in a phantom.)

Today, we do well to revere Socrates and Jesus for pushing human thought forward. We would also do well, though, to see their examples as reminders of something else we tend to forget: namely, that good people of any age often appear, in historical hindsight, to be the opposite of good. Again, good people - pious people - killed these two men.

Socrates today is held up to students as the model of that practice called “critical thinking.” But in his own day, that very act, critical thinking, led to criminal charges against him for this : “Corrupting the young by teaching new gods.”

Look at that. Socrates was killed why? Because the adults in his society didn’t like the questions he was entertaining with their kids - about religion. He was killed for asking, around young people, what we all see as a common sense question today - “Why do we believe in Zeus?”4

As a teacher who loves common sense, finds it less common than we think, and loves the idea of giving more of it than of grammar to the young in my classrooms, that story has always made me nervous.

I love critical thinking for many reasons, but the biggest one is this: it requires, always, an honest awareness in the thinker that he or she may be wrong. Socrates, while less a hero of mine due to recent readings I’ve done about his politics, still wins my respect with this classic one-liner:

I only know that I know nothing.
Scientists understand the wisdom of that statement, and so do philosophers. Priests and their “good people” followers, though, show no understanding of this wisdom. They assert truth-claims without evidence, and worse, they attack modern-day versions of Socrates and Jesus for thinking critically about their beliefs.

Schools are very bad places for a teacher to promote critical thinking about anything important. The cliché “critical thinking” in schools is only allowed for safe subjects - an oxymoron I’ve mentioned many times in these pages. Touch a subject that will offend a single parent or student, and your job is at stake. That’s why so many classes are so boring. They refuse to acknowledge the many elephants in the room, or to state that the emperor is wearing no clothes - especially when it comes to whichever god and flag are flying above your country.

And that’s why so many types of hugely influential beliefs that make no sense persist today. Kids go through twelve years of school without those beliefs ever being touched by a serious question, they graduate, and bam: the beliefs live on for yet another generation: Bush really is communicating with God, while in the same universe, Bin Laden, in another country’s school system, really is obeying the Word and will of Allah. McCain and Obama consent to be interviewed on national TV with Rick Warren, and thus legitimize a man whose ministry supported a “Left Behind” video game in which post-Rapture Christians kill non-Christians on the streets of New York - and they’re the good guys. To question these things is not important?

I say it is. We see the Crusades of the first and second millennia being re-played now in the third. Maybe questioning will reduce their chances of continuing into the fourth, if we make it that far.

* * *

Critical Thinking as a Litmus Test
Reading the comments on my last post (the first Gilgamesh essay), and of the people who also commented on it on StumbleUpon,5 it occurs to me that critical thinkers serve as litmus tests for the people who disagree with them. They fall into two categories: those who challenge the thinking, and thus pass the test and prove themselves fellow critical thinkers; and those who attack the thinker instead of the ideas, and thus fail the test and show themselves to be non-critical thinkers, like the poisoners and crucifiers of old. Thank goodness free speech is now protected by law.

If the first Gilgamesh “lecture” had happened in a classroom instead of here, those non-critical thinkers would have been demanding my resignation - because they don’t want their children to think beyond what they, the parents, believe. 6 It’s funny how parents don’t care if their kid goes more deeply into, say, math than them; that’s fine. But have my kid go more deeply - and more critically - into religion than I ever did? Into politics and my country’s history? That’s a different beast altogether. As a rule, parents aren’t okay with that at all.

So that’s the challenge to critical thinking in so many of our classrooms today, and a reason for its boredom-inducing absence. If only teachers felt secure in speaking their minds, there could be incredible discussions in classrooms.

And for the record: I share my questions about sacred cows not because I delight in doing “ee-vil.” We may as well accuse Socrates, Jesus, Buddha, Martin Luther, Copernicus, Voltaire, Darwin, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and millions of other reformists dead and alive of “loving evil” for imagining - and speaking of - better visions of the Good or more sensible versions of the True.

I share these questions because first, I love asking them; second, it’s my way of supporting others who are asking them; and third, imperfect as all of us are, I believe these questions have vital value for happiness, intelligence, well-being, and, um, education. In my eyes, as much as your preachers or your parents, I am trying to do good. I’m just doing it by my own lights, instead of by the teachings of childhood. I left those teachings long ago, by reading more than the preachers showed me. (I also discovered, in the cult of the early Christian leader Valentinus, an extinct version of Christianity I actually admire. It’s almost Buddhist. See Princeton religious historian Elaine Pagels’ eye-opening, and very readable, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas for more.)

How can we think? Magic-based science (Creation Museum, Kentucky, USA)
And then there’s the issue of fairness. Millions of preachers clog the airwaves daily with their claims. Creationists attack science and infest science classrooms and textbooks. It’s only fair that equal time is given to those of us who want to challenge them with critical thinking.

My last point: Critical thinking can “corrupt the youth” on one condition: that youth fail to think critically themselves, as they read. As long as the young think - chew - before swallowing this, or any, adult’s words, they’re not “corrupted” at all. No matter what those adults say.

I don’t know if any of this helped “stain the waters clear.” I hope it did.

* * *

Now on to more fun with Gilgamesh, one of the wisest and - in the “sacred sex” scene that is the next post’s topic, also one of the most beautiful - books I’ve ever read.

Wait a minute. It just hit me. My god, I’m about to discuss the oldest sex scene in the history of mankind. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

It should be up in a day or two.

Please keep the comments critical, and thanks for doing that in such a friendly way in the first post. And sorry for the length. This was no fun to write, but I had to get it out.

Photo credits: Human Questions by AmberflyKezzie ; Creation Museum by rauchdickson

If you like this post, please spread it: (But don't tag it "education." That will bury it.)

See the word as an adverb modifying “stained.” [↩]
They were both considered something like “bums” by the good people too - Socrates wore tatty clothes, Jesus was a homeless guy - but that’s a different story. [↩]
A comprehensive discussion of the evidence is laid out, among many other places, in a long chapter of The Pagan Christ: Is Blind Faith Killing Christianity?, by ex-minister and professor of New Testament Greek Tom Harpur, who seems to want to radically reform Christianity the way Jesus, if he did exist, wanted to radically reform Judaism. [↩]
It goes deeper than this, really, since many used it as a pretext for other grudges. But the interesting thing is that this pretext still held in a court of law, and it’s what he was convicted and killed for: teaching common sense. [↩]
and for the record, as I’ve already said, I agree that the tone in that post is lame at times, and will work on that, and find such feedback helpful, when polite [↩]
My own resignation was demanded once by a pair of parents - from a long line of preachers - for including the ideas of Bishop Spong as a contemporary descendant of Martin Luther in a history unit about the Reformation. Maybe I’ll tell that full story one day. Right now, I’ll just say that my assistant principal at the time commendably held firm and told them they were free to leave. Instead, they pulled their son from my class and put him with another teacher. No chance he think beyond his parents’ beliefs that way. [↩]
Unsucky English, Lecture 2: The Day I Thought Gilgamesh Would Cost Me My Job
Truly Critical: Thinking about Science, Religion, and Goodness
Unsucky English, Lecture 3: Adam and Eve, Backwards (Gilgamesh, Book One)
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Written by Clay Burell

August 29th, 2008 at 12:26 pm
Posted in censorship, history, language arts, politics, religion, school reform, science, teaching

Tagged with books, critical thinking
« Unsucky English, Lecture 1: On Gilgamesh, and Dangerous QuestionsUnsucky English, Lecture 2: The Day I Thought Gilgamesh Would Cost Me My Job »
26 Responses to 'When Corrupting the Youth is Good'
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Unsucky English, Lecture 1: On Gilgamesh | Beyond School

30 Aug 08 at 1:09 am
Misplaced modifier? By today’s standards only, not when it was written.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Here's another response to a question Norm raised about dissent, a great example of how some idiots in this country want to shut down debate with attacks of anti-patriotism. What's really sad, though, is that few people have the guts to ask the simple question "what the F@#* are you talking about?". Huzzah Chris!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Space Age

I bring to you, reader of PaddyWop, a question and ensuing response from a speech given by General Hayden, Director of CIA at the the Council on Foreign Relations in New York last fall. This gets directly to the controversy over interrogation, in my opinion General Hayden makes a very good point both here and earlier, in the main body of his speech, which can be found here:

QUESTIONER: I'm Mike Posner from Human Rights First. General Hayden, you spoke at the beginning of your remarks about the distinction between law and rules and then space. And I want to focus n the rules relating to interrogations.

Last year about this time, the president spoke, and he asked Congress for authority for the agency to be involved in what he called enhanced interrogation techniques. This is things like stress positions, use of dogs, hypothermia, mock drowning, waterboarding. The Congress said no to that, led by Senators McCain, Graham and Warner. The military's also said no to that, and all of the senior military lawyers have been very clear that those techniques violate Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, in public testimony before Congress.

And yet a month -- six weeks ago, the administration passed an executive order seemingly allowing again the CIA to engage in these enhanced techniques.

From my perspective, it seems to me like this is more than asking for space; what you're really trying to do is change the rules. The question is, why do you need these enhanced techniques? Why shouldn't every U.S. agency operate by a single standard compliant with Common Article 3?

HAYDEN: First let me make comment on your listing of techniques and just frankly add that it's a pretty good example of taking something to the darkest corner of the room and not reflective of what my agency does.

Now let's talk about the history, last October. With the Hamdan decision, the Supreme Court extended the protection of Common Article 3 to the unlawful combatants of al Qaeda. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm frankly surprised by that aspect of the decision, in that Common Article 3 refers to conflicts not of an international character. And this one does certainly seem to be conflict of an international character.

Our problem was not that we wanted the Congress to approve any techniques. Our problem was, we didn't know what Common Article 3 meant in the context of American law. When the Senate ratified a variety of other portions of the Geneva Convention, the legislative history or specific statements of the Senate clarified the meaning of the international treaty in terms of American law. For example, the Convention Against Torture is carefully hooked in the legislative history to the prohibition in domestic law against cruel and inhuman punishment articulated by the 5th, 8th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution.

The Congress had made no clarifying language with regard to Common Article 3. And any, I think, fair reading of Common Article 3 would point out that it would be very hard for me to direct an officer of the agency to do things with the vagaries of the language in Common Article 3. So I wasn't looking for a carve out; I was looking for a definition.

One of the outs that was offered to the agency was that we in the -- it turns out to be the Military Commissions Act. We in the Military Commissions Act will criminalize certain kinds of activities. And as long as your officers don't do these activities, they won't be prosecuted. And therefore you'll be safe from -- well, you'll be safe from prosecution.

The agency as a whole and myself in particular rejected that solution. Because what it -- what it would put me in the position of doing would be to turn to an agency officer and say, I would like you to do this with regard to this detainee, okay; I have no idea whether or not it violates the Geneva Convention, because I don't know what it means, but I'm pretty sure you'll never go to court for it, so would you go do that for me? And that's about the worst locker room speech I can imagine giving to an agency employee.

So we insisted on clarity for Common Article 3. The Congress decided that they would not offer that clarity but they then would instead reinforce the already existent presidential right to define the meaning for treaties for the United States. And so there's actual language in the Military Commissions Act that has the president doing that, and it requires him to publish his executive order in the Federal Register, which is what he did.

It's clear that what it is we do as agency is different from what is contained in the Army Field Manual. I don't know of anyone who has looked at the Army Field Manual who could make the claim that what's contained in there exhausts the universe of lawful interrogation techniques consistent with the Geneva Convention. The Army Field Manual was crafted to allow America's Army to train large numbers of young men and women to debrief and interrogate, for tactical purposes, transient prisoners on a fast-moving battlefield.

CIA handles a very small number of senior al Qaeda leaders. The average age of our interrogators is 43. The amount of training for this specific activity is 240 hours. So the reason we're not covered by the Army Field Manual is that we're not in the DOD. We weren't consulted about the Army Field Manual, and no one ever claimed that the Army Field Manual exhausted all the lawful tools that America could have to protect itself.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you.

C [above] explaining the subtleties of race and nuclear war...prompting Kathleen [below] to seek escape in another pint of Beamish

I have to admit that I would certainly miss such evenings were I to move to Alaska. The productivity of my Saturday, however, was somewhat compromised. Norm, did you make it home before 6am?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Since I can't rant on Norm tonight

Norm at Nite---The candidates at the Saddleback Church

Norm at Nite will open the phones to you tonight at 11:00PM to talk about the John McCain and Barak Obama appeareance at the Saddleback Church and their conversations with Rick Warren. What role should religion be playing in the presidential election or any election for that matter. Call in and let Norm and the audience know what you think. Bear with the show tonite as it will be coming to you from a new location. Norm will not have IM capability tonite. Here is link to a blog in The New Republic that gives some background on the issue.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Apparently Nobody Studies the Peloponnesian War Anymore

This administration never ceases to amaze with its astounding stupidity. To force (and yes we did force it on them) an anti-ballistic missile system upon Poland just days after Russia bared its teeth, and its frustration, in Georgia displays such a complete lack of understanding of both Russia and the basics of international diplomacy; well, no surprise there I guess considering Bush's track record. Shit, and Rice was even a professor of Soviet Studies! One just gapes. I'd send em all copies of Thucydides if I was convinced they even knew how to read. Jesus, let us get through the next 5 months without Bush dragging us down even further. I think the world would be much better off if W just spent the time on his 'ranch' playing cowboy.

And what was that bullshit by McCain that we're 'all Georgians now'? I doubt 5% of Americans could even find Georgia on a map let alone give a shit what happens to it. And if Bush had gotten his way last year and Georgia had been added to the NATO Alliance, we would now be treaty obliged to fight the Russians. Oh wait, that's right, the United States doesn't abide by international treaties. Phweh

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika by Alfons Heck

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
A non-fictional 'coming-of-age' story that puts Holden Caufield's self-absorbed whiney ass to shame. At age 16, Heck became commander of 6000 of the Third Reich's last defenders, many of them just boys of 13 and 14, of the Westwall along the Rhine. Heck provides insight into the importance of the Hitler Youth in establishing and defending the Nazi regime: "A Hitler Youth uniform was as dangerous as an SS, especially if one was a leader or officer." Heck relates rather poignantly a discussion he has in Februrary of 1945 which elicits a Luftwaffen major to exclaim "Christ, what have we done to our children?" And many in the post-war world looked upon the youth of Germany as misguided children (the minimal attention paid to Pope Benedict's past comes to mind), but Heck points out that "we misguided children had been far more ruthless than our elders." Read this if you want to understand the fanaticism of youth and why modern madrassas present such a threat to the stability of the Islamic world. And read this if you happen to know Germans who survived the war and wish to understand them better. In describing his increasingly militant attitude while Germany suffered annihilation in the last year of the war, Heck also incidentally provokes some soul-searching over the efficacy of the Anglo-American 'strategic' bombing campaign, and, by association, the effectiveness of any bombing campaign (American, Islamic, or otherwise) in destroying the will of youth schooled in violence and hate.

I give Heck some credit for at least trying to come to terms with his Nazi past and acknowledging the sins of the regime and of every German associated with it. There are pearls of wisdom here for anyone who mindlessly adopts mottos (pro patria!) or blindly accepts the policies of their leaders out of some twisted notion that it would be unpatriotic not to support the president (especially "'n a time of war'). "We, a civilized human people, had allowed ourselves to become indifferent to brutality committed by our own government on our own citizens. And yet, I never once during the Hitler years thought of myself as anything but a decent, honorable young German, blessed with a glorious future." A final word to all of those out there who, like myself, teach: While not attempting to exonerate himself, Heck does particularly damn the educators of Germany: "not only had they allowed themselves to be deceived, but they had delivered us, their children, into the cruel power of a new God."

View all my reviews.
[Something to consider when assessing the impact of someone like the so-called reverend Wright my friend.]

Friday, August 08, 2008


There has been a great deal of upheaval over Rev. Wright's statements about the 911 attacks being a reaction to American actions and policies in the Muslim world. A recent article in the Columbia Review of Journalism may put his statements in a different light. The article also made me re-think my whole view of dissent.
Go read Dissent Deficit and then call into Norm at Nite on Tuesday Night at 11pm and give me your view. The article will be the focus of the show.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire by Morris Berman

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Cultural and social historian Morris Berman exposes what many of us who still read have known all along, i.e. that the life of the mind in a mindless America has been drowned by a huge consumeristic fantasy. Arnold Toynbee observed that it is precisely in the declining phase of a civilization that it beats the drums of self-congratulation most fiercely. Similarly Berman points out that the dominant public voice in reaction to the destruction of our culture and civility is one of insistent celebration, which is exactly why there is no hope in avoiding the immanent collapse. In this globalized distopia, Berman argues that the repeal of the Bretton-Woods Agreement in 1971 set the stage for the current predatory economy, eroded real democracy, and destabilized the American empire both at home at abroad. The fact that this book was written prior to the scandals - legal, political, and economic - of the second Bush administration shows just how prescient, and frightening (to me at least), Berman's take on modern American 'life' is. "We are knee-deep in Orwellian waters, my friends," concludes Berman. "I don't think the future bodes well for our much transformed experiment in democracy."

Quite interestingly, Berman, convinced that the US is already in serious decline, posits that the EU, and not China, may be the next world hegemon in a generation. "Micky Mouse and Coka Cola will continue to have their allure...but in the end, the sheer sensibility of the European approach, its savvy internationalism, and perhaps more solid currency are going to look a lot better than American arrogance and violence.... [and] Europe may come closest to offering its citizens the best lifestyle currently available on the planet."

This is not an anti-Bush rant (though Berman gets his digs in), as 'W' is more symptom than cause, but rather a piece of personal catharsis by a modern Cicero who knows the end approacheth but will be damned to go under without pointing a finger at our own collective stupidity. And lest we forget the Roman pattern, by the time Caligula came along the rot had already taken hold.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Money Bombs Away

Salon Radio with Glenn Greenwald: Discussion with Tim Shorrock
More than 70 percent of America's intelligence and surveillance activities are now outsourced to private industry. What are the implications of such extreme privatization of these sensitive government functions?
Those privacy-hating Chinese communist tyrants
GOP senators protest China's surveillance of foreigners' e-mail and telephone communications. And they do it with a straight face.
Things I learned today about democracy
Challenging incumbents in elections is deeply anti-democratic. Only an ideologically dogmatic purist -- a Stalinist, basically -- would do something like that.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tom Waits in Concert
Tom plays Lucinda and Ain't Goin Down to the Well - i think the entire show from Atlanta will be available soon in podcast.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Egil's Saga (Penguin Classics) Egil's Saga by Anonymous

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
The story is essentially a good old 10th-century land dispute between neighbors. While wandering around pissed-off over a court decision, the Viking poet Egil worships Odin, guzzles ale, vomits on friends, gouges out eyeballs (of the host who supplied him with the ale), bursts Hulk-like out of his clothes, and dispatches men like bedbugs, one, a certain Atli the Short, with a well placed bite to the neck. Fun for the whole family. Nuf said.

View all my reviews.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power by Victor Davis Hanson

My review

Brave indeed is the academic prepared to take on the cultural relativists in todays academy, but Hanson, like the Westerner he is, suits up here for a massive ground assault straight up the gut. He will surely piss off the fashionably PC crowd who have been reared to despise just about anything Western simply with his first chapter heading, 'Why the West Won.' Based upon his observation that for over 2500 years, the chief military worry of Western armies has been other Western armies, Hanson goes on to explore exactly why that has been the case, arguing that cultural determinants, rather than say biological or topographical ones, have shaped the West into the most successful and, yes let's say it, superior fighting civilization.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Norm at Nite Time Change

Norm at Nite, originally scheduled for 11:00 PM today, will air live at 6:30pm because of a scheduling fluke. Norm apologizes for any difficulties this causes.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bert is Back in Business

Ok, so I finally have some real news. First of all SPS has wrapped up tonight, so summer has begun, thankfully. But more importantly, Bertrand, our Corsican guide in Quebec, e-mailed me this week with the news that he has opened his own place [below] in Shipshaw, Quebec. He can take a maximum of 6 people - so no room for ACDCs this year. Per usual, I'll foot the cost of SUV and hotel in Quebec City, if anyone is interested between 26Dec and 2Jan. I'll probably offer to STA seniors this year, but will give experienced mushers priority. With Bert, this year will be about bushcraft as well as the dogs. For those with Facebook, Bert has a site at 'Bertrand Bellencourt' where, he informs me, you will find more photos.

Monday, July 14, 2008

In Addition

One funny thing I heard here the other day (before i get to the meat and potatoes), despite its current inaccuracy, it holds some value for looking into the russian soul: smiling is frowned upon in Moscow.

Anyhow, I wanted to add to my last post by writing about a conversation my class mates had with my lit teacher last thursday. We asked her how much professors made in russia, and she said that teachers at MGU (the harvard, but public, of Russia). She said top of the line professors there make 500 USD per month. Everyone else is in the 200-400 range. Ok, so that adds up to 6000$ a year. Maybe, one might think, thats ok, its russia, that money is average. well, MGU begins with the word Moscow, and that means that money can barely buy food for the month, nevermind public transportation, or any type of extravagancy. Their equivalents in america make upwards of 20 times that number often, in a less expensive place (i guarantee this for you). This set of stats also roughly applies to DOCTORS and most public employees: libraries, anyone in the army, etc.

I have no interest in discussing economics here, in fact that would corrupt the essence of whats going on in this country. That teacher told us that the money is not what is important to russians when it comes to education, and that from a group of people who are convinced that they don't know what tomorrow has in store for them, material collection is very much less valued than an education. Her literal words were (translated): No matter how much money you have, in this country it could be gone tomorrow. An education can't leave you once you have it. Given her bias towards education, she said this view is widly held here. Whats best about this is that people don't stop learning when they have no school to go to. Word of mouth, written publication, etc, is all very much active in this country as a source of teaching, and everyone seems to value it greatly regardless of their age. Russians watch a ton of tv, this is true, but i haven't found anyone who has let that get in the way of knowledge. its astounding at times how much people know here, regardless of how much money they have.

Anyhow, I can't really think of anything valueable to add to that, it frankly speaks for itself. I would just appreciate it if those of you with the ability, to convey this to students in america, as we could all learn a lesson to that extent. Not that it will make a difference to them, but it would mean a lot to me if there were kids in america's finest schools who at least heard that no matter how much money mommy and daddy throw at their education, they would get destroyed in any subject by an 80 year old woman who has never made (in her life) the money their parents spend on one year of school.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tim Russert's Commencement Speech, May22, 2008

Tim Russert made this commencement speech at St. Mary's High School in Annapolis, Maryland on May 22, 2008. It is a testament to his his unfailing generosity towards, and concern for his fellow human beings. Enjoy it.

Tim Russert's Commencement at St. Mary's High School

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


So since my last post, much has transpired over here, much of which i feel is worth sharing.
Firstly, we took a tour through the part of town (including the museum made for this exact purpose)where pretty much every revolutionary action in moscow has occured (1905, 1991, 1993). The museum was incredibly well set up and the guides extremely informative (i also saw a picture of a 1905 participant with the last name Sobinov!). We then walked around the area Krasnopresnenskaya, visited the white house (!) and saw some of the memorial spots. Our guide, one of our resident directors, is a korennaya moskvicha (native muscovite, female edition) and was on a date in the park just next to the white house in 93 when the sniper started firing. pretty wild, but as all russians respond to such craziness, she seemed to be pretty casual with her attitude toward the event.

School has really stepped up the work load, if that was possible, I'm reading pikovaya dama a pushkin story, i just finished the stantsionii smotritel another pushkin. Both are really interesting stories in any language, but having a russian teacher to tell you "yes, this is a huge aspect of the russian character" makes studying these texts so much better. The population here is so well read, in my opinion, it makes me feel pretty dumb. Not only are the well read in russian texts, but my babushka, for example, has read the twain and sellinger anthographies--its nuts.

In another class we're reading articles on differnt politically relevant subjects to russians, the prevalence of advertising, the status of economic freedom, demography, immigration, art, etc. the debates, even in russian, get pretty heated, and our teacher finds that to be really funny. i'll come back to this in a second.

my economic geography course just ended, thankfully, it was painfully boring, but at least i could tell you where all the major industries are located in russia.
The history course just began, and it couldnt be anything but the opposite from geography. Its 20th century russian history, and the teacher is incredibly intelligent. we're reading both a russian textbook and a pamphlet that he made for the class, i'm very excited for that.

The 4th of july was wild, but i'll save that since most of it was very american. We did find a dive bar that reminded me a lot of le pape though, so i got pretty nostalgic!

The only intellectual comment i want to make today is that in these debates that we're having, one of the most prominent pedigogical elements is about america. Since most of our commentary is "well in america this but in russia that" we have to generalize america, and in my class of 5, we have students from all over the states, resulting in a conversation that to a russian makes it sound like we're from 5 different countries. i guess thats the beautiful part of our country, but at the same time, for example, how oblivious i was to the way southerners feel about the north, made me realize just how diverse this country is.

I'll have more this weekend, hope NaN is going well.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Norm is back at 11 tonite......

Norm will be back on the air this evening at 11 PM. The show will explore Barak Obama's move to the right, how who you are makes a difference even at the Congress, the Hacker Ethic and anything the audience wants to explore in Open Nite. Tune in!
Norm at Nite

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Visitors to Moscow

Sobes- Fellow Hibernians Gleb and Paul W. are traveling to Moscow soon. You should contact them if you want a few alums to hang out with for a night or two. Gleb knows Moscow well.

Monday, June 30, 2008

"Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth -- more than ruin, more even than death....Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man."  Bertrand Russel

NaN will not be silenced!

Norm at Nite Tonite at 11

Norm at Nite airs this evening at 11:00 PM. An explanation of the the deleted show and a schedule for the rest of the summer. The show will air from Bowie, from Nanny's, from an Irish Pub in Warrenington, from the 4Ps, from Deep Creek Lake, and from Hogwarths I hope in the future. A schedule will be forth coming.

The address is NormatNite

Listen at 11.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spain Wins Euros, Norm Shut Down Again......

Spain won the European Championship08 today, defeating Germany 1-0. I watched the game today in my living room with my son and daughters and it was a very pleasant experience. We also watched DC United defeat the LA Galaxy and David Beckham 4-1. It was a great soccer afternoon.

The other interesting happening was the rebirth of Norm at Nite at Hogwarths, and just like the last time the show had to be stopped and the transcript destroyed. Norm and Nite will be back...........

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Logic and the USA

The two things I want to comment on this week are words. and most importantly they aren't concepts. In the states, they seem very much to be concepts, rich with respect and years of experience (sounds like a good presidential candidate right?) Anyways, here, they are words, and barely anything more. The one seems just as foreign as the other here, and to that extent its a major change in thought for me.
Logic. Examples:The most volumnious metro in the world has three escalators from the platform to the street. Regardless of the unimaginable volume, one of the elevators will not be working. Ask an attendent why: They're broken. Right. example: almost every public building has a double door entrance, regardles of the volume coming in, say a metro station building, school building, theater, etc, one of the two doors will be locked. Example: the city centrally heats water (hm, wonder where they got that idea from?) As a result they shut down the different plants for different districts for 3 weeks every summer, resulting in frigid cold water for about 3 million people at any given time. Ask them why they don't decentralize the water heating (which would actually make more money for the city) no one can give an answer. Instead public money is spent on tearing down perfectly functional, historically rich, buildings (see every major hotel in moscow) and building one of almost similar nature on top. Enough. With out negatively (in a historical sense) defining the city's relationship to logic, I want to point out that the concept, the word, etc., never comes into play. No one even manipulates the word to their advantage, it simply isn't of interest here. the noun itself, logika, is completely imported, and seemingly out of place here. I'll go no further in commenting on this, because I feel there is just as much good here as anywhere else, simply logic seems to be foreign in this city.
The USA. Everyone here seems to understand that the USA is the most dominant in many aspects of daily life: science, art, etc. but no one thinks of the national entity when they think of these things. Hollywood is in america, but it has nothing to do with the USA, as a nation. This is a confusing subject, and it plays itself out in strange ways, but people have ideas, opinions, comments on americans, american culture, etc. but when our government comes into play, or the name of the nation comes into use, it means nothing but "another country." Im speaking on a very personal level. Of course official channels pay politically correct words to the USA, but the people here seem to value as much the government of the US as the government of sri lanka (no offense to sri lanka). Its a really interesting disconnect, and much to our favor i feel, but nonetheless the words United states of america, mean nothing in comparison to our treatment of it. Why this is, goes without saying. I simply comment because its an interesting experience.

Other than that, I'm going to the second largest library in the world tomorrow for a back stage tour, and then on sunday Im going to a museum on revolutions in moscow which have all begun in relatively the same area. We'll learn why this area seems to volitile, etc. Pretty cool stuff.

I guess I should comment on the soccer game, since everyone else here is. Russia is in the semi's tonight with spain and after the riots after last game, the city has decided to call in the army to protect the city from the fans. If this will help, or hurt the city, is only to be seen, but honestly if the team wins I hope for the good of this place that they win again. A loss to germany would mean chaos and rampage here, given the utter hatred many people have here for things german. We'll see how it plays out, but I'll definitely be staying in, hiding my foreign origins.

Hope things in the states are well,

Thursday, June 19, 2008

RIP, Mr. Russert

Much has already been said about the death of one of the toughest and most authentic political journalists of our time, most of it far more eloquent than anything I'll be able to manage. I'll confine myself, therefore, to one short anecdote about the father of my classmate Luke.

A public persona is an easy thing to manage, and while Mr. Russert's public face never failed to dazzle -- his speech at my high school graduation was one of the most inspiring I've ever heard -- the true measure of a man lies in his behavior when the spotlights are turned off. It is here that the chasm of character between Mr. Russert and the other assorted poo-bahs I've met revealed itself; for unlike so many men of power and prestige, Tim Russert was unfailingly kind, respectful, and generous towards those who wouldn't even merit a nod from others.

About two years ago, I found myself in Buffalo -- attending a funeral no less -- with a close friend by the name of Mr. C. As it happened, Mr. C. had attended high school with Russert, and regaled me with stories about the "nice Irish boy who made it big but didn't forget his roots." After a time, the group of us wound up at a local Beef on Weck place called 'Charlie the Butcher'. At this point, Mr. C. turned to me, smiled, and said "Now I'll never forget what he did here."

"About a year ago," he continued, "Tim and I were in here buying lunch for a whole bunch of people. The total came out to 45 bucks, and Tim paid with a fifty. After taking one look at Tim, the cashier shut the register drawer and said 'No Sir. After all you've done for this town, you eat here for free.'"

I can remember Mr. C. smiling at this point, taking an exaggerated pause, and finally proceeding with relish: "So Tim said 'Thank You', collected our lunch, and then just before reaching the door he dropped the fifty in the tip jar. The two of us then broke into a run, and had driven away before they could catch us and give us back the money."

At this point, the cashier interrupted Mr. C's story, turning to me and saying: "It happened just like he described, and next time you see Tim, tell him that the guys at Charlie's watch his program."

Rest in peace, Mr. Russert. You will be missed.

A posting from the Duc

(Cross-posted at The Reactionary Epicurean and the Postmodern Conservative)

More from Moscow

I hate to juxtapose my posts with those on Mr. Russert. Its a tragedy that not only americans acknowledge, but many a russian also commented on the loss of our great american journalist. As a testament to Mr. Russerts accomplishments a teacher that I have asked us at the beginning of class, What is new in america? I answered by saying that Tim Russert had died. As a linguistic question he asked me who tim russert was, and trying to craft a linguistically complex answer I gave the russian translation of talking head (govaryashaya golova). My teacher literally spit at this answer and said that this was no way to treat mr. russert (and in retrospect I agree). He told me that that phrase is also used in russia but denotes a telejournalist without tact, prowess, etc. He said to use this term in reference to Mr. Russert was insult. personally it was lesson learned, and simultaneously it speaks to how revered Mr. Russert is around the world.

Aside from that, school is extremely challenging. Different from the russian program at chicago, which is no walk in the park mind you, but also tries to retain students by grade inflation, the program at International U in Moscow has no qualms with letting students know with grades just how poorly they comprehend the russian language. When we are asked a question we aren't meant to respond as an american learning russian would, but as a russian would respond to the same question. As a result we are all reelling after our first round of examinations and Im willing to bet that much of the weekend will be spent studying for all.

In my contemporary politics class, the one in which I meritted a spit, our teacher asked us about Bush. We all were up in arms and one girl especially mentioned Bush's failure in Iraq. Our teacher says in response: what did you expect from him? He said that he wanted to fight terror, and Saddam created terror. The big claim against bush was that he never found the WMD's. Our teacher laughed at this claim and said, of course he wouldn't find them, he wasn't looking for weapons, he was looking for terrorists, and to this regard he eliminated a big one. The weapons on the other hand, he argued, if bush had wanted to find those exact ones, used in Iraq against the kurds, would not be hard to find. He said: where would they be? We all yell: Syria! and he starts laughing again. He said, you americans, at one moment you criticize your media, at the next moment you take its word for the truth. He begins to rhetorically show us how rooted our belief were in an american perspective and then says: for russians the answer is very easy. We all already know. It took the dumbest one of us to find out, in probably a week. The class then spent 20 minutes trying to figure out where they could be and he says: you idiots, they're in Belorussia. We all look dumbfounded and he says, who gave him (Saddam) the weapons, who taught him how to use them? --the USSR. and who among former USSR states would have agreed to take them back? The Belorussian. they needed oil, which saddam had, and they already knew what the weapons were about and what to do with them.
Despite the lack of evidence this argument was an eye opener to me on how rooted my thought was in american-constructed thought. The russians are very smart people, and their sense of history is MUCH more absolute than ours. Our teacher spent a long time in convincing us that the world is a much bigger place than America and that those two eyes (you'll appreciate this doc) chronology and geography aren't autonomous of one another. I could go on, but I'm sure you see how this played out, as I'm sure you struggle to teach the same thing.

Everyday this place opens my eyes a little wider.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

First Reflections

Sorry for the lack of pictures guys, but internet here is really crazy and today is the first day that I've had time to write anyhow. Moscow is awesome, I've been here a week just about and already my russian has improved, especially my listening ability. Its wild how quickly the progress is coming, so I'm excited about that.

I take 6 different courses in school. Phonetics, Grammar, conversation practice, a cultural history course, covering music, economic geography, classical history, a video course (basically working on nuance), and then a contemporary culture course.
I take 2 or 3 of those courses a day for either 2 or 1 hours, however the russians have decided to do things. The concept of a syllabus is not only unheard of but hated by the russian teachers, so its sort of a surprise what we'll be learning everyday. anyhow, my favorite course has been the contemporary culture course. the professor's familia is Smi. He's a wise-cracking professor who seems to know more about american culture than the we ourselves know (Hegel would find this obvious i guess.) Anyhow, yesterday he says to us (in russian of course):" all american students are obssessed with these french philosophers now a days. The best living philosopher in the world though, is Noam Chomsky. His theory is wrong, but its stimulating, and thats why I like him the most." Note the lack of "in my opinion" or "according to this or that paper." The russian education system has no need for these qualifications, if the teacher thinks it, then it is. Anyhow, school has been great.

My host family has also been incredible. I live with Dmitri (Dima) Aleksandrovich and Alleona (Alla) Nikolaevna Pestova. They are both retired and live in an apartment near the Kolomenskoe Metro (for those of you with google maps). Its an incredible little apartment because Dima was a geologist for the state back in the day. He discovered an enormous gold deposit in ethopia and as a result spent a lot of time traveling all over the world for the CCCP. His apartment is now filled with african spears, huge taxodermied heads of african animals, massive collections of butterflies, rare rocks, etc. Its incredible.

He told me the other day that his father was a professional pianist, travelling the world to play russian classical music. As a result, when stalin came to power he suspected Dima's father of being a spy for the Japanese and had him killed. Dima was very young when this happened and in my opinion his unbelievable ability to play the piano stems directly from this loss. The first day of my stay with the Pestova's he brought me over to his piano and played jazz like I've never heard before. Alla told me, after he left for the dacha the other day, that what he really wanted to do with his life was create jazz music, but of course the state wouldn't let him. My guess is that he's about 82 and he plays jazz better than anyone i've seen live. He's watched the Ken Burns History of Jazz maybe ten times (with translation to russian of course), and he sat me down to watch a Glenn Miller movie just because it was his favorite. He knew all the words to the Chattanooga Choo Choo, probably without knowing their meaning.

obviously that has been an incredible experience so far, and its only been a few days living with them.

One quick story for the other side of the coin in russia. This morning Alla and I were talking about politics in russia and she asked me what americans think of russia and I was telling her that most americans had no idea about russians, and really only thought about Putin and the CCCP. We then got onto Medvedev and she said that a lot of people refer to Medvedev (in private of course) as LilliPutin. If that doesn't show you how intelligent these people are, i dont know what will.

Anyways, I'm going to have a lot of time this weekend to take some pictures, so there should be more to share soon enough.

доброе день и пока.


Monday, June 09, 2008

I thought I'd write a bit on my recent trip back into the wilds of southern Virginia. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to test myself for Alaska by tackling "the most difficult trail in Virginia," i.e. the Three Ridges Wilderness trail, a 16 mile loop partially along the Appalachian Trail which we picked up on the Tye River just west of Lovingston, VA. I had hiked this trail almost exactly four years ago so, given physical atrophy, I was somewhat anxious to determine if I could still handle it (this time with knee braces). Having decided to lighten the load just a little bit with the purchase of a nice new pack stove from Hudson Traders, we realized while gearing up trailside that we had bought the stove box only and left the actual stove on the store self: the best laid plans... Luckily I had brought along my older stove and a half canister of fuel. Fortunately, we were able to rely upon natural fire for most of our cooking anyway, but the coffee production tended to suffer, major disappointment for Paddy needless to say. Since we got a relatively late start, we didn't hit the trail until sunset, but had a 2.5 mile trek up a steep trail to our first camp, most of which was done in the dark. I have to say, after that first section I was questioning whether or not I'd survive the next day's hike, which included a 3000 ft elevation gain to the top of mountain. 
This is a pic of our first camp on the morning of Day 2 as we prepared to tackle the hike up.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Journey Begins

Well Ladies and Gents,
My journey to the motherland begins tomorrow. I'll be at a pre-departure orientation in DC of all places, and then Thursday morning lufthansa and I will get real snuggly for about half a day. I just found out my living situation in Russia. I'll be living with Alla Nikolaevna Pestova and her husband Dmitri (Dima). They are a retired couple living about 10 km south of the Kremlin, right next to the above picture. The place is called Kolomenskoe estate, among other things it is the former playground of Peter the Great's war games. Anyhow, I'll have much more to say (in english and russian) once I've left Chicago. More soon.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Simply stunning - beautifully structured and written arguments and an immensely informative text on not just World War One but a wide variety of cultural issues from the 1850s to 1945. Ekstein has attempted the most difficult of tasks facing the historian, i.e. to describe the cultural and social nuances of an age and explain how and why they change; and he succeeded brilliantly here. A single poignant event, such as a performance of the Ballet Russe in 1913 or the Unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914, becomes the point of departure for Ekstein's far-reaching discussions, as he attempts to explain how such an event was possible within the context of the time.

Just what kept men in the horrible conditions of the trench system of the Western Front for years? What sustained them on the edge of no-mans-land? What propelled them over the top? And what sustained them after it was all over? These are only a few of the central questions that occupy Ekstein. His answers, executed in brilliantly descriptive and readable prose, embrace a contextual totality rarely achieved in a manageable monograph.

It helps to have at least a basic understanding of World War One before reading Ekstein's text, but it is not absolutely necessary in order to appreciate the arguments he makes.

View all my reviews.

Friday, April 25, 2008

PaddyWop Heads to Russia!

It is with great excitement that I lead the PaddyWop charge to Moscow for two months this summer. I'll be studying russian language at Moscow International University and living in Moscow throughout June and July. If any of you have any recommendations, or want any souveniers, please let me know. I should be able to keep all updated via the blog.

Всего Вам Доброго!

Monday, April 14, 2008

People Arrested For...well, for dancing of course

As if we needed one more piece of evidence that Mr. Bush has turned the US into a police-state, this:

Monday, April 07, 2008

From the Buffalo News

Paddy chided me not too long ago as being anti nature with his tirade about technology invading the Iditorade(sp). I am not anti-nature. I hope this article from the Buffalo News strikes a note with you as it did with me.

Charity Vogel: Children have lost touch with nature

Driving down the road on a recent 50-degree day, I spotted the little girl out of the corner of my eye.

She was playing in a small streambed, hopping from rock to rock and bending down to look at water-logged leaves. A red scarf was tied jauntily over her shoulders; her hair was blowing in the breeze. In one hand, she held a stick aloft, an Excalibur.

My first thought was, that’s exactly the way I must have looked, a lot, when I was 10.

My second thought was sadder. Seeing the girl — so oblivious to the rest of the world, so caught up in her explorations — it struck me that the scene hit home precisely because you don’t see that sort of thing too much anymore.

In other words: Spring, in Western New York, has finally arrived.

Will the 12-year-olds in our midst even notice?

Maybe not. Childhood, these days, is a largely indoor event. From the time they wake in the predawn hours before school, to the long bus rides, to the classroom and homework grinds, kids today spend most of their time within four walls. In their free hours, they hunker down with a Nintendo Wii or PlayStation or surf the Web while texting friends.

They live in a smart and media-saturated world. It’s also an airless one.

This isn’t just about exercise and imaginative play, although those are certainly important aspects of what’s missing. This is about something deeper and more fundamental. It’s about our connection with the world around us.

Think back to the last time a kid told you about encountering wildlife, or finding a really cool leaf, or their favorite tree. Hardly ever happens, right? After they leave the preschool years, many children don’t seem to spend much time thinking about the organic world.

As a result, they lack a basic familiarity with nature — the kind that comes from spending long hours outside doing not too much, but learning everything.

Try this test: Find a preteen kid and ask a few basic questions about the outdoors. See if the kid can identify a tree. Or know which way is north, just from natural clues. Quiz the kid about which way geese fly, and when.

If you get a blank stare, don’t be surprised.

“They can identify the logo for Nike, but they don’t know where maple syrup comes from,” said Tim Smith, a Cheektowaga native who now lives in Michigan and writes kids’ nature books.

Smith said that when he talks to kids about natural phenomena — the habits of animals, for example, or how to find a good fishing spot — they get so excited they crowd around him.

There’s a hunger for this kind of knowledge in young people, one that all the Wiis in the world won’t change.

Of course, some may wonder why any of this matters in the first place. Why isn’t Animal Planet as good as watching a chipmunk in your backyard? Why does it matter if a kid chooses to squat on MySpace for three hours, rather than in a fort under a tree?

Maybe the answer is this simple: One of the first lessons of being human is that there’s an entire universe out there that is not about you — it’s far bigger and more remote than that, and it can’t be contained or controlled in any sort of tidy technological package.

That’s breathtaking, scary, humbling. Realizing it makes us better humans — the kind of people who can see beyond our own borders.

If you’re one of those who thinks the world could use a little more of that kind of perspective right now, here’s a hint: It doesn’t begin indoors.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A poem from an irish priest.......


Each Easter,
a new uprising
of the Spirit
of Christ,
up out of the silent
grave of our heart,
breathing deeper,
wanting a fuller life,
springing up out of
the cavity of our chest,
up higher to our lips,
and with breath
from our depths
we sing,

© Andy Costello,

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Alaskan Odyssey

I've tuned up me fiddle and rosined my bow
And I've sung o' the clans and the clear crystal fountains
I can tell you the road and the miles from Dundee
To the back of Alaska's wild mountains
And when all of my travelling is over
The next of the rovers will come
And he'll take all the songs and he'll sing them again
To the beat from a different drum
And if ever I'm asked why the Scots are beguiled
I'll lift up my glass in a health and I'll smile
And tell them that fortune dealt Scotland the wildest of cards
For the rovin' dies hard

Battlefield Band

Ok, so this is an open invitation to those wishing to work off those Nannys pints with a bit of outdoor adventure. Still pursuing a return-to-the-land agenda, I'm pushing on with the trip to Alaska this summer - and we have a few open spaces for a couple more bodies and backpacks. I expect to get out of Dodge (DC) by the last week of July and stay away as long as possible. The itinerary remains rather open, but we are seriously considering treks over the Resurrection Pass Trail (an appropriate Easter decision - Andrew Cusack will be pleased indeed) to Grizzly Bear Lake and the Iditarod Trail in Chugach State Park (I anticipate some fine trout dinners along the way). These will serve as primers for a run up to Denali and some back-country hiking.

Charles of Austria, Pray for Us!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Tech About to Ruin the Last Great Race?

I know that I risk sending C into convulsions with this one, but the addition of GPS devices on 19 sleds in this year's Iditarod signals the final step into corporate whoredom for one of the world's last down-to-earth races. The Iditarod already made the decent into corporate sponsorship years ago, but the addition of GPS devices will give up the secrets of the course and the remaining subtleties of musher strategy during the run. Now techie-racers, backed by the likes of IAMS and Cabelas, will pour over the data and  compute the race rather than figure it out by trial and error. Sleds will begin to look like Nascar shells. Faceless 'atheletes' backed by Nike and loaded with 'data' will make technical runs, pushing aside the quirky characters that made this race an archaic gem of an event. The Bert's of this world are forced even further to the periphery, further marginalized by the uber-competitive junkie with no connection to the land who simply wants to win one more 'extreme' event by any means possible. This is just one more example of capitalism (the competitive desire to attract viewers for revenue raising) ruining the mystique of a great tradition. The privately funded local sleds have already disappeared for the most part; how long will local and intimate knowledge of the trail or the strategic arcana of the mushers remain a crucial element of the race? Oh well, at least these 'promoters' haven't discovered the Yukon Quest - yet! 
Ok, full disclosure: I have to admit it's good fun to watch the live tracking. (At least the Alaskans are still outrunning the Norwegian.)