Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spaghetti Tonight

For seder night, my parents and I went to the San Francisco JCC. It was pleasant, they have a wonderful new haggadah. Fewer kids than usual, but still pleasant.

Then I went home, and got hit with the Great Matzah Shortage of 2008.

Haven't heard about the Great Matzah Shortage? Lucky you. I didn't do shopping before the holiday, due to insane work pressure, but when I dashed by the store to get a couple boxes of matzah, all that was left were Moonstrips, prominently labeled Not For Passover Use.

What to do?

I'm not sure why we're having a matzah shortage, even after reading the press about it, but let me tell you, it's not fun. Coworkers of Mrs. Bluejeans reported driving to Campbell and various such locations to find boxes of the cardboard carboliciousness. Me? I lived on potatoes for much of the week.

Went for dinner at my parents' last night, and was rewarded with matzah, which I am eating for breakfast with's sort of cool to still love the taste right at the end of the holiday.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Strange Tale of Melanie Bowers.

OK, I read wayyyyyy too much right-wing drivel online,especially LGF and Michelle Malkin. That is how I find random stuff like the tale of Melanie Bowers.

Melanie is the kid in Athens, Texas, who was asked to create a political protest sign for a social studies class. She brought one in that said "If you love our nation, stop illegal immigration".

So far, so good, not my cup of tea, but certainly a reasonable protest sign. Then, she claimed, she was surrounded in the hallway by upset, presumably Latino classmates, assaulted, scratched, had her face slammed into a brick wall, and had the poster snatched from her. She said the boys involved threatened to gang-rape and kill her. She said she was ordered back to class and not allowed to call her parents. Three kids were put into in-house suspension.

Problem is that the school has surveillence tape running, and they've now reviewed it and discovered Melanie inflicting injuries on herself, scratching her arms. The whole thing seems to have been a fake. The local authorities are charging her, and the parents seem to agree that the kid filed a false report.

Various anti-immigration blogs and such have taken this in various ways. Most seem relieved that the hoax was discovered, many are concerned that this will prevent future such attacks from being taken seriously (and they're clearly expecting lots), and some just can't seem to realize where fault lies here. My personal favorite guy posted to

I have to agree with your comment. I don’t think this girl is anti-hispanic per se, but is simply feeling overwhelmed by the radical cultural imposition occuring, as a result of these selfish/parasitic invaders. I don’t agree with what she did, but I totally understand her frustration/desperation.

Can you imagine what this guy would say to a left-winger using language like that? 'Radical cultural imposition'? That sounds like something I had to read for class in college. Hoo boy.

As a teacher, though, I have to say that my question is, what is going on with this girl? Did she want attention? Did the parents set this up? (The parents were, understandably mad as hell at the initial report, but seem to have accepted the new evidence.) Why does a kid do a thing like this?

Of course, figuring out why a teenager does anything can be a tricky matter. One of my own students, rebounding from a bad breakup, recently told all the girls on campus that her ex-boyfriend had gotten her pregnant and now wouldn't talk to her, she was going the next day to get an abortion, and she also had a heart murmur and a tumor. The ex was nearly lynched by angry fifteen-year-old girls. The doctor's appointment the next day, when we called home, turned out to be for tooth cleaning, and no heart murmur or tumor were recalled by her mother. Where does a kid get ideas like this? (Telenovelas is my best guess.)

What I'm wondering is if she expected/wanted to be a martyr. One thing I notice about my right-wing sites is the expectation that teachers will punish right-wing students, blatantly give them Fs on assignments that don't align to the teacher's political views, etc. I wonder if the teacher looked at the poster, said, "Very neat work, Melanie, good research, A-," and some kid said "You're a racist," and the teacher said "Remember, we weren't going to judge people's causes," and life moved on, except for some hostility from other thirteen-year-old kids. Was this not what she/her parents had planned? Did she need to get the TV cameras rolling some way or other?

I don't know, and I don't know if this kid needs therapy, or to be grounded for a year and a half, or to live with her aunt. I have no way of knowing. Somehow, the whole thing just struck me as weird, and worrisome. I'm really thankful they had tape rolling.

Louis Calabro Lives!

I realize this means nothing to almost everyone out there. But, well, Louis Calabro was a figure on the San Francisco oddball activist stage for a while, protecting the rights of European-Americans everywhere against illegal immigration and the racist editors of Asian Week. (Asian Week's big crime seemed to be that they wrote a lot about Asian people.)

Louis' exploits were mighty--I especially liked the time he showed up at a fake pro-gentrification rally secretly organized by the San Francisco Weekly--no, it doesn't make much more sense if you know the story--to remind us all that gentrification is code for 'no European-Americans allowed'.

He vanished from local activities a while back. I didn't know where he had gone. But I just found him again, posting at

Good to know that you're still out there, Louis. Keep on truckin'.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Rice is Nice

Many years ago, the Balabusta was eating lunch in Chinatown with some friends from high school, when one of her old high school friends-of-a-friend asked why she always ordered vegetarian. It interested him, you see, because for most of my Chinese high school buddies, being a vegetarian was something for old people, who had gotten to an age to be serious Buddhists. It seemed odd for a twenty-something.

So I explained kashrut, and because he was interested we kept talking, and eventually we got to Pesach. At first, my friend seemed to think it wasn't such a big deal. "So you can't have bread for a week?" he asked. "OK, so just cook things to eat with rice."

I had to explain, and his tolerance was at an end. "Chinese people couldn't do that," he explained simply, shaking his head. "It wouldn't work."

I suppose Chinese Jews never had to face the kitniyot thing, anyway, since I think the Chinese community was originally Persian, and would have followed that minhag.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Absolutly Silly

Michelle Malkin's crowd is going absolutly berserk over this ad.

For those of you who may not be sure what you're looking at, it shows a map of North and Central America drawn as though the Gadsden Purchase and the land ceded by the the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had remained part of Mexico. The text is "In An Absolut World". As far as I can tell, the attachment of the term reconquista to this is simply something wingnut commentators have dreamed up.

Over on Malkin's site, and many another spot, people are swearing never to drink Absolut again--and some of them have discovered to their horror just how many alcohol brands are owned by Absolut's overlords--and some of them are getting pretty hot under the collar about all this.

One of her readers writes:

Absolut -

I run a bar in Pt. Richmond, California - where the Kaiser Liberty Ships were built during WWII. After seeing your ad Campaign where you show a western map of the United States in which California is part of Mexico again, I’ve decided to do the following…

1) Never carry Absolut. Ever.
2) Lower the price of Ketel One vodka to $2 a shot indefinitely to build loyalty.
3) Print a copy of your ad and put it above the Ketel One drink special.
4) Tell all my friends and family what Absolut thinks of the United States of America and our right to enforce border laws.

I am on the front line of illegal immigration and its effects. Where are you? Oh yes, Sweden.
Good riddance.


Matthew Rogers
Pt. Richmond, Ca.

Huh. I looked at the ad, and my first reaction was laughter. I thought it was cute. Some notes:

1. This is obviously a fantasy, not a blueprint for land appropriation.

2. I am also a resident of New Spain, in fact I am a neighbor of Mr. Roger's, and I don't feel that I'm on the 'front lines' of anything. Border control is an ongoing concern for the U.S., and for California, but this is not about border control.

3. This is also not about illegal immigration.

4. Oh, lighten up, amigo.

5. PS, my grandmother worked at Point Richmond during the war. I see your bar and raise you.

Now, Michelle asks what Absolut drinkers would feel about this ad:

Some differences, Michelle:

1. A number of powerful nations are, and have been, working for years to make something like this a reality. Mexico has no intention of trying to take back Texas and Alta California.

2. No, crazies on the radio in LA don't count as "Mexico". They also don't have an army.

3. No, illegal border-jumpers trying to find work don't count as an invasion. Even the tiny percentage of them who are really bad dudes don't count as an invasion.

4. As a Jew, the Absolut Palestine map scares the hell out of me. As an Anglo Alta-Californian, the Absolut Mexico map makes me chuckle. That's the difference.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

I love the kids at Moonbat, but teaching them is HAARRRRRD.

Problem #1: They are not sufficiently prepared for high school English. This is difficult, because English is cumulative. The kids mostly don't know how to use an apostrophe correctly. They cannot spell. They tend to forget to capitalize the word 'i'. Stuff like that. They also tend to write as though they are texting. (WTF? IDK.) They are poor readers. The average among them is about ready for the sixth grade. Don't you DARE start talking about differentiation and tiered assignments. It's just dang hard to teach the CALIFORNIA STATE STANDARDS (reverential music here), when the kids have skills several years behind grade level.

Problem #2: The kids are not interested, for the most part, in catching up. They refuse to read outside of class, either out of fear or disinterest. They don't do homework, and many don't do classwork. They talk in class--I mean they have loud, conversations in class while I am at the blackboard lecturing, and then express anger when they are sent out of the room. When we discuss the poor grades they're getting with them, they become combative and tell us that if we were better teachers this wouldn't be happening.

Problem #3: The administration keeps trying to find ways to deal with this. For a while, it was school policy that every time a kid didn't hand in a homework assignment, you called the parents. That night. I have fifty-seven kids I work with on a daily basis. That could mean anything from fifteen to thirty calls a night. The administration offered to help, but that hardly seemed like the POINT to me. I know we're supposed to be willing to go the extra mile to help our students succeed, but this seems to me like the extra MARATHON. Now we have a new policy, where we just have to call the parents in our homeroom every week. Now this is only twenty calls, but we're supposed to get the parent on the phone--no just leaving a quick message--and go over all grades in all classes.

I have to have mine done by Tuesday. It's Shabbos, and I've made contact with ONE parent. Of course, one night we had a school board meeting until eight, and the next we had a staff meeting until six thirty, and I actually have a home, and then I had food poisoning. No matter. I am letting the side down.

The homework is online. The grades are online. The ed director says we have to act like parents to the kids. They HAVE parents. I am fed up.

Problem #4: The administrations keeps trying to help me, but they don't want to let me teach the way I think I need to here. They keep telling me to teach to a high standard, and the kids keep failing, and I don't agree exactly that this is the way to do it.

So I wonder--do I really want to do this next year? Why would I? Well...

#1: I love the kids. And they need help, they really do. The kids at Moonbat are a weird bunch. They brag on being from the ghetto, but for the most part, they're from struggling middle-class families, with employed parents and money for designer jeans, iPods, fancy cell phones, trendy shoes and the like. Most of them aren't old enough to work for this stuff either, it's bought by family members for them. But they don't have much ambition at all, they're materialistic without having a clear idea how you get money for such things. They don't know what they need to do to survive. They don't have a broad cultural perspective--the world consists of teen culture, and nothing beyond. The best story I heard was from another teacher who has been organizing a career fair. She was going over how you dress for an interview:

SHE: So how will you dress when you go to this interview you've lined up?
KID: I'm gonna wear my Gaultiers, and my new Nikes.
SHE: Think again. You don't wear jeans and running shoes to an interview.
KID: They can't tell me how to dress!
SHE: No, they can't, but you won't get the job.
KID: Oh yes I will! (Tosses head.)

They need to learn to succeed. THey need to learn to live in the real world, not the one on MySpace. And I would love to see them do that, because they really are so darn cute and smart and worthwhile when they bother.

#2: Less amazing, but real. I don't want to job hunt again. I really, truly, OMG, do not want to job hunt and start over at a whole new place again. It's too hard. I want some stability. I'm turning thirty-five. I'm sick of starting over, and starting over...

#3: I want to see the school succeed. I really do. I want to see it grow and flourish, and turn into what we all envisioned at the beginning of the year--or at least something else worth the struggle we've put into it.

So, what to do?

IF I teach English again, it needs to be tiered in the way that the math program has been. We need to test the kids on basics, and if they don't pass, they go into Save-Your-Tuchis English 101. Lots of grammar, vocab, spelling, short stories.

I would prefer not to teach English. I could teach history OK. They don't get that either, but it's less amorphous and the standards are less based on previous accomplishement. (You can teach a lesson on the causes of World War Two even if they didn't understand about the city-states of Greece, for example.)

There might be an opening to teach a study skills class. I could do that.

I'm also going to apply for a few jobs, and see what happens.

I'm so tired, and so stressed, and my stupid credential needs clearing.


There is a squirrel on the roof. Or maybe a crow.

I can hear it clomping around, and repeatedly dropping some sort of food or nesting item.

One morning I was horribly started when a crow thunked down on the bathroom skylight. Suddenly there was a noise, and the light went dim, and when I looked up, there were two crow feet, comfortably resting overhead.

It's spring, and the wildlife of El Cerrito is doing its thing. Many squirrels and crows, various birds, etc.

The ducks are back in the creek. There is a bitty creekbed that runs down the Ohlone Greenway, and there is a pair of mallards that show up annually to hatch out new ducks. I don't think they've laid the eggs yet, since the girl duck is still paddling around alongside her mate. Once the eggs are in the nest, she usually disappears for most of the rest of the spring, and we only see him, standing guard on the bank and looking noble and mildly stressed out.