Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ramona, Ramona

This morning--English department meeting--I was told that our principal had made a suggestion. Perhaps we should drop Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, a novel that many of our juniors have trouble reading, and replace it with something else.

With what? asked our department head. Well, proposed the principal, what about Ramona, by Helen Hunt Jackson? Then the kids could learn California history.

Oh dear.

Ramona, for those of you not in the know, is a tearjerker romance from the nineteenth century, set in Southern California, which chronicles the doomed love of Alessandro, a brave young Indian, and Ramona, a Scots-Indian orphan who abandons her white privilege to run away with Alessandro and live with him in the wilderness.

It was written as a political novel, a denunciation of the mistreatment of Native Americans. It has a certain amount of political cachet: Jose Marti liked it! Marti wrote: “Ramona is a second Uncle Tom’s Cabin. . . . The arrogant mestiza whose attachment to her Indian lover endures through persecution and death . . . and the desperate love they share until the vanquishing blond race casts them out like hunted animals . . . all this is alive in these pages.”

It survived as a romance. Well into the mid-twentieth century it was a beloved love story--the Balabusta's grandmother was a passionate fan.

A great American novel it is not. A replacement for The Scarlet Letter it is not. You could convince me to toss The Scarlet Letter. But not for Ramona.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Last night, the drama club at St. Dymphna's presented 'Scapino', and I was there.

'Scapino' is a cute little commedia dell'arte piece, which the kids put heart and soul and a lot of ham into. Plates of spaghetti get thrown. People get beaten up with salamis. There are not one, but two families consisting of elderly misers, sons who have married inappropriate gypsy girls, and long-lost daughters who vanished in their infancy. (Three guesses how all this is resolved. You really need three?)

I'm impressed with the kids, as always. The boy who played one of the fathers was especially good--he really managed to pull off playing a cranky old man, which is something of a feat for a seventeen-year-old boy. They put a lot into their performances, and obviously work very hard. And they finished with a dance number to "Mambo Italiano", following which they pulled their director (our drama teacher) up on stage and danced to one of their own dance hits with her. It was all very cute.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Happy Euro-American Heritage Month!

Oh, you didn't know that October is Euro-American Heritage Month? Well, neither did I. Until this year, that is, when I got involved with organizing the Breast Cancer Awareness event at St. Dymphna's, and discovered we were competing not only with Homecoming Week, but also with Euro-American Heritage Month.

(For some reason, just typing "Euro-American Heritage Month" makes me want to burst into "National Brotherhood Week", but I'll try to resist.)

I assumed this was something the campus student activities guy had made up. "Come on, Mr. Gunewald, you're making that up," I said.

"No, it's real," he protested. To prove it, he pulled up Google, and googled "Euro-American Heritage Month". Some hits came up. "See!" he said, pointing to one.

"Mr. Grunewald," I said, "that's Stormfront."

"No, it's real!" He found other sites that were not Stormfront. It's real. What can I say?

So what do you do to celebrate Euro-American Heritage Month? I asked Mr. Grunewald. "Should we all show up in Ukrainian folk-dance costumes?" I asked.

"Do you have one?" he asked eagerly. Note to self. Do not be cute with Mr. Grunewald. We're having a long lunch to celebrate Euro-Americanness later in the month, and he's hired a bagpiper for the event. The French club is selling baked goods. And...

Every morning on the announcements they read the Euro-American fun fact of the day. This is what finally got me in trouble with Mr. Grunewald. I was supposed to get on the microphone before lunch and remind the kids about the Breast Cancer Awareness Moment of Silence on the law--what St. Dymphna's calls the Holy Grass--at the end of lunch. As I headed out to do that, Mr. Grunewald intercepted me. "You need to read about the fish and chips too," he panted.

"The fish and chips?"

"They read the wrong Euro-American fact this morning! It was right on the bulletin! We're having fish and chips in the cafeteria for lunch! They were supposed to read about the fish and chips!"

I check the bulletin. Sure enough, there is a while paragraph about fish and chips. Did you know that fried fish came to England with Portuguese Jews? (That I knew.) Did you know that Charles Dickens mentions fried fish sellers? Did you know that fish and chips are served in England wrapped in newspaper? Now you know.

I headed for the microphone, and ran into our dean, Mr. Lucas. "Should I read about the fish and chips before or after breast cancer?" I asked him.

"Fish and chips?" Mr. Lucas bellows.

"It was supposed to be the Euro-American fun fact. They're serving fish and chips in the cafeteria."

"NO WAY! No more announcements! They already say we have too many announcements! Besides, they READ a Euro-American fun fact."

"It was the wrong one."


So we didn't read about the fish and chips. We read about the Breast Cancer Awareness event, and I skedaddled back to get my study hall reassembled.

And ran into Mr. Grunewald. "What about the fish and chips?" he wailed.

I can't wait for the bagpiper.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why Does Shmuley Do This To Me?

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the Kosher Sex Rabbi himself, is going to release a book about Michael Jackson. Now he's just doing this on purpose.

Seriously. Are there a lot of people out there who are just dying to read a book by Shmuley Boteach about Michael Jackson's 'life, views on celebrity and what motivated him'?

Actually, there probably are. I'm just baffled as to who they are, and what their other problems might be.

I also think that Rabbi Shmuley is doing this just to get back at Madonna. He's always disliked Madonna, in part because of the Kabbalah Center thing, which I can understand, but also, not too subtly, because she's an overtly confidently sexual woman who doesn't need him to explain the facts of life. And apparently Michael had some snide little things to say about how Madonna was in love with him, and also jealous because he got more adulation than her.

Here's my question. Rabbi Shmuley calls Madonna 'vulgar', and criticizes her for 'simulating sex' and kissing Britney Spears (why Madonna is not allowed to kiss Britney remains unclear). How in the Lord's name does the Kosher Sex Rabbi hope to write an even slightly positive book about a man whose sex life was at best dysfunctional, and probably criminal, predatory, and really much more problematic than kissing Britney Spears or being naked in a movie? Let's get real.

It's Raining, It's Pouring

I completely soaked my socks and shoes getting to work this morning. I'm now in my off block, trying to dry out the socks on the radiator. We'll see.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Gary Bauer Can Interpret Scripture to His Own Devices

In regards to Barack Obama's use of scripture, Gary Bauer writes:

"For example, Obama has referenced the Sermon on the Mount in support of special rights for homosexuals, despite the Scriptures’ clear support of marriage between one man and one woman and its admonitions to celebrate sex inside the married relationship only."

Scripture does clearly support marriage between one man and one woman, and admonish us to celebrate sex inside the married relationship only. I am sure that my ancestor Yaakov, and his wife Leah, and his wife Rakhel, and his concubine Zilpah, and his concubine Bilhah would all be very concerned to hear how the President is misinterpreting Scripture.