God Is My Broker

The Book of the Week is “God Is My Broker” by Brother Ty, with Christopher Buckley and John Tierney.  It is a very funny satire.  The story starts with a man who made sufficient money on “Wall Street” to retire at a young age.  However, a mid-life crisis caused him to try the lifestyle of a Trappist Monk.

While swearing off material possessions at the monastery, “Brother Ty” still had the urge to gamble.  So he let a line of text in a religious tract dictate his course of action in the stock market.   The way Brother Ty interpreted the text turned out to be contrarian to most other traders’ advice and actions, but turned out to be extremely lucrative for him.

The humor of this book emerges when the monastery and the monastery’s abbot are revealed to be just as dishonest as Wall Street.   The monastery raised money through selling wine that was falsely advertised, and the abbot built himself an entertainment center with the ill-gotten gains. Read the book to vicariously experience the hilarity that ensues.

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found

The Book of the Week is “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found” by Suketu Mehta, published in 2004.

The author is a fiction writer and journalist who grew up in Bombay and Jackson Heights, New York. He discusses in intimate detail, the culture of Bombay (now called Mumbai), a city of 14 million people. Mehta also examines the lives of several Bombayites living in extreme situations, including an organized-crime detective and “mob” members, a strip club dancer and a club patron, a partial transsexual, and a Jain. He graphically depicts the activities of people living in the Bombay slums, and his own reasons for moving back and forth between India and New York.

He writes, “…because your family misses you. It’s the reason I’ve gone back, been pulled back, again and again…What I found in most of my Bombay characters was freedom… Most of them don’t pay taxes, don’t fill out forms. They don’t stay in one place or in one relationship long enough to build up assets… Surviving in a modern country involves dealing with an immense amount of paper.”

Mehta is torn between New York, in a country with modern conveniences (but with paperwork and financial worries) and Bombay, where his family lives (but with the stresses of simple survival– its poor or nonexistent sanitation, and rampant corruption that obstructs the attainment of even basic services, such as water and electricity.)

The extreme contrasts were interesting.

Bonus Post

I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:

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Thank you.

Confessions of A Raving, Unconfined Nut

The Book of the Week is “Confessions of A Raving, Unconfined Nut:  Misadventures in Counter-Culture” by Paul Krassner, published in 1994.  Paul Krassner was a radical in the 1960’s, in Abbie Hoffman’s crowd.   He wrote that when radicals are bored, they start a magazine.  Hence, at the end of the 1950’s, he founded the publication “The Realist,” consisting of “social-political-religious criticism and satire.”

True to the title of his book, he was also quite the irreverent smartass.  On one occasion, when his significant other hid a marijuana cigarette in a bodily orifice of hers so as not to be charged with possession in a police raid, he could not resist remarking, “What’s a nice joint like that doing in a girl like you?”

Krassner confesses that his divorce was due to his unfaithfulness.  He describes an episode of “quality time” with his 15-year old daughter in South America, where they participated in a drug trip they perceived to be mind-enhancing, in a controlled environment with a group.

Krassner discusses his and other counter-culture members’ anti-war activities, including burning (illegal) photocopies of his draft card at numerous protests on college campuses across the nation.

This book provides an entertaining, informative introduction to the societal outliers of the 1960’s.

Crossing the River

The Book of the Week is “Crossing the River” by Victor Grossman, published in 2003.

This autobiography tells how an American defected to East Germany during the Korean War. A very unusual story, indeed. He was brainwashed by both his parents, intellectual Communists, in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

He tried to rationalize his penchant for suffering by saying that the cruel and unusual goings-on in the US actually provided a worse way for people to live, than the East Germans did. In the early 1950’s, the McCarthy era was in full swing, the US had ousted the leader of Guatemala in a bloody affair, and instigated another shameful coup in Iran; there was the ugliness at Peekskill, there was still segregation; besides, the Soviets had helped defeat Germany. Comrade Stalin was a god, to the Communists.

The author argues that in 1960, the quality of life wasn’t so bad in East Germany. Yes, there were severe food shortages, but everyone’s medical care was paid for, and everyone had a job or was provided with necessities for survival, and assistance for finding a job, according to his own need. Of course, the people also spent needless hours every day manually washing clothes and dishes, lighting a fire in the pot-bellied stove, and patiently waiting for unreliable public transportation, or hoofing it, because they couldn’t afford a car.

In the early 1960’s, the East Germans kept trying to attack the integrity of the Federal Republic (of West Germany) (with good reason) by publicizing the fact that a large number of ex-Nazis (who had committed unspeakable war crimes) were working in civil service– as judges, even(!) and in the West’s armed forces. It was somewhat alarming that so many Nazis were helping Germany to re-arm, and becoming a pivotal force in NATO.

In the late 1980s, the East German leaders staged a few media incidents, trying to continue to isolate the “German Democratic Republic” (the misnomer that was East Germany) clinging to power, believing that only they could be keepers of the flame. The East Germans, like the Chinese, were into self-criticism circles. They had “tutors”, who bullied doubters and discouraged free-thinkers, cutting them down with questions such as, “Are you questioning the collective judgment of experienced Marxist leaders, able to assess factors far better than any individual? Could you be more correct than they are?”

It was a traumatic time for the author when Khrushchev revealed Stalin’s crimes in the mid 1950’s. But the author continued to rationalize that his adopted homeland was still a better place to live than imperialist America. It’s an excellent book anyway.

Ms. Moffett’s First Year

The Book of the Week is “Ms. Moffett’s First Year”, by Abby Goodnough, published in 2006. This book raised many controversial education issues, ranging from special education to the curriculum, to the extent to which a teacher should have a relationship with a student.

The story focuses on one Fellow’s trials and tribulations in her first year of teaching. It was the first year of the Fellowship Program (the 2000-2001 academic year), which offered a tuition-free master’s degree (night school), with limitations and restrictions for those accepted. Established teachers were resentful of this perk that new teachers got. Some were still paying off their student loans.

The 40-something Ms. Moffett quit her job as a legal secretary to seek fulfillment changing young lives as a Fellow. She was assigned a class of about 20 first graders at P.S. 92 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a depressed immigrant neighborhood.

There had been federally mandated teaching reforms instituted that year. States received education grant money for buying into various teaching methods, such as “Success For All”. New York liked that method because it had worked for other school districts, and it was tailored for inexperienced teachers. Success For All provided the teacher with a script she was to read verbatim, and the same textbooks for all the city’s schools. The teacher had a pre-fabricated lesson she need not lift a finger planning for.

Throughout the year, several different school administrators observed Ms. Moffett’s teaching. Sometimes she was given contradictory information about what to do in certain situations. In one incident, one student had a strong urge to continue writing a composition when the schedule called for a different subject to be taught.

One administrator criticized Ms. Moffett for letting that student continue to write, and said she should force the student to stop writing– assert her authority. Another administrator told Ms. Moffett it was okay to allow the student to continue writing, as it was so difficult to get students to focus on a particular activity, and this might boost the student’s self esteem.

Ms. Moffett often fell behind the strict schedule dictated by educrats, trying to get the students to behave. Unluckily, she was assigned more unruly students than was usual for a class such as hers. There were about 4 or 5 who could not sit still, had the attention span of flies, and could not learn.

For the first month of school, one student’s parent had to stay in the classroom, lest the student throw a temper tantrum if the parent left her. A few of the kids truly needed special education. However, it was extremely expensive to create a special education class just for these students. Keeping them in a regular class was also expensive– in terms of teaching time taken away from the other students.

Ms. Moffett put in requests to have these students tested for learning disabilities, but her requests were ignored. Instead, by the middle of the year, the students had either moved away, or been transferred to other classes or other schools. Ms. Moffett then got three new students in exchange, who could learn and were well-behaved. This changed the whole dynamic of the classroom. The learning environment was much improved.

School administrators severely criticized Ms. Moffett’s ways in their evaluations, fearing a cutoff of funding from the State Education Department if the school did not follow the standards and practices set by the Department. On the day Department inspectors were to visit P.S. 92, the administrators went into Ms. Moffett’s classroom and pressured her to re-decorate the classroom bulletin boards with student work that would be acceptable to the inspectors. Sometimes teachers even doctored students’ work to make it appear that the students were learning more than they really were.

Deprivation was a major characteristic of many of the students’ home lives. They didn’t get enough attention, enough to eat, enough care in general. Ms. Moffett, an idealist, had a strong desire to help improve the quality of the children’s lives. She did so with one particular child. The school strongly advised against getting involved with children outside of school, not just because there were liability issues.  It was unfair to favor one child, when so many others were just as needy of individual attention and did not get it.

Ms. Moffett survived her first year teaching. Despite all of the negative feedback she received from her evaluators, and all the stress she had to endure, she realized that teaching was fulfilling to her. Read the book to find out what happened.

Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality

The Book of the Week is “Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality” by Glenn C. Ellenbogen, published in 1987.  This book contains a series of satirical/humorous articles and features on psychology.  One feature is “A Comprehensive Exam for Students in Introductory Psychology.”

The third question is, “Based on your knowledge of RNA and DNA, create human life.  Then clone 40 sets of identical twins and conduct a behavioral genetics experiment that puts the nature versus nurture question to rest, once and for all.”

The sixth question is, “Estimate the statistical problems which might accompany the end of the world.  Construct an experiment to test your theory.  Use the .05 level of significance.”

Even though this book was written by a PhD, it is good comic relief for laypeople.

Who’s Teaching Your Children?

The Book of the Week is “Who’s Teaching Your Children?” by Vivian Troen and Katherine C. Boles, published in 2003.

This book describes the ominous future of education in the United States.  There is a dire teacher shortage which is slated only to get worse.  A vicious cycle accounts for this trend.  The authors ask, is it not a contradiction that parents demand quality teachers in their children’s schools but discourage their children from becoming teachers?

A large percentage of graduates who enter the teaching profession are not good students.  The ones who are, take more lucrative, rewarding jobs.  The teachers-to-be receive poor training.  For the most part, during their careers, they are underpaid and underappreciated.  No wonder the good students enter fields other than education.

Many teacher-training schools are for-profit institutions that need to fill seats to stay in business.  Therefore, in order to attract customers (graduates) they need to make obtaining teaching certification sufficiently easy.  “Grade inflation” (awarding higher grades than customers truly deserve in order to pass some customers who would otherwise fail) is one way they do so.

The authors present a scenario of their imagination, named, “The Millennium School.”  It is an elementary school that doubles as a teacher-training school, with a structure completely different from the usual American school’s.  It would be a small school with small classes, consisting of chief instructors “who supervise professional teachers, who supervise the teachers and associate teachers, who participate in supervising interns and instructional aides.”

Everyone on the team would be accountable for each child’s success or failure. The personnel would conduct classes and hold meetings as teams.  The school would be linked to a college, which would allow the teacher-trainees to fulfill the student-teaching component of their training, in teams.

I think the authors make exaggerated claims of such a school’s possible success, although it is a nice idea.  I like the team-teaching part.  However, the whole point is that power is distributed among many educators– they are supposed to cooperate, share ideas, and be rewarded with higher pay, more responsibilities and supervisory duties when they display an interest in advancing their careers. However, to me, this smacks of a corporate ladder.  Human nature is such that the ladder would spur competition rather than cooperation.  That would defeat the whole goal.

In addition, a school is a different sort of entity because it is funded by taxpayers. The kinds of operations a private company might fund for itself would not be possible for a school, due to a limited budget. There is an exception to this situation– in certain areas of this country, schools receive private monies from wealthy donors, making distribution of resources hugely uneven among schools.  As for the well-endowed schools, the funders are not educators, so they may have misguided notions of where to spend their money.  The money might go toward additional standardized testing, resources that reward corporate partners and activities relating to public relations, rather than toward real improvement in education quality.

Further, the government supervises the school, so there are politics from above and within.  The authors acknowledge the Millennium School model would necessarily be more expensive, but they argue that this model would eliminate many non-teaching positions, such as “curriculum coordinators, staff developers, teaching coaches,” etc. The resulting reduced payroll expenses would compensate for the raises received by the teachers and supervisors.

I think raises in pay would be extremely controversial– who would receive how much.  Theoretically, employees who acquired additional experience would deserve more pay.  However, the expedient way to measure the increase in education quality due to that increased experience, would probably be through standardized tests– another extremely controversial aspect of teaching.

I would suggest that various criteria be used to determine additional compensation for supervisors and teachers, that could include tests, as well as qualitative evaluations of supervisors, completed by teachers and trainees, and interviews with students.  Although I give them an “A” for effort, the authors present too simplified a model of the ideal school.

This is an informative, yet depressing book.

60s

The Book of the Week is “60s!”– a book of pop cultural trivia, compiled by John and Gordon Javna, published in 1983.  Mostly happy topics are covered, such as American hobbies, cars, entertainment, and a bit of politics and drugs.  The book is visually appealing because it has plenty of black and white photos that show the youthful, revolutionary spirit of the era.  Interesting bits of trivia are interspersed with lists of things you didn’t know, and the decade’s “top tens” of each year.

In 1969, the 56-year old Richard Nixon received a father’s day gift of an inscribed surfboard from his daughters. He never used it.

Ford Motor Company had an electric car in the works, as car pollution was a concern.

Americans were wild about outer space, beauty contests, TV dinners, TV, secret agents, spies, comic books, The Beatles, rock and roll, monsters and trading cards.

New products included disposable diapers, fast typewriters, ready-to-eat cereals and prepared foods.

The Kennedy family was all the rage.  John aroused a national interest in reading, physical fitness, idealism, intellectualism, sex, youth, rocking chairs and antiques. He and Jackie were stylish, rich and glamorous.

One 60’s-era relic we consider ridiculous today– fallout shelters.

Some concepts became obsolete, such as the milkman and the rotary dial phone.

The 2000’s have ushered in a whole new slew of youthful, revolutionary pop cultural icons and sources of amusement.  Three decades from now, the current teenage generation will laugh at them.  Time will have rewritten every line.