Sad Post

This message is for my Facebook friends:

Dear Facebook Friends,

I received the following email from Facebook:

“We have detected that your Facebook account is infected with a form of malware, or virus, called Koobface. You downloaded the virus after receiving a message from a friend, which invited you to view a video.”

I had not received any messages inviting me to view any videos. Regardless, FB then required me to take a quiz that was impossible to pass (to prove I was me), in order for me to log into my account again.

I have therefore decided to quit FB altogether.

You will be receiving personal messages from me via emails or through your websites.

If you wish to contact me, please leave comments here. I have been unable to receive all personal messages through FB in the past 2 days. If you have sent me any, please resend them through commenting here. Thank you very much. I am going to miss your posts.



Walking on Walnuts

The Book of the Week is “Walking on Walnuts” by Nancy Ring, published in 1997.  This book is the career memoir of a pastry chef in New York City.  Ms. Ring discusses the uncertainty surrounding the fiercely competitive restaurant business in New York, and thus the attendant job insecurity of a pastry chef.  She discusses the details of the job– long hours, difficult bosses, hard work, and a hilarious episode in which The Fig Tree restaurant personnel were tipped off that a very influential restaurant reviewer, one Bette Brown, was to visit one night.

A woman fitting the reviewer’s description entered the eatery with her entourage.  She proceeded to complain about a draft at her table, then when moved, about being too close to the waiter’s station.  The bread basket caught fire from a candle on the table…  You can see where this is going– a long series of further mishaps, complaint-fodder for the fussy diner, “… who sarcastically asked Liz [the waitress] if she had graduated from high school.” Ms. Ring, who was also a waitress there at the time, witnessed Liz’s feisty temper flare as she finally told off the customer.

The supposed Ms. Brown confronted Carl, the restaurant owner, who, at the bar, was “… busy crying into his fourth double bourbon.” With the ‘don’t-you-know-who-I-am’ speech, she told off Carl, telling him her name.  It was not Bette Brown.  Carl was extremely relieved.  A good dining experience was had by the actual Bette Brown, who had been there earlier that evening.

This book contains not only entertaining anecdotes, but recipes, too.

Bang the Keys

The Book of the Week is “Bang the Keys” by Jill Dearman, published in 2009.  This book tells writers how to identify the kind of writer they are, set goals and deadlines, find a writing partner, use writing journals, meditate, identify the type of story right for them and improve their writing through advice, exercises and sources of additional readings.

This book’s author is a writing instructor and a published writer herself. It has been her practice to pair up writers in her classes so that one serves as morale booster and advisor to the other.

Computers have changed the way writers write.  She cites Lee Siegel’s book, “Against the Machine:  Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” commenting that “Essentially, we are fast becoming a mean-spirited race of superficial idiots who are disconnected from each other and from ourselves, and can no long distinguish between gossip and news!”

Needless to say, finishing a piece of writing requires discipline.  Many modern writers become easily distracted by texting, emailing and surfing.  The author gives tips on marking goals on the calendar, setting aside writing time and imagining the kind of counsel one’s own favorite author would give about how to proceed and commit to a project.

The author provides a mnemonic device (P.L.O.T.W.I.C.H) to remind writers how to develop a strong plot:  Premise, Links, Obstacles, Transformation, Wants, Impediments, Conflict and Heat.  Overall, she discusses a general plan for writers denoted by the acronym B.A.N.G.:  Begin, Arrange, Nurture and Go. This is why she says, “Bang the Keys.”

Guilty Pleasures

The Book of the Week is “Guilty Pleasures” by Donald Barthelme, published in 1974; publisher – Farrar Straus and Giroux.  This is a collection of humorous essays.

In one essay, the author presents a whimsical scenario in which Amanda encounters her friend Hector playing all manner of board games simultaneously. He says, “…On the floor.  It was my move.  When I play alone, it is always my move.  That is reasonable.”  He tells Amanda that everyone is playing these games, including businessmen, military men and scientists. Amanda says she is tired of playing games.

Hector renews her enthusiasm by musing on various hypothetical games such as Contretemps, the Game of Social Embarrassment, and Hubris. He engages her in the verbal Game of Deathbed Utterances. She thinks the games are “marvelous… because they are so meaningless and boring, and trivial. These qualities, once regarded as less than desirable, are now everywhere enthroned as the key elements in our psychological lives, as reflected in the art of the period… ”

Then comes the title of this essay, “Games Are the Enemies of Beauty, Truth, and Sleep, Amanda Said.” Hector describes one last game, that of Ennui.  It requires “… No rules, no boards, no equipment… the absence of games… the modern world at its most vulnerable.”

Saving Schools

The Book of the Week is “Saving Schools” by Paul E. Peterson, published in 2010.  This book tells the history of education in the United States.  It presents some inconvenient facts many politicians and even education “professionals” do not want to acknowledge.

Sociologist James Coleman did extensive longitudinal studies on thousands of students in the early 1960’s.  He found that “within regions and types of communities (urban, suburban and rural), expenditures per pupil were about the same in black and white schools… students did not learn more just because more money was spent on their education.” Students’ reading ability was not affected by the following factors:  class sizes, teachers’ credentials, textbook newness, number of books in the school library, or any other “material resource of a school.” It was affected by the students’ home lives. Another interesting finding was that low-income African-Americans read better when placed in classes with higher-income Caucasians, but the latter did not do worse when placed in classes with the former.

During the era of desegregation of the schools, Caucasian families moved from cities to suburbs at a higher rate than did African-American families.  Suburban schools therefore became more segregated, and thus there occurred less integration than otherwise in all kinds of communities overall.

One of LBJ’s anti-poverty programs gave billions of federal dollars to schools to provide intensive tutoring to disadvantaged African American students.  Unfortunately, this singled the students out, and made them targets for bullying.  Besides, the tutors “often had less training” than regular classroom teachers.  Research has yet to prove that the tutoring was significantly helpful.

Some education reformers have called for hiring of teachers who lack a master’s degree, as extra schooling is no guarantee of better teaching. Teachers earned master’s degrees in droves in the 20th century only because they were paid more for earning one. Teacher-training schools and unions have vehemently opposed removing this teaching credential.

“…relative to other employees who hold college degrees, teachers today are not as well paid as they were in 1960.”

In 2008, federal education officials and a team at UCLA proposed national education standards.  However, the portrayal of the United States in historical accounts, and the selectivity of curricular contents turned out to be too controversial.

The book also exposes the flaws of George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law.  It covers the pros and cons of school vouchers, and the system that has been widely implemented as an alternative to vouchers – charter schools.

The author obviously favors the use of technology with regard to education.  For, the table of contents bears the headings for parts 1, 2 and 3:  “The Rise,” “The Decline” and “Signs of Resurrection.”  The third part contains a chapter on technology.

The author speculates that the future of education will involve online learning for all students, even declaring: “Each student, each household, each family will pick and choose among the endless variety of options entrepreneurs can produce.”  The use of the word “entrepreneurs” is disturbing when used in the context of education.  The author makes other assertions with which I do not agree, but he does provide extensive documentation on matters of “fact.”