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New Location

I’ve moved my blog to its own domain:

Thanks to all of you who’ve been following me here – and come take a look at my new site.

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“it’s just violence”

Those words were uttered by a 17-year-old Vietnamese-American student in response to what has been described as racially motivated attacks against Asian students at a South Philadelphia High School in December.

The following month, in South Hadley, MA, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself after incessant physical, verbal and emotional abuse from classmates at her school. (Full disclosure: the superintendent of schools in South Hadley was my superintendent when I taught in a nearby district several years ago.)

Both incidents are horrific. Both have been labeled, in the media, as bullying.

I can’t help but think that “bullying” doesn’t adequately describe what was at play in both tragic incidents. No, I was not present in either case. But from what I’ve read, both involved teenage victims who were immigrants: Phoebe Prince had recently moved from Ireland; the students attacked in South Philly were recent immigrants from Southeast Asia. The hatred directed at Phoebe was so virulent that even after she died, she was being taunted via her memorial page on Facebook. The Asian-American students in South Philly say they’ve been the victims of a “much longer pattern of anti-Asian/anti-immigrant violence at the school.”

If these were in fact anti-immigrant, bias-related attacks, it wouldn’t surprise me. Growing anti-immigrant sentiment appears to be a national trend, notes Gabriel Arana in an article in The American Prospect. One recent example: during an immigrants-rights rally in Washington, DC, there was the much-publicized incident of Tea Party followers shouting racial epithets and spitting on members of Congress.

Arana also points out:

Since the 2006 protests, membership in anti-immigrant groups has increased 600 percent. The number of these groups has also risen from around 40 in 2005 to over 250 today.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric is not a new phenomenon in this country. And neither is its consequences. As Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don’t Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned, wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times in 2007:

Scratch the surface of the current immigration debate and beneath the posturing lies a dirty secret. Anti-immigrant sentiment is older than America itself. Born before the nation, this abiding fear of the “huddled masses” emerged in the early republic and gathered steam into the 19th and 20th centuries, when nativist political parties, exclusionary laws and the Ku Klux Klan swept the land.

As we celebrate another Fourth of July, this picture of American intolerance clashes sharply with tidy schoolbook images of the great melting pot. Why has the land of “all men are created equal” forged countless ghettoes and intricate networks of social exclusion? Why the signs reading “No Irish Need Apply”? And why has each new generation of immigrants had to face down a rich glossary of now unmentionable epithets?

Using different terminology to describe what occurred in the high schools in South Hadley and South Philadelphia – anti-immigrant bias versus bullying – doesn’t bring back Phoebe Prince or dispel the physical and emotional pain experienced by the students at South Philadelphia High. It may all be, as the 17-year-old Vietnamese-American boy pointed out, simply unfathomable violence.

On the other hand, putting the right label on what happened, understanding the broader societal forces at play in addition to the local context, may provide insight into how we work with our students to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future.

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bridges, bay and brooklyn

This past week, the Bay Bridge finally reopened after a piece of metal came away from a section of the bridge that had been repaired Labor Day weekend.

The Bay Bridge when I choose to think about – and I try not to as often as possible – is scary. Personally, I think falling metal is the least of what’s worrisome. The bridge is so long, it takes what feels like an eternity to cross. Not a good feeling in earthquake country.

I think bridges in general are an amazng engineering feat. Suspension bridges in particular seem to be the most incredible – a roadway deck held up by steel cable attached to two long cables that are essentially being pulled by anchors on either end of the bridge. That’s the concept. I’m shocked more suspension bridges don’t collapse like the one in the video above – the Tacoma Narrows Bridge which was clearly not designed right. (Understatement.)


Photo by Simone Roda

As scary as I find bridges, I also am fascinated by them. When I taught second grade in New York, I used to take my kids on a trip by foot across the Brooklyn Bridge. The walkway is wide and gracious and wooden, and floats above the traffic. We would stop at the halfway point, break out crayons and paper, and draw what we saw – the East River and the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, pretty in their own right; lower Manhattan with its impossibly tall skyscrapers, beautiful Brooklyn Heights and its promenade.

As a foolish painter plunges his eye,
sharp and loving, into a museum madonna
so I, from the near skies bestrewn with stars,
gaze at New York through the Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge, Vladimir Mayakovsky

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dolphins v. jellyfish

I recently heard a report on NPR that said dolphins like to use their flippers in an effort to propel jellyfish through the air in what seemed to be an act of play. Soccer, except with jellyfish as the ball.


Unfortunately, jellyfish don’t generally survive the humiliation.

Researchers in Wales discovered this surprising, never-before seen behavior.

The story made me wonder a few things. First off, is Wales its own country? Second, are there other animals that engage in what we as humans might think of as sport? And, finally, don’t jellyfish stings hurt dolphins?

Here’s what I found out:

  • Yes, Wales is its own country. In fact, after reading about its history in Wikipedia, I began to suspect that Wales may have been Tolkien’s inspiration for the setting of Lord of the Rings. At least the historical names sound suspiciously Elvish.
  • When I googled “are there animals that play sports,” the results were either about animal sports movies (one person’s Amazon list on the topic featured Soccer Dog: The Movie and Soccer Dog: European Cup numbers one and two, respectively) or animals capable of playing human sports. I’ll keep researching this one.
  • I could not find an answer to my third question. Though I did come upon this passage at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources website:

Stings usually paralyze or kill only small creatures (fish, small crustaceans), but some jellyfish are harmful to humans. Although jellyfish do not “attack” humans, swimmers and beachcombers can be stung when they come into contact with the jellyfish tentacles with functional nematocysts. The severity of the sting depends on the species of jellyfish, the penetrating power of the nematocyst, the thickness of exposed skin of the victim and the sensitivity of the victim to the venom. The majority of stings from jellyfish occur in tropical and warm temperate waters. Most species off the southeastern coast are capable of inflicting only mild stings that result in minor discomfort.

I’m guessing that they do sting dolphins, and that the stings must hurt. But, clearly, these bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Wales are too in the game to care.

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stuyvesant town

Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are in the news.

courtesy New York Times

courtesy New York Times

The two massive co-op housing complexes on the lower east side of Manhattan were sold to a development group for something like 5+ billion dollars a couple of years back. Apparently a highly leveraged purchase.

Of course with the crash of the financial markets, the development group, like many homeowners, is finding it hard to pay its debt obligation.

I bring this up only because Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were a part of my high school life. They represented a de facto campus, along with the worn-out park off 15th street littered with vials and syringes.

The buildings stood across First Avenue from the high school – impossible to miss. We would sneak into the courtyard areas sometimes during lunch to play basketball. Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper felt different – middle class and manicured. Not like the rest of the downtrodden lower East side in 1970s recession New York.

Basketball in the City meant something to us. Uptown, there was the legendary Rucker Park. Closer by, in the West Village, you could watch games from behind the chain-link fence at the West Fourth Street courts. And of course, in 1978, Jim Carroll – who died just a few weeks ago – published his Basketball Diaries, which we devoured.

No one paid attention to what we did on the courts at Stuyvesant Town. Except maybe the security guards. No one films games there like they do at Rucker or at West Fourth. But I’ll bet if you mention Stuyvesant Town or Peter Cooper Village to anyone who went to the old Stuyvesant, before the move to the new building in Battery Park, they’ll eventually get around to talking about sneaking in and playing a game or two of basketball.

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hardly strictly

Went to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this weekend, a free three-day music festival in Golden Gate Park for those of you unfamiliar with the event.

sunset on Lyle and the Banjo Stage

sunset on Lyle and the Banjo Stage

There’s a lot I could write about – Lyle Lovett was amazing, singing his old stuff from Pontiac with the Large Band backing; Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and Old Crow Medicine Show brought down the figurative house with their rendition of the Band’s “The Weight”; the crowds were peaceful and happy and spontaneous music broke out all around as I walked through the park between stages.

All true.

But instead, I’m going to say that being at Hardly Strictly was both amazingly fun and weirdly deja-vu-ish. It was as though I had returned to my alma mater, Wesleyan, and it was 1984 Spring Fling all over again.

There were the barefoot hippie kids looking shabby chic. There were the drunken no-neck boys. (Why would they want to be at Wesleyan of all places?) There, in front of the stage, were the kids with no rhythm dancing to Gillian Welch’s folk ballads.

I half expected a hackey sack tournament to break out.

Hardly Strictly is a quintessentially SF experience. Clearly, Wesleyan prepared me well to live in the Bay Area.

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cathedral (revisited)

Meditations John Muir_cover_PMy friend Caroline gave me the book Meditations of John Muir: Nature’s Temple for my birthday. She said she saw it soon after reading my blog post cathedral about a visit I made to Muir Woods.

The book pairs writings of Muir’s with quotes or passages from other writers, thinkers and texts. The last chapter is called All the World Seems a Church, taken from Muir’s own words. It’s paired with this quote from Emerson:

– these are the music and pictures of the most ancient religion.

I’m going to enjoy this book.

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