When “Spring Break” becomes “Catch-up Week.”

Local | Posted by admin
Apr 02 2007

To my more serious readers (yes, all three of you): It is Spring Break in Minneapolis’ public school system. Rather than high-tail it with Michelle to the Gulf Coast of Florida to visit my mother-in-law, and the beach she just happens to live near, hop on the old scooter (which blew the crankshaft for a second time in four years), or do anything that might be loosely defined as “fun,” I have decided to use this so-called “free” time to try to tackle the long list of things I have wanted to do but had to shelve to address more immediate concerns.

Take today, for instance. I went into the office to meet with a few others — who have also transmogrified their “free” time into “working” time — and draw up a Top Ten of projects I hope to get done by the end of the week before the show gets on the road again seven days from now.

I’ll spare you the nasty details, but suffice it to say that I finished my Top Ten list in about ten minutes. Mostly, it involves software updates, database preparations and updates, reorganizing certain areas, writing a bunch of e-mails to people, getting cost estimates, and planning the next quarter of my class for a new bunch of students. Whee!

No, seriously… Whee! Almost every morning when I arrive on the campus, I hit the ground running and don’t stop until the class dismissal bell. Some days, I don’t even get a chance to drop my coat off in my office because something requiring my attention has come up. Because of all the budget cutbacks and reductions, most of us — teachers, administrators, and staff — are conducting the educational and administrative equivalent of meatball surgery. Granted, it’s not pretty and it leaves a lot of rough edges, but we get the job done quickly and effectively.

You probably know how many critics of education argue that public schools should be run like a business, right? Well, if schools were run in such a manner, the employees would go on strike in a heartbeat due to the arduous working demands, the rough conditions, and the less-than-adequate compensation for their expertise. As I indicated in my previous post, if my school contracted out for the technical support I provide, it would be in a financial hole five to six times greater than what I receive…

… Of course, I did happen to crash the school’s network last week. Hey, it could have happened to anybody. Besides, I fixed it in less than an hour (it should have been less, but I didn’t ask the important starting question, “Okay, what did I do that caused this?”) and finished re-wiring the third floor lab all at the same time.

God, I wish I had George W. Bush’s job. All he does is tell people to do things or not to do things. He’s not a “details” person, by his own admission. He never has to accept blame for his failures. He just passes them off to his underlings’ underlings, or his underlings themselves if the failing issue is too hot. He doesn’t even do e-mails, or so he says, anyway. Most importantly, he works nine to five, takes super-long vacations that are truly vacations and not some demented version of free time to address the as-yet-unaddressed tasks, browbeats and bullies others without a care in the world, and is chauffeured all over the place. All that, a six-digit annual income, and no calls for accountability from the Right Wing Nut House, too.

Notes from my old metal desk.

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Mar 30 2007

It has been two months since I accepted a position with one of Minneapolis’ middle schools. During that time, I have played my role as librarian, technical repair, maintenance and troubleshooting, and taught my first class on media technology.

All-in-all, it’s been good, but the obstacles and hurdles… Oy!

From what I have heard, this school’s library and computer labs I run used to be staffed with five full-time people. Today, after four to five years of budget cuts, there are two: my assistant and myself. We are both, technically, part-time. In reality, however, we each put in a full-time effort. Although I am listed as a “point eight,” which means thirty-two hours a week, I can’t recall a week where I have worked less than forty. I am not complaining. My work is at a place where I can do good and I sleep well each night knowing that what I do will have benefits for our society somewhere down the road.

If I have any complaint, it is that my poor library and media center have been stuck in a time bubble. With year after year of budget cuts, we have lost our ability to keep our book stacks and magazine racks — the latter is a meager selection at best, these days — updated. Our computers are between three and five generations old; some are beginning to fail after years of intense use.

On my drive home, I flip through the radio dials and, all too frequently, wind up hearing some ignorant, bombastic blowhard railing against my school district in particular or against public schools in general. Of these mooks, our semi-homegrown resident right-winger Jason Lewis tends to raise my blood pressure the most. To him, I am a some kind of socialistic, lazy, inept, wheedler of his and Minnesota’s tax dollars. Well, to address his concerns, I am most certainly not lazy (I think I’ve lost five pounds since I started this job), nor inept (heck, I feel like an army cook who can make Spam look and taste like it came out of the kitchen of a five-star restaurant). Hell, Minneapolis is getting one heck of a deal with me on their payroll; paying me for thirty-two hours when I easily put in forty to fifty each week. Technical assistance from the private sector runs anywhere between fifty and one-hundred and fifty dollars an hour. My school gets my know-how for a song in comparison.

(What’s that? I didn’t address the “socialistic” part? Well, you can figure it out for yourself.)

Now that I have settled into a general pattern of my varied and constantly shifting responsibilities… maybe “pattern” isn’t the best term to describe things… I should be able to carve out a little time to put some life into my poor, little, comatose blog. Please hang in there, all three of my dear readers. Yowling should be yowling away soon.

Dead Chick Friday redux

Interesting | Posted by admin
Mar 23 2007

Poisoned by a Model

Twiggy: You’ve got a beautiful heart-shaped jaw, which shows wonderfully. (later) This is my favorite photograph. And she just jumps out of that line for me. I love her. I think she’s great.

Miss J: What’s great about this is that you can also look beautiful in death.

Tyra: Today, when she came up, her face and just her whole thing was working.

Nigel: You look incredible in front of me here. You look beautiful in this picture. This is a full package right now. (later) I think Renee does photograph a little on the old side, but it’s still a beautiful face.

Nothing odder than simultaneous sunshine and dark clouds.

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Feb 17 2007

Two weeks ago, I started working for a middle school in Minneapolis, taking the reins of the school’s Media Center; what we of my generation used to call “libraries” when all they had were books while those scratchy, worbly voiced 16mm films were still considered high technology and housed in a separate “A/V Center” along with those tape-and-still-film projectors with the annoying beeps to forward each frame.

I love the work and the endless variety of responsibilities. I am part librarian, part technogeek and troubleshooter, part stage manager, and part teacher of a class on media technology. It’s not my dream high school social studies position that I still longingly pine for, but I am definitely trending in the right direction.

Jumping into a new position in the middle of a school year is never easy — neither on the students nor the teachers who take such positions. My entry — and that of a couple of others who also recently joined the school — just happened to coincide with the start of a new quarter, which does smooth out many potential rough spots. I had the added fortune of meeting the person who I was replacing. She provided enough information to help me get started, and her assistant, who has been there longer than the last three or four people in my position as a Media Specialist, have made it possible for me to hit the ground running on the very first day.

When I stopped by to see the principal on my way out after my first day, she asked how everything went. I smiled and said, “Great. People were happy to see me. Students, for the most part, listened to what I had to say, and I have my very own desk to call my own.” Seriously, substituting’s lack of such mundane aspects of a person’s job satisfaction (save maybe for the first) or steadiness (as I have said before, imagine starting your first day of work, every day, in front of a less-than-appreciative audience that balks as the idea of having anything less than a “free day” while you try to get things done) can really wear even the most indefatigable spirit down.

All this doesn’t mean that I haven’t had some serious challenges along the way.

Part the first: Illness. Nothing says “welcome to our school” faster and with more fanfare than catching the latest bug sweeping though the student and faculty body. By the end of the first week, that tickle in my throat I felt blew up into a full-fledged nasty bug. By the middle of the second week, I felt I was among the Walking Dead. Let’s see; there was fever, coughing, soar throat, periodic total loss of voice (not good), fuzzy brain, aching muscles, and plenty of activity in the mucous membrane. Michelle would put me to bed at about six or seven only for me to get up and haul my diseased carcass back into the fray early the next morning. Only by yesterday, Friday, did I start to feel as if I had passed the nadir of the bug’s bite. The rest I needed to avoid missing work cost me in the time I wanted to map out the next few weeks for my class.

To my knowledge, teachers rarely, if ever, take days off for such illnesses, because it is far easier to work in such a state than it is to go through the tight channels to get a sub, figure up a lesson for that person, and do the inevitable damage control the next day that comes with an absence. I feel the same way. When a student said to me, “No offense, Mr. Moses, but you look like crap. Why don’t you stay home sick?” I told him that I hadn’t given the class my “don’t mess with the sub” talk yet and wasn’t about to in the middle of this bug.

All told, this last week was far from a loss. I got a lot of things done in spite of feeling like death warmed over. Still, I didn’t get to map out my strategy for the next few weeks as I had wanted to last weekend, which means having to do it this weekend.

Part the second: The big build up. Part of successful teaching is having certain abilities. Among the more important ones, teachers need to be able to let roughly ninety percent of the crap that flies their way pass by, otherwise the stress levels generated by trying to deal with every single issue that arises will increase the likelihood of an early, flaming burnout. As unfortunate as this may seem to the uninitiated, it is a necessary job survival skill because of the challenges we inevitably encounter that must be reckoned with. If teaching only meant showing up in a classroom for six hours a day to drone on endlessly about the subject you were hired to teach and give tests or assigning papers, everyone would want to be a teacher. Most teachers I know are nine-to-fivers of the calendar variety rather than the clock variety: They start early in September and work straight through to the end of May (or later), twenty-four-seven, with “breaks” that are more opportunities to grab a quick breath of fresh air and survey the situation than a short respite from one’s labors.

With my Week Number Three just around the corner, I can see the growing wave of things I’ll need to plan for and coordinate that are on top of the usual duties. Take the next round of standardized test dates, which will chew up a couple of weeks of time students could have spent learning in a classroom and an additional week or three to the teachers and administrators who have to figure out schedules, locations, and the usual unholy host of necessary contingency plans.

Those tests ain’t just gonna give themselves to the youngsters. Nope. No-sir-ee. The clock’s tickin’.

Part the third: Working on less than a shoe-string budget. Technically, I am working what is called a “point eight” position; it’s not quite full-time, but it’s close enough to make things both worthwhile and a pain in the patootie. Call it a “twilight full-time” position, if you will, because even though I get paid for thirty-two hours of work each week, I am already noticing that I haven’t worked less than forty each week so far and that trend will probably continue until the end of the year. These positions are just one the unintended consequences created by the continuous cycles of budget cuts Minneapolis and many other school districts have had to endure in the past five to six years.

I knew this discrepancy in the work-to-pay ratio would be the likely case before I signed on and I don’t particularly mind it myself. The upshot, however, is that my donation-in-time above and beyond my paid time is near the end of the rope of budget cuts that have zeroed out any line-items for new textbooks or school library books, updates to computer labs hardware and software, much-needed repairs to school facilities, sufficient support staff and administrators, and sufficient full-time classroom teachers to meet the manifest educational needs of a neighborhood’s children.

As I have started this new job, I have noticed that the one thing that hasn’t come up has been the purchasing of new or updated supplies and equipment. I, myself, am used to working on a budget that is effectively less than zero, but the needs of a school to teach children to be much more than merely successful standardized, “basic-skills” test-takers so that certain political leaders and critics of public education can get their self-righteous rocks off should not go unmet as they have in recent years.

So to Tracy at Anti-Strib, Swiftee, and all those other critics of the work I and many others commit to doing: If teaching is so easy and undemanding, why aren’t you money-grubbing materialists lining up to feed at the trough?

This weekend I have the time and a reasonably good state of health to plan out another few weeks down the road. That includes what to do with this blog I have raised from a wee, wrinkly kitten of zeroes and ones. I will continue to write and publish Yowling from the Fencepost, but I may ask some friends to add their two-cents from time-to-time to help me keep this blog’s content current. Stay tuned, and, in the immortal words of an old Bartles & James commercial, thank you for your support.

Not going to attack Iran? Yeah, sure.

Events | Posted by admin
Feb 01 2007

To paraphrase an old saying, it ain’t paranoia if the Bush administration is really out to attack another nation.

US ‘Iran attack plans’ revealed

US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country’s military infrastructure, the BBC has learned.

[Wait! Don’t run away. There’s more. Come back…]

Hey, we are only a month away from marking a fourth year of US military occupation in Iraq. What better way could Bush Company celebrate the occasion?

Well, yeah, they could refrain from making an even bigger mistake.

They could have refrained from invading and occupying Iraq, too.

And my students wonder why I am so grouchy. I shouldn’t read the paper before going in to work. I shouldn’t listen to the news on the radio while driving in, either. Where’s the medical gauze, because I’ll need to wrap up my head to keep from those morning routines of mine (or maybe I could move out to some gated community in the ‘burbs and start a cheap cigar habit).

What this blog needs is a set of vibrating duck butts

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Dec 08 2006

For that person on your Holiday gift-giving list who has everything:

Nothing sends a better “all is clear” signal to flying waterfowl than the sight of feeding ducks. And these new Quiver Duck Butts are the easy, effective way to mimic that behavior. They sport a Quiver Magnet H20 permanently mounted in a durable, lifelike closed-cell foam decoy body. Simply turn it on, toss it into your spread and get ready to shoot. The Quiver Magnet creates realistic feeding movement that produces ripples on the water’s surface. Weighted keel with anchor attachment. Requires two AA batteries (not included). Batteries are easily accessible.
Available: Mallard Drake, Mallard Hen.

Dead Chick Friday

Interesting | Posted by admin
Dec 01 2006

Because it’s been suggested that some of us don’t quite “get” the appeal of looking at half naked bodies of the beautiful people – instead sticking stubbornly to our prudish, nay, puritanical ways – we here at Yowling are going to try to rectify that shortcoming and toss a little partriarchal fashion model sexiness your way. Meet Ana Carolina Reston, Brazilian fashion model with the eyes of a doe and a body to die for.

No, I mean literally die for.

Discovered by the Ford Agency when she was only 13, Ana’s anorexia was used to its highest potential by fashion magazines and designers around the world. Best known for her work with Versace, she was a lanky 5 feet 8 inches tall. First seen at a shopping mall beauty pageant in Sao Paulo, she went on to work with the Ford agency in the United States and the Elite agency in Paris.

Well, that is until she dropped dead on November 15 of this year from anorexia weighing only 88 pounds.

Look for next week’s dead chick Friday, where we profile another fasion victim,Luisel Ramos, who fell ill and died this past August during fashion Week in Mondevideo, Uruguay.

Another “Black Friday” to note.

Local | Posted by admin
Nov 24 2006

Today is the American retailers’ day where they hope their financial dreams come true. Millions, for some strange reason I still haven’t comprehended, rush out to crowd malls and shops to buy, buy, buy. Tonight’s news programs — local, national, and cable — will have reporters camped out all over the place to “report” on this phenomenon of consumer craziness following a nice, quiet, day of dinner with friends and family.

Many call today “Black Friday.”

For once, I agree with the labeling of this day, but not for the reasons that have just been outlined. No, today’s Black Friday should not be about wild and unhinged American consumerism. Rather, it should note the increasingly wild and unhinged problems that have been developing in Iraq since March of 2003 and have steadily grown worse.

Iraq Toll Rises; Shiite Militia Retaliates (New York Times):

Defying a government-imposed curfew, Shiite militiamen stormed Sunni mosques in central Iraq today, shot guards and burned down several buildings in apparent retaliation for a series of devastating car bombs that killed hundreds of people the previous day in a Shiite slum.

As the death toll from those bombings rose above 200, gunmen drove through neighborhoods in Baghdad and the nearby provincial capital of Baquba, shooting at mosques with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades on the Muslim holy day, when many Iraqis attend a weekly sermon.

From morning until afternoon, at least seven mosques were attacked in a single mixed neighborhood in the capital. Three were destroyed completely, and at least three guards were killed, an Interior Ministry official said. Iraqi security forces were either absent or unable to stop the gunmen. Residents blamed the attacks on the Mahdi Army, a powerful Shiite militia based in Sadr City, the area ravaged by the explosions on Thursday.

“I live near Akbar al-Mustafa Mosque, which came under attack by gunmen around 7 this morning,” said a man who gave his name as Abu Ruqaiya and lives in Hurriya, the neighborhood where violence raged all day. “Around 3 in the afternoon, those gunmen bombed this mosque and destroyed part of it. They left only after American and Iraqi soldiers arrived.”

The wave of revenge attacks came despite a traffic ban the Iraqi government had imposed across the capital starting Thursday evening, underscoring the ineffectiveness of the Iraqi security forces in tamping down on violence that is widening the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide and pushing the country toward full-scale civil war. The assaults against Sunnis on Friday evoked the rampages by Shiite gunmen that took place in the hours after a revered Shiite shrine was bombed by insurgents last February in Samarra.

American troops stepped up patrols across Baghdad, setting up checkpoints and rolling down mostly deserted avenues in armored Humvees. In the far north, a suicide car bomber and a suicide belt bomber detonated their explosives in crowded areas in the insurgent-rife city of Tal Afar, killing at least 20 people and injuring at least 42.

The bloodletting over the 24-hour period amounted to one of the worst spasms of violence since the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. It comes before a meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki scheduled for Wednesday in Jordan. Both men face increasing pressure from their respective publics to come up with a successful strategy for stemming the growing carnage in Iraq, and both are navigating rising tensions between their two governments as they try to agree on a viable path forward.

Lights. Camera. Captions!

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Nov 12 2006

Have away, friends:

Allow me to get things rolling:

  • The bolts that were here when the doctor brought me to life have been removed for some time now, but I still get phantom pains.
  • And now, I shall use my incredible psychotelekinetic powers to make everyone write exactly what I want you to write… … … Damn. Must concentrate harder…
  • Hey everyone. Watch me make my head explode.
  • And then, the president had a suggestion about what I should say about that, and I thought, “My god. He really is that stupid.” I then told him not to try to do my job for me. It’s hard enough making up stuff on my own.

The rest is up to you. Have fun.

Iraq: A very bad day.

Events | Posted by admin
Nov 12 2006

This is horrible. I can’t say more than that.

Sunday: 3 GIs, 4 UK Troops, 212 Iraqis Killed; 3 UK Troops, 146 Iraqis Wounded (AntiWar.com):

Sunday’s casualty tally quickly rose to 212 Iraqis either killed or found dead and another 146 Iraqis injured after a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad and the discovery of 75 corpses in Baqouba. Foreign servicemembers were also subject to violence. Today, four British servicemen were killed, three injured, in an attack on their boat in Basra, and the U.S. military also reported that three American soldiers were killed in Anbar Province on Saturday. In other news, an official at the Baghdad morgue reported that approximately 1600 bodies were delivered to the morgue during the holy month of Ramadan. That averages out to over 50 a day.

In the volatile Anbar Province, three U.S. soldiers died from wounds sustained during enemy action on Saturday. Four British servicemembers were killed and another three were seriously injured when their boat came under attack today in Basra; it was hit by an “improvised explosive device” while they were on routine patrol in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Coalition forces also came under attack in Hit yesterday. Although no casualties were reported among Coalition and Iraqi forces, three militiamen were killed and residents reported that U.S. forces also killed eight civilians.

In west-central Baghdad, two suicide bombers walked up to a police recruitment center in al-Nusur Square before detonating their cargo; at least 35 people were killed and another 65 injured. Gunmen killed a senior official and his driver, and 25 unidentified bodies were discovered on Sunday morning.

Also in the capital, a roadside and car bomb combination killed six people and wounded ten near the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s offices. Five more Iraqis were killed and 11 wounded in the al Fanahra neighborhood. In the Karadah district, a car bomb killed two and wounded seven. A roadside bomb in the southwestern Radhwaniyah area killed three and wounded 13. In the nearby Um al-Maalif neighborhood, another roadside bomb killed five people. Yet another roadside bomb, this one in Amariyah, killed three and wounded three others. Two more roadside bombs were left on a highway in central Baghdad, killing four and wounding ten. One civilian was killed and four people, including two policemen, were injured by an explosion in the Mustansiria neighborhood.

In Baquoba, Iraqi troops discovered 75 bodies behind a regional electric company. It was feared that the bodies might be rigged with explosives.