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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The San Francisco Chronicle carried an article recently about a noted pick-up artist who will, for a thousand dollars, reveal his techniques on how to pickup women.

The attendees were described generally as handsome, some with money, a few just coming out of relationships, but all lacking the confidence needed in today’s competitive pickup market. Personally, I fail to grasp the concept of a handsome rich guy who lacks confidence.

Be that as it may, I sincerely hope they all gained an appreciation of the latest pick-up techniques and successfully used them. I honestly pray their investment pays dividends in the future in case any of them weren’t immediately successful following the completion of the seminar and lab time in various bars along Geary.

But for those who haven’t scored and for those who couldn’t afford 10 C-Notes, I have some follow-on advice that may help.

First of all, if your target covey is usually found in bars and other watering holes, never make an appearance early in the evening. You may need a little advance reconnaissance to establish an appropriate arrival time, which may take as many as three visits. Eventually, however, you will sense the time when everyone in the bar is drunker than a skunk. The proper timing will reduce or eliminate your competition because most if not all habitués will be in the end stages of inebriation. It just stands to reason that a sober man (you) will have an edge over a mumbling, glazed-eyed, incoherent, gaseous son of a billionaire Nob Hill scion. Moreover, it’s easier to hook up with an inebriated woman than a sober one.

But where’s the challenge? It seems to me that a red-blooded American male would find the conquest of sober women a feat more worthy of his talents. That’s why I am suggesting that all aspiring pickup artists seriously consider expanding the field of operations beyond booze joints. Here is a list of possibilities for you to mull over, along with my observations.

The romance section of bookstores.
Any bookstore will suffice, although this tactic may not work in specialty stores such as one selling used Army technical manuals. There aren’t many women interested in learning how to dissemble and assemble a .50 caliber machine gun except an occasional jilted wife. In these sorts of stores, you will waste too much time waiting. Increase the possibilities of a connection by browsing Borders, for example. As you browse, keep your head buried in an open book as far as you can bury it while at the same time scanning the activity around you through squinted eyes. When a potential target moves into view, slowly approach her. If she notices you and smiles…well, you get the idea.

Organic food markets
Women who buy organic foods are, as a general rule, healthy, intelligent, moderately well-to-do, and of indeterminate age. They are good looking because they follow a daily regimen of skin care and spa workouts, grooming activities that will largely camouflage those pesky signs of aging. The methodology for a pickup in this arena is twofold. First, dress appropriately. Wear a pair of knee length athletic shorts and a logo-ed athletic shirt. These have definite advantages because they speak of athleticism, which women admire in men, and suggest the possession of a college degree, a definite plus in today’s relationship market. Second, fill a shopping cart half full of organic goods selected at random and simply browse the isles. Sooner or later, you’ll catch the eye of a beautiful blonde cougar.

A university research library
These days, institutions of higher learning are heavily populated with women who have returned to school seeking skills appropriate to the21st Century job market. The number of female master’s and doctoral candidates has skyrocketed. And, as anyone who is familiar with the process for acquiring an advanced degree knows, several 40-page research papers as well as a 300-page dissertation are required for the successful completion of the program. That means many women virtually live in a graduate library. You don’t have to be a candidate to approach one of these women. Merely dress in a manner commensurate with today’s young executive and present yourself as a recruiter for a large company. Hand a likely target a business card and engage her in conversation about her skills and future plans. Of course, if you score, your lie may catch up with you sooner rather than later. But, then, that’s one of the hazards of lying to a woman, even an inebriated one.

I believe these three examples of alternate pick up locations will suffice for the time being. For now, let me close with these words of wisdom.

To begin with, consider very seriously the possibility of an entirely new pick up approach currently under study in a research lab in a top secret location near Las Vegas. Here’s how it works.

Dress neatly, walk into your selected arena with a pleasant look on your face, and go about your business.  When a woman catches your eye, smile and merely say, “Hi,” or “Good morning.” If she’s interested, she’ll take it from there. After all, why do you think women are out and around in the middle of the morning? Chances are, they are embarked on the same mission you are on.

Finally, studies have consistently proven that women are the real selectors. They select the man they want to pick them up. Women have said over and over that the juvenile approaches employed by men are actually turn offs. Men, you will improve your chances immeasurably by just being yourself. Women are, after all smarter than men and more perceptive. Give them credit. Save a thousand dollars.

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My Ten Resolutions for Twenty Ten

1. Use the phrase Twenty Ten as often as possible. I like the sight and sound of it when I say it out loud.

2. Continue posting sporadically because my mind is still too screwed up for regularity.

3. Neither write nor say negatives about people. My old aunt used to tell me, “Unless you can say something good about others, keep quiet.” A rule that is hard to follow in every instance, but worth the effort.

4. Read more books about cowboys.

5. Write at least one positive post about Sarah Palin. I may have to hire a ghost writer for this one. But, then, she has nice legs.

6. Figure out how much detergent to pour in the washing machine to avoid flooding the floor of the laundry room with suds.

7. Maybe hire a housekeeper. I say maybe because this is still a little bit iffy. A cook would be better. I’m sick and tired of cold Vienna Sausage.

8. Tell my neighbor, who is a police officer, how much I appreciate her help and thoughtfulness after my wife’s passing.

9. Sell my house so I can move on; perhaps find a new life somewhere. This will be very difficult, but I need to try.

10. Maybe teach again. Another hard goal to achieve. I have lost patience with students who perceive college as a place of encounter rather than as an arena for learning.

Okey, dokey. I’ve shown you mine. Now show me yours.

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When the story first broke, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to CNN News. CNN is the news outlet after all that continually flashes “Breaking News” or something similar across the ticker at the bottom of the screen. Every thing is “breaking” or “developing.” My mind numbs itself in self defense.

But then something caught my attention. I heard the words “Richmond High School.” There are other Richmonds in the U.S., including Richmond, Virginia. I went back to my latest issue of Country Weekly magazine.

As I read, I heard the announcer, I think it was Kyra Phillips, mention California. My ears perked up. The gang rape occurred on the grounds of Richmond High School, Richmond, California. Once upon a time, I attended that very high school. My tenure there was brief, but still, things stick in the mind.

Richmond when I lived there was a classic All-American town, or perhaps I should say a classic California town. However, I’ve lived in many towns and the habits of teens weren’t substantially different from the habits of Richmond’s teens.

In Richmond, as in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, cars were a big deal, and every Saturday night, McDonald Avenue, Richmond’s main drag, would be lined with cars full of kids dragging the street from 23rd Street in the east to the train depot at the west end of town.

If the kids weren’t tooling up and down shouting at one another or at a gaggle of girls walking along the street toward the movie, they were parked in or just idling in any available spot near a drive-in with real live and often good-looking girls taking and delivering orders.

If you want to get a good idea of Richmond then, watch the movie American Graffiti. The movie wasn’t filmed in Richmond but in several nearby towns like Petaluma (the primary filming location), Pinole, Concord, Larkspur, Mill Valley, and San Francisco.

Mel’s Diner in the movie was filmed at a diner (since torn down) on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco. And 4th Street in San Rafael was used for many of the street scenes. Another coincidence: my wife and I lived on 4th Street shortly after we were first married and then later in Petaluma.

Times have changed since American Graffiti was released in 1973. Most of the towns where the movie was filmed have undergone dramatic growth spurts accompanied by an influx of people from other areas of the United States and from foreign countries.

Richmond has also experienced its share of changes. But unlike the positive changes in many other Bay Area communities, the changes in Richmond have been mostly negative.

The reputation of Richmond today is a place to avoid. The town is widely known as the murder capital of the state. In 2007 (last year I have a figure for), there were 37 murders in this town of roughly 100,000 people. And, the part of I-80 passing through Richmond has achieved dubious standing as a war zone based on the number of shootings that happen along that short stretch of the highway.

To compound these negatives, the Richmond-San Pablo area has become rife with gang activity that often erupts in violence. And lesser crimes such as robbery and burglary are beginning to spill over into once small and peaceful enclaves like El Sobrante.

The causes of Richmond’s decline have often been attributed to its ethnic shift. While the town was once overwhelmingly white, today whites make up about 25 percent of the population. The balance consists mainly of Blacks and Hispanics.

However, the attribution of Richmond’s ills to its ethnic balance is a specious argument. So many variables come into play that it’s difficult if not impossible to narrow the root cause or causes to one factor. More likely, the cause lies in both economics and a failure of civic leadership to address Richmond’s burgeoning crime rate and rapidly declining infrastructure. McDonald Avenue, for example, that one-time image of Americana embodied in American Graffiti, became an absolute, decaying roadway to nowhere before the civic leadership seemed to wake up.

Regardless of the reasons for Richmond’s decline, there can be little doubt that many of the students at Richmond High School are products of the current culture of violence, poverty, drugs, decay, and a nation-wide attitude that drives individuals to seek the immediate gratification of their own desires.

Given such an environment, it was probably inevitable that violence would eventually reach the ground of the high school. In fact, at least one of the active participants in the gang rape apparently wasn’t a student and shouldn’t have been at the homecoming dance to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the school’s students are undoubtedly decent individuals doing their best to make it in a cruel environment. Moreover, the high school wasn’t exactly pristine when I attended it. There were fights, usually between individual boys over a girl, and other students would gather and watch, cheering on one or the other of the gangly teens.

But there were no rapes on campus, gang or otherwise. Those were different times. In retrospect, so innocent. Sadly, once upon a time will never come again.

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I’ll be moving on in a couple of days, leaving Maryland for Little Rock and from there to Oakland CA. I’ll miss MD and all of its tourist attractions, places like many Civil War battlefields, state and national wild horse preserves along the Atlantic, and, of course, Washington, D.C., a quick drive away with all of its past and present political signs and symbols that draw millions of visitors from around the world.

What will I do in Little Rock? Well, I won’t be staying in the city. I’ll land there on a Southwest Airlines flight out of Baltimore and immediately head for Hot Springs for a few days with a cousin. I expect to see a few sights, and I expect to tour a rice growing area on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River Delta where the rice harvest will be underway. Arkansas is one of the nation’s leading rice growing states, ranking right up there with Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and California.

I may also visit my cousin’s fifth-grade class. Kids at that age are still, as we used to say, bright eyed and bushy tailed. They are inquisitive creatures with eyes not yet worldly wise and jaded, eager for information and still somewhat respectful of their teachers and other adults. What will I tell those kids if they ask me questions? One thing I will not say is a negative word about anything. Some of them are probably the products of dysfunctional families and the last thing they will need is more negativity. I’ll probably restrict my classroom visit to covering topics about Maryland and Hawaii, accompanied by pictures, which illustrate the beauty of the Aloha State and the wild horses in Maryland. Such beautiful creatures! Every child ought to have an opportunity to see those magnificent animals up close.

My visit to AR will be short, and I’ll be off to Oakland in a few days. Once in the Bay Area, I’ll see my two sisters and a host of nieces and nephews. Will I set foot in San Francisco? I can’t say at this moment. True, I’d like to take a walk through City Hall and scope out the pols. I’d also like to prowl the area around Union Square, hoping to catch sight of a local celebrity or two. But my itinerary depends on my sisters. We will undoubtedly drive around some of the neighborhoods we lived in as kids and reminisce. There is a time for reminiscing and a time for politicians. I’ll think about the latter later.

From Oakland, I’ll return to Hawaii where I will settle some affairs remaining after the loss of my beloved. One of my major decisions will be the question of selling the house and living elsewhere. Should I or should I not? That is the question I’ve been thinking about on my trip. Texas? Maybe. Maryland? Maybe. Arkansas? No. California? Maybe. I know the state inside out and have relatives in both Northern and Southern Cal. Plus, I have a good buddy living in San Francisco who has invited me to share his pad. Tempting, but still, there’s an element of uncertainty in my mind, as if I’m missing something but can’t put my finger on it. I have a hunch I’ll resolve the issue soon. ‘Til then, as the Mills Brothers used to croon in perfect harmony, I’ll just hang around.

Ending with a pathetic imitation of author Alexandra Jones

The earth is old they say,
which no one denies.
They merely murder
one another
over the numbers.

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I was browsing Faceboook a few days ago when I ran across another one of those peculiar Facebook exercises apparently designed to expose the pathetically low level of sophistication of Americans to the world.

This one was titled 15 Books, and you’re supposed to name 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you. And your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to compile your list in 15 minutes.

In my case, the time limit is ridiculous, of course, I’ve already been working on it for two days and this is the pathetic result, along with an equally pathetic comment or two about each book.

1. White Fang, Jack London. Tenth grade. The first book I ever read from cover to cover.

2. Call of the Wild, London. Eleventh grade. The second one I read in full.

3. Count of Monte Cristo, Classic Comics Version, Artist Unknown. A copy of this was available on EBay not too long ago for a few hundred dollars.

4. A People’s History of the U.S., Howard Zinn. One of my favorite books. I especialy like the part where Zinn details the attitudes of America’s rich during the Civil War. In those days, a rich “draftee” could pay a substitute to take his place as a soldier. A high class founder of the Mellon fortune wrote to his son encouraging him to pay a sub: “There are other lives less worthy.”

5. Sundown Towns, James Loewen. Another favorite. It’s about towns that did not permit blacks within the town limits after dark. You may be surprised to find your home town listed and described in the book. There were sundown towns in every state.

6. From Here to Eternity, James Jones. One of those novels of military life that drips masculinity and appeals to testosterone-laden young men.

7. The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills. I don’t know why this title stuck with me.

8. A Difficult Woman, Jeannie Watt. A Western romance set in modern Nevada. For some reason I can’t explain, I like the story and Watt’s treatment.

9. Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell. Loaded with suggestive language that appealed to budding adolescent sexuality.

10. American Indian Law, Anderson and others. I was interested in this subject for awhile,

11. Catch 22, Joseph Heller. Another story of men in war. This one was a sort of macabre treatment of a rather twisted cast of characters.

12. True Believer, Nicholas Sparks. The first Sparks’ book I ever read. I wrote a satirical review of it in three parts.

13. Topographic Atlas of Nevada, Author unknown to me. I love maps and always have.

14. Stars in Khaki, James E. Wise. A nostalgic look silver screen stars and actors who actually served in the Army or Air Forces rather than just portraying fighting men on the screen. I plan to write a book review of this one.

15. Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck. The classic tale of the Joads who traveled from the Dust Bowl to California in search of jobs and a new life only to be met with hostility and ultimately death.

When I looked over this list, I had to ask myself one question: If I had my life to live over again, would I read the same books?

Yes, I think I would. I’m still a rather low-level thinker.

Now, I challenge everyone to outdo me in the unsophisticated approach to literature. Bet you can’t score below me on Facebook’s ignorance test.

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For about 20 years, I taught in a variety of 4-year and community colleges. This is just a partial list of the subjects and classes I taught—Beginning Political Science, American Government, Constitutional Law and Politics, International Law and Politics, Comparative Politics, the Politics of Hawaii, American Studies with a concentration in America’s Role in the World, and a few I don’t recall at the moment.

I taught classroom and internet courses, on and off-campus, day and evening classes, and classes in a medium security prison. My students ranged in age from 18 to 74 and spanned the gamut of ethnic groups. They were Americans and foreigners of varying political beliefs, attitudes, and opinions.

By now, some of you are probably thinking that I’m a braggart and you are waiting for an opportunity as you read this to expose my ignorance. You are fully prepared to kick ass. Well, wait no more.

When I began teaching, I did not know my ass from a hole in the ground about politics. Nada, nil, zilch, zero. At the end of my 20 years, I knew even less.

But I had a couple of things going for me. First of all, no matter how little I knew, I knew more than any student who ever enrolled in and attended my classes. In fact, the level of ignorance among my students was so high that I often referred to community college as a half way house between the tenth and twelfth grades.

I am not arguing that these students were dumb. To the contrary, they were quite intelligent on the whole. They just didn’t possess enough factual information to fill a thimble. Consequently, they were unable to reason except in the manner of high school adolescents, which, if you recall from your own experience, and from watching the recent spate of town hall meetings, was and is rather emotional and bereft of the slightest hint of knowledge and comprehension.

As teachers, how were we supposed to handle a class of 35 students who, to be honest, could not compose a simple sentence or understand the simplest political concept? The answer is, we didn’t handle them very well.

Some of us found ourselves spending an inordinate amount of time on 8th grade civics, e.g., America has a Constitution. What’s a constitution, you ask? Well, it’s a written document that outlines the rules a government is supposed to follow. What’s a government, you ask? Well, it’s a tweedly dee tweedly dum and then some. Ah, good, you got that.

Others among us said, on a regular basis, “Screw the little shits. They’re supposed to be prepared when they arrive in college. I am not going to slow my classes down for the ignorant assholes. (Yes, friends, gray-bearded, bow-tie wearing, dark suit clad academicians are fully conversant with street-level vernacular).

And then there was that tiny minority of teachers who thought they could teach the peach fuzz generation by being one of them. They dressed in the latest teen fashions, dyed their hair, got a few tattoos, and in general hung around with juveniles, all on the assumption that the kids would learn better “from one of their own.” Well, the kids did learn from their own, but not the sorts of things some 50-year old wannabe might have imagined.

The funny thing is, none of these approaches changed the statistics. The overall drop-out rate remained relatively high from semester to semester over the years. The number of community college students who went on to a four-year institution also remained low, and of those who transferred to a four-year institution, the percentage who failed to complete their bachelors also hovered at the basement level year after year.

Many explanations for the appalling academic preparation of incoming freshmen and women have been offered over the years. I’ll discuss that aspect of the American education system at another time. My purpose today is merely to explain how I managed to walk through a 20-year teaching career in a state of blissful ignorance. One reason, explained above, is that, ignorant though I may have been, I knew more than my students.

The second major reason revolves around the issue of misunderstandings and expectations. This was particularly true of classes in beginning political science. There was, almost universally among my students, a virtually impenetrable wall of confusion over the meanings of the words “politics” and “political science.”

In a nutshell, politics is the practice of striving for and retaining political office once elected. This covers a lot of ground, but briefly, it includes such activities as conducting campaigns, the strategies and tactics of reaching a predefined segment of the voting population, and the use of loaded language (e.g. death panels).

In another sense, politics is practice; political science is theory. Still another way of phrasing it is that politics is doing something; political science is thinking about what has been and what might be done. Or, one that I prefer—politics is calling an opponent an asshole; political science is defining asshole. I did not teach politics. I taught political science.

Which brings me back to misperceptions and misunderstandings. Students were under the impression that they would walk in the door, sit down, throw their feet up on an empty chair (male students, anyway), and start calling politicians assholes, as if that were a mark of testosteronic maturity (I don’t know the equivalent female hormonal impediment to learning).

When I insisted repeatedly that they define asshole according to the techniques utilized in political science that I had or would teach them, many decided on another course of study. Critical thinking (meaning logical analysis based on factual information) was a concept so alien to them that my mere insistence on objectivity was considered radical liberalism or radical conservatism, depending on their own self-professed ideological outlook.

In fact, I was accused on more than one occasion of attempting to undermine their core beliefs, although I did nothing more than ask questions and insist that they be able to explain their stands on the issues.

I often skated around their abhorrence of objective analysis by using an example from the practice of law: A winning attorney is able to argue the opponent’s case better than the opponent can. In other words, know what the hell the other side is thinking and know the facts of its case.

A point of clarification is in order before I wind up. When I wrote that I taught for 20 years in a state of blissful ignorance, I meant that politics was and remains a mystery to me. True, the words and deeds of politicians are rather predictable, but the reactions and responses of the general voting public are astoundingly lacking in logical bases. But that is only one part of the problem. Why are large segments of American society so determined to remain ignorant? In fact, I believe that the only thing exceeding the ignorance of these segments is a fierce determination to remain in that state.

That, I believe, is the eternal mystery of politics, and that is what I intended to suggest by talking about my ignorance in the classroom. I may be ignorant about this particular political mystery, but I know how to think about it in the manner of political scientists. My students never seemed to get the distinction.

Finally, despite the negativities in this essay, I taught many outstanding students, and I can truthfully say that my teaching career was challenging and satisfying. I left teaching a couple of years ago but not because I was disgusted or beaten down by student inertia. I needed to care for my beloved. I’m thinking now of returning to the classroom on a part-time basis. That remains to be seen.

Pending a decision, I’ll probably visit a few relatives who think I’m nuts or weird and who will not hesitate to let me know that they know more about politics than I do. It’s the American way. A loud voice and a dearth of information are often confused with knowledge.

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As a youngster, I thought nothing of moving from one place to another. In fact, I used to describe my itchiness as an overpowering desire “to be where I ain’t.” Any excuse was sufficient as a reason to head for new pastures, or to return to old ones, as the itch struck.

My wanderlust didn’t stop when we married. Not immediately anyway. Let me count the times I uprooted children from playmates and wife from a settled existence and her circle of friends: Oakland CA to San Rafael; San Rafael to Petaluma; Petaluma to Riverside; Riverside to Honolulu; Honolulu to Tracy CA; Tracy to Honolulu.

If my math is correct and my memory intact, that’s six times in about four years, not a large number, but those long-distance moves weren’t the whole story. Once we had settled in a new town, it wasn’t unusual for me to move from house to house on a whim.

But that still isn’t the whole story. I had a traveling job. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend 60 days at a whack in a single foreign country and then fly directly to another country for 30 days before returning home.

My life would have been wonderful for a single guy or gal, but when you’re married with children, complications can arise. Like the day I called home from the Philippines hoping for a nice chat with my wife only to be met by a breathless daughter who said without preamble, “Dad, I quit college.” She later finished, but that short sentence almost gave me a heart attack and forced me to reexamine my lifestyle.

I gave up traveling and moving around, but I failed miserably when it came to dreaming and talking. If I casually mentioned another location, my family would become agitated. They’d mill around, and one of the girls would say something like, “Mom, Dad wants to move!”

The fear in them was there for anyone to see, but I didn’t. I think the turning point came when, after one of my rambling monologue about “new pastures,” a daughter asked plaintively, “What about me,” obviously anxious about the possibility we would leave her behind.

Throughout this period, my wife tolerated my behavior, but she didn’t offer overt criticism. That wasn’t her way. Rather, she continued to work, smiling and pleasant as usual but with an unmistakable coolness until I shut up. She was always very effective when it came to guiding me in the “right” direction.

Over time, the girls left home to establish their own careers and families. My wife and I often talked about finding a nice retirement spot but that’s as far as it went. We were comfortable here and my desire “to be where I ain’t” had faded away.

Then, the unexpected unexpectedly happened. She passed away so suddenly that it absolutely stunned me. At first, I panicked. With the help of two of our daughters and a son in law, we packed up some stuff and headed for the airport, leaving the house under the watchful eye of a police officer friend who lived next door.

In these moments of panic, I had visions of moving permanently but that goal shifted and I decided to spend some time in Tejas, Annapolis, and the Bay Area, with side trips to garden spots like Reno, Lovelock (where my mother lived in another age), and Winnemucca.

But even that plan changed as I found myself wanting with all of my heart to return to the home where all of my memories of her resided. I’ll return, of course, but will I stay or will I once again want “to be where I ain’t?”

I have a hunch that her spirit in the family home is the power that will hold me there until I join her. When that happens, I’ll never again want to be where I ain’t. She planned it that way.

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