Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Surreal Nightmare of Donald Trump's plans for the presidency

We are living in a state of surreality here in the USA. Down is Up. Moving Backward is Moving Forward.

Absurdity is the new Normal.

How? Why?

Well. The nominees our President-Elect, Trump, has named for prime Cabinet positions are all avowed detractors of the very departments that Trump has asked them to head.

Financiers, billionaires, former generals, super rich people Trump owes a favor to: these people will lead America right into the very swamp Trump vowed to drain.

At first, I assumed Trump was just an idiot being played by extreme right-wing "advisors." Then, I realized that Trump must be specifically picking the worst possible candidates he can, as a way to hasten the decline of America.

After all, Trump crowed (on the record) years ago that complete destruction of the U.S. economy and culture was the only way to start fresh and "make America great again." Which means: revert to 1950s America when men ruled everything, when no one was transgender, when women stayed in the kitchen and had a million babies.

Don't believe me?

The Department of Education secretary wants to see public education dismantled, and has said so publicly many times.

Education under DeVos will be laughable (and decimated). This nominee is a woman who has absolutely no experience in education; she's just rich. If she gets this important post, watch out! Poor kids will have even shittier schools, and "affordable college" ain't never gonna happen.

The Department of Energy may have a secretary--Rick Perry, a goofy but affable dude, definitely not the sharpest crayon in the box--who publicly vowed to eliminate this department (though, to be fair, he couldn't even remember its name).

For our nation's financial future, who better to lead than the Villains of Wall Street? You know, the SAME callous con artists from Goldman Sachs who engineered the Great Recession and the foreclosure crisis? The exact same white-collar criminals Trump himself derided during his tacky rallies? Those same guys.

Ironic, isn't it? (Or, predictable.)

If Jeff Sessions is named Attorney General, watch how many new civil rights the man destroys.  Marijuana? "That's not something good people do," Sessions once said. Buckle your seat belts: everyone will be targeted (and not protected) under Sessions, who hates gays, blacks, women, etc.

And what of our potential new Secretary of State? Every day, it's a novel nightmare.

Pick the flat-out most inappropriate candidate for SoS, and I'll bet you (and I'll win) that Trump has already floated that person's name.

Jeff Bolton--former Ambassador to the U.N. ? (he was asked to leave because he's such a combative a-hole and is in no way diplomatic); Ben Carson (what??); Rudy Guiliani? (ugh) Now Rex Tillerson? (puppet of Russia).

Can it get any worse? Not really.

Trump is also threatening climate change scientists. He wants their names. He will take away their funding.Trump has promised to back out of the Paris talks.

In a year when polar ice has melted at twice the rate scientists expected, climate-change denier Trump wants to make it worse by gutting the E.P.A., and by supporting more fracking (aka raping) of our land while taking away clean air and clean water safeguards.

After all (to a Republican), regulations stifle business! And we can't have that. Money is all that matters--not people. Not life! And certainly not the future we will leave to our children--sucks for them, but as long as the top 1%  and old white men continue to hold 80% of the world's wealth, we're good, the Cons say.

I heard on NPR today, however, that much of the bluster Trump is blowing can't even be done, and actually, deregulation (after regulation) is very confusing for businesses that have already adjusted to the regs. So...Trump's plans will be more annoying than the regulations were.

What else does Trump want to de-fund? He hates the Arts...and promises to slash arts funding. The man who called Hamilton "overrated"--yet saw Evita six times, because the story of a dictator is right up his alley--doesn't read or care for theatre. But reality television? Why, of course that will be safe!

It would not surprise me in the slightest if Trump allowed cameras into the White House to film his every move for a future show.

I have been despondent over Trump's election, though I had moments of "maybe it won't be so bad..." Those moments have ended. But I'm not hopeless.

As one of my FB friends said today, "We aren't mustangs trapped in a box canyon." We can RESIST.

There is a way out; there is hope--raise your voice and be heard. Protest Trump. We can NOT allow a potentially traitorous, surely dangerous would-be dictator to assume the presidency and undo all the progress of past decades.

 #Resist. #ResistTrump.

Tell Congress that we, the people, demand it do the right thing.

Keep Trump away from power, or else we are surely doomed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Press Needs to Report the Truth About Republican Ruthlessness

The press is coming out full force against Trump now, and that's amazing to see. But why couldn't the MSM have dared to call Trump out on his egregious lies several months ago, even years ago, when the lies began?

Why did the media run so many annoying fake-news Benghazi accusations and tiresome "Hillary's missing e-mail" stories without even trying to refute the accusations or disprove them?

I read a piece yesterday about the remorse a major newspaper editor now feels for not daring to let reporters write, "These are lies," about the Republicans', and Trump's, accusations about Hillary.

Why was the editor afraid to let his reporters call BS? Because the papers never want to be accused of political bias.

A few weeks ago, when The New York Times endorsed Hillary Clinton, many people wrote angry comments that read--no joke--"How can a newspaper endorse a presidential candidate? That's terrible; that's biased, you liberal scum!"

Never mind that newspapers have endorsed candidates since forever; we have to be so careful with delicate neocon minds. They get offended if we call it like it is, like it's been for years now: a morass of insults and baseless lies, the deliberate demonization of Democrats.

Someone has to speak up and try to stop the Con-sponsored madness. Apparently, that "someone" is not the media.

WHY, I have to wonder, did Hillary just sit on her stool at the last debate and let Trump threaten her with jail? Was there another option? Could she have put a stop to it, or is this just a no-win situation for women, for Democrats?

How many times have Republicans walked around company parking lots, making note of cars with Democratic bumper stickers and demanding that those flaming liberals be fired? Too many times to count (this actually happened to me).

I even had my front lawn set on fire in 2004 because I had a sign for Kerry. I have no signs on my lawn anymore.

If Karma is really a thing, as I hope it is, then I hope that Trump supporters get a taste of it soon. Fire any idiot who has a Trump sticker, perhaps. It would only be fair to see it come back around.

Much is coming out now about abuse and bullies and gaslighting because of Trump. It's like people suddenly woke up and realized, "This is real--political harassment is real. And we can talk about it."

At any rate, I hope we are now witnessing the end of the savage right wing.

P.S.  It's sick how this entire situation with Hillary is a foregone conclusion, after the way she was able to suppress Bernie Sanders, but no one talks about the truly scary machine behind George W. Bush, ensuring his unjust election. During the hanging chad debacle, Republicans were protesting outside the VP's mansion, screaming "get out of Cheney's house." Barbara Walters thought it would be in poor taste to actually report that, after Gore's kids told her the story. 

And during the RNC in NYC (2004), anyone walking near the convention was thrown into an open air prison for days. Random people walking home from work were locked up in "Guantanamo on the Hudson." Not a word about this on the news. Why?? 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

An article, a book, a life-changing conversation

This  article from The Atlantic was one I assigned to my students several years ago--merely as an extra piece to read toward the end of the year, a time when we were done with the usual curriculum.  

I enjoyed Emily Esfahani Smith's piece, "There's More to Life Than Being Happy." I got a lot out of it, and I hoped my students would, too.

They did. 

The article started a huge, school-wide conversation about the reason we're alive.

I've now taught Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, which this article refers to, for several years. This book changes lives. Honest.

Viktor Frankl, famous psychiatrist
At the end of the year, half the supply of paperbacks is always missing; no one wants to return this book. That's how powerful it is.

Share an article with your students--maybe this article. Start a conversation. See where it leads. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

World MS Trend Day 2016

Today is ‪#‎WorldMSTrendDay2016‬. You may notice a flood of social media posts with ‪#‎curems‬ or ‪#‎MultipleSclerosis‬.

I have MS, unfortunately (I think I got it because I had a particularly beastly mononucleosis infection as a teenager; there may be a connection).

So I’ll do my part today to spread awareness of what MS is and what it does, and why we aren't getting a cure (hint: money). And then? I will try not to think about MS--because doing so, I find, is a downer.

What is MS? Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a real disease, and a real and increasing problem. Its name refers to numerous scars on the brain that occur when myelin, which is the outside coating of the pathways between neurons in the brain, is eaten away by an overzealous immune system. Scars, or lesions, of worn-away myelin can result in spasms, pain, trouble walking, speaking, seeing, swallowing, using one’s hands, etc. MS usually flares when lesions are new and active, and subsides as other lesions heal.

MS is a neurological illness—and neurological illnesses are particularly frustrating because they can make us feel pathetic, helpless. After all, our brains control us, so we are SOL when our brains betray us, as we realize when MS, or ALS, or Parkinson’s, or any other neurological disease strikes.

Alarmingly, MS is increasing: stats have jumped from 400,000 people worldwide with MS in the 1990s to nearly 4 million now. Most MS patients are from England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the northern USA, but more people from all regions are getting MS now. No one knows why.

No cures or even good medicines exist for MS. New meds have been released in recent years, making it seem as if progress in treatment is being made. In reality, however, these meds are almost all old, re-purposed drugs with their price tags jacked up 5,000% to take advantage of the desperate MS market, or else these meds are interesting new poisons—very expensive poisons: $65,000 a year for near-constant fatigue, nausea, etc.

Maybe that's the point of these MS awareness and calls for a cure days: we need to be aware that Big Pharma rips off niche markets like MS patients…and Parkinson’s patients…and cancer patients…and diabetes patients. If you can fight the power, please try to do so.

We also need to be sure that, in our upcoming elections, we vote in ways that will protect health insurance coverage for people with chronic illnesses. Thank God for the ‪#‎ACA‬ (Obamacare); it is the reason why I have health insurance that pays for my MS treatments. Seriously!

Although all chronic illnesses deserve our attention and awareness, MS can be an especially difficult disease because it’s usually not obvious to outsiders, except for vague symptoms that may appear to be other problems. Example: I’ve been bumping into some walls lately, as I walk around corners, because my proprioception is off: my brain isn't correctly perceiving distances between my body and nearby obstacles. I’ve also been occasionally tripping and falling for no reason whatsoever. And lately, I have had a few speaking issues that really embarrass me, and, I fear, make me look stupid, which I am not. All of this is MS--not drunkenness (I don't drink) or slow-wittedness.

The good news is that all MS symptoms are usually temporary or fleeting. So, for me, a few days a year, MS is horrible; many days, I can actually believe I don't have it at all; and the rest of the time, MS is just slightly annoying background chatter, invisible to anyone but me.

I’m doing pretty well, all things considered, and in comparison to many others, so I should feel grateful. "You look so good!" is what neurologists tell me.

Nevertheless, I am just about to start a new MS drug. I wish I could say that I am hopeful that the medicine will make me “better,” but in fact, I am worried that it will make me feel worse. Still, I have to try it, just to say that I did, so I can show that I've tried the protocol treatments and so that I can be eligible, later, for the new chemo-type drugs, immune system-blasters, or stem cell treatments that are risky but that may actually be cures. (I'd like a serious treatment that will stop the threat of progression, which always looms, like an ominous shadow.)

So there it is. Only a few days a year are MS awareness days, but people every day are coping with MS.

If you’ve read this, now you might know a little more about MS—for whatever that’s worth. Don’t worry that MS will come after you next, but do consider, perhaps, how precious your brain is. Protect it. Cherish it.

Also, if you're an American, be sure to cherish and protect health care coverage for yourself and for your fellow citizens.

Keep healthy and be well,

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Reading: Think Like an English Teacher

It has begun: Summer reading...and, for me, summer tutoring.

I have lots of new clients right now, all of whom are juggling their summer reading demands with other summer activity schedules such as work, sports, camp, trips, etc.

Their summer reading books, I am happy to see, are not the same-old, same-old fare, but include lots of world lit, and contemporary lit, and balanced mixes of fiction and non-fiction. (It always makes me happy to see teachers revising their book lists, keeping current, and branching out--while helping their students do the same.)

My job is to help my students stay on track, and learn how to read more effectively (and, perhaps, read more quickly) and to remember what they've read, taking useful notes.

But the most important thing I do as a summertime tutor is to help my students learn how to think like an English teacher. That is, I try to teach my clients how to anticipate what their regular English teacher will want to hear and read from them about their summer reading.

English teachers, I explain, what to know what students were left with after reading their assigned book(s). What did students think about and learn during and after reading? This question applies to both content (themes, historical and current connections) and to the author's writing style.

Whenever we read--as I've said before and will likely say again and again--we should ask ourselves, what is this book saying about human nature, about how people lived, and/or still live? 

I'm really asking, what fundamental truths can readers consider and grasp after reading a certain book?

ALSO--if we're thinking like an English teacher, here--we must ask ourselves, how do these books COMPARE? 

All students should expect some essays to write just as soon as school reconvenes in the fall. What will the essays be on? Summer reading, of course--either the books separately, or compared to one another.

To get ready for the early fall writing/testing onslaught, students should:

  • Keep notes on major themes in the books they read. 
  • Notice how characters complement each other (protagonists and antagonists). What does each character (if we're talking fiction) want, and why?
  • Pay attention to time period and setting.  This can have an important connection to the theme.
  • Do some light research, as well: Google the questions you are being asked to answer, but don't just copy some Yahoo Answers response; read a variety of sources, both lit crit and reader blogs or reviews, and synthesize to create your own, more meaningful and nuanced answer.
  • Conduct some quick outside research (I emphasize "light" and/or "quick" so as not to scare kids off; I also model how easy and fast it is for me to do this sort of research, thus teaching my clients how to do it themselves next time), This can also go a long, long way to helping refresh students' memories in the late summer or early fall; plus, this research is also a great way to come up with interesting, meaningful points for discussion at the point when students are discussing or writing about summer reading assignments.  
  • Note questions that came to mind while reading. Contributing questions to a class and explaining how s/he found the answer (whether in the book itself, or through outside searches) models intellectual curiosity, and is a great way to participate in and energize literature discussions.

Teachers (especially English teachers--but also History teachers) LOVE when students can contribute serious, insightful comments in class.

What better way to make a great first impression on your new teacher than to raise your hand and have something interesting to say that both helps the teacher conduct a lively class and helps your fellow students understand another layer, another reason why we read?

Summer reading should first be enjoyable, however. Read just to read, I tell my clients.

Then, we'll go back and we'll get the answers to the list of questions you were given. Or, we'll prepare for deeper thinking and future writing assignments.

Anything we truly want to understand needs to be read more than once, of course.

Happy summer reading!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why We Read; Why We Write

English teachers are often asked by book-weary students, "Why do we have to read?" or, "Why do we have to read this book? This book is depressing." 

We also hear, "Why does everyone die in every book that we read? Can't we read a book with a happy ending?"

These are interesting questions because they let us address the fundamental reasons why people write and why we all should read.

We read in order to understand and process the human experience. 

Here are two examples (there are millions more):

Reading a novel such as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini helps us to understand life in Afghanistan, as well as how it feels to live with guilt, and how we may atone for this guilt, for the wrongs that we've done to others. 

Reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel helps us to understand the era of the Tudors in medieval England, and when we read this historical novel, we realize that people have always been--at heart--the same. We are and have always been political animals, giving to get, trying to protect ourselves and our families in dangerous times.

It's true that characters usually die in fiction and in drama.

Why is this? 

Maybe because we are all going to die in real life. Death is inevitable, the ultimate shared human experience. 

Thinking about death is useful because it helps us to think about life. It's yin and yang--we can't have one without the other. If we didn't die, we wouldn't know how to cherish and make the most of our lives, now would we? Similarly, if we didn't know evil, we would never be able to recognize good.

We write about people and death and love and sin and good and evil in order to communicate, to share ideas and experiences. 

Writing helps us to find common ground or to persuade others to consider life they way that we do. 

For writing to hold our attention, it usually needs a story,  an anecdotal experience we can relate to.

Story is essential; stories are the basic framework through which we consider life and the world.

The primary subject of our writing is often our own story (after all, the individual usually finds him or herself to be the most interesting subject; that's just natural, even if, deep down, we know it's not always true). We know, or think we know, ourselves. 

Sharing our stories helps us see how the personal is also the universal.

And that's what it's all about: realizing that we are connected, no matter where or when we live, or how we live. We share common human stories. 

Life is not perfect; usually, it's pretty hard. But if life weren't hard sometimes, we would not be able to appreciate when it's easy.

Life, while you're in school, is indeed comparatively easy. Enjoy it--even if you have to read that depressing book.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Last minute tips for ACT exam

·    My number-one tip? READ. 

    Read the English passages (seriously). 

    Read the Reading passages (doh!). 

    If you simply look at the underlined phrases in English, you will make silly mistakes…and the longish Critical Reading passages require overall comprehension; you will save time and energy by simply doing your job and reading them in the first place.


  •       NO CHANGE is, quite often, the answer on ACT English test questions. Don’t be afraid to choose NO CHANGE as the answer. Remember that most questions are asking you to choose an answer that best serves the passage. If an answer choice does NOT improve the writing or argument, it is incorrect, and thus, NO CHANGE.

  •             Redundancy is huge on the ACT English test--be able to recognize redundancies (these are sometimes easiest to spot once you notice that three of the answer choices are basically saying the same thing!). Remember that some redundancies are not apparent if you have not read the ENTIRE sentence, or even into the next sentence!  A transition that repeats another nearby transition is also a redundancy…

  •             The most succinct answer is usually correct.  The trap here is that this might almost look too plain, too simple, and you will be tempted to pick the answer choice with the more sophisticated wording (yet, this choice is also usually redundant—which is hard to see if you don’t know what the fancy words mean).

  • Verb tense is a common question or concept tested—you MUST read the entire paragraph to really know which verb tense is correct. Do not make the mistake of simply reading the underlined phrase.

  •             Re: the dreaded “Overall” questions at end—these look daunting at first, but if you have taken my advice (advice which is good for ANY reading passage on this test, or in life) and you’ve stopped for 30 seconds after reading and self-tested, asking yourself, “What was that about? What was the subject and/or the argument?” you will be in great shape, and ready for these big, final questions.

  •            General strategy for overall questions is to know “yes” or “no”—but beware of hidden traps in these answer choices. Often, what comes after the yes or no is either wildly incorrect, or partially incorrect. MAKE SURE YOU READ THE ENTIRE ANSWER CHOICE.

  •             Re: Process of Elimination (POE). Always use this strategy for reverse questions, and for any questions that ask you style-related questions that have to do with relevancy.

  •            Style questions—you must read the entire paragraph to “get” the style (how things have been written and described). Often, simple answer choices are the best here.

  •             Occasionally, diction errors are tested. An example of this is the error “would of.” Many people do not know this is an error because it sounds almost exactly like “would’ve” (would have.) To avoid these traps, make sure you are familiar with how words sound and how they look (how they are spelled). You will also see questions that ask the difference between “than” and “then” or “could of” and “could have.” Be conscious of the fact that the ACT tests this.

  •              English passages can vary in terms of difficulty, but you will always be good to go if you have read and understood the passage.


One thing you might (and should) notice about ACT Critical Reading passages is that the excerpts might not immediately get to the point. The first few grafs may NOT be the about the primary subject or argument. 

Just keep reading and looking for the purpose, the point, the reason why the passage was either written or included on this exam.

Prose Fiction

This section (the first part of Critical Reading) might either seem enjoyable and easy or relatively difficult. You really have to use your skills of inference to know what’s going on, what is being said.

Ask yourself (to check your understanding), ‘What was this piece about? Can I write a one-sentence summary?” If you can do this, then chances are that you really understood the passage.

Be sure to pay special attention to descriptions about a character’s  reputation, thoughts, actions, etc. These are usually fodder for inference questions, so learn to anticipate this. (The ACT Prose Fiction section is testing your skills of inference; can you understand something that isn’t explicitly stated?)

On reading questions, you will be able to use POE for many of the questions.

Social Sciences

·        The purpose, the point of the passage, may not be apparent until mid-way through. Clearest purpose/argument is often found in the final paragraph or two, so, like a shark in the ocean, keep moving (keep reading), always hunting for the argument.

·        Pay attention to shift words and questions.  These will alert you to argument. For example, if a passage seems to be about one thing but you then see a “while” or “although,” you can expect a shift in argument.

·        Sometimes the questions are confusing. To get around this problem, know that you can always paraphrase. I often paraphrase difficult quotes or concepts and write my paraphrases in brief margin notes.

·        When you’re selecting answers, beware of partially correct answer choices that use exact words and phrases from the text. Read the entire answer choice because what looks good at first may include a false phrase or word by the end (or an extreme, absolute word that is not quite right). 

Remember: the correct answer may be an odd paraphrase; it likely will NOT use exact words from the text.

·        Once you’ve whittled your answer choices down to two, check the wording of each choice and eliminate one. Often, just one word or a few words (usually, toward the end of the answer choice sentence—be sure to read the ENTIRE sentence—will render that choice incorrect).


·        This section can either be akin (similar) to Social Sciences or to Prose Fiction (it’s really like a hybrid of the two, and your approach to this passage demands both attention to detail AND inference).

·         Brief margin notes may help—or may not be necessary.

·         BE SURE that you test yourself on Purpose and Tone. Make notes about each and expect Purpose questions.

·        POE can be your best friend here, too.

·        A few “detail” questions will force you to hunt in the text. Look for the keyword noted in the question…making margin notes about the subject of each graf can help save you time when you’re detail hunting.


·        Margin notes are your best friend here.

·        This section is often rife with little details you may need to find.. Making margin notes that at least address the subject of various grafs will help you to hunt for details later.

·         You might also look at questions, too, to get a sense of what you will need to know and find later.