Archive | November, 2012

Killing Christmas?

30 Nov

Is there a war on Christmas? That’s what I’ve heard but it appears to me that Christmas is doing just fine. Plus I’m pretty sure that we needn’t worry too much because Christmas can hold its own against anybody. Just ask Thanksgiving! It was swallowed up this year by the shopping frenzy we call the Christmas season.

This year Black Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving and also the traditional starting point for the holiday season and also coincidentally enough, always held on a Friday… began on a Thursday! And that Thursday was Thanksgiving! What other holiday can swallow up another holiday while empowering one of the week’s days into swallowing its own eve? Now that’s what I call a Black Friday! And that’s what I call Christmas being Christmas.

Besides what other holiday has its own season? Really? I think Christmas is doing just fine and can hardly be affected by mere mortals who might dare to say “Happy Holidays!” or “Look at my Holiday tree!” And any school kid knows that Christmas vacation by any other name would still be 10 days off! And Christmas is the only day with the power to fall on a Wednesday and extend your holiday fun to 2 full weeks! Christmas rocks and always will!

And Christians in general need to just calm down and be happy that Christmas is the one Christian holiday that actually gets atheists to shut up about atheism for a few weeks and join the flock like lost sheep in need of shearing.

Yes, yes, yes, Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ but not even Jesus was a Christian. He was Jewish and never mentioned anything about starting up a new religion that worshiped him, of all people. I suspect he would be turning over in his grave at the thought…if he were still in it.

In fact I’m pretty sure that someone, who lived his life as a devout and rather orthodox Jewish man, if and when he did return to Earth to find us all decking the halls, burning the yule log and kissing Santa Claus, that jolly old fat German elf, as part of the worship of a holiday in his name, most likely wouldn’t even join in on the festivities over his own dead body.

Oh, wait…

Anyway, I like Christmas and always have and unless the Mayans are right and the world ends on December 21st, then Christmas shall have won another victory!

So Go Christmas Go! Happy Holidays and to all a good fright, because look out Halloween, we’re swallowing you up next!

A war on Christmas? Yeah, right. And the Easter bunny lays eggs!

No, Who’s On First?

29 Nov

My son called today. He’s also a teacher and he remarked that he’d had an Abbot and Costello moment in his class. One of his students asked what the definition of conjecture was…and my son replied, “Guess!”

You can probably imagine what happened after that. When you’re a teacher you never know when that moment will strike. Hopefully it’s amusing to everyone and then the class moves on but when you’re a teacher you always have to be very careful about what and how you say things…and never make a comment or start a conversation that you’re not prepared to follow through to its conclusion, wherever it may lead…

One day in class I matter-of-factly said to one of my students who was just acting a little too ditzy for my liking, “Jan, you’re a hockey puck!”

“I’m not a hockey puck” she replied rather confusedly.

“No, I said. I don’t mean that you’re actually a hockey puck. It’s an expression. You know you’re acting like such an airhead that your parents must have played hockey when you were little and they used you as the hockey puck and so now that’s why you’re so dizzy.”

“Well that’s pretty silly Mr. Picone. Jan replied. My parents don’t play hockey.”

“No Fran, I tried to explain. No one played hockey. It’s just an expression.”

“But my parents don’t play hockey! Why would you say that they did? They don’t play hockey. They never play hockey.”

“Jan! I interrupted. It’s just something that Don Rickles would always say. He’s a comedian and he calls people hockey pucks when he wants to make fun of them. I was just trying to be funny that’s all. I was kidding.”

”Ohhhhhhhh, said Jan. I know Don Rickles.”

Finally I’d gotten through to her. She’d recognized my reference to an old comedian who was popular when I was in school. At least now  we could get on with the lesson…

Unfortunately she added, ”He lives in my neighborhood.”

“What?! I just had to ask. Could this be possible? Now I was getting confused…

Don Rickles lives in your neighborhood?”

“Of course, she said matter of factly. I think he’s a sophomore.”

I gave up…“Jan? You ARE a hockey puck!”

Mr. Pi-Co-Own” She had to have the last word (and I’d let her just so we could move along) How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t play hockey!”

One of the things that can make being a teacher so difficult is that sometimes no matter how hard you try; you just cannot reach your students.

Just Not Interested Anymore

26 Nov

I was doing some on-line banking this morning and as I was scrolling through my recent transactions I happened to notice that my bank, one of the largest in the world by the way, made an interest deposit in my favor…for 5 cents!

Once upon a time when I was little an interest credit of 5 cents would have meant that I was a five year old whose dad had just opened a savings account for him with 1 dollar.

I’m all grown up now and I have quite a few more dollars in the bank but I’m still getting 5 cents in interest! 

I tried to figure out what kind of a percentage that meant I was getting on my money but my calculator melted while trying to do the math.

Honestly I don’t even bother to add the interest into my balance anymore. It’s not worth the time or worth using up one of the spaces in my register to add just pennies to my balance. I just wrote pennies didn’t I? Imagine that! Pennies in interest on a banking account in the 21st century… when I was teaching high school the students would throw pennies at each other rather than keep the annoying coins in their pockets. Now they’re my investment income.

Honestly, I’d rather they kept their 5 cents than insult me with such a transaction.

Soon I suspect they will be paying my interest in imaginary numbers.

I’d love to be able to take out a loan from the same bank and then hand them 5 cents when the interest on that loan came due… wouldn’t you?

Of course that probably would have meant that I had only borrowed a quarter.

I mean really, one of the largest banks in the world can only afford to give me 5 cents in interest these days on the money I put in there for safe keeping and which of course they are also allowed to use to make themselves money?

And yet the banks can’t seem to make ends meet and we’re in the middle of an economic downturn.

We’re doomed!

Has our government heard about this?

The one that’s made up of 47% lawyers and 43% millionaires?

Or is it the other way around?

No matter I guess…

I don’t know whether I’m more angry, insulted or depressed by the whole situation…

But it does kinda make you lose interest in more ways than one doesn’t it?


Old Billy Was Right…

24 Nov

     Just another Hurricane Sandy story to report:

     My tree went down in the storm. It was one of those trees that was not so much big around as it was voluminous in its growth. It always had a branch going this way or that and they would seemingly sprout and grow like Jack’s Beanstalk each Spring.

Anyway, it would always drop a branch or two in a storm, but Hurricane Sandy took it and shook it like an angry giant avenging his lost goose and deposited it very nicely over my neighbors shed and rear yard while also destroying my fence in the process…you know, the good fence that had made those ogres in my back yard such good neighbors for all these years.

So long story short, within 2 weeks of the worst hurricane to ever hit the New Jersey shore in the history of shores and New Jersey, my ogreish neighbors, with the speed of summer lightning, hired a lawyer threatening to sue me if I did not promptly remove the tree and its unsightly debris!

Wow! I needn’t tell you that I was amazed. Trees had fallen all over the eastern seaboard. Some even killing innocent bystanders while others tore through houses and wrecked havoc on homesteads great and small, not to mention the other billions of dollars in flood and wind damage that had devastated the area. Contractors and electricians and police and fire rescuers had been working non stop to help those in need. There was so much to be done and so few available to help that a disaster triage system had to be put into place to determine who was in the most need of relief services…and yet my “neighbors” had found a “lawyer” to draft a threatening letter and send it in the space of 16 days when 6 of those days had been without electricity and power of any kind. And all for a downed tree in the remote corner of a back yard at the end of October with nary an innocent bystander nor lawn furniture to be seen laying under it.

Of course I had every intention of removing it and even felt that it was my responsibility for doing so since it was my tree that had fallen into their yard and I responded in kind to their lawyer and forwarded a copy to our township’s lawyer for good measure just to see if I could get a legal opinion to chime in on my side.

And I did…sort of…except that the township’s lawyer who works for the town, I presume, which is also the same town that we all (neighbor, lawyer, myself) live in couldn’t (wouldn’t?) offer any specific advice as to the legality of one resident’s claim over another or the legal responsibility for removal of trees and debris from yards and such. And why is that? Are we not township residents? Be he not the township’s lawyer? Doth we not payeth the taxes?

Apparently (and this is me presuming now) without any fees being involved or lawyers being specifically hired to render such opinions none would be forthcoming because that’s how lawyers make money isn’t it?

 Anyway, I find a tree service. They chop and remove the tree. I pay the bill and then send the claim over to my insurance company. And that’s when a nice lady, not a lawyer, but just a common working person just like you and me tells me

“It is unfortunate that your neighbor is so un-neighborly.  I can tell you that your legal obligation to remove a tree from your neighbor’s yard does NOT exist unless you have been negligent, which would create liability. In the case of trees, the only time where there’s negligence is if you have let a dangerous condition to exist without  doing your duty to correct it in a timely fashion. That would mean the tree was dead, sick, or dying and in clear need of being removed prior to when the storm hit.  Most insurance companies would require proof of written notice by the neighbor before they accept any liability on the part of their insured.So you can feel free to send your neighbor a bill for the part of the  tree removal that was specifically from their property.  It’s their responsibility, not yours. No matter what their attorney says.”

Gee, wouldn’t you have thought that one of those nice well schooled lawyers could have told both my neighbor and me that in the first place? Especially the one that our township employs and pays with our tax money? Of course now all of this misinformation or lack thereof from the lawyers involved might generate a nice law suit between angry neighbors. Wouldn’t that be a nice chunk of change for a lawyer or two looking for a job?

What I hate about lawyers is that they seem to make it a point to never tell you anything that can be useful and they always treat the truth as though it were a commodity to be leveraged, bought and sold and/or manipulated for profit. It seems that the more lawyers we get in this world the less truth we have available to help us figure out what’s going on.

43% of all Congressmen are lawyers while 47% are millionaires. These statistics may also explain why, when it comes to the government, it’s so hard to find out what exactly is going on these days.

Sadly though, I had to get my truth from an insurance company of all places!

And even more sadly, if only my tree had been destroyed by volcanic ash (IN NEW JERSEY!!!???) I wouldn’t have had to pay my policy’s deductible!

Undoubtedly a lawyer put that in the policy just for kicks.

Yep, Old Billy was right…

Moral of the story? Get a good education and learn as much as you can about everything that you can! The truth may set you free but unfortunately it may only be available for a fee.

The Secret of Teaching: The Student!

22 Nov

Although I have poked some fun at Physical Education teachers lately, no one knows better than a Phys. Ed. teacher what the real secret of teaching is.

The secret to teaching in the public schools is really all about being a good public school student. The better your students are the better your teachers are and the better your school becomes.

In sports the better your players are, the smarter your coach becomes. You can change managers all you want until you find the smartest one in the world but he still won’t be able to make the Kansas City Royals win their division, but get better players and hang on to the good ones you’ve got and before you know it you’ve got a championship team.

Good students just like good ball players are developed over time and for a student to be successful it takes that student’s personal commitment to succeed more than it takes another person’s personal commitment to make that student succeed.

That really is all there is to the secret of teaching, and coaching, as well. Certainly good, knowledgeable and dedicated teachers who can show students the way are important but unless their students pay attention, work hard and personally dedicate themselves to succeed, we’re all just on a bad team waiting for the season to end.

I once had a student who came to school every day with a tennis ball. That was it; just he and his tennis ball which he liked to bounce a lot. What do you figure he was thinking or looking to learn? Unfortunately, I was not the tennis coach and the class was not part of the tennis team…of course I took it away (In case you were going to suggest that?) but he just got another one. He was very good at that.

And I had other students over the years just like him who would bring various and sundry objects to school but hardly ever their books and pencils and paper etc.

I often wonder about the parents who send their kids off to school this way? What are they thinking their children are going to be doing in school when they leave their home so obviously unprepared?

What do you suppose is their lesson plan for their children’s success?

When it comes to education and coaching too, everybody needs a plan for winning, not just the teachers and the coaches. That’s the real secret.

What Goes Up Comes Down

19 Nov

What if, rather than gym teachers, more science teachers were employed as coaches? Then maybe we’d finally abolish the most dangerous and ridiculous sport of all. Cheerleading!

Did you know that cheerleading is the most dangerous activity that your son or daughter can participate in and that more injuries are attributable to cheerleading each year than to any other sport or activity? Including wrestling and football! I kid you not.

And why is this? Because as any respectable science teacher knows, what goes up must come down and usually at a greater speed…and often with a resounding thud! It’s called gravity, and mom and dad; it’s not just a theory anymore.

Just about every sport one can name has rules, regulations and penalties against any participant leaving the ground and hurtling through space like a projectile, and for good reason; because you could kill yourself or someone else, but not cheerleading. No, they encourage it! “Come here lil’ darlin’. What’s your name? You look like you’d make a very fine hand grenade…Now who wants to throw Sheila in the air?”

And they don’t even use equipment. Does she get a helmet or shoulder pads or shin guards even? No! Because in Cheerleading you get penalized for protecting yourself! No doubt being caught using a maxi-pad would be cause for disqualification. “What are you? Girls? Yes! They are! Are you babies? Yes! Sometimes they actually are babies! OK, not actually babies but often 5 year old Junior, Midget Pee Wees…which definitely has to be my favorite division name of all time in any sport anywhere.

So here’s a short skirt and some cute underwear “Now fly me pretties! Fly!”

What I don’t understand is why we still have Cheerleading. Didn’t Cheerleading begin because we wouldn’t let girls play any sports? Hasn’t all that changed and don’t we have equality now? What are they still cheering for? And don’t tell me that we have boys involved now too. They’re just there to catch the girls and help throw them back into the stratosphere higher than ever before. If this were the circus and not the public schools we’d employ the use of safety nets rather than try to create another co-educational opportunity.

What I want to know is what misogynist bastard invented this sport anyway? Probably some old man who’d just seen his team go 0-30 and couldn’t stand listening to the incessant, optimistic, sweet and happy tones of the cute little red-faced girls who just wouldn’t stop cheering, cheering…cheering! When we’re losing, losing…losing! “So honeys, why don’t you add some spice to your game and throw each other in the air every now and then to show us that you really mean it, and don’t forget to smile, smile, smile all the way from apogee to impact!”

“But coach! We’ll kill ourselves!”

“What are you? Girls? Babies?”

Yes they are! Now stop it!

Actually cheerleading was invented in the late 19th century when some guys starting shouting from the stands, rooting the home team on. Now look what’s happened. Instead of cheering for the team, they are the team…and they’re cheering for themselves!… While others cheer for them. We’ve actually got people cheering for cheering. That’s like making clapping at a theater performance without the theater or the performance, an event! And then clapping for the clappers who are being thrown in the air and twisting themselves into interesting shapes while clapping.

I know right now someone is reading this and getting very angry because they have a cute Honey Boo Boo at home who practices cheering 6 hours every day …and that’s just doing the makeup! There’s no makeup in sports!… unless there’s rain first so I’m sorry mom (and reluctant dad) …

It’s not a sport! And any mom and dad who let their babies grow up to be projectiles should be fitted for a helmet and promptly shot from a cannon! If it requires jumping up and down, wearing cute clothes, yelling and screaming at the top of your lungs and smiling like a fool on a botox high…It’s not a sport. It’s a pajama party!

ralph nader’s 17 solutions

17 Nov

We know the solutions to our problems but we can’t act on them because of the special interests of a select few, namely those few we select to run our government!


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Gym Tonic?

16 Nov

If there are people who feel that teachers are just slackers who only want to work for 180 days and have summers off then gym teachers are to teachers what teachers are to everyone else.

One of my first experiences in the classroom was as a substitute teacher who was called in to substitute for a Physical Education teacher. I was certified in Speech/Theater and English and was promised that I would only be called in to substitute for teachers in the discipline for which I’d been trained. This by the way is the first disillusionment that all teachers must face when being hired: that you actually will be asked to teach something that you have been trained to teach. The second is the belief that a classroom full of students will be naturally inclined to listen to you.

So when I answered the phone that morning and was told that I would be substituting for a gym teacher my immediate response was, “but I don’t know anything about teaching gym.” Obviously I’d given myself away as a rookie. I’d used teaching and gym in the same sentence, and the sub caller replied. “Don’t worry. When you get there you’ll meet with a supervisor and complete plans and instructions will be provided for you.

So off I went and when I arrived at school I was met by another Phys Ed teacher who handed me a clipboard and, noticing my apprehension, looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, just take attendance and say, “play.” Substituting for gym became my favorite assignment.

And who could blame me? Who wouldn’t want to go to work everyday in shorts and wind breakers and play? It’s like being a professional athlete without having to be an athlete. Funny how society likes to pay to watch people play well together but doesn’t like to pay people who teach others how to play well together…anyway, I understand why we ask our gym teachers to also be our sports coaches and athletic advisers, they already have the wardrobe, but I’ve often wondered why we ask them to also teach health?

Back in the 1960s it was our gym teachers/football coaches who taught us that experiencing blurred vision, hallucinations and extreme thirst during two-a-day football practices were not signs of dehydration and possible stroke but rather were signs of a young man’s desire to want to become mama’s little boy again or better yet wanting to trade his penis in for a young girl’s sexual organ!

“I’m thirsty coach. Can I get a drink?”

“What are you a baby?! Whadda we have here, a bunch of goddamn girls?! Now drop and give me 20!”

“But I can’t feel my arms coach!”

“Then give me 30! And no water until practice is over you little babies!”

Coaches were never on the cutting edge of scientific theory as far as I could tell but still we always put them in charge of health. Instead of getting Gatorade during practice we used to get salt pills! Perhaps the science departments would be better suited to teach our young children these classes. After all I think we can thank science for Gatorade. Coaches maybe invented spitting and sweating… Just a thought.

Physical Education?

14 Nov

     Why do we call it physical education? Just imagine what the world would be like if we actually had to be taught what arms and legs were for. Acquiring knowledge actually requires learning. Fine tuning our brain is an ongoing, life long process and well it should be. There are always new things to learn! (And some old things to UN-learn which when you think about it is learning too!) But what if we had to actually sit in a classroom with Physical Education teachers and study walking and talking, and listen to lectures about how to use our arms and legs, and read textbooks about how to go about basic bodily functions like waste disposal? Good god, can you imagine what our world would look, sound and smell like with a 30% drop out rate then…and a majority of the country in the 50th learning percentile? We’d all look like zombie Quasimodos on ice!

So thank goodness we don’t actually need physical education. Maybe there is a thing called evolution after all, because it had to take a pretty long time for our brains to learn how to coordinate and master all of those physical functions that seem to come so naturally to us by the end of our first 3 to 4 years of life.

Then we use those newly mastered bodily functions to get up and walk ourselves to school because our brains know that now it’s time to do some real learning. The kind that’s going to take another 14 to 20 years or so under close guidance and supervision. So for evolutions sake! Put on that helmet and protect your head. It’s mental education that we need, not physical education. What we need is physical exercise. Heck, isn’t that why we all called it gym?!

A Lesson Learned or Lost?

12 Nov

Just a few more observations from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy…People sure love their cars and with that comes the love of gasoline. It’s been 100 years and we’re still hooked on gas. When the power went out our cars were really the only power we had left and the only source of power that we could rely on to charge our other important, can’t do without, devices that require power. Suddenly we were all on a gasoline Jones! People were sitting huddled in their cars with phones or maybe a lap top plugged into what used to be called the cigarette lighter. (Remember when almost everyone in America had a cigarette Jones?)  And as the days dragged on our cars were the only source of heat for many also.

And of course when you’re in your car you might as well go some place! So go they went… even when there was no place to go. Whole families were just driving around while policemen pointed the way through road blocks and traffic jams. Many just drove to the gas stations where they waited on long lines for hours in the hope to “fill er up!” Of course many learned the dreaded curse of the SUV and discovered that it takes almost as much gas to wait on line for gas as it does to actually go someplace. Remember when we used to drive little cars that got lots of MPGs because we were afraid of wasting or running out of gas? How did we unlearn that lesson?

Today we are addicted to gasoline as much as we are or can be addicted to any liquid in our lives. I shudder to think what we will ever do without it. A home without power is still a home, although rather depressing… but a car without gas? That’s a tragedy!

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