Saturday, January 31, 2015

What's Really Behind Our Education Crisis?

On Saturday Mr. J and I went to the Camden County Courthouse in Camden, NJ, to see some of my students compete in a thing called "Mock Trial." Mock Trial is hard to describe, but I'll try: Every year, school teams get a "case" that is fictitious but on a timely topic. The students have to be attorneys and witnesses -- they have roles to learn, but it's not a drama: It's a court case. The competition is held over two weekends in the courthouse and is presided over by real judges who accord points to each team. The team with the most points at the end goes on to a state-level competition.

I went because four of my eleven Freshman Honors students are on the mock trial team. When I got there I found out which opposing team my freshmen would be facing: Our county's most expensive and exclusive parochial school, Bishop Eustace Prep.

So here are my minority kids from Camden, who collect their free lunches every day, going up against kids whose parents can fork over $16,000 a year in high school tuition, knowing that college is just around the corner.

My students acquitted themselves very well, under the circumstances. Given that they are freshmen, if they stick with it they could really contend in a year or two.

It was what I saw when I left the courthouse that made me want to cry.

Right across the street from the Camden courthouse is a branch of the Camden City Library. The building was vacant and boarded up. No books there!

Our American government has sunk millions upon millions into a standardized test that is based upon the notion that students are only ready for college and careers if they are literate and critical thinkers. The coffers of Pearson, Inc. are brimming with taxpayer ducats that have been used to develop this test.

On top of that, our sitting president just told us, in his State of the Union Address, that he wants to make community college free. Everyone needs two years of community college to get a good job in this modern world, and four-year institutions are way too expensive.

So we have money that has been spent developing a national standardized test for grades 3 through 11. And ostensibly we will spend more taxpayer money on free college.

And the public library in Camden sits shuttered and empty.

Billionaire Bill Gates want to influence our national educational curriculum to better reflect the way he learned. To his way of thinking, school teachers are enemy number one, because they aren't all like the professors he admires.

Did I mention that the public library in Camden is shuttered and empty?

I'm not Bill Gates, not by a long shot. But I did comport myself well at Johns Hopkins University. I graduated 15th in my class. To me, that makes me as much an expert on education as he is. Quite.

Mr. Gates, open the libraries! President Obama, open the libraries! Get every one of those public libraries open, warm, well-lit, and filled to the brim with books! Have a whole floor just for ages one through six -- books, toys, computers, fish tanks, guinea pigs, toddler time, movie night! Have another floor for elementary school. Another for high school. Another for adults who need to use computers to take online classes. Open the goddamn libraries!

Our country will never meet its literacy and critical thinking objectives by designing fancier tests. Our students will never become great readers just through the efforts of school teachers. WE NEED LIBRARIES, AND WE NEED THEM NOW.

Take that free community college earmark and use it to re-open, refurbish, and re-stock all the shuttered libraries in all the poor communities across this wide nation!

I learned to read at the public library.
I got all my reading material, growing up, from the public library.
I did my homework in a public library.
I researched my family history in a public library.
I wrote encyclopedia entries -- hundreds and hundreds of them -- using public library resources.
My imagination caught fire within the walls of a public library.

Do you want to know why America lags behind many other nations in its education scores? Look no farther than the SHUTTERED LIBRARIES. There's no root under the tree.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Other Side of the Coin

Okay, so the other day I went to town on people who post nude photos of themselves onto social media. Not a great idea.

But you know what else isn't a great idea? Overdone dress codes.

Where are we living if a teenager can't wear this to a dance?

Oh my Bored Gods! Where do we draw the line? Poor kid! (Well, she's not that poor, she bought the dress in Paris.)

You know what I think? I think this must have been a Utah high school full of gossiping Mormons. The Mormonism contributes to the dress-shaming, but so does the gossip. Do you think it was a secret that this teenager went with her mom to Paris and bought a beautiful, classic dress to wear to dances?

When you combine repressive religious rules with gossip and jealousy, you're going to get a situation where an extremely modestly attired young lady gets shamed for her dress. In this case I think there was more going on than a bare shoulder. This story stinks of two things: religious extremism and sour grapes.

Monday, January 26, 2015

One Crone's Opinion

This post isn't going to win me friends or influence people. Have to get it off my chest anyway.

"They had it coming" is an ugly phrase that's thrown around a lot, and to my mind it obscures an incovenient truth.

That inconvenient truth is that decisions have consequences, and if these consequences can be foreseen, this somewhat mitigates the damage done.

Harsh? Yes. But the world is a place where decisions have consequences.

Let us take the unfortunate example of a young woman who playfully posts nude pictures of herself on Facebook, or even in an Instagram to her boyfriend. Did she ask herself the important question about the nature of online platforms? What happens when you post a nude photo of yourself on an online platform, even if only your friends or your lover can see it?

First of all, you are assuming that life will never change for you, that the people you love and trust now will always be lovable and trustworthy. This is not a safe assumption to make, even after you're happily married for 30 years, still chumming around with your high school buddies. The Internet is a public forum. Anything you post can wind up anywhere ... do people forget that?

As harsh as it sounds, I cannot summon a whole lot of sympathy for a young woman whose naked photos, playfully entrusted to her Facebook wall, wind up on a pornography site. This woman would not have sat in the hot tub at her health club naked, where it is extremely unlikely that anyone would see her, let alone post a photo of her. Why not? Because strangers might see her naked. And that's a health club. The Internet might as well be Times Square. Would anyone walk naked in Times Square? (If you've seen Birdman, I won't spoil, but ...)

Gentlemen, this applies to you as well. The Internet is a public forum. Your decision as to what you post will have consequences.

At least a young woman who finds her photos hacked is an adult. (Now Anne's really gonna rub people the wrong way.) It really, really, really bothers me when people post photographs of their young children on any kind of online forum. I probably would have done this when the Heir and the Spare were babies. Oh, they were really cute! But wait. Your baby is an autonomous person who cannot ask kindly that you not post photos of him online. Will he want a record of his every baby smile on the Internet? Maybe. Maybe not. Will a pedophile stumble upon those beaming baby pictures and re-purpose them? Unlikely, but still in the realm of possibility. The Internet is a public forum. I'm so glad it wasn't around when my daughters were children.

Now we move on to another touchy topic, the satirists at Charlie Hebdo.Decisions have consequences. You can make a science of it:

Fact: The Muslim religion considers it a sin to create pictures of any human being, most notably their prophet.

Fact: Muslims live in France.

Fact: Some of those Muslims are dangerous terrorists.

If you know these three facts, and you choose to satirize Muhammad, then you should know that this could have consequences. You don't even have to buy into the whole "respect a religion" argument. Nothing says you have to respect a religion. You do need to be aware of potential repercussions from extremists if you satirize the religion.

I'm not saying I don't have any sympathy for the artists and writers who were killed. Of course I do. I'm just not surprised that it happened. When you place something controversial into a public forum, you know who might see it. You have made a decision.

I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this issue, but to my way of thinking, it's important to weigh the possible consequences of your actions before you act. Call me anxiety-ridden or paranoid if you like ... remind me of the essence of "freedom of speech" if you like. I'll still say that when you're in a public forum, weigh your decisions carefully. Decisions have consequences.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SunSmart Solar: A Worthy Cause

We at "The Gods Are Bored" are somewhat reluctant to put commercial breaks in the proceedings. After all, you might just hit the clicker to pass the commercial and then bypass the whole blog right along with it. Every now and then, however, a fundraiser comes onto the radar that is so epic in its worthiness that we pause for a word from our sponsors.

I call your attention to an indiegogo campaign for a product called SunSmart Solar. Check out their page, their video, and their product. I was sold on the thing even before I saw it, feeling for quite some time that what this country needs is small solar generators.

I wish I had some big-time ducats to fling at this fledgling entrepreneur, but alas, all I can do is urge you to check out the SunSmartSolar campaign and decide for yourself. If you feel (as I do) that our biggest energy provider is just sitting there in the sky every day, beaming down upon us, you'll see the merits of SunSmartSolar.

To check it out, click here:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Interview with a Bored God: Stan

I've said it time after time. We don't know the names and ranks of a fraction of all the deities who were ever praised and worshiped. Gosh, we only go back a few millenniums when it comes to recorded history, with names and images and that sort of rot. Before people started drawing horses on cave walls, they already had Gods and Goddesses.

Therefore, please give a warm, wonderful, Gods-Are-Bored welcome to Ancient Stan, the bored God of Ultimate Respect!

Anne: All hail, Stan!

Stan: The "all hail" is acceptable. But you must address me as Sir Stan, Sir.

Anne: Wait a minute! Are you in the Corps?

Stan: No, but I admire the way they do things. Respect! Yes sir! Have you ever noticed that all gods demand respect?

Anne: Actually, no. Some deities don't care that much about respect.

Stan: About respect, what?

Anne: Huh?


Anne: Oh! About respect, Sir Stan, Sir!

Stan: Better. But you're not on your knees with your nose to the ground.

Anne: Ah, you're one of those gods.

Stan: I don't like your tone. What do you mean, one of those gods?

Anne: All I mean, Sir Stan, Sir, is that you seem more bent upon getting respect than upon bestowing blessings or curing the ills of the world.

Stan: Wrong, insolent modern mortal! I will bestow blessings upon you abundantly when you accord Me the proper respect! Respect comes first, and then you get a treat!

Anne: I think I'm in rebellion against that model, actually. But it never hurts to be polite.

Stan: REBELLION? I SMITE rebellion! Disrespect me, and I'll send you a tornado! And you know what else? I don't even have to OPENLY SEE the disrespect. If I THINK you're disrespecting me, I will rot the crops with too much water!

Anne: Yes sir, Sir Stan, Sir! Far be it from me to want the crops rotted in the fields! Oh, wait. It's wintertime. I have a question for you, Sir Stan, Sir. Here. Let me get down on my knees...

(Anne has creaky knees, especially when it's going to rain.)

Anne: Nose to the ground ... wow, this is awkward. Why do people do this?

Stan: TO HUMBLE THEMSELVES! You are extremely cheeky. You are trying My patience.

Anne: You're not the first to notice my cheekiness, Sir Stan, Sir. Is this totally prostrate posture good enough for you?

Stan: How old are you?

Anne: I'll call you "Sir" all night, but I won't tell you that.


Anne: Golly, you are impossible, Sir Stan, Sir! My nose is practically putting a dent in the linoleum! I just wanted to ask ... This whole respect thing ... How did it work out for You? What happened to Your praise and worship team?

Stan: They forgot to show Me respect, so I sent tornadoes and crop failure. Then a neighboring tribe took over their land and enslaved. them.

Anne: I guess You showed them, huh? But where did that leave You, if Your praise and worship team got walloped?

Stan: I had My respect intact. And I was busy doing other things.

Anne: Other things, Sir Stan, Sir? What could possibly be more important for a deity than having a praise and worship team?

Stan: I was having Children. Strong, strapping Sons. Wait until I leave before you rise from the floor.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Just now I had to go and check New Jersey's abortion laws, because a conversation I had today made me wonder if I had just slipped into Alabama without knowing it. Still a little shaky, but believing the Kaiser Family Foundation when it tells me that New Jersey does not require an ultrasound before an abortion.

I had a conversation with an acquaintance. I'll call her Davida. We've known each other a long time. The conversation went something like this:

Davida: Guess what? My son's going to be a father!

Anne: Really? Is he going to marry the girl?

Davida: No, but he moved in with her. They were fighting for awhile, but I kicked him out because he was drunk all the time, so he moved in with her. He's pretty shocked about the responsibility. But the girl says he's being nicer to her these days.

Anne: Does he have a job?

Davida: Yes! He works three days a week! He got his degree ... finally. And the mom is almost through with her college work too. Get this: The girl's mother tried to get her to have an abortion. I even talked about it with the girl's mother. I said, "Wow, that's a little life in there!" But the mother wouldn't hear it. She took the girl to the clinic, but they had to have an ultrasound, and when the girl saw the ultrasound, she couldn't go through with it.

Anne: I didn't think that was the law in New Jersey.

Davida: It is! But anyway, the girl is keeping the baby, and my son is just going to have to get used to the idea. He'll have to get a full-time job. Well, after all, he is 25.

Anne: Not making any predictions here, but it sounds like you're going to wind up with a lot of child care.

Davida: Oh no! I'm not going to give them a dime or spend one hour taking care of that baby! It's all on them. I told my son, "All that money you spend partying with your boys is going to have to go toward taking care of that baby!"

Anne: How about the girl's mom?

Davida: Well, she's just furious. She doesn't want a thing to do with it all. This girl hasn't ever gotten along with her mother. That mom isn't going to help out at all. Just think! She wanted the girl to have an abortion! Can you imagine?


At that point, I had heard enough about this little domestic arrangement. The part that puzzled me was the ultrasound. I just looked it up. New Jersey doesn't require an ultrasound. So, did the girl lie, or did the clinic misrepresent the law?

Either way, I feel like I just heard the pre-narrative of another poor human soul who will enter this world in less-than-ideal circumstances. Oh well. All I really wanted to do was to ascertain the laws of my state, because when our governor isn't rooting for the Dallas Cowboys, there's no telling what he's up to.

I suppose in due time I will meet this little tyke, since Snobville's a small town and I do run into Davida a good bit. But I needn't worry. Davida won't be hosting a baby shower. No way. Not one penny for that "little life in there" -- before, during, or after!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Tough Day in the Trenches for Decibel and Gamma

It's hard out there for a pet. We Northern Hemisphere humans struggle with seasonal lack of sunlight. Couldn't our pets feel the same?

I stayed home from work today because I feel crappy and worn out. But it's a good thing I asked for a substitute teacher on Thursday, because today I had to take Decibel the parrot to the vet.

Two years ago, Decibel had a disagreement with a squirrel on the small matter of ownership of the seed in Decibel's cage. Both parrot and squirrel emerged with injuries. Decibel injured her wing and needed $2000 + in vet care to shore her up.

So the other night when I saw blood on the floor beside Decibel's cage (and no cats with feathers in their mouths), I called the vet promptly. We got an appointment the next day.

It's a balmy 28 degrees out there with a stiff wind and some snow flurries. Just the day for a tropical bird to take an outing! Bundle up, Decibel!

When Decibel was a chick, she was real cool with standing on my hand and riding around on my shoulder. Then along came The Heir, and Decibel probably hit maturity, and Decibel started biting like a fiend. Just the other night she got me on the thumb, and OOOO WEEE! Felt like I'd shoved my digit in a hornets' nest.

To get Decibel into a pet carrier requires grabbing her with a bath towel. When she sees the towel coming, she knows what's about to happen and reacts accordingly. It's a merry chase sometimes, with much shredding of fabric and any unlucky fingers that peek out. Today was no different, except the destination wasn't the bathtub where she's showered. It was the vet.

Decibel's vet loves her to death. It's sickening. "Kissy kissy, birdy birdy, oh, LOOK at you Decibel! You look so GOOD! How's my sweetie?"

No chance of alienation of affection, though, because while the vet is cooing like a turtledove, she's also checking out Decibel's old injuries. This process elicits crabby, loud squawks from birdy birdy.

Long story short, Decibel's okay. She's got some anti-inflammatory medicine for good measure. She's back in her sunny spot, nursing her wounded pride and her sore wing.

Having returned Decibel to home and hearth, I turned my attention to the Xmas tree, which looked like it had spent the season out in some harsh desert, rather than my living room. Next year will be my last and final Xmas tree. These Jersey trees are cut before Halloween and shipped across the country, and they're dry as bones when we set them up.

Anyway, it's not terribly taxing to remove ornaments and lights, remove the tree from the stand, and place it at the curb for mulching by the borough of Snobville. Nor is it much of a chore to sweep up the ten pounds of needles shed in the process of removal.

But you'd have thought I was committing a cardinal sin.

My indoor cat, Gamma, had bonded with this tree. He saw this dry, prickly piece of foliage as his own personal forest. Shed needles be damned, Gamma had staked out a space in the corner behind the tree, from which he imagined the life of a rugged outdoors cat.

Gamma watched intently as I took the ornaments and lights off the tree. Then he stood in shocked disbelief as I dragged his forest out the front door. Then he paced the open space where the tree had been, batting petulantly at the snowdrift of fallen needles.

Finally, with one last piercing glance, he turned his back on me and gave in to his sorrows.

I've never owned a cat that didn't go outside. But I got Gamma from a shelter. He had always been an indoor cat, and frankly, he's a ten-pound sniveling wretch, afraid of his own shadow. The one time he did get out, he hid under broken glass, cowed to silence by the threats of the local outdoor feline community.

All in all, the only happy pet here at Chateau Johnson today is Beta, and judging by the way she's walking, her old arthritic joints aren't feeling up to snuff either.

It's hard out there for a pet.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

We all make them. Right? A number changes, and everything must change with it. Never mind that the next day is just like the previous day, and the next week will bring the same challenges as the week before. It's 2015! Time to resolve!

Anne's New Year's Resolutions 2015

1. I hereby resolve to look at one or more cat videos a day. I think I might have missed some days last year.

2. I hereby resolve to eat as much chocolate as I want, all year long. Again, I might have missed some opportunities to eat chocolate in 2014. This will not happen again.

3. I hereby resolve to wear silk pajamas to bed. I have a pair of silk pajamas. Sometimes I'm too lazy to look for them at bedtime, so I hope into the sheets in some stupid thermal shirt or something. Unacceptable.

4. I hereby resolve not to attend a single Christian church service this year. Excluding funerals of close family, should they arise. (Hopefully they won't arise.)

5. I hereby resolve to have a negative attitude at times. I've tried resolving to be more positive in the past. F*** that. Gonna be crabby whenever I feel like it.

6. I hereby resolve to begin smoking cigarettes. I'm 55, and I've never smoked. High time I start.

7. I hereby resolve to look at the weather report only once a day. This one will be hard, especially whenever a snowstorm is in the forecast.

8. I hereby resolve to see the Perseids meteor shower this year. There's to be a new moon that night.

9. I hereby resolve to avoid the state of Alabama completely and utterly, throughout the whole year.

10. I hereby resolve to continue writing "The Gods Are Bored" throughout 2015. This is the decade year for my blog!

Friday, January 02, 2015

No Time for Losers

Most people stay up on New Year's Eve to be awake at 12:00 when the next year begins.

Not me. I go to bed early.

I go to bed early because I get up early on January 1 (basically 6:15 a.m.). I put on a satin-and-sequined costume and go to the clubhouse of the Two Street Stompers, a Philadelphia Mummers Parade comic brigade.

We wish each other a Happy New Year. We put on makeup and wigs. We partake of beverages of our choice. Then we get on buses and ride over to Philly to be in the Mummers Parade.

Our youngest marchers are actually carried or pushed in strollers. Not sure how old the oldest marchers are, but they are certainly senior citizens who know that being able to dance all day gives you a longer, healthier life.

Philadelphia has been hosting a Mummers Parade since 1901, when rowdy behavior in the neighborhoods was cause for concern. Now the parade is a tradition, and I think the Powers-That-Be have been trying to marginalize it for awhile. Good luck with that, because 10,000 marchers and over eight hours of entertainment aren't going to be something you just sweep under the rug.

The parade was live-streamed on computer and broadcast on t.v. Ahem. Our Two Street Stomper routine lasted exactly one minute and 52 seconds, and somehow the network cut to a commercial after the first five seconds, resuming live coverage with five seconds left in the routine. Basically a commercial break of two minutes right in the middle of a routine? Curious. Could our content be deemed worthy of censorship?

It's difficult to get a video of the routine. Even in these days of YouTube. With that in mind, I hereby re-create it with still photographs shamelessly stolen from the Internet.


Out comes our "host," Donald Trump (a member in a suit and wig) and all the kids under 12, dressed as judges with cute white wigs.


(cue "Rocky" music)


(This was the unit I was in.)
(cue Donna Summer, "Lookin' for Some Hot Stuff")



(Miss Old City's unit limps out, then cue music, "Get Up Off Of That Thing." The whole unit, with Miss Old City front and center, begins the energetic and traditional Mummer strut.)


(Miss Old City is crowned.)


And we're finished. Exit stage right, onto Broad Street.

The weather was absolutely glorious.

And, thanks to some special fans on Broad Street, I got this terrific image of Self and Spare.

The Two Street Stompers strutted. And strutted. And strutted. We were on Broad Street, basically Philadelphia's main drag, and the cross traffic was allowed to go at the green lights. It took us a long time to complete our entire circuit. Not that we minded. Did I mention that the weather was beautiful?

Between the weather and our general good humor, the miles seemed like ... well, today I must say they felt like miles, because my bones ache from stem to stern. At the time they felt more like furlongs.

At length we danced up to the banquet hall on Oregon Avenue, where a warm lunch awaited. (Beverages are distributed bountifully along the route.) As we chowed down, our captain came in, hushed us all, and told us ...

...Some members who passed away this year looked down upon us, and ...

We won.