Finding the Level

When you reach the bottom, you can start moving up, and some classes, and some individual students, are like that.
I remember a group of girls in Bangkok. The director of the school, when she was describing the class to me, said “They’re a bunch of secretaries, they speak English very well.” I pulled out all of my favorite lessons, one by one, and gave it my very best effort, all to blank stares.
Finally, in a bit of frustrated sarcasm, I said something like “What begins with A,” and we were off to the races. I had found their level.
The kids I teach Thursday afternoon are not the best bunch of students in the world, to put it mildly. Some of them are flat out trying to sabotage the class, and others just stare at me blankly. I do all sorts of competitions with Flash Cards, but it gets a bit problematic because the same boy always wins, unless I stack the deck a bit, which can backfire because he realizes I’ve got my finger on the scales, that I’m a biased referee, and he’s not very gracious about it.
So, I was lecturing him today on how he could be a bit more gracious, and tried to teach everybody how to say “Congratulations.” Well, they probably all knew the word because it’s not that different in Czech and they’ve probably had some English lessons since pre-school (most of them are 8, one girl is 6), but some were refusing to say it or shake hands.
So, it turned into a broader lecture on polite words, and once I realized they all knew please and thank you I reached for the flash cards and said “If you say “Please give me the card, you win the card” and it was great. There are about 40 cards in the deck and I had 6 students chanting “Please give me the card” fast and in unison until they were all dealt out, which took maybe twenty seconds, at the most.
It’s a lesson that probably won’t work twice, but it sure worked once, and I’m happy for that.

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The Solution to Sleazy Rich People and Politicians Not Paying Their Taxes

2005. Twelve years ago. And it’s supposed to be some kind of a big deal that we’ve got Trump’s tax returns for that year. In that one particular year, coincidentally, there was no blatantly fraudulent tax avoidance. Oh, there were some write-offs for ‘business losses’ and that’s often just a case of creative semantics, but everybody does that.
So, I wonder. Why that particular year, and why now? Of course, it could be that that’s the best that hard-working, plucky journalist Rachel Maddow (Yes, I’m being a bit sarcastic. I’m still pissed at her over Bernie)could come up with, so she went for it. I sure would like to know how she came by it. Of course, she’s not required to reveal her source, nor should she be. The same law that protects Julian Assange (Well, sort of. He is under house arrest)protects Rachel Maddow. Without confidentiality, journalism would be dead. I mean even deader than it is, which is already pretty darned dead.
But maybe she could give us a wee hint. Such as “It was somebody in the Trump campaign,” or “When I sat down to eat at my favorite restaurant, they were in an envelope under the plate and the waiter swears he didn’t see anybody.” That would actually add a bit to the story.
Here’s my solution to the whole thing: Automatic audits for anybody in Congress, all state Governors, cabinet members, the President, the Vice President, and anybody with a net worth over $50,000,000.
It makes sense. They audit a certain number of people every year, and why shouldn’t it be those who are not only most likely to bamboozle the federal government, but also those who have enough money to actually make auditing worthwhile, who get audited.
If you audit some guy who owns a garage in Wichita, you aren’t going to get much more out of him even after an audit. Whatever he didn’t pay in is not going to go a long way toward paying off the national debt.
With the rich and powerful, hell, yeah. A lot of money in extra tax revenue will be raised, and it will help keep them focused.

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The ‘Spit it Out’ Poetry Series at A Maze in Tchaiovna

There was a poetry reading at “A Maze in Tchaiovna,” which is a totally weird name, it’s not quite like ‘The Unpronouncable Symbol Known to Represent Prince’ weird, but it’s weird. Great place, though, the door back into the room where the poetry is, where there’s a stage, and some couches, and some tables and chairs, and some loose chairs, and a piano, is disguised as a bookcase, although perhaps the word disguised is imprecise because when it’s closed, it’s a fully functioning section of the bookcase.
Further back beyond that, behind a couple more secret doors, they were having the Chess club. The front room, where the bar is, had a large group of people sitting around a table and making signs, in Czech, but it sounded, from the little I overheard while waiting for my pot of tea, like a Czech lesson for French speakers, which is cool, good to learn in a casual setting, and most of them were drinking – not tea, because this may be a teahouse but it is also the Czech Republic, and I am certain far more of it’s customers were supporting the National Drink.
I finished a poem this afternoon, which I thought was something special, all about Aristotelian Logic and the role of the individual in our complex society, and then I read two others from previous collections, ‘Say a Prayer for Robert Johnson’ and ‘Thus We Know the Ancient Gods.’ A couple of my personal favorites, but then I was upstaged by a girl playing ukelele and singing a song about how much she loves cheese, and I can tell you honestly that if you’re going to be upstaged at a poetry reading, it might as well be by something like that, because it definitely was a cute and fun song, filled with double entendre (oh, those single slices…) and just all around adorableness, and then the hostess (Kae Piller, the new, local poetry star of Prague) challenged us to read a poem on the subject of ‘getting lucky’ to which I responded by reading 3 short things which sort of alluded to the theme, and then she got up and read a wild, passionate poem which would have been pornographic in the hands of a male poet, seriously, a man would have fucked it up, but it was awesome.
All in all, a very good evening.

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Monday Movies

I had nothing at all to do today, which doesn’t happen very often, and actually there were one or two things I probably should have done but I brushed them off, and I was struck with a revelation: retirement’s going to work out just fine for me. I’m not going to be one of those guys who has nothing to do with his free time, who is bored and feels useless. There are, in fact, lots of things that I particularly like to do – reading, writing, watching TV, futzing around on Facebook, going for long, pointless walks – which are perfectly acceptable pastimes whose essential requirement is an overwhelming surplus of free time. So, I’m good.
Today, it was an orgy of films. First, there was “The Martian” with Matt Damon, which I’d wanted to see when it was in the theater, not so long ago. Although the bleak landscape of Mars might have been a bit more impressive on the big screen, it was more story than scenery and effects, so TV was just fine.
I remember at the time it was out there were some arguments about whether or not it was scientifically accurate. All I can say about that is that I didn’t find any flaws. I’m no scientist, but I am looking out for that kind of stuff.
That was immediately followed by Captain America, which I totally enjoyed. I usually like Superhero films, I usually like WWII films (but not stuff about the Holocaust…just don’t care to watch stuff like that.), and this was a great combination. It was wildly historically inaccurate. All the stuff with helicopters and jets could be explained away because at Nazi program of super-weapons was what it was all about, and in fact that was what Captain America was,too, but I also loved the ‘uniforms’ of the 107th. Most of them were in plain combat dress but there was the British guy with the twirly mustache and bowler hat, and the French guy with the little cap, and the girl, the love interest, going into battle side by side with the guys but wearing a dress and with her hair flowing in the breeze.
Then we watched a Will Smith thing called 7 Pounds, which my son recommended and I can’t understand why. It was a good film, but usually he likes crime dramas with plenty of violence, and this was not that. I’m not even going to tell you what it’s about, because most of the film was trying to figure out ‘WTF is this guy’s story?’
Summary: Some films need to be scientifically or historically accurate, and some don’t. As long as a film knows what type of film it is, knows where it’s going and doesn’t fool around getting there, it will probably work out O.K.

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A Thought on Daylight Savings Time

Another weekend come and gone. Little enough done, I’ve got a poetry reading Tuesday night and nothing ready except a couple of very short pieces, not enough at all.
Last minute cramming has been a lifelong habit of mine, stretching back at least to Junior High and, I’m pretty sure, even elementary school. So, it’ll be all right.

A lot of people on my Facebook feed, probably more than half, are Americans, and a lot of them are passing the day today bitching about daylight savings time. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with them. It seems to me very arbitrary and silly, and if people want to have more daylight in the day, they should change their work hours, or maybe the schools could change their schedule, but doing it across the board is kind of unnecessary.
But, I’d put a pretty low priority on it. After all, any way we choose to measure time, it is arbitrary and man made, yet bound up in tradition and hard to change. Sort of like money.
As far as the horse race question, that is, not whether it should or should not change but just speculating as to whether it ever will, my guess it it’s not going to change any time soon. It’s a bit like the electoral college. Once every four years, lots of people complain about it (generally, everybody who was on the losing side), but then everybody forgets and goes on their way and it does not get changed.
It’s not that big a deal, really. It gives a bit more power to smaller states, which is maybe not such a bad idea, since they are the ones who grow all the food, and have all the National Parks, and they are the places everyone is going to flee to in any apocalyptic situation.
In any event, any politician running for national office knows how it works and can plan their campaign accordingly.
It does not inherently favor conservatives over liberals, old vs. young, or even rich vs. poor.
Summary: I think we could live without it, but it’s not going to change.

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Industrial Writing

Not a very productive day at all, today. My plan was to get a poem written, but there was one tickling my mind, I knew I’d written down the idea for it, like the last two lines, weeks ago, but I went through all my papers looking and I did find that two line inspiration but still don’t know what I’ll do with it.
I guess my approach to writing poetry would seem un-poetic to most, like I should be forced to turn in my poet’s card, but I can justify it, I think. Whereas most people write what they are inspired to write, I’ve reached the point where I just start churning out words and hoping an idea will follow, which is sort of what I’m doing right now. With poetry, this means that I am now working it on an industrial level, with this blog, writing lots of snarky little 2 or 4 liners just in response to a Facebook thread (I don’t know if those are any good, they generally get ignored completely, if they don’t cauterize the thread immediately), and more than 1 poetry reading a month, but industrial level is fine by me, you come up with 1 line and then just juggle words until the right ones fall into place.
There’s usually almost an infinite number of balls.
Write a lot. Then you can afford to throw out the crap. Write a lot. You never can tell what other people will like. Write a lot. Give your ideas every chance to grow. Write a lot, and at least you’ll have a lot written.
I’m not saying that’s what I do do. It’s just what a writer should do so this is just written as much as advice to myself as anything.

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Boots on the Ground

So, while everybody was focused on his Twitter feed, President Donald J. Trump sent troops to Syria. Or maybe it’s a part of his ‘let the military do whatever they damn well please’ policy, you can’t be sure.
Nonetheless, a couple hundred troops have landed in Syria. I don’t think I’m even going out on a limb when I say that this will end badly.
They could achieve their objective, and then what? They haven’t been invited in by the Syrian government, or any group with enough influence to be taken seriously.
Their objective is ostensibly to retake an ISIS stronghold. But Assad is already at work on that. With Russian help. So, if we’re taking the same position as Assad, and Russia, why not just back off and let them deal with it?
What if, on their way to retaking this ISIS position, which might not be such a piece of cake, they wind up in a firefight with Syrian troops, or, worse, Russia.
What if this turns into a Viet Nam type situation? Mission creep was a thing in the 60s, now it’s the President.
There is one more reason I believe this will be a tragedy, it’s a disaster in the making, and it’s an even more important factor than the U.S. having a jackass for a leader. The reason that I think it will go wrong is: it always does

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