Piss it forward


I am told by Modern Educators that we must seek a Return On Investment for educational dollars spent. I am not moved.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am sensitive to the public’s concern that bucks are being burned, funds flushed down the crapper, which is why the public should be ensorcelled into budget review teams that act to bring the community in to the school budgetary process in a real way, while relegating the demagogues to orations in cemeteries.

But I am not impressed with the argument, now actually being repurposed by the likes of Robert Reich and Bill Moyers, that some people only need so much education, the apparent neo-liberal liberal arts education. Where, oh where, you might ask, did the concept of  an education free to the student through post-secondary study flee? All around the country we hear a new chorus; we need to train for employment.

I think it’s great that a student learning Math can count out change (though opponents to so-called New Math, when confronted with the actual instruction that explains how we count change, oppose such instruction…), but I am not sending that student to school so he can work the counter at McDonalds.

Reich and MoTREE-OF-KNOWLEDGEyers will get offended and argue that they just meant that “college isn’t for everyone”, but isn’t that a nice apologist howdy-do.  It amounts to a declaration that college is only for those needing a college degree to get a job. And there we are – education as a tool of capitalism.  We want to educate you so that we can exploit you.

Yes, I would like to see everyone hold a fulfilling job that provides a living, and I am certain that a good education would contribute to that,  but that does not mean that I want to make serfdom priority one. I want our children to have greater compassion and comprehension, to be able to walk in another’s shoes and see with another’s eyes, to know the universe as awe-inspiring but as no object of fear. I want our children to share, in the most fundamental way, in all that we can offer as a species.  I want to share with them the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which is the original blessing…

I am not looking for a return on investment when I educate a kid. I look at it as a foolish waste of money, an act of total caprice, a whimsical misadventure; all these being some gesture of faith in my species, no matter how unwarranted that faith may be. Piss on the bean counters. Piss it forward.

Through the crack, sprightly

It occurs to me that I have yet to meet a parent who didn’t feel that their child, not recognized as exceptional by their school, was very special and not adequately served by their school. Go figure. Indeed, one of the more frightening areas in which the far right and liberal left seem to make common cause is over “educational reform” — code for , “choice”.

When looks at the response to parental demands (read ‘low cost” private and charter schools), we see of course quite a bit of quackery, bigotry, but more importantly we see that these schools are mostly about parents being able to push educational staff around. Not that educational staff in many institutions shouldn’t be pushed around, lol, but I would prefer to see the pushing towards greater educational efficacy, as opposed to greater responsiveness to parental images of self-importance.

I am afraid we do have hordes of lousy teachers, but I don’t think a greater percentage than that of lousy parents, and while some might argue that with adequate educational leadership something can be made of even the worst teacher (presuming the existence of educational leadership, a matter I think in some dispute) the same can’t be said of parents.

Yes, I am outraged by a teacher who flunks his entire honors history class, but I also have to ask myself how such a class was filled with students who could not read or write to the standards necessary to take that class. And in the instances where I have witnessed such behavior, not a single parent though their child unprepared.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 8.42.28 PMI will certainly admit to the fact that countless children escape an education, but qualify that confession with the observation that the wee toads are aided and abetted by their parents, who are of legal age, if not necessarily of sound mind, and whom, if the truth be told, are hustling their precious little devils through those cracks as quickly as their little chubby legs can carry them. And while some of us see down the rabbit hole as delightful interlude from the humdrum of our obligations, for some the illusion becomes all too real

While there are undoubtedly many exceptions, most of “us”  are fearful, bigoted, and superstitious. We tend to think we are well educated while we are often almost functionally illiterate. We know very little history and less of any other social science, are largely innumerate, and have a good deal of trouble with our own language, let alone any other. We are tribal, snooty, and abusive while calling out others for being tribal, snooty and abusive. We are incredibly selfish, greedy and jealous.  And now we want to be able to educate our children so that they don’t have to be near “Them”.

The most critical aspect of Education is learning about Others. The most critical target of Educational Reform can, I believe, be consistently seen in your mirror (as opposed to being found on the other side of it).

Generosity of Spirit

I recently saw a  post about an apocryphal Anchorage police officer who would let drivers off a drunk driving arrest if they could recite the names of Santa’s reindeer.  As the potential source of such a libelous contention, I thought I had better set the record straight.

It was the day of Christmas eve 1978 if I recall correctly, and I was defending a DUI in the old Anchorage State Court House (the one that has recently been plucked from existence that used to stand in front of the red brick ‘tower of justice’.) I was pretty harsh on the arresting officer (I had only been practicing law for a year, was full of piss and vinegar, and had the facts at my back) and got an acquittal for my client. I left the Courthouse and went across the street to celebrate. Several rounds later I picked up my girlfriend and we went out on the town. After partying for hours, we walked to the car and I started to drive home. It was dark and the streets were largely empty. I got confused and I turned the wrong way down Fifth Avenue. Before I could pull a U-turn a police office had sighted me. I pulled over, dug out my license and registration, rolled down the window and waited. It was not going to be the night I had planned.

And then, just as I thought things could not get worse, who should approach the car but the officer I had eviscerated just hours earlier. We exchanged polite greetings, and the officer very generously told me that he understood that we both had a job to do, that I had done mine, and that perhaps, had he done his a bit better things would have turned out differently, but that he had no bad feelings over the situation, and it being Christmas eve and all, if I could name 6 of Santa’s reindeer he would consider that an adequate field sobriety test as he had seen no other evidence of intoxication.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 8.16.00 AMI was overwhelmed with this guys spirit, but being very Jewish and not a little under the weather, I realized that my mastery of Clement Clarke Moore was as shady as his claim of authorship — I could not recite the necessary lines! I stumbled over Comet and Dancer, and catching my lady friend’s dirty looks I chirped Vixen and Cupid. Uhhhh, Blintzes (“I mean Blitzen, Officer”). And I was done. I mean I was done, my goose was cooked. I could see the officer getting irritated (he would have to stay long after his shift doing paperwork on an ingrate) and I would be lucky if my girlfriend had two words for me. Stick me with a fork.

Just then I happened to look in my rear view mirror where I saw the traffic light behind me turn red. It came to me (yes, in a flash), and I blurted out (it felt like I screamed it) RUDOLPH!!. No one was going to take issue with that (however off color the response may have been) and heaving huge sighs of relief all the way around, we all took our leave of each (the office vouchsafing my U-turn, lol.)

I tell people this and other tales of Anchorage in the 70s because they convey a sense of who we were, and who we have become. I never heard of any officer doing this as a regular schtick — the officer with whom I spent a few minutes that evening certainly had not offered that to my client, or I would have been a fee poorer, — but it would not be the first time that I heard one of my stories come back to me.


“Twas the Night Before Christmas – Project Gutenberg eText 17135”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Twas_the_Night_Before_Christmas_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17135.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Twas_the_Night_Before_Christmas_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_17135.jpg

Happy holidays, where ever you find them….

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

The Divided

My review of The Divide on GoodReads appears below.  Yes, I was a bit frustrated that in all the reviews of this book there was not a single mention of this glaring error,  which of course led me to wonder how many other errors there were in this or any of the other books being touted from bestseller and other “lists”. And so I started a journey.  First I attempted to being this to the attention of the publishers, who indicated they weren’t interested and I should write to the author, so I did.  The author failed to respond. I commented on book reviews at major publications (no traction) and eventually added some material to the wikipedia page on the book (limited to the the book text on the issue, and the contents of the report, with a footnote to a link for the letter sent to publisher and author.).  It turns out that wikipedia requires that entries must reference published sources, and published does not include self-publication. In other words, if you have a letter from the President that says that he wants to get something accomplished regarding immigration in 2016, you can’t reference that letter until some bozo on HuffPo mentions it first. Lions and tiger and bears!

Don’t get me wrong!  I think it’s a very strong book and makes powerful arguments. But at least one claim is introduced as based on an argument that is easily demonstrated to be false.  But that is not my underlying concern here.  My real concern is that the book is being lauded for its expert research, while no one will even acknowledge any errors in the book.  And so, to Goodreads (as I mention, my review appears at the foot of this post.  )

But first, the impetus for this post. It turns out that noting that the first chapter of a wildly popular “liberal” book is based on the deliberate misrepresentation that the Obama Whitehouse was involved in Senator Ted Steven’s prosecution is nitpicking about something no one remembers has turned me in to FoxNews style Obamabot who wants to dump the baby with the bathwater! Read it for yourself:

[Geoffrey] “* * *  As usual, this book is expertly researched.  * * *”

[Marc] “Amazes me people can say this work is expertly researched when the first chapter is in fact based on gross inaccuracies.”

[Geoffrey] “Yeah, your review looks a bit to much like a FoxNews tactic turned Obamabot defense: find one nit to pick about a paragraph no one remembers, and say that the baby must go with the bathwater. Not buying it.”

[Marc] “Interesting comment. My concern is that Taibbi’s argument is that the Dems are as guilty of the offenses he presents as the Republicans (which is arguably true) but as a basis for that argument he launches in to a wholly unrelated domain regarding Senator Stevens and then totally botches his argument (no, the Dems had nothing to do with the Stevens prosecution and the documentation of this error, which goes to the basis of his argument, has nothing in common with Fox News, lol.) Yes, the book is expertly argued, but no, the book is not expertly researched, if by that you mean that the research supports the argument. I did not say toss the baby with the bathwater, but I am saying that we need to spend more time with the research that is offered to support such books, because, as you intimate, no one is in fact reading the footnotes. Moreover, if you wish to argue that the argument regarding Stevens is nominal and unimportant, then I suppose that is a criticism of Taibbi, as in, why would he include as a major part of an early chapter in his book a claim (that is demonstrably false) intended to set up the one the premises for the rest of the book. This is not about political partisanship; this is about the publication of widely acclaimed books that have major misrepresentations anchoring their arguments.”

[Geoffrey] “I assume you’re one of those commenters that gets paid by the word. I didn’t know you guys trolled even goodreads. Is this a proving ground you experiment in before graduating to Facebook and Twitter?”

[Marc] “Let’s try to stay focused, shall we?
You claim the book is expertly researched.
I demonstrate that a major argument in the first chapter is based on gross misrepresentation of the facts that can be appreciated by anyone.
You fail and or refuse to acknowledge the errors and claim I am “nitpicking”
I point out that getting one’s shorts in a twist about a typo in a footnote is nitpicking, while demonstrating that the introduction of a major theme in the book, complicity of the Democratic party, based on a false argument, is not, whether or not the the argument is viable (I agree it is) or well made (I also agree it is).
The upshot would appear to be that you don’t know what “expertly researched” means and you are frightened of rational discussion (do the mean little wordies bitesies?)
When you wish to contribute something substantive, let me know. I enjoy Taibbi’s writing and am disappointed that this kind of crap pops up as a cornerstone of a major theme in his book.”

In sum, Solomon’s wisdom (yes, I know I am mixing metaphors, but Solomon’s ancient test to determine what is really important seems related to bath water here…) has been turned on its head.  We are being asked to ignore the bathwater because of the baby. And we are attacking those that read critically.  If that sounds like a far right tactic, well, guess what, it appears to be a a tactic of the left now too.

My question to Taibbi, and Taibbi groupies I suppose, is what The Divide would look like if the error I found (and other errors if they exist) are removed.  If there would be no real impact on the argument, then why not fix the errors, admit the mistakes and move on (as opposed to pretending that the basis for your argument is unimportant.)  If, on the other hand, addressing errors would be problematic, then that is truly a cause for concern.

In other words, such issues challenge an author’s credibility. At least for those who remember what he wrote…




The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth GapI was puzzled by Matt Taibbi’s attack on the Obama Whitehouse over the Steven’s litigation, as much of Alaska was puzzled by the apparent intent of the Bush Whitehouse to not only keep Stevens out of the Senate, but to accomplish same illegally. The suggestion that Obama or his appointees, whatever you may think of the current administration, had anything to do with the Stevens prosecution other than the “clean up” (such as it was) is simply ludicrous. Yet, there it was, introducing and underscoring “Unintended Consequences.”

“The so-called Schuelke report would not come out for three more years, but when it did surface, it contained a startling tale. Obama’s new appointees had inserted a young prosecutor named Brenda Morris as lead prosecutor in the Stevens case days before trial, infuriating the rank-and-file prosecutors in Alaska who had run the case since its  inception.”

But the Report (which can be found here for those without ECF access: http://legaltimes.typepad.com/files/s…) had no trouble being seen, was circulated almost as soon as it was filed with the Court, and stated,

“Senator Stevens was arraigned on July 31, 2008, and his attorney,
Brendan Sullivan, requested an October trial date so that Senator
Stevens, who was running for re-election, could clear his name before
the November election. Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutor, acceded to
the request and suggested an earlier trial date, Sept. 24, 2008, which
was accepted by the Court and Mr. Sullivan. That date was later advanced
and jury selection began on Sept. 22, 2008. The prosecutors had
anticipated the possibility of a speedy trial request by the defense,
decided in advance to consent if one was made, but they were unprepared
for a speedy trial.”

In other words, Schuelke states in his report that Brenda Morris was lead prosecutor in the case long before a highly contested election. The suggestion that an Obama administration had anything to do with obstructing discovery in the Steven case (which, by the way, played out in September and October of 2008), let alone submarining the litigation through a last minute change in personnel, is simply untenable.

How could the editor’s fact-checkers have made it through the galleys of the first chapter of this book without noticing such a glaring mistake. How many other errors does the book contain, and can I trust Matt Taibbi any more? There are many divides in our society, and one of them is the divide that separates those that argue from fact from those that make things up as they go along. I am now distressed that I no longer am sure sure on which side of that divide Matt resides.


Sean Parnell: Sticking It To Alaskan Employees

Things about Sean Parnell’s Administration that you may not have been aware of….

Some Alaska Workers Comp insurers refuse to preauthorize medical services after a claim has been accepted. This results in medical providers refusing to provide services and is termed controversion-in-fact. In other words, while purporting to have accepted the claim, the insurer/employer is in fact intimidating medical providers into not providing services for fear that the bills will not be paid.


Henson, Jim. Labyrinth. Adventure, Fantasy, 1986.

This practice has been the subject of numerous cases and most recently the Alaska Supreme Court has essentially confirmed the position of the AWCB that this practice is unlawful and amounts to a controversion because payments for medical services are essentially payable under Alaska law at the time the services are prescribed. Nevertheless, the Liberty companies have continued to engage in these practices.

The worst bit is that faced with the fact that Liberty companies are simply thumbing their noses at Alaska, the Division of Insurance has knowingly determined to take no action with respect to this conduct.  Yes, that’s correct.  Insurers are intentionally engaged in conduct that you or I would regard as fraudulent, and Parnell’s administration won’t do anything about it.

A tip o’ the hat to the folk at the AWCB who continue to insist that the provisions of the Act be applied fairly across the Board – it has to be disconcerting to realize that your employment may be at risk because you are in fact doing what your job requires you to do, because an administration is sabotaging the very laws it is obliged to uphold.

If you are an employer, I recommend that you immediately contact your Workers Comp carrier and demand that they amend their  policy to include a provision that requires prompt preauthorization absent controversion, and if you are an employee, know that you or your medical provider should file a Claim Form with Workers Comp demanding preauthorization and payment for services immediately on determination of a course of treatment.

Yes, the provider can use the Claim Form to obtain preauthorization.


 JONATHAN BOCKUS, Employee, Claimant, v. FIRST STUDENT SERVICES, Employer, and SEGDWICK CMS, INC., Adjuster, Defendants. AWCB Decision No. 14-00400 AWCB No. 201302957 Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board  March 24, 2014 FINAL DECISION AND ORDER

RICHARD G. KAMITCHIS, Employee, Claimant, v. SWAN EMPLOYER SERVICES, Employer, and LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Insurer, Defendants. AWCB Decision No. 14-0039 AWCB No. 201203798
Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board March 24, 2014 FINAL DECISION AND ORDER

WILLARD HARRIS, Appellant and Cross-Appellee, v. M-K RIVERS and ACE INDEMNITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellees and Cross-Appellants. Nos. S-14254, S-14262 Supreme Court of Alaska March 14, 2014

Of Ravens and Writing Desks

500px-MadlHatterByTennielTold,  “take two aspirin, ponder why Emerson is like a hotdog and call me in the morning”, my correspondent snapped back, “You may as well have asked why is a raven like a writing desk.” Precisely. Hence my title, borrowed from Deacon Dodgson, and the following comments, to serve as my demurrer.1

A veritable crisis of choice confronts us, leading the decriers to despair of Panglossian paralysis. 2 Not only do we suffer from the apparent number of choices, but from the terrifying prospect that the type of oats we select to consume for breakfast might not provide the greatest contribution to our long term health!  We could be wrong!

It is perhaps easier to laugh with Voltaire than with Swift. Skewered Leibniz (peut etre Pangloss-en-pot, ou Candide en cocotte) is far more palatable than well-Nursed Child “Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust”, at least for most of us. Some seem pleased enough to order from Adams’ Ameglian Major talking cow, who reprised the good news invitation, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

“But what”, you might ask, “does any of this have to do with, ‘Why is Emerson is like a hot dog?'”

Carrol, of course, was just yanking his readers’ chains, uninvited guest not withstanding. But riddling out the function of riddles has been a focal point of human endeavor for some time.3 For my purposes, I want to focus on two kinds of more mundane queries, the leap and the slog. The slog is a favorite of the Socratic pedant; a question posed to facilitate the journey (much as the uninvited guest becomes the journey’s host here.) The leap, known to Sojourners in the East as the ‘koan’, is intended neither as the trail of crumbs nor as the dog at your footsteps, but incites you to hurl your psyche across the void where,  having presumably leapt in the right direction, the light will click on. [I should think that a discussion of How the Leaper Got His Spots is no more apropos of this discussion than the fable of The Fox, The Goat and the Well and I shall leave Mr. Peabody to address same with Rudyard and Aesop as time may allow.]

But the slogger, unlike the quantum acrobat, will have stumbled on to the suggestion that maybe Voltaire was a little too clever for his own good, not to mention, though Barth does, “It’s as if–as if the key to the treasure is the treasure!”

“A mighty hotdog is our Lord!”

The Purveyor of the Great American Antidote was Ralph Waldo Emerson. 4  Ralph was an “‘Engage’, already!” kind of guy. And his anthem, Self Reliance, stirs us today as it did when first presented.

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.

Fear not, nor a coward be. Engage.

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self, on which a universal reliance may be grounded? What is the nature and power of that science-baffling star, without parallax, without calculable elements, which shoots a ray of beauty even into trivial and impure actions, if the least mark of independence appear? The inquiry leads us to that source, at once the essence of genius, of virtue, and of life, which we call Spontaneity or Instinct.

Every question raised is first a choosing, the path of discovery unfurling, the only choice the choosing.

Have we lost our way and ended up with the Lords a’Leaping after all? Ralph is not suggesting you wear a bag over your head, as I think Anasta is pointing out. Self-Reliance is about not being afraid of your shadow, about trusting in the process that brought you to this, only the most recent of all the forks in the road that have presented themselves. Have faith in the evidence of your own process.

Spinoza is known for his thesis Deus siva natura,  which translates in English to, “The world is your hotdog.”  Ralph’s corollary to Baruch’s argument?  Eat!  Go ahead.  Take a big bite. With ketchup and onions,  or sauerkraut and mustard.  It’s not a big deal, and you have it under control. And when you are asked, “Cake or death?” I am sure you will know what to say then as well.

Bon appétit!



1. My initial “text”, as it were, was Letter to Demetrias, one of the few extant examples we have of Pelagius’s writing, and Alice was pointed to an introduction to same  (Rees, 35), the focus of our discussion revolving around “choice”.  While Bill Clinton’s virginal lungs will, for many, forever pose the lingering question of what the unschooled are expected to swallow, some Americans, like Hawthorne’s Goodman Brown, might still see the posing of the question as engaging in heresy, much as Augustine did.  Augustine and Pelagius came to different conclusions about choice, and about the ramifications of choice, and for those who take the one less traveled, that will make, as Frost agrees, all the difference.

To be fair, Pelagius argues one must keep one’s eyes on the prize,  but he argues that the choice is a continuing challenge, and that it is in the striving that one finds blessing. And Frost does not argue that the path made the difference; he suggests we will see it that way eventually. But the wily Frost, in always being obscure, still leaves us at the fork in the road. Our lives are simply chains of choices (no matter how you define chains.)

2. While some would argue that the “paradox of choice” is much ado about nothing,  it would be only fair to allow Schwartz the opportunity to explain himself: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/is-the-famous-paradox-of-choic/ Perhaps what is in issue is not the challenge of making a choice, but the misperception of the nature of choosing. If the result of the choice is a selection of one of 52 varieties of sugared grain breakfast product, none of which is a very healthy alternative, why choose?

3. Kinkaid, in reviewing Huxley’s The Raven and the Writing Desk, writes,

Primarily, however, Huxley’s book deconstructs the meaning of the
riddle and mocks our attempt to find coherent rules for the game of
nonsense. He uses “evidence” in such a way as to parody positivistic
solidity, ranging wildly through biography, linguistics, the mechanics
of punning, game theory, alliterative patterns, philosophy, Carroll’s
own number codes, and Anglo-Saxon grammar. All these give us clues
that lead us to see that both the riddle about the raven and the writing
desk and the riddle about the meaning of nonsense are unanswerable.

4. I would be remiss, in an essay that touches on the paralysis of choice if I did not offer a different take on Emerson.  Anasta certainly gives one pause to consider Emerson’s prescription, but having hoisted himself, arguably, on his own petard, might not the argument be largely cautionary, as opposed to antagonistic?

Other Works Mentioned

Anastas, Benjamin. “The Foul Reign of Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance.’” The New York Times, December 2, 2011, sec. Magazine. Accessed March 26, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/magazine/riff-ralph-waldo-emerson.html.
Barth, John. Chimera. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1972.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Essay on Self-Reliance. East Aurora, N.Y: The Roycrofters, 1908. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7211683M/The_essay_on_self-reliance.
Huxley, Francis. The Raven and the Writing Desk. Harper & Row, 1976.
Matthew, 26:26
Rees, Brinley Roderick. Pelagius: Life and Letters. Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1988.
Swift, Johnathan, and Jack Lynch. “A Modest Proposal.” University instructor resources. Swift, “A Modest Proposal.” Last modified January 17, 2011. Accessed March 26, 2014. http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/modest.html.
Voltaire. Candide, Or, Optimism. Penguin, 1947.

For Your Further Viewing and Amusement




Travels with Elstun

One of the problems facing anyone trying to discuss much of anything about education is the question of just what education is.  As I have suggested elsewhere,  while I have a very clear idea of what education is, your very clear vision may be different,  and we have yet to even get to those who have little or no vision.   But how, I have been pondering, might someone explain what education might mean to someone who might not have been the beneficiary of an education? And it was at that point that I had a delightful bit of travel (without ever leaving my seat) that seemed, in part, to answer that very question. And I thought I would share that with you.

Exploring Star Hill

Snapshot by Elstun Lauesen

We start in Juneau, exploring Star Hill, and there come across an oddly painted building with an even odder plaque.  It states (in antiquish uncial-like font),

vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit

which translates in Latin to, “Called or not called, God will be there.” What is the source of this curious statement? It turns out that this text is copied from a famous doorway in Kusnacht, Switzerland.  Carl Jung, the 20th Century psychologist, had the Latin carved in to the stone above the door of his house in Kusnacht.

“By the way, you seek the enigmatic oracle Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit in vain in Delphi: it is cut in stone over the door of my house in Kusnacht near Zurich and otherwise found in Erasmus’s collection of Adagia (XVIth cent.). [Jung had acquired a copy of the 1563 edition of Erasmus’s Collectaneas adagiorum, a compilation of analects from classical authors, when he was 19 years old.] It is a Delphic oracle though. It says: yes, the god will be on the spot, but in what form and to what purpose? I have put the inscription there to remind my patients and myself: Timor dei initium sapiente [“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”] Here another not less important road begins, not the approach to “Christianity” but to God himself and this seems to be the ultimate question.” (1975: 611) From http://www.jungnewyork.com/photo_vocatus.shtml, and see also http://www.thezodiac.com/called.htm

And we are off to 16th century Rotterdam to look into the Adagio of Erasmus. The “proverb” and anecdote that struck Jung can be seen here (though the edition is not the same. )  As Aniela Jaffe notes, “It is the answer the Delphic Oracle gave the Lacedemonians when they were planning a war against Athens” (1979: 136) confirming that the God will be with the Lacedemonians.  And, it quotes the Odes of Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) so off to Imperial Rome we go. And there we find Horace telling us in Book 2, Ode 18:

Proud Tantalus, and Pelops,
his son, he holds fast, and whether he’s summoned,
or whether he’s not, he lends
an ear, and frees the poor man, his labours done.

But what has this to do with the Oracle? It would seem that Horace was offering a play on the words of the Oracle! Off to Thucydides’ Greece to chat with the Oracle? Well perhaps by way of 21st Century Boston, where we catch up with J. Kates, who clarifies all in a humorous though cautionary tale well worth the reading (and the trip!)


Photo borrowed from JungNewYork.com (sources unknown).

 The panel on that doorway is just another ironic cast (yes, it is a bad pun, but I am going to continue to use it…)  The plaque of course is not iron, but what is ironic is that anyone,  having read Horace’s Ode condemning vain riches, would be so clueless as to carve the source of Horace’s skewering on their lintel,  let let alone nail it in in brass (now that is ironic) to their door.

“Does any of this have anything to do with education?”, you might well inquire. My point in traipsing through time and space was to demonstrate that as a direct result of my education I undertook that journey.  An “explore” is a lifelong journey, teaming curiosity with discipline, which enriches each life so engaged, and those touching them.

Unique experience?  I think not.  Recently the careful consideration of a Bosch painting produced  this rendered transcription and this Buttiful Music  (details here and here .)


Jung, C.G. (1975) Letters: 1951-1961, ed. G. Adler, A. Jaffe, and R.F.C. Hull, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, vol. 2.
Croix, G. E. M. de ste. The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Kiss My Annotated Bibliography

APA_StyleI recently had a tutee complain bitterly about an teacher marking down papers because the papers did not comply with the instructors perspective on a particular style manual. It is not the first time for pompous declarations on all manner of style issues, and this time,  I though I would follow through and pose the question presented to the style experts at the APA.

Dear Style Experts, There is a small war going on at universities over how students are supposed to format “annotated bibliographies” using APA 6th Ed. Style, and students are getting caught in the cross-fire over assignments that will never see the light of day. Whether or not some Instructors may have missed their connection entirely, there is, nevertheless, a substantial basis for teaching students how to properly format documents for academic purposes, and I suppose the best way to bail the poor students out of their dilemma solution is to ask the experts to make things clear (which is, after all, your stated purpose.)

To which I received the following wonderful response:

The APA Publication Manual doesn’t specify requirements for annotated bibliographies, for the simple reason that they are not used in APA Style. In fact, APA Style does not use bibliographies of any sort (as noted at http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/format-bibliography.aspx). This is not just a quibble about vocabulary. A reference list has only one purpose: to provide the sources cited by the author. Bibliographies also provide sources, but they may include more, such as suggested reading, background reading not cited in the paper, and commentary on the sources. None of those things are included, or can be included, in an APA Style reference list. Instructors control their own curricula, and they may have valid pedagogical reasons for wanting students to produce an annotated bibliography. However, it is the instructor’s responsibility to fully inform students about the required format for the assignment. It’s an unfortunate fact that not all instructors are diligent in fulfilling this responsibility. Nevertheless, it is not within the scope of APA Style to instruct students on how best to violate APA Style. Hope this helps,

So, dear instructor, perhaps you had best reconsider?

Contemplations on Attempts to Amend Alaska’s Constitution

Jack Balkin, in his text “Living Originalism”, suggests that the US Constitution provides an opportunity for the public to daily redeem itself, to reconnect and re-establish our commitment to a way of life despite ever changing circumstances, to pursue a more perfect union. He goes on to say,

The Constitution is an intergenerational project of politics, and the generations of We the People are the participants in the project. The Constitution contains commitments that We the People have only partially lived up to, promises that have yet to be fulfilled, and it is the task of each generation to do its part, however great or small, to help fulfill them nd to achieve a more perfect union in its own day. The participants in the project will argue among themselves about how to continue the project; they will make mistakes and commit injustices, but this by itself does not detract from the point of the enterprise. As the Talmud says, we are not required to complete the great Work, but neither are we free to refrain from it.”

If you read the proceedings of the Alaska Constitutional Convention (click here to listen here to Senator Gardner reading from the archives) you can still hear the same sentiments echoing off the chamber walls as our Founders strove to improve on what they found, so as to adopt a Constitution for their day:

“I believe we should take direct steps to maintain a free public education not encroached upon by any quarter. I think it might be well to bring out in the argument for the direct or indirect benefit of public funds for education is the matter that is now being faced in Europe and in particular in the Netherlands where they have what is called the form of educational pacification, where the government is splitting the tax dollar among some 500 different church groups providing for a parochial school benefit on an indirect basis, and in a community where there is maybe 500 school children there will be as high as seven or eight small schools scattered out throughout the community, not providing for the fullest benefit in the educational field as far as having a good complete centralized program. I think that sectarianism segregation in our educational system is bad for the children. I do not deny the right of people to have their own schools. However, I think that we should always look to the interest of the founders of our nation when they brought about the separation of church and state.” Jack Coghill Floor speech quoted in full with cite below.

Constitutions are, as Jefferson might suggest, sacred not so much for their text as for the compact they represent, our oath that as a society we will strive for the common good.  That sense of responsibility is in fact the reason that there are among us those who signed our Constitution who have argued that no matter what else, the power to amend our Constitution should never be used in such a way as to rend asunder that which the Constitution has brought together (see quotes of Jack Coghill, Sr. and Vic Fischer, below.) Unfortunately, the Alaska Senate is engaged in just such a consideration this session.

Let there be no doubt that Joint Resolution 9 is not about rectifying historical faux pas,  nor is it about rectifying an “old mistake”. But the underlying purpose, as distressing as that is, almost pales before the grief that this resolution is intended to bring to the people of this State. For this is in a very real sense a cynical ploy; an effort to do just what we should never do.  This is an effort to drive a wedge through the heart of Alaska.  This is designed to promote the most vitriolic clash in Alaska’s history, to rend our very soul in twain, and is is being done, believe it or not, in the name of Alaskan youth.  For shame.

There are Alaska Senators who believe that they should use the Constitution as a political weapon, a device with which to promote their political agenda, not because it is in the best interests of all, but because they think they can get one over on someone else and get their way. In a 1996 article for the Atlantic Monthly about Jefferson and about the true nature of America’s “civil religion” (a far cry from the Protestant intolerance informing the positions of many in Juneau today), O’Brien states, “In an address at Michigan State University on May 5, 1995, President Bil Clinton warned right wing militias not to attempt to ‘appropriate our sacred symbols for paranoid purposes..” And that it is what we face today.

But the Alaska Legislature does not represent the interests of some Alaskans.  It represents the interests of ALL Alaskans, and I have to ask the Legislature, in all sincerity, if they truly believe the horrific politicization of education that this resolution would unleash is going to benefit Alaska.

We do not live in a democracy.  Indeed our founding fathers were terrified of democracy as well they should be, schooled as they were in Greek Philosophy. Instead they fashioned a republic specifically designed to prevent demagoguery. Specially fashioned to insure that popular passion would not result in momentary advantage.  In order words, to protect us from what the Legislature is here asked to unleash.

We understand now that JR9 is about holding hostage the students of this State for the purpose of promoting a highly polarizing effort to divert public funds to private purposes, among those purposes, religious education.  It is about opening Alaska media to millions of dollars of
outside advertising intended to destroy public employee unions and public education. It is about the Texification of Alaskan education.

I call on all Alaska Senators to uphold that redemption offered by our Constitution, and acknowledge that the Alaska Constitution, that organ of unification, must not be used as a means of shattering the public trust or confidence in its public institutions.




Balkin, J.M. Living Originalism. Harvard University Press, 2011. 75 http://books.google.com/books?id=khidNUWpY8UC&pg=PA75#v=onepage&q&f=false
O’Brien, Conor Cruise. “Thomas Jefferson: Radical and Racist.” Atlantic Monthly, 1996. Accessed March 27, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/96oct/obrien/obrien.htm.

‘But in his opinion, some of the more than 20 amendments have been political in nature, and unnecessary. “It’s not that the Constitution is a holy document. It’s that it has proven very effective.”‘ http://www.litsite.org/index.cfm?section=Reading-and-Writing&page=Pass-The-Word&viewpost=2&ContentId=1597

‘ “My inclination is to leave it alone,” Coghill says. “It’s a real simple and well put together document.”’ http://www.anchoragepress.com/news/constitutional-questions—in-you-can-vote-for-a/article_012327eb-76e8-5a72-9b5d-2ec4b55c146d.html

“COGHILL: Speaking in defense of my proposed amendment, I would first like to say I am very prone to the problem of putting any religious persecution into the Constitutional Convention or among the delegates. It would be the same thing as me trying to convince Mr. Ralph Rivers of the principles of the Republican party, and he in turn of the party he belongs to. I don’t believe that is the problem at all. I think that they certainly have a right, a private right or a religious right, or a parochial right under our constitution to have schools. However, I believe that the way our government was set up 175 years ago, that the founders felt that public education was necessary to bring about a form of educating the whole child for civic benefit through a division of point of the home taking a certain part of the child, the church taking a certain part of this education, and the government or state through public schools taking the other part. I adhere to that principle, and I might say that I am the president of the Association of Alaska School Boards and one of the formers of that twelve-point program we developed in Anchorage last October. I think that the problem could probably be well misconstrued here as to the motive and intent. However, I feel that the intent of public education is primarily a state function and does not belong to any private or any one particular group, whether they are in the minority or the majority. I believe we should take direct steps to maintain a free public education not encroached upon by any quarter. I think it might be well to bring out in the argument for the direct or indirect benefit of public funds for education is the matter that is now being faced in Europe and in particular in the Netherlands where they have what is called the form of educational pacification, where the government is splitting the tax dollar among some 500 different church groups providing for a parochial school benefit on an indirect basis, and in a community where there is maybe 500 school children there will be as high as seven or eight small schools scattered out throughout the community, not providing for the fullest benefit in the educational field as far as having a good complete centralized program. I think that sectarianism segregation in our educational system is bad for the children. I do not deny the right of people to have their own schools. However, I think that we should always look to the interest of the founders of our nation when they brought about the separation of church and state. The problem was brought, and it was brought about by Thomas Jefferson quite well when he said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in the state of civilization, it expects something that never shall be”. Therefore out of his deliberations with John Madison they brought about a form of free public education starting in Virginia, and it has come forward ever since under the intent of having the tax dollar only brought to the public educational system. I know there have been many law cases on it, Supreme Court rulings and what not, and I think that the matter still is divided as far as the general public is concerned, as between the sects of religion and not on the principle of preserving the free public education as an instrument of the state.”      From the Minutes of the 48th Day of the Alaska Constitutional Convention Accessed at http://www.law.alaska.gov/doclibrary/conconv/48.html

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Simple is as simple does….

There has beena good deal of tooth grinding about the current ASD budget gap,  some of the ideological rants, some well intentioned efforts to focus the public eye on various issues. An example of the latter can be seen at ElectronicBonsai , David Block’s Blog. Tip o’ the hat to David in that he  is generally accurate, but his conclusion unfortunately is not – there is no “simple” answer to ASD’s budget woes, in no small part because it is, at its base, a political problem and our politicians are doing a Tastes Great/Less Filling on us, and we continue to drink the slop.

Certainly bringing back the BRT system would increase community involvement in the budget on a more granular level.  In fact, I served on BRTs during every cycle since they were implemented by Carol’s predecessor and we in fact help cut millions from ASD’s budget (mostly mission creep, as opposed to waste.) But any number cruncher will likely tell you that while the BRT system will give the community a better sense of what is in the budget, it is fairly obvious where cuts can be made, and we are likely not going to go there…..

On the other hand, David’s use of the term “infiltrated” with respect to federal education programs is unfortunate. As David Teal suggested (repeatedly, as it were, on LegTV) the State would have implemented the same programs as the Federal government offered financial incentives to pursue, so while an easy target for whiners, there is not much to complain of there.  However, we should note that ASD has never fully complied with many policies that bring in Federal funds,  but has always continued to receive those funds while they are afforded substantial room to move inside grant scoping parameters. But grants come with overhead and, as David correctly notes, run dry. One might even argue that Alaska School Districts should look at running their base functions off the base student allocation to avoid the boom and bust cycles that Ms. Comeau used to her advantage over the past decade to erode teacher compensation.  But as most everyone will agree, that would be virtually impossible.

Books, though, could be cut with a bold turn into the headwinds of the 21st Century.  But while we’ve wasted millions on technology that really won’t help, we have spent little on technology that could help.  And while Mr. Steele, while a Board member, actually suggested that turning the Tech BRT into a standing District body might produce long term benefit, that idea was quickly snuffed when it became apparent that the BRT  was not going to be led about quietly….  But even the savings that could be realized from appropriate technological policy won’t make a dent in the hole artificially created by our leading lights.

If one looks at budget expenses over time you see that adjusted for inflation what goes in to the classroom has not changed much over a decade, while overall spending has risen sharply. And most of that rise is attributable to low cost bonds pushed by the current and past administration for construction and administrative costs (which go far beyond just a few extra ineffective unit administrators.) In other words, the folk who are complaining most about the current cost of education are largely responsible for the cost sectors that they are whimpering about.  And in the meantime, what most of Anchorage seems to forget is that most of us make no net payment for any State or local service.  Let’s say that again: “most of Anchorage seems to forget is that most of us make no net payment for any State or local service.” The “taxes” that David references are offset by payments from the State to the populace, so from an accountancy perspective, we are being paid to pay our taxes and cry pitiably should anyone suggest that we actually reach into our pocket for a sous more.

We have made our bed and now it is time to lie in it. At the local level we have a fractured and polarized community, and we elect to the Board far right ideologues (who simply want to shut down public education and public employee unions) like Don Smith and centrist nodders who purport to be in support of public education and then give the nod to whatever looniness central administration runs up the flagpole (like Jeff Friedman who thought it was just fine that ASD should violate State law with respect to teacher credentials.)  The current crop is so ineffective that none of them have apparently demanded that staff publish the working documents used to develop the scandalous e-mail that went out referencing a change from 6 to 7 periods, though the public asked the Board to make that information public 3 weeks ago.  We have municipal administration that believes it can run roughshod over the community because it has an extra vote in the Assembly and we have a State government that is controlled by people who are approaching delusional.

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BSA Funding by year

In a very real sense, the source of our problems is the focus of our problems; we have so poorly managed public education that we have failed to produce what public education is intended to produced, an literate and informed public that can parse logic and rhetoric to engage in critical thinking for the purpose of making rational decisions.  In fact many are trying now to gut our Constitution so that the State will fund “schools” that promote instruction in the supernatural while they applaud Mr. Ham and Creationism!  Is that the fault of teachers? Well,  far be it from me to argue that we don’t have more than a few rotten apples in the barrel, but that even the best teacher faces an impossible task with the odds we have stacked against them. But while Evaluation under The Danielson Group will require teachers to spend more time in peer review, reflection and lesson planning, they will be provided less time to do that, increasing class sizes (though class size should be halved), and reduced respect and compensation.

The rational response to all this might be to follow the age old advice to put the shovel down and back away from the hole,  but that is not likely.  What we are going to do is get very angry and scream our way into a few extra bucks, which in the long run will not in any way address the issues underlying our problems. The “simple” fact of the matter was well framed when Senator Dunleavy recently inquired of Superintendent Paramo regarding SJR9. Paramo ducked the question. And that is what our big school districts are all doing about State funding,  they are all ducking. They use State politics to batter teacher negotiations. They throw up their hands and say, “It is out of our control!” instead of saying, “We are shutting this fiasco down because this entire discussion is ludicrous.”  It is high time for local school districts to choose,  because we all know that otherwise the choice is made for them, and that choice results in lots of people employed doing little more than babysit.