Happy Halloween, 2007

Cooler than last Halloween. It’s in the 60’s with a mild ocean breeze blowing and a few wisps of cloud in the sky. Last Halloween was hot and dry–so was 2005. This one, not so much. I remember last Halloween it was that a colleague said to me that “clearly, global warming is happening…I mean, it’s the end of October and it’s hot outside!” My reply was more sanguine. “It’s Southern California. Have you lived here long? It gets hot this time of year. Our running joke is that on Christmas day, you’ll need a t-shirt and on the 4th of July, you’ll need a sweater.” That has borne true more times than not. Still, there have been some cold Christmases. Christmas of 03 was a swampy, rainy and cold Christmas. I loved it.

But, here we are with a normal, healthy onshore flow and my colleague that berated me last year didn’t say anything this year. Neither did I. I tend not to be activist for the most part. I’d rather watch as the next 10 years get cooler and cooler and watch the global warming alarmists melt, as it were.

Off for some dinner and then some trick or treating. This year, Daylight Savings Time is going long–which I also find stupid, but I cannot change the clock. So, trick or treating will be shorter because it won’t start until close to 7:00 P.M. What a shame.

Well, November is around the corner. Hard to believe–and the week has been one of constant and total work. I’m exhausted from just the amount of stuff I’m having to do. Grades are due this week, the student paper, which I advise, comes out tomorrow–warts and all–the Yearbook is on deadline number 1 coming up, the literature classes had to have their first Benchmark tests mandated by the district, my after school Home and Hospital Charge had to meet with me more frequently this week because she missed last week’s meeting, and Monday’s meeting. I had a full schedule of tutoring this week and I turned in two feature pieces to the magazine. I’d say that’s a pretty full week. And it’s Wednesday.


Mending and Building

The neck is mending, but not nearly as fast as I’d like. I have good and bad days and this has caused a conundrum. Way back in the summer, I bought a ticket along with pals Scott and Shawn to go to the Big Smoke in Las Vegas. It happens on Nov. 10th and it’s clear that by that date, I will not be 100 percent. I will, however, be at about 65 percent–and I spent the money.

We were going to drive, but we nixed that and now we’ll fly as we have done for the past two years. This will be our fourth year in and I think I’ve worked it out. I’ve even checked to see that the hotel we’re staying at has feather pillows–which are best for my neck because I can mold them and shape them the way I want.

I’m trying to avoid surgery and so far, I’m succeeding. But doing so means a very tough uphill road of physical therapy (or physical terrorism as I like to call it), exercise and even some–meditation. I know, it’s odd. But I find that if I spend a few moments a day just sitting or lying quietly with perhaps some simple non-descript music on, I feel better. My arm is coming back slowly and my shoulder, too. The doc thinks if I can get some strength in there I can avoid the knife and it’s what I want.

When I get better still, I’m headed to Salt Lake City to see Michael and family. It’s been too long and I was supposed to go this summer, but the neck precluded that. Geesh. It’s precluded a lot. I am, however, determined to get it before it gets me. It’s been a long few months and may be a few more–but it’s beginning to work.

Meanwhile, I have another piece coming out this week on education in our local paper, The Camarillo Acorn. It’s a weekly and I really enjoy reading–have been for a few years as the original Acorn is up in Westlake Village and Agoura where I first started reading it. They are a truly local paper dedicated to local stories. They don’t have pieces about the war, except as it pertains to us here, they don’t cover national politics, again–except as it pertains to the community. It’s a great little paper. Just recently, the editor and I met to discuss having students write pieces for the paper and this week’s will feature those stories. I cannot wait for that–it’s such a rush for the kids, and for me!

I’ve written a piece on the testing culture in education and Dan, the editor, agreed to publish it. I can’t wait for the fallout from that. I’ll link from here when it happens.

And that, as they say, is a wrap for a Monday.

Subverting the Dominant Paradigm

I’m guessing barely anyone read yesterday’s post. I read it about a dozen times. It was an odd sensation and while it wasn’t the first poem I ever posted at this site, it was a very personal experience to put those up. Rather cool.

The weekend’s end is always sad and Monday is full of things to do, most of them rather meaningless, but that’s the way of education these days. The suits think they’ve figured out just how to make kids learn better and that is through testing them until they are bored stiff. Don’t worry about lighting a fire under them for knowledge. Don’t fret over how to get them motivated to write quality essays. Nah…just make sure they know what the root word of VERacity is and that they know how to bubble in a test properly. It’s good stuff. Hard to believe, actually, that my bosses and direct superiors have actually bought into it. They have, though and the proof is in the pudding. Test, test and test again. And keep testing until they pass the test. Nevermind what’s on the test or what it might mean, just test ’em. E-gad, but it’s getting depressing.

Still, I get to start the Huckleberry Finn unit tomorrow. It’s fun to teach subversive literature in the midst of a very strict and bureaucratic environment. To read a story that deals with the most truly subversive character in American literature and get to talk about him, his travels with a runaway slave and his “subverting the dominant paradigm” is rather cool. Right now, I’ll settle for cool….

Of hurricanes and poetry.

My friend Gary Taylor and I had been exchanging e-mails this week. I met Gary in Biloxi, MS when shortly after Katrina, I decided to get personally involved by making a phone call to the first random church I found on a list provided by Hugh Hewitt. I called Bethel Lutheran Church and Beauvoir United Methodist Church and though our church has now hooked up with both, Gary was the first person I spoke to. We became friends as well as colleagues and though I’ve only been with him in person for 3 days in September of 06, we are in rather constant contact. He’s become one of my favorite people.

More so today as I learned he is a fan of both Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, two poets with whom though I share nothing in common, I love their work. The confessional poetry movement appeals to me on a lot of visceral levels but much of it is simply the beauty of the words. Gary shared with me his favorite Sylvia Plath poem, The Moon and Yew Tree:

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload thier griefs on my feet as if I were God,
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones,
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime: it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky–
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection.
At the end, they somberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up. It has a gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her glue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness–
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars.
Inside the church, the saints will be all blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness–blackness and silence.

–Sylvia Plath, 22 October 1961

Had Sylvia lived, she’d have been 75 years old today. Her suicide (disputed as murder or at least manslaughter by many) is such a sad and tragic thing. If one reads her work, though, one becomes aware that she seemed to possess, as did Edgar Allan Poe and perhaps F. Scott. Fitzgerald, a terrible self knowledge; a kind of inability to accept that she must change, must adapt to being the wife and the mother she’d become. She doted on her children, by all accounts, but behind those gorgeous eyes, a raging torrent poured. I reprinted the poem, Mirror, from Sylvia for Gary as one of my favorites. I still teach it in school and it still speaks to me. Again, I carry nothing away from these poems that is relevant to me, at least not in essence. But for some reason–and that reason is probably somewhere in my childhood or in the deep recesses of my most elemental thoughts, I love these poems:


I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful-
The eye of the little god, four cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is a part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.

I used to write poetry, but I’ve stopped. At times, though, it still speaks to me and I still refer back to it. I love to pick up Robert Frost’s poems and I still love to read Poe for that Halloween feeling. And when I’m thinking clearly or literally, which happens only once in a great while–I find poetry, music and the deepest of reminiscences are all that will do.

If it's Friday…

Most of the fires are near full containment, though getting there is a couple of days away. For now the winds have abated and this evening was cool–in the 60’s and dropping–with fog coming in from the coast. That’s supposed to change, unfortunately. Another offshore flow will develop by tomorrow evening and by Sunday, we will be back up into the 80’s. However, no strong winds are forecast at this point. That too could change, one never knows. We just hope no more fires kick up. The toll here has been astounding, though again–it happens every year and it happens with regularity, and this is not the worst it has ever been.

As a Friday, it’s slow. Sue’s under the weather and Peanut is exhausted. It’s only 9:00 in the evening and I’ve already fallen asleep once on the couch. Unfortunately, not in a comfortable position and so awoke with a sore neck, which is nothing I need just now.

Still, it is the weekend and a rest is in order. Today afforded a few opportunities and one of them was to knock down two feature pieces that I’d begun earlier in the week for the magazine. One of them is due Monday and the other on Friday, but next week promises to be busy yet again, so I saw a spot of opening today while my students took a flawed and badly written standardized test. They did that, I wrote my pieces and graded some papers. It was a good thing to get both pieces done and since both are feature pieces, a little bit longer in their focus, they fetch more of a remuneration than the odd tasting room or winemaker profile. Pretty slick, I suppose. That’ll provide more barrel money as the new Hungarian oak arrives this week for the Tempranillo.

Ah…so much. I need a rest.

Politicizing Catastrophe–an American past-time.

The damage is bad. But if you listen to the hype by either MSMers or even locals (the ones who have not been affected badly by the fires), what you hear is “this is the worst its ever been.” Well, not really.

I was wrong in my post below, too. In the fires of 2003, a mere 4 years ago, the fires burned over 3600 houses. The current count here this year is around 1600. That’s not to say that the fires aren’t bad and that those poor people aren’t suffering, but the fact is it’s not as bad monetarily or numerically as 4 years ago.

Meanwhile, the absurdly funny and ridiculously below-average Senate Majority leader tried to blame the fires on….wait for it…….global warming. Ah, yes. Of course, a few moments later when a reporter called him on it, he denied it. Don’t believe it, do you? Follow the link: It’s right there. You can hear the tape. (h/t Hugh Hewitt). Look, the Santa Ana winds are always up this time of year—many times, they happen earlier than this. Almost always, they run into October and early November. Last Halloween in So. Cal. was warm and windy. One can hope that the Santa Ana’s are gone for now–and that’s a fine hope. But, if you live in So. Cal., this is the weather pattern this time of year. It is what it is–and it has been this way for years. Most meteorologists point out that this batch of winds, while certainly pretty heavy, were nowhere near out of the norm.

Being somewhat familiar with Katrina relief since 05 and watching how the left and the MSM succeeded in villifying President Bush and his cabinet for their response to the hurricane (and in the process ignored the stupefying inept-ness of their own Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco), I’m struck by the absurdity of it all.

The fires were bad–the wind was strong. People are suffering and are hoping to get something of their lives back. The government responded well on the local level and on the state level. The Feds didn’t have to do much, as they shouldn’t. But to attempt to score political points is just wrong. True, it was great that it backfired–but, Reid shouldn’t have tried.


Fire updates…

So many people are saying, “I don’t remember it being this bad.” The only thing I can say is (to myself), “you don’t have much of a memory.” The Day Fire last year, the Moorpark/Simi/Fillmore/T.O. fires of 03, the fires in Malibu and around the state in 93. It’s been this bad before, though I don’t think there was as much property damage in those years as there is this year. In that regard, this is bad. The best overall view of the fires comes from the National Interagency Fire Center.

I’m by no means a frontline journalist here, though I confess I wish I was. However, it appears that over 300,000 households have been evacuated; that’s about one million people removed from their homes. There have been hundreds of thousands of acres burned–though the Ranch Fire update indicates that because of better aerial mapping, the acreage is down to less than 48,000 rather than the previous estimate of 54,000 plus. The smoke across the county has closed down two school districts here (though dozens of others have closed down closer to the various fires) and restricted outdoor activities altogether.

OK–that said, the Santa Ana winds have died down after a 3-day marathon of blowing non-stop. Three nights in a row, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights and all day Sunday, Monday and most of today, the winds blew unabated. It was ugly and astounding. The outdoor temperature right now is in the 70’s and it probably won’t get too much cooler until tomorrow night. Onshore flows are set to begin around Wednesday night and change things a bit. That will be welcome relief, I assure you. I’m looking forward to sleeping all night without being awakened by banging gate doors, rolling trash cans and tree limbs waving furiously in the moonlight.

The fires are still burning, though–and we are hoping, praying that the winds stay down, the humidity picks up and the firefighters can stop the flames from jumping the line…

We're on Fire…

Yeah, the whole southern part of the state is on fire. There are more than 20 incidents in total and some are simply huge. For us in Ventura County, the big fire is called the Ranch fire and it is burning up near Piru at the L.A. County line across into Newhall and Saugus and around that area. Simi Valley USD, my old employer and Fillmore USD, where I did my student teaching, are closed tomorrow. Our school district is still open for now–but that could change.

Malibu started it all, but it’s not the major one anymore, though it is pretty bad. Orange County, San Diego County, all of it–all of it is on fire and bad. In San Diego County, the evacuation order was for over 250,000 people! When interviewed, the fire chief there said, “a lot of people are going to lose their homes today…”

Here’s a link to the health advisory for the area. Here’s a link to the interactive map operated by the Los Angeles County Fire Dept.

This is the incident website for the Ranch fire and it is updated continually. Lastly, here is a link to the California Fire News site which updates all the fires in So. Cal.

The price of living in So. Cal. is very high. Tomorrow’s temperatures will reach into the 90’s in many places and the winds will continue, it appears, until Wednesday–maybe even longer. As long as there is little to no humidity, as long as there is wind, the fires will rage and there is little to be done.

If it's fall, it must mean So. Cal's on fire!

Ah, Autumn in Southern California. The sky turns a lovely shade of black and orange, drowning itself in Halloween colors while smoke plumes fill the sky. Yes, it’s the Santa Ana winds! The one weather condition with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

The warnings went up by Friday–the wind was coming–and get ready. How does one get ready? Don’t know. They never tell you that part. Nevertheless, the winds, at times at hurricane strength, started blowing after midnight last night and haven’t let up. The advisory is in effect until Tuesday afternoon, but don’t let that fool you. All that means is that is as far as they are willing to predict. The winds may well die down then–they may die down before, or they may go all week and into next. No telling.

Malibu is on fire and so is Castaic. Piru is burning as is the area near us known as Santa Rosa Road. The fire is in the Lexington Hills development where the homes are in the millions of dollars and it is spreading. The smoke is filling the sky and here’s what it looks like over my house and on my block:

The fire is beyond the hills in the distance there. It’s less than 10 miles from here, but we’re in a flatland neighborhood, so chances are we aren’t going to burn. However, those hills over there are all threatened.

More of the same.

Embers are falling from the sky here, just like last year, and dirtying everything. We moved into this house in August of 06 and shortly after, the Day Fire started burning, pushed by early fall Santa Ana winds. That fire lasted a month and was one of the reasons we tore out the skylights in our play/garden room. Soot covered them and I knew it would happen again (And it is…right now), so I had them torn out. Good call.

An Orange-pumpkin sun. How appropo.

Governor-Elect of Jindal of Louisiana

Since Hurricane Katrina, I have followed Mississippi and Louisiana politics, if only to get a read on the dichotomy between the two. There is no question in my mind that FEMA made many mistakes, though not the ones for which most people accuse them. FEMA is not a rebuilding agency, they were not designed to be first responders and the FEMA team is not the Red Cross. They are a government agency whose job it is to process requests for Federal Aid after a disaster. They are a pre-planning agency, helping local governments to prepare for disaster as well. I simply don’t buy into the “George Bush blew it” conventional wisdom, however. There were a lot of foul ups on the Federal, State and local levels, but the predominant errors were made at the state and local levels. From the bewildering ignorance of Federal warnings by then Governor Blanco to the stupefying incompetence of Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, there’s plenty of blame to go around. What the press doesn’t often report, and needs to be reported more, is that the Federal govt. under FEMA issued a series of important warnings to the Gulf Coast region and spoke directly to local leaders telling them to prepare for the storm. Many of those warnings were ignored. I’ve been involved with relief efforts there for two years and in fact, we’re sending another group down there at the end of this week.

To that end, I’ve watched with great interest the campaign of Bobby Jindal in Louisiana. He’d run for several offices as a Republican from that state and most recently served as a U.S. Congressional representative. The son of Indian immigrants, Jindal has an easy-going demeanor combined with a great deal of ability and political talent. His win yesterday as Louisiana’s new governor with an astounding 53% of the vote was a mandate for change in a state about which former Congressman Billy Tauzin used to say, “half of Louisiana’s under water, the other half is under indictment.”

We now have a new quote to add to the pantheon of great politics in America and this one from Governor-elect Jindal himself. He was speaking of the corrupt political machine and people in his native state when he said last night: “The can go quietly, or they can go loudly, but either way, they will go….”

I love that.