Archive for November, 2010

Like we Love our Kids

November 28, 2010

Like we Love our Kids

Someday we’ll pay for all the things we did
We broke some stuff and made some noise
We love our soldiers like we love our kids

Methods and motives are better left hid
Nothing’s too good for our girls and boys
Someday we’ll pay for all the things we did

Missed every birthday, but I always did
Send a little box of love and joy
We love our soldiers like we love our kids

The mighty don’t fall so much as they skid
Lives and countries have been destroyed
Someday we’ll pay for all the things we did

Love ain’t cheap, so what’s your bid?
Can’t you see how much we spend on toys?
We love our soldiers like we love our kids

War and kids: Patriotic joy
Up too close they begin to annoy
Someday we’ll pay for all the things we did
We love our soldiers like we love our kids

by Richard W. Bray

Stupidity Shows

November 22, 2010

reality tv

Stupidity Shows

Had a lovely time at Larry’s
Till they turned on the tv
We spent the evening watching morons
With their phony rivalries
Grownups trading insults
Like they’re still in jr. high
Silly self-indulgence
Fifteen minutes passes by…

Read a book,
Chop some wood
Or take yourself a walk
Anything is better
Than hearing losers squawk
Ride a bike,
Brew some tea
Or dream yourself a dream
And miss those morons eating bugs
To beat the other team
Hug your kid,
Go to church
Or fix yourself some grits
Don’t waste your precious life
Watching losers pitching fits

by Richard W. Bray

Some Thoughts on Where I Was From

November 18, 2010

Some Thoughts on Where I Was From

In the introduction to his book Many Mexicos, historian Lesley Byrd Simpson explains how its jagged mountain ranges carve the nation up into several distinct geographical and cultural regions. It dawns on me that Many Californias would be an apt title for the book Where I Was From, a collection of Joan Didion’s writings about her native state.

Not much about California, on its own preferred terms, has encouraged its children to see themselves as connected to one another. The separation, of north from south—and even more acutely west from east, of the urban coast from the agricultural valleys and of both the coast and the valleys from the mountain and desert regions to their east—was profound, fueled by the rancor of water wars and by less tangible but even more rancorous differences in attitude and culture (64).

Our Many Californias often seem to be working at cross purposes from one another, much like our notoriously undisciplined congressional delegation. (State-boostering legislative discipline is the only thing we envy about Texas.)

So the much-hyped rivalry between the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California (a label which, oddly, doesn’t seem to include the San Diego area) is merely one of many divides. Rivalry, however, isn’t really the correct word because that would imply that people in Southern California are actively conscious of what others are thinking about us. Yes, the smug sense of superiority that Bay Area residents feel over their glittery and shallow water-thieving “neighbors” to the south is a cornerstone of regional identity, but Southern Californians don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the haters. This is fortunate because we are roundly detested (BEAT LA). In San Diego, for example, TV weathermen give the “Smell A” forecast.

In 1890 my grandfather was born in Upland, which makes my California lineage much longer than that of most of my fellow inhabitants. But my ancestors came by railroad; Joan Didion’s people came by covered wagon. Ms. Didion insists that this distinction created a clan of hearty settlers who don’t look kindly upon those who fuss and dawdle:

Sentiment, like grief and dissent, cost time. A hesitation, a moment spent looking back, and the grail was forfeited. Independence Rock, west of Fort Laramie on the Sweetwater River, was so named because the traveler who had not reached that point by the Fourth of July, Independence Day, would not reach the Sierra Nevada before snow closed the passes (32-33).

The details of the Crossing are deeply ingrained in family lore because “The gravity of the decisive break demands narrative” (30).

The importance of recording these memories was unquestioned: the flood and the levees and the two-story house on the Grape Vine Ranch had become, like the potato masher that crossed the plains, like the books that did not get jettisoned on the Umpqua River, evidence of family endurance, proof of our worth, indistinguishable from the crossing story itself (158).

Of course, many Californians were ambivalent about the massive influx of citizens which transformed our state into the nation’s largest and most prosperous in the nation. In particular, California’s tradition-conscious older families who are often large landholders, “have an equivocal and often uneasy relationship to the postwar expansion (97).” More people might bring wealth and increase real estate “value”, but they will never get what it really means to be a Californian.

“New people, we were given to understand, remained ignorant of our special history, insensible to the hardships endured to make it, blind not only to the dangers the place still presented but to the shared responsibility its continued habitation demanded” (95).

And Californians have been happy to share the cost of much of our growth with the rest of the country by way of federal railroad subsidies, massive hydro-agricultural projects and military/aerospace spending. For decades we blissfully accepted federal largess despite the obvious contradiction that such an “extreme reliance of California on federal money [was] so seemingly at odds with the emphasis on unfettered individualism that constitutes the local core belief” (23).

For example:

The cost of controlling or rearranging the Sacramento [River], which is to say the “reclamation” of the Sacramento Valley, was largely born, like the cost of controlling or rearranging many other inconvenient features of California life, by the federal government (23).

And:

It was a quartet of Sacramento shopkeepers, Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford and Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins, who built the railroad that linked California with the world markets and opened the state to extensive settlement, but it was the citizens of the rest of the country who paid for it through a federal cash subsidy (24-25).

During the remarkable postwar boom, California grew and grew. We built cities, freeways, airports and the greatest system of higher education in the world. It was perfectly natural to assume that “[g]ood times today and better times tomorrow were supposed to come with the territory” (129).


Then came the Oil Shock, Governor Moonbeam, Proposition 13, an era of limits, the end of the Cold War, the loss of “800,000 jobs between 1988 and 1993”, the Rodney King Riots, OJ, and thriving auto and aerospace factories replaced by warehouses offering “165,000 Square Feet of T-Shirts Madness”
(134, 151).

A scared and frustrated public reacted angrily to the demise of our “artificial ownership class” (113). However,

“when they finally noticed that the jobs had gone to Salt Lake or St. Louis, [they tended] to see their problem as one caused by ‘the media’ or by ‘condoms in the schools’ or by less-good citizens, or by non-citizens” (116).

As Californians began to turn on ourselves, bizarre, fear-driven policies led to this:

“It was 1995 when, for the first time, California spent more on its prisons than on its two university systems, the ten Campuses of the University of California and the twenty-four campuses of California State University” (187).

When Joan Didion was a child, she asked her mother to which class the family belonged, only to be rebuffed that “class” was “not a word we use.”

We believed in fresh starts. We believed in good luck. We believed in the miner who scratched together one last stake and struck the Comstock Lode. We believed in the wildcatter who leased arid land at two and a half cents an acre and bought in Kettleman Hills, fourteen million barrels of crude in its first three years. We believed in all the ways that apparently played-out possibilities could while we slept turn green and golden (128).

California could sure use a green and golden fresh start these days.

by Richard W. Bray

Steve

November 15, 2010

Steve

My name is Steve and I believe
All that I am told
My buddy Bill who lives up the hill
Is a hundred and sixty years old
My neighbor Frank who works at the bank
Is really the king of Siam
My friend Frankie Nicks who picks up my bricks
Once built the Hoover Dam
My tailor Tom who’s always so calm
Is a super secret spy
And my homey Sal who calls himself Al
Owns everything under the sky

My friends all agree that I’m lucky to be
Their favorite trusting friend
Just ask Mr. Wirth, who rules the Earth
He lives just round the bend

by Richard W. Bray

I Wanna Hear

November 12, 2010

Robert Hayden

Carl Sandburg

I Wanna Hear

I listen to poetry on my ipod while I stretch at the gym before a workout. Guess what? England (Caedmon, BBC, etc.) really kicks our ass when it comes to recorded poetry. It’s easy to find poets like Dylan Thomas available on CD in addition to actors such as Boris Karloff reading Kipling or James Mason reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. There are also many recordings of fine stage performers reading just about every major British and Irish poet.

But it’s slim pickins for recorded American poetry. Poetry Speaks is a nice project, but it’s only four CDs. And even the excellent Voice of the Poet series has only one female poet available on CD (Adrienne Rich) and nothing on CD from Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Theodore Roethke or Sylvia Plath.

I don’t think Americans will ever crave poetry the way people in other countries do. And I don’t expect to live to see a time when it is common to find people reciting poetry in front of large audiences in parks and amphitheaters.

But wouldn’t it be cool if, once in a while, instead of presenting music from some no-hit wonder, maybe Dave/Jay/Jimmy/Conan/George could feature:

CCH Pounder reciting If I Should Die by Emily Dickinson

Brad Pitt reciting Burnt Norton by T.S. Eliot

Martin Sheen reciting Samurai Song by Robert Pinsky

Sigourney Weaver reciting Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers by Adrienne Rich

Holland Taylor reciting Bohemia by Dorothy Parker

James Earl Jones reciting anything by Carl Sandburg

Rosie Perez reciting Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath

Kelsey Grammer reciting Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden

by Richard W. Bray

Rupert

November 10, 2010

Rupert

Candice bought a robot
At the five-and-dime
All day long the two of them
Had a lovely time

She named the robot Rupert
And she let him loose indoors
With instructions on completing
All her work and chores

Rupert did her homework
With his calculator brain
He also did the dishes
And never once complained

She took him to a party
Where he really stole the show
He danced his robot heart out
Till it was time to go

Friends and Candice dressed him
In her mother’s clothes
With high-heeled shoes and lipstick
And powder on his nose

They sent Rupert to the kitchen
To make them all some treats
He quickly whipped up entrées
A platter full of eats

Gladys said, “Hey Candice,
My toenails need a trim”
Rupert then gave pedicures
To everyone but Jim

Candice soon discovered
There was nothing he couldn’t do
He could clean her house and wash her hair
And polish every shoe

Now Candice is so pampered
She never leaves her bed
She never needs to worry
Her lazy little head

by Richard W. Bray

A Strategy for Remembering the Difference between Primes and Composites and an Amusing Teacher Story (by Sig)

November 3, 2010

A Strategy for Remembering the Difference
between Primes and Composites

Subject: Prime and Composite numbers

Objective: To ensure that students who understand the concept of prime and composite numbers do not mix up the terms.

Whenever I taught prime and composite numbers I noticed that some students who understood the concept mixed up the terms. This misunderstanding caused them to miss all the problems when tested.

I came up with the mnemonic device that numbers are like people. Prime numbers are Picky People who only have one friend while composite numbers are folks who enjoy Company.

Reinforcement: I had the students do a skit in order to increase retention of the concept.

Evaluation: I made up a worksheet so each student could draw prime and composite numbers with their factor friends.

It was a fun lesson that made a nice bulletin board.

An Amusing Teacher Story

Here’s what happened one day when we were reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, our core literature novel:

In case you didn’t know, the characters in the story are personified mice and rats. It is a riveting story with several dramatic plot twists.

One morning as we were reading the novel aloud, a mouse—a REAL one—ran across the classroom in full view of the students. This was a very unusual occurrence in our suburban setting. The students were surprised and curious.

“Is that Mrs. NIMH?” they asked.

I smiled and calmly took the class outside to continue reading this wonderful book.

I couldn’t have planned it any better.

Small Wonders

November 1, 2010

Small Wonders

There’s a teensy-weensy town,
Which only can be found
When you get down on your knees
In a forest full of trees
And peer among the roots,
Rotten leaves, and shoots
Near the katydid
Just beneath the mushroom lid.
It’s a Lilliputian land,
Built, designed and planned
By a teeny-tiny breed
Of creatures known as Sneeds.
This itsy-bitsy borough
No deeper than a furrow
Has microscopic alleys,
Bridges, roads and valleys
Mini libraries and malls,
Little parks with waterfalls;
A minuscular world
Filled with minute boys and girls.
They get dressed each day like you
In their teensy clothes and shoes.
They attend their puny schools
So they won’t be dinky fools,
But like you they’d rather play
In their wondrous world all day.

So the next time you go hiking
You really would do well
To be careful to tread lightly
Cuz’ you really cannot tell
What worlds you may be trampling
In a forest or a dell.

by Richard W. Bray