Jul 13, 2018

Review of Frederick Wiseman's "High School" (1969) and Jean-François Caissy's La Marche à Suivre (2014)

I am a teacher, so I am familiar with the strained relationship students sometimes have with authority. And most teachers - especially the best ones - are in tune with this tension between youth and adult, between power, and submission, obedience, and freedom.  However, taking a psychological view, High School is also an exciting time where teenagers are becoming self-reflective, and the adults in the room have a front row seat to their pupils' on-going development. I use the word becoming on purpose. Adolescence is messy progress.

La Marche à Suivre (2014)

High School (1969)

Jul 12, 2018

Throwback Thursday: My Mother at the Anubis Carnival Ball in New Orleans (Circa the 1970s)

Mom at the Anubis Ball in New Orleans, Louisiana (circa 1970s) 
Throwback Thursday: A few Thursdays ago, I posted a Throwback photograph of my maternal great-grandmother at the Anubis Carnival Ball in New Orleans. As a successor to that post, here is a photograph of my beautiful mother Pamela Roselli. She was a maid escort in the ball. The photograph is circa the 1970s - I'd say. As far as I can tell from my research, the Krewe of Anubis was a non-parading krewe - which basically means they did not have a parade during the Mardi Gras season. The krewe was originally established by local businessmen in the pharmaceutical industry. I don't think Anubis is still functioning as a krewe today. Does anyone in my family have an exact date on this photograph? I'd love to add it to my family history files.

Jul 10, 2018

Abraham Lincoln on Happiness

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

- Abraham Lincoln, American elected head of state in the 1860s

N.B. This quote is apparently misattributed to Lincoln, according to the website Mental Floss. The quote gained traction because in 1914 a guy named Frank Crane wrote a newspaper article that attributed the quote to the President.

Image Source: Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. 

Jul 6, 2018

Advice on Friendship from Charlotte's Web

“The quickest way to spoil a friendship is to wake somebody up in the morning before he is ready.”

- Charlotte, from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Image Source: EForceManWonder

Jul 4, 2018

The American Holiday The Fourth of July (Alternatively, Independence Day)

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia Latifolia) I found on a hiking trail in the Catskills.
As I sit on my tuffet (a hard, wooden chair I use as my writing chair), I raise a glass of ice-cold filtered water poured from a bonafide Britta © dispenser, and make a few stray comments:


  • It is hot, and humid in New York City. I hope you have air-conditioning - if not, get yourself to a New York City cooling center.
  • I am thinking of setting off some fireworks in the middle of the street and yelling, "I am from Louisiana!"
  • Nationalism is deeply taught in this country so I find myself humming patriotic tunes and feeling nostalgic about the colors red, white, and blue.
  • Last year, I did stake out a spot in Sunset Park with my buddy Anthony Charles to watch the Macy's Fireworks display.
  • This year, supposedly, I could go to Long Island City - but I am thinking of just staying home and watching BBC adaptations of Terry Pratchett novels.

Jun 28, 2018

Throwback Thursday: My Maternal Great-Grandmother Albertine Frank

Throwback Thursday

Albertine Margaret Frank Killman is my maternal great-grandmother who died in August of 1980 when I was only 8 months old. Did we meet? I'm not sure. She knew how to fry frog legs. She had a son, Freddie, who drowned in Lake Pontchartrain when he was 13 years old. I knew her children, Ida, and Hanky, well, because they were my great aunt and uncle. I didn't know Dot, her other daughter (and my grandmother), because she died of congenital heart failure decades before I was born.

Albertine's parents, Friedrich and Margaret Burkhardt were born in Frankfurt, Germany in the 1850s. They emigrated from Germany and Albertine was born in New Orleans in 1889. When she married my grandfather Francis Killman, they lived in Gentilly, which is a neighborhood of New Orleans. When my mom was born, she and her siblings often spent time at Albertine's house.

Anyway. I wonder what Grandma is up to in this photograph? Is she going to a wedding or to a Mardi Gras Ball? My guess is that she is going to the ball for the Krewe of Anubis (which I don't think runs anymore).

Jun 21, 2018

Everyone Should Be Welcome in This Country

I found this message written by hand on my recent visit to the Jackson Heights Library in Queens.

Jun 15, 2018

Teaching My Non-English Speaking Students English

Word Walls are great for English Language Learners
I start each work day with a cup of coffee. I check work e-mail. Then I go to my Google Drive and open up my lesson plan files for the day and mark what I need to photocopy at work. I don't own a printer. So I usually just cross my fingers that the printers at school will spill out glorious spreads of worksheets for me. It's a daily prayer to the teacher gods. Athena, hear me. I don't have a homeroom so I use that time before first period to staple, collate, or just talk the talk with colleagues. I teach six class periods a day. But I don't have a traditional teaching schedule.

I teach my classes to a cohort of eight to twelve kids from mainland China. They all speak either Mandarin or Cantonese. That's not entirely true though because I have a kid from Thailand and I've taught kids from Turkey, Vietnam, and South Korea. My students are fun to teach but it's exhausting work because we are with each other for most of the day. The kids push out for lunch and their math class - and for the rest of the scholastic schedule, they're parlaying in English with me. Or it is usually English. Sometimes I learn a few Mandarin or Cantonese words.
    That's how I learned the word for "dumbass" in Mandarin Chinese is 傻逼. But Google Translate tells me that it simply means "silly." I think something is lost in translation because one kid says this word all the time. It's annoying. It's like having that kid in your class who always mutters not-so-slightly under his breath "[expletive] this shit." At least that is how it feels. Sometimes the Mandarin teacher will push-in and hang out. She told me the word has multiple meanings. So there. I like my job because I've always loved playing with language and meaning. It's fun getting the kids to play the game. To get them to see how language works. To engage them. I want my kids to feel confident and to be OK making mistakes. So sometimes I'll take out the bilingual dictionary and practice pronouncing Mandarin. It's what's humorous. I am mostly frantic during the school day because I am always thinking twelve steps ahead.

I have lots of ideas and not a lot of resources to bring 'em to life. I don't use textbooks but that's to my advantage. The hardest class to teach is social studies. The easiest class is the speaking class. I hate teaching grammar. And even though I love to write I'm not the best writing teacher. So that leaves me with my greatest strength: I'm really good at classroom discussion. When my kids take turns talking in English about fun and interesting topics I'm so proud of them because it ain't easy to parlay in a language that ain't your own. Now that it's May I'm in reflection mode about the year. I think we done did good.* And I'm super excited about Summer. Of course. 

But I wonder how next year will flow. It's important for me to feel successful. On Friday I had a meeting about goals for next year. And when I think of next year one thing I want more than anything is for my students to go to a cool museum, write some cool sentences, and feel good about learning in English. Go us.

*I recognize that my grammar is not correct. Did I ever tell you I dislike the grammar police?

May 6, 2018

Skeeter Explains Kant's Use of the Word "Apodictic" in the Nickolodeon Animated Series Doug

When filmmakers (or in this case - animated television show creators) want to show that a character is super smart, the go-to prop must be a copy of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason! A few weeks ago I posted a video of Lorelei Ambrosia, a villain from the film Superman III, reading Kant's book. In that scene, Lorelei does not read from the book's text, but she does give a glossy summary of transcendental categories that may or may not make sense depending on how you look at it. In the above scene, Doug's friend Skeeter does a pretty good job of explaining Kant's mission to solve the problem of what constitutes a universal foundation for all knowledge!

Here is the transcript* of Doug and Skeeter's conversation on The Critique of Pure Reason:

Doug: [Reading the book's title] Critique of Pure Reason? What's this?

Skeeter: [Tying his shoes] Oh. Just some book. It's pretty cool. 

Doug: [Trying to pronounce the word] The possibility of apodic-, apodic-?

Skeeter: [stressing the pronunciation] Apodicitic!

Doug: Apodictic principles? What's that?

Skeeter: Well. Kant is using the word oddly here because he wants to prove an apriori body of synthetic knowledge is exhibited in the general doctrine of motion .... [soundtrack goes whacky and spoken voice is difficult to discern] .... apriori knowledge can't be reached by empirical processes but apriori [unintelligible] must use strict universality or apodictic certainty ....

[Doug's  eyes go into a psychedelic headspin and mathematical equations circle him in a vertigo like fashion. We all see a screenshot of Skeeter's bookshelf which also includes Isaac Newton's book The Principia Mathematica. Skeeter's head balloons to suggest that he has a ton of knowledge]. 

[Back to reality] Doug? Doug? Are you OK, man?

Doug: Uh. Yeah. I think I better go.

Skeeter: OK. See ya!

*I had trouble transcribing Skeeter's analysis of Kant but I think I got most of it. The soundtrack becomes muddled between the 35 and 53 seconds mark.

May 1, 2018

"Only You're Different!": Notes on Gender Transformation in the Marvelous Land of Oz

Tip is the cap-wearing boy in L. Frank Baum's Oz 1904 sequel.
Gender transformation in literature is nothing new. Tiresias was said to be both a man and a woman at different stages of his existence. And by the way, he said that being a woman is better. So when I read The Land of Oz in the Fifth Grade, it was nothing out of the ordinary to read about it in L. Frank Baum's fantasy novels. It's a motif in fantasy fiction to be sure - just see this TV tropes wiki page.

The Boy Tip

Tip is a fictional character in L. Frank Baum's second installment of his famous Oz books - The Marvelous Land of Oz (later shortened to The Land of Oz). While the Scarecrow, Dorothy, and the Gnome King often get noticed from readers as amazing Baum creations, Tip gets looked over in the Oz canon because he is actually not a real person (well, in the sense that in the story he is not who he seems to be). And his tenure in the Oz narrative is temporary.

*spoiler alert* after the jump:

Tip is the boy-form of Princess Ozma of Oz - a character Baum creates to provide a mythological center to the Ozian panoply of mismatched and various characters. In the book, Tip is the servant of Mombi, an evil witch who wants to hide Ozma from everyone in Oz (for reasons I will explain later - see below). Since Dorothy has returned to Kansas - and the Wizard has been booted out as a fraud - the Scarecrow has become the ruler of the Emerald City and sits on the throne wearing a paper-cut-out looking crown. As a side note, Walter Murch, in his 1985 film Return to Oz, depicts the Scarecrow in this exact same guise, matching the aesthetic of William Denslow's illustrations for Baum's books.

Tip as the Key

In the same way that Buffy's sister Dawn is "the key" in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fifth season, Tip is an ersatz character whose only purpose is to reveal a plot point. Tip is not really Tip - he - or she - is Ozma. So in the tradition of the gender bender, no one knows the character's real identity until the end of the story. Walter Murch, by contrast, did away with Tip altogether and he is replaced by Dorothy in Return to Oz.

In the book, however, Tip is the central protagonist of the novel - and there is nary a mention of Dorothy Gale. Baum gives subtle hints that Tip is not whom he seems to be; for example, the boy is described as "rather delicate in appearance" and Denslow's illustrations of him in the book art strike me as somewhat androgynous. He could be a boy or a girl - especially given his mopish hair. Baum retains the Emerald City as the story' central place of reference, and it is a rather big deal that the Scarecrow is awarded sovereignty. In a similar way that Dorothy had to find the Wizard in Oz in the first book, Tip is motivated to visit the Scarecrow in the Emerald City when he learns that his master, the evil witch Mombi, plans to use the potion of life to turn him into a marble statue. By the way - in another reference to Walter Murch's ingenious film (which I will write about separately in a future post) - Mombi is featured in Return to Oz but she is an amalgam of two characters from the books - Mombi the witch, and Langwidere who has a curiosity cabinet of dozens of heads which she can affix and change at will. So, Pip, in visible flight mode, flees with Jack Pumpkinhead - a hobbled together creature formed by the same said potion of life - and both take a journey to the Emerald City.

Where is Dorothy?

On reading The Land of Oz, I could not shake off the feeling that I was disappointed that Dorothy is missing from the story. Because Judy Garland graced the silver screen as Dorothy, I suppose people may assume that Dorothy is one of the most memorable creations of L. Frank Baum; however, it strikes me that probably young readers in the 1900s who were captivated by Baum's storytelling were more than likely astonished the most by the Scarecrow. And it is he that shines in the Oz sequel - as I mentioned already - Dorothy is merely a footnote. In film versions of the story Many Oz fans are expecting Dorothy - which is probably why Walter Merch tossed out Tip in his cinematic sequel to The Wizard of Oz in which he tossed out Tip and inserted Dorothy as the hero and combined the plot of The Land of Oz and the third book in the series - Ozma of Oz

The L. Frank Baum Media Machine

And it is true that Baum received a lot of letters from children begging him to write more Oz stories - and Baum would write his stories based on the whims of these children. So I think that is why the sequel to Oz - and most of the subsequent thirteen Oz books that Baum would write - have a somewhat episodic feel. Baum was going for the ride - and he needed the cash. So - in this way, the Oz books back in the 1900s were what the Harry Potter books were in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They seized on the needs of the people of the time. The Oz books gave turn-of-the-century folk a story that whisked them away from their own familiar place; I imagine reading the Oz books one hundred years ago felt like going on an epic adventure; in the 1990s the Harry Potter books were a similar draw. But unlike Harry Potter, Baum - I do not think - thought of Dorothy's original story as a saga - which is why I think Tip is so unusual in the sequel. Baum was able to write a book set in the same universe as the first Oz book but cast with a totally new set of friends.

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