Monthly Archives: August 2007

My Minneapolis

All this news about the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis makes me sad. I’m certainly saddened by the loss of lives and by the injuries people sustained, and it was a horrifying event. I can’t help but think of the terror people felt.

I’ve been trying to figure out which bridge it was, because I used to walk around Minneapolis. I used to enjoy crossing the bridges over the Mississippi. While I would not have been walking across I-35, I must have walked across the neighboring bridge a number of times. Here is a map of where I used to live with a route to the bridge. I was trying to figure out if this was a bridge (the neighboring bridge, that is) I used to go over on a favorite bike ride. Without really being there, it’s hard to tell.

Then I remembered Nicollet Island and the Nicollet Island Inn. I used to ride by it on that bike ride. I’d been wanting to eat there for a very long time, and I finally went one Easter. It was lovely. I also loved the “industrial” waterfront — the grain elevators, the Pillsbury factory. I would not mind going back. I miss Minneapolis in a nostalgic way.

On a closer look at the map, I know right where the bridge is. There were a few theaters in that area, and it’s right by the university. I have a distinct image of Cedar Ave — and of an Indian restaurant in that area.

I am very sorry for all the pain people are going through because of this tragedy, and I feel compassion for them.

Changing a Grade from Failing to Passing

I was just reading a NYTimes article on a teacher who quit because the failing grade he gave a student was overturned by the principal. I am a bit irked by this article for a variety of reasons.

First, I am irked by the fact that an administrator would overturn a grade. It is not only insulting to a teacher, but it undermines the teacher as well and questions the teacher’s professionalism.

Secondly, I am irked by the fact that I am now a judge of the situation, when I know perfectly well that the circumstances have not been 100% laid out before me. What I mean by this is that there are certainly facets that we do not know about. There may have been some significant issues between teacher and student prompting the student to not do so well. Since she failed last year, this is probably not the case.

Thirdly, I have definitely passed marginal kids (truly marginal, not someone getting a 45 — but I also never gave lower than a 45, as an F is an F, and you don’t want to doom a kid forever). Sometimes the question is — what is my goal here? With tougher graduation standards, I frankly think that it is criminal to deny some kids a diploma because they are bad at one subject. If a kid has mainly D’s on a report card, yet they still have a diploma, they won’t get into college without getting some community college experience to bolster their grades, yet they’ll be able to get a job that merely requires a high school diploma. Thus, it enables them to have access to the “pursuit of happiness (property)”. A clear example is that in order to join the Army, it is much more difficult to join if one does not have a diploma. One can have a GED, but it is tougher to get it then. Check out the Army’s website and download the enlistment standards if you can. I taught a number of kids who were not super geniuses but wanted nothing more than to serve in the army. I think it would be wrong to deny them that opportunity. Don’t get me wrong. I do not support funneling our least privileged into the army, but for those who have set it as a dream goal and have little else in terms of opportunity, I think it would be wrong of me to stand in their way. This does not mean they’d get carte blanche, but I would make sure to work with the individual so that s/he could reach his/her goal.

Anyway, I see the teacher’s side, but I can also see another side — and that is that we do not have all of the info we’d need to make a sound judgment.

Great Condos for Sale in Amherst, MA

I just wanted to put up a link to Lara’s website, because she is selling two completely refinished condos at The Brook in Amherst, MA. She and her partner Joe did the work, including completely gutting the two bedroom, and the renovations they did on the one-bedroom was just short of gutting it. They have excellent style and taste, so if you are in the market, they are great.

One is a two bedroom, 1.5 bath that has two floors and a basement. It overlooks woods, so it is pretty private.

The other is a one bedroom, one bath with cool wood floors. Just check it out.

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Our First Anniversary

Sujal and I took a quick weekend trip down to Washington, DC for our first anniversary. Here is a little “anniversary blogging” by the White House. Those of you who know Sujal well know that he has quite an affinity for the current White House resident, as do I.

anniversary-blogging.jpg

Our intent was to go to the National Mall and see a few museums in the Smithsonian. I wanted to do a quick detour to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On our way, we stopped to see the new World War II Memorial. Here is a photo:

wwii-monument.jpg

It was a beautiful memorial, and it was very traditional, but Sujal and I both felt it lacked something. For me it lacked the personal quality the Vietnam War Memorial has. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful piece of artwork.

While there, I read an inscription that was a quote (now I don’t remember the particulars) about the naval force (I think?) being victorious. I mentioned to Sujal that I know that the US was “victorious” in WWII, but that I had never really thought of it in those terms. I don’t really think of wars as ever being victorious. Of course I know wars are fought to be won, but I don’t believe that wars have winners. That is not to say that I don’t believe the US should have been involved in WWII. Hitler needed to be stopped for sure! But I still do not think of the US as being “victorious.” Yes, we “defeated” Hitler, but we lost a lot. I think of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. These potential semantics made Sujal question me on my comment.

This line of thinking demarcates a zone where Sujal and I do not think alike. We have very different ways of conceptualizing and perceiving the world, thus it led to a bit of a confrontation. Being the established married couple we are (we are not newlyweds anymore), we easily weather all disagreements.

After we passed the WWII Memorial, we walked past the reflecting pool that separates the WWII Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. One end was pure sludge — algae and whatever else might have been growing. It was just disgusting, stinking muck. And yet, we saw this:

dc-sludge-ducks.jpg

These two ducks were in the sludge with their little beaks in the muck. Somehow it just seemed like a metaphor for the state of our current administration. Sujal and I had been talking about Dickens on the ride down, and this was just too Dickensian of a symbol to pass up.

After a long, hot walk, we finally arrived at the History museum, to find out it was closed for renovations. We then headed to the National Gallery. I really wanted to see one of my favorite paintings — it hangs there. I saw it twice before, and I love it. So we went to find it in the wing of American art — also closed for renovations. Then I recalled that sometimes the artist is groups with the French Impressionists. I asked at the info desk, and yes, Mary Cassatt is grouped with the French Impressionists. The clerk asked which painting I was looking for, and I told her that it was Child in a Straw Hat. She looked it up and said that it was not on display at this time. I was a little heart broken, but I somehow managed to go on.

We went to the Air and Space Museum next. After seeing a few exhibits, we went to see an Imax movie called Adrenaline Rush which was about skydiving and base jumping. It was decent — the camera shots were beautiful, but the script was really cheesy. Then we went to see Cosmic Collisions, a planetarium show narrated by Robert Redford, which was also decent.

After getting our space ice cream, we hoofed it back to our hotel. We stayed at the Topaz Hotel, a very trendy and eco-friendly hotel in DC. It is part of the Kimpton Group, trendy, eco-friendly fairly upscale hotels. We really liked the place a lot. It is decorated in a modern and eclectic fashion, so it is kind of funky. We definitely recommend it, especially during a summer weekend, because we got a really cheap rate!

We then went out for a lovely dinner at Raku — An Asian Diner. We were so hungry, that it tasted like one of the best meal we’ve ever had. It was good, too. We each had pad thai. I also had the vietnamese spring rolls. I love them! I used to order them whenever I went to Lotus, a restaurant in Minneapolis. Vietnamese spring rolls are tough to find around here.

The next morning, we met Sujal’s friend Kim for a lovely brunch at another Kimpton hotel. Then we headed home on another traffic-filled highway. Of course we made a pit stop in New Jersey where Sujal got me a great anniversary gift (I’d already given him his). All in all, it was a pretty great first anniversary. We’ve both been fairly busy (he more so than me), so it was good to spend some time together.

I Got to Thinking about Confrontation

The weekend in DC was a great weekend away. We both enjoyed the quality time together, but it was not a weekend free from confrontation. As I mentioned above, Sujal and I had a mini-confrontation over what I’d said about the US not really being “victorious” in WWII.

On our walk to the mall, I had the trip’s first confrontation. We were enjoying our walk, seeing lots of buildings of “interest” groups and lobbyists. Then we were walking by a series of offices in what looked like row houses. In from of one stood some people holding pamphlets and some other people wearing bright orange t-shirts. My first thougt was something having to do with orange t-shirt wearing weirdos. Then I read the t-shirts and looked at the office. It was a Saturday morning and we were passing by Planned Parenthood. The pamphlet bearers where right-to-life protesters. The people in orange were Planned Parenthood volunteer escorts. Something tugged at me, and I had to go back and say something. Because this is an issue that is near and dear to me, I went back to thank the escorts for the very important work they are doing. They make it much easier for women who have made the choice to terminate a pregnancy. I am fervently pro-choice, so I really respect what they do. Of course, they would not have to do what they do if the pamphlet bearers were not there. As I turned around, the pamphlet bearers were closing in on me, telling me that it is a child, that God wants me to keep it. They thought I was going in for an abortion.

I firmly believe these pamphlet bearers have the right to protest and the right to free speech, but in the moment, I became filled with anger — anger because they make it so difficult for women to make up their minds; anger because if one believes in God, the christian God, then whatever sin he or she commits (if that is the case) is between the sinner and God; anger because they assumed something about me; anger because they want to take away my rights; anger because this is misogyny. On my way over to the escorts, I merely waived one pamphlet bearer off. When he began to preach to me after I turned to walk away, after he assumed I was terminating a pregnancy, I stooped to a low blow. I flipped him off. As a few more pamphlet bearers began addressing me, I flipped them off, too. As I walked away and they continued, growing louder, I continued to flip them off behind me. I knew Sujal was not too pleased that I made this gesture, and I was still angry. Later, I thought about it, and not that I would have ever planned to deal with a confrontation that way, I realized just how dismissive it is — and what I mean by this is that flipping them off makes them dismiss me — it invalidates my points. Granted, I was not about to get into an intellectual debate with them, but I weakened my position on the moral high ground.

So I began to think about conflict in those terms. Compassion is important, and so is respect. I may not respect someone’s viewpoint or opinion, but I can respect him or her as a fellow human being. This is, of course, not entirely new to me, but this confrontation clarified this thought for me.

Deck Update

Ahhhhhh! I have finally finished scrubbing, sanding, and staining the damn deck! It made need a few touch-ups after it is dry, but I think it looks pretty good. I can’t say it looks amazing or brand new, but I can say it looks a hell of a lot better than it did before — hence the term ‘home improvement.’

Anyone looking for advice on refinishing a deck? Here it is:

a. Hire someone.
b. If you cannot hire someone, then gather together a crew of friends and relatives, perhaps people who owe you something. Slate a day for scrubbing. Slate a day for sanding. And slate a day for staining. Order pizzas and provide soda and beer. It’s a huge job.
c. If you decide to do it yourself, first make an appointment with a shrink.

As I finished up the last few boards today, it gave me a greater appreciation for those with the home improvement aptitude. Actually, it is a talent, a gift. I worship people who are good at home improvement. I’m lucky enough to have a couple of friends who fall into that talented category — really, they are a couple.

They have completely renovated three condos in Amherst, MA at a condo community called The Brook, which they now have for sale (well, they sold one –so two left). Here is the MLS website and you can plug in her MLS numbers. The MLS number for the one bedroom condo is: 70605492
The number for the two bedroom condo is: 70605598
The totally gutted the two bedroom — including tearing down all the drywall to insulate better. The have all sorts of recessed lighting, speakers, etc. It’s a very funky style, and they have paid such close attention to detail. Check out the photos if you can, because they are really nicely redone.

Update: I found Lara’s website for her condos.