Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why I Teach

At the beginning of each school year, my school taps three or four faculty members to talk on this subject: Why I Teach. I was chosen this year, and this is the talk I gave last night. The picture is from my senior year of high school - I had won a writing award. L-R: Mr. Burnette (English), Mr. Shirley, aka The Wolfman (principal), me, Mr. Neville (English).

During my junior year of high school, Pink Floyd’s rock opera album The Wall was released. As everyone knows, one of the songs from that album, “Another Brick in the Wall,” became a monster hit. The famous lines from that song go

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher leave them kids alone
Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone.

Of course, the lyrics were a specific complaint, based on experience, against abusive teachers in British boarding schools, and even if you hadn’t lived through that nightmare, it wasn’t hard to imagine your way into the speaker’s anger. But my agemates tended to hear those lyrics as an indictment of school in general. They shook their fists and shouted “we don’t need no education” with snarling outrage. If that was the revolution they were for, then I couldn’t support it. Though I shook my fist like everybody else, in my heart I was a loyalist. It was deeply embarrassing, but I just could not embrace the militancy of those lyrics.

Why did perfectly natural adolescent school hating feel so unnatural to me? Because on the whole, I loved school. Well, that's an overstatement.  I didn't love everything about school - ask anyone who ever tried to teach me math or science - but I certainly revered the idea of school way too much to renounce it in song.  And that sense of reverence came mostly from the nature of my own education.

I am a 1981 graduate of Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, so my high school education took place in a college town, mostly in the late seventies. Coming of age in that era had its drawbacks – schlocky music, preposterous clothing, that post-Watergate-post-Vietnam-energy-crisis-double-digit-inflation malaise bringing everybody down, and we teenagers had to endure the tiresome nostalgia of the preceding generation, grumbling about how much cooler everything had been ten years before. But it wasn’t a bad time to be in school. Public school teachers in general had more autonomy in those days, and in that particular time and place there was a gracious plenty of autonomy for inventive teachers who knew how to use it. I had several such teachers. Mr. Burnette taught creative writing. For his class I wrote a short story in which the Joker used a Dear Abby column to triumph over Batman. Mrs. Longman taught a humanities course called “Social History of the 1920s.” I wrote a research paper for that course on Sacco and Vanzetti, the two Italian immigrants who were unjustly convicted of murder due to their ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs. In 1927 they went to the electric chair and became political martyrs. The title of my paper was, “Sacco and Vanzetti: How and Why the Two Italian Anarchists Were Executed.” My friend Alec pointed out that the “how” part of my title was kind of stupid. The executioner just pulled the switch, right? Nonetheless, Mrs. Longman liked my paper – I had covered the “why” part pretty well - and it remains the most intensely pursued research project of my academic career. Total absorption. I didn’t want it to end. Mr. Reeves taught an entire course on the Vietnam War, just four years after the fall of Saigon. There was no textbook: we watched videos, read articles, listened to music. That list may not sound special now, but it was in 1979. Later, Mr. Reeves was my teacher for an independent study course on the early history of Christianity. Bill Reeves was my most influential teacher, particularly in something he did that I doubt he’s aware of: he made me believe I could be a high school teacher. I do not dare to seriously compare myself with Mr. Reeves – we’re talking about an honest-to-God Eagle Scout vs. a Cub Scout dropout – but the way he went about his business looked to me like something I could legitimately aspire to. Far from being one of those larger-than-life Hollywood teachers, he was low key. But he plainly treasured the content that he was teaching, he was smart, he was engaged with us, and his way of gathering and presenting the material and the thought-provoking work he assigned all suggested a pedagogical impresario. His agenda was not to make himself a star but to give us a rich experience. He knew how to make a classroom pulsate with meaning.

I’ve talked about my teachers and my classes, but, as is the case with young people now, the extracurricular, underground stuff that was churning around among my agemates was perhaps more important in influencing my future. There was the magic of unassigned reading. Chapters 3 and 4 of Silas Marner might have been due Tuesday, but we were going to read Vonnegut instead. Or Salinger or Kafka or Tolkien. And be proud of it. My visionary friend Alec organized lunchtime matches of a brand new sport, ultimate Frisbee. The games were twenty on a side and played in a small space, chaotic huckfests that by some miracle did not result in trips to the emergency room. I played ultimate there for the first time. Before long we had something like a team, and Alec had contacted some guys who were playing at the other high school, Clarke Central, and one day there we were at the UGa football practice fields, competing in what may well have been the first interscholastic ultimate match ever played in the state of Georgia. At the beginning of my sophomore year there was a serious misunderstanding about editorship of the student newspaper, Excalibur. Two very talented boys had been led to believe the job was theirs. I was on good terms with both of them, Johnny and Jay. Johnny was a brash character, an audacious son of the working class who was going to make himself heard in an environment dominated by arrogant, entitled professors’ kids. Johnny was chosen to be editor. Jay felt a promise had been broken, so he started his own newspaper. He was a special young man: staggeringly intelligent, witty, warm, responsible, and when he chose to turn on the gravitas, you thought you were in the presence of Walter Cronkite’s illegitimate son. The paper he launched to compete with Excalibur, the Cedar Shoals Press, was not the underground radical newspaper out of a school principal’s nightmares. It looked and read like something that wanted to be the New York Times when it grew up. It ran articles on subjects like a Ralph Nader investigation of standardized testing. The fortunate thing for me was that for a brief time I was able to publish in both newspapers. I specialized in juvenile imitations of Art Buchwald columns. For the Press I satirized teachers who assigned purple sheet busywork. For Excalibur I wrote a series of mock proposals for what do with the abandoned parking garage downtown. When the Press published my parody of the Excalibur music critic’s self-indulgent record reviews, Johnny had had enough of my two-timing. I came home from school one day to find him waiting for me in my driveway. I had to choose, he said. I chose the Press, which folded a month later. That’s journalism.

In some ways, the seventiesness of my high school education disserved me. At times the impulse to trust students drifted into laxity of supervision. It was too easy to get away with things. I was able to arrange a senior year for myself that even Jeff Spicoli would have found insufficiently demanding. By the time I started college I was a stranger to academic rigor – a stranger to responsible behavior, really - and the results were not pretty. I also have to say that even at its best, Cedar Shoals was not some progressive paradise out of the fantasies of John Dewey. It retained many of the noxious qualities of the industrial-model American high school, especially its Southern manifestation. Our sense of institutional worthiness was way too dependent on the performance of our football team, and though the school was racially integrated, you would never have known it to see homogeneity of the population enrolled in advanced classes. But on the whole Cedar Shoals served me well, both officially and unofficially. Between allowing me to immerse myself in research topics I loved and write for two newspapers and experience Mr. Reeves’ great teaching and play frenzied ultimate, the school was generous to me. So I could not bring myself to sing along when Pink Floyd seemed to denounce education. We don’t need no education? Speak for yourself. When I became a high school teacher, the liveliness and richness of the best of my experience at Cedar Shoals served as my conception of the way school is supposed to be, for everybody, not just for people like me. That conception has never really left me.

But I did not leave Cedar Shoals planning to become a high school teacher. It never crossed my mind. I would have considered it beneath me. I was going to be a sportswriter, or a historian. Or maybe both. Wouldn’t that have been cool? It wasn’t until much later, when I was at the University of Georgia, staggering towards an undergraduate degree in English literature and my half-baked career ambitions looking more remote all the time, that I turned my eyes toward the blackboard jungle.

By that time it was just a matter of going into the family business. That’s a glib explanation for my career choice, but there’s some truth in it. My parents were both teachers. Neither of them explicitly encouraged me to follow in their footsteps, but they were preparing me for this work all the time, whether they knew it or not. My mother was a school librarian. She was the sort of librarian who wanted to see her collection move rather than petrify. Her passion extended to her personal life: she kept her sons in books, good ones, and she has done the same for her grandchildren. As is the case with many sons, it took me way too long to realize how blessed I have been in my mother. I was one of those kids who had a new geeky passion every month, and rather than treating my interests as inconveniences, Mom indulged them. Once I became very interested in Thomas Jefferson, but I got him confused with Superman, so Mom made me a cape with “TJ” on the back. So I would fly around the yard leaping tall buildings in a single bound and holding these truths to be self-evident. I was also interested in dirigibles. And baseball cards. And the Czars of Russia. And whales. Mom set me up every time, especially when it came to whales. I had every whale book from the Clarke County Public Library checked out. I learned the names and salient features of all the great whales and made meticulous study of all the pictures in the books. Mom was not in a position to enable me to see a living whale, but I recall a summer afternoon when she took me to a traveling exhibit in the parking lot at Sears. This guy had a baby sperm whale frozen in a block of ice in a semi trailer, and he was driving around the country charging customers to come inside and have a look. Mom bought my ticket and I got to see a frozen whale. It was like one of the ice cubes with a plastic bug frozen inside. Only twenty feet long. And a whale. Trust me, if you want to experience the majesty of the cetacean, it is better to see the beluga at the Georgia Aquarium. Still, that frozen whale remained in my memory, not only because it was such an unsettling sight but because of what Mom was teaching me about how to spend my days. Go see the whale! Mom endowed me with an active orientation toward learning I still adhere to when I’m at my best. However, when I went off to college, it was Mom who said, “If you want to be a teacher, you can pay for your own education.” I hadn’t even mentioned teaching as a career possibility, but at that time Mom was at the tail end of a particularly bitter experience with a change in administration at her school. Most public school teachers go through a time when they can’t imagine a line of work more soul crushing, and Mom was having one of those times. She needn’t have worried, anyway. Teaching was not on my radar. I was going to be a historian. Or a sportswriter. Or both.

My father didn’t counsel me one way or the other about becoming a teacher, but he would have been the one to do it. He taught for twenty years in the department of Language education at UGa. Yes, he trained high school English teachers, though not this one, at least not explicitly. He was certainly my mother’s partner in nurturing my interests. Perhaps his major contribution in that area was something he did for me when I was 11 or 12: he got me a subscription to Mad magazine. The silly, irreverent, incisive brand of humor I found in the pages of Mad not only gave me hours of laughs but insinuated itself into my worldview, for life, as it did for countless others of my generation. Neil Postman, one of my favorite educational gurus, used to say that one of the most valuable things schools can do for students is furnish them with built in, shock proof crap detectors. I share his belief – it is part of my mission - and I’m grateful to my father for introducing me to Mad, the source of my own crap detector.

Pop died while I was still a floundering undergraduate, not thinking beyond the next ultimate tournament, let alone a career, so we never had any sort of discussion about my choice to become a high school English teacher. His opinion would have mattered to me. A few years after Pop died, I was talking with the last doctoral candidate he had advised about the feelings he had inspired in the two of us. “Nothing was ever good enough,” she said. She did not mean that he was excessively demanding, but that his character was such that you wanted to transcend yourself in work you presented to him. I think that is about right where my father is concerned. In the introduction to one of his novels Kurt Vonnegut wrote that he had always secretly written for his sister. He wrote, "Any creation which has any wholeness or harmoniousness, I suspect, was made by an artist or inventor with an audience of one in mind." Pop never saw me teach, didn’t even know I wanted to teach, but I believe that whatever good I’ve been able to do as a teacher is largely due to the inspiration that the thought of him as an audience provides for me.

I have to admit this: There is something psychologically fishy about the timing of my decision to become a teacher. Consider this: an accomplished figure in his profession is struck down prematurely. Shortly thereafter, his son foregoes other paths he might have pursued in order to carry on his father’s work. The son will vindicate his father, perhaps even surpass him. The Prince Hal / George W. Bush / Dale Earnhardt Jr. / Michael Corleone storyline. But that’s not why I became a teacher. Far from it. I wasn’t Michael Corleone. I was no account Fredo. I made up my mind to pursue high school teaching because I was at a loss for what else to do. My undergraduate career had been undistinguished, to say the least. I didn’t think I had many options. Teaching felt like a retreat into the security of the known. Almost every adult in my life was in education. My father was a professor – we socialized with his colleagues and their families. Almost all of my school friends were faculty brats, too. Well into my adulthood I took it for granted that I had grown up in a rather cosmopolitan environment, and maybe I did, but when it came to giving me an up-close view of alternative career possibilities – well, I might as well have grown up in a mill village, waiting to take my place in the weave room. Yes, there were farsighted, industrious kids who would pursue careers in other fields – the son of one my father’s colleagues is now the organist at Fenway Park, for example - but I had been neither far-sighted nor industrious.

So there was no thunderbolt, no epiphany that made me a teacher. Two things did the job: a lackluster undergraduate career combined with vocational provincialism. So there I was in the autumn of 1988, enrolled in a teacher education program at the University of Tennessee. I thought, “Well, here you are. You have squandered the chance to do anything else. This will have to do.” I worked hard and tried to be enthusiastic, not wanting to repeat my undergraduate mistakes, but all along I brooded that this was not what I had been meant for. That’s a common experience of young adulthood, this sense that things were supposed to have been different. Shakespearean scholar Michael Neill has observed that one reason for Hamlet’s enduring popularity is that audiences can identify with this aspect of the prince’s struggle: he has been presented with a mission he’s ill-suited for and doesn’t want. He’s a scholar, a thinker, not a killer, but killing is what he has to do. Neill writes that one of Hamlet’s implicit messages is one that audiences understand very well: “The story of our lives is always the wrong story.”

Back in 1988, as I prepared to become a teacher, I felt that I was in the wrong story. But I wasn’t. It was never perfectly, organically right – I’m not a natural - but it was as close to right as I could ever hope for. And I believe it was the experiences I have spoken of that first made me believe it could be right. The question that torments every new teacher – “How am I supposed to do this?” – tormented me severely, but between my schooling and my upbringing, I had a wealth of experience to light the way for me. And in all of my private disappointment about where life had taken me, I had failed to anticipate the most wonderful challenge and the most wonderful pleasure of this work: kids. The millennial teenager: not the prettified, eye-rolling, plugged-in, wisecrack machine we see in the media, but someone whose character is much more varied, more complicated, more surprising, more abundant, more fascinating. It didn’t take many days among such teenagers for me to realize how wrong I had been in believing that teaching was something to settle for. It was my duty to live up to teaching, not the other way around.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Brother's (Goal) Keeper

I recently taught a short-term class at school called “Siblings in Film and Literature.” We started with Cain and Abel, of course, before moving on to more recent depictions of what Slate’s Emily Yoffe has called this “difficult combination of allegiance and rivalry.” My favorite line about siblings comes from a film we didn’t watch: The Straight Story. "There's no one knows your life better than a brother that's near your age,” says Alvin Straight to a pair of bickering twin brothers. “He knows who you are and what you are better than anyone on Earth.” I expect that is so. In my case, it was impossible to watch films like East of Eden, read dramas like True West, or read short stories like “Sonny’s Blues” without thinking about my own brother and how we used to fight like Biblical siblings. You’d think a birthright was at stake the way we played basketball in the driveway.

I have also had Rob on the brain because it is World Cup time. Our household is definitely into it. In many ways I have Rob to thank for my fandom.

Rob discovered soccer sometime in the late seventies, long before the current Becks-fueled vogue. As was always the case in our house, a newly discovered passion had to go beyond the mere practice of it: you had to become an aficionado. Rob loved playing soccer (he joined a club team in Athens), but he also become a devoted viewer of a show called Soccer Made in Germany, a English-language highlight show from the Bundesliga broadcast weekly on our local PBS station. Rob learned all the teams and the major players. He also learned to do a hilarious impersonation of Toby Charles, the excitable, nasal-voiced Englishman who provided commentary for the matches. For a couple of years it was not uncommon for Rob to suddenly blurt out the name of a German star in the manner of the Charles: “Rummenigge!” “Hrubesch!” The impersonations also included Charles’ British soccer terminology, including his use of the plural in reference to teams: “And that’s it, it’s all over out there on the pitch. Bayern-Munich have defeated Cologne, two-nil.”

It has been interesting listening to my local sports talk radio favorites leading up to the World Cup. Sadly, too many of them have descended into knee-jerk soccer bashing (By the way, you know you’re listening to a sports talk hack when he resorts to any of these three stupid rants: soccer is boring, women’s sports are boring, and dodgeball needs to be brought back to elementary school P.E.). Low scoring and ties are the usual gripes against soccer. Whatever. I try not to be one of those insufferable soccer fans who take U.S. failure to fully embrace “real football” as a sign of national dim-wittedness, but when NASCAR fans complain that soccer is boring . . . wow. What can you say?

In our house we’re for the U.S., of course, but we also have enough of a soft spot for the Netherlands to be closely monitoring Arjen Robben’s hamstring injury. The U.S. team’s first game is later today against England. I doubt Landon Donovan and company will win, but soccerniks said the same thing last summer during their improbable run at the Confederations Cup – a team that defeats Spain and puts a real scare into Brazil (two favorites to wind up in the finals this summer) has to be taken seriously.

Whatever happens, I expect this to be a fun few weeks. I never knew what we were missing before. Rob did, of course. As usual, he was on to something.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Save GHP

I have been alarmed to learn that some in Georgia's legislature are going to try to balance the books in part by canceling the Governors Honors Program, a six week summer program for talented high school students. An appalling prospect. So I wrote Sonny:

Hello Governor Purdue,

As someone who follows politics closely, I am well aware of the budget crisis in our state and know that deep cuts are to be expected. However, I am stunned to read that the Governors Honors Program, one of the most highly regarded elements of our educational system, is on the chopping block. Failure to keep this program alive would be appallingly short-sighted. I count my six weeks at GHP (Social Studies, 1979) as one of the transformative experiences of my life. In my years teaching in high school English in Gwinnett County I helped with our county's interview process and saw how much the opportunity to go to GHP meant to kids, and when students of my own were privileged to go, they came back in August as though they had been to the mountaintop. Read the online petition that GHP alums have launched and you'll see the term "life changing" show up again and again.

By coincidence, the topic of my study at GHP was Georgia politics of the 1930s and 1940s. The forces of backwardness and the forces of progress fought for the soul of Georgia in that era. It has long seemed that progress was ascendant, and one of the signs that we were moving forward was Gov. Sanders' founding of GHP in 1964. And now to say that we can no longer afford it! What does this say about where we are as a state? I know we're not too poor. We're too something else - too misguided and too cheap.

I have read suggestions in some quarters that participants should pay to attend. That will not do - I am a parent of two talented children who are reaching the age when they are receiving pitches from summer programs that charge tuition. The cost would be an immense sacrifice for us, and we are middle class. Children from poor families would be priced out of GHP were it to charge tuition.

If you truly believe in equality of educational opportunity, you'll find a way to keep GHP alive.


Yours Truly

NOTE: The Save GHP Facebook group provides this contact information for the House/Senate reconciliation committee, plus the Governor.

Gov. Perdue 404-656-1776


Jerry Keen 404-656-5052 - jerry.keen@house.ga.gov

Jan Jones 404-656-5072 - jan.jones@house.ga.gov

Ben Harbin 404-463-2247 - ben.harbin@house.ga.gov


Jack Hill 404-656-5038 - jack.hill@senate.ga.gov

Tommie Williams 404-656-0089 - tommie.williams@senate.ga.gov

Chip Rogers 404-463-1378 - chip.rogers@senate.ga.gov

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Stegeman Coliseum: It Aint Much But It's Home

With the University of Georgia men’s basketball team doing unexpectedly well under new coach Mark Fox, with upset victories over ranked teams Georgia Tech and Tennessee, it is time to revisit one of the issues that emerged during UGa’s coach search last spring.

The home of Bulldog basketball, the 10,500 seat, 45-year-old Stegeman Coliseum, is widely regarded as a drag on the program. An article at espn.com referred to Stegeman as an “outdated” facility that has received “plenty of cosmetic band aids over the years.” Bloggers routinely refer to it is a “barn,” referencing the days when the College of Agriculture sponsored rodeos in the old building (I attended one or two). Evidently, Georgia’s continued use of this arena as an athletic facility is supposed to signify that the Dogs aren’t serious about basketball. The theory is that until UGa replaces this too old, too small, too dark building with something new, big, and shiny to attract fans and recruits, our basketball team will never become elite.

These critiques of the Stegosaurus strike me is short-sighted. They sting, too, but I say that as someone with some nostalgic feelings for the old building. I have a soft spot for Stegeman. We go back pretty far, back to the days when it was just “the Coliseum” (Stegeman was the old indoor pool – when they tore that down a few years ago, the name got appended to the arena). I graduated from high school and college in there. It was the scene of my most memorable brush with greatness to date, bumming a light from Dean Rusk (President Kennedy’s Secretary of State) during halftime of a basketball game in 1983. I also think it is a beautiful building (at least from the outside), a massive, white flying saucer that seems to have landed gracefully in the middle of the campus.

But aesthetics and nostalgia make a pretty poor case for Stegeman as home of a first-rate basketball program. The real problem, according the building’s detractors, is that it is just a dead place. If that is so, the problem has been with the building’s inhabitants, not the building itself. When the men’s team is mediocre to poor (as it has been for most of the Coliseum’s life) the students don’t come. When the team is hot, the place fills up; it gets loud and raucous. It becomes a great place to see a college basketball game – intimate, intense, uproarious.

My most vivid basketball memories of Stegeman come from the early years of Hugh Durham, the first coach to lead Georgia hoops to anything approaching prominence (the 1983 Final Four appearance was the high water mark). During the three years of Dominique Wilkins’ tenure in Athens, the Coliseum was electric, fans yearning to see him execute one of his spectacular dunks. But the really great season was the year after Wilkins left, 1982-83. My favorite game that year was a home victory over Kentucky, lordly Kentucky, the unbeatable Wildcats. From my seat in the upper reaches, I saw our point guard Vern Fleming make a steal in the lane, then drive up the court past the Kentucky bench. In his haste he dribbled the ball out of bounds, almost striking Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall in the foot. The ref didn’t see it. Fleming took it all the way for a lay up, leaving Hall so hot with anger that he drew a technical. The Dogs didn’t look back. The Coliseum rocked, thrilling the heart of this fan and many others too, I’m sure. It is difficult to imagine what more people could want from a college basketball experience.

Now maybe I am getting carried away with Stegeman-love based on an extremely limited set of experiences, like a Waffle House devotee who refuses to believe that there could be a better breakfast in the world without really knowing. As a matter of fact, I do have a basis for comparison. When I went to graduate school at the University of Tennessee in 1988, the Vols had just forsaken their old Stegeman-era athletic center for a whopper replacement: the Thompson-Boling arena, a 21,000-seat behemoth that has all the personality of a Wal Mart. If hugeness is the measure of adequacy for the current college sports venue, I suppose the Tommy Bowl is more than adequate. But it fails miserably in the atmosphere department. If that is the sort of arena that Georgia basketball fans are supposed to long for, then no thanks.

And in the end I contend that the Dogs won’t even need hugeness to succeed in basketball, provided they have a team that can bring Stegeman to life. Their little antique dome, for all its presumed shortcomings, will do just fine. As Coach Fox said after Saturday’s victory over Tennessee, “We just had a great college game in Stegeman that was sold out, and we had a great home court advantage. That’s what college basketball is all about.”

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Go Saints!

I suppose it is de rigueur to root for the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl because of Katrina and because they’ve never been and because Drew Brees is a great guy. I’m down with all that. But I have other reasons to pull for New Orleans next Sunday.

1. I don’t think they have political ads like this in Indiana.

2. My folks spent an impoverished but magical year in the Crescent City while Pop was getting an M.A.T. at Tulane.

3. If you’ve read The Moviegoer or Confederacy of Dunces or A Streetcar Named Desire, you feel that New Orleans is sort of vicariously your town, like you've been there and know it from the inside (even though the real New Orleans would probably chew you up and spit you out like a bad Po Boy). There's a kind of second-hand citizenship to be had in being able to close your eyes and picture malaise-stricken Binx Bolling purchasing a revolting hot dog from the gargantuan pedant Ignatius J. Reilly on a streetcorner in the French Quarter (and Stanley Kowlaski about to beat up both of them).

4. It is Louis Armstrong’s hometown.

5. When I was a kid, even though we lived an hour from Atlanta and I should have been rooting for the Tommy Nobis / Claude Humphrey Falcons, I somehow became a Saints fan. I thought Archie Manning (pictured) was cool (One of the few real bummers in my generally pleasant childhood was when my folks took me to see a Saints/Falcons game and Manning’s understudy, Bobby Scott, played instead). Maybe I liked the Saints because in their brief history they already had two moments freakishly successful enough to make it into Strange But True Football Stories: John Gilliam’s kickoff return for touchdown on the team’s first play ever, and Tom Dempsey’s then record 63 yard field goal (nice profile of the now 63-year-old Dempsey in the Times today).

I don’t like their chances, but I like the Saints.

BTW: Speaking of things whose chances are doubtful but much deserve to succeed, National Health Care is not dead, nor should it be. Please write your congressperson and encourage him or her to vote for the Senate bill. Thanks!

BTW2: Of all the wonderful commentaries on the life and work of J.D. Salinger that have appeared the last few days, I can't help but like The Onion's best.