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The Garbage Can Conundrum
Mar 12th, 2021 by Blaise

Funny story:

17 years ago, my garbage can got run over by the garbage truck. The lid popped off, the body racked sideways, and the wheels went a bit woogley. The garbage crew must carry repair materials, because by the time I got to it, having heard the crunch, seen the horror show out the window, and gone to survey the damage, they had reattached the lid (or at least a lid, it was three inches too short and wouldn’t close all the way), and driven off. The resulting H.R. Giger-worthy abomination couldn’t be pushed straight, leaned and twisted while being moved, and let rainwater and critters in.

So I called the city about a replacement, since they require a certain special kind of can. One afternoon, entirely free of charge, a new can just showed up randomly on my sidewalk while I was at work. At this point I had two garbage cans. This seemed like a good thing, since I figured that in a town that won’t take naked bags, having a second can for emergencies (even a woogley one) wasn’t a bad thing. Thus, for nearly two decades, we have had two garbage cans.

Last week, we had a crazy windstorm on garbage day. Both our garbage and recycling cans had to be located and returned several times. Apparently, at some point during the workday, our “new” can also got run over. When I found it, one of its wheels had fallen off and one side of the lid’s hinges had been sheared nearly through, such that when you open or close it, the edges slip past each other, which causes the lid to warp and bounce back if you try to do it with any speed other than glacial.

So this week, I called the city about a replacement. On garbage day, the garbage crew emptied the can, then took out some hardware and reattached the wheel, and drove off. I was kinda ticked. This did not solve my problem! I had a long day of meetings, so I put it out of my mind. Later, my wife called to me “Hey, we got a new can!”. I thought she was being sarcastic. However, it turned out that during the day, some garbage ninja had stealthily delivered a new can, setting it right next to the can “repaired” by the garbage crew earlier.

I’ve learned two things from these experiences. First, our city’s garbage crews carry spare parts and tools to repair garbage cans, which I never would have expected. Second, our city has garbage-can ninjas who sneak up on you to randomly deliver garbage cans.

Now, some of you may have already twigged to a small gap in this system: There seems to be no mechanism for removing the old cans! We now have three garbage cans, two of which are barely usable.

It occurs to me that there may be no good way to “throw out” a garbage can. Thinking of this from the perspective of a garbage crew: If I saw a garbage can in front of your house, even an empty, battered one, I’d say, ‘Yup, that’s a garbage can.’ and move on. If I saw a garbage can with ‘Garbage’ scrawled upon it, I’d say, ‘Well duh!’ and move on. If I saw a garbage can labeled, ‘This can is garbage.’ I’d say ‘Well yes, that’s what they are all for!’ and move on. If I saw a can with a sticky-note on it that said ‘Please throw out this can!’ I’d assume that it was a note from one member of a household to another reminding them of their chores and move on.

Apparently, we are doomed to accumulate garbage cans endlessly until we die. Then, perhaps the only thing we can do is ask to be laid in state upon a massive bier built of all our accumulated woogley garbage cans and set fire to as the sun sets, so as to prevent our burden from being visited upon our children.

On the upside, the smell alone will make our funerals more memorable!

Face Masks: Learn ’em, Live ’em, Love ’em (And for pity’s sake, WEAR THEM!)
Apr 5th, 2020 by Blaise

Most folks connected with me on social media have only seen the occasional comment or link from me about how the SARS-CoV-2 crisis is being handled in the U.S., but have no idea that I’ve spent the last three weeks working on practical and citizen-available ways to improve the survival rates of our medical personnel and our species (with the permission/support of my employer, General Electric, no less!).

Mask Selfie
Yes, I had to cut my own hair, shut up!

My wife Sabrina and I are among the founders of our local makerspace, the Tech Valley Center Of Gravity, and we are actively involved in numerous ongoing projects with members of that group to produce various types of readily constructed protective and medical equipment to address the lack of availability to medical personnel and people in general. The avenues are numerous, from 3D printed medical faceshields to ventilator parts to n95 mask sterilization chambers to effective cloth facemasks to my personal baby, a positive-pressure, filtered facemask with integrated faceshield (the prototype works, FYI, but I need to do some serious engineering review before trusting someone’s life to it!).

At any rate, unless you are a member of our makerspace’s Facebook group, the little you’ve seen from me on the “Coronavirus” topic has been incidental information I’ve run across as the result of the extensive research I’ve been engaged in pursuant to these projects, but it is by no means indicative of my level of knowledge on some parts of our current predicament. Everything I’ve said so far is a preface to explain that while I am not a doctor, I have accidentally become somewhat expert in a few small areas of the science of protecting individuals from the transmission of disease.

At the beginning of the CoVid-19 crisis, the CDC and NIH made a TERRIBLE mistake for a good reason. The good reason was that as soon as news of the epidemic was widespread, people started hoarding a particularly effective kind of respirator mask called an “N95” mask. These masks are so named by NIOSH because they are Not resistant to oils, and can remove 95% of particles of 0.3 micron diameter and above. This is important, because they are considered the gold standard for protecting medical personnel from infectious disease while treating patients. Therefore, to stem the hoarding of these masks (and surgical masks in general), these agencies fibbed to the American public, telling them that while commercial facemasks were vital and effective for medical personnel, facemasks of any kind did not protect the general public from disease.

This lie was twofold. First, it was false because regardless of the ability of a mask to protect its wearer, facemasks of any kind give significant protection to those in the vicinity of the wearer if they are infected, so widespread use would always have been an effective method of slowing transmission. Second, it was false because there is significant science to support the fact that not only are masks protective to the general public if properly worn, but that even homemade masks can be quite effective in protecting the wearer from infection, if proper procedures are followed.

This lie has resulted in a big chunk of the American public no longer trusting these agencies, because you don’t need a degree to have serious logical objections to the idea that something cannot protect you unless you have the magic of belonging to a particular profession. It also had the effect of making a different big chunk of the American public feel the need to shame people who wore respirator/surgical masks in public. That said, given that the CDC and NIH have officially changed their tune and now recommend that everyone wear masks in public, the main point of this article is not to analyse this failure, but rather to inform on the efficacy of masks in general and the procedures you should follow to use them effectively.

On the topic of commercial mask efficacy, and I hope somewhat heartening for medical professionals, a study from last fall found that there is no statistical difference in effectiveness at preventing viral infection between an N95 mask and a standard surgical facemask. Likewise, a dentist friend who is hooked into some research tells me that in the next (May) journal of the American Dental Association, there will be a research paper published that found that normal ASTM level 3 surgical masks, when fitted properly and used with eye-protection/faceshield, are 98% effective at preventing transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to the wearer in dentist-close quarters with an infected person. As far as I can tell, that is again approximately as good as the estimated transmission rate for an “N95” mask with faceshield. This is very good news overall, as surgical masks are *much* easier to find and cheaper to buy (although still challenging to obtain in the current situation), so medical personnel without access to N95 masks still have a fair chance of being protected with standard masks that are likely much more plentiful in their facilities.

On the topic of home-made/DIY mask efficacy, in 2008, a Dutch study found that found that a simple mask made from common dish-cloth stopped up to 60% of particles in the 0.2 micron range, i.e. the hardest virus-bearing droplet size to intercept, and much higher percentage of particles in larger ranges. Additionally, a study published last week by the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that masks constructed of “two layers of high-quality, heavyweight quilter’s cotton with a thread count of 180 or more, and those with especially tight weave and thicker thread such as batiks” were able to filter up to 79% of 0.3 micron particles (compared to surgical masks, which only filter up to 65% of them). It also found that “A double-layer mask with a simple cotton outer layer and an inner layer of flannel also performed well.” This means that while it is not necessarily as good as a commercial mask, a homemade mask can offer significant protection. Weighing this with the previously referenced research showing that wearing masks significantly reduces the wearer’s ability to transmit virus, it is clear that every one of us should always be wearing the best available masks in public if we want to fight the spread of CoVid-19. My mask protects me and you!

Importantly, there is more to material selection than just filtration efficiency. The best filtering materials might make inferior masks because they are harder to breathe through, causing air to be sucked through the edges of a mask unfiltered rather than through the material, so this gets complicated. This article, based on a number of referenced studies, details relative performance and effectiveness at small particle filtration for a number of commonly available materials. That said, remember that the resistance to air-flow is proportional to the surface area you are trying to breathe through, so increasing area can allow otherwise unsuitable choices to become more feasible.

Likewise, your mask becomes significantly more effective if you wear a faceshield with it. Faceshields won’t stop the really tiny particles from working their way around to your face, but they prevent most of the larger ones, especially those projected by coughing, sneezing, and other “splashy” events, from making contact. They also protect your eyes from those contacts, which is important because your eyes have mucus membranes just like your nose and throat, and so can be an avenue for infection. Note that solid safety glasses can be effective in protecting your eyes, but do not keep droplets from soaking into your mask, so are not as effective!

But here’s the thing. None of these things protect you at all if you don’t wear them correctly and follow proper procedures when wearing them!

Fitting

  • In general, a mask needs to be sealed to your face well enough that when you inhale, no air is drawn around any edges of the mask.
  • In particular, the curves between your nose and eyes tend to leave a gap between mask material and skin, breaking the seal of your mask. This can be overcome either by wearing a mask that covers the entire nose right up to the eyes so the mask material has a much flatter line to conform to (less effective), or by using a mask that has a bendable metal strip or wire where it passes over the nose that can be formed by the user to fit their particular face (more effective).
  • Faceshields must curve around the face far enough that there is no straight-line path from the air around you to either your eyes, nose or mouth to be effective. If a faceshield is attached directly to a headband, make sure that the headband seals to your forehead. If not, the shield must curve up over your forehead. Likewise, the shield must extend around your face out past the temples.
  • Like faceshields, safety glasses can only effectively protect your eyes if there are no straight-line paths between the air around you and your eyes. Make sure they fully contact your forehead, wrap around the sides of your head back to the temples, and don’t gap over your cheekbones.

Procedures

No matter how nominally effective a particular piece of protective gear is, if you fail to follow sterile procedures with it during and after use, IT WILL NOT PROTECT YOU AT ALL!

  • Before going out in public with any protective gear, triple check its comfort and fitting (per above). You may be in it for hours, so a) if it’s uncomfortable, you may subconsciously do something that renders it ineffective and b) it is a waste of time and effort to even wear it if it isn’t fitted properly.
  • Always assume any piece of protective gear is contaminated from the moment you put it on, and treat it accordingly.
  • Any piece of protective gear must be sterilized immediately upon removal, and cannot be used again without it.
  • Any facemask worn has to be worn continuously until you are ready to discard/launder it. You can’t pull them down for a moment to take a drink, smoke a cigarette, or “take a break”. (It is theoretically possible to do this if you follow extreme sterile procedures, but I wouldn’t try it if you aren’t an experienced medical professional!)
  • If you wear an N95 or surgical mask, and do not have access to specialized disinfection equipment (you can’t just wash them in soap or alcohol), throw them out immediately after use.
  • If you wear a cloth mask, it must be laundered between every use. You can’t wear it, then stick it in your pocket and wear it again later. That contaminates your hands, your pocket and its contents, and the sterile side of the mask you are about to put back on, at the very least. You’ve rendered it useless.
  • Do not adjust your facemask during use. Its seal against your face is the only thing protecting you, and if you break that seal at all, you have utterly eliminated any benefits it may have provided. Get any comfort or fit issues taken care of before you start!
  • Do not adjust or otherwise touch a piece of protective equipment once it is on unless you can immediately sterilize your hands, because you will transfer anything contaminating it to anything you subsequently touch.

Wear it anyway

Even assuming you completely fail at ALL of the above rules, YOU SHOULD STILL WEAR YOUR MASK. No matter how contaminated/infected you are, wearing a mask, even incorrectly, significantly reduces the likelihood that you will transmit infection to others. You are still helping the general public, even if you don’t care about your own exposure.

So yes, if you wear a mask, there are people who will mock you. If you wear a mask, there are people who will try to shame you because of the misinformation propagated by the government. If you wear a mask, it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, and a lot of work to get the procedures right. Nevertheless, if you wear a mask, you are helping yourself and others, and if everyone wears a mask, this crisis will be over much sooner, with much less loss of life.

JUST WEAR IT!

The Dealer
Jan 6th, 2020 by Blaise

Me, leaving a medical procedure: Just a minor question, Doctor. Is a known side-effect of that new drug wild, intense, hallucinatory, almost entheogenic dreams?

Doctor: Why, yes. Have you had one?

Me (on the inside): No, I was just validating your medical degree!
Out Loud: Yes, several times a night, all weekend.

Doctor: Did you enjoy them?

Me (on the inside): What kind of doctor are you, again?
Out Loud: Well, they aren’t *bad* dreams, but they’re waking me up a lot in the night.

Doctor: Oh, that’s too bad.

Me: …..

Secret Battle
Nov 19th, 2019 by Blaise

Last night, just before going to bed, I set our robotic vacuum to clean our downstairs rooms while we slept. Judging by the carnage I found in the living room at 6:30AM, I believe this is what happened:

Midway through cleaning the floor, having labored mightily, our robotic vacuum cleaner decided it had earned the privilege of taking a rest on our couch. No one having ever specifically told it this was not possible, and its mind made up, it made a beeline for the couch, along the way ignoring any obstacles.

In doing so, it became entangled in two plushies and a large sheet of coloring paper. Undaunted, our little hero went for broke, ignoring its new entourage and continuing its quest as best it could. As it went, its cargo upended a number of toys that had been leaned against a chair by our five-year-old while he was “cleaning” to prepare for the robot’s activities. This resulted in a light saber and a wrapping paper tube joining the entourage, pointing forward like knight’s lances

After arriving at the couch, it bravely took the challenge head-on, attempting to trundle directly up the side. This seems to have worked for a while, until its wheels caught the blanket that was lying on the couch. Tirelessly, it reeled the entire blanket off the couch, somehow causing the tail end to flip over the light-saber and wrapping paper tube, and trapping itself in a tent of its own making.

At this point, the robot must have panicked and made a last scramble to try to surmount its goal. This was unsuccessful. It must have managed to get it’s flat little chassis nearly perpendicular to the ground before learning twin lessons about gravity and friction, to wit: A) With gravity stubbornly refusing, as it will, to change directions such that the couch would become its new down, B) Its wheels had no force pressing them against their new driving surface, which decreased their friction with that surface to approximately nothing.

I’m not sure, at this point, if its battery died suddenly, causing it to jounce sideward, or if its continuing struggles caused it to tilt slightly, but at any rate, our tiny protagonist next discovered not only that round things roll, but also that its entire back end is approximately circular. It proceeded to roll sideways off the pile of blanket it was now situated atop and across the face of the couch, and then tumble into the crevice between the couch and our son’s Disney desk, twisting the blanket and toys around it as it went.

And so, in the early morning light, my befuddled brain saw a weird twisted nest-thing sprouting out of that crevice, encrusted with stuffed animals and paper and with a turned-on light-saber thrusting right out of the middle. On examination, I discovered the now-dead robot swaddled in the middle, toys and paper jammed in its brushes. I was non-plussed, to say the least…

Primary Schools: Reputation is everything, and I just don’t give a shit any more…
Jun 3rd, 2019 by Blaise

Pressure Cooker

Our five-year-old is going to school. In the fall, he will be a kindergartner! You wouldn’t think this would be a big fuss. After all, it’s just kindergarten, right? No one ever missed out on going to the best college because of a bad choice in kindergartens, right? That’s certainly what I thought, until we started preparing to send our son to kindergarten!

Because, you see, colleges care about what high school you went to, and high schools (if they are charter or private) care about what elementary school you went to, and elementary schools (if they are charter or private) care about what kindergarten you went to. And there’s the problem. If you live somewhere that the public schools perform significantly below average, and you really don’t want to uproot your family to get better public schools, your only choice is the private/charter schools who perform better, and they have opinions about your child’s previous schools!

So we started shopping. Our finalists were a charter school that performs very well and is “free” (i.e. covered by our taxes), and a private school that does even better and sounds more interesting, but costs $13,000 a year on top of our taxes. Suddenly, “next best” started to sound more attractive than “best”, so we asked around. We heard nothing but glowing reviews. Everyone we talked to loved what the charter school was doing. It seemed like we’d be fools not so send our son!

The next challenge was the waiting list. It’s a lottery to get in, and the only special consideration is given to siblings of those already attending and the children of employees. We resigned ourselves to fate, with public school as our backup plan. But then, an opportunity presented itself. The school was hiring, and my wife was looking for a job, and we had a friend who had a friend who might be able to ensure an interview was given…

This was actually a golden opportunity. All my wife had to do was ace an interview or two, and all our problems were solved in one fell swoop. She would finally have a real teaching gig with a 90% decrease in commute time, the boy would get moved to the head of the line for acceptance, and they could even commute together! Needless to say, she got the job, as discussed at length in my previous article, so we were in.

After our son was accepted to the charter school, we started getting mail and emails from them. To be honest, the tone of these communications was a bit peremptory, full of “parents will”s and “students must”s. At first we assumed that given the high opinion others has expressed of them, they had developed their own high opinion of themselves, but after my wife had been working for the school for a couple of weeks, she had begun to observe a certain martinet-like prickliness in the school’s culture. This was my first concern about the school, but it seemed pretty minor in the grand scheme, given their stats.

Then the time came for our son’s kindergarten orientation. This turned out to be a completely surreal, almost cult-like experience. First, we received a reminder email about a week before the event. It gave us the “requirements” for attendance. As expected, we needed to bring the expected stack of documents to satisfy residency, medical, and general government nosiness requirements. It ended with a bizarre diatribe about how the school’s philosophy was that if you were not 15 minutes early, you were late, and that anyone not in the correct room and signed in on time would be ejected and expected to reschedule with the school immediately or face de-registration!

Once we signed in, our son was separated from us by one of the teachers for “evaluation”. This made me vaguely uneasy, but seemed reasonable. Then we were told that parents needed to go to a meeting in another room. We were almost immediately intercepted by another teacher who “offered” to take our two-year-old daughter off our hands for the duration, since we “really needed to pay attention”. Alarm bells were beginning to ring for me, but my wife calmed we down, and we proceeded as asked.

In the meeting room, we were given “classwork” to complete before the meeting started. Afterward, we were shown a powerpoint presentation about the school’s performance, philosophy, and regulations. This included a lengthy speech about what kind of parents “aren’t a good fit” for the school (spoiler: If you have an opinion about how your child should be taught, you aren’t a good fit!). My unease with the situation had begun to grow…

We were told that our kindergartner would be assigned 45 minutes of parent-assisted homework a night, in addition to a required 20 minute reading assignment. They also informed us that the school year was going to start on August 15th instead of the 26th, run later than the regular school district, and that the school day was going to start a half-hour earlier and end 45 minutes to an hour later. This was problematic, as we had finally found a really great summer camp program for our son and this start date was going to cut off the last two weeks of a seven week program. I also expressed concern to the principal over how a child was to find any family time when the school started so early that children needed a 7PM bedtime and parents worked until at least 5PM (6PM for me in particular), but they needed to eat dinner and do an hour-plus of schoolwork every night. Her response was to the effect of, “Yes, some of our families find home-life scheduling a challenge…”. I suddenly felt like I was talking to some incompetent middle manager from corporate America, telling me “That does seem like a problem. I want daily reports until the situation improves!”

Then we were shown a weird video of a school assembly where children from K-through-4th were being lead through a mind-numbing series of chants and recitations that sounded like excerpts from Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book of Educational Philosophy. At this point, the alarm bells in my head were beginning to turn into a full-blown anxiety attack.

At some point during all this, I came to the realization that they were using the same creepy crowd-control tactics on us parents that my wife had relayed as those she was expected to use on students at her job. They were literally talking down to grown adults like they were eight-year-olds, “Glow”ing people who were following the rules and reproving those who spoke to each other, looked at their phones, or persistently asked questions that weren’t really being answered (It is left as an exercise to the reader to determine which category I fell into..).

Then there were the workbooks. Each family was given a binder full of “life’s work” for their student. This was homework to be completed by the student before they started school. It was a requirement, we were told, that our child be able to complete all of the assigned work before starting kindergarten to ensure that he would not have any trouble keeping up, which might require extra classes or homework to rectify. It had to be fifty pages long!

Let me stop, at this point, to review all the things currently feeding my feelings of dread about this process. We were sending our kindergartner into a clearly high-pressure/high-stress environment where he would be required to wear a uniform and sit quietly in “poses” all day long, for at least an hour more that regular kids in the same grade. He was effectively going to have no home-playtime on weekdays, and limited recess opportunities at school. He would be attending daily “rallies” that looked and felt like creepy evangelist church services, where he would learn to sing and chant slogans in unison with a crowd. He was was going to lose 30% of his summer camp experience and spend what was left of his summer doing homework with his parents. On top of all that, he was going to have to wear a uniform which was indistinguishable, I shit you not, from the awful, tone-deaf, this-is-what-cool-young-people-dress-like-in-their-spare-time-right clothes handed out by corporate “motivators” on “team-building” retreats.

After the parent indoctrination orientation was over, both our children were returned to us apparently safe and happy, with glowing reports on how bright and talented they both were, and what fine additions they might make to the school… I got us out of there as fast as we could, and nearly hyperventilated in the car driving home. Slowly, over the course of hours, we convinced ourselves that the school’s performance spoke for itself, and that while they were a little weird, maybe we should try it for a year, and just see if it wasn’t really as insane and cult-like an environment as it seemed. I was still anxious, but my wife calmed me down and made me see reason (I thought!).

In the three weeks following the orientation, I continued to do research, and made some troubling discoveries. I found several people online who described having posted negative reviews of the school and having had their posts scrubbed from review and social media sites via “reported content” mechanisms. Several of the few I could find, now having a better idea where to look, were horrifying. They contained words like “military”, “exhausted”, and “miserable”. One of them disappeared within a week of my having found it. I assume the rest are gone by now.

Over that same three weeks, the events described in my previous article transpired. After my wife’s experience with the toxic, unreasonable, and frankly psychotic-seeming behavior of the people running the school, we had had enough. In a discussion that lasted for approximately eight seconds (Me: Holy shit they really are as fucked up as they seem! How can we put our child into that psychotic pressure-cooker?!?!? Her: We can’t.), we decided that our son would be going to public kindergarten with his friends from the neighborhood after all.

My wife turned in the papers withdrawing him from the school and registering for public school around 12 PM the next day. Within five minutes, I received an email from the school telling me that our son’s “application for admission has been rejected”, and if you read nothing else about what kind of a place it is, you could just read the last two sentences to tell you all you need to know!

Our son will be going to public kindergarten. He will have a full summer of fun and actual “life’s work”, like learning to boat and swim and play soccer and hike in the woods, and such. If he needs tutoring to look good on standardized tests in a few years because of it, SO. FUCKING. BE. IT!

Unethical Schools: Why People Who Read Management Books Shouldn’t Be In Charge Of Teaching Children
May 31st, 2019 by Blaise

My wife has a story that needs to be told. She can’t tell it, so I’m going to. It’s the story of a sensitive, creative person who lives to nurture and support others, and doesn’t have a conniving or political bone in her body. It’s also the story of the monstrous world that uses all that against her at every turn, squeezing out all she has to offer and leaving her in the gutter when she is no longer necessary.

My wife is a teacher. She’s a good teacher. She’s the kind of teacher who more than once has gotten letters from the parents of children she didn’t even have in her own class about how much she helped their child. She’s the teacher your kids should have, but rarely will. Apparently, this makes her unemployable!

She’s been working as a substitute, a teacher’s assistant, and a long term substitute for over a decade, all the while desperately trying to get a job as an actual English teacher. One district screwed her out of a tenured TA position because she took a long term sub position that, it was promised, would put her on the short list for the next opening. The opening was simply eliminated without even the offer of an interview, and she had no job to go back to, because the HR department gave her the wrong information about procedures and then wouldn’t admit it. Another time, she finally scrambled her way into another long term sub position that was “almost guaranteed” to turn into a real job, until she had the audacity to have a baby, after which both the long term sub position and the actual job magically evaporated.

Then, she was promised that if she came and worked as a TA in a new district 45 minutes from home, they would put her first in line for new English positions that opened. She busted her ass for four years, taking on extra duties, working full time while being a mom to two children and spending an hour and a half a day commuting, and generally being exceptional. Then, the year that two English positions finally opened up, the superintendent was replaced, and the promise was renegged upon. One position went to the assistant principal who had sold her so hard on the deal in the first place (don’t even get me started on that asshole), and another to an older teacher from another school in the district who just wanted a change of pace…

You need to understand all that to grasp how spectacularly evil her latest saga is. After a decade plus of the aforementioned slogging, my wife got a golden opportunity. A charter school right here in town was hiring an English teacher for the 2019-2020 school year, and we had a friend who had a friend who might be able to increase the chance of an interview being granted, so she went for it.

Of course, she aced the interviews, and was told she’d be getting the English position next year within a few days of her final interview. They even told her they had cancelled all the interviews after hers. We were ecstatic! A few days later, before she could respond, they called again, and asked her if she would also leave her current, tenured position three months early, so she could take over for someone going out on maternity leave, and start “right now”.

Leaving a tenured position (especially mid-year) was a big risk, but even if all she was guaranteed was thee months of one term and the following year, it was a real teaching job with a reasonable commute at the school we were hoping to send our son to. We talked it over, and decided that the chance to do what she had desperately yearned to do since college was worth the risk of not having a job in 18 months. My wife accepted, gave two weeks notice, and the wheels were set in motion.

Fast forward to four weeks later, and the wheels had already begun to come off our plan. I initially got an inkling something was wrong with this place when on her first day, my wife came home and it came up that she had no lunchtime. I asked if they were combining her lunch into her “prep-time”, and when that was scheduled. She told me that she only got a prep time on some days, and that she’d been told that the rest of the time, she should simply eat while she was teaching. I pointed out that as someone who had employees for many years, I was quite certain that while they might not have to pay her for the time, it was literally illegal for them to make her work in excess of 8 hours without a break for food. She didn’t want to rock the boat, so I let it go…

This place was a bit insane. Her work started fifteen minutes before the normal school district, and ended two hours after. This was sprung on her, as she had been told during interviews that school ran until one time, but had already signed on and given notice at her old job when she was told she was required to be physically in school for an hour later than originally stated. She had to get special permission to leave school at the originally advertised time, because she had to pick up our children in the afternoon. In order to get this permission, she was officially docked 9% of her previously agreed upon salary.

As the days passed, things began to go downhill, and it quickly became obvious that that working at this charter school was like working in Soviet Russia. Within days of starting, my wife told me a story of how she asked a fellow English teacher from a grade below her for advice on some minor issue, and within an hour was being grilled by her team leader to explain exactly what she thought she was doing. It would seem that the teachers for each grade are expected to communicate only with each other on work matters, and execute all outside contacts through their leader.

It should also be noted that this school uses a rather unique teaching technique. The teachers don’t make lesson plans, instead teaching directly from pre-supplied materials, reading, and activities. The teacher’s job is to focus on “classroom control”, where students are constantly either talked to or working on these pre-planned materials, and required to remain silent and in one of a set of poses designed to focus attention at all times. This requires the execution of a massive number of detailed procedures on the teacher’s part, and new teachers are given weeks of training and preparation to do so. My wife, on the other hand, was given a couple of hours of instruction and told to shadow a teacher for a week or so, and that she would get the real training next August, before school started.

A few days into actually teaching, my wife began having observations by her new principal, and getting dressed-down right in front of her students almost daily. Loaded atop the already massive upheaval of our whole family’s lives, trying to settle into the new schedule and decrease of Mamma-home-time, this constant harassment quickly became a majorly stressful issue, resulting in an emotional breakdown where my wife needed to leave the classroom for a few minutes to compose herself.

My wife met with her principal. She told her that she understood that her lack of having been trained meant that she was making a lot of mistakes, and that she welcomed constructive criticism. When she also pointed out that it would be much less stressful to receive that criticism without being humiliated directly in front of her students on an almost daily basis, she was told two things. First, that these public dressings-down were a part of the school’s policy on “in the moment feedback” (apparently a teacher-management technique that involves being publicly and at full volume talked down to like you are a child in front of your students for not executing some aspect of the martinet-like classroom process that the school uses, which she was not due to be trained in until August), and second, that she needed to start responding better to feedback, or it might affect her status in the Fall.

This, of course, caused a panic in our house. This risk had been taken with the understanding that she would be employed through the end of the 2020 school year, not for three months. The fact that this was even a possibility would have been a deal-breaker in the first place! My wife scheduled another meeting with her principal to clarify. She explained that she only took this job on the understanding that it would include the 2019-2020 school year, and that the principal’s previous comment was rather world-shaking. Could she, in fact, count on that position in the Fall? “Absolutely” was the answer given.

That answer was given verbally and in private, where no witnesses could be called upon. It would only later become clear how important that was…

My wife committed to her principal that the would redouble her efforts. I helped her practice at home, and she began working nightly on the procedures book she’d been given, in addition to the hours of homework the school already required of her. She immediately stopped being berated daily, began to get an occasional “glow” (which is apparently their corporate-speak for an “attaboy”), and was occasionally spoken to with respect and seeming appreciation. All seemed well.

Even so, it just kept getting weirder. Along the way, my wife came home with stories about a number of colleagues coming back from meetings with the principal in tears and refusing to talk about what was wrong. There were instances of apparent two-facedness from team leaders as well, and an environment apparently full of tension and short tempers.

A couple of weeks later, in discussing the classes my wife would be teaching to a group of students who had been deemed unworthy to attend a school trip, the principal blind-sided my wife with roughly twice the weekly workload she had been previously scheduled to complete (for any given class, the teacher must complete all class materials and assignments before teaching it, and submit this work to a computerized system). This was on a Wednesday, and the principal informed her that the new work should be submitted by the following evening. My wife responded that she had no time in her schedule for the extra workload that day, and that she was preparing for a weekend trip that had been scheduled since before being offered the job, but that she would do her best to get it completed while she was away, so that it was submitted well before actually teaching those classes.

On that Friday evening, while my wife was on a plane, the principal sent her an email scolding her for not submitting the extra work the previous day, and telling her that they needed to have a meeting about her time-management skills. Needless to say, my wife was nonplussed. She responded with a fairly benign “per our previous conversation” email, committing to having it submitted before the classes were due to be taught, and got the work done as promised. The resulting meeting was not “constructive”. The principal sandbagged my wife with a litany of her supposed shortcomings, and again made vague threats about her status in the coming school year. This was the gift my wife’s employer gave to my family for the Memorial day weekend.

At this point, I was frankly of the opinion that my wife’s boss was literally a psychopath. She just seemed to enjoy torturing her for the fun of it, and no amount of improvement or professional engagement was even a factor in it. It seemed a lot like what I’ve read of the way people with borderline personality disorder treat their children…

Now, it was previously known that this principal was leaving her position at the end of the year, and moving to a higher one, and that there would be a new principal in the Fall. This was mentioned only in passing to my wife and she was specifically told it had nothing to do with her status. My wife was scheduled to meet with the new principal the day after Memorial Day. In this meeting, the new principal told my wife that there “were a lot of applicants” for the position she had been promised in the Fall, and that while she was welcome to apply, her “record of problems” on the job made it unlikely she would be accepted!

And then came the clincher. She told my wife that the school was focusing on hiring younger teachers, because they would dedicate more of their time to the job…

Immediately after that meeting, my wife was called by her principal to a “debriefing”. Unbeknownst to her, the old and new principals were preparing a double-teaming session. Out of the blue, she was accused of being “emotionally inconsistent”, and any attempts at self-advocacy were labeled as “poor response to feedback”. These “crimes” being in addition to her “time management issues”, she was told, she “should have expected this”. The old principal then flat-out lied about her commitment to a Fall position right to my wife’s face, with a flouncy, pearl-clutching “I have no idea where you would ever have gotten that idea from”. The meeting ended with an admonition not to discuss this issue with any co-workers, but that they would be “happy” to give her a good recommendation for future employment, assuming she finished out the year “without further problems”.

That night, the new principal doubled down on that veiled threat with an email. It reasserted that, “The contract that you signed was for a three month position.” She continued that “based upon trends in feedback”, they were “unable to offer a contract for next fall”, and that they “would need to see a dramatic change in all areas” for that to change.

A dramatic change. In the eleven days of work left in the year. Sure, that’s a serious sentence!

The email continued by codifying the “keep your mouth shut or we’ll torpedo your career” extortion in two further sentences: “We trust you will not share details with other staff or students.”, and “Provided that you uphold these professional expectations, we will support you as you pursue your next position by providing references.”

Now, I still don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but I have some hypotheses:

  1. As I first thought, my wife’s principal is simply a psychopath, who has hurt her for the simple joy of the torture.
  2. An unethical principal just needed to cover a teacher for three months, lied through her teeth about the next term job to my wife to get her to abandon her tenured position to work as a band-aid, and then tried as hard as she could to make her miserable so she would leave, torpedoing her record when that didn’t work.
  3. This principal hired my wife more or less in good faith, but was subsequently told by an unethical organization that they wanted to eliminate anyone over thirty, so she had to find a way to make the firing look like NOT age-discrimination, so she tried as hard as she could to make her miserable so she would leave, torpedoing her record when that didn’t work.

Whatever the reason, this school has acted in a number of sleazy, borderline illegal ways, and I’m utterly disgusted with them. They made sure that their lies were undocumented and unwitnessed and blind-sided her with unreasonable requirements, ignoring reasonable self-advocacy and blaming her for problems they caused. They’ve shown no remorse while utterly upending my wife’s career and our family’s life!

To anyone who is thinking, “well, she should have known better when it wasn’t in writing”, I say this: Fuck you and your implicit support of someone who tricked a gentle, genuine woman who just fucking wants to teach your fucking children to think and learn! You’re an asshole, and YOU fucking try to explain to my five-year-old how Mommy’s crying because a bad person took away her job and potentially torpedoed her entire career, and then threatened her to keep her quiet about it!

Anyway, my wife is going to uphold those “professional expectations”, because these unethical, lying bastards now hold her career in their hands. I, on the other hand, don’t know anyone that works there, and can relate the whole sordid tragedy at will. This abusive place is the very definition of the word “toxic”. In the future, I will go to great lengths trying to make sure no one I do know ever subjects themselves to this fucking hellhole, especially my SON, who was scheduled to attend there in the Fall, but will now not be allowed anywhere near those maniacs!

You can read about that ordeal in my next post…

Final Minutes…
Dec 12th, 2018 by Blaise

A plague is upon the clan. It came first for the children, slowly turning them into foul fountains of noxiousness. My wife and I ministered to them for days, knowing what was to come.

At last, it came for my wife. She soldiered on for many hours, but eventually succumbed to it, ensconcing herself in blankets and pillows in the corner of a couch. Grimly, I carried on the business of life, deprived of my beloved partner.

Then, a few hours ago, the faintest whisper of a shiver brushed my spine. Knowing the clock was ticking, I hurried the entirety of my besieged clan through the absolute necessities of the evening, every passing moment developing new portents of what was to come as I navigated dogs, children and wife through what passed for dinner and evening ablutions. All preparations were completed just in time, as my alimentary tract began to visit violence upon me.

The shivers have now returned, and I have only these few precious moments of clear-headedness remaining to me in which to chronicle our travails.

I am: “Bed Man Walking”

A Borrowed Musing on Fatherhood
Oct 10th, 2018 by Blaise

From my all-time favorite poet…

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
Contrariwise, my blood runs cold
When little boys go by.
For little boys as little boys,
No special hate I carry,
But now and then they grow to men,
And when they do, they marry.
No matter how they tarry,
Eventually they marry.
And, swine among the pearls,
They marry little girls.

Oh, somewhere, somewhere, an infant plays,
With parents who feed and clothe him.
Their lips are sticky with pride and praise,
But I have begun to loathe him.
Yes, I loathe with loathing shameless
This child who to me is nameless.
This bachelor child in his carriage
Gives never a thought to marriage,
But a person can hardly say knife
Before he will hunt him a wife.

I never see an infant (male),
A-sleeping in the sun,
Without I turn a trifle pale
And think is he the one?
Oh, first he’ll want to crop his curls,
And then he’ll want a pony,
And then he’ll think of pretty girls,
And holy matrimony.
A cat without a mouse
Is he without a spouse.

Oh, somewhere he bubbles bubbles of milk,
And quietly sucks his thumbs.
His cheeks are roses painted on silk,
And his teeth are tucked in his gums.
But alas the teeth will begin to grow,
And the bubbles will cease to bubble;
Given a score of years or so,
The roses will turn to stubble.
He’ll sell a bond, or he’ll write a book,
And his eyes will get that acquisitive look,
And raging and ravenous for the kill,
He’ll boldly ask for the hand of Jill.
This infant whose middle
Is diapered still
Will want to marry My daughter Jill.

Oh sweet be his slumber and moist his middle!
My dreams, I fear, are infanticiddle.
A fig for embryo Lohengrins!
I’ll open all his safety pins,
I’ll pepper his powder, and salt his bottle,
And give him readings from Aristotle.
Sand for his spinach I’ll gladly bring,
And Tabasco sauce for his teething ring.
Then perhaps he’ll struggle though fire and water
To marry somebody else’s daughter.

— Ogden Nash
“Free” Public School
Aug 16th, 2018 by Blaise

You know what it costs to send your child to “free” public preschool? $12000 per year. That’s how much.

How is that possible, you ask? I certainly asked that too! Let me break it down for you:

  • You pay more than $1800 per year to the federal government for education funding (approximately 3% of federal budget).
  • You pay $4000 per year to the city for school taxes
  • You enroll your 4-year-old in his $5800+ “free” preschool, and are told “Oh, but school ends at 1 pm, so if you work at a job, you’ll have to enroll him in ‘wrap-around care’. That will be $6000 dollars per year, please”.

    Note that if we enroll our child in private preschool, the most expensive program around costs just over $10,000 per year (‘wrap-around care’ included), just over $1800 per year less than “free” public school. But of course, then we’d still have to pay the $5800 for the “free” public school we weren’t using.

    “Livid” is not the right word for how I feel about “free” public school. It’s much too tame. Maybe “Murderously enraged”? “Teeth-gnashingly furious”?

Wise Old Sayings: A Facelift
Mar 23rd, 2018 by Blaise

As a business owner, home owner, dog owner, and now children owner, I have come to understand a great many things about life in the modern world. Based upon this vast experience, I have decided to update a few of the traditional aphorisms whose usefulness has begun to age out:

  • “Necessity is a mother.”
  • “To err is expensive, to forgive… also expensive.”
  • “When one door closes, somebody is going to come along leave it open again, so we’re heating the whole damned neighborhood!”
  • “If you don’t have anything good to say, say nothing. If you never have anything good to say, you’re probably a three-year-old.”
  • “If anything can go wrong, it will, and at the worst possible moment. In the event that something goes right, it will do so in a way that exerts the largest possible negative effect.”
  • “A bird in the hand is really pissed that you pulled him out of your bathroom vent.”
  • “A father and his money are soon parted.”
  • “A coward may die a thousand deaths, but a brave man is generally taking the easy way out.”
  • “A job worth doing is going on the pile until I have the cash to hire someone.”
  • ” A journey of a thousand miles begins with somebody pissing their pants in the back seat because nobody listens to Daddy!”
  • “A lie, told often enough, is sometimes the only thing that’s going to get that kid to sleep.” (Better to call it “pretending”)
  • “A rolling stone is clearly a better toy that the one Mamma spent $80 on.”
  • “All work and no play is why they invented babysitters.”
  • “An ounce of prevention is just impossible to get anyone to try.”
  • “Don’t cry over spilt milk, cry over how much trouble you’re in because I just told you not to touch that!”
  • “Don’t put all your eggs in the dishwasher again!”
  • “Don’t toot your own horn. Or any other horn. It’s very early, and Daddy has a splitting headache.”
  • “Expect the unexpected, and the bill.”
  • “Give ’em an inch, and they’ll find a way to get it stuck in the car door.”
  • “He who hesitates probably forgot.”
  • “Hell hath no fury like a woman who’s had her makeup dumped out and ground into the carpet.”
  • “If the shoe fits, wait three weeks.”
  • “I’m rubber, you’re glue. One of us comes out of fur.”
  • “Misery loves to consume resources.”
  • “The apple never falls far from where it would still be if you’d left it alone like I told you! (No, we don’t have any more apples.)”
  • “All’s fair in love and getting a baby to sleep.”
  • “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but both pale in comparison to five-day-old formula under your truck-seat.”
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