26 September 2011

The REAL upside to a locked-out NBA...

...is that, without all those god-awful regular season b-ball games, there'll be more Law and Order reruns on TNT!

25 September 2011


This just in: Latin's dead, well, except where it isn't (a.k.a., a story that has been written and rewritten for the past 30 years).


The Hartford Courant

September 23, 2011

After Suffield High School's Latin teacher retired in June, the district struggled in vain to find a full-time replacement for the nine students — out of the high school's nearly 900 — still enrolled in Latin.

A few weeks after school started, the district discovered that one of its third-grade teachers was certified in Latin and could hold office hours and a Saturday class. But the independent study will only be offered to students already in the program.

"Fortunately, we found a solution for students who were invested in the program, but it's definitely being phased out," said Principal Donna Hayward. "If I found a teacher, I would consider [keeping] it. But for a caseload of five or six students, I just don't see it as a sustainable program. The students aren't as interested as they once were and we're not finding Latin teachers anyway."

Board of education Chairwoman Mary Roy said she took four years of Latin in high school and "found it very useful," but "whether I personally feel it's important is not really important, it's if the administration feels that they can support a program."

If Suffield High eliminates Latin, it will follow in the footsteps of many other schools in north central Connecticut — both Enfield high schools and Suffield Academy, a private school, are phasing out their programs; Windsor Locks doesn't have a program.

Enfield Superintendent John Gallacher said that Enfield decided to end its Latin program because enrollment declined significantly. This year, the district is offering only upper-level Latin to about 40 students between the two high schools, which share one part-time teacher.

But nil desperandum, never despair, say Latin enthusiasts. The language, though officially dead, has managed to survive for millennia. While it fades in some pockets of the state, it continues to thrive in others, like Glastonbury and West Hartford High schools, the Norwich Free Academy and Edwin O. Smith High in Storrs, said Roger Travis, an associate professor of Classics at UConn.

"Latin is doing very, very well," Travis said. "Since its nadir in the 1970s, it has rebounded tremendously, with bastions throughout the Northeast and Midwest."

Latin's resurgence in the 1970s was largely the work of a generation of Latin teachers who banded together to create a tremendously popular curriculum called the Cambridge Latin course, according to Travis. The course integrated Roman culture and history, making memorizing declensions feel relevant to ancient, and also modern, life.

But difficulty finding teachers is a frequent complaint among districts, Travis said — at UConn, only about one student every two years applies for the Latin teaching certification.

Travis, who is one of several Connecticut Latin teachers developing a game-based computer Latin instruction course called Operation LAPIS, said that he believes online resources will soon offer districts and home-schoolers the chance to incorporate Latin into their curriculum, even if they do not have the means to hire a full-time teacher.

"It's always been a problem; there are more jobs than teachers" said Sherwin Little, director of teacher placement services for the American Classical League. Little said that although difficulty finding teachers and funding have challenged many language programs, not just Latin, Latin enrollment is up tremendously at elementary schools, particularly charter schools in urban areas.

Nationally, Latin was the fifth-most-popular K-12 language in the 2007-08 school year, behind Spanish, French, other (a group that included American Sign Language, Arabic and Hebrew), and German, according to a survey done by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Mark Pearsall, who teaches Latin at Glastonbury High School and is president of the Classical Association of New England, said that while Glastonbury seems to realize how much Latin and other foreign languages help its largely college-bound students, No Child Left Behind has not been friendly to foreign languages, and they are often among the first to go during budget cuts.

"It's a question of whether language programs can survive those cuts," said Pearsall. "If a language maintains some foothold in a school, it's easier to bring back."

Pearsall added that most of today's Latin teachers fell in love with the language as high school students.

"It's a trickle-up situation," he said. "High school Latin students feed into college programs."

But the language's champions say that Latin is nothing if not resilient, which, for the record, is from the Latin resilire: to leap or spring back.

"It's lasted for 2,000 years for a reason," said Pearsall, "because it touches on the human element."

23 September 2011

Skylab redux!

With space debris back in the news, I figured I'd repost this from 2009.  Everything old is new again.

13 February 2009

The sky is falling (well, maybe)
News of the collision of US and Russian satellites in space earlier this week -- and the current watch on how the debris will fall to Earth and/or scatter in space -- transported me back to July 1979 when, a junior at Xavier University, I was working at a Cincinnati chili parlor, Skyline Chili, in nearby Norwood, Ohio.

(Yes, that's the "sweet" chili that's served on spaghetti with shredded cheddar cheese, onions, and beans that's not Texas, Memphis, or any other kind of chili of which most people think when they hear "chili," but don't condemn it unless you've tried it. It's GREAT. )

Anyway, it's 11 July 1979, the day Skylab I is scheduled to plunge to Earth "scattering debris across the southern Indian Ocean and sparsely populated Western Australia." Well, they say they know where it's gonna fall, but I'm no dummy: scientists predict things all the time that might or might not happen, so I'm taking no chances. I wear a hard hat to work at Skyline.

When I arrive at work, running into the restaurant like it's raining outside with my hand above my head, my boss, Corky, looks at me, looks at my hat, rolls his eyes, and asks,

"What's with the hard hat, Gil?"

(Corky was a great boss and put up with me a lot, but I don't think he ever quite understood that I was the kind of employee who, if Skyline had a theme song like McDonald's or Burger King, that I'd sing it all day long, while mopping the floor, wiping down the steam table, or cleaning the grill -- just like they do in the commercials!)

"Skylab's falling today, Cork. I want to be prepared"

"It's falling in the Pacific, Gil."

"So they say. You never know."

"So, you're going to wear that all day?"

"Yep. And I'm not going outside again until it's time to go home. Skylab's falling today."

"In the Pacific."

"So they say."

"What if I ask you to make the deposit at the bank today?"

"I won't go. I can't go. Skylab's falling today."

(If I were better read at the time, I probably would've "Bartleby'd" him, "I'd prefer not to," but I was but 17, and my Latin literary knowledge was better than that of the American Renaissance.)

"Oh, you're going, Gil."

(Somehow I knew he'd say that!)

So when the time comes to make the two-minute trip to the bank across the street, and using my best TV-learned spy/soldier/sneaking-around-teenager moves (slithering along the walls and the store-front window with frequent skyward glances), as the crosswalk signal turns green I dash across to the bank.

You'll be happy, if unsurprised, to know my trip return was without incident -- due, of course, entirely to my caution. Remember: Skylab fell that day.

I enjoyed myself tremendously that day at work. Corky got a headache, but that frequently happened to him when I worked.

Go figure.

For the next couple days, take a glance upward occasionally and watch out for space debris!

When appearing on "Wheel of Fortune"...

...contestants, during the introductions at the beginning of the program, apparently need to use an adjective to describe their family members.  I, for example, couldn't simply say, "I have a wife and two daughters;" it would have to be, "I have a lovely wife and two wonderful daughters."

For future reference here are some suggested adjectives for various family members:

Spouses/Significant Others:
pretty or handsome



22 September 2011

Timing is of the essence -- at Playhouse on Park

Life, like comedy, is all in the timing, and no one knows that like Phileas Fogg, the uber-reserved English gentlemen traveler who accepts a trans-global wager in Around the World in 80 Days (at Playhouse on Park through October 2) with the same nonchalance most of us decide which tie to wear.  Punctuality, he would say, is not about avoiding delays; it's the acceptance of -- and preparation for -- the delays that will inevitably happen.  (That lesson alone is something contemporary Americans can learn from the Victorian Mr. Fogg!)

The adaptation of the Jules Verne novel of the 1870s, adapted by Mark Brown, and brought to vivid life by an ensemble of five very talented actors under the direction of Russell Treyz (who directed the equally exquisite Trapezium last season at POP), squeezes every last ounce of invention from the novel with such theatrical efficiency that Fogg's creator must be looking down quite fondly on how his creations have made so successful a transition to the stage.  (If all you know of Around the World is the extravagant Michael Todd film with a cast of a 1000 cameos, then are you in for a pleasant surprise.  And, if all you know of the novel is, well, the novel, you will not be disappointed.)

As brought to life by Russell Garrett (Fogg), Aiden O'Shea (Passepartout), Chris Mixon (Fix, et al.), Jef Canter (LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS of characters), and Veronique Hurley (Aouda, et al.), the story lacks none of the thrills, laughs, and heart that Verne envisioned.  And the director shows us how immense an intimate theatre can be when the stage is peopled by talented performers.  (If Trapezium unfolded within a closed geometry, World accepts no boundaries.)  

The remarkable virtuosity of Canter pleases at every turn, as do the many incarnations of Mixon and Hurley.  No one works harder than O'Shea's back-flipping valet Passepartout, a performance of such physicality (not to mention tenderness) that I'm not sure I'll ever want to see the role played by anyone else.     Garrett's Fogg is the anchor by which all the craziness is held in check.  A character that, in lesser hands, could be but a stick in the mud, he wins the audience by degrees as he learns to love Aouda and Passepartout.

Bob Phillips' set, dominated by a large late 19th-Century world map, helps to keep the audience's head in the journey, all the while giving the actors appropriate spaces for all the stops along the way.  The costumes (Jennifer Raskopf), lights (Will Lowry) and technical direction (Steve Mountzoures) continue the excellence I've come to expect from POP.

There's no reason you can't find the time to go see Around the World in 80 Days at Playhouse on Park.  The trip, you will find, is its own, very entertaining, reward.  

13 September 2011

What's all this hullabaloo...

...about the Mets not being allowed by Major League Baseball to wear DKNY hats?

Who knew they were such big fans of Donna Karan?!

11 September 2011

My not-a-9/11 tale

Re-posted from 5 March 2009

A Little Piece of Me is Missing

So, yesterday, former First Lady Barbara Bush had her aortic valve replaced. She is reportedly feeling fine.

Good for her, and a swift recovery to you, Mrs. Bush.

I've been there, done that.

On Friday, September 7, 2001, I had my aortic valve operation at Hartford Hospital. From what I understand (I was asleep at the time, remember!), it wasn't as easy as Mrs Bush's operation because my valve and the pieces on either end weren't in such good shape, so trying to attach the new human valve (I was too young, I was told, to use a porcine or an artificial one) was problematic, but I came out alright and am doing fine still.

That's not the story, however.

Flash forward to the following Tuesday, September 11, 2001. It's morning, and I am resting comfortably in the Cardiac Step-down Unit of the hospital. On my little t.v. I'm watching, quite by chance, High Society (Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelley, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong), when a nurse comes in and says,

"Why you watching this? Don't you know what's happening?"

She then switches the channel to NBC, and Today with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer.

A plane had just hit one of the Twin Towers, but no one had a clue what was going on.

In hindsight, one can legitimately criticize a nurse in a cardiac unit for making a patient watch tragic events unfold live before his very eyes, but that's not what I was thinking.

In the moment, I was just really peeved that this nurse turned off High Society (!?!) and was forcing me -- even for a short time -- to suffer Katie-and-Matt's conjectures on what might have happened/be happening. Could there be a greater waste of time than that? I think not. (And I LIKE Katie Couric!)

As soon as she left the room, back to High Society I went.

During the weeks of recovery time at home, I avoided 9/11 coverage as much as possible (i.e., I didn't watch television, listen to the radio, or read the newspapers hardly at all. Even Tony Kornheiser on ESPN radio was 9/11 far more often than not).

As a result of my self-imposed sequestration, I missed a defining moment of American history and contemporary culture. Even on my return to campus, having missed the communal experience of 9/11, I was a little out-of-step, and, to this day, remain fairly distant from its impact.

I probably should be more uncomfortable with that distance than I am, but, if I had to do it all over again, I'm not sure that I'd do it any differently.