BUSING FAILED. IT’S ABOUT TIME WE SAY SO – Marilyn Armstrong

Watching the Democratic riots (aka “debates”)  the other night, I was surprised that Biden didn’t tell the real truth about busing. Because this is a subject with which we are intimately familiar here. Garry covered Boston’s busing crises and has an Emmy for his work. He interviewed white families, black families, every family. He interviewed politicians, teachers, and the kids who got bused.

I think by the time he was done with the story, he had interviewed almost everyone in Boston. Everyone had an opinion, but the most pointed ones were from the families who were directly affected by busing and the kids who were bused.

Because you see, the outcome has been clear for years: BUSING DIDN’T WORK.

Not one state exceeded 49%!

Educators and other organizations have done study-after-study about it. It did not improve race relations or education. It absolutely failed. However well-intentioned the idea, busing kids long distances to schools which did not welcome the students and where they would not make friends or get a better education didn’t solve any problems. It probably created new ones.

The real issue?

We need to invest in our schools. Money. Schools need money. Teachers need salaries. Schools need better textbooks and materials. Laboratories, computers. It’s not about better cafeterias and larger playing fields.

It’s about better learning.

Moving kids of different races, so you can say you have somehow achieved diversity, is nonsense. I’m surprised Biden didn’t bother to point it out. For that matter, I’m shocked that Kamala didn’t point it out either. I’m sure she knows as well as we do. Should Biden have supported busing despite not believing in it? Because it was the currently “right thing to do”?

I think not, but then again — I’m not a follower of trends or fads, no matter how well-meant.

Our school issues — local and national — are ruined by lack of funding. By an unwillingness of states, towns, and the federal government to spend enough money to make our schools what they ought to be. To pay teachers what they are worth. To make teaching an attractive profession.

Whenever a government runs short of money, the first thing they cut is education. They refuse to buy quality textbooks or even school supplies. The result is a nation full of stupid, ignorant people. Maybe some of them would have been stupid and ignorant anyway, but I’m sure the lack of education didn’t help.

Rebuilt Uxbridge High School. I’m sure the classrooms are nicer, but is education better?

It’s time to start questioning the idea that diversity automatically improves education and thus physically moving children from one school to another is in itself solving some educational problem. It isn’t.

In effect, what happened is anyone who could afford it sent their children to private schools. Since both sets of schools involved in Boston busing were in poor neighborhoods — no accident — the result was non-education for everyone.

If we don’t invest in education, we’ll never have educated students of any color. Bad schools produce poor education. If schools are sufficiently bad, the result is uneducated students.

We talk a good game per education in the U.S., but we don’t live it. We don’t contribute to it. So while we worry about college debt, how about we put a little of that concern into worrying about teaching kids to read and understand what they are reading? Teach them some real history, not the crap they get in their old, out-of-date (and probably never accurate even when they were new) textbooks.

WHAT DO YOU READ? – Marilyn Armstrong

So let’s say you’re at the airport. Your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices are working. Out of juice and all the plugs are taken … and there’s no free wi-fi. Oh no!

How can you pass the time? Those chairs are too uncomfortable for sleep and you’re too old to use the floor.

I don’t believe it. You really don’t know what to do without electronic devices? You are lost without your cell phone? Really?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. I would reach into my carry-on and pick out a copy of The New Yorker or National Geographics. I could take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them) and buy something to read. A newspaper maybe?

Yes, they still print them.

And the Kindle, with books already downloaded, is like carrying a whole library with you wherever you go.

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone).

I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says.

My camera WILL work, no matter where I am.

EFFORT OR DOING IT THE HARD WAY – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Saturday: EFFORT

As one of those people who has usually found an “easy” or at least “easier” way to do things, I’ve noticed as the year advanced, there are no more easy ways. The shortcuts don’t seem to work anymore and one is left with effort, or as I call it, doing it the hard way.

Let’s take cooking as an example. Back in the very long ago old days, I threw stuff together and it tasted pretty good, or so everyone said. I used a ton of prepared — cans and packaged — ingredients. That was just fine.

Maybe it’s the quality of prepared food that has degenerated. Or maybe my taste has become more discerning, but I use as little prepared stuff in my cooking as I can manage without getting weird about it. I cook food in the least amount of time I can and make sure to clean as I go to avoid leaving a mess behind, but I cook foods from scratch or very close to it.

I don’t, for example, peel my own tomatoes for sauces or grate the parmesan personally. but I use prepared marinades and breadcrumbs from jars and cans. I’m not a masochist, but I know how it should taste and something “kind of close” doesn’t work for me.

Then there’s reading. I can read very quickly. Not speed-reading, but fast reading. I always could … but eventually, I found that I wasn’t enjoying books when I read them that fast. One of my reasons for listening rather than reading was pacing. A book that is read out loud can’t be hurried. It’s a lot harder to skip a chapter and see what’s coming next. I didn’t know I’d become addicted to narrators and the charms of oral performance, but it’s funny how often you get more (or less) than you intended, isn’t it?

What brings this up? I’m now four books backed up in the review department. People — not just other bloggers, but actual authors — get in touch with me and ask me to review their books and unless it’s a close friend, I say yes. Close friends are a problem because what if I hate it? I can’t say that to someone I really like … so I try to never review a book for someone I really care for unless they are the kind of writer I know is going to give me a good book to read.

Writers are thin-skinned. I don’t care what you say on your blog. We are all thin-skinned about our art, whatever it may be. We put a lot of our souls into our work. We aren’t neutral and we tend to hold grudges. Don’t say you don’t. We all do. It’s hard to not get cranky when someone doesn’t like our book. Or painting. Or sculpture. Or dinner.

And the strangest part of all of this? I don’t remember how to do things any other way.

READING THE SERIES AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Many of my favorite authors aren’t writing much these days.

In some cases, like Jim Butcher, they seem to be trying to figure out where to go with the series. In others, they ended a series and haven’t quite found another that works. Yet.

And some of them are getting on in years and aren’t as prolific as they used to be. I can understand that. I’m not writing any books these days either.

Given that so many of my favorite authors haven’t been writing a lot recently, I’m rereading their existing series. It has been quite a while since I originally read the books in these series, so reading them again isn’t a big stretch. Although I remember the plot and how the story begins and ends, I’ve forgotten a lot of stuff that happened in the middle.

I’ve reread the “Lord of the Rings.”

I’ve reread Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series.

I’m rereading all of Jasper Fforde’s “Thursday Next” books, though not in order. To be fair, I didn’t read them in order the first time, either. I started in the middle and read backward and forward.

In between, I also reread Jodi Taylor’s “St. Mary’s” time travel series.

James Lee Burke, bless his heart just wrote a brand new Dave Robicheaux which I finished a couple of nights ago. It’s a good one, the best in a while. I always say that about his books, though because every book somehow seems better than the last. This probably means they are all great.

Finally, in two months, Jasper Fforde has a new book coming out. New characters, new plot. I hope I love it.

Gretchen Archer also has a new book coming out in March, right around my birthday. That will be the eighth Davis novel: “Double Agent.” She also thinks there will be one more by next November. You go, Gretchen!

My collection of Gretchen Archer’s books and cup, if you please

Jodi Taylor is prolific and I think she’ll have something soon. I wonder if she does anything but write? I don’t know how she can … and she does it so well.

Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison has a new one — new characters and story — just about ready for production. I’m reading it slowly and lovingly, a couple of chapters each night, but I’m also listening to Jasper Fforde’s “One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing.” Because listening is what helps me fall asleep. So I read Kim Harrison, then, I close the book and listen to Fforde.

What in the world would I do if I didn’t read?

WAITING FOR THE STORY TO CONTINUE

When Words Lost Meaning, Rich Paschall

If there was anything Harry did not need, it was more disappointment.  He’d had a lifetime of disappointments, but it seemed he was in for another.  Mistreated and mislabeled, he was now also abandoned.  Unintentionally abandoned, but for Harry, alone was alone.

Harry came into the world with great hope.  His mother picked out for her new-born the name of the most famous boy in the world.  The little child was named after the boy wizard of book and movie fame, Harry Potter.  She thought he even looked a little like the drawings of Harry on the book covers.

As he grew, little Harry had trouble learning.  He never developed good reading skills.  He often baffled his mother, telling her the letters moved, and words did not make sense when put together.  Eventually, his mother told him he was stupid, and accused him of not trying.  Just to confuse the issue, she followed that by telling him he was bright (which was true) and could read if he wanted to read. Which was not true. The further behind he fell in school, the more labels he acquired. But no one gave him the right label: “Dyslexic.”

The lad withdrew. He began hiding in the last place anyone would look for him. The library.

And so, a boy who could not read looked at the books in the comfortable Florida Public Library and waited. Maybe someone would come and read to him. Someone who would explain the stories.  It was hard to find anybody to do this until he spotted Harold looking at the Harry Potter books.  Little Harry decided that Harold was his new friend.

Library Road

Harold had been going to the library every Tuesday and Thursday to read books on engineering and machinery.  Sometimes Harold considered histories, but one day he strayed from his usual plan to look at the books about which he’d heard so much. The Harry Potter series.

When Harry, the boy with the reading problem, spied Harold in the “fantasy aisle,” he instantly knew he’d found someone to read to him. Since Harry had become rather withdrawn in recent months, he began the relationship by staring at Harold and the first Harry Potter book.

The librarian’s assistant misinterpreted Harold’s attempts to send little Harry away. She thought Harry and Harold were together. So she opened the usually shuttered reading room, making it possible for Harold to read aloud to the boy.

Harold read to the boy that first day but had no intention of continuing.  Nevertheless, it turned into a regular Tuesday and Thursday affair.

Harry knew old Harold was not a great storyteller.  He was obviously uncomfortable reading out loud.  But little Harry liked Harold’s awkward attempts at it. And Harry was learning. It seems Harold was keeping an eye on little Harry and when he could see the boy did not understand something he read, he would stop to explain it.

Sometimes the boy would be emboldened to ask questions.  Even though the boy with the little wizard face was not yet learning to read, he was building his vocabulary.

Then one Tuesday there was no Harold at the library. Harry waited rather impatiently, but his new friend never showed up. The boy roamed the lobby, then just stood there staring off into space, as if he was lost. It was a sad sight. Thursday brought the same scenario. When the little boy looked as if he was going to cry, the Librarian stepped in.

“What seems to be the problem, young man?” she asked Harry in a businesslike tone.

“He’s not here,” Harry said loudly, and tears rolled down his face.

“Shh.  This is a library.  Now, explain to me. Who is missing?”

Harry tried to explain, but was so upset he couldn’t.  Seeing this, the librarian’s assistant rushed over to help.  When she finished telling what she knew, the three stood there staring at one another.  Harry remained dejected.

At last, the assistant suggested, “Maybe your friend is ill and can’t come. I’m sure he’d be here if he could be.” Of course, she had no idea how accurate she was.

“But he’s supposed to read to me today,” Harry whimpered.

“I know,” the helpful assistant said, “but he can’t come if he’s sick.  You know how your mother makes you stay home if you’re not feeling well, right?”

The boy didn’t know. His mother ignored him when he was sick, figuring it was a ploy to stay home from school.  The boy looked at the Librarian and her assistant, his face full of sadness and mistrust. So the assistant went on.

“I’m sure your friend will be back to read for you very soon.” Of course, she had no way of knowing when, or if, Harold would be back to read.

Even while the three stood in the Library lobby wondering,  a doctor stood at the foot Harold’s bed in the hospital’s Intensive Care unit reading his chart.  This Thursday, Harold could not read, talk, or explain anything to anyone.

Note: The next “Harold story” appears next week.
Previously:  “Missing Monday,” “Sunshine, Spring Training and Survival,” “Wednesday Wondering.”

INFECTED BY AUDIOBOOKS – Marilyn Armstrong

AUDIOBOOKS – A BELOVED INFECTION

Yesterday was the 16th of the month which for me means I get to pick two book from the audiobook collection. This might not sound like such a big deal, but it kind of is. First off, I’ve been an Audible reader for such a long time now, I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve got at least 1000 books in my audiobook library and probably a quarter of them I haven’t read, largely because I wasn’t in the mood when I got them … or I just plain forgot they were there.

I have a whole set of Manning’s “Mageborn” series and since I’m finishing his Thornbear collection, I might as well read Mageborn since I’ve apparently (surprise!) owned the books for several years. All five of them. Or are there six? I know I have at least three of them.

I’m still waiting from some of my favorite authors to finish their series. Jim Butcher, for one. He owes me a couple of books and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is restless. And Mike Carey, who owes all of us the final (fifth) book of his Felix Castor stories.

A lot of books are coming out in June which is, along with the September (buy books for Christmas) collection, the favorite release time for books. Because if you are a reader, summer is the time for a hammock, lemonade, and a good, long book, whether you are reading the words or hearing them spoken. Most of the ones I’m waiting for won’t be out until June or July, but in the meantime, I picked up the first book in a long time by Stephen King because it is not one of his horror stories.  Called “The Outsider,” it sound like a good murder mystery.

It won’t be released until the 22nd, but I can wait. I’m not a horror story fan,  so I have not read all of King’s books, but I’ve read all of his “Dark Tower” stories and his time travel “11/22/63,” but when King gets his teeth into any story, he’s possibly the best writer in my lifetime. His writing can be sheer poetry.

Murder mystery is not a genre King has tackled in the past,  so I’m drooling a little, awaiting its arrival.

Since having met Barbara Rosenblat, I’ve been hunting down her narrations, so I picked up the most recent Nevada Barr  series in which she is the narrator,”Destroyer Angel.”

Also coming up, Laurie King has a new Holmes and Watson arriving in late June, “Island of the Mad.”

Scott Meyer has a new time travel book – “Out of Spite, Out of Mind.” Finally, June, June will also brings one more of Ben Aaronovitch’s stories Peter Grant stories, “Lies Sleeping.”

Just a note for crazy horse-lovers, I just read “King of the Wind,” Marguerite Henry’s story of the Godolphin Arabian, a book I loved so much as a girl I think I read it until the words fell off the page. It was read by David McCallum who, when he isn’t “Ducky” on NCIS, is a brilliant narrator. If you loved the book when you were a kid, you are going to love it again!

On days like this, it’s hard for me to find time to do other things, but I need new glasses and today’s the day. How we’ll pay for them? That is another issue entirely. No idea at all!

Reading is my great joy and I think it is contagious. So these are this months germs. Enjoy every minute of your reading time. And share the infection with everyone else. It’s a disease worth having … forever.

BLOGGING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE – Marilyn Armstrong

WordPress’s new “algorithm” has made a lot of bloggers unhappy. I’m sure they regret our unhappiness, but I think what is really making them unhappy is that other companies — like Google and Facebook — are raking in fortunes — and they aren’t. It’s not that they aren’t profitable, but in this world, merely profitable is not enough. I’d like to say that Trump is at fault, but I think he is the product of greed, not greed itself.

They want it all. Big money. Bigger money. Now.

We aren’t the money machine they want and we can’t be. It isn’t that they don’t appreciate our writing. It’s that we are not bringing in business and their bottom line isn’t big enough.

They made an ugly mistake with the new algorithm. I am guessing it was supposed to show off “new posts” but instead, effectively “disappeared” older sites and thousands of posts.

Originally, it seemed like it was just me and some other “big” sites with a lot of followers, but it’s going around and hitting all kinds of sites. The only thing we have found that fixes it is to rename the site. This is unfair and annoying, but it works.  I am seeing posts from people whose sites have been missing so long, I thought they were closed.

A lot of people don’t check to see how they are doing in the search engine. I never did. I don’t like the Reader, but they have centralized their engine into it, so at some point, if you want to find other blogs  — and they want to find you — that’s where  you have to go. At this point, it is the central “finder” for 23 million blogs around the world. It doesn’t work well and they are always fixing it.

It never gets fixed because as soon as they get it settled down, they decide to take another whack at it.

WordPress has gone from two or three million sites when I joined to 23 million now and it includes every connected country on the planet. WordPress has grown too big. too fast. They are understaffed. Worse, WordPress believes — because their marketing people told them so (watch out for those people) told them they can attract young, chic, bloggers who are looking for a home.

The problem? There are no such people. That audience doesn’t exist.

Bloggers are readers. Most bloggers are past 40 and more or less settled. Blogging is time-consuming and requires dedication. Most kids aren’t readers. Sure, some are, but not nearly as many as there were back when we were younger. We didn’t have telephones, so we read books. And newspapers. And magazines. I even read the back of the cereal boxes in a pinch.

WordPress’s attempt to attract kids is doomed. Wrong audience. Youngsters look for short, snappy products like Twitter and Instagram. They want stuff that works on their phones and doesn’t take hours of thinking to produce.

For us, there aren’t many choices remaining.

GeoCities became Yahoo and they closed their blogging sites. There were a bunch of smaller ones. All but TypePad are gone and I really haven’t figured out what Medium is trying to do. I am not sure Medium knows what they are about, either.

All the others — aside from Blogger on Google — are expensive. If you’re in business, the expense is not outrageous, but if you just want to write and post lovely photographs or poetry or your art, $25 per month is a big chunk of change. Paid services (few though there are) have better customer service and technical staff, but they lack “reach.”

I hoped someone else would jump in and build something, but it hasn’t happened. Maybe blogging isn’t profitable enough. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon — they make money. WordPress? Not so much. WordPress was not supposed to be a sales platform, but that’s what they want to be today.

Blogging is something else. We aren’t selling stuff. In fact, most of us pay to NOT have advertisements on our sites. Few of us “monetize,” even though they have been trying to convince us to do that for a few years.

What’s will happen? Blogger with Google at its back, will hang in there because their platform is a small piece of a much larger enterprise.

A well-founded rumor is that WordPress is pressing for more business accounts, fewer bloggers. This bad new “algorithm” was one of many attempts to push that concept through.

That this has been a disaster from which they already are pulling back is temporary. They want money and international reach — like Google has.

Either they will go out of business and start over, or they will make it harder and harder to use them without paying much more. Some people can afford it, but many of us can’t. One way or the other, when the bottom line is money, they aren’t going to quit. They will keep at it until they are bankrupt or they find a way to get richer.

I hope we still have a place to write a few years down the road.