Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

The testing sickness

April 4, 2014



The assault on the dignity of each child proceeds in the United States of Amnesia. The obsession on standardized testing as a central marker in public education is well funded—but the kick back has started all over the States—teachers, parents have risen up and said NO—not to testing itself but to the over reliance and malicious use of it.
The following reminds me of a line from a long-forgotten columnist in the Globe and mail, Richard Needham who once opined that “A school trustee isone who has had a child described to him—but has never actually met one.

A teacher-blogger in New York City wrote:
I have a grandson who just started second grade.

I look at this techno-trash and pray that his teachers are not required to pay attention to it.
If this is the kind of “work” that comes out of Tweed (the headquarters of New York City’s “Department of Education”), I have advice for the next Mayor:
Clean out the whole bunch of people who make up these charts, graphs, instructions, mumbo-jumbo statistical nonsense.
Clearly, none of them has ever been a teacher of first grade.
Probably, none of them has ever had a child.
Maybe, none of them ever was a child.
They see children as data.
They see teaching and learning as a statistical exercise.
They value metrics, not children.
Please, Mr. Mayor, send them all packing.
Let them go back to the corporate world where they belong.
Keep them far, far away from children and their teachers.


The deskilling of teachers

March 11, 2014


It is hard to fathom the disastrous and arrogant  American educational policy being rammed down the throats of those who know best: teachers but that is what Obama and his education czar Arne Duncan have attempted to.  About a year ago some brave teachers said “Enough” and the brush fire has quickly spread across the US. More and more educational jurisdictions are saying no to the Common Core curriculum which seems addicted to massive testing and neoliberal austerity—break the unions, hire greenhorns with no preparation, refuse to see the link between poverty and education and oh yes, privatize, privatize, treat education as a business and bring in Simon Legree with no pedagogical training  as the principal.


Of course the larger agenda is the attack on public servants (hence the union busting) and the opening of the public good, education to corporations who are slobbering over the chance to take over  another market. A fortune is to be made in testing materials, consultancies and for profit charter schools. Leading the charge, sad to say is Bill Gates and  no surprise her, the Walton family of Walmart.Other 1%ers have chimed in with the power of wealth and the ownership of media and the sponsorship of right wing think tanks. Their ridiculous panacea, “teaching to the test” has gutted imaginative areas like art, music, drama. It has sapped the creativity of teachers.The failure of charter schools and the shining example of Finnish education (# 1 globally and no standardized testing) has not stopped this egregious assault.


Anthony Cody a teacher sardonically writes


March is the month when teaching ends and test prep begins.



Federal education policy is a disaster.


The Bush-Obama agenda has de skilled teachers and made testing the most important aspect of US education.


Cody quotes teachers at length. One says:


“I wish you could hear my colleagues telling me “they don’t mind this” as it gets kids “ready” or solves them having to plan actual learning. They’ve been so de-skilled they don’t even feel the connection to instructional leadership. To them the school is a rote drill factory.


“The teaching profession has been redefined. A teacher is now the manager of a workbook drill. No projects, no model making, no literature, no research, no discovery. The planning you do is taking prefab programs and administering them. Sort of as if you were giving a test like the state test ALL the TIME. Room empty, pencils out, bubble. All things arranged around test prep. No themes, no critical thinking.


This is not education.


Death here and abroad

February 10, 2014

My friend Monica kept me abreast of her friends’ the Siddall family’s heartbreaking travail as they supported their youngest child Kevin as he was dying of lymphoma. On Saturday his funeral mass was said in Windsor’s Corpus Christi church. Just reading the story of this remarkable family brought me to tears.

The Siddalls are  a well known  name in the Windsor area, the father a former pro ball player, mother a doctor and all the kids gifted athletes and stellar people,The sheer unfairness of  such a body blow would send anybody reeling. We’re not supposed to bury our kids but sometimes we do


On the other hand, the overwhelming love and support for Kevin and the family showed the depth of compassion and love out there in all human communities. There is resurrection.

On the same day i read about the Siddall funeral I read about the shocking death toll in Iraq, the bizarre gift of thoughtless empire politics, namely Great Britain, namely Bush and Blair. What these non leaders created in iraq deserves an Anti-Nobel prize for cruelty and child abuse. Both should be brought to the Hague as war criminals.



Well do we remember the US Foreign minister Madeleine Albright on a 60 Minutes program being asked by leslie Stalhl if the 5000, 000 deaths by embargo were worth it.

John Pilger writing in the Guardian about this monumental crime said

 John Tirman, the principal research scientist at the MIT Centre for International Studies, has examined all the credible estimates; he told me that an average figure “suggests roughly 700,000″. Tirman pointed out that this excluded deaths among the millions of displaced Iraqis, up to 20% of the population.

For 13 years this inhuman blockade  was carried out and suppressed by mainstream media. and children as precious as Kevin Siddall left this earth way too early. I watched children dying in hospitals, denied basic painkillers.

2000 years ago the epic Roman poet Virgil commented  (translation by Robert Fagles) “Sunt lacrimae rerum mentem mortalia tangunt  “The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart.”

 Margaret Atwood wrote in  Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never be Written

The facts of this world seen clearly

are seen through tears;

why tell me then

there is something wrong with my eyes?

In the west we weep as individuals for those in our community. Others as loved as our children are simply collateral damage.

The Mimico kid, Jimmy Ridley enters the Hall of Fame

February 8, 2014


Canadian national team coach Jim Ridley will be inducted posthumously into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this June. He was in my Hall decades ago. He will be the second Christie  Pit Leaguer so honoured, following the Baron of the Pits, Carmen Bush, aka The Dictator or Il Duce.

Can Archie French be far behind?


Jim Ridley senior told Jim junior that there was only one place to play ball— with Columbus Boys. So he drove the Mimico lad to the Pits along with Davey Smyth, one of the smoothest gloves ever seen at the legendary park. Both were midget age.

After three seasons with us and 2 city championships Jimmy turned pro  and spent two  seasons with the Milwaukee Braves organization in 1964 and 1965, Like  many Canucks at that time, Jimmy had trouble with the curve ball and  returned to Canada where he would have a significant impact on baseball as a national coach in his home country for the next four decades. He also scouted professionally for the Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins.

“Rids” as he was known to friends brought the Columbus Boys philosophy into a wider ambit. Winning ain’t the thing. It’s the camarderie and fellowship which endures. The post mortems were as important as the game

When Jimmy died in November 2008 at age 63 I was stunned knowing his parents Jim and Verna lived to their 90s. Bob Elliot sports writer at the Sun wrote a nice column about Jim’s great decency and he asked for submissions. There were many and  I sent this one:

Jimmy came to me in 1961 as a 16 year old from the Lakeshore. He and fellow Mimicoite Dave Smyth wanted to play junior ball though they were both midget age. I was in my first year managing for Carmen Bush’s Columbus Boys at the Pits. It was obvious from the get-go that Jimmy was a gifted athlete who could play anywhere. He could do it all — hit, run, field (great arm) etc., so I put him in centre field where he played the shortest outfield I have ever seen. Even though we had three midgets in the starting line up we won the city championship and repeated the next year.

At Mimico High where I now taught Latin and English , I saw what a gifted athlete Jim was, excelling in both basketball and football. Sadly he was rushed into Junior B hockey too fast (15) and quit after one year. He gave his goalie pads to his buddy who lived behind him, Al Smith who went on to a 15 year pro career! And as Al acknowledged, he had half Jim’s talent. A cautionary tale about rushing kids.

Soon, Jim signed pro and I visited him in Sarasota and Quebec where he roomed with another great Torontonian, Charley Hughes. We never lost touch.when he was away at university in Waterloo I lived at 2580 Lakeshore Blvd   with Jim and Verna. I even did a reading at his wedding,

The last long conversation  I had with Jimmy was in may of 2008 was in May when he called me from Montreal where he was scouting for the Twins. He was heartbroken that he could not get back for legendary umpire Archie French’s funeral. Jimmy and his folks loved the irrepressible Arch who would often arrive late at night in his  cab and shine a light into the Ridley living room.It killed Jimmy being away when Arch whom he called “Woody”  died. Rids never forgot where he came from.

Jimmy was a gifted ball player, a gentle soul and a real gentleman. Never heard him swear in all my years knowing him! He sure was the pride and joy of Jim and Verna’s life.

Ted Schmidt
Scarborough, Ont. it

Coaching, when you get it right, you never have a losing season. You meet beautiful  vulnerable people entering life at a formative stage. It is such a sacramental experience being there as a simple conduit for depth in human relationships. Winning and losing, the twin impostors pale in comparison to the cosmic importance of engaging another person, even in a sporting capacity. As the great Jewish mystic Martin Buber put it, “All real living is meeting”. Knowing James Beswick Ridley as I did was an enduring pleasure.

The Royal Canadian

January 5, 2014

People could never understand Louis Armstrong’s oft quoted statement that he loved Guy Lombardo’s music. It was his favourite band.


It only proves that people never knew Louis very well.

The seminal jazz man’s advice to young musicians was “never forget the melody”, advice apparently ignored by current rap artists. Lombardo, the master of melody, is the most successful Canadian band in history and having said that we might also include the world, if longevity and record sales mean anything. Before the Beatles Guy was # 1 in record sales


Gaetano “Guy”)  Lombardo (1902) and his musical brothers Lebert, Victor and Carmen were a real “family affair”, the London born sons of immigrant parents. Their band often hopped across the border to Cleveland, first in 1924 and then to Chicago in 1927 where it played at the Grenada Cafe. Like  Bing Crosby whose fame coincided with radio air checks, the Lombardo band (and the Royal Canadians) hit instant popularity with “the sweetest sounds this side of heaven” played over the powerful Midwest  station WGN. Lombardo was a sharp leader recognizing early that radio was his ticket and he actually paid for his first broadcast which made his band instantly popular.

At this time, the incandescent Louis Armstrong was knocking music patrons dead with his stunning virtuosity but Jim Crow was  still alive in Chicago and I believe it was Lebert who charged into the office of the Grenada Cafe and confronted the owner who had denied Armstong entrance. Lebert shouted at the manager that Louis was a musical genius and “how dare you treat this artist like this.” The manager backed down. The Lombardos were too powerful.

Guy Lombardo’s music was instantly recognizable, it was warm, danceable and  emotionally  driven by the wailing saxophones which were led by Carmen’s vibrato. The latter  was  a key member of the aggregation, arranging and actually writing some of their hits. Sweethearts on Parade, Boo Hoo, Coquette were just three of his many popular tunes. A  Sailboat in the Moonlight was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938. By 1929 they were so successful that they moved to Music central, New York city and the Roosevelt Grill where they  headquartered for the next 33 years. Lombardo’s  music stuck to the popular tunes of the day and the format never changed. For 48 years  the  band rang in New Year’s Eve and this only stopped with  the leader’s death in 1977.

In retrospect, Guy was smart enough to know not to get too hip and dabble in the burgeoning jazz market. Though considered corny  by many, the band was admired by most for its professionalism and musicianship.

Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom was the home of the many great Negro bands but nobody packed them in like Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians.

The soul danger of Alicia Keyes

January 2, 2014


Recording artist Alicia Keyes is obviously” a big thing, kind of important” as Anchorman Ron Burgundy would say. She is known only to me only through a Bob Dylan song so I checked her out with one of my  hip culture maven daughters—”good pipes but forgettable songs.”

Keyes was pressured by the Boycott Divestment Movement (BDM) to respect the cultural boycott of Israel—very much like the Apartheid boycotts of the 80’s engineered by Little Stevie(Van Zandt (Springsteen’s E Street Band). Playing on the record  ”Ain’t Gonna play Sun City” were Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed and Peter Gabriel whose tribute to martyr Steve Biko still sends chills up my back.

Sun City was an entertainment mecca in one of the phony “Independent”  bantustans Bophuthatswana. The impresario Sol Kerzner  paid big bucks to lure top entertainers to break the cultural boycott. He  enticed  among others  Queen,Rod Stewart, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Canada’s own Paul Anka, Tina Turner, Elton John  and  Dionne Warwick”. They all pleaded that they were “non-political.

Well, Alicia Keyes took the blood money and played there in July. She came up with this lame bromide: “Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.”


The fierce justice woman, author Alice  Walker who has refused to translate The Color Purple into Hebrew wrote the youngish (32) Miss Keyes an open letter, forceful but gentle in May, 2013.

I have learned today that you are due to perform in Israel very soon. We have never met, though I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work. It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people.

As she  ages she may come to regret her decision.

Mayor Bloomberg’s strange god

December 21, 2013



The great educator Diane Ravitch felt compelled at this time of the year to stray from her usual blog on the topic she  knows so well. She recently reported on a stunning New york times  front page storyabout a homeless girl named Dasani, who was called “Invisible Child.” Ravitch wrote

Readers  learned about the deplorable conditions in the shelter where she was living in a single room with her parents and seven siblings. They learned about the rats, roaches, and mold; about inspectors who wrote reports that led to no action; they learned about charges of sexual abuse by staff; and about a myriad other horrors in which Dasani and thousands of other children were living. They learned that New York City now has 22,000 children who are homeless, a historic high. The series was brilliantly written by Andrea Elliott, an investigative journalist. Eliott acknowledged that a large part of Dasani’s fate was caused by her dysfunctional parents, who were unemployed and fighting drug addiction. But she also blamed city policies, that had created the system in which the family was ensnared.

Mayor Bloomberg was asked to comment on the series, which stirred wide attention.

He said:

“This kid was dealt a bad hand. I don’t know quite why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not,” he told Politicker, calling her plight “a sad situation.”

Sadder still is the hubris of billionaire Bloomberg whose theology needs a radical reboot—especially at this time of year.

“That’s just the way God works”.

Count me an atheist to this god.


The fearless Roger Waters

December 19, 2013


Roger Waters is the front man and driving force behind the legendary rock group Pink Floyd. More importantly, he has become the most fearless artist supporting the Boycott Divestment Movement against apartheid israel. There have been other artists (Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder etc.) who have done the minimum—refused to play Israel as long as it persists in its manifold human rights abuses against Palestinians and its defiance of international law.

Waters is to become the Michael Moore of his generation. For pure courage, Moore with his social justice background stands as  the Catholic prophet of the last 20 years.  When silence reigned supreme  in the imperial Bush years Moore confronted American hubris and war making.

Waters is made of the same stuff.

In a courageous interview with Israel’s  Haaretz Waters laid it out. Some remarks were taken from the online journal Counterpunch

“The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock’n roll as they say, I’ve spoken to people who are terrified that if they stand shoulder to shoulder with me they are going to get f-cked. Musicians often use contemporary argot!

Speaking of much of the rabbinate Waters stated,” They believe that the Indigenous people of the region that they kicked off the land in 1948 and have continued to kick off the land ever since are subhuman.

The growth of the BDS movement should come as no surprise, “the parallels with what went on in the 30’s in Germany are so crushingly obvious.”

While not drawing a parallel with the Nazi regime, Waters likened Israel’s brutal discrimination against native Palestinians, its separate laws, infrastructures such as roads, electricity,its racism to similar trends in pre-war Germany.

“The occupation, the ethnic cleansing and the systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime is unacceptable… I would not have played for the Vichy government in occupied France in WWII, would not have played in Berlin either during this time. Many people did, back in the day. There were many people that pretended that the oppression of the Jews was not going on. From 1933 until 1946. So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time it’s the Palestinians being murdered.”

Why the silence then in the artistic community?

“Musicians do not touch the issue of Palestine, because of Israel’s propaganda machine on the American public opinion. Netanyahu’s bluster is poured all over the United States, not just Fox but also CNN and in fact in all the mainstream media. It’s like a huge bucket of crap that they are pouring into the mouth of a gullible public in my view, when they say “we are afraid of Iran, it is going to get nuclear weapons… It’s a diversionary tactic.”

“The fact of the matter is no Israeli government has been serious about creating a Palestinian state since 1948… They’ve always had the Ben Gurion agenda of kicking all the Arabs out of the country and becoming greater Israel.”

In August, Waters called on fellow musicians to join a boycott of Israel.

“I write to you now, my brothers and sisters in the family of Rock and Roll, to ask you to join with me, and thousands of other artists around the world, to declare a cultural boycott on Israel.”

Ellsbury leaves Sox, Schmidt leaves baseball

December 5, 2013



Free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, fresh off winning the World Series with Boston, reached agreement with the rival New York Yankees on a seven-year contract worth about $153-million, a person familiar with the negotiations said on December 4th.

The same night longtime Red sox fan and noted baseball afficinado Ted Schmidt announced his divorce from the summer game.

“This is the final straw”, the Scarboro community theologian stated in Toronto’s Hush Free Press.”The great game is in the hands of accountants and players with no allegiance to anything but their pocket books.Loyalty is a nineteenth century word, long gone from the vocabulary of today’s mercenaries.


I have notified the Red Sox that their longstanding fan is out for good.

As  I once said to the great Japanese scout Aki Yoshamoto whom I first met in Oakville in 1960, Sayonara!


Two Jewish boys: Leiber and Stoller

November 22, 2013


Cruising (or coasting) down the  401 I kept breaking into laughter at he lyrics on a disk I cut for “my listening pleasure.”

They were all songs written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, 2 Jewish boys from Baltimore and Long island respectively. They met in LA in 1950 and really never had to work again by 1965. They cranked out hit after hit. Even penned 2 classics by Peggy Lee I’m a Woman and the sardonic Is That All There Is?(1969). Elvis cut Heartbreak Hotel and Hound Dog by the pair.


It was their hilarious work with the seminal rock group the Robins who became the Coasters which made them famous—and still keep me roaring. Billy Guy, Cornell Gunther and Carl Gardner had the vocal goods to pull off these outrageous songs.

Think Searhcin’, Young Blood (a 2 sided hit) Along Came Jones, Poison Ivy, Charley Brown and many others. They had an incredible ear for black slang and the lifestyle in the black demimonde. And they were certainly criticized for it later when people woke up to the fact that their songs were less than flattering to the black community.

Listen to this Coaster classic  Shoppin’ for Clothes—just covered by the great jazz singer Kurt Elling.It will give you a hint about the wit in their music.



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