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Weekend Wonk


I have another book for you, friends: Carl Sifakis’s American Eccentrics. It is in fact the ideal bathroom book, with entries that can be enjoyed at a short sitting as it were. Sifakis simply gives one- or two-page accounts of some of our stranger countrymen and –women and starts the whole thing off with a very thoughtful introduction. As always, I recommend the book itself. What follows is just a taste.

What's It All About, Alfie?

No, not that Alfie. I just couldn’t resist the title.

While I was wrestling last week with the whole issue of incentives (“Carrots and Sticks”), a friend steered me to a remarkable book—Punished by Rewards—by one Alfie Kohn. Kohn is an erstwhile academic who, according to his website, spends all his time these years researching, writing, and lecturing at large. He is also a maverick, a contrarian, which is always tonic.

Needless to say, you should read the whole book. It is a rich feast, and Shea is offering you only a meager snack here.

Carrots and Sticks

Last week I listed the three “Free Response” AP questions. I was delegated to read the third one—all week long. But it was a good question and I’d like to share it with you.

Summer Camp

I have just come back from a sojourn in Daytona Beach, where the weather was unusually pleasant for mid-June. I was, however, not lollygagging on the littoral all day. Oh no. I was holed up in the Convention Center across A1A from the Hilton (where we stayed in sybaritic luxury) reading Advanced Placement essays for eight hours a day.

Well, somebody has to. This year there were over 900 of us plowing through about 280,000 booklets in English Language and Composition. Nine hundred English teachers! The heart leaps up! I have always thought of it as summer camp.

SoCal II

[Editor's Note: If you missed last week's Weekend Wonk, be sure to check it out. It's the first part of this series.]

Slept well? Hope so. Let’s go.

SoCal I

Having a friend in L.A., another in South Laguna, and a son in San Diego, I have over the years become a real aficionado of Southern California.

I know that SoCal is an easy target for critics: ticky-tacky sprawl, the kingdom of the mall, developers on a roll, freeways out of control (you see that it even inspires its own doggerel). But that is only half of it. There is solitude and spectacle abounding. And the roads—oh, the off-the-interstate roads! Well, we’ll get to those.


I did it. I retired about two weeks ago and it seems fitting that I mark the occasion in this cyber journal or whatever you want to call it. I am now a retiree, official senior citizen, duffer, old fart, whatever.

World’s Worst Poet

Give ear, Gentle Reader:

And the Tower of London is most gloomy to behold
And the crown of England lies there, begemmed with precious stones and gold.
King Henry the Sixth was murdered there by the Duke of Glo’ster,
And when he killed him with his sword he called him an imposter.

Sabine Baring-Gould

What? You’ve never heard of Sabine Baring-Gould? Dear me. A Google search will turn up a dozen pages of citations (no, really). There is a Sabine Baring-Gould Appreciation Society (small but determined). He wrote more histories, novels, tracts, sermons, essays, and whatnot—especially whatnot—than a half-dozen lesser men could have hoped to.

Dear me, it’s time you were enlightened.

Harold Welsh (or Welsch) Revisited

Back in March, I wrote about my erstwhile colleague Harold Welsh, brought low by an inadvertent pun ("Great Moments in Teaching"). But the account was not as it seemed. I had not had contact with Harold in 40 years, but we do have a mutual friend who supplied an address—Harold is still in Illinois, not far from the scene of the alleged happening—and suggested that I send him a copy of the column.

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