Friday, November 24, 2000


the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life.

the doctrine that pleasure is the only good.

"Happy Thanksgiving!" An American tradition that epitomizes
the hedonistic epicures. A time where people get together to demonstrate
their sybarite talents in the form of a culinary feast for the pleasure zones
of the human psyche. Tradition intimates us to gorge ourselves on our harvest
of the year. While perhaps in the beginning of this tradition we had a need
to celebrate the harvest and give thanks to our chosen deities for the harvest:
we have turned this festivity into a celebration of all that is base and

This year I celebrate my first Thanksgiving. This year my father, who lives
hundreds of miles away, was in town over the Thanksgiving holiday. So this
year I asked him to come to my home and share in this festival with my family.
This was the first "Thanksgiving" that we hosted as a family, (too often
going to others' ).This year I was bandleader of our own hedonistic tendencies.
Years before I became a teacher I was a chef -- albeit while this
term today is widely used to represent any kitchen personnel there does exist
a protocol for one's self to be able to qualify for this professional moniker.
As a chef I (with the assistance of too many people to list in this treatise)
opened up our restaurants to people less fortunate than those families who
were able to gather together. That is, we offered a Thanksgiving feast for
those people who may be alone on that particular Thursday in November, or
had not the resources to proffer their own dinner, or whose parents/children
no longer were with them, or people who just wanted to gather as a community
instead of the narcissistic demands of family.

Thanksgiving as we teach in American schools was a time that pilgrims from
European countries came to another land seeking freedom from religious
persecution. Their dream existed as a means to worship their chosen deity
in their chosen fashion when and where they chose to. Accordingly, we as
Americans claim that America was established, founded, built, created, mortared,
solidified on the beliefs and values of "religious freedom". Since America
was "established" on these principles it would be safe to claim that America
still stands for this concept, this "religious freedom". And at Thanksgiving
we gather together and demonstrate our faith by being thankful for our community,
family, and lives.

We tend to blame "tradition" for the reasons we do the things we do: it was
"tradition" to roast turkey on Thanksgiving, it was "tradition" to gather
with family, it was "tradition" to praise "God". But these are not things
of tradition. Thanksgiving was first celebrated with the "Pilgrims" and
Indians of America. It was a gathering of harvest, a celebration of
"thanks" but of thanks for making it through the year. Everyone brought their
own identity to the table and shared. (At the time the pilgrims called all
American fowl "turkeys") The foods were the local fare: venison, squirrel,
raccoon, fowl, maize, roots, gourds, tree fruits and berries. These foods
were cooked in a combined effort of many different cultures utilizing these
cultural differences: instead of excluding them!

I bring this up because too often we as Americans forget that we are a nation
of merged cultures. (As I like to joke we are not so much "Farengi"
as we are the "Borg" -- assimilation is inevitable -- "resistance is futile").
We are a nation of people from all walks of life, all corners of the globe,
from diverse cultural preferences. We are fortunate as gourmands: the typical
American can easily, and within a short radius of their home, dine on Middle
Eastern cuisine on Monday, Mexican on Tuesday, European on Wednesday, Asian
on Thursday, Icelandic on Friday, African on Saturday, Mediterranean on Sunday
and all kinds of variations in between. In my own home it is not unusual
to have Italian roasted chicken with a side of red beans and rice, buttered
tortillas, and a medley of "stir-fry veggies".

The point? Logic would deem that in America "Thanksgiving" should
be a celebration of community, of harvest, of roasted turkey and cheese
enchiladas, of pierogi in nam soc, of miso maize dumplings with curry, of
bangers and beans, of salted cod and lutefisk , of sashimi and knockwurst…
"Thanksgiving" would be a communal praise of Allah, Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha,
Mother Earth, Thor, Gilgamesh, Aristotle. "Thanksgiving" to our chosen "lord"
would be accomplished through bread breaking, wine toasting, herb burning,
goat bloodletting, or however our chosen faith represents a giving of thanks.
For in America "Thanksgiving" is a representation of the communal gathering
of cultures though harvest and a celebration of religious freedom
. Which
means we have the freedom to practice our religion without fear of reprisal
or persecution.

And yet in America we recognize this "freedom" and its separation from the
hand of government as long as it is the prescribed faith of the
. This I do not understand.

But then as my father is often wont to say: "I understand everything but
Greek… and that sounds like Greek to me."

Friday, November 10, 2000

Weeding Out the Herd

Deer Hunting Season has begun and I bagged mine on opening day. A beautiful
8 point buck weighing in at 200 some pounds. This buck was the epitome of
nature's beauty: strong, sleek, elegant in his jumping, regal in his purpose.
I brought him down with a single shot. A single shot with the grill of my
car. This bothers me, not so much the hunting of animals -- this is a different
argument, but I can understand the "hunt". This is a natural thing: the predatory
food chain instinct. (Yes, even if we dress up that instinct with blaze orange
camouflage and a rifle.) What is not a natural thing however is to be struck
down by a vehicle on the highway. This is not my first kill with a car, I
have logged five all out instantaneous kills and one maiming that shortly
ended in a kill. I am not proud of this, not only have I lost 2 cars to these
accidents but these animals died needlessly.

Yes I can find beauty in natural selection, wolves or coyotes bringing down
a deer. And I can find solace in man "hunting" animals. But, the stupidity,
the waste of accidental death is far more weighing. Especially when we look
at why these deer are being killed on our highways. In Wisconsin 20,000 deer
are killed each year by motorists. The arguments go that there exists a large
population and we need to thin out the herd. But the reason we need to thin
out the herd is because we have nearly exterminated the deer's natural predators.
But we also must look at how we as a race "take over" the earth as if it
is our private domain to do with what we want when we want to and however
we choose fit. We are taking away the homes of the deer through residential
sprawl and then are confused when these animals show up on our manicured
lawns or feast from our gardens, or wind up dead on the hoods of our cars.

I was doing an accidental science experiment with one of my classes where
we had developed our own hot sauce. One of the batches had gone bad and became
fermented and moldy. I think about how many of our cities have been laid
to waste and then left as "urban or suburban" sprawls have taken place. Instead
of rebuilding, repairing, replanting we find the pristine and lay it to waste.
Much like the mold and bacteria within my jar of hot sauce. Perhaps that
is all we are as a race, a bacteria consuming and wasting away.

This week I am lost in my similes and metaphors while we as a race are like
bacteria we are even moreso the mournful spectator in the driver's seat.
5,000 children die each year in accidental or intentional shootings. 5,000
yearly deaths attributed to stupidity. 5,000 children laid to waste.

Friday, November 03, 2000

Hot Sauce

It began relatively innocent enough last spring: our last surviving working
Sister was retiring. Sister Veronica Marie not only devoted her life to her
God but also to her children. Part of the duties that sister took on for
herself was maintaining the gardens around our school. Which over the years
had become a great undertaking since at one time these gardens were used
to supply vegetables along with the flowers and plants for aesthetic purposes.
Franciscan beliefs stress the balance between nature, spirituality, community
as well as education. It was with great sadness that we accepted Sister's
departure, so in the spirit (or is that spirituality) of things we decided
to take over some of the older overgrown garden areas and plant our own
vegetables. The ecology aspect was rather intriguing as we tried to figure
out how to keep the local animals from eating our plants. The community aspect
had us trying to figure out what we would plant. For some odd reason everybody
this year was obsessed with peppers, it seemed the hotter the better. Thus
we had a large crop of jalapeno, habenero, and mild peppers as opposed to
a garden of varietal vegetables.

As we came closer to harvest time we decided that we would use the internet
to "sell" our peppers. But how? We delves into agricultural businesses, farmer's
markets, and the like. We ran into roadblocks because we could not sell the
"fresh" product and we had no means for smoking or drying them. Therefore
we did some problem solving and came up with an idea for preparing them somehow.
Perhaps because of my affinity for the condiment we started to look at how
we could "utilize" these peppers in a more resourceful and flavorful manner.
We then combed the internet once again looking for recipes for how to make
a "hot sauce", not recipes that "contained" hot sauce, but actually how to
make it. This proved fun, frustrating, and enterprising. The end result was
some 15 different recipes. We split the class into six teams randomly. We
created these hot sauces. Each team picked their recipes, bought the necessary
ingredients, adapted their recipes for their peppers and then converted the
recipes to make a specific amount. And then we bottled them with care.

To develop a greater sense of economy we decided delve into the fearsome
arena of marketing. We searched out advertising that fit propaganda and other
manipulatives; we analyzed these commercials and discussed how they worked,
why they worked, and why they did not. We then went into a campaign to advertise
our particular brands. All of this culminated in a "Food Show" a "Hot Sauce
Convention" where we were able to secure the assistance of our food service
specialists who cooked up some chicken wings, arranged vegetable platters
and refreshments. We then invited the entire school to parade through our
convention hall. They were our customers, purchasers of "Hot Sauce" condiments
and their job was to sample the wares and basically try to be convinced by
the different teams on which hot sauce that they would buy. (Of course some
of our boys seemed to be eating up the profits as it were.)

All in all it was fun, educational, and a little on the spicy side. And as
one person who was from outside of our agency noted "They're just regular
boys having fun and being goofy."

There is more importance to that last statement than first appears. Firstly,
our boys are all
students. The majority of them are defined as having emotional
or behavior disorders and/or learning disabilities.. What this "technically"
means is that these boys do not work well in groups or individually, they
have difficulty staying on task, are always talking out, they have no or
improper social skills, they have difficulty learning and so on and so forth.
All of our boys have been kicked out of the "regular" schools. This means
that these are the "worst behaved" boys of the "worst behaved" boys in the
regular school. Often than not this means that the regular schools do not
want to deal with these boys and have decided that they are uneducable --
so they send them to us.

This then lends credence to my second point: at the "Hot Sauce Convention"
we saw teams of boys working together, assisting each other, explaining the
processes that went into their product and its development. They explained
how they grew the plants from seeds. The talked about how the chipmunks and
squirrels ate the peppers, they discussed their sorrow when some of the plants
were trampled by other youths. They talked about how they had to water, weed,
nurture their plants through the hot summer days. They discussed how they
put the recipes together, how they searched for information using the internet.
The displayed their brochures, slogans, advertising campaigns, they delighted
in serving their "customers", in sampling each others products and they were
able to agree that they may like someone else's product better than their
own -- but that did not mean that theirs was bad.

My second point is this: given the tools all kids can learn, we have
all kinds of minds
and all of these minds work in marvelously different manners. We can learn
intricate problem solving techniques and transfer this knowledge through
verbal and written communication. We only have to be given the environment
and nurturing to do so.

This cannot be done in a setting standardized to a percentage of the population.
We need to rethink
our schools