Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | October 12, 2014

A Gentle Rant

                   to Gwyneth Paltro in appreciation.

A message from me to celebrities
who feel compelled
to announce their
outrage/shock/umbrage/extreme displeasure/deeply felt anger

at the treatment of

Native Americans/ African-Americans/ Hispanic Americans/ Proto Americans
LGBTs/ Muslims/ Atheists/ WASPs
the Homeless/the Oppressed/the Persecuted/the Unemployed
the Tired/Poor/Huddled Masses
NEA (teachers)/NEA (artists)/ AFT (teachers again)
Emily’s List/La Leche/Code Pink
Sierra Club/Common Cause/Greenpeace/Amnesty International,

By any Republican
Presidential/Senatorial/Congressional Candidate (especially ahead in polls),
former candidate for Vice-President (female),
Supreme Court Justice
(always Scalia/Thomas, often Roberts/Alito, sometimes Kennedy, never the others)
Big Oil/Big Banks/Big Business
The Military-Industrial Complex
Halliburton/ Dow Chemical/Exxon Mobil/J. P. Morgan Chase/Wall Street in general
Big Brother (except the TV show)
Bill Maher
(except for his treatment of Ben Affleck recently)
Rush Limbaugh/Fox News/Rupert Murdoch/Laura Ingraham
Meghan Kelley/Glenn Beck
Chris Christie (limited: okay when hugging Obama,
not okay when chastising union teacher)
Rand Paul/Paul Ryan/Marco Rubio/
Mitch McConnell
(limited to the present, but past political positions held prior to achieving minority leader status okay)
Republican Wars on Women/ Welfare/ Food Stamps/ Unemployment Insurance
Planned Parenthood/ Obama Care/ Minimum Wage Workers
Gun Control/ Gay Marriage….,

Please, I’m begging,
Stop embarrassing yourselves.
Stick to what you do well
e.g. Matt Damon/ Gwyneth Paltrow/ George Clooney/ Bruce Springsteen
unless your celebrity is due only to self-promotion
e.g. Kim Kardashian/Kevin Federline/Paris Hilton/,
then please, just keep quiet.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | September 19, 2014

The Honor of Your Presence


As I have mentioned elsewhere, I am the oldest of fifty-one grandchildren. Until I was around five, other than a brother and sister, there were no other grandchildren. I am, of course, older than all my cousins, but significantly older than most. Thus I experienced our grandmother and Great Elm differently than all, and significantly differently than most.

  Mimi always welcomed you into her rooms. If she was in bed with plasters on her wrinkles, if she was saying her morning prayers, if she was packing, if she was discussing the menus for the week, if she was writing letters, if she was on the phone, her grandchildren were welcome. She always had maple sugar high in a closet somewhere among her shoes, and no matter how hard you might look for it yourself, only Mimi could ever reach up and produce it. She always had ice water in a pitcher. She always was happy to see you. She always knew a story to tell about Nancy, the young Confederate girl who helped (Cousin) General Lee, or General Stonewall Jackson, win battles against the bad, old (sometimes she said, “Damn!”) Yankee blue-bellies. She was always more proud of you than anyone she could think of when you played the piano for her, or swam underwater the whole length of the pool, or leaned to jump on a horse, or won a tennis match against anyone who wasn’t related to you, or shot a nasty old woodchuck that had been snacking in the garden.
      If you asked nicely, and if there weren’t already too many people coming, she would invite you to dinner at the Big House which was a special treat beyond imagining: because first you got dressed up in a jacket and tie and nice pants. Then you would already be sitting in the patio with your mother and uncles and aunts when Mimi came downstairs. As she entered, you stood up which made her very proud of your wonderful manners. Her high heels clacked loud on the tiles as she stepped to her seat on the sofa that rocked. And she would say, “Come sit beside me, darlin’.” So, of course, you would. Then Jeff would bring you a coke the special way he made it with Angostura bitters and a maraschino cherry. And after he had passed you your coke and everyone else their Old Fashioneds or scotches, then he would pass the hors d’oeuvres which included because he knew you were coming, peanut butter on triscuits that had been put under the broiler.
You would listen to your mother and uncles and aunts and Mimi talk about people and each other and places they’d been and were going. You would imagine being one day as old as they and joining in the conversation.
      Sometimes Uncle John was there; he was the world’s best fisherman and hunter which is what you wanted to be when you grew up if you couldn’t be a pilot in the World War II.
      After Jeff passed the hors d’oeuvres a second time, he would leave them on the coffee table in front of Mimi which meant in front of you, too. Pretty soon Mimi would say, “Jimmy, dear, would you pass the hors d’euvres.” So you got up from your seat and picked up the tray carefully with both hands and passed it around to everyone else. When each uncle and aunt took something, they would say, “Thank you, Jimmy!” and look you right in the eyes and smile. When you put the tray down, then you could help yourself to olives and triscuits with peanut butter and one cracker with deviled ham because a gentleman samples everything his host offers.
      A while later, Jeff comes back with more drinks for everyone, but this time he just has little glasses with bourbon or scotch that he pours right into everybody’s glass (but not mine – he just pours me more coke if I have finished mine already which I always do). Then he asks if you want more ice. If you do he has a small bowl of ice right there on his tray, and with big tweezers, he picks up as many cubes as you want until you say, “Thank you; that will be fine.”
      After you passed the hors oeuvres around one more time, Jeff would come back and stand in the doorway to the patio. Mimi would look up as soon as she noticed. Jeff would say, “Miz Buckley, dinnah’s suhved.” And Mimi would say, “Thank you, Boykin.” which was Jeff’s last name. And I would smile at Jeff, and he would smile at me.
      All would rise from their seats and step aside to let Mimi lead the way. If Uncle John wasn’t there, Mimi would ask you to escort her to the dining room, but when Uncle John was there, that was his job since he was the oldest son.
      Jeff would be waiting behind Mimi’s chair, and he would pull it back for her and then slide it forward as she sat. I would do the same for any aunt who was going to sit next to me. I always sit to Mimi’s left. When Uncle John is there, he sits at the other end of the table. During the week, though, when all my uncles are in New York so only Mimi, Mother, some aunts, and I are at the table, no one sits there.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | September 12, 2014

In Thrall to Memory

     My grandfather died on October 25th, 1958. He was 77. About a year later, a book entitled W.F.B., an Appreciation was privately published. My mother, the eldest of his ten children, who would not live ten years more, contributed a piece which she called “Supper at Great Elm.” To begin, she made the distinction between the days when she called her father Papa, and later when, as she and her siblings reached adolescence, they were schooled to call him Father. I, the oldest of his eventual 51 grandchildren, always called him Father, for that was what I took his name to be. Everyone, my mother and her grown up brothers and sisters, called him that. Father was his name, just as my grandmother was Mimi, my mother Mother, and my father Daddy.
“Supper at Great Elm” closes this way:

     Soon – too soon, it seems today – Papa has turned into Father, and the big children are sons and daughters whose eyes no longer widen as they listen [to his stories]. It is only the smaller children who still have Papa, and to them the stories are told.

     As much as my mother seemed to feel regret for not having her Papa beyond her childhood, she experienced none such with her own children, or if she did, she chose not to show it. She treated us in much the same way he apparently treated her. She loved us dearly and passionately as little children, but not really very much when we were older. Oh, sometimes she enjoyed us. She laughed at us and with us. How not? We all share her dry and often disturbing sense of humor. We all have it in us to be witty in the particular way she liked.
     Rarely she was proud of us. Much of the rest of the time she tolerated us in both the best sense of that word but also in the worst: putting up with; enduring. Enough of the time she treated us with scorn, condescension, biting sarcasm, and unconcealed disappointment. She resented, I think, that we grew older.

     Only recently a law suit five of my siblings and I brought against our father ran its course. We lost. We had undertaken the action because we disagreed with our father’s intention to withhold from us after his death the income of a trust our mother had been given by her father. Our suit turned on one phrase in a trust document which we felt as a matter of law had been interpreted wrongly. Nevertheless, as I suppose these things must, the full circus played out – depositions, trials (two: the first judge died before rendering a decision), and appeals. My father was alive when the suit was brought. He was dead before the final disposition. The four siblings who did not join us six as well as his widow have now wrapped themselves in the firm belief that the action we took was responsible for his death, that of a 98 year-old man with a heart condition, previous by-pass surgery, a pace maker, and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, who was beginning to make a habit of tripping over flower pots, the last time on or about his 95th birthday, which broke his leg. Thus, we siblings are estranged.  Ah, well.

     Today, of my nine uncles and aunts on my mother’s side, two survive. Uncle Jim, who turned 91 two days after my 69th birthday, and Aunt Carol, soon to be 76. I called all save one by their first names. (My Uncle John thought it unseemly that I, a boy, should call him John. He told my mother, and my mother told me I was to call him Uncle John – and his wife Aunt Ann – from then on. I did as I was told. When Uncle Jim married an Ann as well, and distinguishing between the two became a necessity, John’s Ann was called – privately, to be sure, Old Aunt Ann.)
     I believe I used their first names for the same reason my grandfather was Father. I heard them called John, Priscilla, Jim, Jane, Patricia, Bill, Reid, Maureen, and Carol. Before the unfortunate arrival of my adolescence, my greatest pleasure on summer evenings was to sit out of the way during the cocktail hour in my grandmother’s home listening to all of them talk. My only ambition then was to grow old enough to take my place among them. Sure, they were my grandparents and uncles and aunts, but Carol was hardly more than six years my senior. I could have been her youngest brother, and if hers, why not then, the youngest sibling of all of them? Except for my mother, of course, because I was then a small enough child so that being her son was still my greatest joy and pleasure.

     An old friend and former colleague invited my wife and me to dinner one night in the fall of 1999. She was married to a young man who had been my student, years before they married, to be sure. His attendance at the school predated her employment as a teacher. At the table, the young man, recalled an incident from his days in my English class. “You were giving a quiz,” he said. “And by that time, I had learned from your quizzes that I ought to read my assignment twice, so I was feeling confident. I remember the answer to the question was ‘The truth’ which I wrote down right away. Soon I was aware that my classmates were writing and writing and writing. I got worried that I’d been mistaken. I reread the question. The answer was still ‘The truth.’ Rather than reassuring me, though, that made me worry all the more. You must have noticed me worrying, because you got up from your desk, walked over to me and looked at my answer. Then you smiled and nodded.”
     It was a nice story. I appreciated hearing it and accepted the implied compliment. On our way home that evening, I told my wife, “Until this evening, I would have sworn that M. was never one of my students.”
     Memory is enthralling, or perhaps I mean, I am feeling in thrall to my memories. I once argued with a woman for almost an hour about words that I had heard her say only a few days before. They were – and I believe I can still hear them as clearly and accurately as I did the night of the argument now thirty-eight years in the past – “But he was warned, many times!” In fact, not only can I still hear the words, I can see her speaking them, I can see to whom she was speaking, I can take you and stand where I was standing and point precisely to where she was standing. Yet that night of the argument, she denied over and over and over she said those words or any like them.
     In July of this year, my father would have been 100 but for having been dead for two years. My mother died when she was forty-eight. My grandmother died March 10, 1985, only one day before her ninetieth birthday: Uncle John, three months before his mother; his wife Ann in 1965;  Aunt Maureen a couple of years before my mother; Aunt Pat in 2007, her husband, Uncle Bill ten months later; Aunt Jane also in 2007. Aunt Patricia, Bill’s favorite sister, died five months after Jane; her husband, Uncle Brent ten years prior. My godmother, Aunt Priscilla, died in 2012, a few months after her 90th birthday. My Uncle Reid died in April of this year.
     I remember things about all of them. For instance, I remember when my grandmother suspected I was sneaking rum into my coca-cola. I remember my Aunt Maureen weeping in the arms of her sisters one evening because she believed she was unattractive, and no man would ever fall in love with her. I remember my Uncle John being surprised and grateful that I, age twelve, didn’t shoot at the quail flying between him and me. I remember my mother, during the first moments of her return from yet another stint in a psychiatric hospital, asking me how my broken arm was mending. I had not broken my arm. When I asked what she meant, she said she’d assumed I had since I had sent her no letters. Three months later she died. All those memories are from the summer’s our family spent in Sharon, which is to say, every summer in the lives of my three brothers, six sisters, and me from our births through 1967.
     What I don’t “remember” is much of the framework of those memories. For instance, my grandmother, Mimi, and I were sitting on a sofa in the patio of her home. I was under the age of twenty-one. It was the cocktail hour before dinner. Everyone, as was the custom, was dressed for dinner: jackets and ties for the gentlemen, dresses for the ladies. Others of the family were there: most likely my mother; perhaps my father if the occasion was part of a weekend; any or all of my five aunts and four uncles and the spouses of those already married; perhaps my sister Pam, the second oldest in my family; maybe my brother John, the third. For some reason Mimi suspected I had managed to get rum into what was supposed to be only a coke. She asked me to let her taste it. I had no intention of doing that, but how to deny Mimi, especially in front of most of the other adults in the world whose opinion of me mattered? She pulled gently on my wrist with her left hand, reaching for the glass with her right. “Let me taste it,” she said, gently, quietly.
     “No, Mimi,” said I, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.
     Just as my mother began to notice, Mimi desisted. “Be careful about that,” she said, and no more then or ever again.
     My relief was such that I gave no thought to her words; but a quarter century later when my Uncle John, alone in a hotel room on a business trip to Canada, experienced the alcoholic bleed which killed him, I recognized the nature of her warning.
     I would say I can’t let go of that memory, but that isn’t at all what I mean. I don’t want to let go. What I want is not to wince when I visit it. That’s why I say in thrall. My memories are not part of a narrative. They are scenes running in a loop. Back in the olden days – an outdated phrase which itself is from the olden days – if one didn’t arrive for a movie on time, one could simply stay seated while most left the theater. In moments, the movie, preceded by previews and a cartoon, would start over. My brother John and I once walked into a film called Vanishing Point. We were twenty or thirty minutes late so, after it was over, we stayed where we were. Atypically, when the film reached its explosive conclusion again, we sat where we were for a third viewing. That, by the way, is the origin of the phrase, “This is where we came in.”
     At this time, half a year from age 70, I want to replace the thrall in favor of some feeling more akin to pleasure. So I will write of my memories as a gift to myself, hoping this time to leave where I came in.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | July 31, 2014

Shipboard Entertainment

      Each evening after dinner on our Alaskan cruise, Edie and I would walk through Deck Five where at that time of day, most passengers could find some form of entertainment to suit. Close enough to the main dining room to suggest shared kitchens, we’d pass by a restaurant billed as five star and featuring steak and seafood. What I suspect really distinguished this establishment from the main dining room was first, price and second, delusions of grandeur. Reservations were required although not once in fourteen days did we pass the place without noting empty tables. The price of the dinner was, I suppose, fairly modest compared to, say, Le Cirque whose heritage the shipboard chef claims; on the other hand, taking into account that all meals had been included in the fare, $39 a person extra (not including beverage other than water) seemed to us a bit uppity so we did not indulge.DSCN7113

      Passed the restaurant on the port side was a coffee bar that with the right color scheme could have passed for the kind of Starbucks one finds in supermarkets only without the seedy types piggy backing free internet access . Oddly, for being so close to the dining room where one could drink endless cups of coffee for nothing, this place did a brisk business selling their concoctions and pastries at more than Starbucks prices, at all hours, day and night.

      Beyond the coffee bar, still on the port side, is The Casino. Did you know that slot machines can no longer be accurately called “one-armed bandits?” They don’t have arms anymore. Now that I think about it, I suppose that would explain why they are now generically called “slots”. Once upon a time I played a nickel slot machine. There were no lights and no electronic sounds. The coin went in the slot and you heard it slide down a chute and clunk into a box. You pulled the arm all the way down and let it go. It returned to the upright position with a pneumatic sigh while four cylinders whirled around with a softly blurred clicking. Then they would stop, one at a time, chunking into place. When rarely all four cylinders came to rest on the same image, nickels issued down a chute and into a waiting cup which overflowed from time to winning time if the matched images all declared, “Jackpot!”

    DSCN7141  The slots in the ship’s casino are operated by buttons. In fact, the ship’s slots had no slots. There was instead a scanner under which you held your room card which had been pre-programmed with the credit card number which you, the guest, had authorized previous to embarkation. For efficiency sake, once a card had been scanned, you had the option of selecting how many “plays” you wanted to make. That way you needn’t distract yourself by constantly having to hold your card under the scanner. When you won, which is to say when the whirling images stopped whirling and most or all of them looked the same, your winnings were announced to great fanfare and flourish, and your card was credited with funds. Not to be unkind, but the slots were inhabited by mostly obese, middle aged women. Over the course of days, a Slot Tournament was held. The cumulative winning totals were kept on a white board for all who cared to see. None of the names seemed masculine.DSCN6990

      The blackjack tables were more interesting to watch. While I cannot say we saw always the same people at the same tables and machines, we did see many of the same people. The tables worked on a cash basis. You handed the croupier/dealer cash (most often hundred dollar bills), and he or she handed you an equivalency of chips. The exchange was stylized and fun to watch. Also fun was The Shuffle. At all the black jack tables save one, the shoe held 416 cards. These cards were shuffled by hand, initially deck by deck. Then the decks were cut, left apart, and shuffled together randomly. That process was repeated three times. Finally, the stack was cut by means of a player being given a red card to insert into the deck. The deck was put back together, inserted in the shoe, but before play would commence, the red card was once again inserted, somewhere in what looked to me like the rear fifth of the deck. When that card made its way forward so to the point where it appeared too few cards to play another round, the shuffling began again. Each eight deck deck was retired periodically, but the timing for that eluded me.

      The outlier table offered a one-deck blackjack game. For each hand, however, the deck was newly shuffled. The risks and rewards for that table were far greater, but I never saw the table in action.

      On occasion we would find ourselves watching a dinner companion. For no reason I can offer, I found that surprising. Dinner conversations invariably were dissections of the day’s activities ashore, or, on the days we were at sea, plans for the upcoming port. Since many of the excursions had to do with going off by water or by air to watch whales, bear, or other wild life, those who had met success were looked on with good natured envy by the rest whose had come up empty or had chosen not to do more than explore the town. Dinner conversations never touched on the Casino.

      One woman we met at dinner we were not surprised to see. She and her husband owned a wildfire fighting company in northern California. They were never not busy during the warmer months, especially since they and their equipment were ready to travel anywhere in the United States on little notice. Why we were not surprised to see her is this: she was originally from Colorado where she grew up on a ranch. Her father had not too long ago passed away and left her in sole possession of the ranch, which had been in their family for generations. In fact, her great-grandfather was the first registered owner of record, assuming the Native Americans who once thought of the land as more or less theirs did not bother with deeds and the like.DSCN7158

      No doubt you know that the United States is about to become, if it hasn’t already, the number one oil producing country in the world. Much of the newly accessed oil is to be found in Colorado, and apparently – good news for the firefighting couple – a not inconsiderable portion of the Colorado oil is accessible from the their ranch. “At first,” she told us, “we’d get a check and see it as a lark, something that was fun to get. But we didn’t take it too seriously. But when, the checks kept coming and growing, we contacted the company we’d leased to. They told us there was no reason to think the oil wouldn’t keep coming out of the ground at the same rate for twenty or more years.” So seeing her at the blackjack table? Why not?

      On the starboard side of the ship were various lounges where after dinner, music was played. In one, a duo played classical music on a piano and violin. Cute, but not in the end terribly satisfying. In the next forward, a piano player/singer held forth to a packed house every evening. Why I can’t say, for each time Edie and I chanced by, he was engaged in conversation with audience members. We never heard him sing. In the last, a trio played what was supposed to be dance music. We tried every once and again, but as someone on American Bandstand’s Rate-a-Record segment might have said, “I can’t dance to it ‘cause I can’t find the beat. I give it a 35.”

      Forward most on Deck Five was the theater where each night was presented live entertainment: three performances (shows) at 6:30 (too early), 8:00 (while we were at dinner), and 10:00 (when we were comfortably tucked in for the night). We did catch the closing minutes of a few shows when the 8 o’clock ran a little long. On the penultimate night of the cruise we finally ate early enough to see a comic. He was very entertaining and lived up to his reputation as a comedian suitable for the entire family, which is to say he found no need to punctuate his routine with a multitude of f-bombs and the like.

      Also on Deck Five were the shops, such as they were. One sold articles of clothing, either souvenir T-shirts or warm jackets and sweatshirts which sold very well as most passengers found themselves suffering by having assumed that summer in Alaska is like summer in most other parts of the Union. That shop also carried men’s dress socks, but you had to ask. I know this because I had to ask.
The other shop sold jewelry. As much as anything else, the jewelry selling was also part of the entertainment. Each night, something of little or no value was raffled off, but the winner entered automatically into a drawing for a chance to win a $15,000 dollar yellow emerald necklace.

      The only entertainment Holland America couldn’t figure out how to include in the evening program were the art auctions. Those were held during the afternoons when the ship was at sea. As to the art, you cannot imagine.

      Unpredictably, each evening ended with a small but distinct pleasure. When we returned to our cabin, quite apart from being soothed to find the beds turned down, the reading lights lit, ice bucket filled, and two chocolates left on the foot of the bed with the best wishes of the captain and entire crew for a good night’s sleep, our steward created and placed on the bed a whimsy, a fantastical creature made from hand towels and two button eyes. Now, that’s entertainment.


Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | July 16, 2014

Sharing with Others

You may not have noticed, but I certainly did. I have not posted to my blog for more than a year. There were reasons. Our stepped up house-hunting was a big one. What is also true, however, is that I was boring myself a bit. While my view of Public Education has not changed, I find have little more to add to what I’ve already said. So, I am going to let the focus of Cornvillenutmeg shift and wander with no particular intent. For the time being at least, you can expect content as diverse as the people you might meet on a cruise.

Speaking of Cruising, until last month, my previous experience with that was nil. While I have before a short time ago traveled aboard ocean-going passenger ships, the primary purpose of those ships was transporting passengers from, in the first instance, Marseille to New York City, and in the second, New York City to Le Havre. No ports of call, no shore excursions, no sharing with others.
Today, I consider myself Cruise Proficient. My wife and I have recently returned from spending fourteen nights and much of fourteen days aboard a medium-sized cruise ship (1300 passengers, 600 crew), which traveled from Seattle to Seattle visiting along the way many places in Alaska and one city in Canada.

At this point, I need to admit that I am a reserved and reticent person. I like people well enough; I just don’t want to spend much time with them. I’m very happy to make conversation with, say, the check-out person in my supermarket. I would rather not engage in conversation with a seat mate on the rare occasions I travel without my wife; but I’m not rude, and if someone wants to tell me about his grandchildren or chiropractor, I will listen after a fashion and make empathetic sounds and short comments. I do not as a rule, however, encourage further intercourse by sharing. On a cruise,being reserved and reticent is not an easy thing to pull off.
At home, we don’t take three or four sit down meals a day. Our breakfasts are, mostly cold cereal relieved by fruit. From then until supper we graze, each on his own. At sea, on the other hand, we ate in the main Dining Room each morning, mid-afternoon, and evening. Lunch we took on an upper deck where a luncheon buffet was served school cafeteria style which is not a judgment of the quantity, quality, or variety of fare. Plates full, we searched for unoccupied seats where we joined other passengers, their mid-day meal already in progress. We often visited mid-afternoon High Tea served in the upper level of the Main Dining Room, and except for one blessed occasion, we did so in company. What each and every one of these dining opportunities meant to me, apart from a growing fear of growing fat, was dismaying and unavoidable opportunities to share with others.
Now, we could have limited our exposure to other guests, as passengers are repeatedly referred to. We could have chosen to eat at the same time each evening, at 5:15 or 8:00. That way we would have eaten with the same people at the same table each evening. (If you are like me at all, the possibility that the people you could find yourself with for the next fortnight would turn out to be less than ideal companions occurs to you immediately. I kept that to myself, however.) In the end we decided the first seating was too early and the other too late; we chose instead “open seating.”

At the entrance to the Dining Room, stern-most on Deck Four, one is greeted by the Dining Room Steward or his assistant. One is asked one’s stateroom number. All cabins are staterooms, even our 171 square feet with unobstructed ocean view the enjoyment of which necessitated only the slightest contortion. (Quite simple really, once you got the hang of it. Starting from a supine position – back of the head on pillow, feet facing the stateroom door – turn over, come to all fours, kneel up, arms at your side, forearms raised, shuffle forward on your knees, lean forward until your forearms come to rest on the sill in front of you. There before you is the ocean, or the coast line, or an interesting view of pier pilings, all depending, of course, on the ship’s location.)

The Steward enters the number you gave, then says, “Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so?”

You nod or say, “Yes.”

The Steward says, “Happy to share?”

Our first evening I had no idea what that meant. “I beg your pardon?” I said.

“Happy to share with others?”

I looked at my wife. I don’t hear all that well, and while I was wearing my hearing aids, certain voices, higher pitched and soft ones particularly, are still difficult. All the dining room staff, in fact most of the crew, are Indonesian. They all speak excellent if not unaccented English, but their voices are also soft and higher pitched. It must be an island thing. Most were from Bali.

The steward rephrased. “Happy to share a table with other guests?”

“Yes,” my wife said before I could think to ask if there weren’t possibly some tables for one or two set aside for reserved, reticent curmudgeons such as I.
And so began our Cruise, my first, during which I shared intimately with more adult human beings in fourteen days than I had cumulatively during my previous 68 years.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | June 18, 2013

Adding Wheels

Last time we met, we were talking about the idea of Reinventing the Wheel as a way of describing what happens when a faculty in an independent school wrestles with a part of its school’s structure in need of attention.  I had said I would continue that discussion in regards to public schools.  The answer to the unasked question is, no.  Wheels do not get reinvented in public schools.  Instead, more wheels are added.

Cornvillenutmeg readers know I am not a fan of Public Education as it exists today; that does not mean I am less than an enthusiastic supporter of teachers, whether they labor in public or independent schools, so let me say a quick word here about teachers in general.  There are far more good ones than not, and the good ones work their psyches to the bone.  No, don’t say it and stop thinking it.  That gripe about how much time off teachers get compared to any other profession is a fiction.  Good teachers (not the handful of not-good ones who are, I’m sorry to have to say this, as hard to be rid of as ticks on deer) routinely work four and five and more hours each day before and after the school day comes and goes;  and it is the rare teacher who does not also work during summer break out of necessity.  You needn’t take my word for this, just ask your child’s teachers next time you speak with them.


Public Education doesn’t understand innovation.  In its transitive meaning, innovate suggests introducing something for the first or (more serviceably) as if for the first time.  It is the intransitive meaning that Public Education defaults to in what passes for thinking: viz.,  to introduce something new.  Thus, there is no wheel reinventing in Public Education, nor will there likely ever be because the faculty of a public school has no opportunity even to think about its structure, let alone engage in trying to fix or amend any part that is not working satisfactorily.

I use something called Update Checker.  It periodically pops up and tells me that one or more of the various programs my brother Tim told me I couldn’t live without have available updates of themselves.  Dutifully, I do the requisite clicking and soon enough those programs are updated, but I worry; for I believe in my heart that each update lays down another stratum on top of previous updates so that someday, probably later today, there will be so many strata my poor hard drive will crack under the weight of them all.  I accept my worries may be mistaken, but if you follow the thought, you have a notion as to how Public Education practices innovation.  Nothing is either invented or reinvented;  what was there is only added to and/or covered over.

For example, my second year of public school teaching,  the Board of Education (BE), in anticipation of the next New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation visit, mandated that there be a system wide Curriculum Initiative (CI).  The CI directed the system’s Administrative Council (AC), comprised of assistant-superintendents, principals, assistant principals, and supervisors, to create a Multi-Departmental Study Group (MDSG).  The MDSG recommended the creation of Departmental Curriculum Revision and Development Committees (DCRDC) in each individual school of which there are one high, one middle, and three elementary. It will perhaps not surprise you to know that the DCRDCs were, in fact,  the various academic departments themselves (Math, Social Studies, etc.), but if the MDSG had simply tasked the departments, the wealth of acronyms would not have been complemented.  The mission of the DCRDSs was, of course, curriculum assessment and revision, something academic departments do anyway, all the damn time.

Thus it was that at the first meeting of the English/Language Arts Curriculum Revision and Development Committee, I encountered for the first but tediously not the last by a long shot, what passes in Public Education (see previous post) as Reinventing the Wheel.

The Supervisor of the  English/Language Arts Department, also the de facto head of the E/LACRDC, announced that our work was to be focused on making ours an Outcomes Based Curriculum (OBC).

My training as a teacher, unlike that of all my colleagues at the time, is accurately described as on-the-job.  My first year, no one, not the English Department Chairman nor the Headmaster nor the Assistant Headmaster made one suggestion as to how I might approach teaching.  I was given the text books for the courses, told where to meet my classes, and wished the very best of luck.  The rest was up to me.  To be sure, I am not advocating for that method, only explaining that, not having studied Education, my professional vocabulary was limited. 

Before migrating to Public Education, I did take a handful of Education courses in order to be officially certified by the State of Connecticut, just in case, so I knew a few words in edu-speak.  Outcomes was not, however, one of them.  Now, since our work as the E/LACRDC was important enough to give our department a brand new name, I didn’t feel comfortable letting the E/LA Supervisor get too deeply into his explanation of the scut work we were going to be required to do.  What is an outcome, I wanted to know?

God bless him, he tried.  Oh, how he tried to define that word for me.  He said all sorts of things, but no matter how he put it, I couldn’t understand the word outcomes as meaning anything other than consequence or effect.  The problem was my influency with edu-speak.  He was a native speaker;  I but a novice with, frankly, no desire to be anything but.  My limited vocabulary included the word for students (learners) and tests (assessments).  I knew what contact time meant – don’t ask – and after prolonged effort and tears of frustration, I had forced myself to distinguish goals from objectives (hint:  no matter what your thesaurus might suggest, in edu-speak those words are not synonyms). 

Out of a sense of desperation and concern for my colleagues who looked as though they were hoping I might be struck with an incurable case of hiccups, I asked the E/LA Supervisor if perhaps an outcome might be thought of as an objective

Well, yes, he said, sighing and reaching for the next stack of handouts.

Oh, said I, but wait.  So if now objectives are outcomes, what’s the new word for goals?

He gave me an avuncular smile;  at least, I think that’s what he was trying for.  Expectations. 

Oh, I see. 

He sighed and smiled.

Of a sudden, I had what I still think today was a brilliant idea:  couldn’t we just use the Find & Replace command in MS Word on the current curriculum documents and save us all a lot of time?

The E/LA Supervisor thought I was trying to be funny.  He smiled and sighed.


The specifics of the efforts of the E/LACRDC have faded from memory.  I do know that whatever they were had no effect, no consequence other than the production of a document unlike the old document in no meaningful way other than in vocabulary.  The NEASC visit came and went.  The high school was certified for another ten years, and all the concomitant hyper activity died down.  What did not happen was anything that made the schooling of the town’s children any better.

Let me hear from you, if you would.  Either leave a comment or e-mail me at



Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | June 6, 2013

Reinventing the Wheel


     My first teaching job was at Indian Mountain School, a junior boarding and day school.  Each weekday we held a special study hall y at 5:15 p.m. for boarding students  It was called 5:15.  Any student who failed to do his homework could be assigned to 5:15.  Looked at in the most positive way, 5:15 was the school providing a supervised setting for students to make-up work not done for a class.  Looked at in the least positive way, it was a punishment given to students for not having done their homework. 

     Faculty entered students’ names into a notebook labeled 5:15 along with details of their assignments.  Each day a different teacher supervised the study hall.  He or she was called the 5:15 Master, irrespective of gender.  Each day another different teacher was assigned what was called 5:15 Roving duty.  That teacher was called The Rover.  Rovers spent their time between roughly five o’clock and five minutes to six roving the main building, just in case. 

     A minute or so after 5:15, the Rover checked in with the 5:15 Master.  The latter handed the former a list of names of students who had not shown up for 5:15.  The Rover’s task was to find those students and remind them of their obligation.  That often turned out to be a goose chase since at that time of day students were not required to be anywhere in particular.  There were, however, a number of places they were required not to be.  A missing 5:15 assignee was more likely to be in those places than where other students usually congregated, common and dormitory rooms.  To be fair, some students really did just forget, but not too many.  Some habitual offenders made it a habit to check in with the 5:15 Master just to see if their presence was required.

     Once in a while, 5:15 worked in its most positive way.  A student who regularly did do his homework might, say, have simply run short of time.  Such a student would report dutifully, prepared with text, paper, and pencil, do his assignment and, were study hall not yet officially over when he finished, be dismissed early.  Should you think that such examples had a salubrious effect on the habitual 5:15 students, think again.

     Having found a missing student, Rovers did not as rule escort him to the study hall, they simply told the student to go there.  Then, later on, the Rover checked in to see if the missing had shown up.  Those that did not became the subject of a discipline report. 

     Indian Mountain’s boarding population  in those days was all male.  One year two of my fifth graders were not very good about doing their homework.  They happened to be day students.  We did not generally have boarders that young.

     I began to send home what I called 5:15 Letters.  The letter – a mostly mimeographed note – explained what 5:15 Study Hall was and noted that “were insert student’s name here  a boarder, he or she would have been assigned to 5:15 Study Hall for the following assignment:  insert details of assignment.  Please sign this letter and have student’s name  return it to me tomorrow with the completed assignment.”

     I thought it was a neat idea.  The parents of those day students did not, perhaps because the letter turned them into de facto combination 5:15 Masters/Rovers.  One mother called me after a week or so and told me to stop giving her son those letters.  That flummoxed me.  I still thought the idea was a neat one, and so, in fact, had other faculty members who adopted.  The more who sent 5:15 Letters home, the more Day Parents who were less than enthused.  In due course, 5:15 Study Hall became a Faculty Meeting Agenda Item.

     The IMS faculty met each Wednesday evening at 7:30 in the library.  On Wednesdays, all boarding students were required to go to a supervised evening study hall so all but one faculty could attend the meeting, at least until 8:30.  Those meetings often lasted until eleven or even later.  Faculty who had left the meeting at 8:30 to supervise a dormitory till after lights out commonly returned to the meeting.  To tell you the truth, I liked them.  I found them stimulating and sometimes exciting, but I was then mostly one side or the other of thirty years old than not.  I’m not sure I would have felt the same way twenty-years on.

     The night that 5:15 Study Hall came up for discussion, the meeting lasted a long, long time.  I won’t try to recount it, but I will tell you that the concept of 5:15 was deconstructed, torn apart, torn down, abolished, introduced, modified, modified again, rebuilt and reestablished.  The reestablished 5:15, called 5:15, bore an uncanny resemblance to the former 5:15.

     Some days after, perhaps over the weekend during a social evening, conversation turned to 5:15.  The Headmaster, Dick Rouse, spoke about how the faculty had re-invented the wheel.  Dick was, for me anyway, the best head of school I ever worked under.  Someone asked him if he had known the reinvention of 5:15 was likely to happen.  Yes, he did.  Why,we asked?  Because re-inventing the wheel is very often a very good thing to do.

     As far as I know, 5:15 Study Hall was already an institution since before any of the faculty then teaching at Indian Mountain came to work there.  No of us gave it much thought;  it was what happened Monday through Friday at 5:15.  We assumed it to be a good thing educationally.  The reinvention we went through let all of us experience the creation of 5:15 as a pedagogical means to an end.  In the process we focused on the good it was intended to do, and the unintended but nevertheless real not so good consequences.  Namely, a habitual 5:15 habitué was likely not benefiting from the experience.  In the New and Improved 5:15, those who showed up three times or more a week were treated to a variety of different approaches.  Advisors invited their chronic 5:15 advisees to spend the 5:15 period with them, working on their homework and, perhaps, study habits.  Some teachers began to hold special 5:15 classes to which they “invited” students rather than sending them to the official 5:15.  Resident faculty in dormitories were encouraged to make note of what students had been assigned to 5:15 Study Hall each day and to seek them out.  Shower lists began to have check marks next to the names of students who were assigned to 5:15 Study Hall, and thus were reminded after sports of their obligation.  (In a junior boarding school, everything is supervised.)

     All of those innovations made 5:15 mostly affirmative.  Next time I’ll tell you how and why, in my experience, a 5:15 study hall would never exist in public school, and were it to exist, how any attempt at reformation through reinvention would be botched.

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | February 20, 2013

Shared (Classroom) Spaces

Unless you are in Public Education (or, alas, in much of  Independent Education as well), if someone were to ask you the meaning of the word consequence, you might say something close to the following:  “Why consequence means something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition.”   Or, let me see, you could say, “A consequence is the relation of a result to its cause.”  Or, to put it yet another way, “A logical conclusion or inference.”  For the dictionary hound, those three definitions come from the American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin).

Those in Public Education know that consequence really means punishment.  Observe.

Place: Mr. Assistant Principal’s Office.

Day:  Thursday.

Time:  11:27 A.M.


Mr. Assistant Principal:  Come in, Tom, have a seat.

Tom:  (saying nothing, shuffling into Mr. AP’s office.  He sits in the chair in front of Mr. AP’s desk.  He’s been here before.)

Mr. AP:  Do you know what I have here, Tom?

Tom:  No.  (He does know, but he’s not going to participate in the process any more than he can help.)

Mr. AP:  It’s a Discipline Referral from Mrs. Leary.

Tom:  So?

Mr. AP:  Does that help you remember?

Tom:  How can I remember what I don’t know?

Mr. AP:  Last Monday, when she sent you to the office?

Tom:  Not ringing a bell.

Mr. AP:  For using inappropriate language…

Tom:  That was bullshit, she….

Mr. AP:  …after warning you repeatedly.

Tom:  She accused me of not doing my homework?

Mr. AP:  You couldn’t produce it.

Tom:  What?

Mr. AP:  You didn’t have it with you.

Tom:  How does that mean I didn’t do it?

Mr. AP:  Did you do it?

Tom:  What?

Mr. AP:  Had you done your homework?

Tom:   Honestly?

Mr. AP:  Yes, Tom.  Honestly.  Had you done your homework?

Tom:  No (pause.  Mr. AP is about to add something else)  But she didn’t know that.  She said I was lying.

Mr. AP:  Well, it sounds to me, from what you just said, that you were.

Tom:  How do you like it when people call you a liar?

Mr. AP:  If that were to happen, which it doesn’t, I’m sure I wouldn’t like it at all.

Tom:  See? 

Mr. AP:  Do I see what?

Tom:  It was bullshit.

Mr. AP:  (deciding the interview has gone on more than long enough)  The Consequence for your being removed from Mrs. Leary’s class is Saturday School?

Tom:  No way!

Mr. AP:  It’s in the Student Handbook, under Disciplinary Consequences, p. 47.  (reading from the handbook)  Infraction:  Removal from Class.  Consequence:  Saturday School.  Sorry, Tom,  my hands are tied.

Tom:  What if I don’t show up?

Mr. AP:  (reading again)  Infraction:  Failure to attend Saturday School.  Consequence:  One day in-school suspension.

Tom:  I’ll take that.  At least I won’t have to listen to Leary’s bullshit.


Had I not heard conversations indistinguishable from the one I imagined above, I would not have taken the time to illustrate the point that way.  But I have, too many times, in fact.

Now remember my last post on Food for Thought?  No?  Well, okay.  That was my fault.  I said I’d write more in a few days and a few days has turned into a couple or three weeks.  So if you need to refresh your memory, I’ll wait while you look it over.


Right, now the last line was[Shared Spaces is] saying you’ve got to put responsibility back on people, not on the government.”  Reread that line, but, (1) change people to students, (2) add the word teachers, (3) change government to administrators, (4) begin the sentence at put, and (5) delete the word back.  Now we have:  Put responsibility on students and teachers, not on the administrators.

 I hope I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure most public school teachers would howl at the very idea.  Teachers, most especially those who went to teacher college, will talk your ear off if you want to hear about their approach to Classroom Management, but Discipline is something handled by Administrators so Teachers can concentrate on the import work of Educating Learners. 


To save myself time, I checked out Shard Spaces on Wikipedia and found this:

Risk compensation (also Peltzman effect, risk homeostasis) is an observed effect in ethology whereby people tend to adjust their behavior in response to perceived level of risk, behaving less cautiously where they feel more protected and more cautiously where they feel a higher level of risk. The theory emerged out of road safety research after it was observed that many interventions failed to achieve the expected level of benefits but has since found application in many other fields.


Peltzman, by the way, is Dr. Sam Peltzman.  You can find him speaking about the Peltzman Effect on YouTube.  He’s interesting.

Rooting around on Google, I discovered the following from Dr. Gerald G.S. Wilde in a discussion of Risk Homeostasis.

People alter their behaviour in response to the implementation of health and safety measures, but the riskiness of the way they behave will not change, unless those measures are capable of motivating people to alter the amount of risk they are willing to incur. (Wilde, 1994)


I shall paraphrase to suit my purpose:  Students alter their classroom behavior in response to the implementation of different consequences ( or perhaps I should say negative or positive results) for enumerated behaviors, but the appropriateness of the way they behave will not change unless those consequences are capable of motivating students to alter the amount of risk they are willing to incur.  In the imagined conversation above, Tom’s consequence is an acceptable result of his behavior in Mrs. Leary’s class.  As the saying has it, if you do the crime, you do the time.  The result of Tom’s blissfully spending his day suspended from classes will certainly be a repetition of the behavior that got him to be suspended in the first place.  Being suspended will bring about no chance Tom will mend his ways and (a) begin to do his homework, and/or (b) stop lying about doing his homework.  Nor will his vocabulary improve.

Educators allow themselves to think that motivation is exclusively a positive term, but it is not.  People young and old can be motivated by unattractive alternatives, too.  New to Arizona and not wise to the pleasure the local gendarmerie take in strictly enforcing traffic laws in this part of the state, I ran afoul of a motorcycle policeman whom I now think of as Officer Bonaparte due to the fact that, once he had dismounted and arrived outside the driver’s window, he and I were looking deeply and directly into each other’s eyes.  I had indeed done the crime (although to be fair to myself, it was due to my unfamiliarity with the eccentricities of the town’s ideas of from which of three lanes one may or may not make a left hand turn rather than my anarchic driving habits) and so unhappily I accepted the time, so to speak.  As a result, I am highly motivated not to go through yellow lights, squeeze out in front of on-coming traffic, go faster then 25 miles per hour in a residential zone, 15 mph in a school zone while school is in session, or make a turn from a lane not explicitly created for such a turn.

It used to be that a managed classroom was one in which acceptable and appropriate behavior was expected by the teacher;  conversely. inappropriate behavior was not accepted.  Appropriate, by which I mean good, behavior was rewarded in myriad ways.  A smile, a pat, a note sent home, encouragement, praise, a congratulatory comment, gold stars.  Bad behavior was also responded to.  A frown, a sharp word, a note sent home, what a former colleague used to call “the hairy eye-ball,” detention, removal from class which sometime led to rustication§ .  The latter was the last and least favored, for in such cases, teachers understood clearly that they were admitting failure and turning their problem over to someone else who, by virtue of hierarchical position, was more authoritative and intimidating.

In Middle Schools across the country children learn, of course, many things.  One of the most momentous lessons they learn is this:  almost nothing they do, write, or say is  less than wonderful, astonishing, marvelous, splendid, great, super, incomparable, excellent, and/or outstanding.  Don’t believe me?  Do this:  if you are still young enough to have held on to the journals you wrote in Middle School, look through them.  See what words your teachers used in comments about your efforts.  If you are parents of Middle School children, look at their journals.  If you are a Middle School English teacher and you don’t write such comments, congratulations!  You are an uncommonly sensical person.

To return to the Shared Spaces concept and applying it to the classroom:  what might be the eventual result if next day after Labor Day, teachers were to remove from their bulletin boards the Rules for My Class; e.g., (1) Be On-Time, (2) Bring Appropriate Materials:  book, paper, pencil or pen, assignment book, (3) Be Courteous,  (4) Raise Your Hand.  (5)  Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work, (6) Do Not Leave Your Seat without Permission?  In other words, what might happen if the principles of Shared Spaces were applied to a classroom? 

Given a teacher with the requisite courage, students would bump up against results (consequences) of inappropriate and unacceptable behavior that made them feel not wonderful, astonishing, marvelous, splendid, great, super, incomparable, excellent, and/or outstanding in any way whatsoever.  On the other hand, they would also discover a number of behaviors that resulted in their feeling good in any number of ways.  These behaviors they would fairly quickly come to understand as ones that are appropriate, acceptable, appreciated, and rewarding.  Does this sound familiar to you at all?  Do you recall the term Behavior Modification?

Once upon a time, teachers made use of what eventually became known as Operant Conditioning because it worked for most all of their students.  Then the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers cast their spell, and Public Education committed itself to Improving and Reforming itself every five to seven years or so, thereby credulously throwing the babies out with the bath water.  In the end, Shared Spaces is a return to doing things that makes sense.  Where the concept of Shared Spaces is applied and ends up making for happier, healthier, safer places, it will have been because behavior in those places has been modified.  There will have been enough positive and negative consequences to people’s actions that the people will have chosen those behaviors that were rewarded and eschewed those that were not. 

  • § You’ll recognize this word as meaning suspended or expelled if you happen to have had the pleasure of seeing the Spencer Tracy film, Captains Courageous.  I used it because I may never have another chance.
Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | January 28, 2013

Madrid Shared Space_Oct09-mk

Madrid Shared Space_Oct09-mk (Photo credit: EURIST e.V.)

English: Illustration of road furnishing accor...

English: Illustration of road furnishing according to ‘shared space’, a traffic concept by the Dutch traffic scientist Hans Monderman. Nederlands: Voorbeeld van weginrichting volgens ‘shared space’, een verkeersconcept bedacht door verkeerskundige Hans Monderman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning I offer food for thought.  I am reprinting (reposting?) a portion of today’s “Morning Jolt” by Jim Geraghty.  The Jolt in its entirety can be found at National Review On-Line (

)  I’d like to know what you think about this, and in few days I’ll let you know what I think.  For now, I’m mulling notions of ideas pertaining to how Shared Spaces might be integrated into Public Education in interesting and ameliorative ways.


Two years ago, Gary Toth and several other staffers from the Project for Public Spaces traveled to the Netherlands to look at intersections. A handful of towns there have embraced a radical idea, originally the brainchild of the late Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman: Remove all the traffic lights, signs, curbs and lane markings from roads, and people will share them more effectively.

Drivers, bikers and pedestrians will make eye contact with one another. They’ll cooperate. They’ll move through public space with a greater sense of its communal utility. In Europe, the result has proven to be safer and more efficient — and more social — for everyone involved.

This concept, known as Shared Spaces, contradicts pretty much all conventional thinking about traffic engineering, and partly for that reason, it has never caught on in the United States. Slowly, though, a growing cast of advocates like Toth, a 34-year veteran of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, want to seed it here.

“If you put stripes on the roadway, speed limit signs, stop signs, crosswalks, and tell everybody what to do, then you’ve removed the responsibility from the human beings who are moving around that space, they have no responsibility for their actions anymore,” Toth said, channeling Monderman’s philosophy. “The light turns green, I go. The sign says I go 25, I go 25. The crosswalk says I walk here. [Shared Spaces is] saying you’ve got to put responsibility back on people, not on the government.”

Morning Jolt, Jim Geraghty, National Review On-Line

Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | January 18, 2013

Did You Know?

The Centers for Disease Control publishes each year the “National Vital Statistics Reports.  All data below is taken from Volume 61,  Number 6:  “Deaths:  Preliminary Data for 2011.”


     Did you know that in addition to the 34,677 people who died in automobile accidents, an additional 952 died in other land transport accidents?  And 1,647 died from water, air, and space, and “other unspecified transport accidents and their sequelae?”  That would be 37,276 people who died as the result of accidents with things on average under less restriction than the purchase and ownership of firearms.

Did you know that accidental discharge of firearms killed 861 people;  but 3,555 died from accidental drowning and submersion, 2,621 from accidental exposure to smoke, fire and flames, and 33,554 from accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances?

     Alcoholic liver disease killed 16,634 people.

     Malnutrition and other nutritional deficiencies were responsible for the deaths of 6,170 people.  Salmonella, shigellosis (dysentery caused by any of various species of shigellae, occurring most frequently in areas where poor sanitation and malnutrition are prevalent and commonly affecting children and infants), and certain other intestinal infections carried off 11,022.

     38,285 people committed suicide;  Of those, 19,766 shot themselves, and 18,519 found other means of carrying themselves off.  There were 11,101 homicides caused by discharge of firearms, and 4,852 people were murdered by “other and unspecified means and their sequelae.”  2,580 people lost their lives as the result of complications of medical and surgical care.

     40,239 people died from drug induced deaths, and alcohol took care of another 26,256.  Enterocolitis due to Clostridium difficile, a nasty bacteria that causes severe diarrhea in people whose native population of gut flora has been eradicated by antibiotics, killed 7,994.


The following information pertains to Wisconsin.  I did not specifically select Wisconsin.  It was simply the first state to come up on an internet search of laws concerning the sale of alcohol.  For gun laws, I stayed with Wisconsin.


     Top obtain a license to sell alcohol in Wisconsin, you have to be twenty-one and have lived in Wisconsin for at least 90 days.  You need to have a seller’s permit issued by the Department of Revenue and have completed a responsible beverage server training course.  It’s probably better if you do not have a criminal record, but in the end, whether to issue an ex-con a license or not is up to the given municipality.  The municipality will look at your record carefully.  If you have been convicted of, say, selling liquor without a license or tax evasion, the relevant officials may have some trouble with that.  On the other hand, a conviction for auto theft won’t automatically deep six your chances.  They will look closely at the nature of your violation and take into consideration your overall record in the community (

     Wisconsin apparently has some of the most liberal gun laws in the United States.  Nevertheless, it does seem to pay more attention to who may and may not own a gun than it does to who may or may not sell alcohol.

     Felons are prohibited from possessing firearms.  Now it is true that federal law and some individual states may restore to felons their civil rights, which would include being able to own a gun, but Wisconsin only does that if a felon receives a pardon from the governor.

     Wisconsin law prohibits minors from possessing firearms, but it does make exceptions for long guns used for hunting or firearms used during adult supervised activities such as target shooting.  But, minors judged delinquent based on a felony may not own any type of gun.  Not only that, school districts must suspend pupils found in possession of a firearm either on school property or while under the supervision of a school, which of course would not really have applied to Adam Lanza. 

     Nor would the restrictions imposed on the mentally ill have applied.  The mentally ill may not possess firearms, under certain fairly particular circumstances.  If a person was charged with a felony but found not guilty or not responsible due to mental illness, that person may not possess firearms. Also a person who has been involuntarily committed for treatment of mental illness, drug dependency, or developmental disability, should the court deem the person to be a threat to self or others, such a person may not possess firearms.  In addition, when a person is involuntarily committed as delineated above, that person’s firearms are to be seized or stored until the person is judged no longer to suffer from the mental illness and no longer likely to be a danger to himself or others. 

     If you have a restraining order on you, you may not possess firearms and you are required to surrender your firearms to the county sheriff or a third party approved by the court. 

     In addition, even if you are not one of those classes of people prohibited from possessing firearms, you may not anyway possess machine guns (not to be confused with what some call assault rifles;  a machine gun is fully automatic such  that depressing and holding down the trigger causes the machine gun to fire non-stop until its magazine is empty or it jams.  A machine gun is difficult to control as the uninterrupted firing tends to cause the barrel to rise unless it is held down firmly.  Typically, a fully automatic weapon specialist – think military or SWAT – becomes expert at firing bursts of three to four rounds at a time rather than emptying the magazine in seconds).

     One may not own a sawed–off shotgun or similarly modified rifle. Armor-piercing ammunition is banned by federal law, as are plastic firearms that cannot be sensed by metal detectors.

     It is illegal to use firearms in armed robbery, burglary, or carjacking.  (What might a law abiding robber be able to use other than a firearm in an armed robbery, do you think?)  Discharging a firearm from a vehicle is prohibited as also are drive-by shootings which you might have thought would have been covered by the previously mentioned prohibition, but I guess Wisconsin is just leaving nothing to chance.  You may also not shoot into a vehicle or building.  You may not provide a firearm to a prisoner.  You may not steal a firearm.  You may not use a firearm negligently or while intoxicated.  Furthermore, discharging a firearm near a residence, a public park, at trains or near highways and roads all are prohibited.

     Carrying or displaying facsimile firearms is prohibited.  Imitation firearms are prohibited.  And to avoid any confusion, using those prohibited armor piercing bullets is also prohibited.

     It is illegal to sell, lend, or give a firearm to a child, and if you do that and the child shoots someone, the punishment for that will be greater than it might have been, except for that particular prohibition doesn’t apply to rifles and shotguns used for hunting or target practice under adult supervision.  If you leave or store a loaded firearm “recklessly,” and a child under the age of fourteen gets her hands on it, displays it in a public place or uses it to injure or kill someone, you will be considered guilty of a misdemeanor. 

     Wisconsin law, as do the laws of pretty much every state including Connecticut,  prohibits the possession or shooting of a firearm within a school zone.  Such zones are called Gun Free School Zones.  And everybody who is disposed to be law-abiding obeys that law with perfectly predictable results when someone not so inclined and in possession of one or more firearms invades such a zone.

     Wisconsin requires anyone born after January 1, 1973, to complete a Hunter Education Program before being issued a hunting license.  The program includes instruction in the commonly accepted safety principles for handling hunting firearms. 

     Recall that Wisconsin’s gun laws are considered liberal, in the sense of not strict.  Do you think it’s fair to say that getting a license to sell alcohol which accounted for the premature deaths of 42,890 people in 2011 is easier than buying and keeping guns, which can be said to have been the second-hand cause of death (you know the saying, guns don’t kill people, people do) of 31, 728?

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