Tag Archives: Travel

A Long Overdue Update Before School Starts

It’s been a crazy summer.  After LA, the SOS March in DC, and a week in Delaware cut short by Hurricane Irene, it may do me some good to get back in the classroom.  Here’s some odds and ends to take care of:

  • The “conversion” experience post has generated quite an interest.  James Boutin and I have collected a few stories already, and we might have a website in the works to showcase these courageous teachers speaking out.  Other bloggers/activists are also interested in the project. Please PLEASE keep the stories coming!
  • In all the Irene hoopla, we forgot about the upcoming September 11 anniversary.  The 10th anniversary of 9/11 comes just as school years start, so its kind of a downer.  Still, its an important one.  Make sure you cover this with your students–and include any personal experiences you can.  The more personal, the better the connection with your kids (Many of whom might not remember, or weren’t born yet!)
  • My school is in flux this week…some new administrators, possibly new staff.  I’m going to post probably one or two more times before school starts up after Labor Day.  But if you don’t see me for a while, you know why.

Have a great school year, everyone!

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Off to California: Mr. D is in LA until 7/25

Sorry about yesterday. For some reason, WordPress ate my Bastille Day post and it disappeared without a trace. (You guys really should look into that.)

Anyway, I’m finally flying out to Los Angeles, just in time for the closure of the 405 known as Carmagedon. No worries, since I fly into Burbank, and my sister lives on the north side of the trouble zone.

It should be a week of fun and sun…anyway, lots of sun.

That said, I may post once or twice during my stay, especially since the Save Our Schools March will happen soon after I come back. I’ll have to see if my schedule concurs.

So if you don’t see me, you can catch me at the march in DC the last weekend of the month.

Gotta go. Have fun without me.

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Hollywood History: Possible Scripts to Pitch in LA

I’ve heard that everyone in Los Angeles either walks around with a headshot or a screenplay. So, when in Rome… (or West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Malibu, etc.)

Next week, I will be in the sunny confines of southern California, home of the proverbial swimming pools and movie stars. Since Mr. D is just too ravishingly handsome for the screen, he should probably have some sort of treatment with him in case he gets discovered…you never know.

In researching possible script ideas, I’ve noticed that many incredible stories from history have not gotten their proper Hollywood treatment. Some, such as Giuseppe Garibaldi and Enrico Fermi, I’ve discussed before. On this trip, however, let’s look at other stories that have been overlooked—as well as some interesting casting ideas.

1. Andrew Jackson

Why? – The guy, like so many characters in history, is custom-designed for great moviemaking. Orphaned at a young age, wounded in the Revolution as a teenager, taking revenge on the British, the Seminoles, the Creeks, the Cherokee and anyone who slandered his two-timing wife—Jackson can make up a miniseries, let alone a multi-reeler.

The Lead? – tough, but I have in mind Jon Hamm and Nick Nolte: Hamm as the younger Jackson through 1815, and Nolte as the presidential figure. Either of them could take a pistol shot and whip a man into oblivion, a necessary trait for the role.

2. DeWitt Clinton

Why? – Clinton is the complicated hero-politician that has been so overlooked by Hollywood, largely because of location. Clinton is a New York guy, doing New York things that affected the whole country. He also had an outsized reputation: any man called “Magnus Apollo” in his lifetime deserves a treatment.

The Lead? – Colin Firth, no question. Firth has the gravitas to build the Erie Canal, the height that matched Clinton’s stature, and he already did a splendid turn in Regency attire in Pride and Prejudice. He almost matches the paintings.

3. William Johnson

Why?Dances with Wolves meets Last of the Mohicans. There’s something about Europeans going native that drives moviegoers into theaters. Furthermore, Johnson’s exploits with his Iroquois army are legendary, including Crown Point, Fort Niagara and the siege of Montreal. The subplot of his Irishness helping him win friends with the natives can also guarantee an Oscar nod.

The Lead? – At first, I thought Liam Neeson, but in retrospect it doesn’t really work with the historical Johnson. A better choice would be the crazy Irishman from Braveheart, David O’Hara. I’ve seen him in other roles, and he has a toughness and a stature that could make this a breakout role for him. Being Irish also helps.

4. James Michael Curley

Why? – Curley is the kind of outsized, megalomaniacal, controversial political kingpin that audiences love. As mayor of Boston, Congressman, governor of Massachusetts, and convicted felon, Curley was the father of modern ethnic politics. Taking cues from New York’s Tammany Hall, he created a similar apparatus in Massachusetts, mobilizing the Irish—much to the disdain of the Boston Brahmins that dominated the state until that point.

The Lead? – I really wish he got his shit together, because Tom Sizemore would be perfect to play Curley. The guy just oozes Boston tough guy, but with just enough polish that could make him give respectable speeches to demure New England citizens.

5. Victoria Woodhull

Why? – Many forget that Woodhull was the first American woman to run for President in 1872. On top of that, she was incredibly controversial, even among women suffragists—free love, labor reform (of the quasi-Marxist kind), eugenics and spiritualism were also on Woodhull’s agenda. That was enough to make Susan B. Anthony soil her bloomers.

The Lead? – Not really sure, could use some help from the Neighborhood on this one. Most of the actresses in mind are pretty long in the tooth for this role, but any ideas are welcome.

6. Al Smith

Why? – Smith was a run-of-the-mill Tammany hack until March 25, 1911. After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he became a driving force for workplace and social reform in New York—the true father of the New Deal. The climax could be his 1928 presidential run, where he faced anti-Catholic and anti-Irish prejudice in a humiliating defeat.

The Lead?J. K. Simmons. I first saw him in the HBO series Oz, as the neo-Nazi Vernon Schillinger. Yet even then I saw a command of the screen, coupled with a human touch, that would be just right for the role of the Happy Warrior.

7. The Healys (Patrick, Michael, and James)

Why? – The subplot alone is compelling: an Irish planter takes a mulatto enslaved woman as his common law wife. They have three sons illegally, as interracial marriage is forbidden in antebellum Georgia. To educate them, the three are sent to Catholic schools in the north, as education for blacks is forbidden. Each of the Healys is light enough to pass as white: another conflict as their exploits are shown.

The Lead? – I’m really confused here. Because the Healy boys were so light-skinned, I’m not sure whether to use white talent or Black. I’m not even sure which actors would really fit well. Again, some help from the Neighborhood would help.

8. The Culper Spy Ring

Why? – looking for a great espionage thriller, full of sex, intrigue, double-crossing, violence and plot twists? Look no further than the Culper Ring, a ring of spies in New York and Long Island that spied on the British for George Washington—even as many posed as loyal Tories. They are the ancestors of the modern CIA, and their exploits probably make them more successful, on average.

The Lead? – We have little, if any, information on the true identities, let alone the appearances, of the members of the ring: their identities were not divulged until the 1930s. Casting, then, is wide open to traditional leading men, leading ladies, action heroes, you name it.

9. Robert Moses

Why? – The Power Broker himself: for a half a century, Moses was the most powerful man in New York State without holding a single elected office. He rammed highways, bridges, tunnels, parks, beaches and housing projects all over the state—and didn’t care who got in the way. That is, until Jane Jacobs, Nelson Rockefeller, Joseph Papp and a slew of New Yorkers finally turned their pitchforks on the Master Builder.

The Lead? – If I could find an actor that’s a composite of Michael Gambon’s size and Paul Giamatti’s grit, that would be perfect. Headshots, anyone?

10. H. L. Mencken

Why? – apart from being one of my all-time favorite authors, the Sage of Baltimore’s whit and biting cynicism covered most of the first half of the 20th century. He was cosmopolitan and provincial at the same time: a thinker who fancied himself above the “booboisie” while still able to mix in the dives and gin joints of the Baltimore waterfront. Why Barry Levinson isn’t all over this I have no idea.

The Lead? – It has to be someone intelligent who can play a real asshole. Sam Neill might work, or maybe even Eddie Izzard—I’m leaning more towards the latter.

As always, these ideas are not nearly exhaustive—nor do I really have scripts ready. If anyone has any other ideas, or if they have treatments ready that I can pitch, please let me know.

Don’t worry, you’ll receive due credit—minus my percentage, which we can negotiate later.

This is Hollywood, after all ;)

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Reminder to RSVP/Register for Save Our Schools March in DC July 28-31

Aerial view of the White House and the Ellipse...

Image via Wikipedia

Those more observant members of the Neighborhood may have noticed a large new yellow button to the right.  Its funny-looking, I know, but its there for an important reason.

The Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action will be coming up at the end of July.  The conference covers July 28-29 and 31 and feature many well-known speakers on education like Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post, our good friend Sabrina Stevens Shupe and many others.  The workshops offer activism techniques, curriculum strategies and other useful tools in advocacy in education.

The march will take place July 30, where we will meet at the Ellipse on the Mall at noon, followed by a march to the Department of Education at 2 pm.  It should be a raucous time, especially in that roasting DC heat of late July–of which I am painfully familiar.

Of course, besides the obvious reasons involving educational fairness, true accountability and general saving of the public school system, you should be heading to DC that weekend to meet me!  I’ll be at a bloggers’ event the evening of the 29th, where we’ll watch The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman (hopefully in Rocky Horror mode).  Also, I’ll be at the march myself, and hopefully gathering a cadre of the Neighborhood to march along.

I’ll be easy to spot in my Hawaiian shirt and straw hat :)

The conference costs $80 to register for Thursday’s and Friday’s events.  But make sure to register before June 15th, otherwise the price jumps to $100 a head.  Click here for registration info.

The march is free…bring as many people as you want!  However, it’s nice if we have a head count of how many people are coming.  Its no obligation to go, but even if you plan on coming please RSVP here.

Remember, the other guys like to fudge numbers–we want to be honest.

Lastly, if you plan on going and would like to join me as a contingent of the Neighborhood, especially for social studies advocacy, please e-mail me so we can coordinate a meeting spot.  The Ellipse is big, so plan on being there around 10 am so we can meet, greet and get our chanting voices ready.

Hope to see you all there.

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Review of Part 2 of PBS’ “Black in Latin America” – Cuba

Cuban boys playing in Trinidad, Cuba

Trinidad, Cuba. Image via Wikipedia

The first episode offered some promise.  The second left me completely unsatisfied.

I just sat through an hour of the second part of PBSBlack in Latin America documentary series, hosted by Henry Louis Gates.   It was supposed to document how the Cuban Revolution of 1959 affected race relations on an island that has had a tumultuous history with its own identity.

Instead, I got a whole lot of pap about cultural phenomena I already knew about, and very little information on what I wanted to know.

I will grant Dr. Gates one handicap: since he was filming directly in Cuba, there is little doubt the authorities were controlling his footage.  There was little chance he was going to capture–nor did he seem to want to capture–the real essence of Cuban society today.  If you wanted to get a snapshot of the Afro-Cuban experience before 1959, this was a good start.  Then again, most of it wasn’t new to me.

Cuba had been a port of entry for African slaves since the 17th century, although the brunt of Cuban slavery would come in the late 18th and early 19th century, as the island surpassed Haiti as the main supplier of sugar in the Caribbean.  Slavery was abolished late, in 1886, and independence would come after two long wars and a stifling US intervention (1870s-1902).  During that time, the plantation economy translated into society as well, as a caste system kept African culture in the background.

In the 1920s, Cuba began to accept its African heritage, first among intellectuals and then among the populace through music such as son–the forerunner of mambo and other Latin musical forms.  Yet society, the economy and the government had grown largely segregated, in the typical pattern: whites had a lot, blacks not so much.

Then came a bunch of white guys–two of them really white (one had a Spaniard father and one was a quarter Irish)–who decided to start a revolution.

It took 40 minutes of a one-hour program to finally get to the good stuff–you can guess how well it was covered.

Since 1959, the Cuban government under the Castros, Fidel and Raul, had declared racism to be non-existent in revolutionary Cuba.  On paper, at least, there was no distinction between white and black for housing, jobs, education, health care, etc.  Gates interviewed two Afro-Cuban participants in the Revolution who lauded its egalitarian spirit with regards to education and health care.  To be sure, these are advances (though possibly superficial, as I implied in my earlier study of Cuba) would make any Cuban proud, especially those of color who were on the outside looking in.

Today’s Cuba, where tourism and the “double currency” of the CUC and the Peso Nacional rule the roost, has caused a re-emergence of latent racist tendencies that are supposedly “illegal”, since even acknowledgement of racism in Cuba is seen as counterrevolutionary.  Gates interviews young artists and musicians who are trying to bring these concerns to the Cuban public.  The tourism industry, they acknowledge, has pushed darked Cubans back into the background.  Furthermore, the double currency creates a rift between state workers and those in tourism,who often make up to 20 times more.

I could have told you this in my travelogues on Cuba.

So why was I unsatisfied?  Apart from social programs to lift up the Cuban masses, Gates did not address the one issue I had with the Revolution:  how “white” is the ruling elite of Cuba now?

Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Raul Castro, Camilo Cienfuegos: the main actors of Cuban revolutionary history were as white as Robert E. Lee.  Have any blacks come anywhere close to such positions of power and influence?  In the 53 years since the triumphal march into Havana, how many blacks have sat on the Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party?  How many have sat in the Congress of People’s Power, the rubber-stamp legislature?  How many sit on the Council of Ministers?  Are there any black Cubans in real positions of power in government, in state industries, in diplomacy, or in the armed forces?

In short, how far down the totem pole do we have to go from Fidel and Raul to find a powerful, influential Cuban of color?

As much as the rhetoric says so, there clearly still are haves and have-nots in Cuba.  Gates seemed so caught up in the rah-rah of the social agenda that he neglected to investigate whether a black person in Cuba had any chance of real political or economic power.

Maybe it was too sensitive a topic to fly in the face of Cuban censors.  To have Cubans acknowledge a lack of blacks in power, especially on record, is tantamount to admission of racism, which leads to charges of treason and all the fun activities that come with it.  At the very least, he showcased a black commander in the armed forces and discussed the “whitewashing” of independence hero Antonio Maceo (Did they tell you about the reason his statue’s turned around, Skip?).

Nonetheless, in a place where power is paramount–especially political and military power–to not research African entry into the machinations of the revolutionary state is a grave omission on Gates’ part.

Next week, Gates will be covering the African experience in Brazil.  Although he gets only an hour, I sincerely hope it’s a more prudent use of time.

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Videos for the Classroom: BBC’s “Conquistadors” – The Conquest of the Inca

Today we continue the BBC Conquistadors series with episode 2, chronicling the Inca Empire of South America and its conquest by the Pizarro brothers, who seemed to fight everybody–the Incas, the neighboring tribes, and each other.

From 1528 to the 1570s, the Spanish would engage in a long, protracted period of conquest over the most vast empire in the Western Hemisphere.  When Francisco Pizarro and his brothers Gonzalo, Juan and Hernando arrive in Peru, the timing was perfect: the last emperor of the Inca, or Sapa Inca,  had died from smallpox, and a civil war raged between his two sons, Atahualpa and Huascar

The Pizarros exploited this division of power, taking sides in the civil war and capturing the victor, Atahualpa.  Their subsequent reign was marked by widespread bloodshed, corruption, massive exploitation of gold and silver reserves in Peru and surrounding areas, and internecine warfare between the Pizarros and the subsequent Spanish officials sent to calm the situation.

As before, Michael Wood uses the lens of modern Peru as his focal point in retelling the Inca tragedy.  Enjoy this episode with your students–and definitely give a loud Bronx cheer to the Pizarro brothers, a few of the truly bad guys in history.

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Mosques, Churches, Temples: History’s Most Used (and Abused) Religious Real Estate

Cathedral of Seville, early 16th Century. The Giralda, or bell tower was once a minaret for the mosque that was there previously.

Whenever the neighbors have their friends move nearby, you know the neighborhood is changing.

In most urban (and suburban) areas, this has been a pattern for the last half century: people move in, other people move out, for various reasons.  Then another group displaces the last group.

Religion has also played such a real estate game over the past few millennia.

The recent controversy over the proposed mosque near the Ground Zero site had us at the Neighborhood thinking about how religion played a role in the use of real estate.  I, for one, am not convinced that the proposed mosque in that location is a good idea.  There are better, less confrontational areas to erect a mosque and promote understanding (isn’t the whole project about avoiding confrontation, anyway?). 

Yet this is not the first time buildings and religion has collided in controversy. 

Here is a sampling of other sites around the world that have changed religious hands, sometimes multiple times.  Some resorted to violence, while others simply entered a space vacated by someone else.  There were many others to choose from, but these are my favorites:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parthenon, Athens, Greece (447-431 BCE)

Like a Times Square callgirl, this old broad has had a rough life.  The Parthenon was designed as a temple to the goddess Athena, the protector of the city of Athens.  It replaced an earlier Parthenon that was destroyed by the Persians, and also served as the city treasury.  Later, under the Byzantines, the Parthenon became a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, while the Ottoman Turks converted it into a mosque in the early 1460s.  After a Venetian bomb exploded the powder stores inside it in 1687, and Lord Elgin made off with the choice goods in 1806, the Parthenon was better used as a backdrop for every Greek diner from Astoria to Chicago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Temple Mount [Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Western Wall], Jerusalem, Israel (957 BCE-692 CE)

Sure, people fought over the Parthenon, but never was the fight as fierce as for the Temple Mount.  According to Biblical scholarship (since archaeological digs are forbidden on the mount), the first Temple of Solomon rose at that sight around the mid 900s BCE.  It was subsequently destroyed by the Babylonians, and then rebuilt by the Persians in the early 500s BCE.  Herod the Great expanded the Temple Mount in 19 BCE, only to have it destroyed by the Romans after the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE.  A temple to Jupiter arose from the site in the 130s BCE, starting another Jewish revolt and banning Jews from the city (are you getting all this?).  In 325 CE a Catholic church arose on the mount, followed by more churches, and culminating in the building of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Umayyad caliphs in the late 600s-early 700s.  Three religions considered the place sacred, and the true ownership and usage rights are still in dispute.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey (532-537 CE)

You got to give Kemal Ataturk credit here.  The first president of the secular Republic of Turkey needed to do something with a building that charged emotions among Christians and Muslims.  The building was created by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I and served as the eastern headquarters of Christendom, later the headquarters of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  Following the Ottoman conquest of 1453, Mehmed II had Hagia Sophia converted to a mosque, adding minarets, a mihrab, a minbar and also covering up or removing the more Christian aspects of the place.  In 1935, Ataturk decided everybody can use it—and nobody can use it, either.  He had the place restored and converted to a museum, and no religious group can use it as a place of worship.  Since Ataturk controlled the voting bloc that had machine guns, his edict settled the matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Mosque of Cordoba [Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption] Cordoba, Spain (784-987)

I had the pleasure of visiting the Great Mosque, or Mezquita as its known in Spanish, and it is truly a wonder—even if the Spanish managed to shoe-horn a Renaissance chapel smack-dab in the middle of the thing.  Originally a Visigothic church stood on the site where Emir Abd al-Rahman I decided to build a grand mosque.  Using the original church as a template, the mosque was enlarged and decorated over the centuries.  It became the cultural, political, social and economic center of Muslim Spain, known as Al-Andalus (today’s Andalusia).  When the Christian kings of Castile took it back in the mid 1200’s, the Mosque became a church again.  It’s amazing how much of the original Islamic structure was relatively untouched; that is, until you find the gleaming golden Catholic interior chapel.  Even I find it a little garish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synagogues of Spain: El Transito, Toledo and Old Main Synagogue, Segovia (1300s-1492)

The Catholic Reconquest of Spain (1200s-1492) ended the thriving Muslim culture in Al-Andalus.  It also shattered the other thriving minority culture in Spain: Jews.  There had been Jews in Spain since the Roman period, and they had risen to high places in politics and business.  Yet with the Reconquista, and the subsequent Spanish Inquisition meant to homogenize Spanish society under one church, the Jews were now a pariah and a threat.  Both the Synagogue of El Transito and the Old Maine Synagogue in Segovia defied Christian laws meant to keep Jewish houses of worship small and unadorned.  In fact, both were grand and highly ornate: in the style of the people that tolerated them the most, the Muslim Moors.  After the Edict of Expulsion in 1492, both became churches or parts of Catholic institutions, although now El Transito is a museum documenting the history of Toledo’s Jewish community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Babri Mosque, Ayodhya, India  (1527-1992)

In 1992, a mob of 150,000 rioters, mostly Hindus, settled a centuries-old debate by destroying a mosque that was built over 400 years earlier.  In 1527, Babur I, first Mughal emperor of India, built this mosque on the site of an earlier Hindu temple.  According to Hindu mythology, the area around the Babri Mosque was the birthplace of the god Rama—even Babur acknowledged this in naming the mosque Masjid-i Janmasthan, or Mosque of the Birthplace.  By the 1980s, a new militant Hindu nationalist movement had agitated to purge the area of Muslim influences, culminating in the 1992 riot.  A commission released a report in 2009 that blames Hindu nationalists and members of the Indian government for the demolition of the mosque.  It didn’t settle matters:  the debate over the mosque’s history and significance, known as the Ayodhya debate, rages today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brick Lane Mosque, London, England, UK (1743)

All those other stories were so morbid, so let’s end on a good note.  In London, particularly in the working-class East End, communities have come and gone over centuries, and 59 Brick Lane in the Spitalfields neighborhood of east London has seen them all.  It began as a Protestant chapel for French Huguenots, and it serviced this French exile community for over 60 years.  In 1809, it became a Wesleyan chapel for a group ministering to London’s Jewish community.  This didn’t last long, as it became a regular Methodist church in 1819.  Russian and Eastern European Jews, funny enough, did take over the building in the late 19th century, becoming the “”Machzike Adass” or “Spitalfields Great Synagogue.”  As these Jews migrated to north London, the building was eventually abandoned in the mid 20th century.  In the 1970s, an influx of immigrants from Bangladesh settled in Spitalfields to find work in factories or textile mills.  The now-empty 59 Brick Lane then became the Brick Lane Mosque in 1976, which stills serves the Bangladeshi community of east London today.

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