Billie Holiday, d. 17 July 1959

I don’t know how I managed to miss the 50th anniversary of Billie Holiday‘s death, but as partial atonement here is Frank O’Hara‘s poem about the day she died. I’ve also uploaded a short podcast about her which you can find here. The path is Podcasts / Misc / Billie Holiday. If you don’t know Billie’s music, your life is poorer than it could be.

The Day Lady Died

by Frank O’Hara


It is 12:20 in New York a Friday

three days after Bastille day, yes

it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine

because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton

at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner

and I don’t know the people who will feed me


I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun

and have a hamburger and a malted and buy

an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets

in Ghana are doing these days

I go on to the bank

and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)

doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life

and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine

for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do

think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or

Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres

of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine

after practically going to sleep with quandariness


and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE

Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and

then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue

and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and

casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton

of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it


and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of

leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT

while she whispered a song along the keyboard

to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing 

I finally got Twitter.

For a long time, I couldn’t believe that intelligent people would want to waste their time telling the world what they were doing at every moment of the day, and reading what tons of other people were doing at every moment of the day.

I still have trouble with that.


As a professional networking tool, Twitter is fabulous. I follow and am followed by people interested in teaching and learning. Instead of trolling through scores of blogs, or even scores of headlines from blogs in my RSS reader, I just wait for the little ‘bling!’ and birdies chirping from Twitterific, and have a look. My network has gotten bigger, I spend less time keeping up, and I find more and better ideas.

Give it a try.

PS: To find people with similar interests to yours, try WeFollow. Just enter a ‘tag’ like “education”, and you’ll get a list of all the people who have chosen that tag for their own Twitter identity.

UPDATE: Someone has started a wiki for IB teachers (PYP, MYP DP) using Twitter—a good way to find professional peers.

UPDATE 2: Switched to TweetDeck.

The right to life

I’m 56 years old as I write this, with a net worth of zero on a good day. I figure they’ll let me keep teaching English for another 10-15 years. After that, what?

When I was a kid, men would retire at 65, putter in the garden or on the golf course for a couple of years, and then drop dead of a heart attack. The widows would collect the pensions and life insurance payments and live on for a few more years. Retirement was not such a problem.

Today many of us are likely to be laid off or encouraged to retire at 60, at which point we can look forward to 20-30 more years of life without an income. Even if we had done everything we were supposed to do, it’s highly unlikely we could have saved up that much money. And of course most of us didn’t do what we should have. Like me.

Living in China, I see lots of grandparents taking care of babies and toddlers whose parents are both working. Great-grandparents live with one or another of their children, or grandchildren, and are taken care of by the family. This model has much to recommend it, but do I have any right to expect my children to take care of me when I can no longer take care of myself? I am not sentimental about these matters. The fact is, they didn’t ask to be born. If I have cared for them, that’s because I chose to do so and because I feel an obligation to do so. If they choose to care for me, it should be just that—a choice. Certainly I don’t feel I have any right to be cared for at their expense.

In European social democracies, they take care of old folks, but the demographics in Europe, as in America, are not good: declining birthrates for several generations mean a huge population of seniors whose upkeep must be financed from the earnings of a shrinking pool of workers. In North America there is only a token effort to care for the aged, and that is likely to dry up altogether under these demographic pressures. Either way, we old folks should not expect the government to look after us.

And at what cost, exactly, should we wish to go on living? The intermittent debate concerning assisted suicide or euthanasia centers on extreme cases of physical debilitation, but as I imagine my future I wonder just how worthwhile my life will feel when I am living in some hovel or upstairs room, unable to work, with little or nothing to occupy me. What will be the point of continuing to occupy space and consume resources? If I’m teaching immigrants to read, or writing a novel, OK, but if I’m just watching the telly or sitting on a park bench, what kind of a life is that?

As I said, I’m not a sentimentalist about life, nor is my view complicated by any religious beliefs about immortality. I think the Greeks had it right when they used the same word—psyche—to mean mind and soul, and modern neuroscience has clarified things much further: the mind is the brain; consciousness results from the functioning of the brain, and when the brain dies, we cease to exist. There is a kind of immortality in genetics. I’ve read enough of my family history going back several generations to know that just as a frog is highly similar to his ancestors, so I am highly similar to mine, and my children are similar to me. But when my brain shuts down my personal consciousness will end.

So at what point will checking out seem like a good option? At 65? 75? 90? And whenever it is, who, exactly, should have the right to tell me, then, that I must go on living? It has long seemed absurd to me that governments can impose restrictions on where I can work or travel, and demand money from me if I decide to marry and even more money if I decide to divorce. But how much more absurd is it to assert that someone else has the right to tell me that I must go on living when my life has become persistently unpleasant for me? It’s my body, it’s my life, and when my circumstances reach the point that I really have nothing to look forward to, then I won’t demand a comfortable, upper-middle class lifestyle, or free health care: but I will demand that no one stop me from ending my life. It’s mine, after all.

More Chinese fakery at Olympics

BEIJING August 22, 2008 (AP)

Western visitors have discovered that Beijing’s world-famous ‘Bird’s Nest’ is in fact not a bird’s nest at all.
“It’s a fake”, said James Finnagan, of Annapolis, Ohio. “We slipped past the security and looked all over that thing, and we can confirm absolutely that it is NOT a nest.”
For one thing, they say, there’s not a single bird in the entire stadium.
Chinese officials were quick to rebut the claims.
“Lots of bird’s nests have no birds in them,” said Zhou Yu Tang, spokesman for the Beijing mayor’s office. “These westerners are sadly misinformed.”
IOC President Jacques Rogge, asked to comment, said, “I have not seen these reports, so until I have read them it would be irresponsible of me to make any statement.”

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

Access Flickr from China

Flickr photos are currently blocked for users in China. This means, for example, that the photos of the SSIS Garden Project that we’ve posted on Flickr cannot be viewed.

However, if you use Firefox you can download an extension called Access Flickr! and see those photos again. Thanks to Hamed Saber for putting this together.

(If you are still using Internet Explorer to browse the internet, do yourself a big favour and download Firefox right now.)

Memorization vs. Rote Memorization

Professor Steven Dutch, who teaches Natural and Applied Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, must be pretty annoyed at hearing the same complaints from students over and over, because he’s posted an entire page of his Top Ten No Sympathy Lines (Plus a Few Extra). Students considering complaining may want to check it out for tips on what arguments to avoid.

In one of them, however, he makes some interesting points about memorization.

Memorization is not the antithesis of creativity; it is absolutely indispensable to creativity. Creative insights come at odd and unpredictable moments, not when you have all the references spread out on the table in front of you. You can’t possibly hope to have creative insights unless you have memorized all the relevant information. And you can’t hope to have really creative insights unless you have memorized a vast amount of information, because you have no way of knowing what might turn out to be useful.

Rote memorization is a choice. If you remember facts and concepts as part of an integrated whole that expands your intellectual horizons, it won’t be rote. If you merely remember things to get through the next exam, it will be rote, and a whole lot less interesting, too. But that is solely your choice.

The key to good memorization is frequent review. The more often you review something you’ve learned, the more you embed it in your long-term memory. I.e., the more you actually learn it. Not surprisingly, daily review is one of the good habits in Good Habits, Good Students.