Adventures in the labyrinth

For a while now I’ve noticed that the granite circle at the center of the labyrinth was not level and for some reason that bothered me.  I would show you a photo, but for some reason I do not have a good shot of the center.

Here it is ten years ago before I build the bowl for the center:

And here it is last fall, all cluttered and dirty:

For those of you just joining us, the center is four pieces of black granite with a ceramic bowl set into the ground. The bricks are aligned with the points of the compass.

Anyway, I have a short list of improvement projects that I’ve been waiting on warm weather to do, and on Friday I decided to knuckle down and start with this one.  As we go through the process here you will understand why I was reticent about starting.

First, we remove the granite pieces and give all the ants time to find new homes.

I thought I had marked them on the back as to their location (NE, SW, etc.) but I couldn’t see any such markings.  Perhaps they’ve faded.

I placed them so that I could remember which one went where.  (They are not quite equal.)

Let’s pause for a second.  The levelness of the center was not the only problem I wanted to solve.  Beneath the bowl was a drainage system: a 6″ PVC pipe extending down three feet, with river rocks both inside it and around it.  After ten years, it had finally filled up, and I was going to have to excavate it.

Also, there was a gap between the bowl and the granite, which allowed dirt to wash into the bowl (and fill up the drainage system).  In fact, the bricks don’t actually rest on the bowl; I used four little scarabs to prop them up. (One disappeared at some point.)

So: 1. level, 2. drainage, 3. gap.

The first problem I faced was getting the bowl out.  I was terrified of breaking it.  I loosened the soil around it with the weeding tool.

Then, using other garden implements, I dug out around the bowl…

…and removed it.

A closer look:

The pipe had to be cleared out; I decided to leave the outer rocks alone.  Ick!  I may regret that, but if it becomes a problem, I’ll go back in.  Some day. Cras melior est, as they say.

The bowl, freed:

Slow work, digging out the muck and removing the river stones that filled the pipe.  I had put the stones in there with the idea that when water collected at the bottom of the pipe, mosquitoes would be too lazy to work their way down to it.  I think it worked.

River rocks, collecting:

Done. I didn’t dig all the way down to the bottom of the pipe, because my arms wouldn’t reach much further.  Also, my plan was to create seals between the bowl, the pipe, and the granite, so that there wasn’t as much leakage of dirt into the bowl.

The bowl, all clean.  There is a message on the bowl, on the bottom, I think, that I wrote when I installed it, something about finding your path.  I chose not to look for it.

I had no clue what I was going to use to create the aforementioned seals.  These notches seemed problematic.

I headed to Home Depot and lo! there were these pipe insulators, rubber…

…and these!

Turn turn kick turn — yes, it would work!  (Hold that thought.)

I also decided to use some landscaping bricks to help level the granite.

And here’s where I left it Friday afternoon.

To be continued…

Talk me out of it.

So today I got an email:


I come to announce the good news about my TRUNK BOX, I finally found a friend who paid for my Air ticket that allowed me to arrived in this country to get my trunk box personally.  God so kind, I was able to recover it successfully, but I’m afraid to cross the two airport with the big luggage, however, I need you to join me here to find solution together to get everything DONE in order that we get this 14.5 MILLION USD out of this country to your country for investment. 

I have another solution, if I open the trunk box, I will send you 10,000 usd so you can use it to open a special account so that all 14.5 MILLION USD will be transferred to the account. Is this solution good??

Please answer me immediately.
Hope to hear from you

Mercy.  First of all, of course, the actual correspondent is no one named Nora Thomas. Second of all… who could possibly fall for this kind of thing?

But how tempting is this? I am this close to answering:

Dearest Nora

That is very good news about your trunk box! I would be delighted to assist you to getting the 14.5 MILLION USDto my country for investment purposes. You must be very tired waiting in the airport!

Although, I can see one problem. If you wire me 10,000 USD my bank will have to report the transfer to the government, but, we cannot allow the actual risk for then they would confiscate your trunk box!

I have the solution is to mail me two checks for 5,000 USD each.  I can safely deposit those checks separately and then we can proceed. I hope this solution is good for you too.

I look forward to your answer immediately.
Mr. Dale

If you don’t stop me, I may very well do it.

UPDATE, 5/24/18: I did it.  I changed the signature to Mrs. Dale, but it’s off.  Let’s see what happens next.

Wrapped in a flag

As Sinclair Lewis did not say, “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

I was strolling down the street to fetch a pizza yesterday, and for some reason this struck me:

I thought to myself, “Why is the Baptist church flying an American flag?”

Let me be clear: I was raised in that bathwater, so I know that the flag/patriotism/jingoism has long been an item of worship there.

And since I was raised in that bathwater, I also know that the origins of the Baptist faith, indeed of Christianity in this country, would teach that the church owes no allegiance to the government. Their authority does not derive from the government, nor should they seek the imprimatur of any earthly power.

But they do.  Especially since the 1970s/80s, Christianists in this country have been increasingly strident about how they and the U.S. government are one — or should be. They want laws that protect them — and only them — or that push their “morality” onto the rest of the population.

And now, with the Current Embarrassment, they find themselves in an appalling bind, tied to a man whose lack of morality is entire and whom they must continue to endorse and wink at if they want to continue to cling to power.  For that is what this is all about: they fly an American flag because they see no distinction between themselves and the government.  They want the power to dictate their rules to the rest of us.  They reject the notion that they are only one part of a diverse nation: they are America, the real America.

Then they express bafflement when the rest of us describe them as bigots and racists, cruel in ways that would appall any truly devout person of any faith, exclusive and prohibitory, unkind, ungenerous, and fascist.

If you’re a church-goer, before you object that your congregation is not like that, that your gang is Christ-like, I ask you: do you fly the American flag? Is it, like the Baptist example above, above the “Christian flag”? Why is that? Yes, it’s the official flag code that the U.S. flag flies on top, but what have you to do with the official flag code? “Render unto Caesar…”? I’m not sure that Christ meant your allegiance.

Think about that the next time you Pledge.

Governing — how does it work?

Here’s an article about the GOP infighting over bringing immigration bills to the floor for a vote.  Go read it.

Apparently, it’s just short of open rebellion for representatives to petition for discharge, i.e., override the leadership’s agenda, which apparently in this case is to let the bills die in committee so that the Republicans won’t have to be seen voting to be incredibly cruel to humans — which would please their base but outrage the average voter, here in the year of our lord Midterms.  Indeed, why bring it to a vote when the current administration is doing a bang-up job being incredibly cruel to humans all on its own?

Here’s the quote that makes me shake my head with disgust:

“It would be an approach that would rely on mostly Democratic votes and some Republicans to pass their bill,” Scalise said, “and that’s not the way to solve this problem.”

Let’s be clear about what Rep. Scalise is saying here: we shouldn’t be trying to pass legislation — or even vote on it — using votes from both parties. We shouldn’t try to pass laws using a majority of votes from the entire House of Representatives. Laws cannot be passed with the votes of the people representing all the citizens of the United States. “That’s not the way to solve this problem.”

There are other versions of this gobbledygook all the way up and down the article: “the importance of keeping control of the legislative vehicle and solving the problem on our terms where we focus on solutions, not politics” (because passing the bills is not a solution?); “I think it’s better to use the legislative process” (which apparently does not necessarily include bringing bills to the floor for a vote); “I don’t believe in discharge petitions” (from Steve King, who probably has done a lot to keep any of the bills from being voted on).

It’s all well and good to decry our system as broken and to point fingers at both sides, but at the moment there’s only one party in charge of both chambers of Congress, and this is their attitude towards governing: if we can’t get a bill passed with just our votes, then it’s not going to pass.  They even have a name for it, the Hastert Rule, and if you think “both sides do it,” click on that link and have someone read the first sentence for you.

Naked, obscene lust for power.  That’s my name for it. Your mileage may vary.

Primary Source Documents: a lesson

The other day there was a tweet that led to an article about THE MAP THAT CONVINCED LINCOLN TO FREE THE SLAVES, and even without clicking on the link I knew what map they were talking about:

— click for original in new tab, and keep it open so you can refer to it—

I had stumbled across this map in the Library of Congress’s online files several years ago, and I used it to develop a lesson for 5th graders on how to read primary source documents.

For the lesson, I came up with the following chart:

Levels of Understanding Primary Source Documents

I.Literal levelWhat is this document? What does it say? What do the words mean?
II.Connections levelWhat is the historical context of this document? What other documents/events/ideas are connected to it?
III.Meanings levelWhy did this document exist? Who created it and why? What is its meaning? What was its meaning to those who created it?
IV.Interpretations levelCan I create a product of my own that comes from the same literal/connections/meanings as the document?

I printed up enough copies of the map for every two students to have one; I had a large format printer, so they got something close to the original size.  Then we started.

I. Literal level

We read the words on the map and talked about what the map was. We looked at the date of publication (1861). We looked at the text at the top:

We looked at the scale:

We found Coweta County on the map:

We talked about the number in Coweta County: 49.4% of the county’s population was slaves.

We discussed what the Census was.

I remember asking them whether it looked as if the slave population were evenly distributed across the south, and they were quick to say no.  When I asked if they could explain the patterns of light and dark, they immediately told me that it was pretty clear that the heaviest slave populations were where cotton and rice were grown, i.e., plantations. I was impressed.

II. Connections level

Next I asked them to tell me what they knew about the U.S. in 1861: the nation was at war, the Confederacy vs. the Union.  The Union was not doing well in battle; the war was not popular. Abraham Lincoln was President. The South was largely rural/agricultural, and much of that was supported by slavery.

I showed them Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

We talked about the 3/5s Compromise and what that meant. I directed them to the computers — I ran a 21st century media center — where I had prepared a HyperCard stack for them to use the census data to calculate how many congressional representatives each southern state got based on their free populations as well as “all other Persons.” (We discovered that the southern states gained an extra 25 representatives based on a population who could not vote and who were not actually citizens.)

III. Meanings level

The crux of the matter: why did this map exist?

Part of the answer is the piece at the top about the map being sold to support the sick and wounded soldiers of the U.S. — it was an appeal to patriotism, underscored by the title of the map: this was a map of the southern states of the United States. (Confederate States of America? Pfft.)

And by linking the reminder of sick and wounded soldiers to the southern states, the map was driving home the point of the war: the southern states had seceded to protect their Peculiar Institution, an institution that had given them an unfair advantage in Congress since the drafting of the Constitution 75 years before.

Indeed, and I didn’t know this at the time of this lesson, Lincoln had used this map in his deliberations about the war and the Emancipation Proclamation, so much so that it was included in this painting of the “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation”:

IV. Interpretations level

Students then given the following assignment:

Buy This Map!

Your task is to persuade a friend to buy one of these maps. You are a young person living in Philadelphia in 1861, and one morning in October you happen to be walking by H. Long & Brother Booksellers when you notice this map in the window. You immediately realize what the maps have to say about the reasons for the war, and you go in and buy one to support the war effort.

Now you want all your friends to buy one, too.

Write a letter to your friends to convince them of all the reasons they need to buy one of these maps. Instead of writing a letter, you may give a speech.

A good letter/speech will
• explain what the map tells you [Level I]
• explain the reasons for the war shown in the map [Level II]
• explain the connection between the Constitution’s “3⁄5 rule” and the map [Level II]
• explain what good the money will do [Level I]
• explain how the map made you feel and why you bought it [Level III]

Use the front and back of the next page to write your letter or to organize the notes for your speech.

Results were varied, as you might imagine; this is not an easy assignment, to translate all the things we learned into a personal narrative.  But it’s the kind of assignment that schools should have been doing and should be doing: it’s not just a creative writing exercise, it’s an assessment. The student demonstrates what he/she understands about the map in a rather complete way.  Yes, I had an objective test that I gave students as well, but that was just a formative assessment to double-check their knowledge/understanding before they wrote the letter. Yes, the lesson took longer and was more involved than simply standing in front of a class and telling them what the map meant. But it allowed the learners to construct knowledge, and in my charter school that will be the name of the game.

By the way, this is what my 21st century media center looked like:

UPDATE: Since there’s been some interest in this post, I thought I should circle back and include the “checbric” we gave the students.  (“Checbric” is one of those ugly coined terms from back in the day, a combination of “checklist” and “rubric.”)


Your letter/speech describes

____ when and where you bought the map

____ why you bought the map

____ why your friend (the reader) should buy the map


5 You’ve made the reader believe that this a real letter from a real person in 1861. You are utterly convincing with your reasons and personal details.
4 Your descriptions are often and sharp and complete, giving the reader details that make the letter come alive.
3 Your descriptions have enough details that the reader has no problem understanding who wrote this letter and why. Your arguments are convincing.
2 Your descriptions allow the reader to see that a person has written this letter, but there are not enough details for the reader to get an idea of who you are, and you don’t really convince the reader to buy a map.
1 Your descriptions are missing. The reader can’t tell who you are or what your reasons are for writing the letter.


Your letter/speech contains an explanation of

____ what the map tells you

____ the reasons for the war shown on the map

____ the connection between the 3/5 rule and the map


5 Your explanations are unusually thorough and inventive. They are fully supported and justified by evidence. They go beyond the information given in class.
4 You explanations are revealing and thorough. They are well-supported by evidence. You make subtle connections that we didn’t talk about in class.
3 Your explanations give some in-depth or personal ideas. You make the lesson your own, but you don’t use enough evidence to back up your explanations completely.
2 Your explanations were incomplete, even though you used some of what we learned. Your explanations only had limited evidence.
1 Your explanations are more descriptive than analytical. You give only a fragmentary or sketchy account of the facts.

Try this at home

Okay, Trump supporters, I need you to do this one little experiment.  No, you don’t have to give up your belief that you’re Making America Great Again; you can peddle that little tricycle all you like.  Just do this one thing.

Yesterday, the president*, speaking to reporters, railed against Robert Mueller’s investigative team, saying:

“So you have all these investigators; they’re Democrats. In all fairness, Bob Mueller worked for Obama for eight years.”

Is this true?


Robert Mueller, for example, is a registered Republican. He was appointed by George W. Bush in 2001 to serve the 10-year term as head of the FBI; Barack Obama asked him to stay on, and he retired two years later in 2013.[1]

So there’s the one little thing I want you to do.  Trump lied. He is telling you something that is not even close to true and is easily checked out.

What does that information mean to you?

No need to answer.  Just file that away and remember this one simple little lie that Donald J. Trump told to you.[2]

UPDATE: (in case the above example is too slippery for you)

“As everybody is aware…”

—  —  —  —  —

[1] Math is hard: he worked for Obama for a little over four years.

[2] You could also consider the attitude so embedded in Trump’s lie that I almost missed it: the idea that because Muller “worked for Obama for eight years” he is obviously personally loyal to Obama and therefore Trump’s enemy. It does not occur to Trump that although men and women like Mueller may serve throughout the Executive branch at the pleasure of the President, they do not actually work for the President. They work for the United States and its citizens.

Trump does not understand this concept in any way.

But I only asked you to do one little thing, so we’re good here.


Our nation’s relationship with immigrants has always been complicated and mostly mean.  Sure, we put up the Statue of Liberty and inscribed a lovely, welcoming poem, but let us not forget that the statue was a gift from France and the installation of the poem was funded by impressionable children. The realpolitik is a lot nastier.

I’m not going to get into the weeds on the topic here, but I do want to note one thing. Whenever Dreamers/DACA are up for discussion, or some immigrant is seized and deported despite living here peaceably for 30 years and owning a well-loved business, the amygdala-based lifeforms who survive on daily doses of fear and panic will screech, “BUT THEY WERE HERE ILLEGALLY! THEY BROKE THE LAW!!!

So for these people, I have a new bumper sticker:

Think about this.

It was just announced that Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician nominated by the president* to head the Veterans Administration, has withdrawn.

And very well might he have done so: charged with creating a hostile, toxic work environment; overprescribing drugs (including Ambien and Percocet); being drunk on the job to the extent that he wrecked a government car and was alleged to have been so much under the influence while on trips abroad that concerns were raised that he’d be unable to assist the President (Obama in this case) if any emergency were to arise. The man sounds a right mess.

Here’s my thought: if you or I knew that we had these… peccadilloes, shall we say?… in our lives, would you or I accept a high profile and probably contentious nomination? If you knew that there was even the possibility of  headlines like the ones that we’ve seen swirling around Rear Admiral Jackson, would you put your name out there for nomination?  Common sense says that you would not.  You already have a good job, and especially if you’re a putz like Jackson, you’d want to hold on to that good thing.

So why did he? If he has a problem with alcohol — and let’s irresponsibly speculate that someone who hands out Ambien on Air Force One might have other issues as well — then perhaps his judgment is not unclouded.

But I think there’s something a little more insidious at work here.  He accepted the nomination because in Trumplandia none of these things are impediments. He expected clear sailing.  He expected to be shielded, or at worst, given a pass.

Because this is our country now.

Santa Fe 18: Pro tips

El Paso/Carslbad

Carlsbad is three hours away from El Paso, but that is the closest airport you’re likely to find. To save money we took a flight with stops, and we probably will never do that again. The drive from El Paso up to Carlsbad is OK; I would probably make time to stop at Guadalupe Mountains National Park if we were to do it again.

The Caverns are magnificent, but again, if the elevator is out, consider your ability to hike up a mountain the size of the Empire State Building. (The park’s website will let you know if the elevator is not working before you go.) Take the King’s Palace tour — those rooms are not open to the general public.  We didn’t see the Big Room because we were running so late.  Time is not your friend on trips like these.

White Sands

Worth the trip and worth doing. I probably would book a hotel room in Alamogordo instead of driving on to Albuquerque as we did; I would have liked to go on the sunset walk on the dunes.  Again, everywhere is farther than you think, and there is no civilization between here and there.  If you set out for Albuquerque, there will not be a gas station or restaurants until you get there.


Albuquerque is quite nice, with good restaurants and a charming Old Town. Prices on art and souvenirs are lower here than in Santa Fe. We highly recommend the Casas de Sueños as a B&B.

The Turquoise Trail

Yes, go up Hwy 14 and stop in Madrid.  Plan to stay longer than we did. Lots of good hippie vibes there.

Santa Fe

Still one of our favorite places, despite the inevitable altitude sickness. The Plaza is fine, but if your time is limited then go to the Canyon Road galleries instead.  Do not miss the Museum of International Folk Art.  SITE Museum is cool.  We did not get to Meow Wolf (a trippy installation experience) nor any of the pueblos — next time.  Many good restaurants, but avoid Santacafé.

If you’re into woo at all, do not miss Temples of the Cosmos.  Reservations are required.  Plan ahead, and plan to spend 3–4 hours there.

—  —  —  —  —

We did rather more driving than I like on this trip, but FOMO and my LFW being what they are, it was inevitable.  My preference and advice is to cut back on All The Things and stay in one place more so that you can take your time and see Moar Things there.  Also, altitude sickness being a real thing, it’s better if you don’t exhaust yourself running from here to there. We all had prescriptions for Diamox, but by the end of the trip we had all abandoned it since the side effects were more or less identical to altitude sickness itself.  Your mileage may vary, but my advice is to take it slow, drink water, and take naps.

Santa Fe 18, Day 7 — Santa Fe

We spent our last day mostly driving, up to Taos and back down.

The scenery was stunning, as usual:

Our goal was not Taos itself; we didn’t even stop in the little town. Our real goal was the Taos Pueblo.  You may imagine our surprise when the road to the Pueblo was blocked because the Pueblo was closed for ritual purposes, just as our guidebook had assured us it would be. We paused for lunch and then drove on to the Rio Grande Gorge.

Oh my.

A geologic rift gave the river the chance to gouge its own gorge, and it has done so with gusto.  According to a visitors center back on the highway to Taos, if the gorge were not self-filling with erosion it would be three miles deep at this point.

Yes, you can walk across the bridge. There are little balconies halfway across on which you can stand and take photographs.  I made it out halfway to the halfway point, then retreated. Heights are not my thing.

And these were heights:

You could hike along the gorge, which we did for a while.  Those whose sense of geological stability are different than mine kept walking up to the edge and looking over. I on the other hand explored a different kind of geological stability, on the other side of the trail:

We were on a schedule of sorts, so I kept an eye on the time and distance to our next stop, the Ojo Caliente hot spring spa. My phone had said it was only 30 minutes away, so imagine my astonishment when the car announced it would take 50 minutes.  I pulled over and double-checked with the phone.

The phone said, “Turn left right here at this tiny road where you’ve stopped.” The car said, and I quote, “You are entering an area without navigation information. Please obey all traffic laws.” I turned left and we headed across country; the phone simply cut off the giant loop of the highway.

The hot springs spa is a nice little place. After I win the lottery and am flying to Santa Fe on a regular basis, we will often book a night or two up there: hot springs, massages, quality restaurant.  What’s not to like?

We had 50 minutes reserved in a private pool, and it was glorious. The water was in fact hot, and the afternoon breezes were chill, and for the first time in a while I had no tension anywhere in my body.

Finally we had to get dressed and head back to Santa Fe.

Sidebar: a couple of years ago I got an email from this guy, a writer in Brooklyn, claiming that he was researching a book on procrastination and could he interview me about the Lichtenbergian Society?  Sure, I said, and he called, and he was cool so I invited him to stop by the labyrinth if he were ever in the Atlanta area and meet some of the Lichtenbergians. He booked a flight, and so Andrew Santella came to Newnan, GA, to talk to a bunch of men about how procrastination is key to creativity.

Last month, Andrew’s SOON was published.  Yes, we all know that Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy was published first (last October), but Andrew is a real writer and has like an agent and a publisher and has been on NPR and done book tours, so I think we can give him the win on this one. Plus, his book is a smartly written exploration of procrastination itself; mine is a guide to citizen artists on how to become more productively creative through structured procrastination.  His is a very good book.

Anyway, when he found out we were headed to Santa Fe, he told me that his in-laws live there and if we had the time, to look them up.  We did so, and our last event on our trip was meeting John and Gail for drinks at the Agoyo Lounge. They are totally delightful and we had a great time.  Alas, none of us thought to take a picture documenting the event.

John and Gail left, and we decided just to order something to eat there. We were not disappointed: the food was very good there, much better than at Santacafé the night before, and we asked the server if the chef would come out so we could tell him so.  He did, and he was pleased and bashful and just adorable.  I also advised him to order rye for the bar so his bartender could make a proper Manhattan.

As a sidenote, it was flabbergasting that in every bar we went into, they were out of something.  I can see how you might be out of your special infused bourbon — but why? — but how the heck can you be out of mezcal, or port, or draft beer? It was a mystery only partly explained by Santa Fe’s remoteness.  I mean, the crab is flown in fresh every day — surely Galveston could slip a bottle of port or two in there as well?

Be that as it may, we went back to the condo, packed, slept, got up at 5:00 am, drove back down to Albuquerque, and flew home. Did you know that if you are a TSA PreCheck person you are not guaranteed PreCheck? That apparently it’s, in the words of the TSA agent I had to encounter, “random” as to whether it appears on your boarding pass? I’m pretty sure someone made a mistake here, and it’s not going to be me.

Later this week, after all my shipments come in, I’ll do the swag post. Tomorrow, maybe, the pro-tips post.