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Sheila Harsdorf vs The Boogeyman

“If I could give three words of advice, they would be ‘tell the truth.’ If I got three more words, I’d add: ‘All the time.’ –Randy Pausch, in, The Last Lecture

Here’s the thing we have to remember: Politicians use language.  They search for phrases that will resonate hypnotically within us.  Good political phrases are like gold to politicians, because with them, they can frame the issues and easily influence us.

Take the phrase, “Tax Relief”, for example.  President Bush’s team came up with that one and he made magic every time he used it.  Why?  It totally frames the issue of taxes.  In order for there to be “relief” there has to be an affliction.  It’s a perfect frame.  That one little phrase influenced the way millions of Americans thought about taxes.  Instantly “Taxes” became an “affliction” for which we all needed “relief.”  We haven’t been able to have an intelligent discussion about taxes since

Over the past few months, we’ve heard Harsdorf and Walker refer to the “Special Interests” involved in the recalls, hoping that voters wouldn’t think about who that really is.

It’s a strategy that allows Harsdorf to appear to be protecting tax-payers (who need relief) from something scary — kind of like the boogeyman.  It’s a fear Harsdorf wants you to have.  She needs there to be a “special interests” boogeyman so she can protect you from it.

But remember when you were young, and you thought the boogeyman was in your closet? Remember how foolish you felt when your mom turned on the light and it was just a lump of dirty clothes?

Unlike our moms, Harsdorf wants to keep us in the dark—and very much afraid. That boogeyman she’s calling “special interests”?  Yeah, those “special interests” are the teachers at your school, organizing food drive competitions between classes two weeks before Thanksgiving.  It’s the non-profit broadband provider, WiscNet, bringing affordable internet access to your libraries, public schools and universities.  They’re the police, firefighters, snowplow and ambulance drivers keeping us safe.  It’s the dad across the street, ashamed because his kids’ clothes are too small.  You know these people.

While collecting signatures to recall Harsdorf in my hometown earlier this spring, I was often confronted by angry Harsdorf supporters.  Repeatedly, I was asked where I came from and how much I was getting paid.  They didn’t believe me when I said I was from St. Croix Falls, and was paid nothing. When I told them I was a teacher, many called me a freeloader—or worse.

It shocked me.

Upon reflection, however, it makes perfect sense.  These angry Harsdorf supporters believe and trust her.  They were afraid.  And I was the boogeyman.  My hope is that enough people will turn on the light and begin to wonder—if Harsdorf isn’t telling the truth about special interests, what else is she lying about?

No, grammar is not confusing . . .

Every day, my 8th graders tackle a paragraph riddled with errors and make corrections. I get these at Education World. We then go over the errors as a class.

Pretty straight forward, right?

Well, most of the time.

This was today’s unedited text:

Dedicated on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was a gift of friendship from the people of france. It is located on Liberty Island in New York harbor, the statue stands as a cymbal of freedom. Inside the statues base is a plaque engraved with the words Give me you’re tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” More than 120 tons of steel was used to build the statue, which were restored for it’s 100th birthday celebration.

And this is today’s answer key:

Dedicated on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was a gift of friendship from the people of France. It is located on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The statue stands as a symbol of freedom. Inside the statue’s base is a plaque engraved with the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” More than 120 tons of steel was used to build the statue, which was restored for its 100th birthday celebration.

Great right? Sometimes under the answer key, there is additional information, explanation, or discussion. This was under today’s:

A note about:
…with the words, “Give me your tired, your…
Originally, we had not included the comma in the correction to this line of text, but one of our readers felt it belonged there. You should defer to the rules set forth in your grammar text. We believe you can call the sentence correct with or without the comma. Some sources require a comma before any quoted material. Others simply recommend it. Still others suggest that the flow of the sentence might preclude the need for the comma. If this question comes up with your students, you might use it as an opportunity for classroom debate and as a reminder that “grammar can be fun.” [Note: According to some sources, the word that before a quoted phrase precludes the use of a comma before that phrase. :>]

Ok. While that’s all well and good. I’ve got about 100 8th graders to prepare for the WKCE’s, Wisconsin’s standardized test.

I just told them it needs a comma. A discussion? A debate? Hell no!

If I’ve realized one thing in 8+ years of teaching this garbage it is this: Now (8th grade) is NOT the time for discussion or debate. This is no time to be wishy-washy. Now is the time to increase the chances of a correct multiple choice.

I just have to pray that the creators of the test are thinking the same way I am in cases like this.

Wittgenstein and paradigms

Ludwig Wittgenstein: “Tell me, why do people always say that it was natural for men to assume that the sun went around the earth rather than the earth was rotating?”

Friend: “Well, obviously, because it just looks as if the sun is going around the earth.”

Wittgenstein: “Well, what would it look like if it had looked as if the earth were rotating?”

Revealing Riddles

The car skidded off the road, and the two occupants, a man and his son, were badly injured. In the ambulance, on the way to the hospital, the father died. The son was taken straight to emergency surgery. The surgeon on call took one look at the patient and gasped, “Oh no . . .it’s my son.”

I heard this riddle a few years ago and have to admit that it stumped me at first. I can’t remember now if I came to the conclusion on my own or if someone eventually told me the answer. But once I knew, it bugged the hell out of me.

Like so many riddles, the answer should have been immediately obvious. In this case, however, it was tougher to laugh it off as mere ignorance. My lack of cerebral fitness has been well documented and so I have no trouble admitting that I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.

This one’s different though. It’s difficult to acknowledge (to myself anyway) why I really had trouble solving this riddle.

Ask Jud: The Answer is Magic

Like a potent virus, Jud swept into the computer lab and quickly infected over half my computers–not to mention the kids using them.

“NO WAY!! How did it know that?”

“Ask Jud who is standing behind you!”


“Ask Jud what the name of my dog is!”


Ask Jud: Supernatural Psychic, Computer Virus, or Freaky Prank?

What is it?

The Ask Jud(or Computer Prank is a virus, pure and simple. You can call it the AJCP virus (Ask Jud Computer Prank virus) for short. It’s spread from host to host through word of mouth and has an incubation period limited only to a carrier’s access to a computer with internet connection.

How is it spread?

It all starts with an initial carrier and works like a magic trick. He (or she) who knows the prank gets all the power and attention–almost as if they are suddenly able to perform David Blaine Magic. Once they know the magic, all this David Blaine impersonator needs to do is simply hop on a computer, zip to the Internet and go to

Once at the site all you need to do is draw attention to the idea that there’s an entity within the Internet that can answer all of your questions. Kind of like a Ouiga board but with dead on accuracy.
Peter Answers: Special Report
What happens next, is what reminds me of a David Blaine trick.

It’s pure magic.

Pure genius.

In the first box, the keyboardist types in the petition:

Jud, please answer the following:”

In the second box the typist enters whatever question they’d like–usually from the growing crowd.

What is Jesse’s middle name?

Upon hitting the return button, Jud, from his comfortable couch at, instantly answers the question.



Jud Answers My Question: How does work? The Magic Tricks Revealed

First, instead of typing in the petition box, “Jud, please answer the . . .” begin by instead typing:


That’s right. Simply type a period. What happens next is pure magical genius.

Instead of seeing what you’d expect (a “.”) you see a “J”. Then type whatever the heck you want and the rest of the phrase “Jud, please answer the following” appears.

As long as nobody pays any attention to where your fingers are actually landing, the prank works slick.

Step 2

The trick to the prank is to here type in the answer to whatever question you are going to ask next. When you’re done just keep typing until the phrase is complete. Whenever you hit the “:” your cursor will jump to the next box–where you’ll type in the actual question.

Hit return and bingo! Whatever you really typed into the petition box appears.

So there, my dear friends. The truth has set you free.

Have fun (and play responsibly!).

What? Still feeling a bit confused? Experiencing a little deja’vu perhaps? Maybe it’s because you’ve already read a post almost exactly like this one but instead of asking Jud, you were looking to Peter for answers.

Heh. Can’t have too much of a good thing I guess.

Welcome to The Belly of the Whale: Playground for the rich and successful

I’m one of those types always on the lookout for life’s most lucrative secrets.

You know what I mean:

  • Why does he always seem so confident and at ease?
  • Why does that person seem to keep making the same mistakes?
  • Why can’t I ever figure this out?
  • How can I transform myself from a lowly English teacher into a powerful media tycoon?

You know.

This quest for awareness compels me to seek patterns and use models to explain things. The models or maps I use to define my reality change as I gain understanding, but one of the most powerful (and accurate) I’ve found so far is the idea of “personal mythology.”

That’s right. I’m a big fan of Joseph Campbell and The Hero’s Journey.