According to Vanessa Barchfield of Arizona Public TV, in releasing preliminary results, the Arizona State Board of Education reported Monday that a majority of students failed this year’s AZ Merit exam, the standardized test given to students statewide. The results showed modest improvement from last year, when two-thirds of students failed. Across Arizona, passing rates increased in the single digits for most categories and grades. An exception was with math test results. Last year, 34 percent of eighth graders passed the math test; this year that number was 26 percent.

This situation is not unique to Arizona but is a snapshot of education through 8th grade for the nation. What is the problem? Observations in the classroom suggest causes already well known to perceptive teachers and parents alike. There is a portion of students classified with either ADD or some similar form of learning disability. This classification calls into question why such learning disabilities affect an increasing number of children and merits greater study. The big problem, however, is failure by the majority of students to appreciate why they are in school. To put it bluntly, they are inattentive and lazy.

Teachers fail to exact the respect they used to receive, or to enforce stricter behavior from their students, banning the distractions brought about by electronic devices including cell phones. Teachers should act as role models by dressing as professionals and not copying the worst dress habits of their students.

Lazy parents are equally to blame: by not instilling in their children an understanding of the need for education and its place in the workforce. They are not checking on their children’s progress in class, not providing a home environment suitable for study, not requiring diligence from their children with respect to homework, and not requiring their children to show teachers the respect they should deserve.

I have a proposal for solving the laziness component of the problem. All students who fail to graduate from high school after two attempts should be required to spend twelve months in social service. They would attend a form of campsite where they rise at 6 a.m. and work as a team on the needs of the community: delivering food and other supplies to elderly people, cleaning graffiti from buildings, gathering litter, working on highways and streets to keep the landscaping in good order, etc. While paid at the level of the minimum wage, this attendance for social service would be compulsory. A side benefit of this proposal would be a measure of discipline lacking in today’s society.

I realize that this proposal will bring howls of disapproval, mostly from those who form the cause of the education disaster.

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I have a modest suggestion for a segment of the African American population to consider.

One can easily identify a sizable proportion of that population from its style of speech — a distinct lingo or jargon. At the same time, one is wary of mentioning the subject for fear of accusations of racial bias.

If one visits Britain, one cannot discern the ethnicity of black people by their style of speech. A black person growing up in Yorkshire or Wales speaks with the same regional accent as his or her white neighbor; one cannot distinguish between black and white individuals by listening to their speech. I am not claiming that this completely eliminates racial prejudice, but it helps considerably.

I submit that the special jargon or patois used by many African Americans quickly identifies them, maybe incorrectly, as people of limited education, and can create a self-made obstacle to acceptance or assimilation in the larger white community. It may even suggest, quite unfairly, that they are undesirables in some respect: gang members, drug dealers, general ne’er-do-wells. Although not every African American wants to integrate in a white community, preferring the reassurance and comfort of their own ethnic grouping, the majority seek acceptance and respect from their white neighbors. Many young black men, and a few young black women, use this jargon because they think it makes them sound smart or hip without realizing that it places them in a unique and often disadvantageous category. When in Rome, do as the Romans; better still, speak as a Roman.

President ObamaThere are sufficient black role models to demonstrate the advantage of speaking with the regional accent of the population majority: Martin Luther King, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, and President Barack Obama to name a few.

The portion of Black America that speaks with this special (and often annoying) lingo, could well receive greater respect and equality of treatment from White Americans if their parents had taught them from babyhood to avoid this damaging linguistic trait.

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In the United Kingdom, where gun ownership is rare, the murder rate per head of population is significantly lower than in the United States; similarly in other Western European nations. The Gun Lobby and NRA in the United States are confident that gun ownership is not the cause of mass shootings. Indeed, some members are claiming that we would be safer if we all carried guns. If gun ownership is not the cause of the high murder rate in the U.S., one has to conclude that the problem must lie in the nature of the American people. Are Americans more prone to anger and violence than Europeans, or is there some other explanation? Other civilized nations around the world certainly consider America to be a strange country in many ways, as witnessed by the Constitution Second Amendment and by the ongoing presidential election campaign.

Whatever the explanation for the high murder rate with guns in this country, Congress is obviously more interested in pleasing gun owners than in saving lives. As I said in my blog last year, if crazies influenced by ISIS were to gun down leaders of the Gun Lobby, the NRA, and Congress, we might see a change in Congressional attitudes to the control of gun ownership.

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I tend to avoid political commentary on this website since doing so can cause ill feelings, but sometimes one has to speak up.

Last evening at the dinner table, a friend voiced the opinion that she was unable to consider Hilary Clinton as a presidential candidate because Clinton is untrustworthy, leaving my friend no choice but to support Donald Trump. I choked on my salad. After consistently changing his view and position on each of the many subjects he has tossed out to attract media attention over the past twelve months, we should now consider Trump a paragon of virtue and truthfulness.

In desperation, the Republican ranks have closed around their remaining presidential contender. On Face the Nation this morning, John Dickerson asked Senate Homeland Security Chair, Ron Johnson, to comment on remarks made by President Obama that Donald Trump’s statements are rattling foreign officials. Johnson expressed surprise that this should be so since Trump is serious about re-building our military, defeating ISIS, and securing our borders. He could see no reason why this should rattle foreign officials (and heads of state). Can anyone who has listened to Trump be so obtuse or naive? Those foreign officials and heads of state are trying to imagine someone as erratic (and sometimes a little crazy) as Trump with his finger on the nuclear button and in dealing with him on international issues of vital importance.

As I listened to my Republican friends around the dinner table last evening, I realized that as an outsider — a European by birth and upbringing — my genetic code has not been impregnated by past generations of family into supporting a particular political party in the United States, so that I clutch at any incident reported by the media to dismiss the opposing party e.g. Hilary Clinton’s arrogance in using a personal email server. My views tend to coincide with the remaining 7 billion non-Americans globally in recognizing Trump as a dangerous and loud-mouthed braggart.

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Returning from convalescence….


The sound of voices coming from his restaurant downstairs awakened Harry Benson at midnight. He tiptoed down the stairs and through the kitchen to the dining room. The voices seemed to originate from a sizeable gathering of men and women — a party in fact — but some distance away, muffled. Perhaps boisterous revelers in the street, late in going home. Without turning on the main lights, he raised one of the window blinds and looked out. The street was nearly deserted and he realized that the voices were coming from behind him, from within the restaurant! Suddenly he was nervous — there were people around him, people he couldn’t see despite the dimmed security lighting. The voices were subdued, but belonged to many people talking at the same time.

Feeling a little silly, he moved slowly toward the long interior wall of the restaurant and sat at a table beside it. The voices were now more distinct. Against the general background of numerous voices, he found he was listening to one particular conversation: that of a man and woman. As he tuned into what they were saying, he realized he was listening to two married people discussing an illicit sexual relationship between them. This was a very private conversation and seemed to be coming from the wall as though inside it or on the other side. A frustrated male voice was in mid-sentence, “…I told you last week that I would have to wait for the right time. I can’t just walk up to Betty and tell her I want a divorce so I can marry you, now can I?”

The feminine response was on the point of tears. “You always say that. You’ve been promising to tell her for the past six months. I don’t think you really want to marry me!”

“Now don’t say that Nancy; you know I’m crazy about you.”

“I don’t believe you; you want to stay married to Shirley while having an affair with a stupid softie like me. I can’t go on like this….”

Harry was both embarrassed by the conversation and perplexed by the source of the voices. He walked from the dining room into the kitchen that lay on the other side of the wall. There were no voices in the kitchen or in the storage room further along the same wall. He wondered, Am I going mad? The wall itself is generating the voices.

While trying to make sense of his conclusion, Harry returned to the dining room and sat at a different table where the conversation between two women was less controversial, more mundane. One of the women said, “I’m tired of doing her job for her as well as my own.”

The other women replied, “And I don’t suppose you receive any thanks for it either.”

“Are you kidding? Audrey can be a real bitch. One of these days, I’ll lose my temper and tell her what I think of her. Then I’ll be fired.”

“Ha! You might be promoted.”

Harry found this exchange less than exciting and moved to his favorite table in the dining room: a booth in the corner, adjacent to an artificial Ficus tree. There were voices here too, apparently between two men in their late twenties or early thirties. They spoke with distinct accents. The younger-sounding of the pair was expressing frustration with his food. “I don’t like eating this shit for my breakfast. Isn’t there anywhere we can go that serves the kind of food we normally eat?”

“Not in this part of the country, Zarak, and you certainly won’t find restauarnts serving Pashtun food on Streatham High Street in London. If you stay in this place long enough you’ll get used to the food. You should eat the egg and bacon — it’s good for you.”

“Under Islamic law, we’re not allowed to eat pork or pork products and you know it, Jasper. Under the same law, you’re not supposed to stare at pictures of semi-naked women on page three of that newspaper you’re hiding behind.”

“I am studying the weather forecast, my friend, not pictures of naked women. I like to equip myself with all the information we might need to accomplish our project…”

The conversation finished in mid-sentence as though a recording machine had stopped. The dining room was now completely silent. Harry sat there for a while, but the silence continued. Eventually, he went to bed greatly puzzled by all three conversations to which he had been party, but fell sound asleep almost immediately.

The night’s adventure stayed with Harry all through the next day so that he could hardly wait to return to the dining room the following evening, a few minutes before midnight. He sat at the first table of the previous night but there was total silence. He was disappointed. The silence remained, no matter where he sat. Eventually, he rose ready to return to his bedroom. Suddenly, the voices came to life as though someone had flipped a switch at midnight. At the second table of the previous night, he heard the two women continue complaining about their supervisory management. He moved on.

At the corner table, the two men with strange accents were deep in conversation. The man called Zarak was still unhappy. “How much longer are we going to hang around in England? I want to go home.”

“You’ve forgotten that this is my country, so I am already home — at least for a while, but you can go home as soon as we complete the tasks assigned to us. You will have to wait until you can board the freighter Mediterranean Venturer on its way back to Libya; it’s the only safe way for you to get out of this country.” He released a loud belch and a fart simultaneously and chuckled, obviously pleased with his achievement.

Zarak was not amused. “You said we had to collect two more missiles before the mission is finished, so why are we hanging around so far from the ocean and the beach where we keep our boat?”

“You know very well that Khan Zada has to collect the missiles from Benghazi, and bring them to England, so we can meet him in the Severn Estuary and carry them ashore. He has quite a long journey to travel, and will not be back in the estuary for us to meet him for another six days.”

“And then we will pick up the missiles and launch them?”

“As soon as we’ve delivered all the cocaine to our network, we will launch the missiles.”

“I’ve another question: you have never explained how we are going to use these missiles.”

“Keep your voice down, Zarak. Do you wish everyone to hear what we are doing?”


“You do not need to know this information.”

“I should be allowed to know just as much as you; I risk my life just as you do.”

“Your task is to remain humble and obey commands; it is safer that way. If you are captured and interrogated, it is better not to know too much.”

As on the previous night, the conversation stopped without warning. What he had heard from these two terrorists horrified Harry Benson. Alarmed, he began backing away from the table. In his panic, he knocked over a chair and froze, thinking the terrorists would seize him and silence him, maybe slit his throat with one of his own table knives, whereas the two men seemingly continued to ignore his presence. I guess they can’t hear me. It’s as though their conversation is only a recording. As he crept quietly away from the area, it occurred to him that what he had been hearing was just that — a recording. The wall had recorded an earlier conversation and was re-playing it.

He used the kitchen phone to call the police. The duty sergeant at Streatham station ridiculed his story. “You’re telling us that the wall in your dining room records conversations heard during the day and plays them back between midnight and one a.m.? Have you been sampling the liquor from your bar prior to calling us, Mr. Benson?”

After an hour on the phone, Harry found himself speaking to Rodney Bennington-Jones, a junior officer from MI5. Jones reluctantly agreed to join Harry the next evening at midnight in order to listen to the conversations the wall had recorded. Throughout the following day, Harry kept a close eye on diners in his restaurant, hoping to match them to the midnight voices, but was disappointed with his lack of success, although he was attracted to the two women at the second table.

On the third night, Harry guided Bennington-Jones to the corner table. To Harry’s relief and Jones’s surprise, as the minute hand on the restaurant clock hit midnight, they heard the voices of the two young terrorists continue their conversation of the previous night. Zarak was saying, “I will not talk, even if they torture me – you know that. Tell me how we are going to use the missiles.”

“All right. After I order some more of this excellent coffee, I will tell you.”

“Do you really think the coffee is excellent? My father says the coffee they drink here is like camel piss.”

There was muffled dialogue as Jasper ignored his excitable young friend and ordered another cup of coffee and a slice of Banbury Cake from the waitress. He then answered Zarak’s question. “Now, keep your voice down Zarak. We will take the two new missiles, together with the original two that are stored at the depot, to London in the van.” Jasper was silent for a moment, presumably looking around to see if anyone was watching them, before softly continuing his explanation. “In London, we will launch two missiles to strike the British government in their fancy Houses of Parliament. We will use the other two on Buckingham Palace.”

“In the photos, those buildings look large. Will two missiles really destroy them?”

“Not the whole buildings. We will launch the missiles from the rear of the van to penetrate the walls or roof of the central section of building. The design of the missiles allows them to explode only after they penetrate inside the buildings, thus causing the maximum damage. With Allah’s blessing, we can kill many of the government people inside Parliament — or wound them. Our purpose is to frighten the British people, and make them realize that we can destroy them any time we want.”

“Where will we be when we launch the missiles and how will we launch them?”

“For the attack on Parliament, we’ll be on Westminster Bridge with the rear of the van facing the buildings, and will fire the missiles through the van’s open doors. We will launch the other missiles from the street known as The Mall.”

“Ha! The English people will not be happy when we kill their Queen. Can we return to the beach today? I am really excited about the job we have to do.”

The MI5 officer was anxiously making copious notes when the accent of the two terrorists suddenly changed. In a South London accent, the one who had described the plan of attack said, “I think we can stop here; we’ve rehearsed our lines quite enough for Saturday evening.”

With a chuckle, his companion replied, “I think that scene is going well. It’s a good job we’ve not been overheard; otherwise we might both be in jail by now. If you’ve finished your camel piss, I’ll pay the bill.”

“That’s nice of you. Thanks Sidney. I suppose we’ll meet again at the theatre on Friday at 6 p.m. for dress rehearsal. Take care in the meantime.”

“You too, Jim. See yah!”

Rodney Bennington-Jones glared at Harry Benson. “I think you should try sleeping at night.”

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By Diana Sigler


It’s two in the morning–dark, deadly quiet.

My back is hurting.

I cannot sleep…

and the night visions begin.


During the bright busy day

these visions shrink into

some corner of my mind,

overshadowed by logic…

life philosophy.


But not now–not here.

Alone in the dark and quiet,

my mind chews up logic

and spits it back as fear.

My sciatica is bone cancer.

My need for glasses…

impending blindness.

The five pounds I wrestle to lose

become fifty pounds of blubber.


My visions go global.

The Mideast bombings and beheadings

happen on my walkway.

Warming seas lap at my front door.

A comet has dead aim on my house.


And all the new viruses!

Epidemics?  Pandemics?

Nuclear weapons in Iran?

A moron running North Korea?

Donald Trump?


Exhausted I drop back into bed…and sleep.


In the warm morning light

I water flowers, humming.

The night visions have retreated

into their tiny black box in my brain.

If only that box had a locked lid!


Published by courtesy of Diana Sigler February 28, 2016

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The rising and falling howls of air raid sirens

tear me tiredly from my sleep.

At one or two o’clock, most nights are the same.

I am three years old.

My mother calls me and will soon appear

to wrap me in a blanket and carry me to the garden

before the bombers reach us.


With our two Irish neighbors, we hurry through the cold night air

by flashlight to our shelter, half-buried beneath earth and rock.

Its entrance yawns in the night like the mouth of some vast predatory beast.

By day, small, white daisies mingle in tangled profusion

with yellow stonecrop and blue lobelia, to hide the ugliness of the mound.

This shell of corrugated iron, damp, and moldering,

might be the lair of a large, extinct animal.


The Irishman says this refuge of spiders by day

and many other creatures by night

provides nothing but the illusion of security.

For if a bomb should make a direct hit on the shelter,

not the tiniest fragment of us will be left

for a shocked and grieving neighborhood to ponder over:

not one button or cotton thread, not even a daisy petal or an eyelash.


Bombers high overhead drone like bees in long grass on a hot summer’s day.

The ground trembles with distant detonation of bombs dropped,

obliterating unseen people in their unseen homes.

The bombing draws closer, earth shaking beneath us.

Fear overcomes reserve; nervous adults clutch the bench seats,

talk about small things, or in desire for physical contact with others,

offer to hold me in their arms.


Bombs have never fallen as close as tonight, a stick of them approaches.

The whistle and detonation of each bomb falling, draws ever nearer, ever louder.

Without warning, an explosion so close it seems the end,

threatens to burst our ears and eyes.

The ground’s violent tremor jerks us off the bench.

I never knew any sound could be so loud, so powerful, so physical.

Will the next bomb in the stick fall directly on us or fall beyond?


No time to wait! Adults hold their breath in terror….

The next bomb lands on the downstream side of the bombing run.

An audible gasp of relief escapes from all.

We are spared again, but a family less fortunate paid the supreme price.

I peer between the Irishman’s legs for a thrilling view of this exciting, night world.

Having never seen fireworks, I see brilliant flashes accompany explosions.

Light showers of shrapnel and debris rain down, providing

a treasure trove of exciting finds for me and my playmates next day.


Powerful searchlights crisscross the sky,

sensing and probing in the black, moonless heaven

like long fingers of a blind person’s hands.

Bombers at great height move like tiny, crawling insects.

Touched by a searchlight beam, they light like jewels

and sparkle as they twist and thrash about, trying to break free.

Minuscule specks of incandescence appear around the insects

as flak shells burst at the same height among them.


Will we hit any of the bombers? I wonder.

Even as I watch, a searchlight beam catches a bomber,

trapped, despite its every move to escape.

Within moments, it flares and drops like a brilliant falling star,

wings broken and burning, until it explodes in a bright, pink cloud

with fragments falling in a shower of fiery rain, into the English Channel.

Horror of that awful fireball stuns me; I watch motionless,

its image forever imprinted on my mind.


The noise level lessens, the bombs now fall elsewhere in the city.

I look up to find the tall, kind Irishman staring down at me.

I want to ask a dozen questions about what I have seen,

but my voice will not work; the words stick in my throat.

Sight of an enemy bomber destroyed while they watch

causes a chorus of defiant and determined cheers to rise into the sky

from occupants of other shelters in the neighborhood.


The cheers seem so callous, so wicked to me.

I understand, in a confused way, that I have witnessed

a scene so exciting and triumphant, but terrible.

I blink to hold back the tears that threaten to fall.

I know that Germans are our enemy and that we must kill them,

but I do not understand how to hate Germans, or anyone else, that much

–at least, not yet.

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