Wednesday, October 29, 2008


As of this moment, I am DONE commenting on your college essays.

Between now and the day they are all passed back to you--on average it's going to take two weeks, three at the outside--I will not discuss ANY college essay with ANYONE.

You can still see me about your AP Practice Essays (and some of you really SHOULD), or other aspects of the class, but I will not talk about a paper that is in the process of being graded. I hope you can understand why that would be unfair. If you can't, ask someone who does.

Also, after much discussion and thought, I've decided that the vocabulary test should basically be retaken. I looked through the responses and was disappointed at how few were able to finish, not to mention how many were STILL sloppy and didn't follow directions after my repeated instructions. I said I wouldn't grade those, and I'm not joking.'s the deal: EVERYONE will have until class time next MONDAY 11/3/08 to complete the vocab test. BUT...and I do mean're going to have to print out your answers and bring them to class. This will no longer be an online test submission.


Because I'm not grading these. My TAs will. And since the tests are now being graded by TAs, who are instructed to simply follow the key, if your answer diverges significantly from the one on the key, it's just wrong...period. I certainly won't be giving you the benefit of the doubt. And yeah, they will also be instructed to grade brutally on sloppiness.

And if any answers are verbatim, the people who turned in the identical answers will be sent down for admin review. If you don't have the good sense to at least rewrite an answer you copied, you deserve to be nailed to the wall.

I'm very, VERY disappointed that some people didn't approach the task with honesty and integrity. But like I said, I believe in karma. If you do things dishonorably, at some point it WILL come back and bite you in the ass. Believe it. I've seen it.

If you haven't gotten the test yet, you can download it below:


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Personal Statement Portfolios Due on Thursday

I've commented on the 27 personal statements I've received. There were two As, five A-minuses. Those seven students should not resubmit their finals, but they do need to turn in all their prior drafts with stamps for full credit.

The other 20 can resubmit on Thursday unless they're content with their grade. And there really is nothing wrong with a B...this can be a tough essay, not everyone is going to be able to pull off an A. It won't necessarily affect your college admissions, the essay is only one part of the equation.

EVERYONE should have EVERYTHING ready to turn in on Thursday. That means EVERY stamp, and a CLEAN final draft. CLEAN means typed, double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point font. I don't care about MLA formatting, in fact, I prefer that your name be on the top right corner.

I hope you all do understand that as flexible as I can be about some things, I am completely unswayable on the subject of portfolio deadlines. This is a non-negotiable point, so have your stuff or take a zero.

And yeah, we're going to have to figure something out about the Vocab test, it was a different type of disaster this time around, wasn't it? Try to come up with some ideas, would you? I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Vocabulary Test 1-50 Stats and Key

Finally! I'm done grading the first vocab test. It took WAY longer than it should have, which is why I've implemented a set of STRICT RULES with the second test.

1. I will only accept answers as direct responses to the test email.  DO NOT ATTACH WORD DOCUMENTS!!! Just write your answers DIRECTLY IN THE EMAIL!! This will speed up my grading considerably as I won't have to download, open and convert the files (I don't have Word on my computers, I refuse to buy Microsoft products).

2. I will no longer try to decipher answers that are incomplete sentences and match them up to the question. If you don't indicate in your answer what the question was, it's going to be marked incorrect.  Period.

3. I will no longer try to decipher unnumbered, or otherwise sloppy tests. It takes forever...if you don't care enough about your grade to be neat, then I don't see that it's my job to compensate for your carelessness. Do it right. (Helpful hint: the Answer Key below offers a pretty good example of what your test response ought to look like...look it over and emulate the formatting as best you can.)

Stats on the tests:

2nd period- High score: 35 Average: 20.4 (58.3%)
3rd period-- High score: 38 Average: 22.4 (58.9%)
6th period- High score: 32 Average: 18 (56%)

This is not encouraging. I'm hoping these poor results are because the testing environment was so chaotic and distracting, which is why I hope the at-home test will be good for everyone. Quarter grades will be due in another two weeks. Time is getting short.

REMINDER: If you aren't able to do the test at home on Monday morning, you MUST let me know VIA EMAIL asap!!!

The Answer Key is below:

1. Does this article suggest that "assiduous string saving" is a valuable writing technique?
Yes, the article says that good writers save strings assiduously to help stimulate ideas.

2. Is the title of this blog an oxymoron?
Yes, the title of the blog is an oxymoron.

3. Can you aver that you handwrote your vocabulary notes?
Yes, you should be able to swear that your notes are handwritten.

4. What is the main root word in "amanuensis," and why?
"Manu" means "by hand," which is how a secretary used to write.

5. In this article, is the phenomenon of online avatar usage given a positive or negative spin?
Avatars are presented as a positive alternative to revealing one's actual identity online.

6. Explain why the headline of this article is a painful pun
"Ashen-faced" mourners when urns full of ashes are stolen? Yuck.

7. Does this site live up to its name? Why?
Yes, the website is dark and foreboding.

8. Is the name of this software appropriate for its purpose?
Yes, bookkeeping is generally tedious, repetitive work.

9. Does this roller coaster live up to its name?
Yes, it sure is a very large rollercoaster.

10. If you google "Kennedy assignation," what do you get? Why?
You get all these pages on the Kennedy ASSASSINATION because stupid
conspiracy theorists don't know how to spell.

11. From this article, what can we deduce about Heather MacDonald's position on the question?
Presumably, based on this response, Heather MacDonald does NOT think God is beneficent.

12. Why might Miss Prism require a capacious handbag for her manuscript?
Since it is manuscript for a three-volume novel, it must be pretty big.

13. Which vocabulary word best describes this photograph?
Carapace. It's a turtle...duh.

14. Based on the information given here:
what is the result of the aberration in spherical mirrors?
The image is blurry and unfocused.

15. Is this a good name for this company?
Yes, the guitars are quite ornate.

16. Which two publishers collaborated to create Amalgam Comics?
Marvel & DC created Amalgam Comics.

17. Why would one name a coffeehouse "Anodyne?"
It's not a bad name for a coffeehouse because coffee is a kind of anodyne, it kills the pain of mornings.

18. When Henry Higgins compares Eliza Doolittle to a "bilious pigeon," which personal characteristic is he referring to? Is it complimentary?
Higgins is saying her voice or manner of speech sounds like a pigeon throwing up so, no...that is not a compliment.

19. Based on the logo at what can you assume they do?
The soundwaves on the logo indicates the company does something with sound, speakers, probably.

20. How are the literal and metaphoric meanings of "canard"
illustrated on this website?
There is an actual picture of a duck--a literal canard--and the stories are apparently fake.

21. How do the creators of
subvert the common meaning of the word?
Instead of avoiding or denouncing unacceptable ideas, they pursue/embrace them.

22. In photography, does a wider aperture make your photograph sharper or softer?
A wider aperture should make your photograph softer as the light is less tightly focused.

23. Why is this an odd name for this restaurant?
Since it is a fancy restaurant in a fancy hotel, it's unlikely that too many people go there on a whim.

24. Look at the crest, what connection can you make between the esquire helm and the name?
The crest implies that the Benison family was knighted at some point in its history, knighting is a type of blessing from the king.

25. What has Frost lost?
Frost has lost everything except his faith.

26. Go to
and read the synopsis. Based on the description, explain the title of the movie.
Presumably, the "traumatizing rite of passage" the protagonist suffered in his childhood involved some sort of slaughter/bloodshed.

27. What genre of music does this band most likely play?
The name "Acrid" implies that the band's music is harsh and discordant, probably metal, punk, or some other heavy rock.

28. Explain the painful irony of this article and its headline:,9171,883024,00.html
The story tells how, in the lead-up to Hitler's invasion of Poland, the US was open to helping Jewish refugees. But we know that in actuality, the US did very little to help Jews escaping Nazi oppression at that time.

29. Is assimilation assumed to be a desirable phenomenon in this article? Why?
Assimilation is assumed to be desireable because conventional wisdom expects everyone to want to "belong."

30. Go to and explain what the company does.
It's hard to tell what this company does, as the descriptions appear to be deliberately amorphous.

31. Find a real-life example of atavism, describe it.
Some people are born with a little tail...cute. But since this characteristic is a throwback to a prior stage of evolution, it is atavistic.

32. Why might the title of the movie have confused the writer of the comment here:
Are you confused by it? Can you offer a plausible interpretation?
It is a really stupid name for a zombie movie, but it implies that the zombies are created through some sort of transfusion from a non-thinking yet independently active being. The comments indicate, however, that that explanation is not supported by the movie, so, yeah, I'm confused, too.

33. What is the legal definition of "bifurcate," as it relates to a trial?
To bifurcate legally means to separate the penalty phase of a trial
from the verdict.

34. Is appropriately named? Why?
Abstemious is a very appropriate name for a rehab clinic website,
since recovering addicts should abstain.

35. Was this a successful billet assignment?
Yes, this assignment seems successful because the soldier and the
little old lady seemed to get along very well.

36. Do you agree with the letter writer or the columnist?
I would hope that everyone in AP English will agree with the
columnist, because "bucolic" is not a terribly high level vocabulary

37. According to
why was alchemical theory destined to fail?
Because science simply does not support alchemica theory, which is
more like magic.

38. Who coined this aphorism?
"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a
revolutionary act."
-George Orwell.

39. Does this blogger use "bibulous" correctly with relation to the
subject of his entry?
No, the entry has nothing to do with drinking, just the bible.

40. Why might be completely empty?
Because the website's creator never finished it. (This is kind of a
trick question...but the answer is kind of OBVIOUS, isn't it?)

41. Which vocabulary word best describes this nose?
Bulbous...a big blobby bulbous bloated bumpy buffoonish schnoz.

42. Why do you think Lightspeed blocks the Cacophony Society's website?
Because the Cacophony Society promotes subversive, adult-themed pranks.

43. Is an example of
antiphonous music?
Yes, Billy Idol and the chorus call back and forth during the refrain.

44. Is this article generally positive or negative in its description
of Premier Wen?
It seems generally positive about Premier Wen, but some criticisms are voiced.

45. Read the summary at
and explain which daughter the title refers to.
It looks like it could refer to either of the daughters, as one has
come back from years of being "missing" and the other has a disability
that makes her difficult to understand.

46. Take a look at the questions at: .
Would an agoraphobic answer "yes" or "no" to most of them?
Most agoraphobics would probably answer "yes" to most of the questions
on the site.

47. Does this scientific research have a practical application?
It may be useful in determining mining techniques and weather research.

48. Is the "rising antipathy" reported on in this article considered
a positive or negative development?
Given the state of world affairs, more prejudice and distrust between
religious groups is not a positive development.

49. Does the headline use "avuncular" literally or metaphorically?
It is literal, the author is addressing his niece and nephew.

50. According to
what is our antipode?
Our antipode is somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Brave New World on celluloid

So, I think I mentioned this to 6th period, but forgot to tell 2nd and 3rd...but I will be showing part one of the 4 hour mini-series of Brave New World after school on Thursday. You're probably not going to be able to find this anywhere else, at least I can't get it on Netflix, and the copy on eBay is a bootleg (like mine). I got it from some guy in England who offers free copies to educators...who knows, maybe he's the one selling them on eBay. Some IMDB info:

This is the 1980 4 hour mini-series that has Bud Cort (from Harold and Maude) as Bernard Marx. Good casting. Other than that, no recognizable names in the cast. The sets are SO cheesy, it's hilarious. If anyone is a MST3K fan, you'd have a field day with this one.

This is the 1998 TV movie that has Peter Gallagher as Bernard Marx...very odd casting, since he's definitely leading man material. But Leonard Nimoy as Mustapha Mond is pretty cool. They update the technology pretty well, it looks like Sex and the City, cocktail parties and beautiful shallow people galore.

I hear there's another movie coming out in 2011 with Leonardo DiCaprio (not as Bernard Marx, I hope...more like John the Savage) and directed by Ridley Scott. This one might actually be good, if they can work around the anachronisms.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Last THREE emails

I'm getting worried about the last three folks who have not sent me emails, since MONDAY is the next vocab test, and they won't get it if I don't have their email addresses. We're down to the last week.

So...if you know:

Nick Fudenna
Allison Gower
Anna Liang

please remind them to email me ASAP. I figure if they get a dozen texts or chats or whatever it is you guys use these days telling them to do it, it might actually get done. Heaven knows me reminding them during class isn't doing anything. Never underestimate the power of peer pressure.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Discussion time!

Now that we've completed the first "unit" of the year, it's time to look at some of the underlying themes and connections in the texts so far. Remember that your participation grade is worth 100 points, that's roughly 8-10% of your semester grade, so it's not something you can blow off without consequence.

If you're one of those who never say anything in class, this is a chance to show that you are actually engaged in the readings. If you do speak up, that's great, but contributing to the online discussion couldn't hurt, either. Make sure your contributions are thoughtful and well-written. Don't incite arguments, be civil when you disagree with each other. Try to come up with something new and interesting, rather than posting a bunch of posts that only say "that was a great point, I totally agree." You may talk about all the texts and all the topics, or just pick a few that grab your interest.

I will be tracking your contributions, especially if you're absent on lecture days.

The texts under discussion this time are:

The Oresteia
Mourning Becomes Electra
A Rose for Emily
Sweeney Todd
A Modest Proposal


1. Vengeance: most of the plays we've read so far have centered around revenge...a crime was committed against the protagonist(s), and getting back at the perpetrator is a key motivation for his actions. In every case, the process of taking vengeance ends up costing the protagonist something else he treasured. Discuss--in some detail--whether the vengeance was justified; what the underlying message of these revenge dramas might be; how to reconcile our sympathy for the protagonist with our intellectual understanding of his failings.

2. Fathers: until very recently in human history, the role of a father was unclear. Before we understood how conception worked, the idea of "paternity" simply didn't exist. For millenia, before DNA was codified, fathers were defined legally as simply the mother's husband (hence the stigma of illegitimacy). Right now, we're actually undergoing a transitional period as issues like surrogacy, sperm donation and same-sex parents affect the traditional ways "fathers" were viewed (see link below for a policy-making perspective on this issue).

Government Document

How do the fathers in our texts affect their offspring? What makes them "good" or "bad" parents? Does being a bad parent make them bad people? Seeing as all the texts were written by men, what can you deduce about the ideas of "fatherhood" that inform their work?

3. Taboos: Murder, incest, rape, cannibalism...historically, humans have avoided speaking openly about such things. These days, with tabloidism running rampant, we're less squeamish about media stories that touch on taboo subjects, but we still don't like to deal with them in our real lives. They still make us uncomfortable when they hit too close to home. What is the purpose of taboo? Why would people be conditioned to not talk about important issues that affect them? Is it in our best interest to bring such things into the open, or should they stay in the shadows?

Prose 2.B Rubric and Sample

First of all, here is the full text for "Dry September," you should read it and see if your understanding of the passage in the test changes once you know the whole story:


Now, with that background filled in, take a look at this Cliff Notes analysis of the passage:


Things I was looking for as I scored your essays (I didn't expect to see every point addressed, even in the highest scoring essays, but the more the better):

-Minnie's inability to let go of a "glorious" past (bonus if you could draw parallels to the South clinging to antebellum past).
-Townsfolk's glee at her downfall, false sympathy, schadenfreude, her decline reinforces their own superiority.
-Faulkner's diction deals almost exclusively with external details, you must infer feeling from fact.
-Contrasting "bright" and "haggard," implies deep emotional conflict in Minnie, trying very hard to keep a mask on, denial of her true situation, etc...
-Class issues, Minnie's aspirations are above her, but she's unwilling to settle for less until it's too late (like Emily Grierson). Ultimately, she's rejected even by those she ought to be "better" than.
-Idle, useless lifestyle implies that Minnie isn't able to DO anything, her value lay only in her attractiveness and as that fades, she has nothing left to offer. The bank cashier is so uninterested in her once the affair ends that he doesn't even visit her when he returns to town.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Duelling Scene from Hamlet & other stuff

Here's an ARTICLE that explains the sword-switch scene in Hamlet.

On Colbert last week, he had Professor Stephen Greenblatt on to discuss the Shakespearean aspects of the presidential campaign...Greenblatt was my Shakespeare professor when I was at Cal (he moved to Harvard a couple of years later), and is probably the single most brilliant living Shakespearean scholar today. Here's the interview:

Here's an ARTICLE Greenblatt wrote about the circumstances behind Hamlet's creation. I recommend you read this thoroughly, especially if you had difficulties with Hamlet. The recusant theory is a particularly interesting aspect of Shakespearean interpretation, if anyone watches The Tudors on Showtime, you know why the idea of being a secret Catholic during the Elizabethan era is so powerful.

Finally, here's the Animaniac's rendering of Hamlet's "Alas poor Yorick" speech:

About that Personal Statement...

Here is the LINK for the Personal Statement Guidelines. Sorry it's taken me awhile to post it, just slipped my mind entirely that it wasn't included in the online syllabus.

As you can see, you have TWO more weeks to work on the rough draft in class...although I would recommend that those who are serious about college apps have a rough completed before then so I can give it a more thorough review. It's always best to let a draft sit for a few days between revisions. You have a fresher eye so you can see it more clearly.

By OCTOBER 20th, EVERYONE needs to have a completed rough draft. You then get a bit more than a week to type and revise. Final drafts due on 10/30/08.

So far, I've seen about eight completed essays. Out of 83 students. Not great. Step it up, folks.

Materials on Poetry Exam 2.A

First of all, the E.E. Cummings poem is technically untitled, but often referred to as america or the first line is used as the title. Here's some background info on Cummings, for those who did not know him previously:

Slate article about his influence on American Poetry.

Academic review article about his name.

Textbook page about the poem.

Blog page with essay on poem. This essay is good, but not great. A pretty basic 5 or 6.

One of the more surprising results of the test, to me, was that no one has--so far (I've read about half of the essays)--noted that the poem is a sonnet. You know, 14 lines, rhyming couplets (mostly, "beaut" and "slaughter" breaks the pattern), and the last two lines are distinct? It's not a conventional sonnet, by any means, but the bones of the form are there. And I'm POSITIVE most of you have had a passing knowledge of sonnets in your English classes up to now, poetic forms are big in the junior high curriculum. You need to be tapping into more of what you already know.

Finally, I am posting a sample essay below, this is NOT an AP essay, but it touches on many of the same points that a good AP essay would have. It scored a 5/5 on a different rubric, so would have scored at least an 8 or 9 on an AP rubric:

Values Without Knowledge

In his poem “next to of course god america i,” e.e. cummings takes what some would say about the values of patriotism and the tradition of fighting for the Untied States and shows his perspectives on these concepts. Cummings wrote this poem in 1926 during his disillusioned years after serving in World War I. Using unusual conventions along with assonance, diction and allusions to portray the irony of the speaker’s patriotism, cummings twists one man’s positive words about war into his negative feelings about it.

Making the main 13 lines of the poem entirely lowercase and using little punctuation portrays that cummings feels the speaker is unknowledgeable and hasn’t thought about what he is saying. No capitalization shows that the speaker does not know what he is talking about. He never saw the “heroic happy dead / who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter,” that he calls so beautiful. Cummings did see this and seems to have disrespect for the speaker’s words. Lack of punctuation makes the poem run together and go very quickly. This gives a sense of ranting and raving. Cummings is showing that the speaker has never thought about what he is saying and is only rambling on and on about what he does not know.

Cummings uses diction and assonance to further support his portrayal of the speaker’s foolish patriotism and let his own feelings show through. The first line of the poem clearly sets up the speaker’s priorities, “next to god america i.” God is number one and the sequence of the line follows his priorities. America and then himself. While the beginning of the poem has this articulation as the poem continues the word choice makes the speaker sound less and less serious, almost silly. “by gorry, by jingo, by gee, by gosh, by gum” The beginning of this line almost sounds serious but as the speaker finishes with “by gum,” it only supports that he is ranting because at this point he is speaking nonsense. Cummings also mocks the speaker’s word choice by dividing the word beautiful between two lines to represent that it really isn’t beautiful.

Assonance gives an unserious feeling to the poem with words such as oh and go, i and my, and dead and instead.
Allusions are another device cummings uses to mock the speaker’s thoughts. The speaker quotes famous patriotic songs in the beginning of the poem. “oh / say can you see by the dawn’s early my / country ‘tis of.’ This does show the speaker is patriotic. Rut the speaker only quotes the most popular lines of these songs. Cummings, again, shows that this patriotic speaker doesn’t really know what he’s saying; he doesn’t really know these songs.

Throughout “next to of course god america i,” cummings mocks the typical American patriot during post World War 1. He shows in many different ways the irony of what a patriot would say about these values that he is unknowledgeable of.