The Greatest Summer Homework List Ever

The dreaded summer reading list. For most kids, summer is a time when they can forget about school, but many teachers want to keep their thumbs in that glorious time of blissful forgetfulness. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing – an increasing number of voices in the education community are calling for modifications.

But Cesare Cata, who teaches at a secondary school in the central Le Marche region in Italy, wants his students to use their time off for less academic pursuits. I bless his name, and wish I had had a teacher like this.

Here the original Italian:

1. Al mattino, qualche volta, andate a camminare sulla riva del mare in totale solitudine: guardate come vi si riflette il sole e, pensando alle cose che più amate nella vita, sentitevi felici.
2, Cercate di usare tutti i nuovi termini imparati insieme quest’anno: più cose potete dire, più cose potete pensare; e più cose potete pensare, più siete liberi
3. Leggete, quanto più potete. Ma non perché dovete. Leggete perché l’estate vi ispira avventure e sogni, e leggendo vi sentite simili a rondini in volo. Leggete perché è la migliore forma di rivolta che avete (per consigli di lettura, chiedere a me).
4. Evitate tutte le cose, le situazioni e le persone che vi rendono negativi o vuoti: cercate situazioni stimolanti e la compagnia di amici che vi arricchiscono, vi comprendono e vi apprezzano per quello che siete.
5. Se vi sentite tristi o spaventati, non vi preoccupate: l’estate, come tutte le cose meravigliose, mette in subbuglio l’anima. Provate a scrivere un diario per raccontare il vostro stato (a settembre, se vi va, ne leggeremo insieme)
6. Ballate. Senza vergogna. In pista sotto cassa, o in camera vostra. L’estate è una danza, ed è sciocco non farne parte.
7. Almeno una volta, andate a vedere l’alba. Restate in silenzio e respirate. Chiudete gli occhi, grati.
8. Fate molto sport.
9. Se trovate una persona che vi incanta, diteglielo con tutte la sincerità e la grazia di cui siete capaci. Non importa se lui/lei capirà o meno. Se non lo farà, lui/lei non era il vostro destino; altrimenti, l’estate 2015 sarà la volta dorata sotto cui camminare insieme (se questa va male, tornate al punto 8).
10. Riguardate gli appunti delle nostre lezioni: per ogni autore e ogni concetto fatevi domande e rapportatele a quello che vi succede.
11. Siate allegri come il sole, indomabili come il mare.
12. Non dite parolacce, e siate sempre educatissimi e gentili.
13. Guardate film dai dialoghi struggenti (possibilmente in lingua inglese) per migliorare la vostra competenza linguistica e la vostra capacità di sognare. Non lasciate che il film finisca con i titoli di coda. Rivivetelo mentre vivete la vostra estate.
14.Nella luce sfavillante o nelle notti calde, sognate come dovrà e potrà essere la vostra vita: nell’estate cercate la forza per non arrendervi mai, e fate di tutto per perseguire quel sogno.
15. Fate i bravi.

And here the English translation:

  1. In the morning, sometime, go walk by the sea in total solitude: look at how the sun is reflected and, thinking about the things you love most in life, feel happy.
  2. Try to use all the new word you learned together this year: the more things you can say, the more things you can think of; and the more things you can think of, the more free you become.
  3. Read as much as you can. But not because you have to. Read because the summer inspires dreams and adventures, and because while you are reading you feel like swallows in flight. Read because it is the best form of revolt there is. (For suggested reading, ask me).
  4. Avoid all things, situations and people that make you negative or empty: Look for challenging situations and the company of friends that will enrich you, understand you, and appreciate you for who you are.
  5. If you feel sad or scared, do not worry: the summer, as all wonderful things do, can trouble the soul. Try to write a diary to record your feelings; (in September, if you like, we will read these together).
  6. Dance. Shamelessly. In line at the bank, or in your room. Summer is a dance, and it is foolish not to take part.
  7. At least once, go see the sunrise. Remain silent and breathe. Close your eyes, grateful.
  8. Play sports. A lot.
  9. If you find a person who enchants you, tell them with all the sincerity and grace of which you are capable. It doesn’t matter if (s)he understands or not. If (s)he does not, (s)he was not your destiny; otherwise, the summer 2015 will be the great gilded vault under which you walk together (if this goes wrong, go back to step 8).
  10. Review the notes of our classes: for each author and each concept, ask yourself questions and liken them to what happens to you.
  11. Be as cheerful as the sun, as untamable as the sea.
  12. Do not use bad language, and always be most wise and kind.
  13. Watch films with poignant dialog (preferably in English) to improve your language skills and your ability to dream. Do not let the films end with the credits. Re-live them while you live your summer.
  14. In sparkling light or on warm nights, dream about what your like can and must be; in the summer serch for the strength never to give up, and do everything to pursue that dream.
  15. Be good.

The Old Wolf has nothing more to add.

Which America Do You Want?

America 3

The above buttons represent sentiments that were commonly seen as bumper stickers during the Vietnam War era. The former was by far the most prevalent, but the latter could be seen on the vehicles of anti-war activists. Then, as now, political polarization was the rule rather than the exception.

Ever the bellwether of social trends (if only to make fun of them,) Mad magazine featured a recurring segment by Al Jaffee entitled “Hawks and Doves:”


Tragically, the politics of the America that I have known (from Kennedy, who was the earliest president about whom I was old enough to care, to the present day) has been defined by the black-and-white fallacy. I recall my mother having said, “If Goldwater wins, we’re moving to Switzerland.”

The typical “love-it-or-leave-it” stance is epitomized in this song by Joyce Shaffer:

Now that’s a really catchy song, and she makes some good points about government transparency, money and special interests taking precedence over the voice of the people, and similar things – but it still sends a strong message: If you don’t agree with our philosophy, you are less-than and not welcome in this country, and you had best get out.
Pasquale and Maria 150
These are my grandparents. They immigrated to this country in around 1900, came through Ellis Island, settled in the great metropolis of New York, and raised a family. They worked their butts off, and although they never were terribly successful at learning English, their kids went to school and did, and became honorable and productive members of this society, all the while injecting some wonderful Italian flavor into the world around them.
Wanderbuch Cover Page
This is the cover page from the Wanderbuch (sort of a hiking journal) of my wife’s great-grandfather, who was born in Bavaria and who came to this country in around 1850. My wife’s father spoke no German, so it’s a good bet that the descendants assimilated well, all the while bringing some German feelings, attitudes and philosophies to the general mix.
The thing about the many waves of immigrants that washed upon our shores is that they came to enjoy and appreciate the freedoms and opportunities that our land has to offer, and were not intent on re-making this nation in the image of the lands of their birth.
Immigration has not been without challenges, and I’ve written about some of the specifics before. Strict interpretation of the “love it or leave it” philosophy can lead to such atrocities as Japanese internment camps, which must never again be allowed to happen.

“Many who say “Love it or leave it,” are sincere. But their tersely stated ultimatum smacks of death not life. For if all who love America uncritically were to stay, and all who criticize America were to leave this nation, described by one of its founding fathers as “the world’s best hope,” would fast disappear.” – Dr. Ernest T.C. Campbell

That said, no group who has come to our country must ever be allowed to re-cast our basic laws and/or constitution to suit their particular ideology – any such attempt must be doomed to failure.

On the other side of the coin, America has changed since its inception. The founders had enough foresight to place into the Constitution a way of changing it, but it had to be a difficult way that made sure any changes reflected the will of the people. It’s not easy to get an amendment passed, but it has happened – and mostly for the good.

The Bill of Rights. Emancipation. Voting rights. And 24 others. Over time, change must happen or a nation stagnates.


I firmly believe it’s time for our nation to move forward into the 21st century in spirit and not just in calendar date. There are far too many things still wrong in our country; unequal opportunity, the persistence of racism, over-militarization of police departments, a deeply entrenched culture of misogyny, and a continuing belief by those in power over our lives that fighting for “truth, justice, and the American Way” involves running roughshod over other nations to plunder their resources and subvert their cultures to our benefit.

The above clip is part of a show… how I wish it had been a real speech. And it’s not perfect, because it ignores the economic terrorism that was going on under our noses during the great period of history that was being referred to. But it brings up some critical points, and casts the harsh light of reason on areas where our country needs improvement.

Unadulterated “Love it or Leave It” implies a nation that works for only a very restricted subset of our population, and not for everyone. Rigorous “Change it or Lose It” fails to focus on the things that have made and continue to make our nation a desirable destination for many of the world’s citizens.

As with anything, we need to strike a balance:

America 4

Those of us who have been blessed with American citizenship by birth, and those who seek to become members under that head, need to have a deep and abiding love for the Constitution of our land and the principles upon which it was founded. But we also need to take a hard look at our country and make a concerted effort to change the things that only work for a few and exert downward pressure on the many, all the while maintaining and defending those parts of our heritage that (in a positve way) set us apart for so long from the rest of the nations of the world.

Education is key. We need to raise new generations of people who are wanter/needer/finders, people who can look around at problems and say, “I can do something about that” and who truly have the skills to do it. In the meantime, I’m doing what I can.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Chalk Mark

You’ve probably heard the story in various incarnations. An old Navy chief, an engineer, an auto mechanic – you name it – he’s called in to diagnose a problem with some sort of engine or device. He puts a chalk mark on the machine showing where to make the repair, and sends a bill for $10,000, most of which was for knowing where to put the mark.

I always thought this was an urban legend, it appears that there may be some truth in it, if an article at the Smithsonian is to be believed; obviously no source is above scrutiny, but I know that the Smithsonian does its best to be accurate, factual, and scientific in its reporting, hence I thought it was worth sharing.


Charles Proteus Steinmetz circa 1915 – Wikipedia

From the Smithsonian Article:

Before long, the greatest scientific minds of the time were traveling to Schenectady to meet with the prolific “little giant”; anecdotal tales of these meetings are still told in engineering classes today. One appeared on the letters page of Life magazine in 1965, after the magazine had printed a story on Steinmetz. Jack B. Scott wrote in to tell of his father’s encounter with the Wizard of Schenectady at Henry Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

Ford, whose electrical engineers couldn’t solve some problems they were having with a gigantic generator, called Steinmetz in to the plant. Upon arriving, Steinmetz rejected all assistance and asked only for a notebook, pencil and cot. According to Scott, Steinmetz listened to the generator and scribbled computations on the notepad for two straight days and nights. On the second night, he asked for a ladder, climbed up the generator and made a chalk mark on its side. Then he told Ford’s skeptical engineers to remove a plate at the mark and replace sixteen windings from the field coil. They did, and the generator performed to perfection.

Henry Ford was thrilled until he got an invoice from General Electric in the amount of $10,000. Ford acknowledged Steinmetz’s success but balked at the figure. He asked for an itemized bill.

Steinmetz, Scott wrote, responded personally to Ford’s request with the following:

Making chalk mark on generator    $1.

Knowing where to make mark         $9,999.

Ford paid the bill.

The story fits well with what is known about Steinmetz, a mercurial genius of engineering. Unless we can get the plans for Professor Waxman’s time machine, there’s no way of verifying the story, but this iteration of it has a ring of truth.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Telling a story with one picture


I saw this photo on reddit today, and then discovered that it’s been shared hundreds of times. I have not found an original source, nor a definitive description, but the words most associated with the image tell the story of a poor Philippine farmer who sacrificed much to put his son through college. Upon graduation, the son expressed that his father was his greatest pride. Some captions indicate that the boy’s mother died in childbirth.

As mentioned, I can’t verify any of that [1]… but the picture seems genuine, and doubtless represents the efforts that millions of parents around the world have made to ensure that their children have a better shot in life than they did. It speaks of love, devotion, and sacrifice, and warms my heart beyond description.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


[1] Note: if anyone who happens to read this knows of the original source or background for this image, shoot me a comment and I’ll update the post.

Reaching for the brass ring

In modern English, “grabbing the brass ring” or getting a “shot at the brass ring” means to go for the gold, or to strive for the best possible reward. The phrase has been found in dictionaries as early as the late 19th century.



Coney Island, 1958, photo by Harold Feinstein

The phrase originated with carousels in the late 1800’s; according to Wikipedia:

 “A brass ring is a small grabbable ring that a dispenser presents to a carousel rider during the course of a ride. Usually there are a large number of iron rings and one brass one, or just a few. It takes some dexterity to grab a ring from the dispenser as the carousel rotates. The iron rings can be tossed at a target as an amusement. Typically, getting the brass ring gets the rider some sort of prize when presented to the operator. The prize often is a free repeat ride.”

I grew up in New York in the 50s, and the first carousel in Central Park was opened in 1871. The current one, the Friedsam Memorial Carousel, was  installed in 1950, but I don’t ever recall a brass-ring device; if they ever had one, it must have been removed earlier before its relocation from Coney Island.


It’s a great analogy for life. To get that brass ring, you have to stretch, to reach out, to take a risk. Those who sit on the inside, or who watch that little dispenser go by ever turn without reaching for it, will never know what it means to succeed, or even to fail while trying.

Finding our dreams in life is often difficult because we’re too busy living our fears, but one thing is certain: reaching for the stars will always get us farther than sitting in the mud.


Go ahead. Reach for the brass ring.

The Old Wolf has spoken.