We Can’t Know What We Don’t Know

Claude Nadir in the role I knew him – Dunbar educator
Nadir as “Philosopher King” rap MC

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC 4.16.2014

We often think we know people, but many times we don’t know them as well as we think we do. Case in point – my relationship with my fellow educator Claude Nadir.

I met Nadir 3 years ago when I began consulting at Dunbar High School. Dunbar was once the preeminent black high school in America, but, like its urban counterparts around the country, it has fallen on hard times. Only 18 percent of its students read on grade level. That number is even lower for math.

At the time I met him, Nadir was a media specialist. But it quickly became apparent he was much more – he was a mover, a shaper, a problem solver. For the next 3 years, we worked on several projects together. As you might expect, we also came to share our frustration with the chaos and counter-intuitiveness that comes with urban education, especially in a district as troubled as DC. But Nadir, an indefatigable worker, never gave up his belief that the school, with innovation and hard work, could be turned around. He had expressed that optimism in the state-of-the-art web site and the special radio spots he had designed for Dunbar.

When I last saw Nadir , he was making corrections to his plan for the state testing that was going on in the school. He was still at Dunbar, even though it was nearly 6 p.m. and the students had been gone for 2-and-a-half hours. Ever the perfectionist, Nadir was erasing some mistakes he had made and was once again revising the revisions of the revisions he had already made.

We joked. We exchanged a few pleasantries. We said goodbye.  I left for a Twilight school program at another school. Nadir stayed to finish his work.

On Monday, I received a shocking text from one of my fellow consultants. He had learned that Nadir, only 34, had died. The text didn’t contain any details, so I rushed to the internet to see what I could find.

Googling his name, I discovered that Nadir indeed had died. But I also found out that there was so much about Claude – just one of the many names he was known as – that I had never known.

A piece from the ArtsDesk section of the Washington City Paper described Akil Nadir as a “Philosopher King, the straight-ahead MC known for his battle rhymes and sophisticated bravado” who had “influenced the course of D.C. hip-hop” and produced “grown man rap music.”

It also said that Nadir was known to his family and friends as Claude Lumpkin. In his local rap career, he had variously performed as Cool Cee Brown and in a duo known as Dirty Water.

City Paper writer Marcus J. Moore reported that Nadir had first navigated local hip-hop as a teenager in the mid-1990s, when MCs were confined to small clubs on U Street because Chuck Brown and go-go then ruled the District.

Moore quoted local artist DJ RBI on Nadir and his rap rep. “He dealt with a lot of issues grown men could relate to,” DJ RBI said. “Certain guys come along and remind you of how great the culture of rhyming and making music can be. He was somebody people really paid attention to.”

Well, not everyone paid attention to Nadir’s music. I didn’t. I didn’t even know it existed. But exploring Nadir’s life on line further, I did find the frank, funny Claude I knew.

On his blog, Nadir had this to say about the controversial issue of standardized testing:

I was telling you yesterday about how we just wrapped up the 2011 standardized tests at work. And I thought later that you all might want to know what I think about standardized tests.

I think they suck.

And maybe you didn’t want to know what I think. I told you anyway because I know what’s best for you.

They suck because they’re dumb. The kids don’t take them seriously because in DC they don’t count for anything. In New York City, you can’t graduate from high school unless you pass their big standardized test. Same thing in Texas. In DC, however, because we’re all so damned smart, we’ve invested millions of dollars into a testing system that the students are supposed to take seriously because …because … because… if they don’t do well, all the teachers they hate will lose their jobs.

Brilliant!

But I guess I can’t really complain about standardized tests and how inadequate they are in the business of measuring student achievement until someone comes up with a better idea. And since we can’t crack open their skulls, as much as we may want to, and see what’s going on in there, tests will have to do.

Still, like one of my students said on the first day of testing, “I don’t see why we gotta take this stupid- ass test anyway. A nigga ain’t gone know what a nigga don’t know.”


Well, Claude Lumpkin Akil Nadir, that doesn’t apply only to young black men. It applies to 62-year-old white men, too. I’m sorry I never got to know about your musical life. I know I would have liked it. And I also know that if you put even a portion of your amazing effort and immense heart into your rapping that I watched you put into your educating, it would have definitely been the opposite of stupid-ass. So goodbye, Philosopher King. It was good to know you, even if I didn’t know as well as I could have.

Here’s A Free Lunch If the Idea of Eating Insects Doesn’t Bug You

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC 6.16.2014

The 2 young women, dressed in fashionable summer DC office attire, looked down at the red napkin being held in front of them. The napkin contained today’s featured appetizers – Mexican spice mealworms, roasted mealworms, roasted crickets, and roasted locusts.

“How do they taste?” one of the women asked, making a face. “Are they yucky?”

“No, they are really crispy. And salty,” the man replied before slipping a small handful of the insects into his mouth.

Such conversations were the order of the day yesterday on the outdoor dining patio of the Occidental Seafood and Grill on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was serving as the site of a 3-hour, pop-up Pestaurant offering a menu consisting entirely of cooked insects.

The event, which was titled “Pestaurant on Pennsey,” was sponsored by Ehrlich, a DC-area pest control company. The 1st  Pestaurant event was held last year in London. This year the DC lunch at the Occidental was one of 12 locations around the globe that were offering insect dining.

Company officials said that one reason for the worldwide event was to try to make bugs and insects a little more appetizing to the general public. A 2013 report from the Unite Nations called consumer disgust “one of the largest barriers to the adoption of insects as viable sources of protein in many Western countries”. It also named “insect farming” as a potential way to “address food and feed insecurity” across the world.

But the free fun afternoon lunch also had a more immediate social impact. Erlich donated $5 to DC Central Kitchen, an organization which feeds the homeless and the poor, for every person who sampled bugs from the 3 insect-laden tables.

On the savory table, the wait staff was serving roasted crickets, Mexican spice mealworms, roasted mealworms, buffalo worms, and roasted locusts. On the sweet table, the offerings included scorpion lollipops, chocolate ant rounds,  mealworm lollipops, ant candy, and ant and cricket lollipops.

But, by far, the biggest culinary hit of the afternoon was the tasty grasshopper burgers created by Occidental executive chef Rodney Scruggs. He said his burgers were a combination of turkey, grasshopper, and a secret ingredient. “You always have to have a secret ingredient,” he joked. He explained that the grasshoppers used in the burgers reminded him of dry mushrooms. “I could see them pairing well with a really old wine,” Scruggs said. The chef explained that after much consultation dried grasshoppers were added to give the burger “a little extra crunch.” He said that since grasshoppers are a staple south of the border, he topped his creation off with a special salsa.

As television, print, and online cameramen recorded the scene, Scruggs said the environmental and charitable focus of the event appealed to the restaurant. “It’s for good causes, but it’s playful, fun, and whimsical, too,” he said. “It’s really a win-win for everyone”.

Gifts for Grandkids: How to Turn Christmas Gift No-No-Nos into Hearty Ho-Ho-Hos

With two weeks left until Christmas, family members all over the world are making silent, solemn, last-minute promises to be nice and not naughty this season when they gather together to celebrate the holidays.

No time signifies the special bonds of family more than Christmas. But too often, instead of familial peace, such gatherings disintegrate into verbal free-for-alls followed by abrupt, dramatic exits.

There are almost as many culprits for these explosions as there are white whiskers in Santa’s beard. Generational conflicts. Political differences. Seasonal pressures. Too much eggnog. Grandma getting run over by a reindeer.

Why even the wonderful tradition of exchanging gifts can lead to Grinch-like misadventures.

Obviously, not all the reasons for family holiday disputes are easy to address, but in the spirit of the season, here are a few last-minute offerings for grandparents (and actually all relatives) about gifting that, if followed, should greatly reduce any potential problems in that area.

Talk To The Parents First

You may be excited because you assume that you have found just the perfect gift for each of your grandchildren, special ones that will show your great love and they will enjoy forever.

However, we all know what can happen when we assume. Always consult parents before actually delivering your gifts to your grandkids. In this case, fathers (and even more often mothers) actually do know best.

Avoid Giving Gifts That Are Loud

You might be convinced that your grandson is destined to become the next Ringo Starr or John Bonham. But think before purchasing that 7-piece drum kit the music store salesman swears is just perfect for the budding young drummer. In fact, don’t ever even consider any loud gift until following suggestion #1.

Avoid Christmas Gifts That Are Large

Does your granddaughter really need a McMansion-size doll house with sleeping room for 16? Of course, if you followed suggestion #1 and the parents have said OK, then buy away. You can even add the six-car garage extension if you want.

Avoid Overly Luxurious Gifts

What child wouldn’t want to take an all-expense week-long trip with grandmom and grandpop to London, Paris or New York City. The answer is many. And probably even more parents might have some reservations about such as excursion.

But what if you really want to give this? Again, before making any concrete plans, follow suggestion #1. Maybe mom and dad will be so excited that they will want to join in, too.

Avoid Age Inappropriate Christmas Gifts

Of course, your grandchildren are absolutely advanced geniuses. I know mine are. But that doesn’t mean they are ready for the collected works of William Shakespeare or William Faulkner at age five.

The age idea should also be applied in reverse. Season tickets to the Children’s Puppetry Center probably won’t be appreciated by your teenage grandchildren unless they are planning on becoming the next Jim Henson.

Consider Your Other Grandchildren In The House

Your 10-year-old granddaughter Leia or your 9-your-old grandson Luke might really love the latest Rogue One Star Wars Lego set. However, consider how many Lego sets remain unopened in closets for fear that younger brothers or sisters might swallow the pieces.

Consider The Other Grandparents

In an ideal world, grandparenting would not be a competition. However, not all grandparents are financially equal. Others grandparents (or parents) may consider your gift an attempt to show them up or buy love from your grandchildren. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy the gifts you want; it just means to consider the other family implications before you do.

Some Final Words: Consider My Aunt Florence

Some people are naturally good at giving gifts. Some aren’t. But don’t despair if you are in the second category. People can change, especially at Christmas time. Think Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch.

I know from real-life experience that this is true. When I was a teenager in the 1960s, invariably my Aunt Florence would give me the worst gifts every Christmas. I can’t recall all the seasonal horrors, but I do remember on my 16th Christmas she gave me a size 3X orange and yellow sweater and a pair of bright baby blue socks. I never wore either gift. Although, now that I think about it, I might have used the sweater for a blanket on a few occasions.

But, by the time our son Michael was a teenager in the 1980s, Aunt Florence had really upped her giving game. Knowing that Michael was a 3-sport athlete for his high school and that his team stopped at McDonald’s after every away game or match, she would give him a few books of McDonald’s coupons, which truly was a great gift that kept on giving.

So, if you find yourself mired in a Christmas gift quandary, just ask yourself this question – what would (the new, improved) Aunt Florence do?

Equipped with that answer (and remembering to follow suggestion #1 above), rest assured that even Santa himself couldn’t select a better gift.

Obviously, the suggestions above don’t cover all the tips grandparents could use about Christmas gifts. What suggestions or advice would you offer to keep family Christmas time merry and bright?

History Echoes: Forget Halloween Monsters, This Year’s Big Fear Is Something That’s Able to Lurk Inside Us

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC

2014 will certainly be viewed as one of the most frightening Halloween seasons ever. But it is not ghastly ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and gremlins that are causing outbreaks of crazed, panic fears. Instead, it is something much more real and, in reality, potentially much more deadly.

In many parts of America, the Season of the Witch has been transformed into the Scary Season of Ebola.

Those fears do not surprise former Under Secretary of Science and Technology for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Tara O’Toole. “Epidemics always engender visceral fear,” O’Toole says. “This is something that can come into your home and everybody is vulnerable to it. Face it, it’s pretty freaky bleeding from your eyes.”

But while O’Toole understands that fear can drive a lot of the reaction to an epidemic like Ebola, a calm, reasoned, scientifically- and medically-sound approach is what America now needs.

Dr. O’Toole was one member of a group of distinguished medical and security experts which discussed the current Ebola crisis this week at the Heritage Foundation.

The panel agreed that while the outbreaks in Africa are disconcerting, America will be able to handle problems that arise in this country.

“The rest of the medical system learned a lot from Texas (where the only victim of the disease to die in America was treated),” O’Toole said. “We were probably making a lot of mistakes in infectious diseases all along, but if you make a mistake with Ebola (care) you’re going to get in big trouble. We ought to able to protect our health care workers.”

For its own safety, American must help the stricken nations combat Ebola on the African continent, the panel concurred. “If we do not contain this in Africa, it will become a part of life and you will wonder every time you get a fever,” O’Toole said.

But while she is optimistic about the end of this current crisis, she said the United States must do more to protect itself and others from other future outbreaks of deadly, infectious diseases.

“Our national defense is going to depend on biology is a big way,” the doctor maintained. “We’re going to have a lot more epidemics.”

O’Toole said current world conditions make such events inevitable. For example, 70 million people are being added to the world’s population every year, many of them living in mega cities where crowded conditions make it ideal for diseases to rapidly spread. Then there is the ease of modern travel. Unlike days gone by, people can now fly around the world in 24 hours.

“We are going to be more vulnerable to epidemics and we must get better at managing them,” she said.

O’Toole said that while early action is crucial to halting epidemics, that is difficult to do, especially in remote areas of the world. “”It’s very hard to see the beginning. It’s not lights and sirens; it’s not like these things explode,” she said. “By the time you begin treatment, they are already bigger than you would like to see,” she said.

Like the others on the panel, O’Toole believes that a vaccine for Ebola should have been ready by the time of this current outbreak since there were promising results as much as 14 years ago. But she understands the reality of why such a vaccine isn’t ready yet.

“We fund heavily when the problem occurs and then the money goes away,” she said.

Money also plays a huge role in the fact that an Ebola vaccine hasn’t been released by private pharmaceutical companies. “We’re not talking about pills you take every day for the rest of your life. This is something you might take for 2 weeks and it’s over. You just don’t make much money out of it,” she noted.

And even though she agreed with the panel consensus that such options as travel bans and unwarranted quarantining would’t work (and could actually worsen treatment conditions), she understands why such options are attractive to many people and some politicians.

“We’re always looking for someone to blame,” she said. “People want to know who they can lock up to make themselves safe.”

Extra! Extra! Read All About It

There’s More to the Story

  • America’s Ebola epidemic currently consists of 1 person with Ebola. (from Think Progress)
  • 4 totally Ebola-free things Americans are terrified will give them Ebola. (from Think Progress)
  • Why outbreaks breed hysteria. (from The Atlantic)

A 2012 Trip to Cuba

With the coronavirus pandemic bringing vacation world travel to a virtual halt, the only way currently for most Americans to visit foreign lands is to watch travel destination videos, surf the internet, or derive vicarious pleasure from the travel writings of others. Here is a list of blog entries I composed when my wife and I traveled to Cuba in 2012.

I hope you enjoy these stories and photos and we’re looking to going back to Cuba someday to see more of the country.

Here is a collage of some of the photos of Cuba I took and you will see if your read my posts on our 10-day Cuban trip.

To Follow Our Cuban Trip in Chronological Order