Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Anyone out there have Google Earth?

Another thing to do when you need to kill a sick day:

I can kill days at a time wandering around the world with my Google Earth map. Well worth downloading, and worth the cost (free).

Anyhow...can anybody tell me what the hell that is up in Northern Saskatchewan? 56 degrees, 53 minutes, 47.47 seconds north longitude, 102 degrees west latitude. The earth seems to have some bizarre giant watch strap on it.

I imagine it's a flaw with the sattelite photograph, but maybe someone smarter than I am can help me out.

TRP's Fearless 2006 World Cup Predictions

I am couch-ridden today. My brain is in good shape, but my body is weak. It's a great day to research all 32 World Cup teams, think really hard, and then predict every single one of the 64 World Cup matches.

Now, I treat soccer a little like I treat figure skating. I mean, I enjoy watching the occasional EPL league match while I grade papers. But I am NOT KNOWLEDGEABLE. This is based on several hours of (mostly ignored) research. It is not to be made as the basis for any actual wagering.

Observations to follow, but first, let's take you through The Cup.

Group A:

Germany 2-0 Costa Rica
Poland 1-1 Ecuador
Germany 2-1 Poland
Ecuador 1-1 Costa Rica
Ecuador 1-2 Germany
Costa Rica 0-2 Poland

Standings and points:

Germany 9
Poland 4
Ecuador 2
Costa Rica 1

Group B:

England 2-0 Paraguay
Trinidad and Tobago 1-4 Sweden
England 2-1 Trinidad and Tobago
Sweden 2-0 Paraguay
Paraguay 0-1 Trinidad and Tobago (because I want them to win one)
Sweden 0-0 England (meaningless game...both will have clinched)

Standings/points:

Sweden 7 (first based on goals scored)
England 7
Trinidad and Tobago 3
Paraguay 0

GROUP C (which I've seen referred to as the "Group of Life"):

Netherlands 2-0 Serbia and Montenegro
Argentina 3-0 Ivory Coast
Argentina 3-1 Serbia and Montenegro
Netherlands 2-1 Ivory Coast
Netherlands 3-2 Argentina (another meaningless one)
Ivory Coast 1-0 Serbia and Montenegro

Standings/Points:

Netherlands 9
Argentina 6
Ivory Coast 3
Serbia and Montenegro 0

GROUP D:

Mexico 1-0 Iran
Angola 1-4 Portugal
Mexico 2-0 Angola
Portugal 2-1 Iran
Iran 1-0 Angola
Portugal 1-1 Mexico (in yet ANOTHER meaningless matchup...but a strangely familiar one to Simpsons fans...)

STANDINGS/POINTS:

Portugal 7 (first place based on goals scored)
Mexico 7
Iran 3
Angola 0

GROUP E:

Italy 2-1 Ghana
USA 1-1 Czech Republic
Czech Republic 1-0 Ghana
USA 0-2 Italy
Czech Repbulic 1-1 Italy
Ghana 0-3 USA

Standings/Points:

Italy 6
Czech Republic 5
USA 4
Ghana 0

GROUP F:

Australia 0-2 Japan
Brazil 2-1 Croatia
Brazil 4-0 Australia
Japan 1-1 Croatia
Japan 0-2 Brazil
Australia 0-2 Croatia

STANDINGS/POINTS:

Brazil 9
Croatia 4 (wins 2nd on more goals)
Japan 4
Australia 0 and still no goals in World Cup history

GROUP G:

S. Korea 4-0 Togo
France 2-1 Switzerland
Togo 0-0 Switzerland
France 1-1 S. Korea
Togo 0-4 France
Switzerland 1-3 S. Korea

GROUP G STANDINGS POINTS:
S. Korea 7 (1st place on more goals)
France 7
Switzerland 1
Togo 1 (last place because they, like Australia, won't be scoring)

GROUP H: (Just remember: Spanish National Team=Chicago Cubs. They WILL find a way to mess it all up.)

Spain 1-1 Ukraine
Tunisia 0-1 Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia 1-1 Ukraine
Spain 0-0 Tunisia (and this result will cause complete chaos in Madrid)
Ukraine 2-0 Tunisia
Spain 1-1 Saudi Arabia (and Barcelona is burning)

Standings/points:

Ukraine 5 (1st place based on goals)
Saudi Arabia 5
Spain 3
Tunisia 1

SECOND ROUND:

Germany 1, England 0
Netherlands 3, Mexico 1
Sweden 1, Poland 1 (Sweden advances on penalty kicks)
Portugal 4, Argentina 3
Italy 1, Croatia 0
Saudi Arabia 1, S. Korea 0
Brzil 3, Czech Republic 1
Ukraine 2, France 1

QUARTERFINALS:

Netherlands 1, Germany 1 (Netherlands advance on penalty kicks)
Portugal 2, Sweden 0
Saudi Arabia 0, Italy 0 (Saudi Arabia advances on penalty kicks...wow, why am I saying this? what exactly are the odds? but I like their mix of youth and experience...)
Brazil 3, Ukaraine 1

SEMIFINALS:

Netherlands 2, Brazil 2 (Netherlands advance on penalty kicks
Portugal 5, Saudi Arabia 1

THIRD PLACE:

Brazil 1, Saudi Arabia 0

FINALS:

Portugal 4, Netherlands 3.

A FEW COMMENTS:

My favorite statistic: Every time the Cup has been in Europe, a European team has won. Every time the Cup has been held in the Western Hemisphere, a South American team has won. Only once (2002) has it been held elsewhere, when Brazil won in Japan/Korea. 2010...South Africa. Another "neutral site" Cup. But this year, a European team will win, and I've picked Portugal, since they've impressed me both in the recent and more-distant past.

No African teams break from the first round, which I'm uneasy about since one usually does, including Senegal breaking all the way to the quarters in '02. This go-round, my favorite African team is the Ivory Coast.

Two Asian teams, however, break to the second round. And damn it all if they don't face each other. Don't know why I have Korea bowing out to Saudi Arabia, other than a strange hunch.

I just looked at Saudi Arabia's performance in '02. They lost to Germany 8-0, to Ireland 3-0, and to Cameroon 1-0. Ugh. But I won't change my silly prediction.

Anyone want to do a challenge? Pankleb? Post to the comments and we'll work somethign out.

Quick Educational Quiz: Two questions

Q#1: What's one way to determine if our children of color are getting an equal educational opportunity in this country?

A: Ask the kids.

My favorite quote:

"Students of color are correct in their understanding that their schools get less in the way of resources and offer less in the way of high standards," said Ross Wiener, policy director of The Education Trust, an advocacy group for poor and minority children. "It is a shame that a country dedicated to equal opportunity tolerates these inequities."


Damn right. So why do I sense so little shame in this country?

Q#2: How much progress have we made since Brown vs. Board of Ed?

This one, I'm afraid, I don't have an answer to.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Movie Discussion Club Post #4: Shakespeare in Love

NOTE: For an explanation of what I'm doing here, and what I'd like you all to do, please read this.

What the heck. It's late, I'm tired, but I'll give it a good hard 12 minutes and see what comes out.

**

It's easy to fall into the trap of saying Shakespeare in Love takes place in a patriarchal society, but this isn't strictly true. For all of the power of men and powerlessness of women, the person most in charge is a woman--Queen Elizabeth. Her understanding of what it is like to be a woman fighting the odds provides the critical statements and focal points of the film.

The notion of what men can do and what women can't provides the lion's share of the conflict in the film. Viola cannot do the thing she wants to do, act on the stage, and must do what she does not want to do--marry Lord Wessex. While she can accomplish the former by dressing up as a man, she cannot avoid marriage, not only due to her gender but due to her social status. When Queen Elizabeth approves the match, it is clear to her that it will not be a happy marriage: she tells Lord Wessex that "this rose has already been plucked." Viola has been "plucked" not only by her illicit relationship with Shakespeare, but by the arts, which she is participating in against society's expectations and laws.

This provides the background for lots of gender-based ambiguities. Viola plays Shakespeare opposite a man who plays Juliet. Shakespeare kisses and has sex with Viola while she is dressed like a man. The director cuts back and forth between Viola dressed as a man, kissing a man dressed as a woman, and Viola dressed as a woman kissing Shakespeare, a man. Gender roles become confused and uncertain. Only the beauty of -Romeo and Juliet- carries through, defeating the gender confusion.

However, when Viola's true gender is revealed, it appears that the patriarchan society of late 16th century England will win the day. Due to the shocking display of a woman on stage, a constable closes the Rose Theater. Shakespeare finds another theater in which to put on his play, and replaces Viola as Romeo. Viola, however, illegally subs in as Juliet when the original Juliet's voice suddenly deepens. After the show, when this is discovered, the constable who had closed the Rose theater arrests all involved.

When Queen Elizabeth steps in and pronounces that Viola is really Thomas Kent, a man, and allows "him" to "fetch Lady Wessex" for her trip to Virginia with her new husband, all is not made well with the world: Viola and Shakespeare's love ends, and Viola is stuck with a husband who will not make her happy. However, the Queen's statement that "I know what it's like being a woman in a man's job" indicates that the world might not be what everyone believes it is as far as women and men go. The obvious fact that this entire patriarchal society is paradoxically led by a woman is forgotten both by the characters and by the audience. Indeed, it's easy to slip and not even notice when women traditionally perform male roles. Even if the audience find it hard to believe that fellow actors and audience members can fail to notice that Thomas Kent is really Viola, we also can be fooled into calling a society led by a woman a patriarchal one. Indeed, as the film reminds us over and over again, in a complex world where gender roles are uncertain, things are seldom what they may seem.

**

Go easy on me, guys--I'm tired. But still, what do you notice? What's I miss? What makes no sense? Will this work as a nonprint text to examine alongside a print text that deals with gender issues?

Movie Discussion Club Post #3: Dr. Strangelove

NOTE: For an explanation of what I'm doing here, and what I'd like you all to do, please read this.

I enjoyed this the first time, and enjoyed it even more the second time.

This time, instead of 15 minutes, I'm going to reduce my time to 12 minutes. I figure I'll need time to read the directions and read the text. This is what I'd write if I find a "futility of war" universal theme. Here goes.

**

Although Stanley Kubrick's -Dr. Strangelove- is unique as a document of the 1960s, it plays into a history of anti-war texts that range in time and scope from the -Iliad- to -The Things They Carried.- Kubrick's piece is notable for the intensity with which it places the blame for the death of innocents--in this case, the entire population of the world--on the leaders more so than on the soldiers.

While Kubrick introduces us to the soldiers in a humorous fashion (one reads -Playboy-, while another fans two entire decks of cards), in spite of their foibles, they turn out to be the only competent individuals in the entire film. Whenever the crew of the B-52 is on the screen, Kubrick plays "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" as background music. The pilot, played by Slim Pickens, when he receives his mission to attack the USSR, states that while he doesn't know what has caused this to be necessary, he imagines there must be a terrible attack on Washington or other US Cities, and he is prepared to give his life to support it. They fend off Russian attacks, skillfully avoid Russian radar, and at great personal risk, manage to finish off what is, to their knowledge, a completely necessary mission. Perhaps because the 1962 film predates the worst of the Vietnam war and the concomitant anti-military backlash, Kubrick gives off a hate-the-leaders-but-not-the-troops vibe.

It is war, not soldiers, that Kubrick hates. When General Ripper is shown near "Peace is our Mission" signs or with the American Flag past his shoulder in the background, it is clear that the patriotic imagery is as sarcastic as can be. His insane blather about the Communists infiltrating "our precious bodily fluids" is hilarious. The lion's share for the blame for armageddon rests with Ripper, who finds a way to utilize Plan R to surpass the President's authority and institute a full first strike on the Russians to prevent them from taking over our bodily fluids with water fluoridation. The use of humor and satire is critical: Kubrick sends the message that this reasoning is as valid as any for killing millions of people.

The President of the United States, Merkin Muffley, is the opposite of Ripper. Rather than an evil genius, he is hilariously inept and weak. His conversations with Dimitri Kissov, the Russian Premier, focus more on who is more sorry for the impending doomsday and less on how to fix it. He attempts to maintain decorum in a situation that is already completely without it: when the Russian Premier engages in a wrestling match with an American General, the President says, without any sense of irony, "Gentlemen! You can't fight in here--this is the war room!"

That irony is what Kubrick uses to carry home his message about the futility of war. Finishing the film with repeated footage of H-bomb explosions backed up by the patriotic song "We'll Meet Again" seals the deal: patriotism and war don't mix, even though patriotism and our soldiers do.

**

That's 12 minutes. This is DAMN hard to do so quickly. Any suggestions?

Movie Discussion Post #2: Koyaanisqatsi

NOTE: For an explanation of what I'm doing here, and what I'd like you all to do, please read this.

I originally saw this in the theater when I was 13, and it totally stuck with me through the years to the point that I knew I wanted to use it for my nature/self and development/environment piece here. I watched it last night and, again, it was every bit as amazing as it was on the first go-round. If you haven't seen it, see it on your biggest screen and with your best sound.

THIS time, I'm actually going to time my essay. I will write for 15 minutes. Period.

Ready? Go!

**

Godfrey Reggio and Phillip Glass combine as director and musical composer to create a statement about nature and technology in the 1983 film -Koyaanisqatsi-. The title (a Hopi word which translates roughly to "life out of balance") gives away the main theme of the piece: that our technological society has made human beings into little more than cogs in the machine. In an interview, Reggio said he wanted to "make the background into the foreground," and he succeeds. He shows that the world we live in manages to make us into cogs in a machine rather than peaceful coexisters with our environment.

The film begins with slow, calm music by Glass played over pictures of the natural world of the American Southwest. Sand blows into natural patterns, mesas stick up out of deserts, mountains ease their way down into rivers, and clouds blow across the sky.

It doesn't take long, however, for human beings to show up and change the mood, both visually and aurally. The first hint at human beings is almost imperceptible...there's a shot of careful rows of agriculture rather than the more anarchic fractals of mountains, sand, and rivers. Immediately following that shot, however, is a dramatic series of shots of the sides of mountains being exploded away to make a power plant. The first human being we see approaches a power plant truck, starts it, and is immediately surrounded by black smoke. It is the first time (but not at all the last) that human beings are completely comsumed by the very technology they create. At that moment, Glass's music adds drums and switches to 2/4 time, as though to indicate technology marching forward. It can't be a coincidence that the power-wire structures look like rows of soldiers.

For a time, Reggio shows a combination of glass skyscrapers, which both obscure and reflect the sky, and Glass's music also shows that there might be hope of a balance between technology and nature. This hope only lasts until night falls, however, and Reggio gives us a long, dramatic shot of a giant full moon moving behind a skyscraper. Technology quite literally eclipses nature at that moment, and we don't see the sky again in the film until it is obscured by an exploding space rocket. Glass's shots of our cities are sometimes taken in time lapse from the top of a van driving along freeways, over bridges, and through tunnels. The effect is every bit as topsy-turvy as a roller coaster, and any calmness or beauty we felt earlier from nature is a distant memory. Sometimes, he points the camera upward, but there's no night sky to be seen: any stars are obscured by light pollution and a massive skyscraper-created urban canyon.

Perhaps most importantly, Reggio juxtaposes our human behavior with that of the factory. He selects bits of Americana for his factories: he shows TVs, computers, hot dogs, blue jeans, and Twinkies being created. He focuses for a long time on the machine that spits out hot dogs at an Oscar Meyer factory, and places it next to people being spit out of escalators at a subway station. As a result, we appear to be nothing more than a commodity of the machine rather than human beings living in balance with nature. Later, he shows an overhead shot of a city, including its freeway system, and morphs it into a shot of a computer chip. Again, this shows that we have surrendered our individuality to the system: rather than people of individual importance, we have become cogs in the machine. As we see these images, Glass gives us choral music--allegro chants of high, rapid, breathless-sounding cries.

In the course of his 80-mnute film, Reggio thereby carries us from nature to a part of the machine. The roller-coaster ride gives us a sense that we have given something up with our technology...a sense of peace, and any real knowledge of the earth and sky we saw so much of early in the film. He convinces us that life has, indeed, fallen out of balance.

**

Whew! 15 minutes and some-odd seconds. Any suggestions?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Movie Discussion Club Post #1: Pleasantville

Update 6/7/06: If you're the teacher or professor--probably from New Jersey--who has had a student plagiarize this essay, congratulations. I know we as teacher spend a lot of time working on academic honesty issues, and I appreciate you taking the time to investigate. Nice going. If feasible, could you ask this student to apologize to me in the comments of this entry as a part of whatever consequences you lay out for the student? Thank you.

INTRODUCTION:

If you don't know what I'm doing here, and what I'd like you all to do, please read this.

Pleasantville is a favorite movie of mine--complex, clever, thoughtful, and funny all rolled into one. It was just as good on a second viewing. If there weren't so much celebration of pre-marital sex, I'd assign in to my sophomores when we read a similar book; as is, I'll just make it into an optional assignment parents can sign off on. I enjoy having a job, so I'd better not show this in class.

If I write about Pleasantville, I will be focusing on the issues of what it means to grow up: childhood vs. adulthood, innocence vs. experience, etc. Here's what I think. I'd love it if you made this a conversation in the comments.

**

The writer and director of Pleasantville, Gary Ross, has created a place that mimics the Garden of Eden: the fictional 1950s TV setting of Pleasantville, a completely unfallen world. In Pleasantville, like in the Garden of Eden, any knowledge that could conceivably cause pain (such as knowledge of sex, death, pain, literature, the outside world, or even missing a basketball shot) does not exist.

High school student David yearns for the more simple life depicted in the sitcom. He is obsessed with it, so he's chosen by the cable guy (played by Don Knotts: the director breaks the fourth wall here, choosing a beloved character from the Pleasantville-like Andy Griffith Show) to magically travel to the TV world of Pleasantville.

David and especially Jennifer serve as the tree of knowledge of good and evil to the citizens of Pleasantville. All are innocent in every possible definition of the world. Geography class consists of the two streets of the town (nothing else exists), firemen have never seen a fire, and exist only to rescue cats from trees, sex and double beds do not exist, and the Pleasantville High School basketball team has neither lost a game nor missed a shot.

The citizens of Pleasantville move from innocence to experience in a big hurry thereafter. The first--but by no means only--way that this happens is when promiscuous Jennifer (now Mary Sue) begins seducing several of the boys in the town. This discovery of sex changes Lovers Lane from a place where couples held hands to far more than that.

Gary Ross, the writer and director, symbolizes the move from innocence to experience by shifting fallen characters from black and white to color. The first Pleasantville residents to go to color get there from their first knowledge of sex: the students who go to Lover's Lane and Bud and Mary Sue's mother. This mirrors real life: children do not have knowledge of sex like adults do. It also mirrors the Garden of Eden story from both Genesis and John Milton's Paradise Lost: for Adam and Eve, the knowledge of sex arrives simultaneously with the knowledge of good and evil. Ross makes this tie by throwing in a vision of Bud's girlfriend, Margaret, offering him an apple from a tree at Lover's Lane.

But, as Mary Sue quickly discovers, the knowledge of sex is not the only way that one can pass from innocence to experience. She asks her brother why, in spite of her many sexual experiences, she is still in black and white. The answer is that different people have different kinds of knowledge that pass them from innocence to experience. Although sex is the knowledge for many characters as it is for many people, for Jennifer/Mary Sue, knowledge of literature (and the comfort wearing glasses and beign intellectual) colorizes her. For David/Bud, it's getting into a fight: punching Whitey in the nose to protect his newly-colorized TV mother from a potentially ugly attack. For Sam, it's moving beyond his simple job as a hamburger griller and discovering the beauty of art. For the mayor--the last holdout in black-and-white--it is the realization that Bud gives him that the world can be difficult and can change.

The key conflict is between those who want to stay innocent (black-and-white) and those who want to move on to a sadder-but-wiser view (color). David/Bud, who had thought he would prefer the world of Pleasantville, changes his mind. When the cable TV repairman demands that David/Bud leave Pleasantville so that he can bring Pleasantville back to an innocent, black-and-white perspective, David/Bud refuses, saying "I can't let you do that to them." He has come to the conclusion that a fallen world, while it may contain sadness that an innocent world doesn't know, contains a deeper, richer happiness which has colored the world in an irreplaceable way.

Okay, so this took me way, way longer than the 15 minutes or so I'd have to write. Good to know...I'm glad I'm practicing here. In addition to saying where you think I've gone wrong, I'd like it if you tell me the critical content above that I really, really need in my essay. Thanks.

Introducing the Help TRP Pass the NBPTS Test Movie Discussion Club

With the NBPTS essays but a distant memory, it's time for me to get focused on the exam I have to take in 13 days.

There will be six questions:
Four of them, I'm either very confident in my ability to do, or they don't lend themselves well to study.

One of them, Teaching ELL Learners, I'm cramming for as best as I am able.

The other one is the "Universal Themes" question.

On this question, I will be asked to "read a prose selection, determine the theme, and relate it to the human condition" as well as "select a nonprint text and connect it to both the passage and the theme." To be ready for this, I'm going to need to walk into test day with a few universal themes in my back pocket as well as nonprint texts that I can write about that tie to those themes.

Here's my plan.

I will gather a list of universal themes likely to pop up.

I will also gather a list of "nonprint texts"--otherwise known as "movies"--to write about in connection with those themes. These movies will exclusively be old favorites of mine, as I don't have too much time to get to know new material. I want to write about films I'm really, really comfortable with.

So the plan is underway.

STEP ONE: Come up with a list of "universal themes."

Here is the list of themes I came up with. Am I missign anything?

Coming of age/Innocence vs. Experience
Generational battles
A hero’s journey
Individual vs. Society
Nature as reflection of self
Racial issues
Handling technology
War & its futility
Gender issues

STEP TWO: I will tie a movie I know well into these themes. Here's that list:

Coming of age/Innocence vs. Experience: Pleasantville is the best.
Generational battles: (This space available...I'm taking suggestions.)
A hero’s journey: Star Wars.
Individual vs. Society: Lonely Are the Brave.
Nature as reflection of self: Koyaanisqatsi.
Racial issues: Crash
Handling technology: Koyaanisqatsi.
War & its futility: Dr. Strangelove.
Gender issues: Shakespeare In Love.

I selected these films because I know them relatively well, like them a lot (with the possible exception of Crash), and they tie well to some "universal themes" likely to pop up in the reading.

My plan is to be able to intelligently articulate those ties before June 10th.

This is where you come in.

I am going to re-view almost all of these movies between now and the test. When I see them, I'll write about their ties to the universal themes.

You--and I mean every one of you (Swankette, Spoon, Joe, Alison, MCMC, pankleb, Jim, Shannin, Jack, Brooklyn, John, Kaphine, RealSuperGirl, Mom, Dad, In-Laws, readers who I have forgotten just now, fellow teachers who stumble here doing a search on NBPTS matters, even strangers)--are officially invited to join a movie discussion club, which I have named the Help TRP Pass the NBPTS Test Movie Discussion Club.

When I write about the movie and its ties to the theme, I want you to add your two cents to what I write. Tell me angles I've missed, areas where I'm off-target, ideas I could explore further. Get me thinking about these issues. Just talk to me about cool movies.

Here's my schedule:

I've already watched Pleasantvilleand Koyaanisqatsi, and will write about them right after writing this post.

Tomorrow, I view Shakespeare in Love.

Over the next week, I will re-view Lonely are the Brave and Dr. Strangelove.

I'm going to rely on my memory for Star Wars and Crash.

So, within a week, you'll see me post about 7 movies...8 if you can help me with a suggestion for a good generational battle movie that I already know pretty well.

All I ask is that you talk to me. Make comments. And, if you're looking for a movie to rent over the next week or so, make it one of these 7--then you can comment with fresh eyes for me.

Thanks. I hope this is fun.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The front desk clerk and her tattoo

My wife and I dropped RealSuperGirl and Kaphine off at their hotel tonight. Behind the counter was a young woman. I assume that, to work the front desk of a large chain hotel relatively late at night, she must be at least 18, and quite probably in her early 20s. However, she was one of those women who was doomed to look like she is 13 or 14 until she turns about 30. She was under five feet tall, with those sweet little features and nice little smile that makes her look like a junior high student.

I guess she didn't like that, because she had a way of dealing with it. A horrible, unfortunate way.

On the top of her right boob, she had a large tattoo of a bird.

How is this a tragedy? Let me count the ways.

I was able to reach a reasonable set of conclusions about this young woman based solely on her looks and her tattoo.

1. This was a woman who, I think because of her too-young looks, wants men to look at her as a sexual being...in short, to look at boobs. Her technique for doing this is to get a tattoo for guys to look at. This is an astonishing waste of time, effort, and money. I'm not a woman, but I assume that by tenth grade, every female in the world has figured out that if she wants guys to look at her boobs, all she has to do is wear something tight, low-cut, or (ideally) both. Every heterosexual male, I believe, looks there. But every heterosexual male would look at the boobs past her unbuttoned shirt even if there had been no tattoo. It's just what guys do. If her goal is to get guys to look at her boobs, the tattoo is 100% superfluous.

2. She gave me some flirty looks during those awkward moments sitting there with my wife and her friends. Give me a break, clerk. Your tattoo has revealed you as almost unbelievably immature, and you're viewing my the fact that I looked at it as some sort of victory...proof of your grown-up-ness. You're wrong. In reality, the opposite is true.

3. Let's look ahead ten years, when our clerk no longer looks like a young teenager, but has gracefully aged to look like she's in her 20s. By then, she'll be embarrassed by the bird on her boob. The good news is that she'll easily be able to cover it up. The bad news is that, if she likes a guy, she'll have to explain her tattoo to him before becoming intimate, or risk really freaking him out. Who would want to have that conversation? Besides that, I'm willing to bet that 99.99% of guys prefer inkless boobs to inked boobs.

4. Let's look ahead sixty years. She has placed her tattoo on the part of her body that will likely move the most. She'll no longer have the problem of looking too young, and she'll have a warped, nasty, unrecognizable mass of blue ink on her boob. If she'd gotten some bizarre tattoo on her ankle or arm, it would at least still be nice to look at. She doesn't even have that.

You made a serious mistake, kid. Whatever your intentions were, the result is that you made looking at your body a sad, puzzling experience...and to do that while you're young and beautiful is nothing short of a tragedy. I hope you find the sense and the money to remove that bird without harming your skin. The sooner, the better.

Theater Rage

Took the wife to see Les Miserables on Friday night. I first saw it on my AP English class's trip to London in 1988. It was a big moment in my life: I forgot I existed because I was so wrapped up in the art. We were way, way up high in the fifth level, looking at the tops of the actors' heads, and I knew nothing whatsoever about the show going in, and I was totally transported from myself. In short, I forgot I existed. It was incredible--and incredibly surprising. The idea that this was possible completely blew me away. My heroine-teacher told me later there was a name for this feeling, but I've forgotten it. I just knew I wanted to feel it again as often as possible.

Friday's show was just as fantastic. It featured the original Broadway Thernadiers, the second-ever Valjean, a positively kick-ass Javert and a killer Eponine. The latter is my usual bugaboo with this show. I always wonder why Marius would want to be with Cosette instead of her. I think this feeling was solidified when my folks treated me to tickets in the third row in London in 1991. That Eponine was a young woman from New Zealand...which an article from a quick Google search tells me is Meredith Braun...and I thought she was positively gorgeous. Funny...looking at a photo of her from that show, I don't see now what I saw then. This confirms my new theory...even from the balcony, when I can't see anyone's faces, I get the sense that Eponine is the gorgeous one, and Cosette is not too special. I think it's got nothing to do with looks--it's actually that Eponine's musical parts are so very much more interesting, and a mezzo is so much more fun to listen to than a predictable, boring, another-sweet-little-soprano voice.

Anyhoo. Back to Friday night. I was eager to be transported again. And I almost was. I even teared up during "A Heart Full of Love," which is not one of my usual favorites...it must have been because I was holding hands with my wife while I heard it. But I never quite got there, in spite of the fine cast.

With that in mind, I'd like to send out a giant screw you to some of the people responsible for making the night not as good as it could be.

First, screw you to the women sitting to my immediate left. Maybe you wanted to say things to each other during the show...that's the way it goes sometimes. But could you at least figure out the concept of a whisper? Have you figured out that sound travels? You're right the hell next to each other...lean over and whisper! Don't talk out loud during the whole first act, even after I lean over and say "Will you please be quiet???" I paid $90 for our tickets and have been looking forward to this for about eight months. It's not asking to much for you to either whisper so I can't hear you, or to shut the fuck up. Pick one of those options, ladies, but don't talk aloud.

Maybe they figured out I was feeling theater rage (like road rage, only in a theater) and that their lives were in danger, because they settled down for the second act.

Second, a big screw you to the person responsible for this:

Jean Valjean is about to start the positively resplendent "Bring Him Home." The actor clearly has his A game tonight...he's hit every high note, and hit them with varying emotional range and beauty. He's a stud. The very quiet music begins. Valjean begins the sweet, gorgeous, high song. My jaw drops. I hear the following:

God on hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh...
Hear my pr[CELL PHONE RINGS]aaaaaaaaaaaa[CELL PHONE RINGS]


For a few moments there, my opposition to capital punishment melted away.

Still, a fun night. Glad I went...glad I could introduce my wife to this transformative experience from my youth. And while my tastes have changed a little...I'm not sure I'd feel the same about Les Mis if I saw it for the first time today...it still gets to me big time, and this cast did a helluva good job.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Commencement speech reviews

At the alma mater, John Kerry spoke at commencement. Normally, I sort of hate choosing political sides with a commencement speaker, but because Kenyon was so in the news on election day--the last votes not were cast well into Wednesday morning (as you will recall from this tres cool post from the front)--it seems quite appropriate to have a main character make the trip.

Anyway, I just read his speech. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. As I see it, there was too much reference to Kerry and what he'd done in his life. Senator--I wish you'd won that election more than I wish for anything in politics in my entire life, but nonetheless, that event wasn't about you. Also, the number of Kenyon-specific references he makes give me the image not so much of a guy who cares about Kenyon as a guy who crammed for a Kenyon trivia test on the plane.

Still, Kerry's speech contains this hilarious one-liner:

And I also thank those who cast a ballot for my opponent. I wish all Republicans had been just like you at Kenyon--informed, willing to stand up for your views--and only 10 percent of the vote.

John Kerry? Humor? No way!

Anyway, the speech gets a B-minus.

You want an A-plus speech to graduates? Check out Royal Rhodes' Baccalaureate speech. I'd have been in tears. Just beautiful...and not a word about himself.

(Funny, though...I didn't mind when my favorite college professor's baccaulaurate speech was self-referential. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.)

Not much going on.

Just busy these days. Tired. And I think I've come down with something. But there are only three more weeks of school, and I've got a big summer planned. Not as big as last summer (you know, with the wedding and all), but still big.

How y'all doing?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Just past the quarter pole

I thought I'd check in to see how pankleb and I are doing in the Titanic Battle for A Bag of Chips.

The first number is the number of wins the team is on pace to get.
The second number is my projected number of wins.
The third is pankleb's projected number of wins.

Boston 101-94-97 pankleb by 3
Yankees 95-90-95 pankleb by 5
Toronto 89-88-81 TRP by 7
Baltimore 75-71-71 tie
Tampa Bay 72-76-68 tie

Chicago 108-94-85 TRP by 9
Detroit 108-80-80 tie
Cleveland 79-91-85 pankleb by 6
Minnesota 72-81-84 TRP by 3
Kansas City 41-60-64 TRP by 4

Oakland 85-95-92 pankleb by 3
Texas 85-72-81 pankleb by 9
Seattle 70-77-77 tie
Los Angeles of Anaheim 64-89-87 pankleb by 2

Mets 96-94-90 TRP by 4
Philadelphia 85-88-86 pankleb by 2
Atlanta 79-85-83 pankleb by 2
Washington 57-73-68 pankleb by 5
Florida 43-58-71 TRP by 13

St. Louis 105-98-84 TRP by 14
Cincinnati 94-67-75 pankleb by 8
Houston 87-82-82 tie
Milwaukee 83-85-83 pankleb by 2
Cubs 67-73-87 TRP by 14
Pittsburgh 53-67-78 TRP by 11

Arizona 93-76-81 pankleb by 5
Colorado 90-72-72 tie
Los Angeles 87-85-88 pankleb by 1
San Diego 87-83-81 TRP by 2
San Francisco 83-81-78 TRP by 3

Net result:

If the season ended today.......

everyone would be very surprised.

And I would win by 31 games, mostly due to his Cub fan's heart blinding his rational side.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

All done

Thursday night, I finished off the papers.

I find I'm easier on the last papers than I am on the first--I think I might get a little tired and give up on some of the battles I tell myself I'll fight early. Also, this time, through the luck of the draw, I wound up grading the high math level kids' papers last. Since the kids in the high math level tend to be better students, I had many of the best papers come last, when I might let up a little bit.

Lots of A's. They were earned, mind you, but I still feel like I might be going soft.

One more paper. The History teacher and I team up to ask the kids to solve the Israel/Palestine crisis. (Hey, it could happen.) I'll only have 53 of those, and they come in a week and a half. Then...no more classes, no more books, no more students' dirty looks.

Homestretch, bay-bee. We're there. And the kids are doing good work.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A beautiful student sentence

From a Macbeth essay:

"Too much ambition is when people stop striving to meet their goals and start needing to meet them."

Man, I love it when they make me think.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I think I just set some sort of record.

No, not the fastest trip through 107 essays. I'm not done with those yet (there's a pretty good chance tomorrow will be the day...and 9 days ain't too shabby for 107 essays, Chester.)

No, I think I just set a record for the Longest Time Passed Before Contacting a Former Teacher.

My teacher in fifth and sixth grade, I have just discovered, is now teaching math at my alma mater high school. He was damn good, and I've not been able to tell him that as an adult, so I just did. That's a weird email to write, though. "Here's what I've been up to for the last quarter-century..." But it's always better to say something nice than not to.

He would get me to honest-to-God understand math concepts that were way, way high-level. He bumped me up a math level--which made me two years ahead--and worked with me solo. As a teacher, I now recognize how ridiculously difficult that must have been for him. He introduced me to Current Events Jeopardy!...this during a time period when Jeopardy! was not on the air. I stole that and used it with my sixth graders ten years later. It was one of those situations where I pretty well had no choice but to rise to his expectations...the world he created provided no other outcomes.

I'm glad I wrote him--at the very least, it's got my mind back on high expectations as a teacher. I think I provide them, but I need to think about providing them a little more individually than I do. The top two or three kids in Sophomore Lit might not get their brains cooking as well as I'd like. It can't hurt to attend to that a little.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

This would be convenient.

I just got a hit on someone searching on "Alex Rodriguez dating President Bush's nephew."

It would be nice if A-Rod became a part of a family I disliked even more than him. It would centrally locate all of my bad vibes.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

10 down, 97 to go

I'm holed up grading Macbeth essays from my sophomores. This was their first serious in-class essay. I gave them 85 minutes...less then they've had in the past, but more than they're likely to get in college. We worked very hard in preparation...

and they're doing damn fine work so far. 3 A's, 7 B's. All earned. Nothing below that!

I love it when the kiddoes step up to a challenge. They're seriosuly analyzing literature.

They've drank my Kool-Aid. They are MINE.

Big educational news

Jim has informed me that a court case in California has found that 47,000 students who failed their state test DO get to graduate after all, in part because such a test was unfair to poor students who go to substandard schools.

As I see it, there are three choices:

Option A: Let students graduate with substandard abilities. (This is what California has gone with.)
Option B: Deny them their diplomas.
Option C: How about we actually develop fair, equitable education for all students, and stop valuing rich (often White and Asian) kids over poor (often Black, Latino, and Native American) kids? The standards debate wouldn't go away, but at least we'd be out of the position where a high-school education is dependent on class.

(I vote for C.)

When Washington's WASL scores are announced next month, this debate moves from California to here. This year's sophomores are the first who must pass the test in order to graduate.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Left-hand-only typing

So, typing the word Qatar has reminded me of something that happened to me a few years ago--and I'm gonna share it with you.

It started with my brother typing in fantasy football scores. He noticed that the name "Testaverde" required only one hand to type. I had recently seen that "stewardesses" is the longest word that can be typed with one hand. This led to a challenge:

What is the longest sentence that can be typed with only the left hand?

It's tougher than you might think, since I don't think there are any pronouns that can be typed with just the left hand.

But we got started...wrote a couple of sentences.

Then I expanded the challenge:

What if every letter that the left hand types had to be included?

Well, there's a Q but not a U. Any words that I can include?

Qatar!

This led to a long, but perfectly comprehensible sentence. It takes place on a plane, where former NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde is flying with philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Testarverde becomes inebriated and hits on the flight attendants. Meanwhile, there's a huge revolution in the country of Qatar. Doha is in flames; destruction is rampant throughout the country. Sartre believes he has a solution to the violence, and urgently sends his solution from the plane down to to the country. This leads to the following perfectly reasonable sentence:

A WASTED TESTAVERDE CRAVED GREAT STEWARDESS BREASTS AS SARTRE FAXED A RAZED QATAR.

If you love Vinny Testaverde (or hate Jean-Paul Sartre), simple switch their names in the sentence.

The Mariners

They're now 0-3 in my presence this year, with a joyless 2-0 loss to the Indians today.

On the one hand, I feel bad about having to sit through yet another loss. But I suppose it could be worse. I could have flown to San Diego to watch my favorite lose three games in a row, including finishing a stretch of about a billion scoreless innings.

Who would do a thing like that?

To the man in Qatar who found the previous post on this blog by doing a Google Blog search on the term "Adult Movies"

I'm sorry.

I've seen two movies recently.

The first one was Thank You for Smoking. Loved it. There's something about a movie with a completely despicable character that I wind up rooting for that I find admirable. It had a really nasty sense of humor and an incredible sweetness about it at the same time. Recommended. It might make my top 150 list...but probably not quite.

Then, last night, it was Akeelah and the Bee. I went into this with a little trepidation, since I have trouble with films that set out to inspire me. But my own experience with spelling bees (although I'm hardly an expert) won me over, and I decided to give it a shot.

This, too, will not be a top 150 pick, as it spent about 10-15 minutes on mini-musical-montages, and it was terribly predictable. But there was still a sweetness about it. It has everybody in Akeelah's neighborhood--the postman, the family, the siblings, the local drug dealer--drop what they're doing to help Akeelah out.

It reminded me of the moment in Billy Elliot--a top ten movie of all time for me--where everybody in town drops everything to help Billy out. This remains the only time as an adult I've cried at the movies.

Why did Billy Elliot do it for me and not Akeelah, given how similar they were? Depressed areas overcoming their suspicions of an activity and coming together to help one of their own take on privileged kids at something they love? Sweet, believable, nice child actors all over the place?

I have a few theories. First of all, the damn montages. In Billy Elliot, the montages featured the kid dancing, and those were beautiful, wonderful, fantstic scenes. In Akeelah, they were ridiculous little music videos of a kid studying Latinate roots. Sorry, but it just looked stupid to me.

Second, Billy Elliot's mentor/student relationship was very different...somehow flawed, like the mining town, which I found important to the film. The predictability of the tragedies in Akeelah and the Bee simply bored me.

And yet, while I wasn't inspired, I have to admit there is something satisfying about watching a relatively-well-done predictable film play out exactly as I know it will in front of me. It won't crack the top 100, but it's a nice way to spend an evening. Recommended. Barely.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Field Trip

I hate them.

Instead of enjoying the play, my ears prick up for every sound, hoping that they're not "my" kids.

Today: a kid took about a half hour to open a hard candy. Kids were otherwise well-behaved, and I'm proud of them, but I can't give a teacher glare in a dark room, so the damn crinklecrinklecrinkle kept happening. And somewhere, someone said "Oh, those teachers clearly don't have their kids under control."

I know, not really. But it FEELS that way.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Congrats to my dad

whose letter bragging about his sex life will be printed in this weekend's New York Times magazine.

(Yes, really.)

Inspiring or terrifying?

I recently came across this story on CBS News. Check out the video as well as the story. It's about a 90-year-old teacher in Florida who is retiring this year after a mere 69 years on the job.

Some thoughts...

1. I congratulate Ms. Haley for a helluva career. Just awesome.

2. If, as I'm about to turn 90 in 2060, I appear to be hunkering down to teach Macbeth just one more time, please, please host an intervention, or block the door, or glue up my car locks, or SOMETHING.

3. Of course, with my retirement plan looking the way it often looks, I may have to go the way of Ms. Haley.