Thursday, November 30, 2006

There's even a physical resemblance

You Are Scooter

Brainy and knowledgable, you are the perfect sidekick.
You're always willing to lend a helping hand.
In any big event or party, you're the one who keeps things going.
"15 seconds to showtime!"

From RealSuperGirl.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I am now a cut-and-runner.

I didn't support the war at the start. Colin Powell scared me when he held up the anthrax at the UN, but I wanted to exhaust more options before invading.

Then we went in and there were no WMDs. I was pissed off. Damn pissed off. But in 2004, I was with Sen. Kerry: we never should have gone in, but as long as we were there, we owed it to the people whose lives we'd destroyed to get the country on its feet again before leaving.

I've more or less held that position until today.

Now I believe it's time to get out. Right away.

Here's why I've changed.

First, I read an article by Fareed Zakaria, a journalist I've trusted from the get-go on this issue. Read the whole thing--he's a hell of a lot better writer than I am--but check out the first paragraph:

If you want to understand the futility of America's current situation in Iraq, last week provided a vivid microcosm. On Thursday, just hours before a series of car bombs killed more than 200 people in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City, Sunni militants attacked the Ministry of Health, which is run by one of Moqtada al-Sadr's followers. Within a couple of hours, American units arrived at the scene and chased off the attackers. The next day, Sadr's men began reprisals against Sunnis, firing RPGs at several mosques. When U.S. forces tried to stop the carnage and restore order, goons from Sadr's Mahdi Army began firing on American helicopters. In other words, one day the U.S. Army was defending Sadr's militia and, the next day, was attacked by it. We're in the middle of a civil war and are being shot at by both sides.

So if I were to stick with my "clean it up" position, I'd need a plan to get to an agreeable conclusion. I now believe that's not possible. With a civil war around us, our choices are either to pick a side (and thus invite the other side to be our horrendous enemy), subdivide the state (and I have no confidence that this will stop them from killing each other), or get the hell out.

I vote for the the last option.

Would Iraq become a breeding ground for terrorists if we leave? WILL it? It already is, thanks to our invasion. I do not believe our soldiers should be used to provide them with easier targets.

The Iraqis do not want us there--not Shiite, not Sunni. Most of America no longer wants us there. Given our soldiers' presence a civil war in which two large sides want to knock off our puppet government, I don't think a sensible person can see a positive outcome to our presence.

But the final straw was when I saw the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace, say this about whether to call the situation a civil war:

"It is much more important that we try to defeat the enemy that is trying to create the civil war than it is that we spend a lot of time dancing on the head of a pin as far as what particular words we should use to describe the environment which is totally unacceptable."

Huh? After reading that about nine times, I guess he's saying that defeating the enemy is more important that what we call the conflict. I don't agree...words are always important. But whatever we call this, it looks like everyone on both sides hates us and has become the enemy. Given that, I cannot see how our presence can lead to any positive outcome for any nation.

There will be a huge civil war that will kill untold numbers of Iraqis as soon as we leave, whether that's now or later on. That's a tragedy and a tremendous embarrassment. But thanks to the Bush postwar "plan [sic]," I don't think it can be avoided. Let's get out and at least save some of our own troops' lives.

Our President has brought us to an unwinnable moment in an entirely unneccessary war, and we've lost 64 of our soldiers this month alone.

I support the troops. That's why it's time to cut and run.

Cabin Fever

This is my second snow day in a row, and the forecast calls for 2-6 inches of snow tonight. We're looking at the very real possibility of 3 straight days marooned at home.

Yesterday, my wife stayed home from work as well, and we cleaned house. I did go out to rent a movie (needed to for an article I was writing). I drove slowly...very slowly. I was only about two blocks from home when I saw a pickup truck coming towards me...sideways. Fortunately, it was slowly, and he stopped well short of me (having done a 180). And I was prepared to turn into an apartment complex to dodge him (although that might have been dodgy too...the parking lot there was likely a rink on a hill...but it would have been better to take that devil I don't know than know I'd get smashed by a pickup). I came back with the movie I needed and Wordplay, which was one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. It's a bunch of savant crossword solvers preparing for competition interspersed with People I Like A Lot For Different Reasons Solving Crosswords. Jon Stewart is on fire, the Indigo Girls (I bet they don't usually do them together), Bill Clinton (who, it should be snarkily noted, got "Kinsey" very quickly), Bob Dole...Fun movie. And a movie that caused me to actually stand up and throw my hands up in empathetic exasperation during the climatic scene. The bonus footage was astonishingly good, especially the spotlights on great crosswords in the past.

Today--I will work, at least a little.

Tomorrow...geez, if we're stuck here tomorrow, I don't have a clue what I'll do.

My guiltiest pleasure

will return on January 3rd:

Beauty and the Geek is back for a third season!

Thanks to former contestant Shawn for the heads-up.

Is it just me, or is that an unflattering photo of all eight women?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Educational Equity--long NYT article

Seriously. Would rich kids be happy if, the day after tomorrow, poor kids were on an equal educational footing as them? I've insisted not for some time now.

This very long article talks about the causes of unequal education, and a few of the schools that are busting their butts to level the playing field. Read it. And at the end, note this:

And if the [No Child Left Behind] law does, in the end, fail — if in 2014 only 20 or 30 or 40 percent of the country’s poor and minority students are proficient, then we will need to accept that its failure was not an accident and was not inevitable, but was the outcome we chose.

I can't help but notice so much of this article gives the blow-by-blow of a huge debate, entirely based on a false dichotomy. Are poor kids struggling because of family-based problems, or school-based problems. Um...why isn't "both" an option?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Shanksville and grief

I took a day to visit the Flight 93 site near Shanksville this past August. I've been meaning to set aside some quality time to blog about my experience there ever since. It seems that Thanksgiving weekend is a good opportunity to do that.

It feels to me like the Flight 93 passengers and crew are probably the closest thing to sacred martyrs my nation has produced in my lifetime. I was actually a little bit surprised at how much emotion I was feeling as I approached the site. As I took the exit off the Pennsyvania Turnpike and asked for directions, the smiling tollbooth operator had ready-made printed directions. I moved over the hills and into rural America.

It was early August, and the historic Midwestern heat wave had drifted eastward. Temperatures threatened triple-digits, and the rental car's air conditioning was a prerequisite to sanity that day. Something in me felt like I was approaching something horrible and important.
As I approached, I needed a sense of place. When I'm in a rental car and I need a sense of place, I always do the same thing--hit scan on the radio and listen for what people can hear. On the AM dial, I could pick up exactly two stations. One was Rush Limbaugh, and the other was Bill O'Reilly's replacement. On O'Reilly's show, the only caller I listened to was a Marine veteran. He blamed the media for failure in Iraq, saying they had made our troops tentative. His strategy for victory? "We need to kill them all," he said.

I turned off the radio. This Marine wasn't leading me quite to the mindset I wanted to be in for Shanksville. I would not allow myself to spend the day angry with my President. I would feel grateful for and sad about the passengers and crew.

Shanksville, as best as I can tell, was an utterly ordinary small town forced to be in the spotlight by the accident of its geography. They, like any other town of any size would, stepped up to the task of being a national symbol. Flags flew all along the main street. Regular life appeared to continue through the heat.

The memorial site, such as it is, is a few miles up the road. I say "such as it is" because, as of now, there's no official memorial. They're working on one that will be quite beautiful, but for now, there's a trailer and some port-a-potties on top of a hill overlooking the dent in the ground where the plane went down. As best as I could tell, anyone could bring anything and leave it as a token of their grief and thanks. (That hunch was confirmed here.)

What I saw that day has me thinking about grief, and how, in this case, we don't seem to do it well.

The only other places I have been with similar memorial sites, where people leave items behind, have been the Oklahoma City bombing memorial and the Vietnam Veterans wall. The wall's memorial is always beautiful and touching. They've taken to putting pictures of people whose death anniversary it is at the wall. (The distance between the people who died this day in 1967 and 1968 is utterly depressing.) The letters and items are decidedly personal, which is not surprising since they were probably left by relatives. That's what makes them so touching. I don't remember much about the items in Oklahoma City except their sheer number. I was there on the eve of Timothy McVeigh's execution, so I was distracted by the hordes of media filming everything (including me and the two students I was with).

How do we honor our heroes at the do-it-yourself memorial in Shanksville?

With graffiti.

On every surface, there was graffiti. Maudlin, trite graffiti. The direct democracy of poetry. The greatest moment of our last 30 years was made into Hallmark cards at every turn. A quatrain by a member of the Johnstown Auto Club. A big rock by a guy from Guatemala. A second-grade class. A bafflingly cryptic line on a guardrail. In the port-o-potty: "Thank you for your sacrifice."

Why does this bother me so much? I'm patriotic. I love this country, and I love the men and women who sacrificed themselves to save others. I was moved by the sacred ground across the meadow--who wouldn't be?--and I was moved by, of all things the benches with the names of the victims on them. They faced the crash site, and served as a fine place to sit back and reflect.

The bad news is that, between me and the crash site were these little angels-on-sticks with the names of the victims on them.

I'm a Christian, and I believe the victims have attained their just reward. But does that mean I want a five-year-old's CCD grief class between me and one of our nation's most sacred spots?

An entire line of tractors came over the hill. Apparently, every year, a group of tractor enthusiasts drives their tractors to some of our nation's most historic spots, and Shanksville is on the list. The visual of the tractors was quite lovely. Most of the tractor riders climbed up to the top of the hill to ask questions of the NPS worker and to have a brief prayer. Some decided they'd rather stay in their tractors.

They wouldn't shut up.

A local TV crew (from Johnstown) was there to cover the tractor caravan. A cameraman videotaped the family, whose children enthusiastically waved and said "Hi, Mom!" The cameraman added to the silliness: "Everyone always says 'Hi, Mom!' Why doesn't anyone say hi to Dad?"

If you're on a sacred pilgrimage and you mug for TV cameras, is it still sacred?

Is this how we handle grief? We either Hallmarkize it or ignore it?

As I said a quick, silent prayer of thanks and headed out, I saw a group of cyclists who were making their own pilgrimage to Shanksville. They passed by. A few minutes later, I passed the straggler. An older man was completely wiped out, and was walking his bike up the hill. I honked my horn at him and waved. He waved back. He had one eye.

I'm not sure what to get from all of this. It was such a bizarre mix of beauty and ugliness, of transcendence and shallowness. I kept getting distracted from the best parts of humanity by some of the shallowest. I'd much rather that nobody be allowed to write anything or leave behind any items of thanksgiving. I would have been far less distracted that way.

That's why I'm glad that there will be a real memorial soon, made up of something other than stuff people leave behind write on guardrails, portopotties, and the backs of signs. It felt like the detritus of misdirected grief. I'm looking forward to something worthy of the passengers' and crew's sacrifice, something as tragically-beautiful as the Vietnam Wall and the Oklahoma City bombing memorial. I'm hoping that the presence of something like that will positively impact our behavior there--will compel quiet reflection rather than graffiti and "Hi, Mom!" Gorgeous art can do that to us.

When that happens, I'll go back, and I suspect my reflectiveness will go unmarred.

Friday, November 24, 2006

TRP's Christmas List

I didn't go shopping today because I am not an idiot. But I do mark the occasion of the beginning of the start of the Christmas shopping season by making myself a shopping list. Some of these will be too expensive, but hey--maybe some eccentric rich person will find me.

1. Microsoft Access. I'm a nerd. I want to input the stats of every major league game I've been to so I can determine stats like "best on-base percentage on the road in games I have attended." It's pretty expensive, but if somebody knows a Microsoft employee, hey...maybe. And if you ARE a Microsoft employee, well, I'll buy my own gift from you.

2. A house. (Please note this is not in order of preference). Something nice in the Minnehaha neighborhood of Vancouver, Washington. A big kitchen, nice yard, quiet street, and massive finished basement.

3. I'm mulling over a sattelite radio subscription, but I really don't want to buy the damn thing. If someone paid for the hardware of the subscription, I'd consider doing the other myself. After school, it'd be nice to turn on an East Coast ballgame for the ride home. And on my big baseball trips, I'd love the many music channels and having every baseball game.

4. I want to upgrade my baseball website from Geocities, but again, I don't want to pay for it. I want something good.

5. Fannie May Trinidads. Forever and ever, amen.

6. Storm tickets. Portland Beavers tickets. Tacoma Rainiers tickets. Opera tickets, in either Seattle or Portland. Play tickets, in either Seattle or Portland.

7. A publishing contract.

8. Or anything else you think I'd like. Seriously, I'll love it.

9. Didja notice how very few of these things can really be wrapped? That's something that happens as we get older.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Response to a plagiarist

Another kid has been caught plagiarizing me, but this one has posted this apology in the comments of the essay he/she plagiarized:

Anonymous said...

Dear Teacherrefpoet...
I am a student who plagerized your own essay as my own. I was asked to apologize to you, and I truly do believe that you deserve my apology. Im sorry, and I know that what I did was completely wrong, and there is no excuse for any of it. I know that plagerism is a huge problem, and I am so sorry for using your words as my own.

Here's my response:

Dear Edmonton student,

I appreciate and accept your apology. I'm glad to hear that you recognize that you're wrong. Good kids can do bad things. I don't want to be judged exclusively on my worst actions, and you deserve the same benefit of the doubt. I will assume that you're better than this bad thing you've done. Shake it off and move on--but I'd like it if you moved on with this in your head.

For starters, you should be grateful that you have a teacher who cares enough about your learning that he/she took the time to investigate when he/she believed you plagiarized. It's not possible to learn--about writing, about Pleasantville, about the really interesting issues in the movie, or about anything else--by cutting and pasting something from the internet. Your own thoughts are undoubtedly far more interesting and important to your teacher than mine are. In spite of that, for your own reasons, you denied yourself an opportunity to learn and to communicate with a teacher who obviously cares about you. You did this to get points and a grade. I won't deny the importance of points and grades--we as teachers use them to try to promote better work out of students. But learning trumps everything, including grades. Your actions indicate that you'd rather get a good grade than learn. Trust me when I say that that kind of attitude has long-term consequences that make people less happy.

To put it another way, while I'm annoyed that you stole my ideas and words and claimed that they were your own, I'm more concerned that you've missed out on an opportunity to write something uniquely yours. I'd rather write something fairly crappy that I own than claim somebody else's work, even if it got me an A.

Please learn from this. Plagiarism is a problem, but it's not one you can solve. You can solve your own problems, however. Seek help, work hard, do your best, and enjoy the results, letting the grades serve as indicators of your own progress rather than as the paycheck you get for turning in words on a page. Only then does education really become fun on a personal level, and that's a feeling I love as much as any feeling in the world. If you think back in your life, I'm sure you love it too. Make decisions that lead you back to that feeling, not away from it.

Best of luck from here. Thanks for the apology.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I'm probably reading too much into this.

Last year, the NBPTS had announced their board-certified teachers by now. This year, instead, we got an email saying "Hey, it'll be on or before December 31st, so stop bugging us." Okay, I will.

But I still check out my profile three times a week or so.

Today, I went to the login page. When I clicked on the candidate link on top, I got a page saying the profile is "temporarily unavailable." But when I clicked on the link at the bottom, the one where board-certified teachers can change their information, I was able to log in this morning. (Within a few hours, that link also was "temporarily unavailable.")

Does this mean I got certification? That I'm no longer a candidate, but that I'm a Mickey-Fickey National Board Certified Teacher?

Hard to say. It could just be a computer glitch. But I think that they've taken the links down so they can put the results up. And I hope it's closer to RIGHT NOW than it is to December 31st.

UPDATE: was nothing. I can log back on now as a candidate but not as a NBCT. Oh well. Resume waiting game.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

High School Football and The Agony of Defeat

The school where I teach made the playoffs this season, but was eliminated in a heartbreaking loss. I feel bad for them...

But not as bad as I feel for the kids from Pasco High School, who lost 43-40 to Bothell High School yesterday.

In nine overtimes.

Nine. The game lasted over four hours. The game was 14-14 after regulation. Eighteen overtime possessions yielded 5 touchdowns, 7 field goals, 3 four-and-outs, 2 fumbles, and one missed field goal. I can't even imagine how anyone could have endured watching this game.

Here's the story. Be sure to look through the attached photo gallery, which includes this beautiful photo by the Seattle Times's John Lok of a Bothell coach consoling a clearly inconsolable Pasco quarterback.

As I thought of how Pasco felt (for whatever reason, my thoughts always...always...wander to the losing team's feelings when I read about games like this), I realized again that it could be worse.

My mind went back to the 2002 state semifinals for small schools.

My kids and Pasco's kids can console themselves that they didn't have to endure this. Surely it must be the saddest ending to a game in the history of high school sports. That poor quarterback...these demons must have stayed with him for years. I hope they're gone by now.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Yeah, I know it's been a week.

And it'll be a while longer. I've got to dig out from a bunch of election-issue papers and the piddly-shit papers that will accumulate while I work on those.

Talk amongst yourselves. I'll be back one of these days. Hey--you made it through at least 30 years of life without my blog--you can make it a week or two longer.

Meanwhile, my wife is blogging again...

Monday, November 06, 2006

I love Aaron Sorkin.

From tonight's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (which is getting poor ratings, and you really should watch it, lest this show go the way of Sports Night, for which I am still in mourning):

HARRIET: I don't even know what the sides are in the culture wars.

MATT: Well, your side hates my side because you think we think you're stupid, and my side hates your side because we think you're stupid.

Beautifully put! And on election eve, no less.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Borat (Spoiler Alert)

Wife and I saw Borat tonight. I was pretty stoked to see it, especially since both Entertainment Weekly and this Morning Edition article call it revolutionary (the latter even mentions Sacha Baron Cohen in the same breath as Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor). I wouldn't say it's that genius, but I liked it.

I was wondering how I'd respond to the Americans' responses to Borat.

Going in, I was anticipating feeling uneasy with how Americans might look bad.

To be sure, there were a couple of bad moments. The guy at the rodeo was clearly a complete and inveterate asshole, and the Gamecock frat boys said some breathtakingly sexist things (living down to their frat-boy stereotype). And the nonchalant way the gun dealer responded to Borat's request for a gun "to kill a Jew" was horrible.

But on the whole, and to my surprise, I was quite impressed with how humane everybody Borat encountered was.

Take, for instance, the proper Southern dinner party. I was blown away with the patience of the diners.

Borat excuses himself to go to the bathroom...and returns with a bag of his own shit, asking "What I do with this?" This is way, way across the line, of course...but the reaction of the woman isn't to go crazy, but actually to take him to the bathroom to teach him the etiquette of wiping his ass. I'll grant that it's not terribly worldly to assume that someone from Kazakhstan doesn't know to do that, but seriously...this is patience and hospitality way, way above and beyond. She should be proud. None of the diners lost their patience or responded in any inappropriate manner. They did Natchez, Mississippi proud. (Read more about the dinner here, in the Natchez newspaper.)

The local newscasters in Jackson, Mississsippi didn't lose their temper when Borat acted ridiculously.

The assholish frat boys showed incredible compassion when Borat found out Pamela Anderson wasn't a virgin (by watching her doing Tommy Lee). They genuinely (albeit drunkenly) consoled him.

The owner of the antique shop could have gone positively postal on Borat. I would have. But he very much kept his cool under a very high-stress situation.

The fundamentalist Christians honestly felt they were helping Borat by "saving" him. Saying "Jesus loves you" to someone who tells you they're having trouble is perfectly acceptable behavior in a church. Blessing someone who comes forward is also reasonable. As a rule, I dislike fundamentalist Christians (remember, they're on notice), but not for their treatment of Borat.

I fully expected to be embarrassed at my countrymen...I wasn't. Almost without fail, they treated the bizarre and boorish stranger as gracefully as could be expected...indeed, as well as you or I probably would.

I'll have to mull over how I feel about Cohen. I don't like the Tom Green/Jackass school of disrupting people's daily lives and calling it comedy, but since every single one of these people knew they were in a film, I think I can live with it.

And by the way, I'm convinced that Pamela Anderson had to be in on the joke during her scene. No chance in hell that she'd have run to the parking lot if that had really happened to her. As soon as the guy starts to give her that creepy gift, her security would have been on him big time (and violently) right there in the store. If she wasn't in on the joke, she needs to fire her bodyguards immediately. (Anyone who saw you agree?)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I didn't know this

Among evangelicals, Haggard is actually fairly tolerant.

(Now, I shall go to work on the den...)

We interrupt today's housecleaning to bring you...

Political sex scandals.

Let's start in Denver, where Haggard is in trouble. I'm not following it very closely, but in the transition from living room to bathroom, I took a little break and read this article. We're in the middle of a he-said he-said where even James Dobson seems to be taking the word of a male prostitute over that of the Reverend. Haggard thought that "I bought meth from the prostituted, and I never used it, and I just got a massage and never had sex with him" would be a defense, even after previously denying ever knowing the prostitute? Man-oh-man.

But tucked in the middle of all this lurid stuff is something that scared me even more:

Spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters Friday that it was inaccurate to portray him as being close to the White House, insisting Haggard was only an occasional participant in weekly conference calls between West Wing staff and leading evangelicals.

Hold on.

There's a weekly conference call between the West Wing and evangelical Christians?

I'm totally cool with any religious group--evangelicals included--calling the White House and setting up meetings on issues of importance to them. But every week, rain or shine? Holy crap, that's bad. Worse than I thought. I don't like my church and state that close.

Anyway. The History teacher I work with set up a pool (no money will change hands) where we picked some of the closest US races (Senate, House, and gubernatorial) on Tuesday. Any student who beats one of us gets two extra credit points.

I've got Democrats with a 51-49 edge in the Senate (counting Lieberman and Sanders as Democrats). The momentum has convinced me McCaskill will nose one out in Missouri and Webb in Virginia...but won't be enough for Ford in Tennessee. I don't remember most of my House or gubernatorial picks.

Oh...and I'm a month late on this one...why was everyone focused on Senator Allen calling the young Indian-American kid "macaca" when his later statement of "Welcome him to America!" was far more offensive and directly exposing of his bigoted beliefs that Americans are a certain color?

Anyhoo...I predicted 51-49 the day before yesterday...and since then,'s polls have shifted to exactly my predictions (in the Senate, anyway). Yay me.

I'm not nearly as nervous as I was two years ago, I think because I'm actually confident this time.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Letterman and O'Reilly

This is last week. Letterman handled himself nicely, especially in this exchange (transcript from here, video is here):

O'Reilly: Let me ask you something. And this is a serious question. Do you want the United States to win in Iraq?

Letterman: Here is my position in the beginning ... I sort of felt the way everybody did, we felt like we wanted to do something, because something terrible had been done to us. We did not understand exactly why; all we knew was something terrible, something heinous, something obscene had been done to us. So while it didn't necessarily make sense to go into Iraq as it did perhaps to go into Afghanistan I, like most everybody else, felt like yes, we needed to do something. And as the weeks turned into months, years and one death became a dozen deaths and a hundred deaths and a thousand deaths, then we began to realize, "You know what? Maybe we're causing more trouble over there than the whole effort has been worth."

O'Reilly: Possible, but do you right now? Do you want the Untied States to win in Iraq? ... It's an easy question, If you don't want the United States to win ...

Letterman: It's not easy for me because I'm thoughtful.

Herein Letterman has encapsulated what I hate about both sides of the political divide. Like a certain church I know and loathe whose motto is "Black and White in a Grey World," people like O'Reilly and his followers (and his less-passionate equivalents on the left) use politics not as a catalyst for thinking about right and wrong, but an excuse not to think about it.

Tough questions, Bill? They're not easy when you're thoughtful. You're not thoughtful. (You are also a breathtakingly smug and snotty man. But I guess your viewers are into that.)

I've done well avoiding political posts this year. Maybe it's because I'm less angry this time around. But I still insist there has to be a better way to pick the leaders of our country than our usual bullshit adfests.

Proof I watch too much sports on TV and surf the net too much

The other night I dreamed that, for reasons I cannot recall, I was deputized to be the play-by-play guy at a Mariners game.

I don't want to say that I could do this better than Rick Rizzs (but I don't want to say I can't, either.) But needless to say, I was excited. Gil Meche pitched a shutout. M's win. Very exciting.

But in the postgame show, I can't get too excited about it, because I know that the guys at USS Mariner believe (and with compelling evidence) that Gil's successes have usually been smoke-and-mirrors jobs.

So I'm stuck being overly careful in broadcasting an M's win.

Interpreters? Go to it.