Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Because my wife insists...

For the Mariners to regain contender status in my eyes, they must go 16-7 in the next 23 games AND be back within 3 games of the Angels by the time I get out of school for the summer on 6/25/2007.

(Yeah, I don't think they will either.)

But it's not unreasonable. We have 4 against Texas and 3 against Baltimore at Safeco starting tomorrow. 5-2 is a necessity; 6-1 would be better.

Then we hit the road for 3 in San Diego, 1 in Cleveland, 3 at Wrigley Field, and 3 in Houston. The Cubs and Astros are awfully weak, so I'd like a winning road trip there of 6-4.

Then it's three at home against Cincinnati and three against Pittsburgh. I'm slating 5-1 there. Unrealistic, but it--as well as an Anaheim cool-off--is needed if we are to be a contender.

I've figured out the problem with the Mariners

The Mariners' problem is that they're just not good enough to contend.

This is a better year than the last three lamentable campaigns--this team is actually fun to watch, especially over this last road trip. But we needed to win the just-completed series against Anaheim. I was confident going into tonight's rubber match, since Felix was on the mound, but Felix went out and laid an egg. He hadn't given up a home run yet this season, but tonight he gave up three. The M's showed a lot of pluck and came back, but couldn't come back a second time after Guerrero went deep. Angels win 8-6.

Nineteen games ago, I set several benchmarks as to whether or not the M's were contenders, pretenders, or not-even-capable-of-pretending-ers. Here were my benchmarks, and the M's results:

I said the M's needed to go 12-7 to be contenders, and that 11-8 or even 10-9 would mean pretenders. They went 10-9.

I said the M's needed to go 3-1 in Felix's starts. They went 2-2.

I said the M's needed to go 4-2 against the Angels, and that 3-3 or 2-4 would be pretender status. They went 2-4.

It was fun watching us beat up on Tampa Bay and Kansas City, but we need to do better against good teams, especially teams we're trying to catch. In short, we've just finished the best stretch of baseball we've had this year, and we're 25-24, still 5 1/2 games out of first. That won't cut it.

I'm not giving up, but I'm being realistic. Watching the Angels' lineup torch Felix, the best we have to offer, and watching us flail hopelessly against Shields and K-Rod in the 8th and 9th...well, I don't think we have the horses to run with the Angels long-term. If we're after the wild card, I feel the same about the Tribe and the Tigers.

Among the mediocre teams of the AL, we're pretty danged good, but we're not good enough to contend.

I hope I'm wrong. I think I'm not.

Monday, May 28, 2007

You know the M's are playing well...

when USS Mariner crashes. So many happy people that the server can't handle it.

I hope this astonishing bout of lumber continues through the Angel series.

In Memoriam

Stealing an idea from Jack Bog (be sure to click on the link he gives here) I submit a tribute to a random soldier from Washington.

This one.

My age, and he's been gone for over a year now. Regardless of politics, that ain't fair.

Rest in Peace, soldier.

Great movie: King of Kong

My wife and I and my parents just got back from seeing The King of Kong at the Seattle International Film Festival. I'd read about it in Sports Illustrated and again in Seattle Weekly, and was curious. It's one of the best movies I've seen in a while, and the best documentary in even longer (better than Spellbound, better than Wordplay, better than Supersize Me...and I don't say any of those lightly.

It's about a junior high science teacher from Redmond, Washington, Steve Wiebe, who has a thing for Donkey Kong. He played a bunch of it in college, and during a time of being laid off, he wanted something in his life he had control over. So he bought a stand-up Donkey Kong machine for his garage. He sees the record is held by Billy Mitchell, a gaming legend from Hollywood, Florida, and he sets out to break it. He videotapes his game (as per regulations) and sets the record.

A few weeks later, a couple of dudes show up at his house to check out his machine. They declare that it's not legit...a board has been replaced. No record.
Who's behind this? Billy Mitchell.

Thus begins an incredible ride.

Mitchell and his referees encourage Wiebe to set the record live on an approved machine at a tournament in New Hampshire. We get to watch the whole thing.

I don't want to give any of it away. It's such a fantastic movie that you really need to see it yourself. Rarely in documentaries do you have such an obvious good guy and bad guy (Mitchell is a hilarious black-hatted foil...I swear he's like the bad guy in Dodgeball). The crowd (which, I will grant you, was very pro-Wiebe and featured his family, friends, and co-workers) cheered loudly throughout the movie and gave Wiebe, his family, and the filmmakers a standing ovation at the end of the movie. Like Spellbound, Wordplay, and Trekkies, this is a movie about nice, cool, and immensely quirky people...but unlike those, it's about nothing less than a fight against injustice.

The King of Kong opens in Seattle on the weekend of August 17th. Everyone within driving distance should see it...that way it'll gain the national release it deserves, and everyone can get a shot at it. It's simply fantastic.

Because there's no I in Team

I invite you, sports fans, to help my wife gather as many sports cliches as she can.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Where did they research this?

In other school-related news, I've just finished grading the last major paper of the year, which featured The Crucible.

At least a dozen students informed me that "John Proctor was hung."

I'd never thought of it before, but this fact might explain Abigail's obsession with him.

In the homestretch of the job...

I have 22 days left at my current job. Man, I hope I get a new one soon...

I'm finishing strong. The past few days have featured some of the best classes I've ever taught. Kids are reading The Things They Carried, and it's simply fantastic. It's too late in the year for a big paper, but we have a Vietnam role-playing discussion on tap (teaming with the History teacher). But I think the book is only a little bit about Vietnam: it's more about the role of truth and stories in our lives. And the kids are eating it up.

Today I revealed that the book they are reading is fiction. This upset some kids to the point of near profanity. But they got it.

Some quotes from today:

"O'Brien is an incredible salesman of capital-T truth" (as opposed to small-t truth).

"I was really mad when you told me this, but I respect O'Brien a lot for making me believe it."

"Sometimes you have to exaggerate something for it to be true."

And too many others to mention. Third period was so awesome that I actually was sweating with the excitement of the conversation.

This is a hell of a job, a hell of a school, and a hell of a great book. I'm glad to be finishing off like this.

I'm in a carnival! Throw me some beads.

I didn't even submit myself, but I managed to make something called the 120th Carnival of Education. Jim submitted his response to my recent discussion of whether to get all political in the classroom, and by gum, I'm getting some actual hits to my blog from people looking to talk all smart about the edu-world.

Sure beats my normal traffic of Pleasantville plagiarizers and WNBA foot fetishists.

Anyhow, welcome, y'all. Feel free to poke around.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Just past the quarter pole

In the 2nd annual TRP/Pankleb great MLB predictions race. And here's where we stand.

The first number is the projected number of teams wins based on current winning percentage. The second is my predicted number; the third is Pankleb. Then is who is winning and by how much.

Boston 113/91/90 TRP by 1
Baltimore 73/68/69 Pankleb by 1
Yankees 73/93/96 TRP by 3
Toronto 72/83/84 TRP by 1
Tampa Bay 68/68/68 now that's pretty cool

Cleveland 103/85/91 Pankleb by 6
Detroit 102/89/80 TRP by 9
Chicago Sox 85/89/83 Pankleb by 2
Minnesota 75/83/85 TRP by 2
Kansas City 61/65/70 TRP by 5

LA of A 97/88/90 Pankleb by 2
Oakland 83/84/84 almost another ringer here
Seattle 79/79/76 TRP by 3
Texas 63/76/80 TRP by 4

NY Mets 105/83/93 Pankleb by 10
Atlanta 96/79/80 Pankleb by 1
Philadelphia 81/91/85 Pankleb by 6
Florida 77/69/78 Pankleb by 7
Washington 59/58/66 TRP by 6

Milwaukee 99/89/80 TRP by 9
Houston 79/79/73 TRP by 6
Cubs 77/84/86 TRP by 2
Pittsburgh 72/70/63 TRP by 2
St. Louis 63/87/90 TRP by 3
Cincinnati 63/81/73 Pankleb by 8

LAD 92/86/93 Pankleb by 5
San Diego 88/85/80 TRP by 5
Arizona 86/90/89 Pankleb by 1
SF 79/74/74 even
Colorado 66/80/76 Pankleb by 4

Overall: I lead by 8 games. I'm righter on 15, him on 12, and we guessed the same on 3.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Teachers and Free Speech

UPDATE: Jim has now posted, and eloquently, on some key issues I left to the side.

A teacher in Indiana who was fired for telling her fourth-graders that she "honks for peace" in January 2003 has lost her appeal.

Read the whole thing. It's complex and interesting.

Jim's edumacational blog hasn't hit this, so I will, albeit probably not as well as he would (and, I hope, as he will soon).

A few years back, I changed the way I taught my American Studies (combined lit and History) class to my juniors. I had not given a hint of my politics in all previous iterations of the class, but I felt like that was unfair. I ask my kids to lay their butts on the line and publicly state their views on critical issues all the time; why should I get to lay back in the weeds? So I self-identified as a liberal. I repeatedly and explicitly said that I didn't give a rip whether they agreed with my politics or not; unbacked papers that agreed with me would get bad grades, and backed papers that disagreed with me would get good ones. Indeed, the latter kind of paper is by far my favorite to read.

The early classes were fun. Henri and Jason were loud Republicans, and we'd get into productive arguments. I'd push them in their views, and in the process, I think I made them better Republicans. To be fair, I did the same to fellow Democrats if Henri and Jason didn't get to them first. That's where my bread is buttered...I gadfly my kids into providing evidence and reasoning.

But in the end, my plan to let the kids know my politics backfired.

Much to my surprise, Henri's dad called during second quarter. He said Henri thought he would love my class, but that he had since decided that the point of class was for him "to state my 16-year-old opinion so that Mr. RefPoet can take his 34-year-old opinion and beat me into the ground." Ick. That's not the way I want him, or any of my students, to feel. The parent gave me a shot-across-the-bow, saying "The classroom is not the place to espouse your personal political beliefs." I explained to him my rationale for doing so...that I didn't want the kids to feel like they were alone in laying their hearts on the line. But it didn't matter. While I wasn't espousing my political beliefs (I didn't and don't care if kids agree with me), I could see where a not-yet-mature kid could feel pressured to agree with me (on essays and the like). I tried to back off, but the genie was out of the bottle. That year's student evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, but I noticed the exception of two kids who wrote that they felt like the class was a means of relaying my political beliefs. I recognized Henri's and Jason's handwriting.

I have been completely mum on my politics ever since. I will argue all sides of every issue. The kids don't have a clue as to my politics--I know because I ask them periodically. And I think my classroom is better off for it. All backed views are welcome, and the debate is student-centered as it should be.

With this background, I feel incredibly torn about the Deborah Mayer case. I dislike both possible outcomes, much like I do for the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case that the Supreme Court will rule on shortly. While I don't think Mayer should have been fired, I think she made a mistake in stating her own views to her students. Why not respond with a question? When the students ask "Would you protest the war?" why not say, "would you?" I don't see how she helped kids' learning by answering the question. She could have dodged it. I do every time it comes up, and I even tell them why: "In this classroom, my opinions are irrelevant. Your opinions are critically important, and they are valuable insofar as they are backed by evidence."

To put it another way, my experience tells me that telling kids my personal views about something complex like the Iraq war is unneccessary: a teacher can play devil's advocate on all sides. In fact, stating one's opinion is often counterproductive to student learning. I therefore believe it should be avoided in almost all cases.

But a firable offense? No way. Mayer's firing was a sad and unfortunate decision, and the courts' support of it could lead to some yucky outcomes. Would the school board in Indiana have canned Mayer if she had brought in a "Support our Troops" bumper sticker? If she had asked her class to write a letter of thanks to soldiers? I highly doubt it. This means that, under the current decision, the school board would gain the de facto power to select the appropriate political perspective to teach, and fire any dissenters. That's no good either.

I don't feel put upon because of the speech rights I give up on the job as it is. For example, the Supreme Court's history of rulings tells me that I don't have the right to express my religious views while on the clock. As a government employee with a captive audience, it would violate the separation of church and state. Maybe it's because I've never worn my Christianity on my sleeve, but I've never at all been bothered by staying areligious at work. When I teach the First Amendment as it applies to schools, kids sometimes ask me why it doesn't bug me, and I simply say that I can have my beliefs without the kids seeing or hearing about them.

I feel the same about muzzling my political beliefs during class. It doesn't keep me from stating my views where it most matters. I've marched on my state capitol about education, I've emailed my elected representatives about the issues I'm most passionate about, I've ranted on this blog about political issues. I don't see how it's repression when I'm asked to refrain from my lefty rants when I'm with my captive audience of high school students.

I'm also sympathetic towards this principal the article mentions:

A recent case from a Los Angeles charter school offers more evidence of the limits teachers face in choosing curricula or seeking redress of grievances. The school's administrators forbade seventh-graders from reading aloud at a February assembly the award-winning poem "A Wreath for Emmett Till," about a black teenager beaten to death by white men in 1955.

In an online guide to teaching the poem in grades seven and up, publisher Houghton Mifflin recommends telling students that it will be disturbing; administrators said they feared it would be too much for the kindergartners in the audience and then explained that Till's alleged whistle at a white woman was inappropriate. When social studies teacher Marisol Alba and a colleague signed letters of protest written by students at the largely African American school, both teachers were fired.


The second reason--"the wolf whistle is inappropriate"--is hopelessly lame. But the first--that kindgergartners aren't ready to handle the Emmett Till story--is reasonable to anyone who knows the Emmett Till story. Is it an affront to a teachers' free speech for a principal to reach and enforce this arguable, but eminently reasonable, opinion? I don't think so.

Yeah, I know it's a slippery slope. I guess that's why I'm unhappy with this decision...but I'd be unhappy with its opposite as well.

Is this me?

Monday, May 14, 2007

The job hunt

No teaching jobs are available right now. It's still a bit early in the game--I didn't get my current job until July 2nd, for example. And only one job has sprung loose and gone away (maybe they had a student teacher in mind or something). So I shouldn't get too nervous about it.

But I am nervous about it. Subbing sucks, and the pay sucks more.

I'm even dreaming about interviewing lately. Not a good sign.

Another sticky government situation

A student informed me in a paper today that a pilot reently threw "an Arab American member of the US Secrete Service" off of his plane.

Can't say I blame the pilot. The Secrete Service clearly is a part of the viscous circle of government programs.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Mariners

Hard to pin down, this team.

They managed to fatten up against weak competition (Texas, Oakland, and Kansas City) befor heading on their current road trip. The M's numbers are weak enough that I didn't take their winning streak seriously...and with Felix out, I felt like things were bleak.

So before their current tough road trip (one in Boston, four in New York, and three in Detroit), I declared the following: if the team went 4-4 or better, I'd take them seriously as contenders in the weak AL West. 3-5 meant they'd tease, but lose. 2-6 or below and I wouldn't believe they could compete.

The M's have looked dreadful for most of this trip. Sometimes their pitching (especially Horatio Ramirez) is abysmal. Frequently their batting is miserable. They can be really rough to watch.

And yet they're 3-4 on the trip. A win tomorrow and they've met my standards.

(They won't win tomorrow, of course, since it's a Jeff Weaver start. Ick.)

Still, however, things are looking up.

They're only a half game out of first.

They're .500 without Felix, which, as you'll recall, is one of my benchmarks for how to make the playoffs this year. 25-11 in Felix's starts obviously isn't possible anymore--we'll be lucky to get 28 starts out of him now. But 20-8 in Felix's starts would make us 87-75, which could win the Wild Weak West. They've shown that they can accompish the tougher part of the goal (the .500 in non-Felix starts).

A strong statement through the rest of May is absolutely essential.

Some benchmarks for the 19 games that follow tomorrow:

--Six of the 19 are against the Angels. To be a real contender, we need four of those. To be a pretender who I can't trust, we need 2 or 3.

--In the rest of the games, (three each against San Diego, Tampa Bay, New York, Kansas City, and a singleton in Cleveland), the M's must hold to my Felix/non-Felix plan. Felix will start four times: twice against the Angels, and once each against San Diego and Kansas City. We need to win three of those. In the non-Felix games, we have to go 9-6 to be serious, and 8-7 to be teases.

12-7 in those 19, including 3 against the Angels, and by gum, we'd have a pennant race here in Seattle. 11 or 10 and we're teases. 9 or less and we're out-and-out fakes.

I'm hanging in there with these guys. We haven't been in it in May in forever.

When was color invented?

From a student paragraph on how she feels The Crucible should be filmed:

"The film should be filmed in black and white so that it looks more like the 1600s."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

RIP, Howard













Howard Bulson died yesterday.

About a year after I arrived in Seattle, my brother introduced me to Sorry Charlie's. It was a dive bar at the base of Queen Anne Hill--smoky, wood-paneled, with terrible food. It was unremarkable in every way save one: Howard was at the piano in the back.

The back was his domain, and while in Howard's domain, visitors were to follow his rules.

The rules were as follows:

Howard played the piano. Would-be first-time singers perched on the stool next to Howard and requested any pre-1970 standard. You'd sing a set of three songs and sit back down. Then, if you waited your turn and stayed respectful, Howard might call you up again. Once up there, Howard picked the key. The singer got to pick the tempo--Howard was wonderful at adjusting tempo to stay with any singer. And while there were occasionally lamentable performances, Howard was great about bringing out the best in anybody. I only saw him lose his cool twice: once at an annoying drunk who cussed him out, and once, unfortunately, at a friend of mine visiting from out of town. (He wasn't holding open the music book for a piece Howard wasn't familiar with.)

The net result was a place that had deeper communication than almost anywhere I've ever been. Sometimes there were flat-out gorgeous singers: Seattle Opera performers were regulars, and I developed a crush on one apple-cheeked alto whose version of "Summertime" knocked me loopy every time. But the mediocre performances were just as beautiful as the marvelous ones. The idea that we were there together, singing together, listening to each other, applauding...well, that was something else.

I especially liked quiet weeknights during my teacher summers when only regulars were present. I'd stay well into the night, singing five, six, or even seven sets, chatting with the other singers, and just listening to Howard tickle those ivories. My least favorite nights: Saturdays. Saturdays too often featured loud, loud conversations that drowned out the music. Why go to the back of Sorry Charlie's if not to listen to Howard and the singers?

I'd head out there often--sometimes with dates, sometimes with friends, and fairly frequently on my own. As a result, I guess I became a regular. Sorry Charlie's was the only place I've ever been where someone could say to me: "The usual?" (For the record, my "usual" was Sprite.)

The best part about being a regular was being "played up" by Howard. Once you'd been up to sing once or twice, he'd learn your name. Next, when he wanted you to play another set, he'd call for you by name ("What'll it be, Todd?") And if you were really regular, he'd begin to "play you up" by starting a song that was one of "yours." The introduction to the song was your cue to amble up through the chairs to the stool, settle in, smile at Howard to thank him for thinking of you, and start the song.

I'll grant that I'm quite the attention slut, but man, I loved being played up that first time...hearing those first few bars of "Eleanor Rigby" and knowing that Howard had met, liked, and picked me. I had entered Howard's lair, and I had made the cut to be played up.

We never chatted much. One time I got up there and asked: "How are you doing tonight, Howard?" Howard put down his cigarette and offered this response: "Under the circumstances, that's trivia. What would you like to sing?" Fair enough.

I injured my vocal cords in 2001, and spent nearly a year unable to sing. I fought my way back through rehab to where I could sing again, and headed across to Sorry Charlie's shortly thereafter, about fifteen months later. Howard remembered me, although he didn't play me up. He asked what I'd been up to, and I told him about how the doctor told me I might not ever sing again. "Damn doctors!" he said. "They don't know anything!" Longest conversation I ever had with him--and proof that he actually cared about his singers as more than a way to fill one more set before closing.

Not long thereafter, Sorry Charlie's shut down. The regulars were not enough to keep the place running. I had moved to the east side and didn't make it to the city as often, but I made it a point to get back to sing my favorites. "Joanna." "If I Only Had a Brain." "Bridge Over Troubled Water." "Since I Don't Have You." "Hey There." I had a couple dozen I'd rotate in and out, and Howard knew every one of them (and if he didn't, he'd fake it). Howard played at a few other places after that, but I never went. I just didn't want anything to be different from Sorry Charlie's. That last set at Sorry Charlie's was the last time I ever saw him.

The late nineties were some rough years for me, and my trips to Howard were bright spots. Hanging with some other regulars, celebrating my 30th birthday, drinking $2 Sprites as an excuse for being in that atmosphere, and just listening to Howard help another singer communicate...I'll never forget any of it, and I was grateful to be a part of it.

Thanks, Howard, and God speed.

Glad I got out

Jack Bog calls my attention to this story from the diocese in Spokane.

To settle sex abuse claims, the archdiocese is asking for $1000 per family.

My charitable contributions can do better than to rescue a diocese that knowingly coddled pedophiles. There are a hundred thousand more Christ-like uses for my money.

And yet it's worse. In the letter, they suggest that parishioners put it on their credit cards so they can get frequent flyer miles.

I'm sure the victims are glad about this silver lining to their abuse.

Disgusting beyond belief. Shame on the diocese for the scandal, shame on them for begging innocent parishioners to bail them out, and shame on the butthead who made light of the situation by writing the frequent flyer sentence.

But I'm not Catholic anymore. Thank God I can now feel this anger without taking it personally.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

This post is true.

In a couple of weeks, I'm going to teach Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried for the first time. I'm stoked like you wouldn't believe. Going through the book again and planning has me excited and emotional. The book resonates far more deeply now, at the end of a pointless war, than it did when I first read it (I can't remember when that was).

Anyway, I want to talk about one of the book's central issues: the difference between truth and Truth.

I'm trying to seek out examples of fictional-stories-passed-off-as-true-stories. Here's what I have so far:

The Things They Carried (although it clearly says it's fiction, he messes with a reader's mind on that count)
Our government's stories about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman
The example Jim gave me a while back of an author lying and saying he is Navajo
Staged Reality TV

What are some other examples of people bending the truth to communicate a deeper Truth? And what's a good way to present all of this?