Monday, April 28, 2008

As much as I bitch about the new school...

teaching AP at a needy school is almost unbelievably satisfying. I'd say that, while teaching at the old place is generally more fun than teaching at the new place, teaching AP at the new place is more rewarding than anything that happened at the old place, including AP there.

They started as fairly weak writers, worked their asses off, and are now pretty good writers. I'm both biased and optimistic, but I think about 80% of them are going to pass the AP exam and skip English 101.

Feels like we've done something good together. I love the kids at the new place when they're willing to bust their butts and drink the Kool-Aid I provide. It works.

It's halftime. Let's watch the marching band and grab ourselves some nachos.

A student pointed out to me today that the average life expectancy of a Caucasian male in this country is about 76.

I researched today and found he was right.

According to this chart, a white male in the United States who turned 30 in 2000 (that'd be me) can expect to live another 46.4 years, making it to 76.

On Tuesday, I turn 38.

Kinda gives you pause, huh?

I guess this means I'll go through my mid-life crisis in about 73 days. July 11th, if I'm doing my math right, is statistically likely to be the midpoint of my life.


I will spend at least part of my birthday at the gym, trying to make it so I'm only 40 or 45% done, not half done...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Professional Question or The Jack Shit Room

I've been asked to return to my school next year. My principal is smitten with me, as she damn well should be. Every time the superintendent or one of his underlings comes by, I get an email asking if she can show them my class. She told me that I was #1 on her list to keep next year. She's set aside the department head position for me down the road (and I have decided to accept that offer).

So, for better or worse, I've tied my fortunes to my current building for the next few years at least.

This leads me to this question.

I'm failing about 30% of my students in Sophomore Lit. I am not outside the pale on this...about 25% of our sophomores fail English (and History and Math too, by the way). Take away the honors kids (who are skimmed off the top and who I don't teach), and my 30% is actually a tad low.

We're not talking about close calls here, either. A good chunk of these are below 40%. Many are absent for between 10 and 50 days in a 90-day semester. They quit easily. I don't mind that they're unskilled...I do mind that absolutely no work ever comes in, even when we do it in class.

It's worth pointing out that I have no problems with my junior class. They sometimes take assignments off, but I'm failing fewer of them, and the ones that are skipping the work at least have the decency to be embarrassed about it.

But with the sophomores, the Bartlebys in the group dominate the culture. Homework almost never happens, and even in-class work is a stretch for a significant minority.

To put it another way, school has become a place where these kids come to not do any work.

I hate that. I hate it more than I hate the kids who are discipline problems, more even than the kid who cussed at me. It's offensive to me. I know it has nothing to do with me. Still, at some level, I take it personally.

But it's a part of the culture at my school.

I've got one kid who has done nothing all year long. His grade is down to about 10%. When I make simple requests like "Get out a piece of paper," he doesn't. I took him outside the other day, and he said "I'm not being disruptive, so why are you bothering me?" The message: He can get away with doing jack shit in other rooms as long as he's not a discipline problem.

I've cajoled. I've joked. I've extended deadlines. I've offered help repeatedly. I've adjusted curriculum. Nothing seems to be changing. I have a batch of kids who seem to be looking at their watches, waiting to turn 16 so they can drop out.

I talk to my colleagues who have dealt with this for longer than I have. One bit of repeated advice: "Don't overdo it. You can't care about their education more than they do."

I get where that comes from, but I think I have to reject that advice. If I'm any good at this, it's because I care. Any "solution" to the problem that calls on me to be less caring is not an acceptable solution. So I'm stuck throwing myself against the brick wall.

In a related story, we're working on our School Improvement Plan for next year.

There's exactly one area to improve, as I see it. Work ethic. If we improve that, we improve college acceptance, discipline, attendance, the precious state test scores, and just about everything else worth improving. I even think it'd break down the gender and racial disparities in achievement. Work has no gender or color.

I even got a plan from the teacher next door.

We have a plan in place for discipline problems. If a student is popping off and being disruptive, we can send that kid away. There's a room set aside for them to sit out of everybody's way. I seldom send kids there, but it's something the kids know about.

We need another room for kids who haven't done the work.

I'll grant that there are some pragmatic and logistical concerns to work through. Let's set those aside for a second and say why I think this is a good idea.

Although the gym is probably the only room large enough at this point, if a kid shows up and hasn't done the work, particularly if it's a repeat violator, I think we need to send them away. Over time, they'd get sick of it and start doing their schoolwork.

I want a culture that says "Hey, this is a place where we work. If you don't come with homework, you'll pick up trash in the parking lot, staple assignments together for a teacher, or sit and do the last three assignments. But showing up and doing nothing is not an option."

My assistant principal has nicknamed this proposal "The Jack Shit Room." I like the name.

I think this would work. It's sure better than sitting around pretending it doesn't happen.

Anyway, I thought my problem with Bartlebys was common enough that it would be all over the suggestions for the School Improvement Plan. Not so much.

I saw a lot of complaints about iPods and cell phones. I saw loads of stuff about racial and gender divides. But everybody was leaving out what, to me, is the painfully obvious underlying problem of work ethic. I don't think that my school is the Titanic, but I do think that these other problems are proverbial deck chair rearrangement.

Totally, totally baffled. I respect my colleagues, but I just don't understand this.

Anyhow, I will leave off with this question...

That Bartleby who does absolutely nothing in my room every day...what positives are gained from keeping him/her in my room? It's bad for me, bad for him/her, and bad for everybody else in the room. Now that I've tried every trick in my book, and just about everybody else in past years have tried and failed as surely as I am, why should he/she continue to take up valuable oxygen in my room?

I have a finite amount of energy, and these non-workers suck it right out of me. I want to teach for another 24 years, but this--the despair of it all- harms my chances of getting that far.

Can't we try the Jack Shit Room for a while, and if that doesn't work, admit that the status quo of high school isn't working out for this kid, and go to plan B?

Five more parks in the books

I have belatedly updated my ballparks site. Visit it if you dare. If you don't know where it is, type my first and last names into Google. I'm still #1. Take that, bass player and documentarian namesakes!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ken Hutcherson's defective Bible

Ken Hutcherson may be my least favorite person in the Pacific Northwest. I've talked about him before. He's dedicating much of his life's energy into denying gays human rights, and preaching the idea at his Antioch Bible [sic] Church [sic].

I'm even angrier at him now because yesterday he decided, rather than going after gay adults, he'd go after gay kids and their friends at Snoqualmie's Mt. Si High School.

The problem, I'm afraid, like most large problems, resulted from several small ones, and not all of them stem from Hutcherson.

First, and most importantly, Mt. Si decided to invite Rev. Hutcherson (the father of a Mt. Si student) to speak at their Martin Luther King Day assembly.

What, was Mel Gibson unavailable?

Hutcherson agreed to speak only about his experiences growing up Black in Alabama, but still, with his known bigotry, the decision to invite him in was absolutely laughable.

But the teachers dropped the ball.

One teacher booed him. Another asked him a question accusing him of hypocrisy. While I'm 100% in agreement with the teachers' opinions--Hutcherson is absolutely a hypocrite--the teachers can't do that in school. Students, however, should have felt free to do either--but you can't cross that line as a teacher on the job, I'm afraid. I might have considered slipping him a note that said "Matthew 25" on it, but when you're a host, you can't publicly embarrass your guests, even if they're horrible bigots.

Well, Hutcherson, since he's a terrible human being, decided that he needed to
get revenge on Mt. Si. He actually said as much, telling the Seattle Times that he decided to go after Mt. Si because they embarrassed him and his daughter.

He targeted the Day of Silence.

Gay/Straight alliance groups in high schools nationwide host a Day of Silence every year. Supportive students spend the day not speaking to show how GLBT students are "silenced."

At both schools I've taught at, students participating knew that they had to break their silence if required for educational reasons. In other words, stay silent, but if you're called on by a teacher, have to participate in a presentation or a discussion, or otherwise are required to speak for educational reasons, you have to make an exception and talk. Kids have understood this, and were able to make their point without hurting learning--theirs or others'.

Apparently Mt. Si did not have this rule in the past, and kids were silent even when called on. This gave Hutcherson and his gay-hating allies a little ammunition...they could claim that Day or Silence was disruptive to education.

Also, a well-meaning Mt. Si teacher on a past Day of Silence had chosen to remain silent, which doubtless hindered his/her ability to teach. It would have been far better if this teacher had simply worn a ribbon to show his/her support, as I have done on Days of Silence in the past.

These things in combination meant Hutcherson got to lead about 100 of his allegedly-Christian friends in a protest outside of Mt. Si yesterday morning.

That's right: Hutcherson has gone from attacking gay adults' rights to picking on gay kids, as well as every misfit who is called "faggot" at school. I guess Hutcherson believes Jesus would look the other way and allow that to happen.

And I'm angry. I'm angry because this "Christian [sic]" harms my religion. When people think "Christian" in this country, I'm afraid that Hutcherson and his friends are the first people to come to their minds. Not the loving millions of Chrstians I know. Not the beautiful lesbian who married my wife and me. Nope. It's this one, awful, horrible, hateful guy.

I've never understood two things about anti-gay Christians:

1. Why is it that fundamentalist Christians think about gay sex more than gay people do? I don't obsess on any sex in the world other than the sex I'm having. Why do they?

Jesus never talks about homosexuality. He does say that He is the law, and that we should follow Him. That means that Hutcherson's selective look at Leviticus is misguided. So much for Antioch "Bible [sic]" Church [sic].

Nor does it factor in the fact that the word translated as homosexuality used in the Old Testament often meant "sex between a man and a boy," rather than between two adults, in its original language. Or that many cults that early Christians were competing with had sex with boys as a part of their customs, and that early Christians may have rightfully been repudiating that.

Nope. Hutcherson wants to hate gay people, including gay kids, and their straight classmates who are ridiculed for being thought of as gay. He can't let the facts in the way.

2. Does Hutcherson's Bible have Matthew 25 in it? I suspect there was a misprint and it was let out. Because he doesn't seem to follow it:

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

Got that, Reverend? "I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

Reverend Hutcherson--how were you treating your downtrodden fellow human beings yesterday? How were you treating Jesus, who resides in each of them?

You were protesting against Him, creating an atmosphere where He's more likely to be thrown up against a locker and called "faggot--" as so many of your fellow Christians are every single day.

Please, sir. Insert this passage back into your Bible. Come to Jesus' side.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Idle minds are the devil's tool...

Nothing is worse than proctoring a damn standardized test, especially when your job is at stake if you dare read, write, or grade during said test. But for my debate coach, it's actually an opportunity for creativity. Sing along to the tune of "You're So Vain..."
I heard Bush hoped to jack Texas schools
And his plan nat’rally won
Then he flew his Lear Jet to Washington
To start the total Regime of the Son
Now he’s in our classrooms all the time
It’s like we all forgot
He left his school with a C- average (C- average) and…
Check out the whole song here. It's really, really funny.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Clinton fatigue

Interesting article on people abandoning the Clintons, and how angry it is making the Clintons. They feel that people are reconsidering the Clintons' legacy and the effectiveness of Bill's presidency.

I'm not sure I see it that way.

I've always felt that each election is a fresh, new thing, and that past issues are completely irrelevant. It's about now. I'm on record as being an Obama fan from the beginning. Part of it is that Hillary is leaning on her experience, and I'm on record as saying that I don't feel that her time as first lady does much to convince me she's ready to be President. I've also read Obama's books and such and am wholeheartedly on that bandwagon. Clinton has completely turned me off during this campaign by telling one hell of a whopper of a lie (the Bosnia thing). She then had the nerve to pass it off as her misremembering.

This pisses me off. I have problems with misremembering; sometimes I forget where I left my cell phone, and occasionally I mix up where I was when something happened. But I've never remembered getting shot at when I wasn't shot at. When one's "mistaken memory" is something that casts them as the hero of a titanic narrative, it's not a mistake. It's a lie. There is no other word for it, and to dress it up otherwise is offensive to those who tell the truth.

So Hillary Clinton's own lie has actually made me (and I doubt I am alone) remember some of Bill's less-attractive attributes. To Bill's credit, he never really lied...he told Bill Clinton Truths. The bit about "I've never broken the laws of this country" when asked if he smoked dope? The truth...but designed to mask his marijuana use overseas. The bit about "I have never had sexual relations with that woman"? Well, the dictionary Bill had defined "sexual relations" as intercourse. So, again, he told the "truth." It also gave us the quibbling over the definition of "is."

I wouldn't take back Bill's optimism, his policies, or what he did for the country in the 1990s. But this election gives me an opportunity to vote for a man who, while perhaps a little slick, does strike me as an honest man who will speak truths even when they're not what I want to hear. And since Hillary wants me to remember Bill's years and give her credit for them, well, she gets the baggage too. Only it's a little worse...she's told me a lie, where Bill told slimy truths.

If there is Clinton fatigue, it's not just that familiarity has breeded contempt. Their conduct has brought it on themselves, and I'm looking forward to her being out of the picture.

Monday, April 14, 2008

How not to cure insomnia

I drank a good deal of caffeine for the drive home on Sunday evening. I NEVER drink caffeine. So after sleeping from 11 to 1, I was up.

How to get to sleep?

I decided to try to list 10 cities in each state.

I know the states alphabetically, and started at Alabama.

All is fine until I get to Connecticut. I stall out at 8, trying like hell to remember where I sang on tour in Chamber Singers in 1992, that chic coastal town in the notch by New York. Fun night...went out for pizza with a bunch of friends and stayed the night with Anna...what the hell was Anna's hometown? I settle on Bridgeport. About 15 minutes later, I come up with a 9th town...a tiny upstate one another college buddy was from...and pull Greenwich out.

Next state: Delaware.

Wilmington. Dover. Smyrna. Newark.

I'm convinced there aren't any other towns in Delaware. And now I'm falling asleep...

except I can't. I need to think of another Delaware town.

So I wake up and get the atlas.

First, I confirm the Connecticut town by checking out my college choir's website. Damn! Anna lived in Westport, not Bridgeport. I move on to Delaware.

According to the atlas, other than the four I listed in bed, are no other towns I have heard of in the entire state of Delaware. The only one I had a chance at was Talleyville, because I went to the mall there on the day I flew home from Philadelphia last August. I ate at Chili's and bought my wife a just-because gift. I think it was called the Talleyville Mall.

That's five Delaware towns. Why not try to memorize five more to make it ten? Let's see what else is out there.

The other towns in Delaware with five-digit populations are as follows:

Bear, Brookside, Glasgow, and Hockessin.

Shit. That's only nine. What's the tenth city I can memorize? An easy one to remember?

I'll go with Delaware City. Can't miss with that.

And I will never play this game in an effort to get to sleep again. Getting the atlas in the middle of the night is never good.

Good night.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I hate this government

I never thought I could think less of Bush and his buddies, but I've hit new lows twice in the last 24 hours.

First, I read this article. As the process was in motion to decide whether polar bears were an endangered species, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne was making deals to open up portions of the Arctic ocean floor to oil drilling. His priority, rather than determining what ought to be done scientifically, seems to have been to get the business deal done. The article left me convinced there won't be any polar bears left in 100 years--and that Bush and Kempthorne have done everything they can to speed up that date.

Then, today, on my way home from watching my in-danger-of-collapse Mariners, I listened to this episode of This American Life. If you've got some time, check it out, especially the second story. It shows a government whose desire for dictatorial powers brings it down to pettiness that hurts many people. Case in point: There are currently a small number of immigrants who are in a sad and unique situation. All of them married American citizens and submitted the proper paperwork to become citizens themselves. Before they had been married two years, as they waited for their meetings where they are quizzed on the legitimacy of the marriage, their American spouses died. Horrible, tragic in a car accident, one of cancer, one of sleep apnea gone horribly awry. The government's response: Letters that read "We're sorry for your loss. You will now be deported." Even in the many cases where the immigrant had an American child! Anyway, the government, who processes 30,000 immigration cases every day, has decided to focus on these 134, and to fight tooth-and-nail to get these immigrants out of the country. Perhaps they believe that some terrorists entered this country, got married to US citizens, submitted proper paperwork, had their spouses die of natural or accidental causes, and then decided to try to remain in the US as citizens. What a devious, evil plan!

After listening to this, I needed something light for the last 20 miles or so of my drive. 60s and 70s radio oughta do the trick, I figured. And whattaya know, up popped my second-favorite Hall and Oates song. "Rich Girl." It's a fun one to sing along with. I'm proud I know some of the trickier lyrics, like "You can see money, money won't get you too far, get you too far." So I sang boisterously to improve my mood. But we got to a later verse, where I didn't know the lyrics, and I'll be damned if Daryl Hall didn't encapsulate the inherent sins of the powerful with one lyric:

"It's so easy to hurt others when you can't feel pain."

Geez. I almost crashed the car. I'm not sure I've seen a better, even if unintended, critique of the Republican party.

Hey, neocons:

It's a bitch, girl, but it's gone too far.

Why Obama erred

First off: He was right. Historically, people under economic duress look for bogeymen. Just look at the immigration issue alone: from "No Irish need apply" to modern times, everything from rhetoric to violence against immigrants ratchets up during hard times.

But he blew it by expressing it aloud. Here's why.

Nobody--and I mean nobody--likes hearing sentences that begin with "You only feel that way because..." So when Obama said "They only feel the way they feel about immigration/guns/fundamentalism/gays because times are hard and they're lashing out," it doesn't matter that he's right. It matters that he's alienated an entire bloc of potential voters (and yes, I do believe he could have gotten them to vote for him...until now).

Let's examine a liberal example. "You only feel the way you feel about global warming/abortion/pulling out of Iraq because you want to fit in with a certain group and because it's assumed in your circles that this is what 'smart people' believe." Is this true? Occasionally. Does it matter? No. Liberals who hear this will be too angry ever to recover.

I hope that Obama's speaking abilities will get him out of this. But I fear they won't. He was suspect to the swing voters in key states to begin with, and now that he's all but clinched the Democratic nomination...well, he's branded himself as an elitist who talks down to rural, working-class voters when they're not around. This is in part his own fault, for saying what he did where he did how he did. This is also partially the fault of my party, whose Achilles heel has always been displaying a horrific patronizing you're-too-stupid-to-know-what's-good-for-you elitism...and then wondering aloud why the voters they talk patronizingly about don't vote for them.

So I'm seeing McCain over Obama seven months hence.

Welcome back to my default state--pessimism.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Customer Service

I took the wife out for her birthday (a little belated) last night. We went to Gustav's (tasty: I recommend the Mediterranean sandwich). Our server did fine--she was helpful. But then, one of my pet peeves: the manager walked up and asked us "Is all of the food all right?" I've never known why this bothered me, but Wife pointed it out last night...good customer service is supposed to be nonintrusive...barely noticeable. It's just supposed to happen. When the manager intervenes, it disrupts. Plus, if the food were not good, we'd definitely have told the server. Why disrupt us?

I think I know why. I went ahead and filled out a comment card...wrote that our server was great, the food was fine, and we hate being interrupted by the manager. The next question was this: "Did the manager visit your table? ___Yes ___No". It's obviously Gustav's policy to have the manager interrupt your meal. Guys...change the policy. It's lame.

Part two of the birthday was a trip to Cinetopia to see Smart People. (The film was fine...a little bit dark for my tastes, although I think I'm developing a little crush on Ellen Page.) Man, gotta love those leather stadium seats and the fact that nobody's head is EVER in front of you, even if you're sitting behind Gheorghe Muresan. But the adventure in customer service there, a positive one, happened after the show. I went to take a leak, and was stepping up to the urinal and exposing necessary portions of my anatomy when something fell off the wall onto my foot. I thought it was a tile from the wall; it turned out it was the little flimsy metallic door that opens up to some plumbing and insulation behind it. I was unhurt, but a little freaked...the door that hit my foot could have hit something else. Yow.

I notified the usher of what had happened, because they obviously needed to know that a little
flimsy metallic door was laying next to the urinal. I was honestly prepared to let that be that, but the manager walked up. Swankette thinks that the manager saw from the conversation that something was awry, which it was. He heard the story, handed me his business card, and said "Next time you come here, please call me and let me know. We'll do something nice for you."

Great customer service, that. We're planning on taking the in-laws there soon, and we'll call in advance and see what happens.

Of course, when I call and say "Hey, I'm the guy who had a metal door fall on his foot while taking a leak in your theater/restaurant," do you think he'll remember me?

Me too.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The sad story of Butterbean

I did not know this about Chris Snethen, aka "Butterbean," fellow underdog pool participant. Seems he was the victim of mistaken identity and was forced to spend a weekend in jail a few years ago. The level of fast-thinking and equanimity with which he handles the situation is amazing--I sure as hell would be pissed off beyond belief.

Check it out.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

F-ing brilliant

To be fair, I only like 49 of the 93 things listed on the blog devoted to Stuff White People Like. But that's over 50%. And as a criticism of a certain kind of crunchy-granola patronizing-to-the-poor liberalism that I'm often guilty of, it's just amazing. (My favorite entries: #4--Assists, #7--Difficult Breakups, and #83--Having Bad Memories of High School.)

Anyhoo, this is brilliant satire, and I'm pretty much the target. It's not surprising I'd like it (after all, #50 is "irony"). For an extra laugh, read the comments, where far too many people become enraged at the writing. Chill out, y'all. Laugh at yourself.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Hilarious Sports Talk Show

When I go on my baseball trips, it's something of a tradition for me to listen to sports talk radio, both national and local, as much as I can. I love listening to people go apoplectic over whatever the crisis du jour happens to be...and if you listen to several shows in several days, and it gets repetitive, it becomes sort of strange (like a religious ritual you don't know) and sort of comforting (like a religious ritual you do know).

Anyhow, I'm blessed with a wife who accepts this sports-talk-radio component of the baseball trips. We did a scan and got an ESPN radio affiliate.

For a town in west Arkansas--population 6550.

I've found it fairly common for these small towns to have ESPN or Fox Sports affiliates. They'll usually play the National feed all day, perhaps breaking out to play college or pro games of local interest. It's a sure bet I'll hear Colin Cowherd or Jim Rome. I figure these tiny stations really only need two or three employees to sit in the studio and play the commercials.

But Friday I heard an actual local hour-long local show.

The poor guy was lonely. Really lonely.

Nobody called in. This left the guy in a position of just kind of riffing on sports for a while.

I'd like to think I could do well in that situation. I love sports, and my NFL (that'd be forensics) experience of extemp combined with DI, I can craft an argument and sell it.

It's a matter of narrowing your scope. To wit:

"The Memphis Tigers are in the Final Four, and coach John Calipari is playing the 'no respect' card again. In spite of his number one seed, his former number one national ranking, and repeated drubbings, he insists on a lack of respect. Tell me what you think: is he right? Or is this a ploy to motivate his players? If it's a ploy, do you believe it will work, or are his players savvy enough to see through it?"

Dress that up a little bit with some quotes, and you've got about two minutes of compelling radio. Attach it to "can't win the big one" controversies about Bill Self,and we've got ourselves a controversy. If nobody calls in, the net result is a little impromptu editorial, and that's fun in itself.

What was strange to me was that the the overmatched small-town sports guy didn't seem to understand the genre. His topic was, more or less, "sports." Once he stated that local softball and Little League games were rained out (yes, he did that), he meandered through absolutely every single topic imaginable. I didn't understand a bit of it. And then he'd say "The phone number is 123-4567. Call in. The lines are free, we'll get you in right away."

I tuned in halfway through the hour and listened to twenty minutes of this. It was mesmerizing. My heart went out to the dude...nobody was going to call. In fact, I had a strong sense that my wife and I were probably the only people who heard his voice.

Then, incredibly, things got worse for the guy.

"Oh!" he said, cutting off a sentence. "We have a caller! [pause] Hello, you're on Sports Talk!"

A woman called. I could barely hear her, but I think she was asking for the address of the studio or some such.

The poor guy. "Um, we're doing a live show. Call back in ten minutes."

Swankette thinks the caller may have been the host's mom.

Well, that did it. As my wife drove, I dug out my cell phone and called in. I simply had to have him realize that someone was listening.

I got right through...amazingly, there was no engineer, no call screener. Just ringing and then the guy picking up the phone. No delay, either...I was able to shut off the radio as I heard him announce my call.

I had no real question to ask, of course, so I thought I'd throw him a softball--take the biggest story of the day (Chris Henry released by the Bengals for bad behavior) and tie it to an important story for the home team (Cowboys' recently-dashed interest in Pacman Jones). Tailor-made! After discussing Henry and Jones, I asked, quite simply, how he felt about the NFL's recent rejection of players who behave badly.

He responded the only way he knew how--at length and incoherently. But he punctuated it with a question: "Do you think the Cowboys will go after Chris Henry?"

No, I didn't, but that wasn't really the point of my question. So I narrowed it a bit: "Do you think a player like Henry or Jones, as good as they are on the field, are worth the trouble they bring off of it?"

He said "No, but that's my opinion. Do you?"

I said no.

I don't know. Maybe the way I ended the call was a little patronizing of the small-town radio guy, but I felt I had to do it.

I said "Hey, great show man, thanks for taking my call." As if he had a choice...he had no engineer. Even the woman asking or directions had gotten through.

Still, I hope that getting one caller helped him feel better, and I hope his show improves or expands. But man, even with no experience in the field outside of play-by-play for my high school, I'd love to help the guy out. It was as if he'd never even listened to a sports talk show, and the result was some irresistible radio rubbernecking.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I went to the Bill Clinton library/museum today. I've now been to every Presidential museum since Kennedy's, except for Ford.

I'm a big fan of Bubba--voted for him twice--but his museum was easily my least favorite of the museums. It was more transparently an infomercial than the others. I liked LBJ's a lot--it showed how much he struggled with Vietnam even while explaining his decisions. And Nixon's was kind of funny in its own way...the Watergate scandal was hardly ignored, but was rather a dark tunnel at the end of his presidency. It included some irrelevant pot-shots at his accusers.

Clinton really, really went after Republicans in an extreme way in the museum. I'm okay with that--his museum, his rules--but I'm a bigger fan of the way LBJ's museum did it, carefully looking through his shortcomings.

Worse, however, was that it lacked any coherent organization. Swankette and I walked through it in the order it presented itself to us. We wandered through each year of his presidency, looking at his schedule book for our birthdays each year. (The man sure does love his college hoops...he set aside every year to watch the NCAA final.) Then, we checked out some letters written to him by stars. Meanwhile, we saw some quick films on various issues of the '90s. Upstairs, we saw gifts given to the Clintons, examined what a state dinner looked like, and saw some wacky videos they put together for correspondents' dinners. The last thing we did was walk through his pre-presidential days. Backwards...starting with his governorship, Chelsea's birth, his marriage, his college, his childhood.


There were some interesting bits in light of Hillary Clinton's current run for the presidency as well. One of the huge accomplishments Clinton trumpeted was NAFTA. Hillary is soft-pedaling that lately. It also showed Hillary's accomplishments as first lady. I'm on record as saying that I don't count being married to a President as relevant experienc towards being a President. And while I give Hillary Clinton credit for a gutsy women's-rights speech she gave in China, other than her failed health-care initiative, she mostly appeared to have ceremonial duties. She did them well--I'd even consider putting her above all First Ladies this side of Eleanor Roosevelt--but nothing in the museum led me to change my mind about the applicability of the experience as First Lady.

I think Hillary's campaign--the ugliness of "He's not Muslim that I know of," the chance of superdelegates deciding things, the icky Hallmark infomercial--has damaged my relationship with Bill somehow. I think time will heal this wound, but for right now, I just want Obama to get the damn nomination so we can move on to getting the White House.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Three Cities and soul

When Swankette and I moved, we wanted to find a neighborhood--a city, even--with what we called a "soul." When asked to define that, we couldn't quite pull it was just something we sort of felt. I think it has something to do with number of parks, a cared-for look, a thought-out plan, but I can't really define it.

My minor-league baseball travels have brought me to smallish cities and even the occasional smallish towns across the USA. It has continued to instill in me that some towns have souls and some do not.

Five years back, I went to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ick, ick, ick. I picked an Outback Steakhouse on the river for dinner, figuring that the riverfront anywhere would be a good place to see people and be in the middle of a little activity. The place was deserted, the river dry, and there was no visible sign of people enjoying themselves. Yeah, it was a Sunday night--Easter Sunday--but still, it was a little icky.

Bristol, Virginia/Tennessee, however, was really awesome two years ago. There was immense character about it--State Street running down the state line, an old downtown that was both active and cared for (those awesome movie marquees!), and lots of people out on a weeknight. Even tiny Batavia, New York had a lot of charm about felt like about 40% of the town was green grass in parks. I went to a family deli down the street from the ballpark for dinner. I can still taste that pickle.

Fast forward to yesterday. Because of some trouble with my wife's bag (which went on a separate trip from ours), we were compelled to spend a little time in Little Rock sooner than we expected. We picked out a restaurant called The Purple Cow and headed there. Every neighborhood we went through appeared cared for. It had a regional feel all its own, to be sure--I'm not an expert as to why, but when Swankette pointed out that these houses, no matter the age, would not be found in Seattle or Portland, she was right. But it was just lovely, and the restaurant was the kind of killer wonderful independent diner that every town should have. It just felt good.

Then today, we drove through Springfield, Missouri. We took the business route through downtown in an effort to get a sense of the place. While the ballpark looked lovely (we'll be there tomorrow, almost undoubtedly getting rained out), the rest of the town did absolutely nothing for me. It was endlessly sprawly, loads of strip malls, and any neighborhoods I saw didn't feel as loved as the ones I saw in Little Rock.

I want to be able to write out the criterion for soul. Does anyone else have a sense of what I'm talking about? In any region in the US, there are cities with a soul (Spokane) and cities without a soul (Yakima). Is it socioeconomic? Historical? Are some cities simply built with love and some without? Someone smarter than me in these matters--can you help me out?