Wednesday, April 30, 2008

on running and gunning.

Last night the Phoenix Suns died a terrible, terrible death. It wasn't terrible because it was at the hands of the Spurs, whom I hate, and we all know are a bunch of whiny, cheating bastards, who complain when every single call in a game doesn't go their way. That wasn't it. Really. And it wasn't a terrible death because they got utterly demolished in Game 3, when they should have already felt that their backs were up against the wall. It wasn't even really a terrible death because this was essentially proof-positive that the Shaq trade was a bust.

No, it was a terrible death mainly because it broke FreeDarko's heart. Consequently, the last two posts at FreeDarko have pretty much broken my heart. Even though I'm a Laker fan for life and always will be, and my best friend rooted for the Suns simply to root against me three years ago , I've loved the Suns just as much as the next casual to semi-obsessed basketball fan over the last three to four years simply because of the fun they brought back to the Association. I heard someone (and I'm sure this isn't really all that original) call them "Fun and Gun." That's what they were. They were fun. They brought some much-needed life back to a league that pretty much everyone always says is on the border of stagnation.

And with their fun style, they want a far ways. They never went all the way, though. And now, apparently that's going to cost their coach his job. I can't say that I disagree with it, especially if you look at it from the owner and the GM's point of view. But most of us aren't looking at it from that point of view. We're looking at it from the point of view of fans.

And as fans, last night was the ultimate death of a grand, fun experiment that most of us loved while it was going. But to say that it could keep going is to ignore reality. It's done.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

reviewing little brother.

As Cory Doctorrow's book, Little Brother, is coming out today, I figure today's as good a day as any to review the book.

First and foremost it was a good read. This book is perfect for a lot of the kids around the age that I teach, especially the ones who are already into the idea (and reality) of technology as a part of their life. The reality is that things will probably be a lot like the future presented in the book, but in ways completely different than as they're presented. We never know which way they're going to jump, so a lot of the stuff that was in there (the continuation of ARGs, the RFID everywhere, the gait-recognizers [sidenote just to say that I found it hilarious in the press package they sent me that gait-checkers was misspelled gate-checkers. Isn't that what we have editors for? Anyway...] and the omni-present cameras, etc.) I do believe will be a hallmark of our future, but I don't think we'll be able to call how it'll be there with anything resembling accuracy.

The second set of students that it's perfect for are intelligent ones. To be frank, a lot of the less intelligent students have not yet (and will never) think about this sort of stuff. They'll be the Name Here of the book, who delights in ratting out the people who are actually taking care of the world for them. So, ya know, that's not exactly a great thing. However, I'm a big fan of recognizing differences and just going ahead and acknowledging them, so there's not necessarily a problem with me that this book is clearly written with an intelligent audience in mind. (In fact, if anything, I'm upset that more books aren't written in this style! If they're going to accuse us of being elitist, why can't we just embrace the fact that, yes, we are generally smarter?)

The third target audience seems to me to be implicitly implied in the last paragraph: kids who are already leaning toward a liberal attitude. While this would seem like a no-brainer, just based on who Doctorrow is and where the book's coming from, etc. it really doesn't take hold until you start to read some of the crazy accounts in the narrative. I agree just as much with the next die-hard liberal about some of the troubling turns our country can take when we sacrifice a little privacy for security, but sometimes it was hard to read.

It made me really angry. It made me hope and pray that nothing like this ever happens. And it made me worry that things like this already are happening, we just don't know about them.

Finally, just a handful of criticisms: I did find a few typos, which really aren't a big deal, but as mentioned before regarding the press release, I'd think that books like this (and the extraneous material therein) would be checked pretty heavily. Secondly, I thought it made a lot less sense with the title and the obvious ties to 1984 to have the narrator's name start as w1n5t0n and end as m1k3y, when it easily could have been switched. If the purpose is to inspire further education along several lines, one of those lines so clearly being Orwell's novel (the acknowledgments in the back read like a primer for the future according to Doctorrow), then we should have been able to read about Winston all novel - not Mikey. Lastly, I wish the proles would have warranted a stronger mention. I've spoken already to the "liberal elitist" argument - yes, we're elitist because we're supposed to be smarter, but that doesn't include counting people out. Where are all the "average folk" in this book?

The bottom line, however, is that this is a book that I would (and already did so and will continue to do so) recommend to any bright student of mine, as well as all the intelligent adults I know. The novel works on a lot of different levels, and we could all benefit from a refresher on Orwell's masterpiece; no matter what form it takes.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

link of the day.

"It's part of the romantic tragedy of our age that our partners must be seen as compatible on every level."

Great article up on the NYTimes about how people break up based on literary taste. I'd love to meet a girl who loves comics and philosophy, but I do worry about having too much in common with anyone. It seems like it might not be such a good thing.

Friday, April 25, 2008

unbelievable.

I know, there's a lot going on in the political world right now but while all this is going on, let's not forget about some of the really important stuff:

Americans are still getting killed by police. Not just any Americans, typically. And not just any police, typically. This is literally unbelievable.

How can any one person unload 31 times and be found not guilty? I mean, 31 shots...oh wait, I forgot, that's not that many.

Why do African Americans keep getting slaughtered by NYPD?

Why are they getting away with it? Mayor Bloomberg previously said the shooting was excessive, inexplicable, and unacceptable. Now, he's trying to put a different face on it and while that frustrates me, I can see why he's doing it. He's got a city to run, he's got an image to protect, etc. These are all respectable reasons for putting out a statement that says we "accept the authority" of an inherently racist system.

Oops, I think that was a bit of editorializing. But seriously, how can one stop from editorializing, from calling a spade a spade when it's so blatantly obvious? I can't help but thinking of Mos Def's classic, "Is there a problem, officer?" "Damn straight, it's called race!" Ask yourself: would these officers have been found not guilty if they'd killed a white man?

Also, a question: what's the deal with the "law" about shooting at a moving car? I've heard different things, and some quick Googling while at work wasn't able to turn up any definitive answers. What's real?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

on the quickness.

Seriously, Lost is amazing, but this Lost-Vivor makes it even better. There's so much that I want to talk about with this new episode, I love this show. However, it's way too late and I've got to get to bed in order to be able to successfully blog about Lost tomorrow. Hah.

Oh, and everyone must look at this: Tracy McGrady taking blame - for everything. This is not by Basketbawful, but he does write for that site and it's always hilarious over there. Check them all out.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

on revenge.

Henry over at TrueHoop wrote this great column about the happenings on Saturday between David West and Dirk Nowitzki that really got me thinking. I disagree with all of the updates that he's put up, justifying what we all expected to happen. But there's the rub: I expected it to happen, too.

I was furious when Dirk just stood there and took a little tap on the face from David West (David West?!? The guy who's not even a fan-voted All-Star?) and I thought that he should have slapped the hand away at least! If he's not going to do it (which I understand...the Mavs can't afford to lose him, that's for damn sure), his enforcers have to be there for him! Charles Oak never would have let his man get touched like that! Never!

But when I read this column, I really started thinking about why it was that I reacted this way. Why can't it just be simple and two grown men have a little discussion about the game they're playing. Dirk doesn't have to physically beat this guy just to prove the point about this little point. (And it's worth noting that when I watched the numerous video replays of the incident, it really does appear as though West is saying, "One time is okay. But..." and then I can't see his lips anymore. But the point is, he certainly doesn't come swinging at Dirk while saying these things, he's just tying to make a point.) Dirk had a good game. Dirk had some tough defense being played against him, but he gave just as good as he was getting. And there's nothing wrong with that.

But to immediately jump and say that he just should have taken a swing at the guy, just because West touched him? Well, I think that's quite a bit of an overreaction. And I'm glad that Henry wrote that insightful entry to really make me think about these things. I'm sad to see that it didn't affect many people in the way it did me. But that's okay, too.

Monday, April 21, 2008

on hope.

Shamelessly stealing this from Straight Bangin' who got it from TPM: this needs to be an Obama commercial! The things that I have against Hillary are not huge issues. I'll be honest: I certainly don't hate the woman. I think she's done good things, and I think she's been proven right time and time again that there was, in fact, a vast right-wing conspiracy that set out to character-assassinate her and her husband. I think you're foolish if you don't believe things like this.

That being said, being picked on doesn't make one well-qualified to be our President. Being there in the White House doesn't either, but I will say that I agree with my mom on some points that she made recently: being there does matter. It matters a lot. You learn by being around people and the things they do. This is the theory of an internship.

I've gotten off-point here. I don't want this to run like a defense of Hillary, because I don't feel like she needs one, nor do I feel like I'd be the guy to deliver one if she did.

However, I certainly don't mean this post (nor anything in this blog, nor anything I say verbally) to attack her character. She's a good person, she'd probably make a decent leader. But when it comes down to self-contradictions that run this deep, how can she justify the way she's running her race, the things she's said, the damage that she's doing to the party, etc.? There's just no getting around that, to me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

on good music.

Last night, I got to see Girl Talk play a show outside, for free. (This after I had previously expressed envy over one of my blogrollers getting to see him. I felt pretty lucky.) The best part of the show was that, as I already mentioned, my best friend was in town! So that was sweet, but it went so much more than that. It was awesome to me to be able to see this guy so clearly spazzing out over the music he was creating. He was working the laptop and dancing his ass off, jumping on the table, all while being surrounded by people who were dancing with him on the stage.

It was sweet.

I talked a lot while I was there about how amazing it was to have someone continuing the work of pro-pop culture people like Susan Sontag (and I do totally see it that way. We can take that point up a little later if you want to talk about it any more.) by affirming the right of people to love pop music. I've always loved pop music. I love that everyone knows the 'Crank That' video and I love that they do it at halftime of important sporting events while FreeDarko talks about it on some meta level. I'm serious, I really do love it.

But I also really love me some Radiohead/Sigur Ros/Nine Inch Nails, avant-garde type of stuff. I love ambient noise, and I like noise experimentation.

So what could be better than bringing it all together, seeing how it fits?

I love seeing how we're all liking the same thing on a basic level.

Back to the point: Girl Talk was incredible. He's an indescribable talent and I'd love to be able to talk with him, see what he's thinking when he hears how these things fit together. But barring that, I'd love even more to be able to spend my entire summer just trying to learn to do what he does with even a hundredth of his skill. Maybe that'll be my summer job.

Friday, April 18, 2008

on little brother.

I am now a proud owner of one of the advance copies of Cory Doctorrow's new young adult novel, Little Brother. This is another one of those perks that I was talking about, it's great to be able to work on this many different levels.

I haven't got a chance to read much of it beyond the first chapter yet, but what I have read is riveting. I can tell this is going to be good and I'll keep you briefed here as I continue the book. I plan to be done before the end of next week, but I don't plan on getting much done this weekend as my BFF is coming to town!

As soon as I finish the novel, I plan on getting it to my best student, who just so happens to be the perfect target audience for this thing, and getting him to write a review for the school paper. Perfect.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

on stargirl.

Being a teacher offers a lot of perks. Obviously, summer vacation is at the top of my list, but that's not to say that it's the only one. I mean, there's a lot of the obvious ones, like getting out at three (although I've literally never left school at three, but that's beside the point), getting to hang out with kids all day, and meeting some great people.

But one of the greatest perks is that I get a chance to read all the great books that I loved as a kid, or if not those same books over again, books that are just like them if not better. I just finished Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl and this is one of those books. Stargirl was everything a person could want from a Young Adult novel: it had plenty of kiddish angst, it had plenty of passages that could be read in any university course, it had things that are perfect for teaching, etc.

And it fits perfectly with this new unit that I'm trying to shoehorn into my students' lives: What is popularity? Why do people crave this thing so much that's not even real? I mean, it's a social construct of a social idea that we've been socially conditioned to believe that we need for our social lives to be considered a success! (I just wanted to try and see how many "social"s I could fit in there. I think it works.)

It's a great book. I highly recommend it to everyone who enjoys reading even the little tiniest amount. And the greatest thing about reading these types of books is that you can start this sucker on Monday and be done on Tuesday. I mean, you could stretch it to Wednesday or Thursday morning if you're lazy (like me, hah!) but you can burn through these things. And it's not like they don't tell complete stories; they do! In, perhaps, one of the truest senses of story-telling that we used to know but that some of us have forgotten.

Whoops, got a little corny there. Anyway, go check out the book. It's quick and easy (like me) but it'll leave you satisfied.

Monday, April 14, 2008

on schisms.

I'm of two minds.

I'm both happy and extremely sad to report that my good friend Sean P, whom I met while working for the DNC in the 2004 election has taken a position as a field director for the DNC once again. It's a good thing for him, because I honestly don't think he was ever happier than he was while he was working for the Democrats (although he certainly has been happy in the company of one of my other old friends to be fair) but it's a terribly sad thing for me, because I'm (at least temporarily) losing a great friend. The good news is that he's being put up in a hotel in Washington, D.C. while they train him on all the good, old, Democratic ways. The better news is that after that, he'll go to Boston to open up an office there. The potentially best (and, unsurprisingly, potentially worst) news is that he might be back here sometime between a month and two months from now. On the other hand, he might not be back until after the November election. It's sad news because I'll miss him, but overall great news because he'll be doing good, important work that needs to be done and he's a guy who knows how to do it. It's even better news that he might be able to get me a job doing something I actually care about this summer if he's able to come back here and open an office.

However, that's not the point of this entry. Rather, the point is this: while I was having dinner with him and a couple other friends, as a goodbye gesture, we stumbled (of course) into the arena of politics. It's unsurprising since the people present were a journalist and her husband, Sean and his girlfriend, and myself and The Teacher. While she was pretty quiet about the whole thing, the rest of us are fierce liberals, raised in the tradition of hippie parents who would die before we voted conservatively. So this sort of thing tends to pop up semi-often, as I'm sure you can imagine.

We got to talking about the Democratic nominee and the partisan in-fighting that our nomination process has devolved into and the disappointment that we all felt over that. And sooner or later, things started to get said, and I was running my mouth quite a bit (as those who know me know I'm apt to do) and eventually my brain started sending signals to my mouth: no one else is agreeing with you. It was an odd sensation (not that I think I'm always right, but there's usually one or two who are on my side) but as I started to listen to those signals and look around, I realized that my brain was right! Everyone looked like they were disagreeing, to say the least.

So basically, the conversation came down to this: both nominees are good, qualified individuals, but those who disagreed with me would feel much more comfortable with Hillary at the top of the bill, possibly with Barack on the bottom. I, of course, would prefer Barack on top, without Hillary as Veep. There are a multitude of reasons for this, and we can get into policy much, much later, if anyone's actually that interested, but for now, that'll just have to suffice.

However, the basic disagreement was genial enough and the assembled minds were smart enough that it really made me wonder: am I too set in my opinions? Am I missing important things? And so, it made me want to take an Official Survey Question:

Right now, in 21st century America, which do you think is more prevalent: racism or sexism? No qualifiers necessary nor are they even encouraged, I'd just like to hear the Straight Dope. Which one's more rampant: sexism or racism?

Friday, April 11, 2008

on birthdays.

Just a quick note to say that today is my Mother's birthday. Think happy thoughts for her today. Much love, Mom.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

on titans.

Titans came out yesterday. Judd Winnick's writing it and people (I guess) seem to be hating on him. I don't know...first we have an uber-feminist claiming that Joss Whedon rapes his wife and now people are accusing Judd of some things that I normally reserve for writers that I know better as hacks. That makes me sad to see, but I realize that everyone has different tastes.

I thought Pedro and Me was brilliant and I'd love it if it was required reading in my classroom every single year. (Perhaps in my last year of teaching, whenever I know that I'll be leaving anyway, I'll be brave and just shoehorn it in.)

Regardless...

I hear the complaints about the art. I really do. I just don't agree with them. I grew up in the Bad Girl art phase of comics and while the post-modernist, semi-feminist in me can see the supposed harm that comes from unrealistic things like that, I've always just thought of comic book art as that style. My art tastes have matured (I go ga-ga now for Tim Sale and Matt Wagner a lot more now) but I still like to see things like that in a super-hero comic book. I mean, we're supposed to accept that Dick and Kori run around all day doing physical things and never getting hurt beyond superficial wounds, but we can't believe that they'd be great looking people? Doesn't trouble me at all.

On to the specifics of the writing: I didn't grow up with these Titans. I know a lot of people have super-strong feelings about this group, but I don't. I love Dick, I like Wally a lot, and that's pretty much it. Roy doesn't do a damn thing for me, Kori's never been anything other than the hot alien, I didn't (and don't) get why people care about Raven so much and Vic is just sometimes so...unlikeable. (I'm not going to get into Garfield, because I don't think he's that bad. He's great, in fact. It's just that...well, he's been pretty complicated over the last few years, with the Doom Patrol stuff and whatnot so I don't want to un-necessarily dog on him for anything like that.) Regardless, these characters are nice enough. They're just not the be-all, end-all for me when it comes to teenaged comic book characters. (Which, BTW, they're not supposed to be anymore, right? I mean, I would hope not. Wally's got kids, after all, but the whole reason they're the Titans is that they're not the Teen Titans anymore, right? Right... It's just that DC keeps coming up with these new generations who were supposed to take the old ones' places, but they never do. Awesome.)

(God, that was quite a digression. Back to it...)

The continuity of the issue is the only thing that I've been hearing about that I truly do agree with. If Dick's attacked first, like he is in the issue, how long does his fight take for Bats to get there and tell him that his teammates have been trying to call him? But I don't see that as necessarily a fault of the writing, but rather some lazy writing and then a fault of the editor. Not good work, overall. Other than that, I liked it. A good time was had by all.

Monday, April 7, 2008

on (a lack of) education.

As of this writing (Monday, April 7, 2008), Albuquerque Public Schools has been “in session” this semester for 56 days. This excludes days like President's Day and the Spring Break vacation, where we were obviously not in school. However, it does include the six days of SBA testing, mandated by the No Child Left Behind Law. Of those 56 days, I have a student who has been absent 28 days. This obviously means that the same student has been present 28 days. This presents an exact 50/50 split, in favor of this student attending not just my class, but school in general. (I have checked with other teachers and this student's attendance record in my class is by no means unique. This student has 26 absences in Math, 34 in Science, and 25 [haven't spoken with this teacher yet, but I will - talked to her and no surprises there] in Social Studies. The disparity probably isn't real, it's much more likely that a teacher forgot to mark this student as absent than the student was actually present.)

There is much to be concerned about in regards to this pattern of absences, but one thing stands out above all the rest: If any person, in any field was present for only half the required time, that person would not be allowed to continue whatever it was they were doing. If it was a job, they'd be fired. If it was a college course, they'd be dropped. However, when it turns out to be a public school attendance record, absolutely nothing is done. Moreover, when this student fails (which is, in fact, inevitable; no student would be able to muster more than a failing grade when missing literally half the class, not even a student who gets 100% on every other assignment!) we are disallowed from holding this student back. Keep in mind, this is not an isolated event: this student is failing every class, and has for all semester, both semesters. And yet, APS is about to pass the buck on this student. Instead of forcing this student to repeat the term in hopes of acquiring the knowledge they missed out on this year, they will recommend the student repeat the grade, they will get overruled by the parent and the student will move on to 9th grade without having obtained any of the knowledge that they need for this year.

As a teacher, I can think of nothing more frustrating than dedicating my life to trying to help children, finding a child worth helping, trying to help them, and not being allowed to do so. If we're trying to teach the youth of tomorrow that education is truly important, then how can we allow this to happen? Either teachers are valuable people, whose opinions should be listened to and when we say that a student has failed every single class for both semesters, they should be held back, or we're lying when we say school matters. What incentive do kids have to try for decent grades when their classmates can show up half the time and fail, but pass on to the next grade with them regardless?

What can be done? I'm not sure. But I know it's a step in the wrong direction to allow students who fail to move on year after year. It has to change.

(This was something that I just started writing as an angry response to the fact that this student has been absent so much and it kind of took on a life of its own. I submitted it as a letter to the editor to my local paper, but I felt the need to vent a little more, so I'm putting it up here.)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

on 30 days of night.

First of all, a brief note to say that I stayed away from the Internets on April Fool's Day and I'm glad I did, from the looks of it. Not that it's bad, but I just love to fall for some of this stuff, and it would have gotten me way too excited. A fake BitTorrent release of the Apple 2.0 beta? Wow, I would have been slobbering all over myself. Colonizing Mars? Sounds good! I love April Fool's Day, it always gives me so much hope, only to be mixed later with amusement and crashing realizations.

Anyway, I got a chance to watch the movie 30 Days of Night the other day and it was great! The movies that I've been watching lately seem to have common roots as this one also came from a graphic novel but I swear that wasn't the intended genre, at least not this time. (Although it does make me want to watch V for Vendetta time and time again. Great flick.) 30 Days was good, I can see why some people might not have liked it, but I would also say (guess?) that those people either hadn't read the graphic novel or didn't care for that original version. (In which case...why see the movie?)

It followed the story closely enough for my liking, although there were certainly some pretty huge differences. I found myself watching it wondering if they could do a sequel to it like they did with the graphic novel, and if so, would they call it Dark Days? They set up the vampires well enough in this one and a couple things could still transfer over from the sequel comic to the potential-sequel movie, so that might be cool. Did it make enough money to justify them considering a sequel? These are all the things I contemplate.

Regardless, Josh Hartnett did well. Melissa George was impressive, I think I've seen her before, but I can't place her. (Her wiki page says she was in Dark City but I don't remember her from that, as well as Mulholland Drive, which I wouldn't remember no matter what. Crazy film, that one.) The real scene-stealer, I thought, was Danny Huston as Marlow. I knew that the movie would hinge on his performance, at least for me, and I was happy to see that Huston portrayed him as intelligent and savage all at the same time.

Overall, a pleasant experience.