Friday, February 27, 2009

Dirty deeds never been cheap


Sometimes we must be nailed to the cross in order to get close enough to understand it, but we still don't understand the crucifixion.

I'm a fool. I throw away what I can get and obsess over what I can't. And I can no more stop thinking like a fool just because I know it than I could cheer up just by realizing things could be worse.

there was a time when i had nothing to explain
oh, this mess i have made
but then things got complicated
my innocence has all but faded
oh, this mess i have made

and i don't believe in god
so i can't be saved
all alone as i've learned to be
in this mess i have made

all the untested virtue
the things i said i'd never do
least of all to you
i know he's kind and true
i know that he is good to you
he'll never care for you more than i do

but i don't believe in love
and i can't be changed
all alone as i've learned to be
in this mess
i have made the same mistakes
over and over again

there are rooms in this house that i don't open anymore
dusty books of pictures on the floor
that she will never see
she'll never see that part of me
i want to be for her
what i could never be for you

but i don't believe in god
so i can't be saved
all alone as i've learned to be
in this mess i have made

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Back / nadir

Not dead, but thinking about it.

The conference was about what I expected it to be; a few good ideas, mostly a bunch of procedures that ought to be intuitive by anyone with half a brain; some people selling their materials. Listened to a teacher astronaut and a very admirable philanthropist author on the final day.

Aside from academics, ambivalent. Traveled with coworker Ms. N, a drop-dead gorgeous funny witty brilliant woman. We have a lot in common, laughed a lot, took off one day and hired a car and drove around the state (illicit escapades). I had a great time in the day, and felt my soul die a little more each night. It all reminded me of everything I can never have again, and everything I'm too weak to search for but can't live without.

Called a suicide line and talked til I was hungry instead of hurting. Ate some pizza and drank some rum. Thinking of scheduling suicide for the summer, when my kids won't be so traumatized.

Thunder on the mountain, and there's fires on the moon
A ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand
Look into my heart and you will sort of understand
You brought me here, now you're trying to run me away
The writing on the wall, come read it, come see what it say

Thunder on the mountain, rollin' like a drum
Gonna sleep over there, that's where the music coming from
I don't need any guide, I already know the way
Remember this, I'm your servant both night and day

The pistols are poppin' and the power is down
I'd like to try somethin' but I'm so far from town
The sun keeps shinin' and the North Wind keeps picking up speed
Gonna forget about myself for a while, gonna go out and see what others need

I've been sittin' down studyin' the art of love
I think it will fit me like a glove
I want some real good woman to do just what I say
Everybody got to wonder what's the matter with this cruel world today

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church, said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

I got the porkchops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams

Thunder on the mountain heavy as can be
Mean old twister bearing down on me
All the ladies in Washington scrambling to get out of town
Looks like something bad gonna happen, better roll your airplane down

Everybody going and I want to go too
Don't wanna take a chance with somebody new
I did all I could, I did it right there and then
I've already confessed - no need to confess again

Gonna make a lot of money, gonna go up north
I'll plant and I'll harvest what the earth brings forth
The hammer's on the table, the pitchfork's on the shelf
For the love of God, you ought to take pity on yourself

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Place holder haiku 3

The silvery jet
Streaks over the cirrus clouds
Carrying me east.

I sit, tranquilized,
Preternaturally alert,
Doubting Bernoulli.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Place holder haiku 2

Haiku to Republicans

You are deluded
Everything you think is wrong
And you're evil, too.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Place holder haiku 1

I'm busy learning
At a reading seminar ---
Or I may be dead.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: Last Citadel

A review of Last Citadel: A Novel of the Battle of Kursk, by David L. Robbins.

In 1943, as the war rages on the Eastern Front and the outcome seems bleak for the Soviets, the biggest tank battle in history occurs in the fields around Kursk and Prokhorovka. Robbins takes his title from Operation Citadel, the German code name for the attack on Soviet forces dug in around Kursk.

Robbins interweaves four basic storylines: first, there's the old (but not obsolete) Cossack Dimitri, a master horseman turned tank driver under the commander, his son Valentin (literally under him --- Valentin steps on his shoulders to get him to steer). Dimitri deals with the war through the eyes of a traditionalist and clansman, who sees his son slipping away to the colder Soviet mentality. Next, Dimitri’s daughter, Katya, is a “Night Witch,” one of the female night bombing crew; she is shot down attempting to rescue her lover, a pilot, and joins a band of fierce partisans led by a gruff bandit self-styled “Colonel Bad.” The war for intelligence is tackled as well: German Colonel Abram Breit is an intelligence officer secretly supplying the Russians with information under the Lucy spy ring. Finally, there’s Luis de Vega, a Spanish SS officer, gaunt and skeletal thanks to a Soviet wound, who hungers for revenge and redemption as the commander of Germany’s new fearsome, supposedly invincible Tiger tanks.

Robbins brings it all together in a tight, fast-paced, dramatic, deeply researched book. At 414 pages, it’s an epic, but it centers on the human interest rather than the big picture. We feel Dimitri’s sense of loss, away from his son, his horses, and his swords, and the way he treats the tank like a living steed; Luis’ rage at being defined by his wound, and his love of bullfighting; Briet’s inner monologue as he betrays his country for all the right reasons; the heroic sacrifices that all the characters make. Robbins doesn’t make any of the characters one-sided; they all have their motivations, histories, and beliefs. We can empathize, if not sympathize, with even the Nazis.

It’s the story of a massive tank battle and an impressive rout, but Robbins tells it as a battle of wills: the differences between the personalities of Luis, who sees his men as faceless tools to be used and discarded in the undying quest for victory and adulation, and Dimitri, who holds clan above all else, are as telling as the technical differences between their tanks. It’s an exciting, hugely successful historical novel.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
WWII: 4 <---winning big now!
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2
General warfare: 2

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don't know when I'll be back again

Okay, I'm leaving for a sunny, mostly rectangular state tomorrow at the crack of butt o'clock, to attend a reading conference for work. Why do I let people sign me up for this stuff? I hate flying. Everyone always says "You'll be fine," but you know, that's one thing you can say to someone in total confidence, because what am I going to do if we crash, come back and say "I told you so?" Actually, that would be awesome.

People also say not to worry about it, because you could be hit by a bus or die of an aneurysm on the way to the airport, too. But that idea doesn't bother me. It's not the dying I resent, it's the falling.

I know that if my plane goes down because the airline skimped on safety inspections to cut costs, my ghost, fueled by my unquenchable rage, will rise from the burning wreckage and haunt the fuck out of everyone responsible.

So, anyway, if I don't resume blogging at the end of next week, I'm dead. Have a nice day, everyone!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Too many drivers holdin on to your wheel

So let me get this auto recovery straight. American taxpayers didn't buy GM and Chrysler's products, because they were perceived (rightly or wrongly) as gas-guzzling, less reliable, and not a good value as compared to established Japanese brands. (Then, as the recession deepened, they just stopped buying cars altogether, but that's another chapter of the saga). So the heads of GM and Chrysler, brave champions of the free market that they are, appealed to the big bad Federal Government for some of that sweet sweet socialist bailout money, so that American taxpayers, who didn't care for what they had to sell, could support them anyway, involuntarily. And the companies told congress that one way they would streamline so they could continue existing would be to lay off thousands and thousands of American employees --- those same taxpayers who will be footing their bill to keep existing despite the willfully purblind business practices they've been perpetuating for the last decade at least.

It's socialism, pure and simple. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, but it is interesting that the heads of companies and Republican politicians are as socialist as Lenin when it comes to getting a handout, but those same people would rather let Americans starve than share out some of that money for public works projects.

Why doesn't the federal government hire the auto companies to make things it needs, like planes and tanks and other heavy machinery, like it did in WWII? That would actually add jobs instead of cut them, and it would be closer to free enterprise than the socialist handout.

And meanwhile, that smirking man-ape Bush is off basking in the evil glow of his self-satisfaction, having helped his very rich friends get richer, and having destroyed the middle class in America, and having apparently convinced the media that the recession was in no way due to his spend-and-spend, gluttonous, plutocratic economic policies.


Lots of violence at school today. One kid punched another in the stomach; this same kid refused to listen to an assistant teacher yesterday when asked to give back a toy he'd taken, and then turned and made his fingers into a gun and mimed shooting her when she insisted. The assistant was so shaken by this, she didn't show up for work today. I can see how it might be creepy, especially for one of the very few black employees at a pretty white school.

Also, another assistant was crouching down near a kid and explaining to him why he was in time-out (for some altercation), and he reached out and lightly slapped her nose with his fingers! That is nuts for a five-year-old to do that to a teacher. Mrs. Hatfield, his teacher, asked him if he would hit his mother like that and he said no. Then she asked him if he would ever hit her, and he shrugged and said, "Sure, if I got mad enough."


So I'm going to a reading conference for three days next week. My teaching style is pretty spontaneous, so it was out of the ordinary for me to write the detailed lesson plans I did for the substitute. In fact, making them was more work than going to work would have been.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When this grey world crumbles like a cake

My parents and my aunt and her new boyfriend (that term seems so inappropriate for someone her age --- male companion?) took me out to dinner at a pretty nice place for my birthday this month.

I ordered a margarita and our waiter --- an ebullient, perhaps even overly effusive, fellow --- carded me. I showed him my ID, saying, "I'm nearly forty years old."

He said, "Really? You look all of nineteen!"

(Normally, people say "early twenties;" either they're being diplomatic, or my new haircut has shaved off a couple-five years.)

Later, on one of his many stops by our table to check up on us, the Cheerful Waiter said in a chatty way that he was jealous: "I'm 44, and I would love to look as young as you." I glanced up at him; he was a fairly boyish-looking guy himself, nothing like 44 in appearance. Early thirties, at most. I would have said something to that effect, but I decided that our relationship was already at the level I wanted it to be. No need to let things blossom further by throwing compliments around haphazardly.


Later, my mother said, "I wish you wouldn't tell people how old you are. It reflects badly on me."

Like her own mother, my mother is terrified of being thought of as old. But, you know, (a) the guy's our waiter --- I'm pretty sure he doesn't give a rat's ass how old she is; (b) he couldn't have known for sure that she was my mother anyway; (c) we're probably not going to see him ever again; and (d) well gosh, some people are sixty-something. That's just how life is.

But, all that aside, my aunt replied, "He could hardly help it. The waiter was holding his driver's license at the time."

"Well," my mother said, "Chance doesn't have to make it easy for him!"


Hypothetical scenario based on my mother's thought processes

Me: "It's my birthday! An alcoholic beverage, to celebrate, please, my good man."
Waiter: "I'll need to see some ID."
Me: "But of course! Here you are."
Waiter [looking at card]: "And how old are you today?"
Me: "That's for me to know and you to find out!"
Waiter: "Uh... Okay? You were born in---"
Me [throwing bread rolls at Waiter's head]: "Not finding it so easy to subtract four digit numbers now, are you, Euler?!"
Waiter: "Please stop that, sir."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Now here's my scandal

I'm so behind on everything. I mean everything.

Opening mail. Helping Palfrey revamp her resume, which she asked me to do a few days ago. Writing my conference notes. Writing thank you notes for gifts from the parents to the faculty. Writing my lesson plans for next week (I've been drafted into going to some damn conference out of state); I never write lesson plans. Haven't been keeping up with much reading lately. Should watch movies at a faster rate in order to justify keeping the Netflix account.

I don't even want to go to a conference! I hate planes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wisdom is old

We had some Prestigius alumni visit the school today so they could talk to the kids about how Prestigius was back when they went to school there (I didn't go, but I saw a photo of my room from the '70s, and man, the carpets were ugly back then).

Our room was visited by two women, mothers of current Prestigius kids, probably in their mid-thirties. One of the women said that she herself had been a kindergarten student in that very room where we sat now. The kids all oohed and ahhed at the living relic of ancient history, and one asked, "Was Mr. Chance your teacher?"

I said with as much dignity that I could muster that I was probably in first grade at the time.


One of the little girls, Z, a bossy type, accidentally poked L hard in the eye while they were waiting in line. She was probably jabbing her index finger in his face, acting all pushy. He screamed and cried (even though he was totally fine), and when I asked him what was the matter, he yelled, "Z poked me in my eye, and it was my best seeing eye!"


I introduced simple, three line book reports to the kids today (they write the title, one adjective about it, and then a short description of their favorite part). It went pretty well, but I was disappointed with L. This kid, whose mother is always raving about what a genius he is, and who can read way above his grade level, chose an extremely simple A-level reader with a lot of repetitive text and no story. When I later took L aside and said I'd like him to use that big brain of his to read a more challenging book and tell me a bit about it, he rubbed his chin and said, "Maybe I'll read a book in Chinese."

I'd settle for something with more than twenty words. Man, the gap between what L thinks he's capable of and what he actually produces is like the Grand Canyon over here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ability has now been ripped

No school today. T-Bone and Courtney hosted a little get-together for friends to grill, drink, and play games. I got there early and the three of us played Guillotine while their girls cavorted and hit each other in the yard. Then everyone else came with their kids. The kids ran around and everyone ate kabobs and chicken and hot dogs and drank beer and champagne. Then right after the eats, as if on some hidden signal all the parental types got up and moved their brood out the door. So no games were played.

Man, kids are great and all, but they sure take over their parents' lives. What good is a party if you can't stick around and play stupid games with a buzz on?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Loaded XIV

Hypotheticals: If you were nominated for a Nobel prize, what would it be for?
That's hardly likely, but I suppose it would be for literature. I'm hopeless at the other fields.

Anything Goes: What American city does not deserve a place on the map? Why?
What the hell?

No-Brainers: What is your most admired athlete of all time?
Jackie Robinson, for breaking the color barrier with dignity, pride and restraint.

Personals: What is the most common compliment that people give you?
That I'm funny. I know, big deal, right?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Cabbage

"Enough! Enough," he cried between blows.

She paused, lowering the umbrella. "You haven’t suffered enough, you little worm," she hissed, and grabbed another implement of destruction. He turned to run, but it was too late --- she’d castrated him. Howling with laughter like a chlorine gas hurricane, she trounced out of the house, her ubiquitous cape (the red one with the quaint yellow "S" in the center) flapping behind her.

A decade later, she saw him again, this time on the street corner. He crouched amid broken glass, peep-show fliers and syringes. He was wearing a tattered American flag over his thin shoulders and his flesh was a mesh of lacerations and bruises. She stepped forward and dropped a silver bullet into his outstretched hand. "Thank you, ma’am," he whispered, his voice a cracked and haunting growl. She couldn’t bear to answer and drove her limousine in the opposite direction.

A year after that meeting, she was sitting in her mansion, swilling pine cleaner. A century of questing extremities, a thousand probing digits, had kneaded her now-pulpy, now-forgotten features. The doorbell rang. Her servant, the President of the United States, hurried to answer it. As soon as the door was open, he rushed past her servant and into her drawing room. "I live for your meandering devices," he said, unable to control himself.

She decided then that she’d had enough, and, reaching into her bureau drawer, pulled out a five-foot-long Pink Pearl eraser and rubbed him out.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Time you straightened right out

Today L (this quirky kid), approached my assistant during free time, while I was out of the room. He handed her a piece of paper, saying "telegram for you."

She opened it. On it, L had written, "blah blah blah butthead butt."

Lovely. It's interesting how this kid can do equations and spell a vast array of second-grade vocabulary words and yet be so retarded.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

They didn't know they couldn't make the scene

Well, the second round of parent conferences came and went. They went swimmingly, for the most part; several even had a jocund, relaxed air.

I told L2's parents that his behavior, while distracting, has improved lately (at least he's not writing "boobs" on pieces of scrap paper any more).

I told L's parents, in a gentle euphemistic way that their son, while extremely strong on math and literacy skills, has zero intellectual curiosity or academic pride and rushes sloppily through his work so he can build Lego airplanes all day long.

I told S2's parents that he's completely on target for first grade, despite his late summer birthday and his tendency to drift into reveries and so not finish work.

I told G's parents that his confidence was slowly increasing, which is mostly true.

Now all I have to do is write up the stupid conference notes for every single one of the meetings.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

If you like it, don't fight it, just hold it, then light it

It's Draconian Justice Wednesday!

* These Republican fuckers who are only too happy to help themselves to the pork after giving Obama's genuine attempts at bipartisanship the short shrift for no reason other than callous, petulant power plays of the dog-in-the-manger variety --- in essence giving the big fat middle finger to Americans hit hard by the recession --- should be stripped of their salaries, health insurance, and myriad other perks. Let them fend for themselves for a while and see if they value "tax cuts" (nonsense Republican code for "providing for the rich") over actual job creation.

* Cops who use the Taser indiscriminately and as a first resort and in opposition to what any reasonable six-year-old would see as the basic principles of humanity (warning: very disturbing video) should be fired, fined, imprisoned, and Tasered, in that order.

* This idiot with the eight kids coming on top of the other six kids she already can't handle is getting death threats, which is a bit harsh. She should merely have all her babies taken away and given to infertile couples who long for and can provide for children of their own, and be forced into counseling.

* Someone should really look into giving Hamas more accurate rockets. The numbers say it plainly: only 13 Israelis dead versus 1300+ Palestinians in the recent conflict = Palestine needs its own superpower protector. China, care to step up?

* I think the U.S. justice system needs to seriously consider "burning alive" as a punishment for some offenders. The electric chair literally is too good for some monsters.

* If there's a Hell, the worst place of all --- more nauseating and painful than the Pit of Rapists and more awful and depressing than the Abyss of Assassins --- surely is reserved for those who had the power to help people, like children with no medical insurance, and instead cast aside their needy brothers and sisters only to help the rich hoard ever more filthy lucre. The Bible has harsh words for such people, so there's hope that hell awaits.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

In the stars where you are always rolling on

Because of a short winter break next week, our school celebrated Valentine's Day today. The kids decorated bags and exchanged valentines ---after I whipped and browbeat them into completing quite a lot of paper assignments, and self-portraits. We have parent conferences tomorrow, and I wanted to have some work to show the parents. The kids worked on these worksheet packets for two days straight, and while a couple finished the first day, most needed this second day, and a couple didn't come anywhere near finishing even after the second day. I don't really know what to do with these slowpokes. Usually I just call the assignment done, even if it's not complete, and move on to something else. Otherwise the quicker kids wouldn't have anything to do. But then, the slow kids aren't getting the whole picture.

These parents pay a giant shedload of cash to take their kids to Prestigius --- my salary is two kids' tuition --- and sometimes I feel like they're not really getting their money's worth. I mean, it's a great school and a hell of a lot better than the hell that is public school these days, but let's face it, it's still just kindergarten. No matter how much you pay for a hamburger, it's still only going to be the best hamburger you ever tasted, not the finest steak.

As I said, conferences are tomorrow, and I have to present the parents with their kids' progress reports. And if you think I started doing those any time but the very last minute, hi! welcome to the blog. I'm Chance, a procrastinator.

Monday, February 09, 2009

He was an anarchist, he tried his best

Today was the 100th day of school. I wore a T-shirt that I had drawn 100 insects on, because I'm buggy. Or I have the DTs or something. Hard to believe it's been one hundred days of school; the year's flown by so fast. So far, no one has caught on that I'm a fraud who isn't qualified to teach gym.

We had to go back to school from 7:00-9:00 p.m. to listen to some schmuck talk boringly about modern fatherhood (his message, in essence: pay attention to your kids!).

I sure am tired.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sunday Warbooks: Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, & Scorpion Bombs

A review of Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological And Chemical Warfare In the Ancient World, by Adrienne Mayor.

Yes, it came time for the Citadel and it's come time for Sunday Warbooks: for the first time, the author is... a girl. I know! Hard to believe, but they say women-folk can be just as handy with the pen as their betters. Let's find out.

Nope! I knew it! Case closed!

In all seriousness, I was slightly disappointed with this book. The subject is, of course, intriguing as hell: the use of poisons and other biological agents in the ancient world is a starting-point surely rife with obscure tidbits. In addition, Mayor promises to refute the commonly-held belief that the ancients had some sort of code against biological warfare and subterfuge.

As to the first, the book is rather heavy on the padding, relying on mythological sources for some stories and rather stretching the definition of "biological agents" to include war elephants and strategic use of terrain such as pushing the enemy toward swamp, or diverting rivers. That's not to say that there isn't fascinating material here --- there is. We hear tales of toxic rhododendron honey, poisonous snakes being catapulted onto ships, red-hot iron scraps flung onto armor, the use of burning naphtha, arrows with detachable barbs dipped in poison and feces, and other horrors. I was particularly intrigued by Mayor's well-supported hypothesis that the Hebrews' Ark of the Covenant was actually a plague box, where elders kept infected items to be distributed to enemies.

The book is written in large part like a doctoral thesis, with repeated passages meant to support main ideas, which is a bit distracting. What is more disappointing is that Mayor doesn't, in fact, refute anything definitively --- the ancient sources she cites are, as is to be expected, ambivalent on the subject of biological warfare, as one might suppose all people are. Some hawks are all for using poison on their enemies, some forward-thinking men hesitate due to moral concern, and of course most end up using whatever is necessary to defend their homes and lives, and "moral standards" go hang.

In the end, this is a book full of interesting anecdotes, but without an overarching idea to tie it all together. That's not a deal-breaker even so, except that Mayor tries too hard, with myth and other less than solid examples, to present the historical material as if there were an overarching theme. There isn't. The ancients used a lot of biological weapons. Some hated the idea and some didn't, but it happened anyway.

Mayor gains a good chunk of validation by bringing us to the present at the end, when she compares our modern attempts at disposing of chemical weapons to the ancient Greeks' "many-headed hydra." We can bury it under a boulder like the hydra's immortal head, but it's still festering there, poisoning the earth.


Sunday warbooks scoreboard:

Greco-Persian wars: 2
WWI: 2
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2
General warfare: 2

Saturday, February 07, 2009

music response meme III

Hard to believe that the last time I did this was way back here.

1. "Time To Kill" [live], the Band
This is the live version off the Watkins Glen artifact of the 1973 concert there. At least, it's presented as such and that's what I've always believed --- but I just conjured up Wikipedia, and its omniscient hive-mind tells a different, more deceptive, story. What the hell? Seriously, what the hell??! I've been listening to studio outtakes with cheap audience sound dubbed in? Now I feel like throwing away this lying disc of lies. Get thee hence, shiny tempter!

2. "Year Of the Cat," Psapp
Psapp is an act that seems to have pioneered "toytronica" --- a sort of twee, childlike electronica created mainly with toy instruments. Here they do a serviceable cover of the Al Stewart classic --- serviceable, that is, until it's totally ruined by totally gay-ass meowing and purring sounds and someone chirping "year of the cat" in a stupid voice that seems to be someone's idea of a cat talking.

3. "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," Chuck Berry
Pretty much everything Chuck does is classic, but this is a biggie. Chuck Berry wrote at least thirty songs that belong in any list of the top 100 rock songs ever written, and this is one of the best. Dig that piano boogie! I own covers of this by Johnny Cash and Paul McCartney, but even those giants can't touch the original.

4. "Your Redneck Past," Ben Folds Five
Off the Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhbold Messner album. Everything BFF does falls into three camps for me. One: surprisingly hard-hitting, an emotional punch in the gut, beautifully sad ("Brick," "Don't Change Your Plans"); two: clever, silly and rollicking ("Uncle Walter," "One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces"); and three: too clever to have emotional resonance, but not clever enough to be memorable (this thing, for example).

5. "Cover Me," Bruce Springsteen
I've collected the Boss' albums in a very desultory fashion over the years, to the tune of a whopping four of his albums (out of at least 20), but I do think most everything he does is sonic gold. This song isn't even in the top five best songs on Born In the U.S.A., and it's still the kind of catchy rocker that any musician would sell his soul to be able to write.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Visiting day part II

At school we had another round of visiting applicants. I was given the slightly older ones, ages seven or eight. One of the kids was a typical rich blond smart-ass of the kind that so unfortunately is bred here in Texas by parents inexplicably intent on raising a new generation of arrogant assholes. He called me by my first name repeatedly, wrote on his book response sheet that the book was "boring," lay down instead of sat during a brief instruction time, and just generally acted like the world owed him a favor. It's sad to say all that about an eight-year-old, but honestly, there are so many kids like that here in the rich areas. I wrote "totally inappropriate --- absolutely not" on his application. It's not entirely his fault he's like that, but there it is.

The only other kid who stood out was a black boy who was polite, sweet, hardworking, and friendly to the others. His family had applied for financial aid (one of my parents' neighbors, a woman I've talked with a few times and is incredibly nice, seemed to have overseen the process). I wrote the highest praise on his form.

If there's space for him, they'll let him in. I hope he gets in --- it could really change a less fortunate kid's life to go to a quality school instead of the deleterious idiot factories they have for free around these parts.


Best year-end recap ever:

This starts off strong and ends brilliant.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

On lobster

A while back, Whole Foods stopped carrying live lobsters in tanks due to customer outcry over the "cruelty" of the practice. It's totally ridiculous, of course. No one was complaining about how the lobsters were treated, or even that they were being eaten. As far as I could tell, the objection was solely that the customers' vision was sullied by the offensive sight of a living creature in captivity, waiting to be eaten. How dare Whole Foods jar their fantasy of a world where food is born in pretty packaging, far removed from any messiness like killing?

This story is just another shabby example of how far we've fallen from our roots. Removing the lobsters is window dressing, useless window dressing to placate the whiners who want to pretend that eating other creatures doesn't carry a cost or a moral responsibility. It does. I'm not saying no one should eat meat, but everyone who eats meat should be able to look its cost straight in the eye and say, "Yes, I'm willing to pay that." Beef and pork and lobster are living things, folks --- and if you can't stomach that most of us kill to eat, then stick to vegetables.

It reminds me of this poem:

Grace Be Said at the Supermarket

This God of ours, the Great Geometer,
Does something for us here, where He hath put
(if you want to put it that way) things in shape,
Compressing the little lambs into orderly cubes,
Making the roast a decent cylinder,
Fairing the tin ellipsoid of a ham,
Getting the luncheon meat anonymous
In squares and oblongs with all the edges beveled
Or rounded (streamlined, maybe, for greater speed).

Praise Him, He hath conferred aesthetic distance
Upon our appetites, and on the bloody
Mess of our birthright, our unseemly need,
Imposed significant form. Through Him the brutes
Enter the pure Euclidean kingdom of number,
Free of their bulging and blood-swollen lives
They come to us holy, in cellophane
Transparencies, in the mystical body.

That we may look unflinchingly on death
As the greatest good, like a philosopher should.

-Howard Nemerov

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Sacred and unholy cows

I was reading this AV Club article about cultural "sacred cows" --- things you enjoy so much you will brook no criticism of them, or that are even potential deal breakers when it comes to friendship. Do I have any sacred cows?

Well, there are some things that I love, but typically, you not liking them isn't going to drastically change my opinion of you. I must admit have little patience with tired old tropes being wheeled out as an excuse for your ignorance --- Dylan can't sing, Elvis Presley was a thief, Shakespeare is way over-played because he's a Dead White Male, etc. Like the man says, at least do your homework before attacking your betters. Dylan can sing, and with greater expression than most of his peers; Elvis was a brilliant musician who excelled as synthesizing genres, and who was greatly respected by many of his black contemporaries; Shakespeare is over-played because he's good, we don't think he's good because he's over-played, dummy.

However, as long as you're not just spouting ignorant inanities, I can understand your reluctance to embrace the things I love, and it doesn't bother me in the least. Like the other man said, if everyone loved what you loved, you'd have a heck of a time getting tickets. And hey, if Dylan's voice is a turn-off to you, I can sympathize. It is something of a hurdle. And maybe they just talk too darn fast in those classic Bogart and Bacall films for you to follow along, too. That's okay. You don't have to enjoy the greats.

There are also, to use a parallel metaphor of my own, cultural "unholy cows" --- really bad stuff that I hate. If you embrace and revere my unholy cows, that too need not be a deal breaker. You enjoy the music of Korn, Creed, Jay-Z, some tween retard shoved into a recording studio because she's got a pair of boobs and a willingness to show 'em? That's okay; I quite enjoy the puerile poseur punk stylings of Green Day, myself. Not to mention Steve Miller. You laugh and laugh at Adam Sandler movies? Um... well, all right. I've bust a gut at a few dumb jokes in my time. That's okay. You're... probably... still not a total loser.

But! If you both reject my sacred cows and embrace my unholy cows --- then, sir or madam, we have a problem. Your favorite film is Night of the Museum, and you turned Seven Samurai off when one time you accidentally caught some of it? You have all of Avenged Sevenfold's albums, but think Tom Waits is a laughingstock? You think "Family Guy" is the epitome of hilarity, and don't understand why people say "The Simpsons" is better?

Well, you better get along back to your village, because you can't stay here, idiot.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I believe I'll go back home

I went to bed at 9:00 p.m. and woke up briefly about every hour on the hour until 6:00 a.m., when I took my temperature (99), got up, and went to work. I was scheduled to do the presentation for book club, which I'd cobbled together in my much less fevered haze the afternoon before. It went over pretty well; everyone said it was well done. Then the Vice Head sent me home because I looked like "Sick" Sicky McInvalid, the sickest man in Flutown. So by 8:15 a.m. I was back home again.

I'm still sick, but at least I got one more damn responsibility I didn't ask for out of the way.


This is my new favorite song of all time for the next week or so.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Couch carrot

Still sick, didn't go to work.

Saw for the second time the masterful 1961 historical drama Judgment at Nuremberg, about the post-war trials of German judges who helped speed along the Final Solution --- in Daniel Goldhagen's words, "Hitler's Willing Executioners."

It's an amazing movie, of the kind that simply can't be made these days for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the assumed intellectual level of the audience. This is a film that seeks to say something about morals and law, but is not hobbled by a need to beat the viewer over the head with its message. Everyone is given a chance to argue his point over the guilt and complicity of the German defendants. The writer, Abby Mann, doesn't hesitate to muddy the moral waters with mentions of Nagasaki, American war profiteers, regular German folk who suspected or knew of atrocities but didn't dare get involved, and probably most importantly the political exigencies of the time: America needed to get along with Germany in the face of aggressive Communism.

The star-studded cast is amazing. A very young Captain Kirk is the judge's aide, and Colonel Klink is one of the defendants. The presiding judge, Spencer Tracy, at this point in his life looked like he had one hell of a bad day at Black Rock, and his craggy, stern visage seems to be constantly glowering. Judy Garland is unrecognizable, if you only know her from The Wizard of Oz, as a bowed but unbroken German woman imprisoned for loving a kind old Jewish man; Montgomery Clift is absolutely phenomenal as a mentally deficient German who was sterilized. Burt Lancaster says little as one of the defendants, but gives the definitive rousing speech near the end (which might resonate more closely in light of the modern War on Terror):
Only when you understand [the fear we lived in] can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: "Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed." It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded sooner or later.... And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger.... What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life.
It's an intensely cerebral film, verbose but not wordy, casting a wide net with an array of characters but never leaving sight of its main arguments. The movies today that might compare to it in terms of scope and purpose are Traffic, Syriana, Babel, or Crash. I don't want to come off like clueless old curmudgeon, and I did enjoy all those films, especially the first mentioned. But Judgment at Nuremberg, and other cerebral films of a generation ago, come off as less frantic, less biased, less mawkish, and in general written and performed by people who had actually lived through a bit of life.

Now you kids get off my lawn!

Also: in a total repudiation of any taste standards I just set, I am to my surprise enjoying very much the fiendishly clever animated series The Venture Bros. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that having watched at least a little Johnny Quest or having read some comic books is a prerequisite to true appreciation of the show. However, if you understand the creators' cultural springboard and can fill in the deliberate narrative gaps, it's hilarious. It's also ironically retro, twisted, deadpan, convention-assuming and then convention-destroying, but mostly hilarious.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Newbery Winners II

In this, the second installment of my newest and possibly most pointless project, I take on 1923's winner, The Voyages Of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting. Because of the 1967 movie starring Rex Harrison, this is a book that probably quite a few adults think they're familiar with, even if they haven't read it. Well, as with most of these cases, if you haven't read the actual book, you miss the nuances (like Moby Dick being about more than a guy chasing a whale).

The narrator, one Tommy Stubbins, begins at the moment when, as a nine-year-old lad, he came to meet the man who can talk to animals and became his assistant. Dolittle is a very cheerful man, a little round childlike fellow who doesn't stand on ceremony and has a duck for a housekeeper. He learned the languages of the animals from Polynesia, a parrot. Well, anyhoo, Tommy and the doctor travel together to Spidermonkey Island, which is a floating island, in a search for one of the world’s great naturalists, an Indian named Long Arrow. They encounter him, but find it difficult to leave the island, for reasons which I won't go into in case anyone cares to read the book.

Though I wasn’t highly impressed with the book with the first few chapters, after they get to the island, a plot breaks out. And even before then, there are two memorable scenes involving Dolittle interrogating a dog at a murder trial and pretending to participate in a bullfight in Spain.

In all, it’s an amusing, if lightweight, bit of fantasy, part of the wide British reaction to the horrors of WWI. Two items of interest that people who have not read the book might not know are:
  • Although this is the book that won the Newbery, it's actually the second in the Dolittle series, The Story of Dr. Dolittle being the 1920 debut. I was unaware of this even after I'd finished the book.
  • The book has mildly racist overtones, with several uses of the N-word and a healthy serving of the white man's burden as a plot point.
Recommended for kids: With the excision of the N-word or a very confident adult who can explain the standards of the time, sure.

Recommended for adults: For its historical and cultural impact, but not its literary value.