Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

It's always good to keep one's perspective when things look bleak.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Specious tidbits ultimately providing incorrect details

When my assistant told S, the Spanish teacher, I was going to be on "Game Show!", S immediately asked me:

"What acronym does wow stand for?"

I was bemused. "In what context?" I asked, thinking she was thinking of the name of some group or event.

"Just the word wow, what does it stand for?"

"I have no idea," I said.

She smiled proudly. "Wonder of wonders."

This is a woman who, as she will eagerly tell you, has read not a single book in two years. She's not very educated and is satisfied with simple explanations for things, so she's the perfect target for those totally retarded emails about word origins and for that old stand-by for the gullible, backronyms.

Wow is not derived from "wonder of wonders."

And, from the same general bag, golf isn't derived from "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden." And posh (probably) isn't from "port outward, starboard home."

Remember: if the word origin is cutesy and easy to remember, it's probably specious. So don't pass it on; let it stop. (That's Stationary Totally, Onward Prohibited.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How many rolls in a wheel, where did eyeballs come from

Little G, a fearful sort, hides his face whenever anyone says "witch." Also, he hides his face when he thinks he might see a scary eyeball. Like when I showed the book About Your Body and it depicted bones, veins, muscles, and eyeballs.

The other day we had a math coloring page that featured a witch with bulging eyes. G seemed okay with it --- the witch was very comic looking --- so I asked him whether the eyeballs scared him.

"No," he said, coloring away. "I only don't like eyeballs when there's one, or a big pile of 'em."

That seems reasonable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Swotting, burning, idling

Swotting away at studying up on trivia: lists of state mottoes, lists of largest lakes, lists of brightest stars, etc. Refreshing myself on history and some literature. I used to be very au courant with the entertainment world, but the last decade or so my age caught up with me and I now know very little about what's hot on the charts, let alone what starlet is snuggling with whom.

Burning the midnight oil, and getting little sleep. the blog will probably have short posts for the next three weeks or so.

I get Ken Jennings' Tuesday Trivia in my email weekly. Here's the latest:

1. Which Muppet has a wife named Astoria?
Waldorf, I suppose.

2. A community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, is today home to the last remaining members of what group?
Well, the lake's name clearly indicates some religious group, but which? The Seventh Day Adventists' membership isn't dwindling. Maine is also a clue, I'm sure, but it's not ringing any bells with me.

3. What did TV Guide magazine do on October 17, 2005 that Rolling Stone later did on October 30, 2008?
No clue at all. Put a Jack-O'-Lantern on the cover?

4. What number followed the name of all of the spacecraft capsules flown by the Mercury astronauts?
I don't know this one either, which is a bad sign; "Quiz Show!" loves its US Space program questions. If I had to, I'd guess Three.

5. What famous woman is the sister of Oregon State basketball coach Craig Robinson?
Ken's questions are unusually esoteric this week, I think. I have no idea.

6. Pashmina wool comes from a breed of what animal?
I've heard of this but have forgotten the details. Llama?

7. What unusual distinction is shared by all these celebrities? Sarah Ferguson, Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Arnold Palmer, Ron Paul, John Travolta, Chuck Woolery, Steve Wozniak.
Okay, while Question Seven is supposed to be the Google-proof stumper, this time it seems much easier than the other six to me. Ford's adventures as a pilot are well-known. John Travolta is also well-known to be a pilot. Fergie wrote a series of children's books about Budgie the Helicopter, and is the only royal with a pilot's license. I have no details about Woolery, but I do know that he was an adventurer and claimed to be a spy; such a person would probably be a private pilot. So that was a simple one, I think, but the others, except #1, were all out of my admittedly random areas of familiarity.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I thought it was the glottis

At work, I was reading a beginner chapter book to the kids. At one point, the narrator said, "I could see the thing that hangs down the back of your throat."

J6 raised his hand and said, "I know what that is! It's called the uvula!"

I said, "It is? I mean, yeah! Right! Good job!"

Man, maybe he ought to be on "Game Show!"

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: The Rape of Nanking

A review of The Rape Of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust Of World War II, by Iris Chang.

This book, controversial when it came out in 1997, shines a clear, accusatory light on the war crimes of the Japanese in Nanjing in 1938. At the time of The Rape's publication, the massacre was largely unknown in America, outside of academia.

It cannot be denied that this is a subjective book, one with an agenda and a mission. However, given the nature of the mission, possibly the questionable remarks from Chang about Japanese intent (and "the Japanese psyche") can be condoned, if not excused. I'd studied the events in my Japan History class, but reading this book was still shocking. Chang discusses the brutal tortures in some detail, driving home the awful barbarism of it all. She also extols the virtues of the foreigners who helped save thousands of Chinese lives, including, perhaps ironically, the high-ranking Nazi official John Rabe.

Then there is what she calls the "second Rape," namely the efforts of right-wing Japanese, both official and private, to discount the massacre, deny the killings, and depict the rapes as merely the use of willing prostitutes. The lengths to which these revisionists go to defend the "honor" of their empire and portray themselves endlessly as victims of aggression are just as shocking as the massacre itself. Yes, it's true that all nations do this --- there are few white Americans who acknowledge how great our crimes against Indians, Africans and Mexicans are --- but it's shocking nonetheless. Chang recounts that those Japanese who do speak out for the Rape and its victims are subjected to ridicule and even death threats.

This is a truly important book, and Chang was both honored and reviled for it. Tragically, she submitted to severe depression and killed herself in 2004.


Sunday Warbooks casualty count:

Greco-Persian wars: 1
WWI: 1
WWII: 3 <--- winning!
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, October 25, 2008

If you choose not to decide, you still are a moron

I had the misfortune of overhearing two typical Texans talking about politics. One expressed displeasure with McCain for a reason I didn't catch, and announced his intention to vote independent. The other was a McCain man all the way. Neither of them had any intention of voting for Obama.

"If he wins, as soon as he gets in there, the economy is going to tank, and everyone who voted for him will be responsible." What, it's not tanking now?

"And when he's in there, first thing he does is he's gonna take all our guns." "Yup, that's the first step in tyranny." Note: Not historically true. Also, what has Obama ever said to indicate that he's going to confiscate guns? Did Clinton do it? Did Carter? You people are neurotically scared that someone's going to take away your penises. I mean guns.

"As soon as he gets in, we're gonna get attacked. A big one. And it'll be on him." Yeah, because remember when the Democrat was President and there were all those attacks on U.S. soil? Luckily a Republican came in and then we were safe. Oh wait. And anyway, do they really need to attack us again? They seem to be doing just fine bleeding us dry financially and morally already.

"I mean, he's a socialist. They already bought up all the banks!" They?? THEY?! What, the bail-out is Obama's fault now?

"What's the guy done? He spent four years in the Senate running for President!" So you knew who he was three years ago, then? You must be familiar with his accomplishments.

I didn't say any of those italicized rebuttals. I just paid for my things and left as quickly as I could. Citing facts has never changed any Republican's mind.

I see that polls show that between 8-18% of likely voters are undecided. There are nine days until the election. Anyone who is not decided at this point:

(1) cannot speak English and has no idea what's going on;
(2) does not understand any part of the American political process or its basic principles; or
(3) is a racist, but can't stand McCain.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Waste of time sitting still

At work we had the School Fair immediately after school. It was pretty much chaos the whole day. For math, I had the kids make spiders with legs made out of eight pieces of licorice and a body made from a sugar cookie they slathered with brown frosting. (There was a counting lesson in there, too, but the important thing is that I crammed the kids with sugar.) We had pretzel sticks for snack time, so I dipped those in the chocolate frosting also, because, you know, tasty, and hey, not my kids.

Yesterday, two mothers came in at my request to carve a jack-o-lantern for us. The kids helped scrape out the insides, and squealed with gleeful disgust at the gloppy seeds and pulp they extricated. The kids helped gather the seeds and clean them of pulp strands, and one of the mothers took the seeds home. Today she brought them back all roasted with garlic butter. The kids loved them.

When Miss Busty saw the mothers in my room, she asked with a conspiratorial grin, "What, did you ask for only the hot moms to help?" Because the mothers are both conventionally attractive. I actually had no control over who showed up, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thankful for the extra perk of the hotness.

I stayed at the Fair for an hour, then left. I joined the Friar and Palfrey (who is scheduled to deliver her second baby on Wednesday), 74 and Zaftig and their two kids, and some friend of theirs, at a Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was nice. One of the kids from Mr. C's room last year, the one I covered for a month, happened to be there and greeted me, which was very sweet, and I might have been more expansive to her mother had I not been slightly tipsy and eating a spinach burrito at the time.

A series of goofy, semi-inebriated conversational detours from the Obama-supporter-mugger hoax led to 74 and I deciding we need to write a factual, helpful book on how to kill your wife, remain the prime suspect, and keep your cool. Example chapter: "That's Really Deep: 'Self-Defense Wounds' That Look Real."

Then Friar went to go play roadie for R.E.M. Yes, really. I swear that guy has a semi-charmed life.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

What is a pretty cool thing?

I'm not supposed to talk about this online, but since this blog is almost utterly anonymous (I rarely even mention what city I live in, for pity's sake), and since only about four people read it, might as well say it.

Remember when I went out to take a test for a well-known TV quiz program? Well, they called me back. I'm going to fly out to California and be on Game Show! pretty soon --- sooner than I'd like, really. It will air later.

That's cool.

I'm excited, but mostly nervous, as I feel unprepared. I know a lot of stuff, but it's all haphazard and random bits here and there, a result of my ADHD-attention span autodidacticism. I'm hugely ignorant of entire categories such as geography and sports and television shows and world leaders and on and on.

Even so, I feel reasonably confident and I think I'm being fairly realistic about it all. I have very little interest in fame and fortune. And as my friend 74 said, I have a job and make okay money. The cash you can win on Game Show! is not life-changing, like it is on some of the other shows like Can You Win a Bajillion Dollars By Being Very Lucky Or Asking a Smart Kid? It's Possible, But Most Likely You Will Walk Away With a Couple Grand. So like I say, winning would be sweet, but all I really want is not to look like a complete moron on TV. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Do I have to come right out flat and tell you everything?

I can't believe that this indicates in any way "the final undoing of Sarah Palin," but it's nice to see so much growing distaste as the story spreads.


Today after work we had our regular meeting. Among other things, the Vice-Head gave us the official procedure for writing recommendations for students. She cautioned us against writing too much praise: "It's not our job to get them into other schools," she said. "We want them to stay here."

Call me naive, but that kind of surprised me. I mean, asking a teacher for a rec is kind of trust, I thought. If your kid's kindergarten teacher can't be counted on to spout effusive approbation for everything the little darling does, what is this world coming to?

It kind of reminds me of the time I was 18 and working in a frozen yogurt store. The regular size was 3 ounces and we had a digital scale to measure our swirls. The manager told us one day that when elderly ladies came in, it was okay to give them 2.5 or 2.7 ounces, because they wouldn't eat that much anyway.

I think the part of me that might have grown up to be a capitalist died that day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cheat, cheat, or don't get anywhere

Hey kids! Do you like Republican-organized voter fraud in Nevada, West Virginia, and pretty much nationwide? Huh? Do ya?

Hope so, 'cause that's what you're gonna get.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: The Good War, Studs Terkel

A review of "The Good War:" An Oral History Of World War Two, edited by Studs Turkel (1984).

This weighty tome (more than 600 pages) is a collection of reminisces and insights on the war. The voices are mostly American, but there are German, Japanese and Russian contributions as well. Even so, the years 1939-41 are almost totally ignored, which is an unfortunate but perhaps unsurprising weakness (given how many Americans seem to believe that World War Two started in 1941) in what is otherwise an immensely important book.

Almost every war story has a chilling image that lingers in the mind long after the telling, and these reminisces are no exception. The tales told here present hundreds of such horrifying, bizarre and amazing images. Perhaps the most memorable is the legless ex-GI, deformed from radiation and now become head of the National Association of Atomic Veterans, recounting his warm welcome in Japan and his treatments there, while the US government shamefully blocked all treatment at the VA hospital for fear of admitting negligence. (And still, the GI spouts patriotic sentiment!)

From the varied accounts --- the bombers and the bombed, the journalists and grunts and top brass --- four main themes emerge. The first is how utterly naive --- with the exceptions of a few groups such as the so-called Premature Anti-Fascists --- Americans were in 1941. A bloody world war was being waged, with the stakes unutterably high for democracy, and the general ruck of Americans were blithe about its progress, ignored the likelihood of attack.

The second theme is the changing attitudes Americans adopted after the war: prosperity became a right, and confidence was very high, among women and blacks as well as veterans. Perhaps that quickly faded among most in the cold harsh light of post-war preality, but the initial rush had lasting effects, including the civil rights movement and the creation of the suburbs.

The third is the pervasive and deep racism of the typical U.S. soldier and his government. As one particularly bizarre example, some white GIs told their English friends that blacks had tails. Blacks were shot and hanged by white soldiers. And while these men were fighting fascism! I fear that in this, we have come only a short way.

The fourth theme is the distrust that Americans came to feel for their government. Vietnam is mentioned by cynical vets again and again; the quick turnaround of Russians as allies-to-enemies is cited. What a pity that this cynicism never blossomed into a healthy rationalism when it came to involvement in government (see, for example, the expedient demonization of our erstwhile Commie-bashing buddy Osama bin Laden and our quondam beloved bulwark against the Iranian menace, Saddam Hussein.) And, since the book was compiled the '80s, there is a palpable sense of fatalism in many of the stories: a feeling the bomb can drop any moment. This, too, is another WWII legacy.


Sunday Warbooks casualty count:

Greco-Persian wars: 1
WWI: 1
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Loaded XI

This meme is found here.

Hypotheticals: If you were a hunting fanatic, what animal would you hang from your wall?
Well, I've been pretty vehemently against sport and trophy hunting all my life, so it's hard to get itno the spirit of this question. But if, in some parallel universe, I were a hunting fanatic, I suppose I'd want the dead detached head of some majestic powerful antlered creature, full of grandeur and power, to adorn my wall, its soulless glass eyes gazing down at me to remind me of what a Big Tough Manly Man I am for blasting it to death with a high-powered rifle when it came trustingly with its family to eat from the bait I and my beer-swilling hunter redneck friends left out all year, while I hid behind a blind doused in artifical animal scent to mask the smell of alcohol and self-loathing that perpetually hung around me and my tiny, tiny penis.

Anything Goes: What word describes your knowledge of the Internet?

No-Brainers: What is your favorite pet name?
You gave me a pet name
Which is not to say I like it
We met at a party
Not to say I was invited

Personals: What do you consider the greatest threat to your personal stability?
Having Republicans in power. The hypocrisy and viciousness of these people makes me enraged and insane, and is bad for my blood pressure.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How wrong can I be before I am right?

Well, the second day of conferences didn't go quite as smoothly as the first. Overall, I feel very good about everything that was discussed, but a couple of things stand out.

I made a mother cry. I talked to her about shy G, the sweet little boy who loves superheroes so much (and who differs with me on such serious philosophical issues as the appearance of Braniac and Ant-Man). G's capable enough academically, though he's well behind about 80% of the class. Most of them are comfortable sounding out words or reading the simple Bob books, while he's still struggling with individual letter sounds. That's not the problem, though. My concern was his crippling shyness, his severe lack of confidence. When I call on him, he changes answers, guessing wildly in the hopes that he'll be let off the hook, instead of relying on his own abilities and standing by an answer. And he often shuts down, gets a miserable look on his face, and practically tears up when he "messes up." I put it to Mom as gently as I could that this, not the lack of reading, made him stand out, and that I thought we should address this confidence issue now so that in first grade she's not hearing really bad news like "G is totally lost and doesn't even seem to know when to ask for help." Well, like I say, I put it gently, but my associates tell me that Mom was showing a little tear in her eye her own self when she exited my room. Three times during the conference, she mentioned to me that maybe they coddled him too much. I couldn't say so even if I knew that was true, of course, but putting on the therapist hat, it seems clear that she's telling herself that she already knows her own problem and solution.

In contrast, my conference with the parents of quirky, precocious L (he of the marker in his head) went a little awry when Mom tried to put me on the defensive. L reads at a high level, understands addition and subtraction, and has a prodigious memory (he knows all his family's phone numbers and license plates, and the library number of everyone in class --- definitely needs to take Qantas to Vegas, definitely). I told the parents that I'd like to see L push himself a little harder, for example to write two or three sentences during the time the other kids write one. Mom took exception to this (in retrospect, I can see how it might have seemed that I was blaming L for not being challenged) and said, 'Well, I wonder what you're thinking the psychology is at work here, that you're expecting a six-year-old to do something like that." Well, Prestigious is all about instilling responsibility and self-management, so I mentioned that educational philosophy, and also suggested that children generally have an inner drive to challenge themselves anyhow. I think part of the problem, as it is with so many super-bright kids, is that L's bored and lacks pride in the work, which he probably sees as beneath him.

Finally, the best part of the day was my meeting with the five-year-old L (he of the middle finger). We're all on the same page with this guy. His parents and I are working on curtailing this mischievous, disrespectful streak. We're agreed that L is a sweet, good-natured kid most of the time, who has an older sibling from whom he learns some PG-13 material, and who needs an outlet for his latent aggression. I mentioned one example of such behavior, when he booed his classmates as they did some team activities in gym. His mother said that a few weeks ago he booed a magician at a birthday party as soon as the act started.

Apparently, he quickly settled down afterwards and then got into the magic act like everyone else, but I think that's totally priceless. Imagine you're a small-time professional magician who does kids' parties. And you're doing your act, and all these five-year-olds are staring rapt and oohing and aahing, and then suddenly there's this one little kid, sitting apart from the others, booing you with all his tiny lung power.

Myabe it's just me, but I just love that image. I think the whole situation's got that euphemistic Who Moved My Cheese-type of potential, wise words hidden in the parable:

Don't boo the magician before you see his act.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Stars are stars and they shine so hard

The Dallas public school system is firing more than three hundred and seventy-five teachers to make up an enormous deficit. Whoever's doing the budget for DISD is stupid and corrupt. None of those administrators making six figures is being fired, but some assistant principals and counselors are getting canned. That's in addition to over 200 teachers who took a buy-out package a few weeks ago. Hey, I have an idea! Let's disband high school football programs! No coaches, stadiums, or uniforms! Let the parents pay for that stuff, since they love it so! That might help.

In my neck of the woods, Miss Busty reports that one of her parents is next-door neighbors with "Tony and Jessica," as these two are called in the People-reading familiar parlance of my colleagues. They apparently pal around together. To which I respond (immediately after "Tony who?"), "So what?"

Conferences went great. I have only two or three sets of slightly high-maintenance parents who need me to tell them the ways in which I'll be pushing their five-year-old to excel. Example: I mentioned to one couple that their daughter says things like "sitted" and "tooked" with some frequency, and the mother wrote that down in her notebook, and they discussed whether they could find a workbook that would address that problem. I understand the need to foster improvement, but it's pretty normal for a kindergartner to talk like that. Some things can just be let go. Other than the couple of Type A parents, most of mine are easy-going. We have a nice laugh and then they leave. My conferences took an average of ten minutes each, compared with everyone else's thirty. I'm either doing something wrong or something very, very right.

Still procrastinating, though. I meant to finish up the last of my notes at home tonight for the second half of conferences, but left my assessment sheets at school! Argh! Now I have to go early and get it done before 7:45. If, that is, I can remember where I put the assessment sheets.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nothing left here to greet me but the velvet moon

Parent conferences are today and tomorrow, and while I'm not the least bit anxious about it, I'm scrambling to prepare my assessment forms and comment sheets and notes and what not. I'm such a procrastinator.

I haven't watched a movie in a month, making my Netflix subscription pretty much a free donation to those good folks. All I do lately is read and, to my shame, play horribly addicting online games like these.

Also, I could stand to wash the dishes piling up in my sink. But on the positive side, I've continued to go for a 20+ minute walk every day, no matter how exhausted or frantically behind on paperwork I am.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

That's not a thumbs-up

One of my five-year-old boys, L, showed his extended middle finger to another child at lunch yesterday. I wasn't in the room at the time, but my assistant was. She talked to L, and asked him if he knew what the finger meant. He knew it was "something bad."

Later that same day he hit another child. So I had to email his parents about the incidents. Conferences are at the end of the week, so at least we'll have a topic of discussion, right?

Today, during recess he was found behind one of the play structures with a boy from another class. They were taking turns pulling down each other's pants and laughing.

There's no accountability these days.

Monday, October 13, 2008

As free as the roaring tide

My blowhard neighbor Dale, who always has his fingers in various money-making schemes that don't seem to make much money, asked me what company I chose for my electric bill. (He has some service which I don't quite understand that gives him a commission if people sign up for power through him.)

I told him it was the big guys. He asked what rate they gave me. "What kind of deal did you get?" he wanted to know.

"I have no idea," I said. "I didn't ask for a deal. I just took the rate they said it was."

Dale threw his arms in the air. "Why, Lord?" he bellowed upwards in mock exasperation. "Where was this naive soul when I needed him?" Then, turning to me again, he asked how much my bill was.

"Forty dollars," I said.

He reeled. "How is your bill so low?!"

Many things flitted through my mind. Not watching TV keeps the costs down. Unplugging the microwave, shredder, blender, and other devices when not in use. Keeping the refrigerator at a low power-saver level. Turning things off when not in use. But before I could share my socialist anti-American agenda with him, he continued, "Don't you have central air conditioning?"

I said I rarely using the AC and when I do, I haven't yet set it below 78.

"Man," Dale said, "I set it to 68 around the clock! You can call my house the Meat Locker! I don't know how you stay cool like that."

I said, "The secret is that when I'm at home I never wear pants."

That shut him up. For a few seconds, at least.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Warbooks: A Viet Cong Memoir

A review of A Viet Cong Memoir: An Inside Account Of the Vietnam War And Its Aftermath, by Truong Nhu Tang, the former Minister of Justice for the Provisional Revolutionary Government in South Vietnam, with David Chanoff and Doan Van Toai.

This is an example of the "war biography" genre, of which countless examples stand on the shelves. Boy born to poor but honest parents, etc., loves his country, boy joins the armed forces with no particular expectations, boy gets a severe shock, boy analyzes what the hell war is about. This particular book stands out, of course, for being from the viewpoint of "the enemy" in what may still be America's touchiest subject, Vietnam. (Other contenders for that title, I suppose, would be the Civil War and the Iraq wars.)

In this memoir, Truong explains how revolutionary idealism came upon him despite his privileged background, and how he joined the National Liberation Front (an organization which he is at pains to insist is more political than military in function). He details the trials he experienced as a prisoner of the South Vietnamese; his life in the jungle during U.S. bombardment; and what he characterizes as the final victory.

All well and good, and so far within the parameters of the genre outlined above. But the book becomes more interesting when he describes how this victory crumbled, as his nationalistic ideals were pushed aside in the brutal Northern socialist campaign for the south, and how he escaped by boat. The style is good, although the historical events are not laid out chronologically, which is a bit disorienting.

As for the content of book, the arguments he makes: well, obviously one has to take any war story with a grain of salt, and all else being equal, lots more salt when the war story is coming from a Communist. For example, there are many points at which he claims Vietnamese intelligence had pinpointed how the war with the U.S. was going and how it would continue. That's unlikely, and Truong contradicts himself a few times in the details. Of more interest is his thesis that while the Viet Cong understood what was going on in the war more than the Americans did, they still misjudged the political climate after the fact. Also, Truong explains how Hanoi and the NLF were not a united bloc in terms of ideology, which explains the betrayal he felt after the Americans were pushed out and the Vietnamese continued to suffer.

In general, this book seems a reasonable account, very intriguing and highly readable. Modern American readers can argue back and forth how accurately Truong depicts the past and whether any prescience even made a difference. What's important, though, is that the book stands as a testament that Americans didn't "lose Vietnam" simply because of mistakes at home, or the jungle, or the heat, or the U.S. press, or peace protests. Truong represents the other side, the active agents that engineered American defeat in Vietnam. That's, I think, a crucial point; Americans always seem to forget that there exist other people and cultures, with different ideas and goals than their own.

I wonder, when American students read in their history classes memoirs of Afghan and Iraqi Republic Guard soldiers, telling their side of the Gulf wars, what those will have to say?


Sunday Warbooks casualty count:

Greco-Persian wars: 1
WWI: 1
Vietnam: 2
Iraq wars: 2

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You were born too late, I was born too soon

The Friar did a little DJing at the Hangout tonight. I don't mean he was scratching vinyl; he just played mp3s off his computer into the sound system. Of course, T-Bone, Courtney and I were there to cheer him on and help pick songs. We played a little Arctic Monkeys, "Brick House," some Kanye, lots of Prince, the Cure, "Paper Planes," "Night Fever," Led Zeppelin, and much more, mostly what appeared to be songs about backing asses up.

Gradually, as the place filled up, we got more and more requests, which I, being the most approximately sober, fielded. I had the college kids write down their requests, and if the requests weren't too atrocious, I passed them along and Friar maybe played them. He yielded to two demands for some boring crap called T.I. that was insanely popular. I got him to play two Latin songs neither of us had heard of, mostly because there were about 12 Hispanic young people there in a group, and they ruled that dance floor. Also, one of them had a very revealing dress on. Yes, I am far more likely to listen to you if you have boobs and they're on display. Sorry, fellows.

One very youthful-looking guy came up and said to Friar in a pedantic, correcting tone, "This is a young crowd... You want to play the hits. This song is old." The song that was playing at the time? Madonna's "Vogue" (1990). Yes, we are old people. Dammit, the young people need to hear some classics, too! But they sure clapped and cheered when the hits they knew were played. How sad. These young people today and their T.I. tomfoolery.

One guy, who seemed like a decent young man, asked us to play "Sussudio" by Phil Collins, and handed me a five-dollar bill. I nudged Friar and relayed the request, and he shook his head. "Give him his money back," he said. "I can't sell out that much."

Good times.


In related news, I have now been using the service for two years today. It's a great application for OCD list-makers like me. It keeps track of your total number of tracks played, top artists, and top songs. It tells me that I have listened to 35,519 tracks since October 11, 2006. That, it adds, is an average of 49 tracks per day. Gee, that's like four albums. Per day. For two years. And what do I have to show for it? A short little span of attention and a head full of ideas that are driving me insane. Perhaps, like Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons, I've wasted my life.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Americans hate civility

Huh. I just this very morning wrote an email to the McCain camp, saying how ashamed I was that he and Palin have been letting their supporters yell out stuff like "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" when they mention Obama.

I wrote:
Dear Senator ("the other one"),

I'm an Independent, politically, or at least have identified as such until 2001. I think Bush and his cronies have hurt this country deeply, but I know it can be fixed. The John McCain I saw coming into the limelight eight years ago might have been the man to reach out, be a real uniter (not a "decider" with tunnel vision), and fix it. But now? I don't know.

How, Senator, can you in good conscience call Obama "that one" in your debate? How can you refuse to shake the man's hand afterwards? How can you allow your supporters to smear him as un-American, socialist, even a terrorist?? For God's sake, this man is a United States Senator! He may be your opponent but he deserves a modicum of respect. I can't believe that John McCain is really that shallow.

The next time someone in your audience yells out, "He's a terrorist!" or "Kill him!" at a rally, the decent thing to do would be for you or Sarah Palin to respond, "Hold on there. I don't agree with the Senator, but he's a patriot and a statesman, and he's trying to help the country his way. I don't allow assassination talk or smears like that. The Senator is a good man, a family man, with his own set of values. They're not my values, and they're not the values that I believe will make America stronger, but they're patriotic and they're good-intentioned. So please do not shout out comments like that in my presence."
I'll be cornswoggled if the man didn't do just that. And he was booed by his own supporters for it.

How odd. A Republican with a little bit of a conscience. It makes me respect the guy again, a little.


Went to a Mexican restaurant with 74, Zaftig, and others for 74's birthday. I had a margarita and way too much food. The downside of being a healthy eater most of the time is it knocks your system for a loop when you do indulge. At least at my age. So old.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The place shakes with bass, called one for the treble

The Mexican family that lives about five houses down and across the street seems set on enacting all the stereotypes about Texicans that they can. They stick out a little in this quiet suburban street where mostly seniors and childless couples live. They've already covered the front-lawn cookout with dozens of guys in cowboy hats milling along the whole block; the pit bull (and the tiny bug-eyed yapping dog) off the leash; and the shirtless teenagers having pellet gun fights running up and down the street yelling "Motherfucker" at each other and knocking over their younger sisters.

Today, as I passed them on my walk, I saw they had covered another stereotype. They had the pickup truck out front, stereo booming, car doors open --- because while they don't care to have a stereo system indoors, the truck has got to have the latest and greatest sound systems. The bass was, of course, pre-eminent in the mix. (When I got home, I discovered I could hear the music inside my house.) The kids were playing Frisbee up and down the street, and as I passed one shirtless youth, I swear to Shiva he was singing along to the bassline with these words: "Boom boom, boom-pa-boom-boom."

The guy directly to the west of me is a sinewy old retiree named David who was in the Army, 86 years old now and always out painting, repairing, watering, or biking. The very first day I drove into the driveway, he was out on his lawn and we had a brief talk. He said the neighborhood was a quiet, pleasant place, with no "illegals." I could tell the illegals really gnawed at him. A week or so later, after I got to know the block better, I was mentioning the pellet gun-toting kids as a nuisance (I was pretty distressed at their treatment of the young sisters, actually), and David replied as if in the neighborhood's defense, "Yeah, but they're the only Latins we have around here."

(I might have said to that, "Yes, but we have a ramshackle house with broken beer bottles perpentually on the lawn owned by three white ex-cons." But I didn't.)

Here's the odd thing: David is rather swarthy, and talks with just the slightest hint of an Hispanic accent. If he's a self-loathing "Latin," he wouldn't be the first I've known. My Ex-Father-In-Law was a fatter, darker, thicker-accented, first-generation Mexican-American, and a combat veteran, and man, he hated illegal immigrants and "those damn Spics" in general. (In fairness, he also had nasty things to say about blacks and white people.)

So, anyway, assumptions about race, huh?

On the other side of the spectrum, some of my neighbors appear to be hysterical paranoiacs. I subscribed to the Neighborhood Watch email group, and there are quite a few postings such as:

Saw a yellow car driving slowly down the street. I think it was checking out the houses. Called 911 immediately.


Saw three truants walking down the street. Seemed as if they were up to no good. Called 911 at once.

Messages such as these are always replied to with two or three congratulatory posts about being vigilant and calling 911 without hesitation.

Gee, isn't 911 for... uh... emergencies? Can't we wait for the "truants" to actually break into a house before we choke the line with calls? Somewhere someone's being murdered and no one can get through to emergency dispatch because these fearful histrionics took one look at some poor schlub driving down the street to look at houses for rent and decided he was a serial killer.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Know your place in life is where you want to be

I was reading a book to the kids at work and it had the word "anthem" in it. I explained that an anthem is a country's special song. The kids sing "Star-Spangled Banner" in music class a lot, so are familiar with the word, but only in conjunction with "national." One girl, when she realized the connection, said, "Oh! Like our anthem!" and began to sing, "U.S.A. can you see..."

Also today, I had the kids draw as many things as they could think of that start with the letter B. One girl, H, came up to me with her pictures (I check all their work) and among the usual boy, bear, ball, and so on, there was a large peach-colored oval, flecked with black dots. I asked what it was (though I had already started to suspect, correctly), and H giggled. "It's a belly," she said. I then knew what the black bits were, but I had to ask. "They're hair!" she squealed. "My daddy has a big round hairy belly!"

Coulda been worse.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Nothing wrong with them a bolt gun wouldn't fix

I sit down to write about what's going in my life, but it all seems so pointless. When every single thing the Republicans do is openly hypocritical and destructive and the people they hurt cheer them on madly for it, I get too depressed to blog about the mundane, and feel too impotent to blog about politics (not when there are brilliant bloggers like Samurai Frog, Dave Away From Home, Constant Scholars, and others fueled by political rage).

That said, I found it amusing that McCain decided to attack Obama for associating with radicals, given his own past and connections.

I have no idea why the GOP ran Palin instead of Ann Coulter. They're the same ideologically and intellectually, and both are hideous soulless beasts considered "pretty" by Republicans.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Every smile you fake

I had my first observation today. Prestigious holds these little events, in which half the classroom's parents crowd around the little one-way glass and peek in, watching their kids at work without them knowing. It went fine. One of the kids spilled the coins he was counting, and the cleanup-to-gather and review transition was a bit slow, but it was mostly smooth. The kids have been acting a little more rambunctious than usual, so I may have been less than my jolly, effervescent self, but I was told by Miss Busty (who helped present the observation to the parents) and a junior administrator that everything was satisfactory. The next half of the class is scheduled to come Wednesday; perhaps I can muster up enough energy by then to get a "more than satisfactory."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Music response meme II

A.k.a. the patronizing meme, as seen here; taken from Dave, here.

Turn on your iTunes (or iPod).

Or, in my case, Windows Media Player.

Set the player on "Shuffle."

It always is. I have music-appreciation ADD. Not an album purist. I used the shuffle button before there was a shuffle button. We called it "making a mix tape" back then.

Write something (a sentence, a paragraph, a story, a word,) about the first 5 songs that come up.

1. "Bad Moon Rising," Creedence Clearwater Revival
Don't go 'round tonight,
It's bound to take your life,
There's a bathroom on the right.
Some songs are just so much more fun sung in mondegreens. Off the classic Green River. Five stars. Almost everything CCR ever did is five stars.

2. "Stay Or Leave," Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds
This is from one of the --- holy cow --- two hundred and fifteen compilation albums I own. That's a lot of the Various Artists oeuvre. (But I do so love good old VA's work.) I enjoy Dave Matthews' unusual voice and his style of quirky, non-threatening pop. I don't own any of his albums and don't plan to, but I like his stuff when I hear it. This song is typical of his lilting, pleasant, unmemorable material. Despite owning this song, up until this very minute I had no idea who Tim Reynolds is; he is this guy. Three stars.

3. "I'm Still In Love With You," Al Green
Another from the compilation department, this from a disc of the Rolling Stones' hand-picked favorite songs. While I like horn-based soul-funk-R&B such as this song, a little goes a long way. This particular number is one of those smooth, sexy grooves with sultry female backing vocals matching Al's lithe falsetto. Four stars for sheer talent, but probably just three stars in terms of how often I'd want to hear it.

4. "The Face Of Love," Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan with Eddie Vedder
Off of --- you guessed it --- another Various Artists effort, this one the "inspired by" soundtrack to the Susan Sarandon-Sean Penn vehicle Dead Man Walking. It's a terrific album, and this is a wonderful song. I'm no Jamhead, but I can't deny the sheer passion Eddie delivers in all his vocals, and this cut --- one of two duets between the pair on this album --- is no exception. The way he trades heartfelt, impassioned, wordless calls with the late, great Qawwali singer creates one of those truly touching, not fabricated, musical moments. Four stars.

5. "The Parting Glass," The Pogues.
One of the bonus tracks off the remastered and expanded classic album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, this is a traditional Irish drinking song. Being an aficionado of Celtic songs, especially of the drinking variety, since I was a wee bairn, I also have versions by the ubiquitous Clancy Brothers and Waxies Dargle. The Pogies treat this one reverently, unlike the snarl-and-spit versions they do of some other traditional folk numbers; it's a slow, maudlin lament. Come back, Shane, all is forgiven. Four stars.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Hope is just a small town in Arkansas

I continue to feel the Doom. I vacillate, however, between despair for the future and the crazed hope that this excellent Salon piece has a rational grasp on the American zeitgeist. I sometimes dare to entertain the timorous hope that the greedheads and idiots are merely the loudest and not the most populous subsection of the electorate, that their lies and slander are just that and not the conventional wisdom they're presented as. I know that the shouting of lies and slander is a tried and true, and not unreasonable, attempt to make that metamorphosis into conventional wisdom, but I pray that this time around, such shouting is only the death throes of a desperate and dying political animal.

But mostly I feel the Doom.

Friday, October 03, 2008

That's nothing, I have a hamster wheel in there

One of my kids, L, who just turned six, is a bit precocious (he can read at, I estimate, at least a second-grade level), but fully weird. He's always muttering bizarre things to himself, or coming up to me and saying, "I now have eighty-six gold medals for racing" and then running off at top speed. He's very much like Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes; he's in his own little world, and it seems that other people just serve as set pieces for his elaborate fantasies.

He's in some ways a bit like me; Miss Busty called him my "Mini-Me" just because of that tendency of his to suddenly spout off-the-wall non sequiturs.

Today he said to me, apropos of nothing, as usual, "I have a magic marker in my head, and it writes down everything I say and hear."

Man, I really would love to know where he'll be in twenty years. A misunderstood genius novelist? A well-adjusted, satisfied soul? A loner who concocts elaborate plans of revenge and mayhem? As to that latter, there but for the grace of God go I, Mini-Me!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

You may live in a mansion or you might live in a dome

I went to dinner at 74 and Zaftig's house. Their daughter, now two or so, is a spoiled brat and they have no discipline strategies at all, so her shouting was kind of annoying after nine hours of kindergarten. But they're loving parents, and 74 cooks the best filet mignon I've had outside of a $100 five-star steak house. Very delicious and bad for you potatoes au gratin, too. Their little baby son is a cute chunky fellow who doesn't cry much.

At work, I've been going over the kids' addresses with them the last few days, so they can learn to recognize and recite their own. Driving to 74's, I noticed that a lot of the kids in my class live within a few blocks of him.

74 and Zaftig are friend with a German guy and his wife who have two children about the same ages as 74's. They share a couple of nannies between the four kids, and take turns having the nannies take care of the kids at each other's houses. Anyway, the German guy told me he had an offer to buy 100 run-down and foreclosed houses in Ohio, Michigan, Louisiana, and Georgia, for a total of $100,000. He was seriously considering doing it, either to sell the best ones at a small profit (say two or three thousand per house) or to have a friend manage them and become a slum lord.

My friends live in different social strata than I do.

Anyway, we watched the VP debates. They are a stain upon our national character.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I don't know where I'm gonna be next

Can't blog. Too busy having The Fear.

But man, this guy is the new Hunter S. Thompson. I want to get gay-married with him and have his little eloquent liberal gay-babies.