New Blog Package...Again.

Alrighty. It seems I can't leave well enough alone so, after some cajoling from Skippy, I installed, or rather Skippy installed for me, WordPress. I have been reluctant to move to a true blog package because of all the hassles, but after playing around with WordPress and thinking about it, the benefits are many and obvious. I can publish from anywhere, I can get permanent links, the archiving is done for me and so on.

I will try to upload the older stuff from my Pseudo Blog into here for archiving, so if you are looking for something from before today's date, check back in a day or so.

I Love a Straight Answer

One of the biggest problems I have with all politicians is the fact that they rarely just answer a question. Some try to answer a simple question by including a defense against all possible avenues of attack. Some try to shift the emphasis of the question to another issue. This is sort of understandable, especially when dealing with reporters like Tim Russert who only go after pointless issues, or something to get ratings. That's no excuse, but it is somewhat understandable.

Then there's the President and his staff. Check out the shuck and jive in the link below. I've got 7th grade students who can evade a question and sound more convincing that this guy. Scott McClellan, though, is a master at confusion. Even if the press corps didn't buy it, most Americans will, if they even pay enough attention to look. Our leadership in action, ladies and gentlemen. Yeah, we ought to keep people like this in office.

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, Feb. 10, 2004

Okay, I got on a rant...

Alright, perhaps I sounded a bit harsh in yesterday's entry about certain things. I tend to do that when I get on a roll. Allow me to clarify a point or two. People who watch the Super Bowl, or professional sports in general, are not evil. The Super Bowl itself is not inherently bad. I watched a great deal of it myself with a group of friends this year, as in past years, and I very much enjoyed all the food, beer, and beer that went with it. My problem is really with a couple of things. One, I am bothered by the fact that the starting salary for a rookie NFL player is $225,000 a year, while many other (and let's be honest here) more important and valuable professions go totally unpaid (like teachers). I mean, there are doctors who don't make that much for fuck's sake! And let's not forget that while brand new, rookie NFL players get paid serious bank, there are hungry, homeless, and impoverished people in our own country who get jack. And I'm not talking about "the lazy ones," I'm talking about the poor fucker who's just out of work and seriously down on his luck. Pay him half that 250 grand. I guess my bitch here is that many professional athletes get paid huge amounts of money, mostly coming from advertising and marketing dollars, and, of course, TV, while many other people who have and have had meaningful, worthwhile jobs get paid much less, or nothing. Where are out priorities?

My last big beef is that whole television vs. FCC thing. I mean here we are, crap abounds on the air and they're going after the fucking Super Bowl Halftime show. My buddy put it a better way. The FCC jumps on the chance to investigate Janet Jackson's boob, but no one wants to censure, let alone investigate, President Bush's blatant lies to the country. Now, I too would rather look at boobs, even Janet Jackson's, before I looked at President Bush, but what the hell is Congress doing? I like how our independent government agencies will protect us from the dangers of indecency, but no one wants to take on Mr. Bush and his abuse of power to get revenge. Who's a bigger danger here? Be honest. Janet's boob or a president who lies to the people to start a war? I've got to go with the lying president. Again, another case of messed up priorities.

I guess we might as well get lost in the world of make believe and bad TV, because with leadership like this, the TV world, indecent as it may be, is better.

The FCC and the Decline of America

The other day I ran across a letter in our office from a teacher written to the FCC. The letter was a complaint about the Super Bowl's halftime show and CBS's airing of "indecent" images. In the letter the teacher demanded that the FCC investigate CBS and all their affiliates who aired the Super Bowl halftime show. My understanding is that FCC chairman Michael Powell beat her to the punch. I have read that he was outraged by Ms. Jackson's booby, and was going to launch an investigation himself.

Well, if we could all just take a moment here, I have a question for Mr. Powell and the FCC. Why did it take a nipple ring during the Super Bowl for you to investigate CBS, or any of the other networks? Why did it require hot cheer leaders, a gyrating Justin Timberlake, a bloated Janet Jackson, and her breast all on network TV before you decide to take a look at things? Why do you choose to look at CBS now, but none of the other networks who regularly broadcast to the lowest common denominator, with shows like Fear Factor, The Bachelor, or any of the other worthless programs out there? Maybe be should be asking another question: What purpose does the FCC serve? What good will it do? Why do they get to selectively investigate what is decent and what is just bad TV?

I guess my real problem here is that while the FCC chairman gets a burr up his ass about the Super Bowl the other networks routinely broadcast worthless, equally awful shows. My real issue here is that the FCC is not enough, or even the answer. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge proponent of free speech and the freedom to watch, say, or read whatever you want, whenever you want. But with that freedom, as with all freedom, comes responsibility. Why did CBS allow such a stupid, sexually charged, mindless halftime show after refusing to show a relatively harmless ad from MoveOn.org? Because Janet's booby gets ratings that's why. Because that's what the American public apparently wants. And what the people who spend money want, the people get.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I'm talking about the decline of Western Civilization here. The decline of our civilization. Rome basked in its own wealth, power, glory and decadence just before it crumbled. We are no different. Why spend millions of dollars on crass and pointless TV shows while others go homeless and hungry? Because we can. I think the truth is is that no one, not the FCC, not the government, not Ted Turner, or PBS can save us. Only we can save ourselves. Until we all decide to do what is best for ourselves and our country, instead of what is most fun or cool to watch, will we save ourselves from out certain fate of mediocrity and eventual diminishment as a power. We need a paradigm shift. And since the media and TV networks are the only ones able right now to begin that, I figure we are all pretty much fucked. All they want to do is make money by airing as much crap as they can becuase that's what average Joe American wants, and that's what he'll spend money to see.

So instead of going after CBS for airing indecent material, maybe we should all look at why there are those of us who feel like we should. Is it maybe because some part of us realizes we are sliding ever downward, and these are the last desperate grasps to save ourselves from our own pointlessness? Unless CBS and the other networks start to self-monitor and do the right thing, no FCC investigation, no speeches, no books, and certainly no blog will make any difference. Until we all stand up and say we want to be better than we are, and we are willing to work for it, we might as well embrace our own doom. We can join the Romans as just another amazing story of a world power who screwed itself becuase of its own bad choices and poor values. The Super Bowl is nothing more than a modern day gladiator tournament, and we are the depraved upper and middle class crowds screaming for more blood, willing to spend time and money to see it, while the lower classes, who can afford a $30 used TV grovel for our scraps and long to be like us. How long will it be before we are nothing but a long story in a text book for someone to read about and wonder how it all could have gone so bad so quickly? My students often ask me how the Romans could have been so stupid. I answer that perhaps they didn't know any better. Maybe they didn't have anybody else's story to learn from. That, at least, is an excuse. What's ours?

Maybe the FCC should read a history book or two and investigate that. Maybe then they'll know what they're up against. Maybe they should be looking at what should be on the government's airwaves, instead of what shouldn't. Maybe we all should.

Interesting Choice

Ever since I became a teacher, it has been my ultimate career goal to teach at my high school, my alma mater. Even before I was a teacher, while I was still in high school, I used to sit in class and day dream about how cool it would be to teach there. I would imagine how I would do things, how I would lecture, what the teachers' lounge must be like, and even what summers off might be like. I have always had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I would be a teacher one day. Teaching is not just my career, it is my vocation, my calling.

Currently I am teaching 7th and 8th grade social studies at a school not too far from my old high school. It's great. My students are awesome, my co-workers are (mostly) competent, and many have as much passion for their work as I do, if not more. Daily - well, almost daily - I am rewarded for my hard work with a smile, or even better, a look of new found understanding, from a young, bright eyed student. I love my job. I just didn't realize how much.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that there was an opening at my old alma mater for a social studies teacher. 'This is it!' I thought, "My chance!" And yet I hesitated. Through the grape vine I even heard my name was being tossed around as a candidate for the position, even before I had approached anyone about it. And still I paused. The thought of leaving my current position, even for my dream job, gave me pause. This was surprising to me.

As it turns out, after much deliberation, and a couple of sleepless nights, I am not going to apply for the job. I am going to stay where I am for a bit. This is for a few reasons. First, I just don't feel ready to move on yet. I am very happy and comfortable where I am, and my gut hasn't steered me wrong yet. Additionally, I am recently married, we are looking to buy a house, and there's just too much else going on right now.

Second, I want to hone my teaching skills and technique before I move to the high school level. This is not to say I wouldn't do well there now. I would. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I am a damn good teacher. But I want to be the best I can be before I move on.

Finally, despite the fact that teaching at my old high school is still a major goal of mine (that has not changed), I like the younger kids. There are so many cool things that are a part of my day that you just don't get to do at the high school level. This is not to say that high school teachers don't get to do cool stuff with their students, just that those cool things are often (I imagine) different. I love the fact that at one minute I'll be having a really great class discussion about an important issue of the day and the students' critical thinking skills will be in over drive, they'll be thinking deep thoughts, probing new ideas, and learning like young adults, and the next minute they'll be playing like children on the playground or in gym class, having fun and enjoying all of the carefree pleasures that being young can provide. I like the fact that you can still surprise them, scare them, motivate them, and make them laugh at silliness. I know all this is possible with high school students, especially freshmen and sophomores, but there's something about that leap to high school that takes a little bit of the kid out of them that I still get to see.

So anyway, even though my goals have not changed, and one day I will teach at my alma mater, I am going to stay put for a while. I am going to enjoy all those parts of my day that make my job so cool. And when I am ready to move on, much like my students, I will. I'm just going to wait until I'm ready.

CBS, The Super Bowl, and MoveOn.org

It just occurred to me that it is Super Bowl Sunday. In a few hours I will be watching the game with some friends and acquaintances, enjoying a frothy beverage, and relaxing. While I am fairly ambivalent to the Super Bowl or professional football, I find the social aspects of watching the game enjoyable. And I like to watch the ads.

For the past few days I've had a graphic linking to MoveOn.org's web site, specifically to that portion that seeks to convince CBS to air the winning anti-Bush ad from a contest held by MoveOn. Apparently, CBS refuses to air the ad, even though MoveOn purchased air time during the Super Bowl. MoveOn is pissed and is claiming, among other things, a violation of free speech.

Now I am not privy to the terms of the contract between CBS and MoveOn, and frankly, I don't believe CBS is violating anyone's free speech rights. I do however think CBS sucks for not airing the ad. By refusing to air the ad, which features children performing various manner of manual labor out of necessity due to the mounting national debt, CBS is basically bending over for its right wing owners and buddies. I do find it somewhat perverse that CBS is willing to air ads for sexual stimulants, beer, and various other products, but is unwilling to show an ad that might actually make viewers think. God forbid they show anything that might momentarily disrupt the decline of Western civilization.

I guess what hacks me off is that this is one of the most powerful broadcasting organizations in the world. They air all manner of shows and advertisements, many of which are of questionable value, both as forms of entertainment or art. They also have one of the largest news organizations in the world, whose job it is to report news in an unbiased fashion. If the owners of CBS are unwilling to air an ad for millions of dollars that is critical of the current administration, what other kinds of bias are they trying to slip past the average unsuspecting American? CBS should just air the ad, along with the ads for Viagra, Bud, and Coors. Let the American football viewer decide what they think. Surely they won't turn off the Super Bowl.

My First Batch of Homebrew

Just thought I'd take a moment to share a small personal triumph with you, dear reader. Yesterday I bottled my first batch of real homebrewed beer. Despite much worry and fretting about a few possible mistakes, I was pleased to find out that it tasted pretty good. Damn good, in fact. It tasted, even flat, better than many commercial beers I have had. I can't wait to find out how good it tastes after it finishes carbonating in the bottles. I think it tastes all the better because I made it, with my own sweat and labor. All things you get after mixing your labor with them are more rewarding than things gained easily, and beer is no exception.

In the past I have made a couple of attempts at brewing beer with a Mr. Beer system given to me by a friend. The beer both times came out pretty bad due to inexperience, and lack of real understanding about the brewing and fermentation processes. The instructions that came with the Mr. Beer also take certain liberties with the brewing process that are fairly crucial to producing great beer in the home. This is not to say one can't produce good beer with a Mr. Beer, but one should do a little more reading first,
in order to learn more about the process. Having said all that, I may use the Mr. Beer system again to produce smaller batches now that I have a better understanding of what needs to be done to make really good beer.

When I first got my Mr. Beer, I had visions of brewing my own beer all the time, and of never buying commercial beer again. Instead, I thought, I would simply enjoy my own homebrew at a fraction of the cost of buying commercially made beer. After my first disappointing (and now I suspect bacterially infected) batch from the Mr. Beer, those hopes were dashed. The second batch had a similar affect. Now, however, I really think that initial goal is very possible. Assuming I can repeatedly produce good beer in my home, there seems no point in paying three or fours times as much for commercially made beer.

Of course, I could be jumping the gun here. My first batch, now sitting in my basement quietly carbonating in its bottles, could come out yucky. I could have made a mistake during the bottling process. I think, though, that I will probably end up really enjoying this fist batch, and I think also that I will be brewing many more to come. I have discovered that homebrewing, in addition to saving money, can be, if one relaxes and takes his time, an enjoyable and rewarding process. And now that I have apparently had some success with it, I think I might just get better at it.

General Thoughts on a Rock

Haven't written for a while. The business of life, work, marriage, and a first batch of home brewed beer have been keeping me busy. It's a new year and all seems to be off to a fine start for the ol' Elf. Things are moving on, as they do, and I haven't had much to say that would be interesting.

Now I don't normally go in for heart string tugging patriotism (and certainly not nationalism) but my friend Brooke forwarded this on to me and it caught my eye. As a teacher I am constantly worried about the current state of America's youth, and the fact that many kids (read teens) are completely out of touch with the world around them. Books and reading are replaced by movies and Nintendo, the use of one's imagination is reaplced with a seven minute attention span, and knowledge of world events is limited to who's dating whom, and when the next NFL game is on. My list goes on, but I'll spare you. What Brooke sent me was a link to a set of pictures of a rock in rural Iowa. The rock, however, is no ordinary rock. It has been skillfully painted, allegedly by a very talented kid, with a message of thanks to the U.S.'s veterans. According to the story I received, the rock used to be a writing surface for painted graffiti, obsenities, and other such artwork as bored young people are prone to create when nothing better suits them. Apparently the rock has not been touched since it was painted as it is now.

If this story is true, then the artist who painted it is to be commended for creating something worthwhile, as well as for having some sense of the world events that are affecting our lives. Whether or not you agree with this young person's point of view, at least he's involved in something a little more creative than learning the secret moves in the next Mortal Kombat game.

If you get a chance, check out this kid's work here.

A New Year

I suppose since it's the last day of 2003, I ought to write something. I've put it here this year, instead of in Elfin Musings & Flights of Fancy, because this is a bit more random. This year has been a banner year, more than most, both for me and the world.

I got married this year. I went to California. I moved into a new apartment. I got a raise. I went to the dentist for
the first time in more than ten years. In fact, I visited the dentist several times as a result, but it wasn't too bad. I continue to love my job. I didn't have any skin cancer. I just brewed my first batch of homebrew (not counting Mr. Beer, which sucks). I have a good life. I have many people who love me and care about me. All in all 2003 was, by this reckoning, a great year. A big year. An important year.

The counting of my many blessings has been something I've doing a lot of lately. I am trying to remember to be thankful as much as possible, because so many people in this world have it so much worse. This thankfulness began when I randomly watched a really nice short documentary on HBO called Born Rich. While the movie was about the wonders and burdens of being young and massively wealthy, and I am certainly not wealthy, it made me consider all that I do have. In a similar vein, a new television show on FOX entitled The Simple Life is about two unbelievably rich young women being inserted into a middle class farming family. We get to see the hilarity ensue as the spoiled, slutty Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie try to deal with the horrible reality of hard work. While I actually have such a negative physical reaction to this show, and as such am only able to sit through 5 minutes or so
of it, this too made me consider both how lucky I am, and how ridiculously out of touch wealthy people can
be. Moreover, it made me upset to think that Americans find this kind of programming entertaining. Of course,
why wouldn't it be a hit? I mean Paris Hilton, who has never actually done anything, is already a
celebrity.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that, as odd as it seems, the more I am reminded of all the stuff I have, the more I am reminded to be thankful for it. I mean, my life is pretty good (knock on wood) and I am just pretty happy about that. So 2003 has been good to me, and I am looking forward to 2004, despite the fact that I'll be turning 30. I hope your 2003 has been at least as good as mine, and if not, I truly hope 2004 makes up for it. Happy New Year.

Puke

Last Wednesday my wife and I enjoyed the annual Christmas at Bucca de Peppo dinner that some of my friends and I share. Bucca de Peppo is a restaurant with a southern Italian cuisine served family style. The food is decent to excellent and the wine can be ordered by the 3 liter bottle. I ate a little too much, drank not an unreasonable amount of wine, and felt okay when went to bed. Then morning came.

I awoke at five in the morning with borborygmus as loud as an elephant fart. Then came flatulence as loud as elephant farts. I was also hotter than hell. I got up and went to the restroom. I will spare you the sloppy details, but let me just say that any reasonable person would have assumed that, having evacuated in the manner that was my misfortune, all of the contents of their intestines had been emptied. Such was my proud assumption. Attributing my adventure to the rich dinner I had eaten, I went back to bed.

Then things got bad. That all too familiar and dreaded feeling began within me. The stomach cramps that had been wrenching my guts turned and began to replicate nausea. I felt that tug at the bottom of my throat signalling the reversal of gears in my gastro-intestinal system. I was going to puke.

I jumped out of bed and padded barefooted down the hall and hurled. Linguini with clam sauce, clams from the sauce, garlic bread, chunks of garlic themselves, and remnants of lettuce flew forth, causing water to splash from the toilet bowl and cling to the wall and TP roll. My eyes welled up with tears uncontrollably from the exertion. I heaved and heaved until the waves stopped. Yep, I thought. Time to call in.

And call in I did. Good thing too. Although I only threw up once more that morning, I spent the rest of day in bed, too weak with fever and stomach cramps to do anything else. My only comfort was sleep, which only came in half-hour chunks, interrupted as they were by stomach cramps and trips to the bathroom
to spray forth yellow froth. I took these waking moments to also carefully sip water - not too much now - and pray for unconsciousness.

Finally, around four in the afternoon, I was brave enough to take a couple of Advil. Oh sweet, sweet, wonderful ibuprofen. That helped and after another hour of sleep, I was able to move downstairs to the couch to watch a movie. I was even able to get down some tea and chicken soup. The next morning I decided I would go to work, since it was the last day before vacation, and I wanted to say Merry Christmas to my students. Plus, I like to save as many sick days as possible, mostly due to some draconian work ethic instilled in me by my dear father.

Any way, it has been years and years since I have been sick like that. At worst I usually get one or two colds a year, maybe a cough along with them. I brag about my immune system of steel. Being sick with the full spectrum of vomiting, fever, the works reminded me how much it sucks. I feel bad for people who get the flu every year. It really sucks. So if you are sick this year, I hope you feel better soon, I hope you have many medications to help you see it through, and I hope you have a job that allows you the luxury of taking a sick day.

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