Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving dear reader. My life is about as perfect as I have any right to hope, and I am thankful for that. On this day I will eat turkey and pie and get stuffed and maybe even feel gross. Life is good. I hope yours is too.

Parent Teacher Conferences and Big Eye Lashes

I had parent-teacher conferences tonight. Five hours of chatting with parents about their kids in ten minute blocks. It isn't always easy to sum up everything you'd like to accomplish with a student in a ten minute time span, but it does make you focus on those points you believe to be most important.

I always find it interesting to get a glimpse of another aspect of a student's life in the form the parent. Sometimes I think 'Man I'd like to be a kid in that family. Their parents really seem to have it all together.' Then you meet a parent and you think, this kid's life must suck. Who would want to go home to that? I always like the parents who spend more time talking about their own academic achievements than their kid's. It's all I can do to keep from saying, "Excuse me, but I thought we were here to talk about your kid." One lady I met tonight had cheap drugstore false eye lashes on. They were so huge that I felt my head going up and down in a full sweeping motion everytime she blinked. The six pounds of lipstick also was somewhat distracting. I'm not exactly sure what that has to do with how she raises her kid, but it is somehow informative. How would you like to go home to a mom who's body weight is fifty-percent plastic eye lash?

The one thing that never ceases to amaze me is that more and more, parents are looking to me for advice on how to raise their child. I had a dad tonight who's kid is doing fairly well in school. She's a little chatty. What 8th grader isn't? But then he tells me about all the problems they have at home with her. The poor guy is clearly seeking answers. Of course, I had none for him, other than to say I would watch for signs of depression, etc. at school. Sometimes I even get parents who will litterally say "What should I do?" How do I answer that? I am able to offer thoughts on how to improve academic performance, even on how to get kids into good study habits. But when a parent asks me how to discipline their child, what am I supposed to say? "Well Mr. Jones, if Jane was my child, I'd beat her with a wet leather strap." I don't even have kids of my own yet. How am I supposed to know the family dynamic? Man, it's hard sometimes.

Still, parent-teacher conferences give me a chance to see a little backstory. Sometimes I meet a parent and I'm like 'Oh, so that's why this kid hates the world!' or 'Wow. No wonder this kid never does homework. He's too busy raising his two younger brothers for his parents.'

More and more I am expected to be not only a teacher, but also a surrogate parent, a psychologist, a neurologist, a behavior expert, pediatrician, counselor, and babysitter. Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I wouldn't do anything else. But sometimes I wonder what goes on in the minds of parents. Sometimes I want to ask them "What is it exactly you want me to accomplish with your child?" Of course, the ones that can answer that question aren't the ones who need the help. It's everyone else. It's just that the 'everyone else' category seems to be growing at an alarming rate.

Two Cows

A friend sent me this. A new take on an old list.


You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.
You feel guilty for being successful.
Barbara Streisand sings for you.

You have two cows.
Your neighbor has none.

You have two cows.
The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.
You form a cooperative to tell him how to manage his cow.

You have two cows.
The government seizes both and provides you with milk.
You wait in line for hours to get it.
It is expensive and sour.

You have two cows.
You sell one, buy a bull, and create a herd of cows.

You have two cows.
The government taxes you to the point you have to sell both to support a man in a foreign country who has only one cow, which was a gift from your government.

You have two cows.
The government takes them both, shoots one, milks the other, pays you for the milk, and then pours the milk down the drain.

You have two cows.
You sell one, lease it back to yourself and do an IPO on the 2nd one.
You force the two cows to produce the milk of four cows. You are surprised when one cow drops dead.
You spin an announcement to the analysts stating you have downsized and are reducing expenses.
Your stock goes up.

You have two cows.
You go on strike because you want three cows.
You go to lunch and drink wine.
Life is good.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
They learn to travel on unbelievably crowded trains.
Most are at the top of their class at cow school.

You have two cows.
You engineer them so they are all blond, drink lots of beer, give excellent quality milk, and run a hundred miles an hour.
Unfortunately they also demand 13 weeks of vacation per year.

You have two cows but you don't know where they are.
While ambling around, you see a beautiful woman.
You break for lunch.
Life is good.

You have two cows.
You have some vodka.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You have some more vodka.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
The Mafia shows up and takes over however many cows you really have.

You have all the cows in Afghanistan, which are two.
You don't milk them because you cannot touch any creature's private parts.
Then you kill them and claim a US bomb blew them up while they were in the hospital.

You have two cows.
They go in hiding.
They send radio tapes of their mooing.

You have a black cow and a brown cow.
Everyone votes for the best looking one.
Some of the people who like the brown one best, vote for the black one.
Some people vote for both. Some people vote for neither.
Some people can't figure out how to vote at all.
Finally, a bunch of guys from out-of-state tell you which is the best-looking cow.

You have millions of cows.
Most are illegals.
Arnold likes the ones with the big tits.

Psalm 2004

A friend sent me this. l thought it was funny.

Psalm 2004

Bush is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down on park benches.
He leadeth me beside the still factories.
He restoreth my doubts about the Republican Party.
He leadeth me onto the paths of unemployment for his cronies' sake.
Yea, though no weapons of mass destruction have been found, He makest me continue to fear Evil.
His tax cuts for the rich and deficit spending discomfort me.
He anointest me with never-ending debt. Verily my days of
savings and assets are kaput.
Surely poverty and hard living shall follow me
all the days of his administration,
And my jobless child shall dwell in my basement forever.

Maybe I was Arrogant and Wrong

Unless you live in a hole, you know the election for 2004 is over and President Bush has won four more year in office. If you live in Ohio, you also know that the majority Republican party remains firmly entrenched in its rule of the state. If you read foreign newspapers (or their websites) you know that many people in the rest of the world wonder, as one newspaper put it, how 59, 459, 765 Americans could be so dumb. Well, as my dad says, there it is.

I really hoped we would see change in America this year. I really hoped we ould change our course. I guess I really thought that a majority of voting Americans would be smart enough to realize our current course is disastrous and more of the same isn't going to help save us. It's not that I necessarily thought John Kerry would be a better president that George Bush, I just knew that he would at least lead us elsewhere, anywhere, but where we are going now.

I have had some time in the last few days to truly clarify my thinking about this election. I know in my previous entry I included a list of reasons why I wasn't going to vote for George Bush. Now I realize that list wasn't succinct enough, it didn't get to the root of the issue. My previous list was just a list for Democrats who already agreed with me. But now I realize why no American should have voted for Pres. Bush, why anyone with any sense should have voted somebody other than George W. Bush. President Bush was quoted as saying the other day that he still wanted to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. I say great! But it is now clear our President is either delusional, a simpleton, or that he knows something no one else does. This is clear because it doesn't take an economist to know that we cannot pay for a war in Iraq, cut taxes, and cut the deficit. Can't be done. Perhaps that President meant he wanted to slow the growth of the deficit. Okay, but same question. The numbers simply do not add up.

The thing is, George Bush just doesn't get it. Is he really that disconnected with the rest of the country? He must know that his administration's current policies can't work. If we are going to finish the job in Iraq, that is going to take money. If we are going to cut the deficit, that is going to take money. Where is this money going to come from, if not from taxes? How could the president really believe we are okay, unless he has some magnificent plan up his sleeve that we don't yet know about? Perhaps the Bush administration plans to cut government programs to save money. The National Parks service, the EPA, the Department of Veterans affairs, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs all cost money, perhaps they'll start with them. Maybe the Bush administration has decided that some children can be left behind after all. They can save a few dollars there.

The bottom line is this. Anyone who can do about one second's worth of addition and subtraction in their head can figure out that our country is weakening economically every single day. We simply can't maintain our current level of defecit spending, while trying grow economically. We must stop this fantasy-land charade. Unfortuantely, the time for 59, 459, 765 Americans to pull their heads out of the sand has passed. Now we must pray and endure another four years of job loss, economic decline, fear, war, and uncertainty. Pres. Bush said he wants to heal the country and work with both parties to move America forward. I hope that wasn't more campaign-like empty rhetoric. I hope he means it, because no matter who is president, we need some change, and we need it now.

I'm Not Arrogant, I'm Just Right

I just read Skippy's most recent post on Cake, Pres. Bush, and civility, among other things. It got me to thinking about some things that have been on my mind recently about the respective presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John Kerry. Basically, I am just very disappointed in the whole process. Both campaigns have been slinging about rhetoric that really doesn't help inform voters as much as make you afraid of the opposition. In my opinion, the Bush campaign has been the most serious offender, but the Kerry campaign has been guilty of it too. Civility, as Skippy points out, is indeed gone from the process of election politics, to detriment of our political system.

While I would love to make the argument that the trend in uncivilzed discourse among the candidates and supporters is merely a reflection of the modern American character, I won't. Instead I want to share something of my own experience.

My wife often accuses me of being unwilling to listen to arguments made by the Bush campaign and its supporters, and she often observes that I get impatient, arrogant, and take on an insulting tone of voice. While I don't necessarily agree with her, I can see her point. See, my basic problem is that I have no patience for stupidity, ignorance, or empty rhetorical political speech. I challenge you to turn on a Bush campaign speech or event and find anything but empty rhetoric designed to make you afraid of John Kerry. I simply am tired of it. Tell me something real. Tell me something true - and by true I don't mean some statistic taken out of context or twisted to fit the argument. Back up your statements. Make me think. Give me pause and persuade me. I want my presidential nominees to tell me what they are going to do, not make be afraid to vote for the other guy.

In a little informal poll I have taken among Bush supporters, the most common responce to my question "Why are you voting for Bush?" is "Because Kerry's an asshole," or "Kerry won't fight terrorism." How sad. In fact I have yet to have one person say something like, "Because I really like what George Bush has done for our country and I think he needs to keep up the good work. Here's why I like him..." If the goal of the Bush campaign is to win by making you afraid of Kerry, they have done a bang-up job. No thinking involved, just fear.

The problem is Joe America doesn't want to think - not much anyway, and it is much more effective for a candidate to sell and market himself, and to make you afraid of the opposition, than to give honest and straight-forward answers to questions of policy and vision. The reason I become impatient with people who want to have a political discussion with me about George W. Bush is that they often begin by spouting off the same bullshit and rhetoric. If I want that I can turn on the TV. Instead give me some facts. Give me some real plans and historical references for why you think we should take a particular action. Of course the sad fact is that most people can't do that. So they flip you off or yell obscenities instead.

Since I am on a bit of a roll, and since you may be reading this and saying "Okay asshole, why are you voting for Kerry then?" I'll tell you my most basic reasons. You will notice that these are actually mostly based on my opinion of Pres. Bush's job so far, and are not necessarily a vote of confidence in John Kerry.

  1. No WMD's in Iraq, but a lot of dead American soldiers. Meanwhile Osama is hell and gone.
  2. The war in Iraq is not part of the war on terror. The Bush campaign's continued emphasis on this fabirication distresses me.
  3. The Bush administration's general emphasis on fear of terrorism to sell the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq, and the destruction of precious American wilderness in some hapless quest for oil.
  4. I find the connections between the Bush family and the Saudi Royal family to be spooky and suspicious.
  5. I find Dick Cheney to be spooky and suspicious, especially his connections to Haliburton.
  6. John Ashcroft is spooky and suspicious.
  7. The Bush administration's economic policy is ludicrous. Tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations isn't helping the majority of Americans one lick. Think unemployment. Think massive national debt.
  8. Even if one accepts President Bush's economic ideas as reasonable, you can't cut taxes and then invade a large country halfway around the world, dismantle its government, and create a democracy while maintaining order. That kind of thing is expensive, and you can't do it on the nation's Discover card, even with the cash back bonus, although I bet those kick backs are rolling in for someone (see points 4 and 5).
  9. My mom can barely pay for her basic medications because her Medicare benefits are down and her premiums are up, even with supplemental insurance. I bet she isn't the only one. In fact, I am generally upset with the entire state of our health care industry, which is basically being run by profit driven insurance companies and drug companies. Guess who supports the interests of big health insurance and drug companies?
  10. No Child Left Behind? Come down to the neighborhood where I teach, and I can show you a few you've missed, Pres. Bush.

What will John Kerry do better? I have no idea, but he has at indicated a direction that I prefer in most of these issues. I'll place my bet with him. Now if you can enlighten me as to why I should vote for Pres. Bush, I am all ears. Just please don't give me the finger.

NaNoWriMo: The Great Ramp Up

It won't belong until the beginning of November and that means two things. First, we will elect the President of the United States on November 2. But on November 1, National Novel Writing Month begins. November will be a stressful month for both candidates and writers alike.

Participants are expected to write a 50,000 word novel by midnight, November 30 to be considered a winner. I took part in the frivolity last year, but only hit 31,000 words, although I was pleased with my efforts. I had never written that much or gotten that involved with a story before. This year I hope to cross the 50k mark with a new story about...something.

It's a little bit of a pain in the ass that NaNoWriMo is in November, since that is usually a rediculously busy month for me as a teacher, but the gods have dictated that that is when it shall be, so write I will. I encourage all my reader (singular is intentional) to go out a try a little novel writing yourself. Even if you don't hit the 50,000 word mark, it can be quite fun and liberating to get those creative juice glands working again.

To prepare I have been writing like a madman lately, mostly random free-write type beginnings that will most likely go nowhere, but at least when November rolls around I'll be in writer mode. The real pain is pounding out 1667 words a day, every day, for a month. Of course, I didn't do that last year, and was left horribily behind by the end of week three. At least I'll be ready to try. So should you.

School Prayer: The Answer to Everything

Tonight I found myself engaged in thought about the benefits of school prayer. My friend Carina had sent out a comment she received on her blog espousing the wonders of school prayer. This all got me to thinking about the nature ouf our country and what it is we really want.

First off, I think think prayer is great. Prayer as a form of meditation is incredibly important. As a Christian, prayer as a form of communication with God is vitally important to my faith. As a teacher in a parochial school, I pray several times a day with my students. Prayer has been shown to heal wounds, physical and emotional, as well as spiritual. Prayer is great.

Not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim? That's okay. You don't have to pray to God to get prayer's benefits. Prayer to, or meditation on, whatever your "higher power" may be is helpful and great too. Study upon study shows this to be true, or as true as anything intangible can be. The point is, prayer, spiritual reflection, or meditation helps us in a vareity of ways. At the most basic level, even enjoying a few minutes of real silence in this world of noise, constant stimulation, and activity can have wonderful benefits. People live longer, healthier lives, and students do better in school when they pray or meditate. So why no school prayer?

Well the catch is that mandated school prayer, or even a group sort of "you can pray with the rest of us if you want" kind of thing violates separation of church and state. Publicly funded schools can't acknowledge any one religion without allowing for them all. You can't force a Judeo-Christian God on Bobby the Driuid (as much as you might like to). Can you imagine the morning Our Father, prayer to Mecca, tree hugging, chanting, or moment of silence option? It just can't work in a public school. While prayer may very well do a lot of good (and I believe it does), it's not going to solve the many problems and skewed values many Americans hold. It won't save us from violence in an impoverished inner-city school. It's not going to make parents pay any more attention to their kids than before. Prayer won't make us stop wanting, wanting, wanting anything and everything the television and media advertises. Not by iteself, anyway.

No, prayer is not the answer for public education. Perhaps we should instead look at what it is within us that makes some yearn for it. Maybe we should look at what we hope to accomplish by introducing faith and spirituality back into schools. Why do we think prayer will help? What is it we lack that that we think prayer may provide? What else can we do, besides violate the constitution, that will aid us in our quest for better children and healthier spiritual lives? I think many of us can guess at far more effective answers than mandated school prayer, but no one wants to accept them. Dollars don't come from a culture that favors love of fellow man over that latest fashion. The fact is, unless we as an entire society, as an entire culture, or group of sub-cultures, change our values and desires, and try to agree on what it is we want our country to be, then we are sunk. We'll just keep on attaching dollar signs to happiness and calibers to power. Let's work on changing ourselves before we try to force sentimental memories on a generation in need of role models, not new rules. Let's change our kids with love and attention and good examples, not some new political fight that further divides our already crumbling nation. Then, and only then, can a universal American spirituality surface. Then it won't be a question of why, but of how.

Mozilla Firefox

I just downloaded and tried Mozilla's Firefox web browser. In fact I am using it now and I have to say I am impressed. Not only is it intuitive and easy to use, it's not made by Microsoft. I like that. I also like the fact that it's open source, an idea I favor. Of course, there are the added security benefits of not using Internet Explorer, which is so susceptible to attack. In short, if you haven't tried Mozilla yet, give it a shot. It's free, it's pretty, and it ain't Microsoft.

I Wish I Had More Time

I wish I had more time. I wish I had more time for friends, for my wonderful wife, for my family. I wish I had time to mend fences. I wish I had time to teach - at least to teach in a way that would make history interesting and fun.

I just finished reading a section from my students' U.S. History textbook, which is a good one as these things go, and I was bored. Bored to freaking tears. Allowing for the fact that I was in the process of drinking a third glass of Chardonnay, and my adult ADD, I was still incredibly bored. My mind wandered, thirsting for the possibility that was hinted at in each cursory sentence. Mind you, I was not reading with haste, but those sentences seemed written with haste in mind. As if too much detail would permit its reader's mind to wander in the wrong direction. Yet wander my mind did.

The state of Ohio requires my students to learn, to master, so much in the course of their 8th grade year that I have little time to focus on certain things that might light a fire of interest in their hearts. It's a wonder to me that anyone majors in history at all upon reaching their college years. I know that if I were allowed some leeway I could ignite a passion, or at least a mild interest, in the hearts of my young pupils to continue studying and learning about the history of mankind. As it is I am left with brief summaries, perhaps the occaisional anecdote, to hold their interest, which might allow them to further explore and develop an understanding of the past that shapes our humanity and culture.

Take, for example, Magellan. Allowed a half-page in our textbook, here is a man whose crew that, in the end, were the first to circumnavigate the world. Of the 240 men that set sail, 18 finished the journey. They faced battle, new cultures, starvation, and uncertainty in the course of their travels. As it is, I am left with, allowing for questions, restroom breaks, and the other three explorers I need to discuss that day, about 10 minutes max to relate this tale of peril and triumph. At best I can ask my young students to briefly close their eyes and imagine as well as they can, using whatever experiences their thirteen year-old lives have accumulated, what it must be like to be among the last of 240 men to survive a three year journey around the world, arriving at their home port of Spain, wondering what their wives and children and friends have been doing. Wondering if they have anyone to return to at all. How can I communicate all of that in ten minutes. How can that understanding be assessed in that time, let alone by some graduation test that looms three years in the future?

I suppose that given a time frame, teachers must decide what to emphasize, and what should be allowed to slip by. I realize there is much that needs to packed into my students' young minds. I just wish I had more say. And more time.

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