Monday, March 19, 2007

Off island

I'll be off island for for a family wedding and various other family vacation related mini-adventures. Check back then. This is written specifically for Brad.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A disgrace to the word "educator"

If there is one thing I hope my students leave my class with, it is the ability to question everything and have a richly enhanced BS detector. I encourage them to think for themselves, question authority (including me) and speak out. In fact, this aspect is laid out clearly in my highly detailed class syllabus under goals. I would hope everyone in the education field does the same. They don't.

I was furious today reading about an incident that happened "outside" an Alaska high school, and is now an important First Amendment case in the hands of the Supreme Court. There was a time with Earl Warren and William O. Douglas where free speech would be protected, but I have zero faith in the cabal that installed Bush into power and are likely to F*** Up this case as well.

A student named Joseph Frederick was suspended by his principal, doing her best Stalin impersonation, because he held a banner that said "Bong Hits for Jesus" to get on tv as the Olympic Torch passed by. This led to a ten day suspension for the student.

To quote from the Washington Post story:

"The most important student free-speech conflict to reach the Supreme Court since the height of the Vietnam War hinges on a somewhat absurd, vaguely offensive, mostly nonsensical message of protest. Bong Hits 4 Jesus. That’s the slogan that a defiant high school student named Joseph Frederick fashioned with a 14-foot piece of paper and a $3 roll of duct tape. His goal was partly to get on TV as the Olympic torch passed through his town of Juneau, Alaska, and mostly to get under the skin of his disciplinarian principal, Deborah Morse, with whom he had a running feud. It worked, at least the irritating-the-principal part. Morse crossed Glacier Avenue to Frederick's position across from the school and confiscated the banner. She later suspended him for 10 days. Frederick, a high school rebel who at the time was fond of quoting Thoreau and Voltaire, said Morse tacked on the last five days when he paraphrased Thomas Jefferson's admonition that speech limited is speech lost."

There is a saying that you should judge yourself by your enemies. By this standard, young Mr. Frederick is a raging success, as both the Bush administration and get this, Mr. Law and Order for Cigars, one of the world's great witch hunt organizers, Ken Starr, is representing the draconian principal pro bono.

"Morse's brief, written by Starr and a team of pro bono lawyers at the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, said ratification of Frederick's victory in the appellate court would make all the more daunting "the vital task of teachers, administrators and volunteer school board members in attending holistically to the needs of millions of students entrusted every school day to their charge."

Hello, the goal of a teacher is encouraging students to speak their mind and question authority. Please leave me out of your brief Mr. Starr and the rest of your platoon.

"Frederick was one of them, five years ago, though he was not a particularly happy student at Juneau-Douglas High School. One day, he refused a vice principal's order to leave a student commons area where he was reading Albert Camus, and the police were called. The next day, he remained in his seat while others stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and was sent to the principal's office. He described it all in a mini-treatise -- "This is a story of a high school senior who refused to bow down in submission before an authority . . . ." -- he posted on the Internet."

Congratulations Mr. Frederick. I'd practically donate my left nut to science fiction (Steven Wright paraphrase) to have a student like you just once. At the same time, I hope the principal gets her tongue endlessly stuck to some frozen pole in Alaska, ala Christmas Story, for her attempt to neuter a raging educational success story -- the kind if we had more of the U.S. would do better than ranking 24th of 38 in mathematics, 9th of 38 in science, 7th of 38 in reading, and 20th of 38 in problem solving.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Earbud and Digital Camera rant

Earbuds suck. These sorry ass excuses for headphones that come with the IPOD, and most everyone uses, simply bite. These things sound like music in someone else's house through the phone. I used to be able to buy these Sony headphones, which sound a million times better, at our friendly neighborhood Dolphin, but no more. Four more stores proved similarly fruitless. I have three broken pairs of these things. One got eaten by a rat at my school trying to get at the Maxwell House slime instant coffee I drink to get through difficult moments with apathetic island students. That coffee is kind of like the description of the Kramer painting in that long ago episode: "I'm horrified, but I can't look away." Another pair simply wore out, and another I snapped on like day two in a freak accident -- kind of a "Bizarre Gardening Accident," as Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap would put it.

While I'm on the topic of things that piss me off, put digital cameras high on the list. I bought this Sony, a reputable name albeit an economy model, in June, and I got one with the design flaw that countless people encountered and vented about on Amazon. I'm hoping the designer and the people setting up the warranty department get impaled with a fork and have each ditch sawed off with a butter knife. Sorry just saw SAW III, a needless macabre beating of a cinematic dead horse if ever there was one. I had a Canon digital camera I bought when I arrived on island that lasted about a year, but that doesn't seem like nearly enough time for one of these things. I'm practically being driven back to film cameras by this crap. I'm trying Olympus next, and if that doesn't work, I'm going film.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Zaldy Dandan's column from Friday

Great couple lines from Zaldy Dandan's column the other day in the Variety:

"Rep. Candy Taman’s legislative initiative abolishing municipal councils is the right step to take, and he should be commended for having the guts to introduce H.L.I. 15-15. Such is the sad state of local politics and governance that it takes courage to propose something that should have been done long ago.

There is no need for municipal councils. The few tasks they’re supposed to be doing could be done by the legislative delegations. But a former council member claims that “giving the people a voice in local affairs” outweighs the need for austerity measures.To which I say, Ha? The people of the CNMI have a governor, lt. governor, nine senators, 18 representatives, three legislative delegations, four mayors, scores of departments, bureaus, agencies, commissions and boards — but they won’t have a “voice” without the municipal councils?On Saipan, the council’s primary job is to hand out resolutions commending anyone who lives here. And I mean ANYONE. Yet the council still found a pressing need to hire a “consultant.”

This is what I love about Z's columns. He is one of the few to highlight and cut through the enormous amount of BS around here.

The scary thing about the rapidly decreasing collections is that the political types have to adjust their own payroll quickly and efficiently, and we all know how that works here. I'm sure there is a lot of fat to trim from the bloated CNMI government payroll, and municipal councils are exhibit A on that concept. I don't think we are close to the bottom for this economy. Few are going to have the courage to do the layoffs, so for this place, Rep. Candy Taman is actually showing a very large set of nuts. Let's hope he wins this round and we subtract a totally pointless layer of government and abolish the municipal councils.

Top Ten Desert Island aka Rota discs

I tend to find live discs bring out a band's sound better than the relatively sterile studio offerings. I'm also not won over by the current enthusiasm for hip hop or the poppy dance stuff. If this officially means I'm old, then so be it.

1. Jimi Hendrix - Are You Experienced? Greatest album, greatest musician, Jimi was a God among mortals, nothing else measures up. My favorite song is the relatively unknown Love or Confusion on this disk.

2. The Beatles - Abbey Road. Most people understandably have this number one, and it is the best album from the best band ever. There are a few weak moments like Maxwell's Silver Hammer, but Here Comes the Sun and the whole She Came in through the Bathroom Window/Polythene Pam section is just great.

3. Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same. The groove on the title track haunts me, and it melds with the Rain Song real well."

4. Dave Matthews Band - The Concert in the Park. This is the album that got me into the DMB, really the DVD. Incredible setlist, including the great song "Granny" seldom heard elsewhere. The DVD captures this even better.

5. Paul Simon The Concert in the Park This is so brilliant. It has far more life than the studio versions. Great musicianship, great songs. The Coast and Cool, Cool River are the highlights. These are more alive than the studio versions of Graceland and Rythym of the Saints, which are great albums.

6. U2 - Achtung Baby. Tough choice between this and Rattle and Hum, but this is too great not to add to this list. Until the End of the World would be the highpoint.

7. Rush - Moving Pictures In terms of playing, Rush are the best rock musicians ever, this captures their creative zenith. Red Barchetta and Limelight are some notable highpoints.

8. Nirvana - Unplugged in New York. Oh, Me was a particularly great song.

9. The Cars - Debut Album. The Cars get no respect, but this is a great album, if you took about half of this, and half of their follow up, Candy-O, it would be the greatest album ever.

10. Rage Against the Machine - Live at the Olympic Auditorium. Great group, great songs, great energy, and the right politics. Testify and Bulls on Parade are pretty heavy.

Honorable Mention for the Ipod Age: Coldplay's A Rush of Blood to the Head, Neil Young's Weld, John Mellencamp's Human Wheels, Madonna's Ray of Light, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, The Who's Quadrophenia, Radiohead's Amnesiac, Miles Davis Kind of Blue and Smashing Pumpkin's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The island biopoly (new word I think)

I don’t know if anyone really noticed this, but during this latest round of gas price increases, there were some strange happenings. Mobil first went up 10 cents: $3.06 to $3.16. This isn’t the weird part. Normally, if Mobil goes up, Shell follows and vice versa. There is almost never a price difference at all, which is, of course, fishy. I expected to see Shell's price go up the next day, but they didn’t budge, and they didn't budge the next day, either -- to my great surprise. So, Mobil goes back down 10 cents from 3.16 back to 3.06 matching Shell. The next day (three days after the initial Mobil hike), Shell goes up eight cents to 3.14, and Mobil does the same: $3.06 to $3.14. This is where we are now on the price.

I have a friend who used to work here in antitrust and I discussed this issue once, and apparently our upstanding service station proprietors are allowed to look at the prices of their competitors, but as long as there is no collusion, the fact that the two and only two gas stations almost never have any price difference at all is perfectly ok.

You just have to love big oil. They get tax breaks from the savage Washington Republicans. They use the American military as their own personal commando unit (nice to have a big oil CEO as vice president). They kill the electric car – a great documentary by the same name, and create enough confusion on the issue of destroying the Earth so some idiots aren't sure if it is really happening. Correct that. Big oil is really just destroying human ability to live on the Earth. After the Earth purges humans, it will recover for a couple million years like some wino a day after an epic Bacardi 151 bender, and the process of human evolution can start again. I have to cut this post short as there might be something new and important on Britney's hair or Anna Nicole Smith's corpse in the news.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Couple of new movies on DVD I've seen of late

I love watching great movies, but I seldom have a satisfying film experience. I've taken to buying old Hitchcock and Polanski films of late -- many I've never seen or it has been a while. I rent a fair share of movies as well, and bail on a lot of them, but I seldom go to the theater, not out of cheapness so much, but just that they are so mediocre -- even worse in Saipan with only one theater catering to teenage tastes. Home theater and a family make the cinema far less attractive than it used to be.

In the older movies, directors had to rely on plot and characters more than spectacle and special effects, and I'll take plot and characters over dynamic explosions any day. Directors can now include so many fantastic things visually that it ceases to "Wow." The lack of imagination in most movies is staggering to me. Writers can make a fortune with a good script, yet so many movies seem to be remakes, celluloid versions of bad, antiquated television shows or sequels to originals that sucked.

Having said that, I saw one I liked a lot in "The Illusionist." This one required perhaps a bit too much suspension of disbelief in the actual illusions, but it was dramatic, romantic, visually compelling, different, well acted (Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton) and had a few nice twists.

I was very happy with "Borat" as well. It mixes high and lowbrow humor in a way seldom seen, and raises points about all kinds of boobs nationwide. I was afraid it would be overrated. Sacha Baron Cohen, a well scrubbed British comedian in real life, plays a zany character named Borat, who is off documenting the "real America," the one that makes me want to be European, and plays off many racial and ethnic stereotypes to great effect as he interviews politicians, USC frat boys (like the ones I knew all too well at the University of South Carolina), gun dealers, feminists, gangstas and others, and gets them to reveal their real thoughts about things. Overall, it was very funny and very different. It mixes adult and adolescent humor nicely. While at a Virginia rodeo, his character tells the crowd about how his country supports the U.S.'s "War of Terror," and proceeds to raise the stakes to hoping that George Bush drinks the blood of all the Iraqis, as the crowd cheers. The world's richest country contains quite a freakshow.

I saw another that was wildly overrated, but ok in "Babel." There are four separate stories here that are midly related ala "Crash." Most are fairly unique, but drag in certain parts, and the constant shift between stories makes the viewer lose track and interest. Cate Blachett's character is fairly unsympathetic, so I was half hoping she'd die after being shot kind of accidently by some kids as she was traveling Morocco for reasons not really explained other than the couple is getting over the death of a child. It certainly doesn't look like a place to relax --- more like Afghanistan. This isn't a garden variety movie, and I suppose the acclaim it got is related to this fact, but none of the four stories are that intriguing, though there are times they are interesting, the relationships between them largely tenuous, and the overall impact is somewhat limited. I'm not sure what the fuss is about this one.

"Flags of Our Fathers" deals with the Battle of Iwo Jima, and has footage redolent of "Saving Private Ryan" that is amazing too see. It shifts time periods so often as to lose, and sometimes bore, the viewer as it hones in on the story of that famous Iwo photo and the true story of the people in and around it and the propaganda aspects it served. This is highly watchable, but not stellar.

Compared to the last several months, these four were an improvement on a lot of the other crap that was offered.

There are still people with George Bush

In my normal day to day conversations with people in bars, cafes, work, etc., I'm finding, to my great surprise, that there are some people still "with" George Bush. I've had at least three of these conversations in the last two weeks. More surprising is that these are not people I would dismiss as idiots. They are all quite bright, which makes it more disturbing. I thought those that make up the yeas in the mere 29 percent approval rating for our illustrious leader were all residing in Utah and the deep South. They're not.

I could sort of understand years ago, back before there was this enormous record of such staggering failure, giving the guy the benefit of the doubt. It was clear to me from day one he was a frat boy, lacking in intellectual curiosity, the privileged son of power being elevated to unconscionable power to service the interests of power. Reagan played that role well, the kind grandfather, the pitchman with the soft touch, but he had far less evil people surrounding him, and he was far less corrupt than this bunch. He ran against a smart and experienced, but wooden and cautious man in Gore, got fewer votes, but was installed into power by the Supreme Court. The Democrats ran another smart, yet wooden and uber-cautious candidate in Kerry, and Bush squeaked by and might have had more votes this time. The nightmare continues, there is a clear record of failure now, and still there are people "with" George W. Bush.

Think about this for one second: After the ongoing Iraq fiasco including Abu Gharib, the misdirection of focus on Iraq from Afghanistan that let Bin Laden escape in Tora Bora, the lies about nuclear weapons, the Haliburton profiteering, the Abramoff scandal, the thinning of military resources to deal with real global threats, the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina, the blowing off of the Kyoto Protocol and general head in the sand on Global Warming, the Patriot Act and all the related eroding of civil liberties from arrests and jail time without charges, trials or access to lawyers, the use of torture and shipping people off to countries that torture through "extraordinary rendition," the spying on email, postal mail and listening to phone calls sans warrants, continuing to read "My Pet Goat" after the country was attacked, the intrusion of the religious right on all kinds of personal issues such as abortion, prescription medicines and the right to die, the general gay bashing and the now $9 trillion deficit as a product of war, tax cuts for the rich and uncontrolled giveaways to corporate interests, there are still people who support this man. This fact is flabbergasting to me. What else does this guy, and these people have to F*** Up in order to acknowledge the obvious? The mind boggles that anyone can think the country is going in the right direction or that democracy and traditional principles that make America unique aren't under direct assault because of these shameful people.

How can anyone sit by and watch lobbyists for the pharmaceutical companies write the prescription drug laws, the banking industry/credit card companies re-write the bankruptcy laws, the oil industry get massive tax breaks and get sickeningly rich from this war, and still be a Republican? Far, far, far more money is transferred to the sickeningly rich corporate influential than any welfare mother could ever dream of, yet the welfare mother is the demon and the corporate CEO is the paradigm. People still hold to this long ago fiction that Republicans are "fiscally conservative." Newt and the boys found out thirteen years ago that the Religious Right was a better demographic to pander to, and a combination of irresponsible tax cuts and endless borrowing the way to go.

For some people, loyalty to one's party is similar to loyalty to one's favorite sport's team. They are with them thick and thin, and I find this to be more common amongst Republicans than Democrats. A quick read of The New Republic versus the National Review would demonstrate this point. It is no surprise to me that the Religious Right is so steadfastly Republican, as the very nature of "faith" is to believe and accept without evidence, to suspend critical thinking and obey authority -- a staple of being a modern Republican. Intellectually, I think that is a horrendous way to live, but electorally it has served them well. That whole flip flop thing gets trotted out every time against every Democrat, and it must have traction, or they wouldn't be doing it. The talking points and the ads actually make it out to sound like changing your mind is bad. If I followed that mindset, I'd still believe in Santa Clause, think a 64 ounce "Big Gulp" soda and Twinkies a perfect lunch, the Dukes of Hazzard to be quality entertainment and find McDonalds to be preferable to a place that serves actual food.

I also continue to hear that word "liberal" thrown around like an epithet by otherwise sensible people, and I really stand in awe of the powers of propaganda. They've really attached the negative assocations and stigmatized it, and they hurl it like a weapon. As if being open minded, being concerned with the poor, generally wanting change (liberal means progressive, wanting change, while conservative means averse to change) and power to be shared amongst a larger group is so bad, something to fear.

None of this is to indicate Democrats are great or their leadership skills so profound. I'm more of a Democrat out of the sheer evil of this current crop of Republicans and the necessary practical response. I can stomach the John McCains of the world, especially the version that ran against Bush, not this current strain. Reagan wasn't nearly as harmful as this current group, and mostly was beneficial. Practically speaking I'm much more inclined to the Green Party or Libertarianism, which is way over most people's head, sadly. The lack of practical choice politically is disturbing.

George Carlin makes this point well:

"Oh, and freedom of choice, this is the big one, the illusion of choice, we're led to feel free by the exercise of meaningless choices. There are, for instance, important things — not too many choices, unimportant things-ice cream flavors, what do you want, we've got 31, the flavor of the week, the flavor of the month, but political parties-we're down to two, jeez. Sources of information, media companies down to five, banks, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals, chemical companies, oil companies-used to be seven, down to three, pretty soon it's gonna be two. But if you’re lookin' for a bagel or a fuckin' donut, hey, what do you want-pineapple supreme, hazelnut; we've got everything you want. Cereals, I counted, personally in the store counted 192 different cereal choices, 192. 140 different cat foods, I counted, and that includes a tartar-control cat food for senior citizen cats, okay?"

Matt Taibbi did a great job explaining exactly how and why democracy is broken in this piece: "The Worst Congress Ever." After reading that report, you'd have to get on your knees and thank the heavens that these guys got neutered in November, and there are now more civilized people in control. Of course, the new budget is out, not that anyone would know it with Britney's implosion and Anna Nicole Smith death circus, and all kinds of nonsense about an irrelevant pissing match between David Geffen and Hillary Clinton. Taibbi does a great job indicting the media on their wildly off base fixations in this one as well. The traditional media across the board are a huge disappointment.

I am at a point where I would be infinitely happier to be a European and embrace those values (a heightened appreciation for food, art, travel, the ability for most anyone to see a doctor, less derision for the educated) than the American ethos of a bigger house(massive mortgage debt), a bigger car (Hummer anyone) and a bigger stomach (supersize me).