Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


A corollary to my education rant

Things got done faster than I thought, so I thought I would add something about teachers to my "What's wrong with education" rant from Friday. One of my former students reminded me that teachers aren't always so wonderful, and she's right. So here's a brief (I promise!) observation about teachers (and I'll try to be objective, because I am one).

Teachers, for the most part, are fighting a losing battle, and that sort of thing wears on morale and desire. I can't think of a teacher who gets into the game for the money - in some places you make decent chedda as a teacher, but not in most places. I got into it because I thought it was something I would be good at, I didn't want to be stuck in an office all day, and I love it. My students often ask me why I teach, especially sociopathic teenagers, and I tell them, honestly, that I find teens fascinating. I also want to help them become adults, and I think teachers have a big role to play in that, even though parents should be the primary models.

But Miss Melendez is right - there are a lot of shitty teachers out there. Why? It's a chicken-and-egg thing - do they become shitty teachers because the kids suck the life out of them, or are they shitty teachers to begin with? It's a little of both. I have known very good teachers who have just given up because of the evil little bastards they get stuck with, because the administration doesn't care, because the parents take the side of the child (almost always), and because there's no money. It's sad to watch, and I wish those people would get out quickly before they do something stupid and really fuck up their careers and lives. At my school (and again, my school may be an extreme example, but I don't think it's too extreme), at least two teachers were literally driven out by the students. The administration refused to do anything to assist the teachers, and they just gave up. Of course, the kids say that the teachers sucked and didn't get them and were mean, and I know that the teachers probably said and did some things that they shouldn't have, but it doesn't change the fact that the teachers were driven to these things by the students. That kind of thing really makes me angry.

I have also known teachers who have actively hated the students, and I often wondered what they were doing in the field. We used to dismiss the kids out the back of the school and around the strip mall where the school was located. My job was to walk to the end of the mall and make sure they continued on to the road instead of doubling back into the area of commerce. I used to hang out with another teacher while I did this, and he used to rail about every student who walked by (out of their earshot). They were all useless punks with no future who were either going to get pregnant or get someone pregnant or end up in jail or dead. He quite literally hated the students. I had no idea why he was a teacher. I think his expectations were very much different - he pictured a class of smiling children who sat quietly and did everything he told them to do. Well, hell, who wouldn't want that? Welcome to the real world. He couldn't adjust, and he left after the school year.

I don't claim to be a great teacher. I'm a moderately good one, I suppose, although I need to work on several things, most particularly my classroom management - I let the kids get away with waaaaay too much. However, I still love the job, and if you don't love the job, you need to get out. If you are a lousy teacher (and I have known teachers to be drunk on the job, and I have known teachers who have dated students - the girl was over 18, but still!), the administration needs to crack down. If you are a lousy student, the administration needs to crack down. Many of the teachers I have dealt with feel abandoned by everyone, and so some of them simply spiral down into ennui and give up. It's tempting. The thing that keeps me going are the good students. At some point in the term I identify the good students and I start ignoring the bad ones. This might seem horrible, but that's the way it is. I tell my students that I don't care about them, and they get all offended. I tell them if they don't care about my class I don't care about them. I'm not about to make an effort if it will fall on deaf ears. I got in a huge argument a few years ago with a student about this - she thought I should care about everyone, and I asked her why when many of my students only showed up twice a week. If that makes me a bad teacher, so be it. Teachers are mortal, too. Some are horrible, yes, and some are good people who see the futility in what they are doing. Unfortunately, some of those don't get out quickly enough, and the kids suffer even more.

Well, that was cheery, wasn't it? I'll be bright and sun-shiny next time, I promise.

One last reminder

Busy day yesterday and today, so I may not get to do a proper post. For you procrastinators out there (I'm one, so I sympathize), today the last day for you to enter my free comics contest! The details are here! I hae received some excellent entries, but you can still trump them all. Mia goes to school today to get tested, so I may have time to post today, or maybe not. Talk amongst yourselves.


Man, I can't come up with anything clever today - my brain is fried. It's Sunday, so that means time-wasting links. You know you want them!

You only have a few more days to enter my comics giveaway contest! The details are here!

Sign my GuestMap! You know you want to! Dorina is the latest to chime in. Hello, Dorina!

This is weird. I'm covered with what I think are flea bites. I'm praying it's not measles or chicken pox (which I can't remember having when I was young). I'm pretty sure they're flea bites, though, and I'm pretty sure I got them at my filthy school, where the filthy kids wallow in their own filth because God forbid they take a shower. I'm really itchy.

That's a fine way to begin our Sabbath Day Jaunt Across The Vastness Of Cyberspace, ain't it? Okay, let's dive right in!

Funny stuff. We can always use a chuckle (or a chortle, or even a guffaw).

Chris Cope points us to favorite words that aren't in the dictionary. I actually use "ginormous" often.

Latigo Flint tells us five things he's not afraid of. If you're out there, Roxy, you should check this blog out, since you're missing the funny stuff.

Steven mouths off about Jeff, the sleepy Wiggle, and gets 93 comments! I thought I had too much time on my hands.

Disturbing but funny pictures. You have been warned!

Oh, that wacky Mike Sterling - ruining our love of Archie and Jughead and the Riverdale gang like that!

Star Wars is a tool of Satan! I really think they're serious about this. Brought to you by Tom Peyer, of course.

Unwritten rules of social etiquette. The first in a series, let's hope.

Jay Pinkerton's examination of the minor prophets continues with Jonah. Not for the faint of heart.

Comic books nerdiness. Let your inner nerd loose!

I will soon be writing my columns about Comics You Should Own at Buzzscope. Check it out!

Dial B for Blog is fun for the comics geek inside all of us. You know he's there, deep down!

A really excellent look at Supreme Power. I keep telling people to buy it! Why won't they listen?

In the "not-for-the-easily-offended" category comes Batman and Robin watercolors (or, Batman and Robin as they were meant to be and certainly as Dr. Wertham saw them). Funny stuff. One wonders about the copyrights ...

The Absorbascon shows us again why the Silver Age was a great time for comic books.

Ian has an interesting essay about Alan Moore and his reactions to comics these days. Alan Moore is a wildly fascinating dude, even if you're not a comics fan.

If you've ever considered opening up your own comic book store, you should read Comic Riot. It's fascinating.

Political crap. Because the world's a shithole, so why shouldn't you know about it?

Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic Leader, gave an interesting speech this week, which you can read here. I don't agree with everything he said, but it's a good speech. I'm sure the link is other places, but I found it at Blog for Arizona. Hey! I thought that was me! BfA also has an interesting post about the rise of the religious mainstream and a (broken) link to the Interfaith Alliance. I'm not religious at all (sorry), but this is intriguing, and it would be nice if more religious types acted in a truly religious manner.

By now everyone knows Bill Maher is a traitor. If you don't read why he is here. That pesky freedom of speech - it's a bitch, isn't it?

Bush as Ahab? You be the judge!

The big agricultural businesses are introducing legislation stripping local governments from controlling food supplies. Because, you know, local governments don't like it when kids in their communities hit puberty at eight from the hormones in the food. I wonder what side of this issue the Republicans, with their mantra of states' rights, is on? This is the kind of thing that should make the newspapers, but doesn't. It's chilling.

No matter what side of the abortion debate you're on, this story pretty much proves that it's illegal. I don't know why pro-lifers whine about it being legal. It's NOT, people!

Jose Padilla is still in jail, by the way. He may become this generation's Leonard Peltier, who's still alive, don't you know, and has been in prison for over 25 years for a crime he didn't commit.

Laura Gjovaag links to this story about the government of Bahrain cracking down on bloggers. I hope someone doesn't read this to Bush - it might give him an idea (although one is better than none, I suppose).

Dave points out this sign, which I've seen other places too. It's wrong for a Muslim to denounce Christianity as a great lie, but fine for an American preacher to do the same to Islam, I guess.

Mah Two Cents has a post about A judge in Indiana who has decreed that a 9-year-old's parents cannot teach him "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals." Un-frickin-believable. The parents are Wiccans, by the way. Those damned activist judges! (Oh, wait a minute, this is good activism, right?)

Who knew the people who run MTV were such raging Republicans? This link is from AmericaBlog.

The Disgruntled Chemist links to this article that says federal anti-discrimination laws don't cover gay people. Well, of course not. Them gays don't deserve it, man - they should be grateful we don't round them all up and shoot them, the preverts!

Lots of people have mentioned this, but I saw it first on Thomas's blog. Yes, Tom DeLay is angry because a fictional show picked on him. How did this guy ever even get into politics? He's so thin-skinned.

The Museum of Left Wing Lunacy links to the Republican National Committee web site, which has a video tribute to our troops (it's Memorial Day, if you didn't know), and to the Democratic National Committee web site, which doesn't. It then asks if we can question the Dems' patriotism now. Sure, as long as we can question the patriotism of Republicans who lied about the war, wanted to invade Iraq and had to be convinced by Tony Blair to invade Afghanistan, and lied about Pat Tillman's death (and probably plenty of others, as well). How about that?

Miscellaneous. You know, the leftovers.

From the "More Of What's Wrong With Our Country" File, we get a mother who hired a stripper to perform at her 16-year-old son's birthday party. This ties into my rant from a few days ago - parents who want to be friends with their kids. What 16-year-old wouldn't think his mom was the coolest if she hired him a stripper? Who cares if it's bad parenting? Two quotes stand out from this story, both by the mother: "I tried to do something special for my son. It didn't harm him," and "Who are they to tell me what I can and can't show to my own children?" There used to be something in our world called common sense. It's gone now.

Boy, it was a good week over at Firedoglake. I care nothing about the Indianapolis 500, but here's an interesting post about Danica Patrick, the fourth woman to race, and the reaction of the good ol' boys to her qualifying. There's also a good picture of a tank, the irony of getting rid of Tom Daschle, Carl Karcher's hypocrisy ... just read the whole damned thing!

The Smithsonian Institution can be bought for $16,000. They will allow a group to screen a film arguing for intelligent design. Ye Gods. This link comes from The Huffington Post.

The Ministry of Information links to this. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but it's nothing icky. Trust me!

St. Nate's blog is another one that has too much good stuff. Sheesh. Specifically, he has a post about laws that are weird, including a link to this article about a woman who was threatened with firing because she was living in sin with a man (which is against the law in North Carolina). Any bets on if the man worked for the Sheriff's Department he also would be told to clean up his act?

The ex-king of Cambodia has a blog! Most of it is in French, but if that's your thing, here it is!

This is a couple of weeks old, but the picture is just ... well, you be the judge. Again, not icky.

Australia has a National Sorry Day. I'm, ahem, sorry, but that's just stupid. Don't worry so much about the past, man - make the present and future better. Any Australians out there reading who apologized to their aboriginal neighbors? I'm just wondering.

Get your desktop trebuchet here!

PostSecret is a weird little blog. You can write your innermost secrets on a postcard and send them in, and it will get posted. Some of these are downright disturbing. This comes from Dr. Sordid, who cadged it from Neil Gaiman. Oh, that Neil! (Another blog suggested it might be fake. Well, maybe.)

On Location with Rick Lee is a photo blog. It's very neat.

Rick at Dark, But Shining may have just swallowed his own tongue. Find out why. It involves two words: Poe and Stallone. The horror, the horror!

Parse this sentence! The wacky Disgruntled Chemist gives us this.

Goin' Ape links to a blog by an angry teacher (and it's not me!), as well as a right-wing housewife who's also into the crazy sex. Inconceivable! (Say it in your best Wallace Shawn voice!)

Danielle is awesome, especially when she talks about being a Negro.

Well, the television season is pretty much over. I liked the finale of Deadwood (lots of stuff I really didn't see coming), I wonder if I will watch Desperate Housewives next year, since it seems like the mystery has been cleared up and now it will just be more soap operatic, which doesn't interest me. 24 was good, and Lost could have been better, but it was still good. Lots o' people have weighed in, especially on the latter two. Suspension of Disbelief gives us what was wrong, legally, with the Desperate Housewives season finale. Jumbotron 6000 looks at the 24 season finale. Woody also checks out 24. Dave gives us his take on Lost, as does Kung Fu Monkey. Woody watches Lost, too, and here are his thoughts. Nik looks at both of them. Nik used to come around here, but he's been missing lately. I must have offended him somehow. He still has a cool blog. Finally, here is some fun with Lost numbers.

And if you're reading, Yazil, WTF? You and your little pal couldn't stop by to get your diplomas on one of the two last days of the year, the most boring days ever, and see your old teacher? I may weep. Any excuses?

Well, that was fun. Enjoy!


Sociopaths in our schools; or, what the hell is wrong with education in the U.S.?

I have been substituting at my old school for the past six weeks, and now that the school year's over, I thought I would discuss teaching and education in general. It ain't pretty, people. So strap yourself in, 'cause I have a feeling this is going to be a long one.

First, the students. Oh, the students. Now, I teach in what we like to call "the ghetto." Phoenix doesn't have ghettos like I think of ghettos (I grew up in Philadelphia, and used to drive by the burned-out home up by Temple University - that was a ghetto!), but it does have poor sections, and I work in one of them. It's a poor area with a lot of immigrants (legal or otherwise) or kids of immigrants, and most of the kids are classified as "at-risk." This means they're poor, special ed., abused, delinquents, or all of the above. This gives them a little bit of an excuse, but not much. I'm going to rant about them for a while and why most of my students would do well if we re-instituted the draft.

I am convinced that a good number of my students are sociopaths. This site defines sociopathy as "chiefly characterized by something wrong with the person's conscience. They either don't have one, it's full of holes like Swiss cheese, or they are somehow able to completely neutralize or negate any sense of conscience or future time perspective. Sociopaths only care about fulfilling their own needs and desires - selfishness and egocentricity to the extreme." That may seem extreme to describe teenagers - aren't they all sociopathic in some way? - but with our students, I have a disturbing feeling that it's true. Here's a typical day at my school:

Class starts at 8 o'clock. There are usually one or two students in the room. The rest wander in from any time from 8.15 to 9. They offer absolutely no excuses other than "I overslept." They are not even embarrassed that they are late. In my class, at least, I give work at the very beginning of class that counts toward their attendance grade. The state of Arizona says half their grade must be attendance, so I give them some points for being in class and some more for doing the work at the beginning of class. That way if they show up late, I give them points for being in class but not for the work. Last year I would give them a grammar exercise for the first 15-20 minutes of class (the classes at our school are 2 hours long - yes, two ... hours ...) and then went over the answers in class. You might be shocked by how many high school students don't know what a noun is, or how to capitalize, or how to punctuate. Even after I gave them the answers, most didn't write the answers down. I would give them back and occasionally throw a grammar test at them. They usually failed.

After this fun exercise, it's time for the class proper. Allow me to describe the behavior of the children (and this is whether you're a hard-ass or not, so the attitude of the teacher is pretty much irrelevant). Whenever they feel like it they get up and leave the class. We have hall passes, but they only take them occasionally. We also have a set time period that they're allowed out of class (usually five minutes), but again, that's pretty much a joke (and I have had children who can't tell time, so five minutes means nothing to them). Only one student is supposed to be out at a time, and sometimes I can keep to that, but if someone really wants to go, they leave. Occasionally they offer an excuse (the pregnant girls are good at this - "I'm pregnant, Mr. Burgas!"), but usually, they just leave. We have a button in the class that connects to the intercom, and we're supposed to tell the principal about it, but I usually don't use it, because a) the fewer students in my class, the happier I am, especially since the ones who leave are usually the troublemakers; and b) nothing happens to the students anyway (more on that later). So we have kids leaving the classroom with impunity and wandering the halls or hanging out in the bathrooms getting high or selling drugs (I wish I was kidding). Of course, as I mentioned, sometimes it's preferable for them to be out of the classrooms than in them.

In the classrooms their behavior is atrocious. These kids curse so much it's almost unbelievable. Typically, every two normal words they say is accompanied by a "fuck" or "shit." As in, "Yeah, we been fuckin' drinkin' on Saturday, shit, and I was fuckin' so fuckin' drunk that I fuckin' fell over three fuckin' times. Shit!" Again, I wish I was kidding. The school is about 65% Hispanic and 20% black, so the "n" word gets thrown around quite often. I have stood in class and listened to a couple of black kids talking, and I swear to God, every other word is "nigga." Now, they claim that when they say "nigga" it's different from a racist saying "nigger," but that's, well, bullshit. I try to explain to them that they're calling each other animals, but they're certainly not going to listen to a square white guy when 50 Cent tells them it's okay to say that word. They talk like this no matter who is around, too, and again, show no embarrassment when you call them on it. Many of them don't even realize they have been cursing. It's like breathing to them, or when other people say "uh" between words. It's amazing when you tell them to stop, because they say "My bad," and not ten seconds later they're cursing again.

So, there's the cursing. Okay. They also have no thought of threatening their classmates, littering, putting gum on the tables, ignoring the teacher, and talking on their cell phones. We have a rule in the school that they can't use cell phones, but rules obviously don't apply to them. I tell them that if someone calls on their phone, they need to get off the phone as quickly as possible. If they don't, I have a lot of fun walking over to them and shouting "Get off the phone!" very loudly in their ears. That pisses them off. Even if it's an important phone call, they don't think to stop, raise their hand, ask politely if they can go out in the hall because their brother was just in a car accident, and then walk out in the hall. They simply get up and say "I gotta take this call" and walk out. Whatever.

While they are wandering the halls, they think nothing of hanging out in the halls or simply walking into classrooms that are not their own. I am constantly telling kids to get out. I'm not allowed to lock my door because of fire hazards (although the door only locks from the outside, so we can get out if there's a fire), so I have to walk over to the door and kick them out. I enjoy slamming the door in their faces, because they honestly don't believe I'll do it. I have to, though, because telling them to leave accomplishes nothing.

They also litter a lot. I have a policy in my class that they're not allowed to leave until the floor and tables are clean ("clean" being a relative term, since the room is generally a sty). So they eat Doritos and throw the bag on the floor instead of hanging onto it and throwing it in the trash as they leave. When I tell them to pick the bag up, usually I have to ask more than once because they just stare at me stupidly, and when they do bend over and get it, it's like they're performing one of the freakin' labors of Hercules. Then, when the bell rings and there's still crap on my tables (usually newspapers, because God forbid they do work in class) and I'm standing in front of the door blocking their egress and I tell them that someone needs to pick up the crap on my tables, it becomes almost bizarre. There will be a group of three or four students standing by the table staring at the papers and not picking them up (because it's not "their crap"). It's a freakin' newspaper, but no one wants to pick it up and throw it away, so I tell them no one's leaving until it goes in the trash. Usually, one of the better students stomps over and picks it up, letting them all off the hook, but it's one of the more bizarre moments in school.

As for the work that they do ... well, the less said the better. I have already mentioned that they don't know grammar. They have no concept of speaking correctly. As an English teacher, this drives me batty. Many of them can't read at anything close to grade level. Whenever we have tested them, they come in at third grade, fourth grade ... again, I wish I was kidding. They have no attention spans unless it has to do with watching movies they like or playing video games. They can't spell. I'm talking relatively simple words like "trite" or "liability." I don't even assign homework (with two-hour classes, it's kind of pointless anyway) because I know it won't get done. They can't extract simple information from their reading. They read it, but have no idea what it really means. They have no idea how to take notes or study effectively. More depressing than that, they don't care. This is why I called them sociopaths - they care about nothing more than their own, instant desires. They have no thought of the past or the future - they live totally in the future. That's why punishment doesn't work - tomorrow they'll forget that the particular action for which they were punished led to it, nor do they consider what might happen if they do something wrong. They live in the moment exclusively, and anything you tell them to the contrary is literally in one ear and out the other.

Not all the kids are like this. But a vast majority are. I went to graduation the other night and was very proud of the ones who got through, although some of the graduates surprised me, because I wouldn't have believed they passed anything. I have had some very brilliant kids in class, and that makes the rest so much more annoying. And although a large part of this is the fact that they are "at-risk," at my other school, where the kids were from middle class families and were far less likely to be pregnant or use drugs, they weren't much better. Their behavior on the whole was better, but their work was almost as awful and their attitude was usually the same. Kids today, I have learned, have absolutely no fear. They hear all about "rights" and they see all sorts of things about lawsuits and they know that teachers can't do a damned thing to them. Hence their shitty attitudes. Why should they behave when nothing is going to happen to them?

So the kids suck. I still love teaching them, because of the diamonds in the rough that you do find. I have met excellent writers, math geniuses, and wonderful artists during my 3+ years of teaching. However, they're not the only problem. The second part of this essay/rant will be about how we're failing these kids just as much as they're failing themselves.

First, the charter school phenomenon. We moved to Arizona because after I got my Master's Degree, I couldn't teach in a public school in Oregon because I didn't have a teaching certificate. Luckily, in Arizona in 2001, you didn't need a teaching certificate to teach at a charter school (by next year, every teacher will need one). Charter schools were created in Arizona because of the crappy public schools and legislators believed that this would help the problem. A charter school is run more like a business than public schools, but this, I feel, is a mistake. There are at least two businesses that should not be run like businesses, and because they are, things suck - schools and health insurance. I've worked in both, and because they are run like businesses, the people are the first to get screwed, because people are expensive, and businesses are all about cutting costs. The charter school system in Arizona has been a moderate success, but it still doesn't address the problems we have in this country with education. Charter schools are given money from the state based on the number of students they have - period. So they think nothing of stuffing 30-35 kids into a classroom. Now, I'm a big proponent of smaller class sizes, even though some people say it makes no difference. Let me tell you, with 25 sociopaths in a class of 30, class size makes a difference, but that's not in the school's best interest. For that reason, it's almost impossible to throw them out of school. We had a girl caught selling drugs in the bathroom, but she went through rehab (strange, since she was the dealer!) and she's back! Whoo-hoo - more money for the school! We have kids get in fights, we have kids threaten teachers, we have kids miss days and days of school, we have kids smoking weed in the bathroom, and nothing ever happens to them! Some of our administrators want to get rid of the worst troublemakers, but they can't do a thing.

The problem, as with most things, is money. I love how people say it's no good to throw money at a problem, but when the military wants to build yet another bomber, we throw money at it. Yes, I'm a bleeding heart liberal, but it seems that the military gets money any time they want it, but anything else in society, it's like blood from a freakin' stone. We don't want to pay taxes to support schools, and the kids suffer for it. My dictionaries are from the 1960s, and although I get the books I need, I have to beg for them a little. At my school we have hardly any computers, and certainly not one for every kid, which is how it should be. There's no library and there are hardly any flippin' protractors in the math classes. These kids, who need all the help they can get, are simply thrown into a classroom with a teacher who often doesn't have anywhere near the resources that he or she needs. Education is so low on our list of priorities that we shouldn't whine when these kids don't know anything. Bill Gates recently gave a speech in which he said he won't even hire American high school graduates because American high schools are "obsolete." It's a chilling speech, and one that should disturb every American, especially minorities, since those are the ones who suffer the most. But we don't care. We want to pay fewer taxes and give 87 billion dollars to fight "terrorists" and live in blissful ignorance. Our ignorance is breeding these sociopaths.

Our culture also fails these kids. Most of them, as I mentioned, are "at-risk." They are children of teen mothers, and many of them are mothers. When a teenager becomes a mother, she often is alone because the guy has split. These kids say they're going to be good mothers, but being a parent is difficult, and when they hit 20 or 21 and want to party, will they really stay home with their 4-year-olds? I was a youngster once, and I liked going out with friends (I was never a serious drinker, but I liked to go out now and then). Kids who see their parents go out and party while they get stuck with grandparents (who aren't all that old in the first place) learn that it's okay to get drunk or high. Mia will never see me drunk or high (it's been many, many years since I smoked pot, and I hardly ever drink) because I don't want her doing that sort of thing. These students are conditioned from youth to accept drinking, cursing, behaving badly, smoking drugs, and generally being awful human beings as normal, and kids learn by observing behavior far more than they learn by parents telling them what to do. These kids have absent fathers, mothers who love them but are ridiculously immature, and they learn quickly that they can manipulate their parents into giving them what they want as a substitute for love. Their parents want so desperately to be their kids' friends that they don't establish any kind of boundaries. Sometimes when I tell these kids they can't do something, they stare at me as if they've never heard the word before. When kids go their whole lives without having any boundaries, by the time the hit their teen years and are rebellious anyway, it's even worse.

We have also reached a point in this country where there's absolutely nothing we can do about discipline. These kids are sneaky smart, and they know that we as educators can't do a thing to them. I have never wanted to smack a kid (well, not seriously ...), but they know they can get away with anything, because that's what our country has become. And don't think I'm getting all old-school Christian conservative "spare the rod, spoil the child" crap either, because these kids see politicians of all stripes getting away with anything they want as long as they have the money to buy their way out of it. When adults have no discipline, how are kids supposed to? These students see everything in the world run by money, from their rap star and basketball player idols to the politicians and "real" Americans who say they have to go back to Mexico because they're ruining the economy. So all they care about is making money, and education means nothing to them. We have taught them this, and we shouldn't be surprised that they ignore education. Our president did, after all. (There's also a sad sidebar to this "monkey see, monkey do" syndrome. Here's a story about a "racy" yearbook that students put together. It's actually called X Rated. This guy makes the point that kids are obviously listening to adults, despite what adults think. Laura Bush makes sex jokes about her husband and Desperate Housewives is the number one show on television and we're getting upset that kids think about sex a lot? Look in the freakin' mirror, America!)

We also have a problem with treating these kids like adults. Teenagers are a mess, and we don't make it any easier for them. On the one hand, we treat them like children, and they naturally rebel against that. On the other hand, we act like they should know how to act like adults, and then get angry when they don't We haven't provided them with any role models, so why should they know? We discriminate against them because we fear them. We want them to feel okay, so we don't challenge them to rise to their occasion. This goes all the way back to grade school. They don't learn what they need to, but we feel bad about them getting held back, so we move them along. They come here from Mexico, and instead of giving them instruction in their own language and teaching them English and making sure they learn it well enough, we move them into mainstream classes where they don't understand the teacher (this has happened to me more than once). We don't want to make special ed. kids feel bad by isolating them, so we mainstream them as well, even though teachers have no training on how to deal with them and therefore sell them short (another thing that has happened to every teacher I know). This, as far as I can tell, damages their self-esteem even more than if they are separated out, because they ultimately learn very little. But we don't have the funds to properly educate the non-English speakers or the special ed. kids, so we claim we have to mainstream them in the name of equality. It doesn't do anything for them, but who cares? Here in Arizona we have the AIMS test, which is a standardized test that every student will have to pass to graduate starting next year. They instituted it a few years ago, and many teachers rebelled against it, because it was so much teaching to the standards and killed creativity in teaching. Well, it tests stuff like reading and writing and math, so any teacher should be able to do a little toward helping the kids pass the test, but the state panicked when most of their students failed it (and failed it and failed it on multiple retakings). So instead of demanding that the kids get better, they have dumbed it down. I don't like the AIMS test, but if you're going to do it, make it hard and stick to your guns. If some snotty rich kid in Scottsdale doesn't graduate and his parents sue the state, so be it. It will work eventually, but everyone these days wants a quick fix, and so we panic. That's another thing these kids learn - if something difficult, eventually someone will make it easier for them, because we don't want anyone to feel bad.

I don't know what the solution is. Thomas mentioned a while back that he's in favor of school vouchers, and I vehemently disagreed. It's not that I object to the idea of competition among schools, it's just that, as I mentioned above, competition culls the weakest from the herd, and in education, we should be looking out for the weakest. Vouchers wouldn't work because if you give most of our kids the opportunity to go to a private school, after a day they would be out for poor behavior. If some managed to stick around because they're well behaved, they would be gone the minute they were given a test, because they would be so far behind the school would realize it's pointless to continue. Also, vouchers imply that some schools are beyond redemption, and we should be working to improve schools, not drive them out of business. We need schools to create a sense of community, and if every kid on a street is going to a different school, each far away from the other, we lose that. It's a different situation, but when I went to high school (I graduated in 1989, in what seems like a millennium ago), we had the public school and a Catholic one (there were other private schools, but not many). Everyone went to one of those two. I hung out with a wide variety of different kinds of kids, from the choir and band geeks (I sung in the choir because I RULE!) to the jocks and cheerleaders (I was close to a particularly hot cheerleader, but because in high school I wasn't terribly confident, I never did anything about it - so stupid!) to the stoners (most of whom I knew from elementary school), because we all went to the same school and took some of the same classes (obviously, there were different levels of difficulty, but we were thrown together in some of the classes). It fostered a great sense of community and school spirit, and although it was a big school (my graduating class has 632 kids), it felt like we were all in it together. When our principal got annoyed with us and told us we didn't bathe (I'm totally serious), we all banded together and hooted at him, despite the fact that the bathers (of which I was one) often did get annoyed with the non-bathers (of which there were more than you'd think). I would never want to go back to high school, but it was a great experience. For most of the students I have taught these days, high school is an ordeal. It just isn't important to them, what with the fact that they have children to feed, jobs to go to, drive-by shootings to avoid, friends' funerals to attend, and abusive parents to escape. A high school education is way down on that list.

Like I said, I don't know what the solution is. I do know that we as Americans simply don't take education seriously. We think, "Well, everything was great when I went to school, so these kids should just shut up and learn," or "I never got an education, and I did okay, so what's the problem?" Well, as Bill Gates said, we're teaching these kids with models from 50 years ago. I don't totally buy into the touchy-feely crap that passes for educational teaching these days, but I do admit that these kids are dealing with things we could never imagine. Dismissing them because they act like jerks is just as bad as coming down on them with every form of discipline we can think of. We need new ways of dealing with today's students, we need more money in education, we need to stop treating schools like businesses, we need to make these kids more accountable, and we need to understand that this is a serious problem. We can't fix everything - the parents, for instance, are still going to do what they want, whether or not the schools are better - but we can make things better. It will take sacrifices, and in Bush's America, "sacrifice" is almost as dirty a word as "liberal," but it needs to be done. Without hyperbole, the future of the country depends on it.


Holy crap! It's more reviews of CDs!

Well, I figured, since Chris "Lefty" Brown has fired up another round of CD exchanging, I should try to finish checking out the ones I already got. I've been listening to nothing but the scads of CD goodness I received from all these varied bloggers, and I may have a handle on some more of them. Let's check them out:

First up, Johnny Bacardi and his "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag Mix or Captain Electric Strikes Back." (This is one reason why mine isn't as cool as the others - they all have cool names on theirs.) It's a good mix, but it's kind of strange - Johnny isn't that much older than I am, but it seems like he's from a whole different generation, musically-wise. That's not a knock, it's just a strange observation on my part. He's got a bunch of stuff from the Sixties, man! I really like the opening track, The Orange County Lumber Truck by good ol' Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. It's a nice way to kick everything off. There's a nice T. Rex song, King of the Mountain Cometh, and the beautiful Glastonbury Song by The Waterboys, or, as I call them, the band that Karl Wallinger was in before he went off and formed World Party. I really like It's All Too Much by Steve Hillage, someone I'd never heard of. Baby's In Black by some group called the Beatles, and it's not bad, but I have decided that I don't get the Beatles. I like them, and they're a good band, but I think they're kind of a "You had to be there" thing. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band have a nice little tune, Long Neck Bottles, and I really liked Bob Dylan's Catfish, even after I listened closely to the words and realized it was about Jim "Catfish" Hunter. Strange. Good song, though. A couple of other tracks stand out - St. Matthew by the Monkees (yes, the Monkees) is a really nice song about, well, a crazy lady, and Joe Henry's Let Me Have It All would be a nice way to end the disc, if Johnny didn't stick a Yoko Ono tune on the end. What a weird chick she is, and although I don't hate I Have A Woman Inside My Soul (duh, Yoko!), I don't love it. All in all, a very good disc that makes me want to take to the streets and protest at some sort of political convention. The Sixties Rule, man!

Next we have the contribution of Mercury X23, who really needs to update his blog more often. I like his disc, but two words come to mind when I'm listening to it: Cowboy Junkies. I dig the Cowboy Junkies, but they often put me to sleep. Mercury's mix is full of good tunes, but they are all rather ... somnolent. The Arcade Fire's Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) is a bit rollicking, and toward the end of the disc we get William Shatner's totally bizarre cover of Common People, but other than that, the disc needs a good kick in the ass. Individually, the songs are strong. See America by Grant-Lee Phillips is a nice tune, as is Chicago by Home. I enjoy El Caminos In The West by Grandaddy, as well as Twentysomething by Jamie Cullum. I have never been a Flaming Lips fan, but Lightning Strikes The Postman isn't a bad song, just kind of typical of why I don't really like them. I won't skip the song when I listen to this mix, because that would be rude, but I won't run out to buy a Flaming Lips CD any time soon. All in all, it's a bunch of good songs, but I would have liked more variety and less jangly guitars. The Shat rules, though.

Dorian's mix is next, and I think he's gay. WE GET IT! (I kid because I love, Dorian!) There's a lot of gay stuff on this disc, and ironically, it's when he's not giving us gay stuff that is mix is weakest. Weird. For instance: Phil Ochs' Pretty Smart On My Part is a fun tune, but I'm not sure I'll ever enjoy it on any more than a novelty level. Peter & Gordon's You've Had Better Times suffers from poor production quality, I have never liked Eartha Kitt, and I Want To Be Evil isn't going to change my mind (and let's face it - Julie Newmar was a much better, and hotter, Catwoman), Pirate Jenny by Nina Simone would, I think, work much better in the context of whatever show it's from, and Harvey Fierstein should NEVER sing (he does Love For Sale here). However, Shirley Bassey's up-tempo, disco-ish take on Hey Big Spender is very neat, Wig In A Box by the Polyphonic Spree is a nice, somewhat sad but also uplifting song, and If You Were Gay from the show Avenue Q is a wonderful parody of Bert and Ernie. I love the Magnetic Fields, and hearing I Thought You Were My Boyfriend from the latest album just makes me want to go out and buy it. Franz Ferdinand is a band that has gotten a lot of press recently, and Michael is a nice introduction to them (for me, at least - no, I haven't heard any of their other stuff, because I don't listen to the radio). The Scissor Sisters' Backwoods Discotheque is a fun song about, well, a backwoods discotheque. And I LOVE Soccer Practice by Johnny McGovern. I just makes me want to go all gay, which I'm sure is Dorian's insidious plot.

Again, there's nothing on these discs that I absolutely hate, and that's cool. These are interesting glimpses into others' psyches, which I suppose is the point. More soon!

Reminder: You only have until Tuesday to enter my free comics contest! I have received some excellent entries, but there's no reason why you shouldn't throw your hat in the ring!

Some dog crapped on my lawn and its owner didn't clean it up

We have lava rocks in the front, so it's not as awful as if we had grass, but it's still annoying. This is one of those things that makes me think of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, when he says it would almost be worth getting his car keyed if he could have caught the guy who did it. I would have loved to catch this person at it. If social conservatives want to do something about the fabric of society being destroyed, they shouldn't concentrate on sexy cheerleading - they should concentrate on throwing people who allow their dogs to crap on other people's lawns without cleaning it up into the camps on Guantanamo. Because when pets crap on other people's lawns and nobody cleans it up, the terrorists have already won.

I apologize for the light blogging this week. End-of-the-year stuff at school, and I have been feeling under the weather. Soon, the content you all know and love will return!


So what's correct? I yearn to know!

Are H(h)eaven and h(H)ell capitalized or not? Is there a consensus? I'm just wondering ...

You only have until Tuesday to enter my contest to win free comic books! How can you resist??? See the details here.


Cast the Jason and the Argonauts remake!

Wouldn't it be cool if someone remade Jason and the Argonauts? It would only work if they actually got Ray Harryhausen to do the glorious stop-motion special effects that made the first one so groovy, not CGI. So who should we cast? Here's the original cast:

Todd Armstrong
Todd Armstrong as Jason: Now that's a tasty dish!

Nancy Kovack
Nancy Kovack as Medea: A true 1960s hottie!

Gary Raymond
Gary Raymond as Prince Acastus: Giving Jason a run for his money in the looks department!

Honor Blackman
Honor Blackman as Hera: Pre-Pussy Galore!

Niall MacGinnis
Niall McGinnis as Zeus: Check out the goofy beard (he's in the middle)!

Nigel Green
Nigel Green as Hercules: Ditching the shirt, Old Man Herc!

Michael Gwynn as Hermes
Douglas Wilmer as Pelias
Laurence Naismith as Argus

There are other cast members, but these are the main ones. What I need from you are new, 21st-century cast members! Oh, the glories that will be ours when we see this movie back on the silver screen! Revenge of the Sith? Speak not to me of overblown melodramatic soap operas about whiny boys with father issues! Speak to me of epic storytelling and quests for a stinky ram's skin! Who would you cast, I ask you? Who is worthy?


Here we are now, entertain us [with links]!

Remember, y'all, in honor of my birthday, I'm giving away not one, but TWO comic book collections! All the details are here. Both of these comics can be enjoyed by non-comics fans, so you have no excuse! (Okay, the old-school Batman might be for geeks, but it's still old-school Batman!) I have received one entry so far, so don't let it be an uncontested contest! What fun would that be?

Another thing: Look deep into the computer screen and sign my GuestMap! The latest entries are Juna (who signed it twice!), Bill, Walker, and Mike Loughlin, who really needs to get himself a web page. Join the cool kids!

Well, it's Sunday, and I'm sure this will be a monster, so I'm starting at 8 in the a.m. Let's see what's out there in cyberspace, shall we? (Lots of Star Wars crap, because of the movie. Sorry if you're not a fan. It's all fun, though, even if you hate the movies.)

If you want to get lots of groovy CDs with crazy music, join up with Chris "Lefty" Brown's CD exchange! It's nifty!

Fun stuff. Because we all need to laugh once in a while.

The first Star Wars link: It's the One Man Star Wars site by Charles Ross. Any Star Wars geek worth his salt has already heard of him, but maybe some of you haven't lived in your parents' basement in a while, so you don't know who he is.

Ah, McSweeney's. What would I do without you? Find out Embarrassing Things That Might Happen To You While Using A Lightsaber.

Ah, senior pranks. Totally worth the three-day suspension. This link courtesy of Dancing the Polka with Miss El Cajon, another fun blog I just found somewhere. Sheesh. More cool junk to read!

Latigo Flint, Quickest Quickdraw in the West, is a fun read. I can't even describe it - just go check it out. Someday I will have time to sit down a read in it chunks.

My old friend Dave, who I've known for well over 20 years but I'm not sure if he counts as a friend anymore because he doesn't read my blog (the nerve!), told me to check out Steve, Don't Eat It! All right, Dave - it's funny. "Normal" stuff that might make you ill.

Bad Star Wars dialogue. Yes, I know it's not real. It could be!

Affirmative action in Star Wars? You be the judge!

Yoda, M.D.

Tom Peyer points out the best dialogue of 2005, from this past week's episode of 24.

Comics stuff. Because we're all geeks deep down inside!

For comics fans, Neal Adams is an icon. He's also a bit of a kook. Read an interview with him, in two parts. Seriously. He's weird.

In case you didn't know yet, Frank Gorshin died on Tuesday. Read about it here. Even if you're not a comic book fan, he's the freakin' Riddler, for crying out loud. Although his brief role in 12 Monkeys was pretty creepy, as well.

I'm sure you're all looking forward to V for Vendetta: the movie! If you're not, why not? Natalie Portman bald, baby! Anyway, Here's a site that analyzes the book.

Top Nine Comic Book Characters I Hate. Well, not me, but this guy. I disagree, but it's still funny.

Political stuff. Because after you laugh, you sometimes have to cry. Sorry - it's the typical left-wing stuff. Don't hate me 'cause I'm liberal!

Insurance companies have gotten Congress to pick up the tab in case of another terrorist attack. Why doesn't stuff like this make for bigger news? All we care about, it seems, is banning sexy cheerleading and gay marriage.

Porn star to dine with President Bush. No, it's not a joke. Yes, Bush considers himself an evangelical Christian. Morals go out the window when there's money involved, people!

I don't know if any of this is true, but here's a list of Republican pedophiles. Disturbing. This comes from Firedoglake.

Arianna Huffington and a bunch of writers have jumped on the blog bandwagon. Pretty good stuff. (And, of course, two days later this parody site went up.)

Bush vows to veto stem-cell legislation. Now, I disagree with that, but whatever - he's the president, he has a "mandate," let him veto it - whenever anyone tries to stop progress they end up on the dungheap of history (note that I don't say "progress" is a good thing, I'm just saying that trying to stop it is like Superman trying to stop a runaway locomotive after he's been exposed to Kryptonite). But this would be the first veto of Bush's presidency! Yes, everything else that has come across his desk has been worthy of his stamp of approval. If you'll pardon the crude analogy, he's like the girl you try to get drunk because she'll let you do anything when she has a few beers in her. If he vetoes this, it will be like that same girl not wanting to have an orgy with three guys even though a menage à trois is okay. This story is all over the place, but I got it from Upon Further Review.

My lovely wife does not like Rick Santorum. Well, let's be honest, he's not very likeable. She also links to this fun site, which gives you information about Pennsylvania's wonderful senator. These people don't like him either. Santorum did apologize, sort of, for comparing Democrats to Nazis.

The government is going to pay for erectile dysfunction drugs. Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen! Catallarchy pointed the way to this. From the same source we get this story about a young Afghan woman who was murdered, more than likely because she had adopted Western ways and played MTV-style music videos. I think two things about this: 1. It sucks that someone is murdered for simply being herself, and whether or not this is part of "Islamic culture" or not, it ain't right. 2. I thought democracy and freedom were all over Afghanistan? Again, we're wasting time in Iraq while the place that spawned Osama bin Laden is still in chaos, elections or not.

Speaking of Bush, I agree with Democracy Arsenal that this is a nice speech by our president. Of course, speeches mean dick if you don't implement things. Also, he's completely changed his tune on "nation-building." Wouldn't that be a flip-flop? Also, he used "forment" when he meant "foment." Sorry - I couldn't resist.

The Disgruntled Chemist links to an "objective" test: Who would make a better president: Bush or a box of Tic-Tacs? By the way, Mr. Chemist, I'm totally serious about what I said when you're in Phoenix. Let me know.

24 is gaining a conservative cult following. It's sad that a really good show that has always been about defending the United States is gaining a right-wing following this year, when the torture is ratcheted up a notch and is bothering me more (I still dig the show, but still ...). This link comes from Comics and Globe Watch, a blog I can't decide whether to like or not. I'm torn!

A Kansas-based evangelical group wants to picket a school because a 12-year-old wrote an award-winning essay about Ellen DeGeneres, who's, you know, not funny (actually, it's because she's gay, but wouldn't my reason be better?). Okay, whatever - that's what evangelical groups do. However, the school is in Boston. Sigh. Jumbotron 6000 pointed this out.

Miscellaneous. Because I can't figure out where to put these!

Everything you've ever wanted to know about English grammar. You know you want to know everything about it, people!

Everything you've ever wanted to know about the Voynich Manuscript. What? You say you nothing about the Voynich Manuscript? Then what are you still doing here? Read!

A boy gets trapped inside a vending machine. At a Wal-Mart, appropriately. Here's the thing: he's 3 years old and it was 3 o'clock in the morning. His mother said he was sick and hadn't been sleeping well. Still - don't take your kid to Wal-Mart at 3 in the morning!

Angry grackles dive bomb workers in Houston! What a great story.

Play rock, paper, scissors against the computer. Weird. Echopraxia linked to this, and I found that blog through Welcome to Blog.

Gunji stopped by here this week, so I'll gladly link to his blog. He has a pretty good one going, and he's very earnest. Click on over!

A grown man gets upset when he can't buy Star Wars crap. This link comes from the Ministry of Information blog.

Do you want to bid on Pope John Paul II's 1975 Ford Escort? Of course you do! Benedict XVI pointed this out, of course.

Want to know what all the evil celebrities are up to? Sure you do! Go here. Snotty fun. The link comes from Balloon Juice.

Harper Lee shows up in public!

Click here to see a naked male butt! It's not exactly hot, however - it's a French safe sex ad. You can use the link provided to see another one. Those French - say what you want about them, but they have some effective advertising.

The female orgasm under the microscope. Fascinating stuff.

Echidne also links to this story, in which a pregnant girl was banned from her Catholic high school graduation because of "safety concerns." Significantly, the father of the child was allowed to attend. Decide what you will about that.

Rock stars should shut up. Always. If Coldplay doesn't like corporations, Coldplay can stop recording for them. Shut up, Chris Martin, and go home and bang your hot wife. The link to the story comes from Fall of the State. (And I like Coldplay, by the way.)

Mutant big cats. From Greg Morrow.

Best review of Revenge of the Sith so far.

Erinberry links to this story about why it's okay for the founder of the World Changers Church International to drive a Rolls-Royce.

Ladies, get your Darth Vader thong. Oh dear.

Dr. Sordid links to I Used to Believe, which is a collection of stuff adults believed when they were kids. Interesting.

Well, there you have it. Enjoy! Waste time! Have fun!


I bought myself a birthday present

Yes, I'm gearing up for my usual Sunday megapost with a bunch of little ones. Today I bought the Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Holy crap, it looks cool. I have read all the Holmes stuff before, and I like it (I'm not a devoted fan or anything), but I really like annotated stuff. I own the Annotated Alice, which has both Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, and I love that volume, so this is going to be fun to read. It's HUGE!

Is this wrong?

I get really jazzed when my car mileage hits a palindrome number. I don't know why. Sure, turning 10000 or 20000 miles is cool, but I dig the palindromes. And today, when it hit 22222 - well, that was nirvana.

Living in hell

I'll try to keep whiny posts about the weather to a minimum over the next five months, but last Sunday we hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the first time this year. This morning I went out at 8.40 and it was already 91. Sigh. The ONLY saving grace of Arizona in the summertime is our pool. Either this weekend or next we will have it all cleaned out and ready to go. We use it at least 5 times a week, and it feels gooooooood. Stupid desert. Stupid "heat islands."


I say it's my birthday, we're gonna have a good time

Well it's official. I'm 34. Not old, not young, not exactly middle-aged - what the hell am I?

Anyway, for my birthday, I thought I'd have another comic book giveaway contest. Yes, I'm writing about comics elsewhere, but I know at least one reader is not a comic book reader, but she LOVED Scurvy Dogs, so I'm going to tell you about my contest as well, because at least one of the things I'm giving away is for all readers, not just comic book readers.

The first book I'm giving away is Nil: A Land Beyond Belief. If you want to know what it's about, go here. It's savagely funny, beautiful to look at, and just an all-around excellent read. To win, you simply have to tell me the philosophical quote that best sums up your life. So if, like Nietzsche, you believe "Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies," then send it along. Or if your life can be summed up in the immortal words of Mr. Cobain: "With the lights out, it's less dangerous, here we are now, entertain us," well then, who's to say that's not philosophical? The best quote wins the prize!

Next, I'm giving away The Batman Chronicles, which has the first bunch of Batman comics from the 1930s in chronological order. It's a great project from DC, and I was kind of mean to it here, it was all out of L-U-V! These are truly essential comics, and come on, it's free! All you have to do is tell me why you deserve it in your most overwrought Golden Age or Silver Age language. Those people back in the 1930s-1960s sure did talk funny! Here's an example from The Batman Chronicles: "The Batman, weird figure of darkness, again prowls forth to strike another blow against crime ..." or, just as good: "Soon your Julie will be as we are - werewolves to ravish on all living men - and you shall be dead - helpless to avenge her!" If your tastes run more to early 1960s-Marvel stylings, here's something from Amazing Spider-Man #15: "Wrong, my boastful foe! They'll even hold a hunger-mad tiger - but my fists will do the rest! Wha -? Where'd you go?" Oh, that wacky Kraven! Or how about the Vulture: "Your flippancy is wasted on me, Spider-Man! You're just whistling in the dark! I know an icy fear must be gripping your heart right now!" You get the idea!

If you're interested, e-mail me you entries. You can vie for both if you want! I will accept entries until the end of the month, so you have a little less than two weeks to come up with something. Excelsior!


More compact disc goodness!

Well, I have been listening to all of my new mix CDs, and trying to post some thoughts about it, and Mr. Lefty Brown goes and gets another one going! If you want to participate, go to the link and it will explain it all. It's fun, trust me!

But onward to the ones I already have. Today's quick reviews are threefold.

First up we have the Ringwood Ragemix from Ken Lowery, who I hope isn't as angry as appears, since that's not healthy. Serenity Now, Ken! His musical taste, though: impeccable.

His CD contains several tracks that can only be described as aaaawwwwesome. The first four blow me away: Will You Smile Again by ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Burn The Witch by Queens of the Stone Age, Metal Heart by Garbage, and Unbroken (Hotel Baby) by Monster Magnet. I've always heard decent things about the first three bands, but never got around to buying any of their stuff. I might have to now. The mix continues with less excellent, but still strong tunes until the 8th track, which is Harelip by Tomahawk. It's a good song, but if it's not by ex-members of Faith No More I'll eat my hat. Can anyone help me out? Ken follows it up with Speaking In Tongues by the Eagles of Death Metal, which is surprisingly bouncy and un-death metal-like. The only thing I didn't like on the mix was the comedy stylings of Bill Hicks, which follows this song. I hate Rush Limbaugh as much as the next guy, but the humor was just ... too icky. Grossing people out isn't necessarily funny. A couple of okay songs follow by Elastica and Gorillaz, and then Nick Cave and his Bad Seeds weigh in with The Curse Of Millhaven, which isn't exactly fun but I still dig it. The Burden Brothers and Too Much Joy finish the CD, and while there's nothing wrong with the songs, they don't fill me with joy like some of the other stuff on it does. This is a very good mix, and I like playing it LOUD.

Moving on, we have Mike Sterling and his CD of Love. Awwww. This is totally packed with tunes (28 of them) and therefore there's some potential for not-as-good songs to sneak in there, but not many do. There are a few that I'm not wild about, but nothing that makes me want to gouge my ears out with a spoon. The highlights: Johnny Q by the Crazy 8s, which is a great song by a Portland band, the greatest hits of whom I own, so I actually had the song before it showed up here. It's a fun, boppy, brassy tune with lots of horns - you can't go wrong with horns! Bad Party by The Tan is a fun little tune, especially because it's about, well, a bad party. I heard 7 Seconds' cover of 99 Red Balloons many years ago (in '88, maybe?) and dug it then, and here it is again! I also love the fact that the lead singer of 7 Seconds is Kevin Seconds! Did his mother know something???? I really like Communist Love Song by Soltero. It's a weird little song with cute lyrics, and it's awesome. Celtic Elvis's She Likes Girls is such a fun tune about, well, lesbianism and it sucks to be a guy sometimes. Science Fiction by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is a clever tune about, hmmm, science fiction. I always enjoy a cover of Prince's Kiss (by Age of Chance), but they always remind of how good the original is. Disintegrated Einstein's Nevermind The Mollusk is a nifty little sort-of rap song that contains the line "He said goodbye to his friends and anenomes" - that just makes the song! I really like the delicate weirdness of the Deadly Nightshade Family Singers and their song The Effects Of Weightlessness In Space - it's like one of those old Victrola recordings from the 1920s, but all mod! The instrumental version of Stairway To Heaven by the Dixie Power Trio is nice (more horns!), but it also reminds me how excellent the original is (yes, it's overplayed, but still excellent). There's some weaker songs, but overall, it's a fascinating look into the mind of Mike Sterling. Ummm, maybe that's not where we want to look.

Before I move on, I will point out that Mike has the coolest band names on his mix. Here are some: Channel 3; Crazy 8s; The Tan; 7 Seconds; Ookla the Monk; All Girl Summer Fun Band; Young Fresh Fellows; Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives (that rules!); Celtic Elvis; Me First and the Gimme Gimmes; Tsunami Bomb; Phooey; Disintegrated Einstein; Victor Banana; The Deadly Nightshade Family Singers. Phew! Good stuff, Mike.

Finally, we have the soundtrack to Couscous Express, which was brought to us by the venerable Larry Young. I have checked out the book here (it's there, trust me), so now I will check out the CD!

It's good. I'm not sure if it's something that fits the book perfectly (it's the "soundtrack," after all), because some of the stuff is too old-school for a young punk like Olive, but the music is good. As befits a soundtrack, I also thought there were too many instrumentals on it, especially the three straight in the middle of the disc. It's not that they're bad songs, it's just that they're all stacked together. A minor quibble. There's a lot of good music on the disc, including fun punk stuff from Murphy's Law (How To Start A Fight, a great way to start the CD), Sick Of It All (Step Down - and how fun to hear Sick Of It All again - it takes me back to my college days ...), Dropkick Murphys (The Gauntlet), The Offspring (She's Got Issues - I'm not the biggest Offspring fan, but they're fun in small quantities), and Circle Jerks (Wild In The Streets - see my comment on The Offspring), while he throws in a bunch of reggae as well. Reggae is not my total cup of tea, but again, in small quantities I dig it, and here it's fine and dandy. My favorite song on the CD is probably Lovely Day by Bill Withers - what a nice song. This is a cool blend of fast stuff and funky stuff.

Man, what a lot of good music I get to listen to these days. I've been reading some of the other reviews, and I can't decide if I'm a wuss or scared that the other bloggers are going to come to my house and beat me up or what, but so far, there's nothing on any of these CDs that I really hate. There's some stuff I'm not gaga over, but everything is either brilliant or at least solid listening. And soon I'll have more. Sheesh.


What I've been reading

I have a lot on my mind. I really like blogging, because you must read my sick, twisted thoughts! And I have a lot of them right now!

Anyway, I've just finished TWO books, so this will be a double feature. Can you stand the excitement!?!?!?

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
My copy is 425 pages, and this sucker was published in, what, 1817?

I had never read Ivanhoe before this, because "classic" literature usually acts as a soporific on me, and this is almost 200 years old, so it counts as "classic." Actually, I've always wanted to catch up on my "classic" reading, and this is a nice place to go if you're in the mood for rousing adventure yarns. Basically, it's a Robin Hood story, although Mr. Hood is in no way the main character. He's just there to keep the feeling of a Robin Hood story, as is the wayward monarch Richard Couer-de-Lion, who spends most of the book in disguise, Prince John, who shows up early on but doesn't stay (he apparently had people elsewhere in England to tyrannize), and Friar Tuck (who's a HUGE dick in this book) and Allan-a-Dale. All the familiars are there, but they remain on the fringes. The book uses them to frame the adventure, but it's not about them.

So what is the book about? Well, let me tell you, it ain't about Ivanhoe (or Wilfrid, to give his real name - Ivanhoe is where he's from). I was amazed that he does so little throughout this book, even though his name's on the cover. It's like calling Star Wars (I refuse to call it A New Hope, damnit!) The Adventures of Biggs. It just doesn't make any sense! Sure, Ivanhoe fights in the tournament organized by John. Sure, he wins. But in the process he gets injured and spends most of the rest of the book recovering, missing out on the big assault on Front-de-Boeuf's castle. At the very end, he rescues Rebecca (more on her in a minute), but it's not like he wins a great battle - the Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert simply dies! Ivanhoe is one of the most ineffectual heroes in literature!

I can't even tell you who the main character is, unless it's Elizabeth Taylor (I mean Rebecca). Even that's pushing it. In fact, the main character may be Brian de Bois-Guilbert, and he's a villain! Scott is very careful to give all the many characters a lot of page time, and it makes it difficult to know exactly who the hero of the piece is. I don't really care, but it's interesting to read something, especially from a time period when we think of literature as demanding a hero, and not get one. It makes the book a much more mature work of literature and far more fascinating to read.

All the high chivalric adventure is only window-dressing, however, for the two main points about the book, which are, in many ways, connected. The first conflict Scott brings up in the book is the conflict between Saxon and Norman. This was very relevant in English history for centuries after the Norman invasion of 1066, and Scott uses it nicely to point out the rifts in English society. He gets his timeline screwed up in a few places, as the book takes place in 1194 and therefore well over a century has passed since the Normans took over, but certain characters refer to it as if it happened only a few decades before. I'll let that go, however, because the basic conflict is still pertinent. England in the 12th century was a conquered nation, and its people were still upset about it. The Norman aristocracy made very little effort to assimilate into Saxon society, and as the Saxons outnumbered the Normans and thought that they had lost at Hastings simply out of bad luck, this was a precarious position for the Normans to be in. Their hold on the crown was legal only through force of arms, and the resentment against their rule simmered just under the surface of Saxon society. As in most medieval societies, when the king was strong and just tensions eased, but when the king was weak, everything came to a boil. This is evident from English history, as the weak king Stephen presided over a horrible civil war in the 1130s and '40s before he finally allowed the Angevins beginning with Henry II to take over, and it's evident in Scott's book, because the "rightful" king Richard has been in Palestine fighting in the Crusades and then locked away in the Duke of Austria's dungeon. Prince John, one of the poorer kings in English history, is running the country as regent and plotting to take over. In this atmosphere, the Saxons saw their chance to restore the line of Edward the Confessor (who died in 1066 prior to the Norman invasion and may have promised the crown to two different people, which led to the invasion), a line embodied in Athelstane, a Saxon noble. Cedric the Saxon, another principal character, sees his chance to marry his ward, Rowena, to Athelstane and unite the two greatest Saxon families. Rowena has the hots for Cedric's son, Ivanhoe, which is the main cause of conflict between father and son. The political machinations of Cedric are some of the most interesting sections of the book, especially when he finds out that Richard has returned. Initially, he refuses to swear allegiance to the king, until Athelstane (who in the course of the book has an almost comic-book-like return from the dead) rejects Rowena and Cedric's plans turn to crap. This tension between the natives of England and their overlords is unlike what we see in normal adventure stories, and adds heft to it. As Scott points out, eventually the two cultures merged to form what we call "English," but it took a while - I believe Richard II (1377-1399) was the first monarch since the Conquest who spoke only English.

Another major plot point and the most interesting part of the book is Scott's examination of Jews in England. Rebecca and her father Isaac are major players in the book, and their plight forms the bulk of the narrative as well as the bulk of the social commentary Scott makes about the period. I have no idea if Scott was Jewish, but his sympathies clearly lie with them, even if he doesn't always portray the Jews (well, Isaac - Rebecca is a saint) positively. Jews in the Middle Ages were of course treated poorly, despite (or more likely because of) the fact that they were vital to the kings and nobility because of their lending abilities. The Catholic Church, in one of the dumber decisions it made, decreed that Christians could not lend money at interest. The only people who could, then, were Jews, since Jews were effectively banned from any other business. Since nobody likes a moneylender (when was the last time you sent a Christmas card to your credit card company?), everybody hated Jews. Since Jews had no rights, the debt could be cancelled whenever the king was in a bad mood. Since Jews obviously practiced witchcraft and feasted on human babies, Rebecca could be condemned to death because Brian de Bois-Guilbert abducted her with the intention of having crazy monkey sex with her. He's obviously bewitched, people! What's fascinating is that Scott does not make the heroes of the book any more enlightened than they would be in 1194. Ivanhoe rescues Rebecca, sure, but there's no chance he ditches the pretty and somewhat vacuous Rowena for the pretty and obviously brilliant Rebecca, which would be a much better match. Friar Tuck hates Isaac, Richard treats him with some contempt, and the other characters mock him, sometimes gently, sometimes not. Despite that, we understand that these characters are trying to treat Isaac like a human being, but they can't completely escape their programming. It's a very interesting take on what being a hero means. When we read more simplistic tales of Robin Hood, the author either ignores the Jewish question or makes Robin Hood a sensitive, 20th-century liberal kind of guy (I'm looking at you, Kevin Costner). I understand that some people are having the same problem with Kingdom of Heaven - Legolas goes all ultra-sensitive with the Muslims (that's a different story, however, and one I really don't have too much of an issue with, something I will address if I see the movie this weekend as planned). Where was I? Oh yes - the Christians in the story don't overcome their prejudices, but you see them struggling with them, and that makes them more real. Isaac himself struggles with his prejudices, and Scott makes him, occasionally, a stereotypical Jew - concerned only with money. But it's clear that this is the only option left to him sometimes, and despite his love for his daughter, he has to think of the future as well. It's surprisingly touching and completely believable. Unlike many adventure tales, these are three-dimensional characters, and not everything they do works or works the way they think it will.

Ivanhoe is a genuinely interesting book about more than swords and knights and the return of kings. By setting his book in the past, Scott can comment on the society without incurring the wrath of his contemporaries. However, one gets the feeling he is commenting on English society in the Georgian Age. Certainly Jews were better treated in the 19th century than the 12th, but there was still a prejudice, to the extent that Benjamin Disraeli, later on in the century, suppressed his Judaism for the sake of the country (I think - I could be wrong, but I seem to remember reading about it). The centuries-old tension between British and French had not cooled by the 19th century, and Scott's veiled nationalistic tone is a balm for the English in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. So Scott is writing a Robin Hood story with societal and religious undertones that criticizes English society in two different time periods but also uplifts the English spirit in the face of adversity. What do you know about that? It's a fun book - you could do a lot worse than seek it out and read it.

I finished Ivanhoe on Saturday. I dove right into my next book, for which I went out of alphabetical turn! Oh, that crazy Greg! Actually, I went out of turn for a simple reason: the next book was short, and it took me about an hour to read, and it was a gift from one of the two cool people involved with it (and the other said it would have been a gift from her except the first was too quick). So thanks, Larry! (Of course, I fear to give it a bad review, since both Larry and Danielle are cool people and, more to the point, could kick my ass individually or teamed up. I will do my best to be honest, though.)

Tales from Fish Camp by Danielle Henderson
128 pages, 2004, AiT/Planet Lar

The lovely and talented Danielle Henderson decided (foolishly, I think) to work at a fish camp in deepest, darkest Alaska one day. An impetuous decision turned into comic gold for the rest of us, because she dashed off this quick read and illuminated all of the rest of us who either thought about going to Alaska for the summer or knew someone who did (I never thought about, because I knew others who did and feared for my pampered, spoiled life). Sorry, Danielle, as much as you loved it, this is really a funny horror story. Ms. Henderson blazes through a few months of working 16-hour shifts, drinking all night, sleeping for three hours, waking up still drunk, and doing it all over again. It's manic and crazy and very funny, although not always in a laugh-out-loud kind of way (there's that, too - see Danielle freak out in the presence of bears!). The strength of the book is in the observations of how these people live their lives - it's an alien way of life to most of us, yet Danielle, in a few well-timed observances and a few well-turned phrases, makes us care about a good-sized cast of characters and also gives us great insight into their personalities. I actually wanted the book to be longer - there's great potential here for a comic masterpiece with touches of Steinbeck and real social commentary thrown in - I'm totally serious about that. The biggest problem I had with the book is the lack of complete emotional involvement in the characters or the work - yes, they're real people, but real people who live on the edge and do a lot of drinking, which is fun to read about, but leaves me feeling a bit empty. I know, from reading Danielle's blog, that she's funny and a keen observer of the human condition and can write with penetrating insight, and it would have been nice to see that here. It's a minor complaint, since the book is, after all, a quick shot about the craziness of fish camp and the kind of people it attracts, but like I said, it would have been interesting to see more.

This is a fun book. It's 10 dollars, people, which is less than I just paid for volume 1 of the Fantastic Four Essentials! There's no reason for you not to buy it and find out about a weird little sector of the American work force that you never hear about. I command it!


Help me, Obi-Wan Burgas! Your links are our only hope!

You know I have to pimp my GuestMap! Sara is the latest to sign it, so don't get left behind! More on Sara later ...

I have received a few good recipes from you guys, but apparently the rest of you are living on ramen noodles and peanut butter. If you have any good recipes, let me know!

Oh, and go by Roxy's blog and wish her a Happy 30th Birthday! She feels old.

Funny stuff on the Internets.

Tom the Dog recently linked to the Ultimate Ninja Page. Fun stuff. It plays loud, cheesy music when you get to it, so be warned! One fact about ninjas: their purpose is to flip out and kill people.

Pope Benedict XVI is thinking about developing a video game.

A while back I linked to kitty porn, and now ... Kitten War! Gordon pointed this out, but he got it from the Incredible Hulk.

Michael Jackson cruises for youngsters! I'm surprised we haven't seen something like this sooner.

The Disgruntled Chemist links to the SAT of the future ("created" in conjunction with the Kansas and Texas public school systems). Not for the faint of heart!

The effects of Florida's new "Stand Your Ground" law.

The latest list of 5 things has "Five most punchable characters in Pretty In Pink."

Goin' Ape gives us a link to one of the best headlines you'll see in a while. It doesn't even matter if you read the story; the headline says it all.

Thomas examines the mind of Katie Holmes. Then he links to the most disturbing PSA in history. If it's true, we should all be very sad. But he dropped the ball on the Ann Coulter at UT story (see below). What's up with that, Thomas?

Jon learns what Leo Getz learned in the (edited) version of Lethal Weapon 2: "They [freak] you at the drive-through!"

A funny review of Alone in the Dark (which you all saw, right?)

Ten things people won't say when they see a Christian bumper sticker or fish on a car. Via the Slacktivist.

Layne shows you how to make your own church sign. Funny stuff.

Funny Photoshopped pictures. Dr. Doom links to this!

Tom Spurgeon tells us ten reasons why he won't be seeing the new Star Wars movie. On another note, is anyone else bothered by the fact that the M&Ms are considering going over to the Dark Side and Yoda is using the Force to steal food? Just wondering.

Dr. Sordid links to a site with movie reviews in haiku. Here it is! Curiously, I link to these guys below, too!

Comics stuff. Because I still love the comics!

Heidi McDonald talks about the sales figures for comics from 1940-1960. Staggering.

Heidi also links to the soon-to-be-legendary Punisher/Hostess Fruit Pies parody by Patton Oswalt that was killed by Marvel lawyers. Not for the squeamish, but it is stinkin' funny.

Kevin talks about The Green Team, a comic from 1975. This sounds truly awful. Yet, in a weird way, compelling. In an awful sort of way.

Speaking of bad comics, how about this one? Holy crap, this looks bad.

ChaosMonkey talks about a comic he shouldn't own. It's Supreme, from back when Image was a sucky company.

Natalie Portman goes bald for her role in V for Vendetta. The movie will suck regardless.

The always crazy John Byrne weighs in on Miracleman. I love Byrne - he's nuts.

Everybody loves Kang, right? Of course they do!

Rose is taking a break. Get well soon, Rose!

Politics. Because you need to know about the politics!

This is a really interesting article about the lessons we didn't learn in Vietnam. It's from a left-wing perspective, so it's not that cheery, but it highlights again a major failing of this administration: the lack of knowledge of history (either deliberately or not), a charge that could conceivably be leveled at many Americans. It's a shame that we don't want to learn history. History teaches us many things.

Was Jesus gay? Boy, wouldn't that be fun?

A group of high-schoolers refuse to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance when it's read in Arabic. Nice to know that we continue to teach hatred to our children.

Bill Frist encounters things he didn't expect on a simple shoe-buying expedition!

ABC News: Not interested in covering the Iraq War! Then they apologized. Is it any wonder I get my news from Jon Stewart and Steven Grant?

A prominent Bush appointee to the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs in the Food and Drug Administration is accused by his wife of raping her. I don't want to sound gleeful about the hypocrisy (Dr. Hager is, of course, a good Christian), but I do want to point out, once again, the fact that no one in this administration is accountable to anything.

The religious right in Oregon makes the case FOR gay rights. Huh? It's true!

A college student in Texas gets arrested for saying a naughty word in Ann Coulter's general direction. Ladies and gentlemen, the United States of America. This is via Alphonse van Worden.

Krys is having fun with using images to make her point. Check her out! She's smarter than I am!

Here's an interesting essay about Pat Buchanan and his stupid ideas about World War II. Here's Buchanan's original column. He's an idiot, but unfortunately, people take him seriously, which makes him the worst kind of idiot.

Is Zell Miller on crack? You be the judge! Caliban has added me to his (her?) list of links, too, for which I thank him (her?). I don't know where he (she?) discovered me, but thanks.

Democratic administrations are better at running the country's economy than Republican ones. This link via Greg Morrow.

Miscellaneous. Because it's where all the cool kids go!

May is National Masturbation Month. Bet you didn't know that! Read a funny article about, well, pleasuring yourself.

An interesting article about why people like strict churches.

It's a ranking of movie villains! Because you have nothing better to do.

Dave Chappelle talks about why he's in South Africa. It's sad that a comedian can speak more eloquently about religion than our politicians. This link is via Andrew Sullivan.

The Doorman wonders if he's racist. Interesting.

If you've always wanted to read Dracula but never got around to it, you can now read it as a blog. It's an interesting idea, especially because the novel is written like a journal and letters and other stuff that is conducive to blogs. Sam Costello at Dark, But Shining pointed this out.

Does abortion really reduce crime?

A Utah biology teacher dissects a dog while it's still alive! That's just weird. The link comes from Heretical Ideas, which also links to this site, where you can buy your Bush Jesus fish. Don't you wish I was kidding.

Speaking of Sara (and I was, way back at the beginning of this post), she was apparently a little lonely last week. Wow. Totally inappropriate for children, in case you're wondering. I would never do this, but it's fiercely courageous, I think. Wow.

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

Congratulations! If your mission in life
is not already to preserve the English tongue,
it should be. You can smell a grammatical
inaccuracy from fifty yards. Your speech is
revered by the underlings, though some may
blaspheme and call you a snob. They're just
jealous. Go out there and change the world.

How grammatically correct are you? (Revised with answer key)
brought to you by Quizilla

(This quiz is linked to by Erin, whose blog is another that's consistently entertaining.)

There's some cheesecake pictures here, so if you don't like that sort of thing, don't go here, but I just found the fact that this motion picture exists just, well, truly bizarre. Only in Japan!

Woody thinks I hate him because he tagged me with that meme thing. How silly. Where will I get my off-season Cincinnati football information if not for Woody?

Sleeping together is for suckers! My wife would probably agree.

Want to see pictures of abandoned places? Sure you do! Go here. Some are seriously creepy. This is courtesy of Welcome to Blog.

Laura Gjovaag links to an unusual ultrasound that Warren Ellis found.

I'm not fishing for comments, but do you guys actually click on these links, or at least some of them? I had other things to do today, so I wasn't doing this the whole time, but this took me pretty much all day. I love providing a public service for y'all, but man, this is hard work (well, "work" in the sitting on my ass kind of way, not in the heavy lifting or, you know, productive kind of way) and if you guys don't care, I'll do other things. I know some of you dig this, but does anyone else? Just wondering.

Our house is almost completely painted (the interior, that is)! Yippee! I also finished a book yesterday, so next time, I'll bore you with the details! Can you stand the suspense????