Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Les Miserables or Can Hugh Jackman Sing?

I have a confession to make.  My favorite musical of all times is unquestionably Les Miserables.  I have seen it four times on stage. The first was a presentation shortly after it went on the road from Broadway.  It was there in the Denver Auditorium Theater that I first experienced the show.  It was astonishing and the music incredible, especially the leads of Jean Valjean and Javert.  What incredible voices the stage version took.

I next saw it on Broadway.  The show was nearing the end of its original run and in all honesty the performance was stale and flat.  And so to remove the taste of that version, I once again went to see the show in Denver at the Temple Buell.  I needed to get the vision and sound of the Broadway version out of my head.  Again I was moved and astounded by the strength of voice and story.  Melodrama? Certainly.  The play is nothing but the best kind of melodrama.

A year ago or so, I saw the newly staged version of the show.  Again astonishing in performance but now it had an amazing new sets and effects.  The show had replaced the old style 80's effects and heavy sets with new computer controlled projections and lighting.

Fact is I have always loved this story and this show and so the movie adaptation was a worry.  I worried about the approach but more importantly I worried about the cast.  Hugh Jackman, who has amply proved his musical chops in his Tony Award winning role Boy From Oz and Oklahoma on Broadway was to be Jean Valjean.  Then there was the other central role, Javert, who is played by Russel Crowe who apparently did musical theatre before he became famous.  Finally there are other central characters- Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the clowns Thénardiers, Master of the House and Mrs both of whom appeared in Sweeny Todd. There is Marius, played by Broadway vetran and Tony Award winner, Eddie Redmayne.  Cosette is sung by Amanda Seyfried who has done mostly film and the film version of Mama Mia, and Éponine by Samantha Barks who has done the role on stage. The child Gavroche played by Daniel Huttlestone.  Marius' best friend,Enjolras, is sung by Aaron Tveit, another Broadway veteran, and  the Bishop is sung by the original Jean Valjean, Colm Wilkinson.  And, of course, Fantine is played by Anne Hathaway.

The movie is in your face with incredible closeup of the singers as they belted out their songs. It is also marked by director Tom Hooper's decision to go with hyper-realism in it's presentation.  For the record, the original stage production boasted costumes so realistically constructed that even parts never seen by the audience were accurate down to the buttons. So realism for the show was not a new idea, but the shooting of the film was very "in your face" and it was to say the least effective as was the grittiness of the seamier side of France.

The cast choices are another thing.  The Broadway folk were obvious and the skills of the actors honed.  That said, Anne Hathaway steals the show.  Her performance is dynamic and moving as the wronged and dying Fantine.  It was also a pleasant surprise to see the original Valjean, Colm Wilkinson, who many believe was the quintessential Valjean, worked into the movie as the kindly Bishop that buys Valjean's soul for God. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter also work well if a bit understated at times.  Hugh Jackman is no Valjean in singing voice.  He does well and his acting talent allows him to carry the role.  While not having a voice like Wilkinson, Jackman still moves us as Valjean.  Crowe is by far the weakest of the cast.  His acting is good, but the problem is while physically right to play the Javert, who sees the world only in terms of black and white - wrong and right - Crowe simply does not have the commanding voice required of the antagonist.  It was obvious for those who know the show that some of the music had been tempered for Crowe's lack of a stronger singing range.

The supporting cast helps  to carry the movie. Marius, Cosette, Éponine, Enjolras all do well.  The character of Gavroche by Daniel Huttlestone is one of the better versions of the street urchin I've seen.  Overall, the chorus from Convicts to Students to Lovely Ladies, all help to bring the movie life.

Could it have been a better movie?  Undoubtedly. Am I going to run out and buy the soundtrack? Probably not, but I will buy the DVD.  Is it good movie making? It is.  It is moving and broad in its substantial scope.  It has strong emotional values and the big spectacle of a big musical.  Cast could be stronger, but in all honesty, I found myself wiping away the tears in the dark of the theater.  I was involved and drawn in to this show as I had been drawn in when I saw it the first time. I was moved. Even the addition of a new song worked well enough.  It was better than the Broadway show I'd seen in its intensity.  What can I say, despite the drawbacks of some of the casting decisions...

I liked it and I recommend it. Go see it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Believe

Merry Christmas

Every year, my wife's second graders begin to get wound up for Christmas.  They are at that age when a few are just beginning to question about this Santa fellow.  Every year they ask Mrs. Travis what she thinks and she tells them -

My father believed in Santa.  He was a very big and very old man and he always believed.  Now do you think if a grown man like that believed, that he would be wrong?

Each time I think of this story it reminds me of the wonder of Christmas and the wonder of that simple innocence we find in a child. They believe and is there any reason that adults shouldn't? So with that in mind, I thought I would reprint the most famous letter about Santa ever written. It was the letter to The Sun by Virginia O'Hanlon. The editorial of Francis Church has become the most reprinted editorial in part or in whole that has ever been written. I thought perhaps you might like to read it, Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus.

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


"VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

       ~Francis Pharcellus Church

With a response like that and when children look into your eyes, how can you not believe?


Friday, December 21, 2012

It's December 21st...the End is Nigh..

It is December 21st. I have my umbrella and still no meteors or solar flairs or sudden shifts in the magnetic poles.  No sudden end and yet there are people who have given away or sold everything and moved to a mountain in France.  

Let's face it folks....people are silly and some are more silly than others.  Mayans?  Nostradamus?  Christopher Columbus?   Isaac Newton? In short the list of those who have pronounced our end are numerous and even a few are not psychics or based on a calendar for a dead civilization.  If you want a list try this one on Wikipedia.  The fact is that some one thinks the Apocalypse is about to happen every couple of years.  There was Y2K in 1999 and Harold Camping just a little over a year ago.  For those of you with your tin foil hats moving to Turkey, another safe haven, ...I hope you didn't give it all away.  For several, it may just be a time for party or  a time for reflection or at least give us the opportunity to giggle a bit.

Here's a thought...wouldn't the Mayans had at least got their own demise right if they were so good a predicting things or maybe even avoided it if they had predicted it?  If they did! talk about fatalists. Of course they could have just been picked up by the gods from outer space...but that is a different rant.

Well if it doesn't end today, there is always psychic Jean Dixon's prediction of 2020-2037 (seems she hedges her bets a bit). 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Yet Another Divisive Meme

Today's blog will be brief. On the day of the Newtown tragedy I pondered on Facebook how long before pro-gun and anti-gun memes made it into my time line?  I pondered how long it would be before someone found a way to blame the school? The answer to my question...not long. Within hours, both had found their way onto Facebook and news sites.

I've already blogged about the serious conversation we need to have about guns in this country and have talked with friends, both pro and anti gun, about it.  So I am not going to go into  that now.   I've now seen this divisive and horrible idea for a meme twice. This is the meme that caught my attention.

The answer to the question above:


A sign will not prevent violence nor will this meme.  Only rational thought and conversation will begin to solve the problem.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Not Your Father's Hobbit

I first read the The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in the early 1970's, I think.  The history of the arrival of those books is something of lore and I am not going to find out if it is true.  The books, it is said, first came from England courtesy of college students who brought the master works back with them.  For me, The Hobbit was the children's story for those not old enough to understand the three books of The Lord of the Rings.  It was in my mind the cartoon and the trilogy the master work.  To a degree, it is still true.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey though may change all that for a generation of movie goers.  While still containing much of the simple humor such as the invention of golf and riddles and songs of the original story, it is also as a movie a much more grown-up version.  Certainly, Peter Jackson has an advantage that those of us starving for epic fantasy in the 1960's and 70's didn't.  We didn't know how much of Bilbo's adventures would eventually relate to Frodo's adventures.  There is little doubt that Jackson, determined to use material and notes from both, has expanded the scope of  the original story.  He also cleverly uses things like parallel scenes in Unexpected Journey and from Rings. I didn't realize how well the two parallel. Add to this the additional stories from other sources, we see that, as far as Jackson is concerned, The Hobbit really should be the fourth book of the series and not just a loosely related story of how the ring came to Frodo.

While others may not agree with this idea because the books really do remain stylistically different, the movies are pushing the epic levels of that which came before.  The question remains though is the scope of Jackson's film going to match the epic capturing and alter film making at its scope, that his Lord of the Rings trilogy did.  Something magical happened with the original three and it is a difficult task to capture that magic -- that lightening in the bottle, if you will -- again.  Lucas learned this with his second Star Wars trilogy and most sequels have this issue.  I liked The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and while I was a little concerned about Jackson's intention to expand the book to include new material, I am pleased that he actually took it up a notch.  Is it different than his Lord of the Rings? No, at least not in the first release, but it is well worth the time and the money.  Jackson has moved beyond the children's version and created a true prequel that is clever and well cast and not your father's -- not my -- Hobbit.

*By the way, I went to see it in IMAX 3D with the new 48 per second frames.  I really didn't notice a difference in the detail, but the expanse of the movie and the 3Dworks well.  I was also in full geek mode because if you choose that option you get a special IMAX short - eight minutes from the next Star Trek: Into Darkness.  It looks good.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Putting God back in...


Two things sparked this particular rant. The first was a meme that had a student writing a letter asking God why he allowed such violence in our schools and God replied saying he wasn't allowed in schools. The second was a conversation my wife had when her mom was told all this violence happened when we took God out of schools. Both came with in hours of the tragedy in Newtown.

The first, the meme, I find so offensive on so many levels, I don't know where to begin.  If God is all powerful and He wanted in a school, do you honestly think we puny mortals could stop Him? Next, biblically speaking, God does not cause or stop violence.  He gave man a little thing called free choice.  Man chooses violence. Man chooses to let it continue. Then there is the little problem that schools are still one of the safest places in public life and this meme implies that violence is rampant.  It isn't.  This meme is designed to create fear and offers a solution that never existed.

The next part of this discussion involves both the meme and "putting God back in our schools."  When I was younger, in elementary school, we would say a small prayer at lunch.  To my recollection, it was the only time we discussed God in any way.  It was a child's prayer, said rhythmically and with little true understanding.  For years, occasionally some schools may have started with a prayers, but really since the 60's schools quit. I could no more lead a class in prayer as a Christian than a Muslim teacher could or a Jewish teacher could. You see there is a slight problem with being a diverse school.  Everyone has rights to their beliefs and we protect that right.  Aren't you thankful that schools do this for your child rather than impose someone's personal beliefs on a closed environment?

What I can do is tell students that I am a believer.  What I cannot do is try to convert them. It was not my place. Schools do not prevent students from praying.  There is an event at many schools called "Meet Me at the Pole" where students gather for vigil and prayer at the school flag pole.  It is a regular event and constitutionally protected because any faith could meet at the school for such an event.  Again,  I would like to remind people that there was a reason for the separation of church and state that was made very clear by our founding fathers.  It was so that people could safely practice their beliefs.  It was the reason that so many came to this country.  They came to escape persecution.  They came to practice their beliefs and not have some institution do exactly what they were escaping from. It is not a teacher's job to teach people what to think but how to to draw a conclusion of their own. This is so much more powerful than a school trying to dictate what one group or another thinks your child should believe.  If you find a teacher imposing their beliefs or making fun of those who believe, you should probably be having a discussion with the school and your child.

Pause for a moment and think, those of you who went to public schools.  How much God was there really?  How much religious teaching did you receive?  Were you told you could not pray on your own or discuss your beliefs with someone?  You may have been asked to concentrate on the lesson at hand if you were disrupting class, but I doubt that you were ever told you cannot discuss your own faith.

I, for one, am also offended by the timing of this meme and the conversation because once again we have people blaming schools for something that was beyond their control.  It may not be the intent of these statements to do this, but it is the net result.   It is divisive and instead of bringing us together in a time of need only succeeds in continuing a division that needs to stop. Schools are not at fault for these horrible acts of violence PERIOD.

What you are remembering is like the folks who talk about God and the Constitution.  It doesn't exist. We added thing like "One nation under God" to the pledge in the 1950's during the "Red Scare" because of those godless Commies.  We protect the rights of others and a few folks need to be reminded of this.  Actually think about these things.  They are over simplified solutions, that hearkens back to a time that never existed. They are designed not to solve problems but create them.  They are divisive and untrue.  If you believe them, you are  not a part of the solution but...

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Nation at Risk or I think I’m Turning Japanese


Don't get me wrong.  America's schools are in need of help and there are many good ideas out there.  Like it or not, we need to invest in our schools and change them.  Too many think that a test will solve this problem and it won't.  It is time to move the structure of schools beyond what they once served.  This will cost money.  It will involve time and it should involve teachers who actually do know what is needed.  The other thing that will not solve the problem is the constant barrage of bad mouthing schools by comparing them to systems that do not do what we do and by gathering together so called "experts" who have no clue what it is actually like to stand in a classroom.

The first major attack – and I don’t use the word lightly – on schools that I recall was Rudolf Flesch’s book Why Johnny Can’t Read and What You Can Do about It which was written in 1955. While Flesch is a famous reading expert, having come up with one of the major scales used to determine reading level of books, the work, which is often thought as a book or article written in the 70’s, was really the first time an expert discussed the failings of the American education system. What was interesting about the book was that Flesch had never taught elementary, middle, or high school. He had in fact based his view on using what was then called the “look-say” method and was an advocate of the teaching of phonics. The “look-say” method has been largely dismissed, but because of some publication in major magazines such as Time the book was used to condemn education, particularly in the 1970’s. He was the first of a long list of “experts” who had never been in the regular classroom. Some of these have approached education or more exactly students as if they were some sort of factory product that could be fixed and improved or to steal a quote, “We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability…”

Actually, no, we cannot rebuild him but we can try to give him the tools he needs to become better. The real turn towards “how awful” education in a America has become and although it would not reach its peak until decades later was governmental report “A Nation at Risk” in 1983. While this study, which compares the USA to Japan and Germany, looks at placement and testing date, it too was comprised largely of experts. While the list of people on the document appears to be somewhat expert, there is only one person who is actually listed as a public school teacher. The rest belong to colleges, business and think tanks most of which are politically driven groups.

So…let’s talk about the schools which we are compared to. When a “Nation” came out, I was working on my masters. There had been studies before, but for some reason the press really zoned in on this particular study pointing to what the study had found. What everyone failed to mention was that while the folks studying Japan were off looking at a system that isn’t even close to our public system, they were here studying us. I know this because one of my master’s instructors was also a superintendent of a large school district who had been interviewed by the Japanese delegation. You see, they were fascinated by something we do, our attempt to teach every student from gifted to special needs. In Japan, they teach solely to the middle. They also pointed out that the USA produce more Nobel Prize winners than anywhere else. Another slight omission in comparing us to Japan and most European schools, education is not a right but a privilege based on a series of tests which hold students accountable in other countries. Still further is the missing information that during this testing time, Japan has the highest teen suicide rate in the world. And on a more recent note, there is an up swelling of concern by Japanese parents because of this. The movement actually wants Japanese education to move closer to what they perceive as western educational philosophy.

The reports also neglect to mention by the time we have these comparative results, other countries have long since syphoned off the poor learners, the discipline problems, the special needs students and the gifted that do not “fit in.” While the average high school senior equivalent in other countries do test higher than the USA’s average senior by the end of the sophomore year of college on these tests there is no difference according to one study. Bet you hadn’t heard that before. You see in these countries, college is often free and placement in theses colleges will make the student’s career. Students who test well enough to get into Tokyo University will become doctors and lawyers and MBA’s while those going to lesser colleges will end up in lesser jobs and those who do not pass will not go to college for free if at all. The testing at every level funnels kids into programs, apprenticeships or manual labor.

More recently, I saw an advertisement that glibly announces that the USA would rank 25th in the world’s industrial nations. No look at who is tested in these countries is ever made in any television “investigative” report I've seen, and it most certainly not done in the thirty second blurb announcing the poor shape of American education. What is more the pundits get on TV and announce that education in once leading states such as California has dwindled and that we cannot produce enough computer science and engineers to meet the needs of silicon valley. They blame education’s problem on some mythological “them” usually referring to teachers. Not one refers to the loss of funding and those hideous laws that have made schools as well as other government services poorly funded. Not one of them has looked at the tests to see if we are really comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges. Not one looks at how poorly we pay American educators.  All pay lip service to the fact that great teachers make great learning environments, but not one mentions we pay these great teachers on average 38% less than other professions of similar training. Really a great way to attract the best to a profession, isn't it.

No one has explained to me why it is that so many from foreign lands that can afford to do so still come here for college. Are we willing to funnel kids into manual labor, move special needs kids out of the mainstream as we once did, and expel the not only the trouble makers but the under-achievers? As long as we don’t use fair and accurate comparisons, as long as the media continues to use education as a ratings getter, as long as we let pundits act like they know something, as long as we tie teachers hands with a series of tests designed to make money for publishers and sooth politicians’ public persona, and as long as we continue to blame the only group who is actually in the trenches trying to make a difference, this nation will continue to appear poorly on the test and sadly our scores will continue to drop as the good teachers leave the classroom for better paying and less stressful pastures. I know such reports are good press, and I seriously doubt that we really want to build our model on Japan or China or any other place where the right to learn is a tested privilege and not the right of every person.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

FUNding Part II


I am not going to pretend to understand the complexity of budgeting a school but I do know one thing: education costs money. It is unfortunate that too often school funding is tied to success of a test or something just as inane. These folks frequently point to states which pay “teachers well” and “fund schools well” more than other states and then also point to the dismal performance these schools have on “the national report card.” Then they point to states that under fund their schools and under pay teachers that have reasonable success on “the national report card.” (I am not sure who actually comes up the this report card or how it was done, but you can bet politicians and the media had something to do with it.) Two that get that comparison is Michigan, one of the highest funded per student states and low on the report card, and my own home state of Colorado, one of the lowest funded per student states and doing okay on the report card.

Colorado has an amendment called the TABOR Amendment or sometimes called the Bruce Amendment. It has effectively gutted funding for education in the state. The only reason Colorado does as well as it does has nothing to do with its self-vaunted test or standards and everything to do with talented and dedicated people it has in the classroom and a reasonably okay standard of living.  Those things are about to change. The funding has reached a point where Colorado, once funding schools in the middle of the pack has dropped to 48th in the nation. This is a similar law that gutted California’s financing too. Even the greatest of teachers cannot make silk purses from sow’s ears for equipment, books and supplies. The results will be that kids ultimately suffer and with cost of living in the state and salaries frozen, cut or class sizes  doubled, the beauty that is Colorado will only remain attractive for so long.

The TABOR Amendment or the Tax Amendment Bill Of Rights Amendment (if you want to know how intelligent such an amendment is consider that someone actually named it the tax amendment amendment) is the most restrictive tax and spending limitation in the nation. While it works poorly in the best of times, during poor economic times it ratchets back the ability of all state, county and city governments to respond to crisis and fund service areas which include schools, fire, police, roads and a host of other areas. It is the Tea Party ideal of austerity in that its formula causes government to be unable to grow enough to fund more and more expensive programs. It uses money formulas based on decades old figures. In other words we are now asking schools to teach at today’s prices by funding them with less money than they had ten years ago. Sound insane to you?

I have a book that was given to me years ago about building your own lighting system. In the book was a wonderful thing called a saltwater dimmer. I was lucky that I didn't need a dimmer and that I had heard a couple of old theatre guys joke once that they had survived saltwater dimmers.

“Why?” I asked.

They smiled and one said, “Chemistry.”

I was baffled and it clearly showed. The other noticed, “Water- H2O, and salt-NaCl make up salt water. Do recall what happens when you shoot electricity through an atom?”

“It, umm, causes recombination of the charged particles,” I said trying to recall my freshmen year of college chemistry.

“Exactly. The result of putting electricity through saltwater is a making of hydrochloric acid, HCl, in gas form. It is highly flammable…you know, explosive.”

It dawned on me. A saltwater dimmer’s byproduct was an explosive gas in a contained cylinder that arced sparks of electricity through a solution that was producing hydrochloric gas.  Kaboom!

I would tell this story to my technical theatre students and show them pictures of a saltwater dimmer. The point is as the funding is cut more and more for schools across the nation, I wouldn't want to show kids a picture of an IPad or a modern dimming system because someone thought we need to fund as we had in the past when things were "better."

I lived through some of that past and it wasn't really that much better or do I need to remind you of Vietnam, mass protests, Watergate, Iran Contra, high interest rates, high unemployment, high taxes**, the AIDS epidemic and Disco.

**Check your facts you 80’s and Reagan fans: Mortgage Interest Rates were above 13-14% in 1984, Unemployment was 8 to 9.5% and Reagan raised taxes seven of the eight years he was in office.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

FUNding Part I


I've never actually sat down and figured out the hours I spent each week, especially in the early years of teaching. It was a lot. As I grew older and wiser and more skilled and having built up a warehouse of files, information, alternative programs, equipment and materials, I didn't spend nearly as much time after twenty years or so. What I do know is that up until a few years ago, teachers on a national average, worked longer and harder and more hours in the months of school than any full time regular job. This survey was based on the average school year of 180 days vs. the average job year of 240 days, removing things like weekends, holidays, and vacation time. When the "regular" profession folks passed teachers in hours, because we as a nation tend to be workaholics, it was by a staggering twenty hours. Still think teachers are over-paid? (I still believe if my brother would only retire from his  job at Safeway, the national work hour average would drop drastically, by the way.)

The teaching profession is notoriously underpaid, even as glorified babysitters.  Our salaries are prorated and we are not actually paid for the summer vacation, but through the summer. I wanted to include a wonderful bit of math that teachers email to each other, but we don’t ever seem to get it to the public.
Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work 9 or 10 months a year. It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do – babysit. We can get that for less than minimum wage.

That’s right. Let’s give them $3 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and plan– that equals 6 1/2 hours).

Each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585.00 a day.

However, remember they only work 180 days a year. I am not going to pay them for any vacations.

LET’S SEE…That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on. My calculator needs new batteries.)

What about those special education teachers and the ones with master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6 1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year…

Yes, we are the “greedy folk” os some would have you believe; after all, why would our country do as other industrialized countries do and pay our teachers the money comparable to a corporation manager and treat them with respect for their time and dedication to our children? These countries I speak of by the way are the ones the media love to compare American education to.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Issues of being Left Handed

(from I am left handed.  Making my family even more extraordinary is my brother is also left handed.  In a recent post, I talked about the odds of winning the lottery, and one of the odds I mentioned was you were way more likely of dying from being left handed than winning the lottery. One of my readers found this pretty humorous that one can die from being left handed.

There are many famous left handers. They include artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, Julius Caesar, Mozart, and Beethoven.  They are famous in sports including Babe Ruth, Larry Bird and Pele.  Actors from the likes of Charlie Chaplin,  Fred Astaire, Redford, Cruise and De Niro.  Musicians like Hendrix, McCartney, Bowie and Sting and writers like Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, and Lewis Carol.  Bill Gates, J. Edgar Hoover, and presidents like Kennedy, Reagan, and Clinton are all left handed. Okay three of the biggest villains in history too, Billy the Kid, The Boston Strangler, and Jack the Ripper were also left handed.  The list is impressive.  You can find a bigger list of the left handed here.

Still though left handers are more apt to have an accident, have a shorter life span or a longer one (depending on the study)  and be at greater risk for psychiatric disorders.  Lefties seem to be more likely to suffer from ADHD, dyslexia, and mood disorders.  They also make up 20 percent of all people with schizophrenia. This is despite the  low number of people who are left handed.

Lefties are only 10 percent of the population.  Mixed handers are 1 percent of the population. Never the less, we have our issues.  There is no statistical difference in IQ but there is mounting evidence that lefties are better at divergent thinkers.  A Harvard University study also shows lefties are likely to make about 10 per cent  lower than the right handed.  A large number of baseball players are cross dominant meaning that they are left handed but right eyed or vice versa.

In more recent studies it has been discovered that while most right handers rely primarily on the left hemisphere of their brain, some 70 percent of lefties also rely one their left side for language.  The problem is though that more is not known about left handers because most brain studies will not use left handers because our brains are wired differently.

Then there are the daily issues.  I am old enough to remember when the left handed were regularly converted by schools to right handed when it comes to writing.  I had heard that one reason was because left handedness was the mark of the devil since Satan sat on God's left hand. This is not really biblical as much as Milton, but it was a fun if not silly idea.  It was probably two fold.  It is easier for a right handed teacher to teach right hand writing and cursive writing is not designed for the left handed, hence the famous "hook" of some lefties which is something I refuse to do. The school was going to convert my brother but my father let them know that my brother was who was, and he would remain left handed.  I had a great uncle who was "ambidextrous" because he was converted from left to right in school.

Then there is the issue of things like spiral bound notebooks, scissors, golf clubs, and sundry tools.
I am told that left handers who learn to play golf right handed are better and stronger golfers.  I would point out though that in boxing and fencing, lefties do better because our stance and fighting hand confuse the right handed.  We on the other hand (pun intended) are used to thinking left handed in a right handed world. If you have a gym class, there is always the problem of the one left handed baseball glove they own. Bring your own.

You can buy left handed spiral notebooks and scissors.  These however cost a lot more.  I once had a student tell me he couldn't write well in his notebook because of the rings.  I did point out to him that he could remove the paper from a three ring binder. He apparently had never realized it.
Ball point pens also do not work as well for lefties since we are pushing the pen and not pulling it.  I used to complain when people used my pen because the pen always seemed to write more poorly after a right hander used it. I also get the joy of having ink or lead all over the side of my hand. Writing at a chalk board could also be an interesting experience as I could write and erase at the same time.

How about sitting at a table?  There is the issue of bumping elbows.  I am forever looking for another leftie to sit next to or a corner or end space for my elbow when I eat.  A waitperson almost never hands me a coffee cup the correct way.  Then there is the fact that cup holders in cars are for right handed and for that matter, measuring cups are also labeled for the right handers.

And now there is technology.  I hold my tablet in my left hand.  If I am reading I must be careful because I will suddenly find it scrolling backwards. I also suspect that my Kinect does not like left handers.  It certainly seems to read my right hand movements better than left.  Computer keyboards also have the number pad on the right side.  Game controllers and the computer mouse also clearly designed for the right handed as is the writing pen for the credit card signature machine.

And yet despite all the minor problems and some of the not so minor ones, I would never give up being left handed.  I love it.  Finding another leftie is like finding a family member you didn't know you have.  My wife has learned how to hand me a coffee cup and I actually don't have to worry about all those mental problems...well past that. I love being a leftie. I am unique and ...

It lets me write a blog about being left handed.

Friday, December 7, 2012


On December 7, 1941 The US Naval Base, Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  It was an event that President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "a date that will live in infamy." It was the day that the sleeping giant known as the United States awoke.  It was the day that the US entered World War II.

The attack was planned by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. The attack began at 7:55 AM and lasted one hundred and ten minutes. The Japanese planes came in two waves.  Military and civilians killed were 2402. There were 1282 wounded. The bulk of the American Fleet, which was stationed at Pearl, was sunk or damaged.  It is believed that the Japanese did not realize what serious blow they had dealt to the US military. It marked our entry into a war in which over 60 million people world-wide would lose their lives or 2.5 percent of the world's population.  This is why we remember this day and the lives given.  

I've stood on the Pearl Memorial above the Arizona.  One cannot not describe the feeling, the power, of the place unless you've been there.  Too often thought of as a tourist destination, when you are there, looking down at the remains of the great ship where a 1,117 lost their lives, you realize that it is so much more.  The students I was with, knew that too.  It is another reason why we recall this day.

There are about 1.5 million of the 16 million soldiers who served in World War II alive today.  According to the Department of Veteran Affairs,  about 700 of them die a day and by the year 2036 there will be no more left.  This is another reason we should remember this day.

History is, some fear,  slipping away.  In one survey, less than half of the high school seniors could answer the question as to why we remember December 7, 1941.  As we remember September 11, we need to remember the fallen of December 7.  It is time that remember and remind our youth that for our freedoms, many have paid great prices.  Whether it was those who died in war, in terrorist attacks, were wrongfully imprisoned as were the American Japanese, or those who spoke up and risked all when it was not popular to do so, this day is a reminder of the consequences of action.

This is why we remember Pearl Harbor Day.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wishing You a Traditional Christmas


Ever given a thought about Christmas traditions? The odd, the strange, or perhaps just where they came from?

For example did you know that in 1891, wishing to pay for a charity dinner, a crab pot was set out on a street in San Francisco creating the very first Salvation Army collection kettle? Or did you know that "Jingle Bells" was suppose to be a Thanksgiving song called "One Horse Open Sleigh"?

In Finland, Santa (Joulupukki), does not live at the North Pole but instead in the northern part of Finland. On Christmas Eve the family puts on their coats and go to the cemetery with candles and a song to honor the dead. Adding to the confusion, is that Santa travels by whatever means necessary. Apparently he has everything from his sleigh and eight reindeer, snowmobile, helicopter, cars, scooter, to whatever he needs.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, Papai Noel, wears a silk red suit and lives in Greenland. In a tale of the manger story, the shapely shepherdess's come to view the baby Jesus who is kidnapped by an evil Gypsy. Don't worry. He is saved by the three wise men. Next door in Venezuela, in Caracas, the streets are blocked so people can roller skate to church.

Belgium has not one Santa, but two. St. Nicholas and Pere Noel. St. Nicholas shows up early and determines which children have been bad. This occurs on December 4th. Bad kids get dirty sticks in their stockings. Good kids get a visit from Pere Noel. Speaking of stockings, in Australia, children leave a shoe out for their Christmas goodies. Does this mean that suddenly every four-year-old in the land wears a size 16 quadruple E boot?

Armenians have a lovely meal on Christmas Eve. It consists of fried fish, lettuce and spinach. I have no idea why this is the traditional meal. Not as bad as the first English Christmas meal which was a pig's head with mustard. The English have always had a way with cuisine and not in a good way. Don't forget this is the land of blood pudding for Christmas.

In Italy, it's not Santa but La Befana, a kindly witch. She was apparently invited by the wise men to come see the birth of Jesus and turned them down. She was busy. Having missed the birth, she now roams from house to house, leaving gifts, and asking for directions to the baby. She rides a broom down the chimney, by the way.

In the Ukraine, an artificial spider and web are included in the tree decorations. It is considered good luck to find a spider and web on Christmas morning. In Norway all the brooms are hidden to prevent mischievous spirits and witches who come out on Christmas Eve from stealing and riding them. No La Befana for the Norwegians. By the way, if you have a friend in Japan, don't send them a red Christmas card. It is bad etiquette since funeral notices are also in red.

Gotta love Christmas traditions. If you've decided for fun to give the gifts of the Twelve Days of Christmas, you will end up giving 364 gifts. And you thought all the gifts the grand parents shower on the grand kids was bad.

Merry Christmas

My thanks for the research done on these sites:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012



With recent events, much discussion has been made about guns and gun control.  Bob Costas and his comments on Sunday night has stirred the old controversy once again.  First off let me say a few things...

I support the second amendment but that does not mean blindly.

I am not a part of the tin foil hat crowd who, when I hear the words gun control, think that the evil government is secretly plotting to take my guns.

I do not believe that an armed public is a good idea.

I think most of the arguments used by gun control activists for and against are pretty much ridiculous and often far too simple for this serious problem.

A comparison to a rock and a gun....Really a rock?  Here, stand on this fifty yard line.  Now I'm going to the end zone with my .38.  When I say go, you have my permission to kill me with your rock while I shoot at you.  A rock comparison...honestly.  I just as well give you the .38 and then go 10 miles to my Howitzer and give you the first shot.  Silly comparisons do not solve the problems.  These kind of arguments only divide the people and make one side or the other on the issue look silly and uninformed. The one above is clearly designed to create that division.  We all know that as weapons advanced so did the scope of the number of people who died.  No guns are not bad but when someone dies from one that also does not mean it was only done by "bad people." A bit simplistic, don't you think?

This is a serious problem and is not a we vs. them problem.  It is one for serious people who want to keep our rights while making sure we protect people and keep deadly weapons out of those who use them badly.  It is not a Republican and Democrat or Liberal and Conservative problem.  People are dying.  Guns in the home are a moral choice and having one for hunting or sport like target shooting is not evil.  Owning a gun in for protection, while making one feel secure  is also a statistical risk.

Following the shooting in Aurora, someone or several someone's made the statement that if members of the audience had been carrying, then the wacko shooter, who obtained all his guns and ammo legally by the way, could have been shot and killed before he'd killed so many.  In actuality, most police and people who actually understand these events say the shooter may have been wounded or even killed but the carnage would have also gone up with all those Dirty Harries wounding and killing more, if not each other, in the crossfire. Shooting amid the innocent is not like in the movies and very few have the imaginary skills of a Hollywood John Wayne.

Let's look at one of the arguments against gun control...guns don't kill people; people kill people.
This relatively simple statement is true.  But it also begs the question of if a gun isn't unavailable, what is the likelihood of death.  A drive-by knifing is pretty rare.  Even rarer is death by being shot by a semi-automatic spear.  Okay, okay, I am being fatuous, and I was just making fun of that meme, but you get the point there is a need for some modicum of control. Handguns are 43 times more likely to kill a member of your own family than an intruder. You see  meme with a girl pointing a gun saying to an intruder the door was locked for his protection and not the owners...factually speaking, a gun in the house is more likely to be taken from her and used against her than it is likely for her to use it.

In another study, if you carry a gun you are 4.5 times more likely to be shot if involved in a violent crime and 4.2 times more likely to die.  If you have one in your home and violence erupts, the odds of you or  family member's death increases by a factor of 12.  Gun violence is more deadly than any other type of violence. According to studies while having a gun in the home increases the chance of being murdered by 41%, for women who have a gun in their home the odds triples.  This doesn't include the rising odds of accidental shootings.

Maybe guns don't kill people but their availability seems to indicate that owning one does.  Face facts, most murders are of the angry, unplanned type and having a gun greatly increases those odds of it becoming fatal.  I also admit that a majority of those murders, another study points out, that, while unplanned, are committed by a person with a record.  This means perhaps that these folks are predisposed to violence.  On the other hand, half of all violent attacks in the home, it is believed, go unreported, so there may be other issues at play.  If one is truly hell-bent on killing the other person, lack of a gun may not be an obstacle,  It would slow the process and perhaps give someone a chance to escape or gain some self-control.  See what I mean.  It is a complex issue and memes and simplified arguments are not solving or even coming close to solving the problem.

So what do we do? We have more guns per person than any other industrialized nation.  Nations with fewer guns have much lower murder rates, but we are not going to get rid of guns.  I've lived with guns most of my life.  My grandfathers owned them, my father owned them, my brother owns them, my nephews owns them, I've owned them.  I grew up in a gun culture.  Our entire country is a gun culture. I even know more than one person who has lost someone because of a shooting accident.  The control of guns is no easy solution and no simple argument is going to make the issue go away.

First it is important to realize that one impediment to gun use is to keep the gun safe and locked up.  Most police officers do this; locking up their gun every night. They get that little kids, no matter how well they've been taught, and guns don't mix.  Remember kids are not small adults. Their decision making skills are a long ways from complete, even as a teenager. Having your gun locked up would also complicate keeping a gun for protection which has been demonstrated as pretty much a non reason.

There are simply some guns that are not needed to be owned by the public, and we certainly don't need the over-sized clips. An armed public is not needed, but, if we are going to allow some one to carry, a gun should always be visible. How a concealed weapon is a deterrent has always confused me.  How having something a criminal cannot see deters him is not clear.  We know for example that one of the biggest deterrents to home break in is not an alarm system, but the sign you put in your yard or window that says you have one.  It seems to me that if you want to protect yourself you would want folks to know that you are packing.

Time to strap that baby to your hip just as if you were in the old west.  Of course this means you give up that James Bond sort of feel of having a hidden weapon so you can just roll across that dark alley you foolishly wandered into and shoot the bad guy.  You are not James Bond or Wyatt Earp.  You are a guy with a permit who is likely to roll and shoot yourself in the foot or leave your gun smack dab in the middle of that alley where it fell out of its holster.

 I know the reason for concealment is actually so you don't scare people.  Doesn't the fact that a visible weapon scares people tell us something about how such things are truly viewed?  Doesn't it  say something about the personality of the person who carries the gun?

 I still see no reason for ownership of assault rifles.  This is a gun developed for war and is primarily an offensive weapon.  You cannot hunt with one and as far as a sports shooting weapon, it is poor at best for target practice besides the fact that such weapons, designed for speed firing, will tend to waste more than a little bit of ammo.  As someone who has  enjoyed target practicing with everything from arrows and black powder to high powered and skeet, such weapons have no place in society.  The invasion from Canada is not imminent. If you have a valid article or logical reason for the ownership of assault weapons let me know.  I am interested in it.

Gun ban? Not going to happen.  Gun control is probably something of a lost battle on the national stage.  Most cities do allow application to carry a gun.  Some have strong restrictions and for the most part, a licensed gun is largely controlled not at national or even state level but at the municipal level.  I believe that those who have a clear disposition to violence or use  gun in the commission of any crime should plan on much stricter controls.  In some countries, for example, the use of a gun in  any crime will result in an automatic doubling or a minimum sentence.

Like I said I support our right to bear arms. I just think before you put one in your pocket or in your home, you need to know what you are doing and the increased risk.  Some little cute argument doesn't settle the problem and the one thing that we probably never solve is stupidity and guns.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Who Elected Grover Norquist?


The Tax Pledge is starting to crumble, maybe. Many a Republican is distancing him or herself from the Pledge and Grover Norquist.  Some have stated that the pledge was made when times were different and it no longer applies. The Tax Pledge was made in the 1990's or late 80's but it seems only recently to have become famous and a true obstruction.  My favorite denouncing of the Pledge was from a congressman who says he no longer represents the district where he signed the Pledge and now represents a new district so the Pledge no longer applies.

And yet,

Grover Norquist is now on TV more than he ever has been.  I'm not talking about just FOX news either. He was on the CBS morning news where he announced Mitt Romney was a "poopy head."  Yes, he actually said "poopy head" on national TV.  Then he went on FOX where he announced that Republicans abandoning the Tax Pledge were "having impure thoughts." So showing concern about the American issue is now immoral.  Next I saw him on Meet the Press where he accused the current administration of a trillion dollar tax hike that does not exist and a senator who said on the same program the only pledge he made that matters is his Oath of Office, was accused of straying from the path and he again accused Republicans of "impure thoughts."  So now the Tax Pledge is moral and basically a religion. He will even appear on MSNBC.

Norquist's final pledge: if Obama forces us over the "fiscal cliff" the Tea Party II will dwarf the original Tea Party.  I would point out that in 2010 during the debt ceiling debate that cost us our credit rating, Norquist advocated to go over that cliff and not raise the ceiling.  It would have been disaster at the time to the recovering economy.

My question is: Who elected this guy?  Grover Norquist deserves no time and his political group which is funded by billionaires who have their own agenda, are not my elected representatives.  Norquist is a lobbyist.  His statements are not cute and clearly demonstrate a man who is arrogant about the power he believes he holds. NO ONE elected him and any one who follows him are now clearly pledging allegiance to a power outside of the Constitution.

I know.  I've argued this before, but this pledge and this lobbyist for the rich who threatens elected officials needs to be completely ignored.  He needs to become the distant howl in the night that fades with the light of day.  Quit giving him press; quit giving him time on the public pulpit.  NO ONE ELECTED HIM.

The New York Times ran an opinion piece this past week called "Is Grover Finally Over?"  I certainly hope so.  The fact is that study after study has shown that lower taxes on the wealthy does not improve employment and does not negatively impact the economy.  In fact the opposite seems to be true.  When you have lower taxes on the middle class and pay them well, the economy does better and the rich become richer because of the growing economy. You see, people who have a little disposable income, spend that income.  Spending creates demand and jobs to meet that demand.  Spending makes money for owners of stores and manufacturing and money makes those owners richer.  Keeping low taxes on the wealthy doesn't do that.

The end of the Tax Pledge, I hope is near.  The end of a lobbyist's power over an entire political party, I hope is near. If we can just get the press to quit giving this "poopy head" time and remind those in congress -  NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE, elected this man and his group to represent us.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tinsel life with outdoor decorations

I blame my father and the over-sized lights he hung on the house and fence and the blown plastic candle on the front step.  His love of all things technical rubbed off and it shows up in my yard every November.

If there is one holiday I look forward to it is Christmas.  I know many a theatre person who likes Halloween because they get to break out the more wild make-up and costumes and act the part, but for me being more technician than actor, I love Christmas for it lights and decorations.  Over the years I have built up my decorations for outdoors.  I've changed and added and converted from incandescent to LED.  Each year we tried to add something else.

For years our front yard had Santa and flying reindeer which was given to my son for his first home.  It finally fell apart, its plastic parts becoming brittle, a couple of years later. Santa was replaced by a full Nativity complete with a stable and manger I'd built and stored under the back porch for several years.  For some reason, I came to really dislike setting up this display.  I had added some trees to go with it and I would spend at least an hour every year chasing down burnt out lights and every figure had to be staked out and it took a tremendous amount of space to store.  When we found out that our church didn't have a Nativity for outdoor, we donated it.

The Nativity was replaced by an animated display of Santa on a teeter-totter with reindeer.  It is one of the more fun decorations we have.  I still though have a couple of blown plastic decorations of toy soldiers.

This year's center piece is one I am anxious for the folks to see.  Last year, I purchased a laser show.  This projector runs animated projections set to music.  The show lasts about 25 minutes.  Unfortunately, after a few nights of running, the laser went down, and so we went about a week without it.  Parts have arrived and the laser is once again running its animated show on my garage door.  If you came by to see the lights and didn't see it, please come back.  We think it is really cool.

My obsession has caused me to add outdoor outlets and an extra circuit or two.  The conversion to LED was not cheap either, but the money saved on the electric bill has covered the cost and now with the LED becoming more cost effective, I think with only a couple of exceptions, my lights are about as green as I can get without giving up lighting the yard. By the way, the inside is just as good.

My greatest fear is becoming the Griswold house.  I may actually already be that house, but for me the tinsel of Christmas, glows in the dark.

Merry Christmas!