Saturday, July 25, 2009

Great Cleveland Promo Video

I saw this and promised to send it to my brother, a resident of Cleveland. Then a former student announced on Facebook that she's going to Cleveland (I guess she's looking at a college there) and reminded me. This makes me laugh every time I watch it. Paige was almost crying she was laughing so hard. Make sure you wait for the end.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Who's to blame for the Drop Out Rate?

Debra Franciosi, my friend, former mentor teacher, and current associate director of Project CRISS, an education think tank in Kalispel, Montana, turned me on to an education blog called McRel, which disseminates educational research along with analysis. I read some posts and immediately took issue with one of them.

In "Addressing High School Dropout: Taking a Look Inward", David Rease Jr. analyzes some survey data regarding drops outs. The AT&T Foundation's report "On The Front Lines of Schools" examined why various stake-holders in education believed so many kids are dropping out of school. It found that district level personnel blamed principals, principals blamed teachers, and teachers blamed parents, and only the drop-outs blamed themselves.

Rease's conclusion was that we should all take responsibility. "Our dropout crisis will persist until each of us takes a look at those fingers pointing back at us, and identify our own culpability in our nation’s dropout crisis."

Here's where I take issue. I agree with Rease that kicking the blame down the ladder is wrong. I also agree that personal responsibility is a virtue, and self-analysis makes all of us better at our jobs. But, by that same rationale, perhaps the answer to the question of the drop out rate is actually presented in the report itself, and staring at the four fingers pointing back at us is a means to avoid aiming our index fingers in the right direction. In short, maybe the drop outs are right. They are taking personal responsibility, and are, belatedly, performing some self-analysis of their own role in their education. Why should we second guess that?

I know I'm going to sound like a curmudgeon when I start any sentence with "When I was a kid...", but let's face it: If I'd come home and tried to use any of the excuses Rease encourages us to consider when I got a bad grade, my parents would have been aghast, or maybe they would have laughed in my face because they would have been so incredulous. The district level employees were not being properly overseen by their administrators, so I was failing? Ha! My teachers' "lessons were boring and disengaging"? Too stinkin' bad. Admittedly, I have great parents who were willing to "create space, time, and the expectation [I] complete [my] homework", but part of that expectation was that no one was ultimately to blame for my academic achievement or failure except me. The drop-outs in this study have obviously internalized that lesson, and aren't blaming their parents for failing to teach it to them, so let's take them at their word.

Every year, in my Creative Writing class, almost half the kids fail. Is this because my lessons are "boring and disengaging"? Not according to the students. They chose to take the class because they felt it would be the most entertaining of their options for Senior English (composed of various elective courses at our high school). They are there because they expect to be entertained and engaged. But that half of the class fails because they, amazingly, do no writing outside of class. Zip. Zero. Every year I pester them about this. Why, in the name of all that's good and holy, would you choose to take a creative writing class if you have no interest in or intention of writing except when I'm leaning over your shoulder, making you? I've never received a satisfactory explanation from a student beyond "I don't need this credit to graduate." I try to explain, until I'm red in the face, that they are doing themselves a disservice, that they are missing out on the learning by not doing the work, that they are wasting their own time and an opportunity to better themselves. To this, I occasionally receive a downcast glance of something passing for shame, but generally I get shrugs. Have these parents failed to "create space, time, and the expectation [they] complete [their] homework"? In some cases these parents are atrocious, even criminal, but in other cases the parents are wonderful, so this doesn't seem to be the operative variable. Have I not made the class challenging enough? They are failing. I can't make it any harder on them. Have I not been entertaining enough? They picked the class for the entertainment value. Should my principal have mentored me in some way, or given me a stern lecture? If anything, she's been supportive even though, when students do need the credits and I fail them, I make her job harder by creating a scheduling nightmare for her the following year. Have the folks over at the district office failed "to adequately coach, monitor, and evaluate" my principal? What would they have said to her which could have trickled down, through me, and transformed into inspiration for my students? If someone has these answers, that's great, but I have a feeling that if we stare at the fingers point back at us all day long we won't answer these questions.

On the other hand, we could trust the drop-outs themselves. Or my students, who write self evaluations as well as evaluations of the class and of my performance as their teacher at the end of each semester. At the end of each class the ones who fail say they wish they'd worked harder. Instead of navel-gazing, perhaps it behooves us to ask how we, not just as teachers or parents or principals or superintendents, but as a culture, can better communicate this need for more motivation to students before it can only take the form of regret.

Here's the good news and the bad news on that front: I used to get so frustrated by parents who would actively undermine my attempts to motivate their kids when they would tell them "I didn't graduate, and I'm doing fine," or "I didn't go to college and look at me now". I would try to explain, without criticizing the parent, that the labor market is shifting, and that the same opportunities that existed for them will not exist for their child. Well, thanks to a combination of globalization and the current recession, I'm having to make that argument less and less. As much as there will be a lot of losers in this economic climate, and a lot of folks who are punished undeservedly, the upside will be a renewed focus on competitiveness. As much as I worry, as a teacher of the Humanities, that we'll place all the emphasis on math and science, that's a problem I'm willing to exchange for no emphasis on education at all. As we fully engage a global economy, we'll need to re-evaluate the way we carry on our debate about education. Teachers in India don't worry too much about entertaining their students, and parents in South Korea don't worry to much about being nurturing (they beat the crap out of their kids, in fact, which does not lead to improved educational outcomes), but those students will be taking jobs from our students because they came into their classrooms with a different attitude. Our kids will figure this out eventually, just like the drop-outs in the study did. Our job, as I see it, is to help them catch on before it's too late.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dear Hosni Mubarak

Hosni Mubarak, the ruthless dictator of Egypt, has thrown a civil servant into jail for three years for writing a satirical poem. As Mubarak's crimes go, this is pretty low on the list. He's stayed in power since a state of emergency was declared at the death of the last dictator. That was in 1981. Mubarak has not only made the government so corrupt that people believe "A policeman is more dangerous than a criminal", but he's turned those police on his political rivals, resulting in the murders of unarmed protesters. So then this guy, Moneer Said Hanna, wrote a poem accusing Mubarak of making "people feel confused and lost". Um, I think he's made a lot of people feel injured or dead. Perhaps something was lost in the translation, but when Andy Zaltzman read a bit of the poem on The Bugle, I couldn't figure out what was insulting about it. Maybe in Arabic it was a real slam. Anyway, Andy Zaltzman and John Oliver asked for their listeners (us loyal Buglers) to write better poems insulting Hosni Mubarak, so I tried. (Warning to those with overly-sensitive sensibilities: Strings of insults, even in the form of sonnets, may contain foul language.)

Dear Hosni Mubarak

Dear Hosni Mubarak, you stupid twat,
Poets worldwide you’ve rous’d to the defense
Of Moneer Said Hanna, who, for naught
You threw in jail, so let insults commence.
The Brits might refer to you as a "git",
Or a "wanker" or a "tosser" at least.
Though their use of “cunt” shocks us Yanks a bit
For you, one with an infection of yeast.
The Brits would say “prick”, while we would say “dick”,
And add “sucker” and “gobbler” and others.
Since this three year sentence is clearly sick,
We’d accuse you of mating with mothers.
Now I won’t get to see the Sphinx or Nile.
It’s worth it to say, of shit, you’re a pile.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Man on the Moon

This is fun: a mash-up from Slate-V exploring how modern news would cover the moon landing. They're more optimistic than I am. I would expect it to devolve into either a partisan cat fight or a series of mind-numbing interviews with completely unrelated and unqualified pop stars.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dog Poo in Motion: A Political Fable

My sister- and brother-in-law are down visiting, and, much to our cats' dismay, they've brought the dog. Tonight, when I stepped out onto the back porch to smoke my pipe, I found a medium sized, curled up dog turd off to one side. I made a point not to step on it, but otherwise ignored it while I smoked, until I realized it was moving. It turns out that a dark brown slug had decided to change course, and had curled around himself, obscuring his antennae and inadvertently masquerading as something else entirely. As I watched the slug straighten out and choose a new path, I realized there's a political moral to this story.

Large groups of people, like political parties or entire nations, are like slugs in some ways. They move slowly. They are bloated. Politically speaking, they are basically shaped like slugs, with a few people on the far right and far left but most people spread relatively evenly on a spectrum in the middle. They choose their directions slowly, ignorantly, and greedily. Once they get moving, they are basically propelled by a combination of momentum, some undetectable undulations, and slime of one kind or another. And, most importantly, when they can't decide which way to go, they begin to look like something of a mess.

I think both our country and both its major political parties are at such a point right now. I have my preference about our direction (universal health care, gay marriage, a genuine response to global warming, a more moral distribution of power and wealth), which incline me to want the Democratic party to figure out a unified direction and start heading there. Frankly, I think the Dems, especially in Congress, are so indebted to moneyed interests, so focused on being nice and bipartisan, and so fearful of hazy, vague taunts of "socialist" and "liberal", that they can't inspire. However, I also know that real debate is essential for a healthy democracy, so I'd like to see the Republican party choose a new direction, even if it's one a don't agree with, rather than circling around leadership like Governors Sanford and Palin and contributing about as much to the national debate as Jon and Kate Plus Eight. Both parties are spiraling around themselves, and, as a nation, we've curved into this fetid, unsanitary shape. We should acknowledge what the slug is teaching us: From a distance, one could be forgiven for mistaking us for a dog turd, so we'd better get moving somewhere fast.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

3:30 am Review of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince

I've just returned from a midnight showing of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, and want to jot down some quick thoughts before I tap out for the night.

First off, as I mentioned today on Facebook, I understand that since the movie Independence Day Hollywood has been pushing movies earlier and earlier into the week in order to skew their reported "opening weekend" gross. I understand the pressure to bloat the figures, but I think we've officially reached the point at which this is ridiculous. A Tuesday midnight showing? Really? I may be a teacher on summer break, and therefore have little reason to complain, but even I know that Tuesday night is not the weekend. We've now reached the point at which, if Hollywood wants to extend the "weekend" any more, they will have to begin at midnight on Sunday night of the previous week, which, to me, makes it the previous weekend, therefore nullifying the benefit. So let's just stop the silliness before all movies open at midnight on Sunday nights.

Okay, with that aside, the film itself will be a huge hit. I live in a small town (around 18,000 between the two twin cities of Independence and Monmouth, Oregon) and our multi-plex had a line that wrapped around to the back of the building. They showed it on five screens, and my theater, at least, was packed to the gills. I doubt these numbers will taper off when folks can see it on a genuine weekend.

Now, I wasn't a fan of he first films in the series. I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. Sure, the early special effects were a bit blue-screeny, but that wasn't the big issue. Then a friend (Joel) pointed it out. They were too bright. One of the reasons readers, both kids and adults, enjoy spending time at Hogwarts is because it is a dark and forbidding place. The first films were overly targeted at the youngest readers, with too many goofy one-lines and far too much quidditch, but mostly it was the cheery coloring that set them off on the wrong foot.

Well, better too bright than too dark, because this has allowed the films to improve as the children age and the series progresses. Until tonight I thought Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix was the only film that finally caught the tone of the books, eschewing all the cheeriness of the first films. Watching the previews for Half Blood Prince, I was very concerned that they'd lost their taste for the darkness and were making a movie focusing entirely on the kids' developing romances. One could easily be excused for believing this would be a happy movie, judging by the previews alone.

I'm pleased to report that they got it right. Not to spoil anything too much, but the ending is not a happy one, and it matches the abruptness of the novel, which caught me off guard in the reading as well. Because everything has to be condensed so much, there were scenes that had to be shortened and others cut. This will not please the die hard fins, who seem to be more than willing to sit through a seven hour film to see all their favorite scenes included intact, but I thought they made good choices, over-all. There was a bit too much of the relationship stuff, but there was a bit too much of it in the book, too. There it served to draw out the space between the more pressing matters and illustrate just how much these main characters are still kids, unwilling and unable to sink into the despair their situation should inspire. It served the same function in the film, but, despite the lead characters' continued immaturity in some respects, they also caught that Harry is out of the accurately portrayed annoying whiny phase he went through in much of The Order of the Phoenix, and starting to grow up into a genuinely likable adult.

Before the abrupt and (frankly) anticlimactic ending, there's a fabulous and genuinely scary scene which will keep me from showing this movie to my four year old for many years. The jock sitting two seats from me, holding his girlfriend either protectively or lasciviously throughout the movie, screamed like a little girl, and I might have laughed at him (as his girlfriend did) had I not started violently (but, luckily, silently) in my seat at the same time.

Because the ending is cut so short, it cannot possibly inspire the same feelings as the novel, and shouldn't be expected to. I'm grateful that the medium can;t quite capture the novels, because that's more reason to encourage people to read the books. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, there's no disputing that these books are better than their movies. (I love the Tolkien novels, but I can make a pretty good argument that the movies are better.) Perhaps the creators of The Half Blood Prince movie could have focused more on this last portion of the film, rather than leaving us with what is essentially a "to be continued", but by the end I felt some of their better moments had earned them a little mercy.

So, when it comes to a grade, I suppose the question is, if a movie doesn't hit every note quite right but succeeds at what it's attempting to do, is it a success? This movie was designed to whet the appetite for the next pair, and though I think it's probably a B or B+, it left me expecting the last two to be straight A's.

Monday, July 13, 2009

An email to Attorney-General Holder

At the request of, I just sent an email to Attorney General Eric Holder. If I receive a response, I'll include it here also. I encourage everyone concerned about this issue to email him as well, at My email read as follows:

Attorney-General Holder,
I understand that you are under considerable pressure to avoid airing the dirty laundry of the last eight years of abuses by appointing a special prosecutor. There are those who would have us simply say the past is past, and let bygones be bygones. Clearly, you could not allow that argument to hold sway for murderers or drug dealers or bank robbers, who would also like their past misdeeds forgotten. Those concerned that this would be political need to trust in the separation of a special prosecutor, but, more than that, the world needs to trust that we honor law more than we honor the reputations of criminals, regardless of their past positions. Please appoint a special prosecutor, and do not hamstring their investigation in regards to whom should be punished. That is a judgment to be made by that prosecutor and a grand jury. The architects of torture are not above the law, and should not be shown special treatment by the next administration. Treat members of the past administration as citizens, with all the rights pertaining there-to, but do not give them any special leeway by limiting the scope of a special prosecutor's investigation. Thank you for your commitment to the rule of law and to Justice.

-Benjamin Gorman

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Selfishness and Sacrifice: An Honest Health Care Reform Debate

Congress is now up its neck in a debate about the nature of health care reform. From out here in the sticks, it looks to me like about a third of the representatives and senators are worried they'll pay a heavy price if they don't produce real health care for everybody, another third are worried they'll get clobbered if they produce anything resembling a tax increase or a cut in health care for the super-covered, and the middle third are worried about both. The most likely outcome, as I see it, is that they will all come to a consensus that the easiest position to defend is to do nothing of consequence and figure out how to blame the other side come election time. And they are probably right. And people will die early or unnecessarily as a consequence. And that is preemptively pissing me off.

Now, I've made it clear that I'm an Obama supporter, but that doesn't mean I'm some liberal version of a Rush Ditto-head. One of my beefs with Obama is that, too often, his attempt to usher in a new era of more polite politics devolves into a situation in which people get to pull the same kind of crap they always have, but they aren't called on it because they are so busy trying to be nice. And I'm not just talking about the Republicans in congress. The stimulus bill was a bunch of pork-laden crap, and there were really good reasons to oppose it, but these weren't the reasons I heard Republicans voicing. I think they were trying to figure out a way to be nice and enter into this new era of politics, so they criticized it for increasing the national debt. Now, the national debt is a real long-term problem, but no one should take a single Republican who was in office during the Bush presidency seriously on that front, since they all approved a couple wars and massive tax cuts at the same time. If the national debt is a serious concern, you whine about it during a debate about an unnecessary war, or you mention that when you're considering tax cuts for the rich. During an economic crisis, you either point to your consistent track record on the issue, or you shut the f--- up. No, the Republicans should have been shouting because the stimulus plan was misdirected. If that amount of money had been turned over directly to tax payers in the form of a progressively devised direct payment, the Republicans could have called it a tax cut. This would have been better for them, since a tax cut for the neediest Americans might open the door to a group who (let's face it) is wising up to the fact that the Republicans have not been working on their behalf for the last thirty years. Big win for them when they are looking to broaden their demographic appeal. Meanwhile, the Democrats could have touted the progressive structure of the stimulus as a sign that they took their mandate to heart, doing what the Bush gang did in spinning the bad polling about moral issues into a right wing mandate, only in reverse. They could have satisfied the far left, who they will certainly disappoint on other issues, and shown the lower-income red-staters just what a progressive tax structure might look like for them: a check. Instead, the Republicans essentially voted against Pelosi, making them look like "The Party of No", and the Democrats pushed through a stimulus plan that heavily favored the "too big to fail" CEOs, making them look like "The Party of Guys with Matching Priuses and Ferraris". Now, imagine a stimulus bill that, a year ago, had taken the form of significant checks, skewed significantly toward the lower and middle class. What do us poor folks do with that? The less responsible go out and buy TVs, tickets to Nascar, whatever. Good: that's some needed economic stimulus. The more responsible buy things like first homes or cars. That makes a significant dent in the housing crisis and helps bail out the auto manufacturers. The most responsible pay off their credit cards and put their checks in the banks, which helps to rescue the balance sheets of the banks themselves. Would it have created as many jobs as giving money to state governments to build roads? Possibly. Would that stimulus have hit the economy more quickly? Certainly. Consequently, it might have created more jobs, and better, more permanent ones, and it also would have prevented those super-massive bailouts for corporations. Now, as congress considers a second round of stimulus, the argument will not be about whether we should do this, because now folks are concerned about their jobs so they will put that money in the bank, and the banks are one of the sectors we've already rescued. Instead, the debate will be about the debt, which both sides have no real moral authority to gripe about. And that brings us back to health care.

When it comes to the health care debate, like Stimulus I, the debate will be about the wrong thing. It will be about whether or not we should have a public option, and the alternative of the status quo will be presented as revenue neutral and economically viable. And that pisses me off.

Now, I know the danger of over-simplifying an issue. We see it every time the issue of abortion comes up. One side tries to paint the other as a bunch of sluts who kill babies as birth control willy-nilly or, alternately, as a bunch of stupid religious zealots keeping women in some kind of chauvinistic sexual bondage when they aren't busy killing doctors. Both these positions might exist on the margins, but they are in such infinitesimal numbers that any popular vote to enact either side's agenda would be a loser. Imagine a ballot measure to charge any woman who had an abortion with homicide and lock her up for thirty years, even if the baby would not have survived and possibly threatened the health of the mother. Beyond the immorality, talk about a budget nightmare. No way that would pass. Or imagine the inverse; some kind of schema of mandatory abortions for some women. Would either initiative even come close to passing without people being deceived by some campaign to mask the true nature of the legislation in ridiculous rhetoric? Of course not. So any debate about abortion needs to be about the two things we're most uncomfortable confronting: the fact that we will have abortions (which we're all uncomfortable with) and we will have unwanted children (which we're also all uncomfortable with). That's a much more complex debate, but it's the one we need to engage in.

The health care debate, on the other hand, needs to be simplified to some degree, to get us away from the wrong argument, so that we can get to the real debate, which will be complex, but far less deceptive and heartless. We live in a country that, despite its economic woes, can afford to provide health coverage to every single citizen. We simply can. We have a system that is increasing in cost at an almost exponential rate, and it will eventually get to a point where we can't afford it. Health care is already one of the leading causes of personal bankruptcies, greatly harms many businesses' competitiveness if not their outright success, and will eventually bankrupt the government as well. And yet, the debate is about whether we can afford universal coverage. That's simply infuriating. We can't afford not to have universal coverage... or we have to change the law so that people without coverage do not have to be served by hospital emergency rooms, and can be allowed to die.

This may sound like a kind of modest proposal, but it's not an exaggeration: as long as our system requires that people with no coverage be provided with care, we have to figure out a way to provide them with coverage and get them to pay in while they are healthy. We already have universal health services. They're just really unequally and inefficiently delivered. People without health insurance don't pay, but they cost a lot. People with the most resources pay for their own care, but do not pay enough to cover the uninsured. That's clearly not sustainable. So we need to decide, will we let the uninsured simultaneously bankrupt the system and die unnecessarily in the process? Or, will we figure out a means by which the people with more resources pay more but receive two pretty significant bangs for their buck; they get to live in a country where their businesses and government can continue to be successful, and they don't have to live in a country where people are dieing unnecessarily all around them?

Now, here's something you will not hear coming out of the mouth of any congressional representative or senator who opposes universal health care, or its little brother, the "public option", or its bastard child, the public co-op: "It is more important that the wealthiest among us maintain both their incomes and the quality of care they've become accustomed to than that the government remain financially viable and poor people live."

They may say part of it out loud. They'll say we must maintain the quality of care. Fine, but if we expand that to everybody it costs money, and if we don't people die and the government goes bankrupt.

Or they'll say we can't afford to insure everyone. Fine, then we need to stop serving everyone at more expense in emergency rooms than we would if they had individual doctors and preventative care, and simply let them die.

They may say we're classists, or socialists, or Marxists, or some new slur for people who recognize that some people make more money than others, if we try to make wealthier people pay more of the cost. Fine, then we can have a flat tax on everyone, which poor people will not be able to pay, and it won;t be financially viable and we're back where we started, or we're back to letting the poor people die. I suppose there's another option there: We could let the poor go to debtor's prisons for not paying their health care taxes, then provide them with care there, driving up the costs for everyone, and create universal health care at a much higher price that way.

Universal health care is not only the one option which prevents a lot of unnecessary death, but, if done correctly, it's also the more financially sustainable choice. Anyone who says anything else is really saying their current coverage, at their current price, is worth more than both the lives of poor people and the quality of their country as a whole. I know the hard-core, Adam Smith capitalists truly believe in the virtue of selfishness, and I commend them for their strength of their conviction, even if I don't agree. I just want someone to marry the courage of their dogmatic adherence to capitalist virtue to the courage to say so publicly and clearly, especially on an issue where the intrinsic winning-and-losing nature of capitalism, the vaunted "creative destruction", results directly in people dieing. These quiet, seemingly compassionate capitalists are a bunch of hypocrites and cowards, and that's the nicest way I can put it.

Now, this kind of bald truth might not fit well in Obama's new, more polite politics, but it has to be said if we'll move to the real debate, which will still be incredibly complicated and will require politeness and decency. See, once we get beyond the acknowledgment that we have to move to some form of universal coverage, we still need to figure out exactly who is going to sacrifice, and how much. Health insurance companies, unless we leave in a bunch of unnecessary redundancy, will have to shrink down to efficient distributors or cease to exist entirely, and that's a significant sacrifice, though it's only from a small group of people. I expect those folks to fight to the bitter end, though they have to be able to see that they're doomed eventually. Doctors will want to make sure they get to maintain their salaries, though many will be grateful they get to spend more attention on treating patients than on haggling with insurance companies. Individuals outside the health care field will want to make sure they still have the options they currently enjoy. That's reasonable, as long as they realize that some fifteen million people have zero options, so they may have to make some sacrifices, too. (Over all, I think this gripe is greatly inflated. Does anyone really think that if only one government run insurance plan existed, their personal physician would not accept it, and would only serve patients who chose to pay out of pocket? Show me that doctor, and I'll show you a cosmetic surgeon.) Individuals will also have to acknowledge that there will be forms of rationing, probably in the form of delays of non-life-threatening elective procedures, though even here I expect some compromise situation can be developed where people can choose to pay extra to have procedures expedited so that everyone receives a baseline of care and the wealthy can get better care at their own expense. Developing the system, and addressing these concerns, will be difficult and will require courage. In fact, the more courageous we are at the outset (closing down insurance companies, for example, rather than leaving them in to add a profit margin to the cost of health care) the better the entire system will be in the long run.

But the one thing that we simply cannot accept is the kind of cowardice that allows Congress to push this off into the future, toward an immoral and unsustainable end. And that, I fear, is exactly what we're going to see over the course of the next month as this false debate is used to push the issue down the agenda. And it begs the question: Why are the people in Congress working so hard to avoid pissing off some of their constituents and losing their jobs, if they really want to make someone else deal with these issues anyway?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Writing My Way Through a Short Summer

So I recently returned from a trip to London, Paris, and Madrid. I took a group of forty high school students, parents, and fellow teachers. Great fun was had by all, and much exhaustion was produced. If you'd like to read about the trip, I blogged the whole thing here at:

Central High Europe Trip

Now, after some days of decompressing, I am finally getting started with a real summer break. My plan was to put in flooring, dry-wall, and a drop ceiling in an unfinished room in our new house, but according to the guy at H&R Block it takes two to three months to get the eight grand stimulus-for-buying-a-new-house-money from the gov'ment. Without that job, I thought I'd work on school stuff, paint myself a copy of Picasso's Don Quixote for my classroom, maybe paint the walls in the living room (if Paige and I can agree on colors), and generally sit on my butt until early August, when we head out to Cincinnati to see my family. It's my mom's sixtieth birthday (man, that sounds weird. Mom can't be sixty!) and she wants to go to Dollywood. As much as I'm looking forward to the time with the family, those of you who know me can probably imagine just how well I'll fit in at the Country and Western version of Disneyland. Imagine a half-naked, foam-cheese-hat-wearing, body-paint-covered Green Bay Packers fan screaming his head off at Wimbledon, or a golf tournament at Pebble Beach, or a televised chess match. That will be me. I haven't worn an earring in five years, but I'm thinking of finding my old skull and crossbones earring and putting it back in just to heighten the effect.

Anyway, that leaves a month in the middle for my summer. So I started the painting of Don Quixote, then realized that, as much as I love the painting and the story, I really should read the book. So I started it (spoiler: it's really good) and I got an idea for another novel. Now, I know I haven't finished the trilogy (quadrilogy?) I'm two books deep in right now, but since no one is nibbling at those, and this will probably be more marketable (what the hell do I know about marketability?) I've started writing this new one, and I'm going to see how much I can crank out over the next month. It's fun because I'm writing in the voice of a woman looking back on her high school years and a) I'm not a woman, and b) she's funny, so it's really challenging to get her voice just right. I considered teasing out the first few chapters here, but I know I'll want to do lots of editing before I take that leap, and, at the very least, I should let Paige read it before I completely humiliate myself. Still, I think the project has promise. Wish me luck!

Does one wish writer's luck? Actors are encouraged to break their legs (it's a dangerous profession). Should you wish me carpal tunnel syndrome?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Europe Trip

I haven't posted in a bit, save for the clip of the great Hardee's add, because I just got back from taking 40 parents and students to London, Paris, and Barcelona for an educational tour. I blogged the whole thing, so if you're interested, the whole site is here (now with pictures!):

Central High Europe Trip

or check it out by city:

London (here and here)

Coventry, Warwick, and Stratford (here)

Bath (here)

Paris (here and here)

Barcelona (here, here, and here)

plus some funny accumulated quotes (here and here)

and one very embarrassing typo (here).


Friday, July 03, 2009

My New Favorite Ad

Okay, maybe this just reveals my juvenile sense of humor (no "maybe" about it), and maybe I'm particularly biased because the spokesman in the ad is an old friend from college (and one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, Tim Hornor, really not an a-hole at all), but I think this ad is positively brilliant and painfully funny. Enjoy:

Can I just be the first to claim this line: I think this ad campaign is going to grip the popular imagination and tighten with more force than the "Where's the beef?" ads. See what I did there? Childish AND gross!