Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Frosty, Redux

Frosty with Antonio and Mops before the assault

"I can't believe there are punks in THIS neighborhood!" That from our neighbor Jenny when we discovered that our snowman, which had been constructed by our grandson this week, was found toppled to the frozen tundra in our front yard. We don't actually live at Lambeau Field, but EVERY piece of ground is frozen this time of year in Green Bay. We were outraged but happy to know that Antonio would never know that his beloved creation had been smashed...AND IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD! After I'd thought about it for awhile, it occurred to me that these were not delinquents: rather they were simply playing out the words to the song! They had probably been walking merrily along singing. When they got to the part about "...until the other kiddies knock him down" they espied our Frosty and became literalists. It's our fault for promoting holiday (or Christmas, if you prefer) songs with violence in the say nothing about how Rudolph was treated! Adding theft to destruction, however, the miscreants stole the hand-knitted-by-some-grandmother scarf with which Frosty had been adorned. Now, that's cold!
I decided that Frosty needed to be rebuilt so I spent the better part of an hour reattaching broken arms, looking for eyes, etc. He never did get another nose, carrots being in short supply, but he did get a hat which I froze into place with copious amounts of water. No smile this time, though; I think he's a bit scared. I also coated Frosty with ten gallons or so of water in order to thwart any half-hearted attempt at destruction. I know he won't last forever except in my grandson's memory, but he deserves at least a few more days..."until the other kiddies knock him down" again. Creations of love and joy should last much longer than they usually do, especially in THIS neighborhood!

School's In

Two young men were arrested in California yesterday and charged with plotting a Columbine-type assault at their school. Their plan was hatched to "get back at all the people who were mean to us." Most of us would find that a bit of an over-reaction, but school can be a tough place to be, especially if one is not in the mainstream. But killing? I'd hoped we had sensitized our students since the rash of violence. I think our school has done a pretty good job. We have administrators who seem to be in the hallways talking to kids every day. I also see a few board members at school on occasion interacting as well; teachers seem to be mostly heads up when things are happening. Many of our students also take an active role in diminishing conflict. Still, it's not easy for students to always find someone to talk to. We deal with such issues in health class and hope to strike a chord relating to acceptance, problem-solving and avoiding violence. Our speaker on date violence the other day really helped to point to the trouble spots in kids' lives and gave sound, practical suggestions to our students.
Our guidance counselor frequently stops by my classes to interact with students, and this familiarity makes him all the more accessible when they need it. Sure, we're a small school with money problems, communication lapses (from time to time), and a degree of uncertainty, but I think we have the resources to handle what being a kid is REALLY about: how to grow into a positive adult who can solve problems utililizing resources at hand. We don't need metal detectors and hallway guards, but we do need to be aware of all our students and remember how tough it was for us to be teens.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Cuba, No! Yanqui, Si!

The Olympics have always been about politics. Oh, we say they are not, but every four years we turn it into a stage for espousing personal beliefs (something like a televised blog, I guess)which may or not be shared by others. In a sense, that's the beauty: other countries can choose to buy into the philosophy du jour or not. Someone always has something to say, but it rarely disrupts life as we know it. Many Americans were upset when we boycotted the Olympics (not the bureaucrats)...we might have been happy when the communists did the same (probably not their athletes), but in each instance, the result was lackluster. Without competing against the best, matching wits and feats of strength and skill with the lions of the sports world, it was not very riveting. The only exciting part of the Los Angeles games for me was watching that woman crawl the last 400 meters in the marathon. I felt bad for her until I looked her up and discovered she had beaten me at Boston that year by a couple of places. This year's World Baseball Classic has just fallen into the lackluster category. What was going to be a bang up affair pitting talented international teams in a "real" world series might now just be another made-for-TV reality show thanks to the Treasury Department.
You see, that is the governmental organization that is banning the Cuban team from the WBC because it would violate our boycott of all things Cuban. It's not enough that we've isolated Cuba from the rest of the modernized world and helped to make a shambles of their economy (Hemingway is dead, too, though some say he's still propped up in Havana somewhere), now we won't even let them play baseball with us. Taking a raft through dangerous waters or sending mercenaries to invade Fidel's Hideaway is OK, but meeting on a public stage is out of the question. I'd think we'd WANT them to play: all their best players would see our guys with bling and huge contracts and they would defect on the spot! El Duque can play for neither team: Cuba won't let him, and I don't think he's a citizen here yet unless there was a special dispensation arranged by George; he's got the cash, though, as well as the World Series ring which he can take to Arizona next year.
Of course, the ruling has been appealed, but I don't think it will bear fruit. Unless the Cubans get to play, I won't watch it. We'd probably add some country like Brunei(the Redcats)to replace them. No Cuba, no A-Rod, no Jorge Posada. No mas!
What next? No Taiwan in the Little League World Series?

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Best Gifts(?), Kid Division

It's a plot. I really think so...sneaky, underhanded and downright nefarious. No, it's not the addictive stuff said to be put in fast food offerings; it's not even the addictive stuff put into cigarettes and marketed to kids (even though manufacturers claim otherwise); it's not even those guys like "Bob" on TV who try to convince me that I have some major malfunction that could be fixed by ingesting their little blue pill, which, I suspect, might be addictive as well if the results are as promised. No, I'm talking about fiendish plans made and carried out every year by Mattel and Ed DeBartolo and others like him. Christmas toy fever is at its highest pitch because we can't seem to find certain "gotta have it" toys again. I'm sure you get the Mattel reference, but DeBartolo? He's the guy who used to own the 49ers (and maybe still does, but since they are so terrible this year nobody cares). He made his money in shopping mall development so he gets included.
According to the Washington Post (so you know I'm not making this up) one of the hot games this year that is hard to find is called Mall Madness. I'm guessing it's marketed to the preteen female market to make certain they understand that their role is to be shopaholics as they grow up. Older kids already know about this: a young lady from school was going to the mall singing with the chorus today--bemoaning the fact that she had ONLY one hour to shop before they had to return to school. Heck, she couldn't get through PacSun in an hour!
Another hot toy is called ChatNow two-way communication devices. Verizon or Virgin Mobile wants those 5-yr.olds to be using the phone as an ear extension long before they can actually purchase one. Of course, that demographic may already HAVE phones for all I know. Keeping up with the crew from daycare requires technology. I know my grandson who will be five in two weeks already has a play phone which "takes" pictures...a ready-made consumer if ever there was one.
Amazing Amanda the interactive doll had better be amazing for the price they're asking...but, again, marketed to a specific population. I could be wrong (and often am according to the latest emails), but I'll bet Amanda doesn't calculate math facts or throw a ball or read a book.
Playschool has a highly-rated game for teaching coordination and counting skills to kids 3 and up: skee ball. It is actually difficult to master the rolling skill as my wife and son will attest, and the competition gets heated, at least between them. Little kids can enjoy it as well as gain motor skills and counting skills when the adults finally let the kids give it a go.
Tinkertoys? Lincoln Logs? Imaginative toys in general? Keep looking...they'll all be on the clearance racks in January.
Me? I'd like the same as always...peace on earth...and the diamond-studded howdah from Neiman-Marcus for my camel as I play a wise guy for Christmas again.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Best Gift Costs Nothing

Talk is cheap...speech is free.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Joy To My World

Everyone should experience joy in his or her life. I don't mean the "Joy To the World" kind of joy which happens briefly every year. That kind of joy always struck me a temporary thing which disappeared after the holiday season (or Christmas if you happen to be adamant about that sort of nomenclature). I mean the kind of joy which just pours out without effort and shoots endorphins out every orifice possible. I got to have 30 minutes of that today, and, to be honest, I think my face muscles still hurt from laughing/smiling so effusively for that length of time.
This is the benefit to being a teacher; while it does not happen every day, today's experience reminded me that it happens with frequency to me.
We were unable to make the bowling alley trip today because of inclement weather so we were relegated to the gym. This class is an amazingly diverse group so we had several activity options available to them. All managed to find an enjoyable activity and spent time wisely. At one point, four guys asked me to play pickle ball with them...them against me. They were relatively new to the game, but the enthusiasm was amazing. We spent 20 minutes hitting the ball back and forth (and hitting each other with the ball as per rules allowance). We shared a bond of joy over exercise that made me proud to be their teacher. We managed to lure Lauren into the game, and she, too, felt the positive vibe. Others would look over and shake their heads thinking all of us had lost a screw or two. High fives all around for unbridled joy. Thanks to Leo, Josh, Greg and Nathaniel for the lift.
While no job is perfect, this one is head and shoulders above anything else I've ever done. Why would I retire?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It's Sandwich Time

I'm glad the mystery has been cleared up; I know what's in store for me as I get older and retire thanks to the Pew Research Center. I can sleep more comfortably tonight since the statistics are in. Knowing that there are 75 million Americans who are roughly my cohort gives me a little security. We won't all go down at the same time so we have leverage. I am speaking about the so-called "baby boomer" generation, born between 1946 and 1964. According to the aforementioned study, 90% of us are very satisfied with where we are in our mention of whether or not a sports car or a motorcycle is part of the equation. More than 55% of us expect to live comfortably for the rest of our lives (or at least until we are totally unaware of who and where we are). Our median income is more than $60,000 which is $20k more than other adults in other age categories. Hooray for us. All is not completely rosy, however; the sandwich years tend to be expensive.
If you've never heard of the sandwich years, you are not alone. Thanks to the Pew Group for giving me that one. Apparently, this generation now has parents AND children still depending on it. Statistically, we have at least one elderly parent and at least one adult child who depend on us for financial assistance, hence, the sandwich moniker. I've got news for them: we were a sandwich family long ago.
When the kids were little, piling into bed with parents seemed like a regular ritual, and not just when the thunder was loud or the monsters under the bed got unruly; we had regular family meetings in bed...we called them "family sandwiches." The group hug featured everyone selecting something to put between bread, and we all shouted out what we were: I was almost always peanut butter, even if there was mustard or bologna or pizza as an ingredient. Sometimes, I was the bread because nobody else wanted to be something so mundane. It was always fun, and I think all our kids share fond memories of the sandwich days.
Now it's an offical title, I guess. We do have some financial responsibilities for an elderly parent and, from time to time, one or another of the kids. It doesn't seem like such a burden though a sports car or a motorcycle (again) would be nice. No, the Pew Research Center didn't ask me to be a part of their survey, but I AM very satisfied with where I am in life; while I don't know if I'll live "comfortably" until I'm drooling on mysellf in the home (overlooking the park, Ryun), nobody could have asked for a more fulfilling or challenging life than I've had.
Bring on the future.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Big Ripoff or I Should Get Royalties!

I'll admit that I didn't have the idea originally. I got it from a dj on the radio...but doggone it! I didn't charge $26 for my creations, either! My tech advisor Ryun called my attention the other day to a guy who's selling stuff online that I used to give away! The product is one everyone could long as he/she is over, say, 40 years old. We all have old record albums. Kids today have little idea about that though club djs use vinyl and it has enjoyed a resurgence of late, much like neo-swing had when Big Bad Voodoo Daddy brought it back in the movie Swingers.
The idea involved making useful projects using old LP (long-playing for those under 40) releases. I thought framing them as art was a cool idea: I have Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello picture albums framed on my wall, and they ARE cool. They do pale a bit in comparison to the huge oil painting of a Krispy Kreme doughnut, but, face it, I'm eclectic.
Through an intricate and highly scientific process (turning the oven on), I managed to soften old records enough to form them into artistic and highly retro bowls in which one could store anything not liquid. The hole for the spindle made holding anything runny out of the question. Less than a day after I proudly created my first art piece, an oldies anthology album featuring fabulous hits from 1964 like The Detergents' Leader of the Laundromat, my wife found a great display spot for it: in the back of a kitchen cabinet on the top shelf. Not into kitsch, she reads Real Simple and Domino magazines and watches HGTV. I think she gave up on Martha when she went to the crowbar hotel.
Undaunted, I searched far and wide for a Procol Harum album for my friend Patty's Christmas gift. She can actually sing all the words to A Whiter Shade of Pale and really knocks 'em out at karaoke night at the bingo place. Anyway, she was so totally stunned at the magnificent gift...I think I saw a little tear as well. Now it has a place of honor in her home, and I admire it every time I go there. Without dog food in it, I can read the label and everything.
My inital effort was rescued from ignominy by another friend who wishes to remain namelss in public, though he will come if you whistle, and he uses it to store compact discs (at last something you youngsters can understand).
And NOW, this person at has the gall to do the same thing and sell them on the internet for $26! Whether or not they will be THE hot Christmas gift this year I am unprepared to say, but I've gotten out all my old Gary Lewis (one of Jerry's "actual" kids)and the Playboys albums and fired up the stove. Ahhh! the smell of melting vinyl. I'll sell you a classy art piece featuring YOUR favorite vinyl artist for $15 on a "Buy It Now" option. ($25 shipping and handling)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What, No T-Rex in Borneo?

new species of "cat" found in Borneo

Of all the things to be newly-discovered on Borneo Island, it figures that the latest would be a cat. Since 1994 over 360 new species have been discovered on this island which is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei (Brunei? at least I've heard of the other two). Most of those new discoveries are said to be insects or plants...and now, just what the earth doesn't need: another cat. I suspect that the reason it took so long to discover it was that the darn thing just wouldn't come for its Whiskas when the dish was set out. It was busy ignoring people like its domesticated bretheren (and sisteren, one would suppose). Of course, we should have suspected because the island was COVERED with red hairballs that did not come from some insect or plant and there was a decided shortage of catnip in Brunei. And, surely, someone noticed that the beaches of Borneo resembled a litter box that emitted a pleasant smell every time one took a step. Perhaps it was that set of clues that convinced scientists to place motion-triggered cameras in the jungle to catch a glimpse of this new species. I mean, who goes around setting up expensive cameras in hopes of finding a new cat? Imagine the fight three countries will have over the naming rights to this thing.

Scientist A: "What should we call this new feline?"
Scientist B: "It doesn't matter. It won't come anyway!"
Scientist C: "Uhhh...Herekittykittykitty?"

Ogden Nash poem which I remember from grade school at St. John's in Iola:
"The problem with a kitten is that
Eventually, it becomes a cat."

You can see why Nash was my favorite poet: not because I really don't like cats, and I don't; because all of his poems were about three lines long and somewhat humorous. But now, I have to share the planet with yet another critter who seems indifferent to an obviously superior creature: man. The conundrum is that when I'm around cats, they seem to think I'm some kind of movable cat playground, and they climb all over me. Trying to be polite is not always easy, but putting my daughter's cat's head in a clamp didn't win me any points, either. OK, OK cat lovers, I didn't really squeeze its tiny head too hard before Raquel pointed out that I really shouldn't be doing that. Will I cat-sit for her anytime soon? Highly unlikely (wasn't he the deposed king of Ethiopia or somewhere like that?). She and all you other feline-fanciers are welcome to Borneo.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm Gettin' Nuttin' From St. Nick

St. Nicholas is supposed to be bringing candy and other good stuff tonight, but I have word that he won't make it to my house. There are several possible reasons for this:
1. I've not been a good boy. Word is that I won't even get a lump of coal because energy prices are soaring, and it's cold where he usually lives. How cold? It is so cold that a dog got frozen to a fire hydrant. sorry...couldn't resist.
2. He's heard about my vendetta agaist soft drink manufacturers. I suspect there's a secret society comprised of the Great Pumpkin, the Easter Bunny, St. Nick, soda manufacturers and dentists: their sole purpose is to pump everyone so full of sugar that the obscene profits will fund next year's candy drive, which will fund the following year's candy drive, etc. I would not be a bit surprised to find out that the Girl Scouts have a hand in that pie as well.
3. He's lying on the beach in Cozumel with a marguerita because it's too freakin' cold where I live.
4.The real Nicholas, after whom the holiday was named, died in A.D. 343 and isn't coming back. Oh sure, miracles and all were attributed to him so he could be officially proclaimed a saint, but there was no mention of his leaving candy to every good girl and boy as one of the miracles, and I think the coal bit for bad boys like me was simply something parents made up to stick it to their kids.
NOW I certainly cannot expect any goodies. Not to worry...Mom made cookies tonight :)
She'll fall asleep before I will!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Kids: Uninformed and Selfish? No Way!

Eric Nelson, today

Eric Nelson, his past revealed

I have seldom been so impressed with high school students as I was today. I know I rip on my school sometimes for the things it does in the name of education which are not educational, as I see them. However, a group of students proved to me that they HAVE been paying attention, they DO care about themselves and their schoolmates, and, sometimes, they are much smarter than we adults are.
Embroiled in a "soda in school in spite of health concerns" controversy, our student council stood up and told all of us that they would NOT like to see unhealthy drinks be part of our school. In fact, they insisted that only water, milk and 100% juice be offered in our vending machines! I was quite pleased that they had the courage to stand and deliver. The fact that our adults never considered such a move, at least en masse, was not as big of a surprise as this demand on their part. As a result, we will have a contract with a soft drink company, but no soda pop will be part of it.(18 teaspoons of sugar in a 20 oz. bottle, not to mention caffeine, various dyes and phosphoric acid) Hooray for our kids!
I managed to find the officers of our student council and thank each one personally, and each seemed to think it was no big deal since there was only one logical choice: no unhealthy beverages! While the whole organization and its advisor, Eric Nelson, are to be commended, the officers get special mention (only because they're the only four names I can remember!) Amanda Vandenack, Kyle Reindl, Kayte Dettman and Jeff Presslein are going to be the future which will make me proud to have taught them, even though they are astute enough not to need me!
And, although it was a clever tactic to put a sign on the Coke machine designating it as "Out Of Order 2005-2006," I had nothing to do with it. It does, however, give me additional hope for our student population as individualists who think for themselves instead of accepting the lockstep directions which we think (sometimes) are so useful. I must admit, though that the administrator seems to feel positively about limiting access...he's got possibilities.
The rest of us should think about what taurine is (thanks to Mr. Vandervest for the info.) and ask themselves, "Am I really drinking this in my high energy drink?" NO BULL!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

EGadd: Gary's Lost the Glitter

Paul Francis Gadd

While it didn't necessarily make the front page (or ANY page) of my local paper, it looks like the end of the line for Paul Francis Gadd. The well-known pedophile was finally arrested in Viet Nam the other day and charged with several counts of having sex with minors...some as young as 10. You and I might find this abhorrent, but there is a thriving sex trade utilizing youngsters in Southeast Asia, where life is very cheap. I remember reading in The Cambodia Daily about an incident in which police in Phnom Penh raided a brothel and found a dozen or so Vietnamese girls, most under 13 who had been sold into prostitution. Of course, to keep them safe, the officials housed these girls in a men's prison while awaiting a deportation hearing...huh? Sometimes, authorities look the other way, but I sense they've been tracking Paul for years. I was alerted to this by Ryun who was a newspaper editor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for four years a while back. Paul has been banned in Britain, run out of Rangoon and chased (probably) in China. At last he has been run to earth and prosecution seems imminent as does a suitably horrific ending for the former glamor boy of 70s rock. His sentence, if convicted , could be up to 30 years in "Hell Hole" prison or a terminal case of lead poisoning a.k.a. a firing squad. Mitigating evidence seems to be that one of the victim's families asked him for money for the act...hmmm.
Huh? you say...who is this guy? His nom de chanson (aren't I cultured? I know Spanish)is Gary Glitter, and he has become fabulously wealthy for performing Rock and Roll, Part 2 which spent nine weeks on the Billboard charts in 1972 and reached a peak at number seven. He followed that with a totally obscure track named I Didn't Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock and Roll) which slipped quickly into oblivion. Little did we know at the time that it probably should have been titled I Didn't Know I Loved You (Till I Found Out That You Were Underaged). Be that as you may, you all know Gary Glitter...his music has become the stadium anthem all over America.
Rock and Roll, Part 2 has become known to ignoramuses (ignoramii? you are REALLY cultured if you know that one) and high school band students as The Hey Song. I can turn down my hearing aid and hear that song wherever sporting events occur. It's like The Beer Barrel Polka for people who can't remember a lot of lyrics. Noted authority Joel Whitburn does include the accepted title (though in parentheses) but lists the song by its correct title in the 2000 edition of The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. So, how does it feel to shout "HEY!" at the top of your lungs knowing the song was popularized by such a decent fellow? I for one, will never play or "sing along" to Rock and Roll, Part 2 again. I have standards, after all.